Truthout Stories Thu, 29 Jan 2015 11:24:56 -0500 en-gb Sen. Barbara Boxer on Campus Rape Bill, Climate Skeptics and Why She Supports Obama's War on ISIS

Amy Goodman interviews one of the Senate’s leading advocates for changing the way both universities and the military respond to sexual violence - California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. Boxer talks about her proposed bill to require advocates for sexual assault victims on college campuses, her plans to retire from the Senate in 2016, and why she supports President Obama’s campaign against the Islamic State. "War is a last resort, never a first resort," Boxer says. "I don’t support going to war and sending combat troops. I support President Obama’s plan, which is not to do that, but to make sure we can help people fight against this terror group."


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. We’ve just seen a film called The Hunting Ground, about sexual assault on college campuses. One of the people who has championed the cause of the victims, the survivors, is Senator Barbara Boxer.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re introducing a bill around this issue.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what it is?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Yes. There are two bills, essentially. One is a very broad, comprehensive bill, which is very important—it’s going to take a while to get done—by Kirsten Gillibrand. Mine is a very narrow, but important, bill that would say, until we stop this, we immediately need to have an advocate for the survivors on every single campus that gets federal funds. And that’s, by the way, every campus gets federal funds. So it would say, on all campuses, you need to have an independent advocate.

And what would that advocate do? They’d be available 24/7, so the minute something horrible happens, someone would have an advocate by their side, telling them their rights, putting an arm around them, leading them to the hospital, making sure the forensics were done, letting them know their legal options, and stay with them throughout the entire process.

And what’s exciting to me is, I know how long it takes to get things through this particular Congress, so I took this idea to all my campuses, my public campuses in California. And they have agreed to do this. And it’s exciting. The UC system, the state system and the community college system.

AMY GOODMAN: And the larger bill that Senator Gillibrand has introduced?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Yes. Well, it’s going to take a while, because it really changes the penalties if a college doesn’t really report the truth. It’s pretty broad. And it gives them disincentives not to report. It’s a little more controversial, but I think we can get it done, because these stories are unbelievable. This is an epidemic when 20 percent of the women in college campuses are being attacked. And men are being attacked, too, not in those large numbers, but, still and all, it’s happening to them, too.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is also an issue you’ve taken on in the military.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the progress you did or didn’t make—


AMY GOODMAN: —around sexual assault in the military?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: We have made a lot of progress in the military, but not enough progress. What Kirsten and I wanted to have happen—and we did get bipartisan support for it—was to take the whole handling of sexual assault in the military outside the chain of command, keep it in the military, but give it to professional prosecutors who were not in the chain of command. A lot of times, the commander himself was the one perpetrating. A lot of the times the commander knew who was perpetrating and put "order and discipline," in quotes, ahead of justice. So, we didn’t get that part done.

But let me tell you what we did get done. I had a bill that did—was signed into law, that when there’s questioning of a woman who does report a case, you have to not ask her questions like, "Did you wear a provocative dress? Have you—how many sexual partners have you had?" That’s all out. You can’t do it in a civilian grand jury, and now you can’t do it in the military. Other things that were done is making sure there’s an advocate for the complainant. So, we have made progress, but the big and most important reform, we haven’t made yet, which is to take the reporting outside the chain of command.

AMY GOODMAN: And interestingly, one of your biggest opponents was another woman, another Democrat, Senator McCaskill.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain why you disagreed on that?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Yes. Well, first of all, women are not joined at the hip. We have to understand that. They see things differently. And Claire, I think, was wrong; she thinks I’m wrong. And it’s respectful. But it did hurt us, because out of the 20 women in the Senate, bipartisan, we had 17, she had three. And those three could have made a big difference. So, it’s a sadness for me, but it’s her right to have a different opinion.

AMY GOODMAN: Many of those in the film, or a number of the survivors, the victims of rape and sexual assault, were from the University of California system—


AMY GOODMAN: —whether it was University of Southern California, UC Berkeley, San Diego, Santa Barbara.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, USC is a private college, it’s not in the UC system. So let me make that clear. They’re a private college, and they have some answering to do. And also, the UC system has some answering to do, you’re absolutely right. Santa Barbara was mentioned, UC Berkeley. I think what’s important, as the makers of this film have said, they could have chosen any campus. So, the reason I went to my campuses is I knew they were going to be mentioned in this, and I wanted to get out ahead of it, and I wanted them to start to respond.

And I’m very proud to say—you know, as a senator, you can pass legislation, and you can also use your office as a bully pulpit. And a lot of times my staff will have meetings and will say, "Let’s talk about the bully pulpit today." And what I did was I used the bully pulpit to go to the UC system, the state system, the community college system, and said, "Don’t wait for us to pass this law. Do it now." And they agreed. Now the question is follow-through, and I’m going to make a tour of these campuses in the spring to make sure that they are doing this advocacy.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you spoken to the chancellor, for example, about it?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I have spoken to, absolutely, Janet Napolitano, who is the head of the entire UC system, and they have many, many campuses and hundreds of thousands of students. And she’s really on board with this. I’m excited about it. And, you know, California, we’re just a leader in a lot of ways, and I’m hoping we’ll be a leader on this.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Boxer, speaking of the bully pulpit, you’re giving it up. Why?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I’m not giving up the bully pulpit in any way, shape or form. You have a bully pulpit right here. The person asking the questions has a bully pulpit. There are different bully pulpits. So, I have been in elected office for 40 years. And the truth of the matter is, I wouldn’t have left if I didn’t think we had a wonderful deep bench of progressives in California. And I wouldn’t have left if I didn’t think we had a really good bench of progressives in the United States Senate. I feel really good, because the issues I’ve given my life to on the progressive side are so important, and they will be carried on. But I’m going to be—I’m not retiring in any way. I made that point. I’m going to be working. I don’t know exactly how, where and what, but I’m going to be helping other people. I hope to help Hillary Clinton become the first woman president in 2016. And I have a very full agenda, for the rest of my life, as long as I’m standing here and I’m not horizontal.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you’re still standing in the Senate, and the Senate just voted, about half of the Senate, that climate change is not caused by humanity, by humankind. Can you comment on this? The environment is one of your big issues.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, it’s just a joke. I mean, we offered all kinds of amendments. The Keystone pipeline is being looked at right now. And that is a big wet kiss to the Canadian oil interests and the Koch brothers, who own a lot of land up there. This is the filthiest, dirtiest oil. We don’t need it. It has a trail of misery that accompanies it, from the excavation through the pipeline, if there’s a spill. You know, there’s a spill in Michigan that still hasn’t been cleaned up for years. It’s dangerous. And then, when you refine it in Texas, people get really sick. And then they’re going to export it. We’re not even going to keep it.

So, in relation to that bill, we had one victory. Senator Whitehouse had an amendment that said climate change is not a hoax. It passed 98 to one. So I guess they think it’s not a hoax. But now they say, "OK, we agree, it’s not a hoax, but it is not caused by human activities," which goes up against 98 percent of scientists. You know, if you look back at the struggle we had on tobacco and the dangers of tobacco, honestly, the same people who conducted a disinformation campaign on tobacco are involved in this disinformation campaign. And the Union of Concerned Scientists did an amazing investigatory report, and they told us that. We are really up against it. This is a tragedy for our grandkids. The New York Times recently ran a report that scientists are saying the choice now is between a unpleasant planet or an uninhabitable planet. That’s what we’re left with. So now we have to work for an unpleasant planet. But God help us if we don’t win that battle.

AMY GOODMAN: Does the issue come down to money in politics and politicians, both Democrat and Republican, being beholden to the largest monied interests, and so often it’s the oil, it’s the gas, it’s the coal industry?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I don’t think there is any question that special interests aren’t behind this. Otherwise, why would somebody take a stand against 98 percent of scientists? But I think if you look at the Democrats in the Senate, even those who support the Keystone pipeline, they admit that climate change is real, and they’re willing to work. It’s the Republicans that refuse to sit down with us and do anything about it. And it’s really sad, because when you really attack climate change and you really invest in alternative energies, eventually we’re going to see lower prices for everything, because we’re going to have energy efficiency, is the word of the day. And we’re going to see millions of jobs created as we put solar rooftops on and turn to wind generation. So, it’s a tragedy right now. And I’m proud of the president. He is not giving in. Do you know they tried to cancel the agreement with China that the president agreed? If we don’t have an agreement with China, the number one polluter, I don’t know what the world is going to look like.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama said in his State of the Union address he’s calling for authorization to attack the Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Uh-huh, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m wondering your thoughts? Years ago, it was your colleague, Barbara Lee, who stood alone in the Congress—


AMY GOODMAN: —and said no to the authorization for war after 9/11. What way will you vote?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Oh, I disagreed with Barbara on that, and I still strongly do. I don’t think you sit back when people are cutting off the heads of Americans. I’ve already voted to give the president authority to wage an anti-terror campaign against ISIL, because they are dangerous to humankind. And, you know, some people are pacifists. Barbara, I believe, is a pacifist. And I vote—you know, when I’ve been confronted with these terribly difficult decisions, half the time I’ve said absolutely no to war, and half the time I’ve said it’s a last resort, and it needs to happen. And I think this threat by ISIL is a massive threat, and I think it threatens us all. And so, I’m not putting boots on the ground. I would never vote to put boots on the ground. But there are ways we can help others fight back, so that they don’t have to sit there while their girls have acid thrown in their face and their heads cut off. I’m just not going to do it. Can’t do it.

AMY GOODMAN: But if you look at Iraq and the years that the U.S. has been there, there’s no question there’s a massive problem, but the U.S. has been at war there for well over a decade. Is there another way to deal with this, like the root causes of the violence?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, I was a leader in the antiwar movement on the Iraq War. That was—I think it will go down as the biggest error that has ever been made, you know, in history. But when it comes to this threat of these terrorists, that’s different. I’m not talking about boots on the ground. I’m not talking about going to war. I’m talking about not sitting back while we have people who are—who are so frightening, that they steal women, and they make them sex slaves, and they marry little girls, and then they put suicide vests on them. I am not going to sit back. And Barbara Lee, I adore her—

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about Boko Haram in Nigeria.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I’m talking about terrorists today. And I could tell you, Barbara Lee, I adore Barbara, but we just don’t agree on this.

