Truthout Stories Thu, 28 May 2015 10:14:49 -0400 en-gb Delusionary Thinking in Washington: The Desperate Plight of a Declining Superpower

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

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

Imperial Overstretch Hits Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Party of Utter Denialism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to Stop Pretending

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

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

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

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

News Thu, 28 May 2015 10:13:39 -0400
An "Other" Feminism: A Review of Hilary Klein's Compañeras: Zapatista Women's Stories

Volumes have been written about the Mayan indigenous Zapatista social movement of Chiapas, Mexico since they made their first public appearance on January 1, 1994. There have been detailed histories, political analysis, academic theorization, movement studies, activist ethnographies, non-fiction novels, attempts at cultural and symbolic translation, etc. The movement's primary spokesman, the prolific Subcomandante Marcos, has also contributed numerous communiqués, satires, children's stories, erotica, pop culture commentary, political and philosophical ruminations. However, until now, we were missing the direct voices of women from the communities themselves. Hilary Klein's Compañeras: Zapatista Women's Stories (Seven Stories Press) reveals their perspectives as contemporary indigenous women who are active subjects together with men in shared processes of change and liberation.

Compañeras: Zapatista Women's Stories covers a lot of ground: from the early days of recruitment and organizing clandestinely, to the steep learning curve of taking on greater political and economic participation in their communities, to their impact on the world beyond. The Zapatistas are forging their own kind of feminism, one unique to their particular histories, identities and subjectivity as modern indigenous men and women. Klein's book demonstrates how defending indigenous culture and women's rights need not be mutually exclusive. As Ester, a Zapatista comandanta from the Huixtán region said to the Mexican Congress in 2001, "It is the current (national) laws that allow us to be marginalized and degraded, as in addition to being women, we are also indigenous, and, as such, we are not recognized." (p. 226)

Struggles for women's equality are of course global, and everywhere we still have a long ways to go. What is impressive about the Zapatistas' journey towards gender equality is what extraordinary gains have been made in twenty years. Klein's book chronicles how the Zapatista process of working towards women's rights was simultaneously a push from above and below. The Zapatista communities' Women's Revolutionary Law of 1993 was a major structural change that has since been followed by their collective project of unlearning patriarchal ways. It became clear that both men and women had to change, in both thoughts and actions. A Zapatista woman called Isabel recalls of the years after the law was passed:

We made a commitment to fight against injustice, and we knew that men and women united, with the same rights, with the same opportunities within our organization, could unite our forces against the capitalist system. But first we had to change ourselves and understand that there needs to be a revolution between men and women, in our heads and in our hearts. (p.73)

It would not be an easy process: there was initial resistance from the men, lack of confidence from the women in themselves and their abilities. Says Celina, "as a woman, I learned to speak up. I learned to defend myself. Both of us have to change, that's what I realized back then. Men have to change, but so do women." (p. 218). By postulating gender equity as essential for shared liberation from capitalist and patriarchal systems, the Zapatistas created a feminism for everybody: Todo Para Todos; Nada Para Nosotros, says the well-known Zapatista idiom, "Everything for Everyone; Nothing for Us."

Although the Zapatistas do not use the term of  "feminism" themselves, some movement scholars such as Mercedes Olivera have described the process unfolding as an "Other Feminism."  This use of the word "Other" as in "La Otra" references the way in which the Zapatistas have built alternatives to dominant systems of health, education and justice that do not serve them, nor reflect their interests. Instead, they have created an Other Education, Other Health, Other Justice, etc. Therefore, an "Other Feminism" is not one derived from feminisms in Europe or the United States or even from Mexico's cities, but rather from a collective process of building a society where all genders participate in the struggle against a capitalist patriarchy.

The process of transformation that Zapatista women have taken part in has not always been simple or linear, writes Klein; it takes time to establish a right, and then it is not always easy to exercise that right, but women now have tools they did not have in the past. This process of construction is beautifully illustrated in the words of a political education pamphlet produced by Zapatista women of the Morelia region:

The problems of inequality and discrimination are like a very large tree. Its roots are very deep and they are not easy to uproot. The government has humiliated us and discriminated against us, denying us our rights; we understand this well. But what we do not always see is that, without realizing it, we are repeating the government's oppression against women within our own homes. We must pull out the bad roots in order to plant the new tree that we want, together, men and women . . . Liberation will not fall like a miracle from the sky; we must construct it ourselves. So let's not wait, let us begin. (p. 250)

No one truly writes alone, as we are always building and creating in dialogue and community with so many others in a collective construction of shared knowledge. Klein's careful research methodology is integrative, qualitative, and above all, relational. It is one based on collaboration, daily encounters and a shared political project. It includes dialogues, conversations, anecdotes, testimonies, memories, stories, meals, harvesting and rituals. She follows a relational paradigm together with an ethics of humility and transparency.  Such methodology reflects that of the Zapatista process itself, that of caminando, preguntando, "walking while asking questions" as it traces and explores their historical and lived experiences.

Although younger women are now learning to read and write in both Spanish and their own Mayan languages, most of the previous generation of Zapatista women did not. Thus it would fall to an outsider to document their experiences in writing from the many oral histories, anecdotes and interviews gathered over many years. Taking on such a tremendous documentary task is a big responsibility that can easily go awry, not only in translation, but also in navigating the multiple complexities of presenting them outside their particular communities and culture. Hilary Klein has excelled at both aspects, approaching the task with a humility and respect that allows the women's voices to come fully forward while also providing the needed history and context that many readers will require in order to understand the Zapatista movement's accomplishments, particularly those of its women.

Compañeras: Zapatista Women's Stories provides the world with the voices of indigenous Zapatista women as a new political element: one being created and theorized from their own place and history, with openness to worlds and perspectives beyond. Like the movement itself, Zapatista "Other Feminism" draws upon its various indigenous and political inheritances as well as from the knowledge gleaned from their daily lives. The Zapatistas dynamically interweave traditions with external influences that reflect and advance their libratory project. It is a process of personal and collective transformation for men and women, a process of change and of becoming with the goal of achieving a common good.

Klein brings us the voices of modern, indigenous women who are active subjects in the ongoing construction of their collective autonomy. They are building a new society alongside men in a shared political project of every day struggle, one for true equality within and outside of their communities. In this, they are united in shared resistance and co-construction of a new society from which we all can learn.

Opinion Thu, 28 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Bin Laden's Bookshelf Reportedly Contained Classic Book About Hacking Electronic Elections

We've long warned about the dangers that electronic voting and tabulation systems pose to our democracy, not just from simple insider attacks and domestic hacking, but also from foreign governments and other, even shadier entities.

In 2009, just by way of one of scores (if not hundreds) of examples, we covered the chilling presentation given by the CIA's cybersecurity expert Steven Stigall to a panel convened by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) during a field hearing in Orlando, FL. Stigalll warned at the time: "You heard the old adage 'follow the money. I follow the vote. And wherever the vote becomes an electron and touches a computer, that's an opportunity for a malicious actor potentially to...make bad things happen."

"For several years," Stigall said, according to the transcript [WORD], "I've worked with others in my organization to try and identify foreign threats, emphasis on 'foreign threats,' to important U.S. computer systems. A few years ago it occurred to us that that should include potential foreign threats to the computers upon which our elections in this country are increasingly dependent."

