Truthout Stories Fri, 27 Mar 2015 01:14:43 -0400 en-gb Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal: Few Benefits, Many Questions

A shipping port in Callao, Peru, in 2013. Peru is one of 12 nations involved in negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership. (CREDIT: Tomas Munita for the New York Times)A shipping port in Callao, Peru, in 2013. Peru is one of 12 nations involved in negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership. (Photo: Tomas Munita for the New York Times)

I was in Washington recently, giving a talk to the National Association of Business Economists. The subject was the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Not to keep you in suspense, but I'm thumbs down. I don't think the proposal is likely to be the terrible, worker-destroying pact that some progressives assert, but it doesn't look like a good thing for the world, or for the United States - and you have to wonder why the Obama administration would consider devoting any political capital to getting the deal through.

I was glad to see Larry Summers, the former Treasury secretary, weigh in on the same subject earlier this month in an op-ed for The Financial Times. Reading his piece, you may wonder: Did Mr. Summers just come out for the deal or against it? The answer, I think is that he basically supports an idealized version of the T.P.P. that doesn't exist, and is against the T.P.P. that actually seems to be on the table. And that means that he and I are in a similar place.

So, about the deal. The first thing you need to know is that almost everyone exaggerates the importance of trade policy. In part, I believe, this reflects "globaloney": Talking about international trade sounds glamorous and forward-thinking, so everyone wants to make it the centerpiece of their remarks.

Also, there's an odd dynamic involving the role of international trade in the history of economics. Comparative advantage was an early, classic example of how economic reasoning can lead to results that are correct but not obvious; naturally, economists have always wanted this intellectual victory to be important in the real world, too. This has led to a peculiar dynamic: Comparative advantage says, "yay free trade!," but also suggests that once trade is already fairly open, the gains from opening it further are small. But because economists want to keep shouting, "yay free trade!," they look for reasons that those gains might be larger, even though the stories they end up telling are inconsistent with the competitive model that was the basis for their free trade advocacy in the first place.

One particular misuse of the yay-free-trade sentiment is the persistent effort to make protectionism a cause of economic slumps, and trade liberalization a route to recovery. How many times have you seen the Kindleberger "spiderweb" chart showing declining world trade in the early years of the Great Depression, which is then invoked as showing the evils of protectionism (see Slide 2 of my talk)? In fact, it shows no such thing.

The fact is that today trade is fairly free, and estimates of the costs of protectionism from standard models suggest that these costs are quite small. Trade restrictions just aren't a major drag on the world economy these days, so the gains from liberalization must be slight.

What about the T.P.P.? There are still important barriers in agriculture, but the deal's advocates are pinning most of their case on services, where we're talking about more diffuse access issues. So how much could it be worth to break down some of those barriers? I've estimated that "hyperglobalization" - the expansion of world trade to unprecedented levels since 1990 - has added about 5 percent to world incomes.

That's a combination of everything: containerization, drastic trade liberalization in developing countries, the Internet. A better model might be Europe's Single Market Act, which the European Commission now estimates added 1.8 percent to real incomes.

And Europe, which has a compact geography and the kind of shared institutions and culture (as well as transparency) that make increased access achievable, is surely a better case than the diverse, sprawling group of countries involved in the T.P.P. I'd argue that it's implausible to claim that the T.P.P. could add more than a fraction of 1 percent to the incomes of the nations involved.

These gains aren't nothing, but we're not talking about a world-shaking deal here.
So why do some parties want this treaty so much? Because as with many "trade" deals in recent years, the intellectual property aspects are more important than the trade aspects. Leaked documents suggest that the United States is trying to secure radically enhanced protections for patents and copyrights; this is largely about appeasing Hollywood and pharmaceutical companies, not conventional exporters. What do we think about that?

Well, we should never forget that protecting intellectual property means creating a monopoly - letting the holders of a patent or copyright charge a price for something (the use of knowledge) that has zero social marginal cost. In that direct sense, this introduces a distortion that makes the world a bit poorer.

There is, of course, an offset in the form of an increased incentive to create knowledge, which is why we have patents and copyrights in the first place. But do we really think that inadequate incentives to create new drugs or new movies are a major problem right now?

You might argue that there is an interest in enhancing intellectual property protection even if it's not good for the entire world, because in many cases it's American corporations that hold the property rights. But are they really American firms in any meaningful sense? If big pharma gets to charge more for drugs in developing countries, do the benefits flow back to American workers? Probably not.

Which brings me to my last point: Why, exactly, should the Obama administration spend any political capital on this deal?

Opinion Thu, 26 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Student Debt Collectors ]]> (Lauren Walker) Art Thu, 26 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400 For Goodness Rake!

Truthout's weekly posting of, "The Green Ninja," a character created by a climate scientist and his team, provides an entertaining and educational way to help children – and everyone else - grasp the intricacies of climate change and learn what they can personally do to become involved in fighting it. See additional details about the series or head straight to this week's episode, "For Goodness Rake!"

After a man excitedly turns on his new leaf blower, things get a little out of control.

So, what are the pros and cons of gas-powered leaf blowers?

Pros: They can save people time doing yard/garden cleanup, but...

  • they use gasoline to operate
  • require maintenance
  • produce A LOT of noise pollution
  • produce combustion smell
  • remove topsoil from the ground, leaving roots of trees exposed
  • lift up dirt that can get into people's eyes, mouths and noses
  • release air pollutants that affect people's respiratory systems
  • can cause back and hearing problems to their users.

What are the Green Ninja action moves?

Turning off the leaf blower: This is an important step.

Applying mulch: Mulch protects exposed roots of trees, improves water retention of the soil, prevents the growth of weeds, and provides decomposing food so there is more organic matter available for the tree and other plants around it.

Using a rake: This is the best alternative for smaller areas (like a home's backyard), and certainly a lot more economical to purchase and operate!

Opinion Thu, 26 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Brutalized in Taliban Captivity After Fleeing War He Opposed, Bowe Bergdahl Charged With Desertion

The U.S. military has charged Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with one count of desertion and one count of misbehavior before the enemy. Bergdahl was held in Taliban captivity for five years after leaving his Army base in Afghanistan in 2009. An earlier military report found Bergdahl likely walked away of his own free will, but stopped short of finding that he planned to permanently desert American forces. In Taliban captivity, Bergdahl has said he was beaten, tortured and locked in a cage after trying to escape some 12 times. He was freed last year in exchange for five Taliban militants. He now faces life in prison if convicted. We are joined by Brock McIntosh, who served in Afghanistan from November 2008 to August 2009. McIntosh applied for conscientious objector status and was discharged in May 2014.


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

AMY GOODMAN: In a moment, we'll be talking about the charging of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. But first we look at the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in U.S. history. Earlier this week, President Obama reversed course and announced he'll keep nearly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan at least through the end of this year.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In support of today's narrow missions, we have just under 10,000 troops there. Last year I announced a timeline for drawing down our forces further, and I've made it clear that we're determined to preserve the gains our troops have won. President Ghani has requested some flexibility on our drawdown timelines. I've consulted with General Campbell in Afghanistan and my national security team, and I've decided that we will maintain our current posture of 9,800 troops through the end of this year.

AMY GOODMAN: This marks just the latest example of President Obama pushing back plans to end the war in Afghanistan. In 2011, he vowed U.S. operations would be done in 2014.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.

AMY GOODMAN: That was 2011. Then, in 2013, President Obama vowed again to end the war by 2014.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Tonight I can announce that over the next year another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, to talk more about the ongoing Afghan War, we're joined by Brock McIntosh. He served in Afghanistan from November 2008 to August 2009. He applied for conscientious objector status, was discharged in May 2014. He's a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Your response to this week's developments, as President Obama stood with the new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, announcing the U.S. would remain in Afghanistan?

