Truthout Stories Tue, 07 Jul 2015 05:01:59 -0400 en-gb Greece and the Euro After the Referendum

One day before the referendum of July 5, 2015, a rally in Portugal in solidarity with the people of Greece urged a no (oxi) vote.One day before the referendum of July 5, 2015, a rally in Portugal in solidarity with the people of Greece urged a "no" ("oxi") vote. (Photo: Bloco/Flickr)

To the great consternation of much of the euro zone leadership, the Greek people voted overwhelmingly to reject the austerity package that they had been offered. While this was a strong show of support for Syriza, the governing party, it is far from clear where it will lead.

The best solution would be a turn by the euro zone leadership away from austerity. The euro zone economy has recovered from the low points of the recession, but is still far below its potential. As a result millions of people across the euro zone are needlessly unemployed. Taken as a whole, the euro zone economy is still smaller than it was in 2008 before the crisis hit. As a result, employment is down by more than 3 million from its pre-recession level even as the population of the region has grown. 

And the impact of this continuing weakness has not been even. Germany and Austria both have unemployment rates that are comparable or lower than their pre-recession level. On the other hand, Spain, Italy, Ireland, and of course Greece struggle with double digit unemployment. It is important to realize that the weakness of the euro zone economy is the main factor behind Greece's deficit problems, not its refusal to curtail its profligate spending.

The I.M.F. estimates that Greece's structural deficit has been reduced by more than 15 percentage points of GDP since 2008. This is the equivalent of a reduction in the annual deficit in the United States of almost $2.7 trillion, or more than $30 trillion in our standard 10-year budget window. The reason this deficit reduction has not led to balanced budgets for Greece and a shrinking debt is that the spending cuts and tax increases used to reduce the deficit also shrank Greece's economy.

Less spending in an economy means less demand. When the government reduces its spending, as it has in a big way in Greece, this means less money going to hire workers, pay contractors, or to pay for pensions. The same story applies with taxes. When the Greek government increased its taxes, it pulled money out of consumers' pockets leaving them with less money to spend.

Due to the shrinking of Greece's economy, even though the government hugely cut spending and raised taxes, the country still faces the budget deficit. This is because unemployed people are not paying taxes, nor are businesses that are losing money. Similarly, the inability to get a job causes formerly employed people to get unemployment benefits and for many older workers to retire early and start drawing their pensions.

This backdrop is important. Germany and other countries are not lending money to the Greeks to support their profligate lifestyles, they are lending money to Greece to allow the country to get through the austerity that its creditors have imposed on the country. If Greece's economy was allowed to grow, then it would not be facing a budget deficit.

This gets to the heart of both the economics and the morality of the situation. Germans and others in northern Europe may hate the idea of their hard-earned euros going to "lazy" Greeks and other southern Europeans. But it is only because of the economic policies of the northern Europeans that the southerners are running deficits. So if the Germans are angry that their money is going to people in other countries, they should direct their hostility first and foremost at their own leaders. If Germany had supported more expansionary fiscal policy across the euro zone, which means having relatively rich countries like Germany run larger deficits to boost the poorer countries, then the poor countries would have no need of handouts from Germany.

As a practical matter, it appears that the Germans and their allies are as dug into their positions as deniers of global warming. They care little about the evidence, even the research from the I.M.F. showing the harm from austerity.   

Faced with the reality of continuing austerity and intransigence from leaders of the euro zone, the Greek government should be making plans to return to the drachma. There is no doubt that leaving the euro will not be easy, but staying with the euro is a guarantee of indefinite depression. There is always the hope that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders in the euro zone may learn economics and change their tune, but you would not want to bet a country on such an unlikely event.

Opinion Mon, 06 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: Legal Case Threatens Unions' Fair Share Fees, and More

In today's On the News segment: Republicans just got one step closer to turning our nation into a right-to-work-for-LESS Libertarian paradise; the Supreme Court announces we have the right to fight back against gerrymandering; the Department of Labor wants to protect overtime pay; and more.

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


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

You need to know this. Republicans just got one step closer to turning our nation into a right-to-work-for-LESS Libertarian paradise. Last week, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear a legal case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which could mean big problems for public unions. The issue at hand in that case is whether unions should be permitted to charge non-members "fair share service fees" to cover the cost of representing them in the workplace, or whether those fees constitute a violation of a worker's free speech rights. Those fair-share fees help the unions pay for the legal and administrative costs of bargaining for all workers in a unionized shop, regardless of whether or not they are members of the union. If the unions are prevented from charging those fees, they would still be legally obligated to bargain on behalf of all workers, but nonunion employees would get the benefits of union membership for free. In the Friedrichs case, the plaintiffs argue that making non-union workers pay agency fees is the same as making them pay for a union's political activities – even though labor groups are prohibited from using these funds for politics. The legal theory is so flawed that even Justice Antonin Scalia raised concerns with a similar theory during the Court's last term. But, that doesn't mean that he won't side with his fellow conservatives on the Bench in this case, just to help his Republican buddies destroy public unions. Without these agency fees, many public unions may not have the funds to survive, and right-to-work-for-LESS could become the de facto law of the land. We must do everything we can to protect our right to bargain collectively before Republicans and their activist judges destroy our unions.

The same party that screams about government overreach doesn't have a problem with stepping on cities' autonomy to write their own laws. Last week, Rick Snyder's Republicans in Michigan passed a bill that blocks cities from raising wages or implementing paid sick leave. According to the text of the legislation, "the regulation of the employment relationship between a nonpublic employer and its employees is a matter of state concern." However, Rick Snyder and his cronies are not concerned about whether or not workers in their state can survive on wages or take a day off when they're sick. They're only concerned about whether or not their buddies in big business have to miss out on one cent of possible profit. And, to make matters worse, Michigan is the 12th state to enact laws that prevent cities from raising their minimum wage or mandating paid sick leave. It's bad enough that the United States Congress can't get their act together to help workers, but it's absurd that cities and towns should be blocked from stepping in when our national lawmakers fail. Governor Snyder and his buddies should block this law, and the other 11 states should remove similar legislation from their books.

The Supreme Court says that we have the right to fight back against gerrymandering. Last week, in a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that independent redistricting committees are constitutional, and they "restore the core principal of republican government, namely that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around." That decision affirmed the right of Arizona voters to create a politically neutral commission to draw district boundaries, and denied the state legislature's challenge to that law. The ruling protects similar commissions in other states, like California, as well. In an interview with Common Dreams, Michael Li of the Brennan Center said, "By leaving in place important redistricting reforms in Arizona and California, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the principle that voters have the freedom under the Constitution to experiment with ways to make their democracy work better." Gerrymandering is directly responsible for our dysfunctional Congress and the fact that our House of Representatives doesn't represent We, The People. The best way to combat that problem is to get redistricting out of the hands of politicians, and the highest court in our nation just ruled that it's well within our rights to do so.

We can't close the racial wealth divide until the banks stop discriminating against African Americans. According to a recent report from the ACLU, racially-motivated predatory lending wiped out far more wealth from black Americans during the recession than white Americans. And, those same discriminatory tendencies are making it much more difficult for black families to recover from the 2008 economic crash. As a result of the recession, average black household wealth dropped 33 percent between 2009 and 2011, but white families only saw an average decline of 12 percent. And, because housing equity makes up a much larger portion of African American household wealth, the slow recovery and the inadequate upkeep of bank-owned homes in black neighborhoods have kept those families from rebuilding their wealth. In order to address these problems, we must demand that banks stop depressing home values in black neighborhoods, and help black families recover from the crash. A recovery that only helps some Americans is not a recovery at all, and as a nation, we must do better.

And finally… The Department of Labor wants to protect overtime pay. Currently, salaried workers who make more than $23,660 a year can be exempt from time-and-a-half pay when they work more than 40 hours. That amount has not been raised sine 1975. So, in an effort to protect workers who are routinely cheated out of overtime, the Labor Department wants to lift that cap to more than double its current amount. The proposed rule would mandate that all workers who earn less than $50,440 a year would be paid extra when they work those long nights and weekends. That rule change would increase pay for an estimated 5 million American workers, and give them more money to boost demand in their local economies. The proposal is currently open to public comment before the final rule is announced, so you can add your support for lifting the overtime cap. Americans work some of the longest hours in the developed world, and it's only fair that they're paid adequately for all that overtime. Good on the Labor Department for proposing this rule, now let's help make it a reality.

And that's the way it is - for the week of July 6, 2015 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

News Mon, 06 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
David Graeber on a Fair Future Economy

David Graeber is an anthropologist, a leading figure in the Occupy movement, and one of our most original and influential public thinkers.

He comes to the RSA to address our current age of 'total bureaucratization', in which public and private power has gradually fused into a single entity, rife with rules and regulations, whose ultimate purpose is the extraction of wealth in the form of profits. 

David will consider what it would take, in terms of intellectual clarity, political will and imaginative power – to conceive and build a flourishing and fair future economy, which would maximise the scope for individual and collective creativity, and would be sustainable and just.

Listen to the full podcast here:

News Mon, 06 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
As Lawmakers Debate Removing Confederate Flag, Meet the Activist Who Took It Down

As South Carolina state lawmakers begin debate on whether to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol in Columbia, we are joined by Bree Newsome, the 30-year-old African-American woman who took down the flag herself. On June 27, 10 days after the Charleston massacre and one day after the funeral for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Newsome scaled the 30-foot flagpole at the state Capitol and took the flag in her hand. "I come against you in the name of God!" Newsome said. "This flag comes down today!" As soon as she reached the ground, she and fellow activist James Tyson were arrested. The protest went viral and was seen around the world. Newsome and Tyson join us to discuss their action in an extended interview. 