Well, funny thing. Remember that Osama Bin Laden guy? On Thursday, The Hill and others published a list [PDF] of about forty English-language books said to have been found at Bin Laden's compound when he was killed. Among them, amusingly enough, were "9/11 conspiracy theory" books. Another was the New York Times best-seller The Best Democracy Money Can Buy by our friend, investigative reporter Greg Palast.

Yes, that's right. The 2004 classic that gave the name to so much of what we've been covering on this very blog since that infamous year, Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century, by my colleague Bev Harris, who I've interviewed countless times on The BradCast as well as for BRAD BLOG stories and who, like Palast, has even guest blogged here on occasion over the years.

When I called her last night for comment, she pointed me to a quick piece she posted in response at her site,, on Thursday, describing the revelation as "Bizarre. Odd. Stunning."

The book is now available for free download on her website as she's working on several new books, including what she told me was to be a "completely revised and updated version of Black Box Voting for 2016."

"As I thought about it, I couldn't understand how Osama could really have gotten his hands on a physical copy of the book," she said. "Only about 800 physical copies went out, though by now we've had well over half a million downloads of it. The only time physical copies were available, it was only 2 1/2 years after the Sept. 11 attack, and Osama was supposedly hiding in a cave having dialysis or something." She says it's likely that Bin Laden had one of the freely available Internet versions of the book.

In 2004, she notes, during the Bush Administration, someone from D.C. had requested a copy of the book "for the White House Library". Harris added, "If the White House Library still has it then I guess the book is on Obama's bookshelf and Osama's bookshelf. Quite a demographic spread."

With a nod to Palast and some of the others on the list, she told me, "It's good company to be in." She added: "It looked to me from his reading list, he was looking at how fucked up the Western World really is."

Maybe so. But recall the warnings from the CIA's Stigall to that EAC-convened panel, warning of "all of the things that foreign actors try and do to effect the outcome of the election long before Election Day."

"I've referred a lot to hackers in this presentation," he said at the time. "I'm not really concerned about the 18-year old wannabes. I'm concerned about the 28 or the 38-year old folks who have been doing this a long time and who may be under contract for some other organization. In other words, an organized structured effort to throw an election."

Now who would possibly want to do that?

News Thu, 28 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Immigrants Seeking Asylum in the US Face Insurmountable Obstacles

Many immigrants travel to the United States escaping horrific hardships and violence. They reach the US-Mexico border with the hopes of receiving asylum to protect them from the horrors in their home countries, but they are often met with insurmountable legal obstacles. Despite so many obstacles, migrants continue to travel to the US in search of refuge.

Two guides lead a raft full of migrants from Honduras and Guatemala across the Rio Grande in full view of the U.S. Border Patrol, at the border between Mexico and the U.S. in south Texas, March 25, 2014. (Todd Heisler/The New York Times) Two guides lead a raft full of migrants from Honduras and Guatemala across the Rio Grande in full view of the US Border Patrol, at the border between Mexico and the US in south Texas, March 25, 2014. (Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

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In the span of her 40-year law career, Barbara Hines tells Truthout, the US government granted asylum in only two of her clients' cases. One was a female genital mutilation case and the other involved a Guatemalan Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. Hines, a clinical professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, says this highlights how incredibly difficult it is for applicants to receive asylum in the United States.

Asylum status guarantees that the applicant can remain in the US because she has been a victim of persecution as a result of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Hines explains that part of the problem is that asylum cases are both highly litigated and contested. "Showing harm is not sufficient," she said. "Terrible things can happen to you and you can still lose an asylum case because of the restrictive nature of asylum law."

In a well put together case, the client would need a mental health expert, country condition expert and documents confirming that she is being persecuted. The client also has to prove that "internal relocation" is not reasonable, which means showing that the persecutor would be able to locate her if she were moved to a different part of her country of residence. (Those standards, however, are different when the persecutor is the government or a non-state actor.)

The US government has deported an estimated 800,000 men, women and children annually in recent years. Tens of thousands of these migrants are attempting to escape violence and poverty in their home countries. Though many of those fleeing have experienced horrific brutality, they are not guaranteed a safe haven once they reach the border. Despite so many obstacles, migrants continue to travel to the US in search of refuge. In the summer of 2014, there was a surge of Central American migrants at the Mexico-US border, and in March, the number of unaccompanied minors increased.

Jane A. Juffer, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies at Cornell University, says that one major problem is that neither US Customs and Border Protection agents nor US Immigration and Customs Enforcement nor the asylum judges are taking these unaccompanied children seriously. As a result, many of them are not even allowed to make their asylum claims. "The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) interviewed 404 recently arrived children who had crossed the border on their own and concluded that than 58 percent of them 'were forcibly displaced because they suffered or faced harms that indicated a potential or actual need for international protection,'" Juffer told Truthout in an email.

According to Hines, Central American gang cases are much more difficult to prove because the courts have not been open to these types of claims in the past. You could have a gang based on political opinion or religion, for instance, so it is not just a problem of a particular social group. The applicant has to prove that their persecution is a result of their membership of this group. If she doesn't clearly belong to a particular social group, she is required to establish that identity with evidence. Some immigrants, however, experience individualized persecution and are unable to prove any kind of social membership.

Rachel Lewis, assistant professor of women and gender studies at George Mason University, says demonstrating persecution can also be particularly complicated if the experience hasn't been documented. Gender-based and domestic violence, for instance, may be difficult to prove with tangible evidence. Fortunately, however, victims of gender violence and women abused in domestic relationships have recently been recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals as members of a particular social group, which Hines says has set a positive precedent.

Additionally, Lewis believes that the increased use of social media has had a large and positive impact on cases. Some asylum seekers are documenting their experiences on their phones to prove they belong to a particular social group. For instance, they are now able to record their participation in an LGBTQ event. Lewis says that establishing credibility is also critical for the applicant; many times officials are suspicious of asylum seekers' identities. In other words, are they who they say they are? Social media can also play a pivotal role in proving their identity.

Asylum and refugee status depend on five types of persecution: serious physical harm, coercive medical or psychological treatment, invidious prosecution or disproportionate punishment for a criminal offense, severe discrimination and economic persecution, and severe criminal extortion or robbery. According to Immigration Equality, threats of violence are not enough to prove persecution "unless the threats themselves cause significant harm."

Hines says detention is one of the biggest obstacles in asylum cases because it is much more challenging to obtain a lawyer, prepare for a case and communicate with witnesses. "It's complicated and so difficult to present a case by yourself and many asylum seekers do not have counsel in detention," she said.

Katharina Obser, program officer in the Migrant Rights and Justice Program, also points out that many who are apprehended at the border are placed in really remote facilities, some of which don't have a basic legal orientation program. They may not even have the option to apply for asylum. "This is devastating to someone who has experienced violence and trauma," she said. "Even those who passed the initial screening interview are sometimes refused asylum. This speaks to why it's so important to have a lawyer to navigate this process. This is a complex area of the law. It's critical for a lawyer to articulate reasons for fear under US immigration and asylum law. Locking up families is a policy that does not make sense."

