Truthout Stories Mon, 06 Jul 2015 11:47:53 -0400 en-gb The Inequality Rainbow

It's still pretty crowded in this closet.

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Pope Calls for Rethinking the Outdated Criteria That Rule the World

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

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

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

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 But the response to the crisis did not include rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world.

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

"Rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world" is a call to revolution, one that is necessary if the planet and its people are to survive and thrive.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

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

The Franciscan Alternative: Banking for the People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From "Usury" to "Financialization"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The proposal would:

1) Create a new "deliberative materials" exemption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This interview has been lightly edited.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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







News Mon, 06 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Tantrums Unleashed After Rainbows Illuminate White House

Rainbows illuminated the White House, the Empire State Building, and other landmarks after the Supreme Court affirmed the right to marry from sea to shining sea. As most Americans basked in this milestone's afterglow, conservative leaders stomped their feet, disparaged the nation's most influential court, and howled.

"I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch," thundered Mike Huckabee. "We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat."

The former Arkansas governor wasn't the only Republican running for president who responded to recent rulings like a tantrum-prone toddler.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal suggested that it might be time to "get rid" of the Supreme Court rather than accept its rulings in favor of same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act.

Ted Cruz, who questioned the court's "fundamental legitimacy," wants to subject its justices to periodic national elections. In the meantime, he told Texas clerks, they ought to feel free to deny marriage licenses.

The White HouseThe White House

The GOP hopefuls echoed the sore-loser spirit captured in Justice Antonin Scalia's bizarre dissent. The best part is where he tells the five judges who voted for equality to go hide their heads "in a bag."Cruz isn't likely to get his way with Supreme Court elections. Even if he did, what makes him think the American people would elect justices who oppose same-sex marriage? Polls show that two-thirds of us support this freedom, so doubling down on the wrong side of history would hardly help.

Cruz, Jindal, Huckabee, and the rest of their gang are in for a reality check when the 2016 general elections roll around. Their antics are bound to enrage more voters than they engage.

And the Republican Party and its operatives may well find that disparaging LGBTQ communities — on top of snubbing Latino, black, and low-income people — keeps them locked out of the White House.

Most of these conservative rants invoke religious freedom as a justification for denying same-sex couples the same rights everyone else has. This gross generalization is baffling. Plenty of faith-based communities welcome people regardless of their sexual orientation.

These guys should meet my rabbi — and her wife.

Besides, if prominent Republicans are so respectful of organized religion, why are they shaking their fists at Pope Francis for demanding climate action?

Why aren't they making more noise about the string of fires destroying southern black churches in the wake of the Charleston massacre and the national soul-searching it triggered?

Some conservatives get it. They're imploring GOP leaders to stop pandering to their base about God, guns, and gays. Unless Republicans realize what Americans actually want from our leaders in 2015, "they'll pay the price for decades," says Arthur Brooks, president of the generally right-wing American Enterprise Institute.

When my kids were toddlers, I found long stroller rides a great way to stave off impassioned outbursts. Sometimes, one or both of them would conk out before we rolled up to the playground.

Strollers don't come big enough for even Dennis Kucinich-size presidential candidates. They surely can't accommodate Scalia, Clarence Thomas, or Samuel Alito either. So could someone please hand these guys a pile of crackers and a sippy cup, then give them all a timeout?

The Inequality Rainbow, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil BendibThe Inequality Rainbow, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Opinion Mon, 06 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Immigrant Youth to Presidential Candidates: Promises Will Not Win Our Support

As Democratic presidential candidates make promises of further executive action on immigration, immigrant youth ask: Why wait when you can champion immediate changes today.

A rally in support of immigrant youth, in Chicago, March 2011.A rally in support of immigrant youth, in Chicago, March 2011. (Photo: peoplesworld/Flickr)

If it wasn't clear before, it is now: President Obama's 2014 Immigration Action, though beneficial to millions of parents of US citizens and residents, maintained the foundations of a cruel detention and deportation system intact for those unjustly excluded and further cleaved our communities between deserving and undeserving immigrants under proclamations of "families not felons," codified by new and rigid enforcement priorities.

Since then, leading Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have acknowledged the political rather than legal considerations that guided President Obama, leading them to make promises of further executive action should they be elected president.

Although these developments can be partly attributed to the pressures of building a progressive platform ahead of the Democratic primaries, they are also a testament to the power undocumented immigrants have built through bold and fearless organizing that has challenged foe and friend alike.

