Truthout Stories Tue, 30 Sep 2014 06:20:01 -0400 en-gb We Need to Listen to the Founders and Stop the Forever War

In a handout photo, the guided-missile cruiser Philippine Sea launches an attack against Islamic State targets in Syria on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. (Photo: Eric Garst / U.S. Navy via The New York Times) In a handout photo, the guided-missile cruiser Philippine Sea launches an attack against Islamic State targets in Syria on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. (Photo: Eric Garst / U.S. Navy via The New York Times)

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Just a little over a year ago during his speech at the National Defense University here in Washington, DC, President Obama talked about winding down Bush's war on terror.

But as US bombers continue to strike against ISIS in Iraq and now Syria, it now looks like the war on terror will be with us for years to come.

And that's a really dangerous thing for our democracy.

You see, aside from the return of the British Empire, there was nothing that scared our founding fathers more than multigenerational war - essentially, war without end.

The founders were scholars of classical history, and they knew that when given too much power, armies, like the armies ancient Rome, would push for more and more war, regardless of whether or not it was actually necessary for the safety of the people.

This threatened the very core of our system of government. As James Madison told the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1787:

"A standing military force ... will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defense against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people."

This idea that a standing army made powerful by war would one day "enslave" the people through perpetual war scared revolutionaries like Madison so much that they devoted a whole section of the Constitution towards preventing it from ever happening.

In Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, they gave Congress - the elected representatives of "we the people" - the sole power to raise and support armies, but - unlike any other appropriations - they limited the amount of time Congress could finance the army to a maximum of two years.

And with the Second Amendment, the Founders tried to create a militia system that could make a standing army during peacetime unnecessary.

Obviously, today the military-industrial complex has found ways to work around the founders' checks and balances to create a standing army that is the most powerful in the world.

But still, with President Obama's decision to strike ISIS in Iraq and Syria, now is a vital time to listen to the founders' warnings about war without end, and the dangers it poses to our democracy.

That's because whatever you think about the threat we face from groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, there is no debate about the fact that the past 13 years of "forever war" have turned our country into something that would absolutely terrify our founders.

We now have a surveillance state to rival anything created by the East Germans during the Cold War, and our Justice Department regularly talks about how the government has the authority to execute US citizens without trial both here in the United States and anywhere in the world.

If that doesn't prove Madison's quote about how "No nation [can] preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare," nothing does.

Given what's happened over the past decade, it's easy to be cynical about whether or not "we the people" can stand up for what the founders believed in and stop "continual warfare" before it's too late.

But there is a solution to stop this insanity: all it takes is an act of Congress.

According to the White House, President Obama has the authority to bomb ISIS in Iraq and Syria because Congress gave him that authority when it passed an authorization to use military force (AUMF) against Al-Qaeda in 2001 and when it passed an authorization to use force against Iraq in 2002.

And because President Obama says his authority to wage war without end comes from two acts of Congress, Congress has the power to repeal both of those acts and pass a new authorization for use of force, one that could limit - both in time and scope - the president from fighting ISIS forever.

Our elected representatives simply need to listen to our nation's founders and put real checks on the ability of the president and the military.

War without end poses a very real threat to our democracy. And if Congress is serious about protecting our way of life, they'll pass a new, limited AUMF before we go the way of ancient Rome.

After all, it's what the founders would have done.

Opinion Mon, 29 Sep 2014 16:16:20 -0400
Corporations Are Not Going to Save Us From Climate Disruption

With apparent naïveté, the UN insists on taking its cue from the very corporations who are responsible for degrading the planet, destroying lives and creating the crisis in the first place. This is pervasive throughout institutions and governments across the globe, not only the UN. The reason is money.

Participants in the People's Climate March 2014 in New York City, September 21.Participants in the People's Climate March 2014 in New York City, September 21. (Photo: South Bend Voice)

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This past week in New York saw some remarkable actions around climate change. The massive People's Climate March was perhaps the main media spectacle, but it was not the only, or necessarily the most important event. Another important one: the Climate Justice Summit, which featured the voices and testimonials of people all around the country and the globe who are on the frontlines, bearing the brunt of both ruthless extraction and destruction of their lands and livelihoods, and also experiencing most directly the impacts of climate change itself. Many were tearful as they described lives and lands laid to ruin by tar sands, fracking, coal, uranium mining and more. The brutal, relentless and rapacious greed of corporate profiteers in the fossil fuel industries, big agribusiness and forestry and financial sectors seems almost unfathomable.

Clearly, the United Nations is not going to do what is necessary to change the path we are on, but rather is mired in blame and conflict, relegated to endlessly reenacting and rehashing the history of colonialism, apparently utterly incapable of taking any steps that could be construed as challenging to the economic status quo much less calling out capitalism. Why? Because the UN itself is beholden to corporate puppet masters.

The UN insists on taking its cue from the very corporations who are responsible for degrading the planet, destroying lives and creating the crisis in the first place.

With apparent naïveté, the UN insists on taking its cue from the very corporations who are responsible for degrading the planet, destroying lives and creating the crisis in the first place. This is pervasive throughout institutions and governments across the globe, not only the UN. The reason is money. With a handful of corporations owning and controlling most of the world's wealth, little can be funded and executed on a large scale without the funding, involvement and decision making of the handful of ultra wealthy. Which means ceding control to those corporate interests and doing their bidding. Money is power - but not the only kind!

The proliferation of "public-private partnerships" is one of the manifestations of this political and economic reality. These are presented in diplomatic terms as attempts to "bring together" the public and private sectors with civil society, to ensure all "stakeholders" are represented in working toward various goals. Many are either initiated by, or granted a platform in, the UN. One such partnership in particular that was in the limelight at this climate summit was the "Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture."

We've all heard the warnings about how climate change is wreaking havoc on crop productivity, fisheries, forests, livestock, water resources and soils. We know as well that food and water are the most fundamental necessities for life, and lack of access is the flashpoint that ignites civil unrest.

The creators of this initiative envision it to be funded via carbon offsets, which would enable polluters to use their investment as an excuse to continue polluting while facilitating land grabs and privatization.

So perhaps then "climate smart" agriculture is a good idea? It sounds good anyway. But nice as it sounds, the movers and shakers behind this initiative are the very companies and institutions that have profited from and driven us smack dab into the highly destructive, climate damaging, livelihood undermining, GMO, chemical and fertilizer dependent, soil, water and diversity destroying, industrial monoculture model. Precisely what we desperately need to get away from.

Activists following the development of this initiative, from Friends of the Earth International, Action Aid, Third World Network and my own organization, Biofuelwatch, among others, have repeatedly voiced their concerns, and did so yet again at this summit, with a letter signed by 107 organizations in which they state:

By endorsing the activities of the planet's worst climate offenders in agribusiness and industrial agriculture, the Alliance will undermine the very objectives that it claims to aim for.

They point out that the initiative has no environmental or social criteria leaving the door open to virtually anything to be referred to as "climate smart." The creators of this initiative envision it to be funded via carbon offsets, which would enable polluters to use their investment as an excuse to continue polluting while facilitating land grabs and privatization. Further, the initiative already is providing a platform for promoting industrial agribusiness with companies such as Syngenta (GMO seeds), McDonald's, Walmart and Yara (synthetic fertilizers) at the table.

"It is nothing new, nothing innovative, and not what we need."

The world's largest peasant farmers' organization, representing some 200 million farmers from 73 countries agrees.

The Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture is just one of several such partnerships between industry, governments, the UN and the private sector that appear designed primarily to prevent serious challenges to the current business model, and further to expand access to markets by taking advantage of the crises of climate and proclaiming their motives are to alleviate poverty. Using terms like "climate smart" leave most people who do not have time to research these initiatives in depth, and are not familiar with the twists and turns of word play, confused and misled.

While SEFA proclaims its charitable intent to deliver energy access to those lacking it, their chief aim appears more directed toward increasing companies' ability to shape and direct public-sector energy policies and to create favorable investment climates.

In advance of Rio+20, our organization, Biofuelwatch, worked with others to uncover the greenwash behind another nice-sounding initiative, the UN "Sustainable Energy For All" Initiative (SEFA). Tellingly, the very first step toward establishing that initiative was to consult with an array of the world's worst fossil fuel industries. We pointed out in a briefing entitled "Sustainable Energy For All or Sustained Profits For a Few" that the initiative was fundamentally flawed - relying on a handpicked set of corporate leaders, including those with deep interests in expansion of fossil fuels and infrastructure for its delivery. Like the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture, the SEFA Initiative similarly provided no criteria whatsoever towards defining what is or is not to be supported. The term "sustainable" could thus be applied to anything, including expansion of gas, oil, nuclear power, megadams, industrial biofuels - you name it.

While SEFA proclaims its charitable intent to deliver energy access to those lacking it, their chief aim appears more directed toward increasing companies' ability to shape and direct public-sector energy policies and to create favorable investment climates. Delivering access to energy for those who lack it may be the Trojan horse for an underlying goal, far more profitable and less charitable. Hence constructing pipelines and grids down the spine of Africa (the goal of the related Africa Clean Energy Corridor Initiative) is likely as anything aimed at delivering electricity to enable the expansion of various energy intensive mining industries as it is to provide poor, rural women with opportunities to charge their cell phones.

One of the projects SEFA lists among its "accomplishments" is President Obama's "Power Africa" initiative. In November 2013, a coalition of African groups did not mince words when they wrote:

When we read statements from the White House about "new discoveries of vast reserves of oil and gas," and that "The recent discoveries of oil and gas in sub-Saharan Africa will play a critical role in defining the region's prospects for economic growth and stability, as well as contributing to broader near-term global energy security" - our response is to say, "Leave the oil in the soil; leave the coal in the hole." It is simply impossible to continue to exploit fossil fuels if we want to avoid climate catastrophe.

Another project listed under commitments is Eni SpA. Eni is one of the world's largest energy companies, largely Italian, which has been developing tar sands and palm oil in Republic of Congo. Never heard of it? Neither have most Congolese, because virtually nothing about Eni's agreements with the Congolese government has been disclosed. Given the track record on both tar sands and palm oil, is it not highly problematic that such projects should be sold to the public as "sustainable development for poverty alleviation?"

