Truthout Stories Sat, 25 Apr 2015 15:50:21 -0400 en-gb Does Fast Track Supporter Earl Blumenauer Also Support Israeli Settlements?

I was recently introduced to the acronym "TSINO" - "Two-Stater in Name Only." This is someone who claims to support the international consensus for a diplomatic resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, but 1) refuses to actually help bring it about, or more grievously 2) actively tries to obstruct the efforts of others to help bring it about.

Earlier, I documented that Maryland Senator Ben Cardin is a TSINO (or, as I called him at the time, a "Two State Faker.")

But now I have worse news. Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer - who has been endorsed by J Streetspoke at the J Street conference, and has been praised by J Street Portland for his support of the two-state solution, is apparently also a TSINO.

I say "apparently" because 1) I want to give Blumenauer the benefit of the doubt - he has been a strong advocate of diplomacy in general (one of the first Members of Congress to pledge to skip Netanyahu's anti-diplomacy speech to Congress, for example) and 2) the public reporting on this issue - which barely exists - is not very good so far, as you will see below.

The Hill reports:

The House Ways and Means Committee approved a trade promotion authority (TPA) measure -- 25-13 -- with only two Democrats lending their support to the divisive bill, highlighting the difficulty President Obama is having courting members of his own party. 

As expected, Democratic Reps. Ron Kind (Wis.) and Earl Blumenauer (Ore.) backed the measure.
Ryan offered an amendment at the end of the markup that incorporated two amendments adopted by the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday night. 

One discourages boycotts, divestments and sanctions by European countries against Israel and would allow negotiators to raise the issue in the TTIP talks.

Now, you might think from The Hill account that this is just one more "pro-Israel" thing that Congress is doing - dog bites man.

But the Senate version of the measure applies to European actions against businesses in "Israeli-controlled territories" - that is, it aims to prevent European actions to uphold international law with respect to Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Such European actions are supported by Human Rights Watch.

Equating "Israel" with "Israeli settlements in the West Bank" is exactly what this legislation is all about. AIPAC's statement praising the legislation is here. Note how in AIPAC's statement there is no mention of "settlements", the West Bank, or "Israeli-controlled territories," just "Israel." So, whether intentionally or not, The Hill is doing AIPAC's work by failing to distinguish between "Israel" and Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which as the Europeans see it, are illegal under international law. 

J Street's statement on the pro-settlement legislation is here. Americans for Peace Now's statement is here. Jewish Voice for Peace's statement is here.

Did Blumenauer use his position say boo about this? There is no public evidence yet that he did. Blumenauer has unique leverage in this situation. From the point of view of the Administration, Blumenauer is an extremely rare commodity: a House Democrat who supports the Ryan-Hatch fast track legislation. House Democrats overwhelmingly oppose it; Minority Leader Pelosi opposes it. Given that a bunch of House Republicans are also going to oppose it, if the number of House Democrats supporting it doesn't somehow increase, the Ryan-Hatch fast track bill is dead as a doornail. The fast track supporters need Blumenauer very badly.

Blumenauer could say: this is supposed to be about "trade", not about undermining European efforts to uphold international law, and I'm not going to support this bill until this provision is taken out. (Yes, yes, I know that "fast track" isn't just about "trade"; I got the memo. We're doing "liberation theology" here, trying to hold people to account for what they claim to believe.) Why isn't Blumenauer using his unique leverage in this situation to defend the principles in which he supposedly believes?

You can ask urge your representatives in Congress to oppose the pro-settlement provision here; you can ask your representatives in Congress to oppose the Ryan-Hatch fast track bill here.

News Sat, 25 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Free the Buses: Riders Say Transit Is a Human Right

Mariluz Rangel takes the bus everywhere in Tucson, Arizona: to work, dentist’s appointments, grocery shopping. She’s been a bus rider for 25 years.

Rangel works at Wendy’s, where she makes $8.05 an hour, the state minimum wage. Her income qualifies her to buy a discounted bus pass that gives her unlimited rides for $15 a month.

“When you earn the minimum, it’s hard to afford a car. So it’s better to use the bus,” she said.

Rangel is a member of Tucson Bus Riders Union, one ripple in a wave of grassroots activism based on the belief that affordable public transit should be available to all. By organizing a previously invisible constituency, transit riders unions have emerged as an unlikely source of political power.

The transit movement took off in Los Angeles in the 1990s, when bus riders, most of them Black and Latino, came together to protest what they said was a separate and unequal transit system that penalized riders from low-income neighborhoods.

This wave of activism is beginning to turn the tide. On March 1, King County, Washington made international headlines when it introduced a reduced fare for low-income people, a win for Seattle’s Transit Riders Union. On the same day, San Francisco’s Transit Riders celebrated as the city’s Municipal Transportation Association (MUNI) made transit free for disabled people and low-income seniors.

The transit movement is one response to the “affordability gap”—a growing chasm between what workers are paid and what it costs to get to work. In the mid‐1970s, a minimum-wage employee had to work for about 10 minutes to pay for bus fare to and from work, according to research by Seattle’s Transit Riders Union. To cover her commute today, the same employee must work almost 35 minutes.

At the same time, shifting demographics have increased the distance between workers and jobs. Between 2000 and 2012, the economy added jobs. But job proximity—the number of jobs near where a person lives—declined across the board. The trend was especially pronounced for low-income people and people of color, according to a study by researchers from Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program.

Taking a Stand

In 2011, amid talk of fare hikes, bus riders and their advocates formed the Tucson Bus Riders Union, modeled after the one in Los Angeles. They printed membership cards and gave out yellow T-shirts, creating a striking presence at City Council meetings, said Brian Flagg, who helped organize the campaign. In a 2012 show of solidarity, members of the Bus Riders Union in Los Angeles joined local organizers in challenging proposed fare hikes at a meeting of the Tucson City Council.

Supported by more than 50 clergy members, 30 community groups, Primavera Foundation and the Los Angeles activists, Tucson Bus Riders Union succeeded in halting fare hikes, preserving a longstanding low-income fare program and saving the downtown bus depot.

In the wake of these wins, momentum grew. Between January and May of 2014, 1,700 people joined the union, which has about 2,000 members today.

Now it is an election year, “so nobody is planning on raising the rates and messing with the routes,” Flagg said, underscoring the new constituency’s growing political clout.

The transit movement emerged from car-centric Los Angeles. In the 1990s, that county began looking at extending a light rail line to affluent, mostly-White Pasadena even as urban bus riders—who were predominately Black, Latino and Asian Pacific Islander—struggled with unreliable service on dilapidated buses.

To address this disparity, the Labor/Community Strategy Center (LCSC) formed the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union and sued the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), charging the agency with violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by creating a separate, unequal mass transit system.

The resulting consent decree ordered MTA to make transit-dependent people the first priority when allocating money. MTA dropped its plan to hike bus fares and eliminate the monthly bus pass. Instead, the agency reduced the price of the pass from $49 a month to $42, expanded service and put new buses on the streets.

Criminalizing Youth

Organizers helping youth in Los Angeles sign up for discount passes discovered another issue. Students on their way to school were being ticketed by police for being “tardy” as they waited at bus stops, often after having been passed up by crowded buses. Students of color were ticketed at a much higher rate than were White students, LCSC found.

The Bus Riders Union worked with youth activists and in 2012 again won reforms—this time stopping police from citing students who were waiting for the bus.

Lessons learned in Los Angeles proved useful in San Francisco, where young activists were key to winning a battle for affordable transit and against criminalization of young riders.

In 2011, San Francisco Unified School District began scaling back school bus service due to a budget crunch. At the same time, youth fares on public transit went up.

Police officers boarded buses, seeking proof-of-payment stubs. If students could not produce the stubs, officers demanded identification in order to write tickets. Police detained students who lacked identification until their parents could come and get them.

Never before had MUNI enforced fares so aggressively, said Jaron Browne, an organizer at Causa Justa :: Just Cause who worked on the four-year campaign to curb the practice. “It made no sense to criminalize students because they didn’t have the 75-cent fare,” he said.

