Truthout Stories Fri, 28 Nov 2014 21:34:14 -0500 en-gb New Pope Can End Church Cover-Up of Child Abuse

Pope Francis has just announced he will be coming to the U.S. next year for a conference on families. The new Pope is widely popular, but he and the Church must take stronger actions than ones to date on the victims and perpetrators of clerical child abuse. The Bishops’ two-week conference on family issues in the Vatican October 5-19, at which the Pope called for “candor”, discussed gay communion, divorce, and abortion – but not responsibility for priests’ child abuse.

According to a statement by Pope Francis reported by Reuters, “about two percent” of Catholic priests are “pedophiles.” He called the findings “very grave.” Yet they still preach all over the world, and the number could be an undercount.

In Springfield 59 individuals were determined to be abused before 2008, causing the resignation of Bishop Thomas Dupre, leader of the Diocese of Springfield, in 2004 even before the depth of the scandal came out largely by outstanding investigative reporting by The Springfield Republican. Unfortunately, the scandal and coverup continue in the U.S. and world.

Annual surveys commissioned by the United States Conference of Bishops state that between 1950 and 2013, 17,259 children were sexually abused. 6427 priests were accused but only 3,973 names have been made public. These numbers only cover the United States.

In July, the Pope met with abused victims to express “regret and concern” as have Popes Paul and Benedict. He conceded that priests and bishops “violated their priestly vocation” and committed “sins of omission”. The apology still leaves Vatican inaction to punish abusers.

According to his 2013 book, “On Heaven and Earth”, Pope Francis argued as archbishop of Buenos Aires to “take away the priest's faculties” and “not permit him to exercise his priestly ministry again” when a priest gets convicted.

The church has declared “bankruptcy” in dioceses including San Diego, Wilmington, Milwaukee, and Stockton that were about to be sued. That’s how they decrease, postpone or avoid payments.

Bankrupt? The Catholic Church´s assets are twelve billion dollars. The Pope and the parishes with splendorous cathedrals, churches and grounds are not paupers.
Dioceses hide their inaction despite a few forced payments. In response to reporting of pedophiles, the church often just pays them off. As Archbishop of Milwaukee, Cardinal Timothy Dolan authorized $20,000-payments to “a handful” of accused priests to leave their priesthood. In 2008, Springfield paid $4.5 million to the known 59 victims but believe it or not the Church Diocese is paid back these millions by insurance policies -- not quite penance.

Others are kicked upstairs. Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, sought by prosecutors to face a grand jury for covering up abuses, was about to be subpoenaed but moved to the Vatican where he got promoted. The law for his alleged pre-2002 coverups was then changed in May, 2002 by the Massachusetts legislature to specifically include mandatory reporting by clergy. Pope Francis called moving guilty clergy “stupid because the priest carries his baggage with him.”

How a priest gets from “I am a servant of God” to “I want to touch altar boys,” or protecting priests who do, is incomprehensible. Mary Alexander, President of The National Crime Victim Bar Association, calls clerical child abuse “a huge violation of trust and innocence. While nothing can ever fully restore this, seeking justice is important to bringing some closure.”

In a January 31, 1997 letter by Pope John Paul II’s diplomat in Ireland, Luciano Storero, the Vatican expressed “reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature” about a mandatory abuser-reporting policy. The cover-it-up letter stated that “I am directed to inform the bishops of the invalidity” of “mandatory reporting” because “the results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental.” The letter marked “Strictly confidential” was disclosed by Irish Radio RTE and AP.

Earlier this year, on January 16, 2014, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Vatican UN ambassador in Geneva, said that the Vatican is not responsible for a policy on referring cases to authorities: ‘‘Priests fall under the jurisdiction of their own country.”
In December 2013, Pope Francis set up a commission, headed by Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, which O’Malley said would “advise the Holy Father about the protection of children and pastoral care of victims of abuse.” He said it would review the Church’s “cooperation with the civil authorities”, screening of candidates for the priesthood, and supervision of abusive priests. O’Malley said he was “not sure” if his commission or the Vatican would take on bishop accountability. Terrence McKiernan, president of the watchdog Bishop Accountability, said no one can be sure because the pope is “absolutely allergic to this topic.”

The Vatican can prove the naysayers wrong. The church needs to act and proceed “with zero tolerance” as the Pope advocated. The Vatican should defrock priests, or instruct parishes to do so, at least temporarily during criminal investigations and turn them over when abuse is discovered. It´s time for the new Pope to write a new letter instructing referral of all charges worldwide to law enforcement. The Church must stop kicking abusing clerics “upstairs”, even to the Vatican itself. It should pay every documented abused victim. If the Church honestly believes it is a “shelter for its believers” and not a hell for its abused, it must recognize that actions speak louder than words. With the new Pope´s wide acclaim, he, Cardinal O’Malley, and new Springfield Bishop Mitchell Rozanski have an opportunity for meaningful action.

Opinion Fri, 28 Nov 2014 12:54:27 -0500
The Real Cost of Fracking: How the US Shale Gas Boom Is Threatening Our Families, Pets and Food

The first researchers to systematically document ill health in livestock, pets, and people living near fracking drill sites were Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald. Bamberger, a veterinarian, and Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at Cornell University, used a case study approach–looking at individual households–to search for possible effects (Bamberger and Oswald 2012).

Many fracking chemicals are known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors or other classes of toxins (Colborn et al. 2011). Bamberger and Oswald’s studies, carried out during the ongoing fracking boom, uncovered serious adverse effects including respiratory, reproductive, and growth-related problems in animals and a spectrum of symptoms in humans that they termed “shale gas syndrome”. Ultimately, their research led them to consider fracking’s broader implications for farming and the food system (Bamberger and Oswald 2012 and 2014).

Their new book, The Real Cost of Fracking: How America’s Shale Gas Boom Is Threatening Our Families, Pets, and Food describes the results of this research. However, it is by showing the pervasiveness of fracking’s harmful effects on the lives of the householders that Bamberger and Oswald best convey its true costs.

Why Animals?

The strategy of including animals in their research was based on the supposition that the shorter lifecycles and higher exposure of animals to contaminants makes them “early warning systems” for environmental hazards (Reif 2011, Rabinowitz et al. 2010, Van der Schalie et al. 1999). Further, since these were often food animals, exposed or sickened animals could directly become human food system hazards.

Detailed Case Studies

In their 2012 publication, Bamberger and Oswald compiled the results of 24 case studies from six gas-drilling U.S. states. They documented health incidents experienced by humans and animals living near drill sites and also identified possible exposure routes to fracking chemicals. They published this data and have discussed its implications in scientific papers (Bamberger and Oswald 2012; Bamberger and Oswald 2014a).

The Real Cost of Fracking describes clearly these findings. However, the book is organized around the firsthand experiences of the animals and people behind seven of these case studies. These experiences include the loss of calves and the imposition of a herd quarantine due to a wastewater spill, bulls and Newfoundland dogs with ongoing reproductive problems, and horses on steroids due to respiratory problems. The authors meet children with elevated arsenic levels, adults experiencing dramatic weight loss, and whole families suffering from “shale gas syndrome” (their name for the combination of burning eyes, sore throat, headaches, nosebleeds, vomiting, diarrhea, and skin rashes often experienced by the people in their case studies). Some residents cannot enter their homes without becoming seriously ill and others have lost their animal breeding or farming-based livelihoods.

During their research, Bamberger and Oswald also hear how government indifference and industry tactics compound people’s health and financial problems. These tactics include secrecy about fracking chemicals, which hinders effective medical treatment (McDermott-Levy et al. 2003). Others include harassment and intimidation of residents who complain.

Obstacles to Scientific Research and “Proof of Harm”

While telling these stories, Bamberger and Oswald describe the complexities of carrying out research on active industrial sites operated by a secretive industry. Non-disclosure agreements, for example, hide potentially useful data. Whenever fracking victims are financially compensated for their losses, they often are forced to sign such agreements, preventing them from revealing fracking-related illnesses or other losses to the public.

