Truthout Stories http://www.truth-out.org Fri, 31 Oct 2014 03:02:48 -0400 en-gb What Would Republicans Do With a Senate Majority? http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27160-what-would-republicans-do-with-a-senate-majority http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27160-what-would-republicans-do-with-a-senate-majority

2014 1030 senate fwSenate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, September 9, 2014. Regardless of which party controls it, Republicans will almost certainly control the House, and Democrats will hold the White House. Given how far apart the parties are on almost every major issue, the odds that major legislation will become law in the next two years are scant. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

By now I'm sure that a lot of Americans, especially in the "Senate swing states," are wishing that the November election would be over with already. Many are no doubt empathizing with teary-eyed Abigael Evans, the little girl in Colorado who told her mother in the run-up to the 2012 Presidential election, "I'm tired of Branco Bama and Mitt Romney." (She seemed to be happy, though, when Obama won, which I guess could be taken as evidence that youthful impatience should not always have the last word.)

According to Nate Silver's poll aggregation and prediction site fivethirtyeight.com, Republicans currently have a two-thirds chance of capturing the Senate. But as Silver himself would be quick to point out, saying that this means that a Republican takeover is guaranteed would be akin to saying that the best hitter in baseball is guaranteed to fail to get on base the next time he goes to the plate, since the best hitters in baseball get on base about a third of the time, which is roughly Silver's estimate of the Democrats' chances of keeping a Senate majority.

Election fatigue can often foster election cynicism. An Irish poet once wrote: "Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart." Maybe some progressives are asking themselves: would it really be so terrible if Republicans take over the Senate? Maybe Democrats are exaggerating how bad Republican control of the Senate would be, in order to try to gin up Democratic turnout.

So perhaps it would be useful for progressives who are asking themselves how bothered they should really be about the prospect of Republican control of the Senate to eavesdrop a bit on what Republicans are saying to other Republicans about what they should do with a majority in the Senate.

The Hill reports [my emphasis]:

Conservatives salivating over the prospects of a huge victory on Nov. 4 are pressuring House and Senate GOP leaders to go big after Election Day.

The right argues leaders should forget about playing small ball and use momentum from the midterms to put big checks on President Obama's agenda.

"People want to see a bold vision. They want to see a real fight on ObamaCare repeal and tax reform that takes a blowtorch to the tax code. They want to see real entitlement reform, not empty talk," one conservative GOP aide said.

As every politically active person should know by now, "real entitlement reform" is an insider euphemism for such things as cutting Social Security benefits by lowering the cost-of-living adjustment and raising the retirement age.

Here's what The Hill says the Republican "moderates" want to do with a Senate majority instead of the Republican conservatives' more ambitious agenda [my emphasis]:

McConnell and Boehner appear more interested in approving an authorization of the Keystone XL oil pipeline; repealing the healthcare law's medical device tax, which is unpopular with members of both parties; and moving trade legislation.

All of these measures could pick enough support to make it to Obama's desk and win his signature.

But, The Hill says, "Conservatives decry this as small ball." What do conservatives want instead? [My emphasis.]

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) led the pressure campaign on GOP leaders to take a more forceful stance against ObamaCare and the administration's deferred action on deportations, and he expects to gain new allies if Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton (R), Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) and Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan (R) prevail on Tuesday.

"If all they do is keep their campaign promises, we're going to be in very good shape because they're all running as unabashed conservatives, and one of their top priorities is repealing ObamaCare," said another conservative Senate GOP aide.

If we judge by what these Republicans are saying to each other, we can't say for sure what Republicans are going to do if they take over the Senate, because what they are going to do is going to be the outcome of a fight between "Republican conservatives" and "Republican moderates."

But what we can say is that from a progressive point of view, the possibilities are going to range between "very bad" and "also very bad."

If the "Republican moderates" get their way, the Keystone XL oil pipeline is going to be approved, a huge setback to efforts to reform U.S. energy policies to reduce the threat of "climate chaos." If the "Republican moderates" get their way, the Trans-Pacific Partnership "trade agreement" is going to be approved, a huge setback to efforts to reform U.S. trade policy to protect labor rights, the environment, and access to essential medicines. That's if the "Republican moderates" prevail in the intra-Republican fight.

If the Republican conservatives get their way, Congress will (also) repeal the Affordable Care Act, cut Social Security benefits, and take away authority from the President to defer deporting people who, aside from being undocumented, have never committed any crime in the United States.

This isn't what Democrats are saying Republicans are going to do. This is what Republicans are saying Republicans are going to do.

Suppose that you don't live in a Senate swing state. Is there anything you can do about this, besides clicking on those emails asking you for money?

A lot of people have given serious thought to this question. Here is one example.

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Opinion Thu, 30 Oct 2014 15:58:50 -0400
Defense Spending and Net Exports Spur Higher Than Expected Third Quarter Growth http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27156-defense-spending-and-net-exports-spur-higher-than-expected-third-quarter-growth http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27156-defense-spending-and-net-exports-spur-higher-than-expected-third-quarter-growth

Health spending continues its slower path, with an inflation rate of just 1.4 percent over the last year.

GDP grew at a higher than expected 3.5 percent annual rate in the third quarter. The biggest factors in this growth were a 16.0 percent increase in defense spending, which added 0.66 percentage points to growth; an 11.0 percent increase in the export of goods, which added 0.99 percentage points to growth; and a 2.4 percent decrease in the import of goods, which added 0.34 percentage points to growth. These three categories accounted for almost two full percentage points of the growth in the quarter.

In other categories, consumption grew at a modest 1.8 percent annual rate, while non-residential investment grew at a 5.5 percent rate. Housing grew at a 1.8 percent annual rate, while government spending outside of defense grew at just over a 1.0 percent rate. Inventories were a drag on growth, subtracting 0.57 percentage points.

Consumption spending was held down by spending on services, which rose at just a 1.1 percent annual rate. This compares to a 1.7 percent average growth rate in the years 2011-2013. Services account for two-thirds of consumption, so weaker growth in services will limit overall consumption growth.

Within services, one of the factors depressing growth in the quarter was a 1.6 percent rate of decline in spending on housing and utilities. This reflects less electricity use due to a relatively mild summer. That will be reversed in coming quarters. The other major factor slowing spending is health services, which increased at just a 1.8 percent annual rate in the quarter. Both health care inflation and total spending have slowed sharply in recent years. Nominal spending in the third quarter is just 3.5 percent above the year-ago level. With real spending up by 2.1 percent, this implies a 1.4 percent inflation rate. It is difficult to determine the extent to which this slowdown can be attributed to the ACA, but clearly the predictions that costs would explode due to the extension of coverage have proven wrong.

2014.10.30.Baker.Chart

The jump in defense spending is almost certainly an anomaly that will be reversed in future quarters. The last double-digit jump in defense spending was an 11.9 percent increase reported for the third quarter of 2012. The following quarter spending fell at a 20.1 percent annual rate.

The improvement in trade largely reflects a reduction in imports of oil. Lower oil prices and reduced oil imports free up money for other consumption. However, increased U.S. oil production may also be a factor contributing to the recent rise in the dollar. This will make U.S. goods less competitive and will be a drag on net exports in future quarters.

This report should further dampen any concerns about growing inflationary pressures. The overall GDP deflator grew at a 1.3 percent annual rate in the quarter and is up by 1.6 percent from its year-ago level. The core PCE deflator that the Fed targets grew at a 1.4 percent annual rate and is up 1.5 percent from its year-ago level.

Going forward, it is likely that GDP growth will be closer to 2.0 percent than 3.0 percent. The surge in defense spending will almost certainly be reversed in the next two quarters, creating a substantial drag on reported growth. Trade will also be more neutral, as we are not likely to see another comparable fall in imports. (There was an unusually large jump in the second quarter.) More normal utility use will provide somewhat of a boost to growth, but there is little reason to expect the pace of overall consumption growth to accelerate much. The saving rate is still relatively low at 5.5 percent (meaning consumption is high relative to income) and with wage growth modest, there is no reason to expect any large upticks in consumption spending. Housing construction may pick-up somewhat, but it is not likely to be a major contributor to demand growth nor is non-residential investment.

In short, we are likely to see the economy continuing to grow at a sluggish pace. With a potential growth rate in the range of 2.0-2.4 percent, the economy is making up little of the ground lost in the downturn.

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News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 13:04:05 -0400
"Green World Rising": A Call to Save the Earth From Climate Change http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27155-green-world-rising http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27155-green-world-rising

2014 1030 gre st"The threat of climate change is very real, but we have the solutions, knowledge, and ingenuity needed to help save our planet…" (Photo: Hagens World)In two previous videos narrated by Leonard DiCaprio and available over at GreenWorldRising.org, we’ve seen the dangers that global warming and climate change present for our planet and the human race.

We’ve seen how there’s a giant sleeping monster lurking underground in the form of trapped methane gas, and we’ve learned that, if we continue to do nothing to fight climate change, that methane could get released, causing even more problems for the only planet we can call home.

Finally, we’ve seen how putting a price on carbon could be one of the best ways to help fight climate change and save the future of not only our planet, but of the human race.

Now, the third video in the four-part series has been released, titled Green World Rising.

Green World Rising represents a call to save the human race from the devastating effects of global warming and climate change.

The video focuses heavily on some of the new solar, wind, and geothermal industries that are at the forefront of creating a greener world for all of us.

The threat of climate change is very real, but we have the solutions, knowledge, and ingenuity needed to help save our planet, and Green World Rising talks about how we can put those solutions and that knowledge into action right now.

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Opinion Thu, 30 Oct 2014 12:41:32 -0400
"The Red Cross' Secret Disaster": Charity Prioritized PR Over People After Superstorm Sandy http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27151-the-red-cross-secret-disaster-charity-prioritized-pr-over-people-after-superstorm-sandy http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27151-the-red-cross-secret-disaster-charity-prioritized-pr-over-people-after-superstorm-sandy

This week marks the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy hitting the New York City region, becoming one of the most destructive storms in the nation’s history. A new joint investigation by ProPublica and NPR contends the American Red Cross bungled its response to Superstorm Sandy by caring more about its image and reputation than providing service to those in need. It alleges the organization diverted vehicles and resources to press conferences instead of using them to deliver services. And it estimates the Red Cross wasted an average of 30 percent of the meals it was producing in the early days of its Sandy response effort. We speak to ProPublica reporter Justin Elliott and Richard Rieckenberg, former disaster expert with the Red Cross - he oversaw aspects of the organization’s efforts to provide food, shelter and supplies after the 2012 storms. We also air an official Red Cross response to their investigation.

