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News Mon, 31 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
As Journalists Are Jailed for Three Years in Egypt, Will US Stop "Cozying Up" to Regime?

In Egypt, Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste were sentenced over the weekend to three years in jail for "spreading false news" that purportedly harmed Egypt following the 2013 military coup. Fahmy and Mohamed were taken into custody on Saturday. Greste remains free in Australia. The three had already spent more than a year in prison before being released on bail earlier this year. We speak with Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous in Cairo and with Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "The US should stop cozying up to General - now President - Sisi," Roth says. "He is presiding over the worst crackdown in modern Egypt history."


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

AMY GOODMAN: We head to Cairo, Egypt, where Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste were sentenced over the weekend to three years in jail for, quote, "spreading false news" that harmed Egypt following the 2013 military coup. That's what they were convicted of. Fahmy's wife, Marwa Omara, broke down in tears as the sentence was announced on Saturday.

MARWA OMARA: It was extremely unjust and was extremely unfair. And what happened with Mohamed shows how much this case is political. And it's so unfair what's happening to him. ... We got married, and I didn't even enjoy our marriage with him.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were taken back into custody. The third journalist, Peter Greste, spoke out against the ruling from Australia, where he was deported to.

PETER GRESTE: The fact is that we did nothing wrong, that there was no evidence of wrongdoing, that these guys are innocent men, and innocent men are in prison. That's what this is about. Never mind the sentences. One day in prison would be unjust.

AMY GOODMAN: Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who represents Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy, has called on President el-Sisi to pardon the men. The three were initially arrested as part of a crackdown on Al Jazeera following the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, sentenced last June to between seven and 10 years in prison, a ruling condemned around the world. Peter Greste was released in February, deported home to Australia. Shortly afterwards, following more than 400 days behind bars, Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were also freed on bail. The case has been widely condemned. Fahmy and Mohamed were led away to begin their sentences after Saturday's verdict. Greste was tried in absentia.

To find out more, we go to Egypt, to Cairo, by Democracy Now! video stream to be joined by Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous.

Sharif, can you talk about the response right now in Egypt and the significance of these sentences?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, it's a really stunning verdict. Many people were expecting that the journalists would be - receive some kind of sentence that would be time served or a suspended sentence, especially given that Egyptian officials had repeatedly signaled that they viewed the trial as a nuisance, that it brought unwanted scrutiny of the Egyptian government. Sisi himself has said several times in the past that he would have deported the journalists rather than try them, and he wished the case had never - the prosecution had never been brought.

And nevertheless, in a really heartbreaking and shocking scene, we saw the three journalists yesterday sentenced to three years in prison. They were hauled away to jail. The judge said in his verdict that they were not journalists because they lacked the necessary credentials. He said they were using unlicensed equipment and broadcasting false news that harmed Egypt's national security. This last accusation is especially shocking, given that during the trial the judge appointed a technical committee to look at the footage, and the head of that committee testified that none of the video evidence, the footage, had been fabricated. And nevertheless the judge included that in his ruling.

So, you know, this is the latest twist in this long ordeal that had began in December 2013 for these journalists, and we'll have to wait and see what will happen next. As you mentioned, Canada has put an official request for deportation for Mohamed Fahmy. They've also called for a presidential pardon from Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The president can - President Sisi can pardon them at any point. He does not have to wait until the end of the judicial proceedings. He's pardoned people in the past. And that's what - that would be the best-case scenario in this respect. Another one would be the deportation of Mohamed Fahmy, but that would leave Baher Mohamed behind bars. Baher Mohamed got an extra six months in prison and a 5,000-pound fine for possessing a single spent bullet casing.

And so, this was just the latest verdict in, you know, part of a broader crackdown that we've seen in Egypt against the press. The Committee to Protect Journalists recently did a survey, found that 18 or now over 20 journalists are behind bars. That's the highest number since the CPJ has been keeping records in 1990 for Egypt.



AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, I wanted to play the comment of Amal Clooney, Mohamed Fahmy's attorney, denouncing the verdict.

AMAL CLOONEY: I think today sends a very dangerous message in Egypt. It sends the message that journalists can be locked up for simply doing their job, for telling the truth and reporting the news. And it sends a dangerous message that there are judges in Egypt who will allow their courts to become instruments of political repression and propaganda.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Amal Clooney, Mohamed Fahmy's lawyer. We're also joined by Ken Roth. Is there anything the United States can do, considering how many billions of dollars it gives to Egypt?

KENNETH ROTH: Yes, the US should stop cozying up to General - now President - Sisi. He is presiding over the worst crackdown in modern Egypt history, much worse than anything that happened under Mubarak. As your colleague noted, there are 22 journalists in prison right now. There are 40,000 political prisoners. The US, nonetheless, is just opening the spigots for military aid. It's selling equipment. It's sending the message that we'll live with this dictator because he's pro-American, pro-Western. That is a disastrous message for the Egyptian people.

AMY GOODMAN: Should the US cut off aid?

KENNETH ROTH: Absolutely. It should never have resumed the aid. It resumed the aid because, ostensibly, Egypt is on a transition to democracy. But I think John Kerry is the only person in the world who sees that transition.

AMY GOODMAN: Ken Roth, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of Human Rights Watch. And, Sharif, thanks for joining us from Cairo, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Democracy Now! correspondent in Egypt.

News Mon, 31 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
As Obama Visits Arctic, Alaskans Urge Him to Reverse Shell Oil Deal

Weeks after approving Shell's plans to drill in Alaska, President Obama is heading to the state to warn about the dangers of climate change. "Alaska's glaciers are melting faster, too, threatening tourism and adding to rising seas," Obama said in his weekly address. A protest is scheduled today in Anchorage to urge Obama to reverse his decision on Shell and stop all exploratory drilling in the Arctic. We speak to Richard Steiner, an Alaskan marine conservation biologist, who is speaking at the "Our Climate, Our Future" rally.


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

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama arrives in Alaska today, where he's becoming the first sitting US president to visit Arctic Alaska. He talked about his trip during his weekly address.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'll have several opportunities to meet with everyday Alaskans about what's going on in their lives. I'll travel throughout the state, meet with Alaskans who live above the Arctic Circle, with Alaska Natives and with folks who earn their livelihoods through fishing and tourism. And I expect to learn a lot.

One thing I've learned so far is that a lot of these conversations begin with climate change. And that's because Alaskans are already living with its effects - more frequent and extensive wildfires; bigger storm surges as sea ice melts faster; some of the swiftest shoreline erosion in the world, in some places more than three feet a year. Alaska's glaciers are melting faster, too, threatening tourism and adding to rising seas. And if we do nothing, Alaskan temperatures are projected to rise between six and 12 degrees by the end of the century, changing all sorts of industries forever.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, President Obama will deliver a speech at the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience, or GLACIER, to address the crucial climate challenges in the Arctic. Obama's visit to the Arctic comes on the heels of his administration's decision to approve Shell's plans to begin oil extraction off the Alaskan coast this summer, despite protest from environmental groups.

Also, ahead of the trip, President Obama announced the name of North America's tallest mountain peak will be changed from Mount McKinley back to Denali, its traditional Alaska Native name. Ohio's congressional delegation had fought to defend the name McKinley, which honors former President William McKinley, who was from Ohio. But Alaska Natives have long viewed the name as imperialist.

Well, for more, we go to Anchorage, where we're joined by Rick Steiner via Democracy Now! video stream, a marine conservation biologist, former professor at the University of Alaska. Today, Dr. Steiner will speak at the "Our Climate, Our Future" rally convened by a coalition of Alaskan grassroots groups ahead of President Obama's speech. He's involved in the emergency response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and proposed the court settlement and major thrust of the restoration program for habitat protection. He has now started a petition called "Tell President Obama to designate Marine National Monuments in Alaska," which just surpassed 100,000 signers.

Rick Steiner, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about what you'll be saying in your speech today and why you're protesting President Obama, who's the first sitting president to come to the Alaskan Arctic to address the issue of climate change.

RICK STEINER: Well, thanks, Amy. It's good to be back. And yeah, I think President Obama has been good on climate. He's probably been the best president in the history of the nation on climate change. But the problem is, he hasn't been good enough. The commitments that he has made are not enough to turn the tide on climate change. We're on a sinking boat, and it's like we're taking on two gallons of water - excuse me - every minute, and we're bailing one gallon. So, it's a recognition that they've made that there's a serious problem here, but it's not enough to fix the problem. This is an enormous threat in Alaska. We're living it daily. We're in crisis. And we need to have a response that's commensurate with the crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain what Alaskan - what drilling off the Alaskan coast will mean - all of the environmentalists, the "kayaktivists," the people who hung from the bridges to try to prevent Shell from moving its rigs to Alaska to drill, to the Arctic.