The ensuing campaign, Free MUNI for Youth, highlighted the need to create a new generation of transit riders to help San Francisco fight climate change, and emphasized public transportation as a source of green jobs offering a living wage to drivers, many of whom are African-American.

“The big pushback was, ‘Oh we can’t afford it,’” said Bob Allen, who leads the Transportation Justice program at Urban Habitat, a policy nonprofit that supported the effort. But even as youth fares were going up, San Francisco leaders approved new ferry service to serve South San Francisco, which would primarily benefit workers for biotech giant Genentech.

The region wasn’t too broke to afford free MUNI for youth, Allen said. It was simply a matter of priorities.

The youth-led effort to shift those priorities, championed by San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, won a two-year pilot of Free MUNI for Youth, which is available to low- and-moderate income young people. 

In 2014, MUNI not only made the program permanent, it extended the free passes until riders turned 19. Meanwhile, a coalition led by Senior & Disability Action campaigned for a program to make MUNI free for low-income people and people with disabilities.

The movement to redefine transit as a public good, not a personal privilege, was on a roll.

“Climate Warriors”

On March 1, King County, Washington, home to Seattle and surrounding areas, launched a low-income fare program known as ORCA LIFT. The program, which came after four years of pressure from Seattle’s Transit Riders Union, enables people with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines to ride public transit for $1.50.

At the same time, King County raised all other fare categories by 25 cents, except for the fare for Access Paratransit, a curb-to-curb service for those who cannot use regular buses. That fare went up 50 cents.

Discount programs like the one in King County are helpful, transit advocates say, but can bring unintended consequences, especially when they accompany overall fare hikes. By creating a perceived divide between “choice” riders and the “transit-dependent,” they serve to stigmatize the very riders they are meant to help, said Jaron Browne of San Francisco’s Causa Justa :: Just Cause.

Jacob Struiksma, 35, is blind and relies on the bus. King County Metro has raised fares six times since 2008, he pointed out. He thinks it’s senseless for the agency to try to eke out another quarter from seniors and disabled people.

“I’m paying it, but I’m kind of annoyed that I have to try to scrape it” together, said Struiksma, who belongs to Seattle’s Transit Riders Union.

Jim Bush, 57, also a member of the union, has cerebral palsy and gets by on Social Security disability. When weather permits, he travels to the grocery store and back in his power wheelchair. But rain is frequent enough in Seattle that Bush loads $10 at a time on his ORCA card for the days when he needs to rely on public transit.

Bush pointed out that in King County, as in many places, public transit is funded largely by sales tax, which is both regressive (low-income people pay a relatively larger proportion of their income than those who make more money) and vulnerable to economic cycles. The recession years created a severe dollar shortfall in Seattle, which contributed to the latest round of fare hikes.

Instead of raising fares, members of Seattle’s Transit Riders Union want King County to find other ways to raise money, such as charging businesses a small per-employee tax or taxing commercial parking.

Bush, Struiksma and their allies are among a growing number of individuals and groups promoting the concept that public transportation should be viewed less like a business and more like a public necessity, akin to schools or libraries.

“Our vision truly is that we should make transportation free for everyone,” said Jaron Browne of San Francisco’s Causa Justa :: Just Cause.

A growing number of proponents believe free transit is more than a way to get individuals from one place to another. It is also a crucial tool in the fight against pollution and climate change. As this perspective takes hold across the country, local transit riders unions are evolving from an anti-poverty effort to a cross-class movement for the environment.

“Our fight is not just the transit system,” said Barbara Lott-Holland of the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union. “We’re calling ourselves climate warriors.”

News Sat, 25 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Why Comcast Seems to Be Walking Away

Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that Comcast is likely to walk away from its proposed $45.2 billion merger with Time Warner Cable. Yesterday, Comcast met with the US Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission. The deal had been troubled for weeks.

The Justice Department and FCC had reason to carefully evaluate the merger, which was first announced in Feb. 2014 and had been expected at the time to be completed by the end of 2014 or early 2015. If the two companies had joined, they would have controlled just under 30 percent of the country's pay TV market and, by one measure, roughly 57 percent of the broadband Internet market (Comcast put the figure at 35 percent).

Comcast's argument that the merger would have minimal competitive harm seems to have unraveled. Here's some of what could have gone wrong.

TV Program Stifling

Comcast is already the largest video and TV service distributor in the country, according to the Leichtman Research Group. With a wider geographic footprint, it could have used its weight to push out competition on TV airwaves, according to critics of the merger. In fact, it already has. Comcast refused to carry Univision's sports network, Deportes Univision, one of the largest sports networks in the country and a competitor to Telemundo, which is owned by NBCUniversal and Comcast. Randy Falco, Univision's CEO, said in an earnings call in Apr. 2014 just after the merger was proposed that he feared "this type of anticompetitive conduct would continue." Comcast responded by saying it "has had an extraordinary, long-standing commitment to Hispanic programming," adding through its merger with Time Warner Cable it is "committed to bringing high-quality Hispanic content to millions of additional Americans." Just five months later, Comcast announced that it would offer Univision Deportes to its Xfinity TV subscribers in certain urban Latino markets.

John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney at Public Knowledge, expressed concerned that these practices would expand if Comcast merged with Time Warner Cable, bringing the combined company the ability to reach 33 million cable subscribers. "In a world of lots of smaller video distributors, no one of them has the ability to single-handedly dictate terms like that since a video programmer could walk away," he wrote in an email.

Monopoly on Broadband Internet Service

Aside from TV, Comcast would have a number of mechanisms to squeeze out online companies. A typical household requires at least 25 mbps of Internet speed to go about their daily online routines. That might include watching an HD video over Netflix while also posting pictures to Instagram as another person in the home works on their laptop. Comcast and Time Warner Cable are two of the country's major providers of broadband service of this speed. If they were to merge, there would be few other Internet service providers that could compete, leaving many content companies like Google's YouTube with only one option to reach their subscribers, according to FCC filings by opponents of the merger. In this scenario, a merged Comcast/Time Warner Cable behemoth could leverage its interconnection points, which is where services like YouTube connect to stream video to their customers. Comcast could keep YouTube from offering services over its network, degrade their traffic or charge them a high fee to connect to Comcast customers. DISH Network wrote to the FCC that such chokeholds "over the broadband pipe would stifle future video competition and innovation, all to the detriment of consumers," adding that the merger would consolidate "too much power in the hands of too few." Comcast argued that it would "bring significant benefits to Time Warner Cable customers, including higher Internet speeds and greater reliability."

More Broken Promises

Comcast agreed to conditions to facilitate past mergers, but its record of complying with them raised concerns among critics. The FCC slapped several conditions onto its approval of Comcast's 2011 merger with NBCUniversal. For one thing, the agency required Comcast to "visibly offer and actively market standalone retail broadband Internet access service." But just a year later an FCC investigation found that the company was not visibly marketing the standalone service and required it to pay a $800,000 fine and extend the service offer for another year. Comcast also defied what are called "neighboring" conditions. Bloomberg complained to the FCC that Comcast placed Bloomberg TV in the outer dial away from most other business networks and its own channel, CNBC, in the lower dial with other business news where viewers would be more likely to come upon it. Comcast argued that the condition only applied to future news neighborhoods, not channels that existed prior to its merger. The FCC ruled against Comcast and ordered it to place Bloomberg TV in its neighborhood lineup of business news. Even then, Comcast said this was "not a compliance issue, it's an interpretive issue." Comcast also violated its own voluntary agreement to respect the FCC's 2010 net neutrality rules. In February 2014, Comcast was found slowing Netflix traffic over its network which pressured Netflix into a paid agreement to ensure its traffic reached its customers at a normal speed. David Cohen, Comcast's executive vice president, said at a telecommunications summit three months later that paid prioritization for traffic was completely legal. "Whatever it is," he said. "We are allowed to do it."

News Fri, 24 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Official Leaks: "These Senior People Do Whatever They Want"

When asked whether he would have supported working with the producers of Zero Dark Thirty, Department of Defense’s Director of Entertainment Media said he would not have recommended working with screenwriter Mark Boal and director Katherine Bigelow, because he was not happy with the way their movie Hurt Locker had presented the military. But he was not given a choice. “These senior people do whatever they want,” the Director told DOD’s Inspector General, according to a draft of the IG’s report on the leaks of classified information to Boal and Bigelow.

