Truthout Stories Tue, 04 Aug 2015 09:52:05 -0400 en-gb As Obama Ramps Up Climate Battle, McConnell Readies Counterattack

Washington - Your move, Mitch McConnell.

The just-released Clean Power Plan from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is a far-reaching attempt to cut the amount of carbon pollution pumped into the atmosphere, all in a bid to help curtail climate change. It's part of President Barack Obama's legacy-building climate change agenda, designed to make the United States an international leader in addressing the issue in advance of major talks set for Paris at the end of the year.

The plan's formal release comes with what the administration said will be an "all-out climate push" by the White House, with the president scheduled to hit the road to sell his vision for attacking climate change."Climate change is not a problem for another generation," the president says in a video the White House released this week to detail the plan's environmental and health benefits. "Not anymore."

And while he's on the road, McConnell – the Senate majority leader, a Republican from coal-rich Kentucky – will be doing whatever he can to undermine it.

McConnell laid out his case in a statement Monday on the Senate floor, saying that the rule would hurt workers and possibly even the environment, as energy production is outsourced to nations with poor environmental records.

"It represents a triumph of blind ideology over sound policy and honest compassion," McConnell said. "And in Kentucky, these regulations would likely mean fewer jobs, shuttered power plants, and higher electricity costs for families and businesses. I will not sit by while the White House takes aim at the lifeblood of our state's economy. I'm going to keep doing everything I can to fight them."

Even before the White House and the EPA came out with their plan, McConnell has been laying the groundwork for a major challenge to it. First elected to the Senate in 1984, McConnell became Senate majority leader when Republicans took over the body this year – and in that role, McConnell is in a key position to oversee the interests of his party's agenda as well as the needs of his coal-country constituents.

He joined a Senate Appropriations subcommittee this year specifically so he could oversee the EPA's budget – and the influence that agency has over his state.

"Leader McConnell's actions on this issue have literally changed the game," said Bill Bissett, president the Kentucky Coal Association, an industry group. "His 'just say no' policy that he's suggested to all 50 governors really moved the issue forward, and I think started a drumbeat of discontent."

Bissett added that the EPA expected "some response, some negatively, harsh letter-writing" – but nothing like it has received. "The EPA, we've heard, has been absolutely caught flat-footed regarding this criticism," he said.

The Clean Power Plan was announced in draft form in June 2014 and finalized this week. It's designed to shift power production from carbon-heavy sources such as coal to cleaner ones. That shift is already under way in many states, while other have – or will –struggle to do so.

The news this week is merely a continuation of a battle that's been underway for more than a year. On Monday, Obama and the EPA formally announced the final version of the plan, which differs in some details from the draft but keeps the same general structure.

It gives individual states carbon-reduction targets and lets them work alone or with neighbors to modify their mix of coal, natural gas and renewables such as wind to achieve those targets. The plan seeks to cut power-sector carbon pollution by 32 percent from 2005 levels.

"Just say no" is a reference to one of the strategies McConnell is using to try and derail the Clean Power Plan.

In a March letter to governors across the nation, McConnell said he has "serious legal and policy concerns" about the plan and that "it is the EPA that is failing to comply with the law here."

In the three-page letter, McConnell reviewed a list of reasons for what he said was the plan's questionable legal underpinnings and urged states to "carefully review the consequences before signing up for this deeply misguided plan. I believe you will find, as I have, that the EPA's proposal goes far beyond its legal authority and that the courts are likely to strike it down."

Rather than submitting state-specific plans now, he said, states should allow the courts to rule on the merits of the overall Clean Power Plan.

That the plan will be challenged in court is a given, and as soon as the rule is formally published in the Federal Register some states and industry groups will pounce.

But Ann Weeks, senior counsel and legal director for the Clean Air Task Force, said it's clear the president has the authority to do what he's doing on the power plan. One recent U.S. Supreme Court case that challenged aspects of a separate EPA clean-air rule still let that basic rule stand.

"It's quite clear there will be challenges to what they do," Weeks said. "But that's always the case. Everything the EPA does is challenged in court. Everything. Always. But is there legal authority to regulate power plants to control carbon dioxide emissions? Yes. I think that's very clear."

Whatever becomes of the legal push-back, McConnell and others in Congress are employing another strategy to try and derail the power plan: tacking what are known as "riders" onto other pieces of legislation, seeking to force the administration's hand.

In a recent appropriations bill, McConnell inserted language that prohibits the administration from retaliating against states that don't submit a state implementation plan under the Clean Power Plan, thus effectively neutralizing it.

It's one of multiple riders on both the House and Senate appropriations bills that seek to hamstring EPA activities on the Clean Power Plan and other regulations. The White House has challenged those efforts, deriding "numerous highly problematic ideological provisions that have no place in funding legislation."

What the rider strategy is setting up is a game of climate change chicken, one in which Republicans in Congress are trying to make Obama back down from what is a key part of his legacy.

It's certain Obama would veto any spending bill with riders attached that kill the climate change plan, said Norman Ornstein, a centrist scholar on politics and Congress at the American Enterprise Institute.

And the Republicans don't have enough votes to override the president's veto, so a government shutdown could result.

"I don't see much chance at all that they can use the appropriations process to accomplish the goal," Ornstein said of the Republican strategy.

"I think the bottom-line reality of this is that all the leverage when it comes to these showdowns is with the president," Ornstein said. "Republicans, in the leadership at least, understand full well that if you shut down the government, they will get blamed."

McConnell could attempt to negotiate with the White House on a continuing resolution to keep the government running, offering to trade spending on other areas for an easing of the climate change rules.

But Obama is not likely to agree to that, and many Republicans – including senators running for president – won't support a deal for more spending, Ornstein said.

News Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Feds Call for More Scrutiny of Nursing Home Errors Involving Blood Thinner

The federal government is asking health inspectors nationwide to be on the lookout for errors by nursing homes in managing the blood thinner Coumadin, including those that lead to patient hospitalizations and deaths. In a memo sent last month to state health departments, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cited a report that focused on the harm caused by homes' failure to manage the drug.

Nursing home(Image: Nursing home via Shutterstock)

The federal government is asking health inspectors nationwide to be on the lookout for errors by nursing homes in managing the blood thinner Coumadin, including those that lead to patient hospitalizations and deaths.

In a memo sent last month to state health departments, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cited a report by ProPublica and The Washington Post that focused on the harm caused by homes' failure to manage the drug.

The analysis of government inspection reports found that, between 2011 and 2014, at least 165 nursing home residents were hospitalized or died after errors involving Coumadin or its generic version, warfarin. In some cases, homes gave residents too much of the drug, which caused internal bleeding. In other cases, they gave residents too little, leading to blood clots and strokes.

ProPublica's findings "highlighted the adverse effects of poor Coumadin management for our beneficiaries and nursing home stakeholders," Thomas Hamilton, director of CMS' survey and certification group, said in a written response to questions from ProPublica. "We wanted the public to have confidence that CMS is aware of this as well as other high risk medications."

In its July 17 memo, CMS – the federal agency that regulates nursing homes – also told state health departments that inspect nursing homes on its behalf about a new tool for identifying and reducing medication errors. The tool, developed with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, is designed to help determine whether nursing homes are taking adequate steps to prevent mistakes and whether they respond appropriately if they occur.

Although Coumadin has clear benefits and is life-saving for those taking the right dose, a number of peer-reviewed studies suggest that it is can be dangerous if not closely monitored. A 2007 study in The American Journal of Medicine estimated that nursing home residents suffer 34,000 fatal, life-threatening or serious events each year related to the drug.

Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services identified Coumadin and other anticoagulants as a category of drugs frequently implicated in "adverse drug events" and called on government agencies to work on solutions.

"Adverse events related to high risk medications can have devastating effects to nursing home residents," the July 17 memo said. "We are very concerned about the prevalence of adverse events involving such medications."

Despite such evidence, Coumadin deaths and hospitalizations have drawn far less attention than other problems in nursing homes, including the use of antipsychotic medications. Such medications can put elderly patients into a stupor and increase their risk of falls.

Officials with the American Health Care Association, a trade group for the nursing home industry, said that they want to know whether the government intends to use its new medication error tool as a means to help nursing homes improve or a way to punish them.

"This document is written to detect stuff after the fact, to catch folks if they've done something wrong," said David Gifford, the group's senior vice president of quality and regulatory affairs. "I'm a little worried about that. We'll wait and see."

About 1 in 6 of the nation's 1.3 million nursing home residents take an anticoagulant, according to federal data from earlier this year; the majority are believed to be on Coumadin or its generic.

Newer anticoagulants such as Eliquis, Pradaxa and Xarelto have entered the market in recent years and, in some ways, are easier to use than Coumadin. Patients taking these drugs don't need regular blood tests and don't have to avoid certain foods.

But unlike Coumadin, the effects of which can be reversed with vitamin K, there's currently no antidote if patients taking the newer drugs begin bleeding uncontrollably.

Janet Snipes, administrator at Holly Heights Care Center in Denver, recently discussed her home's approach to preventing Coumadin errors on a national call with other nursing home leaders. Nursing supervisors in every unit monitor a document that tracks each patient on Coumadin, their dose, the rate at which their blood clots, their ideal clotting rate, when tests are ordered, whether they have been performed, and whether doctors have been identified.

"If there's a mistake, we want a system in place so that it's caught," Snipes said. "People get busy and they forget things but if you have a system, then it gets caught."

This story was co-published with The Washington Post.

News Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Chris Matthews Is a Shill for the Insider Machine

24 August, 2008: MSNBC TV pundit Chris Matthews speaks during a live broadcast from the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. (Photo via Shutterstock)MSNBC TV pundit Chris Matthews speaks during a live broadcast from the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, August, 2008. (Photo: Juli Hansen /

Mahatma Gandhi supposedly once said about all successful political revolutionaries that "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

Gandhi was, of course, talking about his own struggle against British colonialism, but his famous line is as relevant today as it was in the 1920s or 1930s.

Case in point: how the powers-that-be and their allies in the mainstream media are responding to Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign.

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

First, they ignored him.

Then, when Bernie started surging in the polls and they couldn't get away with ignoring him, they laughed at him and said he was just another long-shot protest candidate.

When that didn't work, they went on the attack, seeking to paint Bernie as bad on race, guns, and immigration.

Now the mainstream media has started going after Bernie for, you guessed, it being a "socialist."

