Truthout Stories http://www.truth-out.org Thu, 28 May 2015 16:22:19 -0400 en-gb Getting the Money Out of Prison Reform http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/31049-getting-the-money-out-of-prison-reform http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/31049-getting-the-money-out-of-prison-reform

The MacArthur Foundation has donated $75 million to criminal legal system professionals for jail reform - but they are the same professionals who designed the failed system.

 

(Photo: Handcuffs and money via Shutterstock)(Photo: Handcuffs and Money via Shutterstock)

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Much has been made about the bipartisan nature of contemporary efforts to end mass incarceration, as everyone from Newt Gingrich and the Koch Brothers to Van Jones and the American Civil Liberties Union, and now even Hillary Clinton, says that the United States needs to reduce the number of people it incarcerates in its own gulag archipelago. If all these people agree, the conventional wisdom goes, surely we can get something done. Are prisons the only thing that can end Washington gridlock?

The most recent entrance in this debate came from the MacArthur Foundation, which announced on May 26 that it would be awarding grants of $150,000 each to 20 municipalities around the country to develop plans "that will lead to fairer, more effective local justice systems." These grants are part of a $75 million initiative that the foundation has embarked on to reduce mass incarceration.

The MacArthur plan specifically focuses on local jails, and the 20 awardees account for 11 percent of the country's jail population. The attention to jails is urgently needed: American jails largely house people too poor to make bail for minor offenses such as traffic violations or drug possession. Jails such as those at Rikers Island and Philadelphia - two of the jurisdictions awarded funds - have been the subject of public scrutiny following reports of physical and sexual abuse of inmates. The list of grantees also includes Saint Louis County, Missouri, and Charleston County, South Carolina, two areas where police have killed unarmed black men in the last year.

Part of the foundation's Safety and Justice Challenge, this plan is certainly ambitious. "At the end of the day, what we're talking about is systemic change," MacArthur's president Julia Stasch told the Associated Press. To achieve such change, the foundation has "asked the selected jail systems to work with experts, judges, prosecutors, court administrators, police and corrections officials."

And therein lies the problem. Like efforts by other philanthropic organizations, the MacArthur Foundation has made jail reform something for criminal justice professionals and experts to solve. However, the people who maintain the current system are not those best poised to fix it. You don't pay a corporation to downsize itself.

What makes municipal jails - and the judges, prosecutors, court officials and law enforcement agencies who filled them - qualified to best shrink the number of people being jailed? These are, after all, the very people who have designed and pursued the failed policies we are now hoping to eradicate.

Meanwhile, the voices of the more than 12 million people who annually pass through one (or more) of the nation's 3,000 jails seem absent from this process. So too are the voices of their loved ones and most dedicated advocates.

Furthermore, we know why people go to jail, and it has little to do with the jail itself. Jails do not decide who they incarcerate or why. People go to jail because they are poor and can't afford bail, or because they are poor and suffering from untreated mental illness, or because they are poor and self-medicating, or because they are poor and behave in a way police deem inappropriate. In fact, police power is a core issue here. The police killings of black women, men and children that have gotten such attention in recent months is bolstered by the everyday violence that sees Black, Latino, and Indigenous people pass in and out of American jails at such disparate rates.

There is much to reform about how jails run, but if we want to reduce the number of people inside of them, we need to begin by reducing the scope of police power and increasing the scale of social welfare and health-care protections. MacArthur money, like that of Koch Brothers and others, might be better spent on supporting universal health care, public housing, full employment, and other provisions known to preserve genuine safety. As Marie Gottschalk notes in her excellent new book Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics, "prison reform" is a largely symbolic gesture outside of substantive social policy to ameliorate inequality.

In the meantime, abolishing bail and pretrial detention would go a long way toward reducing the number of people in prison. So too would an immediate cessation of the various "quality of life" policing practices that have criminalized poverty, sex work, drug possession and mental illness. Such reforms, backed by a more significant realignment of funding priorities, are the only things that will mark steps toward a genuine, lasting decarceration.

Mass incarceration is a complicated system, of course, and it will take many institutions to correct more than four decades of failed policies. It is a significant development to have a philanthropic entity with the resources and prestige of the MacArthur Foundation wanting to help end the devastation of human life called the American prison system. However, how much can philanthropy accomplish? Money can be a powerful motivator, at least when the faucets are flowing. But even the largesse of the MacArthur Foundation has its limits, and the policies enacted or revised now may be with us for a long time to come. We simply cannot afford to leave prison reform to the "experts" who gave us mass incarceration.

Progressives often lament the need to "get money out of politics." As prison reform makes its way to the center stage of American politics, we will need to ensure that the social change agenda is not determined by financiers, however sincerely motivated they may be. Otherwise, we may find ourselves having to battle prominent foundations as an expression of the larger prison crisis that has long characterized the United States. To paraphrase the poet Gil Scott-Heron, "decarceration will not be incentivized," decarceration will not be incentivized, decarceration will not be incentivized. Decarceration will not be incentivized.

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Opinion Thu, 28 May 2015 15:22:40 -0400
Forgetting in Real Time http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/31048-forgetting-in-real-time http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/31048-forgetting-in-real-time

Chicago Police Officers Jerome Finnigan, left, and Timothy McDermott with an unidentified Black man Finnigan claims to have arrested for marijuana possession (there is no record of any arrest).Chicago Police Officers Jerome Finnigan, left, and Timothy McDermott with an unidentified Black man Finnigan claims to have arrested for marijuana possession (there is no record of any arrest).Anytime someone sends me a message that reads, "Have you seen this yet?" with a link to a news story about the Chicago police attached, I hold my breath a little before I tap my screen. That's what I woke up to this morning - one of those messages, and this photo. In the coverage of the newly released image, much was made about the fact that former officer, Timothy McDermott, is still appealing the police board's decision to fire him for posing in this picture. After all, four out of nine police board members didn't see this photo as a fireable offense, and thought a mere suspension would have sufficed.

I'll say that again: this very literal expression of the reality of American policing - a Black man dehumanized and brought to the ground by heavily armed white cops - was not sufficient cause, in the minds of four police board members, to remove McDermott from his position.

While I don't wish to give this white police officer more attention that he's already received - with some actually lamenting that he now has to drive a truck to support his family - I do feel the need to point out the irony of his punishment. McDermott was fired for creating a caricature of the violence police perpetrate on our streets on a regular basis. While he certainly deserves his punishment, the conversation his actions should provoke, however, is not about the two fired cops in the picture (one of whom was fired long before the photo's release for leading unlawful raids and robbing area residents), but the culture of policing that it depicts. But that's a conversation that many of us have attempted to have many times, and I must admit, I'm tired.

I'm tired of snuff films of police killing people of color. I'm tired of photos and text messages that reveal the racism of police being dismissed with a chorus of "not all cops" nonsense. I'm tired of hearing how they "risk their lives every day." Do the people who repeat that tired refrain realize that policing doesn't even rank in the top ten most dangerous jobs in this country? Do they realize that plenty of people work in high risk situations, in actual helping professions, without the option of killing people if things get scary? Are they aware of the actual death toll, or the demographics in play?

I'm tired of worrying, every day, that people I care about will come across cops like officers Finnigan and McDermott, and I am tired of people being told they're "lucky" when the only damage done by such brutes is psychological.

Abolitionists often refer to the fact that modern policing stems from Indian Constables and slave patrols, but photos like this one very clearly connect the dots. I won't delve into the arguments of McDermott's attorney, who actually suggested the Black man in the photo may have been a willing participant in this horrid display ("What's to say this individual wasn't performing at a Christmas pageant in the district and was dressed as a reindeer and had taken the reindeer suit off?"), and that the rifles might have been wooden props (not that they "were," but that they "could have been") because his words don't even deserve space here. What I want to address is forgetting.

The privileged have a way of forgetting the past, and distancing themselves from it. You hear it in the voices of those who defend the likes of Darren Wilson, saying things like, "It's 2015, not 1915," just as the white racists of the 1960's would point out that they weren't living in the 1860's. We now live apart from that history, they insist, and need to get over it (read: forget it) and move on. But in a world where we are constantly bombarded by images of police murdering people of color, with text messages and emails that are slathered with anti-blackness, and where we hear daily stories of harassment, dehumanization, and abuse, our inability to fully isolate ourselves from this barrage of very real harm means that separation requires something more than historical distance. It requires the ability to forget history as it unfolds, in real time.

I'm not talking about those who quietly smirk over photos like this one. They are the same types who would have purchased lynching photos at the local gas station during the last century. There is no arguing with someone who understands exactly what all of this means, and delights in it. But there are many white people whose skin probably does crawl upon seeing images like this one. There are many who wish to separate themselves, and their willingness to play along with the oppressions of this system, from the reality of what this photo depicts. And in order to separate themselves, successfully, they need to push away the thought of horrors like this one. No matter how steadily they manifest themselves, each case must be some kind of aberration. Most police are good, they tell themselves. They insist that these are just the cases that get sensationalized, when in reality, these are just the stories that happened to get noticed.

Those who feel protected by police generally hail from more privileged classes, so when we attempt to raise the awareness of such people, we are in fact asking them to act against their own interest. Police enforce social norms that benefit their way of life. Martin Luther King Jr. relied on the shock value of state sanctioned brutality against peaceful Black protestors to provoke white people to question the structures that benefited them at the expense of others. The sight of fire hoses, batons, and dogs being turned on everyday Black people, dressed in their Sunday best, was enough to challenge the complacency of white America. But we live in a different time, when examples of police brutality and state sanctioned inhumanity rain down on us daily. It's all at our fingertips.

