Truthout Stories Tue, 27 Jan 2015 07:27:04 -0500 en-gb Arizona Court Vacates Monica Jones' Prostitution Conviction

An appeals court in Phoenix vacated activist Monica Jones' prostitution conviction today, citing an unfair trial. In March 2013, she was arrested shortly after protesting a controversial "rescue" program, which used sweeping police stings to round up suspected sex workers.

Monica JonesMonica Jones. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)Help Truthout keep publishing stories like this: They can't be found in corporate media! Make a tax-deductible donation today.

An appeals court in Phoenix, Arizona, vacated activist Monica Jones' prostitution conviction this morning, citing an unfair trial.

In March 2013, Jones was arrested for prostitution shortly after protesting a controversial "rescue" program known as Project ROSE, which used sweeping police stings to round up suspected sex workers and force them to accept social services and enter a diversion program or face criminal charges. Repeat offenders who did not qualify for the program faced charges and potentially jail time.

"As you may you know, I was arrested under an anti-prostitution sting, by the name of Project ROSE," Jones said in a statement in November, when she learned that Project ROSE was not planning any more stings. "This program used police and prosecutors to round up sex workers, and people profiled as sex workers, forcing them into diversion programs using coercion."

Jones, who is a black transgender woman and an activist, was charged with violating a vague local statute that considers waving at cars or engaging a passerby in conversation as evidence of "manifesting" an "intent" to sell sexual services. Jones and other activists argue that this "manifesting prostitution" statute allows police to unfairly profile transgender women, poor people and woman of color, and Jones may have been specifically targeted because she is an outspoken activist.

"When an undercover officer saw Monica Jones . . . walking down the street just a few blocks from her house, in an area that the officer described as being 'known for prostitution,' that was enough to convince him that she intended to engage in prostitution," wrote Chase Strangio, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). "It was on that basis that he approached and stopped her."

As Truthout has reported, police in cities across the country routinely profile transgender women and other gender nonconforming people - especially people of color - as sex workers for simply walking down the street, or "walking while woman."

So, Jones decided to fight her charges in court.

"It's not just me fighting to prove that I'm innocent; it's me fighting against this outrageous law," Jones told Truthout in 2014. "Who has more to lose? The state has more to lose than I do . . . because this case sets a precedent."

The only witness testimony in the case was from Jones and her arresting officer, who was working undercover when he stopped Jones in his car a few blocks from her house as she was walking to meet some friends at a bar and restaurant.

Both witnesses agreed that Jones accepted a ride from the undercover officer, but they disagreed on who initiated the ride and alleged sexual advances, according to reports.

It was Jones' word against the cop's, and the trial court sided with the cop, citing Jones' credibility as a witness.

Jones had been arrested on prostitution charges a few years earlier and brought to Project ROSE. She called the program "humiliating," and subsequently joined sex worker and human rights advocates in publicly opposing Project ROSE and other "rescue" programs like it.

Arizona's harsh prostitution laws require a mandatory 30-day jail sentence for repeat offenders. In the ruling to convict Jones, the trial judge wrote that Jones was not a credible witness because "a motive to avoid a mandatory 30-day sentence would be something that I can't ignore."

Here's an excerpt from the cross-examination of Jones during the original trial:

Q. [by the prosecutor] You've not been bashful or shy about your, at least previous sex work experience, correct?

A. I'm not - I'm not ashamed. I'm not shy. I talk about it very openly. And that's the reason I was out there protesting.

Q. Okay. And so your protest of Project ROSE is related to your work as a sex worker, correct?

A. No. It's related to my activism for human rights and civil rights. That's the reason why.

Q. And would you agree with me that you've previously been arrested for prostitution activities, correct?

A. Yes. My past is my past.

Q. And would you agree with me that you've previously been convicted for prostitution activities, correct?

A. Yes. That's open records.

Nobody wants to spend 30 days in jail, especially Jones, who, if she had been incarcerated, would have missed her classes at Arizona State University where she studies social work. But just because a witness is facing jail time doesn't mean they are guilty and prepared to lie about it. This is exactly what the appeals court found in its ruling this morning, which vacated the conviction and declared a mistrial. The appeals court ordered a new trial, but it's unclear if prosecutors will reopen the case.

"My conviction being vacated is important, but it is a small win in our larger fight for justice," Jones told reporters this morning. "There are so many trans women and cisgender women who might be charged under this law in Phoenix and similar laws across the country. There is so much more work that needs to be done so that no one will have to face what I have no matter who they are or what past convictions they have."

The courts did not rule on a constitutional challenge to Phoenix's "manifesting prostitution" statute filed by the ACLU, but the case - and the activism of Jones and her allies - put Project ROSE and Arizona's harsh treatment of sex workers under international scrutiny.

In January 2014, sex worker and human rights activists reported the statute and Project ROSE to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. In November of that year, Jones announced that she had been informed that Project ROSE would no longer be conducting prostitution sweeps with the police.

The founder of Project ROSE is Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, a social work professor at Arizona State University School of Social Work, where Jones also studies.

News Mon, 26 Jan 2015 17:25:26 -0500
The Trans-Pacific Partnership Will Sink the Middle Class

Labor organizations rallied in opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership Trade deal in Washington, DC, May 7, 2014.Labor organizations rallied in opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership Trade deal in Washington, DC, May 7, 2014. (Photo: AFGE)Truthout needs your help to publish grassroots investigative journalism and to share visions for a brighter future. Contribute now by clicking here!

Six years into his presidency, President Obama is now taking heat from a surprising place: congressional Democrats, who are lining up against his plan to force the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through Congress without any debate whatsoever.

If approved, the TPP, or as I like to call it, the Southern Hemisphere Asian Free Trade Agreement - SHAFTA - would create a whole new set of rules regulating the economies of 12 countries on four different continents bordering the Pacific Ocean.

Unfortunately, because the TPP is being negotiated almost entirely in secret, we don't know a lot about it.

What we do know about it, though, comes almost entirely from leaks, and those leaks paint a pretty scary picture.

Thanks to groups like WikiLeaks, we now know the TPP would give big pharmaceutical companies virtual monopoly patent power, let corporations sue countries in international courts over regulations that those corporations don't like, and gut environmental and financial rules.

Given facts like this, you'd think that President Obama would want Congress to actually take the time and debate whether or not the TPP is a good idea for the US public.

But that's apparently not the case.

To push the US onto the TPP as soon as possible, he's asked Congress to give him "fast-tracking" powers that would prevent lawmakers from making any amendments to the TPP.

Instead, the treaty would be sent right to the floor where it would only have to pass a simple majority vote.

Sounds pretty, anti-democratic, right?

Well it is, and that's why Congressional Democrats are now speaking out against President Obama's request for fast-tracking powers.

But the fight against TPP is about more than just whether our elected representatives should get a say in the trade policy of our republic - it's about whether the middle class will survive through the next generation.

As economist Adam Smith pointed out in his classic book The Wealth of Nations, manufacturing is what really creates the wealth of nations. That's because manufacturing creates things of real value, like cars, that can be sold to create wealth. This, in turn, helps create a middle class made up of working people who make the things that fuel the economy.