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

AMY GOODMAN: We move south to South Carolina, where state lawmakers are set to begin debate today on whether to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol in Columbia. Following the massacre of nine African-American worshipers on June 17th in Charleston by suspect Dylann Roof, who embraced the Confederate flag, politicians, including the South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, and President Obama, have called for the flag's removal from the Capitol, where it's flown since 1961.

Well, we spend the rest of the hour bringing you our extended interview with Bree Newsome, the 30-year-old African-American woman who took down the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state Capitol, and James Tyson, who helped her. It was June 27th, 10 days after the Charleston massacre. As funerals for the victims were underway, Newsome scaled the 30-foot flagpole on the state Capitol grounds. Equipped with a helmet and climbing gear, and with Tyson spotting her at the base of the pole, Newsome shimmied to the top and unhooked the Confederate flag.

BREE NEWSOME: You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!

AMY GOODMAN: "I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!" That's what Bree Newsome said as she held the flag in her hand. As she reached the ground, she and Jimmy Tyson were arrested.

Bree Newsome's action went viral, was seen around the world. Her bail fund has raised over $125,000. Ava DuVernay, director of the Oscar-nominated film Selma, was among the many to hail her, writing on Twitter, quote, "I hope I get the call to direct the motion picture about a black superhero I admire. Her name is @BreeNewsome."

But within about an hour, workers had raised a new Confederate flag on the Capitol grounds. Later that day, as Confederate flag supporters and antiracist counter-protesters gathered under the newly raised flag in Columbia, Bree Newsome and Jimmy Tyson faced a bond hearing at a nearby jail. They were charged with defacing state property, which can carry three years in prison and a $5,000 fine. About a dozen supporters waited in the lobby of the jail for their release. Democracy Now! was there. I asked Karil Parker and Tamika Lewis about their reaction to Bree Newsome's protest.

TAMIKA LEWIS: As you can see my glee, it was one of the most liberating and beautiful moments that I have known in all my 25 years of life, besides my daughter being born. To see that flag actually come down and all of the things that it represents being taken down by a strong black woman was one of the greatest symbols—symbolic images that one person could ever witness, I feel, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Why don't you tell us your name?

KARIL TINAE PARKER: Hi. I'm Karil Parker.

AMY GOODMAN: And you came out here on your own to the detention center?

KARIL TINAE PARKER: I did. I came out here to show my support for Bree, that this is just—this is not her battle alone, that we stand with her. She did what many people have not had the courage to do, and that we are proud of her, that we support her. Whatever she needs, we are here for her. And I wanted her to know that, and that's why I came. But it doesn't matter how you feel about whether she should or should not have done it. She did it. It's done. And it needs to come down. And she has done what our governor hasn't had the courage to do, what our General Assembly hasn't had the courage to do. She went up there and did what had to be done, when it needed to be done.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Karil Parker and Tamika Lewis speaking outside the jail in Columbia, South Carolina, June 27th. Bree Newsome and Jimmy Tyson were both released that afternoon after supporters posted the requisite $300 each of their $3,000 bond each.

On Thursday, Bree Newsom and Jimmy Tyson joined me in our Democracy Now! studios here in New York. I started by asking Bree Newsome where she's from and why she decided to do what she did.

BREE NEWSOME: I come from the South. Like a lot of people, especially a lot of African Americans, my ancestors came through Charleston, a slave market. And so, the Confederate flag is a symbol of, you know, folks trying to kind of hold us into the place of bondage that we had been before and our struggle the past 150 years of trying to come out of that place. And so, it was—I'm sure I was like a lot of people, sitting at home, looking at the flag flying, I mean, wished I could just take that down, you know, but had no idea if it was possible and how possible it would be. I had even contemplated just on my own just attempting to climb it, knowing full well that I wouldn't make it up the pole, and just let them arrest me, just to make that statement. I mean, that's how strongly I felt about it. And so, then, when I ended up connecting with other activists there in North Carolina and found out that, you know, there were people who actually did know how to plan for how we could possibly scale the pole—and, you know, there were many roles to fill in the plan, and one of course included needing someone to actually climb up. And, of course, that was a high risk of arrest, we knew. And so, after some prayer and really thinking about it, I decided to volunteer.

AMY GOODMAN: You're from Charlotte, North Carolina?


AMY GOODMAN: So, I mean, it's more than risking arrest.


AMY GOODMAN: I mean, there are these Confederate flag rallies—


AMY GOODMAN: —a lot of guns in South Carolina. Were you fearful? Both people who are not law enforcement and people who are?

BREE NEWSOME: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, the retaliation piece was much scarier to me than arrest. You know, I was even thinking about the possibility of being up on the flagpole, and you never know who might walk by, quite frankly. You know, you could get shot. You just really don't know, especially when you're up there and harnessed to the pole. I mean, you're in a highly vulnerable position. And so, I really did have to, you know, pray on it quite a bit.

But part of why it was so important to me to do that was because, to me, that flag also represents just fear. You know, it's racial intimidation. It's fear. These are the same things that they would fly when people were marching for integration. They would be flying that flag, because it's a sign of intimidation, which is undergirded by violence, and has been undergirded by violence ever since the failure of Reconstruction. And so, you know, that's part of what Tamika was speaking to: To have a black woman climb up there, whether it was me or someone else, to climb up there and take that down was a strong sign of, you know, we refuse to be ruled by this fear.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Jimmy Tyson, how did you get involved?

JAMES TYSON: Well, I guess I was approached about a week beforehand. And a friend came up to me, and he said, "Hey, I've got this scouting report. I think we're going to do something big." And I was like, "Let me take a look at it." And I was like, "Oh, man." I realized real rapidly. I was like, "Oh, man, this is going to be—this is going to be trouble." You know. But I was like so—I was so game for it. I was like, "Yeah, let's do this. This is ridiculous." I'm so—like Bree was talking to, like I'm so sick of not only the fear and intimidation that white supremacy brings to our culture, you know, but also just that they didn't—they wouldn't even take it down for the funeral. They wouldn't even lower it to half-mast, you know? is my interpretation. So I was like, "That's completely unacceptable."

And when given an unjust law like that, it's really important that we stand up for what's right, you know, especially being a white person, you know, that maybe has their eyes open. And like, I'm not going to—I'm not going to—I'm going to try to do everything I possibly can, you know, to make sure that justice and equality are served in our country, but also, you know, just in my locality. You know? It's critically important. It's critically important that white people actually put some skin in the game, you know, because racism—racism is unacceptable. White supremacy is unacceptable. Hate crimes are unacceptable. You know, we can't live in this culture anymore.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you from North Carolina?

JAMES TYSON: I am. I'm from Charlotte, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we're going to talk more about where you come from, but I want to take us—you to take us to that morning. It's Saturday morning. The funeral for Reverend and State Senator Clementa Pinckney had just taken place. Over 5,000 people were there in Charleston. Were you there, Bree?

BREE NEWSOME: No, I wasn't. I wasn't. I did watch the eulogy the night before. In fact, somebody, you know, who knew that I was about to do this, they're like, "You have to watch this. You have to watch this and, you know, really think on it." And it was just—I was hoping that somehow they would have the dignity to take the flag down before, you know, his casket passed by. But that day just—all the events of that day just further confirmed for me that we had to do this.

AMY GOODMAN: The Alabama governor did, the Republican governor of Alabama—


AMY GOODMAN: —without ceremony, without saying anything beforehand. The workers came and took the flags down off the Capitol grounds.

BREE NEWSOME: And I feel that's how it should be done, quite frankly. I don't think that that symbol deserves the dignity of debate. It doesn't deserve that. It's a flag of treason, and it's a flag of hatred.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's go to President Obama delivering the eulogy for the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney at the College of Charleston on Friday.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Removing the flag from this state's Capitol would not be an act of political correctness. It would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought—the cause of slavery—was wrong. ... By taking down that flag, we express God's grace.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama on Friday giving the eulogy for Reverend Pinckney, who was the pastor of Mother Emanuel, of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, where nine parishioners, nine churchgoers, were gunned down on June 17th, as the alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, said he wanted to kill black people, according to survivors. And then we saw the manifesto—it's believed it was written by him—online as he further explained. Bree Newsome, listening to President Obama there, your thoughts, and as you did on Friday before you started your climb?

BREE NEWSOME: Yeah, just absolutely spot on. And I think that's why it was so moving to people. I mean, you know, one of the things that was so tough about the immediate aftermath of the massacre was not just the violence itself, but the apparent, like, obfuscation about what had actually just happened, that it was a terrorist attack. You know, there were a lot of things being thrown out. Yes, it's an issue of gun violence. You know, yes, it's an issue of, you know, the church being targeted. But it's specifically a black church. And I think it's important that we not remove it from the historical context, like really understand what that means. This exists in a long line of terrorist attacks against African Americans in this country. That's what domestic terrorism looks like in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, there is much more of Bree Newsome and Jimmy Tyson when we come back.


AMY GOODMAN: Bree Newsome singing "#StayStrong: A Love Song to Freedom Fighters," which she'll be singing live on Democracy Now! in a moment. This isDemocracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, as we continue our conversation with Bree Newsome, who brought down the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state Capitol 10 days after the Charleston massacre. We also speak with Jimmy Tyson, who helped her. I asked Bree about her recent retweet of Talib Kweli's quotation saying "CVS gets burned down. Every news outlet shows up. 7 black churches burned, 1 ... burning right now. Silence."

BREE NEWSOME: We've seen like when there was, you know, an uprising in Baltimore and a CVS burned, or a QuikTrip burned in Ferguson, I see tons of outrage of, you know, "How can you do this?" and "It's horrible that they did that." But then we have like this series—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we see the building at every single angle as it burned.

BREE NEWSOME: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah, every single angle, you know. But then all these black churches can burn, and it completely kind of goes under radar. Well, why is that? You know what I mean? But so often these events happen, and we remove them from any kind of context. And so, you know, if—maybe the CVS burning does look like a, you know, really horrible thing, but you're not considering that this is a business that exists within an oppressed neighborhood where the people own nothing. They don't really benefit a whole lot from this economic situation. They've been protesting for a long time, and they've gone unheard. And then you have all these black churches that are historically targeted because they are centers of black organization, and that's important to understand.