It was literally the first thing I saw when I woke up this morning.

So how do you shock the conscience of people who have learned to forget in real time? How do you provoke a different reaction? Because Black and Brown people are tired of waiting for white people to acknowledge that the available evidence is sufficient to indict this system. We are tired of waiting for you to question your own comfort. We are tired of waiting for you to admit that the legacy of slavery and the shadow of genocide still color our efforts to survive on this stolen land. We are tired, and we will not continue to beg you to recognize our humanity. As Saidiya Hartman wrote in, "Lose Your Mother":

"The apologetic density of the plea for recognition is staggering. It assumes both the ignorance and the innocence of the white world. If only they knew the truth, they would act otherwise. I am reminded of the letter that James Baldwin wrote his nephew on the centennial anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. 'The crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen,' he wrote, 'and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundred of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it…It is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.'"

Black Lives Matter has demonstrated that there is a widespread rejection of the notion that we need to play by the rules and hope for the best, while appealing to the consciences of those who benefit from white supremacy. At a recent protest in Chicago, where attendees expressed solidarity with the uprising in Baltimore, I was particularly moved by the words of Damon Williams, of the #LetUsBreathe collective, who said, "You will no longer use the names of our martyrs to shame us into pacifism." I felt the earth move with those words as he spoke. As a direct action trainer, I find community conversations about violence and nonviolence very important to my work, so I followed up with Damon to ask if he might expound upon his words at the event.

"As I was preparing for the rally," he explained, "I looked to see what the major criticisms of the uprising in Baltimore were." In addition to the usual, hypocritical hand wringing that such moments provoke, Damon noted that, "You see the establishment repeatedly trying to manipulate our sympathy for those most affected while exclaiming, 'there is no excuse for such behavior'. And I disagree. Shattered spines and skulls without consequence are plenty excuse to fight back in various ways. It is the desire of the system to continue operating as it is, and for Black people to passively accept their oppression. But we have reached a point of collective resistance and will no longer tolerate our systemic destruction."

Black and Brown communities are tired of being admonished for pushing back. They are tired of videos, words, and photos that emphasize and re-emphasize whose lives matter, and whose lives do not. But most importantly, they are tired of waiting for you to believe your own eyes. If you choose to disregard the reality that others are forced to live, do not expect your rules or preferences to govern their actions. As Saidiya Hartman said, freedom is "a glimpse of possibility, an opening, a solicitation without any guarantee of duration before it flickers and then is extinguished." The Black and Brown youth, activists, and organizers of this country have seen a glimpse of possibility. It has come from within, and in spite of the rules, norms, and history of these United States. We are ready to build forward in a way that honors our debt to those we've lost and that embodies all that we might become. I invite you to stand with us, but we are done begging for your belief.

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Opinion Thu, 28 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Julian Assange on Europe's Secret Plan for Military Force on Refugee Boats From Libya http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31038-julian-assange-on-europe-s-secret-plan-for-military-force-on-refugee-boats-from-libya http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31038-julian-assange-on-europe-s-secret-plan-for-military-force-on-refugee-boats-from-libya

WikiLeaks has just revealed secret details of a European Union plan to use military force to curb the influx of migrants from Libya. "The documents lay out a military operation against cross-Mediterranean refugee transport networks and infrastructure," WikiLeaks says. "It details plans to conduct military operations to destroy boats used for transporting migrants and refugees in Libyan territory, thereby preventing them from reaching Europe." WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange discusses the EU's plan from his place of refuge inside Ecuador's London embassy.

TRANSCRIPT:

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

AMY GOODMAN: We return to our exclusive interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. I went to London and spoke to him inside the Ecuadorean Embassy there on Memorial Day.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the documents you have released around Libya and the immigrants that are trying to escape?

JULIAN ASSANGE: A secret plan was constructed by the defense ministers of Europe, the defense ministers from the various countries. The plan was led by the UK and Italy. And that plan, authored on the 13th of May, is what we have released. Now, it calls for a military intervention in Libya to destroy refugee boats before they leave port, from Libya coming to Europe, and also for other attacks on the people who provide the services of conducting the boats, called, of course, in that plan, "people smugglers," and they're necessary to stop their network.

AMY GOODMAN: You said destroy the boats. What do you mean?

JULIAN ASSANGE: That's right. Before the refugees get into the boats, destroy the boats. And so, of course, this involves potential infringements of Libyan sovereignty, destroying boats in port.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, "destroying"? Blowing them up?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Blowing them up, sabotaging them. Destroying them through military means is what is specified in the document.

AMY GOODMAN: How would they know if there are people in them?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, they may not. They may conduct surveillance operations to detect people. They may be unconcerned with people. The way that they're talking about the people smugglers in the document is such that you have the impression that the people smugglers themselves would be a military target. The infrastructure, and specifically boats, but their broad infrastructure, also appears to be a military target. So, for example, the systems that repair boats or who are involved in collecting together the refugees, these seem like they would also be military targets.

AMY GOODMAN: And whose documents are these?

JULIAN ASSANGE: This is a classified document from the European Union, from the EU Military Committee. And the EU Military Committee is the defense ministers of the European Union. The document was led by the United Kingdom and Italy. And it will be Italy who is leading the on-the-ground - it will be Italy who is militarily coordinating the on-the-ground efforts.

AMY GOODMAN: And in the documents, the concerns about what this will look like, the so-called optics of the situation?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes, there's a layout for a media information operations at the same time, very significant concern about the optics, about where there's media scrutiny of the EU for killing people, or false reports of killing people. They say, you know, where the EU has actually killed people in this operation, so they are intending to at least risk killing people in blowing up these boats.

I guess from a - if we now pull back a bit, where is this coming from? Well, it's no surprise that the UK was involved in the draft. Since the 7th, with the new Conservative government here having a majority, we have seen a very strong push along a Conservative agenda against migrants, against pulling out of some parts of the EU, against a retardation of the European Court of Human Rights. From the Italian perspective, they have to deal with the migrants that come across.

Now, this will be the first time that the EU, as a military force - not NATO, but the EU - is engaged in hostilities. So it's quite - it's quite significant from the perspective of what the EU is going to look like as a military force. And if you think of Libya, there's the question of what do these EU nations want with Libya. Well, remember, Libya was largely Hillary's war. That's came out, that in fact the Pentagon was pushing against it, Hillary was pushing for it. From the American side, there wasn't unity in pursuing the prosecution of Libya, because the Pentagon was worried about the post-Gaddafi environment, had that been set up enough, for exactly the same reasons - the exact same lessons we learned in Iraq. Now, there was considerable European push for war in Libya, as well, from Italy, from France and from the United Kingdom, to get at Libyan oil. Deals were done in terms of splits with the Libyan rebels, the splits that Italy would have, the splits that France would have. So, we may also be looking at an excuse to get on to the shoreline of Libya. They will have established a breach of Libyan sovereignty. They will be engaging in destruction of these boats and the people-smuggling operations on Libyan soil.

AMY GOODMAN: And the documents address the Western-backed groups within Libya and what they feel about this?

JULIAN ASSANGE: It has come out publicly, when some versions of this plan have been spoken about in the media. The plan hasn't come out, but versions of it have been spoken about, and that the groups that the West says is the government of Libya, if you like, they're those factions around Benghazi. The Libyan foreign minister says that this should not be tolerated, of course. Libyans could not accept the prevention of Libyans seeking refuge being pursued by jihadists. It's really a very new situation. It's new in terms of the EU acting as a force in this manner, acting as a force against refugees, against refugee boats, acting as a force, in effect, to assist ISIS. These are people that are being driven out of Libya by jihadists of various factions, including ISIS. So, I find it quite, you know, quite a dangerous precedent. Now, having once established themselves on the northern shore of Libya, there's a question about then what happens. Presumably, EU troops or EU agents or EU warships on the shore of Libya are going to receive some kind of resistance occasionally, and they will meet that resistance. And that could then well snowball into an invasion of Libya. And that may - I must speculate that that may be part of the vision.

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News Thu, 28 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
More Than 300,000 Celebrate Archbishop Oscar Romero, 35 Years After US-Backed Murder http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31037-more-than-300-000-celebrate-beatification-of-salvadoran-archbishop-romero-35-years-after-us-backed-murder http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31037-more-than-300-000-celebrate-beatification-of-salvadoran-archbishop-romero-35-years-after-us-backed-murder

Thirty-five years ago, Archbishop Óscar Romero was murdered by members of a US-backed death squad while delivering mass in San Salvador, El Salvador. On Saturday, over 300,000 people gathered in the same city to see him beatified, bringing him a step closer to sainthood in the Catholic Church. The recognition has long been opposed by right-wing clerics and politicians. During the ceremony, eight deacons carried Romero's blood-stained shirt to the altar in a glass case. Archbishop Romero was shot through the heart while delivering mass at a hospital chapel on March 24, 1980. He was reportedly assassinated on the orders of US-backed death squad leader Roberto D'Aubuisson, a graduate of the US-run School of the Americas who went on to form the right-wing ARENA party. We go to San Salvador to speak with Roberto Lovato, a writer and a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley's Center for Latino Policy Research.

