Truthout Stories Thu, 03 Sep 2015 13:16:35 -0400 en-gb Syrian Colonel Faces Charges in Maher Arar Torture Case

In a move to hold government officials accountable for torture, Canada has charged Syrian Colonel George Salloum with allegedly torturing Canadian engineer Maher Arar. In 2002, Arar was kidnapped by US authorities during a layover at JFK Airport and then sent to his native Syria, where he was tortured and interrogated in a tiny underground cell. He was held for nearly a year. This is the first-ever criminal charge of torture brought by Canada against a foreign government official for acts committed abroad. Canada's decision to pursue torture charges in Arar's case may open the door to further such prosecutions, including of US government officials. In 2007, Arar received a $10 million settlement from the Canadian government. The United States has yet to apologize to him. We speak with Maher Arar's wife, Monia Mazigh, and Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.

Please check back later for full transcript.

News Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Protests Grow over Clerk's Denial of Same-Sex Marriages

In Kentucky, the county clerk who has defied the Supreme Court and refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples is set to appear before a federal judge today to make her case for why she shouldn't be held in contempt of court. Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses rather than comply with the Supreme Court ruling in June that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. On Monday, the Supreme Court denied Davis' appeal that the court grant her "asylum for her conscience." The next day, same-sex couples went to Davis' office. In a video that went viral, David Moore confronted Davis about her decision not to issue same-sex marriage licenses. We speak with Moore about how he and his partner, David Ermold, have been denied a marriage license on three occasions by Kim Davis and staffers in her office. We're also joined by Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, Kentucky's statewide LGBT advocacy group, and Joe Dunman, an attorney who represented the plaintiffs and petitioners in several Kentucky marriage cases which were consolidated into the Supreme Court case that effectively made marriage equality the law of the land.


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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In Kentucky, the county clerk who has defied the Supreme Court and refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples is set to appear before a federal judge in just a few hours to make her case for why she shouldn't be held in contempt of court. Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses rather than comply with the Supreme Court ruling in June that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. On Monday, the Supreme Court denied Davis's appeal that the court grant her asylum for her conscience. The next day, same-sex couples confronted Davis at her office. David Moore asked her why she wasn't issuing licenses.

DAVID MOORE: The injunction is the order that you're supposed to issue marriage licenses.

KIM DAVIS: And we're not issuing marriage licenses today.

DAVID MOORE: The Supreme Court denied your stay.

KIM DAVIS: We are not issuing marriage licenses today. So I would -

DAVID MOORE: Based on what?

KIM DAVIS: I would ask you all to go ahead and leave.

DAVID MOORE: Why are you not issuing marriage licenses today?

KIM DAVIS: Because I'm not.

DAVID ERMOLD: Under whose authority are you not issuing licenses?

DAVID MOORE: Why? Whose authority?

KIM DAVIS: Under God's authority.

DAVID ERMOLD: I don't believe in your god.

DAVID MOORE: Did God tell you to do this? Did God tell you treat us like this?

DAVID ERMOLD: I don't believe in your god. I don't believe in your god.

KIM DAVIS: I've asked you all the leave. You are interrupting my business.

DAVID MOORE: You can call the police if you want us to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED: It's not your business; it's the public's.

DAVID MOORE: You can call the police. I pay your salary.

KIM DAVIS: That's exactly right. The public can't get in here.

DAVID MOORE: I pay your salary! I pay you to discriminate against me right now. That's what I'm paying for. That's what I'm paying for. I'm paying for this memory with my partner that I love that I've been with for 17 years. What's the longest you've been with someone, that you've been married to someone?

KIM DAVIS: I'm asking you to leave.

DAVID MOORE: I'm not leaving.

DAVID ERMOLD: We're not leaving until we have a license.

KIM DAVIS: Then you're going to have a long day. Good day.

DAVID MOORE: Well, then, call the police. When they come, I'll ask them to arrest you.

UNIDENTIFIED: Do your job!

DAVID MOORE: Call the police! Call the police! I will have - I will ask them to arrest you.

UNIDENTIFIED: Do your job!


DAVID MOORE: You should be ashamed of yourself! Everyone in this office should be ashamed of themselves. Is this what you want to remember? Is this what you want to remember, that you stood up for this? That your children have to look at you and realize that you're bigots and you discriminated against people? Is that what you want? Is that what you want?

DEPUTY CLERK: I answer to God, and God's word is my calling.

DAVID ERMOLD: God does not belong in the County Clerk's Office.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That's David Moore arguing with Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis. In a filing Wednesday, attorneys for Kim Davis argued a court order requiring her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, quote, "irreparably and irreversibly violates her conscience." Meanwhile, the Republican president of the Kentucky state Senate has come to Kim Davis's defense, asking a federal judge to withhold his order for her to issue same-sex marriage licenses so that the state Legislature can pass a law exempting her from having to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, national attention is focused on Kim Davis's own marital history. She has been married four times, including twice to her current husband. She says she had a religious awakening about four years ago when her mother-in-law asked, as a dying wish, for Davis to go to church. In a statement, Davis said, quote, "There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. ... I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God," she wrote.

Well, to talk more about Kim Davis, we're joined by three guests. David Moore is a graphic designer from Morehead, Kentucky. He and his partner, David Ermold, were denied a marriage license on three occasions by Kim Davis and staffers in her office. His voice is the one you just heard on that video we just played arguing with Kim Davis. That video has gone viral - more than 1.8 million hits. Chris Hartman is also with us. He's the director of the Fairness Campaign, Kentucky's statewide LGBT advocacy group, based in Louisville. They're both joining us from Lexington, Kentucky. But we are also going to Louisville to speak with attorney Joe Dunman, who represented the plaintiffs and petitioners in several in Kentucky marriage cases which were consolidated into the Supreme Court case that effectively made marriage equality the law of the land.

David, let's begin with you in Lexington. Describe that interaction that you had with the county clerk, Kim Davis. Where were you? What were you asking for? And what did she say to you?

DAVID MOORE: I was in the County Clerk's Office in Morehead. We went in. Press was everywhere. We actually saw the couple that went in before us, who are a part of the ACLU case. They came out. We saw that they were denied. At first we thought they got it, but then they turned around and said that they were denied. We walked up to the counter. We stood there for maybe three or four minutes talking to the deputy clerk. She said that Kim Davis was in her office. We could see her blinds were drawn, and she wasn't speaking to anyone. And we pretty much demanded that she come out and face the people. She said she was willing to face the day, so I think it was only fair that she come out and face the people that she was denying a license to. When she came out, I - we both felt infuriated that they were still denying our rights to get a marriage license in the county that we live in, in the home, you know, that we live in. I was infuriated. I just could not control myself. I refuse to accept that. I just refuse.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, David Moore, you've suggested that Kim Davis has a lot of support for the position that she's taking. Could you elaborate on that? Support from whom?

DAVID MOORE: Well, that day, there were protesters and supporters for both sides outside the courthouse. She had support from, I guess, local church groups. And a lot of people that come outside, from outside the community, you know, they came to support her. And the thing is, if she would issue marriage licenses today to everyone, those people who are coming out to say, "We stand with Kim Davis," they would not be protesting. They would not be protesting people just going and getting their license. She is basically sending like a rallying signal that she's a victim. And she's not a victim. So, really, it's just this false signal - "Oh, come and help me" - so all these people show up. But really, she doesn't need any help, because her rights haven't been changed or taken away in any way whatsoever.

