Truthout Stories http://www.truth-out.org Tue, 28 Apr 2015 14:15:28 -0400 en-gb The New York Times Goes to Baltimore, Finds Only Police Worth Talking To http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30486-the-new-york-times-goes-to-baltimore-finds-only-police-worth-talking-to http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30486-the-new-york-times-goes-to-baltimore-finds-only-police-worth-talking-to

For readers who turned to today’s New York Times site (4/28/15) for news of the ongoing Baltimore protests following the death in police custody of Freddie Gray, they found a terrifying tale of rioters throwing cinder blocks at firefighters trying to put out arson fires, as the city was beset by people with “no regard for life.”

Whose tale was it, though? Here’s the first six citations from the Times story:

  • “police said”
  • “police said”
  • “police also reported”
  • “police said”
  • “state and city officials said”
  • “police acknowledged”

 

Not until the 12th paragraph does the paper get around to quoting someone who isn’t a police or government official.

Taking official sources at their word is all too common in US media coverage, of course — especially when reporting on conflicts taking place in distant lands. But Baltimore is a bit more accessible to Times reporters than Afghanistan; indeed, at least one of the two authors of the Times piece, Richard Oppel and Stephen Babcock, conducted some on-the-ground reporting that appears later in the story—well after the main narrative has been laid out by the Baltimore police.

In fact, plenty of other news outlets are doing good reporting from on the scene. The Baltimore City Paper's Brandon Soderberg (4/28/15) recounted how sports bar patrons helped spark Saturday’s violence outside the Baltimore Orioles stadium, shouting racial epithets and tossing beer bottles at protesters. And Wall Street Journal technology columnist Christopher Mims reported after Saturday’s protests that they were “overwhelmingly peaceful” — though Journal readers would have to turn to Mims’s Twitter feed (4/26/15), not the actual paper, for this news.

The Times, meanwhile, has stuck mainly with government sources, even for a story that cries out for original reporting to cut through the official line. The front-page story in today’s print edition (4/28/15), which mostly focused on yesterday’s establishment of a curfew and calling out of the National Guard, cited, in order, Baltimore’s mayor, the Maryland governor, Baltimore’s police commissioner, “the police” (cited as the source of a “credible threat” that gangs were plotting to “‘take out’ law enforcement officers”) and a police captain–all before citing the pastor at Gray’s funeral as appealing for calm.

Somebody needs to remind the Paper of Record that government officials don’t have a monopoly on the truth.

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Opinion Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Kingpin Strategy: Assassination as US Policy and How It Failed, From 1990-2015 http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30482-the-kingpin-strategy-assassination-as-policy-in-washington-and-how-it-failed-from-1990-2015 http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30482-the-kingpin-strategy-assassination-as-policy-in-washington-and-how-it-failed-from-1990-2015

As the war on terror nears its 14th anniversary -- a war we seem to be losing, given jihadist advances in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen -- the U.S. sticks stolidly to its strategy of “high-value targeting,” our preferred euphemism for assassination.  Secretary of State John Kerry has proudly cited the elimination of “fifty percent” of the Islamic State’s “top commanders” as a recent indication of progress. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself, “Caliph” of the Islamic State, was reportedly seriously wounded in a March airstrike and thereby removed from day-to-day control of the organization. In January, as the White House belatedly admitted, a strike targeting al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan also managed to kill an American, Warren Weinstein, and his fellow hostage, Giovanni Lo Porto.

More recently in Yemen, even as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula took control of a key airport, an American drone strike killed Ibrahim Suleiman al-Rubaish, allegedly an important figure in the group’s hierarchy.  Meanwhile, the Saudi news channel al-Arabiya has featured a deck of cards bearing pictures of that country’s principal enemies in Yemen in emulation of the infamous cards issued by the U.S. military prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq as an aid to targeting its leaders.  (Saddam Hussein was the ace of spades.)

Whatever the euphemism -- the Israelis prefer to call it “focused prevention” -- assassination has clearly been Washington’s favored strategy in the twenty-first century.   Methods of implementation, including drones, cruise missiles, and Special Operations forces hunter-killer teams, may vary, but the core notion that the path to success lies in directly attacking and taking out your enemy’s leadership has become deeply embedded.  As then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it in 2010, “We believe that the use of intelligence-driven, precision-targeted operations against high-value insurgents and their networks is a key component” of U.S. strategy.

Analyses of this policy often refer, correctly, to the blood-drenched precedent of the CIA’s Vietnam-era Phoenix Program -- at least 20,000 “neutralized.” But there was a more recent and far more direct, if less noted, source of inspiration for the contemporary American program of murder in the Greater Middle East and Africa, the “kingpin strategy” of Washington’s drug wars of the 1990s. As a former senior White House counterterrorism official confirmed to me in a 2013 interview, “The idea had its origins in the drug war.  So that precedent was already in the system as a shaper of our thinking.  We had a high degree of confidence in the utility of targeted killing. There was a strong sense that this was a tool to be used.”

Had that official known a little more about just how this feature of the drug wars actually played out, he might have had less confidence in the utility of his chosen instrument.  In fact, the strangest part of the story is that a strategy that failed utterly back then, achieving the very opposite of its intended goal, would later be applied full scale to the war on terror -- with exactly the same results.

The Kingpin Strategy Arrives

At the beginning of the 1990s, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was the poor stepsister of federal law enforcement agencies.  Called into being by President Richard Nixon two decades earlier, it had languished in the shadow of more powerful siblings, notably the FBI.  But the future offered hope.  President George H.W. Bush had only recently re-launched the war on drugs first proclaimed by Nixon, and there were rich budgetary pickings in prospect.  Furthermore, in contrast to the shadowy drug trafficking groups of Nixon’s day, it was now possible to put a face, or faces, on the enemy.  The Colombian cocaine cartels were already infamous, their power and ruthless efficiency well covered in the media.

For Robert Bonner, a former prosecutor and federal judge appointed to head the DEA in 1990, the opportunity couldn’t have been clearer.  Although Nixon had nurtured fantasies of deploying his fledgling anti-drug force to assassinate traffickers, even soliciting anti-Castro Cuban leaders to provide the necessary killers, Bonner had something more systematic in mind.  He called it a “kingpin strategy,” whose aim would be the elimination either by death or capture of the “kingpins” dominating those cartels.

Implicit in the concept was the assumption that the United States faced a hierarchically structured threat that could be defeated by removing key leadership components.  In this, Bonner echoed a traditional U.S. Air Force doctrine: that any enemy system must contain “critical nodes,” the destruction of which would lead to the enemy’s collapse.

In a revealing address to a 2012 meeting of DEA veterans held to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the kingpin strategy’s inauguration, Bonner spoke of the corporate enemy they had confronted.  Major drug trafficking outfits, he said, “by any measure are large organizations. They operate by definition transnationally. They are vertically integrated in terms of production and distribution. They usually have, by the way, fairly smart albeit quite ruthless people at the top and they have a command and control structure. And they also have people with expertise that run certain essential functions of the organization such as logistics, sales and distribution, finances, and enforcement.”  It followed therefore that the removal of those smart people at the top, not to mention the experts in logistics, would render the cartel ineffective and so cut off the flow of narcotics to the United States.

Pursuit of the kingpins promised rich institutional rewards.  Aside from the overbearing presence of the FBI, Bonner had to contend with another carnivore in the Washington bureaucratic jungle eager to encroach on his agency’s territory. “DEA and CIA were butting heads,” recalled the former DEA chief in a 2013 interview. “There was real tension.” Artfully, he managed to negotiate peace with the powerful intelligence agency, “so now we had a very important ally. CIA could use DEA and vice versa.”

By this he meant that the senior agency could use the DEA’s legal powers for domestic operations to good advantage.  This burgeoning relationship brought additional potent allies. Not only was his agency now closer to the CIA, Bonner told me, but “through them, the NSA.” A new Special Operations Division created to work with these senior agencies was to oversee the assault on the kingpins, relying heavily on electronic intelligence.

This new direction would swiftly gain credibility after the successful elimination of the most famous cartel leader of all.  Pablo Escobar, the dominant figure of the Medellín cartel, was an object of obsessive interest to American law enforcement.  He had long evaded U.S.-assisted manhunts before negotiating an agreement with the Colombian government in 1991 under which he took up residence in a “prison” he himself had built in the hills above his home city. A year later, fearing that the government was going to welsh on its deal and turn him over to the Americans, Escobar walked out of that prison and went into hiding.

The subsequent search for the fugitive drug lord marked a turning point. The Cold War was over; Saddam Hussein was defeated in the first Gulf War in 1991; credible threats to the U.S. were scarce; and the danger of budget cuts was in the air. Now, however, the U.S. deployed the full panoply of surveillance technology originally developed to confront the Soviet foe against a single human target. The Air Force sent in an assortment of reconnaissance planes, including SR-71s, which were capable of flying at three times the speed of sound. The Navy sent its own spy planes; the CIA dispatched a helicopter drone.

At one point there were 17 of these surveillance aircraft simultaneously in the air over Medellín although, as it turned out, none of them were any help in tracking down Escobar.  Nor did the DEA make any crucial contribution. Instead, his deadly rivals from Cali, Colombia’s other major trafficking group, played the decisive role in the destruction of that drug lord’s power and support systems, combining well-funded intelligence with bloodthirsty ruthlessness.

His once all-powerful network of informers and bodyguards destroyed, Escobar was eventually located by homing in on his radio and gunned down as he fled across a rooftop on December 2, 1993.  Though the matter is open to debate, a former senior U.S. drug enforcement official assured me unequivocally that a sniper from the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Delta Force had fired the killing shot.

Following this triumph, the DEA turned its attention to the Cali cartel, pursuing it with every resource available: “We really developed the use of wiretaps,” Bonner told me.  Patience and the provision of enormous resources eventually yielded results. In June and July 1995, six of the seven heads of the Cali cartel were arrested, including the brothers Gilberto and Miguel Rodríguez-Orijuela, and the cartel’s cofounder, José “Chepe” Santacruz Londoño.  Although Londoño subsequently escaped from jail, he would in the end be hunted down and killed.  Continued U.S. pressure for the rest of the decade and beyond resulted in a steady flow of cartel bosses into prisons with life sentences or into coffins.

Cartel Heads Go Down and Drugs Go Up

The strategy, it appeared, had been an unqualified success.  “When Pablo Escobar was on the run, for all practical purposes, his organization started going down... ultimately it was destroyed.  And that's the strategy we have called the kingpin strategy,” crowed Lee Brown, Bill Clinton’s “drug czar,” in 1994.

