Truthout Stories Wed, 31 Aug 2016 19:16:50 -0400 en-gb The Public Intellectual: Ashley Dawson

Ashley Dawson

The Climate Catastrophe Cannot Be Reversed Within the Capitalist Culture
Thursday, 18 August 2016

]]> (Samantha Borek) article Wed, 31 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Florida State Attorney Who Oversaw Trayvon Martin and Marissa Alexander Cases Is Defeated in Primary

In Florida, State Attorney Angela Corey has been defeated in her re-election bid. Corey had faced widespread criticism for her handling of several prominent cases, including the killing of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin by white neighborhood watch vigilante George Zimmerman and the case of Marissa Alexander, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing what she maintains was a warning shot at her abusive husband. For more, we speak with freelance journalist Victoria Law. Her recent piece for The Nation is "Why Is Marissa Alexander Still Being Punished for Fighting Back."


AMY GOODMAN: On a semi-related issue, I wanted to ask you, Victoria, about the piece you wrote in The Nation, "Why Is Marissa Alexander Still Being Punished for Fighting Back?" the famous case of the woman who fired a warning shot at her abusive husband. She was sentenced -- what was it? -- to 20 years in prison.

VICTORIA LAW: Twenty years in prison.

AMY GOODMAN: This was right around the time of Trayvon Martin. Now, the prosecutor, state attorney in Florida's Fourth Judicial Circuit Court, Angela Corey, was just defeated in yesterday's primary.

VICTORIA LAW: Yes. We can see that oftentimes, as we see in -- as, hopefully, we do not see in Bresha's case in the end, but as we see with many domestic violence survivors, that when they take actions to protect themselves, and almost always it's self-defense, even if it's not happening in the heat of the confrontation, but they see something in their abuser's eyes, and they say, "This is it. You know, if I don't do something, I'm going to end up dead. He is going to kill me." And we see that prosecutors tend to go after them. Domestic violence is often dismissed as, quote-unquote, "the abuse excuse." It's disregarded. There is still not widespread recognition of the ways, the insidious ways, in which domestic violence works. So, they might say, "Well, why were you afraid of him if you weren't being hit all the time?" And after a while, it's not just the physical violence, it's the threat of physical violence; it's being conditioned to fear your loved one and to do what you need to do in order to avoid violence.

But we see, with Angela Corey charging Marissa Alexander, prosecuting her, and adding, at her discretion, the mandatory sentencing that allowed her to be sentenced to 20 years in prison, and then, when Marissa Alexander won her appeal, going after her again and threatening her with a 60-year sentence for firing a warning shot, in which no one was hurt and no one was killed -- we see this again and again. What's unusual with Marissa Alexander is the outpouring of support she got.

AMY GOODMAN: And again, Angela Corey defeated.


AMY GOODMAN: And this is the same prosecutor who was in charge of the prosecution of George Zimmerman, who got off.


AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you all for being with us. We'll continue to follow Bresha's case. Victoria Law, we'll link to your pieces. Martina Latessa, thanks so much for being with us, Cleveland police detective in the Domestic Violence Unit, who is the aunt of Bresha, and Ian Friedman, her criminal defense attorney.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, speaking of primaries yesterday, we'll look at the primary results in Florida and in Arizona and in other places, with Jim Dean, head of [Democracy] for America. Stay with us.

News Wed, 31 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Glenn Greenwald: Obama Has Bombed Seven Nations, but Clinton Claims He Has Not Been Militaristic Enough

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald looks at the foreign policies of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. "You have President Obama, who himself has been very militaristic -- he has bombed seven predominantly Muslim countries in the last seven years -- and yet Secretary Clinton's critique of his foreign policy is, in every case, that he's not aggressive enough, he's not militaristic enough," Greenwald said. "And in Syria, in particular, they seem to really be itching to involve the U.S. a lot more directly and a lot more aggressively in that conflict."


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman. We're continuing our conversation with Glenn Greenwald, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, one of the founding editors of The Intercept. In Part 1, we discussed the U.S. elections, also the impeachment trial of the suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Today we're going to Part 2 of the conversation.

Glenn Greenwald recently wrote an article, "Hillary Clinton's Likely Pentagon Chief Already Advocating for More Bombing and Intervention." We spoke to him at his home in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and I asked Glenn to talk about the article and just who Michèle Flournoy is.

GLENN GREENWALD: She, by all accounts, is the clear front-runner to be the Pentagon chief under Hillary Clinton. She was probably the second-place finisher the last time that President Obama chose a Defense Department chief, when he chose Ash Carter. She's sort of this prototypical Pentagon technocrat, who has been integrated into bipartisan military policy for a long time, so very much along the lines of how Hillary Clinton views foreign policy and military policy.

And one of the most notable parts of Clinton's approach to foreign policy that has gotten relatively little attention is that one of the few areas where she has been openly critical of President Obama has been by complaining that he's been insufficiently militaristic or belligerent or aggressive in a number of areas, in particular, in Syria, where she criticized him in her book and then also in various interviews for not doing enough in Syria to stop the Syrian dictator, Assad, from brutalizing the Syrian people. She has advocated -- Secretary Clinton has -- a no-fly zone, which could lead to military confrontation with Russia, who's flying over Syria. And then Michèle Flournoy, in an interview, made clear that she not only believes in a no-fly zone, but also more active boots on the ground in Syria, American boots on the ground.

And given that the Russians are already there, that there is ISIS there, that there are al-Qaeda elements, that there's still a civil war ongoing, it would be extremely dangerous to involve the U.S. further in military involvement in Syria. And yet, you have President Obama, who himself has been very militaristic -- he has bombed seven predominantly Muslim countries in the last seven years -- and yet Secretary Clinton's critique of his foreign policy is, in every case, that he's not aggressive enough, he's not militaristic enough. And in Syria, in particular, they seem to really be itching to involve the U.S. a lot more directly and a lot more aggressively in that conflict.