Lewis describes detention as "an awful, almost Kafkaesque situation," a system she believes is a part of the broader prison industrial complex in the United States. In order to address the problem, she says coalitions need to be built around the issue. According to Lewis, the worst case she's heard of concerned a 14-year-old boy with various disabilities - emotional and intellectual - who struggled to communicate. He was put in an all-male facility and was raped multiple times. "The system tries to get children to voluntarily deport themselves," Lewis said. "It's also difficult for children to articulate persecution. They often tell their stories in nonlinear ways."

Asylum seekers must also file their request within one year of arriving to the United States, a requirement that was added in 1995. The problem is that many who are seeking asylum are not aware of this limit. "It's a very arbitrary deadline for something that shouldn't have a deadline," Obser told Truthout.

Hines highlights another hurdle in immigration cases: recruiting pro-bono lawyers and nonprofits to accommodate such a large number of asylum seekers. She says studies show that those who have legal representation are much more likely to win their cases, but there are not nearly enough legal professionals to handle these applications.

Immigration courts are often underfunded and therefore unequipped with the proper resources to provide timely legal representation. "There is an extraordinary backlog," Obser said. "Immigration judges have crushing caseloads. Some applicants wait for years for a hearing. When someone is fleeing violence, these delays do not help. We have a broken immigration system. I don't think this is how we should be treating those who are fleeing the most horrible situations imaginable."

Hines also points out that the outcome significantly depends on the judges. She says one asylum judge in the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse had an over 95 percent denial rate. Lewis also adds that many immigration cases often drag on for several years. In 2009, Rody Alvarado Peña, a Guatemalan woman who fled brutal domestic abuse, was finally granted asylum after a 14-year legal battle. All experts interviewed stressed that access to timely legal counsel is critical.

Obser feels that the United States responded to the surge of Central American migrants at the border in an immoral, inhumane and poorly thought out manner. "They refuse to look at the root causes of migration. The reaction was to put mothers and children in expedited removal," Obser said. "The UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] has come out with statements, but no one enforces them."

"There is a tension between the international human rights discourse and the nation-state's implementation of those rights. It's a global problem. I think ... [the solution is] going to depend on analysis of specific regions," Lewis said.

According to Juffer, the treatment of migrant children, "speaks to a willful ignorance of international agreements, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), that call on state governments to consider the best interests of all children. In fact, the US asylum court for children is unusual insofar as it does not employ a 'best interests of the child' standard as do other legal proceedings that involve children in the United States."

Obser believes the government must eliminate the one-year deadline, end detention and broaden its views on particular social groups in order to improve the asylum system. "The US is calling on countries like Syria to demonstrate leadership. We should be showing that same leadership with the refugees that come to our borders. With the response we saw last summer with families apprehended at the border, the US was trying to send a message of deterrence. That's something completely inconsistent with international laws. Seeking protection at the border is not illegal. This is an inappropriate response."

News Thu, 28 May 2015 10:00:16 -0400
Diversity Is the Lifeline for the Future of the Climate Movement

Being a climate advocate is not for the weak of heart. The U.S. is a safe haven for climate deniers. Instead of taking bold steps to reduce our carbon emissions, our elected officials focus on stunts like bringing in snowballs to Congress to claim there is no climate change. In the face of such obstinacy, climate advocates must stand together and take to the streets. And as the People's Climate marched showed, there is no shortage of people willing to stand up and join the fight against climate change.

The Environmental Movement and Diversity

I woke up early on the Sunday morning of the People's Climate March not sure what to expect. I had been hearing that over 100,000, possibly 200,000 people were expected to march. I hoped that the numbers would be there. But more than that, I hoped that the crowd that showed would be a reflection of those impacted most by climate change. While climate change will negatively impact all of us, people of color and low-income communities will be hit the hardest and have the fewest resources to adapt to the challenges, such as extreme weather and poor air quality, climate change will bring. Yet, these communities are often underrepresented, if not left out completely. It's no secret that the environmental movement in the U.S. suffers from a lack of diversity and if we are going to win the fight against climate change, we cannot continue with business as usual—not at the governmental level, not at the business level, not at the individual level, and definitely not at the advocacy level.

The Emergence of Environmental Justice

I've been an environmental advocate since I was in elementary school, and over the years, I've lost count of the number of times I was the only person of color in a room full of environmentalists. To be sure, there are very diverse segments of the environmental movement. Environmental justice advocacy arose to battle the disproportionate environmental burden that communities of color face. The pivotal study, Toxics, Waste and Race released in 1987, found that race, not class, was the leading factor in siting polluting industries. While socio-economic status played an important role, race was even more significant.

Changing Demographics

Since that time, environmental justice organizations across the country have been advocating on behalf of communities of color in their struggles against environmental hazards. In Harlem, West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT) works to ensure low-income communities and communities of color can meaningfully participation in creating, "sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices." The Asian Pacific Environmental Network fights for environmental justice on behalf of Asian and Pacific Islander communities. The Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment uses a combination of legal tools and organizing to advocate on behalf of low-income communities and communities of color facing environmental hazards with a particular focus on the Central Valley in California, one of the poorest regions in the nation and home to some of the most toxic waste sites nationwide. People of color are the majority of the Central Valley's population.

However the mainstream environmental movement has been, and continues to be, a largely white, middle-class movement. A recent study found that the percentage of people of color on the boards or general staff does not exceed 16 percent in environmental advocacy organizations, government environmental agencies, and environmental grant-making organizations. And racial minorities occupy less than 12 percent of the leadership positions in these three types of organizations.

This exclusion of people of color cannot continue. For one, in less than 30 years, people of color will comprise the majority of the population in the U.S. The changing demographics of the country must be represented in leadership across all levels. In addition, diversity will make these organizations better at problem solving and more innovative. A recent study in Scientific American presented decades of research showing that socially diverse groups are more innovative. The study showed that social diversity makes groups better at solving complex, non-routine problems. There is arguably no greater challenge facing us now than climate change and, as such, innovative and creative thinking is needed now more than ever in the environmental movement.

Challenges to Inclusion

Diversity is often seen as a worthy, but elusive, goal. Diversity for diversity's sake can easily slide into tokenism, where people of color or other underrepresented groups are asked to be present and visible but are not given true power or decision making authority. The way forward is to look within organizations and within ourselves to acknowledge and address internal racism and oppression. Organizations must look deep inside themselves to see if their priorities are shared by communities of color, rather than creating a set of priorities and asking communities of color to sign on.

While walking through the crowds, at the climate march, I overheard two white men in front of me having a discussion about the steps needed to fight climate change. They eventually settled upon population control and proceeded to discuss whether forced sterilization was an option. For them, I'm sure it was just a thought experiment and an intellectual discussion. For people of color, forced sterilization is not a thought experiment—it is a tragic and heartbreaking reality. To this date, women in the criminal justice system are being forced to undergo sterilizations, and women of color are particularly targeted for forced sterilizations.   This kind of misunderstanding is what creates a climate in which people of color do not feel comfortable and it is up to those with power to recognize their own privileges and assumptions that can create an environment where people of color do not feel welcome, let alone empowered and included. When we recognize it, we have taken the first step to dismantling it.