In public at least, no officials bothered to point out that if that strategy’s aim was to counter drug use among Americans, it had achieved precisely the opposite of its intended goal.  The giveaway to this failure lay in the on-the-street cost of cocaine in this country.  In those years, the DEA put enormous effort into monitoring its price, using undercover agents to make buys and then laboriously compiling and cross-referencing the amounts paid.

The drugs obtained by these surreptitious means, however, were of wildly varying purity, the cocaine itself often having been adulterated with some worthless substitute. That meant that the price of a gram of purecocaine varied enormously, since a few bad deals of very low purity could cause wide swings in the average. Dealers tended to compensate for higher prices by reducing the purity of their product rather than charging more per gram. As a result, the agency’s price charts showed little movement and so gave no indication of what events were affecting the price and therefore the supply.

In 1994, however, a numbers-cruncher with the Institute for Defense Analysis, the Pentagon’s in-house think tank, began subjecting the data to more searching scrutiny. The analyst, a former Air Force fighter pilot named Rex Rivolo, had been tasked to take an independent look at the drug war at the request of Brian Sheridan, the hardheaded director of the Defense Department’s Office of Drug Control Policy who had developed a healthy disrespect for the DEA and its operations.

Having tartly informed DEA officials that their statistics were worthless, mere “random noise,” Rivolo set to work developing a statistical tool that would eliminate the effect of the swings in purity of the samples collected by the undercover agents. Once he had succeeded, some interesting conclusions began to emerge: the pursuit of the kingpins was most certainly having an effect on prices, and by extension supply, but not in the way advertised by the DEA. Far from impeding the flow of cocaine onto the street and up the nostrils of America, it was accelerating it. Eliminating kingpins actually increased supply.

It was a momentous revelation, running entirely counter to law enforcement cultural attitudes that reached back to the days of Eliot Ness’s war against bootleggers in the 1920s and that would become the basis for Washington’s twenty-first-century counterinsurgency wars. Such a verdict might have been reached intuitively, especially once the kingpin strategy in its most lethal form came to be applied to terrorists and insurgents, but on this rare occasion the conclusion was based on hard, undeniable data.  

In the last month of 1993, for example, Pablo Escobar’s once massive cocaine smuggling organization was already in tatters and he was being hunted through the streets of Medellín. If the premise of the DEA strategy -- that eliminating kingpins would cut drug supplies -- had been correct, supply to the U.S. should by then have been disrupted.

In fact, the opposite occurred: in that period, the U.S. street price dropped from roughly $80 to $60 a gram because of a flood of new supplies coming into the U.S. market, and it would continue to drop after his death.  Similarly, when the top tier of the Cali cartel was swept up in mid-1995, cocaine prices, which had been rising sharply earlier that year, went into a precipitous decline that continued into 1996.

Confident that the price drop and the kingpin eliminations were linked, Rivolo went looking for an explanation and found it in an arcane economic theory he called monopolistic competition. “It hadn’t been heard of for years,” he explained. “It essentially says if you have two producers of something, there’s a certain price. If you double the number of producers, the price gets cut in half, because they share the market.

“So the question was,” he continued, “how many monopolies are there? We had three or four major monopolies, but if you split them into twenty and you believe in this monopolistic competition, you know the price is going to drop. And sure enough, through the nineties the price of cocaine was plummeting because competition was coming in and we were driving the competition. The best thing would have been to keep one cartel over which we had some control. If your goal is to lower consumption on the street, then that’s the mechanism. But if you’re a cop, then that’s not your goal. So we were constantly fighting the cop mentality in these provincial organizations like DEA.”

The Kingpin Strategy Joins the War on Terror

Deep in the jungles of southern Colombia, coca farmers didn’t need obscure economic theories to understand the consequences of the kingpin strategy. When the news arrived that Gilberto Rodríguez-Orijuela had been arrested, small traders in the remote settlement of Calamar erupted in cheers. “Thank the blessed virgin!” exclaimed one grandmother to a visiting American reporter.

“Wait till the United States figures out what it really means,” added another local resident. “Hell, maybe they’ll approve, since it’s really a victory for free enterprise. No more monopoly controlling the market and dictating what growers get paid. It’s just like when they shot Pablo Escobar: now money will flow to everybody.”

This assessment proved entirely correct. As the big cartels disappeared, the business reverted to smaller and even more ruthless groups that managed to maintain production and distribution quite satisfactorily, especially as they were closely linked either to Colombia’s Marxist FARC guerrillas or to the fascist anti-guerrilla paramilitary groups allied with the government and tacitly supported by the United States.

Much of Rivolo’s work on the subject remains classified. This is hardly surprising, given that it not only undercuts the official rationale for the kingpin strategy in the drug wars of the 1990s, but strikes a body blow at the doctrine of high-value targeting that so obsesses the Obama administration in its drone assassination campaigns across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa today.

Rivolo was, in fact, able to monitor the application of the kingpin strategy in the following decade.  In 2007, he was assigned to a small but high-powered intelligence cell attached to the Baghdad headquarters of General Ray Odierno, who was, at the time, the operational U.S. commander in Iraq.  While there he made it his business to inquire into the ongoing targeting of “high-value individuals,” or HVIs.  Accordingly, he put together a list of 200 HVIs -- local insurgent leaders -- killed or captured between June and October 2007.  Then he looked to see what happened in their localities following their elimination.

The results, he discovered when he graphed them out, offered a simple, unequivocal message: the strategy was indeed making a difference, just not the one intended. It was, however, the very same message that the kingpin strategy had offered in the drug wars of the 1990s.  Hitting HVIs did not reduce attacks and save American lives; it increasedthem. Each killing quickly prompted mayhem. Within three kilometers of the target’s base of operation, attacks over the following 30 days shot up by 40%. Within a radius of five kilometers, a typical area of operations for an insurgent cell, they were still up 20%. Summarizing his findings for Odierno, Rivolo added an emphatic punch line: “Conclusion: HVI Strategy, our principal strategy in Iraq, is counter-productive and needs to be re-evaluated.”

As with the kingpin strategy, the causes of this apparently counter-intuitive result became obvious upon reflection.  Dead commanders were immediately replaced, and the newcomers were almost always younger and more aggressive than their predecessors, eager to “make their bones” and prove their worth.

Rivolo’s research and conclusions, though briefed at the highest levels, made no difference.  The kingpin strategy might have failed on the streets of American cities, but it had been a roaring success when it came to the prosperity of the DEA.  The agency budget, always the surest sign of an institution’s standing, soared by 240% during the 1990s, rising from $654 million in 1990 to over $1.5 billion a decade later.  In the same way, albeit on a vaster scale, high-value targeting failed in its stated goals in the Greater Middle East, where terror recruits grew and terror groups only multiplied under the shadow of the drone.  (The removal of al-Baghdadi from day-to-day control of the Islamic State, for instance, has apparently done nothing to retard its operations.)  The strategy has, however, been of inestimable benefit to a host of interested parties, ranging from drone manufacturers to the CIA counterterrorism officials who so signally failed to ward off 9/11 only to adopt assassination as their raison d'être.

No wonder the Saudis want to follow in our footsteps in Yemen. It’s a big world. Who’s next?

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News Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: Hawaii Is the Latest Battleground in the Fight for Solar Energy, and More http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30480-on-the-news-with-thom-hartmann-hawaii-is-the-latest-battleground-in-the-fight-for-solar-energy-and-more http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30480-on-the-news-with-thom-hartmann-hawaii-is-the-latest-battleground-in-the-fight-for-solar-energy-and-more

In today's On the News segment: The Hawaiian Electric Company has been blocking thousands more residents from generating their own electricity; the loss of sea ice in the Arctic is creating a feedback loop that could spell disaster for the ice caps; a coalition of organizations is challenging the EPA's approval of Dow Chemical's Enlist Duo herbicide; and more.

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

TRANSCRIPT:

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

You need to know this. We've known for some time that warming temperatures pose a big threat to Artic ocean ice. However, only now are we learning about so-called "waves of destruction" that are speeding up the disappearance of sea ice. According to a recent article by Mark Harris in Scientific American, the loss of sea ice in the Arctic has allowed large waves to develop in the now-open water. Those waves then break up the remaining sea ice, thus creating a feedback loop that could spell disaster for the ice caps. Back in 2010, a Norwegian research vessel called the RV Lance set out to study ice pack, as they did every season. Although in previous years the team was able to walk out on to the ice pack, and even camp on larger floes, the 2010 team found too many cracks in the ice to explore safely. After moving their ship deeper into the ice pack, the scientists noticed how small waves were quickly growing in size and breaking up large pieces of ice. That team recorded some waves that were more than 30 feet high, and watched as they rapidly broke the ice into thousands of smaller pieces. The whole process is so fast and powerful that areas of over 16 kilometers of ice were destroyed in one hour. And, because of their ability to begin quickly and rapidly increase in power, these waves are nearly impossible to predict. In addition to destroying sea ice, the waves are also very dangerous to ships, oil-drilling platforms, and arctic communities. This is what happens when a feedback loop is created, and this is how a small rise in temperatures quickly becomes a global catastrophe. If we don't work harder to restore our environment, we may not survive as a species. We only have one planet to call home, so let's get busy making sure we can survive here in the future. Check out GreenWorldRising.org for more information.

The FDA barely has the time and money to monitor one percent of our food for safety, yet they're considering using more of those limited resources to go after homeopathic medicine. Last week, that agency held two days of hearings on homeopathy, to consider stricter regulation of alternative forms of medicine. While hyper-regulation by the FDA could be seen as an effort to remove competition for big pharma, opponents of homeopathy say that stronger rules from the FDA are needed to prevent injuries and safeguard the public from false claims. However, homeopathy supporters worry that government regulators could go too far in their efforts to protect the public, but they welcome more testing and industry standards. Dr. Ronald Whitmont, a homeopathic doctor interviewed by the ThinkProgress Blog, said, "There are always bad apples in the manufacturing world, and they need to be policed just like in any other industry." In addition, hyper-regulation by the FDA could be seen as an effort to take out competition for big pharma. Millions of Americans regularly use homeopathic medicine, and it's important that they are protected. Now, if the FDA would look more closely at the pharmaceutical industry, that could really help keep Americans safe.

