Truthout Stories http://www.truth-out.org Tue, 28 Apr 2015 12:04:47 -0400 en-gb On the News With Thom Hartmann: Hawaii Is the Latest Battleground in the Fight for Solar Energy, and More http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30480-on-the-news-with-thom-hartmann-hawaii-is-the-latest-battleground-in-the-fight-for-solar-energy-and-more http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30480-on-the-news-with-thom-hartmann-hawaii-is-the-latest-battleground-in-the-fight-for-solar-energy-and-more

In today's On the News segment:The Hawaiian Electric Company has been blocking thousands more residents from generating their own electricity; the loss of sea ice in the Arctic is creating a feedback loop that could spell disaster for the ice caps; a coalition of organizations is challenging the EPA's approval of Dow Chemical's Enlist Duo herbicide; and more.

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

TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here - on the best of the rest of Science and Green news ...

You need to know this. We've known for some time that warming temperatures pose a big threat to Artic ocean ice. However, only now are we learning about so-called "waves of destruction" that are speeding up the disappearance of sea ice. According to a recent article by Mark Harris in Scientific American, the loss of sea ice in the Arctic has allowed large waves to develop in the now-open water. Those waves then break up the remaining sea ice, thus creating a feedback loop that could spell disaster for the ice caps. Back in 2010, a Norwegian research vessel called the RV Lance set out to study ice pack, as they did every season. Although in previous years the team was able to walk out on to the ice pack, and even camp on larger floes, the 2010 team found too many cracks in the ice to explore safely. After moving their ship deeper into the ice pack, the scientists noticed how small waves were quickly growing in size and breaking up large pieces of ice. That team recorded some waves that were more than 30 feet high, and watched as they rapidly broke the ice into thousands of smaller pieces. The whole process is so fast and powerful that areas of over 16 kilometers of ice were destroyed in one hour. And, because of their ability to begin quickly and rapidly increase in power, these waves are nearly impossible to predict. In addition to destroying sea ice, the waves are also very dangerous to ships, oil-drilling platforms, and arctic communities. This is what happens when a feedback loop is created, and this is how a small rise in temperatures quickly becomes a global catastrophe. If we don't work harder to restore our environment, we may not survive as a species. We only have one planet to call home, so let's get busy making sure we can survive here in the future. Check out GreenWorldRising.org for more information.

The FDA barely has the time and money to monitor one percent of our food for safety, yet they're considering using more of those limited resources to go after homeopathic medicine. Last week, that agency held two days of hearings on homeopathy, to consider stricter regulation of alternative forms of medicine. While hyper-regulation by the FDA could be seen as an effort to remove competition for big pharma, opponents of homeopathy say that stronger rules from the FDA are needed to prevent injuries and safeguard the public from false claims. However, homeopathy supporters worry that government regulators could go too far in their efforts to protect the public, but they welcome more testing and industry standards. Dr. Ronald Whitmont, a homeopathic doctor interviewed by the ThinkProgress Blog, said, "There are always bad apples in the manufacturing world, and they need to be policed just like in any other industry." In addition, hyper-regulation by the FDA could be seen as an effort to take out competition for big pharma. Millions of Americans regularly use homeopathic medicine, and it's important that they are protected. Now, if the FDA would look more closely at the pharmaceutical industry, that could really help keep Americans safe.

"Hawaii is a postcard from the future." That's a statement from Adam Browning, the executive director of Vote Solar, a California-based policy and advocacy group that works on solar power issues. In a recent article in The New York Times, Diane Cardwell explained that Hawaii is just the latest battleground in the fight to go solar. About 12 percent of homes in that state have rooftop solar panels already, but the Hawaiian Electric Company has been blocking thousands more residents from generating their own electricity. After state energy officials forced the utility to process their massive backlog of solar permits, homeowners could finally start moving on installations. With that move, our nation's solar leader will soon be even greener. All over the country, privately-owned utility companies are trying desperately to block green energy, but one-by-one, they will be overruled. Hawaii is proving that Americans won't wait on a broken Congress to do something about global warming. The only question is which state will be next.

The FDA may be working to protect Americans, but some say that the EPA isn't doing enough. In a new lawsuit, a coalition of environmental and health organizations is challenging the EPA's approval of Dow Chemical's Enlist Duo herbicide. The group says that the weed killer combines glyphosate, which the World Health Organization recently said should be considered a carcinogen, and 2, 4-D, which is the key ingredient in the infamous Agent Orange. Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said, "In expanding its approval for this super-toxic chemical cocktail, [the] EPA has shown an utter disregard for human health, our drinking water, and endangered species like the iconic whooping crane." She added, "[the] EPA has left us with no choice but to go to court." You don't have to be a scientist to worry about the harmful effects of stronger and stronger chemicals being used in our environment, and you shouldn't need to be an environmental activist to appreciate that this group is working hard to protect your health.

And finally... Tommy Kleyn lives in Rotterdam, Netherlands, but, he's inspiring others from as far away as Taiwan, to do more for their environment. Every day, Tommy rides his bike to work as an artist, and passes a section of the Rotterdam riverway. Tommy was so tired of seeing trash collect on the banks of that river, that he decided to devote half an hour every day to do something about it. He began taking the time to fill one trash bag every day until the river bank was clean. But his project didn't take as long as expected. After posting pictures online, Tommy's friends joined in and made quick work of the garbage. The pictures quickly spread all over the world, including right here in our nation's capital, and they're encouraging others to get involved. If each of us pitched in a half hour at a time, there's no telling what we could clean or accomplish. Half an hour isn't much to give to get a cleaner world. Thanks for the inspiration, Tommy!

And that's the way it is for the week of April 27, 2015 – I'm Thom Hartmann, on Science and Green News.

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News Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Liberian Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee: How a Sex Strike Propelled Men to Refuse War http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30478-liberian-nobel-peace-prize-laureate-leymah-gbowee-how-a-sex-strike-propelled-men-to-refuse-war http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30478-liberian-nobel-peace-prize-laureate-leymah-gbowee-how-a-sex-strike-propelled-men-to-refuse-war

Liberian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee, one of the 1,000 female peace activists gathered to mark the founding of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, recalls her work in leading a women’s peace movement that brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. "We were constantly trying to imagine strategies that would be effective," Gbowee says. "The men in our society were really not taking a stance. … We decided to do a sex strike to kind of propel these silent men into action." Gbowee notes the idea for the strike came from a Muslim woman and was inspired in part by the civil rights movement in the United States. Gbowee shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with fellow Liberian Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Yemeni native Tawakkul Karman. She is the founder and president of Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa based in Liberia.

TRANSCRIPT:

AMY GOODMAN: Leymah Gbowee, you helped to end the Second Civil War in Liberia and jailed the president, Charles Taylor. Talk about how you accomplished this. Here, of the three of you, you most recently won the Nobel Prize, in 2011. What did you do in Liberia?

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Well, one of the things that we were able to accomplish in Liberia was bringing together groups that would not necessarily come together to build peace: Christian and Muslim. If you look at the world and the order of the world today, there is a lot of religious extremism and fundamentalism. We had those subtle kinds of issues in Liberia at the time, because whilst all of the different warring factions were from the different ethnic groups, where there were undertones, religious undertones, and we knew that if we had to build peace, we needed to bring not just the women together, but women from diverse background. We have 16 ethnic groups, and with the two major religious groups in Liberia, Christian and Muslims. So we were able to bring those women together to work together.

And I would say one of the strategies we used was the whole strategy of reconceptualizing religious spaces. A lot of the times, people use religion as a means of disempowering women. And if you go into the Qur’anic text and even in the Bible, you’ll find there were some great women. So we use the examples of those very great women to talk about how they helped to change their time. As a Christian and working with Christian women, we used Deborah, Esther. They were engaged in political issues in biblical times. And once the narrative of those women had been kind of reconceptualized, the women were able to resonate with it and were able to bring them together, but also not just bringing the groups together, but to protest nonviolently. Fourteen years of violent uprising. We started with two groups, the government and the warring faction, the rebel group. By 2003, we had gone through almost 12 or 13 different armed groups. And so, everyone’s response to the war was bringing in more violence or bringing in more guns. And we realized that if there were changes that should happen in Liberia, it had to be nonviolent. So we protested. We did sit-ins. We were just like invading spaces that women would not necessarily be in.

AMY GOODMAN: How did Charles Taylor, the president, respond to you?

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Well, initially, when we started, we had done an invitation to get him to come and listen to us. And people said, "Well, if you send one invitation, he’s going to say he didn’t get it." And I remember us doing six invitations—one to him directly to his office, one through his religious council, one through his wife, one through the speaker of Parliament, one through the president of the Senate, and one through, I think, his national security person. So six letters of invitation for one event. There was no way that he could have said he didn’t receive the letters, because we had multiple people telling us they hand-delivered it. Of course he didn’t show up, because he didn’t know how to respond to us.

We sat, and we just decided we’re going to protest and demand three things: immediate unconditional ceasefire, dialogue and the intervention—international intervention force. Those were the three things that Taylor has specifically and explicitly said to the international community at the time he wasn’t going to do. Liberia was a sovereign nation, and he was not going to allow foreign troops on the ground. He was a legitimate president, and he wasn’t going to sit with illegitimate groups, and that talking with them was just—and that he would fight until the last soldier died. And so, going to him with the things that he was defying the world with, and saying, "We will protest until you give us," and so it’s more or less you’re defying the world, and we are defying you, that we will continue to invade your space until you give it to us. So, those—and finally, he had to give in. And finally, he had to say, "OK, I’ll go to the peace table." But then, going to the peace table did not end our protests. We continued until the pressure from us, the pressure from other African leaders and the rest of the world forced his arms to resign at the end of the day, so...