Every single great power in modern world history has understood this. That's why they protected their domestic industries with strong tariffs that made goods produced by domestic factories cheaper than those made abroad.

The founding fathers understood the importance of manufacturing as well. One of the first things George Washington did when he took office was ask Alexander Hamilton to come up with a plan to boost US manufacturing.

The result was Hamilton's famous "Report on Manufactures," which proposed using tariffs and subsidies to grow the industry of our young republic.

While controversial at the time, Hamilton's report eventually became the playbook for 200 years of trade policy that made the United States the greatest industrial powerhouse the world has ever seen.

And then everything changed.

Starting the 1990s, Washington began embracing a new school of thought about how to grow the wealth of nations. This new school of thought, pushed by Wall Street and corporate America, said that so-called "free-trade" deals were the best and fastest way to riches.

All free-trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA really did, though, was take the most important part of our economy - manufacturing - and send it overseas. According to Public Citizen, NAFTA alone led to a net loss of over 1 million jobs.

As a result of all this, manufacturing now makes up just around 12 percent of our GDP, a far cry from the 1950s, when it made up almost 30 percent of our GDP.

This is about as bad as it gets.

Without a strong manufacturing base, no great power can survive as a great power. It will instead become dependent on foreign goods and the financial world to create wealth out of thin air - a recipe for economic disaster after economic disaster.

And without strong manufacturing jobs that actually create things, the middle class will wither and die, just as it has started to do here in the US over the past few decades.

This is why the current debate over the TPP and fast-tracking is such a big deal.

Two decades of free-trade deals have eviscerated the middle class and bloodied the "American dream."

If President Obama goes ahead and signs us onto another free-trade deal, especially one as destructive as the TPP, that will be like tying a cement block to the feet of a drowning man.

It will spell the end of the US middle class, and, for that matter, the vision of the United States that Alexander Hamilton first put forward more than 200 years ago.

So call your members of Congress today and tell them to "just say no" to the SHAFTA/TPP and President Obama's request for fast-tracking powers.

Opinion Mon, 26 Jan 2015 15:33:47 -0500
Tips ]]> Art Mon, 26 Jan 2015 14:39:23 -0500 Why Rand Paul Is Wrong About Social Security Disability

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Contrary to analysis, Paul has insisted that half the people getting Social Security disability are only suffering from back aches and occasional anxieties faced by all workers.Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Contrary to analysis, Paul has insisted that half the people getting Social Security disability are only suffering from back aches and occasional anxieties faced by all workers. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

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The Republican Congress decided to make overhauling the Social Security disability program one of its first orders of business. On the first day of the new session it put in place a rule change that would make it difficult to address the shortfall the program is projected to face some time next year.

Republican leaders like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul justified this change by insisting that half the people getting disability had the sort of back aches and occasional anxieties that we all face. The difference is that they get checks from the government rather than working. For this reason, Rand argued the program is in serious need of reform.

As several analysts quickly pointed out, there is no basis for Paul’s assertion. Only a relatively small fraction of disability beneficiaries remotely fit Paul’s description of people with backaches and anxiety. As the data clearly show, it is not easy to get disability. More than three quarters of applicants are initially turned down, and even after the appeals process just over 40 percent of applicants get benefits.

Furthermore, we know that the vast majority of people getting disability would not be working even if they weren’t getting a check from the government. A study published by the University of Michigan a few years ago examined the work patterns of people who were denied disability. It focused on a group of marginal applicants, people who had conditions that would be approved or denied depending in large part on the administrative judge to whom their case was assigned. These were the sort of people that Rand Paul was talking about.

This group comprised roughly a quarter of all applicants. The study found that among this group, 28 percent of the people who were denied benefits were working two years after their application. Since this was a marginal group comprising less than a quarter of applicants, we can infer that somewhere near 7 percent of the people approved would be working without their disability check.

Furthermore, even among this group the study found that average annual earnings were less than half their pre-disability level. This indicates that these people were suffering from a serious condition, even if didn’t make them completely unable to work.

But this 7 percent number gives a useful point of reference. We can set Rand Paul loose on the people with disability and have him throw off the ones that really could be working. If he has perfect judgment, then we will save the program 7 percent by getting rid of the people identified by the Michigan study. If his judgment is less than perfect, we may still save the same amount of money, but it could mean cutting off benefits for terminal cancer patients and other people with extremely serious health conditions.

This gets us to the Federal Reserve Board. If the problem is that we are spending too much money on disability then one sure way of reducing costs is to get the unemployment rate down. There is a regular pattern where more people go on disability when there is a downturn in the economy.

This should not be surprising. There are many employers who keep older workers on the payroll even if a physical condition makes it difficult for them to perform their job. However when there is downturn and they have to cut back their workforce, these workers are likely to be the first to be laid off. In a labor force with a glut of unemployed workers, an older worker with a serious physical problem will find it difficult to get a new job. Therefore many of these people will end up getting disability.

The best way to keep these marginal cases off disability is to keep them on their jobs. Adjusting for the aging of the workforce, the number of people getting disability rose by more than 12 percent from before the recession in 2007 to 2011.

We can infer from this fact that if we had been able to hold the unemployment rate to its pre-recession level we would somewhere around 12 percent fewer people getting disability payments. That is considerably more than the number of would-be workers identified by the University of Michigan study. In other words, we are likely to do more to reduce disability roles by sustaining high levels of employment than by setting Rand Paul loose to get rid of all the shirkers.

This is yet another reason why all good people everywhere should be leaning on the Federal Reserve Board not to raise interest rates this year. The point of raising interest rates is to slow the economy and keep people from getting jobs. We all know many reasons why this is bad, but the disability whiners have given us one more.

If the Fed keeps people from getting jobs, then we will have more people getting disability benefits. If the number of people getting disability bothers you, send a note to Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen asking her not to raise rates.

Opinion Mon, 26 Jan 2015 12:58:04 -0500
The Ghastly, Remotely Piloted, Robotic Reaper Drone

The MQ9 Reaper - now used by the United States 24/7 over Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere - makes killing too easy. Despite the propaganda in mainstream media, drones are not deployed in a "war on terror." Weaponized drones are terror.

An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at Hurlburt Field Fla., April 24, 2014.An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at Hurlburt Field Fla., April 24, 2014. (Photo: Staff Sgt. John Bainter/US Air Force)

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The MQ9 Reaper - now deployed 24/7 over Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere - makes killing too easy. It makes war easier to initiate and perpetuate. US drone wars are started with little or no public awareness or support - and with little apparent stake in the game. The weaponized drone cheapens honor. It cheapens life.

The Reaper kills and maims combatants and noncombatants, adults and children, infants and elderly. Drone victims are also those left widowed or orphaned, and those - in the hundreds of thousands - who flee the terrorized tribal countryside. Despite the propaganda that saturates US mainstream media, drones are not deployed in a "war on terrorism." Weaponized drones are terror.

Reaper targeting is both precise and indiscriminate. Precise if and only if the intelligence on the ground is accurate - a very big if. Precise striking is too easily confused with precise selecting. On average, for every alleged high level adversary assassinated, dozens of family members, neighbors and other noncombatants are also killed.

