Truthout Stories Tue, 28 Jul 2015 13:45:19 -0400 en-gb Who Does Our Economy Serve?

Stock buyback(Image: Stock buyback via Shutterstock)

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During a speech at New York University Friday, Hillary Clinton took aim at "quarterly capitalism," her name for corporate the United States' endless - and senseless - pursuit of profits.

Now, Clinton isn't exactly Elizabeth Warren, and sometimes it sounds like she's reading a script written by an economics professor, but she's spot-on when it comes to so-called "quarterly capitalism."

That's because, to paraphrase Shakespeare, something is rotten in the state of US capitalism.

Instead of using their record profits to invest in innovation or pay their workers more, the biggest companies are now using those profits just to buy back their own stock.

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

As Edward Luce pointed out in a recent piece for The Financial Times, "The level of US investment is at its lowest since 1947. Last year, according to Goldman Sachs, S&P 500 companies spent more than $500bn on share buybacks. This year it is expected to hit $600bn.... For every dollar the top US public companies spend on investment, they are returning eight or nine dollars to shareholders."

This is the sign of an economy that's in a dangerous spot.

Stock buybacks don't grow the economy as a whole; they just make giant rich corporations - and their CEOS - even richer.

They're the perfect symbol of a system that puts profits before people, progress, and, well, pretty much everything else.

It's hard to imagine given the state of US capitalism these days, but things weren't always this way.

Between the 1930s and the 1980s, corporate America actually behaved - or was made to behave as a result of smart regulations - in ways that benefited everyone, not just their shareholders or CEOs.

Back then, the saying "what's good for GM is good for America and what's good for America is good for GM" wasn't just a saying - it was a statement of fact.

But then Reagan came to town and everything changed.

As part of his big push to "reform" the economy, Reagan changed the compensation laws for CEOs so that they could be paid in stock options.

Their income now depended on the value of their company's stock.

Theoretically, this was supposed to give executives an incentive to make good business decisions, but what it actually did was give them an incentive to skim their bit off the top and screw everyone else.

Instead of long-term success, the focus was now on boosting stocks as quickly as possible and therefore making as much money as quickly possible.

This is why big corporations are now spending billions and billions of dollars to buy back their own stock - they're just trying to keep their CEOS rich and happy.

And who do you think suffers as a result of all this?

The US worker, of course!

Who else?

The money that's now going towards stock buybacks and CEO compensation packages has to come from somewhere, and it's coming straight off the backs of everyday working Americans.

Even though workers are now more productive than ever, wages have stagnated since the Reagan era.

CEOs are quite literally sucking up the profits that used to be shared more equally between management and workers.

This is the "quarterly capitalism" problem Hillary Clinton has been talking about, and it's the most glaring example of how the Reagan revolution fundamentally transformed our country, and transformed it for the worse.

Before Reagan, we had things like tariffs, taxes and unions to ensure that the economy served everyday Americans, and not the other way around.

But then Reagan flipped the cards.

He smashed unions, slashed taxes and gutted regulations, and, as a result, we now serve the economy and the people who run it.

This isn't democracy; it's feudalism, and it's just the latest example of why need to undo the Reagan revolution once and for all.

Opinion Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Blood, Manipulation and Lies: Press Freedom in Mexico

Ismael Díaz López, a Mexican journalist in the southeastern state of Tabasco, died in June after being stabbed in his own home by unidentified intruders.[1] The Attorney General of Tabasco said in a statement, "the strongest line of research suggests that a domestic conflict caused the murder." However, Article 19, a prominent press watchdog group from the U.K., has urged authorities not to dismiss Díaz López's profession as a possible cause for his murder.

Díaz López's death is particularly disconcerting in light of uncovered statistics concerning the press in Mexico: a journalist was assaulted every 26.7 hours in 2014.[2] Currently, under the Enrique Peña Nieto Administration, assaults on the press have nearly doubled compared to those during former President Felipe Calderón's term. Attacks against communicators are rising and, in most cases, impunity prevails.[3] Furthermore, more than half of the perpetrators are linked to the state. This atmosphere has led many journalists to either flee the country or self-censor to ensure their own safety.[4] As a result, there has been a serious lack of local coverage on important events and issues.

Contributing to this lack of coverage is the fact that two main television companies - Televisa and TV Azteca - have come to dominate the Mexican media.[5] The lack of pluralism in reporting has enabled these companies to exert strong influence over national politics and they are often accused of corruption. There have been allegations that reporting is obstructed by censorship and government influence outside of the television industry as well.

While there are a few laws protecting freedom of the press in Mexico, these are limited and poorly administered. Additionally, states governments often abuse their power by intimidating journalists. Thus a lack of press freedom pervades Mexico, seriously damaging the prospects for democracy in this country.

Endemic Violence

More than 80 journalists have been killed in Mexico in the past decade and 17 more have disappeared.[6] In 2014 alone, there were 142 physical attacks against journalists, 53 cases of intimidation or pressure, and 45 arbitrary detentions.[7] Journalists are often the victims of threats and armed attacks, especially in northern Mexico. These acts of violence are sometimes the work of drug cartels trying to prevent the coverage of organized crime and related violence.[8] However, political authorities and police forces have been responsible for the largest share of these attacks, according to Freedom House, a conservative watchdog organization.[9] Still, Freedom House affirms that participants in organized crime are "primarily behind the most chilling incidents."

Violence has also taken a psychological toll on Mexican journalists. A 2012 study by researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico found that 35 percent of Mexico's press professionals experienced symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder.[10] This level was significantly higher for those who directly covered the drug war. The Women's Communication and Information Association found that women were especially at risk for psychological trauma. In addition to being killed and disappeared, like their male coworkers, female journalists faced threats directed toward their children and personal attacks related to their gender.

Censorship, Anonymity and Escape

The constant threat of violence has led many journalists to censor themselves.[11] Many members of the media have said they will no longer cover drug trafficking for fear of violent reprisals. Those who do cover sensitive topics such as the drug war and government collusion with organized crime, often leave information out of their reporting.[12] Complete information about the country's violence and corruption therefore never reaches the citizenry.

In an effort to report more freely on violence and organized crime, journalists are turning to online social networks. According to Reporters Without Borders, the Internet has in many cases become the only place to find information on violence linked to the drug cartels.[13] This also allows for a greater degree of anonymity than traditional media, and therefore greater freedom to report on risky topics. Use of the Internet has led to the rise of "citizen journalists," who report on violence, threats, and corruption related to the drug war. Valor por Tamaulipas (Courage for Tamaulipas), for example, is a citizen news group, which runs on Twitter and Facebook.[14] The group publishes information about missing persons and news alerts about violence, which include the location and time of incidents. Even so, one of its members, who used the pseudonym "Felina" (Feline) to report information about violence, was killed by drug cartels after receiving repeated threats, indicating that this new generation of journalists is not immune from danger.

Many journalists have found that fleeing is the only way to ensure their safety and that of their families.[15] The majority has fled to Mexico City or abroad.[16] According to the newspaper El Universal, 18 journalists sought aid from the Mexico City Human Rights Commission in 2012, compared to 5 in 2010 and 10 in 2011.