As undocumented immigrant youth, we have a message for all of these presidential hopefuls: Promises are not enough. Not when a Democratic president still occupies the White House, and definitely not when undocumented leaders like Jennicet Gutierrez are forced to continue to place so much on the line to move this president to make full use of his authority to put an end to the practice of immigrant detention and truly dismantle deportation programs that criminalize and commodify our communities for profit.

This is why we challenge all presidential hopefuls seeking the Latino vote with promises for the future to follow the example of undocumented leaders and take sensible action on immigration now.

The candidates may respond to our challenge by pointing out that they currently lack the executive powers to put an end to these injustices, but we know they are not powerless. In the absence of administrative authority, candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination can directly enact further positive change for immigrant communities by using their influence to openly and unequivocally champion immediate policy changes that:

  • End the practice inhumane immigrant detention;

  • End all collaboration between local law enforcement agencies and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and programs that criminalize undocumented migration; and

  • Expand Deferred Action to its full potential under the law.

Championing the demands of undocumented immigrants should be easiest for Hillary Clinton, among the current field of Democratic presidential contenders. Clinton's hiring of Lorella Praeli - a high-profile DREAMer who led the United We Dream Network's advocacy campaigns for a stop to deportations - as her Latino outreach director was a smart, strategic move considering her past immigration record, but it is nowhere near enough to convince us of her commitment. Until candidate Clinton advocates for our community's proposed policy changes in the present, we must take Praeli's hiring with a grain of salt and hope that Clinton's campaign does not intend for Praeli to serve the role of a Cecilia Munoz 2.0.

It's said that politicians campaign in poetry but govern in prose. But for Democratic hopefuls, there is a responsibility and an expectation to do both. The promises they dangle in front of Latino voters to get us to the polls will be more convincing when they pressure the current president to apply their recommendations now.

When we see them as part of the effort to make our present day more secure, then we'll start to believe what they say they'll do in the future. Until then, we remain unconvinced.

Opinion Mon, 06 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Wall Street Sales Tax Moves Away From the Children's Table

Those who are serious about reducing inequality support a financial transactions tax; the other politicians are sitting at the children's table.

2015 0706db (Image: Stock trading via Shutterstock)For decades the idea of a financial transactions tax (FTT), in effect a modest sales tax on stock, bonds, derivatives and other financial assets, has been a fringe idea pursued by a small group of progressive politicians. While the concept had drawn the interest of many of the world's most prominent economists, including former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, and Nobel laureates Joe Stiglitz, James Tobin, and Paul Krugman, few political figures in the United States were willing to go near an FTT. That situation is changing.

The latest news in this area is the release of a report last week on financial transactions taxes from the Tax Policy Center (TPC), a joint project of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute. The report assessed the potential revenue and the burden by income group from a FTT. This report, while not providing an endorsement of FTT, provides further support to an FTT as a serious policy.

This is an important development because the TPC has developed a strong reputation in policy circles as a reliable source for non-partisan analysis. For this reason a report from the TPC can be seen as comparable to a report from the Congressional Budget Office. The center exists to analyze policy, not to advocate for it.

With this in mind, its assessment of the FTT is quite useful for several reasons. First, the report argues that a FTT is clearly feasible based on the existence of a large number of FTTs in countries around the world and the likelihood that one will be instituted in the euro zone in the near future. Second, the report finds that a scaled tax, similar to the one being debated in the euro zone, with a rate of 0.1 percent on stock trades, would raise over $50 billion a year in additional revenue and more than $540 billion over the next decade. (This is more than twelve times the size of the cuts to the food stamp program that Republicans pushed last year.) Third, it shows the tax to be highly progressive, with the top quintile paying 75 percent of the tax and the richest one percent paying over 40 percent of the tax.

The report does point out issues that critics have raised about a FTT, such as its impact on liquidity and the extent to which it may lead to market distortions, but concludes that it is a doable policy deserving serious consideration. This should provide a huge boost to advocates of a FTT who are used to being treated as children pushing silly policies. Of course the "adults" in this story were doing things like deregulating the banks and pushing mortgage backed securities.

The TPC report follows a series of other developments that also have advanced the prospects of a FTT. While members of the euro zone continue to debate details, it appears increasingly likely that a FTT will be implemented in much of Europe in the next two years. In addition, Representative Chris van Hollen, a member of the Democratic Party leadership in the House, recently put forward an economic plan that had a FTT at its center as a financing mechanism.

This was striking, because Van Hollen is very much at the center of the Democratic Party. Previously only solid progressives, like Peter DeFazio and Keith Ellison in the House and Tom Harkin in the Senate, had publicly supported a FTT. Adding to this momentum, Bernie Sanders, who has long supported a FTT, made a FTT a major part of his economic agenda in his presidential campaign.

