Truthout Stories Fri, 30 Sep 2016 11:40:56 -0400 en-gb The Empire Files: How Palestine Became Colonized

"What we saw was one of the biggest human rights disasters on the planet. A brutal and growing military occupation that thrives off US sponsorship, soon to be strengthened even more by another US$38 billion in tax dollars -- the largest military aid deal in history."

This is the state of Israel today, and these are the opening words of Abby Martin's latest episode in the series, "The Empire Files," who, along with her team, traveled to the region to witness firsthand the ruthless occupation of Palestine.

In the video highlighting essential historical context to Martin's upcoming on-the-ground reports, the trajectory of Palestine's colonization is presented.

"Before Palestine had borders it was a recognized nation, its cultural identity distinct, with deep roots in the land," says Martin.

With the only perception many have of the region disseminated through biased, mainstream media and promotional Birthright videos, many perceive it as a refuge for Jews who are constantly "living under threat of genocide from Muslims."

But as Martin recounts, the history of Palestine's shrinking borders occurred through relentless violence, repression and forced expulsion, enacted intentionally upon and disparagingly at the region's native Arab population.

Tracing the history of Zionism from its outset as a small, fringe ideology to a "fervent political movement," Martin tells of how early Zionists promised to make Palestine a "vanguard against barbarism."

From the divvying up of the region by colonial powers in the aftermath of World War I, to the creation of the state of Israel in 1947, the short video explains the malevolent history through which Palestinians lost control of their land.

It recounts the horrors of the 1948 war, which led to the creation of hundreds and thousands of Palestinian refugees that to this day have not been granted the right of return, as well as the horrors of the Six Day War in 1967 that saw almost 40,000 Palestinians killed.

The historical explainer concludes by citing the US empire's role in financing the military of the repressive settler colonial state, the justification for its suppressive rule constantly touted as "security from terrorism."

News Fri, 30 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Plutocracy of Maximums, Democracy of Minimums

Increasing numbers of people in this country are living in a precarious and diminished democracy of minimums because we have collectively enabled the wealthy few to create for themselves a plutocracy of maximums. How much more should we take before we start refusing to live this way?

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump take the stage for their first presidential debate, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, on September 26, 2016. (Damon Winter / The New York Times)Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump take the stage for their first presidential debate, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, on September 26, 2016. (Damon Winter / The New York Times)

How can Americans successfully organize to resist and transform systems that only benefit the wealthy elite? In his new book, Breaking Through Power, Ralph Nader shares stories of how it's been done and how it can be done, offering ideas for reclaiming politics, labor, media, the environment and the quality of life in the US today. You can order this book from Truthout by clicking here!

The following is an excerpt of Breaking Through Power:

When I was a student at Princeton University I learned from my anthropology studies that the concentration of power in the hands of the few is common to all cultures, societies, nations, tribes, cities, towns, and villages. Even where the thirst for self-governance and democracy is strong, as was the case in New England towns before the American Revolution against King George III, wealthy Tories were there too. In Central and Western Massachusetts, the farmers used the term "the River Gods" to describe the rich merchants using the Connecticut River as a profitable trading route. These days, most people protesting for economic justice use the term "the One Percent" to describe the ultra-small group of people who wield enormous influence over our society today. There is something about the differences in skill, determination, lineage, avarice, and pure luck that stratifies most people from the rulers who dominate them. In the political realm, the few become dominant because they hoard wealth and are driven to exercise power over others. When a small group of people rules a society the political system is considered an oligarchy; when only money and wealth determined how a society is controlled, the political system is a plutocracy. From the standpoint of a democratic society, both oligarchy and plutocracy are inherently unjust and corrupt.

Of course there are variations in the degrees of authoritarianism and cruelty that each system exercises over the communities it relies upon for workers and wealth. Scholars have resorted to using phrases like "benign dictatorships" or "wise rulers" or "paternalistic hierarchies" to describe lighter touches by those few who impose their rule over the many. Thomas Paine simply called them tyrannies. People, families, and communities can only take so much abuse before they rise up to resist. The job of the rulers is always to find that line and provide the lowest level of pay, security, housing, consumer protection, healthcare, and political access for society so that they can extract and hoard the greatest amount of wealth, power, and immunity from justice for themselves. In many ways, the majority of Americans live in a democracy of minimums, while the privileged few enjoy a plutocracy of maximums.

This small volume is not just about the ravages of power or the assaults against disadvantaged and downtrodden communities. The subject here is the dominating influence of the One Percent in business, politics, health, education, and society as a whole. Over the past fifty years, Americans have suffered the relentless commercialization of everyday life -- their privacy and their childhoods, their parks and prisons, their public budgets and foreign policy, their schools and religious institutions, their elections and governments, and the most basic societal institution of them all: the family. Consider all the family functions that have been outsourced to business. Eating, cleaning, childcare, counseling, therapy, entertainment, sports, lawn work, simple repairs, have been increasingly commercialized, commodified, packaged, and marketed back to us as products of luxury and convenience. Even mother's breast milk has been displaced by infant formula.

In a plutocracy, commercialism dominates far beyond the realm of economics and business; everything is for sale, and money is power. But in an authentic democracy, there must be commercial-free zones where the power of human rights, citizenship, community, equality, and justice are free from the corrupting influence of money. Our elections and our governments should be such commercial-free zones; our environment, air, and water should never fall under the control of corporations or private owners. Children should not be programmed by a huckstering economy where their vulnerable consciousness becomes the target of relentless corporate marketing and advertising.

American history demonstrates that whenever commerce dominates all aspects of national life, a host of ills and atrocities have not just festered and spread, but become normal -- enslavement, land grabs, war, ethnic cleansing, serfdom, child labor, abusive working conditions, corrupt political systems, environmental contamination, and immunity from the law for the privileged few. History also shows that whenever there have been periods when enough of the country organizes and resists, we see movements of people and communities breaking through power. Progress is made. Rights are won. Education and literacy increase. Oppression is diminished. It was in this manner that people of conscience abolished the living nightmare imposed by

the laws and whips of white enslavers. The nation moved closer to promises of "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" expressed in the Declaration of Independence. We won more control over our work, our food, our land, our air, and our water. Women secured the right to vote. Civil rights were elevated and enforced. Public schools, improved environments, workplace collective bargaining, and consumer protections did not spontaneously evolve; they were won by people demanding them and breaking through power.

These moments of great progress are expressed in terms of new legislation, regulations, and judicial decisions that directly benefit the life, liberties, and pursuit of happiness of most Americans. From the abolition of slavery to the introduction of seat belts, great social gains have been achieved when people mobilize, organize, and resist the power of the few. The problem is that these liberating periods of humanitarian and civilizational progress are of shorter duration than the relentless commercial counterforces that discourage and disrupt social movements and their networks of support. Some commentators have used the bizarre term "justice fatigue" to describe the pullback that often occurs when communities of resistance are faced with increased surveillance, infiltration, harassment, and arrest. A more accurate term is repression.

My sister, Laura Nader, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, encourages her students to study and compare how other cultures develop and improve their collective "common good." An illuminating comparison on a giant scale, for example, could be made between how the United States and our European allies and enemies developed after World War II. Maybe the difference in directions came from the complacency of the American victors, flush with "full employment" after a severe economic depression, in contrast to the motivation of Europe's surviving middle class, to return to a better life. In any event, a destitute France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy, and Austria and the damaged Britain and Scandinavian nations took their traditions of strong labor unions, multi-party systems, and large co-ops to a level of productive social democracy that continues to shame the corporate-dominated, two-party tyranny that passes itself off for democracy in the United States. Granted, these war-weary countries had their own plutocracies, their own One Percent, but those ruling elites were successfully kept in check by the rest of society, not the other way around as is the case today in the United States. This combination of factors, coupled with a hungry, impoverished population thirsting for a decent livelihood, raised the critical expectation level that drove the momentum for far-reaching social progress. In this manner, people in most Western European nations granted themselves important accommodations such as affordable universal healthcare, tuition-free higher education, bountiful private pensions, powerful job-protection laws, four weeks or more paid vacations, accommodating public transit, paid family sick leave, paid maternity leave, and free child care. People in the United States today, with the exception of some of those protected by labor unions, have permitted the wealthy class to deny them these benefits, allowing their taxes for example, to be spent on what is, by far, the world's biggest military budget and an ultra-invasive national surveillance system that allows the government to violate their privacy. People in Europe insist that their taxes be spent to enrich the health, education and well-being of the entire population, not just those with extreme wealth, so there is less grumbling. Some European communities even calibrate fines and fees based on income. People in Finland, for example, charge fines according to income level so that the financial sting is experienced more equally. As a result, a wealthy Finnish businessman recently found himself with a speeding ticket in the amount of about $58,000 (54,024 euros) "for traveling a modest, if illegal, 64 miles per hour in a 50 m.p.h. zone."

Our country, which brags constantly about being number one in just about everything, managed to tie itself into knots after World War II. In 1947, a Republican Congress passed the notorious Taft-Hartley Act that handcuffed workers from forming new labor unions or expanding the ones that already existed. In 1948 the two-party duopoly smeared and suppressed the pro-labor efforts by the Progressive Party and its presidential candidate, former Vice President (under Franklin Delano Roosevelt) Henry Wallace. This was followed by more onerous restrictions on state ballot access and exclusions of third parties, enacted by both the Republicans and Democrats, that further stunted competitive choices of candidates and agendas. Today both parties increasingly represent the interests of big money, not the interests of the people, for it is big money that bankrolls their multi-million dollar election campaigns.

Almost as quickly as they emerged, radio and television stations in the United States conglomerated into big businesses beholden to the money and influence of their advertisers. While the Europeans devoted their post-war budgets to expanding public works, improving public facilities, social services, parks, and the arts, the United States squeezed civilian resources and channeled them into military budgets that drove the Cold War. It was not for nothing that President Eisenhower's farewell speech in 1961 is remembered most for warning about the many damaging effects, on both the economy and our freedom, of a burgeoning "military-industrial complex." His original draft contained the phrase "military-industrial-congressional complex" which was edited down to avoid alienating the members of Congress who could have actually done something to confront this deepening omnivorous crisis.

Concentrated power in the hands of the few really should matter to you. It matters to you if you are denied full-time gainful employment or paid poverty wages and there are no unions to defend your interests. It matters to you if you're denied affordable health care. It matters to you if you're gouged by the drug industry and your medication is outrageously expensive. It matters to you if it takes a long time to get to and from work due to lack of good public transit or packed highways. It matters to you if you and your children live in impoverished areas and have to breath dirtier air and drink polluted water and live in housing that is neglected by your landlord. It matters to you if your children are receiving a substandard education in understaffed schools where they are being taught to obey rather than to question, think and imagine, especially in regards to the nature of power.