Impunity and Ineffective Legislation

Articles 6 and 7 of the Mexican constitution establish freedom of expression. [17] Mexico decriminalized defamation on the federal level in 2007 and a number of states have also eliminated their own criminal defamation statutes, including the state of Mexico, which is the most populous. Still, freedom of expression is not well protected and few who perpetrate threats and violence face punishment.[18] According to Reporters Without Borders, the police and judicial investigations into these cases are often closed quickly or are paralyzed by bureaucracy. There is widespread complicity between organized crime and government authorities, which have been "corrupted or infiltrated by the cartels at all levels."[19] Most recently, the escape of notorious drug trafficker Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán from Mexico's highest-security prison has demonstrated the weaknesses of the government's judicial capabilities, especially in the face of organized crime.[20]

The Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists, established in 2006, has been largely ineffective, having made only one conviction since its inception.[21] Jurisdictional weaknesses, a lack of transparency, an insufficient number of investigators, and the need to draw upon the resources of several rival agencies, all hamper the office's capacity. Additionally, journalists are often unwilling to turn to the government for help due to a lack of trust.

In 2012, the Mexican legislature passed a constitutional amendment allowing federal authorities to take charge of investigating and prosecuting crimes affecting the work of journalists.[22] This has led to the creation of a Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, but this body has been widely criticized as inadequate. As mentioned, despite the new legislation, attacks on journalists have actually increased during Peña Nieto's term in office.

Additionally, state criminal and civil codes continue to be used to intimidate journalists.[23] The government of Puebla state sued two journalists in October for damaging the reputation of public officials. A list of 19 journalists who were being monitored by the authorities was leaked hours before the suits were filed. Through Twitter, the state governor's press agent announced that the press would continue to be under "review."

The Televisa Empire

La Dictadura Perfecta (The Perfect Dictatorship), a 2014 Mexican comedy film, depicts how a governor hires a television company to help clean up his image.[24] The governor's image had been tarnished after being caught on camera doing business with criminals. Yet the company is able to restore his image by providing sensationalist coverage of the kidnapping of twin girls and a staged rescue by the governor.

Despite being fictional, the film has been regarded as a veracious criticism of the television industry in Mexico.[25] The television company in the film closely resembles Televisa, the world's largest Spanish-language media company. The film's director Luis Estrada claims that Televisa had agreed to distribute the film but later decided against it after executives saw an early cut of the film.

In fact, Televisa has been subject to extensive controversy. This has included accusations of propping up the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party; PRI), which held power for 70 years until 2000. When the PRI returned to power in 2012, Televisa was accused of carrying out a pro-PRI campaign. In 2012, The Guardian published an "alleged outline of fees apparently charged by Televisa for raising Peña Nieto's profile when governor of the state of Mexico."[26] These outlines listed nearly 200 news reports, interviews and features. The Guardian specified that the fees were only "alleged" and that both Peña Nieto and Televisa contended that the document could be a forgery. Despite this, under pressure from Televisa, the Guardian published a joint statement with the media company in 2013 in which the newspaper emphasized the uncertainty of the document's authenticity.[27] For its part, Televisa denied all allegations.

Although the exposé never cited conclusive proof, it brought attention both to the corruption in the media and the power it wields. While university students united in protest against the alleged corruption, Peña Nieto won the presidential election with a clear majority. Observers continue to see this victory as a product of Televisa.[28]

Additionally, the lack of pluralism in reporting has had a profound effect on the state of the media. Televisa and TV-Azteca now maintain 90 percent of free and paid TV concessions in Mexico. This duopoly limits the information available and fosters skepticism about the nature of news broadcasting in Mexico.[29] Because newspaper readership is low and many Mexicans have no access to the Internet or cable, these media companies are the main source of information and are therefore able to exert a powerful influence over national politics.

The Mexican government has addressed the issue of press plurality through new legislation that began with a proposal by Peña Nieto, later signed in 2014. The law aims to make the telecommunications sector more competitive and strengthen freedom of expression and access to information.[30] According to the Wilson Center, the passage of the law "constitutes a significant breakthrough" for the president's structural reform agenda and "has the potential to significantly alter Mexico's media landscape, particularly through a strengthened regulatory framework charged with curtailing media monopolies."

Others have found fault with the new reforms, however. Civil society organizations have been "strongly critical of the new law, stating that it limits the powers of the regulating body (which should be autonomous), avoids the necessary mechanisms to fight monopolies efficiently, restricts public and social media, and ignores the rights of audiences," according to the Guardian.[31] Freedom House points out that there has been no movement "to legalize and support community broadcasters" and that "only a handful of community radio operators have been awarded licenses."[32]

It's Not Just Television

Although Televisa is possibly the most notorious source for biased and inaccurate reporting, these problems exist outside television media as well. Scandals have delegitimized other forms of media, as they are found to have censored reporters or provided false accounts of events. Mexican citizens and journalists have increasingly brought attention to and protested against these practices.

Prominent Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui has become especially outspoken, having been fired from her radio show after the station allegedly tried to censor her. Her website, Aristegui Noticias, published an exposé in 2014 on the Mexican first lady's mansion and its possible conflict-of-interest connections with government contractors.[33] MVS Radio, the radio company where Aristegui was previously employed, fired her and two other journalists who had worked on the mansion story this year. MVS radio stated that it had fired Aristegui's colleagues for "compromising resources and brands of the company without authorization."[34] The company also insisted that Aristegui was fired not as censorship, but because she had given them an ultimatum to rehire the other two journalists.[35] Additionally, the fact that Aristegui had talked about the scandal on her radio show and used MVS funding and resources for her investigation signal that she was not censored, according to MVS.[36] Aristegui, however, has stated that MVS Radio tried to suppress her report before she published it on her own website and insists that it was limiting her freedom of expression.[37]

Aristegui also insists that the president's office was in support of the radio company.[38] MVS has denied the accusation of government involvement with Mexico's Interior Ministry stating adamantly that it was committed to a free and independent press. Nonetheless, Aristegui's dismissal has amplified the discussion about censorship in Mexico.

While Aristegui claims to be a journalist who has been censored while trying to report accurately, other journalists have been found to be deliberately reporting incorrect information. This issue came to the fore when newspapers published misleading articles about Peña Nieto's visit to Ibero University while he was running for office.[39] After admitting to using public force against protesters when he was governor of Atenco in a speech at the university, the politician was met by crowds of student protesters. Mexican news outlets, however, reported that the candidate's visit had been a success despite "attempts at boycott." In addition, a university professor went on the radio to say that the protestors were hired thugs.

In response, students submitted videos showing their university IDs to prove that they were in fact students and that they had genuinely protested against Peña Nieto. A total of 131 clips were compiled and uploaded to YouTube. Students from Ibero and other universities subsequently formed a movement now known as "Yo Soy 132″ ("I am the one-hundred and thirty-second.") Today the movement's chief demand is impartiality in media coverage of political campaigns.[40]

While the dismissal of Aristegui and the events at Ibero gained a lot of attention in Mexico, many other cases have occurred without notice. The deaths of Díaz Lopez, dismissed by authorities as unrelated to his profession, and Felina, which occurred in a state heavily infiltrated by cartels, are just two of the hundreds of acts of violence that occur against journalists and go unpunished each year. However, the dismissal of Aristegui and the misleading coverage regarding Ibero have helped to reveal the serious problems with the press in Mexico and have helped mobilize people to demand change as seen with Yo Soy 132.












[10] Ibid




[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid



[18] Ibid







[25] Ibid












[37] Ibid



[40] Ibid

News Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Clean Water Is Another Victim of Syria's War

United Nations - Caught in the grips of a summer heat-wave, in a season that is seeing record-high temperatures worldwide, residents of the war-torn city of Aleppo in northern Syria are facing off against yet another enemy: thirst.

The conflict that began in 2011 as a popular uprising against the reign of Bashar al-Assad is now well into its fifth year with no apparent sign of let-up in the fighting between multiple armed groups - including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Caught in the middle, Syria's civilians have paid the price, with millions forced to flee the country en masse. Those left inside are living something of a perpetual nightmare, made worse earlier this month by an interruption in water supplies.

