Truthout Stories Sun, 21 Dec 2014 11:01:33 -0500 en-gb Ferguson Reverberates Around the World

Protestors hold images of Michael Brown, left, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, right, during a march to protest their deaths in New York, Dec. 13, 2014. A march in Washington also drew thousands on a day evoking the civil rights struggles of the past. (Photo: Yana Paskova / The New York Times) Protesters hold images of Michael Brown, left, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, right, during a march to protest their deaths in New York, December 13, 2014. A march in Washington also drew thousands on a day evoking the civil rights struggles of the past. (Photo: Yana Paskova / The New York Times)

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At Black Agenda Report we understand the importance of making connections between domestic and international issues and finding common cause with people around the world. That is why we work in partnership with groups such as the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC). UNAC didn’t fall prey to the inertia many supposedly antiwar organizations experienced after Barack Obama’s presidential victory. Its members know that the wars abroad and at home occur precisely because of actions taken by Democrats and Republicans working together to advance the interests of the banksters, defense contractors and other malefactors against the interests of people all over the world. This columnist joined a UNAC delegation invited to a conference in Moscow sponsored by the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia.

I was asked to speak about the police murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the aftermath of protest which spread from that small town to thousands more across the country. The Ferguson protests seized the attention of people all over the world and gave them a sense of the unvarnished truth of black American life.

Our host organization and members of the Russian media were all curious about Ferguson and what it meant. They asked what our legal system can do to stop police brutality. They wanted to know why the police have military equipment. They were curious about Barack Obama’s relationship with the constituency that supported him the most and why their needs are still not adequately addressed. The questions were many and varied and show that the United States is not the paragon of virtue and benevolent exceptionalism that it claims to be.

In my remarks at the December 13th conference I made it clear that the militarization of local police departments is not new and is directly tied to the government’s destruction of the black liberation movement of the 1960s. Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams emerged after the urban rebellions and exchanges of gunfire between the Black Panther Party and police departments around the country.

It is true that the Pentagon’s 1033 Program accelerated the supply of military equipment given to the police, but it was not a new experience for black Americans. Police on the beat, like Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, are a modern day slave patrol, using the slightest infraction or none at all to arrest, assault and even kill on a daily basis.

I spoke not just about Michael Brown but about Eric Garner who was choked to death while crying out that he couldn’t breathe and Akai Gurley whose only crime was taking the stairs in his public housing apartment building when police were on patrol. Even children like twelve year-old Tamir Rice armed with toy guns aren’t safe from police murder if they have black skin.

The world needs to know not only that America’s promise of justice for all is a lie but that it is expressed against the rest of the world, too. The anti-globalization group came into being in response to the United States and NATO attacks on the Russian government and interference in the domestic crisis in Ukraine. It is also ironic that the United States senate report on torture was released during the same week as the Moscow conference. It is not coincidental that a country which developed an officially sanctioned policy of torture is also the world leader in mass incarceration, defense spending and aggression towards the world community.

The United States still occupies Iraq and Afghanistan with troops and has used proxies to destroy Libya, Somalia, Haiti and Syria. Now Russia, though it is stronger than those other nations, has also been marked for destruction by the West. The United States has connived with its ally Saudi Arabia to lower the price of oil and do even further damage to Russia’s energy production sector. Congress has proposed even more sanctions in an effort to destroy that nation’s economy and turn it into a vassal state along with every other country that won’t submit to pax Americana.

What next? That is the question that conference participants often asked. What will happen after Ferguson? How long will the protests continue? It is difficult to make predictions and create hypothetical scenarios, but it is clear that people in a small Missouri town have changed the paradigm.

President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder will not be given deference should they choose not to pursue federal prosecution in the Michael Brown case. They are finally being taken to task and will not be able to explain a decision to let Darren Wilson get away with murder.

I told my hosts and local media that the American system guarantees presidents like Barack Obama. The person who emerges atop the political heap does so by agreeing tacitly and explicitly to maintain the status quo for the rulers in the 1%. White supremacy is followed only by worship of money as the very foundation of American life. A black president will do as little as a white one, perhaps even less, in order to separate himself the group which arrived in chains and still lives at the margins.

It is important for activists in this country to strengthen their coalitions abroad. It is a vital step in making critical change and freeing people from police brutality, CIA “black” sites, mass imprisonment and the wanton destruction of other nations and their people. There is no substitute for direct and personal interaction. It makes us all less susceptible to the lies and manipulations which do the world such great harm.

Opinion Sun, 21 Dec 2014 10:11:57 -0500
Utah Land Defenders Stand Up to Dirty Politics

New technologies like fracking - along with government subsidies - have ushered in an energy boom reliant on extreme extraction methods to produce oil and natural gas. Now the Uinta Basin is ground zero for what threatens to become the next phase in extreme energy extraction: strip mining for tar sands and oil shale.

After clear-cutting trees and sagebrush, U.S. Oil Sands digs open-pit mines to test their tar sands extraction process. If the company starts producing tar sands on a commercial scale, 32,000 acres in Utah’s Uintah Basin could be covered with these pits, along with tailings ponds that would store huge amounts of waste water and chemicals used in the extraction process. (Courtesy of Before It Starts)After clear-cutting trees and sagebrush, U.S. Oil Sands digs open-pit mines to test their tar sands extraction process. If the company starts producing tar sands on a commercial scale, 32,000 acres in Utah’s Uintah Basin could be covered with these pits, along with tailings ponds that would store huge amounts of waste water and chemicals used in the extraction process. (Courtesy of Before It Starts)

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Also see: Subsidy Spotlight: Publicly Funding a Utah Disaster in the Making

Lauren Wood grew up in a family of river guides in the Uinta Basin region of Utah. She navigates tributaries of the Colorado River like her urban counterparts navigate subway systems. She learned to ride a horse, and then drive a car, on the Tavaputs Plateau. And she can name most any gorge or gully in the place she calls home.

But this landscape so familiar to her has transformed over the past decade to one in which drill rigs are more common than cattle herds, and methane emissions have degraded the air quality in this wilderness region to rival that of Los Angeles.

New technologies like fracking––along with government subsidies––have ushered in an energy boom reliant on extreme extraction methods to produce oil and natural gas. Now the Uinta Basin is ground zero for what threatens to become the next phase in extreme energy extraction: strip mining for tar sands and oil shale.

Tar sands are a sticky mixture of sand, clay, water and bitumen that can be processed into fuel, but require more refining than conventional crude oil, releasing more greenhouse gases and toxins in the process. Despite the fact that Canadian tar sands mining is pushing the Earth toward disastrous climate change, some companies are moving forward with tar sands mining projects in the United States.

Oil shale, not to be confused with shale oil (which is oil released by fracking), is a solid mixture of chemical compounds––called kerogen––inside sedimentary rock. When heated at high enough temperatures, it’s possible to break the kerogen down into liquid hydrocarbons and release them from the rock. This requires a whole lot of fuel just to make more fuel, and also promises to drastically worsen the effects of climate change.

Part one of this article delved into the history of how, in the past, taxpayers have footed costly bills for government-sponsored tar sands and oil shale development that never turned out to be commercially viable. The last of these projects fizzled out in the 1980s. Now, thanks in large part to a provision in the Energy Policy Act of 2005––written by Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch––oil shale and tar sands are back on the table.

Red Leaf Resources and U.S. Oil Sands are two companies that have led the renewed crusade to develop oil shale and tar sands in the United States. Red Leaf leases Utah state land for its oil shale mine site near the Tavaputs Plateau in Uintah County. A few miles away, straddling the boundaries of the Uintah-Ouray Reservation, sits the tar sands mine site of Canadian-based U.S. Oil Sands.

In 2008, one of Red Leaf’s Vice Presidents, Laura Nelson, teamed up with a U.S. Oil Sands Executive to co-write a white paper for the Utah Mining Association (UMA), a lobbying group. In it, they spelled out the ways that state and federal governments should subsidize tar sands and oil shale development. Since then, several of their recommendations––including millions of dollars in tax breaks, leasing public land at rock-bottom prices, and government-funded infrastructure projects––have become reality.

A twenty-year tax holiday for tar sands and oil shale

The same year the Utah Mining Association (UMA) white paper came out, a new PAC called The Quality Jobs Coalition registered in Utah.

Of the six listed PAC members, three are former UMA presidents. In 2008, The Quality Jobs Coalition spent over $50,000 in donations to 28 candidates for the Utah legislature, the majority of whom won.

In the following legislative session, one of those candidates introduced a bill that began as a measure to create tax credits for renewable energy projects, (even though it included and emphasized nuclear energy), but was renamed and expanded to incentivize alternative energy projects, including oil shale and tar sands.

The original bill’s tax credits were projected to be valued at $2.6 million in annual revenue for the first two years. With tar sands and oil shale included, that estimate ballooned to $5 million annually for the first few years, and an incredible $360 million annually down the road.

That’s equal to six percent of the 2015 budget for Utah’s General Fund and Education Fund––the two pools of money from which funds are diverted in order to cover the cost of the huge refunds these tax breaks offer.

Companies that take advantage of the Alternative Energy Development Incentive get to write off 75 percent of their state taxes annually for up to twenty years.

And manufacturers of oil shale and tar sands equipment get a completely free ride with the Alternative Energy Manufacturing Incentive, which offers a  full 100 percent state tax refund for up to twenty years.

Royalties buy taxpayers a Road to Nowhere (except a tar sands mine)

Taxes or no taxes, there is still revenue to be made from royalties. More than seventy percent of Utah is public land, and when extractive industries mine or drill on it, they have to pay a certain percentage of their profits to the state and federal governments.

