Truthout Stories Wed, 29 Jul 2015 11:53:43 -0400 en-gb "Deplorable": Federal Judge Condemns Texas Detention Centers for Immigrant Families

In what could be a major victory for human rights advocates here in the United States, a federal judge has issued a harsh condemnation of the mass detention of immigrant women and children, calling conditions in the privately-run prisons "deplorable." The ruling by U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee gives the Obama administration 90 days to either release the more than 2,000 women and children being held in two Texas facilities or to show just cause to continue holding them. Immigration lawyers say the ruling has already had a "groundbreaking" impact as Texas judges have started ordering women and children's release without bond, though many have been forced to wear electronic ankle monitors. Republicans are calling on the Obama administration to appeal the ruling. We speak to longtime immigration lawyer Barbara Hines who represents many clients who are detained in the Karnes and Dilley detention centers in Texas.

Please check back later for full transcript.

News Wed, 29 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Candidates Ignore the Role Race Plays in Determining Who Thrives and Who Struggles

Last Saturday, presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley were booed and heckled by liberal activists at a town hall discussion at the Netroots Nation annual conference.

Why would attendees at a gathering of left-leaning progressives commandeer the microphone on stage and shout down Democratic White House contenders? Because Sanders and O'Malley, like the rest of the candidates, have built political platforms that largely ignore race.

The activists at the Netroots meeting were angry because Sanders and O'Malley have failed to respond to racial criminal justice issues, largely ignoring recent high-profile cases – such as the death in police custody of Sandra Bland – and police misconduct involving blacks. Instead, the candidates have focused on economic reforms. But those platforms ignore race too.

Sanders eventually denounced the circumstances surrounding the Sandra Bland arrest and has called for police reforms, and Hillary Clinton now appears to have embraced the Black Lives Matter movement.

Still, none of the White House hopefuls has publicly discussed the role that demographics – particularly race – play in determining who will thrive, and who will struggle, in today's economy.

Cookie-cutter platforms

Sanders, who is a socialist and the most progressive candidate in the presidential race, has characterized the well-documented wealth and income gaps as "grotesquely" unfair. His proposed solutions, though, are generic and race-neutral ones, like raising the minimum wage or creating jobs in low-income neighborhoods.

Likewise, Hillary Clinton's recently announced economic policy platform largely steers clear of race and instead focuses on stagnating middle-class wages.

Few Republicans have discussed racial justice issues either, and Jeb Bush has now dismissed the Black Lives Matter movement as merely a "slogan."

But, about eight months before he launched his presidential campaign, Senator Rand Paul, a libertarian-leaning Republican, wrote an op-ed that discusses the racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The opinion, written in response to the violence in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police shooting death of Michael Brown, argues that "[a]nyone who thinks race does not skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention."

Since announcing his candidacy for president, though, Rand has largely avoided discussing racial criminal justice issues. While his official web page refers to an "unjust criminal justice system," his campaign has not focused on how the criminal justice system disproportionately harms black Americans.

Likewise, rather than focusing on police misconduct as a cause for the recent riots in Baltimore, he instead suggested that they resulted from a breakdown in family structure, a lack of fathers and the lack of a moral code in society.

While Republican candidate Rick Perry mentioned black poverty in a recent speech, his response was also a race-neutral one that focused on giving people at the bottom of the economic ladder a chance to climb.

For the most part, the candidates' proposals to address income and wage inequality are generic and nonracial: raise the minimum wage, expand social security, tax the ultra-rich or increase the earned income tax credit. None of the proposals acknowledges that, because of the widening wealth gap, race and ethnicity have now become almost decisive factors in determining whether a family will thrive or struggle financially.

Who thrives and who struggles

The authors of a series of essays recently issued by the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis show that race remains a powerful, if not conclusive, predictor of whether you will be a financial "thriver" or "struggler."

After analyzing data collected in the Fed's Survey of Consumer Finances from 1989 to 2013, the authors found that about a quarter of American families are financially thriving, while the other 75% are struggling.

Thriving families are middle-aged, white or Asian college graduates who have above-average incomes and have amassed enormous amounts of wealth. In contrast, strugglers are young, black or Hispanic, are less educated, have little or no wealth and work in low-wage jobs. The essays reveal that income – and particularly wealth – gaps among whites, blacks and Hispanics are staggering.

Average income for blacks and Hispanics is 40% lower than for whites. Even worse, average wealth held by Hispanic and black families is 90% lower. While the presidential candidates' proposals to increase the minimum wage might help close the income gap, a little more take-home pay would do little to close the staggering wealth gap.

The essays also reveal that wealth patterns for racial groups have changed little over the last 25 years and, except for Asian families, may now be permanent. For example, from 1989 to 2013, white families have consistently held the greatest amount of wealth, followed by Asian, then Hispanic, and finally black families. Although Asian family wealth has steadily increased over the 25-year period because of higher college completion rates for young Asians, financial patterns have remained virtually unchanged for whites, Hispanics and blacks.

Race-neutral solutions won't address the roots

Increasing college graduate rates for blacks and Latinos or making colleges free (as Sanders has proposed) are race-neutral solutions that could ostensibly close the wealth gap. But, even if more young blacks and Latinos receive college degrees, the wealth gaps won't go away.

The Fed researchers considered whether education, rather than race, was the main cause for the wealth gap. They found that age and education play only small roles in explaining the gaps. Racial and ethnic differences in financial well-being remain even after accounting for the age and educational attainment of the head of the family.

In the last decade, the US population became more racially and ethnically diverse than it has ever been. If political leaders continue to ignore widening wealth inequality, the gaps may become permanent, and that could be destabilizing both politically and economically. It will be harder to boost the economy in the future if blacks and Latinos are permanently relegated to an economic underclass that has little wealth.

It is not particularly surprising that the presidential hopefuls shy away from saying that race may determine a family's financial well-being. Though a recent New York Times poll now shows that most Americans think race relations in this country are generally bad, making such a statement in a political climate that purports to be colorblind might quickly end the candidate's presidential aspirations.