BROCK McINTOSH: Well, it seems like every year and every few months it's changing. He's changing his mind about how many—how many soldiers we're going to keep there. So, it's not much of a surprise. I'm not sure exactly what he thinks is going to be different this time around than from the last year or two, during which the security situation in Afghanistan has been deteriorating.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think needs to happen in Afghanistan?

BROCK McINTOSH: Well, I think what needs to happen is the different parties that are in conflict within Afghanistan need to figure out a resolution to their conflicts, because until that happens, the war in Afghanistan is going to continue to go. And the Afghanistan government also needs to figure out their corruption problem. It's really hard to get the Afghan people to buy into the government when they are so deeply corrupt.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. military—at the same time that we're hearing the U.S. war in Afghanistan will continue, the U.S. military has announced it has charged Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl with one count of desertion and one count of misbehavior before the enemy. Bergdahl was held in Taliban captivity for five years after leaving his Army base in Afghanistan in 2009. An earlier military report found Bergdahl likely walked away from his Army outpost in Afghanistan of his own free will, but stopped short of finding he planned to permanently desert. Bergdahl has said he was beaten, tortured and locked in a cage after trying to escape. He was freed last year in exchange for five Taliban militants who had been imprisoned for many years ago at Guantánamo Bay. On Wednesday, U.S. Army spokesperson Colonel Daniel King read the charges against Bergdahl during a press conference on [Wednesday].

COL. DANIEL KING: The U.S. Army Forces Command has thoroughly reviewed the Army's investigation surrounding Sergeant Robert Bowdrie Bergdahl's 2009 disappearance in Afghanistan, and formally charged Sergeant Bergdahl under the Armed Forces Uniform Code of Military Justice on March 25th, 2015, with desertion, with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty, and misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.

AMY GOODMAN: Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl faces life in prison if convicted. On Wednesday, Bowe Bergdahl's legal team released a statement from him describing his time held as a prisoner for five years by the Taliban. He wrote, quote, "After my first two escape attempts, for about three months I was chained to a bed spread-eagle and blindfolded. The blindfold was only taken off a few times a day to allow me to eat and use the latrine." He went on to describe being held in a cage. In all, Bergdahl said, he attempted to escape 12 times from the Taliban.

The front page of The New York Times today also quotes a description of him. It starts off by saying, "In the five years he was held captive by the Haqqani insurgent network, [Sgt.] Bowe Bergdahl ... tried to escape 12 times. The first ... just a few hours after he was captured in Afghanistan in 2009. He was quickly recaptured and beaten. But another attempt, a year later, lasted close to nine days."

And here, they quote another part of this letter he released. They say, without—Bowe Bergdahl wrote, "'Without food and only putrid water to drink, my body failed on top of a short mountain close to evening,' Sergeant Bergdahl wrote in a page-and-a-half, single-spaced narrative." He went on to say, "'Some moments after I came to in the dying gray light of the evening, I was found by a large Taliban searching group,' he wrote. They hit him, tried to tear out his beard and hair, and returned him to his captors." Just a bit of the description.

Brock McIntosh, again, with us, served in Afghanistan from November 2008 to August 2009. He applied for conscientious objector status and was discharged in May 2014. Your response to the charge yesterday that was announced against Bowe Bergdahl?

BROCK McINTOSH: The desertion charge doesn't surprise me. I don't imagine that the military really had a choice whether or not to charge him. The consequences, if he is found guilty, that's a different matter. The misbehavior before the enemy—

AMY GOODMAN: And that charge, I think he could face a few years or up to five years. He already was held—

BROCK McINTOSH: Could be a maximum of five years. It could be as small as just a dishonorable discharge.

AMY GOODMAN: Or saying time served?


AMY GOODMAN: Meaning in Taliban captivity.

BROCK McINTOSH: Yeah. The misbehavior before the enemy is—can be interpreted pretty broadly. It could be something as small as running away before the enemy. But I think that the reason that they brought that charge was because of the accusations that six soldiers had died searching for him, which I think is totally unfair—unfair claim that's made by some of the folks who were in his unit.

AMY GOODMAN: And why do you think that's unfair?

BROCK McINTOSH: Well, no soldiers in his unit died in the few months immediately after he went missing, which is when they were going on missions specifically to look for him. The six soldiers who died died in August and September, almost three months after he had gone missing. And the claims are things like—they would go on a routine security patrol, and during that patrol they would also happen to ask people about Bergdahl every once in a while. But then someone might—someone would step on an IED. But it wasn't a mission specifically to look for Bergdahl. And the thing is, is if they had not been looking for Bowe Bergdahl, they would have been going on missions anyways. They would have been going on security patrols. They would have been pursuing alleged insurgents anyways. And if you look at the rate of U.S. fatalities, the rate of U.S. fatalities in 2009, when Bowe Bergdahl went missing, doubled from the year prior, and then they increased again to 500 in 2010, which is positively correlated with the counterinsurgency and surge in Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: This is a clip of Bergdahl's father, Bob Bergdahl, speaking in a video produced last year by The Guardian.

BOB BERGDAHL: I'm sorry, how can we teach two generations, at least, of children in this country that we have zero tolerance for violence, but we can occupy two countries in Asia for almost a decade? It's schizophrenic. And no wonder this younger generation is struggling psychologically with the duplicity of this, the use of violence. The purpose of war is to destroy things. You can't use it to govern.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Bob Bergdahl. Your response to that, as you dealt in Afghanistan, as you confronted what was happening there? This new report has come out, "Body Count," from the Nobel Prize-winning group International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, saying upwards of 1.3 million people have died in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan during the 10 years of the war on terror. The late journalist, Rolling Stone journalist, Michael Hastings quoted emails that Bowe had sent to his parents. One of the quotes from those emails: "I am sorry for everything here." What recourse did Bowe Bergdahl have if he came to be deeply opposed to the war in Afghanistan?

BROCK McINTOSH: None. There would have been—there would have been no other option for him. And I think that that speaks to one of the larger issues. I think there's two larger issues. The first is the fact that there was no recourse for him. If you're a soldier, you're in a combat zone, and you're dealing with any type of war trauma, whether it's PTSD or a moral injury, there's very little recourse. And the second issue is, Bowe Bergdahl was discharged from the Coast Guard in 2006. The Army accepted him in 2008, knowing that he had that discharge. Twenty percent of recruits in 2008 were given waivers to join the military, and that is—and that is because the military recognized that they needed more troops because of the surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they were two unpopular wars. Despite the fact that they were two unpopular wars, they continued to deepen our commitment in those wars, and they gave waivers to soldiers who probably should not have gotten waivers.

AMY GOODMAN: You applied for conscientious objector status from Afghanistan.

BROCK McINTOSH: I applied for conscientious objector status the summer after I got back from Afghanistan. And it was a process that was—it was difficult to do, and the—most people are completely unfamiliar with it. When I went to my company commander, he had no idea what to do. He had never heard of it. He didn't think that I was able to do that. So I had to give him Army regulations to show him what to do. And then the battalion ended up losing my paperwork after a year. It was a very complicated process. So even if he had to decide to leave when he came home, through conscientious objector status, that's still also a difficult process.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Brock McIntosh, I want to thank you for being with us. Brock McIntosh served in Afghanistan from November 2008 to August 2009, applied for conscientious objector status and was discharged in May 2014, now a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. We'll be back in a minute.

News Thu, 26 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Endless War: As US Strikes Tikrit and Delays Afghan Pullout, "War on Terror" Toll Tops 1.3 Million

As the United States begins bombing the Iraqi city of Tikrit and again delays a withdrawal from Afghanistan, a new report has found that the Iraq War has killed about one million people. The Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and other groups examined the toll from the so-called war on terror in three countries — Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The investigators found "the war has, directly or indirectly, killed around one million people in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan. Not included in this figure are further war zones such as Yemen. The figure is approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware. ... And this is only a conservative estimate." The true tally, they add, could be more than two million. We are joined by two guests who worked on the report: Hans von Sponeck, former U.N. assistant secretary-general and U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, who in 2000 resigned his post in protest of the U.S.-led sanctions regime; and Dr. Robert Gould, president of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.