Their solution: a carbon price with proceeds directed toward the development of carbon capture, utilization and sequestration. The carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) part of this many are somewhat familiar with, and recognize as a red herring. But where did "utilization" sneak in?

Indeed, there seems to be no end to the nonsense that the business and industry community will offer up under the guise of providing solutions, both inside and outside the UN. At the September 23 summit, the CEO of Saudi gas company Aramco announced at the private sector luncheon (weren't you invited?) a new "Oil and Gas Climate Initiative," which aims to explore what the industry is willing (voluntarily that is) to do to provide "solutions," including energy access, reduction of flaring and methane emissions, carbon capture and storage, and expansion of natural gas and renewables. It seems highly unlikely, to say the least, that the oil and gas industry is going to solve the climate crisis.

For its part, the World Business Council on Sustainable Development launched a bizarre animation showing a model New York City getting flooded by oil, gas and coal. They argue, (rightfully) that the current expanding demand for energy is only driving emissions up faster and faster. But their solution: a carbon price with proceeds directed toward the development of carbon capture, utilization and sequestration. The carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) part of this many are somewhat familiar with, and recognize as a red herring. But where did "utilization" sneak in?

Utilization refers to Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), achieved by injecting compressed carbon dioxide into depleted wells to force remaining oil to the surface. The Department of Energy estimates that somewhere around 85 billion barrels of the estimated 400 billion barrels that are "stranded" (identified but inaccessible), could be accessed in this manner. (For perspective, proved reserves amount to a mere 21 billion barrels.) But access to that oil would depend in large part on availability of inexpensive compressed carbon dioxide. Hence oil industry support for CCS, funded via a carbon tax.

These are the fossil fuel industry's ideas about how to solve the climate crisis. Not exactly instilling you with hope and inspiration?

Ban Ki-moon appears unaware or unwilling to acknowledge that the corporations that created this mess will not lead us out of it.

The events out on the streets in New York this week did provide some hope and inspiration. There were plenty of wishy-washy, nonsense calls ("100 percent renewable energy, now," "Go Vegan: Save the Planet," "electric cars," "biofuels" etc.). But there were also many who have dug in deep enough to conclude that our only real chance for addressing the multipronged crises we face is to overcome divisions and disparities to build unity and take action including bold nonviolent direct action targeting the roots of the problem. People are recognizing that all of the various issues, concerns and struggles that we contend with - from tar sands, to fracking, from nukes and uranium mining to biofuels, from oppression and incarceration to poverty, sexism, racism and a lack of basic rights - all stem from a common root cause (named capitalism). With virtually everything at stake, we can and must use our power in numbers to put an end to the utterly grotesque system that currently reigns and which has demonstrated that it is willing to go to any lengths - including destroying our only planet - in the name of endless profitmaking and accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of a tiny few. Only then can real solutions prevail.

The UN will not deliver: Ban Ki-moon called for this climate summit. And he came out and joined "the people" at the march on September 21. But he appears unaware or unwilling to acknowledge that the corporations that created this mess will not lead us out of it. In spite of the somewhat remarkable announcement that the Rockefeller Brothers Fund will divest from fossil fuels, or the letter from hundreds of institutional investors calling for a price on carbon, we cannot expect real solutions to come from those invested in endless growth. This is made crystal clear, for example, when Jeffrey Sachs and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network submit a letter calling on the UN to support expansion of nuclear power and CCS (among others) for "a dramatic reduction of carbon dioxide emissions alongside a growing economy." It is further made clear when governments and businesses proclaim a noble intent to achieve "net zero emissions," which is simply code for carbon offsets and perpetuation of false assumptions that nuclear and bioenergy - or any form of energy generation for that matter - produce no emissions.

We have a big lift ahead in figuring out new ways to live in a post-capitalist world. The transition will no doubt be messy and painful and we don't necessarily know where we are headed, only that the current status quo is certain demise. Fortunately, there are people on this planet - indigenous peoples - who have long carried a vision of how to live on this earth worthy of emulating in spite of centuries of attempts to crush their vision and disempower them. They indeed continue to shine the light in spite of an onslaught of oppression, most recently as their lands are targeted for extraction. From them, not from the UN and their corporate partners, we can find inspiration, hope, humanity and leadership as we move forward.

News Mon, 29 Sep 2014 14:31:57 -0400
Ferguson Fridays: White Antiracism, Social Media and the Problem of Self-Serving Allying

Since Michael Brown’s murder, the Internet has been abuzz with content focusing on what white people could and should do to counter racism. Others have noted what white people should stop doing, too. Through social media, white anti-racism has become hyper-visible. Personal profile pictures are traded out for images intended to communicate a person’s identification with anti-racism. Posting becomes a way to affirm a person’s commitment to a movement.

While in Ferguson for the Black Life Matters Ride, I didn’t offer reflective status updates that chronicled my experience. I didn’t change my profile pic to a selfie complete with protest signs in the background to announce to the world that I was there.

This wasn’t a decision arrived at after serious deliberation. It was just that something about what was happening on social media was bothering me, even as I didn’t know quite how to put my concerns into words that weekend.

Ultimately, I think my reluctance to publicize my experience in Ferguson was driven by one thing I know all too well—as a white person, going to Ferguson and then publicizing that work would likely garner all sorts of kudos from other white anti-racists.

Others have pointed out that the ways anti-racist whites often do social media appropriate Black experience and side step a real analysis of the structural underpinnings of racism.

But that’s not the only problem.

One of the most insidious privileges accessible to whites in a white supremacist culture is that claiming anti-racism regularly functions in the service of self-promotion and, in fact, anti-racism can translate into status for whites. Under no circumstance would this be okay, but when state sanctioned violence directed at Black lives is epidemic, this pattern amplifies injustice.

We live in a society that is structured by white supremacy, post-racial and colorblind rhetoric, alongside policies that promote a de-politicized version of multiculturalism. In a time characterized by these cultural contradictions, anti-racist whites are celebrated as evidence of progress. White anti-racism can then function as a status that can be traded on for access to elite spaces like universities, speaking gigs, diversity focused jobs, and public accolades.

And yet, organizing in Ferguson or writing about the devaluation of Black lives continually leaves Black folks subject to virulent racist attacks and the accusation that one’s work is simultaneously self-serving and political. The costs are real. Attacks threaten emotional wellbeing and undermine resilience. And when labor is perceived as self-serving or political, it is devalued.

It’s not that white anti-racists don’t experience any of these same consequences, it’s that alongside racist attacks whites are often likely to experience a particular kind of celebration for doing the work. Because racism is imagined as a problem that does not impact whites (a problematic assumption in and of itself), when whites articulate anti-racist ideas or participate in anti-racist work we are often labeled and perceived as good people, truly engaged activists, or, most insidiously, “benevolent” whites.

Social media often elicits precisely these kinds of reactions, and it is important to think deeply about the real effects of virtual exchanges. One effect is that attention is redirected from the issues towards a personality. Egos may be fortified, but the work may remain undone.

White anti-racism often functions simultaneously as self-promotion and a mechanism for building social and cultural capital. This is a kind of self-serving allying wherein anti-racist efforts benefit a white person in tangible ways but do not concretely undermine white supremacy (not simply personal racism).

In this moment of righteous grieving and sustained organizing, it is critical for whites to really wrestle with how and when to “BACK UP & OFF!” Often the litmus test for when it’s time to shut up is when what you have to offer a conversation promotes your “anti-racism” more than it contributes to dismantling racism.

Social media can be used to advertise white people’s anti-racism. Or it can be used to engage white folks about racism or as a tool for organizing around white supremacy. There is a world of difference.

To be sure, I have used Facebook statuses in ways that I am not proud of. But given the way social media plays such a central role in organizing folks and building community and given the life and death stakes, it’s essential that whites think harder about these posts.

Opinion Mon, 29 Sep 2014 11:30:29 -0400
"We Deserve to Do More Than Just Survive": Marshall Islands Poet's Plea to the UN Climate Summit

We end today’s show with one of the most memorable speeches at the one-day United Nations climate summit this week. On Tuesday, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands read a poem to world leaders, written as a letter to her child. "Even though there are those hidden behind platinum titles who like to pretend that we don’t exist," she writes, "that the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Maldives and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and floods of Pakistan, Algeria, and Colombia and all the hurricanes, earthquakes, and tidalwaves didn’t exist. Still there are those who see us hands reaching out."


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

AMY GOODMAN: And we end today’s show where it began. The largest climate march in history took place on Sunday, one of the largest political gatherings ever here. We’re going to end with one of the most memorable speeches at the U.N. climate summit that took place on Tuesday, with Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands reading her poem in the United Nations. It was a letter that she had written to her child.

