Truthout Stories Wed, 22 Oct 2014 11:51:07 -0400 en-gb Former UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk on the Legitimacy of Hope in the Palestinian Struggle

On Monday, the Israeli government made a rare appearance before the United Nations Human Rights Committee, but its delegation refused to acknowledge responsibility for the conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, occupied by Israel for nearly half a century. We speak to a legal expert who has just spent six years trying to hold Israel to account for its actions in the Occupied Territories. Richard Falk recently completed his term as special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights for the United Nations Human Rights Council. His writings about the Israel-Palestine issue and his experience as U.N. rapporteur are compiled in the new book, "Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AARON MATÉ: We turn now to Israel and the Occupied Territories. On Monday, the Israeli government made a rare appearance before the U.N. Human Rights Committee. Each member state is reviewed every four years for its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. That task was especially significant coming just weeks after Israel ended an assault on Gaza that killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians, including more than 500 children. Emi Palmor, the director-general of Israel's Justice Ministry, pledged her government's "sincere approach" to the panel's mandate.

EMI PALMOR: We decided to bring along the highest-ranking experts on the issues that we are supposed to answer. And indeed, you can see that for the first time the director-general, myself, is heading the delegation. The deputy attorney general, Dr. Schöndorf, is second on the delegation, and the others as were presented during the session. And we believe that this shows our seriousness, the sincere approach of Israel to these issues.

AARON MATÉ: That's Emi Palmor, head of the Israeli delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Committee. But as the session got underway, a key problem emerged: Israel would not be answering for conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the territory it's occupied for nearly half a century. While Israel provided a written report for human rights within its own borders, it did not agree the covenant applies to its actions in the Occupied Territories. In response, two U.N. panelists expressed their frustration.

CORNELIS FLINTERMAN: We have that information about the doubling, the recent announcement in Israel of further expansion of the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and in East Jerusalem. So, that was the reason that I raised the question. It seemed that no attention had been given whatsoever to our earlier recommendation.

NIGEL RODLEY: Of course, they're not responsible for the violations that may be committed by Hamas. Of course they're not. But they are responsible for any violations that may be their own responsibility. It's not an issue of legal jurisdiction one way or the other; it's an issue of who has control.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Nigel Rodley from Britain and, before that, Cornelis Flinterman. As it turned out, the assault on Gaza did not receive the scrutiny that had been expected. As The Jerusalem Post reported at day's end, Israel's Emi Palmor, quote, "said she was relieved that the delegation had not been extensively quizzed about the IDF's military actions in Gaza this summer under Operation Protective Edge. Israel had imagined that committee members would focus on that issue," The Jerusalem Post said.

Well, we're still joined by a legal expert who's just spent six years trying to hold Israel to account for its actions in the Occupied Territories. Richard Falk has just completed his term as special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights for the United Nations Human Rights Council. His writings about the Israel-Palestine issue and his experience as U.N. rapporteur are compiled in a new book. It's out today. It's called Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope. Richard Falk is professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and research professor in the global studies department at UC Santa Barbara. He presented the Edward Said Memorial Lecture last night at Columbia University.

Can you talk about, well, just that, this latest news on what is happening right now with Israel and Gaza?

RICHARD FALK: Well, as far as their cooperation with the U.N. is concerned, this report that you just showed your audience is very misleading. They have refused to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry in—that the Human Rights Council appointed to look into the allegations of war crimes associated with the attack on Gaza in July and August. And they refused to cooperate with my successor, an Indonesian diplomat who they favored, actually, and they persuaded the president of the Human Rights Council to appoint, with the expectation that they would cooperate with him. But as I've said all along, you only have to be 10 percent objective to come to the same critical conclusions that I came to in relation to Israel's violation of fundamental human rights in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, the three segments of occupied territory.

AMY GOODMAN: What is that conclusion that you came to?

RICHARD FALK: Well, the conclusion is flagrant violations that are official policy—it's not deviations—from the extension of the settlements as a violation of international humanitarian law, not disallowing transfer of the occupying country's population to the occupied society, the imposition of a regime of collective punishment on the whole civilian population of Gaza. And locking that civilian population into the combat zone during Protective Edge is a distinctive atrocity, where women and children were not allowed to become refugees, and there was no opportunity to be an internally displaced person. As horrible as things were for civilians in Syria and in Iraq in recent years, they always had—the civilian population always could leave the combat zone. Here, they're literally locked into the combat zone, and only those Gazans with foreign passports were allowed to leave. That involved 800 people out of 1,800,000. So it is a very extreme situation that is not treated as an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe for geopolitical reasons. The U.S. has a geopolitical veto over what the U.N. can do in relation to a situation of this kind. We react to Kobani, as we spoke earlier, but we ignore what is happening day by day in Gaza, particularly, but to a lesser extent, in the West Bank.

AARON MATÉ: Well, you mentioned the U.S. Can you talk about the obstacles that you faced as you tried to raise these issues over these past six years as the top U.N. investigator in the territories?

RICHARD FALK: Well, there were two main kinds of obstacles. I was very much attacked in a kind of defamatory way by UN Watch and other very extreme Zionist organizations, which tried—wherever I went, anywhere in the world, they would try to prevent me from speaking and mounted a kind of defamatory campaign, called me an anti-Semite, a leading anti-Semite. The Wiesenthal Center in L.A. listed me as the third most dangerous anti-Semite in the world, which was—made me feel I must be doing something right in this role. And the only two people that were more dangerous than I was the supreme leader of Iran and the prime minister of Turkey, Erdogan. And other—

AMY GOODMAN: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power called you, as you were leaving your U.N. post, a—talked about your "relentless anti-Israeli bias."

RICHARD FALK: Well, it certainly has been a consistent anti-Israeli critical narrative, because that's what the reality is. I mean, if you take international law seriously and, as I said, you're 10 percent objective, you have to come to these conclusions. And that's why this Indonesian, who was determined to please Israel—he told me that—it turned out that they—

AMY GOODMAN: Makarim Wibisono.

RICHARD FALK: Yes. It turned he's already angered Israel, because you can't—you can't look at these realities without coming to these conclusions, unless you completely somehow blindfold yourself.

AARON MATÉ: Well, let's talk about what Palestinians are trying to do now—the Palestinian Authority, at least. The PA has drafted a U.N. Security Council measure that would impose a three-year deadline for Israel to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Speaking at the U.N. last month, Palestinian lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi dismissed the threat of losing U.S. government support.

HANAN ASHRAWI: We will be seeking a Security Council resolution on ending the occupation within that specified date. And any solution must be based on international law, cannot violate international law and U.N. conventions and agreements. If the U.S. wants to isolate itself as a reaction to Palestinians joining the international community, then they are welcome to do that. The American funding is not that essential to Palestinian survival. Quite often, joining the international community, having the protection of the law and so on is much more important than getting some funding from Congress that is conditional.

AARON MATÉ: Hanan Ashrawi went on to say, quote, "Enough is enough. What has the U.S. done for us?" And, in fact, there was a report last week that Secretary of State John Kerry has asked the PA to delay its U.N. Security Council bid measure here, proposal, until after the midterm elections. Is the PA actually distancing itself from this whole U.S. process? And is that important?

