Truthout Stories Thu, 05 Mar 2015 23:06:46 -0500 en-gb Our Planet's Lungs Are Dying

31 July, 2011- Satellite photo of the Amazon Rainforest. (Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)31 July, 2011- Satellite photo of the Amazon Rainforest. (Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Trees are like our planet's lungs.

Every second of every day, they're absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere, and converting it into energy.

In fact, according to a study by researchers at NASA, each year, tropical rainforests absorb a staggering 1.4 billion metric tons of CO2 from Earth's atmosphere.

Through the process of photosynthesis, they're "inhaling" that CO2, and keeping it from further damaging our planet and speeding up the process of climate change.

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

Photosynthesis is a process used by trees and other plants to convert sunlight into chemical energy that can be used later as fuel. During photosynthesis, plants absorb CO2, which is combined with water - H2O - to produce a mixture of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen called "carbohydrates" - everything from roots to stems to leaves and fruits.

And by absorbing and binding the carbon in carbon dioxide that way, our planet's tropical rainforests are an invaluable line of defense in the fight against global warming and climate change.

But unfortunately, new studies are showing that that defense is weakening.

Our planet's lungs are dying.

For the first time in history, scientists have been able to determine the rate at which trees in the Amazon rainforest can absorb carbon during periods of drought.

Scientists have known for a while that a drought can impact an individual tree's ability to "inhale" carbon, but now, we know just how big that impact is.

Researchers looked at the growth and photosynthesis rates of trees in 13 different Amazon rainforest locations throughout Brazil, Peru and Bolivia.

Some of those locations were affected by a severe drought in 2010 and some weren't.

The researchers found that trees in areas that were affected by the 2010 drought had much lower photosynthesis rates than trees in areas that were not. And, they were also in poorer overall health than their drought-free companions.

Speaking about this groundbreaking study, Christopher Doughty, one of the researchers, said that, "Tropical rainforests have been popularly thought of as the 'lungs' of the planet. Here, we show for the first time that during severe drought, the rate at which they 'inhale' carbon through photosynthesis can decrease."

Doughty went on to say that, "This decreased uptake of carbon does not decrease growth rates but does mean an increase in tree deaths. As trees die and decompose, the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will increase, potentially speeding up climate change during tropical droughts."

And thanks in large part to those droughts, our tropical rainforests are disappearing at an alarming rate, again reducing their ability to absorb CO2 and slow down climate change and global warming.

In a study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, researchers point out that during the 1990s and 2000s, the loss of tropical rainforests globally increased by a whopping 62 percent.

There are a lot of factors behind the loss of our rainforests, from drought to deforestation and urbanization - the common denominator is that all are caused or made worse by human activity.

Between 2000 and 2010 alone, the net tropical rainforest loss rate was 6.5 million hectares per year.

To put that in perspective, that's the equivalent of clearing out a piece of land the size of West Virginia EVERY YEAR.

That's a lot of trees and a lot of carbon-absorbing power being wiped out each year.

Tropical rainforests, and really all forests, play a huge role in the fight against climate change and global warming.

But, as more and more tropical rainforests are wiped out, from natural causes like drought or manmade causes like deforestation, we're losing a key ally in the climate change fight.

When it comes to the fight against global warming and climate change, we're in the fight of our lives, and we need all the help that we can get.

We need to start protecting our planet's forests, so that they can in turn protect us.

Save the rainforest, save the planet.

Opinion Thu, 05 Mar 2015 15:20:36 -0500
Loving America, Flaws and All

Rudy Giuliani, mayor of New York from 1994 to 2001, at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum last year. (Photo: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)Rudy Giuliani, mayor of New York from 1994 to 2001, at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum last year. (Photo: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)

Jamelle Bouie wrote a very good article for Slate responding to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's recent attack on President Obama's patriotism, making the point that Mr. Obama, while clearly patriotic, does talk about America a bit differently than his predecessors.

But I'm not sure that Mr. Bouie has the whole story. In his article, he attributes Mr. Obama's relatively chastened version of American exceptionalism to his personal identity - that as a black American he is more in touch with the areas of ambivalence in our history.

That may well be true. But there are many Americans who love their country in pretty much the way the president does - seeing it as special, often an enormous force for good in the world, but also fallible, and with some stains on its record. I'm one of them. So you don't have to be black to see things that way.

What's more, there have always been American patriots who were able to acknowledge flaws in the country that they loved. For example, there's the guy who described one of our foreign wars as "the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation."

That was Ulysses S. Grant - the Civil War general and American president who longtime readers know is one of my heroes - writing about the Mexican-American War.

But now we (finally) have a president who is willing to say such things while in the White House. Why?

Maybe it's history: The Greatest Generation is fading away, and the most recent war in our memories is Iraq - a war waged on false pretenses, whose enduring images are not of brave men storming Omaha Beach, but of prisoners being tortured in Abu Ghraib. My sense is that Iraq has left a lasting shadow on our self-image; many people now realize that we, too, can do evil.

Maybe it's just that we are becoming, despite everything, a more sophisticated country, a place where many people understand that you can be a patriot without always shouting "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" — maybe even a country where people are starting to realize that the shouters are often less patriotic than the people they're trying to shout down.

All of this doesn't change the fact that we really are an exceptional country - a country that has played a special role in the world, that despite its flaws has always stood for some of humanity's highest ideals. We are not, in other words, just about tribalism - which is what makes all the shouting about American exceptionalism so ironic, because it is, in fact, an attempt to tribalize our self-image.

Opinion Thu, 05 Mar 2015 14:40:22 -0500
Millions Could Lose Obamacare Coverage as Supreme Court Weighs Dubious Koch-Backed Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard arguments in a new challenge to the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare." The Competitive Enterprise Institute, backed by the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, sued the government over an aspect of the law dealing with tax subsidies. The legal question before the court focuses on a four-word phrase in the Affordable Care Act, which says subsidies are available to those buying insurance on exchanges "established by the state." Plaintiffs claim the wording does not include some 7.5 million people in 34 states who get their insurance through federal exchanges, after their states declined to run exchanges of their own. If the government loses the case, millions of people would lose the subsidies needed to help pay for private health insurance. Justices appeared sharply divide during Wednesday’s arguments, and a decision is expected by late June. We are joined by Ian Millhiser, who attended Wednesday’s court hearing. He is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, editor of ThinkProgress Justice, and author of the forthcoming book, "Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted."


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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to the Supreme Court, which heard arguments Wednesday in another challenge to the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare." If the government loses the case, known as King v. Burwell, millions of people would lose tax subsidies needed to help pay for private health insurance. The challenge was brought by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is backed by the Koch brothers. Inside the courtroom, justices appeared sharply divided. The White House warned of catastrophic damage if the court rules against the subsidies.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Ian Millhiser. He’s a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the editor of ThinkProgress Justice. Millhiser is the author of the forthcoming book, Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted. He attended Wednesday’s Supreme Court oral arguments in King v. Burwell.

Well, describe the scene inside the Supreme Court, Ian. But also, if you could explain just what this case is all about?

IAN MILLHISER: Sure thing. So this is really a case about whether or not the justices are capable of reading more than six words. The plaintiffs in this case hone in on these six words in the law—"an exchange established by the state"—and they claim that those words appear in a place which makes it the case that if you’re in one of the 36 states that has a federally run exchange, instead of one of the ones that is a state-run health exchange under the law, you do not get these tax credits. We’re talking about hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of tax credits that help people pay for the law—or, that help people pay for insurance.

The problem with their theory is that the law is a lot more than six words long. The word "exchange" is defined in the law, and it’s defined in a way that deems state exchanges and federal exchanges to be the exact same thing. There are various provisions of the law that become absurd if you accept the plaintiffs’ reading of what those words mean. And then there’s this problem that if in fact the plaintiffs are right—and this came up a lot at oral argument—it could set off what’s called a death spiral, where it creates a shock to the insurance market that could potentially collapse those markets in many states, leaving people in the individual insurance markets unable to buy insurance at any price.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ian, could you actually explain how that would happen? What would the impact be of a decision against, in this case, on insurance companies and premiums?

IAN MILLHISER: Sure thing. So, these tax credits cover, you know, depending on what state you’re in, an average of two—and average of 60 to 80 percent of the average person’s premium. So, if this case goes south, you’ll see premiums go up 200, 300, 400, 500, even 600 percent in many states. Once that happens, healthy people start dropping out of the health insurance market, because their premiums have gone up so much, they can no longer afford their care. Well, when healthy people drop out of the market, the insurance companies no longer have enough revenue to cover the costs of their sick customers. So they have to jack up premiums even more. And when they jack up premiums, more people drop out, which causes premiums to go up more, which causes more people to drop out. That’s the death spiral that could potentially collapse the market.

And what was interesting yesterday is Justice Kennedy—there’s a doctrine which says that states cannot be subjected to unconstitutional coercion. They can’t be forced to do something under penalty of a terrible consequence. And Kennedy seemed to think that if the plaintiffs are right about how this law was written, forcing states to choose between setting up their own exchange or dealing with this death spiral is unconstitutional. And for that reason, I think that he is more likely than not going to vote with the government and say, "No, we’re not going to accept the plaintiffs’ reading, because that’s just—it’s too unconstitutional. It would coerce the states, and that’s not acceptable."

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s not as if they’re going back hundreds of years to try to figure out the history of how this law was passed, you know, to determine what is meant by the term "established by the state." People debated this. They wrote about it. What about that legal history, the intent of those who wrote the law?

IAN MILLHISER: Right, there’s no question here what this law is supposed to mean. And you don’t even have to look at—you know, there is a brief that was filed by many members of Congress saying, "No, that’s not what we meant." The plaintiffs, in their brief, called out former Senator Ben Nelson and claimed that Nelson wanted it to be this way. And Nelson wrote a letter saying, "No, that is not how I wanted it." So there’s no question, this is not how the law was intended to work.

But again, you don’t need to look at, you know, these intentions. You don’t need to look what these members of Congress are saying. All you have to do is read the law. The word "exchange," again, is defined in the law to say that any exchange, whether it’s run by the state or whether it’s run by the federal government, shall be deemed to be an exchange that is established by a state. And that’s really all you need to know. The word "exchange" is defined in the law. The law clearly says that state and federal exchanges are the exact same thing. And if these justices follow the law and they aren’t consumed by partisan politics, this should be an easy case.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to turn to the group behind the King v. Burwell case, the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The group’s website says this case, quote, "challenges an IRS regulation imposed under the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, that allows subsidies on both state and federally-established health exchanges. The IRS regulation violates the plain language of the law enacted by Congress, which gave states the choice to either set up such exchanges themselves or stay out of the program." So could you explain what is the Competitive Enterprise Institute and what is their interest in this case?