While some services have since been restored, the situation is still very precarious and international health agencies are stepping up efforts in a bid to stave off epidemics of water-borne diseases.

"These water cuts came at the worst possible time, while Syrians are suffering in an intense summer heat wave," Hanaa Singer, Syria representative of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said in a statement released Thursday.

"Some neighborhoods have been without running water for nearly three weeks leaving hundreds of thousands of children thirsty, dehydrated and vulnerable to disease."

An estimated 3,000 children - 41 percent of those treated at UNICEF-supported clinics in Aleppo since the beginning of the month - reported mild cases of diarrhoea.

"We remain concerned that water supplies in Aleppo could be cut again any time adding to what is already a severe water crisis throughout the country," Singer stated on Jul. 23.

The U.N. agency has blasted parties to the conflict for directly targeting piped water supplies, an act that is explicitly forbidden under international laws governing warfare.As it is, heavy fighting in civilian areas and the resulting displacement of huge numbers of Syrians throughout the country has been extremely taxing on the country's fragile water and sanitation network.

There have been 105,886 cases of acute diarrhoea in the first half of 2015, as well as a rapid rise in the number of reported cases of Hepatitis A.

In Deir-Ez-Zour, a large city in the eastern part of Syria, the disposal of raw sewage in the Euphrates River has caused a health crisis among the population dependent on it for cooking, washing and drinking, with UNICEF reporting over 1,000 typhoid cases in the area.

To date, UNICEF has delivered 18,000 diarrhoea kits to help sick children and is now working with its partners on the ground to provide enough water purification tablets for about a million people.

With fuel prices on the rise - touching 2.6 dollars per litre this month in the northwestern city of Idleb - families pushed into poverty by the conflict have been forced to cut back on their water consumption.

Water pumping stations have also drastically reduced the amount of water per person - limiting supplies to just 20 litres a day.

UNICEF's efforts to deliver water treatment supplies took a major hit earlier this year when the border crossing with Jordan was closed in April, a route the agency had traditionally relied on to provide half a million litres of critical water treatment material monthly.

Despite this setback, the Children's Fund has trebled the volume of emergency supplies from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day, amounting to 15 litres of water per person for some 200,000 people.

Organisations like OXFAM, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are all assisting the United Nations in its efforts to sustain the Syrian people.

In addition to trucking in millions upon millions of litres of water each month, UNICEF has also helped drill 50 groundwater wells capable of proving some 16 million litres daily.

Still, about half a million Aleppo residents are at their wits' end trying to collect adequate water for families' daily needs.

Throughout Syria, some 15 million people are dependent on a limited and vulnerable water supply network.


Edited by Kitty Stapp

News Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Clinton and the Coup: Amid Protests in Honduras, Ex-President on Hillary's Role in His 2009 Ouster

In Honduras, as many as 25,000 people marched Friday demanding the resignation of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández. The protests come six years after a coup ousted Honduras's democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. In an exclusive interview, Zelaya talks about the new protest movement, the fallout from the 2009 coup, and Hillary Clinton's role in his ouster. "On the one hand, [the Obama administration] condemned the coup, but on the other hand, they were negotiating with the leaders of the coup," Zelaya said. "And Secretary Clinton lent herself to that, maintaining that ambiguity of U.S. policy to Honduras, which has resulted in a process of distrust and instability of Latin American governments in relation to U.S. foreign policies." While the United States publicly supported Zelaya's return to power, newly released emails show Clinton was attempting to set up a back channel of communication with Roberto Micheletti, who was installed as Honduran president after the coup. In one email, Clinton referenced lobbyist and former President Clinton adviser Lanny Davis. She wrote, "Can he help me talk w Micheletti?" At the time, Davis was working for the Honduran chapter of the Business Council of Latin America, which supported the coup. In another email, Thomas Shannon, the State Department's lead negotiator for the Honduras talks, refers to Manuel Zelaya as a "failed" leader.

Please check back later for full transcript.

News Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Imprisoned in Ethiopia for 438 Days: Journalist Recounts Facing Arrest, Mock Execution and Terror Charges

While President Obama visited Ethiopia on Monday, he made a passing reference to press freedom, calling on the Ethiopian government to "open additional space for journalists, for media, for opposition voices." The Committee to Protect Journalists has described Ethiopia as one of the leading jailers of journalists on the continent. At least 11 journalists and bloggers are currently in prison. Six others were released just before Obama's visit. We look at the remarkable story of two Swedish journalists who traveled to Ethiopia in 2011 to report on the actions of the Swedish oil company Lundin Oil in the Ogaden region, where there has been a fight for independence since the 1970s. Five days after crossing the border from Somalia to Ethiopia, the journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson were shot and captured by the Ethiopian army. "We were both shot during the arrest. We were kept in the desert,” Schibbye said. "They brought in some Steven Spielberg figure, who turned out to be the vice president of the region, who made a mockumentary about what happened when we were arrested. They brought in fake rebels, who they gave guns, and it was a total surreal episode where we, under gunpoint, had to participate in the movie that was supposed to be shown on Ethiopian state television and also used in court to sentence us for support of terrorism." Schibbye and Persson ended up spending over a year in prison, which they chronicle in their book, 438 Days: How Our Quest to Expose the Dirty Oil Business in the Horn of Africa Got Us Tortured, Sentenced as Terrorists and Put Away in Ethiopia's Most Infamous Prison.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. While President Obama visited Ethiopia Monday, he made a passing reference to press freedom, calling on the Ethiopian government to, quote, "open additional space for journalists, for media, for opposition voices." Well, the Committee to Protect Journalists has described Ethiopia as one of the leading jailers of journalists on the continent. At least 11 journalists and bloggers are currently in prison. Six others were released just before Obama’s visit.

Today, we turn to the remarkable story of two Swedish journalists who traveled to Ethiopia in 2011 to report on the actions of the Swedish oil company Lundin Oil in the Ogaden region, where there has been a fight for independence since the '70s. Lundin Oil is well known in Sweden in part because one of its past board members is Carl Bildt, Sweden's former prime minister and foreign secretary. Five days after crossing the border from Somalia to Ethiopia, the journalists, Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson, were shot and captured by the Ethiopian army. They ended up spending over a year in prison, which they chronicle in their book, 438 Days: How Our Quest to Expose the Dirty Oil Business in the Horn of Africa Got Us Tortured, Sentenced as Terrorists and Put Away in Ethiopia’s Most Infamous Prison.

I had a chance to interview Martin Schibbye last year in Sweden at the Almedalen political festival in Visby, an island off of Sweden. I asked him to describe what happened to him.

MARTIN SCHIBBYE: Well, the short version is, I was jailed for doing my job as a journalist in a country where journalism is criminalized. The longer version goes that me and the photographer, Johan Persson, were supposed to investigate a Swedish oil company active in the Ogaden region. And in this oil company, the Swedish foreign minister had been on the board. And they were exploring oil in a region which is war-torn, in a region where refugees are fleeing in numbers, and in a region where there are reports of gross human rights abuses. So there were two sides to this story: The oil company would say that, well, exploring oil will benefit the region; the refugees were saying, no, the oil companies make the situation worse. And we didn’t want to do a on-one-hand-on-the-other-hand-and-then-time-will-tell story. We wanted to see for ourselves what is true or not, and kind of use our feet more than Google and wanted to go into this region and see how was the situation there for the civilian population.

AMY GOODMAN: Especially for an American audience, I don’t think the conflict in Ethiopia is very well known. Can you explain what the Ogaden region is?

