Truthout Stories Thu, 27 Oct 2016 10:53:57 -0400 en-gb It's Alive ]]> (Tom Tomorrow) Art Thu, 27 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400 Waking Up in Hillary Clinton's United States: Wall Street in the Saddle

Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton speaks with supporters at a "Get Out the Caucus" rally in West Des Moines, Iowa, on January 24, 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore; Edited: LW / TO)Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton speaks with supporters at a "Get Out the Caucus" rally in West Des Moines, Iowa, on January 24, 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore; Edited: LW / TO)

As this endless election limps toward its last days, while spiraling into a bizarre duel over vote-rigging accusations, a deep sigh is undoubtedly in order. The entire process has been an emotionally draining, frustration-inducing, rage-inflaming spectacle of repellent form over shallow substance. For many, the third debate evoked fatigue. More worrying, there was again no discussion of how to prevent another financial crisis, an ominous possibility in the next presidency, whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton enters the Oval Office -- given that nothing fundamental has been altered when it comes to Wall Street's practices and predation.

At the heart of American political consciousness right now lies a soul-crushing reality for millions of distraught Americans: the choices for president couldn't be feebler or more disappointing. On the one hand, we have a petulant, vocabulary-challenged man-boar of a billionaire, who hasn't paid his taxes, has regularly left those supporting him holding the bag, and seems like a ludicrous composite of every bad trait in every bad date any woman has ever had. On the other hand, we're offered a walking photo-op for and well-paid speechmaker to Wall-Street CEOs, a one-woman money-raising machine from the 1% of the 1%, who, despite a folksiness that couldn't look more rehearsed, has methodically outplayed her opponent.

With less than two weeks to go before E-day -- despite the Trumptilian upheaval of the last year -- the high probability of a Clinton win means the establishment remains intact. When we awaken on November 9th, it will undoubtedly be dawn in Hillary Clinton's America and that potentially means four years of an economic dystopia that will (as would Donald Trump's version of the same) leave many Americans rightfully anxious about their economic futures.

None of the three presidential debates suggested that either candidate would have the ability (or desire) to confront Wall Street from the Oval Office. In the second and third debates, in case you missed them, Hillary didn't even mention the Glass-Steagall Act, too big to fail, or Wall Street. While in the first debate, the subject of Wall Street only came up after she disparaged the tax policies of "Trumped-up, trickle down economics" (or, as I like to call it, the Trumpledown economics of giving tax and financial benefits to the rich and to corporations).

In this election, Hillary has crafted her talking points regarding the causes of the last financial crisis as weapons against Trump, but they hardly begin to tell the real story of what happened to the American economy. The meltdown of 2007-2008 was not mainly due to "tax policies that slashed taxes on the wealthy" or a "failure to invest in the middle class," two subjects she has repeatedly highlighted to slam the Republicans and their candidate. It was a byproduct of the destruction of the regulations that opened the way for a too-big-to-fail framework to thrive. Under the presidency of Bill Clinton, Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era act that once separated people's bank deposits and loans from any kind of risky bets or other similar actions in which banks might engage, was repealed under the Financial Modernization Act of 1999. In addition, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act was passed, which allowed Wall Street to concoct devastating unregulated side bets on what became the subprime crisis.

Given that the people involved with those choices are still around and some are still advising (or in the case of one former president living with) Hillary Clinton, it's reasonable to imagine that, in January 2017, she'll launch the third term of Bill Clinton when it comes to financial policy, banks, and the economy. Only now, the stakes are even higher, the banks larger, and their impunity still remarkably unchallenged.

Consider President Obama's current treasury secretary, Jack Lew. It was Hillary who hit the Clinton Rolodex to bring him back to Washington. Lew first entered Bill Clinton's White House in 1993 as special assistant to the president.  Between his stints working for Clinton and Obama, he made his way into the private sector and eventually to Wall Street -- as so many of his predecessors had done and successors would do.  He scored a leadership role with Citigroup during the time that Bill Clinton's former Treasury Secretary(and former Goldman Sachs co-Chairman) Robert Rubin was on its board of directors.  In 2009, Hillary selected him to be her deputy secretary of state.

Lew is hardly the only example of the busy revolving door to power that led from the Clinton administration to the Obama administration via Wall Street (or activities connected to it). Bill Clinton's Treasury Under Secretary for International Affairs, Timothy Geithner worked with Robert Rubin, later championed Wall Street as president and CEO of the New York Federal Reserve while Hillary was senator from New York (representing Wall Street), and then became Obama's first treasury secretary while Hillary was secretary of state.

One possible contender for treasury secretary in a new Clinton administration would be Bill Clinton's Under Secretary of Domestic Finance and Obama's Commodity Futures Trading Commission chairman, Gary Gensler (who was -- I'm sure you won't be shocked -- a Goldman Sachs partner before entering public service). These, then, are typical inhabitants of the Clinton inner circle and of the political-financial corridors of power. Their thinking, like Hillary's, meshes well with support for the status quo in the banking system, even if, like her, they are willing on occasion to admonish it for its "mistakes."

This thru-line of personnel in and out of Clinton World is dangerous for most of the rest of us, because behind all the "talking heads" and genuinely amusing Saturday Night Live skits about this bizarre election lie certain crucial issues that will have to be dealt with: decisions about climate change, foreign wars, student-loan unaffordability, rising income inequalitydeclining social mobility, and, yes, the threat of another financial crisis. And keep in mind that such a future economic meltdown isn't an absurdly long-shot possibility. Earlier this year, the Federal Reserve, the nation's main bank regulator, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the government entity that insures our bank deposits, collectively noted that seven of our biggest eight banks -- Citigroup was the exception -- still have inadequate emergency plans in the event of another financial crisis.

Exploring a Two-Faced World

Politicians regularly act one way publicly and another privately, as Hillary was "outed" for doing by WikiLeaks via its document dump from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta's hacked email account. Such realities should be treated as neither shockers nor smoking guns. Everybody postures. Everybody lies. Everybody's two-faced in certain aspects of their lives. Politicians just make a career out of it.

What's problematic about Hillary's public and private positions in the economic sphere, at least, isn't their two-facedness but how of a piece they are. Yes, she warned the bankers to "cut it out! Quit foreclosing on homes! Quit engaging in these kinds of speculative behaviors!" -- but that was no demonstration of strength in relation to the big banks. Her comments revealed no real understanding of their precise role in exacerbating a fixable subprime loan calamity and global financial crisis, nor did her finger-wagging mean anything to Wall Street.

Keep in mind that, during the build-up to that crisis, as banks took advantage of looser regulations, she collected more than $7 millionfrom the securities and investment industry for her New York Senate runs ($18 million during her career). In her first Senate campaign, Citigroup was her top contributor.  The four Wall-Street-based banks (JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley) all feature among her top 10 career contributors. As a senator, she didn't introduce any bills aimed at reforming or regulating Wall Street. During the lead-up to the financial crisis of 2007-2008, she did introduce five (out of 140) bills relating to the housing crisis, but they all died before making it through a Senate committee. So did a bill she sponsored to curtail corporate executive compensation. Though she has publicly called for a reduction in hedge-fund tax breaks (known as "closing the carried interest loophole"), including at the second debate, she never signed on to the bill that would have done so (one that Obama co-sponsored in 2007). Perhaps her most important gesture of support for Wall Street was her vote in favor of the $700 billion 2008 bank bailout bill. (Bernie Sanders opposed it.)

After her secretary of state stint, she returned to the scene of banking crimes. Many times. As we know, she was also paid exceedingly well for it. Friendship with the Clintons doesn't come cheap. As she said in October 2013, while speaking at a Goldman Sachs AIMS Alternative Investments' Symposium, "running for office in our country takes a lot of money, and candidates have to go out and raise it. New York is probably the leading site for contributions for fundraising for candidates on both sides of the aisle."

Between 2013 and 2015, she gave 12 speeches to Wall Street banks, private equity firms, and other financial corporations, reaping a whopping $2,935,000 for them. In her 2016 presidential run, the securities and investment sector (aka Wall Street) has contributed the most of any industry to PACs supporting Hillary: $56.4 million.

Yes, everybody needs to make a buck or a few million of them. This is America after all, but Hillary was a political figure paid by the same banks routinely getting slapped with criminal settlements by the Department of Justice. In addition, the Clinton Foundation counted as generous donors all four of the major Wall Street-based mega-banks. She was voracious when it came to such money and tone-deaf when it came to the irony of it all.

