Truthout Stories Sun, 07 Feb 2016 10:05:22 -0500 en-gb "Making the Promises Real": Labor and the Paris Climate Agreement

A labor climate program can serve as the leading edge of a campaign to realize such traditional labor goals as full employment, job security, greater equality, human rights on the job and protection against the vast economic insecurities of working people's lives.

The Eiffel tower, covered by a green visual forest during the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, December 2, 2015.The Eiffel tower, covered by a green visual forest during the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, December 2, 2015. A labor climate program can draw together workers, unions and allies around protecting jobs by protecting the climate. (Photo: Petr Kovalenkov /

As nearly 200 nations gathered in Paris approved the UN Climate Change Agreement, the AFL-CIO issued a statement that broke new ground on climate.[1] While the AFL-CIO opposed the Kyoto climate agreement and never supported the failed Copenhagen agreement, it "applauded the Paris climate change agreement as "a landmark achievement in international cooperation" and called on America "to make the promises real."

Although it has frequently pointed out the harm that workers and communities might face from climate protection policies, the AFL-CIO has never proposed a "just transition" plan to protect them. Its Paris statement noted that "workers in certain sectors will bear the brunt of transitional job and income loss." Recognizing that reality, it endorsed the Paris agreement's recognition of "the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs." It called for investment in the affected communities and "creating family-supporting jobs like those that will be lost."

This statement lays the groundwork for organized labor to take a new approach to climate change. How can labor now move forward to implement that approach? What should labor's post-Paris climate program be?

Adopt the Paris Targets

The AFL-CIO has never endorsed the targets for greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction that climate scientists have said are necessary to prevent the most devastating effects of global warming. The Paris agreement sets a goal of keeping warming well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit the increase in temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius. It is time for the AFL-CIO to endorse the GHG reductions that climate scientists say are necessary to reach that goal.

According to an analysis by Climate Interactive and MIT Sloan, the current U.S. pledge to drop GHG emissions 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, along with the pledges of other countries, will lead to a global temperature increase of 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.[2] To reduce warming to 1.8 degrees Celsius (3.2 degrees Fahrenheit) will require the U.S. to increase its pledged reduction from 26 percent to 45 percent, and for other countries to make comparable emission reductions. Other scientific estimates fall in the same range. If the AFL-CIO genuinely wants "to make the promises" of the Paris agreement "real" it needs to endorse the Paris target of keeping warming well below 2 degrees Celsius - and the GHG reductions that science says are necessary to make it happen.

The Paris agreement includes what a labor contract might call a "reopener" every five years, designed to provide the opportunity for countries to "ratchet up" their commitments. Organized labor should call on the U.S. to commit now to ratchet its targets up to what's necessary to realize the Paris goals and to make its climate action plans based on what is necessary to reach them.

Use Climate Protection to Create Good Jobs

The AFL-CIO statement on the Paris agreements calls for "investing in the affected communities" and "creating family-supporting jobs." Fortunately, the primary way to reduce GHGs is to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy and energy efficiency - and that produces far more jobs than fossil fuel energy.

In 2015 the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) and other groups issued a report "The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the climate, creating jobs, and saving money."[3] It shows that the U.S. can reduce GHG emissions 80 percent by 2050 - while saving money and adding half-a-million jobs per year compared to business-as-usual fossil fuel energy. Most of the added jobs will be in manufacturing and construction.

The plan does not depend on any new technical breakthroughs to realize these gains, only a continuation of current trends in energy efficiency and renewable energy costs. It is based on the conversion of all gasoline-powered light vehicles and most space heating and water heating to 100 percent renewable electricity. It includes an orderly phasing out of coal and nuclear energy and a gradual reduction in the burning of natural gas.

Organized labor should develop its own plan for expanding jobs by meeting the Paris climate goals. Such a plan can take as its starting point the "Clean Energy Future" report and similar studies. But there is no reason a labor jobs plan needs to be limited to that. Indeed, unions should also develop specific plans targeted to create jobs for workers and communities who may be adversely affected by climate policies.

An example of such a plan is presented in the LNS report "The Keystone Pipeline Debate: An Alternative Job Creation Strategy."[4] The report shows how to create five times as many jobs as the Keystone XL pipeline by investing in much needed water, sewer, and gas infrastructure maintenance and repair in the five states along the proposed pipeline route. The study found that meeting water and gas infrastructure needs in the five states can create more than 300,000 total jobs. Every dollar spent on gas, water, and sewer infrastructure in those states generates 156% more employment than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. It's time for American labor to advocate for such programs to meet our country's needs rather than fossil fuel projects that destroy our children's future.

Good, stable jobs protecting the climate can help challenge the growing inequality and injustice of our society, but only if policy is designed to do so. Climate policy needs to include strong racial, gender, age, and locational hiring requirements to counter our current employment inequality and provide a jobs pipeline for those individuals and groups who have been denied equal access to good jobs. It needs to help remedy the concentration of pollution in low-income communities, the lack of transportation, education, health, and other facilities in poor neighborhoods, and other manifestations of discrimination.

How can jobs protecting the climate be generated? There are three main approaches to GHG reduction. The first, which has dominated climate legislation and treaty negotiations, consists of "putting a price on carbon emissions" to discourage GHGs through taxation, fees, cap-and-trade systems with markets for emission quotas, or similar means. The second, which is widely discussed and frequently implemented on a small scale, consists of local, often community-based initiatives designed to produce renewable energy and reduce energy consumption on a decentralized basis.

The third approach, perhaps less often delineated by proponents than excoriated by opponents, consists of a government-led strategy based on economic planning, public investment, resource mobilization, industrial policy, and direct government intervention in economic decisions. While rapid reduction of GHG emissions will undoubtedly require all three, organized labor should lead the breakout from failed conservative market-only policies and propose a government-led plan - drawing on the example of economic mobilization for World War II - to put our people to work converting to a climate-safe economy.[5]

We now have working models for how to design such government-led programs. The Obama administration - with strong support from the UAW - saved the American auto industry through massive public investment and a restructuring of the industry based on sharply reducing carbon emissions.

The Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, despite some inadequacies and ambiguities, requires states and power companies to make defined GHG emission reductions on a legally enforceable schedule. While it gives them great flexibility in how to do so, it does not allow them to evade the targets just by providing incentives that may or may not lead to GHG reduction in the real world. It requires them to plan, invest, and disinvest to meet a compulsory schedule.

Long-term infrastructure like highways and the electrical grid are in fact already shaped by government planning and investment. Labor should propose a positive program of long-term public infrastructure investment both to rapidly reduce GHG emissions and to provide stable, good-quality jobs.

Leave No Worker Behind

The AFL-CIO statement on the Paris climate agreement called for "a just transition of the workforce." It is time for the American labor movement to spell out how that can be done.[6]

According to Brad Markell, Executive Director, AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council, a principal concern of trade unionists at the Paris negotiations was "what happens to workers and communities" in the transition to a new energy economy. In the US, coal industry workers, especially in Appalachia, are the "urgent focus of AFL-CIO concern for just transition." The industry is facing bankruptcies and the UMW pension fund is falling short. "We need to save pensions, create jobs, help communities with economic development, and accelerate job-creating programs to reclaim lands damaged by mining."[7]

A good starting point for doing so is the "Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act" recently outlined by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.).[8] The bill initially targets coal workers, but over time expands to other energy sector workers as well. It provides unemployment insurance, health care, and pensions for up to three years and job training and living expenses up to four years. Employers receive tax incentives to hire transitioning employees. Counties where 35 or more workers become eligible for the program can receive targeted development funds. The right of workers to join unions is protected by streamlining NLRB union recognition provisions. The bill covers the estimated $41 billion cost of the program by closing the tax loophole that allows corporations to send their headquarters overseas to avoid paying taxes. Organized labor needs to take that plan, make any improvements it considers necessary, and challenge the environmental movement and other allies to work together to make it happen.

A labor climate program can draw together workers, unions, and allies around protecting jobs by protecting the climate. Indeed, it can serve as the leading edge of a campaign to realize such traditional labor goals as full employment, job security, greater equality, human rights on the job, and protection against the vast economic insecurities of working people's lives.



[1] "AFL-CIO Statement on United Nations Climate Change Agreement," December 15, 2015. For a review of past AFL-CIO positions on climate change see Labor Network for Sustainability, "Labor, Climate, and the KXL: Interpreting the New AFL-CIO Statement on Energy and Jobs"

[2] Andrew Jones, John Sterman, Ellie Johnston, and Lori Siegel, "With Improved Pledges Every Five Years, Paris Agreement Could Limit Warming Below 2C," December 14, 2015.

[3] "The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the climate, creating jobs, and saving money" Labor Network for Sustainability,, and Synapse Energy Economics, based on research by a team led by Frank Ackerman of Synapse Energy Economics.

[4] Kristen Sheeran, Noah Enlow, Jeremy Brecher, and Brendan Smith, "The Keystone Pipeline Debate: An Alternative Job Creation Strategy." Economics for Equity and Environment and Labor Network for Sustainability.

[5] See Jeremy Brecher, Ron Blackwell, and Joe Uehlein, "If Not Now, When? A Labor Movement Plan to Address Climate Change." New Labor Forum, Winter, 2014.

[6] For an overview of "just transition" strategies see Jeremy Brecher, "A Superfund for Workers: How to Promote a Just Transition and Break Out of the Jobs vs. Environment Trap," Dollars & Sense, November/December 2015.

[7] Interview, January 18, 2016.

[8] "The Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act."

Opinion Sun, 07 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
After the Black Hawks Arrived: In Somalia, a History of US Meddling Continues

The official reason for the US presence in Somalia is to fight the perennial war against terrorism. But realistically, the United States is more interested in Somalia's geostrategic location and close proximity to Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran. The real reason is oil.

(Photo: Jan Wellmann)(Photo: Jan Wellmann)

I was a shivering in bed on my first night in Mogadishu. At 3:30 am, I killed the air conditioner. Moments later, the room felt stuffier than a London subway. I got up and paced around, wondering if it was safe to keep the balcony door open.

A few months back, al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda faction, had stormed Jazeera Palace Hotel, where I was currently staying, and sprayed a group of Chinese diplomats with lead. Now the building was secured by a street blockade, a double-gated check-in, blastproof walls, two dozen armed men and Abdullah, the small, wiry gentleman with an AK-47 outside my door.

I took a peek into the corridor and caught Abdullah dozing off. He was balancing on a tiny wooden stool, with the rifle propped between his legs.

View from Hotel Al Jazeera towards the Mogadishu International Airport. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)View from Jazeera Palace Hotel towards the Mogadishu International Airport. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)I was surprised to see his chair begin to gently vibrate, as if tapping Morse code on the cement floor. Seconds later, a set of massive, low-rumble turboprops shook the building. I rushed out to the balcony, expecting to see Con Air crash into the adjoining UN building, but only saw a dark, black shape swoop down to Mogadishu's Aden Adde International Airport half a mile away. Whoever was piloting the craft had killed all navigation lights.