The British human rights organization, Reprieve, notes that certain al-Qaeda leaders have escaped several drone attacks in which they have been reported killed. Many of those attacks result in "collateral damage," i.e. other and innocent lives lost. Drone pilots and their chain of command often have no idea who their victims are, or how many they have killed.

Aerial warfare is cowardly. The Reaper raises cowardice to new heights. Where there's no moral compass, where there's no risk, there's no courage. Despite the lack of physical risk, drone pilots reportedly often suffer post-traumatic stress disorder. These technicians stalk their human targets for hours or days before launching their Hellfire missiles and 500-pound bombs. From their ergonomic armchairs, they observe the assassination and its aftermath up close and personal. They watch "bugsplat" (pilot talk for victims) try to flee.

Minutes later, the pilot may "double tap" - attacking the first responders who converge on the rubble and carnage. Hours later, they may triple tap: targeting those attending the victims' funeral. Killing and maiming mostly civilians, often far from war zones, drones incite hatred, which can lead to blowback or what might be called reactive terrorism: retaliation against suspected informers, aid workers, journalists and US targets near and far. No one can calculate the half-life of such hatred.

Drones violate national sovereignty (Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Gaza etc.), thereby defying international law, thereby rendering the entire planet more hate-filled, anarchic and vulnerable. Drone attacks are racist: They almost exclusively target Muslims and people of color ("Christian terrorism").

US (and, let us not forget, British and Israeli) drone attacks spur proliferation - a drone arms race in which dozens of nations, if only in self-defense, are now acquiring or building weaponized drones. The barbaric use of killer drones creates markets: The deadly robots are first demonstrated eviscerating or vaporizing human flesh, then exported. The barbarity also creates precedents that make all of us, everywhere, less safe

The Pentagon's PR mantra is that "drones save lives." Yet the Reaper's advantages are negated by the larger truth that only in the short-term and within narrow contexts do they reduce US casualties. (Those casualties of other nations, of course, don't mean so much. Par excellence, the weaponized drone is the flagship of US exceptionalism.)

Summing up, the Reaper is tactically clever, but strategically stupid. The Pentagon is surely aware of this insufficiency. But the Pentagon doesn't necessarily seek to "win" its wars. The US military machine seeks to multiply enemies and keep the pot boiling, thereby devouring the national budget and perpetuating mega-profits for its corporate allies. The corporados laugh all the way to the bank.

On the Home Front

Reaper deployment from sites such as Niagara Air Force Base near Buffalo and Hancock Air Force Base near Syracuse in upstate New York extend the war zone to nearby civilian areas. Like it or not, without our consent, we've become part of the battleground. Upstate New Yorkers didn't enlist in these undeclared, clandestine wars. We are conscripts. Our federal taxes pay for these wars; vast slabs of our national treasure are diverted to the military and away from schooling, health care, mass transit and other infrastructure.

Reaper deployment is cloaked in secrecy, mocking democracy. Reaper security measures (as at Hancock, home of the 174th Attack Wing) lead to civil liberties abuse. Since 2010, recurring nonviolent anti-drone protests at Hancock have led to more than 150 arrests and multiple incarcerations of those exposing Pentagon and CIA Reaper lawlessness. We're arrested outside the base entrance as we assemble, speak out and petition the government for a redress of grievances - First Amendment rights, supposedly.

The drone assassination of non-US civilians has morphed into the assassination of US citizens overseas. Will these criminal attacks - devoid of due process - morph into drone strikes against US citizens within the United States itself? The targets here one day may be antiwar activists or someone's political opponent, or simply those guilty of being young, male and black, or Muslim. Or, as in Afghanistan, someone's or some cartel's rival drug dealer.

The Federal Aviation Administration, charged with regulating the safety of our skies, can't keep up with the burgeoning drone industry and escalating domestic drone use. Even with adequate regulations, enforcement will at best be patchy. The more drones in the air, the more difficult the enforcement. Drones have a high accident rate. Drones accidentally or deliberately invading air traffic lanes are a threat to manned commercial passenger aircraft. The more drones in the air, the more collisions. Drones can be launched anonymously. Their origins can be faked. Drones can be hacked and misdirected.

Although a drone pilot's field of vision is like looking through a soda straw, drone surveillance technology is almost preternaturally sophisticated. Drones threaten personal privacy, undermining the Fourth Amendment. Police agencies are itching to deploy drones, leading to surveillance without warrants on a mass, indiscriminate scale - pervasive, persistent, wide-area, suspicionless surveillance. Police drones will also surely be used for crowd control, suppressing demonstrations and other First Amendment activity essential to democracy.

Police surveillance drones can be armed with so-called "non-lethal" devices (facial recognition technology, lasers, sound bombs, rubber bullets etc.). These chill public dissent. Non-lethal can morph into lethal crowd control. Do we really trust the increasingly militarized police and the US intelligence agencies to self-enforce constitutional restraints on their domestic spying? Think NSA.

Drone technology is rapidly evolving. As it penetrates the US economy and the US military machine, drone research in these two spheres will cross-pollinate. The Reaper and its successors are on their way to becoming ever more autonomous and unaccountable.

Domestic drone development has commercial and agricultural application. Drones will create jobs. But rarely mentioned is the fact that drones are a form of automation and that automation snuffs out jobs.

The glitz of consumer drone applications here is already displacing perceptions of the military mayhem over there. Mainstream media hype is already "normalizing" drones (à la the 1950s "Atoms for Peace" campaign providing cover for the then-emerging toxic nuclear industry). Such hype swamps coverage of the vile aspects of drones both domestically and internationally. The multibillion-dollar drone industry has already bought and bamboozled its engineers, its universities, its media and its representatives in Congress.

Opinion Mon, 26 Jan 2015 12:39:11 -0500
Hailed as US Counterterrorism Model in Middle East, Yemen Teeters on the Brink of Collapse

Yemen is facing political collapse following the mass resignations of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, his prime minister and entire cabinet. Thursday’s exodus came just hours after Shia Houthi rebels stormed the presidential compound in the capital city of Sana’a. Hadi said he could not continue in office after Houthis allegedly broke a peace deal to retreat from key positions in return for increased political power. The Houthis appear to have major backing from longtime former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was ousted in a popular uprising in 2011. The Obama administration had praised the Yemeni government as being a model for "successful" counterterrorism partnerships, but on Thursday the United States announced it was pulling more staff out of its embassy in Yemen. Some experts warn the developments in Yemen could result in civil war and help al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) gain more power. Meanwhile, Oxfam is warning more than half of Yemen’s population needs aid, and a humanitarian crisis of extreme proportions is at risk of unfolding in the country if instability continues. We are joined by Iona Craig, a journalist who was based in Sana’a for four years as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London.


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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin in Yemen, which is teetering on the brink of collapse after the U.S.-backed president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, his prime minister and entire cabinet resigned on Thursday. The exodus came just 24 hours after Shia Houthi rebels stormed the presidential compound in the capital city of Sana’a. Hadi said he could not continue ruling after Houthis allegedly broke a peace deal to retreat from key positions in return for increased political power. The Houthis appear to have major backing from longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh, the ousted leader who was forced from office in a popular uprising in 2011.

AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration had praised the Yemeni government as being a model for "successful" counterterrorism partnerships, but on Thursday the U.S. announced it was pulling more staff out of its embassy in Yemen. Some experts warn the developments in Yemen could result in civil war and help al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula gain more power. Meanwhile, Oxfam is warning more than half of Yemen’s population needs aid, and a humanitarian crisis of extreme proportions is at risk of unfolding in the country if instability continues. Ten million Yemenis do not have enough to eat, including 850,000 acutely malnourished children.

For more, we go to London, where we’re joined by Iona Craig. She’s a journalist who was based in Sana’a, Yemen, for four years as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London, was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in 2014.

Iona, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about what has taken place.

IONA CRAIG: I think what we’ve seen in the last few days is pretty unprecedented in terms of Yemen, and I think what’s happened now with Hadi handing in his resignation, the prime minister and the cabinet, is really probably the smartest thing they could have done. They were backed into a corner by the Houthis, and quite literally, the Houthis had surrounded Hadi’s house. They obviously couldn’t and hadn’t taken them on militarily, in a fight that they were unlikely to be able to win. And so this was the only way for them to turn around to the Houthis and say, "No, this is enough."

And now we have the prospect of an emergency meeting of the Parliament on Sunday, when Hadi’s resignation will be put forward. Now, they have the option to reject that resignation, which means that Hadi would still be president after that, unless he then hands his resignation in again within three months. So it may actually be that Hadi stays and manages to survive all of this.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Iona, given the constant turbulence within the country, what’s the impact on some of the regional powers—obviously, Iran and the United States and Saudi Arabia?

IONA CRAIG: Well, really, you know, the reason why the international community has been promoting and supporting Hadi is because, for them, there wasn’t another option. They’ve been backing this transition deal from the beginning. It was created initially as Ali Abdullah Saleh signed the deal at the end of 2011 in order to step down, this deal called the GCC deal. But it really originated—and it’s an open secret in Sana’a—from the American Embassy. And the reason we know that is that the politicians in Yemen that first saw it could tell that it was translated from English. So, that transition deal is what the international community have been backing. And that transition deal is really what has brought this to this place today, because it never truly addressed the underlying problems in Yemen. It was all about reshuffling power in order to concentrate on the security issues within Yemen, without actually making the changes that Yemenis have been demanding. So, issues like the Houthis, who were a marginalized group and persecuted under Ali Abdullah Saleh, the issue of southern secession, they were never truly addressed throughout this period. And now this has come to a head now with the Houthis taking their own action to get what they want. So the international community is partly responsible for the situation that Yemen is now in. But, of course, their focus still remains on the security issues in Yemen.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to comments President Obama made last summer when he announced additional U.S. military support to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In response to a question, President Obama invoked U.S. policy in Yemen as a possible model for Iraq and Syria. This is part of what he said.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You look at a country like Yemen, a very impoverished country and one that has its own sectarian or ethnic divisions, there’s—we do have a committed partner in President Hadi and his government, and we have been able to help to develop their capacities without putting large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground, at the same time as we’ve got enough CT, or counterterrorism, capabilities that we’re able to go after folks that might try to hit our embassy or might be trying to export terrorism into Europe or the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama over the summer. Your response, Iona Craig?

IONA CRAIG: Well, I think this really kind of goes back to what I just mentioned. The international focus has always been about security in Yemen. So, even when Ali Abdullah Saleh was in power, they backed him because they could work with him and, you know, to carry out the operations that they wanted, to use drone strikes in Yemen. And there was no plan B. There was no "What will we do if Ali Abdullah Saleh is not there?" And similarly, then, with Hadi. They knew Hadi had been vice president under Ali Abdullah Saleh. It was someone they knew they could work with. They built on the partnership. And again, now, there is—there is no plan B. So if Hadi goes, this leaves them in a position—you know, in a really bad position of who now are they dealing with.

As for the issue of the Yemen model, clearly now that’s something of a joke, really. The Yemen model has all but collapsed. The fighting against al-Qaeda on the ground has actually been done now by the Houthis, but it’s actually made the issue and the problem of al-Qaeda worse in Yemen, anyway. The violence being carried out by al-Qaeda has increased hugely since the Houthis took Sana’a in September. But, you know—and again, looking at those Oxfam figures, the underlying problems in Yemen, you have—now those figures have gone to 16 million people in need of humanitarian aid. The last figures that came out said 14.7 million, out of a population of 25. So, whilst the international community focuses on the security issues, you’ve got an economy that’s collapsing, you’ve got a rising humanitarian crisis and political issues that haven’t been dealt with. So, this kind of short-term thinking about the security situation in Yemen is really never going to get to the bottom of the political problems, the economic problems and the humanitarian issues that all feed into this in the end.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned one of the other underlying problems being an ongoing secessionist movement. Most Americans here have short memories. They forget that it wasn’t long ago when there was a separate Marxist state, the Democratic Republic of Yemen, in a huge portion of what is now Yemen. Could you talk about that secessionist movement in its current form?

IONA CRAIG: Yes, the Southern Movement, or al-Hirak al-Janoubi, as it’s known in Yemen, has been around for many years now, technically since 2007. But North and South Yemen, we unified in 1990, and then there was a brief civil war in 1994, and the south was very much crushed in that. But this call for secession has been increasing rapidly over the last few years, particularly obviously since 2011. But the international community again has failed to really engage with the southerners. And they particularly reached out to the U.K., actually, because obviously the British previously had control of Aden, the southern city, for many years. And they reached out to the international community. And really, the international community didn’t—hasn’t engaged with them, mainly because they feel that if they engage with the south, then it’s recognizing their calls for secession, and they don’t want Yemen to break up, because they think it will impact the security situation. So, in that void, it’s actually Iran that a lot of the time in the south has stepped in and has engaged with the southerners, because nobody else will. And they have increasingly been engaging with them and supporting them.

But we’ve also got a situation now in the south over the last 24 hours, since everything’s happened in Sana’a, where they are now taking action. There have been big protests in the south today. They have said—you know, put out a message saying they will refuse to take orders now from Sana’a because of what’s happening with the Houthis. And it now appears that the Houthis are in charge. But, you know, there’s a lot of politicking going on in Aden right now. So you’ve got President Hadi with his supporters and his militiamen and gunmen on the streets. You’ve also got the Houthis, supported by Ali Abdullah Saleh, been trying to make gains in Aden, as well. So, it’s going to come to a head in the south, and that looks like it’s going to happen sooner rather than later now, because of what’s happening in Sana’a.

AMY GOODMAN: Will Saleh return as president?

IONA CRAIG: Ali Abdullah Saleh?


IONA CRAIG: I think that’s very unlikely, but I think the chances of Ahmed Ali, his son, returning as president are possible. I think that’s distinctly possible. It may not happen in the next week, but when it comes the time of presidential elections—goodness knows when that will happen now—but I think there is a possibility that Ahmed Ali, his son, could rule Yemen. And right now, you know, for some Yemenis, they would throw up their hands and say, you know, security, some form of stability, some form of governance is better than nothing. They’re in a pretty dire situation right now with an economy that’s collapsing and this humanitarian crisis going on at the same time. And people most of the time just want stability so they can carry on with their lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Iona Craig, we want to thank you very much for being with us. She’s speaking to us from London, but she lived for four years in Sana’a, in the capital of Yemen, reporting for The Times of London, winner of the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.