Glass-Steagall and Bernie Sanders

One of the more illuminating aspects of the Podesta emails was a series of communications that took place in the fall of 2015. That's when Bernie Sanders was gaining traction for, among other things, his calls to break up the big banks and resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933.  The Clinton administration's dismantling of that act in 1999 had freed the big banks to use their depositors' money as collateral for risky bets in the real estate market and elsewhere, and so allowed them to become ever more engorged with questionable securities.

On December 7, 2015, with her campaign well underway and worried about the Sanders challenge, the Clinton camp debuted a key Hillary op-ed, "How I'd Rein in Wall Street," in the New York Times. This followed two months of emails and internal debate within her campaign over whether supporting the return of Glass-Steagall was politically palatable for her and whether not supporting it would antagonize Senator Elizabeth Warren. In the end, though Glass-Steagall was mentioned in passing in her op-ed, she chose not to endorse its return.

She explained her decision not to do so this way (and her advisers and media apostles have stuck with this explanation ever since):

"Some have urged the return of a Depression-era rule called Glass-Steagall, which separated traditional banking from investment banking. But many of the firms that contributed to the crash in 2008, like A.I.G. and Lehman Brothers, weren't traditional banks, so Glass-Steagall wouldn't have limited their reckless behavior. Nor would restoring Glass-Steagall help contain other parts of the 'shadow banking' sector, including certain activities of hedge funds, investment banks, and other non-bank institutions."

Her entire characterization of how the 2007-2008 banking crisis unfolded was -- well -- wrong.  Here's how traditional banks (like JPMorgan Chase) operated: they lent money to investment banks like Lehman Brothers so that they could buy more financial waste products stuffed with subprime mortgages that these traditional banks were, in turn, trying to sell. They then backed up those toxic financial products through insurance companies like AIG, which came close to collapse when what it was insuring became too toxically overwhelming to afford.  AIG then got a $182 billion government bailout that also had the effect of bailing out those traditional banks (including Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, which became "traditional" during the crisis). In this way, the whole vicious cycle started with the traditional banks that hold your deposits and at the same time could produce and sell those waste products thanks to the repeal of Glass-Steagall. So yes, the loss of that act caused the crisis and, in its wake, every big traditional bank was fined for crisis-related crimes.

Hillary won't push to bring back Glass-Steagall. Doing so would dismantle her husband's legacy and that of the men he and she appointed to public office. Whatever cosmetic alterations may be in store, count on that act remaining an artifact of the past, since its resurrection would dismay the bankers who, over the past three decades, made the Clintons what they are.

No wonder many diehard Sanders supporters remain disillusioned and skeptical -- not to speak of the fact that their candidate featured dead last (39th) on a list of recommended vice presidential candidates in the Podesta emails. That's unfortunately how much his agenda is likely to matter to her in the Oval Office.

Go Regulate Yourselves!

Before he resigned with his nine-figure golden parachute, Wells Fargo CEO and Chairman John Stumpf addressed Congress over disclosures that 5,300 of his employees had created two million fake accounts, scamming $2.4 million from existing customers. The bank was fined $185 million for that (out of a total $10 billion in fines for a range of other crimes committed before and during the financial crisis).

In response, Hillary wrote a letter to Wells Fargo's customers. In it, she didn't actually mention Stumpf by name, as she has not mentioned any Wall Street CEO by name in the context of criminal activity. Instead, she simply spoke of "he."  As she put it, "He owes all of you a clear explanation as to how this happened under his watch." She added, "Executives should be held individually accountable when rampant illegal activity happens on their watch."

She does have a plan to fine banks for being too big, but they've already been fined repeatedly for being crooked and it hasn't made them any smaller or less threatening.  As their top officials evidently view the matter, paying up for breaking the law is just another cost of doing business.

Hillary also wrote, "If any bank can't be managed effectively, it should be broken up." But the question is: Why doesn't ongoing criminal activity that threatens the rest of us correlate with ineffective management -- or put another way, when was the last time you saw a major bank broken up? And don't hold your breath for that to happen in a new Clinton administration either.

In her public letter, she added, "I'll appoint regulators who will stand with taxpayers and consumers, not with big banks and their friends in Congress."  On the other hand, at that same Goldman Sachs symposium, while in fundraising mode, she gave bankers a pass relative to regulators and commented: "Well, I represented all of you for eight years. I had great relations and worked so close together after 9/11 to rebuild downtown, and [I have] a lot of respect for the work you do and the people who do it."

She has steadfastly worked to craft explanations for the financial crisis and the Great Recession that don't endanger the banks as we presently know them. In addition, she has supported the idea of appointing insider regulators, insisting that "the people that know the industry better than anybody are the people who work in the industry." (Let's not forget that former Goldman Sachs CEO and Chairman Hank Paulson ran the Treasury Department while the crisis brewed.) 

Among the emails sent to John Podesta that were posted by WikiLeaks is an article I wrote for TomDispatch on the Clintons' relationships with bankers.  "She will not point fingers at her friends," I said in that piece in May 2015. She will not chastise the people who pay her hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop to speak or the ones who have long shared the social circles in which she and her husband move." I also suggested that she wouldn't call out any CEO by name. To this day she hasn't. I said that she would never be an advocate for Glass-Steagall. And she hasn't been. What was true then will be no less true once she's in the White House and no longer has to make gestures toward the platform on which Bernie ran and so can once again more openly embrace the bankers' way of conducting business.

There's a reason Wall Street has a crush on her and its monarchs like Goldman Sachs CEO and Chairman Lloyd Blankfein pay her such stunning sums to offer anodyne remarks to their employees and others. Blankfein has been coy about an official Clinton endorsement simply because he doesn't want to rock her campaign boat, but make no mistake, this Wall Street kingpin's silence is tantamount to an endorsement.

To date, $10 trillion worth of assets sits on the books of the Big Six banks. Since 2008, these same banks have copped to more than $150 billion in fines for pre-crisis behavior that ranged on the spectrum of criminality from manipulating multiple public markets to outright fraud. Hillary Clinton has arguably taken money that would not have been so available if it weren't for the ill-gotten gains those banks secured. In her usual measured way, albeit with some light admonishments, she has told them what they want to hear: that if they behave -- something that in her dictionary of definitions involves little in the way of personalized pain or punishment -- so will she.

So let's recap Hillary's America, past, present, and future. It's a land lacking in meaningful structural reform of the financial system, a place where the big banks have been, and will continue to be, coddled by the government. No CEO will be jailed, no matter how large the fines his bank is saddled with or how widespread the crimes it committed.  Instead, he's likely to be invited to the inaugural ball in January. Because its practices have not been adequately controlled or curtailed, the inherent risk that Wall Street poses for Main Street will only grow as bankers continue to use our money to make their bets. (The 2010 Dodd-Frank Act was supposed to help on this score, but has yet to make the big banks any smaller.)

And here's an obvious corollary to all this: the next bank-instigated economic catastrophe will not be dealt with until it has once again crushed the financial stability of millions of Americans.

The banks have voted with their dollars on all of this in multiple ways. Hillary won't do anything to upset that applecart. We should have no illusions about what her presidency would mean from a Wall Street vs. Main Street perspective. Certainly, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon doesn't. He effectively endorsed Hillary before a crowd of financial industry players, saying, "I hope the next president, she reaches across the aisle."

For Wall Street, of course, that aisle is essentially illusory, since its players operate so easily and effectively on both sides of it. In Hillary's America, Wall Street will still own Main Street.

Opinion Thu, 27 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Cheyenne River Sioux Chairman Brings Pipeline Opposition to Meeting With President Obama

Vehicle lights, streaked by a long, late evening exposure, cuts through the campsite set up to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, on October 8, 2016. (Photo: Kristina Barker / The New York Times)Vehicle lights, streaked by a long, late evening exposure, cuts through the campsite set up to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, on October 8, 2016. (Photo: Kristina Barker / The New York Times)

The stand-off between the Standing Rock Sioux and the Dakota Access pipeline shows no sign of letting up. Indigenous opponents of the four-state, nearly $4 billion dollar pipeline have set up another encampment.

Members of the Great Sioux Nation say they are invoking eminent domain over land rightfully theirs under an 1851 treaty; and have situated their Winter Camp directly in the path of the pipeline. Energy Transfer Partners, developers of the massive pipeline that would run beneath the Missouri River, says the land belongs to the company after they recently purchased the tract from a farmer.

