Truthout Stories http://truth-out.org Fri, 24 Oct 2014 09:58:46 -0400 en-gb Pacific Climate Change Warriors Block World's Largest Coal Port http://truth-out.org/news/item/27027-pacific-climate-change-warriors-block-world-s-largest-coal-port http://truth-out.org/news/item/27027-pacific-climate-change-warriors-block-world-s-largest-coal-port

United Nations - Climate Change Warriors from 12 Pacific Island nations paddled canoes into the world's largest coal port in Newcastle, Australia, Friday to bring attention to their grave fears about the consequences of climate change on their home countries.

The 30 warriors joined a flotilla of hundreds of Australians in kayaks and on surfboards to delay eight of the 12 ships scheduled to pass through the port during the nine-hour blockade, which was organised with support from the U.S.-based environmental group 350.org.

The warriors came from 12 Pacific Island countries, including Fiji, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Micronesia, Vanuatu, The Solomon Islands, Tonga, Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Niue.

Mikaele Maiava spoke with IPS about why he and his fellow climate change warriors had travelled to Australia: "We want Australia to remember that they are a part of the Pacific. And as a part of the Pacific, we are a family, and having this family means we stay together. We cannot afford, one of the biggest sisters, really destroying everything for the family.

"So, we want the Australian community, especially the Australian leaders, to think about more than their pockets, to really think about humanity not just for the Australian people, but for everyone," Mikaele said.

Speaking at the opening of a new coal mine on Oct. 13, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that "coal is good for humanity."

Mikaele questioned Abbott's position, asking, "If you are talking about humanity: Is humanity really for people to lose land? Is humanity really for people to lose their culture and identity? Is humanity to live in fear for our future generations to live in a beautiful island and have homes to go to? Is that really humanity? Is that really the answer for us to live in peace and harmony? Is that really the answer for the future?"

Mikaele said that he and his fellow climate warriors were aware that their fight was not just for the Pacific, and that other developing countries were affected by climate change too.

"We're aware that this fight is not just for the Pacific. We are very well aware that the whole world is standing up in solidarity for this. The message that we want to give, especially to the leaders, is that we are humans, this fight is not just about our land, this fight is for survival."

Mikaele described how his home of Tokelau was already seeing the effects of climate change,

"We see these changes of weather patterns and we also see that our food security is threatened. It's hard for us to build a sustainable future if your soil is not that fertile and it does not grow your crops because of salt intrusion."

Tokelau's coastline is also beginning to erode. "We see our coastal lines changing. Fifteen years ago when I was going to school, you could walk in a straight line. Now you have to walk in a crooked line because the beach has eroded away."

Mikaele said that he and his fellow climate change warriors would not be content unless they stood up for future generations, and did everything possible to change world leaders' mentality about climate change.

"We are educated people, we are smart people, we know what's going on, the days of the indigenous people and local people not having the information and the knowledge about what's going on is over," he said.

"We are the generation of today, the leaders of tomorrow and we are not blinded by the problem. We can see it with our own eyes, we feel it in our own hearts, and we want the Australian government to realise that. We are not blinded by money we just want to live as peacefully and fight for what matters the most, which is our homes."

Tokelau became the first country in the world to use 100 percent renewable energy when they switched to solar energy in 2012.

Speaking about the canoes that he and his fellow climate warriors had carved in their home countries and bought to Australia for the protest, he talked about how his family had used canoes for generations,

"Each extended family would have a canoe, and this canoe is the main tool that we used to be able to live, to go fishing, to get coconuts, to take family to the other islands."

Another climate warrior, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, from the Marshall Islands, brought members of the United Nations General Assembly to tears last month with her impassioned poem written to her baby daughter Matafele Peinam,

"No one's moving, no one's losing their homeland, no one's gonna become a climate change refugee. Or should I say, no one else. To the Carteret islanders of Papua New Guinea and to the Taro islanders of Fiji, I take this moment to apologise to you," she said.

The Pacific Islands Forum describes climate change as the "single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific."

"Climate change is an immediate and serious threat to sustainable development and poverty eradication in many Pacific Island Countries, and for some their very survival. Yet these countries are amongst the least able to adapt and to respond; and the consequences they face, and already now bear, are significantly disproportionate to their collective miniscule contributions to global emissions," it says.

Pacific Island leaders have recently stepped up their language, challenging the Australian government to stop delaying action on climate change.

Oxfam Australia's climate change advocacy coordinator, Dr Simon Bradshaw, told IPS, "Australia is a Pacific country. In opting to dismantle its climate policies, disengage from international negotiations and forge ahead with the expansion of its fossil fuel industry, it is utterly at odds with the rest of the region."

Dr. Bradshaw added, "Australia's closest neighbours have consistently identified climate change as their greatest challenge and top priority. So it is inevitable that Australia's recent actions will impact on its relationship with Pacific Islands.

"A recent poll commissioned by Oxfam showed that 60 percent of Australians thought climate change was having a negative impact on the ability of people in poorer countries to grow and access food, rising to 68 percent among 18 to 34-year-olds," he said.

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News Fri, 24 Oct 2014 09:14:16 -0400
Why There's a Real Chance My Texas Town Might Ban Fracking http://truth-out.org/news/item/27014-why-there-s-a-real-chance-my-texas-town-might-ban-fracking http://truth-out.org/news/item/27014-why-there-s-a-real-chance-my-texas-town-might-ban-fracking

2014 1024 frac 1Local organizers hold electric lights in support of the fracking ban at the courthouse square in Denton, October, 2014. (Photo: Candice Bernd)

The history of the quirky Texas town of Denton's struggle with fracking reveals why the gas industry's propaganda about "responsible drilling" is deceitful and why a total ban on fracking is necessary. Denton residents understand this from years of personal experience.

2014 1024 frac 1Local organizers hold electric lights in support of the fracking ban at the courthouse square in Denton, October, 2014. (Photo: Candice Bernd)

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I live on Denton Street, in Denton, Texas, in Denton County, so I know a thing or two about the city of Denton - and its ongoing struggle with the gas drilling technique of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) within city limits.

I live a little more than a mile from McKenna Park, where, in 2009, Range Resources sparked the city's anti-fracking movement when the company announced plans to erect five gas wells on Denton's Rayzor Ranch development, one of which would be across the street from the park, residential neighborhood and hospital.

Even though that particular gas well is long gone from the park, the condensation tanks remain, and so do the increased levels of benzene and other carcinogens that linger in the air in the aftermath of large-scale industrial fracking operations, which may engage in refracturing in perpetuity.

"My children still don't play outside in the backyard. They still cough at night," Maile Bush told me, pausing to cough herself a couple times. "I think people think it's over when the rigs move out, but that's completely not true."

She is one of Denton's many residents impacted by the endless fracking of our town. Her home sits between two EagleRidge Energy drilling sites in Denton's Vintage neighborhood. The rigs have moved out of the sites, but her family is still dealing with a compression station and remaining infrastructure.

She is one of Denton's many residents who have been implicated in the gas industry's suggestion that the people who are struggling to protect their health and safety from the impacts of fracking in Denton are "insurgents,"  and are being monitored as terrorists by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Like my neighbors, I too, have been affected by living close to an industrial gas well. Living near the well and participating in the community's efforts to protect themselves from it brought me radically into political consciousness. As we struggled against the well, I saw with my own eyes the reality of how local governments and corporations value profit over the well-being of people.

In 2010, when the McKenna Park gas well was fully operational, I lived a little closer to it than I do now, just off Fry Street and Scripture Street, only about 4,500 feet from the well. I was in college, and wanted to be close to the University of North Texas (UNT) campus to ride my bike to class.

2014 1024 frac 2A view of the barrier from the playground at McKenna Park, where condensation tanks and other gas-drilling infrastructure remain hidden at the site just behind the wall across the street. (Photo: Candice Bernd)

The first time I met activist Cathy McMullen was when she came over to my former partner's house to discuss organizing the neighborhood with us. We needed to do very basic things - set up an email listserv and list our concerns to take to city council. That summer, we organized several rallies  at the park and went door-to-door with a petition to demand that city council members deny Range Resource's special-use permit to drill at the site.

My former partner, Andrew Teeter, and I both were in a very formative stage in our lives. I was only 19, in my second year of college. The fight against that gas well would prove to be a catalyst for the growth of our own personal politics. Andrew would go on to unsuccessfully run for city council that year, with solving the city's fracking problem as one of his major campaign pledges.

For five long years she's been fighting fracking in this town, and despite her dogged and determined spirit, the struggle has taken its toll. ... The push for a ban is personal for her.

In time, I came to know Cathy, and to this day, I can't recall a city council meeting or any other kind of forum germane to Denton's fracking problem in which she wasn't in attendance. Today, she is one of the leaders of Frack Free Denton and the  Denton Drilling Awareness Group  (DAG), responsible for landing the city's proposed fracking ban on November's ballot.

Cathy is usually seen at meetings in a pair of nondescript nursing scrubs, her thickly-framed glasses attached around her neck, and always in a pair of comfortable tennis shoes. Like my mother, she is a home-health nurse. She often finds herself up late finishing up her patient charting after a full day's work as a nurse and a local fracktivist.

Cathy and her husband moved from the city of Decatur earlier that same year in 2009, after fracking operations started there - only to learn that Range Resources was planning a new gas well near her new home in Denton's North Bonnie Brae neighborhood a few months later.

For five long years she's been fighting fracking in this town, and despite her dogged and determined spirit, the struggle has taken its toll. Her feathered blonde hair frames the contours of a gentle, but tired face.

"There was a lot of soul-searching going into [deciding to pursue a referendum for a fracking ban], and when I weighed that against the total arrogance of an industry hell-bent on destroying us for a cost, then there was no question about what had to be done," she told me.