AMY GOODMAN: David, I want to go to another video of you at the Rowan County Courthouse. This is the second time that you and your partner, David Ermold, attempted to get a marriage license. After staffers in Kim Davis's offices refused to issue you a license - they said she was not there that day - the two of you go down the hall to the office of the Rowan County judge/executive, Dr. Walter "Doc" Blevins. He was not yet in the office, but his aide calls him and lets you speak with him by phone.

DAVID MOORE: Nope, won't do it. So...

DAVID ERMOLD: What was his reason?

DAVID MOORE: He doesn't have the paperwork, no paperwork, doesn't have the software. He wants the judges to figure out, wants it to go through the court system.

DAVID ERMOLD: It is through the court system.

DAVID MOORE: He said he cannot force anyone in her office to do it. They can't force her to do it. He said there's one person in her office that's willing to do it, but they can't do it without her authorization. So, there's - no, there's nothing.


DAVID MOORE: So, [inaudible].

DAVID ERMOLD: Basically, if you want a statement from me, I will say that people are cruel. They are cruel. People are cruel. And this is wrong. And that's how it is. That is how it is. And that's the bottom line. She's wrong, and these people are cruel to do this to us.

AMY GOODMAN: That's David Ermold and David Moore. I want to go to Joe Dunman, who's in Louisville, Kentucky. You're an attorney who has worked on this case. You have spearheaded the case that really led to the Supreme Court decision for marriage equality in the United States. What is the law here?

JOE DUNMAN: Well, the law - there's two different kinds of the law. The first is the federal Constitution, which, the Supreme Court has said, requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. And then there's the state law, which requires clerks to issue the licenses. And that's what Kim Davis is violating. She is saying that she has a religious objection to following a Kentucky statute, which is neutral and very simple and just says clerks must issue licenses. She doesn't really have a legal argument, because the courts have never observed that public officials have religious - can have a religious exception to just doing their jobs. And so, we're making a very simple argument here that just says that public officials must do their jobs. If there's a conflict with their beliefs, then they need to resign or, you know, lobby the General Assembly to change the law in the meantime. But they still have to follow the statute and issue the licenses.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Joe Dunman, there's a hearing on the case today. On what grounds, if at all, would it be possible for the judge to rule in Kim Davis's favor?

JOE DUNMAN: I don't know. I don't think there are any grounds. I mean, we made a simple motion. You know, we have an injunction in place that requires her to issue licenses. She's violating that by not doing so. We've simply asked that the court impose a financial penalty, which will incentivize her to do her job. And, you know, we don't think there's any grounds for them to argue otherwise. Of course, her attorneys disagree.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And she could keep appealing every court order, is that right?

JOE DUNMAN: Yeah, each order that's considered final, she can appeal. So far, she has shown quite an interest in doing so. It's important to note that we're at the very beginning of the litigation here. We just have a preliminary injunction in place. We haven't done any kind of discovery. We haven't looked at any documents. We haven't done really much of anything other than file some briefs. And so, we're still in the early stages. And even though the injunction is in place, it's being appealed to the Sixth Circuit, so we still have to take an argument there while the rest of the case sits in the district court. So, yeah, it's kind of a unique procedural place we're in.

AMY GOODMAN: So, two questions: One, the significance of Kim Davis being an elected official; and two, when she says that she is having her rights violated, she's trying to follow her conscience?

JOE DUNMAN: Yeah, well, public officials, it's an important distinction, because, you know, they don't operate as individuals. The government is not compelling them to do something as private citizens. It's asking them to do something as their employer. And the case law is very clear that, you know, the government, as an employer, can tell its employees what to do, to a certain extent. And all the case law about the First Amendment and how it operates for public officials is very clear. You know, they have to do their jobs. If they don't, they have the option to resign. It's not mandatory that they hold that office, it's voluntary. And because it's voluntary, they can always choose to do something else. And I'm sorry, your second question?

AMY GOODMAN: Talking about her saying that her rights are being violated, that this is against her religion.

JOE DUNMAN: Right. You know, she has done - she made a big effort in this case to portray herself as the victim here, but the victims are our clients. They're the ones who have been denied marriage licenses to which they're entitled. She is trying to say that she is the one being victimized. She has actually sued the governor as a third-party defendant, claiming that his letter to all the clerks earlier in the year asking them to issue licenses somehow infringes her rights, except that that letter doesn't compel her to do anything. And she's ignoring it anyway. And so, she's complicated this procedurally in a way to make herself seem like a victim, when really it's our clients who are the ones who are entitled to marriage licenses and can't get them in their home, where they deserve them.

AMY GOODMAN: She could as easily say, "It is against my religion to serve any black person."

JOE DUNMAN: Well, I mean, that's the logical extension of her argument. I mean, if we give her a religious exemption, then we give all public officials that kind of exemption, and then there's no rules. And then the 14th Amendment stops meaning anything. Equal protection stops meaning anything. You just have to hope that when you walk into the clerk's office every day, you know, when you need a document, that the clerk shares all your beliefs; otherwise, they can turn you away.

AMY GOODMAN: How many of these cases are being brought around the country? I mean, you are the lawyer who spearheaded the case that went to the Supreme Court that legalized marriage equality in this country. How much are we seeing this in - not only in Kentucky, but in other states?

JOE DUNMAN: Well, I had a lot of help in that effort for marriage equality, I wasn't alone. But as far as the clerk fight, it's a little different. I know in Alabama they do it through probate judges, and they've - I believe it's 11 probate judges in Alabama are still saying that they won't issue any marriage licenses, despite court orders to the contrary. And I want to say there's a fight going on in Texas, but I'm not really clear on it. Our case - in Kentucky, there's at least three clerks who are refusing to issue any marriage licenses, and Kim Davis is just one of them. But, you know, we have 120 counties, and three of them are protesting, so percentage-wise we're doing pretty good. For the most part, the country is complying with the Supreme Court's order, as we should expect.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I'd like to ask Chris Hartman of the Fairness Campaign how representative Kim Davis is of other counties in Kentucky. You have been lobbying for fairness laws for a long time across the state. Could you say a little about that?

CHRIS HARTMAN: Right. Kentucky really is a state of fairness, not of Kim Davis. She's not representative of the population. More than a quarter of Kentucky residents now live in a city or a county that has anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, including the city of Morehead, where Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis works. Morehead actually was the only city in Kentucky to unanimously approve LGBT discrimination protections. Now there are seven other cities and counties in our state that extend those protections, and those numbers keep on increasing every year. Kim Davis is making a last gasp right now with her lawyers from the Liberty Counsel, who are imported into Kentucky. These are late Reverend Jerry Falwell's lawyers. They're not even Kentucky lawyers bringing the case before the courts right now.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Chris Hartman, another organization that's been active in lobbying for LGBT rights is Freedom to Marry, and its national campaign director said that the Kim Davis incident is, quote, "a very small temporary blip that will take care of itself." Do you agree with that assessment?

CHRIS HARTMAN: I do agree with that assessment, that I think even by the end of today or tomorrow marriage licenses are going to start coming out of Rowan County; that sooner, rather than later, folks will be able to get married in every county in which they live across the United States. This is a temporary roadblock. It is a small, but very vocal, population that are simply fighting back and attempting to make as much noise as they can, because they know that the vast majority of Americans and Kentuckians support LGBT rights.

