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The Rise of the United States' Secret Government: The Deadly Legacy of Ex-CIA Director Allen Dulles

It's been more than 50 years since Allen Dulles resigned as director of the CIA, but his legacy lives on. Between 1953 and 1961, under his watch, the CIA overthrew the governments of Iran and Guatemala, invaded Cuba, and was tied to the killing of Patrice Lumumba, Congo's first democratically elected leader. We speak with David Talbot, author of The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government, about how Dulles' time at the CIA helped shape the current national security state.


AMY GOODMAN: It's been over half a century since Allen Dulles resigned as director of the CIA, but his legacy lives on. Between 1953 and '61, under his watch, the CIA overthrew the governments of Iran and Guatemala, invaded Cuba, was tied to the killing of Patrice Lumumba, Congo's first democratically elected leader.

A new biography of Allen Dulles looks at how his time at the CIA helped shape the current national security state. Biographer David Talbot writes, quote, "The Allen Dulles story continues to haunt the country. Many of the practices that still provoke bouts of American soul-searching originated during Dulles's formative rule at the CIA." Talbot goes on to write, "Mind control experimentation, torture, political assassination, extraordinary rendition, mass surveillance of U.S. citizens and foreign allies - these were all widely used tools of the Dulles reign."

Well, David Talbot joins us now to talk about his new book, The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government. He's the founder and former CEO and editor-in-chief of Salon. David Talbot is also author of the best-seller, Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years.

It's great to have you with us, David.

DAVID TALBOT: Great to be here, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: What an astounding book. Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden - how do they relate to Allen Dulles, the longest-reigning CIA director?

DAVID TALBOT: Well, as I write in the book and as you just pointed out, all the practices that we are wrestling with as a country now, the intelligence and security measures - including, I might add, the legacy of the killing fields in Central America that your guest was just discussing, in Guatemala and so on - that all had its roots, not after 9/11, but during the Dulles era and the Cold War. He was a man who felt he was above the law. He felt that democracy was something that should not be left in the hands of the American people or its representatives. He was part of what the famous sociologist from the 1950s, C. Wright Mills, called the power elite. And he felt that he and his brother and those types of people should be running the country.

AMY GOODMAN: John Foster Dulles, secretary of state.

DAVID TALBOT: Exactly. They were a dynamic duo, of course: His brother, Foster, as he was known, was secretary of state, as you say, under Eisenhower; he was the head of the CIA. It was a one-two punch.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's go to Allen Dulles in his own words, speaking in 1965, defending the actions of the CIA.

ALLEN DULLES: The idea that it is necessarily nefarious, it's always engaged in overthrowing governments, that's false. That's for the birds. Now, there are times - there are times when the United States government feels that the developments in another government, such as in the Vietnam situation, is of a nature to imperil the - the safety and the security and the peace of the world, and asks the Central Intelligence Agency to be its agent in that particular situation. ... At no time has the CIA engaged in any political activity or any intelligence activity that was not approved at the highest level.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Allen Dulles in 1965. "At no time," he says. So, talk about the history, that is so intimately connected to us today. Often countries that have been - their leaders have been overthrown, know this history in a way that Americans don't know.

DAVID TALBOT: That's right.

AMY GOODMAN: '53, '54, go through it.

DAVID TALBOT: And, of course, Allen Dulles was a consummate liar and was, you know, very adept at manipulating the media, the American media. That particular interview was one of the ones that actually he got posed some of the tougher questions, by John Chancellor of NBC News. And he actually went on to say, "You know, I try to let the Congress know what I'm doing," when Chancellor asked him, "Is there any political oversight of the CIA?" "But whenever I go to Congress," he says, and he starts to tell the secrets of the CIA, members of Congress would say, "No, no, no, we don't want to know. We don't want to talk in our sleep." So that, of course, was his cover.

Yes, overthrowing governments at will - I think one of the more tragic stories I tell in the book is the story of Patrice Lumumba, who was this young, charismatic leader, the hope of African nationalism in the Congo. And he was overthrown by a CIA-backed military coup in the Congo and later captured and brutally assassinated. The CIA's story before the Church Committee in the 1970s: "Oh, we tried to kill him, we tried to poison him, but we're the gang that can't shoot straight. We're not very good at assassinations." Well, they were far too modest. In fact, we now know that the people who beat Patrice Lumumba to death, once he was captured, were on the payroll of the CIA.

Now, Allen Dulles kept that fact from John F. Kennedy for over a month. John Kennedy, when he was running for president, was known as the advocate, a supporter of African nationalism. They knew that once John Kennedy was inaugurated - the CIA - and was in office, that he would help Lumumba, who was in captivity at that point. And I believe that his execution, his murder, was rushed before Kennedy could get in the White House. They then withheld that information from the president for over a month. So the CIA was defying presidents all the time, and particularly in the case of Kennedy, who they felt was young, they could manipulate, and they didn't need to really bring into their confidence.

AMY GOODMAN: So you have the CIA running international intelligence, and they're keeping - well, you say keeping from. What makes you believe that Kennedy didn't know?

DAVID TALBOT: That he didn't know about the murder? Well, there's a famous picture that was taken of him in the White House as he's getting the phone call from - not from the CIA, but from U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, who finally tells him, a month after Lumumba has been buried and dead, about this terrible murder. And his face, as you see from this famous photograph by Jacques Lowe, the White House photographer, is crumpled in agony. I think this shows all the terrible sorrow that's to come in the Kennedy presidency. And, you know, a lot of people think that the war between Kennedy and the CIA began after the Bay of Pigs invasion, the CIA's disastrous operation in Cuba. That is true, it became particularly, I think, aggravated after that. But you can see from this, from day one, even before he was inaugurated, the CIA was defying him.

AMY GOODMAN: 1953, go back a few years. What is the relevance of what the Dulles brothers did in Iran with what we are seeing today in U.S.-Iranian relations?

DAVID TALBOT: Well, again, these terrible historical ripples continue from the Dulles era. Iran was trying to throw off the yoke of British colonialism. Britain, through British Petroleum, the company now known as British Petroleum, controlled all of Iran's oil resources. And under the leadership of Mosaddegh, this popular leader who was elected by his people, he began to push back against British control and, as a result, antagonized Western oil interests, including the Dulles brothers. The Dulles brothers' power originally came from their law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, the most powerful law firm on Wall Street, and they represented a number of oil companies. So, once the Western oil interests were antagonized by Mosaddegh's attempt to reclaim sovereignty over these oil resources, his days were numbered.

And so, the task of overthrowing him was given to the CIA, given to Allen Dulles. There was a very volatile situation, people supporting Mosaddegh in the streets versus the CIA-supported forces. The Shah, who was the puppet, of course, ruler of Iran on the Peacock Throne, flees, because he's not a particularly brave man. He flees to Rome. Dulles flies to Rome. He's busy shopping, the Shah, enjoying his exile with his glamorous wife. And Dulles is given the job of putting a little lead in his spine and getting the Shah to return to Iran after they finally succeed, the CIA, in overthrowing the popular leader, Mosaddegh.