RICK STEINER: Well, in a real sense, we think it's somewhat - it seems somewhat hypocritical to, on the one hand, say we're concerned about climate change, and the scientific community is very clear that we need to be leaving maybe two-thirds of the hydrocarbon reserves, the oil and gas and coal around the world, right where it is right now, in the ground and in the seabed, in order to be able to stabilize global climate in the future. The best place to start doing that, in our view, is this new frontier of the Arctic, in which there's something like 100 billion tons of carbon. Now, to the climate, it probably doesn't matter if the ton of carbon comes from the Middle East or the Gulf of Mexico or Africa or the Arctic, but the optics of this are very worrying. It shows us that if we're going to go ahead and drill for oil offshore in the Arctic Ocean, impose this industrialization and disturbance and this huge spill risk to this extraordinary ecosystem - it shows us that we may not be really serious enough, with enough resolve, to actually want to leave carbon in the ground and in the seabed, which is what we know we need to do. So it's worrisome to many people who are concerned about climate.

AMY GOODMAN: Rick Steiner, you ultimately resigned from the University of Alaska around your views and scholarship on environmental protection. Can you talk about what happened, and talk more broadly about the power of the oil industry?

RICK STEINER: Well, the oil industry is God in Alaska. That's the way it's viewed by many politicians. It's responsible - oil revenues run the state of Alaska budget. It constitutes something like 80 or 90 percent of Alaska's state revenues. It's a big deal in Alaska. And it has this political momentum around it. So all the institutions - the university is extraordinarily pro-oil, and so are the state agencies and even the federal agencies here. And I've seen that all over the world, where a large oil industry develops - in Africa, in the Middle East, in Southeast Asia - and has this peculiar political momentum.

In Alaska, the university did not want me seeking and teaching my truth publicly, that there were concerns and risks about offshore drilling in Alaska. And they didn't want me saying that. I argued that I had the - not just the right, but the responsibility, to seek and teach that truth. That was part of my - the work I was doing on behalf of the university. I complained about the risks of one particular offshore drilling project in Bristol Bay, and the university terminated my federal funding because of that. I argued with them, and then I ultimately said the heck with it, and I resigned on principle, that I was not going to pretend to work for an institution that pretended to honor academic freedom and, in the end, actually didn't. So I resigned. The problem is, is the university still - I mean, everybody else has this very clear message right now that thou shalt not criticize oil in Alaska, or else your position is at risk.

AMY GOODMAN: In the last minute we have together, we are leading up to the UN climate summit in Paris.


AMY GOODMAN: What do you think needs to happen?

RICK STEINER: Well, certainly, the US needs to double down on the commitments that President Obama has made so far. The US declared commitment is something like 28 to 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. That's good, but about half of what we need at Paris. The big deal, as well, is, the US agreement with China last year allows China to continue increasing their carbon emissions until 2030 - for the next 15 years. And conceivably, China could then double their carbon emissions by the time that this agreement requires them to cap their emissions and begin reducing it. When President Obama meets with President Xi Jinping next month in Washington, they should revisit that deal and get China to commit to earlier and more substantial greenhouse gas reductions. And that - you know, Paris is the make-or-break game. Either we get this strong, urgent, legally binding deal in Paris, or I think we're kind of sunk. So, Paris is a make-or-break deal.

AMY GOODMAN: Rick Steiner, I want to thank you for being with us, marine conservation biologist, former professor at University of Alaska. Today he will be speaking at the "Our Climate, Our Future" rally ahead of President Obama's speech. He's started a petition that has now more than 100,000 signatures, "Tell President Obama to designate Marine National Monuments in Alaska." This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report.

News Mon, 31 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Will Grassroots Movements Change the Political Discourse in Iowa?

Presidential elections are an opportunity for grassroots movements to punch above their weight - especially in states like Iowa. Social movements there and around the United States are pushing candidates to state their positions on policies that will promote racial, social and economic justice.

Minnesota-based immigrant rights group Asamblea de Derechos Civiles disrupts a soapbox speech by GOP presidential candidate and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal on August 22 at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. (Photo: Iowa Starting Line)Minnesota-based immigrant rights group Asamblea de Derechos Civiles disrupts a soapbox speech by GOP presidential candidate and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal on August 22 at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. (Photo: Iowa Starting Line)

The Iowa State Fair used to be campaign gold for presidential candidates, an event National Public Radio's "On Point" host Tom Ashbrook has called a "campaign launching pad," a picture perfect opportunity to meet thousands of likely caucus-goers, eat fried pork chops on a stick and bask in the glow of a national media spotlight brighter than buttered sweet corn shining in the summer sun.

But ever since 2011, when Mitt Romney was heckled by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement activists and made his "corporations are people, my friend" gaffe, a campaign appearance at the Iowa State Fair has brought as much risk as reward.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton understands this. She attended the Iowa State Fair on August 15 this year for photo ops and staged appearances but skipped the Des Moines Register's Soapbox stage altogether, likely fearing an unscripted moment that could knock her campaign off message.

"It's time for those running for office to answer the critical questions of our community."

Two days later, on August 17, Wisconsin governor and GOP presidential candidate Scott Walker found out the hard way the power that citizen activists have to turn campaign launch pads into bottle rocket duds. More than 50 home health-care workers were bused in from Madison and Milwaukee by SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin and disrupted an Iowa State Fair speech Walker gave in front of hundreds of everyday Iowans.

The unionized "Fight for $15" workers followed Walker around the fairgrounds for hours and photobombed his stops with dozens of bright yellow-and-black signs that read, "Warning: Don't let Scott Walker do to America what he did to Wisconsin." Walker's supporters fought back, but the ensuing spectacle only helped to generate even more media headlines.

Other activists also took advantage of the Iowa State Fair this year to draw attention to their issues. A faith-based immigrant rights group from Minnesota, Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, organized an Iowa Pilgrimage Ride from August 19 to 23 and marched, rallied and held vigils in major cities across Iowa. The group arrived in Des Moines on August 21 to protest outside a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, as well as at a "Rally for Religious Liberty" held by GOP candidate and Texas senator Ted Cruz.

The Minnesota immigrants also bird-dogged GOP candidates Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and New Jersey governor Chris Christie at the Iowa State Fair on August 22, the same day animal rights activists also confronted Christie. An "#AllowDebates" group with ties to some of Hillary Clinton's primary opponents publicly challenged the Democratic National Committee chair about the Democrats short public debate calendar on the second to last day of the fair as well.

"It's time for those running for office to answer the critical questions of our community," Pablo Tapia, an Asamblea de Derechos Civiles leader, told Truthout. "Every day we hear the stories of families torn apart, and the women and children who languish in prison while corporations profit off of our oppression. Now we are organized and there is no stopping us."

The Movement for Black Lives Pushes the US to the Left

Heckling politicians is as American as apple pie, and mic check-style tactics are nothing new to social movement organizing. Young immigrants with DREAM Iowa have been bird-dogging presidential candidates on the stump all summer, and Quakers with the American Friends Service Committee in both Iowa and New Hampshire have spent the last several months training everyday citizens to take effective action on the issues they care about.

"The people in power don't really want to concede to the radicals, but they end up being forced to concede some of the more moderate demands."

But bold actions attempting to claim and hold space, and actually shut down campaign events entirely, seem to be gaining widespread traction this year after leaders from the Black Lives Matter movement disrupted speaking engagements of the self-styled democratic socialist Bernie Sanders in Phoenix and Seattle. The progressive favorite was quickly forced to add racial justice to his platform and talk more openly about race on the stump. Similar actions soon followed targeting Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.

"African Americans have a strong history of spearheading resistance movements in this country," said Jessica Welburn, a Black Twitter activist and African American studies professor at the University of Iowa.

"Mass movements make people feel like they can do something as individuals to make a difference. The conversation in this country has definitely moved forward as more and more people see civil unrest on the news and read about people protesting, and interrupting political candidates."

Pam Oliver, a sociologist studying social movements at the University of Wisconsin, described the influence that Black Lives Matter is having on the national debate as an example of what some social scientists call "the radical flank effect." According to this theory, mass radical organizing normalizes confrontational, disruptive direct actions as both legitimate and effective, and provokes a political crisis powerful enough to force institutional systems to begin negotiating with moderate movement factions.

