Truthout Stories Tue, 25 Oct 2016 11:07:31 -0400 en-gb How Do We Get to a Conversation in This Country About Climate?

Janine Jackson: That a holiday honoring a man responsible for the murder, enslavement and exploitation of indigenous people should be occasion for the arrest of Native Americans acting in defense of water, land and life is not mere symbolism. The celebration of Christopher Columbus in US history books and culture is increasingly denounced, not only because of his devastating cruelty, but because of the way the fable erases the Taino people, legitimizing their oppression with an implicit view of history as the story of the winners.

In a similar way, what is happening at Standing Rock, where thousands have joined to resist the Dakota Access Pipeline, is a struggle not just between Native people and industry, or between industry and the planet, but also, our guest says, a fight about story. Mark Trahant is a journalist and a professor of journalism at the University of North Dakota. He blogs at He joins us now by phone from North Dakota. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Mark Trahant.

Mark Trahant: Thank you. Glad to be here.

You wrote recently about Standing Rock, "This is a fight about story and who gets to tell it." What were you getting at with that?

Well, North Dakota has really tried to frame this as an issue of lawlessness, and they keep saying that the sound engineering of the pipeline -- it will be safe. Although one of those great ironies is that once they moved it from Bismarck to the north of the reservation because of water concerns, it changed their argument, undermined their argument, I think forever.

This gets to a broader issue, though, of how we get to a conversation in this country about climate, and the idea of what it's going to take to have what has been called a managed decline in fossil fuel use, and whether or not we can even have that conversation as a country. As long as we keep building pipelines with minimal regulation, that's going to be impossible.

The state of North Dakota kind of stands in for the broader state in this role. They are just maintaining -- all of what we see as this protest and this activism, they think is going to blow over. At least, that's the story they're telling.

Right. They see it as a temporary thing. And they really view the First Amendment as a limited response, where you can hold a sign, but you can't stop a pipeline. And their failure to understand civil disobedience has really been striking.

Yes, and I think if there had been more video cameras there, if folks had seen the use of the dogs and all of that -- I mean, it really has been quite amazing.

There is this piece of the story that regulation is hobbling the industry here, and that this, with all these tests and going back and going around on the decision, it just represents big government trying to hobble, in this case, the fossil fuel industry. And on that note, you reveal a statement from a US District judge that I think is actually very important. Can you tell listeners what you found in that statement from US District Judge Boasberg?

Sure. He wrote that, unlike any other pipeline such as natural gas pipeline, this entire process does not need federal permitting of any kind. There's no environmental impact statement, there's no real construction in how it affects the Clean Waters Act or the Rivers and Harbors Act, it's just a basic permit -- supposed to be pro forma, and the industry accepted that. They thought it was going to be just a wink and a nod. In fact, I think one of the most amazing things is they actually started construction without an easement under the river. And so even though they say this is all approved and all done, to this date, they still don't have an easement.

I guess that's what they call skating where the puck's going to be. You know, sometimes industry is so sure they're going to get the law in their favor that they just go ahead and start doing what they want to do.

You note in that same piece that the state of North Dakota and the Army Corps of Engineers have a history of rolling over the tribes in the region, including ignoring treaties. And that reminded me of this New York Times article back in August in which the reporter presented, on the one hand, the pipeline builders, Energy Transfer Partners, who called the project "a major step towards the US's weaning itself off of foreign oil," and then on the other hand were tribes who "viewed the project as a wounding intrusion onto lands where generations of their ancestors hunted bison, gathered water and were born and buried long before treaties and fences stamped a different order onto the Plains."

I think that's really slippery, to imply that the tribes want to go back to some misty memory before treaties, when actually they would prefer treaties be honored. But I wonder what, in general, you make of that kind of media frame.

I think perhaps the oil industry's most successful framing has been the idea of it's either/or, that protesters drive cars, therefore they're being disingenuous. And it really isn't either/or. If we're going to meet the Paris Agreement, we've got to start turning things around, and we've got to start reducing consumption rather than increasing, and what steps do we take to make that so?

The other part of that story, that I think is just extraordinary, is that it really is a ruse. This is not just about domestic oil, but it's about being able to sell US oil at shipping points and getting it to those markets effectively. And it's also a stand-in for making it so there's a connection, at some point, with the really dirty tar sands oil. So it has these multiple layers of misconceptions, I think.

Yeah. Well, some people do seem to see it as really the illustration of, are we going to make "keep it in the ground" more than a slogan, which it needs to be. And along that line, there have been many kind of hopeful signs. You know, we did see the AFL-CIO come out in support of pipeline construction, but then there were other unions who might have been assumed to also do the "workers versus environment" binary -- another either/or that we're forced into sometimes. But they've said no, we're not going to be pitted against one another, as workers who, yes, need jobs, but who also need clean air and water. So do you see some coalitions that maybe look new, and maybe look hopeful in this?

I think we're beginning to see that. And especially when you start doing the math, to look at, one, what the real cost of the climate is, and making sure that it's a broad, overall picture. But the second is to look at job creation. The jobs being created in clean energy are actually greater than the oil industry, and that's a potential for workers that I think is just beginning to be tapped.

Dakota Access is a story, and the election is a story, but you don't really see the twain meeting so much. I take it you think that's a missing bridge that we ought to see journalists doing more, showing the connections between voting and what's going on at Standing Rock.

Absolutely. Just the idea of how we're going to get forward on this -- and voting is part of a national conversation -- but just the conversation about what we're going to do next to try to, if anything else, meet our international obligations -- but, more important, save the planet.

All right then. Thank you very much for joining us. We've been speaking with Mark Trahant, professor of journalism at the University of North Dakota. You can find him online at Mark Trahant, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Great to be with you.

News Tue, 25 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Tom Hayden (1939-2016) on Vietnam War: We Must Challenge the Pentagon on the Battlefield of Memory

Legendary civil rights and antiwar activist Tom Hayden died Sunday in Santa Monica, California, after a lengthy illness. He was 76 years old. Hayden spent decades shaping movements against war and for social justice. In the early 1960s, he was the principal author of the Port Huron Statement, the founding document of Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. The statement advocated for participatory democracy and helped launch the student movement of the 1960s. In 1968, Tom Hayden became one of the so-called Chicago 8 and was convicted of crossing state lines to start a riot after he helped organize protests against the Vietnam War outside the Democratic National Convention. For more, we air a speech Tom Hayden gave last year at a conference in Washington, D.C., titled "Vietnam: The Power of Protest."


AMY GOODMAN: Legendary antiwar activist Tom Hayden died Sunday in Santa Monica, California, after a lengthy illness. He was 76 years old. Tom Hayden spent decades shaping movements against war and for social justice. In the early '60s, was the principal author of the Port Huron Statement, the founding document of Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. The statement advocated participatory democracy and helped launch the student movement of the '60s. Tom Hayden was also a Freedom Rider in the Deep South and helped create a national poor people's campaign for jobs and empowerment. He also organized in Newark, New Jersey; among his books, Rebellion in Newark: Official Violence and Ghetto Response. In 1968, Tom Hayden became one of the so-called Chicago 8. He was convicted of crossing state lines to start a riot after he helped organize protests against the Vietnam War outside the Democratic National Convention. In 1982, Hayden entered electoral politics, first winning a seat in the California State Assembly, later in the California Senate.

We turn now to a speech Tom Hayden gave last year at a conference in Washington, D.C., titled "Vietnam: The Power of Protest."

TOM HAYDEN: I want to start off by saying how many of you I love very much and known for such a long time, and I only hope that there's enough minutes and occasions here for us to get to know each other again, because we have really been through a lifetime. Today, we'll have plenty of time for discussion, for panels, for observations. And at 4:00, we'll gather to march to the King Memorial. And I want to just say a word about that. I know that Ron Dellums is going to speak to this.

But why was that -- why was that chosen? It's because, in keeping with trying to make sure our history is told accurately, we have to tell it ourselves. And we have to recognize that Dr. King became a martyr because of his stand on Vietnam, not only because of his stand on race, justice, economic poverty. And there's been a tendency over the many decades to make Dr. King a monument to nonviolence alone, and we need to remember that he was attacked by The New York Times and by The Wall Street Journal and by The Washington Post for being out of place. They wanted to put him back in his place and say nothing about Vietnam, take no stand on Vietnam. There were threats that he would lose funding. There were threats of all sorts. And to distort that, to forget that, to ignore that, his monument would be shaped in a certain way to serve certain interests, but not others, is a disservice to truth. And we have to march there and vigil there and commemorate him as a leader and a martyr for all of us, for peace, justice and civil rights, not only in the United States, but around the world, and persist in making sure that his whole story, including the campaign to end poverty in the United States, is told each and every year and in all of our schools and curriculum. So that's the purpose.

This is a way of saying that the struggle for memory and for history is a living thing. It's ongoing. It does not end. Even today, people are debating and reassessing the history of abolition of slavery, the role of slave resistance, the role of the Underground Railroad, the role of the abolitionist direct action movement, the role of the radical Republican politicians, the role of international politics in what came about, and the role -- how it was derailed by the assassination of President Lincoln, the ending of the possibilities of Reconstruction, which were not taken up again until 1960, and the coming of Jim Crow. Each generation has to wrestle with the history of what came before, and ask: Whose interest does this history serve? How does it advance a legacy of social movements? How does it deny that legacy? We don't know.

But we do know that we are here for the very first time as such a broad gathering of the movement against the Vietnam War. It's been 50 years since Selma, 50 years since the first SDS march. So, it was a time that changed our lives, nearing a second Reconstruction before the murders of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy. Then came the budget cuts, the end of the war on poverty. Then came the Watergate repression. And we became a generation of might-have-beens. Like Sisyphus, our rock lay at the bottom of the hill.

We gather here to remember the power that we had at one point, the power of the peace movement, and to challenge the Pentagon now on the battlefield of memory. We have to resist their military occupation of our minds and the minds of future generations. Memory -- memory is very much like rock climbing, the recovery of memory. Each niche towards the summit is graphed inch by bleeding inch and has to be carefully carved with tools that are precise in order to take the next step. Falling back is always possible. But as Dr. King himself said on his last night, there is something in humans that makes us aspire to climb mountains, to reach that majesty, if only for a moment. We are mountain climbers.