MARTIN SCHIBBYE: The Ogaden region is in the east of Ethiopia, and it’s a region inhabited by ethnical Somalis. So it has longtime been debated and fought over between Somalia and Ethiopia. And currently the region is within the borders of Ethiopia. But the inhabitants feel colonized. They feel they are misrepresented within the Ethiopian political system. So there is a guerrilla movement fighting for independence, attacking foreign oil companies. And the problem is also that the region is closed. Ethiopia doesn’t allow any journalists to enter. The U.N. are not allowed to enter. The Red Cross has been kicked out. Doctors Without Borders have been kicked out. So it’s an area which it’s kind of a white area on the map. Few reports get out of what is really happening there. So that’s why it was crucial as a journalist to go there and give people living in this area a voice and see what they have to say about oil exploration and about foreign companies coming together with the Ethiopian military to explore oil.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain further, Martin, who the oil company was and its connection to the current foreign minister, Carl Bildt, of Sweden.

MARTIN SCHIBBYE: Well, Lundin Petroleum is the name of the big company, and they had a daughter company called Africa Oil. And Carl Bildt has been on the board of Lundin Petroleum. So that was the connection. At the time, 2011, when we went to do this story, he was no longer on the board.

AMY GOODMAN: Why was he on the board of Lundin, of this oil company?

MARTIN SCHIBBYE: Well, after his—many people believed that he had left politics. He went into business, and he became a board member. I think you’ll have to ask him about that. It’s a very special company, and it’s known for kind of being non-ethical. They did business with South Africa during apartheid. They were kicked out of Congo by the U.N. They were doing business with Assad’s Syria. So it’s an oil company that goes to areas where no other oil companies enter, so it’s a very special company to be in the board of.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what happened to you.

MARTIN SCHIBBYE: So, basically, what Ethiopia did when they arrested me and Johan in the Ogaden region was to violate every international rule there is. They didn’t take us to an embassy. They didn’t give us medical care for our gun wounds. We were both shot during the arrest. We were kept in the desert. And instead, they brought in some Steven Spielberg figure, who turned out to be the vice president of the region, who made a mockumentary about what happened when we were arrested. They brought in fake rebels, who they gave guns, and it was a total surreal episode where we, under gunpoint, had to participate in the movie that was supposed to be shown on Ethiopian state television and also used in court to sentence us for support of terrorism.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, go back a step. Describe how you were arrested, how you were captured, how you came into the country and what happened next.

MARTIN SCHIBBYE: Well, we entered into the region with a smuggler from Somalia, and we met up with a guerrilla group that were supposed to be our guides and take us to the oil fields, so that we could interview civilians there. And the first days and nights when we walk in the Ogaden desert are quite eerie. We pass refugees who are fleeing on their way to the refugee camps in Kenya. We pass surrendered huts, where people have lived until recently. We pass people who have been subjected to torture from the Ethiopian military. And we feel that this is really—the conflict level here is very, very high. There’s really a story to tell.

But after three days of walking, we are ambushed by the Ethiopian military, and we are immediately shot. I am shot through the shoulder, and the photographer is shot through his arm. So, we have no other option but to raise our hands in the sky and shout, "Media! Media! International press!" And then we are arrested. And at that point, we believe that we will be kicked out, because that happened to New York Times when they were arrested in Ogaden. It has happened to several other journalists who have been arrested in this area.

But Ethiopia wants to make an example and to scare off other foreign journalists from entering the region, and also—and I think most importantly—send a message to their own journalists: "Look what we can do to these two Swedish guys; imagine what we can do to you." So they wanted to inflict fear in the Ethiopian society.

So, then we are led through these four or five horrible days in the desert, when they fabricate evidence against us under gunpoint, and to make us cooperate, they also arrange a mock execution, which is arranged by the vice president in the region, and he’s a member of the Ethiopian Parliament. He arranges a mock execution where we are forced to walk towards the horizon, and there is a firing squad behind us. And I’m told to stop, to turn around, and he says, "This is your last chance. Admit that you are cooperating with the terrorists, or you will be shot." And then they fire in the bush next to me. And from the sound, I kind of fall down. And then I get up, and I brush the dust off. And then a film camera comes up, and another interrogation takes place. So, it was really a violation of all the legal protocols that you could think of.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you say what they wanted you to say?

MARTIN SCHIBBYE: No, they wanted us to basically say that we were there to support the rebels. No, we never said that. We said that we are Swedish journalists, and we are here to do our job. But just being there, just talking to this group, was enough, according to the Ethiopian terrorism law, to sentence us. And it was very clear when we were brought to the federal police station, and we found out who was in the neighboring cell, who was in the cell to the left or to the right and in front of us. It was no criminals. They were young journalists, activists, bloggers, politicians, different community leaders. And then we really could feel that we had ended up in something that was just bigger, that was much bigger than two Swedish journalists just violating some visa.

AMY GOODMAN: This mockumentary, as you call it—


AMY GOODMAN: —this fake documentary, when they were filming you and said they would shoot you if you didn’t say you were working with terrorists—


AMY GOODMAN: —did you then say, "I am working with terrorists."


AMY GOODMAN: You wouldn’t say it.


AMY GOODMAN: So, what did they do with this film?

MARTIN SCHIBBYE: They made a long mockumentary about it. And first of all, they showed it in court, and they said that the people on this film are the people that you walked with, which they were not. All the rebels we walked with ran away, so they were kind of fake rebels. And they also sentenced these fake rebels to 17 years in prison. So it was basically used as a fabricated evidence in court, and it was also used the Ethiopian state television to kind of show Ethiopia that these were two Swedish terrorists who had entered their country to support terrorism.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened to you in prison?

MARTIN SCHIBBYE: I mean, the first—the first month, before we were charged, were the most difficult, when we were kept in solitary confinement, and we were interrogated and threatened with the death sentence or with life in prison. And it was kind of a—you had to win a battle against yourself every day and kind of take a teaspoon of cement every morning and just to try and think that, well, they may take my physical freedom, they may take my shoelaces, even my shoes, my belt, my pen and paper, but there is one thing they can’t take from me, and that is to decide, I mean, who I am. And I am a journalist. So it’s just another day at the office. I tried to live in that bubble, and kind of, "OK, how big is this cell? How would I describe this cell in my future writing?" and try to start communicating with the other prisoners, and try to never give up that core thing within you, who you are. They could never take that from you, even though you were handcuffed and in a dark room. So, by thinking as a journalist, I mean, I survived mentally and was able to communicate with the other jailed journalists, the local journalists. And they gave me a lot of strength and kind of explained what was going on in Ethiopia.

We have to remember that this was also 2011. I mean, the Arabic Spring was raging in Egypt. I mean, you had Tunisia. You had Syria. Gaddafi hadn’t fallen yet in Libya. And, of course, a country which has 99.6 percent of the seats in the Parliament, they will look to North Africa with fear, and decided to rather act than being acted upon. So, we ended up in a major crackdown against free speech. And all of the local Ethiopian journalists and politician that were arrested at this time, they are still in jail. They are still in the prison.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you able to communicate with your cameraman?


AMY GOODMAN: During the time you were in solitary?


AMY GOODMAN: So you had no idea what was happening to him.

MARTIN SCHIBBYE: No. And they tried to, of course, play us against each other.

AMY GOODMAN: You were both shot.

MARTIN SCHIBBYE: We were both shot.

AMY GOODMAN: So you were both dealing with your injuries.

MARTIN SCHIBBYE: Yes, yes. We were denied also proper medical care. We had a way to communicate after a while, and while knocking on the door through a certain kind of Swedish way of knocking, we could—I could understand that he was there and that he was alive.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s the Swedish way of knocking?