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and when we come back, I want to ask you about the sex strikes that you engaged in in Liberia that made an enormous difference. We are joined right now by Leymah Gbowee—she is the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner; Mairead Maguire, who won the prize in 1976; and you will also be hearing from Jody Williams, who won in 1997. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’re broadcasting live from The Hague, from the World Forum of The Hague. It’s the hundredth anniversary of the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting live from The Hague, from the World Forum at The Hague in The Netherlands. It’s the hundredth anniversary of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. One hundred years ago, a thousand women, in the midst of World War I, gathered here. A thousand years later, they have—rather, 100 years later, they have gathered again, calling for peace in very violent times. Among those who are here are four Nobel Peace Prize winners. Later in the week, we will speak to Dr. Shirin Ebadi of Iran. Right now we’re joined by the three other Nobel laureates. Tawakkul Karman was supposed to come from Yemen; she wasn’t able to, given the strife there. But we are joined by Mairead Maguire, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976, by Jody Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, and by Leymah Gbowee, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

So, we’re at The Hague, Leymah, and here is where Charles Taylor was tried, the first head of state in the world to be tried before an international court modeled on the Nuremberg trials, and got 50 years, not for atrocities committed in your country, Liberia, where he was head of state, but in Sierra Leone. Fifty years, he was sentenced to. He’s in prison now in London. But I want to go back to this issue of the sex strikes, one of the strategies you used to bring in end to war in Liberia.

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Well, when we started, I must say, we weren’t as sophisticated as the Dr. Kings and the Mandelas of the world. We were few women. A few of us had read some of the stories of these great men, and women—Rosa Parks and other people, women who had done great work, including the celebration that we find ourselves in in The Hague. But we were constantly thinking on our feet, constantly trying to imagine strategies that will be effective. When we started our protest, we barely got the media’s attention, not local media and definitely not the international media. Once we put out there, and it was a real strategy that—we felt like the men in our society were really not taking a stand. They were either fighters or they were very silent and accepting all of the violence that was being thrown at us as a nation. So we decided we’ll do this sex strike to kind of propel the silent men into action. So if you had a beer buddy who was a warlord, you needed to encourage him to lay down his arms. And the way we were trying to do that was to pressurize the partners that we had, husbands and partners who were also sometimes silent in the entire scheme of the war.

AMY GOODMAN: Who came up with this idea?

LEYMAH GBOWEE: A Muslim woman, my colleague, well, very good friend of mine, Asatu Bah Kenneth. She’s like, "We’re going to do a sex strike." And it was like, "Whoa!" for me, because usually the stereotypes we have about Muslim women is that they are quiet, obedient, and that they do not have those kinds of, you know, mind. But she was the one who came up with the idea.

And once we put it out there, it became a huge issue, first not in our—in our community, it wasn’t because sex is exotic, even though it is, but people wanted to know who were these women to even dare their husbands or the men, who are supposed to be in power, to say they won’t give sex because of the war. The international media wanted to know: How can you refuse sex, when rape is the order of the day in your culture, in your society? So, all of these lingering questions made it a very good strategy for talking about, because every time we went to do press and they wanted to know about this sex strike, we had to go about every other reason why we were doing it before this, so it became a very good media strategy for the work that we were doing at the time.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, how did the war end?

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Well, when we had pressured the government, Taylor, for the first time when we met him, over 2,000 women turned out on that day. And it was one of really those amazing days where you have dictator who would say, "You can come and see me," and it’s probably a test, because people were afraid of this man, afraid of the huge amount of guns that were in the town. And we get there, but the women, they’re standing somewhere else, and get to his palace, and they say, "We have instruction that if you’re less than 20, you shouldn’t come in," because they had underestimated us. They thought women would not show up, because we were going to see Taylor. So my question to the guards were: "If we are more than 20?" And he was like, "You can come." So, standing there, one phone call formed a line and just a sea of white coming down the hill. And it was like, these women are really serious. And then, all of a sudden, we get a call from in his office that he’s not feeling well and that he will see only 10 of us. And I was really furious. I said, "No, if he can’t come to see all of us, we will leave." And his guards were like, "Who is this woman, who is just really too militant for her own good?"

Finally, he agreed to come out to see all of us. We challenged him. He offered us seats. We refused to sit. We sat on the floor. "Given the rationale that your war has taken all of our furniture," said we, "why should we sit in a chair when we come to see you?" So, afterwards, he said, "Well, if any group of people can get me to commit to going to do peace, it’s the women. And I’m promising you that I will go to the peace table." For us, that was the challenge. We will keep the pressure on in country, but we also have to go find the warlords in the bushes, give them a position statement, then go to the peace talks and be present. And so, we were there keeping the pressure up for many months. And one day we got tired, and we seized the entire hall, locked the men in and said they would not come out until we had a peace agreement signed. We were going to almost a third month of a peace process that should have lasted three weeks. After we did our locking in of the men and giving our own position to them that this is what we want, two weeks later we got a peace agreement signed. But signing the agreement was good. We went back. Women decided just to follow through the entire process.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Leymah Gbowee, how does it feel today for you to be here at The Hague, where President Charles Taylor was tried, now in prison for 50 years—he’s imprisoned in Britain, just lost his latest appeal—and your co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia?

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Well, one of the things that I—when I look at the life and legacy of President Taylor, it tells a lot about ordinary people and their ability to forgive. When Liberians elected Taylor, it wasn’t because they were so afraid of him. They wanted to give him the opportunity to redeem himself. Instead of pursuing a policy of reconciliatory democracy, he decided to rule instead of leading, came to The Hague, was tried, found guilty.

There are two things. I was happy because the people of Sierra Leone—their war in Sierra Leone, just like the war in Liberia, wars in everywhere, was horrifying, horrific on the lives of women and children, and that someone, finally, some big guy, was answering to the rest of the world. It just—Taylor was the example for the world that we will no longer sit and allow people to come and treat their citizens or their next-door neighbors as if they were people on their plantation. So, this is—even if other leaders are not paying or pretend not to be paying attention, some of the leaders that we have today that are choosing the path of gangster ruling, they’re worried, because if it could happen to a Charles Taylor, it could happen to us, too. So I was happy that justice, in that form, was served.

My sadness on that verdict is that when I was growing up, we constantly saw the scale of justice—at our Ministry of Justice in Liberia, in the Temple of Justice, they had this big scale, where it was balanced. And they had this thing: "Let justice be done to all men." In my mind and during my entire socialization, I understand justice to be balanced. Taylor’s trial, his conviction is well and good, but I feel like the scale was tilted in his favor. Those who were amputated in Sierra Leone, who is giving them food? He’s in a prison in the U.K., and he has the luxury of three meals a day, a warm bed during winter, a cool bed during summer. Some of these people have two arms or both arms hacked. Who is providing meals for them? Who is taking care of their children? Taylor, I feel, for that scale to be balanced, all of his loots—or part of his loot should be given to Liberia, and the rest of it given to the victims of the Sierra Leonean war. Then the scale will be balanced. That’s my take.

AMY GOODMAN: Leymah Gbowee, I was walking down 125th Street, Harlem, the other day, and I was passing the Apollo Theater, and your name was up in lights, coming to the Apollo on June 12th, I think they said.

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News Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Nobel Laureates Call on "Militaristic" United States to Renew Pledge to Protect Human Rights http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30476-nobel-laureates-call-on-militaristic-united-states-to-renew-pledge-to-protect-human-rights http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30476-nobel-laureates-call-on-militaristic-united-states-to-renew-pledge-to-protect-human-rights

As we broadcast from the World Forum at The Hague, a statue has just been dedicated to Dutch suffragist Dr. Aletta Jacobs, who 100 years ago organized an extraordinary meeting known as the International Congress of Women that took place as World War I raged across the globe. We are joined by three women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize and are gathered to mark the anniversary and discuss how to build peace in the future. Mairead Maguire was awarded the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her actions to help end the deep ethnic and political conflict in her native Northern Ireland. Leymah Gbowee received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her work in leading a women’s peace movement that brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. And Jody Williams won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Williams notes President Barack Obama has authorized more drone strikes during his first three months in office than President Bush did during his entire administration.

TRANSCRIPT:

AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman, broadcasting live from The Hague, from the World Forum at The Hague. Actually, right nearby is the Peace Palace, and this past week the second female statue was dedicated. It was dedicated to Dr. Aletta [Jacobs], who was one of the founders of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, called that session 100 years ago where a thousand women came in the midst of World War I, 1915, to say no to war. Now we’re joined by three Nobel Peace laureates. Jody Williams won it in 1997 for her campaign against landmines. Leymah Gbowee is with us from Liberia. She won in 2011. She was fighting the Liberian Civil War nonviolently, organizing throughout Liberia. And Mairead Maguire is with us. She won in 1976, along with Betty Williams, in Northern Ireland as they fought against the violence there.