"Hawaii is a postcard from the future." That's a statement from Adam Browning, the executive director of Vote Solar, a California-based policy and advocacy group that works on solar power issues. In a recent article in The New York Times, Diane Cardwell explained that Hawaii is just the latest battleground in the fight to go solar. About 12 percent of homes in that state have rooftop solar panels already, but the Hawaiian Electric Company has been blocking thousands more residents from generating their own electricity. After state energy officials forced the utility to process their massive backlog of solar permits, homeowners could finally start moving on installations. With that move, our nation's solar leader will soon be even greener. All over the country, privately-owned utility companies are trying desperately to block green energy, but one-by-one, they will be overruled. Hawaii is proving that Americans won't wait on a broken Congress to do something about global warming. The only question is which state will be next.

The FDA may be working to protect Americans, but some say that the EPA isn't doing enough. In a new lawsuit, a coalition of environmental and health organizations is challenging the EPA's approval of Dow Chemical's Enlist Duo herbicide. The group says that the weed killer combines glyphosate, which the World Health Organization recently said should be considered a carcinogen, and 2, 4-D, which is the key ingredient in the infamous Agent Orange. Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said, "In expanding its approval for this super-toxic chemical cocktail, [the] EPA has shown an utter disregard for human health, our drinking water, and endangered species like the iconic whooping crane." She added, "[the] EPA has left us with no choice but to go to court." You don't have to be a scientist to worry about the harmful effects of stronger and stronger chemicals being used in our environment, and you shouldn't need to be an environmental activist to appreciate that this group is working hard to protect your health.

And finally... Tommy Kleyn lives in Rotterdam, Netherlands, but, he's inspiring others from as far away as Taiwan, to do more for their environment. Every day, Tommy rides his bike to work as an artist, and passes a section of the Rotterdam riverway. Tommy was so tired of seeing trash collect on the banks of that river, that he decided to devote half an hour every day to do something about it. He began taking the time to fill one trash bag every day until the river bank was clean. But his project didn't take as long as expected. After posting pictures online, Tommy's friends joined in and made quick work of the garbage. The pictures quickly spread all over the world, including right here in our nation's capital, and they're encouraging others to get involved. If each of us pitched in a half hour at a time, there's no telling what we could clean or accomplish. Half an hour isn't much to give to get a cleaner world. Thanks for the inspiration, Tommy!

And that's the way it is for the week of April 27, 2015 – I'm Thom Hartmann, on Science and Green News.

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News Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Liberian Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee: How a Sex Strike Propelled Men to Refuse War http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30478-liberian-nobel-peace-prize-laureate-leymah-gbowee-how-a-sex-strike-propelled-men-to-refuse-war http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30478-liberian-nobel-peace-prize-laureate-leymah-gbowee-how-a-sex-strike-propelled-men-to-refuse-war

Liberian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee, one of the 1,000 female peace activists gathered to mark the founding of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, recalls her work in leading a women’s peace movement that brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. "We were constantly trying to imagine strategies that would be effective," Gbowee says. "The men in our society were really not taking a stance. … We decided to do a sex strike to kind of propel these silent men into action." Gbowee notes the idea for the strike came from a Muslim woman and was inspired in part by the civil rights movement in the United States. Gbowee shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with fellow Liberian Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Yemeni native Tawakkul Karman. She is the founder and president of Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa based in Liberia.

TRANSCRIPT:

AMY GOODMAN: Leymah Gbowee, you helped to end the Second Civil War in Liberia and jailed the president, Charles Taylor. Talk about how you accomplished this. Here, of the three of you, you most recently won the Nobel Prize, in 2011. What did you do in Liberia?

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Well, one of the things that we were able to accomplish in Liberia was bringing together groups that would not necessarily come together to build peace: Christian and Muslim. If you look at the world and the order of the world today, there is a lot of religious extremism and fundamentalism. We had those subtle kinds of issues in Liberia at the time, because whilst all of the different warring factions were from the different ethnic groups, where there were undertones, religious undertones, and we knew that if we had to build peace, we needed to bring not just the women together, but women from diverse background. We have 16 ethnic groups, and with the two major religious groups in Liberia, Christian and Muslims. So we were able to bring those women together to work together.

And I would say one of the strategies we used was the whole strategy of reconceptualizing religious spaces. A lot of the times, people use religion as a means of disempowering women. And if you go into the Qur’anic text and even in the Bible, you’ll find there were some great women. So we use the examples of those very great women to talk about how they helped to change their time. As a Christian and working with Christian women, we used Deborah, Esther. They were engaged in political issues in biblical times. And once the narrative of those women had been kind of reconceptualized, the women were able to resonate with it and were able to bring them together, but also not just bringing the groups together, but to protest nonviolently. Fourteen years of violent uprising. We started with two groups, the government and the warring faction, the rebel group. By 2003, we had gone through almost 12 or 13 different armed groups. And so, everyone’s response to the war was bringing in more violence or bringing in more guns. And we realized that if there were changes that should happen in Liberia, it had to be nonviolent. So we protested. We did sit-ins. We were just like invading spaces that women would not necessarily be in.

AMY GOODMAN: How did Charles Taylor, the president, respond to you?

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Well, initially, when we started, we had done an invitation to get him to come and listen to us. And people said, "Well, if you send one invitation, he’s going to say he didn’t get it." And I remember us doing six invitations—one to him directly to his office, one through his religious council, one through his wife, one through the speaker of Parliament, one through the president of the Senate, and one through, I think, his national security person. So six letters of invitation for one event. There was no way that he could have said he didn’t receive the letters, because we had multiple people telling us they hand-delivered it. Of course he didn’t show up, because he didn’t know how to respond to us.

We sat, and we just decided we’re going to protest and demand three things: immediate unconditional ceasefire, dialogue and the intervention—international intervention force. Those were the three things that Taylor has specifically and explicitly said to the international community at the time he wasn’t going to do. Liberia was a sovereign nation, and he was not going to allow foreign troops on the ground. He was a legitimate president, and he wasn’t going to sit with illegitimate groups, and that talking with them was just—and that he would fight until the last soldier died. And so, going to him with the things that he was defying the world with, and saying, "We will protest until you give us," and so it’s more or less you’re defying the world, and we are defying you, that we will continue to invade your space until you give it to us. So, those—and finally, he had to give in. And finally, he had to say, "OK, I’ll go to the peace table." But then, going to the peace table did not end our protests. We continued until the pressure from us, the pressure from other African leaders and the rest of the world forced his arms to resign at the end of the day, so...

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and when we come back, I want to ask you about the sex strikes that you engaged in in Liberia that made an enormous difference. We are joined right now by Leymah Gbowee—she is the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner; Mairead Maguire, who won the prize in 1976; and you will also be hearing from Jody Williams, who won in 1997. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’re broadcasting live from The Hague, from the World Forum of The Hague. It’s the hundredth anniversary of the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting live from The Hague, from the World Forum at The Hague in The Netherlands. It’s the hundredth anniversary of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. One hundred years ago, a thousand women, in the midst of World War I, gathered here. A thousand years later, they have—rather, 100 years later, they have gathered again, calling for peace in very violent times. Among those who are here are four Nobel Peace Prize winners. Later in the week, we will speak to Dr. Shirin Ebadi of Iran. Right now we’re joined by the three other Nobel laureates. Tawakkul Karman was supposed to come from Yemen; she wasn’t able to, given the strife there. But we are joined by Mairead Maguire, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976, by Jody Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, and by Leymah Gbowee, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

So, we’re at The Hague, Leymah, and here is where Charles Taylor was tried, the first head of state in the world to be tried before an international court modeled on the Nuremberg trials, and got 50 years, not for atrocities committed in your country, Liberia, where he was head of state, but in Sierra Leone. Fifty years, he was sentenced to. He’s in prison now in London. But I want to go back to this issue of the sex strikes, one of the strategies you used to bring in end to war in Liberia.

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Well, when we started, I must say, we weren’t as sophisticated as the Dr. Kings and the Mandelas of the world. We were few women. A few of us had read some of the stories of these great men, and women—Rosa Parks and other people, women who had done great work, including the celebration that we find ourselves in in The Hague. But we were constantly thinking on our feet, constantly trying to imagine strategies that will be effective. When we started our protest, we barely got the media’s attention, not local media and definitely not the international media. Once we put out there, and it was a real strategy that—we felt like the men in our society were really not taking a stand. They were either fighters or they were very silent and accepting all of the violence that was being thrown at us as a nation. So we decided we’ll do this sex strike to kind of propel the silent men into action. So if you had a beer buddy who was a warlord, you needed to encourage him to lay down his arms. And the way we were trying to do that was to pressurize the partners that we had, husbands and partners who were also sometimes silent in the entire scheme of the war.

AMY GOODMAN: Who came up with this idea?

LEYMAH GBOWEE: A Muslim woman, my colleague, well, very good friend of mine, Asatu Bah Kenneth. She’s like, "We’re going to do a sex strike." And it was like, "Whoa!" for me, because usually the stereotypes we have about Muslim women is that they are quiet, obedient, and that they do not have those kinds of, you know, mind. But she was the one who came up with the idea.

And once we put it out there, it became a huge issue, first not in our—in our community, it wasn’t because sex is exotic, even though it is, but people wanted to know who were these women to even dare their husbands or the men, who are supposed to be in power, to say they won’t give sex because of the war. The international media wanted to know: How can you refuse sex, when rape is the order of the day in your culture, in your society? So, all of these lingering questions made it a very good strategy for talking about, because every time we went to do press and they wanted to know about this sex strike, we had to go about every other reason why we were doing it before this, so it became a very good media strategy for the work that we were doing at the time.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, how did the war end?

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Well, when we had pressured the government, Taylor, for the first time when we met him, over 2,000 women turned out on that day. And it was one of really those amazing days where you have dictator who would say, "You can come and see me," and it’s probably a test, because people were afraid of this man, afraid of the huge amount of guns that were in the town. And we get there, but the women, they’re standing somewhere else, and get to his palace, and they say, "We have instruction that if you’re less than 20, you shouldn’t come in," because they had underestimated us. They thought women would not show up, because we were going to see Taylor. So my question to the guards were: "If we are more than 20?" And he was like, "You can come." So, standing there, one phone call formed a line and just a sea of white coming down the hill. And it was like, these women are really serious. And then, all of a sudden, we get a call from in his office that he’s not feeling well and that he will see only 10 of us. And I was really furious. I said, "No, if he can’t come to see all of us, we will leave." And his guards were like, "Who is this woman, who is just really too militant for her own good?"