Signs of Hope

So what else did I find when I arrived at the People's Climate March? Pockets of interests, particularly renewable energy groups and traditional environmental organizations, that clearly need to prioritize diversifying their membership and leadership. But I also saw a sea of new faces: young people, people of color, and food justice advocates emphasizing the need for worker's justice. I had never seen such a diverse crowd and it was also the first time I saw such a strong presence of the intersectionality of climate justice, economic justice, and racial justice. In my many years of being a climate advocate, the scale of the march and the scale of diversity at the march were unprecedented. There is a lot of work that still needs to be done but if the People's Climate March is an indication of where the movement is heading, I feel more optimistic than ever that together, we can build a new world.

Opinion Thu, 28 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Anthropology Apology

"The Green Ninja," a character created by a climate scientist and his team, provides an entertaining and educational way to help children – and everyone else - grasp the intricacies of climate change and learn what they can personally do to become involved in fighting it. See additional details about the series or head straight to this week's episode, "Anthropology Apology: Not Your Average Fossil."

In this episode, two Earthlings from the future are doing some fossil research when they start finding some oddly familiar objects. They aren't really fossils, just things that did not decompose because they needed to be recycled. Since they were left in a landfill, they just sat there for centuries until one day, these two inquisitive characters found them.

The first "fossil" discovered is a cottage cheese container. Like many other refrigerated food-cups, these are usually made of a couple different types of plastic, many of which can be recycled. Since plastic is a heavily-processed, petroleum-based material, it does not easily break down. If you do not recycle your plastic, it can sit in landfills for a couple hundred years!

What's next? Fluorescent lights? Smartphones? Um, yes.

News Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
As Violence Spikes in Baltimore, Former Investigator Says Police Aren't the Answer

See The Real News Network's website for both earlier in-depth reporting and current coverage of events in Baltimore, where The Real News Network studios are located.

Stephen Tabeling: Good investigations and less aggressive tactics could lead to better results.


STEPHEN JANIS, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, TRNN: Hello. My name is Stephen Janis, and I'm an investigative reporter for The Real News Network in Baltimore.

Once again, Baltimore finds itself in the middle of a stretch of unrelenting violence. With 35 murders so far in May, the city is on track to have one of its most deadly months since 1999. And so far homicides are up 40 percent over last year. Along with these killings are calls for police to respond. In fact, the cry for more police, more jails, and more law enforcement has been the mantra of Baltimore for decades. But despite the fact that we have one of the largest police departments, and spending for policing far outweighs schools and recreation centers, there's little evidence that it works. And therein lies the dilemma. Why do we keep turning to police when it doesn't seem to work, and what are we missing about the limits of policing and the criminal justice system in the face of evidence that our solutions may be misguided?

Here to help me answer that question is a man who worked the streets of Baltimore during one of its most violent decades in its history. During the decade of the 1970s, Baltimore experienced roughly 300 murders a year. It was the job of our next guest, Lt. Stephen Tabeling, to solve many of those cases. Since then he has written a book with me, full disclosure, called You Can't Stop Murder. Part of its premise is that this idea that policing can solve complex social problems is flawed and may even be making the situation worse.

Mr. Tabeling, thank you for joining us.


JANIS: Well, explain to us, we're looking at an extremely violent month. And part of the thing people say, we need more police, we need more cops on the street, we need more policing. But you say that's not the only part of this problem, and you have the premise that you can't stop murder. What did you mean by that?

TABELING: Well, I don't think you need more police. You need more experienced people. You need to have people that know what they're doing when they're investigating, and you can't use committees to investigate crimes. You have to have experienced investigators. And I go back to my time. Investigators used to go out on crime scenes by themselves. And then if it come time for an arrest, then we would call uniformed officers.

When I was there, we had 28 men in homicide and we had over 300 murders a year. I could send any one of those investigators out and feel comfortable that he was going to do the right job. So it never took more than two on a crime scene to come up with a solution to a crime.

JANIS: One of the premises is that in modern policing, in contemporary policing, you can prevent murders. But you say that's kind of a flawed philosophy or flawed idea. What do you mean by that, you can't stop murder?

TABELING: You can't stop murder. In our book we said that. Murder is a crime of passion. You're not going to stop it. But can you do some things that can help to prevent it, absolutely. When you have good investigations and are swift, and people are convicted.

And one of the things that bothers me is stop and frisk. That's one of the greatest tools police every got, and I don't think they're properly trained. And if you look at New York, murders went down, what, 60 percent when they were using stop and frisk because people that carried guns knew that the possibility of them getting stopped was going to be there. So when they stopped talking to people and stopping people, they didn't care about carrying weapons.

JANIS: But the city of Baltimore arrested 100,000 people a year. 100,000 people a year. And the homicide rate went up. So how can stop and frisk or any of these policies in policing really prevent murders or really stop--.

TABELING: Let's take a look at the 100,000 people they arrested. What were they charged with? Did they get any weapons, they were corner arrests, they were disorderly conducts. They were people on the porch drinking beer. It was the broken windows syndrome, low tolerance. Most of those people, they probably shouldn't have been arrested. They weren't quality arrests. They were numbers.

See, so when you start getting into the areas where there's a lot of crime, where there's a lot of weapons, you have to have a way to get those weapons off of the street. And one of the best ways--look, the case Terry v. Ohio came out from the Supreme Court in an eight to one decision. And the Supreme Court said if a police officer knows a person is violent in a neighborhood of high activity, and that officer has articulable reasonable suspicion to suspect that person is armed he has the right to detain and pat the person down. But the problem is you have to be properly trained, and you have to know when and how and to evaluate when to stop people.

And then when you go to court you have to be able to testify from your training and your experience exactly why you did what you did.

JANIS: But even in the case of New York, with stop and frisk, it was determined that it was racially biased. And similarly with zero tolerance, they're both accused of being racially biased. So how can you say they're effective if they're not being administered justly?

TABELING: Let's take a look at racially biased. I work in a western district. I'm a white police officer. It's a predominantly black neighborhood. There's a lot of killings in that neighborhood, there's a lot of robberies. Who am I going to be stopping? What am I going to be looking for? It's the same if you take a black officer and send him to East Baltimore, and he's going to be doing the same kind of operation. Who's he going to be stopping?

And really, don't you think whatever neighborhoods you go in, you're doing these things to protect the people who live in these neighborhoods. That's my whole thing about that.

JANIS: Well, let me ask you another--there was a story in the Sun over the weekend about how the union's contract had prevented the improvements in policing. How many people did you have in homicide when there were 300 murders a year compared to today? You had very few, much--.

TABELING: Twenty-eight.

JANIS: Twenty-eight people.


JANIS: So how is it possible that we have 60 or 70, and we have a lower closure rate today than we had 30, 40 years ago?

TABELING: A lot of reasons. Lack of experience. We've lost the technique of interrogation. Of, we have officers with no imagination. You've got to have an imagination, you've got to think things through. You just have to have a way of, I'm going to say profile, but not profile on a person. Profile in crimes and crime scenes, and that can give you an idea who committed a crime.

We don't have the street smart people that we used to have. Let's get foot patrol back in there. I can remember the days when I was working in Homicide. If I had a nickname of a guy, got the post officer, he'd pull a book out of his pocket. He'd say oh yeah, this is where he live--they don't do that now. They've got no responsibility for anything on the streets.

