Truthout Stories Fri, 09 Oct 2015 04:58:22 -0400 en-gb Patti Smith on Pope Francis and Her Performances at the Vatican

Over the last two years, Patti Smith has twice been invited to sing at the Vatican. We air part of her performance of "People Have the Power" and talk to her about why she cheered when the new pope took the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's end on the issue of climate change, where we're headed, this Pathway to Paris. You'll be performing there. But also you've performed at the Vatican, and you've met Pope Francis. Can you talk about those experiences and what he means to you, this latest pope?

PATTI SMITH: Well, I was studying Francis of Assisi for quite some time, when Benedict was still the pope. And I was studying it for a song that I did for my last album, Banga. And I was so taken with the life of St. Francis, and I thought this was truly the environmentalist saint, because he called upon the people, even in the 12th century, to have appreciation and respect Mother Nature. And I thought it would be so beautiful if there was a pope named Francis, who could embrace the idea of disseminating material things, and - but becoming close to nature and understanding how important it is to respect the Earth. And I met some monks in Assisi, and they said, "This will never happen." You know, I talked to the monks because I was doing research. "We'll never have a Pope Francis, because Francis, St. Francis, was too rebellious. We're never going to have a Jesuit or a Franciscan." And I said, "Well, you know, let's hope."

And then, when Benedict stepped down, I was watching television with my daughter, and the white smoke had come up, and so we were waiting to see who would be pope. And we had to wait a long time, like 45 minutes. And in this 45 minutes, I told Jesse how much I wanted a pope named Francis and why, and I told her the story of St. Francis. And she was saying, "Oh, Mommy, I hope you get a Pope Francis." I mean, I'm not a Catholic, but I still wanted a Pope Francis. And we're watching and watching, and then they came out, and, lo and behold, they announce the new pope, and it's Pope Francis. We were like jumping up and down as if we were at the Kentucky Derby and our horse came in. So, I was quite happy, because I knew anyone who took on this name was taking on a great mantle of responsibility.

And I think that Pope Francis is doing his best, within a very intense structure, to do that. He has really simplified all the pomp and circumstance of the church. He's gone into the Vatican Bank. He is standing to - you know, in account for the violations against young people sexually. And he has written such beautiful lessons and letters to us all, and recently in concern - with concern about climate change and our environment. And so, yeah, I mean, I did - I sang at the Vatican Christmas concert. I think I was the only American.

AMY GOODMAN: What did you sing?

PATTI SMITH: I sang "O Holy Night" with the Vatican orchestra, but also a Blake - a lullaby that William Blake wrote for the Christ child, and I set it to music, and the Vatican orchestra played the music.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: What was it called?

PATTI SMITH: "The Cradle Song," and a very pretty little poem. And so I -

AMY GOODMAN: Did "People Have the Power" make its way in there?

PATTI SMITH: Yes, we did perform "People Have the Power," because they requested it. It was a Christmas concert, so I wasn't going to do that, but they really wanted it. I've done it for two years, and I did this last one with my daughter Jesse.

PATTI SMITH: [singing] I was dreamin' in my dreamin'
Of an aspect bright and fair
And my sleepin' it was broken
But my dream it lingered near

In the form of shinin' valleys
Where the pure air recognized
And my senses newly opened
And I awakened to the cry

And the people have the power
To redeem the work of fools
On the meek the graces shower
It's decreed the people rule

People have the power
People have the power
People have the power
People have the power

Believe it!

Where there were deserts, I saw fountains
And like cream the waters rise
And we strolled there together
With none to laugh or criticize

There is no leopard and the lamb
And lay together truly bound
Well I was hopin' in my hopin'
To recall what I had found

I was dreamin' in my dreamin'
God knows a pure view
As I surrender into my sleepin'
And I commit my dream with you

Come on!

People have the power to dream!
People have the power to vote!
People have the power to strike!
People have the power to love!

The power to dream, to rule
To wrestle the world from fools
It's decreed the people rule
Let's decree the people rule

Listen, I believe everythin' we dream
Can come to pass through our union
We can turn the world around
We can turn the earth's revolution

AMY GOODMAN: Patti Smith, the legendary poet, author and singer, performing "People Have the Power" at the Vatican. Her new memoir, M Train, has just been published. We'll play more of our interview with Patti Smith next week. Her previous book, Just Kids, won the National Book Award.

News Thu, 08 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Patti Smith on Closing Guantánamo, Remembering Rachel Corrie and Obama

Beside being known for her music and writing, Patti Smith has been a longtime activist, performing regularly at antiwar rallies and political benefits. She has also written songs about former Guantánamo prisoner Murat Kurnaz and Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old college student who was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer in Gaza in 2003. She talks about these songs and her assessment of the Obama administration.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: And you also, Patti Smith, talk about - in your songs, in your poetry, you wrote about Qana. You wrote about and you performed about Rachel Corrie, who died March 16th, 2003, right before the invasion, the U.S. invasion of Iraq, when she was standing before an Israeli military bulldozer trying to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian family's home, who she knew well.

PATTI SMITH: Well, you know, again, it's the other thing, when - when you cite me as an activist, this always humbles me, in the same way when people call me a musician. I can't call myself a real activist. I have never done anything. I have never put my life on the line. I admire these people so much. And all I can do really is - because that's not my calling in life. I'm not really a deeply political person. I'm more of, I hope, a humanist. But what I can do is to remember these people and to sing of them. I wrote of a fellow in Guantánamo Bay. I wrote - I write of these people and sing of them so their names aren't forgotten.

Rachel Corrie, you know, such a lovely girl, who, you know, she - I'm sure she did not want to give her life. She stood up for what she believed in. And I think she believed, like Anne Frank said, "I believe that people are good at heart." And I think that she never thought that she would die for this cause. I don't think she wanted to die. But she did. And I wanted her to be remembered.

All of my songs are in that vent. They try to take the humanist view, like in "Radio Baghdad." After the Iraq War - war, not really a war - invasion, immoral invasion - I was heartbroken, but there was - what could I do? I wanted to say something, but I didn't want to go on a political rant. So I - what do I know best? I'm a mother. I could - I shut my eyes, imagined how I would feel if I was trying to, you know, comfort my daughter Jesse while bombs were falling on the city. And I took it from that mother's point of view. And she tells of her history, the history of her people, and what is happening, you know, with bombs falling and how the infrastructure of her country is going to be destroyed.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Let's go to a clip from "Radio Baghdad."

PATTI SMITH: [singing] Oh, to the zero
The perfect number
We invented the zero
And we mean nothing to you
Our children run through the streets
And you sent your flames
Your shooting stars
Shock and awe
Shock and awe

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That's a clip from Patti Smith's song, "Radio Baghdad."

AMY GOODMAN: You also talked about Guantánamo, because these were all intertwined. You had the prisons of Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram. You had the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Your song in 2006, "Without Chains," about the Turkish citizen -


AMY GOODMAN: - in Guantánamo, who you mentioned, Murat Kurnaz. And you ended up writing the introduction, right?

PATTI SMITH: Yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: To his book, Five Years of My Life.

PATTI SMITH: Well, I wrote about him because I read an article. Again, it's like I can't, you know, really claim to be doing all the groundwork that others do. So many people, including Vanessa Redgrave, worked so hard to get him out of prison. I wasn't part of that. But when I read about it, and read how he could hardly walk to meet his family - he kept buckling because he had been in chains for so long that his legs, he had lost a lot of muscular sense in his legs - and I was so moved by that and so angered, that I wrote the song. And later his lawyer played the song to him as an expression of how people hadn't forgotten him, that there was somebody that he didn't even know, this girl that writes songs, had written a song for him. And I did meet him. And now he's doing very well. He speaks against social injustice. He has children. And it's very heartening.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's go to "Without Chains."

PATTI SMITH: [singing] Four long years
I wasn't a man
Dreaming in chains
With the lights on
Four long years
With nothing to say
Thoughts impure
At Guantánamo Bay

And I'm learning
To walk
Without chains
To walk
Without chains
To walk
Without chains
Without chains
Without chains

AMY GOODMAN: That's Patti Smith performing "Without Chains."

NERMEEN SHAIKH: You campaigned for Barack Obama in 2008. I wanted to ask - both at your concerts and on your website - how would you evaluate his presidency now, as we near the end of his second term?

PATTI SMITH: Well, I can't say that I so heavily campaigned for - I mean, once he was running, you know, he was our choice. I thought it would be a beautiful and healing thing for us to have the openness and - to elect a black president. But I was worried. My concern about Obama was that he had a good sense of community and knew how to gather young people, and I thought that was a beautiful thing, but I was concerned that he might be green within the political structure. And I just - you know, the last eight years have been so frustrating - I can't imagine how frustrating for him, but also as a citizen who had certain hopes. I hoped that he would close Guantánamo Bay. I hoped that he would not just pull back troops, but also bring us into a different kind of consciousness. But I feel, in the last eight years, not only by necessity, but by design, we've become even more military, more involved in so many different wars and skirmishes that I don't even understand.