Until politicians are willing to admit that whether you thrive or struggle financially may be influenced by your race, however, the United States will remain racially split into groups of a few haves – and a lot of have-nots.

The Conversation

Opinion Wed, 29 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Are Countries Legally Required to Protect Their Citizens From Climate Change?

2015.7.29.ClimateChange.main(Image: Dave Burnham / Flickr)

On June 24, 2015, a court in The Hague ordered the Dutch government to act faster in its duty to protect its citizens against the effects of climate change. This marks the first time the issue has been legally declared a state obligation, regardless of arguments that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend on one country's efforts alone. The decision was based on various branches of law, including, most importantly, human rights. In effect, it makes the Dutch government accountable for greenhouse gas emissions on its own territory, an outcome other countries may also need to heed.

The government, the court said, must ensure that Dutch emissions in 2020 will be at least 25 percent lower than those in 1990 - the amount the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report says is needed from industrialized countries if the world is to not exceed 2 °C (3.6 °F) warming and avoid the worst consequences of climate change. Dutch political leaders had been planning to cut emissions by up to 17 percent within the next five years.

"Our case lets politicians know that they can't let climate change happen. They have a duty to act, be it legally or morally," says Dennis van Berkel, legal counsel to the Urgenda Foundation, which, supported by about 900 co-plaintiffs, initiated the suit.

The Dutch, whose country lies largely below sea level, have reason to worry about climate change. But they live in a country that has resources to adapt. People in poorer countries, who have contributed least to climate change and are also often least well prepared to respond, are likely to suffer the most. It's for them that the Dutch victory is critical, says van Berkel. "The rights of our co-plaintiffs are central, but people outside of the Netherlands will be even harder hit by climate change," he says. "The ruling will encourage others to appeal to human rights when it comes to climate change threats." Which brings up the big question: Is the Dutch court ruling a landmark for the entire globe?

From Human Rights to Policies

In 2008, the International Council on Human Rights Policy in Geneva, Switzerland, wrote in a report about climate change and human rights: "As a matter of law, the human rights of individuals must be viewed in terms of state obligations." But the world has long been grappling with international agreements for such obligations; from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to repeated Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change - COP - meetings, the best efforts have struggled to gain traction, in large part because political actions have not kept pace with promises made.

Aware of that gap, citizens have tried to litigate political leaders into action, but prior to the Urgenda (a portmanteau of "urgent agenda") case there were no victories. In 2005, for example, the Inuit Circumpolar Council filed a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, based in Washington, D.C., claiming that global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions from the United States violated the Inuit people's right to sustain their traditional ways of life due to destruction of the Arctic environment. But the commission dismissed the complaint due to lack of sufficient evidence.

"The obligations are clear," says Wim Voermans, a professor of constitutional law at Leiden University in the Netherlands. "But when they aren't kept, can citizens then make a claim that it's a country's non-acting that's endangering them? That's the challenge. … It's hard to prove direct causalities in civil litigation."

In 2008, the village of Kivalina, Alaska, sued several large energy companies, claiming that global warming had diminished sea ice formation, forcing the village to relocate. The case was dismissed based on judicial determination that decisions about permissible levels of greenhouse gas emissions should be made by the executive and legislative branches, not by the courts.

"The real problem is, who has what power?" says Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University Law School. "Whose job is it to set climate policy? Basically, all judges have said, not me. Before the Urgenda case, no court had really taken on this role."

Courts haven't been entirely averse to taking responsibility, though. In 2006–7, Massachusetts sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which had refused to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act of 1970. The agency claimed that any attempt to regulate greenhouse gases might impede potential White House strategies. The Supreme Court disagreed. While it was an important outcome, "the court did not set policy," Gerrard explains. "It was just saying, it is EPA's job."

Meanwhile, in different countries courts have varying views about how broadly they can act. In environmental policy, courts have at times chosen to intervene on behalf of the public. In 2001, for example, the Supreme Court of India decreed that all Delhi buses had to convert from diesel to natural gas, which has had a profound effect on air quality. It was an important ruling, but it didn't get into climate change.

Amid this impasse between governments avoiding responsibility and courts preferring not to interfere, academics and attorneys worldwide as well as some members of the judiciary have felt a growing unease. A group of them eventually came together to determine whether climate change is an actual issue under existing law, specifically international law, human rights law, national environmental law and, to a lesser extent, tort law. They concluded the answer is yes. "There are longstanding principles of human rights and protection of environment that are threatened by climate change," Gerrard says. "Our view is that the law should have the ability to address this great threat."

The group's discussions, which took several years, led to the launch of the Oslo Principles on Global Climate Change Obligations on March 1, 2015. Drawing on existing law and the IPCC's 2 °C (3.6 °F) threshold finding and prepared by expert members from national and international courts, universities and organizations in every region of the world, the principles seek to define the scope of legal obligations relevant to climate change. "We are currently educating judges around the world of the existence of the principles," says Gerrard, a co-author of the principles. "Our hope is that judges in various countries will use the framework of the principles and that they are cited by the courts."

The Urgenda case began before the principles were established, and was inspired by a book titled Revolution Justified, written by Roger Cox, one of the lawyers representing Urgenda, which looks at how courts can play a role in solving energy issues. But as the suit progressed it relied in part on the Oslo Principles, bringing together various branches of law and IPCC science. According to Gerrard, the Urgenda ruling was "the first decision by any court in the world ordering states to limit greenhouse gas emissions for reasons other than statutory mandates."

Building Momentum

Meanwhile, new scientific findings keep pouring forth. The journal Nature reported in February that carbon emissions from thawing permafrost will accelerate climate change, information not accounted for in current IPCC reports. With each such finding, the goal to not exceed an increase of 2 °C (3.6 °F) becomes more difficult. "Our findings add one more pressure for action," says Kevin Schaefer, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, who contributed to the Nature paper. "There is a sense of urgency. The carbon feedback is an irreversible process, a true tipping point."