Ideally, as proof of harm, researchers would be able to link specific chemicals to specific health symptoms.  This would require chemical testing to prove that a chemical was absent before fracking started and present afterwards. Researchers would then need to establish a probable exposure route (i.e. drinking water contaminated with the chemical). And finally, independent health monitoring would confirm that signs of illness were absent before chemical exposure and present after.

In addition to non-disclosure agreements, The Real Cost of Fracking highlights several further barriers to establishing such links. First there is no provision for systematic chemical testing of air, soil, or water on drill sites and their surroundings.  Nor is there systematic health monitoring of any kind. Furthermore, without full disclosure of the chemicals used at each specific drill site, researchers, veterinarians, and doctors can’t know for sure which chemicals or health effects to test for.

The systematic large-scale health and environmental testing needed can only be carried out with the support of government and regulators. To serve the public interest, it must be carried out by a trustworthy source and the results made freely available. Perversely, having failed to require any such tests, government officials and regulators join with industry to claim there is no “proof of harm” from fracking.

Fracking Correlated with Ill Health

Despite these obstacles, Bamberger and Oswald’s results showed local residents experienced new and serious harm to their health, wellbeing, and livelihoods after fracking began. They were able to document that “animals and humans have symptoms that correlate in time with gas and oil drilling operations.” In many cases they could also identify likely exposure routes to fracking toxins. Well water is one possible route, and the authors note research by Osborn et al. (2011) that found “water wells in areas near shale gas operations have been contaminated by methane that has the isotopic signature of shale gas.” These results suggest that, in addition to methane released by fracking, other more toxic chemicals could contaminate wells.

Strengthening the correlation between fracking and ill health, Bamberger and Oswald found health clinics in Pennsylvania and Colorado that reported patients living near drill sites who also experienced “shale gas syndrome.” Furthermore, since the publication of their results, other researchers have reported adverse health correlated with fracking (Bamberger and Oswald 2014b; Macey et al. 2014; McDermott-Levy et al. 2013; Hill 2013; Food and Water Watch Report 2013). However, it is likely these studies do not identify all of fracking’s harmful effects. In particular, the animal reproductive problems documented by Bamberger and Oswald suggest that people living and working near drill sites also need testing for reproductive and other long-term health effects.

Farmland, Food and Fracking

Bamberger and Oswald excel at conveying the harmful effects of fracking on local residents. However, synthesis of their data with that of other researchers leads them to a much wider concern. Their analysis suggests widespread fracking will have a major negative impact on farming and food quality in the U.S., and perhaps worldwide.

Fracking operations are often located on or near farms. Thus pasture, cropland, streams, ponds, and wells are all at risk of contamination by toxins used or released during fracking. It is known that leaks and spills can occur during well drilling, high pressure hydraulic fracturing, or waste transportation. Exposure routes also include leaky well casings and intentional farmland waste storage or disposal. Animals can drink contaminated water and graze contaminated pasture. Crops can be grown on contaminated soil. Furthermore, poor air quality can impact animal health. Air quality is impaired by the increased road traffic, open wastewater lagoons, chemicals released during intentional gas flaring, and ongoing presence of benzene at drill sites.

These food system threats are compounded by the pooling of products in the current industrial food system and the lack of appropriate testing and regulation of the food supply. In addition, financial pressures encourage farmers to let sick animals enter the food system. Because it impacts crops and livestock through land, air, and water, Bamberger and Oswald emphasize fracking has implications for both industrial agriculture and small-scale farming.

A Powerful Warning

Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald join other important scientist-authors who felt compelled to speak directly to the public. Their book, like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Sandra Steingraber’s Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, and T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study, warns about an entirely preventable health and environmental crisis that is being ignored, or concealed, by those in power. Such books have a special value, due in part to the quality of their writing and in part to the authority and integrity of the authors and the depth of their knowledge.

As new research documents the fracking boom’s contribution to global climate change, it has become clear fracking’s climate impact is much greater than originally claimed (Howarth 2014; Schneising et al. 2014). Now, with The Real Cost of Fracking, Bamberger and Oswald give voice to those whose lives and health suffer already under that boom – and offer a forewarning to the rest of us.

ISBN: 978-080708493-9 Beacon Press (2014)


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Bamberger M. and R.E. Oswald (2012) “Impacts of gas drilling on human and animal health.” New solutions: a journal of environmental and occupational health policy 22.1: 51-77.

Bamberger M. and R.E. Oswald (2014a)  “Unconventional oil and gas extraction and animal health.” Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts 16:1860-1865.

Bamberger M. and R.E. Oswald (2014b) “The Shale Gas Revolution from the Viewpoint of a Former Industry Insider.” New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy 1.1:1-16.

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Food & Water Watch Report: The Social Costs of Fracking, September 24th, 2013. The report documents increases in motor vehicle accidents and serious public health problems.  .

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Howarth R.W. (2014) “A bridge to nowhere: methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas.” Energy Science & Engineering 2.2:47-60.

McDermott-Levy R., Kaktins N., and B. Sattler (2013) “Fracking, the environment, and health.” The American Journal of Nursing 113.6: 45-51.

Macey G.P., Breech R., Chernaik M., Cox C., Larson D., Thomas D., and D.O. Carpenter (2014) “Air concentrations of volatile compounds near oil and gas production: a community-based exploratory study.” Environmental Health 13:82. doi: 10.1186/1476-069X-13-82.

Osborn S.G., Vengosh A., Warner N.R., and R.B. Jackson (2011) “Methane contamination of drinking water accompanying gas-well drilling and hydraulic fracturing.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108.20: 8172-8176.

Rabinowitz, P.M., Scotch M.L., and L.A. Conti (2010) “Animals as sentinels: using comparative medicine to move beyond the laboratory.” ILAR journal 51.3: 262-267.

Reif, J.S. (2011) “Animal sentinels for environmental and public health.” Public Health Reports 126(Suppl 1):50-57.

Sang, W., Stoof C.R., Zhang W., Morales V.L., Gao B., Kay R.W., Liu L., Zhang Y., and T.S. Steenhuis (2014) “Effect of Hydrofracking fluid on colloid transport in the unsaturated zone.” Environmental Science & Technology 48:8266-8274.

Schneising O., Burrows J.P., Dickerson R.R., Buchwitz M., Reuter M. and H. Bovensmann (2014) Remote sensing of fugitive methane emissions from oil and gas production in North American tight geologic formations. Earth’s Future. doi: 10.1002/2014EF000265.

Van der Schalie W.H., Gardner Jr. H.S., Bantle J.A., De Rosa C.T., Finch R.A., Reif J.S., and R.H. Reuter et al.  (1999) “Animals as sentinels of human health hazards of environmental chemicals.” Environmental health perspectives 107. 4: 309-315.

Opinion Fri, 28 Nov 2014 12:39:28 -0500
Asia Smiles for the Cameras

It wasn’t long ago that certain pundits were predicting war in Asia.

Back in the spring, the conflict over the South China Sea was heating up as China sparred with Vietnam over an oil exploration rig and with the Philippines over disputed reefs. Japan and China, meanwhile, were butting heads over a string of uninhabited rocks in the ocean between them. South Korea and Japan, both U.S. allies, were refusing to talk to one another over a range of issues that stretched back into the past. And the United States was pushing its “Pacific pivot,” which Beijing translated into Chinese as “containment with American characteristics.”

The Pacific was anything but pacific. Everyone was preparing for war by jacking up their military spending. It looked as though Asia was heading toward its own version of 1914, which even Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe worried about publicly.

But the guns of August, at least this time around, failed to fire. And last week, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Beijing, everyone was suddenly making nice. The leaders of Japan and China shook hands. China offered to build up the infrastructure of its neighbors through a huge new “Silk Road” initiative. Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-Hye broke bread at dinner and promised to push forward bilateral talks. The United States and China agreed to notify each other of military exercises in the Asia-Pacific region.