The man leading this line of attack is MSNBC's Chris Matthews, who first brought it up on an episode of "Hardball" Thursday night when he asked Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz the difference between a "Democrat like Hillary Clinton and a socialist like Bernie Sanders."

Schultz couldn't give a straight answer and flubbed the question once again when Chuck Todd asked her it on "Meet the Press" yesterday.

That's when Chris Matthews, who was also a guest on "Meet the Press" yesterday, stepped in and gave the answer he'd been looking for all along.

The difference between socialist and Democrats, Matthews said, was that socialists want the government to control the entire economy while Democrats just want to make small reforms to the economy help out the poor.

Matthews went on to say that the reason Debbie Wasserman Schultz wasn't making the distinction between socialists and Democrats was that she didn't "want to offend the Bernie people."

First things first, Chris Matthews is totally wrong about Bernie Sanders and socialism.

I know Bernie, and if there's one thing I've learned from years of talking to him, it's that he's not a socialist, or at least not the kind of socialist Chris Matthews says he is.

He's a democratic socialist, which as he explained to George Stephanopoulos earlier this year, just means that he wants to make the US more like Scandinavia, a region, by the way, that has a flourishing market economy and is home to four of Forbes' top 10 countries to do business in.

Got that? All Bernie Sanders wants to do is make the US more like Scandinavia. He doesn't want the government to take over the economy. I repeat, he doesn't want the government to take over the economy.

And that's because state control over the economy isn't a democratic socialist idea.

Sure, it's a communist idea, but democratic socialists like Bernie have zero interest in Soviet-style communism.

They're all about regulated capitalism; they just don't want it having anything to do with the commons.

Sounds pretty harmless, right?

Not if you're Chris Matthews.

You won't hear this on "Fox So-Called News," CNN, MSNBC, or any of the traditional letter networks, but the real divide in Washington isn't between Democrats and Republicans, it's between insiders and outsiders.

Insiders are like the mafia.

If you've proven your insider bonafides by not straying too far outside what DC elites think is "acceptable," then you're a made man who can do no wrong.

But if you do stray outside the acceptable limits of beltway opinion, and start actually calling for real change, then prepare to catch the wrath of the insider elite.

This is what's going on right now with Chris Matthews' Bernie Sanders socialism obsession.

Bernie is one of the few true outsiders in DC politics, and his success terrifies career insiders like Chris Matthews because it threatens all the power and influence they've gobbled up over the years.

Insiders vs. outsiders - it really is as simple as that.

And that's something everyone needs to remember as the 2016 presidential campaign moves forward, because the attacks aren't just going to come from the right - they're going to come from all over the place from insiders who want to keep the status quo in place and their multi-million dollar paychecks coming.

Opinion Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Voting Should Not Be a Wedge Issue

Hillary Clinton launched her summer of policy speeches last month with a stirring call for voting rights, including overdue expansions of early voting and automatic voter registration. I happen to agree with everything she said. I'm just worried she's the one saying it.

The stirring call, coming from the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, inadvertently escalates partisan rancor around what should be a question of routine civil administration.

Bring back the boring. Add a dash of bland competence.

America needs less partisanship in voting. But in her kick-off policy speech, Clinton took the gloves off to fire up her base, taunting Republican presidential contenders by name for their attacks on voting rights: Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie. They have "undercut [a] fundamental American principle."

They counter attacked. "She just wants an opportunity to commit greater acts of voter fraud around the country," New Jersey Gov. Christie barked. Her efforts "defy logic," asserted Wisconsin's Gov. Walker, adding that early voting and automatic voter registration represent "extreme views ... far outside the mainstream."

Election administration in the United States should not be polarized, fraught or risky.

Too often now election officials look to criminal laws to help them do their jobs. Instead of promoting voter turnout, partisan election administrators have recently taken on the role of Inspector Javert obsessively hunting for voter fraud committed by the political opposition.

In July Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach received unprecedented authority to bring criminal cases against alleged voter improprieties. No other such figure has such power. Kobach only secured the capabilities after local prosecutors - most of them Republicans not known for being soft on crime - declined to bring voter fraud incidents referred to them by Kobach.

Kobach is now trawling for criminal cases. Just call Kansas's Stop Voter Fraud hotline, 800-262-8683.

Down in Georgia, Brian Kemp, the Republican in charge of overseeing the state's election laws, let his partisan interests show in a speech just before the elections last fall, "Democrats are working hard ... registering all these minority voters ... If they can do that, they can win these elections in November."  So Kemp launched felony investigations into groups that enroll minority voters. One group faced criminal accusations because it failed to let people know that they could turn in their own voter registration forms.

Kobach and Kemp are empowered by a voting administration system that is structurally partisan. In 39 states, the top election official is directly affiliated with one of the political parties. The remaining 11 states and Washington, DC, have boards, some of which are partisan.

This has led to some unsavory conflicts of interest in the past: an Ohio Secretary of State overseeing the election system at the same time he was running for governor; a Florida chief election officer also serving on a presidential candidate's campaign committee.

This June, officials in Florida's Broward County - yes, that Broward County - learned that their elections administration lawyer had made campaign contributions to local candidates. The Supervisor of Elections does not have a conflicts policy. According to the agency head, it's no problem if employees administer voting laws by day and work on campaigns by night.

If we look to the north, we would see an election system that tries to suck out the partisan poison. In Canada, a Chief Electoral Officer is appointed for ten-year terms by the nation's House of Commons. It's not a perfect system, but much of the animosity and dysfunction present in the United States is notably absent in Canada.

One of the few efforts in the US to replicate Canada's system, Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board, is now  under withering attack. The Board, created in 2008, consists of six members, all former judges with staggered terms. It has its flaws, but it is nevertheless a principled effort to diminish political control of voting.

In July, Wisconsin's governor and Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker called for the Board's abolition. The normally right-leaning Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel chastised Republicans for trying to make the system "more subservient to…partisan interests."

The last thing we need is to inject more partisanship into voting. Let the Republican and Democratic parties define themselves and rally their bases. But not by hardening partisan positions on voting. It should not be a wedge issue.

Opinion Tue, 04 Aug 2015 09:31:30 -0400
Haunted by Student Debt to the Grave

(Photo: Senior Debt via Shutterstock)(Photo: Senior Debt via Shutterstock)

It will not be news to 41 million Americans that this nation is in the middle of a student debt crisis. That's the number of people burdened by student loan payments. But many people, including many student debt holders, may be surprised to learn that people can be pursued for student debt even into their elder years.

In fact, the government is withholding Social Security payments for some retirees because their student loans have not been fully repaid. This is a growing problem that Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) have asked the government to study in greater depth.

"Garnishing Social Security benefits defeats the entire point of the program - that's why we don't allow banks or credit card companies to do it," said Sen. McCaskill. "Social Security is the sole means of retirement income for tens of millions of Americans, and allowing those benefits to be garnished to collect student loan debt cuts a dangerous hole in our safety net."

That is one problem with this practice. But, as we will see, there are others.

Many people will be surprised to learn that any seniors are still paying off their student debt. They are: 706,000 households headed by someone 65 or older are still paying off their student debts, according to a report by the GAO. Collectively these households owed $18.2 billion in 2013. That's six-and-a-half times as much as they owed in 2005, when these senior households' total debt obligation was "only" $2.8 billion.

Of those households, 191,000 - more than one in four - are in default. The government can take up to 15 percent of a Social Security check to pay back a student loan, as long as the monthly check amount does not drop below $750 a month.

Social Security payments could not be seized for any reason until - for the first time ever - Congress created an exception for student debt in 1996. Before then, Social Security was protected from garnishments of any kind. That was deliberate. The original Social Security Act of 1935 stated that benefits were not "subject to execution, levy, attachment, garnishment, or other legal process, or to the operation of any bankruptcy or insolvency law."

The government doesn't have to go to court, either. It requires a court order to garnish a working person's wages, but Social Security benefits are entirely under federal control. Many people have learned they still owed student debt only after a portion of their Social Security check had been taken.

These seniors' benefits are not being garnished to pay loans they took out for their kids, either. The GAO found that four out of five seniors in this category owed the money for their own education, not their children's. In many cases these loans were incurred and the defaults arose (with subsequent interest and penalty fees) years before the government assumed the power to reach into seniors' retirement income to collect them.

While the total number of seniors losing benefits today is relatively small (it was 155,000 in 2013), this problem threatens to grow larger as our overall student debt problem continues to grow. What's more, the moral dimensions of this problem are quite large.

The fact that this problem even exists suggests that we've lost our national perspective on education. Student debt is a historical anomaly in this nation's history. We were primarily an agrarian nation until the developments of the 20th century gave rise to a new economy in which far more people needed a higher education.

But with that shift came a rise in publicly funded higher education at the state level. The rise of the conservative movement in the latter part of the last century led to state budget cuts and massive tuition increases. The result was skyrocketing student debt for public as well as private college students.

Now there is a growing movement for tuition-free or very low-cost public higher education - a return to the principle, established in the not-too-distant past, that all qualified students should have access to debt-free higher education. If that movement is successful - and we believe it will be - then today's runaway student debt problem will eventually fade away.

But that will leave two generations of Americans condemned to pay an extremely high price for having been unlucky enough to attend college during the conservative period during which all but the wealthiest students were required to take on debt in order to get an education.

We believe that all Americans should be freed from the burdens of this aberrational period of student debts - and that a "student debt jubilee" would be good for the U.S. economy and for the work and family lives of graduates. But perhaps that jubilee can proceed in stages.

There is already a widespread call - partially successful so far - to forgive the debts of students who were ripped off by for-profit universities, like Corinthian - colleges that encouraged them to take student loans, delivered a terrible education, and are now going belly-up.

And surely America can and should establish the principle that, having been forced to take on debt during this aberrational period, those Americans who reach the age of 65 and are depending on Social Security for most of their income should not have to continue to pay off what remains of student loans from their Social Security checks.

There will be those who say that a debt is a debt and must be repaid. But it is a long-standing legal principle that failure to collect a debt over an extended period of time renders it uncollectible. What's more, we are actually treating people more harshly for seeking to finance an education than for financing a house or car. Where is the sense in that?

The solution seems obvious: First, we must stop the practice of garnishing Social Security payments to pay student debt. Then we must take a long, hard look at all the student debt that has been accumulated in this country. For millions of Americans, a college education is the ticket to a better life.