But a lack of scientific evidence hasn't been the stumbling block for climate action in the decades since scientists have identified the issue. The Urgenda ruling could offer a different way forward because it sets a legal precedent, saying that concrete reductions cannot wait. While the ruling is not binding for any other country, it sets an example and, as such, is a landmark for the world.

"We hope that there is enough momentum built that many countries feel an obligation," Gerrard says.

A Pathway to Commitment

This offers a new piece to the puzzle as countries move toward convening in Paris for COP 21 this coming November - a piece they will likely have to deal with before then as lawyers are emboldened to bring similar cases around the globe. "No one expects that commitments made in COP 21 will be sufficient to avoid dangerous climate change," van Berkel says. "But after COP 21 it is going to be critical that countries remain committed to what is needed. Juridical procedures similar to our case are going to be instrumental in this." No events have been scheduled yet in Paris to discuss the Oslo Principles, but Urgenda has been organizing a march from Utrecht to Paris starting November 1 to draw further attention to action needed to fight climate change.

A citizen suit similar to Urgenda's is currently underway in Belgium, and another is expected soon in Norway. Urgenda's decision may yet be appealed, and future cases may be successful or not. Either way, they each will play a role in changing the zeitgeist toward a feeling that climate change and human rights are inextricable, says Bill McKibben, founder of the climate campaign, which, among other actions, has led the campaign for universities and other entities to divest from fossil fuels. "They'll drive home, constantly, the message from Desmond Tutu: Climate change is the human rights crisis of our time."View Ensia homepage

News Wed, 29 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Police Shoot and Kill Mentally Ill Native American Man

On July 12 of this year, Denver police shot and killed Paul Castaway, a mentally ill Lakota Sioux man. His case raises awareness of two issues that are flying under the radar in the ongoing national conversation about police shootings: Over half of fatal shootings involve mentally ill people, and Native Americans are statistically more at risk of dying in police shootings than other racial groups. Castaway's traumatic and horrific death is riveting his Denver community, and his last words are a haunting indictment of law enforcement in the United States: "What's wrong with you guys?"

According to family members and witnesses, Castaway's mother Lynn Eagle Feather called the police for help when her son started waving a large knife while he was intoxicated. This is often the first step in fatal incidents involving police officers and mentally ill people - frequently people are off their medications or experiencing breakthrough episodes of breaks with reality and other mental health problems. They may not be fully aware of what they're doing and they pose a greater risk to themselves than others, but family members aren't equipped to provide the help they need. Since few communities have a mental health crisis response unit, families resort to calling police in the hopes that officers can subdue their family members and help them get to treatment.

As is commonly the case, that didn't happen for Castaway. When officers responded, the terrified man ran into a mobile home park around the street, where officers cornered him. Witnesses and family who had access to surveillance tapes claim that he was holding the knife to his neck, while police claim that he was posing a threat to officers, so he was shot four times, later dying at the hospital. Chillingly, witnesses report that he was forced onto his stomach and cuffed after being shot, despite his severe injuries. The much-loved member of the community left behind a son as well as other family members.

Advocates have risen in protest against the shooting - over 100 people rallied in downtown Denver to raise awareness of the shooting and ask for justice. His family is demanding full copies of video related to the shooting, and families of some of the witnesses are asking for counseling as well. Many of those who saw the shooting were children at play who were traumatized by the sight of law enforcement chasing and shooting a man right in front of them, especially when it was followed by brutal handling on the ground as he was put into cuffs. Members of the Colorado Chapter of the American Indian Movement, meanwhile, have rallied in front of the Denver Police Department to ask for answers.

Even when alerted to the fact that a subject is mentally ill - as happened in this case - police officers often respond poorly, illustrating the need for better protocols and training in addition to the long-term development of mental health crisis units. Cuts to mental health support services in the United States have left police forces on the front lines of providing support to the mentally ill community, and sometimes this involves paying a high price. Notably, Native Americans experience mental illnesses at a higher rate than the general population, putting them at greater risk of police interventions gone wrong.

Even without mental illness as a compounding factor, Native Americans frequently die at the hands of U.S. police. Though they account for .8 percent of the population, 1.9 percent of police shootings involve Native Americans. The black community makes up 13 percent of the population and 25 percent of police shootings - a truly shocking statistic - but in terms of death per million people annually, Native Americans rank perturbingly high on the list. While black people between 20 and 24 die at a rate of 7.1 per million, Native Americans between 25 and 34 follow close behind at 6.6, and 35-44 year old Native Americans are the next largest category of those who die in fatal shootings. The horrible statistics on police encounters for the Native community need to be addressed as part of a larger push for reforms in American policing, but the movement to talk about Native deaths hasn't yet expanded nationally. Maybe Castaway's encounter will act as the tipping point, rather than slipping below the surface of his small community.

News Wed, 29 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Obligatory Trump Cartoon ]]> (Lauren Walker) Art Wed, 29 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400 The Crypto Wars Have Gone Global

2015.7.29.Encryption.main(Image: Yuri Samoilov / Flickr )

Recently, Congress heard testimony about whether or not backdoors should be introduced into encryption technologies, a technically problematic proposal that would fundamentally weaken the security of the Internet, according to a recent report written by eleven of the world's leading cryptographers. But while Congress is reliving these debates from the nineties (we hear they're in these days), the Crypto Wars are very much alive and well in other parts of the world.

The United Kingdom, Netherlands and Australia have gone farther than the proposals put forward by the FBI by introducing new regulations that seek to weaken and place limits on the development and use of encryption. These efforts, made ostensibly to protect citizens against terrorism, are likely to have severe economic, political and social consequences for these nations and their citizens, while doing little to protect their security.

According to the cryptographers' report, encryption in fact has a critical role to play in national security by protecting citizens against malicious threats. The harm to the public that can be presented by lax digital security has been illustrated a number of times over recent months: data breaches such as the hack of the Office of Personnel Management compromised the personal information of tens of millions of Americans, while weak or flawed cryptography led to vulnerabilities such as Logjam and FREAK that compromised the transport layer security protocols used to secure network connections worldwide. Encryption is not only essential to protecting free expression in the digital age—it's also a critical part of national security.