Oh, yes, and Washington and Beijing hammered out a climate deal that received all the headlines. But as I write in The Dance of the Superpowers, global cooperation between the United States and China has been forthcoming on a range of issues. It’s the regional standoff between the two superpowers that is so worrisome. This isn’t your grandfather’s Cold War. Although the United States and Soviet Union managed very little in the way of global cooperation, they largely respected each other’s sphere of influence. The United States and China, by contrast, are squabbling over who gets to call the shots in Asia. As a result, the region has become like the Kardashian clan: wealthy, contentious, and all up in the public’s face.

Wealthy is the operative word here. APEC, after all, is all about the money, and it seemed as though capital acted like smelling salts to bring the Asia-Pacific leaders to their senses. The meeting brings together the world’s top three economies (China, the United States, and Japan) along with six more from the top 20 (Russia, Canada, Mexico, Australia, South Korea, Indonesia). Altogether, APEC represents more than half of the world’s GDP and nearly half of its trade. All of that economic power in one place no doubt motivated the participating leaders to focus on their interests rather than passions, just as global trade under capitalism is supposed to operate.

Economic warning signs no doubt also stimulated the pheromones that produced the APEC lovefest. Japan is officially in recession mode as its economy has shrunk in two successive quarters. Growth is slowing in Indonesia, Australia, and Thailand. The economies in Taiwan and South Korea are growing modestly, but both countries are worried about regional stagnation. Although most countries would envy China’s current economic growth – over 7 percent – the days of double-digit expansion are in the past. The EU offers a gloomy scenario of a region in stagnation. So it’s not surprising that the APEC countries decided to get down to business.

At the meeting in Beijing, South Korea and China signed a free-trade agreement. The United States tried to gin up enthusiasm for its Trans Pacific Partnership, and China countered with its own Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific. In their eagerness to promote free trade, you might forget that all of the countries in the region – including the United States – have their own sectors that they desperately want to protect (Japan’s agriculture, America’s car industry, China’s underperforming state enterprises). But with stimulus spending still in the ideological doghouse in most parts of the world, battering down other countries’ trade barriers remains the go-to option for economic revival.

So, do the make-nice efforts at APEC mean that peace has broken out in Asia? Before you book your cruise around the South China Sea, let’s step back and see if the promise of economic growth has truly done away with all the conflicts in the region.

First off, despite a climate deal, an early-warning agreement, and some friendly exchanges in Beijing, Xi Jinping and Barack Obama have not put aside their disputes in Asia. Both sides are bolstering their military positions in the region. Although the “Pacific pivot” does not translate into significant U.S. force increases in the region, Washington is upgrading the capabilities of its friends and allies. In the latest deal, the United States will be selling South Korea more than a billion dollars worth of PAC-3 interceptor missiles. Japan, with the strong support of the United States, is stepping away from its “peace constitution.” At the recent G-20 meeting in Brisbane, Obama pushed harder for closer cooperation with Japan and Australia. Even Malaysia, which has enjoyed relatively good relations with China, recently invited the United States to fly surveillance planes out of the country’s eastern region.

Not everything about Washington’s pivot, however, is going as planned. The winner of the gubernatorial elections in Okinawa this week, Takeshi Onaga, opposes the construction of a new U.S. Marine Air Force base to replace the aging Futenma facility. Although Tokyo forced his predecessor to change his position and grant a permit for new construction, it will be considerably more difficult to proceed with the plan now that the Okinawan political establishment at all levels opposes it. Since the Futenma relocation is the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s force restructuring in the region, the pivot may soon no longer have a leg to stand on.

China, though it continues to push ahead with double-digit military expenditure increases, has witnessed the tarnishing of its “Peaceful Rise” brand through its more aggressive actions. It’s no surprise, then, that it has decided to focus more on economic incentives. Its Silk Road plan to upgrade the regional infrastructure includes countries like the Philippines, which is currently challenging China’s South China Sea claims in international court. Its regional free trade scheme has already won the endorsement of South Korea.

China’s biggest gambit may well be the new bank it’s putting together with its BRICS partners in Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa. China has been pushing its own version of development – a “Beijing consensus” heavy on state involvement in the economy and light on democracy or transparency – and now it has an international financial institution to back it up. Here is China’s most deliberate challenge of U.S. authority. A frontal assault on the Pentagon would be suicidal. The attempt to get more voting power in the IMF and World Bank is currently stalled in Congress. But an end run around U.S. economic hegemony – and the status of the dollar as global currency – is a long-term strategy torn from the pages of Sun Tzu.

Still, money won’t make the security problems in East Asia disappear. The region seems to have a high tolerance for both trade and tribulation. The heads of the region – Abe, Xi, Park – have all stimulated nationalist passions in their countries, and they believe that they ignore these passions at their political peril. South Koreans, however much they like sushi or Tokyo boy bands, treat Japan with as much fear and loathing as they do North Korea. Japanese views of China have reached the worst levels in ten years, and Chinese views of Japan are not much better. These views have worsened even as trade among the countries has increased. As the country that subjugated the region for much of the 20th century, Japan must take the lead in reconciliation. The region awaits a truly visionary Japanese leader who can, once and for all, solve the “history problem” – as Willy Brandt did in Germany – and leverage the resulting regional good will to pull Japan out of its long economic slumber.

But Washington, too, has a major role to play. The United States has traditionally presented itself as the guarantor of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. The island disputes, history spats, and clashing nationalisms would all be a great deal worse, the Pentagon asserts, without the presence of U.S. military bases, the Pacific fleet, and close security alliances. It’s certainly true that the animosities in the region have roots that precede U.S. military presence (though the United States didn’t help matters, for instance, when it seized the Philippines and gave the seal of approval to Japan’s colonization of Korea way back in 1905).

But Washington needs to recognize that its Pacific pivot is adding insecurity to the region, not stability. With its arms sales and encouragement of ally assertiveness, the United States is bringing peace to the region just like the Colt .45 “Peacemaker” brought peace to the Wild West.

The APEC summit offered an important respite from the brewing conflicts in the region. The Okinawan election delivered an important message that, despite all manner of carrots and sticks from Washington and Tokyo, the people in Japan’s southernmost prefecture don’t want any part of the Pentagon’s rebalancing. The lesson should be clear. Peace doesn’t come from the barrel of a gun. China is offering Silk Road 2.0. What is Washington’s counter-offer?

News Fri, 28 Nov 2014 12:19:42 -0500
Obama's Immigration Action Doesn't Go Far Enough

Inocencio Vernal has picked broccoli, sweet potatoes, corn, and celery in U.S. farms for more than 25 years. This holiday season, you might end up feasting on the fruits of his labor.

Yet Vernal, like 53 percent of farmworkers, is undocumented. This means that he can’t pick your vegetables legally, travel to Mexico to visit his ailing family members, or even drive a truck without fear of deportation.

Undocumented workers aren’t the only ones who suffer because of our broken immigration system. Thousands of U.S. citizen children live in fear of losing their parents due to immigration enforcement operations.

Their fears are rooted in reality. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported more than 72,000 parents of U.S.-born children last year. As a result, over 5,000 U.S. kids landed in foster care.

Elephant in the Room, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Elephant in the Room, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Diane Guerrero, an actress in the hit series Orange Is the New Black, experienced this painful kind of separation herself. When she was 14, the U.S. government deported Guerrero’s parents, and she wound up living with family friends.

“It’s tough,” she told CNN. “It’s like we’ve been separated for so long, I feel like sometimes we don’t know each other… And there are things about them that are new that I don’t recognize, and it just — it hurts.”

With Congress stonewalling on immigration reform, stories like these inspired President Barack Obama to tackle the broken immigration system on his own.

