Truthout Stories Thu, 30 Oct 2014 12:55:39 -0400 en-gb "The Red Cross' Secret Disaster": Charity Prioritized PR Over People After Superstorm Sandy

This week marks the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy hitting the New York City region, becoming one of the most destructive storms in the nation’s history. A new joint investigation by ProPublica and NPR contends the American Red Cross bungled its response to Superstorm Sandy by caring more about its image and reputation than providing service to those in need. It alleges the organization diverted vehicles and resources to press conferences instead of using them to deliver services. And it estimates the Red Cross wasted an average of 30 percent of the meals it was producing in the early days of its Sandy response effort. We speak to ProPublica reporter Justin Elliott and Richard Rieckenberg, former disaster expert with the Red Cross - he oversaw aspects of the organization’s efforts to provide food, shelter and supplies after the 2012 storms. We also air an official Red Cross response to their investigation.

Please check back later for full transcript.

News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 11:11:30 -0400
Showdown Over Ebola: Will Quarantines of Health Care Workers Harm the Fight Against Epidemic?

A debate is intensifying in the United States over quarantining health care workers who return from West Africa but do not show signs of Ebola. On Wednesday, Maine’s governor said that he would seek legal authority to enforce a 21-day home quarantine on Kaci Hickox, a nurse who has tested negative for Ebola after treating patients in Sierra Leone. Hickox made national headlines when she publicly criticized New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for quarantining her in a tent outside the hospital. Hickox said she would challenge Maine’s restrictions just as she did in New Jersey. "I completely understand that the state’s purpose is to protect the state of Maine,” Hickox said last night. “I have worked in public health for many years, and that has always been my purpose, as well, but we have to make decisions on science, and I am completely healthy.” To discuss the debate, we speak to Lawrence Gostin, professor and faculty director at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. He is also the director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Public Health Law.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: The World Health Organization says Liberia, the country worst hit by an Ebola epidemic, may be seeing a decline in the spread of the virus. While the number of burials and new admissions has fallen in Liberia, World Health Organization Assistant Director-General Dr. Bruce Aylward said the international community must continue to step up its response to the virus that’s killed around 5,000 people in West Africa.

DR. BRUCE AYLWARD: It would be a huge mistake for anybody to think, "Oh, great, we’re getting in front of this virus, we can scale back on some of the investments planned." I mean, you know, these are wily viruses. They’re waiting for you to make that kind of a mistake. And as you’ve seen in places, you know, in Guinea, you’ve seen in Guéckédou, this thing will go on for a very, very long time at lower rates of transmission. So, you’ve got to exploit those opportunities as they arise, step up your game. And if anything, this should be really a sign that, look, make those investments because this can be turned around, this virus can be stopped eventually, but it’s going to take a very, very aggressive program of work to capitalize on those opportunities.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general of the World Health Organization. This comes as a debate intensifies in the United States over quarantining healthcare workers who return from West Africa but don’t show signs of Ebola. On Wednesday, Maine’s governor said that he would seek legal authority to enforce a 21-day home quarantine on Kaci Hickox, a nurse who has tested negative for Ebola after treating patients in Sierra Leone. Hickox made national headlines when she publicly criticized New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for quarantining her in a tent outside the hospital. Hickox said she would challenge Maine’s restrictions, just as she did in New Jersey. Last night, Hickox spoke outside her boyfriend’s home in Maine.

KACI HICKOX: I completely understand that the state’s purpose is to protect the state of Maine. I have worked in public health for many years, and that has always been my purpose, as well. But we have to make decisions on science. And I am completely healthy. You know, you could hug me, you could shake my hand. There is no way that I would give you Ebola. If I develop symptoms—and there’s even some evidence that, you know, in the beginning periods there’s not enough virus in your blood, that you’re shedding virus. It’s, you know, still not perfect science, because we don’t know everything we need to know about Ebola, because it’s a rare enough disease. But, you know, I don’t want to hurt anyone in the public, but I don’t think this is an acceptable line to be drawn.

AMY GOODMAN: As Hickox spoke on her boyfriend’s doorstep, he had his arm around her the whole time. Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said the state is filing a court order to keep Kaci Hickox isolated at home until November 10th.

MARY MAYHEW: We will make it mandatory. It is certainly in everyone’s best interest to just cooperate and work with us to minimize contact. It is very difficult, outside of that voluntary agreement to stay at home, to monitor someone who may come into contact with many individuals, that if that individual then becomes symptomatic, we will have to work with every single one of those individuals to quarantine those individuals.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, President Obama held an event at the White House to honor American doctors, nurses and healthcare workers returning from West Africa.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Like our military men and women deploying to West Africa, they do this for no other reason than their own sense of duty, their sense of purpose, their sense of serving a cause greater than themselves. So we need to call them what they are, which is American heroes. They deserve our gratitude. And they deserve to be treated with dignity and with respect.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the debate over quarantining healthcare workers, we’re joined by Lawrence Gostin, university professor and faculty director at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, also the director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Public Health Law.

You’re one of the leading experts, Dr. Gostin, on the issue of quarantine. This showdown is only getting hotter in this country, and it’s not just about this one crusading nurse, Kaci Hickox. But can you talk about what it is she’s saying, why she objected to being held in the hospital in New Jersey, and then went home to Maine and was told she had to stay there, why she feels she shouldn’t be there for 21 days?

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Well, I really don’t think she should be there for 21 days. I, like her, believe—and I’ve spent my entire life defending the public’s health. And if I actually thought that she or any of the other health workers coming from the region were a risk to the public, I would support a quarantine. But the Supreme Court has said that if you confine somebody who has committed no crime, it’s, quote, "a massive deprivation of liberty." It’s not a trivial thing. We have to make sure that we balance civil liberties with public health. In this case, all the public health experts are telling us that it’s unnecessary—the CDC, the World Health Organization. There’s no organization that I know of that believes it’s right to quarantine for three weeks somebody that really is, as President Obama said, is a hero. They’ve sacrificed. They’ve done things that most of us wouldn’t do. They’ve put themselves at risk, gone in a compassionate way. And I do think we need to treat them better than we are. This is self-defeating. We think that we’re actually decreasing our risk by quarantining her, but actually we’re increasing it, because if we impede people from going to the region, then the epidemic there will spin out of control, and that is where our risk lies.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to turn to comments made by NBC cameraman and Ebola survivor Ashoka Mukpo. He was asked about the mandatory quarantine being imposed on Kaci Hickox. He also talked about Dr. Craig Spencer, who’s being treated for Ebola in New York. He was speaking on CNN. Let’s just go to a clip.

ASHOKA MUKPO: She’s earned a right to, you know, have a sense of her own safety and her own risk factor to others. And I don’t think that Dr. Spencer endangered anyone. My feeling is—and, you know, again, I’m not an expert, this is just my own view on the exposure that I’ve had to Ebola—is I think that Governor Christie is playing politics right now. It seems to me that it’s an effort to, you know, work with public opinion rather than listen to the advice of the experts. And I just think that it’s counterproductive. You know, these are people who have gone and endangered their lives to work with people who have very limited resources and are dying in relatively large numbers. So, to make it more difficult and to treat them as if they’re a potential problem as opposed to a public asset, I just think it’s a shame, and I don’t think it’s the right way to act.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Ebola survivor Ashoka Mukpo speaking on CNN. So, Lawrence Gostin, can you explain why it is people are so fearful? They’ve have been so critical, many people, of Kaci and of Dr. Craig Spencer, for what they claim was endangering the lives of the public. Could you explain why that’s not really been the case?

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: You know, it really isn’t the case. We know from science and epidemiology that if a person is completely symptom-free, if they haven’t had any known exposure, with their skin or anything else, they have no temperature, and if the health department would proactively monitor them—I’m all in favor of that—then if they want to get in their car, or if they want to have a walk on the street, they’re endangering no one at all. And as I say, from a matter of law, the doctrine of quarantine requires that you have an individual assessment of significant risk. And it doesn’t exist here. The CDC itself does not put her in a category that would warrant quarantine. They have guided the states in that way. They’ve asked the states to behave in a way that comports with science. And unfortunately, we’re coming up to elections. Politicians are wanting to follow the polls. They’re basing their decisions on fear rather than science. And while sometimes that might be an OK thing to do, not if you’re depriving somebody of liberty, and not if you’re really making a situation in West Africa worse than it is.

AMY GOODMAN: Maine Governor LePage is one of the most conservative governors in the country. And his Health and Human Services secretary spoke yesterday. What they didn’t explain, they have police outside of the home where Kaci is staying. They have not directly said what they’re going to do to her if she goes outside. But if they’re saying she’s contagious, right—the New Jersey governor, Christie, said she’s "obviously ill," which was obviously wrong—

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Clearly wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: Are they going to be wearing moon suits and tackle her? They will not explain what they’re going to do to her.

