Truthout Stories Mon, 26 Jan 2015 13:27:49 -0500 en-gb Why Rand Paul Is Wrong About Social Security Disability

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Contrary to analysis, Paul has insisted that half the people getting Social Security disability are only suffering from back aches and occasional anxieties faced by all workers.Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Contrary to analysis, Paul has insisted that half the people getting Social Security disability are only suffering from back aches and occasional anxieties faced by all workers. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

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The Republican Congress decided to make overhauling the Social Security disability program one of its first orders of business. On the first day of the new session it put in place a rule change that would make it difficult to address the shortfall the program is projected to face some time next year.

Republican leaders like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul justified this change by insisting that half the people getting disability had the sort of back aches and occasional anxieties that we all face. The difference is that they get checks from the government rather than working. For this reason, Rand argued the program is in serious need of reform.

As several analysts quickly pointed out, there is no basis for Paul’s assertion. Only a relatively small fraction of disability beneficiaries remotely fit Paul’s description of people with backaches and anxiety. As the data clearly show, it is not easy to get disability. More than three quarters of applicants are initially turned down, and even after the appeals process just over 40 percent of applicants get benefits.

Furthermore, we know that the vast majority of people getting disability would not be working even if they weren’t getting a check from the government. A study published by the University of Michigan a few years ago examined the work patterns of people who were denied disability. It focused on a group of marginal applicants, people who had conditions that would be approved or denied depending in large part on the administrative judge to whom their case was assigned. These were the sort of people that Rand Paul was talking about.

This group comprised roughly a quarter of all applicants. The study found that among this group, 28 percent of the people who were denied benefits were working two years after their application. Since this was a marginal group comprising less than a quarter of applicants, we can infer that somewhere near 7 percent of the people approved would be working without their disability check.

Furthermore, even among this group the study found that average annual earnings were less than half their pre-disability level. This indicates that these people were suffering from a serious condition, even if didn’t make them completely unable to work.

But this 7 percent number gives a useful point of reference. We can set Rand Paul loose on the people with disability and have him throw off the ones that really could be working. If he has perfect judgment, then we will save the program 7 percent by getting rid of the people identified by the Michigan study. If his judgment is less than perfect, we may still save the same amount of money, but it could mean cutting off benefits for terminal cancer patients and other people with extremely serious health conditions.

This gets us to the Federal Reserve Board. If the problem is that we are spending too much money on disability then one sure way of reducing costs is to get the unemployment rate down. There is a regular pattern where more people go on disability when there is a downturn in the economy.

This should not be surprising. There are many employers who keep older workers on the payroll even if a physical condition makes it difficult for them to perform their job. However when there is downturn and they have to cut back their workforce, these workers are likely to be the first to be laid off. In a labor force with a glut of unemployed workers, an older worker with a serious physical problem will find it difficult to get a new job. Therefore many of these people will end up getting disability.

The best way to keep these marginal cases off disability is to keep them on their jobs. Adjusting for the aging of the workforce, the number of people getting disability rose by more than 12 percent from before the recession in 2007 to 2011.

We can infer from this fact that if we had been able to hold the unemployment rate to its pre-recession level we would somewhere around 12 percent fewer people getting disability payments. That is considerably more than the number of would-be workers identified by the University of Michigan study. In other words, we are likely to do more to reduce disability roles by sustaining high levels of employment than by setting Rand Paul loose to get rid of all the shirkers.

This is yet another reason why all good people everywhere should be leaning on the Federal Reserve Board not to raise interest rates this year. The point of raising interest rates is to slow the economy and keep people from getting jobs. We all know many reasons why this is bad, but the disability whiners have given us one more.

If the Fed keeps people from getting jobs, then we will have more people getting disability benefits. If the number of people getting disability bothers you, send a note to Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen asking her not to raise rates.

Opinion Mon, 26 Jan 2015 12:58:04 -0500
The Ghastly, Remotely Piloted, Robotic Reaper Drone

The MQ9 Reaper - now used by the United States 24/7 over Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere - makes killing too easy. Despite the propaganda in mainstream media, drones are not deployed in a "war on terror." Weaponized drones are terror.

An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at Hurlburt Field Fla., April 24, 2014.An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at Hurlburt Field Fla., April 24, 2014. (Photo: Staff Sgt. John Bainter/US Air Force)

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The MQ9 Reaper - now deployed 24/7 over Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere - makes killing too easy. It makes war easier to initiate and perpetuate. US drone wars are started with little or no public awareness or support - and with little apparent stake in the game. The weaponized drone cheapens honor. It cheapens life.

The Reaper kills and maims combatants and noncombatants, adults and children, infants and elderly. Drone victims are also those left widowed or orphaned, and those - in the hundreds of thousands - who flee the terrorized tribal countryside. Despite the propaganda that saturates US mainstream media, drones are not deployed in a "war on terrorism." Weaponized drones are terror.

Reaper targeting is both precise and indiscriminate. Precise if and only if the intelligence on the ground is accurate - a very big if. Precise striking is too easily confused with precise selecting. On average, for every alleged high level adversary assassinated, dozens of family members, neighbors and other noncombatants are also killed.

The British human rights organization, Reprieve, notes that certain al-Qaeda leaders have escaped several drone attacks in which they have been reported killed. Many of those attacks result in "collateral damage," i.e. other and innocent lives lost. Drone pilots and their chain of command often have no idea who their victims are, or how many they have killed.

Aerial warfare is cowardly. The Reaper raises cowardice to new heights. Where there's no moral compass, where there's no risk, there's no courage. Despite the lack of physical risk, drone pilots reportedly often suffer post-traumatic stress disorder. These technicians stalk their human targets for hours or days before launching their Hellfire missiles and 500-pound bombs. From their ergonomic armchairs, they observe the assassination and its aftermath up close and personal. They watch "bugsplat" (pilot talk for victims) try to flee.

Minutes later, the pilot may "double tap" - attacking the first responders who converge on the rubble and carnage. Hours later, they may triple tap: targeting those attending the victims' funeral. Killing and maiming mostly civilians, often far from war zones, drones incite hatred, which can lead to blowback or what might be called reactive terrorism: retaliation against suspected informers, aid workers, journalists and US targets near and far. No one can calculate the half-life of such hatred.

Drones violate national sovereignty (Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Gaza etc.), thereby defying international law, thereby rendering the entire planet more hate-filled, anarchic and vulnerable. Drone attacks are racist: They almost exclusively target Muslims and people of color ("Christian terrorism").

US (and, let us not forget, British and Israeli) drone attacks spur proliferation - a drone arms race in which dozens of nations, if only in self-defense, are now acquiring or building weaponized drones. The barbaric use of killer drones creates markets: The deadly robots are first demonstrated eviscerating or vaporizing human flesh, then exported. The barbarity also creates precedents that make all of us, everywhere, less safe

The Pentagon's PR mantra is that "drones save lives." Yet the Reaper's advantages are negated by the larger truth that only in the short-term and within narrow contexts do they reduce US casualties. (Those casualties of other nations, of course, don't mean so much. Par excellence, the weaponized drone is the flagship of US exceptionalism.)

Summing up, the Reaper is tactically clever, but strategically stupid. The Pentagon is surely aware of this insufficiency. But the Pentagon doesn't necessarily seek to "win" its wars. The US military machine seeks to multiply enemies and keep the pot boiling, thereby devouring the national budget and perpetuating mega-profits for its corporate allies. The corporados laugh all the way to the bank.

On the Home Front

Reaper deployment from sites such as Niagara Air Force Base near Buffalo and Hancock Air Force Base near Syracuse in upstate New York extend the war zone to nearby civilian areas. Like it or not, without our consent, we've become part of the battleground. Upstate New Yorkers didn't enlist in these undeclared, clandestine wars. We are conscripts. Our federal taxes pay for these wars; vast slabs of our national treasure are diverted to the military and away from schooling, health care, mass transit and other infrastructure.

Reaper deployment is cloaked in secrecy, mocking democracy. Reaper security measures (as at Hancock, home of the 174th Attack Wing) lead to civil liberties abuse. Since 2010, recurring nonviolent anti-drone protests at Hancock have led to more than 150 arrests and multiple incarcerations of those exposing Pentagon and CIA Reaper lawlessness. We're arrested outside the base entrance as we assemble, speak out and petition the government for a redress of grievances - First Amendment rights, supposedly.

The drone assassination of non-US civilians has morphed into the assassination of US citizens overseas. Will these criminal attacks - devoid of due process - morph into drone strikes against US citizens within the United States itself? The targets here one day may be antiwar activists or someone's political opponent, or simply those guilty of being young, male and black, or Muslim. Or, as in Afghanistan, someone's or some cartel's rival drug dealer.

The Federal Aviation Administration, charged with regulating the safety of our skies, can't keep up with the burgeoning drone industry and escalating domestic drone use. Even with adequate regulations, enforcement will at best be patchy. The more drones in the air, the more difficult the enforcement. Drones have a high accident rate. Drones accidentally or deliberately invading air traffic lanes are a threat to manned commercial passenger aircraft. The more drones in the air, the more collisions. Drones can be launched anonymously. Their origins can be faked. Drones can be hacked and misdirected.

Although a drone pilot's field of vision is like looking through a soda straw, drone surveillance technology is almost preternaturally sophisticated. Drones threaten personal privacy, undermining the Fourth Amendment. Police agencies are itching to deploy drones, leading to surveillance without warrants on a mass, indiscriminate scale - pervasive, persistent, wide-area, suspicionless surveillance. Police drones will also surely be used for crowd control, suppressing demonstrations and other First Amendment activity essential to democracy.

Police surveillance drones can be armed with so-called "non-lethal" devices (facial recognition technology, lasers, sound bombs, rubber bullets etc.). These chill public dissent. Non-lethal can morph into lethal crowd control. Do we really trust the increasingly militarized police and the US intelligence agencies to self-enforce constitutional restraints on their domestic spying? Think NSA.

Drone technology is rapidly evolving. As it penetrates the US economy and the US military machine, drone research in these two spheres will cross-pollinate. The Reaper and its successors are on their way to becoming ever more autonomous and unaccountable.

Domestic drone development has commercial and agricultural application. Drones will create jobs. But rarely mentioned is the fact that drones are a form of automation and that automation snuffs out jobs.