TRANSCRIPT:

NERMEEN SHAIKH: This week marks the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy hitting the New York region, becoming one of the most destructive storms in the nation’s history. After first pummeling Cuba, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, Sandy made its way up the East Coast. On October 29th, the hurricane blasted New York City with a record storm surge as high as 13 feet. The storm also heavily hit the Jersey Shore and parts of New England. Sandy ultimately killed 159 people along the East Coast and damaged more than 650,000 homes. The storm caused $70 billion in damage across eight states. Millions were left without power, some for weeks.

Well, a new investigation by ProPublica and NPR says there were actually two disasters during Sandy: the hurricane itself and the ensuing relief effort by the Red Cross. This is a clip from a video accompanying the investigation headlined "The Red Cross’ Secret Disaster."

LAURA SULLIVAN: It’s October 2012. Superstorm Sandy barrels up the Eastern Seaboard from Florida to Maine. The storm leaves millions in the cold and dark. Dozens die. A star-studded relief effort helps the Red Cross rake in more than $300 million in donations. This is the untold story of that Red Cross relief effort, how one of the nation’s most revered charities bungled its mission and misled the public.

GAIL McGOVERN: I think that we are near flawless so far in this operation. I’m just so proud of everything that we are doing on the ground. It is incredible.

LAURA SULLIVAN: But confidential documents and insider accounts paint a different picture.

RICHARD RIECKENBERG: They lost confidence in their ability to do the right thing, and so they did the next best thing, which is, what can we do to make people think that we’re doing the right thing?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was a clip from a video accompanying the new joint investigation by ProPublica and NPR called "The Red Cross’ Secret Disaster." The report contends that the American Red Cross bungled its response to Superstorm Sandy by caring more about its image and reputation than providing service to those in need. It alleges the organization diverted vehicles and resources to press conferences instead of using them to deliver services. And it estimates the Red Cross wasted an average of 30 percent of the meals it was producing in the early days of its Sandy response effort.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined now by two guests. Here in New York, Justin Elliott, reporter for ProPublica and one of the lead authors of their new investigation, "The Red Cross’ Secret Disaster." And in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Richard Rieckenberg joins us, former disaster expert with the Red Cross who oversaw aspects of the organization’s efforts to provide food, shelter and supplies after the 2012 storms.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Justin Elliott, just lay out your findings.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Sure. So, this investigation is based, as you mentioned, on the Red Cross’s internal documents, some of their after-action reports, emails from the time, and also interviews with a lot of officials that were involved in the Sandy response, as well as victims in New York and New Jersey. And we found, first of all, that the Red Cross botched the key elements of its mission to provide relief after the storm. And I think most disturbingly, we found that one of the reasons for that was that the Red Cross’s leadership has become so obsessed with burnishing the brand and public relations that it’s actually undermined the disaster relief efforts and undermined some of the people on the ground, like Richard, who were trying to, you know, actually accomplish the mission of delivering aid.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, could you give us an example of how it is that the Red Cross diverted resources to maintain its image or for public relations purposes, rather than providing resources to those in need?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Sure. So, one example, after Sandy hit New York a couple years ago, several officials on the—Red Cross officials on the ground told us that there were issues where the Red Cross’s emergency response vehicles, which are sort of these van truck vehicles where there’s a window and they’re used to deliver food and relief items to people in affected areas, were diverted by leadership to instead be backdrops at press conferences and in photo ops. And this was done at a level that was actually hurting the relief effort. And this is not just drawn from accounts of people at the time. We also published on ProPublica a "Lessons Learned" presentation by the Red Cross, where there’s a slide that says, "hindrances to service delivery," and the first bullet point is national headquarters. And then, under that, it says national headquarters was "diverting assets for public relations purposes."

AMY GOODMAN: You talked about the Hurricane Isaac even before Sandy, the two of them, when Red Cross ordered 80 trucks and emergency response vehicles to leave the lot empty, drive around Mississippi, to make it look like they were doing something.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: That’s right. We’ve talked to multiple people who either observed or actually took part in that incident. I spoke with one of the emergency response vehicle drivers, who is a volunteer, like most Red Cross workers, had driven from North Carolina to respond to Isaac, which hit the Gulf Coast a couple months before Sandy, and told me that the Red Cross effort was actually worse than the storm. And in particular, there was this incident where he was told to take his emergency response vehicle out and just drive around to make it look like they were doing something.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, yesterday Democracy Now! spoke with Laura Howe, vice president of public relations for the American Red Cross. We asked her if the Red Cross diverted these vehicles and resources to press conferences, like, you know, Heidi Klum, in Staten Island to be the backdrop instead of using them to deliver services. This is how she responded.

LAURA HOWE: This is just patently untrue. The Red Cross didn’t host any press conferences during the first month of Sandy. We participated in a limited number of press events that were hosted by other people. Most of those took place for about 15 minutes or so. And the important thing to remember is they took place in places where service delivery was already happening, so our trucks were already there, our people were already there, and there were—there was a response happening in those locations. So, we had hundreds of requests from media outlets to see our services. And part of what we have to do is inform the public about how to get help from us. And so, it stands to reason that we would do that.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Laura Howe, vice president of public relations for the American Red Cross. Again, we had hoped that she would be on with our guests today, but they refused. We’re also joined by Richard Rieckenberg, the former disaster expert with the Red Cross who oversaw aspects of its efforts to provide food during the—after the storms. Your response to the Red Cross, Richard Rieckenberg?

RICHARD RIECKENBERG: Response specifically to what? What Laura Howe said?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes.

RICHARD RIECKENBERG: I think I can understand Laura’s position, that public relations is important. The issue that I saw in Isaac and Sandy, for the first time that I worked with the Red Cross, is that public relations became more important than mass care. I like to paraphrase something that Bob Scheifele said, who’s the senior mass care chief in the country: Is it more important to feed a person or more important to tell the world that you fed a person? And Sandy was my 26th disaster relief operation, and Isaac and Sandy were the first time that I worked with the Red Cross that I felt it was more important for the Red Cross to tell the world they fed a person than it was to feed them.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Richard Rieckenberg, what do you think accounts for this change in the focus of the work of the Red Cross? It was the 26th—Sandy was the 26th emergency operation that you worked for with the Red Cross, and Isaac and Sandy were the first times that you witnessed this emphasis on public relations rather than the provision of services. What accounts for the shift?

RICHARD RIECKENBERG: I think a couple of things. I think the restructuring of the Red Cross really hurt the ability of the Red Cross to do disaster relief. They had been closing down a lot of the small local chapters around the country. And when you start to do that, consolidating them into bigger chapters and also consolidating resources in Washington, D.C.—when you start to do that, you start to lose your expertise and your contact with the local community, and you start to lose the volunteers who have got a lot of experience in disaster relief. I think—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me go back to Laura Howe, the spokesperson, who talked directly about you, Richard Rieckenberg, saying you had "a very limited view" of the Red Cross’s response to Hurricane Sandy.

LAURA HOWE: Mr. Rieckenberg was one of 79 chiefs that served in a similar role on the Sandy operation. So, given that, he had a very limited view of the operation, and that limited view lasted just a few weeks. So he reported into a much larger, much broader chain of command, and the people above him, the people that spoke to ProPublica and spoke to NPR on the record on behalf of the Red Cross, had a much, much broader view of what was happening within the organization.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Laura Howe of the Red Cross. Richard Rieckenberg, your response?

RICHARD RIECKENBERG: Well, my response is that I was the mass care planning chief, first in Washington, D.C., and then I decided to go to New York City. As such, I was the senior mass care person at the scene. Laura is right in that I can only speak about mass care. But mass care is the bulk of what the Red Cross did, the bulk of what they do for all—for the beginning of all disasters. And so, the bulk of the Red Cross workers there are mass care workers, and I’m the one that was planning the mass care efforts.

AMY GOODMAN: Justin Elliott?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: I just want to make a point here. I mean, I just think it’s sad that the Red Cross’s position here is trying to sort of cast doubt on Richard’s accounts. I mean, first of all, the point that he makes is obviously true. Our reporting shows that he was a high-level person responding to both Isaac and Sandy. But also, everything we reported that Richard told us was confirmed by other officials, and in almost all cases is actually also corroborated by Red Cross documents, that we encourage people to look at on our website at ProPublica. I mean, again, there is a Red Cross—it’s called a "Lessons Learned" presentation, that says, "a hindrance to service delivery," national headquarters diverting aid, diverting disaster relief assets, like trucks, "for public relations purposes." So, again, that’s in black and white, a Red Cross document that came out of headquarters. And as we were doing our reporting and interviewing Richard and several other officials who were on the ground, they all said that that was totally true.

And one point on the press conference is, there’s actually pictures of the CEO of the Red Cross, Gail McGovern, giving—participating in a press conference out on Staten Island a few days after Sandy, again, published on our website, where you can see in the background emergency response vehicles being used as backdrops, just like Richard says. And one other point, since the story was published yesterday, I’ve since heard from another person who was involved in that effort who confirmed the entire account that we published, which we already knew was true, but, I mean, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Talking about the CEO, McGovern, she went on NBC and said the Red Cross’s response was "near flawless" to Sandy. Talk about your meeting minutes that you got from the Red Cross.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right. I mean, this, in some ways, was kind of one of the most shocking things we found in the course of our reporting. As you mentioned, about two or three weeks after Sandy, the CEO of the Red Cross, Gail McGovern, went on national television, NBC, because there were some questions sort of anecdotally on the ground of sort of "Where was the Red Cross?" And she said, our response effort so far has been, quote, "near flawless."