This is what makes law enforcement claims that encryption prevents them from pursuing criminals and terrorists so concerning, especially when it's not backed up by evidence. Testimony by Manhattan's DA before the Senate Judiciary Committee revealed that the office had encountered 74 iPhones whose full-disk encryption had hindered an investigation, or less than 0.1% of all cases, as EFF's Nadia Kayyali notes. As Bruce Schneier put it recently in an interview, "[David] Cameron is unlikely to demand that cars redesign their engines so as to limit their speeds to 60 kph so bank robbers can't get away so fast. But he doesn't understand the comparable trade-offs in his proposed legislation."

United Kingdom

Cameron has said there should be no "means of communication" which "we cannot read" in the United Kingdom, which has been interpreted by some media outlets as a proposal to ban the use of encryption in the UK.

No legislation has been made available publicly yet, and a spokesperson for the prime minister backed off such claims in recent days, so the exact form of implementation remains to be seen. But to entertain the hypothetical, the consequences of such a move would be quite significant: not only would UK citizens be banned from using secure software and UK companies be banned from producing it, but any sort of free and open source software would be banned, due to an inability to police whether encryption had been introduced in any of the code.

A ban would likely mean, as Cory Doctorow notes, that many companies would have to relocate or completely revamp their servers as operating systems like GNU/Linux and BSD use free and open source code. Popular messaging applications including iMessage and WhatsApp would bebanned for their use of encryption. Moreover, anyone entering the UK with a phone or computer from outside of the UK would have to conform to UK standards or have their devices seized at the border.

But the likely proposal, that Cameron will seek to mandate technology companies provide backdoor access to UK law enforcement, is already having a negative impact on UK businesses. A number of technology firms, including Ghost, and Eris Industries, have moved out of the UK over concerns they will be forced to introduce backdoors in their encryption technologies. Leading technology companies including Apple and Google have also expressed trepidation at the UK's planned expansion of its state power over their products.

The consequences for users' privacy are even worse. Parliament is expected to revive the Draft Communications Data Bill, commonly known as the Snoopers' Charter, in its next session. The bill would require Internet service providers to maintain records of users' communications and would change authorization procedures to allow senior law enforcement officers to give monthly authorizations for bulk collection rather than requiring individual requests for the collection of data.

In combination with a mandate for backdoored encryption, this would mean a dramatic expansion of the UK's capacity to surveil the communications and metadata of its citizens even as the state diminishes those citizens' capacity to protect themselves from harm.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands is similarly considering legislation that would combine an expansion in surveillance powers with limits on cryptography in a slightly different form, through the capacity to compel decryption of data. It recently launched public consultation on a proposed update to the Intelligence & Security Act of 2002 which expands the country's surveillance capabilities to include non-specific interception. In combination with intelligence services' existing authority to compel anyone to decrypt stored data and communications either by handing over keys or by providing the decrypted data, citizens of the Netherlands face significant incursions on their privacy.

Mandating end-users decrypt their data is in many ways problematic, particularly because it reverses the presumption of guilt. If the user doesn't have the private key or passphrase to access the decrypted data, there is no way for them to prove this is the case—and they could face felony or misdemeanor charges for their failure to comply.

But the mandate to decrypt also includes other parties, including intermediaries and online service providers, which would introduce another complicated twist. According to analysis of the bill by Matthijs Koot, this provision is written in such a way as to facilitate bulk interception of encrypted communications where mandated by a Minister. The existing law already grants legal room for the use of hacking, which could be used in order to obtain the information necessary to decrypt data, or using third party agents or informants in order to obtain this information, for example by intercepting someone's keys in order to decrypt their data—all of which would present greater challenges to protecting user privacy.

There's still time for these provisions to be amended in response to public comments. The Dutch Review Committee on the Intelligence & Security Services has already raised a number of important questions about the bill, including whether the expansion of interception powers will be effective and necessary, how the privacy of innocent citizens should be protected and what the minimum requirements of oversight should be. We're hopeful that critique will also come from within Parliament, given that Dutch representatives opposed similar measures when proposed by the Council of Europe in January, according to EDRi. But the proposal of such measures is indicative of a range of challenges to encryption broader than UK and US-proposed backdoors.


Recently passed revisions of Australia's Defence Trade Controls Act may likewise have a deleterious effect on the development and use of encryption technologies. The DTCA is a permitting regime that regulates trade in military technologies and dual-use technologies, including encryption. The newest list of these technologies introduces the risk of overbreadth by setting an extremely low bar for what forms of encryption classify under this regime—regulating not only encryption software itself, but the systems, electronics and encryption used to implement, develop, produce and test it.

All it takes is for such an ambiguously-written regulation to be re-interpreted or over-enforced, and a country with an apparently positive approach to strong encryption could quickly morph into a state that silences or even prosecutes its own security researchers. While such regulations exist on the statute books, statements by politicians declaring their intent to prevent the privacy of encryption contribute to this climate of uncertainty, without any need for a new law.

In this case, the planned introduction of criminal provisions to the Defence Trade Controls Act has raised serious questions about the safety of distributing or even teaching encryption among researchers. Daniel Mathews, a lecturer at Monash University, is concerned that the specifications are so imprecise that "the only cryptography not covered by the DGSL is cryptography so weak that it would be imprudent to use."

Moreover, they risk being interpreted in such a way as to make the teaching of cryptography and even other areas of mathematics illegal without obtaining a permit. The EFF recently signed on to a letter from members of the International Association for Cryptologic Research expressing concern over the law, saying it "subjects many ordinary teaching and research activities to unclear, potentially severe, export controls." The amendments to the Act were passed in April and will come into effect next year.

The Danger of Setting New Norms

The unintended consequence of these efforts to provide law enforcement unfettered access to communications for users' privacy and the security of the Internet far exceeds the benefits that would be gained.