RICHARD FALK: Well, it's caught between the militancy of its own people and this kind of pragmatic adaptation to the power situation, and its economic dependence on funding that is controlled by Israel and the U.S. And also, its security forces have been—the PA's security forces have been trained under U.S. authority. So it's a—they're in a very compromised position. So the Palestinian Authority leadership, in order to retain some modicum of legitimacy, has to appear to be reflecting the will of the Palestinian people. And they've been trying to walk this tightrope all along, and it becomes more and more difficult. And the recent polls show that Hamas, even on the West Bank, would now win an election if an election was held. And that's not because there's a shift toward an Islamic orientation. It's because Hamas, for all its problems and failures, resists and is resilient and has maintained the spirit of resistance that's so important to the political morale of the Palestinian movement.

AARON MATÉ: On the issue of resistance, you talked last night about the importance of defending the right to resist, but advocating peaceful resistance. Can you talk more about this vis-à-vis the Palestinian struggle?

RICHARD FALK: Well, I don't purport to speak for the Palestinians. And one of the tragedies of the Palestinians, ever since the Balfour Declaration, is that others have decided what's good for Palestine. And so, what I was—I was partly being descriptive. The Palestinians have failed with armed struggle. They failed, with the Arab neighbors, trying to liberate Palestine from Israeli control. They failed with the Oslo-type intergovernmental diplomacy. So what they've tried in the last several years, increasingly, is a combination of nonviolent resistance in various forms within the occupied territory and this growing global solidarity movement that has centered on the BDS campaign.

I think that's—and I don't say—I wouldn't judge their desire to or their feeling that the only effective form of resistance is to defend themselves violently. I mean, that's a decision that I don't think it's appropriate for someone outside the context of oppression to make. Hamas, which is accused of being a terrorist organization, of course, has limited its violence since its political election in 2006 to responding to Israeli provocations. It hasn't used violence as a way of promoting the empowerment of a Palestinian movement of liberation. In fact, its politics have been directed toward long-term peaceful coexistence with Israel, if Israel withdraws to the '67 borders. It's offered a 50-year plan of peaceful coexistence.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to end where you begin, and that's the title of your book, Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope. Richard Falk, what do you mean by "the legitimacy of hope"?

RICHARD FALK: What I mean is that if you look at the way in which conflicts have been resolved since the end of World War II, particularly involving foreign domination or foreign rule in a Third World country, the decisive factor in their resolution has been gaining the high ground of international morality and international law. And not having—military superiority has not produced political outcomes favorable to the intervening or the more powerful side. And so, the hope comes from this pattern of gaining legitimacy, in what I call "legitimacy war," being more significant politically than being able to control the results on a battlefield. And that's a profound change in the whole structure of power in the world that hasn't been absorbed by either Israel or the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Richard Falk, we want to thank you for being with us, just completed his six-year term as United Nations special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, a prolific writer. His book, Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope, has just been published today. Professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and research professor in the global studies department at UC Santa Barbara, he presented the Edward Said Memorial Lecture last night at Columbia University.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Mumia Abu-Jamal in his own words. Stay with us.

News Wed, 22 Oct 2014 11:12:57 -0400
After Ignoring ISIS Assault on Kobani, US Launches Major Strikes and Arms Turkey's Kurdish Foes

Earlier this month, Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States would not act to prevent the Islamic State from seizing Kobani because the Syrian Kurdish town was not a "strategic objective." But as news cameras on the Turkish-Syrian border showed Islamic State fighters assaulting a town in plain sight, the U.S.-led coalition responded with the most airstrikes of its Syria campaign. The U.S.-led coalition has also begun dropping air supplies of weapons and aid to the Syrian Kurds, a move it had resisted for weeks. Now Turkey says it will open its border with Syria to let Iraqi Kurdish fighters join the fight. The Turkish government had opposed aiding the Syrian Kurds in Kobani because of their links to Turkey's longtime foe, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK. To help us sort out this complicated picture, we are joined by longtime international law professor and former United Nations Special Rapporteur Richard Falk, who has just returned from four months in Turkey.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AARON MATÉ: We begin with the continued fight for the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani and the issues it's raised with the country on its border, Turkey. After a more than month-long assault, the Islamic State appeared on the verge of taking Kobani just last week. The U.S. initially appeared indifferent, saying Kobani was not a part of its, quote, "strategic objective." But as news cameras on the Turkish-Syrian border showed Islamic State fighters assaulting a town in plain sight, the U.S. responded with the most airstrikes of its Syria campaign. A resurgent defense by Syrian Kurdish forces appears to have stopped the ISIS advance for now. And after weeks of U.S. pressure, Turkey said Monday it will open its border with Syria to let Iraqi Kurdish fighters join the fight. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced the move.

MEVLUT CAVUSOGLU: [translated] We are fully cooperating with the coalition with respect to Kobani. We want to eliminate all kinds of threats in the region, and we see the military and medical aid, outfitted by our Iraq Kurdish brothers and airdropped by the United States to all groups defending Kobani, from that perspective. We are facilitating the passage of Peshmerga fighters to Kobani. Further talks are underway on this matter.

AARON MATÉ: For weeks, the Obama administration had been urging Turkey to take a more active role against ISIS. The Turkish government has opposed aiding the Syrian Kurdish PYD, which it considers an extension of its longtime foe, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK. But Turkey reportedly backed down this weekend under heavy U.S. pressure. According to Al Jazeera, President Obama told Turkish counterpart Recep Erdogan that the situation in Kobani is "desperate."

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. has also begun dropping air supplies of weapons and aid to the Syrian Kurds, a move it had resisted for weeks. That adds a new twist to the shifting alliances that the fight against ISIS has provoked. The Syrian PYD is closely allied to the PKK, a group on the U.S. terrorism list. Just last week, Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdish PKK rebels near the Iraqi border. The strikes were the first by Turkey against the PKK since a 2012 truce.

Well, to help us sort out this complicated picture, we're joined by a guest who's just spent four months in Turkey. He's been involved in global politics for a lot longer—since the 1960s. Richard Falk is with us, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and research professor in the global studies department at UC Santa Barbara. He has authored, co-authored, edited more than 40 books on international law and world affairs, and has just completed a six-year term as the United Nations special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, which we will talk about in our next segment.

Richard Falk, we welcome you to Democracy Now! Start off by talking about these latest developments with Turkey, Syria, the United States.

RICHARD FALK: Well, I think it's a very complicated situation in which none of the political actors know quite what to do, what will work and what they really are trying to achieve. And the whole situation there is complicated—in my view, unnecessarily—by the refusal to treat the conflict as potentially solvable by diplomacy rather than relying totally on military power, which has consistently failed in the region. American interventions, especially the Iraqi intervention of 2003, is really the proximate cause of this surge of extremism in the region. And we, over and over again, rely on military intervention and refuse to learn the lesson of the 21st century, that wars are not won by weapons alone. They are won primarily in this period by securing a political outcome that reflects not only the equities involved, but also what the people subject to these pressures wish to achieve. Self-determination on the ground is a very important dimension of political reality that Washington can't seem to perceive, because it's invested so heavily in the military machine and it's so powerful within the bureaucracy, that it's almost impossible for our elected leaders to think outside the military box.