Well, after that, that begins a reign of horror then in Iran. Democratic elements, the left, Communist Party are rounded up, tortured. And the Shah is installed in this terrible autocratic regime, that, of course, we know, had a terrible downfall during the Carter administration. And we're still paying the price for the bitterness that the Iranian people feel towards the United States for intervening in their sovereign interests.

AMY GOODMAN: And the U.S. would go on - the Dulles brothers would go on to do the very same thing the next year, 1954, in Guatemala?

DAVID TALBOT: That's right. They were on a roll. They thought they could do anything, exert their will anywhere in the world. Jacobo Árbenz, again, a popular, democratic leader, elected in Guatemala -

AMY GOODMAN: We only have 10 seconds in this portion.

DAVID TALBOT: The Kennedy of Guatemala is overthrown, again, by the Dulles brothers, partly because they were representatives of United Fruit. United Fruit was a major power player in Guatemala.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to leave it there, but we're going to do Part 2, and we're going to post it online at David Talbot is author of the new book, The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government. David Talbot is founder and editor-in-chief at Salon.

News Tue, 13 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Outsourcing a Refugee Crisis: US Paid Mexico Millions to Target Central Americans Fleeing Violence

As immigration has become a key issue on the campaign trail, we look at a startling new report that finds "the United States has outsourced a refugee problem to Mexico that is similar to the refugee crisis now roiling Europe." In her New York Times opinion piece, "The Refugees at Our Door," Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sonia Nazario describes how the Obama administration is paying the Mexican government to keep people from reaching the U.S. border - people who often have legitimate asylum claims. We speak to Nazario about the harrowing stories she heard from Central American refugees in shelters in southern Mexico.


AMY GOODMAN: As Democratic presidential candidates kick off the first debate of the 2016 presidential race tonight, the issue of immigration has emerged as a key issue on the campaign trail. On Thursday, Hillary Clinton addressed the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's 38th Annual Awards Gala and called for a more humane immigration policy. She also denounced what she called the "ugly" anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from Republican presidential candidates.

HILLARY CLINTON: It's a problem when a leading Republican candidate for president says that immigrants from Mexico are rapists and drug dealers. It's a problem when candidates use offensive terms like "anchor babies" or even talk about changing the Constitution to take citizenship away from those who were born here. We need people who will stand up to this ugly rhetoric and extreme thinking, who will say - who will say with our words and our actions, "Basta! Enough! End this!"

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this year, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders called for comprehensive immigration reform. This is Sanders addressing the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference in Las Vegas.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: It is not acceptable to me, and, I think, a growing majority of the American people, that millions of folks in this country are working extremely hard, but they are living in the shadows. And that has got to end. ... Despite the essential role that undocumented workers play in our economy and in our daily lives, these workers are too often reviled by many for political gain and shunted into the shadows. Let me be very clear as to where I stand: It is time for this disgraceful situation to end.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we turn now to a startling new report that examines America's broken immigration system, called "The Refugees at Our Door," just published in The New York Times by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sonia Nazario. The article suggests the Obama administration is paying the Mexican government to keep people from reaching the U.S. border - people who often have legitimate asylum claims, and once deterred in their journey, often left to die.

Nazario writes, quote, "In the past 15 months, at the request of President Obama, Mexico has carried out a ferocious crackdown on refugees fleeing violence in Central America. The United States has given Mexico tens of millions of dollars for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 to stop these migrants from reaching the United States border to claim asylum. Essentially the United States has outsourced a refugee problem to Mexico that is similar to the refugee crisis now roiling Europe."

Well, for more, we go to Los Angeles, where we're joined by Sonia Nazario. She is the author of Enrique's Journey: The Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother.

Sonia Nazario, welcome back to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you found. How is the U.S. paying Mexico to stop migrants from coming north?

SONIA NAZARIO: Well, we're doing the exact opposite of what Germany is doing. And, you know, I should say that I think we can have a debate about what should be done about economic migrants, people who come here for a better life, but with refugees, that is someone who is being persecuted, and they are fleeing for their lives. And in Germany, we've seen these emotional images of the German people and Angela Merkel opening their doors, welcoming them at train stations. And what we are doing as a country is we have paid Mexico tens of millions of dollars to stop these refugees from arriving at our border and claiming, asking for refuge, asking for asylum. Our State Department is funding this. And our congressional leaders, the Department of State has said in a recent document that they want to spend $90 million next fiscal year, in 2016, to do more of this. And what we're seeing is that this is paying for this incredible crackdown, where the immigration authorities have increased immensely the number of deportees. Mexico, in the first seven months, deported 23,000 more Central Americans than the United States, and it plans to up that amount by 70 percent this year, while the rate is cut by the United States. So we're asking Mexico basically to do our dirty work. President Obama, for politically expedient reasons, 15 months ago, wanted this problem, as he saw it, of these immigrant children coming to the United States alone, this surge, to go away, and so he outsourced his problem to Mexico.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us the story of July Elizabeth Pérez, who you met in a migrant shelter in Mexico?

SONIA NAZARIO: Yes, last month I spent seven or eight days in Mexico. I felt that not enough attention was being focused on this. And July, first, you know, she lives in one of the most deadly towns in Honduras, which the homicide rate has recently declined some, but per the last U.N. report, worldwide, had the highest homicide rate in the world, after Syria. And she lived in this very deadly town controlled largely by the 18th Street gang, a gang that, by the way, started here in Los Angeles, where I live. And first, her brother was abducted, and he was killed. They stole his $91 in rent money that he was taking to pay. They cut off his feet and his hands when they killed him. And then they abducted her 14-year-old son. They had asked him to join the gang. They start doing this to children at very young ages - nine, 10, 12 years old. He was 14. He had gone on a short errand a few steps away with a friend, been kidnapped. And she frantically searched for him and found him a few hours later. He had been suffocated to death with a bag over his head and found in a garbage bag. She fled to another city three hours away. And seven months later - you know, the gangs are incredibly good at intelligence. They beat the CIA by a mile in figuring out who's coming in and out of towns and where - the movement of people who are escaping gang violence. And she got a warning: "We know where you are now."

So, seven months later she fled to Mexico, trying to reach her mother, grandmother, who were legally in the United States. She applied to the U.S. Embassy for a visa. They turned her down. And so her only choice to save her three remaining children was to try to get through Mexico to the United States. And it took her 20 days to travel 250 miles. These migrants are walking through Mexico now, because they cannot get on the trains - ride on top of freight trains, as they used to do, because of this crackdown. And she encountered all sorts of obstacles - immigration officials shooting at her on top of the train with her children aboard, having to go around these enormous number of checkpoints, raids now - 20,000 raids on immigrants just in the past year as part of this Southern Border Plan, as it's called, that was pushed by President Obama.

AMY GOODMAN: Is it fair to say the U.S. is bankrolling these Mexican border guards who, in a number of cases, are guilty of horrendous human rights abuses?