KATHY JETNIL-KIJINER: dear matafele peinam,

you are a seven month old sunrise of gummy smiles
you are bald as an egg and bald as the buddha
you are thighs that are thunder, shrieks that are lightning
so excited for bananas, hugs and
our morning walks along the lagoon

dear matafele peinam,

i want to tell you about that lagoon
that lazy, lounging lagoon lounging against the sunrise

men say that one day

that lagoon will devour you

they say it will gnaw at the shoreline
chew at the roots of your breadfruit trees
gulp down rows of seawalls
and crunch through your island’s shattered bones

they say you, your daughter
and your granddaughter, too
will wander rootless
with only a passport to call home

dear matafele peinam,

don’t cry

mommy promises you

no one will come and devour you

no greedy whale of a company sharking through political seas
no backwater bullying of businesses with broken morals no blindfolded
bureaucracies gonna push
this mother ocean over
the edge

no one’s drowning, baby
no one’s moving
no one’s losing their homeland
no one’s becoming a climate change refugee

or should i say
no one else

to the carteret islanders of papua new guinea
and to the taro islanders of fiji
i take this moment
to apologize to you
we are drawing the line here

because we baby are going to fight
your mommy daddy
bubu jimma your country and your president too
we will all fight

and even though there are those
hidden behind platinum titles
who like to pretend that we don’t exist
who like to pretend that the marshall islands
typhoon haiyan in the philippines
floods of algeria, colombia, pakistan
and all the hurricanes, earthquakes and tidalwaves
didn’t exist

there are those
who see us

hands reaching out
fists raising up
banners unfurling
megaphones booming
and we are canoes blocking coal ships
we are the radiance of solar villages
we are the fresh clean soil of the farmer’s past
we are teenagers blooming petitions
we are families biking, recycling, reusing
engineers building, dreaming, designing
artists painting, dancing, writing
and we are spreading the word

and there are thousands out on the streets
hand in hand
chanting for change NOW

and they’re marching for you, baby
they’re marching for us

because we deserve to do more than just
we deserve
to thrive

dear matafele peinam,

you are eyes heavy
with drowsy weight
so just close those eyes
and sleep in peace

because we won’t let you down

you’ll see

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been listening to Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands. For the whole poem, go to

News Mon, 29 Sep 2014 11:33:37 -0400
Eric Holder's Complex Legacy: Voting Rights Advocate, Enemy of Press Freedom, Friend of Wall Street

Attorney General Eric Holder announced his plan to resign Thursday after nearly six years as head of the Justice Department. He will remain in office until a successor is nominated and confirmed. Assessments of Holder’s legacy as attorney general have been mixed. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund hailed Holder as one of the finest attorneys general in the nation’s history in part for his role in transforming the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and his leadership on voting rights. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized Holder’s record on national security issues. The ACLU notes that during Holder’s time in office, the Justice Department approved the drone killing of an American in Yemen, approved the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programs, failed to prosecute any Bush administration officials for torture, and presided over more leak prosecutions than all previous Justice Departments combined. We speak to Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson, Robert Weissman of Public Citizen, Leslie Proll of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Baher Azmy of the Center for Constitutional Rights.


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

AMY GOODMAN: Attorney General Eric Holder announced his plan to resign Thursday after nearly six years as head of the Justice Department. He’ll remain in office until a successor is nominated and confirmed. Holder spoke on Thursday at the White House.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: Over the last six years, our administration, your administration, has made historic gains in realizing the principles of the founding documents and fought to protect the most sacred of American rights—the right to vote. We have begun to realize the promise of equality for our LGBT brothers and sisters and their families. We have begun to significantly reform our criminal justice system and reconnect those who bravely serve in law enforcement with the communities that they protect. We have kept faith with our belief in the power of the greatest judicial system the world has ever known to fairly and effectively adjudicate any cases that are brought before it, including those that involve the security of the nation that we both love so dearly. We have taken steps to protect the environment and make more fair the rules by which our commercial enterprises operate. And we have held accountable those who would harm the American people either through violent means or the misuse of economic or political power.

AMY GOODMAN: Assessments of Eric Holder’s legacy as attorney general have been mixed. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund hailed Holder as one of the finest attorneys general in United States history, in part for his role in transforming the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and his leadership on voting rights.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized Holder’s record on national security issues. The ACLU notes, during Holder’s time in office, the Justice Department approved the drone killing of an American in Yemen, approved the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, failed to prosecute any Bush administration officials for torture, and presided over more leak prosecutions than all previous Justice Departments combined.

Today we host a roundtable discussion looking at Eric Holder’s record and legacy. Joining us from Washington, D.C., Rob Weissman, president of Public Citizen; Leslie Proll, Washington director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; and Michael Eric Dyson, University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University. Here in New York, Baher Azmy is with us, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Let’s begin in Washington, D.C. Let’s go to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Leslie Proll, your assessment of Eric Holder’s record? And by the way, were you surprised by his announcement yesterday?

LESLIE PROLL: Well, I was surprised that it happened yesterday. I think there have been rumors about his impending departure for some time now, and I think he himself had said that he was going to wait until the November election. So I think we were taken a little bit off guard in terms of the actual day that it happened, but we have expected this for some time now.

AMY GOODMAN: So talk about his record. Talk about Eric Holder’s record and your assessment of it.

LESLIE PROLL: Sure. I mean, we think that he will go down in the history books as one of the nation’s finest and most extraordinary attorney generals. I mean, he’s going to be right up there alongside Bobby Kennedy. And, you know, it’s not only for his aggressive enforcement of civil rights cases, but he has shown commitment and vision and courage in the way that he has used the platform of his office to really advance the national conversation on race. And I think when his legacy is brought out, that that is really what people are going to remember about him. He was unafraid to talk about race in this country. And that, I think, is what he will be remembered for most.

AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, President Obama applauded Eric Holder for his work combating financial fraud.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: He’s helped safeguard our markets from manipulation and consumers from financial fraud. Since 2009, the Justice Department has brought more than 60 cases against financial institutions and won some of the largest settlements in history for practices related to the financial crisis, recovering $85 billion, much of it returned to ordinary Americans who were badly hurt.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Obama hailing the record of Eric Holder, who announced his resignation yesterday, though it might well be a long time before he leaves, because a replacement will have to be approved. Rob Weissman of Public Citizen, your response?

ROBERT WEISSMAN: Well, I think that Eric Holder’s record in the area of financial fraud and holding corporate criminals accountable is really radically different than his record in the area of civil rights and voting rights. In this area, he has failed utterly. No one has been held accountable for the Wall Street crash, none of the Wall Street executives, none of the Wall Street firms, for widespread financial misdeeds that led to the worst recession we’ve faced in 70 years, tens of millions of people being thrown out of work, millions of people being thrown out of their homes. There was basically immunity. And in fact, when the Department of Justice under Eric Holder found evidence of large financial firms engaging in epic-level money laundering on behalf of narcotraffickers and countries the U.S. government considers to be enemies, it still decided not to criminally prosecute them, on the grounds that they were too big to fail, or, as it became known, too big to jail. Essentially, a decision was taken that if you are a financial institution and you become big enough and powerful enough, you are above the criminal law. And unfortunately, that, too, is going to be a major part of Eric Holder’s legacy.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Michael Eric Dyson, your assessment of the attorney general?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, I agree with Attorney Proll. I think he’s one of the most extraordinary attorney generals in the history of this nation. By the time he finishes, he may be the third-longest-serving attorney general ever. He has weathered the storm of an enormous racial backlash against black people in power at the top. He is arguably the second-most-powerful black person in the history of American politics after the president himself. So this is a man who was a proxy for the president in many ways, in terms of the symbolic representation of black power and the way in which—or American power in a black man, I should say—and the way in which that has been responded to by such vicious and acrimonious, if you will, articulations by people in the Senate, people who are questioning the attorney general, by politicians who felt open season on him. And as a result of that, when we look at his record, we’ve got to put it in the context of the abstract versus the real, the abstract versus what’s achievable, in a similar vein that had Barack Obama come into office and allowed the financial institutions of America to fail, you can’t overcome that headline, "First Black—Nation’s First Black President Allows the Financial Institutions to Fail." There’s nothing that we can ever do or say that would have counteracted or countervailed that particular reality and that headline.

And Eric Holder, look, we’re not saying he’s perfect at all, because no attorney general or politician is. But what we’re saying, in the light of what we did, if you’re not alive, you can’t be worried about being sued. If you’re not alive, you can’t worry about financial malfeasance. So, if you’re in prison or in jail, disproportionately, and you happen to be an ordinary citizen, those things are really incredibly important. So, while—yes, get the criminals who have continued financial malfeasance in this country. But what he’s done for the criminal justice system, what he’s done for sentencing, what he’s done for mandatory sentencing, what he’s done for racial profiling, what he’s done to combat police brutality, what he’s done to say that the American Voting Rights Act should be protected, and his, I think, creative use of different aspects of, you know, different sections, when others were gutted by the Supreme Court, has to be acknowledged. And my colleagues on the left sometimes neglect what is important to the masses and millions of people who were never under the purview even of the white left to be concerned about some of the issues that African-American people and Latino people and many others, religious and ethnic minorities, have been concerned about. I think, in that case, he will stand tall in the history of American jurisprudence, and certainly as one of the great attorneys general of all time.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to comments President Obama made about Eric Holder’s record on counterterrorism.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: He’s worked side by side with our intelligence community and the Department of Homeland Security to keep us safe from terrorist attacks and to counter violent extremism. On his watch, federal courts have successfully prosecuted hundreds of terror cases, proving that the world’s finest justice system is fully capable of delivering justice for the world’s most wanted terrorists.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Obama talking about Eric Holder. Baher Azmy, also with us, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been involved in a number of major national security lawsuits against the Department of Justice. Your response to his overall record and what President Obama said?

BAHER AZMY: Well, regarding the intersection of national security and civil rights, I think he’s had a very troubling legacy, most fundamentally by extending and solidifying the sort of wartime architecture and narrative into our legal system. And so, in some ways, he’s been an extension of the Bush administration’s Justice Department around indefinite detention at Guantánamo, the warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens, and in some areas has even gone farther, around the targeting of journalists who seek to expose illegal federal government misconduct and the use of targeted killing practices to execute U.S. citizens without due process.

AMY GOODMAN: Was there an alternative?