AMY GOODMAN: The other three clerks in Kentucky who are saying no, like Kim Davis, Chris?

CHRIS HARTMAN: Casey Davis, Kay Schwartz, right. Whitley County, Casey County.

AMY GOODMAN: Will their case take the exact same legal route?

CHRIS HARTMAN: Certainly, if there are cases brought against them. I think that they're probably waiting to see what happens in Kim Davis's case. And I think the message will be clear and resounding. I don't believe Judge Bunning is going to tolerate any more delay of couples like David and his longtime partner getting the marriage licenses that they deserve, that the Supreme Court has twice affirmed is their constitutional right to obtain. Kim Davis and these other two county clerks cannot stand in the way much longer.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, David Moore, as we watched you attempt to get a marriage license again and again, tell us why you want to get married, why this is important to you, and what you plan to do now.

DAVID MOORE: Well, we've been together for 17 years, my partner and I, and we kind of already feel like we are married. We went through all the commitment and all the ups and downs that you have in a marriage. This is just kind of a final legal, you know, symbol of our love for each other and our commitment, that everybody else is able to share in, and we should be able to share in that, too. I think we've demonstrated, just by being together for this long, you know, that we deserve that same right. Anyone deserves that right.

What we plan to do is, hopefully, we'll be able to get a license very soon in Rowan County. It's our home, it's where we live and work. And that's what I want to see happen. So I'm looking forward to that and getting that license, going on a trip, a honeymoon, and relaxing and not having to think about the media and Kim Davis for a while.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you all for being with us, David Moore and Chris Hartman, speaking to us from Lexington. Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign. And from Louisville, attorney Joe Dunman.

When we come back from break, will a torturer be brought to justice? That's the question that a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, is asking, because it was Maher Arar who was tortured, sent by the United States to Syria in 2002, where he was held for almost a year. We'll speak with his wife in Ottawa. Stay with us.

News Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Guatemalan President Resigns in "Huge Victory" for Popular Uprising

After a massive public uprising, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina has resigned. His resignation came just hours after a judge approved the attorney general's arrest warrant for him. This follows the Guatemalan Legislature's unanimous decision to strip him of immunity from prosecution, bowing to popular pressure. Prosecutors said Pérez Molina will be charged with illicit association, taking bribes and customs fraud. Attorney General Thelma Aldana said Pérez Molina was also being investigated for money laundering, which could lead to the freezing of his assets. Otto Pérez Molina's former vice president and other government officials are facing similar charges. We speak to George Polk Award-winning journalist Allan Nairn in Guatemala City.


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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: After a massive public uprising, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina has resigned. His resignation came just hours after a judge approved the attorney general's arrest warrant for him. This follows Congress's surprising unanimous decision to strip him of immunity from prosecution, bowing to public pressure. Prosecutors said Pérez Molina will be charged with illicit association, taking bribes and customs fraud. Attorney General Thelma Aldana said Pérez Molina was also being investigated for money laundering, which could lead to the freezing of his assets.

AMY GOODMAN: Otto Pérez Molina's former vice president and other government officials are also facing similar charges. Just before the broadcast, Democracy Now! reached journalist Allan Nairn in Guatemala City.

ALLAN NAIRN: Last night, the attorney general issued an order of arrest for General Pérez Molina, the president, and a few hours later, Pérez Molina resigned, just before midnight. It's quite possible now that, as a private citizen, Pérez Molina will be arrested sometime after dawn. This is another huge victory for the popular uprising in Guatemala. Pérez Molina, just a few weeks ago, seemed completely invulnerable. But now he may be going to prison, and he will be facing trial on corruption charges.

But this is just the beginning of the challenges for the popular movement, because stepping in to replace Pérez Molina will be Vice President Maldonado Aguirre. Maldonado Aguirre is the key figure who, as a member of the High Court of Guatemala, annulled the genocide verdict against General Ríos Montt. He did that at the demand of CACIF, the oligarchs of Guatemala. After the criminal court issued a guilty genocide verdict against Ríos Montt and sentenced him to 80 years, the oligarchs went on TV, had a press conference, and they demanded - they demanded in the name of their money - that the court annul this verdict. And Maldonado Aguirre, who at that time was a leader of the high Constitutional Court of Guatemala, complied. And he is now the vice president. He is now the man who will be stepping in to replace Pérez Molina. And in fact, Maldonado Aguirre began his political career with the MLN, a political party. The MLN was a partner of the CIA in the 1954 invasion of Guatemala, which overthrew the democratically elected government, put the army in power and began the reign of terror that is still reverberating today. The MLN described itself as "the party of organized violence," and they ran their own semi-public death squad. So now, this man, Maldonado Aguirre, is the acting president, and he will have that position until January.

This Sunday, there is a presidential election in Guatemala, and the slate of candidates is dominated by people who were backed by the old army generals who ran the massacres, drug-running syndicates, other organized crime and the CACIF oligarchs. Those being backed by those forces are the ones who are considered to have a chance to win, because they are the ones with the money. They're the ones who have been dominating the media coverage and the advertising. And unless the election is postponed - and many, many people, including leading academics, leading lawyers and popular groups, have been calling for a postponement, so the electoral law can be rewritten to give a fair chance to actual real citizens, who are not backed by drug dealers or by killer generals, to get a chance to contest for office - but unless that election is postponed, one of those - one of the front people for those groups will be the newly elected president of Guatemala. So, if this movement is going to turn into one that wins real structural change, it's only just beginning.

And even with Pérez Molina himself, there is a big issue. He's now going to go to trial for corruption. But that's really his minor crime. His main crime is mass murder. He was one of the implementers of the policy of slaughter in the Ixil highlands for which Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide. I met him at the time that he was doing this, and his soldiers described how they would go into villages and wipe out the civilians. But no charges have yet been brought against Pérez Molina for those crimes. However, they could be, because, under Guatemalan law, ordinary citizens can come forward and file criminal charges, as long as those charges are accepted by the Attorney General's Office.

If there is going to be a serious legal process against Pérez Molina for the mass killings, it should include the - what in Guatemalan law is called the intellectual authors and the collaborators. And those would include the US sponsors. Pérez Molina received backing from the US military, and from US intelligence when he later became head of G-2, the Guatemalan intelligence. So, if there's a serious prosecution, it would have the option of calling US officials, subpoenaing US records and indicting US officials for their role in the murders. And I would urge them to do that, because the law should be enforced impartially. And even though Pérez Molina was the man on the ground directing the killers, he had bosses and sponsors, and the Americans out of Washington were perhaps the most important.

AMY GOODMAN: George Polk Award-winning journalist Allan Nairn reporting from Guatemala City. He has covered Guatemala since the 1980s. You can follow him on Twitter at @AllanNairn14 for the latest news on the resignation of the president of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky, to cover the showdown - the county clerk, Kim Davis, who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. We'll talk to the man, David Moore, who she refused to issue a marriage license to three times. Stay with us.

News Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Praise for Pope Francis Is Premature: Vatican's Official Stance on Abortion Hasn't Shifted

The Pope has been praised for his progressive stances on climate and poverty, but the temporary window of absolution offered Tuesday to Catholics who have had abortions has brought criticism from reproductive justice groups.

