Truthout Stories Thu, 29 Jan 2015 13:21:53 -0500 en-gb Save Us From Washington's Visionaries: In (Modest) Praise of a Comforting Mediocrity

En route back to Washington at the tail end of his most recent overseas trip, John Kerry, America’s peripatetic secretary of state, stopped off in France “to share a hug with all of Paris.” Whether Paris reciprocated the secretary’s embrace went unrecorded.

Despite the requisite reference to General Pershing (“Lafayette, we are here!”) and flying James Taylor in from the 1960s to assure Parisians that “You’ve Got a Friend,” in the annals of American diplomacy Kerry’s hug will likely rank with President Eisenhower’s award of the Legion of Merit to Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza for “exceptionally meritorious conduct” and Jimmy Carter’s acknowledgment of the “admiration and love” said to define the relationship between the Iranian people and their Shah.  In short, it was a moment best forgotten.

Alas, this vapid, profoundly silly event is all too emblematic of statecraft in the Obama era.  Seldom have well-credentialed and well-meaning people worked so hard to produce so little of substance.

Not one of the signature foreign policy initiatives conceived in Obama’s first term has borne fruit. When it came to making a fresh start with the Islamic world, responsibly ending the “dumb” war in Iraq (while winning the “necessary” one in Afghanistan), “resetting” U.S.-Russian relations, and “pivoting” toward Asia, mark your scorecard 0 for 4.

There’s no doubt that when Kerry arrived at the State Department he brought with him some much-needed energy.  That he is giving it his all -- the department’s website reports that the secretary has already clocked over 682,000 miles of travel -- is doubtless true as well.  The problem is the absence of results.  Remember when his signature initiative was going to be an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal?  Sadly, that quixotic plan, too, has come to naught.

Yes, Team Obama “got” bin Laden.  And, yes, it deserves credit for abandoning a self-evidently counterproductive 50-plus-year-old policy toward Cuba and for signing a promising agreement with China on climate change.  That said, the administration’s overall record of accomplishment is beyond thin, starting with that first-day-in-the-Oval-Office symbol that things were truly going to be different: Obama’s order to close Guantanamo.  That, of course, remains a work in progress (despite regular reassurances of light glimmering at the end of what has become a very long tunnel).

In fact, taking the president’s record as a whole, noting that on his watch occasional U.S. drone strikes have become routine, the Nobel Committee might want to consider revoking its Peace Prize.

Nor should we expect much in the time that Obama has remaining. Perhaps there is a deal with Iran waiting in the wings (along with the depth charge of ever-fiercer congressionally mandated sanctions), but signs of intellectual exhaustion are distinctly in evidence.

“Where there is no vision,” the Hebrew Bible tells us, “the people perish.”  There’s no use pretending: if there’s one thing the Obama administration most definitely has not got and has never had, it’s a foreign policy vision.

In Search of Truly Wise (White) Men -- Only Those 84 or Older Need Apply

All of this evokes a sense of unease, even consternation bordering on panic, in circles where members of the foreign policy elite congregate.  Absent visionary leadership in Washington, they have persuaded themselves, we’re all going down.  So the world’s sole superpower and self-anointed global leader needs to get game -- and fast.

Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, recently weighed in with a proposal for fixing the problem: clean house.  Obama has surrounded himself with fumbling incompetents, Gelb charges.  Get rid of them and bring in the visionaries.

Writing at the Daily Beast, Gelb urges the president to fire his entire national security team and replace them with “strong and strategic people of proven foreign policy experience.”  Translation: the sort of people who sip sherry and nibble on brie in the august precincts of the Council of Foreign Relations.  In addition to offering his own slate of nominees, including several veterans of the storied George W. Bush administration, Gelb suggests that Obama consult regularly with Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and James Baker.  These distinguished war-horses range in age from 84 to 91.  By implication, only white males born prior to World War II are eligible for induction into the ranks of the Truly Wise Men.

Anyway, Gelb emphasizes, Obama needs to get on with it.  With the planet awash in challenges that “imperil our very survival,” there is simply no time to waste.

At best, Gelb’s got it half right.  When it comes to foreign policy, this president has indeed demonstrated a knack for surrounding himself with lackluster lieutenants.  That statement applies equally to national security adviser Susan Rice (and her predecessor), to Secretary of State Kerry (and his predecessor), and to outgoing Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel.  Ashton Carter, the technocrat slated to replace Hagel as defense secretary, comes from the same mold.

They are all “seasoned”  -- in Washington, a euphemism for bland, conventional, and utterly unimaginative -- charter members of the Rogers-Christopher school of American statecraft.  (That may require some unpacking, so pretend you’re on Jeopardy.  Alex Trebek:  “Two eminently forgettable and completely forgotten twentieth-century secretaries of state.”  You, hitting the buzzer:  “Who were William Rogers and Warren Christopher?”  “Correct!”)

Members of Obama’s national security team worked long and hard to get where they are.  Yet along the way -- perhaps from absorbing too many position papers, PowerPoint briefings, and platitudes about “American global leadership” -- they lost whatever creative spark once endowed them with the appearance of talent and promise.  Ambition, unquestioned patriotism, and a capacity for putting in endless hours (and enduring endless travel) -- all these remain.  But a serious conception of where the world is heading and what that implies for basic U.S. policy?  Individually and collectively, they are without a clue.

I submit that maybe that’s okay, that plodding mediocrity can be a boon if, as at present, the alternatives on offer look even worse.

A Hug for Obama

You want vision?  Obama’s predecessor surrounded himself with visionaries.  Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, products of the Cold War one and all, certainly fancied themselves large-bore strategic thinkers.  Busily positioning the United States to run (just another “i” and you have “ruin”) the world, they were blindsided by 9/11.  Unembarrassed and unchastened by this disaster, they initiated a series of morally dubious, strategically boneheaded moves that were either (take your pick) going to spread freedom and democracy or position the United States to exercise permanent dominion.  The ensuing Global War on Terror did neither, of course, while adding trillions to the national debt and helping fracture great expanses of the planet.  Obama is still, however ineffectually, trying to clean up the mess they created.

If that’s what handing the keys to big thinkers gets you, give me Susan Rice any day.  Although Obama’s “don’t do stupid shit” may never rank with Washington’s Farewell Address or the Monroe Doctrine in the history books, George W. Bush might have profited from having some comparable axiom taped to his laptop.

Big ideas have their place -- indeed, are essential -- when the issues at hand are clearly defined.  The Fall of France in 1940 was one such moment, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized.  So too, arguably, was the period immediately after World War II.  The defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan had left a dangerous power vacuum in both Europe and the Pacific to which George Marshall, Dean Acheson, and their compatriots forged a necessary response.  Perhaps the period 1968-1969 falls into that same category, the debacle of Vietnam requiring a major adjustment in U.S. Cold War strategy.  This Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger undertook with their opening to China.

Yet despite the overwrought claims of Gelb (and others) that America’s very survival is today at risk, the present historical moment lacks comparable clarity.  Ours is not a time when we face a single overarching threat.  Instead, on several different fronts, worrisome developments are brewing.  Environmental degradation, the rise of China and other emerging powers, the spread of radical Islam, the precarious state of the global economy, vulnerabilities that are an inevitable byproduct of our pursuit of a cyber-utopia: all of these bear very careful watching.  Each one today should entail a defensive response, the United States protecting itself (and its allies) against worst-case outcomes.  But none of these at the present moment justifies embarking upon a let-out-all-the-stops offensive.  Chasing after one problem would necessarily divert attention from the rest.

The immediate future remains too opaque to say with certainty which threat will turn out to pose the greatest danger, whether in the next year or the next decade -- and which might even end up not being a threat at all but an unexpected opportunity.  Conditions are not ripe for boldness.  The abiding imperative of the moment is to discern, which requires careful observation and patience.  In short, forget about strategy.

And there’s a further matter.  Correct discernment assumes a proper vantage point.  What you see depends on where you sit and which way you’re facing.  Those who inhabit the upper ranks of the Obama administration (and those whom Leslie Gelb offers as replacements) sit somewhere back in the twentieth century, their worldview shaped by memories of Munich and Yalta, Korea and Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Berlin Wall, none of which retain more than tangential relevance to the present day.

You want vision?  That will require a new crop of visionaries.  Instead of sitting down with ancients like Kissinger, Scowcroft, Brzezinski, or Baker, this president (or his successor) would be better served to pick the brain of the army captain back from multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the moral theologian specializing in inter-religious dialog, the Peace Corps volunteer who spent the last two years in West Africa, and the Silicon Valley entrepreneur best able to spell out the political implications of the next big thing.