BAHER AZMY: Certainly there was an alternative. The alternative, I think, had been articulated fundamentally by President Obama—or candidate Obama, and in rolling back some of the excesses and rejecting the false choice between national security and civil rights. But that alternative wasn’t pursued. In fact, we sort of doubled down. And the danger, of course, is now that the sort of Bush administration practices around national security are not exceptional anymore, they have been solidified. There has been seepage and strengthening of the ties between wartime and law. And that’s going to take a long time to undo.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue with this discussion after break. Baher Azmy with us from the Center for Constitutional Rights; Rob Weissman, president of Public Citizen; Michael Eric Dyson, professor at Georgetown University; and Leslie Proll, with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: When speaking at the NAACP convention last year, Attorney General Eric Holder drew parallels between his own experiences as an African-American male and those of Trayvon Martin, when he recalled times in his life when he himself was racially profiled.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: The news of Trayvon Martin’s death last year and the discussions that have taken place since then reminded me of my father’s words so many years ago. And they brought me back to a number of experiences that I had as a young man—when I was pulled over twice and my car searched on the New Jersey Turnpike, when I’m sure I wasn’t speeding, or when I was stopped by a police officer while simply running to catch a movie at night in Georgetown in Washington, D.C. I was, at the time of that last incident, a federal prosecutor. Trayvon’s death last spring caused me to sit down to have a conversation with my own 15-year-old son, like my dad did with me. This was a father-son tradition I hoped would not need to be handed down.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Eric Holder. Michael Eric Dyson, University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University, your response to what he said, but also what our guests have said so far in concern about, on the one hand, really taking on issues of racial profiling, but when it comes to, for example, U.S. citizens targeted for drone strikes, his record there?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yeah, there’s no question that Eric Holder’s appeal to the existential, to the personal, added a weight, a heft, a gravitas, to his statements and also personal testimony, to suggest that there is a reasonable way in which one could highlight, underscore and embrace the issue of race while at the same time talking about principles that could be universally applied. I think when he spoke before the NAACP, he did the nation a great service. He suggested that these citizens of color, who happen to be African-American, are worthy of the respect of the state not to be viciously or arbitrarily targeted by them. The protection and service that should be rendered by police should also be extended to African-American, Latino, poor white people and all others equally. Equal treatment under the law and equal justice, of course, is extraordinarily important. So I think Eric Holder’s record in that regard will stand the test of time.

Of course, we talk about the conflicts, the contradictions and broader conceptions of American democracy in its application. And in that case, whereas Eric Holder has much more direct control over events, forces and realities within the context of the Department of Justice, when we’re talking about the other issues that my colleagues have alluded to, then you’re talking about the interaction between the president of the United States of America and the Justice Department. Then you’re talking about the bailiwick being extraordinarily expanded. And in that case, Eric Holder alone can’t shoulder the burden of that. Are there conflicts and contradictions? To be sure. But in terms of ascribing, you know, responsibility, I think that’s a much more muddy kind of context.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me play for you Attorney General Eric Holder—this was in 2012 at Northwestern University Law School—arguing the Obama administration had the right to kill U.S. citizens who belong to al-Qaeda or associated forces.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: Some have argued that the president is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qaeda or associated forces. This is simply not accurate. Due process and judicial process are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process. It does not guarantee judicial process.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Eric Holder. Professor Dyson?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right. Well, look, you know, he’s obviously supplying judicial predicate for what he felt was a righteous response by the president. There are those of us, of course, who severely and strongly disagree with that and who would suggest that there are other alternatives available. But as a Justice Department official, as the head law giver, so to speak, or law keeper, then Eric Holder’s role is one that’s divided. He is responsible to the broader American public, which is why the Department of Justice, in particular the Attorney General’s Office, is perhaps the most independent of Cabinet member—Cabinet-level appointments, and, on the other hand, serving at the pleasure of the president of the United States of America. So that’s an internal contradiction that certainly is not going to be resolved by Eric Holder.

Finally, in terms of the actual practice, we know that being involved in the so-called war on terror, which does continue the language of the Bush administration, these are very, very new times. And discerning the difference between traditional conceptions of war, where combatants are easily established, versus the war of, quote, "terror," or should I say, quote, "the war on terror," where the combatants are not easily distinguishable and vicious acts have been perpetrated even in the name of those who have legitimate gripes and complaints about the practices of the United States of America or other legally established governments, leads us into very, very new terrain. And, of course, mistakes will be made. And the reality is, we’ve got to continue to grapple with that. But I think his underlying principle of not, you know, targeting people because of their ethnicity, their race, their religious orientation is a huge move forward in terms of the Islamophobia that has prevailed in much of this war.

AMY GOODMAN: Baher Azmy of the Center for Constitutional Rights?

BAHER AZMY: Yes, well, as someone who does believe that the president needs some judicial review before executing U.S. citizens, and as a lawyer, it was fairly shocking to hear the attorney general say—in a law school audience, particularly—that due process does not require judicial process. The essence of due process for hundreds of years is that executive officials do not get to themselves decide how to deprive individuals of rights and that the judiciary does have to be involved. But that analysis was one that gave legal cover to policy decisions of the executive branch, and therefore, you know, collapsed the distinction between war and the Constitution in the way, in a troubling way, that the prior Justice Department had. And what’s disappointing, I think, is that his great empathy and thoughtfulness about the role of race in this country and state violence in this country, I would have hoped could have informed the use of war and state violence against detainees in Guantánamo, innocent civilians killed by drone strikes abroad, and the simple perpetuation of raw executive power under legal cover.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Eric Holder talking about Robert Kennedy. This was yesterday at the White House when he announced his resignation. Again, Eric Holder has announced his resignation, but he will probably serve for quite some time, because not only would a replacement have to be nominated, but he would have to be approved by Congress. This is Eric Holder.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: I have loved the Department of Justice ever since as a young boy I watched Robert Kennedy prove during the civil rights movement how the department can and must always be a force for that which is right. I hope that I have done honor to the faith that you have placed in me, Mr. President, and to the legacy of all those who have served before me.

AMY GOODMAN: Leslie Proll, talk about the significance of these comparisons and the particular case, as you’ve been involved in so many, particularly in the South and where you come from in Alabama, that you will remember Eric Holder for.

LESLIE PROLL: Sure. I think that Eric Holder viewed Robert Kennedy as his role model, and that was kind of the guiding light for his tenure in the department. And with Eric Holder, it was very personal for him, this connection to Robert Kennedy. Not many people know this, but Eric Holder’s sister-in-law was one of the students who desegregated the University of Alabama. Her name was Vivian Malone. And she’s one of the two students who Governor George Wallace blocked in the schoolhouse door from entering the campus under a court order to desegregate that school. And the Justice Department, under the leadership of Robert Kennedy, was actually the agency that asked Governor Wallace to step aside and allow the students to enter into the campus, and it was Robert Kennedy who had sent his civil rights deputies, Nicholas Katzenbach, in particular, who negotiated the entrance of Eric Holder’s sister-in-law into that university. And that is a pivotal moment in civil rights history. And I have to think that he remembered that every day of his tenure. And, you know, he said that he had a painting of Robert Kennedy in his office. And I think that was very personal for him, because his family, more than most, understood the role of the Justice Department and its Civil Rights Division in enforcing civil rights laws.

And he certainly carried that out with respect to a host of areas. I mean, certainly, he began his remarks yesterday in talking about his legacy, in mentioning voting rights. And certainly this is something that he will be remembered for. He defended the Voting Rights Act when it was under attack in the courts, essentially the constitutionality of it. His lawyers defended that act in federal courts. And then, when the Supreme Court struck down a key section of that act, he would not retreat. He said, "I am going to use the other provisions of the act in order to enforce the Voting Rights Act." And sure enough, he filed lawsuits right away after that decision in Texas and North Carolina. And in these last three weeks, the Legal Defense Fund has been working side by side with his lawyers in the Texas litigation. And so, he has been unabashed and unafraid to use the civil rights laws where he could, and that is going to be, you know, a huge part of his legacy, that he was willing to aggressively enforce these laws when it comes to fair housing, fair lending, education, desegregation, employment discrimination.

And certainly in the area—as the professor said, in the area of criminal justice reform, that is going to be another key legacy of his. He used the power of his position to talk about the unfairness of mandatory minimums and to take steps, through policy and through telling his prosecutors not to overcharge when there is a nonviolent drug offender and to take steps to talk about how are we as a country going to help people who are exiting from confinement and dealing with the collateral consequences, such as finding employment and finding housing. He chaired a 20-agency inter-agency task force just devoted to re-entry. Again, that is going to be another part of his legacy.

AMY GOODMAN: Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee a year ago, Eric Holder suggested that some banks are too big to jail.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy. And I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large. Again, I’m not talking about HSBC; this is just a more general comment. I think it has an inhibiting influence—impact on our ability to bring resolutions that I think would be more appropriate.

AMY GOODMAN: In May, Eric Holder sought to clarify the Department of Justice’s position on prosecuting financial fraud.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: Why would I be anyplace other than right here, right now, you know, to talk to the people in this area who are deserving of our attention and who we want to help as best we can? And we also want to listen. That’s the main part of this trip. We want to listen to hear about the issues that you all are dealing with to see are there ways in which we can help.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Eric Holder in Ferguson, which I want to get to in a moment, very unusual for an attorney general to make that trip. But, Rob Weissman, on that issue of too large to fail?

ROBERT WEISSMAN: Yeah, again, I think that there’s just a totally different story here. And I think I should say, you know, that his record in civil rights and voting rights is impressive, and it’s important, and it will be a defining element of his legacy, and I think, as Leslie said, not just what he did, but what he said. And it was really unusual, unfortunately unusual, not just for an attorney general, but really for any Cabinet official, to speak aggressively and openly and honestly about race, or really about much else, and use their power to try to change a national conversation. I think he gets tons of credit for that.

However, in the area, again, of financial fraud and holding corporate criminals accountable, it’s a really different story. And there was a decision made—and, by the way, this is not a decision that belongs to anybody else except Eric Holder. Eric Holder and his top lieutenants decided not to prosecute individuals, the CEOs and other executives, on Wall Street responsible for the crash and other wrongdoing, and not to seriously go after the institutions and hold them criminally accountable. And the purported rationale for that was what he said in the first clip, that the businesses had grown so large that there might be some overall impact on the national or global economy, if they were criminally prosecuted. So what evolved was this idea of too big to jail. These companies had become so big that they couldn’t become—they couldn’t be criminally prosecuted. That is turning every element of criminal justice upside down. It means if you become, as a company, so large and powerful, you rise above the criminal law. Due to your size and power, you become immune from criminal prosecution. It’s really perverse. Now, maybe it’s true. But then, if that’s true, then you’ve got to say the institutions are too big to exist and try to break them up, something that actually is within the authority of the Department of Justice. And there was no hint of that from Eric Holder’s DOJ.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Michael Eric Dyson, your response?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: You know, in the abstract, I absolutely agree with my colleague, I mean, when we look at the kind of malfeasance and the kind of, you know, corruption that really was pervasive in the entire infrastructure. But a couple things. First of all, you know, the people who took the brunt of the mortgage crisis happened to be African-American people. The greatest bleed-off of black wealth in the history of this nation occurred there. So, if anybody is invested in trying to recoup some of that, it would be those people, and to redound to them significantly. The redistributive mechanism that might restore some of the capital to those folk is, again, of course, never the interest of many of my colleagues who are concerned about it. They just want to put in jail the CEOs and the others who did all this stuff, but they’re not really concerned about the redistributive mechanism that allows these people to regain, because even if you put those guys in jail, the people at the bottom continue to suffer, and there’s no direct response to that, number one.

