Truthout Stories Tue, 23 Sep 2014 22:39:39 -0400 en-gb Time for the US to Dump the Word "Homeland"

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2014.9.23.DHS.main(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Wesley Fryer, Allie_Caulfield)It's time to do away with the word "homeland."

As the situation with ISIS continues to escalate, and as worries about terrorist attacks on US soil continue to spread, we're hearing the term "homeland" mentioned more and more.

Ever since it first stole the spotlight with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in the months after 9/11, the term "homeland" has become ingrained in US society.

But, as Chris Matthews pointed out on his MSNBC show recently, there's something strange and creepy about the term.

Matthews said that, "It's a term used by the neocons, they love it. It suggests something strange to me. Like who else are we defending except America? Why don't you just say 'America'? Why doesn't [Obama] say we defended against attacks against this country? As if we're facing some existential Armageddon threat from these people. Do you buy the phrase 'homeland'? I never heard it growing up, never heard it in my adulthood. It's a new word. Why are we using it? Is there some other place we're defending? What are we talking about when we say 'homeland'? What's it about?"

While Chris has really hit the nail on the head when it comes to the term "homeland," it's important that you know, as Paul Harvey used to say, "the rest of the story" behind this "strange" term.

First, it's really not a new word at all.

In fact, it's been around for a very long time and has a very dark history.

As Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo pointed out, the term homeland, "really does have a deep blood and soil tinge to it which is distinctly Germanic, more than a touch un-American, and a little creepy."

That "blood and soil" that Marshall is referring to was one of the really big slogans of Hitler's Nazi Germany. "Blood and soil - we Germans are the products of this earth, we are a race unique from all others."

Perhaps ironically, Hitler stole the term "homeland" from the 1920s and 1930s Zionist movement's goal to create a Jewish "homeland" in the Middle East, Hitler wanted to create a "racial" identity for the German people that was tied to German soil.

He wanted to create an identity that went beyond language and culture. He wanted to invent a "German race," and have Germany be that race's "homeland," all so he could sell to the German people their own racial superiority and use that to justify exterminating others.

So, in 1934, at the Nazi party's big coming-out event, the famous Nuremberg rally, Nazis introduced the term "homeland."

Prior to that, they'd always referred to Germany as "the Fatherland" or "the Motherland" or "our nation."

But Hitler and his think-tank wanted Germans to think of themselves with what he and Goebbels viewed as the semi-tribal passion that the Zionists had for Israel.

So, in that most famous 1934 Nazi rally's opening speech, Rudolph Hess, Hitler's deputy Fuhrer, said that, "Thanks to [Hitler's] leadership, Germany will become the homeland. Homeland for all Germans in the world."

Of course, that's the translated version. "Homeland" in German is "heimat."

"Heimat" was used throughout the reign of Hitler and throughout World War II.

Nazi's loved the word, and attached it to everything they could, like the "Nazi Homeland Defense Forces," or the Heimwehr.

But, immediately after Nazi Germany was defeated and World War II came to a close, the word all but disappeared from German vernacular.

Post-war Germans were ashamed to use a word that stood for such terrible things.

Fast-forward nearly 70 years, and while Germans still won't say it, the word "homeland" is everywhere in the United States. Bush and Cheney rolled it out in a big way after 9/11, and our media managed to completely ignore the dark history of the word.

But it's a history that carries with it a danger - the danger that we may begin to think of ourselves as an "exceptional" people, a "race apart" because of our national identification. That we may start to think of the United States as a "homeland."

It's time to retire this artifact of the Nazi era.

Let's rename the Department of "Homeland" Security, and remove from the United States' self-description this dark, strange and creepy term.

Opinion Tue, 23 Sep 2014 16:27:53 -0400
Airstrikes Begin in Syria: A Decisive Blow or an Ominous Precedent?

A Tomahawk cruise missile is launched against Islamic State targets in Syria from the US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke in the Red Sea on September 23, 2014. (Photo: Spc. Carlos M. Vazquez II / US Navy via The New York Times)A Tomahawk cruise missile is launched against Islamic State targets in Syria from the US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke in the Red Sea on September 23, 2014. (Photo: Spc. Carlos M. Vazquez II / US Navy via The New York Times)

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The Obama Administration has just announced that they and their coalition allies have begun a fierce campaign in Syria, bombing primarily “hard-targets” in the IS stronghold of Raqqa (about 20 of them). Here’s what is known—and perhaps more importantly—what is not known so far:

"Sunni Arab" Partners

The U.S. was the only non-Arab actor to participate in the Syria raids. Collaborating with the U.S. were five other Arab states: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, and Jordan.

While many pundits have and will continue to describe them as “moderate Arab allies”—what “moderate” usually means is something akin to “compliant with the U.S. agenda in the region.” What may be more significant to note about these powers is that they are all monarchies—in fact, the actors who took part in the strike are most of the region’s surviving dynasties (excluding only Oman, Kuwait, and Morocco).

The Gulf monarchs are far from beloved in Iraq, even among the Sunni population. Readers may remember that the “Sunni” Hussein regime wanted to go to war with the KSA, provoking the U.S.-led Operation Desert Shield. There is a long enmity between the peoples of Iraq and the Gulf monarchs—and an even deeper enmity between these powers and the Syrians. So the idea that the populations of IS-occupied Iraq and Syria will find these forces and their actions legitimate simply in virtue of the fact that they are “Sunni” is a gross oversimplification that reinforces problematic sectarian narratives even as it obscures important geopolitical truths. Among them:

If anything, the alliance that carried out the strike actually reinforces the narrative of the IS: it will be framed as the United States and its oppressive monarchic proxies collaborating to stifle the Arab Uprisings in order to preserve the doomed status quo.

In a similar manner, it is somewhat irrelevant that salafi and “moderate” Sunni Muslim religious authorities have condemned al-Baghdadi’s “caliphate” as invalid and ill-conceived—in part because it presupposes that most of the foreign fighters who are joining ISIS for ideological reasons are devout, well-informed about fiqh and closely following the rulings of jurists, etc. In fact, the opposite seems to be true, and many of those coming from abroad to join the IS are motivated primarily by factors other than religion. Even much of their indigenous support is from people who join for money, or else due to their grievances against the governments in Iraq and/or Syria—not because they buy into the vision of al-Baghdadi and his ilk. Accordingly, the value of “Sunni buy-in,” framed religiously, is probably both misstated and overstated.

And not only will the involvement of the Gulf kingdoms strikes be extremely controversial on the ground in Iraq and Syria, but also within the emirates who took part in these raids. Syria and the so-called “Islamic State” remain highly polarizing issues across the region—many will be apprehensive of their governments getting involved, others actually support the aspirations of these mujahedeen and view their own regimes as corrupt.