According to the Morton County Sheriff's Department, six states have deployed law enforcement officers to the area. Tuesday night in a Facebook post, the department said private security hired by Energy Transfer Partners who unleashed attack dogs and pepper spray on protesters in early September were not licensed and could face prosecution.

Hundreds of people have been arrested during months of protest; most on minor trespass charges. Yet many have been subjected to strip searches and jailed.

FSRN's Nell Abram spoke with Cheyenne River Sioux Chairman Harold Frazier, who met with President Barack Obama Tuesday to discuss the pipeline project, and the militarized police response to the protests.

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Nell Abram: Chairman Frazier, thanks for joining us on FSRN. You spoke with President Obama and asked him to him protect the rights of the Lakota people, their sacred sites and the waters of the Missouri River. How did your conversation go?

Harold Frazier: You know, I was a little hopeful, but I guess I kind of got what I expected. There's court cases proceeding. One of the things they assured me is that he is going to follow, continue the consultation process, which three agencies put in place and he's reviewing the statutes, so that was good, because I think that's important, that the laws that govern oil pipelines are followed. I'm happy that he is assuring us that he will be reviewing the laws.

Monday, the chairman Standing Rock Sioux, Dave Archambault, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking the Justice Department to investigate the use of force and militarization of police response against Native American pipeline opponents and their supporters. Did this issue come up with the president, and what are your thoughts about the tactics used to suppress the protests?

Yeah, that's one of the points that I brought up to him -- civil rights violations and the brutality of the police. And he assured me there are federal monitors on site. I think that's really important. I went out to the camp this weekend and on Saturday, they were arresting the protectors as they were complying with the order to disperse. And as they were walking back from the site to the camp is when the police went and arrested them. To me, why, you know? They were complying with the order of dispersing, and so it's really disappointing. Right now, that is my immediate concern -- the safety of the people who are up at the camp.

You said the president mentioned there were federal monitors on the site?

I don't know who the monitors are. I know, like Chairman Archambault, I had written a letter about three weeks ago and I was told by the FBI that there was a representative from the Department of Justice that went to the site and to the camp. They asked me to come up with names of our members to visit with them. As a matter of fact, we have a tribal member who was bitten by one of the attack dogs back on Labor Day. But I wasn't able to be there. Our people said they were kind of disappointed a little bit, because when they met with the DOJ representative, the FBI was there and he was just asking for names of individuals versus listening to the stories. That's something that's really going on, the local media is really characterizing the protectors as violent people, thieves, which is not true at all. I've been to, you know, in the evenings, and everyone's praying, singing and it's a real good atmosphere. So, I do know the local media in North Dakota is really blowing things way out of proportion.

Chairman Frazier, videos recorded during interactions between protesters and police reveal scenes that are reminiscent of the civil rights battles of the 1960s. Your thoughts?

Well, I don't think the people in North Dakota's attitudes have changed. For the last 100 years, they've really shown that they're still there, the hatred's still there towards Indian people. I visited with the U.S. Attorney's Office here, about two or three weeks ago, and I asked him point blank, I said, "How can a non-Indian physically assault an Indian and get away with it?" And I was referring to when the DAPL security -- I've seen videos where they threw people down and they turned the dogs loose. And his response was, "Well, that's on state lines." So I said, "Oh, so does that mean if a non-Indian comes to an Indian on Indian land, the Indian could do it back?" "Oh no," he said, "You'd go to jail." So my conclusion was that, only in America, where a non-Indian can physically assault an Indian person and get away with it. And that's really a shame on our country.

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux have now set up another camp, this one on land they say is rightfully theirs under the 1851 Laramie Treaty -- and directly in the path of the pipeline. What's the status?

Yes, they're still there. I think with the recent treatment by the police officers escalated the people at the camp to take such a stance. I mean, they're getting tired of being physically assaulted, mistreated. I say it like this: our grandfathers didn't need a piece of paper to determine where they live. And I think that I admire their courage, their bravery. You know, it is getting attention, so hopefully we will get more positive looking at, to show the commitment that they have in protecting clean water. Because we definitely need more people to wake up and see.

Finally, what else do you want our listeners to understand about the resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline?

I think it's important for everyone to know that it's just not an Indian issue, it's an issue that involves all of us. It doesn't matter where you come from, the race, because at some point we're all drinking the same water. And that water is life, and you need to have it to be healthy and to live a long life. I've been saying that it is a human issue, not just an Indian issue, and it's sad that back home, locally, that's what it's being portrayed as, that if you're an Indian you're against oil, and if you're not, you're for oil. That's really not the case. I just want to emphasize that it is a human issue.

News Thu, 27 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
As Fighting Intensifies in Iraq, FDA Whistleblower Says Army's Anti-Nerve Gas Pills Won't Work

(Photo: The US Army; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: The US Army; Edited: LW / TO)

Independent scientists and angry members of Congress have sparred with the Pentagon and Veterans Affairs over PB, a controversial nerve gas prophylactic linked to illnesses suffered by Gulf War veterans. So what prompted the FDA to approve the drug again for soldiers in 2003?

(Photo: The US Army; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: The US Army; Edited: LW / TO)

Two days before last Christmas, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) quietly issued the US Army an approval for a "manufacturing change or addition" to a drug known as pyridostigmine bromide, or "PB" for short. The Army keeps a stockpile of the drug as a preventative measure against deadly soman nerve gas, but the FDA's announcement hardly made a ripple in the headlines before the holidays began and politics in Washington screeched to a halt.

At the time, reports that ISIS was working to develop nerve agents and other chemical weapons were surfacing in the media, but there was no way to know whether ISIS had anything to do with the FDA's regulatory move. A reporter at Forbes, who was perhaps the only member of the media to cover the announcement, noted that the FDA had approved a new "oral dosage form" of the drug, but documents that would normally accompany such an approval were not available on the FDA's website. The FDA has yet to release the documents despite requests from Truthout, including a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Two months later, PB was once again on trial in Congress, but the discussion had nothing to do with ISIS. The House Committee on Veterans Affairs was observing the 25th anniversary of the Persian Gulf War, and depending on whom you talk to, PB may be one likely cause of Gulf War Illness, a mysterious cluster of chronic symptoms that includes insomnia, fatigue, headaches, indigestion, dizziness, respiratory disorders and memory problems. The illness affects as many as 250,000 veterans of the United States' first war with Iraq.

Meanwhile, a former FDA reviewer named Ron Kavanagh filed a whistleblower complaint with the Department of Defense alleging that his former employer gave the Army the green light to use PB as a nerve gas prophylactic in the second war in Iraq despite data showing that it would do little to protect soldiers. By his calculations, the drug could make nerve gas even more deadly. FDA officials knew this, he claimed, but the agency granted the Army approval anyway for reasons unknown.

Kavanagh says he was fired from the FDA in 2008 after threatening to blow the whistle on the agency's 2003 approval of PB as well as approvals for antipsychotic drugs that he claims were based on false information provided by pharmaceutical companies. He says the Obama administration has failed to hold the FDA accountable and protect him as a whistleblower.

In the months after Kavanagh filed the complaint, the FDA changed PB's marketing status to "discontinued" on its website. An FDA spokeswoman said that a drug's sponsor -- in this case, the Army -- determines a drug's marketing status. However, a spokeswoman for the Army's medical command told Truthout that it has never "discontinued" PB for its intended use against soman and reserves the right to administer it in the field.

ISIS has reportedly recovered aging stockpiles and launched crude weapons containing mustard gas in its effort to defend against US-supported Iraqi and Kurdish forces advancing on its stronghold in the Iraqi city of Mosul. Soman has not been reported in Iraq or Syria, but if the nerve agent were to appear there, then PB could once again be prescribed to US troops on the ground.

A Massive Human Experiment

PB's main use has nothing to do with nerve gas: The drug is traditionally given to patients suffering from a severe muscle disorder. However, its claim to fame rests in being one of the most controversial drugs in recent military history. In hopes that the drug could protect soldiers from Iraq's stockpiles of chemical weapons, the FDA issued a special waiver in 1991 allowing the Department of Defense to enlist thousands of soldiers in what congressional investigators and other critics would later call a massive human experiment.