AMY GOODMAN: So, President Obama says, "By taking down that flag, we express God's grace." So, take us to Saturday, June 27th, about 15 hours after President Obama gave that eulogy.

BREE NEWSOME: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, so not everybody that came together to do this action is coming from that Christian perspective. But, for me personally, absolutely 100 percent, I mean, I do believe that all men are created equal, with inalienable rights endowed by our creator, absolutely. And that flag is an affront to that value. And for people who, you know, think that there's some kind of confusion about that, you can go back and read what was written by the people who created the Confederacy. They make it very clear that they seceded because they disagreed with that precept behind the Constitution. They don't believe that all people are created equal.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you come up on the Columbia state Capitol grounds. What time was it in the morning?

BREE NEWSOME: It was about 5:30 that we were ready to go. And then we had some folks—

AMY GOODMAN: Were there any guards around the flag?

BREE NEWSOME: Yes, there were guards—yeah, there were guards around in the morning, and so we had some people, you know, looking out to kind of give us the clear. And it was probably about 6:00 by the time we got the clear and we were able to deploy.

AMY GOODMAN: And there were no guards there.

BREE NEWSOME: No, not at the moment that we made it over.

AMY GOODMAN: You hopped the fence?

BREE NEWSOME: Yes, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you have to go inside the fence grounds also?

JAMES TYSON: Oh, yeah, yeah. I helped her over the fence, and then I climbed over. And then I helped her get her gear onto the pole.


JAMES TYSON: And, you know, basically what I was doing at that point, we knew that we needed to get her high enough above the ground before the guards would come out, that she wouldn't be able to just be pulled right off. And so that was the primary focus at that point.


JAMES TYSON: And once she was up, I just started scanning and waiting for the cops, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: How long did it take, Bree?

BREE NEWSOME: To scale all the way to the top?


BREE NEWSOME: I think about 10 minutes.

AMY GOODMAN: And how long did the guard—take for the guards to notice?

BREE NEWSOME: Maybe within five minutes.

JAMES TYSON: Three to five.

BREE NEWSOME: Maybe less than that, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: So, had you ever climbed a flagpole before?

BREE NEWSOME: No, I had never climbed a flagpole until two days before.

AMY GOODMAN: Was it hard?

BREE NEWSOME: The very first attempt was hard. By the time I was going, and probably helped with adrenaline, it didn't seem hard.

AMY GOODMAN: So you practiced two days before.


AMY GOODMAN: So this is 30 feet high, this flagpole.


AMY GOODMAN: You made your way to the top. And what did you do then?

BREE NEWSOME: First of all, I was just relieved at how simple it was to just unhook it, because our intention was not to cause property damage. We were really trying to do as little disturbance, beyond, you know, simply removing the flag, as possible, and so I was just so glad to see that all I had to do was just unhook it. From there, it was just, you know, amazing.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I'm going to play the clip, as you're coming down.


AMY GOODMAN: The police officers are telling you to get down. This is Bree Newsome on the flagpole, taking down the Confederate flag that has flown on the flagpole, either there, from 2000, or on the top of the state Capitol, from 1961, I think it was.

BREE NEWSOME: You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us what it is you were saying as you were holding the Confederate flag on your way down.

BREE NEWSOME: Well, I was kind of having a bit of a back-and-forth with the police officer, who was basically just scolding me for having broken the law and, you know, for having done the wrong thing. And, you know, in the long history of social justice, freedom fighters were always blamed for stirring the trouble up, because, you know, the problem's not there until we acknowledge it. And, you know, I was just having the conversation with him that, yeah, you know, I came prepared to be arrested. I mainly just wanted to let them know that there wasn't going to be any escalation. I didn't want to escalate the situation at all.

AMY GOODMAN: Had they taken you by now?

JAMES TYSON: No, they actually—I told them—I told them that I was not—first, I said, "I'm not going to leave until Bree is safely off the pole. The safest way to get her off the pole is to allow her to descend via her own volition." And so, it wasn't until after she was down that I was actually placed in cuffs. They had enough respect to allow me to help her.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you say as you were coming down? What was the prayer that you cited?

BREE NEWSOME: Well, there was one point at which the officer told me that, you know, I was doing the wrong thing. And so, you know, I quoted from Isaiah: "What kind of fast have I chosen? Is it not to break the yoke of oppression?" So, I felt in no way that I was doing the wrong thing. Yes, I broke the law, but laws can also be unjust. And I feel that the law that protects that symbol of hate is an unjust law. The fact that, you know, the people who are elected in office who want to take it down are obligated by law to debate over whether or not they can take it down is unjust. And so, I was just being very clear about that. And I was also just praying a prayer of protection over myself. Fortunately, the police were very professional with me. But, you know, that was something else to consider, that there was some danger.

AMY GOODMAN: You said, as we try to make it out, as you came down, in the film, "You come against me with hatred"?


AMY GOODMAN: Can you repeat what you said?

BREE NEWSOME: Yes. I said, "You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God." And that was—in one of those nights where I was pondering, "Have I completely lost my mind in doing this?" I read the story of David and Goliath. And David says to Goliath, you know, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, and I come against you in the name of the lord." And that, for me, as a black woman in America, I mean, that's what that moment—that's what that moment felt like, because I come from a historically completely disempowered place. And so, I think that's why it was so powerful to a lot of people, especially to black women, to see me up there holding that flag in that way.

AMY GOODMAN: You said, "I come against you in the name of God."


AMY GOODMAN: And then?

BREE NEWSOME: "This flag comes down today."

AMY GOODMAN: And how did that feel to say that?

BREE NEWSOME: Amazing. Just amazing on a personal level at that point, and then, just in the aftermath, to see what it meant to so many people, because I think a moment like that, it's not just about that Confederate flag, it's really about like every person who has been oppressed, you know, kind of like taking a stand against any kind of symbol of oppression.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, you came down. The police officers handcuffed you and arrested you. There were black and white officers, is that right?

BREE NEWSOME: Mm-hmm, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And it was a black officer who walked away with you.


AMY GOODMAN: Did you have a conversation with him as you walked?

BREE NEWSOME: Well, I was praying as I walked away. And then he asked me, you know, "Why do you feel that the holy spirit led you to do this?" And I was quite frank with him. I mean, because that's how I felt. I mean, people come from all different types of spiritual traditions and things that motivate them. But, for me, it's a calling as a human being, it's a calling as a child of God, to fight on behalf of the oppressed.

AMY GOODMAN: We got there a little while later, so I didn't see the flag put back up, but within an hour, it was. And the reports are it was put up by African-American officers.

BREE NEWSOME: Mm-hmm, yeah. And, I mean, and that's a powerful statement, as well, you know. And I'm not sure if—I don't think they had to climb the pole to put it back up, did they?


BREE NEWSOME: The only image I've seen is of them on the ground, yeah. And so, again, it's like this black person who works for the state is required to lift this flag up because of a law that was put in place by a racist Legislature in the 1960s to oppose integration. I mean, you can write a million think pieces on that.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to one of the people who rallied in support of the Confederate flag at the Capitol on Saturday while our guests, Bree Newsome and Jimmy Tyson, were in jail. This is William Wells.

WILLIAM WELLS: My name is William Wells. And I'm flying this flag for the people who died, all of the people who died, anybody who died for this flag, period. Period. It ain't got nothing to do with black, white, love, hate, nothing.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you opposed to slavery?

WILLIAM WELLS: Hell yeah, I'm opposed to slavery. That wasn't cool either.

AMY GOODMAN: So what does this flag means you?

WILLIAM WELLS: This means the 13 original colonies wanted to stay out of the United States government.

AMY GOODMAN: That was William Wells, holding—wrapped in the Confederate flag. He was standing next to, on the Confederate Monument, Brailey Johnson, who was holding up a sign that said "honk this flag down," a young Africa-American student from the University of South Carolina. Your response to William Wells?

BREE NEWSOME: I mean, quite frankly—and I said this in the statement that I released—so, like, one of the problems that we have in the United States is we're not the best when it comes to educating our children on the history. You know, the Confederacy is a Southern thing, but white supremacy is not. And so, while the Confederacy was defeated in the Civil War, when Reconstruction fell apart and there was the imposition of Jim Crow, the North largely turned a blind eye to it, because the North has an issue of racism, as well. And so, I mean, you see that kind of playing out today, where here we are in 2015 and we're debating what the Civil War was about. And it's really pretty astounding, I mean, when you think about the United States went to war with itself over the issue of slavery, and more Americans have died in that war than any other, and we still have people who are not entirely clear on what the Confederate flag represents.

AMY GOODMAN: And your thoughts on people saying you should have waited for the debate? It looks like there are enough South Carolina legislators, though it was not clear on Saturday, not even clear right now, to have I think it's the two-thirds majority needed to take down this flag. But you made a different decision.

BREE NEWSOME: Yeah, because, like I said, again, why is the debate required? The debate is required because of a law that was put in place by a racist, all-white Legislature in this '60s. And so, that's why I felt like it was a powerful statement to have the people go and take it down, because it's—you know, we're drawing that attention not just to the Confederate flag, not just to that symbol, but to the brokenness of the system itself. I mean, when we're talking about white supremacy, it's not just about a flag, and it's not just about a symbol. It's about how these things are ingrained in our institutions, as best exemplified by the fact that we have to have a debate over whether or not we can take a flag down. And the flag is flying over Reverend Clementa Pinckney's casket as he's, you know, being laid in state, a statesman, a civil rights person who was assassinated. I mean, it's really—it's really astounding when you take a step back and really look at it objectively. It's really, really astounding.

AMY GOODMAN: Now take us to the detention center, just down the road, where you were held for a number of hours, and what happened there.