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: No, and in fact, unless they’ve actually issued a formal quarantine order under the state’s public health law, the police actually have no authority over her. She has committed no crime. There has been no assessment that she actually, from a scientific point of view, poses any risk to anyone. I don’t see that they’ve got any authority. Now, if they get a court order, they’re going to have to convince a judge that their decision is based upon rationality and science. And I don’t see how they can do that when the entire scientific community disagrees. And they’re just—they’re fanning the fear in the public. The public are wondering, "Why are we getting all these confusing messages?" The president’s saying one thing, the governor’s saying another thing, the WHO and CDC have their own position.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, there—

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: We have to have a consistent position.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Gostin, there are mixed messages.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that all U.S. troops returning from the Ebola zone in West Africa must spend 21 days in quarantine. Let’s go to a clip.

DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: What I signed this morning was a memorandum to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in response to the memorandum of recommendation I received from the chairman and the chiefs yesterday to go forward with a policy of essentially 21-day incubation for our men and women who would be returning from West Africa.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaking on Wednesday. So, Larry Gostin, can you explain the discrepancy in policy? Because on the one hand, the Obama administration seems to be saying that quarantine is not required for health workers, and now we have Chuck Hagel, the defense secretary, saying, but for the military, it is. And presumably healthcare workers are in much closer proximity to those suffering from Ebola in West Africa.

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: I mean it’s a complete contradiction in terms. I was very proud of the United States for sending military troops into West Africa. I actually wish that the military troops could provide direct patient care. But President Obama ruled that out because he didn’t want them to be exposed to any risk—for political reasons. I can understand that. But now, when they’ve not had any patient contact—they may have had no exposure whatsoever—and then come back, and every single one of them will be quarantined 21 days, it defies rationality. Why would you want to do that?

The other thing is, is that we have people coming and going to West Africa all the time. We have U.N. diplomats, high-level American officials, high-level World Bank officials, that will be coming to and from New York City and other places. Do we intend to quarantine them all?

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the U.S. ambassador—

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: We have no consistent—

AMY GOODMAN: —to the United Nations, Samantha Power, just went to all three nations that are hardest hit.


AMY GOODMAN: She said she’ll abide by the law. But this goes even beyond Ebola. I wanted to turn to Steve Hyman, an attorney for the nurse, Kaci Hickox.

STEVEN HYMAN: There’s no basis to arrest her. There’s no basis to detain her. And such action would be illegal and unconstitutional. And we would seek to protect Kaci’s rights as an American citizen under the Constitution. The fact is, she seems to be doing well. She’s now certainly better than she was when she was in the isolation tent, courtesy of Governor Christie, in New Jersey. She is feeling fine—hopefully, she stays that way—and is monitoring herself, as required by the protocols, and is staying in touch with the Maine public health officials. There is no legal basis under Maine law or under the U.S. Constitution to restrain her because she went to Africa to help people get better.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is what else Kaci Hickox’s attorney, Steve Hyman, had to say.

STEVEN HYMAN: In the AIDS crisis, they were trying to do the same thing. People were supposed to be isolated because of AIDS and the fear that ran through the community. And that proved to be totally wrong. And people were subjected to the same thing that’s happening to Kaci by this hysteria that somehow there’s contagion, because of some myth as to how it’s transmitted.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Steve Hyman, an attorney for Kaci Hickox. And I wanted to ask you, Dr. Lawrence Gostin—I was just watching a Mount Sinai Hospital doctor, infectious disease doctor, today on television, who was responding to the question, you know, more than 80 percent of Americans want people quarantined, so how do you deal with that? And he said, you know, if you had asked them if they wanted Ryan White, the boy who had AIDS—


AMY GOODMAN: —if you wanted him quarantined, not to go to school, they would have said the same thing. That doesn’t make it right. How do you deal with this, Dr. Gostin?

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Well, I mean, I think you need to deal with it with clear information. I mean, we didn’t, in the end, quarantine people with AIDS, thank goodness, but we did harass them, discriminate against them. Ryan White, a poor little young boy who had HIV infection, was embarrassed, kick out of school. These are not humane, compassionate ways of dealing with things. Unfortunately, you know, epidemics, particularly fearful ones, bring the worst out in society and civilization and humanity. But we need to find the better parts of ourselves and treat human beings with compassion, and only restrict them if it’s absolutely necessary for the public welfare. And in this case, it clearly is not.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, on Wednesday, representatives of the Centers for Disease Control joined health officials from 31 other countries from the Americas in Cuba for a conference on Ebola. The meeting was convened by ALBA, a regional alliance of Latin American and Caribbean countries. This is Cuban Health Minister Roberto Morales.

DR. ROBERTO MORALES OJEDA: [translated] We hope that this meeting creates a concerted course of action to continue perfecting our national plans, that it ratifies the commitment we have to the most vulnerable people as an expression of the principles of solidarity, genuine cooperation and integration between our countries.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The U.S. presence in Cuba is the latest show of cooperation between the two countries on the Ebola crisis. This is Nelson Arboleda of the CDC.

DR. NELSON ARBOLEDA: [translated] I think that this is an international emergency and that we must all work together and cooperate in this effort.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Larry Gostin, according to the World Health Organization, Cuba is by far the largest provider of doctors and healthcare workers to West Africa in dealing with this Ebola crisis. So could you talk about what you think the U.S. ought to be doing more to deal with the crisis there in West Africa?

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Yeah, well, before I do that, I mean, one—when I just had said that epidemics bring out the worst in us, but here’s a case of where epidemics can bring out the best in us, where it can bring us together, which shouldn’t be a Democrat-Republican issue. It shouldn’t be a Cuba-American issue. It’s a global issue for all of mankind and humankind.

What America needs to do is really ramp up the response in West Africa. We need to be training a reserve work core of experienced doctors and nurses, putting them into the region, supporting them, treating them with respect. And we need to be providing money. And more than anything, we need to mobilize the international community. At least the U.S. has troops there. There are a lot of countries that don’t. I’m really astounded at the delay and the lack of attention that’s been given to what is really one of the worst crises I’ve seen since the AIDS epidemic.

AMY GOODMAN: MSF, Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders, is really suffering now. They’re saying that—


AMY GOODMAN: —because of this controversy over the quarantining of healthy people, that it means that they are getting less recruits, fewer doctors, nurses, health workers offering to go abroad. President Obama almost had tears in his eyes yesterday as he surrounded himself—I think the visual was more important than anything he said, being very close to hugging people who had been in West Africa. What is your—what is the single most important thing you feel needs to happen right now as the U.S. focuses on this debate over local quarantine? What’s brought Liberia’s infection rate down?

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Well, you know, first, we have to stop being so insular and just thinking about ourselves and our own—we have a few very isolated cases. In West Africa, they will have tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands, of people with Ebola. So we’ve got to put it in perspective. And we have to really all come together, as Americans and as an international community, and put our focus in West Africa. You know, if we don’t, and for some reason it jumps to another populous city like Delhi or Beijing, then we could have a global catastrophe, something that would really come back to haunt us. So, this is in our self-interest, but more than that, it’s in our shared humanity, that we really need to focus our attention, resources, human resources and engineering to really build up hospitals, doctors and public health systems. And we have to learn from this lesson. We have to learn what to do in the future. And what that is, is to build the health systems up in low- and middle-income countries so that these things don’t spin out of control.

AMY GOODMAN: Lawrence Gostin, we want to thank you for being with us, university professor, faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University—

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: —also director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Public Health Law. Thank you. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’re going to be looking at the Red Cross, not around the issue of Ebola today, but it’s the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. "Where were they?" people asked all over the East Coast. We’ll look at their own internal documents to find out why they were not present. Stay with us.

News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 11:06:41 -0400
Arming the Warrior Cop: From Guns to Drones, Inside the Booming Business of Police Militarization

In a new cover story for Mother Jones magazine, "The Making of the Warrior Cop," senior reporter Shane Bauer goes inside the corporations and government departments involved in enabling police departments to acquire anything from bayonets to semi-automatic rifles and drones. Reporting from the exposition called "Urban Shield" - which organizers call the largest first-responder training in the world - Bauer says that the equipment police departments have received from the military pales in comparison to the amount of gear purchased from private companies. The Department of Homeland Security has provided some $41 billion in funding to local police departments to buy the equipment from various corporations, on top of more than $5 billion from the Pentagon since 1997.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We continue our conversation about policing communities by looking at who is involved in the increasing militarization of police departments across the country. Shane Bauer’s cover story for Mother Jones magazine, headlined "The Making of the Warrior Cop," gives us a tour through the corporations and government departments involved in enabling police departments to acquire anything from bayonets to semi-automatic rifles to drones. Reporting from the exposition called Urban Shield, which, according to organizers, is the largest first-responder training in the world, Bauer says that the equipment police departments have received from the military, quote, "pales in comparison to the amount of gear purchased from private companies."