In short, a post-twentieth century vision requires a post-twentieth century generation, able to free itself from old shibboleths to which Leslie Gelb and most of official Washington today remain stubbornly dedicated.  That generation waits in the wings and after another presidential election or two may indeed wield some influence.  We should hope so.  In the meantime, we should bide our time, amending the words of the prophet to something like: “Where there is no vision, the people muddle along and await salvation.”

So as Obama and his team muddle toward their finish line, their achievements negligible, we might even express a modicum of gratitude.  When they depart the scene, we will forget the lot of them.  Yet at least they managed to steer clear of truly epic disasters.  When muddling was the best Washington had on offer, they delivered.  They may even deserve a hug.

Opinion Thu, 29 Jan 2015 13:04:36 -0500
Why Is Hollywood Rewarding Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin for Glamorizing the CIA?

The Screen Actors Guild has nominated Claire Danes of Homeland for its Best Actress Award.  It has also nominated Danes, Mandy Patinkin and the rest of the Homeland cast for the Outstanding Ensemble Award.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association nominated Danes for its Golden Globe Award.  Though Ms. Danes and the Homeland supporting castbdid not win the Award, the nominations themselves are a valuable honor, and a troubling sign.

In addition, Homeland will be a strong candidate for Emmy nominations, in several categories (Best Drama, writer, director, etc.) in June.

Homeland dramatizes the actions of a fictional Central Intelligence Agency.

The CIA is pleased with the way it is portrayed on Homeland.  The Agency invited the show’s cast and producers to come on a friendly visit to its headquarters in Virginia.  CIA Director John Brennan gave actor Mandy Patinkin (Brennan’s fictional counterpart) a tour of his office. USA Today reported,  “Patinkin … was struck by the CIA director’s sincerity. ‘I thought he had a wonderful heart,’ [Patinkin] said.”

Later, CIA officials attended a screening of Homeland's third season premiere at D.C.’s Corcoran Gallery of Art.

The CIA. likes Homeland.

Homeland likes the CIA.

The problem is that the CIA. has a long history of incompetence and, what is more disturbing, a long history of criminal activity.

I believe that most creative endeavors in film and television have a moral dimension.

Specifically, I believe there can be a powerful connection between real-world government criminality and the mass entertainment which we, the people, consume.

Well-crafted dramas can promote our tolerance of immoral behavior.

Actors physically embody the moral implications of the story they help to tell.  For two years, beginning in 2001, I acted in a CBS series, The Agency.  It showed glimpses of the darker side of the CIA, but each episode implied that the Agency’s morally questionable actions were necessary to safeguard the American people, and therefore, not immoral.  Not evil.  Taking money for spreading that lie plagued my conscience.

The greatest shame of my career was a  fall 2002 episode which dramatized, convincingly, the proposition that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was actively engaged in the development of nuclear weapons.  The Bush Administration was warning Americans that the WMD “smoking-gun” could appear in the form of “a mushroom cloud.”  And on The Agency, we were confirming Bush’s lies in the minds of viewers in at least 13 million households.   Members of Congress were nervously contemplating a resolution giving Bush the power to invade Iraq, and more than 13 million of their constituents were seeing persuasive dramatic “proof” that an invasion was indeed necessary.  That hour of television drama was one effective salvo in the larger propaganda war.  We all know what followed.  I’ll always regret that I didn’t have the courage to quit The Agency.

The dismissive cliché, “It’s just a TV show,” just isn’t true.

Homeland is more popular and highly esteemed than The Agency was.   Homeland is produced by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa.  The show is a continuation of the flattering posture which they adopted toward the CIA, as producers of Fox’s 24.  Gordon and Gansa are masterful at playing on the audience’s post-9/11 paranoia.  They employ outstanding skills to keep us in suspense, and our fears incline us to tolerate crimes we’d ordinarily find inexcusable.

As the recent Senate Intelligence Committee Report makes clear, one of the CIA.’s most atrocious crimes has been the routine torture of detainees.  Kiefer Sutherland and the producers of 24 succeeded where Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld struggled:  they made torture morally acceptable in Bush’s America.  And, thanks to the Senate Report, we now have some idea of how wantonly the CIA. exploited that popular tolerance.

In Gordon and Gansa’s new show, Claire Danes follows in Sutherland’s footsteps, as CIA. officer Carrie Mathison, and Homeland is even more openly friendly to the CIA. than 24 was.

Homeland makes  a hero of Mathison who orders Predator drone attacks from her new post in Pakistan.  It shows that she is guilty of the murder of innocents, but, in the end, Homeland justifies and condones the real-life CIA practice of murder-by-drone, and its horrific “collateral damage.”  Despite her crimes, Danes’s Mathison remains sympathetic and admirable.

Under Barack Obama, the CIA has dramatically expanded its drone-homicide program, the perfect expression of malice and cowardice.  Obama has revealed that Homeland is one of his favorite television shows.

It’s troubling to me that The Hollywood Foreign Press Association nominated Danes for a Golden Globe, and that the Screen Actors Guild, has nominated her and the cast of Homeland, including Patinkin, for SAG Actor Awards.

I can only express the hope that SAG and Emmy voters will consider the voice of their consciences, as well as their personal artistic standards, when they cast their ballots.  Whatever their final conclusions may be, I hope they will allow the moral dimension to have a place in their own, private evaluations.

I myself would expect to be judged, not only on my performance in a project, but also on the moral values of the film or TV program in which I choose to exercise my skills.  I received favorable reviews for my performances on The Agency, but the last thing I would have expected was any kind of award for the use of my craft in a deceitful project that condoned grievous crimes, including a catastrophic war of aggression.

The goodness or evil of a fictional character is not the issue.  The moral stance of the movie or TV program is what matters.  Homeland's Mandy Patinkin skillfully portrays a sympathetic and upright CIA. chief, Saul Berenson, who tries to discourage the misdeeds of his subordinates.  Unfortunately, Patinkin’s Good Guy contributes to Homeland's false portrayal of the CIA as a benevolent, self-correcting institution.

I believe that writers, directors and actors all share responsibility for the world-view and the moral values a film or TV show promotes.

In my opinion, giving members of the Homeland cast a Screen Actors Guild Award would be tantamount to rewarding them, and their show, for promoting the CIA. and its criminal practices.

I do not advocate censorship.  I just don’t think the legitimization of torture, disinformation, drone-killings, and other crimes should be rewarded.

Opinion Thu, 29 Jan 2015 11:48:02 -0500
Sen. Barbara Boxer on Campus Rape Bill, Climate Skeptics and Why She Supports Obama's War on ISIS

Amy Goodman interviews one of the Senate’s leading advocates for changing the way both universities and the military respond to sexual violence - California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. Boxer talks about her proposed bill to require advocates for sexual assault victims on college campuses, her plans to retire from the Senate in 2016, and why she supports President Obama’s campaign against the Islamic State. "War is a last resort, never a first resort," Boxer says. "I don’t support going to war and sending combat troops. I support President Obama’s plan, which is not to do that, but to make sure we can help people fight against this terror group."


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. We’ve just seen a film called The Hunting Ground, about sexual assault on college campuses. One of the people who has championed the cause of the victims, the survivors, is Senator Barbara Boxer.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re introducing a bill around this issue.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what it is?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Yes. There are two bills, essentially. One is a very broad, comprehensive bill, which is very important—it’s going to take a while to get done—by Kirsten Gillibrand. Mine is a very narrow, but important, bill that would say, until we stop this, we immediately need to have an advocate for the survivors on every single campus that gets federal funds. And that’s, by the way, every campus gets federal funds. So it would say, on all campuses, you need to have an independent advocate.

And what would that advocate do? They’d be available 24/7, so the minute something horrible happens, someone would have an advocate by their side, telling them their rights, putting an arm around them, leading them to the hospital, making sure the forensics were done, letting them know their legal options, and stay with them throughout the entire process.

And what’s exciting to me is, I know how long it takes to get things through this particular Congress, so I took this idea to all my campuses, my public campuses in California. And they have agreed to do this. And it’s exciting. The UC system, the state system and the community college system.