AMY GOODMAN: And how do you think Donald Trump's foreign policy would be carried out?

GLENN GREENWALD: It's always difficult to say what Donald Trump's policy would be, because he has very few cogent ideas that remain constant from one day to the next. But if there's any ideological strain that's identifiable in Trump's statements, not just over the campaign but over the year -- the years, it does seem to be that he comes from this kind of more nativist, isolationist strain of American politics represented by Pat Buchanan, previously by Charles Lindbergh, this American-first ideology that says that the U.S. should never involve itself in military conflicts to nation-build or to help people or to prevent oppression; it should only do so when there's a direct threat to the United States that needs to be engaged.

And so, Trump's attitude has very much been along those lines in Syria, which is to say, "Let the Russians continue to bomb ISIS. Let the Russians continue to bomb Assad's enemies," many of whom, in Trump's view, are al-Qaeda elements. "There's no reason for the United States to engage in any of that. And the only thing the U.S. should be doing in Syria," he says, "is directly attacking ISIS," where he wants even greater bombing than Obama has already ordered.

And so, in one sense, he's calling for more limited involvement in Syria by limiting the United States' military action only to ISIS and letting the Russians handle everything else, but on the other hand, he's calling for massive bombing, the use of torture, other forms of war crimes in killing, targeting suspect -- terror suspects' family members, in order to fight ISIS. And so, it's very difficult to say whether it's more militaristic or less. It's probably some combination of both, to the extent that it can be predicted at all.

News Wed, 31 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Justice for Janitors: The Fight for 15 Shutdown in Minneapolis-Saint Paul

On Saturday, August 20, low-wage Minneapolis-Saint Paul janitors organizing with Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha staged a day of action, shutting down intersections, taking the streets and marching to protest Kohl's failure to implement a responsible contractor policy and to protest its subcontractor Kimco's poverty wages. Twenty-six years after the iconic Justice for Janitors Bread and Roses strike in LA, Twin Cities janitors in the the Fight for 15 have scored major victories, including 4,000 Target janitors striking and winning their largest wage increase in decades, a contract which brought the majority of Target Janitors above $15 per hour. Inspired by this permissive local and national context for struggle, Kimco janitors, students and teachers took the streets during the back-to-school season when Kohl's makes 15 percent of its $673 million in annual profits. This is their story.

Justice for Janitors from Jonathan Leavitt on Vimeo.

News Wed, 31 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Last Four Undecided Voters ]]> (Matt Bors) Art Wed, 31 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400 How Billionaire Trump Is Missing Greener Pastures

Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a campaign rally in Fountain Hills, Arizona, on March 19, 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a campaign rally in Fountain Hills, Arizona, on March 19, 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Considering how much he brags about his business acumen, shouldn't Donald Trump do a better job of keeping up with economic trends? The "great" America he pines for preceded the advent of today's globalized information age and the automation that rendered steelmaking a largely worker-free endeavor. Likewise, the Republican presidential nominee's fossil-fueled ambitions make no sense in light of what's up with energy and its tremendous labor consequences: The oil, gas and coal industries are heading toward obsolescence as green energy booms.

Since Trump enjoys talking about energy industries and their workers, his clueless declarations about them get lots of airtime and ink. Here's one galling example: "The Obama-Clinton administration has blocked and destroyed millions of jobs through their anti-energy regulations," Trump said in a Detroit speech. "The Obama-Clinton war on coal has cost Michigan over 50,000 jobs."

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

It's hard to know where to start with this motherlode of lies, given that the United States produced more oil than Saudi Arabia and more natural gas than Russia last year, following massive growth for both fuels during the Obama administration. But here's what's amiss in that last line. The Trump campaign told Politifact that the Michigan assertion, which surely confused the locals in a state where the last coal mines closed in the 1950s, addressed the loss of potential employment opportunities from decisions not to build coal-fired power plants.

Politifact deemed the assertion false. "Market forces, not just environmental regulations, have driven many of the job losses in the coal sector," the fact-checking outlet observed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were only 60,000 people employed at power plants in the entire country in 2014, so the notion that 50,000 Michiganders could have found those mythical jobs underscores Trump's unpresidential habit of making up numbers to suit his whims.

I'll get to those market forces shortly, after a quick review of pertinent US job statistics drawn from an International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) report released in late May. All told, according to the group, a total of 769,000 Americans were toiling for renewable energy businesses in 2015, including small-scale hydropower, biofuels, and geothermal. Here IRENA's  snapshot of energy employment by industry:

  • Solar: 209,000 jobs
  • Oil and gas extraction: 187,200 jobs
  • Wind: 88,000 jobs
  • Coal mining: 67,929 jobs

Interestingly, IRENA's fossil-fuel employment figures are actually higher than the latest data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Coal mining jobs have now dwindled further to 52,300. As for oil and gas extraction workers, there were only 172,700 of them in July. The BLS does not track wind and solar employment with the same regularity as oil, gas and coal jobs, but it did predict that wind turbine technician would be the nation's fastest-growing profession through 2024. Renewable-energy jobs grew 6 percent last year, in stark contrast with an 18-percent decline in oil and gas employment, IRENA found.

The new energy paradigm that Trump either can't or won't accept has created a labor market where the solar power industry employs more US workers than oil and gas extraction. There are also more than three times as many solar workers as coal miners and the solar industry is growing at 12 times the speed of overall job creation. Green-energy job growth may keep going for decades. The share of power generated by renewable energy will triple to 44 percent from 14 percent by 2040, according to the latest Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecast. In other words, this is no blip.