"What kind of birds drop into Mogadishu at 4 am without lights?" I felt compelled to ask my host, Hassan, the next morning. I was in town with an alternative energy delegation, presenting clean power options to Somali leaders and businessmen. Hassan was in charge of our arrangements and security. He knew Mogadishu inside out and was a fast thinker.

"Ah, you mean Big Brother?" Hassan smiled.

His grin made me curious. The Americans had a peculiar reputation in Mogadishu.

Capturing the White Pearl

Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, was one of the Indian Ocean's principal ports until the early 20th century. Its trading history goes back to ancient Egypt. Mogadishu prospered through its trade in gold, beeswax, ivory and an abundance of fruits, animals and other foods all across the world, providing immense wealth to the native Berbers and Arabs. The city's inhabitants used a fraction of this wealth to build the beautiful pearl-white mosques and cathedrals of Mogadishu.

Today, Somalia is rife with drought, famine and war. Mogadishu lies in rubble. Tribal factions have deconstructed the city block by block, with rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns over a period of two decades. At least 300,000 Somalis were killed in Mogadishu alone during the civil war, and another 1.1 million had to flee the country.

Mogadishu's Bakaara Market or what’s left of it. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Mogadishu's Bakaara Market, or what's left of it. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)The city has no sewage system, waste management, energy infrastructure, population registry or ownership records. Random diesel generators provide fractional power to the privileged few. Travel inside Somalia is practically impossible, with much of the roadways, bridges and infrastructure destroyed. Al-Shabab still pops into town for surprise mayhem, forcing us to behold the view from behind bulletproof glass and a convoy of armed guards.

As we drove past the central marketplace, I was at first happy to see one brand new modern structure rise out of the ashes. But then my guide told me it's the National Intelligence and Security Agency headquarters, established in 2013 "under CIA supervision."

The gleaming building is symbolic of the new US influence in the region.

The official reason for the US presence in Somalia is the perennial war against terrorism. The real reason is oil.

Aside from training and building Somalia's intelligence infrastructure, the Americans are building a new, secretive military base 70 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu, without any official arrangement with the Somali government. The base has a capacity to house up to 100,000 troops, according to one source, who wished not to be named. As a result, the locals are seeing an influx of not only US troops, but also private contractors, mercenaries and Big Oil "security."

There are two underground rendition facilities used by the CIA for "counterterrorism operations" that my source calls "underground Guantánamos." (The case of one 25-year-old Kenyan extraordinary rendition victim was exposed in a 2014 article in The Nation by Jeremy Scahill.) One of the facilities is apparently blasted into solid rock at the end of the airport runway, where CIA transport planes drop classified loads on a nightly basis. The other is located under the presidential palace and is known as Godka, "The Hole."

Security precautions near Al Jazaara Palace hotel. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Security precautions near Al Jazaara Palace hotel. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)The official reason for the US presence in Somalia is the perennial war against terrorism. Since 2011, there has been a glut of drone attacks against al-Shabab in Somalia. In June 2011, CIA director John Brennan declared, "From the territory it controls in Somalia, al-Shabab continues to call for strikes against the United States. As a result we cannot and we will not let down our guard. We will continue to pummel al-Qaeda and its ilk."

It's hard to fathom, however, how a ragtag rebel group that can barely hold a village in Somalia could threaten the United States today.

A better rationale for the US presence in Somalia is its geostrategic location at the mouth of the Red Sea, with passage to the Suez Canal and close proximity to Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran, the hotbed of Middle East affairs.

The real reason is oil.

The Energy Equation

Somalia holds some of the world's most underexploited oil and gas reserves in the world. In the 1980s, geologists from the Texas-based Hunt Oil Company (with close ties to the Bush family) predicted a capacity of a billion barrels of oil lodged in an underground rift that stretched from Yemen to Somalia. President George H.W. Bush inaugurated the Hunt Yemen distillery in 1986, with a speech emphasizing "the growing strategic importance to the West of developing crude oil sources in the region away from the Strait of Hormuz."

Mogadishu Lido Beach is part of a 3,300 km long coastline, the longest of mainland Africa and the Middle East. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Mogadishu Lido Beach is part of a 3,300-km long coastline, the longest of mainland Africa and the Middle East. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Before the civil war erupted in 1990, nearly two-thirds of Somali energy reserves were already allocated to the US oil giants Conoco, Amoco, Chevron and Phillips. But Mohamed Siad Barre, president and military dictator of the Somali Democratic Republic, was not willing to give the entire pie to the Americans.

Siad Barre, or Comrade Siad, came into power in 1969 with a coup d'état. Barre was a military dictator who wanted to reassemble Somalia after half a century of colonialism. He was also a socialist who used cooperatives to build roads and hospitals and reinvigorate local agriculture. He nationalized banks, industries and businesses under the new Somali Democratic Republic. Barre's mission was to build a Greater Somalia to unite ethnic Somalis who had been ripped apart by British, French and Italian troops since 1881, when European powers partitioned more than 90 percent of the African continent.

By the time Barre got into power, the old Somalia was fractured under five independent territories: Italian Somalia (South), French Somalia (Djibouti), Ethiopian Somalia, British Somaliland and Kenyan Somalia (North Eastern Districts). Barre's attempt to reacquire the Ethiopian-controlled Ogaden territory failed in 1977 after the Soviets flipped their support from Barre to Ethiopia. This gave an opening to the Americans, who began to support the Barre government with $100 million per year in "economic and military aid."

While Texans were running around like wily coyotes in the 1980s, tagging Somalia's oil reserves, it became increasingly obvious that Barre would not become their puppet leader. Ergo, the Americans adopted a classic divide-and-conquer strategy, firstly by befriending a rebel group out of Somaliland, the Somali National Movement, which was hell-bent on taking out Barre. Other rebel groups followed suit. Some historic accounts of this time label Barre as a ruthless military dictator, opposed by the people. But the real thrust against him came from tribal groups who fired from every cardinal direction of the compass to create chaos, with CIA backing.

By 1988, Barre was fighting to keep control of Mogadishu. By 1991, he'd been ousted and Somalia was declared "a failed state." The resulting power vacuum intensified the war, collapsing distribution, infrastructure and agriculture. The result was one of the deadliest famines on record. From 1991 to 1992, half of the population of Somalia was starving.

It was the perfect time for the cavalry to come to the rescue.

Black Hawk Down

After a failed attempt in 1991 by UN troops to broker a cease-fire between the tribal groups, the United States offered to lead a "humanitarian operation" headed by the UN Security Council. Their aim was to reach a resolution, utilizing "all necessary means" to ensure relief efforts.

Readily deployed news crews captured the US Marines landing on the beaches of Somalia on December 9, 1992. The operation was code-named "Operation Restore Hope."

Little girl in Bakaara Market, Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Little girl in Bakaara Market, Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Enter Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid, Barre's former adviser, intelligence chief and ambassador to India. Educated in Rome and in an elite military institute in Moscow, he was revered by many Somalis as a fiercely nationalistic, charismatic soldier who fought in the trenches and was determined to resist a US-led occupation. As leader of one of the largest opposition groups, the United Somali Congress, Aidid was perfectly positioned to inherit Barre's mantle.

But Aidid's vision was contrary to US interests.

"You are doing God's work," President Bush told his 26,000 Army and Marine troops who were headed to Somalia. "We will not tolerate armed gangs ripping off their own people."

As the only US president in history to visit a sub-Saharan nation during a conflict, Bush spent two nights on the carrier USS Tripoli offshore from Mogadishu, trying to negotiate a deal with Aidid. The attempt was a failure.

Aidid was a diehard for independence and a Greater Somalia. As the main obstacle for US dominance in the region, he quickly landed on top of the US kill list. But due to tip-offs from US Marines of Somali ethnicity loyal to Aidid's ideology, most of the covert attacks against him failed.

In Ridley Scott's film Black Hawk Down, which was based on true events, Aidid the warlord has to be captured because he's starving his people. For the Somalis, the Black Hawks landing in Bakara Market represented a century of colonialism. It was no surprise that 20,000 Somalis or more converged on US Army Rangers with stones, rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s. Eighteen Americans and some 3,000 Somalis died in less than one day in the fight for Mogadishu, to the tune of Hans Zimmer.

The bungled operation forced President Bill Clinton to pull out of Somalia in 1993 - but only in official capacity. The real war was just about to begin.

Masters of Chaos

After the US Marines bailed out, Aidid became infamous. He declared himself president in 1995, but despite having enough sway to unite the country, a Western-orchestrated conference in Djibouti elected its own president, Ali Mahdi Mohamed.

Aidid's right-hand man, Osman Ali Atto, who happened to be the manager of a US oil company, allied himself with Mahdi's forces and orchestrated Aidid's defeat. Aidid was fatally wounded in the ensuing battle (Ali Atto later became the biggest land owner in Somalia).

Private guards during a lunch break in Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Private guards during a lunch break in Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)For the next decade, various rulers were able to control only parts of Mogadishu, while factional fighting continued in the rest of the country. Another record famine took place in 1998. A Transitional National Government was formed in 2000 in Djibouti, but was instantly opposed by Somali Islamists who united under the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). In reaction to the growing influence of the ICU, a group of Mogadishu warlords formed the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism (ARPCT) - with CIA funding ($100,000 to $150,000 per month, according to the International Crisis Group).

In 2006, despite CIA support, the ICU defeated the ARPCT in what is known as the "Second Battle of Mogadishu." Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, ICU's chairman, managed to seize Mogadishu, but his progress was quickly reversed when Ethiopian forces - again with US backing - joined the melee against the ICU. When a weaker Sharif began to look for a deal with the transitional government, the extreme factions of the ICU splintered off in the form of al-Shabab. The group's first target was their former leader, Sharif, who proceeded to jump over to the side of the United States. Sharif got a warm welcome from the Americans, with dual residence and education in the United States and the United Kingdom, along with four wives.

US drone operators have, from the beginning, only targeted al-Shabab members who are not aligned with US interests.

Al-Shabab is an evolution of al-Itihaad al-Islamiya (IAIA) - a group of militants originally funded by Osama bin Laden to secure an Islamist state in the Horn of Africa - after the fall of the Barre regime. Extremist IAIA leaders trained young jihadists in Afghanistan and imported them back to Somalia. One of them was Aden Hashi Farah Ayro, who came back to Somalia in 2003 to lead the Somali al-Shabab faction. Ayro was said to have the mentality of Aidid, which would have made him particularly interesting to Americans. In 2008, Ayro was taken out by a US drone in central Somalia, along with up to 30 civilians.

Young Somali's on Mogadishu beach. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Young Somali's on Mogadishu beach. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Yet at the same time, Somali sources claim that al-Shabab was receiving support from Ethiopia via the United States. Why were US drones being so selective?

The answer may once again lie in the mastery of chaos. Impossible to corroborate, yet possible to fathom, US drone operators have, from the beginning, only targeted al-Shabab members who are not aligned with US interests.

Another al-Shabab leader who supposedly failed to cooperate with Americans was Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was also taken out by a drone in 2014. He was replaced by al-Shabab's current leader, Ahmed Omar. Since 2007, there have been about 19 drone attacks in Somalia.

While the war raged on for a second decade, in 2010, Somalia entered its third record famine. By then, an entire generation of Somalis had either fled or died.