And, you know, I'm really actually the wrong person to talk to, because I'm not politically articulate. I feel bad actually talking on this show, where I watch to really find out from you what is happening. But I'll say, as a citizen, I found him - he's so likable. I love his family. I was proud to have him as president. But I don't - I have to say, I don't really understand him. I understand him now when he speaks about the need for gun control. I understand when he is, you know, really speaking from his heart. But so many things have been, you know, cloaked. Why are we doing all these strikes, where - all these drones, all of these things? We're not being informed. That's probably the best way I can say it. I don't feel informed by the Obama administration.

AMY GOODMAN: Patti Smith, the legendary poet, author and singer. We'll return to our conversation with her in a moment.

PATTI SMITH: [singing] In my Blakean year
I was so disposed
Toward a mission yet unclear
Advancing pole by pole
Fortune breathed into my ears
Obey this simple code
One road was paved in gold
One road was just a road

In my Blakean year
Such a woeful schism
The pain in our existence
Was not as I envisioned

AMY GOODMAN: That was Patti Smith performing her song "My Blakean Year." This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

News Thu, 08 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Legendary Patti Smith on Her New Memoir "M Train"

In a Democracy Now! special, the legendary poet, singer, activist Patti Smith joins us for the hour. Her new memoir M Train has just been published. In 2010, her best-selling memoir, Just Kids, won a National Book Award. Just Kids examined her relationship with the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who died in 1989. The new memoir focuses in part on Smith's late husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith, who died five years later. Patti Smith is also celebrating the 40th anniversary of Horses, her landmark debut album, which has been hailed as one of the top 100 albums of all time by Rolling Stone.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In a Democracy Now! special, we spend the hour with the legendary poet, singer, author and activist Patti Smith. She has just published a new memoir titled M Train. It's a follow-up to her best-selling memoir, Just Kids, which won a National Book Award in 2010. Patti Smith is also celebrating the 40th anniversary of Horses, her landmark debut album, which has been hailed as one of the top 100 albums of all time by Rolling Stone. The album was widely praised for its mix of poetry and rock 'n' roll. In 1977, she had her first and only top 20 hit with "Because the Night," a song she co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen.

PATTI SMITH: [singing] Take me now baby here as I am
Pull me close try and understand
Desire and hunger is the fire I breathe
Love is a banquet on which we feed
Come on now try and understand

AMY GOODMAN: Patti Smith's music has inspired countless bands and helped earn her the title of the queen of punk. Her song, "People Have the Power," has become an anthem at protests across the globe. Patti Smith has also been a longtime activist, performing regularly at antiwar rallies and political benefits. In December, she'll perform at the Pathway to Paris concert, which will coincide with the UN climate change conference. Pathway to Paris was co-founded by her daughter, Jesse Paris Smith.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to our interview with Patti Smith.

AMY GOODMAN: Patti Smith, it's great to have you back in the studios of Democracy Now! You were here to inaugurate the studios a few years ago.

PATTI SMITH: Oh, I'm so happy to be back, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you won the National Book Award for Just Kids, and we'll get to that. But we want to start with the new book, M Train.

PATTI SMITH: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, a lot of people in New York ride the M train, but that's not what you're talking about with M Train.

PATTI SMITH: Well, not really. Mine is the M train that I perpetually ride. It's more for mental train, mind train. It's - we all have it, you know, our continual train of thought.

AMY GOODMAN: People think of you as a musician. When you write, which you actually have to do for lyrics, as well, but when you write, do you sit down to write? What - how do you compose a book like Just Kids or M Train?

PATTI SMITH: Well, I'm always writing. And, I mean, I always counsel people when they call me a musician, I really do not have the skills of a musician. I really don't think like a musician, though I love music and I perform and sing. I can't really play anything, but the music that I do have within me goes directly through the word. And when I'm writing lyrics, I'm writing in regard to and respect to the composers of the music, sometimes myself but usually someone like Lenny Kaye or Tony Shanahan or my daughter. So I'm really infusing my words with their music, into their music. But when I'm writing a book, I don't have any responsibility to anyone. I'm solitary. I'm writing on my own. I write by hand. And I write every day. I mean, it's part of my daily discipline. But I think that my love of music and my love of poetry somehow finds its rhythms in my prose - hopefully, I think.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And it's very striking about M Train, you say at the opening of the book that you were actually writing about nothing. And it's also, in terms of its narrative, very different from Just Kids. So could you talk about the experience of writing both and what you intended with one and the other?

PATTI SMITH: Well, when I say nothing, it was really because I had no agenda, no plot, no outline. I had no idea where I was going. It was really literally I got on the train, I didn't have a ticket, I didn't have a destination, I just kept going. With Just Kids, I had tremendous amount of responsibility and a very classic agenda. Robert Mapplethorpe asked me to write our story the day before he died. I had never written a book of nonfiction, and so it took me almost two decades to write that book. That was thinking, gathering my diaries, material, going through a period of mourning and finding my voice, and the whole time feeling very responsible to Robert, to the people in the book, I would say most of them who are dead, and to New York City, which has gone through vast amount of changes since the '60s and '70s. So, my responsibility was profound, chronologically, to make certain that people were represented properly. Even people that I didn't like, I had to find a way to treat them respectfully. And so, it was -

AMY GOODMAN: For the uninitiated, can you explain who Robert Mapplethorpe is, was -

PATTI SMITH: Yes, Robert - yes.

AMY GOODMAN: - and also your relationship with him?

PATTI SMITH: Well, Robert Mapplethorpe, I met in 1967. He was a student at Pratt, though even as a student a fully formed artist. We went through many things in our life together. He became my loved one, then my best friend. And Robert became very famous posthumously for his - some of his more difficult subject matter as a photographer, especially his S&M photography. But all of the work that Robert did, especially the work, one could say, when he was treating difficult subject matter, was done to elevate his subject to the realm of art. So Robert was really the artist of my life. And it's funny, because I still consider him with me. It's very hard for me still to talk about Robert in past tense. But we were so close, and at the end of his life he did want to be remembered. He was on the cusp of notoriety. And he knew that - he trusted me, and he knew that I would represent him well.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: You mentioned that it took two decades for you to write Just Kids and that you went through a period of mourning, and a number of people have pointed out that your work seems to be haunted by loss and by mourning. Could you talk about the relationship between writing, your artistic creation, and loss?

PATTI SMITH: Well, I don't feel that my work is haunted. I don't feel haunted. I feel that I walk with the people that I've lost, and I would be sad not to have them with me. I would rather feel the sorrow of - that sometimes I have of not having my husband or my brother or Robert or other friends than not feeling them at all. But I found that writing, it's almost like you make these people flesh again. You bring them back in a way that other people can know them and know them as a human being. I mean, you know, writing Just Kids, I didn't write it to be for a cathartic - is that right word? - experience for me. I really wrote it because Robert asked me to. But I also wrote it so that people would know Robert as a human being and not merely a young man who took notorious pictures, who died of AIDS. Nothing wrong with that description, but he - there was a lot of backstory, a lot of the story of how - what he sacrificed to be an artist, you know. And I wanted people to know him.

AMY GOODMAN: What did he sacrifice?

PATTI SMITH: Well, I think all artists sacrifice a certain amount of just daily life unfettered. I can't imagine what it would be like not to spend a large portion of my day writing, transforming. I can never relax. I think that's what artists sacrifice in a certain way. I go to the opera, and I'm rewriting the opera. You know, I'm listening to a beautiful passage of Schubert, and I'm writing lyrics to it in my head. Sometimes I wish I could just, you know, be just a person who could one-to-one appreciate things as they are, but always the artist is seeking to transform and to create new ways of looking at something.

AMY GOODMAN: Patti Smith for the hour, talking about her new book, M Train; also Just Kids, for which she won the National Book Award, about her relationship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe; her evaluation of the Obama administration; climate change; and much more. Stay with us.

PATTI SMITH: [singing] Ours is just another skin
That simply slips away
You can rise above it
It will shed easily

It all will come out fine
I've learned it line by line
One common wire
One silver thread
All that you desire
Rolls on ahead

Like a ship in a bottle
Held up to the sun
Sails ain't going nowhere
You can count every one
Until it crashes unto the earth
And simply slips away
You can hide in the open
Or just disappear

It all will come out fine
I've learned it line by line
One common wire
One silver thread

AMY GOODMAN: "Grateful," performed by Patti Smith, as we spend the hour with the great poet, writer, activist, musician. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We continue our conversation with Patti Smith, the legendary poet, singer, author and activist. She has just published a new memoir titled M Train. It's a follow-up to her best-selling memoir, Just Kids, which won a National Book Award in 2010.

AMY GOODMAN: Just Kids is about you and Robert Mapplethorpe. Did you start M Train to talk about your husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith, or to focus more on him? In '94, you lost both him and your dear brother, Todd Smith, who was your road manager, band manager and everything, within weeks.