SONIA NAZARIO: Yes, it's absolutely true we are bankrolling this - tens of millions of dollars last year and, as I said, $90 million proposed by the Department of State this year, and that doesn't count what the Department of Defense has been kicking in, an unknown amount. And many, many studies have shown that Mexican officials, both the federal police, the state police, and immigration officials are complicit in this robbery, rape, killing of immigrants as they try to travel north to the United States to safety. And we see children now walking the length of Mexico trying to allude those officials, and women like July putting their children, her three-year-old, her six-year-old - her six-year-old walking for days on end, for 12 hours at a time, putting her three-year-old on her shoulders, trying to get her north through Mexico to the United States to safety.

I think what we are doing is shameful. Refugees are people fleeing harm, and we should at least give them a chance of proving that they are refugees. And if they aren't, then perhaps send them back. But we have signed protocols saying that we will protect refugees. We have urged other countries, like Germany and the countries surrounding Syria, who have taken in more than 4 million refugees. We get a few tens of thousands, and instead of trying to comprehend what they're going through and welcome them, or at least put them through our judicial system and see if they qualify or not, we have paid Mexico to send them back to their deaths. There is a study by our social researcher that just came out showing that in the last 21 months, 90 people, at least, have been murdered shortly after being returned by the United States and Mexico to their home countries, in these three very violent countries in Central America, including a 14-year-old boy returned to Honduras, Gredis. Within 24 hours of being returned home, he had two bullets in his head. This is what our policies are causing.

And I think the American people need to say, "This must stop. I do not want this done in my name. I do not want my taxpayer money funding this." And I have a letter on my website,, if you agree, to send your congressional leader, saying that you want a fairer policy towards refugee children, in particular.

AMY GOODMAN: Last year, Democracy Now! spoke to Jose Luis Zelaya. He fled his home in Honduras at the age of 13 in search of his mother. He traveled unaccompanied through Central America, finally reached Houston four months later. Zelaya described his journey.

JOSE LUIS ZELAYA: Honduras is a very dangerous country. Once, I was simply playing soccer, and there was a drive-by shooting, and during the soccer game I ended up being shot twice in both of my arms. And it was then when I made the decision that I needed to run away. I needed to leave the - I needed to leave Honduras and come to the United States to find my mother. I didn't know where she was. All I knew was the area code, 713, which was the Houston area code.

And I came to the United States. It took me 45 days to come. It was horrible. It is the worst experience that I have ever witnessed - to be thirsty and not have water, to be hungry and not have food. Not even a trashcan, to be able to find food, was available in the desert. Whenever you're riding the train and you see people lose their lives, you see little girls being physically abused by the coyotes, and you can't do anything because you're a child. I was 11 - I was 13 years old when I came. I knew - I wasn't trying to break the law; I was trying to fulfill the law by trying to reunite with my mother, by trying to reunite with my sister.

And when I came to the United States, I was actually in a detention center, as well, in Harlingen, Texas, and the experience there were very difficult. We were only allowed to see the sunlight one hour a week, and we were only allowed to drink water three times a day.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Jose Luis Zelaya, who fled his home in Honduras at the age of 13. You yourself rode, on top of seven freight trains, the length of Mexico with child migrants a decade ago. How does what they go through today compare, Sonia Nazario?

SONIA NAZARIO: Well, I think, you know, it was certainly difficult back then. I still have post-traumatic stress, to indicate how hard it was. And as Luis mentioned, it was very difficult. Many people are robbed, raped, beaten, back then. But we've seen just in the last year an 81 percent increase in robberies. And you're seeing, by the time time people got to the shelter, the migrant shelter - which really has become a refugee camp, by the way - a few - just 200, 300 miles inside the southern border of Mexico, 95 percent now are robbed by the time they get there, some of them multiple times. The majority of the women are being raped. And so, what you're seeing is an exponential increase in the harm being done to these migrants, both by the immigration authorities and by this whole army of delinquents, that have taken the message from the Mexican authorities: "It's open season on migrants. You can do whatever you want, because we need to get - at the U.S., you know, bidding, we need to get this flow to stop, to get these people not to reach the United States border."

And so, what we're seeing is, instead of riding on top of that train, on top of the freight trains up the length of Mexico, as I did for my book, Enrique's Journey, people are going in places that are harder, that they are more isolated. And that's where these delinquents have all risen up that are robbing and raping and killing in extraordinary numbers. Twenty thousand Central Americans are being disappeared every single year, kidnapped. And many of these people resurface after someone in the United States has to pay ransom to release them. But if you can't pay, they will kill you. They will cut you up in front of the others as a message. Many of them are being enslaved to work in marijuana fields or digging tunnels, prostituted. They are finding people - 14 migrants recently awoke, drugged up, with slits on the side of their bodies, wounds that had been sewn up. Their kidneys had been harvested. It's another level and a higher number of robberies, rapes, killings that are happening today than when Luis made the journey and when I made the journey. And yeah, you had to convince me that this was a lot tougher than before, but it is tougher than before. It is extraordinarily hard.

And that's why people are stopping 200 to 300 miles in at this shelter that I was at and saying, "I can't go back. They will kill me in my country. But I can't go forward. They will kill me in Mexico. I'm going to try to get asylum. I'm going to try to get a humanitarian visa from Mexico," which, by the way, Mexico makes extraordinarily difficult to get. They try to put every barrier possible to apply for asylum. If you're detained, they basically don't inform you of your right to asylum, which they are supposed to do, per Mexican law. Only one in 10 people are being informed. If you're informed, they try to dissuade you from applying. And if you're even able to apply, which only 2,000 folks were able to do last year, they hold you in these jails that have rats roaming by day, worms in the food. They try to do everything possible to discourage you. And only 20 percent - you stay there months, or even a year, if you appeal. Only 20 percent of people who are able to apply win their asylum claims, versus 50 percent in the United States. So Mexico is putting every potential obstacle they can in the course of people trying to reach our borders and say, "Help me. They are trying to kill me in my country. I cannot go back. And now I cannot move forward. I am stuck."

AMY GOODMAN: Sonia, the man we just heard from, the young man who moved here when he - who traveled here when he was 13, Jose Luis Zelaya, is with the group United We Dream. And that's the same group that protested Hillary Clinton. We just played a clip of her speaking in Las Vegas. She was actually heckled there by United We Dream. And one of the protesters, Juan Carlos Ramos, issued a statement saying, "Our message to Hillary Clinton is simple: immigrant youth do not trust you." They were protesting the fact that private prison corporations donate to Clinton's campaign, and they said she should reject that money. What about the prisons here in the United States?

