Truthout Stories Mon, 26 Jan 2015 11:24:58 -0500 en-gb Forced Disappearances Are Humanitarian Crisis in Mexico

Mexico City - The Mexican government will face close scrutiny from the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances – a phenomenon that made international headlines after 43 students from a rural teachers college were killed in September in Iguala, in a case that has not yet been fully clarified.

Twenty-six human rights organisations have sent the UN Committee 12 submissions on the problem of forced disappearance, one of the worst human rights issues facing this Latin American country, where at least 23,000 people are registered as missing, according to official figures that do not specify whether they are victims of forced disappearance.

The submissions, to which IPS had access, say forced disappearances have taken on the magnitude of a humanitarian crisis since December 2006, when then conservative president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) declared the “war on drugs” – a situation that his predecessor, conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto, has not resolved.

The organisations say forced disappearance is not adequately classified as a crime in Mexican law. They also complain about the lack of effective mechanisms and protocols for searching for missing persons and for reparations for direct and indirect victims, the impunity surrounding these crimes, the lack of a unified database of victims, and problems with the investigations.

In addition, they criticise Mexico’s reluctance to accept the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and analyse communications from the victims.

The Committee, made up of 10 independent experts tasked with overseeing compliance with the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, will hold its eight period of sessions Feb. 2-13 in Geneva, Switzerland.

During the sessions, Mexico “will be reviewed in a very critical light, because many recommendations have not been complied with,” said Jacqueline Sáenz of the FUNDAR Centre for Research and Analysis, one of the organisations that sent a report to the U.N. Committee.

The state has failed to implement an adequate public policy, Sáenz, the head of FUNDAR’s human rights and citizen security programme, told IPS. “Its responses have been minimal, more reactive than proactive. The balance is very negative.”

Although forced disappearance was already a serious humanitarian problem, the phenomenon leapt into the global spotlight on Sep. 26, when local police in the town of Iguala, 190 km south of Mexico City in the state of Guerrero, attacked students from the Escuela Normal de Ayotzinapa, a rural teachers’ college, leaving six dead and 25 wounded.

The police also took away 43 students and handed them over to members of “Guerreros Unidos”, one of the drug trafficking organised crime groups involved in turf wars in that area, according to the attorney general’s office.

The investigation found that the bodies of the 43 young people were burnt in a garbage dump on the outskirts of Colula, a town near Iguala, and that their remains were then thrown into a river.

On Dec. 7, prosecutor Jesús Murillo reported that the remains of one of the 43 students had been identified by forensic experts from the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

But on Jan. 20, the university reported that due to “excessive heat” from the fire, the charred remains of the rest of the bodies could not be identified, because of the lack of viable DNA samples.

Mexico’s office on human rights, crime prevention and community service has reported that in this country of 120 million people, 23,271 people have gone missing between 2007 and October 2014.

Although the office does not indicate how many of these people were victims of forced disappearance, its specialised unit in disappeared people only includes 621 on its list for that period, of whom 72 have been found alive and 30 dead.

“It’s important for the (UN) Committee to urge the state to specify the magnitude of the problem,” activist Juan Gutiérrez told IPS. “Very specific recommendations were made in reports long ago and the state has not fulfilled them. Public policies and reforms are necessary.”

More than 9,000 people have gone missing since 2013, under the administration of Peña Nieto, “which puts in doubt the effectiveness of policies for safety and prevention of the disappearance of persons,” said Gutiérez, the head of Strategic Human Rights Litigation I(dh)eas, a local NGO.

Forced disappearance has a long history in Mexico. In November 2009 the Inter-American Court on Human Rights ruled that the Mexican state was responsible for violating the rights to personal liberty, humane treatment, and life itself of Rosendo Radilla, a community leader in the municipality of Atoyac, who disappeared in 1974.

The Court ordered the Mexican state to conduct a serious investigation into his disappearance and to continue to search for him – none of which has happened.

In its submission to the UN Committee, Amnesty International says “the authorities have failed to explain, once again, how many of those people have been victims of abduction or enforced disappearance, and how many of them could be missing due to other reasons. No methodological information has been published, which makes it impossible for civil society organisations to scrutinise the figures.”

It adds that “impunity remains rampant in these cases.”

The rights watchdog notes that at a federal level only six convictions have been achieved, all of them between 2005 and 2009, for crimes committed before 2005.

With respect to the 43 students from Iguala, the attorney general’s office arrested over 40 police officers, presumed drug traffickers, the now former mayor of Iguala, José Abarca, and his wife, who have all been accused of involvement in the attack.

In their alternative report from December 2014, nine organisations said the Iguala case reflected “the current state of forced disappearances” and demonstrated “the ineffectiveness of the Mexican state in searching for missing people and investigating the cases.”

On Jan. 8, in an addendum to their submission to the UN Committee, four organisations stressed the “lack of capacity” and “tardy reaction” by the authorities in this case.

“The investigation was not conducted with due diligence. The Mexican state has been incapable of presenting charges and starting trials for the forced disappearance of the students,” says the text, which adds that the case demonstrates that Mexico’s legal framework falls short and that the authorities completely ignore the Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

On Nov. 27, Peña Nieto presented 10 measures, including a draft law on torture and forced disappearance and the creation of a national system for searching for missing persons.

But Sáenz said “The roots of the problem are not attacked. Mexico has to make a policy shift. The proposal is inadequate. We hope the Committee’s review will give rise to changes. Mexico has not managed to respond to this crisis.”

Gutiérrez said the new measures “are necessary but not sufficient. The law must be discussed with organisations and relatives of the disappeared.”

The Mexican state has not yet responded to the questions that the Committee sent it in September, ahead of the February review.

News Mon, 26 Jan 2015 11:02:05 -0500
On the News With Thom Hartmann: Since Citizens United, Alarming Trends Have Emerged, and More

In today's On the News segment: In the election cycles since the Citizens United ruling, we've seen "a tidal wave of dark money"; school districts all around our country are doing more to make sure kids aren't going hungry; most lawmakers refuse to fight for single-payer health care, but most voters say that they should; and more.

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


Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News...

You need to know this. It's been five years since the United States Supreme Court made their infamous ruling in the case of Citizens United v. FEC. That ruling turned a century of legal precedent on its head with the declaration that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend money in elections. And, that ruling opened the floodgates to massive spending in our political process. In the five years since the Citizens United decision was made, some alarming trends have emerged, and they show exactly why that ruling was disastrous for our democracy. According to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice, three of these dangerous trends were foreseen by the Justices, but virtually ignored nonetheless. In the election cycles since the ruling, we've seen "a tidal wave of dark money," despite the Supreme Court's claim that "prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable." And, those shareholders – the ones that our Supreme Court said would hold corporations accountable – have had a difficult time standing up to corporate spending that they know nothing about. In between elections, wealthy donors and corporations found new ways to collaborate with so-called outside groups, and work around regulations that limit direct campaign contributions. The Court claimed that those remaining regulations would prevent corruption, but donors simply went around them and continued trying to weaken them further. In the last five years, the rich and the powerful have found new ways to buy off our politicians and they've made it possible for lawmakers to ignore everyone except those at the top. In 2014 alone, the top 100 donors to Super PACs spent almost as much as 4.75 million small donors combined. There is just no other way to say it – the Citizens United ruling gave the rich control of our democracy and it's up to us to take it back. We must get money out of politics – go to to find out how.

School districts all around our country are doing more to make sure kids aren't going hungry. Thanks to a pilot program running in 13 states, more than one million children now receive dinner and a healthy after-school snack as part of their free lunch program. The goal of this program is to make sure that all kids have access to a healthy dinner, especially those who come from low-income communities. Making sure that children have enough to eat is one of the most important things we can do to ensure they get a good education, and providing healthy food is one of the best ways to fight childhood obesity. Far too many children in our nation are forced to skip dinner, and many more aren't provided with any nutritious options. In the richest nation on Earth we can afford to do better, and feeding kids a healthy dinner seems like a common sense place to start.

Here in the U.S., we're known for working hard. But, some of us may be working ourselves right in to an early grave. A new article by Alexandra Bradbury over at Alternet says that we need to think about more than just adding more jobs to our economy. In fact, Ms. Bradbury says, "I think we need less work." After learning about Maria Fernandes, a fast food worker who died last year while trying to juggle three jobs, Alexandra realized that our problem isn't that we don't have enough work. It's that the work we have is not being shared among those who want it. Instead of one person working 60 hours or more, that job could provide a 30 hour job to two different people. To do this, our nation would have to demand higher wages and a stronger social safety net, but we have the money to make this idea a reality. For many of us, our work is our life, but that doesn't mean we should give our life just to get enough work.

Most lawmakers refuse to fight for single-payer health care, but most voters say that they should. According to a new poll by the Progressive Change Institute, more than 50 percent of those surveyed said that they would support a single-payer, Medicare-for-all healthcare system. In response to Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin's recent decision to abandon his state's plan for a single-payer system, the Progressive Change Institute conducted this poll to get a feel for public opinion. Out of the 1,500 likely voters who were questioned, more than half supported single-payer, and that even included one out of every four Republicans. Although Governor Shumlin and other lawmakers say that we can't afford single-payer, we already way spend more on healthcare than other developed nations that have national healthcare. In fact, we would likely save money by switching to a Medicare-for-all type system. This new poll shows that Americans know we need to get the profit motive out of healthcare, and now we've got to push our lawmakers to make that happen.

And finally... If New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gets his way, low-wage workers in his state will be getting a raise. At a recent press conference, Governor Cuomo proposed raising the minimum wage in his state to $11.50 in the city, and $10.50 in the rest of the state. Although the proposal calls for a lower wage than Governor Cuomo called for last Spring, it would still be a substantial increase from the current rate of $8.75 an hour. In order to become reality, this pay increase would have to win approval in the state legislature, which includes the Republican-controlled State Senate. Business groups are already making the Republican argument by warning that higher wages will cost the state jobs. However, that claim is not supported by the data in the fourteen states that raised wages in the last year alone. Those states actually saw better job growth and the higher wages improved the lives of millions of workers. A higher minimum wage would likely have the same effects in New York State, so let's hope that New York legislators help Governor Cuomo give workers a raise.

And that's the way it is - for the week of January 26, 2015 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

News Mon, 26 Jan 2015 10:59:21 -0500
ECB: The Ultimate Enforcer of the European Neoliberal Project?

If one were asked to describe the formal economic and political processes that have shaped the condition of the eurozone since the eruption of the euro crisis in late 2009 in a terse and peremptory way, he or she might boldly and truly say this: "German Chancellor Angela Merkel's policies spearhead the unraveling of the European project while European Central Bank President Mario Draghi seeks to keep the (neoliberal) game going." The ECB has been trying hard to carry out the role of a traditional central bank by fulfilling its duty as a lender of last resort in order to save the euro.