See, if Iran was brought into this diplomatic framework—it's been excluded, mainly, I think, due to Israeli objections to having Iran be a political player in the region, and that limits the possibility of solving the Syrian conflict, which in turn makes it very difficult to conduct this kind of limited war against ISIS. So, there's—and Turkey is caught in the middle between—

AMY GOODMAN: You think if Iran were included, this could be resolved much more easily?

RICHARD FALK: I think you never know. Diplomacy is filled with uncertainties and different kinds of trade-offs, but not to try to solve it that way is really a terrible failure of political imagination.

AARON MATÉ: You were just in Turkey. The U.S. appears to have accepted that Assad is not going to be overthrown, at least for now. Turkey has not come to that position. Do you see them changing their stance and accepting that Assad will have to be a part of a political solution that you talk about?

RICHARD FALK: I think Turkey has a much more flexible leadership than the American media portrays, and it's much more balanced. Erdogan is not Putin, the way he's sort of presented as this kind of autocratic, domineering figure in the Turkish scene. That's the way the opposition in Turkey wants to perceive him. But there's a very capable prime minister, who's Ahmet Davutoglu, who has a very nuanced sense of the difficulties confronting Turkey in shaping a policy. On the one hand, they're trying to solve the problems with Turkish Kurds, the Kurdish minority. On the other hand, the PKK has become more militant in this phase, perhaps to increase their bargaining power in this political process of ending the Turkish conflict. So there's a Turkish dimension, and then there's the extremist ISIS dimension, which Turkey probably is partly responsible for because of its earlier preoccupation with getting the Syrian regime, the Assad regime, overthrown. So, the enemy of your enemy has become the sort of operational logic of the region.

AMY GOODMAN: So the Turkish warplanes bomb the Kurdish PKK rebels for the first time since the 2012 truce, but they also let Kurds go over into Syria to fight.

RICHARD FALK: Well, that illustrates this tension between opposing goals. They want the Kurds to act against ISIS, but they of course don't want the Kurds to resume their internal struggle against the Turkish central government. And for whatever reasons—it may be internal to the Kurdish movement in Turkey that they have assumed a more militant posture. And the bombing of the PKK didn't come in a vacuum. The PKK was doing things. They were capturing Turkish children, and they were committing various acts in some of the villages in eastern Turkey. So, it's a complicated—everything in that region is complicated—

AMY GOODMAN: And the Kurds feel—the Kurds feel immensely oppressed in Turkey.

RICHARD FALK: And they have been. On the other hand, this government has tried more than any other government—

AMY GOODMAN: Leyla Zana, the famous Kurdish parliamentarian—


AMY GOODMAN: —imprisoned simply because she spoke Kurdish in the Turkish Parliament.

RICHARD FALK: Yeah. But this government is moving beyond that phase of the Turkish-Kurdish relationship, and it has a much more pluralistic sense of what will make Turkey stable and successful. And if you read Erdogan's acceptance speech after he won the presidential election, it was all about seeing how to implement a pluralist vision of Turkey, which means bringing the minorities into a position of equality, which goes directly against the Ataturk Kemalist view that Turkey—the ethnic identity of Turks should all be Turkish. And he called, you know, the Kurds "mountain Turks," for instance, and forbade the language, and it was all part of his state-building project that went far too far.

AARON MATÉ: If you could help us sort out what the U.S. is doing in Kobani—it initially appeared the U.S. would not act to prevent Kobani's fall to the Islamic State. Speaking earlier this month, Secretary of State John Kerry said protecting Kobani is not a strategic U.S. objective.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: As horrific as it is to watch in real time what's happening in Kobani, it's also important to remember you have to step back and understand the strategic objective and where we have begun over the course of the last weeks. ... Notwithstanding the crisis in Kobani, the original targets of our efforts have been the command-and-control centers, the infrastructure. We're trying to deprive the ISIL of the overall ability to wage this, not just in Kobani, but throughout Syria and into Iraq.

AARON MATÉ: That's Secretary of State John Kerry just a few weeks ago. Well, on Monday, Kerry said it would be "irresponsible" and "morally very difficult" not to support the Kurds fighting the Islamic State in Kobani and also to allow Kobani to fall.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: Let me just say, very, very respectfully, to our allies, the Turks, that we understand fully the fundamentals of their opposition, and ours, to any kind of terrorist group, and particularly, obviously, the challenges they face with respect to the PKK. We talked with Turkish authorities—I did, the president did—to make it very, very clear this is not a shift in policy by the United States. It is a crisis moment, an emergency, where we clearly do not want to see Kobani become a horrible example of the unwillingness of people to be able to help those who are fighting ISIL.

AARON MATÉ: Kerry was speaking in Indonesia. So you go from it's not a strategic objective to then the most intense bombardment of the U.S. bombing of Syria so far. What happened here?

RICHARD FALK: It's hard to say. I mean, it seems to me that the U.S. government felt that it couldn't just stand by as a spectator while this humanitarian catastrophe in Kobani was unfolding, and probably had recollections of what happened in Srebrenica in 1995 when the U.N. peacekeepers watched the massacre occur and didn't try to intervene to stop it. So, my sense is that they don't have a very clear sense of what their strategic objectives are, and therefore there's bound to be inconsistencies in the implementation of it.

One of the mysteries here, seems to me, is how this ISIS emerged as such an effective military force. After the U.S. has failed to train the Iraqi military for a decade and spent billions to do that, suddenly this ISIS emerges as the most powerful, most effective military operating force in the region. How did this happen? Nobody really has given a satisfactory answer to that.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Saudi Arabia has something to do with it?

RICHARD FALK: Well, I think they had funding, but Saudi Arabia's own military capability is very dysfunctional. So what made this military capability so potent so quickly? And it probably has something to do with the politics of the region, where there was such a dissatisfaction with the Shia attempt to oppress the peoples in northern Iraq that there was a receptivity to ISIS, and they were able to create this image of almost invulnerability. It's hard to understand.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, whether the U.S. is meeting directly with Iran—and behind the scenes, there's probably a lot of communication—Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met with Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, in Tehran today. Rouhani says Iran will continue to provide Baghdad with military advisers and weapons.

RICHARD FALK: Yes, but that's not the key issue. The key issue seems to me to bring Iran in as a major political player in the region and see if one can get some kind of compromise in Syria.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Richard Falk, who just completed a six-year term as United Nations special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. He's just back, actually, from Turkey. We'll come back with him to talk about what's happening in Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories in a moment.

News Wed, 22 Oct 2014 11:02:35 -0400
In UN Speech, Noam Chomsky Blasts United States for Supporting Israel, Blocking Palestinian State

As U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announces plans to set up an investigation into the attacks on United Nations facilities during Israel's recent assault on the Gaza Strip, we broadcast the speech of world-renowned political dissident Noam Chomsky, who recently spoke in the hall of the U.N. General Assembly at an event sponsored by the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. "The pattern that was set in January 1976 continues to the present," said Chomsky, Institute Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Israel rejects a settlement of these terms and for many years has been devoting extensive resources to ensuring it will not be implemented with the unremitting and decisive support of the United States — military, economic, diplomatic and ideological."