AMY GOODMAN: And the larger bill that Senator Gillibrand has introduced?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Yes. Well, it’s going to take a while, because it really changes the penalties if a college doesn’t really report the truth. It’s pretty broad. And it gives them disincentives not to report. It’s a little more controversial, but I think we can get it done, because these stories are unbelievable. This is an epidemic when 20 percent of the women in college campuses are being attacked. And men are being attacked, too, not in those large numbers, but, still and all, it’s happening to them, too.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is also an issue you’ve taken on in the military.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the progress you did or didn’t make—


AMY GOODMAN: —around sexual assault in the military?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: We have made a lot of progress in the military, but not enough progress. What Kirsten and I wanted to have happen—and we did get bipartisan support for it—was to take the whole handling of sexual assault in the military outside the chain of command, keep it in the military, but give it to professional prosecutors who were not in the chain of command. A lot of times, the commander himself was the one perpetrating. A lot of the times the commander knew who was perpetrating and put "order and discipline," in quotes, ahead of justice. So, we didn’t get that part done.

But let me tell you what we did get done. I had a bill that did—was signed into law, that when there’s questioning of a woman who does report a case, you have to not ask her questions like, "Did you wear a provocative dress? Have you—how many sexual partners have you had?" That’s all out. You can’t do it in a civilian grand jury, and now you can’t do it in the military. Other things that were done is making sure there’s an advocate for the complainant. So, we have made progress, but the big and most important reform, we haven’t made yet, which is to take the reporting outside the chain of command.

AMY GOODMAN: And interestingly, one of your biggest opponents was another woman, another Democrat, Senator McCaskill.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain why you disagreed on that?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Yes. Well, first of all, women are not joined at the hip. We have to understand that. They see things differently. And Claire, I think, was wrong; she thinks I’m wrong. And it’s respectful. But it did hurt us, because out of the 20 women in the Senate, bipartisan, we had 17, she had three. And those three could have made a big difference. So, it’s a sadness for me, but it’s her right to have a different opinion.

AMY GOODMAN: Many of those in the film, or a number of the survivors, the victims of rape and sexual assault, were from the University of California system—


AMY GOODMAN: —whether it was University of Southern California, UC Berkeley, San Diego, Santa Barbara.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, USC is a private college, it’s not in the UC system. So let me make that clear. They’re a private college, and they have some answering to do. And also, the UC system has some answering to do, you’re absolutely right. Santa Barbara was mentioned, UC Berkeley. I think what’s important, as the makers of this film have said, they could have chosen any campus. So, the reason I went to my campuses is I knew they were going to be mentioned in this, and I wanted to get out ahead of it, and I wanted them to start to respond.

And I’m very proud to say—you know, as a senator, you can pass legislation, and you can also use your office as a bully pulpit. And a lot of times my staff will have meetings and will say, "Let’s talk about the bully pulpit today." And what I did was I used the bully pulpit to go to the UC system, the state system, the community college system, and said, "Don’t wait for us to pass this law. Do it now." And they agreed. Now the question is follow-through, and I’m going to make a tour of these campuses in the spring to make sure that they are doing this advocacy.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you spoken to the chancellor, for example, about it?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I have spoken to, absolutely, Janet Napolitano, who is the head of the entire UC system, and they have many, many campuses and hundreds of thousands of students. And she’s really on board with this. I’m excited about it. And, you know, California, we’re just a leader in a lot of ways, and I’m hoping we’ll be a leader on this.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Boxer, speaking of the bully pulpit, you’re giving it up. Why?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I’m not giving up the bully pulpit in any way, shape or form. You have a bully pulpit right here. The person asking the questions has a bully pulpit. There are different bully pulpits. So, I have been in elected office for 40 years. And the truth of the matter is, I wouldn’t have left if I didn’t think we had a wonderful deep bench of progressives in California. And I wouldn’t have left if I didn’t think we had a really good bench of progressives in the United States Senate. I feel really good, because the issues I’ve given my life to on the progressive side are so important, and they will be carried on. But I’m going to be—I’m not retiring in any way. I made that point. I’m going to be working. I don’t know exactly how, where and what, but I’m going to be helping other people. I hope to help Hillary Clinton become the first woman president in 2016. And I have a very full agenda, for the rest of my life, as long as I’m standing here and I’m not horizontal.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you’re still standing in the Senate, and the Senate just voted, about half of the Senate, that climate change is not caused by humanity, by humankind. Can you comment on this? The environment is one of your big issues.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, it’s just a joke. I mean, we offered all kinds of amendments. The Keystone pipeline is being looked at right now. And that is a big wet kiss to the Canadian oil interests and the Koch brothers, who own a lot of land up there. This is the filthiest, dirtiest oil. We don’t need it. It has a trail of misery that accompanies it, from the excavation through the pipeline, if there’s a spill. You know, there’s a spill in Michigan that still hasn’t been cleaned up for years. It’s dangerous. And then, when you refine it in Texas, people get really sick. And then they’re going to export it. We’re not even going to keep it.

So, in relation to that bill, we had one victory. Senator Whitehouse had an amendment that said climate change is not a hoax. It passed 98 to one. So I guess they think it’s not a hoax. But now they say, "OK, we agree, it’s not a hoax, but it is not caused by human activities," which goes up against 98 percent of scientists. You know, if you look back at the struggle we had on tobacco and the dangers of tobacco, honestly, the same people who conducted a disinformation campaign on tobacco are involved in this disinformation campaign. And the Union of Concerned Scientists did an amazing investigatory report, and they told us that. We are really up against it. This is a tragedy for our grandkids. The New York Times recently ran a report that scientists are saying the choice now is between a unpleasant planet or an uninhabitable planet. That’s what we’re left with. So now we have to work for an unpleasant planet. But God help us if we don’t win that battle.

AMY GOODMAN: Does the issue come down to money in politics and politicians, both Democrat and Republican, being beholden to the largest monied interests, and so often it’s the oil, it’s the gas, it’s the coal industry?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I don’t think there is any question that special interests aren’t behind this. Otherwise, why would somebody take a stand against 98 percent of scientists? But I think if you look at the Democrats in the Senate, even those who support the Keystone pipeline, they admit that climate change is real, and they’re willing to work. It’s the Republicans that refuse to sit down with us and do anything about it. And it’s really sad, because when you really attack climate change and you really invest in alternative energies, eventually we’re going to see lower prices for everything, because we’re going to have energy efficiency, is the word of the day. And we’re going to see millions of jobs created as we put solar rooftops on and turn to wind generation. So, it’s a tragedy right now. And I’m proud of the president. He is not giving in. Do you know they tried to cancel the agreement with China that the president agreed? If we don’t have an agreement with China, the number one polluter, I don’t know what the world is going to look like.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama said in his State of the Union address he’s calling for authorization to attack the Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Uh-huh, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m wondering your thoughts? Years ago, it was your colleague, Barbara Lee, who stood alone in the Congress—


AMY GOODMAN: —and said no to the authorization for war after 9/11. What way will you vote?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Oh, I disagreed with Barbara on that, and I still strongly do. I don’t think you sit back when people are cutting off the heads of Americans. I’ve already voted to give the president authority to wage an anti-terror campaign against ISIL, because they are dangerous to humankind. And, you know, some people are pacifists. Barbara, I believe, is a pacifist. And I vote—you know, when I’ve been confronted with these terribly difficult decisions, half the time I’ve said absolutely no to war, and half the time I’ve said it’s a last resort, and it needs to happen. And I think this threat by ISIL is a massive threat, and I think it threatens us all. And so, I’m not putting boots on the ground. I would never vote to put boots on the ground. But there are ways we can help others fight back, so that they don’t have to sit there while their girls have acid thrown in their face and their heads cut off. I’m just not going to do it. Can’t do it.

AMY GOODMAN: But if you look at Iraq and the years that the U.S. has been there, there’s no question there’s a massive problem, but the U.S. has been at war there for well over a decade. Is there another way to deal with this, like the root causes of the violence?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, I was a leader in the antiwar movement on the Iraq War. That was—I think it will go down as the biggest error that has ever been made, you know, in history. But when it comes to this threat of these terrorists, that’s different. I’m not talking about boots on the ground. I’m not talking about going to war. I’m talking about not sitting back while we have people who are—who are so frightening, that they steal women, and they make them sex slaves, and they marry little girls, and then they put suicide vests on them. I am not going to sit back. And Barbara Lee, I adore her—

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about Boko Haram in Nigeria.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I’m talking about terrorists today. And I could tell you, Barbara Lee, I adore Barbara, but we just don’t agree on this.

AMY GOODMAN: But as a leader of the peace movement, you see that diplomacy is not doing nothing.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, you want to do—what do you want to do? Do you want to give money to ISIL so they won’t cut off the head of the Japanese hostage? They’re asking $200 million. I don’t think so. So, you know, how do you negotiate with people who want to cut your head off? I just don’t see it.