Furthermore, the Obama administration couldn't do away with or prevent the creation of "millions" of jobs if it tried. These professions only employ tens and hundreds of thousands of workers.

About those market forces: Some 350,000 and gas workers around the world did lose their jobs between October 2014 and January 2016, including 100,000 here in the United States. That was due to price collapses, which caused oil and gas companies to suffer massive losses and, in many cases, go bankrupt. Trump calls for a yuuuuge boost in national fossil-fuel output, but it was a massive increase in US production that triggered the oversupply problems and sent prices into the doldrums. So a government policy intended to boost US production even more would not necessarily spur the creation of more oil and gas jobs.

Coal employment has also continued to implode, but that's mostly because of coal's eroding market share and the industry's preference for mountaintop removal and other environmentally devastating techniques that require less labor. "Perhaps as President, Donald Trump will have his energy secretary restore coal jobs by requiring the coal industry to return to pick-and-shovel days," suggested Tina Casey on the CleanTechnica website. Most big US coal companies, having declared bankruptcy, surely can't afford to expand their payrolls that way.

Utilities are replacing coal with cheaper natural gas -- no big climate win -- and wind power. Increasingly, utility-scale solar is gaining traction too as the costs of solar panels have plunged, making renewable energy more competitive. Until now, battery technology has not progressed to the point where fossil-fuel backup systems seem unnecessary, but that too could change -- with dire consequences for natural gas. So far, oil prices have been depressed by a global glut. If buoyant predictions about electric vehicle sales soaring in the 2020s prove true, it would bring about something else: a collapse in the demand for oil that would naturally undercut oil prices and employment.

Despite that important climate deal reached in Paris last year, carbon-cutting policies are not solely responsible for our nation's new energy paradigm. President Barack Obama has taken some steps to expedite the transition to greener energy, but his Clean Power Plan is tied up in the courts and he failed to get a climate bill passed. In the wake of that legislative debacle, individual states retained plenty of leeway and the consequences, to say the least, are inconsistent. Oregon, which still gets 30 percent of its power from coal, has decided to wean itself off the stuff altogether within two decades. But Nevada has gone out of its way to squelch its own rooftop solar boom. While regulatory pressure on coal is real, the closures of coal-fired power plants seen so far have generally had more to do with public health woes, like asthma, environmental concerns unrelated to carbon pollution, and the competitive pressures posed by cheaper alternatives like natural gas, than climate action.

The rise and fall of specific energy jobs reflect the dynamics of their industries. Investment in US-generated renewable energy rose 17 percent to $44 billion last year as investment in fossil fuels fell. Renewable energy constituted just about all of the new electricity-generating capacity that came online in this country during the first quarter of 2016 as no new coal or nuclear generation entered the mix and additional natural gas capacity was negligible.

Meanwhile, more than 40 coal-fired power plants are slated to close in 2016, on top of the 94 that shut down last year.

One of the strangest things about Trump's poor grasp of the energy business could be how it may distort his perceived chances of victory. Grilled about how he thinks he can win the White House without a traditional ground game as a growing number of Republicans back his opponent and his poll numbers droop, the real estate mogul counted coal miners among the constituencies he believes will deliver.

"We are gonna have tremendous turnout from the evangelicals, from the miners, from the people that make our steel, from people that are getting killed by trade deals, from people that have been just decimated, from the military who are with Trump 100 percent," he told Eric Bolling in an early August Fox News interview. "I don't know that we need to get out the vote."

News Wed, 31 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Cables Reveal US Government's Role in Herakles Farms Land Grab in Cameroon

Cables obtained by the non-profit Oakland Institute through a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that US government officials pushed the Central African nation of Cameroon to approve a deeply controversial oil palm development owned by Herakles Farms despite full knowledge of the project's negative impacts on the environment and local communities.

Sithe Global Sustainable Oils Cameroon (SG-SOC), a subsidiary of US agribusiness firm Herakles Farms, signed a convention with a Cameroonian government minister in 2009 to develop a large-scale palm oil plantation that included a 99-year lease for 73,086 hectares (about 180,600 acres) of land in the Ndian and Kupe-Manenguba Divisions in southwest Cameroon. The development was contentious from the start, as the convention was likely illegal, given that land in excess of 50 hectares can only be granted by presidential decree under Cameroonian law.

Nonetheless, the company began clearing forest and developing nurseries in 2010, converting pristine tropical rainforest into monoculture oil palm plantations despite massive local opposition, according to a report released today by the Oakland Institute. The area where SG-SOC began operating is considered a biodiversity hotspot, and its operations allegedly put the livelihoods of 45,000 people at risk.

Herakles Farms ignored local court orders to cease these operations, "one of which specifically ordered the company to cease work until a proper environmental impact assessment was conducted, compensation was made to those directly affected by the project, and a Memorandum of Understanding was negotiated with local indigenous peoples," the report states.

Then, four years later, SG-SOC got the decree it needed. President Paul Biya signed three decrees in November 2013 green-lighting the project, though it had been scaled back significantly, from a 99-year lease to a three-year probationary lease for just 19,843 hectares.

"It was shocking that President Biya signed the decrees despite the mountain of evidence exposing the vast social, economic, and environmental consequences of the project," Frederic Mousseau, Policy Director at the Oakland Institute, said in a statement. "We now know that behind the scenes, US government officials were applying serious pressure to the Cameroonian government to grant Herakles Farms the land."

In at least three meetings in May 2013, for instance, Cynthia Akuetteh, then-Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs at the US State Department, pressed President Biya, Prime Minister Philémon Yang, and other Cameroonian officials to end the "investment dispute" with Herakles.