BREE NEWSOME: Well, we were pretty much heroes, to be quite frank with you. And, I mean, I think that was the other scenario that we had to consider, was not knowing what the reaction might be, you know, in jail or what the treatment might be. But quite frankly, the feeling I got from everybody was that everybody is ready for it to come down. I think that it's really—

AMY GOODMAN: When you say "heroes," among who?

BREE NEWSOME: Among the guards, among other people who were in handcuffs for various reasons. One thing that we were all in agreement with is that the flag needed to come down, and they were glad that we had done that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you came before an African-American woman judge.

BREE NEWSOME: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

AMY GOODMAN: You were in a caged-in area. A few of us reporters were allowed in, and we saw you through the cage. But there was an opening, almost like a bank teller's area, for you to stand and directly look at the judge and state your name and address. Your feelings then, as she read the charge that you had defaced public property?

BREE NEWSOME: Yeah, I mean, you know, so this is not the first time that I've been arrested for protesting. And my feeling this time was the same as the first time. It's like, you know, when you feel like you have really done nothing wrong, the bars and the handcuffs and all the other thing, I mean, it doesn't faze me, because there's no shame in what—there's no shame in what I did. You know, I'm simply going through the motions that the system says I must go through. But seriously, like if you take a step back, what I did was I unhooked a flag from a post and brought it down and handed it to the police officers. So, I mean, everyone who I interacted with in jail was very professional, and it was fine. I mean, I wasn't overly concerned.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, we did hear, when Dylann Roof was taken to jail, they went out and got him Burger King.


AMY GOODMAN: Did you get anything like that—


AMY GOODMAN: —while you were held?

JAMES TYSON: No, we didn't get any Burger King.

BREE NEWSOME: No. And I was—actually, somebody asked me about that on Twitter last night, and I was saying, you know, I didn't know that peanut butter and jelly could be bad until I had jail peanut butter and jelly. And I was like pretty amazed. So, no, we just stuck through it for a while.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the judge could have given—let you out on your own recognizance, but she didn't. She set the bond at $3,000 each for you and said you had to pay up 10 percent. What were your thoughts about that? Even the solicitor had said you should get out on PR, personal recognizance.

BREE NEWSOME: Yeah, I don't—everyone around us seemed to be surprised. I thought it could have been for a few reasons. It could have been because we were from Charlotte. You know, it could have been that they were probably like really trying to dissuade people from, you know, following in our footsteps. But yeah, I was assuming that we would be released on our own recognizance, as well.

JAMES TYSON: She was also a new judge.


JAMES TYSON: You know, so she can't appear lenient, especially being an African-American female, that like lets the African-American woman who took down the Confederate flag go scot-free, in a certain way. You know, it's like that could be really misconstrued for her personal career. So I understand it, and I actually don't have a problem with it at all, especially being out of state. It's reasonable to maybe assume that we could, you know, duck our charges. But we're obviously not going to.

AMY GOODMAN: So, who paid the bond?

BREE NEWSOME: My lawyer did.

AMY GOODMAN: We heard a lot of people were saying they would pay that $300 for you each.


AMY GOODMAN: You tweeted—Bree, you're a big tweeter, and you tweeted, "I've already spent more time in jail for unhooking a Confederate flag from its post than the cop who assaulted a girl in McKinney."

BREE NEWSOME: Yeah, fact, absolute fact. I mean, and that's part of the thing, is like, so, we all saw me on camera unhook the Confederate flag. I was arrested immediately. We've also seen on camera a cop assault a child that a pool party. He has yet to be arrested. Why is that? I mean, I think that speaks to the larger issue of systemic racism, of bias, of all of those things, I mean, and, even on a more fundamental level, the tendency in our society to place more value on property than on the lives of people.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have to go back to Columbia, South Carolina, July 27th. That was the date that was set. Is this a trial? Is this an arraignment?

JAMES TYSON: First appearance, that's all.

AMY GOODMAN: And what are your plans?

JAMES TYSON: I actually am—in a certain way, I'm anticipating that these charges might disappear before then, because it's quite possible the flag could come down, you know, could come down between now and then.

AMY GOODMAN: We'll come back to Jimmy Tyson and Bree Newsome in 30 seconds.

AMY GOODMAN: "Strange Fruit," Nina Simone. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our conversation with Bree Newsome, who scaled the flagpole and took down the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state Capitol, and Jimmy Tyson, who helped her. I asked Bree about the potential penalty they each face—$5,000 fine and three years in jail each.

BREE NEWSOME: You know, defacing state property, which I maintain my innocence of that, because, as I said, all I did was unhook a flag, and it was restored to its original condition in 45 minutes.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s my understanding that that heavy fine and sentence for that act came from 2000, the compromise to bring the flag, the Confederate flag, down from off the Capitol and next to the monument, that part of that compromise was to up the penalty against anyone who would deface the flag, if you want to call it "deface."

BREE NEWSOME: And again, I mean, it’s pretty amazing, when you look at it, how much more protection is placed around this flag of treason and this symbol of hate than even the United States, the flag of the United States of America. I mean, it’s really time—you know, I think it’s just a moment of us all to kind of do a value check.

JAMES TYSON: It’s a dull moment.


JAMES TYSON: It’s definitely a dull moment.


AMY GOODMAN: Bree, you also tweeted, "Folks keep asking what I plan to do next. Same thing I was already doing: organizing my community toward self-sufficiency & empowerment."


AMY GOODMAN: Which brings us to the movement you come out of and the groups that you’re a part of in North Carolina. Can you talk about what inspires you, the people you work with?

BREE NEWSOME: Yeah, certainly. So, in North Carolina, I got—well, even before North Carolina, I had marched with Occupy some. And then, in North Carolina, I got involved with the Moral Monday movement around voting rights. I’ve done some work with Ignite North Carolina, which is organizing student leaders on campus. I’ve been involved in the Raise Up campaign, helping fast-food workers unionize and raise wages. And then I’m also with a very grassroots, very organic group called The Tribe in Charlotte. And this is seriously just community members—a lot of people are teachers, some artists—just coming together and really trying to—when I say like, you know, develop self-sufficiency, helping our community to be in a place where we’re not so dependent on systems that don’t value our lives. You know, like how it is right now is like we’re so dependent on institutions and systems that were really not designed for us. And so, we’re really trying to work to empower people in their everyday lives and to address their immediate needs.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you come up with the name, The Tribe?

BREE NEWSOME: It just happened. Like we just kind of drew together—actually, right in the aftermath of Ferguson, we held a rally in Charlotte in solidarity with Ferguson. And after that, we felt like, you know, let’s get together, and let’s just talk. And we ended up calling ourselves The Tribe because so many of us had been in so many other kind of like activist spaces and doing types of things, and it was like, "Oh, we finally found each other. And who would have thought, you know, in this place of all places?"



AMY GOODMAN: —what you’ve been involved with?

JAMES TYSON: Yeah, certainly. So, most recently, Moral Monday stuff in North Carolina. I mean, we have a radical Legislature right now, and it’s really running the state into the ground in a lot of ways, unfortunately.

AMY GOODMAN: That Reverend Barber is heading up.

JAMES TYSON: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. But mainly, I mean, what I’ve been doing is I’ve been working in the grassroots for about the last five years as an unpaid organizer, doing actions like this, you know? Most of them never get nearly as much media attention, but that would be the idea, you know? And we’ve been working specifically within our communities. I work with a group called Charlotte Environmental Action, and me and a handful of other people helped start it. And, you know, I’d like to think that it’s like—you know, it’s done good in our community, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: And, Bree, you’re also involved with—I interviewed the head of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP, and she talked about you being the chair of social media there?

BREE NEWSOME: Yes, yes. So I just joined up with the local NAACPchapter. Corine Mack is her name. And she’s really committed to doing more activism and like on-the-ground work, which I believe in, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: The response that you’ve gotten, I mean, the video went viral all over the world. What is it you think you’ve tapped into?

BREE NEWSOME: I think that a lot of people were really feeling disheartened. If they were like me, I know that there was just something that just like really punched me in the gut, especially specifically after the massacre, because it just felt like, "Oh, my gosh, like are we—we’re still back here relitigating the Civil War."

AMY GOODMAN: Where were you when you heard about the massacre?

BREE NEWSOME: I was there in Charlotte. I heard about it shortly after it was breaking news. And that was just like a really just awful sleepless night between me finding out about it and the morning, when I knew like most of America would find out about it.

AMY GOODMAN: And did you find yourself resolving something then?

BREE NEWSOME: Well, I mean, I had a crisis of faith, quite honestly. I mean, you know, I’ve been doing this, this work, for a few years now, and for the most part, especially things around like civil rights, a lot of things have felt commemorative. You know, like, yes, we’re still—we’re still fighting over things with voting rights, we’re still—but for the most part it felt like things like, you know, 16th Street Baptist Church, the assassination of our leaders. Those things felt like things in the past. But Wednesday night, it became very real. You know, that was a moment where I really had to think I could die, I could die for doing this work, and am I prepared to do that? And, you know, I called my sister at 3:00 in the morning and talked with her, talked with her about it. And I had to come back to a point of like, yeah, I’m willing to die if I have to.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been called Rosa Parks, the new Rosa Parks, who also was a member of an AME church.

BREE NEWSOME: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

AMY GOODMAN: As was Frederick Douglass. What are your thoughts about that? In the case of Rosa Parks, so many people know her name and talked about that tired seamstress who sat down on the bus. But she was a longtime organizer, right? She was secretary of the local NAACP. How do you feel to be compared to Rosa Parks?

BREE NEWSOME: I mean, I think it’s amazing. I don’t know what else to say. I mean, I don’t feel like—but I don’t know if I ever could. You know what I mean? Rosa Parks probably didn’t feel like Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks was probably thinking, you know, "I’m an organizer doing what organizers do."