AMY GOODMAN: But as a leader of the peace movement, you see that diplomacy is not doing nothing.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, you want to do—what do you want to do? Do you want to give money to ISIL so they won’t cut off the head of the Japanese hostage? They’re asking $200 million. I don’t think so. So, you know, how do you negotiate with people who want to cut your head off? I just don’t see it.

AMY GOODMAN: What about looking—

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: So, let me just say, as a leader in what I call the peace movement, because I’ve been ever since Vietnam, I think if someone sits back and allows people like this, who don’t value human life, who enslave women, who rape women, who throw acid in the faces of women, if we can’t stand up to that—sure, if there’s a diplomatic way, you do that. War is a last resort, not a first resort. But for me to stand here and say I’m going to do nothing about ISIL, I think I would—I would be dead wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: But isn’t standing up to that perhaps looking behind that—for example, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. support of Saudi Arabia?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, look, if you won’t be—you and I just disagree, so why do we cut it off? It seems to me that you don’t see any reason ever to confront people who are uncivilized, who don’t care one stitch about your life or mine, who would just as soon cut off your head as say "good morning."

AMY GOODMAN: No, but what about cutting off their support?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: And let me—you’re asking me a question. And I don’t support them. As a matter of fact, I already voted to give the president authority to go after them. So why don’t we leave it at that? And as far as trying to find out the root causes of why they are the way you are, I’ll leave that to you. I’m a senator. My people are threatened, and I’m going to take action. War is the last resort, never a first resort. I don’t support going to war and sending combat troops. I support President Obama’s plan, which is not to do that, but to make sure that we can help people fight against this terror group, which is so frightening and so frightening to humankind. Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Boxer, final question.


AMY GOODMAN: How do you want to be remembered in the Senate?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, I’m not going to tell you that now, because I’ve got two more years left. I’ll come on the show again, and we’ll go over it then.

AMY GOODMAN: I will invite you. Thanks so much.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: All right. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: California Senator Barbara Boxer. Earlier this month, she announced she is retiring from the Senate in 2016. We’re here in Park City, Utah, at Park City TV at the Sundance Film Festival. When we come back, Egypt. Stay with us.

News Thu, 29 Jan 2015 11:02:56 -0500
"The Hunting Ground": Film Exposes How Colleges Cover Up Sexual Assault and Fail to Protect Students

As a jury in Tennessee has convicted two former Vanderbilt University football players of raping an unconscious student in a dorm room, we look at a groundbreaking new documentary about sexual assault on college campuses across the country. Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey could face decades in prison after being convicted of a combined total of 16 felony counts, including aggravated rape. Two other former Vanderbilt football players, Brandon Banks and Jaborian McKenzie, are awaiting trial over their role in the rape. However, the court cases mark a rare example where students accused of sexual assault have actually faced punishment. Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, The Hunting Ground shows how colleges and universities across the nation are covering up sexual assaults and failing to protect students from repeat offenders. We speak with the film’s director, Kirby Dick, and producer, Amy Ziering. Their previous film, The Invisible War, which exposed the epidemic of sexual assault in the military, won the Audience Award at Sundance in 2012 and was nominated for an Academy Award.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where a new documentary on campus rape has just premiered as a major conviction has unfolded in Tennessee. A jury in Nashville has convicted two former Vanderbilt University football players of raping a fellow student in a dorm room. Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey could face decades in prison after being convicted on a combined total of 16 felony counts, including aggravated rape. Two other former Vanderbilt football players—Brandon Banks and Jaborian McKenzie—are awaiting trial over their role in the rape. The victim, who was unconscious at the time, says she doesn’t remember being raped as her assailants took photographs and video of the attack. After the verdict Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Jan Norman read a statement from the victim.

JAN NORMAN: "I am also hopeful that the publicity this case has received will lead to a discussion of how we can end sexual violence on college campuses. Finally, I want to remind other victims of sexual violence: You are not alone. You are not to blame." Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: The Vanderbilt case marks a rare example where college students accused of rape have been punished both by their universities and the legal system. The four students were kicked off the football team and banned from campus after the criminal charges were filed. One of the students, Jaborian McKenzie, enrolled in another school, Alcorn State, where he was allowed to play football despite the charges against him. He was later removed from the team amidst a media firestorm. A fifth player, Chris Boyd, pleaded guilty to helping cover up the rape, and received probation after agreeing to testify against the other suspects. He was dismissed from the football team, but allowed to keep his scholarship and finish his classwork at Vanderbilt. Boyd later joined the National Football League as a member of the practice squad for the Dallas Cowboys.

Well, here at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, a groundbreaking new film has premiered that deals with the issue of sexual assault on college campuses and shows just how rare criminal convictions like the ones at Vanderbilt are. The Hunting Ground was created by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, makers of the 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War. This is the trailer for their latest film, Hunting Ground.

KAMILAH WILLINGHAM: I got a call from the dean of admissions asking, "If you were to get into Harvard, would you accept?" And I said yes, because I knew my mom would kill me if I said anything else.

UNIDENTIFIED: The first few weeks, I made some of my best friends. But two of us were sexually assaulted before classes had even started.

KAMILAH WILLINGHAM: I went to the dean of students’ office, and she said, "I just want to make sure that you don’t talk to anyone about this."

CAROLINE HELDMAN: They protect perpetrators because they have a financial incentive to do so.

UNIDENTIFIED: Problem of sexual assault on campuses is enormous.

UNIDENTIFIED: I think it’s fair to say that they cover these crimes up. There’s a lot of victim blaming.

UNIDENTIFIED: He lectured us about how we shouldn’t go out in short skirts.

UNIDENTIFIED: They told me, despite the fact that I had a written admission of guilt that I presented to them, it could only prove that he loved me.

UNIDENTIFIED: They discourage them from going to the police. If it goes to the police, then it’s more likely to end up as a public record.

UNIDENTIFIED: Universities are protecting a brand.

UNIDENTIFIED: Campus police cannot contact an athlete.

DON McPHERSON: He won the Heisman Trophy with his DNA in a rape kit.

DAVID LISAK: Just sit down with the students and ask them, "Where are the hotspots?"

UNIDENTIFIED: SAE, sexual assault expected.

UNIDENTIFIED: The second most common type of insurance claim against the fraternity industry is for rape.

CAROLINE HELDMAN: Her rapist’s name matched the name of two other cases, and he was allowed back on campus.

UNIDENTIFIED: The message is clear: You’re not going to win.

UNIDENTIFIED: We started seeing, you know, what was happening at campuses across the country.



UNIDENTIFIED: How has no one connected the dots before?

UNIDENTIFIED: These students went from sexual assault victims to survivors and now activists.

CAROLYN LUBY: My name is Carolyn Luby.

ALEXA SCHWARTZ: My name is Alexa Schwartz.

ARI MOSTOV: My name is Ari Mostov.

UNIDENTIFIED: This is a national problem.

UNIDENTIFIED: We are fed up!

UNIDENTIFIED: I was getting threatened. It was working in their favor to silence me, and I was terrified.

UNIDENTIFIED: I thought if I told them, they would take action, but the only action they took was against me.

UNIDENTIFIED: We’ve got a lot further to go.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the trailer for The Hunting Ground. Just after we arrived here in Park City, I sat down with the filmmakers, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering. Their 2012 film, The Invisible War, exposed the issue of sexual assault in the military, prompting changes in policy. That issue remains in the spotlight as just this week a former Army prosecutor who oversaw sexual assault cases was found guilty of rape. Major Erik Burris was court-martialed and sentenced to 20 years in prison. I began by asking Amy Ziering, producer of The Hunting Ground, why she and Kirby Dick decided to make a film on campus rape.

AMY ZIERING: We weren’t anticipating making another film in this same area, but every time we showed Invisible War on campuses, Amy, someone came up to us and said, "Actually, this happened to me here, and there’s a lot of analogies between what you’re pointing out going on in the military going on at my school." And Kirby would find that, as well, at every—at almost every screening at different universities across the country. And then we started getting letters in our inboxes: "Dear Ms. Ziering, Dear Mr. Dick, will you please make a film on campus assaults? This happened to me at X university." And we actually were working on a very different project, and we just looked at each other and said we cannot not make this film. I mean, we were shocked that this is going on, and we felt like, well, actually, we understand these issues, we know how to make this kind of film, and we felt compelled to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: Amy, I went to one of your premieres here at Sundance, and the response afterwards was overwhelming. You were besieged. I watched one woman come up to you and say, "It happened to my daughter."

AMY ZIERING: No, that happens—yeah. With this film also, yeah—

AMY GOODMAN: Said it happened to her daughter.

AMY ZIERING: Yeah, yeah, and also mothers come up and said, "It happened to me 30 years ago at Dartmouth." I’ve gotten that a lot. "It happened to me 30 years ago. And thank you for doing this. I couldn’t speak then."

AMY GOODMAN: Kirby, this film is not only about people who have been deeply hurt, you know, sexually assaulted, raped; it’s about women who are organizing right now all over the country. And it’s led by two women from the University of North Carolina—both of them were raped—Annie Clark and Andrea Pino. They are remarkable. It happened to them several years apart from each other, but they found each other. They’re now traveling the country, helping victims at universities file Title IX antidiscrimination complaints to the Department of Education. They were raped early on in their college careers?

KIRBY DICK: Yes, both of them were, I think, assaulted within the first or second year that they were there, yes. And then, Andrea found out about Annie Clark’s earlier activism three or four years ago and reached out, and they formed this bond. And then they started—you know, Annie was appalled that this was still going on. And so, the two of them decided to really do something. And the first thing they did was start to investigate in how to file a Title IX complaint. And so, they, without any attorneys, wrote and filed a complaint against the school, which was accepted by the Department of Education.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the most galling parts of this film, Amy, is how administrations respond—or don’t respond. I mean, you have Annie Clark, now one of the organizers of a major antirape movement in this country, when she was raped and went to the University of North Carolina administration, one of the officials said, "It’s like a football game"? What is like a football game?