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

AMY GOODMAN: U.S.-led coalition warplanes have begun bombing the Iraqi city of Tikrit in an attempt to seize control of the city from the self-described Islamic State. The assault on Tikrit began three weeks ago when Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militia launched a ground offensive. The U.S. airstrikes now squarely put Washington and Tehran on the same side in the fight, though the Obama administration insists it's not coordinating military operations with Iran. The Pentagon stressed that the airstrikes are aimed to help Iraqi forces defeat the Islamic State, but by all accounts it has been Iranian-backed militias leading the ground attack in Tikrit, the hometown of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, had been on the ground advising the militias in Tikrit as recently as Sunday.

Meanwhile, in other Iraq news, a new report has found the Iraq War has killed about one million people. The Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and other groups examined the toll from the so-called war on terror in three countries—Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The investigators found the war has, directly or indirectly, killed around one million people in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan, a total of about 1.3 million.

We're joined now by two guests who worked on the report. Hans von Sponeck is with us, former U.N. assistant secretary-general and U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, who in 2000 resigned his post in protest of the U.S.-led sanctions regime. He's the author of A Different Kind of War: The UN Sanctions Regime in Iraq. Von Sponeck is currently teaching at the University of Marburg in Germany, joining us by Democracy Now! video stream. And Dr. Robert Gould is with us from San Francisco, the president of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. He wrote the foreword for the new international edition of the report, called "Body Count: Casualty Figures after 10 Years of the 'War on Terror.'"

Dr. Robert Gould, the figures laid out in this report say 1.3 million people have died in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in [Pakistan]. And it says that this could possibly be not an overestimate; it says it's the minimum numbers. It could possibly be as high as two million. Can you talk about the significance of what these figures mean?

DR. ROBERT GOULD: Well, these are, as you relate, incredible figures in terms of the total counts, and they compare markedly with those estimates that have come out of organizations such as Iraq Body Count in the past, which use very—what are known as passive methods of detecting casualties in war, because they rely on official reports and morgues and things like that to arrive at their estimates. But obviously those type of methods really lack the ability to determine the full cost of war, given that, particularly in the type of warfare we witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, many of these deaths are really silent, in the sense that people are killed by death squads, they're killed by bombing raids, that are really off the records, and we don't get to really understand the full impact of the war. That's why a number of the people who are incorporated within the new issue of "Body Count," in terms of looking at the totality of the reports, there's a very important examination of what we—of more active methods of sampling. And these are methods that have been used in diverse places such as Sudan, the Congo, for their various horrible war situations, as well. So, what this report really does is bring to us, in its North American release, a really fuller accounting of what the human costs of that war have been, which, you know, just listening to the headlines on the news this morning that you've related, we could still see the impacts of the destabilization that we, our government and allies, have created in Iraq and elsewhere.

AMY GOODMAN: And why the people particularly in the United States do not see anything like these numbers? The significance of what it would mean?

DR. ROBERT GOULD: Well, I think there has been, in a similar way to what our collective experience has been with the reporting in the Vietnam War, a real distancing of the impacts on the people over there. We have certainly accounted for the dead and wounded within—in terms of the numbers of U.S. troops and NATO forces in the various conflicts, but these deaths, this destruction, is, for variety of reasons, very deliberately or through self-censorship, kept from the American people so we don't see these real costs. And I would also say we don't see the connecting points about how these policies and that degree of death and destruction leads through the destabilization of these regions and the persistent killing that's conducted by drone warfare, etc. We're insulated from these effects and don't understand the anger that arises from people who have been through, now 12 years in Iraq, the act of war, even longer in Afghanistan, what those effects are. And I would think that as a result, people are insulated from what—the milieu within which groups like ISIS arise. And at a time when we're contemplating at this point cutting off our removal of troops from Afghanistan and contemplating new military authorization for increasing our operations in Syria and Iraq, this insulation from the real impacts serves our government in being able to continue to conduct these wars in the name of the war on terror, with not only horrendous cost to the people in the region, but we in the United States suffer from what the budgetary costs of unending war are.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, this report, "Body Count," that 1.3 million figure includes Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani dead; it does not include areas like Yemen.


AMY GOODMAN: We're also joined by Hans von Sponeck, former U.N. assistant secretary-general and former U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, who in 2000 resigned his post in protest of the U.S.-led sections regime. Dr. von Sponeck, I thank you for joining us. Can you respond, as a person who's been deeply involved in Iraq—as we speak today, the U.S. is leading the bombing of Tikrit, what, 12 years after the U.S. first invaded Iraq—to this report that you have written an introduction for, called "Body Count"?

HANS VON SPONECK: Well, first of all, good morning, Amy. Good to hear you. I'm sorry we can't see each other.

But let me just say that it is, in my experience, not surprising that, ultimately, we see courage coming out of the United States in terms of facing the truth, the facts. Dianne Feinstein has done that in December with the release of the CIA torture report. The Physicians for Social Responsibility, together with IPPNW in other parts of the world, have now released the "Body Count" report, which is, both documents, I think, an incredibly powerful and valuable basis for which to discuss—at long last discuss—the possibility of redress and learning—learning, for example, that all these interactions, whether it was in Iraq or in Afghanistan or in Syria or in Libya, the regime change approach to solving problems of international relations have no future, should not have a future. It's so clear now. The "Body Count" report makes it very clear that not only that young men and women in uniform, but also innocent civilians, once again, become victim.

What I very much hope is that the "Body Count" publication will not—will not lead to a futile debate on the accuracy of data. It reminds me of the 2000 release by UNICEF of the child mortality study on Iraq, where the debate that should have taken place about the causes of all that was detoured by a debate on whether Lancet or "Body Count" or any other documentation had the correct figures. I think that's totally, in my view, irrelevant. We have enough credible data from different sources, and the "Body Count" publication is an attempt to show the most recent efforts to at least get credible indicators, not the hardcore, empirical facts—not possible. And I think that is the importance of all of this, that we use that as a basis for a long-overdue debate in Washington, in London, and certainly at the United Nations in New York, as to why this all happened and how one can try and prevent this from recurring in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to the U.S. bombing Tikrit now?

HANS VON SPONECK: Well, it sounds maybe too simple to just say, "Look, what we are seeing now is what we—what the seeds have grown." Many people will probably disagree strongly in the United States when I say that ISIS is a relative of a Western intervention. ISIS, as it developed, developed after the 19th of March, 2003. Not to acknowledge that, I think, is pursuing an ostrich policy. It was the way an occupation force behaves that created the first seeds of an ISIS. The Sunni belt in central Iraq, that suddenly was faced with an understanding that they had no future, that it was a Shia future, the disbanding of—we know all these things—of the army, of the bureaucracy, all against the Hague Convention, that doesn't allow for structural changes by an occupation army—all that led to a reaction. And a lot of reasons why ISIS is today in Tikrit has to do with the fact that very normal Sunnis and other Iraqi citizens felt that they were betrayed, and they started to rise, and they started to support the extreme elements that we now see face to face with militias of Shia origin, with Iranian forces and the Iraqi military, of course, also. So, ISIS in Tikrit goes back to March 2003. That's the point I'm trying to make.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, I participated in a conference at Hofstra University on Long Island, which was assessing the George W. Bush presidency. I want to turn to a clip of my exchange with John Negroponte, a man that you know well. He was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and the former director of national intelligence.

AMY GOODMAN: Just a quick question. Mr. Goss said, "If we knew then what we know today, we might have done things differently," which I think is a very reasonable thing to say.

PORTER GOSS: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that, Mr. Negroponte, that knowing what we know today, the Iraq War was wrong? And do you think torture is wrong?

JOHN NEGROPONTE: Look, well, torture is never right. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Do think the Bush administration was wrong to engage in it?

JOHN NEGROPONTE: I say torture is never right. That's my first point.