IAN MILLHISER: Well, their interest is they don’t like Obamacare. You know, their interest is that they are opposed to this policy, and they want to use the Supreme Court as their agent in order to enact—in order to get rid of this policy they don’t like. Look, I mean, there’s a lot of right-wing groups in Washington, D.C. CEI, in a town riddled with conservative organizations, is a particularly virulent group. Their former board chair recently wrote a blog post where he compared the Affordable Care Act to the Holocaust. You know, think about that for a second. He compared giving health insurance to millions of people, so that they can live, to the Holocaust. So you’re dealing with some folks here who don’t really have the same perspective that many people have, and they’re hoping that there are five justices that are essentially willing to be their agents to enact an agenda that they couldn’t get through Congress and, you know, to engage in a very political, very partisan attack on President Obama’s chief accomplishment.

AMY GOODMAN: So, as we wrap up, Ian, The New York Times headline today, "At Least One Justice is in Play as Court Hears Health Case," they’re talking about Anthony Kennedy.


AMY GOODMAN: Where this goes from here?

IAN MILLHISER: So I think it is more likely than not that the justices will reject this challenge. Kennedy, again, seemed to feel that if the plaintiffs are right, that would be unconstitutional, and so he said the court should avoid a construction of the law that is unconstitutional. Roberts, Chief Justice Roberts, was dead silent, but Roberts upheld the law three years ago, and this legal challenge is so weak. You know, Roberts is very conservative, but he’s also very smart. I think the most likely outcome is a six-to-three decision, with Roberts and Kennedy joining the court’s four liberals in order to uphold the subsidies. But it is still up in the air. We won’t know until the decision comes down. And, you know, obviously, it would be very, very frightening. We’re talking about an estimated almost 10,000 people will die every year if this case goes against the government.

AMY GOODMAN: Ian Millhiser, we want to thank you for being with us, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, editor of ThinkProgress Justice. His forthcoming book will be called Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to London to talk about the man who came to be known as Jihadi John. Stay with us.

News Thu, 05 Mar 2015 12:06:10 -0500
Michelle Alexander: Ferguson Shows Why Criminal Justice System of "Racial Control" Should Be Undone

The U.S. Justice Department has concluded that the police and city courts in Ferguson, Missouri, routinely engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination against African Americans. Despite comprising about 66 percent of the local population, African Americans accounted for 93 percent of arrests, 88 percent of incidents where force was used, 90 percent of citations and 85 percent of traffic stops. The Justice Department, which launched its report after the police killing of Michael Brown, also uncovered at least three municipal Ferguson emails containing racist language or images. "The report does not give me hope. What gives me hope is that people across America are finally waking up," says Michelle Alexander, author of the best-selling book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. "There is a system of racial and social control in communities of color across America. … What we see now is that we do have the power to make things change. The question is are we going to transition from protest politics to long-term, strategic movement building?”


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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The U.S. Justice Department has concluded that police and city courts in Ferguson, Missouri, routinely engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination against African Americans. Attorney General Eric Holder ordered the report—that’s being issued today—after the police shooting of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown last August. Brown’s death sparked months of protests in Ferguson and around the country. In a separate report, the Justice Department is expected to clear the police officer, Darren Wilson, of civil rights violations in the shooting of Brown.

The Justice Department study of Ferguson’s records from 2012 to 2014 found African Americans made up 93 percent of arrests in Ferguson while accounting for only 67 percent of the population. In addition, the report found in 88 percent of the cases in which Ferguson police used force, it was against African Americans, and all 14 cases of police dog bites involved blacks.

AMY GOODMAN: Investigators also found that African Americans constituted 96 percent of people arrested in traffic stops solely for an outstanding warrant, 95 percent of jaywalking charges, 94 percent of failure-to-comply charges, 92 percent of all disturbing-the-peace charges. With traffic stops, African-American motorists are twice as likely to be searched when pulled over, even though searches of white drivers are more likely to turn up drugs or other contraband.

The Justice Department report uncovered at least three municipal Ferguson emails containing racist language or images. One email sent by a Ferguson police or municipal court official joked in 2008 Barack Obama would not remain as president for long because, quote, "what black man holds a steady job for four years." Another email suggested more abortions by African-American women would lower crime. It read, quote, "An African-American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $5,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said, 'Crimestoppers.'?" A third email uncovered in the Ferguson probe included a cartoon depicting African Americans as monkeys. It has not been revealed yet who wrote those emails.

The Justice Department report has renewed calls for police accountability from activists and those close to Michael Brown’s family. This is St. Louis City Alderman Antonio French, followed by Brown family attorney Anthony Gray.

ANTONIO FRENCH: To me, that demands a certain level of accountability, and I think the chief out there has to resign. It’s the only way that this community can move forward.

ANTHONY GRAY: No shock here at all, no surprise, as we have to take now what is publicly known to be a situation, come up with solutions, then execute whatever those solutions are, go back and measure the results, and then see if we made some progress from there.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Michelle Alexander, civil rights advocate, author of the best-selling book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. She’s a law professor at Ohio State University. Her New York Times op-ed in November was titled "Telling My Son About Ferguson."

Welcome back to Democracy Now!

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: I’m happy to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. I know you’re giving two major addresses here in New York, at Union Theological Seminary tonight and then Friday night at Columbia University. But let’s start with that op-ed. What did you tell your son about Ferguson?

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Well, it’s difficult, you know, as a mother to have to tell your son, my 10-year-old son, that I knew that the officer who shot Michael Brown wouldn’t be charged. And I knew it before the grand jury came back. I knew it before the Justice Department announced that it wouldn’t be filing charges. I knew it because police officers are almost never charged for killing unarmed black men. And that’s the way it is in this country. And it was incredibly difficult to tell him that. And I found, as I began to talk to him about the realities of race and justice in America, that I was tempted to lie. I was tempted to say, "No, really, nothing like that could ever happen to you, son." And yet, unfortunately, today, in this current era, you know, a time of so-called colorblindness, the age of Obama, parents have to have conversations with their children that are eerily reminiscent of the kinds of conversations parents had to have with their kids decades ago. And so, it’s my hope—really, my prayer—that the uprising we saw in Ferguson is the beginning of a new, bold, radical, courageous movement for justice that will ensure that parents in the future don’t have to tell their children that in the eyes of their law they don’t matter.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: When you talk about parents having to have these conversations with their children, notably, here in New York City, the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, discussed that very issue in the midst of the Ferguson protests about having to have a conversation with his biracial son about watching out for interactions with police, and he took enormous heat and enormous attacks by the local police union over even daring to talk about that. I’m wondering your reaction when you heard about that.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Well, telling the truth isn’t popular today. That’s the reality. And I think, though, what we’ve seen, you know, in recent months is the necessity of telling the truth. You know, I look at what’s gone down in the last few months, and it seems clear to me that, first and foremost, change comes when people stand up, speak unpopular truths and are willing to take real risks in the name of justice. There is no way that the Justice Department would have investigated what was going on in Ferguson, you know, if the young people there hadn’t stood up and taken to the streets.

And what the Justice Department report demonstrates is that we’re not crazy. You know, the young people in Ferguson, the old people in Ferguson, who said, "We feel like we’re living in occupied territory," were telling the truth. You know, we have some sense now, based on this report, of why Michael Brown might have been so frustrated and so angry when he was being harassed by the police for jaywalking. You get some sense of what’s really going on in these communities. And so, you know, we’re not crazy. There is a system of racial and social control in communities of color across America.

And if we don’t stand up, speak unpopular truths, take to the streets and organize, things aren’t going to change. But, you know, what we see now is that we do have the power to make things change. And the question is: Are we going to transition from protest politics to long-term, strategic movement building?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, you mentioned jaywalking. I mean, I was struck in this report by the figures that 94 percent of all the people arrested for jaywalking, you’d think the most inconsequential of misdemeanors or violations, were African-American. And as if the—clearly, African Americans don’t jaywalk at a greater percentage than white Americans. It’s just astonishing that even in jaywalking you’d see this enormous disparity.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Absolutely, but you see that disparity right here in New York City, as well. You know, I think it’s so important that we don’t think of this as a problem in Ferguson that is somehow unique to that community. You know, thanks to "broken windows" policing here in New York City, you have statistics that rival the ones that we see in Ferguson. You know, the New York Civil Liberties Union issued a report showing that here in New York City more than 80 percent of those who are issued summons for things like jaywalking, you know, are people of color. And the revenue streams that fund the criminal courts in New York City, just like those in Ferguson, come from poor people paying tickets for minor offenses that are being enforced against them but aren’t being enforced in other parts of town.

AMY GOODMAN: And we see that it’s lethal. I mean, the jaywalking, which is so minor—what exactly was Michael Brown stopped for by Darren Wilson?


AMY GOODMAN: Because he was walking in the middle of the road. And being there—I mean, this was not a very trafficked road; it was a back road to the main roads. And the fact that these two young men were simply walking on the street. Now, how is it—you’re an attorney, you clerked for Justice Blackmun—how is it that Darren Wilson didn’t get charged with violating civil rights, let alone indicted, but now the Ferguson police, the courts are found to be systematically discriminating against, and those figures are being cited, like stopping an African American for jaywalking?

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Yes, well, I mean, I think what we have here is a unwillingness, an unwillingness to hold individual officers accountable for the unjustified lethal force that is being used against, you know, African-American men and others. I mean, we’ve seen, you know, what’s happened with Latinos in other parts of the country. This isn’t just limited to black men. And we see also this kind of force has been used against women, black women. But, you know, I think what we see here is an unwilling to hold individual officers accountable even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the system as a whole is discriminatory.

