Truthout Stories Fri, 27 Feb 2015 11:54:27 -0500 en-gb Exporting Torture: Former Chicago Police Detective Tied to Brutality at Guantanamo

A former Guantánamo Bay interrogator involved in torture was also a longtime Chicago police officer known for abusing people of color. According to The Guardian, Richard Zuley spent three decades as a notoriously brutal detective on the Chicago police force. From 1977 to 2007, Zuley used tactics including torture, threats and abuse to elicit confessions from suspects, the majority of whom were not white. One of those confessions was later ruled to be false, and the sentence was vacated. Zuley's methods included shackling suspects to walls through eyebolts for several hours, allegedly planting evidence, and issuing threats of harm to family members and sentences of the death penalty unless a suspect confessed. Zuley was also accused of brutal methods at Guantánamo Bay, where he was a reserve officer in charge of interrogating a prisoner who said he made a false confession due to torture. The Guardian report comes just after the notorious Chicago police commander Jon Burge was released from a halfway house after he served four-and-a-half years for lying under oath about torturing prisoners in Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s. We speak to Spencer Ackerman, national security editor at The Guardian.


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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We're speaking to Spencer Ackerman of The Guardian. Last week, he published a story headlined "Bad Lieutenant: American Police Brutality, Exported from Chicago to Guantánamo." The article looked at Richard Zuley, who used torture to extract confessions from minorities for years in Chicago and then went on to work at Guantánamo. This is a clip of Lathierial Boyd, one of the innocent men Zuley interrogated in Chicago.

LATHIERIAL BOYD: I was mounted to the wall and floor. I remained in that room through two lineups. And I remember I asked—after that second lineup, I asked Zuley if anybody had picked me out of the lineup, and he said no. And I said, "See, I told you. You got the wrong guy. I haven't done anything." He smiled at me and said, "We're charging you anyway."

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Lathierial Boyd served 23 years in prison before he was found to be wrongfully convicted. So, Spencer, can you talk more about Richard Zuley and how you came across his police record?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Sure. The Guardian excerpted the Guantánamo Bay manuscript of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, whose interrogation at Guantánamo Bay is just one of the most brutal that we've ever known about thus far. And my editor asked me if I would go through the manuscript ahead of the excerpt and just see if there were any news stories we might want to do out of it. And one of the footnotes mentioned that in government reports and other sources, including a really fantastic piece of reporting by Jess Bravin of The Wall Street Journal, his 2013 book, The Terror Courts, the lead interrogator during the most intense torturous period of Slahi's interrogation was a Chicago police officer named Richard Zuley.

And I thought, "Well, I had never heard about a U.S. police officer being in any U.S. military or intelligence interrogation facility. What must his record in Chicago have been like?" and, from there, found some court cases, including Lathierial Boyd's federal civil rights case against Zuley, got in contact with his lawyer, found out about some more cases and started pulling records to find out what this guy's record in Chicago was. And we found some really ominous parallels between how he policed Chicago streets and what he did in Guantánamo Bay torture centers.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened with Lathierial ultimately?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Lathierial Boyd, after 23 years of being put in prison on a murder that there was never any physical evidence that he committed, was found in 2013 by an investigation from the Cook County state's attorney to have his conviction voided, as it was completely baseless, and they found there was no evidence that could justify keeping him in prison, even though he had served 23 years.

AMY GOODMAN: And the suit?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: And now, after he got out, they file—Lathierial Boyd and his attorney, Kathleen Zellner, filed a civil rights suit to try and get some kind of justice for Lathierial and, as well, try and create both more disclosure around the way Chicago police practices have operated, including Richard Zuley.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's go back to one of Zuley's victims—this one, though, not in Chicago, in Guantánamo—Mohamedou Ould Slahi. During interrogations at Guantánamo, you report—approved then by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld—Slahi detailed the treatment in his memoir, which was just published. In this clip from The Guardian's video report about his case, we hear his lawyer Nancy Hollander and actor Dominic West reading from his diary.

NANCY HOLLANDER: Mohamedou was subjected to a whole list of torture techniques that had been approved by the secretary of defense.

YAHID OULD SLAHI: [translated] They told him they had taken my mother from Mauritania and put her in a single cell in Guantánamo. And if he didn't give officials the information they expected, she would be severely tortured.

NANCY HOLLANDER: Significantly, they included what in Guantánamo was known as the "frequent flyer program." And they called it that because they wouldn't let people sleep. And they proceeded to torture him.

MOHAMEDOU OULD SLAHI: [read by Dominic West] "Blindfold the [expletive] if he tries to look." One of them hit me hard across the face, and quickly put the goggles on my eyes, ear muffs on my ears, and a small bag over my head. They tightened the chains around my ankles and my wrists; afterwards, I started to bleed. I thought they were going to execute me.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohamedou Ould Slahi remains at Guantánamo to this day and is yet to be charged with a crime. Spencer Ackerman, if you can talk about this and then also talk about whether the Chicago media is following up on these explosive reports where you're making these connections?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Yeah, so, it wasn't just that the military couldn't charge—or anyone couldn't charge—Slahi with anything. Military investigators for the prosecution found that the reason why they couldn't charge him with anything is what Richard Zuley did to Mohamedou Slahi, that the torture that Slahi was subjected to by the United States of America so tainted all of the evidence in this case that it became fundamentally unchargeable. In 2010, by the way, a federal judge ruled in Slahi's habeas case that he had to be let go. Barack Obama's Justice Department has appealed that decision, and that's why Slahi is still in Guantánamo Bay today.

Now, as we were reporting this, we found that there were these connections between the way Zuley tortured Slahi and his police work as a Chicago detective. Slahi was short-shackled for extended periods of time. We found that happened to Lathierial Boyd. We found that happened to Benita Johnson. We found that happened to Andre Griggs. Johnson and Griggs, for instance, were shackled for between, they say, 24 and 30 hours in their cases. Andre Griggs was suffering through heroin withdrawal during that time, and he wasn't given medication for that.

This was done as a method to try and get Griggs and Johnson to confess to crimes that they say they never committed. Those confessions formed the vast majority of the evidence against them. And this was something that we saw, as well, Zuley doing at Guantánamo. He told Slahi, "You can either be a witness, or you can be a defendant." All he had to do was confess. Slahi's torture, much like with Griggs and with Johnson, was so bad that eventually he just said, "I'll sign whatever you put in front of me." As he put it in his book, "If you want to buy, I am selling."

Before that happened, as just one of the methods that Zuley employed, Zuley threatened to have his mother taken to Guantánamo Bay in what he described as its all-male environment. I don't think it's particularly hard to understand that to be a rape threat.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, before we go, Chicago has a long history of this issue of police torture. This month, the notorious Chicago police commander, Jon Burge, was released from a halfway house after he served four-and-a-half years for lying under oath. But what he's accused of was leading a torture ring that interrogated more than a hundred African-American men in Chicago in the 1970s and '80s. They routinely used electric shock, suffocation with plastic bags, typewriter covers, among other methods, to extract confessions from men who were later shown to be innocent. The Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project documented some of the men's stories. This is Shadeed Mu'min.

