Truthout Stories Tue, 05 May 2015 09:16:35 -0400 en-gb Right-Wingers Get Tip From Waitress

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who is running for re-election, tours McGinty Machine in Wichita, Kan., Sept. 12, 2014. Brownback’s proudly conservative politics have turned out to be so divisive and his tax cuts have generated such a drop in state revenue that they have caused even many Republicans to revolt. (Craig Hacker/The New York Times)Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's proudly conservative politics have turned out to be so divisive and his tax cuts have generated such a drop in state revenue that they have caused even many Republicans to revolt. (Photo: Craig Hacker / The New York Times)

Tip the schools instead.

That's the message waitress Chloe Hough gave Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback this weekend when he stopped in for a bite to eat at Boss Hawg's Barbeque in Topeka.

Hough was actually on her last shift as a waitress there, so when the governor asked for his check, she saw an opportunity she couldn't pass up.

After crossing out the tip line on the bill, she wrote a note next to it that said, "Tip the schools." Hough then posted a picture of the edited bill on Facebook, where it's since gone viral.

Don't get the wrong idea, though. This wasn't some sort of publicity stunt.

For Chloe Hough, this was personal.

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

Like millions of other Jayhawk State residents, she and her family have felt the sting of Gov. Sam Brownback's failed experiment in Reaganomics.

Chloe Hough is right. Education is the foundation for a better country and a more forward-thinking society.

But that, of course, is not how Governor Brownback and the rest of the Republican Party see it.

To them, education funding is just another thing to cut to make way for massive tax cuts - tax cuts that in Kansas have been an absolute and unmitigated disaster.

After he was elected governor in 2011, Sam Brownback promised to make his state "a real live experiment" in right-wing Reaganist economic theories. So he went ahead and slashed the top income tax rate for the rich, opened a loophole that allowed businesses to pay taxes as individuals, and eliminated a bunch of other smaller taxes.

The governor said that these tax cuts for rich people would boost Kansas' economy and jump start job growth, but nothing has really panned out the way he said it would.

Since 2012 when Brownback's tax cuts began, Kansas has consistently lagged behind the national average in job growth, and while it did do better on that count in 2014, it didn't do nearly as well as neighboring states like Missouri, which didn't cut taxes for the rich.

Thanks to Brownback's tax cuts, the Jayhawk State now faces a budget shortfall of $422 million.

And who's had to pay the price for the fiscal mess created by Brownback and the ideologues in the Republican Party?

Well, among other things, the school system.

That's right, the school system!

Instead of repealing his disastrous tax cuts, Governor Brownback has instead slashed funding for Kansas' already cash-strapped public schools by $51 million.

The situation has gotten so bad that some schools are now closing early for the summer just to save money, and, as Chloe Hough's family learned, many of the most vulnerable students are losing access to the programs they need to succeed.

What's happening in Kansas is shocking, but it shouldn't be surprising.

The myth pushed by people on the right that cutting taxes for rich people and corporations will make wealth "trickle-down" to everyone else is just that - a myth.

No nation, state or political entity in the history of the world has ever cut its way to prosperity.

This was true of the Weimar Republic, it's true of Greece and Kansas right now, and it will be true of whatever Republican-controlled state next cooks up a tax cut scheme.

That's because rich people use their money differently than working people do.

Instead of going out and spending the extra money they get back from tax cuts, rich people stash it in their Swiss bank accounts or wherever it is they keep their millions.

This means that that rich people's money only minimally recirculates back into the real economy, and rarely finds its way back into the government's hands as tax revenue.

So in effect, it's lost money. Once the government cuts taxes for the rich, it's never getting that money back.

Republicans, of course, don't see it that way.

The smart ones know that the "trickle-down" economics is just a scam to make the super-rich even richer, but most of them, the suckers, are still drinking the Reaganomics Kool-Aid.

They're members of the economic equivalent of a death cult, these so-called free-market fundamentalists, and most can't be reasoned with because they don't believe in facts, just ideology.

Let's just hope that Chloe Hough's special message to Sam Brownback tips some of them, and the country, in the right direction.

Opinion Mon, 04 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Bernie Sanders' Run Can Help the "Less War" Movement in the US

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), right, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, lead a budget mark-up meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 19, 2015. Republican leaders were trying to quell a war between budget hawks and defense hawks that ground the House Budget Committee to a halt late Wednesday night. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), right, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, lead a budget mark-up meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 19, 2015. Republican leaders were trying to quell a war between budget hawks and defense hawks that ground the House Budget Committee to a halt. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

A key problem confronting Americans who would like to see the US involved in less war is that as Peter Beinart recently noted in The Atlantic:

It's also notoriously hard to mobilize Americans against wars until those wars begin. The anti-Vietnam movement didn't become a force inside the national Democratic Party until 1968, when more than 20,000 Americans had already died. And liberal activists only began putting real pressure on Democratic politicians over Iraq after the war began, when they powered Howard Dean's insurgent campaign. Since World War II, the general pattern has been that elites drive foreign policy--generally in an interventionist direction--until they make a mess big enough to make the public cry stop.

The pattern Beinart described is a recipe for a lot of war. It's as if the dial is automatically set to "more war" by default and we have to make a huge effort each time, for each war, to try to change the setting to less war. Each new war is treated in public discourse as "innocent until proven guilty": the initial burden of proof is on war critics to show that this war is a bad one, rather than the initial burden of proof being on war supporters to show that this war is a good one.

One way to address this problem would be to make advocacy for less war a regular feature of electoral politics, so that it becomes a standard question that people (especially media) ask automatically: where does the candidate stand on less war? Of course, over time the marquee "less war" issues change, as happens with other concerns. Right now the marquee less war issue is supporting realistic diplomacy with Iran. Other current less war issues include: insisting that new wars have to be authorized by Congress; reducing the Pentagon budget to be more like that of a normal industrialized democracy; reducing US support for civil wars in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine; making US drone strike policy transparently comply with the rule of law; and reducing US support for the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

The race for president is to electoral politics what the award for Best Picture is to the Academy Awards: it's the thing at the top of the marquee, the thing that the most people will pay the most attention to. So if we're serious about the project of making less war a permanent electoral issue, then we have to be serious about making less war a permanent issue in presidential politics.

This means that less war activists have a huge stake in what Bernie Sanders says about less war issues right now and in the months ahead, when he will have a platform in the media to talk about less war issues that no other progressive political figure is likely to have.

Of course, Sanders is not going to be a less war candidate in the sense that less war is going to be at the top of his marquee. The top of his marquee is already taken with other issues: "Tad Devine, an informal adviser and longtime friend to the senator, has said that a Sanders campaign would focus heavily on three major issues -- campaign finance reform, climate change and income inequality."

But that makes him potentially an ideal less war candidate from the point of view of maximum impact on the less war issues. The thing that we need most in the United States is not more people for whom less war is their top issue; the thing that we need most is to reduce the general phobia among liberals and progressives towards making advocacy for less war a standard feature of the liberal-progressive package presented to the public. If Sanders makes advocacy for less war a feature of the liberal-progressive package he is presenting to the public, then Sanders will be modeling on a very prominent stage exactly the behavior among liberals and progressives that we most need to encourage.

We're not starting from zero. Juan Cole notes:

Bernie Sanders opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation of that country.

Sanders wanted to get out of Afghanistan from 2011 much faster than the timetable announced by President Obama. Obama has now more or less extended a US military presence in Afghanistan, advertised as a training mission, indefinitely. My reading of Sanders is that he would get out of that country entirely.

A President Bernie Sanders would endorse the Iran negotiations of the Obama administration.

Sanders was the first US Senator to announce that he would skip Netanyahu's anti-diplomacy speech to Congress.

This makes Sanders an ideal candidate to help move pragmatic less war positions on Israel-Palestine deeper into mainstream American political discourse.

We have an ideal test case right now. Supporters of the Netanyahu lobby are trying to make it official US policy to endorse Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, by attaching a provision requiring the US to oppose European sanctions against Israeli settlements in the West Bank to the "Fast Track" trade package moving (or not moving) through Congress. This pro-settlements provision is opposed by J Street, Americans for Peace Now and Jewish Voice for Peace.

Sanders, of course, is opposed to the Fast Track/TPP/TTIP trade package. But that doesn't mean he can't also oppose this specific provision - other Democrats opposed to the package have done so.

You can urge Sanders to stand with J Street, APN, and JVP against the pro-settlement provision here.

Opinion Mon, 04 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: It's Effectively a Crime to Be Poor in the US, and More

In today's On the News segment: Debtors prisons have been outlawed for more than a century, yet it's still effectively a crime to be poor in our country; the rich love to whine about entitlements, but that doesn't stop them from collecting their own government handouts; protesters held a 15-day fast outside Los Angeles City Hall to demand an increase to the city's minimum wage; and more.

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


Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News...

You need to know this. Despite the fact that debtors prisons have been outlawed for more than a century, it's still effectively a crime to be poor in our country. According to a stunning new report called "The Poor Get Prison," the "justice system" is being used as a weapon against the poor in cities all over our nation. That study was co-authored by Karen Dolan and Jodi L. Carr on behalf of the Institute for Policy Studies, and it breaks down the various ways that Americans are being punished for being poor. In addition to the obvious criminalization of poverty, like fining the homeless for being homeless, cities and counties throughout our country have set up a vicious cycle of charging exorbitant fees for small infractions and then jailing people who can't afford those fines. By turning many petty crimes, like drinking from an open alcohol container, into civil infractions, cities and towns set up the poor to fail and end up behind bars. A $100 ticket can easily turn into probation for failure to pay fines, which snowball when probationers then fail to pay so-called "supervision fees." Suddenly, someone ends up in a modern-day debtors prison. Not only is this whole process unconstitutional, it doesn't make a lick of sense. Throwing someone in jail over unpaid fines means that they can't work, and they can't make any money. It also means that instead of a $100 fine being lost to the city or county, taxpayers are now on the hook for the cost of putting someone behind bars. In the introduction to "The Poor Get Prison" report, one of the authors wrote, "In the last ten years, it has become apparent that being poor is in itself a crime in many cities and counties, and that it is a crime punished by further impoverishment." Debtors prisons were outlawed long ago because they are inhumane and ineffective, and it's time to end the criminalization of poverty once and for all.