The Project on Government Oversight released the draft this week.

The Director’s comments are all the more telling given how much more centrally this draft of the report — as compared to another POGO obtained and released — point to the role of then CIA Director Leon Panetta and his Chief of Staff, Jeremy Bash, in leading the government to cooperate on the movie.

For example, this draft reveals how officials pointed to Panetta and Bash’s support to try to get Special Operations to cooperate with the ZD30 team.

[Deputy Director of the CIA] Morrell responded that Director/CIA Leon Panetta was fully cooperating with the movie project and that several CIA staff used White House-approved talking points to talk to Mr. Boal about the intelligence that led to UBL’s location.

[Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Doug] Wilson confirmed that Mr. Boal met with Mr. Bash and “complained that SOCOM wasn’t being as forthcoming as they wanted,” so Mr. Boal asked Mr. Bash if Mr. Bash could help with SOCOM. ASD(PA) Wilson wrote that he called the USSOCOM PAO and mentioned “[Secretary] Panetta and [Special Assistant to the Secretary] Bash, you know, are fully supportive of this, I just wanted you to know that.”

As POGO noted in its own report on this newly acquired draft of the report, information on CIA’s role was removed the same day Acting Inspector General Lynne Halbrooks met with Panetta, who had since become Secretary of Defense.

The timeline obtained by POGO raises the question of what influence Panetta may have had on Halbrooks’ decision to remove his misconduct from her report.

It shows that CIA material was removed from the report on December 18, 2012. According to a report by Senate Judiciary staff posted on the web, that’s the day Halbrooks met with Panetta at the Pentagon. “A reasonable person would conclude something happened at her meeting [with Panetta]. Otherwise it’s a hell of a coincidence,” a source who worked for Halbrooks on the investigation told POGO.

The CIA Director decided to partner with big Hollywood to write a selective version of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and the rest of CIA and DOD had to fall in line, going so far as exposing some of the SEAL team members’ identities.

And, of course, nothing ever happened to Panetta (or Michael Vickers, who also shared sensitive information) as a result.

Leaks become far less serious, it seems, when they’re pushed by top officials.

News Sat, 25 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Lawrence Lessig on Why Elizabeth Warren Needs to Run for President

On Monday night Mayday Pac Cofounder and Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig made the passionate case for Run Warren Run at "An Evening With Lawrence Lessig In NYC."

News Fri, 24 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
US-Backed Saudi War in Yemen Continues as Aid Groups Describe "Catastrophic" Humanitarian Crisis

Warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition struck the Yemeni cities of Aden and Ibb early today despite a claim by Riyadh that it had ended the military operation known as Operation Decisive Storm. Saudi Arabia and nine Arab allies began bombing Yemen on March 25. The United States provided intelligence and logistical support for the attacks and accelerated the sale of new weapons to its Gulf allies. Earlier this week, the United States deployed two additional warships off the coast of Yemen. The bombing began after Houthi rebels seized control of the capital Sana'a last year and deposed President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. On Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said the humanitarian situation in Yemen is "catastrophic." We speak to Toby Jones, associate professor of history and director of Middle Eastern studies at Rutgers University.


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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition struck the Yemeni cities of Aden and Ibb early today, despite a claim by Riyadh that it had ended the military operation known as Decisive Storm. Saudi Arabia and nine Arab allies began bombing Yemen on March 25th. The United States provided intelligence and logistical support for the attacks and accelerated the sale of new weapons to its Gulf allies. Earlier this week, the United States deployed two additional warships off the coast of Yemen. The bombing began after Houthi rebels seized control of the capital Sana'a last year and deposed President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. On Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said the humanitarian situation in Yemen is "catastrophic." Following a brief visit to Yemen, the regional director of the ICRC, Robert Mardini, told reporters the collateral damage wrought on civilian life was absolutely shocking.

ROBERT MARDINI: The conflict in Yemen is in dire need for a political solution. We encourage that to happen. But in the meantime, the humanitarian situation is worsening by the day and, in certain location, is really catastrophic. We urge all the parties to take every precautions to protect women, men and children. We call on them once again to facilitate desperately needed, impartial humanitarian action.

AMY GOODMAN: Human Rights Watch has said it appears Saudi Arabia may have deliberately bombed a humanitarian aid warehouse run by Oxfam that contained supplies to facilitate access to clean water for thousands of families in Saada. Oxfam said it had given the coalition forces the building's exact coordinates to keep it from being targeted. Human Rights Watch said, quote, "Serious violations of the laws of war committed with criminal intent - that is, are deliberate or reckless - are war crimes." On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the US said his country had achieved its mission in Yemen. This is Adel al-Jubeir.

ADEL AL-JUBEIR: We destroyed their air force. We destroyed their ballistic missiles, as far as we know. We destroyed their command and control. We destroyed much, if not most, of their heavy equipment. And we made it very difficult for them to move, from a strategic perspective. So we've degraded their capabilities substantially, and thereby eliminated the threat that they pose to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and, in a process, ensured the safety of our borders, our territory and our citizens. That was the objective of Operation Decisive Storm, in addition, of course, to the protection of the legitimate government of Yemen. Those objectives have been achieved.

AMY GOODMAN: We're joined now by Toby Jones, associate professor of history and director of Middle East studies at Rutgers University, author of Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia. Jones was previously the International Crisis Group's political analyst of the Persian Gulf.

So, let's start with Operation Decisive Storm - obviously sounds just like Operation Desert Storm. Toby Jones, can you talk about what Saudi Arabia is doing right now in Yemen, with US support?

TOBY JONES: Well, Adel al-Jubeir said it very well, right? The Saudis are interested in destroying and degrading Yemen's military capacity, particularly those of the Houthis. But they have a series of mixed objectives that we shouldn't be persuaded by. One is the stated claim that they want to protect their borders in any threat to Saudi Arabia. The reality is, the Houthis have never represented a threat to Saudi Arabia, and they still don't, even though they enjoy control over much of Yemen. And the other is to restore the legitimate government of President Hadi. In reality, Hadi was - his position in power was orchestrated by the Saudi and the GCC after the Arab uprisings.

I mean, the bottom line is this: Yemen has long been the backyard of Saudi Arabia. It's a deeply impoverished place that the Saudis believe they should assert political authority in, that they should influence outcomes. The fact that they've been challenged on the southern border is troubling, but it's also because Yemen is fairly easy for them to intervene in. We've seen no resistance in the region. This is something that the Saudis can carry out with very little punishment or accountability, and carry on and declare an end to it when they like.

Reality on the ground is they've accomplished very little. The Houthis have retained political authority. They're even operating in Aden, which the Saudis said they hoped to preempt. It's not clear what they've accomplished. They've declared victory, but they've done little more than actually kill almost a thousand Yemenis and degrade what was already, you know, a troubled infrastructure and environment.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, the Saudis say that they've now changed - the new phase of operations is called Renewal of Hope. Toby Jones, could you respond to the repeated claims by the Saudis and others that the Iranians are supporting the Houthis and that's what's forced Saudi Arabia to intervene in this way?

TOBY JONES: Well, there's no clear coordination between Iran and the Houthis. Let's be clear: There's absolutely no evidence that Iran is operating on the ground in Yemen or that it's directing orders to the Houthi rebels. The Saudis have done a masterful job in the last month, and even before that, dating back to last fall when the Houthis began their march out of northern Yemen toward the south, in repackaging what the Houthis are up to as part of a regional sectarian problem. But the reality is that Yemen has been a deeply fractured place for quite a long time, and the Houthis have asserted and demanded their right to be equal participants in a federal political order. They've been historically marginalized. The Saudis have ignored all of this and have sort of pushed through a narrative that suggests that something more nefarious, conspiratorial and regional is at work. And I think we can measure Saudi Arabia's political and military intervention in terms of success and failure. They've accomplished very little on the ground other than to break things. But the fact that they've helped frame and convince the Western media, Western policymakers and many folks who might be casual observers that the Houthis are Iranian agents is a form of success, even though it's not true.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a clip from Tuesday's State Department briefing. A reporter asked deputy spokesperson Marie Harf for evidence that Iran is supporting the Houthis.