AMY GOODMAN: What about looking—

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: So, let me just say, as a leader in what I call the peace movement, because I’ve been ever since Vietnam, I think if someone sits back and allows people like this, who don’t value human life, who enslave women, who rape women, who throw acid in the faces of women, if we can’t stand up to that—sure, if there’s a diplomatic way, you do that. War is a last resort, not a first resort. But for me to stand here and say I’m going to do nothing about ISIL, I think I would—I would be dead wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: But isn’t standing up to that perhaps looking behind that—for example, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. support of Saudi Arabia?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, look, if you won’t be—you and I just disagree, so why do we cut it off? It seems to me that you don’t see any reason ever to confront people who are uncivilized, who don’t care one stitch about your life or mine, who would just as soon cut off your head as say "good morning."

AMY GOODMAN: No, but what about cutting off their support?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: And let me—you’re asking me a question. And I don’t support them. As a matter of fact, I already voted to give the president authority to go after them. So why don’t we leave it at that? And as far as trying to find out the root causes of why they are the way you are, I’ll leave that to you. I’m a senator. My people are threatened, and I’m going to take action. War is the last resort, never a first resort. I don’t support going to war and sending combat troops. I support President Obama’s plan, which is not to do that, but to make sure that we can help people fight against this terror group, which is so frightening and so frightening to humankind. Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Boxer, final question.


AMY GOODMAN: How do you want to be remembered in the Senate?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, I’m not going to tell you that now, because I’ve got two more years left. I’ll come on the show again, and we’ll go over it then.

AMY GOODMAN: I will invite you. Thanks so much.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: All right. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: California Senator Barbara Boxer. Earlier this month, she announced she is retiring from the Senate in 2016. We’re here in Park City, Utah, at Park City TV at the Sundance Film Festival. When we come back, Egypt. Stay with us.

News Thu, 29 Jan 2015 11:02:56 -0500
Cuba and US Skirt Obstacles to Normalization of Ties

Havana - The biggest discrepancies in the first meeting to normalise relations between Cuba and the United States, after more than half a century, were over the issue of human rights. But what stood out in the talks was a keen interest in forging ahead, in a process led by two women.

After a meeting with representatives of Cuba’s dissident groups, US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson reiterated on Jan. 23 that the questions of democracy and human rights are crucial for her country in the bilateral talks, while stressing that there are “deep” differences with Havana on these points.

But the head of the Washington delegation said these discrepancies would not be an obstacle in the negotiations for restoring diplomatic ties – a goal that was announced simultaneously by Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro on Dec. 17.

In her statement to the media after her two-day official visit to Havana, Jacobson added that her country’s new policy towards Cuba is aimed at greater openness with more rights and freedoms.

Nor does independent journalist Miriam Leiva, founder of the opposition group Ladies in White, believe the US focus on defending human rights and supporting dissidents will be a hurdle. “The Cuban government knew that, and they sat down to talk regardless,” she remarked to IPS.

In her view, the important thing is for the normalisation of ties to open up a direct channel of communication between the two governments. “This is a new phase marked by challenges, but also full of hope and opportunities for the people. Of course it’s not going to be easy, and the road ahead is long,” she added.

The Cuban authorities have consistently referred to opposition groups as “mercenaries” in the pay of the aggressive US policy towards Cuba.

Nor are they happy when US visitors to Cuba meet with opponents of the government. And they are intolerant of the relationship between dissidents and the US Interests Section in Havana, which is to be turned into the new embassy as part of the process that got underway with the first round of talks in the convention centre in the Cuban capital.

Jacobson and her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal, the Foreign Ministry’s chief diplomat for US affairs, addressed the issue of human rights during the talks on Thursday Jan. 22.

The high-level US diplomat described the process of reestablishing bilateral ties as “long” and “complex.”

In a written statement distributed to reporters in a no-questions-allowed media briefing, Jacobson said: “As a central element of our policy, we pressed the Cuban government for improved human rights conditions, including freedom of expression.”

Vidal, meanwhile, said “in our exchange, each party laid out their positions, visions and conceptions on the issue of the exercise of human rights.”

She said the word “pressure” – “pressed” was translated into Spanish as “pressured” – did not come up in the discussion, and that “Cuba has shown throughout its history that it does not and will not respond to pressure.”

In the 1990s and early this century, the question of human rights triggered harsh verbal confrontations between Havana and Washington in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and since 2006 in the UN Human Rights Council.

Havana complained that the US used the issue as part of its “anti-Cuba” policy.

Vidal said she suggested to Jacobson that they hold a specific expert-level dialogue at a date to be agreed, to discuss their views of democracy and human rights.

Jurist Roberto Veiga, who leads the civil society project Cuba Posible, told IPS that “the circumstances that have influenced the issue of human rights should be considered in any bilateral talks on the issue, to avoid mistaken judgments that could stand in the way of possible solutions.”

In his view, during the process that led to the 1959 triumph of the revolution, which was later declared “socialist,” there was a “struggle between a vision that put a priority on so-called individual rights to the unnecessary detriment of social rights and inequality,” and one that put the priority on social and collective rights.

As a result, in this Caribbean island nation what has prevailed up to now is “a conception [of human rights] that favours equality and social rights at the expense of certain freedoms, and of this country’s relations with important countries,” he said.

Veiga said Cubans must complete the effort to find a balance between individual rights and social equality. It is important to discuss this issue “for the development of Cuba’s political system and the consolidation of our civil society,” he argued.

The two delegations also addressed possibilities of cooperation in the areas of telecommunications, national security, international relations, people smuggling, care for the environment, responding to oil spills, the fight against drugs and terrorism, water resources, global health, and a joint response to the ebola epidemic in West Africa, among others.

In the first part of the meeting, the two sides analysed the practical steps to be taken for the opening up of embassies, which will basically follow the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in effect since 1964.

Reporting the results of the first meeting, aimed above all at laying the foundations for the process, Vidal stressed that following the Convention “implies reciprocal respect for the political, economic and social system of both states and avoiding any form of meddling in internal affairs.”

The date for the next round of talks was not announced.

The meeting was preceded, on Wednesday Jan. 21, by a round of follow-up talks on the migration accords reached by the two countries in 1994 and 1995.

Most Cubans are sceptical and even incredulous about the surprising decision to “make friends” with the United States.

“I think both sides are demanding a lot of each other,” 37-year-old Ángel Calvo, a self-employed driver, told IPS. “Both countries have completely different politics, which it is best to respect in order to start reaching agreements.”

Manuel Sánchez, 33, who described himself as a worker in the informal economy, said both countries “will make more progress towards improving relations than in the past, but they’ll never have the excellent ties that many people are hoping for.”

What is clear is that the talks led by the two high-level officials in Havana have raised expectations.

As renowned Cuban writer Leonardo Padura wrote in a column for IPS earlier this month, after the historic Dec. 17 announcement, “with our eyes wide open, we can catch a glimpse of the future, trying to see shapes more clearly through the haze.”

News Thu, 29 Jan 2015 10:55:26 -0500
"The Hunting Ground": Film Exposes How Colleges Cover Up Sexual Assault and Fail to Protect Students

As a jury in Tennessee has convicted two former Vanderbilt University football players of raping an unconscious student in a dorm room, we look at a groundbreaking new documentary about sexual assault on college campuses across the country. Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey could face decades in prison after being convicted of a combined total of 16 felony counts, including aggravated rape. Two other former Vanderbilt football players, Brandon Banks and Jaborian McKenzie, are awaiting trial over their role in the rape. However, the court cases mark a rare example where students accused of sexual assault have actually faced punishment. Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, The Hunting Ground shows how colleges and universities across the nation are covering up sexual assaults and failing to protect students from repeat offenders. We speak with the film’s director, Kirby Dick, and producer, Amy Ziering. Their previous film, The Invisible War, which exposed the epidemic of sexual assault in the military, won the Audience Award at Sundance in 2012 and was nominated for an Academy Award.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where a new documentary on campus rape has just premiered as a major conviction has unfolded in Tennessee. A jury in Nashville has convicted two former Vanderbilt University football players of raping a fellow student in a dorm room. Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey could face decades in prison after being convicted on a combined total of 16 felony counts, including aggravated rape. Two other former Vanderbilt football players—Brandon Banks and Jaborian McKenzie—are awaiting trial over their role in the rape. The victim, who was unconscious at the time, says she doesn’t remember being raped as her assailants took photographs and video of the attack. After the verdict Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Jan Norman read a statement from the victim.