The push for a ban is personal for her. The outcome of the vote could determine whether or not she stays in Denton. Either way, she's sacrificed so much over the years that she's ready to take a step back from organizing after the election. "I am burned out," she's says simply. While many other Denton residents will continue to organize against fracking if the ban doesn't pass, Cathy's feelings aren't surprising.

Dentonites like her have literally exhausted every single institutional avenue available to reform the practice of hydraulic fracturing in this city, and none of those paths have prevented other residents like Bush and her children from suffering the dirty laundry list of direct impacts of Denton's 281 gas wells, some of which are only 200 feet from homes.

This is why there is a real chance that Denton could be the first town in Texas to ban fracking.

The gas industry has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into this election to convince us that this referendum is "irresponsible," but the history of our struggle with the industry lays bare a tale that has proved much the opposite - an irresponsible industry that has backed residents into a corner with its violent drilling operations.

McKenna Park: Then and Now

As the public outcry over the McKenna Park fracking gas well grew that year in 2009, Denton's then-city council members became anxious over a steady stream of calls, questions and concerns from their constituents. The council members delayed voting on Range Resource's special-use permit to drill at the McKenna park site by tabling the issue three times through the month of September. Each time they tabled the decision, we grew angrier.

Former council member Chris Watts, now Denton's mayor, said Range Resources and surface owner Allegiance Development had put a "gun to [his] head," by threatening legal action against the city if it denied the permit.

Each meeting, my neighbors and I came out to tell the council members to deny the company's permit, signing up to speak on unrelated agenda items to demand a park and neighborhood free of noise, which can exceed 90 decibels, glaring lights during all hours of the night, heavy trucks congesting neighborhood streets and exposure to carcinogens, including benzene. Today, benzene is still present in the air at the park at levels exceeding the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's (TCEQ) long-term limits according to a report  by ShaleTest.

The council approved Range's permit in a 6-1 vote on October 6, 2009. Former council member Chris Watts, now Denton's mayor, said Range Resources and surface owner Allegiance Development had put a "gun to [his] head," by threatening legal action against the city if it denied the permit. The threat of lawsuits would prove to be a recurring theme council members and the community would struggle over in the coming years.

Only one individual spoke in favor of the gas well during the October 6 meeting: David Poole, a lawyer representing Range Resources.

The battle over the well achieved 21 stop-gap measures to regulate how Range Resources could operate at the site. Heavy sound barriers, protective enclosures, atmospheric monitoring and alternative traffic routes for trucks provided only some relief to us in the end. The city mandated that the fracking at McKenna Park must occur within two years of the initial start of drilling in December 2009.

Range Resources would go on to violate regulations at other drilling sites across North Texas, with the Texas Railroad Commission issuing violation notices and the Environmental Protection Agency issuing an order of protection after the company's drilling activities in Parker County had led to the contamination of at least two drinking water wells. The company would also go on to break the law at our park.

In April of 2010, toxic drilling mud was illegally spilled from travel trailers parked at the site, and outside of the prescribed barrier imposed by the city. The company did not initially report the spill to the Texas Railroad Commission. Drilling mud contains several carcinogens, including benzene, ethylbenzene, trimethylbenzne, isopropylbenzne and many others.

In 2011, an appeals court upheld a 2009 ruling that allowed Range Resources more time to complete its drilling at McKenna Park. Range Resources sold the site for $900 million that spring to Legend Natural Gas. Company heads at Range Resources blamed citizen participation in a city drilling review process that took longer than expected.

Today, the park is quieter except for the steady clanking of metal ringing out from the infrastructure still at the site. The sound carries on the wind over the top of the remaining barrier. The city's water tower, emblazoned with the city's Texas flag logo, looms above the landscape. Before the gas well, and even before George McKenna donated $8,000 for the park's construction in 1964, longhorn cattle grazed the fields at J. Newton Rayzor's ranch. Much has changed since then.

2014 1024 frac 3Denton's water tower at McKenna Park. (Photo: Candice Bernd)

A couple of weeks ago I got a glossy mailer from Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy depicting a care-free child on a swing with the word "responsible" written across the image. An adjacent image shows a broken swing with the word "irresponsible" written across it. Beneath the images is the following sentence: "Denton's irresponsible drilling ban proposition will hurt our parks and recreation areas." The mailer argues the city will lose revenue that would go to parks if the ban passes.

My jaw literally dropped at the Orwellian mailer, turning our more than year-long struggle to protect McKenna Park, and the children who play there, on its head. The gas well at the site continues to vent pollution that is toxic to the people who live close by. Not only is that "irresponsible" - it's violent. The only thing that kept me from immediately tearing the mailer in two was knowing I'd need to refer to it later to write this paragraph.

My neighbors also don't seem to be buying their argument. Dozens and dozens of light blue and red "for the ban" yard signs dot my neighborhood. The closer you get to the park, the more "for" signs you see.

The battle over the McKenna Park gas well prompted the city to review its entire drilling ordinance in a process that would begin in December of 2009 and end with an entirely new drilling ordinance in 2013.

When the Industry and City Governments Collide: Denton's Drilling Task Force

After six months of review and countless hours of public input and testimony, in July of 2010 the city approved a slew of changes to its ordinance in its first phase of addressing concerns over gas well drilling within city limits.

The ordinance was amended to include a minimum 1,000-foot setback distance for gas wells from homes, additional noise limitations, higher fees for gas well permits and shorter expiration times for those permits, among other changes. These changes were designed to ensure "responsible drilling," but the gas industry fought the changes throughout the process.

That same month, city officials announced they were assembling a task force to advise councilors in the second phase of the city's drilling ordinance overhaul.

The formation of Denton's drilling task force lacked transparency from the outset. Updates regarding the city's selection process for task force members were not presented during public meetings and instead, were communicated internally via confidential memos - until the Denton Record-Chronicle obtained the memos through an open records request.

From the very beginning of the assembly process, it was clear city staff had prioritized the selection of members who worked for the gas industry. Council member Dalton Gregory asked City Manager George Campbell to hold a council meeting for the purpose of discussing and addressing citizen representation on the task force. Gregory was worried the task force still needed Denton residents to offset the industry representatives already selected.

Meanwhile, a real citizen research committee, free of oil and gas industry representatives, was in the works. Council Member Kevin Roden facilitated the formation of DAG, which involved several UNT professors in researching various aspects of gas drilling in Denton. DAG's research would incorporate public input and suggest ordinance changes based on its feedback. Roden and DAG members hoped the council and city staff would officially include DAG's research and suggestions in its formal ordinance deliberations.

When it was all said and done, the city's official voting task force members included: Ed Ireland, executive director of the industry-funded public relations group Barnett Shale Energy Education Council; John Siegmund, a former petroleum engineer; Don Butler of New Tech Global, a gas industry operations consulting firm; Tom LaPoint, an environmental researcher; and Vicki Oppenheim, an urban planner.

She stared out at us from the dais at city hall, silently communicating her helplessness as the panel's three industry representatives shot down recommendation after recommendation she presented.

This arrangement ensured a consistent 3-2 vote in favor of the gas industry on task force agenda items meant to bolster "responsible drilling" regulations and protections for our community. DAG's work was never incorporated into the city's ordinance deliberations in an official capacity. Task force members Ireland and Butler weren't residents of Denton.

Of all the voting task force members, Oppenheim was the community's most steadfast and ardent defender, voluntarily meeting with DAG members to put forward task force agenda items that reflected the group's research and concerns. In addition to her more than 15 years as an urban planner, she founded Green Leaf Environmental Planning and serves as a board member of Denton's Community Market.

Oppenheim is a short woman whose intense gaze hits you through her small round glasses in a way that belies her height altogether. I remember the intensity of that gaze during task force meetings, when her glare would take on a different meaning as she stared out at us from the dais at city hall, silently communicating her helplessness as the panel's three industry representatives shot down recommendation after recommendation she presented.

She sat with me on a bench this month outside Denton's iconic courthouse on the square, and reflected about her experience on the task force. To this day, she still thinks nonresident members should have only been on the task force in an advisory role in which they wouldn't have had voting power.

"There were people who had other interests on the task force, other than the benefits of the city, and perhaps they went on wanting to create the best ordinance possible, maybe those were their intentions, but they just had different interests," she says. "It wasn't the same as someone who lives here."

The task force and ordinance process taxed Oppenheim emotionally and physically. She spent countless sleepless nights researching the voluminous technical details associated with the drilling process and participated in weekly, long-running task force and council meetings.

But through it all, she never gave up fighting for us. By my own experience as well as independent academic research studying Denton's task force process in its aftermath, Oppenheim raised about 60 percent of all agenda items the task force discussed and voted on.

Two of my friends, also UNT students at the time, arranged a meeting with the city manager to discuss the task force and our community petition calling for the removal of its nonresident members. We sat down with George Campbell in his office. Yellowed, aging photos hung from the walls. Over and over, he recited a mantra about the nonresident task force members' "technical expertise" to us. "Technical expertise" supposedly justified their voting power, he told us.

It's hard to make any kind of an argument favoring why someone like Ed Ireland should have even been on our task force in the first place. Ireland is a gas industry-funded PR man. He is paid to promote industry talking points in the media, and his group is funded by some of the very same companies engaged in drilling operations currently harming Denton residents.

Today, his group continues to send shiny anti-ban mailers to our homes on behalf of the industry, with headers like "Just the Facts" - touting an industry-funded impact study on the ban's supposed economic harms. Fracking's economic externalities, measures that include lower quality of life assessments, aren't factored into the analysis. Ireland's mailers also neglect to mention the fact that the  biggest economic beneficiaries  of fracking are the out-of-town gas companies that fund his group's mailers.

Throughout the second phase of the ordinance overhaul process, we protested and organized. In February of 2012, the council took a cue from a DAG recommendation and passed a 120-day moratorium on new gas drilling permits to allow city officials time to finish adopting new rules. The moratorium was extended  for another 120 days the following June.