TRANSCRIPT:

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

AARON MATÉ: Thirty-five years ago, Archbishop Óscar Romero was murdered by members of a US-backed death squad while delivering mass in San Salvador, El Salvador. On Saturday, over 300,000 people gathered in the same city to see him beatified. The recognition has long been opposed by right-wing clerics and politicians. During the ceremony, eight deacons carried Romero's blood-stained shirt to the altar in a glass case. An envoy of Pope Francis lead the event in honor of a man known as a "voice for the voiceless."

JESÚS DELGADO: [translated] We authorize that the venerable servant of God, Óscar Arnulfo Romero Galdámez, bishop and martyr, pastor, according to the heart of Christ, evangelizer and father to the poor, heroic witness of the reign of God, reign of justice, fraternity and peace, hereon shall be called beatified.

AARON MATÉ: President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former member of the left-wing rebel movement FMLN, spoke at the ceremony. The presidents of Panama and Ecuador also attended. President Obama sent a statement hailing the church's new direction under Pope Francis, writing, quote, "I am grateful to Pope Francis for his leadership in reminding us of our obligation to help those most in need, and for his decision to beatify Blessed Oscar [Arnulfo] Romero."

AMY GOODMAN: Archbishop Óscar Romero was shot through the heart while delivering mass at a hospital chapel March 24th, 1980. He was reportedly assassinated on the orders of US-backed death squad leader Roberto D'Aubuisson, a graduate of the US-run School of the Americas who went on to form the right wing ARENA party. This is an excerpt from the film Romero starring Raúl Juliá, who played Archbishop Romero.

ARCHBISHOP ÓSCAR ROMERO: [played by Raúl Juliá] I'd like to make an appeal in a special way to the men in the army. Brothers, each one of you is one of us. We are the same people. The farmers and peasants that you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear the words of a man telling you to kill, think instead in the words of God: "Thou shalt not kill!" No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. In his name and in the name of our tormented people who have suffered so much and whose laments cry out to heaven, I implore you, I beg you, I order you, stop the repression!

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from the film Romero, played by Raúl Juliá playing Óscar Romero, in one of those last addresses that Archbishop Romero would give before being gunned down.

Well, for more, we go to El Salvador to San Salvador, the capital, where we're joined by Roberto Lovato. His family is from El Salvador. He's a writer and visiting scholar at UC Berkeley's Center for Latino Policy Research. He's been reporting on Archbishop Romero's beatification for The Guardian and Latino Rebels.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Roberto. Talk about what happened this weekend.

ROBERTO LOVATO: What happened, Amy, was basically a realization of what Monseñor Romero himself said before he died, where he said - because he knew they were going to kill him. That's pretty clear from talking to people who knew him. He said that "If I am killed, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people." And what happened on Saturday was precisely that, in a formal way, because people here will tell you that Romero was a saint for us here long before the church kind of caught up and did the beatification, which was held up by politics that included, for example, the - Zbigniew Brzezinski and the Carter administration kind of trying to get Romero to shut up in the 1980s. And then, from there on, the US has not played a very kind of positive role here.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about exactly what happened on that day when he was assassinated? Give us the politics of what took place. Who murdered Óscar Romero as he was giving his chapel sermon?

ROBERTO LOVATO: He was giving a chapel sermon in what's known as El Hospitalito, a small chapel near a hospital here in San Salvador behind me. And he was, you know, doing what he always does: ministering to the poor. I mean, Romero was nothing if not somebody whose alpha and omega began with God and the poor. And he interpreted the gospel in those terms. And so, he was talking, and there had already been a plan hatched, Plan Piña, by Roberto D'Aubuisson and others, because - you know, one of the things that happens is people lose the story in thinking that Roberto D'Aubuisson was the only killer of Monseñor, when in fact there were people in Miami, there were people in different parts of the country, who are still around and still - people here want to bring them to justice, who were plotting his murder. And so, a car drove by, and an assassin fired a bullet straight into his heart. And he was killed, and he died, you know, not long after.

And he was tended to by Carmelite nuns. I mean, one of the most touching moments for me here, Amy, during the ceremony on Saturday was to see a Carmelite nun singing a song called "Sombrero Azul," which was the kind of anthem of the revolutionary left in El Salvador. And the song says, you know, "And let the happiness come and wash away the suffering." And at the end of the song - in the middle of the song, there's a part that says, "Dale Salvadoreño," "Go Salvadoran." And this four-foot-five Carmelite nun raises her fist and just had some of us in tears at that point.

So, Romero - Romero challenged the state to stop repressing people. But he went beyond that. I've been reading his homilies, listening to interviews and other things, and he actually - his gospel, his message, went far beyond simply stopping the repression. He called for - for example, he supported the nationalization of banks. He talked about los imperialistas, which was pretty much code for the United States. And so, we have someone now who in this country is - that's now arguably the most violent country on Earth, in terms of homicides, becoming this massive symbol of peace. It couldn't have come at a better time for El Salvador.

AARON MATÉ: And, Roberto, can you talk more about the politics behind this decision taking so long for this honor to happen and what this now means for El Salvador?

ROBERTO LOVATO: Well, you have basically the tale of two churches. I was in - on the weekend before the beatification, I was at a church, at the cathedral. And if you go to the cathedral, you see the tale of two churches playing out. On the top, you had a traditional mass that barely even mentioned Romero, being led by the archbishop of San Salvador, the current archbishop. Below, in the crypt of Romero, you had hundreds of people crammed up into this humid room, basically with - carrying pictures of their martyrs, carrying pictures of Romero, celebrating, singing and talking about justice and God in one voice. And so, that's kind of the tale of two churches here.

And so, you have the conservative church hierarchy and the elites. You know, those that have continued the oligarchy from the 1980s, and been expanded into the financial sector, have joined forces to pressure the Vatican to not beatify Romero. They sent letters. They did what the US has been doing while Romero was alive. Fortunately, that didn't work. And as my friend Carlos Dada, a prominent journalist who wrote a good piece in The New Yorker, said, he said that, you know, this is a moral victory for El Salvador. So in terms of what it means for El Salvador, it means - it's a moral victory. It's a validation that - you know, your dead were there with Romero. There were people - they had read the names of the martyrs that have died, church people, non-church people, you know, 80,000 dead, 95 percent of whom were killed by the US-backed government, according to the United Nations Truth Commission, 95 percent killed by -

AMY GOODMAN: Roberto Lovato, we have to leave it there, but I want to thank you for being with us, writer and visiting scholar at UC Berkeley's Center for Latino Policy Research. We'll link to his reports at democracynow.org, speaking to us from San Salvador.

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News Thu, 28 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Julian Assange on the TPP: Secretive Deal Isn't About Trade, but Corporate Control http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31036-julian-assange-on-the-tpp-secretive-deal-isn-t-about-trade-but-corporate-control http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31036-julian-assange-on-the-tpp-secretive-deal-isn-t-about-trade-but-corporate-control

As negotiations continue, WikiLeaks has published leaked chapters of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership - a global trade deal between the United States and 11 other countries. The TPP would cover 40 percent of the global economy, but details have been concealed from the public. A recently disclosed "Investment Chapter" highlights the intent of US-led negotiators to create a tribunal where corporations can sue governments if their laws interfere with a company's claimed future profits. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange warns the plan could chill the adoption of health and environmental regulations.

TRANSCRIPT:

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

AMY GOODMAN: We return to our exclusive interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. I spoke to him inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London on Monday.

AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange, let's stay with the United States for a moment, with the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which certainly doesn't only involve the United States, but there's a huge debate within the United States about it right now. And I dare say, some of that debate is as a result of what WikiLeaks revealed. For some people, this treaty, that will determine 40 percent of the global economy, the only thing that we have seen about it comes from WikiLeaks. Explain what the TPP is and the information that you got, that you put out about this top-secret agreement.

JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, the TPP is an international treaty that has 29 different chapters. We have released four of them, and we are trying to get the remainder. For the information that has been released, through the chapters that we got hold of and through some congressmen who have seen the contents of some of the others, but they are not allowed to write it down -

AMY GOODMAN: They can go into a room and look at it.

JULIAN ASSANGE: They can go into a room. It has been - it's not formally classified, but it's being treated as if it was classified, in terms of how the information is being managed. They go into a room. If they try and take notes, the notes have to be handed over to the government for safe keeping. And, of course, congressmen under those situations won't take notes. So it is very well guarded from the press and the majority of people and even from congressmen. But 600 US companies are part of the process and have been given access to various parts of the TPP.

OK, so it's a - the largest-ever international economic treaty that has ever been negotiated, very considerably larger than NAFTA. It is mostly not about trade. Only five of the 29 chapters are about traditional trade. The others are about regulating the Internet and what Internet - Internet service providers have to collect information. They have to hand it over to companies under certain circumstances. It's about regulating labor, what labor conditions can be applied, regulating, whether you can favor local industry, regulating the hospital healthcare system, privatization of hospitals. So, essentially, every aspect of the modern economy, even banking services, are in the TPP.

And so, that is erecting and embedding new, ultramodern neoliberal structure in US law and in the laws of the other countries that are participating, and is putting it in a treaty form. And by putting it in a treaty form, that means - with 14 countries involved, means it's very, very hard to overturn. So if there's a desire, democratic desire, in the United States to go down a different path - for example, to introduce more public transport - then you can't easily change the TPP treaty, because you have to go back and get agreement of the other nations involved.