The TPC report helps to draw the lines more clearly on the FTT. While many politicians of both parties now claim they want to reduce income inequality, there is probably no policy can do so more effectively than a FTT. Not only is the tax itself highly progressive, but even the small amounts paid by the middle class would come almost entirely out of the pocket of Wall Street.

The TPC study assumes that the volume of trading will decline by even more than any cost increase associated with a FTT. For example, a middle class worker with a $100,000 in a retirement account may now pay $200 a year in costs associated with the turnover of stock in their account.

A tax of 0.1 percent on stock trades might cost this worker around $30 a year in payments to the government. But it would lead her to reduce her trading so much that her other trading costs fall to $140 a year. On net she would now be paying $170 a year for trading ($140 in costs charged by the industry and $30 for the tax). This means that this worker will actually be saving money on her trading and the financial industry would be looking at a loss in revenue of $60. This is money taken out of the pockets of the Wall Street gang.    

In short, an FTT raises a huge amount of money from many of the richest people in the country in a way that is actually likely to make the economy more efficient by reducing waste in the financial sector. There is no better policy in our tool chest for addressing inequality. Those who are serious about reducing inequality support a FTT, the other politicians are sitting at the children's table.

Opinion Mon, 06 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Restorative Justice Is Needed for Albert Woodfox, Black Panther Party and Nation

On June 8, 2015, District Court Judge James Brady ruled that the Angola 3's Albert Woodfox be both immediately released and barred from a retrial after over 43 years in confinement.

Albert WoodfoxAlbert Woodfox. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)On Monday, June 8, 2015, US District Court Judge James Brady ruled that the Angola 3's Albert Woodfox be both immediately released and barred from a retrial. The next day, at the request of the Louisiana Attorney General, the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay of release set to expire on Friday, June 12.

As the week intensified following Judge Brady's ruling, both Albert Woodfox and his family, friends & supporters wondered if he would finally be released over 43 years after first being placed in solitary confinement. Amnesty International USA launched a petition calling on Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to honor Judge Brady's ruling.

On June 9, US Congressman Cedric Richmond (LA-02) issued a statement declaring that "Attorney General Caldwell must respect the ruling of Judge Brady and grant Mr. Woodfox his release immediately…This is an obviously personal vendetta and has been a waste of tax payer dollars for decades. The state is making major cuts in education and healthcare but he has spent millions of dollars on this frivolous endeavor and the price tag is increasing by the day."

On June 11, eighteen members of the Louisiana House of Representatives voted unsuccessfully to pass a resolution (H.R. 208) urging Attorney General Caldwell to stop standing in the way of justice, withdraw his appeals, and let Judge Brady's unconditional writ and release ruling stand.

However, on Friday, June 12, the Court responded by scheduling oral arguments for late August and extending the stay of release at least until the time that the Court issues its ruling later in the Fall.

Among those who communicated with Albert during that emotional week was Southern University Law Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell. In the days following Judge Brady's ruling, she was a featured guest on several television and radio shows that focused on Albert's case, including National Public Radio. In this interview with Angola 3 News, Prof. Bell discusses her new law journal article and reflects upon the latest developments in Albert's fight for freedom. She argues that recent Angola 3-related media coverage in the US is becoming "more substantive," and that this month "the media got bolder and began digging deeper than just a soundbite."

Literally hundreds of news websites around the world published articles about Judge Brady's ruling. The New York Times, who in an earlier editorial from 2014 declared Albert's four decades in solitary to be "barbaric beyond measure," chose a headline for their June 10 article that cited Albert's "Torturous Road to Freedom." The next day, the NY Times reprinted an Associated Press article entitled "What Has Louisiana Got on the Last of the Angola Three?"

Answering the question posed by the headline, the articles states: "Woodfox's long-simmering story has been the subject of documentaries, Peabody Award winning journalism, United Nations human rights reviews and even a theatrical play. It's a staggering tale of inconsistencies, witness recants, rigged jury pools, out-of-control prison violence, racial prejudice and political intrigue."

Media coverage in the state of Louisiana itself also seems to be improving. For example, writer Emily Lane of the NOLA Times-Picayune responded to Brady's ruling with a series of in-depth articles, focusing on the specifics of how and why Albert has been in solitary for over 40 years, as well as the physical and mental impact of such treatment. In another article, the Times-Picayune quoted extensively from a statement made by Teenie Rogers, the widow of slain prison guard Brent Miller. "I think it's time the state stop acting like there is any evidence that Albert Woodfox killed Brent," Rogers said. Meanwhile, Albert remains in solitary confinement, with Louisiana authorities "not letting up on" the "last of the 'Angola3.'"