Even with amendments, the regularity with which these debates occur presents a risk that they begin to set the norm: given the geopolitical weight of the nations in which they're being considered there's potential that such proposals could set precedent for other nations to follow suit. And as EFF lawyer Nate Cardozo noted in a panel at the recent Crypto Summit, even more dangerous is the potential for silent capitulation by technology companies regardless of whether there's a law on the books.

Already, FBI Director James Comey praised the UK's proposal for being "a little bit ahead of us" on encryption policy in his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, suggesting such policy measures are progressive rather than outdated and ill-informed. It's time to leave the Crypto Wars behind, and treat encryption as a part of national security rather than a threat to it.

News Wed, 29 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Haiti Marks 100th Anniversary of US Occupation

They landed a century ago this month, brandishing guns and hoisting the stars and stripes on government buildings in a foreign land.

It would be 19 years before Old Glory would come down, and Haiti's bicolor red and blue flag would fly again.

While many in this struggling nation are too young to remember the years, 1915 to 1934, that marked the first U.S. invasion of Haiti, the occupation remains a complex, and for some, a vexing period in Haitian history.

"Haitians like the U.S. visa to travel, but they don't like American interference in their politics," said Jean-Junior Joseph, a political blogger who once served as spokesman for the U.S. backed interim government that led Haiti between 2004 and 2006.

On Monday, Junior was among a handful of Haitians who attended a conference at the national pantheon museum as part of a monthlong series of activities aimed at commemorating the day the U.S. marines landed in Port-au-Prince, July 28, 1915.

Inside the museum, 56 books about the occupation are on display, the titles underscoring the resistance marines found in an unstable Haiti after a mob mutilated the body of then-Haitian President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam. Sam had ordered the deaths of 167 political prisoners, and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson reasoned that U.S. financial interests and citizens needed protection.

But instead of protecting Americans, soldiers were soon calling the shots, accused of abuse and racism, and leaving their footprint on almost all aspects of Haitian life and politics.

"It's during the occupation that Haitian women learned about going to the beauty salon," said Pierre Buteau, a historian and former education minister.

Despite such influences, including modern roads and infrastructure, Buteau said the "modernization left by the Americans was fake. It was a modernization that was archaic, that didn't have an output to development."

Among the displays at the museum to commemorate the occupation, is the Haitian flag, now faded and barely recognizable, that President Sténio Vincent raised on Aug. 21, 1934 at the end of the occupation. Four years earlier, Vincent had won the presidential elections.

Haiti's historians and writers have long debated the impact of the occupation. Despite some positives, like a stable economy, many say the occupation failed to bring about sustainable development or improve the lives of the rural poor.

"The American occupation was a failure," said Herold Toussaint, a professor at the State University of Haiti. "There was stability of [the domestic currency] and they diminished corruption in the public administration. But the objective they had, friendly relations between Haiti and the U.S., didn't happen."

Instead of cooperation, there was domination, said Toussaint, noting that the soldiers accentuated the class and color issue in Haiti where lighter-skinned Haitians were rewarded with plum diplomatic posts, and the rural poor led an unsuccessful revolt.

Buteau said while U.S. officials underestimated what awaited them in Haiti, the country's rural poor also underestimated what a world power the U.S. was at that time.

The occupation would eventually end after the resistance became too much for the U.S. government and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration.

"We should think of the Haiti after the occupation and the Haiti before the occupation as a moment of mourning," Buteau said.

On Tuesday, a small group of protesters observed the anniversary by marching to the U.S. Embassy.

News Wed, 29 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The US Hand in the Syrian Mess

2015.7.29.Syria.mainA Syrian refugee walks among severely damaged buildings in downtown Homs, Syria, on June 3, 2014. (Photo: Xinhua/Pan Chaoyue via Flickr )

Neocons and the mainstream US media place all the blame for the Syrian civil war on President Bashar al-Assad and Iran, but there is another side of the story in which Syria's olive branches to the US and Israel were spurned and a reckless drive for "regime change" followed.

Syria's current leader, Bashar al-Assad replaced his autocratic father as president and head of the ruling Ba'ath Party in 2000. Only 35 years old and British educated, he aroused widespread hopes at home and abroad of introducing reforms and liberalizing the regime. In his first year he freed hundreds of political prisoners and shut down a notorious prison, though his security forces resumed cracking down on dissenters a year later.

But almost from the start, Assad was marked by the George W. Bush administration for "regime change." Then, in the early years of Barack Obama's presidency, there were some attempts at diplomatic engagement, but shortly after a civil conflict broke out in 2011, the legacy of official U.S. hostility toward Syria set in motion Washington's disastrous confrontation with Assad which continues to this day.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in front of a poster of his father, Hafez al-Assad.

Thus, the history of the Bush administration's approach toward Syria is important to understand. Shortly after 9/11, former NATO Commander Wesley Clark learned from a Pentagon source that Syria was on the same hit list as Iraq. As Clark recalled, the Bush administration "wanted us to destabilize the Middle East, turn it upside down, make it under our control."

Sure enough, in a May 2002 speech titled "Beyond the Axis of Evil," Under Secretary of State John Bolton named Syria as one of a handful of "rogue states" along with Iraq that "can expect to become our targets." Assad's conciliatory and cooperative gestures were brushed aside.

The Assad regime received no credit from President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney for becoming what scholar Kilic Bugra Kanat has called "one of the CIA's most effective intelligence allies in the fight against terrorism." Not only did the regime provide life-saving intelligence on planned al-Qaeda attacks, it did the CIA's dirty work of interrogating terrorism suspects "rendered" by the United States from Afghanistan and other theaters.

Syria's opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and its suspected involvement in the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri deepened the administration's hostility toward Damascus.

Covertly, Washington began collaborating with Saudi Arabia to back Islamist opposition groups including the Muslim Brotherhood, according to journalist Seymour Hersh. One key beneficiary was said to be Abdul Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian vice president who defected to the West in 2005. In March 2006, Khaddam joined with the chief of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood to create the National Salvation Front, with the goal of ousting Assad.

Thanks to Wikileaks, we know that key Lebanese politicians, acting in concert with Saudi leaders, urged Washington to support Khaddam as a tactic to accomplish "complete regime change in Syria" and to address "the bigger problem" of Iran.