SONIA NAZARIO: Well, we've managed to get a law passed in Congress that 34,000 deportable immigrants will be locked up any night in our prison system. As we've locked up fewer nonviolent drug offenders, we have - the prison industry has found a way to fill those jails with immigrants. And that's absolutely true. It's gone from $800 million or so, seven, eight years ago, that they made off of immigrants, to more than $2 billion. This is a huge industry for them. And they spend a lot of money at this. And we can get laws like that passed through our Congress, but when we try to get a law allocating $50 million to immigrant children so a four-year-old doesn't stand before our immigration judges being asked to present their asylum claim all by themselves - we don't allocate immigration lawyers to immigrant children who come here alone, and so you see these children shaking with utter fear before that judge - well, that law got shot down by the Senate. So, it's absolutely true that the prison industry wants to keep this going. And companies like Corrections Corp. of America and GEO have made a lot of money off of this.

I think instead of what we are doing, we need to push our government to do what Germany is doing, which is to establish a system, be a leader in terms of refugees and establish a system to allow these refugees to arrive at our border and claim asylum, and then redistribute these migrants to Canada, to Latin America, and, yes, some to the United States, so that they are safe, while we address the root causes of this violence, help these countries address the root causes in Latin America. You know, we only take in 70,000 refugees a year. Germany, that dinky country in Europe, will take in more than 10 times that number this year. I think we can afford to go up to at least 130,000 - that's what we took in pre-9/11 - to allow especially these children to have a safe harbor in this country. And instead of paying Mexico to turn them away, we should also pay them to make sure that they are screened for asylum. Mexico only has 20 asylum officers in the whole country, three offices. They have purposefully underfunded this.

AMY GOODMAN: You choose to use the word "migrant" and "refugee" rather than "immigrant." Why, Sonia?

SONIA NAZARIO: Well, I think with a refugee, it is a person who is being persecuted in their home country, and they are fleeing harm. And this is what I saw when I went to Honduras 14 months ago. I saw children - you know, we spend billions of dollars to stop the flow of drugs coming from Venezuela and Colombia up the Caribbean corridor to the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti. They were landing there, those drug flights. We spend all this taxpayer money, and what did the narcos do? They simply rerouted, and they're now landing four of five narco flights in Honduras. And so, they are trying to control that turf to move drugs north to us, the largest consumer of illegal drugs on Earth. We use one in four illegal drugs on Earth.

And they are recruiting children to control that turf, to serve as lookouts, to sell drugs in those neighborhoods, and to work as sicarios, to kill people, ultimately. And I saw children as young as 11. I spoke to an 11-year-old boy in a piece I did 14 months ago in The New York Times. He said, "I'm 11 years old. I'm in the sixth grade. And these narcos are telling me as I come out of my elementary school, which they control, 'You are going to start using crack. And if you don't - and get hooked on crack and start working for us - we are going to kill you.'" And so, your options, for a lot of these children, are start working for the gangs, start working for the narcos that the gangs often report to, or flee. Those are the options.

And what we're seeing is, the kids coming through Mexico are younger and younger, a half that are caught in Mexico 11 and younger, and more of them are girls. The girls I saw in that neighborhood, they were - 40 percent now of the girls - of the children caught in Mexico now are girls. They are being taught - told, "You will be my girlfriend," by the gang leader, the narco leader, "or I'm going to kill you, I'm going to exterminate your whole family." And so, I'm seeing many more girls and women coming through Mexico. At the shelter I was at, there was a 28-year-old woman. She had been kidnapped by the gang, the 18th Street gang, in her neighborhood, that's basically the law in her neighborhood. There is no government to turn to in certain parts of Honduras. And she came out of her job. They grabbed her, four gangsters, took her to a house. And there was a man tied up there, and they forced her to watch as they beat this man to death, stabbed him in his arms and legs, and then cut him up in pieces - she doesn't know if he was alive or dead when that happened - and then forced her to hold the garbage bag as they put his pieces into it and told her, "You're going to be my girlfriend tomorrow, or this is what will happen to you tomorrow." She fled without even saying goodbye to her four children, without giving them a hug, because she thought they would have questions, and that might put them in greater danger. She fled to Mexico, where she is now at, at that shelter, trying to get through Mexico and trying to reach safety in the United States. This is what people are fleeing, and this is very different from someone who is an immigrant coming here for a better life, like my parents came here from Argentina. They wanted a better life for themselves, but they were not fleeing for their lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Sonia Nazario. Your piece is just astounding in The New York Times. We will link to it, called "The Refugees at Our Door." Sonia Nazario, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author of Enrique's Journey: The Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother. We will also link to our own Democracy Now!'s Renée Feltz's award-winning reports [Part 1 and Part 2 appear via] on the private immigrant detention centers run by for-profit corporations on the border of the United States at

When we come back, The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government. Stay with us.

News Tue, 13 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Democratic Debate: A Brief Field Guide

Will a policy discussion break out in the Democratic presidential debate tonight? Not if CNN's moderators can help it. Already the pundits are dreading an exchange focused on ideas rather than insults. No Donald Trump to bait and goad. No Carly Fiorina to provoke. CNN, which has turned itself into Trump 24/7 in search of ratings, has to be fretting about the falloff in viewers.

So, no doubt, the moderators will troll for trash. Sanders will be challenged about whether a "socialist" can win. He'll be cross-examined about his polemic excesses from five decades ago, as if this were a measure of character. The ersatz scandals burdening Hillary - the email server, Benghazi, the family fortune - will be reheated. We'll get horse race questions about why anyone thinks Hillary can be beaten.

Here's the reality behind the debate. Democrats are now an unabashed party of liberal social reform. The New Democrats - and their tacking to conservative tides - are no more. Democrats are no longer worried about wedge social issues. Instead they see social issues — from gay marriage to immigration reform to abortion and women's rights - as glue for their coalition. Hillary Clinton is free to unleash her presumed liberalism, divorcing herself from her husband's policies on gay marriage, mass incarceration, and eventually welfare repeal.

The Democratic candidates are also united around a populist lite economic agenda. Clinton, Sanders and O'Malley - the leading candidates - all support raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing paid family leave and sick days, and empowering workers to organize and bargain collectively. All support universal preschool and making college more affordable. All support action on climate change. All favor investing in rebuilding our decrepit infrastructure (although with massive differences in scale). All would curb the role of big money in out politics and champion voting rights reforms. The fight with Republicans is clearly marked.

But the leading Democratic candidates have major differences on the fundamental structure of our political economy. And money - big money in politics - is at the center of those differences. What should be done with Wall Street, and a financial sector that is dangerous to our economic health? How does the U.S. stop running ruinous trade deficits and make things in America once more? What is the scale of public investment needed to rebuild America - and who pays for it? How to we address the looming retirement crisis, curb prices in the most costly health care system in the world, provide jobs for and revive our urban wastelands? Should we continue to police the world? How do we end ruinous interventions that are draining our resources, costing lives, and undermining our security? What is a real response to climate change? And of course, how do we curb big money in politics if every winning candidate benefits from it?

So after the dreck, here are four questions that, if posed, might clarify some of the choices ahead of us.

1. The Economy: George Bush cut taxes, deregulated, ran up deficits and we suffered a recovery in which the typical household lost ground and inequality soared. Barak Obama raised taxes, regulated Wall Street and cut deficits, and we're suffering a recovery in which the typical household is losing ground and inequality is soaring. What three major things would you do differently than Bush and Obama to get this economy to work for the vast majority, and not just for the few?