In 2012, Obama took the first steps by giving 1.2 million undocumented teens and young adults temporary work permits and a reprieve from the threat of deportation. Applicants were only eligible if they’d arrived here before June 2007 and before they turned 16.

That program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), is still in force.

Obama’s latest executive action simply extended that reprieve to the law-abiding parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have lived here for at least five years. He also widened the criteria for DACA eligibility and made it easier for the spouses of lawful residents to get a green card.

High-tech foreign workers will also benefit from the executive action. Foreign students who graduate with a STEM degree will get more opportunities to work here after graduation, and foreign entrepreneurs will find it easier to establish U.S. businesses.

All told, these measures will grant about 5 million undocumented immigrants the right to legally work and live in the United States for the next three years. And they will make life easier for thousands of foreign workers.

Although I applaud Obama’s executive action, I don’t think it goes far enough.

Farmworkers like Vernal, who have made significant contributions to their communities for most of their lives, don’t qualify for reprieve unless they’ve lived in the United States for five years and have kids who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents with green cards.

In addition, Obama’s fix is temporary and provides no path to citizenship.

“I don’t have the authority to do some really important reforms,” Obama admitted. “We should be creating new programs for farmworkers…adding visas for the high-tech sector…creating a pathway to citizenship. But only Congress can do that.”

This is a nation of immigrants. Congress must stop dawdling and start addressing the immigration crisis.

Opinion Fri, 28 Nov 2014 12:07:31 -0500
GOP on Wrong Side of History on Immigration

At the first Thanksgiving 383 years ago, Native Americans and Pilgrim immigrants gathered with mutual respect to share a bountiful harvest they’d produced together.

This Thanksgiving, though, there’s no respect or sharing in the homes of GOP nativists.

Suffering amnesia about their personal histories, nativist Republicans want to expel the 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants, the people who harvest America’s Thanksgiving vegetables and care for America’s toddlers and grannies. The GOP has threatened to sue, shut down the government and impeach President Obama to punish him for issuing an executive order giving fewer than half of the nation’s undocumented workers a limited ability to remain in the United States.

Americans would prefer if Congress fixed this problem. But Congress hasn’t. In the year and a half since the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill, House leaders have refused to permit a vote on it. So now, President Obama, like all 10 presidents since 1956, Republican and Democrat, has issued an executive order on immigration. The order says America will treat 5 million striving unauthorized immigrants with respect.

Exactly one week before Thanksgiving, President Obama described his order to the American people. It broadens the “dreamer” program that provides temporary reprieves from deportation to unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children. It establishes temporary work authorization for undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least five years and are parents of American citizens or servicemen. It directs the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to focus on deporting criminals and suspected terrorists and orders Homeland Security to help secure the border.

It disqualifies new undocumented immigrants. Anyone who has entered the United States recently or who enters now without authorization is excluded. The order is limited as well. It lasts only as long as Obama is president. The next executive could continue it. Or kill it.

If such a program had been in place 14 years ago, actress Diane Guerrero, who plays Maritza Ramos on the show Orange is the New Black, would have been spared separation from her parents and brother. Guerrero described her family’s deportation in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times earlier this month. She was just 14 when she arrived home from school to find lights on, dinner started but her family missing.

Born in the United States, Guerrero was a citizen. Her parents and brother were not. Neighbors broke the news to her that the INS had seized her family and would deport them to civil war-torn Colombia. In the op-ed, Guerrero pleaded for relief for families like hers. President Obama provided it. Thank goodness.

Immigrants like Guerrero’s family don’t enter the United States to take. Like everyone who has has arrived on America’s shores since that first Thanksgiving, these new émigrés work to give their children a better life. Some young undocumented workers today labor to give their parents in Mexico remittances that enable them to survive after NAFTA destroyed their ability to eke out a living from subsistence farms. Americans respect those family values.

Unauthorized immigrants are lured into the United States by the promise of jobs, whether it’s making hotel beds, washing cars or picking produce. Employers want their labor. Farmers who rely on the backbreaking work of unauthorized immigrants found themselves with produce rotting in the fields after some states passed anti-immigration laws in recent years.

As Americans bow their heads before passing the turkey platter this week, they should know that President Obama’s executive order is a blessing to native born citizens as well as immigrants. A study by the Bipartisan Policy Center found that immigration reform is good for the economy, while inaction is destructive.

The task force that produced the study, co-chaired by former governors from both parties, said immigration reform would be a powerful instrument of economic revitalization: “The results make clear that reform has the potential to significantly increase the number of young, working-age people in the economy. This influx of labor would spur economic growth, reduce federal deficits, help the housing sector and mitigate the effects of an aging population. By contrast, preventing unauthorized immigration without providing replacement labor would cause severe damage to the economy.”

In addition, reform means immigrants no longer need fear deportation for reporting violations such as wage theft, perilous working conditions and workplace violence. This protects native-born workers because employers who become accustomed to impunity for illegal exploitation of immigrants quickly attempt to abuse all workers.

While unauthorized immigrants have long prayed for reform, 57 percent of native born Americans now believe those entreaties should be answered. The number is higher – 74 percent– if reform includes a path to citizenship, fines, back taxes and background checks.

But a president’s power is limited, and Obama stopped short extending citizenship. That’s the responsibility of Congress. President Obama asked lawmakers to act: “Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too.”

At a press conference held last week by groups supporting President Obama’s executive action, Maria Teresa Kumar, president of Vote Latino, told the story of one of those strangers.

During the holidays four years ago, she recounted, a young man who had just finished boot camp and was on his way to deployment in Iraq called her for help. He’d just learned that his father had been detained by the INS. On Christmas Eve, the soldier lost his father to deportation, and his family lost a breadwinner.

That is not how Native Americans treated the strangers who arrived on the shores of Plymouth. Those Native Americans broke bread with the immigrants.

Opinion Fri, 28 Nov 2014 12:02:11 -0500
Native-American Youth Are in Crisis and Need Protection

Idle No More Solidarity Gathering, Sacramento, January 26, 2013. (Photo: Daniela Kantorova)Idle No More Solidarity Gathering, Sacramento, January 26, 2013. (Photo: Daniela Kantorova)

Centuries after the first pilgrims and Indians came together in peace to give thanks (so the story goes), Native American youth have nothing close to peace. A new 120-page report from the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence screams that they are in crisis.

Violence Plus Poverty

As reported in The Washington Post, Native American children “face unprecedented challenges” of violence and extreme poverty that hurt their minds as much as their bodies, on top of the “historical trauma” that they carry. The combination of violence and poverty fuels more issues: compromised neurological development, poor health in all aspects, unsatisfactory scholastic performance, unhealthy substance abuse and a high rate of participation in the juvenile justice system.

In 2014, Native American youth are fighting battles that they can’t win at home. The report concluded that they experience post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at the same rate as returning veterans who fought in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan. Compared to the rest of the American youth, they experience PTSD at triple the rate. The consequences can be fatal; it’s not a coincidence that Native American youth are twice as likely as any other group to die before 24.

Legal Loopholes and Losing Funding

The legal system isn’t helping them either. Last year, Congress did pass a law where federally recognized tribes could prosecute non-Indians for domestic violence against women in tribal territory. But there’s a giant loophole: non-Indians can’t be prosecuted for crimes against Native American youth in tribal territory.

As common sensical as the proposed law seems (if Native American women need protection, then why wouldn’t their children need it?), there’s always a chance that it won’t get passed. ThinkProgress explains that “political resistance,” mostly from Republicans, is to be expected since many don’t want to give tribes more authority or autonomy. And frankly, that needs to change.

The tribal legal system is far from perfect. And it doesn’t help that the U.S. government doesn’t adequately support it. It’s hard enough to get basic governmental services in tribal territory. The Interior Department pumps money into the tribal legal system, but unsurprisingly those funds are super low, and it’s getting alarmingly lower every year. The Washington Post describes how the main grant from the Justice Department that protects Native American children fell from $25 million in 2010 to only $5 million in 2014.

