Truthout Stories Sun, 07 Feb 2016 18:48:23 -0500 en-gb District Sentinel Radio Episode 19: Straight Outta Iowa

Criminal justice reform in Congress has been hijacked by Republicans and turned into a "vehicle for corporate giveaway." The Feds aren't doing their homework on legal marijuana. And dismal new projections for the TPP.

Also, a report from our man in Iowa, Joe Krueger, on the chaos that was the 2016 Democratic Caucus.

News Sun, 07 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
If There Are No New Farmers, Who Will Grow Our Food?

Against a backdrop of lush green mountains and swaying papaya trees, La'amea Lunn readies his crop of carrots, kale, and eggplants for the weekly farmers market. He carefully tends his one-third acre on Oahu, Hawai'i, preparing produce for a market stall he shares with friends - young farmers like himself, a few of whom he met when they worked neighboring plots on this land owned by the University of Hawai'i.

At 32, Lunn has an office job with a career in restaurant kitchens behind him. He hopes to own a farm of his own, to be part of the local food movement, and to help transform the industrial food system. But taking that on now is a substantial investment, so Lunn is starting out here, in an agricultural incubator program called GoFarm Hawai'i, where he can share resources, learn from experts, and, perhaps most importantly, join a community.

GoFarm Hawai'i and other programs, from California to Maine, aim to soften the start for young growers. By providing access to some or all of the farming fundamentals - capital, acreage, and training - these projects try not only to help the individual farmer, but also to sustain and grow a new generation that will allow the local food movement to flourish.

"Doing it with other people helps you along in the hard times," Lunn said. "I went into this not just for myself, but to network to help other farmers to make it easier to farm. It was a driving force."

Lunn is among the thousands of people nationwide trying their hands at a career that traditionally was handed down within families. It is a daunting prospect: New farmers often struggle to find affordable land, pay for equipment, pay down student loans, and develop the myriad skills necessary to farm as a career, not just a hobby.

Farming as an occupation has been graying steadily for more than three decades. In 2012, the average age of American farmers was 58, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture. In the same census, one-third of farmers were age 65 and older; only 6 percent of farmers were younger than 35.

And fewer new farmers are staying with it. In 2012, not quite 470,000 farmers had been on their land less than a decade - a 19 percent drop from the number of new farmers just five years before. About land for them to grow their products, and create a built-in network of fellow farmers.

Jennifer Hashley, a Concord area poultry farmer and director of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, called this a "safe place to learn and to fail."

In a farm incubator, "they can really just focus on production, gaining the skills they need, and taking their product to market," she said. "People can try this and see if it works."

Incubators are in various stages of development. Some have graduated participants and are tracking their progress in commercial farming; others are focusing on specific skills or populations.

Michigan's Greater Lansing Food Bank, also home to a series of community gardens and a food bank network, operates one such incubator, Lansing Roots. Now in its third growing season, Lansing Roots targets immigrant and refugee farmers who work roughly quarter-acre plots and sell their vegetables at local farmers markets and to wholesalers and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscribers.

At first, explained Alex Bryan, director of the food bank's agricultural programs, many of the growers were involved in the food bank's community gardens effort. It soon became clear that some of them were serious about turning the experience - whether by building upon farming backgrounds from their native countries, signing up for multifamily plots, or selling produce on the side - into a business.

"We said, 'We're well-resourced. Let's provide the space and make it transparent that we want them to make money and be farmers,'" Bryan said. "In the long term, it helps the food bank and helps localize our food. It's important that we have a new generation of farmers."

Today, there are 25 farmers working the incubator site, down from 29. Of the four who have left, two found other jobs, one is trying to find land for her own farm, and the other decided farming wasn't the right fit.

"If someone understands that they don't want to be a farmer, that's still a success story to me," said Bryan, who farms with a friend on 4 acres in Detroit and chairs the board of the National Young Farmers Coalition. Better to make the choice about farming while at the incubator, he explained, than after staking hundreds of thousands of dollars on a farm.

That was the theory behind the phased-in structure of GoFarm Hawai'i, launched in 2012 by the University of Hawai'i College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources and Windward Community College. GoFarm starts with a three-hour seminar, which leads to a series of weekend workshops meant to introduce people to what they can expect from life as a farmer. From there, the program gets more intense. For four months, students attend two meetings a week that focus on specific topics, such as soil quality, pest control, crop varieties, and food storage. Participants can then move on to six months of AgPro, in which they grow crops and learn how to start a business. Some graduates of AgPro may then take advantage of AgIncubator, growing and marketing crops on land provided by GoFarm Hawai'i.

Of AgPro's first class of 27 graduates, 20 are farming commercially, including La'amea Lunn.

Steven Chiang, GoFarm's co-founder, credits the program's progressive phases with the successful conversion of new farmers. GoFarm focuses on transitioning from stage to stage, on training, and on individual responsibility for a plot of land - surrounded by a cohort of classmates with their own farming responsibilities.

"People have to renew their vows, in a sense. And things get more real as phases continue," he said. Student cohorts "struggle and work and dream together, [which makes] the prospect of actually doing this farming thing seem more achievable, less lonely."

Establishing a network of mentors and peers is critical to building confidence and business know-how, Chiang added. It's not just about the training; it's about the transition. As the Beginning Farmer Center's John Baker said, a new farmer also has to learn how to set up and sustain a business.

About 40 miles southeast of Seattle, Abukar Haji surveys his beds of carrots, beans, collard greens, and romaine. Now in his third year with Seattle Tilth's Farm Works incubator program, Haji has expanded his original one-eighth-acre plot to three-fourths of an acre and hopes to keep growing. A farmer in his native Somalia, Haji came to the United States five years ago and took a warehouse job until he learned about Farm Works at a local community center presentation. He now spends six days a week on the farm and is one of Farm Works' top sellers in Seattle Tilth's food hub, which distributes to its CSA, farmers markets, restaurants, and wholesalers.

Through a translator, Haji emphasized the help that Farm Works provided in learning and using new systems of planting and irrigation and in marketing his crops. Going out on his own, though, would be too stressful. "I'm going to stay here and get bigger," he said with a laugh, gesturing toward the surrounding land.

And with Farm Works' structure and goals, farmers like Haji likely will be able to do that. The 5-year-old program enrolls between eight and 10 new farmers a year for its classes and incubator plots, but no one has to leave, explained Andrea Dwyer, Seattle Tilth's executive director. Rather, Seattle Tilth is actively seeking more land throughout the area to allow current Farm Works' farmers to expand and to sign on new ones.

In the program's "co-farming" model, subsidies to new farmers for seeds, equipment, and other resources decrease over time, while the land remains leased to farmers who participate in a farmers' council to make decisions and solve problems and who can contribute produce to the food hub for revenue.

"We're trying to re-evaluate what it means to be a farmer," Farm Works manager Matthew McDermott said as he walked a path between plots. "Maybe a co-farming model is the way to be successful and grow a new generation of farmers."

On an overcast yet mild weekday afternoon, half a dozen farmers tend to their chores. One motions Haji over to ask for advice. A few yards down, three young women work adjacent plots, maneuvering in and out of greenhouse tunnels packed with tomato plants.

Amber Taulbee pauses from her day's task of removing thistles to pitch to McDermott the prospect of a Farm Works orchard.

That kind of access and support, Taulbee says later, has made all the difference in getting her dreams off the ground. At 37, Taulbee and her husband hope to find their own farmland and start a CSA.

"Farming is so challenging. I've had to become more realistic about how much help I'm going to need," she said. "Until you start doing it for yourself, you don't really understand it."

News Sun, 07 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
An American Tradition

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Art Sun, 07 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
From Civil Rights to Human Rights, Black Community Control Now

A United Nations Working Group preliminary report on human rights violations against Black America advocates Black community control of police. A United Nations Working Group preliminary report on human rights violations against Black America advocates Black community control of police. (Photo: Bob Simpson / Flickr)

Now that the fact finding visit to the U.S. by the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent is over and their preliminary findings seemingly catalog an endless list of racial discriminations and repression by the U.S. state, the struggle of African/Black people must gear up for a next phase. Certainly this UN Working Group (WGEPAD) has been to the U.S. on the same mission before and cited similar issues, although but not as extensive and bone chilling.

In 2010 the particular members of this Working Group were different, and as would follow so too were the members of this delegation. The WGEPAD is chaired - and this delegation was led - by Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France, daughter of the late revolutionary psychiatrist, philosopher, intellectual Frantz Fanon. Ms. Fanon-Mendes-France is well established in her own right in the fields of international law, conflict resolution, as well as on racism and discrimination. In 2009, she received the Human Rights Award by the Council for Justice, Equality and Peace.

This time the WGEPAD's visit came on the heels of a series of non indictments following the brutal murder of Black women, men, children, and queer and transgender African/Black people by U.S. police. The visit began January 19, ended the 29th, and was to examine the oppressive conditions of Black people living in the U.S. In February 2014, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2015-24 the International Decade of People of African Descent and this UN presence marks another important step forward to obtaining true independent oversight and justice for many who have lost their families to anti-Black police terrorism and is seen as something more than the ineffective federal investigations.