REPORTER: White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration has evidence that Iranians are supplying weapons and other support -

MARIE HARF: Correct.

REPORTER: - formal support to Houthis. What kind of evidence does the administration have? Can you update us?

MARIE HARF: Well, we've - this isn't something new, unfortunately. We've long talked about the support when it comes from funding or whether it's weapons supplies that the Iranians are sending to the Houthi. This has been really an ongoing relationship for a very long time. I'm happy to see if there's more evidence to share publicly of that, but this has been something we've expressed concern about for some time.

AMY GOODMAN: Toby Jones, can you respond to the State Department on this point? And also talk about the role of the US right now.

TOBY JONES: Well, I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are Iranian weapons circulating amongst the Houthis. Right? I mean, the Iranians are opportunists. I mean, we don't want to whitewash Tehran's interests or objective in asserting its own hegemony in the region. I mean, it's involved in all kinds of places. But this is rather thin grounds on which to claim that there's some - that there's some widespread cooperation or coordination between Tehran and what's going on in North Yemen. Right? I mean, if we want to make the claim that rebels or militants operating with one country's weapons across the Middle East is a sign of coordination, then what do we make of al-Qaeda and ISIS using American weapons captured in the battlefield or having been supplied by Saudi Arabia and others in Syria and Iraq and Yemen? I mean, this is a dubious claim that obscures more than it clarifies.

As far as the American role goes, the Americans view Yemen as a Saudi backyard, and they're going to defer to the Saudis here. I mean, there's lots of geopolitical sort of moving parts here, as well. While the Americans are chipping away on a nuclear arrangement with Iran, they understand and they're very clear that the Saudis are uncomfortable with all of that. So they're making concessions on Yemen, because it's easy for the Americans to do so, providing small-scale cover and other kinds of material support, including putting warships close by the Port of Aden and elsewhere. I mean, this is simply a matter of the Americans making choices about where they can support the Saudis and where they can oppose them elsewhere, or at least where they can work at odds with them.

Yemen is and has for a long time been the most deeply impoverished place in the Middle East. But it has also been a political football in the region that the Saudis and the Americans have kicked around. This is a place where we talk about catastrophe and the environmental and humanitarian consequences of the recent campaign. This is not new in Yemen. Very little has been done to address it. And in spite of all of that, the US has almost always pursued Yemen as a place to drop bombs and to target what they call militants. And with that in mind, it's easy for them to support the Saudis, who are claiming to do the same thing.

AMY GOODMAN: The significance of the Houthis now calling for negotiation? What do you think needs to happen, Toby Jones?

TOBY JONES: Well, I think the Houthis have long called for a political settlement and negotiation. I mean, think back to late last summer when they began moving out of the north and into the south, when they converged on Sana'a and pushed Hadi out of office. The Houthis were calling for, you know, a bigger negotiating table, a greater presence, real accommodation for various political demands from around the country. The Houthis aren't the only ones who have put pressure on Sana'a's old central government. Pressure has come from the south, it's come from tribal confederations, all of whom have suggested that the political dialogue, the national discussion, about the post-Arab-uprising political rapprochement that was necessary, had been a deeply flawed process. The Houthis didn't call for war, and they coordinated closely with actors on the ground. They're the ones who were being attacked, even though they're the ones who have been calling for a political settlement to a deeply broken system all along. The fact that the Saudis have recast this in a language that the Houthis are the villains and the ones acting dangerously is remarkable, as is the fact that the Saudis can drop bombs while calling it a humanitarian mission. In reality - I mean, in many ways, it's a play straight from the American playbook.

AMY GOODMAN: And the Red Cross is calling it a humanitarian catastrophe. Ten seconds, Toby.

TOBY JONES: Well, it is a humanitarian catastrophe. But Yemen was already in a state of humanitarian catastrophe, with hundreds of thousands being internally displaced. This is a place that has rapidly run out of water. It has very little in the way of natural resources. The Saudis are just making a bad situation worse.

AMY GOODMAN: Toby Jones, we want to thank you for being with us, associate professor of history and director of Middle Eastern studies at Rutgers University, author of Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia, previously worked [as] the International Crisis Group's political analyst of the Persian Gulf.

That does it for our broadcast. I'll be speaking tonight in Colorado Springs, Colorado, at 7:00 p.m., at Celeste Hall inside the Cornerstone Arts Center. So check our website at And all Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, we'll be broadcasting from The Hague. It's the hundredth anniversary of one of the oldest women's peace organizations in the world, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

News Fri, 24 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
"Running While Black": Protests Swell Over Death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore Police Custody

Protests in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray have entered their fifth day. The 27-year-old African-American man died Sunday from spinal injuries, one week after Baltimore police arrested him. His family and attorney say his voice box was crushed and his spine was "80 percent severed at his neck." A preliminary autopsy report showed Gray died of a spinal injury. Video shot by a bystander shows Gray screaming in apparent agony as police drag him to a van. Another witness said the police bent Gray like a pretzel. While the police union has described the protesters as a lynch mob, former Black Panther Eddie Conway says Gray is the one who was lynched. "There was a lynch mob. There is a body. There was a death without a trial, without a jury, without a sentence. There was an execution. That's lynching," Conway says. "They're blaming the victims. They're blaming people that suffered the lynching for protesting."


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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today's show in Baltimore, where protests over the death of Freddie Gray have entered their fifth day. The 27-year-old African-American man died Sunday from spinal injuries, one week after Baltimore police arrested him. His family and attorney say his voice box was crushed and his spine was, quote, "80 percent severed at his neck." A preliminary autopsy report showed Gray died of a spinal injury. Video shot by a bystander shows Gray screaming in apparent agony as police drag him to a van. You can hear a bystander's voice.

BYSTANDER: His leg looks broke! Look at his f - ing leg! Look at his f - ing leg! That boy's leg looks broke! His leg's broken! Y'all dragging him like that!

AMY GOODMAN: Another witness said the police bent Freddie Gray like a pretzel. Gray was then held inside a police van for 30 minutes. Police said, quote, "During transport to Western District via wagon transport the defendant suffered a medical emergency and was immediately transported to Shock Trauma via medic."

The Department of Justice is now investigating Gray's death for possible civil rights violations. Since 2011, Baltimore has paid roughly $6.3 million to settle police misconduct claims. Baltimore authorities say five of the six officers involved in the arrest of Gray have now given statements to the Baltimore police. One has not. They remain suspended with pay. Baltimore police union attorney Michael Davey told reporters the officers were right to chase Gray after he ran away when a lieutenant "made eye contact" with him.

MICHAEL DAVEY: They pursued Mr. Gray. They detained him for an investigative stop. Had he not had a knife or an illegal weapon on him, he would have been released. They know what role they played in the arrest of Mr. Gray. What we don't know and what we're hoping the investigation will tell us is what happened inside the back of the van. He was placed in the transport van. Whether he was seat-belted in, I don't believe he was. Our position is: Something happened in that van; we just don't know what.

REPORTER: Do you think any of the six officers committed a crime that day?


REPORTER: Unequivocally. And what makes you say that?

MICHAEL DAVEY: Based on the information that I know, no.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, on Wednesday, our next guest spoke with residents of the Gilmor Homes housing project in West Baltimore, where Freddie Gray was arrested, including one woman who says she witnessed officers loading him into the back of a police van. In a minute, we'll be joined by our guest, Eddie Conway of The Real News Network, but first, this is a clip of his interview.

EDDIE CONWAY: How are you doing? I'm Eddie Conway.

TAMIKA: Hi, I'm Tamika.


JACQUELINE JACKSON: And I'm Jacqueline Jackson. I seen it.


JACQUELINE JACKSON: I live 1628 Mountmor Court. My kitchen faces Mount Street.


JACQUELINE JACKSON: The paddy wagon was right there. They took the young man out, beat him some more. The man wasn't responding. They took him by his pants, and he was dragged. And I asked them to call an ambulance. They told me to mind my business. I told them it is my business. And they just threw him up in there. They boy wasn't hollering or nothing. And he wasn't hollering or nothing. How can you holler if you ain't saying nothing? They killed that young man. They killed him.