Number two, if we’re going to talk about this in the actual political context, the kind of racial realpolitik that exists, let’s be real. If President Barack Obama can’t be seen as too gruffly treating white Americans vis-à-vis the Skip Gates situation, where he simply said that the policeman was acting stupidly—the uproar on that was incredible—what do you think will happen then if Eric Holder, as the first African-American attorney general, is seen to be going after mostly white CEOs and other corporate titans within the economic infrastructure? Now, it sounds great, on the one hand, because it is an acknowledgment of our adherence to rational principles of the defense of the poor and vulnerable, but in the real political context within which we exist, I think you’re underestimating the pervasive character of race, how it has shaped the very lens through which we perceive these issues. And unfortunately, the optics on black men at the top—Barack Obama and Eric Holder—exercising a certain kind of aggressive posture toward these particular entities or individuals is being underestimated here. Barack Obama, on the one hand, has receded in light of that kind of vicious racial reaction. Eric Holder has taken it by its tail and said, "At certain significant points, I’m going to intervene." To ask him to do the whole thing and to overcome an entire history of structural and perceptual inequalities that exist, I think is just asking too much.

AMY GOODMAN: Rob Weissman, too much?

ROBERT WEISSMAN: No, I mean, I think the world of Professor Dyson, but I strongly disagree with this. First of all, if you let these criminals get off the hook, they’re going to do it again. So if you care about protecting the communities, you’ve got to hold them accountable. It’s not an abstract principle. It has a very real application. Exactly as he said, the crisis that was induced by these Wall Street executives devastated communities across the country, especially poor and low-income communities across the country. And it’s going to happen again. It’s a certainty it is going to happen again, if we don’t have a change and hold people accountable for what they’re doing. Now, was it impossible for Eric Holder to prosecute these people? No, it wasn’t. Twenty years ago in the savings-and-loan crisis, which cost the country about $500 billion—a ton of money, but nothing compared to the $14 trillion in losses from this crisis—a thousand people want to jail. So, they can be prosecuted. And if you look at what—

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Who was the attorney general then? That’s all I’m asking. I’m saying, who was the attorney general then?

ROBERT WEISSMAN: There was not an African-American attorney general, of course not.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: That’s all I’m saying, brother. All I’m telling you—

ROBERT WEISSMAN: But you can’t say—

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Race makes a difference that we’re underestimating.

ROBERT WEISSMAN: You can’t say—no.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: That’s all I’m saying.

ROBERT WEISSMAN: You can acknowledge that. Of course, he’s faced all kinds of unfairness because he’s an African American in the job. But it doesn’t mean he’s not responsible for doing the job. And in fact, he was more gentle on corporate criminals than any predecessor. So one thing that’s really evolved in the last 15 years, but took off under Eric Holder, was the use of what’s known as deferred and nonprosecution agreements. These are deals with large corporations that have committed criminal acts, but the government says, "We’re not going to criminally prosecute you; we’re going to enter into a nonprosecution agreement. We’re not going to prosecute you. You promise not to do the same thing in the future, and we’re going to let you pay some money and get off." The government, under Eric Holder, did that 150 times—150 times—which has been done maybe a hundred in history prior to the Obama administration. So there’s been more use of this kind of tactic, to be gentler with corporate criminals, than there has been in the entirety of the Department of Justice history.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. I want to bring in Baher Azmy on the issue of journalists, in specific, not only talking about the crackdown on corporations, but on journalists, the surveillance of, the arrest of, and get response to what is happening right now in this country around voting rights. We’re talking to Rob Weissman, president of Public Citizen; Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. We also have with us in Washington Professor Michael Eric Dyson, University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University, and Leslie Proll, Washington director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. In January, during an interview at the University of Virginia, Attorney General Eric Holder ruled out clemency for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: The notion of clemency was not something that we were willing to consider. But as I said, were he to come back to the United States, enter a plea, we would engage with his lawyers.

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: And presumably that would be a guilty plea to something.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about the life, the legacy of Eric Holder as he announces yesterday that he is resigning as attorney general. Actually, when he actually will step down will be a very interesting question, considering how the kind of logjam there is in Washington right now, the deadlock between Republicans and Democrats. Our guests are Baher Azmy, legal director of Center for Constitutional Rights; Rob Weissman, president of Public Citizen; Michael Eric Dyson, University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown; and Leslie Proll, with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Baher Azmy, the issue of the significance of Snowden and what the U.S. government has done? He in political asylum now in Russia, but wants to come home.

BAHER AZMY: Yeah, so, in general, I think what we’ve seen, in combination with sort of perpetuating illegal federal government practices in the national security area, is, on the other hand, secrecy and protecting government secrets. So, the illegality and the secrecy are braided together. And what’s particularly troubling is, when journalists or other whistleblowers have tried to expose the secrecy, the response has been to crack down in an unprecedented way on journalists, on whistleblowers, by using a fairly odious 1917 law called the Espionage Act, which was explicitly designed to repress dissent during wartime. And I think it’s now clear that Edward Snowden has done a service to this country by exposing deep illegality at the federal government and wide-scale surveillance that the government otherwise tried to keep secret. And I think that he needn’t be punished in the same way as this administration has tried to punish other journalists and whistleblowers, including Julian Assange.

AMY GOODMAN: The phrase, Professor Michael Eric Dyson, most often used in describing Eric Holder and President Obama now is saying that President Obama has presided over more prosecutions of whistleblowers than all presidents in history combined. And, of course, Eric Holder is pivotal to this. Your response?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yeah, well, just like as Brother Weissman was talking earlier about this, and all of my colleagues, I don’t have any principled disagreement with, in the abstract, the arguments being made. And again here, I can’t defend, as a person who makes a living in part as a journalist and as a public intellectual, any kind of, you know, unjust assault upon the privileges and freedoms that they incur—that they enjoy. So there’s no doubt that there are some contradictions going on here and some fundamentally troubling and disturbing aspects to the legacy. So, I don’t deny that at all.

And I think that in regard to the Snowden tradition, obviously, as attorney general and as president, seeing that the national security under their purview and being privy to information that the rest of the public is not privy to carries its own weight. Of course, the counterargument is that, yeah, well, if you’re going to talk about a sunshine law where we expose, in transparency, all the elements that make up the decisions we make about what gets protected and what doesn’t, in terms of information on national security, then whistleblowers become critical and extremely important. And I understand the argument here vis-à-vis Mr. Snowden and why that’s so troubling to many of us in the American public.

AMY GOODMAN: New York Times's James Risen, who the Obama administration wants to prosecute, and that's in the purview of the Department of Justice, said to Maureen Dowd that President Obama is "the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation." Professor Dyson?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yeah, well, that could turn out to be true. I hope not. But the reality is, is that, look, there are chilling effects in terms of the decisions that have been made vis-à-vis President Obama. So it has to be reckoned with. I’m not here to defend that, and I’m not here to defend anybody’s record across the board, because there will always be lapses and contradictions, some of which are fundamental and some of which are extremely troubling. And so, I think, in this case, again, it is to be acknowledged that we can not only talk about that, we could talk about the master deporter in terms of vis-à-vis the issue of immigration. So, yeah, there are elements here that are extremely troubling and quite disturbing.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happens next? This issue of, yes, he has announced he’s stepping down, he’s wanted to do this for a while, but, in fact, how long do you think, Professor Dyson, he will be staying?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: You know, I think he’s going to be there for a while, because the reality is, you know, we have to put pressure on the president here to say, "Look, choose a person who can carry the water that Eric Holder has carried in so many significant ways." My colleagues have already indicated some of the lapses and contradictions and the troubling and chilling consequences. But when you look at the overall, you know, you look at box score, when you look at a person’s average—and I’m not dismissing the legitimate critique on any area here—but when you look at the extraordinary work that Eric Holder has done, the good that he has achieved, and the impact on the domestic, you know, and sometimes international sphere, you’ve got to acknowledge that we should have at least another attorney general who will carry that weight forward. And we can’t use the excuse that, hey, you know, the Senate might change, the numbers of Republicans versus Democrats might alter, and as a result of that we should tamp down on some of the edifying fury that Eric Holder has brought to his job. No, I say we go in the opposite direction: We make certain that we carry on the legacy that this man has created. Let’s not subvert it or undermine it by a kind of tepid, lukewarm response to the politics at hand.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. I want to thank Michael Eric Dyson, University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown; Leslie Proll, Washington director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; also Baher Azmy here in New York, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights; and Rob Weissman, president of Public Citizen. Other big news this week, again, the resumption of bombing of Syria and Iraq going after the Islamic State.

News Mon, 29 Sep 2014 11:30:00 -0400
Spanish Independence Movements and the Recolonization of Southern Europe

Please check back later for the full transcript.

News Mon, 29 Sep 2014 11:25:04 -0400
The Wilderness Act Turns 50: Celebrating the Great Laws of 1964

Let us now praise famous laws and the year that begat them: 1964.

The first thing to know about 1964 was that, although it occurred in the 1960s, it wasn’t part of “the Sixties.” The bellbottoms, flower power, LSD, and craziness came later, beginning about 1967 and extending into the early 1970s. Trust me: I was there, and I don’t remember much; so by the dictum variously attributed to Grace Slick, Dennis Hopper, and others (that if you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t part of them), I must really have been there.