The glitz of consumer drone applications here is already displacing perceptions of the military mayhem over there. Mainstream media hype is already "normalizing" drones (à la the 1950s "Atoms for Peace" campaign providing cover for the then-emerging toxic nuclear industry). Such hype swamps coverage of the vile aspects of drones both domestically and internationally. The multibillion-dollar drone industry has already bought and bamboozled its engineers, its universities, its media and its representatives in Congress.

Opinion Mon, 26 Jan 2015 12:39:11 -0500
Hailed as US Counterterrorism Model in Middle East, Yemen Teeters on the Brink of Collapse

Yemen is facing political collapse following the mass resignations of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, his prime minister and entire cabinet. Thursday’s exodus came just hours after Shia Houthi rebels stormed the presidential compound in the capital city of Sana’a. Hadi said he could not continue in office after Houthis allegedly broke a peace deal to retreat from key positions in return for increased political power. The Houthis appear to have major backing from longtime former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was ousted in a popular uprising in 2011. The Obama administration had praised the Yemeni government as being a model for "successful" counterterrorism partnerships, but on Thursday the United States announced it was pulling more staff out of its embassy in Yemen. Some experts warn the developments in Yemen could result in civil war and help al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) gain more power. Meanwhile, Oxfam is warning more than half of Yemen’s population needs aid, and a humanitarian crisis of extreme proportions is at risk of unfolding in the country if instability continues. We are joined by Iona Craig, a journalist who was based in Sana’a for four years as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London.


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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin in Yemen, which is teetering on the brink of collapse after the U.S.-backed president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, his prime minister and entire cabinet resigned on Thursday. The exodus came just 24 hours after Shia Houthi rebels stormed the presidential compound in the capital city of Sana’a. Hadi said he could not continue ruling after Houthis allegedly broke a peace deal to retreat from key positions in return for increased political power. The Houthis appear to have major backing from longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh, the ousted leader who was forced from office in a popular uprising in 2011.

AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration had praised the Yemeni government as being a model for "successful" counterterrorism partnerships, but on Thursday the U.S. announced it was pulling more staff out of its embassy in Yemen. Some experts warn the developments in Yemen could result in civil war and help al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula gain more power. Meanwhile, Oxfam is warning more than half of Yemen’s population needs aid, and a humanitarian crisis of extreme proportions is at risk of unfolding in the country if instability continues. Ten million Yemenis do not have enough to eat, including 850,000 acutely malnourished children.

For more, we go to London, where we’re joined by Iona Craig. She’s a journalist who was based in Sana’a, Yemen, for four years as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London, was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in 2014.

Iona, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about what has taken place.

IONA CRAIG: I think what we’ve seen in the last few days is pretty unprecedented in terms of Yemen, and I think what’s happened now with Hadi handing in his resignation, the prime minister and the cabinet, is really probably the smartest thing they could have done. They were backed into a corner by the Houthis, and quite literally, the Houthis had surrounded Hadi’s house. They obviously couldn’t and hadn’t taken them on militarily, in a fight that they were unlikely to be able to win. And so this was the only way for them to turn around to the Houthis and say, "No, this is enough."

And now we have the prospect of an emergency meeting of the Parliament on Sunday, when Hadi’s resignation will be put forward. Now, they have the option to reject that resignation, which means that Hadi would still be president after that, unless he then hands his resignation in again within three months. So it may actually be that Hadi stays and manages to survive all of this.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Iona, given the constant turbulence within the country, what’s the impact on some of the regional powers—obviously, Iran and the United States and Saudi Arabia?

IONA CRAIG: Well, really, you know, the reason why the international community has been promoting and supporting Hadi is because, for them, there wasn’t another option. They’ve been backing this transition deal from the beginning. It was created initially as Ali Abdullah Saleh signed the deal at the end of 2011 in order to step down, this deal called the GCC deal. But it really originated—and it’s an open secret in Sana’a—from the American Embassy. And the reason we know that is that the politicians in Yemen that first saw it could tell that it was translated from English. So, that transition deal is what the international community have been backing. And that transition deal is really what has brought this to this place today, because it never truly addressed the underlying problems in Yemen. It was all about reshuffling power in order to concentrate on the security issues within Yemen, without actually making the changes that Yemenis have been demanding. So, issues like the Houthis, who were a marginalized group and persecuted under Ali Abdullah Saleh, the issue of southern secession, they were never truly addressed throughout this period. And now this has come to a head now with the Houthis taking their own action to get what they want. So the international community is partly responsible for the situation that Yemen is now in. But, of course, their focus still remains on the security issues in Yemen.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to comments President Obama made last summer when he announced additional U.S. military support to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In response to a question, President Obama invoked U.S. policy in Yemen as a possible model for Iraq and Syria. This is part of what he said.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You look at a country like Yemen, a very impoverished country and one that has its own sectarian or ethnic divisions, there’s—we do have a committed partner in President Hadi and his government, and we have been able to help to develop their capacities without putting large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground, at the same time as we’ve got enough CT, or counterterrorism, capabilities that we’re able to go after folks that might try to hit our embassy or might be trying to export terrorism into Europe or the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama over the summer. Your response, Iona Craig?

IONA CRAIG: Well, I think this really kind of goes back to what I just mentioned. The international focus has always been about security in Yemen. So, even when Ali Abdullah Saleh was in power, they backed him because they could work with him and, you know, to carry out the operations that they wanted, to use drone strikes in Yemen. And there was no plan B. There was no "What will we do if Ali Abdullah Saleh is not there?" And similarly, then, with Hadi. They knew Hadi had been vice president under Ali Abdullah Saleh. It was someone they knew they could work with. They built on the partnership. And again, now, there is—there is no plan B. So if Hadi goes, this leaves them in a position—you know, in a really bad position of who now are they dealing with.

As for the issue of the Yemen model, clearly now that’s something of a joke, really. The Yemen model has all but collapsed. The fighting against al-Qaeda on the ground has actually been done now by the Houthis, but it’s actually made the issue and the problem of al-Qaeda worse in Yemen, anyway. The violence being carried out by al-Qaeda has increased hugely since the Houthis took Sana’a in September. But, you know—and again, looking at those Oxfam figures, the underlying problems in Yemen, you have—now those figures have gone to 16 million people in need of humanitarian aid. The last figures that came out said 14.7 million, out of a population of 25. So, whilst the international community focuses on the security issues, you’ve got an economy that’s collapsing, you’ve got a rising humanitarian crisis and political issues that haven’t been dealt with. So, this kind of short-term thinking about the security situation in Yemen is really never going to get to the bottom of the political problems, the economic problems and the humanitarian issues that all feed into this in the end.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned one of the other underlying problems being an ongoing secessionist movement. Most Americans here have short memories. They forget that it wasn’t long ago when there was a separate Marxist state, the Democratic Republic of Yemen, in a huge portion of what is now Yemen. Could you talk about that secessionist movement in its current form?

IONA CRAIG: Yes, the Southern Movement, or al-Hirak al-Janoubi, as it’s known in Yemen, has been around for many years now, technically since 2007. But North and South Yemen, we unified in 1990, and then there was a brief civil war in 1994, and the south was very much crushed in that. But this call for secession has been increasing rapidly over the last few years, particularly obviously since 2011. But the international community again has failed to really engage with the southerners. And they particularly reached out to the U.K., actually, because obviously the British previously had control of Aden, the southern city, for many years. And they reached out to the international community. And really, the international community didn’t—hasn’t engaged with them, mainly because they feel that if they engage with the south, then it’s recognizing their calls for secession, and they don’t want Yemen to break up, because they think it will impact the security situation. So, in that void, it’s actually Iran that a lot of the time in the south has stepped in and has engaged with the southerners, because nobody else will. And they have increasingly been engaging with them and supporting them.

But we’ve also got a situation now in the south over the last 24 hours, since everything’s happened in Sana’a, where they are now taking action. There have been big protests in the south today. They have said—you know, put out a message saying they will refuse to take orders now from Sana’a because of what’s happening with the Houthis. And it now appears that the Houthis are in charge. But, you know, there’s a lot of politicking going on in Aden right now. So you’ve got President Hadi with his supporters and his militiamen and gunmen on the streets. You’ve also got the Houthis, supported by Ali Abdullah Saleh, been trying to make gains in Aden, as well. So, it’s going to come to a head in the south, and that looks like it’s going to happen sooner rather than later now, because of what’s happening in Sana’a.

AMY GOODMAN: Will Saleh return as president?

IONA CRAIG: Ali Abdullah Saleh?


IONA CRAIG: I think that’s very unlikely, but I think the chances of Ahmed Ali, his son, returning as president are possible. I think that’s distinctly possible. It may not happen in the next week, but when it comes the time of presidential elections—goodness knows when that will happen now—but I think there is a possibility that Ahmed Ali, his son, could rule Yemen. And right now, you know, for some Yemenis, they would throw up their hands and say, you know, security, some form of stability, some form of governance is better than nothing. They’re in a pretty dire situation right now with an economy that’s collapsing and this humanitarian crisis going on at the same time. And people most of the time just want stability so they can carry on with their lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Iona Craig, we want to thank you very much for being with us. She’s speaking to us from London, but she lived for four years in Sana’a, in the capital of Yemen, reporting for The Times of London, winner of the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.

News Mon, 26 Jan 2015 11:34:51 -0500
Black Lives Matter: New Film on Jordan Davis Captures Family's Struggle to Convict White Vigilante

We are broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, where a new film takes on the subject of the growing nationwide protests over the killing of unarmed African Americans by examining one of the cases to make national headlines in recent years: the killing of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. The film, "3 1/2 Minutes," tells the story of what happened on Nov. 23, 2012, when four teenagers pulled into a Florida gas station to buy gum and cigarettes. They were soon confronted by Michael Dunn, a middle-aged white man who pulled in next to them in the parking lot. Dunn demanded the boys turn down the music they were playing, and became angry when they refused. He pulled his gun from his glove box and shot at their car 10 times, even as they tried to drive away from the danger. The shots rang out three-and-a-half minutes after Dunn had arrived. In the hail of bullets, Jordan Davis was killed. After the shooting, Dunn fled the scene, went to a hotel with his girlfriend and ordered pizza. He never called the police. In the murder trial that followed, Davis’ parents attended every day, knowing that the prior year, George Zimmerman — the killer of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, also in Florida — had successfully avoided being convicted. Both cases highlighted the state’s problematic Stand Your Ground law. We spend the hour with Davis’ mother, Lucia McBath, and father, Ron Davis, who have continued to fight for justice. We are also joined by the film’s director, Marc Silver.