President Obama has reminded us to remember, he said, Selma, Seneca Falls and Stonewall. But not Saigon, not Chicago, not Vietnam. We have to ask ourselves collectively why that omission exists, and realize that only we can restore a place in the proper history of those times. We suspect that there was a reason, that it has to do with the programming of amnesia, that there are very powerful forces in our country who stand for denial, not just climate denial, but generational denial, Vietnam denial. There are forces that stand for ethnic cleansing, but not just ethnic cleansing, but also for historic cleansing. And that is what has happened. It serves their purpose because they have no interest in the true history of a war in which they sent thousands to their deaths and, almost before the blood had dried, were moving up the national security ladder and showing up for television interviews to advertise what they called the next cakewalks. Only the blood was caked.

There came a generation of career politicians who were afraid of association with the peace movement, who were afraid of being seen as soft, who saw that the inside track was the track of war. Our national forgetting is basically pathological. Our systems -- politics, media, culture -- are totally out of balance today because of our collective refusal to admit that the Vietnam War was wrong and that the peace movement was right. In the absence -- in the absence of an established voice for peace in all the institutions, the neoconservatives will fill the foreign policy vacuum. Am I right? Will it not? Will it not advise both parties? I think, though, that American public opinion has shifted to a much more skeptical state of mind than earlier generations, but the spectrum of American politics and media has not.

So we can never forget that, of course, it was the Vietnamese resistance and their sacrifice that led to our awakening, along with the civil rights movement at home. It began with handfuls of young people, black students who led Freedom Rides, sit-ins. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was the first to resist the war. Julian Bond, who's sitting here, was rejected after being elected to the Georgia Legislature. Muhammad Ali was stripped of his boxing titles. It also began with the Vietnam Day Committee in Berkeley, growing out of teach-ins, out of SDS, that called the first march, the draft resistance. There had never been a peace movement like the one in 1965 that arose out of the civil rights movement and came just weeks after Selma. At least 29 would die at the hands of police while demonstrating for peace.

I'd like here to introduce Luis Rodriguez and Rosalio Muñoz and Jorge Mariscal from the Chicano Moratorium, where four died, including Gustav [Montag], Lyn Ward, José Diaz and Rubén Salazar. Rubén Salazar was an early Juan González. Rubén Salazar was a great reporter for the Los Angeles Times who served as a journalist in Vietnam before he started critical reporting on the streets of Los Angeles. And he was shot by the sheriff's deputies. I don't know if he's here, but is Alan Canfora here? Alan, please stand. Alan was wounded at Kent State. Four died at Kent State, two at Jackson State two weeks later. And every year, these two groups of people have observed memorials, have fought for their place in history, are coming up on their 50th anniversary commemorations and are here today to learn from us, as we've learned from them, the importance of organizing, organizing, organizing around the politics of memory. So, thank you for being here, and we will remember. We will not forget.

We will not forget the eight who sacrificed their lives by self-immolation. We will not forget the students who helped end the war by shutting down so many campuses. We will not forget the veterans who took the risk of standing up to their commanding officers and resisted from within the military. We will not forget this because this was something like a Du Bois characterization of the general strike by slaves who, through noncooperation, walked off plantations across the South when they saw the futility of any other alternative and chose to simply walk away and join the Union army. What happened at the end of the Vietnam War is that people walked away. The campuses shut down. Four million students walked away. The military was described by Marine colonels in military histories as being on the verge of collapse. They walked away. The counterculture walked away. We all walked away.

It might have been otherwise, if King and Robert Kennedy had not been assassinated. We might have been united, at least for a moment, at least for a moment. We might have elected a president. We might have ended a war. But instead, we were relegated to wondering what might have been. We lost any basis for our unity, and thus we have not come together since that time. The question for us is whether today we can unify, when we never could unify before. Can we do that for the memory of our movement and for the meaning that it holds for future generations? I hope so. I pray so. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Legendary civil rights and antiwar activist Tom Hayden, speaking last year in Washington, D.C., on the 50th anniversary of the first major anti-Vietnam War protest. It was a conference called "Vietnam: The Power of Protest." Tom Hayden died Sunday at the age of 76 in California. You can go to to watch all of our interviews with Tom, including a discussion about participatory democracy, from Port Huron to Occupy Wall Street. You can also see our interview with him about his last book called Listen, Yankee!: Why Cuba Matters.

Yes, when we come back, though, we go to the man who revolutionized sitcom television: Norman Lear. Stay with us.

News Tue, 25 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Five Terrifying Things to Expect from the First 100 Days of a Trump Administration

It is just 14 days until Election Day, and GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump is in a tailspin. His final debate against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was another disaster, topped off by his declaration that he still wasn't sure if he would abide by the final election results as he believes the contest is rigged.

Since then, his poll numbers have dropped even more. Even his first major newspaper endorsement was a bit of a bust, since the Las Vegas Review Journal is wholly owned by one of his biggest backers. Still, Trump made one more stab at saving his flailing campaign this weekend, when he traveled to Gettysburg to announce his blueprint for the first 100 days of his administration if elected.

And yes, it was as terrifying as you may imagine. His promises to repeal all of President Obama's executive orders, deport 2 million undocumented Americans, open up more drilling and fracking sites and immediately appoint a far right justice to the Supreme Court was just the start. Here are a few highlights:

1) Congressional Term Limits

On the surface, limiting the time a politician spends in Congress may not seem like an awful idea. After all, that's how you get DC insiders who forget about the realities of those back home who elect them, right? But the reality of the impact is far different, and is why most people other than the far right fringe gave up on the proposal decades ago.

"I imagine term-limit proponents mean well, but whether they appreciate the details or not, forcing experienced policymakers out of office, even if their constituents want to re-elect them, has an unintended consequence: inexperienced officials inevitably find themselves more dependent on lobbyists, outside groups, and trade associations, who are only too pleased to lend their expertise developed over the course of decades," explains Steve Benen at "In other words, the policy intended to weaken 'special-interest dealing' has the opposite effect in practice. It also shifts power away from the legislative branch, which would suddenly have no veteran lawmakers, and towards the executive branch -- another dynamic conservatives are supposed to oppose."

2) The End of Sanctuary Cities

Trump promised that once in office, he would end all federal funding to any "sanctuary city" allowing undocumented immigrants to reside safely within its borders without fear of deportation. But as the Marshall Project explains, rather than opposing undocumented immigrants, many law enforcement agencies approve of allowing local control over immigration issues, because they find it makes their communities safer when undocumented populations don't live in fear of the police.

"Other officers have expressed fear that imposing limits on sanctuary cities would breed distrust between police and immigrant communities, making their jobs even harder," the Marshall Project explains. "After North Carolina passed a law requiring officers to fully cooperate with ICE, Jose Lopez, the Durham police chief, told the New York Times, 'It will cause individuals to flee the police, on the belief that some minor incident is going to get them deported.'" Targeting undocumented populations is asking for an increase in danger in these communities.

3) Obamacare's Complete Repeal

Yes, the Affordable Care Act hasn't been the complete panacea that many wanted when it comes to health care reform. Insurance is still too expensive, companies are still determined to make a profit off the health of the American population, and too many states have blocked implementation assistance to make things more affordable. But it is better than anything that existed before the ACA, and it's far better than the GOP plan to simply let people go bankrupt over their health care bills. And that's exactly what Trump wants to return to when he promises to repeal Obamacare as soon as he is sworn in.

4) Suing Everyone

Those dozen women who accused Trump of inappropriate and unwanted sexual contact with them? Trump is going to make sure he files a lawsuit against each and every one of them. "Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign," Trump said according to "Total fabrication. The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over."

Why, if this were a legitimate move, he would need to wait until he was in office is unclear, as is why he thinks this needs to be an administrative action. But then again, Trump has shown repeatedly that he sees no separation between his political power and his personal power.

5) Breaking the Media

Trump's plan to limit freedom of the press if elected wasn't actually mentioned in his 100 days speech, but the day after. However, it's one he has consistently discussed and can be expected if he wins in November -- making it easier to sue news outlets that provide unfavorable coverage. "Well in England they have a system where you can actually sue if someone says something wrong. Our press is allowed to say whatever they want and get away with it," he told a radio host, according to Talking Points Memo, adding, "I'm a big believer tremendous believer of the freedom of the press. Nobody believes it stronger than me but if they make terrible, terrible mistakes and those mistakes are made on purpose to injure people. I'm not just talking about me I'm talking anybody else then yes, I think you should have the ability to sue them." Considering Trump's prime example of newspapers "lying" is the New York Times investigating his past, you can bet his agenda will have a chilling and devastating impact on fair news coverage.

Opinion Tue, 25 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Why Is It So Hard to Reduce the Pentagon Budget?

What accounts for the Department of Defense's ability to keep a stranglehold on your tax dollars year after endless year?What accounts for the Department of Defense's ability to keep a stranglehold on your tax dollars year after endless year? (Photo: Asten / Flickr)

Through good times and bad, regardless of what's actually happening in the world, one thing is certain: in the long run, the Pentagon budget won't go down.

It's not that that budget has never been reduced. At pivotal moments, like the end of World War II as well as war's end in Korea and Vietnam, there were indeed temporary downturns, as there was after the Cold War ended. More recently, the Budget Control Act of 2011 threw a monkey wrench into the Pentagon's plans for funding that would go ever onward and upward by putting a cap on the money Congress could pony up for it. The remarkable thing, though, is not that such moments have occurred, but how modest and short-lived they've proved to be.

Take the current budget. It's down slightly from its peak in 2011, when it reached the highest level since World War II, but this year's budget for the Pentagon and related agencies is nothing to sneeze at. It comes in at roughly $600 billion -- more than the peak year of the massive arms build-up initiated by President Ronald Reagan back in the 1980s. To put this figure in perspective: despite troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan dropping sharply over the past eight years, the Obama administration has still managed to spend more on the Pentagon than the Bush administration did during its two terms in office.