Now, none of your activism has stopped. You didn’t go out, you laureates, on your laurels. Mairead Maguire, I remember visiting Phil Berrigan in jail. You were the next person to visit him. I left. You came in. But you didn’t leave. I think you were arrested on the spot. Why did you refuse to leave at that time? Phil Berrigan, the well-known Plowshares activist who, you know, based on the philosophy of turning swords into plowshares, had done yet another nonviolent action against nuclear weapons in the United States.

MAIREAD MAGUIRE: Yeah, well, I’ve always been inspired by the American peace activists from when I was a very young woman, because I think that it took tremendous courage. And Phil Berrigan was one of my heroes. But I had also been to Iraq and met with the Iraqi government and people like that, and we knew there were no nuclear weapons in Iraq, and they were crying out for dialogue. And they hadn’t been approached by American diplomats to actually find the path of peace.

AMY GOODMAN: This is before the Iraq War, you were saying talk to them.

MAIREAD MAGUIRE: Before the Iraq War, yes. So, what we were coming to America to say to the diplomats and to the government—and to walk with the American people—these problems can be solved without bombing each other, through dialogue, through negotiation. So I came then to America to be part of that process. But, you know, we can campaign against war, against militarism, but until we change our consciousness and our mindsets that we really have to stop killing each other, because we are technological giants, we have a great deal of knowledge—we know how to kill each other, and we can’t undo that knowledge. So what we have to do is really in our own minds decide that we are not going to kill each other.

AMY GOODMAN: You also went to Syria?

MAIREAD MAGUIRE: We went to Syria, and we went to Syria twice. And we went into Syria with a delegation of 40 Iranian peace activists. And the whole message coming out of these countries is: Don’t invade us, don’t occupy us; we can solve our problems through dialogue, through negotiation. Again, it comes back to the thing, if you listen to the news, people would almost despair: "Oh, my god! The world is coming apart. What can we do?" But, you know, we have a wonderful world, and there’s a great deal happening. And the vast majority, 99 percent of people in the world, do not want to kill each other. They have never killed each other. They care for the fact that children are dying in all these countries. But tragically, we seem to be caught in this trajectory that our governments take us to war, and we don’t want to go to war.

AMY GOODMAN: Mairead Maguire—

MAIREAD MAGUIRE: We want to do it through peace.

AMY GOODMAN: You also were on one of the Gaza flotillas challenging the Israeli blockade against Gaza?

MAIREAD MAGUIRE: Yes, I was, because I passionately believe that there could be peace between Israel and Palestine, if you had the political will to sit down the political leaders and say, "There is a solution to this. Find it." Because going out and bombing women and, increasingly, children on the ground, it is horrific. It’s not acceptable. But I would challenge the American government, because I think the American government’s policies are totally wrong. Their approach of going out to militarism and war and bombing countries is uncivilized, illegal and absolutely dreadful in the 21st century. So I do believe that America has a moral and ethical responsibility to the world to listen, that the people in the world want peace. Everybody has a right to peace. They can do it through dialogue and through negotiation. And let’s give peace a chance.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there a chance? I mean, you have the Obama administration now. Under the Obama administration, more weapons have been sold in the world than under any previous administration. And the highest number, amount of the weapons have been sold to Saudi Arabia. Jody Williams, you’re from the U.S.

JODY WILLIAMS: Of course we can change the world. Sometimes, as Mairead says, when we look at that—when I look at my own country, I’ve been fighting the U.S. foreign policy since Vietnam, my first protest, 1970, University of Vermont. But change is possible. And because I believe, like Mairead, the majority of people of the world are sick to death of this, and we are starting to stand up and say no. We’re starting to challenge and not accept, you know, words out of one side of the face and the actions which are different. You know, I never thought, unfortunately—I didn’t drink the Obama Kool-Aid. That man fired or authorized more drone strikes in the first three months of his administration than George W. Bush did in eight years in office. We have to, as Americans—I agree with her—accept the responsibility that we have the most militaristic nation in the world, and take responsibility to stop it.

AMY GOODMAN: Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, you have also taken on the issue of Ebola. Talk about how you dealt with Ebola and what your government was doing.

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Well, the government was totally unresponsive to the needs of the people. I remember when we had the—

AMY GOODMAN: This is your sister Nobel laureate—

LEYMAH GBOWEE: You know, Amy, I’m not—

AMY GOODMAN: —President Johnson Sirleaf.

LEYMAH GBOWEE: —even going to allow you to end. I get so sick and tired when people say, "You won the prize along with President Sirleaf." First thing first, President Sirleaf is a politician, I’m an activist. No one expected that we’ll be having Sunday brunch together every day. We were bound to disagree on issues, because that’s what happens between politicians and activists. That’s one. Two, I did not win the prize because I’m a wimp. I won the prize because I’ve always stood up and spoke truth to power. So if speaking truth to power will cause me to disagree with Jody in this civilized world, I believe that if we disagree, we should be able to come back together to agree on a more cordial line. Having said that—

AMY GOODMAN: Now, we only have a minute, so tell us this ingenious strategy in the communities.

LEYMAH GBOWEE: We decided—since our government was unresponsive, the death was going on, because we believe in community and the power of the people, my foundation decided to put money into the hands of community people to find their own strategy, find their own solution for the Ebola crisis. We did that through 150 local organizations, from prayer groups to soccer groups, to youth groups, to women’s groups, and 26 local radio stations. Today, the U.N. has said this is an effective strategy. And I like to claim it as setting a trend.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about the cinemas, the video clubs?

LEYMAH GBOWEE: One of the beautiful things that happens in community, when people understand what they need to do. We gave this group of women some money to think through. They went on YouTube, got some of the young people—we had nothing to do with it—downloaded some of the videos from past Ebola cases in East Africa, other parts of the world, and they made their own short documentary, went into their community, used the money that we had given them to hire a cinema, or we call it local video clubs. And once the hiring had been done, they asked the video clubs to show blockbuster movies.

AMY GOODMAN: Blockbuster movies, like the biggest—

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Blockbuster, like the biggest movie we have in our space and time—and told community people it was free to go and watch the movie. These clubs were filled with people. In the middle of the movie, they would do an intermission and put on a little clip about Ebola. And that’s how the community, that particular community of almost 20,000 inhabitants, were really able to see that this disease is real, and we need to start taking all the necessary action.

AMY GOODMAN: So, they’d stop the film in the middle, show the little documentary, then go back to the blockbuster?

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Then go back to the film. And then people will leave, not talking about the film, but just talking about that short clip. And these women had put in hand-washing stations, all of the different things, so people then begin to start washing their hands and taking all the necessary precaution.

AMY GOODMAN: And what number are you at now of Ebola victims in Liberia?

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Well, we are at zero. And hopefully, in five or six days, we’re supposed to be counting down to Liberia being Ebola-free by the World Health Organization. And I think the success is not government. It’s not flying in the U.S. military. It’s community. Engage, engage, engage communities.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it at that. Five seconds for each of you to wrap up this, with you women of wisdom in this time of war. Mairead Maguire?

MAIREAD MAGUIRE: Well, you know, America is a great country. And Eleanor Roosevelt was one of
the contributors to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And you have a wonderful Constitution. But revive your Constitution, rededicate yourselves to international law, and be a peacemaker, not a warmaker.

AMY GOODMAN: Jody Williams? You have two seconds.

JODY WILLIAMS: Nothing about us without us: Women need to be involved in all aspects of peace and security.

AMY GOODMAN: Leymah Gbowee? Three seconds.

LEYMAH GBOWEE: In The Hague, do one good thing every day that everyone else is scared to do.

AMY GOODMAN: We will leave it at that. Leymah Gbowee and Mairead Maguire and Jody Williams, thanks so much.

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News Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Deaths at Sea: Scant Hope for the Future From Europe's History of Failure on Migrants http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30474-deaths-at-sea-scant-hope-for-the-future-from-europe-s-history-of-failure-on-migrants http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30474-deaths-at-sea-scant-hope-for-the-future-from-europe-s-history-of-failure-on-migrants

Europe is today the deadliest migration destination in the world and the Mediterranean is becoming an open-air cemetery. In spite of worldwide condemnations – from civil society to global institutions such as UNHCR – the EU’s approach has been hopeless. While deploring deaths at sea, it has been unable, over the past three years, to act as the responsible political authority it ought to be – preferring to leave Italy to tackle the problem alone.

The tragedy unfolding in the Mediterranean is a severe blow for the European common migration and asylum policy. Thought of initially as an accompanying measure to the achievement of the EU single market by easing the freedom of movement of people internally, it has drifted towards a Fortress Europe for most outsiders.

In 2004, between 700 and 1,000 died each year as they tried to cross into Europe from Africa depending on whose numbers you consulted. This number almost tripled in 2011 and included migrants dying in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Malta, Italy, Spain, Algeria, Greece, but also people shot dead on the Moroccan-Spanish border in Ceuta and Melilla or drowned in the Evros river on the Greek-Turkish border.

Migrants have long tried to escape both poverty and violent conflict by crossing into Europe, but the consensus is that the building of a restrictive common EU migration policy – which allows fewer legal ways of coming to Europe – and more sophisticated surveillance to enforce this policy have contributed to this stark increase in the number of deaths.

So, one of the most popular migrant routes in 2004, the West African route – which involved taking sea passage from West African countries, mainly Senegal and Mauritania, into the Canary Islands – has become largely disused. Compared to the 31,600 illegal migrants detected by Frontex in 2008, only 275 migrants took this route in 2014.