It is no small victory that this time - unlike in 2010 - within their preliminary findings released at a press conference on January 29th, 2016 the WGEPAD included an explicit call for reparations for Black people, alarm at and call for urgent remedy for the rampant killings of Black people by police with impunity. The findings also embraced the radical community call for community control over police saying, "Following the epidemic of racial violence by the police, civil society networks calling for justice together with other activists are strongly advocating for legal and policy reforms and community control over policing and other areas which directly affect African Americans."

The Working Group recommends that "Community policing strategies should be developed to give the community control of the police which are there to protect and serve them. It is suggested to have a board that would elect police officers they want playing this important role in their communities."

While WGEPAD appreciated the grassroots community's push to have control over the police, they are still not as clear on the issue and the particulars as our movement must be. We must be clear that people of African descent in the U.S. are a domestic colony and that the police are NOT here to protect and serve us. That is to say our treatment in this country reflects the outlook and policies the U.S. government and the Western world practice against all African people globally.  The treatment of African/Black people in the U.S. is a direct extension of a colonial subject status in relation to white society and the police are an occupying force for political control by the capitalist class.

One need only examine the historical development of the modern U.S. police. The earliest form of the modern American police lies in the brutal Southern slave patrols legislated through the slave codes that started in South Carolina in 1712. "The plantation slave patrols, often consisting of three armed men on horseback covering a 'beat' of 15 square miles, were charged with maintaining discipline, catching runaway slaves and preventing slave insurrection," according to The Iron Fist and The Velvet Glove; An Analysis of the U.S. Police.  

This comprehensive 1975 study by the Center for Research on Criminal Justice goes on to explain that "in the North and West, the police institution evolved in response to a different set of race and class contradictions."  There they originated as private security to protect the property of capitalist, to break up worker strikes, and prevent worker protest for fair working conditions.

In present day, while their form has been expanded and their image spun by media and public relations departments, the essential function of police remains to enforce the will and protect the power of those in charge.

In practice this means that police officers' main priority is to protect the wealthy and their property from oppressed Black communities, the homeless population and anyone that doesn't conform to the ruling class.

With Community Control Over Police the priority of police becomes protecting all human beings, not just the wealthy and their buildings. This is a call for Community Control Over Police as a means of shifting power, enforcing democracy, deconstructing the historic relationship between the police and the Black Community and reimagining a social force designed to actually protect and serve it's population as policy, not as a meaningless slogan.

The WGEPAD report must now be seen as a window of opportunity toward intensified grassroots organizing for Community Control Over Police, what this can look like and the steps it will take to win it. Some organizations like the DC based organization Pan-African Community Action (PACA) have begun to do just that.  

Between now and the September 2016 release by the WGEPAD of their full and final report, Black organizations need to intensify the struggle to build a powerful movement led by the most impacted of our communities. The struggle continues. Organizing around the WGEPAD visit wasn't done because Black liberation rest in the hands of the UN. It was done to expose the domestic contradictions in the U.S. Empire on a world stage. It was done to forge practical relationships between local and national forces. It was done to spread in the Black community the idea that we have an inseparable connection to African people all over the world.

For its Justice 4 Zo campaign PACA is calling for an independent dual track investigation, conducted by the United Nations or the Organization of American States, into both the death of DC resident and 27 year old educator Alonzo Smith by special police and the social and economic conditions that lead to the disproportionate stops, arrests and deaths of Black people at the hands of the police. PACA is also calling for a non-elected and randomly selected civilian board from the ranks of the community itself to exercise full community control over police, including the budget that is allocated, setting priorities, policies and the hiring and firing of individual police officers.

This year's visit by the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was historic and empowering. But the struggle to build African/Black power in the U.S. led by the most impacted in our communities continues.

Pan-African Community Action says, "This new 21st century belongs to African/Black people. This decade is the decade of organized African/Black resistance. Forward then to Community Control. Community Control NOW! Tomorrow, the United States of Africa."

Opinion Sun, 07 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Biggest Israeli Demolition in a Decade Leaves 100 Homeless

IDF soldiers operating bulldozers in August, 2014. Israeli bulldozers destroyed 23 houses in two West Bank villages within controversial 'military' zone in one of biggest demolitions of recent years. IDF soldiers operating bulldozers in August 2014. Israeli bulldozers destroyed 23 houses in two West Bank villages within controversial "military" zone in one of biggest demolitions of recent years. (Photo: Israel Defense Forces / Flickr)

On Tuesday morning, the Israeli army demolished 23 Palestinian homes in two villages in the South Hebron Hills, leaving 100 people homeless.

Breaking the Silence, the Israeli group of former soldiers, called the actions the largest demolition to take place in over a decade in the occupied West Bank.

The demolitions were carried out in an area Israel declared a closed military zone as far back as the 1970s.

Thirty square miles in size, it includes a dozen villages where Palestinians have lived for generations.

Residents of the area have resisted Israeli efforts to expel them for years. In the meantime, Israel has allowed Jewish settlements in the area to flourish.

Called Firing Zone 918 by Israel, the cluster of villages is known by Palestinians as Masafer Yatta.

Another twenty homes and buildings in the area are also imminently slated to be razed, but lawyers for the villages obtained a court injunction preventing further demolitions until next week.

Residents have been living with the threat of forcible expulsion for the last 17 years.

In 1999, the Israeli army issued its first evacuation orders to the villagers. After the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and attorney Shlomo Lecker petitioned Israel's high court, the residents were permitted to temporarily return on condition they entered an arbitration process with Israeli occupation authorities.

Unilateral Termination

After negotiations began, Israel offered to transfer the villagers to another area. The villagers refused.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and attorney Shlomo Lecker again petitioned against any forcible transfer. On Monday, Israel unilaterally terminated the ongoing mediation.

COGAT, the army's unit that rules the Palestinian population in Area C, stated that "enforcement measures were taken against illegal structures and solar panels built within a military zone."

In 2012, Israel announced it had reduced the scale of its firing zone, allowing four of the Masafer Yatta villages to remain.

But if completed, the demolitions would leave a total of 1,000 people homeless across eight other villages, according to Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.

Israel has prohibited the construction of any permanent structures in its self-declared firing zone.

Israel claims that the area is essential to train Israeli military forces.

Masafer Yatta lies in Area C, the approximately 60 percent of the West Bank that is under complete Israeli military and civilian control under the terms of the 1993 Oslo accords.

International law prohibits the forcible transfer or displacement of an indigenous population by an occupying power.

Over the course of 2015, Israel demolished 521 structures in Area C as well as in East Jerusalem, displacing 636 people, according to the UN monitoring group OCHA.

The vast majority of these demolitions were carried out on the grounds that Palestinians did not have permission to build. Between 2010 and 2014, only 1.5 percent of applications for building permits in Area C were approved by Israeli occupation authorities.

No Warning

The villages that lie in Masafer Yatta are impoverished and Israel has refused to allow them to connect to water and electricity services.

They depend entirely on solar panels or communal generators for electricity and the children must travel up to six miles over a rocky terrain to reach the nearest school.

Israel has issued demolition orders for 15 cisterns, 19 toilets and cesspools that were built with the assistance of the UK government.

Tuesday's demolitions came with little warning.

According to The Guardian, the military marked villagers' homes the night before. Residents were left to guess what lay ahead by overhearing soldiers speaking in Hebrew.

Following the demolitions on Tuesday, villagers retrieved furniture from the ruins of their homes and set up tents, The Guardian reported.

Other families moved their belongings into caves, which will provide shelter.

Khalil Musa, was born in 1942 in Khirbet al-Markaz, one of the villages the Israeli army wants to remove.

He told B'Tselem that despite the hardships of living in the poor and isolated community, "The families work the land and raise sheep and we have a small, perfect community here."

"Our way of life is primitive and difficult, but we have strong ties to this place and have no other alternative," Musa added. "We are connected to the land and the livestock, which are our livelihood."

News Sun, 07 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
How Super PAC Donors Hide Behind Shady LLCs

Flying moneyNot everyone who donated to super PACs wants the public to know that they did. One of the favored vehicles for these secretive donations is corporations - especially limited liability companies. (Photo: Flying money via Shutterstock)

On Jan. 31, super PACs filed campaign finance disclosures for the first time since June 2015, giving us the first insight into who's funding these big outside groups in months. We learned that super PACs raised over $500 million in 2015, and that some big donors, like George Soros and Hank Greenberg, are stepping up to pour money into these groups.

But it seems not everyone who donated to these super PACs wants the public to know that they did. One of the favored vehicles for these secretive donations is corporations - especially limited liability companies (LLCs). We combed through the major candidate super PACs and pulled out large donations from corporations whose owners are difficult or impossible to trace, from the most recent filings that cover the last six months of 2015. Many of them are registered in Delaware, which is one of the "easiest places in the world" to set up shell companies that hide the owner's true identity, according to Global Witness.