2. Security: America and its allies spend more on their militaries than all the other countries in the world combined. We have over 750 bases across the world. Our fleets patrol the seven seas. We are involved in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, with drones attacking in seven countries or more. Is this necessary for our security? Or should we be cutting back on our military spending and intervention, and focus on rebuilding America here at home?

3. Breaking Gridlock: President Obama has advocated many of the economic reforms that you support, such as raising the minimum wage, raising taxes on the rich, increasing spending on infrastructure and universal preschool. All of his reforms are dead on arrival at this dysfunctional Republican-dominated Congress. What would you do differently that would give your proposals some chance of surviving?

4. The Safety Net: America's safety net is threadbare. Aid to mothers with dependent children was slashed in "welfare reform." Child care is unaffordable. Private pensions are rare, and our Social Security benefits are among the lowest of the industrial world. College, virtually free for the boomer generation, now buries millennials under unpayable debts. All this suggests we need not a bit more public spending, but a massive increase in public investment. Do you support that? If not, how do you address our public squalor? If so, how would you pay for it? Can we afford it?

What the mainstream media and CNN moderators have difficulty absorbing is that the center is unrealistic. Moderate policies - from Republicans or Democrats - won't succeed in addressing the challenges we face. Fundamental reforms - the very reforms the mainstream media considers off the wall, like single-payer health care or breaking up the big banks - are necessary. Moderate reforms have little chance of breaking through Washington's gridlock.

Politics has usual must change if anything is to be done. And that requires a powerful political movement - a political revolution if you will - that can take on big money, scour Washington's corrupt stables, and drive structural reforms. Tonight's debate isn't likely to acknowledge this reality, but it would be wise not to scorn it.

Opinion Tue, 13 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
TPP Is "Worst Trade Agreement" for Medicine Access, Says Doctors Without Borders

"The TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] will…go down in history as the worst trade agreement for access to medicines in developing countries," said Doctors without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in a statement following the signing of the TPP trade deal.

The controversial agreement is the largest trade deal in a generation, bringing together 12 countries around the world including the United States to govern 40 percent of the world's economy.

Negotiations on the TPP deal, initiated in 2008, finally came to a conclusion on Oct. 5 in the southern US city of Atlanta. It includes a range of economic policies including lowered tariffs as well as standards for labor law, environmental regulation, and international investments.

"This partnership levels the playing field for our farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers by eliminating more than 18,000 taxes that various countries put on our products," said US President Barack Obama in a statement following the end of negotiations. He also noted that the deal has the "strongest" commitments on labor and the environment of any trade agreement in history.

Though the deal has yet to be formally adopted by the signatories' legislative bodies, it has already received criticism from numerous civil society members, including MSF, whose main concern arises from the deal's provisions on data protection for biologic drugs.

Biologic drugs include any therapy from a biological source including vaccines, anti-toxins and monoclonal antibodies for diseases including cancer and HIV/AIDS.

According to the Brookings Institution, a US-based think tank, biologics are larger and structurally more complex than other drugs, making them more difficult and costly to develop. On average, biologics cost 22 times more than nonbiologics.

Due to these high costs, companies utilize data from the original drug creator to develop "biosimilars," cheaper, generic versions of biologics. MSF has stated that this competition is the "best way to reduce drug prices and improve access to treatment."

For instance, MSF treats almost 300,000 people with HIV/AIDS in 21 countries with generic drugs. These drugs have reduced the organization's cost of treatment from US$10,000 per patient per year to US$140 per patient per year.

However, in the US, biologics creators have 12 years of data exclusivity. During this period, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cannot approve a biosimilar that utilizes original biologic data.

Data protection rules vary in other countries, while Peru, Chile and Mexico do not have any biologics data rules at all.

As part of the TPP negotiations, the U.S. sought to include the 12-year protection rule. Trade ministers went back and forth on the rule, finally settling on a mandatory minimum of five to eight years of data protection.

As a result, biosimilars will not be able to enter the market in countries that previously had no restrictions. According to MSF, this will lead to high, sustained drug prices by pharmaceutical companies, preventing individuals and health providers from acquiring affordable and essential medicines.

MSF predicts that at least half a billion people will be unable to access medicines once the TPP takes effect.

"The big losers in the TPP are patients and treatment providers in developing countries," MSF said in its statement.

The organization urged governments and its legislatures to consider the consequences.

"The negative impact of the TPP on public health will be enormous, be felt for years to come, and will not be limited to the current 12 TPP countries, as it is a dangerous blueprint for future agreements," MSF warned.

News Tue, 13 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
No, the Kochs' Political Spending Is Not "Reported"

On October 11, the elder Koch brother gave a rare interview to CBS Sunday Morning. Reporter Anthony Mason asked, "Do you think it's good for the political system that so much what's called 'dark money' is flowing into the process now?"

Koch replied: "First of all, what I give isn't 'dark.' What I give politically, that's all reported. It's either to PACs or to candidates. And what I give to my foundations is all public information."

This is untrue, according to documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy last year.

In addition to the hundreds of millions flowing into politics by way of the Kochs' network of foundations and funding vehicles like Freedom Partners, funds from the corporate treasury of Koch Industries - the second-largest privately held company in the world - flow into politics, and Charles' brother David is known to have written millions of dollars in personal checks to political groups each year.

None of this spending is publicly disclosed.

Koch and Koch Industries Donations Offer Snapshot Into Koch Network

Donations made by the Koch family foundations - the Charles G. Koch Foundation, the David Koch Foundation, and the now-closed Claude R. Lambe Foundation - must be publicly reported.

The Koch political network has also established a complicated array of funding vehicles, like Freedom Partners and the Center to Protect Patient Rights (now known as "American Encore"), to funnel hundreds of millions to politically-active nonprofits like Americans for Prosperity and American Future Fund. Although the original donors for these funding vehicles are kept secret, by law, these groups must disclose the grants they make to other groups, providing some insight into the Koch network's political spending.

In contrast, there is no public reporting requirement for donations directly from the personal bank accounts of David and Charles Koch, who together are worth an estimated $83 billion, unless donating directly to a candidate or PAC.

And, there is no public reporting of contributions from Koch Industries itself. Koch Industries is a closely-held company, so its majority owners, David and Charles Koch, do not have to publicly disclose how they use profits from the company's $115 billion in annual revenue to fund their personal political agenda.

Yet documents obtained by CMD show that that the Kochs themselves and Koch Industries are pouring millions into politics, with zero public disclosure.

These documents do not provide a comprehensive list of private Koch donations, but instead offer a glimpse into the nearly incomprehensible breadth of the Koch political universe. That universe goes beyond the $400 million the Kochs and their operatives raised and spent through the Freedom Partners/Center to Protect Patient Rights network in 2013.

It is likely that both David Koch himself and Koch Industries have given more to the groups discussed below and to others in additional years, but those records have not been made available.