AMY GOODMAN: The Department of Homeland Security provides funding to local police departments to buy equipment from various corporations. Shane Bauer writes, quote, "The Department of Defense has given $5.1 billion worth of equipment to state and local police departments since 1997, with even rural counties acquiring things like grenade launchers and armored personnel carriers. But Homeland Security has handed out grants worth eight times as much—$41 billion since 2002." Let’s go to a clip from the Mother Jones piece. Shane Bauer, who will join us in a minute, starts by asking Urban Shield spokesperson, Sergeant JD Nelson, a question.

SHANE BAUER: Do you think there’s any validity to the criticism that the United States is kind of increasingly becoming a police state?

SGT. JD NELSON: I think there is some validity to that.

SHANE BAUER: We’re at Urban Shield in Oakland, California. It’s a cop convention where this weekend SWAT teams from around the Bay Area and around the world are going to be competing around the Bay.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Mother Jones journalist Shane Bauer, who joins us now from University of California, Berkeley, studios, the award-winning investigative journalist, senior reporter at Mother Jones magazine. His cover story is headlined "The Making of the Warrior Cop." Shane is also the journalist who was imprisoned for two years in Iran.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Shane. So, take us through this expo, and these astounding figures. I mean, we’ve heard a lot about the weapons coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon recycling them in towns, cities, hamlets, in their police departments. But the fact that that amount of equipment is dwarfed by direct grants to these communities to buy money—to buy weapons from weapons manufacturers?

SHANE BAUER: Yeah, thanks for having me on, Amy. So, you know, Ferguson is, I think, a good example of this. In Ferguson, a lot of the kind of gear that we saw on television that the police had, you know, throughout the crisis there was not actually military gear. It was stuff, very similar equipment, bought from private companies. And what we’re seeing now is, you know, some towns, some counties are actually giving back the equipment or trying to give back the military equipment, but they also have, you know, very similar stuff that they’re buying from private companies. An example is in Arizona. Sheriff Joe Arpaio kind of made a show of giving some of his gear back, and he put on display all of his kind of military stuff he had, and then he showed the much kind of newer, more up-to-date stuff that he’s buying from companies. And this industry has really, you know, sprung up post-9/11, when Homeland Security start giving grants to local communities for counterterrorism. A lot of the companies I saw at Urban Shield were actually started after 9/11. So they give this stuff for counterterrorism, but, of course, they can use it for anything they want, and most of what it’s used for is drug raids.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what does this mean in terms of these manufacturers or suppliers, in terms of their actually going around lobbying these local governments to buy their material?

SHANE BAUER: Well, I think one example that I saw at Urban Shield was a company called the Armored Group. They were selling the kind of big APC-style armored vehicles. And if you go on their website, you see that they tell local police departments that "if you want to buy our vehicle, we actually have a grant writer that will write the grant for you for Homeland Security so you can get the funding." They also suggest that they use forfeiture money. This is money that is taken in criminal investigations, money or property that police departments take in criminal investigations, even when the defendants are not actually prosecuted in the cases. That money can also be used to buy similar—the same equipment from these companies.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to another clip from your report for Mother Jones. In this video, you’re speaking to Jeremy Johnson of the Armored Group.

JEREMY JOHNSON: Like you, I’ve been all over the world. I’ve seen a lot of the stuff. And I see a lot of the differences. You know, this is not a—they’re not going in to just take care of business. They’re there to, hopefully, handle a situation that could get out of hand, right?

SHANE BAUER: Yeah, yeah.

JEREMY JOHNSON: But you never hear about the ones they handle. I think that’s where it gets a little disconnect from what they want. But you’re right. Some of these trucks do look intimidating—for a reason, though. They should. You know, you don’t want to pull up a Chevy Chevette in front of a house and say, "Here, we’re going to get you." You’re not going to get the effect you want.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I want to turn to another clip from your report, one that features something unbelievable—a university, the University of California, Berkeley, having a SWAT team. After they staged a hostage rescue simulation, you spoke to Eric Tejada of UC Berkeley’s Special Operations.

LT. ERIC TEJADA: It was actually around ’92, ’94, there was an attack on the chancellor of the—


LT. ERIC TEJADA: —at his residence, which is on campus.

SHANE BAUER: OK, uh-huh.

LT. ERIC TEJADA: And we realized at the time that we didn’t have any resources to deal with that kind of threat when it took place.


LT. ERIC TEJADA: So, and I think about 15 years before, they had some kind of semblance of a SWAT team.


LT. ERIC TEJADA: So they regenerated the idea of—


LT. ERIC TEJADA: —activating a SWAT team.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Eric Tejada of UC Berkeley’s Special Operations. Most people might be surprised to hear the University of California, Berkeley, has a SWAT team. Shane Bauer, could you tell us what kind of operations the team has physically carried out?

SHANE BAUER: Yeah, well, I mean, this is interesting, because this scenario, they were doing a kind of high-stakes hostage rescue. They would later go on a boat in the bay to kind of dismantle a terrorist IED. They would go into a church, where, you know, a kind of pretend militant atheist group is holding church members hostage. But when I asked them what they do day to day, most of what they respond to are muggings of students—you know, the kind of normal police work that police departments do. They’re kind of going in, you know, fully armed, geared up in this kind of military-style gear, busting into houses.

You know, I think another aspect that is interesting about this whole situation with the Homeland Security money is that there’s incentive for kind of new equipment. One thing that I saw was a device that attaches to a gun, and it sends out radiation waves that temporarily blind the person it’s pointed at for 10 minutes by—what the vendor told me was, by scrambling their ocular fluid. And that’s something that’s going to be hitting the market early next year.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this is both an expo that you went to, Urban Shield, but also there was a lot of role playing.


AMY GOODMAN: Now, you had your press credentials revoked, is that right?


AMY GOODMAN: Your press credentials were revoked on the last day of the conference. I want to go to a clip, the third day of the conference, and you filmed a police officer asking you to leave the premises.

SHANE BAUER: They told us that we were OK here. Said, "Take their media badges"?

POLICE OFFICER: Yeah, and said, "Hold onto"—

SHANE BAUER: Did he explain why?

POLICE OFFICER: He just said because they were in violation of the rules for filming inside of one of the sites; they were advised to film inside the site.

SHANE BAUER: What site?

POLICE OFFICER: I don’t know.

SHANE BAUER: They didn’t even say what site.

POLICE OFFICER: I assume it’s mine. I assume it’s this site.

AMY GOODMAN: Before you were removed from the conference, Shane, there were numerous instances in which your work was shut down at Urban Shield. So, explain—


AMY GOODMAN: Just give us the global picture of what’s happening, the expo and these other role plays that you were trying to cover that happened outside, like in San Francisco and the bridge.

SHANE BAUER: Yeah, so there was—basically, it was a four-day event. The first two days was an expo. There was an expo hall where all kinds of companies were showing their equipment—guns, trucks, drones, you know, robots that can be printed with 3D printers—trying to sell them to the local police departments. The next two days was a 48-hour straight exercise, where SWAT teams were actually competing with each other, going through around 35 scenarios. And each one, they’re kind of getting points. These were a lot of kind of Bay Area SWAT teams. There were some international SWAT teams from Singapore, South Korea. The U.S. Marines was a team. There was, you know, teams like UC Berkeley, a prison SWAT team. And I had gone to some of these events, and on the morning of the second day, they took our press credentials.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Shane, drones obviously have gotten a lot of attention in recent years. Did you get any sense that that was a hot item among these different law enforcement agencies this time around?

SHANE BAUER: Oh, yeah. There were a ton of drones. Actually, when I got kicked out, there was a vendor. Each of these kind of sites where they were doing these scenarios had a particular vendor. And at that site, there was a drone vendor who we had interviewed. And he was hoping to use their drones, his company’s drones, in the exercise on the Bay Bridge, but because of FAA regulations, they were not allowed to use them. You know, the county in—Alameda County hasn’t gotten approval yet to use them. But you saw, you know, a big thing right now is the 3D-printable drones. So, police departments can print out a drone, attach the wiring and, you know, set it out.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s been a lot of protest in Oakland around urging the Oakland mayor, Jean Quan, to cancel the Urban Shield conference next year. Can you talk about these protests and the significance of this happening in Oakland in this post-Ferguson period?

SHANE BAUER: Yeah, well, Urban Shield has been happening for years. It’s been going on since the mid-2000s. And in recent years, there’s been regular protest of it. And this year, in particular, Jean Quan said that Urban Shield will not be allowed to come back to Oakland. Now, the county has said, "Yes, they will." So there’s kind of a battle between the city and the county right now.

You know, when I was at Urban Shield, the protests, something I noticed was that the protests were referencing Ferguson quite a bit. And that was something that just wasn’t really talked about on the inside; inside Urban Shield, there wasn’t any discussion of Ferguson. But at the same time, you know, I was seeing T-shirts for sale that—where, you know, you see kind of an image of a gun sight, and says, "This is my peace sign." You see, you know, kind of this Spartan imagery, very militaristic kind of imagery, that in many ways, you know, is kind of—

AMY GOODMAN: What is "This is my peace sign"? What is it actually showing?