But my second point was, I'll just stick with the way I felt during the time I lived through those events. And you can find quotes of what I said when I was ambassador to the U.N. I was asked if I thought we should use force in Iraq. And I said, well, in questions like this, I think we ought to approach the issue with a great deal of caution. I also said that we ought to—and I felt that we ought to—allow the inspection process more time to do its work. I was disappointed that it wasn't allowed. But, you know, you have one president at a time. He's the commander-in-chief. He's got the constitutional authority, and that's what he decided to do.

The last point I would make, to your issue about Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, Blix and I had a chance to reminisce about this a little bit later on. And I said to him, "It's amazing, you know? We set up this inspection thing, and we never found anything. And, you know, what the heck happened?" And Blix said, "You know, it's—that's right." But he said, "I can't—I still don't understand why Saddam behaved so guilty." And maybe that's why he had some doubt, because he was—Saddam sort of emitted, emanated, this sort of sensation that he had—that he was hiding something. Now, some people have speculated—and I think it was an FBI agent who has interviewed him extensively—that, actually, he wanted some people to think that he had WMD in his neighborhood in the wake of the Iran-Iraq War, and so that maybe this was part of his strategy. But it kind of—if indeed it was his strategy, it boomeranged.

AMY GOODMAN: Hans von Sponeck, if you could respond to what the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and the former head of national intelligence, John Negroponte, said at this session? You are the former U.N. assistant secretary-general and former U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq.

HANS VON SPONECK: Well, you know, Ambassador Negroponte was a well-known figure in my days in Baghdad, and I know where he's coming from. What he has to say about the perception or the question why Saddam Hussein didn't disclose that he had no weapons of mass destruction, I think that speculation surprises me. I think any political analyst should have really understood very quickly, if he or she knew the constellation in the Middle East, the war of eight years between Iraq and Iran. Saddam Hussein, as a self-appointed leader of the region, didn't want to show that he was weak, that he had an army that would have no chance against any neighbor because of the poor equipment and whatever. So he didn't want. It was a question of cultural response and shame, shame. He was ashamed to admit that he was really nobody's—nobody's foe. Nobody could take him seriously. So that is one reason why I think Saddam Hussein acted the way he did.

This business, the statement, torture is never right—every single page of the 200 pages that I have read as of today of the CIA torture report released by the U.S. Senate, every page is an admission of confusion, a lack of cooperation among the CIA, the FBI, the Department of State, other—the legal authorities. And that made it possible, that horrific violation of U.S. national as well as international law—Geneva Convention, Hague Convention—all these documents that say the right things were violated by the most unbelievable cruelty of these—yeah, these adopted extended interrogation techniques, performed, and the suffering that resulted from that.

And there is only one thing, Amy, that I feel is missing. It took a lot of courage for the release of that report. That has to be acknowledged. And I hope that people, countries around the world do so. But there's a word missing. In these 500 pages that are released, there should somewhere a reference to accountability. Impunity cannot possibly be an answer in dealing with what we are reading in that document. So, I'd hope that Mr. Negroponte would go a little bit beyond just saying torture is never right. Well, that was known at the time when he was the head of the intelligence community, and what was done about it?

AMY GOODMAN: And Ambassador Negroponte saying he felt that the U.S. moved into war too quickly in Iraq, that he wanted the inspections to continue, did that ring true for you from your experience of him in Iraq, though he came a bit later, after the war began?

HANS VON SPONECK: If I understood you correctly here, I think it is very clear, from what my colleague Hans Blix pleaded for—and that is, "Give me three more months, and I will then conclusively be able to tell you that Iraq is quantitatively disarmed"—qualitatively, Iraq was, anyway—that was known in the intelligence community—no longer a threat to anybody. But he wanted to go that last step, that would have shown that disarmament, as arms inspectors have said ever since 1995, had really progressed to the point where one could declare Iraq, from the perspective of weapons of mass destruction, as disarmed. But that opportunity wasn't given to him.

AMY GOODMAN: Hans von Sponeck, I know you to leave for a funeral, but I wanted to ask you one last question. You, together with another former U.N. assistant secretary-general, Denis Halliday, have been working on this issue of accountability. Can you explain what you've been doing?

HANS VON SPONECK: Well, if I have a moment, then let me just say that Denis Halliday and I, first of all, we are in weekly contact with each other to compare notes and synchronize our approaches. We both are three—or, two out of three commissioners of a war crimes tribunal that was established by the former prime minister of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir, in 2005. We have been trying hard to prepare very seriously collected evidence of torture performed at different levels in Iraq during the years of occupation. We interviewed—the famous picture of the man in the hood that went around the world, we interviewed this man in the hood in Kuala Lumpur. We talked to many of the torture victims from Abu Ghraib, from Bagram, from Guantánamo. So, this overwhelming body of evidence was published in two volumes that were sent in 2012 to the International Criminal Court. And the sobering response from there was, "Sorry, we are not responsible for a case like that." Well, parties have changed. There is a new chief prosecutor in The Hague. And we are now—in mid-April, on the 18th of April, in fact, the War Crimes Commission will meet yet again in Kuala Lumpur to prepare for the second, and hopefully last, draft submission of this documentation to the International Criminal Court.

I should also like to add that last June I personally handed, in the House of Commons and the House of Lords in the U.K., these volumes of evidence, in the hope that this would generate the discussion about these issues in the British political circles. That hasn't happened. But we are not going to give up. We are not blind or hateful even—that would be terrible—extremists in our demands, but we insist that impunity cannot be the answer. And we are very much, Amy, encouraged by these moments of light, like the publication of the CIA torture report, by the fact that the professional medical community in the United States, the Physicians for Social Responsibility, had the courage to go along in publishing this document now. So, more and more parties are coming together, and I hope that it will lead to that which, if nothing else, we owe to also the Iraqi people, to gain their dignity back, to recognize—for them to recognize that the world doesn't accept what has happened, and the courts, hopefully, in the United States and in the U.K. will start the proceedings.

AMY GOODMAN: Hans von Sponeck, I want to thank you very much for being with us, former U.N. assistant secretary-general, former U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, who in 2000 resigned his post in protest of the U.S.-led sanctions regime, author of A Different Kind of War: The UN Sanctions Regime in Iraq. And I want to thank Dr. Robert Gould, president of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. He wrote the foreword for the new international edition of the group's report, "Body Count: Casualty Figures after 10 Years of the 'War on Terror.'" Hans von Sponeck was joining us from near Freiburg, Germany, where he lives. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. We'll be back in a minute.

News Thu, 26 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Howard Zinn, "Finishing School for Pickets" and Paula Giddings, "Learning Insubordination"

Tom Englehardt introduces this double-feature from TomDispatch:

It gives me a double pleasure to have today's double-barreled post -- an excerpt from a 1960 Howard Zinn piece on the young women of Spelman College turning into protestors and historian Paula Giddings vividly looking back on Zinn and the Spelman experience 55 years later -- on loan from the Nation magazine and up at TomDispatch. First of all, Zinn, who died in 2010, was a figure at this site. As a professor at Spelman, he had been deeply involved with his students in the Civil Rights Movement, and in response -- as Giddings reminds us -- the school fired him in 1963 for "insubordination." In 2005, TomDispatch featured the graduation speech he gave on his proud return to that school, in which he pointed with what could be called a Zinnian lack of discouragement and disappointment to what the protestors of that era had accomplished. ("The lesson of that history is that you must not despair, that if you are right, and you persist, things will change. The government may try to deceive the people, and the newspapers and television may do the same, but the truth has a way of coming out. The truth has a power greater than a hundred lies.")

The excerpt from a longer 1960 piece by Howard Zinn and the Paula Giddings essay posted at are from The Nation magazine's 150th Anniversary Special Issue on newsstands in April. They appear here with the kind permission of the editors of that magazine.

Finishing School for Pickets 
By Howard Zinn (August 6, 1960)

One afternoon some weeks ago, with the dogwood on the Spelman College campus newly bloomed and the grass close-cropped and fragrant, an attractive, tawny-skinned girl crossed the lawn to her dormitory to put a notice on the bulletin board. It read: Young Ladies Who Can Picket Please Sign Below.