None of the local democracies in Turkey, Tunisia, or Lebanon are taking part—likely because the issue is so polarizing, and each of these countries face so many domestic problems that they cannot be dragged into a potential quagmire. But for this very reason, the governments who are participating will hardly be embraced by the Arab main street: regardless as to whether or not they are ostensibly “Sunni” they are the very sort of powers that ISIS and those who sympathize with them would want to resist or overthrow.

No Coordination With the Regime

U.S. military officials have stated that the strikes ongoing today are intended to be the most intense portion of the campaign in Syria, with the efforts taking on a look much closer to current operations in Iraq hereafter.

This announcement has puzzled many commentators, who wondered why the Administration would tell the enemy that they plan on scaling back; pundits have been similarly critical of the Administration’s decision to broadcast its intention to begin this campaign nearly two weeks before the strikes were launched as it gave the IS plenty of time to relocate critical assets and to integrate themselves more heavily into civilian areas, hoping to drive up collateral damage in the event of a strike—which would likely fuel resentment against the international intervention.

However, the motivation for the explication is fairly obvious: the U.S. was essentially forced to broadcast its intentions because of its policy of not cooperating or coordinating with the Syrian government. The White House has to let the Syrians know what is happening because it does not want them to interfere with the mission for the sake of self-defense, or to overreact to a dramatic campaign in the fear that the coalition is moving for regime-change. So they have to be fairly transparent, as the Syrian government has previously stated that any non-approved strikes would be considered an act of aggression. An easy way, perhaps the only way, to avoid this would be to openly collaborate with the al-Asad regime–but this would come with its own set of complications.

There are conflicting accounts about the level of interaction between the Syrian and American governments prior to the raids. The Americans have denied that they would give any notice or information—however, the SANA News Agency is reporting that the United States did give the regime warning of the impending strikes via its UN envoy.

In any case, so long as the strikes remain confined to the IS held-territories, the Syrians have every incentive to let them proceed unabated, with or without the diplomatic boost they would get for being an overt ally in the “war against ISIS.”

But it is an open question as to whether or not the strikes remain contained to ISIS held territories.

A Free-for-All?

If the United States is acting without the consent of the Syrian government, it would be a violation of its national sovereignty, and also, therefore, of international law. But what would be more disturbing, perhaps, is that the United States is encouraging these other regional actors, most of whom have an expressed intention to see the Syrian government overthrown, to also violate Syrian territory with impunity—with at least three of them having taken “kinetic action” (i.e. dropped bombs) during this incursion.

This is following closely after Egypt and the UAE decided to carry out strikes on “militants” in Libya without permission of the Libyan government or the U.N. Security Council—again, following on a U.S. precedent in that country.

While America’s frequent and flagrant violation of other nation’s sovereignty is disturbing, for the sake of preserving the unipolar order America generally tries to reserve for itself a monopoly on megalomania—especially in tactically-critical regions. That other countries feel increasingly confident to carry out these sorts of actions without meaningful international reprisal may be a troubling precedent.

Having already violated Syrian sovereignty with the blessing of the United States, if the monarchs decide to go further in an attempt to topple the al-Asad government or to opportunistically pursue other self-serving ends, the United States would be in no position to prevent this escalation. In short, it remains to be seen if the coalition remains a disciplined and unified front or if it devolves into a free-for-all—perhaps exploding far beyond the borders of Syria.

Either way, with this action America has also set the stage to expand its own operations in Syria–be it in this Administration or the next.

News Tue, 23 Sep 2014 13:28:23 -0400
Climate Action "Floods" Wall Street

Climate change activists flooded Wall Street on Monday, with thousands participating in a massive sit-in, and approximately 100 people arrested.

2014 923 flood 3Rude Mechanical Orchestra playing during breakfast. Battery Park, New York. (Photo: Palina Prasasouk / Truthout)

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Climate change activists gathered in Battery Park in New York City, meeting at 9 am on Monday morning for breakfast and music by the Rude Mechanic Orchestra. During breakfast, activists participated in a nonviolent training, followed by speakers, including Naomi Klein, Chris Hedges, Rebecca Solnit and others. People were then instructed in a practice of what the flood and sit-in of Wall Street would look like.

Police placed a holding pen to obstruct the entire block before marchers began flooding the street, allowing some buses and cars to exit as people moved in an hour earlier than the expected 12 pm time of arrival. In total, more than 3,000 people joined the massive sit-in. Three people were arrested earlier in the afternoon. The first two arrests took place at around 1 pm when a man climbed on top of a phone booth. The third arrest came at 4 pm when marchers moved toward Wall Street and Broadway. In an attempt to reach employees leaving from the financial district, activists pushed through the holding pen. One man climbed over the barricades and was then arrested.

Police were seen pushing and hitting citizens with their hands. An officer aggressively pushed myself and another photographer back as we were attempting to record the first arrest. Officer Kelly started pepper spraying protesters who were in front of the barricades, also spraying fellow officers who were standing in front of him in a push-and-pull tug between protesters.

2014 923 flood 0Officer Kelly after pepper spraying citizens. Flood Wall Street in New York City, September 22, 2014. (Photo: Palina Prasasouk / Truthout)

After nearly a nine-hour sit-in, at 7:30 pm the New York City Police Department arrested 99 people including "Frost Paw" the polar bear and two disabled people. All arrestees, except the three arrested earlier in the day were taken into custody and released in groups of five at a time.

Below are more photographs and video clips from the demonstration by the author of this story.

2014 923 flood 1Stop Climate Change #FloodWallStreet banners resembling sails. Battery Park, New York. (Photo: Palina Prasasouk / Truthout)

2014 923 flood 63,000 protesters flood Wall Street at the south street seaport. (Photo: Palina Prasasouk / Truthout)

2014 923 flood 7Protesters marching to Wall Street from Battery Park. (Photo: Palina Prasasouk / Truthout)

2014 923 flood 8Flood of activists walk along side buses as vehicles are directed to vacate Wall Street. (Photo: Palina Prasasouk / Truthout)

2014 923 flood 2Climate action activists dawning blue shirts, listen to nonviolence training. Battery Park, New York. (Photo: Palina Prasasouk / Truthout)

2014 923 flood 4Crowd listens attentively to front-line communities around the world speak, pre-march. Battery Park, New York. (Photo: Palina Prasasouk / Truthout) 

2014 923 flood 5People risking arrest on hour two of massive sit-in. Wall Street, New York. (Photo: Palina Prasasouk / Truthout) 

2014 923 flood 10People took turns at the People's mic while taking Wall Street. (Photo: Palina Prasasouk / Truthout)

2014 923 flood 9Charles Helms of The Robert D. Grant United Labor Amateur Radio Association. (Photo: Palina Prasasouk / Truthout)

News Tue, 23 Sep 2014 14:35:49 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: World's Largest Climate March Takes Over NYC, and More

In today's On the News segment: The world's largest climate march takes over New York City; the anti-science crowd wants to take well-documented climate information out of kids' textbooks; Burlington, Vermont has gone renewable; and more.