At the time, the FDA had not approved PB to protect against nerve gas and had only a few animal studies on hand to suggest that it might work. Human testing was impossible because it would require exposing subjects to deadly soman, but what if Saddam Hussein administered the nerve agent instead? With the FDA waiver in hand, the military ordered hundreds of thousands of US troops to take PB pills during the Persian Gulf War. Despite orders from the FDA, soldiers were often provided little or no information about the drug.

Complaints from soldiers and a congressional probe into the matter gave both the FDA and the Pentagon black eyes after the war, especially after media reports began linking PB to severe but seemingly unexplainable health problems reported by veterans. The Army claimed that it distributed the drug to protect soldiers, not to conduct research. A federal appeals court agreed, but critics charged that the military had brazenly ignored basic medical ethics by ordering human subjects to take an investigational drug without their informed consent.

PB is supposed to be taken as a preventative measure against soman in particular, and the drug is only thought to work when used in concert with antidotes administered after exposure. Congressional investigators found that US soldiers were often unaware of this information, despite studies suggesting that the drug could make antidotes less effective in treating exposure to other nerve agents.

As it turned out, Iraqi forces never used soman during the conflict, but soldiers were exposed to a different nerve gas -- sarin -- after US airstrikes blew up Iraq's chemical weapons depots and sent the poison blowing through the atmosphere, a blunder that US officials unsuccessfully tried to cover up. However, US officials did have reason to believe that soman could be a threat. The Reagan and Bush administrations allowed exports of materials used to make various chemical and biological weapons to the Iraqi regime during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, when nerve agents were used against Iranian forces with devastating results.

Since the end of the Persian Gulf War, independent researchers appointed by Congress and supported by veterans groups have been sparring with government-sponsored researchers and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) over whether PB can be listed besides oil well fires, pesticides and sarin gas as likely causes of Gulf War Illness.

The drama played out once again before the House committee in February after the Institutes of Medicine issued a report advising Congress to defund research on PB and other environmental hazards, echoing instead the position of the VA, which has long argued that the illness is more likely the result of mental stress. Former members of a Congressional research committee shot back with their own report causally linking Gulf War Illness to PB, pesticides and other toxic exposures. Along with veterans groups, they warned Congress against letting the VA off the hook for medical benefits.

In 2013, a former VA epidemiologist turned whistleblower told Congress that the VA routinely hides and obscures data in large studies of veterans, particularly data related to environmental hazards soldiers face in Afghanistan and Iraq, in order to avoid paying costly benefits.

"Pesticides, PB, nerve gas released by destroying Iraqi facilities -- all are cases of friendly fire," said James Binns, the former chair of the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses, in a January statement. "That may explain why government and military leaders have been so reluctant to acknowledge what happened, just as they tried to cover up Agent Orange after Vietnam."

A Whistleblower Speaks Out

As PB made its way back into the headlines, Dr. Ron Kavanagh sprang into action. The marketing status for the Army's PB application changed from "discontinued" to "approved" on the FDA's website when the agency announced the manufacturing change back in December, and the former FDA reviewer assumed the military was preparing to give the drug to soldiers supporting the campaign against ISIS in Iraq.

In his latest whistleblower complaint and a petition to the White House, Kavanagh explains that giving soldiers PB before a soman attack could cause more fatalities, not less. FDA officials knew this, he claims, but gave the Army approval to use the drug in 2003 for reasons that remain unexplained.

In the early 2000s, the rhetoric of "terrorism" and "weapons of mass destruction" dominated the debate over the impending war in Iraq. The FDA had already rejected two applications from the Army to approve PB, but the military was persistent in seeking an approval. A law passed in 1999 gave the president authority to waive informed consent requirements for giving investigational drugs to soldiers, but George W. Bush, perhaps wary of the blowback over PB that followed his father's incursion in Iraq, did not take advantage of it.

Federal law requires human trials for most drugs that come before the FDA, but in 2002 the agency acted on orders from Congress and approved the so-called "Animal Rule," which exempts the agency from those legal requirements "when human efficacy studies are not ethical or feasible." The rule was specifically tailored for drugs like PB that are thought to protect against lethal substances like chemical weapons, making human trials incredibly dangerous.

As the name implies, approvals made under the Animal Rule are based solely on animal trials. PB's ability to protect against soman has been tested on monkeys, guinea pigs, rats and other animals, but never on humans. Kavanagh was one of the reviewers who examined these studies as the FDA considered whether to approve PB in the early years of the Bush administration. He says the studies do not reflect battlefield conditions -- animals in some studies received soman injections instead of inhaling the nerve agent, for instance -- and the data doesn't add up.

Kavanagh says he told Russell "Rusty" Katz, the former head of the FDA's neurology division, that the data on PB did not meet the Animal Rule's criteria. In October 2002, Katz wrote an email informing top FDA scientists that the animal studies were not sufficient to approve PB for soldiers and recommend a proper dose, but reviewers were working with the Defense Department to find better surrogate data in the absence of human trials.

In January 2003, as US forces were preparing for the invasion of Iraq, the Army resubmitted its application for PB, and within weeks Katz issued a recommendation for PB's approval, along with other top officials. Katz made his recommendation despite "inconsistencies" in the animal data and called on the Army to conduct future research. Kavanagh says it appeared that Katz was under pressure, and the agency's final approval documents note that there were ongoing disagreements about PB among reviewers. Truthout's attempts to reach Katz have so far been unsuccessful.

"Rusty was a great guy," Kavanagh said. "Whatever his staff said, he backed them up. This was only time I ever saw him [fail to] do that."

PB and soman both act on an enzyme that controls an important neurotransmitter responsible for crucial muscle activity, such as respiration. PB temporarily blocks this enzyme, but soman blocks it irreversibly, causing death. With other nerve agents, this type of chemical change may take hours, but with soman, it can occur within minutes, making it difficult to administer antidotes in time, especially in a war zone. Researchers theorize that, by taking PB before exposure, some of the enzyme would be blocked by PB and protected from soman, and then returned to the body after the PB wears off, giving soldiers treated with antidotes a better chance of survival.

However, Kavanagh says there's one glaring problem with this theory. PB has a half-life of about three hours. Soman kills within minutes. Unless timed exactly right, taking PB before soman exposure would only increase the amount of enzyme compromised in the body, and the victim would likely die before the PB wears off and releases life-saving enzymes protected from soman.

"Soldiers who previously would have received a sub-lethal dose and would have survived with evacuation and treatment would now die immediately due to the additive toxicity, and soldiers who would have not needed to be evacuated would now need to be evacuated in order to receive treatment," Kavanagh explained. "The increased numbers of wounded soldiers might thereby overwhelm the ability to evacuate and the ability to treat them, resulting in even more deaths."

In his recommendation for approval, Katz wrote that, in order for PB to be effective, the timing "must be appropriate." The drug's label also warns against taking PB immediately before or after soman exposure. Kavanagh agrees that PB could potentially help soldiers exposed to small doses of soman on their skin or clothing, because such exposure causes death after hours and even days instead of minutes -- but this was not the type of exposure the Army had proposed to treat.

Dr. Beatrice Golomb, a former member of Congress's independent Gulf War Illness research committee, has studied PB in connection to Gulf War Illness for years. Her research suggests that, like pesticides with similar modes of action, PB can cause lasting health problems by interfering with neurotransmitters. This conclusion has put her at odds with the VA on more than one occasion. The Army says giving PB to soldiers is safe because it has been prescribed to patients suffering from myasthenia gravis, a severe muscle condition, for decades, but Golomb says that argument is full of holes.

"People don't study side effects [of PB] with myasthenia gravis [patients] much because, without treatment, they die," Golomb said. "But the limited literature suggests that they do [experience] the same long-term effects."

Echoing Kavanagh's concerns, Golomb says there are a lot of questions concerning the "net risk benefit balance" of using PB to protect against soman, because in this case, PB is used to protect neurotransmitter sites with something that is "still harmful but not as bad."

"Even for soman, the risk/benefit balance is complicated because clearly, when you are given both agents, there is a time period where [enzyme inhibition] will be worse no matter what," said Golomb, who is currently surveying veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness about their continued struggles to receive appropriate treatment.

Golomb and Kavanagh both point out that, despite fears that Saddam Hussein developed soman weapons with the help of US exports in the 1980s, only nerve agents like sarin, VX and tabun have actually shown up in the Iraqi theater. PB has been shown to make antidotes less effective in treating both sarin and VX in rodents. Kavanagh says his attempts to convince directors of the FDA's clinical pharmacology office that approving PB for the Army would put the lives of troops at risk went nowhere.