AMY GOODMAN: Now, I don’t know if she could sing like you, but how did you get involved with singing?

BREE NEWSOME: Well, that’s actually where I started out. I mean, I started out as an artist like from the time I was a child. I loved being an artist. I had not expected social justice to be a part—such a big part of my life, but it ended up being my calling.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you like to perform anything right here a cappella?


JAMES TYSON: Let’s hear it. Let’s hear it.

BREE NEWSOME: [singing] We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes
Until the killing of a black man, a black mother’s son
Is as important as a white man, a white mother’s son
We who believe in freedom, we cannot rest until it comes.

AMY GOODMAN: Sweet Honey in the Rock.

BREE NEWSOME: Yes, yes, absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you like to share something else with us?

BREE NEWSOME: I don’t know what else I have to share.

AMY GOODMAN: We have been playing—since this happened, we’ve been playing a kind of rap that you do.


AMY GOODMAN: Talk about that song.

BREE NEWSOME: Yeah, so that one—I wrote that right in the aftermath of Ferguson, which was another moment kind of like the Charleston massacre, where it was like, "Oh, wow!" You know, having been involved in the movement from the time of like Trayvon Martin and all of that, again, we had not faced tanks and tear gas or anything like that, so Ferguson was the first time that that kind of took it to another level in terms of what we might be facing as we continue down this road of challenging racism in our system. And so, I wanted to write something in response to that. And I decided to do "#StayStrong" as just kind of like a song of encouragement to all the other freedom fighters out there. And that was pretty much the motivation.

AMY GOODMAN: Could you perform it for us here?

BREE NEWSOME: Yeah. Like a cappella?


Weighing heavy on my mind
Tryna find that word to define how I feel
Cause every time I recline
Something goes down to remind me the dream ain’t real
And it’s jolting to me
to realize all the lies
it’s insulting to me
But that’s the burden of the young, black and gifted
tryna stay lifted
in a world that keeps us stinted
just cause we pigmented
They say go be exceptional
and professional
but them khakis can’t fix
what is institutional
So we say bump it
Cause we ain’t got no time for no summit
They tryna wipe us out
cause they don’t want no real republic
and when we broach the subject
they try to deflect
Drag a name through the mud
they ain’t got no respect
and yet
you want me to respect authority
It don’t make you right just cause you majority
Y’all be quoting King while you pushing a button
to drop some bombs on some babies like you ain’t doing nothing
that’s why you aint got no jurisdiction with me
can’t handcuff knowledge, so Ms. Bree stay free
I went through college, in the hood I be
spreading love to my brothers and my sister I keep.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Bree Newsome, "#StayStrong: A Love Song to Freedom Fighters."


AMY GOODMAN: Talk about art in resistance.

BREE NEWSOME: Oh, yeah, strong history there. Like, I just—I love to be in that tradition, because artists are such a big part, and always have been, of times like this. And that’s why I love seeing the art that was inspired by the moment. Like it’s just been amazing, because, you know, things happen, and people react to it, and artists have the ability to really kind of like interpret that moment, you know, for the people in a way that we can then digest and discuss with each other. And it’s—yeah, absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: You said people quoting King and dropping bombs.


AMY GOODMAN: Who are you referring to?

BREE NEWSOME: Well, especially in the aftermath of Ferguson, you know, there was a lot of "What would Dr. King have—how would Dr. King feel about you rabble-rousers in the street?" you know, specifically to like the young people who were out in the street after Ferguson. And I just find that so completely odious and offensive, because a lot of times what people—when people call for peace, what they’re really just calling for is order. What they’re really calling for is just for people to go back to business as usual, which is actually violence. You know, people think that violence is only when something is on fire, only when a gun is being fired. But, you know, Gandhi himself said poverty is the worst form of violence. Poverty is violence. Our kids being shuffled from schools into prison is violence. Kids being hungry is violence. These are all—we live with violence every single day. The violence doesn’t begin just when the CVS is burned.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s next for you, and for you, Jimmy?

BREE NEWSOME: Well, next, I plan to go right back to what I was doing, which is organizing in my community. I’m probably going to do a music video for this song now, since everybody’s noticed it. I would love to do something like that and really pull the kids in my community into that. But yeah, we’re just really—I think a lot of people have been activated. A lot of people want to get involved in the movement. And as an organizer, what I do is I see what skills and talents people have to offer, and I try to plug us all in, in a way that we can work together.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you consider yourself an active member of the Black Lives Matter movement?

BREE NEWSOME: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Jimmy, your plans now?

JAMES TYSON: Yeah, yeah. So, I mean, the first thing I need to do is go back home and take care of my animals. I’ve got a lot of them there, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: On your farm?

JAMES TYSON: Yeah. And, you know, just being a steward for the land, first and foremost, of my family land, is the most important thing to me. But beyond that, yes, absolutely, going back to the community, organizing, you know, putting boots on the ground, that’s probably the very next steps, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: But July 27th, you have a date in Columbia, South Carolina. Would you like to take us out with a song?

BREE NEWSOME: Oh, so much pressure. I’ll do the last verse. How about that? Does that work?

Brown as mahogany
Dreaming what he wanna be
hoping that he gonna be
surviving all this gunnery
So much of his time goes to dodging bullets
And half of the time it was a cop that pulled it
It’s real
It’s hard to know your country never loved you
living like occupied people in the gulf do
Black bodies used up and tossed aside
and when emancipation came, then they broke out the stripes
Now they tryna lock us up and lock us out for life
and they be tryna block us every time we demand rights
Cuz America be fronting as the land of the free
While it’s locking up reporters and suppressing our speech
But we gon keep on speaking,
we’re standing on the freedom side
the light we’re beaming
will shine a light on all the lies
and we ain’t leaving
til every child can sleep at night
and wake up in the dawn
feeling strong
in her human rights.

AMY GOODMAN: "#StayStrong: A Love Song to Freedom Fighters." Bree Newsome and Jimmy Tyson. Bree scaled the flagpole on the South Carolina state Capitol grounds and took down the Confederate flag, saying, "In the name of God, this flag comes down today." Well, today, nine days later, South Carolina lawmakers will begin debating whether to remove that flag.

News Mon, 06 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Inequality Rainbow

It's still pretty crowded in this closet.

Art Mon, 06 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Pope Calls for Rethinking the Outdated Criteria That Rule the World

Pope Francis' revolutionary encyclical addresses not just climate change but the banking crisis. Interestingly, the solution to that crisis may have been modeled in the Middle Ages by Franciscan monks following the Saint from whom the Pope took his name.

Pope Francis has been called "the revolutionary Pope." Before he became Pope Francis, he was a Jesuit Cardinal in Argentina named Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the son of a rail worker. Moments after his election, he made history by taking on the name Francis, after Saint Francis of Assisi, the leader of a rival order known to have shunned wealth to live in poverty.

Pope Francis' June 2015 encyclical is called "Praised Be," a title based on an ancient song attributed to St. Francis. Most papal encyclicals are addressed only to Roman Catholics, but this one is addressed to the world. And while its main focus is considered to be climate change, its 184 pages cover much more than that. Among other sweeping reforms, it calls for a radical overhaul of the banking system. It states in Section IV:

Today, in view of the common good, there is urgent need for politics and economics to enter into a frank dialogue in the service of life, especially human life. Saving banks at any cost, making the public pay the price, forgoing a firm commitment to reviewing and reforming the entire system, only reaffirms the absolute power of a financial system, a power which has no future and will only give rise to new crises after a slow, costly and only apparent recovery. The financial crisis of 2007-08 provided an opportunity to develop a new economy, more attentive to ethical principles, and new ways of regulating speculative financial practices and virtual wealth. But the response to the crisis did not include rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world.

. . . A strategy for real change calls for rethinking processes in their entirety, for it is not enough to include a few superficial ecological considerations while failing to question the logic which underlies present-day culture.

"Rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world" is a call to revolution, one that is necessary if the planet and its people are to survive and thrive. Beyond a change in our thinking, we need a strategy for eliminating the financial parasite that is keeping us trapped in a prison of scarcity and debt.

Interestingly, the model for that strategy may have been created by the Order of the Saint from whom the Pope took his name. Medieval Franciscan monks, defying their conservative rival orders, evolved an alternative public banking model to serve the poor at a time when they were being exploited with exorbitant interest rates.

The Franciscan Alternative: Banking for the People

In the Middle Ages, the financial parasite draining the people of their assets and livelihoods was understood to be "usury" – charging rent for the use of money. Lending money at interest was forbidden  to Christians, as a breach of the prohibition on usury proclaimed by Jesus in Luke 6:33. But there was a serious shortage of the precious metal coins that were the official medium of exchange, creating a need to expand the money supply with loans on credit.

An exception was therefore made to the proscription against usury for the Jews, whose Scriptures forbade usury only to "brothers" (meaning other Jews). This gave them a virtual monopoly on lending, however, allowing them to charge excessively high rates because there were no competitors.  Interest sometimes went as high as 60 percent.

These rates were particularly devastating to the poor.  To remedy the situation, Franciscan monks, defying the prohibitions of the Dominicans and Augustinians, formed charitable pawnshops called montes pietatus (pious or non-speculative collections of funds). These shops lent at low or no interest on the security of valuables left with the institution.

The first true mons pietatis made loans that were interest-free. Unfortunately, it went broke in the process.  Expenses were to come out of the original capital investment; but that left no money to run the bank, and it eventually had to close.

Franciscan monks then established montes pietatis in Italy that lent at low rates of interest. They did not seek to make a profit on their loans. But they faced bitter opposition, not only from their banking competitors but from other theologians.  It was not until 1515 that the montes were officially declared to be meritorious.

After that, they spread rapidly in Italy and other European countries.   They soon evolved into banks, which were public in nature and served public and charitable purposes. This public bank tradition became the modern European tradition of public, cooperative and savings banks. It is particularly strong today in the municipal banks of Germany called Sparkassen.