In Utah, that money goes into a Mineral Lease Fund, which gets distributed to various agencies for projects that offset the local impacts of fossil fuel extraction. For example: health services for kids whose asthma is triggered by the ridiculously high ozone levels in the Uinta Basin.

But fossil fuel companies often try to twist the scenario to benefit themselves.

In 2010, Red Leaf Resource’s oil shale research and development site was nestled amongst vegetation in Utah's Uintah Basin region. Now the surrounding acreage looks like a desert, as the company has clear cut a huge swath of the 1,600 acres it leases from the state in order to mine sedimentary rock with deposits of bitumen inside. (Courtesy of EcoFlight).In 2010, Red Leaf Resource’s oil shale research and development site was nestled amongst vegetation in Utah's Uintah Basin region. Now the surrounding acreage looks like a desert, as the company has clear cut a huge swath of the 1,600 acres it leases from the state in order to mine sedimentary rock with deposits of bitumen inside. (Courtesy of EcoFlight)

In 2007, Red Leaf founder Todd Dana attended a meeting of Uintah County Commissioners and Vernal City Council, where he said, “delivery is an important concern and it is critical to get the oil south to the railroad for transportation.”

Commissioner Mike McKee responded, “One of the greatest needs is the repair of Seep Ridge Road.”

At that time, Seep Ridge Road was mostly gravel. Starting southwest of Vernal, it wound about seventy miles south, through Ute tribal lands, across the Tavaputs Plateau to the Book Cliffs, an escarpment so steep it’s almost non-traversable by car.

Only hunters, backpackers, ranchers, and locals were generally using the road until Red Leaf and U.S. Oil Sands came on the scene and Seep Ridge Road became the main access point for their mine sites.

So when the county moved forward with a multi-million dollar revamp of the road, to be paid for with money from the Mineral Lease Fund, critics dubbed it The Road To Nowhere, and pointed out the obvious: public coffers were being drained for the sole benefit of the oil shale and tar sands companies.

This November, the last phase of construction was completed and a ribbon cutting held on what’s now a forty-foot-wide highway through the wilderness, made for semi-trucks and megaloads, paid for with $86.5 million in public funds.

Oil shale on stolen––and public––land

Red Leaf was also implicated in a 2012 scandal that brought corporate governance in the Uintah Basin to a new level.

Four years earlier, in 2008, the Bureau of Land Management had announced a plan to open up two million acres of public lands (including land that was part of the Uinta-Ouray Reservation until the Homestead Act divvied it up between white settlers and the government) for oil shale development in Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. The plan also allotted 431,000 acres for tar sands development in Utah.

The original plan amounted to a huge subsidy to these industries because royalties were set at only five percent––less than half the standard rate for conventional oil and gas.

But public pressure led the BLM to re-assess the plan, and in 2012 they announced a new one that significantly curtailed the amount of land up for grabs.

That’s when Uintah County leaders held an illegal meeting at the Golden Age Senior Center in Vernal, Utah.

The remains of a bird are mired in an oily pool at the site of a tar sands test mine. (Courtesy of Before It Starts)The remains of a bird are mired in an oily pool at the site of a tar sands test mine. (Courtesy of Before It Starts)

Among the the thirty-two people in attendance were county officials from Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming; a lobbyist from Red Leaf and another oil shale company; the director of a national oil shale lobby group; a board member of a nonprofit with ties to Red Leaf; an official from the Uintah-Ouray Reservation; and the George W. Bush-era BLM Director who oversaw the original land lease proposal and was an adviser to Utah Governor Gary Herbert at the time of the meeting.

Behind closed doors––in violation of the state’s sunshine laws––they crafted a plan for elected officials from each county to pass resolutions opposing the BLM plan. In follow-up emails they shared draft resolutions that could serve as models for the industry to push in the relevant counties. In little more than a month, the resolutions were passed and officials from six counties held a joint press conference lauding their actions.

When an open records request brought the meeting to light, public outcry caused some County Commissioners to rescind the resolutions. But their actions had the intended effect; the BLM conducted yet another assessment and expanded their plan to offer a total of 830,000 acres of public land for oil shale and tar sands development. This time, the agency didn’t set a royalty rate at all.

Tar sands and oil shale election money

A key player in all of this is Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee. In 2006, the year before the Seep Ridge Road project took off, he reported zero contributions to his election campaign. In 2014––eight years into the region’s oil and gas boom––he reported $20,096, possibly a record for Uintah County, where local campaigns rarely garner more than $10,000.

$5,000 of McKee’s campaign money came from Uintah Resources, which Todd Dana founded in 2009 after selling his share of Red Leaf. Another $5,000 came from an oilfield equipment company, and several thousands more from various companies and individuals in the fossil fuel industry.

Laura Nelson, the Red Leaf VP who co-wrote the Utah Mining Association white paper, has circled through a revolving door from the Utah state house to Red Leaf, and back to the state house––this time as Director of Utah’s Office of Energy Development.

It’s worth mentioning that Nelson contributed $5,000 to Governor Herbert’s campaign in 2012 (when she was still an employee of Red Leaf), and that other Red Leaf executives, their main lobbyist, and the company itself, have donated a combined $26,000 to Herbert’s campaigns and his PAC.

So it’s no surprise that earlier this year, at the third annual Governor’s Energy Development Summit, Herbert announced that oil shale and tar sands were second on his list of five energy priorities for 2015.

That was on June third. On July 21––the same day Nelson was appointed Director of Energy Development––twenty-one people were arrested at the U.S. Oil Sands mine site.

The land defenders

They started arriving in May––dozens of people from all over Utah and all over the country––to camp together on the Tavaputs Plateau. From the encampment, they could hike two miles to the U.S. Oil Sands site to monitor developments and plan actions.

Land defenders block the road leading to a tar sands mine site. The protest prevented the company U.S. Oil Sands from clearing vegetation on land where it plans to dig open pit mines and tailings ponds for toxic waste.Land defenders block the road leading to a tar sands mine site. The protest prevented the company U.S. Oil Sands from clearing vegetation on land where it plans to dig open pit mines and tailings ponds for toxic waste.

In the early morning hours of July 21, fifteen people entered a fenced-off cage where U.S. Oil Sands kept equipment used for clear-cutting. They chained themselves to machinery and the fence, as sixty more people surrounded the area with banners and blockaded the road.

By the middle of the afternoon, twenty-one people were in jail and two were hospitalized with injuries inflicted by police. But no land on the Tavaputs Plateau was leveled that day.

“It’s a pretty emotional thing to be up there and see people actually stopping it from happening,” says Lauren Wood, the river guide and a co-founder of Peaceful Uprising. Peaceful Uprising is one of the groups that organized the action camp, along with Tar Sands Resistance and Canyon Country Rising Tide.

Parts of U.S. Oil Sands mine site extend onto Ute tribal lands. The Environmental Protection Agency warned the company in June that it didn’t have permission to operate on Ute land. On July 21, 2014, fifteen people chained themselves to a fence and to machinery on the tar sands mine site operated by U.S. Oil Sands.Parts of U.S. Oil Sands mine site extend onto Ute tribal lands. The Environmental Protection Agency warned the company in June that it didn’t have permission to operate on Ute land. On July 21, 2014, fifteen people chained themselves to a fence and to machinery on the tar sands mine site operated by U.S. Oil Sands.

Aside from the immediate impact and thrill of a day-long work stoppage, the groups are confident that the cumulative effect of their persistence will be to stop the mines.

Will Munger works as a cowboy in the Uintah Basin, where tar sands and oil shale development are threatening water sources critical to ranching and agriculture. (Courtesy of Will Munger)Will Munger works as a cowboy in the Uintah Basin, where tar sands and oil shale development are threatening water sources critical to ranching and agriculture. (Courtesy of Will Munger)Red Leaf, U.S. Oil Sands and the other companies pioneering tar sands and oil shale development are small and financially precarious, even with the millions of taxpayer dollars wasted on their projects.

The land defenders say that with enough pushback, investors may get nervous. Stock prices can tank. There really is a window of time for preventing a U.S. tar sands and oil shale industry.

Another land defender, Will Munger, works as a cowboy on the Tavaputs Plateau and camped out at the protest site.

Munger takes a long view of the past and the future when he talks about the relationships between climate change, government, and corporations.

“The West has been defined by these boom and bust cycles since colonization,” he says.

“What we need out here in the desert is a way of relating to the land and relating to each other where there is a stable, functional economy that preserves the ecosystems that keep us alive. Not schemes that are part of this economic model that looks at short-term profit over long-term sustainability.”

There were a few more actions and arrests in the months after July. By the end of October, the last of the campers had packed up as development at the mines slowed down and winter set in.

But they’ll be back come spring, and anyone is welcome to join them.

News Sun, 21 Dec 2014 09:59:20 -0500
Fallen Heroes of 2014

Hundreds of social justice advocates and organizers passed away in 2014, leaving their work behind as their legacy, but often also leaving an irreplaceable hole in their movements.

In this week's edition of Making Contact you'll hear about the life and work of social justice leaders, many who spent their entire lives fighting for racial and economic justice, and though they've passed away they inspire us to do our work today.

Black Liberation activists like Chokwe Lumumba, Darby Tillis freed from wrongful conviction and imprisonment, Yuri Kochiyama anti-imperialist supporter for political prisoners, and young George Carter who was a "rethinker" of schools in New Orleans.