"It's a little more complicated when partisan politics get involved, but as a pattern to think about, radicals put pressure on the system and help moderates win," Oliver said. "The people in power don't really want to concede to the radicals, but they end up being forced to concede some of the more moderate demands to try and get a handle on things and cool things down."

The dynamic Oliver describes is undoubtedly happening nationwide in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. President Obama has proposed a limited demilitarization plan for urban police forces and recently became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, where he called for some measured alternatives to mass incarceration policies. Presidential candidates besides Bernie Sanders have begun to spell out racial justice platforms of their own, and "Black millennial" factions like Campaign Zero have released their own political demands.

Local Resistance to Racism in Iowa

Iowa is first in the nation in the disproportionate incarceration of Black people. Iowa is 88 percent white, 6 percent Latino and 3 percent Black, but 26 percent of prisoners in the Midwest farm state are Black. Black Iowans are eight times more likely to be arrested for petty marijuana offenses than white Iowans.

Police violence against Black Iowans is also well documented. In 2008, Des Moines police officers beat a Black man 14 times with batons as he lay on the ground. Waterloo, one of Iowa's most diverse and racially segregated cities, is currently the subject of five separate federal lawsuits for excessive force by police.

Iowa City, nicknamed the "People's Republic" because of the community's progressive values, has nevertheless struggled for years to deal fairly with an influx of Black migrants from Chicago who have largely been segregated on the city's southeast side. A recent study of mainstream media coverage of Iowa City's demographic shift found that "virtually every news item about the southeast conforms to stereotypes depicting African-Americans as lazy, uneducated, dependent on government handouts, and prone to criminal or immoral behavior."

Welburn, the Twitter activist and sociologist, says her personal experience as a Black person from Iowa tracks with the academic research.

"There's always been tension in Iowa between African Americans and the predominantly white community," Welburn said. "A lot of stereotyping and profiling, as long as I can remember. But there are people of color in Iowa, and there are long-standing black organizations like the University of Iowa Black Student Union whose members were behind many of the recent protests here. People are developing strategies to become more vocal to combat racism in the community."

"Any presidential candidate who wants the support of Iowans needs to take on working people's issues."

In December 2014, Black graduate students at the University of Iowa mobilized hundreds of people to attend protests in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the widespread outrage against the racist police killings of Black people. Just a few weeks ago, over a hundred people protested outside of Iowa City Hall after a Black 15-year-old was beaten by local police.

"I'm a mom, so if I see Black kids getting mistreated, I'm going to be like, 'hold on, because you are not going to do that to my kids,'" said LaTasha DeLoach, one of the Iowa City "Black Kids Play Too" demonstrators.

DeLoach grew up poor in Iowa City and is now a social worker running for political office as a candidate for the local school board. She calls the disproportionality of discipline against Black schoolchildren in Iowa City "pervasive and alarming."

"Some people may not like Black Lives Matter's tactics, but if anything they make you pay attention," DeLoach said. "They make you start asking questions. And the Occupy Wall Street folks did some of the same stuff."

"Now Black women in my generation are ready to stand up and speak out. We've been quiet all this time, while all of these things have happened to us, and I think it's important that now we have a seat at the table."

Black women in Iowa's capital city of Des Moines have also mobilized hundreds to Black Lives Matter protests over the last year. Demonstrations quickly broke out after a Black trans woman was discriminated against and arrested at a Des Moines metro-area hotel in July.

Pressure From Immigrant Workers

Low-wage immigrant and refugee workers have also been organizing in Iowa with the newly formed Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa. The faith and labor-backed group uses community meetings, direct action street protests and targeted negotiations with decision-makers to win on issues like wage theft, stopping deportations, community ID and raisingtheminimumwage.

"Any presidential candidate who wants the support of Iowans needs to take on working people's issues, like addressing wage theft and low wages," said Mazahir Salih, a low-wage worker and board member of the local worker justice center.

"We want the next president to ramp up enforcement of labor laws, raise the wage and strengthen workers' rights to organize. We must also re-haul our immigration laws, provide a progressive path to citizenship for every undocumented person and immediately stop deportations."

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is another people's action group with a long history of organizing family farmers, immigrants and Black people to fight for economic, environmental and racial justice. The group is planning a 40th anniversary convention for October 2 and 3 in Des Moines that will include keynote speeches by Moral Mondays founder Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza.

Shaping the Narrative of the Election Season

A year of urban riots followed by recent disruptions of presidential campaign events has succeeded in forcing the mainstream media and political system to consider the demands of racial justice activists.

"There is all kinds of information that shows white people are paying far more attention to Black issues after the surge of Black Lives Matter protests than they were before," Oliver said. "Significant strikes and riots will probably always produce headlines, but as elections heat up, party politics tend to crowd out all the other news in the paper. If you want to get your message out, showing up at an election event increases your chances of being heard because that's where all the reporters are."

To be successful, social movement organizers will have to navigate the open political space as an independent source of power, contending not only with super PACs, which are increasingly taking on campaign organizing and event planning in addition to attack ads and household mailers, but also with national advocacy and interest groups posing as grassroots activists, as well.

After Labor Day, Iowa and other early voting states will be flooded with campaign ads, field organizers and political operatives of all stripes and allegiances in an attempt by special interest groups to influence the primary races, jockey for internal control of the political parties and vie for public attention. Many of these outfits will attempt to orchestrate events to appear to be organic and homegrown, even if the plans, the staff and the money come from national advocacy groups and foundations based in Washington, DC.
Right-wing activists are also organizing and using the presidential election season to push their agenda forward. Nearly 200 pro-Confederate flag rallies have been held across the country this summer. Anti-choice protests in Iowa targeting Planned Parenthood and women's reproductive freedom mobilized 250 people on August 22 and more than 1,000 on August 15. Sen. Ted Cruz's rally for religious liberty turned out thousands of people. A popular conservative Iowa talk radio host recently called for enslaving immigrants who refuse to self-deport.

"The grassroots right has a lot of different elements," Oliver said. "There are the racist, nativist elements, who have clearly been exploding with activity recently. You've got the Tea Party and these right-wing populists where government somehow becomes the enemy instead of corporations. There's also a version of right-wing populism associated with Christian conservatism."

Building Radical Momentum in the Midwest

Taking on the combined forces of big money corporate spending, the grassroots right and liberal AstroTurf organizations is a daunting task for social movements to tackle and overcome. But grassroots organizing in Iowa, the Midwest and across the United States is having a real impact.

To sustain and build the momentum, movement leaders will have to mobilize more and broader layers of everyday people into durable, long-haul organizations, capable of scaling up and taking on larger, more sustained and more disruptive direct actions. Rank-and-file militants should learn to accept the inevitable bargaining between decision-makers and moderate movement factions, and keep fighting for more with their eyes on the only true prize: growing a real base of people power in workplaces, neighborhoods and communities across the country, which is truly independent of establishment interest groups, foundations, politicians and political parties.

"Candidates on both the left and the right are attempting to strike a populist image on a wide range of issues affecting working-class people," said Adam Mason, an Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement leader originally from rural Storm Lake. "Our members and many other everyday Iowans can see through the populist rhetoric on both sides, and we will be pressuring all candidates to back a specific set of 'People and Planet First' policies," added Mason, who currently serves as the organization's statewide policy organizing director.

"We'll also build and mobilize a base of social justice fighters that will hold the eventual nominees from both parties accountable to the people."

News Mon, 31 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Death Toll Rises as Refugees Head to Europe Seeking Safety

The European Union has called for emergency talks to address the rapidly growing number of people fleeing to Europe to escape violence and unrest in Syria, Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, sub-Saharan Africa and other regions. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, approximately 2,500 people are believed to have died or gone missing trying to reach Europe so far this year. On Sunday, 37 people died when a boat capsized off the Libyan coast. This came just days after another boat capsized off the Libyan coast killing more than 200 people. Meanwhile, investigators in Hungary and Austrian authorities are continuing to probe the deaths of 71 people who were found abandoned last week inside a truck on the main highway between Budapest and Vienna. We speak to Joel Millman of the International Organization for Migration in Geneva; Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch; and Dr. Chiara Montaldo of Doctors Without Borders in the Sicilian town of Pozzallo in Italy. She has been providing medical and psychological care to people rescued from boats in the Mediterranean.


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

AMY GOODMAN: The European Union has called for emergency talks to address the rapidly growing number of people fleeing to Europe to escape violence and unrest in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, sub-Saharan Africa and other regions. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, approximately 2,500 people are believed to have died or gone missing trying to reach Europe so far this year. On Sunday, 37 people died when a boat capsized off the Libyan coast. This came just days after another boat capsized off the Libyan coast killing more than 200 people. Meanwhile, investigators in Hungary and Austrian authorities are continuing to probe the deaths of 71 people who were found abandoned last week inside a truck on the main highway between Budapest and Vienna. On Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on governments to take action on the migrant crisis in Europe.