Listen, your backbone is your uniformed police officers. And who's the least trained? The patrol officer out on the street. What he does can go all the way to the United States Supreme Court and it can break your case. And I'll guarantee you if you talk to the State's Attorney they'll tell you that they're hesitant about putting the first officer on the scene on the witness stand.

JANIS: I mean, in the age of technology when this should be easier, we have a larger police department with more investigators, and you can't achieve a closure rate. I mean, is the union, is the problem that there's not enough accountability with police in the sense that they have too much power, maybe?

TABELING: I'm going to go back, again. It's a lack of training, it's a lack of experience, and I gave you this example before and it's in the book. When I was in a police academy just three or four years ago, we had a program that was first ever in the history of law schools where we actually did trials at the University of Baltimore with judges and attorneys. First time in the history of law school. And the judges on circuit court said this is the best program they've ever seen. And the State's Attorney said we are not afraid to put the first officer on the scene because they know how to testify. I left the academy and they stopped doing it.

JANIS: Well, that raises a big question. Why would they stop training officers to be able to testify in court, and why would they stop teaching the law in general?

TABELING: It's a lot of work. It's a lack of experience. When I did that training--.

JANIS: Well, just stop you there. You say it's a lot of work. What do you mean, it's a lot of work?

TABELING: Well first of all, I bring a class of 50 people in and I'd have to write scenarios on burglaries, armed robberies, and all kind of problems and split the class up in groups of four. Talk to them every morning. You have to write a report. You have to interview a witness. You have to interrogate a suspect. You have to write a search and seizure warrant. And I had to, I'd say spoon feed them. Because I'd take--I'd come to work every morning at 6:00. And I'd get these groups in there. And then when they got their folders right, then we would go to a State's Attorney, and the State's Attorney would go over it.

I have tapes of all this. I have tapes of what happened up at the University of Baltimore. One of the most important things is, Steve, anybody can make an arrest, but anybody can't carry that case through to convict some body in a court of law. And that's where a lot of it's lacking.

JANIS: But you're talking about an entirely different type of policing. I mean, what's taught in the academy recently, or at least the past seven or eight years is more aggressive, physical training. What's been taught, what we saw with the Freddie Gray case was people chasing people around the neighborhood without too much--without probable cause. Why has policing changed so much in the past 40 years? What has changed it?

TABELING: Well, nobody listen, but I'll keep on saying it. It's a lack of legal training and understanding the 4th, 5th, and 6th amendments to the Constitution. It's a lack of being able to go out on that street and when you make an arrest, evaluate what you're doing. You go out there and it happens how, that's it. Make a decision, just like that. And if you don't have something up here to do it, it's going to be very difficult.

JANIS: Okay. Now, we're looking at this situation, 35 murders this month so far. You're police commissioner, you're working the Baltimore City Police Department. How do you respond to that?

TABELING: Well first of all, I'm going to look at who's in my homicide squad and I'm going to look at my commanders. And I don't micromanage my people. Every time I look at a homicide scene I see majors and colonels and everybody else out on the street. You can't micromanage. That shows me that they don't have any trust in their investigators, and I doubt if any of those commanders know how to do a homicide.

So you can't put people in that position that you're looking over their shoulder all--you're practically telling these guys, you don't know what you're doing. So take a look around. In this department, we have sergeants with three and four years' service. We have lieutenants with seven and eight year. And I think majors don't have too much more time.

JANIS: So what did it used to be?

TABELING: It used to be when I made sergeants, you had to be a patrolman for five years. And if you made sergeant in seven or eight years you were doing a good thing. Once you made lieutenant you had to wait two years to take the test. You never made it in two years because we had a seniority system.

I hear from a lot of the people I taught in the academy, will tell me that they'll go to a lieutenant or a sergeant in the street and they can't get an answer. That's bad, that's your middle--that's your people out on the street. You have to be able to answer questions for people.

JANIS: Is that politics? I mean, what...

TABELING: Listen. In this city of Baltimore, we've had I don't know how many police commissioners that come from out of town, and they try to make us their department. This is a unique city, and it's been told a lot, this is a city of villages. It's a different understanding.

Here's what you have to do. If I was police commissioner, people would be out of those cars. There'd be foot patrol. I don't care, it costs a lot of money, but that's what I would do. Because that's one of the things that keeps crime down, is having cops on foot out there.

JANIS: One of the things people have been saying is because of the Freddie Gray incident police have been slowing down. But they're public servants. And do you believe, number one, that they are slowing down, and do you believe that's justified?

TABELING: Well, I don't--listen, I'm one guy. I don't believe it's justified, but let's look at it both ways. If I'm a police officer, and say I make a mistake on a probable cause issue and the case goes to court. The judge does what? He dismisses the guy. In a situation like we have now, say those officers made a mistake, they got charged. And you've got police officers out there now saying wait a minute. If I put my hands on this guy and I make a mistake, I'm afraid I'm going to jail.

JANIS: But even though they're committing a crime, shouldn't everyone be subject to the same type of law that you talk about?

TABELING: Everybody should, and everybody should be doing their job. And listen, I guarantee you 98 or 99 percent of the police out there are good cops. You've got that one or two percent to drag us all down.

Listen, you know that I've locked up policemen. I'm not proud of it. And I know what they are, and I also know that the good men don't get treated right.

JANIS: But why don't the good people speak up more? If they're good. I mean, this assumption, we say everyone's good, there's only a few bad. Why don't they speak up? Why don't they--because, why don't they prevent this?

TABELING: Because they're afraid they're going to lose their job. Because they're afraid they don't have any backing. They're afraid the police commissioner and the mayor won't back them up. You make a mistake when you make an arrest, a police officer shouldn't get arrested. If he makes a mistake and it goes to court and the judge dismisses it, that's the way to--now, if--.

JANIS: But what if someone dies as a result? Like Freddie--.

TABELING: You've got a whole other set of circumstances. You're asking me now why the cops don't want to--.

JANIS: Right, I understand.

TABELING: So the cops don't want to do anything because they're afraid if they make a mistake then they're going to get charged. And when you're out there on those streets, believe me, you never know what you're going to run into. Every call is different and you've got to be on your toes all the time.

Now, these cops now all over the United States, they're a little bit jittery now. And another policeman got shot in Mississippi, another policeman got shot in Louisiana, another police officer got shot in New Mexico, and another one got beat up. So it's going all over the country, and these guys are, these guys are getting a little bit upset.

JANIS: I'm sorry, I'm interrupting. Go ahead. But ultimately, you know, the law--I guess your idea was that the law is the best thing we have in terms of--yeah.

TABELING: Absolutely. The thing that I see is, you're bringing people in to become police officers. Before they come in, or truck drivers, or mailmen, they might be a lot of things. I've had accountants and everything else come in. they know absolutely nothing about the law, and they're going to be the people out on the street. You have to give them something to take out there with them so that they can make decisions.

You've got a program in college called a criminal justice degree. I've had people in my class in the police academy that when I was giving them instruction they'd say, why don't they give us this in college? It seems to me, just my own opinion, that the last thing they think of, the last thing they think of, is the law. Look at that $250,000 survey that they did for the Baltimore Police Department. How many sentences in that survey talks about training? Not many. Maybe it's a paragraph or something.