ROME, ITALY - APRIL 18, 2014: Pope Francis celebrates the 'Via Crucis' procession at Colosseum in Rome on April 18, 2014. (Photo: Giulio Napolitano / Shutterstock)Pope Francis celebrates the "Via Crucis" procession at Colosseum in Rome on April 18, 2014. (Photo: giulio napolitano / Francis made a temporary, absolution-only offering to Catholics "who bear in their heart the scar" of abortion and repent during the upcoming 355-day "Jubilee," or Holy Year, in a letter published Tuesday by the Vatican.

Despite 95 percent of those who have abortions reporting no struggle with regret, the Pope explains his decision to temporarily open the power of absolution to all clergy by calling the choice to terminate a pregnancy "an existential and moral ordeal."

"A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life. The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails," wrote Francis. "I have decided ... to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it."

Deputy Vatican spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini quickly clarified that the change was seasonal-only. Further clarification from Vatican chief spokesman Father Federico Lombardi offered little space to hope for an end to the automatic excommunication of any Catholic known to have had or performed an abortion.

"This is by no means an attempt to minimize the gravity of this sin, but to widen the possibility of showing mercy," Lombardi told reporters. Catholics may now go to their parish priest rather than specially designated upper echelon officials within the church - a change that doesn't offer solace to those who would likely be expelled from their faith community upon confession.

Pope Francis's decision to refocus the church's energy towards mercy starts as a nice thought grounded in compassion, but quickly turns to more shame for women.

Rev. Harry Knox, president and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, expressed tempered appreciation for the Pope's use of empathetic words before pivoting to an approach that fully realizes an individual Catholic's humanity.

"Pope Francis's decision to refocus the church's energy towards mercy starts as a nice thought grounded in compassion, but quickly turns to more shame for women," Knox said in a statement. "The compassionate, pastoral approach is to recognize that women have abortions for many reasons. ... What a woman really needs from her clergy is someone ready and able to have deep pastoral conversations about her decision."

Knox emphasized that clergy are called to engage with the faithful where they are, in life and as complete and complicated people: "The Pope should equip his priests with the tools to listen to a woman's story instead of offering occasional absolution."

US Catholics oppose criminalizing abortion by a margin of two to one.

"I grew up Catholic, and I attended a Jesuit university," Erin Matson, co-director of the new reproductive justice organization ReproAction, told Truthout. "The official teachings of the Catholic Church on sexuality - including, but not limited to abortion - harm people around the world and are deeply out of step with the views of Catholic people."

Catholics for Choice president Jon O'Brien issued a more complimentary statement, saying, "this is a pope who is not stuck in the pelvic zone, and perhaps his message on how he thinks about abortion is more for his brother bishops than Catholics in the pew."

Matson had a very different initial reaction to the pope's Jubilee Letter.

"Women who have abortions have done nothing wrong, and they have nothing to apologize for," said Matson, who didn't hear any fundamental policy change in the expanded pool of priests who will be able to dispense absolution."We can't lose sight of the fact that Pope Francis is not changing any doctrine on abortion, which remains an excommunicable offense - this is a temporary change."

Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) also pushed back on language she feels "contributes to culturally pervasive and deeply harmful abortion stigma."

"As an organization committed to Latina health and reproductive justice, we reject any attempt to impose judgment or shame on someone based on deeply personal decisions about health, pregnancy and whether to become a parent," González-Rojas said in a statement.

While appreciating Pope Francis addressing abortion directly, González-Rojas described Vatican doctrine as out of step - a potential barrier to accessing care for those in her community.

"What is significant here is that the Pope, as a faith leader for millions, recognizes the need to talk about abortion, which one in three women will experience in her lifetime. Yet these comments fall short in reflecting the realities of women's lives, and the viewpoints of many Catholics," she said. "Despite ongoing prohibition by church doctrine, Catholic Latinas support access to reproductive health care, with 90 percent of married Catholic Latinas using a modern form of contraception and a majority of Latino/a voters - including many Catholics, supporting access to safe and legal abortion services."

Polling confirms González-Rojas's analysis. Only 28 percent of Catholics overall wanted to see President Obama make abortion a priority during his presidency and US Catholics oppose criminalizing abortion by a margin of two to one.

Despite empirical polling data in support of abortion and testimony from affected communities - disproportionately rural resident, the poor and people of color - during campaigns like the one to pass the EACH Woman Act, conservative legislators in Washington continue to take their cues from Vatican doctrine. From 2010-2014 231 abortion-restricting laws were enacted with no slow-down in 2015; 332 anti-abortion provisions were introduced in 43 states just in the first quarter of this year.

The 30 percent of the GOP-led Congress that identifies as Catholic is considerably more conservative than the average Catholic voter, continuing to prioritize decreased abortion access through legislation. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and James Lankford (R- OK) are among those threatening - again - to shut down the government over non-existent federal abortion dollars going to Planned Parenthood. That Planned Parenthood would still get the majority of its funding during a shutdown through Medicaid preventative care insurance hasn't toned down the rhetorically contentious climate into which Pope Francis issued Tuesday's letter.

While that climate feels like "the same old politics of shame and stigma" to González-Rojas, she tempers her call for culture change with optimism. "We're glad to see a conversation about abortion happening within faith communities," she said, "but the focus should be on respect and support for those who end a pregnancy, not the same old politics of shame and stigma."

Despite her criticisms, Matson also remains hopeful, citing the way this pope engages with the faithful.

"The responses to our #HeyPopeFrancis campaign have been incredible," she said, referencing ReproAction's call for individuals to speak directly to Francis about their needs and concerns. "People connect with this Pope and they believe he should listen to them and respect them. The ball is in his court to do the right thing, and listen."

News Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Private Global Interest Organization Performs Corporate Takeover of Our Education Systems

A discourse of paranoia is slowly but surely creeping into the core of our education systems and if you are a parent who has a child in school, you will know that education today is not like it was even 10 or 20 years ago and that a significant difference is the increase of standardized testing.

What you may not be aware of is that this increase in standardized testing is spearheaded by a private global interest organization called the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) who runs a program called PISA (Program For International Student Assessment).

The OECD has with its PISA program become one of the most influential organizations when it comes to setting the agenda for the future of education, and is rapidly working towards standardizing the world's school systems into one streamlined one-size-fits-all model.

In a mere 20 years, the OECD has become one of the world's leading forces with regards to affecting education policies and currently, more than 70 countries solicit OECD to test its students through international comparative tests and accordingly give 'expert advice' based on the results of these tests on how each country can optimize its education system.

It is for example based on results from the PISA tests that Finland's education system in the early 2000's was glorified and appraised and it is because of their high rankings in PISA that South Korea and Singapore currently are seen as having some of the best education systems in the world, (despite the fact that South Korea for example also has the highest suicide statistics among young people in the world).

How has a private economic interest organization like the OECD been able to penetrate the very fabric of our education systems?

There are two ways in which OECD with PISA is slowly but surely monopolizing educational policies all over the world:

The first is the seemingly innocuous ways in which our education systems are changing through the ways standardized testing are affecting schools and curriculum all over the world on a rather ubiquitous level.

The other is how OECD with PISA has positioned itself as a global overseer of quality in education with which it penetrates the education system to further a specific economic and ideological agenda. Countries are literally basing educational reforms on directions from OECD, in some countries with what some would call devastating effects. More on this later.

See, the thing is: Standardized testing is not simply a "tool" as the OECD presents it, which is used to optimize the quality of our education systems. It is in itself changing the way education is carried out, addressed and seen.