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON: I am horrified and heartbroken as refugees and migrants are losing their lives in the Mediterranean, Europe and beyond. We have seen countless tragedies, most recently the grim discovery of more than 70 people who suffocated inside a truck in Austria. So many people have also drowned in the Mediterranean and also the Andaman Seas. We must understand why people are risking their lives: They are fleeing war, political instability and insecurity to seek a better future.

AMY GOODMAN: Hungary has responded to the situation by building a 109-mile-long razor-wire fence on its southern border. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports scenes of blatant racial profiling at Budapest's main train station. Authorities allowed white and lighter-skinned people to pass through, but stopped and demanded papers from virtually all darker-skinned people. On Saturday alone, Hungary detained 3,000 people. Over the weekend, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius accused Hungary of adopting a, quote, "scandalous" policy toward refugees. He made the remarks during an interview.

FOREIGN MINISTER LAURENT FABIUS: [translated] With regard to all those people who are politically chased out of their country and who are in war-torn countries, we have to be able to welcome them. It's called the plea for asylum, and every country has to respond to that - France, Germany, others. But when I see certain European countries that do not accept these groups, I find that scandalous.

REPORTER: [translated] Which countries are you speaking about?

FOREIGN MINISTER LAURENT FABIUS: [translated] Particularly countries that are situated in Eastern Europe.

REPORTER: [translated] Hungary, for example, what do you think of what's going on there?

FOREIGN MINISTER LAURENT FABIUS: [translated] They are extremely harsh. Hungary is part of Europe, which has values. We do not respect those values by putting up fences.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the crisis, we're joined by Joel Millman in Geneva, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration there. And here in New York, Ken Roth is with us, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! We also hope to go to the coast of Sicily, where migrants are pouring in to the coastal towns. But we're going to start right now in Geneva. Joel Millman, talk about the extent of the crisis. I think it's one that people in the United States are not very well aware of.

JOEL MILLMAN: Well, we're up 322,000 seaborne crossings into Europe, principally from Turkey into Greece and from Libya into Italy. This is, with four months to go in this year, 2015, we're already ahead of where we were last year at the end of August - I'm sorry, where we were for the whole, at 219,000. So we're 100,000 above that and with another third of the year to go.

These are people that are fleeing principally a handful of countries. Syria is number one, Eritrea, Somalia; now Afghanistan has become very prominent, as well - all people that generally, from those places, would merit consideration for asylum and resettlement. So, the tragedy is that people that would be treated as refugees by Europe under almost any circumstance are risking their lives for the opportunity to petition for something that most countries in the world think they already deserve.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the - what is fueling this mass migration, from Africa, from the Middle East, from around all of the surrounding countries around Europe.

JOEL MILLMAN: Well, we can't be naïve. I mean, what's fueling it is the conflict and the stress that's happening in a few societies. However, it's the lawlessness of places like Syria and Libya right now that deny Europe and the rest of the world any kind of government partner that they can access to try to control or manage this migration flow. We understand that there are demographic imperatives involved, that Europe has a falling birth rate. There's a huge demand for cheap labor, skilled and unskilled, and there's a huge dearth of jobs in the countries where these individuals are coming from. But the fact is, this is not a new condition. This has gone on for decades and had been managed. They've been managed with governments that aren't altogether savory to us, like Gaddafi's government in Libya. However, in the absence of real authority, criminal gangs have stepped up and opportunistically decided to start trafficking in migrants. Quite a number of these cases are people that may not have intended to go to Europe at all in the first place and have been kidnapped and coerced and stuffed onto boats. So we've seen that to a great degree, particularly in Tripoli and the western part of Libya. But, obviously, it's the inability of any government to control this effectively that's created the opportunity for lots of criminal gangs. And they're moving - while the profits are high, they're moving as many people as they can.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what the Schengen Agreement is?

JOEL MILLMAN: Well, it's an agreement that is among European countries, not solely those of the European Union, to be able to transit freely throughout the continent. It's to facilitate tourism and trade, and it's worked quite well for many decades, principally because, you know, Europeans are very affluent, and they follow rules very well, and, until recently, there wasn't quite a lot of people coming sort of irregularly - is the term we like to use - from outside Europe. Unfortunately, this is not a system built to make for orderly - you know, orderly transit through Europe when people that aren't there with documents or aren't there with valid visas start coming in these numbers. And the numbers are huge, as we discussed.

AMY GOODMAN: Thousands of migrants have sought shelter in a makeshift shantytown in the coastal town of Calais. This is an Afghan refugee named Wahib describing his experience there on the eve of a visit from European officials and French ministers.

WAHIB: Nobody is, like, treating us like as a human being here, you know? Everybody and police are - if you go, like, to city, some police see us, "Hey," go, "jungle, jungle." Like, we are human beings, so - they call us "jungle." You can see that, you know? So, it's like very embarrassing for me recently. I cannot say about other people, but for me it's like very embarrassing. It's just because that our country is not, like, good. It's - we cannot stay there. There's a war.

AMY GOODMAN: Joel Millman, if you could respond to what this migrant is saying? Joel Millman, speaking to us by video stream from Geneva, spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration.

JOEL MILLMAN: Well, it's tragic, obviously. The individual that was just interviewed, I mean, he's an English speaker. It's not perfect English, but obviously he's educated. Obviously, he's made it all the way from Afghanistan to Calais. These are people that show tremendous resolve. Sometimes they have resources, and often they have great education. They're able - they would be able to thrive, integrate well in any society, particularly in Europe or North America. And yet, you know, regulations and rules against transit are keeping them in countries where their lives are often at risk. And we don't - we are no longer seeing these people as members of our society and welcome; we're seeing them as threats, especially if they come from Muslim countries. And it's true. I mean, they're reduced to living in squalor, which we think is beneath the dignity of any human being, much less a migrant.

AMY GOODMAN: What are you calling on the European Union to do right now, Joel Millman?

JOEL MILLMAN: Well, mostly to be flexible. I mean, we don't lobby particularly; we're not an advocacy group. And we don't think it's proper to single Europe out, as many have, as not doing its share. I mean, Europe has taken on a tremendous burden and have done so even though it's a system that's shared by 28 countries in the EU, and then, of course, all the other countries not in the EU. They're trying to find a way to turn what had been a uniform policy into something more flexible, and I think they've made pretty good strides. I mean, Germany last week talked about shelving the Dublin rule, which insists that an asylum seeker only accept asylum from the first country he arrives in, which clearly isn't working. I mean, hundreds of thousands have crossed into Italy in the last two years, and very few of them stay there. They all want to go to northern Europe or Germany or UK So, this is the kind of flexibility that we'd like to see more of.

Obviously, we want more resettlement, more resettlement quotas. We want people in Europe to understand that it's not a zero-sum game between letting them drown, on one hand, or giving them asylum and access to every benefit in the society, on the other. There are many, many solutions in between. I mean, there's temporary protected status. There's humanitarian resettlement. There's all kinds of things that governments have done for decades that only require a little bit of clear thinking and a political will. You know, here at IOM, we often reflect that it was four years ago this summer that the world was faced with the so-called boat people crisis in Southeast Asia. And the speed and the diligence with which countries as far afield as Canada and the US, France, Australia, Thailand and others all pitched in and found solutions for millions of people over a very short period of time and resettled them so successfully is something to be inspired by. And, you know, you often feel like, "What's happened with the world? They used to have solutions for these kind of crises, and now they seem to only have excuses for why they can't act." We know we can do better. We know that we will, with time.

AMY GOODMAN: Joel Millman, I want to thank you for being with us, spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration, speaking to us by video stream from Geneva, Switzerland. When we come back, we're going to go to the front line to a coastal town in Sicily, where migrants are pouring in, overwhelming the communities, communities without solutions. We'll also be joined by the head of Human Rights Watch here in New York, Kenneth Roth. This is Democracy Now! We'll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: You've been listening to the Migrant Choir. This is a collaborative public choral piece that was staged at the Venice Biennale in mid-August this year as part of the Creative Time Summit. Migrants gathered from around the world. They came to Venice, and they sang in front of three countries that have turned immigrants away, in front of Italy, in front of the British Pavilion, as well as in front of the French Pavilion. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, as we continue to look at this massive global crisis.