AMY ZIERING: Rape is like football: You have to think back on what you would have done differently, just like you would in any play in any game. That was what she said the administrator had said to her.

KIRBY DICK: This is what was so appalling, is, you know, we interviewed, on camera, over 60 women, and men, and we were—over and over and over, you would hear—you hear the stories of these women who were assaulted, and that was profoundly—you know, it was traumatizing to them. But they trusted their school. They went to their school. They had the courage to come forward to talk about it, and they trusted that their school would do the right thing. And in so many cases, you heard this form of victim blaming, like "It was your fault," like "You drank too much. You were dressed too provocatively." And it was just from across the board, whether it’s Ivy League schools, Southern schools, small liberal arts colleges. It was shocking.

AMY GOODMAN: Amy, can you talk about some of the examples of some of the punishments that are meted out to students? You know, rarely are they found responsible, but in the cases that they are?

AMY ZIERING: Oh, the punishments are ridiculous. One was like a $75 fine, a $25 fine, a book report, a poster board on 10 ways to approach a girl you like. What was it at another school?

KIRBY DICK: Well, it was 50 hours of community service at a rape crisis center.

AMY GOODMAN: Perpetrator is told to serve at a rape crisis center?

KIRBY DICK: Yes, yes, which is just the most absurd.

AMY GOODMAN: Kirby, you have these full screens in the film that show statistics, the number of people who complain on campuses of rape or sexual assault—and, of course, this is very small compared to how many are actually raped or assaulted—but those numbers compared to how many people are expelled. And at university after university, you see on the screen a big fat zero?

KIRBY DICK: Yeah, yeah. I mean, this is—you know, this is what was so shocking, is that these schools—I mean, we know that assaults are going on in each of these schools in the hundreds of times a year, perhaps even thousands of times a year at these schools, and yet no one is getting expelled, year after year after year. You know, at University of Virginia, for example, well over 200 assaults over a period of time, that people have reported—these are only the reported assaults, keep in mind—no one was expelled during that time.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s something else that’s very profound in this film. You come to understand universities all too often want to protect their brand more than the victim, that they don’t want to report these assaults. They don’t want to expel people. And yet, when it comes to what is called "honor crimes," like plagiarism, they expel scores of people. Explain.

KIRBY DICK: I mean, one of the unfortunate things is there’s very low transparency on this issue across the campus—across the country, so it’s very hard to even get these numbers. We were fortunate to get these numbers from the University of Virginia, who had not expelled anyone over a multi-year period, yet they had expelled, I think, nearly 200 people for other much more minor infractions like plagiarism. So that really tells you a lot about the priorities of the school and about, you know, the fact that protecting their students is not the number one priority.

AMY GOODMAN: In The Hunting Ground, you interview people at every level, the women or men who have been sexual assaulted. You also have a rapist, who has come out of jail, his face fogged. Explain his story.

KIRBY DICK: Well, what he had to say was that—I mean, one of the things our film shows is, just like in the military, these crimes are committed by a small number of men, a small percentage of men. It’s—most men are not rapists. Most men and athletes—you know, most athletes are not rapists. Most men in fraternities are not rapists. But it’s a small percentage of men who are committing these crimes, and committing them over and over. So, repeat offenders really are the core of this problem.

So we were able to interview one. And he talked about the MO of a repeat offender, which is, you know, to pick out someone who seems—doesn’t seem to have friends around them, who is getting drunk, who feels safe in a college environment, and then befriend them. And then he said it’s something that, you know, can be done again and again. And he actually did say if they’re not caught, the likelihood of them repeating is, in his words, nearly 100 percent.

AMY ZIERING: And if I can add, it was based on all that research and our knowledge that we wanted to name the film The Hunting Ground and show that it’s actually a calculated, premeditated act. It is not a hook-up gone bad. It’s not he said/she said. It’s not all the things that people intuitively think is what’s going on. "Oh, we can’t do anything about it. Kids drink. What are you going to do?" It’s actually not, you know, and that, I think, is really shocking and revelatory and what people need to know and understand.

AMY GOODMAN: You interview a campus police officer at the University of Notre Dame who would ultimately resign because he felt he was thwarted from conducting investigations into allegations of sexual assault. He said that the campus police were not allowed to approach any student athlete or an employee of an athletic facility or department to find out where an athlete might be.

AMY ZIERING: So that’s what the problem is. It’s not that, you know, athletes are rapists. It’s a problem as we have a broken system that allows them to commit these crimes without any kind of repercussions.

KIRBY DICK: Yeah, it’s—

AMY ZIERING: Right? They’re protected. I mean, it’s crazy. And that’s really what we want to come across, is it’s a hunting ground, it’s a place where people are not safe, not because there’s a preponderance of perpetrators, but because there’s nothing in place to prosecute those people, and there’s no incentive to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: Kirby Dick, the statistics are astounding. When you talk about 16 to 20 percent of undergraduate women have been sexually assaulted on college campuses across the country, you say 88 percent of women raped on college campuses do not report. Eighty-eight percent? In 2012, 40 percent of colleges reported zero sexual assaults. And less than 8 percent of men commit more than 90 percent of the assaults?

KIRBY DICK: Yeah, I mean, this is—you know, it’s astonishing. Again, of course, the last figure goes back to the fact that these are repeat offenders, that, you know, this is not drunk hook-ups, he said/she said. This is—really, another way to refer to it is "target rape," that these are men who do this again and again and get better at it each time.

AMY GOODMAN: In September, we spoke to Emma Sulkowicz, who’s also featured in The Hunting Ground. Emma Sulkowicz is the Columbia University student who says she was raped by a fellow student. After she reported her assault to Columbia, she had to go before a disciplinary panel, where she was forced to explain to a university official how the painful manner in which she had been raped was physically possible. Then the panel found that the accused assailant was not responsible. Two other women also came forward with complaints against the same student. So, in protest, Emma Sulkowicz vowed to carry a dorm mattress around with her everywhere on campus until the student is either expelled or leaves on his own. So, on Democracy Now!, she explained why she chose this form of protest.

EMMA SULKOWICZ: I was raped in my own bed. And, of course, rape can happen anywhere, but for me, it sort of desecrated one of the most intimate and private places of my life. And the way that I’ve brought my story from a place that I keep secret out into the public eye sort of mirrors carrying the mattress itself out into the light for everyone to see. So I felt like it would be an appropriate metaphor.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student, on Democracy Now! She was just invited by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to be her guest at the State of the Union address. Can you talk about how these women, who feel that their complaints, that their allegations of rape and sexual assault, are not being taken seriously by administrations, are taking action? They are building a movement in this country.

KIRBY DICK: It is incredible what they’ve accomplished, what—young women like Emma, and Annie and Andrea in our film. I mean, in two years, this has gone from something that nobody talked about to something that’s on the front pages daily. But I just want to say that that’s just the beginning. It’s really up to all of us—you know, parents, teachers, faculty, trustees, everyone—to solve this problem, because it’s been going on for decades.

AMY GOODMAN: Now scores of universities, colleges across the country are being investigated?

KIRBY DICK: Yeah, I think we now have up to 95 schools are being investigated for Title IX violations. And, you know, those investigations take a long, long time. I mean, and so far—I mean, I applaud the Department of Education for taking this on, but the schools themselves should not wait to be investigated. They should be solving this problem themselves before this ever happens.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, you did Invisible War, to tremendous acclaim, and it has really begun a movement in this country to deal with sexual assault in the military. And the big move, especially in Congress, is to have these investigations taken out of the chain of command, because so often they’re involved either with the cover-up or perhaps even involved. Now, with this film, The Hunting Ground, you’re talking about assaults on college campuses. Is there a similar move in the movement that’s growing around the country to, in a sense, take the investigation out of the chain of command, as well, out of the power of the university that’s protecting its brand?

AMY ZIERING: Yeah, there has been. I mean, one of the solutions that people have come up with is have independent bodies investigate these crimes that don’t answer to the university itself, so that you take out that inherent bias. And that would make—just ensure a fairer system, whatever the outcome is. And so, that is something that many people are pushing and suggesting, and one of the things that we recommend.

AMY GOODMAN: That was producer Amy Ziering and director Kirby Dick. Their film, The Hunting Ground, about sexual assault on college campuses, has just premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival. Their previous film, The Invisible War, about rape in the military, won the Audience Award at Sundance in 2012 and was nominated for an Academy Award.

When we come back, I speak with one of the Senate’s leading advocates for changing the way universities and the military respond to sexual violence: California Senator Barbara Boxer. We’ll talk about her bill, her plans for retirement, and why she supports President Obama’s authorization for war. This is Democracy Now! We’re broadcasting from Park City TV. Back in a minute.

News Thu, 29 Jan 2015 10:53:42 -0500
Here’s the Beef ]]> Art Thu, 29 Jan 2015 10:21:36 -0500 After Four Decades With Roe, US Women Still Need Abortion Access and So Much More

The 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision prompted a week of stark contradictions. Thousands of anti-choice protesters descended on Washington while the House of Representatives passed HR7, a bill limiting insurance coverage for abortions (after a broader abortion ban was – for the time – abandoned). Yesterday, Congressional Democrats re-introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill meant to protect abortion access from the medically unnecessary restrictions that have already made the landmark decision meaningless in many parts of the country. And in his State of the Union address, President Obama professed his support for abortion rights, along with equal pay, paid sick and family leave, a minimum wage hike, and expanded health coverage. It’s all been a reminder of what has been won and just how much there is left to fight for – from abortion rights to economic security.

Over the past four years we’ve seen an unprecedented number of attacks on reproductive health – more than 200 between 2011 and 2013 – leaving many states with a scant number of abortion providers. Scores of women are now required to travel long distances, at great cost, to access not just abortion, but a wide range of comprehensive health services.