This is from a cable authored by the US Embassy in Cameroon and dated May 31, 2013:

Akuetteh urged the Prime Minister to make a decision and take action to resolve the dispute. She told Yang that the United States does not want to tell Cameroon what decision to make, but Cameroon should act quickly and avoid arbitration or protracted legal proceedings. She warned that a failure to act could cause uncertainty in the local business climate and have a chilling effect on future foreign investment…

And this is from a cable authored by the US Embassy in Cameroon and dated May 24, 2013:

Akuetteh said that we hoped that the Government could resolve its dispute with palm-oil producer Herakles Farms. Biya responded that nongovernmental organizations are adamantly opposed to this project…

Just six months later, President Biya signed the decrees granting Herakles the three-year probationary lease. Requests for comment by the US State Department's Bureau of African Affairs were not returned by press time.

The cables also appear to show that the US government was aware of the flaws in the SG-SOC project, but pushed for its acceptance anyway, according to the Oakland Institute. Internal correspondence from February 25, 2013 includes a detailed briefing with the title "Herakles Farms: The Environment vs Palm Oil in Cameroon with a Dose of Unethical Behavior Mixed In." The memo notes the existence of major local opposition to the project, the flawed environmental impact assessment prepared by the company, the ongoing illegal tree felling, the negative socio-economic and environmental impacts, and the fact that the Cameroonian government had rejected an earlier proposal over concerns about the size and location of the plantation, among several other issues.

The memo even details an incident that occurred in 2012 in which company representatives are alleged to have physically assaulted and attempted to abduct a local activist, Nasako Besingi, who serves as director of Struggle to Economize Future Environment (SEFE), a local NGO that has organized against Herakles Farms for years. A cable dated February 25, 2013, states: "In August 2012, SG-SOC representatives physically assaulted Besingi, who was riding his motorbike along a road in or near the SG-SOC project site."

As the Oakland Institute points out in its report, US officials were lobbying for SG-SOC and Herakles Farms in "blatant contradiction" of official US policy and goals around climate change and conservation -- policy backed up by numerous projects financed by the US in the region.

In a cable dated May 17, 2013, embassy staff wrote that "Efforts to combat deforestation of the Congo Basin, which constitutes the world's second largest rain forest and extends into southeast Cameroon, are critical to protecting a vital carbon sink and offsetting global warming. Our efforts in this area, coordinated through USAID's Central African Regional Program on the Environment (CARPE), have multiple side benefits, including improving the economic prospects of populations, combating poaching, protecting endangered species and biodiversity, reducing the spread of contagious diseases, and developing the capacity of law enforcement and border protection authorities."

Herakles Farms' three-year probationary lease must be renewed by November of this year. Greenpeace Africa reported earlier this year that although Herakles Farms appeared to be pulling out of the project as recently as the summer of 2015, it was merely restructuring and selling SG-SOC to new investors.

"While all materialization of the Herakles Farms name has disappeared in Cameroon, the new owners are making up for lost time by rapidly clearing forest, planting new palms and orchestrating a public relations campaign to get the SGSOC plantation land lease extended later this year," Greenpeace Africa said in a post on its website. "But our research reveals that they have failed to engage in any meaningful way with the local communities that oppose the project or implement environmental safeguards."

The Oakland Institute's Frederic Mousseau said that he's hoping the revelations made by publicizing the cables will help give Cameroonian officials the cover they need to kill the project once and for all.

"This November, the government of Cameroon will decide whether to extend Herakles Farms' lease or end the project for good," Mousseau said. "By exposing the dubious tactics of the US government, we hope that Cameroonian officials will side with the people and bring an end to this project that remains unfavorable to the people and the economy of Cameroon."

News Wed, 31 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Why the TPP and TTIP Trade Deals May Now Be Dead in the Water

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel (pictured here) says negotiations over the TTIP “have de facto failed. (Photo: Christliches Medienmagazin Pro)German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel (pictured here) says negotiations over the TTIP “have de facto failed. (Photo: Christliches Medienmagazin Pro; Edited: LW / TO)

The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is dead, at least according to Angela Merkel's second-in-command. And the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) may not be far behind.

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said Sunday that "negotiations with the United States have de facto failed, even though nobody is really admitting it." According to Gabriel, who also serves as his country's economy minister, negotiators from the European Union and United States have failed -- despite 14 rounds of talks -- to align on any item out of 27 chapters being discussed. Gabriel and his ministry are not directly involved in the negotiations.

EU officials were quick to downplay Sigmar's statement, saying they hoped to "close this deal by the end of the year." But Gabriel isn't the first to cry foul on the TTIP, which, if enacted, would establish the world's largest free trade zone between the United States and the EU's 28 member states. In May, French negotiators threatened to block the agreement. U.S. negotiators have also reportedly been angry over the passage of a similar agreement between Canada and the EU, which included protections U.S. negotiators don't want included in the TTIP.

Sunday's TTIP news comes on the heels of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying that the Senate would not vote on the TPP in the upcoming lame-duck session of Congress. (The Obama administration countered, saying it still hopes to pass the deal before the next president takes office.)

Both trade announcements follow years of protests on each side of the Atlantic to fight the TTIP and the TPP, especially from unions and environmental groups.

"The fact that TTIP has failed is testament to the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets to protest against it, the three million people who signed a petition calling for it to be scrapped, and the huge coalition of civil society groups, trade unions, progressive politicians and activists who came together to stop it," writes Kevin Smith of Global Justice Now, an organization that has worked to fight TTIP in the United Kingdom.

While the TPP has become a lightning rod for labor and other progressive organizations in the United States, the TTIP has slipped mostly under the radar stateside. That's partially because talks over it, which began in 2013, have taken place almost entirely behind closed doors. Among the proposals unearthed are provisions to open European public services to U.S. businesses and to scale back online privacy protections. European groups have also raised the concern that the deal could send jobs from their continent to the United States, where trade unions and labor protections are weaker than in the EU.