Thom Hartmann here - on the best of the rest & green news.....

You need to know this. Last Sunday, the world's largest climate march took over New York City. In addition to the 400,000 people who showed up to demand change in the Big Apple, hundreds of thousands more joined events in at least 156 counties. From London to Rio to Melbourne to New York, people around the world joined together to demand action on climate change. Protesters sang, marched, chanted, and discussed creative solutions for our climate crisis, and they were joined by celebrities, lawmakers, leaders, and scientists. The events were scheduled to take place two days before the United Nation Summit on Climate Change in New York, where world leaders discuss plans to save our environment. Organizers say that Sunday's massive events marked the beginning of an international push for real action at the U.N. Climate Summit in Paris of 2015. Next year, world leaders will meet at that summit to try to reach a new global agreement to reduce global greenhouse gasses. Hoda Baraka of described the international movement, saying, "It is, at the end of the day, a global moment. It's a global issue. All [of] these different constituencies coming together for climate action – that's a really important and telling turning point for the climate movement." Many of those who participated at events this Sunday said that the massive crowds show real promise for an even larger event next year. Our lawmakers here in the U.S. may still be sitting on the fence when it comes to saving our planet, but Sunday's crowds show that Americans are ready for real action on climate change. And, crowds all over the world show that we are not alone. We only have one planet to call home, and the people of the world are demanding that we protect it.

The fight to keep science in our kids' textbooks used to center on creation vs. evolution. According to, the anti-science crowd also wants to cast doubt on well-established climate science. Once a decade, the Texas State Board of Education gets together to review textbook standards, and this year's review has shed light on some of the proposed changes. The watchdog group Texas Freedom Network reviewed the new standards and found many instances where textbooks put political viewpoints ahead of scholarship. The Texas Freedom Network explained, "One textbook goes so far as to equate arguments from a polluter-funded political advocacy group with real facts from an international science organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007." Basically, textbook publishers are printing talking points from Oil Lobby funded groups, and trying to pass those points off as science. It's bad enough that the fossil fuel industry controls much of our media and many of our lawmakers. We've got to keep them away for our children's textbooks.

Burlington, Vermont has gone renewable. Last week, Vermont's largest city announced that 100 percent of their electricity comes from green energy, like biomass, wind, and water. The switch to renewable sources is part of that state's goal of getting 90 percent of all Vermont's energy from green sources by 2050. A decade ago, utility officials began considering a switch to renewable energy, and a few short years later they realized that going green could be done. According to Ken Nolan, the manager of power resources at Burlington Electric, by 2008, officials had gone from thinking, "We want to do this" to realizing, "This actually makes economic sense." Although the city does have to buy some electricity from fossil fuel plants when the wind isn't blowing and rivers aren't flowing, they sell far more renewable energy credits than they buy. The commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service said that Burlington's achievement "shows that we're able to do it, and we're able to do it cost effectively in a way that makes Vermonters really positioned well for the future." Burlington is doing their part to protect our planet, and hopefully, they'll inspire more cities to do the same.

For years, residents of states like New Mexico and Colorado have said that the fossil fuel industry is responsible for an increase in earthquakes. However, the Oil and Gas Lobby claimed that wasn't the case. Finally, a team of scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey has found a "direct link" between earthquakes and oil and gas drilling. Last week, a new study was released in the Bulletin of Seismological Society of America. The authors documented "several lines of evidence [that] suggest the earthquakes in the area are directly related to the disposal of wastewater" deep underground. Although numerous recent studies have suggested the connection, this is the first scientific report to explain the direct link. The report states, "These earthquakes are limited to the area of fluid injection, they occur shortly after major fluid injection activities began, and the earthquake rates track the fluid injection rates." We know that oil and gas drilling destroys our environment, contaminates our water, and sickens our communities. Now we have the proof that it also causes earthquakes. What other evidence do we need to demand that drilling must come to and end?

And finally... Since the creation of 3D printers, the manufacturing technology has been used to make everything from food to weapons. A construction firm in China is now saying that the printers can be used to create low-cost housing. The company used a new 3D printer that uses construction waste to print pieces of houses that easily fit together on site. The process is so effective and affordable, the firm was able to create ten single-story houses within 24 hours, at a cost of only $5,000 per house. And, the new homes are even eco-friendly. The inventor of the new printer explained, "Industrial waste from demolished buildings is damaging our environment, but with 3D-printing, we are able to recycle construction waste and turn it into new building materials." This new technology could provide low-cost housing and a solution to building waste, and it's a heck of a lot safer for construction workers. Considering that 3D printing has only been a reality for a few years, we can only imagine the incredible ways this technology will be used in our future.

And that's the way it is for the week of September 22, 2014 - I'm Thom Hartmann, on Science & Green News.

News Tue, 23 Sep 2014 12:37:59 -0400
War, Whistleblowing and Independent Journalism Panel

Please check back later for the full transcript.

Panel Biographies:

Phil Donahue and the Donahue show have been honored with 20 Daytime Emmy Awards, including nine for Outstanding Host and a George Foster Peabody Broadcasting Journalism Award.

Kirk Wiebe is a former NSA Senior Intelligence Analyst and an NSA Whistleblower who worked with NSA for more than 32 years, and was awarded that Agency's second highest award, the Meritorious Civilian Service Award. He retired from NSA in October 2001 along with fellow NSA whistleblowers Bill Binney and Ed Loomis.

William Binney was the former technical director of the World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group and a senior NSA cryptomathematician at the NSA. He worked there for over three decades, and retired after 9/11 as the agency began to implement domestic spying programs that he says are unconstitutional. He is also a whistleblower, having disclosed information to the Defense Department in 2002 about corruption, waste, fraud, and abuse in the agency related to the use of data collection and analysis program called Trailblazer.

Bill McKibben, a well known environmental author and activist, is the founder of, an international climate change campaign. is named for the safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, 350 parts per million. This October 24, Bill and are coordinating an International Day of Climate Action to call for a strong climate treaty that meets the 350 target.

Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo received her BA degree from Barnard College/Columbia University and her doctorate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She is the author of No FEAR: A Whistleblower's Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA.

Dr. Coleman-Adebayo was a Senior Policy Analyst in the Office of the Administrator at the US Environmental Protection Agency. She has held various academic positions as Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Studies and Visiting Scholar in the Department of African-American Studies at George Mason University.