Finally, he agreed to come out to see all of us. We challenged him. He offered us seats. We refused to sit. We sat on the floor. "Given the rationale that your war has taken all of our furniture," said we, "why should we sit in a chair when we come to see you?" So, afterwards, he said, "Well, if any group of people can get me to commit to going to do peace, it’s the women. And I’m promising you that I will go to the peace table." For us, that was the challenge. We will keep the pressure on in country, but we also have to go find the warlords in the bushes, give them a position statement, then go to the peace talks and be present. And so, we were there keeping the pressure up for many months. And one day we got tired, and we seized the entire hall, locked the men in and said they would not come out until we had a peace agreement signed. We were going to almost a third month of a peace process that should have lasted three weeks. After we did our locking in of the men and giving our own position to them that this is what we want, two weeks later we got a peace agreement signed. But signing the agreement was good. We went back. Women decided just to follow through the entire process.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Leymah Gbowee, how does it feel today for you to be here at The Hague, where President Charles Taylor was tried, now in prison for 50 years—he’s imprisoned in Britain, just lost his latest appeal—and your co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia?

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Well, one of the things that I—when I look at the life and legacy of President Taylor, it tells a lot about ordinary people and their ability to forgive. When Liberians elected Taylor, it wasn’t because they were so afraid of him. They wanted to give him the opportunity to redeem himself. Instead of pursuing a policy of reconciliatory democracy, he decided to rule instead of leading, came to The Hague, was tried, found guilty.

There are two things. I was happy because the people of Sierra Leone—their war in Sierra Leone, just like the war in Liberia, wars in everywhere, was horrifying, horrific on the lives of women and children, and that someone, finally, some big guy, was answering to the rest of the world. It just—Taylor was the example for the world that we will no longer sit and allow people to come and treat their citizens or their next-door neighbors as if they were people on their plantation. So, this is—even if other leaders are not paying or pretend not to be paying attention, some of the leaders that we have today that are choosing the path of gangster ruling, they’re worried, because if it could happen to a Charles Taylor, it could happen to us, too. So I was happy that justice, in that form, was served.

My sadness on that verdict is that when I was growing up, we constantly saw the scale of justice—at our Ministry of Justice in Liberia, in the Temple of Justice, they had this big scale, where it was balanced. And they had this thing: "Let justice be done to all men." In my mind and during my entire socialization, I understand justice to be balanced. Taylor’s trial, his conviction is well and good, but I feel like the scale was tilted in his favor. Those who were amputated in Sierra Leone, who is giving them food? He’s in a prison in the U.K., and he has the luxury of three meals a day, a warm bed during winter, a cool bed during summer. Some of these people have two arms or both arms hacked. Who is providing meals for them? Who is taking care of their children? Taylor, I feel, for that scale to be balanced, all of his loots—or part of his loot should be given to Liberia, and the rest of it given to the victims of the Sierra Leonean war. Then the scale will be balanced. That’s my take.

AMY GOODMAN: Leymah Gbowee, I was walking down 125th Street, Harlem, the other day, and I was passing the Apollo Theater, and your name was up in lights, coming to the Apollo on June 12th, I think they said.

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News Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Nobel Laureates Call on "Militaristic" United States to Renew Pledge to Protect Human Rights http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30476-nobel-laureates-call-on-militaristic-united-states-to-renew-pledge-to-protect-human-rights http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30476-nobel-laureates-call-on-militaristic-united-states-to-renew-pledge-to-protect-human-rights

As we broadcast from the World Forum at The Hague, a statue has just been dedicated to Dutch suffragist Dr. Aletta Jacobs, who 100 years ago organized an extraordinary meeting known as the International Congress of Women that took place as World War I raged across the globe. We are joined by three women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize and are gathered to mark the anniversary and discuss how to build peace in the future. Mairead Maguire was awarded the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her actions to help end the deep ethnic and political conflict in her native Northern Ireland. Leymah Gbowee received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her work in leading a women’s peace movement that brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. And Jody Williams won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Williams notes President Barack Obama has authorized more drone strikes during his first three months in office than President Bush did during his entire administration.

TRANSCRIPT:

AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman, broadcasting live from The Hague, from the World Forum at The Hague. Actually, right nearby is the Peace Palace, and this past week the second female statue was dedicated. It was dedicated to Dr. Aletta [Jacobs], who was one of the founders of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, called that session 100 years ago where a thousand women came in the midst of World War I, 1915, to say no to war. Now we’re joined by three Nobel Peace laureates. Jody Williams won it in 1997 for her campaign against landmines. Leymah Gbowee is with us from Liberia. She won in 2011. She was fighting the Liberian Civil War nonviolently, organizing throughout Liberia. And Mairead Maguire is with us. She won in 1976, along with Betty Williams, in Northern Ireland as they fought against the violence there.

Now, none of your activism has stopped. You didn’t go out, you laureates, on your laurels. Mairead Maguire, I remember visiting Phil Berrigan in jail. You were the next person to visit him. I left. You came in. But you didn’t leave. I think you were arrested on the spot. Why did you refuse to leave at that time? Phil Berrigan, the well-known Plowshares activist who, you know, based on the philosophy of turning swords into plowshares, had done yet another nonviolent action against nuclear weapons in the United States.

MAIREAD MAGUIRE: Yeah, well, I’ve always been inspired by the American peace activists from when I was a very young woman, because I think that it took tremendous courage. And Phil Berrigan was one of my heroes. But I had also been to Iraq and met with the Iraqi government and people like that, and we knew there were no nuclear weapons in Iraq, and they were crying out for dialogue. And they hadn’t been approached by American diplomats to actually find the path of peace.

AMY GOODMAN: This is before the Iraq War, you were saying talk to them.

MAIREAD MAGUIRE: Before the Iraq War, yes. So, what we were coming to America to say to the diplomats and to the government—and to walk with the American people—these problems can be solved without bombing each other, through dialogue, through negotiation. So I came then to America to be part of that process. But, you know, we can campaign against war, against militarism, but until we change our consciousness and our mindsets that we really have to stop killing each other, because we are technological giants, we have a great deal of knowledge—we know how to kill each other, and we can’t undo that knowledge. So what we have to do is really in our own minds decide that we are not going to kill each other.

AMY GOODMAN: You also went to Syria?

MAIREAD MAGUIRE: We went to Syria, and we went to Syria twice. And we went into Syria with a delegation of 40 Iranian peace activists. And the whole message coming out of these countries is: Don’t invade us, don’t occupy us; we can solve our problems through dialogue, through negotiation. Again, it comes back to the thing, if you listen to the news, people would almost despair: "Oh, my god! The world is coming apart. What can we do?" But, you know, we have a wonderful world, and there’s a great deal happening. And the vast majority, 99 percent of people in the world, do not want to kill each other. They have never killed each other. They care for the fact that children are dying in all these countries. But tragically, we seem to be caught in this trajectory that our governments take us to war, and we don’t want to go to war.

AMY GOODMAN: Mairead Maguire—

MAIREAD MAGUIRE: We want to do it through peace.

AMY GOODMAN: You also were on one of the Gaza flotillas challenging the Israeli blockade against Gaza?

MAIREAD MAGUIRE: Yes, I was, because I passionately believe that there could be peace between Israel and Palestine, if you had the political will to sit down the political leaders and say, "There is a solution to this. Find it." Because going out and bombing women and, increasingly, children on the ground, it is horrific. It’s not acceptable. But I would challenge the American government, because I think the American government’s policies are totally wrong. Their approach of going out to militarism and war and bombing countries is uncivilized, illegal and absolutely dreadful in the 21st century. So I do believe that America has a moral and ethical responsibility to the world to listen, that the people in the world want peace. Everybody has a right to peace. They can do it through dialogue and through negotiation. And let’s give peace a chance.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there a chance? I mean, you have the Obama administration now. Under the Obama administration, more weapons have been sold in the world than under any previous administration. And the highest number, amount of the weapons have been sold to Saudi Arabia. Jody Williams, you’re from the U.S.

JODY WILLIAMS: Of course we can change the world. Sometimes, as Mairead says, when we look at that—when I look at my own country, I’ve been fighting the U.S. foreign policy since Vietnam, my first protest, 1970, University of Vermont. But change is possible. And because I believe, like Mairead, the majority of people of the world are sick to death of this, and we are starting to stand up and say no. We’re starting to challenge and not accept, you know, words out of one side of the face and the actions which are different. You know, I never thought, unfortunately—I didn’t drink the Obama Kool-Aid. That man fired or authorized more drone strikes in the first three months of his administration than George W. Bush did in eight years in office. We have to, as Americans—I agree with her—accept the responsibility that we have the most militaristic nation in the world, and take responsibility to stop it.

AMY GOODMAN: Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, you have also taken on the issue of Ebola. Talk about how you dealt with Ebola and what your government was doing.

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Well, the government was totally unresponsive to the needs of the people. I remember when we had the—

AMY GOODMAN: This is your sister Nobel laureate—

LEYMAH GBOWEE: You know, Amy, I’m not—

AMY GOODMAN: —President Johnson Sirleaf.

LEYMAH GBOWEE: —even going to allow you to end. I get so sick and tired when people say, "You won the prize along with President Sirleaf." First thing first, President Sirleaf is a politician, I’m an activist. No one expected that we’ll be having Sunday brunch together every day. We were bound to disagree on issues, because that’s what happens between politicians and activists. That’s one. Two, I did not win the prize because I’m a wimp. I won the prize because I’ve always stood up and spoke truth to power. So if speaking truth to power will cause me to disagree with Jody in this civilized world, I believe that if we disagree, we should be able to come back together to agree on a more cordial line. Having said that—

AMY GOODMAN: Now, we only have a minute, so tell us this ingenious strategy in the communities.

LEYMAH GBOWEE: We decided—since our government was unresponsive, the death was going on, because we believe in community and the power of the people, my foundation decided to put money into the hands of community people to find their own strategy, find their own solution for the Ebola crisis. We did that through 150 local organizations, from prayer groups to soccer groups, to youth groups, to women’s groups, and 26 local radio stations. Today, the U.N. has said this is an effective strategy. And I like to claim it as setting a trend.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about the cinemas, the video clubs?

LEYMAH GBOWEE: One of the beautiful things that happens in community, when people understand what they need to do. We gave this group of women some money to think through. They went on YouTube, got some of the young people—we had nothing to do with it—downloaded some of the videos from past Ebola cases in East Africa, other parts of the world, and they made their own short documentary, went into their community, used the money that we had given them to hire a cinema, or we call it local video clubs. And once the hiring had been done, they asked the video clubs to show blockbuster movies.