All of these are from conservative super PACs. We thoroughly looked at pro-Hillary Clinton super PACs (Ready PAC, Priorities USA, American Bridge 21st Century and Correct the Record) too, and the lone super PAC lending its support to Bernie Sanders, but there weren't any similar donations from untraceable corporations.

Conservative Solutions

The super PAC supporting Marco Rubio had several untraceable LLC donors. The biggest was a $500,000 donation from IGX, LLC, with an address in Delaware. There are three IGX LLCs registered in Delaware, but only one at the address listed on the FEC filing, registered in May 2015. The only information on the LLC filing is of the company that registered them, Corporation Service Company. And that's where the paper trail ends. The AP reported today that the owner of IGX is Andrew Duncan, a Republican donor. Duncan told the AP that he "had used IGX to mask the donation because he was worried about reprisals," which is refreshingly honest.

Other hard-to-trace LLCs that donated to Conservative Solutions:

  • $90,000 from a company called TMCV #2, LLC. TMCV is coded by OpenCorporates as a real estate lessor, and it's registered to an address in Idaho Falls, which seems to be shared by a lawyer named Lane Archibald. He gave $2,000 to Romney in 2012.
  • $85,000 from a company called NG Montana, LLC, which, despite the name, is registered in Idaho Falls too - to the same address as TMCV #2. They're registered to the same PO box in Idaho Falls as the Frank VanderSloot Foundation. Frank VanderSloot is a top Rubio donor, and gave $150,000 to the PAC in 2015. The AP confirmed that Vandersloot is behind these donations, with Vandersloot telling them that "this was teaspoons" compared to the "bucketloads" they will donate.

The donations from LLCs to Conservative Solutions PAC are particularly interesting, because donors had another option for obscuring their giving if they wanted to. There's a 501(c)(4) supporting Rubio, also named Conservative Solutions, that is notorious for spending huge amounts to promote Rubio (even though these organizations are supposed to promote "social welfare" and not just focus on politics). That organization doesn't have to disclose its donors. So why didn't they just donate to that group? Maybe they donated to them too - we'll never know, unless they tell us.

Stand ForTruth

One of at least eight super PACs supporting Ted Cruz, Stand ForTruth (yes, it's one word) received several donations from untraceable LLCs.

  • $100,000 came from ABC Land Development, Inc., with an address listed in Texas. Entity search records show an ABC Land Development located in Nevada, but not in Texas. The Texas address listed on the FEC filing appears to be the location of a barbecue joint.
  • A $75,000 donation came from PA Management Partners, LLC, in California; its registration documents show the registered agent is Incorp Services, a company that incorporates companies. The address listed on the FEC is also the address of another company registered around the same time to a person named Gary Lubin.
  • $75,000 from Chateau Marina, LP, registered in 1996, also to Incorp Services.
  • Several $50,000 donations come from various LLCs at the same address in Skokie, Ill.: LL Baltimore, LLC; LL Fort Wayne, LLC; LL Peoria, LLC; LL West Allis, LLC; and PF Fort Myers, LLC. None of them exist in the Illinois entity search, but all of them exist in Delaware's corporation search, except PF Fort Myers, which also isn't in OpenCorporates and doesn't appear as a phrase anywhere on the Internet. The address listed on the FEC is the address of Platinum Healthcare, LLC; the Manta page for that business says it's owned by Benjamin Klein, who has donated to Republicans in the past.
  • $25,000 from MBB Operating, LP. The FEC filing lists an address in Dallas, but the  company does not exist in Texas' entity search or in OpenCorporates.

Right to Rise

The super PAC supporting Jeb Bush is notorious for making payments to LLCs: It's paid LKJ, LLC, which is connected to Bush's finance director, hundreds of thousands of dollars. This filing didn't reveal any fully untraceable LLC donors, but the PAC did receive a total of $147,500 from various LLCs registered at the same PO Box in Florida with similar names: Century at Giralda Avenue, LLC; Century Tower, LLC; Century Homebuilders group LLC; Century Laguna, LLC; and Private Lending Group, LLC. These are all registered to Sergio Pino, CEO of the Century Homebuilders Group and a big supporter of the US-Cuba Democracy PAC as well as Republican candidates, including Bush and Rubio. These LLCs aren't shady in themselves - they're clearly legitimately functioning businesses - but it is interesting that this big GOP donor seems to have spread the donations through several LLCs.

CARLY for America

This one is very strange. A company called TGGR Corporation, LLC, donated $25,000 to the pro-Carly Fiorina super PAC. The FEC filing lists an address in Grandville, Mich., but the Michigan business entity search has no record of a TGGR Corporation, LLC. There's also a TGGR Corporation, LLC, registered in Delaware - and its registered agent is Harvard Business Services, a company that acts as registered agents for businesses - but no record in Michigan. Weirder still, it seems like the address they list on the FEC filings is just a mail forwarding service. Either way, we have no way of finding out who they are. TGGR Corporation also donated $10,000 to Rubio's super PAC in June, and $2,000 to Gov. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.

Another $25,000 donor to CARLY has a suspiciously similar setup. Krystal Corporation, Inc., lists its address in Los Angeles, but the corporation name also seem to be registered in Delaware - with Harvard Business Services again - and doesn't appear in the California business entity search. The LA address is just a mailbox service, just like TGGR in Michigan. Both LLCs, TGGR and Krystal, have donated to Growing A Sustainable Future, a Florida PAC whose aim is to "support and discuss candidates promoting responsible growth in Florida while respecting and maintaining a sustainable agricultural industry." That group raised nearly $1 million in 2015. And Krystal, like TGGR, donated to Brownback. Point being: It's likely these are run by the same person, and whoever they are, they really don't want their donations being traced.

America Leads

There weren't any LLC donations to this pro-Chris Christie super PAC that were difficult to trace, but there was $100,000 from Ferreria Construction. Christie's brother is invested in that company, and it has received millions in contracts from the state.

New Day for America

The pro-John Kasich super PAC didn't receive any donations from untraceable LLCs, but it did receive several from various trusts. We've written about how charitable trusts are a "highly opaque" way to give money, allowing the organizers to avoid scrutiny (also, taxes). This filing revealed a $250,000 donation from the Wendt Family Trust, linked to big GOP donor Greg Wendt; $100,000 from the Christopher D. Orthwein Trust; and $100,000 from the Richard Hurt Trust.

Pursuing America's Greatness

Huckabee dropped out of the race on Feb. 1, but it's worth noting that his supportive super PAC received two donations from odd LLCs. Children of Israel, LLC, registered in Cupertino, Calif., donated $150,000. Its registered agent is named Shaofen Gao, and the company was registered in June 2015. Another LLC, Meuchadim of Miami, LLC, gave $20,000. The company's president, Leon Falic, owns the Duty Free Americas stores and has donated to West Bank settlements.

These donations show just how easy it is for dark money to flow into organizations that are supposed to disclose their donors. If you can trace the owners any of these organizations, please let us know!

News Sun, 07 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
"Making the Promises Real": Labor and the Paris Climate Agreement

A labor climate program can serve as the leading edge of a campaign to realize such traditional labor goals as full employment, job security, equality, human rights on the job and protection against the economic insecurities of working people's lives.

The Eiffel tower, covered by a green visual forest during the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, December 2, 2015.The Eiffel tower, covered by a green visual forest during the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, December 2, 2015. A labor climate program can draw together workers, unions and allies around protecting jobs by protecting the climate. (Photo: Petr Kovalenkov /

As nearly 200 nations gathered in Paris approved the UN Climate Change Agreement, the AFL-CIO issued a statement that broke new ground on climate.[1] While the AFL-CIO opposed the Kyoto climate agreement and never supported the failed Copenhagen agreement, it "applauded the Paris climate change agreement as "a landmark achievement in international cooperation" and called on America "to make the promises real."

Although it has frequently pointed out the harm that workers and communities might face from climate protection policies, the AFL-CIO has never proposed a "just transition" plan to protect them. Its Paris statement noted that "workers in certain sectors will bear the brunt of transitional job and income loss." Recognizing that reality, it endorsed the Paris agreement's recognition of "the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs." It called for investment in the affected communities and "creating family-supporting jobs like those that will be lost."

This statement lays the groundwork for organized labor to take a new approach to climate change. How can labor now move forward to implement that approach? What should labor's post-Paris climate program be?

Adopt the Paris Targets

The AFL-CIO has never endorsed the targets for greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction that climate scientists have said are necessary to prevent the most devastating effects of global warming. The Paris agreement sets a goal of keeping warming well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit the increase in temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius. It is time for the AFL-CIO to endorse the GHG reductions that climate scientists say are necessary to reach that goal.

According to an analysis by Climate Interactive and MIT Sloan, the current U.S. pledge to drop GHG emissions 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, along with the pledges of other countries, will lead to a global temperature increase of 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.[2] To reduce warming to 1.8 degrees Celsius (3.2 degrees Fahrenheit) will require the U.S. to increase its pledged reduction from 26 percent to 45 percent, and for other countries to make comparable emission reductions. Other scientific estimates fall in the same range. If the AFL-CIO genuinely wants "to make the promises" of the Paris agreement "real" it needs to endorse the Paris target of keeping warming well below 2 degrees Celsius - and the GHG reductions that science says are necessary to make it happen.