European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany.European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany. (Photo: Casey Hugelfink/Flickr)Help Truthout keep publishing stories like this: They can't be found in corporate media! Make a tax-deductible donation today.

If one were asked to describe the formal economic and political processes that have shaped the condition of the eurozone since the eruption of the euro crisis in late 2009 in a terse and peremptory way, he or she might boldly and truly say this: "German Chancellor Angela Merkel's policies spearhead the unraveling of the European project while European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi seeks to keep the (neoliberal) game going."

Indeed, there is little doubt that Germany's neo-mercantilism is the driving force leading a sizable segment of the eurozone's economy on the path to stagnation and decline (1), while the ECB has been trying hard to carry out the role of a traditional central bank by fulfilling its duty as a lender of last resort in order to save the euro and preserve the eurozone.

The ECB intervened in the euro crisis in May 2010 by buying up government bonds from Greece (even when a 110 billion euros bailout package had been approved for Greece), Spain, Portugal and Ireland under its Securities Market Program. By 2011, the ECB was buying up Spanish and Italian bonds by the bucketload in order to force a drop in the bond yields of the two largest peripheral economies of the eurozone. With the end of the crisis in the periphery nowhere in sight, but Mario Draghi having already pledged in July 2012 to do "whatever it takes" to preserve the euro, in early September of that year the ECB introduced a new government bond purchasing program, known as the Outright Monetary Transactions (OTM) program.

Leaving aside the question as to whether or not ECB's OTM program is legal (Advocate General Pedro Cruz Villalón opined in mid-January 2015 that while "the OTM programme is an unconventional monetary policy measure . . . it is compatible with the TFEU [Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union])" (2), the condition was that OTM would be attached to an appropriate European Financial Stability Facility/European Stability Mechanism (EFSF/ESM) macroeconomic adjustment program. In other words, the imposition of austerity, privatization and market liberalization was a conditionality in the event of the implementation of the OTM program, which raises an important question: Is the ECB seeking to enforce an economic policy measure rather than just a monetary policy measure?

I think this argument can easily be made in the sense that the ECB has been acting since the beginning of the euro crisis as a bulwark against the unraveling of the European neoliberal project, and it receives additional strength from the latest ECB intervention into the eurozone crisis with its own, unique quantitative easing (QE) program. As for the impact of the OTM-related announcements in 2012, the mere claim that "no ex ante quantitative limits are set on the size of Outright Monetary Transactions" (3) was able to lead to a crucial decrease in Italian and Spanish government bond yields although bond markets in Germany and France showed no reaction to the policy. (4)

During the week of January 19, the ECB announced its long-awaited QE program worth 1.1 trillion euros, with the aim of stimulating growth in the eurozone economy (5) and warding off inflation. (6)

The ECB's interventions under former golden boy Draghi (prior to his appointment as ECB president, Draghi had served as Goldman Sachs' international vice-chairman for Europe and governor of the central bank of Italy) may have managed so far to keep the euro game going by providing liquidity to the system and leading to a significant drop in sovereign bond markets (with the exception of Greece) but have hardly made a dent on the feeble performance of the eurozone economy. One should not expect anything different with QE for various reasons.

Firstly, the amount of money to be spent is too little to make any effective impact on the real economy of the eurozone. With official unemployment in the euro area standing at more than 11 percent, and in countries such as Greece and Spain at 25.8 percent and 23.7 percent, respectively, the injection of 1.1 trillion euros into the eurozone economy through a government bond-buying program cannot be expected to help spur sustainable growth by boosting demand that would lead to an improved job market. Furthermore, monetary policy is rather ineffective when interest rates are already near zero. The eurozone's problems in general (most of the indicators of economic health have not even returned to pre-crisis levels in the eurozone) stem from very weak demand growth. The eurozone is in dire need of a superactive fiscal policy geared to stimulate job creation and increase wages. QE cannot do those things nor can it stimulate the expansion of credit when there is no demand for credit. (7)

Secondly, the ECB bond purchases won't work in a manner similar to the quantitative easing measures undertaken by the Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England. Most of the bond purchases won't be underwritten by the ECB, but rather by the various national central banks in the eurozone. Essentially, what this means is that the actual sum of money injected into the eurozone via "euro-style QE" (8) will be significantly less than 1.1 trillion euros. This apparent "compromise" on the part of the ECB was made because of Germany and Holland's opposition to risk-sharing.

Thirdly, ECB-style quantitative easing excludes countries that are in the midst of completing bailout programs and/or have junk-rated debt. This means that Greece and Cyprus (with the former having experienced an economic depression of unimaginable dimensions for an advanced European country during peacetime conditions) have been locked out of the quantitative easing program. The ECB claims that Greece may be allowed to join the QE program in July if satisfactory progress has been made with regard to the bailout terms. The decision to exclude Greece was made literally on the eve of the Greek elections of January 25, in which it was certain that the radical left, anti-austerity Syriza party was going to win the coming vote. Undoubtedly, it was a political decision on the part of the ECB in order to exert pressure on a Syriza-led government to stay the course on austerity and neoliberal structural reforms.

From the beginning of the crisis, the ECB has made the preservation of the euro its No. 1 objective (by providing ceaseless support to eurozone banks and its financial sector while the people in the highly indebted nations always end up paying the price) even when Germany practices a "beggar-thy-neighbor policy" in the eurozone, dragged its feet over the Greek crisis, has demanded draconian austerity measures for all the "bailed-out" peripheral economies when they were already in deep recession and remains the greatest obstacle to the creation of a fiscal and banking union in the eurozone.

The ECB is the ultimate enforcer of the European neoliberal project. Its interventions always come with conditions, which further strengthen the conversion process of the eurozone into a neoliberal capitalist nightmare, thereby imposing additional pain on average working people by reducing the standard of living and putting the nail in the coffin of the social state. In the meantime, ECB interventions, as the Financial Times bluntly put it back in 2012, "exact a high price in national sovereignty." (9)

Indeed, as "Super" Mario Draghi has openly and proudly admitted on a number of occasions since the eruption of the euro crisis, the "social contract" in Europe is gone. (10) What the ECB is now aiming at, like the rest of the EU institutional structures, is the expansion and consolidation of the neoliberal social order. As such, labor market activation policies that aim to enhance labor market flexibility (and, by extension, create precarious working conditions) have been a fundamental objective of ECB intervention into the eurozone economy, and they will remain so until the European neoliberal project is completely finalized.

In this context, it is rather surprising to see various European "progressives" celebrating over the ECB's QE measures and other interventions in the eurozone economy under the current regime. By apparently imagining the ECB as a knight in shining armor, they are either being dangerously naïve or incredibly savvy in their defense of capitalism.


1. See Bill Lucarelli, "German neomercantilism and the European sovereign debt crisis." Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, Volume 34, No. 2/Winter 2011-12, pp. 205-224.

2. Court of Justice of the European Union. Press Release No. 2/15. "According to Advocate General Cruz Villalón, the ECB's Outright Monetary Transactions programme is compatible, in principle, with the TFEU." Luxembourg, 14 January 2015.

3. European Central Bank. Press Release. "Technical features of Outright Monetary Transactions." September 6, 2012.

4. See Carlo Altavilla, Domenico Giannone, and Michele Lenza, "The Financial and Macroeconomic Effects of OMT Announcements." ECB Working Paper No. 1707. European Central Bank. August 2014.

5. Ben Chu, "ECB announces historic QE programme worth €1.1trn to stimulate growth in the eurozone." The Independent, January 22, 2015.

6. Phillip Inman, "ECB 'takes out the bazooka' with bigger than expected QE stimulus package." The Guardian, January 22, 2015.

7. Cumberland Advisors, "ECB, Euro, USD, Interest Rates." January 25, 2015.

8. The Economist. "The launch of euro-style QE." January 22, 2015.

9. The Financial Times, "Draghi's bold move in euro chess game." August 2, 2012.

10. Brian Blackstone, Matthew Karnitschnig and Robert Thomson, "Europe's Banker Talks Tough." The Wall Street Journal. February 24, 2012.

News Mon, 26 Jan 2015 11:10:05 -0500
White People for Black Lives

Revolutionary imagination is the most dangerous and therefore meaningful thing any of us have to offer. So I am writing in support of coalition building in the struggle against racism that will matter more, and do more. There is a new anti-racist movement led by Blacks, many who are queer Black women, in this country today. We white people need to see them, to recognize this new movement that started in Ferguson, Missouri, and actively support it in whatever way needed.

I went to see the film Selma on opening day in New York City and the theatre was standing room only. I was reminded of the indomitable courage of Blacks to get the right to simply vote. I was also reminded of the brutality and malevolence of white people, including the President at the time. The audience was multi-colored, with about half being white. I wondered if the whites were letting themselves feel the pain and the shame of who “we” can be: full of hatred and terrorizing.

I live in this moment as a white person who deeply believes in and who grew up in the Civil Rights Movement, when my family’s lives and I were predominantly nurtured and shared with Blacks. Most whites hated us. We were white race traitors. I was singled out and bullied in my high school as a dirty Jew N—– lover. We lived in the Black community surrounding Atlanta University, where my father taught. I later came to full adulthood in the US feminist movement with socialist Black feminists as my comrades.

White people have structural power and privilege that gives us more of everything than people of every other color. This power of whiteness is big. It is formidable. It is everywhere. So reforms may help but are incomplete. The new Black Lives Matter activists are attempting to fully disrupt this racism. Die-ins are supposed to stop life as usual—from traffic flow to shopping malls.

The months leading up to seeing Selma have been etched with multiple killings/murders of Black boys and men by white police officers leaving heartbroken families and communities.  Several Black women have also died while in police custody, but have garnered much less publicity. Police officers have not been held accountable, while Black communities have been left to mourn. It seems as though a fully-blown new kind of militarized policing is in place, most particularly for Blacks—gay, straight, and trans.

New-Old Racisms

The structural systems of racism that are in play today are not identical with previous forms. Much has changed. Much that has changed has not necessarily brought greater equality or freedom. Some of the equality trickles down to a few, but not the many.

Emmett Till was murdered at the age of 14 in 1955 on the false charges of rape of a white woman. In 1964, civil rights workers Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman were murdered. Fred Hampton of the Black Panthers was shot and killed by Chicago Police in 1969. Assaults like these have continued. Rodney King was brutalized by white cops in 1991. Abner Louima was sodomized with a broken-off broom handle by New York white police officers. He had been an electrical engineer in Haiti, before.