While reproductive health has certainly been the obsession of choice of conservative lawmakers in recent years, it hasn’t been the only issue in their crosshairs. In many ways, the increasing hostility to abortion and family planning is reflective of a broader war against the poor that is sure to persist under the new Congress. It turns out the same lawmakers who have championed abortion restrictions in the name of protecting women’s health have done very little to actually help women and families. Indeed, a recent report from the Center for Reproductive Rights and Ibis Reproductive Health shows that states with the most abortion restrictions also have some of the worst indicators for women’s health and wellbeing. So lawmakers are restricting access to health services at the same time they are dismantling the social safety net on which so many women and families rely. The overall impact has been devastating.

In states across the country, women are struggling under the burden of intersecting health and economic injustices. Let’s look, for example, at Kansas, where conservative Governor Brownback slashed business regulations, cut taxes for the wealthy, nearly eliminated income taxes, and privatized Medicaid delivery, all with the goal of making the state a conservative utopia. In the meantime, Kansas women continue to struggle with high rates of poverty, a lack of health insurance, un- and underemployment, and a persistent wage gap. Kansas is one of the sixteen states that refuse to participate in Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, leaving nearly 80,000 adults (half of whom are women) uninsured. It is the only state in the country that actually experienced an increase in its uninsured rate last year.

To make matters worse for women in Kansas, lawmakers eliminated abortion access from 98 percent of the state’s counties – in which 74 percent of the state’s women live – and passed House Bill 2253, a 47-page law comprised of countless and senseless abortion restrictions. It included a 24-hour waiting period; medically inaccurate pre-abortion counseling; prohibiting abortion providers from working or volunteering in public schools; banning University of Kansas Medical School faculty members from teaching students and residents how to perform abortions; and eliminating public health insurance coverage of all abortion services. And the list goes on. Sadly these laws are not unique to Kansas and they have significantly diluted the initial promise Roe held four decades ago.

The economic injustices described above, and those being felt by low-income families throughout the country, are starting to get the attention they deserve, and the policy solutions to address them are gaining traction (see the recent support for raising the minimum wage and instituting paid sick and family leave). But while economists and policymakers are increasingly focused on the pernicious impacts of inequality and economic insecurity, they rarely acknowledge how these issues intersect with reproductive health and rights.

Let us use the anniversary of Roe to remember there can be no economic justice without reproductive justice. We can’t win on one front while losing on the other. Reproductive health – a cornerstone of which is family planning and abortion – is not a frill. It is a core component of comprehensive health care, which is a basic pillar of every individual’s personal, social, and economic wellbeing.

What good is better and more equal pay if we can’t plan the timing and size of our families? What good is paid sick and family leave if there are no quality, affordable, and accessible providers to give us the care we need when we need it? We need all of it. Now. That’s just demanding a basic – very basic – floor of wellbeing. And that shouldn’t be too much to ask. Roe has served as part of that foundation for the last 42 years. But conservatives have successfully chipped away at it and will continue to do so until there’s nothing left to stand on. Perhaps we can seize upon the new energy around closing the inequality gap to remind our leaders that without bodily autonomy, we will never be secure.  

Opinion Thu, 29 Jan 2015 10:03:59 -0500
Learning From "American Sniper"

Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, a movie about Chris Kyle, the Navy Seal who claimed to have killed more than 250 people, has been nominated for six Oscars. It has broken box-office records. Warner Brothers is calling the film a cultural phenomenon.

As a war resister, I felt somewhat of a duty to run out and see the film so I could write a scathing review. I was expecting to only add to the string of antiwar reviews that have condemned American Sniper for misrepresenting the true Chris Kyle, ignoring historyperpetuating Muslim stereotypes, denying the full range of experiences of American soldiers who have fought in Iraq, and inspiring reams of reactionary and racist responses to the film.

And American Sniper deserves every bit of criticism the Left throws at it. But the film’s racism and enthusiastic support for American empire shouldn’t blind us to its lessons about the sociological and ideological factors that have allowed the US to stay at war for fourteen years with at least the partial support of an all-volunteer military.

Many critical reviews of the movie have claimed the real Kyle was closer to a psychopath and a compulsive liar than the conflicted victim of PTSD the film depicts. In American Sniper, however, Kyle is a product of a domineering father and America’s genocidal past — as Eastwood reminds us with his regular references to cowboys and Westerns. But he is also a loving father, husband, and mentor to wounded Marines.

To simply write off Kyle as a monster would be to ignore the people, institutions, and history that helped create him. Indeed, if Eastwood portrayed Kyle as a psychopath, the Seal would be less interesting and less politically relevant.

While Kyle is rendered with more nuance than left critics have allowed, Iraqis are given no such courtesy. No Iraqi killed in American Sniper is portrayed as innocent. And there is no talk about the lies that put Kyle in the country in the first place, or that 70 percent of those killed in America’s illegal war in Iraq have been civilians.

Of course, it would be inaccurate to have it otherwise. To spend time dealing with the horror of civilian deaths or the lies of the Iraq war would be to ruminate on subjects that, as far as we can tell, hardly crossed Kyle’s mind. As he says in his memoir, “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis” and “If you see anyone from about sixteen to sixty-five and they’re male, shoot ’em. Kill every male you see.”

The Kyle played by Bradley Cooper is similar to the one that comes through in his memoir. Cooper refers to Iraqis as “savages” throughout; Kyle sees the entire population of Iraq as the enemy.

It’s a worldview that’s ingrained in Kyle from a young age. In the early scenes of the film, Kyle’s father is lecturing Chris and his younger brother — who has just been beaten up on the playground — at the dinner table. The father’s comments, which could just as easily have been uttered by any of Kyle’s drill sergeants, are worth quoting at length. They are a window not just into Kyle, but the pathological mentality, that is partially responsible for keeping the US at war for a decade and a half with an all-volunteer military:

There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Some people prefer to think that evil doesn’t exist in the world. If there were ever dark on their doorsteps, they wouldn’t know how to protect themselves. Those are the sheep.

Then you have predators who use violence to prey on the weak. They’re wolves. Then there are those who are blessed with the gift of aggression with an overpowering need to protect the flock. These men are the rare breed who live to confront the wolf. They are the sheep dog.

We are not raising any sheep in this family. [The father takes off his belt, throws it on the table, and moves toward Chris and his brother]. I will whoop your ass if you turn into a wolf.

For Kyle, the choice is hardly a choice at all: he must become an aggressive, wooly-eyed sheepdog if he wants to retain his father’s love.

When the father pulls off his belt at the table, it foreshadows a scene near the end of the movie. Kyle is on leave between his third and fourth tour. He is in the backyard and sees the family dog mock-fighting with his son. Kyle pulls off his own belt to attack the dog. However, it’s really the sheep dog — the symbolic representation of himself — that he tries to savage with the belt in the backyard. It is the sheep dog that poses the true threat to his family. We’re left with the sense that Kyle is confused about who the good and bad guys truly are. And that deep down he questions what he has been taught by his father and his chain of command.

The structure of the film reinforces the portrayal of Kyle’s personality type. Eastwood jumps between Kyle’s four tours and scenes of courtship, sex, children, and family stateside. In Kyle’s life there is nothing but war and family, life and death.

American Sniper also conveys how racism is reinforced in war. The killing and dying scenes feel dangerously real, and there is hardly time to take a safe breath between them. The special effects and the unyielding script drive home the acute stress soldiers experience in battle.

Eastwood also does a masterful job showing us how a soldier’s view of the world can be narrowed to the size of a rifle scope, of showing us how bonds between soldiers are formed: in combat, it seems the only people in the world are those standing to your left and right, keeping you alive. For someone like Kyle, all he sees beyond his fellow soldiers are wolves. After combat, particularly if a soldier loses a buddy, the racism that is used as a killing and survival tool can be hard to discard.

Towards the end of the movie, the mother of a fallen Seal is reading at her son’s funeral the letter he wrote before he was killed in Iraq. It questions war and its glorification. The mom stumbles through the letter and is cut off by Marines playing Taps.

The moment is easy to overlook, but it is disturbing for someone seeking broader political context. Driving home from the funeral with his wife Taya, Kyle blames the letter for the Seal’s death. Kyle thus shows that he is incapable of reflecting on the words of one of his closest friends. To do so would imperil his very identity. It would mean questioning his simplistic and wooden worldview that keeps him hungry for more kills and a sheep-dog defender of America’s wars. It would also mean becoming vulnerable in a combat zone.

The scene also reminds us that there are soldiers who question war and that there aren’t enough outlets that allow for a full accounting of these questions, and the few that exist are too often suppressed.

Like I myself did, many American teenagers join the military with good intentions. They hope to be protectors of noble values like freedom and democracy. They seek a meaningful life. They desire the pro-military adulation regularly on display at airports, concerts, athletic events. These teenagers want to show that they are capable not just of serving their immediate self interests but their community as a whole.

The majority of those who sign up for the military also come from alienated and exploited working-class families. Families that feel the pressing weight of an unprecedented wealth divide and a political system that defends the interests of a few at the expense of the majority.

The stress of living under capitalism often causes families to fracture, whether from financial hardship or some type of physical or emotional abuse. Under these circumstances, it becomes easy to blame the wrong people for such adversity.

The military capitalizes on this. Its disciplined structure can act as a substitute for what was lacking in a soldier’s family and community. In the military the anger and frustration built up at home can be “legally” released onto the “enemy.”

Jeff Sparrow sums this up nicely in a recent piece on rage killings at CounterPunch:

War presents the traditional values of the left, albeit in an inverted fashion. In combat, soldiers find excitement, meaning, purpose and camaraderie — alongside, of course, brutality, hierarchy, destruction and cruelty. To put it another way, the appeal of violence constitutes an indictment of a peacetime order in which so many people cannot find much worth living for.

American Sniper can help antiwar activists understand what continues to drive many American teenagers to the military. Yes, American Sniper is racist. Yes, it promotes an imperialist agenda. And yes, to distribute such a film in a country with a $700 billion annual military budget and an unwavering commitment to war without end is reckless.