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

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting live from Park City, Utah, this week, where the Sundance Film Festival is underway. We begin with a film about a subject of growing nationwide protest: the killing of unarmed African Americans. The film is called 3 1/2 Minutes. It tells the story of how on November 23rd, 2012, four teenagers pulled into a Jacksonville gas station to buy gum and cigarettes. They were soon confronted by Michael Dunn, a middle-aged white man who pulled in next to them in the parking lot. Dunn demanded the boys turn down the music they were playing, and became angry when they refused. He pulled his gun from his glove box and shot at their car 10 times, even as they tried to drive away from the danger. The shots rang out three-and-a-half minutes after Dunn had arrived. One of boys, 17-year-old Jordan Davis, was killed. After the shooting, Dunn fled the scene, went to a hotel with his girlfriend, ordered pizza. He never called the police.

In the murder trial that followed, Jordan Davis’s parents attended every day, knowing that the prior year George Zimmerman, the killer of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, had successfully avoided being convicted. Both cases highlighted the state’s problematic Stand Your Grand law.

Today we spend the hour with Jordan’s parents and hear more about their ongoing fight for justice. But first, this is a clip from the trailer for the brand new film, 3 1/2 Minutes.

REPORTER: Forty-five-year-old Michael Dunn is being charged with shooting and killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis. The confrontation began over loud music.

CORY STROLLA: Was there music playing in the car?


CORY STROLLA: What type of music?


ERIN WOLFSON: Did the defendant say anything about the music?

RHONDA ROUER: "I hate that thug music."

TEVIN THOMPSON: "Thug" is the new N-word. He just seen four black kids.

MICHAEL DUNN: I’m not racist. They’re racist.

REPORTER: Michael Dunn is claiming self-defense.

CORY STROLLA: Jordan Davis threatened Michael Dunn.

MICHAEL DUNN: He goes, "You’re dead, [bleep]."

I look, and I’m looking at a barrel.

SEN. TED CRUZ: This is about the right of everyone to protect themselves, to protect their family.

CORY STROLLA: Under the law, it’s justified.

MICHAEL DUNN: I said, "You’re not going to kill me, you son of a [bleep]."

POLICE DETECTIVE: There’s no weapons in their car.

MICHAEL DUNN: Could have been just a stick.

POLICE DETECTIVE: Could it have been your imagination?

MICHAEL DUNN: It cert—well, no. I mean, anything’s possible, I guess.

UNIDENTIFIED: Maybe they didn’t have a gun, but he thought they had a gun.

UNIDENTIFIED: They think it’s a gun when it’s in the hands of a young African American.

RON DAVIS: Trayvon Martin’s father texts me: "I just want to welcome you to a club that none of us want to be in."

UNIDENTIFIED: It’s going to be open season.

UNIDENTIFIED: Open season on—on who?

UNIDENTIFIED: You can say later that maybe he did have it.

UNIDENTIFIED: It’s time to pick up where Dr. King left off.


UNIDENTIFIED: I’ve never covered a trial with this much international attention.

UNIDENTIFIED: This was a 21st century lynching.

RON DAVIS: Was he all right to kill my son?

LUCIA McBATH: What happened to Jordan? What happened to Jordan?

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the trailer for 3 1/2 Minutes, which is premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival here in Park City, Utah. Today we spend the hour with the two people at the heart of the film: Jordan’s parents, Lucia McBath and Ron Davis. We’re also joined by Marc Silver. He’s the film’s director. We spoke with Marc last year at Sundance about his film at that time, Who is Dayani Cristal? which won the award for best cinematography.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! It has been remarkable to see you here, actually, for the first time, but at this film showing. And Lucy McBath, if you can talk about what this means? Your son was killed three years ago, and here you are at a festival in the midst of this wave of protests around the killing of young men like Jordan, your son.

LUCIA McBATH: Well, it just speaks to the—to the truth of what’s happening in the country. And, you know, I kind of always believe that things are kind of in divine order. Things don’t just randomly happen. And I think that our film, our story, is really representative of what we see happening across the country. So, this is just so wonderful of an opportunity to be here to really help expand that message and open people’s eyes to the reality of what they may not really understand is happening, not just within the minority communities, but the gun violence and the way people are viewed that don’t look like you, think like you, act like you, those kinds of opinions and ideas, what we’re seeing across the country. So those things have to change.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Ron Davis, the response you’re getting here to the story told about what happened to Jordan?

RON DAVIS: It was an excellent response. We had a premiere on Saturday, and there was an ovation. And we had—after the film aired, we also had a Q and A, and it was just great. The people that want to really know about the meat of the story, not just the three-and-a-half minutes on film, but they also want to know more about the story about Jordan. So, we’re going to take this from Sundance and really go across this country and let them know about the Jordan Davis story, because it’s going to be a movement. It’s not just Jordan. It’s anybody’s child across America this could happen to, and it’s happening every day. And we want to make sure that this film lets everyone know this is the things that we have to fight in order to make sure that our families and our kids grow up in a type of society that don’t get murdered and killed just, as they say right now, for loud music or something as petty as that.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break. When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with Lucy McBath, with Ron Davis, and also the film’s director. It’s called 3 1/2 Minutes. That’s the time it took a middle-aged white man to drive into a gas station, hear loud music, before he went back, reached into his car’s glove compartment, pulled out a gun and shot one of the young people in the car—there were four of them—dead. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting live from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where a remarkable film has just premiered touching on something, an issue, that is ripping through this country: the issue of young African Americans being gunned down, either by police or by, some call them, vigilantes or self-appointed watchmen, but the issue of whether black lives matter. We’re joined right now by Lucia McBath and Ron Davis. They are the parents of Jordan Davis. We are also joined by Marc Silver. He is the director of 3 1/2 Minutes.

Marc, how did you get involved with this film? Why did you choose to take it on? And talk about how you filmed this.

MARC SILVER: Well, some producers saw my previous film here at Sundance and sent me the Jordan Davis story and invited me to Florida to meet Ron and Lucy, Jordan’s parents. We spent about a week together in the summer of 2013. And at that point, when I started to understand what had happened in such a short amount of time, I started to see this perfect storm of racial profiling, access to guns and then laws that give people the confidence to use those guns because of the nuances of duty to retreat. We then managed to get access to the courtroom for the trial, so we filmed the whole trial, fed that footage out to mainstream media, but—

AMY GOODMAN: So you filmed. You had a three-camera shoot—

MARC SILVER: Yeah, we were inside the—yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —in this trial of Marc [sic] Dunn?

MARC SILVER: Of Michael Dunn, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Of Michael Dunn.

MARC SILVER: And then we managed to take all of this material from the trial and use that as about half of the film, where we follow the beginning to end of the trial. And that’s intercut with Ron and Lucy’s journey over the last two years, as well as some prison phone call recordings from Michael Dunn to his fiancée that kind of explain his journey since that three-and-a-half minutes.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is an astounding part of the film. You have the conversations that Michael Dunn is having with his girlfriend. How did you get recordings of these?

MARC SILVER: Well, these are public record in the state of Florida. So, really, we just have to apply for that as media, and then the state redacts some information that might be private or personal. And then, after that, you just get sent all of this material, and then we transcribed it and started to understand the evolution of Dunn’s character since the night of the shooting.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to a clip from 3 1/2 Minutes. First we hear Michael Dunn’s lawyer questioning him on the stand about the night of the shooting. Much of the film takes place in the courtroom. Then we hear Jordan’s friend, Tevin Thompson, one of the three teens in the vehicle with Jordan when Dunn shot at them.

CORY STROLLA: There was some testimony about—you heard Ms. Rouer say, "Oh, I hate that thug music."

MICHAEL DUNN: I didn’t say this, but if I had said anything, I would have characterized it as "rap crap," not "thug music." That’s not a term I’m familiar with.

TEVIN THOMPSON: "Thug" is the new N-word. That’s the new way they pursuing us now. N-word is—N-word is out, and "thug" is in. Michael Dunn, he just seen us. He just seen four black kids, and he heard the music. And he just considered—he just instantly put thug next to four black kids. But, you know, if four white kids was listening to it, you know what I’m saying, what would you think? They don’t call Justin Bieber a thug. He’s racing Lamborghinis and all this crazy stuff. He’s not a thug. He’s just a misled kid. You know what I’m saying? So it’s just like "thug" is just something for African Americans to be called the N-word without being—without being—they don’t want to seem wrong for calling us the N-word, so they be like, "Look at those thugs." "Rap crap" was something that they made up, just made it up in his head, sat in the jail and just repeated it, made it become something in his brain.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Jordan’s friend Tevin Thompson, who—he was one of the three teens with Jordan Davis when Michael Dunn shot them. "Thug" is the new N-word, Ron.

RON DAVIS: Yeah, well, young people, they know that. And what happens is, Michael Dunn came into that gas station, after seconds of being there, and he has this bias in his mind that rap music, or hip-hop music, is considered thug music, and he thought right away that they were gangsters, as he said later on. And for him to have that in his mind, he had no interaction with African-American children or people. So, all he does is draw his decisions about who you are from television, media, movies, whatever, you know, and they see you on shows like Cops in handcuffs, see you as drug dealers, and so that’s his mindset. And this film, 3 1/2 Minutes, is going to show that sometimes, you know, in that small amount of time, your mindset can get you in trouble. And I think in this instance his mindset got him in trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Lucy McBath, go through it with us, if you will—and I am very sorry, because I’m sure you relive it every time—that night. It was Black Friday, right? The day after Thanksgiving in 2012.


AMY GOODMAN: What you understand took place?

LUCIA McBATH: Well, I mean, everyone was just enjoying, you know, Thanksgiving, the holiday. I had gone back to Chicago to have Thanksgiving with my family, and I understood that, you know, Jordan would be in Jacksonville with Ron. And he actually told me, you know, "I’m going to go shopping and hang with my friends and everything. We’re going to go shopping on Black Friday." He was really excited about that, because he had already decided what he wanted to purchase on Black Friday. So, I remember, you know, having that discussion with him, talking with him Thanksgiving day, and just really feeling that everything was OK, that he was really, really happy. In fact, I hadn’t heard him sound so happy before, so I was really happy that he was excited about Thanksgiving.