What accounts for the Department of Defense's ability to keep a stranglehold on your tax dollars year after endless year?

Pillar one supporting that edifice: ideology.  As long as most Americans accept the notion that it is the God-given mission and right of the United States to go anywhere on the planet and do more or less anything it cares to do with its military, you won't see Pentagon spending brought under real control.  Think of this as the military corollary to American exceptionalism -- or just call it the doctrine of armed exceptionalism, if you will.

The second pillar supporting lavish military budgets (and this will hardly surprise you): the entrenched power of the arms lobby and its allies in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill.  The strategic placement of arms production facilities and military bases in key states and Congressional districts has created an economic dependency that has saved many a flawed weapons system from being unceremoniously dumped in the trash bin of history.

Lockheed Martin, for instance, has put together a handy map of how its troubled F-35 fighter jet has created 125,000 jobs in 46 states. The actual figures are, in fact, considerably lower, but the principle holds: having subcontractors in dozens of states makes it harder for members of Congress to consider cutting or slowing down even a failed or failing program. Take as an example the M-1 tank, which the Army actually wanted to stop buying. Its plans were thwarted by the Ohio congressional delegation, which led a fight to add more M-1s to the budget in order to keep the General Dynamics production line in Lima, Ohio, up and running. In a similar fashion, prodded by the Missouri delegation, Congress added two different versions of Boeing's F-18 aircraft to the budget to keep funds flowing to that company's St. Louis area plant.

The one-two punch of an environment in which the military can do no wrong, while being outfitted for every global task imaginable, and what former Pentagon analyst Franklin "Chuck" Spinney has called "political engineering," has been a tough combination to beat.

"Scare the Hell Out of the American People"

The overwhelming consensus in favor of a "cover the globe" military strategy has been broken from time to time by popular resistance to the idea of using war as a central tool of foreign policy.  In such periods, getting Americans behind a program of feeding the military machine massive sums of money has generally required a heavy dose of fear.

For example, the last thing most Americans wanted after the devastation and hardship unleashed by World War II was to immediately put the country back on a war footing. The demobilization of millions of soldiers and a sharp cutback in weapons spending in the immediate postwar years rocked what President Dwight Eisenhower would later dub the "military-industrial complex."

As Wayne Biddle has noted in his seminal book Barons of the Sky, the U.S. aerospace industry produced an astonishing 300,000-plus military aircraft during World War II. Not surprisingly, major weapons producers struggled to survive in a peacetime environment in which government demand for their products threatened to be a tiny fraction of wartime levels.

Lockheed President Robert Gross was terrified by the potential impact of war's end on his company's business, as were many of his industry cohorts. "As long as I live," he said, "I will never forget those short, appalling weeks" of the immediate postwar period.  To be clear, Gross was appalled not by the war itself, but by the drop off in orders occasioned by its end. He elaborated in a 1947 letter to a friend: "We had one underlying element of comfort and reassurance during the war. We knew we'd get paid for anything we built.  Now we are almost entirely on our own."

The postwar doldrums in military spending that worried him so were reversed only after the American public had been fed a steady, fear-filled diet of anti-communism.  NSC-68, a secret memorandum the National Security Council prepared for President Harry Truman in April 1950, created the template for a policy based on the global "containment" of communism and grounded in a plan to encircle the Soviet Union with U.S. military forces, bases, and alliances.  This would, of course, prove to be a strikingly expensive proposition. The concluding paragraphs of that memorandum underscored exactly that point, calling for a "sustained buildup of U.S. political, economic, and military strength... [to] frustrate the Kremlin design of a world dominated by its will."

Senator Arthur Vandenberg put the thrust of this new Cold War policy in far simpler terms when he bluntly advised President Truman to "scare the hell out of the American people" to win support for a $400 million aid plan for Greece and Turkey.  His suggestion would be put into effect not just for those two countries but to generate support for what President Eisenhower would later describe as "a permanent arms establishment of vast proportions."

Industry leaders like Lockheed's Gross were poised to take advantage of such planning.  In a draft of a 1950 speech, he noted, giddily enough, that "for the first time in recorded history, one country has assumed global responsibility." Meeting that responsibility would naturally mean using air transport to deliver "huge quantities of men, food, ammunition, tanks, gasoline, oil and thousands of other articles of war to a number of widely separated places on the face of the earth."  Lockheed, of course, stood ready to heed the call.

The next major challenge to armed exceptionalism and to the further militarization of foreign policy came after the disastrous Vietnam War, which drove many Americans to question the wisdom of a policy of permanent global interventionism.  That phenomenon would be dubbed the "Vietnam syndrome" by interventionists, as if opposition to such a military policy were a disease, not a position.  Still, that "syndrome" carried considerable, if ever-decreasing, weight for a decade and a half, despite the Pentagon's Reagan-inspired arms build-up of the 1980s.

With the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Washington decisively renewed its practice of responding to perceived foreign threats with large-scale military interventions.  That quick victory over Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein's forces in Kuwait was celebrated by many hawks as the end of the Vietnam-induced malaise.  Amid victory parades and celebrations, President George H.W. Bush would enthusiastically exclaim: "And, by God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all."

However, perhaps the biggest threat since World War II to an "arms establishment of vast proportions" came with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, also in 1991.  How to inject fear into the American public and justify Cold War levels of spending when that other superpower, the Soviet Union, the primary threat of the previous nearly half-a-century, had just evaporated and there was next to nothing threatening on the horizon?  General Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, summed up the fears of that moment within the military and the arms complex when he said, "I'm running out of demons. I'm running out of villains. I'm down to Castro and Kim Il-sung."

In reality, he underestimated the Pentagon's ability to conjure up new threats. Military spending did indeed drop at the end of the Cold War, but the Pentagon helped staunch the bleeding relatively quickly before a "peace dividend" could be delivered to the American people. Instead, it put a firm floor under the fall by announcing what came to be known as the "rogue state" doctrine. Resources formerly aimed at the Soviet Union would now be focused on "regional hegemons" like Iraq and North Korea.

Fear, Greed and Hubris Win the Day

After the 9/11 attacks, the rogue state doctrine morphed into the Global War on Terror (GWOT), which neoconservative pundits soon labeled "World War IV." The heightened fear campaign that went with it, in turn, helped sow the seeds for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was promoted by visions of mushroom clouds rising over American cities and a drumbeat of Bush administration claims (all false) that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda.  Some administration officials including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld even suggested that Saddam was like Hitler, as if a modest-sized Middle Eastern state could somehow muster the resources to conquer the globe.

The administration's propaganda campaign would be supplemented by the work of right-wing corporate-funded think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.  And no one should be surprised to learn that the military-industrial complex and its money, its lobbyists, and its interests were in the middle of it all.  Take Lockheed Martin Vice President Bruce Jackson, for example.  In 1997, he became a director of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) and so part of a gaggle of hawks including future Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and future Vice President Dick Cheney. In those years, PNAC would advocate the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as part of its project to turn the planet into an American military protectorate. Many of its members would, of course, enter the Bush administration in crucial roles and become architects of the GWOT and the invasion of Iraq.

The Afghan and Iraq wars would prove an absolute bonanza for contractors as the Pentagon budget soared. Traditional weapons suppliers like Lockheed Martin and Boeing prospered, as did private contractors like Dick Cheney's former employer, Halliburton, which made billions providing logistical support to U.S. troops in the field.  Other major beneficiaries included firms like Blackwater and DynCorp, whose employees guarded U.S. facilities and oil pipelines while training Afghan and Iraqi security forces. As much as $60 billion of the funds funneled to such contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan would be "wasted," but not from the point of view of companies for which waste could generate as much profit as a job well done. So Halliburton and its cohorts weren't complaining.

On entering the Oval Office, President Obama would ditch the term GWOT in favor of "countering violent extremism" -- and then essentially settle for a no-name global war.  He would shift gears from a strategy focused on large numbers of "boots on the ground" to an emphasis on drone strikes, the use of Special Operations forces, and massive transfers of arms to U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia.  In the context of an increasingly militarized foreign policy, one might call Obama's approach "politically sustainable warfare," since it involved fewer (American) casualties and lower costs than Bush-style warfare, which peaked in Iraq at more than 160,000 troops and a comparable number of private contractors.

Recent terror attacks against Western targets from Brussels, Paris, and Nice to San Bernardino and Orlando have offered the national security state and the Obama administration the necessary fear factor that makes the case for higher Pentagon spending so palatable. This has been true despite the fact that more tanks, bombers, aircraft carriers, and nuclear weapons will be useless in preventing such attacks.

The majority of what the Pentagon spends, of course, has nothing to do with fighting terrorism. But whatever it has or hasn't been called, the war against terror has proven to be a cash cow for the Pentagon and contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon.

The "war budget" -- money meant for the Pentagon but not included in its regular budget -- has been used to add on tens of billions of dollars more. It has proven to be an effective "slush fund" for weapons and activities that have nothing to do with immediate war fighting and has been the Pentagon's preferred method for evading the caps on its budget imposed by the Budget Control Act.  A Pentagon spokesman admitted as much recently by acknowledging that more than half of the $58.8 billion war budget is being used to pay for non-war costs.

The abuse of the war budget leaves ample room in the Pentagon's main budget for items like the overpriced, underperforming F-35 combat aircraft, a plane which, at a price tag of $1.4 trillion over its lifetime, is on track to be the most expensive weapons program ever undertaken.  That slush fund is also enabling the Pentagon to spend billions of dollars in seed money as a down payment on the department's proposed $1 trillion plan to buy a new generation of nuclear-armed bombers, missiles, and submarines.  Shutting it down could force the Pentagon to do what it likes least: live within an actual budget rather continuing to push its top line ever upward.

Although rarely discussed due to the focus on Donald Trump's abominable behavior and racist rhetoric, both candidates for president are in favor of increasing Pentagon spending.  Trump's "plan" (if one can call it that) hews closely to a blueprint developed by the Heritage Foundation that, if implemented, could increase Pentagon spending by a cumulative $900 billion over the next decade.  The size of a Clinton buildup is less clear, but she has also pledged to work toward lifting the caps on the Pentagon's regular budget.  If that were done and the war fund continued to be stuffed with non-war-related items, one thing is certain: the Pentagon and its contractors will be sitting pretty.