SHADEED MU'MIN: He handcuffed me real tight, know what I'm saying? He cut my circulation off. He went out of the room and stayed, I guess, for about an hour, and then came back and tried to talk to me. What could I tell him, you know, about the robbery? I told him, "I couldn't tell you anything about no robbery. I know nothing about what you're talking about." And he said then that, "Oh, you're going to play tough." Said, "You will tell us, before you leave here, what we want to know." Said, "I've been known to get out of peoples what I want." He got real upset and said, "You will talk, you black mother [bleep]." He said, "I'll make you talk, or kill you as I want." So, I still don't understand. So he—in anger, he rushed to the typewriter and grabbed the plastic cover off there and just crammed it down over my head. And it's like he was a madman. And several officers were helping him. But I was trying to get my arms out from behind the chair, but I couldn't do anything. And I passed out. And like I say, he gave me a breath of air. And I came to, conscious. And he—"You ready to talk?" And I said, "I don't have anything to tell you still." So he do it again. The third time, out of the third time, that's when I told him, I said, "I'll tell you whatever you want to know, man. Just don't do this no more."

AMY GOODMAN: That's Shadeed Mu'min speaking about his interrogation by former Chicago police commander Jon Burge. Statistics compiled by the People's Law Office show Chicago has paid at least $64 million in settlements and judgments in civil rights cases related to Burge's police abuses alone. The Chicago Reader reported some of the Burge techniques may have been learned when he was in Vietnam, where he served as a military policeman. Spencer, we're going to end on Jon Burge. Any connection to Richard Zuley?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: So, not directly. Even though they served in Chicago around the same time, supposedly, from everyone I've talked to, including Flint Taylor, who's Burge's probably chief legal investigator, doesn't seem like they actually worked together. Nevertheless, there is a context for this in Chicago. There's a long-standing tradition of police abuses, primarily against African-American residents of Chicago. It sits now, with what we're reporting, at this uncomfortable intersection between both that long and nefarious history of abuse against African Americans, primarily, in Chicago and this post-9/11 era in which secret detentions, longtime interrogations without charge, and so forth, seem to be now increasingly influencing domestic police work.

AMY GOODMAN: And is the Chicago media picking it up, especially in this time of a mayoral re-election race?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: They seem to be running reports based primarily on the Chicago police denial given to us. We'll see if that changes.

AMY GOODMAN: Spencer Ackerman, national security editor at The Guardian, where he's published a two-part series on police abuse in Chicago, "The Disappeared: Chicago Police Detain Americans at Abuse-Laden 'Black Site'" and "Bad Lieutenant: American Police Brutality, Exported from Chicago to Guantánamo." We'll link to them at our website, as well as your interview, as well, with Victoria Suter.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we go to northern Iraq, to Erbil, to speak with journalist Patrick Cockburn. Stay with us.

News Fri, 27 Feb 2015 11:49:12 -0500
Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership Promises Echo Clinton's on NAFTA

NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement – was sold with promises of jobs and prosperity on all sides of the border. What really happened was that an increased trade deficit sucked demand and jobs out of the U.S. economy; workers lost bargaining power, resulting in pay and benefit cuts; and income inequality rose as corporations pocketed the wage differential.

Now the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is being sold with literally the same promises. Here is why TPP is not going to work out better than NAFTA did.

Note the pitch used to sell NAFTA by President Clinton and former presidents Ford, Carter and George H. W. Bush as they were featured together in this September 14, 1993 news report.

From the transcript:

"I believe that NAFTA will create American jobs in the first two years of its effect. I believe if you look at the trends … over one-third of our economic growth, and in some years over one-half of our net new jobs came directly from exports. And on average, those export-related jobs paid much higher than jobs that had no connection to exports.

I believe that NAFTA will create a million jobs in the first five years of its impact. And I believe that that is many more jobs than will be lost, as inevitably some will be as always happens when you open up the mix to a new range of competition.

NAFTA will generate these jobs by fostering an export boom to Mexico."

"Many Americans are still worried that this agreement will move jobs south of the border because they've seen jobs move south of the border and because they know that there are still great differences in the wage rates. There have been 19 serious economic studies of NAFTA by liberals and conservatives alike; 18 of them have concluded that there will be no job loss."

Now here is President Bill Clinton at the NAFTA signing.

Clinton said NAFTA will "promote more growth, more equality, better preservation of the environment and a greater possibility of world peace." He also said it will "pull down foreign trade barriers" and that it will create 200,000 more jobs in the U.S. by 1995.

The Results Of NAFTA

Lori Wallach writes in "NAFTA at 20: One Million U.S. Jobs Lost, Higher Income Inequality":

Not only did promises made by NAFTA's proponents not materialize, but many results are exactly the opposite.

Such outcomes include a staggering $181 billion U.S. trade deficit with NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada and the related loss of 1 million net U.S. jobs under NAFTA, growing income inequality, displacement of more than one million Mexicancampesino farmers and a doubling of desperate immigration from Mexico, and more than $360 million paid to corporations after "investor-state" tribunal attacks on, and rollbacks of, domestic public interest policies.

The study makes for a blood-boiling read. For instance, we track the specific promisesmade by U.S. corporations like GE, Chrysler and Caterpillar to create specific numbers of American jobs if NAFTA was approved, and reveal government datashowing that instead, they fired U.S. workers and moved operations to Mexico.

The Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) concluded in "Did NAFTA Help Mexico? An Assessment After 20 Years":

… Mexico ranks 18th out of 20 Latin American countries in growth of real GDP per person, the most basic economic measure of living standards; Mexico's poverty rate of 52.3 percent in 2012 was almost identical to the poverty rate of 1994; real (inflation-adjusted) wages for Mexico were almost the same in 2012 as in 1994; and unemployment has increased significantly.

Robert Scott at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), in "NAFTA's Legacy: Growing U.S. Trade Deficits Cost 682,900 Jobs" wrote that "it's clear that things didn't work out as Clinton promised":

NAFTA led to a flood of outsourcing and foreign direct investment in Mexico. U.S. imports from Mexico grew much more rapidly than exports, leading to growing trade deficits… Jobs making cars, electronics, and apparel and other goods moved to Mexico, and job losses piled up in the United States, especially in the Midwest where those products used to be made. By 2010, trade deficits with Mexico had eliminated 682,900 good U.S. jobs, most (60.8 percent) in manufacturing.

Claims by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that NAFTA "trade" has created millions of jobs are based on disingenuous accounting, which counts only jobs gained by exports but ignores jobs lost due to growing imports. The U.S. economy has grown in the past 20 years despite NAFTA, not because of it. Worse yet, production workers' wages have suffered in the United States. Likewise, workers in Mexico have not seen wage growth. Job losses and wage stagnation are NAFTA's real legacy.

Today, The Same Promises

Today corporate lobbying groups and President Obama make the same promises about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They say that it will increase the number of jobs in the U.S. by increasing exports. But they never mention that imports exceed exports, resulting in an enormous, humongous trade deficit.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce promotes trade deals by ignoring that our imports exceed exports, which creates a trade deficit that costs jobs, by saying, "Exports have been one of the rare bright spots in the American economy. They have risen by more than 50% over the past five years. More than 38 million American jobs depend on trade."

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue, speaking to the Economic Club of Grand Rapids on Monday, said, "When it comes to the benefits of trade, American workers are among the biggest winners. Commerce with our trade agreement partners supports more than 17 million American jobs."

"Approving these agreements would put hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work, jumpstart our economy, and restore America as a global leader," he said.