Known donations from Koch Industries include:

In press releases, Koch Industries has tried to draw a line between its corporate interests and its owners' political interests. It states on the KochFacts website, for example, that "AFP and AFP Foundation operate independently of Koch Industries." Yet, it is now known that Koch Industries itself was pouring as much as $1 million each year into AFP during the early 2000s, the only years that such records are available, in addition to contributions from the Koch family foundations and David Koch himself. It is not known how much Koch Industries or the Kochs may have provided to AFP in more recent years, as the group has played an increasing role in elections and its budget has grown exponentially.

In some cases, donations from Koch Industries exceeded donations from the Koch family foundations. For example, in 2010, the Texas Public Policy Foundation - the State Policy Network affiliate in Texas that once counted Ted Cruz as a fellow - received $159,834 from Koch Industries, nearly double the $69,788.61 that the Kochs' Claude R. Lambe Foundation disclosed as giving to the group.

Known donations from David Koch himself include:

All of these contributions are in addition to millions of dollars of donations, cumulatively, from the Koch family foundations.

Opinion Tue, 13 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: 25 Percent of the World's Energy Will Be Generated by Renewables by 2020, and More

In today's On the News segment: According to a new report from the International Energy Agency, within five years, one quarter of all the world's energy will be generated by renewable sources; the Union of Concerned Scientists is worried about the political pressure that is undermining scientific research; a Scottish company has figured out how to transform waste from whiskey-making into an energy source; and more.

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


Thom Hartmann here - on the best of the rest of Science and Green News ...

You need to know this. Within five years, one quarter of all the world's energy will be generated by renewable sources. That's the finding of a new report from the International Energy Agency, and it's being hailed as "a remarkable shift in a very limited period of time." In 2014 alone, almost half of all the new power capacity came from clean energy sources like wind and solar. And, in developed nations, renewables account for nearly all of the new additions to power capacity. That fact on its own is pretty astounding. And, it's enough to prove that making the switch to all-renewable energy is actually possible, regardless of what we hear from the fossil fuel industry. According to this new report, "Even in a lower fossil fuel price environment, the policy drivers for renewable electricity - energy diversification, local pollution, and de-carbonization aims, remain robust." In other words, even where oil, gas, and coal may be cheaper, there are other factors that drive the demand for clean energy. Although Republican lawmakers often point to major polluters like China and India as a an excuse to avoid acting on climate change, it is actually those same countries that are leading the world in the expansion of renewable energy sources. While we continue to elect people who refuse to admit that global warming is real, the rest of the world is doing something to address the climate crisis. Faith Birol, Executive Director of the IEA, said, "Renewables are poised to seize the crucial top spot in global power supply growth, but this is hardly the time for complacency." She added, "Governments must remove the question marks over renewables if these technologies are to achieve their full potential, and put our energy system on a more secure, sustainable path." This report makes it very clear that going to 100 percent clean, renewable energy is possible. The only question left is whether we have the will to fight for an all-renewable future.

Modern-day medical professionals often reject ancient remedies, but that may change after they learn about one of the latest winners of the Nobel Prize. In the 1960s, Chinese researcher Youyou Tu discovered a naturally-based compound, which became vital in the treatment of malaria. Although Western doctors didn't start accepting the treatment until the 1980s, the compound has saved millions of lives in the decades since that discovery. These days, most doctors and medical staff take the treatment for granted, but they may be surprised to learn that the medicine did not come from any high-tech laboratory. During their work back in the '60s, Youyou Tu and her team collected hundreds of herbs and extracts mentioned in ancient Chinese literature. According to the Nobel Prize committee, "Tu revisited the ancient literature and discovered clues that guided her in her quest to successfully extract the active component..." Thankfully for the millions of malaria patients around the world, Youyou Tu recognized the value in the ancient texts, and she wasn't afraid to follow her theories. The value and importance of modern medicine is immeasurable, but it's great news that this story may encourage doctors to take a second look at the treatments used in an earlier time.

A few weeks ago, General Mills told Congress that they couldn't make Wheaties if global warming made it harder for them to get wheat. Now, other food producers are joining that company to demand action on climate change, so they can make their products in the future. Last week, ten of the world's biggest food companies signed on to an open letter to Congress. They said, "The challenge presented by climate change will require all of us - government, civil society, and business - to do more with less." They explained, "For companies like ours, that means producing more food on less land using fewer natural resources. If we don't take action now, we risk not only today's livelihoods, but those of future generations." And, considering these are our biggest food producers, their livelihood has a pretty direct link with our future survival. Republicans in Congress may not listen to us, but hopefully they will take heed of the food industry's warnings before it's too late.

The Union of Concerned Scientists say that they're worried about the political pressure that is undermining scientific research. According to a new report from that group, scientists in all of our governmental agencies feel that political interests get in the way of their research. One of the study's authors wrote, "Many scientists told us that scientific decisions were being swayed by politics or that political influence inhibited their ability to carry out agency missions." That means that agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have to balance the political ideology of their bosses and colleagues with the need to protect the public from bad food or deadly diseases. Those are jobs far too important to be impacted by political pressure. The report suggests that more training may help reduce the political influence, and more transparency could help scientists keep politics out of their findings. These functions are far too important to be swayed by ideology, and scientists shouldn't have to consider the political environment just to do their jobs.

And finally ... Leave it to the Scots to figure out how to turn whiskey into energy. That's exactly what a professor in Scotland has done, and now his firm will build a facility to produce one million liters of this new biofuel. Martin Tangney's company, appropriately called Celtic Renewables, figured out how to transform waste from whiskey-making into an energy source. So, the UK government has award him with 11 million euros to continue his research and development of the new fuel. On their website, Celtic Renewables said, "Biofuels are essential in de-carbonizing the transport sector and demand for liquid fuel will continue to soar worldwide." As only 10 percent of the plant material used in making whiskey ends up in the final product, Mr. Tangney will use the rest to make a fuel similar to ethanol. We're still a long way off from whiskey-fueled cars on the roadway, but Celtic Renewables is about to find out if this is the biofuel of the future.

And that's the way it is for the week of October 12, 2015 – I'm Thom Hartmann, on Science and Green News.

News Tue, 13 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The New Battleground for Same-Sex Couples Is Equal Rights for Their Kids

When the Supreme Court invalidated same-sex marriage bans in June, the Justices acknowledged they had the kids in mind.

In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy cited the infringement of the interests of children being raised by same-sex couples as one reason for the Court's ruling.

Who are these kids? An estimated 220,000 children under the age of 18 are being raised in same-sex families in the United States. Half are nonwhite.

Protecting Kids' Rights

My research, scholarship and advocacy efforts have focused on children, particularly black children, for the past 10 years. In an amicus brief filed in Obergefell - the Supreme Court case that ended same-sex marriage bans - my coauthors and I highlighted the legal and economic deprivations children in these families suffer when their parents can't marry.