On August 18, 2000, Dr. Coleman-Adebayo won an historic lawsuit against the EPA on the basis of race, sex, color discrimination, and a hostile work environment. She subsequently testified before Congress on two occasions. As a result, the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act [No FEAR] was introduced by Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee ( D-TX) and Senator John Warner (R- VA). Along with the No FEAR Coalition, she ushered the No FEAR Bill through Congress. President George W. Bush signed the No FEAR Act into law. Thousands of federal workers and their families have directly benefited from this law. She serves as a producer on the dramatic film: No FEAR!

News Tue, 23 Sep 2014 11:39:53 -0400
Flood Wall Street: 100 Arrested at Sit-In Targeting Financial Giants' Role in Global Warming

One day after the largest climate march in history in New York City, protesters rallied near Wall Street on Monday to highlight the financial industry’s role in fueling industries responsible for the air pollution that is causing global warming and climate change. The action came ahead of the one-day United Nations Climate Summit today, where leaders from 125 countries will take part in the first high-level climate talks since Copenhagen nearly five years ago. Dubbed "Flood Wall Street," hundreds of protesters dressed in blue held a rowdy sit-in on Broadway just blocks from the U.S. Stock Exchange. The demonstrators occupied the street for more than eight hours until police used tear gas and began arresting some 100 people. Democracy Now! was in the streets to cover the action. Watch our video report to hear some of the voices of people in the demonstration.

Please check back later for full transcript.

News Tue, 23 Sep 2014 11:33:16 -0400
Expanding US Strikes to ISIS in Syria, Has Obama Opened New Phase of "Perpetual War"?

The United States has launched airstrikes in Syria targeting the Islamic State, as well as members of a separate militant organization known as the Khorasan group. The Pentagon says U.S. forces launched 47 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles from warships in the Red Sea and North Arabian Gulf. In addition, U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fighters, bombers and drones took part in the airstrikes. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 20 Islamic State fighters were killed in strikes that hit at least 50 targets in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor provinces in Syria’s east. The United States says Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had either participated or supported the strikes against the Islamic State, which has seized swaths of Syria and Iraq. The United States acted alone against the Khorasan group, saying it "took action to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests." The Syrian government claims the United States had informed it of the pending attacks hours before the strikes began. Meanwhile, the United States has expanded its bombing of Iraq, launching new strikes around Kirkuk. To discuss this development, we are joined by two guests: Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College who has written extensively about the Islamic State, and Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the peace group CodePink and author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.


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

AARON MATÉ: The U.S. has launched airstrikes in Syria, targeting militants from the Islamic State as well as members of a separate group known as "the Khorasan group." The Pentagon says the U.S. fired 47 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles launched from warships in the Red Sea and North Arabian Gulf. In addition, U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fighters, bombers and drones took part in the airstrikes. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 20 Islamic State fighters were killed in strikes that hit at least 50 targets in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor provinces in Syria’s east. U.S. Central Command says Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had either taken part or supported the strikes against the Islamic State, which has seized swaths of Syria and Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, the United States acted alone against Khorasan. In a statement, U.S. Central command said, quote, "The United States also took action to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests conducted by a network of seasoned al-Qaida veterans." The Syrian government said the United States had informed it of the pending attacks hours before the strikes began. The strikes west of Aleppo reportedly killed 50 fighters, as well as eight civilians, including three children.

Meanwhile, the United States has expanded its air war in Iraq by launching airstrikes in the Kirkuk region of Iraq. In a separate development, Israel shot down a Syrian fighter jet, accusing it of infiltrating into Israeli airspace. It’s the first such incident in at least a quarter of a century.

To talk more about the U.S.-led strikes in Syria, we’re joined by two guests: Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College, and Medea Benjamin is with us from Washington, D.C., just back from the Flood Wall Street protest in New York. She’s co-founder of CodePink.

Professor Vijay Prashad, talk about the significance of the U.S. striking Syria, and the other Arab countries supporting it, though it’s not exactly clear what role they played.

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, it’s very significant that the United States has struck in Syria. Since August, there have been about 200 strikes in Iraq, but the United States had been reticent to come into the Syrian theater. So this is a very significant development. It’s also significant that there was an announcement that there was a coalition of countries, largely Gulf Arab states, but also Jordan. And Jordan was the first one to admit publicly that they were involved in some way in these strikes.

It’s also, I think, important to recognize that these strikes don’t really have any kind of international backing. There’s no U.N. resolution, nor is there any congressional approval. On the other hand, it does seem as if there was some coordination with the Assad government in Damascus, not only because the government in Damascus very quickly released a statement saying that there was a message sent to their ambassador in New York City about these strikes, but also, you might recall, that General Martin Dempsey, when he appeared before Congress, had talked about what he called the "formidable" air defense systems of Syria. And the fact that no air defense system from Syria had engaged any of the American planes or drones is indicative that there was some kind of coordination. So this is a very significant development.

The dust has not settled yet, so it’s extremely hard to know what the impact is going to be in terms of the complicated politics on the ground.

AARON MATÉ: And, Vijay, you have contacts inside Syria. What are you hearing so far about the scale of these strikes?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, it’s important to know that the first person to reveal the strikes was Abdulkader Hariri, who’s a young activist inside Raqqa. He revealed the strikes half an hour before the United States had talked about them. And Abdulkader, from the beginning, has been saying that these strikes are of an unbelievable intensity. You know, you have to imagine that somebody who’s lived in Raqqa over the course of the last three years, as it’s been in the midst of this very bloody and difficult war, immediately knew that the scale of this attack was far greater than anything he had experienced previously, and within seconds, he knew that the nature of the bombing could not be from the Assad government, could not be a war between the rebel groups, but it certainly had to be an American bombing. That means the scale must have been quite intense.

They also say that in Raqqa, the targets that were struck—for instance, the painted black building which ISIS had claimed as their headquarters—had all been emptied and that most of the ISIS leadership has moved into residential areas. So that’s one of the reasons why there was a very low death count in the major strikes on Raqqa. But a great deal of infrastructure in Raqqa city was destroyed and also on Tabqa airbase, which had been taken by ISIS just a month ago when they overran it and threw out the Syrian government forces.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Professor Prashad, this group called Khorasan and its leader, Muhsin al-Fadhli, can you explain what it is? It is what the U.S. is saying, citing, as the imminent threat to the United States, which would justify these attacks.

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, it’s true that Muhsin al-Fadhli is quite a dangerous man. He’s in his early thirties. He’s a Kuwaiti national who, you know, like many of the core leadership of al-Qaeda, finds himself at all the important places at the correct time. He was in Afghanistan. He was in Yemen. He was in Chechnya. He was also the spokesperson for a small period of time of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was the founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Mr. al-Fadhli was also in Iran for a little time.