But it is important to say more about the film than the obvious. We can start by asking why it is so successful and why it is appealing to large veteran organizations. In doing so we might learn how to communicate better with the many teenagers looking to personally sacrifice so much for what they think will be a better world.

As Vietnam taught us, if we want to build a successful antiwar movement, we have to engage the soldiers fighting the wars. American Sniper, if we take it seriously, might help us do just that.

Jacobin is a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture.

Opinion Thu, 29 Jan 2015 09:37:17 -0500
Not Lovin' It

McDonald's is scrambling, and I'm not talking about eggs.

Your know your business has what image consultants call "quality perception issues" when your public relations team is fielding such questions as: "Does McDonald's beef contain worms?"

Thornier yet for the world's largest burger machine is its boneheaded response to the remarkable, ongoing rebellion by fast food workers demanding a $15-an-hour wage and the freedom to unionize without corporate retaliation.

McDonald's responded by — guess what? — retaliating.

Its McManagers illegally reduced the hours (and therefore the pay) of hundreds of those who joined the "Fight For 15" campaign. Many also spied on workers, interrogated and threatened them, and imposed restrictions on their freedom even to talk about unions or working conditions.

The corporation now faces upwards of 100 federal charges of labor law violations — as well as rising customer anger over its ham-handed tactics. Naturally, McDonald's responded by apologizing and raising wages.

Ha! Just kidding.

Instead, it's running a new series of TV ads that, astonishingly, tries to tap into people's emotions about such tragic events as 9/11, as well as linking its logo to people's positive feelings about veterans, birthdays, and even "love."

Mickey D's corporate marketing director Deborah Wahl explains that the ads are all about the Golden Arches shining brightly in every community, being with us through the good and the bad.

As she puts it, "Who better to stand up for lovin' than McDonald's?"

Huh? She should ask protesting workers about the "love" they're getting from McDonald's.

Oh, to be fair, the bosses did make one change for workers. They got new uniforms.

That's not just boneheaded. It's pathetic.

Opinion Thu, 29 Jan 2015 00:00:00 -0500
From the Concorde to Sci-Fi Climate Solutions

The interior of the Concorde aircraft at the Scotland Museum of Flight. (Photo: Magnus Hagdorn)The interior of the Concorde aircraft at the Scotland Museum of Flight. (Photo: Magnus Hagdorn)

Touting "sci-fi climate solutions" - untested technologies not really scalable to the dimensions of our climate change crisis - dangerously delays the day when we actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The interior of the Concorde aircraft at the Scotland Museum of Flight. (Photo: Magnus Hagdorn)The interior of the Concorde aircraft at the Scotland Museum of Flight. (Photo: Magnus Hagdorn)

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Touting "sci-fi climate solutions" - untested technologies not really scalable to the dimensions of our climate change crisis - dangerously delays the day when we actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Last week, I took my son to Scotland's Museum of Flight. Its proudest exhibit: a Concorde. To me, it looked stunningly futuristic. "How old," remarked my son, looking at the confusing array of pre-digital controls in the cockpit. Watching the accompanying video - "Past Dreams of the Future" - it occurred to me that the story of the Concorde stands as a symbol for two of the biggest obstacles to addressing climate change.

The Concorde must rank among the most wasteful ways of guzzling fossil fuels ever invented. No other form of transport is as destructive to the climate as aviation - yet the Concorde burned almost five times as much fuel per person per mile as a standard aircraft. Moreover, by emitting pollutants straight into the lower stratosphere, the Concorde contributed to ozone depletion. At the time of the Concorde's first test flight in 1969, little was known about climate change and the ozone hole had not yet been discovered. Yet by the time the Concorde was grounded - for purely economic reasons - in 2003, concerns about its impact on the ozone layer had been voiced for 32 years and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) first report had been published for 13 years.

The Concorde's history illustrates how the elites will stop at nothing when pursuing their interests or desires. No damage to the atmosphere and no level of noise-induced misery to those living under Concorde flight paths were treated as bad enough to warrant depriving the richest of a glamorous toy.

If this first "climate change lesson" from the Concorde seems depressing, the second will be even less comfortable for many.

Back in 1969, the UK's technology minister marveled at Concorde's promises: "It'll change the shape of the world; it'll shrink the globe by half . . . It replaces in one step the entire progress made in aviation since the Wright Brothers in 1903."

Few would have believed at that time that, from 2003, no commercial flight would reach even half the speed that had been achieved back in the 1970s.

The Concorde remained as fast - yet as inefficient and uneconomical - as it had been from its commercial inauguration in 1976 - despite vast amounts of public and industry investment. The term "Concorde fallacy" entered British dictionaries: "The idea that you should continue to spend money on a project, product, etc. in order not to waste the money or effort you have already put into it, which may lead to bad decisions."

The lessons for those who believe in overcoming climate change through technological progress are sobering: It's not written in the stars that every technology dreamed up can be realized, nor that, with enough time and money, every technical problem will be overcome and that, over time, every new technology will become better, more efficient and more affordable.

Yet precisely such faith in technological progress informs mainstream responses to climate change, including the response by the IPCC. At a conference last autumn, I listened to a lead author of the IPCC's latest assessment report. His presentation began with a depressing summary of the escalating climate crisis and the massive rise in energy use and carbon emissions, clearly correlated with economic growth. His conclusion was highly optimistic: Provided we make the right choices, technological progress offers a future with zero-carbon energy for all, with ever greater prosperity and no need for economic growth to end. This, he illustrated with some drawings of what we might expect by 2050: super-grids connecting abundant nuclear and renewable energy sources across continents, new forms of mass transport (perhaps modeled on Japan's magnetic levitation trains), new forms of aircraft (curiously reminiscent of the Concorde) and completely sustainable cars (which looked like robots on wheels). The last and most obscure drawing in his presentation was unfinished, to remind us that future technological progress is beyond our capacity to imagine; the speaker suggested it might be a printer printing itself in a new era of self-replicating machines.

These may represent the fantasies of just one of many lead authors of the IPCC's recent report. But the IPCC's 2014 mitigation report itself relies on a large range of techno-fixes, many of which are a long way from being technically, let alone commercially, viable. Climate justice campaigners have condemned the IPCC's support for "false solutions" to climate change. But the term "false solutions" does not distinguish between techno-fixes that are real and scalable, albeit harmful and counterproductive on the one hand, and those that remain in the realm of science fiction, or threaten to turn into another "Concorde fallacy," i.e. to keep guzzling public funds with no credible prospect of ever becoming truly viable. Let's call the latter "sci-fi solutions."

The most prominent, though by no means only, sci-fi solution espoused by the IPCC is BECCS - bioenergy with carbon capture and storage. According to their recent report, the vast majority of "pathways" or models for keeping temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius rely on "negative emissions." Although the report included words of caution, pointing out that such technologies are "uncertain" and "associated with challenges and risks," the conclusion is quite clear: Either carbon capture and storage, including BECCS, is introduced on a very large scale, or the chances of keeping global warming within 2 degrees Celsius are minimal. In the meantime, the IPCC's chair, Rajendra Pachauri, and the co-chair of the panel's Working Group on Climate Change Mitigation, Ottmar Edenhofer, publicly advocate BECCS without any notes of caution about uncertainties - referring to it as a proven way of reducing carbon dioxide levels and thus global warming. Not surprisingly therefore, BECCS has even entered the UN climate change negotiations. The recent text, agreed at the Lima climate conference in December 2014 ("Lima Call for Action"), introduces the terms "net zero emissions" and "negative emissions," i.e. the idea that we can reliably suck large amounts of carbon (those already emitted from burning fossil fuels) out of the atmosphere. Although BECCS is not explicitly mentioned in the Lima Call for Action, the wording implies support for it because it is treated as the key "negative emissions" technology by the IPCC.

If BECCS were to be applied at a large scale in the future, then we would have every reason to be alarmed. According to a scientific review, attempting to capture 1 billion tons of carbon through BECCS (far less than many of the "pathways" considered by the IPCC presume) would require 218 to 990 million hectares of switchgrass plantations (or similar scale plantations of other feedstocks, including trees), 1.6 to 7.4 trillion cubic meters of water a year, and 75 percent more than all the nitrogen fertilizers used worldwide (which currently stands at 1 billion tons according to the "conservative" estimates in many studies). By comparison, just 30 million hectares of land worldwide have been converted to grow feedstock for liquid biofuels so far. Yet biofuels have already become the main cause of accelerated growth in demand for vegetable oils and cereals, triggering huge volatility and rises in the price of wood worldwide. And by pushing up palm oil prices, biofuels have driven faster deforestation across Southeast Asia and increasingly in Africa. As a result of the ethanol boom, more than 6 million hectares of US land has been planted with corn, causing prairies and wetlands to be plowed up. This destruction of ecosystems, coupled with the greenhouse gas intensive use of fertilizers, means that biofuels overall are almost certainly worse for the climate than the fossil fuels they are meant to replace. There are no reasons to believe that the impacts of BECCS would be any more benign. And they would be on a much larger scale.

Capturing carbon takes a lot of energy, hence CCS requires around one-third more fuel to be burned to generate the same amount of energy. And sequestering captured carbon is a highly uncertain business. So far, there have been three large-scale carbon sequestration experiments. The longest-standing of these, the Sleipner field carbon sequestration trial in the North Sea, has been cited as proof that carbon dioxide can be sequestered reliably under the seabed. Yet in 2013, unexpected scars and fractures were found in the reservoir and a lead researcher concluded: "We are saying it is very likely something will come out in the end." Another one of the supposedly "successful," if much shorter, trials also raised "interesting questions," according to the researchers: Carbon dioxide migrated further upward in the reservoir than predicted, most likely because injecting the carbon dioxide caused fractures in the cap rock.

There are thus good reasons to be alarmed about the prospect of large-scale bioenergy with CCS. Yet BECCS isn't for real.