Nobody should be deprived of an education because they don't come from a wealthy family. And nobody should be subjected to onerous debt because they dared to dream and desired to learn.

Opinion Tue, 04 Aug 2015 09:28:31 -0400
Keystone XL Hits New Turbulence as South Dakota Permit Hearing Implodes

Holes too big to fix were poked in TransCanada's narrative that its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will be the safest pipeline ever built. And questions were raised about the company's financial dealings during hearings in South Dakota last week, where state regulators are tasked to decide if the company is capable of following the rules.

Also see: TransCanada's Keystone XL Permit Renewal Hearing Sheds Light on Serious Pipeline Risks

Holes too big to fix were poked in TransCanada's narrative that its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will be the safest pipeline ever built. And questions were raised about how the pipeline company's financial dealings are set up during Public Utilities Commission hearings in Pierre, South Dakota last week where state regulators are tasked to decide if the company is capable of following the rules the state set when the original Keystone pipeline permit was granted in 2010.

A team of lawyers representing Native American tribes and the grassroots group Dakota Rural Action took the upper hand during the proceedings as they tried to have a TransCanada executive's testimony impeached. The proceedings took on a circus-like atmosphere when TransCanada was unable to prevent lines of questioning it didn't like. 

The commissioners seemed unsure of its own procedures. At one point, Commissioner Gary Hanson expressed frustration that he was having trouble drawing a distinction between TransCanada's evidence and its advertising statements.

The testimony of TransCanada's key witness, Corey Goulet, president of Keystone Pipeline Projects, turned out to be an important centerpiece of the hearing.

In pretrial testimony filed by Goulet, he stated the company would have no problem meeting the Commission's amended conditions.

However, TransCanada's promises to build safe pipelines have been called into question with several high-profile incidents involving its existing pipelines, particularly the corrosion problems with the Keystone 1 pipeline. 

A TransCanada 'root cause analysis' document, made available online by DeSmog on Tuesday, shed troubling light on the external corrosion encountered on the Keystone 1.

"Root Cause Analysis" Document Creates Headaches, Questions for TransCanada

When Goulet was questioned about the significant corrosion discovered on the Keystone 1 pipeline in Missouri in 2012 - when the pipeline's wall had corroded in one spot to the thickness of a dime - he downplayed the incident, claiming that none of the defects were close to rupturing. 

"None of the defects, in my experience in 30 years of pipelines, would be injurious from the perspective of being close to rupturing. Therefore the only problem would have been the depth of corrosion," Goulet testified. (Audio of Goulet testimony, relevant corrosion section at ~ 32:45 – 33:40)   

Bruce Ellison, one of the lawyers for the interveners, had handed Goulet a copy of the company's root cause analysis report of the incident, before pointing out the corrosion area was much larger than Goulet had described. One of the defects involved a section of pipe where the wall had eroded 96.8 percent, which Ellison noted was close to a rupture incident.

TransCanada lawyers objected to any reference to the report because Goulet claimed he had never seen it and that it was classified. But since the report had already been entered into evidence, the interveners' lawyers were allowed by the Commission to continue questioning him. 

In the course of discovery, TransCanada provided the report in question as part of the unclassified documents, and therefore could not exclude the report from evidence, the Commission said.

After that dispute was settled, Goulet admitted he knew the location of sites where the pipeline had been dug up for inspection and repair. 

As indicated in the 'root cause' report, Site 5 was only 200 feet from the Mississippi River, the primary drinking water source for 18 million Americans, as well as agricultural water for crop production. 

Image of Site 5 defect from TransCanada's report pg. 22. (Photo: Courtesy of Julie Dermansky)Image of Site 5 defect from TransCanada's report, page 22. (Photo: Courtesy of Julie Dermansky)

Evan Vokes, former TransCanada employee turned whistleblower, and an expert witness for the interveners, told DeSmog he has never seen a pipeline coating corroded as badly as the failed coating of the Keystone 1. It looked as if "it had been gnawed at by rats," he told DeSmog.

Another former TransCanada employee reviewed the report and found it shocking. The fact that damaged sections of the pipe were repaired instead of replaced concerned him greatly. "We cut out better pipe than what I've seen in those pictures," he told DeSmog. 

TransCanada's Tax Revenue Calculations Off by a Lot

Goulet testified that the considerably lower amount of taxes TransCanada paid was less than had been estimated before construction - although the tax rate has since increased. 

While he stated he didn't know the technical details of how the taxes are applied, he went on to testify that "TransCanada Pipeline LP is the owner of the Keystone XL pipeline," explaining that it is a wholly owned subsidiary of TransCanada Corporation. While TransCanada Corporation has assets in excess of $50 billion, not all of that value would be assessed for tax purposes. Only the subsidiary's assets would, Goulet explained. While TransCanada estimated that Keystone 1 would deliver at least $45 million in tax revenue to communities, Goulet admitted that the company has only paid $18.4 million over the first 5 years of the pipeline's operation. That's roughly a third of what TransCanada had estimated as the benefit it would deliver in tax revenue to affected communities.

Goulet cited higher capital and operating costs for the discrepancy, blaming regulatory delays, technical changes, and inflation were responsible for the costs ballooning to nearly $2 billion for the Keystone 1 project. (Audio of hearing, relevant section on taxes at ~ 1:22:15 – 1:32:00)

The tax revenue discrepancies could have real impacts on communities that bank on the future of the Keystone pipeline.

"In Harding County a bond was passed and a new school was built on the premise that TransCanada's pipeline taxes would help pay for it," Bret Clanton, a member of Dakota Rural Action said.

TransCanada Bullish on Building Keystone XL Despite Oil Price Slump

In afternoon testimony (audio from ~1:48:00 on), David Diakow, TransCanada's Vice President, Commercial, Liquids Pipelines, opened the door to information that related to TransCanada's business dealings related to the project.  

Diakow revealed that the company intends to build the pipeline no matter how low the price of oil goes. (audio ~ 1:54:40 – 1:57:15)

Robin Martinez, a lawyer for the interveners, described what came next as unusual in an email to DeSmog,

"Paul Blackburn, one of the attorneys for the intervenors in the proceedings, started to question Mr. Diakow about market demand for the KXL pipeline. He began inquiring as to whether TransCanada's customers were demanding changes to their contracts, which TransCanada objected to, claiming their contracts and communications with customers were highly confidential. TransCanada then argued that Mr. Blackburn's questions relating to market demand for the pipeline were not relevant to the question of whether or not TransCanada could meet the conditions imposed by the Commission when it granted the original permit in 2010. However, by placing Mr. Diakow's written testimony into the record they opened the door to full cross-examination of him under the applicable administrative procedure rules. Apparently not wanting to have him questioned, TransCanada withdrew him as a witness and asked the Commission to strike his testimony from the record."

The Commission limited the scope of all further testimony for both parties to be pertinent to the amended conditions of the original 2010 permit, strictly limiting evidence presented for the remainder of the trial.

Peter Caposella, the lawyer representing the Rock Sioux Tribe said in all his years as an attorney, he had never seen a plaintiff remove their own witness in such a manner.  

As the near failure of the Keystone 1 line proved, the consequences of siting TransCanada's bitumen-carrying export lines so close to drinking water supplies is a risk we can ill afford to accept in an age of water scarcity and climate disruption. 

Even if President Obama denies the permit for the pipeline to cross international borders, the next administration could reverse that decision. 

However, if the South Dakota Public Utility Commission decides TransCanada isn't up to the job, TransCanada will have to start the entire re-permitting process again.

News Mon, 03 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Pro-Choice for Christ

Rev. Debra Haffner is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister. She is also the cofounder and president of the Religious Institute, a multi-faith organization that advocates for sexual health and education - including abortion and contraception access - in religious communities and beyond. The Religious Institute is just one of numerous organizations advocating for contraceptive access, abortion rights and LGBT rights.

Comforting hands(Image: Comforting hands via Shutterstock)

"When I introduce myself, I tell people I'm a sexologist and a minister. The most likely response is that people laugh," says Reverend Debra Haffner. "They see those terms as oxymorons, kind of like 'jumbo shrimp.'" 

Haffner, the jumbo shrimp in question, is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister. She is also the co-founder and president of the Religious Institute, a multi-faith organization that advocates for sexual health and education - including abortion and contraception access - in religious communities and beyond.

In a political landscape that seems destined to pit bibles against birth control for as long as the culture wars shall persist (see: Hobby Lobby), the Religious Institute is just one of numerous organizations advocating for contraceptive access, abortion rights, and LGBT rights motivated by - and not despite - Christian faith.

Considering where most Americans stand, this makes sense.

According to most major polls, a slim majority of American adults support abortion rights: 51 percent of American adults think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 43 percent think it should be illegal in all or most cases.

Yet some research suggests that Americans' thinking on abortion is more complicated than this simple binary - and that more people than previously thought support the right to choose. Only a small minority of the public believes abortion should never be legal, and large majorities think that if a woman gets an abortion, the experience should be supportive, comfortable, and non-judgmental. .

Americans' stances on abortion are more complicated than the political rhetoric may lead us to believe. Our understanding of religion and reproductive rights should follow suit.

The majority of Americans are religious. Over 70 percent of Americans identify as Christian, while 22.8 percent don't identify with any particular religion at all. And despite the growth of these so-called "nones," over 90 percent of Americans still believe in God.

It's a statistical inevitability: Many, if not a majority of, Christians in this country support reproductive rights. Of Christians, 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used some kind of contraception at one point or another. Over three fourths of Catholics believe that the church should permit birth control, while 53 percent of white Catholics, and 43 percent of Latino Catholics, think abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Why do I find this so surprising?

"The American public by and large on some level has bought the myth of the far right," Haffner says, in answer to my unvoiced skepticism. She's referring, of course, to the myth that religion and reproductive justice are mortal enemies. "The reality is that the majority of people of faith in this country support all of those things."

In fact, Haffner says, religious peoples' advocacy for reproductive rights is almost as old as modern birth control itself. "It might surprise you to know that the very first denominational statement on reproductive health and birth control was in 1929," she tells me.

It does and here's why: I'm Catholic. Well, okay - I was raised Catholic. Italian Catholic from New Jersey.