The Paris agreement includes what a labor contract might call a "reopener" every five years, designed to provide the opportunity for countries to "ratchet up" their commitments. Organized labor should call on the U.S. to commit now to ratchet its targets up to what's necessary to realize the Paris goals and to make its climate action plans based on what is necessary to reach them.

Use Climate Protection to Create Good Jobs

The AFL-CIO statement on the Paris agreements calls for "investing in the affected communities" and "creating family-supporting jobs." Fortunately, the primary way to reduce GHGs is to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy and energy efficiency - and that produces far more jobs than fossil fuel energy.

In 2015 the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) and other groups issued a report "The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the climate, creating jobs, and saving money."[3] It shows that the U.S. can reduce GHG emissions 80 percent by 2050 - while saving money and adding half-a-million jobs per year compared to business-as-usual fossil fuel energy. Most of the added jobs will be in manufacturing and construction.

The plan does not depend on any new technical breakthroughs to realize these gains, only a continuation of current trends in energy efficiency and renewable energy costs. It is based on the conversion of all gasoline-powered light vehicles and most space heating and water heating to 100 percent renewable electricity. It includes an orderly phasing out of coal and nuclear energy and a gradual reduction in the burning of natural gas.

Organized labor should develop its own plan for expanding jobs by meeting the Paris climate goals. Such a plan can take as its starting point the "Clean Energy Future" report and similar studies. But there is no reason a labor jobs plan needs to be limited to that. Indeed, unions should also develop specific plans targeted to create jobs for workers and communities who may be adversely affected by climate policies.

An example of such a plan is presented in the LNS report "The Keystone Pipeline Debate: An Alternative Job Creation Strategy."[4] The report shows how to create five times as many jobs as the Keystone XL pipeline by investing in much needed water, sewer, and gas infrastructure maintenance and repair in the five states along the proposed pipeline route. The study found that meeting water and gas infrastructure needs in the five states can create more than 300,000 total jobs. Every dollar spent on gas, water, and sewer infrastructure in those states generates 156% more employment than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. It's time for American labor to advocate for such programs to meet our country's needs rather than fossil fuel projects that destroy our children's future.

Good, stable jobs protecting the climate can help challenge the growing inequality and injustice of our society, but only if policy is designed to do so. Climate policy needs to include strong racial, gender, age, and locational hiring requirements to counter our current employment inequality and provide a jobs pipeline for those individuals and groups who have been denied equal access to good jobs. It needs to help remedy the concentration of pollution in low-income communities, the lack of transportation, education, health, and other facilities in poor neighborhoods, and other manifestations of discrimination.

How can jobs protecting the climate be generated? There are three main approaches to GHG reduction. The first, which has dominated climate legislation and treaty negotiations, consists of "putting a price on carbon emissions" to discourage GHGs through taxation, fees, cap-and-trade systems with markets for emission quotas, or similar means. The second, which is widely discussed and frequently implemented on a small scale, consists of local, often community-based initiatives designed to produce renewable energy and reduce energy consumption on a decentralized basis.

The third approach, perhaps less often delineated by proponents than excoriated by opponents, consists of a government-led strategy based on economic planning, public investment, resource mobilization, industrial policy, and direct government intervention in economic decisions. While rapid reduction of GHG emissions will undoubtedly require all three, organized labor should lead the breakout from failed conservative market-only policies and propose a government-led plan - drawing on the example of economic mobilization for World War II - to put our people to work converting to a climate-safe economy.[5]

We now have working models for how to design such government-led programs. The Obama administration - with strong support from the UAW - saved the American auto industry through massive public investment and a restructuring of the industry based on sharply reducing carbon emissions.

The Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, despite some inadequacies and ambiguities, requires states and power companies to make defined GHG emission reductions on a legally enforceable schedule. While it gives them great flexibility in how to do so, it does not allow them to evade the targets just by providing incentives that may or may not lead to GHG reduction in the real world. It requires them to plan, invest, and disinvest to meet a compulsory schedule.

Long-term infrastructure like highways and the electrical grid are in fact already shaped by government planning and investment. Labor should propose a positive program of long-term public infrastructure investment both to rapidly reduce GHG emissions and to provide stable, good-quality jobs.

Leave No Worker Behind

The AFL-CIO statement on the Paris climate agreement called for "a just transition of the workforce." It is time for the American labor movement to spell out how that can be done.[6]

According to Brad Markell, Executive Director, AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council, a principal concern of trade unionists at the Paris negotiations was "what happens to workers and communities" in the transition to a new energy economy. In the US, coal industry workers, especially in Appalachia, are the "urgent focus of AFL-CIO concern for just transition." The industry is facing bankruptcies and the UMW pension fund is falling short. "We need to save pensions, create jobs, help communities with economic development, and accelerate job-creating programs to reclaim lands damaged by mining."[7]

A good starting point for doing so is the "Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act" recently outlined by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.).[8] The bill initially targets coal workers, but over time expands to other energy sector workers as well. It provides unemployment insurance, health care, and pensions for up to three years and job training and living expenses up to four years. Employers receive tax incentives to hire transitioning employees. Counties where 35 or more workers become eligible for the program can receive targeted development funds. The right of workers to join unions is protected by streamlining NLRB union recognition provisions. The bill covers the estimated $41 billion cost of the program by closing the tax loophole that allows corporations to send their headquarters overseas to avoid paying taxes. Organized labor needs to take that plan, make any improvements it considers necessary, and challenge the environmental movement and other allies to work together to make it happen.

A labor climate program can draw together workers, unions, and allies around protecting jobs by protecting the climate. Indeed, it can serve as the leading edge of a campaign to realize such traditional labor goals as full employment, job security, greater equality, human rights on the job, and protection against the vast economic insecurities of working people's lives.



[1] "AFL-CIO Statement on United Nations Climate Change Agreement," December 15, 2015. For a review of past AFL-CIO positions on climate change see Labor Network for Sustainability, "Labor, Climate, and the KXL: Interpreting the New AFL-CIO Statement on Energy and Jobs"

[2] Andrew Jones, John Sterman, Ellie Johnston, and Lori Siegel, "With Improved Pledges Every Five Years, Paris Agreement Could Limit Warming Below 2C," December 14, 2015.

[3] "The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the climate, creating jobs, and saving money" Labor Network for Sustainability,, and Synapse Energy Economics, based on research by a team led by Frank Ackerman of Synapse Energy Economics.

[4] Kristen Sheeran, Noah Enlow, Jeremy Brecher, and Brendan Smith, "The Keystone Pipeline Debate: An Alternative Job Creation Strategy." Economics for Equity and Environment and Labor Network for Sustainability.

[5] See Jeremy Brecher, Ron Blackwell, and Joe Uehlein, "If Not Now, When? A Labor Movement Plan to Address Climate Change." New Labor Forum, Winter, 2014.

[6] For an overview of "just transition" strategies see Jeremy Brecher, "A Superfund for Workers: How to Promote a Just Transition and Break Out of the Jobs vs. Environment Trap," Dollars & Sense, November/December 2015.

[7] Interview, January 18, 2016.

[8] "The Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act."

Opinion Sun, 07 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
After the Black Hawks Arrived: In Somalia, a History of US Meddling Continues

The official reason for the US presence in Somalia is to fight the perennial war against terrorism. But realistically, the United States is more interested in Somalia's geostrategic location and close proximity to Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran. The real reason is oil.

(Photo: Jan Wellmann)(Photo: Jan Wellmann)

I was a shivering in bed on my first night in Mogadishu. At 3:30 am, I killed the air conditioner. Moments later, the room felt stuffier than a London subway. I got up and paced around, wondering if it was safe to keep the balcony door open.

A few months back, al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda faction, had stormed Jazeera Palace Hotel, where I was currently staying, and sprayed a group of Chinese diplomats with lead. Now the building was secured by a street blockade, a double-gated check-in, blastproof walls, two dozen armed men and Abdullah, the small, wiry gentleman with an AK-47 outside my door.

I took a peek into the corridor and caught Abdullah dozing off. He was balancing on a tiny wooden stool, with the rifle propped between his legs.

View from Hotel Al Jazeera towards the Mogadishu International Airport. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)View from Jazeera Palace Hotel towards the Mogadishu International Airport. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)I was surprised to see his chair begin to gently vibrate, as if tapping Morse code on the cement floor. Seconds later, a set of massive, low-rumble turboprops shook the building. I rushed out to the balcony, expecting to see Con Air crash into the adjoining UN building, but only saw a dark, black shape swoop down to Mogadishu's Aden Adde International Airport half a mile away. Whoever was piloting the craft had killed all navigation lights.