PATTI SMITH: I never - no. I'm doing another book, my next book, which I know what it's going to be already, will greatly focus on Fred and my brother. I never planned to write about my brother and Fred in this book. I really wanted to be free of any expectation. I wanted to write - I knew I wanted to write about the process of writing. I wanted it to be sort of a more humorous book and just, you know, write about daily life. But they kept seeping in. Fred kept - he just kept entering. I mean, I never wrote so much about Fred since he's passed away. He's always with me, but I haven't been able to write about him. I just couldn't bear it. He just found his way in, in this book. But what's unusual is the next book was not going to speak of this period of our life. So, it just - it just happened. And it happened so many times. I'd write, and I'd even shelve something, and then later he would come back. So I thought, well, he wants to be within the pages, so -

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about Fred, how you met?

PATTI SMITH: I met Fred at Lafayette Coney Island. It's a place where they sell hot dogs in Detroit. I met him on March 9th, 1976. And they threw a party. I didn't like parties much when I was younger. I used to feel confined at them, and I would always say, "Don't throw me some party." So they lured me, because I like hot dogs, by having an afternoon party in Detroit. So I thought, "OK, I'll get some hot dogs." And then all the local musicians were there. So I ate my hot dog, and I was just about to leave. I was with Lenny Kaye. And this fellow was standing - he had a blue overcoat on, and he was just standing against the radiator right near the door. And I looked at him. I didn't know who he was. He looked at me. And I swear to you I thought, "That's the fellow I'm going to marry." I don't know why that happened. It was an instant moment of alchemy. And I did marry him. And -

AMY GOODMAN: Who was this fellow?

PATTI SMITH: Well, he was - his name was Fred, and his nickname was Fred "Sonic" Smith. He was in the MC5, which was one of the most, you know, political bands to come out of Detroit. They played at the - in Chicago in '68. They were involved in a lot of different - a lot of protests against the Vietnam War. But I didn't know much about them. I didn't know he was that fellow. I just knew that this human being in front of me was the person for me. And Lenny Kaye introduced us, and he said, "Patti Smith, Fred Smith. Fred Smith, Patti Smith."

AMY GOODMAN: And neither of you would have had to change your names if you got married.

PATTI SMITH: No. No, we didn't. And we didn't - as some people said, you know, the monogram towels didn't have to be - as if either one of us had monogram towels. But we had a long courtship, a long-distance courtship, and - because he lived in Detroit, I lived in New York. And finally, in '79, I thought I didn't want to be parted from him anymore, so I went and lived in Detroit.

AMY GOODMAN: Is it true he said to you, "I will take you anywhere in the world, if you just have my baby"?

PATTI SMITH: He actually said he wanted a son. And he said - to be democratic, I said "child," but he asked for a son. And I said, "OK." And he took me to French Guiana, because that's where I chose. And I did have a son. And then a little time went by, and he said, "Now I'd like a daughter." And I said, "OK." And it took a little longer, but we had our daughter. So, I'm so glad he asked, too, because my children are the most precious thing that I have.

AMY GOODMAN: Could you just tell us about Guiana, why you chose Guiana and what you did there?

PATTI SMITH: Well, I think that Fred, when he said that he would take me anywhere in the world, figured I'd want to go, you know, to Paris or -

AMY GOODMAN: The Riviera?

PATTI SMITH: Well, not the Riviera, but he knew that I would pick something slightly eccentric or, you know, go visit Arthur Rimbaud's grave in Charleville or something. But I had done that, so I chose Saint-Laurent in French Guiana, because I really loved Genet. And Genet in, I think - I think it's The Thief's Journal or - I can't remember which book it is.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain who Jean Genet is.

PATTI SMITH: Jean Genet, one of our - the great French writers of the 20th century, who really - who was, you know, not a very good thief, but a great poet and prose writer, and wrote of marginalized society in the 20th century, '40s and the '50s, and a great playwright. And I chose French Guiana because Jean Genet always wanted to go to Saint-Laurent prison. He was very Romantic. All of the murderers and the pimps and the worst of the thieves all went to French Guiana. And it was a terrible place. Everyone died of malaria or piranha. But he wanted to go, because he was a great Romantic, and he wanted to go with the worst criminals. But just as he was sent to prison for life for thievery, they closed the prison down, and he never got there. And he mourned that. He wrote about it several times.

AMY GOODMAN: He stole for nothing?

PATTI SMITH: He had actually - he actually said, "I have been shorn of my infamy," because he could never go. And then I knew that he was ill. And I hadn't met him, but I of course knew William Burroughs and Allen Ginsburg and Gregory Corso - I knew his friends. And I thought I was going to go to French Guiana and get something from the earth of French Guiana for him, bring him back some of the soil, bring him back some stones, so he would have that. And then I thought, well, William or someone could give them to him. And so, I told Fred this. And Fred didn't mock me, he didn't protest. He was a man true to his word, and he said, "All right, we'll go to French Guiana." So we did.

AMY GOODMAN: You went to prison there.

PATTI SMITH: We went to prison, yeah.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Jean Genet is also - one of his books, called Prisoner of Love, was published posthumously, in which he wrote about his meetings with the Black Panthers here in the U.S. and also his visits to Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: Could you talk about that book and also, more broadly, what you see as the relationship between that kind of art and politics?

PATTI SMITH: Well, I think that Jean Genet, in his early life, he mixed his sexual encounters, his homosexual persuasion, thieves and murderers - he melded all of that into art and elevated these characters in his work. And as he got older, he got very, very involved in political causes. He was especially concerned with the plight of the Palestinians. And I think that in the - toward the end of his life, he wanted to do the same with these people, elevate them, not as outlaws or terrorists or marginalized people, but people that had a true cause and people that needed to be represented and spoken for. And so, he worked on this book at the end of his life. When he died, he had just finished the galleys on Prisoner of Love. It was - he died in a little Paris hotel, and that manuscript was sitting on the bed stand.

And it's also - you know, it's a very beautiful book, not just because of the political element, but it's beautiful because Genet was never one to sympathize much with women, but the strongest - I shouldn't say characters, because it's a nonfiction book, but the people that emerged the strongest in this book are the women, the women who are left behind in war, the women who wind up taking care of the children, then the grandmothers taking care of the grandchildren, and, you know, the strength and resilience of the women. And I thought that was quite beautiful for him to do at the end of his life.

News Thu, 08 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Murder and Abortion Cases Highlight Continuing Injustices Against Women in Colombia

Two events in the last few weeks have left Colombians wondering if their country is still hostile towards women: the murder of journalist Flor Alba Núñez, and the announcement of possible charges against actress and singer Carolina Sabino for allegedly having an abortion.

Following the killing of the 25-year old journalist, who died from a gunshot wound to the head on September 10, 2015, Colombian trade unions immediately took to the streets to express their repulsion at what had taken place.

The Foundation for Freedom of the Press (Fundacion para la Libertad de Prensa) called on the Colombian public prosecution to act with diligence in this case, while the non-profit organization Reporters Without Borders encouraged people to be more aware of online threats and to take them seriously. Núñez had received threats online due to her reporting.

The organisation concluded their statement with some quite disturbing figures:

Colombia, el tercer país más mortífero para el gremio en el continente americano, se encuentra en el lugar 128, entre 180 países, en la Clasificación Mundial de la Libertad de Prensa 2015 de RSF.

Colombia, the third most most dangerous country in the American continent for labour unionists, is in 128th place out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders’ 2015 World Press Freedom Index.

The blog Journalism in the Americas looked at the cases of murders committed in the country this year:

Luis Carlos Peralta Cuellar, director and owner of radio station Linda Stereo, was shot on February 14 in Doncello in the department of Caquetá. Edgar Quintero, journalist at Radio Luna, was fatally shot by an unknown assailant on March 2 in Palmira in the southwest Colombian department of Valle del Cauca.

CPJ reports that 46 journalists have been killed in Colombia since 1992. The country ranks 8th on the organization's 2014 Global Impunity Index for murders of journalists.

Journalists have come out in protest against the death of a fellow journalist. Héctor Abad Faciolince condemned her murder and tweeted a link to a graphic YouTube video of what appears to be closed-circuit television footage showing the moment of Núñez's death, posted on September 11, 2015:

It is in cold blood and with indifference that the Colombian broadcast journalist Flor Alba Núñez was murdered.

Others made a stand:

Journalists in #Neiva protest saying no to the death of Flor Alba Núñez

‘Attacked my dignity and my rights as a woman’

The day after Núñez's murder, the Office of the Attorney General requested a hearing to press charges against Carolina Sabino for the alleged crime of abortion. The case came to be known when a phone call between Sabino and her sister, the actress Lina Luna, was intercepted as part of an investigation into Luna's former partner.

Her former partner, Andrés Sepúlveda, was a hacker who was sentenced last April to 10 years in prison for spying on negotiators of the peace process between the Colombian government and the militant group FARC.