JAN NORMAN: "I am also hopeful that the publicity this case has received will lead to a discussion of how we can end sexual violence on college campuses. Finally, I want to remind other victims of sexual violence: You are not alone. You are not to blame." Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: The Vanderbilt case marks a rare example where college students accused of rape have been punished both by their universities and the legal system. The four students were kicked off the football team and banned from campus after the criminal charges were filed. One of the students, Jaborian McKenzie, enrolled in another school, Alcorn State, where he was allowed to play football despite the charges against him. He was later removed from the team amidst a media firestorm. A fifth player, Chris Boyd, pleaded guilty to helping cover up the rape, and received probation after agreeing to testify against the other suspects. He was dismissed from the football team, but allowed to keep his scholarship and finish his classwork at Vanderbilt. Boyd later joined the National Football League as a member of the practice squad for the Dallas Cowboys.

Well, here at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, a groundbreaking new film has premiered that deals with the issue of sexual assault on college campuses and shows just how rare criminal convictions like the ones at Vanderbilt are. The Hunting Ground was created by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, makers of the 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War. This is the trailer for their latest film, Hunting Ground.

KAMILAH WILLINGHAM: I got a call from the dean of admissions asking, "If you were to get into Harvard, would you accept?" And I said yes, because I knew my mom would kill me if I said anything else.

UNIDENTIFIED: The first few weeks, I made some of my best friends. But two of us were sexually assaulted before classes had even started.

KAMILAH WILLINGHAM: I went to the dean of students’ office, and she said, "I just want to make sure that you don’t talk to anyone about this."

CAROLINE HELDMAN: They protect perpetrators because they have a financial incentive to do so.

UNIDENTIFIED: Problem of sexual assault on campuses is enormous.

UNIDENTIFIED: I think it’s fair to say that they cover these crimes up. There’s a lot of victim blaming.

UNIDENTIFIED: He lectured us about how we shouldn’t go out in short skirts.

UNIDENTIFIED: They told me, despite the fact that I had a written admission of guilt that I presented to them, it could only prove that he loved me.

UNIDENTIFIED: They discourage them from going to the police. If it goes to the police, then it’s more likely to end up as a public record.

UNIDENTIFIED: Universities are protecting a brand.

UNIDENTIFIED: Campus police cannot contact an athlete.

DON McPHERSON: He won the Heisman Trophy with his DNA in a rape kit.

DAVID LISAK: Just sit down with the students and ask them, "Where are the hotspots?"

UNIDENTIFIED: SAE, sexual assault expected.

UNIDENTIFIED: The second most common type of insurance claim against the fraternity industry is for rape.

CAROLINE HELDMAN: Her rapist’s name matched the name of two other cases, and he was allowed back on campus.

UNIDENTIFIED: The message is clear: You’re not going to win.

UNIDENTIFIED: We started seeing, you know, what was happening at campuses across the country.



UNIDENTIFIED: How has no one connected the dots before?

UNIDENTIFIED: These students went from sexual assault victims to survivors and now activists.

CAROLYN LUBY: My name is Carolyn Luby.

ALEXA SCHWARTZ: My name is Alexa Schwartz.

ARI MOSTOV: My name is Ari Mostov.

UNIDENTIFIED: This is a national problem.

UNIDENTIFIED: We are fed up!

UNIDENTIFIED: I was getting threatened. It was working in their favor to silence me, and I was terrified.

UNIDENTIFIED: I thought if I told them, they would take action, but the only action they took was against me.

UNIDENTIFIED: We’ve got a lot further to go.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the trailer for The Hunting Ground. Just after we arrived here in Park City, I sat down with the filmmakers, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering. Their 2012 film, The Invisible War, exposed the issue of sexual assault in the military, prompting changes in policy. That issue remains in the spotlight as just this week a former Army prosecutor who oversaw sexual assault cases was found guilty of rape. Major Erik Burris was court-martialed and sentenced to 20 years in prison. I began by asking Amy Ziering, producer of The Hunting Ground, why she and Kirby Dick decided to make a film on campus rape.

AMY ZIERING: We weren’t anticipating making another film in this same area, but every time we showed Invisible War on campuses, Amy, someone came up to us and said, "Actually, this happened to me here, and there’s a lot of analogies between what you’re pointing out going on in the military going on at my school." And Kirby would find that, as well, at every—at almost every screening at different universities across the country. And then we started getting letters in our inboxes: "Dear Ms. Ziering, Dear Mr. Dick, will you please make a film on campus assaults? This happened to me at X university." And we actually were working on a very different project, and we just looked at each other and said we cannot not make this film. I mean, we were shocked that this is going on, and we felt like, well, actually, we understand these issues, we know how to make this kind of film, and we felt compelled to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: Amy, I went to one of your premieres here at Sundance, and the response afterwards was overwhelming. You were besieged. I watched one woman come up to you and say, "It happened to my daughter."

AMY ZIERING: No, that happens—yeah. With this film also, yeah—

AMY GOODMAN: Said it happened to her daughter.

AMY ZIERING: Yeah, yeah, and also mothers come up and said, "It happened to me 30 years ago at Dartmouth." I’ve gotten that a lot. "It happened to me 30 years ago. And thank you for doing this. I couldn’t speak then."

AMY GOODMAN: Kirby, this film is not only about people who have been deeply hurt, you know, sexually assaulted, raped; it’s about women who are organizing right now all over the country. And it’s led by two women from the University of North Carolina—both of them were raped—Annie Clark and Andrea Pino. They are remarkable. It happened to them several years apart from each other, but they found each other. They’re now traveling the country, helping victims at universities file Title IX antidiscrimination complaints to the Department of Education. They were raped early on in their college careers?

KIRBY DICK: Yes, both of them were, I think, assaulted within the first or second year that they were there, yes. And then, Andrea found out about Annie Clark’s earlier activism three or four years ago and reached out, and they formed this bond. And then they started—you know, Annie was appalled that this was still going on. And so, the two of them decided to really do something. And the first thing they did was start to investigate in how to file a Title IX complaint. And so, they, without any attorneys, wrote and filed a complaint against the school, which was accepted by the Department of Education.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the most galling parts of this film, Amy, is how administrations respond—or don’t respond. I mean, you have Annie Clark, now one of the organizers of a major antirape movement in this country, when she was raped and went to the University of North Carolina administration, one of the officials said, "It’s like a football game"? What is like a football game?

AMY ZIERING: Rape is like football: You have to think back on what you would have done differently, just like you would in any play in any game. That was what she said the administrator had said to her.

KIRBY DICK: This is what was so appalling, is, you know, we interviewed, on camera, over 60 women, and men, and we were—over and over and over, you would hear—you hear the stories of these women who were assaulted, and that was profoundly—you know, it was traumatizing to them. But they trusted their school. They went to their school. They had the courage to come forward to talk about it, and they trusted that their school would do the right thing. And in so many cases, you heard this form of victim blaming, like "It was your fault," like "You drank too much. You were dressed too provocatively." And it was just from across the board, whether it’s Ivy League schools, Southern schools, small liberal arts colleges. It was shocking.

AMY GOODMAN: Amy, can you talk about some of the examples of some of the punishments that are meted out to students? You know, rarely are they found responsible, but in the cases that they are?

AMY ZIERING: Oh, the punishments are ridiculous. One was like a $75 fine, a $25 fine, a book report, a poster board on 10 ways to approach a girl you like. What was it at another school?

KIRBY DICK: Well, it was 50 hours of community service at a rape crisis center.

AMY GOODMAN: Perpetrator is told to serve at a rape crisis center?

KIRBY DICK: Yes, yes, which is just the most absurd.

AMY GOODMAN: Kirby, you have these full screens in the film that show statistics, the number of people who complain on campuses of rape or sexual assault—and, of course, this is very small compared to how many are actually raped or assaulted—but those numbers compared to how many people are expelled. And at university after university, you see on the screen a big fat zero?

KIRBY DICK: Yeah, yeah. I mean, this is—you know, this is what was so shocking, is that these schools—I mean, we know that assaults are going on in each of these schools in the hundreds of times a year, perhaps even thousands of times a year at these schools, and yet no one is getting expelled, year after year after year. You know, at University of Virginia, for example, well over 200 assaults over a period of time, that people have reported—these are only the reported assaults, keep in mind—no one was expelled during that time.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s something else that’s very profound in this film. You come to understand universities all too often want to protect their brand more than the victim, that they don’t want to report these assaults. They don’t want to expel people. And yet, when it comes to what is called "honor crimes," like plagiarism, they expel scores of people. Explain.

KIRBY DICK: I mean, one of the unfortunate things is there’s very low transparency on this issue across the campus—across the country, so it’s very hard to even get these numbers. We were fortunate to get these numbers from the University of Virginia, who had not expelled anyone over a multi-year period, yet they had expelled, I think, nearly 200 people for other much more minor infractions like plagiarism. So that really tells you a lot about the priorities of the school and about, you know, the fact that protecting their students is not the number one priority.