Our first interview with Prof. Bell, entitled Prolonged Solitary Confinement on Trial, followed the release of her 2012 article written for the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, entitled "Perception Profiling & Prolonged Solitary Confinement Viewed Through the Lens of the Angola 3 Case: When Prison Officials Become Judges, Judges Become Visually Challenged and Justice Becomes Legally Blind."

Our second interview, entitled Terrorism, COINTELPRO, and the Black Panther Party, examined her 2014 article, published by the Journal of Law and Social Deviance, entitled "Activism Unshackled & Justice Unchained: A Call to Make a Human Right Out of One of the Most Calamitous Human Wrongs to Have Taken Place on American Soil."

This new interview, now our third, is timed with the release of of Prof. Bell's latest article, published by the University of Miami Race & Social Justice Law Review, entitled "A Prescription for Healing a National Wound: Two Doses of Executive Direct Action Equals a Portion of Justice and a Serving of Redress for America & the Black Panther Party."

Since the Angola 3 News project began in 2009, we have conducted interviews focusing on many different aspects of the Black Panther Party and the organization's legacy today, including:  Remembering Safiya Bukhari,  COINTELPRO and the Omaha Two,  The Black Panther Party and Revolutionary Art,  Dylcia and Cisco on Panthers and Independistas,  "We Called Ourselves the Children of Malcolm,"  Medical Self Defense and the Black Panther Party, and The Black Panther Party's Living Legacy.

Angola 3 News:      How does your new law journal article, A Prescription for Healing a National Wound, relate to and ultimately build upon your previous two articles, Perception Profiling and Activism Unshackled?

Angela A. Allen-Bell:      The three articles share a common thread and that is that the Angola 3 case was the inspiration for each of the articles. The Angola 3 case is a fusion of complexities, including race, justice, corrections practices, abuse of power, official misconduct and politics. Each of the three articles explores a different theme in the case.

The 2012 publication, Perception Profiling, explores the constitutional implications of long term solitary confinement.

The 2014 publication, Activism Unshackled, exposes the harsh response of the government to the Black Panther Party (BPP) and declares the BPP to be victims of something akin to domestic terrorism.

The 2015 publication, A Prescription, calls for redress and offers a solution for the nation and the BPP to heal from the traumas experienced during the historical period of the BPP's existence.

A3N:      You write that "Redress is the aim because it is broader than justice. Redress is also the goal because, when delivered, it has the impact of bringing distant human rights aspirational goals to a local and identifiable place in our society." For folks that have not yet read A Prescription, can you please explain what you mean by "redress?"

AB:      When I use the term redress, I simply mean "remedy." In this section of the paper, I am calling people's attention to the fact that the pursuit of justice is largely personal. It involves personal vindication.

Contrarily, redress, through a restorative justice model, is much more expansive. Restorative justice not only considers the victim; it also considers the impact on society. It seeks to heal both simultaneously.

We have never healed from many of the racial traumas that afflict this nation. The evidence of this is on display in the media consistently. Unaddressed traumas are the underlying explanation for some police feeling comfortable gunning down African American males in absence of a legitimate threat of bodily force. That psyche developed during the lynching era.

Unaddressed traumas explain educational and discipline policies that fast track poor children and children of color from schools to prison. Long ago, it was decided that certain groups were intellectually inferior and, as such, could best serve as an underclass.

Unaddressed traumas explain the decision to select an African American church as the setting for an act of domestic terrorism, as with the recent massacre in Charleston. That happened so many times during the Civil Rights Era, it almost became sport. We must recognize that patterns continue unless and until a conscious choice is made to stop them. That is why I advocate for redress through a restorative justice approach. It is my attempt to reconstruct the paradigm and pursue a path of healing.

A3N:      Why do you feel that redress is an appropriate response to the political repression faced by the BPP and other leftists groups during the era of the FBI's COINTELPRO and beyond? What are the benefits of redress?

AB:      In my opinion, it is the only appropriate response because of the state we presently find ourselves in as a country. We excel at technology. We are masters at warfare. We are an international might. We have accomplished all these things, but we have yet to master the art of loving each other. I am not using the word love in a superficial way. I am using it as a verb. I mean love in a profound way. I mean love that blinds your view of the outside and affixes your eyes on the heart of your brother or sister. This is a terrible indictment on us collectively. This is the legacy that racism, subjugation, oppression and dehumanization left behind.