News Wed, 22 Oct 2014 10:47:11 -0400
Ten Reasons Why You Should Care What You Wear

The United States represents the largest apparel market in the world, with total annual sales of $331 billion. The average American household spends about 3.8 percent of its total income on clothing. That may be only about one third the amount consumer households spend on food. Still, every consumer dollar spent on clothing has an impact—from economic to environmental, ethical to health.

Here are ten reasons why you should care what you wear.

1. Synthetic fibers pollute the natural environment. Clothes are made from both natural fibers, like cotton, hemp and wool, and synthetic fibers, like viscose rayon and polyester. Clothes made from synthetic fibers may not require as much agricultural land to produce as clothes made from cotton and hemp. But synthetic fibers, often marketed as wrinkle-resistant, durable, or easy to clean, are produced using industrial methods that are both energy-intensive and polluting. Polyester, for example, is made from petroleum, a non-renewable natural resource. And rayon, technically “semi-synthetic,” is derived from wood pulp and transformed into fiber through a highly water-and chemical-intensive factory process. Once these synthetic materials are transformed into fleece sweaters, bath towels and garments, consumers take them home where the synthetic fibers continue to pollute the natural environment in the form of “micro-plastics,” nanoparticles, and chemical residues which contaminate water. Micro-plastics and nanoparticles (along with processing chemicals and cleaning detergents) travel to the oceans and mingle with groundwater when synthetic clothes are washed.

2. Non-organic cotton is one of the most genetically engineered, pesticide- and chemically-contaminated crops in the world. The massive use of GMOs and chemicals on non-organic cotton lends a more sinister meaning to the phrase made popular by hikers: “Cotton kills.” More than 90 percent of the cotton grown in the US is genetically engineered, spliced with the Bt toxin and modified in order to withstand large quantities of Monsanto’s herbicide, Roundup. Cotton occupies a relatively small percentage (2.4 percent) of arable land globally. Yet conventional cotton crops account for a staggering 25 percent of global insecticide sales. In the U.S, it typically takes a third of a pound of toxic agricultural chemicals to produce a pound of cotton—the amount of cotton it takes to make one T-shirt. Several pesticides used on cotton are known carcinogens. Not only do these pesticides linger on the clothes worn next to human skin, but the fish, marine and wildlife surrounding or downstream from cotton fields also suffer from pesticide pollution. Non-organic cotton crops are doused with large amounts of chemical fertilizers that routinely pollute groundwater and emit nitrous oxide, the most destructive (300 times more destructive-per-weight than CO2) of all greenhouse gases. Non-organic cotton must be irrigated, requiring large quantities of water. And it’s typically processed and dyed with synthetic chemicals. 

3. GMO and toxic cotton: You’re eating it. Government regulatory agencies, prompted by large cotton farmers and the garment industry, falsely claim that cotton is not a “food crop,” in spite of the fact that 60 percent (by weight) of cotton harvested in the US ends up in the food chain. The result is that chemicals which are banned for use on food crops are widely used on cotton. But many so-called cotton by-products, including cotton seeds, cotton seed oil, and cotton gin trash, end up being sold and consumed as ingredients in both animal feed and human food—despite the fact that cotton is one of the most chemically contaminated crops in the world. The pesticide residues in cottonseed accumulate in the fatty tissues of livestock, which is in turn consumed by humans, in the form of meat. Cottonseed oil is also used in a variety of food products, such as vitamins and potato chips, and it’s often used as a dilutive in olive oil—unlabeled. When GMOs and pesticide residues from cotton crops find their way into food products, they can potentially trigger health issues including food allergies, cancer, and liver, kidney and immune system damage.  

4. Agricultural workers suffer dangerous effects from farming toxic cotton. Farmers, farm workers and people who live in rural communities near cotton fields suffer from exposure to pesticides, GMOs and chemicals. Many of these agricultural workers suffer from acute pesticide poisoning. Rural cotton farmers in particular lack the necessary safety equipment and training for handling the hazardous pesticides, leading to chronic and acute health issues. Pesticides used in cotton farming have been shown to cause endocrine dysfunction, with farmers in rural and poor areas especially at risk

5. Cotton farmers in the developing world are exploited in the global marketplace. Small cotton farmers in developing countries struggle financially, unable to compete in the global market because of US cotton subsidies. The result is both economically and socially devastating. Subsidies allow US cotton farmers to sell cotton at less than the price of production. This lowers the global market price for cotton, even at a time when the costs associated with growing and processing cotton are rising, because of increases in the cost of seeds and in the amount required, rising prices, of pesticides. As a result, cotton farming in some developing countries is no longer financially viable. Developing countries dependent on agricultural production falter economically, as farmers fall into debt. India’s cotton farmers are committing suicide at an alarming rate. The country’s once-thriving cotton belt has been renamed the “suicide belt.”

6. Most garments are manufactured in sweatshops that abuse and exploit their workers. Paid less than minimum wage, less than a living wage, and often deprived even of these wages, garment factory workers suffer from unsafe working conditions, physical, psychological and sexual abuse, 18-hour work shifts and other illegal labor practices in an industry that prospers from the dehumanization of its labor force. Women, who make up the overwhelming percentage of garment factory workers, are forced to work in these conditions under the threat of extreme poverty. Obscured by the maze of global industry, labor laws remain unenforced in sweatshops, while those who sell these garments to consumers claim ignorance of the exploitation from which they profit. 

7. Chemical-intensive clothing poses dangers to human health. Skin is the body’s largest organ. One of its major jobs is to protect internal systems. But your skin also acts as a conduit, a means for toxic chemicals and pesticides from synthetic materials to enter your bloodstream. If you care about what you put in your body, you should also care what you put on your body. Health issues from such toxic chemical exposure range from headache to asthma to cancer. 

8. These dangers increase the more your clothing promises. “Easy care” garments are especially saturated by chemicals, including formaldehyde, triclosan and preflourinated chemicals, in order to allow manufacturers to market the clothes as anti-microbial, anti-odor or anti-wrinkle. Formaldehyde, used to eliminate wrinkles, static, odor and bacteria from clothes, is highly toxic and known to cause cancer, skin ulcerations, heart palpitations, eczema, asthma and other health issues. The US Environmental Protection Agency classifies preflourinated chemicals—which make fabric stain-resistant—as cancer-causing agents. Triclosan is another chemical used in clothing, especially athletic wear, to prevent the growth of bacteria. These chemicals in “easy care” garments enter the bloodstream via the skin. Clothing containing nanoparticles, often marketed as stain or odor-resistant, represents a new and ominous health and environmental threat. Nanoparticles in consumer products are neither labeled nor safety tested. 