In a red town where "It's Adam and Eve, Not Adam and Steve" was still considered a clever punchline, we were Black Sheep Catholics, cultural-heritage Catholics, Kerry-and-Obama Catholics, the Catholics the nuns didn't like. My mother, a feminist physician who attended Catholic school, was known to get into "disagreements" with church people about contraceptive access, abortion rights, and the War in Iraq.

During mass, I learned to mouth - not say - the prayers for the little aborted fetuses. I learned I would not be permitted marriage in the Church. I learned that I had to choose between my rights as a woman and a queer person, and my belief in God.

So, like youths from time immemorial, I flipped God the bird and pulled my pants down.

Reverend Harry F. Knox says there are a lot of people like me. Knox, president and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) - a coalition of faith organizations that promotes reproductive health and education access - has a slow, gentle voice with a twang.

"It often surprises people when Christians are pro-choice," Knox tells me. "This normally comes from folks whose particular faith backgrounds have a narrow view of reproductive health and rights." This narrow view, says Knox, can sometimes make it difficult for people in the secular reproductive rights movement - people like, you know, feminist journalists - to collaborate with people of faith.

In some ways that's understandable. When right-wing politicians affront our rights under the guise of "religious liberty," it can be easy to see politics as a rumble between Obamacare-covered progesterone and, well, God. "We have a few partners who sometimes have trouble allowing the faith voice to be heard because of the very real hurt that has been done in the name of religion to women over the years," Knox says of this tension. "One of the roles that RCRC plays in the larger movement for reproductive health, rights, and justice is a bridge role in helping our allies deal with that pain."

Knox would know. First denied ordination in two denominations for being gay, Knox, finally ordained in the Metropolitan Community Church, served for years in justice ministry for LGBT people. He came to reproductive rights work through what he calls an "abortion crisis" in his own family.

"The Christian church often seeks to control people through shame," says Knox. Part of his job, then, he says, is to help people "tell their own stories about sexuality, about their own experience as spiritual people who are also sexual beings, fully embodied, and made in the image of God."

And Haffner and Knox tell me that Protestants aren't the only pro-choice Christians. There are, my mother will be delighted to know, Catholics in the game, too. "We say that good Catholics do and can use reproductive healthcare services," says Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, Domestic Program Director at Catholics for Choice.

Catholics for Choice educates and advocates for sexual health - including, yep, abortion rights - both in religious organizations and government.

Ratcliffe, and Catholics for Choice's materials in general, put a lot of emphasis on conscience: The idea that decisions about the morality of abortion, contraception, and other sexual matters must be decided in - as they used to say in mass - "the silence of our hearts." This line of thinking comes with a real anti-authoritarian streak vis-à-vis the Church authorities. Their very sassy mission statement reveals some of this tension, calling out the "Catholic hierarchy" for "punish[ing] and publically sham[ing]" pro-choice Catholics.

Ratcliffe elaborates: "As Catholics, we actually have a right to dissent from teachings." She identifies this as a mission of religious liberty."The idea that someone would tell you what you can and cannot believe, or what you can and cannot access because of what they believe, is anathema to Catholics."

How did I not know about this group as a little gay kid?

Probably because - to no one's surprise - both the American and Canadian Conference of Bishops have denounced the organization. (A choice excerpt from the denouncement: "CFFC is, practically speaking, an arm of the abortion lobby.")

Indeed, the group's been ruffling papal feathers ever since its beginnings. In the seventies, a woman leader of the group had herself crowned Pope, and a member priest baptized a child who had been forbidden baptism by the Archbishop of Boston because his mother was pro-choice. In 1984, the group took out a full-page New York Times ad calling for the Church to accept pro-choice Catholics. It was co-signed by, among others, two priests, two brothers, and 27 nuns.

Which brings us to the nuns themselves. Lay people aren't the only Catholics advocating for reproductive freedom - there's also the nun contingent.

Here's how the most prominent among them got their start. In 1969, a group of women religious with the Catholic Church - many of them radicalized by the women's movement - created the National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN), whose support for abortion and contraception rights and belief in the ordination of women continue to fly in the face of official church teachings.

The organization has been headed for the last few decades by Sister Donna Quinn, herself an activist with a much-storied history. Quinn has been a vocal spokesperson for reproductive rights in (or adjacent to) the Catholic Church for years. A photo of her in an abortion "Clinic Escort" vest is iconic.

NCAN was active most recently in the midst of the Hobby Lobby hullaballoo. The coalition of came out in support of the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate and a "Stand with the Nuns" petition garnered signatures from over 12,000 pro-contraceptive rights people of faith.

"The institutional church men forget that we are women who are educated, articulate, seekers of truth and very, very holy," said Quinn in a 2012 article in Reuters of her and her fellow pro-choice sisters' work.

While remaining active in contemporary debates, however, many activist nuns like Quinn are aging, and according to some a new generation of nuns is less inclined to ruffle feathers.

At the same time, the overall Church's influence may also be waning, as more and more Millennials leave the church.

Still, with 65 percent of Millennials identifying as religiously affiliated, the question of religiosity and support for reproductive rights is far from obsolete. And it's more complicated than the political debate would have us believe, with more young people than ever - even religious ones - supporting causes that have traditionally been met with religious opprobrium, like marriage equality.

For Haffner, the continued relevance of these questions reflects our collective need for meaning.

When Haffner tells me that the majority of Americans attend worship services (at least a couple times a year) I let out an involuntary "Wow."

Right, because it's not your friends, she says.

It's true. I'm a writer for a feminist blog and my voice over the phone sounds twenty-two years old, suburb-raised and Ivy-educated, all of which I am. Two of my four college roommates were presidents of the atheist club. I've got "friends are non-church-going" written all over me.

But when I was researching this article - pouring over the Religious Institute's website or the nuns' social justice writings - I found myself crying. Not hard, not uncontrollably, but I kept getting this lump in my throat.

And then it occurred to me, washed over me like a watercolor, all weepy and treble clef - like, oh, duh - that I am actually, in a lot of ways, a very religious person. And I think that the polarization of faith and reproductive justice that the contemporary political landscape so naturalizes does us all a big disservice.

Don't get me wrong. I still think we are all fortuitous conglomerations of cells and St. Teresa was having an orgasm. I don't think that every sperm is sacred or that a guy named Jesus had a sadistic father and a redemptive run-in with the Romans (too soon?).

But I was raised by a family raised on Vatican II, on Sacco and Vanzetti, on the Beatitudes, and every time someone starts talking about the inherent dignity of humankind, and social justice, and mercy, and compassion, I want to weep.

Because I know that my grandmother votes Democrat and is mad about police violence and thinks I should have abortion rights and loves me as a feminist and loves me as a lesbian because she loves God. And God loves the most vulnerable.

Haffner, of course, is onto me.

"An anecdote that is really interesting to me is the number of weddings and memorials and baby christenings I've done since I became a minister in the reproductive health field," Haffner says. "People call me because they still need somebody to marry them, they still need somebody to bury their mother."

Yeah, you might no longer go to church, she seems to be telling me. You might have forgotten the Nicene Creed when the mass was re-translated from Latin and you might only take the Eucharist at Christmas because you think when you cross yourself and your cleavage jiggles you look like Madame Bovary.

But you know what? You may be back. You may be back because all those things you believe in, all those things about humanity and dignity and choice? Yeah, Haffner seems to be saying. We're working on that.

"People return," she says.

News Mon, 03 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Music's Role in the Movement for Black Lives: An Interview With Robert Glasper

Grammy-winning jazz artist Robert Glasper is known for blending soul and hip hop to elevate contemporary jazz. With his newest album, ''Covered,'' Glasper also blends politics and art to elevate Black entertainment. On "I'm Dying of Thirst," the last track on ''Covered,'' Glasper helps restore Black culture to its original, intentional, political power.

Robert Glasper performs live at Capitol Studios.Robert Glasper performs live at Capitol Studios. (Photo:

If you say to my 6-year-old son, "What do we want?" he'll tell you, "Justice." If you ask him, "When do we want it?" he'll tell you. "Now." He has marched and chanted, and he knows Black Lives Matter.

He knows he matters.

My husband and I want Ralphie fully invested in his own liberation. We want him to know - no matter what his history teacher might tell him - that Lincoln did not free the slaves. Black people freed the slaves. We want him to know he will be the one to free himself.

When the indictments came down for the officers charged in the murder of Freddie Gray, I cried and held him close and clapped and said, "Remember when we went to the march for Eric Garner and Michael Brown?" When he said he did, I told him he had done something great. "Well, you did it!" I said. "You and all those people we were with helped us take a little step toward justice. We are a little closer to freedom." He asked questions about our liberation, about how he had participated in something that took us all closer to freedom, for weeks after. This freedom thing stayed with him. In him.

Ralphie, who contributed to Robert Glasper’s new album, rides on his father's shoulders at a #BlackLivesMatter protest in New York City. (Photo: Eisa Ulen)Ralphie, who contributed to Robert Glasper's new album, rides on his father's shoulders at a #BlackLivesMatter protest in New York City. (Photo: Eisa Ulen)So, when my friend Angelika Beener asked if we would let Ralphie contribute to a recording her husband was doing about the #BlackLivesMatter movement, my husband and I very quickly said yes. Of course, we knew it would be amazing for Ralphie to record his own voice for Grammy-winning jazz great Robert Glasper, even though, for Ralphie, Rob is just "Riley's dad." But we were saying yes to something more than an exciting opportunity for our son. We were saying yes to something we knew would honor the victims of police brutality, be in the tradition of the centuries-long freedom struggle, and pay tribute to all the multitude who added their voices to #BlackLivesMatter.

And the song does all of that.

"I'm Dying of Thirst" is the last track on "Covered," Robert Glasper's eighth album. Winner of the 2013 Grammy for Best R&B Album for "Black Radio," and the 2015 Grammy for Best R&B Performance for "Jesus Children," with Lala Hathaway and Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Glasper disrupts the categories that define and demarcate genre. His music is jazz, but it is also hip hop. It is also soul.

On "I'm Dying of Thirst," a cover of Kendrick Lamar's aching wonder of a rhyme, Angelika's and Rob's son Riley, also 6, Ralphie and three of his other friends recite the names of recent victims of police brutality. Like the track that precedes it - "Got Over," featuring Harry Belafonte, which is one of the most powerful statements on Black life that you'll ever hear - "I'm Dying of Thirst" is both politics and art.