Change From the Top

If real change is going to happen, then it needs to start from the top. That legal loophole needs to be closed: non-Indians who abuse Native American youth can’t get away with it and should be prosecuted in tribal territory. In light of this eye-opening report, it’s clear that the Justice Department should consider making budget cuts elsewhere, not cutting funding that is helping Native American youth.

Furthermore, Native American youth deserve better than to live in squalor. Many live in third world living conditions, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development needs to fix that. Basic shelter and basic running water aren’t luxuries, they’re rights. Young people also need proper places to hang out, so they stay off the streets and, hopefully, stay out of trouble.

There also needs to be more Native American representation in leadership. The panel of the report suggests a “fully staffed Native American Affairs Office in the White House” by May 2015. One senior official should oversee the welfare of Native American and Alaska Native youth.

The U.S. government has had centuries to remedy the injustices of the past. Instead, it chooses to turn a blind eye to suffering children and youth. Thanks to this report, there’s no doubt that change needs to happen, but if it will ever come remains to be seen.

News Fri, 28 Nov 2014 11:43:42 -0500
Government Data Sharpens Focus on Crude-Oil Train Routes

The oil boom underway in North Dakota has delivered jobs to local economies and helped bring the United States to the brink of being a net energy exporter for the first time in generations. But moving that oil to the few refineries with the capacity to process it is presenting a new danger to towns and cities nationwide - a danger many appear only dimly aware of and are ill-equipped to handle.

(Photo: Renaud Chodkowski)(Photo: Renaud Chodkowski)

The oil boom underway in North Dakota has delivered jobs to local economies and helped bring the United States to the brink of being a net energy exporter for the first time in generations.

But moving that oil to the few refineries with the capacity to process it is presenting a new danger to towns and cities nationwide — a danger many appear only dimly aware of and are ill-equipped to handle.

Much of North Dakota's oil is being transported by rail, rather than through pipelines, which are the safest way to move crude. Tank carloads of crude are up 50 percent this year from last. Using rail networks has saved the oil and gas industry the time and capital it takes to build new pipelines, but the trade-off is greater risk: Researchers estimates that trains are three and a half times as likely as pipelines to suffer safety lapses.

Indeed, since 2012, when petroleum crude oil first began moving by rail in large quantities, there have been eight major accidents involving trains carrying crude in North America. In the worst of these incidents, in July, 2013, a train derailed at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec and exploded, killing 47 and burning down a quarter of the town. Six months later, another crude-bearing train derailed and exploded in Casselton, North Dakota, prompting the evacuation of most of the town's 2,300 residents.

See interactive map of the crude-oil train data.

In those and other cases, local emergency responders were overwhelmed by the conflagrations resulting from these accidents. Residents often had no idea that such a dangerous cargo, and in such volume, was being transported through their towns.

Out of the disasters came a scramble for information. News outlets around the country began reporting the history of problems associated with the DOT-111 railroad tank cars carrying virtually all of the crude.

Local officials, environmental groups, and concerned citizens began to ask what routes these trains were taking and whether the towns in their paths were ready should an accident occur.

In July, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation ordered railroads to disclose route information to state emergency management officials. Railroads had fought hard to keep this information private, citing security concerns. Even after federal regulators required more disclosure, railroads pressured many state governments to withhold their reports from the public. Some have come out, often as a result of public records requests by news organizations: The Associated Press has obtained disclosures in several states initially unwilling to release them.

Still, those disclosures offer scant detail, often consisting of little more than a list of counties through which crude oil is passing, without further specifics.

There have been attempts to fill in the blanks. KQED in Northern California, for example, combined the information disclosed in federal route reports with maps of the major railroads to show where trains carrying crude passed through California. The environmental group Oil Change International superimposed major refineries and other facilities that handle crude oil onto a national railroad map.

A ProPublica analysis of data from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration adds new details by plotting out where trains carrying crude have experienced safety incidents, most of them minor. The data shows such incidents in more than 250 municipalities over the last four years. We've used the data to create an interactive map showing where safety incidents on trains were reported, where each train began its journey, and where it was ultimately headed.

The data also shows that factors that contributed to major, or even catastrophic, accidents have also been present in hundreds of minor ones: outdated tank car models; component failures; and missing, damaged and loose parts.

Bit by bit, a more realistic notion of where the dangers of crude-bearing trains are most substantial is emerging.

"Frankly, the [previous] disclosures weren't of that much use," says Kelly Huston, a spokesman for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, one of the first state agencies to make those disclosures available for anyone on its website. When it comes to a detailed picture of where crude is moving, Huston says, "The expectation of the public is very far from the reality of what we're actually getting."

The hazardous materials data reviewed by ProPublica adds to that picture.

Only a handful of places around the country have the refinery capacity and infrastructure necessary to handle the massive amounts of oil being extracted from North Dakota's Bakken Shale: Bakersfield, Carson, and Long Beach in California; St. James, Lake Charles, Lacassine in coastal Louisiana; Philadelphia, Paulsboro, New Jersey. Delaware City, Delaware in the Mid-Atlantic.

These cities have become the terminuses for "unit trains" carrying up to 100 tank cars, each containing as much as 30,000 gallons of crude oil. These endpoints also have shaped the paths along which crude-bearing trains now cross hundreds of communities, many of which have never seen such traffic. Tracks all but abandoned for years have sprung back to life on account of the oil boom.

The vulnerabilities of the DOT-111 tank cars in which much of the oil is moved are well known by now. For decades, federal officials have cited concerns over their relatively thin shells, which are prone to puncturing or rupturing in an accident and releasing the hazardous material inside. They also have other components prone to damage, including protruding fittings often left unprotected, and hinged lids held on by bolts that have a history of coming loose, especially if not properly tightened by the original shipper.

When a tank car full of oil ruptures, the consequences can be dire. At a panel held by the National Transportation Safety Board in April, one technical expert with the agency described a "fireball release," in which "the entire content of the tank car, up to 30,000 gallons, is instantly released, along with the potential for rocketing car parts." When one tank car ignites, the heat can set off a chain reaction, causing other cars to explode as well.

In most cases, the tanks cars used to transport crude are supplied by railroad shipping companies, not railroads themselves. Railroads have typically pushed for more stringent safety requirements since they have to move the cars. Shipping companies and oil producers have pushed back against stricter proposals.

In 2011, as the crude-by-rail industry was ramping up and federal regulators were preparing to introduce new rules, industry groups adopted voluntary safety modifications to add thicker shells and other protections to new tank cars. But roughly 85 percent of the fleet currently carrying flammable liquids still consists of the older models. And while PHMSA is expected to issue rules requiring safer tank cars, railroads will have years to phase in the upgrades and it's not yet clear to what extent they will be required to retrofit existing cars.

For most local fire departments, a blaze involving even a single tank car, let alone many, would be too much to handle, emergency response officials acknowledge.

"[Most] fire departments don't have the capacity to deal with more than a standard gasoline tank [fire], which is about 9,000 or 10,000 gallons of fuel," said Richard Edinger, vice chairman of the International Association of Fire Chief's hazardous materials committee. "Well, one DOT-111 car holds about 30,000 gallons — that pretty much exceeds our capacity."

Complicating matters, many towns don't even know that trains carrying crude oil are passing through.

Along the journey south from North Dakota, for example, many trains now make a stop in the tiny town of El Dorado, Arkansas, population 18,500, bound for a refinery that recently added capacity to accommodate Bakken crude. The PHMSA hazmat data includes more than a dozen leaks found on trains headed for the town.

Yet Union County Emergency Management Services deputy director Bobby Braswell, a former Chief Deputy for the El Dorado Fire Department, was unaware of the new crude traffic and its potential risks.