SHANE BAUER: That’s a sight of an AR-15, looking kind of down the scope of an AR-15 sight.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Shane, the—

SHANE BAUER: And, you know, I think this—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’m sorry. Go ahead.

SHANE BAUER: Oh, you know, I think something that—something that really was interesting to me about being there was this kind of overlap with the military. You know, some of these companies that I seen and vendors that I spoke to were from the military. Their companies were actually set up to distribute to the military, and they’ve since kind of come over to also bringing in police. You know, the Marines were a team competing there. I talked to the Marines after one of their scenarios, and they said that they actually learn from the police. The spokesperson of Urban Shield told me, you know, "We should be talking not about militarization of the police, but policization of the military." There’s this kind of interesting dynamic now where the Marines are actually learning from the kind of urban SWAT team tactics, to bring back and kind of train their people.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Shane, I wanted to ask you about the Pentagon’s 1033 program. It’s transferred more than $5.1 billion in military equipment to local agencies since 1991. That includes some 600 mine-resistant armor-protected vehicles, or MRAPs.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Last month, during a Senate hearing on police militarization, Brian Kamoie of the Department of Homeland Security defended the program. He said equipment helped locate the surviving suspect after the Boston Marathon bombing last year.

BRIAN KAMOIE: The response to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing demonstrated how preparedness grant investments have improved capabilities. Grant-funded equipment, such as the forward-looking infrared camera on a Massachusetts State Police helicopter, enabled the apprehension of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, while enhancing the personal safety of law enforcement officers and protecting public safety.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Brian Kamoie of the Department of Homeland Security. So, isn’t—some people would say that’s a justification for all of this hardware.

SHANE BAUER: Right. I mean, you know, there’s no doubt that people in a kind of extreme situation are going to want to have some kind of response. The issue is that a lot of this hardware is going to small towns. I mean, everybody is getting this stuff. And most of it is used for drug raids. It’s the kind of situations where there has been—there’s not an active shooter, there’s not a hostage scenario—the kind of stuff that police often talk about in why they need this equipment. It’s used to raid people’s houses, you know, often in no-knock raids to try to find drugs. And these SWAT teams are mostly used—about 71 percent of the time they’re used to target people of color, even though the people that are the most likely to be, you know, the active shooters, the hostage takers, are white. In North Carolina in one town, African Americans were targeted 47 times the amount of white people by SWAT teams.

AMY GOODMAN: Shane, as we wrap up, I wanted to switch gears. As we talk to you and you’re talking about the amount of money that’s going into the militarization of police at home, we’re seeing the U.S. attack Syria and Iraq, dealing with the Islamic State. You were held in Iran with Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd for—well, you and Josh for two years by the Iranian authorities; you were imprisoned. And I wanted to know your reaction to when you see, for example, the video of James Foley, the horrid video of his beheading, and then his mother coming out and saying she was threatened that if she dared try to raise any kind of ransom, she herself would be prosecuted. Your thoughts on this issue, as journalists like yourself have been held?

SHANE BAUER: I mean, it’s terrible, I mean, all the way around. My heart goes out to the Foley family, to the families of all of the people who are held hostage in Syria, including, you know, Syrians. Most of the people that are missing right now are Syrians. And, you know—

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, before you were arrested, you and Sarah worked in Syria. You were teaching English in Syria.

SHANE BAUER: Right. Yeah, I was actually working as a journalist in Syria. Sarah was teaching. And, you know, it’s still hard for me to really get my head around what is happening there. It’s just such a different place. And I do, you know, wish that our government did more, that people weren’t—people like Foley’s mom didn’t face punishment for trying to raise money to get her son out of prison. I mean, it’s not a simple situation. You know, giving money to the Islamic State is not the answer, either. But we need to have kind of a more active way of dealing with this, I think.

AMY GOODMAN: Shane, thanks so much for being with us. Shane Bauer, award-winning investigative journalist, senior reporter at Mother Jones magazine, his cover story headlined "The Making of the Warrior Cop." And we’ll link to it at

When we come back, we go to Austin, Texas. We’ll be speaking with a Texas man on trial—for filming the police? Well, we’ll find out what’s happening. Stay with us.

News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:53:28 -0400
US Energy Policies Based on Inflated Fracking Predictions: Post Carbon Institute Report

Economic predictions about the fracking industry's potential growth have for the most part gone unquestioned — until now.

new report from the Post Carbon Institute exposes highly inflated forecasts and concludes that the amount of oil that can be tapped by hydraulic fracturing cannot be maintained at the levels assumed beyond 2020.

The report, “Drilling Deeper: A Reality Check on US Government Forecasts for a Lasting Tight Oil & Shale Gas Boom,” says inflated forecasts from the Energy Information Administration have fostered a lack of urgency to transition to renewable energy. The report also looks at the oil industry's increased pressure to relax restrictions on fracking and change oil and gas export rules.  

“The Department of Energy’s forecasts — the ones everyone is relying on to guide our energy policy and planning — are overly optimistic based on what the actual well data are telling us,” says David Hughes, a geoscientist and author of the Post Carbon Institute report.

The report shatters the government’s estimate of the potential productivity of America’s shale regions. Four out of seven of the top shale regions have peaked and are now in a decline, the report says. Another three will peak in production before the government’s forecast predicts. In decline already are the Barnett, Haynesville, Fayetteville and Woodford Shales.

2014 1030 derm chartSource: Post Carbon Institute

In his 2012 inauguration speech, President Obama touted the further development of natural gas coupled with meaningful regulation as America's “all of the above” answer to energy independence. But Americans have yet to see any meaningful federal regulation of fracking. There has been little to no monitoring of the long-term consequences of the fracking industry despite growing public concern.

Environmental Impacts of Fracking Visible Around the Country

Examples of inadequate environmental protection related to fracking are piling up.

Pennsylvania's attorney general is looking into claims that the state’s Department of Health has ignored citizen complaints about the fracking industry. And the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection was recently compelled to release 243 reports that indicate water contamination caused by the fracking industry. 

2014 1030 derm 2Flare at a Marathon tank battery site in the Eagle Ford Shale region in Texas. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

Meanwhile, regulators in Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale are failing to monitor fracking industry fumes.  An investigative report published by the Center for Public Integrity showed air monitoring tests were completed far from toxic sites.

2014 1030 derm 3Steven Lipsky’s contaminated water in Weatherford, TX. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

This year, eight members of congress called for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reopen contaminated water studies near fracking sites in Dimock, Pa., Parker County, Texas, and Pavillion, Wyo., after the EPA’s Inspector General concluded the agency was justified in intervening to protect drinking water from hydraulic fracturing.

Lon Burnam, a Texas State Representative who lost his latest bid for reelection after serving 18 years, acknowledges that the fracking industry has changed the economic situation in America.

Watch video of Lon Burnam on the economics of fracking: 

“It is the single most important thing that has turned around the economy since the recession of 2008,” Burnam told DeSmogBlog. But he, like most Texans, knows a thing or two about booms and busts in the industry. He worries about what will be left in the wake of the fracking boom.

“There is woeful neglect on the regulatory front,” according to Burnam. “Part of it is the lack of will because these state agencies are controlled by the very polluting interests they are supposed to be regulating, but part of it is there is no money being put back into the system to address the problems being created by the boom.” 

Burman warns that selling our oil and gas abroad under the guise of energy security is a mistake. He says it will raise prices and create a new wave of fracking.

Watch video of Lon Burnam on the need to better regulate the fracking industry:

ShaleTest Environmental Testing, a non-profit organization, recently released “Project Playground,” a report on air quality near playgrounds close to natural gas industry sites in Texas's Barnett Shale region.

According to the report, carcinogens were present at three playgrounds at levels exceeding the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality’s long-term ambient limit.

“The oil and gas industry claims that they’re drilling responsibly,” ShaleTest president Tim Ruggiero says, but “these tests show they’re not.”

Toxic emissions from the fracking industry are among the factors that prompted citizens in Denton, Texas, to press for a ban on fracking. Earthworks released video taken with a FLIR camera in Denton in the last month showing fumes at fracking industry sites, according to Earthworks.

2014 1030 derm 4Flowback at an EagleRidge Energy site less then 300 feet from homes in Denton, TX. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

Denton Councilman Kevin Roden, who supports banning fracking in Denton, points out that the boom in Denton is over and the city has little to show for it. The Post Carbon Institute’s report proves him right. Extraction rates for natural gas in the Barnett Shale (which lies below Denton) are in decline.

But the industry's inflated predictions have put pressure on politicians to relax restrictions on the existing ban on the export of crude oil. The Producers for American Crude Exports, a coalition of oil companies, is fighting to end the four-decade ban on crude exports.