9. What you wear “down there” is not as innocuous as you may think. Because feminine hygiene products are considered “medical devices,” those who manufacture pads and tampons are not required to disclose their ingredients. Bleached and made from the chemical- and pesticide-drenched materials of non-organic cotton and rayon (wood pulp), pads and tampons contain various ingredients that may be toxic and absorbed through skin and mucus membranes. The FDA regulates the process through which tampon materials are bleached, claiming that levels of dioxins (toxic, chemically-related compounds common in environmental pollutants) are at or below the “detectable level” and that such trace amounts do not trigger health concerns. The World Health Organization says that “dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, and may interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.” Dioxins are present in environmental pollution and commonly consumed by humans through food. Though new bleaching procedures for tampon materials generate a significantly lower amount of dioxins, trace amounts remain. Cotton used in pads and tampons also contains the pesticide residue from this highly treated, almost always GMO, crop. What looks like cotton can also be bleached wood pulp or rayon, a semi-synthetic material made in a chemically-intensive process. Toxic Shock Syndrome, a rare and dangerous illness caused by a bacterial infection from Staphylococcus aureus, has been linked to super-absorbent tampons made of a blend of synthetic materials including rayon. Toxic Shock Syndrome is linked to leaving such tampons inserted for long periods of time, creating both an environment for the bacteria to grow, and causing tears and abrasions inside the vagina. As with anti-odor clothing, tampons with fragrance or anti-odor properties contain even more potentially harmful chemicals. Safer alternatives to conventional feminine hygiene products include organic tampons and pads.

10. The choices you make regarding your clothing are not only expressions of style or identity, but are vital to personal health as well as environmental and ethical responsibility.You should feel good in your clothes. Good about the way your clothes were produced and made. Good about their effects on your health. Good about the way they make you feel. Consumerist culture is toxic in the way it encourages people to constantly buy and replace clothing produced through unethical conditions. It can be difficult to divorce yourself from this toxic culture, to establish your clothing choices outside of this pressure. To not care about clothes is not the solution. The solution is to care how fibers are produced and processed. To care how your clothes are made. To care what’s in the garments you wear next to your skin, and ultimately, to care how you feel wearing them. The solution is simple: Care what you wear.

News Wed, 22 Oct 2014 10:35:04 -0400
Chevron Greases Local Election With Gusher of Cash

2014 1022 chev st(Image: AK Rockefeller)

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When the Citizens United decision came down in 2010, many feared the Supreme Court had unleashed vast and unfettered campaign contributions from corporations bent on tightening their hammerlock on government and politics.

That hasn't happen as much as anticipated – yet. Individual billionaires and millionaires have dominated the scene instead. Perhaps it's in part because some corporations dipping their toes into new modes of campaign funding have been rebuffed by hostile consumer and stockholder reaction: witness the backlash in 2010 when Target contributed $150,000 to a 501(c)(4) supporting anti-gay rights gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer in Minnesota.

But other corporate giants seem to have no such qualms about negative public feedback. Chevron, for example. Based in California, the multinational energy company is the third largest producer of crude in the world and greedily grateful for ongoing, generous subsidies from Congress.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "In 2013, its revenue topped those of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., Apple Inc. and General Motors Co., trailing only retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and rival Exxon Mobil Corp... In August, Chevron reported $57.9 billion in revenue for the second quarter, which ended June 30."

Yes, Chevron has money to burn – look at the millions and millions the company has spent fighting the $9.5 billion in damages they were ordered to pay by the Ecuadorian Supreme Court for pollution of part of the Amazon rainforest. That extravagance extends to electioneering as well, and not only to federal races but right down to a local city council election.

Chevron has made big contributions this campaign cycle to the National Republican Senatorial and Congressional Committees, US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Texas Senator John Cornyn, Senate minority whip as well as an influential member of the Senate Finance Committee.

What's more, the Center for Responsive Politics' reports that Chevron recently donated $1 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, "a conservative super PAC with ties to Karl Rove's dark money network in early July, a rare instance of a prominent publicly traded company taking advantage of the post-Citizens United rules on corporate involvement in politics. It's not the first time Chevron has made such a donation — in the 2012 cycle, it gave $2.5 million to the same group..." At the time, the Public Campaign Action Fund noted, "The donation appears to be the largest from a publicly-traded corporation in the post-Citizens United era."

In the midterms so far, OpenSecrets says "the super PAC has spent just $504,000 on ads, mounting attacks on three Democrats — particularly Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Texas). But CLF has already paid out close to $2.2 million to a media buying firm for 'pre-payment' of ads that have yet to run; that money almost certainly will be spent, it's just a question of when and where."

One other place we know that Chevron has targeted for its electoral cash largesse is the city of Richmond, California (population 107,571), site of one of the state's two largest oil refineries – both owned by Chevron.

In August 2012, toxic smoke from a fire at the Richmond refinery (there had been other serious fires in 1989 and 1999) sent 15,000 residents to local hospitals seeking treatment, many of them for respiratory problems. A year later, Chevron paid $2 million in fines and restitution and pled no contest to six charges that included, the Associated Press reported, "failing to correct deficiencies in equipment and failing to require the use of certain equipment to protect employees from potential harm."

Around the same time as the settlement, Richmond's City Council decided to file its own suit, accusing Chevron of "a continuation of years of neglect, lax oversight and corporate indifference to necessary safety inspection and repairs." Fourteen other incidents of toxic gas releases from the refinery since 1989 were cited in the filing.

Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin told Democracy Now's Amy Goodman, "We owe it to our community to totally ensure their safety and to bring forward and safeguard the rights of our community to live, play and work without the threat of injury because of Chevron and with the threat of Chevron bringing forward yet another incident... due to the lack of safety in their facilities. We really feel strongly. This is serious in Richmond, and we're not backing down."

On top of all this, Chevron has long sought approval of a billion-dollar modernization plan for its refinery but had to deal with pressure from local officials for additional air pollution restrictions and other safety requirements. This summer, the city council finally approved the plan when improvements were promised as well as $90 million in "community benefits."

Presumably, Chevron, vexed by such governmental interference, decided enough was enough. Cue the campaign cash machine. Turn on the pumps.

Harriet Rowan, a first-year student at the University of California at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, is an intrepid reporter at the website Richmond Confidential, created by UC/Berkeley to train its journalism students and offer in-depth coverage of Richmond not provided by Bay Area mainstream media. On October 10, Rowan reported, "Chevron has funneled $3 million into a trio of campaign committees to influence the Nov. 4 Richmond city election, including a nearly $1.3 million contribution on Aug. 8, according to newly-filed campaign documents."

The committees, each a variation of Chevron's "Moving Forward" campaign, spent about $1.3 million on the Richmond mayoral and city council races as of the end of September, much of it on attack ads targeting local officials who are critical of Chevron's massive local refinery.

"Moving Forward" describes itself as "a coalition of labor unions, small businesses, public safety and firefighters associations. Major funding by Chevron" – "Major," as in 99.7 percent of the money, according to Harriet Rowan. Moving Forward was created after the 2012 fire to advance the oil company's political interests in Richmond and this year has especially targeted for attack three city council candidates, including Gayle McLaughlin, who cannot run for re-election as mayor but is seeking a council seat.

The assault also has come from a Chevron-funded website called the Richmond Standard, described by Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik as "purporting to be a news portal for residents of Richmond," but in reality run by "an employee of Chevron's PR firm named Mike Aldax." What's more, voters allegedly have been subjected to massive "push polling" – that is, telephoned attacks on candidates thinly disguised as opinion surveys. Author, activist and Richmond resident Steve Early writes that one such pollster told him — among other slurs posed as survey questions — that Gayle McLaughlin and fellow council candidate Eduardo Martinez were part of "a group of radicals out of touch with Richmond voters."