And then more recently there have been the heartbreaking killings of unarmed Black teenagers Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown, by white officers.  And as if this is not enough, Eric Garner, a father of six is choked and killed while fighting to breathe; and twelve-year old Tamir Rice is mistakenly murdered; and Dontre Hamilton, a mentally impaired young man is shot 14 times and killed in Milwaukee and then Antonio Martin is killed right outside Ferguson, Missouri again.  The autopsy of Ezell Ford in Los Angeles has just been released.  Police shot him in the back and his killing is classified as a homicide. This is what racism looks like:  not-so-random murders by white police of Blacks for being Black. Reform of the police state in the US is a must, but totally not enough.

Racism pours from each and every site/sight. Ebola, a disease of Black Africa, colonialism, white privilege, and wealth, ravages Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea while the US worries about its “white” self. Cuba sends hundreds of doctors, Doctors Without Borders tries to stem the fury of the disease wherever it is, and we punish our few doctors and nurses who have gone with quarantines and fear.

This racism is embedded in misogyny and class inequalities, so rape and sexual violence exist alongside and inside the system of racialized capitalist hetero patriarchy. Marissa Alexander—who fired a warning shot against her abusive husband—is threatened with a jail term of 60 years, and succumbs to a plea deal because there is no justice system she can trust.

Amidst all this, the Black Lives Matter movement emerges. Black Lives Matter (BLM) re-orients and redirects the white gaze. It demands a revolutionary assault on white supremacy. Ending chattel slavery did not uproot the racial hatred; instead, it removed the legal structure upon which it stands. The Black Lives Matter and Hands Up Don’t Shoot movements continue the struggle to dismantle and abolish racial hatred. This hatred must be expunged with the remaining structural leftovers of economic and gender inequality.

Imagining Revolt

Chattel slavery was reformed rather than destroyed. What would it look like to annihilate racism, as B.R. Ambedkar, the Indian Dalit writer and activist might have it? BLM activists are pondering these questions and using new tactics to do so. These demos are spontaneous and dispersed but they are connected. They are making a new movement for racial justice that includes intersectional knowledge of sex, race, and class divisions.

It is good that Obama is president because it proves that this is not the answer for addressing racism today. Racism is not an individual problem so no one individual can fix it, even if they wanted to. The structures themselves corrupt and coopt so the pressures must come from outside/in. This is why the BLM movement seeks to disrupt the systems that support racism. Entry is not an option. They will stay in the streets until police officers are held accountable, and Cheney and his gang are found guilty of war crimes. Disruption can be used to further expose injustices. I dream of a time when this kind of accountability will be fully realized.

Anti-Misogynist Racism

The horrific brutality of white privilege embedded and reproduced first in settler colonialism and then the system of chattel slavery hangs around in every crevice of this country. It is the dirty open secret that keeps being pushed from view in new forms of brutality: from lynchings, to police killings, to rape and sexual violation.  The tactics change some, while the strategy of dispossession and humiliation remain similar.

The misogyny used against Black female slaves and women today is embedded in the racism of chattel slavery. Black male slaves suffered it as well, as they could not lay claim to white patriarchal privilege. Slavery was a class/caste system that relegated all blacks to crushing poverty. It was simultaneously variegated by a racialized gender system. To think of slavery as simply racist is to falsely disconnect it from its white misogynist roots/routes.

This is why any assault against racism puts the misogyny of racism in the mix. The challenge is to dismantle and recreate the white supremacist hetero-capitalist patriarchal structure of everything. So it should be no surprise that the key leaders of the Ferguson rebellions are Black women, two of them queer: Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza. They started the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag after the murder of Trayvon Martin. Cullors is founder and director of Dignity and Power Now, which is a justice organization for incarcerated peoples. Garza is special projects director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.  Tometi is executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

BLM is an all-encompassing site of justice for Cullors, Tometi, and Garza. This specific site takes them to the place of universal justice. If the US can be rid of racism towards Blacks, racism in all its forms begins to be challenged. As Alicia Garza says, when Black people really get free then “every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free.”

I agree with this initiative. In order for democracy to ever be fully inclusive of humanity, it must re-arrange its thinking about universalism, which has historically been an exclusionary concept to begin with. Slaves were not a part. No woman was. Therefore, specificity is needed to re-invent and re-orient democratic theory and practice. Universals and the abstracted “individual” are preferred as though it encompasses everybody in its non-specificity. But the non-specificity is a farce because it originally meant white property owning men. Specify the “individual” by gender and race and the Black woman becomes a newly inclusive notion of democracy rooted in specificity that potentially embraces universality. It is time to try things this way after so much of history has been blinded by exclusionary rights parading as inclusive and just.

White Crazy People

When Frank Rich asks Chris Rock if the election of Barack Obama meant progress, Rock says, yes, it showed progress for white people, they have progressed, they were the one’s with the problem, not us, we were and always and have been ready to be president. “White people were crazy. Now they are not as crazy.” And then, just to make this perfectly clear to whites who might not get it, he says of his daughters: “The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.”

I will take Chris Rock’s optimism and try to put it to good use, but also be reminded of Franz Fanon’s statement: “We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.” Let us be reminded of Eric Garner pleading for his life: “I CANNOT BREATHE.” He said it eleven times before he died.

Reform and Revolution, Again

I love the clarity and energy of Black feminist/writer Brittney Cooper’s activism of every sort. She posts on Facebook, December 12, 2014: “Regarding tomorrow’s March on Washington, let’s just say I been over Marches on Washington since I lived in Washington. There are many problems here, not the least of which is that I need the Civil Rights establishment to be original. Every crisis in Black America does not call for a march on Washington. Those marches are largely about telling us who our new leadership is supposed to be and allowing us a good ‘Sunday Morning shout,’ so to speak, without doing anything substantive…Now in this moment, die-ins disrupt traffic and business as usual. And they are acts that give political place to black rage. I’m also here for tomorrow’s march in NYC, because that is about a show of solidarity in a local place where this occurred. But I couldn’t be more disinterested in another March on Washington. Sharpton and co. keeps doing that because it doesn’t require them to think. Let’s do a new thing, folks. Let’s be creative. Let’s talk to these young folks and follow their lead, and get on board, with whatever we have to give.”

There are newly new systems of racism that make racism and its white privilege more complex to see, and not. Brutal police shootings of mostly unarmed Black boys and men and women harkens back to the terrorism of chattel slavery. But although slavery—its racism and sexism and classism—is present, it is also massively restructured in new forms. In chattel slavery a black person was ascribed his or her status, there was no opportunity, so to speak, to achieve. No race to run. To be Black was to be poor and enslaved; there was homogeneity of powerlessness even if made up of unique individual selves.

Today and recently there has been a Black president, a Black woman secretary of state, a Black Attorney General, a Black Joint Chief of Staff, a Black woman commander of the Army’s elite drill sergeant school. So things have changed while also staying similarly racist. There is an evolving militarized police state that now orchestrates an unforgiving racism that continues to put Black bodies of all genders at risk while also diversifying the gaze. Racism intersects with sexism all the time, and racism also has many colored variations. To complexify and enlarge is not to reduce. It is to open racism to its heterogeneity.

A revolutionary intersectional and coalitional movement is needed today. Central to this coalition must be the attack on racist, capitalist, hetero-patriarchy. The revolutionary status demands intersectional understandings of each and every identity. Hopefully, BLM is working from this commitment because the purpose of any regime of power is to mystify its source of power. Maybe this moment allows for revolutionary change; a complete overhaul from the bottom up to rearrange colors, sexes, races, and genders and with them the white supremacist nation itself.

Do not be looking for a revolution like the past. We need one for the future; one that is accountable to people of all colors, most particularly Black people who suffer the greatest indecencies today.

This may feel impossible, but a politics of the seemingly impossible is needed more than ever. We, the big “we,” need a new modern civil rights movement that disrupts newly.

Opinion Mon, 26 Jan 2015 10:28:44 -0500
Goucher College Adjuncts Expect Union Victory as Organizing Spreads in Maryland

Part-time faculty members at Maryland’s Goucher College say they are on the threshold of winning formal union representation, marking another step forward in an organizing campaign spread across multiple campuses in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area.

If Goucher adjuncts win, their victory will be among several won last year by Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500, which activists say is successfully harnessing the pent-up demand for labor reforms in the academic sector.

The campaign at Goucher, a small liberal arts school in Towson, Maryland, is not quite finished, however, as lawyers for the college and Local 500 argue over challenged ballots in an unusually close election completed in early December. The tentative count in the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)-supervised election produced a tie, with 33 adjuncts voting in favor of the new Goucher Faculty Union and 33 against, according to Maureen Winter, one of the instructors who helped organize the group.

But that 33-33 count is misleading because the legal challenges against most pro-union votes are spurious, Winter contends, and there is every indication that the union will prevail when the NLRB makes a ruling on the challenged ballots in the coming weeks. Nine ballots—all of them pro-union votes—were challenged by the lawyers for Goucher, she explains, even though all nine of the voters were specifically named as eligible in a pre-election agreement between Goucher and the union. 

Most were very active in the organizing campaign, so the union believes there is a very high probability that these votes will ultimately be counted, and provide the margin of victory, Winter says. What’s more, the union has challenged three ballots by faculty members “who were either not working or tenured and therefore ineligible” to vote in the election.

“We’ve actually already had our [victory] celebration. … We’re pretty sure we’ve got it,” Winter says.

Agreeing with Winter about the ultimate victory once the legal issues are cleared away is David Rodich, Executive Director of SEIU Local 500. “We recognize it [the ballot challenges] for what it is—a delaying tactic." Rodich says he is “confident” of the election victory “and that we’ll have a positive relationship with Goucher” in negotiating a first collective bargaining agreement in 2015.

Rodich’s confidence may be boosted by a year of extraordinary success in organizing part-time faculty in the Baltimore-D.C. area. In April 2014, the adjuncts at Baltimore’s Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) voted overwhelmingly to be represented by Local 500. Shortly thereafter, a Local 500 victory was confirmed at D.C.’s Howard University, the country’s most prominent historically black university. At nearly the same time that the Goucher election was getting under way, part-time faculty at University of District of Columbia also voted for union representation.

All told, Local 500 now represents about 3,000 adjuncts in the area, including large contingents at George Washington University, Georgetown University, American University and Montgomery  College, Rodich says.

Rodich says the explosive energy in the union’s college campus campaigns is coming from the part-time faculty members themselves, who are galvanized by an academic workplace far less friendly than they had anticipated when they were earning their advanced degrees. Low wages, chronic job insecurity, and lack of health insurance coverage are common complaints, he says, but the overriding demand from the part-time professors is that they be included as full members of the academic community.