Mogadishu has since been repopulated with a predominantly young, once-rural population that fled the countryside to look for any means of survival. Today, the educated class, the leaders and the dreamers are dead, along with the idea of an independent Somalia - an opportune outcome for the masters of chaos and Big Oil.

The Final Grab

On my last night in Mogadishu, another black bird roared over Jazeera Palace Hotel at 4 am. This time, the rumble sounded more somber. I was sleepless again, pacing the room, feeling trapped inside a sardine can - an apt analogy for Somalia's own situation. Maybe the country had been canned purposely, waiting for the right time to be rolled open, I couldn't help wonder.

There were countless clues to support such a containment tactic. All efforts to rebuild had fallen apart for consecutive years, despite several attempts by foreign nations and corporations to help Somalia. Foreign delegations were either rejected or, like the Chinese mission, conveniently became victims of terrorist attacks.

How deep does the wormhole reach down in Somalia today?

Children searching a waste landfill in the center of Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Children searching a waste landfill in the center of Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)The current Somali president is Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a Western favorite who was listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, known for his "national reconciliation, anti-corruption measures, socio-economic and security sector reforms." UK Prime Minister David Cameron and the US government have applauded him.

My sources call Mohamud "the most corrupt president in the history of Somalia." The word is that Qatar fleshed out $20 million to put him in power. Qatar, in turn, plays the flute for Big Oil.

Mohamud comes from a small rural town, with a degree in technology and minor training at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding in Harrisonburg, Virginia. In 2011, Mohamud established the Peace and Development Party, and a year later, was promptly elected as the country's president, as if preordained for the position. There hasn't been much peace or development in Somalia since.

The locals have not seen a single cent of the $2 billion in aid promised by the World Bank. An $800 million offer by Malaysia to build a power plant as a relief effort was rejected by the president. While Mohamud is stalling several international relief efforts to help the country, the rumor is that his brother drives around Mogadishu in a black limo, buying real estate properties with bags of cash.

Mother with a baby on a street and our security convoy in Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Mother with a baby on a street and our security convoy in Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Mohamud works closely with the Somali National Security Agency, putting him in close quarters with US intelligence. He was also accused of trying to steal $420 million from a Swiss bank account set up by the Barre government. But the Western favorite remains cocooned in power, with the prime minister and cabinet all belonging to his small circle of family, friends and allies.

While the country prepares for a "democratic" election campaign slated for the summer of 2016 - without a population registry, roadways, electricity or communication infrastructure - Western oil interests are completing new seismic surveys off the coast of Somalia.

Most of the Somali entrepreneurs I met during my four-day visit see through the facades. They are exceptionally smart, resilient men and women. They hear the same black birds at night. They know the history. They've lost most of their family and friends. Yet they are driven to try, once again, to build on the ruins.

They remember the Mogadishu that once was, before the black birds arrived.

News Sun, 07 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Freeing Julian Assange: The Last Chapter

One of the epic miscarriages of justice of our time is unraveling. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention - the international tribunal that adjudicates and decides whether governments comply with their human rights obligations - has ruled that Julian Assange has been detained unlawfully by Britain and Sweden.

After five years of fighting to clear his name - having been smeared relentlessly yet charged with no crime - Assange is closer to justice and vindication, and perhaps freedom, than at any time since he was arrested and held in London under a European Extradition Warrant, itself now discredited by Parliament.

The UN Working Group bases its judgments on the European Convention on Human Rights and three other treaties that are binding on all its signatories. Both Britain and Sweden participated in the 16-month long UN investigation and submitted evidence and defended their position before the tribunal. It would fly contemptuously in the face of international law if they did not comply with the judgment and allow Assange to leave the refuge granted him by the Ecuadorean government in its London embassy.

In previous, celebrated cases ruled upon by the Working Group - Aung Sang Suu Kyi in Burma, imprisoned opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia, detained Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian in Iran, both Britain and Sweden have given support to the tribunal. The difference now is that Assange's persecution and confinement endures in the heart of London.

The Assange case has never been primarily about allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden - where the Stockholm Chief Prosecutor, Eva Finne, dismissed the case, saying, "I don't believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape," and one of the women involved accused the police of fabricating evidence and "railroading" her, protesting she "did not want to accuse JA of anything" - and a second prosecutor mysteriously re-opened the case after political intervention, then stalled it.

The Assange case is rooted across the Atlantic in Pentagon-dominated Washington, obsessed with pursuing and prosecuting whistleblowers, especially Assange for having exposed, in WikiLeaks, US capital crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq: the wholesale killing of civilians and a contempt for sovereignty and international law. None of this truth-telling is illegal under the US Constitution. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama, a professor of constitutional law, lauded whistleblowers as "part of a healthy democracy [and they] must be protected from reprisal."

Obama has since prosecuted more whistleblowers than all the US presidents combined. The courageous Chelsea Manning is serving 35 years in prison, having been tortured during her long pre-trial detention.

The prospect of a similar fate has hung over Assange like a Damocles sword. According to documents released by Edward Snowden, Assange is on a "Manhunt target list." Vice-President Joe Bidon has called him a "cyber terrorist." In Alexandra, Virginia, a secret grand jury has attempted to concoct a crime for which Assange can be prosecuted in a court. Even though he is not an American, he is currently being fitted up with an espionage law dredged up from a century ago when it was used to silence conscientious objectors during the First World War; the Espionage Act has provisions of both life imprisonment and the death penalty. 

Assange's ability to defend himself in this Kafkaesque world has been hampered by the US declaring his case a state secret. A federal court has blocked the release of all information about what is known as the "national security" investigation of WikiLeaks.

The supporting act in this charade has been played by the second Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny. Until recently, Ny had refused to comply with a routine European procedure that required her to travel to London to question Assange and so advance the case that James Catlin, one of Assange's barristers, called "a laughing stock ... it's as if they make it up as they go along." Indeed, even before Assange had left Sweden for London in 2010, Marianne Ny made no attempt to question him. In the years since, she has never properly explained, even to her own judicial authorities, why she has not completed the case she so enthusiastically re-ignited - just as the she has never explained why she has refused to give Assange a guarantee that he will not be extradited on to the US under a secret arrangement agreed between Stockholm and Washington. In 2010, the Independent in London revealed that the two governments had discussed Assange's onward extradition.

Then there is tiny, brave Ecuador. One of the reasons Ecuador granted Julian Assange political asylum was that his own government, in Australia, had offered him none of the help to which he had a legal right and so abandoned him. Australia's collusion with the United States against its own citizen is evident in leaked documents; no more faithful vassals has America than the obeisant politicians of the Antipodes.

Four years ago, in Sydney, I spent several hours with the Liberal Member of the Federal Parliament, Malcolm Turnbull. We discussed the threats to Assange and their wider implications for freedom of speech and justice, and why Australia was obliged to stand by him. Turnbull is now the Prime Minister of Australia and, as I write, is attending an international conference on Syria hosted the Cameron government - about 15 minutes' cab ride from the room that Julian Assange has occupied for three and a half years in the small Ecuadorean embassy just along from Harrod's. The Syria connection is relevant if unreported; it was WikiLeaks that revealed that the United States had long planned to overthrow the Assad government in Syria. Today, as he meets and greets, Prime Minister Turnbull has an opportunity to contribute a modicum of purpose and truth to the conference by speaking up for his unjustly imprisoned compatriot, for whom he showed such concern when we met. All he need do is quote the judgement of the UN Working Party on Arbitrary Detention. Will he reclaim this shred of Australia's reputation in the decent world?

What is certain is that the decent world owes much to Julian Assange. He told us how indecent power behaves in secret, how it lies and manipulates and engages in great acts of violence, sustaining wars that kill and maim and turn millions into the refugees now in the news. Telling us this truth alone earns Assange his freedom, whereas justice is his right.

Opinion Sat, 06 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Capitalism, Slavery, Racism and Imprisonment of People of Color Cannot Be Separated

Dennis Childs, author of Slaves of the State, discusses how a clause within the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution ushered in a system of "neoslavery," in the form of the mass incarceration of Black people, by allowing for enslavement as "punishment for a crime."

The punitive exception clause within the 13th amendment ushered in a system of neoslavery that continues to submit prisoners to conditions that amount to a collectivized situation of living death under the prison industrial complex.The punitive exception clause within the 13th amendment ushered in a system of neoslavery that continues to submit prisoners to conditions that amount to a collectivized situation of "living death" under the prison industrial complex. (Photo: Prison fence via Shutterstock)

Slavery didn't end; it evolved. That's the powerful argument made in Slaves of the State by Dennis Childs. Ever since a clause in the 13th Amendment allowed for enslavement as "punishment for crime," the groundwork has been laid for the prison industrial complex to function as the 21st century equivalent of chattel slavery. Order your copy of this eye-opening book by making a donation to Truthout today!

The following is an interview with Dr. Dennis Childs, author of Slaves of the State: Black Incarceration From the Chain Gang to the Penitentiary.

Mark Karlin: Can you summarize the tragic irony of the 13th Amendment's "exception clause"?

Dennis Childs: Yes, what I describe in the book along these lines is something that prisoners, activists and scholars from Angela Davis to Assata Shakur have spoken about for years - the fact that what is indisputably the most progressive document in US legal history, the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution that freed African slaves, actually reinstituted enslavement through racial, capitalist, misogynist imprisonment. The language of the amendment states, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist in the United States."

"The story of what commonly is called modern 'mass incarceration' has actually been centuries in the making."

This punitive exception represented legal cover for what, in Slaves of the State, I describe as an overall system of public-private neoslavery from the chain gang, to the prison plantation, peonage and the convict-lease system - the last of which represented an outright genocidal system where private corporations such as US Steel would work prisoners in industries ranging from turpentining, to coal and iron mining, to agricultural production. The death rates at convict-lease camps were absolutely staggering, reaching as high as 50 percent per annum. But, as I argue in the book, the exception clause ushered in a system of neoslavery that continues to submit prisoners to conditions that amount to a collectivized situation of "living death," or what Mumia Abu-Jamal defines as "slow death" under the prison industrial complex (PIC).

Let's start historically. How did the "exception clause" allow for the reinstitution of many Black people into slavery through incarceration in the years after the Civil War was over?

Dennis Childs. (Photo: Courtesy of the author)Dennis Childs. (Photo: Courtesy of the author)Speaking historically, it is actually improper to speak of a single exception clause since the punitive exception goes at least as far back as the Northwest Ordinance in 1787 (and since prison slavery itself, going as far back as Roman antiquity). Specifically, the Northwest Ordinance contained a provision outlawing slavery in the territories of modern-day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, but also contained a provision allowing for the enslavement of a person upon "due conviction" by law. This punitive exception then extended right up to the eve of the Civil War through various "Black Codes" and "Black Laws" in Northern and border states from Maryland to Indiana to Ohio, all of which allowed for the public auctioning of Africans (both free and slave) for "crimes" such as simply stepping foot in one of these "racially restrictionist" states, fleeing from a master or burning down a jail.