Cooperation between Spain, Mauritania and Senegal involving more sophisticated surveillance – as well as repatriation agreements with West African countries which have returned thousands to their countries of origin – have prompted migrants to take different routes, mainly the central Mediterranean route that goes through Libya. The Gilbraltar strait is now well controlled by the Spanish Integrated System of External Vigilance which has forced migrants to divert via longer and more dangerous routes.

Since the fall of Gaddafi the absence of a stable government in Libya has caused a considerable disruption of border controls in and out of the country which has led human traffickers concentrate their efforts there. And it has also been reported that restrictive border controls in Israel and the Gulf – Saudi Arabia has built a 1,800km fence on its border with Yemen – has prompted many migrants, notably from East Africa, to head for Europe instead. After Syrians fleeing the civil war, Eritreans are the most common nationals found attempting the central Mediterranean route.

Mare Nostrum and Triton

Faced with the indecisiveness of its European partners over the migratory flows the Italian government unilaterally established its Mare Nostrum operation, which ran from October 2013 to October 2014 and patrolled 70,000km in the Sicily Straits at a cost of Euros 9m per month (US$9.6). This involved more than 900 Italian staff, 32 naval units and two submarines taking shifts amounting to more than 45,000 hours of active operations. The Italian navy reports that during the Mare Nostrum operation it engaged in 421 operations and saved 150.810 migrants, seizing 5 ships and bringing to justice 330 alleged smugglers.

But by the end of 2014 the burdens of running Mare Nostrum alone were becoming too much for Italy, which was keen to involve its European partners. The Triton programme, coordinated by the EU border agency Frontex and under the command of the Italian ministry of Interior, was duly established, on a much smaller scale than Mare Nostrum – Triton deploys two ocean patrol vessels, two coastal patrol vessels, two coastal patrol boats, two aircraft and a single helicopter.

It also has no mandate for rescue-at-sea operations since its job is to control EU’s external maritime and land borders. Before last week’s tragedy, 24,400 irregular migrants have been rescued since November 2014, mostly by Italy. Some 7,860 migrants were saved by assets co-financed by Frontex.

The horror at the rocketing numbers of deaths in the Mediterranean in recent weeks has at last prompted the EU to call for concerted action by its member states – and the ten-point action plan endorsed by European foreign and interior ministers on April 20 calls for an strengthening of Frontex Triton and Poseidon’s operations.

But the question of Frontex mandate on rescue at sea has not been addressed and nor has its inadequate budget, which is around Euro 2.9m monthly – just one-third of Mare Nostrum’s. Instead, increased cooperation between Europol, Eurojust, the European Asylum Support Office and Frontex and the deployment of immigration liaison officers to “gather intelligence on smugglers” are very vague action points which appear to merely repackage existing measures.

Needed: a joined-up policy

It is actually quite clear what the EU should be aiming for. First, a much larger rescue-at-sea operation should immediately be put in place. Since Italy halted Mare Nostrum, deaths at sea have increased rapidly. Its inadequate replacement, Triton, provides a convenient scapegoat for politicians who should never have mandated Frontex – the EU Border agency – for the task of rescue at sea in the first place. What is needed from the EU is to agree a collective system of rescue at sea – rather than relying on the efforts of individual EU member states.

Second, there must be safer, legal, avenues for asylum in Europe. Migrants are not just fleeing poverty, they are fleeing violence, danger and repression. At present most of them end up in Libya, which is in itself a very dangerous place; the hope of reaching safety in Europe prompts these refugees to risk highly perilous – and expensive – escape routes. Many are dying at sea.

This is not likely to go away anytime soon and building legal, virtual or real fences won’t help. For some of those migrants, Europe could offer humanitarian visas and others could take advantage of family reunion with relatives already in Europe. Employment programmes could identify jobs to fill key shortages in the European economy. Offering more and easier legal means would necessarily lead to a fall in irregular migration.

We also need to establish a joined-up policy involving not just destination countries, but places of origin and transit countries. For many years the EU has been relying on non-members to police its borders. This is a flawed approach – rather than simply offering financial compensation, the EU needs to revise its incentives and provide what these origin and transit countries want: visa facilitation and trade and access to the EU single market. It’s time to work out an effective cooperation, not merely trying to impose a top-down security agenda, which is doomed to fail. Also doomed to fail is the traditional approach which has relied on southern European states and their neighbours dealing with the surge of refugees.

The Dublin convention, which was established in 1990 to regulate the assignment of asylum applications processing, is surely no longer viable. A system that reassigns applications of asylum-seekers to the country they first entered puts southern Europe under excessive strain – especially as countries such as Greece lacks the capacity to host and process applications while observing their human rights obligations. The 2015 Tarakhel vs. Switzerland is the latest of a series of cases which highlight the inefficiency of that system. It is high time to review the notion of “burden-sharing” within the EU.

Not needed: the Australian solution

Tony Abbott’s suggestion that Europe should follow Australia’s example and simply turn boats back, or ship all rescued refugees and migrants to off-shore processing centres is certainly not a serious proposal. By diverting migrants to Papua New Guinea islands of Manus and Naura, Australia has been found to violate its international law obligations. Meanwhile, to Australia’s shame, Amnesty International has documented numerous human rights abuses in these processing centres.

Australia’s refugee policy is not only inhumane, but apparently rather expensive: AU$342.2m ($256.5) was spent by Australian Customs and Border Protection Service for its Civil Maritime Surveillance and Response programme – which involves policing illegal maritime arrivals.

Following Australia’s example is unrealistic as it relies so heavily on siting its offshore facilities in its neighbouring countries. Given the long-standing reluctance of north African and Middle Eastern countries to play that role – and given their own limited capacities, this is never going to work. The migratory flows are much larger, for a start.

Adopting Australian’s offshore processing of boat people would not only contravene EU and international law but would also probably reveal that the EU is going adrift and that, next to a governance crisis, it is undergoing a deep moral and ethical crisis.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Opinion Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
National Guard Deployed as Baltimore Erupts After Years of Police Violence, Economic Neglect http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30472-national-guard-deployed-as-baltimore-erupts-after-years-of-police-violence-economic-neglect http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30472-national-guard-deployed-as-baltimore-erupts-after-years-of-police-violence-economic-neglect

Residents watch as police form a line outside their home in Baltimore, April 27, 2015. Baltimore erupted in violence on Monday, hours after Freddie Gray, who has become the nation's latest symbol of police brutality, was laid to rest. (Matt Roth/The New York Times)Residents watch as police form a line outside their home in Baltimore, April 27, 2015. Baltimore erupted in violence on Monday, hours after Freddie Gray, who has become the nation's latest symbol of police brutality, was laid to rest. (Photo: Matt Roth / The New York Times)

For the second time in six months, National Guard troops have been deployed in response to police brutality protests. Baltimore erupted in violence Monday night over the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old African-American man who died of neck injuries suffered in police custody after he was arrested for running. Police say at least 27 people were arrested as cars and stores were set on fire, and at least 15 officers were injured. Baltimore public schools are closed, and a weeklong curfew is in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Also Monday, thousands gathered to pay their respects during Freddie Gray’s funeral, including our guest, Rev. Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader, and president and founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Jackson says the violence "diverts attention away from the real issue" that West Baltimore is an "oasis of poverty and pain" where residents have long suffered from police abuse and economic neglect. We also speak with Lawrence Bell, former Baltimore City Council president. He grew up in and represented the impoverished area where Freddie Gray was arrested, and argues the "chickens are coming home to roost."

Please check back later for full transcript.

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News Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The US Has Nearly 600 Coal Waste Sites: Why They've Got West Virginians Worried http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30471-the-us-has-nearly-600-coal-waste-sites-why-they-ve-got-west-virginians-worried http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30471-the-us-has-nearly-600-coal-waste-sites-why-they-ve-got-west-virginians-worried

Marsh Fork Elementary, deep in West Virginia coal country, is shut down and fenced in, a fine layer of dirt covering its once-cheerful sign: "Staff-Students-Parents Working Together." Next door, the Goals Coal Prep Plant still plugs away, treating coal mined just a few miles away and pumping the byproducts of that treatment up into the sky.

Junior Walk, 25, a former student, points to an earthen dam visible from the driveway to the school. The school lies in a narrow valley between two long ridges. The Marsh Fork carves a path between, and the two-lane WV-3 runs alongside it. Bare winter trees and brush open up to a field surrounding the school. Above the former elementary, rock and refuse from mountaintop removal mining holds back 2.8 billion gallons of liquid slurry.

Behind the barrier, a "slurry impoundment," as it's called in the industry, contains byproducts from the prep plant and drainage from a 2,000-acre surface mining site that surrounds it. The slurry, which contains fine particles and chemicals used to "clean" and prepare coal for sale, may bear some resemblance to the 108,000 gallons of slurry that blackened a West Virginia creek a year ago in February. That slurry also came from a coal preparation plant.

There are nearly 600 slurry impoundments in the U.S., many of them concentrated in in the coal-mining territories of Appalachia. Local activists in West Virginia argue that these impoundments pose a huge danger to surrounding communities due to the chemical composition of these lakes of slurry, along with the fact that many are held back by potentially unstable dams made of mining rubble—dams that have fatally failed before.

In January 2013, classes started at a new Marsh Fork Elementary after years of effort on the part of local groups, such as Coal River Mountain Watch, to move the school from this potentially dangerous area. Impoundments like these have collapsed before, and Walk, outreach coordinator for CRMW, says it may be only a matter of time before another collapses. Locals are also worried that slurry is poisoning underground water reserves, but as with many coal industry controversies, empirical evidence is lacking on both sides of the debate.