President Obama, in his State of the Union address, implied that the U.S. would gain jobs from TPP, saying, "21st century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas. Today, our businesses export more than ever, and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages. … [N]inety-five percent of the world's customers live outside our borders, and we can't close ourselves off from those opportunities. More than half of manufacturing executives have said they're actively looking at bringing jobs back from China. Let's give them one more reason to get it done."

The administration has also given specific promises that TPP will create 650,000 new U.S. jobs. This was fact-checked and debunked by The Washington Post, in "The Obama administration's illusionary job gains from the Trans-Pacific Partnership." The Post's Glenn Kessler concluded, "Our advice remains: be wary whenever a politician claims a policy will yield bountiful jobs. In this case, the correct number is zero (in the long run), not 650,000, according to the very study used to calculate this number. Administration officials earn Four Pinocchios for their fishy math."

Why TPP Is Likely To Cost Jobs And Worsen Inequality

TPP is a massive "trade" agreement with countries around the Pacific rim, including Vietnam. Vietnam has an average minimum wage of less than a dollar an hour.

A September 2013 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) titled, "Gains from Trade? The Net Effect of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on U.S. Wages," looked at the effect of past trade agreements and estimated the effect of TPP. The study estimated that the TPP would force wages down (even more) for almost all U.S. workers.

The CEPR study estimated that U.S. economic gains would be only 0.13 percent of gross domestic product by 2025. In exchange for these small gains, according to the study, "… most workers are likely to lose—the exceptions being some of the bottom quarter or so whose earnings are determined by the minimum wage; and those with the highest wages who are more protected from international competition."

In "'Trade' Deal Would Mean a Pay Cut for 90% of U.S. Workers," from September 2013, Public Citizen's Eyes on Trade blog explains just who would lose:

[CEPR's] Rosnick shows that if we assume that trade has contributed just 15% of the recent rise in inequality (a still conservative estimate), then the TPP would mean wage losses for all but the richest 10% of U.S. workers. So if you're making less than $87,000 per year (the current 90th percentile wage), the TPP would mean a pay cut.

An additional worry is what would happen to Central American and Mexico and the effect of that on the U.S. NAFTA doubled migration northward as small farms in Mexican and Central American were wiped out. December's post, Immigrant Groups Warn Fast Track/TPP Could Cause More Migration North reported on a call with the leaders of immigrant rights groups who warned that TPP could force a second northward migration as jobs in Mexico and Central America are moved to low-wage, low-rights countries like Vietnam.

An AFL-CIO report released Tuesday, described in "TPP: Four Potential Partners Don't Comply with International Labor Rights," explains why American workers should be concerned:

A new AFL-CIO report released today finds that four nations that would be major players under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are out of compliance with international labor standards and, therefore, with the commitments they would undertake under the TPP. The report—The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Four Countries That Don't Comply with U.S. Trade Laws—finds that workers in Mexico, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei face ongoing and systematic abuse and violations of workers' rights with the complicity or direct involvement of the governments.

The report points out that previous FTAs have forced countries to compete on the basis of lowering labor costs and attracting business by ignoring, or in some cases actively interfering with, the fundamental labor rights.

By not requiring fundamental changes of these countries first, the TPP gives away leverage that could be used to protect workers and raise standards. If workers do not have the legal freedoms to act collectively, they will not be able to exert the power needed to raise wages, increase worker protections or gain the social policies necessary for the creation of a middle class and broadly shared prosperity.

The president and corporate lobbyists promise that TPP will have strong labor standards to protect Americans from having even more jobs shipped overseas. However, TPP is being kept secret, even from congressional staff who could analyze these promises. TPP will be pushed through Congress using "fast track" trade promotion authority that allows Congress only 90 days to debate and conduct an up-or-down vote after it and the public first see the agreement. This does not give Congress and the public enough time to read and fully understand this enormous, complex agreement and especially not enough time to consider the ramifications on our economy and our working people.

The question to ask is, if this agreement is so good for us, why is it kept secret, and why are they insisting on rushing it through before the public has time to understand it and rally opposition if opposition is warranted?

P.S.: Obama In 2008 Said "NAFTA Was A Mistake"

Here is Barack Obama campaigning in 2008, saying that corporate lobbyists negotiated trade agreements like NAFTA and we need to renegotiate it.

"It is absolutely true that NAFTA was a mistake … NAFTA was an enormous problem."

"You travel through communities in my home state of Illinois … You will see entire cities that have been devastated…"

Opinion Fri, 27 Feb 2015 11:44:49 -0500
A Black Site in Chicago? Police Accused of Running Secret Compound for Detentions and Interrogations

An explosive new report in The Guardian claims the Chicago police are operating a secret compound for detentions and interrogations, often with abusive methods. According to The Guardian, detainees as young as 15 years old have been taken to a nondescript warehouse known as Homan Square. Some are calling it the domestic equivalent of a CIA "black site" overseas. Prisoners were denied access to their attorneys, beaten and held for up to 24 hours without any official record of their detention. Two former senior officials in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice are calling on their colleagues to launch a probe into allegations of excessive use of force, denial of right to counsel and coercive interrogations. We speak to Spencer Ackerman, national security editor at The Guardian. We are also joined by Victoria Suter, who was held at Homan Square after being arrested at the NATO protests in Chicago in 2012.


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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today with an explosive new report that Chicago police continue to operate a secret compound for detentions and interrogations, often with abusive methods. According to The Guardian, detainees as young as 15 years old have been taken to a nondescript warehouse known as Homan Square. Some are calling it the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site overseas. Prisoners were denied access to their attorneys, beaten, and held for up to 24 hours without any official record of their detention. Brian Jacob Church, who was arrested during Chicago’s 2012 anti-NATO protests, said he was shackled to a bench for 17 hours without being read his Miranda rights.

BRIAN JACOB CHURCH: When they first arrested us, they took us to this building. We were never booked. We were never processed. I was in Homan Square for about 17 hours, handcuffed to a bench, before I was actually finally allowed to see an attorney. So, essentially, the bench was about this wide, and at the back it had a bar that came across like this. They wouldn’t unhandcuff to sleep, so when I slept, I slept with like my hand cuffed to the bar, and I kind of slept like this. All of our ankles were handcuffed together, as well. I asked them to make a phone call. I asked, you know, to talk to my lawyers. And again, they pointed at the phone number and was like, "Oh, you’re not getting any phone calls from here." And they were like, "Just tell us what we want to know, and you can go home."

NERMEEN SHAIKH: At least one victim was found unresponsive in an interrogation room and later pronounced dead. The Guardian says the detainees brought to the Homan site, quote, "are most often poor, black and brown."

AMY GOODMAN: Now, two former senior officials in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are calling on their colleagues to launch a probe into allegations of excessive use of force, denial of right to counsel, and coercive interrogations.

For more, we’re joined right now by Spencer Ackerman, national security editor at The Guardian, where he’s published a two-part series on police abuse in Chicago. This latest story is headlined "The Disappeared: Chicago Police Detain Americans at Abuse-Laden 'Black Site.'" In his first installment last week, Spencer Ackerman reported on a Guantánamo Bay interrogator involved in torture who was also a longtime Chicago police officer known for abusing people of color. We’re going to go through all of this.

Spencer, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us more about this, about Homan.