“It’s not just about money. These people want to be seen as contributing to the academy. They demand to be recognized as partners in creating institutional excellence,” and not merely temporary laborers in a corporate environment, he says.

Rodich’s theme was echoed by Tree Turtle, who teaches writing at Goucher. “In a real sense, we are the college just as much as the students, the tenure-track faculty, or the administrators,” Turtle says.

According to Turtle, a 1993 graduate of Goucher, the organizing drive had significant support from the students and the permanent faculty. This was to be expected at Goucher, which values its progressive liberal arts traditions, Turtle says. The student Radical Leftist Club organized an on-campus petition drive in favor of the union (the petition garnered signatures from about one-third of Goucher’s 1,500 students), and a number of the permanent faculty wanted to join.

“To me, the unionizing process is an affirmative, hopeful campaign that is looking out for the professional welfare of a large sector of hardworking people at Goucher,” Turtle says.

But Goucher administrators adopted a “neutral” position on unionization that was tinged with some anti-union rhetoric. “We heard the usual stuff about how the college community did not need a third party—the union—to come in. The president of the college would say stuff like ‘If you feel changes are needed, I’d love to listen. We can do this without a union.’ He tried to walk a fine line,” Winter says.

But Goucher President Jose Antonio Bowen angered some adjuncts when he brought in the notorious anti-union law firm Jackson Lewis to represent the college against the union. (Jackson Lewis aided the defeat of a union drive at Baltimore’s WYPR public radio station last year.)

Bowen’s office declined a request for an interview, but spokesperson Kristen Pinheiro said that Jackson Lewis was Goucher’s long-time labor lawyer  and had not been brought in specifically to defeat the SEIU Local 500 effort. Among other areas, Jackson Lewis represents Goucher in legal matters involving the Laborers International Union of North America, which represents maintenance and custodial staff on campus, Pinheiro said.

More generally, Pinheiro offered this comment on Owen’s behalf:

Goucher strives to be a place where people want to work. And while we do hire non-tenure-track faculty members—many of whom have taught at the college for numerous years—Goucher bucks the national trend of hiring increasing numbers of adjunct faculty. A Goucher education is largely provided by full-time, tenure-track faculty members.We know all of our instructors are deeply committed to our students’ academic and personal success.

Whatever happens with the NLRB’s decision, we will continue to deal fairly and humanely with everyone employed at the college.

“Bowen is not the enemy. … For us, he is not the bad guy,” asserts Winter, who adds she expects contract negotiations to be amicable and productive once they begin. Local 500’s Rodich also agrees with that prediction, saying that productive labor negotiations have been the norm  as the union has established bargaining units on new campuses in recent years.

“There is a real problem in the academic world where what used to be a good middle-class job has devolved into piecework. This is a concern to a lot of administrators, too, and no matter what the official line on unions might be, most of them recognize that a change is needed,” to improve the quality of life for adjuncts, Rodich says.

“This isn’t a local or a regional issue. There is a national movement. What the SEIU represents is a light at the end of the tunnel, an opportunity to effect change,” he concludes. 

News Mon, 26 Jan 2015 10:07:34 -0500
State of the Union 2015: Lethal, Predatory, Delusional

Tuesday night, in his next-to-last State of the Union address, President Obama flashed the suckers a bag of tricks that has no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Congress, but will allow his apologists to claim that the genuine, more progressive Obama is revealing himself in his final two years in office. Of course, the final-years Obama could have accomplished his modest 2015 agenda, and much more, back in 2009 and 2010, when Democrats dominated both the House and the Senate and the Republicans were in despair and disarray. Which is precisely why Obama chose, instead, to put his party’s perishable congressional majorities at the service of bankers, Wall Street, private insurers and Big Pharma. Now that Democrats are the endangered species on Capitol Hill, Obama hangs a piñata of subsidized community college education, additional tax deductions for child care, seven days paid sick leave, higher capital gains taxes on the wealthy, and billions in fees on casino bankers.

On closer examination, his grab bag of bills and requests for legislation contains even less than advertized – a vapor-thin rhetorical veneer for a center-right presidency whose real accomplishment has been to re-inflate the Wall Street casino, flush the last vestiges of secure employment out of the economy, and put the imperial war machine back on the offensive. Corporate pundits describe Obama’s antics as an appeal to his party’s “base.” In a world in which words actually mean something, a politician’s base would be composed of the people whose interests he actually serves, rather than those he victimizes. But, such logic does not apply in late capitalist America, where both parties cater to the needs of the moneyed classes; one, shamelessly, without inhibition, the other through deployment of talented liars like Obama.

“The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong,” said Obama, reflecting the corporate consensus that the rich can safely get on with the business of appropriating to themselves the wealth of the world. “Over the past five years, our businesses have created more than 11 million new jobs,” he said, failing to clarify that the vast majority of these jobs are low wage and highly insecure, or that five million workers have dropped out of the job market – half a million in December, alone. The economy inhabited by the vast majority of Americans grows smaller and more cutthroat, with nearly all the new wealth accruing to the rich. Yet, “the shadow of crisis has passed....”

Obama celebrated the “resilience” of the “strong, tight-knit” American family, exemplified by a Minneapolis couple that have both regained employment. “Our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999,” said Obama – bad jobs, in a nation of growing inequality. For Blacks, wages relative to whites have regressed to 1980 levels, and Black household wealth has collapsed so completely there is no statistical possibility of ever reaching parity with whites under the existing economic system – period.

The modern State of the Union address is designed to showcase the transparency of US governance, with all three branches of the American State scrunched together in the space of a TV screen, applauding the leader. But late stage capitalism dare not reorder the world in the light of day. Since almost the beginning of the 21st century, lawyers and lobbyists for the global corporate class have been hammering out the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), sometimes called “NAFTA on steroids,” in total secrecy. Speaking to the American people, last night, President Obama feared to utter the treaty’s name. Instead, he asked “both parties to give me trade promotion authority” – ‘fast track’ passage of the legislation, unread by lawmakers – “to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.” If it were fair, of course, they wouldn’t keep it secret. By now, even the illiterate know that NAFTA and other “free trade” pacts smoothed the way for the export of US jobs to the Global South and China, 20 years ago. But Obama inferred to the nation that the new deal will have the opposite effect. “More than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking at bringing jobs back from China. Let’s give them one more reason to get it done.”

For the record, there is no reason to believe that TPP will cause jobs to flow back to the US from China – quite the opposite. But then, Obama didn’t exactly say that the jobs flow would be reversed; like the worst kind of liar, he only inferred it.

What a farce the whole exercise of bourgeois democratic capitalism has become. The world is made to turn under our feet, in secret, while politicians of the two corporate parties allude to the real substance of economic restructuring only in coded language.

China, having served Obama’s speechifying purposes as the jobs-stealing boogeyman, then becomes a prop for presidential self-congratulation on the environment. “In Beijing,” he said, “we made an historic announcement. The United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions.” This is Obama, Enviro-Man. But, wait! Here comes Obama as Frack-Man, who has overseen the hyper-production of US oil and gas and turned the White House into PR central for the fracking industry. “We believed we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet. And today, America is number one in oil and gas.” One million new barrels of US oil per day have flooded world markets, further encouraging fossil fuel-intensive development and global warming. He is a super-fracking enviro-marvel.

Weaponized US oil production threatens to destabilize Russia, Iran and Venezuela – and possibly the entire global economy, which is slumping and does not need the extra fuel. But oil warfare is clearly Obama’s purpose. Sanctions are just gravy. “We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small by opposing Russian aggression and supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies,” he said, celebrating his alliance with Ukrainian Nazis.

Obama urged Congress to lift the trade embargo on Cuba, while Havana’s neighbor and number one ally, Venezuela, is struck with the one-two punch of US sanctions and the oil glut.

He asks permission from Congress to wage a wider war against the Islamic State, whose rise is the direct result of US and Saudi Arabian nurturing of the international jihadist network for more than three decades. But, he is also training more fighters – inevitably, jihadists – to topple the secular government in Syria.

Thousands of US troops now man the machinery of war in Iraq, where the US was compelled to withdraw, five years ago.

Obama has no plans whatsoever to leave Afghanistan, where about 10,000 US troops, largely Special Forces, remain on indefinite assignment. Yet, he begins his State of the Union address with the lie: “Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.”

What is over – kaput! – is the US’s ability to compete in a world that is breaking the chains of Euro-American imperial bondage. Washington can muster no response, except war. Neither can it maintain living standards for the vast majority of its own people, whose interests are diametrically opposed to those of the financial ruling class to whom the Democrats and Republicans answer.

As he prepares for transition, two years from now, to more lucrative position in service of the Lords of Capital, Obama harkens back to his national television debut, at the Democratic convention, in 2004. “I gave a speech in Boston where I said there wasn’t a liberal America, or a conservative America; a black America or a white America — but a United States of America.”

He was lying back then, just as he lied Tuesday night when he promised “to reform America’s criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all.”

So said the man who gave the final coup de grace to due process and the rule of law with his preventive detention bill, his Tuesday assassination sessions, and his ever expanding Kill List.

The State of the Union, is lethal.

Opinion Mon, 26 Jan 2015 09:44:23 -0500
Solitary Not Yet Over at Rikers, but Advocates Keep Fighting

Rikers Island(Image: Rikers Island via Shutterstock)

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A group of prisoners’ rights activists didn’t stop a new isolation unit from being approved on January 13, but they did manage to push through some changes to the proposal, as well as long-overdue limitations to solitary confinement at Rikers Island, New York City’s massive island jail complex. In doing so, they went up against the powerful Correctional Officers’ Benevolent Association.

The Jails Action Coalition is a grassroots group that has been pushing for an end to all forms of solitary confinement, as well as transparency and accountability in what goes on in New York City jails. Some are people who have spent time in jails and prisons. Others are people who work in these systems, such as lawyers, advocates and social workers. Still, others are family members of incarcerated people. For nearly three years, they’ve worked to shine light on jail practices that often remain out of the public eye, from publicizing and demanding accountability for preventable deaths on Rikers to helping push recent legislation requiring the Department of Correction, or DOC, to publicly report the number of people in solitary, the length of their stay and whether they were injured or assaulted.

In April 2013, the group petitioned the New York City Board of Correction, which establishes and monitors minimum standards around conditions in the city’s jails, to amend its minimum standards for the use of solitary confinement, which is also known as “punitive segregation.” The majority of people incarcerated on Rikers cannot afford bail and are awaiting trial. Some are serving sentences of one year or less. The board rejected the petition, but it did commission two reports on the use of solitary in New York City jails.

In September 2013, after both reports condemned solitary at Rikers, the Board of Correction voted to make new rules governing solitary confinement in the city’s jail system. But then they didn’t make them.