As the task force meetings wore on during the moratorium period, the community became increasingly frustrated with the ordinance overhaul process. City staff continuously offered draft after draft of rewrites to the drilling rules based on the task force's recommendations, but Dentonites became embittered by the short times allowed for public review and by city leaders' many closed meetings.

In January of 2013, the council approved the city's new gas drilling ordinance, making several amendments to address remaining concerns. Most of the amendments councilors passed were items that had been rejected by the task force in 3-2 votes, Oppenheim recalled.

The amendments addressed concerns over setbacks, upping the distance a well can be from a home, schools and churches to 1,200 feet from 1,000 feet. They also dealt with issues regarding compression stations, insurance liability, and air and water quality monitoring, making what many Dentonites see as only slight improvements.

But since the new rules were passed, gas companies have returned to Denton to resuscitate the hydraulic fracturing of Denton's more than 270 old gas wells. As the gas companies returned, it became clear the ordinance had failed to protect my neighbors.

The returning gas companies continue to claim they have vested rights in their property and their prior permits mean the city's new ordinance can't apply to their old wells.

"That's why I support the fracking ban," Oppenheim tells me. "After over a year of work improving the ordinance to the best of everyone's ability, and fully my ability, having put in hours and weeks of time ... and now we find out this ordinance won't even apply to many of the wells in Denton, and the industry, on top of it, is unwilling to work with the community."

Oppenheim understands first-hand why the industry isn't concerned with "responsible drilling." Not a single gas company will even consider applying the city's new ordinance to a well if vested rights allow the company to follow old rules.

In the past five years, gas companies have operated wells illegally within city limits, with wells experiencing spills, blowouts and violations of every shape, size and color - affecting Denton residents in many ways.

After an EagleRidge gas well experienced a blowout in April of 2013, thousands of gallons of undisclosed and toxic chemicals and carcinogens were released into an area near homes and businesses for more than 14 hours. Residents living near the well were told not to do anything that could cause a spark, including even turning on their lights, before they were eventually ordered to evacuate.

Denton residents also suffer the worst air quality in the state. Denton County's average of ozone readings was 87 parts per billion in 2013, according to TCEQ measurements, tying only with Houston as the highest average in the state. The Clean Air Act of 1997 mandates that ozone pollution should not exceed 75 parts per billion.

Denton's "responsible drilling" industry has also decreased residential property values, resulting in lawsuits against companies like EagleRidge for $25 million in damages.

Dentonites Fight for a Frack-Free Future Despite Industry's Scare Tactics and Propaganda

DAG soon morphed into Frack Free Denton, launching their campaign for a fracking ban within city limits in February of this year.

I can't recall another city council meeting like it. More than 600 residents and dozens of industry representatives packed city council chambers as well as two overflow rooms at City Hall and the Civic Center, just next door.

The push for a ban comes primarily in the context of the group having tried everything else. It is the next logical step for our community to seek protection from the gas industry. DAG leaders like Cathy have gone from Denton to Austin and back again, pursuing drilling reforms within the established governmental channels. Each time, they've been told by officials that their "hands are tied."

Denton residents have been calling for a total ban on fracking for years now, and city leaders have continually punted the issue down the field due to legal issues. The threat of a state lawsuit, which may become an inevitable outcome of the ban, is a price many agree is worth paying to protect our community's health and well-being.

The council's final punt on the issue came in the form of a 5-2 vote at about 3:30 in the morning on Wednesday, July 16, 2014, rejecting a voter-initiative petition signed by more than 2,000 Denton residents, and sending the matter to voters to decide November 4.

I can't recall another city council meeting like it. More than 600 residents and a dozen industry representatives packed city council chambers as well as two overflow rooms at City Hall and the Civic Center, just next door. Council members heard testimony from statewide elected officials, former Railroad Commission officials and many of the same tried and true Denton residents who've been speaking about the issue before council for years.

The elected officials spoke first and left first, prompting council members to ask where they've been over the past few years while the city has been seeking their help on this issue. An overwhelming majority spoke in favor of the fracking ban, and an additional 161 people submitted comment cards in support, with only 46 cards submitted in opposition.

Council member Roden moved to accept the petition, appealing to concerns over the amount of money already spent on anti-ban mailers and a nonbinding petition, proffered by employees paid $2 per signature by the oil and gas industry and signed by many nonresidents.

After much back-and-forth between council members, the council finally voted to reject the ban, reasoning that it's more important to let Denton voters decide the matter. Only Roden and Gregory voted against rejecting the petition, raising concerns about whether or not a fair vote could occur when the gas industry was already spending so much money to sway the ultimate outcome.

"[Fracking in Denton] has become a symbol of what's wrong with capitalism as an entity," Roden told me at Denton's Oak Street Draft House. "The only reason why I think [fracking] is such an issue is because there's hell of a lot of money to be made."

The Denton Record-Chronicle reported on the first round of campaign finance reports, which show that both specific-purpose committees, for and against the fracking ban, have raised $280,000 in the city's most expensive election. The vast majority of that money, $231,000, has gone to opponents of the ban - from three gas companies - contributing $75,000 each: Oklahoma-based Devon Energy, Fort Worth-based XTO Energy and Houston-based EnerVest.

According to the Chronicle, of the $1,060 in individual contributions to the opposition, only two came from people with Denton addresses. Those two are Bobby Jones and Randy Sorrells, leaders with Denton Taxpayers for Strong Economy, the specific-purpose committee against the ban. Funding for the campaign in favor of the ban overwhelmingly came from Denton residents: About $14,000 raised in individual contributions reported by the ban's proponents was given by 45 people with Denton addresses. Another $30,000 was contributed by Earthworks, a national environmental organization.

Roden recently left the Denton Chamber of Commerce after the chamber adopted a resolution against the ban that was subsequently used in industry-funded, anti-ban mailers, without the chamber's permission.

But in addition to the vast amounts of money the industry is spending on this election as a cost of doing business, the industry's tactics go well beyond fake petitions and glossy mailers.

I have no reason to believe this election will be any different than every other forum I've been to in this city on this topic - a majority will stand against turning our town into an industrial drilling zone.

In 2011, Earthworks' Sharon Wilson, who has been organizing against fracking in Denton the past few years, attended a Houston gas industry conference for PR professionals. During the conference, she recorded Matt Pitzarella, director of corporate communications and public affairs at Range Resources, giving a presentation in which he stated that Range Resources had hired Army and Marine veterans with experience in military-style psychological operations to influence communities like Denton, where the company drills for gas.

During the conference, another PR professional, Matt Carmichael, external affairs manager at Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, suggested that his colleagues download the Army's Counterinsurgency Manual, calling residents fighting fracking in their local municipalities an "insurgency."

That "insurgency" includes people like me and my friends as well as Denton moms like Bush, who live only 200 feet from gas wells.

The industry has also resorted to other kinds of scare tactics, which include the suggestion that Denton residents organizing against fracking are terrorists who have been included on a DHS watch list.

2014 1024 frac 4Frack Free Denton organizers created a satirical skit making light of the gas industry's talking points during a rally and concert at Denton's Quakertown Park meant to coincide with the start of early voting October 20, 2014. Activists held up a gas industry "puppet" and a mock "propaganda machine." (Photo: Candice Bernd)But despite the industry's violence against my neighbors, and the industry's many coercive, cruel and despotic intimidation tactics in its ongoing psychological war against my community, the organizers here are a resilient bunch, always pushing back no matter what the industry throws at them - and they're giving it their all in the run-up to this vote.

Despite the industry's threats of lawsuits, despite their attempts at corporate control of my city government, the vast majority of my neighbors are in favor of this fracking ban. I've seen them speak against drilling at every city council meeting I've been to. They've come out time and time again to stand up for themselves. I have no reason to believe this election will be any different than every other forum I've been to in this city on this topic - a majority will stand against turning our town into an industrial drilling zone.

As I have come into adulthood and reconciled my own personal beliefs, so too has Denton's anti-fracking movement. It has grown enough over the years that it now stands a very real chance of making Denton the first town on the Barnett Shale - where the technique of hydraulic fracturing was invented - to ban fracking.

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News Fri, 24 Oct 2014 09:45:19 -0400
Official Sources May Be the Only Sources http://truth-out.org/news/item/27013-official-sources-may-be-the-only-sources http://truth-out.org/news/item/27013-official-sources-may-be-the-only-sources

New York Times investigative reporter James Risen is taking a stand. Despite being hounded by both the Bush and Obama administrations to reveal his sources, he has vowed to go to jail rather than abandon his pledge of confidentiality.

As fellow journalists and journalism advocacy groups rush to his side, many fear that the US Department of Justice within the self-proclaimed “most transparent administration in history” is preparing to deliver a body blow to the First Amendment’s promise of press freedom.

“This case is the closest we’ve come to the edge of the precipice, to reporter/source privilege being banned,” said Jesselyn Radack, director of national security and human rights for the Government Accountability Project, in a phone interview.

Risen, a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter, has been ordered by the DoJ to testify in the prosecution of former CIA employee Jeffrey Sterling, who is accused of leaking information about a botched Clinton-era CIA mission to give Iran phony nuclear information—which ended up giving Iran real information on how to build a bomb. Risen wrote about the failed operation in his 2006 book State of War.

Risen was initially subpoenaed by the Bush administration in 2008, but the order expired as the reporter fought against it through the courts. To the surprise of many, the subpoena was renewed under President Obama in 2010—despite repeated calls to drop the pursuit.

“Risen informed the public about the dangerous stupidity of a CIA operation and seriously embarrassed the agency in the process,” said Norman Solomon, a longtime FAIR associate and co-founder of RootsAction.org, an online advocacy group, in an email exchange. “Evidently a pair of unforgivable sins in the eyes of both the Bush and Obama administrations.”