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Homan Square is a place where a number of undercover Chicago police task forces operate—the anti-gang force, the anti-drug task force—and it operates out of a warehouse on Chicago’s West Side that just sort of fades into the background view of the neighborhood. If you look out on the façade, as we’ve done, it doesn’t appear to have any normal police insignia signifying that it’s a precinct, like you would at your local police precinct. If you look a little closer, the signs are there. There’s a checkpoint out front with a yellow barrier to block traffic. There are both marked and unmarked cars in the yard. There’s an evidence locker in Homan Square that the cops have been saying makes the whole place public, and allows people to go look for that.

But as we started investigating, we had heard reports from lawyers and from police reform activists, criminologists, that what happens in Homan Square, beyond the sort of above and visible practices, involve things that you would only really hear about at CIA black sites overseas—extended detentions in which people are shackled and don’t have records made of where they are. That might seem, on the face of it, mundane, until you think: Relatives and lawyers have no way, when someone’s taken there, to figure out where these people are, which, as we had heard again from the attorneys who had dealt with police there, was a really disturbing thing. Finally, they had told us that when they went, as attorneys, to try and seek out their clients at Homan Square, on the few times that they were able to find out that someone was there, police would either turn them away or, when they tried to ascertain whereabout information over the phone, they would get the runaround and people maybe not telling them that they were sure that their clients had been there, or asking them, "How do we know that you’re actually a lawyer?" We subsequently found out that, you know, kind of sotto voce, in 2011, ’12, local activists and lawyers had brought this up with the Chicago police and had gotten the police to change some of their procedures, to make it clear that attorneys were allowed to visit. But we had found cases even after that where attorneys had said that they had been waiting outside Homan Square for the better part of an hour and gotten turned away.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to get your response to the Chicago Police Department’s statement to your reports in The Guardian about Homan Square. They wrote, quote, "CPD abides by all laws, rules and guidelines pertaining to any interviews of suspects or witnesses, at Homan Square or any other CPD facility. If lawyers have a client detained at Homan Square, just like any other facility, they are allowed to speak to and visit them. It also houses CPD’s Evidence Recovered Property Section, where the public is able to claim inventoried property." So could you respond to what the Chicago Police Department’s response was to the report, and also elaborate who exactly first likened this facility to a CIA black site? One of the people whom you interviewed for the piece?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: That’s correct. To go first to the Chicago police’s response to our story—and I appreciate you allowing me the time to talk about it—notice all the things they don’t say. They don’t say when attorneys have the right to talk to their clients there. They don’t say when attorneys get to access their clients at Homan Square. They don’t say what those booking—what those records are. They don’t say—that would document someone’s appearance at Homan Square. They don’t say when those records have to be made. They don’t say in what method those are supposed to be public. They never address at all the central question of someone being booked at Homan Square, of records being made available to the public, available to their lawyers and available to their families there. We asked the police those questions when they issued us and other news organizations those statements, and we’ve still yet to hear anything. For that matter, before we published the story, days before we published the story, we sent an extensive list of questions to the police. We got nothing. I went to Homan Square on Friday and was promptly turned away. There are lots of questions here that the police really do have to answer that are outstanding.

AMY GOODMAN: The mayor was running for—was running again for his office. Did you go to Mayor Emanuel himself or to his office to ask some questions?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: I didn’t go to Mayor Emanuel’s office. One of my colleagues at The Guardian has put questions to Rahm Emanuel, and we’ll see if we get any answers from that.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to bring into the conversation Victoria Suter, who traveled to Chicago on May 12, 2012, to attend the NATO protest. Four days later, she and 11 others were taken to Homan Square in Chicago after police raided the apartment where they were staying. Suter spent 18 hours in solitary confinement before being allowed to speak to a lawyer. She joins us now from Charlotte. We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Victoria.

VICTORIA SUTER: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you got in touch with us after we reported on the piece yesterday, and said, "Wait a second, I am one of those people who was held at Homan Square." Talk about your experience.

VICTORIA SUTER: In Homan Square itself, from the raid in the Bridgeport neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, I was put in an unmarked vehicle. It was the standard undercover cop car, you know, a silver Crown Vic. And not being from Chicago, I tried to keep track of what turns they were making where, at first, but after a certain point I couldn’t keep up with it. I was already asking to see a lawyer. And I kept asking, "Where are you taking me? Where are you taking me?" And the only response that I got was: "We’re going to give you a tour of hell on Homan." And—

AMY GOODMAN: Wait a second. What did they say?

VICTORIA SUTER: I had no idea what that meant. And—

AMY GOODMAN: "We’re going to give you"—what did they say? "We’re going to give you a tour"—

VICTORIA SUTER: They said, "of hell on Homan." And when we arrived there, it was dark. I couldn’t see the outside of the building. But we went in through a garage. There were really large, like military vehicles. They were black, just absolutely massive. There was—one of the other people arrested in that raid with me, they took him in first and left me outside with another officer, and then they took me inside. I was taken to a room, not particularly big, no windows. They put ankle shackles on me at that point and cuffed my right arm to a bar that ran behind the bench, where I stayed for 18 hours prior to being able to see an attorney. There was only one small window and a door that had—

AMY GOODMAN: Did you ask to speak to an attorney before that 18-hour period?

VICTORIA SUTER: Yes, I had been asking since the time of my arrest and the entire transport between Bridgeport and Homan.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And did you ever come to learn, Victoria, why the police had raided the apartment you were staying in and why you were detained for as long as you were and under the conditions you were?

VICTORIA SUTER: At that point in time, I had no idea what was going on. I was laying down to go to sleep when the raid occurred. And so, you know, you’re going down to—laying down to go to sleep, and then, all of a sudden, the doors are kicked in, and there’s guns on you, and you’re being taken away in handcuffs in an unmarked car to this place that you have no idea where you are. No one’s telling you anything. No one’s telling you what charges are possibly being filed against you. And it was all very chaotic and disorienting. And then, as we continued asking, while in Homan, "What are the charges? What are the charges? Where are we? Why are we here?" we got absolutely no answers the entire time I was there.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, ultimately, after 18 hours, what were you charged with?

VICTORIA SUTER: I was not charged with anything. After 18 hours, I was transferred into the Cook County Jail at 26th and California on the West Side, and I was released several hours after my transfer in with no charges. I was told—they knew that I was there to protest NATO. And upon my release, I was told, you know, "If we see you out there this weekend, we’re going to pull you back in and charge you with these guys." But we still had no idea what those charges were at that point in time.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian’s investigation found that Homan Square has been in operation since the 1990s, is that correct?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: They took over the facility itself in the late ’90s.


SPENCER ACKERMAN: The Chicago police, started operating out of that facility around, I want to say, like 1997 or so. They started—they moved more and more operations in there. The period where it looks like, according to our sources, that they’ve started operating these sorts of interrogations and detentions without booking and without legal access seems to have really picked up around 2005, although we’re not totally sure when in fact it—when in fact it starts.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what drew your attention to this facility?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Thank you so much for asking. I was investigating a story that Amy mentioned about a connection between a Chicago detective who became a Guantánamo Bay torturer, tortured a man named Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who’s still at Guantánamo today. And as I was discussing this with a Chicago police reform activist, in the course of that conversation, that guy, Tracy Siska of the Chicago Justice Project, mentioned to me that institutional problems with Chicago policing ran so deep that Chicago even operates its own form of a black site. And I was just like, "What? That can’t be right. That doesn’t happen in the United States. That’s nuts."