And it’s interesting that this group is called the Khorasan group. Khorasan is a region in the northwest of Iran and bordering into Afghanistan. So, apparently, this group, which I had heard about a few months ago, had based itself near Aleppo and had come into Syria to draw fighters from the Islamic State that they could use in operations abroad. The word also came that there were some people from Yemen who had joined them.

But, Amy, it’s very important to understand that this is all very shadowy. The intelligence on this is very vague. It’s certainly the case that there are people like Mr. al-Fadhli inside Syria, but it’s not clear exactly what the strikes in Aleppo targeted. They also hit Jabhat al-Nusra positions, which is the official al-Qaeda group inside Syria. So, things are still very unclear, but nonetheless, there has been a strike purportedly on the Khorasan training facilities west of Aleppo.

AARON MATÉ: And the context here of the Syrian civil war, are any of the groups, either the Assad regime or the other rebel forces who are opposed to Assad but also to ISIS—are either of them in position to take advantage of any strikes against ISIS by the U.S.?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, you know, it’s interesting, Aaron, that if you consider that the United States government has decided to strike in Syria, currently there is a siege of a major city called Kobane, which is on the Turkish border, where half a million people have taken refuge. Tens of thousands of people from Kobane have crossed into Turkey. And these are Kurds. So it’s quite something that Kurdish refugees have been allowed into Turkey. This city is on the verge of falling. The ISIS fighters that have surrounded it are using heavy artillery that they stole in Mosul. So it’s very striking that the United States didn’t actually, you know, attack their forward, hardened positions, instead took out symbolic targets inside Raqqa. So I’m not sure that this is actually going to change the situation on the ground in northern Syria directly. This seemed like a major attack against ISIS as a demonstration of American strength. If America was truly trying to change the balance of forces in northern Syria, it would have struck some of these forward positions of ISIS that are laying siege at this point against Kobane.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring in Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of CodePink. Medea, you’ve just come from the massive protests this weekend—Sunday, the People’s Climate March; yesterday, Flood Wall Street. You’re back in Washington, D.C. You’ve been protesting any suggestion there would be U.S. strikes. Well, now they’re happening on Syria. Your response?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, isn’t it sad, Amy, that the day that the world should be coming together to say, "How do we address the climate chaos that can really destroy our entire planet?" instead, the eyes will now be on the U.S. bombing campaign in Syria. And let’s remember that the climate crisis, the U.S. is so responsible for, so let’s think about the timing of it. Also thinking about the timing is that the U.S. and the Obama administration is doing a George Bush. It’s saying, "Now, we are coming together to say there’s a fait accompli," and that’s the bombing, "and you’re either with us or against us." Look at the coalition it brought together, among the most repressive governments in the Middle East—Bahrain, that’s been repressing its nonviolent, democratic uprising; the Saudis, who provide the financing and the recruits for so many of the extremists. This is the diplomatic success of John Kerry. Instead of coming to the U.N. to say that we have the world coming together to stop the recruiting and the financing and the buying of the oil that ISIS has, we have the accomplishment of having repressive Arab regimes joining us in bombing another Arab state.

AMY GOODMAN: What are the links, Medea, you see between war and climate change?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, we have been talking during this weekend about how oil is the basis of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Were it not for Iraq’s oil, the U.S. would have never invaded, would not be there to begin with. The military is the largest polluter. The oil companies are being protected by the U.S. military strength. We see the military-industrial-oil complex all together in this. And I think it’s so sad that when the world is crying out for solutions, both solutions to the climate crisis and nonviolent political solutions to the issue of extremists, what the Obama administration is giving us is a support for the oil monarchies, a support for U.S. oil companies and continued perpetual war.

AARON MATÉ: Medea, what would be a nonviolent political solution to the issue of the Islamic State?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, the Obama administration is supposed to have been working for a binding resolution that we should be hearing about by the Security Council, talking about cutting off the funding, cutting off the equipping of these extremist groups. That’s a positive thing. At the same time, the Obama administration has only given one week to the new government in Iraq to show that it is no longer a sectarian Shiite government that is suppressing Sunnis, but is actually going to be a government for all the people of Iraq. One week is certainly not enough to show that and to have the Sunnis peel away from ISIS. That takes time. There is no imminent threat to the United States right now. That is a lie. What the U.S. did is do this timing right at the time of the U.N. to have it be already an accomplished deal that they better get in on us with this or not. So, I think the political solutions have been put aside now for the military ones.

AMY GOODMAN: Medea, this Khorasan group and its leader, Muhsin al-Fadhli, who the Times writes in a piece from Saturday, saying, "according to the State Department, was so close to Bin Laden [that] he was among a small group of people who knew about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before they were launched." They’re saying the imminent threat is that they know that they’re focused on the West and some kinds of explosives that they want to use—not clear, suicide jackets, or what it is that they are talking about. Do you see this as a pretext to sort of fulfill the requirement for, quote, "imminent threat" for an attack like this?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: The U.S. has been searching for a justification for this attack. First it was to protect U.S. personnel inside Iraq. Then it was humanitarian. And now it’s an imminent threat of a new group that it was only Thursday that was being talked about. Our intelligence agencies have been saying that there is no imminent threat to the United States, so this is yet another justification. And indeed, if there is an imminent threat, the job of our government is to protect us here at home. By going overseas and bombing, we become more of a target of extremist groups.

AMY GOODMAN: Medea, you were organizing protest groups a year ago to pressure Congress to vote against the United States striking Syria. That’s Bashar al-Assad’s government. Now we hear that the U.S. government, at the very least, notified the Syrian government that they were going to attack in Syria, and clearly the Syrian government did not strike them, even as they attacked. What about this shift of U.S. alliances right now?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, it is totally unclear, as Vijay was saying, what the U.S. is doing. There are some reports that by targeting Khorasan, the U.S. will actually be strengthening other extremist groups, because they’re fighting internally with each other. There is absolutely no endgame to this. In fact, the endgame we see is one like Libya ,where it is a total failed state that is spreading extremism throughout the Middle East. So, there is no well-thought-out policy here. There is only a military mindset that is counterproductive, will lead to more extremism, the U.S. becoming more of a target. It’s totally wrong. And your audience, Amy, people who care about the future of this planet, should be getting out on the streets, calling their congresspeople, saying this was never discussed in the United States. There was never a vote by Congress to go to war. This is against the international law. You can’t bomb another country without a justification for it, which hasn’t been given. And so, we have to get out and oppose this.