The Los Angeles Times' Hiltzik estimates that given the dollars being spread around, "Chevron is preparing to spend at least $33 for the vote of every resident of the city 18 or older." He writes:

For a corporation to manipulate a municipal election on this scale should be illegal. Chevron may pose as a company enjoying its free speech rights, as secured through the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, but a pincer movement employing pantsfuls of money and misleading, manipulative "news" demonstrates the potential of a big company's speech to drown out every other voice.

His words were echoed by independent US Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who visited Richmond last week and said, "We are not living in a democracy when giant corporations like Chevron can buy local governments. That's called oligarchy, not democracy. We have got to fight back."

Meanwhile, second graders at Peres Elementary School in Richmond were delighted by the appearance of the Oakland A's "loveable elephant" Stomper. The mascot arrived in a Chevron car, delivering iPads and other Apple products worth a little under a thousand dollars, courtesy of Chevron's Fuel Your School program. "The kids were extremely excited," their teacher said. "There was a lot of laughing."

At least they can't vote — yet.

News Wed, 22 Oct 2014 10:34:11 -0400
House of Fear ]]> Art Wed, 22 Oct 2014 08:56:25 -0400 Philadelphia Students Go on Strike for Teachers' Benefits

2014.10.21.Aronoff.MainPhiladelphia students march in Center City earlier this month. (Photo: Cy Wolfe via Facebook)

Typically when you hear about people striking in schools, it’s the teachers on the picket line. This week in Philadelphia — and potentially for many more — it’s the students who are on strike.

At a surprise meeting called on Monday, the School District of Philadelphia unceremoniously cut its ties with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, of PFT, which is the American Federation of Teachers local representing around 15,000 teachers in the district. Since 2001, the School District of Philadelphia has been controlled by a state-appointed, five-person committee rather than an elected school board. Three members are appointed by the governor to serve for five years, and two by the city’s mayor to serve for four years each.

At least 200 students across four high schools staged a walk-out of their classes on Wednesday, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. The group’s Facebook page explains that they are striking “because every single teacher in the district’s benefits are at risk and being played with through politics.” Students stood outside of their schools chanting, with signs reading “Students for Teachers” and “Save Our Schools.”

The contract abrogation was an attempt by the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, or SRC, to compel teachers to pay anywhere from $21 to $70 into their healthcare benefits; their current contract indicates that they pay nothing. Commission Chair William Green called on PFT members to “share in the sacrifice” of the city’s budget shortfall.

In 2011, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett cut $1 billion from the education budget, which has impacted Philadelphia the most: its school district educates 10 percent of the state’s students, but has been subject to 25 percent of the cuts. Over 27,000 teachers have been laid off state-wide, along with a number of vital support staff including nurses and guidance counselors.

In the hours following Monday’s announcement, Pennsylvania Working Families, Action United and the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools planned an impromptu rally outside Governor Corbett’s office in Center City. Groups organizing the rally have been among the loudest voices calling for the city to hand over control of the school district to a locally elected body.

Strike organizer Leo Levy, who is 16 years old, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he and others wanted “to show student solidarity with the plight of the teachers and to show how invested in a proper education the student body really is.” PFT President Jerry Jordan has called on anyone concerned to attend the next School Reform Council meeting on Thursday, while a number of education, student and labor groups work to formulate their response. Unfortunately, Philadelphia isn’t the first district to be impacted by budget cuts to education, and certainly won’t be the last. The students’ strike may be laying the groundwork for even more coordinated actions to come.

News Wed, 22 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
How Putin Became a Central Figure in the First Ever Vote to Ban Fracking in Texas

2014.10.21.Putin.MainVladimir Putin, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 28, 2009. (Photo: Remy Steinegger / World Economic Forum )

On September 8, a Texas state regulatory agency sent a letter to United States Secretary of State John Kerry, suggesting that US anti-fracking activists are receiving funding from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“It is reasonable to assume,” Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter wrote, “that their intention is to increase their market share of natural gas production and distribution as Russia is the second largest producer of natural gas in the world.”

This move by Texas coincides with the lead up to an Election Day referendum on the state’s first proposed city-wide fracking ban, to be held in the city of Denton on November 4. But this particular move by Texas to discredit activists is not a new one. In fact, it highlights one way climate campaigners have previously been tracked and monitored by intelligence agencies, public relations firms, and their powerful clients to create “actionable intelligence.” That is, information that could help undermine and eventually defeat social movements.

The letter was publicized in a press release headlined, “Porter Exposes Putin Plot to Hurt Texas Economy.” It offers no direct proof to back up the Putin claims, only citing “multiple reports” linking Russia’s massive state-owned natural gas company Gazprom to public relations and lobbying firms, such as industry giant Ketchum.

Porter also wrote that Russia’s strategy includes bankrolling anti-fracking environmental groups and pushing propaganda by distributing the Academy Award-nominated documentary Gasland, which Porter called “an incredibly deceitful film.”

Kerry has not yet responded publicly to the letter. And Carlos Espinosa, the Texas Railroad Commission’s director of special projects, admitted in emails obtained under the Texas Public Information Act that there was no actual paper trail corroborating the Putin story, only claims from others in the news.

“Our information is based off of reports from the New York Times, CNN, National Review, and many others, including a former American Ambassador to Russia,” Espinosa wrote in response to a reporter’s query. “Gazprom is spending tens of millions of dollars — that we know of — to eliminate competition globally. It’s likely they’ve influenced much of the overall anti-hydraulic fracturing movement’s message.”

Texas’ economic interest in developing its natural gas resources and the state’s long history of working hand-in-hand with the energy industry may explain its effort to discredit the anti-fracking movement. In his letter, Porter insists that the US government must protect the “vitality of the industry that produces these resources and paves the way for American energy independence.”

This cozy relationship between the industry and its regulatory agency does not go unnoticed by activists.

“The RRC is not a regulator, but a facilitator of industry’s wishes,” Will Wooten, a Denton, Texas-based anti-fracking activist who has also been involved in the Tar Sands Blockade, said in an email. “Whether approving the eminent domain process for pipelines like the Keystone XL, or allowing fracking to expand in urban areas with no real regulations in place, the RRC is there to make sure industry gets what it wants.”

The Texas Railroad Commission did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article.

History Repeats Itself

The Putin tactic may have originated with Austin, Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor. When the US anti-fracking movement began to gain steam in 2010, Stratfor began monitoring the activities of anti-fracking activists. It did so on behalf of its “biggest client,” the American Petroleum Institute.

In a June 2010 email obtained by Wikileaks from the now-imprisoned Anonymous “hactivist” Jeremy Hammond, Stratfor senior Eurasia analyst Lauren Goodrich made a now-familiar accusatory overture: US-based anti-fracking organizations — and in particular, Gasland director and producer Josh Fox — might be tied to Putin.

“[Fox] said his film was paid for by HBO,” wrote Goodrich. “However, I would be interested to see who else funded this documentary (ie Coal or Russia, etc.).”

Personnel records obtained via the Public Information Act show that the Texas RRC hired Espinosa in August, about a month before the release of the Porter letter. Espinosa formerly worked as a senior counselor at the public relations firm Dezenhall Resources. Importantly, Espinosa gave final guidance to “tee up” Porter’s letter for dissemination to the press.