Now, looking at that example, what if the government or a state government decides it wants to build a hospital somewhere, and there's a private hospital, has been erected nearby? Well, the TPP gives the constructor of the private hospital the right to sue the government over the expected - the loss in expected future profits. This is expected future profits. This is not an actual loss that has been sustained, where there's desire to be compensated; this is a claim about the future. And we know from similar instruments where governments can be sued over free trade treaties that that is used to construct a chilling effect on environmental and health regulation law. For example, Togo, Australia, Uruguay are all being sued by tobacco companies, Philip Morris the leading one, to prevent them from introducing health warnings on the cigarette packets.

AMY GOODMAN: That we have in the United States on our own cigarette packages.

JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes. And it's not even an even playing field. Let's say you'll say, OK, well, we're going to make it easier for companies to sue the government. Maybe that's right. Maybe the government is too powerful, and companies should have a right to sue the government under various circumstances. But it's only multinationals that get this right. US companies operating purely in the US, in relation to investments that happen in the US, will not have this right, whereas large companies that are multinationals, that have registrations overseas, can structure things such that they're taking investments from the US, and that then gives them the right to sue the government over it.

Now, it's not so easy to get up these cases and win them. However, the chilling effect, the concern that there might be such a case, is severe. Each one of these cases, on average, governments spend more than $10 million for each case, to defend it, even successfully. So, if you have, you know, a city council or a state considering legislation, and then there's a threat from one of these multinationals about expected future profits, they know that even if they have the law on their side, even if this TPP is on their side, they can expect to suffer.

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News Thu, 28 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
North Carolina Could Become Fifth State With an Ag-Gag Law http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31034-north-carolina-could-become-fifth-state-with-an-ag-gag-law http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31034-north-carolina-could-become-fifth-state-with-an-ag-gag-law

Bill sitting on Governor McCrory's desk would make it illegal to document or film animal abuse on factory farms

Whistleblowers beware. Last week, the North Carolina senate passed HB 405, a controversial "ag-gag" bill that would make it illegal to document unethical or illegal practices on industrial farms in the state. Passed by the House in April, the bill has been presented to the Governor, who has five more days to veto it. If he does nothing (or signs it) before the end of the week, North Carolina will join Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, and Utah as the fifth state with a law criminalizing undercover investigations of factory farms.

The North Carolina bill would stifle would-be whistleblowers by making it illegal for employees to record or remove employer data or records, to record any images or sound on their employer's property, or to place an unattended camera to film the property. It would also make it illegal to seek employment for the purpose of exposing animal abuse, environmental harms, or food safety issues on farms, or for anything other than a "bona fide intent of seeking or holding employment." If the bill is signed by Governor McCrory, employees could be sued for breaching the "duty of loyalty" to their employer,  and liable for $5,000 per day they are found in breach, court costs, and any actual damages caused by the breach.

In addition to North Carolina, ag-gag bills are also currently under consideration in New Mexico and Washington.

Animal welfare advocates are particularly concerned about HB 405 because of North Carolina's prominent factory farm industry. The state ranks second in the country for the number of factory-farmed hogs, second in turkey production, and sixth in production of factory-farmed broiler chickens. (In North Carolina, factory farm chickens out number people nine to one.)

"For a state like North Carolina to be really shut down from investigations is very detrimental and would put billions of animals at risk," says Matt Dominguez, public policy director for the Human Society of the United States' farm animal protection campaign.

Although the North Carolina bill appears to be geared towards the agriculture industry, the duty of loyalty extends to employees beyond the agricultural sector. Opponents say the law would also apply to whistleblowers trying to document abuse at nursing homes and day care centers. Dominguez believes this was intentional, allowing legislatures to disguise the fact that it is an ag-gag law, and in practice making it "the broadest [ag-gag law] that will be on the books."

Since the early 1990s, ag-gag bills have been proposed in more than 20 states, with a resurgence of these whistleblower suppression bills in the past few years. Although most of these bills have failed, four states have enacted ag-gag laws in various forms. Idaho's law criminalizes any unauthorized recording inside agricultural facilities. Iowa and Utah have laws that make it illegal for an applicant to lie on an application for agricultural employment. (Many industrial farm applications now include a question specifically asking if applicants are affiliated with an animal rights organization, news organization, or labor group.) Missouri has a "quick reporting" law that requires any evidence of animal abuse be turned over to authorities within 24 hours, making prolonged investigations documenting patterns of abuse nearly impossible. The Utah and Idaho laws are currently being challenged in court by a coalition of animal protection, environmental, labor, civil liberty, and labor rights organizations on First Amendment grounds.  

Whichever form they take, these ag-gag laws limit transparency within the food system and shield factory farms from exposure for potential abuse of animals, workers, or the environment. According to Dominguez, the poultry industry is the primary backer of HB 405. 

Although there are few examples of people being prosecuted under ag-gag laws, prosecution isn't necessarily the point. "The purpose of these laws aren't really ever to prosecute anyone," says Dominguez. "It is to cause a chilling effect."

Pointing to the Humane Society and other animal welfare organizations, he adds, "We operate within the law when it comes to our investigations, and the factory farmers and people that are supporting these ag-gag laws know that if a law passes we will be unable to do investigations. We would never put our investigators or our organization in a position to break the law." 

The North Carolina Senate passed the ag-gag bill just days after Compassion Over Killing, an animal welfare group based in Washington DC, released undercover footage inside North Carolina's Montaire Farms. The video, filmed in April, shows chickens being violently thrown across the room and punched by frustrated employees. In 2013, Los Angeles-based Mercy for Animals exposed routine abuse of turkeys at several Butterball factory farms in North Carolina. And a 2007 undercover investigation by PETA documented employees beating and otherwise abusing pigs at Murphy Family Ventures, LLC in North Carolina.

A recent survey, commissioned by the ASPCA and conducted by Lake Research Partners, found that 74 percent of likely voters in North Carolina support undercover investigations of animal abuse and food safety hazards on industrial farms. Sixty-three percent would oppose a law that would deter these investigations.    

Governor McCrory has until the end of this week to veto the legislation. If he does nothing before May 29 (or if he signs the bill), HB 405 will become law.

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News Thu, 28 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Pipeline Builder Paid Pennsylvania Police Department to "Deter Protests" http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31033-kinder-morgan-paid-pennsylvania-police-department-to-deter-protests http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31033-kinder-morgan-paid-pennsylvania-police-department-to-deter-protests

ACLU calls arrangement "flat out unconstitutional"

Between June and October 2013, Kinder Morgan, the largest energy infrastructure company in North America, paid a local Pennsylvania police department more than $50,000 to patrol a controversial pipeline upgrade. The company requested that the officers, though officially off-duty, be in uniform and marked cars. Kinder Morgan's aim, according to documents obtained by Earth Island Journal, was to use law enforcement to "deter protests" in order to avoid "costly delays." 

It's unclear if the police department instructed its officers to explicitly "deter protests" but, if officers carried out Kinder Morgan's request, their conduct would clearly violate the First Amendment rights of protesters. 

"It is politically and socially entirely inappropriate for a private company to be able to hire a police department and use its officers to try to intimidate protesters of one stripe or another," says David Rudovsky, a civil rights lawyer in Philadelphia and a Senior Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

In a letter to the Eastern Pike Regional Police Department (EPRPD) dated May 1 2013, Duane Jones, Kinder Morgan's corporate security manager, acknowledged the "controversial nature" of the pipeline project and requested that the local police "provide a visible presence to create a deterrent effect." The officers began conducting patrols in June 2013 and were paid $54.80 an hour for their off-duty services. The patrols were terminated in October of that year.

The off duty officers were employed in addition to a 24/7 roving private security patrol.

Two weeks after Kinder Morgan sent the letter (described as a "letter of engagement for police services"), the Eastern Pike Regional Police Commission voted to accept Kinder Morgan's proposal to contract with the department. In an email from the EPRPD to Off Duty Services, a Texas based private security company that administered the contract, the department said that its attorney would "cc you a copy of the contract." In response to several public records requests, however, EPRPD has said that no contract exists.

 Chief of police Chad Steward declined to comment for this story and referred me to the commission's solicitor, Thomas Mincer. Mincer also declined to comment.

"If they are actually being instructed to deter protest that's not okay," says Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director of the ACLU in Philadelphia, who reviewed Kinder Morgan's letter. "That's just flat out unconstitutional." If law enforcement, or any other government agency, set out to deter protest it would be in violation of the First Amendment's protection of freedom of speech.

In an emailed statement, Kinder Morgan disputed that characterization. Richard Wheatley, a spokesperson for Kinder Morgan, said the request was made after the company obtained an injunction against protesters who had staged several acts of civil disobedience to block construction of the pipeline.

"The EPRPD was engaged specifically for the purposes of enforcing the law and the terms of the injunction," he wrote. "Kinder Morgan has no interest in limiting constitutionally protected free speech rights and legitimate, lawful protest activity."

During the contract period, however, several local residents and activists reported being followed by the police for doing little more than monitoring pipeline construction activity. One volunteer monitor was charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct after taking photographs of sediment drainage near Cummin's Creek.

Kinder Morgan, which was spun off from the energy giant Enron in the mid 1990s, has recently become embroiled in several pipeline conflicts. In British Columbia they've had to delay their Trans Mountain pipeline project, which would carry tar sands oil from Alberta to the Pacific Coast, after encountering fierce opposition from First Nation's groups, environmental activists, and local officials. In Massachusetts the company was forced to reroute a section of pipeline because of intense local opposition.