The notice revealed, in its own quaint language, that within the dramatic revolt of Negro college students in the South today another phenomenon has been developing. This is the upsurge of the young, educated Negro woman against the generations-old advice of her elders: be nice, be well-mannered and ladylike, don't speak loudly, and don't get into trouble. On the campus of the nation's leading college for Negro young women -- pious, sedate, encrusted with the traditions of gentility and moderation -- these exhortations, for the first time, are being firmly rejected.

Spelman College girls are still "nice," but not enough to keep them from walking up and down, carrying picket signs, in front of supermarkets in the heart of Atlanta. They are well-mannered, but this is somewhat tempered by a recent declaration that they will use every method short of violence to end segregation. As for staying out of trouble, they were doing fine until this spring, when fourteen of them were arrested and jailed by Atlanta police. The staid New England women missionaries who helped found Spelman College back in the 1880s would probably be distressed at this turn of events, and present-day conservatives in the administration and faculty are rather upset. But respectability is no longer respectable among young Negro women attending college today.

"You can always tell a Spelman girl," alumni and friends of the college have boasted for years. The "Spelman girl" walked gracefully, talked properly, went to church every Sunday, poured tea elegantly, and had all the attributes of the product of a fine finishing school. If intellect and talent and social consciousness happened to develop also, they were, to an alarming extent, byproducts.

This is changing. It would be an exaggeration to say: "You can always tell a Spelman girl - she's under arrest." But the statement has a measure of truth.

Learning Insubordination
By Paula J. Giddings (March 2015)

In the current age of "lean-in" feminism at one end of the spectrum and an "anti-respectability" discourse at the other, the late Howard Zinn's essay reminds us of an earlier meaning of women's liberation.

Zinn was of Russian-Jewish heritage, an influential historian and, in 1960, a beloved professor at Spelman College, the historically black women's institution in the then-segregated city of Atlanta. The attribution of "finishing school" in the title was well-earned: Spelman girls, whose acceptance letters included requests to bring white gloves and girdles with them to campus, were molded to honor the virtues of "true-womanhood": piety, purity, domesticity, and submissiveness.

Nevertheless, by 1960, Zinn's students had morphed from "nice, well-mannered and ladylike" paragons of politesse to determined demonstrators who picketed, organized sit-ins, and were sometimes arrested and jailed for their efforts.  "Respectability is no longer respectable among young Negro women attending college today," Zinn concluded.

These young girls were born in the 1940s, and whatever the background of their parents (who might be sharecroppers, teachers, or doctors), their generation was destined to belong to a new stratum of Americans: the "Black Bourgeoisie," as the sociologist E. Franklin Frazier called it. An economic class that was literally wedged in the "middle" between a small black elite and the black masses, this group emerged in no small part because of the unprecedented number of educated women who, historically excluded from pink-collar positions, now had access not only to the elite professions, but to mainstream administrative, clerical, and civil-service jobs.

For black women, burdened by stereotypes of hypersexuality, this development meant more than a triumph of simple social mobility. With education, more girls could now escape the domestic and personal service work that subjected them to the sexual exploitation of employers and others. To be able to avoid such a soul-killing future was the dream of generations of mothers for their daughters - one that I often heard from my own grandmother, who had migrated north so that my mother could be the first in the family to attain a college education. The stakes in taking advantage of these newer opportunities were indeed high and brimmed with profound meaning and emotion.

In 1960, Spelman, like other black schools - including those that educated and employed the great civil-rights lawyers and intellectuals of the period - had little tolerance for the student activities that Zinn encouraged and sometimes led. It was one thing to support integration and equality, and quite another to sanction a sit-in at the segregated library or enrage powerful politicians by occupying the whites-only visiting section of the Georgia Legislature. Although these acts were not as dramatic as the more violent encounters that we are familiar with, these young women were also risking their lives. Expulsion, the loss of a scholarship or a work-study opportunity, could mean an end to the hopes of a relatively secure - and protected - future.

Nevertheless, this was the Spelman generation that included students like Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, a former debutante who understood that the long-term future of others was more important than her own immediate well-being. She dropped out of college to join the Freedom Rides; became a leader of the "Jail, No Bail" movement; and was the first woman to head the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the premier youth organization.

Feminists today might consider Zinn's insight that his "nice, well-mannered, and ladylike" students did not so much abandon respectability as redefine it. They recognized a moment when virtue required acting out, not leaning in, and when the corrective for stifling mores were not displays of unfettered individual behavior that reinforced dangerous stereotypes.

Former Spelman students Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, and Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund, credit Zinn as being key to their own activist transformations. The kind of history he wrote and taught intellectualized traditions of black resistance and, as Edelman recalled, encouraged them "to think outside the box and to question rather than accept conventional wisdom." For Walker, despite her perennial fear of losing a needed scholarship, the fact that Zinn not only supported but participated in student demonstrations encouraged her to "carry on" despite the risk.

The professor was also taking a risk, and in 1963 he was fired from Spelman for insubordination. "I plead guilty," he responded with pride, and in the end both students and teacher were better for the experience. In an interview, Zinn once said that his years at Spelman were "probably the most interesting, exciting, most educational years for me. I learned more from my students than my students learned from me."

Opinion Thu, 26 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Household Debt Is a National Crisis

Student Debt Collectors. (Image: Khalil Bendib / Otherwords)Student Debt Collectors. (Image: Khalil Bendib / OtherWords)

Years after Toni Potter's husband passed away from pancreatic cancer, debt collectors in her state of Washington were still relentlessly hounding her about his hospital bills.

Andrea Anderson, a young student in Oregon, has been saddled with $150,000 in college loans as she pursues her dream of becoming a social worker. She knows she'll be paying the loans back for decades, threatening her other dreams of buying a home or starting a family.

Linda Mock of Idaho was trapped by a payday loan that quickly grew from the original $300 to more than $900 in interest alone. Trying to break free of the debt, she took out a title loan on her car and ended up losing her only transportation.

Family debt is no personal failing — it's a national crisis. Even as unemployment declines, the debt crisis is holding back a full economic recovery and pushing more people into poverty.

That's why President Barack Obama announced recently that he's instructed the Department of Education and other federal agencies to do more to help borrowers afford their monthly loan payments.

It's a step in the right direction.

But I'd urge him to go further and rein in the lenders, banks, and collection agencies that are profiting from Americans' debt. It's time to stop blaming borrowers and instead hold the financial interests that created the crisis accountable.

When hospitals give big price breaks to insurance companies but refuse to work with a widow struggling to make ends meet, something's not right.

When a federal student loan provider charges young students nearly twice the interest it charges homeowners, something's not right.

When payday lenders can get away with charging 300 percent interest on a short-term loan to a poor family just trying to fix their car so they can get to work, something's not right.

The explosion of predatory lenders hurts families and siphons money out of local economies. There are more than two payday-lending storefronts for every Starbucks coffee shop in the United States.

Meanwhile, more than 70 percent of students who graduate with a bachelor's degree leave school deep in debt. The average student loan debt totals almost $30,000 today, up from $19,000 a decade ago.

For many Americans, there's no way out.

Student loans can't be discharged in bankruptcy. Some states will take your driver's licenses and professional certifications if you fall behind in your student loan repayment.

And if you can't afford your legal fees, you could go to jail — just for being poor.

It's time to break the shame around debt and start putting the responsibility for solutions where it belongs: on those profiting off struggling families.

That means placing fair caps on interest rates, ending predatory practices that push people further into debt, and creating a path out of debt for people who are struggling.

Recently, folks from different communities across the country came together for a national online conference, "Up from Debt," hosted by my organization, the Alliance for a Just Society. People from Seattle to New York shared powerful and moving stories — not to gain sympathy, but to erase the stigma that further burdens families trapped in debt.