Like the TPP, the TTIP would dismantle regulations in areas like banking and the environment by limiting governments' ability to impose rules on transnational corporations. Both trade deals would further allow the investor-state dispute settlement system, which permits corporations to sue states. (TransCanada Corp. -- the Canadian company behind the now-defunct Keystone XL oil pipeline -- is currently seeking $15 billion from Washington under a similar NAFTA provision for rejecting the controversial project.)

Though both presidential candidates in the United States have voiced their opposition to the TPP, neither has said much about TTIP. Hillary Clinton changed her tune on the former, which she pushed for as secretary of state. The move is largely seen as a response to dedicated protests from unions and community groups that have been mobilizing to stop the talks since they began, and as a reaction to the fact that both her primary and general election opponents have spoken out aggressively against so-called free trade agreements.

In a letter this month, a coalition of progressive groups including Demand Progress and 350 Action called on Clinton to reject a vote on the TPP in the next session. "Allowing a lame-duck vote," they write, "would be a tacit admission that corporate interests matter more than the will of the people."

Beyond progressive organizations' fold, though, lies a growing bipartisan resentment of NAFTA-style deals. A poll released in April found that just 17 percent of Germans and 18 percent of Americans support the TTIP -- likely not enough to save deals like the TTIP and TPP from a political climate that increasingly sees free trade agreements as anything but free.

News Wed, 31 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
No Other Way Than to Struggle: The Farmworker-Led Boycott of Driscoll's Berries

Felimon Piñeda, vice president of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, an independent union in Washington State, organized to demand better pay and working conditions for berry pickers, tells David Bacon about his personal journey as a field laborer in Mexico and the US.

Felimon Piñeda sits with his children. (Photo: David Bacon)Felimon Piñeda sits with his children. (Photo: David Bacon)

Felimon Piñeda is vice president of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, the independent farm workers union in Washington State. He was one of the original strikers when the union was organized in 2013. The union, together with the union of striking farm workers in Baja California, Mexico, has organized a boycott of Driscoll's Berries, the world's largest berry company. They demand that Driscoll's take responsibility for the conditions and violations of labor rights by the growers whose berries they sell. Piñeda describes the life of a farm worker producing Driscoll's berries, and his own history that brought him into the fields of Washington State. He told his story to David Bacon during an interview in Linden, Washington.

Our town in Oaxaca is Jicaral Coicoyan de las Flores. We speak Mixteco Bajo. I am 33 years old, but I left at a very young age. In 1996 I got to San Quintin [in Baja California] with my older brother. After four nights in Punta Colonet, we found a place to stay in a camp. There were a lot of cabins for people and we stayed there for six months. We planned to go back to Oaxaca afterwards, but when we'd been there for six months we had no money. We were all working -- me, my sister, my older brother and his wife and two kids -- but we'd all pick tomatoes and cucumbers just to have something to eat. There was no bathroom then. People would go to the bathroom out in the tomatoes and chiles. The children too.

Another man living there, who spoke another dialect of Mixteco, rented us a little house. It was one room, very small. We were there a year. We were getting home at five in the evening and the children were all eating their food cold because we couldn't make the stove work. Then my brother said we should buy a plot between all of us, to give us a place to live. So we paid one payment, and then another. My brother is still living there, and his children are grown up now. His oldest son is 22 or 23. My niece now has kids.

In Punta Colonet life was very hard. Work was always badly paid. You had to work a lot for very little. In 1996 the wage was 45 pesos. In 2002 I worked three months there again, and in 2005 I worked almost a year. The bosses paid about 100 pesos. But the food was cheaper then. Maseca [corn flour] cost 55 [pesos]. We were not living well, but earning enough to afford it. A soda then cost five pesos. Now it costs 12 pesos.

Felimon Piñeda and his wife in their room in the labor camp at Sakuma Farms, during the strike in 2013. (Photo: David Bacon)Felimon Piñeda and his wife in their room in the labor camp at Sakuma Farms, during the strike in 2013. (Photo: David Bacon)

I lived in Punta Colonet two years, and then, because of our great need, I had to begin coming to the US. I worked in the tomatoes in Florida, where it was very hot. It was very hard work, because they have a trailer for the tomatoes, and I'm short. You have to lift the bucket full of tomatoes to about nine feet. The person on the trailer grabs it and empties it, and then hands it back. I couldn't do it, and I had to stand on something, and the bucket weighs more than 30 pounds. It was very hard, and I did that work for a year-and-a-half. In San Quintin I picked tomatoes too, but it wasn't as hard.

Recently, we've seen the movement grow in San Quintin -- the Alianza de Organizaciones Nacional Estatal y Municipal por la Justicia Social. They're defending the people. To me, it's very important that there's someone willing to defend people. The political parties aren't interested in what's happening to us at work. I don't know how the Alianza got started, but I hear they're suffering a lot from threats by the companies, threats from the government. The rich and the bosses have bought the government. They pay the police, who then shoot at the people. It doesn't matter if they're women or children. That's the worst thing I've seen in the San Quintin Valley.

At some point in the future, I'll be going back to Mexico. With the threats they received, that could affect me too. For that reason I'm very grateful for the movement they've organized. For my part, I want to send my greetings to all the leaders in San Quintin. In 2013 Sakuma Brothers here in Washington state threatened us also, because of the movement we organized. They threatened us with the police and hired consultants and guards. Their purpose was to get rid of our union. Thanks to the union we've organized here, Familias Unidas por la Justicia, we stayed firm, and the company wasn't able to get rid of us. We continue to struggle.