1964 was a revolutionary year. It was a time when Congress actually addressed the people’s business, and it gave us at least three great laws.

One was the monumental Civil Rights Act, which aspired to complete the tragic and sanguinary work of the Civil War and achieve the promise of the Thirteenth Amendment.

The least known of the three was the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, which, by drawing on revenue from offshore oil and gas leases, provided the means for the federal and state purchase of all kinds ofrecreational and wild lands, from inner-city parks and playgrounds to habitat for grizzly bears and mountain lions. President Johnson signed that bill into law on September 3, 1964, 50 years ago this month, mere moments after the more famous ceremony that went with his signing of the Wilderness Act.

Like the Civil Rights Act, the Wilderness Act legislated justice. I don’t mean to equate the two laws -- no one went to jail or was attacked by police dogs or shot or killed to get the Wilderness Act passed, but it did embody a revolutionary act of justice, nevertheless. It legislated compassion toward the planet by insisting that we humans must stop and leave certain lands alone and not take anything more from them. That third great law of 1964 made a down payment on giving Earth its due. It was that kind of justice.

In 1964, I had only the vaguest inklings about these matters. That summer I was more concerned with the Barry Goldwater literature I was sticking behind my neighbor’s screen doors. Barry Goldwater? The right-wing Republican candidate for president whom the Dems famously branded astrigger-happy with the nuclear arsenal? Yes, that Goldwater. My father, a Republican, was for him, and so I was, too. Could my dad have been wrong? Hell no, not for at least another 10 teenage minutes, after which the old guy seemed to be wrong about nearly everything for the next decade, but that’s not the story I want to tell.

Instead, I want to talk about sex, or at least about seduction, which many people agree is the better part of sex.

Opposition to the Civil Rights Act had a sexual undercurrent. The law itself focused on equal access to buses, trains, drinking fountains, restaurants, restrooms, and hotels; it aimed to end racial and gender discrimination in education and employment. Ultimately, it concerned itself with the promise of the entire American project, for its goal was to honor the “self-evident truth” that “all men are created equal,” as though the nation, after nearly two centuries of equivocation, had finally agreed with what the Declaration of Independence said.

As segregationists had done since before the Civil War, opponents of the bill raised the specter of racial mixing -- miscegenation -- as a way of rallying white resistance to integration. Racists warned, for instance, that school integration would lead to hanky-panky between young whites and blacks, and didn’t you know where that would lead? The hypocrisy in this, given that rape of black women by white men had been a constant of the plantation world, was of course monumental, but the demagogues, in public and private, ranted on. Ultimately, the Civil Rights Act would stop short of guaranteeing an individual’s freedom to marry or cohabit with whomever he or she chose, but it prepared the way for the 1967 Supreme Court decision in Loving v.Virginia that rendered unconstitutional the anti-miscegenation laws then in force across the South.

In this way -- and not just because (in one of the great political surprises of the era) it outlawed discrimination on the basis of gender, as well as race -- the Civil Rights Act concerned sex. As the trolls who fought its passage feared, it helped to enlarge the range of socially and legally acceptable seduction.

So, in a way, did the Wilderness Act. But this will take some explaining.

Love Struck in the Wilderness

Flash forward to 1976. In that year I was a skinny kid, 25 years old, living in an isolated village in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico (where I still live today). After a big meal and long drink of water, I might have weighed 150 pounds. Thanks to a “Your-Weight-for-a-Dime” machine on San Francisco Street in Santa Fe, I learned that my backpack weighed nearly half of what I did. It was loaded with macaroni and other near-foods. I was headed into the Pecos Wilderness, a high mountain fastness where 12,000-foot peaks circle the headwaters of the Pecos River. I would be gone for two weeks, and I would be alone. My plan was to walk home, to my village, taking the long way.

All that first day and the day after, my worries rattled inside me like cans in the back of a pickup. Did I pack enough food? Did I bring the right stuff? Would my strength hold out? Would I get desperately lonely with no one to talk to? What if I got hurt?

Relief came when I topped a sharp ridge above the timberline, nearly colliding with a six-bird flock of band-tailed pigeons. Only yards away, they wheeled as one, tails spread, air seething through their feathers. I think I felt the soft breath of their wake. “Six-bird flock of band-tailed pigeons”: I wrote down the phrase in my pocket notebook. The words had rhythm; they scanned. Suddenly, the whole world seemed made of poetry.

On the second night, I camped in a dark, still forest, waking repeatedly from shallow sleep, aware of small creatures skittering around me. In the morning, I found that wood rats had chewed off chunks of my camp moccasins. They showed the good judgment, however, to ignore my food.

On the third day, a snowstorm caught me at high altitude in open country. It was only late September, but I should not have been surprised. Winter comes early above timberline, and the storm blew in unseen from behind the mountain I was climbing. Soon, everything was blowing snow, shrieking wind, and a whiteout so thick I could scarcely see the ground. There was no question of seeking better shelter; I stumbled into a copse of wind-tortured, nearly prostrate spruces and pitched my tarp, low and flat, among the gnarled trees. Then I crawled under the tarp to wait out the weather.

The storm seethed for the next 18 hours. Most of the snow flew by horizontally, so fast it may have landed in Texas. In the end, eight or more inches covered the ground. The wind never quit. In the night, when moonlight briefly broke the overcast, I crept out and hiked to the top of the divide. Cumulus clouds, as moist as the spray of waterfalls, boiled up from the Rio Grande Valley. They broke like surf and tumbled across the tundra ridge, their swirls visible in the angry air. Today, I can still see those malevolent, ghostly shapes, all turmoil and beauty. I watched them billow eastward into darkness until cold drove me back to my sleeping bag.

Next day, postholing through the snow, I began to feel different. Something had changed, but I didn’t know what. It was nothing dramatic or decisive, but it mattered and it didn’t go away. Days and miles rolled by, daysof camps made, meals cooked, trails lost and found, and the feeling only grew. The first week yielded to a second that was better than the first. Mentally I was in a groove, a zone of my own. Nothing troubled me, not successive storms, short rations, cold, or fatigue.

A day or two from the end of the trip, having set course for home, an explanation came to mind. Somehow the tempest had taught me that moods are like letters. If you can’t mail them, you don’t write them. Since I was alone and had no one to deliver my moods to, I let them go. When I did, I found myself in a frame of mind that was new and different from the mind I’d had before.

You might say that the discovery was a small one, but a lot of growing up consists of small revelations, and understanding that moods are letters was one of mine. As it happened, something else was going on, too.

All of us change when we fall in love, and part of the intoxication of romance is the way we come to love the changes our new relationships cause in ourselves. Up there in the high country, something like that was happening, and I was falling in love.

The Pecos Wilderness was seducing me. I was entering an irrational state of love-struckness as irrational, more or less, as any other.

Lighting Out for the Territories

I later learned that the Hopis have a pretty good word for this. Like most of the entries in the Hopi-English dictionary, this one begins with a k and is about seven syllables long. It translates, as best I remember, as “walking hand in hand and looking dreamily into the eyes of the desired one.” Which describes how I was feeling as I walked home, gazing dreamily into the scenery after two weeks in the embrace of the federally designated Pecos Wilderness Area.

I’ve never gotten over the experience. Years later, having read some anthropology, I came to understand that, notwithstanding my distinctly non-tribal upbringing, I had cooked up a rite of passage for myself, and the wilderness had been its arena. Various friends, I’ve since learned, had similar experiences, which they’ve never gotten over. It doesn’t stop there: if you read much history, you’ll come across others who entered the wilderness and fell the same way.

A few examples:

  • In 1806, John Colter, having wet his moccasins in the Pacific Ocean, was traveling back to St. Louis with Captains Lewis and Clark. In present-day North Dakota, however, he had a change of heart: he decided he liked it better in the woods. He asked the captains to discharge him, which they did. Then, he did an about-face and headed west again, plunging into the deep wildness. Eventually, he made it to the country we now call Yellowstone. He’d heard of geysers there and thought he would check them out.
  • George Bradley, Billy Hawkins, Andy Hall, and John Sumner barely survived their harrowing 1869 descent of the Colorado River with the indomitable explorer and one-armed Civil War veteran John Wesley Powell. Three of their campmates didn’t fare as well: the Howland brothers and William Dunn elected to walk out of the Grand Canyon rather than continue to test the river’s fearsome rapids, and they died in the attempt. When, after three months of exertion, danger, and suffering, the remaining members of the expedition finally reached the mouth of the Virgin River near present-day Las Vegas, Powell and his notably unstable brother, Walter, returned to civilization via the Mormon settlements. But not Bradley, Hawkins, Hall, and Sumner. They were in no hurry to get to a town. In the expedition’s remaining boats, they kept going down the river, Hawkins and Hall continuing all the way to tidewater, where the Colorado spills into the Gulf of California.
  • On Valentine’s Day, 1884, at 3:00 a.m., “Mittie” Roosevelt, mother of Theodore, the future president, died. Eleven brutal hours later and in the same gloomy house, Roosevelt’s beloved young wife, Alice, having given birth only a few days earlier, died as well. In less than half a day, Roosevelt had lost the two most important women in his life. TR was a compulsive diarist. In the place in his diary where the entry for that wretched day should have gone, he drew a big black “X” and under it wrote, “The light has gone out of my life.”

How did Roosevelt recover from such blows? His answer was quintessentially American. He put his newborn daughter in the care of relatives and, like Huck Finn, “lit out for the territories.” In Roosevelt’s case, the territory was North Dakota, where he found a new love, virtually as compelling as the two he had lost. An Eastern-raised son of privilege, he fell in love with the West and its wildness.

  • And John Muir! Talk about love-struck! If you can read The Yosemite or The Mountains of California and not see in them a story of seduction and wildly reciprocated love, you should consult your cardiologist immediately.
  • And then there are several centuries’ worth of North American captivity narratives recounting the lives of whites who cohabited for extended periods with Indians, only to be recaptured laterand brought back to white society. They rarely returned happily. Cynthia Ann Parker, mother of Quanah, the legendary Comanche chief, was typical.  She remained morose for the rest of her life, as were many who shared similar fates: they liked it better on the prairie or in the forest. Partly, they loved their adopted Indian families and the culture they adjusted to, but partly, they simply loved the freedom of the land.