It's official. Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders announced he's running for president. In an email about his announcement, he wrote, "After a year of travel, discussion and dialogue, I have decided to be a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president." Although Senator Sanders is officially an independent, he is seeking the Democratic nomination to ensure that he doesn't split the vote. Various news outlets and pundits ignored or dismissed the announcement, but Sanders said, "People should not underestimate me." With a strong background of fighting for veterans, protecting the middle class, and standing up to the big banks and Wall Street, Senator Sanders gets support from people all over the political spectrum. In an interview with the Associated Press, Senator Sanders said, "I've run outside of the two-party system, defeating Democrats and Republicans, taking on big-money candidates and, you know, I think the message that has resonated in Vermont is a message that can resonate all over this country." Regardless of where you stand on 2016, it's great to have another voice in the race who will fight for working Americans.

Rich people love to whine about entitlements, but that doesn't stop them from collecting their own government handouts. In a recent article over at Common Dreams, Paul Buchheit explains how the actual cost of the social safety net pails in comparison to the cost of tax avoidance, loopholes and corporate welfare. In 2014, the total cost of the non-medical safety net was $370 billion. That means that programs like SNAP, WIC, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Earned Income Tax Credit and others cost less than one quarter of the $2.2 trillion that is lost to tax avoidance. While those at the top blame food stamp recipients and hungry kids for bankrupting our nation, they continue to stash money in overseas tax havens and call for even lower tax rates on the rich. The poor people in this country are not the problem, and it's time to call out the real welfare kings and queens for the massive benefits they take from our government.

The Fight for Fifteen has helped raise wages in cities like Seattle and San Francisco, but workers aren't stopping there. Last week, protesters wrapped up a 15-day fast outside Los Angeles City Hall, which was being held to demand an increase to that city's minimum wage. The group of protesters is made up of fast-food workers who say that they can't survive on poverty wages. In an interview with the ThinkProgress Blog, one of the protesters said that fasting was just a reminder of the way that she grew up. While many would applaud the difficult form of protest, Martha Sanchez said, "It's not difficult because I grew up hungry. I'm not doing anything radical, I'm doing exactly the same thing that thousands of moms are doing in silence in their homes." In the richest nation on Earth, no one should be suffering with hunger, and every worker should earn a wage that ensures they have enough to eat. Hopefully, this brave protest will push lawmakers to do right by the low-wage workers of Los Angeles.

And finally ... Corporate profits are at record highs, but wages are growing at the slowest pace since 1960. While workers and activists fight for higher wages, one senator is fighting this inequity from a different angle. Earlier this month, Democrat Tammy Baldwin sent a letter to the head of the SEC about the use of stock buybacks and dividends to manipulate stock prices and deny wage increases. In her letter, Senator Baldwin wrote, "There is mounting evidence to suggest that buybacks have a negative effect on jobs, wages, and investment, which in turn have negative impacts on innovation and long-term national economic growth, competitiveness, and security." In earlier decades, corporations used this money to invest in their companies, their workers, and their nation. Now they're just using it to make those at the top even richer. Good on Senator Tammy Baldwin for shining a light on this corporate manipulation, now let's help put pressure on the SEC to make stock buybacks a thing of the past.

And that's the way it is - for the week of May 4, 2015 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

News Mon, 04 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Voices From the Epicenter of Protest

See The Real News Network's website for both earlier in-depth reporting and current coverage of events in Baltimore, where The Real News Network studios are located.

TRNN Correspondent Eddie Conway speaks with residents of Gilmor Homes about the charges brought against six Baltimore police officers.


EDDIE CONWAY, PRODUCER, TRNN: I'm Eddie Conway from The Real News, and I just came down to Gilmor Homes to get an assessment of the residents' attitude about the State's Attorney's indictments against the six officers that killed Freddie Gray. And we're interviewing people and getting an idea of how they felt about it.

GILMOR HOMES RESIDENT: Oh, great. Great. It's a start. It's a start. And hopefully it'll come through.


KEVIN MOORE, WITNESS TO FREDDIE GRAY'S ARREST: Me, I'm Kevin Moore. I filmed that video. And when I first filmed it I'm thinking, we're about to get railroaded again. Even just the loss of another brother, another person that we love dearly, you see what I'm saying? I just felt like it wasn't--it wasn't going to be, not justice. You know what I mean? And then Marilyn Mosby come in, and she's locking it down, dude.

They talk about, we free. We ain't free. Look around you. This is my freedom for us. This is like another jail, man. You understand what I'm talking about? We're fighting for freedom and I see it can happen. Because they'll keep on happening. And we're gonna keep on fighting.

CONWAY: Yeah, that's right. And we [will keep] here.

RESIDENT: [Inaud.] we got, it's a shame it took something like this to get these people's attention that's high up. We're not animals.

CONWAY: That's right.

RESIDENT: We're not animals.

CONWAY: That's right. And you shouldn't be, nobody should be treated like that. Yeah.

RESIDENT: I don't care what color you are. You shouldn't be treated like that.

RESIDENT: Like, now that I know that they, that we got justice, like the whole city got to stop what they're doing, you feel me, like--and like, I'm thinking, I think anybody probably feeling the same way I feel like. The police been doing this for years. I don't know--you probably know. I'm 20, I know. You way older than me, you feel me? So only thing I think my man ain't do is run fast enough to save his life. You feel what I'm saying? Like, I'm just happy that the officers got charged. That was one of us, we'd have been booked.

RESIDENT: Kids got out of school, they want to play ball, that's why kids grow up doing what they do now. Because there's nothing for them to do when they get out of school. Yeah they go home, do their homework. They also like to come outside, play basketball, ride their bike. There ain't no playgrounds around here. There ain't nothing for the kids to do but run in and out of these buildings. And they just did that growing up. They don't want to do that. Kids want to play ball, play sports and grow up and be something, you feel me?

I got--also I wanted to say is like, growing up your parents also told you to call 911 when you get in trouble. Right? When I was growing I had to call my family when I got in trouble. It's for shit like that. Now my brother gone, how can I call them? They might do something to me, too.

RESIDENT: That's where the kids--they make their own goals around here. The place, you feel what I'm saying?

CONWAY: I see it. I see it.

RESIDENT: That's not--that's crazy, man. These--there's only been one [goal] around here since I been growing up.

RESIDENT: That's what I said, he should have gotten [inaud.]


RESIDENT: You know what I mean? He should have gotten medical attention. Why'd you move him here, there, take him all around the damn world? And he was in pain from day one, right there. That's why they, it's really going to need to get [inaud.] because first of all, he was hurt right then and there. For all we know, all that shit probably could have been prevented. We been slaves long enough. So when this town wants to get [inaud.] these people get over on us. You feel me, doing it like you're the [inaud.]. We got to fight back.

CONWAY: Okay. After talking to the residents here, it seems like they are very excited, very happy that something happened at last after 111 deaths at the hands of the police. That finally, the residents feel like there might be justice, but they also feel like they should watch this and follow it so that it doesn't disappear in the near future or get reduced further, and people get away with what everybody down here is still saying was murder.

News Mon, 04 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Will Indictment Lead to Systemic Change in Baltimore?

See The Real News Network's website for both earlier in-depth reporting and current coverage of events in Baltimore, where The Real News Network studios are located.

TRNN senior editor Paul Jay and civil rights attorney A. Dwight Pettit discuss the implications of Marilyn Mosby's Friday morning announcement.


JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux coming to you live from our studio in Baltimore. Six Baltimore police officers who were involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray have been charged criminally. Here at The Real News we've been keeping tabs on this story and we want to unpack exactly what those charges are and what they mean for the Gray family and the Baltimore community.

Now joining us in studio to unpack all of this are our two guests. Paul Jay, who is the senior editor here at The Real News, as well as Dwight Pettit, who is a Baltimore attorney, civil rights attorney, here in Baltimore.

Thank you both for joining us.


DESVARIEUX: So let's chat about what exactly these officers were charged with. Primarily we had Officer Caesar Goodson, Jr., who was the driver of the van. He was charged with second degree depraved heart murder, that's a maximum sentence of 30 years. Officer William G. Porter, he was charged also with manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, carries a sentence of a maximum of 10 years. Lieutenant Brian Rice, involuntary manslaughter. Officer Edward Nero, assault in second degree, as well as we have Officer Garret Miller, assault in second degree, and Sergeant Alicia White, manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter, I should stay. And a litany of other charges that we just don't have that much time to mention right now.

But for you, Dwight, after hearing all these charges, what are some of the highlights?

PETTIT: Well, I think she avoided the most serious charges, which would have been much more difficult to make. I was very concerned that she might overcharge because of the public roar and outrage. I was afraid that she might try to make murder in the first degree. And I didn't see any premeditation that would in fact allow that charge to stand. So I think she tried to make the charges, particularly the, except for the second degree attempted--second degree murder, charges that she could make in a court of law.

You've got to remember, charges are just basically what you'll take to the grand jury in terms of probable cause. And so that doesn't stand the test of beyond a reasonable doubt. That will be the test in trial. And so it seems to me that she was bold and conservative at the same time, if you can put those two together.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. And do you think that she'll really be able to get these charges to stick?

PETTIT: Well, that's what I'm talking about. Trial is a different thing. But that will go before a jury, and a jury will decide that with open trial and argument from both defense council and the State's Attorney's office. So that gives us the transparency that the public is calling for that is not going to be swept up under the rug. A trial is going to be public. Everybody's going to be able to see the evidence and hear the evidence, and I think this is what the public was calling for, where in the past there was just automatic, from the State's Attorney's office, that the police acted within the law and swept under the rug, and that was it.

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: I think there's been a lot of attention in the media so far this morning about who actually committed the homicide. And they have sort of answered the question now. They're certainly putting most of the blame on the driver, but clearly something happened before he got into the van. But all of that I think is still in the realm of the behavior of a few specific cops.

Now, I think this is a breakthrough for Baltimore that a few specific cops are being held accountable, because that almost never happens here. And I don't think it ever would have happened without these mass protests, including some of the violence that took place. If this hadn't become--this became a national story because the National Guard come in, because there's so much policing going on. So I don't think these individual cops would have been, unlikely, held accountable without all of that.