Just a few weeks later, there was a meeting of Red Cross executives, at the sort of vice-president level, which is the highest position in the organization below CEO, and they’re just painting a totally, starkly different picture, saying things like—and again, we published this—"We didn’t have the sophistication for this size job," "multiple systems failed," you know, our "biggest challenge" is the "skillset ... possessed by our workforce," which gets at something that Richard mentioned, which was—I mean, sort of a little bit of a backstory here—there’s been restructurings and layoffs in recent years, and a lot of experienced disaster responders have left. So, the sort of public version of what happened, that was given by the CEO, compared to just a couple weeks later, the behind-closed-doors version, were just utterly at odds with each other.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Richard Rieckenberg, when you first noticed the failings of the Red Cross while you were still employed there, you raised some of your concerns with your colleagues and your superiors. Could you explain what you did and what kind of response, if any, you received?

RICHARD RIECKENBERG: Yes, I was very upset about the response to Hurricane Isaac, because I think we made some very important decisions that were fundamentally against our principles. I mean, in my mind, they were fundamentally immoral decisions. Bob Scheifele and I—I was, with Hurricane Isaac, in Florida, and then I went to Mississippi, where we really weren’t prepared for a hurricane that we should have been very easily prepared for. So Bob Scheifele, who was in Louisiana, and I contacted the vice president of the Red Cross, Trevor Riggen. I sent him an email, and I sent him my travel report from Mississippi and Florida and said that we’re very upset about what we saw there, and we asked to meet with him and two other vice presidents in Washington, D.C., which he agreed to do. So we ended up flying to Washington, D.C., in October and presenting him with our concerns.

AMY GOODMAN: This goes back to—I mean, it can go back before, but, Justin Elliott, for example, Hurricane Katrina. What was the Red Cross’s response there? And what ultimately most shocked you in your reporting?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Sure. I mean, the Red Cross has had a tough past sort of decade and a half. There were scandals involving financial mismanagement after—actually, after September 11th, when they raised a lot of money, I believe over a billion dollars, and then after Katrina. One interesting thing about the Red Cross is it’s actually created by Congress, so there’s some congressional oversight, and Congress actually forced an overhaul after Katrina. The new CEO, Gail McGovern, was brought in a couple years after Katrina, and sort of publicly it seemed like things had stabilized a little bit. But, I mean, just in general, the thing that sort of was most surprising is that behind the scenes, again, talking to many, many officials, who either used to or currently work at the Red Cross, have lost faith in the leadership. And part of that has to do with sort of basic issues of competence in responding to disasters, but part of it also has to do with the sort of values of the management, that at this point seem to prioritize public relations and sort of the brand above the actual hard work of disaster—

AMY GOODMAN: They get $300 million from one superstar concert. And you have Occupy Sandy. Talk about that, the offshoot of Occupy Wall Street—

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: —and what happened on the ground with people who had almost nothing.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right, so, I mean, the $300 million is actually the Red Cross’s overall fundraising for Sandy, part of which was from this celebrity concert. But yeah, there were some volunteer sort of groups, including Occupy Sandy, which was a sort of offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, that sprang into action after Sandy. And some of those people are quoted in my piece, where those groups were, for example, in the Rockaways, one of the most devastated areas out in Queens, and they didn’t really see the Red Cross until a couple weeks after the storm. So, you know, and they were sort of operating on a shoestring budget.

I mean, I think one of the reasons we thought that this was so important to do is, as you say, when there’s a big disaster, most Americans, you know, they’re seeing these terrible images on their television screen, and they want to do something, and they give money to the Red Cross. And to be clear, you know, I believe that it’s an incredibly important institution, and there’s a lot of good people that have worked there and do work there, like Richard, who are trying to—who are real experts who are trying to do disaster relief. So, it’s very unfortunate that a lot of—you know, a lot of that money was squandered.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much, and we’ll certainly link to your reports at ProPublica, Justin Elliott, reporter for ProPublica and one of the lead authors for this new investigation, "The Red Cross’ Secret Disaster." Richard Rieckenberg, thanks so much also for joining us, former disaster expert with the Red Cross who oversaw aspects of the Red Cross efforts to provide food, shelter and supplies after Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy. He was speaking to us from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, money in judicial elections. Stay with us.

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News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 11:11:30 -0400
Showdown Over Ebola: Will Quarantines of Health Care Workers Harm the Fight Against Epidemic? http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27149-showdown-over-ebola-will-quarantines-of-health-care-workers-harm-the-fight-against-epidemic http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27149-showdown-over-ebola-will-quarantines-of-health-care-workers-harm-the-fight-against-epidemic

A debate is intensifying in the United States over quarantining health care workers who return from West Africa but do not show signs of Ebola. On Wednesday, Maine’s governor said that he would seek legal authority to enforce a 21-day home quarantine on Kaci Hickox, a nurse who has tested negative for Ebola after treating patients in Sierra Leone. Hickox made national headlines when she publicly criticized New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for quarantining her in a tent outside the hospital. Hickox said she would challenge Maine’s restrictions just as she did in New Jersey. "I completely understand that the state’s purpose is to protect the state of Maine,” Hickox said last night. “I have worked in public health for many years, and that has always been my purpose, as well, but we have to make decisions on science, and I am completely healthy.” To discuss the debate, we speak to Lawrence Gostin, professor and faculty director at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. He is also the director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Public Health Law.

TRANSCRIPT:

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The World Health Organization says Liberia, the country worst hit by an Ebola epidemic, may be seeing a decline in the spread of the virus. While the number of burials and new admissions has fallen in Liberia, World Health Organization Assistant Director-General Dr. Bruce Aylward said the international community must continue to step up its response to the virus that’s killed around 5,000 people in West Africa.

DR. BRUCE AYLWARD: It would be a huge mistake for anybody to think, "Oh, great, we’re getting in front of this virus, we can scale back on some of the investments planned." I mean, you know, these are wily viruses. They’re waiting for you to make that kind of a mistake. And as you’ve seen in places, you know, in Guinea, you’ve seen in Guéckédou, this thing will go on for a very, very long time at lower rates of transmission. So, you’ve got to exploit those opportunities as they arise, step up your game. And if anything, this should be really a sign that, look, make those investments because this can be turned around, this virus can be stopped eventually, but it’s going to take a very, very aggressive program of work to capitalize on those opportunities.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general of the World Health Organization. This comes as a debate intensifies in the United States over quarantining healthcare workers who return from West Africa but don’t show signs of Ebola. On Wednesday, Maine’s governor said that he would seek legal authority to enforce a 21-day home quarantine on Kaci Hickox, a nurse who has tested negative for Ebola after treating patients in Sierra Leone. Hickox made national headlines when she publicly criticized New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for quarantining her in a tent outside the hospital. Hickox said she would challenge Maine’s restrictions, just as she did in New Jersey. Last night, Hickox spoke outside her boyfriend’s home in Maine.

KACI HICKOX: I completely understand that the state’s purpose is to protect the state of Maine. I have worked in public health for many years, and that has always been my purpose, as well. But we have to make decisions on science. And I am completely healthy. You know, you could hug me, you could shake my hand. There is no way that I would give you Ebola. If I develop symptoms—and there’s even some evidence that, you know, in the beginning periods there’s not enough virus in your blood, that you’re shedding virus. It’s, you know, still not perfect science, because we don’t know everything we need to know about Ebola, because it’s a rare enough disease. But, you know, I don’t want to hurt anyone in the public, but I don’t think this is an acceptable line to be drawn.

AMY GOODMAN: As Hickox spoke on her boyfriend’s doorstep, he had his arm around her the whole time. Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said the state is filing a court order to keep Kaci Hickox isolated at home until November 10th.

MARY MAYHEW: We will make it mandatory. It is certainly in everyone’s best interest to just cooperate and work with us to minimize contact. It is very difficult, outside of that voluntary agreement to stay at home, to monitor someone who may come into contact with many individuals, that if that individual then becomes symptomatic, we will have to work with every single one of those individuals to quarantine those individuals.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, President Obama held an event at the White House to honor American doctors, nurses and healthcare workers returning from West Africa.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Like our military men and women deploying to West Africa, they do this for no other reason than their own sense of duty, their sense of purpose, their sense of serving a cause greater than themselves. So we need to call them what they are, which is American heroes. They deserve our gratitude. And they deserve to be treated with dignity and with respect.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the debate over quarantining healthcare workers, we’re joined by Lawrence Gostin, university professor and faculty director at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, also the director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Public Health Law.

You’re one of the leading experts, Dr. Gostin, on the issue of quarantine. This showdown is only getting hotter in this country, and it’s not just about this one crusading nurse, Kaci Hickox. But can you talk about what it is she’s saying, why she objected to being held in the hospital in New Jersey, and then went home to Maine and was told she had to stay there, why she feels she shouldn’t be there for 21 days?

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Well, I really don’t think she should be there for 21 days. I, like her, believe—and I’ve spent my entire life defending the public’s health. And if I actually thought that she or any of the other health workers coming from the region were a risk to the public, I would support a quarantine. But the Supreme Court has said that if you confine somebody who has committed no crime, it’s, quote, "a massive deprivation of liberty." It’s not a trivial thing. We have to make sure that we balance civil liberties with public health. In this case, all the public health experts are telling us that it’s unnecessary—the CDC, the World Health Organization. There’s no organization that I know of that believes it’s right to quarantine for three weeks somebody that really is, as President Obama said, is a hero. They’ve sacrificed. They’ve done things that most of us wouldn’t do. They’ve put themselves at risk, gone in a compassionate way. And I do think we need to treat them better than we are. This is self-defeating. We think that we’re actually decreasing our risk by quarantining her, but actually we’re increasing it, because if we impede people from going to the region, then the epidemic there will spin out of control, and that is where our risk lies.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to turn to comments made by NBC cameraman and Ebola survivor Ashoka Mukpo. He was asked about the mandatory quarantine being imposed on Kaci Hickox. He also talked about Dr. Craig Spencer, who’s being treated for Ebola in New York. He was speaking on CNN. Let’s just go to a clip.