It is not a passive tool for measuring the quality of education at a school because it requires students' active participation and at many schools the result of PISA and other tests are included as part of the students' final grading. Teachers have to change their curriculum to "teach to the test" and local budgets are set based on competitive results between schools in the same area.

This is not simply adding an innocuous tool that only has the effect of optimizing the equality of education - it is pervasive in nature and it is changing oureducation systems more rapidly than we realize.

This is seen no more than in how students experience having to take one standardized test after another. One of my 7th grade students for example experiences perpetual stress over having to do tests close to every week. She is a young, bright woman with an immense drive and creative ambition. She wants to become a movie director and often sits at home writing long scripts. She is even working on a novel. One time she mentioned to me that they had been learning about ancient Mesopotamia in a history class. To me that sounded like a fascinating subject and I asked her with excitement what she had learned. "I'm not really sure," she said. "The teacher is moving so fast through the curriculum pushing us towards the test so it is difficult to keep up."

This is coming from a bright and intelligent young woman who still has an immense curiosity and interest for learning. How much learning potential is wasted when students are rushed through a curriculum only to get to a test at the end?

Another tragic example of the effects that standardized testing has on students can be seen on the American art teacher Mrs. Chang's blog. She gave her 10 - 12th grade students the task to illustrate how they felt about taking tests. You can see the outcome of that project for yourself here.

In 1998, Noel Wilson, a scholar from the Flinders University of South Australia, wrote a paper in the journal EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS titled Educational Standards and the Problem of Error on the devastating effects that standardized testing has on students that is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago. A summarized and updated version was added by someone called Duane Swacker in the comment section of this article, which I also recommend reading in relation to a critical perspective on PISA.

In it, Wilson criticizes the entire notion of standardized testing in schools and asks:

"So what does a test measure in our world? It measures what the person with the power to pay for the test says it measures. And the person who sets the test will name the test what the person who pays for the test wants the test to be named.

"So the mark [grade/test score] becomes part of the story about yourself and with sufficient repetitions becomes true: true because those who know, those in authority, say it is true; true because the society in which you live legitimates this authority; true because your cultural habitus makes it difficult for you to perceive, conceive and integrate those aspects of your experience that contradict the story; true because in acting out your story, which now includes the mark and its meaning, the social truth that created it is confirmed; true because if your mark is high you are consistently rewarded, so that your voice becomes a voice of authority in the power-knowledge discourses that reproduce the structure that helped to produce you; true because if your mark is low your voice becomes muted and confirms your lower position in the social hierarchy; true finally because that success or failure confirms that mark that implicitly predicted the now self-evident consequences. And so the circle is complete."

Paraphrasing Wilson on the epistemological error of the notion of testing, Swacker writes: "A quality cannot be quantified. Quantity is a sub-category of quality. It is illogical to judge/assess a whole category by only a part (sub-category) of the whole. The assessment is, by definition, lacking in the sense that "assessments are always of multidimensional qualities. To quantify them as one dimensional quantities (numbers or grades) is to perpetuate a fundamental logical error" (per Wilson). The teaching and learning process falls in the logical realm of aesthetics/qualities of human interactions. In attempting to quantify educational standards and standardized testing we are lacking much information about said interactions.

A major epistemological mistake is that we attach, with great importance, the "score" of the student, not only onto the student but also, by extension, the teacher, school and district. Any description of a testing event is only a description of an interaction, that of the student and the testing device at a given time and place.

The whole process harms many students as the social rewards for some are not available to others who "don't make the grade (sic)." Should American public education have the function of sorting and separating students so that some may receive greater benefits than others, especially considering that the sorting and separating devices, educational standards and standardized testing, are so flawed not only in concept but in execution?"

It is indeed highly problematic that testing is seen as a benevolent tool to improve and optimize education, when it in fact appears to have an oppressing effect on students subjected to it.

The question is then whether this oppressing cookie-cutter effect of standardized testing is an innocuous but problematic side effect of a benevolent project regarding educational reforms or whether it is actually part of a much more sinister agenda to propagate a certain mindset in students graduating from schools around the world?

One of the most revered critics of OCED and PISA is professor Yong Zhao, presidential chair and director of the Institute for Global and Online Educationin the College of Education, University of Oregon.

In the fourth part of his often-referenced four-piece series of articles titled "How Does PISA Put the World at Risk" Zhao argues that the PISA program "was designed to capitalize on the intense nationalistic concern for global competitiveness by inducing strong emotional responses from the unsuspecting public, gullible politicians, and sensation-seeking media. Virtually all PISA products, particularly its signature product, the league tables, are intended to show winners and losers, in not only educational policies and practices of the past, but more important, in capacity for global competition in the future.

While this approach has made PISA an extremely successful global enterprise, it has misled the world down a path of self-destruction, resulting in irrational policies and practices that are more likely to squander precious resources and opportunities than enhancing capacity for future prosperity."

Zhao criticizes the PISA program for measuring the quality of education purely based on academic achievements, entirely leaving out and disregarding socioeconomic facts as well as the psychosocial well being of students. I have discussed this in a previous article where I mentioned how countries such as South Korea might score high on the PISA tests, but they also have some of the highest suicide rates among students - and the question is then whether that is an education system that is worth modeling?

In his closing statement of the article, Zhao argues, "Until OECD-PISA became the only employer in the world with PISA scores as the only qualification, I would not suggest lawyers and doctors in the US, UK, or any nation to replace your children's activities in music, arts, sports, dancing, debates, and field trips with math tutoring. For the same reason, it is not time yet for schools in developed countries to close your swimming pools, burn your musical instruments, end museums visits, or fire your art teachers."

In a 2014 article for the UK-based TES (Times Educational Supplement) newspaper titled "Is Pisa fundamentally flawed?" educational reporter William Stewart outlined the scope of influence that the OECD has gotten over the past decade: "Politicians worldwide, such as England's education secretary Michael Gove, have based their case for sweeping, controversial reforms on the fact that their countries' Pisa rankings have "plummeted." Meanwhile, top-ranked success stories such as Finland have become international bywords for educational excellence, with other ambitious countries queuing up to see how they have managed it."

Like Zhao, Stewart argues that measuring educational quality based on results from PISA is flawed. He argues that the tests are not based on common results but on different results from different students and that this creates highly fluctuating results from country to country and even within the same country, despite the OECD's claim that PISA is one of the most accurate tools for measuring the quality of education. Stewart argues that it is absurd to expect that 50 countries with widely different cultures can be expected to fit into a one-size-fits-all measurement of educational quality and that the tests may therefore potentially be culturally biased.

So how has a private economic interest organization like OECD within the span of a decade managed to influence the course of national educationpolicies on a global level?

In the past 20-30 years a discourse of global competition has become ubiquitously part of the conversation in media and in political sphere. Global competition for profit and resources (where knowledge is one of the most valuable assets a country can mine) is seen as a natural outflow of the processes of globalization and it is in that discourse that the OECD positions itself within and from which it gains its self-proclaimed relevance. PISA is presented as a tool that governments can (and must) use to optimize their educational policies to not fall back in the global competition.

The question is whether the OECD is doing that in fact or whether they, with PISA, are adding gasoline to the fire to further their own agenda, specifically through generating panic and paranoia among member countries who feverishly fight tooth and nail to not be at the bottom of the ranks.