AMY GOODMAN: Blockbuster movies, like the biggest—

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Blockbuster, like the biggest movie we have in our space and time—and told community people it was free to go and watch the movie. These clubs were filled with people. In the middle of the movie, they would do an intermission and put on a little clip about Ebola. And that’s how the community, that particular community of almost 20,000 inhabitants, were really able to see that this disease is real, and we need to start taking all the necessary action.

AMY GOODMAN: So, they’d stop the film in the middle, show the little documentary, then go back to the blockbuster?

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Then go back to the film. And then people will leave, not talking about the film, but just talking about that short clip. And these women had put in hand-washing stations, all of the different things, so people then begin to start washing their hands and taking all the necessary precaution.

AMY GOODMAN: And what number are you at now of Ebola victims in Liberia?

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Well, we are at zero. And hopefully, in five or six days, we’re supposed to be counting down to Liberia being Ebola-free by the World Health Organization. And I think the success is not government. It’s not flying in the U.S. military. It’s community. Engage, engage, engage communities.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it at that. Five seconds for each of you to wrap up this, with you women of wisdom in this time of war. Mairead Maguire?

MAIREAD MAGUIRE: Well, you know, America is a great country. And Eleanor Roosevelt was one of
the contributors to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And you have a wonderful Constitution. But revive your Constitution, rededicate yourselves to international law, and be a peacemaker, not a warmaker.

AMY GOODMAN: Jody Williams? You have two seconds.

JODY WILLIAMS: Nothing about us without us: Women need to be involved in all aspects of peace and security.

AMY GOODMAN: Leymah Gbowee? Three seconds.

LEYMAH GBOWEE: In The Hague, do one good thing every day that everyone else is scared to do.

AMY GOODMAN: We will leave it at that. Leymah Gbowee and Mairead Maguire and Jody Williams, thanks so much.

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News Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
We Can't Afford Immigrants Not Being Insured http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30475-we-can-t-afford-immigrants-not-being-insured http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30475-we-can-t-afford-immigrants-not-being-insured

Immigrant rights organizers and advocates gathered at Sacramento to demand more accessible healthcare for immigrant communities. (Photo: Sandy Valenciano/The California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance)Immigrant rights organizers and advocates gathered at Sacramento to demand more accessible healthcare for immigrant communities. (Photo: Sandy Valenciano/The California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance)

It has been five years since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed. After the official launch of the ACA, millions of previously uninsured people were able to gain health insurance for the first time. There are positive reports cheering the ACA's success. According to Gallup's most recent report, the percentage of uninsured Americans dropped to 11.9 percent, the lowest since the ACA was launched.

Despite the positive reports, millions of people still can't obtain adequate health-care services and many have become bankrupt to save their loved ones. For 11 million undocumented immigrants, the situation is even more severe. The Obama administration explicitly barred undocumented immigrants from access to its most significant legislative accomplishment. This means millions of undocumented immigrants are barred from purchasing subsidized health insurance under the ACA.

As a result, millions of undocumented immigrants endure their illnesses to avoid expensive hospital bills they can't afford. Because many undocumented immigrants choose to endure pain instead of seeking necessary treatment in the initial stage of their illnesses, their conditions become worse, and they must seek costly medical services. According to a report from the Commonwealth Fund, "Nationally, an estimated three-fifths (61.5%) of nonelderly adults who are undocumented immigrants are expected to remain uninsured. As a result, undocumented residents will make up a larger share of the remaining uninsured population in the country."

Furthermore, the federal government's failure to improve the country's immigration system exacerbates the situation for undocumented immigrants. According to a UCLA Labor Center study,

President Obama's administration has deported nearly two million people within the past five years; creating a climate of constant hypervigilance and fear of authorities that compromises immigrants' level of comfort and trust with the US health care system. This kind of social and systemic trauma takes a toll on the minds and bodies of the undocumented and their loved ones, increasing their risk for poor health. The health of immigrant communities cannot be separated from the need for immigration reform and an end to deportations.

In order to address the lack of health care for undocumented immigrants, immigrant rights groups have been working hard to expand health-care access at the state level. In California, SB 4 or Health for All legislation was introduced to expand the state-level health-care program, Covered California, and Medi-Cal to cover uninsured residents, regardless of immigration status.

On April 13, immigrant rights organizations in California gathered in Sacramento to visit their legislators as part of this effort. At this gathering, thousands of immigrant rights organizers and advocates were able to meet with their representatives to address the urgent need for health-care services for undocumented immigrants.

(Photo: Sandy Valenciano/The California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance)(Photo: Sandy Valenciano/The California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance)
 
Akiko Aspillaga is a community organizer at ASPIRE, the first pan-Asian undocumented youth group in the country. With ASPIRE, Aspillaga has become one of the most active participants in the fight to expand health-care access for the undocumented community. During her visit to Sacramento, she shared a powerful testimony on why she joined this effort:

My mother is a Certified Nurse Assistant who cares for the older population. I am a Registered Nurse. Both of us are in the healthcare field, but ironically, we are not able to care for ourselves due to the lack of resources available to us. Give families like mine a chance to access healthcare without fear. The inclusion of undocumented people in Medi-Cal and Covered California is the first step to ensure that all Californians have access to healthcare.

If the goal of the ACA is to provide affordable health care, the ACA must be expanded to cover everyone, regardless of immigration status. The state-level approach to expand health-care access is not enough to address the national issue. Moreover, more studies are revealing that the current ACA is insufficient to solve the ongoing health-care crisis in the country.

  • The Commonwealth Fund ranked the US health-care system the worst among the 11 world's most developed countries based on the criteria of "efficiency, equity and outcomes."
  • The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report revealed that the US spends the most for their health-care system: 16.9 percent of GDP, almost twice of the OECD average of 9.3 percent.
  • The resources for health care are geared toward the wealthy. Half of all health-care spending ($623 billion) is going toward the top 5 percent.
  • The Physicians for a National Health Program's report estimates about 30 million people will still not have access to health care by 2023.
  • People in the US have to pay much more for the very same health services and drugs other countries use because the government does not negotiate drug prices for their people.
  • The US is the only developed country in the world that does not mandate a minimum of paid sick leave.

In order to solve the ongoing health-care crisis, the issue itself must be addressed from a holistic perspective to provide much needed health care for everyone. Ultimately, the current health-care system must be replaced with a single-payer system focusing on actual people who need health care. After all, the ACA is only a Band-Aid to cover the terminal illness this country has been suffering for decades.

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Opinion Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Deaths at Sea: Scant Hope for the Future From Europe's History of Failure on Migrants http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30474-deaths-at-sea-scant-hope-for-the-future-from-europe-s-history-of-failure-on-migrants http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30474-deaths-at-sea-scant-hope-for-the-future-from-europe-s-history-of-failure-on-migrants

Europe is today the deadliest migration destination in the world and the Mediterranean is becoming an open-air cemetery. In spite of worldwide condemnations – from civil society to global institutions such as UNHCR – the EU’s approach has been hopeless. While deploring deaths at sea, it has been unable, over the past three years, to act as the responsible political authority it ought to be – preferring to leave Italy to tackle the problem alone.

The tragedy unfolding in the Mediterranean is a severe blow for the European common migration and asylum policy. Thought of initially as an accompanying measure to the achievement of the EU single market by easing the freedom of movement of people internally, it has drifted towards a Fortress Europe for most outsiders.

In 2004, between 700 and 1,000 died each year as they tried to cross into Europe from Africa depending on whose numbers you consulted. This number almost tripled in 2011 and included migrants dying in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Malta, Italy, Spain, Algeria, Greece, but also people shot dead on the Moroccan-Spanish border in Ceuta and Melilla or drowned in the Evros river on the Greek-Turkish border.

Migrants have long tried to escape both poverty and violent conflict by crossing into Europe, but the consensus is that the building of a restrictive common EU migration policy – which allows fewer legal ways of coming to Europe – and more sophisticated surveillance to enforce this policy have contributed to this stark increase in the number of deaths.

So, one of the most popular migrant routes in 2004, the West African route – which involved taking sea passage from West African countries, mainly Senegal and Mauritania, into the Canary Islands – has become largely disused. Compared to the 31,600 illegal migrants detected by Frontex in 2008, only 275 migrants took this route in 2014.

Cooperation between Spain, Mauritania and Senegal involving more sophisticated surveillance – as well as repatriation agreements with West African countries which have returned thousands to their countries of origin – have prompted migrants to take different routes, mainly the central Mediterranean route that goes through Libya. The Gilbraltar strait is now well controlled by the Spanish Integrated System of External Vigilance which has forced migrants to divert via longer and more dangerous routes.

Since the fall of Gaddafi the absence of a stable government in Libya has caused a considerable disruption of border controls in and out of the country which has led human traffickers concentrate their efforts there. And it has also been reported that restrictive border controls in Israel and the Gulf – Saudi Arabia has built a 1,800km fence on its border with Yemen – has prompted many migrants, notably from East Africa, to head for Europe instead. After Syrians fleeing the civil war, Eritreans are the most common nationals found attempting the central Mediterranean route.

Mare Nostrum and Triton

Faced with the indecisiveness of its European partners over the migratory flows the Italian government unilaterally established its Mare Nostrum operation, which ran from October 2013 to October 2014 and patrolled 70,000km in the Sicily Straits at a cost of Euros 9m per month (US$9.6). This involved more than 900 Italian staff, 32 naval units and two submarines taking shifts amounting to more than 45,000 hours of active operations. The Italian navy reports that during the Mare Nostrum operation it engaged in 421 operations and saved 150.810 migrants, seizing 5 ships and bringing to justice 330 alleged smugglers.

But by the end of 2014 the burdens of running Mare Nostrum alone were becoming too much for Italy, which was keen to involve its European partners. The Triton programme, coordinated by the EU border agency Frontex and under the command of the Italian ministry of Interior, was duly established, on a much smaller scale than Mare Nostrum – Triton deploys two ocean patrol vessels, two coastal patrol vessels, two coastal patrol boats, two aircraft and a single helicopter.

It also has no mandate for rescue-at-sea operations since its job is to control EU’s external maritime and land borders. Before last week’s tragedy, 24,400 irregular migrants have been rescued since November 2014, mostly by Italy. Some 7,860 migrants were saved by assets co-financed by Frontex.

The horror at the rocketing numbers of deaths in the Mediterranean in recent weeks has at last prompted the EU to call for concerted action by its member states – and the ten-point action plan endorsed by European foreign and interior ministers on April 20 calls for an strengthening of Frontex Triton and Poseidon’s operations.