One Law, 110 Million Acres of Land Saved for Us All

Hindsight is great. If we were creating the Wilderness Act today, we would write it differently. For starters, a rewritten act might acknowledge that much of what we now call “wilderness” is or was homeland to a broad range of native tribes. Also, half a century later, we know much more about how ecosystems work; we understand the importance of natural boundaries, as opposed to survey boundaries, and we grasp the need for buffer zones and refuges for rare plants and animals. Meanwhile, the fix we are in as a civilization is, frankly, so much worse than it was 50 years ago, and wild lands are more threatened than ever. Climate change is just the tip of that particular iceberg. We continue to transform Earth much more rapidly than we are learning to understand its workings.

Today, however, rather than tote up the peccadillos of the law that Howard Zahniser of the Wilderness Society and others crafted so brilliantly a half century ago, we should take a moment to appreciate the stunning success of the Wilderness Act in protecting the integrity of nearly 110 million acres of wild lands across the magnificence of North America.

The Wilderness Act accomplished something no other law ever attempted on such a scale. Over the decades, it has invited us repeatedly to join humankind’s longest romance, which the Pleistocene painters at Lascaux and Chauvet understood well. It seduces us with the almost heart-stopping beauty of the Creation of which we are a part, a beauty that is the same no matter how you believe it came about.

The greatest thing about that great law, only one of three in 1964, is that it still invites us, even at times forces us (most of us being city dwellers), to fall in love with our beautiful blue planet Earth, the most singular and wonder-filled thing in all the universe. Think of it: in all the universe. If you believe that complexity is an element of beauty, then the complexity of life on this planet, expressed in billions upon billions of strands of DNA, makes it the most beautiful thing in the universe. Period. Hands down. No competition.

That’s our blue miracle of a planet, which the great Carl Sagan once described as “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

Given half a chance -- and the Wilderness Act gives us much more -- who wouldn’t fall in love with that?

Opinion Mon, 29 Sep 2014 11:14:13 -0400
Medicare, Dr. Mengele and You

So, the multimillionaire architect of Obamacare went on a luxury trek up Mount Kilimanjaro recently with two of his trust-fund nephews. I am guessing that much to his dismay, he got a bit winded moving through all those exotic ecosystems. His 57-year-old body, so buff, so pampered, must have protested with a few creaks and groans. His middle-aged elite lungs probably gave out a few embarrassing wheezes. His technocratic brain, deprived of oxygen at the freezing summit, sent him a Eureka moment message:

If Ezekiel Emanuel, M.D. can't live forever in a young body, then neither should you. If Ezekiel Emanuel's attack of male menopause freaked him out, then you should freak out too. If Ezekiel Emanuel fears a decline, then the rest of the aging population should just quietly disappear, even before they get sick or senile.

 Ezekiel Emanuel has decided that if he can't function like a rich jerk forever, he would just as soon die before he reaches 75. Therefore, nobody else should live past 75 either. Once you stop being entertaining or remunerative, you should just check the hell out.

Ezekiel Emanuel seems to hate old people, believing that they are eyesores and albatrosses around the necks of High Society. This is a Democrat, mind you: a highly influential member of Obama's inner circle of health policy advisers. And you thought Republicans were terrifying fascists? It just goes to show how severely right-wing, nihilist, cruel and cynical this country's ruling class has become. The culling of the herd is nigh. The time has come for Exceptional America to go all nomadic, leaving the old folks behind, so that only the fittest may survive.

The Manifesto of Death to Grandma was published in The Atlantic, which hilariously included an oversize photo of a goofily grinning Emanuel to accompany his Social Darwinism screed. The subliminal message of the photo is that the passive-aggressive dying experience will be fun for the entire family. Don't go away by suicide, assisted or otherwise: just go away. Play a game of Russian Roulette by daring to skip the colonoscopy and the mammogram... and simply fade away through attrition. Your heirs will thank you. The plutocrats of Wall Street will definitely thank you.

Let Natural Selection take its course.... especially if you're dependent on Medicare and Social Security for your continued survival. Let a benevolent smirking rich guy like Zeke be your guide:

But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.

Full disclosure: I am a physically disabled person, yet somehow I do not feel as deprived as Emanuel thinks I should. Until I read his article, I'd had no idea that my being in a wheelchair has robbed me of my creativity, and even worse, that my continued existence in a less-than-perfect body will rob my children of any pleasant memories of me for the rest of their lives. My living will stipulates only the physical and mental conditions for ending extraordinary intervention, not an arbitrary age for doing so. Moreover, since I still have quite a ways to go before my own date with Diamond Jubilee Destiny, does that mean I'm still safe, despite my "faltering" state?

 But I digress. Let Dr. Death explain further by projecting his own will on everybody:

By the time I reach 75, I will have lived a complete life. I will have loved and been loved. My children will be grown and in the midst of their own rich lives. I will have seen my grandchildren born and beginning their lives. I will have pursued my life’s projects and made whatever contributions, important or not, I am going to make. And hopefully, I will not have too many mental and physical limitations. Dying at 75 will not be a tragedy. Indeed, I plan to have my memorial service before I die. And I don’t want any crying or wailing, but a warm gathering filled with fun reminiscences, stories of my awkwardness, and celebrations of a good life. After I die, my survivors can have their own memorial service if they want—that is not my business.

It's all about Ezekiel Emanuel. If he can't hear the smarmy accolades at his own funeral, then why even have one? (Speaking of limitations, he already has a major one, one that he was probably born with: a congenital absence of the empathy trait. He is, after all, the brother of Rahm "Mayor One Percent" Emanuel.)

I am talking about how long I want to live and the kind and amount of health care I will consent to after 75. Americans seem to be obsessed with exercising, doing mental puzzles, consuming various juice and protein concoctions, sticking to strict diets, and popping vitamins and supplements, all in a valiant effort to cheat death and prolong life as long as possible. This has become so pervasive that it now defines a cultural type: what I call the American immortal.

I reject this aspiration. I think this manic desperation to endlessly extend life is misguided and potentially destructive. For many reasons, 75 is a pretty good age to aim to stop.

I think oxygen deprivation at the summit of Kilimanjaro must have either permanently impaired Emanuel's brain function, or his death-wish may even represent a form of late onset manic-depressive psychosis affecting mainly elites. According to his logic, Ruth Bader Ginsburg should never have been (successfully) treated for her pancreatic cancer. If Hillary Clinton is elected president, she should forgo physical exams midway through her first term, lest Chelsea suffer needlessly in the event that a health problem in Mom is discovered and treated. Albert Einstein should have skipped his annual check-ups, because once he discovered the Theory of Relativity, he was surplus flesh. Ditto for E.M. Forster, who stopped writing 60 years before his death at 91. How pathetic is that? And forget Harper Lee: her artificial leg is a complete and utter waste of Medicare dollars, given that she was a one-hit wonder: Ezekiel doesn't think it'd be a sin to kill that bird.

He finally cuts to the chase after cherry-picking through data that purports to show that while Americans live longer, they live longer most miserably. This is  also all about his Dad, who simply refused to die in the best shape of his life:

My father illustrates the situation well. About a decade ago, just shy of his 77th birthday, he began having pain in his abdomen. Like every good doctor, he kept denying that it was anything important. But after three weeks with no improvement, he was persuaded to see his physician. He had in fact had a heart attack, which led to a cardiac catheterization and ultimately a bypass. Since then, he has not been the same. Once the prototype of a hyperactive Emanuel, suddenly his walking, his talking, his humor got slower. Today he can swim, read the newspaper, needle his kids on the phone, and still live with my mother in their own house. But everything seems sluggish. Although he didn’t die from the heart attack, no one would say he is living a vibrant life. When he discussed it with me, my father said, “I have slowed down tremendously. That is a fact. I no longer make rounds at the hospital or teach.” Despite this, he also said he was happy.

Then Daddy must be demented, or at least getting close. As Ezekiel hypomanically continues:

Even if we aren’t demented, our mental functioning deteriorates as we grow older. Age-associated declines in mental-processing speed, working and long-term memory, and problem-solving are well established. Conversely, distractibility increases. We cannot focus and stay with a project as well as we could when we were young. As we move slower with age, we also think slower.

It is not just mental slowing. We literally lose our creativity. About a decade ago, I began working with a prominent health economist who was about to turn 80. Our collaboration was incredibly productive. We published numerous papers that influenced the evolving debates around health-care reform. My colleague is brilliant and continues to be a major contributor, and he celebrated his 90th birthday this year. But he is an outlier—a very rare individual.

I don't know about that. Everywhere you look, there are amazingly brilliant octogenarians and nonagenarians who still dare to function at the peak of their abilities. Several of them contribute to this blog. (see 91-year-old Pearl's scathing remarks in my comments section.) And there is a New York Times commenter named Larry Eisenberg who can produce a limerick on any topic in the space of a few minutes. He is 94. Creative older people are "outliers" only in Emanuel's closed, elitist mind.

Here's a section sure to strike dread into the heart of every gerontologist:

At 75 and beyond, I will need a good reason to even visit the doctor and take any medical test or treatment, no matter how routine and painless. And that good reason is not “It will prolong your life.” I will stop getting any regular preventive tests, screenings, or interventions. I will accept only palliative—not curative—treatments if I am suffering pain or other disability.

How much you want to bet that Zekey-Boy will be screaming for extraordinary measures at the age of 98, ripping the oxygen-mask off the 75-year-old down the hall just to get a last sucking selfish mouthful of life?

He finally gets to the real reason (besides his gerontophobic disgust at looking at Daddy) for his faux-altruism: America is in decline. For a civilized country, our mortality rates are nothing to brag about. Despite being the richest country (the most billionaires on the planet) we rank only 40th in life expectancy. This is not so much because of biology, but because of our cruel social policies and continuing high poverty rate. The plutocrats of Wall Street and the political hacks like Emanuel who serve them want their Grand Bargain of safety net cuts. They don't want even the smallest portion of the wealth that they've managed to siphon off for themselves to trickle back down to medical care for the old, disabled and indigent.