The same day, Carolina publicly voiced her disapproval on her Twitter account of Attorney General for publishing private information without her consent. In doing so, authorities not only violated her privacy but also her dignity:

Press release for the public's consideration
Bogotá, 11 September 2015
Given the information circulating in the media I would like to say the following:
1. It surprises me that such a personal and painful episode would be put on display for all Colombians to see without consideration for my family, mainly my son Tomás, who doesn't understand the reasoning behind this situation. This hasn't just violated my privacy, but has also attacked my dignity and my rights as a woman, as a person and as a citizen.
2. I have yet to be officially notified that I have to appear at the hearing, to which the Office of the Attorney General will supposedly summon me to file charges against me.
3. I appreciate everyone who has shown me their solidarity.
Carolina Sabino

In Colombia, the law states that abortion is legal only in the following cases: if the pregnancy poses a risk to the woman's health, if the fetus has a deformity, or if the pregnancy occurred as the result of rape.

However, the incident surrounding Sabino's abortion has opened up a debate in Colombia and generated a wave of widespread support for the actress, particularly because of the way in which the news had come to light. Due to public outrage at the way in which the case had been handled, the attorney general revoked the request for a hearing three days later.

These are just a few examples of the many messages of solidarity on social media that Sabino received:

Accusing and persecuting women for making autonomous choices about their bodies is old-fashioned and ridiculous. My solidarity is with Carolina Sabino

Respect the privacy of Carolina Sabino and her reproductive freedom. Don’t use her as a scapegoat just because she is famous

All of my solidarity is with the actress Carolina Sabino. She deserves to have her privacy respected and to be presumed innocent

On the independent journalism website Las2orillas, Juan Mosquera Restrepo also joined in Sabino's defense:

El atentado que ha cometido la Fiscalía al filtrar esta historia privada a medios de comunicación es, a todas luces, una violación del derecho a la intimidad

The attorney general's attack on Sabino by leaking this private story to the media is without a doubt a violation of privacy.

And others like Gustavo Bolivar agreed on the importance of this issue:

There is one thing that we cannot allow: that the powerful ruling clique intrude into one's private life. Today it is Carolina Sabino, tomorrow it could be you #Respect

Violence against women in Colombia

It's not the first time that Eduardo Montealegre, the attorney general of Colombia, has been involved in a controversial case related to women. Earlier in 2015, Montealegre intervened and ordered the re-arrest of former paramilitary Alejandro Cárdenas Orozco, who was a suspect in the kidnapping and rape of journalist Jineth Bedoya 15 years ago, following a prosecutor's decision to end the investigation and release him. The case remains unresolved.

Regarding the accusation against Sabino, Montealegre maintained that he knew nothing about the incident. Hopefully, he will succeed in bringing the perpetrators of Flor Alba Núñez's murder to justice.

Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian president, enacted a law this year that classifies femicide as a separate crime with a maximum punishment of 41 years in prison. A report released by the Economic Commission for Latin America revealed that in 2014, 88 women were murdered by their partners or ex-partners in Colombia.

News Thu, 08 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Cheney, Bush, Give Your Home to a Refugee

Waterfront sunsets, oysters, cool breezes on white sails. I hope the Bushes and the Cheneys enjoyed their long vacation, because now it is time for them to hand over their vacation homes to refugees.

I know, you didn't think your war would touch your mansions, but as Donald Rumsfeld once said, "Stuff happens."

This particular stuff is your fault. Plenty of people knew the invasion and occupation of Iraq would break a region and unleash a nightmare. From a thousand cruise missiles and $18 billion in arms sales, what did you think would come?

What's coming, says the United Nations is at least 850,000 people, fleeing war in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and sub-Saharan Africa. They'd rather be home too.

You bear responsibility and you have the room. The Bush family already had two mansions in Kennebunkport. Governor Jeb just built a third. Misters Rumsfeld and Cheney enjoy private resorts on the Chesapeake bay. It's time they gave up their private decks and rolling lawns. Iraqi women fleeing ISIS would appreciate Rumsfeld's manor house on a hilltop called Mount Misery. They know the real thing.

The Cheney's could house a village or two at their ranch in Jackson Hole. They'd just need to hold their GOP fundraisers elsewhere.

In truth, it's not just the them. This is our world too. Lots of Americans watched the desperate wash up dead in the Mediterranean from the comfort of their second homes this summer. Last year saw a 57% increase in vacation home buying in the US according to the National Association of Realtors. The number has risen 25 percent since 1989 to some 5.1 million properties today. We hardly use them. Almost half of us take no time off. So how about it? Let's hand them over. Mine sleeps two. We can squeeze in more. I will if the Bushes will. How about you?

Opinion Thu, 08 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
US Tax Dollar Expenditures Missing From Ukraine Finance Minister's Records

The US government is missing - or withholding - audit documents about the finances and possible accounting irregularities at a $150 million US-taxpayer-financed investment fund when it was run by Ukraine's Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko, who has become the face of "reform" for the US-backed regime in Kiev and who now oversees billions of dollars in Western financial aid.

Before taking Ukrainian citizenship and becoming Finance Minister in December 2014, Jaresko was a former US diplomat who served as chief executive officer of the Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF), which was created by Congress in the 1990s with $150 million and placed under the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to help jumpstart an investment economy in Ukraine.

After Jaresko's appointment as Finance Minister - and her resignation from WNISEF - I reviewed WNISEF's available public records and detected a pattern of insider dealings and enrichment benefiting Jaresko and various colleagues. That prompted me in February to file a Freedom of Information Act request for USAID's audits of the investment fund.

Though the relevant records were identified by June, USAID dragged its feet on releasing the 34 pages to me until Aug. 28 when the agency claimed nothing was being withheld, saying "all 34 pages are releasable in their entirety."

However, when I examined the documents, it became clear that a number of pages were missing from the financial records, including a total of three years of "expense analysis" - in three-, six- and nine-month gaps - since 2007. Perhaps even more significant was a missing paragraph that apparently would have addressed an accounting irregularity found by KPMG auditors.

KPMG's "Independent Auditors' Report" for 2013 and 2014 states that "except as discussed in the third paragraph below, we conducted our audits in accordance with auditing standards generally accepted in the United States of America," accountant-speak that suggests that "the third paragraph below" would reveal some WNISEF activity that did not comply with generally accepted accounting principles (or GAAP).

But three paragraphs below was only white space and there was no next page in what USAID released.

Based on the one page that was released for 2013-14, this most recent audit also lacked the approval language used in previous audits, in which KPMG wrote: "In our opinion, the consolidated financial statements … present fairly, in all material respects, the consolidated financial position of Western NIS Enterprise Fund and subsidiaries." That language was not in the 2013-14 analysis, as released by USAID.

The KPMG report for 2013-14 does note that "The [audit] procedures selected depend on the auditors' judgment, including the assessment of the risks of material misstatement of the financial statements, whether due to fraud or error. … An audit also includes evaluating the appropriateness of accounting policies used and the reasonableness of significant accounting estimates made by management, as well as evaluating the overall presentation of the financial statements."

That page then ends, "We believe that the audit evidence we have obtained is sufficient and appropriate to provide a basis for our audit opinion." But the opinion is not there.

After I brought these discrepancies to the attention of USAID on Aug. 31, I was told on Sept. 15 that "we are in the process of locating documents to address your concern. We expect a response from the bureau and/or mission by Monday, September 28, 2015."

After the Sept. 28 deadline passed, I contacted USAID again and was told on Oct. 2 that officials were "still working with the respective mission to obtain the missing documents."

Yet, whether USAID's failure to include the missing documents was just a bureaucratic foul-up or a willful attempt to shield Jaresko from criticism, the curious gaps add to the impression that the management of WNISEF fell short of the highest standards for efficiency and ethics.

A previous effort by Jaresko's ex-husband Ihor Figlus to blow the whistle on what he considered improper business practices related to WNISEF was met by disinterest inside USAID, according to Figlus, and then led to Jaresko suing him in a Delaware court in 2012, using a confidentiality clause to silence Figlus and getting a court order to redact references to the abuses he was trying to expose.

Feeding at the Taxpayer Trough

Other public documents indicate that Jaresko and fellow WNISEF insiders enriched themselves through their association with the US-taxpayer-financed investment fund. For instance, though Jaresko was limited to making $150,000 a year at WNISEF under the USAID grant agreement, she managed to earn more than that amount, reporting in 2004 that she was paid $383,259 along with $67,415 in expenses, according to WNISEF's filing with the Internal Revenue Service.

Among the audit documents that I received under FOIA, the "Expense Analysis" for 2004 shows $1,282,782 being paid out as "Exit-based incentive expense-equity incentive plan" and another $478,195 being paid for "Exit-based incentive expense-financial participation rights." That would suggest that Jaresko more than doubled her $150,000 salary by claiming bonuses from WNISEF's investments (bought with US taxpayers' money) and sold during 2004.

Jaresko's compensation for her work with WNISEF was removed from public disclosure altogether after she co-founded two related entities in 2006: Horizon Capital Associates (HCA) to manage WNISEF's investments (and collect around $1 million a year in fees) and Emerging Europe Growth Fund (EEGF), a private entity to collaborate with WNISEF on investment deals.