"We've got a little old railroad here, but if they transport crude, I don't know," said Braswell in an interview. If state emergency management officials have a plan to respond to oil train derailments, they haven't shared it with El Dorado yet: "I don't remember anybody calling about crude," Braswell said.

Along the trains' route to the Mid-Atlantic, according to PHMSA's hazmat data, is Mineral City, Ohio, where Tuscarawas county emergency services director Patty Levengood said she didn't know whether fire departments in her jurisdiction had been trained or otherwise advised on the new oil traffic. Such planning was "pretty much left to the individual chiefs," she said.

Other responders said they are acutely aware of the new risks facing their towns, and some expressed alarm. Asked whether his fire department had the capacity to handle a single tank car fire, Duane Hart, fire chief for Juniata County, Pennsylvania, answered with an emphatic "I know we don't!" Crude trains now pass through Port Royal, a town of 925 in Juniata County for which Hart's department provides services.

In many circumstances, all local responders would be able to do in the event of a large tank car fire is simply let it burn, experts say. At the recent NTSB rail safety panel, Gregory Noll, a chairperson for the hazardous materials committee of the National Fire Protection Association, summarized the situation bluntly.

"There's very little that we as a responder are going to do," he said, "other than... to isolate the area, remove people from the problem, and allow the incident to go its natural course until it essentially burns down to a level where we can extinguish it."

But that approach would still involve tremendous damage in the many densely populated areas through which crude is now moving by rail, officials acknowledge.

"The standard evacuation is typically a half-mile," said Jeff Simpson, a 30-year firefighter who lives in North Virginia and teaches a course called "Training for Railroad Emergencies."

"But if you're in the middle of a big city, the footprint is going to be much bigger."

The Pittsburgh-based nonprofit news organization PublicSource reported in August that up to 40 percent of that city's roughly 300,000 residents live within the potential evacuation zone of trains carrying crude through the city.

Another Pennsylvania metropolis, Philadelphia, has become one of the biggest destinations in the U.S. for Bakken crude thanks to newly retrofitted refineries and a brand new rail unloading facility opened just two years ago.

The city appears frequently in hazmat reports: In at least 65 cases over the last two years, tank cars bound for or arriving in Philadelphia were found to have loose, leaking or missing safety components. These parts are meant to prevent flammable contents from escaping in the event of an accident.

There was a more serious incident last January, when a train full of oil derailed a few miles from the city's downtown. Luckily, no one was injured. The train was soon righted and the railroad made repairs, assuring city officials that the danger had passed.

But even after the derailment, Philadelphia "has not issued new plans, directives, or protocols in response to the increase of crude oil shipments," wrote city director of Emergency Management Samantha Phillips in an email to ProPublica.

The Philadelphia County Local Emergency Planning Committee "has not been active on the transportation of Bakken crude oil," Phillips added.

The agency's website contains no emergency information specific to a fire involving crude oil, or any other hazardous substance, other than a video featuring " Wally Wise-Guy, the Shelter in Place Turtle."

The video advises that "in the event of a hazardous materials emergency ... do what Wally Wise Guy does — go inside."

News Fri, 28 Nov 2014 11:31:47 -0500
Prosecutor Manipulates Grand Jury Process to Shield Officer

You know the fix is in when a suspect who shot an unarmed man voluntarily provides four hours of un-cross examined testimony to a grand jury without taking the Fifth. On August 9, Ferguson, Missouri Police Officer Darren Wilson gunned down 18-year-old African American Michael Brown. Since that fateful day, people across the country have protested against racial profiling, excessive police force, and the failure of the criminal justice system to provide accountability.

Police line up in the street outside the police department in Ferguson, Mo., Nov. 25, 2014. Police say 45 people were arrested overnight in a second night of demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., that were smaller and not as violent as they had been on Monday, following a grand jury decision not to indict a white police officer for killing an unarmed black teenager. (Whitney Curtis/The New York Times)Police line up in the street outside the police department in Ferguson, Mo., Nov. 25, 2014. Police say 45 people were arrested overnight in a second night of demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., that were smaller and not as violent as they had been on Monday, following a grand jury decision not to indict a white police officer for killing an unarmed black teenager. (Whitney Curtis/The New York Times)

You know the fix is in when a suspect who shot an unarmed man voluntarily provides four hours of un-cross examined testimony to a grand jury without taking the Fifth.

On August 9, Ferguson, Missouri Police Officer Darren Wilson gunned down 18-year-old African American Michael Brown. Since that fateful day, people across the country have protested against racial profiling, excessive police force, and the failure of the criminal justice system to provide accountability.

The nail in the coffin of "equal justice under law" came on November 24, when the St. Louis County grand jury refused to indict Wilson for any criminal charges in the shooting death of Brown. In a virtually unprecedented move, St. Louis Prosecutor Robert McCulloch in effect deputized the grand jurors to sit as triers of fact as in a jury trial.

In a normal grand jury proceeding, the prosecutor presents evidence for a few days and then asks the grand jurors to return an indictment, which they nearly always do. Of 162,000 federal cases in 2010, grand juries failed to indict in only 11 of them, according the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The standard of proof for a grand jury to indict is only probable cause to believe the suspect committed a crime. It is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is required for conviction at trial. Yet McCulloch's team presented testimony and documents to the panel for three months, evidence not subjected to adversarial testing by cross-examination.

Justice Antonin Scalia explained the function of the grand jury in United States v. Williams as follows:

[I]t is the grand jury's function not "to enquire . . . upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied," or otherwise to try the suspect's defenses, but only to examine "upon what foundation [the charge] is made" by the prosecutor. [citations omitted] As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.

Every principle Scalia cited was violated in this case. The grand jury was asked to determine whether Wilson acted in self-defense. Wilson was allowed to give four hours of self-serving testimony to the grand jury. And for three months, prosecutors presented both incriminating and exculpatory evidence.

The prosecutor did not ask these grand jurors for an indictment. They were left to sift through the evidence on their own, with no prosecutorial guidance about what to charge. Indeed, the transcripts indicated that prosecutors asked Wilson gentle, leading questions designed to bolster his self-defense claim. For example, a prosecutor told Wilson, "You felt like your life was in jeopardy," followed by, "And use of deadly force was justified at that point, in your opinion?" But prosecutors rigorously challenged witnesses who contradicted Wilson's testimony.

As the grand jury is a secret proceeding, with only the grand jurors and the prosecutor present, the grand jurors did not hear any cross-examination of the officer's testimony, or that of other witnesses (which is customary in an adversarial jury trial). These grand jurors, who were nearing the end of their term, which began in May, knew the drill, since they had sat on several other cases. They knew the prosecutor always asks for indictments. Thus, when the prosecutor handled the Wilson case in a radically different manner, this signaled to the grand jurors that they were not expected to indict. And they did not.

Another unorthodox aspect of this case was McCulloch's announcement of the grand jury's decision on national television. Sounding like a defense attorney delivering a closing argument in a jury trial, McCulloch characterized and analyzed the witness testimony in the light most favorable to the officer.

McCulloch has a history of bias in favor of police involved in altercations with black men. But, ignoring the pleas of 7,000 residents in and near Ferguson who signed a petition, McCulloch refused to recuse himself in the Wilson case.

McCulloch had mischaracterized testimony in a 2000 case in which two black men were killed after officers fired 21 shots at them. As in the Wilson case, the reasonableness of the officers' use of deadly force was critical. In the 2000 case, the officers said the two victims were driving toward them, trying to run them down, and McCulloch claimed that all the witnesses corroborated the officers' story. A later federal investigation, however, determined that the car was not moving forward, and that only three of the thirteen officers said the car was moving forward.

Likewise, Wilson's claim that Brown was "charging" at him when the officer fired the fatal shots into the top of Brown's bowed head was critical to the reasonableness of Wilson's use of deadly force. When McCulloch announced the grand jury's decision, he characterized the witnesses who testified that Brown was "charging" the officer as believable, but dismissed the testimony of witnesses who said Brown was surrendering. McCulloch sounded like a defense attorney, not a prosecutor charged with representing "the people," including Brown.