That being said, it's still about a few individual cops. What she said that has systemic implications, and I think is maybe the more important piece of what she said, is that several of these cops are being charged with false imprisonment. The arrest was illegal. The knife he had was legal. That is saying you can't just haul people into a police van anymore. They're saying that that's illegal to just grab somebody because they run and throw them into a van, and then maybe concoct some charge when you get home, like resist--back to the police station, like resisting arrest, or any number of things that get concocted between the event and getting back to the station.

The real question now is going to be, does this make itself into systemically a piece of police procedure. You can no longer bust somebody for being black in a poor neighborhood. Because up until now that was almost probable cause. If you're black and you're in one of these projects, that's enough for us to pick you up if we want to. So that's--I think very significant piece.

PETTIT: I think Paul makes a tremendous point. And not only does it have national implications, but the major implications for Baltimore and the state of Maryland is the fact that--Paul is exactly right. The police have totally disregarded the Constitutional rights of the individuals. Both the U.S. Constitution and the Maryland Declaration of Rights. And what has really propelled this in Baltimore, apart from the social issues of jobs, et cetera, et cetera, education--what has propelled this in Baltimore was the fact of zero tolerance, which gave the police officers a feeling of omnipotence that they did not have to look at the Constitution. They did not have to observe the rights.

So when she spent the time that she spent as Paul just indicated in relationship to probable cause, or for that matter no articulable suspicion, which is the terms that are used in terms of stop and frisk and all of that. But in Baltimore they've gotten worse than stop and frisk. Since the zero tolerance days there was just--you didn't have to do anything but be black, be poor, and be observed. As they said, he made eye contact with me and he took off running. And what's the crime? So then they try to go back in many cases after they catch the individual and say, well, he had some dope on him, or he had a weapon on him. But in this instance the weapon that he has is not really illegal. He had a pocketknife.

JAY: Which they leaked, and they essentially lied in the leak, saying it's an illegal switchblade when it's--.

PETTIT: Exactly. Well, they do that all the time.

JAY: Right, exactly.

PETTIT: That's always, they do the--the primary defense is to start degrading the victim, or the person that was the subject to the illegal search and seizure or arrest.

JAY: Now, a lot of the police have been referencing, when you talk to them on the streets, that there's a Supreme Court decision that says in a high crime area, running is probable cause. Now, we're still trying to figure this out, whether it actually is such a case or not. I don't know if you know.

DESVARIEUX: Well let's ask Dwight, here--.

PETTIT: I don't think that that's exactly the articulation of the case. I think the court said basically, and I've got to look at the case again, Paul. But I think the court basically said that you can use deadly force--you cannot use deadly force unless the person that's running presents some threat or danger to other people or to other persons, officers, or what have you. So there's an exception to that, that run situation.

JAY: Well what the police think, and I've talked to several policemen who are saying this, but we're also hearing it in scuttlebutt from all kinds of people that according to this Supreme Court decision, and we're trying to find out what decision they're trying to reference, that--I'm sorry, I'm hearing something in my ear.

DESVARIEUX: Tennessee vs. Gardner, is it?

JAY: I have--and we're, hi everybody. We're hearing in our ear some instructions, and that's going to happen throughout the day. So this court case says that if someone simply runs, that's probable cause? Okay.

This is what--this decision is what Dwight's talking about, which is when you can use deadly force when a person runs.

PETTIT: That's the one I'm familiar with.

JAY: That's quite a separate thing than what happened here, because there's--.

PETTIT: I haven't heard of one just running as probable cause.

JAY: Yeah. The police are referencing as if there's a case where just running is probable cause.

DESVARIEUX: If people know of that case, please tweet us, we'll be able to get that on and talk about it.

JAY: Yeah. I've talked to several attorneys--I mean, I talked to Dwight, but we've also talked to some people from Center for Constitutional Rights and other lawyers that are trying to find what is this magical case. But as far as they know, making eye contact and running is not probable cause for a stop.

Now, let's even say there is such a thing. Let's say. That doesn't mean you can arrest somebody because they ran. Even if there's such a case that you can run after somebody and try to stop them, that's a whole different issue that when you stop the person they have no drugs, they have no weapons, they've done nothing. You can't arrest somebody because they run away from you.

Now we know it happens every day in Baltimore, never mind running away. You can be rousted on a street corner here and have nothing on you, and they have something--they have a phrase for it in Baltimore called walkthroughs. And what they do is they pick you up for nothing and they walk you through the police station. And they hold you for hours, and then they kick you loose. And it's just another way to assert the power and intimidate people, and it's happening in neighborhoods across the city.

She's saying that's illegal. So now the question's going to be are we--can we start seeing some police arrested for this false imprisonment?

DESVARIEUX: Yeah. Well, let's get to what she actually said at the press conference earlier today. We have a clip that we'd like to play for you. Let's see what she had to say.


MARILYN J. MOSBY, STATE'S ATTORNEY FOR BALTIMORE CITY: The findings of our comprehensive, thorough, and independent investigation coupled with the medical examiner's determination that Mr. Gray's death was a homicide which we received today has led us to believe that we have probable cause to file criminal charges.


DESVARIEUX: --what is the significance of that? Really explain that to our viewers.

PETTIT: That is a major factor in terms of what the conclusions of the Medical Examiner's Office lead to. In other words if they, undetermined cause of death, or something like that, then it's more difficult to bring in the criminality. But the homicide aspect, meaning that somebody caused that death in a criminal manner, that gives her the medical basis for the legal charges of what we see here, attempted murder and manslaughter. And then manslaughter breaks down into different things, involuntary manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter. I think here what we're talking about is more or less negligent homicide in their failure to administer treatment or call for treatment, et cetera.

So in the charges that you read, we won't even get into second degree assault and what have you. But there are a lot of different factors. So she's taken the broader route at this point in time. I think I heard you read involuntary and voluntary manslaughter, which would cause—include negligent homicide. Second degree murder, and as I said before, I'm glad she didn't step out into the first degree murder, because to prove malice and forethought there would have been quite difficult. It's going to be hard and difficult enough to prove depraved heart and malice in terms of the distinction between first degree and second degree murder.

JAY: I think it's particularly interesting too that the Medical Examiner's Office here, which you can see in a story on the website, Real News website right now, does not have a stellar history of generating medical evidence that actually helps charge police. In fact it has a pretty good history of being pretty lousy at creating--.

PETTIT: That's exactly right.

JAY: And this--apparently the Medical Examiner's Office here is, in the country, has one of the worst records of generating evidence that leads to charges. So again, I think we have to give some credit to the State's Attorney. She brought in this outside police force. It was the Maryland State Police, was it? Or Sheriff's Office.

PETTIT: She said the Sheriff's Office. That's very, very significant that she--not only did she do her own investigation, not only were the feds here investigating, but she used another elected body, which is the Sheriff of Baltimore City. We forget a lot of times they have certain constitutional mandates which we haven't seen exercised. And the fact that she would go over to another elected official which like her is elected and only accountable to the public is quite astounding and quite surprising, and quite a new twist in terms of my evaluation. The Baltimore City Sheriff's Office.

DESVARIEUX: Do you think she's just trying to build her case essentially saying it's not just me, I have all these other supporters backing me?

PETTIT: I think when she talked about the quickness of her moving, what she really said when the police report or the final report was turned over to her yesterday, she was able to move so quickly because her own investigation--as she was saying, they were working around the clock. Her own investigation incorporating these other agencies, she already knew what the police were going to in fact say. Whether it be positive or negative.

JAY: And she gave herself political cover with the police union and as the--you know, the police union, we haven't talked about this yet. They issued a statement prior to her press release, but they must have known what was coming because it's a big attack on the State's Attorney--.

DESVARIEUX: It's an open letter from the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of the Police. And--.

JAY: Yeah, I can read one of the quotes here. "Not one of the officers involved in this tragic situation left home in the morning with the anticipation that someone they interacted with would not go home that night. As tragic as the situation is, none of the officers involved are responsible for the death of Mr. Gray."

Now, what business does the union have saying that? They do not have investigators, they don't have the Sheriff's department. This is just knee-jerk defending of their cops without them having any basis of investigation. And they've been saying up until this point, trust the process, trust the process.


JAY: Well the process just spoke, and now they're doing a personal attack on the State's Attorney.

PETTIT: I think you hit it, Paul. That's a defensive mechanism that when they anticipate what the conclusion of the State's Attorney was going to be, they had prior knowledge.

DESVARIEUX: But Paul, they also have deep concerns of the many personal conflicts they see her as having.

JAY: Well that's what they say, yeah.

DESVARIEUX: Yes. They see her having conflicts with the Gray family attorney. We did a little bit of digging and we found that he was actually on her transition committee and donated $5,000 to her last election campaign. They're citing that William Murphy and the lead prosecutor's connections with members of the local media, and they're also citing her husband, Nick Mosby, who's a councilman here in Baltimore, saying that there is some political ambitions here and things of that--.

JAY: Well, let's start with one. Is the fact that William Murphy--I'm sorry, Gray's family attorney William Murphy had donated some money, was on her transition team. Is this a conflict of interest?

PETTIT: No, it's not a conflict of interest. All of us are--especially lawyers, we participate in the judicial elections and we participate in the State's Attorney's election.

DESVARIEUX: There's no ethical issue here.

PETTIT: As I see, no ethical issue whatsoever. Everybody that's contributed either supported Mr. Bernstein, or in this case the State's Attorney Ms. Mosby. Because only two people running. So we are not dissolved from participating in the political process simply because we're lawyers and might have a case with that office. As long as there's no intervention in the process, whether that be criminal prosecutions or in this case a civil action possibly emanating, that is no conflict.

JAY: I mean, the person and persons that have a profound conflict of interest speaking about the guilt or innocence of the police officers is the leadership of the police union. They clearly have a conflict of interest because they're there to defend their members. They should defend the rights, they should defend the process, they should insist on a fair process, not a lynching of these officers. But they have no business pronouncing on the guilt or innocence. They're not investigators. And they're mostly cops or ex-cops there. They should know better than they're going to pronounce on who's innocent and who isn't. They have no ability to make such a case.

They're going so far beyond the role of what a union should do. And I have to say, not all police unions are like this. You know, around the country--I mean, in Madison, Wisconsin you had a police union that actually joined in with the protesters when they occupied the Assembly. Police unions don't have to act this way.