The Bowles-Simpson Catfood Commission went down in ignominy. The debt and deficit are no longer popular campaign themes. So what is an oligarch to do? For starters,  Doc Zeke has come to their rescue with his cheery article, keeping the macabre herd-culling conversation alive.  

What Emanuel has indulged himself in is just more poor-shaming and psychological elder abuse, albeit couched in the most liberal, caring, and sensible terms. Please don't take him to mean that he espouses the easy Ernest Hemingway suicide route out, because Emanuel (says he) is absolutely against that, along with euthanasia. He protests (too much, methinks) that he is no Dr. Kevorkian!  But do skip the flu shot voluntarily this year, old people. Your grandchildren and the Medicare trust fund will be ever so grateful.

Did I mention that Dr. Zeke is director of the Bioethics Department of the budget-slashed National Institutes of Health? And they said that irony is dead.

 “The rich were dull and they drank too much, or they played too much backgammon. They were dull and they were repetitious. He remembered poor Scott Fitzgerald and his romantic awe of them and how he had started a story once that began, ‘The very rich are different from you and me.’ And how some one had said to Scott, Yes, they have more money. But that was not humorous to Scott. He thought they were a special glamorous race and when he found they weren't it wrecked him as much as any other thing that wrecked him.” - Ernest Hemingway, from the original version of "The Snows of Kilimanjaro".

Opinion Mon, 29 Sep 2014 10:57:11 -0400
Making Windmills Out of Warplanes

With the Islamic State’s rise, Libya’s slide back into civil war, and the conflict brewing between Ukraine and Russia, there’s plenty to fear these days.

Maybe you’ve always believed you could count on the US military to protect you from dangers like those, and that makes you feel safe.

As a college student and a resident of Philadelphia, a city threatened by sea level rise, I’m more concerned about a threat that military force can’t fix and will grow more acute during my lifetime. Namely, climate change.

When I co-authored a new report that compares what the US government spends on military and climate security, it was good to learn that the Pentagon sees climate change as a national security threat. Climate change poses the “biggest long-term threat” facing the Asia-Pacific region, according to Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, head of the US fleet in the Pacific.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Extreme weather makes it hard for troops to prepare for missions, rising sea levels could leave many US bases underwater within decades, and the displacement of millions of people causes conflict.

But the Pentagon is part of the problem.

The US military emits more greenhouse gases than any other institution on the planet. It spent $19 billion meeting its energy needs last year, 87 percent of which came from non-renewable, polluting sources.

The $2.4 billion it spent on “green” efforts shows that Defense Department is trying to do something about climate change, but this pales in comparison to its contribution to the problem. Making weapons also burns through huge amounts of energy and natural resources.

National security isn’t just about bombs and warplanes anymore. Conventional force can’t defend any nation against the kind of global warming scientists say is in store unless humanity changes course. Since climate change poses a threat to national security, the federal government should redirect the funds necessary for preventing it from some of the dollars currently funneled into the Defense Department’s coffers.

Experts don’t agree on what meeting the climate challenge will cost — though they all say that the costs are rising every year that the world doesn’t do enough. They’re also divided on how much each nation should pay for the transition away from a fossil-fueled economy.

Whether you look at how much the US government can afford to pay or owes, it works out at about one-quarter of the military budget. With these funds, the federal government could make significant investments in a range of energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.

This doesn’t mean that the American people would become less secure. Some of the funding could come from cutting unnecessary programs.

For instance, phasing out the Cold War-era B-1 bomber would save $3.7 billion over five years, which could be used to reduce energy use in 4.6 million homes by up to 20 percent. Retiring two of the Navy’s aircraft carrier groups would save $50 billion, enough money to provide at least one out of four American homes with a year’s electricity from solar power.

A 25-percent cut to the Pentagon’s budget would leave its funding at about the same level as 2003, when it waged two wars. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel believes a smaller force would be more agile and effective. Plus, trimming fossil fuel consumption would decrease US dependency on oil imported from volatile regions of the world.

Extreme weather and flooding are already causing havoc in coastal areas as severe drought and wildfires imperil other regions.

It’s time for new spending priorities. The United States needs to cut the military budget to free up money to invest in renewable alternatives to oil, gas, and coal, along with energy efficiency and other steps required to meet the climate challenge.

It’s not going to be easy to keep the planet livable and safe. But we have no time to lose.

Opinion Mon, 29 Sep 2014 10:40:49 -0400
The Next Attorney General Should Enforce the Rule of Law, Protect Constitutional Rights and Investigate Abuse of Power

Eric Holder’s tenure as attorney general will be remembered for the failure to prosecute any leading bankers who were responsible for the collapse of the economy. While the SEC negotiated large fines, the DOJ prosecuted none of those who were guilty of crimes that robbed the wealth of tens of millions of Americans. The failure to prosecute bankers was one example of many where corporate power dominated the DOJ on finance, environmental, labor and other issues. This should have been an era of aggressive enforcement of corporate crime, instead corporate criminals were rarely investigated.

It will also be remembered for the mistaken lack of enforcement against war crimes; in particular torture committed by US officials during the Bush administration as well as failing to take any action against lawyers in the Department of Justice and CIA who provided legal cover to torture. Instead of putting up a red light to unauthorized wars and military action, the Holder DOJ provided legal cover the massive drone killings by President Obama (that primarily killed civilians and non-combatants) and the military attack against Libya as well as the current war on ISIS resulting in massive bombings in Syria and Iraq.

A related security-state issue that Holder has not handled well has been the dragnet surveillance being conducted by the NSA. The DOJ should have appointed an independent prosecutor who was not part of the government to investigate the NSA spying program and the role of the White House, CIA, FBI and any other intelligence agencies that may have been involved. The failure to stop this dragnet surveillance program that captures email, text messages, phone chats and telephone calls of the American people has essentially provided legal cover for this violation of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution that protects Americans from unreasonable searches without probable cause found by an independent magistrate.

Regarding constitutional rights also undermined during the Holder era was Freedom of Speech and Assembly. The federal government coordinated crackdown of the occupy movement should have been stopped by the Department of Justice. The Holder DOJ should have told the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Protective Service, FBI and any other federal agencies involved as well as local law enforcement agencies, that it was their job to protect the right of protest. The American people have very real grievances against a corrupt economy that is unfair and puts the profits of the wealthiest Americans ahead of the necessities of working Americans. And, they have grievances against a government that is not responsive to the people because it is ruled by money which makes it dysfunctional and incapable of working for the people’s interests. The right of protest is the only remedy the American people have when the government is corrupt and dysfunctional.

Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press were also undermined by the dramatic attack by the Obama administration against journalists and whistleblowers. The United States military, security and intelligence agencies have been involved in unprecedented activities that on their face seem to be illegal. We would not have known about them had it not been for whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. In fact, Eric Holder’s DOJ inappropriately used the Espionage Act more than any other administration – indeed more than every administration combined. Similarly, attacks on journalists – including searches of offices and threatened prosecution increased under Holder. The right of Americans to know through a free press and citizens of conscience is critical in times of extreme corruption.

The Holder administration also oversaw the development of massive amounts of campaign dollars entering an already corrupt electoral system, through anonymous contributions to non-profit 501 (c)(4) organizations that are not required to report their donors but who are not supposed to be involved in electoral activity. These (c)(4) organizations combined with so-called Super PACs have polluted elections creating plutocratic mirage elections, a façade of democracy. The Citizens Uniteddecision did not authorize anonymous donations; in fact the court said that the requirement of federal election law to report the identity of donors would be a protection against corruption. Attorney General Holder should have appointed an independent prosecutor to investigate electoral activities by both parties. This prosecutor should have interviewed under oath major donors to both parties as well as political operatives like Karl Rove who led the increase in anonymous donations. The DOJ has jurisdiction for criminal enforcement of the federal election laws but utterly failed in using its power.

One area where Eric Holder has made some good decisions and improved policy was in beginning to unravel the war on drugs. He has been critical of mandatory sentencing and his DOJ has put out guidelines that result in decreased use of extreme sentencing. His guidelines for pardons and commutation of sentences, while still too conservative, could result in a thousand or more people receiving a pardon or commutation from President Obama. With mass incarceration that makes the US the largest imprisoner on the planet that is an important step, but too small a step.

On marijuana policy, rather than reacting against the voters in Washington and Colorado who voted overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana, Eric Holder announced a policy that allowed those states to put new laws in place. This was a positive step toward ending the prohibition of marijuana and creating a more sensible marijuana policy. There continue to be US Attorneys around the nation who prosecute medical marijuana providers inappropriately and that is something Holder was less successful at minimizing. And, Holder has not used his power as attorney general to reclassify marijuana under federal law in recognition of its widespread medical use and relative safety.

Finally, Attorney General Holder’s administration has improved the investigation of police abuse, especially police killings. After a great deal of public pressure the DOJ is now investigating cases where the police, on the face of what we know, seem to have abused their power resulting in the death of people, usually people of color. Police abuse in African American and other communities has greatly unraveled respect for the law and turned police into enemies rather than trusted members of the community. Holder has taken some initial steps toward confronting the problem of racist and militarized policing.

We urge President Obama to replace Holder with a public interest not a corporate lawyer; that will put the rule of law before corporate power. This appointment is an opportunity to shut the revolving door between big business and government. We also hope the next attorney general will put rule of law ahead of the security state, prosecute torture and other war crimes, protect privacy from US intelligence agencies and protect Freedom of Speech, Assembly and Press. Finally, we hope to see an attorney general that will confront the war culture that has allowed the president to ignore the constitutional requirement that Congress is responsible for deciding when the US goes to war, not the president; and one who respects international law and requires UN approval before the US attacks another nation.

Opinion Mon, 29 Sep 2014 10:16:37 -0400