Locals lobby for more information

Walk isn't the only one worried about potential impacts of coal slurry on the people and environments surrounding waste sites. In 2009, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection imposed a moratorium on the approval of new coal slurry injection sites. These sites are abandoned underground mines, another place where coal slurry is commonly stored. That moratorium is still in effect, as far as CRMW members can tell. The WVDEP did not return repeated calls to confirm this.

Vernon Haltom considers the moratorium a hard-fought victory for the Sludge Safety Project, one of the first organizations to focus on slurry impoundments and safety issues when it was founded in 2004. Haltom is with Coal River Mountain Watch, which co-founded the Sludge Safety Project with another Appalachia-based group, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. Since 2004, a major focus of the SSP has been its lobbying for more information and scientific studies surrounding the safety of slurry impoundments and injection.

"What our safety project did was get citizens and scientists to testify at the hearings and speak to the legislature," Haltom explains. But lobbying didn't happen in 2014 because of what Haltom calls "a certain amount of lack of return on our investment. … The legislature didn't get any friendlier these last couple elections." Today, the SSP operates as a part of the larger citizen enforcement groups in the area.

In 2012, West Virginia delegate Mike Manypenny introduced a bill to ensure the moratorium enacted in 2009 was permanent until additional research into the safety of slurry injection had been performed.

"The studies that have been done are on the slurry that goes in and the water outfalls that come out the mine pools," Manypenny said in a 2012 article on the website of West Virginia University's School of Public Health. "There's never been a true in-mine pool study to determine what's really happening to the coal slurry."

There was no further action on the bill after its first day, however. A similar bill in 2011 made it further, achieving House and Senate committee votes.

More information could be life-changing for people like Alfred Ray Price. Price worked for 19 years at a coal preparation plant, where the slurry is produced. At age 47, he stopped working because of his health, and today he lives in a world of unknowns, suffering from cognitive disorders for which no one can pinpoint the source.

Part of Price's job at the prep plant was spraying antifreeze into coal cars to keep coal from sticking to the sides. He remembers the sweet taste of the antifreeze as it glanced off the cars back into his face and down his throat.

"They told us it was antifreeze," Price says, "and I asked them if it was harmful, and of course they said no. And I asked for safety data sheets, and I never was given one."

Stories like these are common but almost impossible to confirm. It is also nearly impossible to draw a direct link between the health problems that workers like Price have experienced later in life and their chemical exposure on the job—time introduces too many unknowns, and even if chemical exposure were pinpointed as the cause of Price's health problems, who is to say that the inciting chemical was at his workplace and not in his well water? Meanwhile, there's no single way for doctors to link health problems to working conditions in the coal industry.

"There is no characteristic sign and no characteristic lab test except for the measure of the chemical itself in the human body," explains Dr. Alan M. Ducatman, who has had many coal-industry workers as patients. And, he adds, many chemicals don't leave traces over the long term.

In danger of collapse?

In 2000, the Big Branch Slurry Impoundment near Inez, West Virginia, collapsed into an underground mine and 309 million gallons of slurry were spilled. Many called it one of the worst environmental disasters in the southeastern U.S. The worst impoundment failure in U.S. history happened in 1972, at Buffalo Creek, West Virginia, and was caused by heavy rain and structural deficiencies, which led to a 132-million-gallon spill that killed 125 people.

"Now you compare that to the Brushy Fork impoundment, which sits a mile above my parents' house," says Walk. "Largest earthen dam in the Western Hemisphere, [taller] than the Hoover Dam, holds back 7.8 billion gallons—billion gallons—of this toxic waste." If the dam ever breaks, Walk says, "My parents and my family would be some of the first in the path."

Estimates of Brushy Fork's capacity range from 6.5 billion to 8.5 billion gallons, amounting to about 64 times more slurry than was spilled at Buffalo Creek. Brushy Fork's owner, Alpha Natural Resources, says the contents are mostly solid, not liquid; a 2007 evacuation plan states only the upper 30 feet of material would be "flowable." But that same plan also estimates that, in a worst-case scenario, a wave from the collapse of the Brushy Fork impoundment could reach as high as 72 feet, and travel for miles into surrounding communities.

In the Elk Creek chemical spill near Charleston that caused a national uproar in January 2014, just about 7,500 gallons leaked from the Freedom Industries storage tanks.

These aren't isolated incidents. A federal study conducted in 2011 found that embankments holding back the slurry at seven impoundment sites were "not consistently being compacted in accordance with approved specifications." Just 16 out of 73 field density tests conducted at these sites met specifications.

In response to the study, Nancy Gravatt, senior vice president of communications for the National Mining Association, wrote in an email, "Our industry works closely to ensure federal and state guidelines are followed and to prevent slurry impoundments from failing."

She added that slurry impoundments are built to strict specifications and highly regulated.

"Impoundment design plans, prepared under the direction of certified and registered professional engineers and geologists, are complemented by rigorous inspection procedures followed by federal and state inspectors," Gravatt wrote.

Although other studies conducted by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which regulates impoundment design, operation, and construction, have seen more encouraging numbers, they have also identified potential hazards.

A study published in 2013 by the OSMRE looked at the permits for 15 high-risk slurry impoundments in West Virginia, and identified administrative or design concerns on 11 of those permits. When companies decide not to add any more slurry to an impoundment, such impoundments are often "capped," meaning they are covered and generally planted with vegetation. But the 2013 report also raised concerns that once an impoundment has been capped, the state of West Virginia doesn't take special precautions to ensure that new underground mining doesn't occur close to the basin. One impoundment, Crooked Run, was closed because of its breakthrough potential, yet the report noted that new mining has taken place beneath the impoundment.

Meanwhile, some worry that disposing of slurry in impoundments and underground mines threaten local water sources. While there's not enough evidence to say this happens on a regular basis, there have been a few studies on the topic, including a 2004 study prepared by Dr. Ben M. Stout III and research assistant Jomana Papillo, both of Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia. For the study, 15 wells within 2 air miles of West Virginia's Sprouse Creek Surface Impoundment were sampled; this followed reports of occasional "blackwater" in wells, the source of water for many area residents. Lead, arsenic, and other metals were discovered in several wells, and primary drinking standards for various metals were exceeded 13 times.

In March, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's administration announced that it would be taking a "closer look" at scientific studies that have connected mountaintop removal coal mining with premature death, cancer, birth defects, and other illnesses. Haltom is cautiously hopeful that Dr. Rahul Gupta, recently appointed the health commissioner of West Virginia, will guide the state's policies in a new direction.

But Haltom is also hoping that newly introduced federal legislation could address these issues. The Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act (H.R. 912) was introduced in Congress in February and seeks to broaden scientific research into the health impacts of mountaintop removal mining.

"It's pretty clear that we need federal intervention," Haltom said. "It feels like we're a third-world country appealing to the United States for assistance."

Impoundment alternatives

A 2002 National Academy of Sciences report listed several alternatives to slurry impoundments, and recommended that these be studied throughout the mining community. These include the use of slurry for power generation, alternative combustion technologies that could reduce the production of slurry, and dewatering, which creates a thicker, more solid substance.

For now, the way to make existing slurry impoundments safer is through "reclamation." The idea is that eventually water and heavy materials separate and water runs off or evaporates, leaving the heavier materials behind. These are eventually covered, and topped with soil and seed. However, some argue that not enough is done to reduce the hazards of the materials that remain.

"I seriously question whether those solids ever actually dry out," says Rob Goodwin, who has collaborated with such organizations as CRMW and works on mining enforcement issues.

Moreover, regulations don't address the time frame over which reclamation should occur.

"From the point at which they stop injecting slurry into the impoundment to the point where they're required to have it completely reclaimed, there's no time limit there," Goodwin explains. "At the very, very, very soonest, you're talking like 25 years. There's very, very few impoundments out there that have been reclaimed and achieved that status."

A reclaimed impoundment "has to be maintained forever" in order to be truly safe, Stout says. "That is similar to a nuclear waste site; of course, it's not as dangerous."

Ending the "resource colony"

Walk remembers his family's well running red water when he was a child. He blames underground slurry disposal for the color of that water.

"They pump it into old underground coal mines, which is what they did on the ridgeline above my home, and they were blasting right on top of it for a surface mine, and it just seeped into the aquifers, got into our wells, and that's what happened to our water," he says.

Walk and local organizations like the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition have called for an end to "sacrifice zones," wherein people who live in coal mining areas are asked to forfeit their needs for a greater prosperity.

"The thing is, this part of southern West Virginia has been essentially a resource colony for the past 150 years for the rest of the United States. It's been under the thumb of extractive industries. First it was logging, and then it was coal. Now it's coming to look like it's going to be natural gas," Walk says. "I, for one, am sick and tired of the people from my state being expected to go to work in a mine for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and break their backs and kill themselves to make all kinds of money for somebody sitting up on Wall Street."

Walk worked at coal preparation plants for less than a year before he started taking on an activist role.

"You know, when you're a little kid and you're going to school, you don't think nothing of it. You figure every elementary school's got a prep plant in the backyard. It wasn't until I got older, got to travel a little bit—I realized not everybody has to live this way. This isn't the American way of life."