AMY GOODMAN: Does this report give you any hope, as you talk to your son now? I mean, no, Darren Wilson was not indicted. No, he wasn’t found guilty of violating the civil rights of Michael Brown. But now this report is coming out today that says the Ferguson police and the city courts do violate the rights of African Americans.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: No, the report doesn’t give me hope. What gives me hope is that people across America are finally waking up. That’s what gives me hope. A single report, even a single indictment, isn’t going to make a difference unless people become organized and commit themselves to the hard work of movement building on behalf of poor people of all colors. And I see that beginning, and that’s what gives me hope.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And yet these kinds of shootings continue. We had the—in Pasco, Washington, Antonio Zambrano-Montes shot by the police this past Sunday.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In Los Angeles, a homeless man in Los Angeles shot—again, caught on video once again—by police. So, we have these continuing incidents occurring.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: And they will continue. They absolutely will continue, until we move beyond the sporadic protests that occur to serious movement building. And I think that’s the challenge. And I think it’s also important that we not get too easily satisfied with minor reforms or when, you know, the Justice Department says, "Well, here’s a report," or, "We’re going to file one suit." No, the kind of change that needs to happen in our police departments and our criminal justice system as a whole is of such a scale that it is not going to happen merely by, you know, the good intentions—

AMY GOODMAN: With a consent decree?

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: With—right, with a single consent decree or good intentions of some legislators tinkering around the edges. We need transformational change of our criminal justice system, not just, you know, a handful of consent decrees or policy reforms.

AMY GOODMAN: So we’re going to talk about what that transformational change would look like. We’re talking to Michelle Alexander, civil rights advocate, author of the best-selling book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. She’s a law professor at Ohio State University in Columbus. Stay with us.

News Thu, 05 Mar 2015 12:03:09 -0500
Michelle Alexander: Roots of Today's Mass Incarceration Crisis Date to Slavery, Jim Crow

As the Justice Department sheds new light on the racist criminal justice system in Ferguson, legal scholar Michelle Alexander looks at the historical roots of what she describes as "the new Jim Crow." From mass incarceration to police killings to the drug war, Alexander explores how the crisis is a nationwide issue facing communities of color. "Today we see millions of poor people and folks of color who are trapped, yet again, in a criminal justice system which are treating them like commodities, like people who are easily disposable," Alexander says. "We are not on the right path. … It’s not about making minor reforms and plodding along in the same direction. No, its about mustering the courage to have a major reassessment of where we are as America, reckon with our racial history as well as our present, and build a broad-based movement rooted in the awareness of the dignity and humanity of us all."


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

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest for the hour is Michelle Alexander. Her book is called The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. It actually came out a few years ago, but it has taken this country by storm. San Francisco Chronicle called it "the bible of a social movement"; Cornel West, "an instant classic." Even Forbes magazine called it "devastating." And The New York Review of Books said, "Alexander deserves to be compared to Du Bois in her ability to distill and lay out as mighty human drama a complex argument and history." This is a transformative book. Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, part of the Justice Department’s investigation in Ferguson focused on traffic stops and found African Americans, who account for about two-thirds of the city’s population, made up 85 percent of traffic stops, 90 percent of citations, 93 percent of arrests and 88 percent of cases in which police used force. African-American drivers were twice as likely as whites to be searched, but were less likely to be found with drugs or guns than whites. And in all 14 incidents in which a police dog bit the suspect and the person’s race is known, the person bitten was African-American. The findings reinforce details of a class-action lawsuit filed by Ferguson residents, who accuse local officials of creating a "modern debtors’ prison scheme" that targets African Americans with arrest and fines, and then locks them up when they can’t pay. Here on Democracy Now!, we spoke with Herbert Nelson Jr., a plaintiff in the lawsuit, who has been arrested multiple times. He was asked how his experience made him feel about the police.

HERBERT NELSON JR.: That’s a good question, because the last time I was arrested, the officer said I shouldn’t be afraid of officers. But that same officer, he actually—he was like, "Yes!" He was so excited to arrest me. And that alone made me afraid, because a lot of my friends and family won’t even come to see me because I live in Jennings. They’re scared to come into the county of North St. Louis, North County St. Louis, because of the police and how quick they are to arrest you over a minor, minor, minor traffic ticket.

AARON MATÉ: Herbert, when we were there, there was some hope among some residents that we spoke to that things might get better in the aftermath of these protests, of this organizing in Ferguson and the surrounding areas. Has anything improved in the six months since Michael Brown was killed?

HERBERT NELSON JR.: Far as the policing, no, it hasn’t. It hasn’t. And I wouldn’t honestly say it improved. No, actually, it began—it got worse, because it seems like the crime has went up, and the police are really—the jails are just running in an out, like they’re way more packed than they were before Mike Brown was shot. The jails are way more packed. So it hasn’t improved at all.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Herbert Nelson Jr., who is a plaintiff in this lawsuit, who’s been arrested multiple times. He was sitting next to his sister, Allison. One of her arrests—it’s their mother who comes constantly to the jail to give money. One of her arrests was being in the car with a suspended license. The problem was she was in her backyard in a parked car just sitting inside. And for that, she was taken away. So, Michelle Alexander, broaden this story, from arrests to what they’re calling "modern-day debtors’ prisons."

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Yes, you know, I think this is part of the story that many people are unaware of, the ways in which poor people, particularly poor folks of color, are targeted by our criminal justice system, arrested for extremely minor offenses, the very sorts of crimes that occur with equal frequency in middle-class communities or on college campuses but go largely ignored—targeted, arrested or cited, and then saddled with fines and fees that are nearly impossible for them to pay back. Then warrants are issued for their arrest, for failure to appear in court or to pay back their fees or fines in a timely manner, leading them into a system from which they have little hope of ever truly escaping.

And, you know, we can look back in history and see this is not the first time we’ve done something like this. Slavery by Another Name is an important book that I think all Americans should read, about how, following the end of slavery, a new system of racial and social control was born, known as "convict leasing." You know, after the end of slavery, African-American men were arrested in mass, and they were arrested for extremely minor crimes like loitering, standing around, vagrancy or the equivalent of jaywalking—arrested and then sent to prison and then leased to plantations. And the idea was they were supposed to earn their freedom, but they could never pay back the plantation owners or the corporations the costs of their clothing and shelter, and so they were effectively re-enslaved, you know, sometimes for the rest of their lives. And today we see millions of poor people and folks of color who are trapped yet again in a criminal justice system, you know, which are treating them like commodities and like people who are easily disposable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the impact of this not only for those who, let’s say, are jailed and then lose their voting rights for a period of time, but even for those who are arrested and then this stays on their record, and then the issue of being able to get a job with your arrest record, available to employers now with databases being able to locate any kind of information—the impact of this on the ability of African Americans and other people of color to be able to have some kind of social mobility and move forward?

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: That’s absolutely right. You know, I hear people often say, "Oh, come on, it’s just a misdemeanor. It’s not that big of a deal. It’s not like they have a felony." Well, today, a misdemeanor can show up on your record, through a few keystrokes on the computer by an employer, and it can be the reason that you’re denied an opportunity to work. It can also be the reason you’re denied access to housing. Public housing officials are free to discriminate against you on the basis of criminal records, including arrest records. And so, you know, what you find is that even for these extremely minor offenses, people find themselves trapped in a permanent second-class status and struggling to survive. So I think it’s critically important that we not dismiss these kinds of charges that are being brought against folks as being minor and shrug them off. No, they can actually alter the course of one’s life.

AMY GOODMAN: Michelle, I was wondering if you can read the first paragraph of your book. This is a stunning story that goes back to slavery that I think is so important, that leads us right into this weekend, the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, people marching 50 years ago for voting rights, but where we are today, 50 years later.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: "Jarvious Cotton cannot vote. Like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather, he has been denied the right to participate in our electoral democracy. Cotton’s family tree tells the story of several generations of black men who were born in the United States but who were denied the most basic freedom that democracy promises—the freedom to vote for those who will make the rules and laws that govern one’s life. Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Ku Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation. His father was barred from voting by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Jarvious Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole."

AMY GOODMAN: So, where are we today, 50 years after Selma, not to mention how many years after slavery?

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Well, you know, I think it’s common today for people to say, particularly on Martin Luther King Day, you know, that we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long, long way to go. And, you know, I think the events of recent months, as well as the astonishing rates of incarceration and the existence of this permanent second-class status that entraps millions, shows us that, no, we’re not on the right path. It’s not a matter of having a long, long way to go. We’ve taken a U-turn and are off course entirely. You know, that’s why I say over and over again it’s not about, you know, making minor reforms and plodding along in the same direction. No, it’s about mustering in the courage to have a major reassessment of where we are as America, reckon with our racial history as well as our present, and build a broad-based movement rooted in the awareness of the dignity and humanity of us all, no matter who we are, where we came from or what we may have done.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And yet, we have a Supreme Court that only recently eviscerated the Voting Rights Act in a decision. I’m wondering your reaction when you heard that decision.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Well, I think it’s a reflection of where we are at this particular moment. You know, I believe the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as a very large swath of the American population, really wants to imagine that race and racial inequality is something we don’t have to think about anymore, don’t have to worry about anymore. Colorblindness in the United States today means being blind to racial inequality, does not mean being blind to race itself. And that’s the moment we’re in. And the question is: How do we respond? And so, I am thrilled by the protests that we’ve seen, the creative, courageous, nonviolent protests, but now the question is: How do we transition from protest politics to long-term movement building?

AMY GOODMAN: You know, just recently John Legend and rapper Common won the Oscar for best original song for "Glory," which was featured in the movie Selma. Legend paid tribute to protesters from the civil rights era to today.

JOHN LEGEND: Nina Simone said it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live. We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now.


JOHN LEGEND: We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you we are with you, we see you, we love you, and march on. God bless you.