"In the meetings ... I had to repeatedly explain the science and why it wouldn't work and would kill soldiers," Kavanagh told Truthout. "They would listen and ask me to repeat it and then at the end of the meeting say something to the effect of 'so you're going to recommend approval, right?'"

Lawrence Lesko, the former head of the FDA's clinical pharmacology office, has not responded to an email from Truthout inviting him to comment on the PB review. Kavanagh named Lesko as one of the bosses who put pressure on him to change his opinion on PB. Lesko was later involved in Kavanagh's dismissal.

"I went through the proper channels where you're supposedly protected, but I'm proof that isn't the case," says Kavanagh, who is calling on the Obama administration to protect whistleblowers instead of throwing them in jail.

A Culture of Corruption?

Kavanagh says the PB approval is indicative of the culture at the FDA, which has generated plenty of whistleblowers over the years. He can rattle off instances in which he was told to gloss over industry data that didn't add up, or to reword reviews to streamline drug approvals. Reviewers who played along received promotions, while reviewers who did not were saddled with heavy workloads and had trouble getting ahead.

"They don't come out and order you to do anything, but the message is clear,"
 Kavanagh says.

The FDA, which regulates about $1 trillion in products, often finds itself in the middle of opposing political forces, especially in its drug review department. Congress oversees the agency and, at the behest of the powerful pharmaceutical lobby, has passed legislation incentivizing the streamlining of drug approvals. Consumer groups argue that the FDA is under constant pressure to brush aside safety concerns to bring new drugs on the market, while advocates for patients of diseases requiring novel treatments often push the agency to approve new drugs faster.

In this highly charged atmosphere, scientific disagreements at the agency are not uncommon. Last month, Dr. Janet Woodcock, the head of the FDA's drug evaluation department, overruled her own staff and won the approval of a controversial drug to treat muscular dystrophy. Patients and the industry pushed hard for the approval, but FDA reviewers fought against it, arguing that the drug was no better than a placebo. After a top reviewer opposed to the approval left the agency in the midst of the power struggle, the company sponsoring the drug watched its stock value skyrocket.

"In business management they say you manage what you measure," Kavanagh says. "At the FDA, the measurements are number of approvals and time it takes to approve a drug. There is no measurement of how many safety issues are caught. Consequently, the only impetus is to increase approvals and decrease time to approvals. There is no impetus for safety, as it's not measured."

In addition to the issues he has raised with the PB approval, Kavanagh is concerned about a class of controversial antipsychotic drugs often prescribed to people with severe mood disorders and schizophrenia. These drugs can have severe side effects, and some critics say they should not be used at all. Others argue that, for some patients and their caregivers, the potential benefits do outweigh the risks.

Kavanagh says drug companies provided misleading and false information about antipsychotics trials to the FDA in an attempt to hasten approvals, keep safety warnings off drug labels and expand the number of patients eligible to receive a prescription.  He has provided some of the evidence to Truthout, particularly in regards to the drug Saphris, an antipsychotic that Kavanagh claims doesn't work very well for certain conditions and could kill patients and nursing infants. In 2012, Kavanagh filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the government against several large drug companies under the False Claims Act, but the Justice Department declined to intervene, and the case was dismissed.

The Army is not a massive drug company looking for its next blockbuster product, so why did its medical command spend years pushing the FDA to approve PB? Perhaps the Army and Kavanagh simply have a scientific disagreement, and the Army wants every available tool in case troops encounter soman, whether in battle against desperate extremists or lying around old chemical weapons facilities in Iraq. A PB approval on the books may also shield the military and the VA from angry veterans of the Persian Gulf War.

One thing is for certain. In the 30 years since the US sided with Saddam Hussein and secretly aided the dictator's efforts to gas Iranian troops into submission, soman has proven to be an elusive threat. Nations have since signed sweeping treaties banning chemical warfare. Rogue groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS have pounced on deteriorating chemical weapons stockpiles, but have so far been unable to deploy them on a mass scale.

Still, the US remains heavily involved in the Middle Eastern conflicts today as Iraqi forces battle for control of Mosul, where one US serviceman has already lost his life to a roadside bomb. Like the chemicals that kill, the legacy of war is one of persistent violence and evolving threats, a deadly stone kicked further down the road.

News Thu, 27 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
We Strike Too: Joining the Latin American Women's Strike From the US

The first one-day continent-wide women's strike occurred in Latin America this month to focus attention on femicide and violence against women. In its wake, activists and scholars from Washington, D.C., to Wichita are coming together to find ways to support global change on the issue.

Women in movement, sing together "if they strike one, they strike us all" in one of the demonstrations in New York City. (Photo: Lidia Arriagada-García)Women in movement, sing together "if they strike one, they strike us all" in one of the demonstrations in New York City. (Photo: Lidia Arriagada-García)

The October 19 strike was a powerful first: Thousands of women across Latin America, from Argentina to Mexico, interrupted their daily routines to take to the streets and plazas and join the first women's strike in the region. Bringing together their voices, bodies and minds as they chanted "ni una menos" (not one less), "vivas nos queremos" (we want us alive) and "nosotras paramos" (we strike). With these words, the protesters demanded an end to the femicides and all violence against women around the world, especially in Latin America. In Argentina, every 30 hours a woman is murdered, and many others are beaten, raped, disappeared. The situation isn't better in countries like Mexico, Chile, Ecuador and Perú.

The femicide of Lucía Perez, a 16-year-old Argentinean teenager who was brutally raped and murdered this month in Mar del Plata, shocked not only the Argentinean but also the broader Latin American community. The femicide was particularly brutal: Perez died from severe internal injuries after a gang allegedly drugged her, raped her and impaled her on a wooden spike. This specific case was the trigger for organizing national strikes in Argentina and Mexico; soon after, many others from countries across the continent joined this effort in order to protest against violence against women everywhere.

Professor Francine Masiello reading a text by Andrea Jeftanovic at the demonstrations in UC Berkeley. (Photo: Félix Treviño)Professor Francine Masiello reading a text by Andrea Jeftanovic at the demonstrations in UC Berkeley. (Photo: Félix Treviño)Sharing the belief that if "they strike one, they strike us all" we, a group of Latin American scholars living in the US, wanted to join the strikes in a common call, a common rage. We invited our fellow women compañeras, students, friends and workers to leave their offices, classrooms, hospitals, stores, factories and homes, to leave their reading and their writing. Wherever they were and whatever they were doing, we called them to join us in demanding, "Stop gender violence: we want ourselves alive!"

This chant that emerged from the movements in Mexico was also sung at our demonstrations. To us, the phrase exposes and condemns the precariousness that threatens women's bodies and lives within the patriarchal structures of our societies, where femicides are the most extreme inscription of a pervasive, multifaceted violence. This call for life unleashes the subversive potentiality of desire, a singular force that transforms our rightful rage into multiple comings-together. With this strength we have begun to weave our lives with the collective.

As we know, most mythologies assign women unacceptable roles. From the Bible that imagines the first woman as emerging from a man's rib, and blames her for labor and the expulsion from Paradise, to Mesoamerican beliefs that consider the creation of the Earth as the ripping apart of a woman's body by male gods, guilt and violence have been assigned to us. We firmly reject these roles.

History has not treated us any better. From political imaginaries, such as that of the Roman Republic, which was supposedly founded on the rape and suicide of Lucretia, to geographical imaginaries in which whole continents are feminized, the body of women has been constantly posited as ready to be penetrated, conquered, pillaged. (America, the lands "discovered" in the 15th century, was imagined as the body of a woman.) We reject this too, along with the complicity of intellectual traditions that have not resisted or criticized these images and constructions enough. We say: No more.

The naturalization of the inscription of violence upon the body of women -- be that through religion, history, literature or legal discourses -- should be denounced and turned inside out, its fallacies exposed, its contributions to the crisis we face explained. We commit ourselves to putting this into practice in our teaching, labor, families and our daily lives.Standing against gender violence also involves exposing different forms of violence against the LGBTQ community, which is persecuted for not fitting into the schemes of the heteropatriarchy.