PETTIT: And especially not personal attacks on the State's Attorney. And that's what those are coming very close to.

DESVARIEUX: So her husband's political future, they directly point at that, that her decision is going to directly impact his political future. You see that as a personal attack.

PETTIT: A personal attack, I do.


PETTIT: Whether--I hear all of their attacks as personal. And I hope that that stops and ceases at this point in time.

JAY: And maybe it will affect his political future, but who knows it's positive? You know, there's a lot of people in the city might not like what she said.

PETTIT: But they imply her--that's an attack on her integrity, is what they're saying, that she could be influence because of her political ambitions. That's absurd.

DESVARIEUX: All right, let's get to another clip she had to say here at the press conference. Let's roll that for you guys right now.


MOSBY: To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America, I heard your call for no justice, no peace. Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man. To those that are angry, hurt, or have their own experiences of injustice at the hands of police officers, I urge you to channel the energy peacefully as we prosecute this case.


DESVARIEUX: So Dwight I'm going to ask you, is this justice?

PETTIT: It's justice in terms that there will be transparency. In other words, it's justice in relationship to the fact that there will be an adversarial proceeding, where evidence, a judge, a jury, will all come out. And our trials in America are public. So it's justice on the basis that instead of business as usual, the matter being swept under the rug, no charges being brought, the citizens of Baltimore and the nation now will in fact see a fair and open trial. And how that results, whether it's pro or con to her position today it's still, that is an element of justice which we have not been afforded as a community.

JAY: And I think it's very significant that she said this. I heard you. I don't know if she meant to say this or not, but there's an implication that if there weren't thousands of people saying no justice, no peace, maybe she wouldn't or wouldn't have been able to take the position she took today. That the role of the mass protest here--this is a victory for them. This is very significant. It's a small step. But in the context of Baltimore it's quite a remarkable step. But is this justice? Well, again, it's a question that's mutli-layered. It's the beginning of some accountability, and that's a big step compared to impunity, which is what more or less there's been in Baltimore and to a large extent Maryland in terms of police violence.

But is it justice in terms of the conditions that gave rise to this? The systemic police brutality is not just a problem of the police. We've been saying on The Real News, and many panels including with Dwight, this is a product that we don't want to fix chronic poverty. We don't want to deal with the levels of unemployment. We don't want to deal with the role of systemic racism in the judicial system. We don't want to deal with terrible schools for the majority of kids in the city. We would rather put a hammer on the consequences of such lousy social conditions.

And as long as we tell the police, be our hammer, you can't fix this. You can mitigate it a bit. What happened today will help mitigate it. Certainly police are going to second-think next time they're in a somewhat similar situation. But this is, this is not justice that really is going to give rise to peace. And I think that's what, and I've already talked to some of the people involved in the protest movement. You know, for them, what is the next step here? When will some more profound justice be found? So this is a, this is a victory, but very much a beginning of something.

DESVARIEUX: I was going to ask exactly that. Was this enough justice for peace? Do you see this being enough, Dwight?

PETTIT: Not with all the social ills that are still there. But Paul hits it right on the head. It's a beginning. It's a beginning of something that we have not been afforded in this nation. The police have been militarized to in fact keep watch over inequities in this society. And the disparities, and the economic disparities. And so no, it's not, this is not the cure-all, but it's the beginning of the demands for due process and equal protection at least being addressed. And it's starting here in Baltimore City, which I have always argued per capita was the capital of police brutality. With all of its ills and everything, we are the perfect observation point for the ills of this nation.

DESVARIEUX: Great. I want to remind our viewers that you should be tweeting us, sending us Facebook posts. Because we will have your questions here on air answered by our legal eagle Dwight Pettit, and we have other guests coming in and out of the studio. So please be sure to tweet us, post anything on Facebook. We'll be sure to get it on air.

One thing actually just came across Twitter. This is from [Adrienne Kazai]. She asks, are the cops going to still be getting paid leave although they've been indicted now?

PETTIT: Well, that's an administrative decision in terms of the police department. And then that takes us back to the police bill of rights, and so forth. So that's a determination of the Commissioner versus the State's Attorney's Office.

JAY: Who now has the opportunity to suspend without pay. It's his choice whether to do it or not, but up until the point they were charged he actually couldn't suspend without pay. Now he has the choice to do so.

DESVARIEUX: And so the people could pressure--I mean, that could be one of their demands from the Commissioner.

PETTIT: That's a political decision from the Mayor and the Commissioner.


JAY: One of the big things now in terms of what's next, I think there's kind of two issues. One is there's been a demand in terms of this police reform that the State's Attorney do exactly what she did today. Because there's been so many instances--I can't [right] them off the top of my head. Maybe Dwight can help. Where one would have thought this could have happened before. There was enough evidence for a State's Attorney to step in and lay charges and make it a criminal process. Where it kept being an internal review process, and it's been the Baltimore police reviewing the Baltimore police, because the civilian review board or committee that exists in Baltimore is absolutely impotent.

If you look on The Real News we've actually interviewed the chair of that review board, and she says it's impotent. My quote, I remember from the story, is that--and I think she's been on the committee or board for ten years, and they haven't listened to a single recommendation. So the issue of community control of the police now, with teeth, where there's the ability to hire and fire the police chief. An elected civilian review board. But not just review, like a management board that actually--the police are accountable to an elected board that has the right to subpoena.

It does require as far as I understand the law an amendment or a repeal or something of the police--Law Enforcement Bill or Rights in Maryland, which I believe makes it virtually illegal for anyone to review the behavior of police other than police unless there's charges. Once the charges and the State's Attorney enters, then you have a criminal process, and it goes supposedly in a normal way of investigating and holding accountable.

But short of the State's Attorney actually laying charges, civilians actually have zero rights. And that--now's the time to really make that, I think, the next big demand.

DESVARIEUX: And this is not just a pipe dream. It's actually happening in Toronto.

JAY: Well, in Toronto there is a model which I don't think is fully there, but it starts to approach the issue. The Toronto Police Services Board is a, I think a nine-person board. I think there's three people nominated by the city, three by the province, and then together they nominate three who are not elected politicians from the community. It's still not elected. But they hire and fire the police chief. The union signs a contract with the civilian--it's not, it's not a review board, it's a management board. It has real power.

It actually can tell the police, and it has just recently, a big fight just took place in Toronto over what's called carding, which essentially is stop and frisk and ask for ID. The police--the civilian management board told the police you can't do it anymore. If you don't have probable cause, you cannot ask anyone for ID. And that's people's constitutional rights in Canada. And it was an enormous battle with the police chief and much of the police union. They didn't want to go along with the policy. And they didn't renew the police chief's contract.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. I just want to--.

JAY: And essentially fired him.

DESVARIEUX: I just want to get to some breaking news here. We have five police officers who are now in custody. Again, breaking news, five police officers are now in custody in Baltimore related to the Freddie Gray case.

So let's pick it up from what Paul was discussing. Do you feel like at the end of the day we're not going to have real change unless the community takes control over monitoring the police force?

PETTIT: That's going to take future legislative action, and we saw what happened in Annapolis this year. The only thing that was accomplished out of all the progressive moves in Annapolis, the only thing that was accomplished, which was major, was the increase of the cap from $400,000 to $800,000, or doubling of the cap, for damages in civil proceedings.

So these things that we should, should be happening, I think is the legislative process of both the City Council and Annapolis and whether that is going to, this is going to be enough to fuel those political fires. But it opens the door, as Paul was saying, and it's a start. But one, you know, that leaves for a lot of conjecture, a lot of political moving back and forth.

But one of the things that Paul raised that I did want to address, I can recall three cases off the top of my head where the Mayor so-called brought in these independent, blue-ribbon panels. And I can give you three cases right now. The Torbit case, which was a black police officer who was shot down twelve times with his badge around his neck in a fight that broke out at one of the nightclubs here. They brought in a blue ribbon panel, so-called blue ribbon panel, that exonerated the police officers in terms of that shooting and killing. One of their own.

We can talk about the West case. The man that I told you about that I represent the family where he was beat to death by ten officers while he was pleading for his life. Can you imagine what that would have done had that been on live, living television. And it's a third one that I'm trying to think of, it could come to mind later, that they brought in this blue ribbon commission and absolve the police. All this oversight, or so-called civilian oversight is basically commissions being appointed by the Mayor which come in and sweep these--the Anderson case, that's what I was trying to think. Anderson was picked up and body slammed. They brought in the blue ribbon commission to say that the police did not do anything illegal or out of their direct orders and so forth, or their responsibilities.

In all these cases we do need a civilian review board with teeth, with subpoena power, but I would like to say that that we do--we've also said the alternative to that was a special prosecutor that would not in fact be involved with working with the police on a daily basis. And that's just something that would have to be done by legislative mandate. I think what we ask for the next time--.

JAY: So like a standing special prosecutor's office.

PETTIT: Right. We ask that they expand the jurisdiction of the--we have a special prosecutor in Maryland for the review and investigation of political corruption. Why couldn't we expand that jurisdiction to give them the power to in fact go into the particular municipalities where there's a complaint and do an independent investigation?

But what Ms. Mosby has done has really countered that argument and said to some extent that we can look to our own individual elected State's Attorney's office for objective investigation. So this might begin to squash the demand for independence and investigative actions because the State's Attorney for the first time in the history of our city is now acting as an elected, independent body rather than a rubber stamp of the Baltimore City Police Department.

DESVARIEUX: Shouldn't we be cautious of that? Of having that much faith in the process?

JAY: Well the problem is is what about the next person that gets elected?

DESVARIEUX: Yeah, exactly.

JAY: Which is why yes, she should play this role. Yes, this is her duty to play this role. But if you had this kind of standing special prosecutor it wouldn't quite be as dependent on who gets elected whether or not this thing--you more structurally institutionalize--.

PETTIT: I would agree with that.

JAY: The more layers of this, the better. A special prosecutor, a real civilian review board. Enormous pressure on the State's Attorney to do what Mosby did. You need all of the above.

DESVARIEUX: And if we don't have all of the above, what do we do in the meantime? How do we get there?