If you're a little better off, it matters to you when your home is unfairly threatened with foreclosure. It matters to you when the nation is economically destabilized due to Wall Street's crimes, and your retirement account evaporates overnight. It matters to you if you can't pay off your large student loans, or if you can't get out from under crushing credit-card debt or enormous medical bills due to being under-insured. It matters to you if you are constantly worried about the security of your job, or the costly care of your children and elderly parents.

Increasing numbers of people in this country are living in a precarious and diminished democracy of minimums because we have collectively enabled the wealthy few to create for themselves a plutocracy of maximums. According to Oxfam, "runaway inequality has created a world where 62 people own as much as the poorest half of the world's population." Oxfam advocates cracking down on tax dodging, and promotes increasing investment in public services and increasing the income of the lowest-paid workers in our society as important first steps in addressing the shameful disparity in wealth.

How many tens of millions of Americans live oppressed by an inadequate minimum wage, minimum housing security, minimum healthcare, minimum access to quality education, minimum access to participation in the political process or use of our courts, minimal access to quality air, food and water, and minimum protection from abuse by corporations? How much more should we take before we start refusing to live this way, with our rights, security, and well-being taken away by the One Percent and often marketed back to us as luxuries we cannot afford?

Back in the Great Depression, the brilliant British economist John Maynard Keynes wrote that modern societies were reaching levels of production that would allow for solving what he called "the economic problem" of impoverishment. Since 1900, American productivity per capita has increased twenty-fold, adjusted for inflation. Why then is one in six people in the United States seriously impoverished, and why are nearly half of those employed the working poor? The general answer is because "the power of the plutocracy" impoverishes them. Most material gains and resources are diverted away from benefitting society as a whole and are hoarded to advantage the economic growth of the few, or diverted into counter-productive activities such as war, overloaded prisons, surveillance, wasteful promotions, and commercialization of all aspects of our lives.

In the 1950s, at Harvard Law School, the faculty purported to teach us "the law." We did not spend much time on the "lawlessness" of the rich and powerful (there wasn't even a single course or seminar on corporate crime), nor on how the powerful always intricately wrote and passed laws (containing legal loopholes, tax escapes, or corporate subsidies) that became predatory instruments against the general public. More broadly, we, the future leaders of the legal profession, lacked strenuous instruction about how those with raw power overwhelm the law, not just once in a while, but often enough to warrant calling this domination "power-law" -- the twisted law of those in command of the powerful industries, their lobbying associations, and the corporate attorneys who prey upon the people, families, and communities that compose this nation. The effect has been -- and continues to be -- that, as Catherine Rampell recently wrote in the New York Times, "wealth has become more concentrated, in the hands (and bank accounts and houses) of the richest Americans." Put more simply, the rich get richer while the rest of the country suffers.

By now, you might be wondering why in the world most seasoned law professors ignore such obvious realities. They must know that powerlaw is not restricted to lawlessness by police, the criminal courts, and the prisons. Many of my teachers had spent time working as government attorneys at regulatory agencies or the Justice Department, in addition to working with corporate law firms shaping and immunizing powerlaws for their lucrative corporate clients and business executives. What's going on here? Well, law schools are not driven by kindness or the common good; they are driven by the market and its pursuit of profit. Their curricula, with exceptions, focus on training most law students for lucrative corporate law practice. True, there are wonderful law school-based clinics charitably serving impoverished communities, but after graduation, debt-burdened law graduates mostly head for commercial practices. There they apply power-law and power-procedures against whatever rivals or adversaries their wealthy clients hire them to over-run. Citizens and communities underestimate the creative power of the corporate law firms who shun publicity as they irresponsibly protect the extreme misbehavior of the ultra-rich who hire them. The power of these ultra-rich, their attorneys, their media, and the influence their money buys constitute the core of plutocracy in the United States today.

Perpetual plutocracy-serving economic growth and the hoarding of wealth and power are not easy tasks in societies that claim to be democracies. Once in operation, political systems that become plutocracies come to view the power of citizens, communities, and the public interest mission of democracy itself as potential threats. Even when you're not consciously standing up to them, you are -- collectively and individually -- their adversaries. People running companies aim for their kind of endless economic growth by getting you to sign on the dotted line, click on "I Agree," succumb to their marketing ploys, and buy into their vapid commercial culture. They also invest heavily in obstructing you from using your full power as citizens armed with rights, privileges, and resources available to keep them, and others with authority, in check. For big corporations like Walmart, McDonald's, and Target, the big banks, credit card companies, and insurance companies, this penchant for control has worked to their advantage, assuming no one makes waves from outside their ring of domination. Thus power has concentrated in both Western Europe and the United States, but it has also been responsive to the organized interests of the people in dramatically different ways.

But what happens when people use their civil rights to demand more from the system? What happens, for example, when people peacefully picket in front of their places of work, on their lunch hour, for a higher minimum wage? What happens when other workers from other places show up too in order to express solidarity and defend those on the picket line from retaliation? What happens if these demonstrations become more frequent, and begin occurring in front of giant retail chains and involve an ever-increasing number of people? What happens if this begins to catch the attention of the local and national media, and the cause of the people picketing resonates with the conscience of the larger community? This is what happens: newspapers and other media start reporting the economic evidence and arguments of some think tanks and advocacy groups for a $12 or $15 minimum wage per hour, over three years, pulling up the minimum wage in companies where the CEO makes $11,000 per hour plus ample benefits.

Spread this activity out over two years and suddenly the minimum wage for thirty million workers, making less today than workers made way back in 1968, adjusted for inflation, becomes front-burner news and a front-line issue in local, state, and federal elections. This is what has been happening in the United States over the past few years. As a result, cities and states have started passing higher minimum wage laws, including referenda in four "red states" during the November 2014 elections. Those who stood up, who spoke out, who organized are amazed. And they should be. With fewer people than the population of New Britain, Connecticut (73,000), scattered around the country, demonstrating for a few hours, giving interviews to reporters or writing letters to newspapers and elected representatives, these people demonstrate that the wealthy people who run corporations do not win all the time. Breaking through power is easier than you think.

Pressured also by a few full-time citizen advocacy centers, the big companies are starting to announce higher wages and some better benefits. Too little, you rightfully say, and very late; still, it's a work in progress. But look at what a tiny number of hours and persons achieved with a little crucial help from largely one union -- the Service Employees International Union. These workers and their champions possess a moral authority that resonated with many millions of disadvantaged families and their empathetic friends and relatives. Majorities in polls supported their cause.

These working people are beginning to prevail over management and their executive bosses because they were undeterred when people told them: "You can't win. You can't fight Walmart. The politicians are in the Big Boys' pockets." They broke through because they got others involved and because they put into practice what the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass meant when he declared: "Power concedes nothing without a demand."

In addition to stimulating the economy, creating more jobs, and establishing less need for public welfare assistance, the movement for a better living wage presents a useful lesson. It teaches how little it often takes to change the balance of power between the dominating and the dominated, especially when there is overwhelming public opinion supporting those fighting for their long over-due rights. These lessons can, and should, be applied to winning the myriad of public interest, ecological, and civil rights struggles that the ultra-rich and their commercial interests obstruct: some of these include increasing wages for working people, decreasing militarism and crushing levels of military spending, providing decent and affordable housing and healthcare, reducing corporate carbon emissions in order to prevent catastrophic climate change, strengthening diversity, and enabling democracy at all levels.

"We live in a beautiful country," writes historian Howard Zinn. "But people who have no respect for human life, freedom, or justice have taken it over. It is now up to all of us to take it back." To better assess what it specifically takes to do just that, it is important to understand how the people profiting from plutocratic forces strategically and regularly dominate old and new circumstances with powerful controlling processes.

Opinion Fri, 30 Sep 2016 11:32:50 -0400
Seven Popular Foods That Might Disappear Because of Climate Change

Throughout history, different types of food have surged and dropped in popularity, and some foods that existed at one point just aren't around anymore. But we're not talking about foods that aren't popular, quite the opposite in fact. Some of our favorite foods and drinks could be considered "endangered" because the places where they are grown are being severely impacted by climate change. If this isn't proof that we need to do something about climate change, I don't know what is. To start off, here are a few foods that are part of our every lives that might not be around for long.


According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, just about every coffee growing region in the world is being threatened by higher temperatures, longer droughts, and more intense rainfall and plant diseases. Coffee-producing countries are seeing their yields decline already. If temperatures continue to increase, 80 percent of the land in Brazil and Central America, where the most popular coffee bean, Arabica, is currently grown, will be unsuitable by the year 2050. During that same time period, a 50 percent decline in growing regions around the world can be expected.


Unlike coffee, rising temperatures alone isn't necessarily putting this food on the endangered list. Cacao trees thrive in hot, humid environments, and can only be grown on land about 20 degrees north and south of the equator. The rainforest regions near the equator are perfect for the cacao trees. But the problem is that while the temperature is increasing, the amount of rainfall in these areas is not increasing, so the heat is sapping the moisture from the plants and the ground, decreasing humidity in these regions.


In 2015, 42 beer companies signed the Brewery Climate Declaration to call attention to how climate change is threatening the industry, while committing to lowering their own carbon footprints. Warmer temperatures and extreme weather in the Pacific Northwest are damaging hop plants, which means lower yields. At the same time, high demand for beer has pushed the price of hops up by more than 250 percent over the last decade. Clean water is also becoming an issue in the west with droughts and reduced snowpack.

Maple Syrup

Sugar maple trees are a particular species that require a specific growing environment to produce syrup, and take an average of 40 to 50 years to mature. But every year the syrup season gets shorter and shorter, because the days are too hot and the nights aren't cold enough for the trees to produce syrup. Add acid rain changing the soil composition and insect infestations, and we may see these trees start migrating north. Either way, the maple syrup collection period in the US will likely continue shrinking over the next century.

Seafood: Lobsters and Salmon

Climate change is affecting all kinds of seafood, from Atlantic lobsters to Pacific salmon. Lobsters, for example, are cold-blooded. As the temperature of the ocean rises, lobsters have to use more energy just to exist, having less energy for feeding, growth, and reproduction. At a certain temperature, it actually causes them physiological stress to have to work so hard for oxygen.

With salmon, higher water temperatures are pushing up the spawning cycle and increasing the mortality rate for the eggs and the fry. For the ones that do survive, the temperatures aren't ideal for young salmon to grow.

Peanut Butter

Parents may need to find something else to go with the jelly in this kids' lunchtime staple. Peanut plants are annuals, meaning they have one season each year to produce peanuts. The plants are also finicky, and do best with about five months of consistently warm weather and about 20 to 40 inches of rain. Peanuts are grown mostly in the Southern US, east of the Rocky Mountains, an area that had a particularly bad drought in 2011, when many plants died and didn't produce any peanuts at all. As droughts and heat waves become more common, the price of peanut butter could continue to rise, and farmers will have to figure out ways to make their peanut plants hardier.


A staple of Peruvian culture for more than 8,000 years, the potato is now at risk. With close to 4,000 varieties, it is generally accepted that the potato originally came from Peru, which is home to the International Potato Center gene bank. But climate change is pushing potato plants higher and higher into the Andes Mountains, and at a certain point the plants will have nowhere left to go.