ASHOKA MUKPO: She’s earned a right to, you know, have a sense of her own safety and her own risk factor to others. And I don’t think that Dr. Spencer endangered anyone. My feeling is—and, you know, again, I’m not an expert, this is just my own view on the exposure that I’ve had to Ebola—is I think that Governor Christie is playing politics right now. It seems to me that it’s an effort to, you know, work with public opinion rather than listen to the advice of the experts. And I just think that it’s counterproductive. You know, these are people who have gone and endangered their lives to work with people who have very limited resources and are dying in relatively large numbers. So, to make it more difficult and to treat them as if they’re a potential problem as opposed to a public asset, I just think it’s a shame, and I don’t think it’s the right way to act.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Ebola survivor Ashoka Mukpo speaking on CNN. So, Lawrence Gostin, can you explain why it is people are so fearful? They’ve have been so critical, many people, of Kaci and of Dr. Craig Spencer, for what they claim was endangering the lives of the public. Could you explain why that’s not really been the case?

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: You know, it really isn’t the case. We know from science and epidemiology that if a person is completely symptom-free, if they haven’t had any known exposure, with their skin or anything else, they have no temperature, and if the health department would proactively monitor them—I’m all in favor of that—then if they want to get in their car, or if they want to have a walk on the street, they’re endangering no one at all. And as I say, from a matter of law, the doctrine of quarantine requires that you have an individual assessment of significant risk. And it doesn’t exist here. The CDC itself does not put her in a category that would warrant quarantine. They have guided the states in that way. They’ve asked the states to behave in a way that comports with science. And unfortunately, we’re coming up to elections. Politicians are wanting to follow the polls. They’re basing their decisions on fear rather than science. And while sometimes that might be an OK thing to do, not if you’re depriving somebody of liberty, and not if you’re really making a situation in West Africa worse than it is.

AMY GOODMAN: Maine Governor LePage is one of the most conservative governors in the country. And his Health and Human Services secretary spoke yesterday. What they didn’t explain, they have police outside of the home where Kaci is staying. They have not directly said what they’re going to do to her if she goes outside. But if they’re saying she’s contagious, right—the New Jersey governor, Christie, said she’s "obviously ill," which was obviously wrong—

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Clearly wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: Are they going to be wearing moon suits and tackle her? They will not explain what they’re going to do to her.

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: No, and in fact, unless they’ve actually issued a formal quarantine order under the state’s public health law, the police actually have no authority over her. She has committed no crime. There has been no assessment that she actually, from a scientific point of view, poses any risk to anyone. I don’t see that they’ve got any authority. Now, if they get a court order, they’re going to have to convince a judge that their decision is based upon rationality and science. And I don’t see how they can do that when the entire scientific community disagrees. And they’re just—they’re fanning the fear in the public. The public are wondering, "Why are we getting all these confusing messages?" The president’s saying one thing, the governor’s saying another thing, the WHO and CDC have their own position.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, there—

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: We have to have a consistent position.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Gostin, there are mixed messages.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that all U.S. troops returning from the Ebola zone in West Africa must spend 21 days in quarantine. Let’s go to a clip.

DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: What I signed this morning was a memorandum to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in response to the memorandum of recommendation I received from the chairman and the chiefs yesterday to go forward with a policy of essentially 21-day incubation for our men and women who would be returning from West Africa.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaking on Wednesday. So, Larry Gostin, can you explain the discrepancy in policy? Because on the one hand, the Obama administration seems to be saying that quarantine is not required for health workers, and now we have Chuck Hagel, the defense secretary, saying, but for the military, it is. And presumably healthcare workers are in much closer proximity to those suffering from Ebola in West Africa.

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: I mean it’s a complete contradiction in terms. I was very proud of the United States for sending military troops into West Africa. I actually wish that the military troops could provide direct patient care. But President Obama ruled that out because he didn’t want them to be exposed to any risk—for political reasons. I can understand that. But now, when they’ve not had any patient contact—they may have had no exposure whatsoever—and then come back, and every single one of them will be quarantined 21 days, it defies rationality. Why would you want to do that?

The other thing is, is that we have people coming and going to West Africa all the time. We have U.N. diplomats, high-level American officials, high-level World Bank officials, that will be coming to and from New York City and other places. Do we intend to quarantine them all?

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the U.S. ambassador—

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: We have no consistent—

AMY GOODMAN: —to the United Nations, Samantha Power, just went to all three nations that are hardest hit.

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: She said she’ll abide by the law. But this goes even beyond Ebola. I wanted to turn to Steve Hyman, an attorney for the nurse, Kaci Hickox.

STEVEN HYMAN: There’s no basis to arrest her. There’s no basis to detain her. And such action would be illegal and unconstitutional. And we would seek to protect Kaci’s rights as an American citizen under the Constitution. The fact is, she seems to be doing well. She’s now certainly better than she was when she was in the isolation tent, courtesy of Governor Christie, in New Jersey. She is feeling fine—hopefully, she stays that way—and is monitoring herself, as required by the protocols, and is staying in touch with the Maine public health officials. There is no legal basis under Maine law or under the U.S. Constitution to restrain her because she went to Africa to help people get better.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is what else Kaci Hickox’s attorney, Steve Hyman, had to say.

STEVEN HYMAN: In the AIDS crisis, they were trying to do the same thing. People were supposed to be isolated because of AIDS and the fear that ran through the community. And that proved to be totally wrong. And people were subjected to the same thing that’s happening to Kaci by this hysteria that somehow there’s contagion, because of some myth as to how it’s transmitted.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Steve Hyman, an attorney for Kaci Hickox. And I wanted to ask you, Dr. Lawrence Gostin—I was just watching a Mount Sinai Hospital doctor, infectious disease doctor, today on television, who was responding to the question, you know, more than 80 percent of Americans want people quarantined, so how do you deal with that? And he said, you know, if you had asked them if they wanted Ryan White, the boy who had AIDS—

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —if you wanted him quarantined, not to go to school, they would have said the same thing. That doesn’t make it right. How do you deal with this, Dr. Gostin?

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Well, I mean, I think you need to deal with it with clear information. I mean, we didn’t, in the end, quarantine people with AIDS, thank goodness, but we did harass them, discriminate against them. Ryan White, a poor little young boy who had HIV infection, was embarrassed, kick out of school. These are not humane, compassionate ways of dealing with things. Unfortunately, you know, epidemics, particularly fearful ones, bring the worst out in society and civilization and humanity. But we need to find the better parts of ourselves and treat human beings with compassion, and only restrict them if it’s absolutely necessary for the public welfare. And in this case, it clearly is not.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, on Wednesday, representatives of the Centers for Disease Control joined health officials from 31 other countries from the Americas in Cuba for a conference on Ebola. The meeting was convened by ALBA, a regional alliance of Latin American and Caribbean countries. This is Cuban Health Minister Roberto Morales.

DR. ROBERTO MORALES OJEDA: [translated] We hope that this meeting creates a concerted course of action to continue perfecting our national plans, that it ratifies the commitment we have to the most vulnerable people as an expression of the principles of solidarity, genuine cooperation and integration between our countries.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The U.S. presence in Cuba is the latest show of cooperation between the two countries on the Ebola crisis. This is Nelson Arboleda of the CDC.

DR. NELSON ARBOLEDA: [translated] I think that this is an international emergency and that we must all work together and cooperate in this effort.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Larry Gostin, according to the World Health Organization, Cuba is by far the largest provider of doctors and healthcare workers to West Africa in dealing with this Ebola crisis. So could you talk about what you think the U.S. ought to be doing more to deal with the crisis there in West Africa?

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Yeah, well, before I do that, I mean, one—when I just had said that epidemics bring out the worst in us, but here’s a case of where epidemics can bring out the best in us, where it can bring us together, which shouldn’t be a Democrat-Republican issue. It shouldn’t be a Cuba-American issue. It’s a global issue for all of mankind and humankind.

What America needs to do is really ramp up the response in West Africa. We need to be training a reserve work core of experienced doctors and nurses, putting them into the region, supporting them, treating them with respect. And we need to be providing money. And more than anything, we need to mobilize the international community. At least the U.S. has troops there. There are a lot of countries that don’t. I’m really astounded at the delay and the lack of attention that’s been given to what is really one of the worst crises I’ve seen since the AIDS epidemic.

AMY GOODMAN: MSF, Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders, is really suffering now. They’re saying that—

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: They are.

AMY GOODMAN: —because of this controversy over the quarantining of healthy people, that it means that they are getting less recruits, fewer doctors, nurses, health workers offering to go abroad. President Obama almost had tears in his eyes yesterday as he surrounded himself—I think the visual was more important than anything he said, being very close to hugging people who had been in West Africa. What is your—what is the single most important thing you feel needs to happen right now as the U.S. focuses on this debate over local quarantine? What’s brought Liberia’s infection rate down?

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Well, you know, first, we have to stop being so insular and just thinking about ourselves and our own—we have a few very isolated cases. In West Africa, they will have tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands, of people with Ebola. So we’ve got to put it in perspective. And we have to really all come together, as Americans and as an international community, and put our focus in West Africa. You know, if we don’t, and for some reason it jumps to another populous city like Delhi or Beijing, then we could have a global catastrophe, something that would really come back to haunt us. So, this is in our self-interest, but more than that, it’s in our shared humanity, that we really need to focus our attention, resources, human resources and engineering to really build up hospitals, doctors and public health systems. And we have to learn from this lesson. We have to learn what to do in the future. And what that is, is to build the health systems up in low- and middle-income countries so that these things don’t spin out of control.

AMY GOODMAN: Lawrence Gostin, we want to thank you for being with us, university professor, faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University—

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: —also director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Public Health Law. Thank you. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’re going to be looking at the Red Cross, not around the issue of Ebola today, but it’s the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. "Where were they?" people asked all over the East Coast. We’ll look at their own internal documents to find out why they were not present. Stay with us.