Erika Almenara Assistant Professor of Spanish and Kathryn Sloan, Associate Dean of Fine Arts and Humanities showing their solidarity from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. (Photo: Erika Almenara)Erika Almenara Assistant Professor of Spanish and Kathryn Sloan, Associate Dean of Fine Arts and Humanities showing their solidarity from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. (Photo: Erika Almenara)

The call for an interruption of activities during the strike day earlier this month was an invitation to build new sensibilities, dynamics and practices of interaction. As the will to express our solidarity with the Latin American strikes spread throughout the country, many demonstrations were organized, all happening at different moments of the day and in different styles: San Francisco, Washington, Arkansas, New York City, Michigan, Oregon, Berkeley, Austin and Kansas all joined in. Our strategies were as varied as the locations for the demonstrations. We sang chants, painted banners, participated in performances and read poetry, remembering and honoring the lives of those who have been hurt or slaughtered by gender violence.

We felt that it was important to stand up in solidarity and soon realized that we also wanted to make visible and start talking about a form of violence that happens in the US as well. For instance, the day of the strike, students -- Black, white and Latina -- began recounting their own experiences of microaggressions and violence in the US, of being harassed on the street and at work and at school, of being told they are not smart enough to study, or not attractive enough to work. As we can see, the violence in Latin America does not seem so far away. We are connected through a shared set of experiences. In a country like the US where news about gender-based violence is dominated by stories about rapists not facing repercussions, and in universities where one in every six women is sexually assaulted, women started to ask: What would happen if we went on strike too? In discussing the strikes in Latina America, students in the US began finding their own voices and connecting with one another. For many of us -- language, literature and geography teachers -- issuing a collective call for justice for all those women and trans people who have been killed in the US and Latin America made us feel that a new map for solidarity was being forged.

Students, teachers and members from the Ann Arbor community get together at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor to express their solidarity. (Photo: Alejo Stark)Students, teachers and members from the Ann Arbor community get together at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor to express their solidarity. (Photo: Alejo Stark)

Thus, in joining demonstrations, we were also reflecting on our own roles as educators. In a sense, we were asking ourselves how to be a part of the strikes from our own locations and sites of mobilization. What did it mean to express our solidarity from universities in the US? Our aim is to serve as facilitators of learning and critical thinking but also as co-creators of a community that is constantly moving toward trying to understand the experiences of marginalized subjects and communities, both in the classroom and beyond its boundaries. We are also invested in protesting against the injustices committed against them. There is no solidarity without implication, and implication continues, it extends and diversifies. In standing together in protest, we found our students, friends, our professors and our co-workers right by our side. We found each other in a common strike.

The different actions in which we participated were part of our attempts to visualize the channels of flow and connections between spaces, from our schools to our homes, from Latin America to the US. It is not about feeling that we have it all sorted out, but rather about experimenting and experiencing these gatherings, these embodiments that are part of the process of building alternative pedagogies that can be open to the urgent demands of our present.

Jennifer Rodríguez, a compañera from the Dominican Republic who joined the demonstrations in New York, put it beautifully: "We have to ally ourselves and we have to join our strengths and complicities. We have to stop having fear, but to do that we also need to know that we are not alone. It is not about thinking that the change will be structural, but rather about making a tremendous intervention that allows us to know that we are together, that we can trust one another and that we can make something like this happen."

Opinion Thu, 27 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Our Own Mandelas: Former Black Panthers Call for Release of Their Comrades

Some members of the Black Panther Party have been behind bars for more than four decades and are now suffering from poor health. In some cases, court documents show they were punished essentially for being in the black liberation struggle. Many continue to face parole board denials based on their relationship with the party. We discuss their cases with Sekou Odinga, a former Black Panther who was a political prisoner for 33 years and was released in November 2014.


AMY GOODMAN: Sekou Odinga, while you're out of jail, you're very much focused on those who are still in prison. Can you talk about some of those cases?

SEKOU ODINGA: Yeah. We have a number of brothers left in the prisons, about 15 of them. And for the most part, they're in bad condition. Most of us are getting older, you know. I believe all of them is 60 years or older. They've been in prison for long periods of time. Many of them should have never been in prison at all. They were framed and illegally convicted. So, I've been trying to, as well as many of the other brothers—I know all three of the other brothers that's on this program with us have been advocating for the release of these other political prisoners, prisoners like Mumia Abu-Jamal, Sundiata Acoli, Mutulu Shakur, Robert Seth Hayes, Kamau Sadiki, Veronza Bowers. It's another—like I say, it's 15 from the party itself, and there's many other political prisoners in this country.

You know, this country maintains that there is no political prisoners, that everybody is criminals, but it's just not true. You know, the same—the same things that we hurray and support in other places, like people like Nelson Mandela, our prisoners were doing the same thing, and they were captured and convicted of the same things. And we should remember them and treat them like the heroes they are. They earned that respect. Most of them, like I said, are getting older. A lot of them are sick.

You know, a lot of them are being held even after the courts have ordered them released, people like Veronza Bowers, who was—did all of his time and then was—after he was on his way out, they locked him back up, with no charges, and he's been locked up now for over 11 years, 11 or 12 years now, after he did all of his time. Sundiata Acoli was—won in—won a court case where the judge ordered him released, and they refuse to release him. And they keep going back with appeals so they can keep him in jail. Now he's almost 80 years old. You know, it's—

AMY GOODMAN: In Sundiata Acoli's case, the judge ordered the parole board to "expeditiously set conditions" for his release. He said then of his June 2016 New Jersey Parole Board hearing, they asked me "almost nothing about my positive accomplishments. They ... asked: 'Aren't you angry ... they broke Assata out of prison instead of you?' My response was: 'No, I don't or wouldn't wish prison on anyone.'"

SEKOU ODINGA: Yeah. So, these brothers need to be released. And we need to—first of all, we need to know who they are. People don't even know that we have political prisoners. Most of the names that I mentioned, most people wouldn't even—wouldn't recognize it, if they're not already politically involved. We want to raise their names up to a point where people will start knowing who they are and start demanding their release.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Is there any hope that President Obama might do something before he leaves office?

SEKOU ODINGA: Yes, there's hope. There's definitely hope. And I'm sure that those—well, I know for a fact that the prisoners, the political prisoners in the federal system, is asking him for clemency or for some kind of release. I don't know if he's going to recognize them and help them. But—

AMY GOODMAN: Albert Woodfox, earlier this month you had the opportunity to meet the U.S. District Judge James Brady of the Middle District of Louisiana, who issued the order saying you should be immediately released and barred from being retried for the killing of the Angola prison guard, Brent Miller, whose former wife even said she did not believe that you had done this. Judge Brady later said, quote, "I did what a judge is supposed to do." We only have a minute, but what was it like to meet him? And the power of judges in some of these cases, as prisoners, Black—former Black Panthers, are still seeking release?

ALBERT WOODFOX: Well, you know, at the time, I was speaking at Southern University Law School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And it was a total surprise to know that Judge Brady was in the audience. And so, after speaking with the law students and attorneys and other people involved in the judicial system, I learned that Judge Brady was there, and I wanted to thank him for having the courage to apply the law and not allow my being a former Black Panther Party or my activism in prison to cloud the issues, and to apply the law. And that's exactly what he'd done. You know, of course, we know that the state of Louisiana, mostly through the Attorney General Office, continuously appeal his rulings, and in most cases his rulings were reversed or stayed. And this process was drug out over a 44-year period.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there, but it's been a fascinating discussion. I want to thank Albert Woodfox and Robert King, now in Austin; Sekou Odinga, joining us here in New York; and Eddie Conway in Baltimore. Go to for our special report on the Black Panthers who are still behind bars to find out more about their cases.

Also, I'll be speaking at Arizona State University in Tempe Thursday, 7:00 p.m.; Saturday morning here in New York at the New York Press Club's 2016 Journalism Conference at the NYU Kimmel Center. Check our website for more.

Democracy Now! currently accepting applications for internships.

News Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Freed Panther Sekou Odinga on Joining the Panthers, COINTELPRO and Assata Shakur's Escape

We spend the hour focusing on the Black Panther Party's legacy of political prisoners in the United States. Perhaps the most famous is Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has regularly been interviewed on Democracy Now! as an award-winning journalist. But there are many others. In fact, two former Black Panthers have already died in prison this year: Abdul Majid in New York and Mondo we Langa in Nebraska. Joining us for our historic roundtable discussion is Sekou Odinga, who helped build the Black Panther Party in New York City and was later involved in the Black Liberation Army. He was convicted in 1984 of charges related to his alleged involvement in the escape of Assata Shakur from prison and a Brink's armored car robbery. After serving 33 years in state and federal prison, he was released in November 2014.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we're also joined here in studio by Sekou Odinga. Talk to us about how you originally got involved in the Panther Party, what drew you to it and how it shaped your own life.