AMY GOODMAN: That was John Legend standing next to Common. They both won the Oscar for best song in Selma. Of course, Selma, though it was nominated for best film, it didn’t win. And Ava DuVernay, who was hailed as the director of this film, a young African-American woman, was not nominated for best director. Neither was David Oyelowo for best actor. In fact, there were no black actors or directors who were nominated this year, leading to that hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite. But after John Legend spoke, many commentators said he was actually citing your work, Michelle Alexander. If you can talk about the significance of this? I mean, tens of millions of people saw this. Of course, culture is so important in getting out information.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Yeah, I was just so proud of John Legend for using his moment on that stage to speak to the crisis of mass incarceration in the United States and to raise awareness of the toll that it has taken on the African-American community. And I am hopeful that more celebrities and people who have a big microphone will follow his lead and begin speaking up and speaking out, because, you know, we are not going to be able to engage in this movement building if we remain asleep and in denial about its existence, because, you know, unlike the old Jim Crow, there are no signs alerting us to the existence of this new caste system. And if you’re not directly impacted, if you yourself have not been branded a felon or are cycling in and out of prison or forced to check the box on employment applications, if this doesn’t actually affect you directly, you can go your whole life and have no idea what is really going on. And so, if we are going to build this movement, we’re going to have to pull back the curtain, speak courageous truths, like John Legend did, and help to inspire a much broader awakening, so that the work of real movement building can get underway.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about another tragic shooting and the aftermath of that shooting, the Tamir Rice shooting, the 12-year-old boy who was shot by police, holding a toy gun. And the mayor of Cleveland recently apologized because the attorneys for the city of Cleveland argued in a legal brief that Tamir was responsible for his own death.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And just wondering again about the way that the legal system convolutes its own reasoning just to be able to come up with justifications for what happens.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Well, I thought, you know, what transpired there, where, in papers filed in court, they blame that boy for the fact that the police showed up and killed him within two seconds of their arrival, and said it was his fault, that somehow he had brought this police response upon him, in so many ways, that is an illustration of the larger system of mass incarceration, where those who are targeted and who find themselves behind bars are blamed, and said, "Well, it’s your fault. You brought all of this on yourself." And, in fact, you know, over the last few decades, I think many in the African-American community have been seduced by the argument that, well, this is all our fault. Somehow we’ve brought mass incarceration upon ourselves. If only we would pull up our pants or stay in school or not experiment with drugs, if only somehow we could be perfect and never make a mistake, that none of this would be happening. But, of course, you know, young white kids who make mistakes, commit misdemeanors and jaywalking and smoke weed, they are able to go off to college if they’re middle-class. But if you’re poor or you live in the hood, the kinds of mistakes that people of all colors and classes make actually cost them their lives. And yet, then we turn around and blame them and say, "This is all your fault."

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break, and then we’re going to come back to this discussion with Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: John Legend and Common singing "Glory," the Oscar-winning song from the film Selma. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. We’re with Michelle Alexander, professor of law at Ohio State University in Columbus. She’s a civil rights advocate. She’s author of the best-selling book, [The New] Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Michelle, talk about your own transformation. And then let’s talk about what you feel needs to change mass incarceration in this country. But what happened to you?

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Oh, yes, what happened to me? You know, when I began working as a civil rights lawyer and advocate, I understood, I got, that our criminal justice system was biased in many ways, and I assumed that it was biased just like every institution in our society is infected, to some degree or another, with conscious or unconscious bias and stereotyping. And so I thought, well, it’s my job just to join with other advocates and lawyers to root out racial bias whenever, wherever it might rear its ugly head in the criminal justice system. And it really wasn’t, you know, until after years of representing victims of racial profiling and police brutality, and investigating patterns of drug law enforcement in poor communities of color, and attempting to assist people who had been released from prison, you know, "re-enter," only to have one closed door in their face after another, that I had a series of experiences that really began my own awakening. And I came to see that our criminal justice system isn’t just another institution in our society infected with racial bias, but, you know, really a different beast entirely.

And, you know, at that time, there were activists who were saying that. You know, at the beginning of the book, I talk about how I saw posted on a telephone pole a sign that said, "the drug war is the new Jim Crow," and I just dismissed that as nonsense. You know, yeah, our system is biased, but you can’t compare it to Jim Crow or slavery. You know, that’s absurd. But I had a number of experiences that began to open my eyes. And one of them included a young man who came to me with a story of being framed by the police and drugs being planted on him, and I didn’t believe him. And it was only after I came to see that he was telling the truth about vast corruption that was happening in the Oakland Police Department, and that my own biases and stereotypes and my own class privilege had prevented me from hearing him, acknowledging the truth and seeing the reality of what was hidden in plain sight. And that’s really what began my journey of doing an enormous amount of research and trying to listen much more carefully to the stories of those cycling in and out of prison.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we’re going through, here in New York City right now, this startling number of cases that are now being reviewed, and especially in Brooklyn, that were at the height of the crack epidemic, and scores of people who were sentenced to prison with false testimony, with police coercion witnesses, and now, one after another, people are being released after spending years in prison because it was all false testimony that was put together by police officers against African Americans and Latinos. It’s become a huge scandal. But it’s precisely that the people could not believe that the system was this corrupt—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —that it was doing this on a massive scale.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: That’s exactly right. No, who do we believe? Who do we listen to? Who do we hear from? Who do we believe? You know, and over the last few decades, we’ve heard from the police, we’ve heard from politicians, we’ve heard from prosecutors. But very rarely do we hear the stories, you know, in the media, of the people who have been targeted and demonized. And even when we do, how often do we disbelieve them and think, "Oh, it must be exaggeration. It must be over the top"? But what we’ve seen with the Justice Department report, what we see with the overwhelming evidence that I tried to put in my book, is that we need to pay a lot more attention to the stories and the lived experiences of people who have been trapped in the system of mass incarceration.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about another aspect of mass incarceration that has obviously been mushrooming in recent years. About 50 percent of all federal prosecutions these days are actually immigration-related prosecutions.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you’re having the growth of these private prisons and the mass incarceration of immigrants. Congress, just in attempting to fund Homeland Security, is insisting that everybody who comes in from Central America be jailed while—if they’re caught coming across the border. This whole issue of this expansion of mass incarceration to the immigrant and largely Latino population in the country?

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: That’s exactly right. You know, what we see is that this system of mass incarceration, in order to continue to grow, is adapting and is looking for new populations to bring under its control. And particularly the profit motive in the private prison industry is helping to drive much of that impulse. And so, when we talk about ending mass incarceration, we must, in the same breath, talk about ending mass deportation and the criminalization of immigrant communities in the United States today. You know, we see that the same racially divisive politics that gave rise to the war on drugs and the "get tough" movement, those same racially divisive politics are now taking aim at immigrant communities and helping to ensure the continued expansion of the prison-industrial complex, you know, by including immigrants under its control.

AMY GOODMAN: Your book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, came out under President Obama. What is your assessment? Has President Obama, being the first African-American president, made any difference? Has it made things better? When it comes to the whole issue of mass incarceration, have things gotten worse?

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: It’s better and worse. It’s better and worse, you know. I mean, there are—I think having an African-American president has been a beautiful, wonderful thing in many ways. I know that I’m grateful that my children know a world where a black man can be president of the United States. It makes a difference to them to know that that’s possible, that such a thing is possible. But I think there’s also been real difficulties as a result of his presidency. One of them is the reluctance, I think, among African Americans to be as courageous in their criticism and their critique of the drug war and mass incarceration and, you know, many of the policies that we see continuing under the Obama administration than they might otherwise be.

You know, the reality is that the rhetoric has changed in the Obama administration, but when you take a look at the policies, they’ve been much, much slower to change. So, you know, under the Obama administration, we’ve heard consecutive drugs czars say that we should no longer be at war with our own people, you know, saying we don’t like the language of the drug war. But then when you look at the drug war budget, basically the same ratio of dollars is invested in enforcement, as opposed to treatment and prevention, as under the Bush administrations and earlier administrations. And so, you know, I think that it’s very tempting to imagine that more progress has been achieved when there is an African American in the White House and a black attorney general saying all the right things, but I think we have to not be so easily seduced by the imagery and insist upon the kind of large-scale policy reform and structural reform and in end to the actual war on drugs, not the language.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, in February, FBI Director James Comey called for police nationwide to confront what he said is unconscious racial bias in the wake of a spate of killings of unarmed African Americans. In the speech, Comey said the nation’s endemic racism must be addressed.

JAMES COMEY: Much research points to the widespread existence of unconscious bias. Many people in our white-majority culture have unconscious racial biases and react differently to a white face than a black face. … Police officers on patrol in our nation’s cities often work in environments where a hugely disproportionate percentage of street crime is committed by young men of color. Something happens to people of goodwill working in that environment. After years of police work, officers often can’t help but be influenced by the cynicism they feel. A mental shortcut becomes almost irresistible, and maybe even rational by some lights. … We need to come to grips with the fact that this behavior complicates the relationship between police and the communities they serve.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was FBI Director James Comey talking about unconscious bias, not institutionalized use of racial discrimination. But I’m wondering your reaction to his pretty unusual comments for an FBI director.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Well, you know, I have to applaud him for acknowledging that, you know, there is both conscious and unconscious bias that pervades law enforcement today. You know, he tends to attribute it to police officers being in constant contact with black and brown criminals, and that that jades them. I think that that—you know, that that tells only a very small part of the larger story. The reality is we have been at war with certain communities. Our elected officials declared wars on crime and wars on drugs, which really were not wars on either of those things, but were wars on communities defined by race and class. And that war mentality has infected law enforcement in ways that, you know, seem nearly irreparable. And so, I think it’s important for us to recognize that these biases and stereotypes that exist within law enforcement isn’t simply a product of having to deal with a lot of bad guys on the streets, but it’s the product of a war mentality that has been adopted and institutionalized throughout law enforcement agencies in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: What needs to happen? You talk about a movement that has to happen. But also, as you’ve looked particularly at mass incarceration, what has to change?

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Well, I think a number of things have to change. You know, there’s a whole laundry list of reforms that need to be adopted. But I think we really need to come from the perspective not how do we tinker with this thing or tweak it, but what would a truly just system look like? Would we criminalize the simple possession of drugs for personal use? Would we do that? Or would we treat drug use and drug addiction as a public health problem rather than a crime? Would we follow the lead of a country like Portugal, which has decriminalized all drugs across the board and stopped caging people who may be in the need of help, and investing in drug treatment and education and support for the communities from which they come? So, we need to end the war on drugs and the war mentality that we have, which means ending zero-tolerance policies. It means transforming our criminal justice system from one that is purely punitive to one that is based on principles of restorative and transformative justice, you know, systems that take seriously the interests of the victim, the offender and the community as a whole. We need to abolish all of the laws that authorize legal discrimination against people who have criminal records, legal discrimination that denies them basic human rights—to work, to shelter, to education, to food. You know, we have to decriminalize—


MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Yes—immigration. We have to grant the right to vote not just to people upon release from prison. You know, so I have trouble with the framing of this as being a movement to end disenfranchisement laws, and say we should be allowing people in prison to vote, like many other Western democracies do. There are often voting drives within prisons in other Western democracies. And here in the United States, we deny people the right to vote not only when they’re in prison, but often when they’re out, and sometimes for the rest of their lives. So, there is so much work to be done in transitioning from a war mentality to a mentality where we extend care, compassion and concern to poor people and people of color, and not respond with a purely punitive impulse.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Michelle Alexander, we thank you so much for being with us. The conversation continues. Her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. She is a law professor at Ohio State University in Columbus. She’ll be speaking tonight at Union Theological Seminary, the Judith Moyers lecture, and on Friday night at the Columbia University conference, "Beyond the Bars: Transforming (In)Justice."