MARTIN SCHIBBYE: I don’t know. It was something like this. [knocks, Swedishly] And then he would answer in the same way, and I would know that, "Whew! He’s alive. I’m not alone."

AMY GOODMAN: The video that was made to falsely implicate you, that was shown in Sweden, as well?


AMY GOODMAN: What was the response here?

MARTIN SCHIBBYE: I think, in the beginning, it was a lot of confusion. I mean, journalists kind of quoted—they had this one-hand-on-the-other-hand perspective, so they would kind of see the minister of information in Ethiopia as a reliable source, in the beginning. After a while, these things changed, and they definitely changed when one of the people responsible of making this video—his name is Abdullahi Hussein—he felt that this is wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: Who was he working for?

MARTIN SCHIBBYE: He was working for the president of the region and for the vice president, and he was head of the kind of the communications department. He decided to become a whistleblower. So he took the original film from us in the desert, together with a lot of other material which shows atrocities, torture, the Ethiopian military committing atrocities in the region, and he left with—risking his life, left everything and went to Kenya and managed to get in contact with a journalist at the Swedish Television. So, after our release, the whole kind of material was shown. And in this, when the whole material was shown, you could see how everything was rigged.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Martin, about when you learned you were going to be freed and what that release was like for you?

MARTIN SCHIBBYE: We were called up in the loudspeaker, and, yeah, the Swedish ambassador was there to meet us and to take us out of prison. And there was just one hurdle left, and that was that the Ethiopian state television wanted us to make an interview, the interview they didn’t succeed in doing in the desert. And, basically, we had—we could have said no to that and go back and take our 11 years, and we wouldn’t survive that, or we would say to the Ethiopian journalist that we apologize and accepted guilt. And then we were—they checked the interview with their information department, and then we were released and sent back to Sweden.

But, I mean, I’m—I’m free from the prison, but I’m not—I will never be free from the memories. I’m not free from the sounds. It doesn’t go a day that I don’t think of all the colleagues who are there. I mean, especially the sounds, the screams, when people—kind of the first screams, you really remember, because those were always the worst. And then, eventually, the abused prisoner was always silent. But the first scream before the first stroke hit, those screams you never forget. And those will haunt me for the rest of my life and be a part of me.

But it also—I think that also this experience makes me a better journalist. I mean, usually, you go and you do a story, and then you go to a hotel and you take your beer and that’s it. Now, we went and we did a story, which was supposed to be about oil, but it turned out to be about ink, about press freedom, and we slept on the concrete floor with—in a prison with 8,000 inmates, and we didn’t go home the next day. We stayed, and we stayed, and we stayed. And we stayed for 438 days. And, of course, we were always somehow tourists in that environment. We had our embassy. We had our Swedish passports. But still, I went from just being someone who’s standing and looking at something, and also I was, I mean, participating in something. And those experiences and really seeing the conditions of those prisoners and talking to them and sharing life stories with them, that makes me a better journalist.

AMY GOODMAN: And here at Almedalen, we have passed the foreign minister, Carl Bildt, several times, just walking down the street. Since you were freed, have you spent time with the foreign minister?

MARTIN SCHIBBYE: I met him briefly, and we have been—our message to him has been to learn the name of the jailed that are still in the Kaliti prison and to work for their release—I mean, especially Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Eskinder Nega and many others, colleagues who are still there. We have been encouraging him to raise that issue.

AMY GOODMAN: And they were doing what as journalists? What were they investigating?

MARTIN SCHIBBYE: Their crime is just writing about their reality. It doesn’t take an investigative report to get you in jail in Ethiopia. It just takes some criticism of the government. And especially one of them, Reeyot Alemu, she’s suffering from cancer in one of her breasts in the prison. And I remember, at one point, she—I was able to read a small note that she sent us, and she wrote that her name was Reeyot Alemu. She wrote why she became a journalist, that she wanted to write about the injustice she saw in Ethiopia, and that that decision had led her to prison. And she said that, "Please, please, Martin, if you’re released before me, tell the world I’m a journalist, I’m not a terrorist." And, I mean, doing that is kind of the only way to live with this experience, I mean, to try and put the searchlight on that prison and on Ethiopia and on the colleagues that are still there and still suffering just for doing their job. I mean, their only crime is courage. And I’m proud that there are such colleagues in the world who’s prepared to pay the highest price for this profession.

AMY GOODMAN: Swedish journalist Martin Schibbye. He and Johan Persson wrote about their jailing in Ethiopia in the book titled 438 Days: How Our Quest to Expose the Dirty Oil Business in the Horn of Africa Got Us Tortured, Sentenced as Terrorists and Put Away in Ethiopia’s Most Infamous Prison. I interviewed Martin last year in Sweden. Earlier this month, Reeyot Alemu, the Ethiopian journalist Schibbye mentioned during the interview, was released from prison after four years in jail on terrorism charges. In an interview with The New York Times, she said about the Ethiopian government, quote, "They just want to pretend in front of Obama and the international community that they are democratic and trying to improve human rights conditions." Special thanks to Cassandra Lizaire and John Hamilton.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the ousted president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya. Stay with us.

News Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
In Ethiopia, Obama Hails Democracy Despite Recent Election Where Ruling Party Won 100 Percent of Seats

On Monday, President Obama made history by becoming the first sitting U.S. president to visit Ethiopia. But he is facing criticism after twice describing Ethiopia as having a democratically elected government despite the fact human rights groups have denounced Ethiopia's democracy as a "sham." In a recent election, for example, Ethiopia's ruling party won 100 percent of the country's 547 Parliament seats. Human Rights Watch criticized the government in a recent report, writing, "Authorities use arbitrary arrests and politically motivated prosecutions to silence journalists, bloggers, protesters, and perceived supporters of opposition political parties." We speak with Horace Campbell, professor of African-American studies and political science at Syracuse University. He has written extensively on African politics. His new piece for CounterPunch is called "Obama in Kenya."


AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to President Obama’s historic trip to Africa, where he’s set to become the first U.S. president to address the African Union. On Monday, Obama made history by becoming the first sitting U.S. president to visit Ethiopia. But he is facing criticism after twice describing Ethiopia as a democratically elected government despite a recent parliamentary election when Ethiopia’s ruling party won 100 percent of the country’s 547 Parliament seats. Obama made the comment Monday during a news conference in Addis Ababa alongside Ethiopian President—Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are very mindful of Ethiopia’s history and the hardships that this country has gone through. It has been relatively recently in which the constitution that was formed and the elections put forward a democratically elected government. And as I indicated when I was in Kenya, there’s still more work to do, and I think the prime minister is the first to acknowledge that there’s more work to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Human rights groups widely criticized the recent Ethiopian parliamentary elections as a "sham." In a recent report, Human Rights Watch said, quote, "Authorities use arbitrary arrests and politically motivated prosecutions to silence journalists, bloggers, protesters, and perceived supporters of opposition political parties."

During Monday’s press conference, Obama also praised Ethiopia’s fight against the Somali-based militant group al-Shabab.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our security cooperation is pushing back against violent extremism. Ethiopia faces serious threats. And its contribution to the African Union Mission in Somalia have reduced areas under al-Shabab control, but, as the prime minister noted, yesterday’s bombing in Mogadishu reminds us that terrorist groups like al-Shabab offer nothing but death and destruction, and have to be stopped. We’ve got more work to do. This past week, Ethiopian troops have helped retake two major al-Shabab strongholds. We have to now keep the pressure on.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the significance of President Obama’s visit, we go to Syracuse to speak with Horace Campbell, professor of African-American studies and political science at Syracuse University. He has written extensively on African politics. His new piece for CounterPunch is called "Obama in Africa."