While the IPCC and world leaders conclude that we really need to use carbon capture and storage, including biomass, here's what is actually happening: The Norwegian government, once proud of being a global pioneer of CCS, has pulled the plug on the country's first full-scale CCS project after a scathing report from a public auditor. The Swedish state-owned energy company Vattenfall has shut down its CCS demonstration plant in Germany, the only plant worldwide testing a particular and supposedly promising carbon capture technology. The government of Alberta has dropped its previously enthusiastic support for CCS because it no longer sees it as economically viable.

True, 2014 has seen the opening of the world's largest CCS power station, after SaskPower retrofitted one unit of their Boundary Dam coal power station in Saskatchewan to capture carbon dioxide. But Boundary Dam hardly confirms the techno-optimist's hopes. The 100-megawatt unit costs approximately $1.4 billion to build - more than twice the cost of a much larger (non-CCS) 400-megawatt gas power station built by SaskPower in 2009. It became viable thanks only to public subsidies and to a contract with the oil company Cenovus, which agreed to buy the carbon dioxide for the next decade in order to inject it into an oil well to facilitate extraction of more hard to reach oil - a process called enhanced oil recovery (EOR). The supposed "carbon dioxide savings" predictably ignore all of the carbon dioxide emissions from burning that oil. But even with such a nearby oil field suitable for EOR, SaskPower had to make the plant far smaller than originally planned so as to avoid capturing more carbon dioxide than they could sell.

If CCS with fossil fuels is reminiscent of the Concorde fallacy, large-scale BECCS is entirely in the realm of science fiction. The supposedly most "promising technology" has never been tested in a biomass power plant and that has so far proven uneconomical with coal. Add to that the fact that biomass power plants need more feedstock and are less efficient and more expensive to run than coal power plants, and a massive-scale BECCS program becomes even more implausible. And then add to that the question of scale: Sequestering 1 billion tons of carbon a year would produce a volume of highly pressurized liquid carbon dioxide larger than the global volume of oil extracted annually. It would require governments and/or companies stumping up the money to build an infrastructure larger than that of the entire global oil industry - without any proven benefit.

This doesn't mean that we won't see any little BECCS projects in niche circumstances. One of these already exists: ADM is capturing carbon dioxide from ethanol fermentation in one of its refineries for use in CCS research. Capturing carbon dioxide from ethanol fermentation is relatively simple and cheap. If there happens to be some half-depleted nearby oil field suitable for enhanced oil recovery, some ethanol "CCS" projects could pop up here and there. But this has little to do with a "billion ton negative emissions" vision.

BECCS thus appears as one, albeit a particularly prominent, example of baseless techno-optimism leading to dangerous policy choices. Dangerous, that is, because hype about sci-fi solutions becomes a cover for the failure to curb fossil fuel burning and ecosystem destruction today.

News Thu, 29 Jan 2015 00:00:00 -0500
First Anti-Islam March by Pegida Movement Fizzles in Denmark

On January 19, 2015, supporters of the Pegida movement participated in their first Copenhagen rally, following earlier anti-Islam events in Dresden. In response, four times as many people showed up for an anti-Pegida rally to oppose their efforts.

Journalists flocked to cover the first PEGIDA rally in Copenhagen, January 19, 2015, at the National Gallery of Art. (Photo Linda Pershing)Journalists flocked to cover the first PEGIDA rally in Copenhagen, January 19, 2015, at the National Gallery of Art. (Photo: Linda Pershing)

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On January 19, 2015, supporters of the Pegida movement participated in their first Copenhagen rally, following earlier anti-Islam events in Dresden. In response, four times as many people showed up for an anti-Pegida rally to oppose their efforts.

On the evening of January 19, 2015, approximately 150 people gathered to support the Pegida movement's first rally in Copenhagen. Conservative political activist and leader of the grassroots organization Pegidadk ("dk" is for Denmark), Nicolai Sennels drew inspiration from the growing anti-Islamic movement by the same name that arose in October 2014 in Dresden and attracted escalating crowds in response to the recent violent attacks on Charlie Hebdo staff in France. The acronym Pegida is derived from the German: Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes; in English: Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West.

Nativism and a pervasive fear of "Islamization" are at the heart of the Pegida movement. Sennels (an unsuccessful Danish People's Party candidate for election to the Danish Parliament in 2011, born in 1976) is a harsh critic of Islam in general and of Muslims' immigration to Denmark and Europe, in particular. Countering accusations that "Islamophobia" is at the heart of his beliefs, Sennels instead advocates the term "Islamonausea" instead "to describe a feeling of nausea, disgust, displeasure, discomfort or aversion that arises by itself when encountering Islam or Islamic culture, or whatever or whoever represents it."

Nicolai Sennels (left, holding PEGIDAdk sign and a torch) led the PEGIDA march to the Little Mermaid statue, a symbol of Danish national identity. (Photo: Linda Pershing)Nicolai Sennels (left, holding PEGIDAdk sign and a torch) led the PEGIDA march to the Little Mermaid statue, a symbol of Danish national identity. (Photo: Linda Pershing)

In a December 31, 2014, essay entitled "Why We Fight Islam," he contends that "[t]he goal in Islam is world domination and a central part of every Muslim's religious practice is to spread his [sic] faith with all possible means until it covers the Earth completely." Sennels' statements about Islam and Muslims include assertions about genetic inferiority: "A rough estimate shows that close to half of all Muslims in the world are inbred" (February 9, 2010); and "After 40 years of constantly growing problems [caused by] Muslim immigrants in Europe, it is now clear to everyone: integration of Muslims in Western societies cannot be done" (April 4, 2009, Fyens Stiftstidende; note: no longer available on their website but cited by several other sources).

While public pronouncements (including websites and posters at rallies) by Pegidadk members emphasize "no to violence and racism" and opposition to "fundamentalist Islam," Sennels' profound xenophobia regarding Muslims, as well as Denmark's long (but not widely recognized) history of anti-immigrant traditions, betray disturbing connections to a history of racism and xenophobia in Danish cultural life. Pegidadk followers would do well to visit relevant exhibits currently on display at the City Museum of Copenhagen, including "Wanted-Unwanted," "Becoming a Copenhagener" and "100% Copenhagen." (Watch the Danish theater performance of "100% Copenhagen.") They detail the long and often troubled history of immigration in Copenhagen. Museum visitors learn about the Danish tradition of nationalistic and often exclusionary policies regarding immigrants. Noting that 23 percent of the people currently living in Copenhagen are immigrants, the exhibits explore the experiences of Jews, Roma and immigrants from various parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, Turkey and the Middle East, who traveled to Copenhagen in an attempt to create new and better lives for themselves and their loved ones.

An enthusiastic PEGIDAdk supporter waves the Danish flag and a “No to fundamentalist Islam” sign in front of the Little Mermaid statue. (Photo: Linda Pershing)An enthusiastic PEGIDAdk supporter waves the Danish flag and a "No to fundamentalist Islam" sign in front of the Little Mermaid statue. (Photo: Linda Pershing)

The museum documents a long history of the expulsion and exclusion of particular types of foreigners (different groups during various time periods), horrible living conditions, abysmal housing, a total lack of sanitation for immigrant workers, the effects of romantic nationalism on definitions of who "belonged" in Denmark, restrictions on access to jobs and public services, and officials and pundits decrying the "degradation" of Danish society by foreigners (especially those with darker skin and other religious traditions). Visitors learn, for example, that in 2010, 28.3 percent of the residents of Copenhagen's Nørrebro district were immigrants, including large populations from Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq.

These lessons were lost on those who attended the first small and poorly organized Pegidadk rally. Despite considerable advanced publicity by Danish press - mainly drawing on reaction to the Charlie Hebdo-related attacks and corresponding rallies of 20,000 or more in Dresden in the weeks before - somewhere between 100 and 200 people participated (and were besieged by a dozen or so reporters and photographers). The crowd was primarily middle-aged or older; only one person of color was evident. A few ardent young women stood near the front of the group and waved their signs enthusiastically as Sennels spoke to the group. After a couple of short speeches, they marched - with a bevy of police officers and vehicles surrounding them - from the National Gallery of Art to the Little Mermaid statue on the harbor (a famous landmark to honor Danish fairy tale author H.C. Andersen).

Activists at the Copenhagen anti-PEGIDA rally display signs reading “Racism Free City” and “Immigrants and Muslims Are Welcome.” (Photo: Linda Pershing)Activists at the Copenhagen anti-PEGIDA rally display signs reading "Racism Free City" and "Immigrants and Muslims Are Welcome." (Photo: Linda Pershing)

As they arrived at their destination, the group seemed a bit lost. A young man waving a Danish flag in one hand and pre-printed sign reading "Nej til fundamentalisk Islam" ("No to fundamentalist Islam") posed in front of the Little Mermaid statue on the shoreline, while journalists and other participants recorded the moment on film. There were no speeches or rallying cries at their destination. A couple of counter-protesters on the sidelines chanted their own slogans and were quickly removed from the area by police. Some marchers returned to their starting point, while much of the group dissipated and went their separate ways.

Commenting that even the word "march" sounds too militant, Sennels described his vision for the first event as a "cozy" (hyggeligt) event, an "evening stroll" culminating in a sing-along of "a peace song" at the Little Mermaid statue. He neglected to mention that the song chosen by the group was a musical version of a 1936 poem entitled "Til ungdommen" ("For the Youth"), by Norwegian poet and writer Nordahl Grieg. Also known by the words of the first line, "Kringsatt av fiender" ("Surrounded [or Besieged] by Enemies"), the ballad has often been performed at memorial services for the victims of the July 2011 attacks in Norway. Ironically, those events - the setting off of a car bomb amid government buildings in Oslo, then the shooting and killing of 69 participants (many of them children) at a Workers' Youth League summer camp in rural Norway - were committed by the type of "terrorist" seldom associated with that term. White, Norwegian citizen Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old, right-wing militant, took it upon himself to massacre 77 people in the deadliest attack in that nation since World War II.