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline upgrade (sometimes called the Northeast Upgrade) greatly expanded Kinder Morgan's capacity to transport natural gas to markets throughout the northeast by adding sections of pipeline in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. However, because it cuts through large portions of state forest, sensitive wetlands, and the Delaware River watershed, the project has encountered resistance from local landowners and environmental groups.

Kinder Morgan subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. received Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval in late 2012 to build the 127-mile pipeline extension. The ruling was quickly challenged by several environmental groups, including Delaware Riverkeeper Network and the Sierra Club, which argued that FERC had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by reviewing the various extensions as separate projects rather than cumulatively. In June 2014 a federal appellate court ruled in favor of the environmental groups declaring that, "FERC impermissibly segmented the environmental review in violation of NEPA." 

But by that time the construction of the pipeline, which began in February 2013, was already completed.

Soon after Kinder Morgan began felling trees and clearing large right of ways through state forests and public land, Delaware Riverkeeper Network recruited volunteers to monitor the company's construction activity. Volunteers were asked to take photographs and document any violations especially in sensitive areas like wetlands or stream crossings. Reports on these violations were then uploaded to the FERC website.

"The goal was to watchdog the construction activity," says Faith Zerbe, monitoring director for Delaware Riverkeeper.

In late February 2013 two local activists, Alex Lotorto and Allison Petryk, helped organize a campaign of civil disobedience, including a two-week tree sit, in an attempt to block or slow construction of the pipeline. A few weeks later Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. filed a preliminary injunction against the protesters and up to 100 anonymous "Jane Does" and "John Does." The judge ruled in the company's favor and granted a special injunction for the duration of the pipeline upgrade.

Kinder Morgan says that its contract with the EPRPD was intended to enforce this injunction. The company also alleges that the letter was written after "months of coordinated, documented, illegal attempts to interfere with pipeline construction activities."

During the court hearing, Duane Jones, Kinder Morgan's head of Corporate Security, said that he was a "firm believer in First Amendment rights," and that he had no problem with protesters as long as their actions were "within the legal limits of the law."

However, Jones's May 1 2013 letter to the EPRPD seems to contradict this statement and suggests that Kinder Morgan was interested in curbing all forms of protest that would potentially delay the pipeline project.

"In an effort to deter protests and prevent delays," he wrote, "Kinder Morgan desires to employ officers from East Pike Regional Police in an off duty capacity to provide a visible presence in our construction areas…. The objective is for a uniformed officer to be seen frequently making spot checks of our construction areas and be available to respond should protestors attempt to block access to those sites. 

In April 2013 Kinder Morgan served Delaware Riverkeeper with notice of the court order and accused one of its volunteer monitors, Joe Zenes, of trespassing. A local resident with a background in environmental science, Zenes had been an active volunteer monitor since 2012. On August 14, 2013, following a major rainstorm, Zenes went out in a vest and hardhat to take photos of the company's construction work near Cummin's Creek. In just over 10 minutes he took 39 photos documenting sediment drainage into the waterway. Eight days later he received a summons from the EPRPD and was charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct for allegedly yelling obscenities at the pipeline workers. The officer who filed the charges, Matt McCormack, was employed that day as on off-duty officer conducting patrols for Kinder Morgan.

"They did exactly what they wanted the patrols and lawsuit to do," says Faith Zerbe. "They deterred us."

Although Kinder Morgan has terminated its contract with the EPRPD, it continues to pump money into local institutions. The company has given more than $70,000 to the local school district in the form of technology grants and foundation support. In 2013 Kinder Morgan put up more than $40,000 to keep a local beach open in Milford Township. "This is a great example of good citizenship being demonstrated by a corporation that intends to be a good neighbor for many decades to come," national park service superintendent John Donahue said in a press release.

And in mid-April the neighboring township of Milford announced that its police department had received a $10,000 grant from Kinder Morgan for "needed upgrades and equipment." 

The Northeast Upgrade represents a tiny fraction of Kinder Morgan's roughly 84,000 miles of existing pipeline in North America. Yet resistance to relatively small-scale projects like this is becoming increasingly common. With more than $18 billion currently invested in expanding its pipeline and infrastructure network, Kinder Morgan's engagement with local communities and law enforcement will be closely watched.

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News Thu, 28 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
A Theology of Liberation to Inspire White Anti-Racist Organizing http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31032-a-theology-of-liberation-to-inspire-white-anti-racist-organizing http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31032-a-theology-of-liberation-to-inspire-white-anti-racist-organizing

With tens of thousands of white people coming into consciousness about the reality of systemic racism and thousands of experienced white anti-racists trying to figure out how to step up, Unitarian Universalist leader Ashley Horan talks about how racial justice organizers can move white communities in the fourth interview of this series.

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Lena Gardner (pink sweater), UU justice leader and member of First Universalist Church - Minneapolis, Pastor Danny Givens, and Rev. Ruth Mackenzie (Associate Minister at First Universalist) lead the crowd in a Black Lives Matter solidarity action for the #MOA36 at the Hennepin Co. Courthouse, May 1, 2015. (Photo: Ashley Horan)Lena Gardner (pink sweater), UU justice leader and member of First Universalist Church - Minneapolis, Pastor Danny Givens, and Rev. Ruth Mackenzie (Associate Minister at First Universalist) lead the crowd in a Black Lives Matter solidarity action for the #MOA36 at the Hennepin Co. Courthouse, May 1, 2015. (Photo: Ashley Horan)Shortly after addressing a packed room of over 400 mostly white, faith activists from around the country at the Unitarian Universalist Selma 50th Anniversary Commemoration Conference in Alabama, Opal Tometi, one of the cofounders of Black Lives Matter and someone I worked alongside fighting the "Show Me Your Papers" anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona, gave me a quick look and said, "We need to build up the anti-racist work with white people, to meet the enormous needs in these times," in between conversations she had with a dozen people waiting to talk with her.

It wasn't a new message, as I've been in conversations with hundreds of organizers of color over the past two decades who have said something similar. The difference this time was that we are living in Black Liberation movement on the move times and racist structural violence is in the headlines and national debate in a way I've never experienced, as a 41-year-old Gen Xer who came of racial consciousness with the Rodney King uprising in Los Angeles in 1992.

With tens of thousands of white people coming into consciousness and thousands of experienced white anti-racists trying to figure out how to step up, this interview with Unitarian Universalist leader Ashley Horan, and this series of interviews with white racial justice leaders and organizers around the country who are engaging and moving white communities, are some of my efforts to meet the need my comrade Opal Tometi and so many others have made plain.

I first came into my own Unitarian Universalist faith when I was brought in as a member of Catalyst Project to lead anti-racist organizing trainings for hundreds of fired up, passionate UU youth from around the US and Canada.

Mostly white, with a strong crew of young people and adults of color, a strong commitment to anti-racism and social justice, and a faith based in the interconnectedness of all life and the inherent worth and dignity of all people, I was ready to sign up.

Members of White Bear UU Church of Mahtomedi, MN, stand in solidarity with BLM at same action. (Photo: Ashley Horan)Members of White Bear UU Church of Mahtomedi, MN, stand in solidarity with BLM at same action. (Photo: Ashley Horan)

The UUs met a spiritual need in my life, and as an anti-racist organizer, I also saw the tremendous potential of hundreds of thousands of mostly white people, with a small people-of-color membership, in a denomination with a formal commitment to anti-racism, as well as visionary and strong leadership for radicals of color and radical white anti-racists, even when embattled with institutional resistance and a slower pace of change than they'd like, along with a significantly feminist, queer, anti-racist, anti-capitalist youth and a young adult movement raising new generations of movement builders.

Ashley Horan is one of those young adults who is leading the Unitarian Universalist faith toward the anti-racist, multiracial, multicultural, welcoming denomination it strives to be, along with the UU church, a powerful force for collective liberation in the world. And in these Black Liberation movement on the move times, she is organizing UUs in Minnesota to show up for Black Lives Matter, and in the process is inspiring other white UUs to do the same around the country. This interview lifts up faith-based work as a lens to help all of us think about calling forward our values and beliefs in the service of justice and to move people through their congregations and spirituality.

An interview with Ashley Horan of the Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance:

Chris Crass: How are you working to move white people into racial justice movement in this time? What's working? And what are you learning from what works?

Ashley Horan: I am a Unitarian Universalist minister, currently serving as the executive director of MUUSJA, the Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance, which is our statewide justice and advocacy network. We bring together Unitarian Universalists from around the state to both build power and serve as a public moral voice for our faith in issue-based organizing and develop the capacity of our congregations to do effective, accountable social justice work in their local areas. Historically, we have focused on issues such as LGBTQIA rights, housing/homelessness, health care, environmental justice, voting rights and racial justice.

I am visibly embodying things that are contradictory to many people's expectations of both what a religious leader is and what a racial justice ally looks like.

These past few months, we have been supporting the groundswell of vibrant, visionary organizing being done by the leaders of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, as a part of our ongoing commitment to racial justice. MUUSJA members - who are also almost always members and clergy of local Unitarian Universalist congregations - participated in force at the Mall of America protest in December, as well as many public protests, marches, educational events and trainings that have been put on by the BLM folks over the past number of months.

On an organizational level, as the director of a small faith-based nonprofit, I don't have a huge number of resources - but I am doing my best to do what the mantra that hangs in my office says: "Do what you can, where you are, with what you have." For me in my current context, that means entering into conversations with the Board of Trustees of my organization to develop a shared consensus that we support the work of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis (who are doing some seriously fierce organizing here in the Twin Cities!).