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News Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Western PR Firms Benefited From Sri Lanka's Overseas Propaganda Campaign http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30470-western-pr-firms-benefited-from-sri-lanka-s-overseas-propaganda-campaign http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30470-western-pr-firms-benefited-from-sri-lanka-s-overseas-propaganda-campaign

In a country where an ordinary family's budget is under $300 per month, the money spent on PR hacks and consultants is literally taking the food off the table for many. It amounts to trickle-up economics from one of the world's poorest countries to the parasitic Beltway class that feeds on them.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the #SriLanka Tea Exporters Association's (TEA) 14th Annual General Meeting, October 15, 2013.President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the #SriLanka Tea Exporters Association's (TEA) 14th Annual General Meeting, October 15, 2013. (Photo: Nalin Hewapathirana)

Also see: "Squatters in Our Own Cities": The Displacement of Sri Lanka's Populations

The historic Sri Lanka elections in January that brought a win to political insider turned underdog Maithripala Sirisena have been a political tsunami for the previous administration of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa attempted to pull what many view as a coup d'état by asking the military to intervene when it became evident that the numbers would hand an election victory to his opponent. The military decided that it was ultimately in its interest to stay away from the political fight and let history take its democratic course.

Shortly after Mahinda Rajapaksa's defeat, his two brothers Basil and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, both US citizens, hastily left the island. Both were closely involved in their brother's administration - making the country look like a family enterprise. Gotabaya was de facto the second strongest person on the island as head of the Ministry of Defense - giving him huge political, military and economic power - while Basil was head of the Ministry of Economic Development.

Right after the election, President Sirisena announced an ambitious 100-day program, which, among other points, included pledges to prosecute corrupt public officials. To that effect, Basil Rajapaksa was asked to return to Sri Lanka to testify in connection with an ongoing investigation by the country's Financial Crimes Investigation Division of Police. Shortly after his return on April 21 and testimony, he was arrested along with two other senior officials who worked with him.

The ongoing saga of accountability in Sri Lanka has also spilled well beyond its borders as the money trail is now being followed to the United States. During an open session of Sri Lanka's Parliament in February, MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake asked Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Ajith Perera about payments to US entities that were discovered in the course of an audit. It came to light that the Rajapaksa administration had obtained the services of four US companies during the past five years in "building a positive image of this country in foreign countries."

Admittedly upholding any kind of positive image was a herculean task in light of allegations of horrific human rights violations, political repression and ongoing political interference with the UN report on war crimes that still has not been published. The Rajapaksa family had a history of paying for media and consulting fees to outside political media players. According to a 2011 article in The Independent, the British PR firm Bell Pottinger wrote President Rajapaksa's speech to the UN upon the conclusion of the civil war. In the speech, he not only denied any wrongdoing or war crimes, but he characterized the role of the Sri Lankan army as "humanitarian" despite documented atrocities that in the last weeks of the war took 40,000 lives. The PR firm was at the time paid $4.7 million of Sri Lankan taxpayer money.

In response to questions from Truthout, Bell Pottinger said in a statement: "We have not worked for the Sri Lankan Government since buying our company, in a management buy-out (MBO), almost three years ago. So the current management team, have had no involvement with the government."

In the United States, there has been a significant amount of money spent on Washington, DC-based and US Congress-connected lobbying and PR firms.

In addition to continuing scandals coming to light as deals signed by the previous administration are now being closely examined, what emerges is the extent of the paranoia represented in Rajapaksa's worldview. The obsession with management of foreign public opinion that was brought to light by the inquiry is reflected in vast amounts of money spent on PR and even getting US lobbyists to influence US lawmakers on softening the official US stance on alleged war crimes and human rights abuses.

Companies such as the politically connected Patton Boggs, Cranford Johnson Robinson, Majority Group, and even ex-Miami Herald and ex-Chicago Tribune reporter Steve Hedges got to share a total of $1,278,106. (All but Steve Hedges did not return Truthout's emails and phone calls requesting comment.)

In a brief conversation with Truthout, Hedges confirmed that he "was personally hired by SL Ambassador to US, Jaliya Wikckramasuriya" (Rajapaksa's relative). "I was hired for some media relations, press releases and business development work and your questions should be referred to SL Embassy in Washington," Hedges said. Other emailed questions about Sri Lanka's PR spending sent to the country's embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were not answered.

After 25 years of civil war, Sri Lanka is a country of enormous needs. In the most recent available statistics for 2012, it received $489 million in assistance, including $83 million in humanitarian aid. In a country where an ordinary family's budget is under $300 per month, the money spent on PR hacks and consultants is literally taking the food off the table for many. It amounts to trickle-up economics from one of the world's poorest countries to the parasitic Beltway class that feeds on them.

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News Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
To Protect and to Sever http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/30469-to-protect-and-to-sever http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/30469-to-protect-and-to-sever ]]> Art Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400 Challenging American Exceptionalism http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30468-challenging-american-exceptionalism http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30468-challenging-american-exceptionalism

President Barack Obama enters the House Chamber for the State of the Union address, at the Capitol Building in Washington, Jan. 20 2015. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The New York Times)President Barack Obama enters the House Chamber for the State of the Union address, at the Capitol Building in Washington, Jan. 20 2015. (Photo: Jabin Botsford / The New York Times)

President Barack Obama stood behind the podium and apologized for inadvertently killing two Western hostages - including one American - during a drone strike in Pakistan. Obama said, “one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional, is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.” In his 2015 state of the union address, Obama described America as “exceptional.” When he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly in 2013, he said, “Some may disagree, but I believe that America is exceptional.”

American exceptionalism reflects the belief that Americans are somehow better than everyone else. This view reared its head after the 2013 leak of a Department of Justice White Paper that describes circumstances under which the President can order the targeted killing of U.S. citizens. There had been little public concern in this country about drone strikes that killed people in other countries. But when it was revealed that U.S. citizens could be targeted, Americans were outraged. This motivated Senator Rand Paul to launch his 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination for CIA director.

It is this double standard that moved Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu to write a letter to the editor of the New York Times, in which he asked, “Do the United States and its people really want to tell those of us who live in the rest of the world that our lives are not of the same value as yours?” (When I saw that letter, I immediately invited Archbishop Tutu to write the foreword to my book, “Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.” He graciously agreed and he elaborates on that sentiment in the foreword).

Obama insists that the CIA and the U.S. military are very careful to avoid civilian casualties. In May 2013, he declared in a speech at the National Defense University, “before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set.” 

Nevertheless, of the nearly 3,852 people killed by drone strikes, 476 have reportedly been civilians. The Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), which examined nine drone strikes in Yemen, concluded that civilians were killed in every one. Amrit Singh, a senior legal officer at OSJI and primary author of the report, said “We’ve found evidence that President Obama’s standard is not being met on the ground.”

In 2013, the administration released a fact sheet with an additional requirement that “capture is not feasible” before a targeted killing can be carried out. Yet the OSJI also questioned whether this rule is being followed. Suspected terrorist Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, a U.S. citizen, was on the Pentagon’s “kill list” but he was ultimately arrested by Pakistani security forces and will be tried in a U.S. federal court. “This is an example that capturing can be done,” according to Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The fact sheet also specifies that in order to use lethal force, the target must pose a “continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons.” But the leaked Justice Department White Paper says that a U.S. citizen can be killed even when there is no “clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.” This renders the imminency requirement a nullity. Moreover, if there is such a low bar for targeting a citizen, query whether there is any bar at all for killing foreigners.

There must also be “near certainty” that the terrorist target is present. Yet the CIA did not even know who it was slaying when the two hostages were killed. This was a “signature strike,” that targets “suspicious compounds” in areas controlled by “militants.” Zenko says, “most individuals killed are not on a kill list, and the [U.S.] government does not know their names.” So how can one determine with any certainty that a target is present when the CIA is not even targeting individuals?

Contrary to popular opinion, the use of drones does not result in fewer civilian casualties than manned bombers. A study based on classified military data, conducted by the Center for Naval Analyses and the Center for Civilians in Conflict, concluded that the use of drones in Afghanistan caused 10 times more civilian deaths than manned fighter aircraft.

Moreover, a panel with experienced specialists from both the George W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations issued a 77-page report for the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan think tank, which found there was no indication that drone strikes had advanced “long-term U.S. security interests.” 

Nonetheless, the Obama administration maintains a double standard for apologies to the families of drone victims. “The White House is setting a dangerous precedent – that if you are western and hit by accident we’ll say we are sorry,” said Reprieve attorney Alka Pradhan, “but we’ll put up a stone wall of silence if you are a Yemeni or Pakistani civilian who lost an innocent loved one. Inconsistencies like this are seen around the world as hypocritical, and do the United States’ image real harm.”

It is not just the U.S. image that is suffering. Drone strikes create more enemies of the United States. While Faisal Shahzad was pleading guilty to trying to detonate a bomb in Times Square, he told the judge, “When the drones hit, they don’t see children.”

Americans are justifiably outraged when we hear about ISIS beheading western journalists. Former CIA lawyer Vicki Divoll, who now teaches at the U.S. Naval Academy, told the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer in 2009, “People are a lot more comfortable with a Predator [drone] strike that kills many people than with a throat-slitting that kills one.” But Americans don’t see the images of the drone victims or hear the stories of their survivors. If we did, we might be more sympathetic to the damage our drone bombs are wreaking in our name.

Drone strikes are illegal when conducted off the battlefield. They should be outlawed. Obama, like Bush before him, opportunistically defines the whole world as a battlefield.