The Obama administration should investigate all forms of predatory lending, including student loans, payday loans, medical loans, mortgages, and credit cards. On the White House website, you can sign a petition asking the president to create a pathway out of debt so families can reclaim their futures.

Our children, our neighbors, our parents, the sick, and the struggling aren't cash cows for bankers and lenders to milk. It's time to demand solutions that help families move up from debt.

Opinion Thu, 26 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Fight of Their Lives: Can Adjuncts Finally Win a Living Wage?

The next big fight for decent labor protections is heating up in academia.

Seattle may have become one of the first cities to pass a $15 minimum wage last year, but the city's adjunct instructors say that the dictum for fair pay has yet to penetrate the Ivory Tower.

The median pay for adjuncts, who as professional workers are exempt from most minimum wage and overtime protections, is $2,700 per course nationwide, or just over $16,000 annually for a full teaching load. At Seattle University (SU), the city's premier Jesuit college, they are paid as little as $2,200 per course, according to crowdsourced data from the Adjunct Project. When all the hours spent grading, meeting with students and preparing for class are factored in, the school's instructors say that this likely amounts to less than minimum wage—a claim echoed by adjuncts instructors nationwide.

As a result, the "Fight for 15" is now headed to college, as adjunct instructors at SU and a host of other schools press for union representation, a wage bump and expanded job protections for contingent faculty who often live course to course, with no long-term contract or track to tenure. Last month, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) announced a new nationwide "Faculty Forward" campaign that will push for a minimum compensation standard of $15,000 per college course taught, plus benefits. That figure would represent a dramatic increase over adjunct instructors' current pay, but the same was true when SEIU-affiliated groups began demanding $15 for fast-food workers three years ago. Could the Fight for 15 gain traction in the academy?

Thou Shalt Not Unionize

Momentum for adjunct justice is building in the wake of National Adjunct Walkout Day on February 25, when faculty members and supporters at more than 100 campuses nationwide held walkouts, teach-ins and rallies. At Seattle University, adjunct instructors say about 400 faculty and students participated in a walkout and march through campus. Now, a string of recent decisions by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is likely to provide a boost to the campaignby clearing a path for new adjunct unions at SU and a host of other schools.

Earlier this month, Seattle University's regional NLRB removed a major barrier to collective bargaining at the school, ruling that it could not claim exemption from federal labor law based on its Jesuit identity. Following an SEIU-assisted organizing effort, adjunct faculty at SU voted in June 2014 on whether or not to affiliate with the union. But as the result of a challenge from the university, which claimed that as a religiously affiliated school it is not subject to the jurisdiction of the NLRB—and that submitting to this jurisdiction would violate its free-speech rights—the union ballots have been impounded ever since.

Louisa Edgerly, an adjunct instructor of journalism and communications at SU, says that the school's response to adjunct organizing has been a "study in stall tactics." She says that in addition to claiming a religious exemption, the university has retained an anti-union law firm and enlisted academic deans in a "no" campaign. "Most religiously-affiliated universities make this claim when they face union activity," she says."It's an obvious delay tactic, meant to drag out the process as long as possible in a contingent and temporary workforce where that is very effective [in defeating unions]."

Unless the university appeals the decision this month, the ballots will be counted, and if the ayes have it, the union certified.

Asked by AlterNet if the university would appeal, an SU spokesperson said the administration was "reviewing the decision and considering next steps." A statement provided said that the university "has taken significant steps to improve the compensation and working conditions for both full-time and part-time non-tenure track faculty and make sure they a voice in faculty governance."

Even prior to the announcement of the new Faculty Forward campaign, adjunct organizing was on the rise, as non-academic unions like SEIU and the United Steelworkers (USW) have won bids in recent years to represent non-tenure-track faculty at dozens of private colleges and universities. Faced with this flurry of union activity, universities have responded with measures that critics say derive straight from the union-busting playbook, in many cases retaining top-dollar "union avoidance" lawyers and sending videos and letters discouraging faculty from voting "yes" to union representation. At least six religiously affiliated universities facing union campaigns have claimed that their employees are not entitled to collective bargaining, despite, in some cases, religious doctrine and social teachings on workers' rights that say just the opposite.

But in December, the NLRB issued a game-changing ruling in the case of Pacific Lutheran University, which had sought to block a union petition on the grounds of both a religious exemption and the claim that its full-time non-tenure-track faculty had managerial powers that made them ineligible for collective bargaining. The NLRB's decision stipulates that just because a school is religious, doesn't mean its faculty can't unionize—instead, the school must demonstrate that the faculty attempting to organize perform specific religious duties. The NLRB also created new standards to determine whether faculty members have enough power to be considered "managerial" employees and therefore ineligible for union membership. All in all, the ruling could open the door for scores of new union campaigns at private universities among both contingent and tenure-track faculty, who at present are effectively barred from unionizing.

Whither 15?

Even with unions, adjuncts face an uphill battle in changing their working conditions. William Herbert, executive director of the National Center for Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions, notes that the $15,000 figure is "aspirational in nature," and that per-course compensation for non-tenure-track-faculty negotiated through recent collective bargaining agreements has been much lower. At Tufts University, for example, a contractnegotiated last fall by an SEIU-affiliated union provides pay increases of more than 20 percent for non-tenure-track faculty, amounting to a wage floor of $7,300 per course by 2016.

But union staffers say Faculty Forward is as much about starting a conversation about higher education spending as it is setting a firm target. Like its fast-food predecessor, the campaign will proceed through media and policy advocacy, in addition to on-the-ground union organizing. To advance the idea of a substantial pay hike for contingent faculty, the union is also gathering data on how much uncompensated work adjuncts do nationwide, and examining state and federal policy initiatives that could improve their eligibility for public benefit programs and help hold particularly bad employers accountable. As it stands, adjuncts often struggle with eligibility for benefits such as unemployment insurance and have been rebuffed by the courts in previous attempts to gain access to overtime pay through state minimum wage laws.

For now, says SEIU, the $15,000 proposal will not necessarily serve as a benchmark in contract negotiations at individual schools where adjuncts have won unions. Some recently unionized adjuncts are balking, however, at a strategy of proposing one figure to the media while asking for substantially less at the bargaining table. At Bentley University, where adjuncts voted to unionize with SEIU last month, some faculty organizers say they were confused when the union rolled out the $15,000 proposal publicly, then told them that aiming for a pay increase of that magnitude in their upcoming contract negotiations was unrealistic.

"This doesn't seem to square with the Faculty Forward initiative," says Jack Dempsey, an adjunct professor of English at Bentley who helped lead the union drive. "Why should our own negotiators be telling us to settle before we even reach the bargaining table?"

Seattle University's Louisa Edgerly, meanwhile, acknowledges that $15,000 is a "long-term goal," but sees value in symbolically linking the struggles of low-wage workers inside and outside of the academy. "Frequently, there's a public perception that professors have it all," she notes. "Sharing our experiences with other low-wage workers shows them that they are not uniquely persecuted in their particular jobs—this whole economy is bad for workers."

She adds that the campaign for a $15 minimum wage in Seattle likewise "galvanized" her fellow instructors: "The more we can see the connections between the conditions we are struggling with and the conditions other workers are struggling with, the stronger we get."

On April 15, the same day that fast-food workers plan to rally nationwide in the next phase of the Fight for 15, adjuncts will join the call for higher wages with a day of action coordinated through Faculty Forward. Learn more here.

News Thu, 26 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Deep Dive: The White House's New Memo on Drones and Privacy

Last month, President Obama released a presidential memorandum on the domestic use of drones by federal agencies. The memorandum addresses the implications for privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties of having unmanned aircraft — the industry-preferred term for drones — in domestic airspace. The memorandum takes some steps in the right direction, but leaves many questions unanswered.

Perhaps most critically, it fails to address two major issues: First, will law enforcement agencies be held to a higher standard than other governmental agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management (and if not, as seems to be the case, why not)? And second, what restrictions govern when federal agencies buy drone-collected information from third parties?