The Mediterranean Sea has become one of the world's deadliest borders, as more than 340,000 people displaced by war and violence have attempted to reach Europe this year. We go now to the coast of Sicily to Dr. Chiara Montaldo, a coordinator with Doctors Without Borders in Pozzallo, Sicily, Italy, providing medical and psychological care to migrants and refugees rescued from boats in the Mediterranean. She recently wrote a piece for The Guardian called "We see more and more unaccompanied children on migrant boats."

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Dr. Montaldo. Describe what is happening in just your town alone, in Pozzallo, where you're working.

DR. CHIARA MONTALDO: Yes, good afternoon. What is happening here, we are receiving migrants since almost two years now. And honestly, the condition of the people we receive are worse and worse, not so much for the traveling in the sea, but really for the condition in Libya, in all the migration way before to come here. And the main point where they are now victim of violence is for sure Libya, where all the people that we talk with, they really tell us that now is really the hell. This is the word that they often use to describe Libya, is the "hell." There is no security. Many people have been really tortured or have been beaten. They come with the wounds and burns. Many women, but also many men, are raped. So, now what we see, unfortunately, are the consequences of the worsening of the situation in Libya. This is clear.

AMY GOODMAN: You retweeted someone writing, "We are alive only because we are not dead."


AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Montaldo, explain.

DR. CHIARA MONTALDO: Yeah, most of the people that we are receiving now are really escaping from death. So, why they risk their life in the sea? They know very well now that the sea is like Russian roulette. So, they can die, they know, because now there are more and more shipwreck and tragedies in the sea. But still they keep coming. Why? Because their condition in their own countries are worsening. First of all, Syria, of course, but not only Syria - Eritrea, Somalia, Nigeria. So, all these people are really escaping from a situation where the risk of life is really high, higher than the trip in the sea. So that's why they keep coming. Not only this, because actually we receive people from many different nationalities, but many of them, they were already living in Libya. And now, as I told you, the situation is always worse and worse, so all these people, really, most of them, they come because they don't have choice, and especially because they don't have other alternatives to this trip in the sea. So, unfortunately, some of them, they could afford to buy a ticket, if they could, but there is no possibility, because there are no legal way in this moment allowing them to reach safely Europe or any way a safe place.

AMY GOODMAN: The piece, Dr. Montaldo, that you wrote in The Guardian, you write of the chemical burns on the people, especially who were in the hold of the boats. And you write about how the lighter-skinned immigrants will be above, and the darker-skinned immigrants, for example, from Africa, are below, where they're more likely to get burned, because the immigrants fear that if darker-skinned people are seen, they're more likely to be turned away.

DR. CHIARA MONTALDO: Yeah, yeah, the chemical burn are symptoms that we see quite often, in some type of landing. It means whenever the boat has some problem of fuel leaking. So sometimes the fuel come out, and because they are sit all in the boat, especially in the lower part of the body, the legs, they have these really burn, like a fire burn, but they are caused by the fuel. And sometimes they are really severe. Sometimes we need to admit them. Sometimes we can treat them at the first reception center.

And it is true that, unfortunately, even in the boat, there is a kind of hierarchy. All of them, unfortunately, are desperate, but there is a kind of a different kind of despair, because, unfortunately, even in the boat, there is a first and second class, if we can say like that. And so, the last of the chain, often they have the worst places, the places more dangerous. And we see more and more people who died because they are in the - they stay in the lower part of the boat, which is normally the more - the most dangerous, because they cannot breathe sometimes. The fuel is there, and the gas of the boat - they are there. So, for example, two days ago, one of our team received people survived from this tragedy. Fifty people died because they were in the lower part of the boat. And they were probably without oxygen, and they died. Unfortunately, in these kind of tragedies, the people in the boat, maybe like yesterday, 400 people in the boat, they fight for life. This is normal. This situation put them in a situation where even in between them sometimes there are tension, and everybody try to save their own life.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your message for Europeans who say, "We have too many problems of our own. We have to send these people back," Dr. Montaldo?

DR. CHIARA MONTALDO: Honestly, I think that in front of what we are facing now - people dying, people without alternative - I think that this discussion to send them back, to block our borders are really - for me, they are - we should not discuss about this. We should discuss how to help people who is trying now to save their life. How can we still be here asking ourself should we block them or should not? How can we still be here to think how to protect ourself? I think that all our discussion are to protect ourself. But for me and for my organization, the priority is not protect ourself, is not protect our borders, but to help people who are dying. And they will continue to die if we don't do anything. And our fences, our barriers and our border are the cause of many of these deaths.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of what people should be called, aside, of course, from simply "human beings" and "people" - "migrants," "refugees" - what do they prefer? And do you think they should be granted political asylum?

DR. CHIARA MONTALDO: So, what I think and what we think is that we prefer to call always the people "people," "human being," because for us what is important is to provide the care of the people in need, whoever they are, if they are refugees, if they are - whoever they are. So, we always prefer to call people "people," "human beings." Then, of course, there are differences, because some of them, they escape from the war; some of them, they escape from extreme poverty; some of them, they are victim of trafficking. So, there are many, many different people and many different reason for which people are escaping now. But, for us, this doesn't matter. These, for us, are human beings in need, in extreme need, human beings escaping from death, very often, or, anyway, from very dangerous situation. So, yes, we always prefer to call them "human being."

AMY GOODMAN: We are also joined by Kenneth Roth here in New York, executive director of Human Rights Watch. You have put out numerous reports on the situation of people who are migrating as a result of conflict, persecution, hunger, all the different reasons they do. What do you think has to happen now, Ken?

KENNETH ROTH: Well, Amy, let me first put this in perspective, because, you know, we're talking about a crisis. And yes, 310,000, 320,000 people are a lot of people. But Europe's population as a whole is about 500 million. So what we're talking about, the number of people who have come this year is less than 0.1 percent of Europe's population. Now, compare that to the United States, where undocumented people in this country are about 11 million. That's about 3.5 percent of the US population. So, in other words, the US population has completely integrated massive more people, a much larger percentage than Europe is facing. Indeed, the US has built an economy around these people, so that it would be difficult to send them back. We're having a debate now about a path to citizenship, but realistically, these people are here to stay, and the US has just incorporated them.

So, this is not really a crisis. I mean, Europe is perfectly able to manage integrating 0.1 percent of its population. The problem is, it doesn't want to - at least some people don't want to. We've seen real leadership. You saw the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, saying - very powerfully speaking for the need to welcome these people. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has also been very outspoken in this regard. So, we are seeing some leadership in Europe, but the right wing, in particular, is demagoguing this issue and is creating real problems, which are not real problems, they're political problems.

AMY GOODMAN: So what exactly should the European Union do right now?

KENNETH ROTH: Well, it's important to recognize that a very substantial percentage of these people are refugees. That is to say, they're fleeing conflict and persecution. Yes, there are some economic migrants among them, but most at least have a right not to be sent back to persecution. And once they land on European soil, they actually have a right to have their asylum claim adjudicated, and if indeed they are found to be refugees, as most of them will be, they're entitled to stay.

So what Europe needs to do is to stop treating the Mediterranean or the often-dangerous land crossing, stop treating sort of drowning and death, as a way of preserving its borders. It needs to find safe and legal routes for these people who really do need to flee, a way for them to get to Europe without risking their lives. And, you know, we've seen modest steps in that direction. If you look at sort of the way Europe has responded to the Mediterranean Sea crossing, when the Italians were in charge, they had something called Mare Nostrum, which very much focused on protecting people. The European Union then took over about a year ago with Operation Triton and put a priority on preserving Europe's borders over protecting people - until this last spring, when a thousand people died in the course of one week, and then it changed. But I'm not sure if it's changed enough, because even just this weekend we've seen a number of drownings off the Libyan coast. Europe should be patrolling much more aggressively near the Mediterranean coast to try to rescue people as quickly as possible, so they're not continuing to use drowning as a way of preserving Europe's borders.

AMY GOODMAN: So what does the United States have to do with it? I mean, you have these massive conflicts that have roiled the globe. Do we have a responsibility here?

KENNETH ROTH: Well, yes. If you look at why people are fleeing - let's take the Syrians, who are the largest percentage. In an ordinary war, you can get some degree of protection by moving away from the front lines. But in Syria, Assad is dropping barrel bombs in the middle of civilian neighborhoods that happen to be controlled by the opposition. There is no safe place to move in Syria if you're in opposition-held territory, which is why we have 4 million refugees from Syria today. So one very important thing to do is to go to the root causes of this, to try to put real pressure on Assad to stop barrel-bombing civilians, and to take comparable steps in the other major refugee-producing countries, like Somalia, Eritrea and Afghanistan. You know, let's not forget why we have this crisis. It's not that everybody woke up this morning and thought it would be nice to move to Europe. These people are being forced out because of severe conflict and persecution.