"What kind of birds drop into Mogadishu at 4 am without lights?" I felt compelled to ask my host, Hassan, the next morning. I was in town with an alternative energy delegation, presenting clean power options to Somali leaders and businessmen. Hassan was in charge of our arrangements and security. He knew Mogadishu inside out and was a fast thinker.

"Ah, you mean Big Brother?" Hassan smiled.

His grin made me curious. The Americans had a peculiar reputation in Mogadishu.

Capturing the White Pearl

Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, was one of the Indian Ocean's principal ports until the early 20th century. Its trading history goes back to ancient Egypt. Mogadishu prospered through its trade in gold, beeswax, ivory and an abundance of fruits, animals and other foods all across the world, providing immense wealth to the native Berbers and Arabs. The city's inhabitants used a fraction of this wealth to build the beautiful pearl-white mosques and cathedrals of Mogadishu.

Today, Somalia is rife with drought, famine and war. Mogadishu lies in rubble. Tribal factions have deconstructed the city block by block, with rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns over a period of two decades. At least 300,000 Somalis were killed in Mogadishu alone during the civil war, and another 1.1 million had to flee the country.

Mogadishu's Bakaara Market or what’s left of it. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Mogadishu's Bakaara Market, or what's left of it. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)The city has no sewage system, waste management, energy infrastructure, population registry or ownership records. Random diesel generators provide fractional power to the privileged few. Travel inside Somalia is practically impossible, with much of the roadways, bridges and infrastructure destroyed. Al-Shabab still pops into town for surprise mayhem, forcing us to behold the view from behind bulletproof glass and a convoy of armed guards.

As we drove past the central marketplace, I was at first happy to see one brand new modern structure rise out of the ashes. But then my guide told me it's the National Intelligence and Security Agency headquarters, established in 2013 "under CIA supervision."

The gleaming building is symbolic of the new US influence in the region.

The official reason for the US presence in Somalia is the perennial war against terrorism. The real reason is oil.

Aside from training and building Somalia's intelligence infrastructure, the Americans are building a new, secretive military base 70 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu, without any official arrangement with the Somali government. The base has a capacity to house up to 100,000 troops, according to one source, who wished not to be named. As a result, the locals are seeing an influx of not only US troops, but also private contractors, mercenaries and Big Oil "security."

There are two underground rendition facilities used by the CIA for "counterterrorism operations" that my source calls "underground Guantánamos." (The case of one 25-year-old Kenyan extraordinary rendition victim was exposed in a 2014 article in The Nation by Jeremy Scahill.) One of the facilities is apparently blasted into solid rock at the end of the airport runway, where CIA transport planes drop classified loads on a nightly basis. The other is located under the presidential palace and is known as Godka, "The Hole."

Security precautions near Al Jazaara Palace hotel. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Security precautions near Al Jazaara Palace hotel. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)The official reason for the US presence in Somalia is the perennial war against terrorism. Since 2011, there has been a glut of drone attacks against al-Shabab in Somalia. In June 2011, CIA director John Brennan declared, "From the territory it controls in Somalia, al-Shabab continues to call for strikes against the United States. As a result we cannot and we will not let down our guard. We will continue to pummel al-Qaeda and its ilk."

It's hard to fathom, however, how a ragtag rebel group that can barely hold a village in Somalia could threaten the United States today.

A better rationale for the US presence in Somalia is its geostrategic location at the mouth of the Red Sea, with passage to the Suez Canal and close proximity to Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran, the hotbed of Middle East affairs.

The real reason is oil.

The Energy Equation

Somalia holds some of the world's most underexploited oil and gas reserves in the world. In the 1980s, geologists from the Texas-based Hunt Oil Company (with close ties to the Bush family) predicted a capacity of a billion barrels of oil lodged in an underground rift that stretched from Yemen to Somalia. President George H.W. Bush inaugurated the Hunt Yemen distillery in 1986, with a speech emphasizing "the growing strategic importance to the West of developing crude oil sources in the region away from the Strait of Hormuz."

Mogadishu Lido Beach is part of a 3,300 km long coastline, the longest of mainland Africa and the Middle East. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Mogadishu Lido Beach is part of a 3,300-km long coastline, the longest of mainland Africa and the Middle East. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Before the civil war erupted in 1990, nearly two-thirds of Somali energy reserves were already allocated to the US oil giants Conoco, Amoco, Chevron and Phillips. But Mohamed Siad Barre, president and military dictator of the Somali Democratic Republic, was not willing to give the entire pie to the Americans.

Siad Barre, or Comrade Siad, came into power in 1969 with a coup d'état. Barre was a military dictator who wanted to reassemble Somalia after half a century of colonialism. He was also a socialist who used cooperatives to build roads and hospitals and reinvigorate local agriculture. He nationalized banks, industries and businesses under the new Somali Democratic Republic. Barre's mission was to build a Greater Somalia to unite ethnic Somalis who had been ripped apart by British, French and Italian troops since 1881, when European powers partitioned more than 90 percent of the African continent.

By the time Barre got into power, the old Somalia was fractured under five independent territories: Italian Somalia (South), French Somalia (Djibouti), Ethiopian Somalia, British Somaliland and Kenyan Somalia (North Eastern Districts). Barre's attempt to reacquire the Ethiopian-controlled Ogaden territory failed in 1977 after the Soviets flipped their support from Barre to Ethiopia. This gave an opening to the Americans, who began to support the Barre government with $100 million per year in "economic and military aid."

While Texans were running around like wily coyotes in the 1980s, tagging Somalia's oil reserves, it became increasingly obvious that Barre would not become their puppet leader. Ergo, the Americans adopted a classic divide-and-conquer strategy, firstly by befriending a rebel group out of Somaliland, the Somali National Movement, which was hell-bent on taking out Barre. Other rebel groups followed suit. Some historic accounts of this time label Barre as a ruthless military dictator, opposed by the people. But the real thrust against him came from tribal groups who fired from every cardinal direction of the compass to create chaos, with CIA backing.

By 1988, Barre was fighting to keep control of Mogadishu. By 1991, he'd been ousted and Somalia was declared "a failed state." The resulting power vacuum intensified the war, collapsing distribution, infrastructure and agriculture. The result was one of the deadliest famines on record. From 1991 to 1992, half of the population of Somalia was starving.

It was the perfect time for the cavalry to come to the rescue.

Black Hawk Down

After a failed attempt in 1991 by UN troops to broker a cease-fire between the tribal groups, the United States offered to lead a "humanitarian operation" headed by the UN Security Council. Their aim was to reach a resolution, utilizing "all necessary means" to ensure relief efforts.

Readily deployed news crews captured the US Marines landing on the beaches of Somalia on December 9, 1992. The operation was code-named "Operation Restore Hope."

Little girl in Bakaara Market, Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Little girl in Bakaara Market, Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Enter Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid, Barre's former adviser, intelligence chief and ambassador to India. Educated in Rome and in an elite military institute in Moscow, he was revered by many Somalis as a fiercely nationalistic, charismatic soldier who fought in the trenches and was determined to resist a US-led occupation. As leader of one of the largest opposition groups, the United Somali Congress, Aidid was perfectly positioned to inherit Barre's mantle.

But Aidid's vision was contrary to US interests.

"You are doing God's work," President Bush told his 26,000 Army and Marine troops who were headed to Somalia. "We will not tolerate armed gangs ripping off their own people."

As the only US president in history to visit a sub-Saharan nation during a conflict, Bush spent two nights on the carrier USS Tripoli offshore from Mogadishu, trying to negotiate a deal with Aidid. The attempt was a failure.

Aidid was a diehard for independence and a Greater Somalia. As the main obstacle for US dominance in the region, he quickly landed on top of the US kill list. But due to tip-offs from US Marines of Somali ethnicity loyal to Aidid's ideology, most of the covert attacks against him failed.

In Ridley Scott's film Black Hawk Down, which was based on true events, Aidid the warlord has to be captured because he's starving his people. For the Somalis, the Black Hawks landing in Bakara Market represented a century of colonialism. It was no surprise that 20,000 Somalis or more converged on US Army Rangers with stones, rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s. Eighteen Americans and some 3,000 Somalis died in less than one day in the fight for Mogadishu, to the tune of Hans Zimmer.

The bungled operation forced President Bill Clinton to pull out of Somalia in 1993 - but only in official capacity. The real war was just about to begin.

Masters of Chaos

After the US Marines bailed out, Aidid became infamous. He declared himself president in 1995, but despite having enough sway to unite the country, a Western-orchestrated conference in Djibouti elected its own president, Ali Mahdi Mohamed.

Aidid's right-hand man, Osman Ali Atto, who happened to be the manager of a US oil company, allied himself with Mahdi's forces and orchestrated Aidid's defeat. Aidid was fatally wounded in the ensuing battle (Ali Atto later became the biggest land owner in Somalia).

Private guards during a lunch break in Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Private guards during a lunch break in Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)For the next decade, various rulers were able to control only parts of Mogadishu, while factional fighting continued in the rest of the country. Another record famine took place in 1998. A Transitional National Government was formed in 2000 in Djibouti, but was instantly opposed by Somali Islamists who united under the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). In reaction to the growing influence of the ICU, a group of Mogadishu warlords formed the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism (ARPCT) - with CIA funding ($100,000 to $150,000 per month, according to the International Crisis Group).