Overall, Professor Campbell, can you start off by talking about the significance of President Obama’s Africa trip, the first time a U.S. sitting president has gone to Ethiopia, the first time a U.S. sitting president has gone to Kenya, which also happens to be his father’s birthplace, and the first time a U.S. president is addressing the African Union?

HORACE CAMPBELL: Well, thank you, Amy, and thank you for having us on the program.

I think this was a liberating trip for President Obama. And from the news coverage of his trip to Kenya, one could see that this was truly liberating for him. He called himself an African American for the first time that I heard him say. He called himself a Kenyan American. He was dancing, and there was genuine joy that he was having on this trip.

But one could see all around that President Obama was compromised. He was compromised because of the footprints of the United States in eastern Africa, especially in Kenya and Ethiopia and Somalia, in this mission that the United States has been on since 2001, which is what they call counterterrorism. And this counterterrorism operation that the United States has been involved with, that was called the war on terror, has led to the militarization of eastern Africa, with the epicenter of this war against the peoples of Somalia. And now the peoples of Kenya have been brought into this war.

And one of the things that the people of Kenya have called for is for complete demilitarization of this region. Yesterday—on Sunday morning, when President Obama met members of the opposition, they called for the withdrawal of Kenyan troops from Somalia. And I think this is something that the left in this country should agree on, that in every aspect of the relationship with the United States and the governments of Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan, we have the United States having the history of its military involvement and the history of counterterrorism unleashing forces that cannot be controlled.

So, yesterday morning, when Barack Obama sat down with the African Union, with the troika—Norway, United States and Britain—and with IGAD, all of the leaders of IGAD that were sitting at the table with Obama—the foreign minister of Sudan, the prime minister of Ethiopia, the president of Uganda and the president of Kenya—all have been involved in this militarization of the region. And we need conscious, clear guidelines and pathways how we’re going to bring peace to this region.

And I’m glad you pointed out in the lead-up to this segment about the compromise of the U.S. government with the Ethiopian leadership. The Ethiopian leadership is particularly despicable. It is a leadership that has violated the rights of the millions of Ethiopian peoples. Nearly one million Ethiopian women are sold or are sent as domestic slaves to Saudi Arabia. And the relationship of the Kenyan government to the majority of the—I’m sorry, the relationship of the Ethiopian government to the majority of the people is one of unbridled repression. So Obama was compromised by his relationship with those leaders of Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Sudan.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, President Obama talked about the ongoing conflict in South Sudan.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Ethiopia has also been a key partner as we seek to resolve the ongoing crisis in South Sudan. Later today, the prime minister and I will meet with leaders from across the region to discuss ways we can encourage the government and opposition in South Sudan to end the violence and move toward a peace agreement. ... The situation is deteriorating. The humanitarian situation is worsening. The possibilities of renewed conflict, in a region that has been torn by conflict for so long and has resulted in so many deaths, is something that requires urgent attention from all of us, including the international community.

AMY GOODMAN: The Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, also addressed the situation in South Sudan.

PRIME MINISTER HAILEMARIAM DESALEGN: As regards to South Sudan, I cannot agree more with the president. But we should also recognize that this process has taken a long, long negotiation period. And on the other hand, the people are suffering on the ground, and we cannot let this go unchecked. And I think the meeting which we are making this afternoon has a strong signal and message that has to be passed to the parties in South Sudan, to see that [inaudible] first.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. Professor Horace Campbell, your response?

HORACE CAMPBELL: Here we have a government that blocked the report of the African Union Commission of Inquiry into the situation in South Sudan. One of the tragedies of the South Sudan situation has been the way in which the international organizations, NGO and people around Barack Obama himself, like Gayle Smith, people from the Enough Project, Susan Rice, have been involved in this disaster from the beginning. And so, what one needs is to step back from the hype about how to go forward, and look concretely at the role of the African Union and the deliberations of the African Union Commission of Inquiry into the South Sudan situation.

This report that was done last year by the African Union was supposed to be tabled at the African Union summit in June in South Africa. The Ethiopians blocked the report. It was only last week, Friday, on the 24th, before the meeting of Obama with IGAD, that the report was presented to the Peace and Security Council of the African Union. And it was not presented to the heads of state as it was supposed to be. It was presented to the foreign ministers, downgrading the importance of this report, which has far-reaching recommendations about how to demilitarize South Sudan; end the support of the United Nations, the NGOs and the troika for the military factions; that they need a transition government in South Sudan; they need at least five years of peace; and that we should not have this false dichotomy between sanctions and military intervention by the African Union. Of all the persons sitting at the table yesterday with Obama, the only person who was not compromised was the head of the African Union, Nkosazana Zuma.

We need to get this Commission of Inquiry, the information out there, debated at great length in Africa, because it comprised of the best brains in Africa. Even the member of the leading left force in East Africa was a member of this Commission of Inquiry. So we need to have a clear roadmap of how to demilitarize the situation in South Sudan. Unfortunately, President Obama, his advisers, like Gayle Smith and Susan Rice, will not be in a position to give the kind of advice that can lead to the demilitarization of the situation in South Sudan.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Campbell, we have less than a minute, but can you compare the U.S. presence in Africa with China’s presence?

HORACE CAMPBELL: I think it’s very difficult to compare, because the case of the Chinese, the Chinese are bringing real, concrete support for infrastructure development, and the Chinese have the capacity at the financial level to invest in infrastructure. What the United States has invested in, and the United States and the West has the upper hand, is at the cultural and ideological level, at the level of ideas, about how to organize society, at the level of language, and, most importantly, the role of the church, the role of religion. The Chinese can never compete at the cultural level with the investment of the Western religious institutions, especially the born-again religious forces. And these born-again religious forces are the forces that are spewing hate around Africa and spewing hatred for same-gender-loving persons. So what one needs is for the progressive forces in the United States to be able to push an agenda so that the United States and China and the progressive forces can work for the rights of women, the rights of youth and for the rights of what Obama said he was working for, entrepreneurs, that this is not for the entrepreneurs of private equity, but for the ordinary businesspersons in Africa who want to uplift the standard of living of the African people.

AMY GOODMAN: Horace Campbell, I want to thank you for being with us, professor of African-American studies and political science at Syracuse University. We will link to your new piece at CounterPunch headlined "Obama in Africa."

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we speak with a journalist who was recently released from an Ethiopian jail and wrote a book, 438 Days: How Our Quest to Expose the Dirty Oil Business in the Horn of Africa Got Us Tortured, Sentenced as Terrorists and Put Away in Ethiopia’s Most Infamous Prison. Stay with us.

News Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Academic Workers' Union Calls on AFL-CIO to Terminate Police Union's Membership

United Auto Workers Local 2865, the union representing 13,000 teaching assistants and other student workers throughout the University of California, called on the AFL-CIO to end its affiliation with the International Union of Police Associations (IUPA) in a resolution passed by its governing body on July 25.

The resolution came in the wake of a letter written by the UAW's Black Interests Coordinating Committee (BICC). The group formed in December 2014 in response to the acquittals of police officers in the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner and is largely inspired by recent actions in the Black Lives Matter movement. With the letter, BICC aims to "start a really difficult conversation that the labor movement has had in the past and needs to continue to have around the intersections of race and labor, economic privation and racial disparity," according to BICC member Brandon Buchanan, a graduate student currently studying Sociology at UC Davis who serves as Head Steward.