News Thu, 05 Mar 2015 11:57:55 -0500
When Capitalism Becomes an Act of War

Novelist Rana Dasgupta recently turned to nonfiction to explore the explosive social and economic changes in Delhi starting in 1991, when India launched a series of transformative economic reforms. In Capital: The Eruption of Delhi, he describes a city where the epic hopes of globalization have dimmed in the face of a sterner, more elitist world. In Part 1 of an interview with the Institute for New Economic Thinking, Dasgupta traces a turbulent time in which traditional ways of life are dissolving as a new class of entrepreneur-warriors are wielding unprecedented power — and changing the global landscape.

Lynn Parramore: Why did you decide to move from New York to Delhi in 2000, and then to write a book about the city?

Rana Dasgupta: I moved to be with my partner who lived in Delhi, and soon realized it was a great place to have landed. I was trying write a novel and there were a lot of people doing creative things. There was a fascinating intellectual climate, all linked to changes in society and the economy. It was 10 years since liberalization and a lot of the impact of that was just being felt and widely sensed.

There was a sense of opportunity, not any more just on the part of business people, but everyone. People felt that things were really going to change in a deep way — in every part of the political spectrum and every class of society. Products and technology spread, affecting even very poor people. Coke made ads about the rickshaw drivers with their mobile phones —people who had never had access to a landline. A lot of people sensed a new possibility for their own lives.

Amongst the artists and intellectuals that I found myself with, there were very big hopes for what kind of society Delhi could become and they were very interested in being part of creating that. They were setting up institutions, publications, publishing houses, and businesses. They were thinking new ideas. When I arrived, I felt, this is where stuff is happening. The scale of conversations, the philosophy of change was just amazing.

LP: You've interviewed many of the young tycoons who emerged during Delhi's transformation. How would you describe this new figure? How do they do business?

RD: Many of their fathers and grandfathers had run significant provincial businesses. They were frugal in their habits and didn't like to advertise themselves, and anyway their wealth remained local both in its magnitude and its reach. They had business and political associates that they drank with and whose weddings they went to, and so it was a tight-knit kind of wealth.

But the sons, who would probably be now between 35 and 45, had an entirely different experience. Their adult life happened after globalization. Because their fathers often didn't have the skills or qualifications to tap into the forces of globalization, the sons were sent abroad, probably to do an MBA, so they could walk into a meeting with a management consultancy firm or a bank and give a presentation. When they came back they operated not from the local hubs where their fathers ruled but from Delhi, where they could plug into federal politics and global capital.

So you have these very powerful combinations of father/son businesses. The sons revere the fathers, these muscular, huge masculine figures who have often done much more risky and difficult work building their businesses and have cultivated relationships across the political spectrum. They are very savvy, charismatic people. They know who to give gifts to, how to do favors.

The sons often don't have that set of skills, but they have corporate skills. They can talk finance in a kind of international language. Neither skill set is enough on its own by early 2000's: they need each other. And what's interesting about this package is that it's very powerful elsewhere, too. It's kind of a world-beating combination. The son fits into an American style world of business and finance, but the thing about American-style business is that there are lots of things in the world that are closed to it. It's very difficult for an American real estate company or food company to go to the president of an African country and do a deal. They don't have the skills for it. But even if they did, they are legally prevented from all the kinds of practices involved, the bribes and everything.

This Indian business combination can go into places like Africa and Central Asia and do all the things required. If they need to go to market and raise money, they can do that. But if they need to sit around and drink with some government guys and figure out who are the players that need to be kept happy, they can do that, too. They see a lot of the world open to themselves.

LP: How do these figures compare to American tycoons during, say, the Gilded Age?

RD: When American observers see these people they think, well, we had these guys between 1890 and 1920, but then they all kind of went under because there was a massive escalation of state power and state wealth and basically the state declared a kind of protracted war on them. 

Americans think this is a stage of development that will pass. But I think it's not going to pass in our case. The Indian state is never going to have the same power over private interests as the U.S. state because lots of things have to happen. The Depression and the Second World War were very important in creating a U.S. state that was that powerful and a rationale for defeating these private interests. I think those private interests saw much more benefit in consenting to, collaborating in, and producing a stronger U.S. state.

Over time, American business allied itself with the government, which did a lot to open up other markets for it. In India, I think these private interests will not for many years see a benefit in operating differently, precisely because continents like Africa, with their particular set of attributes, have such a bright future. It's not just about what India's like, but what other places are like, and how there aren't that many people in the world that can do what they can do.

LP: What has been lost and gained in a place like Delhi under global capitalism?

RD: Undeniably there has been immense material gain in the city since 1991, including the very poorest people, who are richer and have more access to information. What my book tracks is a kind of spiritual and moral crisis that affects rich and poor alike.

One kind of malaise is political and economic. Even though the poorest are richer, they have less political influence. In a socialist system, everything is done in the name of the poor, for good or for bad, and the poor occupy center stage in political discourse. But since 1991 the poor have become much less prominent in political and economic ideology. As the proportion of wealth held by the richest few families of India has grown massively larger, the situation is very much like the break-up of the Soviet Union, which leads to a much more hierarchical economy where people closest to power have the best information, contacts, and access to capital. They can just expand massively.

Suddenly there's a state infrastructure that's been built for 70 years or 60 years which is transferred to the private domain and that is hugely valuable. People gain access to telecommunication systems, mines, land, and forests for almost nothing. So ordinary people say, yes, we are richer, and we have all these products and things, but those making the decisions about our society are not elected and hugely wealthy.

Imagine the upper-middle-class guy who has been to Harvard, works for a management consultancy firm or for an ad agency, and enjoys a kind of international-style middle-class life. He thinks he deserves to make decisions about how the country is run and how resources are used. He feels himself to be a significant figure in his society. Then he realizes that he's not. There's another, infinitely wealthier class of people who are involved in all kinds of backroom deals that dramatically alter the landscape of his life. New private highways and new private townships are being built all around him. They're sucking the water out of the ground. There's a very rapid and seemingly reckless transformation of the landscape that's being wrought and he has no part in it.

If he did have a say, he might ask, is this really the way that we want this landscape to look? Isn't there enormous ecological damage? Have we not just kicked 10,000 farmers off their land?

All these conversations that democracies have are not being had. People think, this exactly what the socialists told us that capitalism was — it's pillage and it creates a very wealthy elite exploiting the poor majority. To some extent, I think that explains a lot of why capitalism is so turbulent in places like India and China. No one ever expected capitalism to be tranquil. They had been told for the better part of a century that capitalism was the imperialist curse. So when it comes, and it's very violent, and everyone thinks, well that's what we expected. One of the reasons that it still has a lot of ideological consensus is that people are prepared for that. They go into it as an act of war, not as an act of peace, and all they know is that the rewards for the people at the top are very high, so you'd better be on the top.

The other kind of malaise is one of culture. Basically, America and Britain invented capitalism and they also invented the philosophical and cultural furniture to make it acceptable. Places where capitalism is going in anew do not have 200 years of cultural readiness. It's just a huge shock. Of course, Indians are prepared for some aspects of it because many of them are trading communities and they understand money and deals. But a lot of those trading communities are actually incredibly conservative about culture — about what kind of lifestyle their daughters will have, what kinds of careers their sons will have. They don't think that their son goes to Brown to become a professor of literature, but to come back and run the family business.

LP: What is changing between men and women?

RD: A lot of the fallout is about families. Will women work? If so, will they still cook and be the kind of wife they're supposed to be? Will they be out on the street with their boyfriends dressed in Western clothes and going to movies and clearly advertising the fact that they are economically independent, sexually independent, socially independent? How will we deal with the backlash of violent crimes that have everything to do with all these changes?

This capitalist system has produced a new figure, which is the economically successful and independent middle-class woman. She's extremely globalized in the sense of what she should be able to do in her life. It's also created a set of lower-middle-class men who had a much greater sense of stability both in their gender and professional situation 30 years ago, when they could rely on a family member or fellow caste member to keep them employed even if they didn't have any marketable attributes. They had a wife who made sure that the culture of the family was intact — religion, cuisine, that kind of stuff.

Thirty years later, those guys are not going to get jobs because that whole caste value thing has no place in the very fast-moving market economy. Without a high school diploma, they just have nothing to offer. Those guys in the streets are thinking, I don't have a claim on the economy, or on women anymore because I can't earn anything. Women across the middle classes — and it's not just across India, it's across Asia —are trying to opt out of marriage for as long as they can because they see only a downside. Remaining single allows all kinds of benefits – social, romantic, professional. So those guys are pretty bitter and there's a backlash that can become quite violent. We also have an upswing of Hindu fundamentalism as a way of trying to preserve things. It's very appealing to people who think society is falling apart.

LP: You've described India's experience of global capitalism as traumatic. How is the trauma distinct in Delhi, and in what ways is it universal?

RD: Delhi suffers specifically from the trauma of Partition, which has created a distinct society. When India became independent, it was divided into India and Pakistan. Pakistan was essentially a Muslim state, and Hindis and Sikhs left.  The border was about 400 kilometers from Delhi, which was a tiny, empty city, a British administrative town. Most of those Hindis and Sikhs settled in Delhi where they were allocated housing as refugees. Muslims went in the other direction to Pakistan, and as we know, something between 1 and 2 million were killed in that event.

The people who arrived in Delhi arrived traumatized, having lost their businesses, properties, friends, and communities, and having seen their family members murdered, raped and abducted. Like the Jewish Holocaust, everyone can tell the stories and everyone has experienced loss. When they all arrive in Delhi, they have a fairly homogeneous reaction: they're never going to let this happen to them again. They become fiercely concerned with security, physical and financial. They're not interested in having nice neighbors and the lighter things of life. They say, it was our neighbors that killed us, so we're going to trust only our blood and run businesses with our brother and our sons. We're going to build high walls around our houses.