In 2006, despite CIA support, the ICU defeated the ARPCT in what is known as the "Second Battle of Mogadishu." Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, ICU's chairman, managed to seize Mogadishu, but his progress was quickly reversed when Ethiopian forces - again with US backing - joined the melee against the ICU. When a weaker Sharif began to look for a deal with the transitional government, the extreme factions of the ICU splintered off in the form of al-Shabab. The group's first target was their former leader, Sharif, who proceeded to jump over to the side of the United States. Sharif got a warm welcome from the Americans, with dual residence and education in the United States and the United Kingdom, along with four wives.

US drone operators have, from the beginning, only targeted al-Shabab members who are not aligned with US interests.

Al-Shabab is an evolution of al-Itihaad al-Islamiya (IAIA) - a group of militants originally funded by Osama bin Laden to secure an Islamist state in the Horn of Africa - after the fall of the Barre regime. Extremist IAIA leaders trained young jihadists in Afghanistan and imported them back to Somalia. One of them was Aden Hashi Farah Ayro, who came back to Somalia in 2003 to lead the Somali al-Shabab faction. Ayro was said to have the mentality of Aidid, which would have made him particularly interesting to Americans. In 2008, Ayro was taken out by a US drone in central Somalia, along with up to 30 civilians.

Young Somali's on Mogadishu beach. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Young Somali's on Mogadishu beach. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Yet at the same time, Somali sources claim that al-Shabab was receiving support from Ethiopia via the United States. Why were US drones being so selective?

The answer may once again lie in the mastery of chaos. Impossible to corroborate, yet possible to fathom, US drone operators have, from the beginning, only targeted al-Shabab members who are not aligned with US interests.

Another al-Shabab leader who supposedly failed to cooperate with Americans was Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was also taken out by a drone in 2014. He was replaced by al-Shabab's current leader, Ahmed Omar. Since 2007, there have been about 19 drone attacks in Somalia.

While the war raged on for a second decade, in 2010, Somalia entered its third record famine. By then, an entire generation of Somalis had either fled or died.

Mogadishu has since been repopulated with a predominantly young, once-rural population that fled the countryside to look for any means of survival. Today, the educated class, the leaders and the dreamers are dead, along with the idea of an independent Somalia - an opportune outcome for the masters of chaos and Big Oil.

The Final Grab

On my last night in Mogadishu, another black bird roared over Jazeera Palace Hotel at 4 am. This time, the rumble sounded more somber. I was sleepless again, pacing the room, feeling trapped inside a sardine can - an apt analogy for Somalia's own situation. Maybe the country had been canned purposely, waiting for the right time to be rolled open, I couldn't help wonder.

There were countless clues to support such a containment tactic. All efforts to rebuild had fallen apart for consecutive years, despite several attempts by foreign nations and corporations to help Somalia. Foreign delegations were either rejected or, like the Chinese mission, conveniently became victims of terrorist attacks.

How deep does the wormhole reach down in Somalia today?

Children searching a waste landfill in the center of Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Children searching a waste landfill in the center of Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)The current Somali president is Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a Western favorite who was listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, known for his "national reconciliation, anti-corruption measures, socio-economic and security sector reforms." UK Prime Minister David Cameron and the US government have applauded him.

My sources call Mohamud "the most corrupt president in the history of Somalia." The word is that Qatar fleshed out $20 million to put him in power. Qatar, in turn, plays the flute for Big Oil.

Mohamud comes from a small rural town, with a degree in technology and minor training at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding in Harrisonburg, Virginia. In 2011, Mohamud established the Peace and Development Party, and a year later, was promptly elected as the country's president, as if preordained for the position. There hasn't been much peace or development in Somalia since.

The locals have not seen a single cent of the $2 billion in aid promised by the World Bank. An $800 million offer by Malaysia to build a power plant as a relief effort was rejected by the president. While Mohamud is stalling several international relief efforts to help the country, the rumor is that his brother drives around Mogadishu in a black limo, buying real estate properties with bags of cash.

Mother with a baby on a street and our security convoy in Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Mother with a baby on a street and our security convoy in Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Mohamud works closely with the Somali National Security Agency, putting him in close quarters with US intelligence. He was also accused of trying to steal $420 million from a Swiss bank account set up by the Barre government. But the Western favorite remains cocooned in power, with the prime minister and cabinet all belonging to his small circle of family, friends and allies.

While the country prepares for a "democratic" election campaign slated for the summer of 2016 - without a population registry, roadways, electricity or communication infrastructure - Western oil interests are completing new seismic surveys off the coast of Somalia.

Most of the Somali entrepreneurs I met during my four-day visit see through the facades. They are exceptionally smart, resilient men and women. They hear the same black birds at night. They know the history. They've lost most of their family and friends. Yet they are driven to try, once again, to build on the ruins.

They remember the Mogadishu that once was, before the black birds arrived.

News Sun, 07 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Freeing Julian Assange: The Last Chapter

One of the epic miscarriages of justice of our time is unraveling. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention - the international tribunal that adjudicates and decides whether governments comply with their human rights obligations - has ruled that Julian Assange has been detained unlawfully by Britain and Sweden.

After five years of fighting to clear his name - having been smeared relentlessly yet charged with no crime - Assange is closer to justice and vindication, and perhaps freedom, than at any time since he was arrested and held in London under a European Extradition Warrant, itself now discredited by Parliament.

The UN Working Group bases its judgments on the European Convention on Human Rights and three other treaties that are binding on all its signatories. Both Britain and Sweden participated in the 16-month long UN investigation and submitted evidence and defended their position before the tribunal. It would fly contemptuously in the face of international law if they did not comply with the judgment and allow Assange to leave the refuge granted him by the Ecuadorean government in its London embassy.

In previous, celebrated cases ruled upon by the Working Group - Aung Sang Suu Kyi in Burma, imprisoned opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia, detained Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian in Iran, both Britain and Sweden have given support to the tribunal. The difference now is that Assange's persecution and confinement endures in the heart of London.

The Assange case has never been primarily about allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden - where the Stockholm Chief Prosecutor, Eva Finne, dismissed the case, saying, "I don't believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape," and one of the women involved accused the police of fabricating evidence and "railroading" her, protesting she "did not want to accuse JA of anything" - and a second prosecutor mysteriously re-opened the case after political intervention, then stalled it.

The Assange case is rooted across the Atlantic in Pentagon-dominated Washington, obsessed with pursuing and prosecuting whistleblowers, especially Assange for having exposed, in WikiLeaks, US capital crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq: the wholesale killing of civilians and a contempt for sovereignty and international law. None of this truth-telling is illegal under the US Constitution. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama, a professor of constitutional law, lauded whistleblowers as "part of a healthy democracy [and they] must be protected from reprisal."

Obama has since prosecuted more whistleblowers than all the US presidents combined. The courageous Chelsea Manning is serving 35 years in prison, having been tortured during her long pre-trial detention.

The prospect of a similar fate has hung over Assange like a Damocles sword. According to documents released by Edward Snowden, Assange is on a "Manhunt target list." Vice-President Joe Bidon has called him a "cyber terrorist." In Alexandra, Virginia, a secret grand jury has attempted to concoct a crime for which Assange can be prosecuted in a court. Even though he is not an American, he is currently being fitted up with an espionage law dredged up from a century ago when it was used to silence conscientious objectors during the First World War; the Espionage Act has provisions of both life imprisonment and the death penalty. 

Assange's ability to defend himself in this Kafkaesque world has been hampered by the US declaring his case a state secret. A federal court has blocked the release of all information about what is known as the "national security" investigation of WikiLeaks.

The supporting act in this charade has been played by the second Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny. Until recently, Ny had refused to comply with a routine European procedure that required her to travel to London to question Assange and so advance the case that James Catlin, one of Assange's barristers, called "a laughing stock ... it's as if they make it up as they go along." Indeed, even before Assange had left Sweden for London in 2010, Marianne Ny made no attempt to question him. In the years since, she has never properly explained, even to her own judicial authorities, why she has not completed the case she so enthusiastically re-ignited - just as the she has never explained why she has refused to give Assange a guarantee that he will not be extradited on to the US under a secret arrangement agreed between Stockholm and Washington. In 2010, the Independent in London revealed that the two governments had discussed Assange's onward extradition.

Then there is tiny, brave Ecuador. One of the reasons Ecuador granted Julian Assange political asylum was that his own government, in Australia, had offered him none of the help to which he had a legal right and so abandoned him. Australia's collusion with the United States against its own citizen is evident in leaked documents; no more faithful vassals has America than the obeisant politicians of the Antipodes.