And then, you know, for everything to completely just—I was completely devastated when the phone rang. And I was at my family’s house, and I just happened to be up in the bedroom. And I saw, you know, Ron’s face pop up on the phone, and I said, "Hey, Ron," you know, "how are you doing? Happy Thanksgiving," you know. And he kept saying, you know, "Where’s Earl?" And Earl is my cousin. And I’m like, "Well, he’s downstairs. I will go get Earl." And that was an immediate clue to me that something was wrong. And because I just—I just knew in my spirit that it had to do with Jordan. And so, every fear that a parent has, everything you worry about—them being hit in a car, you know, just any fear that you have as a parent, every one of those fears at that moment just—I felt like it was just the weight of the world had fallen on me. And I felt like everything we’ve done to protect him—and we couldn’t protect him. And so, walking through those days right after, and it’s just a complete fog, you know, that my boy was killed over music.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Ron, the recreation of those moments when they pulled in—Jordan was with his three pals, his best friends?

RON DAVIS: Right. You know, they were there. They were at the gas station first. And, you know, they were playing their music loud; of course, like teenagers, we all do, you know? And as a matter of fact, another gentleman pulled in beside them, heard the loud music, decided, "Ah, don’t want to be bothered," pulled away, and he parked somewhere else in the gas station. And then Michael Dunn pulled in and mentioned the thug music.

AMY GOODMAN: And his girlfriend, his fiancée, gets out to buy something in the gas station.

RON DAVIS: Right, she gets out to buy something in the gas station, and Michael Dunn rolls down the window and tells the boys to turn the music down, you know. And so they turn it down. And then Jordan decides, "You know, why should we listen to him? Who is he? We were sitting in here first, you know, playing our music, and then he comes along and tells us to turn our music down. Turn it back up." So he turns it back up. And so Michael Dunn gets irritated, you know, and him and Jordan start talking to each other through the window. And so, Michael Dunn rolls down the window, ultimately, and says, "Are you talking to me?"

And that’s when he decided to go ahead and grab a gun out of his glove box and start shooting at the car. And the young man that was in the store buying the gum and cigarettes is getting back in the car, and so he pulls the car back, you know, to avoid the gunshots. And Michael Dunn is still shooting at him, even as the car is trying to get away from him. And so, that’s where a lot of people, they don’t understand about why he was convicted on attempted murder charges first, which was a separate act.

AMY GOODMAN: Attempted murder being the other three boys.

RON DAVIS: Right, because the attempted murder was because when—even when he thought the danger was past, he jumped out of his car, ran to the back of the car and started shooting at the car as it was driving away, which was a complete separate act, and that’s why he was convicted initially on the attempted murder charges for the three young men in the car.

AMY GOODMAN: People might not realize there were two trials.



AMY GOODMAN: Two trials.


AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a clip from 3 1/2 Minutes. This is Jordan’s friend Leland Brunson talking about testifying during the murder trial of Michael Dunn as Dunn looked on. After that, we hear him questioned on the stand.

LELAND BRUNSON: All of us could have been gone, you know? It’s kind of scary. You know, it makes you realize life is short. And we was all young. When I walked in to see Jordan’s family, I just walked straight. I tried not to look at anybody. I just tried to like stay focused, like. I already had, like, too many thoughts going through my mind, like what if and everything like that, so... That was the first time I seen them since the incident. I felt more angry than scared, but my anger is not going to bring me peace to myself.

CORY STROLLA: Now, Mr. Brunson, you were upset that night.


CORY STROLLA: When you found out your best friend died, you were even more upset. That’s fair to say.


CORY STROLLA: You’re still upset as you sit here today.


CORY STROLLA: You obviously miss your friend, don’t you?


CORY STROLLA: You don’t want to see your friend’s memory go in vain, do you?


AMY GOODMAN: That is Jordan’s friend, Leland Brunson. This is his best friend.

RON DAVIS: This is his best friend. This young man, he’s been through so much. He had to hold my son, and he was the last one that witnessed Jordan alive, which, to me, he will—Leland will forever be my son, you know? And as he said, you know, when he touched Jordan and felt the blood, he knew that Jordan was in trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: So, he had shot into the car 10 times—


AMY GOODMAN: —even as they were pulling back.


AMY GOODMAN: The driver, his name was?

RON DAVIS: His name is Tommy, Tommy Stornes.

AMY GOODMAN: So Tommy had gone into the—


AMY GOODMAN: —store, and then came out, saw what was happening, pulled the car back. And they didn’t know, as they just ducked, terrified, as the gun—


AMY GOODMAN: —as the bullets were going in—

RON DAVIS: Well, the bullets rang out when Tommy—as soon as Tommy got in the car, because when he got to the car, Tommy was dancing to the music, because then, all of a sudden, they turned the music. And Tommy looked, "Well, why are you turning the music down?" And then Michael Dunn started shooting. And then he pulled the car back.


RON DAVIS: And so, Leland, he’s a young man that—it’s going to take him ages to get over this. I mean, he comes over to my house from time to time, and he can’t even go in Jordan’s bedroom now without just crying and just falling apart. So, the last time I saw him was Christmas Eve. He came over, and he spent Christmas Eve with us. But he could not go in Jordan’s room.

AMY GOODMAN: So they ducked. They—and he—after the shooting was done, how did he realize what happened to Jordan?

RON DAVIS: He felt Jordan, because he—everybody in the car answered. Tommy said, you know, "Is everybody all right?" And so Tevin answered, Leland answered. And Tommy said, "Is everybody all right?" And so, Leland said, "Jordan, are you all right?" And Jordan didn’t answer, because Jordan had been struck, you know, and the way—he couldn’t breathe, and blood was welling up in his lungs, and so he couldn’t speak. And so, Leland knew that Jordan was in trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to the film. This is a clip of Michael Dunn speaking to his fiancée from jail during a phone call. He tries to comfort her after telling her he’s being held in isolation, and then he defends himself for shooting [Jordan] Davis.

MICHAEL DUNN: So, being in a room by myself kind of sucks, but I guess it would be better than being in a room with them animals. ... So it’s my fault because I asked them to turn their radio down.


MICHAEL DUNN: It’s like I got attacked, and I fought back because I didn’t want to be a victim, and now I’m in trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: There was that conversation. Amazingly, you got a hold, Marc, of these recordings of the phone conversations between Michael Dunn and his fiancée, as he talks about being in isolation, but it’s maybe better than being with those animals. Lucy McBath?

LUCIA McBATH: Oh, to hear those words were very, very chilling. But, actually, I was not really surprised. We knew from the very beginning that there was some racial element to what had, you know, transpired. That, for me, was just defining what I already knew and believed Michael Dunn thought about the boys. But it was just very difficult to listen to Rhonda kind of substantiate him, try to lift him up and support him. And in my mind, I kept thinking, "And you never spoke out. You never called 911. You’re just as guilty as he is."

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened that night when they drove away. Here you have Michael Dunn saying he was so traumatized after this. Now, she didn’t know quite what had happened. She was inside.


AMY GOODMAN: She hears the firecracker sound of gunshot.

LUCIA McBATH: Right. But, you know, it just—I mean, she was a whole part of that whole entire situation. I mean, she—when she got in the car, of course she didn’t really understand what had happened, what transpired. But to be in the hotel and to see it on television and to know that her fiancé had murdered someone—

AMY GOODMAN: They admitted they watched it on TV while they ate pizza.

LUCIA McBATH: Exactly, exact—well, they had something to eat. They had some stiff drinks. And she went to bed. And he was the one who, you know, remained up for a while. But when she finally did see what happened on television, to simply say, "I just want to go home" and take no responsibility for calling the police and saying, "Michael, we’ve got to do something about this"? You know, and even though she didn’t really understand dynamically what had happened, she knew a child had been murdered. And to keep your mouth closed and say nothing and not even feel for the family, but only be concerned about getting home and getting the puppy home?

AMY GOODMAN: Explain how they were caught.

LUCIA McBATH: Well, there was a homeless couple that were actually at the gas station at that moment. And, you know, thank god that they happened to be there. And the young man, Shawn, who was driving the car, happened to actually see—get the license plate number of Michael Dunn, wrote it down on a paper bag and turned it in to the representative in the gas station, who in turn—

AMY GOODMAN: The woman at the register, cash register?

LUCIA McBATH: Exactly, who in turn they turned the information over to the police. And so, they couldn’t apprehend Michael Dunn at the hotel, because they didn’t know where he was.

AMY GOODMAN: Or who he was.

LUCIA McBATH: Or who he was. But he was apprehended the next morning, you know, 170 miles away, at home. The police apprehended him there. And had it not been for that young couple in the car, we may never have known who shot at the boys and murdered Jordan.

AMY GOODMAN: When we come back, the amazing testimony of the fiancée, Rhonda, when asked directly, right after Michael Dunn had testified that he believed that Jordan Davis had a gun, the amazing testimony when his fiancée was brought in to ask if in fact Michael Dunn had told her, as they’re driving away or that night in the hotel or at any point, had told her he was concerned Jordan Davis had a gun. Of course, a gun was never found. We’ll talk about this after break.


News Mon, 26 Jan 2015 11:31:46 -0500
Federal Prison Sentence Begins for Anti-Drone Activist

On January 23, Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end US military and economic warfare, began a three-month jail sentence in federal prison for a protest against drones (also known as “unmanned aerial vehicles”) at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. I had a chance to interview her before she had to turn herself in.

Medea: Can you just say why you have been particularly moved to take action against drone strikes?

Kathy: I think 21st-century militarism is very frightening when you combine the military’s Joint Special Operations Forces with drone and air strike capabilities. The military doesn’t need sprawling bases anymore because they can use these new technologies to control populations and instill tremendous fear. But the use of drones creates resentment and antagonism, and continues to kill civilians.

Wars have been killing civilians for a long time, but with the help of drones, 90 percent of the people killed in wars these days are civilians. The British organization Reprieve reports that for every one person who is selected as a target for assassination by drones, 28 civilians are killed.