When the grandchildren of these people grow up, it's a problem because none of this has been exorcised. The families have not talked about it. The state has not dealt with it and wants to remember only that India became independent and that was a glorious moment. So the catastrophe actually becomes focused within families rather than the reverse. A lot of grandchildren are more fearful and hateful of Muslims than the grandparents, who remembered a time before when they actually had very deep friendships with Muslims.

Parents of my generation grew up with immense silence in their households and they knew that in that silence was Islam — a terrifying thing. When you're one year old, you don't even know yet what Islam is, you just know that it's something which is the greatest horror in the universe.

The Punjabi businessman is a very distinct species. They have treated business as warfare, and they are still doing it like that 70 years later and they are very good at it. They enter the global economy at a time when it's becoming much less civilized as well. In many cases they succeed not because they have a good idea, but because they know how to seize global assets and resources. Punjabi businessmen are not inventing Facebook. They are about mines and oil and water and food —things that everyone understands and needs.

In this moment of globalization, the world will have to realize that events like the Partition of India are not local history anymore but global history. Especially in this moment when the West no longer controls the whole system, these traumas explode onto the world and affect all of us, like the Holocaust. They introduce levels of turbulence into businesses and practices that we didn't expect necessarily.

Then there's the trauma of capitalism itself, and here I think it's important for us to re-remember the West's own history. Capitalism achieved a level of consensus in the second half of the 20th century very accidentally, and by a number of enormous forces, not all of which were intended. There's no guarantee that such consensus will be achieved everywhere in the emerging world. India and China don't have an empire to ship people off to as a safety valve when suffering become immense. They just have to absorb all that stuff.

For a century or so, people in power in Paris and London and Washington felt that they had to save the capitalist system from socialist revolution, so they gave enormous concessions to their populations. Very quickly, people in the West forgot that there was that level of dissent. They thought that everyone loved capitalism. I think as we come into the next period where the kind of consensus has already been dealt a huge blow in the West, we're going to have to deal with some of those forces again.

LP: When you say that the consensus on capitalism has been dealt a blow, are you talking about the financial crisis?

RD: Yes, the sense that the nation-state — I'm talking about the U.S. context — can no longer control global capital, global processes, or, indeed, it's own financial elite.

It's a huge psychological dent in people's faith in the system. I think what's going to happen in the next few years is huge unemployment in the middle class in America because a lot of their jobs will be outsourced or automated. Then, if you have 30-40 percent unemployment in America, which has always been the ideological leader in capitalism, America will start to re-theorize capitalism very profoundly (and maybe the Institute of New Economic Thinking is part of that). Meanwhile, I think the middle class in India would not have these kinds of problems. It's precisely because American technology and finance are so advanced that they're going to hit a lot of those problems. I think in places like India there's so much work to be done that no one needs to leap to the next stage of making the middle class obsolete. They're still useful.

News Thu, 05 Mar 2015 11:20:03 -0500
Showdown in Chicago: Harold Washington Loyalist vs. "Mayor 1%"

Chicago mayoral candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia speaks with Chicago Southside residents. (Photo:  Eric Allix Rogers)Chicago mayoral candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia speaks with Chicago Southside residents. (Photo: Eric Allix Rogers)On April 7, there's going to be a world-historical electoral showdown in Chicago between incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the insurgent challenger, former Harold Washington lieutenant Jesus "Chuy" Garcia. The official deadline for voter registration is in less than a week, on March 10. A recent Chicago Sun-Times poll said the race was a "dead heat."

National media are already portraying this as a national showdown between the Hillary Clinton/Wall Street/corporate wing of the Democratic Party and the Elizabeth Warren/Bernie Sanders/Harold Washington populist wing. MoveOn, Democracy for America and other national progressive Democratic groups are already on the ground in Chicago, pulling out the stops for Chuy. Veterans of the Harold Washington campaigns are "getting the band back together."

We all believe in voting and participation, right? So, if this is really going to be a referendum on where the Democratic Party is headed, with national implications, then we all should all easily agree that every available Chicagoan over the age of 18 should participate, right?

Members of the Chicago diaspora spread across the United States - especially, spread across Illinois - have a special responsibility to help Rock the Vote.

With this responsibility in mind, I have prepared the following planning calendar from public sources, focused on the task of making sure that college students from Chicago who may temporarily be residing in other places in Illinois avail themselves of the opportunity to participate.

All of us have Chicagoans in our midst. Make sure that the Chicagoans in your life engage on this. Friends don't let friends miss a world-historical election.

Chicago Mayoral Election: Student Participation Planning Calendar

March 10: Official deadline for registering to vote in the election. Chicagoans can register to vote here.

March 7 - March 15: Spring break at Northern Illinois University, Illinois State University (ISU) and Southern Illinois University (SIU). Thus, Northern, ISU and SIU students who are home in Chicago for spring break can register to vote before the official deadline during the first few days of their break.

March 16 - 20: Spring break at Eastern Illinois University.

March 23 - April 4: Early vote at any of 51 locations citywide.

March 21 - March 29: Spring break at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Thus, UIUC students who are home in Chicago for spring break can early vote between March 23 and March 29.

April 2: Official deadline for requesting a mail ballot (absentee ballot.) Any registered voter may cast an absentee ballot by mail. Voters do not need a reason or excuse to vote by mail. Absentee ballots need to be postmarked by April 6. The official deadline to apply for a mail ballot is April 2, but the board of elections strongly recommends applying weeks ahead of the deadline to make sure voters have time to receive and return their ballots.

April 5-6: In-person absentee voting at the Chicago Election Board's offices.

April 7 - Election Day! Polling places can be looked up here.

Opinion Thu, 05 Mar 2015 11:52:02 -0500
"The Internet Is My Lifeline": Hip-Hop Artist Jasiri X on the FCC's Net Neutrality Vote

The Internet is such a part of everyday life that many people don't notice how much they rely on it. Those Skype calls to faraway relatives? Streaming music on your commute? Reading the news on a site like this one? None of it would be possible without the Internet.

That's why the Federal Communications Commission decision on February 26 was important not only for online businesses, but for everyday users. The FCC voted 3-2 to preserve the Internet as we know it, keeping it free and open by reclassifying Internet service providers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. In other words, the FCC made net neutrality the law of the land. This decision prevents Internet providers from charging fees for faster service, slowing down unpaid content, or blocking unwanted websites. It also broadened the regulations to encompass mobile Internet use.

This is a victory for grassroots activists, who sent approximately 3.7 million comments to the FCC on the issue. And it wasn't just computer geeks and the people who love them who got involved. More than 90 musicians expressed their support for net neutrality days before the vote when they signed a letter of appreciation to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

"Artists have endured tremendous consolidation in the media marketplace that has limited opportunities," a section of the letter said. The musicians went on to say that reclassification of the Internet under Title II is the best way to protect their ability to "build businesses, reach audiences, and earn a living."

Jasiri X, a hip-hop artist from Pittsburgh, was one of the musicians who signed the letter to Wheeler. And he's brought the same activist approach to other topics—especially racial justice. He's criticized white privilege in songs like "What If the Tea Party Was Black?" and even traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, where he witnessed police brutality firsthand during protests in August, influencing his most recent video "Don't Let Them Get Away With Murder."

Outside of music, Jasiri X is a cofounder of the anti-violence group One Hood and the 1Hood Academy, which teaches media awareness to African-American boys and encourages them to be conscious of how their presence on social media can create change.

YES! spoke with Jasiri X about the Internet, social change, and net neutrality. This interview has been lightly edited.

Kayla Schultz: How did you get involved in the movement to protect net neutrality?

Jasiri X: A good friend of mine who writes a lot about hip-hop and politics named Davey D. He is based in the Bay Area and has a show on KPFA called Hard Knock Radio. He was one of the first ones who got me down with net neutrality and what was happening around it.

As an independent artist who has built my career through social media and the Internet and my ability to compete on a somewhat fair level in terms of getting my music out there, it was something I immediately took interest in. I saw cable companies drawing a lot of money around it, and especially targeting the black community and the historically black organizations.

People on social media and the Internet were the ones who said that Trayvon and Ferguson and those events were things that were going to be talked about—before mainstream media started to get involved. Now we're seeing social media used to help create movements and real change in our communities. That's when I got even more involved in terms of wanting to prevent these big cable companies from having an extra advantage online.

Schultz: What was at stake for you as a musician?

Jasiri X: I'm a full-time artist; it's how I make a living. And I do music that is socially conscious, so that means I don't get played on the radio. That's what's been cool about social media: It's kind of treated as democracy in terms of people deciding, OK, I like this.

So it's important for me to have a place and not be at a disadvantage. I'm already at a disadvantage in terms of that I don't have the resources, especially compared to a multimillion dollar corporation. It would be terrible for me if you could load the new Drake song and it loads up fast and plays regularly, but then click on Jasiri X or a different independent artist and it goes slower and won't load.

We're already at a disadvantage because we don't have the resources, but then put us at an even greater disadvantage? To me, it destroys the whole essence of the Internet and what makes it cool.

Schultz: How would you say most of your music gets heard?

Jasiri X: I would say on social media. I got successful through videos that offer a kind of narrative, especially around the portrayal of young black men. So being able to throw a video up on YouTube and then on Facebook and people share it is how I became known and built my fan base.

I also [cofounded] a media academy in Pittsburgh where we teach young African-American boys how to analyze and create their own media. We were able to do that because we had that success with social media, because we've had millions of views of our videos and we can teach people about this.

It all came about because [The Heinz Endowments] studied the local media in Pittsburgh and 86 percent of the time they showed black men associated with crime [on television]. Eighty-six percent of the time. So we thought, why don't we teach young people how to utilize the Internet to tell their own stories?

Schultz: Can you talk a little bit more about 1Hood Academy?

Jasiri X: We started 1Hood Media about four years ago, after Heinz Endowments, the Pew Research Center, and Meyer Communications did a study called Portrayal and Perception that looked at negative images of African-Americans in Pittsburgh.

So we decided to kind of petition the local newspapers to portray us better. They don't get it, so instead we have the power. We can get a camera, use our phones. We got all our students iPod minis because you can take pictures with them, you can take video.