If the government does uphold its subpoena and Risen is punished for taking his stand, journalists and free press advocates say that this would set a dangerous precedent for the interpretation of press freedom under the First Amendment.

“Functionally, a reporter will no longer be able to promise source confidentiality,” Radack explained. “This will impact people who want to disclose wrongdoing,” she said. “Whistleblowers disclosing fraud, waste, abuse and illegality will no longer go to the press.”

Robust investigative journalism has already suffered from budget cuts and waning interest in long-form journalism, and this “chilling effect” on sources will provide the “final nail in the coffin of the free press as we know it,” Radack added.

In 2011, a federal District Court ruled that Risen could not be compelled by the government to reveal his sources. “A criminal trial subpoena is not a free pass for the government to rifle through a reporter’s notebook,” wrote District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema, adding that Risen was protected by a limited “reporter’s privilege” under the First Amendment.

The government challenged that decision, and in 2013, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, reinstated the subpoena, arguing that the First Amendment did not protect Risen from being forced to testify against his source.

In June 2014, Risen’s legal battle reached an insurmountable barrier when the US Supreme Court refused to take up his case, affirming the lower court ruling. Now Risen will have to testify or face contempt of court charges, which can lead to either imprisonment or up to $1,000 a day in fines.

After the high court passed on the case, Risen’s attorney, Joel Kurtzberg, told the Committee to Protect Journalists (6/2/14) that he hopes the government won’t hold Risen in contempt “for doing nothing other than reporting the news and keeping his promise to his source.” He noted that the “ball is now in the government’s court.”

On August 14, a coalition of journalists, media advocacy groups and independent media outlets delivered over 100,000 signatures to the Department of Justice, calling on the Obama administration to drop its subpoena.

The petition—organized by Roots Action along with FAIR, the Center for Media and Democracy, Freedom of the Press Foundation, The Nation Institute and The Progressiveargues that “without confidentiality, journalism would be reduced to official stories—a situation antithetical to the First Amendment.”

On the day the petition was turned in, Risen was joined by a number of free press advocates, including Radack and Solomon, at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Speaking before the roomful of reporters, Risen said, “The real reason I’m doing this is for the future of journalism.”

“Freedom of the press is the most important freedom,” agreed Delphine Halgand, director of Reporters Without Borders’ Washington office, who also spoke at the press conference. “It is the freedom that allows us to verify the existence of all other freedoms.”

When asked about the Risen case at a closed-door meeting with a group of journalists, Attorney General Eric Holder (New York Times5/28/14) reportedly declared, “As long as I’m attorney general, no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail.”

Despite this pronouncement, the prosecution of whistleblowers has become a mainstay of Obama’s presidency (Extra!9/11; FAIR Media Advisory,8/27/13). During his time in office, the DoJ has pursued eight prosecutions of leakers under the Espionage Act, more than double the total number of such prosecutions since the law was enacted.

McClatchy News (6/20/13) also revealed the existence of a government employee “tattletale” program. By having government employees spying and reporting on each other, the Obama initiative, dubbed “Insider Threat,” aims to thwart future leakers.

According to the Reporters Without Borders’ annual Press Freedom Index (2/12/14), the US dropped 14 positions from 2013 to 2014, and now ranks 46th worldwide. The report notes:

In the US, the hunt for leaks and whistleblowers serves as a warning to those thinking of satisfying a public interest need for information about the imperial prerogatives assumed by the world’s leading power.

Advocates say to ensure the protection of journalists in this post-9/11 surveillance state, it is critical to pass a federal shield law that will protect reporters from being forced to disclose confidential information or sources in court. (Most states have some sort of law or protection in place.)

There is a shield bill currently making its way through Congress—S. 987, known as the Free Flow of Information Act—though there is concern that the legislation has too many loopholes that allow the government to claim broad “national security” exceptions and leave some whistleblowers 
without protection (Dissenter5/12/14).

In a recent interview with Times colleague Maureen Dowd (8/17/14), Risen referenced Obama’s “most transparent administration” claim.

“It’s hypocritical,” Risen said. “A lot of people...don’t want to believe that Obama wants to crack down on the press and whistleblowers. But he does. He’s the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.”

Among those who have come to Risen’s defense are 21 fellow Pulitzer Prize–winning reporters, who each signed the Roots Action petition and issued personal statements on his behalf.

Included in the testimonies is one from Risen’s New York Times colleague Barry Bearak, who wrote that Risen “is carrying the banner for every American journalist.”

“If he goes to jail,” Bearak continued, “a good bit of our nation’s freedom will be locked away with him.” 

 New York Times Has Benefitted From Leakers—but Not Vice Versa

As the Department of Justice doggedly pursues Pulitzer Prize–winner James Risen, the New York Times has been forced to enter the fray of the government’s so-called “war on information.”

The Times, like many mainstream publications, has openly acknowledged its practice of seeking government approval for sensitive stories (2/6/13), and often serves as a government mouthpiece by publishing sanctioned “leaks” of information.

And although the Times has benefitted enormously from actual leaks of government secrets that were vital for the public to know, it has historically maintained a cautious—if not skeptical—distance from those who risked their careers and liberty to reveal such truths.

Despite publishing the invaluable Pentagon Papers, which exposed government deceptions about the Vietnam War, the Times refused to provide leaker Daniel Ellsberg with any help in his criminal case. According to Ellsberg, then–executive editor Abe Rosenthal told the whistleblower that the paper had no policy for supporting a source who is being prosecuted for leaking information.

“The Times,” Ellsberg explained, “thinks of leakers, wrongly, as having clearly broken the law.”

The paper has given even less support to Chelsea Manning, despite having partnered with Wikileaks in July 2010 to release important revelations from the hundreds of thousands of classified war logs and State Department cables revealed by Manning.

In addition to disparaging her character and questioning her motives in a Bill Keller column (3/11/13), the Times treated Manning’s trial as a nonevent—not sending a single reporter, and only running one AP wire story (12/30/12) on it.

Later, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan (5/12/12) wrote that the paper had “missed the boat” by not covering Manning’s pretrial testimony.

The paper did run an editorial (1/1/14) supporting NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden; however, that was months after an earlier editorial (8/6/13) essentially calling for Snowden to be extradited for prosecution.

In a January 2013 column about the prosecution of Chelsea Manning, journalist Glenn Greenwald warned corporate media that they “might want to take a serious interest” in the case and “marshal opposition to what is being done to Bradley Manning.”

He continued: “If not out of concern for the injustices to which he is being subjected, then out of self-interest, to ensure that their reporters and their past and future whistleblowing sources cannot be similarly persecuted.”

It seems that time has come. 

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News Thu, 23 Oct 2014 12:04:44 -0400
Noam Chomsky at United Nations: It Would Be Nice if the United States Lived up to International Law http://truth-out.org/news/item/27012-noam-chomsky-at-united-nations-it-would-be-nice-if-the-united-states-lived-up-to-international-law http://truth-out.org/news/item/27012-noam-chomsky-at-united-nations-it-would-be-nice-if-the-united-states-lived-up-to-international-law

After world-renowned scholar Noam Chomsky gave a major address on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the hall of the United Nations General Assembly last week, Amy Goodman interviewed the world-renowned linguist and dissident before an audience of 800 people. Chomsky spoke at an event sponsored by the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. “One important action that the United States could take is to live up to its own laws. Of course it would be nice if it lived up to international law, but maybe that’s too much to ask,” Chomsky said.

TRANSCRIPT:

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we return to MIT professor Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author. Last week, he spoke before over 800 people in the hall of the United Nations General Assembly, before ambassadors and the public alike, on the issue of Israel and Palestine. After his speech, I conducted a public interview with Professor Chomsky.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is the most—the single most important action the United States can take? And what about its role over the years? What is its interest here?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, one important action that the United States could take is to live up to its own laws. Of course, it would be nice if it lived up to international law, but maybe that’s too much to ask, but live up to its own laws. And there are several. And here, incidentally, I have in mind advice to activists also, who I think ought to be organizing and educating in this direction. There are two crucial cases.

One of them is what’s called the Leahy Law. Patrick Leahy, Senator Leahy, introduced legislation called the Leahy Law, which bars sending weapons to any military units which are involved in consistent human rights violations. There isn’t the slightest doubt that the Israeli army is involved in massive human rights violations, which means that all dispatch of U.S. arms to Israel is in violation of U.S. law. I think that’s significant. The U.S. should be called upon by its own citizens to—and by others, to adhere to U.S. law, which also happens to conform to international law in this case, as Amnesty International, for example, for years has been calling for an arms embargo against Israel for this reason. These are all steps that can be taken.

The second is the tax-exempt status that is given to organizations in the United States which are directly involved in the occupation and in significant attacks on human and civil rights within Israel itself, like the Jewish National Fund. Take a look at its charter with the state of Israel, which commits it to acting for the benefit of people of Jewish race, religion and origin within Israel. One of the consequences of that is that by a complex array of laws and administrative practices, the fund pretty much administers about 90 percent of the land of the country, with real consequences for who can live places. They get tax-exempt status also for their activities in the West Bank, which are strictly criminal. I think that’s also straight in violation of U.S. law. Now, those are important things.

And I think the U.S. should be pressured, internationally and domestically, to abandon its virtually unique role—unilateral role in blocking a political settlement for the past 40 years, ever since the first veto in January 1976. That should be a major issue in the media, in convocations like this, in the United Nations, in domestic politics, in government politics and so on.