But the question of Frontex mandate on rescue at sea has not been addressed and nor has its inadequate budget, which is around Euro 2.9m monthly – just one-third of Mare Nostrum’s. Instead, increased cooperation between Europol, Eurojust, the European Asylum Support Office and Frontex and the deployment of immigration liaison officers to “gather intelligence on smugglers” are very vague action points which appear to merely repackage existing measures.

Needed: a joined-up policy

It is actually quite clear what the EU should be aiming for. First, a much larger rescue-at-sea operation should immediately be put in place. Since Italy halted Mare Nostrum, deaths at sea have increased rapidly. Its inadequate replacement, Triton, provides a convenient scapegoat for politicians who should never have mandated Frontex – the EU Border agency – for the task of rescue at sea in the first place. What is needed from the EU is to agree a collective system of rescue at sea – rather than relying on the efforts of individual EU member states.

Second, there must be safer, legal, avenues for asylum in Europe. Migrants are not just fleeing poverty, they are fleeing violence, danger and repression. At present most of them end up in Libya, which is in itself a very dangerous place; the hope of reaching safety in Europe prompts these refugees to risk highly perilous – and expensive – escape routes. Many are dying at sea.

This is not likely to go away anytime soon and building legal, virtual or real fences won’t help. For some of those migrants, Europe could offer humanitarian visas and others could take advantage of family reunion with relatives already in Europe. Employment programmes could identify jobs to fill key shortages in the European economy. Offering more and easier legal means would necessarily lead to a fall in irregular migration.

We also need to establish a joined-up policy involving not just destination countries, but places of origin and transit countries. For many years the EU has been relying on non-members to police its borders. This is a flawed approach – rather than simply offering financial compensation, the EU needs to revise its incentives and provide what these origin and transit countries want: visa facilitation and trade and access to the EU single market. It’s time to work out an effective cooperation, not merely trying to impose a top-down security agenda, which is doomed to fail. Also doomed to fail is the traditional approach which has relied on southern European states and their neighbours dealing with the surge of refugees.

The Dublin convention, which was established in 1990 to regulate the assignment of asylum applications processing, is surely no longer viable. A system that reassigns applications of asylum-seekers to the country they first entered puts southern Europe under excessive strain – especially as countries such as Greece lacks the capacity to host and process applications while observing their human rights obligations. The 2015 Tarakhel vs. Switzerland is the latest of a series of cases which highlight the inefficiency of that system. It is high time to review the notion of “burden-sharing” within the EU.

Not needed: the Australian solution

Tony Abbott’s suggestion that Europe should follow Australia’s example and simply turn boats back, or ship all rescued refugees and migrants to off-shore processing centres is certainly not a serious proposal. By diverting migrants to Papua New Guinea islands of Manus and Naura, Australia has been found to violate its international law obligations. Meanwhile, to Australia’s shame, Amnesty International has documented numerous human rights abuses in these processing centres.

Australia’s refugee policy is not only inhumane, but apparently rather expensive: AU$342.2m ($256.5) was spent by Australian Customs and Border Protection Service for its Civil Maritime Surveillance and Response programme – which involves policing illegal maritime arrivals.

Following Australia’s example is unrealistic as it relies so heavily on siting its offshore facilities in its neighbouring countries. Given the long-standing reluctance of north African and Middle Eastern countries to play that role – and given their own limited capacities, this is never going to work. The migratory flows are much larger, for a start.

Adopting Australian’s offshore processing of boat people would not only contravene EU and international law but would also probably reveal that the EU is going adrift and that, next to a governance crisis, it is undergoing a deep moral and ethical crisis.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Opinion Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Paradox of Thrift http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30473-the-paradox-of-thrift http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30473-the-paradox-of-thrift

President Obama at a town hall meeting on economic policy in Princeton, Ind., last October. (Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times)President Obama at a town hall meeting on economic policy in Princeton, Indiana, last October. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

As the economist Francesco Saraceno has noted, the International Monetary Fund's research department, which was always excellent, has become an extraordinary source of information and ideas in the Age of Blanchard. In particular, these days you can pretty much count on the semiannual World Economic Outlook to offer some dramatic new insights into how the world works.

And the latest edition is no exception.

The big intellectual news here is Chapter 4, which focuses on private investment. As the report notes, weak business investment has been a major reason for global economic weakness. But why is business investment so weak?

Broadly speaking, there are two views out there. One is that we have a lack of business confidence, driven by fiscal worries, a failure to make needed structural reforms and maybe even careless rhetoric. Conservatives in the United States in particular are fond of the "Ma! He's looking at me funny!" hypothesis: the claim that President Obama, by occasionally suggesting that some businessmen have behaved badly in the past, has hurt their feelings and perpetuated the economic slump.

The other view is that business investment is weak because the economy is weak. Specifically, the argument is that the effects of household deleveraging and fiscal consolidation have produced slow growth, which has reduced the incentive to add capacity - the "accelerator" effect - and led to low investment that has further reduced growth.

The IMF comes down strongly for the second view. In fact, it finds that investment, if anything, has held up a bit better than one might have expected in the face of economic weakness. This is, interestingly, something I concluded a while back after looking at data in the United States during the height of the he's-looking-at-me-funny era in 2010.

But wait, there's more.

In order to deal with the problem of reverse causation - less investment can cause weak growth, and vice versa - the IMF adopts an "instrumental variables" approach. Loosely speaking, the IMF looks for episodes of weak growth that are clearly caused by other factors, so that it can be sure that falling investment is an effect rather than a cause. And the instrument the fund uses is fiscal consolidation: That is, it finds cases where spending cuts or tax hikes, or both, depress demand and, hence, investment.

What the IMF doesn't say explicitly is that in using this procedure, it manages in passing both to refute a very widely held, but false, belief about deficits, and to confirm a highly controversial Keynesian proposition.

The false belief is that government deficits necessarily "crowd out" investment, so that reducing deficits should free up funds that lead to higher investment. Not so, says the IMF: When governments introduce deficit-reduction measures, investment falls instead of rising. This suggests that deficits crowd investment in, not out.

And there's another way to look at it: When governments introduce austerity measures, they are trying to reduce their net borrowing - in effect, they are raising their savings rate.

What the IMF tells us is that such attempts to increase saving actually lead to lower, not higher, investment - and since saving equals investment, actual savings fall. So what we have here is an empirical confirmation of the existence of the paradox of thrift!

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Opinion Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
National Guard Deployed as Baltimore Erupts After Years of Police Violence, Economic Neglect http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30472-national-guard-deployed-as-baltimore-erupts-after-years-of-police-violence-economic-neglect http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30472-national-guard-deployed-as-baltimore-erupts-after-years-of-police-violence-economic-neglect

Residents watch as police form a line outside their home in Baltimore, April 27, 2015. Baltimore erupted in violence on Monday, hours after Freddie Gray, who has become the nation's latest symbol of police brutality, was laid to rest. (Matt Roth/The New York Times)Residents watch as police form a line outside their home in Baltimore, April 27, 2015. Baltimore erupted in violence on Monday, hours after Freddie Gray, who has become the nation's latest symbol of police brutality, was laid to rest. (Photo: Matt Roth / The New York Times)

For the second time in six months, National Guard troops have been deployed in response to police brutality protests. Baltimore erupted in violence Monday night over the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old African-American man who died of neck injuries suffered in police custody after he was arrested for running. Police say at least 27 people were arrested as cars and stores were set on fire, and at least 15 officers were injured. Baltimore public schools are closed, and a weeklong curfew is in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Also Monday, thousands gathered to pay their respects during Freddie Gray’s funeral, including our guest, Rev. Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader, and president and founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Jackson says the violence "diverts attention away from the real issue" that West Baltimore is an "oasis of poverty and pain" where residents have long suffered from police abuse and economic neglect. We also speak with Lawrence Bell, former Baltimore City Council president. He grew up in and represented the impoverished area where Freddie Gray was arrested, and argues the "chickens are coming home to roost."

TRANSCRIPT:

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in The Hague in The Netherlands, but we begin today’s show in Baltimore, Maryland, where National Guard troops have been deployed following violent protests over the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old African-American man who died of neck injuries suffered in police custody after he was arrested for running. His family has said his spine was "80 percent severed" at the neck. Police say they arrested at least 27 people on Monday night. At least 15 police officers were injured during the uprising. Overnight, cars and stores were set on fire, including a CVS and a portion of an historic Italian deli that’s been in the city since 1908.

Following Ferguson, this marks the second time in six months the National Guard has been called to restore order after police brutality protests. This time, protests erupted in the West Baltimore neighborhood where Gray was first arrested for making eye contact with a lieutenant and then running away. On Monday night, Maryland Governor Hogan declared a state of emergency. Today, Baltimore’s public schools are closed, and a week-long curfew is in effect from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake addressed the city Monday night.

MAYOR STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE: What we see tonight that is going on in our city is very disturbing. It is very clear there is a difference between what we saw over the past week with the peaceful protests, those who wish to seek justice, those who wish to be heard and want answers, and the difference between those protests and the thugs, who only want to incite violence and destroy our city.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier on Monday, thousands gathered to pay their respects during Freddie Gray’s funeral, including Maryland Democratic Congressmember Elijah Cummings, a delegation from the White House, and the family of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died after a New York City police officer put him in a banned chokehold. This is Gray family attorney Billy Murphy.

WILLIAM MURPHY: You know, most of us are not here because we knew Freddie Gray, but we’re all here because we know lots of Freddie Grays. Let’s dont’ kid ourselves. We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for video cameras. Instead of one cover-up behind that blue wall after another cover-up behind that blue wall, and one lie after another lie, now we see the truth as never before. It’s not a pretty picture.

AMY GOODMAN: Baltimore police say they expect to present a report on Gray’s death to the state’s attorney’s office by Friday, but officials have not said when the report will be made public. Six officers involved in Gray’s arrest have been suspended with pay.

Well, for more, we go to Baltimore, where we’re joined by two guests. The Reverend Jesse Jackson is with us, civil rights leader, president and founder of Rainbow PUSH Coalition. He spoke at Freddie Gray’s funeral Monday. And Lawrence Bell rejoins us, former Baltimore City Council president. He represented West Baltimore, which is the area where Freddie Gray was arrested.