Gulf Coast Oil reserves are at record highs and there is a surplus of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Proposals to allow exports are on the table in Washington. 

“Planned LNG exports, possible crude oil exports, repatriation of manufacturing, investments in gas-fired electricity generation and pipeline infrastructure, are all predicated on the assumption of cheap and abundant oil and gas for the foreseeable future,’” the Post Carbon report’s author Hughes says. “Getting it wrong on future tight oil and shale gas production comes with a high vulnerability on energy security and infrastructure investment issues.”

While forecasts made by the industry are looked at with skepticism, government projections have been readily accepted.

“Based on our analysis, the reality is far different from what the industry is telling the Energy Department, and the Energy Department is, in turn, telling the public and the Congress,” Asher Miller, executive director of the Post Carbon Institute, says.

With that in mind, the Post Carbon Institute’s independent analysis stands to become a game-changing resource. 

News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:16:24 -0400
The Missing Women of Afghanistan: After 13 Years of War, the Rule of Men, Not Law

2014 1030 afghan fwAshraf Ghani Ahmadzai arrives for his inauguration at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 29, 2014. (Photo: Omar Sobhani / Pool via The New York Times)

On September 29th, power in Afghanistan changed hands for the first time in 13 years. At the Arg, the presidential palace in Kabul, Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as president, while the outgoing Hamid Karzai watched calmly from a front-row seat.  Washington, congratulating itself on this “peaceful transition,” quickly collected the new president’s autograph on a bilateral security agreement that assures the presence of American forces in Afghanistan for at least another decade. The big news of the day: the U.S. got what it wanted.  (Precisely why Americans should rejoice that our soldiers will stay in Afghanistan for another 10 years is never explained.)

The big news of the day for Afghans was quite different -- not the long expected continuation of the American occupation but what the new president had to say in his inaugural speech about his wife, Rula Ghani. Gazing at her as she sat in the audience, he called her by name, praised her work with refugees, and announced that she would continue that work during his presidency.

Those brief comments sent progressive Afghan women over the moon. They had waited 13 years to hear such words -- words that might have changed the course of the American occupation and the future of Afghanistan had they been spoken in 2001 by Hamid Karzai.

No, they’re not magic.  They simply reflect the values of a substantial minority of Afghans and probably the majority of Afghans in exile in the West. They also reflect an idea the U.S. regularly praises itself for holding, but generally acts against -- the very one George W. Bush cited as part of his justification for invading Afghanistan in 2001.

The popular sell for that invasion, you will recall, was an idea for which American men had never before exhibited much enthusiasm: women’s liberation.  For years, human rights organizations the world over had called attention to the plight of Afghan women, confined to their homes by the Taliban government, deprived of education and medical care, whipped in the streets by self-appointed committees for “the Promotion of Public Virtue and the Prevention of Vice,” and on occasion executed in Kabul’s Ghazi stadium. Horrific as that was, few could have imagined an American president, a Republican at that, waving a feminist flag to cover the invasion of a country guilty mainly of hosting a scheming guest.

While George W. Bush bragged about liberating Afghan women, his administration followed quite a different playbook on the ground. In December 2001, at the Bonn Conference called to establish an interim Afghan governing body, his team saw to it that the country’s new leader would be the apparently malleable Hamid Karzai, a conservative Pashtun who, like any Talib, kept his wife, Dr. Zinat Karzai, confined at home.  Before they married in 1999, she had been a practicing gynecologist with skills desperately needed to improve the country’s abysmal maternal mortality rate, but she instead became the most prominent Afghan woman the Bush liberation failed to reach.

This disconnect between Washington’s much-advertised support for women’s rights and its actual disdain for women was not lost upon canny Afghans. From early on, they recognized that the Americans were hypocrites at heart. 

Washington revealed itself in other ways as well.  Afghan warlords had ravaged the country during the civil war of the early 1990s that preceded the Taliban takeover, committing mass atrocities best defined as crimes against humanity.  In 2002, the year after the American invasion and overthrow of the Taliban, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission established under the auspices of the U.N. surveyed citizens nationwide and found that 76% of them wanted those warlords tried as war criminals, while 90% wanted them barred from public office.  As it happened, some of those men had been among Washington’s favorite, highly paid Islamist jihadis during its proxy war against the Soviet Union of the 1980s.  As a result, the Bush administration looked the other way when Karzai welcomed those “experienced” men into his cabinet, the parliament, and the “new” judiciary. Impunity was the operative word.  The message couldn’t have been clearer: with the right connections, a man could get away with anything -- from industrial-scale atrocities to the routine subjugation of women.

There is little in the twisted nature of American-Afghan relations in the past 13 years that can’t be traced to these revelations that the United States does not practice what it preaches, that equality and justice were little more than slogans -- and so, it turned out, was democracy.

Taking Sides

The American habit of thinking only in the short term has also shaped long-term results in Afghanistan.  Military and political leaders in Washington have had a way of focusing only on the most immediate events, the ones that invariably raised fears and seemed to demand (or provided an excuse for) instantaneous action.  The long, winding, shadowy paths of history and culture remained unexplored.  So it was that the Bush administration targeted the Taliban as the enemy, drove them from power, installed “democracy” by fiat, and incidentally told women to take off their burqas.  Mission accomplished!

Unlike the Americans and their coalition partners, however, the Taliban were not foreign interlopers but Afghans. Nor were they an isolated group, but the far right wing of Afghan Islamist conservatism.  As such, they simply represented then, and continue to represent in extreme form today, the traditional conservative ranks of significant parts of the population who have resisted change and modernization for as long as anyone can remember.

Yet theirs is not the only Afghan tradition.  Progressive rulers and educated urban citizens have long sought to usher the country into the modern world. Nearly a century ago, King Amanullah founded the first high school for girls and the first family court to adjudicate women’s complaints about their husbands; he proclaimed the equality of men and women, and banned polygamy; he cast away the burqa, and banished ultra-conservative Islamist mullahs as “bad and evil persons” who spread propaganda foreign to the moderate Sufi ideals of the country. Since then, other rulers, both kings and commissars, have championed education, women’s emancipation, religious tolerance, and conceptions of human rights usually associated with the West.  Whatever its limitations in the Afghan context, such progressive thinking is also “traditional.”

The historic contest between the two traditions came to a head in the 1980s during the Soviet occupation of the country. Then it was the Russians who supported women’s human rights and girls’ education, while Washington funded a set of particularly extreme Islamist groups in exile in Pakistan. Only a few years earlier, in the mid-1970s, Afghan president Mohammad Daud Khan, backed by Afghan communists, had driven radical Islamist leaders out of the country, much as King Amanullah had done before. It was the CIA, in league with the intelligence services of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, that armed them and brought them back as President Ronald Reagan’s celebrated “freedom fighters,” the mujahidin.

Twenty years later, it would be the Americans, spearheaded again by the CIA, who returned to drive them out once more.  History can be a snarl, especially when a major power can’t think ahead.

Whether by ignorance or intention, in 2001-2002, its moment of triumph in Afghanistan, the U.S. tried to have it both ways. With one hand it waved the progressive banner of women’s rights, while with the other it crafted a highly centralized and powerful presidential government, which it promptly handed over to a conservative man, who scarcely gave a thought to women.  Given sole power for 13 years to appoint government ministers, provincial governors, municipal mayors, and almost every other public official countrywide, President Karzai maintained a remarkably consistent, almost perfect record of choosing only men.

Once it was clear that he cared nothing for the human rights of women, the death threats against those who took Washington’s “liberation” language seriously began in earnest.  Women working in local and international NGOs, government agencies, and schools soon found posted on the gates of their compounds anonymous messages -- so called “night letters” -- describing in gruesome detail how they would be killed.  By way of Facebook or mobile phone they received videos of men raping young girls.  Then the assassinations began. Policewomen, provincial officials, humanitarian workers, teachers, schoolgirls, TV and radio presenters, actresses, singers -- the list seemed never to end. Some were, you might say, overkilled: raped, beaten, strangled, cut, shot, and then hung from a tree -- just to make a point.  Even when groups of men claimed credit for such murders, no one was detained or prosecuted.

Still the Bush administration boasted of ever more girls enrolled in school and advances in health care that reduced rates of maternal and infant death.  Progress was slow, shaky, and always greatly exaggerated, but real. On Barack Obama’s watch, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton renewed American promises to Afghan women.  She swore repeatedly never to abandon them, though somehow she rarely remembered to invite any of them to international conferences where men discussed the future of their country.

In the meantime, Karzai continued to approve legislation that tightened restrictions on the rights of women, while failing to restrict violence against them. 