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News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 11:06:41 -0400
Arming the Warrior Cop: From Guns to Drones, Inside the Booming Business of Police Militarization http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27145-arming-the-warrior-cop-from-guns-to-drones-inside-the-booming-business-of-police-militarization http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27145-arming-the-warrior-cop-from-guns-to-drones-inside-the-booming-business-of-police-militarization

In a new cover story for Mother Jones magazine, "The Making of the Warrior Cop," senior reporter Shane Bauer goes inside the corporations and government departments involved in enabling police departments to acquire anything from bayonets to semi-automatic rifles and drones. Reporting from the exposition called "Urban Shield" - which organizers call the largest first-responder training in the world - Bauer says that the equipment police departments have received from the military pales in comparison to the amount of gear purchased from private companies. The Department of Homeland Security has provided some $41 billion in funding to local police departments to buy the equipment from various corporations, on top of more than $5 billion from the Pentagon since 1997.

TRANSCRIPT:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We continue our conversation about policing communities by looking at who is involved in the increasing militarization of police departments across the country. Shane Bauer’s cover story for Mother Jones magazine, headlined "The Making of the Warrior Cop," gives us a tour through the corporations and government departments involved in enabling police departments to acquire anything from bayonets to semi-automatic rifles to drones. Reporting from the exposition called Urban Shield, which, according to organizers, is the largest first-responder training in the world, Bauer says that the equipment police departments have received from the military, quote, "pales in comparison to the amount of gear purchased from private companies."

AMY GOODMAN: The Department of Homeland Security provides funding to local police departments to buy equipment from various corporations. Shane Bauer writes, quote, "The Department of Defense has given $5.1 billion worth of equipment to state and local police departments since 1997, with even rural counties acquiring things like grenade launchers and armored personnel carriers. But Homeland Security has handed out grants worth eight times as much—$41 billion since 2002." Let’s go to a clip from the Mother Jones piece. Shane Bauer, who will join us in a minute, starts by asking Urban Shield spokesperson, Sergeant JD Nelson, a question.

SHANE BAUER: Do you think there’s any validity to the criticism that the United States is kind of increasingly becoming a police state?

SGT. JD NELSON: I think there is some validity to that.

SHANE BAUER: We’re at Urban Shield in Oakland, California. It’s a cop convention where this weekend SWAT teams from around the Bay Area and around the world are going to be competing around the Bay.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Mother Jones journalist Shane Bauer, who joins us now from University of California, Berkeley, studios, the award-winning investigative journalist, senior reporter at Mother Jones magazine. His cover story is headlined "The Making of the Warrior Cop." Shane is also the journalist who was imprisoned for two years in Iran.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Shane. So, take us through this expo, and these astounding figures. I mean, we’ve heard a lot about the weapons coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon recycling them in towns, cities, hamlets, in their police departments. But the fact that that amount of equipment is dwarfed by direct grants to these communities to buy money—to buy weapons from weapons manufacturers?

SHANE BAUER: Yeah, thanks for having me on, Amy. So, you know, Ferguson is, I think, a good example of this. In Ferguson, a lot of the kind of gear that we saw on television that the police had, you know, throughout the crisis there was not actually military gear. It was stuff, very similar equipment, bought from private companies. And what we’re seeing now is, you know, some towns, some counties are actually giving back the equipment or trying to give back the military equipment, but they also have, you know, very similar stuff that they’re buying from private companies. An example is in Arizona. Sheriff Joe Arpaio kind of made a show of giving some of his gear back, and he put on display all of his kind of military stuff he had, and then he showed the much kind of newer, more up-to-date stuff that he’s buying from companies. And this industry has really, you know, sprung up post-9/11, when Homeland Security start giving grants to local communities for counterterrorism. A lot of the companies I saw at Urban Shield were actually started after 9/11. So they give this stuff for counterterrorism, but, of course, they can use it for anything they want, and most of what it’s used for is drug raids.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what does this mean in terms of these manufacturers or suppliers, in terms of their actually going around lobbying these local governments to buy their material?

SHANE BAUER: Well, I think one example that I saw at Urban Shield was a company called the Armored Group. They were selling the kind of big APC-style armored vehicles. And if you go on their website, you see that they tell local police departments that "if you want to buy our vehicle, we actually have a grant writer that will write the grant for you for Homeland Security so you can get the funding." They also suggest that they use forfeiture money. This is money that is taken in criminal investigations, money or property that police departments take in criminal investigations, even when the defendants are not actually prosecuted in the cases. That money can also be used to buy similar—the same equipment from these companies.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to another clip from your report for Mother Jones. In this video, you’re speaking to Jeremy Johnson of the Armored Group.

JEREMY JOHNSON: Like you, I’ve been all over the world. I’ve seen a lot of the stuff. And I see a lot of the differences. You know, this is not a—they’re not going in to just take care of business. They’re there to, hopefully, handle a situation that could get out of hand, right?

SHANE BAUER: Yeah, yeah.

JEREMY JOHNSON: But you never hear about the ones they handle. I think that’s where it gets a little disconnect from what they want. But you’re right. Some of these trucks do look intimidating—for a reason, though. They should. You know, you don’t want to pull up a Chevy Chevette in front of a house and say, "Here, we’re going to get you." You’re not going to get the effect you want.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I want to turn to another clip from your report, one that features something unbelievable—a university, the University of California, Berkeley, having a SWAT team. After they staged a hostage rescue simulation, you spoke to Eric Tejada of UC Berkeley’s Special Operations.

LT. ERIC TEJADA: It was actually around ’92, ’94, there was an attack on the chancellor of the—

SHANE BAUER: OK.

LT. ERIC TEJADA: —at his residence, which is on campus.

SHANE BAUER: OK, uh-huh.

LT. ERIC TEJADA: And we realized at the time that we didn’t have any resources to deal with that kind of threat when it took place.

SHANE BAUER: Yeah, OK.

LT. ERIC TEJADA: So, and I think about 15 years before, they had some kind of semblance of a SWAT team.

SHANE BAUER: OK.

LT. ERIC TEJADA: So they regenerated the idea of—

SHANE BAUER: Oh, I see.

LT. ERIC TEJADA: —activating a SWAT team.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Eric Tejada of UC Berkeley’s Special Operations. Most people might be surprised to hear the University of California, Berkeley, has a SWAT team. Shane Bauer, could you tell us what kind of operations the team has physically carried out?

SHANE BAUER: Yeah, well, I mean, this is interesting, because this scenario, they were doing a kind of high-stakes hostage rescue. They would later go on a boat in the bay to kind of dismantle a terrorist IED. They would go into a church, where, you know, a kind of pretend militant atheist group is holding church members hostage. But when I asked them what they do day to day, most of what they respond to are muggings of students—you know, the kind of normal police work that police departments do. They’re kind of going in, you know, fully armed, geared up in this kind of military-style gear, busting into houses.

You know, I think another aspect that is interesting about this whole situation with the Homeland Security money is that there’s incentive for kind of new equipment. One thing that I saw was a device that attaches to a gun, and it sends out radiation waves that temporarily blind the person it’s pointed at for 10 minutes by—what the vendor told me was, by scrambling their ocular fluid. And that’s something that’s going to be hitting the market early next year.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this is both an expo that you went to, Urban Shield, but also there was a lot of role playing.

SHANE BAUER: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you had your press credentials revoked, is that right?

SHANE BAUER: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Your press credentials were revoked on the last day of the conference. I want to go to a clip, the third day of the conference, and you filmed a police officer asking you to leave the premises.

SHANE BAUER: They told us that we were OK here. Said, "Take their media badges"?

POLICE OFFICER: Yeah, and said, "Hold onto"—

SHANE BAUER: Did he explain why?

POLICE OFFICER: He just said because they were in violation of the rules for filming inside of one of the sites; they were advised to film inside the site.

SHANE BAUER: What site?

POLICE OFFICER: I don’t know.

SHANE BAUER: They didn’t even say what site.

POLICE OFFICER: I assume it’s mine. I assume it’s this site.

AMY GOODMAN: Before you were removed from the conference, Shane, there were numerous instances in which your work was shut down at Urban Shield. So, explain—

SHANE BAUER: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: Just give us the global picture of what’s happening, the expo and these other role plays that you were trying to cover that happened outside, like in San Francisco and the bridge.

SHANE BAUER: Yeah, so there was—basically, it was a four-day event. The first two days was an expo. There was an expo hall where all kinds of companies were showing their equipment—guns, trucks, drones, you know, robots that can be printed with 3D printers—trying to sell them to the local police departments. The next two days was a 48-hour straight exercise, where SWAT teams were actually competing with each other, going through around 35 scenarios. And each one, they’re kind of getting points. These were a lot of kind of Bay Area SWAT teams. There were some international SWAT teams from Singapore, South Korea. The U.S. Marines was a team. There was, you know, teams like UC Berkeley, a prison SWAT team. And I had gone to some of these events, and on the morning of the second day, they took our press credentials.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Shane, drones obviously have gotten a lot of attention in recent years. Did you get any sense that that was a hot item among these different law enforcement agencies this time around?

SHANE BAUER: Oh, yeah. There were a ton of drones. Actually, when I got kicked out, there was a vendor. Each of these kind of sites where they were doing these scenarios had a particular vendor. And at that site, there was a drone vendor who we had interviewed. And he was hoping to use their drones, his company’s drones, in the exercise on the Bay Bridge, but because of FAA regulations, they were not allowed to use them. You know, the county in—Alameda County hasn’t gotten approval yet to use them. But you saw, you know, a big thing right now is the 3D-printable drones. So, police departments can print out a drone, attach the wiring and, you know, set it out.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s been a lot of protest in Oakland around urging the Oakland mayor, Jean Quan, to cancel the Urban Shield conference next year. Can you talk about these protests and the significance of this happening in Oakland in this post-Ferguson period?

SHANE BAUER: Yeah, well, Urban Shield has been happening for years. It’s been going on since the mid-2000s. And in recent years, there’s been regular protest of it. And this year, in particular, Jean Quan said that Urban Shield will not be allowed to come back to Oakland. Now, the county has said, "Yes, they will." So there’s kind of a battle between the city and the county right now.

You know, when I was at Urban Shield, the protests, something I noticed was that the protests were referencing Ferguson quite a bit. And that was something that just wasn’t really talked about on the inside; inside Urban Shield, there wasn’t any discussion of Ferguson. But at the same time, you know, I was seeing T-shirts for sale that—where, you know, you see kind of an image of a gun sight, and says, "This is my peace sign." You see, you know, kind of this Spartan imagery, very militaristic kind of imagery, that in many ways, you know, is kind of—

AMY GOODMAN: What is "This is my peace sign"? What is it actually showing?