AMY GOODMAN: The role of the media, can you talk about that, and particularly in the United States? And do you think that the opinion in the United States, public opinion, is shifting on this issue?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the role of the—the media are somewhat shifting from uniform support for virtually everything that Israel does to—and, of course, silence about the U.S. role—that’s not just in the case of Israel, that’s innumerable other cases, as well—but is slowly shifting. But nevertheless, about, say, Operation Protective Edge, one can read in news reporting, news reporting in The New York Times, major journal, a criticism of Hamas’s assault on Israel during Protective Edge. Hamas’s assault on Israel—not exactly what happened, but that’s what people are reading, and that’s the way it’s depicted. Israel is—over and over it’s pointed out, "Look, poor Israel is under attack. It has the right of self-defense." Everyone agrees to that. Actually, I agree, too. Everyone has a right of self-defense. But that’s not the question. The question is: Do you have a right of self-defense by force, by violence? The answer is no for anyone, whether it’s an individual or state, unless you have exhausted peaceful means. If you won’t even permit peaceful means, which is the case here, then you have no right of self-defense by violence. But try to find a word about that in the media. All you find is "self-defense." When President Obama rarely says anything about what’s happening, it’s usually, "If my daughters were being attacked by rockets, I would do anything to stop it." He’s referring not to the hundreds of Palestinian children who are being killed and slaughtered, but to the children in the Israeli town of Sderot, which is under attack by Qassam missiles. And remember that Israel knows exactly how to stop those missiles: namely, live up to a ceasefire for the first time, and then they would stop, as in the past, even when Israel didn’t live up to a ceasefire.

That framework—and, of course, the rest of the framework is the United States as an honest broker trying hard to bring the two recalcitrant sides together, doing its best in this noble endeavor—has nothing to do with the case. The U.S. is, as some of the U.S. negotiators have occasionally acknowledged, Israel’s lawyer. If there were serious negotiations going on, they would be led by some neutral party, maybe Brazil, which has some international respect, and they would bring together the two sides—on the one side, Israel and the United States; on the other side, the Palestinians. Now, those would be possible realistic negotiations. But the chances of anyone in the media either—I won’t even say pointing it out, even thinking about it, is minuscule. The indoctrination is so deep that really elementary facts like these—and they are elementary—are almost incomprehensible.

But to get back to your—the last point you mentioned, it’s very important. Opinion in the United States is shifting, not as fast as in most of the world, not as fast as in Europe. It’s not reaching the point where you could get a vote in Congress anything like the British Parliament a couple days ago, but it is changing, mostly among younger people, and changing substantially. I’ll just illustrate with personal experience; Amy has the same experience. Until pretty recently, when I gave talks on these topics, as I’ve been doing for 40 years, I literally had to have police protection, even at my own university, MIT. Police would insist on walking me back to my car because of threats they had picked up. Meetings were broken up, and so on. That’s all gone. Just a couple of days ago I had a talk on these topics at MIT. Meeting wasn’t broken up. No police protection. Maybe 500 or 600 students were there, all enthusiastic, engaged, committed, concerned, wanting to do something about it. That’s happening all over the country. All over the country, Palestinian solidarity is one of the biggest issues on campus—enormous change in the last few years.

That’s the way things tend to change. It often starts with younger people. Gradually it gets to the rest of the population. Efforts of the kind I mentioned, say, trying to get the United States government to live up to its own laws, those could be undertaken on a substantial scale, domestically and with support from international institutions. And that could lead to further changes. I think that the—for example, the two things that I mentioned would have a considerable appeal to much of the American public. Why should they be funding military units that are carrying out massive human rights violations? Why should they be permitting tax exemption? Meaning we pay for it—that’s what a tax exemption means. Why should we be paying, compelled to pay, for violations of fundamental human rights in another country, and even in occupied territories, where it’s criminal? I think that can appeal to the American population and can lead to the kinds of changes we’ve seen in other cases.

AMY GOODMAN: Final question, before we open it up to each of you: Your thoughts on the BDS movement, the boycott, divest, sanctions movement?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, BDS is a set of tactics, right? These are tactics that you employ when you think they’re going to be effective and in ways that you think will be effective. Tactics are not principles. They’re not actions that you undertake no matter what because you think they’re right. Tactics are undertaken, if you’re serious, because you think they’re going to help the victims. That’s how you adjust your tactics, not because I think they’re right in principle, but because I think they will be beneficial. That ought to be second nature to activists.

Also second nature should be a crucial distinction between proposing and advocating. I can propose now that we should all live in peace and love each other. I just proposed it. That’s not a serious proposal. It becomes a serious proposal when it becomes advocacy. It is given—I sketch out a path for getting from here to there. Then it becomes serious. Otherwise, it’s empty words. That’s crucial and related to this.

Well, when you take a look at the BDS movement, which is separate, incidentally, from BDS tactics—let me make that clear. So, when the European Union issued its directive or when the—that I mentioned, or when, say, the Gates Foundation withdraws investment in security operations that are being carried out, not only in the Occupied Territories, but elsewhere, that’s very important. But that’s not the BDS movement. That’s BDS tactics, actually, BD tactics, boycott, divestment tactics. That’s important. The BDS movement itself has been an impetus to these developments, and in many ways a positive one, but I think it has failed and should reflect on its, so far, unwillingness to face what are crucial questions for activists: What’s going to help the victims, and what’s going to harm them? What is a proposal, and what is real advocacy? You have to think that through, and it hasn’t been sufficiently done.

So, if you take a look at the principles of the BDS movement, there are three. They vary slightly in wording, but basically three. One is, actions should be directed against the occupation. That has been extremely successful, in many ways, and it makes sense. It also helps educate the Western populations who are being appealed to to participate, enables—it’s an opening to discuss, investigate and organize about the participation in the occupation. That’s very successful.

A second principle is that BDS actions should be continued until Israel allows the refugees to return. That has had no success, and to the extent that it’s been tried, it’s been negative. It just leads to a backlash. No basis has been laid for it among the population. It is simply interpreted as saying, "Oh, you want to destroy the state of Israel. We’re not going to destroy a state." You cannot undertake actions which you think are principled when in the real world they are going to have a harmful effect on the victims.

There’s a third category having to do with civil rights within Israel, and there are things that could be done here. One of the ones I mentioned, in fact—the tax-free status for U.S. organizations that are engaged in civil rights and human rights violations. And remember, a tax exemption means I pay for it. That’s what a tax exemption is. Well, that’s an action that could be undertaken. Others that have been undertaken have had backlashes which are harmful. And I won’t run through the record, but these are the kinds of questions that always have to be asked when you’re involved in serious activisms, if you care about the victims, not just feeling good, but caring about the victims. That’s critically important.

AMY GOODMAN: MIT professor, world-renowned linguist, dissident, Noam Chomsky, speaking last Tuesday in the hall of the United Nations General Assembly before 800 people in an event hosted by the U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. If you’d like a copy of today’s show, you can go to our website at democracynow.org.

We wish a very happy birthday to our video producer, Robby Karran. For all our New York viewers, Democracy Now! co-host Juan González will be one of the journalists questioning the New York gubernatorial candidates in tonight’s debate. The debate will be broadcast live at 8:00 p.m. on PBS stations across New York. I’ll be speaking in Vienna, Austria, Friday at an event hosted by ORF, Austria’s public broadcaster, then on Saturday speaking at the Elevate Festival in Graz, Austria. Again, you can go to democracynow.org for more details.

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News Thu, 23 Oct 2014 11:29:32 -0400
That Film About Money http://truth-out.org/news/item/27011-that-film-about-money http://truth-out.org/news/item/27011-that-film-about-money

What is the real value of a dollar?

You think that a dollar bill is money and that banks are where your cash is stored and safeguarded. Well, you’re wrong. Like, really wrong.

That Film About Money, Part I:

What do banks do with our deposits?

You think that banks are where your cash is stored and safeguard and that a dollar bill is money. Well, you’re wrong. Like, really wrong.

The Second Part of That Film About Money:

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News Thu, 23 Oct 2014 11:11:41 -0400
Don't Ask the Pentagon Where Its Money Goes http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/27010-don-t-ask-the-pentagon-where-its-money-goes http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/27010-don-t-ask-the-pentagon-where-its-money-goes

2014 1023 pent st(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)President Barack Obama proudly signed the law that repealed the Pentagon’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, freeing lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans (although not trans people) to openly serve in the military four years ago.

But when it comes to budgeting, the concept lingers on. “Don’t ask us how we spend money,” the Pentagon basically says. “Because we can’t really tell you.”

Every taxpayer, business, and government agency in America is supposed to be able to pass a financial audit by the feds, every year. It’s the law, so we do our duty. There’s one exception: the Pentagon.

2014 1023 hole cDown the Hole, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Year after year, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) declares the Pentagon budget to be un-auditable. In 2013, for example, the GAO found that the Pentagon consistently fails to control its costs, measure its performance, or prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse.

Congress thankfully, did give the Pentagon a deadline to get itself in better financial shape — 25 years ago. Taxpayers are still waiting.

The Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 requires every federal agency to pass a routine financial audit not once, not twice, but every year. All the other agencies do it.

What does the Pentagon deliver instead? Promises. The Defense Department always swears it will conduct an audit — and then requests five more years to do it.

How has Congress responded? By doubling the Pentagon’s budget between 2000 and 2010. Many members are now railing against “cuts” that will still keep military spending at stratospheric levels over the next decade.

How bad could things be? Well, the most recent scandals may help answer this question.

In Afghanistan, the Air Force bought the Afghan government 20 Italian transport planes for $486 million. When it found out the planes didn’t work, it crushed them into scrap metal, recouping just $32,000.

Other examples of disastrous post-9/11 spending abound. In his new book Pay Any Price, New York Times investigative journalist James Risen reported that more than $1 billion in funds intended for Iraq’s reconstruction may have wound up in a Lebanese bunker. Or not. US investigators couldn’t get to the bottom of that one.

Former Pentagon boss Robert M. Gates once described the US military as a semi-feudal system — “an amalgam of fiefdoms without centralized mechanisms to allocate resources, track expenditures, and measure results relative to the department’s overall priorities.”