Immigration to Denmark and the heated debates that ensue when immigrants seem particularly "foreign" aren't going away anytime soon. Although Pegidadk supporters were few in number at their first rally (another is planned for each successive Monday night), many other Danes seem to share their views and support their anti-Islam and anti-immigrant agenda. According to a recent poll conducted for the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, one in eight Danes wished there were a political party that would push even harder for immigration restrictions than the conservative Danish People's Party (the party with which Sennels was aligned when he ran for a parliament seat).

An estimated 400-to-500 people filled the streets of downtown Copenhagen in support of the anti-PEGIDA rally. (Photo: Linda Pershing)An estimated 400-to-500 people filled the streets of downtown Copenhagen in support of the anti-PEGIDA rally. (Photo: Linda Pershing)

Recent Pegida rallies in Dresden have been widely criticized for their xenophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric. In response, Sennels attempted to couch the fledgling Copenhagen campaign in fuzzy, non-racist, feel-good language. Stating that the Copenhagen movement "is not about a political stance or about being on the left or right," he insists that the Danish Pegida movement "will be free of xenophobes and racists." The Pegidadk Facebook page warned, "You should stay away if you are racist, a Nazi or look 'militant,'" adding: "We want to avoid this getting high-jacked by some idiots or racists. That would be a pity, because there are a lot of completely normal Danish people - school teachers, my mother, etc. - who don't necessarily vote for the right wing but who should be able to voice their aversion to this violent type of Islam." At the root, the new Pegidadk movement is another development in a long history of nativist groups in Denmark, led by people who assert their dominance and sense of cultural superiority by way of nationalism and claims that foreign "others" pose a threat to the future and well-being of "real" Danes.

Limited by the censorship of signs and banners (none were handwritten or individualized; they had to be approved beforehand), as well as a subdued crowd that processed with little enthusiasm, the first Pegidadk rally lacked energy and vitality. Instead, the event also took on a more menacing tone: the Pegidadk Facebook page advertised that they would be carrying 100 burning torches during the nighttime march (it gets dark in Copenhagen at 4:30 pm). As Pegidadk supporters gathered for speeches and processed down the streets, the flaming torches conjured visions of an unruly and self-appointed throng from an earlier era, going after a beast or a monster.

Word about the Copenhagen Pegida rally quickly spread around social media and the internet. In response, the progressive Revolutionære Antifascister (Revolutionary Anti-Fascists), a Copenhagen-based organization that describes its mission as "fighting racism, fascism and xenophobia," organized a counter-march. This was a larger gathering of 400 to 500 people - more teenagers and young adults, families with babies and children, and a more ethnically and racially diverse group - intended to counter the Pegida gathering. They were better organized and more exuberant, filling the streets with chants and music during their downtown Copenhagen procession. Young people carried large, handmade banners proclaiming their message: "Copenhagen Against Xenophobia, Stop Pegidadk," "Refugees and Muslims Are Welcome" and "Racism Free City." Local police kept the two groups separated by space and time: the counter-march was scheduled to end just as the Pegida rally started, and organizers were forced to move to a location further away from the Pegida group than they originally wanted. Both marches were carefully controlled by the police, including surveillance by a helicopter hovering in the skies throughout both rallies.

In response to the PEGIDA rally, anti-PEGIDA activists display a “KBH [Copenhagen] against Xenophobia” banner at the counter march. (Photo: Linda Pershing)In response to the PEGIDA rally, anti-PEGIDA activists display a "KBH [Copenhagen] against Xenophobia" banner at the counter march. (Photo: Linda Pershing)

Revolutionære Antifascister activists assert that Pegidadk members are exploiting the attack on Charlie Hebdo in order to attract participation, noting: "[W]e will not accept that racist influences [should] exploit the tragedy in Paris - terror will not be stopped with more hatred." Rather than responding with xenophobia and calls for the restriction and expulsion of Muslims in Denmark, they contend: "Our answer is more democracy, more openness and more diversity and tolerance. . . . We will be an alternative to the polarization of society between cultural, religious or ethnic groups. Such polarization creates only hatred and basis for new conflicts." In response to the anti-Muslim rhetoric sweeping Western Europe, they suggest that recognizing and working to change systems of inequality and injustice are at the heart of the struggle: "We must not fight Muslims and immigrants, but the poverty, inequality and racism which are the causes of the conflicts and hatred."

Pegidadk organizers state that they are planning marches every Monday. If so, the Revolutionary Antifascists and others in Copenhagen who oppose the anti-Muslim stance of Pegidadk will likely take to the streets in response. According to recent press reports, more than 11 percent of the population in Denmark is comprised of immigrants, and the number of non-Western immigrants who call Denmark home has increased more than fivefold since 1984. Add to this a growing awareness among the general public that economic inequality continues to rise between immigrants and Danes, and that Denmark - often portrayed as a paradise of equality where there is no major gap between the rich and poor - is becoming increasingly stratified by income. Currently, the richest 1 percent of Denmark's population owns 43 percent of the country's total wealth. This growing economic inequality is likely to fuel future discussions about immigration and anti-Islam movements in Denmark, and encourage those who support - and those who oppose - anti-Muslim xenophobia to take to the streets.

News Thu, 29 Jan 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Remembering the Paris Commune: When Workers and Women Rose Up Against the Oligarchy

Many historians regard the Paris Commune as the precedent for subsequent uprisings against the plutocracy and ruling elite. Who were the Parisians who revolted against the ruling class ensconced in Versailles and suffered deadly retribution as a result?

(Photo: Basic Books)(Photo: Basic Books)The short-lived Paris Commune of 1871 lasted only a little more than two months before being ruthlessly crushed. A new book by Yale Professor John Merriman, "Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune" provides a remarkably detailed account of an armed uprising that rejected oligarchical government. Click here to get the book by contributing to Truthout! 

Many historians regard the Paris Commune as the precedent for subsequent uprisings against the plutocracy and ruling elite. Who were the Parisians who revolted against the ruling class ensconced in Versailles and suffered deadly retribution as a result?

The following is an excerpt from chapter 3 of Massacre entitled "Masters of Their Own Lives" that begins to answer that question.

Who were the Communards? British journalist Frederic Harrison assessed the Communards in Paris, writing, "The 'insurgents' ... are simply the people of Paris, mainly and at first working men, but now largely recruited from the trading and professional classes. The 'Commune' has been organized with extraordinary skill, the public services are efficiently carried on, and order has been for the most part preserved." In his view, the Commune, while being "one of the least cruel, has been perhaps the ablest revolutionary government of modern times."

The average Communard was the average Parisian: young, between twenty-one and forty years of age, with the largest number men aged thirty-six to forty. Three-fourths had been born outside Paris and arrived in the waves of immigration, above all from northeastern France but also from the northwest, along with seasonal migrants from the Creuse in the center; 45 percent were married, and 6 percent were widowers, although many workers lived in unions libres, which the Commune legitimized. Only 2 percent had secondary education. In a time of increased literacy, only about 11 percent were illiterate, although many ordinary Parisians enjoyed only basic reading and writing skills.

Most Communards hailed from the world of Parisian work and included artisans and craftsmen who produced articles de Paris and jewelry. Their numbers included skilled and semiskilled workers—many working with wood, or in shoemaking, printing, or the small-scale production of metals—as well as construction workers, day laborers, and domestic servants. Shopkeepers, clerks, and men in the liberal professions were also well represented. They were among "the people" who had suffered during the siege and felt threatened by monarchist machinations. Of female Communards, 70 percent came from the world of women's work, particularly textiles and the clothing trades. Some courageously provided food and drink to Communard fighters or served as doctors' assistants tending to the wounded. Louise Michel saw no problem with incorporating prostitutes into the corps of women nursing injured fighters: "Who has more right than these women, the most pitiful of the old order's victims, to give their lives for the new?" The Commune accorded pensions to widows and children, whether "legitimate" or not, of men killed fighting for the Commune.

However average or ordinary most Communards were, many observers—foreign and local alike—saw the Commune as a pitched conflict between classes. During his relatively short time at the US Legation, for instance, Wickman Hoffman took note of "the class hatred which exists in France." For the American, it was "something we have no idea of, and I trust that we never shall. It is bitter, relentless, and cruel; and is, no doubt, a sad legacy of the bloody Revolution of 1789, and of the centuries of oppression which preceded it."

Hippolyte Taine, a conservative historian, was sure that the Commune was a proletarian revolution. On April 5 he wrote that most fundamentally the "present insurrection" was socialist: "The boss and the bourgeois exploit us, therefore we must suppress them. Superiority and special status do not exist. Me, a worker, I have abilities, and if I want, I can become the head of a business, a magistrate, a general. By good fortune, we have rifles, let's use them to establish a republic in which workers like us become cabinet ministers and presidents."

Edmond Goncourt and his brother Jules had assessed, shortly before the latter's death a year earlier, that "the gap between wages and the cost of living would kill the Empire." A workman had indeed reason to ask, "'What good does it do me for there to be monuments, operas, café-concerts where I have never set foot because I don't have the money?' And he rejoices that henceforth there will be no more rich people in Paris, so convinced is he that the gathering of rich people into one places raises prices."

The economic and political divisions in Paris's quartiers did seem to bear out the Commune's origins in class conflict. The more plebeian neighborhoods of Paris led the way in support of the Commune. The social geography of Paris reflected a divide between the more prosperous western half of the city and the People's Paris of the eastern districts, as well as between the center and the proletarian periphery. Baron Georges Haussmann's massive urban projects during the Second Empire had only intensified the divide, but with the uprising on March 18, the periphery had arguably conquered the beaux quartiers. This is not to say that there were none who opposed the Commune in poorer arrondissements like the Eleventh, Twelfth, Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth or that there were no devoted Communards in the relatively more privileged Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Arrondissements. It does indicate that social geography counted for much.