AMY GOODMAN: In The Hunting Ground, you interview people at every level, the women or men who have been sexual assaulted. You also have a rapist, who has come out of jail, his face fogged. Explain his story.

KIRBY DICK: Well, what he had to say was that—I mean, one of the things our film shows is, just like in the military, these crimes are committed by a small number of men, a small percentage of men. It’s—most men are not rapists. Most men and athletes—you know, most athletes are not rapists. Most men in fraternities are not rapists. But it’s a small percentage of men who are committing these crimes, and committing them over and over. So, repeat offenders really are the core of this problem.

So we were able to interview one. And he talked about the MO of a repeat offender, which is, you know, to pick out someone who seems—doesn’t seem to have friends around them, who is getting drunk, who feels safe in a college environment, and then befriend them. And then he said it’s something that, you know, can be done again and again. And he actually did say if they’re not caught, the likelihood of them repeating is, in his words, nearly 100 percent.

AMY ZIERING: And if I can add, it was based on all that research and our knowledge that we wanted to name the film The Hunting Ground and show that it’s actually a calculated, premeditated act. It is not a hook-up gone bad. It’s not he said/she said. It’s not all the things that people intuitively think is what’s going on. "Oh, we can’t do anything about it. Kids drink. What are you going to do?" It’s actually not, you know, and that, I think, is really shocking and revelatory and what people need to know and understand.

AMY GOODMAN: You interview a campus police officer at the University of Notre Dame who would ultimately resign because he felt he was thwarted from conducting investigations into allegations of sexual assault. He said that the campus police were not allowed to approach any student athlete or an employee of an athletic facility or department to find out where an athlete might be.

AMY ZIERING: So that’s what the problem is. It’s not that, you know, athletes are rapists. It’s a problem as we have a broken system that allows them to commit these crimes without any kind of repercussions.

KIRBY DICK: Yeah, it’s—

AMY ZIERING: Right? They’re protected. I mean, it’s crazy. And that’s really what we want to come across, is it’s a hunting ground, it’s a place where people are not safe, not because there’s a preponderance of perpetrators, but because there’s nothing in place to prosecute those people, and there’s no incentive to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: Kirby Dick, the statistics are astounding. When you talk about 16 to 20 percent of undergraduate women have been sexually assaulted on college campuses across the country, you say 88 percent of women raped on college campuses do not report. Eighty-eight percent? In 2012, 40 percent of colleges reported zero sexual assaults. And less than 8 percent of men commit more than 90 percent of the assaults?

KIRBY DICK: Yeah, I mean, this is—you know, it’s astonishing. Again, of course, the last figure goes back to the fact that these are repeat offenders, that, you know, this is not drunk hook-ups, he said/she said. This is—really, another way to refer to it is "target rape," that these are men who do this again and again and get better at it each time.

AMY GOODMAN: In September, we spoke to Emma Sulkowicz, who’s also featured in The Hunting Ground. Emma Sulkowicz is the Columbia University student who says she was raped by a fellow student. After she reported her assault to Columbia, she had to go before a disciplinary panel, where she was forced to explain to a university official how the painful manner in which she had been raped was physically possible. Then the panel found that the accused assailant was not responsible. Two other women also came forward with complaints against the same student. So, in protest, Emma Sulkowicz vowed to carry a dorm mattress around with her everywhere on campus until the student is either expelled or leaves on his own. So, on Democracy Now!, she explained why she chose this form of protest.

EMMA SULKOWICZ: I was raped in my own bed. And, of course, rape can happen anywhere, but for me, it sort of desecrated one of the most intimate and private places of my life. And the way that I’ve brought my story from a place that I keep secret out into the public eye sort of mirrors carrying the mattress itself out into the light for everyone to see. So I felt like it would be an appropriate metaphor.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student, on Democracy Now! She was just invited by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to be her guest at the State of the Union address. Can you talk about how these women, who feel that their complaints, that their allegations of rape and sexual assault, are not being taken seriously by administrations, are taking action? They are building a movement in this country.

KIRBY DICK: It is incredible what they’ve accomplished, what—young women like Emma, and Annie and Andrea in our film. I mean, in two years, this has gone from something that nobody talked about to something that’s on the front pages daily. But I just want to say that that’s just the beginning. It’s really up to all of us—you know, parents, teachers, faculty, trustees, everyone—to solve this problem, because it’s been going on for decades.

AMY GOODMAN: Now scores of universities, colleges across the country are being investigated?

KIRBY DICK: Yeah, I think we now have up to 95 schools are being investigated for Title IX violations. And, you know, those investigations take a long, long time. I mean, and so far—I mean, I applaud the Department of Education for taking this on, but the schools themselves should not wait to be investigated. They should be solving this problem themselves before this ever happens.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, you did Invisible War, to tremendous acclaim, and it has really begun a movement in this country to deal with sexual assault in the military. And the big move, especially in Congress, is to have these investigations taken out of the chain of command, because so often they’re involved either with the cover-up or perhaps even involved. Now, with this film, The Hunting Ground, you’re talking about assaults on college campuses. Is there a similar move in the movement that’s growing around the country to, in a sense, take the investigation out of the chain of command, as well, out of the power of the university that’s protecting its brand?

AMY ZIERING: Yeah, there has been. I mean, one of the solutions that people have come up with is have independent bodies investigate these crimes that don’t answer to the university itself, so that you take out that inherent bias. And that would make—just ensure a fairer system, whatever the outcome is. And so, that is something that many people are pushing and suggesting, and one of the things that we recommend.

AMY GOODMAN: That was producer Amy Ziering and director Kirby Dick. Their film, The Hunting Ground, about sexual assault on college campuses, has just premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival. Their previous film, The Invisible War, about rape in the military, won the Audience Award at Sundance in 2012 and was nominated for an Academy Award.

When we come back, I speak with one of the Senate’s leading advocates for changing the way universities and the military respond to sexual violence: California Senator Barbara Boxer. We’ll talk about her bill, her plans for retirement, and why she supports President Obama’s authorization for war. This is Democracy Now! We’re broadcasting from Park City TV. Back in a minute.

News Thu, 29 Jan 2015 10:53:42 -0500
Here’s the Beef ]]> Art Thu, 29 Jan 2015 10:21:36 -0500 After Four Decades With Roe, US Women Still Need Abortion Access and So Much More

The 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision prompted a week of stark contradictions. Thousands of anti-choice protesters descended on Washington while the House of Representatives passed HR7, a bill limiting insurance coverage for abortions (after a broader abortion ban was – for the time – abandoned). Yesterday, Congressional Democrats re-introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill meant to protect abortion access from the medically unnecessary restrictions that have already made the landmark decision meaningless in many parts of the country. And in his State of the Union address, President Obama professed his support for abortion rights, along with equal pay, paid sick and family leave, a minimum wage hike, and expanded health coverage. It’s all been a reminder of what has been won and just how much there is left to fight for – from abortion rights to economic security.

Over the past four years we’ve seen an unprecedented number of attacks on reproductive health – more than 200 between 2011 and 2013 – leaving many states with a scant number of abortion providers. Scores of women are now required to travel long distances, at great cost, to access not just abortion, but a wide range of comprehensive health services.

While reproductive health has certainly been the obsession of choice of conservative lawmakers in recent years, it hasn’t been the only issue in their crosshairs. In many ways, the increasing hostility to abortion and family planning is reflective of a broader war against the poor that is sure to persist under the new Congress. It turns out the same lawmakers who have championed abortion restrictions in the name of protecting women’s health have done very little to actually help women and families. Indeed, a recent report from the Center for Reproductive Rights and Ibis Reproductive Health shows that states with the most abortion restrictions also have some of the worst indicators for women’s health and wellbeing. So lawmakers are restricting access to health services at the same time they are dismantling the social safety net on which so many women and families rely. The overall impact has been devastating.

In states across the country, women are struggling under the burden of intersecting health and economic injustices. Let’s look, for example, at Kansas, where conservative Governor Brownback slashed business regulations, cut taxes for the wealthy, nearly eliminated income taxes, and privatized Medicaid delivery, all with the goal of making the state a conservative utopia. In the meantime, Kansas women continue to struggle with high rates of poverty, a lack of health insurance, un- and underemployment, and a persistent wage gap. Kansas is one of the sixteen states that refuse to participate in Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, leaving nearly 80,000 adults (half of whom are women) uninsured. It is the only state in the country that actually experienced an increase in its uninsured rate last year.