SHANE BAUER: That’s a sight of an AR-15, looking kind of down the scope of an AR-15 sight.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Shane, the—

SHANE BAUER: And, you know, I think this—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’m sorry. Go ahead.

SHANE BAUER: Oh, you know, I think something that—something that really was interesting to me about being there was this kind of overlap with the military. You know, some of these companies that I seen and vendors that I spoke to were from the military. Their companies were actually set up to distribute to the military, and they’ve since kind of come over to also bringing in police. You know, the Marines were a team competing there. I talked to the Marines after one of their scenarios, and they said that they actually learn from the police. The spokesperson of Urban Shield told me, you know, "We should be talking not about militarization of the police, but policization of the military." There’s this kind of interesting dynamic now where the Marines are actually learning from the kind of urban SWAT team tactics, to bring back and kind of train their people.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Shane, I wanted to ask you about the Pentagon’s 1033 program. It’s transferred more than $5.1 billion in military equipment to local agencies since 1991. That includes some 600 mine-resistant armor-protected vehicles, or MRAPs.

SHANE BAUER: Yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Last month, during a Senate hearing on police militarization, Brian Kamoie of the Department of Homeland Security defended the program. He said equipment helped locate the surviving suspect after the Boston Marathon bombing last year.

BRIAN KAMOIE: The response to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing demonstrated how preparedness grant investments have improved capabilities. Grant-funded equipment, such as the forward-looking infrared camera on a Massachusetts State Police helicopter, enabled the apprehension of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, while enhancing the personal safety of law enforcement officers and protecting public safety.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Brian Kamoie of the Department of Homeland Security. So, isn’t—some people would say that’s a justification for all of this hardware.

SHANE BAUER: Right. I mean, you know, there’s no doubt that people in a kind of extreme situation are going to want to have some kind of response. The issue is that a lot of this hardware is going to small towns. I mean, everybody is getting this stuff. And most of it is used for drug raids. It’s the kind of situations where there has been—there’s not an active shooter, there’s not a hostage scenario—the kind of stuff that police often talk about in why they need this equipment. It’s used to raid people’s houses, you know, often in no-knock raids to try to find drugs. And these SWAT teams are mostly used—about 71 percent of the time they’re used to target people of color, even though the people that are the most likely to be, you know, the active shooters, the hostage takers, are white. In North Carolina in one town, African Americans were targeted 47 times the amount of white people by SWAT teams.

AMY GOODMAN: Shane, as we wrap up, I wanted to switch gears. As we talk to you and you’re talking about the amount of money that’s going into the militarization of police at home, we’re seeing the U.S. attack Syria and Iraq, dealing with the Islamic State. You were held in Iran with Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd for—well, you and Josh for two years by the Iranian authorities; you were imprisoned. And I wanted to know your reaction to when you see, for example, the video of James Foley, the horrid video of his beheading, and then his mother coming out and saying she was threatened that if she dared try to raise any kind of ransom, she herself would be prosecuted. Your thoughts on this issue, as journalists like yourself have been held?

SHANE BAUER: I mean, it’s terrible, I mean, all the way around. My heart goes out to the Foley family, to the families of all of the people who are held hostage in Syria, including, you know, Syrians. Most of the people that are missing right now are Syrians. And, you know—

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, before you were arrested, you and Sarah worked in Syria. You were teaching English in Syria.

SHANE BAUER: Right. Yeah, I was actually working as a journalist in Syria. Sarah was teaching. And, you know, it’s still hard for me to really get my head around what is happening there. It’s just such a different place. And I do, you know, wish that our government did more, that people weren’t—people like Foley’s mom didn’t face punishment for trying to raise money to get her son out of prison. I mean, it’s not a simple situation. You know, giving money to the Islamic State is not the answer, either. But we need to have kind of a more active way of dealing with this, I think.

AMY GOODMAN: Shane, thanks so much for being with us. Shane Bauer, award-winning investigative journalist, senior reporter at Mother Jones magazine, his cover story headlined "The Making of the Warrior Cop." And we’ll link to it at democracynow.org.

When we come back, we go to Austin, Texas. We’ll be speaking with a Texas man on trial—for filming the police? Well, we’ll find out what’s happening. Stay with us.

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News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:53:28 -0400
US Energy Policies Based on Inflated Fracking Predictions: Post Carbon Institute Report http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27143-us-energy-policies-based-on-inflated-fracking-predictions-post-carbon-institute-report http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27143-us-energy-policies-based-on-inflated-fracking-predictions-post-carbon-institute-report

Economic predictions about the fracking industry's potential growth have for the most part gone unquestioned — until now.

new report from the Post Carbon Institute exposes highly inflated forecasts and concludes that the amount of oil that can be tapped by hydraulic fracturing cannot be maintained at the levels assumed beyond 2020.

The report, “Drilling Deeper: A Reality Check on US Government Forecasts for a Lasting Tight Oil & Shale Gas Boom,” says inflated forecasts from the Energy Information Administration have fostered a lack of urgency to transition to renewable energy. The report also looks at the oil industry's increased pressure to relax restrictions on fracking and change oil and gas export rules.  

“The Department of Energy’s forecasts — the ones everyone is relying on to guide our energy policy and planning — are overly optimistic based on what the actual well data are telling us,” says David Hughes, a geoscientist and author of the Post Carbon Institute report.

The report shatters the government’s estimate of the potential productivity of America’s shale regions. Four out of seven of the top shale regions have peaked and are now in a decline, the report says. Another three will peak in production before the government’s forecast predicts. In decline already are the Barnett, Haynesville, Fayetteville and Woodford Shales.

2014 1030 derm chartSource: Post Carbon Institute

In his 2012 inauguration speech, President Obama touted the further development of natural gas coupled with meaningful regulation as America's “all of the above” answer to energy independence. But Americans have yet to see any meaningful federal regulation of fracking. There has been little to no monitoring of the long-term consequences of the fracking industry despite growing public concern.

Environmental Impacts of Fracking Visible Around the Country

Examples of inadequate environmental protection related to fracking are piling up.

Pennsylvania's attorney general is looking into claims that the state’s Department of Health has ignored citizen complaints about the fracking industry. And the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection was recently compelled to release 243 reports that indicate water contamination caused by the fracking industry. 

2014 1030 derm 2Flare at a Marathon tank battery site in the Eagle Ford Shale region in Texas. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

Meanwhile, regulators in Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale are failing to monitor fracking industry fumes.  An investigative report published by the Center for Public Integrity showed air monitoring tests were completed far from toxic sites.

2014 1030 derm 3Steven Lipsky’s contaminated water in Weatherford, TX. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

This year, eight members of congress called for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reopen contaminated water studies near fracking sites in Dimock, Pa., Parker County, Texas, and Pavillion, Wyo., after the EPA’s Inspector General concluded the agency was justified in intervening to protect drinking water from hydraulic fracturing.

Lon Burnam, a Texas State Representative who lost his latest bid for reelection after serving 18 years, acknowledges that the fracking industry has changed the economic situation in America.

Watch video of Lon Burnam on the economics of fracking: 

“It is the single most important thing that has turned around the economy since the recession of 2008,” Burnam told DeSmogBlog. But he, like most Texans, knows a thing or two about booms and busts in the industry. He worries about what will be left in the wake of the fracking boom.

“There is woeful neglect on the regulatory front,” according to Burnam. “Part of it is the lack of will because these state agencies are controlled by the very polluting interests they are supposed to be regulating, but part of it is there is no money being put back into the system to address the problems being created by the boom.” 

Burman warns that selling our oil and gas abroad under the guise of energy security is a mistake. He says it will raise prices and create a new wave of fracking.

Watch video of Lon Burnam on the need to better regulate the fracking industry:

ShaleTest Environmental Testing, a non-profit organization, recently released “Project Playground,” a report on air quality near playgrounds close to natural gas industry sites in Texas's Barnett Shale region.

According to the report, carcinogens were present at three playgrounds at levels exceeding the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality’s long-term ambient limit.

“The oil and gas industry claims that they’re drilling responsibly,” ShaleTest president Tim Ruggiero says, but “these tests show they’re not.”

Toxic emissions from the fracking industry are among the factors that prompted citizens in Denton, Texas, to press for a ban on fracking. Earthworks released video taken with a FLIR camera in Denton in the last month showing fumes at fracking industry sites, according to Earthworks.

2014 1030 derm 4Flowback at an EagleRidge Energy site less then 300 feet from homes in Denton, TX. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

Denton Councilman Kevin Roden, who supports banning fracking in Denton, points out that the boom in Denton is over and the city has little to show for it. The Post Carbon Institute’s report proves him right. Extraction rates for natural gas in the Barnett Shale (which lies below Denton) are in decline.

But the industry's inflated predictions have put pressure on politicians to relax restrictions on the existing ban on the export of crude oil. The Producers for American Crude Exports, a coalition of oil companies, is fighting to end the four-decade ban on crude exports.

Gulf Coast Oil reserves are at record highs and there is a surplus of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Proposals to allow exports are on the table in Washington. 

“Planned LNG exports, possible crude oil exports, repatriation of manufacturing, investments in gas-fired electricity generation and pipeline infrastructure, are all predicated on the assumption of cheap and abundant oil and gas for the foreseeable future,’” the Post Carbon report’s author Hughes says. “Getting it wrong on future tight oil and shale gas production comes with a high vulnerability on energy security and infrastructure investment issues.”

While forecasts made by the industry are looked at with skepticism, government projections have been readily accepted.

“Based on our analysis, the reality is far different from what the industry is telling the Energy Department, and the Energy Department is, in turn, telling the public and the Congress,” Asher Miller, executive director of the Post Carbon Institute, says.

With that in mind, the Post Carbon Institute’s independent analysis stands to become a game-changing resource. 