These laws were then propelled into the postbellum period at a federal level in the "emancipation amendment," setting the table for rapid demographic transition of a Southern prison and jail system that had been predominately white (slaves were already imprisoned on plantations) into a predominately "Black" institution. As Alex Lichtenstein points out in his important work, the postbellum move to prison slavery was absolutely fundamental to the process of industrializing the Southern economy after the Civil War. In fact, as I show in the book, Southern lawmakers were very aware of the fact that the exception clause allowed for a refabrication of enslavement under the guise of law and order.

How is the "exception clause" manifested in the prison industrial complex of the contemporary United States, with the highest rate of incarceration in the world - which includes a disproportionate number of people of color?

I'm glad you asked that question. I like to think of the work I do in Slaves of the State as a kind of "history of the present." And by that I mean, I wanted to follow the work of people like Angela Davis, who early in her anti-prison scholarship spoke of the fact that pre-1865 slavery was itself a form of incarceration. From that starting point, I wanted to offer a critical genealogy of today's system of legalized human warehousing, unfree labor and legal kidnapping - what is usually called "the prison system" - by way of tracing its origin points in former systems like the chain gang, the convict-lease system and peonage.

"Anti-Blackness and white supremacy have been at the core of this system since its outset."

What I found is that when we speak of "the" prison industrial complex that now encages well over 2.3 million people, we must also take into account earlier complexes of racial, capitalist, misogynist imprisonment that represent the conditions of possibility for today's PIC. In other words, the complex of private and public re-enslavement found on convict-lease camps, peon camps and prison plantations in the early 1900s was also a prison industrial complex, one that in its white supremacist structure was born of America's original "prisons": the slave ships, slave pens and plantations within which Africans were imprisoned before 1865. In short, the book shows how the story of what commonly is called modern "mass incarceration" has actually been centuries in the making.

Would you expand upon how some crimes came to be punishable for the sole purpose of imprisoning an increased number of Black people?

To clarify, when the Supreme Court of the State of Virginia ruled in Ruffin v. Commonwealth (1871) that the prisoner amounts to a "slave of the state" it was not solely referring to Black prisoners. Indeed the prisoner whose suit led to this horrifying ruling was actually a poor white person. We also need to remember that over 300,000 of today's prisoners are white. While it is vitally important that we recognize the anti-Black nature of today's prison industrial complex, we also need to pay attention to the fact that poor white, Indigenous, Latina and Latino, Asian, Muslim, migrant laborers and others are also caught in that dehumanizing structure. That said, we also definitely need to recognize that anti-Blackness and white supremacy have been at the core of this system since its outset, namely since Black people today represent approximately 12 percent of the country's population and over 40 percent of its prison population.

Back to your question about specific crimes though, the most common early neoslavery "crimes" were in fact hunger- and poverty-induced acts such as "hog stealing" and vagrancy, and other crimes such as public drunkenness, gambling or even giving an "insulting gesture" to a white person on a street. Black prisoners (and many poor white prisoners) were subsequently submitted to torturous regimes of unfree labor and punishment without any legal recourse, given that the very amendment that had offered de jure freedom contained a rhetorical trapdoor of re-enslavement. However, this does not tell the whole story. In the book, I speak of how prison slaves resisted these practices through outright rebellion, fugitive flight and acts of testifying to the crime of their re-enslavement through song, testimony and other forms of captive performance. I also look at novels by writers such as Toni Morrison and Chester Himes to see how this history has been reimagined in Black art.

How is the state of incarceration related to the Middle Passage (that is to say, chained and entombed boat passage from Africa to US slave markets)?

In part, what I define as the "Middle Passage Carceral Model" in the book suggests an interplay between racial and spatial terror. By this I mean that if you look at the diagrams of slave ships you see that they were literal prison architectures with what in modern prison architectural terms would be called a "tiering" of human beings. So I compare the architectonics of spaces like the slave ship, barracoon and slave pen to those of a space such as the "chain gang rolling cage," wherein Black people were vertically stacked upon one another and chained down with no room to even sit up straight whenever they were not at work building much of the Southern road, highway and railroad system. For me, the "rolling cage" represented a kind of macabre rebirthing of the Middle Passage, a small-scale slave ship on dry land. Of course, words defy the horror that these spaces enacted on Black captives. But in the book I try to let the neoslave speak for herself through attending to aesthetic forms such as the chain gang song and other modes of neoslave testimony in order to not only exemplify the horror of neoslavery, but also the way in which Black people performed a reclamation of their humanness within spaces of dehumanization.

The upshot that I'd like to point out here is that the book attempts to upset the well-worn narrative of progress in the US by looking at the connection between spaces like the "slave pen" and today's seemingly countless neoslave "pens." In our current moment of "postracial" amnesia, the tendency is to look at the trans-Atlantic slave trade as a kind of dinosaur-age prehistory. The writings of Black prisoners such as Herman Wallace, Assata Shakur, George Jackson, Jalil Muntaqim and Mumia Abu-Jamal disallow this comforting image of slavery's prehistorical demise. I think this is captured vividly in the fact that Assata refers to herself as she sits in revolutionary exile in Cuba as a modern maroon - "a 21st century escaped slave."

What is the similarity to the concept of ownership of the Black body between slavery and contemporary imprisonment?

I use the rubric of what I call "human commodification" as a means of exploring this relationship. When we have phone companies, construction companies, banks, surveillance equipment manufacturers, private prison companies and scores of other industrial operations literally pilfering public funds to the tune of billions of dollars a year, it is not hyperbole to call this a structure of human commodification. I want to be clear here that this system of public investment to the end of "private profit" is not simply about private prison companies like CCA [Corrections Corporation of America] and the GEO Group (though these companies are horrendous). The fact is that most prisoners are entombed within state prisons and county jails. While private companies do gain huge profits from these "public" spaces, so-called public officials like prison guards, DAs, police, judges, legislators [and] governors are in fact "public profiteers" in the PIC bonanza.

In the book, I speak of how a full understanding of this modern system of profiting from collective atrocity cannot be gained without recognition of the foundational role of America's original system of human commodification: chattel slavery. This is not to say that the systems are exactly the same, but that something like a "chattel principle" has infused the Black experience of freedom since its inception. While it is important to attend to the specifics of the prison binge that has occurred since the Reagan era, with a 500 percent increase of prisoners in California alone since that time, it's also important to understand that this legal crime would not have been possible were it not for the foundational role played by slavery as America's original racialized system of incarceration.

Why is Angola so significant in your discussion of the prison "slave plantation" model?

One of the most clear-cut examples of what I describe as a centuries-old complex of human commodification in the book is Angola prison, the state penitentiary of Louisiana. This "prison" is actually an 18,000-acre slave plantation that has never closed for business since the 19th century. It is a place in which Black prisoners (and other poor people) are made to pick cotton, corn and soybeans in the same fields in which their ancestors have been enslaved for centuries. However, I treat Angola and other Southern spaces of neoslavery as constitutive rather than exceptional to US empire. In other words, as we speak, I sit in California, a state that is literally the prison capital of the world, where many prisoners have been held in solitary confinement for decades, and where Black and Brown youth are targeted more as prospective prisoners than prospective university graduates.

So I'm very adamant in the book that the prison system explodes any notion of a North-South binary. Indeed, if you look at the writings and activism of the "Angola 3," for instance - that is Robert King Wilkerson, Albert Woodfox and the late Herman Wallace, three political prisoners who started a chapter of the [Black] Panthers inside Angola prison - you find that some of the most hellish regimes of imprisonment at the neo-plantation are actually "Northern" style solitary confinement cells. But in terms of the specific aspects of modern Angola, the horrific treatment of its current prisoners as instruments of perverse amusement in spectacles such as the prison rodeo - and the fact that visitors to the plantation can purchase handcuff key chains, and prison-stripe shirts, and place their children in mock prison cells - speaks to a long history of turning the scene of enslavement into a resource of racist enjoyment in spaces like Angola.

In this sense, my work extends Saidiya Hartman's discussion of how the enslaved body was used as an instrument of racist pleasure under the pre-1865 plantation system. Again, as we work to help liberate Albert Woodfox who has been in solitary confinement at Angola for over 40 years, I think it's important that we think of Angola as a microcosm of a national rather than sectional prison as plantation system, where the prison slave's "labor" is represented as much in the profits made from his or her warehousing as from being made to pick cotton in a slave plantation field.

Most Northerners like to see racism and slavery as a remnant of the South, but how does Northern policing and mass incarceration represent the insidious embedding of racism in the North?

Great question. I use my chapter on Chester Himes' prison novel, Yesterday Will Make You Cry, to explore this issue in some depth. In it I write about how white supremacy has always been fundamental to a state like Ohio, one that is depicted in Himes' fictionalization of his own experience as a prisoner in the Ohio State Penitentiary in the 1930s. What I found is that at the time of Himes' imprisonment, Black people in the state were imprisoned at a higher rate in Ohio than Alabama. Indeed, on the eve of the Civil War, Black people, whether slave or free, were legally barred from even stepping foot into Ohio (or Indiana or Illinois) at the pain of being sold at auction as an indentured servant.

This is why I argue that in addressing the centrality of racism to the capitalist project of imprisonment it is important to attend to the fact of rather than simply the form of racialized incarceration. As I stated earlier, I try to avoid the tendency of fetishizing a space like Angola, making it exceptional in opposition to a space like Attica in New York, where, as many of your readers may know, one of the most heinous acts of state terror was enacted in 1971, when Gov. Nelson Rockefeller ordered a massacre of 29 prisoners who led an uprising that asked simply that they be treated as "human beings."

As we have this conversation, it is projected that one of every three Black boys born today in the US will spend time in a prison or jail cage, and currently one out of nine Black men between the ages of 20 and 34 are in a cage in a nation that is touted as the most "free" and "democratic" country on the planet. In California, we recently had over 150 Black and Latina women forcibly sterilized in a women's prison. What these atrocious facts represent is the reality of Malcolm X's statement about white supremacy as a national reality: "As long as you are south of the Canadian border, you are south."

How is the US prison industrial complex intertwined with the history of capitalism in the United States?

Like the military-industrial complex, the prison industrial complex represents a system of transferring public wealth over to powerful corporate and political interests that are wreaking harm on an unimaginable scale. But again, in the book, I try to point out the ways in which this modern system of profiting from human misery is grounded in ideologies of white supremacy that make the association of Blackness and criminality as interlocked in the modern white US imagination as "Africanness" and enslavement were before 1865.

In this sense, what the important Black studies theorist Cedric Robinson calls "racial capitalism" is vitally important to my work insofar as it illustrates the degree to which racism is a part of the very structural mainframe of this society. That said, the one social predicament that brings together nearly every one of the over 2.3 million people encaged in the US no matter what their race, ethnicity or religion is poverty - a lack of access to decent housing, fair employment, health care, education etc. I'm sure your readers may have heard that a recent Oxfam study found that the world's 62 most wealthy people now own more that the bottom 50 percent of the global population - which equates to roughly 3.6 billion people.