Four years ago, in Sydney, I spent several hours with the Liberal Member of the Federal Parliament, Malcolm Turnbull. We discussed the threats to Assange and their wider implications for freedom of speech and justice, and why Australia was obliged to stand by him. Turnbull is now the Prime Minister of Australia and, as I write, is attending an international conference on Syria hosted the Cameron government - about 15 minutes' cab ride from the room that Julian Assange has occupied for three and a half years in the small Ecuadorean embassy just along from Harrod's. The Syria connection is relevant if unreported; it was WikiLeaks that revealed that the United States had long planned to overthrow the Assad government in Syria. Today, as he meets and greets, Prime Minister Turnbull has an opportunity to contribute a modicum of purpose and truth to the conference by speaking up for his unjustly imprisoned compatriot, for whom he showed such concern when we met. All he need do is quote the judgement of the UN Working Party on Arbitrary Detention. Will he reclaim this shred of Australia's reputation in the decent world?

What is certain is that the decent world owes much to Julian Assange. He told us how indecent power behaves in secret, how it lies and manipulates and engages in great acts of violence, sustaining wars that kill and maim and turn millions into the refugees now in the news. Telling us this truth alone earns Assange his freedom, whereas justice is his right.

Opinion Sat, 06 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Capitalism, Slavery, Racism and Imprisonment of People of Color Cannot Be Separated

Dennis Childs, author of Slaves of the State, discusses how a clause within the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution ushered in a system of "neoslavery," in the form of the mass incarceration of Black people, by allowing for enslavement as "punishment for a crime."

The punitive exception clause within the 13th amendment ushered in a system of neoslavery that continues to submit prisoners to conditions that amount to a collectivized situation of living death under the prison industrial complex.The punitive exception clause within the 13th amendment ushered in a system of neoslavery that continues to submit prisoners to conditions that amount to a collectivized situation of "living death" under the prison industrial complex. (Photo: Prison fence via Shutterstock)

Slavery didn't end; it evolved. That's the powerful argument made in Slaves of the State by Dennis Childs. Ever since a clause in the 13th Amendment allowed for enslavement as "punishment for crime," the groundwork has been laid for the prison industrial complex to function as the 21st century equivalent of chattel slavery. Order your copy of this eye-opening book by making a donation to Truthout today!

The following is an interview with Dr. Dennis Childs, author of Slaves of the State: Black Incarceration From the Chain Gang to the Penitentiary.

Mark Karlin: Can you summarize the tragic irony of the 13th Amendment's "exception clause"?

Dennis Childs: Yes, what I describe in the book along these lines is something that prisoners, activists and scholars from Angela Davis to Assata Shakur have spoken about for years - the fact that what is indisputably the most progressive document in US legal history, the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution that freed African slaves, actually reinstituted enslavement through racial, capitalist, misogynist imprisonment. The language of the amendment states, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist in the United States."

"The story of what commonly is called modern 'mass incarceration' has actually been centuries in the making."

This punitive exception represented legal cover for what, in Slaves of the State, I describe as an overall system of public-private neoslavery from the chain gang, to the prison plantation, peonage and the convict-lease system - the last of which represented an outright genocidal system where private corporations such as US Steel would work prisoners in industries ranging from turpentining, to coal and iron mining, to agricultural production. The death rates at convict-lease camps were absolutely staggering, reaching as high as 50 percent per annum. But, as I argue in the book, the exception clause ushered in a system of neoslavery that continues to submit prisoners to conditions that amount to a collectivized situation of "living death," or what Mumia Abu-Jamal defines as "slow death" under the prison industrial complex (PIC).

Let's start historically. How did the "exception clause" allow for the reinstitution of many Black people into slavery through incarceration in the years after the Civil War was over?

Dennis Childs. (Photo: Courtesy of the author)Dennis Childs. (Photo: Courtesy of the author)Speaking historically, it is actually improper to speak of a single exception clause since the punitive exception goes at least as far back as the Northwest Ordinance in 1787 (and since prison slavery itself, going as far back as Roman antiquity). Specifically, the Northwest Ordinance contained a provision outlawing slavery in the territories of modern-day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, but also contained a provision allowing for the enslavement of a person upon "due conviction" by law. This punitive exception then extended right up to the eve of the Civil War through various "Black Codes" and "Black Laws" in Northern and border states from Maryland to Indiana to Ohio, all of which allowed for the public auctioning of Africans (both free and slave) for "crimes" such as simply stepping foot in one of these "racially restrictionist" states, fleeing from a master or burning down a jail.

These laws were then propelled into the postbellum period at a federal level in the "emancipation amendment," setting the table for rapid demographic transition of a Southern prison and jail system that had been predominately white (slaves were already imprisoned on plantations) into a predominately "Black" institution. As Alex Lichtenstein points out in his important work, the postbellum move to prison slavery was absolutely fundamental to the process of industrializing the Southern economy after the Civil War. In fact, as I show in the book, Southern lawmakers were very aware of the fact that the exception clause allowed for a refabrication of enslavement under the guise of law and order.

How is the "exception clause" manifested in the prison industrial complex of the contemporary United States, with the highest rate of incarceration in the world - which includes a disproportionate number of people of color?

I'm glad you asked that question. I like to think of the work I do in Slaves of the State as a kind of "history of the present." And by that I mean, I wanted to follow the work of people like Angela Davis, who early in her anti-prison scholarship spoke of the fact that pre-1865 slavery was itself a form of incarceration. From that starting point, I wanted to offer a critical genealogy of today's system of legalized human warehousing, unfree labor and legal kidnapping - what is usually called "the prison system" - by way of tracing its origin points in former systems like the chain gang, the convict-lease system and peonage.

"Anti-Blackness and white supremacy have been at the core of this system since its outset."

What I found is that when we speak of "the" prison industrial complex that now encages well over 2.3 million people, we must also take into account earlier complexes of racial, capitalist, misogynist imprisonment that represent the conditions of possibility for today's PIC. In other words, the complex of private and public re-enslavement found on convict-lease camps, peon camps and prison plantations in the early 1900s was also a prison industrial complex, one that in its white supremacist structure was born of America's original "prisons": the slave ships, slave pens and plantations within which Africans were imprisoned before 1865. In short, the book shows how the story of what commonly is called modern "mass incarceration" has actually been centuries in the making.

Would you expand upon how some crimes came to be punishable for the sole purpose of imprisoning an increased number of Black people?

To clarify, when the Supreme Court of the State of Virginia ruled in Ruffin v. Commonwealth (1871) that the prisoner amounts to a "slave of the state" it was not solely referring to Black prisoners. Indeed the prisoner whose suit led to this horrifying ruling was actually a poor white person. We also need to remember that over 300,000 of today's prisoners are white. While it is vitally important that we recognize the anti-Black nature of today's prison industrial complex, we also need to pay attention to the fact that poor white, Indigenous, Latina and Latino, Asian, Muslim, migrant laborers and others are also caught in that dehumanizing structure. That said, we also definitely need to recognize that anti-Blackness and white supremacy have been at the core of this system since its outset, namely since Black people today represent approximately 12 percent of the country's population and over 40 percent of its prison population.

Back to your question about specific crimes though, the most common early neoslavery "crimes" were in fact hunger- and poverty-induced acts such as "hog stealing" and vagrancy, and other crimes such as public drunkenness, gambling or even giving an "insulting gesture" to a white person on a street. Black prisoners (and many poor white prisoners) were subsequently submitted to torturous regimes of unfree labor and punishment without any legal recourse, given that the very amendment that had offered de jure freedom contained a rhetorical trapdoor of re-enslavement. However, this does not tell the whole story. In the book, I speak of how prison slaves resisted these practices through outright rebellion, fugitive flight and acts of testifying to the crime of their re-enslavement through song, testimony and other forms of captive performance. I also look at novels by writers such as Toni Morrison and Chester Himes to see how this history has been reimagined in Black art.

How is the state of incarceration related to the Middle Passage (that is to say, chained and entombed boat passage from Africa to US slave markets)?

In part, what I define as the "Middle Passage Carceral Model" in the book suggests an interplay between racial and spatial terror. By this I mean that if you look at the diagrams of slave ships you see that they were literal prison architectures with what in modern prison architectural terms would be called a "tiering" of human beings. So I compare the architectonics of spaces like the slave ship, barracoon and slave pen to those of a space such as the "chain gang rolling cage," wherein Black people were vertically stacked upon one another and chained down with no room to even sit up straight whenever they were not at work building much of the Southern road, highway and railroad system. For me, the "rolling cage" represented a kind of macabre rebirthing of the Middle Passage, a small-scale slave ship on dry land. Of course, words defy the horror that these spaces enacted on Black captives. But in the book I try to let the neoslave speak for herself through attending to aesthetic forms such as the chain gang song and other modes of neoslave testimony in order to not only exemplify the horror of neoslavery, but also the way in which Black people performed a reclamation of their humanness within spaces of dehumanization.