These aren't the only foods at risk. There are plenty of other staples, like bananas and avocados, which we will be adding to this list if more measures aren't taken to mitigate global warming.

What Can We Do About It?

Many regions affected by climate change are looking for ways to preserve the crops they have and  to grow hardier plants that will survive. But perhaps a big part of the problem is that we depend so heavily on so few crops. A study from 2013 showed that just 50 crops provide almost 90 percent of our calories, proteins, and fats. As those crops start to fail, our food supply starts to falter as well. Some farmers and researchers have started looking into bringing back ancient or near-extinct crops that might be better suited for this new reality.

Amaranth is one example. Once considered a sacred grain by the Aztec, amaranth was banned by the Spanish because it was used in sacrificial ceremonies. The grain is higher in protein than any other plant, its leaves are edible as well, containing vitamin C, iron, and calcium. Amaranth is making a comeback in corn-heavy Mexico, mainly because it can withstand temperatures into the triple digits. Alone, amaranth doesn't taste that great, but you can combine it with corn or other grains to mask the flavor. Researchers are also looking into amaranth as a possible crop in developing countries in Africa for both its ease of production and nutritional value.

Cultivated in Ethiopia for more than 7,000 years, the enset plant is known as the "false banana" because of its similarity to the banana tree. It can withstand heavy drought and heavy rain, making it a plant that can naturally withstand climate change. It's nutritious, good for cows and livestock, and produces two times more food per unit of land than cereal crops. The tricky part about this plant is convincing people in the midlands, where there is no land scarcity, that it is worth cultivating.

While most plants making a comeback are known for being drought resistant and having a high tolerance for heat, other plants (like taro) can be grown in flooded areas, a concern for rising sea levels in Asia and other parts of the world.

Besides reviving ancient grains, seed banks around the world are playing a big role in conserving many of our plants. Saving seeds can help farmers find varieties of crops that grow better in different regions, and while there are about 15 major international seed banks, there are more than a thousand smaller banks and co-ops conserving their own seeds in communities across the globe.

Some believe that these seed banks are the best way to prepare for climate change. John Torgrimson, executive director of the Seed Savers Exchange in the United States, told Truthout that "while not every traditional variety tastes great or looks great, its genetics may be invaluable 50 or 100 years from now when the climate is different. There are qualities in varieties that we don't even know about. It might be resistant to a particular disease; it may grow well in a particular region; it may have certain traits that will allow us to deal with climactic conditions going forward. Diversity is an insurance policy."

An insurance policy that we will undoubtedly need to cash in someday.

News Fri, 30 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Bayer and Monsanto: A Merger of Two Evils

It's been about a week since Monsanto and Bayer confirmed their intention to say "I do" -- ample time for media, lawmakers, consumer and farmer advocacy groups, and of course the happy couple themselves, to weigh in on the pros and cons.

Reactions poured in from all the usual suspects.

Groups like the Farmers UnionFood & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth and others didn't mince words when it came to condemning the deal. (Organic Consumers Association tagged it a "Marriage Made in Hell" back in May, pre-announcement, when the two mega-corporations were still doing their mating dance).

Predictably, the corporate heads of state last week promoted the proposed $66-billion deal as an altruistic plan to improve "the lives of growers and people around the world." This week, they told Senate Judiciary Committee members that the merger "is needed to meet a rising food demand."

Is anyone out there still buying the line that Monsanto and Bayer are in the business of feeding the world? When the evidence says otherwise?

Even if that claim weren't ludicrous, who thinks it's a good idea to entrust the job of "feeding the world" to the likes of Bayer, a company that as part of the I.G. Farben cartel in the 1940s produced the poison gas for the Nazi concentration camps, and more recently sold HIV-infected drugs to parents of haemophiliacs in foreign countries, causing thousands of children to die of AIDS?

The sordid, unethical, greedy, monopolizing and downright criminal histories of both Monsanto and Bayer have been well documented. Does allowing them to merge into the world's largest seed and pesticide company pose what two former Justice Department officials call "a five-alarm threat to our food supply and to farmers around the world?"

In a press release, Pesticide Action Network senior scientist Marcia Ishii-Eiteman said:

"Just six corporations already dominate worldwide seed and pesticide markets. Additional consolidation will increase prices and further limit choices for farmers, while allowing Monsanto and friends to continue pushing a model of agriculture that has given us superweeds, superbugs and health-harming pesticides. Instead, we need to invest in agroecological, resilient and productive farming."

Without question, this deal, which strengthens the ties between Big Pharma, Big Food and Big Biotech, will hurt farmers and consumers.

Not to mention an ecosystem already on the brink.

But for those of us committed to ridding the world of toxic pesticides and hideous factory farms, to restoring biodiversity, to cleaning up our waterways, to revitalizing local economies, to helping small farmers thrive, to reclaiming and regenerating the world's soils so they can do their job -- produce nutrient-dense food while drawing down and sequestering carbon -- the marriage of Bayer and Monsanto doesn't change much.

As we wrote last week when the deal was announced, Monsanto will probably pack up its headquarters and head overseas. The much-maligned Monsanto name will be retired.

But a corporate criminal by any other name -- or size -- is still a corporate criminal.

Merger or no merger, our job remains the same: to expose the crimes and end the toxic tyranny of a failed agricultural experiment. #MillionsAgainstMonsanto will simply morph into #BillionsAgainstBayer.

Feed the world? Or feed the lobbyists?

Bayer and Monsanto had plenty of time to perfect their spin on the merger before the big announcement. Yet even some of the most conservative media outlets saw through it.

Bloomberg headline read: "Heroin, Nazis, and Agent Orange: Inside the $66 Billion Merger of the Year." From the article:

Two friends making dyes from coal-tar started Bayer in 1863, and it developed into a chemical and drug company famous for introducing heroin as a cough remedy in 1896, then aspirin in 1899. The company was a Nazi contractor during World War II and used forced labor. Today, the firm based in Leverkusen, Germany, makes drugs and has a crop science unit, which makes weed and bug killers. Its goal is to dominate the chemical and drug markets for people, plants and animals. 

Monsanto, founded in 1901, originally made food additives like saccharin before expanding into industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals and agriculture products. It's famous for making some controversial and highly toxic chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls, now banned and commonly known as PCBs, and the herbicide Agent Orange, which was used by the US military in Vietnam. It commercialized Roundup herbicide in the 1970s and began developing genetically modified corn and soybean seeds in the 1980s. In 2000, a new Monsanto emerged from a series of corporate mergers.

A skeptical Wall Street Journal reporter suggested that the merger, one of three in the works in the ag industry, is a sign of trouble: "The dominance of genetically modified crops is under threat," wrote Jacob Bunge on September 14. Bunge interviewed Ohio farmer Joe Logan who told him:

 "The price we are paying for biotech seed now, we're not able to capture the returns," said Ohio farmer Joe Logan. This spring, Mr. Logan loaded up his planter with soybean seeds costing $85 a bag, nearly five times what he paid two decades ago. Next spring, he says, he plans to sow many of his corn and soybean fields with non-biotech seeds to save money.

Nasdaq took the merger announcement as an opportunity to highlight numbers published by showing that Monsanto and Bayer are not only the two largest agrichemical corporations in the world, they're also two of the biggest spenders when it comes to lobbying.

Together, according to OpenSecrets, Bayer and Monsanto have spent about $120 million on lobbying in the last decade. Monsanto's spending has been largely focused on the agricultural industry, while Bayer has spent heavily in the pharmaceutical arena.

Both Monsanto and Bayer forked over millions to keep labels off of foods that contain GMOs, according to OpenSecrets:

A big issue for both companies has been labeling of genetically modified foods, which both companies oppose. That put them in support of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (H.R. 1599), which was signed into law this summer. The law permits corporations to identify products made with genetically modified organisms in ways that critics argue will be hard for consumers to interpret, while superseding state laws that are sometimes tougher, like the one in Vermont.

To be clear, the "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling" was just an intentionally misleading description of a bill intended to protect corporations from having to reveal the GMO ingredients in their products.

A criminal by any other name

Last week, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague made a big announcement of its own. For the first time in history, the ICC will "prioritise crimes that result in the 'destruction of the environment,' 'exploitation of natural resources' and the 'illegal dispossession' of land," according to a report in the Guardian.

The announcement came within the same two-week period as three new reports on the sad state of our ecosystem, all of which implicate industrial agriculture:

  • Researchers at the University of Virginia University of Virginia reported that widespread adoption of GMO crops has decreased the use of insecticides, but increased the use of weed-killing herbicides as weeds become more resistant, leading to "serious environmental damage."

  • Mother Jones magazine reported that "A Massive Sinkhole Just Dumped Radioactive Waste Into Florida Water The cause? A fertilizer company deep in the heart of phosphate country."

  • NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that when it comes to global warming, "even the records themselves are breaking records now" after reporting that Earth just experienced its hottest August on record. What's that got to do with Bayer and Monsanto? Industrial, chemical, degenerative agriculture is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Organic regenerative agriculture, by contrast, holds the greatest promise for drawing down and sequestering excess carbon from the atmosphere.

Whether or not regulators approve the Bayer-Monsanto merger, these companies will continue their rampage against nature. Governments and courts have a lousy track record when it comes to holding these, and other, corporations accountable for the damage they've inflicted, over decades, on human health and the environment.

The ICC has signaled that this may change. In the meantime, frustrated with the lack of action and fed up with paying the price for making corporations like Bayer and Monsanto filthy rich, the grassroots are fighting back.

On October 15-16, a panel of distinguished international judges will hear testimony from 30 witnesses and scientific and legal experts from five continents who have been injured by Monsanto's products. This grassroots-led international citizens' tribunal and People's Assembly (October 14-16) will culminate in November with the release of advisory opinions prepared by the judges. The tribunal's work, which includes making the case for corporations to be prosecuted for ecocide, is made all the more relevant by the ICC's announcement.

The International Monsanto Tribunal is named for Monsanto, the perfect poster child. But the advisory opinions, which will form the basis for future legal action, will be applicable to all agrichemical companies -- including Bayer.

In the meantime, we encourage citizens around the world who cannot participate in the official tribunal and People's Assembly, to show solidarity by organizing their own World Food Day "March Against Monsanto." 

Monsanto. Bayer. The name doesn't matter, and though size does matter when it comes to throwing weight around, the crimes perpetrated by the companies remain the same. It's time to stop them.

News Fri, 30 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Forty Years of Reaganism Behind This Disastrous Train Crash

Ronald Reagan. (Photo: Ronald Reagan Library; Edited: LW / TO)Ronald Reagan, 1982. (Photo: Ronald Reagan Library; Edited: LW / TO)

A train derailed and crashed into a station in Hoboken, New Jersey, during rush-hour this morning, reportedly leaving at least one person dead and more than 100 others injured.

After everyone was rescued from the train, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called into CNN and expressed concern and confusion about the accident, asking "How could this happen?"