The public banking concept at the heart of the Sparkassen was explored in the 18th century by the Irish philosopher Bishop George Berkeley, in a treatise called The Plan of a National Bank. Berkeley visited America and his work was studied by Benjamin Franklin, who popularized the public banking model in colonial Pennsylvania. In the US today, the model is exemplified in the state-owned Bank of North Dakota.

From "Usury" to "Financialization"

What was condemned as usury in the Middle Ages today goes by the more benign term "financialization" – turning public commodities and services into "asset classes" from which wealth can be siphoned by rich private investors. Far from being condemned, it is lauded as the way to fund development in an age in which money is scarce and governments and people everywhere are in debt.

Land and natural resources, once considered part of the commons, have long been privatized and financialized. More recently, this trend has been extended to pensions, health, education and housing. Today financialization has entered a third stage, in which it is invading infrastructure, water, and nature herself. Capital is no longer content merely to own. The goal today is to extract private profit at every stage of production and from every necessity of life.

The dire effects can be seen particularly in the financialization of food. The international food regime has developed over the centuries from colonial trading systems to state-directed development to transnational corporate control. Today the trading of food commodities by hedgers, arbitrageurs and index speculators has disconnected markets from the real-world demand for food. The result has been sudden shortages, price spikes and food riots. Financialization has turned farming from a small scale, autonomous and ecologically-sustainable craft to a corporate assembly process that relies on patented technologies and equipment increasingly financed through debt.

We have bought into this financialization scheme based on a faulty economic model, in which we have allowed money to be created privately by banks and lent to governments and people at interest. The vast majority of the circulating money supply is now created by private banks in this way, as the Bank of England recently acknowledged.

Meanwhile, we live on a planet that holds the promise of abundance for all. Mechanization and computerization have streamlined production to the point that, if the work week and corporate profits were divided equitably, we could be living lives of ease, with our basic needs fulfilled and plenty of leisure to pursue the interests we find rewarding. We could, like St. Francis, be living like the lilies of the field. The workers and materials are available to build the infrastructure we need, provide the education our children need, provide the care the sick and elderly need. Inventions are waiting in the wings that could clean up our toxic environment, save the oceans, recycle waste, and convert sun, wind and perhaps even zero-point energy into usable energy sources.

The holdup is in finding the funding for these inventions. Our politicians tell us "we don't have the money." Yet China and some other Asian countries are powering ahead with this sort of sustainable development. Where have they found the money?

The answer is that they simply issue it. What private banks do in Western countries, publicly-owned and -controlled banks do in many Asian countries. Their governments have taken control of the engines of credit – the banks – and operated them for the benefit of the public and their own economies.

What blocks Western economies from pursuing that course is a dubious economic theory called "monetarism." It is based on the premise that "inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon," and that the chief cause of inflation is money "created out of thin air" by governments. In the 1970s, the Basel Committee discouraged governments from issuing money themselves or borrowing from their own central banks which issued it. Instead they were to borrow from "the market," which generally meant borrowing from private banks. Overlooked was the fact, recently acknowledged by the Bank of England, that the money borrowed from banks is also created out of thin air. The difference is that bank-created money originates as a debt and comes with a hefty private interest charge attached.

We can break free from this exploitative system by returning the power to create money to governments and the people they represent. The strategy for real change called for by Pope Francis can be furthered with government-issued money of the sort originated by the American colonists, augmented by a network of publicly-owned banks of the sort established by the Order of St. Francis in the Middle Ages.

Opinion Mon, 06 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
As Walker Announces, Wisconsin GOP Moves to Gut Open Records Law

On the same day that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced his run for president, the Wisconsin GOP has proposed a virtual gutting of Wisconsin's open records law, which has long been considered one of the best in the nation. The drastic changes were proposed in a last-minute, anonymous budget motion, with zero public input on the eve of a holiday weekend. The motion will be rolled into the state's massive budget bill and voted on in the coming weeks.

The unprecedented proposal would give lawmakers broad authority to hide the special interests who are working to influence legislation. It would keep legislative drafting files under wraps, create a new "deliberative materials" exemption that would exempt from disclosure records at all levels of government, and give the legislature an easy way to hide even more records from public view in the future.

The move to gut the open records law appears to come in direct response to a lawsuit that the Center for Media and Democracy filed against Governor Walker in May. 

CMD was the first to reveal that Walker's office had struck the "search for truth" from the university's mission and eliminated the "Wisconsin Idea," and sued Walker after he withheld records pertaining to the changes, based on a claimed "deliberative process privilege." Although Walker's lawyers claim there already exists a deliberative privilege in Wisconsin law, that clearly is not true, because if it were, his allies in the legislature wouldn't have to add one through the budget process.

State Rep. Gordon Hintz, a Democrat from Oshkosh on the Joint Finance Committee, tweeted today that GOP budget leaders made it clear to the committee that Walker had signed off on the changes, including the changes to the open records law. The measure would help candidate Walker sidestep public scrutiny as national media outlets file records requests with his office. The Joint Finance Committee chairs, Sen. Alberta Darling (R) and Rep. John Nygren (R), have refused to say who asked for the changes.

Bill Lueders, president of the transparency watchdog Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, called the proposal "cowardly" and a "shocking assault on the state's long and proud tradition of open government."

"These radical and sweeping changes represent a full-frontal attack on Wisconsin's history of open government," Lueders said. "They are clearly intended to block the public from discovering what factors drive the official actions of government, especially the Legislature, and will inevitably lead to abuse, malfeasance and corruption."

Ron Sklansky, a former 35-year senior staff attorney at the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Counsel and an expert on open records, told CMD he had never seen a legislative proposal put forward that was as "devastating" to the open records law as this one. The measure is "almost a complete gutting of open records as it applies to the legislative and executive branch. It prevents the public from investigating the undue influence of special interests on the passage of legislation and the development of executive branch proposals and rule making," he said.

Although the proposal passed the Joint Finance Committee along party lines--with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats against--the move has prompted outrage across the political spectrum. The president of the right-wing MacIver Institute, Brett Healy, said the proposal "looks to be a huge step backwards for open government." Wisconsin's Republican Attorney General, Brad Schimel, said "Transparency is the cornerstone of democracy and the provisions in the Budget Bill limiting access to public records move Wisconsin in the wrong direction." Hours after Schimel weighed in, Walker spokesperson said vaguely that the governor would work with the legislature on the issue.

Critically, some legislators are saying they will not vote for the controversial budget with the changes included. "I will not support a budget that includes this assault on democracy," said Republican Sen. Robert Cowles, and other GOP legislators also expressed doubts.

The proposal would:

1) Create a new "deliberative materials" exemption

The amendments would exempt all "deliberative materials" from disclosure under the public records law, protecting anything that might have informed a policy decision.

"Deliberative materials" are broadly defined as "communications and other materials, including opinions, analyses, briefings, background information, recommendations, suggestions, drafts, correspondence about drafts, and notes, created or prepared in the process of reaching a decision concerning a policy or course of action."

This measure could protect the disclosure of communications, draft legislation, or background materials from groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, or "ALEC." It would allow legislators to hide their communications with lobbyists or campaign donors seeking policy favors. And it would allow the governor to hide how the executive budget was developed--including, for example, how, and why, a governor's office might have sought to alter the purpose of the university system.

2) Allow legislators to hide the identity of any person who communicates about the development of policy

This could allow lawmakers to hide the special interests who are working to influence legislation.

For example, CMD has filed an open records request with Joint Finance Chair Alberta Darling, who received thousands of dollars of contributions from Bill Minahan, whose company Building Committee Inc. received a $500,000 unsecured loan from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), then promptly went bust leaving taxpayers to foot the bill.

The Wisconsin State Journal used the open records law to take a deep dive into this loan, documenting that it came shortly after Minahan gave Walker a $10,000 contribution and linking it to Walker's chief of staff Keith Gilkes and second-in-command Mike Huebsch. Most recently, the State Journal discovered that Minahan loan had not gone through the underwriting required by law and many more loans failed to go through proper underwriting, putting millions of taxpayer dollars at risk.

WEDC has been the subject of two damning state audits which documented continued lawbreaking at Walker's flagship jobs agency. Shortly after the last audit was published, two legislators threatened to get rid of the highly respected non-partisan audit bureau. CMD sent records requests to Reps. Adam Jarchow and David Craig, curious as to who was behind the radical move to destroy the audit bureau, but has not yet received their response.

3) Hide the "drafting files" showing how legislation is developed

"Drafting files" reveal the process of developing a bill or budget provision, and are used regularly by journalists to gain insight into how policy is developed. And those insights can sometimes be embarrassing.

Drafting files were key to undermining Walker's claims about his office's changes to the Wisconsin Idea. After the deletion of the "search for truth" sparked a "political firestorm" in Wisconsin and around the country, the governor blamed the change on a "drafting error," then on a "miscommunication," and then claimed that the university never raised concerns about the changes. Yet those statements were contradicted by the drafting files examined by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and documents obtained through records requests, earning Walker a "pants on fire" rating from Politifact.

Drafting files also informed other important investigations. In 2014, for example, a Wisconsin State Journal examination of drafting files showed a wealthy, divorced donor to Rep. Joel Kleefisch helping to write a bill that would have lowered his child support payments. If these amendments were enacted, those records--and the donor's influence--would have been kept secret.

Additionally, drafting records aren't just important for accountability, "they are needed by the courts to discern the legislative intent behind the construction of statutes," said Sklansky, who noted that legislative intent was a consideration in the U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling on the federal health care law.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, for example, a former Republican legislator, regularly consults drafting files and legislative records to ascertain legislative intent.

4) Allow the legislature to override the Public Records Law via legislative rule

The proposal also gives the legislature the ability to exempt any additional records from disclosure merely by adopting a new rule by majority vote, without having to go through the legislative process.