While we are still developing a shared sense of what "supporting the work" looks like, they are on board with us using the resources we have to get the message out - which means publicizing Black Lives Matter actions and opportunities for engagement, developing talking points for people of our faith tradition to talk from a theologically grounded place about why our faith calls us to this work of solidarity and uprooting white supremacy, using our social media and email lists to amplify the reach of BLM announcements to folks who might otherwise not see them, etc.

UUs at the protest are at the November BLM actions after Darren Wilson's non-indictment. (Photo: Ashley Horan)UUs at the protest are at the November BLM actions after Darren Wilson's non-indictment. (Photo: Ashley Horan)

We have also intentionally sponsored events - like having Chris Crass here to speak! - that highlight the intersections of racial justice and other "issues" we're working on, such as LGBTQIA rights, environmental justice, health care, voting rights, etc. For me, making sure that I/we take advantage of every opportunity we can to highlight intersectionality is essential - it helps people strengthen the muscles they have for analysis and awareness, and brings people who have been siloed in their own "issue areas" into conversation with the broader movement.

I also regularly show up myself, in a clerical collar, at all the local BLM events and identify myself by my title and organization whenever speaking to the media or folks who ask about where I serve. Showing up in "uniform," and speaking in my role as ED of a faith-based non-profit, are intentional choices for me - not to draw focus away from anyone else, but to prompt people to think about "unexpected" people acting publicly as allies for racial justice. My appearance is often intriguing to people - young, queer, femme, fat, religious, white, often with a baby on my hip - largely because I am visibly embodying things that are contradictory to many people's expectations of both what a religious leader is and what a racial justice ally looks like.

What I'm learning from all of this in working with white people is that curiosity is a powerful motivator of connections and that the stance we must take is an invitational one - not a strident, shaming, zealous one. When we have the latter posture, it's too easy for white people to say, "Racial justice and anti-racism are somebody else's issue, not mine." But when we walk in the world in a way that allows people to enter into our personal stories, to ask us questions, to come closer, to see how they might also see racism and white supremacy as separating them from wholeness and health that they yearn for … people are willing to lean in and risk learning more.

How do you think about effectiveness and how do you measure it? Can you share an experience that helps you think about effective work in white communities for racial justice?

I think about effectiveness not so much in terms of quantifiable statistics (although I do like to think about white people's money moving to POC-led organizing for liberation!), but in terms of the stories white people tell about their worlds opening up. I think about people waking up to the reality that whiteness is not "the norm" for everything; beginning to develop authentic relationships with people who don't live in their neighborhoods or go to their churches; intentionally seeking out commentary and news and writing and film and art made by people of color; stepping out of their comfort zones and into action when they are called to act as allies by people to whom they have been deepening their connections.

The end goal is to get people to start conversations. To step out of their comfort zones. To begin to build relationships with people who look and live and believe differently than they do.

I think these stories ring true as successes to me because they signal a shift in the dominant paradigm - one that counts on white people both benefitting from, and being completely oblivious to, the extreme disparities and intentional, well-functioning structures that maintain white supremacy. And when white folks begin to narrate stories that reflect a growing consciousness rooted in both theoretical learning and real relationships, I believe we've "saved more souls" for the cause - souls who, once they awaken, begin to see themselves as servants of the movement.

What are the goals and strategies (as emergent, planned, messy, and sophisticated, basic as it is) you're operating from?

As a religious leader of Unitarian Universalists, my goal is to get the people I serve to be able to articulate a theology of salvation by interconnection - one in which we are all born with inherent worth and dignity, from a wellspring of love that desires our interdependence and health and has endowed us with the power to be agents of that salvation right here, right now, on this earth. In organizer language, I'm trying to get people to understand collective liberation and to sense both the blessing and the responsibility of claiming a belief that none of us is free until all of us are free.

Liberal white people use bureaucracy to throw up red tape where it doesn't need to exist.

The strategies all have to do with patient, long-term building of relationships - among individuals, congregations and communities. Whether it's using a wide variety of communications media and tools to ensure that people of diverse ages and styles can stay connected with work that is happening, or creating worship designed to get people to turn toward one another and engage in deeper conversations, or inviting people to participate in political actions that they may never have felt bold enough to do before, the end goal is to get people to start conversations. To step out of their comfort zones. To begin to build relationships with people who look and live and believe differently than they do.

Ultimately - and again, to use traditional religious language - I want to help as many people as possible, in as many ways as possible, feel "saved" by belonging to something larger than ourselves … something that both honors the realities of our different and unequal experiences in this world because of our identities, and points to the deeper commonalities and transcendent love that unite us.

Rev. Ashley Horan and her family at the Mall of America Protest in December 2014. (Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Horan)Rev. Ashley Horan and her family at the Mall of America Protest in December 2014. (Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Horan)

I am achingly, profoundly aware that white supremacy is a metasystem that requires systemic solutions to dismantle. At the same time, though, we can never be organized enough to come up with a dismantling plan of attack if we don't have personal relationships with one another that are strong enough to hold us accountably and fiercely when $&*t hits the fan. I'll leave it to other people to come up with the blueprints for dismantling the system and happily follow their lead; in the meantime, I feel called to developing as many interconnected people who are deeply committed to one another and to the salvific act of dismantling white supremacy as possible.

What challenges are you facing? How are you trying to overcome them? What are you learning from these experiences?

Largely, right now, I'm working with mostly middle- to upper-middle-class, educated white liberals. This means that most people are theoretically sympathetic to the work of combatting white supremacy and creating a racially just and equitable world. So the resistance I see is more subtle, and it largely comes in two forms.

Liberal white people assert that 'racism isn't really the problem.'

In the first, liberal white people use bureaucracy to throw up red tape where it doesn't need to exist. They ask whether there's a policy in place to allow the institution to focus on racial justice, or raise concerns about safety and fiduciary responsibility, or suggest that there are more emergent and pressing responsibilities that we need to address before we move into racial justice work. Liberals tend to be both somewhat anti-authoritarian and very deeply institutionalist, and this leads to pushing back against visionary leadership that demands a rewriting of the status quo and spending a lot of energy making sure the institutions and structures in which they live and move do not undergo true transformation.

In the second, liberal white people assert that "racism isn't really the problem." Some say we should really be focusing on class and wealth inequality, some insist that if we don't address climate change first and foremost, we'll all be underwater anyway. Name your issue, and white liberals have a thousand statistics and expert studies and … arguments to back themselves up. But this tactic is a classic example of either/or thinking and of the ways white culture encourages people to privilege "empirical data" and academic theories over the real, lived experiences of people who tell stories of a different kind of reality. And, in a lot of ways, I really understand this impulse - intersectionality is really difficult to wrap your mind around, and intersectional approaches to justice work take a very long time and are always messy.

I think there's a great deal of power in lovingly but directly naming these things when they happen. Usually, my tactic is to talk about how I've displayed the same kind of resistance at various moments and how I've come to realize that this is one of the ways that white supremacy can be so sneaky in colonizing our minds - but making us think that Something Else That Liberals Should Care About is going on, and leading us to redirect our energy away from dismantling racism. This is one of the only times I ever think it's a good idea to triangulate: me, the person I'm talking to, and white supremacy. When I conspiratorially invite someone in by pointing out what a jerk white supremacy can be, we begin to build a relationship together and view white supremacy as our common enemy.

How are you developing your own leadership and the leadership of people around you to step up in these profound, painful and powerful Black Lives Matter movement time?

I'm reading a lot - intentionally seeking out writings about the strategies and realities being lived out by leaders of the BLM movement; looking for alternative media that believes and privileges the voices of Black people; reading the thinking of my white comrades and friends, who are deeply invested in organizing other white folks and engaging in the spiritual practice of endeavoring to be allies.

I know that learning and reading are just a small part of growing my leadership, but the image I have about this kind of learning is that every article, every interview, every infographic I read helps push back the fog of white supremacy that is always threatening to colonize my mind, widening the circle of clarity in which I can stand to look around, make connections, engage in the struggle. And, frequently, I share these readings via social media - always with a little bit of commentary or a question - in order to engage other people in dialogue. You can say what you want about Facebook, but I have found that some of the most profound learnings and breakthroughs I've had with people in my community have happened because of conversations sparked by a posting thread.

In addition to learning and thinking, I'm working on a few specific skills and disciplines for anti-racist leadership: in particular, 1.) being vulnerable with people in my life about ways in which I've made mistakes or felt caught off guard or been heartbroken by something that has happened, and 2.) actively combatting the white tendency toward competition in anti-racism work, either in terms of seeking accolades for the things we do or competing with one another to be the best anti-racist in the room at the expense of relationship and love for other white people. These practices can take a hundred different forms, but they ultimately bring me away from guilt and annoyance and burnout, and toward affection and hope and solidarity with my own people.

I think my main technique for helping to develop other white people's leadership is to, quite simply, keep inviting people. Invite them to engage in a private dialogue when something hard happens publicly on social media. Invite them to show up for the protest or the meeting or the workshop. Invite them to read this article, or talk to me about why I think that thing. Invite them to volunteer to lead that chant or chair this group or make that policy decision.