He really wants to know specifics, like whether the engineer is to blame, and what specifically caused the train to derail and crash into the station.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

Over time we'll get many of these answers, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Railroad Administration will investigate the extent of the damages and try their best to pinpoint a culprit.

But right now it looks pretty straight forward, like the crash could have been avoided if the train had Positive Train Control technology.

Positive Train Control technology automatically slows down a train if it goes over the speed limit on a stretch of track, and the NTSB blamed its absence for the train crash that killed eight passengers outside of Philadelphia in May of 2015.

Trains all across the country are equipped with outdated technology, and it's because ever since Reagan's aggressive eight-year effort to do away with federal transportation funding to the states, attacking transportation funding has been a trademark of Republican policies.

Republican governors, including Christie, still to this day insist on suffocating transportation budgets, paying for only the bare minimum infrastructure upkeep and updates, and then acting shocked when accidents like this happen and people die as a result.

Ryan R. Hall with the Tri-State Transportation Report issued a report earlier this year pointing out that capital investment in rail projects in New Jersey fell by 34 percent between 2002 and 2016, even though ridership went up by more than 20 percent during the same period!

The report also shows how they made up for the cuts by simply raising fares, raiding other state funds and spending money that had been set aside for major projects like outfitting trains with Positive Train Control technology.

Christie has cancelled or shelved a number of major projects since he's been governor, and during the last 15 years the state has taken more than $5 billion earmarked for major projects and instead paid for standard operating expenses, like paying workers' wages and keeping the office lights on.

And as a result, the Department of Transportation reports that New Jersey Transit trains had 213 major breakdowns in 2014 alone, more than two-and-a-half times more than the neighboring Long Island Rail Road, and four times the US average!

Even though gutting transportation budgets and privatizing services has been a standard Republican play since Reagan, Christie has shown a special contempt for public transportation while serving as New Jersey's governor.

And Christie refuses to sign a bill that would hike the state's gas tax and provide funding to keep the Transportation Trust Fund solvent, despite the fact that the bill has bipartisan support.

Christie has also called himself a "skeptic" about extending light rail in New Jersey, telling David Foster of the Trentonian in June that, "[T]he idea of spending money and resources to extend [the New Jersey Transit River Line] to the Statehouse, I'm not so sure. Use Uber. You can get there."

That's right, Christie's callous response to whether or not New Jersey should expand light rail service was basically, "Just hire a driver."

And that's been the Republican response to calls for better, faster and safer public transportation going back to at least Reagan: "Want safe transportation? Buy a safe car. Or, better yet, hire a safe driver. Can't afford a car? You can take your chances with the rest of the riff-raff on public trains and subways that haven't been updated since before Reagan."

But safe transportation shouldn't just be for the rich, and modern infrastructure is the fertile soil in which businesses grow.

For more than 30 years before Reagan took office, our infrastructure was the envy of the world; but now, in the 21st century, in the wealthiest country that has ever existed on this planet, our infrastructure isn't just embarrassing, it's outright dangerous!

And that's because it's been frozen in time during nearly 40 years of insane "trickle-down" Reaganomics and right-wing efforts to gut the US government, and every tragedy like today's crash in Hoboken is a stark reminder of how Reagan's right-wing policies have cost US lives.

Like the crash in Philadelphia last year, this crash was preventable, and we can prevent it from happening again, but to do so, we need to address our nation's infrastructure and public transportation crises.

We need to rebuild our crumbling bridges and tunnels, we need to expand and modernize our train systems, to make them safer and faster, and we need to ensure that in the 21st century, our cities, roads and railways are built to endure the effects of a rapidly changing climate.

If we want a safe and modern rail system that will save lives and be the envy of the world, we need to reject Reaganism once and for all, and we need a massive government investment to bring US infrastructure into the 21st century.

Opinion Thu, 29 Sep 2016 17:00:54 -0400
Trump Was Born on Third Base

Donald Trump was born on third base, but claims he hit a triple.

Throughout history, we've had many "born on third base" presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney, George W. Bush and now Trump. These politicians trumpet their business acumen, but reveal little about their privileged head starts.

This twisted narrative is dangerously misleading.

Trump campaigns on his business prowess, but understates the tremendous advantage of inheriting his father's real estate empire, with its existing assets and financial and political connections. Even without that million-dollar loan, Trump was set-up for success.

Similarly, George W. Bush built his oil business and baseball team with networks of investors who were friends of the Bush dynasty. Yet he attributed his success to "results and performance."

And in 2012 presidential candidate Romney told supporters that he'd "inherited nothing," saying "Everything that Ann and I have we earned the old-fashioned way, and that's by hard work."  But this understates Romney's extraordinary privileges.

I attended the same private prep school as Mitt Romney. At the time, his father was the governor of Michigan, after being CEO of American Motors. Ann Romney later explained that she and her husband weathered lean years by selling off stock inherited from Mitt's father.

The stories that politicians tell us about their wealth and success have enormous implications for the kind of America they envision.

And so do their omissions.

Those who are born into advantage, but pretend their status is the result of the sweat of their own brow, typically don't support policies that expand social opportunity.

Trump, Romney, and Bush, for example, all support the abolition of the estate tax for the superwealthy and deep cuts in investments that foster opportunity, such as college aid and homeownership.

In contrast, we've had the Kennedys and Roosevelts, who don't deny their advantaged family heritage. I once heard Senator Ted Kennedy joke that, "his family made its money the old-fashioned way, he inherited it."

If a politician readily admits they didn't do it alone -- that their status is partly a result of family advantage, public investments, inherited wealth, social connections, and direct and indirect subsidies -- they're more likely advocates of maintaining investments in opportunity and vocal champions of those excluded from prosperity.

As I write in my new book, Born on Third Base, there's nothing wrong with being born at the top of the economic pyramid. Millions of us grow up in families with all kinds of privilege, such as graduating college without debt, and enjoying countless forms of family support including zero-interest loans, cars, family introductions, and help in emergencies.

But what if your parents actually need you to provide financial support for them, not the other way around? What if you were excluded from a federal mortgage program based on your race, as millions of families were?

We who are born on third base risk believing the illusion that the wind at our back is our own locomotion. We wonder, "Why can't others do what I did?" without noticing the headwinds most people face.

We downplay the advantages of being born wealthy and white, ignoring how the legacy of racism shows up in today's homeownership rates and savings accounts, regardless of how hard someone works.

Today, family wealth is now a decisive factor in college access and success.

People graduating without college debt, having completed unpaid internships, have a huge head start over their less affluent peers. Instead of education being the great leveler, it actually worsens existing inequalities of opportunity.

Malcolm Gladwell writes, "We cling to the idea that success is a simple function of individual merit and that the world that we grow up in and the rules we choose to write as a society don't matter at all."

But the rules, like spending priorities and tax policies, do matter. And the stories we tell about our success also matter, including those we omit.

We are all better off in a society that creates real opportunities for everyone, not just those born into fortunate circumstances.

Opinion Fri, 30 Sep 2016 09:33:17 -0400
Standing Firm at Standing Rock: Why the Struggle Is Bigger Than One Pipeline

A Standing Rock Sioux flag flies over a protest encampment near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, where members of the Standing Rock nations and their supporters have gathered to voice their opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)A Standing Rock Sioux flag flies over a protest encampment near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, where members of the Standing Rock nations and their supporters have gathered to voice their opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline. (Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)

The first sign that not everything is normal as you drive down Highway 1806 toward the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota is a checkpoint manned by camouflage-clad National Guard troops. The inspection on Sept. 13 was perfunctory; they simply asked if we knew "what was going on down the road" and then waved us through, even though the car we rode in had "#NoDAPL" chalked on its rear windshield.

"What is going on down the road" is a massive camp-in led by the Standing Rock nation, aimed at blocking the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (the DAPL in question), which would carry oil from the Bakken shale in North Dakota across several states and under the Missouri River. What began with a small beachhead last April on the banks of the Cannonball River on land belonging to LaDonna Brave Bull Allard has expanded to both banks of the river and up the road, to multiple camps that have housed as many as 7,000 people from all over the world. Because of them, first the Obama administration and then a federal court stepped in to temporarily halt construction of the pipeline near the campsite. Still, the people of Standing Rock and their thousands of supporters aren't declaring victory and folding their tents just yet.

[Editor's note: Natives at the camp have since caught and halted ongoing construction efforts at the site since the Obama administration stepped in. This week, law enforcement responded to the protests with specialized weapons, armored vehicles and riot gear, arresting 21 water protectors during a peaceful prayer ceremony.]

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

The legal struggles for a permanent shutdown of the pipeline construction continue: the people of Standing Rock have filed a lawsuit to halt construction, as has one of the South Dakota Native American nations and landowners in Iowa as well. As the lawsuits proceed, other members of the camp have been involved in nonviolent direct actions, locking their arms around construction machinery to prevent digging. Dozens have been arrested as part of those actions, including 22 people on Sept. 12, the day I arrived at the camp. That was days after the Obama administration's call for a temporary halt to construction on the pipeline, and a stark reminder that the struggle was not over.

In addition to the legal battles and the direct actions, though, the people of the Oceti Sakowin and Sacred Stone camps were preparing for another challenge: a North Dakota winter. Already at night, the temperature drops to 40 degrees Fahrenheit; deliveries of blankets and warm clothing were constant, as was the chopping of wood for fires and discussion of what kinds of structures would allow the camps to stay in place through the bitter cold months ahead. 

Oceti Sakowin camp seen from a hill on September 14, 2016. (Sarah Jaffe for Sakowin camp seen from a hill on September 14, 2016. (Photo: Sarah Jaffe /

"We're already winterizing in all aspects of the camp, young people working with the elders to find, whether it's longhouses, whether it's yurts, whether it's any kind of structures that would keep us warm for the winter," said Lay Ha, who traveled to North Dakota from the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming in late August and became part of the camp's youth council.

As far as I can see, it's just another way to lull us to sleep, make us go to sleep so we leave and then they'll start again," said Ista Hmi, an elder from Wanblee, South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation and a member of the Seven Council Fires. "The Missouri [River] here, it was poisoned already from the pesticides and all that but we were still able to clean it," he said. "But those are just topical compared to this oil. The oil, if it gets in here, it will start destroying the ecosystem underneath; it'll be dead water."  

Flags at Oceti Sakowin camp, on September 14, 2016 (Sarah Jaffe for at Oceti Sakowin camp, on September 14, 2016 (Photo: Sarah Jaffe /

"We're protecting the water, we're not protesters," explained Lay Ha. To him, as to many others in the camp, that the action is led by Native people, that it is built around their belief in nonviolence and in the spirit of prayer, is vital. It is, to them, much more than a protest.

Ha is Arapaho and Lakota on his father's side and Eastern Shoshone on his mother's; he is part of what has become the largest coming together of Native people in, many said, more than 100 years. The flags that flap overhead represent something more than a fight for clean water -- they are a powerful statement of solidarity, a declaration of common interest.