On today's edition of Making Contact we honor and revisit the lives of just a few of those fallen heroes who passed away this year.


  • Chokwe Lumumba, former mayor of Jackson MS
  • Morgan Powell, Bronx River Sankofa founder
  • Charity Hicks, Detroit People's Water Board co-founder
  • Darby Tillis, death penalty opponent
  • Yuri Kochiyama, civil rights activist
  • Ted Gullickson, San Francisco Tenants Union director
  • George Carter; Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools participant
  • Leslie Feinberg, author of Stone Butch Blues
  • Eddie Ellis, prison reform advocate
  • Mark Naison, Fordham University African-American history professor
  • Lila Cabbil, Rosa Parks Institute president emeritus
  • Diane Fujino, author of Heartbeat of Struggle, the revolutionary life of Yuri Kochiyama
  • Taiyo Na, author
  • Randy Shaw, Tenderloin Housing Clinic executive director
  • Qasim Davis, Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools project manager
  • Perry Cobb, Darby Tillis' co-defendant
  • Dr. Divine Pryor, executive Director of the center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions
News Sat, 20 Dec 2014 13:47:37 -0500
Who's Afraid of Shareholder Democracy?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of biggest corporate trade associations, and ALEC, one of biggest corporate lobbying groups are both startlingly hostile to shareholders. At two recent meetings in Washington DC, these two powerful groups -- who frequently hold themselves out as speaking for the business community -- grumbled about shareholders being too pushy.

In particular ALEC and the Chamber don't like that one of the top topics of shareholder resolutions over the past few years has been transparency of political spending both in elections and in lobbying expenditures. Just this year, five public firms witnessed a majority of their shareholders vote in favor of such political transparency. Those firms in case you were curious are Sallie Mae, Lorillard and Valero Energy, where a majority voted for disclosure of lobbying — and Dean Foods and Smith & Wesson, where a majority voted for disclosure of campaign spending.

Ownership, as they say, has its privileges. One of the points of buying stock rather than just loaning a company money is by actually buying a little piece of the firm, the shareholder gets a tiny voice in how that firm is run. Apparently the Chamber and ALEC do not appreciate shareholders, well, acting like they own the joint.

Of course, shareholders don't get to run the firm day to day, but they do get to pipe up once a year at the annual general meeting (AGM) by voting on the board of directors, the auditor, management proposals and shareholder proposals.

As reported in Bloomberg BNA by Kenneth P. Doyle, this attention by shareholders on corporate political spending is rubbing the President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce the wrong way. "The whole thing comes down to efforts by some to stop the business community" complained President Thomas Donahue at a December 3rd conference sponsored by the U.S. Chamber Foundation.

Meanwhile the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was also meeting in DC on December 3rd and they too were peevish about shareholders having the temerity to ask where corporate money in being used in politics. As reported by PR Watch, at the ALEC meeting there was a workshop titled "Playing the Shame Game: A Campaign that Threatens Corporate Free Speech."

This is all a little surreal since these are shareholders after all who at the end of the day would like a reasonable return on their investment, like any good capitalist. If anyone is for businesses turning a profit, it is the people whose life savings are tied up in these firms and thus it is reasonable to ask if money spent on politics is money spent wisely.

From the press reports of these two DC meetings, it sounds like the Chamber and ALEC may be pining for the 1950s. Back then, shareholders almost never brought up social issues on the proxy. One of the few exceptions was James Peck, a white civil rights activist who had the "crazy" idea that blacks and whites are equal. Peck partnered with black civil rights lawyer Bayard Rustin to ask Greyhound to desegregate its buses through the corporate proxy card. James Peck failed at every turn in the early 1950s. He was met with a wall of resistance from the company, the SEC and the courts. And it was like that for other shareholders for two more decades.

This all changed with a case called Medical Committee for Human Rights v. SEC brought by shareholders of Dow who complained about its production of napalm during the Vietnam War. The case was litigated up to the D.C. Circuit in 1970. The court found that the shareholders should be able to vote on a broader array of issues because:

[w]e think that there is a clear and compelling distinction between management's legitimate need for freedom to apply its expertise in matters of day-to-day business judgment, and management's patently illegitimate claim of power to treat modern corporations with their vast resources as personal satrapies implementing personal political or moral predilections.

A key factor in the case was the fact that Dow's own documents showed "that the decision to continue manufacturing and marketing napalm was made not because of business considerations, but in spite of them..." The Dow case was a turning point in the rights of shareholders. Shortly thereafter the SEC revised its rules to allow political and social shareholder proposals.

And shareholders have been exercising this right ever since. Now in a typical year, hundreds of shareholder proposals are filed at firms. Today many of the shareholder resolutions are about sustainability and environmental issues like climate change, greenhouse gases, pollution, genetically modified food, and impacts on public health of manufacturing.

A report from the Sustainable Investment Institute (Si2) which tracks these things noted, "[i]nvestors concerned with environmental and social issues filed 454 shareholder proposals at U.S. companies in 2014, a big jump from 402 in 2013 and far more than in any previous year."

Ever since Citizens United in 2010 there has been a notable uptick in shareholder resolutions on the transparency of political spending. And the votes on political transparency this year averaged (as of August 2014) 23.7%. This is remarkably high given how broadly public companies are held. Which might explain why some corporate groups who are fond of spending secretive "dark money" are having a toddler style temper tantrum just because shareholders are exercising their right to vote their proxies.

The alternative to the private ordering that shareholders are engaged in is a generally applicable rule from the SEC providing uniform disclosure of corporate political spending, which is also popular among shareholders if a short review of the over one million comments filed at the SEC is any indication.

If the Chamber and ALEC bristle at shareholder democracy where there is an actual ownership stake, one can only imagine what they think of real democracy where every citizen over 18 no matter how rich or poor, investors and non-investors alike, gets to vote.

News Sat, 20 Dec 2014 13:23:07 -0500
Unbelievable: Telecoms Claim They're Worried About Your Bill!

Update: Since this article was written the two false pillars of the PPI study have disappeared. Brian Fung of the Washington Post sums up the claim that investment would decrease with Title II with his reporting on how executives from the telecoms say Title II will not impact their investment plans. The other pillar was the claim that there would be increased taxes but Congress has extended the tax exemption for the Internet so now that claim has also disappeared. After final passage of the omnibus spending bill, Free Press published: Congress Puts to Rest the Great Internet Tax Hoax of 2014: Phone and cable industry misinformation about Title II once again fails to stand up to scrutiny, which puts the nail in the coffin of this telecom falsehood. The bottom line: Title II will not increase taxes or the bills of consumers. Let's watch and see if the cable lobbyists stop the big advertising campaign based on this phony study.

The 'false-on-its-face' telecom claim of increased costs to consumers is designed to protect their unregulated monopolies that charge too much and provide terrible service.

The Citizens of the Internet Can Defeat the Telecom Mafia

In a claim that must have people laughing out loud, the telecom and broadband providers are fighting net neutrality by claiming that they will raise the rates of consumers! It is hard to believe that even telecom lobbyists, well-paid to mislead Congress and regulators, could make this claim without smirking as cable bills have been rising at four times the rate of inflation without net neutrality.

Now they claim to be concerned about consumer costs. Why? Because they want to protect their monopolies that currently allow them to gouge consumers and provide sub-par service.

The telecoms remind us of the mafia: "If you reclassify the Internet as a public utility, it's gonna cost you." It is time to stand up to these bullies. The Internet community is strong enough to defeat them in any arena. The truth is that the FCC will be able to control telecom costs if they reclassify the Internet because Title II gives the FCC the power to control the fees they charge, and the telecoms know and fear this. 

The falseness of the telecom claim is obvious on its face, but because some in Congress are well paid to believe the lies of the industry, we need to debunk them. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) spends $19.8 million annually on lobbying making it the fifth largest spender in Washington, DC (Comcast, AT&T and Verizon combined spent an addition $48 billion). As far as political donations, during the 2013-2014 election cycle Comcast gave $3.4 million, AT&T $3.1 million, Verizon $2.6 million and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association $1.8 million. So, Congress hears a lot of lies from people who pay them well to listen.

But there is strong evidence that the politics have changed and the people of the Internet can defeat the dollars of the telecoms in Congress. The Internet community can also debunk their lies, no matter how much they spend to tell them.

No amount of money will turn telecom lies into truths

First, anyone with basic common sense knows that the real problem regarding cost of cable and Internet access is unregulated monopolies. When consumers have no choice, monopolies can charge whatever price they want and not worry about the quality of their service or how they treat consumers.

Every American has experienced the dramatic rate increases in fees from telecoms but the numbers are still shocking. Last year cable rates increased at 6.5% while inflation was 1.7%. The average annual rate increase since 1995 has been 6.1%, consistently higher than inflation.

As to their dismal service, Informit reports that the US ranks 31st in the world in download speeds; our connection speed is worse than Estonia, Slovakia and Uruguay among many others; and we rank 48th in upload speeds making us worse than countries like Zimbabwe and Armenia.

The US pays too much for Internet services that deliver less than other countries because during the Clinton era the Telecommunications Act of 1996 became law which allowed major providers to split up markets for the purpose of regional monopolization. Then in 2002, Michael Powell's FCC reclassified the Internet as an information service removing the Title II powers needed to regulate these monopolies. The result: unregulated monopolies that gouge consumers and provide lousy service.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index of 2014, which reviews 43 household consumer industries, finds that customer satisfaction from cable and broadband providers is the lowest among all the industries surveyed. The average for all industries was 75.6 in satisfaction out of 100, while the cable companies had a score of 63. Customer satisfaction from these companies continues to decline with drops in satisfaction across the board. Comcast and Time Warner Cable plunged 8% and 14%, respectively, to very low ACSI scores in the 50s. Comcast and Time Warner Cable both score lower for Internet service compared to their pay TV ratings. In fact Comcast earned Consumerist's 'Worst Company in America' title twice, first in 2010 and again this year, 2014, beating out Monsanto, a company most associated with the word "evil."