The letter charges that police associations operate in ways that are antithetical to the mission statement of the AFL-CIO, particularly its stated goal "to fulfill the yearning of the human spirit for liberty, justice and community; to advance individual and associational freedom; [and] to vanquish oppression, privation and cruelty in all their forms."

It provides historical evidence to its allegations, saying, "Police unions in particular emerge out of a long history of police intervention in labor politics and its complicity in racial violence," before referencing deadly disputes with activist workers in the 19th century, the defense of Jim Crow segregation, the lobbying that enabled the circumstances of Freddie Gray's death and the crackdown on the Occupy movement across the country as examples of American police acting as a "violent supressive force."

The letter can be read in full here.

The letter was presented by Buchanan on behalf of BICC to the joint council of UAW Local 2865, the local's governing board. According to Buchanan, the letter and its call to the AFL-CIO were endorsed overwhelmingly.

"The AFL-CIO is an enormous part of the labor movement. It has a lot of say, it influences elections, it is an organization which serves to build a lot of solidarity between a number of different unions," Buchanan told In These Times. "But at the same time, one of the things that we noticed is that it also has these police associations which are a part of it—police associations who have consistently worked not necessarily in the interest of workers, in particular black workers, but instead have upheld a capitalist status quo as well as white supremacy."

The endorsed letter echoes the sentiment made by Shawn Gude last year at Jacobin:

When there's mass resistance to poverty and inequality, it's the cops who are summoned to calm the panic-stricken hearts of the elite. They bash some heads, or infiltrate and disrupt some activist groups, and all is right in the world again.

Such is the inherent defect of law-enforcement unionism: It's peopled by those with a material interest in maintaining and enlarging the state's most indefensible practices.

Earlier this year, in an article entitled "Blood On Their Hands: The Racist History of Modern Police Unions," human rights attorney Flint Taylor gave an overview of such sordid practices for In These Times.

Buchanan says that while the endorsement came with an overwhelming majority of the governing board voting in favor, there was concern from certain members who questioned whether the endorsement would alienate those who had relationships with people in the police force.

"This is not about individuals. We're not talking about or calling out individual people. We're calling out structures of power," Buchanan stresses in response. "We're not saying that [police officers] are individually bad. But what we're talking about is things like vilifying black bodies to protect police officers who brutalize and kill black people and then get away with it with the support of these police associations."

UAW 2865's governing body made similar waves with its activist streak last year when it became the first American local to endorse the global movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

While numerous American unions have held actions against police brutality in the past year (such as the May Day port shutdowns by ILWU Local 10 in Oakland and ILA Local 1422 in Charleston, South Carolina), UAW 2865 is the first local to explicitly call for disassociation between police unions and the rest of organized labor currently operating under the umbrella of the national federation.

In a story detailing the history of police unions and organized labor for Al Jazeera America in December, Ned Resnikoff reported that an AFL-CIO spokesperson downplayed any tension between the two sides, saying, "The AFL-CIO is like any family. … With 57 affiliated unions and a diversity of membership there is bound to be some disagreement."

Buchanan believes that disaffiliation between the AFL-CIO and IUPA would mean that the IUPA would lose legitimacy as an organization and thus transfer AFL-CIO support from police associations and instead towards people of color and their communities, who he says have been traditionally locked out of organizing spaces.

"It's a question of legitimacy. Having [the AFL-CIO] disaffiliate demonstrates that if our union organizing is meant to address the interests of workers—and black workers are included in that—then these police associations are inimical to those interests," Buchanan says.

News Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
El Salvador's Draconian Abortion Laws Are a Miscarriage of Justice

"We are here to speak for them, to call for their release. When there is an injustice, silence is complicity," said Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of School of the Americas Watch and a decades-long advocate for human rights in Latin America. He was referring to the 17 women, known as Las 17, who are currently serving 30-year sentences in prison for having miscarriages in El Salvador.

Father Roy Bourgeois is one of the six human rights activists who staged a sit-in at the Salvadoran Embassy in Washington, DC on April 24, 2015 calling for the release of the women. Four of the protesters were arrested by the Secret Service.

"It was an honor to go to the embassy and be arrested in solidarity with the women in El Salvador" said Father Bourgeois. "Our greatest enemy in the United States is ignorance, so our job is to tell the stories."

An overwhelming number of women in El Salvador--particularly poor, unmarried, uneducated women--face outrageous human rights violations as they are denied autonomy over their bodies. El Salvador has one of the strictest and most archaic anti-abortion laws in the world; it has a total ban on abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, and medical emergencies. Women who have miscarriages or stillborn births are confronted with suspicion from authorities. The legal system has an built-in "presumption of guilt," making it virtually impossible for women to prove their innocence. Instead, these women are charged with manslaughter and imprisoned. All too often Salvadoran women are forced to live a life of overwhelming stigmatization and marginalization.

This past March, Father Roy Bourgeois led a delegation of human rights activists to El Salvador where he met with Salvadoran President Sánchez Cerén, human rights leaders, and five of the women in prison. Father Roy discovered a common theme among the women's  stories: they are all lower-class, poorly educated, single women who work domestic jobs for wealthier families. What led to the miscarriages? A lack of access to healthy food frequently leads to malnourishment among the impoverished in El Salvador. Tragically, that could have caused the miscarriages. As the women recounted their stories, they painted a grim picture: fainting as a result of blood loss, waking up in a hospital handcuffed to a bed, and ultimately being transferred to prison.

For the first year of their sentence, the women were forced to sleep on the floor of their cell like sardines, pressed next to each other. They were given only a gallon of water every two days for both drinking and bathing--water that is not drinkable by U.S. standards. Father Bourgeois  was haunted by the stories of the women he met. When he returned to the United States, he couldn't sleep. "I have never been more affected by a group of people than I was by this group of women," he told CODEPINK.

Amnesty International put out a petition calling for the release of Las 17, a petition that received an incredible 700,000 signatures and counting. Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International's Americas Director, stated, "For almost two decades women in El Salvador have suffered the consequences of this outdated, draconian law voices from the global community join their struggle to stop the injustice. This is now a deafening chorus of concern that cannot be ignored. President Cerén must heed this call."

The Salvadoran government, a progressive government that emerged from the guerrilla struggle in 1998, is feeling the heat. The government, however, does not have the power to overturn the ruling of the conservative court, nor does it have the power to combat the  powerful conservative lobby in the country's congress. Members of El Salvador's  leftist government fear easing the anti-abortion law, as it could affect the party negatively by alienating its voters and the Church. A change in the law, therefore, seems unlikely in face of omnipresent Catholic values throughout the country.

For decades, Latin American women have been fighting repressive anti-choice laws--laws that lead, every year, to the death of over 1,000 women and the hospitalization of over one million due to complications resulting from backstreet abortions, according to the World Health Organization. In El Salvador, one of the most prominent pro-choice organizations is La Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (The Salvadoran Citizens' Coalition for the Decriminalization of Abortion), which has been combatting the abortion ban for years while exploring legal avenues to achieve the release of Las 17. Activist Sara Garcia stated, "We live in a misogynist, machista society … with prejudices about how a woman should behave and the punishment she should receive for not fulfilling those expectations."

As the women of Latin America continue to struggle for autonomy over their bodies, freeing the Salvadoran 17 is a critical step in addressing this gross miscarriage of justice.

Opinion Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Conservative Advice ]]> Art Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400 Iranian Dissidents Explain Why They Support the Nuclear Deal

The debate on the nuclear deal with Iran has revolved mainly around the geopolitics of the agreement. Is it good for the United States? Does the deal represent a defeat or a victory for the Islamic Republic? Does it make Israel more secure, or less? How will the Saudis respond? Will they pursue a nuclear program of their own? What will Washington do to placate its nervous allies in Riyadh (and other Gulf capitals) and Tel Aviv? What broader implications might the nuclear deal portend for US-Iranian relations, and for the regional politics of the Middle East?