The first camp you pass once through the checkpoint is a small one on the side of the road overlooking the construction site. Further along, signs, flags and banners hang from the barbed-wire fence along the road. A massive banner declares "No DAPL!" Spray-painted on a concrete barrier are the words "Children Don't Drink Oil." Then emerges the breathtaking sight of what is now called the Oceti Sakowin camp: Flags from well over 200 Native nations and international supporters line the driveway into the camp, flapping in the high plains wind. People ride through the camp on horseback. At the entrance, when you drive in, you are greeted by security and a man with burning sage to smudge your car. Just beyond, at the main fire, a microphone is set up for speakers and performers: When we arrived, Joan Baez sat by the fire, singing "Blowin' in the Wind."

An "updated" road sign. Behind, people march from the Oceti Sakowin camp to the Dakota Access Pipeline construction site, on September 13, 2016. (Photo: Sarah Jaffe / "updated" road sign. Behind, people march from the Oceti Sakowin camp to the Dakota Access pipeline construction site, on September 13, 2016. (Photo: Sarah Jaffe / Mossett of the Indigenous Environmental Network was wearing a "No Fracking" T-shirt when I met her at the media tent, doing an interview alongside a delegation from Ecuador of indigenous people who have also fought the oil companies there. She is from northwestern North Dakota, the Fort Berthold reservation, and the oil that would travel through the Dakota Access Pipeline is extracted from her community. She came to Standing Rock for the formation of the original camp, known as the Sacred Stone camp, on LaDonna Allard's land. At first, she remembered, the camp had anywhere from five to 30 people. Then, when Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline, put out notification that it was going to begin construction, the camp swelled to 200, then 700. It spilled over the river, into what was at first simply called the overflow camp. But as that camp grew, the campers began to feel it deserved its own name. Oceti Sakowin is the name for the Seven Council Fires, the political structure of what is known as the Great Sioux Nation. "We had for the first time in 200 years or more, the Seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation coming together in one place to meet again," Mossett said.

Faith Spotted Eagle is also part of the Seven Council Fires, from the Ihanktonwan or Yankton band. She too was there on what she remembered as a wintry, blowing day in April when the Sacred Stone camp first opened. An elder and grandmother, she had also been part of the successful fight against the Keystone XL Pipeline, and pointed out that the networks activated by that fight were coming together again in North Dakota. In 2013, she said, a dream of her grandmother sent her to look at the 1863 treaty between her people and the Pawnee. On the 150th anniversary of that treaty, Jan. 25, 2013, those nations, along with the Oglala and Ponca, signed the International Treaty to Protect the Sacred from Tar Sands Projects. "In that treaty, we declared that forevermore we would be allies to stop this extractive move to destroy Mother Earth from the Boreal forest down to the Gulf," she said. Since that time, other nations have joined, and the treaty was renewed with prayers and a donation to the Sacred Stone camp.

"A lot of those networks, it took years for them to come together. Standing Rock will do the same thing for the next one. It is a progressive healing and learning," Spotted Eagle continued. In the unlikely alliances that came together, from the Keystone XL fight to Standing Rock, with farmers and landowners joining their actions, she noted, "That was where the power was."

To Dave Archambault II, the tribal chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, the struggle -- and the response from indigenous people -- is global. He greeted reporters Sept. 14 alongside the delegation from Ecuador. "We all have similar struggles, where this dependency this world has on fossil fuels is affecting and damaging Mother Earth," he said. "It is the indigenous peoples who are standing up with that spirit, that awakening of that spirit and saying, 'It is time to protect what is precious to us.'" Nina Gualinga, one of the Ecuadorian visitors, noted, "The world needs indigenous people. The statistics say that we are 4 percent of the world's population, but we are protecting more than 80 percent of the world's biodiversity."

In an age where courts have deemed corporate entities "persons" with legal rights, Spotted Eagle sees a certain symmetry in the encampment's philosophy: "The corporations have become individuals, the privatization has given them rights of individuals to just go out and wreak havoc," she said. "Well, the river has a right and that right is being infringed upon."

A press conference (from left to right) Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault II, Ecuadorian environmental and indigenous rights activist Franco Viteri, Kandi Mossett of the Indigenous Environmental Network and Ecuadorian environmental and indigenous rights activist Nina Gualinga, Sept. 14, 2016. (Photo: Sarah Jaffe / press conference (from left to right) Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault II, Ecuadorian environmental and Indigenous rights activist Franco Viteri, Kandi Mossett of the Indigenous Environmental Network and Ecuadorian environmental and Indigenous rights activist Nina Gualinga, September 14, 2016. (Photo: Sarah Jaffe /

So do the people who live around it, she argues. "We are above all challenging the lack of consultation, of course, and the free prior and informed consent. Then, just our cultural freedom. We would never put a native pipeline underneath Arlington Cemetery," Spotted Eagle added. But, she noted wryly, "It's always a risk when you go into the courts. These courts are the courts of the conqueror."

Winter will be hard, Spotted Eagle concedes. She said she hopes "the outside world will help" with donations. But, she added: "The ones that will stay are really going to have to bear down and address their cooperation even deeper, because if you go wandering off by yourself, you can perish, literally, up here."

That outside support from individuals and environmental groups, she said, should respect the leadership of the Native people." The message to the big greens is, stand by us, don't co-opt us. And sometimes, they have to stand behind us, because 4,000, 7,000 Indians is a lot of Indians."

Some of the campers were planning trips back and forth, while others were committed to staying. The nature of the camp has been to swell and shrink; on the weekends, Kandi Mossett said, it grows exponentially. The estimate of 7,000 at one time does not count all the people who have passed through briefly, bringing messages of solidarity from places like Charlotte, North Carolina and Flint, Michigan. "I have people calling me, emailing me every day: 'I am going to be able to come out in two weeks, are you still going to be there?'" Mossett said. "I say, 'Of course.'"

For those who can't make it to the camp, Mossett noted, there are other ways that supporters have held actions in solidarity with the camps. "We are targeting the financers of this project: the banks," she said.

There are petitions, Facebook pages for the Sacred Stone and Red Warrior camps, and a call for Barack Obama to visit the camp. "We will welcome you, we will greet you, we will feed you, we will put up a tepee for you," Mossett said.

The long-term strategy, she said, is similar to that of the Keystone XL project. "They told us 'You are crazy. It is a done deal.' They told us that about the Keystone XL and they are telling us that now about Dakota Access, that it is a done deal. We respectfully disagree." If the permit is granted, she said, they will continue to hold the space, to risk arrest, to halt construction. "Companies and shareholders, they only have so much patience and they are losing money," she noted. "That is the bottom line: money. The more we can delay them, the more we can stall them, the more we know we are winning."

The sentiments of Mossett and Spotted Eagle underscore what is perhaps most significant about the camps along the Cannonball River: What is happening here is something more than just a fight to stop a pipeline.


The word I heard over and over again from the people I interviewed was "decolonize."

In the speak-outs and prayer circles, speaker after speaker, from the Pacific Northwest and from the Amazon, from New York to Arizona recalled the historic violence committed against Native American people not far from where the camp stood. Many recalled the Battle of the Greasy Grass, what is taught to schoolchildren as the Battle of Little Bighorn, which LaDonna Allard wrote was the last time the Oceti Sakowin came together. But for her and others, the massacres at Wounded Knee and Whitestone were closer to mind. It was the anniversary of the Whitestone massacre, where 250 women and children were killed by the US military, when private security guards turned dogs on the protesters at Standing Rock. It was Faith Spotted Eagle's people, the Ihanktonwan, along with the Hunkpapa, that were killed there, and the use of police and security against peaceful protesters brought up those memories.

A sign along the highway near the Dakota Access Pipeline construction site reads "Flint Stands with Standing Rock.") (Photo: Sarah Jaffe / sign along the highway near the Dakota Access pipeline construction site reads "Flint Stands with Standing Rock." (Photo: Sarah Jaffe /

The echoes of historic struggles were everywhere, and to Spotted Eagle, they were reminders that the fight for the water is just a part of the fight for an entire way of life that was nearly crushed. She was raised speaking Dakota, and counted herself lucky to have her language and the worldview that came with it. The grass-roots organizing that brought together the camp, she said, was helping the Standing Rock people and other tribal governments to look past the structures imposed on them by the process of colonization. "If we don't stop and every single day examine how I have become like the colonizer, I asked my daughter, 'What is going to happen someday if we lose our songs, if we lose our language and we no longer think like Natives?' She said, 'Then the colonization process is complete.'"

In the camp, they experimented with bringing back the long-ago structure of the Oceti Sakowin. "The second part of that struggle is to wade through the colonialism that has happened between then and now and to figure out, 'What can we bring back with some modifications that will work for the people?'" she said. "There have been a lot of attempts to revive the Oceti Sakowin, but it hasnÂ’'t happened because we didnÂ’'t have a common focus."

The common struggle has in turn opened up a space for different people to come together and share their songs and dances, their prophecies and histories. The lack of good cell phone service, Lay Ha noted, forces people to be more present. "It just brings you back to the old days where you hear the language, you hear our culture, you get to see youth riding on horseback and it's really a change, it's really decolonizing ourselves."

"We are at the right point in time," Spotted Eagle agreed. "We are free at this space in time."

Walking around the camp, you pass singing circles and the kitchen -- Tuesday night the menu was moose, brought all the way from Maine by a visitor to the camp. A nurse from the medic tent made rounds, making sure that people knew that at night, the Standing Rock ambulance parked on the grounds would leave but the medics would be on duty. Young children played volleyball and posed for photographs, finished from their day at school -- a fully recognized school that teaches both the core curriculum so children at the camp won't fall behind their schools at home, and also teaches songs and dances, languages and history, about the treaties and the fight for the water.

Kandi Mossett on a hill overlooking the Oceti Sakowin camp. (Photo: Sarah Jaffe / Mossett on a hill overlooking the Oceti Sakowin camp. (Photo: Sarah Jaffe /

At night, campfires burned and tepees glowed, lit from within, as the open mic for speak-outs gave way to singing and dancing.

"We have had a few growing pains, but that is to be expected when you go from 30 people to 1,000 people in two or three days," Mossett said. "There are a lot of logistics behind the scenes, things that people don't see. Where are people going to go to the bathroom? Bringing in porta potties. Waste disposal. It was a really beautiful thing to see the community step up on our own and say, 'Did you forget we are sovereign nations? We are going to do this and make it happen.'"

The coming together of the nations was something Mossett wanted for as long as she could remember, and that more than anything helped her envision a victory, not just against the Dakota Access Pipeline, not just against the whole extractive industry but for something much bigger.

"This pipeline would have already been built if we hadn't come out here, taken back the power for ourselves and said, 'Hey, nobody is going to help us or protect us except for us,'" Mossett said. "I think it was the nonviolent direct actions. In fact, I know that it was the nonviolent direct actions that got us to this point."