We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Reverend Jackson, let’s begin with you. Your reaction to what took place last night, as well as your message in the funeral of Freddie Gray?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, what happened last night was very disturbing. It was a expression of hopelessness and self-destructive violence, which diverts attention away from the real issues. For example, Fred Gray was the 111th [inaudible] killed by a policeman since 2011—one-one-one, not just the first one. Secondly, in that same area, unemployment is 30 percent. There are 18,000 vacant homes or abandoned lots, because government—because banks ran subprime lending and predatory lending on people. The banks got bailed out; the people got left out. So the abounding poverty, because you have the most people in that area who have been to prison who come out and can’t vote and then can’t get the job because they’ve been to prison. So you have—you really have this oasis of poverty and pain, and you must, beside last night, address the structural crisis in Baltimore and urban America, period.

AMY GOODMAN: Lawrence Bell, the area that you represented when you were in the City Council is the area where Freddie Gray was arrested—arrested, again, according to the lieutenant, she made eye contact with him, and he ran away, and that was grounds for arresting him. Can you talk about this community where—that you have represented for so long?

LAWRENCE BELL: Well, in fact, I was actually born a few blocks away from where the incident occurred, so it really touches me personally. You know, I think that there have been years of neglect, not only of West Baltimore, but all over the inner city of Baltimore. And I think that the chickens are coming home to roost. I mean, this is a tale of two cities. This has been going on for a long time, not only the police abuse, which escalated in the early 2000s under the zero-tolerance policy of Martin O’Malley, but also just the economic violence that has been committed against a people. And you have a lot of young people, many of whom have already been arrested because of the mass arrests that have gone on in Baltimore City. They see no hope. They see no way out. And they’re acting out, unfortunately, and it says that we’ve got to wake up and do something.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Amy, I think also, we were in church yesterday, where governor noticed that the gangs were coming together, and they want to shoot a police. Immediately there was a kind of panicky move to do a lockdown on the city. There were several schools, when the public transportation stopped, did not have a way home. You had thousands of kids on the streets with no way to get home, because when the city went to lockdown rather than a policeman get shot, transportation stopped, businesses closed, and kids had nowhere to go. In that environment, the whole thing exploded.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. This is just after he announced the state of emergency and activated the National Guard to respond to unrest in Baltimore.

GOV. LARRY HOGAN: Everybody believes we need to get to the answers and resolve this situation, the concern everybody has about what exactly happened in the Freddie Gray incident. That’s one whole situation. This is an entirely different situation. This is lawless gangs of thugs roaming the streets, causing damage to property and injuring innocent people, and we’re not going to tolerate that.

AMY GOODMAN: "Lawless gangs of thugs," Reverend Jackson. Your response?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, I think such language does not aid the situation. For example, those people, those bankers who engaged in subprime and predatory lending and took people’s homes and drove them out of the middle class into poverty, what is their name? Or 111 killings in three years in one area, what do you call those who did the killing, when there was no camera? When you look at 30 percent unemployment, TIF money spent downtown for the big new Baltimore, and pension money and banking money. So you have, as Brother Bell says, you have downtown blossoming, booming Baltimore, and then you have the rest of them. Now, we did not engage in name calling on that matter, but we do know that that strategy does not work. And we really need to look at, Amy, the Kerner Commission Report of 50 years ago. It says when you have this radical racial divide and economic divide, there must be some remedy, not just reaction.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Jackson, can you also respond to Freddie Gray’s arrest? This issue of—this is according to the police, that he made eye contact with the lieutenant and ran away, that’s what they allege. The attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, the police union, said running in a high-crime area is grounds for arrest.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, you know, it’s interesting enough that police here and firemen have the right to work in the city and live in the suburbs. Some live as far away as York, Pennsylvania. And so they come in as an occupying force, not as neighbors. So, often people are afraid of them, because they’re not taxpaying neighbors whose children go to school with their children. So there is this gap between police and people. And you really ought to have residential requirements for policemen and firemen. Those who get nectar from the flower should sow pollen where they pick up nectar.

AMY GOODMAN: Baltimore Orioles chief operating officer John Angelos, who is the son of the owner, Peter Angelos, took to Twitter this weekend to defend the Baltimore protests after they were attacked on local sports radio. He wrote, quote, "my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state." Again, so wrote Baltimore Orioles chief operating officer John Angelos, who is the son of the owner, Peter Angelos. Reverend Jackson?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: You can’t get any better than that, because you have this combination of guns in, drugs in, jobs out, and alienation between those who live in the surplus and those who live in the deficit. So there are some causal factors that must not be ignored. We regret that there was the expression of street violence last night, because, one reason, it’s not redemptive; two, it diverts attention from the agenda put on that letter. We should be discussing today the Kerner Report as opposed to what happened last night. But there is a cause-effect relationship. But we should do well not to panic in the face of last night, and move toward the remedies. Since this is so close to Washington, why not make this an urban model for reconstruction?

LAWRENCE BELL: Let me also add to what Reverend Jackson just said. You know, back in the 1930s, my grandfather came from North Carolina to Baltimore with very little education and got a good-paying job at Bethlehem Steel. Now, those—like the grandparents of many of those young people out there yesterday, those jobs have dried up. And this is a generation that—where there are too many people seeking too few jobs in Baltimore City. They are disadvantaged. And then, on top of that—and I do agree with the comments of Mr. Angelos—you know, people on the street in Sandtown, in Mondawmin, in West Baltimore, they know already what happened to Freddie Gray. And the thing that concerns us is that if so many people know what happened, they know the officer that was involved, they know how he was killed, if they know, why don’t the police know? Why doesn’t the mayor know? Why doesn’t—why isn’t that announced sooner? So it says something about the priorities in that area. And something really has to change soon.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: And this blue code of [inaudible], it means that police must—will not police other police. They know who engage in violence and excessive force. And because police will not tell on police—gangbangers will not tell on gangbangers, getting that model from adults. The corruption of the relationship between people and police, that corrupt relationship must end.

AMY GOODMAN: This is a clip from a video report by The Real News Network titled "A Walk Through the Neighborhood Where Freddie Gray Lived and Died," in which reporter Stephen Janis follows reporter and former prisoner Eddie Conway and our guest, Lawrence Bell, as they visit a rundown basketball court in the Gilmor Homes housing project, where Freddie Gray was arrested.

LAWRENCE BELL: I have a lot of interest in this community, and I’m saddened to see how things have gone downhill.

STEPHEN JANIS: This week, Bell joined The Real News correspondent Eddie Conway to talk about politics, crime and punishment, and what needs to happen to improve the city he loves.

LAWRENCE BELL: This city has been socially, economic and politically subdued and downtrodden so much in the last several years that people don’t even complain about it anymore. And they’re afraid to.

STEPHEN JANIS: The discussion took place against a symbolic backdrop for both men: a dilapidated basketball court in the Gilmor Homes housing project in West Baltimore, left in disrepair by the city for nearly 17 years. Conway has raised money to fix the court, but the city has blocked his efforts.

EDDIE CONWAY: So we’ve got a company that’s certified, that does this, that’s donating some of the stuff.

LAWRENCE BELL: OK.

EDDIE CONWAY: And they’re going to be in from the beginning to the end to make sure it’s done.

STEPHEN JANIS: The city told us the community was divided on whether they wanted the court rebuilt. But residents we spoke to said they supported fixing it.

GILMOR HOMES RESIDENT: Look at it. This court ain’t been up since I was about three. I ain’t seen these goals up—

EDDIE CONWAY: Yeah, yeah.

GILMOR HOMES RESIDENT: From my own visual eyes, I ain’t seen them up yet.

AMY GOODMAN: That report from The Real News Network. Lawrence Bell, if you would like to elaborate further, and also, can you talk about the calls for the autopsy report to be released, and what more you feel needs to be done?

LAWRENCE BELL: Well, you know, the great irony is that that walk that I did with Eddie Conway happened just a few days before the incident. You know, it’s amazing.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Before?

LAWRENCE BELL: Right before that happened. We didn’t know that was going to happen. We happened to be there. And it just underscored what we were talking about. People are very upset. There is a lack of interest in just valuing the people that live in the neighborhood. And it’s been exacerbated by this situation, because we think information needs to come out a lot sooner. You know, people have seen these shows like 48 Hours, where they’re told that within the first two days or so, law enforcement should have an idea of what happened in a homicide. And here we see, nearly two weeks after this incident—everybody in that neighborhood and all the people in the street know. I’ve talked to people. I’ve talked to police officers. And as Reverend Jackson said earlier, one of the problems we have—and this is something here in Baltimore and all around the country that needs to be dealt with—is that even when we have African-American police and even well-intentioned white police officers, who see something that goes wrong, and they know somebody, as in this instance—and matter of fact, in this instance, the primary perpetrator was known to be racist. He was known to be negative in that neighborhood. Everybody knew it over in Western District, and he was still—he’s still been there. Now, when so many people know what’s going—

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Other incidents on tape.

LAWRENCE BELL: On tape. And there are people who saw it. They know where the paddy wagon stopped, when they took the young man out, they beat him up again. They have all these people who know this. Why has it taken two weeks to come out with a report, with an autopsy? If this had happened right after the incident, and someone was being fired immediately, OK, and people were let go, this would not have escalated to this point. So I think it’s a lesson for all of us here—

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 20 seconds.

LAWRENCE BELL: —and throughout the country.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: That’s what the man in Charleston, South Carolina, did.

AMY GOODMAN: We have 20 seconds. I want—

REV. JESSE JACKSON: He moved quickly.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke at Freddie Gray’s funeral yesterday, founder, president of PUSH now. And thank you so much to Lawrence Bell for being with us, former Baltimore City Council president, represented West Baltimore, which is the area where Freddie Gray was arrested.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, the first Iranian to win the Nobel Peace Prize, weighs in on the Iran compromise. She’s one of the chief critics of the Iranian regime, but says that the Iranian nuclear deal should be supported. Stay with us.

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News Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The US Has Nearly 600 Coal Waste Sites: Why They've Got West Virginians Worried http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30471-the-us-has-nearly-600-coal-waste-sites-why-they-ve-got-west-virginians-worried http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30471-the-us-has-nearly-600-coal-waste-sites-why-they-ve-got-west-virginians-worried

Marsh Fork Elementary, deep in West Virginia coal country, is shut down and fenced in, a fine layer of dirt covering its once-cheerful sign: "Staff-Students-Parents Working Together." Next door, the Goals Coal Prep Plant still plugs away, treating coal mined just a few miles away and pumping the byproducts of that treatment up into the sky.