Meanwhile, the Assad regime was striving mightily to reduce its international isolation by reaching a peace settlement with Israel. It began secret talks with Israel in 2004 in Turkey and by the following year "had reached a very advanced form and covered territorial, water, border and political questions," according to historian Gabriel Kolko.

A host of senior Israelis, including former heads of the IDF, Shin Beit, and Foreign Ministry, backed the talks. But the Bush administration nixed them, as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek confirmed in January 2007.

As Kolko noted, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz then "published a series of extremely detailed accounts, including the draft accord, confirming that Syria 'offered a far reaching and equitable peace treaty that would provide for Israel's security and is comprehensive' — and divorce Syria from Iran and even create a crucial distance between it and Hezbollah and Hamas.

"The Bush Administration's role in scuttling any peace accord was decisive. C. David Welch, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, sat in at the final meeting [and] two former senior CIA officials were present in all of these meetings and sent regular reports to Vice President Dick Cheney's office. The press has been full of details on how the American role was decisive, because it has war, not peace, at the top of its agenda."

Isolating Assad

In March 2007, McClatchy broke a story that the Bush administration had "launched a campaign to isolate and embarrass Syrian President Bashar Assad. . . . The campaign, which some officials fear is aimed at destabilizing Syria, has been in the works for months. It involves escalating attacks on Syria's human rights record. . . . The campaign appears to fly in the face of the recommendations last December of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which urged President Bush to engage diplomatically with Syria to stabilize Iraq and address the Arab-Israeli conflict. . . . The officials say the campaign bears the imprint of Elliott Abrams, a conservative White House aide in charge of pushing Bush's global democracy agenda."

Not surprisingly, Vice President Cheney was also an implacable opponent of engagement with Syria.

Attempting once again to break the impasse, Syria's ambassador to the United States called for talks to achieve a full peace agreement with Israel in late July 2008. "We desire to recognize each other and end the state of war," Imad Mustafa said in remarks broadcast on Israeli army radio. "Here is then a grand thing on offer. Let us sit together, let us make peace, let us end once and for all the state of war."

Three days later, Israel responded by sending a team of commandos into Syria to assassinate a Syrian general as he held a dinner party at his home on the coast. A top-secret summary by the National Security Agency called it the "first known instance of Israel targeting a legitimate government official."

Just two months later, U.S. military forces launched a raid into Syria, ostensibly to kill an al-Qaeda operative, which resulted in the death of eight unarmed civilians. The Beirut Daily Star wrote, "The suspected involvement of some of the most vociferous anti-Syria hawks at the highest levels of the Bush administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney, have combined with US silence on the matter to fuel a guessing game as to just exactly who ordered or approved Sunday's cross-border raid."

The New York Times condemned the attack as a violation of international law and said the timing "could not have been worse," noting that it "coincided with Syria's establishing, for the first time, full diplomatic relations with Lebanon. This was a sign that Syria's ruler, Bashar Assad, is serious about ending his pariah status in the West. It was also a signal to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan that Assad, whose alliance with Iran they abhor, is now eager to return to the Arab fold."

The editorial added, "if President Bush and Vice President Cheney did authorize an action that risks sabotaging Israeli-Syrian peace talks, reversing the trend of Syrian cooperation in Iraq and Lebanon, and playing into the hands of Iran, then Bush and Cheney have learned nothing from their previous mistakes and misdeeds."

In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine, Syrian ambassador Imad Moustapha noted that his government had just begun friendly talks with top State Department officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "And suddenly, this [raid in eastern Syria] happens," the ambassador said. "I don't believe the guys from the State Department were actually deceiving us. I believe they genuinely wanted to engage diplomatically and politically with Syria. We believe that other powers within the administration were upset with these meetings and they did this exactly to undermine the whole new atmosphere."

Despite these many provocations, Syria continued to negotiate with Israel through Turkish intermediaries. By late 2008, according to journalist Seymour Hersh, "Many complicated technical matters had been resolved, and there were agreements in principle on the normalization of diplomatic relations. The consensus, as an ambassador now serving in Tel Aviv put it, was that the two sides had been 'a lot closer than you might think.'" Then, in late December, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, a devastating assault on Gaza that left about 1,400 Palestinians dead, along with nine Israeli soldiers and three civilians.

Israeli Sabotage

The brief war ended in January, just before President Obama's inauguration. Assad told Hersh that despite his outrage at Israel "doing everything possible to undermine the prospects for peace … we still believe that we need to conclude a serious dialogue to lead us to peace." The ruler of Qatar confirmed, "Syria is eager to engage with the West, an eagerness that was never perceived by the Bush White House. Anything is possible, as long as peace is being pursued."

Of Obama, Assad said "We are happy that he has said that diplomacy — and not war — is the means of conducting international policy." Assad added, "We do not say that we are a democratic country. We do not say that we are perfect, but we are moving forward." And he offered to be an ally of the United States against the growing threat of al-Qaeda and Islamist extremism, which had become major forces in Iraq but had not yet taken hold in Syria.

Assad's hopes died stillborn. The new government of Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which took office in March 2009, steadfastly opposed any land-for-peace deal with Syria. And the Obama administration lacked the clout or the will to take Israel on.

President Obama did follow through on promises to engage with Syria after a long period of frozen relations. He sent representatives from the State Department and National Security Council to Damascus in early 2009; dispatched envoy George Mitchell three times to discuss a Middle East peace settlement; nominated the first ambassador to Damascus since 2005; and invited Syria's deputy foreign minister to Washington for consultations.

However, Obama also continued covert funding to Syrian opposition groups, which a senior U.S. diplomat warned would be viewed by Syrian authorities as "tantamount to supporting regime change."

At home, Obama's new policy of engagement was decried by neoconservatives. Elliott Abrams, the Iran-Contra convict who was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush and who directed Middle East policy at the National Security Council under President George W. Bush, branded Obama's efforts "appeasement" and said Syrian policy would change only "if and when the regime in Iran, Assad's mainstay, falls."