PR Industry’s “Navy Seals”

Dezenhall, the self-described “Navy SEALs of the communications business,” previously hired security firm Beckett Brown International (BBI) to surveil Greenpeace USA as part of its issues management due diligence process.

In practice, that meant not only open-source snooping on the Web, but also “pilfering documents from trash bins, attempting to plant undercover operatives within groups, casing offices, collecting phone records of activists, and penetrating confidential meetings,” according to a 2008 Mother Jones investigation.

Greenpeace filed a lawsuit in 2010 against both BBI and Dezenhall, which was dismissed upon appeal in August.

In the world of corporate public relations, firms like Dezenhall and Stratfor provide what Judith Richter, author of the book Holding Corporations Accountable: Corporate Conduct, International Codes and Citizen Action, points to as a key public relations technique: “environmental monitoring.”

The practice amounts to an “early warning system that helps PR managers to locate the smoke and take action before a major fire develops,” Richter wrote in her book. “As a result of such information-gathering, public relations firms have [developed] data banks on activist and other relevant groups and organizations.”

It’s no coincidence, then, that such tactics are now being deployed in Texas and beyond, working their way all the way up to the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Barry Smitherman, another Texas Railroad Commissioner, cited these claims made by the NATO Secretary General in a July 11 letter to Denton Mayor Chris Watts. In so doing, Smitherman hinted that those pushing for the city-wide fracking ban in Denton, Texas might be funded by Moscow.

“It would therefore appear that not all efforts to ban hydraulic fracturing are grounded in environmental concerns,” wrote Smitherman. “With this in mind, I trust you will all will determine whether funding and manpower behind this effort to ban hydraulic fracturing in Denton is coming from out of state sources or from those who would profit from the imposition of such a ban.”

Out of Touch?

As Denton narrows in on its vote on the would-be historic fracking ban, powerful industry players have spent big money to defeat the measure. Citizens on the ground in Denton recently told the Dallas Observer that the Putin talking point has woven its way into the door-to-door canvassing operations of those volunteering to get out the vote in support of striking down the fracking ban proposal.

But Wooten, the anti-fracking activist, dismisses the Putin claims.

“While the [Russia] meme may be effective for [industry] on a national and international level, on a local level in Denton it just sounds out-of-touch with the issue at hand and borderline wingnut,” he said. “These tactics are hurting their support among Dentonites, not helping.”

News Wed, 22 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
Symbiosis: Ebola and Reaganomics

2014.10.22.Ebola.MainEbola might be global neoliberal capitalism's greatest test, says Dr. Michael I. Niman. (Image via Shutterstock)How Decades of Indifference Gave Rise to an Epidemic

Last week we saw person to person Ebola transmission on three continents. And in a global culture obsessed with contagion themed apocalypse entertainment, we’re seeing the beginning of a social media panic with the US, according to Twitter trending stats, leading the world in Ebola Tweets. And this is only the beginning. Or is it?

Limp Penises and Malaria

The Ebola story goes back almost four decades, to 1976, when the first two outbreaks occurred in the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Like Malaria, which kills millions around the world, Ebola found a sympathetic partner in a neo-liberal global economy that allocates resources based not on need, but on where corporate capital can find the easiest path to profits. Malaria, by nature, strikes tropical regions dominated by poor people. Ebola, by history, has only hit Africa. Medical research is expensive and usually driven by private investment, which is drawn to profit, not service. Hence, while Malaria continued to devastate the third world, and Ebola lay in hiding like a time bomb, the medical industry mostly ignored both, putting money into more profitable pursuits such as developing erectile dysfunction drugs for octogenarians.

With corporate research money heading toward more profitable products, fighting diseases like Ebola is left to the public sector. Across Africa, where colonialism plundered resources and neo-liberalism saddled governments with structural debt, the public sector isn’t too robust, often unable to provide basic infrastructure for potable water or education. Developing an advanced medical research sector ain’t happening. This leaves the continent at the mercy of American and European philanthropy, which often seems drawn more to sexier or trending causes, like saving wildlife or hating the eminently hateable Joseph Kony.

First world apathy toward Ebola continued even as the current epidemic unfolded over the last six months, eventually spreading to seven counties, with Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea hit the hardest. A month ago, the World Health Organization’s Assistant Director, General Bruce Aylward, declared that the Ebola epidemic has become a health crisis “unparalleled in modern times.” That means, since the Black Death ravaged Europe and the holocaust of European diseases decimated native America.

Terry Pegula Could Have Saved the World

Aylward asked for one billion dollars to combat the epidemic. To put this number in perspective, that’s $400 million less than Fracking magnate and uber sports fan Terry Pegula paid last week to buy the Buffalo Bills. Weeks went by with no real support from any first world nation, as hospitals in Liberia turned Ebola patients away, sending the infection back into crowded slums, while the disease jumped international borders and an ocean. To date, only poor and small Cuba took the threat seriously, initially sending the most medical aid to Africa, with about 450 health workers either on the ground or on their way. If we are to stem a global Ebola pandemic, however, tens of thousands of health care workers along with hundreds of new field hospitals are immediately needed in Africa.

The private sector won’t supply the money, the personnel or the infrastructure needed to fight Ebola. That leaves the public sector, which in our country has been decimated by over three decades of funding cuts stemming from the “shrink government until it fits in your pocket” mentality of the Reagan era. The problem is that small government cannot meet big tasks. This argument comes most alarmingly from Dr. Francis Collins, who heads the National Institutes of Health, which is the agency tasked with developing a vaccine and other drugs to fight Ebola. A seemingly exasperated Collins, in an interview last week with The Huffington Post, said that the agency, in all likelihood, would have already developed, tested and produced an Ebola vaccine, “if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support.” This would be due to the Reagan small government doctrine administered under the administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Collins explained that the agency didn’t just start working on an Ebola response recently, but began its work 13 years ago. Even so, the timeline he lays out, with or without budget issues, is unacceptable, with the agency not taking serious action until 25 years after the first Ebola outbreak.

The Efficiency Virus

Another issue not getting much press is how state, federal and private health care cuts have served to decimate the surge capacity in our health care system. The old model provided extra beds, which almost always sat empty, but sure were and are appreciated during health emergencies when resources are strained. The profit-driven health care model, combined with an almost sociopathic drive for “efficiency,” eliminated the “wasted resources” essential to having a surge capacity able to provide care in a crisis. If Ebola arrives on our shores in any serious way, I’m sure we’ll have the debate we should have been having over the past four decades, only we’ll be having it too late.

In many developing nations, it wasn’t the manic drive for “efficiency” in the private sector that decimated health care. It was the “structural adjustments” that lending agencies such as the World Bank forced upon nations, demanding that they limit or cut health care funding. We’re also seeing the effect of this structural adjustment and austerity on the ground around the world as nations try to plan for dealing with a health crisis they now have no infrastructure to meet.

We’re only talking about Ebola to the degree that we are now because an uninsured Ebola patient in Texas received minimal attention and was sent home with some useless pills, allowing the disease to gain strength in his body and threaten a continent. For 38 years we sat on our hands, thinking Ebola only affected Africa. And, quite frankly, call it racism, greed or just indifference, Americans didn’t really give a shit about Africa. Once upon a time, such indifference would never have come home to roost. But the world is a lot smaller now. Our mistreatment of global others, be it in the way of economic injustice, environmental injustice or just depraved indifference to human life, eventually impacts us all. Ebola might be global neoliberal capitalism’s greatest test.