We need collective healing from a number of social traumas, such as lynchings, racist medical, educational and criminal justice practices, all of the vestiges of slavery, and the neutralization of or attempts at neutralization where civil rights activists and organizers are concerned. These things have caused us not to be well. This article picks one social trauma to address and that involves what was done to the BPP. It serves as a template to addresses the others.

The article discusses several benefits to redress. They include: the timely ability to shape good policy; the achievement of accountability; the furtherance of human rights goals and objectives; and the prevention of history repeating itself. Redress in this instance will help society and the BPP. It will allow us to move pass this chapter onto the next chapter then the work must begin again and again until we have peeled away the many layers to this dysfunction that we are experiencing as a human family.

A3N:      You write further that "the goal is to achieve restorative redress—for America in general and the BPP in particular—through executive direct action correcting official history by way of a proclamation and an executive order granting amnesty—with a focus on healing for the nation, victims and perpetrators (as opposed to focusing on the limiting notion of punishing the perpetrator)." Why do you focus on Executive Direct Action as the best means for redress?

AB:      Executive direct action is a presidential power that is highly effective because it can accomplish a goal without the paralyzing complication that a bureaucracy involves. It is used more than many people know and was chosen in this instance because of the expediency of the process and the complexities of this historical ordeal. It was also chosen because traditional methods have failed and/or will not work.In the article, I share detailed reasons why courts, hearings, legislation and executive action on the state level were all eliminated as possible forms of redress.

A3N:      Over two years ago, on Feb. 26, 2013, Albert's conviction was overturned for a third time. However, today, even following last week's ruling by Judge Brady, Albert remains behind bars and in solitary confinement! Reminiscent of fictional stories by George Orwell or Franz Kafka, how does something like this actually happen? What does it say about the legitimacy of the broader so-called criminal 'justice' system in the US?

AB:      Like the United States Constitution, our criminal justice system was born in sin and iniquity. Our modern criminal justice system has very little to do with dispensing justice or keeping citizens safe. It was designed as a tool to further a caste system that was started before slavery. It has become a lucrative enterprise for many. Many laws were written with these considerations in mind. This system is now a machine. Add the utter disdain that this country has had for African American men to this assembly line environment and you might be able to rationalize what Albert Woodfox is experiencing.

The justice system has dealt an unjust hand to many people of color and poor people, but it has been particularly harsh when it comes to the BPP.  They were arrested regularly and locked up often, but, in most cases, charges were dropped or the BPP member won the case. The criminal justice system was intentionally used as tool to disrupt their political and social activities. That detail has largely been suppressed from the public.

This is not to suggest that we don't need a justice system or jails. I feel both are needed. My only point is that there is a design defect. When that happens, demolition must follow. In my view, this is where we are in our criminal justice journey.

A3N:      Any other thoughts on this month's events?

AB:      Last week, I saw members of the international community intensify their response. That was beautiful and their support has been consistently present and helpful. That is greatly appreciated.
There were several welcomed, new developments at home. One was the more substantive media coverage that took place in the United States. The media got bolder and began digging deeper than just a soundbite.  Much of the coverage explored the actual evidence (or lack thereof) in the case and many outlets courageously did a critical analysis of America's solitary confinement practices.

Most impactful of all is the fact that, last week, Americans reclaimed their power.  Grassroots activism and direct citizen participation is the key ingredient in any social change movement.  That happened last week.  Even more significant, a heightened interest took place in Louisiana, which is a very conservative, "tough on crime" kind of place.

The new development is that Louisiana citizens who, in spirit, support locking folks up have become opposed to the State's decision to spend well over six million taxpayer dollars on the criminal prosecution and the civil litigation in the Angola 3 case. Many more Louisiana citizens, after realizing this case was built on deals with criminals and false testimony and official misconduct, voiced their opposition to what State officials have done and continue to do in the case.

Others have begun to see that corruption has played a part in this case as contracts for legal work on the Angola 3 case have been awarded to associates who have a financial incentive to engage in dilatory tactics at the expense of Louisiana taxpayers.

Other citizens were called to act because the global reputation of the United States is being compromised as the world looks at us in judgment for this human rights abuse. The next step is to see this channeled and to see mobilization follow.

A3N:    While it is important to examine how Albert and the Angola 3's story represent much broader issues of injustice, we also do not want to forget that above all, Albert is a human being. Shifting to a more personal level, can you tell us about your visits with Albert? What have you learned from Albert?