To make matters worse for women in Kansas, lawmakers eliminated abortion access from 98 percent of the state’s counties – in which 74 percent of the state’s women live – and passed House Bill 2253, a 47-page law comprised of countless and senseless abortion restrictions. It included a 24-hour waiting period; medically inaccurate pre-abortion counseling; prohibiting abortion providers from working or volunteering in public schools; banning University of Kansas Medical School faculty members from teaching students and residents how to perform abortions; and eliminating public health insurance coverage of all abortion services. And the list goes on. Sadly these laws are not unique to Kansas and they have significantly diluted the initial promise Roe held four decades ago.

The economic injustices described above, and those being felt by low-income families throughout the country, are starting to get the attention they deserve, and the policy solutions to address them are gaining traction (see the recent support for raising the minimum wage and instituting paid sick and family leave). But while economists and policymakers are increasingly focused on the pernicious impacts of inequality and economic insecurity, they rarely acknowledge how these issues intersect with reproductive health and rights.

Let us use the anniversary of Roe to remember there can be no economic justice without reproductive justice. We can’t win on one front while losing on the other. Reproductive health – a cornerstone of which is family planning and abortion – is not a frill. It is a core component of comprehensive health care, which is a basic pillar of every individual’s personal, social, and economic wellbeing.

What good is better and more equal pay if we can’t plan the timing and size of our families? What good is paid sick and family leave if there are no quality, affordable, and accessible providers to give us the care we need when we need it? We need all of it. Now. That’s just demanding a basic – very basic – floor of wellbeing. And that shouldn’t be too much to ask. Roe has served as part of that foundation for the last 42 years. But conservatives have successfully chipped away at it and will continue to do so until there’s nothing left to stand on. Perhaps we can seize upon the new energy around closing the inequality gap to remind our leaders that without bodily autonomy, we will never be secure.  

Opinion Thu, 29 Jan 2015 10:03:59 -0500
The Attack on Human Rights in Haiti: An Interview With Jackson Doliscar, Part II

2015.1.29.Bell.mainJackson Doliscar organizing earthquake-displaced people to claim their right to housing. His work almost cost him his life. (Photo: Ed Kashi, American Jewish World Service)

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Also see Part I: In Haiti, the State and International Community Continue to Trounce Human Rights

Community organizer and rights defender Jackson Doliscar speaks to efforts of the Haitian government to silence advocates of human rights and land and housing rights. The attacks are part of the government’s strategy to leave opposition movements defenseless.

The cases that Doliscar discusses here are only a few of the many instances of violence and illegal imprisonment that the government of Michel Martelly has perpetrated since taking power in a fraudulent election three years ago. Other cases even include the public assassination of the coordinator of the Coalition of Haitian Human Rights Organizations (POHDH by its Creole acronym), Daniel Dorsainvil, and his wife, Girldy Larêche, on February 8, 2014.

The Martelly Administration is becoming increasingly autocratic, including disregarding elections and instead ruling by decree. Nevertheless, the US government continues to provide political and financial support, even including assistance to the lawless police.


Human rights are not respected at all in this country. The weakest members of society are arrested, they’re pushed off their lands and out of their homes. Police beat them, destroy their belongings, and put their lives and the lives of their families in danger.

Then their defenders and allies are bullied and intimidated by the government. We defenders become victims ourselves, suffering death or threats and significant oppression.

Let’s take the case of Jean Mathulnes Lamy, a police officer and son of peasants on Ile-­­­à-Vâche [a small island off Haiti’s northern coast]. When the government decided to take the island for a tourist development project, Lamy understood that it would lead to the eventual displacement of close to 20,000 people. [He became vice-president] of a community organization KOPI [Collective of Ile-à-Vâche Farmers]. He spoke out about what the government was doing and what the eventual effect would be on their lives.

Based on that, the government arrested him in February 2014. He spent ten months in the National Penitentiary without charge or trial.

As for the president of KOPI, Marc Donald Laines, the government made him numerous job offers if he would step down from that post. He refused, saying that he was with the people of Ile-à-Vâche. When they saw that he was intractable, he died under mysterious circumstances that we believe was an assassination [on October 25, 2014]. He was in Les Cayes on a motorcycle when someone deliberately crashed their motorcycle into him. Many witnesses saw the other motorcycle head straight toward his. After he fell, the man who hit him sped off. [Seven months prior to his death, Laines wrote on his Facebook page, “In this country, when you’re doing good work, either they kill you or they put you in prison.”]

I was accosted, too, for my work to help people who were displaced by the earthquake of January 12, 2010. What happened was this: I visit people living under tents to take stock of the situation and the living conditions so that I can do a better job defending their rights. There’s a camp called Kanaran that the government declared to be “at the service of the public.” So displaced people took their little sheets and went there to find a spot to sleep. Two men began visiting the place, telling residents to clear out because the land belonged to them. But by this point, many people were established on this land because they were under the impression that the land was free to settle on. Then armed thugs began arriving and destroying homes.

Last November 8, when the two men and their gangs destroyed a home, I went down to check out the situation. Once I’d taken down all the residents’ complaints to send off to Amnesty International, I was waiting by the side of the road for a car to take me home. I saw a motorcycle coming from the north. One of the two riders got off the bike, walked towards me, took a gun out and pointed it at me. The driver, who stayed on the bike, pulled out a gun, too. And the one with the gun pointed at me said, “I know you’re the guy who works with this community.” I said, “I’m here defending the human rights of these people, who are in a tough situation.” And then he said, “Human rights? Oh, you’ll learn about those.” The driver said, “All right, let him go.” They both put their guns back in their pants and returned the way they came.

It’s not the first time I’ve been accosted. But the threats are getting worse, and I feel compelled to talk about them.

And there are others such as Fenel Clauter, who’s worked a lot on behalf of people whose human rights have been violated. He was arrested June 30 of last year for defending people in the village of Lumane Casimir, where the government had built small housing projects, including for 50 handicapped people. The houses were originally going to be rented for 1,500 gourdes [US$32.27] per month. Then the government turned around and asked for 2,500 gourdes [US$53.77] – money the people don’t have. This would be especially hard for the handicapped people, who typically don’t work since the state doesn’t create jobs for them; they didn’t know how they would manage under such demands. The camp population revolted.

The police beat Fenel, along with the son of a woman with only one foot, Guerdine Joseph, in retaliation for her organizing people to resist the price increase. They arrested her son and kept him in jail from June to November.

In September 2014, they kicked Fenel’s wife out of the village, along with Guerdine Joseph and her whole family.

Fenel was brought to trial for threatening a policeman. Even the judge laughed at that, because the police are armed and Fenel wasn’t. The judge said he didn’t have any reason to hold him. But they won’t release him because his arrest was politically driven from on high, as far up as the prime minister’s office. The magistrate even showed the Amnesty International representative and me a letter sent to the court by the prime minister’s office, saying that Fenel was the troublemaker behind the mobilization in the village.

The government is issuing warrants to arrest human rights lawyers, too. Look at attorney André Michel, who brought a corruption case against Martelly and his family. The government tried to arrest him on October 22, 2014, but they had to release him the next day because the streets filled with demonstrators. [As Port-up-Prince was rocked with protests over Michel’s arrest, the White House released a statement praising Martelly’s “commitment to continue working to further strengthen Haiti’s democratic institutions.”]

 Patrice Florvilus, a human rights lawyer who defends people who’ve been unjustly imprisoned and held without charges. (Photo: Campaña Latinoamericana) Patrice Florvilus, a human rights lawyer who defends people who've been unjustly imprisoned and held without charges. (Photo: Campaña Latinoamericana)

Then there’s Patrice Florvilus. He’s a human rights lawyer who defends people who’ve been unjustly imprisoned and held without charges. Some thugs within the Haitian police have regularly threatened Florvilus. They’ve followed him while he walks, they’ve tailed his car in their police car, and they’ve put pressure on him to stop legally defending these people who are society’s weakest.

It’s important that the Haitian state provide protection to all people defending human rights. We aren’t the enemy of the government. We’re working to improve the situation of people in the country.

Translated by Nathan Wendte and Max Blanchet.

News Thu, 29 Jan 2015 09:39:03 -0500
Learning From "American Sniper"

Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, a movie about Chris Kyle, the Navy Seal who claimed to have killed more than 250 people, has been nominated for six Oscars. It has broken box-office records. Warner Brothers is calling the film a cultural phenomenon.