As long as fear, greed, and hubris are the dominant factors driving Pentagon spending, no matter who is in the White House, substantial and enduring budget reductions are essentially inconceivable. A wasteful practice may be eliminated here or an unnecessary weapons system cut there, but more fundamental change would require taking on the fear factor, the doctrine of armed exceptionalism, and the way the military-industrial complex is embedded in Washington.

Only such a culture shift would allow for a clear-eyed assessment of what constitutes "defense" and how much money would be needed to provide it.  Unfortunately, the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned Americans about more than 50 years ago is alive and well, and gobbling up your tax dollars at an alarming rate.

News Tue, 25 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Better Business Bureau Downgraded Wells Fargo; It's Not Enough

Headquarters for Wells Fargo Bank in the financial district of San Francisco, Sept. 16, 2016. (Photo: Max Whittaker / The New York Times)Headquarters for Wells Fargo Bank in the financial district of San Francisco, September 16, 2016. (Photo: Max Whittaker / The New York Times)

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The Better Business Bureau pulled Wells Fargo's accreditation last week, which is what it's supposed to do when businesses cheat their customers. What took so long? If we judged big banks by the same standards we apply to auto body shops or dry cleaners, they'd have all been discredited a long time ago.

"Nobody can recall a company of this size, this scope, losing their accreditation," a Better Business Bureau official said of Wells Fargo's downgrade. And yet, as CNBC notes, the Better Business Bureau still gives an A+ rating to Bank of America.

That doesn't make sense.

One of the factors leading to the Wells Fargo downgrade, according to the Bureau's website, was "government action(s) against the business." That's consistent with its stated rating process, which says it considers "finalized government actions (which) … raise questions about the business's ethics or its reliability in providing products/services."

That fine, as far as it goes. Wells Fargo was fined $185 million after its employee incentive plan led to the creation of at least two million false customer accounts over a minimum of five years. It's now under criminal investigation by California Attorney General Kamala Harris. A downgrade was certainly in order.

But how could Bank of America win an "A+" rating under the same criteria? Bank of America has paid more than $77 billion in fines and settlements, including a single settlement of $16.65 billion -- at that time the largest such penalty in history -- as punishment for its serial fraud. (Some of that fraud was committed at Countrywide and Merrill Lynch prior to their acquisition, but much of it was perpetrated under Bank of America's management.)

The Better Business Bureau's website says, "Government actions may be rated as major, moderate or minor, and the rating deduction varies accordingly." Wasn't Bank of America's $77 billion in fines and settlements "major" enough?

For that matter, how could an unbiased and independent pro-consumer group give a good rating to any big bank? Here's how much our largest financial institutions had paid to settle fraud charges by late 2015:

2016 1025wf ch

Compared to the fines paid by these banks -- and to past fraud settlements by Wells Fargo itself -- Wells Fargo's $185 million phony-account penalty seems like small change.

Michael Hiltzik asked a pertinent question in the Los Angeles Times: Why did Wells Fargo's CEO lose his job while Jamie Dimon, CEO of fraud-ridden JPMorgan Chase, has managed to keep his?

As Hiltzik (who discussed this issue with me) points out, Dimon usually turns in a smooth performance when he testifies on Capitol Hill. But Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf stumbled badly, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren made a stunning case for the prosecution. What's more, as Hiltzik writes, "JPMorgan's misdeeds tended to involve complicated transactions that laypersons could not understand."

The same could be said of Bank of America and other major banks.

Another insight into the Better Business Bureau may come from its own past scandals. It's been charged with operating a "pay for play" system that favors corporations who pay its membership fees. A CNN Money investigation in 2015 found that it gave A+ ratings to a number of companies that had received major government sanctions. They included mortgage brokers and financial firms, as well nursing home chains, vitamin manufacturers, and medical testing services.

In 2003 the Better Business Bureau exposed a for-profit company, the "Consumer Protection Agency," for masquerading as a part of the US government. But the Bureau isn't a "bureau," either, at least not in the government sense.

Neither are ratings "agencies" like Standard & Poor and Moody's. They're paid to rate banks and their products by the banks themselves, which is an inherent conflict of interest. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these "agencies" gave "AAA" rating to investments that reached junk status a year later.

Hiltzik is right: Wells Fargo's latest scandal has captured the public's attention because it's easier to understand than other, more esoteric forms of bank crime. Those crimes won't end until banks, and bankers, pay a price for their misdeeds. Banking must be demystified, so that Wall Street institutions and their CEOs can be judged like other business people.

If an auto shop owner says you need a new muffler when you don't, everyone understands that's sleazy and crooked. Well, Wells Fargo's phony-account scandal was something like that.

If a street vendor sells knockoff watches for fifty times their actual value, that's dishonest and criminal. That's pretty much what all the big banks did to investors in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis.

If a con man misleads someone into signing their most valuable asset over to him and then leaves them homeless, we all know he's doing something reprehensible. In moral terms, that's what the big banks did when they sold people mortgages they knew they couldn't afford and then foreclosed on their homes -- often using illegal methods to do so. (See David Dayen's "Chain of Title" for more information.)

Today's too-big-to-fail banks are morally indistinguishable from any crooked vendor in the strip mall down the street. Americans won't be safe until all fraudulently-inclined institutions are discredited and their leaders are replaced -- with criminal investigations conducted as appropriate.

Until then, it's "buyer beware."

Opinion Tue, 25 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
We Don't Know Much About Clinton's Proposed "Intelligence Surge," and That's a Problem

Hillary Clinton has repeatedly implied that increased surveillance of Muslim communities is legitimate -- while paying lip service to civil liberties. Her language appeals to liberals horrified by Trump's open bigotry but willing to support the trampling of Muslim Americans' civil rights in a post-9/11 world.

Hillary Clinton speaks during the third and final presidential debate, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Oct. 19, 2016. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)Hillary Clinton speaks during the third and final presidential debate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, October 19, 2016. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)

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In the third and final presidential debate, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and GOP nominee Donald Trump largely reiterated previous positions each has staked out regarding plans to defeat ISIS (also known as Daesh) and how to deal with, or ignore, the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. Trump, for his part, exuded typical bigotry in referring to Muslim immigrants as "the great Trojan horse" who "are definitely in many cases, ISIS-aligned."

Clinton responded in a more nuanced way, though her response is also telling. She repeated her call for "an intelligence surge that protects us here at home," and reiterated her support for using the controversial no-fly list as a basis for denying gun purchases. "If you're too dangerous to fly, you're too dangerous to buy a gun," she said.

Little is publicly known about Clinton's oft-repeated call for an "intelligence surge" to defeat ISIS and prevent terrorism on US soil, but some civil liberties groups and Muslim advocates are wary of Clinton's proposal, given the surveillance abuses that have been carried out in the decade and a half since 9/11. Despite the apparent centrality of this proposal to her larger counterterrorism goals, Clinton hasn't made clear what digital or physical surveillance programs or capabilities she would seek to put in place.

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, "Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016."

One of her few specific proposals -- the so-called No Fly, No Buy policy -- is particularly troubling to critics, who charge that the bloated watchlist is riddled with errors and false positives, is nearly impossible to get off once a person is placed on it, and affects Muslims almost exclusively.

"We've had concerns about a couple of lines from Clinton's campaign. One of those is her support for No Fly, No Buy," Corey Saylor, a spokesperson for the Council on America-Islamic Relations, told me in a phone interview. "People are put on those lists without any due process."

The ACLU sued the government over the secretive process through which people are added to the No Fly List, and opposes using that database as a form of gun control.

The other issue for Saylor is that in Clinton's rhetoric, Muslims "always [come] up in the context of a terrorist attack perpetrated by someone who claims their Islamic faith supports their actions. It boils down to her saying that somehow the Muslim community would be more suspect than others." For him, that means Clinton's lack of specifics is worrisome. "Is she talking about surging more surveillance? Are we talking about more informants? Are we talking about sweeping up more of people's information?" Saylor asked. "I don't need a full plan, but I do need more details."

Clinton began calling for an intelligence surge after the ISIS-linked attacks in Paris in November 2015 and has since repeated the phrase regularly. She first laid out the basics of her proposal in a Democratic Primary debate in November, when she called for "an immediate intelligence surge in the region, including technical assets, Arabic speakers with deep expertise in the Middle East, and even closer partnership with regional intelligence services." Since then she has added more policies to that broad outline, including increased monitoring of social media posts related to Islamic terrorism. She has also called for increased partnership between law enforcement and Muslim community leaders.

Viewed in the most sympathetic light, Clinton is simply pushing for increased cooperation and data-sharing with countries in Europe and the Middle East, and for funding community-based programs in the United States to identify and divert Americans who show signs of a proclivity toward political violence. Often left unstated is that this policy is only ever discussed as one that will be applied to Muslims (although most people who perpetrate political violence in the US are not Muslim).

A more critical reading of Clinton's plan is that as president she will push for increased surveillance of Muslim communities across the United States and Europe, and double down on discredited social science that purports to be able to identify signs of impending violence in individuals. Some Muslim advocates worry that Clinton's plan would make it harder for Muslim Americans to voice criticism of US foreign policy in mosques, and that her approach could breed distrust among communities already wary of law enforcement influence, whether hidden or overt.

For now, most experts agree that the public doesn't have enough information to adequately evaluate Clinton's proposal. Liza Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, stressed that not enough is publicly known to offer a full assessment of Clinton's proposal. "The intelligence we're talking about is primarily surveillance, so when I hear 'intelligence surge' I hear 'surveillance surge,' and I hear 'more surveillance.' That may or may not be accurate," Goitein told me. "If that's what she has in mind, I don't believe we need more surveillance. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are living in a Golden Age of surveillance."