More than a year later, in November 2014, the DOC submitted a proposal to build a $14.8 million Enhanced Supervision Housing unit, or ESHU. According to the DOC, the ESHU would decrease jail violence by segregating up to 250 people who are identified as gang members, committed stabbings or slashings, are found with a scalpel, participate in protests, or engage in “serious and persistent violence.” Those placed in the ESHU would be locked into their cells for 17 hours each day. They would have limited access to the law library. Their mail could be read without notifying either them or the sender. They may not be allowed contact visits with family and loved ones. But, in order to move forward with the new unit, the DOC needed the authorization of the Board of Correction.

Activists, including many in the Jails Action Coalition, were horrified. With only one month before the sole public hearing about the unit and two months until the deciding vote, they worked to circulate news about the proposed unit. They urged people to submit written comments to the board opposing the new unit. They urged people to attend and speak at the upcoming hearing. Their outreach was successful. On December 19, 2014, not only had they lined up to attend and signed up to speak at the hearing, but so had many other people who had been incarcerated, worked at or had loved ones in Rikers. At the same time, however, correctional officers were also mobilized, along with their union, including union president Norman Seabrook, who has gone from being called a “roadblock to reform” to an “enemy of reform” by the New York Times. Uniformed correctional officers took up nearly a quarter of the seating, which prevented people arriving after 9 a.m. from being allowed to enter the auditorium.

The hearing lasted for over six-and-a-half hours with 104 people from both sides signed up to testify, many of whom condemned the proposal. After the hearing, members of the Jails Action Coalition met with the three newest members of the board individually to talk with them about the proposed rule and the effects of solitary confinement.

Four days before its January 13 hearing, the board published an amended version of the rule it was considering. The rule would authorize the creation of the ESHU, while also placing limitations around punitive segregation, a form of solitary confinement used to punish people who broke jail rules.

Currently, only 16- and 17-year-olds are separated from other age groups. People ages 18 and over are housed in the adult units at Rikers. The new rule excludes people ages 18 to 21 from solitary unless they have committed a Grade One infraction. But these infractions range from serious actions such as assault, escape, and rape to minor acts such as protesting, possession of tobacco or money, and spitting. Those who have serious mental health or physical disabilities are also excluded. Clinicians from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene decide what constitutes a serious mental health or physical disability warranting exclusion from the ESHU. The rule also states that, if a person is excluded because of their age or health, they cannot be placed in punitive segregation for the same rule violation once their age or health status has changed.

In addition, the rule now places a time limit on the amount of time that can be spent in punitive segregation. Under the old system, people could spend months, if not years, in punitive segregation. Now, the department can only place a person in punitive segregation for up to 30 consecutive days. If the segregation sentence exceeds 30 days, the person is given a seven-day break before being sent back to segregation. In addition, the rule sets a limit of 60 days in punitive segregation within a six-month time period unless a person is persistently violent. If a longer time in segregation is sought, the chief of department must approve the extension. The DOC is required to notify both the Board of Correction and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and explain the security concerns. Daily mental health rounds must be provided for those in segregation for more than 60 days during a six-month period. Finally, it eliminates the practice of “owed time” in which a person who had been released from Rikers before finishing his time in segregation is immediately placed in solitary if he is ever re-arrested and re-incarcerated there.

The hearing on January 13 was not as crowded as the previous one. Less than 50 uniformed corrections officers sat in the back rows while advocates filled the front. The auditorium remained a quarter empty but everyone listened intently.

Before the board voted on the proposed rule, Bryanne Hamill, a former family court judge and a commissioner of the Board of Correction, added amendments limiting criteria for ESHU placement and setting a sentencing maximum of 30 days for any one charge. She also added an amendment excluding 18 to 21-year-olds from both the ESHU and punitive segregation beginning on January 1, 2016, so long as the DOC has the resources for alternative programs.

“The process [for this rulemaking] has not been very good,” stated Robert Cohen, another commissioner on the Board of Correction. Calling the rule “ill-conceived and flawed,” he said, “I do not believe the ESH Unit will decrease violence on Rikers Island. The only way we can decrease violence is to recognize that violence is caused by Rikers Island.”

“I do not support locking in ESH inmates for 17 hours a day,” Hamill stated, pointing out that, under the rule, those who participate in protests and other disturbances can be sent to the ESHU.

She also noted that reforming existing practices of solitary confinement seemed to be “held hostage” by the ESHU proposal. And so, the motion to adopt the rules, as amended by Judge Hamill, was unanimously approved.

Although he got the unit he was advocating for, Norman Seabrook seemed infuriated by the accompanying limitations, lambasting the board during the public comments section. He charged them with listening more to the Jails Action Coalition than to the men and women who work at Rikers Island. “Shame on you for allowing yourselves to be influenced by a small group of people — 90 percent of whom have never been incarcerated and never been a corrections officer.” He charged that the board, by limiting time in segregation, is jeopardizing the safety of both jail staff and those they guard, threatening to sue the board any time an officer is assaulted because of the new limitations. On that note, he walked out of the auditorium, taking with him a small cadre of non-uniformed people from the DOC.

Had he stayed, he would have heard the testimony of Evie Litwok, a member of the Jails Action Coalition who has been incarcerated and spent seven weeks in solitary confinement. Litwok also lambasted the board, but for a different reason: “You had an atrocious proposal,” she said. “You were able to tack on some amendments in one month. But you spent a year not passing minimum standards around punitive segregation.” Scott Paltrowitz, associate director of the Prison Visiting Project of the Correctional Association of New York, agreed. “This was an opportunity to create real alternatives to solitary confinement,” he said. “That opportunity wasn’t taken.”

But, advocates conceded after the meeting, there were some wins. Hearings for placement in punitive segregation and the ESHU now allow the accused to call witnesses, which had not been allowed previously. The initial proposal for the ESHU did not allow for exclusions of people with mental health concerns. The limit to 30 consecutive days and maximum of 60 days was, in the words of Johnny Perez who spent 60 days in segregation in Rikers as a teen, “the best news I’ve heard all day.”

Litwok, who had been part of the individual meetings with Board of Correction members, agrees. “I think Jails Action Coalition’s efforts made a dent. It allowed Hamill and Cohen, who were against the unit, to make the amendments [around solitary],” she said. The initial rule, she noted, excluded 16- and 17-year-olds from solitary and eliminated the practice of “owed time,” but did not contain any of the other limits included in the new rule.

“Obviously the exclusions for certain age groups is positive,” said Nick Malinowski, a social worker at Brooklyn Defender Services. “But we haven’t changed the paradigm that punishing people is going to change behavior.” The next step, he said, is ensuring that standards are enforced, a task where the board has sometimes faltered.

“Although [limitations on solitary] are a step in the right direction, we want to see more,” said Perez, who is now on the Strategic Adolescent Advisory Board to recommend further changes in dealing with teens at Rikers. “We want to see more out-of-cell time than seven hours a day. We want to see the elimination of solitary confinement for those under 25 and more humane treatment of those in solitary.” Noting that the rule includes a sunset provision — which means that after 18 months, the board will evaluate the new unit’s effectiveness and decide whether to authorize its continuation — he said, “We’ll be back then. And we’ll continue to fight for the rights of those inside.”

News Mon, 26 Jan 2015 10:37:03 -0500
Gaza in Arizona: How Israeli High-Tech Firms Will Up-Armor the US-Mexican Border

A barrier of 18-foot metal poles that bifurcates the American city of Nogales, Ariz., from Nogales, Mexico, on Feb. 20, 2013. (Photo: Joshua Lott/The New York Times)A barrier of 18-foot metal poles that bifurcates the American city of Nogales, Ariz., from Nogales, Mexico, on Feb. 20, 2013. (Photo: Joshua Lott/The New York Times)

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It was October 2012. Roei Elkabetz, a brigadier general for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), was explaining his country’s border policing strategies. In his PowerPoint presentation, a photo of the enclosure wall that isolates the Gaza Strip from Israel clicked onscreen. “We have learned lots from Gaza,” he told the audience. “It’s a great laboratory.”

Elkabetz was speaking at a border technology conference and fair surrounded by a dazzling display of technology -- the components of his boundary-building lab. There were surveillance balloons with high-powered cameras floating over a desert-camouflaged armored vehicle made by Lockheed Martin. There were seismic sensor systems used to detect the movement of people and other wonders of the modern border-policing world. Around Elkabetz, you could see vivid examples of where the future of such policing was heading, as imagined not by a dystopian science fiction writer but by some of the top corporate techno-innovators on the planet.

Swimming in a sea of border security, the brigadier general was, however, not surrounded by the Mediterranean but by a parched West Texas landscape. He was in El Paso, a 10-minute walk from the wall that separates the United States from Mexico.

Just a few more minutes on foot and Elkabetz could have watched green-striped U.S. Border Patrol vehicles inching along the trickling Rio Grande in front of Ciudad Juarez, one of Mexico’s largest cities filled with U.S. factories and the dead of that country’s drug wars. The Border Patrol agents whom the general might have spotted were then being up-armored with a lethal combination of surveillance technologies, military hardware, assault rifles, helicopters, and drones. This once-peaceful place was being transformed into what Timothy Dunn, in his book The Militarization of the U.S. Mexico Border, terms a state of “low-intensity warfare.”

The Border Surge

On November 20, 2014, President Obama announced a series of executive actions on immigration reform. Addressing the American people, he referred to bipartisan immigration legislation passed by the Senate in June 2013 that would, among other things, further up-armor the same landscape in what’s been termed -- in language adopted from recent U.S. war zones -- a “border surge.” The president bemoaned the fact that the bill had been stalled in the House of Representatives, hailing it as a “compromise” that “reflected common sense.” It would, he pointed out, “have doubled the number of Border Patrol agents, while giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship.”

In the wake of his announcement, including executive actions that would protect five to six million of those immigrants from future deportation, the national debate was quickly framed as a conflict between Republicans and Democrats. Missed in this partisan war of words was one thing: the initial executive action that Obama announced involved a further militarization of the border supported by both parties.

“First,” the president said, “we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings and speed the return of those who do cross over.” Without further elaboration, he then moved on to other matters.

If, however, the United States follows the “common sense” of the border-surge bill, the result could add more than $40 billion dollars worth of agents, advanced technologies, walls, and other barriers to an already unparalleled border enforcement apparatus. And a crucial signal would be sent to the private sector that, as the trade magazine Homeland Security Today puts it, another “treasure trove” of profit is on the way for a border control market already, according to the latest forecasts, in an “unprecedented boom period.”