Before digging into an analysis, what do we mean by "drones?" A drone can be nearly any size, from as small as an insect to as large as a 757 passenger jet. It can be outfitted with technologies including high-powered cameras, thermal imaging devices, license plate readers, laser radar, and acoustical eavesdropping, see-through imaging, scent detection, and signals interception devices. On the operational side, the Federal Aviation Administration recently issued draft rules for the operation of drones under 55 pounds and signaled that it might consider more liberal rules for "micro" drones weighing less than 4.4 pounds. (The drones covered in the memorandum are used differently from the weaponized drones that are used in Yemen and elsewhere for "targeted killing." Those pose their own serious concerns, including the collateral killing of civilians and the radicalization of targeted populations.)

With our terms thus defined, here are some of the memorandum's highlights, lowlights, and points in between:

Legal Framework

First, the memorandum recognizes that any information collected by drones must be "gathered, used, retained, and disseminated" in accordance with the Constitution and federal law and regulations. This is good, although it is hard to imagine a presidential memorandum not at least paying lip service to the Constitution and federal law. The devil is, as usual, in the details. 

For example, the memorandum observes that federal agencies must comply with the Privacy Act, which it describes as "restrict[ing] the collection and dissemination of individuals' information that is maintained in systems of records." This is accurate as far as it goes, but in the context of drones collecting data, it's incomplete.

For a database to be a "system of records" under the Act, the information must be retrievable through some unique, personal identifier: a name, a Social Security number, a phone number, an email address, or something similar. It seems unlikely that drone footage will be retrievable with one of these types of personal identifiers, except perhaps in the case of the pursuit of an identified individual (e.g., a block of footage tagged with the title "drone chase of suspected fleeing felon John Smith"). While footage may be less likely to be misused if it is not searchable by name, it is also less likely to be subject to the Privacy Act.

Of course, as we explore below, other types of data that drones will pick up, such as faces and walking styles, are likely to become searchable in the future. It is an open question whether those characteristics will count as personal identifiers (and even the definition of "retrievable" is a subject of much dispute — indeed, it is not clear whether even the ability to search for a specific license plate number qualifies). Coverage by the Privacy Act is thus likely to be an evolving, and contested, matter.

Privacy Protections

Second, the memorandum sets out a framework for agencies' privacy policies and procedures, stipulating that they must incorporate certain restrictions on collection and use, retention, and dissemination.

These provisions have two glaring omissions. As an initial matter, they do not address the government's use of drone data collected by a third party. Government entities increasingly rely on private databases to obtain sensitive personal information, and these private databases are not governed by the Privacy Act or other privacy laws. Although the language of the memorandum is not crystal clear, it appears designed to address the treatment of information collected directly by an agency, not obtained from a private company. Given the lucrative data market, it is nearly inevitable that private companies will launch drones to capture individual interactions, crowd shots, license plate numbers, traffic information, and more — and this information will be packaged to be attractive to law enforcement and other governmental agencies. The memorandum's failure to address this eventuality, and to set guidelines for access to and use of this information, is a major deficiency.

With respect to their own drone deployment, agencies can gather or use information if it is "consistent with and relevant to an authorized purpose." That sounds like a limiting principle — but what is an "authorized purpose?" The memorandum includes a section on definitions, but this phrase doesn't appear, making it seem as though the administration is kicking the can a little further down the road with respect to when drones can actually be used. If construed broadly, this phrase might do little more than duplicate the requirement that agencies act within the law.

This brings us to the second major omission: the collection and use provisions, which are problematic on their own, do not distinguish between law enforcement agencies and other federal entities — even though the purposes for drone use by different kinds of agencies can diverge widely. Thus, if one of the authorized purposes of the Environmental Protection Agency is to track the effect of climate change on waterways, sending a drone overhead during a flash flood to gauge the increase in water levels and erosion may well be consistent with that purpose and in the public interest. Similarly, the Bureau of Land Management may be able to use drones to count the number of wild horses grazing on a particular tract of land — indeed, it may be less expensive, more efficient, and less alarming to the horses.

That is far different, however, from using a drone to carry out an "authorized purpose" of a law enforcement or intelligence agency. Law enforcement agencies are meant to serve and protect, but they also exercise the coercive power of the government in investigating crimes, arresting suspects, and prosecuting and imprisoning offenders. It is axiomatic that these purposes alone do not empower police to act without constraint, including by engaging freely in surveillance activities. Instead, procedural hurdles ensure that police power is balanced against the intrusion on individuals and society.

Thus, government agents may enter a home to search for evidence of a crime, but only with a warrant that shows probable cause that a crime has been committed and particularly describes the things to be seized. Police may attach a wiretap to listen in on a phone call, but only with a "super-warrant" that meets an even higher standard. Police may stop cars to check for evidence of impaired drivers, but only under certain tightly controlled circumstances that limit the discretion of the police officers involved.

Similarly, a law enforcement agency generally should be required to obtain a warrant before using a drone (as one bill introduced in the Senate last week would compel). Granted, the Supreme Court historically permitted surveillance in public places without a warrant on the grounds that people largely can't expect privacy in public. Recently, however, the Court has signaled that tracking people in public and scooping up reservoirs of digital information without a warrant may be a step too far for the Fourth Amendment. (Even if a warrant is necessary, law enforcement will still be able to act without one under well-established exceptions to the warrant requirement, such as in an emergency or in a small set of "special needs" circumstances.)

Moreover, "domestic airspace" is a capacious category. Even if a law enforcement agency can dispatch a drone to loiter over a public road without running afoul of constitutional limitations — an increasingly dubious proposition — the same might not be true for a drone hovering over, say, an individual's backyard or next to their window. While a single presidential memorandum can't address everything, the failure to acknowledge that the use of drones by law enforcement poses special privacy risks is a major omission.

This is to say nothing of the intelligence agencies, which are likely to want to get in on the action with drones as well. While international-facing agencies such as the NSA and CIA are not reported to be flying drones over American airspace, one (or more) of the other 17 member agencies of the US Intelligence Community will surely find a reason to launch a drone, particularly once the ground is softened by other federal agencies. Indeed, many of the IC's member agencies — the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), among others — unite law enforcement and intelligence goals, and often work in tight coordination with each other. The FBI collaborates closely with the NSA. The DEA is reportedly "laundering evidence" from the NSA and other agencies. And the CIA assisted the Justice Department in developing its domestic airborne spying technology. Because intelligence activities are usually conducted in secret, agencies carrying out such functions have often been able to evade oversight, making strict rules and accountability even more critical.

The memorandum does set limitations on the retention and sharing of information collected by drones, though the exceptions may prove to swallow the rule. To wit, data that contains personally identifiable information must be destroyed after 180 days — unless it is "necessary to an authorized mission" of the agency, is maintained in a database covered by the Privacy Act, or is required to be kept for longer "by any other applicable law or regulation." Similarly, data that is not within a Privacy Act-covered database may not be disseminated outside the agency — unless sharing is legally required or "fulfills an authorized purpose and complies with agency requirements." Again, the restrictions on retention and sharing are laudable, but requiring an "authorized purpose" may prove to be an ineffectual limitation.

In addition, the reference to personally identifiable information raises more questions than it answers. Any drone that captures an image of a person is in possession of personally identifiable information — or information that may become personally identifiable in the future. Facial recognition technology is advancing rapidly and biometric identification mechanisms that were once assumed to require close proximity to a subject, such as fingerprint capture, can now work at an increasingly further remove (and even be recreated from photographs). Scientists are even developing ways to identify people by their gait. And information such as license plate numbers is viewable and easily correlated with an individual driver or owner. In short, unless a drone is capturing not a single piece of individual-related data, it is likely to record footage that contains some personally identifiable information.