Both Saylor and Goitein stress that in virtually all recent attacks in the United States and Europe, the perpetrators were previously known to law enforcement, so they reject the need for increased levels of spying. "If anything, the volume of information [the government] is gathering now is part of what's making it difficult to find the potential attack," Goitein said.

Speaking in Minneapolis in mid-December, Clinton appeared to be open to providing government agents with tools to break strong encryption. "Law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals warn that impenetrable encryption may make it harder for them to investigate plots and prevent future attacks," Clinton said. Days later, at another primary debate, Clinton called for a "Manhattan Project-like" approach to encryption, baffling many security experts. It turns out her own team knew her approach to encryption -- somehow giving a key to cops but keeping it away from everybody else -- was "impossible," as later revealed in an internal email released by WikiLeaks.

Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute and an expert on digital security and encryption, told me that he believes the leaked emails suggest a positive shift in Clinton's camp. "The emails released by WikiLeaks do at least suggest that she has some technically savvy people advising her, and they seem to have nudged her away from the fantasy of a 'golden key' encryption backdoor that only opens for the good guys without compromising everyone's security," Sanchez told me.

Like Goitein, he said too little was known about Clinton's "intelligence surge," but he questioned the need for added surveillance. "She's adopting a military concept -- which does have a reasonably clear meaning: more boots on the ground -- and applying it in a context where it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, at least given the massive amount of spying our intelligence agencies already engage in," he said.

In the wake of the mass shooting at an LGBT club in Orlando, Florida, in June 2016 Clinton again called for an intelligence surge. In criticizing Trump's approach, Clinton said she opposed "special surveillance on our fellow Americans because of their religion," but then added that "none of us can close our eyes to the fact that we do face enemies who use their distorted version of Islam to justify slaughtering innocent people." That rhetorical flourish is standard Clinton triangulation -- that is, signaling respect for civil liberties while implicitly indicating that Muslim communities are legitimate targets for increased surveillance.

That message is designed to appeal to a liberal audience that is horrified by Trump's open bigotry, but is nonetheless willing to put violence perpetrated by Muslims in a special category that must be prevented at all costs. The result is a continuing stigmatization of Muslims in the United States and abroad.

"There is a strong feeling of surveillance that many Muslim feel is ever present," Ibrahim Mohamoud, communications officer at CAGE, a London-based Muslim advocacy group, told me in an email. "From our casework, we have seen reports and allegations of harassment and entrapment from the security services. The most common of which is people from the Muslim community being pressured or even bullied into 'spying' on their community. Unfortunately, what this [has] done, is to create nothing but mistrust between the Muslim community and the authorities."

For Mohamoud, the problem is that politicians continue to ignore the roots of discontent and instead look for external explanations. "The real issue is that Governments are always looking outwards to find the causes of political violence," he wrote. "They fail to introspectively look at their policies at home and abroad."

News Tue, 25 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Youthful Carnage of US Gun Culture

Every day, on average, seven kids and teens are shot dead in America. Election 2016 will undoubtedly prove consequential in many ways, but lowering that death count won't be one of them. To grapple with fatalities on that scale -- 2,500 dead children annually -- a candidate would need a thoroughgoing plan for dealing with America's gun culture that goes well beyond background checks. In addition, he or she would need to engage with the inequality, segregation, poverty, and lack of mental health resources that add up to the environment in which this level of violence becomes possible.  Think of it as the huge pile of dry tinder for which the easy availability of firearms is the combustible spark. In America in 2016, to advocate for anything like the kind of policies that might engage with such issues would instantly render a candidacy implausible, if not inconceivable -- not least with the wealthy folks who now fund elections.

So the kids keep dying and, in the absence of any serious political or legislative attempt to tackle the causes of their deaths, the media and the political class move on to excuses. From claims of bad parenting to lack of personal responsibility, they regularly shift the blame from the societal to the individual level. Only one organized group at present takes the blame for such deaths.  The problem, it is suggested, isn't American culture, but gang culture.

Researching my new book, Another Day in the Death of America, about all the children and teens shot dead on a single random Saturday in 2013, it became clear how often the presence of gangs in neighborhoods where so many of these kids die is used as a way to dismiss serious thinking about why this is happening. If a shooting can be described as "gang related," then it can also be discounted as part of the "pathology" of urban life, particularly for people of color. In reality, the main cause, pathologically speaking, is a legislative system that refuses to control the distribution of firearms, making America the only country in the world in which such a book would have been possible.

"Gang Related"

The obsession with whether a shooting is "gang related" and the ignorance the term exposes brings to mind an interview I did 10 years ago with septuagenarian Buford Posey in rural Mississippi. He had lived in Philadelphia, Mississippi, around the time that three civil rights activists -- James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner -- were murdered. As I spoke to him about that era and the people living in that town (some of whom, like him, were still alive), I would bring up a name and he would instantly interject, "Well, he was in the Klan," or "Well, his Daddy was in the Klan," or sometimes he would just say "Klan" and leave it at that.

After a while I had to stop him and ask for confirmation. "Hang on," I said, "I can't just let you say that about these people without some proof or corroboration. How do you know they were in the Klan?"

"Hell," he responded matter-of-factly, "I was in the Klan. Near everybody around here was in the Klan around that time. Being in the Klan was no big deal."

Our allegiances and affiliations are, of course, our choice. Neither Posey nor any of the other white men in Philadelphia had to join the Klan, and clearly some were more enthusiastic participants than others. (Posey himself would go on to support the civil rights movement.)

It's no less true that context shapes such choices. If Posey had grown up in Vermont, it's unlikely that he'd ever have joined the Klan. If a white Vermonter had been born and raised in Mississippi in those years, the likelihood is that he'd have had a pressed white sheet in the closet for special occasions.

At the time, for white men in Philadelphia the Klan was the social mixing place du jour. It was what you did if you had any hope of advancing locally, did not want to be left out of things, or simply preferred to swim with the tide. Since pretty much everyone you knew was involved in one way or another, to be white and live in Philadelphia then was to be, in some way, "Klan related." That doesn't mean being in the Klan should give anyone a pass, but it does mean that if you wanted to understand how it operated, why it had the reach it did, and ultimately how to defeat it rather than just condemn it, you first had to understand its appeal in that moment.

The same is true of gangs today in urban America. On the random day I picked for my book, 10 children and teens died by gun. Not all of their assailants have been caught and probably they never will be. Depending on how you define the term, however, it would be possible to argue that eight of those killings were gang related.  Either the assailant or the victim was (or was likely to have been) part of a group that could be called a gang.  Only two were clearly not gang related -- either the victim and the shooter were not in a gang or membership in a gang had nothing to do with the shooting. But all 10 deaths did have one clear thing in common: they were all gun-related.

The emphasis on gang membership has always seemed to me like a way of filtering child deaths into two categories: deserving and undeserving. If a shooting was gang related then it's assumed that the kid had it coming and was, in some way, responsible for his or her own death. Only those not gang related were innocents and so they alone were worthy of our sympathy.

Making a "Blacklist"

The more I spoke to families and people on the ground, the more it became clear how unhelpful the term "gang related" is in understanding who is getting shot and why.  As a term, it's most often used not to describe but to dismiss.

Take Edwin Rajo, 16, who was shot dead in Houston, Texas, at about 8 p.m. on that November 23rd. He lived in Bellaire Gardens, a low-rise apartment complex on a busy road of commercial and residential properties in an area called Gulfton in southwest Houston. It sat between a store selling bridal wear and highly flammable-looking dresses for quinceañera -- the celebration of a girl's 15th birthday -- and the back of a Fiesta supermarket, part of a Texas-based, Hispanic-oriented chain with garish neon lighting that makes you feel as though you're shopping for groceries in Las Vegas. Opposite it was a pawnshop, a beauty salon, a Mexican taqueria, and a Salvadorean restaurant.

The Southwest Cholos ran this neighborhood, complex by complex. There was no avoiding them. "They start them really, really young," one of Edwin's teachers told me. "In elementary. Third grade, fourth grade. And that's just how it is for kids... You join for protection. Even if you're not cliqued in, so long as you're associated with them, you're good. You have to claim a clique to be safe. If you're not, if you're by yourself, you're gonna get jumped."

In other words, if you grow up in Bellaire Gardens you are a gang member in the same way that Soviet citizens were members of the Communist Party and Iraqis under Saddam Hussein, the Baath Party.  There is precious little choice, which means that, in and of itself, gang affiliation doesn't tell you much.

Edwin, a playful and slightly immature teenager, was not, in fact, an active member of the Cholos, though he identified with them.  Indeed, you get the impression that they considered him something of a liability. "They accepted him," said his teacher.  "He hung with them. But he wasn't in yet." His best friend in the complex, Camilla (not her real name), was in the gang, as allegedly was her mother. She sported the Cholo-style dress and had a gang name. After several altercations with someone from a rival gang, who threatened them and took a shot at Camilla's brother, she decided to get a gun.

"We were thinking like little kids," Camilla told me. "I didn't really know anything about guns. I just know you shoot with it and that's it."

Sure enough, Edwin was at Camilla's apartment that night and suggested they play with the gun. In the process, she shot him, not realizing that, even though the clip was out, one bullet was still in the chamber. So was that shooting gang related? After all, the shooter was in a gang. She had been threatened by someone from a rival gang and Edwin may indeed have had aspirations to be in her gang.

Or was it an accidental shooting in which two kids who knew nothing about guns acquired one and one of them got killed while they were messing around?

In an environment in which gangs run everything, most things most people do are in some way going to be "gang related." But defining all affiliation as a kind of complicity in violence not only means writing off children in entire communities for being born in the wrong place at the wrong time, but criminalizing them in the process.

For one thing, the criteria for gang membership couldn't be more subjective and loose. Gang leaders don't exactly hand out membership cards. Sometimes it's just a matter of young people hanging out. Take Stanley Taylor, who was shot dead in the early hours of that November morning in Charlotte, North Carolina. He spent a lot of his time on Beatties Ford Road with his friends. "I ain't gonna say it was a gang," says his buddy Trey. "But it was a neighborhood thing. Beatties Ford. We got our own little clique. We on the West Side. North Side is a whole different neighborhood you don't even fool with. Everybody was together. This my brother, this my brother. We all in the same clique. We got each other's back. I'm not going to let nobody else touch you. If you hit him, I'm gonna hit you. Cos I'm his brother."