SEKOU ODINGA: I got involved in the Black Panther Party early 1968, when the party first come to New York. What kind of motivated me to join the Black Panther Party was that I, along with some of the comrades that I was working with in New York, had heard about the Black Panther Party, and they were doing things that we wanted to do in New York, and we thought that would be a better vehicle than the vehicle that we had going on in New York. They were better organized, and they already had their Ten-Point Platform and Program, and people already heard about them. So we decided that we would join the party, when given a chance. In fact, a few of us had actually went out to California in late '67 to check it out, to see if was it all we thought it was, and we had found out from them that it was. And so, when we heard they were coming to New York, we got there and joined the party as soon as we could.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But even before that, you were also a member of Malcolm X's Organization of African-American Unity.

SEKOU ODINGA: Yes, I was, right before he passed. But he passed right -- you know, the Organization of Afro-American Unity was only a year old, maybe less. I can't even remember exactly how long. So, we didn't really get a chance to do much work in that organization. I had been attracted by Malcolm X when he was still a member of the Nation of Islam. And I was in a -- supposed to have been a youth prison, but it was really just a prison that they had turned over and said now it's for youth. I was 16 years old when I went in there. And when I come out, I was looking for him to see if -- you know, to hear him, to see him, to see if I wanted to be a part of what he was dealing with. So, it took me about two years before I actually joined, maybe a little less, but I didn't spend much time with it. We tried to organize our own organization called the Grassroot Advisory Council. That was the group that I was saying that we were part of, that we were -- thought that the Black Panther Party would have been a better vehicle for us to participate in, which is what we dropped and went into.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how being in the Black Panther Party shaped your case, how you ended up in prison.

SEKOU ODINGA: Well, as one of the leadership of the Black Panther Party in New York, I was the first Bronx section leader when it first come to New York, and I was also a member of the -- founding member of the international section of the Black Panther Party in Africa, Algeria. So I was kind of one of those identified by COINTELPRO as someone to maintain, to follow, to listen to, to control any way they could. So --

AMY GOODMAN: That's J. Edgar Hoover's Counterintelligence Program.

SEKOU ODINGA: Yes. And so, I think once they realized who I was, after my capture -- when they first captured me, they didn't know who I was. And there had -- although there had been what they call a shootout, there was no real shootout. We were running, my comrade and I, Mtayari Shabaka Sundiata. We were running from the police. He had been involved in a action up in Rockland County, and they were looking for him, and I was trying to help him get out of New York. And so, we were running from the police, and we both shot over our shoulders while we were running, hoping to slow them down, so we could try and get away. But so when we was first captured -- well, he was murdered on the street. When they caught him, they knew who he was right away, and they murdered him laying on the street.

But they didn't know who I was. They hadn't seen me in about 13 years, so they didn't. When they brought me in, they at first charged me with something like -- if I remember right, it was resisting arrest and having an illegal gun, or something to that nature, under Sullivan law. But after my prints come back and they found out who I was, later on that night or the next day they -- actually, it was the next week, if I remember correctly. It's been a while now. This is back -- we're talking about 34, 35 years ago. But later on, they upped those charges --

AMY GOODMAN: You were captured in '81.

SEKOU ODINGA: Yeah. They upped those charges from the resisting arrest, etc., to attempted murder of police, which upped the time that they could give me from a few years to life, because for attempted murder of police, you can get 25 years to life. And that's what they gave me, six charges -- six counts of 25 years to life, or six sentences of 25 years to life running together. So, that's how I think it changed. Once they realized who I was and that I was one of the targets of COINTELPRO, the charges went from low charges to extra high charges.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this whole issue you mention of being part of the international section of the party, most, especially young people, a lot of them watching this show, don't really understand the -- necessarily, the impact that the Panthers had, not only in the United States, but internationally. And for a while after, there was a split in the party between Huey Newton and Eldridge. There was a whole group that was working in Algeria, weren't they? Could you talk about what happened there and your impact in terms of the movements in Africa that were in existence at the time?

SEKOU ODINGA: Well, let me back up a little bit. I don't think that it was just a split between Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton. There was a split between two factions.


SEKOU ODINGA: And people have, for whatever reason, identified it as Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver.


SEKOU ODINGA: But it was like -- from my perspective, it was the left and the right, you know, that some people who were on the right, as we can -- called it, were moving to the right and moving into mainstream politics rather than revolutionary politics. And those of us on the left was maintaining that we had to be different from that.

Now, to go to the effect that it was -- the party was having a big effect all through the world -- through Europe, Latin America, Africa. And in many places, support committees came up, in Europe and in Africa. We were able to work with many of the different liberation movements. We were welcomed by all of them that was in there, and almost everyone was in -- excuse me -- in Algeria at the time. So, I think we had a profound effect on many of the different movements. You were seeing people emulating our Ten-Point Program and Platform, seeing people start to emulate our dress code, the black tam cut to the side and leather jackets and stuff like that.

AMY GOODMAN: And the Ten-Point Program, what was most important to you there? What was it that attracted you to the Black Panthers?

SEKOU ODINGA: Well, the program -- the whole program attracted me. But what attracted me more than anything else was the stand against police brutality, because like all the other ghettos in this country or black areas of this country, police brutality was running rampant. From my first memory of it was -- in New York was little Clifford Glover, who was murdered out in my neighborhood in Jamaica, Queens, out over on New York Boulevard -- Guy Brewer Boulevard, they call it now. So, I think what we were really concerned about was trying to put some kind of control on the police, or at least be in a position that we could counter some of what they were doing. So, that was the attraction, the big attraction, for me, personally, and many of the comrades that I came in with, because they really -- we were not part of the civil rights movement to turn -- turn your other cheek. We was mostly followers of the Malcolm X position that if someone smack you, you smack him back; if someone punch you, you punch him back; that your life was the biggest and best thing you had, and you had a right to not only protect it, but to defend it by any means necessary. And so, those were the things that really attracted me to the party.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you get out of jail after 33 years?

SEKOU ODINGA: I think -- I know that the biggest thing was that I filed a Article 78, which is a legal position in the courts, claiming that New York state had -- did not have the right to hold me any longer. Their law basically says that the jurisdiction -- I was under two jurisdictions, the New York state jurisdiction and the federal jurisdiction. And the law basically says that the first jurisdiction, the controlling jurisdiction, has to exhaust their remedies with you before giving you to any -- to another jurisdiction. And I maintained that they didn't do that, that once they gave me up, then they lost control of me, because that's what their law says. And basically, the judge agreed with me, and he ruled that -- only thing he ruled was that they didn't give me up deliberately, as he put it. He says that "I think they made a mistake," which the law don't have no position in there for making a mistake. If you give him up, you lose him. But to save the face for them, he said, "I think that they made a mistake. So, to fix that mistake, what I'm going to do is run the time that you did in the federal system with the time that you were supposed to do in the state system. And I'm going to order them to give you everything that they should have given you if you'd had been in the state," which he's basically saying that "You have to give him parole." So --

AMY GOODMAN: And were you convicted of helping Assata Shakur to escape?

SEKOU ODINGA: That was one of the charges in the federal system.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was your contention?

SEKOU ODINGA: I have no contentions on that at this point. I was found guilty of it. I don't -- if anything, I'm proud to be associated with the liberation of Assata Shakur. So, since they found me -- I did plead not guilty to it, if that's what you're asking me. I pled not guilty to it in the court case. But at this point that I've done the time, I don't have no contention on it any longer. I'm proud to be associated with the liberation of Assata Shakur. She should have never been locked up for all that time anyhow and treated like she was treated, because it was clear that she didn't murder any officer, or her comrade, Zayd Shakur. So, I am -- that's my position now.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Sekou Odinga here in New York, Albert Woodfox and Robert King in Austin, Texas. They're about to go on a European tour talking about their experiences in jail, the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party and more. When we come back, Eddie Conway will join the conversation, served over four decades in prison. He's joining us from Baltimore. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: "The Meeting" by Elaine Brown, here on Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. Elaine Brown, a former leader of the Black Panther Party, as well. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

News Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Why Women Claim Sexual Assault

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Art Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
What? Army Corps Suddenly Decides Coal Trains Won't Harm Salmon-Filled Columbia River

Forget the presidential campaign (for a minute). It's so much easier to be confused by the energy and climate debate within the Obama administration.