Gates also complained that it was nearly impossible to get accurate information and answers to basic questions, such as “How much money did you spend?” and “How many people do you have?”

Congress, charged with oversight, is afraid of stepping on the Pentagon’s powerful toes. The House did, to its credit, pass an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act a few months ago that would require the Pentagon to rank its departments in order of how auditable they are.

The amendment, however, lacks any penalties for recalcitrant divisions.

A bipartisan group led by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Michael Burgess (R-TX), and Dan Benishek (R-MI) wants to push the Pentagon further. Their Audit the Pentagon Act of 2014 (HR5126) calls for cutting any “un-auditable” Pentagon operation by one-half of 1 percent. It will be an uphill battle to get majority support for even that slap on the wrist, given how lawmakers have failed to get the Pentagon to carry through with the audit they first demanded more than 20 years ago.

I find this particularly amazing due to my own personal experience as the co-founder of a small and scrappy feminist peace group called CODEPINK. In 2008, the Internal Revenue Service singled us out for an audit. We underwent a tedious, energy-draining accounting of every dollar spent and complied with every bit of minutiae the IRS requested. It wasn’t fun, but it was our duty and we did it — and passed. And every year we’re prepared to do it again.

If CODEPINK can handle an audit, why can’t the Pentagon? It’s high time the Defense Department fulfilled its commitment to account for every taxpayer dollar in its $555-billion budget.

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Opinion Thu, 23 Oct 2014 11:05:01 -0400
Jeremy Scahill: Blackwater Executives Remain Free as Guards Convicted for Killing 14 Iraqis in Massacre http://truth-out.org/news/item/27009-jeremy-scahill-blackwater-executivess-remain-free-as-guards-convicted-for-killing-14-iraqis-in-massacre http://truth-out.org/news/item/27009-jeremy-scahill-blackwater-executivess-remain-free-as-guards-convicted-for-killing-14-iraqis-in-massacre

A federal jury has returned guilty verdicts against four Blackwater operatives involved in the 2007 massacre at Baghdad's Nisoor Square. On Wednesday, the jury found one guard, Nicholas Slatten, guilty of first-degree murder, while three other guards were convicted of voluntary manslaughter: Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard. The jury is still deliberating on additional charges against the operatives, who faced a combined 33 counts. The operatives were tried for the deaths of 14 of the 17 Iraqi civilians who died when their Blackwater unit opened fire. We speak to Jeremy Scahill, author of the best-selling book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. His most recent article published by The Intercept is "Blackwater Founder Remains Free & Rich While His Former Employees Go Down on Murder Charges."

TRANSCRIPT:

NERMEEN SHAIKH: A federal jury has returned guilty verdicts against four Blackwater operatives involved in the 2007 massacre at Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. On Wednesday, the jury found one guard, Nicholas Slatten, guilty of first-degree murder, while three other guards were convicted of voluntary manslaughter—Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard. The jury is still deliberating on additional charges against the operatives, who faced a combined 33 counts. The operatives were tried for the deaths of 14 of the 17 Iraqi civilians who died when their Blackwater unit opened fire. Nisoor Square is the highest-profile deadly incident involving Blackwater or any private war contractor.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, Jeremy Scahill is still with us, co-founder of TheIntercept.org, author of the best-selling book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. His most recent article published by The Intercept is headlined "Blackwater Founder Remains Free and Rich While His Former Employees Go Down on Murder Charges." Take it from there, Jeremy.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, I mean, the point here is that these four individuals—and then there was another Blackwater operative who pleaded to lesser charges earlier in the process and then actually testified against his former colleagues at Blackwater—this is an extremely important verdict, because we’re talking about a mercenary industry, a war industry, that has largely operated in a Wild West atmosphere, where there’s absolutely no accountability. So, while we only have a handful of people being held accountable for what were very widespread crimes committed by Blackwater and other private military companies, this is a very important moment for the victims of Nisoor Square. And they’ve fought for many years in both civil courts and criminal courts to try to get justice for their loved ones who were killed.

But let’s be clear here. Blackwater was a part of an unlawful global war that was borderless in nature, launched by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, with the support of Democrats in the U.S. Congress, and President Obama has continued to use mercenary forces. None of the people that unleashed these forces on the world, at the highest levels, are being held accountable. Dick Cheney’s not going to be held accountable. Donald Rumsfeld’s not going to be held accountable. Erik Prince, the billionaire owner of—founder of Blackwater, who has now started another mercenary firm targeting Africa, backed by Chinese capital, he’s not going to be held accountable for this. It’s just like at Abu Ghraib, where the low-level people who did the actual torture, they get held accountable.

AMY GOODMAN: And describe what they did, very quickly.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Blackwater or Abu Ghraib?

AMY GOODMAN: Describe what these four Blackwater guards did in Nisoor Square.

JEREMY SCAHILL: They were responding—they were a unit called Raven 23. They were the elite Praetorian Guard of the U.S. occupation. They were guarding Paul Bremer, who was the original sort of proconsul in Iraq, the "viceroy," as he liked to call himself. They were responding to an incident that had occurred on the opposite end of Baghdad from where their base was located. They roll out. They end up hitting a crowded intersection at Nisoor Square. What often would happen in Iraq is that mercenary contractors would start throwing frozen water bottles at cars, trying to force them off the street, and then eventually escalate up to shooting at vehicles. These guys basically tried to take over this traffic circle, the Blackwater guys, so that they could speed around and continue on to their destination.

A small white car with a young Iraqi medical student and his mother didn’t stop fast enough for the Blackwater convoy, and they decided to escalate it all the way up to assassinating those individuals. And I say "assassinating," because they shot to kill these people, and then they blew their car up. And then, that started this massive shooting spree that went on for—it was sustained for minutes. And at the end of it, 17 Iraqis were killed, including a nine-year-old boy named Ali Kinani, whose story we’ve told on the show before, and some 20 others were wounded in the attacks. And it was—you know, it became known as Baghdad’s "Bloody Sunday."

And Blackwater, you know, in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, said that they had been fired upon. They had their allies in the media. A senior producer at CNN was quick to get on TV and say, "Oh, no, no, this wasn’t a massacre. You know, this was a firefight, and Blackwater was shot at." Clearly, this jury saw what the Iraqi eyewitnesses have always contended, and that is that this was an unprovoked massacre of Iraqi civilians, none of whom were posing a threat, except not stopping fast enough for the mercenaries helping to occupy their country.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to ask you about Blackwater founder Erik Prince. He was on Fox News last month—

JEREMY SCAHILL: Of course he was.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: —responding to host Bill O’Reilly’s proposal to fight the Islamic State with mercenaries.

ERIK PRINCE: The U.S. military has mastered the most expensive way to wage war. They’ve proven that in Iraq and Afghanistan. They haven’t been that effective there. So, finding a cheap, sustainable way that you can keep presence into these areas, to keep pressure on Islamists, to keep—to support friends and be that long-term dwell is about the only way you’re going to do it. It’s as part of American history as apple pie.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater. Could you talk about what he said there about fighting ISIS and what implications you think this verdict is likely to have on the way in which these mercenary armies operate, if any?

JEREMY SCAHILL: First of all, Erik Prince is a radical right-wing Christian supremacist who, from the very beginning of the so-called war on terror, viewed the role of Blackwater in the world as being neo-crusaders. And he is a radical anti-Muslim. And he hates the religion of Islam. And he—his company, basically, was allowed to operate in an atmosphere where they would kill Muslims for sport inside of Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, what evidence do you have to say he hates Islam?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, first of all, the fact that Blackwater operatives were told—that there was a culture at the company where they called people "ragheads," where they used any manner of "sand monkeys," other things, slurs to describe the people in Iraq and Afghanistan that they were—you know, whose countries they were occupying. But also, there have been numerous court cases, whistleblowers within Blackwater, who have said that their pilots in their helicopters would drive around, and they literally would go, quote-unquote, "hunting" for people and that it didn’t matter whether they had anything to do with 9/11, they were all the enemy. And there was a tone set in the company, and I know this from people that were there and that would hear Erik Prince’s speeches. He would talk about the so-called war on terror in these epic historical terms of a battle of civilization, of the Christian world versus the Islamic world.

Also, if you look at the Prince family and their history, they’ve been very, very dedicated to funding radical right-wing religious causes in the United States. One of Erik Prince’s closest friends for much of his life was Chuck Colson, who was of course Nixon’s hatchet man during the Watergate scandal, the author of Nixon’s enemies list, who then went to prison, came out as this sort of evangelical Christian who spent much of his life then trying to fight the scourge of Islam within America’s prisons. I mean, Erik Prince is surrounded by very radical right-wing Christians. And, you know, the fact that he says, "Oh, we want to go and fight ISIS right now," first of all, they want to make money off of it; secondly, it plays into Erik Prince’s worldview that Islam is the enemy.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of TheIntercept.org, author of the best-selling book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. His most recent book, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, is out in paperback. We’ll link to your piece, "Blackwater Founder Remains Free and Rich While His Former Employees Go Down on Murder Charges."

That does it for our show. I’ll be speaking in Vienna, Austria, Friday at an event hosted by ORF, Austria’s public broadcaster, then on Saturday I’ll be speaking at the Elevate Festival in Graz, Austria. Check our website for details at democracynow.org.

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News Thu, 23 Oct 2014 11:03:28 -0400
Violence Against Women Can Be Stopped if Everyone Is Invested in Preventing Abuse http://truth-out.org/news/item/27008-violence-against-women-can-be-stopped-if-everyone-is-invested-in-preventing-abuse http://truth-out.org/news/item/27008-violence-against-women-can-be-stopped-if-everyone-is-invested-in-preventing-abuse

Domestic violence against women is a global human rights and public health emergency. Recent estimates suggest that a third of women worldwide have experienced partner violence at some point in their life, with wide-ranging implications for their social, mental and physical well-being.