In this exclusive Truthout interview, Glasper talks about working with Harry Belafonte, the activism of his peers in the industry, and the current state of Black entertainment.

The Robert Glasper Trio.The Robert Glasper Trio. (Photo:

Truthout: What kind of household did you grow up in? Was politics, or political consciousness, a big part of your childhood?

Robert Glasper: I was pretty much raised by my mother. She was the music director at the church and also sang a lot in jazz and R&B clubs. I was home alone a lot because my mom worked a day job and sang at night, so I was on my own a lot of the time. Because of that dynamic, there wasn't much about politics being discussed in the house.

Harry Belafonte appears on "Covered" in a powerful song that kind of lets him rhyme a little, do a little spoken word, as he bears witness to his own experience as a Black man in America - and the world. It almost sounds like you were recording a conversation and decided to lay down part of what he said on the track. Where did the idea for "Got Over" come from? Did you specifically ask Belafonte to talk about his life or to talk about what the term "got over" means to him?

I had the honor of going to his home and sitting with him for a few hours. We traded music back and forth, and he told me many wonderful stories about his hand in history … very inspiring. He came up with "Got Over" himself. I just told him to say something that he thought people needed to hear.

So many of our Baby Boomer artists and entertainers are activists and continue to participate in social justice causes as they age. I'm thinking of everyone from Danny Glover to Stevie Wonder, from Ruby Dee to Lena Horne. Do you think our generation of artists and entertainers has honored their legacy with their own political activism? Of course, there are important artists and entertainers in our Generation, Gen X, who infuse their work and their lives with a political consciousness - I'm thinking of Q-Tip, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Russell Simmons, Don Cheadle, Azealia Banks and Amandla Stenberg. I'm even thinking of Prince, who made an important statement at the 2015 Grammys about #BlackLivesMatter, when he announced the Album of the Year award (after receiving a standing ovation for simply walking on stage). But I do think many African Americans look at the most financially successful entertainers of our generation and wonder where the take-a-risk activism is. Stevie Wonder wrote the anthem to make MLK's birthday a national holiday, but he was also arrested because he protested apartheid. Where is that level of political engagement? Is there work - organized activist work - that our generation's entertainers are doing that we need to know about?

I don't think artists of today show enough support in the struggle at all. And if they do, it's only for a hot second, or they give money on the low to an organization but don't want people to know. ... There are many artist who do speak out about #BlackLivesMatter: Mos Def, Qtip, Talib Kwali, Erykah Badu and the list goes on. I am referring to the artists who have a huge stage and can reach more people at one time. The people who can actually make a change on a big level fast don't really speak out. 

What is the current state of affairs in Black entertainment?

Black entertainment has become humorous entertainment for white people to watch. ... Intelligent, great art isn't radio-friendly, so everybody is going for the same dumbed-down sound to make it on the radio and get "the hit." Every song talks about being in the club, money or sex. That's the majority of what you hear from Black music these days on the radio.

Has the organized struggle of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, this newest iteration of the struggle for social justice in our community, influenced some of your peers in entertainment? Are artists, actors and musicians talking about, even participating in, #BlackLivesMatter?

Yes people are aware and are definitely talking about it, but not everybody will reflect it in their art or do much of anything to make change. Artists are struggling nowadays, so it's a risk most are not willing to take.

How did "Dying of Thirst" happen? Where did the idea for your haunting tribute to the most recent victims of police brutality come from?

I love that song. It's my favorite from that particular Kendrick Lamar album. I knew I wanted to speak on that topic for this record but wanted to do it in a way that would hit home. Children's voices are so innocent and honest. ... Since I'm a father now, I process matters of the world differently.

At what point did you come up with the idea to include your own son's voice on this record?

My son was the first person I thought of when I decided to do this particular piece. He is 6 years old but very aware of who he is and what color he is. My wife makes sure of that. That's him talking uncoached at the end of the song. Those are his own thoughts.

Thank you so much for including my son on this song. Why was it important to you that some of Riley's friends, including Ralphie, also speak the names of those victims?

I wanted to use Ralphie and other friends of Riley to represent the many victims. I wanted the listener to hear different voices and realize these victims could easily be our children.

Robert Glasper's song I'm Dying of Thirst, incorporates the words of Riley (second from right), who is shown here with three friends, two of whom also participated in the album. (Photo: Angelika Beener)Robert Glasper's song "I'm Dying of Thirst," incorporates the words of Riley (second from right), who is shown here with three friends, two of whom also participated in the album. (Photo: Angelika Beener)

What are your greatest hopes for Riley's future? And, as you think of him growing into his own manhood, what are your greatest fears?

My hope is that he continues to be fully aware of who Riley Glasper is and will be as he grows up and never waver from that. My fear is that America will try its hardest to take that away. My son is strong and has a strong foundation with me and his mother so I ain't really that worried about that. But you can only control so much ...

Did you hear that Angelika, Dara [Roach] and I just cried as we listened to the Robert Glasper trio perform "Dying of Thirst" at the Blue Note? I think we are all walking around with so much feeling, including fear, frustration, even rage, because of what is happening when our people interact with the police - and because this has been going on for nearly 500 years now - but we have to put on our face to go to work, to buy groceries. We have to put on our face to interact with our young children. So, "Dying of Thirst" just, I think, let us release all that feeling pent up inside. We cried because your song gave us permission to express our real selves. Thank you for that, too.

Thank You. I cry damn near every time I play it live. I love my son so much ...

News Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Will New Film Force US to Acknowledge Role in 1965 Indonesian Genocide?

October 1 marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the 1965 genocide in Indonesia that left over one million people dead. Human rights groups are circulating petitions calling for the US government to acknowledge its role in the genocide and to release CIA, military and other governmental records related to the mass killings. The United States provided the Indonesian army with financial, military and intelligence support at the time of the mass killings. Today we look at the pursuit of one Indonesian man confronting his brother's killers. In 1965, Adi Rukun's older brother was killed by the Komando Aksi, a paramilitary organization in Aceh. Adi Rukun's pursuit is the focus on Joshua Oppenheimer's new documentary, The Look of Silence. In 2012, Oppenheimer released a companion film titled The Act of Killing, in which he interviewed the Indonesian death squad leaders and worked with them to re-enact the real-life killings. The film was nominated for an Academy Award.


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

AMY GOODMAN: We spend the hour today with the award-winning filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer. In 2012, his debut feature film, The Act of Killing, stunned audiences by unmasking the perpetrators of the mid-1960s genocide in Indonesia, when the military and paramilitary slaughtered up to a million Indonesians after overthrowing the government. That military was backed by the United States and led by General Suharto, who would rule Indonesia for decades. Joshua Oppenheimer spent more than eight years interviewing the Indonesian death squad leaders and worked with them to re-enact the real-life killings. The film went on to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.

In his new film, The Look of Silence, Oppenheimer revisits the scenes of the crimes while focusing on the victims of the genocide. The film follows one family as it attempts to confront the murderers, many of whom are still in power since there has been no official reconciliation process in Indonesia. This is the trailer for The Look of Silence.

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] No, I don't think it's a big problem.

ADI RUKUN: [translated] But a million people were killed.

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] That's politics.

ADI RUKUN: [translated] Mom, how do you feel living, surrounded by your son's killers? In our village, the mayor, the teachers, they were all killers. Are your neighbors afraid of you?

INONG SUNGAI ULAR: [translated] They're scared of me. They know they're powerless against me.

ADI RUKUN: [translated] My story is, my brother was killed, too.

AMIR SIAHAAN: [translated] Adi, where did your brother live?

ADI RUKUN: [translated] I'm sorry, I won't tell you.

AMIR SIAHAAN: [translated] Just tell me. It's OK.

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] If you keep making an issue of the past, it will definitely happen again.

ADI RUKUN: [translated] If I came to you like this during the military dictatorship, what would you have done to me?

AMIR SIAHAAN: [translated] You can't imagine what would have happened.

AMY GOODMAN: That's the trailer for The Look of Silence. The Oscar-nominated director Joshua Oppenheimer was in New York for the release of the movie. He came by the Democracy Now! studio on the day The Look of Silence was released. I started by asking him about the title of the film.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: The Look of Silence really defines a project, for me, which was to show what this invisible thing, silence, a silence born of fear, looks like. What is it like for human beings to have to live for 50 years afraid? Trying to give vision to that silence and to that fear was what kind of defined the film's project. And I had the title long before I had the title The Act of Killing, in fact. And then, of course, there's this other layer of meaning, because it follows one survivor of the killings, Adi Rukun, the main character in the film, as he goes and visits the men who killed his brother, still in power, and tries to get them to take responsibility for what they've done, while testing their eyes. And so emerges - he's an optometrist. And so emerges this kind of metaphor for blindness, which was also there for me in the title. The men are willfully blind to the meaning of what they've done, and he's trying to help them see.

AMY GOODMAN: So now let's step back, and give us the political context to this story. Talk about Indonesia.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: So, in 1965, there was a military coup, sponsored and supported by the West - the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan - with the United States taking a key role. And there was the charismatic first president of Indonesia, a populist, left-leaning populist, named Sukarno, and the founder of the Non-Aligned Movement, the movement within the - during the Cold War that was trying to chart a kind of third way, an independent path neither aligned with the Soviet Union nor the West. He's the president, Sukarno, who - the president who led Indonesia out from Dutch colonialism. He's the founding father of Indonesia. He was overthrown in a military coup where, within like six months, somewhere between half a million and three million people were killed. Every opponent of the new - or potential opponent of the new military dictatorship - trade union leaders, intellectuals, teachers, the ethnic Chinese, members of the farmers' cooperative, leaders of the Indonesian women's movement - were rounded up, put in concentration camps, and then a great many of them dispatched out to be killed.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about your first film, what you covered there, and what you're covering with this film.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: So, in 2003, I began my work on the 1965 genocide and, more importantly, its present-day legacy. It's the current regime of fear and thuggery and corruption. And I began that work, actually, in collaboration with Adi Rukun and his family, the family at the center of The Look of Silence. And they would gather survivors to tell me their stories. Some of them had never talked before about what they had been through. And when they would come to tell me their stories, they would arrive crying already, just at the thought of speaking about what they'd experienced. And they would, in this very vulnerable state, share with me what they had been through.