This unspeakable fact of capitalism, its tendency to eviscerate whole collectives of people and then criminalize them for performing the predictable outcomes of that evisceration, is one of the instrumental pathologies that fuels the production of prisoners as commodities, namely poor people of color. It also informs the fact that since Bill Clinton passed NAFTA over 20 years ago there has been a 500 percent increase of immigration from countries to the south - and the fact that in following the uneven flow of capital northward, the migrant labor population is then criminalized as the most rapidly increasing demographic of prisoners in the US. This is why [President] Obama has been referred to as the "deporter in chief" by migrant activists, as he has overseen the imprisonment and deportation of over 2 million people. I hope that in offering a genealogy of what I call racial, capitalist, misogynist incarceration in the book I help move us further along in our critical approach to dismantling the PIC as both a national and global node in the larger neocolonial and imperialist project that is wreaking havoc the world over, especially in the global South.

In conclusion, can you elaborate on your statement (in the book's introduction) "that racialized prison slavery has little to do with the alleged criminal acts of individual Black people and everything to do with the socially constructed crime of being born Black (or Indigenous or Brown or poor) in apartheid America"?

Yes, as I stated earlier, there has long been something like a racialized self-fulfilling prophecy in the US whereby Black people (and other groups) are structurally injured by patterns of social disinvestment, unequal wealth and land distribution, [and] lack of adequate health care and access to education, and then blamed, jailed and/or killed for living the predictable outcomes of these structural disparities. In this sense, what in modern parlance is described as criminal recidivism, or repeat offense, on the part of the individual Black person branded as "criminal," is in fact a measure of a larger social recidivism, the wholesale repeat offenses of a racially, classed and gendered society that allows certain entities to literally feed on the misery of the society's most vulnerable members. This is what led to someone I speak of in the book named Richard Harris being "sold as a slave" for the "crime" of taking a bushel of wheat over a year after slavery had supposedly been outlawed. The scene of a Black person's structural poverty being used as a mechanism of his criminalization and re-enslavement represents a symbol of Black life since 1865.

That said, the book also attends to the incredible resistive spirit of those such as George Jackson, Assata Shakur, Leonard Peltier, Mutulu Shakur, Ruchell Magee, Mumia Abu-Jamal and many more anonymous prisoners in the face of this racist, classist and sexist system. In doing so, it also follows the words of Zaharibu Dorrough, J. Heshima Denham and Kambui Robinson, three members of the recent 30,000-prisoner hunger strike in California, who state that those of us on the "free" side of prison walls need to take responsibility for the fact that our relative "freedom" rests on the foundation of their unfreedom - that "to stand idly by now would be complicity. You must let the state know that substantive change at every level of society is something that the people demand."

Progressive Picks Sun, 07 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Mass Incarceration Since 1492: Native American Encounters With Criminal Injustice

These are actual tiny child handcuffs used by the U.S. government to restrain captured Native American children and drag them away from their families to send them to the Indian boarding schools where their identities, cultures and their rights to speak their Native languages were forcefully stripped away from them. (Photo: US Government) These are actual tiny child handcuffs used by the US government to restrain captured Native American children and drag them away from their families to send them to boarding schools where their identities, cultures and their rights to speak their Native languages were forcefully stripped away from them. (Photo: US government)

Encounters between Native Americans and the US criminal legal system have been largely omitted from the critical narrative surrounding mass incarceration. But the colonial relationship between the US state and Native peoples, past and present, is important in understanding mass incarceration as a whole.

These are actual tiny child handcuffs used by the U.S. government to restrain captured Native American children and drag them away from their families to send them to the Indian boarding schools where their identities, cultures and their rights to speak their Native languages were forcefully stripped away from them. (Photo: US Government) These are actual tiny child handcuffs used by the US government to restrain captured Native American children and drag them away from their families to send them to boarding schools where their identities, cultures and their rights to speak their Native languages were forcefully stripped away from them. (Photo: US government)

The recent right-wing militia occupation of federal land in Oregon once again reminds us that we actually live in what historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz refers to as the US "settler colonial state." Amazingly, Ammon Bundy and his clan took over this land with the claim that they were the rightful owners. With typical settler arrogance, they neglected the historical truth - that the Indigenous people of the Northern Paiute nation were there long before a single imperialist ship set sail from Europe. As journalist Simon Moya-Smith has pointed out "for Native America being overlooked is nothing new. Our voices are seldom in the mainstream, our issues disregarded ... this country has yet to recognize our humanity."

Critical accounts of police abuse and mass incarceration often suffer from a similar syndrome, albeit with much better intentions. They overlook the particulars of structural violence that have been visited upon Native peoples for many centuries, and how this violence relates to but also differs from the experience of Black people. Adding the Native American dimension to framing the analysis of the criminal legal system adds new insights and offers some important lessons for alternatives.

Police Violence

Some forms of this violence are tragically familiar. Native activists too can call out the names of those who have died at the hands of police in recent years: Rexdale Henry, Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, Allen Locke, Paul Castaway and Sarah Lee Circle Bear.

Some like Henry and Circle Bear passed away in police custody under suspicious circumstances. Others such as Locke and Goodblanket perished in a hail of bullets. Such deaths are not a rarity in Native American communities. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 1999 to 2013 show per capita Native American deaths in custody as roughly equal to those of Black people and nearly double the rates for "Hispanics and almost three times the rates for whites. "

Pre-1824 tribal courts embodied a restorative approach that greatly differed from the punitive, adversarial system of the US.

While most of these Native deaths have attracted little attention, the case of Rexdale Henry (Choctaw), who died a day after Sandra Bland, has drawn media coverage beyond Indigenous circles. Like Bland, Henry was taken into police custody for spurious reasons - outstanding fines which family members allege he had paid off. His death contains a further irony. Neshoba County, Mississippi, where Henry died, was the place where white supremacists murdered three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, in 1964; it is also the land of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

Professor Paula Johnson, co-director of the Cold Case Justice Initiative at Syracuse University College of Law, has worked with Mississippi civil rights activists to investigate the Henry case. She told Truthout, "No matter who is responsible for this, there is gross negligence on the part of the state." Henry's cellmate, Justin Schlegel, has been charged in the case but many questions remain unanswered.

Beyond Police Violence

On one level, these deaths of Native Americans do mirror the police killings of Black people over the past two years. Incarceration rates tell a similar story. Nationally, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, Native Americans are incarcerated at nearly twice the rate of white people and slightly more often than Latinos though with less than half the frequency of Black people.

From these figures we might conclude the experience of Native Americans reflects yet another battlefront of a racialized war on drugs and the militarization of urban police. However, many Native activists and analysts reject an emphasis on number-crunching and view this situation through a different lens.

Not "Race" but Genocidal Colonialism

Nick Estes (Lakota), cofounder of The Red Nation, told Truthout that in discussing Native rights, "race is the wrong term ... what we need to talk about is colonialism." Dunbar-Ortiz, author of the best-selling An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, concurs. Furthermore, she emphasized to Truthout that the US settler colonial state contained a genocidal component, a history of "constantly trying to think of ways to make Native peoples disappear." However, the failure to exterminate the Native population has not extinguished genocidal efforts by the US state nor eliminated Native resistance. Rather, the forms of genocidal initiatives have changed.

In the political arena, a key focus of the colonial state has been undermining Native sovereignty. This sovereignty issue surfaces in the criminal legal realm in ways that are unique to Native American history. One of the most crucial relates to legal jurisdiction. As Luana Ross (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes), professor of gender, women and sexuality studies at the University of Washington, puts it in her book Inventing the Savage, "Indian reservations are the only places in the United States where the criminality of an act relies exclusively on the race of the offender and victim."

The Oliphant decision created a license for white people and other non-Native people to commit crimes on reservations.

"Tribal courts" stand at the center of this dynamic. These courts originated with the formation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs within the War Department in 1824. Up to that time, Native Americans had their own justice system outside the reach of US authorities. Pre-1824 tribal courts embodied a restorative approach that greatly differed from the punitive, adversarial system of the United States. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, a host of laws and court decisions gradually eroded the judicial power of those Native courts. This erosion took two forms. First, tribal authorities' power to prosecute has ultimately been limited to misdemeanors. Felony cases are referred to federal jurisdiction. Second, the 1978 Supreme Court decision in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe eliminated any tribal authority in criminal or civil matters where a non-Native person commits a crime on Native American land.

Such arrangements draw historical inspiration from the colonialist doctrine of discovery. First articulated by a Catholic pope in the 15th century, this edict granted European discoverers automatic ownership over any land they encountered that was occupied by "pagans." Over the years, US Supreme Court justices, from John Marshall in 1823 to William Rehnquist in 1978, have repeatedly invoked the doctrine of discovery in justifying their decisions to restrict the powers of Native courts, especially in regard to prosecution of non-Native people.

Impact of Jurisdictional Issues

The implications of this have been devastating. The referral of Native people charged with felonies on reservations to federal jurisdiction typically means much longer sentences than they would face under state or tribal authority. Former prosecutor for the Pine Ridge Reservation, Heather Dawn Thompson has called this system "absolutely an inequity." A 2003 federal commission on the issue recommended reform but to date no major changes have taken place. A similar body, the Tribal Issues Advisory Group, was formed by the US Sentencing Commission in 2014 to address these issues further.

To make matters worse, the Oliphant decision created a license for white people and other non-Native people to commit crimes on reservations. While in theory, such offenses should be subject to federal prosecution, according to tribal rights lawyer, Tara Houska, (Couchiching First Nation) the Feds rarely pick up such cases. Statistics bear her out. In a study covering 2005 to 2009, federal prosecutors declined to pursue 52 percent of the violent cases referred to them by tribal authorities and 67 percent of sexual abuse cases. In 2011 alone, federal authorities declined to prosecute 65 percent of rape charges. Eighty-six percent of these involved non-Native men. The victimization rate for sexual assaults against Native women is 2.5 times the national average.

Native activists have pushed back on these jurisdictional issues and gained some victories. The 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act granted the right for tribal authorities to prosecute domestic violence cases against non-Native reservation residents or non-Native people married to a Native person. But tribal courts still cannot prosecute rape, other sexual assaults or domestic violence cases against non-Native people who don't live on a reservation or aren't married to a Native American.

"Kill the Indian and Save the Man"

While the legal frameworks applied to Native peoples are an important component of the genocidal agenda, historically the criminalization of Native culture has been of equal significance. Bans on traditional dancing, drumming, speaking of Native languages and wearing long hair fell under this rubric. The process deepened through the expansion of what Estes refers to as "institutions of containment and control," especially residential schools. These schools began in the aftermath of the Civil War and operated for more than a century. Gen. Richard Henry Pratt was the founder of the first and perhaps most famous of these institutions, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Pratt aimed to achieve "assimilation through immersion" largely by creating a regime of military-style discipline to inculcate European culture. Pratt once proclaimed, "A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man."

The legacy of criminalizing Native culture goes hand in hand with the criminalization of poverty.

John Riley, another Indian school superintendent, added a financial rationalization to Pratt's genocidal dictum: "Only by complete isolation of the Indian child from his savage antecedents can he be satisfactorily educated, and the extra expense attendant thereon is more than compensated by the thoroughness of the work." While such rhetoric may seem like a nightmare from a distant past, as Tara Houska told Truthout, "the legacy still carries on ... my own grandmother went to boarding school ... a lot of people are still trying to get over the forced assimilation and boarding school era."