While a small number of interventions have successfully reduced violence among direct programme recipients – for example women empowered through micro-credit schemes or men attending gender discussion workshops – methods to prevent violence in the wider community have proved stubbornly elusive.

But one groundbreaking programme in Uganda has seen dramatic results. The Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention, based in Kampala, has been working intensively since 2008 in three parishes in the city to implement SASA!, a community intervention to prevent violence against women and reduce HIV risk. The results, recently published in BMC Medicine, show that women living in SASA! communities are now half as likely to experience physical partner violence as women in communities without SASA involvement!

Not Acceptable or Necessary

Underpinning high rates of violence in many parts of the world are beliefs that it is an acceptable, even necessary part of life. “I have come face to face with many men who thought that controlling their partners and disciplining them whenever necessary was normal,” says Tina Musuya who heads the centre’s team. “I heard many community members say that violence was expected, it’s a private matter and a sign of love and that I shouldn’t meddle in people’s private lives.”

Designed by Raising Voices, a Ugandan NGO, the SASA! intervention mobilises whole communities to challenge these norms that make women vulnerable to both violence and HIV, and to address the imbalance of power between men and women that legitimises men’s control of women, limits women’s power to refuse sex or insist on condom use, and leads communities to turn a blind eye to violence.

In the words of one community activist: “Before SASA!, I thought that a woman is supposed to be submissive to the man and that she was there to receive mistreatment. But now I learnt that a woman is like a man – they are not different.”

It is through community activists like this one that much of the intervention programme is delivered; regular men and women who are selected and trained to conduct activities among their own families, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Local government, cultural leaders, police and even healthcare providers also receive training to promote equality within their institutions and strengthen responses to women experiencing violence.

Systematic Anarchy

In one sense SASA! is slightly anarchic. Activities are not rigidly proscribed, but evolve in response to community priorities and characteristics. However, this anarchy is embedded in a highly organised structure. SASA!, which means “now” in Kiswahili, is an acronym for the four phases of a systematic process: start, awareness, support and action, designed to move communities from an initial contemplation of what constitutes violence through to shifts in normative attitudes and behaviours.

And throughout this process, activities revolve around discussions of “power”, its uses and abuses. While many people, especially men, may be put off participating in activities billed as “gender” or “domestic violence” related, most people remember situations or periods in their lives where they felt powerless. So they respond to the idea of using their power to create positive change.

Over a three-year period, more than 400 activists carried out a total of 11,000 activities in their communities. These documented activities – including community dramas, door-to-door discussions, poster discussions, and film shows – actually represent the tip of the iceberg. Community members are repeatedly exposed to SASA! ideas as they go about their daily lives; chatting to an activist in the market or a local bar, talking to family and friends, or perhaps consulting a traditional marriage counsellor. An activist might help a man to stop using violence, while a healthcare worker might take action on behalf of a woman experiencing abuse.

One community activist described how the community around her was changing:

People closer to me have changed … the moment they notice that there is a woman being beaten they know what to do … people have started taking action even in my absence.

These changes are confirmed by the results of a randomised trial. Between 2007 and 2012, researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine studied eight communities in Kampala, four randomly chosen to be SASA! communities, and four designated as comparison communities. They found that after three years, the SASA! community members were less accepting of violence, and reported half the level of physical partner violence against women, as compared to their control counterparts. Crucially this is the first intervention trial in sub-Saharan Africa to show community-wide impacts on levels of violence.

Following successful implementation in Kampala, SASA! has been rolled out more widely, and is now being used by more than 30 organisations in the Horn of Africa, East and Southern Africa. While it does not offer an easy pre-fabricated solution, its methods can be adapted for use in different settings. According to Lori Michau, director of Raising Voices: “Because SASA! works on the core driver of violence against women – power inequality – rather than the manifestations of violence, it is largely applicable in settings which are very different.” And for this reason, other organisations from around the world are interested in adapting and translating the programme for use in their own communities.

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News Thu, 23 Oct 2014 10:43:41 -0400
More Than a Number: Violence and Freedom of Expression in Honduras http://truth-out.org/news/item/27007-more-than-a-number-violence-and-freedom-of-expression-in-honduras http://truth-out.org/news/item/27007-more-than-a-number-violence-and-freedom-of-expression-in-honduras

In Honduras, investigative journalism is declining due to fear and the corrosion of fundamental freedoms. The obstacles faced by reporters reflect the lack of open discussion in a country that has a long way ahead to defend human rights.

“When we allow impunity for human rights violations, we see the crimes of the past translated into the crimes of the future.”

-Bertha Oliva, Co-ordinator of the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH)[1]

Article 72 of the Honduran Constitution states that all citizens shall enjoy the liberty of expression. Thoughts can be legally transmitted through any channel, as long as they do not corrupt the constitutional values of society.[2] Yet, in today’s Honduras, the inalienable freedom of expression has been violently repressed in the form of frequent attacks committed against journalists. Since 2003, 38 journalists have been systematically murdered; approximately 70% of these occurred after the 2009 coup, an event that augmented the political partition. Although most attacks were carried against supporters of the Libre party, reports include victims from all points of the political spectrum.

There are five confirmed cases that verify such crimes were directly related to the investigative occupation, but most unresolved crimes have become demonstrations of impunity.[3] In addition, numerous reports indicate that an alarming number of journalists have received death threats before being gunned down. According to the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), more than 100 reporters and social commentators filed reports of aggression and death threats, even though not all were physically attacked.[4] In fact, between 2009 and 2010 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued more than 400 orders to the Honduran government demanding the protection of journalists and activists. However, most of these directives were ignored.[5]

38 Is Not Only a Number

A number of police blotter reports insist that the assaults are often unrelated to the profession of journalism. Although there is indisputable evidence that establishes many of these attacks were specifically targeted at reporters, they are often treated as ordinary street crimes. That means they attract minimal resources, and little time is invested in trying to accurately identify the intellectual authors. For example, one journalist received text messages and phone calls jeopardizing her life if she continued to “talk trash.” Others report having their cameras and equipment destroyed by assailants.[6]

Government authorities argue that nearly two thirds of the attacks remain unresolved due to the low funding that is allocated to investigations. Honduras’ office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights is assigned nearly 7,000 investigations in a given year, while it is forced to operate with merely 16 staff members.[7]

The most common targets in these cases are journalists who address delicate subjects such as drug trafficking, human rights, and corruption. Not only are journalists routinely threatened, but many have been accused of sedition. There have been no investigations conducted to clarify whether reporters have published inaccurate or offensive material, or if the information was in fact revelatory. The lack of investigation leaves a huge gap that can naturally create a national debate amongst citizens with two opposing views. One side blames journalists for libel and for extorting money from tainted sources, while the other maintains that it was the reporters’ responsibility to disclose controversial issues and all the information covered was true. It is also unknown whether every attack was meant to silence, but ample evidence demonstrates a good percentage of the threats were aimed at their profession. Thirty-eight is not only the number of deaths, but an indication that open political discussion is a high risk occupation in Honduras.

Attributing Faces to the Numbers

Erick Martínez Ávila was a journalist and spokesperson for LGBT rights in Honduras. He declared that hate crimes had significantly increased since the 2009 coup and that the Constitution lacked adequate protection for LGBT members. Martínez Ávila disappeared days after he made an announcement to run for the Libre Party.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) carried out an investigation that revealed Nahúm Palacios Arteaga was murdered soon after he turned Channel 5 into an opposition station against the coup. Additionally, Palacios covered a drug cartel kidnapping, a story that could have angered gang members.[8]

Aníbal Barrow claimed he received threats after he transferred his program to GloboTV. He once wrote, “Ideologies distract us like a circus. Journalists should contribute with the truth and leave the media show aside.” [9] His family and friends affirm he seemed anxious after receiving various messages that had threatened his life. He was later abducted by approximately 10 armed assailants and was found dead in July 2013, with signs that indicated he had been tortured. The last text message by Barrow, sent on his cell phone, read “The truth prevails and triumphs sooner or later.”[10]

Alfredo Villatoro was well known as a news coordinator for the radio station HRN. He was kidnapped in May 2012 after receiving threats and was found dead six days later. The assassins responsible were apprehended early in 2014, but the intellectual authors remain unknown. In addition, an aggravating factor is that no investigation has been carried out to find the motif for his killing.[11]

Among the recent victims, it is possible to find journalists who supported the coup as well. Joseph Hernández Ochoa, an entertainment journalist, was driving with a friend, Karol Cabrera, a reporter at Channel 8. Ochoa was fatally shot, but Cabrera believes she was the real target, since she had previously received phone threats due to her support of the coup that ousted Manuel Zelaya. In addition, Cabrera’s daughter was attacked in a similar fashion by criminals believed to support Zelaya.[12] This case illustrates the bifurcation of politics in Honduras and that attacks are carried against everyone on the ideological spectrum.

These are only three cases out of the 38 journalists who have been murdered since 2003. In Honduras, the media plays an essential role in the diffusion of information. In many cases, there are attempts to silence smaller news outlets due to the nature of information they distribute. For example, 36 members of the Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) have been accused of sedition for allowing the residents of San Francisco de Opalaca to object the election of the new mayor.[13]In fact, minorities often face obstacles that prevent them from voicing their concerns.  Smaller outlets definitely face numerous challenges because they are more likely to cover anti-corruption and human rights issues.