Also, we felt like these kids go to high school and there isn't a class on social media and there isn't a class on what's intelligent or not to share. Who's talking to young people about this? So we wanted to teach how to use it in a way that you're not looking back five years later thinking you shouldn't have shared all this shit and now it's affecting your career.

Schultz: Have you seen a big difference in what students have been posting?

Jasiri X: Absolutely. One of my students just posted a link to a thing that happened in Pittsburgh. Somebody witnessed police brutality, and I didn't know about it. I'm following my students, and it's cool to see them utilizing these tools in a way that's just not for frivolous things, but actually beginning to move the envelope in terms of things that are maybe more important.

Schultz: How do you think the FCC's decision on net neutrality will affect your students?

Jasiri X: Now they have the ability to share their experiences, their true selves. If you take that away, you are further marginalizing an already-marginalized group of people. Pittsburgh is America's most livable city, according to Forbes Magazine, but we also have the poorest black community in the country, according to the United States census.

So we're already dealing with students who come from poverty. And if you make it more difficult for videos or things that they are sharing to get shown, you are further marginalizing them and further taking away their voice.

What's so cool about the Internet now is you have not just a black community, but black women having a large voice, the LGBT folks having a voice. And I'm learning from them because these are individuals I've never heard speak before. If you look at the state of journalism when it even just comes to people of color in the newsrooms, it's horrible. It's like, we don't need to be on your Washington Post desk or whatever you are. You can build a following just because of what you tweet and how you do it, and you become like the media.

When Ferguson went down, I wasn't waiting for reporters to go on TV and misrepresent our people in the horrible way like they did. I was following people who were providing up-to-the-minute video and pictures—and they became the media. If you don't uphold net neutrality, we're back to square one, back to major corporations dictating what we should be watching or looking at, and we're not even able to have a real critique.

Schultz: You were among the more than 90 musicians who signed a letter to Chairman Wheeler thanking him for supporting net neutrality. What do you think the implications of the FCC's decision will be?

Jasiri X: The right wing are going to do what they do, which is lie and misrepresent, but it's encouraging. It's encouraging because I see hip-hop taking a turn for the better. When I see artists like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole and Joey Badass and Azealia Banks coming in and using their voices in a strong way, I am encouraged by that. And part of it is that Internet artists have more control over their albums than ever—over their product, over their brand.

The artist has more control and this is why music is starting to get better, in my opinion. It allows me to continue to build on my own brand and build my audience at a steady pace. I don't want to be signed to a major record label because I want creative control over how I say what I say and how it's represented. So I feel like this decision helps artists become stronger and use our voice in a stronger way.

I know down the line they are going to challenge this. They already are thinking of ways to challenge, but hopefully next time it won't be 90 artists—it'll be a thousand artists and even bigger artists understanding what's at stake.

Schultz: What do you think are the next steps for supporters of net neutrality?

Jasiri X: I would use the victory as a way to educate more artists. Because we know that this is not going to be the last chapter, that these cable companies are going to try to find a way to weaken this decision. But I feel like we are the generation that has grown up online and we understand how it's benefited us and helped us. I believe if we continue to educate this next generation of artists, we can have a stronger pushback when it comes up next time.

And since there's a presidential election coming up, these are things we should put on the agenda in terms of asking, "Is this what you support?" You know, when it looked like Obama got shaky, people were like, "Hold up, man." Whether it's Hillary or Elizabeth Warren or whoever, we need to say this is an issue that is important to us and it needs to have unwavering support from them or they aren't going to get our vote. That's how we need to roll, and that's just not for the president, but Congress, the Senate, all of that stuff.

Schultz: You just dropped a new video with a really powerful message on police brutality. What are the next steps for your music?

Jasiri X: Because of the type of music I've been doing, I've been working with these organizations. I did the "Don't Let Them Get Away With Murder" video with an organization called Sankofa, which was founded by Harry Belafonte and encourages artists to talk about issues of social justice. Harry wants me to come to Selma with him on March 8 for the 50th anniversary, and of course I'm excited for that.

I'm also doing a video that's coming up soon with an organization called the Perception Institute, and their goal is to change the perception of black men by 2020. That video is done and should be coming up soon.

I'm going to try to put three albums out this year. I'm going to try. I didn't put any out last year because I was just too busy, but I have a project coming up called Black Liberation Theology that I'm going to release. I'm just traveling a lot. I'm blessed.

You know what happens is people find me online and say, "Hey, I like what you do. I want to bring you to my school" or whatever. And I'm off. So, the Internet is my lifeline as an artist. For me, the FCC vote was almost like a life or death situation artistically. You're playing with my ability to financially support myself through the arts and culture that I create. And so for me, I feel like it was important to lend my voice to it.

News Thu, 05 Mar 2015 10:38:01 -0500
Are Pilots Deserting Washington's Remote-Control War?

The U.S. drone war across much of the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa is in crisis and not because civilians are dying or the target list for that war or the right to wage it just about anywhere on the planet are in question in Washington. Something far more basic is at stake: drone pilots are quitting in record numbers.

There are roughly 1,000 such drone pilots, known in the trade as "18Xs," working for the U.S. Air Force today. Another 180 pilots graduate annually from a training program that takes about a year to complete at Holloman and Randolph Air Force bases in, respectively, New Mexico and Texas. As it happens, in those same 12 months, about 240 trained pilots quit and the Air Force is at a loss to explain the phenomenon. (The better-known U.S. Central Intelligence Agency drone assassination program is also flown by Air Force pilots loaned out for the covert missions.)

On January 4, 2015, the Daily Beast revealed an undated internal memo to Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh from General Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle stating that pilot "outflow increases will damage the readiness and combat capability of the MQ-1/9 [Predator and Reaper] enterprise for years to come" and added that he was "extremely concerned." Eleven days later, the issue got top billing at a special high-level briefing on the state of the Air Force. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James joined Welsh to address the matter. "This is a force that is under significant stress -- significant stress from what is an unrelenting pace of operations," she told the media.

In theory, drone pilots have a cushy life. Unlike soldiers on duty in "war zones," they can continue to live with their families here in the United States. No muddy foxholes or sandstorm-swept desert barracks under threat of enemy attack for them. Instead, these new techno-warriors commute to work like any office employees and sit in front of computer screens wielding joysticks, playing what most people would consider a glorified video game.

They typically "fly" missions over Afghanistan and Iraq where they are tasked with collecting photos and video feeds, as well as watching over U.S. soldiers on the ground. A select few are deputized to fly CIA assassination missions over Pakistan, Somalia, or Yemen where they are ordered to kill "high value targets" from the sky. In recent months, some of these pilots have also taken part in the new war in the Syrian and Iraqi borderlands, conducting deadly strikes on militants of ISIL.

Each of these combat air patrols involves three to four drones, usually Hellfire-missile-armed Predators and Reapers built by southern California's General Atomics, and each takes as many as 180 staff members to fly them. In addition to pilots, there are camera operators, intelligence and communications experts, and maintenance workers. (The newer Global Hawk surveillance patrols need as many as 400 support staff.)

The Air Force is currently under orders to staff 65 of these regular "combat air patrols" around the clock as well as to support a Global Response Force on call for emergency military and humanitarian missions. For all of this, there should ideally be 1,700 trained pilots. Instead, facing an accelerating dropout rate that recently drove this figure below 1,000, the Air Force has had to press regular cargo and jet pilots as well as reservists into becoming instant drone pilots in order to keep up with the Pentagon's enormous appetite for real-time video feeds from around the world.

The Air Force explains the departure of these drone pilots in the simplest of terms. They are leaving because they are overworked. The pilots themselves say that it's humiliating to be scorned by their Air Force colleagues as second-class citizens. Some have also come forward to claim that the horrors of war, seen up close on video screens, day in, day out, are inducing an unprecedented, long-distance version of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

But is it possible that a brand-new form of war -- by remote control -- is also spawning a brand-new, as yet unlabeled, form of psychological strain? Some have called drone war a "coward's war" (an opinion that, according to reports from among the drone-traumatized in places like Yemen and Pakistan, is seconded by its victims). Could it be that the feeling is even shared by drone pilots themselves, that a sense of dishonor in fighting from behind a screen thousands of miles from harm's way is having an unexpected impact of a kind psychologists have never before witnessed?

Killing Up Close and Personal From Afar

There can be no question that drone pilots resent the way other Air Force pilots see them as second-class citizens. "It's tough working night shifts watching your buddies do great things in the field while you're turning circles in the sky," a drone instructor named Ryan told Mother Jones magazine. His colleagues, he says, call themselves the "lost generation."

"Everyone else thinks that the whole program or the people behind it are a joke, that we are video-game warriors, that we're Nintendo warriors," Brandon Bryant, a former drone camera operator who worked at Nellis Air Force Base, told Democracy Now.

Certainly, there is nothing second-class about the work tempo of drone life. Pilots log 900-1,800 hours a year compared to a maximum of 300 hours annually for regular Air Force pilots. And the pace is unrelenting. "A typical person doing this mission over the last seven or eight years has worked either six or seven days a week, twelve hours a day," General Welsh told NPR recently. "And that one- or two-day break at the end of it is really not enough time to take care of that family and the rest of your life."

The pilots wholeheartedly agree. "It's like when your engine temperature gauge is running just below the red area on your car's dashboard, but instead of slowing down and relieving the stress on the engine, you put the pedal to the floor," one drone pilot told Air Force Times. "You are sacrificing the engine to get a short burst of speed with no real consideration to the damage being caused."

The Air Force has come up with a pallid interim "solution." It is planning to offer experienced drone pilots a daily raise of about $50. There's one problem, though: since so many pilots leave the service early, only a handful have enough years of experience to qualify for this bonus. Indeed, the Air Force concedes that just 10 of them will be able to claim the extra bounty this year, striking testimony to the startling levels of job turnover among such pilots.

Most 18Xs say that their jobs are tougher and significantly more upfront and personal than those of the far more glamorous jet pilots. "[A] Predator operator is so much more involved in what is going on than your average fast-moving jetfighter pilot, or your B-52, B-1, B-2 pilots, who will never even see their target," Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Black, a former Air Force drone pilot says. "A Predator pilot has been watching his target[s], knows them intimately, knows where they are, and knows what's around them."

Some say that the drone war has driven them over the edge. "How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile? How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?" Heather Linebaugh, a former drone imagery analyst, wrote in the Guardian. "When you are exposed to it over and over again it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience."