And I started looking at it further and talking to more and more attorneys about this, particularly people who do front-line visits to police facilities, and they said, "No, there’s this place called Homan Square. We try to get access to it, and routinely we don’t." One attorney told me that it’s even become, amongst people in this legal community, almost like an open secret, where if you hear from someone that their relative has been picked up by police, but there’s no record of them in central booking, they just start figuring, "Well, they must be at Homan. We’ll call and try and find out if we can get access to them." And most often they don’t.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, we just showed two white prisoners at Homan—Brian Jacob Church, we showed a clip of, who you interviewed, and then, as well, Victoria Suter. But you say mainly what we’re talking about here, people taken to this site and, as you call it, disappeared—many don’t know where they are—are black and brown people in Chicago.

SPENCER ACKERMAN: That’s right. The attorneys who do these front-line police visits told me that typically these are people of color who are most often impacted, including people who, when we tried to speak with them through their attorneys, declined, out of fear that there would be retaliation by the Chicago police.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, and then we want to come back and talk about this police detective, Richard Zuley, who went from Chicago to Guantánamo, and what happened there. We’re also going to ask you about Jon Burge, known for torturing people in police stations in Chicago, and what has happened to him. Spencer Ackerman is national security editor at The Guardian, where he’s published a two-part series on police abuse in Chicago, "The Disappeared: Chicago Police Detain Americans at Abuse-Laden 'Black Site'" and "Bad Lieutenant: American Police Brutality, Exported from Chicago to Guantánamo." That’s what we’re talking about next. Stay with us.

News Fri, 27 Feb 2015 11:38:53 -0500
Criminalizing 10 Year Olds Is No Way to Run a Justice System

At age ten, children in England, Northern Ireland and Wales can be found guilty of a criminal offence. They can face trial and be placed in detention.

We don't allow children of ten to hold a driver's licence or get married or travel on a plane unaccompanied – we don't even allow them to be left at home alone. Yet we treat them as responsible enough for their own actions – and indeed as significantly au fait with the law – to face court if they commit a crime.

Children of this age cannot consent to sex – for this you have to be 16. Yet our criminal laws mean that children from age ten upwards can be charged with a sexual offence. There is something very contradictory here.

The age of criminal responsibility in England, Northern Ireland and Wales is well below the average of other countries in the European Union – which is 14. In the Netherlands children cannot be charged with an offence below the age of 12. In France it is 13, in Sweden it is 15. In Belgium the age of criminal responsibility is 18.

Rare cases shouldn't set the age

While the youth justice system operates separately from the adult criminal justice system, its processes largely mirror it. The consequences for a young person when they enter the criminal justice system mirror those of adults too.

In countries with a higher age of criminal responsibility, young people whose behaviour is causing concern are dealt with in the child protection and welfare system. This approach reflects wider social and cultural attitudes towards children and young people. The same goes for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Those who resist calls to raise the age invariably point towards the case of James Bulger, the toddler murdered by two ten-year-old boys in 1993. The crime provoked a strong public reaction and the boys eventually became the youngest convicted murders in modern English history. But the UK government was challenged in the European Court of Human Rights over the way it treated these young defendants.

While evoking understandable concern, incidents as serious as the Bulger murder are extremely rare. And where they do occur they are invariably symptomatic of deeper problems and need. They should not form the basis for setting the age of criminal responsibility.

Out and staying out

International evidence shows that offending by young people is best addressed by keeping them out of the criminal justice system. Once inside it, there are all kinds of negative consequences – not least being labelled a "young offender".

What's more, the range of circumstances under which a criminal record can be disclosed is widening and it is possible for criminal records acquired as a juvenile to follow a person for the rest of their life.

This has profound implications for a young person's educational opportunities and employment prospects. We know that many of the young people that are processed through the youth justice system already suffer the consequences of this.

Groups are emerging to call for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised and I would argue that 16 is more in line with other responsibilities.

Suggesting that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised does not mean ignoring behaviours of concern. It means precisely the opposite. Rather than labelling and punishing children and young people, support should be provided to help them and their families.

News Fri, 27 Feb 2015 11:08:30 -0500
The Supreme Court and the Freedom to Gerrymander

So far this decade, the Supreme Court has not really weighed in on redistricting. But two cases this term are set to change that — and could result in a renewed freedom for politicians to manipulate maps for partisan or self-serving purposes.

The first case, Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama — which the Court heard in November — challenges the maps that Alabama Republicans drew after taking control of the legislature in 2010. Although Republican legislative leaders say they simply redrew districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act, African-American legislators say the goal was far more nefarious. By using the Voting Rights Act as an excuse, they say Alabama Republicans packed African-American voters into a reduced number of "minority" districts. The effect was to dilute African-American influence in the legislature and, worse, African-American leaders argue, to require that those districts be maintained permanently even as population shifts make it harder to draw compact districts in the future.

The Court could decide the case in a number of ways, including punting it back to the district court for more specific fact finding — a route suggested by lawyers for the Justice Department. The Court also could invalidate the maps by building on its racial gerrymandering line of cases. But at oral arguments, at least some of the justices seemed sympathetic to Alabama's argument that it did what it did out of an abundance of caution in order to ensure that its maps were approved by Justice Department officials as then required under the Voting Rights Act.

As Loyola law Professor Justin Levitt has pointed out, similar arguments have been made by Republican legislators elsewhere in the South to defend maps opposed, in some cases vigorously, by minority communities. In North Carolina, for example, lawmakers radically redrew maps to create new majority-minority districts to replace districts where African Americans, although not a majority of the voting age population, had shown a consistent ability to elect their community's preferred candidates. As in Alabama, mapdrawers in North Carolina cited concerns about avoiding liability under the Voting Rights Act as a justification for their actions.

If the Supreme Court rules for Alabama, and holds that the state was entitled to act prophylactically in drawing districts with larger than needed minority populations — even when opposed by minority groups and, moreover, even if its interpretation of the VRA was wrong — it would open the door to wide use of the Voting Rights Act as a pretext to disadvantage minority voters. This would be a dangerous abandonment of traditional judicial oversight of the redistricting process. Indeed, in the South, where racially polarized voting is increasingly the norm, it would give political majorities free rein not only to disadvantage minorities but also to engage in backdoor partisan gerrymandering.

The second case before the Court this term could tie the hands not of courts, but of citizens, to police the redistricting process and enact other election reforms. In Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission — which the Court will take up in March — the Court will decide whether the independent redistricting commission created by Arizona voters in 2000 violates the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution because it was created by ballot initiative. The Arizona Legislature argues that voters acted outside their authority when they took power to draw maps away from legislators because the Elections Clause requires that the laws governing federal elections be set only by state legislatures or by Congress.

The Court surprised most observers last fall when it agreed to hear the case. Since the early 20th century, voters have used initiative power to enact a host of election laws, including Oregon's all mail ballot election system, Florida's constitutional amendment strengthening redistricting standards, and (ironically) the law requiring that Arizonians prove their citizenship before they can be registered as voters. The accepted consensus was that legislative power could be exercised by the people as well as by legislatures, and, not surprisingly, ballot initiatives have proven to be one of the most effective vehicles that ordinary citizens have had for overcoming resistance to change from vested political interests.