Because the telecom and broadband providers are so unpopular and have no credibility when it comes to keeping consumer costs down, they had to find a front group to do their dirty work. They found a perfect front group in the misnamed "Progressive" Policy Institute. PPI is the think tank for the big business Democratic corporatists, the Democratic Leadership Conference. The DLC was successful in getting big business money, especially from Wall Street and the telecoms into the Democratic Party. PPI was organized to support the DLC and advocates Wall Street friendly policies that favor de-regulation and corporatization. PPI justifies big business friendly policies with phony progressive rhetoric. AT&T has been funding PPI since its founding in 2000. As Phillip Dampier wrote "PPI would likely not exist without its corporate sponsors — among them AT&T, hardly a disinterested player in the telecommunications policy debate."

PPI gave the telecom industry the "research" they wanted for a false propaganda campaign in a last ditch effort to stop reclassifying the Internet as a common carrier under Title II so that net neutrality could once again become the law of the land. The study makes the false claim that Title II net neutrality regulations will result in $15 billion in various new Federal and State taxes and fees. These are totally made up numbers from a completely false fantasy thesis that Title II will mean less investment and slower innovation that would result from reclassification.

Indeed, Edward Wyatt of the New York Times reports that a Verizon executive debunked the myth of less investment under Title II at the annual UBS media and communications investment conference. He reports that Francis J. Shammo, Verizon's chief financial officer, said "the company planned to continue to invest in its FiOS fiber-optic network and its wireless systems regardless of the outcome of the broadband debate." Shammo specifically said that the broadband debate "does not influence the way we invest."

As John Eggerton reported in MediaChannel, FCC Chair, Tom Wheeler is now saying Title II will not threaten investment: "When Verizon makes that kind of statement, I think it is logical. I think it is reflected in what various Wall Street analysts have said in terms of Title II being less of a bugaboo if it is done correctly." Matt Wood of Free Press provides more details telling us Wheeler said "that broadband investment in Title II services remains high, that auction revenues are booming despite him telling CTIA that mobile Net Neutrality would be stronger, and even noted that wireless voice has been subject to Sections 201/202 for twenty years."

This is consistent with the history of Internet investment as the evidence shows investment was greater when the Internet was classified as a common carrier under Title II. The telecoms build on this false claim with more false claims telling consumers through their allies in the corporate media that there would be a $19 per month increase in fees to the consumer for Internet access. They are now running advertisements with a scary graphic wherever there is an article about Title II and net neutrality in places like The Hill.

Does a Lie Repeated Become the Truth?

But it is all false. It is just a lie repeated with a megaphone of big money spending and corporate media allies. This will be an excellent test of the "Big Lie" theory, that a lie repeated becomes the truth.

Congress has, as predicted by almost everyone, extended the tax exemption for the Internet. Prior to the extension, Tech Dirt explained the false basis for the claim because it was based on the slim potential of increased taxes, with had nothing to do with Title II but was based on the tax exemption:

"On the state level, Internet access has long received a Congressional exemption that's set to expire December 11 — an issue totally unrelated to the Title II push. Congress can make sure the exemption is extended, keeping state sales taxes far away from broadband access. If they don't, again, it has nothing to do with Title II. Realize this, and nearly all of the PPI's estimate of $15 billion in new taxes as a direct result of Title II goes up in smoke right out of the gate."

Tim Karr of Free Press points out in a tweet the irony of the advertisement appearing on the same page in the Washington Post where the ad is debunked. The budget bill passed by Congress ends the possibility of increased taxes as Congress extended the exemption. There was never any doubt this tax exemption extension would pass, but the telecoms needed a scare story so they made one up.

Free Press explains the falsehood, a "mistake" that is really an attempt to mislead, as coming "from ignoring the difference between services that cross state lines and those that exist entirely within one state." They explain: If Congress extends and updates the Internet Tax Freedom Act and the FCC declines to include broadband in the [universal service] revenue base at this time, the increase would be exactly zero. Congress has now extended the Tax Freedom Act, so another false foundation of the PPI study is removed.

In fact, the FCC could take various actions to prevent unreasonable fee increases under Title II. Free Press points out that the FCC could waive the requirement for providers to contribute a portion of their retail broadband revenues to the federal Universal Service Fund. PPI chooses to ignore the basic truth about Title II regulation; it gives the FCC flexibility in regulating the industry, including keeping costs down.

Free Press sums up the facts and concludes there would be no increase in taxes or fees as a result of reclassification under Title II and net neutrality regulations, explaining:

"The bottom line is this: If the FCC does nothing more than stick with precedent and designate broadband as an interstate telecom service, the average potential increase in taxes and fees per household would be far less than PPI estimates. If Congress extends and updates the Internet Tax Freedom Act and the FCC declines to include broadband in the revenue base at this time, the increase would be exactly zero."

What It All Means: People of the Internet Will Defeat The Telecom Mafia

The telecom and broadband providers are desperate to keep their unregulated monopolies that can raise prices and provide lousy service without any retribution from the consumers or government. They pay big money to elected officials to serve as a shield to regulation. They keep the FCC in fear of Congress and the courts. It is our job – the millions of people who are demanding net neutrality to be organized and mobilized to defend the FCC when it reclassifies.

When it comes to the courts, in Verizon, when the court threw out the net neutrality rules, it made it clear that only Title II reclassification would give the FCC the authority to regulate the Internet and prevent fast lanes and slow lanes. Court decisions make it evident that the easiest to defend net neutrality rules will be if the Internet is reclassified under Title II. There is no other legal path that gives the FCC a strong legal foundation that is defendable in court.

When it comes to Congress, recent experience shows the people are the dominant power on Internet issues. The politics of the Internet has changed: the people of the Internet can defeat the dollars of the telecoms. This has been seen in repeated battles over SOPA and PIPA and will be seen in net neutrality as well. Larry Downes wrote in Forbes analyzing the new political power of the Internet: "A new and profoundly different political force has emerged ... a constituency that identifies itself not by local interests but as citizens of the Internet."

This new political power has shown itself over reclassification and net neutrality, where it produced nearly 4 million comments to the FCC, far eclipsing any previous rulemaking; overwhelmingly, literally 99% of the comments, supported net neutrality. The Internet can generate emails, petitions and phone calls and it has been a key factor in mobilizing people to take action.

The FCC does not have to fear the telecom and broadband providers. Their old school 'pay to play' politics will fail with the reality of people power that can be organized rapidly and coordinated on the Internet. Indeed, the Internet can make sure that their massive political spending will create a boomerang against elected officials who take donations from the telecoms. Politicians will find telecom dollars will cost them votes.

And, the politics is on the side of the Internet community. Both political parties want the funding of Silicon Valley and the votes of Internet citizens. Polls show people across the political spectrum – Republicans, Democrats and independents – support net neutrality. Republicans are quickly learning they must be on the side of the Internet. People want an open Internet with equal access for all.

The politics comes down to this: side with the most hated corporations in America or side with millions of people and the funders of the future, the Internet corporations made up of entrepreneurs, start-ups and innovators. The Internet has already shown its current political power, but more importantly, it is obvious which side is the political power of the future.

The FCC should go forward in confidence that Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner and AT&T are political powers of the past that should be taken on and not feared. The Internet will be on the FCC's side if they do the right thing.

News Sat, 20 Dec 2014 12:43:33 -0500
Subsidy Spotlight: Publicly Funding a Utah Disaster in the Making

U.S. Oil Sands has stripped parts of the land it leases from the state in preparation for digging open-pit tar sands mines. (Courtesy of Before It Starts)U.S. Oil Sands has stripped parts of the land it leases from the state in preparation for digging open-pit tar sands mines. (Courtesy of Before It Starts)A green stegosaurus graces the logo of Uintah County, Utah, a gateway to the famed Dinosaur National Monument, where breathtaking landscapes and fossils preserved in sandstone attract thousands of visitors every year.

That logo has taken on new meaning over the past decade as prehistoric remains have attracted a different crowd. Now oil and gas executives are flocking to the Uinta Basin in Eastern Utah, as new technologies––and support from the government––offer the dubious possibility of digging up the region's vast deposits of oil shale and tar sands.

Canadian production of tar sands on a massive scale has familiarized the American public with the petroleum substance that's comprised of sand, clay, water, and bitumen which, after several rounds of energy-intensive refining, can be turned into fuel that burns dirtier than conventional crude oil, releasing more carbon, heavy metals, and sulphur in the process.

But tar sands production has never happened on a commercial scale within the United States, and less attention is paid to domestic reserves––even though several tar sands mining projects have been in the works for a number of years.

In Utah, there's an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil within the state's tar sands deposits (that's a little more than twice the total amount of petroleum consumed in the U.S. in 2013). These tar sands are lower quality than Canada's, and would require even more processing––using large quantities of fuel just to make more fuel. One report puts it this way, "Every time you fill your car with gas from made-in-Utah tar sands...pour an extra 4 or 5 gallons on the ground."