Rev. Ashley Horan and her family at the Mall of America Protest in December 2014. (Photo: Courtsey of Ashley Horan)Rev. Ashley Horan and her family at the Mall of America Protest in December 2014. (Photo: Courtsey of Ashley Horan)Recently, I co-facilitated a curriculum called "Beloved Conversations: Dialogues About Race and Ethnicity" at one of our local congregations. Over several weeks, participants from a largely white Unitarian Universalist congregation, a largely Black nondenominational Christian congregation, and members of several community organizations gathered together to tell stories and explore the ways that race and racism have shaped our consciousnesses (in different ways) and kept us from working together for collective liberation. I and the other facilitators consistently used examples in our facilitation about what was happening in the local Black Lives Matter movement and kept pushing folks - especially white people, most of whom were Baby Boomers - to show up for these BLM events, and to be clear that this moment is a critical opening for white people to leverage our visibility and our power to uplift the agenda of Black-led movements for liberation.

I was never sure whether any of this sunk in for my fellow white people. Clearly, this was a group who was still standing in awe of the work of the civil rights era, but I wasn't sure whether they envisioned themselves as being a part of today's movement for racial justice; whether they were ready to answer the call. But then, several weeks after the program ended, I began seeing their faces show up at public events.

A man in his 60s showed up at the Hennepin County Courthouse on the morning of the pretrial hearing for the 36 people being charged in conjunction with the Mall of America protests. A 17-year-old (one of the few youth in the group) was a part of a group of nearly 1,000 Twin Cities area students who walked out of their schools on May Day to support Black Lives Matter and the MOA 36. When I saw them both at these events, they both commented on how, without their participation in these dialogues and without the invitation to attend, they wouldn't have come. But, nonetheless, here they were - and my guess is it will not be the last time for either of them!

It's incredible to me how many white people have never been invited to show up for racial justice - ever - which translates into a huge number of people who have basically tuned out to the issue. Invitations - especially personal ones - are incredibly powerful, and when the invitation is grounded in relationship and mutual respect, my experience is that people tend to say 'yes.' Maybe not the first time, or the second, but eventually - if you invite people often enough to come along as a partner in the work - many, many people will take you up on it.

Ashley Horan is a Unitarian Universalist minister serving as the executive director of MUUSJA: The MN Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance. She feels deeply called to nurture the spiritual health of The Movement, which generally looks to her like spiritual people getting more politically grounded and political people getting more spiritually grounded. She lives with her beloved, the Rev. Karen Hutt, and their two children, Zi, 14, and Aspen Bell, 5 months, in Minneapolis.

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News Thu, 28 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
We Trust Children to Know What Gender They Are, Until They Go Against the Norm http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/31031-we-trust-children-to-know-what-gender-they-are-until-they-go-against-the-norm http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/31031-we-trust-children-to-know-what-gender-they-are-until-they-go-against-the-norm

I will start by asking two questions: at what age did you know your gender, and do you think someone else had to tell you what it was? I'm director of mental health at a leading gender clinic in the US. Our clinic is a half-decade old – and in that short period the number of families coming to us with questions about their child's gender has grown astronomically every month.

We're not alone. The BBC recently reported that the number of children aged ten and under who were referred to the NHS in the UK to help deal with transgender feelings had more than quadrupled in six years.

The main issue that brings children to our clinic is a child in the family who says: "Hey, you've got it wrong, I'm not the gender you think I am" or "I do not want to conform to the rules I see around me about how boys are supposed to be boys and girls are supposed to be girls."

Some of these children are very upset about their gender conundrums; others skip happily outside the gender boxes that were outlined and filled in for them by the culture around them. Yet they all share something in common – feelings about their gender – and depending on how these feelings are negotiated by the adults who care for them, they will either rejoice is their "gender creativity" or suffer from the ill-fit between the gender everyone expects them to be and the gender they know themselves to be.

These feelings can surface as early as the second year of life, when a girl toddler frantically pulls the fancy barrettes out of her hair or a boy toddler wraps his blanket around his head to create long, flowing hair. Or, they can show up much later. Children, like any human, are all different.

All of these children will have had a sex assigned to them at birth. Most children feel quite in sync with that assignment, but a very small number do not. They are the children who often say, in both word and actions: "I'm a boy, not a girl" or: "I'm a girl, not a boy" or come up with some gender category that is neither boy nor girl but something quite in-between.

Other children, fine with the sex assigned to them on their birth certificate but not with the expectations about how they are supposed to perform that gender, might happily engage in the activities that feel best to them, wear the clothes that look nicest to them and play with the children who feel most compatible to them – until they are limited or policed by the socialisation agents in their environment, for example, when a father tells his son that he can't wear his nail polish in public or a therapist advises parents to take away all their little girl's "boy" toys. From this point, their feelings may change from jouissance (a sense of unbridled joy or pleasure) to stress or distress if the message mirrored back from the people around them, with strong feeling, is that the way they are "doing" their gender is inappropriate and unacceptable.

An obvious contradiction

In the field of mental health today, and in the general public, a debate is running as to whether young children could possibly know their gender at a young age and whether they might change their mind over time, just as they do about so many other aspects of life. Ironically, if one delves into the Western literature on gender development in young children, such as the work of Robert Stoller or Eleanor Maccoby, or Sigmund Freud before them, we uncover a contradiction.

In traditional theories, it is assumed that children clearly know their own gender by the age of six, based on the sex assigned to them at birth, the early knowledge of that assignment, the gender socialisation that helps a child know how their gender should be performed and the evolving cognitive understanding of the stability of their gender identity. Yet if a child deviates from the sex assigned to them at birth or rejects the rules of gender embedded in the socialisation process, they are assumed to be too young to know their gender, suffering from either gender confusion or a gender disorder.

Following this logic, if you are "cisgender" (your sense of your gender matches the sex assigned on your birth certificate), you can know your gender, but if you are transgender or gender-nonconforming, you cannot possibly know.

Yet a macro survey of transgender adults conducted in the US indicated that a large proportion of respondents knew at an early age what their true gender was – they just kept it under wraps because of social stigma in their childhood years. So we could say that gender-creative children can possibly know their gender – and do, at a very young age.

Messages from brains and minds

Recent clinical observations and research studies, such as a 2013 report from the VU University in Amsterdam, reveal a certain group of young children who are what we refer to in the vernacular as insistent, persistent and consistent in their affirmation of their cross-gender identities. This is not based on the genitalia they perceive between their legs or the gender label given to them by others, but by messages from their own brains and minds.

Research is underway to discover the biopsychosocial pathways to such identities, but it is becoming increasingly clear that chromosomes and external genitalia are not the driving forces for this subgroup of children – our youngest cohort of transgender people.

Those of us who operate within the gender-affirmative model – abiding by the definition of gender health as the child's opportunity to live in the gender that feels most authentic to them – have developed assessment processes based on the dictum that: "if you listen to the children, you will discover their gender. It is not for us to tell, but for them to say."

This makes adults nervous, as we were always taught that gender was a bedrock, determined not by the child but by the assessment of the medical professionals delivering the baby: penis for a boy, vagina for a girl. It's both earthshaking and extremely anxiety provoking to have that trope challenged by young voices who might say to us that we got it wrong. And if the child is wrong and we go along with them, we could make a mess of things by having them bounce back and forth between genders or take the wrong path. 

Over the course of time, if we do not impose our own reactions and feelings on the children, like the ones above, and allow a space for their gender narrative to unfold, the gender they know themselves to be will come into clearer focus. From there we can give them the opportunity to transition to the gender that feels most authentic, followed later by the choice to use puberty blockers to put natal puberty on hold and later cross-sex hormones to bring their bodies into better sync with their psyche.

If we do not give them this opportunity, they may feel thwarted, frustrated, despondent, angry, deflated – feelings reflected in the symptoms correlated with being a gender-nonconforming or gender-dysphoric child. The root of these symptoms is not the child's gender, but rather the environment's negative reactions to the child's gender.

When acceptance and allowance of the child to live in their authentic gender replace negation or suppression of a child's nonconforming gender, the symptoms have been known to subside or disappear completely, much to the surprise of those caring for the child. We might even consider gender as the cure, rather than the problem, privileging the child's ability to not only feel, but know their gender.

The Conversation

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Opinion Thu, 28 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Delusionary Thinking in Washington: The Desperate Plight of a Declining Superpower http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31030-delusionary-thinking-in-washington-the-desperate-plight-of-a-declining-superpower http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31030-delusionary-thinking-in-washington-the-desperate-plight-of-a-declining-superpower

Take a look around the world and it's hard not to conclude that the United States is a superpower in decline. Whether in Europe, Asia, or the Middle East, aspiring powers are flexing their muscles, ignoring Washington's dictates, or actively combating them. Russia refuses to curtail its support for armed separatists in Ukraine; China refuses to abandon its base-building endeavors in the South China Sea; Saudi Arabia refuses to endorse the US-brokered nuclear deal with Iran; the Islamic State movement (ISIS) refuses to capitulate in the face of US airpower. What is a declining superpower supposed to do in the face of such defiance?

This is no small matter. For decades, being a superpower has been the defining characteristic of American identity. The embrace of global supremacy began after World War II when the United States assumed responsibility for resisting Soviet expansionism around the world; it persisted through the Cold War era and only grew after the implosion of the Soviet Union, when the US assumed sole responsibility for combating a whole new array of international threats. As General Colin Powell famously exclaimed in the final days of the Soviet era, "We have to put a shingle outside our door saying, 'Superpower Lives Here,' no matter what the Soviets do, even if they evacuate from Eastern Europe."