Jaresko formed HCA and EEGF with two other WNISEF officers, Mark Iwashko and Lenna Koszarny. They also started a third firm, Horizon Capital Advisors, which "serves as a sub-advisor to the Investment Manager, HCA," according to WNISEF's IRS filing for 2006.

According to the FOIA-released expense analyses for 2004-06, the taxpayer-financed WNISEF spent $1,049,987 to establish EEGF as a privately owned investment fund for Jaresko and her colleagues. USAID apparently found nothing suspicious about these tangled business relationships despite the potential conflicts of interest involving Jaresko, the other WNISEF officers and their affiliated companies.

For instance, WNISEF's 2012 annual report devoted two pages to "related party transactions," including the management fees to Jaresko's Horizon Capital ($1,037,603 in 2011 and $1,023,689 in 2012) and WNISEF's co-investments in projects with the EEGF, where Jaresko was founding partner and chief executive officer. Jaresko's Horizon Capital managed the investments of both WNISEF and EEGF.

From 2007 to 2011, WNISEF co-invested $4.25 million with EEGF in Kerameya LLC, a Ukrainian brick manufacturer, and WNISEF sold EEGF 15.63 percent of Moldova's Fincombank for $5 million, the report said. It also listed extensive exchanges of personnel and equipment between WNISEF and Horizon Capital. But it's difficult for an outsider to ascertain the relative merits of these insider deals - and the transactions apparently raised no red flags for USAID officials, nor during that time for KPMG auditors.

Bonuses, Bonuses

Regarding compensation, WNISEF's 2013 filing with the IRS noted that the fund's officers collected millions of dollars in more bonuses for closing out some investments at a profit even as the overall fund was losing money. According to the filing, WNISEF's $150 million nest egg had shrunk by more than one-third to $94.5 million and likely has declined much more during the economic chaos that followed the US-backed coup in February 2014.

But prior to the coup and the resulting civil war, Jaresko's WNISEF was generously spreading money around to various insiders. For instance, the 2013 IRS filing reported that the taxpayer-financed fund paid out as "expenses" $7.7 million under a bonus program, including $4.6 million to "current officers," without identifying who received the money although Jaresko was one of the "current officers."

WNISEF's filing made the point that the "long-term equity incentive plan" was "not compensation from Government Grant funds but a separately USAID-approved incentive plan funded from investment sales proceeds" - although those proceeds presumably would have gone into the depleted WNISEF pool if they had not been paid out as bonuses.

The filing also said the bonuses were paid regardless of whether the overall fund was making money, noting that this "compensation was not contingent on revenues or net earnings, but rather on a profitable exit of a portfolio company that exceeds the baseline value set by the board of directors and approved by USAID" - with Jaresko also serving as a director on the board responsible for setting those baseline values.

Another WNISEF director was Jeffrey C. Neal, former chairman of Merrill Lynch's global investment banking and a co-founder of Horizon Capital, further suggesting how potentially incestuous these relationships may have become.

Though compensation for Jaresko and other officers was shifted outside public view after 2006 - as their pay was moved to the affiliated entities - the 2006 IRS filing says: "It should be noted that as long as HCA earns a management fee from WNISEF, HCA and HCAD [the two Horizon Capital entities] must ensure that a salary cap of $150,000 is adhered to for the proportion of salary attributable to WNISEF funds managed relative to aggregate funds under management."

But that language would seem to permit compensation well above $150,000 if it could be tied to other managed funds, including EEGF, or come from the bonus incentive program. Such compensation for Jaresko and the other top officers was not reported on later IRS forms despite a line for earnings from "related organizations." Apparently, Horizon Capital and EEGF were regarded as "unrelated organizations" for the purposes of reporting compensation.

The KPMG auditors also took a narrow view of compensation only confirming that no "salary" exceeded $150,000, apparently not looking at bonuses and other forms of compensation.

Neither AID officials nor Jaresko responded to specific questions about WNISEF's possible conflicts of interest, how much money Jaresko made from her involvement with WNISEF and its connected companies, and whether she had fully complied with IRS reporting requirements.

Gagging an Ex-Husband

In 2012, when Jaresko's ex-husband Figlus began talking about what he saw as improper loans that Jaresko had taken from Horizon Capital Associates to buy and expand her stake in EEGF, the privately held follow-on fund to WNISEF, Jaresko sent her lawyers to court to silence him and, according to his lawyer, bankrupt him.

The filings in Delaware's Chancery Court are remarkable not only because Jaresko succeeded in getting the Court to gag her ex-husband through enforcement of a non-disclosure agreement but the Court agreed to redact nearly all the business details, even the confidentiality language at the center of the case.

Since Figlus had given some of his information to a Ukrainian journalist, Jaresko's complaint also had the look of a leak investigation, tracking down Figlus's contacts with the journalist and then using that evidence to secure the restraining order, which Figlus said not only prevented him from discussing business secrets but even talking about his more general concerns about Jaresko's insider dealings.

The heavy redactions make it hard to fully understand Figlus's concerns or to assess the size of Jaresko's borrowing as she expanded her holdings in EEGF, but Figlus did assert that he saw his role as whistle-blowing about improper actions by Jaresko.

In a Oct. 31, 2012, filing, Figlus's attorney wrote that "At all relevant times, Defendant [Figlus] acted in good faith and with justification, on matters of public interest, and particularly the inequitable conduct set forth herein where such inequitable conduct adversely affects … at least one other limited partner which is REDACTED, and specifically the inequitable conduct included, in addition to the other conduct cited herein, REDACTED."

The defendant's filing argued: "The Plaintiffs' [Jaresko's and her EEGF partners'] claims are barred, in whole or in part, by public policy, and particularly that a court in equity should not enjoin 'whistle-blowing' activities on matters of public interest, and particularly the inequitable conduct set forth herein." But the details of that conduct were all redacted.

In a defense brief dated Dec. 17, 2012 [see Part One and Part Two], Figlus expanded on his argument that Jaresko's attempts to have the court gag him amounted to a violation of his constitutional right of free speech:

"The obvious problem with the scope of their Motion is that Plaintiffs are asking the Court to enter an Order that prohibits Defendant Figlus from exercising his freedom of speech without even attempting to provide the Court with any Constitutional support or underpinning for such impairment of Figlus' rights.

"Plaintiffs cannot do so, because such silencing of speech is Constitutionally impermissible, and would constitute a denial of basic principles of the Bill of Rights in both the United States and Delaware Constitutions. There can be no question that Plaintiffs are seeking a temporary injunction, which constitutes a prior restraint on speech. …

"The Court cannot, consistent with the Federal and State Constitutional guarantees of free speech, enjoin speech except in the most exceptional circumstances, and certainly not when Plaintiffs are seeking to prevent speech that is not even covered by the very contractual provision upon which they are relying. Moreover, the Court cannot prevent speech where the matter has at least some public interest REDACTED, except as limited to the very specific and exact language of the speaker's contractual obligation."

A Redacted Narrative

Figlus also provided a narrative of events as he saw them as a limited partner in EEGF, saying he initially "believed everything she [Jaresko] was doing, you know, was proper." Later, however, Figlus "learned that Jaresko began borrowing money from HCA REDACTED, but again relied on his spouse, and did not pay attention to the actual financial transactions…

"In early 2010, after Jaresko separated from Figlus, she presented Figlus with, and requested that he execute, a 'Security Agreement,' pledging the couple's partnership interest to the repayment of the loans from HCA. This was Figlus first realization of the amount of loans that Jaresko had taken, and that the partnership interest was being funded through this means. … By late 2011, Jaresko had borrowed approximately REDACTED from HCA to both fund the partnership interest REDACTED. The loans were collateralized only by the EEFG partnership interest. …

"Figlus became increasingly concerned about the partnership and the loans that had been and continued to be given to the insiders to pay for their partnership interests, while excluding other limited partners. Although Figlus was not sophisticated in these matters, he considered that it was inappropriate that HCA was giving loans to insiders to fund their partnership interests, but to no other partners. …

"He talked to an individual at US Agency for International Development (USAID) in Washington DC, because the agency was effectively involved as a limited partner because of the agency's funding and supervision over WNISEF, but the agency employee did not appear interested in pursuing the question."

In the court proceedings, Jaresko's lawyers mocked Figlus's claims that he was acting as a whistle-blower, claiming that he was actually motivated by a desire "to harm his ex-wife" and had violated the terms of his non-disclosure agreement, which the lawyers convinced the court to exclude from the public record.

The plaintiffs' brief [see Part One and Part Two] traced Figlus's contacts with the Ukrainian reporter whose name is also redacted: "Figlus, having previously received an audit from the General Partner, provided it to REDACTED [the Ukrainian reporter] with full knowledge that the audit was non-public. Also on or about October 2, 2012, REDACTED [the reporter] contacted multiple Limited Partners, informed them that he possessed 'documented proof' of alleged impropriety by the General Partner and requested interviews concerning that alleged impropriety."

The filing noted that on Oct. 3, 2012, the reporter told Figlus that Jaresko "called two REDACTED [his newspaper's] editors last night crying, not me, for some reason." (The Ukrainian story was never published.)