Oil shale is even less promising. Not to be confused with shale oil (which is oil released by fracking), oil shale is fossil matter that hasn't been in the ground long enough to turn into oil. It's basically sedimentary rock with deposits of solid chemical compounds called kerogen inside.

If exposed to extremely high temperatures, it's possible to convert the kerogen into a liquid hydrocarbon and squeeze it out of the rock. That requires strip-mining the oil shale from the ground and using lots of fuel just to create enough heat to extract the hydrocarbons, which then requires even more energy to refine before it's a usable petroleum product.

In nearly a century of speculation, oil shale has never been proven commercially viable. But with a national fervor for domestic fuel production in the U.S., and an estimated 1.8 trillion barrels of oil within oil shale deposits in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming (enough to tip the scale toward assured climate disaster), oil shale is getting another push.

The push is coming from companies that want to strip mine some of the West's most iconic landscapes for tar sands and oil shale. It's coming from officials at every level of government with financial ties to the fossil fuel industry. But the people bottom-lining the advancement of oil shale and tar sands production, like it or not, are taxpayers.

Through public land leases, infrastructure subsidies, and some very expensive tax breaks, taxpayer money is supporting what could become one of the dirtiest, most destructive chapters in American energy history.

Oil shale on stolen land

Forrest Cuch, formerly Utah’s Director of Indian Affairs, lives on the Uintah-Ouray Reservation in Northeastern Utah, where tar sands and oil shale companies are encroaching upon Indigenous land. (Courtesy of Forrest Cuch)Forrest Cuch, formerly Utah’s Director of Indian Affairs, lives on the Uintah-Ouray Reservation in Northeastern Utah, where tar sands and oil shale companies are encroaching upon Indigenous land. (Courtesy of Forrest Cuch)Forrest Cuch talks about the year 1905 so vividly it's as if he lived it. That's the year Utah's Uintah-Ouray Indian Reservation was divvied up to white settlers under the Homestead Act, reducing the tribal territory where Cuch––a member of the Ute tribe––lives from 4.3 million acres to just half a million.

"That was a very traumatic time in our history. Some of our people went to war over that," Cuch, formerly the Director of Utah's Division of Indian Affairs, said in a phone interview. "They ventured up north to join an alliance with the Lakota people. When they got up there they found that the powerful Lakota people were also defeated."

Once the fighting was quelled, it wasn't long before the federal government claimed a chunk of the reservation for the Naval Oil Shale Reserves, which was intended to serve as a backup fuel source for the military. The Defense Department didn't attempt to use oil shale from the reserves until the 1970s, and then their experiments weren't successful.

In the 1980s Congress allocated up to $88 billion to the Department of Energy for a program to develop unconventional fuels, including tar sands and oil shale. The DOE shelled out $7 billion in the form of loan and price guarantees to oil shale projects in the Uinta Basin and parts of Colorado. All of the projects folded within a few years, and the DOE program was dissolved.

Meanwhile, the Naval Oil Shale Reserves remained undeveloped, and in 2000, the federal government returned 84,000 acres to the Ute Tribe.

By that time, the Uinta Basin had become a locus of conventional oil and gas production, and the reservation had become what Cuch describes as "a checkerboard." Rather than one contiguous swath of land, tribal acreage was interspersed with state, federal and private land, all marred with oil and gas wells.

"It's made relationships very difficult here," Cuch says. "The local [non-Native] folks and the tribal elders fight over jurisdiction. The racism is very prevalent and has created lots of problems."

Now a Salt Lake City-based company called Red Leaf Resources is among those clamoring for land and mineral rights in the Uinta Basin, and they're looking to repeat history. The company claims it has developed a commercially viable oil shale mine on 1,600 acres of land leased from the state.

A few miles away, straddling reservation boundaries, sits a 6,000 acre site where a Canadian company called U.S. Oil Sands has clear cut part of the land for their open pit tar sands mines.

These companies, along with a handful of others, have leased tens of thousands more acres in the Uinta Basin for further exploration and development of oil shale and tar sands.

Ozone as bad as Los Angeles

Red Leaf and U.S. Oil Sands entered the picture at a time when the land and communities of the Uinta Basin were already under industrial duress, thanks to an energy boom ushered in by fracking.

As a result of clear cutting, dust storms have become common in the Uintah Basin region of Utah, where the rate of hospitalizations for asthma are double the state average. (Courtesy of Before It Starts)As a result of clear cutting, dust storms have become common in the Uintah Basin region of Utah, where the rate of hospitalizations for asthma are double the state average. (Courtesy of Before It Starts)

In recent years, methane from nearly 16,000 oil and gas wells, combined with emissions from heavier truck traffic have contributed to ozone levels that are now worse than in Los Angeles, and often are twice as high as federal standards allow.

In the Uinta Basin, you're far more likely to see a herd of elk crossing a country lane than bumper-to-bumper traffic filling an intersection. But in less than a decade, the air quality in this rural wilderness has deteriorated to become worse than one of the largest cities in the U.S.

In the dead of winter, when temperatures range from zero to twenty below, Cuch's seven-year-old grandson keeps an inhaler close at hand. His asthma is severely triggered by pollution trapped at ground level by a frequently occurring phenomenon called inversion, wherein warmer air traps cold air and pollution beneath it, preventing them from circulating normally.

A 2012 report showed that rates of hospitalizations for asthma the Uinta Basin were double the state average. And now some are questioning whether the pollution is at the root of a spike in infant deaths and stillbirths in the region.

"As far distant as the ocean itself."

Lauren Wood is a river guide in the Uintah Basin, where an oil and gas boom is straining the region’s water sources. In 2010, a state agency had granted so many water permits for extraction projects that the amount of "paper water" exceeded the actual water available by 140,000 acre-feet.Lauren Wood is a river guide in the Uintah Basin, where an oil and gas boom is straining the region’s water sources. In 2010, a state agency had granted so many water permits for extraction projects that the amount of "paper water" exceeded the actual water available by 140,000 acre-feet.Water is another casualty of the region's oil and gas boom.

Lauren Wood grew up in a family of river guides when melon farming was more common than fracking on the banks of the Green River, which cuts through the Uinta Basin. Now she's a third generation river guide, but her livelihood is changing as the fossil fuel industry scales up in the region she calls home.

"We've had some really low water years," Wood says. "There've been seasons when it's been windy all day long and I'm literally dragging my boat across gravel because there's not enough water in the stream to even float on. And its not because there's not water, its because we are using so much of it for these extraction projects."

According to Western Resource Advocates, in 2010 the state had permitted more water for pending projects than is actually available, creating a deficit that could amount to as much as 140,000 acre-feet. In the second driest state in the nation, this alone could spell disaster.

That's no obstacle to Red Leaf founder Todd Dana, who testified about the importance of federal support for oil shale development in a 2011 hearing before the House Committee on Natural Resources.

In a form he filled out prior to testifying, Dana described himself as a, "self taught, highly successful oil shale expert." He then delivered a bizarre rant that devolved from blaming environmentalists for wars in the Middle East to asserting that, "Anyone worried about the water availability can simply buy the water."

He went on, "Water can and will be piped to the region from long distance if necessary widely available from Utah Lake, The Great Salt Lake and even as far distant as the ocean itself [sic]. Water is not a problem for oil shale. Every comment to the contrary is just environmental activism without the economic understanding of importing the water."

Fossil fuel executives, policy analysts, and just plain folks – all in one.

Unfortunately, fossil fuel executives like Dana can make such outlandish statements and still wield considerable influence. Since Dana founded Red Leaf in 2006, the company has gone full force through revolving doors, across a lot of astroturf, and into a morass of campaign finances – pushing oil shale and tar sands development every step of the way.

In 2007, Red Leaf entered a revolving door with Utah's state government by hiring the governor's energy advisor, Laura Nelson, as a vice president.

Nelson also had connections in the federal government: she served as a member of Department of Energy's Unconventional Fuels Task Force, which was established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to accelerate tar sands and oil shale development.

In 2008, Nelson teamed up with a U.S. Oil Sands executive to co-author a white paper for the Utah Mining Association (UMA), a lobbying group whose membership includes both Red Leaf and U.S. Oil Sands.

The paper outlined policy recommendations for all levels of government that included permitting mining on public lands, offering tax incentives, and subsidizing infrastructure to facilitate oil shale and tar sands mining.

The UMA white paper also stressed the need for crafting a PR plan to distinguish Utah tar sands mining from the "negative image" associated with Canadian tar sands, advising that, "For Utah's oil shale/tar sands industry to gain a foothold and grow to the point where it's self-sustaining, first impressions made to regulators, legislators and the general public must be positive."

Perhaps to that end, Laura Nelson sits on the board of a nonprofit called Environmentally Conscious Consumers for Oil Shale (ECCOS) that registered with the IRS the same year the UMA white paper came out.

A Greenpeace investigation recently revealed the nonprofit to be the project of a PR consulting firm called EIS Solutions, which has ties to the Koch brothers and specializes in astroturfing efforts (big money disguised as grassroots support for a policy or politician) in favor of fracking and other extreme energy projects.

In addition to sharing an address with EIS, as Greenpeace reports, ECCOS's latest tax forms show that the entirety of the group's spending in 2012––$105,368––went to EIS. Their reported activity included attending hearings and speaking engagements, at the local, state and national levels, relating to "the responsible development of oil shale."

The astroturfing has paid off. In the years since the memo came out and ECCO materialized, oil shale and tar sands projects in Utah have benefited from subsidies in several of the areas Nelson and her colleague at U.S. Oil Sands outlined: from millions of dollars in tax breaks, to public land giveaways, and an expensive new road for transporting oil shale and tar sands crude out of the Uinta Basin.