PETTIT: I think what we do is what is--we keep pushing politically to elect those officials and to put into office those officials that are going to be sympathetic and in agreement with the demands of the community. And we hold them accountable. That's the political process that we enjoy in this nation, is the election process. But these things, they're difficult because they're--outside of Baltimore City we run into a lot of conservative elements of the elected legislative process that makes it quite difficult. But that's, the political way is the only way I see to make movement. And this should be a spark to awaken that political movement.

DESVARIEUX: All right. Dwight Pettit and Paul Jay joining us in studio. Thank you both for joining us. And we're going to actually cut to a package from our investigative reporter Stephen Janis here. He was outside in front of City Hall where he had the opportunity to meet with a former FBI agent and get his reaction to the charges against those police officers. Let's take a look.

News Mon, 04 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Ralph Nader on Bernie Sanders, the TPP "Corporate Coup" and Writing to the White House

As independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont announces his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, we speak to former presidential candidate Ralph Nader. "We don’t want a coronation of Hillary Clinton," Nader says of Sanders’ run. We also talk about his new book, Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001-2015. The book is dedicated in part to the workers of the U.S. Postal Service.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In Washington, independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont announced his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday. Launching his campaign, Sanders said the nation’s immoral economic system favoring the wealthy cannot continue.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: We now have a political situation where billionaires are literally able to buy elections and candidates. Let’s not kid ourselves. That is the reality right now. So you’ve got the Koch brothers and other billionaire families now prepared to spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in elections to buy the candidates of their choice, often extreme right-wing candidates. I’m the former chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee, and I can tell you I don’t believe that the men and women who defended American democracy fought to create a situation where billionaires own the political process.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Sanders’ announcement came one day before May Day, celebrated around the world as International Workers’ holiday. Many events are planned across the country today, many mass protests that will also show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, the immigrants’ rights movement, as well.

Well, today we’re joined by a former presidential candidate, Ralph Nader. His new book is called Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001-2015, the book dedicated in part to the workers of the U.S. Postal Service.

Ralph Nader, welcome back to Democracy Now! First, let’s get your response to the announced candidacy of Bernie Sanders. It might bring back memories for you, the number of times that you ran for president.

RALPH NADER: Well, that’s a good—good news. We don’t want a coronation of Hillary Clinton. We want a vibrant debate in the televised primaries next year, and Bernie Sanders will provide an alternative view of where the country should be going. I hope he’ll be stronger on pulling back on empire. I’ve always thought his foreign policy and military policy were not up to his great domestic reforms and corporate accountability from Wall Street to Houston.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that doesn’t get a heck of a lot of attention in the mainstream media—when it does, presenting largely one point of view—is a mainstay, one of the things that Senator Sanders has been speaking against. It’s also an issue that you have been taking on, dealing with 40 percent of the global economy.

RALPH NADER: Well, the people have got to demand that their members of Congress block the fast track that is now beginning to circulate in Congress, which will allow an up-or-down vote, no amendments whatsoever to the subsequent Trans-Pacific Partnership, so-called. This is a corporate coup d’état. This is worse than NAFTA. It’s worse than the World Trade Organization. It’s bad for consumers, for labor, for the environment. All these necessities are subordinated to the supremacy of international commercial trade, and a tremendous invasion on local, state and national sovereignty. And all the disputes that may affect American workers and dealing with poverty and investment in poor areas in this country, all the disputes are going to be before secret tribunals. They cannot go to our courts. This is blatantly unconstitutional. But any citizen that tries to take these trade agreements to the federal courts are dismissed because of no standing to sue. So, we’ve got a real fight coming up. Go to, and you’ll get the details. I’m telling you, people, if this one passes, with about a dozen other countries on the Pacific Rim, it’s going to affect the pace of exporting jobs and industry, and subordinating the ability of the United States to be first, and environmental, labor and consumer standards.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ralph, I’d like to ask you, on this May Day, your new book, titled Return to Sender, you’ve dedicated it to—it’s your letters to past presidents. You’ve dedicated it to the postal workers of the United States. Why?

RALPH NADER: Because, Juan, I think that the most democratic media in this country, with apologies to Democracy Now!, are the letters that individuals send to their elected officials. They cannot be censored, when they’re on their way. They cannot be distorted. And they’re not being respected. And I put these letters together in this book, Return to Sender, letters to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, just as an example of the kind of letters that go into the White House that show what the president should be doing, should not be doing, what’s going on around the country or inside the federal government that the president may not know about, unique proposals to turn the country around. And they’re ignored. They’re completely ignored. I mean, I wrote two critical letters to the prime minister of Canada, and they were properly acknowledged, answered and referred to the appropriate ministries. But it’s just a dark hole in the White House. I wrote a letter to Bush and Obama saying, "What is your correspondence policy? What’s your policy in answering letters, other than using some as political props or sending out robo-signed letters?" And there was no answer.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you read a portion of the letter that you called "A Family Appeal to Stop War." Who did you write it to, Ralph?

RALPH NADER: Well, I wrote it to the mother and father of George W. Bush on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, the criminal invasion that’s killed over a million Iraqis, and millions of refugees, and blown apart that country that never threatened us—one of the greatest crimes that presidents have ever committed. It was never constitutionally approved. It was an outlaw presidency. And we could see it coming, because in the prior weeks, Amy, 12 major groups in our country, representing business, intelligence officials retired, municipal officials, religious groups, environment, women’s groups, student groups—they all wrote individual letters. And these groups represent millions of people around the country. They wrote individual letters begging to meet briefly with their president, George W. Bush, before the invasion of Iraq. Some of them had just come back from Iraq. And these letters were never even acknowledged.

And the press bears a serious responsibility here. The White House press corps is basically a ditto scribe operation. They don’t take any interest in letters that are coming in, other than if it’s a quirky type thing. And when these letters were released to the press, as many of them were, or they were sent to the White House press corps, or they were sent to various agencies like the Centers for Disease Control, the press ignored them. Now, years ago, letters got more respect. A letter would go to Senator Warren Magnuson urging a hearing on an important subject. It would get into The Washington Post or The New York Times. But the state of correspondence today, the most initiatory democratic media in the country, is at its lowest level that I can ever see.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Ralph, I wanted to ask you about one quirky letter that’s at the same time very profound, that you sent on June 3rd, 2011, to President Obama. It was called "Letter from E.coli 0104:H4." And you say, "Dear President Obama: My name is E.coli [0104:H4]. I am being detained [here] in a German Laboratory in Bavaria, charged with being 'a highly virulent strain of bacteria.'" And you go on to say, "Your associates are obsessed with possible bacteriological warfare by your human enemies. Yet you are hardly doing anything on the ongoing silent [violence] of my indiscriminate brethren." Could you elaborate?

RALPH NADER: Yes, it was a way to try to get a little attention. This little E. coli, in this fictional approach, was trying to redeem itself before it was going to be put away in this Petri dish in Europe, and it was a plea, as I’ve made a plea to President Clinton and President Bush, that they’ve got to pay more attention to the threat of viral and bacteriological epidemics around the world and in the United States. We’ve just come off the Ebola epidemic in Africa, as everybody knows. But the mutation of these viruses and bacteria is also a threat. You can see resistant tuberculosis to existing drugs, antibiotic resistance that’s killing tens of thousands of people in this country, hospital-induced infections.

This is a very serious epidemic of preventable violence, but where is the trillions of dollars going? To expand empire, to blow apart other countries, to create more enemies, to kill more civilians overseas. It’s a clinically insane institutional situation we have in our federal government, and what Eisenhower warned about in his final speech, the military-industrial complex, that goes from Washington to Wall Street to Houston. This has got to be what Bernie Sanders and other new entries into the presidential race talk about. You’re not going to hear this from the Republicans, over a dozen of them running for the presidency, ignoring all these problems.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph, we’re going to do part two of this discussion in the post-show. We’re going to post it online at But your final comment, in this last 10 seconds, about writing letters to presidents?

RALPH NADER: It’s very important for people to write these letters, send copies to members of Congress or to the press or anyone who you think is interested in the contents of the letter. It’s a way to get people involved. And don’t worry if you don’t get an answer. Send it around to other people, and you’ll get people coming to join you in whatever effort you pursue.

AMY GOODMAN: Part two in a moment. Ralph Nader, we thank you so much, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic, former presidential candidate. His new book is Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001-2015. He’ll be speaking here in New York June 1st at Book Culture. And Juan and I will be in Washington, D.C., at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church for the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War today and tomorrow.

Watch part two of the interview here

News Mon, 04 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Syriza: Lies, Broken Promises and Prolonged Austerity

The past three months have seen, in Greece, a continuation of the same exact policies of austerity and privatization and the continued decimation of Greece's battered social state. Moreover, we have seen most of Syriza's pre-election promises and rhetoric reneged upon. Claims that Syriza "hasn't been given enough time" ignore the many other smaller alternative parties that exist, which have maintained much stronger and more consistent anti-austerity rhetoric and been active on the ground as part of the social struggles.

A protester climbs behind riot police to display a Greek flag bearing a populist message, in October 2011. (Photo: Eric Vernier)A protester climbs behind riot police to display a Greek flag bearing a populist message, in October 2011. (Photo: Eric Vernier)

Three months into the new Syriza-led coalition government in Greece, political figures such as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and, especially, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis remain media darlings, and darlings of much of the global left. From glowing coverage and interviews in outlets ranging from Democracy Now! to RT to Prospect magazine, which absurdly named Varoufakis the world's No. 2 thinker for 2015, the international community has repeatedly been told what a great job the "heroic" Syriza-led government has been doing and how it is simply the intransigence of institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union that are preventing Syriza from implementing its "radical, anti-austerity" platform.

Spare me the enthusiasm.

The past three months have seen, in Greece, a continuation of the same exact policies of austerity and privatization and the continued decimation of Greece's battered social state. Moreover, we have seen most of Syriza's pre-election promises and rhetoric reneged upon, via the continuation of the same sorts of policies as before. Varoufakis himself has admitted as much, stating in March that "if necessary, we might postpone some of our pre-election pledges." Defense Minister Panos Kammenos was more direct, writing in an apparently now-deleted tweet that Greece's red lines, in terms of its negotiations with Europe, have not changed, but that they have been postponed "temporarily."

As a popular saying goes in Greece, nothing is more permanent than the temporary.

We have seen the continuation of many of the same policies enforced by the previous pro-austerity regimes in Greece.