That's why I'm so interested in the struggle going on in the San Quintin Valley. When I heard they'd gone out on strike I spoke with my brother and asked him for the phone number of the radio station there. Then I spoke with them and got the number of Bonifacio Martinez from the Alianza, so that we could communicate with the leaders.

Felimon Piñeda talks to workers and supporters, at the end of the march to Sakuma Farms offices in 2015. (Photo: David Bacon)Felimon Piñeda talks to workers and supporters, at the end of the march to Sakuma Farms offices in 2015. (Photo: David Bacon)

It seems they arrived at an agreement on the wages. But after they got an answer from the government last year, I understand that the governor went back on his word, and so did the bosses. So then they started a boycott of Driscoll's, the company that distributes a lot of berries from San Quintin. It's been hard to keep in communication, but we haven't lost touch.

They know something of our struggle here in Washington state. Our movement started on July 11 in 2013, the first day of our strike at Sakuma Farms. Sometimes the struggle has been very hard. Sometimes we feel tired. But then we recover our strength and we continue. And we continue with the help of a lot of unions, reporters, supporters of the boycott. And we're making progress.

In 2013, at one point, we were negotiating with the company to improve the working conditions for all the workers at Sakuma Brothers. Sakuma signed an agreement and said he'd respect it, but after two weeks he broke it. That was when we started our boycott, and it is growing every day. Sakuma sends his fruit to Driscoll's in Watsonville. In 2013 I said to the compañeros that we had to go to Watsonville to bring our boycott there. I thought that if Driscoll's saw the people there it would put more pressure on the company.

The boycott kept growing and Driscoll's felt the pressure. Finally the company called one of our supporters and said they wanted to talk about how to get the boycott stopped. She said they had to talk with us. So last year on May 8 we went to Driscoll's office in Watsonville. I thought their warehouse would be small, but there were two very big buildings. Everything there was Driscoll's.

The children of farm workers at Sakuma Farms hold signs during a march to the company offices in 2016. (Photo: David Bacon)The children of farm workers at Sakuma Farms hold signs during a march to the company offices in 2016. (Photo: David Bacon)

We started to talk about why the boycott started. At the beginning they put a big bowl on the table with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. They offered them to us and asked us to try some. We said, how can we try some if we're boycotting them?

We were there almost a day. They said they couldn't force Sakuma to sign a contract. We said, OK, the boycott will continue until we get a union contract. This year Sakuma has said he wants to negotiate with us, but we'll see what happens. Sakuma now has a gringo who works with them who's supposed to be good at working in places where there are collective demands and problems.

Last year they were paying $10 an hour, which they say is a lot. But although they pay by the hour, they demand 50 pounds per hour to get $10. For 5 pounds more there's a bonus of 1.50, or 11.50 an hour. But only the workers who work fast can get that.... Since 2013 the weekly pay has actually gone down, in both strawberries and blueberries. Both last year and this year the people have walked out on strike because they didn't agree with the wages.

When the workers struck last year, even though I was working at another company I went out there. I didn't want to leave the Mixtec people by themselves -- they're my people and they chose me as vice president of the union. I had to travel from far away to get there, but there were still about 250 people waiting for me. People said we had to do something, so we went to a field where people were still working. Those workers said the pay was no good, and they left the field too.

Farmworkers march to the offices of Sakuma Farms in 2015. (Photo: David Bacon)

When we demanded a collective bargaining agreement the supervisors said they wouldn't discuss it. Then they sent in the police. The police asked to talk with me, and said I wasn't working there. Alfredo Juarez from our comité [committee] said I had a right to be there because I was the union vice president. The police said they were going to arrest me. So the people asked, are you going to arrest us all? The police didn't know what to say.

Finally the police said that if we didn't move out of the field, into a public place, they'd have to do what they came there for. So the people said, OK, and we all left the field and went to the Costco supermarket in Burlington to demonstrate for the boycott. The next day the company bought burritos for everyone at work.

This year there have been more strikes like this, and more boycott demonstrations. That's why the company says now it wants to negotiate with us.

Talking to Bonifacio, I asked them to do a boycott also -- us in the north and them in the south. That way we'd put more pressure on Driscoll's. We talk about the tactics we use and I told him about our history. He said Driscoll's and the Alianza had to go to the government to ask that the wages get raised. I think that's no good. The government has its role, but Driscoll's has to talk with its growers, like BerryMex, and ensure that they're paying the workers well. That's what we told Driscoll's. We're not going to stop the boycott until the day we sign a contract at Sakuma. Same with Driscoll's and BerryMex.

Adela Estrada Ortiz picks blueberries in a field near Burlington, Washington. (Photo: David Bacon)Adela Estrada Ortiz picks blueberries in a field near Burlington, Washington. (Photo: David Bacon)

I think the idea of an independent union in San Quintin is the best way to do it, with a direct contract. The farm workers of San Quintin have been suffering for over 20 years. Hunger wages are the reason why the people went on strike. They're doing a very good thing. But I think it's better to sign a collective agreement with the companies. The government is not the owner of the farms. Better to force the bosses to pay. They're millionaires. The companies have the main responsibility to pay the workers well. We are demanding the same things both here and there, and the company is the same, Driscoll's.

Last year they invited me to speak on the radio in San Quintin by telephone, so everyone in San Quintin could hear about us. I wanted to tell people to get involved in the movement. It's good for everyone. The strike is the best way to get a fair wage. I wanted to tell people not to get discouraged, that in Washington state we're struggling too. But then the people at the radio station said they weren't authorized, and they wouldn't let me speak.

People in Santa Maria and Madera in California are supporting us too. Many of them come up to Washington in the berry season, and are working at Sakuma right now. They are members of Familias Unidas. I don't know if people are also thinking about striking in California. In Greenfield, in the Salinas Valley in California, there are a lot of people from the Triqui region, and they organize a lot of movements. They're very militant. Maybe they will organize a movement there. It would be wonderful if they would.