With respect to information retention and sharing, the fact that the data must be necessary to an authorized purpose, not just relevant, should help cabin some agency overreach. Nevertheless, the provisions also highlight the weak link in information sharing restrictions, which is that some agencies have multiple missions and there are few limitations on intra-agency sharing. For instance, DHS houses multiple branches with different focuses and both civil and criminal enforcement authorities. Because it is one organization, however, there are fewer restrictions on sharing among the elements. Moreover, the provisions do not impose any additional limitations on the recipients of the information. The sharing and retention guidelines thus beg the question again: what constitutes an authorized purpose or mission, and how easily will data be shared within large agencies?

Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Protections

Third, agencies must put into place fairly robust protections for civil rights and civil liberties. The memorandum requires agencies to "prohibit the collection, use, retention, or dissemination of data in any manner that would violate the First Amendment or in any manner that would discriminate against persons based upon their ethnicity, race, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity." (Emphasis added.) This language is different from the usual restrictions on the FBI, which can generally collect intelligence or initiate an investigation on the basis of First Amendment-protected activity as long as that is not the sole reason for doing so. It remains to be seen whether the new language will be interpreted as being more restrictive, or if it is the same standard repackaged in new language. Under the memorandum, agencies also have to establish procedures to handle any complaints that an individual's privacy, civil rights, or civil liberties were violated.

In addition, agencies that use drones must reexamine their policies and procedures — on privacy as well as civil rights and civil liberties — at least every three years. It remains to be seen whether this is frequent enough, but it shows recognition that technology is changing so quickly that some policies may be out of date almost as soon as they're approved.

Accountability and Transparency

Fourth, the memorandum requires that agencies implement certain accountability and transparency measures. The accountability provisions require that agencies have in place oversight procedures, rules of conduct and training, oversight of individuals with access to personally identifiable information, and mechanisms to ensure that governmental recipients of grant funding have their own privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties policies and procedures in place.

On the transparency front, agencies using drones are required to provide notice of where their drones are authorized to operate (which presumably could mean an area as broad as the entire southern border of the United States); "keep the public informed" about their drone program along with any "changes that would significantly affect privacy, civil rights, or civil liberties;" and publish an annual summary of their activities. In addition, agencies are expected to publish information within a year about how to access their policies and procedures. It is critical that agencies publish this information in an accessible, effective interface — for instance, on a user-friendly website — rather than in an obscure manner that meets the letter of the regulations but is easily overlooked, such as in the Federal Register.

These transparency and accountability measures are a good start, but only a start. While the requirement that agencies establish policies and procedures is laudable, there must be strong oversight to ensure that the policies have teeth and that noncompliance is met with consequences. Fusion centers, for instance, are required to have policies in place, but the quality of those policies varies widely, DHS exercises little oversight, and the fusion centers are left to operate in a state of "organized chaos." The lesson from fusion centers suggests that we need to add teeth to any mandate that agencies put policies in place.

Similarly, the agreements regarding sharing of drone data — which could presumably be between different federal agencies; between federal and local, state, or tribal agencies; or between federal agencies and private third parties — should be required to be made public to the extent possible. Memoranda of understanding tend to hide details that are necessary to a full understanding of government initiatives, and it is critical that they be publicly available. Similarly, making the amount and type of expenditures on drones accessible would help the public understand how much money is spent for what kind of benefit. (DHS's Inspector General recently issued a blistering report about the drone program run by the Customs and Border Protection service, concluding that it does not achieve its intended results or reflect the true costs of operation.)

Multi-Stakeholder Process

Finally, the memorandum directs the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to convene a "multi-stakeholder engagement process" in order to "develop and communicate best practices for privacy, accountability, and transparency issues" in domestic drone use. The NTIA stakeholder process has been criticized for producing watered-down standards that are solely voluntary, though some advocates have noted that the negotiated process can produce a rough consensus. (In addition, the process is specifically focused on commercial and private drones, not those operated by law enforcement or intelligence, so the concerns raised above will not be addressed through the NTIA process.) The NTIA recently published a formal request for comment, as well as an announcement of an upcoming public meeting, so it remains to be seen how that process will play out.

The administration can be commended for recognizing that the introduction of drones into the domestic airspace brings with it concerns related to privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties. And during a time of near-total gridlock in Congress, a presidential memorandum may be the most practical way to lay out guiding principles and practices for agencies. Unfortunately, this memorandum has too many conspicuous holes. It must be the start, not the end, of the discussion.

Opinion Thu, 26 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Change in Israel Will Only Come From Outside Pressure

Israel's recent election was a clarifying moment. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's appeal to Israelis' worst racist instincts worked. Between Netanyahu's declarations during the last week on the campaign trail that he has no interest in a peace agreement with Palestinians, and his horror at the act of Palestinian citizens of Israel voting, his political platform could not be more clear: It is anti-peace and based on Jewish nationalism at the expense of Palestinian citizens of Israel. Despite Netanyahu's attempt to walk back his comments after he won, there is little doubt that Israel's policies of expanding settlements, an ongoing siege of Gaza, periodic warfare and systematic discrimination will continue.

For many people, especially American Jews who express support for democratic ideals and are seriously committed to peace with Palestinians, the racist rhetoric and extreme positions Netanyahu was willing to deploy in the last days of the campaign uncomfortably highlighted ongoing Likud party policies. The Zionist Union was defined as an alternative "center left" that could offer a superficially new direction for Israelis tired of Netanyahu's belligerence toward anyone around the world who doesn't agree with him. But in substance, the Zionist Union did not actually offer policy positions that were much different in terms of the treatment of Palestinians both within and outside of the Green Line.

As openly offensive as Netanyahu is, he is not the only problem. Underlying his leadership is a systemic and society-wide problem of increasing support among Israelis for anti-democratic policies, including second-class citizenship for Palestinian citizens of Israel and complete control of the approximately 4.5 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, who do not have any input over the government that has ultimate control over their territory.

For decades, Israel has delayed or obstructed constructive peace talks by claiming it had no partner for peace while continuing to expand settlement building and strengthening the infrastructure of occupation. Now, as Palestinian Authority senior officials noted, the world can't help but see that there is no partner for peace on the Israeli side.

Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf put it like this immediately after the election: "For years we have been hearing that Israel will either end the occupation or cease to be a democracy. Could it be that the Jewish public has made its choice?"

The question now for American Jews who express support for peace and democratic values is how to relate to an Israeli government which has openly declared itself against both. While major Jewish institutions, including the Jewish Federations of North America and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), congratulated Netanyahu for his win, others, like the Jewish Council on Public Affairs and American Jewish Committee, congratulated Israel for its fair election process. None of these pillars of the Jewish-American community showed even a moment's pause at the twisted values that won the election (though the ADL did praise Netanyahu's insincere apology to Palestinian citizens after the election).

So where does that leave the rest of us, who are dismayed by Israel's unequal treatment of its citizens and subjects? Jewish Voice for Peace has long held a theory of change that given the last 20 years of a fruitless peace process, external pressure from governments and civil society will be necessary for Israel to stop acting with impunity. That is why we endorse the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as a system of accountability for Israel's blatant disregard for human rights.

The Obama administration is growing less willing to blindly protect Israel's every action. The administration is considering allowing measures to pressure Israel at the U.N. and other international bodies, where the U.S. has traditionally acted as a body block whenever Israel was faced with challenges to its actions. It is not yet clear if this is a serious threat, but that it is even surfacing shows that U.S. policies toward Israel may be significantly shifting.

For too long, the majority of the voices in the Jewish community have urged the treating of Israel with kid gloves, giving it the space and time to make its own decision to do the right thing. But that has only allowed Israel to entrench its system of occupation and control while its population becomes ever more right-wing and comfortable with the status quo. Whether for love of Israel, or simply love of universal human rights, we can no longer claim not to see Israel's positions as unacceptable, and therefore can't absolve ourselves of the necessity to support concrete steps to change its stance. Whether it is BDS, the International Criminal Court, U.S. economic military or economic aid, or other forms of non-violent pressure, it is time for consequences.

Opinion Thu, 26 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0400