"It was horrifying to know how easy it was. I felt like a coward because I was halfway across the world and the guy never even knew I was there," Bryant told KNPR Radio in Nevada. "I felt like I was haunted by a legion of the dead. My physical health was gone, my mental health was crumbled. I was in so much pain I was ready to eat a bullet myself."

Many drone pilots, however, defend their role in targeted killings. "We're not killing people for the fun of it. It would be the same if we were the guys on the ground," mission controller Janet Atkins told Chris Woods of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. "You have to get to [the enemy] somehow or all of you will die."

Others like Bruce Black are proud of their work. "I was shooting two weeks after I got there and saved hundreds of people, including Iraqis and Afghanis," he told his hometown newspaper in New Mexico. "We'd go down to Buffalo Wild Wings, drink beer and debrief. It was surreal. It didn't take long for you to realize how important the work is. The value that the weapon system brings to the fight is not apparent till you're there. People have a hard time sometimes seeing that."

Measuring Pilot Stress

So whom does one believe? Janet Atkins and Bruce Black, who claim that drone pilots are overworked heroes? Or Brandon Bryant and Heather Linebaugh, who claim that remotely directed targeted killings caused them mental health crises?

Military psychologists have been asked to investigate the phenomenon. A team of psychologists at the School of Aerospace Medicine at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio has published a series of studies on drone pilot stress. One 2011 study concluded that nearly half of them had "high operational stress." A number also exhibited "clinical distress" -- that is, anxiety, depression, or stress severe enough to affect them in their personal lives.

Wayne Chappelle, a lead author in a number of these studies, nonetheless concludes that the problem is mostly a matter of overwork caused by the chronic shortage of pilots. His studies appear to show that post-traumatic stress levels are actually lower among drone pilots than in the general population. Others, however, question these numbers. Jean Otto and Bryant Webber of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, caution that the lack of stress reports may only "reflect artificial underreporting of the concerns of pilots due to the career-threatening effects of [mental health] diagnoses, [which] include removal from flying status, loss of flight pay, and diminished competitiveness for promotion."

Seeing Everything, Missing the Obvious

One thing is clear: the pilots are not just killing "bad guys" and they know it because, as Black points out, they see everything that happens before, during, and after a drone strike.

Indeed, the only detailed transcript of an actual Air Force drone surveillance mission and targeted killing to be publicly released illustrates this all too well. The logs recorded idle chatter on February 21, 2010, between drone operators at Creech Air Force base in Nevada coordinating with video analysts at Air Force special operations headquarters in Okaloosa, Florida, and with Air Force pilots in a rural part of Daikondi province in central Afghanistan. On that day, three vehicles were seen traveling in a pre-dawn convoy carrying about a dozen people each. Laboring under the mistaken belief that the group were "insurgents" out to kill some nearby U.S. soldiers on a mission, the drone team decided to attack.

Controller: "We believe we may have a high-level Taliban commander."

Camera operator: "Yeah, they called a possible weapon on the military-age male mounted in the back of the truck."

Intelligence coordinator: "Screener said at least one child near SUV."

Controller: "Bullshit! Where? I don't think they have kids out this hour. I know they're shady, but come on!"

Camera operator "A sweet [expletive]! Geez! Lead vehicle on the run and bring the helos in!"

Moments later, Kiowa helicopter pilots descended and fired Hellfire missiles at the vehicle.

Controller: "Take a look at this one. It was hit pretty good. It's a little toasty! That truck is so dead!"

Within 20 minutes, after the survivors of the attack had surrendered, the transcript recorded the sinking feelings of the drone pilots as they spotted women and children in the convoy and could not find any visual evidence of weapons.

A subsequent on-the-ground investigation established that not one of the people killed was anything other than an ordinary villager. "Technology can occasionally give you a false sense of security that you can see everything, that you can hear everything, that you know everything," Air Force Major General James Poss, who oversaw an investigation into the incident, later told the Los Angeles Times.

Of course, Obama administration officials claim that such incidents are rare. In June 2011, when CIA Director John Brennan was still the White House counterterrorism adviser, he addressed the issue of civilian deaths in drone strikes and made this bold claim: "Nearly for the past year, there hasn't been a single collateral death, because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we've been able to develop."

His claim and similar official ones like it are, politely put, hyperbolic. "You Never Die Twice," a new report by Jennifer Gibson of Reprieve, a British-based human rights organization, settles the question quickly by showing that some men on the White House "kill list" of terror suspects to be taken out have "'died' as many as seven times."

Gibson adds, "We found 41 names of men who seemed to have achieved the impossible. This raises a stark question. With each failed attempt to assassinate a man on the kill list, who filled the body bag in his place?" In fact, Reprieve discovered that, in going after those 41 "targets" numerous times, an estimated 1,147 people were killed in Pakistan by drones. Typical was the present leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. In two strikes against "him" over the years, according to Reprieve, 76 children and 29 adults have died, but not al-Zawahiri.

Deserting the Cubicle

Back in the United States, a combination of lower-class status in the military, overwork, and psychological trauma appears to be taking its mental toll on drone pilots. During the Vietnam War, soldiers would desert, flee to Canada, or even "frag" -- kill -- their officers. But what do you do when you've had it with your war, but your battle station is a cubicle in Nevada and your weapon is a keyboard?

Is it possible that, like their victims in Pakistan and Yemen who say that they are going mad from the constant buzz of drones overhead and the fear of sudden death without warning, drone pilots, too, are fleeing into the night as soon as they can? Since the Civil War in the U.S., war of every modern sort has produced mental disturbances that have been given a variety of labels, including what we today call PTSD. In a way, it would be surprising if a completely new form of warfare didn't produce a new form of disturbance.

We don't yet know just what this might turn out to be, but it bodes ill for the form of battle that the White House and Washington are most proud of -- the well-advertised, sleek, new, robotic, no-casualty, precision conflict that now dominates the war on terror. Indeed if the pilots themselves are dropping out of desktop killing, can this new way of war survive?

News Thu, 05 Mar 2015 09:50:19 -0500
Netanyahu Speaks, Money Talks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the Capitol Building in Washington, March 3, 2015. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the Capitol Building in Washington, March 3, 2015. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Everything you need to know about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress Tuesday was the presence in the visitor's gallery of one man – Sheldon Adelson.

The gambling tycoon is the Godfather of the Republican Right. The party's presidential hopefuls line up to kiss his assets, scraping and bowing for his blessing, which when granted is bestowed with his signed checks. Data from both the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics and the Center for Public Integrity show that in the 2012 election cycle, Adelson and his wife Miriam (whose purse achieved metaphoric glory Tuesday when it fell from the gallery and hit a Democratic congressman) contributed $150 million to the GOP and its friends, including $93 million to such plutocracy-friendly super PACs as Karl Rove's American Crossroads, the Congressional Leadership Fund, the Republican Jewish Coalition Victory Fund, Winning Our Future (the pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC) and Restore Our Future (the pro-Mitt Romney super PAC).

Yet there's no knowing for sure about all of the "dark money" contributed by the Adelsons – so called because it doesn't have to be reported. Like those high-rise, multi-million dollar apartments in New York City purchased by oligarchs whose identity is hidden within perfectly legal shell organizations, dark money lets our politicians conveniently erase fingerprints left by their ink-stained (from signing all those checks) billionaire benefactors.

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

But Sheldon Adelson was not only sitting in the House gallery on Tuesday because of the strings he pulls here in the United States. He is also the Daddy Warbucks of Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu is yet another of his beneficiaries – not to mention an ideological soulmate. Although campaign finance reform laws are much more strict in Israel than here in the United States, Adelson's wealth has bought him what the historian and journalist Gershom Gorenberg calls "uniquely pernicious" influence.

Adelson owns the daily Israel Hayom, a leading newspaper, as well as Makor Roshon, the daily newspaper of Israel's Zionist religious right and NRG, a news website. He gives Israel Hayom away for free in order to promote his hardline views – the headline in the paper the day after Obama's re-election was "The US Voted [for] Socialism."

More important, he uses the paper to bang the drum incessantly for Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud Party, under the reign of which Israel has edged closer and closer to theocracy. As Hebrew University economist Momi Dahan put it: "De facto, the existence of a newspaper like Israel Hayom egregiously violates the law, because [Adelson] actually is providing a candidate with nearly unlimited resources."

Sheldon, meet Rupert.

In fact, as Israel's March 17 election approaches, Adelson has increased the press run of Israel Hayom's weekend edition by 70 percent. The paper says it's to increase circulation and advertising, but rival newspaper Ha'aretz reports, "Political sources are convinced the extra copies are less part of a business plan and more one to help Netanyahu's re-election bid." Just like the timing of Netanyahu's "State of the Union" address to Congress this week was merely a coincidence, right? "I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political," Netanyahu told Congress. "That was never my intention." Of course.

In Gershom Gorenberg's words, the prime minister "enjoys the advantage of having a major newspaper in his camp that portrays the world as seen from his office: a world in which Israel is surrounded by enemies, including the president of the United States; in which peace negotiations are aimed at destroying Israel; in which Israel's left is aligned with all the hostile forces, and even rightists who oppose Netanyahu want to carry out a coup through the instrument of elections."

So Netanyahu gets the best of both of Adelson's worlds – his powerful propaganda machine in Israel and his campaign cash here in the United States. Combined, they allow Netanyahu to usurp American foreign policy as he manipulates an obliging US Congress enamored of Adelson's millions, pushing it further to the right on Israel and the Middle East.

There you have it: Not only is this casino mogul the unofficial head of the Republican Party in America ("he with the gold rules"), he is the uncrowned King of Israel — David with a printing press and checkbook instead of a slingshot and a stone. All of this came to the fore in Netanyahu's speech on Tuesday: the US cannot determine its own policy in the Middle East and the majority in Congress are under the thumb of a foreign power.

Like a King Midas colossus, Sheldon Adelson bestrides the cause of war and peace in the most volatile region of the world. And this is the man who — at Yeshiva University in New York in 2013 — denounced President Obama's diplomatic efforts with Iran and proposed instead that the United States drop an atomic bomb in the Iranian desert and then declare: "See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development."

Everything you need to know about Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress Tuesday was the presence in the visitor's gallery of that man. We are hostage to his fortune.

Opinion Thu, 05 Mar 2015 11:42:25 -0500