We are all part of a movement of Indigenous people. In San Quintin the majority of people are Indigenous. On the radio there they speak Mixteco, Zapoteco, Triqui and Nahuatl. Their strike movement is Indigenous. Everyone involved in our union in Washington is Indigenous also.

Ricardo, an immigrant from Putla, Oaxaca, prunes blackberry vines to allow more light to get to the fruit, and to allow pickers to move down the rows more easily. (Photo: David Bacon)Ricardo, an immigrant from Putla, Oaxaca, prunes blackberry vines to allow more light to get to the fruit, and to allow pickers to move down the rows more easily. (Photo: David Bacon)

Here Indigenous people are really worried about getting fired. The supervisors and foremen shout at them and push them hard. They abuse Indigenous workers more than any others. It's the same here and in Baja California. What we want is respect for everyone. No matter if you're from Guatemala or Honduras, Chiapas or Guerrero. The right to be human is for everyone. But sometimes people see us as being very low. They think we have no rights. But they're wrong. The right to be human is the same. There should be respect for all.

When we were on strike in 2013, many of us didn't speak Spanish well. Some of the young people at work would say, "These people don't know how to talk. They don't know what they're doing." The supervisors would say that too. Then, a year later, we won a legal suit to force Sakuma to pay us for our break time. We won over $800,000. After that the people who didn't want to have anything to do with us began wanting to talk with us. The boys who were making fun of us started coming around because they wanted money.

There is more anger now. People believe that they shouldn't be living in bad conditions, people shouldn't be mistreated. More people are defending their rights. A lot of new people coming from California are already with us. They have a good way of thinking. If we don't fight for ourselves, who's going to fight for us? If the bosses want to trample on us, if the government and the police don't like us, there's no other way than to struggle.

© Copyright David Bacon

News Wed, 31 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
How France Sets the Rules for Discussions About Racism, Terrorism and Islam

In response to various anti-racist movements, the French state has sought to preemptively define acceptable ways of speaking about race by claiming "color-blindness." Similarly ­-- in conjunction with the mainstream media -- it has funneled the discussion of Islam and terrorism into "acceptable" channels.

A woman in a "burkini," a full-body bathing suit designed to meet Islamic modesty codes, in Marseille, France, on August 20, 2016. Some French politicians began backpedaling as an outcry grew on social media over the public humiliation and ostracism of Muslim women dressed in modest attire on the country’s beaches. (Dmitry Kostyukov / The New York Times)A woman in a "burkini," a full-body bathing suit designed to meet Islamic modesty codes, in Marseille, France, on August 20, 2016. Some French politicians began backpedaling as an outcry grew on social media over the public humiliation and ostracism of Muslim women dressed in modest attire on the country’s beaches. (Dmitry Kostyukov / The New York Times)

The last decade has seen a global rise in authoritarian populism, racism and Islamophobia in Europe. Indeed, there is an increasing stigmatization of Muslims, both those who were born in Europe, as well as those who are arriving as refugees. Moreover, the recent wave of terrorism in France has drawn particular attention to the Republic's failures at the so-called project of "integration." Sparring French intellectuals have even become a major news story in the Anglophone press. Despite claims that there is a "taboo" around the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962), or that one cannot talk about racial difference because the Republic is "color-blind," there is no lack of discussion on the topics of Islam or racism. In fact, anti-racist movements are receiving renewed attention -- from the Parti des Indigènes de la Republique to Black Lives Matter to the "Decolonial" Summer Camp held in late August.

The state's response to the demands made by these groups has been decisive: It has denied the legitimacy of any organization explicitly based on race. In so doing, the government has also carefully delimited "acceptable" and "unacceptable" ways of speaking about racial difference. In other words, rather than silencing a discussion on race, there is a strict set of rules for discussing the plight of France's minorities. Yet, the rules of engagement ensure that any examination of the root causes for racial discrimination is considered hors-jeu, or out of bounds.

The Question of "Non-Mixity"

In France, the first Black Lives protest in Paris in July 2016 led to accusations that the movement is based on "communitarianism" (communautarisme). This is a French way of expressing the accusations of anti-white racism the group faced in the United States. As protesters proclaimed "les vies noires comptent!" (Black Lives Matter!), their grievances centered on the legacy of France as a colonial power and the fallacies of France's purportedly universal ideals. Another anti-racist movement, the "Decolonial Summer Camp," has taken a cue from a study group at the Paris 8 University that was organized in April 2016 in response to the reform of the labor code. Both of these initiatives have been defined as spaces of "non-mixity" that are explicitly and exclusively geared for those who have been victims of racism.

One might understand these groups as a way to address the widespread silencing of certain communities that have specific grievances based on their racial identity. Yet, rather than taking a frank look at the racialized nature of police violence, housing policies or employment statistics, the French newspaper Le Monde asked if non-mixity was a "tool of emancipation" or a "communitarian folding inwards" (repli communautaire). Centrist websites like Marianne were even more hostile, making a pernicious parallel between this event and the "no Blacks allowed" policy of Jim Crow in the United States. A workshop that addresses the experiences of those who have been victims of racism is thus being likened to racial segregation in the US (US apartheid), prompting the question: "Who are the real racists?"

Reading the French mainstream press, one might have the impression that the forces of exclusion stem from these myriad social movements, rather than from the French state. Racial difference can thus be acknowledged in the public sphere, as long as the discussion actively erases the distinction between racism (a set of structures that historically marginalizes a population) and anti-racism (a strategy that seeks to redress this violence). As David Theo Goldberg has argued in the American case, this is a sign of the "post-racial" era in which we now live.

Islamophobia: A Misnomer?