But after three weeks, the army came and threatened all of the survivors not to participate in the film. And Adi responded by calling me to a midnight meeting in his parents' house and saying, "Please don't give up. Try to film the perpetrators." I went, afraid at first, to approach the perpetrators, but when I did, I found that they were open - not just open, but they were immediately boastful about the worst details of what they'd done. When I showed this back to Adi, he said, "Continue to film the perpetrators." And then, so did the rest of the Indonesian human rights community, saying, "Film the perpetrators and expose the terrible the scent that the genocide hasn't really ended, because the perpetrators are still in power and millions of people's lives are still being destroyed by fear and silence." And so, I then spent seven years working with the perpetrators.

And what begins with them taking me to their places where they killed and launching into spontaneous demonstrations of how they killed gradually evolved into something much more surreal, maybe even a much vaster project, where to try and understand why they're boasting, why they're open, for whom they're boasting, how they want to be seen, how they really see themselves, I gave them the chance - or I asked them to dramatize what they had done, in whatever ways they wish, in order to show essentially the lies, the fantasies, the stories that the perpetrators tell themselves so they can live with themselves, and the terrible consequences of these lies on the whole society.

AMY GOODMAN: Joshua Oppenheimer, talking about his new film, The Look of Silence. We'll be back with him in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, as we continue our conversation with the award-winning filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, director of the new film, The Look of Silence, about the US-backed genocide in Indonesia during the 1960s that led to the deaths of more than a million Indonesians. I asked Oppenheimer about his first feature film, The Act of Killing, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: The Act of Killing, my first film, follows one death squad leader, who killed a thousand people, perhaps, as he sets about dramatizing his memories, his experiences of genocide as a way of somehow desperately trying to cling to the lies that this whole regime has told and imposed on the whole society. And as he goes through that process, gradually he comes to see, through his own dramatizations, that these are lies. And he has this wrenching confrontation with his own conscience. And as all of Anwar's personal lies collapse, for Indonesia, the national lie, that this was heroic, also collapses.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's go to a trailer from The Act of Killing.

HERMAN KOTO: [translated] Cut! Cut! Cut! You acted so well, but you can stop crying now.

ADI ZULKADRY: [translated] "War crimes" are defined by the winners. I'm a winner.

SURYONO: [translated] Have mercy on me!

ANWAR CONGO: [translated] Honestly, I never expected it to look this brutal.

I can't do that again.

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] Kill!

ANWAR CONGO: [translated] I did this to so many people. Have I sinned?

AMY GOODMAN: That's the Oscar-nominated film, The Act of Killing. And, Joshua, I mean, the danger in doing what you have done - yes, the perpetrators spoke to you, the victims spoke to you. Talk about the chronology. You made The Act of Killing. All of these killers participated and were proud of what they did. And what did you do in the wake of this?

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Then I went - I returned to make, in a sense, the film that I set out to make at the beginning, at least thematically, a film that explores what does it do - what is it like for the survivors to have to live in the midst of the still-powerful killers, in fear. And when I returned, I had no idea that I would be filming a survivor as he goes and confronts the men who killed his brother. When Adi proposed that, he said to me, "Joshua, I've spent seven years watching your footage with the perpetrators, and it's changed me. I need to go and meet the men who killed my brother." At first, reflexively, instantly, I said, "Absolutely not. It's too dangerous. There has never been a film where survivors confront perpetrators who are still in power. It's never been done before. We cannot do it."

And Adi explained to me that he was hoping to visit - he was hoping that if he could visit the perpetrators, and if they could take responsibility for what they've done, he would somehow be able to reconcile himself with his neighbors, that they would - that the men who killed his brother, the men who had been terrorizing his family for half a century, would welcome his arrival as this chance to make peace with their neighbors and to take - and to find forgiveness from one of their victims' families. I was doubtful that that would happen, but I realized that if we could show why we failed, if we could show what I thought would happen, which is that the perpetrators get defensive and angry and fearful and threaten us, and if we could somehow do this safely, we would be able to show how torn this society is, how urgently truth, reconciliation and justice are needed.

And we realized that because I had made The Act of Killing, but it had not yet screened, because I was - I was therefore believed to be close to some of the most powerful men in the country and some of the most powerful perpetrators in the country: the vice president of the country, who's in The Act of Killing; leaders of the paramilitary - national leaders of the paramilitary movement that committed the killings with the army; ministers in the cabinet. I was believed - people thought, because they hadn't seen The Act of Killing yet, but they knew I had made this film with them, that these were my friends. And we realized that because of that, the men Adi wanted to confront are regionally powerful, not nationally powerful, and they would be unlikely to detain us, and certainly, let alone physically attack us, and that this was what would allow us to do this unprecedented thing of confronting the perpetrators while they still hold power.

AMY GOODMAN: So you made the film after The Act of Killing, but before it was shown around the country.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: That's right. We had this window after we finished editing The Act of Killing. We knew that we wouldn't be able to return again after it - we wouldn't be able to return safely after the film came out, so we had to shoot the second film in the interim.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us who Adi is and who his brother, Romli, is.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: So, Romli was the leader of the - the village head of a farmers' cooperative. And just for that, he was seen as a likely opponent to the new dictatorship and was killed.

AMY GOODMAN: And where did he live?

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: In this small village in North Sumatra in the middle of a vast area of oil palm and rubber plantations. And what was unique about his murder was not so much his - what was unique about him, about his story, was not so much his position, but the fact that his was one of the only murders that had witnesses. Tens of thousands of other people from that region had been taked to rivers, killed, and their bodies allowed to drift out to see, and their families were never told what happened. Like the relatives of the disappeared in Latin America, they then were unable to grieve, unable to mourn. They couldn't even say that their loved ones had died. All they could say is they hadn't come home yet, belum pulang in Indonesian, which meant that they were - they lived in this prison of cognitive dissonance, where they knew their loved - that the person must be dead, but couldn't say it. And a small part of that grief, they could articulate by talking about Romli. So, over the decades, from 1965 until I first arrived in 2003 and started working on this, over the decades, Romli became a kind of synonym for the genocide as a whole.

And when I started this work, I was introduced to his family. Romli's mother and father immediately wanted me to meet Adi. They said, "He's Romli's replacement." We were - Romli's mother said, "I was going crazy after Romli was murdered. And because I had Adi, I was able to somehow continue to live." And she said, "He talks like Romli, looks like Romli, acts like Romli. You must meet him." She called into the village, and I met this young man, born after the killings, not as afraid as the rest of his family, because he hadn't experienced the killings firsthand, who was desperate to understand what happened. All he knew was the government propaganda justifying what had happened, and he knew the story of Romli's murder, which he would hear again and again and again from his mother. She couldn't stop telling the story. It was like an echo, he would say, that would never fade. And he wanted to understand what happened to his mother, to his father, to his village, and so he latched on to my filmmaking as a way of answering these questions.

AMY GOODMAN: Introduce this first clip of Adi's mother.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: So, in this first scene, we see here Adi asking his mother, while she's cutting tamarind fruits in her garden, what it's like to be surrounded by the men who killed her son, Romli, and what it's like to live in a space of silence and fear, haunted by the ghosts of the unburied dead, really.

AMY GOODMAN: The Look of Silence.

ROHANI: [translated] They stole from their victims. Now they are rich. They killed the husband and took the wives.

ADI RUKUN: [translated] How do you feel living surrounded by your son's killers and see them every day?

ROHANI: [translated] It's horrible. When we meet in the village, we don't speak. I hate them.

AMY GOODMAN: That is a clip of The Look of Silence, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer. So that is Adi's mother being questioned by Adi, her son. What happened to Romli, her older son?

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Well, Romli was taken from the prison, the holding prison from which people were dispatched out to be killed, where in fact he was guarded, we found out - we find out during the film, by his own uncle, by his mother's brother, something the family didn't know.

AMY GOODMAN: Until you made the film.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Until we were actually - one day Adi decided he would go and visit his uncle and test his eyes as a favor that he'd promised, and started asking about what - because I was there, started asking what his uncle remembered of that time. And his uncle just volunteered it.

So he was dispatched out from the prison with a truckload of other people to be taken to North Sumatra's Snake River and killed, a spot where 10,500 people were killed. And on the way, the truck had to pass the turnoff to his family's home, and he panicked, because he realized what was happening and perhaps also because he was passing the road to his home. And there was a commotion on the truck. And because of that, two people escaped and survived. Everybody else, apart from Romli, was killed right there. Romli was injured and managed to crawl home through rice fields about a mile to the house, to his parents' home, where his mother took him in and tried desperately to keep him alive.

Two hours later, the death squad came with the army to pick him up, and clearly threatening to kill the whole family if Rohani, Romli's mother, didn't turn him over. And to sort of make it easier for her, but in a terrible way, ultimately making it much harder, the death squad leader said, "We're taking him to the hospital." And she knew it was a lie, but in order to do what she had to do in that moment, which was to give up her son, she had to somehow believe it was true in that moment, terribly making her a kind of, in her own mind, a collaborator in that moment. And that story has therefore, I think, never faded. It's just - she repeats it like a mantra, like a - not like a mantra, like something - just this horrible thing that she can't - that she needs to have heard and she can't let go of, all the time.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did they do to him?

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: They took him from the house. They brought him to a nearby river, because day was breaking and the official site for killing had closed for the night. And they took him to a nearby stream. They hacked him up, left him for dead. He wasn't dead. He was calling for help. A crowd gathered. So they came back. They fished him out of the river, took him into the palm plantation and killed him. And his father's co-workers - his father worked on the plantation - saw the body the next day and informed the family where the body was. And so now there's a grave, a small grave, there.

AMY GOODMAN: His father is also a key figure in your film, though he is not really speaking.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Yeah, he becomes - in fact, it was part of how Adi persuaded me that we ought to film, that we ought to confront the perpetrators. When I said, "No, it's not possible," Adi showed me a - "because it's too dangerous," Adi showed me a scene that he shot with a small camera I had given him to use as a kind of notebook to look for images that might inspire the making of this film a couple years earlier. And he showed me this scene where his father is lost in his own home. It's the only scene in the film that Adi shot.

He's crawling through his own home, lost, calling for help. And Adi told me that - thinking he's in a stranger's house and could be beaten up. And Adi told me that his father - that, essentially, his father had forgotten the son whose murder destroyed his life and his family's life, but he hadn't forgotten the fear. He's trapped in a kind of prison of fear, because he can't - and he'll never be able to heal, because he can't remember what happened. He'll never be able to work through it. He'll never be able to move beyond it. And so he's like a man locked in a room, who can't find the door even, let alone the key. And he said to me, "You see, if I can only meet the perpetrators, they will - and if they can accept what they've done is wrong, and I could forgive them, then my children will not have to grow up afraid of their neighbors."