News Sat, 20 Dec 2014 11:57:41 -0500
The Invasion of Panama and the Proclamation of a Lone Superpower Above the Law

Twenty five years ago, before dawn on December 20, 1989, U.S. forces descended on Panama City and unleashed one of the most violent, destructive terror attacks of the century. U.S. soldiers killed more people than were killed on 9/11. They systematically burned apartment buildings and shot people indiscriminately in the streets. Dead bodies were piled on top of each other; many were burned before identification. The aggression was condemned internationally, but the message was clear: the United States military was free to do whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted, and they would not be bound by ethics or laws.

The invasion and ensuing occupation produced gruesome scenes: "People burning to death in the incinerated dwellings, leaping from windows, running in panic through the streets, cut down in cross fire, crushed by tanks, human fragments everywhere," writes William Blum. [1]

Years later the New York Times interviewed a survivor of the invasion, Sayira Marín, whose "hands still tremble" when she remembers the destruction of her neighborhood.

"I take pills to calm down," Marín told the paper. "It has gotten worse in recent days. There are nights when I jump out of bed screaming. Sometimes I have dreams of murder. Ugly things."

In the spring of 1989, a wave of revolutions had swept across the Eastern bloc. In November, the Berlin Wall fell. The Cold War was over. No country was even a fraction as powerful as the United States. Rather than ushering in an era of peace and demilitarization, U.S. military planners intensified their expansion of global hegemony. They were pathological about preventing any rival to their complete military and economic domination.

U.S. government officials needed to put the world on notice. At the same time, President George H.W. Bush's needed to shed his image as a "wimp." So they did what any schoolyard bully would: pick out the smallest, weakest target you can find and beat him to a bloody pulp. The victim is irrelevant; the point is the impression you make on the people around you.

Panama was an easy target because the U.S. already had a large military force in 18 bases around the country. Until 1979, the occupied Panama Canal Zone had been sovereign territory of the United States. The Panama Canal was scheduled to be turned over to Panama partially in 1990 and fully in 2000. The U.S. military would be able to crush a hapless opponent and ensure control over a vital strategic asset.

Washington began disseminating propaganda about "human rights abuses" and drug trafficking by President Manuel Noriega. Most of the allegations were true, and they had all been willingly supported by the U.S. government while Noriega was a CIA asset receiving more than $100,000 per year. But when Noriega was less than enthusiastic about helping the CIA and their terrorist Contra army wage war against the civilian population in Nicaragua, things changed.

"It's all quite predictable, as study after study shows," Noam Chomsky writes. "A brutal tyrant crosses the line from admirable friend to 'villain' and 'scum' when he commits the crime of independence."

Some of the worst human rights abuses in the world from the early 1960s to 1980s did originate in Panama - from the U.S. instructors and training manuals at the U.S.'s infamous School of the Americas (nicknamed the School of the Assassins), located in Panama until 1984. It was at the SOA where the U.S. military trained the murderers of the six Jesuit scholars and many other members of dictatorships, death squads and paramilitary forces from all over Latin America.

The documentary The Panama Deception demonstrates how the media uncritically adopted U.S. government propaganda, echoing accusations of human rights violations and drug trafficking while ignoring international law and the prohibition against the use of force in the UN Charter. The Academy Award-winning film exposed what the corporate media refused to: the lies and distortions, the hypocrisy, the dead bodies, the survivors' harrowing tales, and the complete impunity of the U.S. military to suppress the truth.

The propaganda started with the concoction of a pretext for the invasion. The U.S. military had been sending aggressive patrols into the Panama City streets, trying to elicit a response.

"Provocations against the Panamanian people by United States military troops were very frequent in Panama," said Sabrina Virgo, National Labor Organizer, who was in Panama before the invasion. She said the provocations were intended "to create an international incident... have United States troops just hassle the Panamanian people until an incident resulted. And from that incident the United States could then say they were going into Panama for the protection of American life, which is exactly what happened. [2]

After a group of Marines on patrol ran a roadblock and were fired on by Panamanian troops, one U.S. soldier was killed. The group, nicknamed the "Hard Chargers," was known for their provocative actions against Panamanian troops. Four days later, the invasion began. [3]

Targeting Civilians and Journalists

Elizabeth Montgomery, narrating The Panama Deception, says: "It soon became clear that the objectives were not limited only to military targets. According to witnesses, many of the surrounding residential neighborhoods were deliberately attacked and destroyed." [4]

Witnesses recounted U.S. soldiers setting residential buildings on fire. Video footage shows the charred remains of rows of housing complexes in El Chorillo, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

"The North Americans began burning down El Chorillo at about 6:30 in the morning. They would throw a small device into a house and it would catch on fire," recounted an anonymous witness in the film. "They would burn a house, and then move to another and begin the process all over again. They burned from one street to the next. They coordinated the burning through walkie-talkies." [5]

People were crushed by tanks, captured Panamanians were executed on the street, and bodies were piled together and burned. Survivors were reportedly hired to fill mass graves for $6 per body.

Spanish fotographer Juantxu Rodríguez of El País was shot and killed by an American soldier. Journalist Maruja Torres recounted the incident in the Spanish newspaper the next day.

"'Get back!' the U.S. soldier yelled from his painted face brandishing his weapon. We identified ourselves as journalists, guests at the Marriot," she wrote. "'We just want to pick up our things.' He didn't pay attention. The hotel, like all of them, had been taken over by U.S. troops. Those young marines were on the verge of hysteria. There was not a single Panamanian around, just defenseless journalists. Juantxu ran out running toward the hotel taking photos, the rest of us took shelter behind the cars. Juantxu didn't return."

While the professed aim of the operation was to capture Noriega, there is ample evidence that destroying the Panamanian Defense Forces and terrifying the local population into submission were at least equally important goals.

American officials had been told the precise location of Noriega three hours after the operation began - before the killing in El Chorillo - by a European diplomat. The diplomat told the Los Angeles Times he was "100% certain" of Noriega's location "but when I called, SouthCom (the U.S. Southern military command) said it had other priorities."

No one knows the exact number of people who were killed during the invasion of Panama. The best estimates are at least 2,000 to 3,000 Panamanians, but this may be a conservative figure, according to a Central American Human Rights Commission (COEDHUCA) report.

The report stated that "most of these deaths could have been prevented had the US troops taken appropriate measures to ensure the lives of civilians and had obeyed the international legal norms of warfare."

The CODEHUCA report documented massively "disproportionate use of military force," "indiscriminate and intentional attacks against civilians" and destruction of poor, densely-populated neighborhoods such as El Chorillo and San Miguelito. This gratuitous, systematic violence could not conceivably be connected to the professed military mission.

When asked at a news conference whether it was worth sending people to die (Americans, of course, not thousands of Panamanians) to capture Noriega, President George H.W. Bush replied: "Every human life is precious. And yet I have to answer, yes, it has been worth it."

'Flagrant Violation of International Law'

Several days later, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning the invasion. But the United States – joined by allies Great Britain and France – vetoed it. American and European officials argued the invasion was justified and should be praised for removing Noriega from power. Other countries saw a dangerous precedent.

"The Soviet Union and third world council members argued that the invasion must be condemned because it breaks the ban on the use of force set down in the United Nations Charter," wrote the New York Times.

After this, on December 29, the General Assembly voted 75 to 20 with 40 abstentions in a resolution calling the intervention in Panama a "flagrant violation of international law and of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the States."

The Organization of American States passed a similar resolution by a margin of 20-1. In explaining the U.S.'s lone vote against the measure, a State Department spokesperson said: "We are disappointed that the OAS missed a historic opportunity to get beyond its traditional narrow concern over 'nonintervention.'"

In the ensuing occupation, CODEHUCA claimed that "the US has not respected fundamental legal and human rights" in Panama. The violations occurred on a "massive scale" and included "illegal detentions of citizens, unconstitutional property searches, illegal lay-offs of public and private employees, and ... tight control of the Panamanian media."

Despite the international outrage, Bush enjoyed a political boost from the aggression. His poll numbers shot to record highs not seen "since Presidents Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower." The President had authorized crimes against the peace and war crimes. Rather than being held accountable, he benefitted. So did the Pentagon and defense contractors who desperately needed a new raison d' etre after the fall of Communism.

No longer able to use the fear-mongering Cold War rationales it had for the last 40 years, Washington found a new propaganda tool to justify its aggressive military interventions and occupations. Washington was able to appropriate human rights language to create the contradictory, fictional notion of "humanitarian intervention."

"Washington was desperate for new ideological weapons to justify – both at home and abroad – its global strategies," writes James Peck. "A new humanitarian ethos legitimizing massive interventions – including war – emerged in the 1990s only after Washington had been pushing such an approach for some time." [6]

The stage was set for the even more horrific invasion of Iraq the following summer. Operation Gothic Serpent in Somalia, the NATO bombing of Serbia, Iraq (again), and the Bush and Obama interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq (a third time), Pakistan, Libya, Somalia (again), Yemen, Iraq (a fourth time) and Syria would follow.

The invasion of Panama caused unthinkable devastation to the people of Panama. Because of the U.S. military's obstruction, the full extent of the death and destruction will never be known. The damage done to the legitimacy of international law compounded the devastation exponentially.

Indisputably, the U.S. invasion was aggression against a sovereign nation. Aggressive war was defined in the Nuremberg Trials as the "supreme international crime," different from other crimes (like genocide or terrorism) in that it contains "the accumulated evil of the whole." People convicted of waging aggressive war were sentenced to death by hanging.