The guarantee of due process in the U.S. Constitution as well as in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights must be honored, not just in its breach. That means arrest and fair trial, not summary execution. What we really need is a complete reassessment of Obama’s continuation of Bush’s “war on terror.” Until we overhaul our foreign policy and stop invading other countries, changing their regimes, occupying, torturing and indefinitely detaining their people, and uncritically supporting other countries that illegally occupy other peoples’ lands, we will never be safe from terrorism.

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Opinion Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Rise of Privatized Policing: How Crisis Capitalism Created Crisis Cops http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30467-the-rise-of-privatized-policing-in-the-us-how-crisis-capitalism-created-crisis-cops http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30467-the-rise-of-privatized-policing-in-the-us-how-crisis-capitalism-created-crisis-cops

Private security in wealthy man's pocket(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

The ranks of privatized police forces in the United States have swelled since the September 11, 2001, attacks, now dwarfing the public sector. With more private security guards than public police officers, what are the consequences for safety and accountability?

Private security in wealthy man's pocket(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

On February 13, 2014, Thomas Michalak and Cheryl LaBash, who organize with Moratorium NOW!, a coalition fighting foreclosures, evictions and water shutoffs in Detroit, fired off some quick tweets encouraging others to join their group in a demonstration opposing the state-appointed emergency management of Detroit's bankruptcy. They'd planned the protest for the next day, at Detroit's Campus Martius Park.

LaBash, a retired city employee, tweeted from Moratorium NOW!'s account that activists were planning to meet at the park to hand out flyers and circulate the group's petition calling on Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr to make big banks pay the brunt of Detroit's debt obligations, and to protect the city's pensions (including her own).

What the two didn't know was that operators at a private surveillance center in downtown Detroit's Chase Tower were watching their tweets closely behind their bevy of computer monitors.

The surveillance center is operated by a subsidiary of Rock Ventures, which serves as the umbrella entity for Quicken Loans CEO and mega-developer billionaire Dan Gilbert's business and real estate investments. The center works in partnership with the Detroit Police Department (DPD) and private security firms to monitor surveillance footage from 300 cameras covering more than 2 million square feet of property Gilbert owns in downtown Detroit.

"I said, 'Isn't this public property?' and [the security guard] said, 'Yes, but it's privately managed.'"

The next day, when a group of four activists, including Michalak and LaBash, headed over to the park's historic Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument to pass out flyers as planned, they were quickly confronted by a private security guard with Guardsmark, the security firm hired by Detroit 300 Conservancy, which privately manages the city-owned park. The guard asked the group to leave and warned them they would be arrested if they refused.

"I said, 'Isn't this public property?' and [the security guard] said, 'Yes, but it's privately managed,'" Moratorium NOW! organizer Abayomi Azikiwe told Truthout about the confrontation.

A DPD officer parked across the street backed up the security guard, telling the activists from his patrol vehicle that their activities were against park rules, but the four weren't convinced as they argued with the cop while standing beneath the park's red light pole banners proclaiming the space "Detroit's Gathering Place."

The confrontation served as a stark reminder of the chilling implications of exactly what the activists were there to fight: the mass privatization of Detroit's public services and assets in the aftermath of the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in the United States.

"They have an agenda of suppressing dissent in the downtown area because they're trying to protect an image of Detroit which we don't agree with," Azikiwe said.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan took up the group's case, filing a federal lawsuit in January against the Detroit 300 Conservancy and Guardsmark, and the City of Detroit has agreed this month on a series of interim rules safeguarding First Amendment activities at all of the city's public parks, regardless of whether they are managed privately or publicly.

Private entities are working in concert with the DPD to create a mostly privatized, "quasi-surveillance state" in downtown Detroit.

The city, while not technically a defendant in the suit, is representing the DPD officer who backed up the security guard, and introduced the new rules to help settle the case, which has not yet been dismissed. Officers and private security guards will now reportedly be trained to enforce rules allowing groups to gather, leaflet and demonstrate at all the city's public parks.

"With the continued privatization of government functions in Detroit and throughout the country, we thought it was critical to establish the principle that our constitutional rights cannot be outsourced out of existence," said Michael Steinberg, the ACLU of Michigan's legal director who represented the activists in the case.

Steinberg said that private entities such as Detroit 300 Conservancy and Guardsmark are working in concert with Gilbert's Rock Ventures subsidiaries and the DPD to create a mostly privatized, "quasi-surveillance state" in downtown Detroit - setting up a "frightening" situation for dissenters in the area.

An ongoing series of crises in Detroit fueled by the city's state-imposed bankruptcy filing in 2013, including most recently the devastating water shutoffs and the looming possibility of water privatization, has created an intense sequence of neoliberal shocks on Detroit's populace, and provide a cogent example of author Naomi Klein's "shock doctrine" theory at its worst.  Her theory describes a strategy in which neoconservatives exploit crises to advance neoliberal policies as the public remains too distraught and caught up with disasters to effectively resist such policies.

Detroit's desperate, increased reliance on private security and a private-public surveillance partnership in monitoring dissenters provides a model backdrop to the kind of crisis capitalism at work not just in Detroit, but across the United States, as the ranks of privatized police forces continue to surge since the September 11, 2001, attacks, now dwarfing the public sector as budgets for police departments experience cuts throughout the nation.

However, the policing cuts haven't happened uniformly across the country since the economic downturn of 2008. A 2013 report from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) found that police department budgets nationally have been recovering since 2010. Of the 416 police agencies that responded to two PERF surveys in 2010 and 2012, 51 percent reported budget cuts, down from 78 percent in 2010.

But such cuts haven't resulted in less policing; rather, they've resulted in an overall shift to private policing.  

Steinberg says he expects to see more cases involving private security firms infringing on constitutionally protected activity as the numbers of security guards continue to climb. "Unfortunately, I think it's going to take more cases like our Campus Martius case to establish limits [on private police]," he told Truthout.

While many on the libertarian-right have hailed private police as a solution to systemic police violence because the security industry is "driven by efficiency and threats from liability," a closer look at the industry reveals that guards receive only a fraction of the training required for municipal cops. Plus, shootings by private armed guards are rarely reported and investigated, and citizens' legal protections in encounters with guards remain unclear.

The private security industry is so poorly regulated, in fact, that only about a dozen state regulatory agencies require security guards to file firearm discharge reports.

The Rise of Private Police

The use of private police is, of course, nothing new. Most prominently in US history, industrial magnates Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller relied on such forces as the infamous Pinkertons, known for breaking labor strikes and infiltrating unions, to protect their business interests.

Nineteenth century industrialists' reliance on such forces came to be so great that in the late 1890s, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency employed more private agents than there were soldiers in the standing army. Today, the numbers of security guards still rival the number of people on active duty in the armed forces, and completely eclipse the number of municipal police officers on duty.

The armed security industry is increasingly supplementing public police forces in many poor urban areas.

The numbers of private security guards began to grow in the 1970s, but the industry has boomed since the September 11, 2001, attacks. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are nearly 1.1 million private security guards in the US, overshadowing the Bureau's count of 640,000 public police officers. Some of the United States' largest private police forces regularly patrol college campuses, such as the University of Chicago Police Department, which has jurisdiction over more than 65,000 Chicago residents and has the same power to search, ticket, arrest and detain citizens as a municipal police force.

Other private security forces patrol both upscale neighborhoods on behalf of wealthy homeowners' associations and low-income housing projects - sometimes being contracted with grant money from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to police poor residents. Armed guards also patrol corporate office complexes and museums.

The armed security industry is increasingly supplementing public police forces in many poor urban areas, in places such as Oakland, New Orleans, Baltimore and Atlanta. Some small towns like Foley, Minnesota, are going beyond simply supplementing their police departments, opting instead to replace them with private security entirely.

As private police forces gain jurisdiction over campuses, parking lots, neighborhoods and even entire towns, cash-strapped local and state governments turning to such firms as an answer to their budget woes are increasingly granting the industry traditional police powers, including the ability to make arrests - a function that used to be the sole province of municipal policing.

The provisions of some states, such as Virginia, allow private citizens to petition courts for such police powers, but how such authority is granted typically varies from state to state.

"The DPD has become an extension almost, of Rock Ventures."

Private security guards increasingly resemble traditional beat cops, calling themselves police, wearing similar uniforms, flashing badges and driving patrol vehicles with flashing lights. Not only do many citizens frequently mistake private guards for public cops, but often even magistrates and judges do as well.

In most states, private guards almost always work closely with municipal police departments, exchanging information and often turning over felony-level crimes to the city department to handle. Oftentimes, armed security guards are off-duty police officers who have been contracted by a government agency, or are moonlighting for private firms.

In Detroit, activists and lawyers say the private security industry and municipal police are entwined. Nicholas Klaus, who is the student national vice president of the National Lawyers Guild and worked on the Campus Martius case for a time, told Truthout that DPD officers have been instructed to take direction and dispatch from Gilbert's Rock Ventures command center. "The DPD has become an extension almost, of Rock Ventures," he said.

A DPD public relations representative told Truthout that the department's Secondary Employment in Uniform Program allows private vendors such as Rock Ventures to use off-duty DPD officers to work in a law enforcement capacity for their businesses. The program was established by city ordinance. "When working with a vendor, they may call and request us to do certain things, and we receive command from them, however, if it's a criminal matter, we touch base with our police department," said DPD Officer Nicole Kirkwood.