Syria, meanwhile, rebuffed Washington's demands to drop its support for Iran and for Hezbollah and reacted with frustration at the administration's refusal to lift economic sanctions. Said Assad, "What has happened so far is a new approach. Dialogue has replaced commands, which is good. But things stopped there."

As late as March 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continued to defend talks with Assad, saying: "There's a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he's a reformer."

But that stance would change a month later, when the White House condemned "in the strongest possible terms" the Damascus regime's "completely deplorable" crackdown on political opponents in the city of Dara'a, ignoring the killing of police in the city.

That August, following critical reports from the United Nations and human rights organizations about the regime's responsibility for killing and abusing civilians, President Obama joined European leaders in demanding that Assad "face the reality of the complete rejection of his regime by the Syrian people" and "step aside." (In fact, a majority of Syrians polled in December 2011 opposed Assad's resignation.)

Washington imposed new economic sanctions, prompting Syria's U.N. ambassador, Bashar al-Jaafari, to assert that the United States "is launching a humanitarian and diplomatic war against us." Obama's policy, initially applauded by interventionists until he failed to send troops or major aid to rebel groups, opened the door to support from the Gulf States and Turkey for Islamist forces.

The Rise of the Salafists

As early as the summer of 2012, a classified Defense Intelligence Agency report concluded, "The salafist [sic], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq, later the Islamic State]" had become "the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria."

As Vice President Joseph Biden later admitted, "The fact of the matter is . . . there was no moderate middle. . . . [O]ur allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. . . . They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and . . . thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis."

As with Iraq and Libya — do we never learn? — "regime change" in Syria may well bring about either fanatical Islamist state or a failed state and no end to the violence.

Recalling Israel's folly in cultivating Islamist rivals to Fatah (notably Hamas), Jacky Hugi, an Arab affairs analyst for Israeli army radio, recently made the remarkable suggestion that "What Israel should learn from these events is that it must strive for the survival and bolstering of the current regime at any price." He argued:

"The survival of the Damascus regime guarantees stability on Israel's northern border, and it's a keystone to its national security. The Syrian regime is secular, tacitly recognizes Israel's right to exist and does not crave death. It does not have messianic religious beliefs and does not aim to establish an Islamic caliphate in the area it controls.

"Since Syria is a sovereign nation, there is an array of means of putting pressure on it in case of conflict or crisis. It's possible to transmit diplomatic messages, to work against it in international arenas or to damage its regional interests. If there's a need for military action against it, there's no need to desperately look for it amid a civilian population and risk killing innocent civilians.

"Israel has experienced years of a stable border with the Syrian regime. Until the war broke out there, not a single shot was fired from Syria. While Assad shifted aggression toward Israel to the Lebanese border by means of Hezbollah, even this movement and its military arm is preferable to Israel over al-Qaeda and its like. It's familiar and its leaders are familiar. Israel has 'talked' through mediators with Hezbollah ever since the movement controlled southern Lebanon. It's mostly indirect dialogue, meant to serve practical interests of the kind forced on those who have to live side by side, but pragmatism guides it.

"While Hezbollah fighters are indeed bitter enemies, you will not find among them the joy in evil and cannibalism, as seen in the last decade among Sunni jihadist organizations."

Washington need not go so far as to back Assad in the name of pragmatism. But it should clearly renounce "regime change" as a policy, support an arms embargo, and begin acting in concert with Russia, Iran, the Gulf states and other regional powers to support unconditional peace negotiations with Assad's regime.

President Obama recently dropped hints that he welcomes further talks with Russia toward that end, in the face of prospects of an eventual jihadist takeover of Syria. Americans who value human rights and peace ahead of overthrowing Arab regimes should welcome such a new policy direction.

News Wed, 29 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Rise of the Underground Economy

A manicurist wears a mask at a nail salon in New York, July 15, 2015. Salon workers have seen momentous, if uneven, shifts in the industry after an outcry over labor abuses — some salons have ignored a requirement to post the bill, which outlines information on minimum wage and where they can go for labor complaints. (Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times)Salon workers have seen momentous, if uneven, shifts in the industry after an outcry over labor abuses - some salons have ignored a requirement to post the bill, which outlines information on minimum wage and where they can go for labor complaints. (Photo: Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times)

Want to challenge injustice and make real change happen? That's Truthout's goal - support our work with a donation today!

In 2014, slightly over 11 percent of American workers were union members, as compared to 20 percent in 1983. Such a steady drop in union membership over the last 30 years, especially within the private sector, has weakened worker bargaining power and led to rollbacks on employer contributions to healthcare and pensions, as well as deteriorating working conditions, and falling real wages, for both union and non-union employees.

It also has resulted in the expansion of what is colloquially called the "underground economy," an arena wherein not only exploitative, but illegal, labor practices abound. Though difficult to quantify, the underground economy more than doubled between 1970 and 2000, and spiked following the 2008 recession.

While often associated with criminal ventures like trafficking, prostitution, and piracy, a growing portion of the underground economy involves illegal practices within legal sectors such as construction, auto repair, food service, car washes, and nail salons. Practices include the violation of labor, tax, insurance, and licensing laws. These activities are detrimental not only to the workers in these industries, many of whom are immigrants, but also to the American public.

In California alone, which boasts the largest economy among the states and the eighth largest in the world, the Employment Development Department estimates that the underground economy employs 15-17 percent of the state's labor force and generates $60 to $140 billion per year in economic productivity. This translates to an annual loss to the state of between $8.5 billion and $28 billion in corporate, personal, and sales and use taxes, money that could otherwise fund education, infrastructure maintenance and expansion, and a variety of social programs.

The underground economy also injures business owners who play by the rules who cannot compete against those who offer lower prices because they cheat, while exposing consumers to greater risks of substandard service with little recourse should something go wrong. Alongside a decline in union strength has come the loss of union apprenticeship programs that trained the next generation of workers and ensured a skilled workforce, an endeavor that undoubtedly benefited employers and consumers.