An Analytic Approach to the Freedom of Expression

John Stuart Mill once wrote that if someone’s opinion is silenced, then humanity is robbed of an opportunity to disseminate truth. Mill considered open discussion a necessary element for the functioning of democracy. He claimed, “the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind.”[14] The media’s role is to relay different points of view in order to facilitate a dialogue. However, those denied access to the marketplace of ideas when open discussion already has so many obstacles, indicates the importance of an open society.  John Dewey holds a similar belief and affirms that good citizens enrich each other by deeming everyone as equals. That does not entail uniformity amongst citizens, but an acceptance that every person is unique. Citizens communicate with each other to express their interests and beliefs, and the most well-rounded people are those who are able to listen to the opinion of others. However, some journalists succumb to self-censorship when they fear that their opinions will invite an upheaval or retaliation, and therefore stick to favoring the status quo.

The Honduran landscape presents a series of obstacles when it comes to communicating information. On one side of the debate, people believe that journalists are targeted because they make false claims. However, the Constitution states that every citizen is entitled to the freedom of expression and evidence shows that certain media workers were attacked for this very reason. Consequently, freedom of expression allows for the creation of an open dialogue and a society where its citizens are encouraged to discuss distinct points of view. The professional goal of journalists is to investigate and report their findings. However, in Honduras investigative journalism is declining due to fear and the corrosion of fundamental freedoms. In fact, studies reveal that in many cases victims were attacked before finding compromising information, but were targeted simply for investigating.[15] The obstacles faced by reporters reflect the lack of open discussion in a country that has a long way ahead to defend human rights.

In memory of the deceased journalists/reporters, media workers, and the families who have been afflicted.

1. German Rivas
2. Carlos Salgado
3. Fernando González
4. Bernardo Rivera Paz
5. Rafael Munguía
6. Osman Rodrigo López
7. Gabriel Fino Noriega
8. Nicolás Asfura
9. Joseph Hernández
10. David Meza
11. Nahúm Palacios
12. Bayardo Mairena
13. Víctor Manuel Juárez Vásquez
14. Luis Chévez Hernández
15. Georgino Orellana
16. Carlos Humberto Salinas Midence
17. Luis Arturo Mondragón
18. Israel Díaz Zelaya
19. Henry Orlando Suazo
20. Héctor Francisco Medina Polanco
21. Luis Mendoza
22. Adán Benítez
23. Nery Jeremías Orellana
24. Medardo Flores
25. Luz Marina Paz
26. Fabiola Almendares Borjas
27. Fausto Elio Valle
28. Noel Alexander Valladares
29. Erick Martínez
30. Ángel Alfredo Villatoro
31. Adonis Felipe Bueso Gutiérrez
32. José Noel Canales Lagos
33. Julio César Cassaleno
34. Ángel Edgardo López Fiallos
35. Celín Orlando Acosta Zelaya
36. Aníbal Barrow
37. Herlyn Espinal[16]

38. Dagoberto Díaz

Notes: 

1. Owens, Kaitlin. “Journalism in the Shadow of Impunity.” (2014): n. pag.Pen International. International Human Rights Program at University of Toronto.

2. http://www.oas.org/dil/esp/Constitucion_de_Honduras.pdf

3. http://cpj.org/killed/americas/honduras/

4. http://www.elheraldo.hn/csp/mediapool/sites/ElHeraldo/Sucesos/story.csp?cid=701667&sid=293&fid=219

5.http://cpj.org/killed/2010/nahum-palacios-arteaga.php

6.http://app.conadeh.hn/Anual2012/pdf/info2012/Muerte%20de%20periodistas.pdf

7. Owens, Kaitlin. “Journalism in the Shadow of Impunity.” (2014): n. pag.Pen International. International Human Rights Program at University of Toronto.

8. http://cpj.org/killed/2010/nahum-palacios-arteaga.php

9. http://www.latribuna.hn/2013/07/27/caso-anibal-barrow-desde-computadoras-lo-amenazaban-de-muerte/

10.http://www.elheraldo.hn/csp/mediapool/sites/ElHeraldo/Sucesos/story.csp?cid=622775&sid=293&fid=219

11. http://www.elheraldo.hn/sucesos/718385-219/cadena-perpetua-a-asesinos-de-alfredo-villatoro

12. http://cpj.org/killed/2010/joseph-hernandez-ochoa.php

13. http://es.rsf.org/honduras-rsf-condena-el-hostigamiento-22-07-2014

14. http://www.bartleby.com/130/2.html

15. Owens, Kaitlin. “Journalism in the Shadow of Impunity.” (2014): n. pag.Pen International. International Human Rights Program at University of Toronto.

16. http://www.laprensa.hn/sucesos/policiales/731249-96/honduras-con-herlyn-espinal-suman-37-los-periodistas-asesinados

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News Thu, 23 Oct 2014 10:24:37 -0400
Social Media and Marissa Alexander: Freedom Mobilization and Victim-Blaming http://truth-out.org/news/item/27005-social-media-victim-blaming-and-mobilizing-for-marissa-alexander http://truth-out.org/news/item/27005-social-media-victim-blaming-and-mobilizing-for-marissa-alexander

2014 1023 maris fwJustice for Marissa Alexander protest in Oakland, July 20, 2013. (Photo: Steve Rhodes)

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Social media has been a powerful tool in building support and raising funds for Marissa Alexander's defense, while providing creative ways to discuss domestic violence and self-defense, particularly among black women.

This piece is the third story in a three-part series exploring the intersections of domestic violence, race, the criminal legal system and the case of Marissa Alexander. The first is in the link above and the second is here.

The trial of Marissa Alexander - the Florida mother facing 60 years in prison for firing a warning shot against her abusive husband - is approaching on December 8, 2014.

A large part of the mobilization for Marissa's freedom is happening via social media, where it ties in with broader discussions about violence against black women - both domestic violence and state violence. Through hashtag campaigns, an online store, fundraising and creative efforts - such as an ongoing Twitter campaign in which tweeters upload videos of themselves reading Nikki Finney's poem, "Flare," about Marissa Alexander - activists have been drawing attention to not only Marissa's case, but the core issues that have allowed it to play out as it has. The campaigns encourage people to think about the ways that black women, as victims of domestic violence, have been historically denied rights to self defense.

And so, while social media platforms are useful spaces for conducting freedom campaigns, they - particularly Twitter - have also served as forums for open discussions of the victimhood of black women.

Twitter has also served as a vehicle for basic facts: Since most mainstream media have ignored Marissa Alexander's case, much of the news about it has been publicized through social media. The conversations sparked by this publicity have oftentimes been productive and contributed to movement building. They have called into question stereotypes of who is seen as "vulnerable" and who traditional media outlets produce as "real victims" of violence.

Sometimes, though, loud, blatant and explicit forms of racism and gender-based stereotypes have been blasted throughout social media in response to the facts about Marissa's case. In real time, we are watching conversations that challenge the idea of black women as victims. In these conversations, people often use victim-blaming language that directly implies that Marissa and other domestic violence survivors are inherently responsible for their own assaults.

People who would have possibly not known about Marissa's case, if not for social media, are being made aware of her unjust criminalization - but they don't always assess it as "unjust." I have seen statements such as, "Why did she stay?" Or, "Why did she marry him if there was a history of abuse?" These types of questions are used to make survivors of domestic violence appear like they are not "real" victims. In fact, they are made to appear like perpetrators or even complicit in their own violence.

Some of the discussions of domestic violence and intimate partner violence on social media also reveal another dominant cultural tendency: They lack any acknowledgement of black women's pain.

While groups in Chicago and elsewhere were mobilizing for Marissa's freedom last month, the nation was circulating the video of Janay Rice being explicitly attacked by former Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice. In an article in Ebony, Damon Young calls reactions to this video "explaining it away." Many people attempted to "explain away" the assault of Janay Rice, even though there was considerable evidence, through videotape, that she was in fact a victim, not a perpetrator. Similarly, in the case of Marissa Alexander, considerable evidence shows that Marissa endured abuse at the hands of her estranged husband - and he himself admitted this. Yet these assaults can be "explained away," in a world where dominant narratives do not give black women the status of victim.

Conversations that cast doubt on Marissa's right to defend herself become a simultaneous justification of assault against black women. They deflect from the fact that Marissa - along with so many others who've been in her place - was in fact a survivor and not a perpetrator. In addition to flat-out victim blaming, this refusal to acknowledge black women's pain shows up in questions about how much Marissa was abused, or how severely - as if, when it comes to women of color, it is appropriate to ask, "Was her pain bad enough?" Even with overwhelming evidence like a videotape or an abuser's testimony, black women are still not seen as "real" victims by dominant forces.

This refusal to acknowledge victimhood has harmful effects in and of itself. "Explaining away" or denying domestic violence further criminalizes and punishes women, particularly women of color, for violence that has been perpetrated against them (including violence by the state).

However, a very particular moment in the United States, as it relates to domestic violence, is here. With the publicity around Janay Rice, major institutions like the National Football League (NFL) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) have been forced to address issues of domestic violence due to pressure from social media. The NFL, especially, has seen a major push through social media activism to address its lack of policy for issues of domestic violence among players. Issues of domestic violence are playing out on the stage of national athletics, as well as in a courtroom in Jacksonville, Florida, for Marissa Alexander. Although it brings out all kinds of responses - some of them counterproductive - this is still a moment that can be seized to raise much-needed awareness and draw attention to the movements that are already happening.

As October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Free Marissa Now, the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander and various other groups are immersed in a "Keeping Marissa in Mind" campaign, drawing attention to Marissa Alexander's case - as well as the "cases" of all women of color, who are not seen as victims of violence with rights to defend themselves.

Social media has been used as an incredible tool for mobilization on behalf of Marissa Alexander. It has also been used as a medium for "explaining away" domestic violence. It is up to us to continue to mobilize, building our own narratives and speaking out about black women's pain, as we work toward Marissa Alexander's freedom.

For more information on what you can do to help Marissa, please consult the Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign's website to Get Involved! For further information on how to develop a prisoner defense committee, to support people involved with the criminal legal system, please consult the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander.

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News Thu, 23 Oct 2014 09:34:00 -0400