The weaponized drones are operated here in the United States in Air National Guard bases and Air Force bases, and with the press of a button they are killing people thousands of miles away in places like Afghanistan. Many people are enamored with being able to send an unmanned aerial vehicle to kill people in another country without a soldier in this country being harmed. But we find that the people operating these drones are experiencing trauma and stress just like soldiers in war zones.

I’m also very worried about drone proliferation, with other countries acquiring these weapons systems. In 1945, only one country possessed a nuclear weapon, and look at the world now. I think the same thing is going to happen with drone proliferation.

I also think that with the activist focus on drones, we can have tangible successes. We have a good possibility of persuading the public that this is a wrongful way to move ahead. It violates international law and makes other people near the bases here in the United States vulnerable as targets themselves.

We’ve already seen considerable progress on this issue. The bases that were getting the drones systems, like the Air National Guard Base in Battle Creek, Michigan, used to be so proud they were popping champagne. Now the commanders at the Battle Creek base, where the Guard is being trained to operate weaponized drones, are reluctant to talk about the drone program.

Medea: Can you tell us about Whiteman Air Force Base and what you did that resulted in this three-month sentence?

Kathy: A squadron at Whiteman, which is in Knob Noster, Missouri, operates weaponized drones over Afghanistan, which has been an epicenter of drone warfare. Whiteman Air Force Base won’t disclose information about the results of these drone strikes, but we, as American citizens, should have the right to know what is being done in our name.

I have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, living with young people who have been victimized by our drones, young people who fled to Kabul and are too frightened to go back home to visit their own relatives, young people who see a future filled with prolonged and agonizing warfare.

We wanted to bring their grievances to the commander at Whiteman. So I crossed a line onto the base. A symbolic action for people in Afghanistan is breaking bread together, so I carried a loaf of bread and a letter to the commander asking how many people were killed by Whiteman Air Force Base on that day.

I took one or two steps over a line. Then I was arrested.

When I went to trial, the military prosecutor told the judge, "Your Honor, Ms. Kelly is in grave need of rehabilitation." But I think it’s our policy that’s in grave need of rehabilitation. We’ve already spent $1 trillion on warfare in Afghanistan and will be spending another $120 billion. The Pentagon wants $57 billion for this year alone. We’re squandering resources that are sorely needed at home and abroad to solve extremely serious problems our world is facing, problems like the climate crisis and global poverty.

Medea: When you crossed the line into the Whiteman Base, did you know that you would be facing such a long sentence? Crossing the line at some bases, and even CIA Headquarters, has resulted in a small fine.

Kathy: My colleague Brian Terrell had previous crossed onto Whiteman Air Force Base and received a six-month sentence. I faced the same judge so I was pretty sure that I would get six months as well. When he only gave me three months, I was actually surprised. I certainly don’t think I did anything criminal; I’m proud of what I did. But I expected the penalty would be higher, and wondered if the judge wanted to look good for a change.

Medea: So I take it that means you would do it again?

Kathy: Oh surely, yes. I think it’s important to take these issues directly to the place where the grievance is occurring, and that’s certainly these military bases.

I also think it’s important to take these issues to all three branches of government. I love it when CODEPINK goes into the halls of Congress or challenges President Obama, because it’s crucial to pressure the executive and legislative branches. But we have to target the judicial branch as well. We have to try every lever and keep on insisting that the Constitution protects our right to express our grievances.

Medea: In early January, you fasted and protested with Witness Against Torture to call for the closing of the Guantanamo prison, including a protest at the home of former vice president Dick Cheney. How do you feel knowing that the people making these policies aren’t held accountable, but you’re heading off to jail?

Kathy: I actually don’t want to see anyone in prison because I don’t believe in the prison system. I don’t want to see people locked up. I believe in rehabilitation. How do you rehabilitate people who have been so murderous and greedy in their war-profiteering and cronyism, and so willing to sacrifice huge numbers of lives?  It’s very hard to know. I’d like to continue in a Quakerly fashion to see decency and goodness and potential in people like Cheney, Rice and Bush. It may be that somehow the examples they set will serve to persuade future leaders not to be that way. So who knows what will come of what they’ve created.

Medea: It’s interesting that you’re against prisons, yet you voluntarily put yourself in a position where you know you’ll be in prison for a significant time. How many times have you been in prison for protesting war?

Kathy: This will be my fourth time in a federal prison. And I’ve been jailed in various county jails and other kinds of lockups more times than I can count.

Medea: Why do you continue to go to jail when there are so many other ways to protest?

Kathy: I think it’s important for peace activists to go inside the prisons and have a vivid sense of how hurtful and punitive this system is. I can read about the realities that prisoners face and the really horrific sentencing procedures but if I’m not sitting in the bunk next to the person pouring out their story, it doesn’t grab my heart and mind in the same way. I’ve been to prison many times before, and I know that when I walk out of a prison, I feel like shouting from the rooftops, “Do you see what’s going on inside these gates?”

Medea: What can people do to support you while you’re in prison? And what about writing to you or sending you books?

Kathy: I love novels, especially novels written by people from other countries. People can contact Voices for Creative Nonviolence in Chicago to find out where to send books and letters.

And people can help Voices for Creative Nonviolence. We’re organizing a walk related to the environment and militarism; we’re sending volunteers to Jeju Island in South Korea to join the movement against militarizing the island; we’re working with the youth in the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul.

A good way to show support would be to join the Afghan Peace Volunteers in their duvet project--a project to make warm blankets for people in need. One winter in Kabul, 26 people froze to death in just one month, eight of them children. It was impossible to read those statistics and not think of something to do. So we helped start the duvet project. The Afghan Peace Volunteers invite women from the different tribal ethnicities, 60 in all, to pick up materials, like wool, coverlets, and thread. They go home and sew these very heavy blankets that can make the difference between life and death. Then the youth distribute the duvets to people in the greatest need. I so admire the young people because they act like social workers, going out to find out who are the neediest in their area. And very generous people in the US and the UK have donated the money. Each duvet costs about $17, and it’s now about a $40,000 project that distributes thousands of blankets each year. So people could help out by contributing to this project.

Author's note: Kathy Kelly is one of the treasures of the peace movement. She’s been an inspiration for many, including myself, so let’s show her love and appreciation while she’s in prison by writing to her and supporting her organization.

News Mon, 26 Jan 2015 11:21:27 -0500
Forced Disappearances Are Humanitarian Crisis in Mexico

Mexico City - The Mexican government will face close scrutiny from the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances – a phenomenon that made international headlines after 43 students from a rural teachers college were killed in September in Iguala, in a case that has not yet been fully clarified.

Twenty-six human rights organisations have sent the UN Committee 12 submissions on the problem of forced disappearance, one of the worst human rights issues facing this Latin American country, where at least 23,000 people are registered as missing, according to official figures that do not specify whether they are victims of forced disappearance.

The submissions, to which IPS had access, say forced disappearances have taken on the magnitude of a humanitarian crisis since December 2006, when then conservative president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) declared the “war on drugs” – a situation that his predecessor, conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto, has not resolved.

The organisations say forced disappearance is not adequately classified as a crime in Mexican law. They also complain about the lack of effective mechanisms and protocols for searching for missing persons and for reparations for direct and indirect victims, the impunity surrounding these crimes, the lack of a unified database of victims, and problems with the investigations.

In addition, they criticise Mexico’s reluctance to accept the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and analyse communications from the victims.

The Committee, made up of 10 independent experts tasked with overseeing compliance with the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, will hold its eight period of sessions Feb. 2-13 in Geneva, Switzerland.

During the sessions, Mexico “will be reviewed in a very critical light, because many recommendations have not been complied with,” said Jacqueline Sáenz of the FUNDAR Centre for Research and Analysis, one of the organisations that sent a report to the U.N. Committee.

The state has failed to implement an adequate public policy, Sáenz, the head of FUNDAR’s human rights and citizen security programme, told IPS. “Its responses have been minimal, more reactive than proactive. The balance is very negative.”

Although forced disappearance was already a serious humanitarian problem, the phenomenon leapt into the global spotlight on Sep. 26, when local police in the town of Iguala, 190 km south of Mexico City in the state of Guerrero, attacked students from the Escuela Normal de Ayotzinapa, a rural teachers’ college, leaving six dead and 25 wounded.

The police also took away 43 students and handed them over to members of “Guerreros Unidos”, one of the drug trafficking organised crime groups involved in turf wars in that area, according to the attorney general’s office.

The investigation found that the bodies of the 43 young people were burnt in a garbage dump on the outskirts of Colula, a town near Iguala, and that their remains were then thrown into a river.

On Dec. 7, prosecutor Jesús Murillo reported that the remains of one of the 43 students had been identified by forensic experts from the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

But on Jan. 20, the university reported that due to “excessive heat” from the fire, the charred remains of the rest of the bodies could not be identified, because of the lack of viable DNA samples.

Mexico’s office on human rights, crime prevention and community service has reported that in this country of 120 million people, 23,271 people have gone missing between 2007 and October 2014.

Although the office does not indicate how many of these people were victims of forced disappearance, its specialised unit in disappeared people only includes 621 on its list for that period, of whom 72 have been found alive and 30 dead.

“It’s important for the (UN) Committee to urge the state to specify the magnitude of the problem,” activist Juan Gutiérrez told IPS. “Very specific recommendations were made in reports long ago and the state has not fulfilled them. Public policies and reforms are necessary.”

More than 9,000 people have gone missing since 2013, under the administration of Peña Nieto, “which puts in doubt the effectiveness of policies for safety and prevention of the disappearance of persons,” said Gutiérez, the head of Strategic Human Rights Litigation I(dh)eas, a local NGO.

Forced disappearance has a long history in Mexico. In November 2009 the Inter-American Court on Human Rights ruled that the Mexican state was responsible for violating the rights to personal liberty, humane treatment, and life itself of Rosendo Radilla, a community leader in the municipality of Atoyac, who disappeared in 1974.

The Court ordered the Mexican state to conduct a serious investigation into his disappearance and to continue to search for him – none of which has happened.

In its submission to the UN Committee, Amnesty International says “the authorities have failed to explain, once again, how many of those people have been victims of abduction or enforced disappearance, and how many of them could be missing due to other reasons. No methodological information has been published, which makes it impossible for civil society organisations to scrutinise the figures.”

It adds that “impunity remains rampant in these cases.”