Like the Gaza Strip for the Israelis, the U.S. borderlands, dubbed a “constitution-free zone” by the ACLU, are becoming a vast open-air laboratory for tech companies. There, almost any form of surveillance and “security” can be developed, tested, and showcased, as if in a militarized shopping mall, for other nations across the planet to consider. In this fashion, border security is becoming a global industry and few corporate complexes can be more pleased by this than the one that has developed in Elkabetz’s Israel.

The Palestine-Mexico Border

Consider the IDF brigadier general’s presence in El Paso two years ago an omen. After all, in February 2014, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agency in charge of policing our borders, contracted with Israel’s giant private military manufacturer Elbit Systems to build a “virtual wall,” a technological barrier set back from the actual international divide in the Arizona desert. That company, whose U.S.-traded stock shot up by 6% during Israel’s massive military operation against Gaza in the summer of 2014, will bring the same databank of technology used in Israel’s borderlands -- Gaza and the West Bank -- to Southern Arizona through its subsidiary Elbit Systems of America.

With approximately 12,000 employees and, as it boasts, “10+ years securing the world’s most challenging borders,” Elbit produces an arsenal of “homeland security systems.” These include surveillance land vehicles, mini-unmanned aerial systems, and “smart fences,” highly fortified steel barriers that have the ability to sense a person’s touch or movement. In its role as lead system integrator for Israel’s border technology plan, the company has already installed smart fences in the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

In Arizona, with up to a billion dollars potentially at its disposal, CBP has tasked Elbit with creating a “wall” of “integrated fixed towers” containing the latest in cameras, radar, motion sensors, and control rooms. Construction will start in the rugged, desert canyons around Nogales. Once a DHS evaluation deems that part of the project effective, the rest will be built to monitor the full length of the state’s borderlands with Mexico. Keep in mind, however, that these towers are only one part of a broader operation, the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan. At this stage, it’s essentially a blueprint for an unprecedented infrastructure of high-tech border fortifications that has attracted the attention of many companies. 

This is not the first time Israeli companies have been involved in a U.S. border build-up. In fact, in 2004, Elbit’s Hermes drones were the first unmanned aerial vehicles to take to the skies to patrol the southern border. In 2007, according to Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine, the Golan Group, an Israeli consulting company made up of former IDF Special Forces officers, provided an intensive eight-day course for special DHS immigration agents covering “everything from hand-to-hand combat to target practice to ‘getting proactive with their SUV.’” The Israeli company NICE Systems even supplied Arizona’s Joe Arpaio,“America’s toughest sheriff,” with a surveillance system to watch one of his jails.

As such border cooperation intensified, journalist Jimmy Johnson coined the apt phrase “Palestine-Mexico border” to catch what was happening. In 2012, Arizona state legislators, sensing the potential economic benefit of this growing collaboration, declared their desert state and Israel to be natural “trade partners,” adding that it was “a relationship we seek to enhance.”

In this way, the doors were opened to a new world order in which the United States and Israel are to become partners in the “laboratory” that is the U.S.-Mexican borderlands. Its testing grounds are to be in Arizona. There, largely through a program known as Global Advantage, American academic and corporate knowhow and Mexican low-wage manufacturing are to fuse with Israel’s border and homeland security companies.

The Border: Open for Business

No one may frame the budding romance between Israel’s high-tech companies and Arizona better than Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild. “If you go to Israel and you come to Southern Arizona and close your eyes and spin yourself a few times,” he says, “you might not be able to tell the difference.”

Global Advantage is a business project based on a partnership between the University of Arizona’s Tech Parks Arizona and the Offshore Group, a business advisory and housing firm which offers “nearshore solutions for manufacturers of any size” just across the border in Mexico. Tech Parks Arizona has the lawyers, accountants, and scholars, as well as the technical knowhow, to help any foreign company land softly and set up shop in the state. It will aid that company in addressing legal issues, achieving regulatory compliance, and even finding qualified employees -- and through a program it’s called the Israel Business Initiative, Global Advantage has identified its target country.

Think of it as the perfect example of a post-NAFTA world in which companies dedicated to stopping border crossers are ever freer to cross the same borders themselves. In the spirit of free trade that created the NAFTA treaty, the latest border fortification programs are designed to eliminate borders when it comes to letting high-tech companies from across the seas set up in the United States and make use of Mexico’s manufacturing base to create their products. While Israel and Arizona may be separated by thousands of miles, Rothschild assured TomDispatch that in “economics, there are no borders.”

Of course, what the mayor appreciates, above all, is the way new border technology could bring money and jobs into an area with a nearly 23% poverty rate. How those jobs might be created matters far less to him. According to Molly Gilbert, the director of community engagement for the Tech Parks Arizona, “It’s really about development, and we want to create technology jobs in our borderlands.”

So consider it anything but an irony that, in this developing global set of boundary-busting partnerships, the factories that will produce the border fortresses designed by Elbit and other Israeli and U.S. high-tech firms will mainly be located in Mexico. Ill-paid Mexican blue-collar workers will, then, manufacture the very components of a future surveillance regime, which may well help locate, detain, arrest, incarcerate, and expel some of them if they try to cross into the United States.

Think of Global Advantage as a multinational assembly line, a place where homeland security meets NAFTA. Right now there are reportedly 10 to 20 Israeli companies in active discussion about joining the program. Bruce Wright, the CEO of Tech Parks Arizona, tells TomDispatch that his organization has a “nondisclosure” agreement with any companies that sign on and so cannot reveal their names.

Though cautious about officially claiming success for Global Advantage’s Israel Business Initiative, Wright brims with optimism about his organization’s cross-national planning. As he talks in a conference room located on the 1,345-acre park on the southern outskirts of Tucson, it’s apparent that he's buoyed by predictions that the Homeland Security market will grow from a $51 billion annual business in 2012 to $81 billion in the United States alone by 2020, and $544 billion worldwide by 2018.

Wright knows as well that submarkets for border-related products like video surveillance, non-lethal weaponry, and people-screening technologies are all advancing rapidly and that the U.S. market for drones is poised to create 70,000 new jobs by 2016. Partially fueling this growth is what the Associated Press calls an “unheralded shift” to drone surveillance on the U.S. southern divide. More than 10,000 drone flights have been launched into border air space since March 2013, with plans for many more, especially after the Border Patrol doubles its fleet.

When Wright speaks, it’s clear he knows that his park sits atop a twenty-first-century gold mine. As he sees it, Southern Arizona, aided by his tech park, will become the perfect laboratory for the first cluster of border security companies in North America. He’s not only thinking about the 57 southern Arizona companies already identified as working in border security and management, but similar companies nationwide and across the globe, especially in Israel.

In fact, Wright's aim is to follow Israel’s lead, as it is now the number-one place for such groupings. In his case, the Mexican border would simply replace that country’s highly marketed Palestinian testing grounds. The 18,000 linear feet that surround the tech park’s solar panel farm would, for example, be a perfect spot to test out motion sensors. Companies could also deploy, evaluate, and test their products “in the field,” as he likes to say -- that is, where real people are crossing real borders -- just as Elbit Systems did before CBP gave it the contract.

“If we’re going to be in bed with the border on a day-to-day basis, with all of its problems and issues, and there’s a solution to it,” Wright said in a 2012 interview, “why shouldn’t we be the place where the issue is solved and we get the commercial benefit from it?”

From the Battlefield to the Border

When Naomi Weiner, project coordinator for the Israel Business Initiative, returned from a trip to that country with University of Arizona researchers in tow, she couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about the possibilities for collaboration. She arrived back in November, just a day before Obama announced his new executive actions -- a promising declaration for those, like her, in the business of bolstering border defenses.

“We’ve chosen areas where Israel is very strong and Southern Arizona is very strong,” Weiner explained to TomDispatch, pointing to the surveillance industry “synergy” between the two places. For example, one firm her team met with in Israel was Brightway Vision, a subsidiary of Elbit Systems. If it decides to set up shop in Arizona, it could use tech park expertise to further develop and refine its thermal imaging cameras and goggles, while exploring ways to repurpose those military products for border surveillance applications. The Offshore Group would then manufacture the cameras and goggles in Mexico.

Arizona, as Weiner puts it, possesses the “complete package” for such Israeli companies. “We’re sitting right on the border, close to Fort Huachuca,” a nearby military base where, among other things, technicians control the drones surveilling the borderlands. “We have the relationship with Customs and Border Protection, so there’s a lot going on here. And we’re also the Center of Excellence on Homeland Security.”

Weiner is referring to the fact that, in 2008, DHS designated the University of Arizona the lead school for the Center of Excellence on Border Security and Immigration. Thanks to that, it has since received millions of dollars in federal grants. Focusing on research and development of border-policing technologies, the center is a place where, among other things, engineers are studying locust wings in order to create miniature drones equipped with cameras that can get into the tiniest of spaces near ground level, while large drones like the Predator B continue to buzz over the borderlands at 30,000 feet (despite the fact that a recent audit by the inspector general of homeland security found them a waste of money).

Although the Arizona-Israeli romance is still in the courtship stage, excitement about its possibilities is growing. Officials from Tech Parks Arizona see Global Advantage as the perfect way to strengthen the U.S.-Israel “special relationship.” There is no other place in the world with a higher concentration of homeland security tech companies than Israel. Six hundred tech start-ups are launched in Tel Aviv alone every year. During the Gaza offensive last summer, Bloomberg reported that investment in such companies had “actually accelerated.” However, despite the periodic military operations in Gaza and the incessant build-up of the Israeli homeland security regime, there are serious limitations to the local market.

The Israeli Ministry of Economy is painfully aware of this. Its officials know that the growth of the Israeli economy is “largely fueled by a steady increase in exports and foreign investment.” The government coddles, cultivates, and supports these start-up tech companies until their products are market-ready. Among them have been innovations like the “skunk,” a liquid with a putrid odor meant to stop unruly crowds in their tracks. The ministry has also been successful in taking such products to market across the globe. In the decade following 9/11, sales of Israeli “security exports” rose from $2 billion to $7 billion annually.

Israeli companies have sold surveillance drones to Latin American countries like Mexico, Chile, and Colombia, and massive security systems to India and Brazil, where an electro-optic surveillance system will be deployed along the country’s borders with Paraguay and Bolivia. They have also been involved in preparations for policing the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. The products of Elbit Systems and its subsidiaries are now in use from the Americas and Europe to Australia. Meanwhile, that mammoth security firm is ever more involved in finding “civilian applications” for its war technologies. It is also ever more dedicated to bringing the battlefield to the world’s borderlands, including southern Arizona.

As geographer Joseph Nevins notes, although there are many differences between the political situations of the U.S. and Israel, both Israel-Palestine and Arizona share a focus on keeping out “those deemed permanent outsiders,” whether Palestinians, undocumented Latin Americans, or indigenous people.