Twenty five years later, the man who ordered the invasion of Panama, George H.W. Bush, enjoys a luxurious retirement at his Houston and Kennebunkport estates. He is considered by mainstream U.S. pundits to be a foreign policy moderate.

Works Cited:

[1] Blum, William. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II - Updated Through 2003. Common Courage Press, 2008.

[2] The Panama Deception. Dir. Barbara Trent. Empowerment Project, 1992. Film. Retrieved from, (30:54)

[3] Ibid (31:40)

[4] Ibid (34:08)

[5] Ibid (37:06)

[6] Peck, James. Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-opted Human Rights. Metropolitan Books, 2011.

Opinion Sat, 20 Dec 2014 09:46:31 -0500
The Beginning of the End of the Cold War

A Cuban flag flies over a street in Havana, Dec. 19, 2014. President Barack Obama’s restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba this week has snatched a major cudgel from his critics and potentially restored some of Washington’s influence in Latin America. (The New York Times)A Cuban flag flies over a street in Havana, Dec. 19, 2014. President Barack Obama’s restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba this week has snatched a major cudgel from his critics and potentially restored some of Washington’s influence in Latin America. (The New York Times)

The generations-old war against Cuba - which Castro won, by the way, hands down - appears to be coming to an end.

A Cuban flag flies over a street in Havana, Dec. 19, 2014. President Barack Obama’s restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba this week has snatched a major cudgel from his critics and potentially restored some of Washington’s influence in Latin America. (The New York Times)A Cuban flag flies over a street in Havana, Dec. 19, 2014. President Barack Obama’s restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba this week has snatched a major cudgel from his critics and potentially restored some of Washington’s influence in Latin America. (The New York Times)

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I was walking home from grammar school one day beneath the bright blue ceiling of a late September afternoon. My street lay across the top of a hill and enjoyed a commanding view of the Brighton neighborhoods leading into downtown Boston. A storm was out to sea east beyond the city, and the clouds towered in the distant sky. At some point I looked in that direction, and stopped dead in my tracks, because one cumulus formation seemed the very definition of a mushroom cloud, and a trick of light and distance made it appear to be right over the city. I ran all the way home, terrified.

One night not long after, I was looking out the windows that faced the city. The distant buildings were beautiful in the evening light, but as I watched, a bright dot appeared in the sky. It was solid, unblinking, and moving fast toward downtown. My breath caught, and my hands tightened on the windowsill as I waited to be incinerated by a wall of nuclear fire.

One could, I suppose, chalk it up to the overactive imagination of a boy. The cloud above the city was just that, and not the aftermath of a nuclear strike. The light streaking toward downtown was a helicopter, or a plane headed for Logan Airport, and not a missile carrying destruction in its nosecone. But for a child mired during his formative years in the Reagan-era hysterics of the Cold War, a boy conditioned to listen for the sirens that could erupt at any moment to announce onrushing nuclear doom, these little hallucinations were daily fare. Living in constant low-grade fear of the possibility that "The Day After" would one day no longer be televised fiction was, as it turns out, the price of doing business.

These memories have been much on my mind as I watch these new and frankly remarkable developments unfolding between the United States and Cuba. My generation missed that whole show completely - the Cuban Missile Crisis happened nine years before I was born - and people my age are required to be students of history to understand what all the damned static is about in the first place. Read every book, watch every old white-knuckle black-and-white news broadcast from that time, however, and in the end those who did not go through that particular period are still left blinking in confusion under wrinkled brows: What's the big deal? Why did this take so long?

Answers: Serious human rights concerns, the politics of Florida and its Electoral College votes, and the lingering grip of the Cold War itself - the embedded policies that came from it, and the enduring influence of those who miss not only the simplistic binary polarity between "good" and "bad" it represented, but also the astonishing taxpayer cash spigot it provided. The reasons why the world has seemingly gone utterly and completely berserk in the years since the Berlin Wall came down are due in massive degree to the acts and actions of powerful nations during the Cold War, but there is a certain breed of cat that misses those days anyway, because the bright definitions at play helped the world make some semblance of sense. Plus, of course, dudes got mad paid.

As noted, I was not on the planet when Cuba was the flashpoint of doom and the most important island on the planet. Cuba, for me, has frankly been a topic that a few people rage heatedly over while everyone else basically shrugs because they don't understand what the fuss is about. I had to put some work in to understand it.

I did, however, get my own full budget of Cold War paranoia during the bedlam of the Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations. Reagan, most specifically, was the one who very deliberately made me think I would be consumed by a wall of fire at practically any moment. We didn't do duck-and-cover at my grammar school, but every so often the teachers would herd us into the basement for a "special" fire drill, and we'd all huddle in a concrete room with the yellow and black "Fallout Shelter" sign on the door. Even at that age, knowing full well our close proximity to an obvious nuclear target, the futility of the gesture left an impression.

The Soviet Union may be gone, but the Cold War never really ended. This is a nation that needs an enemy, and beneath the bright blue ceiling of another September day thirteen years ago, a new one was established. Our haywire economy requires a state of permanent war; we lost it for a time when the Wall fell, but found it again when the Towers fell. The savage irony is that those Towers came down thanks to the chesswork of Cold Warriors who thought they could control the beast they created in Afghanistan in their desire to undo the Soviets. By any measurable standard, the United States of America, its people, its politics and its profiteering ethos stand as a bent monument to that era, which never really ended, but only metastasized into the so-called "War on Terror."

Yet the generations-old war against Cuba - which Castro won, by the way, hands down - appears to be coming to an end. This has to be a good thing, has to be made into a good thing, has to count for something beyond an opportunity for table-pounders to raise their voices and yell about Communists from the close end of the long, echoing corridor of history. The president is to be commended. At a bare minimum, we will soon hopefully have one less thing to argue about.

Opinion Sat, 20 Dec 2014 09:21:17 -0500
Your Holiday Guide to Avoiding Slave Labor

(Photo: David Leggett)(Photo: David Leggett)

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Pope Francis got into the holiday spirit this year by calling on shoppers not to buy products made by modern-day slaves.

This is, of course, excellent advice. Odds are, most of us — whether Catholic or not — would love to take it.

But how? Most products don't come with tags specifying whether or not slave labor was used in their production.

There are a few agricultural products in particular — including many popular stocking stuffers — that are notorious for using slave labor. Fortunately, you can avoid buying them with a little bit of thought.

Take chocolate, for instance. In 2012, CNN reported that half-a-million child slaves work on cacao plantations in the Ivory Coast, which supplies nearly 40 percent of the world's chocolate.

I did buy fancy truffles for a number of people on my gift list. Maybe you plan to as well.

The good news is that avoiding dubious chocolate sources is easy: Simply opt for Fair Trade-certified chocolate. The certification process ensures traceability and responsibility in the supply chain, and it means slightly better prices for cacao farmers.

Then there's shrimp. Earlier this year, The Guardian reported on widespread modern-day slavery in the Thai shrimp farming industry. Shrimp sold in the United States comes from domestic and foreign sources, both farmed and wild, but Thailand is a major supplier.

You probably didn't plan to put any shrimp under your Christmas tree, but if you're considering serving shrimp cocktail at a holiday party, check the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch guide to find a responsible source. (Or just serve something other than shrimp, because many sources of this popular seafood are, quite frankly, disgusting.)

Another item that comes to mind is palm oil. And there's a good chance — whether you realize it or not — that you've slipped a palm oil product into a loved one's stocking.

Palm oil is found in a large number of processed foods, cosmetics, and even candles.

It can be produced ethically — and some brands, like Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, source their palm oil responsibly. But in far too many cases it comes from plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, where deforestation from palm oil production endangers orangutans, tigers, and a magnificent rainforest ecosystem.

Yet this is a haphazard and likely incomplete list of products to avoid. The easiest way to ensure that your gifts benefit your community and the workers who produced them is to buy locally.

That can mean purchasing handmade, unique products from Etsy, shopping at local stores or craft fairs, or giving loved ones experiences instead of things. A trip to see a musical or a sports game is a great gift, especially for a kid who already has more toys than he or she could ever play with.

One of the best gifts I've ever given was a set of "coupons from Santa" for my then-boyfriend's kids to do things like stay up late, pick the movie the family would watch, or choose what we had for dinner. It cost nothing to write them up and drop them into the kids' stockings, and they absolutely loved them.

As we thoughtfully buy gifts for our loved ones in festive stores this season, it's hard to remember the people who make the products we buy — especially given the lack of transparency in the supply chain. But a bit of extra thought can help us take the Pope's advice, without sacrificing the quality of gifts we purchase.

Opinion Sat, 20 Dec 2014 11:04:29 -0500
Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo Weren't the First: A Short History of Brutal Cops Let Off the Hook by the US Justice System

December 3, 3014: A sign at the "Ferguson to Madison" Movement, a silent vigil was held for Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and many more. (Photo: Kaitlyn Veto)December 3, 3014: A sign at the "Ferguson to Madison" Movement, a silent vigil was held for Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and many more. (Photo: Kaitlyn Veto)

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The preordained failure of biased local prosecutors to obtain indictments against Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo should not surprise us. But the outrage that followed has brought widespread attention to the nationwide problem of systemic and racist police violence and highlighted the movement that has come together to battle against it.