The rights watchdog notes that at a federal level only six convictions have been achieved, all of them between 2005 and 2009, for crimes committed before 2005.

With respect to the 43 students from Iguala, the attorney general’s office arrested over 40 police officers, presumed drug traffickers, the now former mayor of Iguala, José Abarca, and his wife, who have all been accused of involvement in the attack.

In their alternative report from December 2014, nine organisations said the Iguala case reflected “the current state of forced disappearances” and demonstrated “the ineffectiveness of the Mexican state in searching for missing people and investigating the cases.”

On Jan. 8, in an addendum to their submission to the UN Committee, four organisations stressed the “lack of capacity” and “tardy reaction” by the authorities in this case.

“The investigation was not conducted with due diligence. The Mexican state has been incapable of presenting charges and starting trials for the forced disappearance of the students,” says the text, which adds that the case demonstrates that Mexico’s legal framework falls short and that the authorities completely ignore the Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

On Nov. 27, Peña Nieto presented 10 measures, including a draft law on torture and forced disappearance and the creation of a national system for searching for missing persons.

But Sáenz said “The roots of the problem are not attacked. Mexico has to make a policy shift. The proposal is inadequate. We hope the Committee’s review will give rise to changes. Mexico has not managed to respond to this crisis.”

Gutiérrez said the new measures “are necessary but not sufficient. The law must be discussed with organisations and relatives of the disappeared.”

The Mexican state has not yet responded to the questions that the Committee sent it in September, ahead of the February review.

News Mon, 26 Jan 2015 11:02:05 -0500
On the News With Thom Hartmann: Since Citizens United, Alarming Trends Have Emerged, and More

In today's On the News segment: In the election cycles since the Citizens United ruling, we've seen "a tidal wave of dark money"; school districts all around our country are doing more to make sure kids aren't going hungry; most lawmakers refuse to fight for single-payer health care, but most voters say that they should; and more.

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


Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News...

You need to know this. It's been five years since the United States Supreme Court made their infamous ruling in the case of Citizens United v. FEC. That ruling turned a century of legal precedent on its head with the declaration that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend money in elections. And, that ruling opened the floodgates to massive spending in our political process. In the five years since the Citizens United decision was made, some alarming trends have emerged, and they show exactly why that ruling was disastrous for our democracy. According to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice, three of these dangerous trends were foreseen by the Justices, but virtually ignored nonetheless. In the election cycles since the ruling, we've seen "a tidal wave of dark money," despite the Supreme Court's claim that "prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable." And, those shareholders – the ones that our Supreme Court said would hold corporations accountable – have had a difficult time standing up to corporate spending that they know nothing about. In between elections, wealthy donors and corporations found new ways to collaborate with so-called outside groups, and work around regulations that limit direct campaign contributions. The Court claimed that those remaining regulations would prevent corruption, but donors simply went around them and continued trying to weaken them further. In the last five years, the rich and the powerful have found new ways to buy off our politicians and they've made it possible for lawmakers to ignore everyone except those at the top. In 2014 alone, the top 100 donors to Super PACs spent almost as much as 4.75 million small donors combined. There is just no other way to say it – the Citizens United ruling gave the rich control of our democracy and it's up to us to take it back. We must get money out of politics – go to to find out how.

School districts all around our country are doing more to make sure kids aren't going hungry. Thanks to a pilot program running in 13 states, more than one million children now receive dinner and a healthy after-school snack as part of their free lunch program. The goal of this program is to make sure that all kids have access to a healthy dinner, especially those who come from low-income communities. Making sure that children have enough to eat is one of the most important things we can do to ensure they get a good education, and providing healthy food is one of the best ways to fight childhood obesity. Far too many children in our nation are forced to skip dinner, and many more aren't provided with any nutritious options. In the richest nation on Earth we can afford to do better, and feeding kids a healthy dinner seems like a common sense place to start.

Here in the U.S., we're known for working hard. But, some of us may be working ourselves right in to an early grave. A new article by Alexandra Bradbury over at Alternet says that we need to think about more than just adding more jobs to our economy. In fact, Ms. Bradbury says, "I think we need less work." After learning about Maria Fernandes, a fast food worker who died last year while trying to juggle three jobs, Alexandra realized that our problem isn't that we don't have enough work. It's that the work we have is not being shared among those who want it. Instead of one person working 60 hours or more, that job could provide a 30 hour job to two different people. To do this, our nation would have to demand higher wages and a stronger social safety net, but we have the money to make this idea a reality. For many of us, our work is our life, but that doesn't mean we should give our life just to get enough work.

Most lawmakers refuse to fight for single-payer health care, but most voters say that they should. According to a new poll by the Progressive Change Institute, more than 50 percent of those surveyed said that they would support a single-payer, Medicare-for-all healthcare system. In response to Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin's recent decision to abandon his state's plan for a single-payer system, the Progressive Change Institute conducted this poll to get a feel for public opinion. Out of the 1,500 likely voters who were questioned, more than half supported single-payer, and that even included one out of every four Republicans. Although Governor Shumlin and other lawmakers say that we can't afford single-payer, we already way spend more on healthcare than other developed nations that have national healthcare. In fact, we would likely save money by switching to a Medicare-for-all type system. This new poll shows that Americans know we need to get the profit motive out of healthcare, and now we've got to push our lawmakers to make that happen.

And finally... If New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gets his way, low-wage workers in his state will be getting a raise. At a recent press conference, Governor Cuomo proposed raising the minimum wage in his state to $11.50 in the city, and $10.50 in the rest of the state. Although the proposal calls for a lower wage than Governor Cuomo called for last Spring, it would still be a substantial increase from the current rate of $8.75 an hour. In order to become reality, this pay increase would have to win approval in the state legislature, which includes the Republican-controlled State Senate. Business groups are already making the Republican argument by warning that higher wages will cost the state jobs. However, that claim is not supported by the data in the fourteen states that raised wages in the last year alone. Those states actually saw better job growth and the higher wages improved the lives of millions of workers. A higher minimum wage would likely have the same effects in New York State, so let's hope that New York legislators help Governor Cuomo give workers a raise.

And that's the way it is - for the week of January 26, 2015 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

News Mon, 26 Jan 2015 10:59:21 -0500
ECB: The Ultimate Enforcer of the European Neoliberal Project?

If one were asked to describe the formal economic and political processes that have shaped the condition of the eurozone since the eruption of the euro crisis in late 2009 in a terse and peremptory way, he or she might boldly and truly say this: "German Chancellor Angela Merkel's policies spearhead the unraveling of the European project while European Central Bank President Mario Draghi seeks to keep the (neoliberal) game going." The ECB has been trying hard to carry out the role of a traditional central bank by fulfilling its duty as a lender of last resort in order to save the euro.

European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany.European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany. (Photo: Casey Hugelfink/Flickr)Help Truthout keep publishing stories like this: They can't be found in corporate media! Make a tax-deductible donation today.

If one were asked to describe the formal economic and political processes that have shaped the condition of the eurozone since the eruption of the euro crisis in late 2009 in a terse and peremptory way, he or she might boldly and truly say this: "German Chancellor Angela Merkel's policies spearhead the unraveling of the European project while European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi seeks to keep the (neoliberal) game going."

Indeed, there is little doubt that Germany's neo-mercantilism is the driving force leading a sizable segment of the eurozone's economy on the path to stagnation and decline (1), while the ECB has been trying hard to carry out the role of a traditional central bank by fulfilling its duty as a lender of last resort in order to save the euro and preserve the eurozone.

The ECB intervened in the euro crisis in May 2010 by buying up government bonds from Greece (even when a 110 billion euros bailout package had been approved for Greece), Spain, Portugal and Ireland under its Securities Market Program. By 2011, the ECB was buying up Spanish and Italian bonds by the bucketload in order to force a drop in the bond yields of the two largest peripheral economies of the eurozone. With the end of the crisis in the periphery nowhere in sight, but Mario Draghi having already pledged in July 2012 to do "whatever it takes" to preserve the euro, in early September of that year the ECB introduced a new government bond purchasing program, known as the Outright Monetary Transactions (OTM) program.

Leaving aside the question as to whether or not ECB's OTM program is legal (Advocate General Pedro Cruz Villalón opined in mid-January 2015 that while "the OTM programme is an unconventional monetary policy measure . . . it is compatible with the TFEU [Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union])" (2), the condition was that OTM would be attached to an appropriate European Financial Stability Facility/European Stability Mechanism (EFSF/ESM) macroeconomic adjustment program. In other words, the imposition of austerity, privatization and market liberalization was a conditionality in the event of the implementation of the OTM program, which raises an important question: Is the ECB seeking to enforce an economic policy measure rather than just a monetary policy measure?

I think this argument can easily be made in the sense that the ECB has been acting since the beginning of the euro crisis as a bulwark against the unraveling of the European neoliberal project, and it receives additional strength from the latest ECB intervention into the eurozone crisis with its own, unique quantitative easing (QE) program. As for the impact of the OTM-related announcements in 2012, the mere claim that "no ex ante quantitative limits are set on the size of Outright Monetary Transactions" (3) was able to lead to a crucial decrease in Italian and Spanish government bond yields although bond markets in Germany and France showed no reaction to the policy. (4)

During the week of January 19, the ECB announced its long-awaited QE program worth 1.1 trillion euros, with the aim of stimulating growth in the eurozone economy (5) and warding off inflation. (6)

The ECB's interventions under former golden boy Draghi (prior to his appointment as ECB president, Draghi had served as Goldman Sachs' international vice-chairman for Europe and governor of the central bank of Italy) may have managed so far to keep the euro game going by providing liquidity to the system and leading to a significant drop in sovereign bond markets (with the exception of Greece) but have hardly made a dent on the feeble performance of the eurozone economy. One should not expect anything different with QE for various reasons.