AMY GOODMAN: And do you see connections between what we're seeing in the United States - I mean, you have the Republican rhetoric; you have Donald Trump saying build a wall, Mexicans are rapists, all 11 million undocumented people should be deported; you have Chris Christie saying they should be treated like FedEx packages and tracked. What are the connections you see between what's happening in the United States and what's happening in Europe?

KENNETH ROTH: Well, there are commonalities between the right wing in both Europe and the United States. And what this is really about is some sense that the migrants are somehow destroying American culture or European culture, that these societies cannot incorporate the changes that would result from welcoming in, you know, hundreds of thousands or, in some cases in the US, millions of people. Now, the United States, in fact, is just fine. In fact, it's been greatly enriched by the immigration. And it's not as if American culture is radically different today from what it was, you know, two or three decades ago. It's not as if American democracy is in jeopardy. But this is nonetheless an argument that the right wing likes to put forward, that the American way of life is in jeopardy. And you see very similar arguments in Europe, aggravated by the fact that so many of these asylum seekers and migrants are Muslims. And there's this terrifying fear in Europe that, you know, largely Christian Europe is somehow going to changed for the worse because a handful of Muslims are going to come in. And so there is this unfortunate right-wing, racist commonality.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you, Ken Roth, for being with us. I hope you'll stay, because we're going to be talking about Egypt soon with Sharif Abdel Kouddous in Cairo, the three Al Jazeera reporters that were just sentenced to three years in prison. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights [Watch] here in New York. And thanks so much to Dr. Chiara Montaldo, who is coordinator with Doctors Without Borders, speaking to us from Pozzallo in Sicily, Italy. Of course, we'll continue to follow this issue.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, though, we're going north to Alaska. President Obama is there. He's renaming the tallest mountain in North America, Mount McKinley - he's renaming it Denali. And we will talk about climate change in Alaska, before we go to Cairo. Stay with us.

News Mon, 31 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Justice for Samuel Harrell: Prosecute the "Beat Up Squad" at the Fishkill Prison

Black Lives Matter activists in the Hudson Valley, New York, are increasing pressure on DA William Grady to prosecute the officers accused of murdering Samuel Harrell, a Black prisoner diagnosed with bipolar disorder who was beaten to death at the Fishkill Correctional Facility.

Samuel Harrell (Photo: courtesy of the Harrell Family)Samuel Harrell (Photo: courtesy of the Harrell Family)A horrifying murder was committed four months ago and despite the killers being known, not a single thing has happened to them. The murder victim was Samuel Harrell, a Black prisoner living with bipolar disorder who was serving time in the Fishkill Correctional Facility in New York. After a mental health episode, in which he announced he was going home despite still having years to serve, officers wrestled him to the floor and handcuffed him. Edwin Pearson, one of at least 19 prisoners who witnessed the incident, has testified that a gang of 20 officers known as the "Beat Up Squad" then arrived and proceeded to punch, kick and jump on Harrell "like he was a trampoline" while yelling racial epithets. The gang then threw Harrell down a flight of stairs, concluding the fatal beating.

One prisoner wrote that Harrell lay at the bottom of the stairs "bent in an impossible position," adding, "His eyes were open, but they weren't looking at anything." Harrell died as a result of this brutal attack, according to Orange County medical examiner's autopsy report

Harrell's family continues to suffer with the loss, especially knowing the horrific abuse that caused his death. Diane Harrell, Samuel's wife, told Truthout: "I cannot bear the thought of my husband's last few minutes of life. I cannot help but visualize his beaten body. I know he suffered. I know he felt excruciating pain. I cannot help but wonder what his final thoughts were. I imagine he thought about us, his family."

Diane Harrell. (Photo: Ignacio Acevedo)Diane Harrell. (Photo: Ignacio Acevedo)Cerissa Harrell, Samuel's sister, certainly continues to mourn. She stated: "It has been four months and six days since I lost a brother and a friend. There aren't any words to express the intense feeling of loss I go through every day and every night. I miss him so much … He wasn't just an inmate. He was a brother, son, grandson, uncle, nephew, cousin and friend to so many people … Ask everyone who knew him: Sam was a gentle soul." Cerissa added, "Sam's life was stolen from him. He was only 30 years old. He had so much more life to live."

Cerissa Harrell. (Photo: Walter Hergt)Cerissa Harrell. (Photo: Ignacio Acevedo)After robbing Harrell of his life, the Beat Up Squad told medics that Samuel died of an overdose. However, this proved to be untrue when the Orange County medical examiner found that there were no illegal drugs in his system, conclusively ruling his death a homicide. Despite this autopsy report and 19 affidavits and letters from prisoners who witnessed the deadly beating, District Attorney William Grady - who is responsible for prosecuting this murder - has let four months go by without pressing homicide charges. Meanwhile, The Beat Up Squad is reportedly still on duty, attacking inmates, throwing them in solitary and threatening prisoners to "forget what you saw here if you ever want to make it home."

Justice for Samuel Harrell

As a result of this extrajudicial killing going unpunished, Harrell's family and friends, including Diane and Cerissa, joined the Hudson Valley Black Lives Matter Coalition - made up of individuals from the organizations Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, Community Voices Heard and Citizen Action - to demand justice last week. On Thursday August 27, members of the coalition and family descended on Dutchess County District Attorney William Grady's office demanding that Grady immediately file homicide charges on the corrections officers who murdered Samuel Harrell.

The group blockaded the District Attorney's door, expecting the five individuals carrying out acts of civil disobedience to be arrested.

Blockading the DA. (Photo: Rez Ones)Blockading the DA. (Photo: Rez Ones)

However, despite blocking the entrance to the building, a four-way intersection, and finally a three-lane highway for a total of two hours, no arrests were made. It was later confirmed by the group's police liaison, Blair Goodman, that Grady explicitly instructed officers not to detain anyone. Perhaps arresting them, while letting the Beat Up Squad continue business as usual, was too great of an irony to bear.

Shutting Down an Intersection. (Photo: Rez Ones)Shutting Down an Intersection. (Photo: Rez Ones)

Shutting Down the Highway. (Photo: Rez Ones)Shutting Down the Highway. (Photo: Rez Ones)

The Larger Problem

The Beat Up Squad is not the only gang of abusive corrections officers: Violence by officers in prison is systemic. When incarcerated, one's chances of committing suicide, being sexually assaulted and being physically assaulted grow significantly. For example, in June, at Clinton, a correctional facility in upstate New York, corrections officers beat prisoners, choked them with plastic bags and threatened to waterboard them. According to an anonymous interview with a prisoner by the Correctional Association of New York, the only private organization in New York with unrestricted access to prisons, at Attica, another New York prison, if a prisoner looks at the corrections officers wrong, "they will beat you" and if you make allegations of sexual assault they will be also beat you. "They do it in the hallways and they stick together," the inmate said.

Much of this violence disproportionally affects Black prisoners - like Samuel Harrell - who make up 18 percent of the total population, 50 percent of those in prisons and 60 percent of those put in solitary confinement, according to the Correctional Association of New York. According to an anonymous prisoner interviewed by the Correctional Association, "90 percent of the abuse has race at the heart of it; they don't like Black people plain and simple; most of the guys who are beat up are Black." In addition to systemic racism, there have been explicitly racist acts carried out by corrections officers in New York State. Specifically, at Attica, corrections officers wore white sheets on their heads pretending they were a part of the Ku Klux Klan during a Christmas celebration, and, "As a part of the act, they have a statute of a Black baby with a noose around its neck hanging on the Christmas tree."

The violence faced by prisoners is only exacerbated for those with mental illness. According, Black people are also disproportionately placed in solitary confinement, which is considered torture, especially for those with mental illness. At Rikers Island 16-year-old Kalief Browder spent approximately two years in solitary confinement, during which he attempted suicide multiple times. He was also starved and beaten by officers over the three years he was kept at Rikers without trial. Kalief never recovered from the physical and mental violence he faced in prison, and he eventually killed himself.

Despite the violence experienced by inmates and documented above, until March 2015 criminal charges had never been broughtagainst correctional officers for a non-sexual assault on a prisoner anywhere in New York. Incarceration is part of the attack on Black life, and in particular on Black people like Samuel Harrell who have mental illnesses. People with a mental illness make up over half the prison population. This statistic is even higher for women who are incarcerated.