Buckle up. There is a danger of whiplash.

In May, the Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit for a coal shipping terminal north of Bellingham in Washington. The $700 million project would have interfered with the Lummi Nation's treaty rights to fish for salmon. "The Gateway Pacific Terminal would have a greater than de minimus impact on the Lummi Nation's (treaty) rights," said Seattle District Commander Col. John Buck.

So no permit. Whew! The Army Corps gets it. Progress.

Then, in August, the same Army Corps winked and nodded and gave its OK to the Dakota Access pipeline, allowing it to proceed with a permit (but no easement) to begin drilling under the Missouri River. That action, of course, led to the Standing Rock movement, and now thousands of people are camped in southern North Dakota to stop the pipeline's construction and protect the water from a potential oil spill. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, like the Lummi, are a treaty tribe, and while the lands in this case are off the reservation, there is a federal requirement to consult with the tribe. And a moral one in this case because any leak would contaminate the tribe's water source. (Notably, the route was moved away from Bismarck because of the threat to that city's water.)

Nonetheless, the Army Corps let the pipeline proceed. Boo. The government doesn't get it.

Then in September, sunshine. The Army Corps, joined by the departments of Interior and Justice, said it would re-evaluate the pipeline's permit and review the tribal consultation process.

No permit. Yay! The government does get it.

Well, no. The Army Corps, the same agency, the same office that a few months ago championed treaty rights for the Lummi Nation, now says another major coal terminal 200 miles down the road in Washington is just fine. A couple weeks ago, the Corps released a draft environmental impact statement for the Millennium Bulk Terminal port in Longview. The project would ship coal from Montana and Wyoming out of a port on the Columbia River.

The statement points out that "salmon are central to the spiritual and cultural identity of all Columbia River tribes. Tribal members gather and camp at multiple sites along the Columbia River beginning in May and many stay until fall to harvest salmon and steelhead from the Columbia River and its tributaries." But unlike a few months ago, this time the Corps figures dirty coal trains won't impact the salmon runs.

No, the report doesn't say that. "Coal could enter water as either coal dust or as the result of a coal spill," the draft EIS says. But it does give this dismissal: "The potential risk for exposure to toxic chemicals contained in coal would be low because they tend to be bound to the matrix structure and not easily leached. Coal dust particles would likely be transported downriver by river flow and either carried out to sea or distributed over a sufficiently broad area that a measurable increase in concentrations of toxic chemicals in the Columbia River would be unlikely."

Except salmon are also in the river flow in that same "sufficiently broad area."

The Army Corps will accept public comments until late November. But let's be clear: This terminal must not be built. You can add up all of the reasons that the Dakota Access pipeline is a bad idea, but they are multiplied when the fossil fuel is coal moving on trains. Coal dust is a pipeline accident that will happen daily.

As Eric DePlace of Sightline has pointed out, "Coal trains mean coal dust -- period. So much coal dust escapes from the open-top rail cars used for transporting coal that it can create safety problems for rail traffic. … Given the coal export industry's designs on the Northwest, it is important for residents to know more about the coal dust hazard."

The environmental impact statement has a curious approach to factoring climate change. It looks at the carbon impact of the terminal itself but fails to count emissions along the way or add that the coal will eventually be burned after shipping.

That alone ought to be a fatal flaw. Especially when just a few days ago President Obama so eloquently called the Paris Agreement the best shot we have to save the planet.

That's impossible while we build pipelines, and that's impossible while we plan a new shipment point for coal. This is the next Standing Rock. The Longview Millennium coal export facility must never be built.

Opinion Thu, 27 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Donald Trump Could Have Manufactured His Products in the US; He Chose China

"Make me." That's how Donald Trump responded during the last debate when Hillary Clinton pointed out that he failed to use American steel to construct the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas.

Trump used Chinese steel. So he created jobs for Chinese workers. Not American steelworkers. He could have done the right thing. He could have inserted a clause in the contract requiring American-made steel. But he didn't. Similarly, he could require that his dozens of signature Trump products from shirts to eyeglasses be made in America. But he does not.  The vast majority are manufactured overseas. Creating jobs in other countries.

Trump said during the debate that it was Clinton's fault he didn't use American steel. Like some sort of guardian, she should have passed a law forcing him to do the right thing, he said. With that, Trump described himself as a petulant brat, not a leader. A leader envisions what would be wise economically or morally for the nation, and takes that action to set an example, then urges others to follow. The president of the United States is the leader of the free world. For that person, leadership is an essential skill.

The back and forth between Trump and Clinton at the debate last week in Las Vegas went like this:

Hillary:  But he mentioned China. And, you know, one of the biggest problems we have with China is the illegal dumping of steel and aluminum into our markets. I have fought against that as a senator. I've stood up against it as secretary of state.

Donald has bought Chinese steel and aluminum. In fact, the Trump Hotel right here in Las Vegas was made with Chinese steel. So he goes around with crocodile tears about how terrible it is, but he has given jobs to Chinese steelworkers, not American steelworkers.

Trump: For 30 years, you've been in a position to help, and if you say that I use steel or I use something else, I — make it impossible for me to do that. I wouldn't mind.

There it is, the "make me." Trump said he wouldn't mind if the government forced him to use American products. But he certainly wasn't going to stick his billionaire neck out and exhibit the leadership that would be required to do it on his own and urge other builders and businessmen to follow his example.

For decades now, Americans have permitted plutocrats like Trump to get away with half-assed citizenship. Though they use every advantage of the American capitalist system, from its courts to its highways, to accrue their billions, too many exploit every loophole to avoid the taxes that pay for that system. Trump admitted paying no federal income tax at all.

At the same time, corporations like Wells Fargo compensate their executives with tens of millions while cheating customers and paying tellers so little that many rely on public assistance. Similarly, throughout six bankruptcies in Atlantic City, Donald Trump brought back to Manhattan millions for himself, while his workers in New Jersey lost millions in retirement savings and many unpaid contractors lost their businesses.

Corporations like Carrier have for the past three decades closed down American factories and moved them to places like Mexico and China, not because US facilities were unprofitable, but because foreign workers, rivers and air could be more easily exploited for even higher profits.

Trump did the same.  He manufactured his signature products overseas, and he recently made a deal with a corrupt government-owned corporation in China to brand and manage a major development in Beijing, though a government investigation of the project has suspended construction. Trump could have "made great deals" that would have created jobs in the United States. But he chose China.

That philosophy, like the Carrier move from Indiana to Mexico, puts profits first, not America first. And maybe that's marginally defensible by nationless capitalists. But it's far from tolerable by an American political leader.

Despite that history of relegating America second to profit, Trump contends he will make America great again – as if America is not great now. And one way Trump repeatedly says he's going do that is by trouncing his business partner China.

He vilifies China nearly every day. He calls it America's enemy. In May, he said, "We can't continue to allow China to rape our country," referring to the trade deficit he helped create by manufacturing his products in China. He constantly berates China for "taking our jobs."

He says he alone can solve these problems. These are important words to mill workers and factory workers and steelworkers who have lost jobs as industry moved overseas.

But leadership requires more than words. And when Donald Trump had the opportunity to forge a path for others to follow regarding China, he manufactured his signature suits, tiesmirrors, ceramic vases, wall decorations, kitchen items and lighting fixtures in China. His hotels' shampoo, body wash, moisturizers, shower caps, laundry bags and bath towels are made in China. He got the steel for his Las Vegas hotel and the aluminum for his Chicago hotel, two of his three most recent American projects, from China. He planned a massive construction project with a Chinese state owned corporation before corruption stopped it.

Had Trump deliberately manufactured his signature products in America, had he built his hotels with American steel and aluminum, had he outfitted them with American-made toiletries, had he purposively chosen only to invest in new hotel projects in America, then he would have exemplified patriotic leadership. He would have demonstrated the kind of leadership that others could follow when he chose to become a politician.

And he would have exhibited the kind of leadership that would have given him credibility when he talked about China now.

If Hillary Clinton had passed a law that forced Trump to buy American steel, it would have meant he was coerced to follow rules. It would have meant he was a follower.

Opinion Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400