Only in 2009, under relentless pressure from Afghan women’s organizations and many of the countries providing financial aid, did Karzai enact by decree a law for “The Elimination of Violence Against Women” (EVAW). It banned 22 practices harmful to women and girls, including rape, physical violence, child marriage, and forced marriage.  Women are now reporting rising levels of violence, but few have found any redress under the law.  Like the constitutional proviso that men and women are equal, the potentially powerful protections of EVAW exist mainly on paper.

But after that single concession to women, Karzai frightened them by calling for peace negotiations with the Taliban. In 2012, perhaps to cajole the men he called his “angry brothers,” he also endorsed a “code of conduct” issued by a powerful group of ultra-conservative clerics, the Council of Ulema. The code authorizes wife beating, calls for the segregation of the sexes, and insists that in the great scheme of things “men are fundamental and women are secondary.” Washington had already reached a similar conclusion. In March 2011, a jocular anonymous senior White House official told the press that, in awarding contracts for major development projects in Afghanistan, the State Department no longer included provisions respecting the rights of women and girls. “All those pet rocks in our rucksack,” he said, “were taking us down."  Dumping them, the Obama administration placed itself once and for all on the side of ultraconservative undemocratic forces.

Why Women Matter

The U.N. Security Council has, however, cited such pet rocks as the most durable foundation stones for peace and stability in any country. In recent decades, the U.N., multiple research organizations, and academicians working in fields such as political science and security studies have piled up masses of evidence documenting the importance of equality between women and men (normally referred to as “gender equality”).  Their findings point to the historic male dominance of women, enforced by violence, as the ancient prototype of all forms of dominance and violence and the very pattern of exploitation, enslavement, and war.  Their research supports the shrewd observation of John Stuart Mill, the nineteenth century British philosopher, that Englishmen first learned at home and then practiced on their wives the tyranny they subsequently exercised on foreign shores to amass and control the British Empire.

Such research and common sense born of observation lie behind a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions passed since 2000 that call for the full participation of women in all peace negotiations, humanitarian planning, and post-conflict governance. Women alter the discourse, while transforming unequal relations between the sexes changes men as well, generally for the better.  Quite simply, countries in which women and men enjoy positions of relative equality and respect tend to be stable, prosperous, and peaceful. Today, for instance, gender equality is greatest in the five Nordic countries, which consistently finish at the top of any list of the world’s happiest nations.

On the other hand, where, as in Afghanistan, men and women are least equal and men routinely oppress and violate women, violence is more likely to erupt between men as well, on a national scale and in international relations. Such nations are the most impoverished, violent, and unstable in the world. It’s often said that poverty leads to violence.  But you can turn that proposition around: violence that removes women from public life and equitable economic activity produces poverty and so yet more violence.  As Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong put it: “Women hold up half the sky.”  Tie our hands and the sky falls.

Women in Afghanistan have figured this out through hard experience.  That’s why some wept for joy at Ashraf Ghani’s simple words acknowledging the value of his wife’s work.  But with that small, startling, and memorable moment came a terrible sense of opportunity wasted.

Some in the international community had taken the rights of women seriously. They had established women’s quotas in parliament, for instance, and had written “equal rights” into the Afghan constitution of 2004. But what could women accomplish in a parliament swarming with ex-warlords, drug barons, and “former” Taliban who had changed only the color of their turbans?  What sort of “equality” could they hope for when the constitution held that no law could supersede the Sharia of Islam, a system open to extreme interpretation? Not all the women parliamentarians stood together anyway. Some had been handpicked and their votes paid for by powerful men, both inside and outside government.  Yet hundreds, even thousands more women might have taken part in public life if the U.S. had sided unreservedly with the progressive tradition in Afghanistan and chosen a different man to head the country.

The New Men in Charge

What about Ashraf Ghani, the new president, and Abdullah Abdullah, the “CEO” of the state?  These two top candidates were rivals in both the recent presidential election and the last one in 2009, when Abdullah finished second to Karzai and declined to take part in a runoff that was likely to be fraudulent.  (In the first round of voting, Karzai’s men had been caught on video stuffing ballot boxes.)

In this year’s protracted election, on April 5th, Abdullah had finished first in a field of eight with 45% of the votes.  That was better than Ghani’s 31%, but short of the 50% needed to win outright.  Both candidates complained of fraud. In June, when Ghani took 56% of the votes in the runoff, topping Abdullah’s 43%, Abdullah cried foul and threatened to form his own government. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hustled to Kabul to lash the two men together in a vague, unconstitutional “unity government” that is still being defined but that certainly had next to nothing to do with electoral democracy.

Both these men appear as famously vain as Hamid Karzai in matters of haberdashery and headgear, but both are far more progressive. Ghani, a former finance minister and chancellor of Kabul University, is acknowledged to be the brainy one. After years in academia and a decade at the World Bank, he took office with plans to combat the country’s notorious corruption.  He has already reopened the superficial investigation of the Kabul Bank, a giant pyramid scheme that collapsed in 2010 after handing out nearly a billion dollars in “loans” to cronies in and out of the government.  (Ghani may be one of the few people who fully understands the scam.)

Abdullah Abdullah is generally credited with being the smoother politician of the two in a country where politics is a matter of allegiances (and rivalries) among men. As foreign minister in the first Karzai cabinet, he appointed a woman to advise him on women’s affairs. Since then, however, his literal affairs in private have become the subject of scandalous gossip.  In public, he has long proposed decentralizing the governmental structure Washington inflicted upon the country. He wants power dispersed throughout the provinces, strengthening the ability of Afghans to determine the conditions of their own communities.  Something like democracy.

The agreement between Ghani and Abdullah calls for an assembly of elders, a loya jirga, to be held “within two years” to establish the position of prime minister, which Abdullah will presumably want to occupy.  Even before his down-and-dirty experiences with two American presidents, he objected to the presidential form of government. “A president,” he told me, “becomes an autocrat.” Power, he argues, rightly belongs to the people and their parliament.

Whether these rivals can work together -- they have scheduled three meetings a week -- has everyone guessing, even as American and coalition forces leave the country and the Taliban attack in greater strength in unexpected places. Yet the change of government sparks optimism and hope among both Afghans and international observers.

On the other hand, many Afghans, especially women, are still angry with all eight candidates who ran for president, blaming them for the interminable “election” process that brought two of them to power. Mahbouba Seraj, former head of the Afghan Women’s Network and an astute observer, points out that in the course of countless elaborate lunches and late night feasts hosted during the campaign by various Afghan big men, the candidates might have come to some agreement among themselves to narrow the field. They might have found ways to spare the country the high cost and anxiety of a second round of voting, not to mention months of recounting, only to have the final tallies withheld from the public.

Instead, the candidates seemed to hold the country hostage. Their angry charges and threats stirred barely suppressed fears of civil war, and fear silenced women.  “Once again,” Seraj wrote, “we have been excluded from the most important decisions of this country. We have been shut down by the oldest, most effective, and most familiar means: by force.” Women, she added, are now afraid to open their mouths, even to ask “legitimate questions” about the nature of this new government, which seems to be not a “people’s government” consistent with the ballots cast -- nearly half of them cast by women -- but more of “a coalition government, fabricated by the candidates and international mediators.”  Government in a box, in other words, and man-made.

Knowing that many women are both fearful and furious that male egos still dominate Afghan “democracy,” Seraj makes the case for women again: “Since the year 2000, the U.N. Security Council has passed one resolution after another calling for full participation of women at decision-making levels in all peace-making and nation-building processes. That means a lot more than simply turning out to vote. But we women of Afghanistan have been shut out, shut down, and silenced by fear of the very men we are asked to vote for and the men who follow them... This is not what we women have worked for or voted for or dreamed of, and if we could raise our voices once again, we would not call this ‘democracy.’"

Ask yourself: Would you?

Opinion Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:00:43 -0400
US Sends Planes Armed With Depleted Uranium to Middle East

There's a version of this story at Al Jazeera.

The US Air Force says it is not halting its use of Depleted Uranium weapons, has recently sent them to the Middle East, and is prepared to use them.

A type of airplane, the A-10, deployed this month to the Middle East by the US Air National Guard's 122nd Fighter Wing, is responsible for more Depleted Uranium (DU) contamination than any other platform, according to the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW). "Weight for weight and by number of rounds more 30mm PGU-14B ammo has been used than any other round," said ICBUW coordinator Doug Weir, referring to ammunition used by A-10s, as compared to DU ammunition used by tanks.

Public affairs superintendent Master Sgt. Darin L. Hubble of the 122nd Fighter Wing told me that the A-10s now in the Middle East along with "300 of our finest airmen" have been sent there on a deployment planned for the past two years and have not been assigned to take part in the current fighting in Iraq or Syria, but "that could change at any moment."

The crews will load PGU-14 depleted uranium rounds into their 30mm Gatling cannons and use them as needed, said Hubble. "If the need is to explode something -- for example a tank -- they will be used."

Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright told me, "There is no prohibition against the use of Depleted Uranium rounds, and the [US military] does make use of them. The use of DU in armor-piercing munitions allows enemy tanks to be more easily destroyed."