AMY GOODMAN: Eddie Conway of The Real News Network interviewing residents of the Gilmor Homes housing project where Freddie Gray was arrested. He was there last night when protesters [calling] for justice in his case marched again. And he joins us now in Baltimore. Eddie Conway is executive producer of The Real News Network, also a former Black Panther leader in Baltimore, Maryland, who was released from prison last year after serving 44 years for a murder he denies committing. We spoke to him last March, just 24 hours after he was released.

We're also joined by Dominique Stevenson, who was arrested at last night's protest in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray. She is program director for the American Friends Service Committee's Friend of a Friend Program, which fosters the peaceful resolution of conflict and promotes reconciliation and healing inside Maryland's criminal justice system. She's also co-author of Eddie Conway's memoir, Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther.

Dominique, let's begin with you. Can you explain why you were protesting yesterday and how you got arrested?

DOMINIQUE STEVENSON: Well, I was protesting because this is - there's a history in Baltimore of not so much police shootings, but people being beaten to death by the police. There is a long history. I feel that I needed to be there with the community. We have for some time been doing work in Gilmor Homes housing project, and I wanted to, you know, be there to stand in solidarity with the community. I was arrested because at some point a young woman, Michaela Price, decided to commit civil disobedience. She's 17 years old. I, one, did not want, or even trust, her being in police custody alone, and so I came over the barrier to accompany her.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Dominique, the state of Maryland also has the highest - sorry, Baltimore has the highest rate of incarceration in the state of Maryland. Could you connect that to the action that you took and to what happened to Freddie Gray?

DOMINIQUE STEVENSON: Yes. One, if you look at statistics, that particular neighborhood - Sandtown-Winchester is the neighborhood in Baltimore - has actually the highest incarceration rate in the state. And you cannot disconnect that rate of incarceration from the style of aggressive policing that takes place. We've talked to many young men. OK, of course, there's crime in that community. There are no jobs in that community. There is no economic development happening in that community. But the other issue is the harassment of police, the unnecessary detainment of police. People don't know what Freddie Gray's history may have been with those folks that he saw and why making eye contact simply made him run. And so I think that we really need to take a look at how policing is done in Baltimore. It cannot be disconnected from our high incarceration rate. Black folks make up almost 80 percent of the total population in the Maryland prison system, yet we comprise about 28 percent of the population in the state.

AMY GOODMAN: Eddie Conway, you were interviewing people in the area. We just saw you talking to a witness. This issue of there being video of Freddie Gray in the takedown, when they are dragging him over to the - or trying to carry him over to the police van, it looks like he cannot move. Yesterday, the police union spokesperson - attorney, said, "Oh, you know, that's what these perps do. They have to be dragged because they won't walk." Can you respond to this, based on what you heard from witnesses?

EDDIE CONWAY: Yes, and I interviewed perhaps 30 people from that community that was in that area or either heard the incident or witnessed the incident. The incident actually occurred under one of the police cameras that has been operating for years in that community, and they have been using that camera to make numerous drug arrests over the years. And for some reason, that day, that camera did not work. It would have been directly over Freddie Gray's head. It would have recorded everything that took place.

One of the things that people say, that one of the police dropped down on his back, on his neck with his knee, and from that point on, he was incapacitated. And later, they even took him back out of the van and shackled his legs and did something else to him and threw him back in the van. So, as far as all the witnesses can tell and all of them report, that he was already fatally injured when they put him in, in the first place. That video that we saw with them dragging him to the van, he was already incapacitated.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And has anyone, Eddie Conway, given an exclamation for why that camera didn't work that day?

EDDIE CONWAY: No one knows why that camera didn't work. Everybody in the community says that that camera has been used consistently over the years to lock people up, and used for evidence in drug arrests and other arrests. One of the things is, and I guess I want to raise this issue, when is it a crime for a man to run somewhere? People run throughout the city all the time. People are constantly running. So, you get executed because you run?

AMY GOODMAN: Now, can you clarify, for people who haven't been following this case? The police union attorney yesterday said, in a high crime area, yes, you can arrest someone if they simply run. And no one alleges anything other than that Freddie Gray ran. What about this?

EDDIE CONWAY: Well, it's not a high-crime area. It is a "broken windows" police area in which people and residents in that area are arrested for sitting on their own steps. They are loitering in their own community, on their own steps, and they're harassed constantly. And this had been the reports that I have received. The Real News and myself and Friend of a Friend, we have been going down in that area trying to establish a relationship with the people in that area. And one of the things that they said is that they're not even allowed to sit out in the area on their steps, even though they live there. The police will come and harass them. That level of harassment causes verbal responses. It causes physical contact. It causes people to be arrested. And before you know it, they have an arrest record, even as - I'm talking 10-, 11-, 12-, 13-year-old juveniles. And they end up in the prison system. And that's why that becomes the high-crime system - the high-crime area.

AMY GOODMAN: A statement -

EDDIE CONWAY: Go ahead. I'm sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: A statement from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, Baltimore's police union, compared the protesters calling for justice in the death of Freddie Gray to a "lynch mob." During a news conference Wednesday, reporters questioned the union's president about the comparison.

REPORTER 1: I just was reading the statement you all just handed out to us just now. And just reading it, the tone, I mean, it says that the images on TV look and sound much like a lynch mob. Are you - I mean, what do you - how do you expect that to be received?

MICHAEL DAVEY: I haven't seen that. I haven't -

GENE RYAN: I put that, because they've already tried and convicted the officers, and that's just unfair. They still get their day in court. They did not give up their constitutional rights when they became a law enforcement officer. That's what I was getting at with that. Some of the protesters and some of the stuff I've been watching on the news, they want them put in prison. Well, they haven't been charged, number one. Number two, they still get their day in court. So how can they request that they be put in jail? We haven't even got to that process yet. The investigation has to be completed before we move forward.

REPORTER 1: Right, but are you concerned with the tone of the statement at all?

GENE RYAN: No, because I was quite offended by some of the things that were being said yesterday. Me, personally. That's coming from me. That didn't come from Mike and the law firm. That's coming - that's -

REPORTER 2: But it says - this says it comes from the Fraternal Order of Police.

GENE RYAN: Yes. That's - I'm the president.

REPORTER 2: So are you likening these citizens protesting in this rally to a lynch mob, specifically?

GENE RYAN: Well, let's put it this way: If they're tried, convicted, and they would have put them in jail, where's the due process with that?

AMY GOODMAN: That's Gene Ryan, the police union president. Dominique Stevenson, this likening to a lynch mob. Yesterday, you did get arrested. You went over the barrier. What is your reaction to the police union president?

DOMINIQUE STEVENSON: Well, actually, if you take a look at what happened to Freddie Gray, he was tried, convicted and executed. And so, I resent likening people who are simply protesting and demonstrating and responding to a situation that was extremely unjust in their community to a lynch mob. As a person of African descent and understanding the history of lynching in this country, I find that statement offensive. I think that people are very frustrated because this is not the first time that this situation has occurred in Baltimore. I think that people have spent years of seeing these situations occur. People have experienced police brutality on so many levels, whether it's witnessing the mistreatment of loved ones or community members or experiencing it firsthand. There were so many people in the community yesterday who were willing to come up and talk about their experiences with the police, that this is something that has been so harmful to black communities across the country, but particularly here in Baltimore. So I think that it is - basically, it's a statement designed to garner attention and to garner a response. I think that people have a right to protest. They should continue to do that. But along with that, we need to really begin to organize. We need to take control of how policing is done in our communities. And that will begin to resolve some of the problems.

AMY GOODMAN: Dominique Stevenson, we want to thank you for being with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Eddie, I'd like to ask you to wait for one moment, because you'll be staying with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Eddie Conway with the Baltimore-based Real News Network. We are also going to be joined by the former president of the Baltimore City Council. This is Democracy Now! Major protests planned for today in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray. He was taken down by police on April 12th. He died on April 19th. His family and lawyers say 80 percent of his - that 80 percent of his spine was severed. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Our guests are - well, Eddie Conway is continuing with us right now. Eddie Conway is an executive producer for The Real News Network, former prisoner. He was in prison for more than 40 years. Lawrence Bell is also with us now, former president of the Baltimore City Council. He represents West Baltimore, which is the area where Freddie Gray was arrested.