The Second Arrondissement embodied the social and political divide that existed even within relatively prosperous districts. The western parts of the arrondissement were more bourgeois, more anti-Communard, and highly suspicious of proletarian Belleville and its national guardsmen and the Vengeurs de Flourens, a military unit named in honor of the martyred Communard, who came down to parade in the conservative quartiers below. In the early weeks of the Commune, many residents advocated conciliation and a negotiated settlement and voted for moderate representatives in the election of March 26. The more plebeian eastern neighborhoods of the Second Arrondissement sent delegates to the Commune; the middle-class residents to the west did not. Around 12,000 people required living assistance in the arrondissement and were more likely to be guardsmen whose families' depended on the 1.50 franc daily payment. A mechanic put it this way: "I have seven children, and my wife was ill. I had no other means of feeding my family."

Given the needs of its plebeian supporters, the organization of work remained a significant goal for Communard militants. The "Declaration of the French people" of April 19 called for the creation of institutions that would provide ordinary people with credit, facilitating "access to property" and "freedom of labor." Ideas and even concrete projects for the "organization of work" were in the air, amid confidence that the defense of the National Guard cannons on March 18 had inaugurated a new era, full of possibilities that would make Paris and the world a better place.

Thus the "social question"—the condition of the poor and how to help them—remained important to many ordinary Parisians. The idea that revolution could bring about reforms that would reduce or even eliminate the considerable differences in conditions of life, opportunities, and expectations remained entrenched in the collective memory of Parisian workers. As Eugène Varlin stated, "We want to overthrow exploitation of workers by the right to work [le droit au travail] and the association of workers in corporation." Workers hoped that newly established cooperatives would reflect the organization of the Commune itself: decentralized and locally governed. The anarchist Proudhon's influence was apparent in many workers' organizations in many trades. The Proudhonists and Blanquists imagined that France, like Paris, would evolve into a federation of communes, becoming a free country just as Paris had for the moment become a free city (ville libre). Such echoes could be heard at the meeting of women in Trinity Church on May 12, when a speaker thundered, "The day of justice approaches with giant strides. . . . [T]he workshops in which you are packed will belong to you; the tools that are put into your hands will be yours; the gain resulting from your efforts, from your troubles, and from the loss of your health will be shared among you. Proletarians, you will be reborn."

This was a time of big dreams.

The regulations established by a workshop set up in the Louvre to repair and convert weapons reflected how some workers envisioned manufacturing operating in the future. Foremen and chargehands (who supervised lathes) were to be elected, just as the National Guard units elected officers. The regulations also laid out the responsibilities of the administrative council, to consist of the manager, the foreman, a chargehand, and one worker "elected from each workbench," which would set salaries and wages and ensure that the workday did not exceed ten hours.

On April 16, the Commune ordered a survey of workshops abandoned by employers who had fled Paris so that workers' cooperatives could ultimately take them over, which indeed happened in a few in- stances. A small cooperative iron foundry started up in Grenelle. Members moved into one workshop after four days and another after two weeks. The cooperative, employing about 250 workers, produced shells crucial to the city's defense against Thiers. Workers elected "managing directors"—not a very socialist term—led by thirty-nine-year-old Pierre Marc, who had inherited a foundry from his father. The cooperative paid rent to the previous owner of the shop, and its workers earned less than their counterparts employed by the Commune's Louvre shell factory. Producers' cooperatives were thus organized along traditional class lines, and workers were expected to show up with their livret, a re- cord book of employment, which they had been required to have with them since 1803, despite wide resentment of this obligation.

In addition to reorganizing Paris's workers, the Commune also endeavored to improve their working conditions. The abolition of night baking by a decree issued on April 20 was one such concrete social measure in the interest of labor taken by the Commune. The debate centered on advantages for bakers and the fact that workers' virtual nighttime enslavement benefited "the aristocracy of the belly." Some master bakers resisted, fearing the loss of clients, and the application of the measure was postponed until May 3, with another decree the next day threatening to seize bread produced before 5 a.m. and distribute it to the poor. Many Parisians still demanded warm croissants first thing in the morning, however, making it difficult for the Commune to enforce the measure. Other Communard decrees established a maximum salary for municipal employees (6,000 francs a year), prohibited employers from taking assessed fines from workers' wages (an increasingly common practice during the Second Empire), and established labor exchanges in each arrondissement.

Given the circumstances and ideological divisions among Communard leaders, it is not surprising that no full-fledged attempt to transform the economy took place, despite the role of socialists who ultimately wanted workers to control the tools of their trades. Yet most Communards accepted the idea of private property. Moreover, for Blanquists, a complete social revolution would have to wait until political power was secured.

Even though the structure of the economy remained relatively unchanged, the status of women improved by leaps and bounds. Indeed, the solidarity and militancy of Parisian women, who had suffered such hardship during the Prussian siege, jumps out as one of the most remarkable aspects of the Paris Commune. Women, taking pride in their role as citoyennes, pressured the Commune to attend to their rights and demands and pushed for an energetic defense of the capital. Citoyenne Destrée proclaimed in a club, "The social revolution will not be operative until women are equal to men. Until then, you have only the appearance of revolution."

Such militants considered the condition of women a reflection of the "bourgeois authoritarianism" of the defunct empire and of the enemies gathering their forces at Versailles. Here, too, the Commune seemed to offer exciting possibilities for change. Élisabeth Dmitrieff, who had helped organize cooperatives in Geneva and then arrived in Paris in late March as a representative of the International, stated, "The work of women was the most exploited of all in the social order of the past. . . . [I]t's immediate reorganization is urgent."

The economic disadvantage faced by ordinary female workers infused women's demands. Many communardes remained more interested in improving their lives than in achieving political equality, a demand strikingly absent from women's discourse. As Louise Michel explained, "[A woman] bends under mortification; in her home her burdens crush her. Man wants to keep her that way, to be sure that she will never encroach upon his function or his titles. Gentlemen, we do not want either your functions or your titles." Many women were doubly exploited—by their family situations and by their employers. One woman denounced bosses as "the social wound that must be taken care of" because they took advantage of workers, whom they considered "a machine for work," while they lived it up. Dmitrieff called for the elimination of all competition and for equal salaries for male and female workers, as well as a reduction in work hours. She also demanded the creation of workshops for unemployed women and asked that funds go to aid nascent working-class associations.

Dmitrieff, born Elisavieta Koucheleva in the northwestern Russian province of Pskov in 1850, was the illegitimate daughter of an aristocrat and a German nurse twenty years his junior. Élisabeth entered into a mariage blanc (a marriage of convenience) to get out of Russia, after having been active in a student group in Saint Petersburg. She carried funds from her sizable dowry into exile in Geneva in 1868. Dmitrieff went to London, where she met Karl Marx and his family. Immediately following the proclamation of the Commune, Marx sent her to Paris, and she sent reports on the situation back to him.

Dmitrieff cut quite a figure. She wore a black riding costume, a felt hat with feathers, and a red silk shawl trimmed in gold. A police description put her at about five feet, three inches tall, with chestnut hair and gray-blue eyes. Léo Frankel was probably but one of the Communards who fell in love with her. Dmitrieff combined a precocious feminism with a socialism influenced by Marx and a firm expectation that revolution would some day come to Russia.

Like Dmitrieff, some women during the Commune wore clothing that reflected their determination to effect change. Some garments were colorful, indeed flamboyant, with the color red omnipresent—for example, in sashes. Other women wore men's clothing and carried rifles. Lodoïska Caweska, a thirty-year-old Polish woman, rode at the head of soldiers, adorned in "Turkish pants, high-buttoned shoes with a red cockade, and a blue belt from which hung two pistols."

On April 8, Dmitrieff sought to rally citoyennes in defense of Paris in the tradition of the women who had marched to Versailles in October 1789. Three days later, mothers, wives, and sisters, including Dmitrieff and Nathalie Le Mel, published an "Appeal to the Women Citizens of Paris": "We must prepare to defend and avenge our brothers."

That evening, the Union des Femmes was constituted, led by a council of five women, with Dmitrieff as general secretary. The union called on women to form branches in each arrondissement. Saluting the Commune as representing "the regeneration of society," the organization asked women to build barricades and to "fight to the end" for the Commune. It set up committees in most arrondissements as recruiting centers for volunteers for nursing and canteen work and barricade construction.

The Union des Femmes also took the fight for equal rights to Paris's factories. The manufacture of National Guard uniforms, the vast majority of which women produced, was one Parisian industry that kept going full steam. The Commune had first signed contracts with traditional manufacturers for the production of uniforms, but a report determined that under this arrangement female workers were earning less than under the Government of National Defense. The Union des Femmes demanded the award of all future contracts to workers' producers' cooperatives and that the Tailors' Union and delegates from the Commission of Labor and Exchange negotiate piece rates.

The Commune gave women in the Union des Femmes, which included perhaps as many as 2,000 women, unprecedented public responsibilities, but the response was not all positive. Some Communard leaders and other men reacted with uncertainty and even outright hostility. An official of the Tenth Arrondissement told the female administrator of a welfare hostel that members of the union committee "were to be kept away from all administrative agencies." Yet, without question, women made essential contributions to the Commune, encouraging the military defense of Paris, and caring for wounded Communard fighters.

Excerpted with permission from Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune, by John Merriman. Available from Basic Books, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Not to be reposted without permission of the publisher. Copyright ©2014.

Progressive Picks Thu, 29 Jan 2015 00:00:00 -0500
As 18 Die on Anniversary of Revolution, Egypt Intensifies Crackdown on Activists, Journalists

At least 18 protesters have been killed as they marked the anniversary of the 2011 uprising in Egypt that toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak, in the bloodiest demonstrations since General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power. A viral video also shows Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, a leading member of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, being shot dead Saturday at a protest near Tahrir Square. "Like all social change, the fight for democracy in Egypt and across the region is going to continue," says Karim Amer, producer of "The Square," which documented the Egyptian revolution of 2011 from its roots in Tahrir Square and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2014. "What keeps us optimistic is the same critical mass of young people you saw in 'The Square' ... who are continuing to stand up." We also speak with film's director, Jehane Noujaim, about Sanaa El Seif, an assistant producer who worked on "The Square" and is now in prison in Egypt.

Please check back later for full transcript.

News Wed, 28 Jan 2015 12:40:10 -0500