And I understood two things then. I understood that the perpetrators won't apologize. In The Act of Killing, I worked for five years with the main character, Anwar Congo, and at the end of that process, he's retching over his own guilt, but he's still, in the uncut version of the film, the so-called director's - what's out in the United States on Netflix as the director's cut, but which is the version that came out in Indonesia and around the world outside the United States, while he's retching, he's still saying - he's still saying, "My conscience told me they had to be killed." He's still lying to himself. And I had this feeling that if Anwar, after five years, even while he's retching, can't admit what he did was wrong, somehow these men will not get there in an hour and a half with Adi, the men Adi wants to meet. So I realized that we wouldn't get the apology. But if I could show the human - complex human reactions that are inevitable when you go into someone's home and say, "You've killed my brother. Can you take responsibility?" - the shame, the guilt, the fear of their own guilt, and then the defensiveness, the anger, the threats - if I can show that, then I can show, essentially, the previously invisible abyss dividing every Indonesian from each other.

And I also realized, from this clip that Adi showed me of his father, that this must be much more than just a film about impunity and survivors living side by side with perpetrators who are still in power. It must also be a kind of poem about memory and oblivion, about - a poem composed in perhaps in memoriam to all that's destroyed, not just the dead, who can't be wakened, but the lives that have been destroyed by 50 years of fear and silence that can never be made whole again.

AMY GOODMAN: So let's go to the second clip that we have in The Look of Silence. Adi is going to the man who killed his brother, Romli.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Yeah, here we meet Adi confronting the commander of the death squads that were operating in Snake River, a man who told me that he deserves a cruise to America, because it was America who taught him to hate and kill the communists. Then Adi goes and visits him and asks him to take responsibility for what he's done. And we'll see a moment of that.

ADI RUKUN: [translated] You were leader of Komando Aksi in this region, so you were responsible for the mass killing here. Do people around here know that?

AMIR SIAHAAN: [translated] Yes, they do.

ADI RUKUN: [translated] The thing is, I - my older brother, he was killed, because you commanded the killings.

AMIR SIAHAAN: [translated] It wasn't really me.

ADI RUKUN: [translated] You were responsible as leader of Komando Aksi.

AMIR SIAHAAN: [translated] There were many Komando Aksi groups.

ADI RUKUN: [translated] But you were the top leader.

AMIR SIAHAAN: [translated] Komando Aksi was the people united with the army. And we had commanders above us. And we were protected by the government. So you can't say I'm responsible.

ADI RUKUN: [translated] Every killer I meet, none of them feel responsible.

AMY GOODMAN: That's a clip of The Look of Silence. And explain exactly who this man is.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: This man is the head of the civilian - was the head of the civilian death squads that were killing at Snake River. It's a - working, recruited by the army. He's from the same paramilitary group that's at the center of my first film, The Act of Killing. His name is Amir Siahaan. And he would sign off the lists of people every night who had to be killed. And between him and his deputies, 10,500 people were killed in this one spot. He personally signed off, he says, about 600 people, but that's only because it wasn't normally his job to do that. There were many more killed there. After Adi tells him - and we saw a glimpse of this in the trailer, the beginning, a little earlier - after Adi says, "I think you're not taking responsibility," he becomes very angry and starts asking, "Well, where do you live?" And Adi won't tell him. And Adi then says, "Well, what would you have done to me if I came during the military dictatorship?" And he says, "You can't imagine it," and then says, "You see, the real danger is not the known communists, who have been under surveillance and terrorized for decades, and therefore unlikely to speak out. The real dangers are the secret communists, and perhaps this film is a secret communist activity." And he says, "Just continue," threateningly, "continue with your secret communist activity. Go on."

AMY GOODMAN: And this is actually Adi's neighbor.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Yeah, it's - their houses are within minutes of each other.

AMY GOODMAN: Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, director of the new film, The Look of Silence, which has opened around the country. It's being called a masterpiece. This is Democracy Now! We'll be back with Oppenheimer in a moment.


AMY GOODMAN: "Arum Bandung," here on Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, as we continue my conversation with the Oscar-nominated filmmaker, director Joshua Oppenheimer. I asked him to talk about the dangers of making his new film, The Look of Silence. In both The Look of Silence, which is about the victims of the US-backed Indonesian genocide, as well as the film The Act of Killing, about the perpetrators, the credits all are listed - many of them are listed as anonymous.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Yeah, throughout the shooting of the film and the editing of the film and then the release of the film, we knew we were prepared to stop, after every scene. Adi - in preparation for the scenes with the highest-ranking commanders, we would have a second car available to use as a getaway vehicle, so we'd be harder to follow, should we have to flee. Adi's family would be at the airport, ready to evacuate if there was any sign of threat that would persist after we left. And about six months before the film had its first screening at the Venice Film Festival, we met with Adi, his family, the whole team that released The Act of Killing, human rights activists and my crew in Thailand, because I could already no longer safely return to Indonesia, to watch a rough cut of the film and discuss whether we shouldn't bring the film out at all until the perpetrators have died or until there's real change in Indonesia, or whether we should bring the film out, but Adi's family should move to Europe for a while, which is where I'm based.

In the end, we decided - in the end, Adi's family saw the film and said, "This film must come out now," because there was such momentum from The Act of Killing for change in this area. The government of Indonesia had already, as a - in response to The Act of Killing's Oscar nomination, had said, "Look, we know what happened in 1965 was a crime against humanity. We know we need reconciliation. We don't need a film to push us into this. We'll do it in our own time." But it was a wonderful moment, because it was the first time they had admitted it was wrong. The media and the public were now talking openly about the genocide as a genocide. And it was time -

AMY GOODMAN: But The Act of Killing, you first had these underground showings in Indonesia.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Yes, it began in secret, but by - once the media embraced the film, the screenings quickly became public. And by this point, when we were screening The Look of Silence for Adi's family in Thailand, there had been thousands of public showings. We had already made the film available for free for all Indonesians online. It had been downloaded tens of millions of times.

AMY GOODMAN: And the government actually had showings?

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Not of The Act of Killing, no.

AMY GOODMAN: No, no, of The Look of Silence.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: The Look of Silence, and entered that space. And actually, it's distributed by two government bodies: the National Human Rights Commission and the Jakarta Arts Council - something unimaginable if - were it not for The Act of Killing. The first screening in Jakarta was held in the largest theater in Indonesia. There were billboards around the city announcing the screening. Three thousand people turned up. The theater only could hold 1,500. They put on two screenings. Adi came for both and received a 15-minute standing ovation. The next month, the film came out across the country. On the first day, International Human Rights Day, there were 500 public screenings. And over the coming weeks, we reached 3,500 screenings. The film has prompted this national conversation now about how urgently truth and reconciliation and some form of justice are needed. The government has introduced a truth and reconciliation bill, woefully inadequate, but it's a milestone, and it's something for activists in the human rights community to try to improve.

In any case, because of all of this momentum, Adi's family, upon seeing the film, said, "It must come out now. We're ready to move to Europe." The team in Indonesia said, "I think we can - if we can assemble a team and the resources to relocate the family to another part of Indonesia, that should be possible. We should be able to protect the family's safety, because we think the new climate, in part opened by The Act of Killing, will be protective, and Adi will be seen by many as a national hero after the film comes out." In fact, the first screening was on National Heroes Day and trending on Twitter in Indonesia. Indonesia is the largest Twitter-using country in the world. So, trending on Twitter, actually, around the world that day was "Today we have a new national hero, and his name is Adi." And so, all of this meant that Adi's family was able to move a few thousand kilometers from where they were from to another part of the country. They're surrounded by a more supportive community of human rights lawyers, critical journalists, filmmakers, progressive politicians, all of whom are closely monitoring whatever threats there may be. But Adi's family is OK.

AMY GOODMAN: But they're not living where they - he grew up.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: They're not. And for a man who's only trying to have forgiveness with his neighbors, it's a sign of the extent to which Indonesia is not a democracy. A democracy, of course, requires rule of law. And the most powerful in Indonesia are not subject to the same laws as the weakest - as the weakest. And in that sense - and if there's no rule of law, it's not a democracy. We have the same problem, of course, here in the United States, maybe to a slightly lesser extent, that you don't - and not only - not only that, the fact that - at the same - because of this lack of rule of law, you have a shadow state built around the military of oligarchs, of gangsters, of paramilitaries, who - and intelligence services, formally above the law. The military is immune to civilian law. If a military commander were to order the massacre of a whole village, he could not be put on trial in civilian courts. It would be - the military would have to convene its own tribunal for him, which means the military is beyond the law.

AMY GOODMAN: Which brings me to - back to the perpetrator, one of them, the one that Adi confronts, saying that "I am a product of the United States." Talk more, for those who are not familiar with the history of Indonesia, the modern history of Indonesia, back to the '60s, what the US role was.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: The United States provided aid, weapons, money to the military so that they could carry out this genocide. They may have been involved with masterminding or conspiring to create the events that were used as a trigger for the genocide, the excuse for the genocide, which was the murder of six army generals by other members of the armed forces. But those whatever - all of the CIA job documents pertaining to this period in Indonesia remain classified, and we're pushing to have those released. Senator Tom Udall introduced a "sense of the Senate" resolution on the day of the film's release in Indonesia, saying it's time for the United States to declassify and to take responsibility for its role in these crimes and to declassify its records.

We know - what we already know is damning enough. We know that, for example, embassy officials were compiling lists of thousands of names of public - of public figures in Indonesia - US Embassy officials - and handing these to the army and saying, "Kill everybody on these lists and check off the names as you go, and give the lists back to us when you're done." I spoke to one of those men, a man named Robert Martens, early in my journey here, and he talked about how this was crucial intelligence he was giving. But these were public figures. And the United States had already funded and trained the Indonesian army and advised the Indonesian army to be deployed into every village in the country, so they were useless for national defense. They were deployed for internal repression and mass murder. And if you are, like an octopus, with your tentacles, reaching into every village, of course you know - of course you know who a local public figure is - a journalist, an intellectual, a trade union leader - who might be opposed to the military government. So this wasn't intelligence. This was incitement. This was saying - the United States saying, "Kill everybody. We want this new regime to stick. Kill every possible opponent." The US also provided the radios, deliberately, that allowed the - for the purpose of the military coordinating the massacres across the vast archipelago of 17,000 islands that Indonesia is.