So we're going through the facts as we know them. On April 12th, Freddie Gray was arrested by police. It is not clear why. His family, his attorney said he was arrested for running while black. No one contends anything other than he was running and they arrested him. They then drag him into the police van. The police union attorney said that could be because he was resisting. What the witnesses around him are saying is that he looked like he could not move. He could not use his legs, and he was yelling. He is put into this van. At least 30 - or was it 40? - minutes before any kind of medical or medics were called. He would be in the hospital for a week. He died on April 19th, last Sunday. Five of the six police who were involved have given statements; one has refused to. They've all been put on leave with pay.

Lawrence Bell, how typical is this? What are you most concerned about right now as the former president of the Baltimore City Council?

LAWRENCE BELL: Well, first of all, I want to say it's good to be here, and I appreciate the opportunity to talk about this subject. Unfortunately, Baltimore has had a long history, a very long history, of these kinds of incidents going on. And I think, really, what's changed here in Baltimore, as well as around the country, is that we live in an age where there's technology and people have cellphone smartphones, where they have cameras. Years ago, I remember, over 20 years ago, I was one of the people that led the struggle to try to get civilian review, strong civilian review, here in a city of Baltimore. And that's something that has been resisted for many, many years. And I think it's because there has been a camaraderie within the police department, kind of a "stop snitching" mentality among police.

AMY GOODMAN: Misconduct settlements involving Baltimore police officers have cost the city more than $6 million since 2011. One victim, Barbara Floyd, told The Baltimore Sun that a detective ground her face into the concrete in 2009.

BARBARA FLOYD: I stood by the tree outside of my door with my back facing the street. All of a sudden, I feel arms around my neck. So I was struggling, because I didn't know who it was. Yeah, I was screaming, when I could, "Get off of me! Leave me alone! Why are you all doing this?" They never answered my questions. They don't answer your questions. All they do is tell you to shut the hell up.

NARRATION: In March 2009, Barbara Floyd was watching a disturbance outside her home when, she said, a police officer grabbed her.

BARBARA FLOYD: He put another leg in the small of my back. He was grinding my face into the pavement. He kept telling me to lay down. I was already down.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Barbara Floyd. She received a settlement for $30,000. So you're the former president of the Baltimore City Council, Lawrence Bell.


AMY GOODMAN: More than $6 million for police misconduct over the last few years. Now, you weren't president during that time, but can you talk about this?

LAWRENCE BELL: Yeah, I mean, this has been going on for a number of years. And what's interesting is that the problem in Baltimore, I believe, became exacerbated in the early 2000s, when former Mayor Martin O'Malley began the zero-tolerance policy. And what happened is that basically, you know, they'd been arresting people for petty nuisance crimes, petty things, more arrests, more arrests, and there's been a devaluation of black life. And so, these things have happened. Now, one thing to note is that many of the settlements back over the several years occurred outside of the public meeting setting in the - at the Board of Estimates in Baltimore, so you didn't have a great groundswell of talk about it, because a lot of it wasn't really out in the public view as it is today. But this has been going on for a while.

And I think that it just speaks to the need for change. We need civilian review. We need a different attitude within the police department. We need a better attitude in the whole city. And I think, as I said earlier, we need to have jobs in these communities. You know, something that's concerned me is that, not only in Baltimore, but around the country, even among a lot of the black leaders, we've heard them talk about the issue of police misconduct, but we haven't talked about the ways that black lives are minimized when we are economically depressed and more money is going into prisons, building prisons, than has gone into jobs in places like Sandtown in Baltimore.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Lawrence Bell, what is your response to the way that the mayor has responded to what's happened? Both the mayor and the police commissioner in Baltimore are African-American, and some have pointed out that this means their response has been much better than what it was, for example, in Ferguson after what happened with Michael Brown.

LAWRENCE BELL: Well, I think the mayor is sincere. I think that there's still a problem with a lot of leadership, even black leadership, being out of touch with the people on the ground. You know, there's an emotion that people feel, and that has to be recognized. And I think the mayor and the commissioner, number one, they need to move a lot faster. I mean, we know that there was a certain number of people on the scene when this incident occurred. It shouldn't be - take rocket science to determine something went wrong. And we need answers a lot faster, a lot quicker. And the length of time that this is taking is the thing that's really inflaming the passions of the people in the community. So I think that the mayor should do a lot more, a lot faster.

I think that - again, as I said earlier, some years ago there was a video in Baltimore called Stop Snitchin', and it talked about people in the drug arena snitching on one another. But here's the thing. Police, apparently, have a mentality of "stop snitching" among themselves, not only in Baltimore, but around the country. And that's what people are upset about, the whole idea that there's cover-up and that we know these kinds of things have happened for years, years. And I think if you interview some police officers who are honest, maybe people who are retired, they'll tell you that this goes on all the time. So, we need to have a whole change. We also need to recruit more African Americans on the police force, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Billy Murphy, the attorney for the Gray family, says police brutality is a pervasive problem in Baltimore.

LAWRENCE BELL: Absolutely.

BILLY MURPHY: And Baltimore has a sorry history of police brutality and an even sorrier history in terms of a governmental response to police brutality. Typically, the police deny, deny, deny, no matter what the facts are. And it is not unusual for them to promote the police officer, even after he's been found guilty of brutality. We had one case - I handled this - where we got a $44 million verdict against a police officer who rammed my client into the brick wall at the back of his holding cell and paralyzed him from the neck down.

CNN HOST: Oh, my goodness.

BILLY MURPHY: That police officer was promoted to sergeant, after the verdict against him. And the city refused to pay and made us appeal at every level. So we had to go to the Court of Special Appeals, the Court of Appeals.


BILLY MURPHY: We won in all of the appellate courts. And still they wouldn't pay the verdict. So, it's a sorry, sorry situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Family attorney Billy Murphy speaking on CNN. On Tuesday, Michigan Democratic Congressmember John Conyers reintroduced a bill to curb racial profiling and provide relief to profiling victims. Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland introduced a companion bill in the Senate. During a news conference, Congressman Conyers cited the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

REP. JOHN CONYERS: All lives matter. All lives matter. And I'm thinking now of Sean Bell, Kimani Gray, Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and now, sadly, Freddie Gray. And so, all of these African-American young men were killed at the hands of local police officers. Ultimately, they are tragic examples of the risk of racial profiling and the use of excessive force.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's Congressmember John Conyers after reintroducing a bill against racial profiling. Lawrence Bell, would you call stopping a man while he's running is racial profiling? Again, the police union attorney said yesterday in the news conference that if they're running in a high-crime area, that's cause enough. Now, I was just watching on television Leonard Hamm, the former police chief of Baltimore, being interviewed, and he said, "No" - he was the former police chief. He said, "No, running is not enough." Lawrence Bell, your thoughts?

LAWRENCE BELL: Well, I think these people need to study the law, because there is a concept of probable cause that exists. And I think it's absurd to say that somebody simply running, after they make eye contact with a police officer, is probable cause. So it makes you wonder, really, you know, where are these people being trained, and where do they get this mentality. And I'll tell you something. Quite honestly, there is a question of how they perceive black men. The perception of black men and the value of black men is on display right now, when we see these kinds of incidents go on. So, I think that that's something we need to deal with right away.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Eddie Conway, we'd like to get your comments on the clip that we played earlier of the police union president, Gene Ryan, likening the protesters to a lynch mob. Could you comment on that?

EDDIE CONWAY: You know, as a journalist and a reporter, I have to question the language. I mean, a lynching did occur: Freddie Gray was lynched. There was a lynch mob. There is a body. There was a death without a trial, without a jury, without a sentence. There was an execution. That's lynching. So, for anybody to say that people that exercise their First Amendment right to protest, to demand justice, to demand an investigation, is a lynch mob, it's 1984. It's doublespeak. They are blaming the victims. They're blaming people that suffered the lynching, for protesting about the lynching, about their behavior. And I think that is - I mean, they do not serve and protect the citizens of the community, the people that pay them, when they kill those citizens and then, in turn, accuse those citizens of acting out of order, and arresting those citizens for protesting the violence that they inflict upon the citizens. That's absurd.