In the contemporary context, the legacy of criminalizing Native culture goes hand in hand with the criminalization of poverty. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014, 28.3 percent of all Native peoples lived in poverty, the highest percentage of any racial or ethnic group. In the era of mass incarceration, criminalization of poverty has meant disproportionate policing of the urban areas where more than three-quarters of all Native peoples live. Rather than carrying out a "conventional" war on drugs, this policing has maintained a special focus on violations relating to alcohol abuse. According to Dunbar-Ortiz, "almost every crime related to jails" is connected to alcohol.

For Dunbar-Ortiz, alcohol abuse is not about addiction. She categorizes alcohol as a "colonial weapon" that has been "used all over the world." At least one of the framers of the US Constitution agreed with Dunbar-Oritz's views on the strategic role of alcohol. In his renowned autobiography, Benjamin Franklin suggested: "If it be the design of Providence to extirpate these savages in order to make room for cultivators of the earth, it seems not improbable that rum might be the appointed means. It has already annihilated all the tribes who formerly inhabited the sea-coast." Dunbar-Ortiz relates alcohol abuse to the trauma of land expropriation, noting that land remains Native peoples "rootedness, their survival ... the one strand that allows them to continue as peoples."

While disproportionate policing of alcohol-related events dominates the urban Native landscape, the reservations show yet another reality. Although the police have been the arm of the colonial state in urban communities, Dunbar-Ortiz contends that reservations and other Native-held land have always fallen under the orbit of the military. On the one hand, this has meant that on a day-to-day basis, survivors of domestic or sexual violence who do decide to reach out to the police report a glaring lack of responsiveness to their pleas. On the other hand, in times of rebellion, the military, not the police, are the first responders.

The most striking example in modern times was the influx of forces used to suppress the 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee led by the American Indian Movement in 1973. On that occasion, the federal government sent in the FBI, US Marshals and the National Guard, equipped with helicopters, armored personnel carriers and M50 machine guns. In the end, the conflict lasted for two more years, resulting in the deaths of more than 60 Native people as well as two FBI agents. Leonard Peltier was arrested in 1976 and convicted in the death of the FBI agents. He has been in prison ever since. He has maintained his innocence throughout. Amnesty International has called for his release on humanitarian grounds.

Ending Mass Incarceration: Lessons in Solidarity

Both Dunbar-Ortiz and Estes emphasize the need to recognize the uniqueness of the colonial relationship between the US government and Native peoples. While arguing for such recognition and urging the discarding of the "Black-white binary" in philosophizing racial justice, they also highlight the centrality of the historical legacy of slavery in mass incarceration. Dunbar-Ortiz asserts that "it is in everyone's interest to break the back of this anti-Black police violence." She argues that this involves acknowledging that "different strands of policing and incarceration" are applied to different communities but that individuals and organizations must escape their "different silos of US oppression" and come together.

In the final analysis, Native American experiences with mass incarceration underscore two important points for those attempting to halt the growing carceral state. First, using a settler colonial framework shows the historical and systemic nature of mass incarceration. The current hyper-incarceration of Native peoples represents a continuum of Native history rather than a fundamental change. In a sense, this perspective parallels Michelle Alexander's depiction of Black incarceration as a perpetuation of the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow segregation.

Estes' historical account refers to reservations as "open-air prisons," spaces that in the early days were patrolled by white vigilantes to prevent Native people from "escaping." Boarding schools were yet another form of carceral institutions, designed to deepen the process of "control and containment," which Estes argues was fundamental to the colonial project. Furthermore, just as police violence sparked the formation of the Black Panther Party, abuse in the prison system precipitated the formation of the American Indian Movement (AIM), the premier organization of Native resistance in the 1960s and 1970s.

AIM cofounders Dennis Banks and Clyde Bellecourt grew their organization in response to the treatment they received during their time in Minnesota prisons. From that narrow focus, AIM grew to become a respected member of a global anti-colonial movement, which drew attention to the particulars of US colonialism within its own borders. In this vein, the settler colonial framework helps fit mass incarceration into a broader narrative of the power structures of global capitalism.

Second, focusing on the historical aspects of the Native American encounter with the criminal legal system points toward genuine alternatives. Native American anti-colonial efforts have often been directed at fighting to empower tribal courts. These courts have embodied a restorative justice that focuses on healing and community building rather than punishment. Even today, many tribal courts sit in peacekeeping circles rather than vesting all authority in one judge seated on high. While politicians seek answers to mass incarceration in metadata and cutting-edge risk assessment tools, they might find a more genuine alternative by listening to Native philosophers.

Robert Yazzie, chief justice emeritus of the Navajo Nation, argues that true justice "rejects the process of convicting a person and throwing the keys away in favor of methods that use solidarity to restore good relationships among people. Most importantly, it restores good relations with self." Yazzie's ideas about promoting solidarity and good relationships sound more like a genuinely alternative vision than the repackaged versions of incarceration currently being served up by much of the mainstream prison reform movement.

Author's note: Teresa Barnes, Jason Corwin, Scott Tighe and Peter Wagner offered invaluable assistance on this article. 

News Sun, 07 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Revealing the Fallacy of White Knight Philanthropic Salvation in an Urban Public School

Anthropologist Amy Brown uncovers the ways race and class are manipulated to raise money at one New York City high school. Brown argues that the fundraising reinforces the idea of wealthy white saviors fixing the problems of low- and middle-income students, especially those of color.

Children head into Public School 199 in New York, Oct. 27, 2015.Children head into Public School 199 in New York, October 27, 2015. Amy Brown's book, A Good Investment?, profiles an unnamed New York City public school, the like of which "dehumanize people by making them into commodities" and force them to pander to donors to access resources that should be provided to every student in every school. (Photo: Karsten Moran / The New York Times)

A Good Investment? Philanthropy and the Marketing of Race in an Urban Public School, Amy Brown, University of Minnesota Press, 2015

More than a decade ago, New York City's then mayor, Michael Bloomberg, helped launch a program called Children First, a philanthropic endeavor to pump private money into public schools. In its first year, 2003, $39.9 million was raised.

The money was to be disseminated by an entity called the Fund for Public Schools, and by 2010 its coffers were overflowing: A staggering $250 million had been donated by hedge funds, law firms, corporations and businesses.

(Image: Univ Of Minnesota Press)(Image: Univ Of Minnesota Press)Many people were thrilled. After all, anyone familiar with New York City's public schools knows that money is desperately needed, especially in low-income neighborhoods like Flatbush and Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn; the South Bronx; and the heavily immigrant neighborhood of Corona, Queens, areas beset by overcrowded classrooms, supply shortages and a lack of basics, from books, to desks, to computers.

Years earlier, The New York Times had begun to cover this issue and regularly sent journalists to report on the dire state of most New York City schools. Then, in 2013, the Gray Lady dug more deeply to reveal that kindergarten to eighth grade spending in the state's poorest districts totaled $287,000 per pupil, while the state's richest districts spent $1.9 million for the same 13 years.

The blatant disparity sparked outrage.

But is private philanthropy the solution to this inequity? Can outside money change oppressive social structures or does it leave basic inequalities unchecked? Furthermore, does increased funding challenge entrenched assumptions about who is entitled to high-quality instruction?

Brown's conclusions about philanthropy's limitations are essential reading for anyone interested in pedagogical reform and racial justice.

Educational anthropologist Amy Brown's insightful new book, A Good Investment?, probes these questions by zeroing in on one New York City public high school. Brown never names the school she is profiling, but instead calls it the College Preparatory Academy, or College Prep. Similarly, all names - of students, faculty and parents - are disguised. Nonetheless, College Prep, by whatever name, is a real program. Established in 2004, its largely Black student body - 81 percent of 458 students - does well, at least on paper. Ninety-three percent of students graduate, and 97 percent of seniors are accepted by one or more college. Prep also distinguishes itself by running its own in-house nonprofit called The Foundation to solicit funds from Midtown law firms and other potential donors and grant makers.

In many ways, Prep's work has paid off. Although the program shares its building with two other schools, its on-site gym, library and cafeteria are a boon to students. What's more, there are working elevators and lockers, as well as a dance studio, a college office, an up-to-date computer lab, multiple copy machines and scanners, and whiteboards and projectors in every room.

For many teachers and students, the facility sounds like a dream come true.

That said, Prep is a place of rules - lots and lots of them. Students are expected, for example, to adhere to a dress code: a white- or blue-collared shirt, black pants or skirt, and black shoes. Hoodies are forbidden, as are sneakers, and students are punished for even the smallest infraction.

Furthermore, Brown writes, every student is expected to follow standards of "professional conduct," and many of the school's instructors lower student grades for "unprofessional" behavior. Offenses include failure to pay attention in class, talking out of turn, lateness, swearing and fighting. Not surprisingly, many of the students Brown interviewed expressed overt hatred for the restrictions and rolled their eyes at being given detention or other sanctions for acting their age.

Brown agrees with them - and this is not her only critique of the school. In fact, her analysis of the program's deficits is grounded in the many years she spent there, first as a teacher and subsequently as a researcher and interviewer. Her account includes both personal reflections and rigorous critical analysis, and while I wish she'd also interviewed donors to the school about their impressions and expectations, her sobering conclusions about philanthropy's limitations are essential reading for anyone interested in pedagogical reform and racial justice.

To wit: Brown concludes that Prep's students are never allowed to forget that they have to "enact an acceptable kind of [racialized and classed] performance for an audience." Who is that audience? Wealthy women and men who typically see themselves as "saving" failing public schools and the "underprivileged" youth who attend them. That the donors are largely white and the students are not, Brown writes, further underscores a problematic racial hierarchy.

A Good Investment? makes clear that philanthropic solutions can't fix urban education. Only a groundswell of activism can.

As the school tells it, "the greatest threat to students' education and college matriculation seemed to be their own challenging backgrounds and circumstances. Parents and older community members were absent, serving to reinforce the College Prep narrative of urban teacher and students working together, against all odds, to pull students up by their bootstraps, help them to graduate, and securely set them on the road to achievement in the real world - in this case synonymous with college readiness and a secure place in the middle class."

Needless to say, this account negates the fact that many of the students at Prep are not from impoverished backgrounds. Likewise, many of them have tremendous parental and community support, and people in their corners who champion their achievements and prod them to excel. In addition, the narrative that's told fosters the ludicrous assumption that teachers - most of whom are white, upper-middle-class women who did not grow up in New York City - are the sole mentors for students.

Almost everyone at Prep knows that this is untrue. Still, the image of the valiant white knight coming to the rescue of disadvantaged teens of color sells, which is why, Brown believes, it continues to be used. Furthermore, she reports that The Foundation's annual fundraiser cherry-picks students to showcase, parading them before donors like prize pups. Bold and rambunctious students are never chosen to attend public events - Brown calls them spectacles - because administrators fear that they'll say something that deviates from the well-worn playbook. Obviously, this takes its toll on the students selected. As one teacher explained, "They choose the same kids over and over again. They've gotta sit through those presentations over and over again, and all they keep hearing is, it's not their hard work that makes a difference, it's not their parents that make a difference. It's these white folks who are giving them twenty-five thousand dollars a pop who make their lives possible."