And in The Look of Silence, we also see an NBC News report that celebrates the genocide, more or less, right afterwards. And we see, most chillingly, that Goodyear, a major multinational corporation, is on the rubber plantations, where they're harvesting the latex for our tires and our condoms. Goodyear is using slave labor drawn from death camps to harvest their rubber. This is, of course, what German corporations did on the periphery of Auschwitz a mere 20 years earlier. But here it's being broadcast on American TV and celebrated as good news, as a victory for freedom and democracy. It should give every viewer of The Look of Silence pause, leading us to wonder whether this was really done - whether the real reason for US participation was the so-called - the struggle of the so-called free world against the communist world, or whether that was a ruse, a pretext, an excuse, for murderous corporate plunder.

AMY GOODMAN: And this was all about the rise of the US-backed dictator Suharto.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: That's right. This is how Suharto came to power. And he remained in power for 35 years. And while in power, he - the US continued to aid that government and to encourage further abuses, including the invasion and occupation of East Timor, which led to its own genocide, where a third of the population of East Timor was killed. This was all to the tune of billions and billions of dollars aid was showered upon the Suharto dictatorship. And that aid started flowing while the rivers were still choked with bodies.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to end with two points. One is what happens with the crew who made this film, that you work with. But first, the very touching scene where Adi is talking to his son, and you see his son in school, and what his children are learning today.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Still in Indonesia when we shot the film, and it's maybe starting to change as a result of the film, but still in Indonesia, the government teaches the students, teaches children, that the genocide was heroic, something to be - was the heroic extermination of the Indonesian left, and that the victims were sort of monstrous and deserved what they got, and the perpetrators were heroes. And you see Adi's young son hearing this and hearing that because - that the relatives, the grandchildren of victims shouldn't be allowed decent employment, that they shouldn't be allowed to join the police or get a job in the government, or that they have to be monitored closely, because their grandparents were these terrible people. And we see this stigma being passed on from generation to generation. And, of course, we see essentially the soil being sown for the genocide's recurrence. In the film, we hear again and again, "Let the past be past." But survivors always say it out of fear, and perpetrators always say it as a threat, which means the past is not past, it's right there. It's open. It's a gaping wound. And what's keeping it alive is, of course, the teaching of propaganda in the schools.

And Adi, in many ways, responded to that, the unbearable sense that his children were being stigmatized for their own family's oppression - something that we know all too well in this country, with our own - with our unresolved histories of - the unresolved wounds of race and the Native American genocide. We are - this should not be seen as something unfamiliar to us. And, of course, American - insofar as this is America's genocide, too, this is also part of our history. If America is an empire, what goes on in the far-flung corners of America has everything to do with our life at home and the consumer economy that we perhaps are at least told we should be enjoying at home. So, this is about all of us, too.

AMY GOODMAN: And the credits, the people who worked with you, who cannot still be named, even when this film, The Look of Silence, is being supported by the Indonesian government in its distribution around the archipelago?

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: That's right. Because of the shadow state of the military and the gangsters and the paramilitaries, even if parts of the government are supporting the film, that doesn't mean that it's safer for my team. And it's taken a team of 25 people, five working full time, to ensure the safety of Adi and his family. And we still have a plan B where they evacuate if there's any sign of threat. With my - the same risks are there for my crew, and so my crew, on both films, remains completely anonymous. The credit scrolls on both - it's kind of the finale of both films, is to see that everybody who made the film who's Indonesian is anonymous. These are people who gave 10 years of their lives, some of them, changing their careers from journalists, from human rights lawyers, from university professors, filmmakers, heads of NGOs. They stopped what they were doing, thinking initially they were taking a six-month sabbatical, but would find that actually the project would go on, would get deeper and deeper, and they would decide to continue working on it, risking their safety, knowing they couldn't take credit for their work, until there is real political change. And there's nothing - because they felt it was that important. And there's nothing I'd rather do, really, then to be able to cut the credit scrolls off each film and put on new credits with everybody's name.

AMY GOODMAN: The new president, Jokowi, has he seen this film?

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: We gave him the film months ago. We gave him a letter from me a few weeks ago about the film. There's rumors of a presidential apology to the victims and the families of the victims in the next State of the Union address, but there's already - which is in August. But there's already a backlash. We already have paramilitary groups calling him a communist, calling him a traitor, talking about impeachment proceedings. So, there's - we don't know whether he's seen the film. He received a copy of the film, though, from his - from a relative of his in his mother's living room. And we have a photograph of him holding the film in his mother's living room.

AMY GOODMAN: How many people were killed in 1965, '66, '67 in Indonesia by the Indonesian military and paramilitaries?

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Almost certainly more than a million, perhaps up to three.

AMY GOODMAN: Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, director of The Look of Silence, which has just been released around the United States. October 1st marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the 1965 genocide in Indonesia. Participant media and human rights groups are circulating petitions calling for the United States to declassify and release its CIA, its military, its government, its corporate records about the killings in Indonesia and to acknowledge the US role in the genocide.

News Mon, 03 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Japan's "Sacred" Rice Farmers Brace for Pacific Trade Deal's Death Sentence

In small wet rice fields, or suiden, across Japan, farmers don rubber boots to slosh through the fields and check their plantings. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in tropical Hawaii, negotiators are in the final stages of talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement that farmers fear will disrupt the rhythm of their even-metered life.

Rice is one of the five sacred areas of Japanese agriculture (with pork and beef, wheat, barley and sugarcane). To many, especially those living in rural areas, it remains the primary ingredient of the Japanese identity. As one farmer here said, "without rice, there is no Japan; the culture is a rice culture, it is the most basic element."

Japan's rice farmers have long been the backbone of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. But lately, as their numbers dwindle along with a declining population and demand for rice, this key cultural constituency seems to have lost the strength it once had to demand the government's support.

There are now around 2 million rice farmers in Japan, down from 4 million in 1990 and as many as 12 million in 1960. Some farm part-time, while for others it's their entire livelihood and passion.

Japanese negotiators in Maui, who only a few months ago seemed intent on protecting rice growers by maintaining current import quotas, appear to be bending to American pressure in exchange for allowing more Japanese autos into the US. The tit for tat of trade negotiations, along with the geopolitics of countering China, now threatens this ancient way of life.

I recently spent part of the summer doing fieldwork in Japan and discussing this issue with rice farmers and others in the agriculture industry to learn how the TPP will affect them.

"I'm a simple man. I love farming and just want to farm," a rice grower in Toyama prefecture told me. "Foreign rice is a problem. I'm worried about the TPP and the future of these fields."

Lifting Limits on Rice Imports

The TPP includes 11 nations (Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and Japan) with the United States. The agreement has a goal of eliminating thousands of current tariffs that exist among these countries and to serve as a template for future trade agreements in the region.

Currently rice farmers are shielded by Japan's limit on rice imports. The US is pushing Japan to increase its duty-free imports of American rice and related products from 10,000 tons a year to 215,000 tons. The US also wants Japan to open up its lands to foreign investment.

Per-capita rice consumption in Japan has declined 15% over the past two decades, according to the University of Arkansas. Back in April, Japan's agriculture minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, cited this declining consumption in arguing the country must hold the line on rice imports to protect the farmers.

But that firm stance seems to have softened, though the details remain secret, and that's bad news for Japan's rice farmers.

The Decline of Nokyo

Most of these farmers live a country lifestyle, in a region naturally suited to rice growing because the rice paddies here get water from the melting mountain snow. Farmers in these small villages hundreds of miles from Tokyo on the other side of the Japanese Alps said they are most worried about the impact of the TPP on their ability to compete with foreign rice and foreign ownership of agricultural land.

Rice is grown in small plots (less than an acre). Currently, it is difficult for outside companies to own land because of legal measures. The TPP would allow for foreign land ownership as a form of investment in Japan's rice market.

Past trade agreements have already led to a decline in Japanese agricultural cooperatives, known as nokyo, they said, because competition from foreign rice has made farming more difficult. Other reasons for the decline include the fact that fewer young people are taking on these family farms (Japanese farmers are on average in their 70's).

A young female soybean farmer in Joge, outside of Hiroshima, reminisced about a time when active farms and their bright shades of green marked the neighborhood.

"One by one they stopped farming, the farms are gone," she said, and now the land has transformed to weeds.

This has meant declining influence in the latest trade round. Although the national agriculture union has staged protests, the farmers I spoke with noted the inability of this and other such groups to help and protect farmers.

TPP and the US Pivot

The rice issue is one of the stickiest wickets that negotiators have had to deal with as they try to seal a deal. Getting an agreement rests largely upon the decisions made between the US and Japan, by far the biggest economies in the deal whose shared trade is seen as a building block of the partnership.

And at the moment, the plight of the rice farmers is being overshadowed by much bigger geopolitical issues that are dominating the trade negotiations. Most notably, the Obama administration views the TPP as a key element in its "pivot" or "rebalancing" toward Asia as it seeks to counter China. And by Asia, in terms of partners, it really means Japan, because of the strong US Japan alliance (or nichibei, in Japanese) dating from the end of WWII.

A report prepared by the Congressional Research Service on key TPP negotiation issues notes the US presence in Asia has declined, while America remains "distracted" by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus, the TPP is increasingly about the US-China rivalry, and the concerns of rice farmers and other citizens are unlikely to derail it.

End of a Way of Life

In some respects, the TPP is an attempt to get around the recent failure of developed and developing countries to achieve meaningful results at the World Trade Organization Doha round of negotiations that began in 2001 but collapsed in in 2008.

If negotiations are successful this week in Hawaii, Japan will not only open up its rice market to more US competition but will also allow for foreign investment and corporate land ownership through its investment protection measure. Foreign investment and corporate ownership mean larger plots of land and high mechanization. Small farms simply can't compete with this intensive large-scale production.

Mr Saito (who like many Japanese goes only by his last name) fears an influx of foreign rice and landowners and says the TPP and the changes it brings will crush a way of life, and young farmers like him will be unable to survive.

"Farmers working by hand can't compete," he said. "We are lost."

The Conversation

News Mon, 03 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400