AMY GOODMAN: There is a big difference in the way North Charleston, South Carolina, dealt with the killing of Walter Scott and what's happening today. A police officer was arrested. The mayor and the police chief went to see the family of the Scotts to give their condolences. Now, I understand the Baltimore mayor did call the family to visit them, and they said it wasn't the time to do that. But on the issue - and I wanted to put this question to Lawrence Bell - of these six police officers, they have all been suspended with pay. Five have given statements; one has not. There's been very little information released. There's an internal investigation. There's a Justice Department investigation. There are a few others, apparently. What do you feel - and I'll put this question to both of you - needs to be done now? Apparently, the state will be releasing Freddie Gray's body soon.

LAWRENCE BELL: Well, there needs to be some finality in terms of the investigation. It has to happen a lot faster. We do - you know, we even have - doctors here at Johns Hopkins University have already said that the kind of injury that Mr. Gray suffered had to occur from - well, it had to be a very strong contact that he had with somebody, it seems to say. And so, you know, we don't - we're not rocket scientists. We don't need to study this forever to come up with certain conclusions. We need to have the statements that were made by the police officers released. We need to know everything that happened right away. We need to - we need speed here. We need to know what has happened. And we need to have some people charged. And I'll tell you, when you have people who are suspended but are still getting paid, that's the kind of thing that really inflames the passions of the people. And they feel that there's a two-tiered justice system: There's one for police; there's a different one for just regular citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally -

EDDIE CONWAY: Yeah, and I would add that if any other citizen or any other six citizens had been involved in the death of another citizen, they would all be in central booking. They would all be up for bail hearings. They would all be at least investigated in that kind of manner. They wouldn't be receiving paid vacation. So there's a double standard here in terms of the lives of citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us. Of course, we'll continue to follow this. More than a thousand people are expected in protests today in Baltimore. Eddie Conway, executive producer of The Real News Network, a former prisoner for more than 40 years. Lawrence Bell, former Baltimore City Council president, represented West Baltimore, which is an area where Freddie Gray was arrested.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we'll talk about Saudi Arabia bombing Yemen. Red Cross is calling it a "catastrophe." Stay with us.

News Fri, 24 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Google and Android in the Firing Line as European Union Pulls Trigger on Competition Inquiry

There are some specific words that are not particularly popular with the European Commission: "hi-tech", "anti-competitive" and "bundling", to name a few. Throw "US firms" into the mix, and the result is as many expected: Google has been accused of anti-competitive practices in Europe.

The culmination of a three-year investigation, the commission will now examine not only the prominence of Google's own services in its search results, but also launches an inquiry into Android, Google's mobile phone operating system.

The European Commission's competition chiefs have sent a Statement of Objections to Google, requiring the search giant to respond to allegations of anti-competitive behaviour in online shopping, where "Shop with Google" links - paid for by advertisers - are promoted over other search results.

Concerns of anti-competitive behaviour will similarly form the heart of the commission's investigation into Android, which is expected to focus on Google's agreements with tablet and smartphone manufacturers which might fall under Article 101 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

These sorts of contractual arrangements include exclusivity agreements, such as where manufacturers are required to pre-install Google's applications and services exclusively in their tablets and phones - for example, apps such as Google Maps, Gmail, Play, Music, Search and the other elements of the Google-branded ecosystem. They also include agreements whereby manufacturers are restricted from developing and marketing rival products to those Google offers.

The commission will also investigate Google's practice of bundling its applications and services. Tying and bundling occurs when the supplier requires that two or more products are purchased together, even though they might have not been requested. This practice can be equated to abuse of dominance, especially when the supplier is a market giant the size of Google - and particularly in Europe where its dominance in search is greater than in the US and other markets.

This anti-competitive behaviour is likely to trigger Article 102 TFEU, which prohibits the abuse of a dominant position due to its likelihood to prevent or restrict competition. Similar issues have dogged Microsoft, which was dragged through the European courts for anti-competitive practices involving, among other things, software bundling and designing its products in such a way that it was difficult for third parties to create compatible products.

Google Comes Out Fighting

In anticipation of the investigation, Google issued a memo presenting its basic argument against the commission's allegations and aiming to reinforce its brand as a promoter of innovation and an investor in new ideas.

Google points to the open-source nature of the Android system, the pricing of its products, as well as the existence of a vibrant competing market for apps and services - worth US$7 billion in revenue for developers and content publishers last year alone. The point Google is trying to make is that in a market where innovation thrives and consumers have wide choice characterised by low prices, there cannot be a negative or anti-competitive effect on trade.

Practically speaking, this investigation is likely to lead to a highly protracted court case - the EU case against Microsoft took 16 years. If and when Google is charged with breach of EU Competition Laws, the firm could face fines up to US$6 billion. But the bigger problem for a company the size of Google is the legal costs such a protracted case will incur. Distracted by arguing its case against the European Commission, Google risks falling behind in its highly competitive and fast-moving industry.

Proceed With Caution

A lesson from the Microsoft saga is the importance of timing - Microsoft was ultimately forced to unbundle software such as its media player from Windows many, many years after the case was brought - at a time when it no longer mattered. The pace of technological progresses far outstrips the European Commission's ability to keep pace, and the grounds for a lengthy investigation launched in 2015 may no longer be relevant a few years from now. Markets can change overnight, something of which the European Commission is well aware.

Ultimately, the technology industry and associated markets have unique characteristics in respect of competition law - the pace of innovation means no one can be sure today what tomorrow's big products will be. Consequently a dominant firm today may be last in line tomorrow. Competition specialists have long identified this fact and called for caution when intervening, as competition in the field of innovation takes place not in today's markets, but for the markets of tomorrow.

News Fri, 24 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
An Exclusive Interview With US Senator Bernie Sanders

Austin -  This special Rag Radio podcast features an exclusive 30-minute interview with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a leading progressive voice in the US Senate who discusses with us his potential presidential candidacy and what he calls the "grotesque level of income and wealth inequality" in this country.

The second part of the show is a discussion with Rag Radio political analyst Glenn W. Smith, a progressive Democratic strategist and director of Progress Texas PAC.

Bernie Sanders joined us by telephone from Washington, DC, in advance of his recent Austin visit which was highlighted by a March 31 "Bernie Sanders Town Meeting" that was by all accounts a rousing success.

The senator spoke before an enthusiastic gathering of close to 500 political activists, union members, and Bernie supporters who were packed into the union hall of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 520 on E. Ben White Blvd. in Austin. The event was chiefly organized by the increasingly active Austin chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

Bernie was introduced to the crowd by Texas' famed populist rabble-rouser and Rag Radio regular, Jim Hightower, and Austin City Councilman Greg Casar also spoke at the rally. The next night, Sanders headlined a high-dollar Democratic Party fundraising event.

On the radio show, Sanders saluted pundit Hightower: "Jim is an old friend of mine and you should be very proud to have him as your local agitator in Austin," he said. In a recent appearance on Rag Radio, Jim Hightower addressed many of the same themes that Sanders stresses, especially the need for a grassroots movement to counter what Hightower refers to as a "corporate plutocracy."

Bernie also gave a shout-out to Rag Radio: "Congratulations for having a cooperative radio show that talks about real issues that effect real people," he said. "We need to multiply what you do by a million times."

Sanders, who was elected to the Senate in 2006 after 16 years serving Vermont as its sole congressman, is the longest serving independent in American Congressional history. He is known for his outspoken advocacy on issues such as income inequality, big money in politics, climate change, and veterans' interests.

A native of Brooklyn who worked as a carpenter and a documentary filmmaker, Bernie is the former mayor of his hometown, Burlington, Vermont. He is a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, which he previously chaired, and in 2015, was tapped to serve as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee. Bernie is one of only two Independents in the Senate and is the only member of Congress who openly identifies as socialist.