News Mon, 26 Jan 2015 11:34:51 -0500
New Film on Jordan Davis Captures Family's Struggle to Convict White Vigilante

We are broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, where a new film takes on the subject of the growing nationwide protests over the killing of unarmed African Americans by examining one of the cases to make national headlines in recent years: the killing of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. The film, "3 1/2 Minutes," tells the story of what happened on Nov. 23, 2012, when four teenagers pulled into a Florida gas station to buy gum and cigarettes. They were soon confronted by Michael Dunn, a middle-aged white man who pulled in next to them in the parking lot. Dunn demanded the boys turn down the music they were playing, and became angry when they refused. He pulled his gun from his glove box and shot at their car 10 times, even as they tried to drive away from the danger. The shots rang out three-and-a-half minutes after Dunn had arrived. In the hail of bullets, Jordan Davis was killed. After the shooting, Dunn fled the scene, went to a hotel with his girlfriend and ordered pizza. He never called the police. In the murder trial that followed, Davis’ parents attended every day, knowing that the prior year, George Zimmerman — the killer of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, also in Florida — had successfully avoided being convicted. Both cases highlighted the state’s problematic Stand Your Ground law. We spend the hour with Davis’ mother, Lucia McBath, and father, Ron Davis, who have continued to fight for justice. We are also joined by the film’s director, Marc Silver.


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

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting live from Park City, Utah, this week, where the Sundance Film Festival is underway. We begin with a film about a subject of growing nationwide protest: the killing of unarmed African Americans. The film is called 3 1/2 Minutes. It tells the story of how on November 23rd, 2012, four teenagers pulled into a Jacksonville gas station to buy gum and cigarettes. They were soon confronted by Michael Dunn, a middle-aged white man who pulled in next to them in the parking lot. Dunn demanded the boys turn down the music they were playing, and became angry when they refused. He pulled his gun from his glove box and shot at their car 10 times, even as they tried to drive away from the danger. The shots rang out three-and-a-half minutes after Dunn had arrived. One of boys, 17-year-old Jordan Davis, was killed. After the shooting, Dunn fled the scene, went to a hotel with his girlfriend, ordered pizza. He never called the police.

In the murder trial that followed, Jordan Davis’s parents attended every day, knowing that the prior year George Zimmerman, the killer of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, had successfully avoided being convicted. Both cases highlighted the state’s problematic Stand Your Grand law.

Today we spend the hour with Jordan’s parents and hear more about their ongoing fight for justice. But first, this is a clip from the trailer for the brand new film, 3 1/2 Minutes.

REPORTER: Forty-five-year-old Michael Dunn is being charged with shooting and killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis. The confrontation began over loud music.

CORY STROLLA: Was there music playing in the car?


CORY STROLLA: What type of music?


ERIN WOLFSON: Did the defendant say anything about the music?

RHONDA ROUER: "I hate that thug music."

TEVIN THOMPSON: "Thug" is the new N-word. He just seen four black kids.

MICHAEL DUNN: I’m not racist. They’re racist.

REPORTER: Michael Dunn is claiming self-defense.

CORY STROLLA: Jordan Davis threatened Michael Dunn.

MICHAEL DUNN: He goes, "You’re dead, [bleep]."

I look, and I’m looking at a barrel.

SEN. TED CRUZ: This is about the right of everyone to protect themselves, to protect their family.

CORY STROLLA: Under the law, it’s justified.

MICHAEL DUNN: I said, "You’re not going to kill me, you son of a [bleep]."

POLICE DETECTIVE: There’s no weapons in their car.

MICHAEL DUNN: Could have been just a stick.

POLICE DETECTIVE: Could it have been your imagination?

MICHAEL DUNN: It cert—well, no. I mean, anything’s possible, I guess.

UNIDENTIFIED: Maybe they didn’t have a gun, but he thought they had a gun.

UNIDENTIFIED: They think it’s a gun when it’s in the hands of a young African American.

RON DAVIS: Trayvon Martin’s father texts me: "I just want to welcome you to a club that none of us want to be in."

UNIDENTIFIED: It’s going to be open season.

UNIDENTIFIED: Open season on—on who?

UNIDENTIFIED: You can say later that maybe he did have it.

UNIDENTIFIED: It’s time to pick up where Dr. King left off.


UNIDENTIFIED: I’ve never covered a trial with this much international attention.

UNIDENTIFIED: This was a 21st century lynching.

RON DAVIS: Was he all right to kill my son?

LUCIA McBATH: What happened to Jordan? What happened to Jordan?

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the trailer for 3 1/2 Minutes, which is premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival here in Park City, Utah. Today we spend the hour with the two people at the heart of the film: Jordan’s parents, Lucia McBath and Ron Davis. We’re also joined by Marc Silver. He’s the film’s director. We spoke with Marc last year at Sundance about his film at that time, Who is Dayani Cristal? which won the award for best cinematography.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! It has been remarkable to see you here, actually, for the first time, but at this film showing. And Lucy McBath, if you can talk about what this means? Your son was killed three years ago, and here you are at a festival in the midst of this wave of protests around the killing of young men like Jordan, your son.

LUCIA McBATH: Well, it just speaks to the—to the truth of what’s happening in the country. And, you know, I kind of always believe that things are kind of in divine order. Things don’t just randomly happen. And I think that our film, our story, is really representative of what we see happening across the country. So, this is just so wonderful of an opportunity to be here to really help expand that message and open people’s eyes to the reality of what they may not really understand is happening, not just within the minority communities, but the gun violence and the way people are viewed that don’t look like you, think like you, act like you, those kinds of opinions and ideas, what we’re seeing across the country. So those things have to change.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Ron Davis, the response you’re getting here to the story told about what happened to Jordan?

RON DAVIS: It was an excellent response. We had a premiere on Saturday, and there was an ovation. And we had—after the film aired, we also had a Q and A, and it was just great. The people that want to really know about the meat of the story, not just the three-and-a-half minutes on film, but they also want to know more about the story about Jordan. So, we’re going to take this from Sundance and really go across this country and let them know about the Jordan Davis story, because it’s going to be a movement. It’s not just Jordan. It’s anybody’s child across America this could happen to, and it’s happening every day. And we want to make sure that this film lets everyone know this is the things that we have to fight in order to make sure that our families and our kids grow up in a type of society that don’t get murdered and killed just, as they say right now, for loud music or something as petty as that.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break. When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with Lucy McBath, with Ron Davis, and also the film’s director. It’s called 3 1/2 Minutes. That’s the time it took a middle-aged white man to drive into a gas station, hear loud music, before he went back, reached into his car’s glove compartment, pulled out a gun and shot one of the young people in the car—there were four of them—dead. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting live from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where a remarkable film has just premiered touching on something, an issue, that is ripping through this country: the issue of young African Americans being gunned down, either by police or by, some call them, vigilantes or self-appointed watchmen, but the issue of whether black lives matter. We’re joined right now by Lucia McBath and Ron Davis. They are the parents of Jordan Davis. We are also joined by Marc Silver. He is the director of 3 1/2 Minutes.