I just, it's just me, I've been around with this since 1954. And as a private investigator I've been back and see what policemen do on the kind of investigations that they do. And then you go back and say, supervision. Supervision, and the supervisors aren't properly trained.

So I put something on the internet. I said I'd like to have the opportunity to bring all the command staff in and give them a test.

JANIS: Well, [inaud.] Stephen, we really appreciate you coming. Thanks for coming in and talking about policing with me, I appreciate it.

TABELING: You're welcome.

JANIS: My name is Stephen Janis, I'm an investigative reporter for The Real News Network reporting from Baltimore. Thank you.

News Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Ireland's Social Revolution: Traditionally Catholic Nation Makes History With Marriage Equality Vote

In a historic victory for marriage equality, Ireland has become the first country in the world to approve same-sex marriage via popular vote. By a 62-to-38 margin, the people of Ireland voted a resounding "yes" for equality in a national referendum on Friday. This signals what some are calling a "social revolution" in the traditionally conservative Catholic country. Ireland’s constitution will now be amended to say that two people can marry "without distinction as to their sex." The turnout was one of the highest in the country’s history and came after a robust civic campaign led by human rights activists, trade unions, celebrities and employers. Ireland’s referendum reflects a sea change in a country where homosexuality was decriminalized just two decades ago and where 70 percent of the population still identifies as Roman Catholic. We are joined from Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Gavin Boyd, the policy and advocacy manager at The Rainbow Project.


AARON MATÉ: In a historic victory for marriage equality, Ireland has become the first country in the world to approve same-sex marriage via popular vote. By a 62-to-38 margin, the people of Ireland voted a resounding "yes" for equality in a national referendum on Friday. This signals what some are calling a "social revolution" in the traditionally conservative Catholic country. Jubilant supporters crowded into the courtyard of Dublin Castle to watch as results trickled in from across the country. As the final tally was announced, they cheered with joy and sang the national anthem. This is "yes" voter Bear North.

BEAR NORTH: We now live in a different country that includes everybody. You know, homosexuality was only legalized in 1993. We’ve come such a long way, and now we’re proud to stand up to the world and say we’re a wonderful country.

AARON MATÉ: Ireland’s constitution will now be amended to say two people can marry, quote, "without distinction as to their sex." The turnout was one of the highest in the country’s history and came after a robust civic campaign led by activists, trade unions, celebrities and employers. It was also endorsed by all of Ireland’s political parties. On Saturday, Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny praised the outcome.

PRIME MINISTER ENDA KENNY: With today’s vote, we have disclosed who we are: a generous, compassionate, bold and joyful people. Yes to inclusion, yes to generosity, yes to love, yes to equal marriage.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny. Ireland’s referendum reflects a sea change in a country where homosexuality was decriminalized just two decades ago, in 1993, and where 70 percent of the population still identifies as Roman Catholic. Many have suggested a series of clerical pedophile scandals have weakened the church’s moral authority on social issues. Ireland now joins 18 other nations that have ended marriage exclusion, including Britain, France and Spain, as well as South Africa, Brazil and Canada. Now, in western Europe, Northern Ireland remains the last country where same-sex couples are barred from tying the knot. Next month, activists will hold a rally in support of marriage equality there. So far, legislative attempts have been vetoed in the Northern Ireland Assembly by the Democratic Unionist Party and a majority of Ulster Unionists.

For more, we go to Belfast, Northern Ireland, where we’re joined by Gavin Boyd, the policy and advocacy manager at The Rainbow Project.

Gavin, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you take us through how this happened?

GAVIN BOYD: Well, [inaudible]. This was a long campaign. This was about a social change that’s been happening in Ireland over the past 15 to 20 years. I think all credit has to go to the yes campaigners in getting this over the line. It really helps that there was a real consensus of support for the issue across all the political leaders in the republic. And I think it also helped that the Catholic Church, sensing the way that this was going, kept their heads pretty much close to the ground on this issue. I think that stopped it from becoming a very divisive issue in the republic.

AARON MATÉ: Gavin, what do you think accounts for that approach by the church, not taking a divisive "no" stance?

GAVIN BOYD: Well, I think the Catholic Church has been battered in Ireland over the past 20 years because of the abuses that took place for women who were housed in Magdalene laundries, for the child sex scandals that have come out from the church over the past 20 years. I think the church recognized that many people were not going to be taking lessons from them on what constitutes decency or dignity in society. So, I think they read the cards well in how to react to the public on that. But I think what really swung this in the end were those conversations that people were having in small townlands and villages in really rural Ireland. I think that’s really what swung it, because this wasn’t a victory for the metropolitan elite, this was a victory right the way across Ireland, not just in big cities, but in tiny little villages, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Gavin, if you could explain the novel approach to organizing, or, I should say, the extremely comprehensive approach. I want to turn to a campaign video produced by the group Vote With Us that went viral.

BRIGHID WHYTE: Hello, I’m Brighid.

PADDY WHYTE: And I’m Paddy. We are voting for equal marriage. We hope you will vote with us.

BRIGHID WHYTE: We’re from Dundalk, we’re Roman Catholics, and we will be 50 years married this year. We wish other couples, gay or straight, could legally avail of civil marriage and have the opportunity to experience the love, protections and companionship that we have experienced.

PADDY WHYTE: Twenty years ago, I probably would have voted no. But now that I know gay people and see the love and joy they can bring to life, and I will be voting yes. We worked hard for civil rights in Northern Ireland in the ’60s. Now it is time to support civil rights in the South.

BRIGHID WHYTE: We’re grandparents, and we wish that all our grandchildren are protected and treated as equals, in the playground and in the eyes of the law.

PADDY WHYTE: I’d ask you to take time to consider and reflect on something. It could happen sometime in the future that your son or daughter, grandchild or great-grandchild will tell you they are gay. And when they ask you how you voted in this referendum, or whether you bothered to vote at all, what will you tell them? Will you tell them you tried to make a difference?

BRIGHID WHYTE: We have the opportunity to change things for the better. I know the ever-loving god that we believe in will say we did the right thing and the Christian thing in voting yes for marriage equality.

PADDY WHYTE: We ask you to vote with us.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Brighid and Paddy Whyte from Dundalk, Ireland, in a video produced by the Vote With Us campaign. And so, if you could explain, Gavin, how the grassroots organizing was accomplished, both online, offline, house to house, and all the different groups that got involved? All of the parties supported this, the political parties.

GAVIN BOYD: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this really was a mammoth campaign that was undertaken by "yes" campaigners. I think that video shows that it was very much an Irish solution to this issue. This was really about talking to families, talking to parents, talking to grandparents, and explaining to them why it was important for their children, for their grandchildren to be able to grow up in a society that respected them as equal citizens. I think those conversations that people had with their older family members, who are maybe traditionally disinclined from supporting LGBT issues or supporting marriage equality, once they saw how important it was for their children, for their grandchildren, they understood why they had to go out and vote yes for it.