We cited landmark Supreme Court cases that make clear that children should not be punished, stigmatized or discriminated against by government action.

Brown v. Board of Education, a landmark civil rights case, was one of the cases we relied on because it represents a high-water mark in the Supreme Court's recognition of children's constitutional rights. The plaintiffs in that case were black children asserting their constitutional rights against discrimination by state governments mandating segregated schools.

The Supreme Court cited our amicus brief to support its conclusion that constitutional protection of same-sex marriage affords children "the permanency and stability important to children's best interests."

Despite this acknowledgment, the Supreme Court's opinion is preoccupied with the rights of adults and the expansion of the right to marry. It leaves children in same-sex families at risk.

Legal Challenges

Children born into same-sex families frequently are biologically related to only one parent, and the law recognizes only that one parent. The legal status of the child's relationship with her nonbiological parent varies from state to state.

Had the Obergefell decision been more focused on the rights of children in same-sex families, its ruling could have ensured that children's relationships with their nonbiological parents were legally recognized and protected.

However, the opinion failed to reference children's rights explicitly. As a result, as recent developments in state courts reveal, the rights of children in same-sex families remain vulnerable.

No Marital Presumption

The law referred to as the marital or paternity presumption automatically recognizes a legal parent-child relationship between children born into a marriage and their mothers' husbands - without considering biology. In most states, this law affords legally enforceable rights to both the father and the child.

A New York court recently ruled that the presumption does not apply to same-sex spouses, reasoning that the "presumption of legitimacy … is one of a biological relationship, not of legal status."

In Florida, three sets of same-sex spouses filed suit in federal court challenging the refusal of state officials to put both parents' names on their children's birth certificates.

Second-parent adoptions and parenting judgments, which are alternative ways of creating a legal parent-child relationship, could protect children's relationships with their nonbiological parents. However, even in the dozen or so states that permit adoptions by same-sex spouses, those adoptions are not always recognized in sister states.

Three months after the Obergefell decision, the Alabama Supreme Court refused to recognize a lesbian mother's adoption of her three nonbiological children granted by a Georgia court in 2007. The court reasoned that Alabama does not need to respect the adoptions because it determined the Georgia court didn't properly apply Georgia law when granting them.

Loss of Wealth

Even after the Obergefell decision, children are being deprived of important legal, economic and social benefits and protections that would result from a legal parental relationship with both of their parents.

Children in same-sex families are losing out on worker's compensation benefits, social security benefits, state health insurance, civil service benefits, inheritance and wrongful death proceeds. Denial of these benefits could deprive children of thousands - or in rare cases, even millions - of dollars.

Children can also be deprived of the benefit of parental decision-making authority when it comes to health decisions, securing a passport and registering for school.

Imagine a boy is being raised by two mothers. If his biological mother dies, his "other mother" would have no custody claim. The boy could end up in foster care.

Such laws can have a powerful and adverse financial and legal impact.

According to the Williams Institute, which the Supreme Court cited in Obergefell, same-sex families raising children are twice as likely to earn incomes near the poverty level.

Many of these children are already challenged by experiences informed by their race, ethnicity and socieoeconomic status. Depriving this demographic of important financial and legal protections renders them even more vulnerable. It also compromises the permanency and stability the majority of the Supreme Court recognized as important to children's interests.

The next round of litigation relating to same-sex families should focus on children's rights to legal parentage by both of their parents. Children should be the plaintiffs in these cases, and like the children in Brown v. Board of Education, their rights should command constitutional protection.

The Conversation

News Tue, 13 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Scientists Play Catch Up as New Chemicals Contaminate Great Lakes Birds

Stain repellent and fire retardant chemicals that scientists know little about are increasingly showing up in herring gull eggs around the Great Lakes, spurring concern for potential health impacts.

The gulls are considered a sentinel species, and the contaminants appearing in their eggs paint a picture of a shifting chemical profile in the Great Lakes, which holds about 20 percent of the world's fresh surface water. While legacy pollutants, such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), still persist, a growing list of esoteric pollutants is showing up in wildlife.

"With phase-outs of some past problem chemicals … we're now monitoring for and seeing new chemicals that may pose some of the same problems - being persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic," said Michael Murray, a staff scientist at the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Regional Center.

Canadian and U.S. researchers studying herring gull eggs found a suite of different flame retardants and perfluorinated chemicals - mostly used as adhesives, stain repellents and lubricants - in samples collected in 2012 and 2013 across the Great Lakes basin.

The chemicals are "emerging" contaminants, so science on their effects is sparse and it's not completely clear what they might do to the health of birds. Scientists have linked some flame retardants and perfluorinated compounds to reproductive, development and behavioral problems in birds, but the research is limited and simply doesn't exist for some of the compounds measured in gull eggs in the recent studies.

The "first step is finding them [the compounds] and then finding out if we need to start being concerned," said Lisa Williams, a contaminants specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service based in East Lansing, Michigan, who took part in the research.

As a "sentinel species," the herring gull's contaminant load is an indicator of the types of chemicals in other species that inhabit the same area, such as fish and bald eagles, Williams said.

For the flame retardants, which are chemicals added to products such as furniture, electronics and clothing to slow the spread of flames if they catch fire, Williams and colleagues tested hundreds of eggs and found 35 of the 53 compounds they tested for in at least one of the eggs.

There was some good news: Levels of seven polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants were about 30 percent lower than concentrations measured in eggs from colonies in 2006.

But three compounds - BDE-209, hexabromocyclododecane and dechlorane - increased significantly compared to eggs tested in Canadian colonies about six years before, suggesting that their use might be on the rise as PBDEs are phased out.

For the perfluorinated compounds they found six of the compounds they tested for in more than 97 percent of the 114 eggs sampled, including new compounds with a slightly different structure than the types commonly found in the past. The study was the first ever to report a perfluorinated compound used as an aircraft lubricant in a bird species. It had only been previously found in aquatic life.

The research on perfluorinated compounds was published in August in the journal Science of the Total Environment. The flame retardant research was published in the journal Environmental Research in September.

Such chemicals travel on air currents so the findings don't necessarily mean there are local releases to the environment. "Weather patterns bring them to cooler climates, they come out in rainfall and then often are not re-released," Williams said.

Since baby birds are exposed to contaminants present in the egg, the findings represent a "direct measure of exposure to developing bird embryos," Williams said. "It's often the most sensitive life stage."

"It's yet another piece of evidence of the failure of our chemical regulatory system," said Olga Lyandres, a research manager with Alliance for the Great Lakes, a nonprofit organization focused on restoration of the Great Lakes.

Lyandres was referring to the federal Toxic Control Substances Act, a law that regulates chemicals and the introduction of new ones. Many fault the law for not requiring robust testing of chemicals before they're widely used.

Lyandres said that some of these newer Great Lakes contaminants are on the radar of regional leaders. One of the goals of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, a commitment between the U.S. and Canada to protect the Great Lakes, is to identify, prioritize and take action on problematic chemicals.