Wilson fired 12 shots at Brown, six of which struck the teenager. There was a great deal of contradiction among the witnesses, including whether Brown's hands were up or down when Wilson shot at him. That is precisely why there should have been an indictment and a jury trial. Jurors would hear all of the evidence, subjected to adversarial testing by cross-examination. They would assess the credibility of the witnesses, and determine whether Wilson had committed any crime(s) beyond a reasonable doubt.

After reviewing the transcripts and evidence in the Wilson case, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi noted:

Dorian Johnson, the key witness who was standing next to Brown during the encounter, provided strong testimony that called into question Wilson's claim that he was defending his life against a deranged aggressor. Johnson testified that Wilson, enraged that the young men did not obey his order to get on the sidewalk, threw his patrol car into reverse. While Wilson claimed Brown prevented him from opening his door, Johnson testified that the officer smacked them with the door after nearly hitting the pair. Johnson described the ensuing struggle as Wilson attempting to pull Brown through the car window by his neck and shirt, and Brown pulling away. Johnson never saw Brown reach for Wilson's gun or punch the officer. Johnson testified that he watched a wounded Brown partially raise his hands and say, "I don't have a gun" before being fatally shot.

Adachi also wrote, "Prosecutors never asked Wilson why he did not attempt to drive away while Brown was allegedly reaching through his vehicle window or to reconcile the contradiction between his claim that Brown punched the left side of his face and the documented injuries which appear on his right side."

If properly directed, the grand jury may well have indicted Wilson for one of several offenses, including first degree murder, second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, assault with a deadly weapon, unlawful discharge of a firearm, and battery. Wilson testified that he was acting in self-defense when he shot Brown. If he were indicted, the jury would assess whether Wilson acted reasonably when he used deadly force against the teenager.

A police officer in Missouri can use deadly force in making an arrest or preventing escape if he reasonably believes it is necessary to effect the arrest and also reasonably believes the person to be arrested has committed or attempted to commit a felony, or may otherwise endanger life or inflict serious physical injury unless arrested without delay. The key word is "reasonably." The jury would be told to consider whether a deadly weapon was used, how far apart Wilson was from Brown when the former used deadly force, any disparities in the sizes of the two, the crime involved, etc. The evidence was contradictory about the distance between the two during the confrontation, both Wilson and Brown were the same height but Brown was heavier, and the officer contradicted himself about whether he knew that Brown was suspected of committing petty theft for stealing cigarillos (a misdemeanor, not a felony) before the officer stopped him.

In Tennessee v. Garner, the Supreme Court held that an officer cannot arrest an unarmed felony suspect by shooting him dead. If the suspect threatens the officer with a weapon, or there is probable cause to believe he has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm, deadly force may be used if necessary to prevent escape. Although there is a dispute about whether Wilson knew that Brown was suspected of stealing cigarillos before stopping him, Brown had likely committed petty theft - a non-violent misdemeanor, not a felony.

Wilson's testimony raises several questions, listed in a piece by Ezra Klein on Vox: "Why did Michael Brown, an 18-year-old kid headed to college, refuse to move from the middle of the street to the sidewalk? Why would he curse out a police officer? Why would he attack a police officer? Why would he dare a police officer to shoot him? Why would he charge a police officer holding a gun? Why would he put his hand in his waistband while charging, even though he was unarmed?"

In my opinion, McCulloch should have filed charges against Wilson, who would then have had the right to a public preliminary hearing. He could present evidence and cross-examine the witnesses against him. And if it were televised, the viewing public could see that justice is done.

According to Adachi, "Wilson's description of Brown as a 'demon' with superhuman strength and unremitting rage, and his description of the neighborhood as 'hostile,' illustrate implicit racial bias that taints use-of-force decisions. These biases surely contribute to the fact that African Americans are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than whites in the US, but the statement's racial implications remain unexamined."

Because of the great social implications of cases involving police shootings of people of color, the presumption in these cases should be that prosecutors utilize the public preliminary hearing process instead of the secret grand jury proceeding.

In a unified statement, several civil and human rights organizations recommended an independent and comprehensive federal investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ). They said the DOJ should also investigate all police killings and reports of the use of excessive force and racial profiling against youth and people of color. And they would require Body-Worn Cameras to record every police-civilian encounter, and increased community oversight of local law enforcement.

Thousands of people in cities throughout the country are protesting the travesty of justice that occurred in Ferguson. But, as the civil and human rights organizations wrote in their statement, "Nothing will be resolved until there is a systemic change throughout this nation in the implicit and explicit bias against people of color and particularly African-American youth who are routinely targeted by law enforcement even within their own communities."

News Fri, 28 Nov 2014 10:15:31 -0500
The Second Term That Movements Build

In the wake of the mid-term elections earlier this month, it might have seemed that there wasn't much hope to hold onto for progressives, what with climate deniers and tea party fundamentalists rising to some of the highest offices in the land. What we've seen since, though, has been a string of executive decisions that might be cautiously described as hopeful.

In an official White House statement released early last week, President Obama expressed his support for net neutrality, a framing in itself pushed for by advocates on the issue.

"We cannot allow Internet service providers to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas," he said. "That is why today, I am asking the Federal Communications Commission to answer the call of almost four million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality."

Craig Aaron, president of the long-running net neutrality campaign group Free Press, told the New York Times, "It was the kind of clear, bold statement we had been waiting for" since 2008.

Then there's Obama's newly emboldened statements on immigration, which could create a pathway to citizenship for an estimated five million undocumented Americans. The move would extend amnesty to the parents of those granted legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. In the lead-up to the election, organizers with United We Dream interrupted a series of high-profile Democratic campaign events, calling on Obama and other Democrats, including presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, to "put families over politics."

The White House had promised in June that it would take similar action before the end of the summer, only to announce later that it would postpone any decisions on immigration reform until after the election to benefit Democrats in red and purple states facing tough contests with Republicans. Immigrant rights groups also held a wave of action this summer calling for administrative relief from detention and deportation, and were instrumental in the passage of DACA and the DREAM Act for tuition equity in several states nationwide.

Environmentalists saw positive signs, too, as Obama pledged to veto any Congressional legislation that would force a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, superseding federal review requirements. The biggest news for the climate movement, however, is that China and the United States — the world's first and second largest polluters, respectively — have been brokering an until-now "secret" deal to cap both countries' emissions post-2020. Secretary of State John Kerry took the pact public on Tuesday in an op-ed for the New York Times, writing, "Two countries regarded for 20 years as the leaders of opposing camps in climate negotiations have come together to find common ground, determined to make lasting progress on an unprecedented global challenge." Both of these revelations come after increasingly militant and popular escalation in the climate movement, including September's 400,000-person People's Climate March, the growing on and off-campus fossil fuel divestment movement, as well as ongoing efforts to block the expansion of fossil fuel extraction and transportation infrastructure.

Of course, none of these announcements are guaranteed to translate into actual policy shifts. For all of the above, details on enforcement are vague at best. Even the statements themselves are something of a mixed bag: The immigration reform package could include increased funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and the climate deal is non-binding. Naomi Klein commented that free trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership could even trump legislation by "[bestowing] corporations with outrageous powers to challenge national policies at international tribunals," which could prove a threat to climate action and net neutrality alike. Democratic strategists are already plotting how they can leverage support for the Keystone pipeline to win over moderate Democrats in Mary Landrieu's upcoming senatorial run-off election in Louisiana. Progressives are no strangers to false assurances; as United We Dream managing director Cristina Jimenez told CNN, "Details matter and promises have been made before."