I mean, online, as well, there was a massive campaign on getting the Irish diaspora, the immigrants who have left Ireland, to come home specifically to vote for this issue. And watching the tweets come in on Friday afternoon and the pictures and the videos of people coming in by plane and by ferry from the United States, from India, from Africa, from Australia, people came from all the way around the world to come home to vote on this particular issue. And I think that shows why it was such a strong grassroots campaign, because this was an issue that has electrified the youth of Ireland over the past number of years, especially those young people who have maybe gone to work in other more traditionally progressive parts of the world, and they come home and they realize that the changes that they see in other parts of the world are changes that they want to bring to Ireland, as well.

I think that it was a real—and it was the true essence of a grassroots campaign. This was not fought on TV with attack ads and all the [inaudible]. This was conversations that were happening in pubs in rural Ireland and at Gaelic football matches. So, it really was a victory for the populace as opposed to the elites.

AARON MATÉ: And, Gavin, you mentioned people coming in from around the world. What about the ripple effect globally? Do you see this influencing similar votes in other countries across the planet?

GAVIN BOYD: I would like to think so. I know that Eamon Gilmore, who really was the spearhead of the political side of the equal marriage campaign, has said that Ireland should now be a leader on LGBT rights around the world. And I think that’s probably true. I think that Ireland being a traditionally conservative, traditionally Catholic country, that is able to make this change through popular vote, I think it is an example for those parts of the world, particularly places in Latin America, particularly other places maybe in eastern Europe, certainly in Australia. I would see this having a massive ripple effect across the world.

AMY GOODMAN: On Friday, former Irish government minister Pat Carey announced he is gay, and appealed to older voters to support same-sex marriage. He said he was encouraged to speak publicly after the health minister, Leo Varadkar, became the country’s first openly gay minister last month. Carey congratulated his compatriots for embracing marriage equality and said Ireland has progressed greatly in the last few decades.

PAT CAREY: I feel elated. I mean, I think it’s a brave statement by the Irish people that they have voted, in great numbers, to extend equality to gay and lesbian people, to allow them to get married civilly in a registry office. Ireland, 10, 20 years ago, was a strange, dark place where an awful lot of stones were being overturned and lots of nasty insects were being found under them. We decriminalized homosexuality in Ireland only in 1993. Ten years earlier, it was still OK for a man to rape his wife.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s former Irish government minister Pat Carey. If you could talk about those—the politicians who actually came out as they pushed people to support same-sex marriage?

GAVIN BOYD: Sure. I think—I mean, the political parties did play a really strong role in this. And the fact that there was such a strong consensus among the parties, I think, really helped solidify the sense that this was an achievable thing in Ireland. Obviously, the left-wing parties were straight-out in favor of it very strongly—Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, the Greens. They were all very much in favor of the change and of campaigning for the change. But I think the really significant change happened when the more mainstream parties got involved, when Fianna Fáil, the traditional party of government in Ireland, and Fine Gael, Enda Kenny’s political party, came on board with this. This really showed that this was not a left or right issue, this was not a liberal or conservative issue, but this was an Irish issue. This was about ensuring that all citizens of Ireland have access to the same civil rights as everyone else. And I think particularly Enda Kenny’s interventions were helpful, because Enda Kenny is an old-school Irish politician. He’s a devout Catholic. He’s from a rural community in the west coast of Ireland. And showing that someone from that totally non-Dublin, non-metropolitan background can get behind this issue, I think, really helped sway some of those more older, more conservative, more rural voters.

AARON MATÉ: And, Gavin, can you talk about Pope Francis? He certainly had a more inclusive stance than previous pontiffs. Can you talk about the position he has taken and how that might have influenced this outcome?

GAVIN BOYD: I think Pope Francis has probably taken quite a smart response on this. He’s certainly an intelligent man. He knows what way the wind is blowing on this issue. And he is loathe to, I think, put the Catholic Church at odds with so many of their Catholic congregants around the world. Remember, Ireland, although it has been rocked by controversies with the Catholic Church, is still a heavily mass-going country. People still regularly attend church. And I think that the church was wise, and Pope Francis particularly wise, in not seeking to not overtly antagonize members of his flock, I think, particularly understanding how young people feel about this. And remember, in Ireland, most young people go through 12 or 14 years of Catholic education, and after that, they still support marriage equality. So really this was about taking the skills that Irish Catholic children were taught in school and applying them to the civil politics around them. I think Pope Francis, if he is as intelligent as I believe, will look at the result coming from Ireland, will take, as the archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said, a reality check, and recognize that the church needs to strongly consider how it articulates its views on these issues and how it can make itself more relevant to young people in Ireland and across the world today.

AMY GOODMAN: Gavin Boyd, finally, you are speaking to us from Belfast, from Northern Ireland. Talk about the position of Northern Ireland today and what you’re doing there.

GAVIN BOYD: Sure. Well, Northern Ireland is, I suppose, in quite a similar situation to some states in the U.S. at the minute, in that in other parts of the U.K. people can get lawfully married, but when they come home to Northern Ireland, they’re no longer recognized as married. They have their relationship reclassified against their will. That is what we consider an ongoing injustice, something that we think will probably be challenged in the courts at some point in the future. But really, at the minute, in Northern Ireland, there isn’t a legislative solution to marriage inequality here. The Democratic Unionist Party, the Ulster Unionist Party are very strongly against marriage equality. The DUP have successfully vetoed its introduction four times now in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and there’s every likelihood that they will continue to use their veto to block its implementation.

So, understanding the wave of support that there is for marriage equality across Ireland now, The Rainbow Project, that I work for, with our partners in Amnesty International and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions are organizing a rally and a march for marriage equality in Belfast on the 13th of June, really to make it clear to our politicians and those politicians in the DUP that they do not speak for all of us on this issue, that we understand that this is an issue of fundamental human rights and for equal treatment under the law, and that we cannot allow a position where people are lawfully married, but when they come home to Belfast or Derry or Newry, where they live, that they’re no longer considered married anymore. That’s a complete injustice, which really does need a resolution.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Gavin Boyd, for joining us, policy and advocacy manager at The Rainbow Project, speaking to us from Belfast, Northern Ireland. Dublin’s Catholic Archbishop Martin said last year, "Anybody who doesn’t show love towards gay and lesbian people is insulting God. They are not just homophobic," he said, "they are actually Godophobic because God loves every one of those people." This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to another Catholic country, but we go south to El Salvador, where this weekend 300,000 people turned out for the beatification of the slain archbishop of El Salvador, Archbishop Romero. Stay with us.

News Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: A State of Emergency Has Been Declared in California Following Oil Spill, and More

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In today's On the News segment: A state of emergency has been declared in California after crews realized that the Refugio Beach oil spill was five times worse than original estimates; tiny bubbles may give scientists their best look yet at our planet's ancient climate; Wyoming passed an unconstitutional law making it a crime to "collect resource data" from any "open land"; and more.

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


Thom Hartmann here - on the best of the rest of ... Science and Green news ...