The upshot that I'd like to point out here is that the book attempts to upset the well-worn narrative of progress in the US by looking at the connection between spaces like the "slave pen" and today's seemingly countless neoslave "pens." In our current moment of "postracial" amnesia, the tendency is to look at the trans-Atlantic slave trade as a kind of dinosaur-age prehistory. The writings of Black prisoners such as Herman Wallace, Assata Shakur, George Jackson, Jalil Muntaqim and Mumia Abu-Jamal disallow this comforting image of slavery's prehistorical demise. I think this is captured vividly in the fact that Assata refers to herself as she sits in revolutionary exile in Cuba as a modern maroon - "a 21st century escaped slave."

What is the similarity to the concept of ownership of the Black body between slavery and contemporary imprisonment?

I use the rubric of what I call "human commodification" as a means of exploring this relationship. When we have phone companies, construction companies, banks, surveillance equipment manufacturers, private prison companies and scores of other industrial operations literally pilfering public funds to the tune of billions of dollars a year, it is not hyperbole to call this a structure of human commodification. I want to be clear here that this system of public investment to the end of "private profit" is not simply about private prison companies like CCA [Corrections Corporation of America] and the GEO Group (though these companies are horrendous). The fact is that most prisoners are entombed within state prisons and county jails. While private companies do gain huge profits from these "public" spaces, so-called public officials like prison guards, DAs, police, judges, legislators [and] governors are in fact "public profiteers" in the PIC bonanza.

In the book, I speak of how a full understanding of this modern system of profiting from collective atrocity cannot be gained without recognition of the foundational role of America's original system of human commodification: chattel slavery. This is not to say that the systems are exactly the same, but that something like a "chattel principle" has infused the Black experience of freedom since its inception. While it is important to attend to the specifics of the prison binge that has occurred since the Reagan era, with a 500 percent increase of prisoners in California alone since that time, it's also important to understand that this legal crime would not have been possible were it not for the foundational role played by slavery as America's original racialized system of incarceration.

Why is Angola so significant in your discussion of the prison "slave plantation" model?

One of the most clear-cut examples of what I describe as a centuries-old complex of human commodification in the book is Angola prison, the state penitentiary of Louisiana. This "prison" is actually an 18,000-acre slave plantation that has never closed for business since the 19th century. It is a place in which Black prisoners (and other poor people) are made to pick cotton, corn and soybeans in the same fields in which their ancestors have been enslaved for centuries. However, I treat Angola and other Southern spaces of neoslavery as constitutive rather than exceptional to US empire. In other words, as we speak, I sit in California, a state that is literally the prison capital of the world, where many prisoners have been held in solitary confinement for decades, and where Black and Brown youth are targeted more as prospective prisoners than prospective university graduates.

So I'm very adamant in the book that the prison system explodes any notion of a North-South binary. Indeed, if you look at the writings and activism of the "Angola 3," for instance - that is Robert King Wilkerson, Albert Woodfox and the late Herman Wallace, three political prisoners who started a chapter of the [Black] Panthers inside Angola prison - you find that some of the most hellish regimes of imprisonment at the neo-plantation are actually "Northern" style solitary confinement cells. But in terms of the specific aspects of modern Angola, the horrific treatment of its current prisoners as instruments of perverse amusement in spectacles such as the prison rodeo - and the fact that visitors to the plantation can purchase handcuff key chains, and prison-stripe shirts, and place their children in mock prison cells - speaks to a long history of turning the scene of enslavement into a resource of racist enjoyment in spaces like Angola.

In this sense, my work extends Saidiya Hartman's discussion of how the enslaved body was used as an instrument of racist pleasure under the pre-1865 plantation system. Again, as we work to help liberate Albert Woodfox who has been in solitary confinement at Angola for over 40 years, I think it's important that we think of Angola as a microcosm of a national rather than sectional prison as plantation system, where the prison slave's "labor" is represented as much in the profits made from his or her warehousing as from being made to pick cotton in a slave plantation field.

Most Northerners like to see racism and slavery as a remnant of the South, but how does Northern policing and mass incarceration represent the insidious embedding of racism in the North?

Great question. I use my chapter on Chester Himes' prison novel, Yesterday Will Make You Cry, to explore this issue in some depth. In it I write about how white supremacy has always been fundamental to a state like Ohio, one that is depicted in Himes' fictionalization of his own experience as a prisoner in the Ohio State Penitentiary in the 1930s. What I found is that at the time of Himes' imprisonment, Black people in the state were imprisoned at a higher rate in Ohio than Alabama. Indeed, on the eve of the Civil War, Black people, whether slave or free, were legally barred from even stepping foot into Ohio (or Indiana or Illinois) at the pain of being sold at auction as an indentured servant.

This is why I argue that in addressing the centrality of racism to the capitalist project of imprisonment it is important to attend to the fact of rather than simply the form of racialized incarceration. As I stated earlier, I try to avoid the tendency of fetishizing a space like Angola, making it exceptional in opposition to a space like Attica in New York, where, as many of your readers may know, one of the most heinous acts of state terror was enacted in 1971, when Gov. Nelson Rockefeller ordered a massacre of 29 prisoners who led an uprising that asked simply that they be treated as "human beings."

As we have this conversation, it is projected that one of every three Black boys born today in the US will spend time in a prison or jail cage, and currently one out of nine Black men between the ages of 20 and 34 are in a cage in a nation that is touted as the most "free" and "democratic" country on the planet. In California, we recently had over 150 Black and Latina women forcibly sterilized in a women's prison. What these atrocious facts represent is the reality of Malcolm X's statement about white supremacy as a national reality: "As long as you are south of the Canadian border, you are south."

How is the US prison industrial complex intertwined with the history of capitalism in the United States?

Like the military-industrial complex, the prison industrial complex represents a system of transferring public wealth over to powerful corporate and political interests that are wreaking harm on an unimaginable scale. But again, in the book, I try to point out the ways in which this modern system of profiting from human misery is grounded in ideologies of white supremacy that make the association of Blackness and criminality as interlocked in the modern white US imagination as "Africanness" and enslavement were before 1865.

In this sense, what the important Black studies theorist Cedric Robinson calls "racial capitalism" is vitally important to my work insofar as it illustrates the degree to which racism is a part of the very structural mainframe of this society. That said, the one social predicament that brings together nearly every one of the over 2.3 million people encaged in the US no matter what their race, ethnicity or religion is poverty - a lack of access to decent housing, fair employment, health care, education etc. I'm sure your readers may have heard that a recent Oxfam study found that the world's 62 most wealthy people now own more that the bottom 50 percent of the global population - which equates to roughly 3.6 billion people.

This unspeakable fact of capitalism, its tendency to eviscerate whole collectives of people and then criminalize them for performing the predictable outcomes of that evisceration, is one of the instrumental pathologies that fuels the production of prisoners as commodities, namely poor people of color. It also informs the fact that since Bill Clinton passed NAFTA over 20 years ago there has been a 500 percent increase of immigration from countries to the south - and the fact that in following the uneven flow of capital northward, the migrant labor population is then criminalized as the most rapidly increasing demographic of prisoners in the US. This is why [President] Obama has been referred to as the "deporter in chief" by migrant activists, as he has overseen the imprisonment and deportation of over 2 million people. I hope that in offering a genealogy of what I call racial, capitalist, misogynist incarceration in the book I help move us further along in our critical approach to dismantling the PIC as both a national and global node in the larger neocolonial and imperialist project that is wreaking havoc the world over, especially in the global South.

In conclusion, can you elaborate on your statement (in the book's introduction) "that racialized prison slavery has little to do with the alleged criminal acts of individual Black people and everything to do with the socially constructed crime of being born Black (or Indigenous or Brown or poor) in apartheid America"?

Yes, as I stated earlier, there has long been something like a racialized self-fulfilling prophecy in the US whereby Black people (and other groups) are structurally injured by patterns of social disinvestment, unequal wealth and land distribution, [and] lack of adequate health care and access to education, and then blamed, jailed and/or killed for living the predictable outcomes of these structural disparities. In this sense, what in modern parlance is described as criminal recidivism, or repeat offense, on the part of the individual Black person branded as "criminal," is in fact a measure of a larger social recidivism, the wholesale repeat offenses of a racially, classed and gendered society that allows certain entities to literally feed on the misery of the society's most vulnerable members. This is what led to someone I speak of in the book named Richard Harris being "sold as a slave" for the "crime" of taking a bushel of wheat over a year after slavery had supposedly been outlawed. The scene of a Black person's structural poverty being used as a mechanism of his criminalization and re-enslavement represents a symbol of Black life since 1865.

That said, the book also attends to the incredible resistive spirit of those such as George Jackson, Assata Shakur, Leonard Peltier, Mutulu Shakur, Ruchell Magee, Mumia Abu-Jamal and many more anonymous prisoners in the face of this racist, classist and sexist system. In doing so, it also follows the words of Zaharibu Dorrough, J. Heshima Denham and Kambui Robinson, three members of the recent 30,000-prisoner hunger strike in California, who state that those of us on the "free" side of prison walls need to take responsibility for the fact that our relative "freedom" rests on the foundation of their unfreedom - that "to stand idly by now would be complicity. You must let the state know that substantive change at every level of society is something that the people demand."

Progressive Picks Sun, 07 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500