After the competing filings, Jaresko's lawyers successfully secured a restraining order against Figlus from the Delaware Chancery Court and continued to pursue the case against him though his lawyer has asserted that his client would make no further effort to expose these financial dealings and was essentially broke.

On May 14, 2014, Figlus filed a complaint with the court claiming that he was being denied distributions from his joint interest in EEGF and saying he was told that it was because the holding was pledged as security against the loans taken out by Jaresko. But, on the same day, Jaresko's lawyer, Richard P. Rollo, contradicted that assertion, saying information about Figlus's distributions was being withheld because EEGF and Horizon Capital "faced significant business interruptions and difficulties given the political crisis in Ukraine."

The filing suggested that the interlocking investments between EEGF and the US-taxpayer-funded WNISEF were experiencing further trouble from the political instability and civil war sweeping across Ukraine.

A Face of Reform

By December 2014, Jaresko had resigned from her WNISEF-related positions, taken Ukrainian citizenship and started her new job as Ukraine's Finance Minister. In an article about Jaresko's appointment, John Helmer, a longtime foreign correspondent in Russia, disclosed the outlines of the court dispute with Figlus and identified the Ukrainian reporter as Mark Rachkevych of the Kyiv Post.

"It hasn't been rare for American spouses to go into the asset management business in the former Soviet Union, and make profits underwritten by the US Government with information supplied from their US Government positions or contacts," Helmer wrote. "It is exceptional for them to fall out over the loot."

When I contacted George Pazuniak, Figlus's lawyer, about Jaresko's aggressive enforcement of the non-disclosure agreement, he told me that "at this point, it's very difficult for me to say very much without having a detrimental effect on my client." Pazuniak did say, however, that all the redactions were demanded by Jaresko's lawyers.

I also sent detailed questions to USAID and to Jaresko via several of her associates. Those questions included how much of the $150 million in US taxpayers' money remained, why Jaresko reported no compensation from "related organizations," whether she received any of the $4.6 million to WNISEF's officers in bonuses in 2013, how much money she made in total from her association with WNISEF, what AID officials did in response to Figlus's whistle-blower complaint, and whether Jaresko's legal campaign to silence her ex-husband was appropriate given her current position and Ukraine's history of secretive financial dealings.

USAID press officer Annette Y. Aulton got back to me with a response that was unresponsive to my specific questions. Rather than answering about the performance of WNISEF and Jaresko's compensation, the response commented on the relative success of 10 "Enterprise Funds" that AID has sponsored in Eastern Europe and added:

"There is a twenty year history of oversight of WNISEF operations. Enterprise funds must undergo an annual independent financial audit, submit annual reports to USAID and the IRS, and USAID staff conduct field visits and semi-annual reviews. At the time Horizon Capital assumed management of WNISEF, USAID received disclosures from Natalie Jaresko regarding the change in management structure and at the time USAID found no impropriety during its review."

One Jaresko associate, Tanya Bega, Horizon Capital's investor relations manager, said she forwarded my questions to Jaresko, but Jaresko did not respond.

Despite questions about whether Jaresko improperly enriched herself at the expense of US taxpayers and then used a Delaware court to prevent disclosure of possible abuses, Jaresko has been hailed by the US mainstream media as the face of reform in the US-backed Ukrainian regime that seized power in February 2014 after a violent coup overthrew democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych.

For instance, last January, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman cited Jaresko as an exemplar of the new Ukrainian leaders who "share our values" and deserve unqualified American support. Friedman uncritically quoted Jaresko's speech to international financial leaders at Davos, Switzerland, in which she castigated Russian President Vladimir Putin:

"Putin fears a Ukraine that demands to live and wants to live and insists on living on European values - with a robust civil society and freedom of speech and religion [and] with a system of values the Ukrainian people have chosen and laid down their lives for."

However, from the opaqueness of the WNISEF records and the gagging of her ex-husband, Jaresko has shown little regard for transparency or other democratic values. Similarly, USAID seems more intent on protecting Jaresko and the image of the Kiev regime than in protecting America tax dollars and ensuring that WNISEF's investments were dedicated to improving the lot of Ukrainian citizens.

News Thu, 08 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Trade Creature Walks Among Us!

Die, monster, die! Every time you think that beast called the Trans-Pacific Partnership - TPP for short - is finished, it comes back like a bad penny; or in this case, trillions and trillions and trillions of bad pennies.

A few weeks ago, talks in Maui collapsed and the massive trade deal, affecting some 40 percent of the world's economy, seemed close to death. But no amount of stakes through the heart or flaming torches or even witch-dissolving buckets of water can seem to keep this behemoth down. There they all were at the Westin hotel in Atlanta on Monday, the trade representatives of a dozen Pacific Rim countries, grinning ear-to-ear at a press conference announcing that after eight years and several days of extra, non-stop finagling, the fix was in.

So now, as we head toward the climax of this horror story, it's going to take all of us villagers storming the monster's lair with our pitchforks to bring TPP down.

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

Like all manmade, fantastical creatures, this TPP thing has been conceived in secret. Top secret. You could even go to jail for divulging its contents. Few have been able to see the actual text - all 30 chapters of it - except for some 600 "cleared advisors," the majority of whom are from big business, and even they have been restricted in what they're allowed to examine.

In May, one of the non-business cleared advisors, Michael Wessel, wrote in Politico that he and his colleagues were also "prohibited from sharing publicly the criticisms we've lodged about specific proposals and approaches. The government has created a perfect Catch 22: The law prohibits us from talking about the specifics of what we've seen, allowing the president to criticize us for not being specific… What I can tell you is that the administration is being unfair to those who are raising proper questions about the harms the TPP would do."

In fact, political scientists Michael Colaresi and Nathan Jensen polled fellow political scientists for The Washington Post and found that their comments "suggest that secrecy has little impact on helping the US get a better deal. Instead, it helps insulate the government from interest-group pressure, whether from business on the left or environmental and labor groups on the left."

Most of all we know so far has been the result of Wikileaks and a twelve-page summary issued by the US Trade Representative when the deal was announced on Monday. The American Prospect's David Dayen said, "There appears to be improvements around the edges: preventing tobacco companies from using the investor-state dispute resolution process, a lower exclusivity period for high-cost biologic drugs. But these are pretty small. The main structure of the agreement was already in place, one designed to protect incumbent profits and sacrifice US jobs, with very dubious claims about labor and environmental standards that have simply never been enforced in other trade agreements, including by this administration."

So, if upheld and obeyed, there are bans on child workers and pledges to allow collective bargaining in countries that have brutally oppressed organized labor. Conservation groups are happy about measures to fight wildlife poaching and overfishing. But there are also patent and market exclusivity rules that restrain competition, worries about food safety, a snare of complications for intellectual property and internet freedom, rules that could allow multinational corporations to run roughshod over the regulations of allegedly sovereign nations and much more. "For us, any TPP is making things worse," Peter Maybarduk, director of the the access-to-medicines program at the public interest group Public Citizen, told The New York Times. The pharmaceutical industry in particular "will have many more tools with which to defend its monopoly business model."

The good news is, there's still time. Many, many details still need to be worked out before the entire TPP text must finally be revealed. Weeks and months will pass before a harshly divided Congress confronts the monster - it may not be until April of 2016, amidst our presidential election year. What's more, as we all know, "The public is demonstrating a lot of dissatisfaction with the traditional ways of doing things in Washington." So former diplomat Clyde Prestowitz told The American Prospect. "This deal is not going to reduce economic inequality in the US Rather it is going to add to it. If some of the presidential candidates pound away at that fact, it is possible to foresee a wave of public frustration and anger leading to defeat of the TPP in the Congress."

Even though, in a squeaker vote this summer, Congress gave President Obama fast-track authority that only allows the House and Senate to vote up or down on TPP without changes or amendments, they still could vote no on this whole monster of a mess. Most of the presidential candidates are opposed, including Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and now, even Hillary Clinton, although she was an advocate when she was secretary of state. "As of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it," she told the PBS Newshour's Judy Woodruff on Wednesday,"…I don't believe it's going to meet the high bar I have set."

And don't forget the 11 other countries that are party to TPP - their legislatures have to sign off, too, and there's tremendous opposition in many of those nations (not to mention upcoming elections in Canada and Japan). Members of our Congress opposed to this deal, like New York Democrat Louise Slaughter, are working closely with their opposite numbers abroad.

Yes, big business will bankroll yet another enormous public relations campaign to push this agreement through, and as the Center for Responsive Politics' Open Secrets blog reported this week, "Over eight years of negotiations, 487 clients paid lobbyists to meet with or contact lawmakers and administration officials to discuss the trade pact… Clients who reported lobbying on TPP accounted for nearly thirty percent of all lobby spending."

But as we're fond of saying, the best way to fight organized money is with organized people. Time to mobilize one more time and finally take this rampaging monster down for good.