Marc, how did you get involved with this film? Why did you choose to take it on? And talk about how you filmed this.

MARC SILVER: Well, some producers saw my previous film here at Sundance and sent me the Jordan Davis story and invited me to Florida to meet Ron and Lucy, Jordan’s parents. We spent about a week together in the summer of 2013. And at that point, when I started to understand what had happened in such a short amount of time, I started to see this perfect storm of racial profiling, access to guns and then laws that give people the confidence to use those guns because of the nuances of duty to retreat. We then managed to get access to the courtroom for the trial, so we filmed the whole trial, fed that footage out to mainstream media, but—

AMY GOODMAN: So you filmed. You had a three-camera shoot—

MARC SILVER: Yeah, we were inside the—yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —in this trial of Marc [sic] Dunn?

MARC SILVER: Of Michael Dunn, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Of Michael Dunn.

MARC SILVER: And then we managed to take all of this material from the trial and use that as about half of the film, where we follow the beginning to end of the trial. And that’s intercut with Ron and Lucy’s journey over the last two years, as well as some prison phone call recordings from Michael Dunn to his fiancée that kind of explain his journey since that three-and-a-half minutes.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is an astounding part of the film. You have the conversations that Michael Dunn is having with his girlfriend. How did you get recordings of these?

MARC SILVER: Well, these are public record in the state of Florida. So, really, we just have to apply for that as media, and then the state redacts some information that might be private or personal. And then, after that, you just get sent all of this material, and then we transcribed it and started to understand the evolution of Dunn’s character since the night of the shooting.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to a clip from 3 1/2 Minutes. First we hear Michael Dunn’s lawyer questioning him on the stand about the night of the shooting. Much of the film takes place in the courtroom. Then we hear Jordan’s friend, Tevin Thompson, one of the three teens in the vehicle with Jordan when Dunn shot at them.

CORY STROLLA: There was some testimony about—you heard Ms. Rouer say, "Oh, I hate that thug music."

MICHAEL DUNN: I didn’t say this, but if I had said anything, I would have characterized it as "rap crap," not "thug music." That’s not a term I’m familiar with.

TEVIN THOMPSON: "Thug" is the new N-word. That’s the new way they pursuing us now. N-word is—N-word is out, and "thug" is in. Michael Dunn, he just seen us. He just seen four black kids, and he heard the music. And he just considered—he just instantly put thug next to four black kids. But, you know, if four white kids was listening to it, you know what I’m saying, what would you think? They don’t call Justin Bieber a thug. He’s racing Lamborghinis and all this crazy stuff. He’s not a thug. He’s just a misled kid. You know what I’m saying? So it’s just like "thug" is just something for African Americans to be called the N-word without being—without being—they don’t want to seem wrong for calling us the N-word, so they be like, "Look at those thugs." "Rap crap" was something that they made up, just made it up in his head, sat in the jail and just repeated it, made it become something in his brain.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Jordan’s friend Tevin Thompson, who—he was one of the three teens with Jordan Davis when Michael Dunn shot them. "Thug" is the new N-word, Ron.

RON DAVIS: Yeah, well, young people, they know that. And what happens is, Michael Dunn came into that gas station, after seconds of being there, and he has this bias in his mind that rap music, or hip-hop music, is considered thug music, and he thought right away that they were gangsters, as he said later on. And for him to have that in his mind, he had no interaction with African-American children or people. So, all he does is draw his decisions about who you are from television, media, movies, whatever, you know, and they see you on shows like Cops in handcuffs, see you as drug dealers, and so that’s his mindset. And this film, 3 1/2 Minutes, is going to show that sometimes, you know, in that small amount of time, your mindset can get you in trouble. And I think in this instance his mindset got him in trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Lucy McBath, go through it with us, if you will—and I am very sorry, because I’m sure you relive it every time—that night. It was Black Friday, right? The day after Thanksgiving in 2012.


AMY GOODMAN: What you understand took place?

LUCIA McBATH: Well, I mean, everyone was just enjoying, you know, Thanksgiving, the holiday. I had gone back to Chicago to have Thanksgiving with my family, and I understood that, you know, Jordan would be in Jacksonville with Ron. And he actually told me, you know, "I’m going to go shopping and hang with my friends and everything. We’re going to go shopping on Black Friday." He was really excited about that, because he had already decided what he wanted to purchase on Black Friday. So, I remember, you know, having that discussion with him, talking with him Thanksgiving day, and just really feeling that everything was OK, that he was really, really happy. In fact, I hadn’t heard him sound so happy before, so I was really happy that he was excited about Thanksgiving.

And then, you know, for everything to completely just—I was completely devastated when the phone rang. And I was at my family’s house, and I just happened to be up in the bedroom. And I saw, you know, Ron’s face pop up on the phone, and I said, "Hey, Ron," you know, "how are you doing? Happy Thanksgiving," you know. And he kept saying, you know, "Where’s Earl?" And Earl is my cousin. And I’m like, "Well, he’s downstairs. I will go get Earl." And that was an immediate clue to me that something was wrong. And because I just—I just knew in my spirit that it had to do with Jordan. And so, every fear that a parent has, everything you worry about—them being hit in a car, you know, just any fear that you have as a parent, every one of those fears at that moment just—I felt like it was just the weight of the world had fallen on me. And I felt like everything we’ve done to protect him—and we couldn’t protect him. And so, walking through those days right after, and it’s just a complete fog, you know, that my boy was killed over music.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Ron, the recreation of those moments when they pulled in—Jordan was with his three pals, his best friends?

RON DAVIS: Right. You know, they were there. They were at the gas station first. And, you know, they were playing their music loud; of course, like teenagers, we all do, you know? And as a matter of fact, another gentleman pulled in beside them, heard the loud music, decided, "Ah, don’t want to be bothered," pulled away, and he parked somewhere else in the gas station. And then Michael Dunn pulled in and mentioned the thug music.

AMY GOODMAN: And his girlfriend, his fiancée, gets out to buy something in the gas station.

RON DAVIS: Right, she gets out to buy something in the gas station, and Michael Dunn rolls down the window and tells the boys to turn the music down, you know. And so they turn it down. And then Jordan decides, "You know, why should we listen to him? Who is he? We were sitting in here first, you know, playing our music, and then he comes along and tells us to turn our music down. Turn it back up." So he turns it back up. And so Michael Dunn gets irritated, you know, and him and Jordan start talking to each other through the window. And so, Michael Dunn rolls down the window, ultimately, and says, "Are you talking to me?"

And that’s when he decided to go ahead and grab a gun out of his glove box and start shooting at the car. And the young man that was in the store buying the gum and cigarettes is getting back in the car, and so he pulls the car back, you know, to avoid the gunshots. And Michael Dunn is still shooting at him, even as the car is trying to get away from him. And so, that’s where a lot of people, they don’t understand about why he was convicted on attempted murder charges first, which was a separate act.