Both perfluorinated compounds and various flame retardants were on the most recent assessment as chemicals that require action. This could mean possibly dredging heavily contaminated areas, or finding industries contributing the chemical loads and stopping the release into the environment, Lyandres said.

For the time being, scientists have to continue playing catch up, Murray said.

"We're talking about thousands of chemicals potentially out there," he said. "We have clear limitations in our federal law in terms of what's required, and there are a whole lot of chemicals out there for which we have so little data."

News Tue, 13 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Fighting Racism From the USDA, Black Farmers Gain Power Through Co-ops

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives, a network of co-ops, almost all of which are composed of Black family farmers across the Deep South, is fighting back against institutional racism in the agricultural policies of the US Department of Agriculture, utilizing organizing, political advocacy and legal strategies.

Members of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives meet with USDA officials in Washington, DC, May 21.Members of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives meet with USDA officials in Washington, DC, May 21, 2015. The federation upholds a vision of local production for local consumption and seeks to defend the family land needed for that local production. (Photo: Bob Nichols / USDA)

The 2015 US Food Sovereignty Prize will be awarded on October 14 in Des Moines, Iowa. This year, one of the two winners is the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, a network of cooperatives, almost all of which are composed of Black family farmers across the Deep South. The federation upholds a vision of local production for local consumption and seeks to defend the family land needed for that local production. The second winner, the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras, has a similar mission and values.

Institutional racism in the agricultural policies of the USDA is to blame for the loss of Black land.

Some of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives farmers continue working land that was deeded to their ancestors by the US government after they were freed from slavery. This is the case with Ben Burkett, president of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, which is a member of the federation. He farms the 164 acres that his great-grandfather was given by the government in 1889. Burkett still has the land title signed by President Grover Cleveland.

Composed of 35 agricultural co-ops, representing 12,000 farm families in 13 states from Texas to North Carolina - primarily Black, but also some Latino, Native American and white - the federation employs organizing, political advocacy and legal strategies to defend land. The federation also helps develop economically self-sufficient communities, assisting member co-ops to purchase supplies and find marketing outlets. Moreover, the federation offers financial and technical assistance.

The federation's work to keep land in the hands of small farmers is one of the foundations of food sovereignty, a framework of policies, principles and practices through which food systems are controlled by and serve the best interest of people instead of corporations.

Taking on the "Last Plantation"

In 1920, one in every seven farmers in the United States was Black. Together, they owned nearly 15 million acres. By 1982, however, Black farmers numbered one in 67, together owning only 3.1 million acres. (1) Racism, violence and massive migration from the rural South to the industrialized North caused a steady decline in the number of Black farmers.

Even for those who have long held onto their families' land, maintaining it today is a constant struggle. Historic patterns of racism and economic pressures in an agribusiness-driven food system have pushed many Black farmers off their land.

Burkett says he believes the co-op structure is the only way to survive as a farmer in the rural South.

Institutional racism in the agricultural policies of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) - nicknamed "the last plantation" - is also to blame for the loss of Black land. Over the years, studies by the US Civil Rights Commission, as well as by the USDA itself, showed that the USDA actively discriminated against Black farmers. A 1964 Civil Rights Commission study showed that the agency unjustly denied Black farmers loans, disaster aid and representation on agricultural committees. (2)

In response, in 1997 and 1998, Black farmers - organized through the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and other Black organizations - filed class-action lawsuits against the USDA for unjustly denying them loans. The lawsuits were consolidated into one case, Pigford v. Glickman, which was settled in 1999.

However, due to delays in filing claims, nearly 60,000 farmers and their heirs were left out of this settlement. In November 2010, the US Congress passed the Claims Settlement Act, known as Pigford II, to compensate Black farmers who were left out of the first settlement. President Obama signed the Claims Settlement Act a month later, making $1.25 billion available for claimants in the form of cash payments and loan forgiveness. The final settlement allocated about $50,000 each to roughly 16,000 farmers nationwide.

"I never would have thought the government would actually pay anybody any money," Burkett said of the settlement. "At the beginning, I would say, 'You are never getting a dime.' But, I was wrong."

"Not as Good as We Want It to Be"

Over the years, each generation of the Burkett family bought more land, so that the original 164 acres has expanded to 296 acres. On them, under the name of B&B Farms, Burkett - with the help of his family - grows 15 different varieties of vegetables, as well as timber. Burkett says he believes the co-op structure is the only way to survive as a farmer in the rural South.

Speaking of Pigford and Pigford II, Burkett said he would have preferred that the money had been pooled and put into a trust to borrow against or to help new farmers. That would have provided future generations with some seed funding and current farmers a layer of security, he added.

In an interview, Burkett explains the rationale of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives taking a lead in the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit:

The lawsuit was about discrimination in the county office of the USDA. I got a loan to buy my equipment, my seeds and fertilizers. I could not write any checks directly. I had to write a check and then somebody in the [USDA] office had to sign it. They were only treating black farmers like that, not white farmers. For example, if I wanted to buy $5,000 worth of soybean seed, I had to go find the seed from the Forest County co-op and get an invoice. I then had to go back up to the [USDA] office and get the check. They sign the check, I sign the check and then I have to take it back to the store. I'm just one they treated like that.

A lot of farmers, they go in and get their loan approved. This happened to me too. My loan was approved in February or March, but I didn't get the money until July 15th. That's cutting time. Planting is over. It was several things like that, that brought the suit about. A lot of black farmers went into the USDA offices and were denied. They wouldn't even give them the application for a loan. The USDA officers told them, 'You can't make any money farming, so ...' In the lawsuit, [denial of your loan] had to happen to you between '81 and '96. It was happening before then and it is happening now, after the lawsuit. That's just the price of doing business, I suppose.

They can pass a rule in Washington, D.C., [in the] USDA or Congress. Then it comes to the state of Mississippi. If the state says they don't want to do it, they don't have to do it. We have a [USDA] county committee made up of five farmers who do the hiring, the firing, and everything else. Those fellows up in Washington D.C. can talk, but they can't fire anybody. They cannot fire a soul in the state of Mississippi.

As long as it's set up that way, it won't change. I believe that in my heart. There are all kinds of laws about discrimination [that say] 'regardless of race, religion, creed or color.' Discrimination, morals, people's ideologies ... you can't make policy or legislate that away.

But, it is much better. I remember the '60's, I remember segregation and it is better now. Not as good as we want it to be, but not as bad as it was.

Because racism persists in the agricultural system, hurting the efforts of Burkett and other Black farmers, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives keeps fighting for equal justice through grassroots mobilizations, in the courts and through state and national legislation.

Burkett said, "Racism is still here in the marketplace and in credit, but we have learned to deal with it and not give up on changing the system. We struggle every day to bring about a change."



1. Public Broadcasting System, "Challenging the USDA (1980s and 1990s)," Black Farming and Land Loss: A History.

2. Public Broadcasting System, "The Civil Rights Years (1954-1968)," Black Farming and Land Loss: A History.

Opinion Tue, 13 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400