Opinion Thu, 08 Oct 2015 10:40:23 -0400
Illegal Logging Threatens Indigenous Rights and Sustainable Development in the Peruvian Amazon

September marks one-year since the murder of Edwin Chota and three other Asháninka natives by a group of illegal loggers. On September 1, 2014 Chota and three other members from his community were traveling to the border of Brazil to join up with Asháninka villagers to discuss the growing problems caused by the illegal timber industry. Shortly before they were able to meet with the neighboring village, they were intercepted by a group of illegal loggers and shot to death. Edwin Chota was the leader of the Asháninka community in Saweto Ucayali and an outspoken advocate for indigenous rights, in which his primary focus was to put an end to the illegal logging industry. Between 2002 and his untimely death, Chota strongly advocated for a peaceful and sustainable community in the Peruvian Amazon. He relentlessly fought the illegal timber industry in order to prevent the destruction of the indigenous Peruvian homeland, asking the Peruvian authorities for recognition of the titles of native properties. Today, out of the 250 thousand acres of land and 243 communities in the region, 212 have been given the titles to their land.[1]

Illegal logging in Peru became prominent in the 1970s in the highlands of Ucayali and Bajo Urubamba. Since then it has spread all throughout the Peruvian Amazon. The practice of illegal logging normally deeply affects the Amazon and is detrimental to the communities in the region. The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Ucayali and Loreto found that between 78 and 88 percent of the timber extraction in the area is done without proper certification.[2] In 2002, INRENA reported to the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) that about 500,000 cubic meters, 40 percent of the national product of timber, is extracted illegally.[3]

The timber extraction business is highly lucrative. There is a high demand for paper, paper packaging, and extract of timber products. The industry enjoys a high profit margin. According to the World Bank, the illegal logging industry realizes some $10 billion in revenue annually.[4] Just as the profits are high, so is the level of environmental destruction. The damage being done is almost irreparable, creating devastating deforestation, loss of biodiversity, risk of animal extinction, and increasing problems related to climate change. The industry triggers a chain of events resulting in a sequence of human rights abuses and violence amongst indigenous communities, including the Asháninkas.

The Asháninka community is one of the largest indigenous groups to be found in South America, with a population estimated up to 70,000 people.[5] The Asháninka's homelands stretch from the state of Acre Brazil to the Amazon rainforests in Peru.[6] While the various communities in this region are located in geographically distinct communities, the Asháninkas are all united through the same lifestyle, language, and beliefs. They maintain very close ties with their neighboring communities, often traveling by boat to pay each other visits and provide support in times of difficulty. The Asháninkas have a variety of cultural beliefs that enrich the country. The community of Edwin Chota is located in Saweto Ucayali, close to Peru's border with Brazil.

The Asháninkas maintain a subsistence lifestyle and as such are inextricably connected to the land on which they live. They use the land for housing, agriculture, hunting, and fishing.[7] Within the communities, responsibilities are divided based on genders. Men are in charge of hunting, which also consists of tapir, boar and monkeys, and women maintain gardens of fruits and vegetables, contributing to a large portion of their nutrition. The Asháninka often paint their faces; it is a tradition they use to exteriorize their feelings and moods. They use the seeds from the achiote trees, which provides them a pigment known as urucum. This pigment has now become one of the world's most important natural food colorants.

The Asháninka people hold a strong spiritual connection with the land. As a community that works together to take care of the rainforest, they periodically migrate to a different location in order to let the land regenerate.[8] This migration exemplifies their dedication to protecting the land and maintaining a sustainable environment that they can return to. Unfortunately, illegal logging in the areas of the Asháninka communities has had a devastating impact on their lifestyle.

The ongoing dispute between illegal loggers and the Asháninka communities, however, is not the first instance in which the livelihood of the Asháninkas has been under threat. During the 1980's and 1990's the terrorist group Shining Path and the counter-insurgency forces threatened the Asháninka, several communities disappeared all together.[9] Foreign companies have also invaded the region to engage in rubber tapping and cultivating coffee plantations. In 2010 the Brazilian and Peruvian governments allowed Brazilian companies to build large dams,[10] leading to further displacement for the Asháninka. Survival International, an international non-governmental organization, is pushing the Brazilian and Peruvian governments to protect the homelands of the Asháninka in the region. COHA stands with Survival International on their efforts to protect the rights and defend the lifestyle of this indigenous group. However, a larger response is needed from the international community - especially from organizations that focus on aiding minority groups.

Since the death of Edwin Chota, the government of Peru has finally started to take action. Ana Jara, the former President of the Council of Ministers (PCM), travelled to Saweto 19 days after the murder of Edwin Chota to deliver medicine and social aid for the Asháninka community. Jara also announced the creation of a High Commissioner for the Fight Against Illegal Logging.[11] While it is reassuring to see the government of Peru take these modest actions in support of the Asháninka communities, these actions from the government should have commenced some 10 years ago when Chota first began advocating for sustainable development and indigenous rights in his community. Moreover, there still remains myriad of issues that the Peruvian government must address. These include: increasing property rights, access to education and healthcare, as well as security for minority groups. It is completely unacceptable that a tragedy must occur in order for the government to take action.

After Chota's death, his community continued to demand property rights to the 80,000 acres that Saweto thinks belong to their community. The Regional Government of Ucayali gave the Saweto Asháninka community the rights to 78,611 acres on January of 2015.[12] Despite this action, the Asháninka continued to express to the Peruvian government their feelings of abandonment and marginalization for not showing involvement in protecting their communities. In line with this was the mismanaging of the investigation of Chota. The main newspaper in Peru, El Comercio, reported that the investigation from the district attorney's office of the province of Ucayali was stalled and took up to 11 days to find only the first body[13] Blood samples were taken to Lima to confirm the victims' identities, which also slowed down the process of finding justice for the families of those murdered.

One year after Edwin Chota's death, the battle with the illegal loggers still drags on. Even after Asháninka communities were presented with land titles. The government has yet to respond to the requests of the Asháninka for access to health and education. The visit of Ana Jara or any other political power figure to Saweto are not enough, since the involvement should be constant and not only when breaking news put this community in the spotlight.

Poverty for disadvantaged communities is a common theme throughout Latin America. This ends up not only harming minority groups, but also the country as whole. It is time to take action on these issues and treat these indigenous communities as citizens, not outsiders. Edwin Chota's efforts to protect these communities should not die with him. The United States and the European Union, whom are the main importers of Peru's timber products, could also play a vital part by creating bans against the illegal timber trafficking.

Most illegal loggers are locals who find themselves with a lack of alternate economic resources that would enable them to provide for their families. Out of desperation, this causes many to take the jobs available in the illegal logging trade without considering the detrimental environmental, social, and economical consequences. This, however, is no excuse for the tremendous damage being caused in the region at all levels. President Ollanta Humala has failed to equalize the expenditures for all regions and has not carried out the promises to reduce poverty that he made during his campaign. The Asháninka are vibrant, intelligent communities that advance sustainable development in the Amazon through their lifestyle and enrich the cultural diversity of the country. Peru must protect these people of the Amazon, and in so doing, protect the pachamama, mother earth.


[1] Diario El Comercio. "A Un Año De La Muerte De Edwin Chota: Bosques Siguen Sin Dueño." El Comercio, 10 Sept. 2015. Web. 11 Sept. 2015.

[2] MARONI Consultures SAC. "Análisis Preliminar Sobre Gobernabilidad Y Cumplimiento De La Legislación Del Sector Forestal En El Perú." Sociedad Peruana De Ecodesarrollo. October 1, 2006. Accessed September 18, 2015.

[3] Ibid

[4] Greenpeace International. "Illegal Logging." Greenpeace International. January 30, 2008. Accessed September 22, 2015.

[5] Survival International. "The Asháninka: The Asháninka of Acre State, Brazil, Have Recently Reported Encountering Dozens of Uncontacted Indians Close to Their Community in Simpatia Village." Survival International. Survival International, n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2015.

[6] "Edwin Chota." Rainforest Foundation US. Rainforest Foundation US, n.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2015.

[7] Survival International

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Diario El Comercio. "Ana Jara Se Dirige a La Comunidad De Saweto." El Comercio, September 20, 2014. Accessed September 17, 2015.

[12] Diario El Comerico. "Ucayali: Excluyen a Saweto De Bosques Para Producción Maderera." El Comercio, April 6, 2015. Accessed September 21, 2015.

[13] Diario EL Comercio. "Encuentran Los Restos Del Tercer Asháninka Asesinado En Ucayali." El Comercio, September 19, 2014. Accessed September 20, 2015.

News Thu, 08 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Encouraged by Study, Iowa Town Pursues Energy Independence

(Photo: Solar Panels via Shutterstock)(Photo: Solar Panels via Shutterstock)

Following the recommendations of a study last fall, a small Iowa town is instituting aggressive strategies to become energy independent by 2030.

The city council in Bloomfield decided to pursue the goal of energy independence after a pair of consultants and the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities last fall produced a study that concluded that with a lot of efficiency upgrades and a relatively modest investment in renewable energy, the town could meet all of its electricity needs with locally-produced power.

One advantage Bloomfield has is a municipal utility, which tends to be more open to reducing power sales, said Tom Wind, one of the authors of the study.