AARON MATÉ: And, Vijay Prashad, these strikes in Syria coming after six weeks of U.S. bombings inside of Iraq, can you talk about what is happening there and the effect of these attacks on ISIS inside Iraq?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, ISIS inside Iraq, as you saw, from September onward, moved much of their heavy machinery into Syria. I mean, that’s been their strategy, is they’re not going to wait around for the bombing, you know, in the same way in Raqqa they had abandoned much of the central part of the city. And so, what the United states bombed in Raqqa were largely empty buildings. You know, they have been moving their heavy machinery around, their arms around. They are currently, as I said, attacking in northern Syria. So where the strikes happened were not exactly where their main fighting forces are right now based.

What’s striking to me is that—given that the U.N. is meeting this week, given that President Obama is going to actually chair the Security Council, it’s surprising that the United States hasn’t taken this opportunity to lean much more heavily on close U.S. allies—in fact, NATO member Turkey. You know, Turkey had said that it wouldn’t close its border, wouldn’t actually come in to help find other means to isolate ISIS, because it had hostages that ISIS was holding. Turkish hostages were being held in Iraq. Those hostages have been released. This would have been a perfect time to have leaned on Turkey to strengthen the border, cut off the ability of ISIS to draw on the outside world. But instead of doing any of these political things, the United States has gone in to bomb largely empty buildings in northern Syria.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance, Professor Prashad, of the British prime minister, Cameron, meeting with the president of Iran, Rouhani, here in New York—that is his plan, the first time a British prime minister would meet with an Iranian leader since the Iranian Revolution—and the reports Sunday that the Saudi foreign minister met with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in New York, according to the Iranian news agency?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Frankly, I think that the real solution in the region is going to come from some kind of grand bargain between Iran and Saudi Arabia. These two countries have been at each other’s throats since 1979. They have opened the region to the entry of outside forces. You know, when these two countries decide that it is in their absolute self-interest to have some kind of grand bargain, we’re going to see a de-escalation in the region. So any kind of meeting of this sort is greatly welcomed. I would hope that the forces of peace would encourage more meetings with the Iranians, more meetings between the Iranians and the Saudis. If that doesn’t happen, this is just Band-Aid, this is just a lot of loud noise, but it’s not going to provide the kind of political solution needed in the region for the long term.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College, author of a number of books, including The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South, and Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink. Her new book, Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

Also interesting to note, the networks hardly discussing the issue of climate today after the largest mass climate protest in history, but focusing on these strikes, and the people they’re bringing into the network studios very often those who got it wrong in 2003, 2002, in the preparations for the war in Iraq, who alleged weapons of mass destruction. Seeing people like Medea Benjamin on their networks is very rare, the peace activists who at that time got it right. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Aaron Maté. We’ll be back covering [Flood] Wall Street in a moment.

News Tue, 23 Sep 2014 11:29:26 -0400
Who Wins in the Financial Casino?

2014.9.23.Casino.MainFinancialization has turned capital markets into a casino. (Image via Shutterstock)

I received a message last week from a savvy reader, a former McKinsey partner who has also done among other things significant pro-bono work with housing not-for-profits (as in he has more interest and experience in social justice issues than most people with his background). His query:

We both know that financialization has, among so many other things, turned large swaths of the capital markets into a casino

Here's my thought/question: is there a house?

The common wisdom is that the 'house wins' in casinos

In all likelihood, at least in the great financial crisis, the TBTF banks were the 'house'... yet, it's at least a bit different from a casino house because, absent the bailouts, those banks would not have won.

So, who or what was really the 'house'? Was it the Fed? Did the Fed actually 'win'?

Maybe the 'house' is the 1% .... or, more precisely, the .01%???

I have included this fetching image to give you the opportunity to formulate your own answer before scrolling down.

My reply:

The producers in finance: the managing directors and heads of trading desks at major banks, the more senior managers who are along for the ride, the hedgies, guys in private equity.

The "house" is individuals, not institutions. That is how looting works.

Remember, the question is not merely who wins from our current hypertrophied financial system, but who is set up to be the house, as in to win no matter what. The answer in this case is intrinsically linked to looting.

The concept of looting is so important that it pays to revisit the seminal 1993 George Akerlof and Paul Romer paper that set forth this concept. The key section (emphasis ours): economic underground can come to life if firms have an incentive to go broke for profit at society's expense (to loot) instead of to go for broke (to gamble on success). Bankruptcy for profit will occur if poor accounting, lax regulation, or low penalties for abuse give owners an incentive to pay themselves more than their firms are worth and then default on their debt obligations. Bankruptcy for profit occurs most commonly when a government guarantees a firm's debt obligations. The most obvious such guarantee is deposit insurance, but governments also implicitly or explicitly guarantee the policies of insurance companies, the pension obligations of private firms, virtually all the obligations of large banks, student loans, mortgage finance of subsidized housing, and the general obligations of large or influential firms. . . .

Because net worth is typically a small fraction of total assets for the insured institutions, . . . bankruptcy for profit can easily become a more attractive strategy for the owners than maximizing true economic values. If so, the normal economics of maximizing economic value is replaced by the topsy-turvy economics of maximizing current extractable value, which tends to drive the firm's economic net worth deeply negative. Once owners have decided that they can extract more from a firm by maximizing their present take, any action that allows them to extract more currently will be attractive—even if it causes a large reduction in the true economic net worth of the firm).

The difference between the classic Akerlof/Romer notion of looting, where the owner ssyphoned off funds and left the company so fragile that eventual bankruptcy was almost inevitable, is that the evolution of Wall Street has produced a much broader class of individuals who are treated as if they have claims on profit streams. That puts them in a quasi-ownership position.

These "producers" are typically perceived to have enough control over a revenue stream as to have leverage over the institution. That includes anyone who runs a profit center (and remember, a profit center can be as small as one trader and a trading assistant), as well as individuals on the more-team-oriented investment banking side of the house that have strong enough client relationships that they could take some business with them (and perhaps other members of their team) if they left. As we explained in ECONNED:

In the financial services industry version of looting, we instead have firms where operational authority, is decentralized, vested in senior business managers, or "producers." As a result of industry evolution and perceived competitive pressures, these producers, as a result of formal incentives plus values held widely within the industry, focused solely on producing the maximum amount possible in the current bonus period. The formal and informal rewards system thus tallies exactly with the topsy-turvy scheme of "maximizing current extractable value."

This behavior in the past was positive, indeed highly productive, as long as it was contained and channeled via tough-minded oversight, meaning top management who could properly supervise the business. The main mechanisms are management reporting systems, risk management, and personal understanding of and involvement in day-to-day operations, plus external checks, such as regulations and criminal penalties. For a host of reasons, the balance of power has shifted entirely toward the forces that encourage looting. And because the damage that results cannot clearly be pinned on the top brass... it is difficult to ascertain from the outside whether the executives merely unwittingly enabled this process or were active perpetrators.