The kitchen at the Oceti Sakowin camp, Sept. 14, 2016. (Photo: Sarah Jaffe / kitchen at the Oceti Sakowin camp, September 14, 2016. (Photo: Sarah Jaffe /

Cement barriers painted with messages, such as "Children Don't Drink Oil," near the pipeline construction site, September 13, 2016. (Photo: Sarah Jaffe / Cement barriers painted with messages, such as "Children Don't Drink Oil," near the pipeline construction site, September 13, 2016. (Photo: Sarah Jaffe /

A sign reading "Protectors of the Water, not Protesters," outside of the Red Warrior Camp, September 14, 2016. (Photo: Sarah Jaffe / A sign reading "Protectors of the Water, not Protesters," outside of the Red Warrior Camp, September 14, 2016. (Photo: Sarah Jaffe /

People from the Oceti Sakowin camp walking to the Dakota Access Pipeline construction site near the Missouri River, whose waters they say they are trying to protect, September 13, 2016. (Photo: Sarah Jaffe / People from the Oceti Sakowin camp walking to the Dakota Access pipeline construction site near the Missouri River, whose waters they say they are trying to protect, September 13, 2016. (Photo: Sarah Jaffe /

Horseback riders march from the Oceti Sakowin Camp to the Dakota Access Pipeline construction site, September 13, 2016. (Photo: Sarah Jaffe / Horseback riders march from the Oceti Sakowin Camp to the Dakota Access pipeline construction site, September 13, 2016. (Photo: Sarah Jaffe /

A "speak-out" at the road to the Dakota Access Pipeline construction site, September 13, 2016. (Photo: Sarah Jaffe / A "speak out" at the road to the Dakota Access pipeline construction site, September 13, 2016. (Photo: Sarah Jaffe /

News Fri, 30 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Protests Continue in San Diego After Police Kill Alfred Olango

Protests continue in the San Diego, California, suburb of El Cajon, where police shot and killed an unarmed African-American man Tuesday after his sister called 911 to report her brother was having a mental health emergency. Eyewitnesses in El Cajon said 38-year-old Alfred Olango was holding his hands up when he was tased by one police officer and then fired upon five times by another officer. Olango was a 38-year-old father of two and a Ugandan refugee who moved to the San Diego area 20 years ago. On Wednesday, police confirmed Alfred Olango did not have a gun. The object he pointed at police was a three-inch-long silver e-cigarette. We speak to Olango family attorney Dan Gilleon and Christopher Rice-Wilson of Alliance San Diego.


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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Protests continue in the San Diego, California, suburb of El Cajon, where police shot and killed an unarmed African-American man Tuesday after his sister called 911 to report her brother was having a mental health emergency. Eyewitnesses in El Cajon said 38-year-old Alfred Olango was holding his hands up when he was tased by one police officer and then fired on five times by another officer. Olango was a 38-year-old father of two and a Ugandan refugee who moved to the San Diego area 20 years ago.

In a dramatic video posted to Facebook, a woman named Rumbie Mubaiwa begins filming moments after Olango is shot dead. In the background, Olango's sister is heard crying over the death of her brother.

RUMBIE MUBAIWA: OK, so the police did it again, y'all. They shot another unarmed black person, as usual. And the lady is saying she called them for help, not to kill her brother. And they shot her brother.

AMY GOODMAN: In the video, Alfred Olango's grieving sister is seen tearfully confronting police. She tells them, "I called you to help me, but you killed my brother."

OLANGO'S SISTER: Guys, why couldn't you tase him? Why couldn't you guys tase him? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

RUMBIE MUBAIWA: What's his birthday, so they could find his information?

OLANGO'S SISTER: Why couldn't you guys tase him? I told you he's sick. And you guys shot him.

AMY GOODMAN: The sister of Alfred Olango can be heard in the video saying, quote, "I called three times for them to come help me. Nobody came. They said it's not priority," end-quote. Police scanner audio at the time of the shooting reveals officers knew they were responding to a so-called 5150 call, or a mental health emergency. It does not appear that officers dispatched a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team. El Cajon Police Chief Jeff Davis acknowledged it took officers 50 minutes -- that's 5-0 minutes -- to respond to the 911 call of Olango's sister. He said there was no weapon found at the scene of the killing. Chief Davis disputed witness accounts that Olango had his hands in the air, saying the man pointed an object at an officer with both hands as if to fire a handgun.

POLICE CHIEF JEFF DAVIS: The male subject paced back and forth while the officers tried to talk to him. At one point, the male rapidly drew an object from his front pants pocket, placed both hands together on it and extended it rapidly towards the officer, taking what appeared to be a shooting stance, putting the object in the officer's face. At this time, one of the officers with the Taser discharged his Taser in an effort to subdue the subject. Simultaneously, the officer who had the object pointed at him discharged his firearm, striking the male.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: On Wednesday, police confirmed Alfred Olango did not have a gun. The object he pointed at police was a three-inch-long silver e-cigarette. The shooting is just the most recent in a string of police shootings of primarily men of color with mental illness or disability. Just last week, police in Charlotte, North Carolina, shot and killed Keith Scott, a 43-year-old father of seven who reportedly had suffered a traumatic brain injury during a motorcycle accident in 2015. In July, a police officer in North Miami contends he mistakenly shot an African-American behavioral therapist, Charles Kinsey, when he was aiming for Arnaldo Rios Soto, a 26-year-old autistic man.

AMY GOODMAN: Who was simply cradling a toy truck.

In addition to concerns over the El Cajon Police Department's response to what was a mental health crisis, questions are being raised about El Cajon police officer Richard Gonsalves, who's been identified as the shooter, the officer who fatally shot Olango. Last year, Gonsalves was sued for sexual harassment after making lewd propositions and texting explicit photos, naked photos of his private parts, to his subordinate officer. He was demoted to officer from sergeant. Gonsalves was just served with a second suit in August of this year, after the harassment continued.

Well, for more, we're joined by two guests. Dan Gilleon is the attorney for the family of Alfred Olango and also represents Officer Christine Greer, the plaintiff in the sexual harassment lawsuit against Gonsalves. Christopher Rice-Wilson is also with us, associate director at Alliance San Diego.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Dan Gilleon, let's begin with you. Explain what took place -- you are the lawyer for Alfred Olango's family -- how this happened, when the sister called and said her brother was having a mental health emergency. Explain what took place next.

DAN GILLEON: Well, you know, there's a lot of facts that we just don't know right now. And that's one of the problems that I have with the way that the city of El Cajon and the police department is handling this. There is a video available. They took a still image from that video yesterday and put it out there in the media and began litigating this case in the media, but selecting the still image that helps them the most. So I don't have a lot of the facts right now, and I don't feel comfortable saying exactly what happened, because we just don't know.

I can tell you this: When the police officers arrived on the scene, they knew that they were arriving in a situation that called for a PERT, a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team. They knew that. And they are trained on how to deal with people with mental illness. And one of the things that they know is that people with mental illnesses will act like people with mental illnesses. And the sister was clear with them that he was having a mental breakdown. He was having a mental breakdown. He had just lost someone very close to him. I do not know the effect of that recent loss on any other underlying situation or conditions of his, but they did know it. Even the chief police acknowledged that he was acting erratically and running in and out of traffic. So they knew that.

Instead of calling the PERT team, which was the team that's designed to handle these situations and de-escalate these situations, they sent out this Richard Gonsalves, who, in my opinion, based upon the way he has behaved in the past, is a cowboy. He's a cowboy that went out there and took matters into his own hands and, I believe, escalated the situation to the point where this mentally ill person acted like a mentally ill person and raised his hands towards him.

We don't know if the officer with the laser deployed that -- of Taser deployed that Taser first. We just don't know that, because we don't have the video. That would be an important thing to know. There was a comment by the chief of police that the firing officer -- this would be Richard Gonsalves -- that he fired simultaneously. Well, what we talk about in the business when we do police shooting cases is talk about sympathetic fire. And the police departments are taught how not to have situations like this result in a death as a result of sympathetic fire. And what happens is, oftentimes, when a Taser goes off, it creates a loud noise, and other officers who have their weapons drawn will fire, and not because any other reason other than they've just now heard another shot. We don't know whether or not the officer who was firing the Taser followed protocol, which was to announce loudly "Taser, Taser, Taser" and then fire. We don't know if he did that or not, because they won't release that video. That process of announcing a Taser is very important, because it helps prevent the sympathetic fire.

Again, my role right now is to defend the case that's being litigated in the media by the El Cajon Police Department. It's a completely unfair thing to do, that less than 24 hours after this man dies, that the police department is cherry-picking one still image, releasing it to the media, all for the purpose of building their own case, which it boils down to: It was all his own fault. He had it coming. He shouldn't have raised his hands. If he hadn't raised his hands, he would be alive. I don't believe the facts bear that scenario out all that well, but we just don't know yet.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to go to break, then come back to this discussion. Dan Gilleon is the attorney for Alfred Olango's family. Alfred Olango was a Ugandan refugee in El Cajon. Christopher Rice-Wilson, an activist, will talk about the protests that are taking place and what are the demands. And we'll be speaking with John Snook, who is with Treatment Advocacy Center, about mentally ill people and how the police should deal with them. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: "Gunshots" by Bambu, featuring Kiwi, here on Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Protests continue in the San Diego, California, suburb of El Cajon, where police shot and killed an unarmed African-American man Tuesday after his sister called 911 to report her brother was having a mental health emergency. After Tuesday's shooting, Alfred Olango's sister explained the encounter with the police.

OLANGO'S SISTER: I called the 911 three times to come and help my brother, that he's mentally perturbed and he needed help. And I thought they would send somebody to help him and get some crisis communication going on. The police officer, of course, came. He was running around, crossing the street. He almost got hit by the car. So I kind of tailgated him with my car and tried to get some help so they can take him to the hospital. When the police officer came, I told him, and they finally got him, tried to tell my brother, "Please, put your hands up. Don't put your hands in your pocket. Listen." And I told the police, "Please don't shoot him. He's sick." I did not call the police officer to come and kill my brother.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Alfred Olango's sister talking about what happened when her brother was shot. We're continuing our conversation now with Dan Gilleon, the attorney for Olango's family, and Christopher Rice-Wilson. So, I'd like to ask Christopher Rice-Wilson about -- could you say something about your response to the shooting?

CHRISTOPHER RICE-WILSON: Well, I'm -- you know, I'm simply aghast at the actions taken that day by the El Cajon Police Department and continuing with the police chief's press conference that, you know, revealed a still photo that made their case and presented Olango as a threat. The community is really upset right now, and we want justice for Alfred Olango. We want a transparent investigation. We don't believe that we can get that here in San Diego, and we're asking Attorney General Loretta Lynch to assign an investigator from the Department of Justice. The community is really upset right now. We are standing with the family, demanding justice, and hoping and praying that someone will come help us here in San Diego.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the history of police relations in San Diego?