Responding to his new-found willingness to take on the GOP, pundits have commented that Obama is attempting to carve out a progressive legacy in the latter half of his second term. This may be true, but this week's announcements are also evidence of the work grassroots organizers have been doing to put pressure on the White House since well before the 2008 election. In other words, like other presidents, any progressive legacy Obama manages to build between now and 2016 will be a product of the movements that challenged him most.

Opinion Thu, 27 Nov 2014 11:29:24 -0500
"Coercive Diplomacy" and the Failure of the Nuclear Negotiations

After more than a year of negotiations between the United States and Iran, the two sides have failed to reach an agreement by the agreed deadline in July. They have agreed to continue negotiating, but the failure to meet the deadline was clearly not caused by the lack of time.

To understand why the talks have remained deadlocked, it is necessary to review the Obama administration's stance on diplomacy with Iran in the context of the long US history of favouring "coercive diplomacy" over traditional negotiations in managing conflicts with adversaries.

Reliance on coercive diplomacy is deeply imbedded in the strategic culture of US national security institutions. It has evolved over decades of US military and economic dominance in international politics, which has allowed the United States to avoid genuine diplomacy repeatedly.

Based on that military supremacy, the United States avoided negotiations with its communist adversaries up to the early 1970s, when Henry Kissinger courted China and launched his détente policy with the Soviet Union. But that brief period of serious negotiating came in the wake of political pressures for reducing US military spending and foreign military presence during the long and exhausting US war in Vietnam. It soon gave way to renewed reliance on coercive diplomacy during the Reagan administration.

The concept of coercive diplomacy emerged from the belief that the United States could use the threat of force to leverage favourable outcomes in international conflicts, as the United States assumed – wrongly, as we now know - that the threat of force by the John F. Kennedy had forced Khrushchev to back down in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

But the practice of coercive diplomacy came to include the use of trade and technology denial for coercive purposes as well, and Iran was one of the first applications of the concept. The Reagan administration used its diplomatic clout with France and Germany to choke off all technical cooperation with Iran's nuclear programme in 1983, even though it acknowledged it had no reason to suspect that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons. A few years later, the George H. W. Bush administration banned exports of peaceful nuclear technology to Iran and pressured its allies to do the same. The technology denial policy, aimed at strangling the Iranian nuclear programme, was a pure expression of the concept of "coercive diplomacy."

The George W. Bush administration's accusation that Iran was using its nuclear programme as a cover for development of nuclear weapons was aimed at preparing the political ground for regime change by force, if necessary. But in 2005, it became part of a strategy for coercive diplomacy to force Iran to stop enrichment. US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice pressured Britain, France and Germany to eschew genuine negotiations with Iran and use the threat of economic sanctions to force an end to Iranian enrichment. The Bush administration would later accuse Iran of having a covert nuclear weapons programme, based on intelligence documents that I have shown in my book "Manufactured Crisis" to be fabrications, but when it first used coercive diplomacy to force an end to Iran's nuclear programme in the 1980s the Reagan administration did not claim that Iran had done anything to indicate an interest in nuclear weapons.

The Obama years

Ironically, although the Obama administration appeared to be committed to traditional diplomacy with Iran on the surface, his administration has relied even more heavily on coercive diplomacy against Iran than its predecessor.

Obama sent an unpublicised message to supreme leader Khamenei in May 2009, offering to conduct talks with Iran on a range of issues "without preconditions," Gary Samore, a former Obama official, admitted last year. But within weeks of his inauguration, Obama gave his approval to a plan for cyber war against Iran's nuclear programme in order to gain more leverage.

Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei did not know about the cyber war decision. He did know, however, that Obama was planning to use new sanctions to compel Iran to accept these policy changes, which that included the unfreezing of assets and the lifting of some sanctions.

When Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asked in the spring of 2009 for the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) assistance in purchasing nuclear fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor, the Obama administration blocked Iran's recourse to the market, hoping to use Iran's need for fuel for the TRR to put additional pressure on Iran. Samore drafted a proposal under which Iran would have to send as much 75 to 80 percent of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Russia to be turned into fuel assemblies for the reactor, giving the US a stronger position in future negotiations.

The Washington Post reported on 22 October 2009, that US officials said the proposed uranium swap "would be only the first step in a difficult process to persuade Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities and that suspension remains the primary goal."

The administration even used its Nuclear Policy Review (NPR) in the spring of 2010 as a heavy-handed means of coercing Iran. The new nuclear policy suggested that Iran was one of the few exceptions to a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons in case of a conventional attack "against the US or its allies or partners."

Obama explicitly linked the new policy to the administration's broader campaign of coercive diplomacy with Iran, saying: "[W]e want to send a very strong message both through sanctions, through the articulation of the Nuclear Posture Review... that the international community is serious about Iran facing consequences if it doesn't change its behaviour."

The administration's main hope for coercing Iran, however, was the imposition of the sanctions against Iran's oil and banking sectors that took effect in mid-2012. In May 2012, a senior US official told the New York Times that those sanctions - and especially the moves by EU member states to cut imports of Iranian oil - would "increase the leverage" on the negotiations that had begun with Iran that spring.

After Hassan Rouhani was elected President of Iran in 2013, with a commitment to a negotiated solution to the issue of the nuclear programme and sanctions relief, the Obama administration assumed that its coercive diplomacy - especially in the form of sanctions - had forced Iran to negotiate. Although the administration had now given up the hope of ending Iran's enrichment completely, the administration lost no time in making it clear that the US objective was the "dismantling" of most of the Iranian enrichment capacity.

Kerry testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on 11 December 2013, a little more than two weeks after the Joint Plan of Action had been announced, that the United States had imposed sanctions on Iran, "because we knew that it would hopefully help Iran dismantle its nuclear programme. That was the whole point of the [sanctions] regime."

In April 2014, Kerry announced that the administration would require Iran's agreement to reduce its enrichment capability so that it would take at least six to twelve months to achieve a "breakout" capacity – i.e., enough low enriched uranium for one bomb's worth of weapon's grade enriched uranium. Robert Einhorn, former proliferation official in the Obama administration's State Department, explained in an article published 9 May, that anything more than "a few thousand" centrifuges would give Iran "an unacceptably rapid breakout capability."

Iran had already declared that dismantling its nuclear infrastructure was a "red line" in the talks, but that it would take measures that would assure that its low-enriched uranium could not be enriched to weapons grade level. Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif revealed to the New York Times on 14 July that Iran had proposal to retain 9,400 "Separative Work Units (SWU), which would represent less than half the enrichment capacity installed in its two enrichment facilities.

An unidentified senior US official responded to the Iranian proposal by implying the right to demand that Iran submit to the will of the coalition arrayed against it. "[T]his is not a negotiation between two equal parties," the official said. "This is the international community assessing whether Iran can come in line with its numerous non-proliferation obligations, to which it has been in violation for years."

Later, Iran agreed to draw down its stockpile of low-enrichment uranium by shipping it to Russia to be converted into fuel assemblies for its nuclear reactor at Bushehr. That would have the same effect in increasing the "breakout" timeline announced by Kerry as the deep centrifuge reduction the US was demanding. But by then, the United States had escalated its demands on Iran, saying that it would have to increase that mythical measure of risk to at least a year.

US negotiators continued to demand that Iran accept a dramatic cut in existing operational enrichment capacity to as few as 5000 centrifuges. Meanwhile, the US delegation was making it clear that the P5+1 would not provide "extensive" relief from sanctions until late in the implementation of the agreement, keeping the "architecture of sanctions" in place as leverage on Iran.

The whole US posture in the talks has thus reflected the perspective of a dominant power accustomed to employing coercive diplomacy, with sanctions replacing military force as the source of presumed coercive power. Iran's refusal to play its assigned role in the relationship between superpower and lesser state challenges Washington's strategic assumptions. Now Obama must weigh the appeal of coercive diplomacy to the US national security state against his own strong desire for an agreement.

News Thu, 27 Nov 2014 11:23:40 -0500