Notice this excessive extraction that led to business failure took place even though these firms had high levels of employee stock ownership. At Bear Stearns, members of the firm owned roughly one-third of the shares. At Lehman, they held nearly 30%, and the average managing director owned shares worth on average two times his annual take. Economic theory says that share ownership by employees and managers should lead them to produce the best long-term results for the enterprise. Yet those assumptions were shown to be flawed on Wall Street, as they were with Enron, in which 62% of the 401(k) assets were invested in Enron stock, and senior management also had significant share ownership.

Just as we have seen in Corporate America, using equity to align the interests of managers and shareholders has produced the converse of what the theorists expected, a pathological fixation on short-term results. On Wall Street, where the business model and rewards systems already had an intrinsic propensity to emphasize the quick kill, widespread employee ownership was an ineffective counter at best and more likely served to reinforce the fixation on current performance, irrespective of the true cost of achieving it.

The very worst feature of looting version 2.0 is that it has created doomsday machines. In the old construct, the CEO fraudsters would drain a business, let it fail, and move on. The fact of bankruptcy assured that the trail of wreckage would catch up with them sooner or later. But here, the firms, due to their perceived systemic importance, are not being permitted to fail. So there are no postmortems, in particular criminal investigations, to determine to what extent fraud, as opposed to mere greed and rampant stupidity, led to what would otherwise have been their end.

Now mind you, these producers aren't the Ayn Randian rugged individualists that they often envision themselves to be. Their success depends on institutional infrastructure: concentrated capital and information flows, access to cheap leverage, risk control systems, a back office, etc. Quite a few successful Goldman traders have flopped when trying to launch their own hedge fund. John Meriwether, a storied Salomon trader, has presided over a series of hedge fund failures in his later life, the most spectacular being LTCM. Former Goldman CEO Jon Corzine is another high profile example of a supposedly successful trader and trading manager who came a cropper when given more degrees of freedom at MF Global than at his former home.

But while these individuals' ability to succeed on a stand-alone basis or in different type of firm is subject to question, they nevertheless hold their employers hostage. If they decamp to a competitor, they not only take some (or a lot) of their revenues with them, but they can damage the ability to be competitive in closely aligned businesses. Senior people cannot be replaced quickly and each unit's activity is so specialized that employees from other area can't pinch hit for the recently departed producer or team. And if the loss is significant enough, competitors will poach on other business units, which in a worse case scenario can put a firm in a downspiral.

And the worst is given the present structure of these firms, there is no simple way to curb the leverage these staffers have over their employers. Again from ECONNED:

On paper, capital markets enterprises look like a great opportunity. The firms that are at the nexus of global money flows participate in a very high level of transactions. Enough of them are in complex products or not deeply liquid markets so as to allow firms to find ways to uncover, in many cases create, and capture profit opportunities. New, typically sophisticated products often provide particularly juicy returns to the intermediary. And in theory, clever, adaptive, narrowly skilled staff can stay enough ahead of the game so that the amount captured off this huge transaction flow is handsome.

Once again, however, the real world deviates in important respects from the fantasy. Why? This business model is also a managerial nightmare.

We have a paradox: "success" and profitability in the investment banking context entails giving broad discretion to individuals with highly specialized know-how. But the businesses have outgrown the ability to monitor and manage these specialists effectively. The high frequency, meaningful stakes, and large absolute number of decisions made at the operational level, the geographic span of these firms, and the often imperfectly understood interconnections among business risks make effective supervision well-nigh impossible.

What is intriguing about the ex-McKinsey partner's question is that even after reading extensively about the crisis, he was unable to see the true locus of power in the financial services industry. Yet the answer is obvious to anyone who has worked in or closely with major capital markets firms.

And the conundrum we have outlined means the people who call for prosecutions of individuals are exactly right. Punishing firms is ineffective. Firms are fluid; key players can and often do move around. And the culpability for bad practices typically resides both at the producer level (the manager immediately responsible for the unit in which the bad conduct took place) and more senior management (which typically benefits directly from any ill-gotten profits, in terms of their compensation levels, and needs to be held responsible, even if they were simply derelict in duty, as opposed to actively complicit).

When the SEC was respected and feared, back in the stone ages of the 1970s, the capital markets delivered far better value for society as a whole than they do now. But even though financial services industry looters are the big winners in the capital markets casino, many members of the 0.1% have been along for the ride. Until some of the uber-rich join the great unwashed as victims of financial services industry looting, the house has nothing to worry about.

Opinion Tue, 23 Sep 2014 11:24:31 -0400
Are Head Injuries the Bridge Between the NFL Playing Field and Domestic Violence?

2014.9.23.NFL.MainNFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. (Photo: Zennie Abraham / Flickr)

There is an unspoken question lurking behind the NFL domestic violence cover-up saga that has emerged over the last month. It is whether the brutality of the game, particularly head injuries, plays a role in the prevalence of players committing acts of violence against women. The NFL has a vested interest in not having this discussion. On head injuries, as the title of the award-winning book said so clearly, it remains "a league of denial." If, in the name of public relations, the owners won't have a discussion about the connection between their sport and horrific post-concussive syndromes like ALS and early-onset dementia, are they really going to talk about links between head injuries and domestic violence? The sports media are largely in denial about this topic as well, as there was not one question in Roger Goodell's instantly infamous Friday press conference about whether the league would investigate whether brain injuries could be the bridge between the violence at work and the violence at home.

Yet many domestic violence advocates are also—understandably—not thrilled with this line of discussion. Partner abuse occurs in all walks of life, all professions and among all income groups, and post-concussive syndromes are almost always not a part of those stories. Additionally, to blame it on concussions seems to be excusing domestic violence and denying the fact that NFL players have agency and choice before becoming abusers. This resistance is very understandable. But attempting to explore and explain the shockingly high rates of domestic violence in the NFL is not the same as excusing it.

So is there a connection? As my friend Ruth, who is a DV counselor, says, "When it comes to domestic violence, it is extremely difficult to generalize across the board, in the NFL or otherwise." In other words, every case is distinct, reflecting the interpersonal relationships of the parties involved. But there are factors that appear to show themselves in the football cases with alarming regularity. Some of these factors are high rates of stress, a culture of entitlement for sports stars that predates their life in the NFL, and an inability to turn off the violence of the game once the pads are off. This is when we see the most toxic part of the sport's hyper-masculinist culture poison the relationships between the men who play the game—as well as the men who own teams—and the women in their lives. But among many players, this question of the role of head injuries still lingers in the background.