On Thursday, several nations, including Iraq, spoke to the United Nations First Committee, against the use of Depleted Uranium and in support of studying and mitigating the damage in already contaminated areas. A non-binding resolution is expected to be voted on by the Committee this week, urging nations that have used DU to provide information on locations targeted. A number of organizations are delivering a petition to US officials this week urging them not to oppose the resolution.

In 2012 a resolution on DU was supported by 155 nations and opposed by just the UK, US, France, and Israel. Several nations have banned DU, and in June Iraq proposed a global treaty banning it -- a step also supported by the European and Latin American Parliaments.

Wright said that the US military is "addressing concerns on the use of DU by investigating other types of materials for possible use in munitions, but with some mixed results. Tungsten has some limitations in its functionality in armor-piercing munitions, as well as some health concerns based on the results of animal research on some tungsten-containing alloys. Research is continuing in this area to find an alternative to DU that is more readily accepted by the public, and also performs satisfactorily in munitions."

"I fear DU is this generation's Agent Orange," US Congressman Jim McDermott told me. "There has been a sizable increase in childhood leukemia and birth defects in Iraq since the Gulf War and our subsequent invasion in 2003. DU munitions were used in both those conflicts. There are also grave suggestions that DU weapons have caused serious health issues for our Iraq War veterans. I seriously question the use of these weapons until the US military conducts a full investigation into the effect of DU weapon residue on human beings."

Doug Weir of ICBUW said renewed use of DU in Iraq would be "a propaganda coup for ISIS." His and other organizations opposed to DU are guardedly watching a possible US shift away from DU, which the US military said it did not use in Libya in 2011. Master Sgt. Hubble of the 122nd Fighter Wing believes that was simply a tactical decision. But public pressure had been brought to bear by activists and allied nations' parliaments, and by a UK commitment not to use DU.

DU is classed as a Group 1 Carcinogen by the World Health Organization, and evidence of health damage produced by its use is extensive. The damage is compounded, Jeena Shah at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) told me, when the nation that uses DU refuses to identify locations targeted. Contamination enters soil and water. Contaminated scrap metal is used in factories or made into cooking pots or played with by children.

CCR and Iraq Veterans Against the War have filed a Freedom of Information Act Request in an attempt to learn the locations targeted in Iraq during and after the 1991 and 2003 assaults. The UK and the Netherlands have revealed targeted locations, Shah pointed out, as did NATO following DU use in the Balkans. And the United States has revealed locations it targeted with cluster munitions. So why not now?

"For years," Shah said, "the US has denied a relationship between DU and health problems in civilians and veterans. Studies of UK veterans are highly suggestive of a connection. The US doesn't want studies done." In addition, the United States has used DU in civilian areas and identifying those locations could suggest violations of Geneva Conventions.

Iraqi doctors will be testifying on the damage done by DU before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Washington, D.C., in December.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration said on Thursday that it will be spending $1.6 million to try to identify atrocities committed in Iraq . . . by ISIS.

News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 09:27:43 -0400
The GOP’s Sharp Teeth

All the better to cut you with.

Art Thu, 30 Oct 2014 09:00:58 -0400
Voters Turned Away Because of Texas Photo ID Law

2014 1029 vote fw"No one knows how many other voters are being turned away because of the draconian new law. For example, one election official reported that in one day of early voting at a single site, seven voters were turned away because they had expired or insufficient ID." (Photo: athrasher)

Voting is now underway in Texas, a state with one of the strictest voter ID laws in the nation. This is the first federal election since the US Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, which would have required Texas to get government approval for these changes. Below are stories from actual voters and the difficulties they've encountered. Initials are used for those voters who wish to remain anonymous. In many cases, Texas failed these voters twice — first by requiring identification they did not have, and second by not training election officials to help them navigate the rules.

A Costly, Time-Consuming Barrier

Jesus Garcia was born in Texas and lives in Mercedes. He was unable to vote with his driver's license, which expired about a year ago. He went to the Weslaco Department of Public Safety (DPS) office twice and both times was unable to get an ID. His birth certificate was stolen and he does not have a copy. He wants to get identification, but to get both a replacement birth certificate and a new ID would be more than $30 combined. He is working a lot of hours, but money is tight. With rent, water, electricity, and everything else, Mr. Garcia is not sure he will be able to afford those documents, much less before the election.

Even if he does have the money, he will need to go through the whole process of getting the documents and going to the office again, when he has already tried to vote once and gone to a DPS office twice. Mr. Garcia thinks it is unfair that he cannot vote with the documents he has. He was born here and he has an ID with his picture on it; it's just expired. He has a voter registration card, and voted in past elections.

Deputized to Register But Denied the Ballot

Krystal Watson is a student at Wiley College in Texas, a historically black college. She is originally from Louisiana and has voted in past elections in Texas. This year, she signed up as a deputy registrar and registered about 100 people to vote. The person who deputized her told her the registration rules but not about the new voter ID requirement. When she herself went to vote, she was not allowed to cast a ballot because she had a Louisiana driver's license and a Wiley College ID, but not the ID required by the law.

Ms. Watson stated that she has observed many other students having trouble voting. She didn't know whether she would be have the time or resources to get an identification card, which would require her to bring in her birth certificate.

"You can't vote with this card"

Mr. R is an American in his 30s who lives in the small southern Texas town of Edcouch. He and his wife were both turned away from the polls last week because they do not have satisfactory identification under the new ID law. Mr. R had a driver's license that was valid until 2015, but it was taken away from him in connection with a DUI. Mr. R tried to use a driver's license that expired in 2009 — which he had used successfully to vote at the same polling location the last time he voted — as identification. This time, when he went to the polls during early voting, he was told, "You can't vote with this card."

The poll workers Mr. R encountered were unfamiliar with the basics under the new strict photo ID law. Mr. R. was not told anything about how to get an Election Identification Certificate (EIC), the allegedly free ID available to people who want to vote, but don't have a qualifying ID. Nor was he offered a provisional ballot, which would have given him additional time to obtain ID. Mr. R said he was unlikely to go and get an EIC once he learned that he'd have to procure it from the DPS, a law enforcement agency, because he owes traffic fines he can't afford.

Disabled Voters Can Participate — But Only If Family Members Foot the Bill...

Esmeralda Torres is a disabled American who lives in Elsa. She first learned about the new ID law when she tried to vote. She was blocked because she didn't have acceptable ID. Her disabilities preclude her from driving and make it hard for her to get around. Ms. Torres had previously tried to get an ID but had been rejected because she lived with her sister and had few documents containing both her name and her physical address.

Ms. Torres was eventually able to get a Texas state ID, but only because she has a supportive and strong advocate in her sister, who took time off of work to drive Ms. Torres to a DPS office, and loaned her the $16 necessary to pay for a Texas state ID (she chose to get a Texas state ID rather than an EIC because an EIC cannot be used for any purposes other than voting). Ms. Torres might have qualified for an exemption to the Texas photo ID law for people with disabilities, but no one — not even the poll workers who blocked her from voting the first time — ever told her of this option.

...Or Heroic Volunteers Step In

Olester McGriff, an African-American man, lives in Dallas. He has voted in several Texas elections. This year when he went to the polls he was unable to vote due to the new photo ID law. Mr. McGriff had a kidney transplant and can no longer drive; his driver's license expired in 2008. He tried to get an ID twice prior to voting. In May, he visited an office in Grand Prairie and was told he could not get an ID because he was outside of Dallas County. In July, he visited an office in Irving and was told they were out of IDs and would have to come back another day.

He is unable to get around easily. Mr. McGriff got to the polls during early voting because Susan McMinn, an experienced election volunteer, gave him a ride. He brought with him his expired driver's license, his birth certificate, his voter registration card, and other documentation, but none were sufficient under Texas's new photo ID requirement. Getting the EIC would have been difficult for him — it would have required multiple additional trips and he cannot drive.

Despite his health and mobility problems, the poll workers did not suggest that he vote by absentee ballot — an option available to him because he had a disability. Eventually, he was given an absentee ballot application, but it was only because, Ms. McMinn, the volunteer, suggested the idea, and then pushed a poll worker to review the rules after having already told Mr. McGriff it was too late. After the poll worker confirmed her mistake, Mr. McGriff was able to get an absentee ballot application. But when he tried to get stamps at the election office, election workers did not inform him that his absentee ballot would include return postage, so Ms. McMinn and Mr. McGriff had to spend additional time driving around in search of postage. Ms. McMinn paid the $2 in postage, as Mr. McGriff is living on a tight budget. She drove him back to drop off his application, and a few days later he successfully voted by mail.