AMY GOODMAN: Attempted murder being the other three boys.

RON DAVIS: Right, because the attempted murder was because when—even when he thought the danger was past, he jumped out of his car, ran to the back of the car and started shooting at the car as it was driving away, which was a complete separate act, and that’s why he was convicted initially on the attempted murder charges for the three young men in the car.

AMY GOODMAN: People might not realize there were two trials.



AMY GOODMAN: Two trials.


AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a clip from 3 1/2 Minutes. This is Jordan’s friend Leland Brunson talking about testifying during the murder trial of Michael Dunn as Dunn looked on. After that, we hear him questioned on the stand.

LELAND BRUNSON: All of us could have been gone, you know? It’s kind of scary. You know, it makes you realize life is short. And we was all young. When I walked in to see Jordan’s family, I just walked straight. I tried not to look at anybody. I just tried to like stay focused, like. I already had, like, too many thoughts going through my mind, like what if and everything like that, so... That was the first time I seen them since the incident. I felt more angry than scared, but my anger is not going to bring me peace to myself.

CORY STROLLA: Now, Mr. Brunson, you were upset that night.


CORY STROLLA: When you found out your best friend died, you were even more upset. That’s fair to say.


CORY STROLLA: You’re still upset as you sit here today.


CORY STROLLA: You obviously miss your friend, don’t you?


CORY STROLLA: You don’t want to see your friend’s memory go in vain, do you?


AMY GOODMAN: That is Jordan’s friend, Leland Brunson. This is his best friend.

RON DAVIS: This is his best friend. This young man, he’s been through so much. He had to hold my son, and he was the last one that witnessed Jordan alive, which, to me, he will—Leland will forever be my son, you know? And as he said, you know, when he touched Jordan and felt the blood, he knew that Jordan was in trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: So, he had shot into the car 10 times—


AMY GOODMAN: —even as they were pulling back.


AMY GOODMAN: The driver, his name was?

RON DAVIS: His name is Tommy, Tommy Stornes.

AMY GOODMAN: So Tommy had gone into the—


AMY GOODMAN: —store, and then came out, saw what was happening, pulled the car back. And they didn’t know, as they just ducked, terrified, as the gun—


AMY GOODMAN: —as the bullets were going in—

RON DAVIS: Well, the bullets rang out when Tommy—as soon as Tommy got in the car, because when he got to the car, Tommy was dancing to the music, because then, all of a sudden, they turned the music. And Tommy looked, "Well, why are you turning the music down?" And then Michael Dunn started shooting. And then he pulled the car back.


RON DAVIS: And so, Leland, he’s a young man that—it’s going to take him ages to get over this. I mean, he comes over to my house from time to time, and he can’t even go in Jordan’s bedroom now without just crying and just falling apart. So, the last time I saw him was Christmas Eve. He came over, and he spent Christmas Eve with us. But he could not go in Jordan’s room.

AMY GOODMAN: So they ducked. They—and he—after the shooting was done, how did he realize what happened to Jordan?

RON DAVIS: He felt Jordan, because he—everybody in the car answered. Tommy said, you know, "Is everybody all right?" And so Tevin answered, Leland answered. And Tommy said, "Is everybody all right?" And so, Leland said, "Jordan, are you all right?" And Jordan didn’t answer, because Jordan had been struck, you know, and the way—he couldn’t breathe, and blood was welling up in his lungs, and so he couldn’t speak. And so, Leland knew that Jordan was in trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to the film. This is a clip of Michael Dunn speaking to his fiancée from jail during a phone call. He tries to comfort her after telling her he’s being held in isolation, and then he defends himself for shooting [Jordan] Davis.

MICHAEL DUNN: So, being in a room by myself kind of sucks, but I guess it would be better than being in a room with them animals. ... So it’s my fault because I asked them to turn their radio down.


MICHAEL DUNN: It’s like I got attacked, and I fought back because I didn’t want to be a victim, and now I’m in trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: There was that conversation. Amazingly, you got a hold, Marc, of these recordings of the phone conversations between Michael Dunn and his fiancée, as he talks about being in isolation, but it’s maybe better than being with those animals. Lucy McBath?

LUCIA McBATH: Oh, to hear those words were very, very chilling. But, actually, I was not really surprised. We knew from the very beginning that there was some racial element to what had, you know, transpired. That, for me, was just defining what I already knew and believed Michael Dunn thought about the boys. But it was just very difficult to listen to Rhonda kind of substantiate him, try to lift him up and support him. And in my mind, I kept thinking, "And you never spoke out. You never called 911. You’re just as guilty as he is."

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened that night when they drove away. Here you have Michael Dunn saying he was so traumatized after this. Now, she didn’t know quite what had happened. She was inside.


AMY GOODMAN: She hears the firecracker sound of gunshot.

LUCIA McBATH: Right. But, you know, it just—I mean, she was a whole part of that whole entire situation. I mean, she—when she got in the car, of course she didn’t really understand what had happened, what transpired. But to be in the hotel and to see it on television and to know that her fiancé had murdered someone—

AMY GOODMAN: They admitted they watched it on TV while they ate pizza.

LUCIA McBATH: Exactly, exact—well, they had something to eat. They had some stiff drinks. And she went to bed. And he was the one who, you know, remained up for a while. But when she finally did see what happened on television, to simply say, "I just want to go home" and take no responsibility for calling the police and saying, "Michael, we’ve got to do something about this"? You know, and even though she didn’t really understand dynamically what had happened, she knew a child had been murdered. And to keep your mouth closed and say nothing and not even feel for the family, but only be concerned about getting home and getting the puppy home?

AMY GOODMAN: Explain how they were caught.

LUCIA McBATH: Well, there was a homeless couple that were actually at the gas station at that moment. And, you know, thank god that they happened to be there. And the young man, Shawn, who was driving the car, happened to actually see—get the license plate number of Michael Dunn, wrote it down on a paper bag and turned it in to the representative in the gas station, who in turn—

AMY GOODMAN: The woman at the register, cash register?

LUCIA McBATH: Exactly, who in turn they turned the information over to the police. And so, they couldn’t apprehend Michael Dunn at the hotel, because they didn’t know where he was.

AMY GOODMAN: Or who he was.

LUCIA McBATH: Or who he was. But he was apprehended the next morning, you know, 170 miles away, at home. The police apprehended him there. And had it not been for that young couple in the car, we may never have known who shot at the boys and murdered Jordan.

AMY GOODMAN: When we come back, the amazing testimony of the fiancée, Rhonda, when asked directly, right after Michael Dunn had testified that he believed that Jordan Davis had a gun, the amazing testimony when his fiancée was brought in to ask if in fact Michael Dunn had told her, as they’re driving away or that night in the hotel or at any point, had told her he was concerned Jordan Davis had a gun. Of course, a gun was never found. We’ll talk about this after break.


News Mon, 26 Jan 2015 11:31:46 -0500
Federal Prison Sentence Begins for Anti-Drone Activist

On January 23, Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end US military and economic warfare, began a three-month jail sentence in federal prison for a protest against drones (also known as “unmanned aerial vehicles”) at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. I had a chance to interview her before she had to turn herself in.