If the Supreme Court agrees with the Arizona Legislature and undercuts the power of voters to reform the broken political process, then an important check on redistricting abuses will have been lost. If, in the Alabama case, the Court also allows the Voting Rights Act to be used as a pretext for disadvantaging minority voters, the freedom to gerrymander will be even more unfettered.

News Fri, 27 Feb 2015 10:44:16 -0500
An Angry White Man Kills Again

"The stand your ground and open carry laws are a return to the days when white supremacy was openly expressed through conquest of the native population, slavery, and lynch law terror."

Craig Hicks was a human time bomb in his Chapel Hill, North Carolina neighborhood. He was constantly spoiling for a fight, about noise or parking or anything else that he found irritating. Hicks was always armed, a resident of an "open carry" state which allowed him to wear a holstered gun anywhere at any time. On February 10, 2015, Hicks turned himself in to the police and confessed to murdering three people that day.

The victims were identified as Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha. Hicks had argued with the family about parking spaces but it seems any reason to pull the trigger would have been good enough.
Hicks motive for the killing is murky. Some of his political views could be called liberal and others conservative. But more than anything Hicks was serious about being a white man. He loved his guns and he asserted his right to be armed at all times. It is likely that he had mental health issues, but the sickness did not emerge solely from this particular individual.

Where Hicks fell on the political spectrum is really beside the point. He expressed support for the right to bear arms, marriage equality and abortion rights but more than anything he supported his right to be violent. Because of their passivity everyone around him did as well.

His neighbors are now telling the media about his constant arguments and confrontations while being armed but there are no reports of anyone ever calling the police about his behavior. The Barakats told relatives they feared Hicks but ultimately decided not to call the police either. Hicks' neighbors discussed their concerns among themselves but took no other action. The complicity led to unintentional enabling and that made the killings inevitable.

"Open carry laws are obviously reserved for white people only."

The inaction stands in stark contrast to the treatment meted out to black people who are at risk of being killed even when they don't threaten anyone. North Carolina allows open carry of firearms but so does the state of Ohio. That fact didn't keep John Crawford or Tamir Rice from being shot down in Dayton and Cleveland respectively. They had toy guns and weren't a danger to anyone. Yet both of them are now on the long list of black people killed by the police. Open carry laws are obviously reserved for white people only.

It is important to ask if the Hicks murders were a hate crime but there are questions which must be explored and they may be harder to deal with than legal definitions. The most fundamental questions is this. Why are white people seen as benign and their behavior as normative, no matter what they do?

Try to imagine a black man picking fights with his neighbors while armed. Then try to imagine that no one ever calls the police in this hypothetical scenario. In Tampa, Florida a black man named Clarence Daniels was legally carrying a gun when he walked into a Walmart. A white man took it upon himself to confront and assault Daniels. The white assailant was arrested but as a black man Daniels was lucky not to have ended up dead.

Hicks got the kid glove treatment despite the obvious risk he posed to other people. Fealty to whiteness trumps all else including the desire for safety. In 2014 a Nevada rancher named Cliven Bundy sparked a white power movement which threatened the lives of federal marshals. Bundy owed the government thousands of dollars in payment for his cattle grazing on federal land. He didn't just refuse to pay. He gathered a group of armed followers. Two of them, Jerad and Amanda Miller, went on to kill two police officers.

"Fealty to whiteness trumps all else including the desire for safety."

At least one person knew that the Millers were armed and dangerous. She saw their arsenal of weapons and heard them say they were going to start a revolution. "I should have called the cops," was the lame admission. That much is obvious but the expression of regret doesn't explain very much.

The stand your ground and open carry laws are a return to the days when white supremacy was openly expressed through conquest of the native population, slavery, and lynch law terror. Those acts should not be seen as events of long ago history. They became part of this country's DNA and give angry, unstable white people a pass to do what they want. They aren't thought of as potential killers or terrorists as they should be. Bystanders aren't sufficiently concerned because they too give white people the benefit of the doubt even when they don't deserve it.

Hicks strongly believed in the right to bear arms and had four handguns, two shotguns and six rifles in his home at the time of the killings. No one knows what twisted thoughts finally sparked the violence but the sickness of this country's history helped him to carry it out. There are thousands of dangerous people like him who call themselves patriots or sovereign citizens or doomsday preppers. But mostly they just believe in being white.

Opinion Fri, 27 Feb 2015 10:23:58 -0500
Replace the Gospel of Money: An Interview With David Korten

David Korten began his professional life as a professor at the Harvard Business School on a mission to lift struggling people in Third World nations out of poverty by sharing the secrets of U.S. business success. Yet, after a couple of decades in which he applied his organizational development strategies in places as far-flung as Ethiopia, Nicaragua, and the Philippines, Korten underwent a change of heart. In 1995, he wrote the bestseller When Corporations Rule the World, followed by a series of books that helped birth the movement known as the New Economy, a call to replace transnational corporate domination with local economies, control, ownership, and self-reliance.

This month, Korten, who is also the co-founder and board chair of YES!, publishes a new book challenging readers to rethink their relationship with Earth—indeed, with all creation, from the smallest quantum particle to the whole of the universe. The world needs "a new story," he says. "If most species, including Homo sapiens, are to survive, we must recognize Earth as a living being." Korten talked about his ongoing metamorphosis with YES! Executive Editor Dean Paton.

Dean Paton: Tell me how somebody who was an organizational management specialist, and then a new-economy thought leader, made this leap into what is as much a spiritual proposition as it is a political one—that Earth is a living organism, that we all are essentially a part of this one big life form.

"It comes back to this: Are we a part of nature? Or apart from nature?"
David Korten: It's not that hard, actually—once you get into the living-Earth frame—to see that Earth is essentially this organization of living organisms creating and maintaining the conditions essential to life. If you're an organizational expert, or theorist, that raises a really fascinating question: How do these millions of organisms work in concert to maintain life?

Paton: As if everything has an intelligence and everything has a purpose? How is that relevant to your new book, Change the Story, Change the Future?

Korten: The new book sets up the juxtaposition between the old "Sacred Money and Markets" story and an emerging "Sacred Life and Living Earth" story. They're two totally different frames that lead to two totally different ways of thinking about organizing society. You either see life as a means to make money, or you see money as simply a number useful for keeping accounts in service to life, but of no value in itself. Buying into the "Sacred Money and Markets" story that money is wealth and the key to happiness locks us into indentured servitude to corporate rule.

Paton: You're saying it's the traditional development model, or transnational capitalism, that damages Earth as a living community, including not just humans but all life forms. Yet we all depend on money, on the market economy. Do you really think we can just stop that dependence?

Korten: We will still use money and markets, but strip away Wall Street's control of money's creation and allocation. There was a time in the United States when most of our financial institutions were local. Which essentially meant that local communities were able to create their own credit, or their own money, in response to their own needs. We still depended on banks, but it was a much more democratic process.

Paton: Like George Bailey's building and loan in It's a Wonderful Life.

Korten: Exactly. If more of our money circulated in our communities rather than the Wall Street casino, it would facilitate people organizing locally to meet more of their economic needs with local resources. Control of money is the ultimate mechanism of social control in a society in which most every person depends on money for the basic means of living—food, water, shelter, heat, transportation, entertainment. This leads us into the voluntary simplicity movement: The less I'm dependent on money, the freer I am. Realize that the only legitimate purpose of the economy is to serve life, is to serve us as living beings making our living in co-productive partnership with living Earth.