AB:    It is my personal feeling that the Angola 3 were anointed and called to do the courageous and significant work they have done both collectively and individually. It is a message I often speak to them. In my view, this is why they weren't murdered or harmed behind bars by other inmates.

It is also my feeling that this is the source of grace that Albert displays. He has his vulnerable, grief-stricken moments, but he has many more days of peace. The suits the Angola 3 filed and the organizing they did has led to better conditions for many others.

Albert has taught me: how to speak mightily with a few words; how to be patient while never waiting; that freedom has more to do with liberation than it does location or station; that Christ, who was a carpenter himself, consistently uses the least valued people (in man's terms)─people who the world could see little value in─to accomplish some of the most profound changes; how to fight evil without ever balling a fist or loading a weapon; how a liberated mind in the head of an African American man often results in a symbolic, social warning label; how to resist the urge to allow fear to serve as an excuse for lack of service; how to manifest the Biblical teaching that love is the greatest commandment of all; and, how to minister without preaching.

A3N:    How much physical contact, if any, has been allowed during visits? Based on your experience visiting Albert, how important is it for prisoners to be able to hug and express friendship through human touch with their visitors?

AB:    Louisiana officials have branded sixty-eight-year-old Albert Woodfox, who is afflicted with a litany of health problems, the most dangerous man in America, despite their own records documenting that he is and has been a model prisoner.

In fulfillment of this marketing strategy and act of wordplay, Albert's visits are restricted.  They are no contact, limited to an hour and are observed closely.  Even the Bible recognizes that man was not born to be alone.  Isolation violates biblical principles, as well as medical research, legal precedent and human rights principles.

The practice of prolonged isolation even runs counter to the thinking of Pope FrancisUS Supreme Court Justice Kennedy, certain doctors, academics, human rights advocates and architects, Human Rights Rapporteur Juan E. Mendez, the American Bar Association, the American Correctional Association, the National Defense Association and many other credible voices.  It especially makes no sense when a person is elderly and harmless as was the case with Herman Wallace and as is the case with Albert Woodfox.

Society is better off when inmates maintain humanity and also when they do not become totally institutionalized.  Innocent human touch and meaningful interaction are quintessential ways of preserving humanity.

A3N:    Any further reflection on the personal impact of both your research & writing about the Angola 3 as well as your relationship with Albert?

AB:    These things have impacted me profoundly. They have made me keenly aware of our social regression in this country. The shift from us being somewhat of an interconnected unit during the 1960s and 1970s to a self-driven population has crippled progress where social gains are concerned. This is not meant as a judgment or an indictment. This is meant partially as a plea and partially as a call for introspection.

A3N:   Returning to your new article, A Prescription for Healing a National Wound, how does Albert's case further illustrate the US government's mistreatment of the BPP? Conversely, how do you feel that Albert's release would contribute to the healing of our nation?

AB:  This case centers attention on the plight of the BPP at the hands of then FBI Director J.Edgar Hoover, who ran the FBI from 1924-1972 with unchecked authority and who ran the FBI without concern for the constitution or best practices. He ran the FBI as a personal enterprise to silence minorities, activists and anyone else who he could produce a reason not to like. Many times, his reasoning was not sound. He used his power to crush and silence people and he regularly violated the law in order to do so.

We, as a society, have never assessed the harm that flowed from this–the lives and careers that he wrongly destroyed; the current leaders who rode their way to the top doing what he groomed them to do and who have continued what he started; the impact that this had on activism and dissent in America; and the many people who lost their liberty as a result of his abuses of power. The Angola 3 case illuminates these concerns.

The Angola 3 case also brings attention to the growing problem of prosecutorial misconduct in this country and especially in Louisiana. Evidence was suppressed and testimony was induced. Inmates who initially denied knowledge of the murder changed testimony in exchange for favors. When asked about this under oath, state officials denied this, but proof now exists. Several courts have now concluded that grand jury discrimination was at play in Herman Wallace's trial and also in Albert Woodfox's trial. A grand juror who was married to a former Angola warden ended up serving on one of Albert's grand juries and she actually brought a book she authored into deliberations, which contained negative overtures about the case.

Not only does this create a distrust for the judicial system, much of this created additional victims as some of the inmates whose testimony was "bought" were rewarded with freedom. Some of these criminals went on to commit additional crimes. The release of these criminals also re-victimized victims who were forced to live with the knowledge that the person who victimized them was back amongst them in society.