Stanley was shot at a gas station in the wake of an altercation with Demontre Rice, who was from the North Side, after Rice allegedly almost ran him over as he pulled in. It's not obvious that either man knew where the other was from and yet if Rice were in a gang (something I can't even confirm), that would, of course, make his killing gang related.

Sometimes gangs do have actual rites of initiation. Since, however, gang affiliation can be a guide to criminal activity, authorities are constantly trying to come up with more definite ways of identifying gang members. Almost inevitably, such attempts quickly fall back on stereotypes. A 1999 article in Colorlines, for instance, typically pointed out that in "at least five states, wearing baggy FUBU jeans and being related to a gang suspect is enough to meet the 'gang member' definition. In Arizona, a tattoo and blue Adidas sneakers are sufficient." In suburban Aurora, Colorado, local police decided that any two of the following constituted gang membership: "slang," "clothing of a particular color," "pagers," "hairstyles," "jewelry."

Black people made up 11% of Aurora's population and 80% of its gang database. The local head of the ACLU was heard to say, "They might as well call it a blacklist."

Under the Gun

Gangs are neither new nor racially specific. From the Irish, Polish, Jewish, and Puerto Rican gangs of New York to the Mafia, various types of informal gatherings of mostly, but not exclusively, young men have long been part of Western life. They often connect the social, violent, entrepreneurial, and criminal.

None of this should in any way diminish the damaging, often lethal effects organized gangs have on the young. One of the boys who died that day, 18-year-old Tyshon Anderson from Chicago, was by all accounts a gang member. His godmother, Regina, had long expected his life to come to an early end. "He did burglary, sold drugs, he killed people. He had power in the street. He really did. Especially for such a young kid. He had power. A lot of people were intimidated by him and they were scared of him. I know he had bodies under his belt. I seen him grow up and I loved him and I know he could be a good kid. But there ain't no point in sugarcoating it. He was a bad kid, too." If I'd chosen another day that year, I could well have been reporting on one of Tyshon's victims.

And although gangs involve a relatively small minority of young people, they still add up to significant numbers. According to the National Youth Gang Survey, in 2012 in the United States there were around 30,000 gangs and more than 800,000 gang members -- roughly the population of Amsterdam.

What's new in all this isn't the gangs themselves, but how much deadlier they've become in recent years. According to the National Youth Gang Survey, between 2007 and 2012, gang membership rose by 8%, but gang-related homicides leapt by 20%. It seems that the principal reason why gang activity has become so much more deadly is the increasingly easy availability of guns -- and of ever deadlier versions of such weaponry as well. Studies of Los Angeles County between 1979 and 1994 revealed that the proportion of gang incidents involving guns that ended in homicide leapt from 71% to 95%. "The contrast with the present is striking," argues sociologist Malcolm Klein, after reaching a similar conclusion in Philadelphia and East Los Angeles. "Firearms are now standard. They are easily purchased or borrowed and are more readily available than in the past."

This raises the stakes immeasurably when it comes to parents and caregivers trying to protect their adolescent children from bad company or poor choices (as parents of all classes and races tend to do). Identifying with a gang and doing something as seemingly harmless as wearing clothing of a certain color or befriending the wrong person can result in an early death.  As a result, Gustin Hinnant's father in Goldsboro, North Carolina, used to burn his red clothes if he saw him wearing them too often.  Gustin died anyway, hit in the head by a stray bullet meant for another boy who was in a gang. Pedro Cortez's grandmother in San Jose, California, used to similarly hide his red shirts -- the color identified with the local Nortenos gang -- just in case. Yet on that same November 23rd, Pedro, who was legally blind, was shot dead while walking in a park. He was dressed in black, but a friend who was with him was indeed wearing red.

Gangs are hardly unique to America, nor do Americans make worse parents than those elsewhere in the world, nor are their kids worse. There is, however, an unavoidable difference between the United States and all other western nations, or the book I wrote would have been inconceivable. This is the only place where, in addition to the tinder of poverty, inequality, and segregation, among other challenges, you have to include the combustible presence of guns -- guns everywhere, guns so available that they are essentially unavoidable.

As long as Americans refuse to engage with that straightforward fact of their social landscape, the kinds of deaths I recorded in my book will keep happening with gruesome predictability.  In fact, I could have chosen almost any Saturday from at least the past two decades and produced the same work.

Dismissing such fatalities as "gang related" -- as, that is, victims to be dumped in some morally inferior category -- is a way of not facing an American reality. It sets the white noise of daily death sufficiently low to allow the country to go about its business undisturbed.  It ensures a confluence of culture, politics, and economics guaranteeing that an average of seven children will wake up but not go to bed every day of the year, while much of the rest of the country sleeps soundly.

News Mon, 24 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
After Bernie: Will "Our Revolution" Deliver on Its Promise of "Political Revolution"?

Vermont political candidate Mari Cordes stands with Bernie Sanders. "I have known and worked with Mari Cordes for many years," Sanders has said. She is exactly the type of change maker we need in the State House. (Photo: Courtesy of Mari Cordes)Vermont political candidate Mari Cordes stands with Bernie Sanders. "I have known and worked with Mari Cordes for many years," Sanders has said. "She is exactly the type of change maker we need in the State House." (Photo: Courtesy of Mari Cordes)When Our Revolution -- the new organization founded by Sen. Bernie Sanders -- kicked off in Burlington, Vermont, a nurse and long-time union organizer, Mari Cordes, introduced the iconic senator in front of the many thousands watching across the country. While Cordes is a major advocate for social change in Vermont, she is not a national figure. But some might call her a pioneer whose story may be the epitome of the kind of "political revolution" that Sanders says is "just getting started."

Cordes is among several Vermont progressives, many of whom have worked with Sanders in the past, who have already had success in winning down-ticket primaries this year against what Cordes described in an interview with Truthout as "the Democratic establishment in Vermont." She was endorsed personally by Bernie Sanders in her successful primary challenge for a seat in Vermont's House of Representatives, against an incumbent Democrat.

Vermont political candidate Mari Cordes stands with Bernie Sanders. "I have known and worked with Mari Cordes for many years," Sanders has said. She is exactly the type of change maker we need in the State House. (Photo: Courtesy of Mari Cordes)Vermont political candidate Mari Cordes stands with Bernie Sanders. "I have known and worked with Mari Cordes for many years," Sanders has said. "She is exactly the type of change maker we need in the State House." (Photo: Courtesy of Mari Cordes)When Our Revolution -- the new organization founded by Sen. Bernie Sanders -- kicked off in Burlington, Vermont, a nurse and long-time union organizer, Mari Cordes, introduced the iconic senator in front of the many thousands watching across the country. While Cordes is a major advocate for social change in Vermont, she is not a national figure. But some might call her a pioneer whose story may be the epitome of the kind of "political revolution" that Sanders says is "just getting started."

Cordes is among several Vermont progressives, many of whom have worked with Sanders in the past, who have already had success in winning down-ticket primaries this year against what Cordes described in an interview with Truthout as "the Democratic establishment in Vermont." She was endorsed personally by Bernie Sanders in her successful primary challenge for a seat in Vermont's House of Representatives, against an incumbent Democrat. Since then, she has been among the first candidates endorsed by Our Revolution. She was also endorsed by Rights and Democracy (RAD), a Vermont-based group she helped found, which has similar goals as Our Revolution, emphasizing down-ticket races at the local level.

Cordes is a nurse with a passion for social justice (she was an anti-war tax resister for many years) who ran for local office and won against the political establishment. Her story is a test case in what Our Revolution hopes to accomplish in spades in the coming years. The goal of the "down-ticket strategy" is to transform the Democratic Party by replacing timid, establishment incumbents with passionate progressives who share Sanders' vision for a world where no one starves, or goes without housing or health care.

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, "Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016."

There is no doubt that beating out establishment Democrats in elections across the country would be major progress. But can Our Revolution lead to our revolution? Some on the left are skeptical. They question the emphasis on down-ticket races within the Democratic Party as a viable path to revolutionary change and worry the group will be too compromised by the party from the start. Indeed, most Black Lives Matters (BLM) chapters and Occupy in years past, largely refrained from endorsing any political candidates for any office.

There are many unknowns about what electoral activism in the post-Bernie world may look like. What we know for sure is that the Sanders' message of democratic socialism caught on with much of the public and has prompted millions of Americans -- especially young people -- to become engaged in the world around them. This has created a major opportunity to mobilize for a better world. And it is an opportunity that would be tragic to squander.

Our Revolution and the Down-Ticket Strategy

"Those who know me well, they know that it is not my personality to look backward ... I prefer to look forward," said Bernie Sanders at the launch of the new organization that aims to continue the goals of his political campaign, which had just ended. "But I do think it is important to say a few words about what we accomplished together."

Sanders, who reminded his audience that real change always comes "from the bottom up," listed a number of statistics that, despite being well known to his supporters, still manage to inspire awe: the campaign won 13 million votes, 22 states, 1900 pledged delegates (46 percent of the total) and the "overwhelming support" of young people of all demographics. "When you capture the young people of this country, it means that our ideas, our vision, is the future of this country," Sanders said.

It is significant that young people, in particular, have adopted a vision that embraces human dignity and resists the corporate greed that dominates politics in the United States. It suggests there is reason for hope in an unjust world, and that people hoping for large-scale change needn't feel isolated -- they know there are millions who share their hope, their fears and even their anger.

However, the election will be over in just a few weeks. What happens then? Sanders will go back to his seat as a senator -- one with far more influence than he had when he first joined the Senate 10 years ago. But from the ashes of his campaign, he launched (but will not run) "Our Revolution," a group that hopes to maintain this grassroots support and push into down-ticket elections across the country. Our Revolution's website lays out its mission: "Through supporting a new generation of progressive leaders, empowering millions to fight for progressive change and elevating the political consciousness, Our Revolution will transform American politics to make our political and economic systems once again responsive to the needs of working families."