Abuse in prisons by corrections officers cannot go unchecked. The issue is systemic and must be addressed as such. By standing up for Samuel Harrell last Thursday, the fight to change this system was carried forward by his family. As Cerissa promised Samuel, "We will not stop fighting until we get you the justice you deserve." She continued, "We ask the District Attorney to bring charges against the men who murdered my brother. I pray for those who, like me and my family, have lost a loved one at the hands of theauthorities. No one should have to endure such pain. We will keep fighting until no one else will."

Cerissa Harrell and Diane Harrel. (Photo: Rez Ones)Cerissa Harrell and Diane Harrel. (Photo: Rez Ones)

Because Black Lives Matter and because Black Prisoners Matter, the Hudson Valley Black Lives Matter Coalition will continue to fight in solidarity with Cerissa and Diane Harrell until #justiceforsamuelharrell is won. Just hours after the action last Thursday, the US attorney for the Southern District, Preet Bharara, announced that his office will join the investigation into Harrell's death. Hopefully this means Harrell's case will be taken seriously, bringing the larger issue of prisons as violent institutions into the spotlight.

News Mon, 31 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Deliberate Targeting of Water Sources Worsens Misery for Millions of Syrians

A Syrian man and his wife carry bottles of water walk through a sandstorm in the Zaatari refugee camp north of Amman in Jordan, Aug. 31, 2012. (Moises Saman/The New York Times)A Syrian man and his wife carry bottles of water as they walk through a sandstorm in the Zaatari refugee camp north of Amman in Jordan, August 31, 2012. (Moises Saman/The New York Times)

United Nations - Imagine having to venture out into a conflict zone in search of water because rebel groups and government forces have targeted the pipelines. Imagine walking miles in the blazing summer heat, then waiting hours at a public tap to fill up your containers. Now imagine realizing the jugs are too heavy to carry back home.

This scene, witnessed by an engineer with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), is becoming all too common in embattled Syria. In this case, the child sent to fetch water was a little girl who simply sat down and cried when it became clear she wouldn't be able to get the precious resource back to her family.

Compounded by a blistering heat wave, with temperatures touching a searing 40 degrees Celsius in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria's water shortage is reaching critical levels, the United Nations said Wednesday.

In an Aug. 26 press relief, UNICEF blasted parties to the conflict for deliberately targeting the water supply, adding that it has recorded 18 intentional water cuts in Aleppo in 2015 alone.

Such a move - banned under international law - is worsening the misery of millions of war-weary civilians, with an estimated five million people enduring the impacts of long interruptions to their water supply in the past few months.

"Clean water is both a basic need and a fundamental right, in Syria as it is anywhere else," Peter Salama, UNICEF's regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement today. "Denying civilians access to water is a flagrant violation of the laws of war and must end."

In some communities taps have remained dry for up to 17 consecutive days; in others, the dry spell has lasted over a month.

Often times the task of fetching water from collection points or public taps falls to children. It is not only exhausting work, but exceedingly dangerous in the conflict-ridden country. UNICEF says that three children have died in Aleppo in recent weeks while they were out in search of water.

In cities like Aleppo and Damascus, as well as the southwestern city of Dera'a, families are forced to consume water from unprotected and unregulated groundwater sources. Most likely contaminated, these sources put children at risk of water-borne diseases like typhoid and diarrhoea.

With supply running so low and demand for water increasing by the day, water prices have shot up - by 3,000 percent in places like Aleppo - making it even harder for families to secure this life-sustaining resource.

Ground fighting and air raids have laid waste much of the country's water infrastructure, destroying pumping stations and severing pipelines at a time when municipal workers cannot get in to make necessary repairs.

To top it off, the all-too-frequent power cuts prevent technicians and engineers from pumping water into civilian areas.

UNICEF has trucked in water for over half-a-million people, 400,000 of them in Aleppo. The agency has also rehabilitated 94 wells serving 470,000 people and distributed 300,000 litres of fuel to beef up public water distribution systems in Aleppo and Damascus, where the shortage has impacted 2.3 million and 2.5 million people respectively. In Dera'a, a quarter of a million people are also enduring the cuts.

A 40-billion-dollar funding gap is preventing UNICEF from revving up its water, hygiene and sanitation operations around Syria. To tackle the crisis in Aleppo and Damascus alone the relief agency says it urgently needs 20 million dollars - a request that is unlikely to be met given the funding shortfall gripping humanitarian operations across the UN system.

Overall, water availability in Syria is about half what it was before 2011, when a massive protest movement against President Bashar al-Assad quickly turned into a violent insurrection that now involves over four separate armed groups including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Well into its fifth year, the war shows no sign of abating.

As the UN marks World Water Week (Aug. 23-28) its eyes are on the warring parties in Syria who must be held accountable for using water to achieve their military and political goals.

Edited by Kitty Stapp.

News Mon, 31 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
New Study Highlights Toxic Chemicals Traveling Through Breastmilk

Many new mothers worry about what they consume while they're breastfeeding. Obvious risks such as passing along medications or alcohol are well known to impact the development and health of their child. But a new study from Harvard shows that a certain chemical composition, all around us, could be impacting newborns more than we ever realized.

The study looked at a group of chemicals known as perfluorinated alkylate substances, also referred to as PFASs.

PFASs are found in products that are designed to repel water and oil such as food packaging, clothing, cosmetics, paints and stain-proof fabrics. These chemicals often make their way into the water supply and that's how they wind up in our bodies. These are present in most mammals all over the world and are known to have impacts on the reproductive system, immune function and certain types of cancers.

The transfer of PSAFs in breast milk has been studied before, but most of those studies looked at the quantity of PSAFs in the milk itself, which is usually fairly low. This study, however, looked at the build up in the blood of infants over time. What they found is that these chemicals tend to increase by 20-30 percent in the blood stream every month the child is breastfed. As breastfeeding stops, the amount decreases. Those who were partially breastfed also tended to have lower levels of PFASs in their system.

Phillipe Grandjean, the adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard Chan School says that, "There is no reason to discourage breastfeeding, but we are concerned that these pollutants are transferred to the next generation at a very vulnerable age." He also notes that currently there is no legislation in the US that requires testing of PFASs and their ability to move through mediums such as breast milk.

It seems like just another worry to add onto a pile of endless worries when a new baby arrives. But women can help keep PSAFs at bay by avoiding tap water while breastfeeding - which is the primary way that humans ingest these chemicals. In addition, women who are worried about continuous build up can supplement with formula during their breastfeeding period.

Yet the public must demand more studies on how certain products and chemicals can transfer to infants via breast milk. Many scientists lament the lack of funding and published, peer reviewed data on the subject. Judith S. Schreiber, a PhD who works for the Environmental Protection Bureau in New York State, writes that at the moment we mostly test for chemical toxicity in full grown adult men, and often at high doses. "Maternal, chemical, and physiologic factors influence the degree to which environmental chemicals are present in breast milk and are important determinants of the magnitude of the potential exposure of the infant," she writes. So why aren't there more tests out there to help determine the effect such chemicals can have on infants?

Organizations to combat this dearth of information, such as Make Our Milk Safe (MOMS), have sprung up, advocating for more studies and legislation on hazardous chemicals and how they are ingested and transferred.

MOMS spells out their mandate: "We believe that corporations have a responsibility to ensure the safety of the products they sell. We believe that government has a responsibility to ensure that pregnant women, nursing mothers, and their children are adequately protected by environmental health regulations."

However, despite such grassroots efforts, it will take a coming together of the scientific community, activists and environmental protection officers to really impact the level of PFASs that are currently finding their way into our water system.

News Mon, 31 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The China Syndrome: Bubble Trouble

(Photo: Chinese Yuan via Shutterstock)(Photo: Chinese Yuan via Shutterstock)

The financial markets have been through some wild and crazy times over the last two weeks, although it appears that they have finally stabilized. The net effect of all the gyrations is that a serious bubble in China's market seems to have been at least partially deflated. After hugely over-reacting to this correction, most other markets have largely recovered. Prices are down from recent peaks, but in nearly all cases well above year ago levels.

But the stock market is really a side-show; after all back in 1987 the US market fell by almost 25 percent for no obvious reason, with little noticeable effect on the US economy. The more serious question is what is happening with the underlying economy, and there are some real issues here.

China's economy had become a major engine for world growth just as the US economy had been a major engine for world growth in the last decade. While predictions of an economic collapse in China will almost certainly prove wrong (many China experts have a long history of such predictions), it does seem likely that its growth going forward will be considerably slower than it has been in the past.

This will be bad news for exporters of oil and other commodities, the price of which were being sustained by the rapid growth in China. But a slowdown in China will also be bad news for the United States and other rich countries who were expecting that continued strong growth in China would boost their net exports, thereby lifting their weak growth rates.