In short, the damage created by the underground economy extends to everyone. But, the exploitation of labor remains the most significant pillar on which it rests. This takes the form of lower wages, wage theft, which can include not paying wages at all, failure to pay unemployment insurance or to carry workers' compensation, unsafe working conditions, and classifying workers as independent contractors rather than as employees to avoid various payroll taxes.

Those who toil in the underground economy generally perform un- or semi-skilled labor, often with little opportunity for advancement, at significantly lower wages than those formally employed. Moreover, they often rely on public assistance, in the form of food stamps and emergency room medical care, to subsidize this lesser pay. In many instances, workers receive wages for only a portion of the hours they worked in a given week, while others are paid on a piece rate basis - as low as $15 for a 10-hour workday hanging drywall.

The range of occupations in which underground economic activity thrives and the variety of violations involved suggests that a renewed and robust union movement would act as a countervailing power against the largely unimpeded power of organized capital to abuse vulnerable workers. The successful attack on unions over the past decades by industry leaders, advocacy organizations, lobbyists, and politicians at all levels of government is rooted in the idea that labor unions are concerned strictly with extending benefits to their members. A successful response necessitates a continued commitment by labor to its recent interest in advancing a broad social justice agenda as part of the effort to gain wider public support.

This requires embracing a vision of organizing that situates unions and their members within communities in ways that both move away from the past hostility to organizing immigrant workers and that highlights the shared social advantages of a strong and diverse labor movement - higher wages for union and non-union workers, a more highly trained workforce, safer working conditions, and an end to the use of public money to subsidize the exploitative practices at the heart of the underground economy.

Opinion Wed, 29 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Climate Pledges by Walmart, Bank of America and 11 Other Companies Are Mostly Symbolic

Corporate pledges by Walmart, Bank of America, Apple and others to reduce their carbon emissions leave a lot to be desired. In fact, including the energy use of corporations' overseas operations, signatories of the American Business Act on Climate Change pledge are not promising much.

(Photo: Carbon Emissions via Shutterstock)Corporate signatories of a White House-sponsored climate pledge are not promising much in the way of carbon emissions reduction. (Photo: Carbon Emissions via Shutterstock)

Help Truthout keep publishing stories like this: They can't be found in corporate media! Make a tax-deductible donation today.

This week, the White House announced the "American Business Act on Climate Change" pledge, which contains pledges to reduce carbon emissions from 13 of the country's largest corporations. Together their pledges amount to "$140 billion in new low-carbon investment" and "1,600 megawatts of new renewable energy" projects.

The July 27 announcement of these pledges has been widely heralded as a game-changing, important move by major industry players in the fight to reduce the harmful effects of anthropogenic climate change. ThinkProgress described the move as "meant to demonstrate industry support for strong carbon reduction goals."

This certainly rings true for some on the list, though the growth-oriented model that they all share suggests that none will actually do all that is necessary to roll back the negative effects of climate change.

Nevertheless, industry policies do make some difference. Google has a demonstrated track record of increasing its reliance on renewable energy and has participated in lobbying for investment in it. Google has also lobbied for easier access to renewable energy in parts of the United States, where it is currently restricted by pro-fossil fuel interests. And General Motors was awarded a perfect score in 2014 by the Climate Disclosure Project for its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and foster a sustainable business model, which suggests that its stated goals for 2020 are already in process.

Microsoft's set of "commitments" is so vague as to not even include any target dates.

However, for some other companies on the list, the gesture, when considered in the context of overall business operations and carbon impact, seems mostly symbolic. Bank of America, though it vowed in 2014 to cut investments in coal in response to the fossil fuels divestment movement, voted down a proposal that would have required it to make transparent the carbon impact of its other substantial investments in fossil fuel initiatives. On this issue, Ceres, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering a sustainable economy, wrote, "a bank's financed emissions typically dwarf its other climate impacts." This reality raises the question of how significant Bank of America's pledge to fund up to $125 billion in sustainable business initiatives by 2025 really is.

The same critique can be made of Berkshire Hathaway Energy (primarily owned by Berkshire Hathaway) and Goldman Sachs, which have larger portfolios of investments that do not signal "strong carbon reduction goals."

PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Cargill are framed as climate change leaders for signing on to the act, despite the fact that their manufacturing operations and sourcing policies are well-known to be massively destructive to the earth's environment in terms of resource extraction, soil and forest depletion and pollution - all of which fuel anthropogenic climate change.

Alcoa, one of the world's largest aluminum manufacturers, has directed its pledge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2025 (over 2005 numbers) at its US facilities, although a substantial portion of its extractive and smelting operations - and thus carbon emissions - happen overseas.

Meanwhile, Alcoa remains a member of the anti-renewable energy coalition, the American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC, as does UPS, which raises questions about the veracity of the pledges made by both.

Microsoft's set of "commitments" is so vague as to not even include any target dates, and any real evidence that it is in fact moving to power its data centers with renewable energy is lacking. As Greenpeace observed in its 2015 "Clicking Clean" report, "Microsoft's strategy for reaching its 'carbon neutral' commitment remains primarily reliant on the purchase of unbundled renewable energy credits and carbon offsets, which have little if any impact on the energy powering its data centers."

And finally, there's Apple and Walmart, both of which continue to direct attention to energy efficiency and carbon reduction at their US operations, despite the fact that the vast majority of their greenhouse gas emissions impact on the world stems from the manufacture of the products they sell. In both cases, manufacture of goods mostly takes place in China, where production is powered by dirty coal. And in the case of Apple, the production of those goods is increasing in carbon intensity.

So while it's certainly a good thing that Apple will add 280 megawatts of renewable energy to power its retail, corporate and data facilities in the United States and China by 2016, these initiatives represent just 1 percent of the company's 2014 carbon footprint. If Apple's leaders were truly serious about reducing the company's impact on climate change, they would invest in renewable energy sources for production facilities. The rest is really just child's play. Especially considering that the total industry pledge of 1,600 megawatts of renewable energy would power just three medium-sized factories.

News Wed, 29 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400