A "Lot to Prove": Controversies and Critiques

The launch of Our Revolution was not without controversy. Most notable was the fact that a large portion of the group's staff quit the organization just as it began, citing problems with Jeff Weaver, the long-time Sanders staffer who helped run his campaign. The departing staffers questioned Weaver's vision and judgment and frowned on the group's tax status as a 501(c)(4), which they argued could result in dark money -- untraceable donations -- being used by the group.

"Jeff [Weaver] has gone on the record admitting that he wanted to form the organization as a 501(c)(4) for the express purpose of accepting billionaire money," said Claire Sandberg, one of the staff members who quit, in an interview with Democracy Now!

Groups designated as 501(c)(4) can't have political activity as their primary purpose and are not obligated to share donor information. Robert Maguire of the Center for Responsive Politics (CPR), however, told Truthout in an interview, the term "'primary purpose' is not clearly defined." Maguire also said the staff's reservations about the status was "a little hard to understand."

"There is nothing inherently wrong about starting a 501(c)(4)," said Maguire. "There are thousands and thousands of these groups, but the ones we are concerned with are ones without any grassroots support [that] serve exclusively as front groups for political campaigns."

But these ethics are not the only issue. Sandberg, who was Sanders' digital organizing director during the campaign, argues that this designation was a strategic blunder that prohibited the group from coordinating with campaigns. She recently approvingly retweeted a link to an Atlantic article which argued that the "political revolution" had failed Tim Canova. The Florida Democrat was endorsed by Sanders over Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former head of the DNC who had to resign when it was revealed she was trying to sabotage Sanders' campaign in leaked e-mails. She is considered by many Sanders supporters to epitomize the Democratic establishment -- and she easily beat Canova in August.

"I would absolutely say the prohibition on coordinating hurt the Canova campaign," Paul Schaffer, the former data and analytics director for Our Revolution, said to the Atlantic.

The kerfuffle made headlines and put the new organization under close scrutiny. "Turmoil is, of course, not foreign to the internal dynamics of movements, but it always needs to be honestly interrogated for the truths it encompasses. Our Revolution, off to a bit of a rocky start, will have a lot to prove," wrote James Schaffer in Nonprofit Quarterly.

To be sure, the debate over how best to harness the energy from Sanders' campaign is an important one among the left. And Our Revolution's strategy of emphasizing down-ticket campaigns and working within the Democratic Party has its detractors.

"Sanders' strategy of transforming the Democrats will not succeed," said Ashley Smith, a frequent contributor to the Socialist Worker, in an interview with Truthout. "This is not a new strategy but an old one that has been tried many times before when the left was stronger. It failed each time." The better course, Smith maintains, is to build an alternative to the Democratic Party -- to start a "long struggle to build a new left and a new party that fights for the 99 percent in workplaces, communities and in elections."

The Socialist Worker published a pair of criticisms, including one titled "Is it Really 'Our Revolution'?" that argued the group lacks a proper forum for debate or discussion for its supporters and members. "Sanders' speech [launching the group] did not explain at all what campaign promises these candidates would be expected to make. It was clear that at least the vast majority of them would be running in the Democratic Party, but this issue was never openly discussed," wrote Daniel Werst, lamenting the lack of any discussion of Green Party candidates. "Candidates marked as 'progressive' by Our Revolution have been chosen and will be chosen without any open debate by the membership."

Our Revolution did not respond to a request for comment.

Noam Chomsky Says Down-Ticket Strategy Holds Promise

Smith and his newspaper raise important questions. But the down-ticket strategy seems to have broad support from many on the left, including radical critics of capitalism and the Democratic Party. ZNet, a website/media organization with strong anti-capitalist views, for instance, aired Our Revolution's launch video on its website and has urged left writers to focus less on Donald Trump and more on the organization and its prospects. Social critic Noam Chomsky also sees promise in the strategy.

"These [down-ticket approaches] seem to me very sensible initiatives. That's the way to build an authentic political movement, and it's not entirely within the [Democratic] party. If it really grows, and the bureaucrats block it, it can take off independently," said Noam Chomsky in an interview with Truthout. "[It] might succeed in doing what the Greens [members of the Green Party] have lacked interest in doing -- one reason why they remain so marginal. I've been urging something like this for a long time, as have many others. There have been some good steps in this direction, but the Sanders momentum might make a big difference."

That Chomsky and the editors of ZNet see promise in Our Revolution reflects one of the ways in which Sanders' candidacy has transformed politics on the left. In some ways, Sanders provides a bridge between radicals and more mainstream progressives, in a way that Ralph Nader and Jill Stein could not. This potential "unity" should not be overstated, though. As noted, many feel that nothing revolutionary can come in collaboration with the Democratic Party. Much of this skepticism is warranted. But the worst possible approach may be to shun the masses who vigorously trust and support Sanders, his flaws and capitulations notwithstanding, because no revolution is possible without a unified working class.

Vermont: "A Heavy Burden" to Lead

Of course, so much of these debates is still theoretical. But as noted above, in Vermont, the down-ticket strategy is happening already. In addition to the support of Sanders and Our Revolution, Mari Cordes also had the support and endorsement of another local group that is emphasizing down-ticket races: Rights and Democracy, a group in Vermont that was launched in April 2015 and aims to "Bring Bernie's Revolution Back Home."

"We feel a great burden as Vermonters, who have been working with Bernie Sanders for years, to show that we can help lead the way in the political revolution," said James Haslam, who spent 15 years as the director of the Vermont Workers' Center, which was instrumental in fighting for single-payer health care in the state, before it was abandoned by Gov. Peter Shumlin. "Having a corporate Democrat promise to fight for single-payer to win progressive support and then turning his back on it was a learning experience. We can't just push politicians, we must have allies in a position to help complement the grassroots work we have been doing for years."

Cordes also sees her connection to Vermont and Sanders as a "motivating factor" in running for office. "He has been a major inspiration for me on so many issues," she told Truthout. "I think the most important point he makes is that change comes from the bottom up. If you think about Occupy, some say it fizzled out. I don't think so. I think it framed the issues beautifully and in a way that made Sanders more appealing. They touched on many of the same themes."

Cordes is not the only, or even the biggest success story for the movement in Vermont. David Zuckerman, a state senator, is another Progressive Democrat and longtime Sanders ally, who had a big night during the primary. He beat a powerhouse Democrat, speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives Shap Smith, to get the nomination for lieutenant governor.

The lieutenant governor position in Vermont may not be the most consequential job on the planet, but it is often a position that puts candidates in line for a gubernatorial candidacy down the line. And given that the outgoing Vermont governor is best known for abandoning his supporters on single-payer health care, putting someone like Zuckerman in that role could have very real benefits.

The state senator, known for his farming background and long dark hair, said that like Sanders, he felt resistance from the Democratic Party establishment during his primary. As reported by Seven Days, an alternative weekly in Vermont, Zuckerman, "managed to reach voters without the help of the Vermont Democratic Party's contact list. The party denied him access after he declined to declare himself a 'bona fide' Democrat, as he put it, 'if it means putting the Democratic Party above policy.'"

The reference to a 'bona fide Democrat' is another issue fairly unique to the Green Mountain State, which is home to the most viable third party alternative in the country, the Vermont Progressive Party, which was founded during Sander's campaign for mayor of Burlington in the 1980s. The Progressive Party has members in the State House and in Burlington's City Hall and in 2008 its gubernatorial candidate finished second to the incumbent Republican Jim Douglas, ahead of the Democratic candidate, Gale Symington.

Zuckerman, who is the first state senator in the party's history, is now doing what several other candidates have been doing, in part to avoid splitting the tickets and helping the Republicans. He (like Cordes) is running as a "fusion" candidate; he is a Progressive-Democrat, which put him up against Democrats in the primary, while still remaining a Progressive. This approach has its critics, but, as Cordes says, it "rankles the establishment." It also means these candidates won't lose votes to the Democrats in the general election (and had they lost, they would not take votes away from the "bona fide Democrats").

Zuckerman and Cordes, with the support of Rights and Democracy and Our Revolution, will have their day with the voters come Election Day. Should they win it, the victories may be seen as an important part of the "political revolution" Sanders is hoping to start.

Activism in the Post-Bernie Era

Even if Our Revolution is successful in electing its candidates in the coming years, the country will have a lot of work to do. There are many progressive groups and, as Nonprofit Quarterly said, Our Revolution has "a lot to prove." But whatever its fate, it should not discourage other efforts at mobilization, in and out of electoral politics.

One group, Brand New Congress, also made up of former Sanders staffers and volunteers, is hatching an effort to recruit enough candidates to make sure there is a progressive on the ballot in every single congressional election for 2018. It is a monumental endeavor, and will include, if things go well, bringing candidates to the reddest districts in the country to at least force the incumbents to answer to someone. Saikat Chakrabarti, the Sanders campaign's director of organizing technology, is heading up this mammoth task. Chakrabarti, who studied computers at Harvard University, told Truthout that when working for Sanders people would always ask him, "If Bernie wins, how is he going to get anything done with the Congress that he has to work with?" Their response to this question is Brave New Congress. "Basically, we're trying to offer America a big change that can happen immediately in 2018 instead of a long, drawn-out fight to win back congressional seats one at a time," Chakrabarti said.

Further, and perhaps more importantly, the existence of Our Revolution ought not to discourage more direct forms of resistance. "It is crucial that pressure continues to come at the grassroots, not just in elections," Zuckerman said. Indeed, at the launch of Our Revolution, Bernie Sanders cited the labor movement, the civil rights movements and other important acts of resistance in America. Most of this change did not come from the voting booth, but from outside of it. In 2008 Howard Zinn decried the "election frenzy" that "seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us."

Zinn added:

Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes -- the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth. But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.

If Zinn's words sound hyperbolic, it is worth noting that his ambitions are not less achievable than what Bernie Sanders proposes, nor are they mutually exclusive. In fact, in some ways, they may be more achievable, since there are so many institutional biases inside the electoral system. The most encouraging part of the Sanders campaign is that, along with concurrent grassroots movements, it demonstrated the scale and intensity of those who wish to fight for social justice. The goal, after all, is not merely better candidates, but a better world.