Over the longer term it is reasonable to expect that China will continue to move from large trade surpluses to trade deficits or at least near balanced trade, the movement will likely be in the other direction in the immediate future. This means that trade with China will be a factor slowing growth in Japan, Europe and the United States for the immediate future.

While we can be unhappy with China for slowing our growth, the important point to remember is that we do still possess the keys for more rapid growth. After all, the problem is simply a lack of demand in the US and world economy. We can create more demand by having the government spend money or give out tax cuts. Larger deficits will boost the economy.

If the private sector isn't prepared to spend, the government can increase demand by repairing and improving the infrastructure, increased funding for health care, child care and education, or subsidizing wind, solar and other forms of clean energy. With interest rates at extraordinarily low levels and no signs of inflation anywhere in sight, there is no economic barrier to spending in these and other areas. Such spending would both help to make up the demand gap resulting from our trade deficit, thereby creating jobs, and also increase our economy's longer term potential and the country's well-being.

The only obstacle to such spending is political. This spending would mean larger budget deficits and our politicians are scared of talking about budget deficits.

The current economic situation is more than a bit absurd. Essentially, we have a worldwide shortfall in demand. Countries that have their own currencies, like the United States, United Kingdom and Canada could deal with their own shortfalls simply by running larger budget deficits. But for political reasons these countries don't want to run large budget deficits. Instead they are praying that their trading partners will increase their budget deficits, which will increase net exports and lead to more economic growth.

If the path to increase growth and employment remains blocked for political reasons, we should always remember that we can look to increase employment by going the opposite direction of decreasing supply. This can begin with work sharing, the policy of encouraging companies to reduce work hours rather than lay off workers. This was the key to Germany's low unemployment rate even at the worst points in the recession.

And, we can look to measures such as mandated paid sick days, parental leave and vacation, which have the effect of reducing the average number of hours worked in a year. These are all policies that can be implemented without running large budget deficits. Furthermore, since the reduced labor supply is likely to tighten up the labor market, it could lead to stronger wage growth. And, these measures will provide for a better balance between work-life and family life.

The best part is that these policies may be more politically feasible than other approaches. In addition to national governments, state and even local governments can put in place policies that shorten the average work year. Many states and cities across the United States have already implemented regulations in these areas.

If we had a saner conversation on economic policy in this country, we would be talking about stimulus to boost the economy and create jobs. But if we can't go this route due to irrational fears, we should look to getting to full employment by reducing labor supply. It cannot be acceptable to do nothing when so many people need jobs and can't find them.  

Opinion Mon, 31 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
How Close Was Israel to Bombing Iran?

New evidence has now surfaced from former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak that Israel came close to attacking Iran three times over the past few years - if you believe what "major" news media reported about the story. But you shouldn't believe it.

The latest story is only a continuation of the clever ploy that has been carried out by Israeli administrations from Ehud Olmert to Benjamin Netanyahu to convince the world that it was seriously contemplating war against Iran in order to pressure them toward crippling sanctions against Iran, if not military confrontation with it.

And there is even very strong circumstantial evidence that the Obama administration was consciously playing its part in a "good cop/bad cop routine" with the Israelis over the ostensible Israeli war threat until early 2012 to influence other states' Iran policies and gain political leverage on Iran.

The latest episode in the seemingly endless story of Israel's threat of war followed the broadcast in Israel of interviews by Barak for a new biography. The New York Times' Jodi Rudoren reported that, in those interviews, Barak revealed new details to his biographers about how close Israel came to striking Iran.

Barak said that he and Netanyahu were ready to attack Iran each year, but claimed that something always went wrong. Barak referred to three distinct episodes from 2010 through 2012 in which the he and Netanyahu were supposedly maneuvering to bring about an air attack on Iran's nuclear program. But a closer look at Barak's claims shows that in reality neither Barak nor Netanyahu was really ready to go to war against Iran.

One of the episodes occurred in 2010 when Netanyahu ordered the Israeli army to put Israeli forces on the highest possible state of alert reserved for preparation for actual war, only to be frustrated by the refusal of Israeli army chief of staff Ashkenazi to the order. But an Israeli television program on the episode aired in a television special in 2012 "suggested" that the order was not intended as a prelude to war.

Although the television account was not allowed to give the date of the episode, it is consistent with what happened on May 17, 2010, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Da Silva reached an agreement with Iran on a "fuel swap" deal. Netanyahu regarded the agreement as a maneuver to derail a new UN Security Council agreement on sanctions, but the government issued no public statement that day.

Barak denied on the Israeli program that he and Netanyahu had intended to go through with an actual attack, which implied that it was to be a short-term bluff to ensure that the sanctions agreement would go through. Ashkenazi's opposition to the order was not that it was intended to take Israel into war, but that it could easily provoke a military response from Iran.

Both Barak and Ashkenazi agreed on the program, and moreover, that the Israeli army lacked the capability to carry out a successful strike against Iran without US involvement. That agreement reflected a broad consensus within the Israeli security elite that Israel could not carry out a successful operation against Iran without the full involvement of the United States.

Nevertheless, that elite believed that the threat was necessary to pressure the rest of the world to act on Iran. As Yossi Alpher, a former aide to Barak, told me in 2012, most retired national security officials were totally opposed to an attack on Iran, but they remained silent because they did want to "spoil Bibi's successful bluster."

A second episode to which Barak refers to in his interviews involves his demanding that the United States postpone the joint military exercise planned for spring 2012, which he now says he did in order to be able to order an attack on Iran during that period without implicating the United States in the decision. But the postponement was announced in mid-January 2012, in plenty of time for Barak to plan the strike against Iran - if that is indeed what he and Netanyahu had intended. Instead, it didn't happen, and Barak offers no real explanation, commenting that they were "still unable to find the right moment."

The Obama administration pretended to be alarmed about Netanyahu's readiness to attack. But Obama was actually playing along with the Israeli strategy in order to line up support for a more aggressive regime of sanctions and then to put pressure on Iran to enter into negotiations aimed at closing down its enrichment program.

Gary Samore, Obama's adviser on WMD, had openly espoused the notion before taking that job that the United States should exploit an Israeli threat to attack Iran to put pressure on the Iranians over their nuclear program. At a Harvard University symposium in September 2008, Samore opined that the next administration would not want to "act in a way that precludes the [Israeli] threat, because we're using the threat as a political instrument."

The Obama administration's policy toward Iran clearly applied that Samore strategy early and often. Within weeks of his arrival in the White House, on April 1, 2009, Obama's Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Commander of CENTCOM David Petraeus both commented publicly that Israel was bound to attack Iran within a matter of a few years at most, unless Iran came to heel on its nuclear program.

And in mid-November 2009, Obama sent Dennis Ross and Jeffrey Bader of the White House staff to Beijing to warn the Chinese that the United States could not restrain Israel from an attack on Iran much longer unless the Security Council adopted a strong package of tough economic sanctions against Iran.

That diplomatic exploitation of the Israeli threat came seven months after Haaretz reported in May 2009 that CIA Director Leon Panetta had just obtained a commitment from Netanyahu and Barak that they would not take military action without consulting Washington first. That commitment reflected a reality that most senior national security officials accepted - that Israel could attack Iran without US cooperation.

What happened in late 2011 and early 2012 was a "good cop/bad cop" routine by Panetta and Barak at a historical juncture when the United States and Israel were cooperating closely in a strategy to get crippling sanctions against Iran approved in the UN Security Council while pressuring Iran to begin negotiating on its enrichment program.

Panetta's role in the routine was to wring his hands over alleged indications that Israel was intent on a strike in the spring. But Panetta's interview with David Ignatius in early February 2012 in which he warned of the "strong likelihood" of an Israeli attack in "April, May or June" included a clear give-away that the real purpose of his warning was to gain diplomatic leverage on Iran. He suggested to the Iranians that there were two ways to "dissuade the Israelis from such an attack": either Iran could begin serious negotiations on its nuclear program or the United States could step up its own cyber-attacks against Iran.

Later that year, of course, Obama would break dramatically with Netanyahu's strategy. But despite that clear indication in early 2012 that Panetta was playing a game that suited the interests of both administrations, consumers of the world's commercial news media were led to believe that Barak and Netanyahu were on the brink of war.

Barak himself is still peddling that same warmed-over, patently false tale of near war-war with Iran. And in one more indicator of the degree to which the media parrot the Israeli line on Iran, they are still reporting it as unquestioned fact today.

Opinion Mon, 31 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400