When Sweden, a country who otherwise prided itself of having one of the world's best education systems, keeps dropping in the PISA results year after year, it begs the question of whether PISA is doing more good than harm. Students are becoming increasingly more stressed and meanwhile politicians are acting as lapdogs for the OECD, following their every decree, to do whatever it takes to not fall back and risk being losers in this global game of thrones.

It seems as though the increased focus on global competition in our education systems has done nothing but decrease the actual quality of education, which is in itself an irony of massive proportions. It seems as though an undercurrent of paranoia based on an ethos of "survival of the fittest" is governing our education systems and the question is: Who stands to gain from a system that is set up to make students fail, despite getting aneducation?

I leave you with this analogy that may serve as a precautionary tale, to not let organizations like the OECD dictate the future of education based on paranoia.

In the classic 1954 book about survival and human nature, Lord of the Flies, Jack (leader of the choir boys) convinces the other boys that there is a monster on the island and he soon spreads paranoia to gain power over the tribe. The boys vehemently start hunting the monster. Later, in a vision, another boy called Simon realizes that the monster is not real and that the boys have created the monster as a figment of their own imagination through the intoxication of fear. Jack and his followers kill Simon before they eventually burn down the entire island and destroy what little community was left.

Education is about learning how to navigate the world, how to live together and how to take care of the world and each other in the best way possible. Education is about learning from those who came before us, both from their experiences and examples, but also from their mistakes. Education is about developing and living one's utmost potential so as to best contribute to a world that is best for all, and so for oneself. This is not the type of education that is promoted by the OECD, nor by our countries officials when they so desperately follow the OECD's recommendations without questioning its political agenda.

If we are not interested in an education system designed by a private economic interest organization, whose goal it seems to be to increase paranoia to encourage competition - it is important that we come up with sound alternatives; alternatives such as the democratic (Sudbury) schools that are emerging all over the world, alternatives such as unschooling that questions the very notion of schooling and its capacity to truly educate our children.

At the very least, we ought to question the starting point with which we send our children to school: Is it to teach them to compete and survive in an absurd real-life version of Lord of the Flies or is it to become the best people they can possibly be, so that they may leave a world that is better than the one they came into?

Opinion Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Investigators Find New Developments in Possible Lynching Case Out of North Carolina

It's been a year since the lifeless body of 17-year old Lennon Lacy was found hanging from a swing set in the small town of Bladenboro, North Carolina. While state investigators working under the direction of the local district attorney immediately ruled the death a suicide, questions remain about whether foul play was involved since the African-American teen was found wearing too-small shoes that were not his own, allegedly hung himself in a mostly white trailer park using a belt that was not his own, and since the mechanics of the purported self-hanging appear implausible.

Lacy had been dating an older white woman who, along with Lacy's family, has said she does not believe the teen killed himself. Though he had been grieving the recent death of a great-uncle, the West Bladen High School junior, JROTC member and football player was looking forward to playing his first game of the season the same day his body was found. He had even laundered and laid out his uniform in anticipation.

Following public outcry over the case, and spurred by a report from an independent medical pathologist hired by the North Carolina NAACP that raised questions about the thoroughness and conclusions of the local probe, the FBI is now investigating.

At a memorial service for Lacy held at Bladenboro's First Missionary Baptist Church on Aug. 28, which marked a year since the teen was last seen alive, officials with the NC NAACP offered updates about the case:

  • About a month ago, the FBI interviewed Lacy's mother, Claudia Lacy. "There is some indication they're developing a renewed interest in this," NC NAACP attorney Al McSurely told the gathering.
  • Two people came to the NC NAACP with information suggesting Lacy's death was not a suicide; they were referred to law enforcement. The group's president, Rev. Dr. William Barber, described the stories they told as "so chilling."
  • Barber has spoken with new US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, a North Carolina native, about the Lacy case. He said he believes there will be more attention devoted to the investigation under her leadership.
  • Someone from outside North Carolina has approached the state NAACP and offered to put up a $25,000 reward for information in the case. Barber said that offer is now being vetted by the FBI.

"Because we know all of that, we know it's not over," Barber told the crowd. "If it was your child, you would not want it to be over."

Meanwhile, the NC Music Love Army, a musical collective inspired by the Moral Monday protest movement led by the NC NAACP, is doing its part to keep public attention focused on the case. Last month it released the "Ballad of Lennon Lacy" by Charlotte-based singer-songwriter Jon Lindsay with Grammy Award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drop Rhiannon Giddens and other Music Love Army members including former "American Idol" contestant Charly Lowry, Dark Water Rising, the Backsliders, Caitlin Cary, Eddie Walker, Skylar Gudasz and Brett Harris.*

Lindsay recently told The Charlotte Observer that he has been "obsessed" with the Lacy case. "It's consuming to do a song like this," he said. "You have to feel it in your bones you're doing the right thing."

The song's lyrics hint at the fact that there have been other cases involving mysterious hanging deaths of African-American men that were ruled suicide despite lingering questions about possible foul play:

I can't believe strange fruit still dangles from a Carolina noose
But I won't turn my back, like anyone still afraid to ask:
Did they take away another precious life, precious life,
And try to make it look like suicide, suicide?

For more information about those other cases, which were documented by filmmaker Keith Beauchamp for a 2012 Investigation Discovery TV show titled "The Injustice Files: At the End of a Rope," click here. Listen to the "Ballad of Lennon Lacy" here.

* The song has not been approved by the Lacy family or the NAACP.

News Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
DoD's Inspector General Investigates Administration Propaganda Again

In the last few weeks, there have been several reports that senior intelligence officials were skewing the intelligence on how (un)successful the military campaign against ISIS has been. "Officials at United States Central Command - the military headquarters overseeing the American bombing campaign and other efforts against the Islamic State - were improperly reworking the conclusions of intelligence assessments prepared for policy makers, including President Obama, the government officials said," the New York Times was the first to report.

Patrick Eddington - himself a former CIA whistleblower - put that allegation into historical context, reminding how intelligence agencies have focused on good news going back to the Vietnam War and repeating in the lead-up to the Iraq War.

While the history lesson is worthwhile by itself, Eddington makes another important point. He notes that Department of Defense's Inspector General, which is investigating the claims, can't be trusted to carry out such an investigation. "The allegations reported by the Times and the Daily Beast are too serious a matter to be left to the DOD IG, particularly given the DOD IG's recent track record in dealing with high-profile whistleblower complaints." Eddington focuses on the treatment that Thomas Drake and other NSA whistleblowers experienced when they alerted DOD's IG to an ineffective boondoggle designed to make SAIC rich, and argues the Intelligence Community and Source Protection Office should conduct the investigation, particularly since other intelligence agencies may also be politicizing intelligence about Syria.

But there's an even more important example why DOD's IG should not be investigating this allegation: as became clear during the investigation into leaks about the Osama bin Laden raid to the makers of Zero Dark Thirty, DOD's IG may not issue reports on senior DOD officials and will not on people who work in other agencies (as Leon Panetta did when he disclosed classified information). "Due to 'a longstanding Department policy,' … referrals of alleged misconduct by senior officials would have to be removed before [the Zero Dark Thirty report] could be published," Senator Chuck Grassley learned when investigating whistleblower complaints of that investigation.

That's a problem given that reports blame "senior officials" for the politicization of this intelligence.

DOD's policy of suppressing information on top officials may only pertain to leaks and not all misconduct. Indeed, DOD's IG has referred a number of generals for misconduct in recent years.