By eliminating access to records that had previously been public, this move limits the ability of the press and public to play their watchdog role. Taken together with proposals to dismantle the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board (after it investigated alleged campaign finance violations by Walker's campaign) and the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (after it critiqued Walker's jobs agency in a scathing audit), all evidence indicates that Governor Walker and his allies are seeking to muzzle the watchdogs.

News Mon, 06 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Greek Voters Overwhelmingly Reject Creditors' Austerity Demand

Greek voters have overwhelmingly turned down the terms of an international bailout in a historic rejection of austerity. With a margin of 61 to 39 percent, Greeks voted no to further budget cuts and tax hikes in exchange for a rescue package from European creditors. Polls had indicated a narrow vote, but the "no" side swept districts across the country. Thousands of people flocked to Athens' Syntagma Square Sunday night in celebration. In voting against austerity, Greek voters have rejected measures that helped cripple the economy, but also turned down a financial lifeline for its struggling banks. The banks will remain closed today as the European Central Bank meets to consider new emergency loans. Tsipras says he will seek a new round of talks with creditors in which restructuring Greece's $267 billion debt is on the table. In a surprise move, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis announced his resignation today, saying Greece's creditors no longer want him involved in the talks. Varoufakis said, "I shall wear the creditors' loathing with pride." We are joined by Costas Panayotakis, author of "Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy" and professor of sociology at NYC College of Technology at CUNY. 


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

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show in Greece, where more than 60 percent of voters Sunday rejected a bailout deal proposed by international creditors that demanded harsh austerity measures, like pension cuts and tax increases, but included no debt relief. This is voter Christina Vlachaki, who joined thousands to celebrate in the streets of Athens.

CHRISTINA VLACHAKI: [translated] This is our first step to our next battle. Now it truly starts. I do not think that everything will suddenly be perfect, but it is a first step in making fear go away. Up until now, they were scaring us. Now we overcome this and move to the next stage. Slowly, we will get to the place that we deserve to be.

AMY GOODMAN: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras responded to Sunday's resounding "no" vote saying Greeks had proved that, quote, "democracy won't be blackmailed."

PRIME MINISTER ALEXIS TSIPRAS: [translated] Today, considering last week's very difficult circumstances, you made a very brave choice. However, I am fully aware that the mandate here is not a mandate to break with Europe, but a mandate to strengthen our negotiation position to seek a viable solution. This time, the issue of debt will also be on the negotiating table.

AMY GOODMAN: Tsipras says debt talks will resume immediately with a new negotiating team. This follows a surprise resignation by Greece's finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, who had urged a "no" vote on the referendum and over the weekend had accused Greece's European creditors of terrorism. Today, he wrote on his blog he had been, quote, "made aware of a certain preference by some Eurogroup participants, and assorted 'partners', for my .... 'absence' from its meetings; an idea that the Prime Minister judged to be potentially helpful to him in reaching an agreement," Varoufakis wrote. He added, quote, "I consider it my duty to help Alexis Tsipras exploit, as he sees fit, the capital that the Greek people granted us through yesterday's referendum. And I shall wear the creditors' loathing with pride." Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is meeting today with French President François Hollande to assess the situation, and an emergency European Union summit meeting is set for Tuesday.

For more, we're joined by Costas Panayotakis. He is author of Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy, professor of sociology at New York City's College of Technology at CUNY. He's just returned from Greece.

Welcome back to Democracy Now! We spoke to you last week just before the vote. The resounding "no" vote, did it surprise you?

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Yeah, I think it surprised everybody, including the government. All the polls before the vote suggested that it was very close. So, I think that was a great victory for democracy in Greece. People were under immense psychological pressure from the media, that were threatening them with nightmare scenarios; from workplaces, where many business owners were threatening their workers that if a "no" prevailed, they would lose their jobs; and from the European partners, who basically were saying that a "no" vote would mean exit from the eurozone. So, it's a very important result. It's a hopeful development. It will not end the austerity, even if there is an agreement, but it creates a better environment for anti-austerity forces to keep fighting.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, what does it mean today?

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Well, the situation in Greece is still very difficult. It is urgent, because the banks are closed, so the normality in the banking system has to be restored. As long as it is not restored, it basically will have a bad effect on the economy. And this creates lots of pressure, of course, on the Greek government, and it is consistent with a strategy of economic strangulation of—that the Europeans have used ever since the election of this new anti-austerity government.

AMY GOODMAN: Greece's finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, resigned today. He said his country's resounding "no" vote means it can now ask for a fair deal from its international partners.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: [translated] We will invite them one by one to find common ground. For example, we will see positively the fact that the International Monetary Fund a few days ago, in its honor, published a report which confirms that our debt needs restructuring.

AMY GOODMAN: So that is the—well, was the finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. He surprised many by resigning. He posted on his blog that he was resigning because he had been "made aware of a certain preference by some Eurogroup participants, and assorted 'partners', for my .... 'absence' from its meetings," he said, "idea that the Prime Minister judged to be potentially helpful." What about this?

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Well, there had been some talk about Varoufakis. I mean, he used to be the head of the negotiating team with the Europeans as finance minister, and he had been replaced from that role a few months ago because he was insistent on a deal that is viable. He's not a sort of long-term politician. So he doesn't want to just—he didn't want to just achieve an agreement that would last a few months and would continue this kind of pattern of agreements that are made and have to be reconsidered and revisited a few months later. So that made him very, very unpopular with his partners, who are the more traditional politicians. Perhaps it was partly a stylistic issue, as well. You know, he wasn't—you know, finance ministers in the eurozone are usually very sort of gray, sort of technocratic figures, so perhaps his style was commented on. But I think there was substantial differences, and he basically held for his position, which was substantially right.

AMY GOODMAN: The older people tended to vote yes, the younger people overwhelmingly voted no—older people, pensioners, afraid for their economic stability.

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: Yes. I mean, this is in line with electoral results, including the electoral result back in January. There was a lot of—a terror campaign in the media, the media that never sort of looked very closely in the past about the sufferings of ordinary people. They were focusing relentlessly on the queues of pensioners trying to collect their pensions from the banks, and they created a kind of climate of fear. But for many young people, for most Greeks, they have lost so much already that they fear they have nothing more to lose.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, economist Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, was interviewed in the German newspaper Die Zeit, saying, quote, "When I hear the Germans say [that] they maintain a very moral stance about debt and strongly believe that debts must be repaid, then I think: what a huge joke! Germany is the country that has never repaid its debts. It has no standing to lecture other nations." In your last thoughts, your response? Thirty seconds.

COSTAS PANAYOTAKIS: I think there is a lot of hypocrisy in many—on the part of many European officials. The head of the European Commission was prime minister of Luxembourg, that thrived as a tax haven, that undercut the tax receipts of other European countries. And other countries, like the Netherlands, have also served as a tax haven. And these are countries that are oftentimes hardliners, and they point the finger to Greece. And they forget that, yes, there may be issues in Greece—there is corruption, but oftentimes the corruptors are European companies, notably German ones.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Costas Panayotakis, thanks so much for being with us, author of Remaking Scarcity: From Capitalist Inefficiency to Economic Democracy. He's a professor of CUNY, City University of New York, here in the city. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report.

News Mon, 06 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Staying Human in Time of Climate Change: Author on Science, Grief and Hope

Author M Jackson's While Glaciers Slept: Being Human in a Time of Climate Change was released last week by Green Writers Press. In the book, Jackson's first, she examines climate change by combining personal stories with scientific exploration. As both a scientist and a writer by trade, Jackson studied climate change and how to communicate science through writing at the Environmental Science Graduate Program at the University of Montana.

"I wanted to explore our capacity to experience personal loss—the loss of family, the loss of lovers, the loss of a local landscape, the loss of certainty in the weather—to grieve profoundly while simultaneously not giving in," Jackson says.

In the opening pages of While Glaciers Slept, Jackson explains that both her parents died of cancer within two years of one another while she was in her twenties. Her experiences of loss, and the despair that followed, is the central current of her book.

"Climate change, like the loss of parents, necessitates an experience of grieving," the 32-year-old author says. "That also includes picking up the pieces and moving forward into futures that are shapeable and malleable and hinged upon millions of individual imaginations.

Jackson expertly pairs her loss, grief, and anger with the scientific exploration of our Earth and solar system. When she opens a chapter with learning of her father's cancer for the first time, readers end up in a discussion about the history of wind power as a human energy source (it starts in seventh century Afghanistan, for the record).

Bill McKibben, who wrote the introduction to While Glaciers Slept, draws on the duality of Jackson's book by asking if our big human brain "has come attached to a big enough heart to get us out of the trouble we're in." Jackson herself hopes blurring the distinction between the heart and the brain will help humans make it through this period.

The jacket of Jackson's book describes her as an adventurer, and the word seems to fit her well. As a trip leader with the National Geographic Student Expeditions, Jackson takes students on field assignments to study different cultures and the diversity of the natural world. Currently, she's heading to Iceland, and then Alaska, on a tour of lectures about climate change. Despite her busy schedule, Jackson has managed to find the time to also become a Ph.D. candidate in geography at the University of Oregon. Once her lecture tour is done, she will head back to Iceland for nine months of doctoral research on the effects of glacial loss on the Icelandic people.

In the midst of her adventuring, I chatted with Jackson over email about her book, the vulnerability of writing about loss, and how she remains hopeful when confronted by the challenge of climate change.

This interview has been lightly edited.

Christopher Zumski Finke: You could have written one book about climate change, and another one about how you've coped with the death of your parents. Instead, you combined them into a single book. Why?

M Jackson: After my mother died, I was numb, in shock, and having a difficult time engaging with the world. In many ways, I just turned off. It was too much to handle. But while my heart was in pieces and tucked down in the darkest basement, my mind kept telling me not to stay in that grief-stricken landscape for too long—or I might not come back. So I started writing—because, for me, writing makes me feel like I am participating in the world. I started writing about my mother.