Junior Walk, 25, a former student, points to an earthen dam visible from the driveway to the school. The school lies in a narrow valley between two long ridges. The Marsh Fork carves a path between, and the two-lane WV-3 runs alongside it. Bare winter trees and brush open up to a field surrounding the school. Above the former elementary, rock and refuse from mountaintop removal mining holds back 2.8 billion gallons of liquid slurry.

Behind the barrier, a "slurry impoundment," as it's called in the industry, contains byproducts from the prep plant and drainage from a 2,000-acre surface mining site that surrounds it. The slurry, which contains fine particles and chemicals used to "clean" and prepare coal for sale, may bear some resemblance to the 108,000 gallons of slurry that blackened a West Virginia creek a year ago in February. That slurry also came from a coal preparation plant.

There are nearly 600 slurry impoundments in the U.S., many of them concentrated in in the coal-mining territories of Appalachia. Local activists in West Virginia argue that these impoundments pose a huge danger to surrounding communities due to the chemical composition of these lakes of slurry, along with the fact that many are held back by potentially unstable dams made of mining rubble—dams that have fatally failed before.

In January 2013, classes started at a new Marsh Fork Elementary after years of effort on the part of local groups, such as Coal River Mountain Watch, to move the school from this potentially dangerous area. Impoundments like these have collapsed before, and Walk, outreach coordinator for CRMW, says it may be only a matter of time before another collapses. Locals are also worried that slurry is poisoning underground water reserves, but as with many coal industry controversies, empirical evidence is lacking on both sides of the debate.

Locals lobby for more information

Walk isn't the only one worried about potential impacts of coal slurry on the people and environments surrounding waste sites. In 2009, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection imposed a moratorium on the approval of new coal slurry injection sites. These sites are abandoned underground mines, another place where coal slurry is commonly stored. That moratorium is still in effect, as far as CRMW members can tell. The WVDEP did not return repeated calls to confirm this.

Vernon Haltom considers the moratorium a hard-fought victory for the Sludge Safety Project, one of the first organizations to focus on slurry impoundments and safety issues when it was founded in 2004. Haltom is with Coal River Mountain Watch, which co-founded the Sludge Safety Project with another Appalachia-based group, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. Since 2004, a major focus of the SSP has been its lobbying for more information and scientific studies surrounding the safety of slurry impoundments and injection.

"What our safety project did was get citizens and scientists to testify at the hearings and speak to the legislature," Haltom explains. But lobbying didn't happen in 2014 because of what Haltom calls "a certain amount of lack of return on our investment. … The legislature didn't get any friendlier these last couple elections." Today, the SSP operates as a part of the larger citizen enforcement groups in the area.

In 2012, West Virginia delegate Mike Manypenny introduced a bill to ensure the moratorium enacted in 2009 was permanent until additional research into the safety of slurry injection had been performed.

"The studies that have been done are on the slurry that goes in and the water outfalls that come out the mine pools," Manypenny said in a 2012 article on the website of West Virginia University's School of Public Health. "There's never been a true in-mine pool study to determine what's really happening to the coal slurry."

There was no further action on the bill after its first day, however. A similar bill in 2011 made it further, achieving House and Senate committee votes.

More information could be life-changing for people like Alfred Ray Price. Price worked for 19 years at a coal preparation plant, where the slurry is produced. At age 47, he stopped working because of his health, and today he lives in a world of unknowns, suffering from cognitive disorders for which no one can pinpoint the source.

Part of Price's job at the prep plant was spraying antifreeze into coal cars to keep coal from sticking to the sides. He remembers the sweet taste of the antifreeze as it glanced off the cars back into his face and down his throat.

"They told us it was antifreeze," Price says, "and I asked them if it was harmful, and of course they said no. And I asked for safety data sheets, and I never was given one."

Stories like these are common but almost impossible to confirm. It is also nearly impossible to draw a direct link between the health problems that workers like Price have experienced later in life and their chemical exposure on the job—time introduces too many unknowns, and even if chemical exposure were pinpointed as the cause of Price's health problems, who is to say that the inciting chemical was at his workplace and not in his well water? Meanwhile, there's no single way for doctors to link health problems to working conditions in the coal industry.

"There is no characteristic sign and no characteristic lab test except for the measure of the chemical itself in the human body," explains Dr. Alan M. Ducatman, who has had many coal-industry workers as patients. And, he adds, many chemicals don't leave traces over the long term.

In danger of collapse?

In 2000, the Big Branch Slurry Impoundment near Inez, West Virginia, collapsed into an underground mine and 309 million gallons of slurry were spilled. Many called it one of the worst environmental disasters in the southeastern U.S. The worst impoundment failure in U.S. history happened in 1972, at Buffalo Creek, West Virginia, and was caused by heavy rain and structural deficiencies, which led to a 132-million-gallon spill that killed 125 people.

"Now you compare that to the Brushy Fork impoundment, which sits a mile above my parents' house," says Walk. "Largest earthen dam in the Western Hemisphere, [taller] than the Hoover Dam, holds back 7.8 billion gallons—billion gallons—of this toxic waste." If the dam ever breaks, Walk says, "My parents and my family would be some of the first in the path."

Estimates of Brushy Fork's capacity range from 6.5 billion to 8.5 billion gallons, amounting to about 64 times more slurry than was spilled at Buffalo Creek. Brushy Fork's owner, Alpha Natural Resources, says the contents are mostly solid, not liquid; a 2007 evacuation plan states only the upper 30 feet of material would be "flowable." But that same plan also estimates that, in a worst-case scenario, a wave from the collapse of the Brushy Fork impoundment could reach as high as 72 feet, and travel for miles into surrounding communities.

In the Elk Creek chemical spill near Charleston that caused a national uproar in January 2014, just about 7,500 gallons leaked from the Freedom Industries storage tanks.

These aren't isolated incidents. A federal study conducted in 2011 found that embankments holding back the slurry at seven impoundment sites were "not consistently being compacted in accordance with approved specifications." Just 16 out of 73 field density tests conducted at these sites met specifications.

In response to the study, Nancy Gravatt, senior vice president of communications for the National Mining Association, wrote in an email, "Our industry works closely to ensure federal and state guidelines are followed and to prevent slurry impoundments from failing."

She added that slurry impoundments are built to strict specifications and highly regulated.

"Impoundment design plans, prepared under the direction of certified and registered professional engineers and geologists, are complemented by rigorous inspection procedures followed by federal and state inspectors," Gravatt wrote.

Although other studies conducted by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which regulates impoundment design, operation, and construction, have seen more encouraging numbers, they have also identified potential hazards.

A study published in 2013 by the OSMRE looked at the permits for 15 high-risk slurry impoundments in West Virginia, and identified administrative or design concerns on 11 of those permits. When companies decide not to add any more slurry to an impoundment, such impoundments are often "capped," meaning they are covered and generally planted with vegetation. But the 2013 report also raised concerns that once an impoundment has been capped, the state of West Virginia doesn't take special precautions to ensure that new underground mining doesn't occur close to the basin. One impoundment, Crooked Run, was closed because of its breakthrough potential, yet the report noted that new mining has taken place beneath the impoundment.

Meanwhile, some worry that disposing of slurry in impoundments and underground mines threaten local water sources. While there's not enough evidence to say this happens on a regular basis, there have been a few studies on the topic, including a 2004 study prepared by Dr. Ben M. Stout III and research assistant Jomana Papillo, both of Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia. For the study, 15 wells within 2 air miles of West Virginia's Sprouse Creek Surface Impoundment were sampled; this followed reports of occasional "blackwater" in wells, the source of water for many area residents. Lead, arsenic, and other metals were discovered in several wells, and primary drinking standards for various metals were exceeded 13 times.

In March, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's administration announced that it would be taking a "closer look" at scientific studies that have connected mountaintop removal coal mining with premature death, cancer, birth defects, and other illnesses. Haltom is cautiously hopeful that Dr. Rahul Gupta, recently appointed the health commissioner of West Virginia, will guide the state's policies in a new direction.

But Haltom is also hoping that newly introduced federal legislation could address these issues. The Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act (H.R. 912) was introduced in Congress in February and seeks to broaden scientific research into the health impacts of mountaintop removal mining.

"It's pretty clear that we need federal intervention," Haltom said. "It feels like we're a third-world country appealing to the United States for assistance."

Impoundment alternatives

A 2002 National Academy of Sciences report listed several alternatives to slurry impoundments, and recommended that these be studied throughout the mining community. These include the use of slurry for power generation, alternative combustion technologies that could reduce the production of slurry, and dewatering, which creates a thicker, more solid substance.

For now, the way to make existing slurry impoundments safer is through "reclamation." The idea is that eventually water and heavy materials separate and water runs off or evaporates, leaving the heavier materials behind. These are eventually covered, and topped with soil and seed. However, some argue that not enough is done to reduce the hazards of the materials that remain.

"I seriously question whether those solids ever actually dry out," says Rob Goodwin, who has collaborated with such organizations as CRMW and works on mining enforcement issues.

Moreover, regulations don't address the time frame over which reclamation should occur.

"From the point at which they stop injecting slurry into the impoundment to the point where they're required to have it completely reclaimed, there's no time limit there," Goodwin explains. "At the very, very, very soonest, you're talking like 25 years. There's very, very few impoundments out there that have been reclaimed and achieved that status."

A reclaimed impoundment "has to be maintained forever" in order to be truly safe, Stout says. "That is similar to a nuclear waste site; of course, it's not as dangerous."

Ending the "resource colony"

Walk remembers his family's well running red water when he was a child. He blames underground slurry disposal for the color of that water.

"They pump it into old underground coal mines, which is what they did on the ridgeline above my home, and they were blasting right on top of it for a surface mine, and it just seeped into the aquifers, got into our wells, and that's what happened to our water," he says.

Walk and local organizations like the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition have called for an end to "sacrifice zones," wherein people who live in coal mining areas are asked to forfeit their needs for a greater prosperity.

"The thing is, this part of southern West Virginia has been essentially a resource colony for the past 150 years for the rest of the United States. It's been under the thumb of extractive industries. First it was logging, and then it was coal. Now it's coming to look like it's going to be natural gas," Walk says. "I, for one, am sick and tired of the people from my state being expected to go to work in a mine for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and break their backs and kill themselves to make all kinds of money for somebody sitting up on Wall Street."

Walk worked at coal preparation plants for less than a year before he started taking on an activist role.

"You know, when you're a little kid and you're going to school, you don't think nothing of it. You figure every elementary school's got a prep plant in the backyard. It wasn't until I got older, got to travel a little bit—I realized not everybody has to live this way. This isn't the American way of life."

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News Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400