CHRISTOPHER RICE-WILSON: Well, I mean, I think police relations with communities of color across this country are not very good right now. We see this happening across the country, so we don't have to isolate it to San Diego. But when you talk about the El Cajon Police Department and its history with the community, there was a grand jury report about a year ago that recommended improvements in the El Cajon Police Department's handling of the homeless and mentally ill, which have largely gone ignored. There is not a significant black population in El Cajon, and the black folks who do live in El Cajon often feel picked on by the police department, harassed by the police department. And so, when we see what happened the other day to Mr. Olango, it did not come as a surprise to many people, who said it was just a matter of time, prior to this event.

News Thu, 29 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
These Three Issues Prove Our Movements Are Way Ahead of Clinton and Trump

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton shake hands at the conclusion of their first presidential debate, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, on September 26, 2016. (Doug Mills / The New York Times) Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton shake hands at the conclusion of their first presidential debate, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, on September 26, 2016. (Doug Mills / The New York Times)

In the United States we give our presidents a lot of credit. They bask in the aura of the Oval Office and command the world's largest military. We call them the "leaders of the free world," as if freedom is something we all enjoy in equal measure. We watch their campaigns for election and reelection like horseraces that the entire country is betting on.

This was not lost on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during their first debate on Monday night. Both candidates sought to assure a fretful public that we would be safe and secure in their benevolent hands. Each candidate promised sweeping plans to address all sorts of problems -- ISIS, racism, economic inequality, cyber wars with Russia -- in an attempt to convince the public that they alone can fix the nation's problems, to hell with Congress and all the gritty details.

Clinton's vision was one of a nation emerging from a recession stronger, but with more work to do: a sign that she intends to stick with the status quo inherited from President Obama. Trump's view of the nation was much more sinister, and his racist caricatures of urban life and vague promises to restore "law and order" spelled trouble for dissidents and marginalized people, especially people of color.

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, "Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016."

However, despite Clinton and Trump's respective visions of the future, politics are not constrained to presidential podiums and primetime TV slots. People far beyond the beltway have ideas for improving the world as well, and we work toward these goals with only the resources available in our daily lives. Let's take a look at how Trump and Clinton's political agendas for three big issues stack up against the work our movements are already doing, whether it's at home, at work or out in the streets.

1. Jobs and Economic Inequality

At the start of Monday's debate, Trump proposed to create jobs by slashing corporate tax rates by 20 percent and "renegotiating" international trade deals. "Well, the first thing you do is don't let the jobs leave," he said before attacking Clinton for her husband's support of NAFTA, ad nauseam. The good jobs have been moved to cheaper labor markets in China and Mexico, he argued, so clearly multinational CEOs deserve some tax break as an incentive to bring them back.

Clinton called Trump's plan "Trumped-up trickle down," a Reagan-inspired jab that may not be as catchy as she thinks it is. Clinton largely towed the Democratic Party line, railing against corporate tax loopholes and calling for wider investment in domestic infrastructure and sustainable energy development and, laudably, raising the minimum wage to $15. Trump accused Clinton of supporting the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, but she explained that she decided to come out against the TPP after reading the fine print.

It's important to recognize that none of these steps toward progress started inside the beltway. For years, grassroots activists have been protesting the TPP, not to mention every other multinational pact going back to NAFTA. Over the past two decades, the anti-globalization movement has brought people from across the world together to protest global financial summits and build international solidarity. Anti-TPP activism is alive and well in the US, and it's hard to look at Clinton's current position without thinking of the young Bernie Sanders fans she is coaxing to the polls with bits of her former rival's platform.

A $15 minimum wage is not Clinton's idea either. It's a demand made by the thousands of fast food and other low-wage workers who staged strikes and protests at their workplaces in cities across the country as part of a broader movement that is changing the face of organized labor.

2. Racial Justice and Healing

We knew this was going to be rough.

Throughout the debate, Trump peppered his thoughts on race with depictions of Black and Brown communities based in prejudice, comparing life in Black and Latino neighborhoods to "living in hell," where one can get shot for walking down the street. But rest assured, Trump says he does have Black friends, and has forged "very, very good relationships" with the African American community "over the last little while." He was probably referring to his last-ditch attempt to make amends with people of color by visiting a Black church in Detroit, because he certainly could not be referring to his poll numbers. Here's a standout snippet from the back and forth on Trump's proposal to institute a stop-and-frisk policy in Chicago:

Lester Holt (Moderator): Stop-and-frisk was ruled unconstitutional in New York because it largely singled out Black and Hispanic young men.

Trump: No, you're wrong. It went before a judge, who was a very against-police judge. The city appealed, and after a change of mayor, the case was settled before the appeal. It was taken away from her and our mayor, our new mayor, refused to go forward with the case. They would have won an appeal. If you look at it throughout the country, there are many places where...

Holt: The argument is that it's a form of racial profiling.

Trump: No, the argument is that we had to take the guns away from these people that have them and that are bad people that shouldn't have them.... You need more police. You need a better community, you know relation, you don't have a good community-relations in Chicago. It's terrible. I have property there.

Clinton missed a chance to nail Trump in the debate on stop-and-frisk -- which is statistically proven to promote intense racial profiling -- opting to save the R-word for the discussion of Trump's longstanding doubts over President Obama's citizenship. Clinton did acknowledge that racism is systemic in the criminal legal system and touted modest reforms that are gaining support in Washington, such as reducing mandatory minimum sentencing, expanding diversion programs and offering more training for cops.

Clinton also came out against private state prisons -- the Obama administration recently announced it would end its federal prison contracts -- but failed to mention the individuals and families warehoused in privately-run immigration jails under federal control. On Wednesday, immigrant rights groups delivered a petition with 200,000 signatures to the Justice Department demanding the federal government end those contracts as well, according to press releases. Clinton also failed to mention that the vast majority of incarcerated people are locked up in public, not private, jails and prisons, so ending privatization will not end mass incarceration.

Trump, whose plan to "build the wall" has been steeped in racism since its inception, lied point blank about receiving an endorsement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Federal agencies can't make political endorsements; it was officers' unions that endorsed Trump, in hopes that his policies would be lucrative for their members.)

Meanwhile, in the real world, a massive movement for civil rights and Black liberation is underway, making space for activists to push the conversation beyond "law and order" or "reform." Many activists in the movement for Black lives and other visionary struggles are not just demanding an end to private immigration jails -- they are demanding an end to jails and borders all together.

Uprisings led by people of color in cities across the country are proving to be fertile grounds for organizing, and have forced the nation to look into the mirror and confront its longstanding and violent disregard for Black and Brown lives. Prisoners, who are disproportionately people of color, are striking nationwide to protest slave-labor conditions and the entire idea that putting people in cages and depriving them of rights can solve social problems. Prison bosses used to use race to divide and conquer their captives, but now Black, Brown and white prisoners are finding unity in solidarity. Across the country, activists are also taking direct action to stop deportations, and hunger strikes in immigrant jails have brought national attention to the government's profit-laden immigration policies that tear apart families.

Armed with art, activism, camera phones and social media, young people of color are changing the way we think and talk about race. From Freedom Square in Chicago to front line protests in Standing Rock, North Dakota, activists have been honing the skills and sharpening the tools we need to keep our communities safe and hold each other accountable without "law and order" imposed from above.

These movements for real racial justice are challenging everything about how power works in our country, so it's no surprise that neither Trump nor Clinton bothered to mention them.

3. War and the Surveillance State

Monday's foreign policy debate launched a discussion on cyber security, which provided little information on cyber wars besides that fact that they are happening and the US is somehow involved. Still, Clinton and Trump talked at length about their ideas for fighting the cyber war, despite their well-publicized troubles with basic technologies like Twitter and email.

Both candidates also vowed to defeat ISIS and argued over who could be blamed for the quagmires in Iraq, Syria, Kurdistan and other areas of the Middle East. In Trump's version of history, which seemed to be more important than his plans for the future, he was always firmly opposed to the war in Iraq, which is a mess that Clinton and Obama failed to clean up. Clinton blamed the Bush administration for botching the original exit strategy and outlined a foreign policy that is largely a continuation of the status quo.

Both Clinton and Trump must defend themselves against being associated with the decision to invade Iraq because the war was a complete disaster, and anyone involved in the anti-war movement can say, "We told you so." During the Bush administration, activists of all stripes, including many veterans, organized a massive movement to oppose the war in the face of rampant nationalism and government infiltration. Sorry, Trump: We were against the war long before it was hip among the elite.

The entire conversation revolved around fear. Clinton raised the specter of terrorist attacks at home and called for an "intelligence surge where we look at every scrap of information," as if our endless military interventions and the expanding surveillance state have not been massive sources of public controversy. In the world of the debate, Edward Snowden apparently never happened and Chelsea Manning hasn't been held in solitary confinement for attempting to take her own life. These whistleblowers are heroes to those who value accountability and transparency. Perhaps that's why the Obama administration treats them like enemies.

A growing choir of trans, queer and feminist voices are refusing to support Clinton unless she pledges to pardon Manning. Trans women face brutal violence and discrimination in prisons and the criminal legal system, and Manning's visibility has strengthened the movement to liberate trans prisoners, some of whom, with the help of dedicated activists in the free world, are starting to win basic rights, such as access to adequate healthcare.

Across the country, communities are resisting the surveillance state that Clinton promised during the debate. Just last week, a coalition of civil rights groups launched a campaign to challenge the use of military-grade surveillance technology by police forces in major cities. As unarmed Black men and women continue to be gunned down by police, media justice organizers like Malkia Cyril of the Center for Media Justice are calling out surveillance and high-tech policing for "super-sizing discrimination against communities of color."

"Surveillance in the 21st century is primarily targeting local communities, primarily targeting communities of color, and yet this surveillance against Blacks, migrants, Muslims and the social movements that represent them has yet to see significant action by policymakers or federal regulators," Cyril said. "And that's why [we're] committed ... to build the legislative power of local communities to prevent high-tech racial profiling and policing from turning our neighborhoods into open-air prisons."

So much of Monday's debate centered around fear and danger. It is important to ask ourselves exactly what it is that Clinton and Trump think we are so afraid of. These candidates may not realize that the view is much different from below, where activists and workers and dreamers are creating justice and building a better world without waiting for the approval of presidents and leaders. The dominant media can make us feel like a presidential race is the most consequential event of the time, but the billionaires and political scions who run for the nation's highest office only have as much power and credibility as we give them. Luckily, the same goes for all of us.

Opinion Thu, 29 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Worse Than a Slaughterhouse: 250,000 Trapped in East Aleppo Amid Devastating Bombing Campaign

The Obama administration is threatening to cut off diplomatic talks with Russia on Syria in the wake of a devastating bombing campaign by the Syrian government and Russia in the city of Aleppo. On Wednesday, the two largest hospitals in East Aleppo were forced to close after being hit by airstrikes. The Russian-backed bombing of Aleppo intensified after a ceasefire collapsed 10 days ago. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that the situation in the Syrian city of Aleppo has become worse than a slaughterhouse. We speak to Syrian activist Osama Nassar in East Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, and Yasser Munif, a Syrian scholar at Emerson College who specializes in grassroots movements in Syria.