The Ferguson grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the killing of African-American teenager Michael Brown, followed by an equally unfair result in New York City in the Eric Garner case, were equally heartless. But it is important to place these cases in context with the history of police violence investigations and prosecutions in high profile cases—and the systemic and racist police brutality that continues to plague the nation. In doing so, there are lessons for the movement for justice in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases as well as for those who are engaged in the broader struggle against law enforcement violence.

What follows, then, is a brief history of similar high profile cases where public outrage compelled the justice system to confront acts of racially motivated police violence - with, to say the least, less than satisfactory results.


Over the past 45 years, Chicago has been a prime example of official indifference and cover-up when it comes to prosecuting the police for wanton brutality and torture.

On December 4, 1969, Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were slain in a police raid that implicated the Cook County State's Attorney and the FBI's Cointelpro program. A public outcry led to a Federal Civil Rights investigation. Despite finding that the raiding police fired more than 90 shots to one by the Panthers, the Grand Jury in 1970 did not indict, but rather issued a report that equally blamed the police perpetrators and the Panther victims.

Outrage at this decision led to the appointment of a Cook County Special Prosecutor who, in the face of extreme official resistance, obtained an indictment against the police and the State's Attorneys who planned and executed the raid - not for murder and attempted murder, but rather for obstruction of justice.

The case came to trial in front of a politically connected Cook County judge who dismissed the case without even requiring that the charged officials put on a defense. Again, the outrage, particularly in the African-American community, was so extreme that the chief prosecutor, Edward V. Hanrahan, was voted out of office a week after the verdict was rendered in 1972.

Cook County State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley was tendered powerful evidence of this torture as early as 1982, but did not investigate or prosecute Burge and his men. Daley’s office continued to use confessions tortured from the victims to send scores of them to prison - 10 of whom went to death row, though they were later saved by a death penalty moratorium in 2000 and by a grant of executive clemency in 2003 by then-Governor George Ryan - during the next seven years.

In 1989, the local U.S. Attorneys' office declined to prosecute, as did the Department of Justice in 1996 and Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine for the five years directly thereafter. In 2001, due to continuing public pressure, a politically connected Cook County Special Prosecutor was appointed to investigate the torture. But after a four year, $7 million investigation, he too refused to indict, instead issuing what is widely considered to be a whitewash report that absolved Daley, Devine, and numerous high Chicago police officials.

Finally, in 2008 the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois indicted Burge for perjury and obstruction of justice, and Burge was convicted in 2010, and sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison. However, the U.S. Attorney has subsequently declined to prosecute Burge's confederates for similar offenses.

New Orleans

Chicago is by no means an isolated example of how difficult it is to obtain justice for wanton police violence through the judicial system. In New Orleans, a city that closely parallels Chicago when it comes to police brutality and corruption, a crew of white detectives responded to the killing of a white police officer in 1980 by terrorizing the black community of Algiers, killing four innocent people and torturing numerous others by "booking and bagging" them - beating suspects with telephone books and suffocating them with bags over their heads.

Seven officers were indicted by the Department of Justice for civil rights violations arising from the torture of one of the victims and three were convicted. No officers were charged for the four killings or for the other acts of torture.

In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, an NOPD officer fatally shot an unarmed black man named Henry Glover, then several of his fellow officers burned his body to cover-up their crime. NOPD officers also shot and killed two unarmed black men on the Danziger Bridge.

After state authorities botched their investigation, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department indicted the officers involved in the two cases and obtained convictions of some of the main police actors. However, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned the verdict in the Glover case, and, on re-trial, the shooter cop was acquitted. In the Danziger case, the trial judge, citing government misconduct, took the extraordinary step of granting the convicted officers a new trial, and that decision is now on appeal.

New York

In 1997, an NYPD officer sexually assaulted a Haitian-American man named Abner Louima in a precinct station bathroom by shoving a broken broomstick up his rectum. Louima's attacker was subsequently charged with federal civil rights violations, while three of his police accomplices were charged with covering up the crimes.

After Louima's attacker pleaded guilty, his accomplices were convicted, but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned their convictions on the grounds that the lawyers who represented the officers had a conflict of interest. After they were convicted a second time, the Appeals Court again overturned their convictions - this time on the basis that there was insufficient evidence of intent.

In 1999, four officers from the NYPD's Street Crimes Unit fired 41 shots at Amadou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant who was reaching for his wallet, hitting him 19 times. The officers were indicted for second degree murder and the case was moved to upstate New York, where a jury acquitted the officers.

Los Angeles

Among the most notorious cases was the brutal 1991 beating of Rodney King by five LAPD officers. A videotape captured most of the brutality and also showed several other officers standing by and doing nothing to stop the pummeling of a defenseless black man.

Four officers were charged at the state level with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force. The trial was moved to a predominantly white suburban county, and three of the officers were acquitted of all charges, while the fourth was acquitted of assault with a deadly weapon and other lesser charges. But the jury failed to reach a verdict on his use of excessive force.

After an angry uprising in the African- American community of Los Angeles that left 53 dead and around 2,000 injured, the U.S. Justice Department indicted the four officers, and a federal jury convicted two of them, while acquitting the other two.

This past August, LAPD officers fatally shot an unarmed mentally ill African-American man named Ezell Ford, who witnesses said was shot in the back while lying on the ground. Despite massive protests, there has been no grand jury investigation to date, the autopsy report is yet to be released, and the LAPD has not completed its investigation. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti has promised release of the report by years end.


In Oakland, California in the late 1990s, a unit of police officers dubbed the "Rough Riders" systematically beat, framed and planted narcotics on African Americans whom they claimed were dealing drugs. Four of the "Riders" were indicted by the District Attorney's Office, and the trial was moved to a suburban county. The ringleader fled the country, and was tried in absentia.

After a year-long trial before a bitterly divided jury on which there were no blacks, the officers were acquitted of eight charges, and the jury was hung on the remaining 27 counts. At the urging of then-Mayor Jerry Brown, the officers were not re-tried.

Also in Oakland, in the early morning hours of New Years Day, 2009, a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer shot and killed a young black man named Oscar Grant, who was lying face down, unarmed, in a busy transit station. The shooting was videotaped, and led to militant protests in Oakland.

Another jury with no black members rejected the charge of murder and instead found the officer guilty of involuntary manslaughter. As a result, Oscar Grant's killer spent less than a year behind bars. The Department of Justice subsequently opened a civil rights investigation, but no charges were brought. A recent movie entitled Fruitvale Station documents this senseless killing.


From 2007-2012 in Milwaukee, a unit of white police officers, spurred on by the Department's CompStat program of aggressive policing, stopped and illegally body cavity searched more than 70 African-American men whom they claimed to be investigating for drug dealing.

In conducting these searches, most commonly performed on the street, the searching officer reached inside the men's underwear, and probed their anuses and genitals.

After this highly illegal practice came to light, the unit's ringleader, Michael Vagnini, was indicted by the Milwaukee County District Attorney on numerous counts of sexual assault, illegal searches, and official misconduct, while three of the other unit officers were also charged for participating in two of the searches. The unit's sergeant and several other members of the unit, all of whom were present for many of the searches, were not charged.

The charged officers were permitted to plead guilty to the lesser included offenses of official misconduct and illegal strip searches, with Vagnini receiving a 36-month sentence while the other three received sentences that totaled, collectively, less than a month in jail. By pleading guilty, they also received promises that they would not be charged with federal civil rights violations.

These high profile cases represent only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cases where racist police violence has not been subjected to equal justice under the law.

Recently, the Justice Department declined to prosecute Little Rock, Arkansas, officers who shot and killed Eugene Ellison, an elderly African American man who was walking in his home with a cane in his hand, while there have been documented reports of unarmed black youth recently being shot down by the police in Cleveland, Chicago, Houston, San Antonio, Beaver Creek, Ohio, and Sarasota, Florida. The victim in Cleveland was Tamir Rice, a twelve year old boy who was playing with a toy gun, and whose slaying was captured on videotape.

Pattern and Practice Investigations

In 1994, the United States Congress, recognizing that police misconduct and violence was systemic in many parts of the country, passed 42 U.S. Code Section 14141, which empowered the Justice Department to file suit against police departments alleging patterns and practices of unconstitutional conduct, and to obtain wide ranging court orders, consent decrees, and independent monitors in order to implement reforms to those practices.

Although understaffed, the Pattern and Practice Unit of the Justice Department has attacked systemic and discriminatory deficiencies in police hiring, supervision, and monitoring in numerous police departments over the past 20 years. A particularly egregious act or series of acts of police violence often prompts the Unit to initiate an investigation, and its lawyers have obtained consent decrees or court orders in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Steubenville, Ohio, New Orleans, Puerto Rico, Oakland, Seattle, and Miami.

This past October, lawyers handling the Little Rock cases requested that the DOJ do a pattern and investigation of the LRPD, and the Unit is now investigating the practices of the Ferguson Police Department. While these investigations are not a panacea, they offer a mechanism for exposing and reforming blatantly unconstitutional police practices, and have also demonstrated how pervasive the problem systemic police violence continues to be.

Combined with the powerful movement that is now in the streets, the legal struggle now turns to the Federal Courts and the Department of Justice, seeking federal civil rights indictments against Wilson and Pantaleo, a full scale pattern and practice investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, and, no doubt in the near future, comprehensive 42 U. S. C. Sec. 1983 civil rights damages suits.

As the history of the battle against systemic and racist police violence so pointedly teaches, the public outcry and agitation must continue all across the nation. Because, as Frederick Douglas rightly stated many years ago, power concedes nothing without a demand.

News Fri, 19 Dec 2014 13:41:36 -0500