Not surprisingly, this egregious lie eats away at the self-esteem and confidence of those students who internalize its message.

The school's racial politics also have a negative impact on teachers of color. According to an instructor Brown calls Mr. Battle - he was one of the few men of color on staff - whenever a professional "poster boy" was needed, he was called into action. This was especially noticeable during his first few years at the school. "I'd say like once a month, there were people from the mayor's office, judges, prominent lawyers, newspaper reporters. Where do they go? My room. Hung out there. 'Black science teacher! New York City public school.'"

Worse, photographs of Battle were routinely placed in all bulletins and reports, making him feel like a "prop" in the spectacle. Later, however, when it came time for decision-making, Battle bitterly notes that he was rarely consulted.

This insulting treatment eventually led Battle - along with several other colleagues, both white teachers and teachers of color - to leave the job. Surprisingly, high turnover does not seem to faze Prep's administrators or rattle donors. In fact, teachers seem to be expected to stay for just a few years before either pursuing doctoral studies or moving on. But while the faces change, the overall messaging does not: "College Prep portrays itself [to funders] as both needy and deserving of the funders' generosity," Brown writes. "Students and their families are expected to thank the school for 'saving' them and in turn the school thanks the funders who continue to provide."

It's an unsavory dance that stereotypes everyone - from students and faculty to parents and communities. Meanwhile, the problems facing urban public schools, most prominently funding disparities and racism, continue to fester. A Good Investment? makes clear that philanthropic solutions can't fix urban education. Only a groundswell of activism led by parents, students and educators can do that.

Schools like College Prep, Brown concludes, "dehumanize people by making them into commodities" and forcing them to pander to donors to access resources that should be provided to every student in every school. Isn't it time we fought for a more egalitarian system of public education?

Opinion Sat, 06 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Sanders and Clinton Spar on 2002 Iraq Vote, Clinton Praises Henry Kissinger

During Thursday's debate in New Hampshire, while Sen. Bernie Sanders conceded former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has more experience in foreign affairs, he questioned her judgment for voting for the Iraq War. "But experience is not the only point - judgment is," Sanders said. "And once again, back in 2002, when we both looked at the same evidence about the wisdom of the war in Iraq, one of us voted the right way, and one of us didn't." Clinton repeatedly touted her time as secretary of state. "I was very flattered when Henry Kissinger said I ran the State Department better - better than anybody had run it in a long time," she said.


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

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play more of the debate. As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders continued to draw distinctions between one another during the debate, they faced off over the issue of the 2002 Iraq War vote.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: We differed on the war in Iraq, which created barbaric organizations like ISIS. Not only did I vote against that war, I helped lead the opposition. And if you go to my website,, you will see the statement that I made in 2002. And it gives me no pleasure to tell you that much of what I feared would happen the day after Saddam Hussein was overthrown, in fact, did happen.

CHUCK TODD: All right, Senator, I want to stay, though -


CHUCK TODD: Go ahead. Thirty seconds -

HILLARY CLINTON: If I could just respectfully add -

CHUCK TODD: - Secretary.

HILLARY CLINTON: Look, we did differ. A vote in 2002 is not a plan to defeat ISIS. We have to look at the threats that we face right now.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I fully, fully concede that Secretary Clinton, who was secretary of state for four years, has more experience - that is not arguable - in foreign affairs. But experience is not the only point - judgment is. And once again, back in 2002, when we both looked at the same evidence about the wisdom of the war in Iraq, one of us voted the right way, and one of us didn't.

AMY GOODMAN: During the debate, Hillary Clinton also boasted she has received support from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

HILLARY CLINTON: I have had the opportunity to run a big agency. I was very flattered when Henry Kissinger said I ran the State Department better than anybody had run it in a long time. So I have an idea about what it's going to take to make our government work more efficiently.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of the war vote, Lee Fang? Hillary Clinton, as students were being taken out of her office protesting that night in 2002, she took to the floor, as many other Republicans and some Democrats did, and voted to authorize the war in Iraq. How significant that is, what, 14 years later, Lee Fang, and that comment on Henry Kissinger's support or praise?

LEE FANG: Nothing says anti-establishment like praising Henry Kissinger on stage, right? But seriously, you know, Hillary Clinton did vote for the war in Iraq, and she defended that vote for many, many years. It wasn't until very late in the game that she kind of retracted and said it was the wrong move.

But, you know, I kind of wish that the moderators pressed the candidates on other specific issues. You know, Hillary Clinton has embraced militarism in a lot of different ways. She has been very belligerent on issues, from Libya, you know, joking with Charlie Rose about wanting to take out Iran. The Obama administration, which worked with the State Department to approve just an incredible increase in arms transfers all throughout the Middle East - I mean, this is something that we don't talk about much on broadcast news, but, you know, the Obama administration, in part with Secretary Clinton, approved over $90 billion in weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia alone. We've really flooded the region with weapons, fueled conflicts, whether it's in Iraq, Syria and beyond. So these are tough questions, and I kind of wish that the moderators got more specific here, beyond just the Iraq War vote and what to do in Syria. You know, how are you going to resolve these issues?

You know, my colleague, Zaid, he did a story, I think a year ago - you know, Bernie Sanders, back in 1988, when he was campaigning with Jesse Jackson, the issue of Israel-Palestine came up. And he was asked, you know, "How are we going to use our leverage to really resolve the simmering conflict that's gone on forever?" And Bernie Sanders said, well, you know, we could use our military support, our foreign aid to Israel, and say we were going to withhold that aid unless Israel changes its behavior. I mean, that's a pretty radical move that really could push the Israel-Palestine issue in the right direction, but we haven't seen him speak about that on a stage. We haven't seen Hillary Clinton really address the issue, except in an op-ed that she wrote a few months ago saying that she actually wants to increase military support with Israel and saying that she'll be a very strong ally with Netanyahu.

So, you know, I would love to see the candidates get more specific about how they will deal with military contractors, how they'll deal with foreign policy, and really talking about a whole number of votes that we don't really hear much in public. I mean, Hillary Clinton, when she was in the Senate, voted for - with the Republicans, voted for using cluster bombs in civilian areas. I mean, this is not - the Iraq War vote was not an aberration. There's a huge pattern of votes that really show her position on foreign policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Last response, Bertha Lewis?

BERTHA LEWIS: Well, I agree with some of what Mr. Fang has said. I'm adamantly opposed to the Iraq War. And again, I keep repeating this, but we're complex animals, at least I am in my political decisions and how I view things. All of the facts that he pointed out are there. I don't like -

AMY GOODMAN: But the deciding point, then, clearly, as you talk about that we're complex people, what has -

BERTHA LEWIS: But the platform -

AMY GOODMAN: - made you cast your lot with Hillary Clinton?

BERTHA LEWIS: For me, the three things that - well, the four things that I cited. With everything put together - like I say, in 2008, I was there, I'm here now, because I really, really believe that when women are in office and this country is behind the rest of the planet, then we have a chance to actually fundamentally move things. We've seen it on the Supreme Court. We've seen it everywhere.

Number two, because of this experience, the mistakes, disagreements and being involved in that arena, we can go right at her, you know, because, again, I disagree with Barack Obama as the deporter-in-chief, but that doesn't stop my support for him.

And number three, you know, like I say, I wish - some people have a perch from which they can be very pure and don't have to engage. For one thing - and I look through a racial lens - I make no bones about that. There's a movie coming out that has a trailer about Jesse Jackson [sic] going to Germany to run in the Olympics. And -

AMY GOODMAN: Jesse Owens.

BERTHA LEWIS: Jesse Owens. Oh, Jesse Jackson, he might have been there, too. There were black people who said, "Don't do it. Don't go," a bunch of white people saying, "Oh, you've got to do it, and ignore everything else." And there's a scene there in which Jesse is saying, "You don't know what it's like for me to have to go through this." And this white man says, "I don't care!" And Jesse says, "Because you don't have to." So, again, for me, you can have all of the mistakes and all of everything, but she's a woman. She's head and shoulders above anyone else. Come on.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to have to leave it there.

BERTHA LEWIS: And she's a great fighter.

AMY GOODMAN: But we will, of course, continue to follow this race very closely. The primary in New Hampshire is Tuesday night. Bertha Lewis with The Black Institute and New York Working Families Party, thanks so much, and Lee Fang, investigative journalist at The Intercept.

LEE FANG: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: When we come back, we go across the pond to see what has happened with this UN committee that has said that Julian Assange should be able to walk free. Stay with us.

News Fri, 05 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
A Cannonball in the Oil Market ]]> (Lauren Walker) Art Fri, 05 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500 Contaminated Water Requires a National Public Health Mobilization

Clean Up The Mines! team at Riley Pass, SD. Charmaine White Face is in the foreground. (Photo: Ellen Davidson)The Clean Up The Mines! team gathers at Riley Pass, South Dakota. Activist Charmaine White Face is in the foreground. (Photo: Ellen Davidson)

As physicians, we are concerned about the future of our water supply. The Flint water crisis should provoke a national public debate about the best ways to protect clean water, including what type of water infrastructure is required and how water is owned and managed.

Clean Up The Mines! team at Riley Pass, SD. Charmaine White Face is in the foreground. (Photo: Ellen Davidson)The Clean Up The Mines! team gathers at Riley Pass, South Dakota. Activist Charmaine White Face is in the foreground. (Photo: Ellen Davidson)

It's hard to miss the water contamination that residents in Flint, Michigan, are experiencing. Television footage shows family members holding bottles of yellow, orange or brown water. They could see and taste the change in their water quality shortly after Gov. Rick Snyder ordered the switch to supply water from the polluted Flint River, rather than Lake Huron, without adding anti-corrosives to prevent leaching from lead pipes in early 2014. Thanks to a few dedicated researchers from Virginia Tech, the elevated lead in Flint's water has been exposed.

Since national attention has turned to Flint, information from other cities is coming to light showing similar problems. Sebring, Ohio, is one city where residents have been warned not to drink the water because of elevated lead levels. And it was recently revealed that there are high levels of lead in water in Jackson, Mississippi, even though the results of the tests were available six months ago.

Water should be tested for radioactivity, as well as for heavy metals such as lead.

In Flint, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not inform the public about the high lead levels in the water when they learned about it, even though the state provided bottled water to public employees. The governor also reconnected General Motors to Lake Huron when they complained, just a few months after the transition in early 2014. The state knew, but continued to allow toxic water - which qualified as "hazardous waste" by EPA standards - for Flint residents without telling them.

Not talked about, perhaps because it is harder to see, is a national water contamination crisis that has been going on for decades. It is invisible and tasteless and the mainstream media won't cover it. This contamination is caused by the United States' secret Fukushima, radioactive and other heavy metals leaking from the more than 15,000 abandoned uranium mines, as well as other sources related to energy extraction throughout the United States.