Even With Help, Would-Be Voters Turned Away

Gary Gross has been serving as a get-out-the-vote volunteer, giving voters rides to the polls during early voting. He encountered a voter who could not meet the new photo ID requirement. Even after Mr. Gross spent more than an hour trying to help the voter find out the rules from election officials, the voter was unable to cast a ballot or get the identification he needed. The voter's driver's license expired in March — there was no question as to the voter's identity, but the ID did not count. Through Mr. Gross' help, the voter found out he is theoretically eligible for a "free" election identification certificate, but the voter does not have a birth certificate, so he lacks the documentation he needs to get the EIC.

Countless Others Disenfranchised

No one knows how many other voters are being turned away because of the draconian new law. For example, one election official reported that in one day of early voting at a single site, seven voters were turned away because they had expired or insufficient ID. One can only hope that as poll workers become more familiar with the new system, legitimate voters will be allowed to cast ballots — or at least furnished with the correct information on how to do so.

Help Is Available!

Voters in need of assistance with the new voter identification requirements, or with other questions about the voting process, should call 1-866-OUR-VOTE, where trained volunteers are standing by to assist voters and answer any questions they may have. The hotline is run by Election Protection, a nonpartisan coalition of voter protection organizations.

News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
Beware the Fear Industrial Complex

2014 1029 fear st"And I'm afraid of the disconnect between white kids who pay to get locked in jail for kicks and black kids who can't walk down the street without getting kicked and harassed by police." (Image: Fear via Shutterstock)Be Afraid. Be very afraid. That is the message to moms (and dads too, but they tend not to be as susceptible). Be afraid of strangers, as well as friends and family too. Be afraid of bugs and dirt outside, and snot and germs inside. Be afraid of cars and bikes and motorcycles and anything with wheels. Be afraid of stairs and cribs and co-sleeping and swaddles. Be afraid of plastic and lead and vaccines and un-vaccines and asbestos and bad things in the water, air and soil.

But rest easy, for every fear there is a corresponding product: something that you can buy to make you feel safer. There are wipes, cleaners, sensors, helmets, nanny cams, stranger danger seminars and locks for everything that can open. Security and peace of mind are available for a price. I knew that. But I didn't know how far it went until I was sent a product pitch for Piper Security. Their tagline is: "with Piper you are always at home." How horrible is that? It is a home monitoring system that will send you text messages or emails when people come and go, and it provides two-way audio and video monitoring — meaning you can yell at your kids remotely. The system allows you to stay on top of what is happening in your home while you are away (or provides a high priced illusion of that experience). Notice, I am not linking to this product.

This is a fear industrial complex. I don't like it, but I get it. There are things that can harm our kids and people want to be prepared and safeguarded. But what I really don't understand is the flip side of the fear industrial complex: fun-fear, which is an industry unto itself.

'Tis the season of fear, haunted houses, ghosts, ghouls and goblins. Masks, makeup and mayhem are for sale. It is a major industry at this point. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spend nearly $7 billion on Halloween annually.

That fact alone is enough to make me swear off the season entirely. But, in truth, I grew up with a bit of a bah humbug about Halloween. My brother and I were not allowed to trick-or-treat as kids. Our parents and the other adults in our community saw Halloween as a teachable moment. We gave out candy, sure — but one year we stapled notes with facts about world hunger to the mini candy bars. Most of it ended up in the gutter at the top of our block. Another year, we tried to collect money from the trick-or-treaters for UNICEF. The kids thought it was a trick and we got no money from them. Still, another year we gave out homemade popcorn and apples. We told the grown-ups no one would take it because that was the year of the razor-blade-in-the-apples warnings. Needless to say, we ate a lot of stale old popcorn that weekend.

This routine of disappointment for the kids in our neighborhood meant that after a while only the youngest or most intrepid and comprehensive trick-or-treaters hazarded a ring on our bell. It's surprising we never got egged for our troubles. By the time I was old enough to buck the family prohibition on trick or treating, I was eschewing all refined sugar and way too cool to dress up. So, I pretty much missed the boat on the holiday.

Halloween is a big deal around where I live, in New London, Conn. A lot of farms do corn mazes and pumpkin patches and all manner of wholesome seasonal activities. But then there is the fun-fear too. Our local newspaper just ran a feature on "room escape attractions." I thought it was a typo. Eventually, though, I figured out what they were talking about. You pay money — like $60 per person — to get locked in a room, handcuffed to another person. In order to get free, you need to solve riddles and find clues to get the key and escape within a time limit. Oh, and you get to wear a prison jumpsuit and get your picture taken afterwards.

In a nation with the world's largest prison population — 2.3 million at last count — most of whom are locked up for nonviolent, relatively minor infractions, this is an unconscionable disconnect. I would hazard a guess that thousands of those locked up right now could be free for less than $60 — overdue child support, unpaid fines or court fees, stealing something worth less than what people pay for the fun of being locked up.

The New London Day promoted this fun-fear phenomenon in the midst of reporting on the death of a young black man in local police custody. Jail is campy fun if you are white, wealthy and quick with trivia, but not if you are Lashano Gilbert. A Bahamian visiting relatives in New London, this 31-year-old medical student was tased while being arrested. The police brought him to the hospital where he was medically cleared and then discharged him back into police custody. Police tased Gilbert again a few hours later, when he escaped from his cell and reportedly attacked an officer. He died on the way to the hospital.

So, this Halloween, I am afraid. But not of goblins, ghosts, the crazy cost of costumes, or the cavities my kids might get from eating too much candy. I'm afraid of the police — not for myself as a white person of privilege — but for the kids and young men in my neighborhood. And I'm afraid of the disconnect between white kids who pay to get locked in jail for kicks and black kids who can't walk down the street without getting kicked and harassed by police. My multi-racial, mixed-income neighborhood doesn't need my fear, though — it needs my vigilance, my voice and my solidarity. So, I will work on that, as I enter this fun-fear season in my own way. We'll trick-or-treat on our block, welcome the gaggle of kids who scuff up our front porch, and we'll try to see it as a time to dismantle the enduring bogeymen of racism, violence and inequity — one mini candy bar at a time.

Opinion Thu, 30 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
Here's What Women Want: The Economy Unrigged So It Works for Them

2014 1029 woma sw(Image: Putting a vote via Shutterstock)An Associated Press-GfK poll published this week indicates that women are shifting to favor the Republican party. "Women have moved in the GOP's direction since September," the AP reported.

Just a month ago, 47 percent of female likely voters favored a Democratic-controlled Congress, the AP reported. "In the new poll, the two parties are about even among women; 44 percent prefer the Republicans, 42 percent the Democrats."

Is this a sign that Democratic candidates are failing to address what women need and care about?

In "Women Voters: The Base of the New Populism," the latest memorandum published through the Campaign for America's Future's Populist Majority project, we aggregate the polling that shows what women want to hear from congressional candidates this election cycle. Contrary to what pundits might infer from polls such as the latest from the AP, the memo says that a majority of women have "strong populist views" and "look to government to create opportunity in the economy through progressive reforms and regulations."

But if the AP poll is any indication, not enough women are hearing that message from Democratic candidates.

The poll revealed that the economy remains the top priority in this election cycle, with 91 percent calling the economy "extremely" or "very" important. The GOP, according to this poll, has increased its advantage as the party more trusted to handle the issue, with 39 percent siding with Republicans and 31 percent Democrats.

Meanwhile, The Washington Examiner, a conservative weekly, published a cover story by Mona Charen on "what women voters want" and how Republican candidates can win them. She argues that the Democratic party has erred by basing its appeal to women on demonizing Republican candidates' view on reproductive rights–particularly abortion and birth control. A "single-minded focus on the gynecological," she calls it – with a heavy dose of caricature. "Democrats lie about their opponents' view on abortion because only by presenting Republicans as extremists can the issue work for them," she writes.

Charen, however, misses the mark. Democrats in the past have harnessed the support of women – particularly unmarried women – not only because of the Democrat's social agenda but because of its progressive economic agenda. Reproductive issues are only a small fraction of the Democratic campaign. The "women's economic agenda" released last year by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, which includes such items as the Equal Pay Act and child-care support for working mothers, are key reforms in this overall agenda.

Yet, the AP poll should serve as a warning to Democrats that women – especially unmarried women – are about so much more than reproductive issues.

That warning was echoed this week by R. Donahue Peebles, a real estate developer and vice-chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation who has also been a major fundraiser for President Obama. "I can't count the number of times my wife has gotten direct mail pieces from candidates this election cycle about a woman's right to choose," he said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. "... Why don't we ask the question about why aren't there more women as CEOs? How do we promote more entrepreneurship among women? How do we respect women as heads of households? ... The Democrats should be speaking to that issue and owning that issue and they're not."

The Populist Majority memorandum on women and the economy shows how candidates can take ownership of a progressive agenda that addresses women's real-life needs. Contrary to Charen's outrageous statement in the Examiner that single women are to a point looking "to the government to be a husband," women simply want government to end the rigging of the economy that causes them to face greater economic hardship and societal burdens than men.

Opinion Thu, 30 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400