But then my father died, and there I was, numb and in shock again. And my heart was not coming out of that dark basement. Eventually, when my mind piped up and started chatting, it drew analogies between what I was experiencing—the loss of my parents—and what I was researching—climate change. The language for both is quite similar. This is what I focused on. 

Zumski Finke: Your book explores the loss you felt, and pairs it with climate change, energy solutions, and scientific discovery. Big heart and big brain, as Bill McKibben puts it in your book's intro. Are you a heart or head person?

Jackson: I am both a big heart and a big brain person, but I think my heart tends to filter my mind.

Zumski Finke: How does that dynamic influence your thinking about climate change?

Jackson: I think we can create the very best science out there about the problems of climate change, yet if we aren't filtering that science through our hearts, there remains—as we see today—a disengagement. People intellectually understand climate change; we know "the science" of it. But now, vitally, we need more heart.

Zumski Finke: I want to ask about the section of your book when you're brought into close contact with the woman driving the car that crashed into your mother and led to the amputation of her leg. In those pages you explore your impulse for violence, and your thoughts wander into cold, alien planets hidden in the cosmos. It's a beautiful piece of writing. What is it like writing, and sharing, such personal pieces of your experience?

Jackson: Climatic changes are experienced first through the human condition. We are living in this changing world together and subsequently are in many ways responsible to one another for our actions. That's a really big thing. How do we even start that move forward in a productive manner? If anything, climate change has shined a really bright light on the rampant inequities of the human condition on this planet. Why are we all not angry?

For me, I think that authentically sharing our personal experiences—the good and the bad and everything in the middle—is an excellent place to start, to move forward into our shared future. In the book, I tried to share my experience as I lived it. And there are times when I go back through the pages and certain things catch me. This was a hard book to write, and it makes me vulnerable in a way to the world. But then, we have to be vulnerable. Climate change is made up of millions people, human beings with human lives. My story is your story, and our story.

Zumski Finke: Your book has garnered attention from climate change deniers and trolls. That started even before it was released. How are you handling that?

Jackson: Today, I'm largely ignoring them. I wasn't at first, and I found the negative attention—let's call it what it is: hate mail—incredibly hurtful. But that was in the beginning. The thing is, while my heart goes out to the people who think sending bullying, sexualized, and hateful letters is somehow helpful, I do not have time for them.

Climatic change is increasing on our shared planet. I'm interested in moving forward and working on collective and creative methods for living with existing climatic changes and ameliorating further impacts.

Zumski Finke: Are you optimistic about the future of combating climate change?

Jackson: I am not necessarily optimistic about combating climate change—I'm not sure that is the most helpful way to think about the changes that are and will be happening. I am optimistic about slowing and lessening our global greenhouse gas emissions, learning to live with present day climatic changes, and shaping our future and our society's place within that future.

Climate change is not an enemy to be vanquished; it is a phenomenon deeply tied to our daily lived existence. It is part of the conversation our mixed up, beautiful, contrary, and imaginative people must have about who we are as a people and where we want to go. I am optimistic about peoples' better selves, and I think right now is an optimistic, hopeful time where we can be bold together.

Zumski Finke: That's a nicely described vision for climate optimism. How do you manage to stay that way?

Jackson: For me, there isn't another option. I don't find terrifying messages of apocalyptic disaster all that helpful, nor the messages about every single thing that wasn't done perfectly right.

There is no fabled "solution" for climate change. Rather, there are a million and more creative ways to engage at multiple scales across the planet. What works in one place might not translate to another, or up or down a scale of governance. What I have seen are hundreds of thousands of people quietly getting things rolling.

And so each morning, I get out of bed and get excited for the creative things I'll see that day—the wows and the unthinkables and the quiet smiles—and sometimes, frankly, I go to bed feeling a little down. But each day is different, and each morning is a hopeful one.

I've been to that dark place with little hope. That place doesn't help. My compass can't just spin and spin on darkness. My compass spins on hope, and points toward an exciting future.

Opinion Mon, 06 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Governor Announces Puerto Rico "Insolvent"

At the United Nations Secretariat on Monday 22 June 2015, Cuba demanded an end to Puerto Rico's status as a colony of the United States. A week later, Puerto Rico's Governor Alejandro García Padilla announced that the US territory could not pay its $73 billion debt. But Puerto Rico is not able to declare bankruptcy like Detroit, due to its lack of State status, nor can it reach out as a sovereign state, as Greece can. Meanwhile, calls from around the world for the release of Oscar López Rivera, the Puerto Rican community activist held in prison since 1981, still go unheeded.

Fifty-five years after the U.N. General Assembly formally adopted Resolution 1514 (XV), The Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples[1], Puerto Rico remains a nation under domination, its people paying tribute in the form of taxes to the United States but having, like other US territories, no right to vote in presidential elections, no representation in the Electoral College, and mere observer status in Congress.

Even the flag of Puerto Rico elicits memories of its dreams of independence and fraternity with Cuba. Designed by separatists in 1898, and finally adopted in 1952, the red, white and blue bars, stripes and single star of the flag optically mirrors that of Cuba, which was created 50 years earlier, while both flags reflect an idealistic idea of the independence won by the United States in 1776. Cuba succeeded in liberating itself from Spanish colonialism in 1898, but Puerto Rico, as well as other former Spanish colonies such as the Philippines and Guam, was quickly claimed by the U.S. the following year under Theodore Roosevelt's doctrine of "manifest destiny." The Philippines wrested itself away, but Puerto Rico has remained firmly under control and domination ever since.

The UN considers Puerto Rico to be a "non-governing territory" and, as such, slated for decolonization.

There have been many efforts to free Puerto Rico since the turn of the last century. Historically crippled by the imperialistic restructuring of the sugar industry in 1900, Puerto Rico has also been hit hard by laws still in effect requiring overpriced shipping fees to the Merchant Marines on all deliveries to the island. Faced with ambiguously worded referendums on status and independence, massacres at peaceful demonstrations such as in Río Piedras and Ponce, eugenicist cancer experimentation, non-consensual pharmaceutical testing, especially on girls and women, and destructive bombing practice resulting in carcinogenic waste, Puerto Rico has been enduring and fighting oppression in many ways over the years.

Up until the 1970s, a campaign of mass sterilization was carried out. According to the filmmaker Ana María García in her 1982 film, La operación, "In Puerto Rico, one in three women of childbearing age has been sterilized. The method is so common that it is referred to simply as The Operation." In the film, García interviews a woman who recounts how each of her sisters has been operated on. "So the line of our family will fade, right?" she says. Informed consent was not given and forced consent was instituted at hospitals, which refused admittance to pregnant women unless they were sterilized after childbirth.[2]

What happens when a people's voice is cut off? Puerto Rican, Harvard lawyer Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos spent 26 years in prison on charges of "seditious conspiracy." He was finally pardoned shortly before his death, from what he claims was radiation experimentation on his body while in prison. An independent Cuban doctor confirmed it.  In 1981, Oscar López Rivera was jailed and sentenced to 75 years, also on charges of "seditious conspiracy," and he has never committed any violent or injurious crime. He has been held in the maximum security prisons of Marion and Terre Haute for 34 years now, with over a decade of that time, 12 years, in solitary confinement. López has already been incarcerated for longer than Nelson Mandela.[3]

Meanwhile on the economic front, Governor García appeared on television on Monday 29 June 2015, requesting assistance and permission to restructure the island nation's debt.  Like Greece, Puerto Rico is seeking to renegotiate and postpone payments on its debts to bondholders. Puerto Rico does not have the option of seeking protection from creditors as Detroit did because of its commonwealth status, but it also cannot negotiate as a sovereign nation as Greece can.[4]

In the summer of 2014, the island passed the Puerto Rico Public Corporations Debt Enforcement and Recovery Act to ensure the continuity of things like the operations of its public utilities company, Prepa, which supplies electric power to residents. Prepa accounts for $9 billion of the outstanding debt. But major funds like Oppenheimer and Franklin fought back, and the act was overturned in February.[5] Prepa, organized in 1941, exempts major energy consumers on the island like government offices and hotels from paying for electricity, while ordinary citizens are expected to offset this, footing bills set at higher rates than anywhere in the US except for Hawaii, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. And Puerto Ricans are required to pay a substantially higher portion of their income on electricity than anywhere else. Individuals' indebtedness is also very high as a consequence.[6]

Though it is true that residents of Puerto Rico do not pay federal tax on local income, per capita income in Puerto Rico is extremely low at less than half that of the United States's poorest state. Those that do earn enough to pay therefore have no recourse to the Earned Income Credit on federal tax returns. Puerto Ricans pay a comparable income tax to the local government, and they also pay into Social Security even though their benefits are capped to less than that of other US citizens by the Federal government. They are ineligible for Supplemental Security Income for the elderly, blind and disabled. Puerto Rico already receives less than 15% of the Medicaid funding it would normally receive as a state. Unemployment stands at over 12%, more than twice that of the average rate in the 50 states. Hence the lack of federal income tax only benefits the wealthy who establish residency there, and denies benefits to normal islanders.

Hedge funds that bought Puerto Rican debt were paid relatively high yields over the years, and those profits are tax-exempt as well.

Governor Garcia Padilla has called upon Puerto Rico's citizens to share the burden and further cuts to education and social services are mentioned.  On June 30, he retweets a statement from his aide de camp, "As the responsibility for the crisis was shared, so should the work to get us out of it."[7] The government already raised sales taxes in May to an unprecedented 11.5% and cut 12,500 jobs, a 12% contraction in the public sector work force. Will heavily invested hedge funds share some of the pain? According to Bloomberg, since they bought at distressed levels, they stand to make a profit. [8]



[2] The documentary can be viewed, with English captions, at







News Mon, 06 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400