Firstly, the amount of money to be spent is too little to make any effective impact on the real economy of the eurozone. With official unemployment in the euro area standing at more than 11 percent, and in countries such as Greece and Spain at 25.8 percent and 23.7 percent, respectively, the injection of 1.1 trillion euros into the eurozone economy through a government bond-buying program cannot be expected to help spur sustainable growth by boosting demand that would lead to an improved job market. Furthermore, monetary policy is rather ineffective when interest rates are already near zero. The eurozone's problems in general (most of the indicators of economic health have not even returned to pre-crisis levels in the eurozone) stem from very weak demand growth. The eurozone is in dire need of a superactive fiscal policy geared to stimulate job creation and increase wages. QE cannot do those things nor can it stimulate the expansion of credit when there is no demand for credit. (7)

Secondly, the ECB bond purchases won't work in a manner similar to the quantitative easing measures undertaken by the Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England. Most of the bond purchases won't be underwritten by the ECB, but rather by the various national central banks in the eurozone. Essentially, what this means is that the actual sum of money injected into the eurozone via "euro-style QE" (8) will be significantly less than 1.1 trillion euros. This apparent "compromise" on the part of the ECB was made because of Germany and Holland's opposition to risk-sharing.

Thirdly, ECB-style quantitative easing excludes countries that are in the midst of completing bailout programs and/or have junk-rated debt. This means that Greece and Cyprus (with the former having experienced an economic depression of unimaginable dimensions for an advanced European country during peacetime conditions) have been locked out of the quantitative easing program. The ECB claims that Greece may be allowed to join the QE program in July if satisfactory progress has been made with regard to the bailout terms. The decision to exclude Greece was made literally on the eve of the Greek elections of January 25, in which it was certain that the radical left, anti-austerity Syriza party was going to win the coming vote. Undoubtedly, it was a political decision on the part of the ECB in order to exert pressure on a Syriza-led government to stay the course on austerity and neoliberal structural reforms.

From the beginning of the crisis, the ECB has made the preservation of the euro its No. 1 objective (by providing ceaseless support to eurozone banks and its financial sector while the people in the highly indebted nations always end up paying the price) even when Germany practices a "beggar-thy-neighbor policy" in the eurozone, dragged its feet over the Greek crisis, has demanded draconian austerity measures for all the "bailed-out" peripheral economies when they were already in deep recession and remains the greatest obstacle to the creation of a fiscal and banking union in the eurozone.

The ECB is the ultimate enforcer of the European neoliberal project. Its interventions always come with conditions, which further strengthen the conversion process of the eurozone into a neoliberal capitalist nightmare, thereby imposing additional pain on average working people by reducing the standard of living and putting the nail in the coffin of the social state. In the meantime, ECB interventions, as the Financial Times bluntly put it back in 2012, "exact a high price in national sovereignty." (9)

Indeed, as "Super" Mario Draghi has openly and proudly admitted on a number of occasions since the eruption of the euro crisis, the "social contract" in Europe is gone. (10) What the ECB is now aiming at, like the rest of the EU institutional structures, is the expansion and consolidation of the neoliberal social order. As such, labor market activation policies that aim to enhance labor market flexibility (and, by extension, create precarious working conditions) have been a fundamental objective of ECB intervention into the eurozone economy, and they will remain so until the European neoliberal project is completely finalized.

In this context, it is rather surprising to see various European "progressives" celebrating over the ECB's QE measures and other interventions in the eurozone economy under the current regime. By apparently imagining the ECB as a knight in shining armor, they are either being dangerously naïve or incredibly savvy in their defense of capitalism.


1. See Bill Lucarelli, "German neomercantilism and the European sovereign debt crisis." Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, Volume 34, No. 2/Winter 2011-12, pp. 205-224.

2. Court of Justice of the European Union. Press Release No. 2/15. "According to Advocate General Cruz Villalón, the ECB's Outright Monetary Transactions programme is compatible, in principle, with the TFEU." Luxembourg, 14 January 2015.

3. European Central Bank. Press Release. "Technical features of Outright Monetary Transactions." September 6, 2012.

4. See Carlo Altavilla, Domenico Giannone, and Michele Lenza, "The Financial and Macroeconomic Effects of OMT Announcements." ECB Working Paper No. 1707. European Central Bank. August 2014.

5. Ben Chu, "ECB announces historic QE programme worth €1.1trn to stimulate growth in the eurozone." The Independent, January 22, 2015.

6. Phillip Inman, "ECB 'takes out the bazooka' with bigger than expected QE stimulus package." The Guardian, January 22, 2015.

7. Cumberland Advisors, "ECB, Euro, USD, Interest Rates." January 25, 2015.

8. The Economist. "The launch of euro-style QE." January 22, 2015.

9. The Financial Times, "Draghi's bold move in euro chess game." August 2, 2012.

10. Brian Blackstone, Matthew Karnitschnig and Robert Thomson, "Europe's Banker Talks Tough." The Wall Street Journal. February 24, 2012.

News Mon, 26 Jan 2015 11:10:05 -0500
White People for Black Lives

Revolutionary imagination is the most dangerous and therefore meaningful thing any of us have to offer. So I am writing in support of coalition building in the struggle against racism that will matter more, and do more. There is a new anti-racist movement led by Blacks, many who are queer Black women, in this country today. We white people need to see them, to recognize this new movement that started in Ferguson, Missouri, and actively support it in whatever way needed.

I went to see the film Selma on opening day in New York City and the theatre was standing room only. I was reminded of the indomitable courage of Blacks to get the right to simply vote. I was also reminded of the brutality and malevolence of white people, including the President at the time. The audience was multi-colored, with about half being white. I wondered if the whites were letting themselves feel the pain and the shame of who “we” can be: full of hatred and terrorizing.

I live in this moment as a white person who deeply believes in and who grew up in the Civil Rights Movement, when my family’s lives and I were predominantly nurtured and shared with Blacks. Most whites hated us. We were white race traitors. I was singled out and bullied in my high school as a dirty Jew N—– lover. We lived in the Black community surrounding Atlanta University, where my father taught. I later came to full adulthood in the US feminist movement with socialist Black feminists as my comrades.

White people have structural power and privilege that gives us more of everything than people of every other color. This power of whiteness is big. It is formidable. It is everywhere. So reforms may help but are incomplete. The new Black Lives Matter activists are attempting to fully disrupt this racism. Die-ins are supposed to stop life as usual—from traffic flow to shopping malls.

The months leading up to seeing Selma have been etched with multiple killings/murders of Black boys and men by white police officers leaving heartbroken families and communities.  Several Black women have also died while in police custody, but have garnered much less publicity. Police officers have not been held accountable, while Black communities have been left to mourn. It seems as though a fully-blown new kind of militarized policing is in place, most particularly for Blacks—gay, straight, and trans.

New-Old Racisms

The structural systems of racism that are in play today are not identical with previous forms. Much has changed. Much that has changed has not necessarily brought greater equality or freedom. Some of the equality trickles down to a few, but not the many.

Emmett Till was murdered at the age of 14 in 1955 on the false charges of rape of a white woman. In 1964, civil rights workers Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman were murdered. Fred Hampton of the Black Panthers was shot and killed by Chicago Police in 1969. Assaults like these have continued. Rodney King was brutalized by white cops in 1991. Abner Louima was sodomized with a broken-off broom handle by New York white police officers. He had been an electrical engineer in Haiti, before.

And then more recently there have been the heartbreaking killings of unarmed Black teenagers Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown, by white officers.  And as if this is not enough, Eric Garner, a father of six is choked and killed while fighting to breathe; and twelve-year old Tamir Rice is mistakenly murdered; and Dontre Hamilton, a mentally impaired young man is shot 14 times and killed in Milwaukee and then Antonio Martin is killed right outside Ferguson, Missouri again.  The autopsy of Ezell Ford in Los Angeles has just been released.  Police shot him in the back and his killing is classified as a homicide. This is what racism looks like:  not-so-random murders by white police of Blacks for being Black. Reform of the police state in the US is a must, but totally not enough.

Racism pours from each and every site/sight. Ebola, a disease of Black Africa, colonialism, white privilege, and wealth, ravages Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea while the US worries about its “white” self. Cuba sends hundreds of doctors, Doctors Without Borders tries to stem the fury of the disease wherever it is, and we punish our few doctors and nurses who have gone with quarantines and fear.

This racism is embedded in misogyny and class inequalities, so rape and sexual violence exist alongside and inside the system of racialized capitalist hetero patriarchy. Marissa Alexander—who fired a warning shot against her abusive husband—is threatened with a jail term of 60 years, and succumbs to a plea deal because there is no justice system she can trust.

Amidst all this, the Black Lives Matter movement emerges. Black Lives Matter (BLM) re-orients and redirects the white gaze. It demands a revolutionary assault on white supremacy. Ending chattel slavery did not uproot the racial hatred; instead, it removed the legal structure upon which it stands. The Black Lives Matter and Hands Up Don’t Shoot movements continue the struggle to dismantle and abolish racial hatred. This hatred must be expunged with the remaining structural leftovers of economic and gender inequality.

Imagining Revolt

Chattel slavery was reformed rather than destroyed. What would it look like to annihilate racism, as B.R. Ambedkar, the Indian Dalit writer and activist might have it? BLM activists are pondering these questions and using new tactics to do so. These demos are spontaneous and dispersed but they are connected. They are making a new movement for racial justice that includes intersectional knowledge of sex, race, and class divisions.

It is good that Obama is president because it proves that this is not the answer for addressing racism today. Racism is not an individual problem so no one individual can fix it, even if they wanted to. The structures themselves corrupt and coopt so the pressures must come from outside/in. This is why the BLM movement seeks to disrupt the systems that support racism. Entry is not an option. They will stay in the streets until police officers are held accountable, and Cheney and his gang are found guilty of war crimes. Disruption can be used to further expose injustices. I dream of a time when this kind of accountability will be fully realized.

Anti-Misogynist Racism

The horrific brutality of white privilege embedded and reproduced first in settler colonialism and then the system of chattel slavery hangs around in every crevice of this country. It is the dirty open secret that keeps being pushed from view in new forms of brutality: from lynchings, to police killings, to rape and sexual violation.  The tactics change some, while the strategy of dispossession and humiliation remain similar.

The misogyny used against Black female slaves and women today is embedded in the racism of chattel slavery. Black male slaves suffered it as well, as they could not lay claim to white patriarchal privilege. Slavery was a class/caste system that relegated all blacks to crushing poverty. It was simultaneously variegated by a racialized gender system. To think of slavery as simply racist is to falsely disconnect it from its white misogynist roots/routes.