This case is a powerful educational tool for citizens who have thus far placed great faith in the words "convicted" or "a jury found him guilty." Many people naively take these words at face value. For a large population of American citizens, convictions are obtained without any credible evidence. Many people, after seeing the "evidence" used against Albert Woodfox, now understand this point.

In Albert's case, there was a bloody crime scene. It was one of the most ideal crime scenes imaginable because where else are fingerprints of every person on the property on file? None of the forensic evidence, including a bloody fingerprint found at the scene, matched Albert Woodfox or Herman Wallace.  (See Woodfox v. Cain, 609 F.3d 774, 810 (5th Cir. La.), Jun 21, 2010). The authorities' outrageous refusal to check this fingerprint against their own database of inmates' fingerprints continues to this day. In 2008, NPR asked Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell why the state refuses to test the print. "A fingerprint can come from anywhere," Caldwell explained. "We're not going to be fooled by that."

Albert even passed a polygraph test. In absence of any physical evidence, what was used against him was "bought" testimony from dangerous criminals, such as a legally blind man who, under oath, swore he saw things on the day of the murder, a robbery convict who was released in exchange for his testimony and then committed more robberies. This was done, not once, but twice. In Louisiana, state appellate courts signed off on this, not because of a conspiracy, but because of their design. When a criminal case is appealed, the court can't revisit all the facts and evidence and act as a de facto jury. They must use standards of review and they are only allowed a narrow window into the case.

When insufficiency of evidence is raised in a criminal case, the state appellate court in Louisiana can only consider, in the light most favorable to the prosecution, if the record suggests any reasonable juror could have found the defendant guilty. Under this standard, it is rare to see a criminal case reversed on appeal. The state appellate process is much like a sniff test. They take a quick sniff then move on to the next one in line.

In Albert's second trial, then Warden Henderson, while under oath, swore no incentives had been offered to the serial rapist, Hezekiah Brown, who they used to testify against Albert. The prosecutor stood before the court and praised this lying rapist. Specifically, he said he was proud of the lying rapist and he remarked that the lying rapist was courageous. This issue was brought up in an appeal before the federal court. That court agreed that this conduct was troubling, but no official action has ever been undertaken to address it.

This sets the stage for the next unsuspecting defendant to walk into the grips of the same cast of characters and the show begins all over again. Under a system that dispenses justice in this fashion, any one of us could be Albert Woodfox. That lesson is finally resonating.

Albert's release could also highlight an ugly chapter in our history where the BPP is concerned. It could show the type of selfless work they did and the type of harm that came to many of them as a result. It could also aid in bringing an end to this era of social purgatory they have lived in and under since the 1960s.

In each of these contrasting ways, people will become informed then empathy and dialog will follow.  These things lead to societal healing.

Opinion Mon, 06 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
US Caravan to Cuba Carries on History of Solidarity Across the Black Diaspora

A car dashboard of a cuban taxi with a taxi libre sign and a US flag in Havana, Cuba.A car dashboard of a cuban taxi with a "taxi libre" sign and a US flag in Havana, Cuba. (Photo: dubes sonego /“We act not just in defiance of our government, but in obedience to our conscience,” declared Rev. Lucius Walker, founder of IFCO, the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization and initiator of the group’s shipments of medical supplies to Cuba. This year’s Friendshipment Cuba Caravan is once again defying the US embargo of the island that “has produced one of the healthiest and most educated communities across the globe.”

This interview took place at the historic Florida Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, DC.  I interviewed Gail Walker, Executive Director of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO)/Pastors for Peace during the official launch of the 26th Friendshipment Cuba Caravan.  The Caravan, with volunteers (called caravanistas) and material support for Cuba will travel throughout the United States en route to Cuba. In Cuba, the caravanistas will engage in community support activities and provide material support to aid Cuba’s health and education sectors.  In this two-part interview, I explore the role of Ms. Walker’s father, the late Reverend Lucius Walker, Jr., a monumental figure in both the US and Latin America human rights movements. I also explored the history of IFCO and Pastors for Peace. 

Marsha Coleman-AdebayoWhat was the impetus for the creation of IFCO – the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization /Pastors for Peace?

Gail Walker:  IFCO, as an organization, got its start in 1967. It was organized by faith leaders and community activists interested in fighting for social justice. It was organized by people motivated by their faith, people of conscience who felt that there must be ways that people could creatively respond to injustice. Community organizing is in its name and the organization is focused on mobilizing the community to respond to inequity. 