These are hugely important questions, to be sure. But what does the nuclear agreement mean for internal Iranian politics? There's been some excellent reporting on Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif's diplomatic craftsmanship, which has inspired comparisons—arguably exalted—to Mohammad Mosaddeq, and speculation about whether Hassan Rouhani can parlay the nuclear deal into a domestic agenda, pursuing the kinds of reforms that the Iranians who voted for him in 2013 desperately crave and eagerly await.

But how does this historic development look from the perspective of Iran's grassroots? We saw the jubilation in Iran's streets, the euphoric popular reaction to the news of the deal. But these scenes lacked context. What do Iranian dissidents and civil society activists actually think of the nuclear deal? An in-depth report issued by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran provides a refreshingly vivid sense of what such Iranians have to say, in their own words.

The report, High Hopes, Tempered Expectations: Views from Iran on the Nuclear Negotiations, features interviews with an array of Iranians—former political prisoners, filmmakers, political scientists, civil rights lawyers, playwrights, journalists, actors, economists, novelists, publishers, theater directors (some of them belonging to two or more of these categories, former political prisoner being the most common). In other words, these are not big fans of the Iranian government. Indeed, for personal security reasons some agreed to participate in the report only on condition of anonymity.

And the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran itself is anything but enthusiastic about the Islamic Republic: the vast majority of its reportsvideos and activity document the regime's brutal repression and condemn its systematic rights violations in unflinching terms.

This report thus provides a vital perspective, one that's been largely absent in the global debate about the nuclear deal—and in some cases misrepresented (for example, by neoconservative pundits who claim the deal is a gift to the regime and sells the Iranian opposition short). This report reveals what the regime's critics, opponents, and victims, inside the country, actually think about this critical issue.

Take a Breath and Demand our Rights

"All of the individuals interviewed felt sanctions and Iran's international isolation have profoundly hurt Iranian society," the report's authors note, "negatively affecting all spheres of economic, political, and cultural life, with especially dire consequences for the lower socioeconomic strata."

"We hope an agreement is reached and that it is signed, so that our nation can take a breath after all this prolonged pressure."
—Shahla Lahiji (Publisher, Roshangaran and Women Studies Publishers)

"Problems caused by the sanctions are palpable in every home right now."
—Ahmad Shirzad (university professor and former member of Parliament)

"[M]any of our patients have problems obtaining their medication and medications are expensive. … [M]any of our passenger airplanes have … no repair facilities … and we can't [get] spare parts."
—Abbas Ghaffari (film director)

"[An agreement] will have its first impact on society's collective mental state. While many predict this might be short-lived … the psychological impact of this victory in the different sectors of the society will definitely not be short-lived. Such a positive impact can even move people to take action to improve their conditions."
—a journalist in Tehran and former political prisoner (anonymous)

"If we reach an agreement, good opportunities in every area will definitely develop, and we can demand our rights as human beings." 
—Mahmoud Dolatabadi (author)

"[Failed negotiations] would cause terrible damage to the people and to social, cultural, political, and economic activities. The highest cost imposed by the sanctions is paid by the people, particularly the low-income and vulnerable groups." 
—Fakhrossadat Mohtashamipour (civil society activist and wife of a political prisoner)

"[Failure to reach a deal will result in] an intensification of anti-West political tendencies in Iran [which] will help the overall anti-Western currents in the region, even if indirectly."
—a civil rights lawyer in Tehran (anonymous)

"Social hopelessness would increase drastically [if the agreement fell through]. People would once again lose their motivation for reforms. … The failure of the negotiations would equal the failure of moderates and the strengthening of the radical camp. … The atmosphere for cultural activities and journalism would become tremendously more difficult. … [A] continuation of sanctions would place the country in a defensive mode … [and] the domestic security organs would increasingly pressure the media and journalists in order to silence any voices of dissent." 
—a journalist in Tehran and former political prisoner (anonymous)

This last comment echoes the sentiments of Akbar Ganji, one of Iran's leading democratic dissidents who almost died on a hunger strike behind bars. "As a former Iranian political prisoner who spent six years in the Islamic Republic's jails and whose writings have been banned in Iran, I support the [nuclear] agreement," he has written. Reaching a nuclear deal, he argued, would "gradually remove the warlike and securitized environment from Iran." The Iranian political scientist Sadegh Zibakalam recently made a similar point.

No More Excuses

61 percent of the respondents believe that reaching a deal on the nuclear issue "should facilitate progress toward greater rights and liberties" and that "the nation's attention, previously monopolized by the negotiations, could now turn to critical domestic issues, among them, the state of basic freedoms in Iran," according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

That is, on the real issues in Iran. Or, to use an old-fashioned phrase, removing the nuclear issue—and the concomitant economic sanctions and threats of external military action—could "heighten the contradictions" within the Islamic Republic. To wit:

"There are a lot of things that have all been on a waiting list in the hope that first the nuclear issue would be settled."
—Ahmad Shirzad (physics professor and former member of Parliament)

"After the topic of nuclear negotiations dims, [Rouhani] will have to focus on human rights and civil rights, which were parts of [his] initial programs. … Cultural and political issues must be addressed side by side with economic issues."
—Issa Saharkhiz (journalist and former political prisoner)

"Following the nuclear and economic issues, the Rouhani administration will have to tackle the issue of political freedom. Political parties, universities, and the media will be serious demands Mr. Rouhani will have to face, and he will have to take visible steps and present them to public opinion. … [Priorities must include] the serious pursuit of citizenship rights."
—a journalist in Iran (anonymous)

'Necessary Even if Not Sufficient'

The respondents interviewed for the report harbor no illusion that the nuclear agreement is a panacea that will magically end the regime's human rights violations or produce democratic pluralism in Iran overnight. But they do believe, as the report's authors note, that a resolution to the nuclear issue is "a necessary even if not sufficient requirement for any progress toward greater rights and liberties."

"As a defense lawyer for individuals who are pursued or imprisoned for political reasons, my work will be positively impacted … and society will enjoy more freedom as a result. … Unlike those who believe that a decrease in foreign pressure would increase pressure inside the country, I don't believe this."
—Mohammad Saleh Nikbakht (lawyer)

"If the sanctions are lifted … another impact … I believe would [be] a big opening in the human rights discourse. … the human rights issue, God willing, will find more flexibility after this agreement … if the nuclear issue is resolved, [many other] issues will be influenced."
—Massoud Shafiee (lawyer)

"Whether lame or legitimate, I hope that after a nuclear agreement there are no more excuses … and that it would be possible to expect, to demand things."
—Hamid Amjad (playwright, theater director, and publisher in Tehran)

The report's respondents voiced an array of perspectives on the likelihood of these demands actually materializing—some expressed deep skepticism, given the structure of power in the Islamic Republic, while others were more hopeful. Yet "[s]trong support for the nuclear negotiations and hope for an agreement was unanimous and unequivocal among all of the respondents, and was held regardless of the respondent's expectations regarding the actual benefits of an accord," the report's authors note.

"It is incumbent upon the international community," the report's authors conclude, "to reinforce these voices of reason, patience, and hope, by similarly supporting the peaceful resolution of conflict with the Islamic Republic—and by doing everything it can in a post-deal environment to stand by the people of Iran in their efforts to achieve the most basic rights and freedoms."

Indeed it is. Thanks to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, we have a much clearer sense of what some of these voices sound like.

Opinion Tue, 28 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400