Mohyeddin Abdulaziz has seen this “special relationship” from both sides, as a Palestinian refugee whose home and village Israeli military forces destroyed in 1967 and as a long-time resident of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. A founding member of the Southern Arizona BDS Network, whose goal is to pressure U.S. divestment from Israeli companies, Abdulaziz opposes any program like Global Advantage that will contribute to the further militarization of the border, especially when it also sanitizes Israel’s “violations of human rights and international law.”

Such violations matter little, of course, when there is money to be made, as Brigadier General Elkabetz indicated at that 2012 border technology conference. Given the direction that both the U.S. and Israel are taking when it comes to their borderlands, the deals being brokered at the University of Arizona look increasingly like matches made in heaven (or perhaps hell).  As a result, there is truth packed into journalist Dan Cohen’s comment that “Arizona is the Israel of the United States.”

News Mon, 26 Jan 2015 10:23:55 -0500
Fracking Boom Expands Near Chaco Canyon, Threatens Navajo Ancestral Lands and People

Beneath a giant methane gas cloud recently identified by NASA, the oil and gas fracking industry is rapidly expanding in northwestern New Mexico. Flares that light up the night sky at drilling sites along the stretch of Route 550 that passes through the San Juan Basin, which sits on top of the oil rich Mancos Shale, are tell-tale indicators of the fracking boom. Much of the land being fracked belongs to the federal government. The rest is a mixture of state, private and Navajo Nation land. The region is known to the Diné (Navajo) as Dinétah, the land of their ancestors.

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Beneath a giant methane gas cloud recently identified by NASA, the oil and gas fracking industry is rapidly expanding in northwestern New Mexico. Flares that light up the night sky at drilling sites along the stretch of Route 550 that passes through the San Juan Basin, which sits on top of the oil rich Mancos Shale, are tell-tale indicators of the fracking boom.

Much of the land being fracked belongs to the federal government. The rest is a mixture of state, private and Navajo Nation land.

The region is known to the Diné (Navajo) as Dinétah, the land of their ancestors.  It is home of the Bisti Badlands and Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a World Heritage Site.

Flares burning at fracking industry site on federal land near Counselor, New Mexico. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)Flares burning at fracking industry site on federal land near Counselor, New Mexico. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

Bisti Badlands. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)Bisti Badlands. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

"The land in the Chaco Canyon area has lots of sacred places. The corporations don't care. They come and go and tear up the places. They do their thing and away they go—and somebody else, somewhere else is getting rich off this land, not us," Sarah Jane White, a Diné environmental activist, told DeSmogBlog, "Fracking doesn't benefit the Native American people."

Sarah Jane White and Victoria Gutierrez, mother and daughter Diné environmental activists. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)Sarah Jane White and Victoria Gutierrez, mother and daughter Diné environmental activists. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

Ruins of Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Culture National Historical Park. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)Ruins of Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Culture National Historical Park. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is tasked with managing resources on federal land including leasing land for extraction.

"The BLM jumped the gun on fracking for oil in the area," Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico energy coordinator for San Juan Citizens Alliance, told DeSmogBlog. 

The agency's last resource management plan for the area was created in 2003 before drilling in the Mancos Shale region was considered technically or economically viable. 

A new analysis of industrial development's impact on the community and its environment is required before such development is permitted. However, the BLM Farmington Field Office issued permits for over 100 wells for exploratory purposes without conducting a new comprehensive analysis.

Eisenfeld suspected oil field development was imminent when federal funds were earmarked to fix a road that cuts across the Mancos Shale region in 2008. By 2013, flares started illuminating the sky between Counselor and the entrance to Chaco Canyon. 

"Within two years, the area went from undeveloped for oil to becoming a mess. Lack of planning is resulting in wasting natural gas by flaring," Eisenfeld said.

Frack job in process in Counselor, New Mexico. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)Frack job in process in Counselor, New Mexico. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

Industry site on federal land in Lybrook, New Mexico. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)Industry site on federal land in Lybrook, New Mexico. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

Environmental groups argue industry is past the exploratory phase. The BLM's consideration of the Saddle Butte San Juan Midstream, LLC Piñon Pipeline project, a 130-mile oil pipeline that would transport the extracted oil out of the area, makes it evident industry is in a production phase. 

In October 2014, environmental protection groups called for a moratorium on fracking and a halt to new leases until the BLM finishes a new analysis.

"By our estimate, the BLM has approved approximately 100 new drilling permits for Mancos shale drilling and fracking. Approval of these permits is wholly inappropriate, contrary to law, and must cease immediately", states a letter to the BLM signed by the San Juan Citizens Alliance, the Chaco Alliance, the Western Environmental Law Center and WildEarth Guardians.

The BLM rejected a moratorium but agreed to delay issuing more permits until the end of the year. "We are still approving APDs [applications for permitting to drill] and doing permitting," Peggy Deaton, the BLM representative responsible for the new analysis, told DeSmogBlog.

Environmental groups may resort to legal action against the BLM if they deem it necessary to stop new industrial activity commencing before the agency finishes the required amendment to their resource assessment plan, which is not expected to be signed and implemented until late 2016.

In an effort to protect Chaco Canyon, The Wilderness Society, National Parks Conservation Association, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Archaeology Southwest submitted recommendations for a master leasing plan to the BLM. They suggest the land between Counselor and Lybrook, next to Chaco Canyon, become a "designated development zone" while keeping the greater Chaco Canyon area off-limits. 

Eisenfeld was dismayed these groups felt the need to forsake an area where communities have already been negatively impacted by the fracking industry in order to protect Chaco Canyon.

"While the Chaco Culture National Historical Park needs protecting, indigenous communities also deserve protection from industry," Eisenfeld says. "The proposed designated development zone throws those living in it under the bus."

Fracking industry site on federal land in Lybrook, New Mexico. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)Fracking industry site on federal land in Lybrook, New Mexico. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

Meanwhile, the "industry is telling Diné people fracking is safe and giving them just a little bit of money to get them to sign leases," White told DeSmogBlog. The proposed Pinon Pipeline Project is being sold to the community as an "economic development."

Yet few Diné see any profit from any of the industrial developments, according to White. Instead, "We pay the price in bad health – respiratory diseases, heart and kidney diseases, and diabetes."

On January 5th, a group of Diné set off on a 200-mile journey commemorating a forced walk their ancestors took away from the area 150 years ago. 

Along the way, they are meeting with members of the Diné community who have little access to the media and are listening to their concerns about the industrial development, and giving them educational materials about fracking. They intend to raise awareness about the fracking industry's negative impacts on their community including the health risks, damage to the roads and an increase in violent crime that typically comes with an influx of temporary oil field workers.

A group of Diné on the first day of a 200-mile walk through their ancestral homeland. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)A group of Diné on the first day of a 200-mile walk through their ancestral homeland. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

Nadine Narindrankura, on the first day of a 200-mile walk through the ancestral homeland of the Diné. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)Nadine Narindrankura, on the first day of a 200-mile walk through the ancestral homeland of the Diné. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

"People are not aware of how devastating horizontal drilling is going to be to this area," Nadine Narindrankura, a Diné youth taking part in the walk, told DeSmogBlog.

"Our ancestors sacrificed their lives for this land. What are we showing for it?"  Nicholas Ashley, another Diné youth, asked. "We are looking at resource colonization," he says.

"Despite being at the forefront of energy extraction, our people do not see its benefits; approximately 1/4 of our people today live without electricity and running water on the Navajo Nation, while our economy functions at an unemployment rate of 60%, and our young people are leaving due to lack of opportunity," their group's mission statement says.

Those taking part in the walk are no strangers to living in the shadow of industry. But to allow fracking in the last undeveloped areas they hold sacred is not something they are willing to accept without fighting back.

After walking over a dozen miles along highway 550 with trucks whizzing past the group, Narindrankura reflected that, despite the industrial activity, the beauty of the land is still ever-present.

During the second week of their walk, a propane-laden truck exploded at one of the industrial sites nearby, a reminder of the dangers the fracking industry brings with it.

Halliburton truck at a fracking industry site on Route 550 in New Mexico. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)Halliburton truck at a fracking industry site on Route 550 in New Mexico. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

Drill site off Route 550 in Lybrook, New Mexico where hydraulic fracturing is done to extract oil. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)Drill site off Route 550 in Lybrook, New Mexico where hydraulic fracturing is done to extract oil. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

The group's journey is a sign of the growing resistance indigenous peoples and environmental groups are mounting against the industrialization of the area.

"If the pipeline is permitted, the fracking industry will expand exponentially," Einsefeld warns.

Actor and environmentalist Robert Redford weighed in on the proposed pipeline in a letter to the BLM:

"I am writing today to respectfully ask that you deny Saddle Butte LLC's permit for the Pinion Pipeline. This pipeline will forever change, and in some cases decimate lands owned by the Navajos, private owners and the state and federal government. As important, it will mean thousands of new oil wells at a time when the price of oil has plummeted and climate change threats have increased dramatically." 

The public can submit comments on the pipeline proposal until January 30 by mail to the BLM Farmington Field Office, Attention: Scott Hall, 6251 N. College Blvd. Suite A, Farmington, NM 87402 or email to

News Mon, 26 Jan 2015 10:06:31 -0500
Kymone Freeman: #DC Ferguson, Poet, Playwright and Guerilla Artist

“Until the lions have their historians; the tales of the hunt will continue to glorify the hunters.” – Afrikan Proverb

Papi Kymone Freeman (guerrilla artist) is one of the leaders of #DC Ferguson, an organization devoted to exposing police terror in the Washington, DC area. Kymone, alone with Eugene Puryear, Salim Adafo and Kenny Nero have led non-violent demonstrations that have shut down major economic arteries in the nation’s capitol. Kymone is the director of the National Black LUV Festival that has since become the largest annual AIDS mobilization in Washington, DC. He has authored a collection of poetry entitled Blood.Sweat.Tears.

Kymone is in the process of completing a one-man show called “Whites Only,” a show where, according to Kymone “white folks can witness an angry Black man in therapy from the sanctuary of their seat.” He is also the subject of a chapter in the book entitled: Beat of a Different Drum: The Untold Stories of African Americans Forging Their Own Paths in Work and Life.

Kymone’s dedication to art and activism led him to accept the position of New York City spokesperson and official poet of the anti-war independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader during his campaign in ’04. A scholarship received from the American Friends Service Committee allowed him to spend the summer in Nairobi, Kenya for an international leadership conference. He used his time in Kenya to hone his skills as a playwright. He received the 22nd Annual Larry Neal Award for Drama for the successful play Prison Poetry that has appeared at the Historic Lincoln Theatre and Source Theatre during the Hip Hop Theatre Festival, THEARC Theatre, Oak Hill Juvenile Detention Facility and several college campuses where his work has been included in the Black History curriculum of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He has conducted production workshops at the National Black Theatre Festival and Institute of Policy Studies.