Pastors for Peace is a project of IFCO that began in 1988 when IFCO organized a study delegation to Nicaragua that was attacked by Nicaraguan Contra. In that attack the Director of the organization, my father, Rev. Lucius Walker, Jr., was one of 29 people that were wounded.  He conceived of the Pastors for Peace project as a way to respond to that act of terrorism. He began to organize caravans that would allow the people of the US to collect and deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Nicaragua and to serve as an alternative people’s foreign policy. We began to organize the caravan for Nicaragua and ultimately, in 1992, we began to work in Cuba.  Our work in Cuba is similar to the work we did in Nicaragua because of the long-standing embargo or blockade that was in effect.  But the Pastors for Peace program had its early start in 1988 and it continues today.

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo Why is IFCO important to African-Americans?

Gail Walker: IFCO has always been an organization concerned about the plight of Black people in the diaspora, whether that is in the US or globally.  People of color are often victims of social inequity/social injustice and that is something that IFCO has been historically concerned about. It’s the first national organization that was led by people of color that organized to fight against social injustice so this has always been a part of IFCO’s mission – its reason for being. It’s very much at the center of much of the work that we do.

Marsha Coleman-AdebayoDoes Pastors for Peace only operate in Cuba or does your work extend to other Latin American countries?

Gail Walker: IFCO works on the local, national and international levels. We continue to operate on all of those various levels. We not only work in Cuba but in various parts of Central America, Latin America and the Caribbean and we continue to look at ways of expanding our mission.  IFCO is prepared to recognize ways in which we might be supportive of the fight against injustice wherever it might be. 

Marsha Coleman-AdebayoHow does the Caravan work across the country and what is the political importance of connecting communities in the US?

Gail Walker:  IFCO has organized the Caravans as a way to work with various communities across different parts of the country.  The Caravans travel along different routes from the north to the south, stopping in different communities, talking about whatever the issue of the day might be and collecting people and aid in an effort to allow people to speak directly to the impact of their work related to Cuba.  For example, the work of the folks in New York may be different than the work of the people in LA or Atlanta. It’s a way to allow local activists to express their own solidarity with Cuba in a way that resonates with the work and issues that are most prevalent in those communities.  So we don’t dictate to communities how to support the caravan initiative but we hope that there are ways in which they make connections between the issues that they are concerned with and the ways that Cuba has provided an example of how to address.

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo Why did the United States government, in 1960, decide to blockade Cuba?  After all, the US government has created different modalities in China, Russia and other countries?

Gail Walker: There are so many ways to address this question.  Cuba is certainly not a threat to the US government. It’s often said that Cuba is the threat of a good idea.  Cuba is a nation that has shown, through its example, how to address the issue of health disparity, how to address the issue of illiteracy – ways that we might look at the environment and how we can be good stewards of the earth.  There are countless ways that Cuba has put forth ways to think differently about these various issues.  Cuba, from its inception had determined that it was a revolution that had a socialist perspective and they weren’t afraid to name it that.

There was a resistance to Cuba’s self-identification as socialist and that became a flashpoint for some people within the US government.  I think we also have to look at the fact, that at the same time, there were claims that Cuba was directing missiles towards the US, during the so-called US-Cuba missile crisis.  There were missiles that the US was directing towards Turkey, so it was a time during the cold war when tensions were high.  But, often we only hear one side of that story. But, all of that has led the US government to punish Cuba and the US blockade of Cuba has become the longest and most abusive form of collective punishment. We are grateful that there is finally a shift, a sea change, a rethinking of the best ways for there to be relations between the US and Cuba.

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo How has the blockade impacted the public health sector in Cuba?

Gail Walker:  The blockade has prevented the ability of Cuba to have a free exchange of services.  As a result of the blockade there is a loss of income and these are resources that could have been used to enhance Cuba in the areas of health or education. But, remarkably, in spite of the longest and most egregious blockade in history Cuba has been able to withstand all of those pressures and continue to put an emphasis on health and education and has produced one of the healthiest and most educated communities across the globe. 

Marsha Coleman-AdebayoWe wish you a productive and safe mission to Cuba.  We hope that communities across the country will provide the Caravan with the necessary material support to demonstrate our solidarity with ending the blockade in Cuba.


Part II of this interview will explore the US-funded contra attack on an IFCO mission to Nicaragua as well as Pastors for Peace work with the Latin American School of Medicine.  The Caravan will leave Sunday, July 5th to travel across the country on its way to Cuba.  Please see Caravan route link below and support this effort.

For more information and to contribute to the work of IFCO and Pastors for Peace, please see:

to see caravan routes:

See a documentary on Cuba’s health system -  Salud!:

News Sun, 05 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400