Lax Regulation Allows Dangerous Guards on the Streets

An investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) in collaboration with CNN shows that many state regulators "repeatedly ignore or fail to thoroughly investigate guard-related shootings, leaving inadequately trained, traumatized or potentially dangerous guards on the job."

Other CIR investigations have found that lax oversight has allowed many ex-municipal officers who were fired due to misconduct or brutality to easily find new jobs as armed guards. State regulators have also allowed ex-felons who have been barred from owning a gun to work as private guards, including those who have been convicted of domestic violence.

How the armed security industry is regulated varies from state to state, but according to the CIR/CNN investigation, only 12 states require armed guards to file firearm discharge reports. If a company fails to report a shooting, there are seldom any consequences.

Of the states that require such reports, the problems found mirror common problems associated with municipal police misconduct, violations of civil rights, excessive force and shooting cases that have sparked a national debate about police tactics in the wake of the events in Ferguson, Missouri, including armed guards "shooting at fleeing suspects, shoplifters and moving cars and into crowded shopping malls, apartment complexes and parking lots."

Armed guards are typically required to receive only a small fraction of the training municipal police must undergo.

While it remains standard that every shooting by a municipal cop is automatically investigated, either by an independent agency or by the department's internal affairs unit, in the vast majority of states, armed-guard shootings are not reported and rarely investigated. Only two states - Florida and Virginia - regularly investigate such shootings, according to the CIR investigation.

Typically, regulatory agencies tasked with monitoring the private security industry only take action when a conviction of an armed guard has been secured in the courts first. Regulators usually rely on slow criminal investigations to determine whether or not a firearm license should be revoked.

The CIR investigation found more news reports of armed-guard shootings than discharge reports filed with the regulating agency in at least four states: Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and Wisconsin. Some state regulators reported that they have yet to collect their first firearm discharge report.

While armed-guard shootings are rarely investigated and reported, such shootings may occur, in part, because security guards are often "chronically undertrained," according to a 2012 study from the University of Illinois College of Law and the University of California. Armed guards are typically required to receive only a small fraction of the training municipal police must undergo to work as beat cops.

It was concerns over training standards in the 1970s, which initially prompted states to create regulating agencies that would require firearm discharge reports for private guards. Now, renewed concerns over lax oversight and training has again prompted bills in state legislatures aiming to close the regulatory gap between private security guards and their public counterparts.

In February, the Virginia legislature passed a bill that would increase the number of training hours private citizens, known as "special conservators of the peace" or "SCOPS," must undergo from 40 to 130 hours. In March, California lawmakers heard testimony regarding oversight of the private security industry as part of an ongoing review by the joint oversight committees of the state's regulating agency. And in Arizona, a state senator is also pushing for more stringent background checks for armed guards in that state, saying he is prepared to introduce legislation that would change a policy allowing those who've been banned from owning guns to become armed security guards.

Moreover, there are few accountability mechanisms outside the court system available to citizens who have been wronged during an encounter with a security guard. While the courts remain the primary vehicle for citizens to redress grievances, many laws that establish protections from municipal police don't necessarily apply to the private sector.

Outsourcing Accountability

Like municipal policing, the private security sector is plagued with misconduct and cases of armed-guard fatal shootings and violence, including widespread racial profiling and routine violations of civil rights.

In 1995, a security guard at a Best Buy named Ricky Coleman, who was unlicensed, untrained and possessed a violent criminal record, strangled a fraud suspect to death as another guard restrained him.

More recently, residents of one Baltimore neighborhood filed a lawsuit for $25 million in 2012 against an Ohio-based security company, alleging its guards had routinely violated their civil rights, stopping and arresting residents illegally.

In one particularly abhorrent example, Colorado prisoner Angela Weishoff filed suit in January against an armed security guard who sexually assaulted her at a hospital, only 15 minutes after she gave birth in 2012.

"Abuses of power, brutality and illegal behavior are much more common among private security guards than real police."

Security expert Bruce Schneier maintains that these types of "[a]buses of power, brutality, and illegal behavior are much more common among private security guards than real police." Such a claim is hard to verify because many - likely most, even - incidents go unreported.

What exactly are one's rights during an encounter with a private security guard? The answer, in many instances, is fuzzy, as the lawyers and private security experts contend that many laws designed to establish due process and other legal protections from municipal police don't apply to private citizens serving as "SCOPS" or the private security industry.

According to Klaus, the National Lawyers Guild student leader, in most cases, a citizen cannot bring a suit against a private individual for a constitutional violation. He said a federal law known as Section 1983, which allows citizens to bring claims against the police through the Fourteenth Amendment over civil rights violations (including misconduct, interrogation methods and evidence collection), simply does not apply to private security personnel.

A private individual can be held liable in some civil conspiracy cases, but Klaus says it is often difficult to prove a private individual and a cop worked together for the express purpose of depriving somebody of their constitutional rights.

"So if you're walking by Dan Gilbert's building and the security guards rough you up because they don't like your politics, you can't sue them in federal court for violating your First or Fourth Amendment rights," Klaus said. "And I think that's what [business owners] want. It's less constitutional liability. They see that as an impediment to their business."

Those who feel they have been wronged by private guards may have no other option but to complain to the guards' supervisors.

In the ongoing Campus Martius case, ACLU attorneys have brought just such a claim, arguing that under Section 1983, the private groups named as defendants are constitutionally liable for First Amendment violations because they "were performing public functions of managing a public park." The case also argues the DPD conspired to deprive activists of their free speech rights. The crucial difference in the ongoing Campus Martius case and others like it may come down to the fact that Campus Martius Park is owned, ultimately, by the city of Detroit.

While a complaint regarding a municipal officer can be taken to an elected board of police commissioners (who may or may not have subpoena power), no such formal mechanism exists for the private security industry. Those who feel they have been wronged by private guards may have no other option but to complain to the guards' supervisors.

"Unfortunately, businesses are not going to lend a very friendly ear to complaints about their private security forces," the ACLU's Steinberg told Truthout.

The Police Assessment Resource Center's (PARC) Private Policing & Consulting project provides assessments to private security firms about potentially problematic policies that could render firms liable, including policies that could lead to racial profiling and illicit arrests by security guards.

PARC's deputy director Matthew Barge told Truthout that it's up to private security firms to come up with internal accountability and reporting mechanisms; he works with private firms to put those policies in place.

Barge says private security firms should follow the example of many municipal police departments across the United States that have taken steps to make their public accountability processes transparent and accessible to the public in recent years, especially the process by which citizens can make complaints.

"One thing that we tell agencies of all stripes is that the time to kind of think through what happens when a major incident may occur really is now," Barge said. "You want to have something on the books, a standard operating procedure."

But even if private security firms establish robust internal procedures, their accountability mechanisms remain fundamentally different from municipal departments operating with taxpayer dollars. Private firms are contracted and work on behalf of corporations, not taxpayers, and therefore can't be compelled to open up their records to the public, even when, in many cases, they are performing public functions.

The Freedom of Information Act and other state open records laws typically don't apply to private security firms. Another ongoing ACLU case in Massachusetts demonstrates the problem, as attorneys there sued the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC) in June 2014 after NEMLEC refused to answer their public records request for documents related to the organization's SWAT team. NEMLEC claims it is not subject to the Massachusetts public records law, despite receiving government grants and taxpayer money to buy military gear.

Another crucial difference is that the private sector has wider latitude to collect private information. According to security expert Schneier, the same kind of information the government is prohibited from collecting from citizens can be collected by the private sector - and then sold to the police.

Crisis Cops for Crisis Capitalists

Taken together, such little regulatory oversight and near impunity under the law constitutes an emerging paradigm of neoliberal policing under which the private sector buys influence and exacerbates the already violent and racist culture of public policing.

Even a private individual who simply volunteers for a municipal department can curry such favor to the detriment of public safety and accountability - as the recent shooting death of Eric Harris in Tulsa by Reserve Deputy Robert Bates makes clear. Bates' donations to the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office have been widely received as a pay-to-play scheme resulting in another tragic loss of life. That Bates has been allowed to vacation in the Bahamas for a month following the shooting further exemplifies the prioritization of wealth and privilege over accountability in a neoliberal criminal legal framework.

In Detroit, some see Klein's "shock doctrine" at work in the creation of a privatized surveillance apparatus operating to protect the business interests of mega-billionaires like Quicken Loans' Dan Gilbert. Klaus outlined the role Gilbert played in the racialized subprime mortgage lending scheme, which created the financial conditions for Detroit's revenue problems, hitting the city hard in 2008.

In two separate cases in 2011, awards of $3 million and $2 million were meted out by courts in Ohio and West Virginia to former Quicken Loans customers who judges ruled were victims of predatory lending.

In 2013, the Obama administration appointed Gilbert chairman of the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force. He pledged to assist the city in tearing down blighted properties - essentially pledging to clean up a mess that his company had, in part, created.

The MFI-Miami reviewed Detroit mortgage filings and found that 70.6 percent of 75 homes listing Quicken Loans as the mortgage holder went into foreclosure within 24 to 36 months of being sold on the secondary housing market.

Now, Gilbert is being rewarded for his exploits with private security contracts and an ever-expanding private-public surveillance system designed to protect and ensure his plans for Detroit's redevelopment - and no end appears to be in sight.

"In Detroit, it's justice for those, and safety for those, that can afford it," Klaus said.

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News Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0400