Paton: How does that translate into actions? If we get a thousand people to say, "I'm a living being born of and nurtured by a living Earth," how does that stop fracking? How does that stop the Russians from pumping all the oil out of Kazakhstan and selling it around the world?

Korten: It makes very clear that destroying the natural living systems on which our existence depends, in order to get a quick energy fix or a quick profit, is literally insane.

Paton: So if we're all living beings "born of a living Earth," as you say, where does that start to show up in our lives?

Korten: A big piece of it has to do with recognizing the implications of our dependence on money. This goes back to development as a process of separating people from their means of subsistence production. The more people become alienated from their self-production, the more they become dependent on money—and the more they become dependent on the people who control the creation and allocation of money.

Paton: You mean when I'm dependent, I accept fracking.

Korten: Yeah, you say, "I need that money. They're going to pay me to frack my property."

Paton: Do you really think Americans are going to be able to cast off the belief that money is king?

Korten: I'd say a lot of people are casting it off.

Paton: Most of us respond to a 10-dollar bill. Or a bonus at work. Or a new car.

Korten: But we respond to that because we accept the "Sacred Money and Markets" story that money is wealth, a fabrication that is literally killing us.

Paton: So you say that our choice is between working with Earth and working against her?

Korten: It comes back to this: Are we a part of nature? Or apart from nature?

Paton: Why do you insist we adopt this "Living Earth" story?

Korten: Because we humans live by stories.

Paton: And that means...?

Korten: It means that to organize as ordered societies, we need a shared framework—basic values and assumptions—so that when I relate to you, I've got some idea of how you're going to respond, because we share our basic story.

Paton: Do we have a choice?

Korten: Yeah, change or die. Quite literally. You really can't grasp the new story—as a society—and continue to live the way we live. First you begin to move toward more voluntary simplicity, which is, literally, reducing your dependence on money. You start doing more things yourself. You pay much more attention to your relationships, to the gift economy. You perhaps get a deeper sense of being part of and a contributor to a living universe evolving toward ever greater complexity, beauty, awareness, and possibility. What would that mean for society, and then what does it mean for how I live? What is my contribution to the change society needs? I have a responsibility to be part of this change—which begins by changing the story.

Opinion Fri, 27 Feb 2015 10:09:42 -0500
Buffalo's Bomb Trains

They span over a mile long containing up to 140 tank cars and as much as 4.5 million gallons of some of the nastiest forms of crude oil on earth, pumped from "extreme" extraction operations in North America's new oil boomtowns. They cross rivers and transverse open plains, wilderness forest and some of the most densely populated urban areas in the country. Occasionally, with alarmingly increasing frequency, they careen off into rivers, catch fire and explode, or both. When spilled in water, their heavy oil exterminates river ecosystems. When they blow up, they release the fires of hell, with one oil train accident in 2013 wiping out most of the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and gutting its downtown. That's when folks started referring to these explosive steel snakes as "Bomb Trains."

This is one of the dark sides of North America's fossil energy boom—the backstory on cheap fuel. The uptick in oil production comes from using extreme means to recklessly drill oil, using carbon-intensive methods like fracking to extract environmentally dangerous low grade oils such as Bakken crude from Montana and North Dakota. This oil, pumped from the dolomite layer of the Bakken geological formation, which also underlies portions of the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, is more volatile than conventional oils, with a lower flashpoint for explosion. When rail cars started to blow in Lac-Mégantic, The National Post reported a blast radius of over one half mile.

The United States National Transportation Safety Board estimates that about 400,000 barrels a day of this oil make the trip to Atlantic Coast refineries, with 20 to 25 percent moving through the port of Albany. Much of this Albany-bound oil moves across New York utilizing rail lines passing though the hearts of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Utica. Oil from Canada crosses the Niagara river, entering the US both in Niagara Falls, and via Buffalo's 142 year old International Railroad Bridge, as well as taking a northern route, dropping down from Quebec on tracks passing through the Adirondack Park, including about 100 miles of Lake Champlain watershed shoreline. Non Albany-bound oil, such as some shipments from Buford, North Dakota to Houston, Texas, also take an unlikely route through Buffalo.

Though much of this oil winds up moving through New York State, federal law limits the state's authority to regulate it. While crude oil can be stabilized to make it less volatile in transit, whether or not it receives such treatment is up to the discretion of regulators in the state that produces it—not necessarily the states through whose cities it will roll. Most of the explosive Bakken crude coming our way originates in North Dakota, where the energy industry all but owns the legislature, fertilizing the state's anti-regulatory zeitgeist with a healthy dose of cash. The end result is, whatever passes for a state government in North Dakota fails to meet even Texas's modest safety standards for anti-explosive fuel stabilization.

The Association of American Railroads reports that, thanks to the Bakken and Tar Sands oil booms, the amount of oil moving across the country by train has increased 45 fold (4,500 percent) from 2008 through 2013, with the volume continuing to increase through 2014 and 2015. As a result, more oil spilled from oil trains in the U.S. in 2013 than in the preceding 37 years. The number of accidents increased in 2014, and seems to be steadily increasing this year, with oil trains derailing and blowing up last week in West Virginia and northern Ontario. The Associated Press reports that the U.S. Department of Transportation now predicts an average of ten derailment accidents a year involving crude oil or ethanol tank cars over the next twenty years, "causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people if an accident happens in a densely populated part of the U.S." It's no longer a matter of "if" there will a catastrophic oil train derailment.

Both the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control, and the United States Department of Transportation recommend evacuating a one half mile perimeter around accidents involving railroad tanker cars carrying flammable liquids. Karen Edelstein, a researcher and the New York Program Director for the FracTracker Alliance, mapped oil train routes across the state, adding overlays for this evacuation zone, and for schools and hospitals. Her data shows that statewide, there are 502 public schools situated within potential evacuation zones. In Buffalo, about one third of the population live within one half mile of these bomb train routes, and 27 public schools and eight private schools lie within potential evacuation perimeters as well. This includes PS 42, which serves students with disabilities, and is located adjacent to the track. Sister's Hospital and the Buffalo Zoo are well within this perimeter, which skirts the Buffalo State and Erie County Medical Center campuses. If we freak out when it snows, how well are we going to handle what appear to be atomic fireballs, should one of these trains blow up?

While the profits from this oil boom have been privatized, much of the cost associated with reckless extraction have been externalized, meaning dumped on the public. Aside from the obvious environmental costs that we and future generation will have to bear, are the less visible emergency preparation costs that every school, hospital and municipality within a half mile of bomb train routes must now cover. In Buffalo, this means 35 schools need to work with local emergency services providers to develop plans to quickly evacuate students not just from buildings, but from neighborhoods, all with a possible backdrop of explosions, sirens and billowing smoke.

While it's not statistically likely that a train will explode in Buffalo or any other specific place, it is a certainty that trains will keep exploding with increasing frequency across the U.S. and Canada. This means that cash strapped municipalities across the continent will have to develop plans to address a catastrophe we know for certain will befall some of our communities.