You need to know this. A state of emergency has been declared in California after crews realized that the Refugio Beach oil spill was five times worse than original estimates. Last week, the Plains All American Pipeline ruptured and dumped crude oil over a four-mile stretch of pristine California coastline. Original estimates put that spill at around 21,000 gallons, but new calculations indicate that the real figure is well over 100,000 gallons. Crews continue to work furiously to remove contaminated sand and rescue oil-soaked wildlife, and the governor's office has closed the beaches surrounding that spill and put a ban on fishing. Once again, our nation is watching the spill and clean up unfold. And once again, we learn that the company responsible has a long history of violating regulations and causing disasters. According to a report over at Common Dreams, Plains All American has been responsible for 175 different spills since 2006, yet somehow they're still allowed to do business in our great nation. The oceans program director for the Center for Biological Diversity said, "This company's disturbing record highlights oil production's toxic threat to California's coast. Every new oil project increases the risk of fouled beaches and oil-soaked sea life." Over and over and over, oil and gas companies prove that they cannot be trusted to protect the public safety, and that there is no such thing as safe drilling or transport of this toxic sludge. Today, the victims of this tragedy are California wildlife and residents, but tomorrow, who knows which of us could find ourselves dealing with the same fate. We have the technology to make the transition away from dirty energy, but we have to stand up to the oil and gas companies that refuse to let go of their profits. The success of a corporation should never trump the safety of our people and our planet, and it shouldn't take another oil spill to make us recognize these risks. Hopefully, the California coast line will bounce back quickly from this disaster. And hopefully, We, The People will decide that it will be the last.

Tiny bubbles may give scientists their best look yet at our planet's ancient climate. According to a recent study from Princeton University, gas bubbles in Antarctic blue ice still contain the carbon dioxide and other gasses that were trapped inside them one million years ago. The study's lead author, geochemist John Higgins, said, "Gas bubbles are the gold standard for reconstructing climate." By analyzing carbon dioxide levels and glaciers from ancient Earth, scientists have been able to determine how greenhouse gas levels altered our planet's ice-age cycles. They also hope to find older ice, which could help them learn more about the climate as far back as 2.5 million years ago. In an interview with Live Science, Mr. Higgins explained, "We're seeing a very strong correlation between carbon dioxide and glacial cycles that extends back a million years." And, for our friends and family members who insist that they aren't scientists, that means that we have proof that high levels of carbon dioxide have a huge impact on our environment. We only have one planet to call home, so let's start listening to the actual scientists who are telling us that we need to protect it.

You may want to think twice about sharing photos from your next family vacation. If you take a trip to Yellowstone, you could find yourself behind bars for posting that picture. Earlier this year, Wyoming passed a law making it a crime to "collect resource data" from any "open land." If you're confused by that ambiguous description, you're not alone. That law has such broad definitions for terms like "collect" and "data" that it includes taking a picture of a environmental disaster to share with state or federal agencies. In other words, if you happen to see an oil spill or chemical leak in Wyoming, please just keep it to yourself. Obviously, this law will likely be challenged as unconstitutional, due to violations of our First Amendment guarantee of free speech and the right to petition our government. Wyoming can try all they want to prevent citizens from monitoring our environment, but this pathetic attempt to pander to corporate polluters is likely to be struck down.

Starbucks will stop bottling water in drought-stricken California. An investigation last month by Mother Jones magazine exposed that company's bottled-water brand "Ethos" for pumping groundwater out of an area that has been under a drought emergency since 2012. And in response, Starbucks agreed to move that bottling company out of the state to a new facility in Pennsylvania. Considering that water company was created "to help fix the global water crisis," it's past time for them to stop contributing to the drought problem in California. John Kelly, the senior vice president of global responsibility at Starbucks, said, "We are committed to our mission to be a globally responsible company and to support the people of the state of California as they face this unprecedented drought." Although they were late fixing the problem, it's great news that the company is putting their money where their mouth is and moving out of that drought-stricken state.

And finally... People with gut disorders may benefit from meditation. According to a recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE, stress-relieving activities like yoga and meditation can suppress the genes responsible for causing inflammation. And, because many gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease are caused by inflammation, patients can experience real benefits from relaxation techniques. These conditions are very common in the United States, where stress and poor diets are all too common. One of the study's lead researchers, Dr. Towia Libermann of Harvard Medical School, said, "In both IBS and IBD, the pathway controlled by a protein called NF-kB emerged as one of those most significantly affected by the relaxation response." In other words, finding time to relax could be beneficial to people who suffer from these disorders. Much of our immune system and other functions are closely related to our digestive system, so meditation and yoga can be helpful to us all. Regardless of whether we have stomach issues or not, we can all benefit from a little down time.

And that's the way it is for the week of May 25, 2015 – I'm Thom Hartmann, on Science & Green News.

News Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Pressure Mounts to Shut Down Immigrant Family Detention Centers

In recent weeks, immigrant rights advocates have increased pressure on the Obama administration to end its punitive policy of holding in prison-like conditions mothers and children fleeing danger and poverty in their home countries — and the issue is gaining ground.

Earlier this month, several Texas-based immigrant rights groups organized a rally that drew hundreds of people from across Texas and the nation demanding the closure of the South Texas Family Residential Center, a privately-run family detention center in Dilley that's the largest in the country. Following the Mother's Day holiday, immigrant rights advocates and mothers held in detention sent letters to President Obama calling on his administration to end family detention. And the New York Times published an editorial last week condemning the practice of immigrant detention, especially that of mothers and children seeking asylum.

The issue is also getting a boost in visibility from Democratic leaders. On Thursday, 11 House Democrats led by Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard and Zoe Lofgren of California and Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois held a press conference to discuss the devastating effects of detention on children and call for alternatives. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton also added her voice to the chorus of criticism earlier this month at a roundtable discussion in Nevada: "I don't think we should put children and vulnerable people into big detention facilities because I think they're at risk," she said. "I think that their physical and mental health are at risk."

In another promising development for the movement against family detention, a district court judge in California issued a tentative ruling last month that children and their mothers cannot be held in unlicensed facilities like the existing family detention centers. The ruling prompted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to announce new measures that it says will "enhance oversight and accountability." The two sides have until May 24 to reach an agreement.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is pushing forward with expanding immigrant family detention facilities — most of which are managed by private prison companies.

Just opened in December, the facility in Dilley, Texas, currently houses nearly 800 children and mothers but is expected to expand to 2,400 beds by the end of May, making the 50-acre facility the country's largest family detention center. The center is privately managed by the Corrections Corporation of America, the same company that ran the troubled T. Don Hutto center in Texas where family detention was ended in 2009 due to abuses and poor conditions. Another family detention facility in Karnes City, Texas, is planning to double its 600-bed capacity; that facility is privately managed by the GEO Group. A third, government-run center in Berks County, Pennsylvania, is also expected to expand.

ICE recently allowed representatives from nonprofits and immigrant rights organizations to tour the Dilley facility. They described it as a complex of beige trailers (which ICE refers to as "suites") that look like barracks inside with six bunk beds each. A census of the detainees is conducted three times a day starting at 5:30 a.m., and guards called "resident supervisors" can go into the trailers at any time during the night to check on occupants.

Carl Takei, a staff attorney at the ACLU, was among those who toured the Dilley facility. He described it as a modern-day version of internment camps where Japanese Americans were detained during World War II.

"By rendering parents as helpless as their children, the camps both undermined family structures and created a constant undercurrent of anxiety," he wrote about conditions in the internment camps in a piece for The Marshall Project. "Today, immigration authorities under President Obama's direction are needlessly inflicting the same trauma on families that arrived in the United States seeking protection."

News Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400