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News Tue, 25 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Legendary Antiwar Activist and SDS Organizer Tom Hayden Dies at 76

Tom Hayden has died at the age of 76. Hayden spent decades shaping movements against war and for social justice. He was the principal author of the Port Huron Statement, the founding document of Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. The statement advocated for participatory democracy and helped launch the student movement of the 1960s. In 1968, Hayden became one of the so-called Chicago 8 and was convicted of crossing state lines to start a riot after he helped organize protests against the Vietnam War outside the Democratic National Convention. We play an excerpt of an address by Hayden speaking about the antiwar movement he helped lead.


AMY GOODMAN: We end today on the death of Tom Hayden, who died at the age of 76. He suffered a stroke last year. Tom Hayden spent decades shaping movements against war and for social justice. He was principal author of the Port Huron Statement, the founding document for Students for a Democratic Society, SDS. The statement, advocating for participatory democracy, helped launch the student movement of the '60s. In '68, Hayden became one of the so-called Chicago 8, was convicted of crossing state lines to start a riot when he helped organize protests against the Vietnam War outside the Democratic convention. We're going to turn to a clip of Tom Hayden now.

TOM HAYDEN: So we can never forget that, of course, it was the Vietnamese resistance and their sacrifice that led to our awakening, along with the civil rights movement at home. It began with handfuls of young people, black students who led Freedom Rides, sit-ins. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was the first to resist the war. Julian Bond, who's sitting here, was rejected after being elected to the Georgia Legislature. Muhammad Ali was stripped of his boxing titles. It also began with the Vietnam Day Committee in Berkeley, growing out of teach-ins, out of SDS, that called the first march, the draft resistance. There had never been a peace movement like the one in 1965 that arose out of the civil rights movement and came just weeks after Selma. At least 29 would die at the hands of police while demonstrating for peace.

I'd like here to introduce Luis Rodriguez and Rosalio Muñoz and Jorge Mariscal from the Chicano Moratorium, where four died, including Gustav [Montag], Lyn Ward, José Diaz and Rubén Salazar. Rubén Salazar was an early Juan González. Rubén Salazar was a great reporter for the Los Angeles Times who served as a journalist in Vietnam before he started critical reporting on the streets of Los Angeles. And he was shot by the sheriff's deputies.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Tom Hayden, remembering the people who came before him. And we will remember Tom Hayden tomorrow on Democracy Now!, who has died at the age of 76. To see his speeches and interviews, go to

News Mon, 24 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Police Arrest 120+ Water Protectors as Dakota Access Speeds Up Pipeline Construction

We go to North Dakota for an update on the ongoing Standoff at Standing Rock, where thousands of Native Americans representing more than 200 tribes from across the Americas are resisting the construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which is slated to carry oil from North Dakota's Bakken oilfields through South Dakota, Iowa and into Illinois. On Saturday, over 100 people, who call themselves protectors, not protesters, were arrested at a peaceful march after they were confronted by police in riot gear, carrying assault rifles. They say police pepper-sprayed them and then arrested them en masse, and discharged rubber bullets to shoot down drones the water protectors were using to document the police activity. We are joined by Sacheen Seitcham, media activist with West Coast Women Warriors Media Cooperative who was arrested Saturday along with more than 80 other protesters and journalists at a construction site for the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota.


AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show in North Dakota with the ongoing Standoff at Standing Rock, where thousands of Native Americans, representing more than 200 tribes from across the Americas, are resisting the construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which is slated to carry oil from North Dakota's Bakken oilfields through South Dakota, Iowa and into Illinois. On Saturday, over a hundred people, who call themselves protectors, not protesters, were arrested on a peaceful march after they were confronted by police in riot gear carrying assault rifles. They say police pepper-sprayed them, then arrested them en masse. This is footage from the Sacred Stone Camp.

POLICE OFFICER 1: You're all under arrest!



POLICE OFFICER 2: You're all under arrest!

WATER PROTECTOR 1: Stay together! Stay together! Do not be afraid! Stand your prayer!


AMY GOODMAN: Organizers also say police discharged rubber bullets to shoot down drones the water protectors were using to document the police activity. In response to Saturday's protest, Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said, quote, "Today's situation clearly illustrates what we have been saying for weeks, that this protest is not peaceful or lawful. ... This protest was intentionally coordinated and planned by agitators with the specific intent to engage in illegal activities," Kirchmeier said. Those arrested face charges including riot, reckless endangerment, criminal trespass, assaulting an officer and resisting arrest.

On Sunday, hundreds of water protectors erected a new frontline camp of several structures and tipis directly on the proposed path of the Dakota Access pipeline. The new frontline camp is just to the east of North Dakota State Highway 1806 across from the site where on September 3rd, over Labor Day weekend, Dakota Access security guards unleashed pepper spray and dogs against Native Americans trying to protect a sacred ground from destruction. The water protectors also erected three road blockades that stopped traffic for hours on Highway 1806 Saturday to the north and south of the main resistance camp and along County Road 134. The group cited an 1851 treaty, which they say makes the entire area unceded sovereign land under the control of the Sioux. The blockades were dismantled late Sunday.

For more, we're joined by two guests. Sacheen Seitcham is an activist and journalist with West Coast Women Warriors Media Cooperative. She was arrested Saturday along with more than a hundred water protectors and journalists at a construction site for the Dakota Access pipeline. And Tara Houska, national campaigns director for Honor the Earth, she's Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! OK, let's first go to Sacheen. You were arrested Saturday. Can you take us through this day? What happened on Saturday?

SACHEEN SEITCHAM: What happened on Saturday was completely uncalled for, out of -- out of the realm of any understanding of people who exist in this world who are trying to do something good and right. Basically, we had come to a lockdown that was trying to reach -- we were trying to stop the construction of the DAPL pipeline that day. And our objective was to go walk with them in prayer and meet with them and to lift them up, to be with them as they were locked down. While we walked, we encountered quite a few police. And basically, they had little ATVs, where they were like dune buggies. They were following us. And then more and more police cars came. We actually had to avoid them by running down a hill into a gully and crossing a small river to go and reach the worksite. And at this point, there had been at least six to eight [inaudible] police cars and many officers on the opposite side of the fence from us. And so, we kept walking so that we could go and meet our objective, be at this worksite and to, you know, really prevent the pipeline from being built on sacred ground, on ancient burial sites where the ancestors are laying and should not be disturbed.


SACHEEN SEITCHAM: Sorry. At this point, there had been about two -- maybe roughly 200 of us. And we're walking to the field with banners, singing. There was a lot of ceremony and prayer songs. There was a lot of smudging going on with people with sweetgrass and sage and tobacco. And this police vehicle rolled up beside us and basically said, "You're all trespassing. You're all under arrest." So we kept going, because at this point we knew -- too important what we're doing. We can't be intimidated or fearful. Regardless of what they do to us, we must continue and do what we are going to do to protect the sacred water, to protect the sacred ground. So we kept walking.

They kept massing more people of their -- their cop riot gear. They had their lethal assault weapons, holding them. And, you know, they're rubber bullets, but, as we know, rubber bullets can also be fatal. They had their batons out and were openly carrying around cans of mace in a threatening manner. And they eventually, as we walked, cut open the fence to come at us. And they started yelling and running towards us and yelling and inducing fear in people. And we were trying to create a sense of, you know, organization, where we were asking people, "Please, stay calm. Everybody, group together." At this point, they just started being snatch-happy. They were just grabbing people, out of pocket, just, you know, throwing them off to the side. They threw a young woman who was trying to protect a child in the march. They smacked her in the ribs with a baton and, you know, broke it. That's how forceful they were.

AMY GOODMAN: Sacheen, how were you arrested?

SACHEEN SEITCHAM: I was arrested -- basically, the cops tried to tell us to go, and I was arrested, because we were walking away. So, we said, "OK, we're going to leave. You've asked us to leave. You told us we're trespassing." And so, we all started walking away. And as we walked, the police came through to the front, and then they surrounded us at the back, creating a circle. They kettled us in. We were arrested for engaging in a riot and criminal trespass.

AMY GOODMAN: How many people, do you believe, have been arrested so far? We see the estimates between 87, around there, that the Sheriff's Office is saying, to upwards of -- CNN is reporting 127. The camp is reporting 140.

SACHEEN SEITCHAM: I'm going to go with the camp's estimate. While I was being processed in the -- we were all in the garage. They had no idea what to do with us. They were completely disorganized. The Sheriff's Office had us all penned up in the garage for roughly two hours. And there was upwards of more than a hundred people down there.

AMY GOODMAN: What were you charged with?

SACHEEN SEITCHAM: I was charged with criminal trespass and engaging in a riot at DAPL worksite 127.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you ever brought to the Mandan jail?


AMY GOODMAN: And were you strip-searched?

SACHEEN SEITCHAM: Yes, I was made to disrobe. At this point, they were very disorganized, and I wasn't treated, basically, the way other women were. I wasn't forced to squat or cough. They just basically made me disrobe and then put my clothes back on. But, you know, at that point, there was a lot of other women who shared their stories with me that they were strip-searched, they were forced to squat, they were forced to cough and be treated in that manner.

AMY GOODMAN: And how long were you held?

SACHEEN SEITCHAM: I got to the jail, I would say, roughly around maybe 2:00 in the afternoon, and I was released at 7:00 a.m. yesterday morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sacheen Seitcham, I want to thank you for being with us. Sacheen is a member of the West Coast Women Warriors Media Cooperative. She was arrested Saturday along with scores of other people, both protesters, or, as they call themselves, protectors, as well as journalists, at the construction site for the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota. When we come back, we'll speak to Tara Houska about the overall plan. We called Dakota Access pipeline but weren't able to get them on. The plan right now -- is the pipeline accelerating construction? And then we'll speak with Shailene Woodley. Shailene Woodley, the actress, who went to the Dakota Access pipeline protests, she was arrested. She was strip-searched, like so many others. Stay with us.

News Mon, 24 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400