News Wed, 22 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
The Latin American Disappeared and Repeating History in Mexico

The disappearance of 43 college students, abducted by police and organized crime from the Mexican state of Guerrero for their political activism, is a particularly disturbing example of the resurgence of a terror tactic used during Latin America's dirty wars. The college students' disappearance is yet another episode in the long history of disappearing those critical of Latin American governments during the Cold War and dirty wars in Latin America.

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On October 15, activists rallied outside Mexican embassies across Latin America demanding the return of the 43 students of Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa, commonly referred to as normalistas, who were abducted by police and organized crime from the Mexican state of Guerrero for their political activism. The college students' disappearance is yet another episode in the long history of disappearing those critical of Latin American governments during the Cold War and dirty wars in Latin America.

In Guatemala City, activists from HIJOS Guatemala, an organization that advocates for the investigation of those who were disappeared during the country's 36-year internal armed conflict, organized a demonstration outside the Mexican Embassy. Photos of the disappeared students were displayed, and a banner declaring, "The anger and indignation exceeds borders," was taped below the Mexican crest.

"This is a historic moment for Latin America and it is important for the people who were affected by the Cold War and the dirty war to demonstrate in solidarity with the normalistas in Mexico," said Paco, a HIJOS member from Guatemala. "We are repeating history. The conservative forces are making alliances with the mafias and cartels. They are using the disappearances to advance their interests of market liberation."

Guatemalans know all too well the terror and fear created by disappearances. According to Uruguayan journalist and author Eduardo Galeano, Guatemala was the "first Latin American laboratory in which the dirty war was carried out." During the internal armed conflict, 40,000 people were disappeared by the right-wing military dictatorships. Nearly 20 years after the end of the war, families still demand to know what happened to their loved ones.

Support for the normalistas in Guerrero has come from across Latin America, and from around the world. Similar demonstrations in Argentina, Chile and Brazil, among other countries - all where critics were threatened with disappearances during the dirty wars of the 1960s through 1990s - were held to coincide with the demonstrations in Mexico.

"Alive They Were Taken, Alive We Want Them Back"

The students from Guerrero's Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa, were last seen on September 26 in Iguala, Guerrero, when state police and members of organized crime from the western Mexican state ambushed their buses. Three students were killed at the scene, along with three bystanders in the attack, which was directed at the students. Reports from the scene state that the 43 people were forced off the buses by police, and put into police vehicles. The students have not been seen since.

Soon after the attack, the mayor of Iguala, Albarca Velázquez, and the police chief went into hiding. Both are alleged to have ordered the attack on the students, and have connections to organized crime in Guerrero.

In the search for the missing students, searchers have made the gruesome discovery of more than 19 mass graves in the state of Guerrero around Iguala, a testament to the widespread use of disappearances in the drug war in Mexico. As of yet, none of the graves have contained remains of the missing students.

Normalistas were in Iguala to raise money to fund their travel to Mexico City to participate in demonstrations organized by the students of National Autonomous University and the National Polytechnic School, to mark the October 2 anniversary of the 1968 massacre of students by the military.

2014 1022 miss fwMaria Oliveras, the mother of Antonio Santana, one of 43 missing students, lights a candle and prays at the school campus where she and other relatives of the missing students are holding a constant vigil in Iguala, Mexico, October 16, 2014. (Photo: Janet Jarman / The New York Times)

Teachers from across Mexico joined students in condemning the Mexican government and joined the protests demanding the return of the missing students. The radical Oaxacan teachers union, Section 22 voted in early October to support the students, and strike alongside them. The coalition has held protests across Mexico demanding, "alive they were taken, and alive we want them back."

Students from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, in association with other public and private universities and student organizations, called for a national strike demanding the return of their fellow students.

On October 13, students and teachers demanding the return of the missing students in Guerrero clashed with police, and set fire to the government palace. The following day in the Mexican state of Michoacán, students were arrested for attempting to hijack buses to support the students protesting in Guerrero.

Since the disappearance, federal police have arrested 50 individuals, including 14 police officers, who are allegedly connected to the attack. Yet no amount of effort from Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will eliminate activists' claims that he is partially responsible for the disappearances.

For many activists in Mexico, the disappearance of the students from Iguala is eerily similar to the state violence that occurred during the years of the dirty war in Guerrero where the government targeted guerillas and campesinos and detained and disappeared them, as did the dictatorships of Central and South America in the 1970s and 1980s. Like the disappearances of the dirty wars, the attacks on students are meant to stymie and intimidate their movement.

As a result, the students and teachers are quick to denounce the insecurity and fear that is created by the neoliberal policies of a Mexican government that has allowed the cartels and the state to become deeply intertwined. Furthermore, as critics point out, Peña Nieto has focused more on pursuing neoliberal reforms than tackling corruption within the Mexican state - corruption that allows the disappearance of 43 students with absolute impunity.

Living Memory

The solidarity coming from Latin America is significant. Today, the memory of those who disappeared without a trace during the dirty wars still lingers.

"Disappearing" dissidents was the favored technique used to strike fear into those who challenged the right-wing dictatorships during the dirty wars in South America. Operation Condor in the Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil was responsible for the disappearance of tens of thousands of leftists and critics of the conservative governments who were following Milton Friedman's blueprint for neoliberal reforms. In many cases, those carrying out the disappearances received training from the CIA.

Galeano captures the fear created by the disappearances in his seminal book Days and Nights of Love and War, in which he recounts his experiences during the dirty war in exile from his home in Uruguay.

"The technique of the 'disappeared': There are no prisoners to claim nor martyrs to mourn. The earth devours the people and the government washes its hands," he wrote about the disappearances in Latin America.

The disappearance of the students in Mexico follows this same formula: a state force using criminal or paramilitary elements to execute the repression. This isn't something lost on the activists of Latin America; the memories of terror still remain 20 or 30 years later, as do the memories of those who were never found.

Furthermore, the paramilitary violence - as carried out by the cartels - reflects the violence of neoliberal transformation of the economies of Brazil, Chile and Argentina, when the state apparatus was used to strike terror into the hearts of the critics of dictatorships.

Mexico first embarked down the path toward neoliberal reforms of the economy in the 1980s. The 1994 signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) sped up the reforms, the opening of the economy and the selling off of public institutions. Peña Nieto has overseen the near completion of the neoliberal agenda by privatizing the oil industry, "reforming" the telecommunications industry, breaking teachers unions and utterly transforming the Mexican education system. The recent violence is a return to this dark period in Latin America history, especially as Mexico pursues a neoliberal development policy that activists claim is "ripping the social fabric of their country."

In an interview in August 2014, an educator associated with Section 22 of the Oaxacan teachers union, a radical union that has led the resistance of teachers to Peña Nieto's education reforms, recounted his fear that Mexico was "returning to the era of state repression." In many ways, the disappearance of the 43 students in Guerrero is that return.

News Wed, 22 Oct 2014 09:52:53 -0400