We have seen the continuation of many of the same policies enforced by the previous pro-austerity regimes in Greece. The reality, however, is far more dire than even these statements suggest. The text of Greece's "heroic" agreement with the "institutions" at the Eurogroup meeting of February 20 and 21 states that it shall be governed by and construed in accordance with English law, and that any disputes pertaining to the agreement fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of Luxembourg, while Greece "irrevocably and unconditionally" waived its sovereign immunity. This agreement maintains, in full, the "second memorandum" signed by the unelected Greek government of that time, and all of the austerity policies that it foresees.

Since then, we have seen the continuation of many of the same policies enforced by the previous pro-austerity regimes in Greece, policies which Syriza, up until prior to the elections, denounced in many instances as being illegitimate and unconstitutional. This was especially evident with the passage, on April 24, of an immensely unpopular presidential decree, issued by Prokopis Pavlopoulos, the conservative president of the Hellenic Republic who was elected by the Syriza-led coalition in February, which forces all state bodies, ranging from local governments and municipalities to universities, to transfer their cash reserves to the Bank of Greece. In doing so, Prime Minister Tsipras has promised that the decree will only remain in force "temporarily," until June.

There's that word again: "temporary." The fact of the matter is that the issuance of such decrees was a favored practice of the previous, New Democracy- and Pasok-led pro-austerity governments, a practice that was repeatedly denounced by Syriza leaders during that period. Moreover, one of Syriza's many pre-election pledges was that it would discontinue this practice of ruling by decree, a pledge that has now been added to the growing list of broken promises and reversals by the new government.

Instead, this decree is now described as "voluntary lending" by Greece's Minister of State Nikos Pappas, though as recently as March 17, the deputy minister of social insurance, Dimitris Stratoulis, publicly pledged that the cash reserves of state bodies would not be touched. Stratoulis now describes the decree as "patriotic," which also happens to be the same language used by former finance minister (and current president of the Bank of Greece) Yiannis Stournaras in November 2012 to justify Greece's PSI agreement. Indeed, the new government has kept Stournaras in his current position, declining to launch a criminal investigation against him for his actions as finance minister under Greece's previous government.

Varoufakis stated that Greece "shall squeeze blood out of a stone" in order to repay the IMF.

Varoufakis stated that Greece "shall squeeze blood out of a stone" in order to repay the IMF. Syriza's about-face does not stop here. Numerous Syriza figures, ranging from Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and government spokesperson Gabriel Sakellaridis to Alexis Tsipras have made repeated statements, over the past three months, promising that Greece's lenders will be repaid in full. Kotzias stated in early April that the EU will not lose "even one cent" from its loans toward Greece, while Sakellaridis stated that the IMF will be paid fully and on time, statements previously mirrored by Tsipras himself when he pledged that the loans to the IMF and European Central Bank will be repaid. More recently still, President Pavlopoulos also reaffirmed Greece's commitment to repay its debts "to the last cent."

Indisputably though, the master of governmental doublespeak is finance minister and celebrity economist Yanis Varoufakis, who excels in making "radical"-sounding statements regarding the horrors of austerity, and then doing the opposite in practice while contradicting his rhetoric with further statements to the contrary. In an interview with the BBC, for instance, Varoufakis stated that Greece "shall squeeze blood out of a stone" in order to repay the IMF, "which holds views" that he "personally agrees with." He has further stated that Greece will continue making its debt repayments "in perpetuity," claimed that "Europe" is his "homeland," and that Europe can only be saved through the formation of a United States of Europe. And at the same time that the Greek parliament, perhaps merely for public consumption, has formed a parliamentary commission to audit Greece's public debt, Varoufakis has stated that Greece's debt is "legal but unsustainable."

These statements are not just mere talk to appease Greece's lenders. In early April, the Greek government went ahead with a 448 million euro loan repayment to the IMF, and has shown no signs of second-guessing any scheduled payments that are approaching, even as the newly formed debt audit commission is supposedly investigating the legality and legitimacy of this very same debt. And after five years of cuts to salaries, pensions and social services, celebrations over Syriza's hollow promises of "no more cuts" are grossly inappropriate, especially while Greece's questionable loans from the IMF are being repaid without question.

Indeed, according to the Jubilee Debt Campaign, the IMF has earned more than 2.5 billion euros in profit from its loans to Greece since 2010, with an effective interest rate of 3.6 percent on these loans, far more than the 0.9 percent required for the IMF to meet all of its costs. Meanwhile, despite all of the sacrifices that the Greek people are still being expected to shoulder, the country's public debt has shown no sign of letting up, increasing by 42 billion euros just in the first two months of the Syriza-led coalition government, according to figures from the Bank of Greece.

Perhaps most jarring of all though was the admission, by Syriza legal adviser Petros Miliarakis in a televised interview, that the new government quietly went ahead with a 49.4 billion euro debt swap, essentially receiving a significantly smaller amount of immediate cash in exchange for mortgaging future government revenues, such as admission fees to Greece's historical monuments and museums. Indeed, an increase in such admission fees was included in the government's proposals toward the Eurogroup.

Mining has resulted in significant environmental damage while bringing in dubious economic benefits for Greece.

Mining has resulted in significant environmental damage while bringing in dubious economic benefits for Greece. As if this wasn't enough, though, Tsipras, in a letter sent to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on March 15, proposed a so-called "contract for the recovery and growth of Greece," a "contract" which will essentially call into question Greece's national sovereignty, as it would be governed under private international law and would recognize the so-called "institutions" as a legitimate source of justice and governance in Greece. This proposal has been accompanied by discussions at the government level regarding the possible introduction of a dual currency system, in which Greece's external debts would continue to be paid in euros, while domestic accounts, salaries and pensions would essentially be paid in IOUs. Far from an outright departure from the eurozone and a return to a domestic currency, which Syriza still adamantly refuses to even consider, this would decimate pensioners and public employees while keeping Greece very much locked into the eurozone system.

In the meantime, Syriza has proceeded with the shattering of several more of its major pre-election pledges. Despite promises to the contrary, the government is now moving forward with the privatization of a majority stake of one of Europe's largest ports, the port of Piraeus, whose container port was already sold off to Chinese-owned Cosco in 2009, an act of "foreign investment" that has also brought Chinese-style labor conditions to Greece. Recently though, Yannis Dragasakis, on a visit to China, described the impending privatization as a "mutually beneficial" and "highly competitive" deal, while Varoufakis called for a broader relationship with Cosco. The government has also green-lighted the privatization of 14 regional airports of economic and strategic significance, while the selloff of the site of Athens' former international airport, once slated to become Europe's largest urban park, was also included in Varoufakis' proposals toward the "institutions."

As this has been taking place, Greece's defense minister, Panos Kammenos, traveled recently to the United States, where he relayed a proposal to Washington for the joint, 70-30 exploitation of hydrocarbons in the Aegean Sea. This is a proposal that was never discussed or debated publicly or in parliament. Similarly, Tsipras, on his much-lauded early April visit to Moscow, was accompanied by selected and unnamed businessmen (rather than, say, leaders of labor unions or industry groups) and Russian participation in Greek privatizations were discussed. Statements made by Kammenos in March tied these privatization possibilities together, claiming that the port of Piraeus could serve as China's "gateway into Europe," and that a privately owned railway could transport these Chinese imports out of the country, while adding the government's willingness to create "special economic zones" where lowered tax rates (and perhaps more "flexible" labor regulations) would apply. Summarizing the government's position on the issue, Varoufakis, at a recent speech given at the Brookings Institute, stated that the government is willing to move ahead with privatizations even if they brought in very low revenue, as long as buyers would commit to a "minimum level" of investment in the country.

Such "foreign investment" is on display in Skouries, in northern Greece, where the gold mining operations of Canadian firm Eldorado Gold have met fierce local opposition, which has frequently been met with police violence, including very recently. The mining activities have resulted in significant environmental damage while bringing in dubious economic benefits for the Greek state. The domestic minority owner of the mine, powerful construction firm Aktor, is owned by influential Greek businessman Giorgos Bobolas, who also owns several of Greece's largest and most powerful media outlets. Bobolas' son Leonidas was recently freed and avoided criminal investigation after paying 1.8 million euros in back taxes. In the meantime, while Varoufakis and the so-called European "institutions" talk about combating tax evasion in Greece, it was revealed that Eldorado Gold has avoided the payment of at least 1.7 million euros in taxes to the Greek state by funneling income to subsidiary shell corporations based in Holland, the same country where the finance minister, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, never misses an opportunity to lecture the Greek people about evading taxes.

While "foreign investors" like Eldorado Gold take advantage of loopholes to avoid paying their taxes, the Greek people, whose incomes have been crushed after six years of austerity, are repeatedly lectured by Varoufakis and other government ministers that payment of the unified property tax (which Syriza, prior to the elections, labeled "unconstitutional") is a "patriotic duty." And while foreign "investment" in Greece is thriving, one of the last vestiges of Greece's industrial past, the Halivourgiki steel producer, announced recently that another one of its plants will be shut down, leaving just one that is still in operation. Notably, the president of Halivourgiki is Giorgos Varoufakis, the father of Greece's celebrity finance minister.

Cosmetic changes within Syriza, such as the replacement of Varoufakis as Greece's lead negotiator, will serve as window dressing.

Cosmetic changes within Syriza, such as the replacement of Varoufakis as Greece's lead negotiator, will serve as window dressing. In the meantime, state-run day care centers have had their budgets for the next fiscal year slashed in half, resulting in a reduction of 40,000 seats and the loss of 10,000 jobs in 2015-16. Promises to ban the foreclosure of primary residences and to roll back tax increases have not been fulfilled. Furthermore, instead of fulfilling its promise to reform the country's police force and disband its violent riot police, the government has now announced the planned formation of a new, fully armed secondary riot police squad that will work alongside existing forces. And while the government recently made a big show of announcing that national television stations will be obliged to pay for their use of the public airwaves, Deputy Minister for Administrative Reform George Katrougalos was reportedly ready to introduce legislation that would have unconstitutionally extended the long-expired terms of the president and other members of Greece's corrupt broadcast regulator, the National Council for Radio-Television, for six additional months, prior to the sudden resignation of the individuals in question. And in light of the endless inflow of migrants and refugees from war-torn areas in the Middle East and Africa (with thousands more tragically never reaching their destination), Kammenos, who prior to the elections spoke out against the Dublin II regulation, which forces the member state where migrants first entered the EU to process their asylum requests (placing an undue burden on countries like Greece and Italy), has now reversed course, saying that Greece will respect EU migration regulations while calling upon the EU to ask that Turkey, which is not an EU member state, enforce the Dublin II regulation.