Measuring radiation levels at an elementary school in Ludlow, SD. April, 2014. (Photo: Klee Benally)Measuring radiation levels at an elementary school in Ludlow, South Dakota, April 2014. (Photo: Klee Benally)

We need a national public health mobilization to assess all drinking water sources in a transparent way and a plan to protect the health of residents and the future of our water supply. Water should be tested for radioactivity, as well as for heavy metals such as lead. In addition, the toxic byproducts of our dirty energy system are another of many compelling reasons why we need to transition rapidly to a cleaner, sustainable green energy economy.

The Biggest Nuclear Accident You've Never Heard About

Most people in the United States know about the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in March 1979. Although the official reports stated that an "insignificant" amount of radiation was released (this understatement has since been refuted), it is called "America's worst nuclear accident." Very few people know about the actual worst nuclear accident in the United States, which happened three months later in Church Rock, New Mexico. Perhaps this is because it mostly impacted people of the Navajo (Diné) Nation.

On July 16, 1979, the wall of a tailings pond for a uranium mill broke open and released 93 million gallons of radioactive waste into the Arroyo Pipeline, a tributary to the Puerco River. The waste traveled 80 miles down the Puerco River into Arizona. Not only is it amazing that this spill was not reported in the media, but it is also remarkable that the governor of New Mexico refused to issue a state of emergency. It took days for people who live along the Puerco River to be told about the accident, and though they were warned not to use the water for themselves or their livestock, they were not given access to sufficient clean water.

To this day, people who live downstream from the mill drink water that is polluted by uranium and other radioactive and heavy metals. Tommy Rock, cofounder of Diné No Nukes and a doctoral student at Northern Arizona University, has been testing the water that people around Church Rock, New Mexico, drink. He is finding high levels of uranium in some of the wells - even wells that are regulated and supposed to be tested routinely.

Tommy Rock, of Diné No Nukes, meets with staff of the USDA, January, 2016. (Photo: Klee Benally) Tommy Rock, of Diné No Nukes, meets with US Department of Agriculture staff in January 2016. (Photo: Klee Benally)

One of the wells that showed levels of uranium at twice the maximum limit serves the Sanders Unified School District in northern Arizona, which has a thousand students. The community did not know about the high uranium content until Rock informed them.

"State and federal regulators knew about the contamination for years, and our community is concerned about the long-term chronic exposure to uranium because we have been consuming this contaminated water without being notified," said Sanders resident Tonya Baloo, a member of the Diné people.Now Rock is working with the Sanders community to find clean water.

The solution to the water contamination crisis requires an urgent public health response.

There are roughly 1,000 abandoned uranium mines in and around the Navajo Nation, and very few of them have been cleaned up. None of them have been taken care of adequately. Klee Benally, who lives in Arizona and coordinates the Clean Up The Mines! campaign, calls it "toxic landscaping." Benally adds that the Gold King Mine spill, which polluted the 215-mile segment of the San Juan River that flows through the Navajo Nation last August, further compels the urgent need to clean up abandoned mines before they destroy more rivers with toxic waste.

Uranium is the radioactive metal that is used to power nuclear plants and to make nuclear weapons. When it is mined, 85 percent of the radioactivity is left behind in the waste rock. That waste and exposed ore continue to emit radiation for hundreds of thousands of years. As the uranium breaks down to become lead in its final form, it also releases radon gas, which causes lung cancer. Exposure to uranium and other radioactive metals by drinking contaminated water, breathing contaminated dust or eating food produced in contaminated areas causes cancer, birth defects, kidney disease and autoimmune diseases. Children and the elderly are most affected. These mines are located in the breadbasket of the United States, which provides food to the country and many parts of the world.

When the Clean Up The Mines! campaign was launched nearly two years ago, we toured abandoned uranium mines in South Dakota with Klee Benally and Charmaine White Face of Defenders of the Black Hills. Many of the abandoned mines are open pits. One that we visited was very close to an elementary school in Ludlow, South Dakota. We measured high levels of radiation - over 150 counts per minute in the playground area.

White Face has been working for years to raise awareness of the radioactive contamination in the Great Sioux Nation, which includes North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and parts of Nebraska. She has asked for studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but has been denied because she was told there aren't enough people in the area. However, she is certain that people are being impacted. Communities close to the mines suffer high cancer and miscarriage rates.

Like Tommy Rock, White Face has also been testing drinking water and is finding high levels of uranium as well as thorium, a radioactive metal not regulated by the EPA. The composition of the uranium shows that it is coming from the abandoned mines rather than being naturally occurring. Despite the contamination, communities continue to drink the water because they have no choice. This has been going on for decades.

Klee Benally chants in front of the EPA, January, 2016. (Photo: DC Indymedia)Klee Benally chants in front of the Environmental Protection Agency in January 2016. (Photo: DC Indymedia)

Recently, White Face, Rock and Benally traveled to Washington, DC, with other Indigenous people from the Southwest and Northern Great Plains to sound the alarm about radioactive pollution. They call themselves the "miner's canary" because they are trying to alert the public about the impacts of this national problem. In addition to the 15,000 abandoned uranium mines, there are other sources of radioactive pollution that are not being monitored.

The largest coal mine in the United States, the Black Thunder Mine in Wyoming, provides 40 percent of the nation's coal. Its uranium-laced coal is shipped both to the East and the West, where it is burned in power plants and turned into radioactive coal ash. Fracking is another concern, because the wastewater from fracking wells in the Bakken oil and other shales bring radioactive metals up from deep underground. This wastewater is held in open ponds, is sometimes discharged into waterways and is sprayed on roads during ice and snowstorms.

A National Problem That Needs a National Solution

Charmaine White Face at Red Shirt Village press conference. (Photo: Jill Stein)Charmaine White Face at Red Shirt Village press conference. (Photo: Jill Stein)

The solution to the water contamination crisis requires an urgent public health response. Water must be tested regularly for contaminants, including radioactivity; the public must be notified immediately when there are concerns; and clean drinking water must be provided when public water is not potable, no matter the size of the affected population. Sources of contamination must be cleaned up.

This may sound like a lot to require, but consider the flip side. Governor Snyder in Michigan changed the water source for Flint in order to save money. However, the result of that decision will be much more expensive than doing the right thing from the start. The state has already authorized $28 million to address the problem. Flint's mayor says it will cost up to $1.5 billion to replace the city's aging pipes. Expensive medical care will be required for the 6,000 to 12,000 children who have been exposed to lead poisoning. Altogether, it is estimated that this crisis will cost $10 billion.

As physicians, we are concerned about the future of our water supply.

One of the problems exposed by the Flint water crisis is the inadequacy of water testing and notification systems. Some municipalities meet their clean water requirements by conducting tests that violate EPA guidelines. They only test areas that are known to be clean or flush out the pipes prior to testing. According to the Guardian, "A report published [in 2015], commissioned by the American Water Works Association, found that if the water was tested directly from lead pipes, up to 96 million Americans could be found to be drinking water with unsafe levels of lead."

Another problem is that utilities conduct their own testing without adequate oversight by local EPA regulators. It is a scenario that is seen all too often in the United States: close relationships between regulators and the entities they are supposed to regulate that lead to lax oversight.

An EPA task force issued recommendations in 2015 on lead and copper monitoring in water. Those recommendations have not yet been adopted. That needs to be expedited. And there needs to be a task force that will test water for radioactivity and issue rules to protect the public from radioactive pollution in water.

Tommy Rock reports that the standard for radioactive pollution in water is higher than what was originally recommended because utilities didn't want to have more stringent requirements, and they are pushing to raise the maximum allowable levels for radioactive pollutants to be higher. This must be prevented; as Physicians for Social Responsibility reports, "There is no safe level of radionuclide exposure, whether from food, water or other sources. Period."

Steps must also be taken to stop the leaking of uranium and other radioactive metals into water, and that means cleaning up the thousands of abandoned uranium mines. Legislation is being drafted that would require a single high standard of clean up for the mines. You can learn more about that bill and how to support it at

Access to Water Is a Public Good

Warning at Riley Pass mine. (Photo: Jill Stein)Warning at Riley Pass mine. (Photo: Jill Stein)Clean water is a necessity. People cannot survive without access to water. There are many threats to our water system beyond contamination, such as the climate crisis, overuse and privatization. Water is quickly becoming our most precious resource, one that needs to be managed in a holistic way so that there is enough water to meet everyone's basic needs.

As physicians, we are concerned about the future of our water supply. The Flint water crisis should provoke a public debate at the national level about the best ways to protect clean water, including what type of water infrastructure is required and how water is owned and managed.

With the reality of the climate crisis upon us, corporations view water as a commodity that will increase in value. In 2013, almost 70 percent of water systems in the United States were privately owned. A report by Food & Water Watch shows that private water companies charge higher prices and cut corners, such as using poor construction materials and not hiring sufficient staff. Privatization of water must be prevented and reversed because corporations do not treat water as a public good, but as a profit center for their investors.

The invisible crisis of radioactive metals in our water raises the question of the impacts of fossil fuel and nuclear energy extraction on our water quality and availability. The extractive energy industry is one that consumes tremendous amounts of water and pollutes it with chemicals and radioactive metals. This means that protecting our fragile water future also means transitioning rapidly to a clean and green carbon-free and nuclear-free energy economy.

We need a national plan to manage this precious necessity, clean water. That includes an integrated approach to preserve and protect clean water in a way that involves coordinated but decentralized decision-making, transparency and participation by local communities. We will need to conserve wetlands, manage agricultural use, reduce water demand and reuse water. We can no longer take clean water for granted. These crises are a wake-up call to create a 21st century water policy that treats water as a public good, not a commodity for corporate profit.

Opinion Fri, 05 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Economy Adds 151,000 Jobs in January

The economy added 151,000 jobs in January, in line with some economists' expectations. There were largely offsetting revisions to the prior two months data leaving the average change over the last three months at 231,000. The slowing was sharpest in construction, which added 18,000 jobs after adding an average of 56,500 jobs in the prior two months. The temp sector lost 25,000 jobs in January after a reported gain of the same size in December. The big job gainers were restaurants, which added 46,700 jobs, health care with a gain of 36,800, and retail with a gain of 57,700. Both restaurants and retail were likely helped by unusually good weather. (The storms hit after the survey period.)

On the household side, there was another large increase in labor force participation, with 284,000 entering the labor force, after adjusting for changes in population controls. Employment rose by 409,000 after the adjustment. Other news in the household survey was mixed. The number of involuntary part-time workers fell again and is now down by almost 800,000 over the last year. The number of people who choose to work part-time rose slightly. It is now up by almost 500,000 from its year ago level. This is a predictable effect of the ACA as people no longer need to work full-time to get health care insurance through their jobs.

On the negative side, the unemployment rate for African Americans by rose by 0.5 percentage points and for African American teens by 1.5 percentage points. This indicates the drop in December was a blip. The percentage of unemployment due to voluntary job leavers also dropped in January, indicating a lack of confidence in the labor market.

There was a large 12 cent jump in the average hourly wage in January, but this followed a month in which there was no reported rise at all. Over the last three months the wage has risen at a 2.5 percent annual rate compared to the prior three months, the same as its pace over the last year. There is little basis for believing there is any notable increase in wage wage growth.

News Fri, 05 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500