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News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:16:24 -0400
The Missing Women of Afghanistan: After 13 Years of War, the Rule of Men, Not Law http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27141-the-missing-women-of-afghanistan-after-13-years-of-war-the-rule-of-men-not-law http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27141-the-missing-women-of-afghanistan-after-13-years-of-war-the-rule-of-men-not-law

2014 1030 afghan fwAshraf Ghani Ahmadzai arrives for his inauguration at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 29, 2014. (Photo: Omar Sobhani / Pool via The New York Times)

On September 29th, power in Afghanistan changed hands for the first time in 13 years. At the Arg, the presidential palace in Kabul, Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as president, while the outgoing Hamid Karzai watched calmly from a front-row seat.  Washington, congratulating itself on this “peaceful transition,” quickly collected the new president’s autograph on a bilateral security agreement that assures the presence of American forces in Afghanistan for at least another decade. The big news of the day: the U.S. got what it wanted.  (Precisely why Americans should rejoice that our soldiers will stay in Afghanistan for another 10 years is never explained.)

The big news of the day for Afghans was quite different -- not the long expected continuation of the American occupation but what the new president had to say in his inaugural speech about his wife, Rula Ghani. Gazing at her as she sat in the audience, he called her by name, praised her work with refugees, and announced that she would continue that work during his presidency.

Those brief comments sent progressive Afghan women over the moon. They had waited 13 years to hear such words -- words that might have changed the course of the American occupation and the future of Afghanistan had they been spoken in 2001 by Hamid Karzai.

No, they’re not magic.  They simply reflect the values of a substantial minority of Afghans and probably the majority of Afghans in exile in the West. They also reflect an idea the U.S. regularly praises itself for holding, but generally acts against -- the very one George W. Bush cited as part of his justification for invading Afghanistan in 2001.

The popular sell for that invasion, you will recall, was an idea for which American men had never before exhibited much enthusiasm: women’s liberation.  For years, human rights organizations the world over had called attention to the plight of Afghan women, confined to their homes by the Taliban government, deprived of education and medical care, whipped in the streets by self-appointed committees for “the Promotion of Public Virtue and the Prevention of Vice,” and on occasion executed in Kabul’s Ghazi stadium. Horrific as that was, few could have imagined an American president, a Republican at that, waving a feminist flag to cover the invasion of a country guilty mainly of hosting a scheming guest.

While George W. Bush bragged about liberating Afghan women, his administration followed quite a different playbook on the ground. In December 2001, at the Bonn Conference called to establish an interim Afghan governing body, his team saw to it that the country’s new leader would be the apparently malleable Hamid Karzai, a conservative Pashtun who, like any Talib, kept his wife, Dr. Zinat Karzai, confined at home.  Before they married in 1999, she had been a practicing gynecologist with skills desperately needed to improve the country’s abysmal maternal mortality rate, but she instead became the most prominent Afghan woman the Bush liberation failed to reach.

This disconnect between Washington’s much-advertised support for women’s rights and its actual disdain for women was not lost upon canny Afghans. From early on, they recognized that the Americans were hypocrites at heart. 

Washington revealed itself in other ways as well.  Afghan warlords had ravaged the country during the civil war of the early 1990s that preceded the Taliban takeover, committing mass atrocities best defined as crimes against humanity.  In 2002, the year after the American invasion and overthrow of the Taliban, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission established under the auspices of the U.N. surveyed citizens nationwide and found that 76% of them wanted those warlords tried as war criminals, while 90% wanted them barred from public office.  As it happened, some of those men had been among Washington’s favorite, highly paid Islamist jihadis during its proxy war against the Soviet Union of the 1980s.  As a result, the Bush administration looked the other way when Karzai welcomed those “experienced” men into his cabinet, the parliament, and the “new” judiciary. Impunity was the operative word.  The message couldn’t have been clearer: with the right connections, a man could get away with anything -- from industrial-scale atrocities to the routine subjugation of women.

There is little in the twisted nature of American-Afghan relations in the past 13 years that can’t be traced to these revelations that the United States does not practice what it preaches, that equality and justice were little more than slogans -- and so, it turned out, was democracy.

Taking Sides

The American habit of thinking only in the short term has also shaped long-term results in Afghanistan.  Military and political leaders in Washington have had a way of focusing only on the most immediate events, the ones that invariably raised fears and seemed to demand (or provided an excuse for) instantaneous action.  The long, winding, shadowy paths of history and culture remained unexplored.  So it was that the Bush administration targeted the Taliban as the enemy, drove them from power, installed “democracy” by fiat, and incidentally told women to take off their burqas.  Mission accomplished!

Unlike the Americans and their coalition partners, however, the Taliban were not foreign interlopers but Afghans. Nor were they an isolated group, but the far right wing of Afghan Islamist conservatism.  As such, they simply represented then, and continue to represent in extreme form today, the traditional conservative ranks of significant parts of the population who have resisted change and modernization for as long as anyone can remember.

Yet theirs is not the only Afghan tradition.  Progressive rulers and educated urban citizens have long sought to usher the country into the modern world. Nearly a century ago, King Amanullah founded the first high school for girls and the first family court to adjudicate women’s complaints about their husbands; he proclaimed the equality of men and women, and banned polygamy; he cast away the burqa, and banished ultra-conservative Islamist mullahs as “bad and evil persons” who spread propaganda foreign to the moderate Sufi ideals of the country. Since then, other rulers, both kings and commissars, have championed education, women’s emancipation, religious tolerance, and conceptions of human rights usually associated with the West.  Whatever its limitations in the Afghan context, such progressive thinking is also “traditional.”

The historic contest between the two traditions came to a head in the 1980s during the Soviet occupation of the country. Then it was the Russians who supported women’s human rights and girls’ education, while Washington funded a set of particularly extreme Islamist groups in exile in Pakistan. Only a few years earlier, in the mid-1970s, Afghan president Mohammad Daud Khan, backed by Afghan communists, had driven radical Islamist leaders out of the country, much as King Amanullah had done before. It was the CIA, in league with the intelligence services of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, that armed them and brought them back as President Ronald Reagan’s celebrated “freedom fighters,” the mujahidin.

Twenty years later, it would be the Americans, spearheaded again by the CIA, who returned to drive them out once more.  History can be a snarl, especially when a major power can’t think ahead.

Whether by ignorance or intention, in 2001-2002, its moment of triumph in Afghanistan, the U.S. tried to have it both ways. With one hand it waved the progressive banner of women’s rights, while with the other it crafted a highly centralized and powerful presidential government, which it promptly handed over to a conservative man, who scarcely gave a thought to women.  Given sole power for 13 years to appoint government ministers, provincial governors, municipal mayors, and almost every other public official countrywide, President Karzai maintained a remarkably consistent, almost perfect record of choosing only men.

Once it was clear that he cared nothing for the human rights of women, the death threats against those who took Washington’s “liberation” language seriously began in earnest.  Women working in local and international NGOs, government agencies, and schools soon found posted on the gates of their compounds anonymous messages -- so called “night letters” -- describing in gruesome detail how they would be killed.  By way of Facebook or mobile phone they received videos of men raping young girls.  Then the assassinations began. Policewomen, provincial officials, humanitarian workers, teachers, schoolgirls, TV and radio presenters, actresses, singers -- the list seemed never to end. Some were, you might say, overkilled: raped, beaten, strangled, cut, shot, and then hung from a tree -- just to make a point.  Even when groups of men claimed credit for such murders, no one was detained or prosecuted.

Still the Bush administration boasted of ever more girls enrolled in school and advances in health care that reduced rates of maternal and infant death.  Progress was slow, shaky, and always greatly exaggerated, but real. On Barack Obama’s watch, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton renewed American promises to Afghan women.  She swore repeatedly never to abandon them, though somehow she rarely remembered to invite any of them to international conferences where men discussed the future of their country.

In the meantime, Karzai continued to approve legislation that tightened restrictions on the rights of women, while failing to restrict violence against them. 

Only in 2009, under relentless pressure from Afghan women’s organizations and many of the countries providing financial aid, did Karzai enact by decree a law for “The Elimination of Violence Against Women” (EVAW). It banned 22 practices harmful to women and girls, including rape, physical violence, child marriage, and forced marriage.  Women are now reporting rising levels of violence, but few have found any redress under the law.  Like the constitutional proviso that men and women are equal, the potentially powerful protections of EVAW exist mainly on paper.

But after that single concession to women, Karzai frightened them by calling for peace negotiations with the Taliban. In 2012, perhaps to cajole the men he called his “angry brothers,” he also endorsed a “code of conduct” issued by a powerful group of ultra-conservative clerics, the Council of Ulema. The code authorizes wife beating, calls for the segregation of the sexes, and insists that in the great scheme of things “men are fundamental and women are secondary.” Washington had already reached a similar conclusion. In March 2011, a jocular anonymous senior White House official told the press that, in awarding contracts for major development projects in Afghanistan, the State Department no longer included provisions respecting the rights of women and girls. “All those pet rocks in our rucksack,” he said, “were taking us down."  Dumping them, the Obama administration placed itself once and for all on the side of ultraconservative undemocratic forces.

Why Women Matter

The U.N. Security Council has, however, cited such pet rocks as the most durable foundation stones for peace and stability in any country. In recent decades, the U.N., multiple research organizations, and academicians working in fields such as political science and security studies have piled up masses of evidence documenting the importance of equality between women and men (normally referred to as “gender equality”).  Their findings point to the historic male dominance of women, enforced by violence, as the ancient prototype of all forms of dominance and violence and the very pattern of exploitation, enslavement, and war.  Their research supports the shrewd observation of John Stuart Mill, the nineteenth century British philosopher, that Englishmen first learned at home and then practiced on their wives the tyranny they subsequently exercised on foreign shores to amass and control the British Empire.

Such research and common sense born of observation lie behind a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions passed since 2000 that call for the full participation of women in all peace negotiations, humanitarian planning, and post-conflict governance. Women alter the discourse, while transforming unequal relations between the sexes changes men as well, generally for the better.  Quite simply, countries in which women and men enjoy positions of relative equality and respect tend to be stable, prosperous, and peaceful. Today, for instance, gender equality is greatest in the five Nordic countries, which consistently finish at the top of any list of the world’s happiest nations.