Yet given how closely this issue - spinning happy stories about our operations in Syria - relates to the prior example - spinning the most positive stories about the Osama bin Laden killing - there's good reason to worry that DOD IG won't implicate any senior officials even if they are politicizing the intelligence on Syria.

News Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Walmart and Walker: Always Low Wages

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at Joey's Diner in Amherst, New Hampshire, on July 16, 2015. (Photo: Andrew Cline / Shutterstock)Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at Joey's Diner in Amherst, New Hampshire, July 16, 2015. (Photo: Andrew Cline /

What do Governor Scott Walker and Walmart have in common? They talk pay raises in public while cheating their workers of pay.

When Walmart announced with great fanfare that it was boosting pay for frontline workers, CMD questioned the spin. After all, Walmart is regularly forced to pay back wages between 2007-2012 amounting to an astonishing $30 million according to a US Senate report. This week, Bloomberg reported that Walmart is cutting hours for its workers, robbing many of the benefit of the recent pay hike.

In July, Scott Walker raised eyebrows when he signed a contract with a big pay boost for the state troopers who provide his security detail. The troopers did not get the 17 percent he proposed, but a more modest $4 an hour raise. Now the US Department of Labor has found that Team Walker violated the law by failing to pay overtime for state troopers who provide round-the-clock security as Walker jets around the country seeking the presidency. The troopers' pay raise has been rescinded and the security detail is being cut. Taxpayers could be on the hook for as much as $1 million. Perhaps "always low wages" should be the slogan for the candidate who recently called the minimum wage a "lame" idea.

Check out PR Watch's SourceWatch profile of the low-road, low-wage Walmart here.

News Thu, 03 Sep 2015 10:42:27 -0400
We Disrupted Hillary Clinton on Behalf of Black Trans Women - Here's Why

(Photo: courtesy of Get Equal)(Photo: courtesy of GetEQUAL)Last week, we disrupted Hillary Clinton's campaign event in Cleveland, OH, asking her to "divest from private prisons, invest in black trans women." As representatives of Black Lives Matter and GetEQUAL our ask was strategic and intentional. Since Hillary Clinton makes equality for women a critical tenet of her campaign platform, we demand that Clinton - and our own movement for black lives - center the black transgender women so often left out of conversations about gender and racial equity. As cisgender Black women, we are fighting for our trans family: we understand that Black liberation means all Black people, and we resist the idea that anyone is disposable in our work.

We are in a state of emergency - the murder rate of trans women of color, particularly Black trans women, is higher than ever, with at least 20 women murdered since the beginning of 2015. Black trans women make up at least 13 of those killed - in the state of Ohio alone, 6 trans women have been murdered since 2011.

After three trans women of color were murdered in a 24-hour period, Elle Hearns and other transwomen Black Lives Matter organizers called on cisgender Black people to act. Black Lives Matter declared last Tuesday as "Trans Liberation Tuesday," and nearly 20 cities answered the call, holding actions around the country. In her speech for DC's Trans Liberation Tuesday, our friend and comrade Elle Hearns called on cis Black people to do more, saying:

"When you talk about 'Black Lives Matter,' you do not think of Black trans people. You do not think of the Black trans women who are being murdered. You do not think about the Black trans people who carry the weight of the world on their shoulders… We learned about the murders of five Black trans women in one day. And there was no outrage. There was no shutting down in the streets. There was nothing."

We are outraged. We cannot allow silence to herald the death of our Black trans sisters any longer. We cannot accept vague declarations that "Black Lives Matter" from candidates seeking the Black vote while taking money from those who profit from the criminalization of Black people.

Hillary Clinton holds unique culpability for the destruction of Black trans lives: her campaign is funded in part by lobbyists and lawyers for private prison companies like Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group.

Hillary Clinton's previous meetings with those working with Black Lives Matter have ended with little acknowledgement of how she can fight for Black lives as a candidate. Her attempts to deflect criticism by repeatedly demanding "policy proposals" from activists ignore the responsibility that she and other political leaders hold for propping up the broken criminal justice system.

More importantly, over 41% of Black trans women have been arrested and incarcerated at some point in their lives, and Hillary's funders and bundlers play a pivotal role in those experiences of incarceration. As organizations across the country ask Hillary to divest from private prisons, we acknowledge the unique harm that private prisons inflict upon Black trans women, and ask Hillary to not only address the murders of Black trans women across the country, but to divest from a violent system that harms so many Black trans women. In order for Hillary to truly demonstrate that she believes "Black Lives Matter," she must divest from the private prison money that is funding her campaign and actively, intentionally invest in Black trans lives.

This is why we protested Hillary Clinton's campaign event, shouting "Say Her Name," while reciting the names of Black trans women killed in Ohio, the very state Clinton was visiting - women like Cemia Dove from Cleveland. While we shouted the names of our Black trans sisters, the women most deeply impacted by the gender oppression Hillary Clinton speaks about on the campaign trail, Clinton continued to speak, waving us off with, "I'll talk to you about this later." Unsurprisingly, Hillary Clinton did not meet with us after we were escorted by security out of the event, nor did she acknowledge the state of emergency that Black trans women are facing in this country.

Our action held Hillary Clinton accountable for her investment in the systems that damage Black trans women's quality of life, but we are also holding the movement accountable through our disruption. We can no longer afford a movement for Black lives that does not center Black trans women in our work. We can no longer afford to stay silent when a Black trans woman is murdered - and neither can our movement.

Opinion Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Standing at the Gates: Our Generation Has to Convert Ideas of Change Into Action

(Photo: Youth and Technology via Shutterstock)(Photo: Youth and Technology via Shutterstock)

I don't know if I am becoming more argumentative and cantankerous as I get older, but I find myself in more and more arguments with strangers. The latest episode has stayed with me, partly because on paper our backgrounds and ambitions should have aligned.

I was sitting on a patio of a Mexican restaurant in Cape Town, next to a friend of a friend, a young Italian woman who lives in Silicon Valley. Conscious that this montage of globalization would not have been possible twenty years ago, I asked what brought her to the city. She told me how she is a recent graduate of Singularity University, an 'innovation lab' based in NASA's Ames campus in northern California founded by Ray Kurzweil (father of the Singularity, the idea that a super intelligence will result as man merges with machine in the year 2045) and Peter Diamandis (founder of the X Prize and eager planet miner and solar system colonizer). She explained that she had previously worked at a 'tech incubator' in the 'Valley' and how she was focused on 'disruptive thinking' and 'exponential technologies' that could save the world.

As she glowed in reverence for the curriculum at Singularity University, she explained how she and her classmates have created a mobile application that will help accelerate education for up to one billion people, largely in developing countries, by 'gameifying' education.' Hence her trip to South Africa. Somewhere between 'productization' and 'monetization,' I interjected by stating that the only proven model for exponential growth has been the computer microchip processor. Moore's Law is not a universal law.

In fact, over the past two decades we have had increase in poverty and inequality, increasing food famines, and experts predict mass resource wars as we move to 'peak everything.' The Earth has lost 50% of its wildlife in the last 40 years, and according to the International Panel on Climate (IPCC) we will lose half of the planet's biodiversity - that's half the living plant and animal life in the world - as we mitigate for a four degree Celsius rise in temperature by 2050.

As these statements challenged the core of my new friend's Panglossian world-view, I saw myself fall quickly out of favour. The politeness of new acquaintances gave way to a hostile barrage of illogical suppositions. "Would you have us go back to a primitive way of living? How are you living your supposed values as you drink bottled water? And who wouldn't choose hope over despair?"