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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The Obama administration is threatening to cut off diplomatic talks with Russia on Syria in the wake of a devastating bombing campaign by the Syrian government and Russia in the city of Aleppo. On Wednesday, the two largest hospitals in East Aleppo were forced to close after being hit by airstrikes. There are reportedly only about 30 doctors left in East Aleppo, where 250,000 people are currently trapped. The Russian-backed bombing of Aleppo intensified after a ceasefire collapsed 10 days ago. Witnesses have described it as the worst assault in the five-year civil war. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that the situation in the Syrian city of Aleppo has become worse than a slaughterhouse.

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON: This morning, we awoke to reports of strikes on two more hospitals in Aleppo. Let us be clear: Those using ever more destructive weapons know exactly what they are doing. They know they are committing war crimes. Imagine the destruction, people with their limbs blown -- blown off, children in a terrible pain with no relief, infected, suffering, dying, with nowhere to go and no end in sight. Imagine a slaughterhouse. This is worse. Even a slaughterhouse is more humane. Hospitals, clinics, ambulances and medical staff in Aleppo are under attack around the clock. According to Physicians for Human Rights, 95 percent of medical personnel who were in Aleppo before the war have fled, been detained or killed. This is a war against Syria's health workers.

AMY GOODMAN: Video footage from Aleppo has emerged showing Syrian Civil Defense forces digging a young girl out from under the rubble. Five-year-old Ghazal Qasim was reportedly the sole survivor from an airstrike that killed 24 people in the Aleppo neighborhood al-Shaar. Her entire family, including four siblings, were reportedly killed in the bombing. According to aid groups, children in Aleppo have made up a large proportion of the casualties from the bombings. At least 100,000 children remain trapped in the eastern part of Aleppo.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has accused Syrian government forces of using toxic chemicals in two recent attacks in Aleppo that killed five civilians and injured dozens. The group also said new information has emerged indicating the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or Daesh, has recently used chemicals as a weapon inside Syria.

On Wednesday, President Obama addressed the crisis in Syria during a town hall meeting on CNN.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The key in Syria at this point is, unless we can get the parties involved to recognize that they are just burning their country to the ground, and get it on a diplomatic and political track, frankly, there's going to be a limit to what we can do. We will try to mitigate the pain and suffering that those folks are undergoing. This is part of the reason why our approach to refugees, for example, has to be open-hearted -- although also hardheaded to protect our homeland. But at the end of the day, there are going to be challenges around the world that happen that don't directly touch on our security, where we need to help, we need to help lead, but just sending in more troops is not going to be the answer.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about Syria, we're joined by Osama Nassar, an activist in East Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, an area controlled by the opposition forces. Can you tell us what's happening on the ground right now, Osama?

OSAMA NASSAR: Good morning. Actually, you know that all the cameras and all the media is now fixing on Aleppo, this city that are being attacked by the Russian airstrikes and the regime, the Syrian regime forces, and that maybe the American people and all -- maybe most the West know nothing about our cause. They only know that there is, you know, ISIS, and there is people who are fighting for some reason or for no reason. You know that the regime has blacked out all the independent media in here, and he is only the only media who are allowed to go there and there.

Actually, people are really upset about what Mr. Obama said, what Mr. Obama does, actually, every now and then. The US administration did nothing for to stop this ongoing slaughter in Syria. And it became really complicated, year after year, and even day after day. You know that a couple of -- you know, today is the first anniversary of the Russian intervention in Syria. So, this means that one year ago, if the US did something about Syria, they had nothing to -- I mean, they were not obliged to do these marathon negotiations with the Russians. Two years ago, there were no, for example, bombing in the European country and in other places rather than Syria and Iraq. Three years ago, there were even no ISIS. Four years ago, there was no -- there was no Jabhat al-Nusra. Five years ago, there were only people who are seeking freedom and dignity and demonstrating very peacefully in the street. So the more you delay or the more the US and the international community are late to do something to stop this ongoing massacre in Syria, the more it's become --

AMY GOODMAN: I'd like to bring Yasser Munif into the conversation, a professor at Emerson College who specializes in grassroots movements in Syria. He's made several trips there, most recently in 2015, when he visited the Syrian-Turkish border. He's a sociology professor at Emerson College. Yasser, could you talk about why you think the recent ceasefire between -- that was negotiated between the US and Russia in Syria collapsed?

YASSER MUNIF: Thank you for having me.

I think the main reason for the collapse of the ceasefire is, initially, the deal between the US and Russia was not political. It was really only focusing on the military aspect of the conflict. And for the Russians, what was essential and important was basically maintaining the Syrian regime and making sure that the boundaries between the jihadist groups and the moderate military groups are blurred, and pushing most of the moderate groups into an alliance with al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups. For the -- for the US, the goal of that deal was basically to collaborate and coordinate the strikes against ISIS. And in the end, the Syrian opposition or the Syrian population didn't get anything, and the deal was basically offering to the Russian that they could maintain the Syrian despot.

So, there was total refusal and rejection of the deal by the Syrian population for obvious reasons, and it was basically reducing their revolution into a humanitarian conflict that would basically lead to opening a few corridors here and there and that some of the aid would reach the besieged areas in Aleppo and so on. But in the end, it was really benefiting the Syrian regime, not any of the opposition. And despite that --

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to turn -- Yasser, I want to turn to comments made by the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura. In an interview with Al Jazeera's Mehdi Hasan on Saturday, he explained why he thought the recent ceasefire collapsed.

STAFFAN DE MISTURA: Who do you think would not agree, would not agree with the fact that the Syrian air force needs to be grounded? Well, obviously, President Assad is clearly not happy about it; otherwise, he would have been not able to do what he's been claiming publicly to do, in Darayya and elsewhere, to reconquer the whole Syria territory. And to do so, he needs the air force.

On the other side, put yourself in the place of the armed opposition and their sponsors. Do they really find it easy for them, or do they like the idea of disconnecting from al-Nusra, which, in their view, has been one of the biggest fighters against Assad, but at the same time everybody recognizes, including UN, is al-Qaeda, regardless whether they change their name? Then you would have an answer: who has no, at the moment, keen interest in making the deal working.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Yasser Munif, can you comment on what the UN envoy for Syria said, and in particular the point he makes about Jabhat al-Nusra and their working with opposition forces in Syria?

YASSER MUNIF: [inaudible] the level and the scale of the violence against the Syrian population in Syria is basically due -- it's because of the monumental resilience and resistance of the Syrian population. We have to remember that the Syrian revolution has been going for five years, and it has many, many enemies, including the US and Russia and Iran and Hezbollah and Turkey and Saudi Arabia and so on and so forth. And all these different forces, for different reasons, are trying to crush the Syrian revolution. The Syrian regime has been, since the beginning, trying to crush the secular and the progressive dimension of the revolution, and pushed the jihadists and empowered them and released them from prison, and they have become what they are today. And the Russian also are trying to basically break that kind of difference or differentiation between the moderate and the secular, to a certain extent, and the jihadist groups. And by using that type of violence and massacring the population, slaughtering people in Aleppo, it's pushing the moderate groups and al-Qaeda to basically form an alliance, and, as such, pushing the West to basically choose the lesser evil, and that lesser evil being the Syrian regime as opposed to al-Qaeda and ISIS.

And even the UN played a very detrimental role in the Syrian conflict. I mean, the reports that show how the UN has been helping and dropping aid to the besieged city of Deir ez-Zor, which is under the control of the Syrian regime, but never dropping aid to any of the areas controlled by the opposition, or some of the funding that reached the Syrian military that was sent by the UN and so on. So the role of the UN is really detrimental. De Mistura is basically and clearly biased toward the Syrian regime.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about a comment that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview last week on AP, the Syrian president denying government forces are besieging the rebel-held areas of Aleppo.

PRESIDENT BASHAR AL-ASSAD: If there's really besiege -- or siege around the city of Aleppo, people would have been dead by now. This is the second -- more importantly, they have been shelling the neighboring areas and the position of the Syrian army for years, nonstop, nonstop shelling of mortars and different kind of little bombs. How could they be starving while at the same time they can have armament? How can we prevent the foods and the medical aid from reaching that area, and we cannot stop the armament from reaching that area? ...

They accuse Syria of attacking hospitals. So you have hospitals, and you have doctors, and you have everything. How could you have them? How could you have armament? That's the question. How can you get armament to your people, if you claim that you have people in the grassroots, while you don't have food? They have to explain. I don't have to explain. The reality is telling.

AMY GOODMAN: That's the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. Yasser Munif, can you respond?

YASSER MUNIF: So, the Syrian regime, very early, understood the importance of the media and creating a discourse, in addition to what's happening on the ground, the military aspect of the conflict. And it was able, unfortunately, to create a parallel reality and create a media apparatus and information, propaganda, that is relayed by a number of different network, including RT, the Russian TV, but also a number of different websites and news outlets here in the US -- for example, Mint media and CounterPunch and others, who are basically repeating such silly things. I mean, anyone can verify and see that there is a siege around Aleppo. It's not very difficult to do. If journalists wanted really to talk to people on the ground and interview them and get their views, it would be very easy. But the Syrian regime basically understands that and is using the media and that type of discourse as a weapon against the revolution, basically trying to confuse the different audiences and telling them that there are different truths, there are biases, we're not sure -- basically, creating confusion and challenging what's happening on the ground.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, today, The Intercept obtained -- yesterday, obtained internal UN emails that revealed also that US and European sanctions are having an extremely detrimental effect on ordinary Syrians and making access to aid supplies more difficult. Yasser Munif, could you respond to that?

YASSER MUNIF: Sure. I mean, this is also another aspect. The Syrian regime is using all weapons that are available for it to use, including besieging entire areas, starving the population, using bunker-busters bombs with the aid of the Russian, torturing the population, preventing water from reaching certain areas, and so on and so forth. And, unfortunately, I mean, the sanctions, as we know from previous experience with Iraq and so on, affect, for the most part, the civilian population. And that's another example of how the Syrian population is basically surrounded and besieged in so many different ways.

I also wanted to mention that, as your previous guest mentioned earlier, that today we are witnessing or celebrating the first anniversary of the Russian intervention. And we are organizing a number of revolts in more than 30 different cities around the world on October 1st to basically raise awareness and tell people what's happening. There will be revolts, protests, rallies, sit-ins, to basically try to break the siege around the Syrian revolution and tell people that the narrative that they're hearing about the civilian war and the intervention and so on are a part what is happening. The other part is the resilience of the Syrian population, its resistance, and the ongoing Syrian revolution with its creative dimension and what people are doing within different -- in many a different ways.

AMY GOODMAN: Yasser Munif, we want to thank you for being with us, Syrian scholar, professor at Emerson College in Boston, and Osama Nassar, speaking to us from East Ghouta, Syria. We're going to continue this conversation and post it online at

News Thu, 29 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400