A similar confusion is being enacted in relationship to Islamophobia. Scholars, such as Gilles Kepel have claimed that a use of the term Islamophobia itself serves to evade a critical analysis of religion. Going one step further, he even argued that the term was invented by Islamists themselves. In this series of claims and counterclaims, it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between the victim and perpetrator of racism -- a confusion that suits the State of Emergency just fine.

These rules of discourse have also extended to the academy as the French government has promoted knowledge production around Islam. Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the minister of education (whose Moroccan origins prompted much discussion among the right wing of the political spectrum), supported a research agenda on Islam that led to the creation of 10 academic posts on "Islamology and radicalization." According to a March 2016 report, which explicitly linked Islam and terrorism: "An understanding of the causes and an explanation of reasons are the best way to determine and decide how to fight terrorism." It is hard to argue with such logic -- except that Vallaud-Belkacem has also publicly condemned the Decolonial Summer Camp as fostering a "racist vision of society."

Similarly, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has claimed that certain sociologists who attempt to "explain" terrorism merely provide an alibi for these violent acts. Clearly, the line between "useful" and "subversive" knowledge is being carefully guarded, and the brows of the state furrow when its non-white subjects gather outside of the Republic's pedagogical gaze. At the same time, the goal of the state, in conjunction with the mainstream media, is not to silence a discussion of Islam and terrorism, but to funnel it into certain acceptable channels.

How else can we explain the project of the French state to reform Muslim institutions (again), often written about as the "reform of French Islam"? After all, recent perpetrators of terrorism are closer to the "born again" model of religious practice rather than reliable Mosque-goers, as Olivier Roy has pointed out. The man who committed the attack in Nice, for example, never attended a mosque; he was reported to be an avid salsa dancer, and an alleged womanizer who also drank alcohol before his quite sudden turn to ISIS (also known as Daesh). It is thus unclear how teaching Muslims how to appreciate French secularism through official religious channels would have changed his violent trajectory.

On August 2, 2016, French President François Hollande chose ex-Minister of the Interior Jean-Pierre Chevènement to head the Foundation for Islam in France (Fondation pour l'islam de France). Chevènement has drawn attention to the international financing of mosques and asked the Muslim population in France to show "discretion" in their religious practice and suggested the creation of a "halal" tax, which highlights the fixation of the Islamophobia industry on the "right to difference" summarized in symbolic differences, such as eating habits and clothing. Here, one could also cite the long-winded debates on the burkini, which offer another platform to recycle clichés about Islam and the public space. Discussions on the appropriate role of Islam in the Republic are underpinned by a long debate that dates back to the French Revolution and the fraught relationship between the Catholic Church and the state. These polemics have now become the bread and butter of the Islamophobia industry.

Thus, as commentators drone on about the need to encourage "living together" (vivre ensemble), they treat Islamophobia as a mere question of personal prejudice against Muslims. Indeed, the phenomenon has been discussed as a question of individual psychology or as an unwillingness to socialize with Muslims. Like all racism, Islamophobia is based on a perception of difference that can be as superficial as a style of dress, a last name or a facility with the Arabic language. Indeed, as the "one drop rule" in the United States reminds us, race has always been a fluid category that scholars generally acknowledge is socially constructed rather than biologically determined. Nevertheless, any attempts to address the problem at the level of individual preference is bound to fail; the solution can be nothing less than a radical change in the structures of governance.

The War Without a Name

Recently, a different kind of violence has also become a frequent tool in the Islamophobia industry's toolbox: The Algerian War of Independence.  Scholars have termed the violence a "war without a name" since France refused to admit that Algeria -- which was legally part of France and not a colony -- was engaged in a struggle for independence. At the time, the French government referred vaguely to "events" in Algeria, and was more likely to see the struggle in terms of a civil war or communist incursion.

Yet in 2016, it is undeniable that the Algerian War is widely discussed in France as well as in the United States and the UK. A recent article in the Guardian was one of dozens of pieces that established a link between the attack in Nice and decolonization in Algeria. So why, at this precise moment, has the mainstream press looked to 1962 as a useful paradigm? Rehashing the Algerian War establishes a link between terrorism and another war that was seen as "savage" by French observers at the time. Moreover, it also obscures 50 years of history in France, including its domestic policies and close partnership with the Algerian state (here one could cite cooperation on so-called "anti-terrorism" policies and the largely unpopular intervention in Mali). Instead of engaging with these contemporary realities, the Islamophobia industry would have you think that old Cold War animosities (and Muslims) are again rearing their violent (and covered) heads.

A robust system of economic and cultural exclusion has created solidarity among individuals who rightly recognize that they have been excluded on the basis of their religion or skin color. Yet, when they organize along these lines realizing that any mediation or dialogue with the state is largely futile, observers worry that the fabric of the Republic is under threat. Exposing the rules of talking about race in France should not stop us from asking important questions about the efficacy of certain forms of organization, or expressing our discomfort with certain political positions (the Parti des Indigènes de la Republique's statements on Muslim masculinity and homosexuality in the Arab world, for example). But what we must do, imperatively, is to reject the myth of the French Republican taboo.

The Algerian War, race and Islam are splattered over front pages, televised debates and even school curricula for the bac (the academic exam taken by high school students). As Foucault taught us about sexuality, race in France only seems to be a repressed topic of conversation. Rather than something that must be discussed in whispers, it is a subject that has been actively and purposely fashioned through state power. Multiculturalism might not be the operative vocabulary in France, but there, too, demands for visibility and inclusion have resulted in a defeat for anti-racist struggles. As Robin D.G. Kelley writes about Black Lives Matter, attending to the trauma of exclusion, or making that exclusion feel less violent, does nothing to dismantle the social and epistemological architecture that allows racism to flourish.

News Wed, 31 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400