He is currently Program Director of We ACT Radio 1480 AM DC’s new progressive radio station.

Who is Kymone Freeman? Where were you born and where did you go to school?

I am the eldest grandson of Lily Ann Lewis who climbed the steps of the Washington Monument just to show me the highest point in the city to tell me I can do anything. I am an angry Black man in therapy, an autodidact, a guerilla artist, an activist and currently this country’s poorest media mogul. I have produced poetry, theatre, festivals, TV, film, and radio.

I am one of the few indigenous natives of DC. I was born in DC General Hospital and initially raised in my maternal grandmother’s house at 624 Kentucky Ave SE. I grew up during the soulful 70’s but the crack epidemic and violence of the 80’s, along with the death of my grandmother, forced me to attend school in North Carolina and in Alexandria, Virginia.

When did you decide to get involved in political struggle?

I am a product of the Million Man March that gave us the charge to go back to our communities to #dosomething. The fact that no crime was committed in DC for over 48 hours because of the brotherhood and unity that was displayed there is a lost footnote in history but a month later I witnessed the murder of my cousin at a cabaret that I hosted. It was then that I decided to dedicate my life to begin to synthesize my reality with the greater possibilities.

How has your involvement in politics changed your life?

My involvement with politics first began with the case of Mumia Abu Jamal. After reading Death Blossoms I learned more about his case and realized he was innocent and attended my first marches and rallies. I marched in DC, Philly and to the prison he was originally being held at while he was on death row. That activism lead me to the precursor of the explosion of the prison industrial complex which is the War on Drugs.

This enabled me to draw immediate conclusions from my experiences and why I was seeing the devastation of drugs and violence in my community in the 80s with the materialism that drove my generation to early graves and massive incarceration in the 90’s.

During this period I discovered poetry and found my voice to articulate the rage and passion I had regarding these issues. I say this because art is political. My pursuit as an artist also began to open another dimension in my thinking and expanded my circle of friends who didn’t think like the hustlers and government employees I was surrounded by. They were independent thinkers who lived life on their own terms which provided me a reference point to one day escape the plantation confines of a 9 to 5.

With my two passions Art and Politics I decided to combine them with a festival to address the pandemic of AIDS in DC that had claimed the lives of both my Aunt and Uncle. The Black L.U.V. Festival ( was launched in 1997 and I have since produced 12 festivals. This independent festival was the foundation that introduced me to all the contacts that I would later need to break free from a 9 to 5 to speak truth to power full time. It was through those efforts to organize the festival that I met Kevin Zeese, then the Executive Director of Common Sense for Drug Policy, who mentored me, opened his home to me, and gave me the necessary support for me to make the transition. He sponsored me to attend several People of Color and the War on Drugs Conferences held in various cities across the country produced by the Drug Policy Alliance and Deborah Peterson Small.

What is the mission of We Act Radio?

It was also through the organizing of the Black L.U.V. Festival that I met my business partner Alex Lawson with whom I co-founded We Act Radio, DC’s only independent radio station. Alex was with DC Fights Back, an AIDS advocacy, group that helped me assemble several AIDS Mobile Units to turn the festival into the largest annual AIDS testing event in DC for six years. On November the 11th, 2011 at 11am we launched We Act Radio on MLK Ave SE Washington, DC.

Our mission is dedicated to raising up the stories and voices of those historically excluded from the media.

How does WeAct Radio contribute to educating the community regarding political events?

We Act Radio is an independent radio station that produces original content and provides broadcast media outlet services to the progressive community of Washington, DC and beyond. Everyone comes to DC to protest, march, rally, or hold press conferences. We offer live streaming services at cost to ensure that the content provider is not solely relying upon what other media outlets chooses to broadcast but rather distributing their content in its entirety amongst our platform.

In addition, We Act Radio functions as a community anchor institution in one of the most underserved areas of the nation's capital by partnering with the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities as well as the DC Summer Youth Employment Program to offer Media Arts training classes to at-risk youth every summer for the past three years we have been in operation to effectively contribute to the political education of our young people.

The Anacostia studios of We Act Radio are also large enough to host community events whether produced ourselves are by other individuals or organizations. We host open mics, debates, live productions, film screenings, political education classes and, most recently, have partnered with the National Black United Front to host the N’Joya Weusi Saturday School for extracurricular S.T.E.M. activities for children.

Please share a story of resistance in your work that embodies hope for you.

Spending a week in Ferguson and St. Louis as an independent media outlet after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson I was impressed with the level of commitment from the young people there responding on the ground by beginning to organize their community and politicizing themselves with no fear of an overwhelming show of force by the military industrial complex. This was even a bigger inspiration for me and the hope for the future of our youth than that of the launch of the Occupy Movement in Zuccotti Park that spread around the country and around the world because, finally, young Black people were involved and taking leadership.

But the greatest single story of resistance for me is from Mo Costello, the owner of MoKaBe Coffeehouse that received death threats in St. Louis and was tear-gassed twice just for providing a “Safe Space” for protestors.

In the spirit of John Brown, she risked her livelihood and the safety of not only herself but that of her three children that helped run the family-owned business. I personally saw the police intimidation she and her family faced and despite all that they still chose to support the community and the #BlackLivesMatter cause by operating as an oasis surrounded by a desert of injustice.

What role do you play at WeAct Radio? How has this changed your life and influenced your political activities?

I am the Program Director, the General Manager, and sometimes janitor. I have a paid staff of two and a volunteer staff of two. My life has changed from working for others to working for myself. This alone will greatly alter the thinking of any individual. I remember when I was still picking cotton at the Postal plantation, my manager told me that I don’t get paid to think. Well, now I do.

As an independent media outlet, we don’t just cover stories, we produce content. I am free to break stories I find relevant like the Public Duty Doctrine that states that the government has no duty to provide emergency services including 911 to the general public, but rather it is a “courtesy” it extends. Only fires are excluded from this admission of civic immunity simply to avoid the potential of civil lawsuits against the city for damages in wrongful death cases due to neglect or malpractice. Most people are unaware of this and no major media outlet will ever cover this aspect even in the case of Cedric Mills who had a heart attack and was refused medical attention by emergency personnel and left to die on the street.

Most people don’t know that courts have ruled that the police can legally lie to you and that the media has no legal obligation to tell the truth. They assume the validity of a police report and whatever version they see on the 6 o’clock news.

In your opinion, how is the struggle for justice in Ferguson and the struggle around police terror in Washington, DC interrelated?

First of all, “An injustice anywhere; is a threat to justice everywhere” so I never categorize or compartmentalize various aspects of the struggle separately. I view them all as pieces in one big chess game. There are of course some favorite pieces that I choose to use more than others, but I must pay attention to them all.

In a specific response to #DCFerguson, which is the hashtag we have chose to use locally, we obviously feel very strongly about the interrelatedness of all the cases of police terror and their intersection on the national level that falls at the doorsteps of the DOJ and the White House. DC is the perfect collage of local, national and international affairs.

While all of our problems are either local or national, we now see that Malcolm X was right in his assessment that our only hope for justice is on the world stage.

How can we connect these issues?

We must begin by controlling the narrative and the branding. We should avoid ever repeating talking points from the establishment who effectively sets the limits of the agenda by defining the narrative and deciding the brand words to be used.

For example, by calling a protest against police brutality an “anti-police protest” the establishment has effectively minimized the amount of support you can expect to receive from the public.

If the #BlackLivesMatter movement began referring openly to their cause as the “New Anti-Apartheid” movement they would have effectively conjured up all the aspects that joined the various levels of oppression that manifested itself during the Apartheid regime in South Africa and the tools used to eliminate it. This alone would put the system itself on trial and elevate the debate beyond the realm of good cop vs bad cop to investigate a system that refuses to distinguish between the two and rewards bad behavior when applied to communities of color in general and poor people in particular.

You testified during the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Please summarize what you said.

I basically amplified the demands for community control over the police. I accused them of dancing all around the mulberry bush exchanging pleasantries with talks of new training or stating dwindling crime statistics being offered as proof that what they are doing is working instead of directly addressing the issue at hand of an out of control police force and a corrupt grand jury system that refuses to put a leash on killer cops as long as the victims are Black or Latino.

If the Commission had allowed you additional time, what would you have added to your statement?

I wish I had time to read all the names of unarmed Black people killed by White police officers and all the names of unarmed White people killed by Black police officers.

Is the Commission a hoax? If so, do you think Black folks should participate in it?

Carmen Perez, Executive Director of the Gathering for Justice, said “There is a crisis between police and communities of color.” However, the majority of those on the Commission and particularly those in leadership are not treating it as such. Whether or not the purpose of the President’s Task Force is to continue a policy of “Benign Neglect” by circling the wagons to prevent any true radical police reforms while providing lip service to a decades old issue remains to be seen, but yes we should participate because this is where the current debate is being held.

How can we leverage the Commission process to the advantage of the Black Community?

I was very disappointed that there were no protestors present during the townhall. They purposefully minimized the likelihood of this by hosting it as a 9-5 event rather than (2) evening events which would have resulted in greater community involvement. There are allies to be made whether on the Task Force or in attendance and enemies to be identified. We are in need of intel and data collection just like our adversaries.

Therefore, there should absolutely be a more concerted effort to take these proceedings over and if necessary bumrush the mics like they did at Rev. Al Sharpton’s national demonstration in DC if they continue to avoid the discussion of community control over the police.

What are the challenges facing #DCFerguson and the overall police terror movement?

How do we enforce demands? How do we escalate the calls for justice? How do we protect ourselves? Who are our allies? How do we force the police to share power with the community? How do we fund an organization truly committed to these values?

All these questions must begin to be addressed.

What is the basis of your hope that WeAct Radio or #DCFerguson can move the struggle for black liberation forward?

Hope is a drug and was also the name of a slave ship. But hope got a bi-racial president elected and as the “People’s Pastor” the Reverend Herbert Daughtry of the House of the Lord in Brooklyn, NYC told me, “I am addicted to hope.”

Our hope is echoed in the last words of the late great Dr. Vincent Harding, the author of MLK’s Beyond Vietnam Speech, when I interviewed him last year on April 4th the 47th anniversary of that speech and shortly before his death later that same month when he said, “Don’t be overwhelmed for too long, because we have work to do. Stay strong.”

For more information about Kymone Freeman:

Testimony before Presidential Commission on Policing:

News Mon, 26 Jan 2015 09:06:05 -0500