It was of course not my intention to elicit this type of reaction. I was hoping to encourage the next generation of idealist to expand her scope to include a more structural analysis of our current situation. But as always, ideology is a constant background condition. It strikes me that the real divide here has two axis lines.

The first is the whether or not one believes the world is getting better or worse. The second is whether one believes that history matters. Quite simply, if you believe the world is getting better and history is inconsequential, the technoutopian world-view has a natural gravitational pull. It doesn't matter that we are creating unprecedented rates of species extinction, or that our current system amplifies the historical injustices of colonialism, imperialism, genocide, slavery, misogyny and racism, or even that perpetual growth has planetary bounds, as our ingenuity and technological prowess will inevitably overcome all of these inconvenient truths.

And of course, the question of who is the world getting better for is never questioned. The Western hope in technology as saviour is conveniently self-enforced by material comfort and privilege, and shelters us from recognising that eight out of ten of our brothers and sisters are living under $5 a day, the threshold which the UN body UNCTAD says is the minimum to achieve "a standard of living adequate for health and wellbeing": the inalienable right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

If one believes that things are getting worse and history is important, the corollary is that things can of course get better. True optimism is not whitewashing away anything but 'good news' but seeing deep trends of progress and potential in an accurate, whole picture. It is also knowing that where we came from can help us build a better roadmap to where we are going.

As we usher in this better world, we heed the lessons of the past so as to not replicate the violence, oppression, extraction and exploitation of our current economic and political system. We are encouraged to believe the former. Our education system is molded on the 'victors of history,' the elite perspective and selective memory. Those considered talented are usually those who show a deep and unquestioning acceptance of this perspective, who do well on standardized tests and faithfully validate and extend the establishment logic in their careers.

They are lauded with scholarships, awards and promotions that reinforce the virtue of their belief, their 'giftedness.' As John Ralston Saul reminds us, it is in the nature of all complex social and political systems to reward those who best perpetuate their logic. Where that logic is psychotic, based on self-interest, greed and shorttermism, that is the psychology and behavior that will be most rewarded. In such a system, the rest of us - the majority - who do not demonstrate that behavior come to serve its needs through their service of perpetual, and ever-greater debt - if not through school, then through healthcare or access to food or housing. Once indebted, we find ourselves having to work for money that is manufactured in privatized mints and administered by governments, the apparatchiks of the global corporate system.

As elite wealth and its associated power congeals - 85 billionaires now have the same wealth as 3.5 billion people- their power shows itself up as the only truly exponential factor, outside of microchip processors. In turn, thanks to the influence of money in politics around the world, we inexorably entrench the conditions of what we call this . In this way, the world system is organized according to neo-liberal logic of 'trickle-up'economics that serve an undemocratic, unaccountable elite at the expense of the majority.

The result of believing that the arrow of progress is righteous and unbending, especially in the face of stark evidence to the contrary, is that we become not only complacent but complicit in the inherent destructiveness of this brand of late stage capitalism.

Take, as yet another example, the fact that for every dollar of wealth created, 93 cents goes to the top 1%. Unless this can be shown to be a gross and temporary aberration, it can only be concluded that this manner of wealth creation directly, inextricably and exponentially also creates vast wealth inequality. Add to that the fact that every dollar of wealth created heats up our planet thanks to the fossil-fuel based energy requirements; that the world's poor and middle class pay grossly more than their fair share of the world's tax as rich elites and multinational corporations opt out of their social contract through the use of tax havens and accounting black magic; and that, through global trade deals like NAFTA and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the underlying operating principles are, right now, being super-charged and replicated for a whole new generation, and the true and extreme rapaciousness of this system are painfully apparent.

The promise of the Internet was to remove the gatekeepers of this dominant system, to usher in a world of democratic access to information, innovation and decision-making, beyond the old constraints of geographical borders. Instead, the culture of Silicon Valley has created a new ideology.

A fuzzy mix between technological determinism and free market evangelism. In their world, corporations like Google and Facebook are benevolent dictators, busily not being evil, even though they have monetized and made a marketable-commodity of what not long ago we considered our most private data, and are now as much the gatekeepers of this system as any steel or tobacco corporation, or government agency.

They appeal to the logical and necessary instinct for anarchism in our youth (and other free thinkers): the desire to creatively self-organize, and they twist that into an elitist form of Libertarianism, where there is little or no room for governments or regulation.

All the while they are training them to believe that the problems created by the market-fundamentalist system - climate change, mass poverty, rabid inequality - can be solved by the very same market mechanisms. As Peter Diamandis states, "In a world where the biggest problems on the planet are the biggest market opportunities, why wouldn't you be focusing on them?"

We are told that chasing profit through technological incrementalism is somehow commensurate with solving the world's problems. Distracted by 'disruptive innovation,' 'conscious capitalism,' 'social enterprise,' 'impact investing' and other deeply unpoliticized blind alleys, we are told we can go on exactly as we are. We have become prisoners of our own construction, forgetting that the crisis we face as a civilization is as much a crisis of the economic system as it is an ecological, spiritual and moral crisis.

Those who were supposed to become the gatecrashers - the radicals, the misfits, the real innovators, like the brilliant Italian woman I met that day in Cape Town - have become the gatekeepers through a combination of alluring ideology, debilitating privilege and myopic amnesia. As Milan Kundera reminds us in the Book of Laughter and Forgetting, "The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."

If we connect the dots between the capitalist system and the crises that face us, if we think constellationally, a new set of solutions will emerge. They may include a re-localization of politics and the economy; the rediscovery of the Original Wisdom of Indigenous cultures around the world; putting limits on the power of corporations and taxes on the source of carbon use; a revival of barter and gift economies; the closing down of tax havens; an embrace of steady state economics; the provision of a citizen's income to cover the basic necessities required for human dignity; and even the abolition of military spending.

Digital technology will inevitably play a powerful facilitating role, but technology is only a tool. In the absence of new principles - a new and wiser ideology - guiding the hands that use it, it can only change the pace, and not the direction, of travel.

Put simply, the task of our generation is one of reconstruction. If we want to truly be gate crashers, we must move beyond the frustration of the ineptitude and psychopathy of the elites, corrupt politicians and robber barons that are lionized in our media and educational institutions. We must start by taking responsibility.

The most powerful realization we must engender in ourselves and communities is that there is no separation between humans and all other life; this planet is, ultimately, a single bio-organism. From there, it is a short step to realizing that human power is such that the current state of this world - all the wealth and wonder and all the destruction and misery alike - are a product of our collective manifestation. We have a social, political and economic system that reflects our level of consciousness.

So we must simultaneously go deep within ourselves to reconnect with our source, and spread ourselves wide, throughout our communities. We must do whatever re-progamming is necessary for this new consciousness to emerge - unlearning, re-learning, remembering, examining our imprints, getting to a non-ordinary state through meditation or the use of psychedelics or whatever avenues allow us to be free thinkers again. And we will of course use the existing system to build the new system.

The aim will be to create structures that allow the conscious evolution and ascension of our species, in symbiosis with Nature. As the great Indian mystic Sri Aurobindo was fond of saying, we have to go from theoreticians of evolution to practioners of evolution. We must all be gatecrashers now.

Opinion Thu, 03 Sep 2015 00:00:00 -0400