Iowa's 136 municipal electric utilities "have a lot of flexibility to do different things because they are governed by the city council or a local board of trustees," Wind wrote in an e-mail. "For example, they can tailor any new power-supply contract with the flexibility they need to accommodate local wind and solar generation. A community served by an investor-owned utility has no say about where their power comes from."

Bloomfield's city government has taken the lead in the energy-independence initiative.  The Iowa Economic Development Authority, which helped fund the study, is hoping the city can "create a model that could be adopted throughout the state," according to Chris Ball, the city's energy-efficiency director.

"Ambitious" Efficiency Goal

The initiative is pursuing many strategies to get there. For one, the city is one of 10 communities nationwide that has snagged a team of Operation Americorps workers. In Bloomfield, they will conduct energy audits without charge on about 800 of the city's 1,200 homes. They will then make weatherization improvements in about 400 of them. Improvements will be done for free for those with low or moderate incomes, and for the cost of materials only for others.

One of the city's goals is to reduce residential energy use by 5 percent over the next two years.

"That's ambitious," Ball said, "but it's what they wanted to go after."

The broader long-range goal is to reduce energy-use citywide by 23 percent, according to Ball.

The city also has obtained the services of some federal VISTA volunteers to devise an "on-bill" financing system that, Ball hopes, will be ready to pilot yet this fall. The idea is that a pot of city funds would be loaned out to property owners wanting to make efficiency upgrades.

"We hope it will reduce consumption enough that they'll see enough of a reduction in their bill to make the loan payment," Ball said. "We want to be as close to 'bill-neutral' as we can."

Ball said he hopes the city will provide $150,000 this fall to cover improvements for 10 to 15 homes, after which he would apply for USDA funds to cover a second, larger round of loans.

This month, the city council is to vote on a comprehensive ordinance that would establish parameters on energy use within city-owned buildings, according to Ball. It would, for example, establish that thermostats should be set no higher than 70 degrees in the winter and no lower than 75 degrees during working hours in the summer.

It also would prohibit the use of miniature refrigerators, and would call for the use of some energy-saving technologies such as programmable thermostats and occupancy sensors that can turn off lights when they determine that a room is empty.

Solar and Geothermal

Bloomfield also is pursuing the development of a couple of renewable energy sources. The city utility this past summer signed a contract with its wholesale provider that specifically allows the city to develop renewable energy. It is envisioning a 1.5 to 2 megawatt solar array which Ball estimates would meet 8 to 10 percent of the city's 2014 electricity demand.

The Iowa Legislature a few months ago expanded the state's renewable-energy production tax credit to include a credit for 10 megawatts of solar power developed by municipal utilities. Bloomfield has applied for the credit, which Ball said likely would reduce the cost of the project by at least 6 or 7 percent. The Iowa Utilities Board, which is administering the credits, has not yet made any decisions about who will receive the tax breaks.

Ball said some energy companies have told him that they would lock in a rate for the city that would be less than it is currently paying its wholesaler.

Bloomfield also is looking at possibly installing a district geothermal system in the area of the town's central square. The city government has been working on renovating the streetscape around the town square, and now has about half the funds required to do so. Future plans call for replacing streets and sidewalks on the main square with permeable pavers, and for creating a 10-foot-wide strip adjacent to the existing courthouse square. The city is contemplating sinking 300 geothermal wells there.

City personnel recently visited the town of West Union, Iowa, which installed such a system early in 2014.

Ball said that a couple dozen property owners on the square have expressed interest in tapping in to a geothermal system.

Schools, Too?

Although the city government initiated the move towards energy independence, it seems to be spreading. The Davis County Community School District in Bloomfield is investigating several clean-energy developments.

The district has been consulting with three solar developers about installing solar panels, and is considering LED bulbs. Because sensors have worked so well in the high school, Roberts said the district may install them in the rest of its buildings so that lights will automatically shut off in empty rooms.

The district also is considering overhauling its bus fleet. At the helm of the second-most sprawling school district in the state, Davis County schools administrators are interested in transitioning their diesel-fueled buses to propane, compressed natural gas or biogas, said the director of support services, Dan Roberts.

Although getting biogas established likely will be more complicated and costly than the other options, he said, "that's where I think your long-term vision is."

Ball pointed out that energy independence will require buy-in throughout the community, and that the city administration is "trying to generate as much conversation as we can" about becoming self-sufficient with regard to energy. He sees signs that it's happening. One surfaced at his family's home the other evening.

"I have a son in the 8th grade who came home last night and said, 'I have a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) project; do you know anybody who knows how to cut carbon emissions?' "

Aside from the fact that he is just such a person, Ball said, "It was encouraging that a STEM class in the 8th grade is looking at carbon emissions." He sees it as a promising indication that discussion about getting to energy independence "will begin to percolate throughout community in different ways."

News Thu, 08 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
In Sudden Switch, Hillary Clinton Opposes Trans-Pacific Partnership

Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that she is likely to oppose the Pacific trade deal negotiated by the Obama administration, a notable departure from the White House on one of the president's top foreign policy initiatives.

Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president, staked out her position against the deal under increasing pressure from organized labor to join unions in their opposition. Battling the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as the pending agreement is known, has been a top priority for progressives.

"Based on what I know so far, I can't support this agreement," Clinton said in a statement.

Although Clinton hedged her opposition to the deal, her comments are likely unwelcome at the White House amid its aggressive push to finalize it. Clinton's opposition represents her biggest break yet with the White House. It follows several other policy announcements she has made in recent weeks that put her at odds with the administration in which she served as secretary of State, and which she has been reluctant to criticize.

She earlier complicated matters for the White House by unequivocally opposing the Keystone pipeline, plunging into a debate she had pledged to sit out until the administration decided whether to approve the project, which would transport oil from Canadian tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries. She said she had not expected the decision to take so long and voters deserved to know where she stood.

Clinton also announced that she would push for a key change to Obamacare, eliminating the so-called Cadillac tax on costly health insurance plans. The tax cut has been high on the agenda of teachers' and other unions, whose members face paying the tax, at a time when Clinton has worked to secure their endorsement. Clinton is also pushing for a no-fly zone in Syria, which Obama does not support.

The Clinton campaign alerted the White House of her position before making the announcement, according to an administration official who declined to comment further on what was described as a private conversation.

"The politics of the trade issue, particularly on the Democratic side of the aisle, are really tough," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said earlier Wednesday. "There is a vigorous disagreement inside the Democratic Party about the wisdom of the approach that the president makes."

Clinton rival Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator, has used his early opposition to the Pacific trade agreement in building a formidable coalition of support.

"As someone who voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Central American Free Trade Agreement and Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China and who has helped lead the effort against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, I am glad that Secretary Clinton has now come on board," Sanders said in a statement.

Another of Clinton's opponents quickly accused her of lacking political courage after she revealed her concerns about the trade deal Wednesday ahead of the first Democratic debate next week in Las Vegas.

"That's a reversal!" former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a longtime opponent of the trade deal, said in a statement. "Secretary Clinton can justify her own reversal of opinion on this, but I didn't have one opinion eight months ago and switch that opinion on the eve of debates."

Clinton had indeed spoken out dozens of times over the years about the promise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying it created opportunities to build relationships, increase cooperation and strengthen national security. But she was always careful to say that the deal needed to be negotiated properly. Trade talks are conducted in secret and after Clinton resigned as secretary of State, she was no longer part of the process.

"I still believe in the goal of a strong and fair trade agreement in the Pacific as part of a broader strategy both at home and abroad, just as I did when I was secretary of State," Clinton said in her statement.

"But the bar here is very high and, based on what I have seen, I don't believe this agreement has met it." She said she is not confident the deal would create jobs, raise wages or strengthen national security.

Clinton said that too many earlier trade deals have fallen short and lawmakers need to be more skeptical on future agreements.

"The risks are too high that, despite our best efforts, they will end up doing more harm than good for hardworking American families whose paychecks have barely budged in years," her statement said.

Clinton would have limited authority to unravel the deal if Obama manages to get it in place and she succeeds him in the White House. But there are likely provisions that would allow her to slow the pace at which it is implemented and, depending on how the deal unfolds, possibly preclude countries from participating.

Although many progressives loudly oppose the deal, mainstream Democrats do not necessarily share their views.

In a poll in May by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, 58% of Democrats said "free trade agreements have been a good thing for the US," as opposed to 33% who said they have been a bad thing. Among Republicans, 53% said trade agreements had been good versus 35% who said they had been bad.

Clinton, who has been a champion of other such agreements, reflected in an interview with "PBS NewsHour" on Wednesday on how they have not always had the intended effect.

"We've learned a lot about trade agreements in the past years," she said. "Sometimes they look great on paper. I know when President Obama came into office, he inherited a trade agreement with South Korea. I, along with other members of the Cabinet, pushed hard to get a better agreement. We made improvements. Now, looking back on it, it doesn't have the results we thought it would have."

Times staff writers David Lauter, Don Lee and Michael A. Memoli contributed to this report.

News Thu, 08 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400