Medea: Can you just say why you have been particularly moved to take action against drone strikes?

Kathy: I think 21st-century militarism is very frightening when you combine the military’s Joint Special Operations Forces with drone and air strike capabilities. The military doesn’t need sprawling bases anymore because they can use these new technologies to control populations and instill tremendous fear. But the use of drones creates resentment and antagonism, and continues to kill civilians.

Wars have been killing civilians for a long time, but with the help of drones, 90 percent of the people killed in wars these days are civilians. The British organization Reprieve reports that for every one person who is selected as a target for assassination by drones, 28 civilians are killed.

The weaponized drones are operated here in the United States in Air National Guard bases and Air Force bases, and with the press of a button they are killing people thousands of miles away in places like Afghanistan. Many people are enamored with being able to send an unmanned aerial vehicle to kill people in another country without a soldier in this country being harmed. But we find that the people operating these drones are experiencing trauma and stress just like soldiers in war zones.

I’m also very worried about drone proliferation, with other countries acquiring these weapons systems. In 1945, only one country possessed a nuclear weapon, and look at the world now. I think the same thing is going to happen with drone proliferation.

I also think that with the activist focus on drones, we can have tangible successes. We have a good possibility of persuading the public that this is a wrongful way to move ahead. It violates international law and makes other people near the bases here in the United States vulnerable as targets themselves.

We’ve already seen considerable progress on this issue. The bases that were getting the drones systems, like the Air National Guard Base in Battle Creek, Michigan, used to be so proud they were popping champagne. Now the commanders at the Battle Creek base, where the Guard is being trained to operate weaponized drones, are reluctant to talk about the drone program.

Medea: Can you tell us about Whiteman Air Force Base and what you did that resulted in this three-month sentence?

Kathy: A squadron at Whiteman, which is in Knob Noster, Missouri, operates weaponized drones over Afghanistan, which has been an epicenter of drone warfare. Whiteman Air Force Base won’t disclose information about the results of these drone strikes, but we, as American citizens, should have the right to know what is being done in our name.

I have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, living with young people who have been victimized by our drones, young people who fled to Kabul and are too frightened to go back home to visit their own relatives, young people who see a future filled with prolonged and agonizing warfare.

We wanted to bring their grievances to the commander at Whiteman. So I crossed a line onto the base. A symbolic action for people in Afghanistan is breaking bread together, so I carried a loaf of bread and a letter to the commander asking how many people were killed by Whiteman Air Force Base on that day.

I took one or two steps over a line. Then I was arrested.

When I went to trial, the military prosecutor told the judge, "Your Honor, Ms. Kelly is in grave need of rehabilitation." But I think it’s our policy that’s in grave need of rehabilitation. We’ve already spent $1 trillion on warfare in Afghanistan and will be spending another $120 billion. The Pentagon wants $57 billion for this year alone. We’re squandering resources that are sorely needed at home and abroad to solve extremely serious problems our world is facing, problems like the climate crisis and global poverty.

Medea: When you crossed the line into the Whiteman Base, did you know that you would be facing such a long sentence? Crossing the line at some bases, and even CIA Headquarters, has resulted in a small fine.

Kathy: My colleague Brian Terrell had previous crossed onto Whiteman Air Force Base and received a six-month sentence. I faced the same judge so I was pretty sure that I would get six months as well. When he only gave me three months, I was actually surprised. I certainly don’t think I did anything criminal; I’m proud of what I did. But I expected the penalty would be higher, and wondered if the judge wanted to look good for a change.

Medea: So I take it that means you would do it again?

Kathy: Oh surely, yes. I think it’s important to take these issues directly to the place where the grievance is occurring, and that’s certainly these military bases.

I also think it’s important to take these issues to all three branches of government. I love it when CODEPINK goes into the halls of Congress or challenges President Obama, because it’s crucial to pressure the executive and legislative branches. But we have to target the judicial branch as well. We have to try every lever and keep on insisting that the Constitution protects our right to express our grievances.

Medea: In early January, you fasted and protested with Witness Against Torture to call for the closing of the Guantanamo prison, including a protest at the home of former vice president Dick Cheney. How do you feel knowing that the people making these policies aren’t held accountable, but you’re heading off to jail?

Kathy: I actually don’t want to see anyone in prison because I don’t believe in the prison system. I don’t want to see people locked up. I believe in rehabilitation. How do you rehabilitate people who have been so murderous and greedy in their war-profiteering and cronyism, and so willing to sacrifice huge numbers of lives?  It’s very hard to know. I’d like to continue in a Quakerly fashion to see decency and goodness and potential in people like Cheney, Rice and Bush. It may be that somehow the examples they set will serve to persuade future leaders not to be that way. So who knows what will come of what they’ve created.

Medea: It’s interesting that you’re against prisons, yet you voluntarily put yourself in a position where you know you’ll be in prison for a significant time. How many times have you been in prison for protesting war?

Kathy: This will be my fourth time in a federal prison. And I’ve been jailed in various county jails and other kinds of lockups more times than I can count.

Medea: Why do you continue to go to jail when there are so many other ways to protest?

Kathy: I think it’s important for peace activists to go inside the prisons and have a vivid sense of how hurtful and punitive this system is. I can read about the realities that prisoners face and the really horrific sentencing procedures but if I’m not sitting in the bunk next to the person pouring out their story, it doesn’t grab my heart and mind in the same way. I’ve been to prison many times before, and I know that when I walk out of a prison, I feel like shouting from the rooftops, “Do you see what’s going on inside these gates?”

Medea: What can people do to support you while you’re in prison? And what about writing to you or sending you books?

Kathy: I love novels, especially novels written by people from other countries. People can contact Voices for Creative Nonviolence in Chicago to find out where to send books and letters.

And people can help Voices for Creative Nonviolence. We’re organizing a walk related to the environment and militarism; we’re sending volunteers to Jeju Island in South Korea to join the movement against militarizing the island; we’re working with the youth in the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul.

A good way to show support would be to join the Afghan Peace Volunteers in their duvet project--a project to make warm blankets for people in need. One winter in Kabul, 26 people froze to death in just one month, eight of them children. It was impossible to read those statistics and not think of something to do. So we helped start the duvet project. The Afghan Peace Volunteers invite women from the different tribal ethnicities, 60 in all, to pick up materials, like wool, coverlets, and thread. They go home and sew these very heavy blankets that can make the difference between life and death. Then the youth distribute the duvets to people in the greatest need. I so admire the young people because they act like social workers, going out to find out who are the neediest in their area. And very generous people in the US and the UK have donated the money. Each duvet costs about $17, and it’s now about a $40,000 project that distributes thousands of blankets each year. So people could help out by contributing to this project.

Author's note: Kathy Kelly is one of the treasures of the peace movement. She’s been an inspiration for many, including myself, so let’s show her love and appreciation while she’s in prison by writing to her and supporting her organization.

News Mon, 26 Jan 2015 11:21:27 -0500
Forced Disappearances Are Humanitarian Crisis in Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News Mon, 26 Jan 2015 10:59:21 -0500