As all of this has occurred, the prime minister and key government ministers have also found a way to provide patronage jobs for family members, partners and spouses. This includes the hiring of Giorgos Tsipras, cousin of the prime minister, to a consulting position, and subsequently to the post of general secretary, at Greece's Foreign Ministry. Giorgos Tsipras, it should be noted, is a columnist with the newspaper Avgi, which is a Syriza party organ. Family members and partners of such Syriza figures as Attica Gov. Rena Dourou, Justice Minister Nikos Paraskevopoulos, Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis, Deputy Minister of Tourism Elena Kountoura and General Secretary of Transparency and Justice Kostas Papaioannou, among others, have all been granted lofty patronage positions within the state apparatus. None of this should come as a shock though, when considering that figures like Varoufakis, Paraskevopoulos, Kotzias, Katrougalos and several other high-ranking Syriza government ministers were all formerly part of Pasok, a party renowned for its corruption, patronage and nepotism.

Despite trying to paint a picture of a government under attack by a hostile media and by opposing political forces in Greece and Europe, the Syriza-led coalition has enjoyed virtually no opposition in its three months in office, particularly on key issues such as the Eurogroup agreement of February 20 and 21 and its insistence on not even considering a "Grexit." Their broken promises and evident lies, however, are largely being met by a brainwashed, terrified populace and a complacent global left, which together have maintained a pathetic level of political discourse, essentially serving as apologists for Syriza's actions.

Claims that Syriza "hasn't been given enough time" or that anyone who questions their actions is a "fascist" or "prefers the return of the previous regime" are commonplace, while, as predicted prior to the elections, Syriza representatives are now terrorizing the public (and excusing their actions) by claiming that "if Syriza falls, the neo-Nazis will take over," ignoring, of course, the many other smaller alternative parties that exist, ranging from the United People's Front (EPAM) to Antarsya to the "I Don't Pay" Movement, which have maintained much stronger and more consistent anti-austerity rhetoric and been active on the ground as part of the social struggles. Cosmetic changes within Syriza, such as the replacement, in late April, of Varoufakis as Greece's lead negotiator, will merely serve as window dressing. His replacement, Euclid Tsakalatos, has been described as a "classic Marxist" who has "learned to make compromises with capitalist reality" and who does not support a Grexit on the grounds that "national economic programs do not work."

Three months has been plenty of time for the Syriza-led coalition to abandon most of its promises and to continue the same neoliberal policies of austerity and repression as its predecessors. The sooner the Greek people and the global left figure this out, the better.

Opinion Mon, 04 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Obama Bribes Abe to Support the TPP by Unleashing Japanese Military

Great minds seem to be working alike. Our resident Japan expert, Clive, had pointed out that the US Trade Representative, Michael Froman, had nothing to offer Japan to change its indifference to the proposed TransPacific Partnership. Only the State Department could serve up the needed inducements, and they were missing in action.

But that changed as Obama became more eager about pushing his toxic, traitorous deal over the line. We pinged Clive Wednesday evening:

I heard from a Congressional staffer today that Japan has changed its position on the TPP from being cool to being keen about it

You pointed out early on that Froman couldn't deliver a deal, that State needed to get involved.

Apparently that happened.

I noticed the defense pact and wondered if it had anything to do with the TPP. Apparently it did.

The understanding with the "defense" agreement is that the US will let Japan go offensive.

Of course, I have no idea how that squares with the Japanese constitution.

Any corroborating evidence in the Japanese media? And can Abe get the Diet to follow or is there some horsetrading still to be done?

We got corroborating evidence in the form of a must-read story by Patrick Smith in Salon, which describes in some detail the roots of Abe's militarism. His grandfather, Nobusuke Kiishi, was charged as a war criminal but never tried because (unlike in Germany), the US reversed itself on rousting out war leaders, deciding it needed to rely on them to rein in communists. Kiishi became prime minister in 1957 and in 1960 achieved passage of a security treaty with the US by having some members of the Diet removed physically so that the otherwise minority in favor of it would pass it

Fast forward to the present:

As to Abe, let's take the occasion to deconstruct these various deals he is cutting with the Obama administration.

On the defense side, Abe's new accord with Washington marks the most significant change in the security relationship since Kiishi's connivances. There is nothing new in Secretary of State Kerry's reiteration of America's "ironclad" commitment to protecting Japan. This is the postwar idea in a single phrase: Japan is a protectorate and will remain one.

Where Kerry broke very new ground is in extending this concept to the disputed islands Japan calls the Senkakus and China the Diaoyus. This is astonishingly indelicate, to put the point mildly—an open affront to Beijing. Until this week Washington recognized the dispute, not either side's sovereignty. That was correct. My interpretation: Abe, a vigorous hawk on the islands question, horse-traded something Washington dearly wants in exchange for its endorsement of Tokyo's territorial claim.

What Washington dearly wanted and now has is a commitment from Tokyo to deploy its military anywhere America or any American ally comes under threat. This, of course, means more or less anywhere we can think of.

This is big for two reasons.

One, it opens Asia to the projection of Japanese power for the first time since 1945. Will Japanese forces deploy next time things get hot with North Korea? What if something unexpected and untoward happens in the Taiwan Strait? Have we just been told that Washington will go to war with China if the islands dispute breaks into open conflict, as it easily could?

These are new, unwelcome questions. China will object loudly to the new accord and, in my judgment, American allies such as South Korea may prove unready for it.

Two, the agreement is unconstitutional. Here things get a little complicated.

American lawyers wrote Japan's "peace constitution" and handed it to them in 1947. But note the date. Truman started the Cold War the same year, and the Occupation promptly began reversing course. Washington has since spent a lot of time and effort supporting LDP efforts to bend, violate or rewrite the law it gave them. This is the core contradiction in a relationship beset with many, and it is now on full display in Washington.

It may seem odd that nationalists such as Abe favor closer relations with the U.S. given the sacrifice of sovereignty these ties entail, but this is why: Washington supports the remilitarization the LDP has also long favored. The majority of the Japanese, meantime, are as restless with the security relationship now, if not as animated, as they were when Kiishi forced it upon their grandparents.

This was Clive's take on our questions:

The Japanese MSM is concentrating its coverage on the Article 9 (constitutional change) to reporting what exactly the changes means in practical terms and suggesting it is still in going through committee Hell and that Komeito (the LDP's coalition partner who's approval isn't actually needed given the LDP's dominance of the Diet but as a member of a formal coalition can't just be ignored) is trying to water down what is permissible for the Self Defence Force, what the precise meaning of the revised constitutional wording is, what approvals must be in place prior to Self Defence Force deployment and so on. Komeito is supposedly a pacifist party so isn't very happy about Prime Minister Abe's attempt to make Japan more interventionist, but it is by-and-large going along with it in public (and in classic Japanese methodology chipping away as much as possible behind the scenes).

Oh, and if your Congressional staffer source is perplexed about the wording of the new Guidelines for Japan U.S. Defense Co-operation, I think this is a feature not a bug. I'm reading the entire Japanese langue version and comparing it to the English one and, let's put it this way, I wouldn't have translated it using the same wording. For the paragraph they identified, this is how I would translate it (emphasis mine):

As for the US military, in order to support and complement the SDF, it is possible (for the US military) to implement a strategy involving the use of a strike force. In a situation where US military is implementing such a strategy, it is possible for the SDF to, if necessary, provide assistance. These strategies, when appropriate, will be carried out based on a close bilateral coordination.

… which is clearer than the English version provided. So the U.S. takes military action on some pretext or other, and if it is deemed to be in Japan's interests (and Japan could easily enough have orchestrated the initial U.S. military action), hey-presto the SDF then can work directly with U.S. forces in a coalition. As your source rightly said, all very gameable.

The Guidelines for Japan U.S. Defense Co-operation must though operate within the constitution hence the need to revise (or re-interpret) Article 9.

Abe is having to proceed very cautiously because polling shows that the majority of Japanese oppose the Article 9 changes. The pacifist left wing obviously doesn't like any of it. But ironically, the right wing (and this *has* been brought out in JP language press coverage but isn't widely reported even in the English language versions of the JP press for reasons I'll explain below) also has reservations.

This is because while the "you can't be a strong country if you can't protect your homeland" notion means there is some support for Article 9 changes on the right, the far right (which gets a lot of Yakuza support because the Yakuza are – or like to see themselves as being – big on protecting the cohesiveness of the community and thus share what they believe are a lot of the same core values as the far right) ironically is more concerned about how they perceive Japan to be a vassal state of the U.S. and therefore anything that increases interdependency between Japan and the U.S. such as the New Guidelines for U.S-Japan Defense Cooperation is viewed as weakening Japan's independence and ability to exercise military strength in the region even if constitutionally the Self Defence Force is allowed greater latitude for military action.

The far right, the Yakuza, Japanese militarism and so on are all in the "too awkward to mention in front of the foreigners" category so this angle isn't widely reported outside of Japan. But the groups pushing for renouncing Japan's pacifist constitution aren't doing so for the U.S.'s benefit. They are doing so because they believe in Japan reasserting itself as a regional power in its own right. So Abe is, as usual, about to find out that when you mess about with nationalist and jingoist forces, you're playing with fire.

However, Abe probably thinks that he's treading a middle ground between the pacifism and the militarism. And he most certainly wants a bit less of the pacifism and a bit more of the militarism. So he's doing an "economic and military security" play, pitching the TPP as an aid to economic security alongside the Article 9 and the Guidelines for Japan U.S. Defense Co-operation changes as a boost military security.

If the U.S. threw Japan the latter as a sweeter, then yes, that would definitely boost the chances of Abe justifying and explaining the selling out of various internal Japanese constituencies such as agriculture and delivering the concessions needed to pass the TPP in a form which pleases the U.S. The Guidelines for Japan U.S. Defense Co-operation aren't a formal treaty so if Japan annoys the U.S. then the U.S. can unilaterally vary them. This would be at the expense of pee'ing off Japan, but if Japan doesn't deliver the TPP for Obama, it wouldn't be the first time that the U.S. has responded to a diplomatic setback by throwing its toys out of the pram in a short term-ist fit of pique at the expense of its own long term strategic interests.