Imperial Overstretch Hits Washington

Strategically, in the Cold War years, Washington's power brokers assumed that there would always be two superpowers perpetually battling for world dominance.  In the wake of the utterly unexpected Soviet collapse, American strategists began to envision a world of just one, of a "sole superpower" (aka Rome on the Potomac). In line with this new outlook, the administration of George H.W. Bush soon adopted a long-range plan intended to preserve that status indefinitely. Known as the Defense Planning Guidance for Fiscal Years 1994-99, it declared: "Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union."

H.W.'s son, then the governor of Texas, articulated a similar vision of a globally encompassing Pax Americana when campaigning for president in 1999. If elected, he told military cadets at the Citadel in Charleston, his top goal would be "to take advantage of a tremendous opportunity - given few nations in history - to extend the current peace into the far realm of the future. A chance to project America's peaceful influence not just across the world, but across the years."

For Bush, of course, "extending the peace" would turn out to mean invading Iraq and igniting a devastating regional conflagration that only continues to grow and spread to this day. Even after it began, he did not doubt - nor (despite the reputed wisdom offered by hindsight) does he today - that this was the price that had to be paid for the US to retain its vaunted status as the world's sole superpower.

The problem, as many mainstream observers now acknowledge, is that such a strategy aimed at perpetuating US global supremacy at all costs was always destined to result in what Yale historian Paul Kennedy, in his classic book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, unforgettably termed "imperial overstretch." As he presciently wrote in that 1987 study, it would arise from a situation in which "the sum total of the United States' global interests and obligations is… far larger than the country's power to defend all of them simultaneously."

Indeed, Washington finds itself in exactly that dilemma today. What's curious, however, is just how quickly such overstretch engulfed a country that, barely a decade ago, was being hailed as the planet's first "hyperpower," a status even more exalted than superpower. But that was before George W.'s miscalculation in Iraq and other missteps left the US to face a war-ravaged Middle East with an exhausted military and a depleted treasury. At the same time, major and regional powers like China, India, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey have been building up their economic and military capabilities and, recognizing the weakness that accompanies imperial overstretch, are beginning to challenge US dominance in many areas of the globe. The Obama administration has been trying, in one fashion or another, to respond in all of those areas - among them Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and the South China Sea - but without, it turns out, the capacity to prevail in any of them.

Nonetheless, despite a range of setbacks, no one in Washington's power elite - Senators Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders being the exceptions that prove the rule - seems to have the slightest urge to abandon the role of sole superpower or even to back off it in any significant way. President Obama, who is clearly all too aware of the country's strategic limitations, has been typical in his unwillingness to retreat from such a supremacist vision. "The United States is and remains the one indispensable nation," he told graduating cadets at West Point in May 2014. "That has been true for the century past and it will be true for the century to come."

How, then, to reconcile the reality of superpower overreach and decline with an unbending commitment to global supremacy?

The first of two approaches to this conundrum in Washington might be thought of as a high-wire circus act.  It involves the constant juggling of America's capabilities and commitments, with its limited resources (largely of a military nature) being rushed relatively fruitlessly from one place to another in response to unfolding crises, even as attempts are made to avoid yet more and deeper entanglements. This, in practice, has been the strategy pursued by the current administration.  Call it the Obama Doctrine.

After concluding, for instance, that China had taken advantage of US entanglement in Iraq and Afghanistan to advance its own strategic interests in Southeast Asia, Obama and his top advisers decided to downgrade the US presence in the Middle East and free up resources for a more robust one in the western Pacific.  Announcing this shift in 2011 - it would first be called a "pivot to Asia" and then a "rebalancing" there - the president made no secret of the juggling act involved.

"After a decade in which we fought two wars that cost us dearly, in blood and treasure, the United States is turning our attention to the vast potential of the Asia Pacific region," he told members of the Australian Parliament that November.  "As we end today's wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and mission in the Asia Pacific a top priority.  As a result, reductions in US defense spending will not - I repeat, will not - come at the expense of the Asia Pacific."

Then, of course, the new Islamic State launched its offensive in Iraq in June 2014 and the American-trained army there collapsed with the loss of four northern cities. Videoed beheadings of American hostages followed, along with a looming threat to the US-backed regime in Baghdad. Once again, President Obama found himself pivoting - this time sending thousands of US military advisers back to that country, putting American air power into its skies, and laying the groundwork for another major conflict there.

Meanwhile, Republican critics of the president, who claim he's doing too little in a losing effort in Iraq (and Syria), have also taken him to task for not doing enough to implement the pivot to Asia. In reality, as his juggling act that satisfies no one continues in Iraq and the Pacific, he's had a hard time finding the wherewithal to effectively confront Vladimir Putin in Ukraine, Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the various militias fighting for power in fragmenting Libya, and so on.

The Party of Utter Denialism

Clearly, in the face of multiplying threats, juggling has not proven to be a viable strategy.  Sooner or later, the "balls" will simply go flying and the whole system will threaten to fall apart. But however risky juggling may prove, it is not nearly as dangerous as the other strategic response to superpower decline in Washington: utter denial.

For those who adhere to this outlook, it's not America's global stature that's eroding, but its will - that is, its willingness to talk and act tough. If Washington were simply to speak more loudly, so this argument goes, and brandish bigger sticks, all these challenges would simply melt away. Of course, such an approach can only work if you're prepared to back up your threats with actual force, or "hard power," as some like to call it.

Among the most vocal of those touting this line is Senator John McCain, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a persistent critic of President Obama. "For five years, Americans have been told that 'the tide of war is receding,' that we can pull back from the world at little cost to our interests and values," he typically wrote in March 2014 in a New York Times op-ed. "This has fed a perception that the United States is weak, and to people like Mr. Putin, weakness is provocative." The only way to prevent aggressive behavior by Russia and other adversaries, he stated, is "to restore the credibility of the United States as a world leader." This means, among other things, arming the Ukrainians and anti-Assad Syrians, bolstering the NATO presence in Eastern Europe, combating "the larger strategic challenge that Iran poses," and playing a "more robust" role (think: more "boots" on more ground) in the war against ISIS.

Above all, of course, it means a willingness to employ military force. "When aggressive rulers or violent fanatics threaten our ideals, our interests, our allies, and us," he declared last November, "what ultimately makes the difference… is the capability, credibility, and global reach of American hard power."

A similar approach - in some cases even more bellicose - is being articulated by the bevy of Republican candidates now in the race for president, Rand Paul again excepted. At a recent "Freedom Summit" in the early primary state of South Carolina, the various contenders sought to out-hard-power each other. Florida Senator Marco Rubio was loudly cheered for promising to make the US "the strongest military power in the world." Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker received a standing ovation for pledging to further escalate the war on international terrorists: "I want a leader who is willing to take the fight to them before they take the fight to us." 

In this overheated environment, the 2016 presidential campaign is certain to be dominated by calls for increased military spending, a tougher stance toward Moscow and Beijing, and an expanded military presence in the Middle East. Whatever her personal views, Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic candidate, will be forced to demonstrate her backbone by embracing similar positions. In other words, whoever enters the Oval Office in January 2017 will be expected to wield a far bigger stick on a significantly less stable planet. As a result, despite the last decade and a half of interventionary disasters, we're likely to see an even more interventionist foreign policy with an even greater impulse to use military force.

However initially gratifying such a stance is likely to prove for John McCain and the growing body of war hawks in Congress, it will undoubtedly prove disastrous in practice. Anyone who believes that the clock can now be turned back to 2002, when US strength was at its zenith and the Iraq invasion had not yet depleted American wealth and vigor, is undoubtedly suffering from delusional thinking. China is far more powerful than it was 13 years ago, Russia has largely recovered from its post-Cold War slump, Iran has replaced the US as the dominant foreign actor in Iraq, and other powers have acquired significantly greater freedom of action in an unsettled world. Under these circumstances, aggressive muscle-flexing in Washington is likely to result only in calamity or humiliation.

Time to Stop Pretending

Back, then, to our original question: What is a declining superpower supposed to do in the face of this predicament?

Anywhere but in Washington, the obvious answer would for it to stop pretending to be what it's not. The first step in any 12-step imperial-overstretch recovery program would involve accepting the fact that American power is limited and global rule an impossible fantasy. Accepted as well would have to be this obvious reality: like it or not, the US shares the planet with a coterie of other major powers - none as strong as we are, but none so weak as to be intimidated by the threat of US military intervention. Having absorbed a more realistic assessment of American power, Washington would then have to focus on how exactly to cohabit with such powers - Russia, China, and Iran among them - and manage its differences with them without igniting yet more disastrous regional firestorms. 

If strategic juggling and massive denial were not so embedded in the political life of this country's "war capital," this would not be an impossibly difficult strategy to pursue, as others have suggested. In 2010, for example, Christopher Layne of the George H.W. Bush School at Texas A&M argued in the American Conservative that the US could no longer sustain its global superpower status and, "rather than having this adjustment forced upon it suddenly by a major crisis… should get ahead of the curve by shifting its position in a gradual, orderly fashion." Layne and others have spelled out what this might entail: fewer military entanglements abroad, a diminishing urge to garrison the planet, reduced military spending, greater reliance on allies, more funds to use at home in rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure of a divided society, and a diminished military footprint in the Middle East.

But for any of this to happen, American policymakers would first have to abandon the pretense that the United States remains the sole global superpower - and that may be too bitter a pill for the present American psyche (and for the political aspirations of certain Republican candidates) to swallow. From such denialism, it's already clear, will only come further ill-conceived military adventures abroad and, sooner or later, under far grimmer circumstances, an American reckoning with reality.

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News Thu, 28 May 2015 10:13:39 -0400