Dan Diamond over at Forbes is one of the few journalists I have seen explore these links in detail. In one piece, he cites a "disturbing new report" that shows "3 in 10 NFL players suffer from at least moderate brain disease." Diamond then details many examples of former players who were found in their autopsies to have the repetitive post-concussive syndromes known as CTE, and were also arrested at some point or another for domestic violence. He writes:

The key issue is whether suffering repeated head trauma lowers a person's self-control. And while many pro football players haven't been diagnosed with concussions in the NFL, nearly all of them have been playing football since they were young and suffered repetitive, frequent blows that can add up over time. And researchers know that those concussions can change a person. Even a pillar of the community.

This connects anecdotally with much of my own research. Over the last two months, I have spoken with three different women whose husbands are or were NFL players. All three are domestic violence survivors. In one case, the marriage was mended and endures to this day. In one case, it ended in divorce. In one case it ended with the suicide of the player in question. Yet that is where the differences ended. The similarities were stunning. In all three cases, the violence was precipitated either by migraine headaches or self-medicating—drugs or alcohol—to manage migraines. In all three cases, the survivors spoke about their NFL husbands becoming disoriented or light-sensitive, easily frustrated and quick to anger in ways that did not exist earlier in the relationship. In all three cases, they spoke about bizarre looks on their husbands' faces when they committed the abuse, from a chillingly peaceful calm to quizzical smiles. Whatever the look, they spoke of being in the presence of someone they "did not recognize."

I also spoke with Matt Chaney, a former college football player and author of the book Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football, about whether he believed there was a causal link between concussions and domestic violencw. He e-mailed me back the following. "I can't speak as medical authority on any link but as a journalist and academic who's read and filed tens of thousand documents on football hazards from violence to drugs, and one who's interviewed a thousand people, along with being a former college player who has knowledge of countless athletes and their relationships, I believe football brain injuries lead many players to violence they wouldn't otherwise have committed, ranging from domestic cases to random acts.... I think brain injuries, after studying the topic as we all have in recent years, now explains much about the perplexing cases of violence and other irrational behavior among football players I've known. And while I thought I abhorred street fighting, before college football, I found myself nearly involved with or nearly instigating such trouble on more than one occasion while I was in full-contact activity, fall and spring practices, banging my head. If I didn't have headache after a college contact session, I didn't think I'd done anything."

This question, of course, has profound implications well beyond the sport. It is about the choice families make whether to let their children play tackle football. It is about the health and safety of women in relationships with NFL players, and whether recognizing warning signs of CTE can create opportunities for intervention before abuse takes place. It is about the degree to which the league's very violence bears some complicity in their abuse. This is a difficult question, one Roger Goodell is loathe to discuss. That is exactly why we need to keep asking it.

Opinion Tue, 23 Sep 2014 11:01:48 -0400
The Joys of Abolishing Debt

2014.9.23.Debt.MainStudent debt concept. (Image via Shutterstock)For the last two years I have worked as a volunteer debt abolisher for Rolling Jubilee, which just announced the the abolition of nearly $4 million of student debt. It's a nice addition to the nearly $15 million of medical debt we have erased since November 2012 when the campaign launched.

Earlier this month, the Rolling Jubilee team posted 2,761 letters in the mail. "Jubilant Greetings! We are writing to you with good news," the letters began. "We just got rid of some of your Everest College debt....You no longer owe the balance of the particular debt. It is gone, a gift with no strings attached."

The Rolling Jubilee began when a group of us learned that people's debts — think credit card bills, pay day loans, utilities bills, medical bills and school tuition debts — are widely available on a shady and largely unregulated secondary market for pennies on the dollar.

Here's how it works: a bank or a hospital might sell a portfolio of unpaid accounts to a debt broker or a debt collector for a fraction of the official worth. That means a collector who calls on the phone trying to get you to pay him for a $1,000 trip to the emergency room may have only paid $50 to purchase your account.

Perhaps not surprising, given our roots in the Occupy movement, we found this unconscionable. Why should someone profit off another's misfortune? What if we bought these cheap debts and, instead of collecting on them, made them disappear?

We decided to do just that. And with approximately $600,000 of crowdfunded donations, we've been able to abolish nearly $20 million of debt.

The Rolling Jubilee is premised on the argument that no one should be forced into debt for basic needs like healthcare and education — services that are freely and publicly provided in many developed countries. Thus, we would argue that all student loans are, in a sense, illegitimate. (The average class of 2014 graduate has to repay $33,000 in debt, and more than one in 10 are defaulting on their loans.) But we also believe any student debt owed to Everest College, a subsidiary of Corinthian Colleges Inc., is especially odious and should not be repaid.

This week the the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a $500 million lawsuit against Corinthian, a corporation they have been investigating, as have various state attorneys general. Corinthian is charged with running a "predatory lending scheme."

For-profit schools are notorious for preying on students from disadvantaged backgrounds and spending more on advertising and marketing than on teaching. For example, according to the CFPB, Corinthian paid other companies to temporarily hire graduates in order to inflate job placement statistics and tricked students into taking out private loans from the school itself.

"Part of the tragedy here is that most students who attend the Corinthian company schools come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and many are the first in their families to go to college," a CFPB official said. "For these students, Corinthian too often turned the American dream of higher education into an ongoing nightmare of financial despair." (A spokesman for Corinthian has disputed the claims made by the CFPB.)

Through our work with the Rolling Jubilee we have heard from dozens of people who were scammed by Everest (or "Mt. Everest of Debt," as some students call it) into precisely such a nightmare, including disabled individuals who were promised services and aid that didn't exist. Some of the people whose debts we erased have come forward and spoken to the media, like 32-year-old Levia Welch, who recounted being lured by false promises of a high-paying career, and 24-year-old Courtney Brown, who spoke about her inability to get certified as a dental assistant.

At the moment, current and former students of Corinthian Colleges feel isolated and powerless, forced month after month to make payments on unfair loans while working minimum wage jobs no better than the ones they could get before enrolling. Some, like Everest graduate Ben Lopez, sacrificed mightily to get through school, at one point living in his car while attending classes. Now he's so ashamed of his degree he has taken it off his resume. But the over $60,000 of debt he incurred to attend will not so easily vanish. Student loans, unlike most other kinds of debt, cannot be discharged in bankruptcy — they will haunt you to the grave.

After nearly two years of dedicated effort, the Rolling Jubilee is winding down, partly because we know we can't buy and abolish everyone's debt. But we can help people organize and fight for what's right, and that is why we have launched a new organization called The Debt Collective. In the case of Everest and Corinthian our demand is simple: instead of propping up for-profit predators the Department of Education needs to use its power to protect students, discharging their debts and providing access to free education. Rolling Jubilee's all-volunteer group of debt abolishers has already shown that it is possible to do what's right.

Opinion Tue, 23 Sep 2014 10:37:12 -0400