As a war resister, I felt somewhat of a duty to run out and see the film so I could write a scathing review. I was expecting to only add to the string of antiwar reviews that have condemned American Sniper for misrepresenting the true Chris Kyle, ignoring historyperpetuating Muslim stereotypes, denying the full range of experiences of American soldiers who have fought in Iraq, and inspiring reams of reactionary and racist responses to the film.

And American Sniper deserves every bit of criticism the Left throws at it. But the film’s racism and enthusiastic support for American empire shouldn’t blind us to its lessons about the sociological and ideological factors that have allowed the US to stay at war for fourteen years with at least the partial support of an all-volunteer military.

Many critical reviews of the movie have claimed the real Kyle was closer to a psychopath and a compulsive liar than the conflicted victim of PTSD the film depicts. In American Sniper, however, Kyle is a product of a domineering father and America’s genocidal past — as Eastwood reminds us with his regular references to cowboys and Westerns. But he is also a loving father, husband, and mentor to wounded Marines.

To simply write off Kyle as a monster would be to ignore the people, institutions, and history that helped create him. Indeed, if Eastwood portrayed Kyle as a psychopath, the Seal would be less interesting and less politically relevant.

While Kyle is rendered with more nuance than left critics have allowed, Iraqis are given no such courtesy. No Iraqi killed in American Sniper is portrayed as innocent. And there is no talk about the lies that put Kyle in the country in the first place, or that 70 percent of those killed in America’s illegal war in Iraq have been civilians.

Of course, it would be inaccurate to have it otherwise. To spend time dealing with the horror of civilian deaths or the lies of the Iraq war would be to ruminate on subjects that, as far as we can tell, hardly crossed Kyle’s mind. As he says in his memoir, “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis” and “If you see anyone from about sixteen to sixty-five and they’re male, shoot ’em. Kill every male you see.”

The Kyle played by Bradley Cooper is similar to the one that comes through in his memoir. Cooper refers to Iraqis as “savages” throughout; Kyle sees the entire population of Iraq as the enemy.

It’s a worldview that’s ingrained in Kyle from a young age. In the early scenes of the film, Kyle’s father is lecturing Chris and his younger brother — who has just been beaten up on the playground — at the dinner table. The father’s comments, which could just as easily have been uttered by any of Kyle’s drill sergeants, are worth quoting at length. They are a window not just into Kyle, but the pathological mentality, that is partially responsible for keeping the US at war for a decade and a half with an all-volunteer military:

There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Some people prefer to think that evil doesn’t exist in the world. If there were ever dark on their doorsteps, they wouldn’t know how to protect themselves. Those are the sheep.

Then you have predators who use violence to prey on the weak. They’re wolves. Then there are those who are blessed with the gift of aggression with an overpowering need to protect the flock. These men are the rare breed who live to confront the wolf. They are the sheep dog.

We are not raising any sheep in this family. [The father takes off his belt, throws it on the table, and moves toward Chris and his brother]. I will whoop your ass if you turn into a wolf.

For Kyle, the choice is hardly a choice at all: he must become an aggressive, wooly-eyed sheepdog if he wants to retain his father’s love.

When the father pulls off his belt at the table, it foreshadows a scene near the end of the movie. Kyle is on leave between his third and fourth tour. He is in the backyard and sees the family dog mock-fighting with his son. Kyle pulls off his own belt to attack the dog. However, it’s really the sheep dog — the symbolic representation of himself — that he tries to savage with the belt in the backyard. It is the sheep dog that poses the true threat to his family. We’re left with the sense that Kyle is confused about who the good and bad guys truly are. And that deep down he questions what he has been taught by his father and his chain of command.

The structure of the film reinforces the portrayal of Kyle’s personality type. Eastwood jumps between Kyle’s four tours and scenes of courtship, sex, children, and family stateside. In Kyle’s life there is nothing but war and family, life and death.

American Sniper also conveys how racism is reinforced in war. The killing and dying scenes feel dangerously real, and there is hardly time to take a safe breath between them. The special effects and the unyielding script drive home the acute stress soldiers experience in battle.

Eastwood also does a masterful job showing us how a soldier’s view of the world can be narrowed to the size of a rifle scope, of showing us how bonds between soldiers are formed: in combat, it seems the only people in the world are those standing to your left and right, keeping you alive. For someone like Kyle, all he sees beyond his fellow soldiers are wolves. After combat, particularly if a soldier loses a buddy, the racism that is used as a killing and survival tool can be hard to discard.

Towards the end of the movie, the mother of a fallen Seal is reading at her son’s funeral the letter he wrote before he was killed in Iraq. It questions war and its glorification. The mom stumbles through the letter and is cut off by Marines playing Taps.

The moment is easy to overlook, but it is disturbing for someone seeking broader political context. Driving home from the funeral with his wife Taya, Kyle blames the letter for the Seal’s death. Kyle thus shows that he is incapable of reflecting on the words of one of his closest friends. To do so would imperil his very identity. It would mean questioning his simplistic and wooden worldview that keeps him hungry for more kills and a sheep-dog defender of America’s wars. It would also mean becoming vulnerable in a combat zone.

The scene also reminds us that there are soldiers who question war and that there aren’t enough outlets that allow for a full accounting of these questions, and the few that exist are too often suppressed.

Like I myself did, many American teenagers join the military with good intentions. They hope to be protectors of noble values like freedom and democracy. They seek a meaningful life. They desire the pro-military adulation regularly on display at airports, concerts, athletic events. These teenagers want to show that they are capable not just of serving their immediate self interests but their community as a whole.

The majority of those who sign up for the military also come from alienated and exploited working-class families. Families that feel the pressing weight of an unprecedented wealth divide and a political system that defends the interests of a few at the expense of the majority.

The stress of living under capitalism often causes families to fracture, whether from financial hardship or some type of physical or emotional abuse. Under these circumstances, it becomes easy to blame the wrong people for such adversity.

The military capitalizes on this. Its disciplined structure can act as a substitute for what was lacking in a soldier’s family and community. In the military the anger and frustration built up at home can be “legally” released onto the “enemy.”

Jeff Sparrow sums this up nicely in a recent piece on rage killings at CounterPunch:

War presents the traditional values of the left, albeit in an inverted fashion. In combat, soldiers find excitement, meaning, purpose and camaraderie — alongside, of course, brutality, hierarchy, destruction and cruelty. To put it another way, the appeal of violence constitutes an indictment of a peacetime order in which so many people cannot find much worth living for.

American Sniper can help antiwar activists understand what continues to drive many American teenagers to the military. Yes, American Sniper is racist. Yes, it promotes an imperialist agenda. And yes, to distribute such a film in a country with a $700 billion annual military budget and an unwavering commitment to war without end is reckless.

But it is important to say more about the film than the obvious. We can start by asking why it is so successful and why it is appealing to large veteran organizations. In doing so we might learn how to communicate better with the many teenagers looking to personally sacrifice so much for what they think will be a better world.

As Vietnam taught us, if we want to build a successful antiwar movement, we have to engage the soldiers fighting the wars. American Sniper, if we take it seriously, might help us do just that.

Jacobin is a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture.

Opinion Thu, 29 Jan 2015 09:37:17 -0500
Not Lovin' It

McDonald's is scrambling, and I'm not talking about eggs.

Your know your business has what image consultants call "quality perception issues" when your public relations team is fielding such questions as: "Does McDonald's beef contain worms?"

Thornier yet for the world's largest burger machine is its boneheaded response to the remarkable, ongoing rebellion by fast food workers demanding a $15-an-hour wage and the freedom to unionize without corporate retaliation.

McDonald's responded by — guess what? — retaliating.

Its McManagers illegally reduced the hours (and therefore the pay) of hundreds of those who joined the "Fight For 15" campaign. Many also spied on workers, interrogated and threatened them, and imposed restrictions on their freedom even to talk about unions or working conditions.

The corporation now faces upwards of 100 federal charges of labor law violations — as well as rising customer anger over its ham-handed tactics. Naturally, McDonald's responded by apologizing and raising wages.

Ha! Just kidding.

Instead, it's running a new series of TV ads that, astonishingly, tries to tap into people's emotions about such tragic events as 9/11, as well as linking its logo to people's positive feelings about veterans, birthdays, and even "love."

Mickey D's corporate marketing director Deborah Wahl explains that the ads are all about the Golden Arches shining brightly in every community, being with us through the good and the bad.

As she puts it, "Who better to stand up for lovin' than McDonald's?"

Huh? She should ask protesting workers about the "love" they're getting from McDonald's.

Oh, to be fair, the bosses did make one change for workers. They got new uniforms.

That's not just boneheaded. It's pathetic.

Opinion Thu, 29 Jan 2015 00:00:00 -0500