"In this country today we probably have more serious problems than we have had since the great depression," Sen. Sanders told the Rag Radio listeners.

Ninety-nine per cent of all new income today is going into the pockets of the top 1%. You have the top 1/10th of 1% owning more wealth than the bottom 70%. You have one family - the Walton family - owning more wealth than the bottom 42% of the American people…

Between 2013 and 2015, a two-year period, the wealthiest 14 people in this country - Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and the Koch Brothers - saw an increase in their wealth of $157 billion. That is more money than the bottom 40% of the American people have.

You've got our friends the Koch Brothers, who are the second wealthiest family in the country, prepared to spend more money than either the Democratic or Republican parties in the next election to push forward an extreme right-wing agenda which represents the very most wealthy people in this country.

About his potential run for the presidency, Bernie Sanders said:

What I have to weigh is whether I could put together - in terms of fundraising, in terms of a grassroots political infrastructure - the kind of support that we need to run a serious and winning campaign…

What does make me optimistic is that, on issue after issue… the American people are not as divided as the pundits tell us that we are.

People want to raise the minimum wage, they want to create jobs, they want to deal with climate change, they want to make college affordable, they are outraged by the greed of the top 1% and the grotesque level of wealth and income inequality.

The challenge, and it's not an easy challenge, is to bring people together around that progressive agenda.

"This country," Sen. Sanders believes,  "is moving very fast toward an oligarchic form of society where a small number of people have incredible wealth, incredible economic power."

You have on Wall Street six financial institutions that have assets that are over 60% of the GDP of the United States of America. They issue two-thirds of the credit cards and one-half of the mortgages in America.

You have the Koch Brothers, who are worth $85 billion, who not only put money into campaigns but they are involved in universities, they are involved in think tanks, they are involved in media… Smart people, well-organized, they have a political data base that is stronger than that of the Republican party.

Their goal is to make a counterrevolution in America and move us back to the 1920s.

And what their agenda is about is literally to repeal every piece of progressive legislation passed in the last 80 years: social security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, do away with the concept of the minimum wage. They are funding the climate deniers.

So, he asks rhetorically, "do we need to redistribute [wealth] back to the working families of this country, many of whom might have $2,000 in the bank? And many… who could go under if they had an automobile accident or a divorce or serious illness?"

"Of course we do."

About the current gang at the Supreme Court, Sanders says:

In area after area this Supreme Court has been a disaster, has undermined democracy, has been working day and night for the wealthiest and most powerful people in this country.

I think the Citizens United decision alone will probably go down as one of the worst decisions ever made by a Supreme Court. It essentially tells the billionaires, hey, you won much of the economy, now you can own the United States government.

And they are seizing that opportunity.

"That is not the kind of country I think that most Americans want to live in," Sanders concludes. "And that's the struggle that we face right now."

Joining us for the second segment of our show is prominent Texas political consultant and strategist Glenn W. Smith. We discuss the current political scene - both nationally and in Texas - including the assumed "inevitability" of Hillary Clinton ("Barring unforeseen circumstances, I think she will be the nominee.") and what Smith dubs the "mean demeanor" of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whom he refers to as a "bully authoritarian." "He's no Penelope," Glenn chuckled.

Smith has recently joined forces with the Rev. Dr. William Barber, whose "Moral Monday" movement in North Carolina has been such a remarkable success in its grassroots efforts that have pulled together people of all races, genders, ages, and class backgrounds. Rev. Barber, Smith says, "is a powerful speaker with a moral vision that I haven't run across anywhere else in the country, and the ability to put it into action and get people to work together."

Moral Monday is now being organized on a national scale as the "Forward Together Moral Movement." Smith believes that Barber has the makings of a great civil rights leader and that the movement has the potential to become an important force nationally.

Glenn, who is director of the influential Progress Texas PAC, is Rag Radio's resident political analyst. A former political journalist, Smith helped manage Ann Richards' winning 1990 campaign for governor of Texas. He's guided national campaigns for, has been a senior fellow at George Lakoff's Berkeley think tank on moral, progressive political language, and is the author of the acclaimedPolitics of Deceit, a book which calls for a revolution in our political practices.

News Fri, 24 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Department of Justice Claims Grossly Disparate Treatment Will "Promote Respect for the Law"

On Thursday, David Petraeus will be sentenced in North Carolina. If all goes as his lawyers and the government have arranged, he will get a year of probation for leaking some of this country's most sensitive secrets to his mistress.

On May 11 (the date has been postponed from this week), Jeffrey Sterling will be sentenced for - the jury decided - leaking details of the Merlin program,  a CIA effort to deal flawed nuclear blueprints to Iran. In a sentencing memorandum, the government argues Sterling should be sentenced for 235 to 293 months - upwards of 19 years - for exposing CIA's Merlin (the government argues he exposed a program that might have thwarted Iran's nuclear ambitions, ignoring the evidence they themselves submitted showing it was poorly managed).

The same DOJ that recommends Petraeus should go virtually unpunished for sharing far more sensitive information with Paula Broadwell says that Sterling should go to prison for decades to set an example.

In addition, imposing a substantial prison sentence in this case is necessary to promote respect for the law and afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct. 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(2)(A) & (a)(2)(B). The importance of these factors cannot be overstated. A substantial sentence in this case would send an appropriate and much needed message to all persons entrusted with the handling of classified information, i.e., that intentional breaches of the laws governing the safeguarding of national defense information will be pursued aggressively, and those who violate the law in this manner will be tried, convicted, and punished accordingly.

Now, DOJ isn't making quite as ridiculous an argument as this first appears. It goes on to list several things that might distinguish Sterling - who leaked to expose CIA dysfunction rather than fluff his own ego - from David Petraeus. First, Sterling - who never got the option of a plea deal offering probation - went to trial.

Most importantly for sentencing-disparity purposes, the defendant exercised his right to a jury trial.

And for that, the government argues, he should get a much harsher punishment.

Then, in a squishy paragraph invoking harm that it did not prove (and then backing off that to "potential harm"), the government argues Sterling's behavior is far worse than any other Espionage Act case that has been prosecuted recently.

Moreover, the degree of harm at issue here further separates the defendant's conduct from other individuals who communicated national defense information to the public through the media. Cf. Abu Ali, 528 F.3d at 263 (finding that the harm contemplated by Ali was much broader in scope and more devastating in terms of its potential impact than the harm contemplated by John Walker Lindh, whose sentence the district court had used for comparison purposes). Here, the potential harm caused by the defendant is far greater in scope than the harm contemplated or caused by a defendant in any recent § 793 prosecutions.

They can make this argument, of course, because they're not prosecuting James Cartwright (at least not yet), even though he allegedly leaked details of the effort to thwart Iran's nuclear program using StuxNet. There's almost no conceivable way to suggest the Merlin story is a more harmful leak than the StuxNet one; they just haven't chosen to prosecute the latter.

Finally, they misrepresent the trial record to claim they've proved that Sterling leaked this information out of spite and self-interest.

People act in response to all manner of motivation, some more commendable than others. Here, the evidence established that the defendant communicated national defense information for purely selfish and vindictive purposes. It is exactly because this enormous decision-making responsibility cannot be left to the whims of the individual employee that the same secrecy agreement the defendant signed in 1993 made clear that, if he had concerns regarding classified information, he had appropriate, independent outlets through which to address such concerns, including the House and Senate intelligence committees and the CIA's Inspector General.

Earlier in the filing, the government dismissed Sterling's effort to bring his concerns to the Senate Intelligence Committee by falsely claiming he had never expressed concerns before and therefore suggesting his doing so in March 2003 had nothing to do with the Iraq war - which is what SSCI's own documents and witness testimony indicated - but instead had to do with spite. But Sterling had raised concerns before. As the government's own witness, the Russian scientist Merlin, testified, Sterling had raised concerns immediately with Bob S, only to be told to "shut up."

In other words, the government is still struggling to explain why Sterling should go to prison for decades when David Petraeus and (thus far) James Cartwright go free, the latter for a very similar kind of alleged crime as Sterling was found guilty of.

Yet they claim - with no apparent intended irony - that such a sentence would "promote respect for the law."

News Fri, 24 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400