On the other hand, where, as in Afghanistan, men and women are least equal and men routinely oppress and violate women, violence is more likely to erupt between men as well, on a national scale and in international relations. Such nations are the most impoverished, violent, and unstable in the world. It’s often said that poverty leads to violence.  But you can turn that proposition around: violence that removes women from public life and equitable economic activity produces poverty and so yet more violence.  As Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong put it: “Women hold up half the sky.”  Tie our hands and the sky falls.

Women in Afghanistan have figured this out through hard experience.  That’s why some wept for joy at Ashraf Ghani’s simple words acknowledging the value of his wife’s work.  But with that small, startling, and memorable moment came a terrible sense of opportunity wasted.

Some in the international community had taken the rights of women seriously. They had established women’s quotas in parliament, for instance, and had written “equal rights” into the Afghan constitution of 2004. But what could women accomplish in a parliament swarming with ex-warlords, drug barons, and “former” Taliban who had changed only the color of their turbans?  What sort of “equality” could they hope for when the constitution held that no law could supersede the Sharia of Islam, a system open to extreme interpretation? Not all the women parliamentarians stood together anyway. Some had been handpicked and their votes paid for by powerful men, both inside and outside government.  Yet hundreds, even thousands more women might have taken part in public life if the U.S. had sided unreservedly with the progressive tradition in Afghanistan and chosen a different man to head the country.

The New Men in Charge

What about Ashraf Ghani, the new president, and Abdullah Abdullah, the “CEO” of the state?  These two top candidates were rivals in both the recent presidential election and the last one in 2009, when Abdullah finished second to Karzai and declined to take part in a runoff that was likely to be fraudulent.  (In the first round of voting, Karzai’s men had been caught on video stuffing ballot boxes.)

In this year’s protracted election, on April 5th, Abdullah had finished first in a field of eight with 45% of the votes.  That was better than Ghani’s 31%, but short of the 50% needed to win outright.  Both candidates complained of fraud. In June, when Ghani took 56% of the votes in the runoff, topping Abdullah’s 43%, Abdullah cried foul and threatened to form his own government. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hustled to Kabul to lash the two men together in a vague, unconstitutional “unity government” that is still being defined but that certainly had next to nothing to do with electoral democracy.

Both these men appear as famously vain as Hamid Karzai in matters of haberdashery and headgear, but both are far more progressive. Ghani, a former finance minister and chancellor of Kabul University, is acknowledged to be the brainy one. After years in academia and a decade at the World Bank, he took office with plans to combat the country’s notorious corruption.  He has already reopened the superficial investigation of the Kabul Bank, a giant pyramid scheme that collapsed in 2010 after handing out nearly a billion dollars in “loans” to cronies in and out of the government.  (Ghani may be one of the few people who fully understands the scam.)

Abdullah Abdullah is generally credited with being the smoother politician of the two in a country where politics is a matter of allegiances (and rivalries) among men. As foreign minister in the first Karzai cabinet, he appointed a woman to advise him on women’s affairs. Since then, however, his literal affairs in private have become the subject of scandalous gossip.  In public, he has long proposed decentralizing the governmental structure Washington inflicted upon the country. He wants power dispersed throughout the provinces, strengthening the ability of Afghans to determine the conditions of their own communities.  Something like democracy.

The agreement between Ghani and Abdullah calls for an assembly of elders, a loya jirga, to be held “within two years” to establish the position of prime minister, which Abdullah will presumably want to occupy.  Even before his down-and-dirty experiences with two American presidents, he objected to the presidential form of government. “A president,” he told me, “becomes an autocrat.” Power, he argues, rightly belongs to the people and their parliament.

Whether these rivals can work together -- they have scheduled three meetings a week -- has everyone guessing, even as American and coalition forces leave the country and the Taliban attack in greater strength in unexpected places. Yet the change of government sparks optimism and hope among both Afghans and international observers.

On the other hand, many Afghans, especially women, are still angry with all eight candidates who ran for president, blaming them for the interminable “election” process that brought two of them to power. Mahbouba Seraj, former head of the Afghan Women’s Network and an astute observer, points out that in the course of countless elaborate lunches and late night feasts hosted during the campaign by various Afghan big men, the candidates might have come to some agreement among themselves to narrow the field. They might have found ways to spare the country the high cost and anxiety of a second round of voting, not to mention months of recounting, only to have the final tallies withheld from the public.

Instead, the candidates seemed to hold the country hostage. Their angry charges and threats stirred barely suppressed fears of civil war, and fear silenced women.  “Once again,” Seraj wrote, “we have been excluded from the most important decisions of this country. We have been shut down by the oldest, most effective, and most familiar means: by force.” Women, she added, are now afraid to open their mouths, even to ask “legitimate questions” about the nature of this new government, which seems to be not a “people’s government” consistent with the ballots cast -- nearly half of them cast by women -- but more of “a coalition government, fabricated by the candidates and international mediators.”  Government in a box, in other words, and man-made.

Knowing that many women are both fearful and furious that male egos still dominate Afghan “democracy,” Seraj makes the case for women again: “Since the year 2000, the U.N. Security Council has passed one resolution after another calling for full participation of women at decision-making levels in all peace-making and nation-building processes. That means a lot more than simply turning out to vote. But we women of Afghanistan have been shut out, shut down, and silenced by fear of the very men we are asked to vote for and the men who follow them... This is not what we women have worked for or voted for or dreamed of, and if we could raise our voices once again, we would not call this ‘democracy.’"

Ask yourself: Would you?

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Opinion Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:00:43 -0400
US Sends Planes Armed With Depleted Uranium to Middle East http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27140-us-sends-planes-armed-with-depleted-uranium-to-middle-east http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27140-us-sends-planes-armed-with-depleted-uranium-to-middle-east

There's a version of this story at Al Jazeera.

The US Air Force says it is not halting its use of Depleted Uranium weapons, has recently sent them to the Middle East, and is prepared to use them.

A type of airplane, the A-10, deployed this month to the Middle East by the US Air National Guard's 122nd Fighter Wing, is responsible for more Depleted Uranium (DU) contamination than any other platform, according to the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW). "Weight for weight and by number of rounds more 30mm PGU-14B ammo has been used than any other round," said ICBUW coordinator Doug Weir, referring to ammunition used by A-10s, as compared to DU ammunition used by tanks.

Public affairs superintendent Master Sgt. Darin L. Hubble of the 122nd Fighter Wing told me that the A-10s now in the Middle East along with "300 of our finest airmen" have been sent there on a deployment planned for the past two years and have not been assigned to take part in the current fighting in Iraq or Syria, but "that could change at any moment."

The crews will load PGU-14 depleted uranium rounds into their 30mm Gatling cannons and use them as needed, said Hubble. "If the need is to explode something -- for example a tank -- they will be used."

Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright told me, "There is no prohibition against the use of Depleted Uranium rounds, and the [US military] does make use of them. The use of DU in armor-piercing munitions allows enemy tanks to be more easily destroyed."

On Thursday, several nations, including Iraq, spoke to the United Nations First Committee, against the use of Depleted Uranium and in support of studying and mitigating the damage in already contaminated areas. A non-binding resolution is expected to be voted on by the Committee this week, urging nations that have used DU to provide information on locations targeted. A number of organizations are delivering a petition to US officials this week urging them not to oppose the resolution.

In 2012 a resolution on DU was supported by 155 nations and opposed by just the UK, US, France, and Israel. Several nations have banned DU, and in June Iraq proposed a global treaty banning it -- a step also supported by the European and Latin American Parliaments.

Wright said that the US military is "addressing concerns on the use of DU by investigating other types of materials for possible use in munitions, but with some mixed results. Tungsten has some limitations in its functionality in armor-piercing munitions, as well as some health concerns based on the results of animal research on some tungsten-containing alloys. Research is continuing in this area to find an alternative to DU that is more readily accepted by the public, and also performs satisfactorily in munitions."

"I fear DU is this generation's Agent Orange," US Congressman Jim McDermott told me. "There has been a sizable increase in childhood leukemia and birth defects in Iraq since the Gulf War and our subsequent invasion in 2003. DU munitions were used in both those conflicts. There are also grave suggestions that DU weapons have caused serious health issues for our Iraq War veterans. I seriously question the use of these weapons until the US military conducts a full investigation into the effect of DU weapon residue on human beings."

Doug Weir of ICBUW said renewed use of DU in Iraq would be "a propaganda coup for ISIS." His and other organizations opposed to DU are guardedly watching a possible US shift away from DU, which the US military said it did not use in Libya in 2011. Master Sgt. Hubble of the 122nd Fighter Wing believes that was simply a tactical decision. But public pressure had been brought to bear by activists and allied nations' parliaments, and by a UK commitment not to use DU.

DU is classed as a Group 1 Carcinogen by the World Health Organization, and evidence of health damage produced by its use is extensive. The damage is compounded, Jeena Shah at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) told me, when the nation that uses DU refuses to identify locations targeted. Contamination enters soil and water. Contaminated scrap metal is used in factories or made into cooking pots or played with by children.

CCR and Iraq Veterans Against the War have filed a Freedom of Information Act Request in an attempt to learn the locations targeted in Iraq during and after the 1991 and 2003 assaults. The UK and the Netherlands have revealed targeted locations, Shah pointed out, as did NATO following DU use in the Balkans. And the United States has revealed locations it targeted with cluster munitions. So why not now?

"For years," Shah said, "the US has denied a relationship between DU and health problems in civilians and veterans. Studies of UK veterans are highly suggestive of a connection. The US doesn't want studies done." In addition, the United States has used DU in civilian areas and identifying those locations could suggest violations of Geneva Conventions.

Iraqi doctors will be testifying on the damage done by DU before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Washington, D.C., in December.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration said on Thursday that it will be spending $1.6 million to try to identify atrocities committed in Iraq . . . by ISIS.

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News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 09:27:43 -0400
The GOP’s Sharp Teeth http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/27139-the-gop-s-sharp-teeth http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/27139-the-gop-s-sharp-teeth

All the better to cut you with.

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Art Thu, 30 Oct 2014 09:00:58 -0400