This is why any assault against racism puts the misogyny of racism in the mix. The challenge is to dismantle and recreate the white supremacist hetero-capitalist patriarchal structure of everything. So it should be no surprise that the key leaders of the Ferguson rebellions are Black women, two of them queer: Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza. They started the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag after the murder of Trayvon Martin. Cullors is founder and director of Dignity and Power Now, which is a justice organization for incarcerated peoples. Garza is special projects director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.  Tometi is executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

BLM is an all-encompassing site of justice for Cullors, Tometi, and Garza. This specific site takes them to the place of universal justice. If the US can be rid of racism towards Blacks, racism in all its forms begins to be challenged. As Alicia Garza says, when Black people really get free then “every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free.”

I agree with this initiative. In order for democracy to ever be fully inclusive of humanity, it must re-arrange its thinking about universalism, which has historically been an exclusionary concept to begin with. Slaves were not a part. No woman was. Therefore, specificity is needed to re-invent and re-orient democratic theory and practice. Universals and the abstracted “individual” are preferred as though it encompasses everybody in its non-specificity. But the non-specificity is a farce because it originally meant white property owning men. Specify the “individual” by gender and race and the Black woman becomes a newly inclusive notion of democracy rooted in specificity that potentially embraces universality. It is time to try things this way after so much of history has been blinded by exclusionary rights parading as inclusive and just.

White Crazy People

When Frank Rich asks Chris Rock if the election of Barack Obama meant progress, Rock says, yes, it showed progress for white people, they have progressed, they were the one’s with the problem, not us, we were and always and have been ready to be president. “White people were crazy. Now they are not as crazy.” And then, just to make this perfectly clear to whites who might not get it, he says of his daughters: “The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.”

I will take Chris Rock’s optimism and try to put it to good use, but also be reminded of Franz Fanon’s statement: “We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.” Let us be reminded of Eric Garner pleading for his life: “I CANNOT BREATHE.” He said it eleven times before he died.

Reform and Revolution, Again

I love the clarity and energy of Black feminist/writer Brittney Cooper’s activism of every sort. She posts on Facebook, December 12, 2014: “Regarding tomorrow’s March on Washington, let’s just say I been over Marches on Washington since I lived in Washington. There are many problems here, not the least of which is that I need the Civil Rights establishment to be original. Every crisis in Black America does not call for a march on Washington. Those marches are largely about telling us who our new leadership is supposed to be and allowing us a good ‘Sunday Morning shout,’ so to speak, without doing anything substantive…Now in this moment, die-ins disrupt traffic and business as usual. And they are acts that give political place to black rage. I’m also here for tomorrow’s march in NYC, because that is about a show of solidarity in a local place where this occurred. But I couldn’t be more disinterested in another March on Washington. Sharpton and co. keeps doing that because it doesn’t require them to think. Let’s do a new thing, folks. Let’s be creative. Let’s talk to these young folks and follow their lead, and get on board, with whatever we have to give.”

There are newly new systems of racism that make racism and its white privilege more complex to see, and not. Brutal police shootings of mostly unarmed Black boys and men and women harkens back to the terrorism of chattel slavery. But although slavery—its racism and sexism and classism—is present, it is also massively restructured in new forms. In chattel slavery a black person was ascribed his or her status, there was no opportunity, so to speak, to achieve. No race to run. To be Black was to be poor and enslaved; there was homogeneity of powerlessness even if made up of unique individual selves.

Today and recently there has been a Black president, a Black woman secretary of state, a Black Attorney General, a Black Joint Chief of Staff, a Black woman commander of the Army’s elite drill sergeant school. So things have changed while also staying similarly racist. There is an evolving militarized police state that now orchestrates an unforgiving racism that continues to put Black bodies of all genders at risk while also diversifying the gaze. Racism intersects with sexism all the time, and racism also has many colored variations. To complexify and enlarge is not to reduce. It is to open racism to its heterogeneity.

A revolutionary intersectional and coalitional movement is needed today. Central to this coalition must be the attack on racist, capitalist, hetero-patriarchy. The revolutionary status demands intersectional understandings of each and every identity. Hopefully, BLM is working from this commitment because the purpose of any regime of power is to mystify its source of power. Maybe this moment allows for revolutionary change; a complete overhaul from the bottom up to rearrange colors, sexes, races, and genders and with them the white supremacist nation itself.

Do not be looking for a revolution like the past. We need one for the future; one that is accountable to people of all colors, most particularly Black people who suffer the greatest indecencies today.

This may feel impossible, but a politics of the seemingly impossible is needed more than ever. We, the big “we,” need a new modern civil rights movement that disrupts newly.

Opinion Mon, 26 Jan 2015 10:28:44 -0500
Goucher College Adjuncts Expect Union Victory as Organizing Spreads in Maryland

Part-time faculty members at Maryland’s Goucher College say they are on the threshold of winning formal union representation, marking another step forward in an organizing campaign spread across multiple campuses in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area.

If Goucher adjuncts win, their victory will be among several won last year by Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500, which activists say is successfully harnessing the pent-up demand for labor reforms in the academic sector.

The campaign at Goucher, a small liberal arts school in Towson, Maryland, is not quite finished, however, as lawyers for the college and Local 500 argue over challenged ballots in an unusually close election completed in early December. The tentative count in the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)-supervised election produced a tie, with 33 adjuncts voting in favor of the new Goucher Faculty Union and 33 against, according to Maureen Winter, one of the instructors who helped organize the group.

But that 33-33 count is misleading because the legal challenges against most pro-union votes are spurious, Winter contends, and there is every indication that the union will prevail when the NLRB makes a ruling on the challenged ballots in the coming weeks. Nine ballots—all of them pro-union votes—were challenged by the lawyers for Goucher, she explains, even though all nine of the voters were specifically named as eligible in a pre-election agreement between Goucher and the union. 

Most were very active in the organizing campaign, so the union believes there is a very high probability that these votes will ultimately be counted, and provide the margin of victory, Winter says. What’s more, the union has challenged three ballots by faculty members “who were either not working or tenured and therefore ineligible” to vote in the election.

“We’ve actually already had our [victory] celebration. … We’re pretty sure we’ve got it,” Winter says.

Agreeing with Winter about the ultimate victory once the legal issues are cleared away is David Rodich, Executive Director of SEIU Local 500. “We recognize it [the ballot challenges] for what it is—a delaying tactic." Rodich says he is “confident” of the election victory “and that we’ll have a positive relationship with Goucher” in negotiating a first collective bargaining agreement in 2015.

Rodich’s confidence may be boosted by a year of extraordinary success in organizing part-time faculty in the Baltimore-D.C. area. In April 2014, the adjuncts at Baltimore’s Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) voted overwhelmingly to be represented by Local 500. Shortly thereafter, a Local 500 victory was confirmed at D.C.’s Howard University, the country’s most prominent historically black university. At nearly the same time that the Goucher election was getting under way, part-time faculty at University of District of Columbia also voted for union representation.

All told, Local 500 now represents about 3,000 adjuncts in the area, including large contingents at George Washington University, Georgetown University, American University and Montgomery  College, Rodich says.

Rodich says the explosive energy in the union’s college campus campaigns is coming from the part-time faculty members themselves, who are galvanized by an academic workplace far less friendly than they had anticipated when they were earning their advanced degrees. Low wages, chronic job insecurity, and lack of health insurance coverage are common complaints, he says, but the overriding demand from the part-time professors is that they be included as full members of the academic community.

“It’s not just about money. These people want to be seen as contributing to the academy. They demand to be recognized as partners in creating institutional excellence,” and not merely temporary laborers in a corporate environment, he says.

Rodich’s theme was echoed by Tree Turtle, who teaches writing at Goucher. “In a real sense, we are the college just as much as the students, the tenure-track faculty, or the administrators,” Turtle says.

According to Turtle, a 1993 graduate of Goucher, the organizing drive had significant support from the students and the permanent faculty. This was to be expected at Goucher, which values its progressive liberal arts traditions, Turtle says. The student Radical Leftist Club organized an on-campus petition drive in favor of the union (the petition garnered signatures from about one-third of Goucher’s 1,500 students), and a number of the permanent faculty wanted to join.

“To me, the unionizing process is an affirmative, hopeful campaign that is looking out for the professional welfare of a large sector of hardworking people at Goucher,” Turtle says.

But Goucher administrators adopted a “neutral” position on unionization that was tinged with some anti-union rhetoric. “We heard the usual stuff about how the college community did not need a third party—the union—to come in. The president of the college would say stuff like ‘If you feel changes are needed, I’d love to listen. We can do this without a union.’ He tried to walk a fine line,” Winter says.

But Goucher President Jose Antonio Bowen angered some adjuncts when he brought in the notorious anti-union law firm Jackson Lewis to represent the college against the union. (Jackson Lewis aided the defeat of a union drive at Baltimore’s WYPR public radio station last year.)

Bowen’s office declined a request for an interview, but spokesperson Kristen Pinheiro said that Jackson Lewis was Goucher’s long-time labor lawyer  and had not been brought in specifically to defeat the SEIU Local 500 effort. Among other areas, Jackson Lewis represents Goucher in legal matters involving the Laborers International Union of North America, which represents maintenance and custodial staff on campus, Pinheiro said.

More generally, Pinheiro offered this comment on Owen’s behalf:

Goucher strives to be a place where people want to work. And while we do hire non-tenure-track faculty members—many of whom have taught at the college for numerous years—Goucher bucks the national trend of hiring increasing numbers of adjunct faculty. A Goucher education is largely provided by full-time, tenure-track faculty members.We know all of our instructors are deeply committed to our students’ academic and personal success.

Whatever happens with the NLRB’s decision, we will continue to deal fairly and humanely with everyone employed at the college.

“Bowen is not the enemy. … For us, he is not the bad guy,” asserts Winter, who adds she expects contract negotiations to be amicable and productive once they begin. Local 500’s Rodich also agrees with that prediction, saying that productive labor negotiations have been the norm  as the union has established bargaining units on new campuses in recent years.

“There is a real problem in the academic world where what used to be a good middle-class job has devolved into piecework. This is a concern to a lot of administrators, too, and no matter what the official line on unions might be, most of them recognize that a change is needed,” to improve the quality of life for adjuncts, Rodich says.

“This isn’t a local or a regional issue. There is a national movement. What the SEIU represents is a light at the end of the tunnel, an opportunity to effect change,” he concludes. 

News Mon, 26 Jan 2015 10:07:34 -0500