Addressing this risk involves not just planning to respond to it, and maintaining an emergency response network capable of responding, but also working to prevent such a catastrophe. A report from the Cornell University Community and Regional Development Institute points out that this involves a multitude of responsibilities, such as monitoring surface rail crossings to prevent vehicle train collisions that can lead to a derailment. Such responsibility, the report notes, usually falls to local police forces that often lack the personnel to do this. Likewise, federal regulators lack the personnel to inspect the nation's rail infrastructure, and state Departments of Transportation lack the resources to adequately inspect bridges crossing railroad tracks. All of these costs fall not on the oil or railroad industries, but on government agencies, with much of this work not being done due to budget constraints.

What little planning there is to deal with an oil train explosion is alarming to read. A three car fire requires, according to the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control , 80,000 gallons of water for laying down a fire retardant foam blanket and cooling adjacent rail cars. Hence, the state recommends, if there is "NO life hazard and more than 3 tank cars are involved in fire OFPC recommends LETTING THE FIRE BURN unless the foam and water supply required to control is available" [sic.]. The wording here is ominous, with the availability of the required foam and water not being the default expectation, but instead, simply a possibility. This language is there for a reason, however. The Auburn Citizen, in central New York, quotes Cayuga County Emergency Management Office Director Brian Dahl, who, in response to a question about his county's ability to respond to an oil train fire, unequivocally states, "The amount of foam and water you would need, there's just not enough in central New York."

While oddly inferring that maybe you should put the fire out if you have adequate foam and water, even if there is no "life hazard," the state's instructions don't mention what to do if there is a life hazard, but no foam or water. Also troubling is their inference that if more than three cars are on fire you should just give up. Last week's fires in Ontario and West Virginia saw seven and fourteen cars ablaze respectively, with each fire burning for over 24 hours. In all caps, the state's instructions warn responders,

"All resources must be available prior to beginning suppression."

It doesn't give any suggestions as to what to do if you can't move the water to the fire, or have the foam necessary to smother a dragon. None of the suggested responses are tolerable should an oil train explode in an urban environment.

News Fri, 27 Feb 2015 10:01:11 -0500
Lying ]]> (Lauren Walker) Art Fri, 27 Feb 2015 09:48:38 -0500 Time Banks: A Tool for Restorative Justice and Community Strength

One timebank member leads other members on an edible plant walk, teaching how to identify and use wild edible plants. (Photo: Beverly Bell)One timebank member leads other members on an edible plant walk, teaching how to identify and use wild edible plants. (Photo: Other Worlds)Stephanie Rearick is a former co-chair and interim co-director of TimeBanks USA. She is also founding co-director of the Dane County [Wisconsin] TimeBank, and project coordinator of Time for the World/Mutual Aid Networks.

Timebanking is mutual credit, where whenever somebody provides a service to a member in a timebank, they get credit, which they can redeem for that same amount of time to get something they need from someone else in the network. It's fluid and flexible. Timebanking doesn't have to involve a direct exchange between two people, and it doesn't have to happen in the same span of time.

The impacts are pretty profound. Matching people up based on who needs what and who can provide what is a different approach to an economy. It's an understanding that everybody has needs and everybody has assets. Also, you don't have to wait to have money to pay for a service you need. 

The norm in this society is that we have a human-service kind of economy through charity. There's a group of people who serve and a group of people who are served. Timebanking takes the approach that we all engage, as equals, based on what we have to offer and what we need.

It's also really good at connecting people who wouldn't otherwise meet.  As a community-building and community cohesion tool, it's excellent. It helps people get past barriers that they've grown up with, whether it's racism, or classism, or ageism. It really helps people get to know each other across demographic and geographic boundaries.

About 40 counties around the world have timebanks. In the US, our best guess is that there are between 200 and 300, with more being created regularly.

In Dane County, we started neighbor-to-neighbor timebanks and got offers of a wide variety of skills and resources. Exchanges included a teen boy teaching crocheting to a 70-year-old woman. A friend of mine taught a basic email class for a group of seniors at a church, and got her porch re-roofed with the hours she earned.

Now we use timebanking to pool resources and do community projects that otherwise we might not be able to carry out. We had a crew of people help each other plant gardens, for example, and also clean out a house for someone who was hoarding and was at risk of being evicted.

We also have a wellness project, where a crew hosts a monthly healthy meal and brings in people to teach non-clinical self-care like massage and feldenkrais. We have medical transportation, with folks providing rides to patients from rural areas who need to come to Madison for kidney dialysis, for example, or to get back home from outpatient surgery. We have inclusion projects that are geared toward creating opportunities for people with disabilities to more fully engage with their communities, both giving and receiving skills.

So while the timebank gives us more resources for less money, it also helps to rebuild all those community supports that can keep people healthy and whole and out of trouble. It gets at some of the root causes of the problems, lowering them at their source.

We created our timebank in Madison in 2005 with a goal of getting people involved in Restorative Justice Youth Court. And that's really taken off. We went out and recruited kids who wanted to be jurors. Then we paid timebank hours to adults to conduct trainings in restorative justice for the jurors, and to help facilitate the project.

Here's how it works. Instead of giving a young person a ticket, the police give him or her a restorative justice referral, and the respondent comes to speak with the jury of his or her peers from school or the neighborhood. We offer jurors timebank hours for their time. Then the jurors work to design sentences or agreements, addressing it if there's a clear victim or if there's harm caused, but also sentencing respondents to things that really appeal to their strengths and interests. Then we tap the timebank for those resources, too. One example, a girl wanted to be a drummer so, as part of her sentence, she was required to take drum lessons from a timebank member. She keeps earning her drum lessons by helping out in the community. We had someone who, as part of her community sentence, had to meet with a massage therapist to learn how to get into the field she thought she wanted.

With 2,500 timebank members to draw from, we can find almost anything that is tailored to the individual kid's experience and circumstances. Then the timebank can also provide rides when the kid has to do the sentencing agreement service.

There are all these informal social contacts that develop, and they're a lot of what helps get the kids back on a better path. Then there's also the shift in the culture among the kids who participate. They feel accountable to each other, feeling heard and feeling a sense of ownership over how justice can look in their own community.

I get a lot of requests to share information about the restorative justice youth program. St. Louis has been emulating parts of ours, and their timebank has been promoting a way to pay off bench warrants through timebank service. In Providence, they're starting to do some youth court kind of stuff, redefining school sanctions like suspension and expulsions.

One thing that I'm super-excited about is that now both our county and Madison are moving toward applying this model to adults. We're piloting a small young-adult peer court, to catch the kids who have aged out of the juvenile restorative system.

It will be really good if we can [use this system to] navigate toward a more constructive path than police brutality and mass incarceration.

We're also working with our municipal judge to pilot a homelessness restorative court, for all these people who're getting tons of municipal tickets just because there's no legal place to sleep in the city. We're starting to work with the judge to have restorative justice circles where peers - people with relevant expertise such as mental health training - and the respondent come to a sentencing agreement together, and the respondent can work off their tickets in a better way, like by community service work. It's possible that one of our community partners may be able to get them into housing in exchange for work they'll complete in the program. If they need alcohol and drug abuse help, we can create a network of organizations, advocates, supporters and peers to help them navigate the system.

We're really blessed here, because we have a judge and a police chief who are very committed to restorative justice. We've had such a terrible record in Dane County with racial disparity in our criminal justice system. We are very lucky that people have started taking action before things get totally blown up like they have in other places, like Ferguson and New York. It's really hopeful. 

Opinion Fri, 27 Feb 2015 11:12:42 -0500