Prime Minister Abe will though have to navigate very murky and choppy domestic political waters in getting this through — for the reasons I've explained above. There are a lot of moving parts in play and few of them under Abe's direct control. Many are hostile to Abe for being either too militaristic or not militaristic enough. Some are distinctly unsavoury.

For the U.S. (I'm referring to the Obama administration here, the TPP isn't in any way in the interests of ordinary Americans), this however is a very, very clever move. They are playing Abe like a fiddle.

Patrick Smith, without going into the same level of detail, agrees that getting the TPP passed in Japan is still an uphill battle, and is gobsmacked that the US is going into such open opposition with China. Before, the idea of the TPP as a part of the "pivot to Asia" to bolster the US's position with an "everyone but China" deal seemed like an odd aspiration, particularly since trade is substantially liberalized already. And if anyone thinks Japanese would really eat American beef even if a trade deal passed, they are smoking something strong. The Japanese are fabulously loyal to domestic producers believing their products to be superior. And given how terrible US meat inspection is, they are right in the case of beef.

And how can the US even think of increasing animosity with China? The US depends on China for many key products like chip manufacture and ascorbic acid. We are so economically intertwined that some analysts call the relationship "Chimerica".

Here is Smith's assessment:

My conclusions on the TPP's prospects in Japan—and by extension elsewhere—are several.

One, Abe will have a tough time—however sincere or halfhearted his effort, and this is a question—getting the TPP past domestic constituencies. The pact hits too many vested political interests, and the Japanese value too highly the intense localism embedded in their system and way of life…

Two, if the TPP passes in Japan it will require—per usual when Tokyo deals with Washington—corrupting the political process to one extent or another. Assuming it passes, I suspect many of its terms will sit there, as inert as potatoes, unobserved other than in form. The Japanese are very good at this kind of thing. "Let the foreigner in so as to keep him out," is the old expression.

Three, the talks with Abe have drawn Obama further out of the closet as to the anti-Chinese aspect of the accord. "If we don't write the rules, China will write the rules out in that region," the president said in a Wall Street Journal interview just before Abe's arrival.

This is another of Obama's appalling mistakes in his dealings across the Pacific. The TPP's exclusion of the mainland is pointed, as is its purpose as an instrument in Washington's undeclared war for primacy in the Pacific. This is wrong already.

What is the point, then, of pushing these realities in Beijing's face? You would think Washington would have learned something from its pouting and fruitless opposition after China launched the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a rival of the IMF and the World Bank, last autumn. Not a chance.

Obama is giving George Bush the Second a run for his money as a candidate for Worst President in History. But the Japanese Diet may spare him by refusing to pass the TPP. Keep your fingers crossed.

News Mon, 04 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
From the Steps of the Supreme Court to the Streets of Baltimore

Tuesday morning, as I got up early to hustle to the Supreme Court to help MC the "Unite for Marriage" rally, I got dressed while brushing tears out of my eyes. I felt like I was literally sitting in the middle of the intersection of my blackness and my queerness, being pulled in opposite directions, and I was hurting - for me and for my community. My personal pain was a pain of privilege, grounded in the fact that as the leader of a grassroots LGBTQ organization, the expectation of many would be for me to be enthused by this historic moment in the movement toward marriage equality.


I was also hurting for the broader black community that would be subjected to another week of water cooler conversations demanding answers to questions like, "But why would they destroy their own community?" and around-the-clock "breaking news" coverage that ignores the organized, intentional, and inspiring demonstrations of black folks standing up for their city - instead, focusing on property damage on a singular block. Yes, I know good and well why the traditional news media refuses to be anything but basic in their coverage of black communities and I know why leaders are so quick to dismiss these demonstrations of black pain as thuggier (HINT: it rhymes with "shmite supremacy") but that knowledge doesn't make it hurt less or make it easier to hear, no matter how many times Don Lemon goes on camera.

At the Supreme Court on Tuesday, I saw a crowd of people who were hopeful, confident and emboldened in their identity and their right to fair and equal treatment in the United States of America - and rightfully so. The movement toward marriage equality has been a long one. Through that fight many in the American public have come to better understand what it means to be lesbian, gay, or bisexual - and now more folks are beginning to gain a lens into what it means to be trans. Unfortunately, the dominant narrative around what it means to be LGBT in the U.S. has been told from the perspective of white, cisgender people - and, thus, what most folks think it means for LGBT people to be equal under the law has also been shaped by the needs of that relatively small subset of our community.

Flanked by faith leaders, elected officials, nonprofit organizations, advocacy groups, and even the Chamber of Commerce, LGBT people and allies at the Supreme Court felt the power and opportunity that comes from having access to a Justice system that values them and, with some amount of pressure, is willing to bend toward their needs. But as a black queer woman, I don't feel like my life is valued by this system. And what I saw in Baltimore the very same night reinforced that message.

In-between speakers and chants at the Unite for Marriage rally, I was connecting by phone with folks who might know how to support efforts on the ground in West Baltimore. In coordination with the DC Chapter of the Black Youth Project 100, I decided to take some supplies and some people up to Baltimore Tuesday evening. We arrived a little after 8:00pm that night and I immediately felt the presence of over-policing. We saw mostly empty streets with the exception of the National Guard troops lining one street, as mostly white people ate on restaurant patios near Camden Yards.

We arrived just as a community forum hosted by Baltimore United was wrapping up and were able to connect with several organizers, including one from Bmorebloc who was training marshals for a demonstration planned for the following day. The looming 10:00pm curfew was on everyone's minds. As 9:00pm approached, organizers were pushing folks to leave the space as quickly as possible. As we headed over to West Baltimore, the consequences of being in the street after 10:00pm were clear: breaking curfew didn't just mean arrest - it meant there was a good chance you'd get the crap beaten out of you by the full force of the Baltimore Police Department.

Days like Tuesday make living at the intersection of my black and queer identities such an important part of who I am and why I do this work. Of course it matters that black LGBTQ people have equal access to the legal benefits and protections that come with legal marriage recognition. But if we don't even have the right to live and be black - free from harassment, profiling and police violence - what is the value of that marriage license?


The movement that is poised to win the fight for marriage equality can and must focus its attention on more than marriage.

Opinion Mon, 04 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Basic Income and the Anti-Slavery Movement

Unconditional basic income is not only feasible, but it also has more emancipatory potential than any other single policy because it targets economic vulnerability, the heart of all labour exploitation.

Last May, I argued in a piece for Al-Jazeera that the emerging global anti-slavery movement risks becoming no more than a fig leaf for structural political-economic injustice. I suggested that unless it faces that injustice head-on, it will waste a generational opportunity to make the world more just, focussing instead on making consumers and activists "feel better about feeling bad."

It doesn't have to be this way. There is an alternative, and it starts with advocating for unconditional basic income as a genuine anti-slavery strategy. Only a universal basic income will truly eliminate the economic vulnerability that lies at the root of all labour exploitation.

Slavery and the market

Slavery, like trafficking and forced labour, is primarily a market phenomenon. Although often depicted as outside of market relations, the reality is that markets create both supplies of vulnerable workers and demand for their labour. When a worker finds herself in conditions of extreme exploitation, it is almost always the result of her economic vulnerability coinciding with an employer's demand for her labour.

This happens because, in market societies, the freedom to refuse any job is the flip-side of the freedom to starve unless you accept one. Unless you are independently wealthy, you have to work to survive. For the very poor, where margins are matters of life and death, the price of saying no to even an awful employer is often too high to pay.

This is why 'market-friendly' policies will never be enough to abolish 'modern-day slavery'. Market-friendly policies do not fundamentally alter the balance of power between the economically weak and the economically strong. They rely on either goodwill or police enforcement, persuading employers to 'behave better', consumers to shop more ethically, and police forces to root out bad apples. But these policies do nothing about the economic compulsion that renders the poorest vulnerable to malevolent employers adept at evading the authorities.

Basic income

So what is to be done? The one single policy that has most emancipatory potential is the unconditional basic income (UBI). UBI has a long and respected pedigree. Thomas Paine advocated a version of it at the dawn of the American Revolution, and it has had modern supporters ranging from Bertrand Russell toJohn Rawls.

The idea is as simple as it is brilliant: give every citizen an amount of money sufficient to guarantee their survival without any strings attached. You receive it just by virtue of being a citizen. It will never make you rich, but it will always prevent you from going hungry, or from having to sell yourself into slavery-like labour for want of a better alternative.

When people are first pitched UBI, their gut reaction is to often ask, "is this feasible?" "Won't everybody just stop working?" These concerns are understandable, but they are also misplaced.

With regards to feasibility, there are two major points. The first is that economic viability of such a method of wealth redistribution has already been proved in principle by Great Britain itself. Indeed, the welfare state operates on the very same basis, taxing progressively to distribute wealth more evenly.

Second, UBI is likely to be far cheaper and more efficient than any other existing system of social protection. Currently, governments everywhere waste billions of dollars on policies that fail to reach the most vulnerable. In the West, expensive means-testing excludes many of those most in need, while governments subsidise poverty wages and give tax breaks to corporations. In the Global South, fuel and agricultural subsidies frequently fail to reach their intended targets as corrupt bureaucrats siphon money to buy political influence. Under these circumstances, the costs of distributing a basic income directly to people will be offset by reducing other, less efficient programmes and cutting out the dead weight of political middle-men.

Will people work if they receive a UBI? Of course they will. Very few are satisfied with simple subsistence; almost everyone wants to improve at least the lives of their children. No advocate of basic income wants it set high enough to discourage work. Rather, the goal is to give people the "real freedom" to sayNo! to bad jobs and Yes! to good ones. Remember that in the West, it is the punitive social security system which itself creates unemployment traps. If instead of tax-breaks or top-ups we gave people UBI, then nobody would ever face the choice of losing money by accepting work.

UBI has benefits beyond these practical fundamentals, and for the first time in history, we now have detailed empirical evidence from a developing country to show it. UNICEF has just completed a pilot project with the Self-Employed Women's Association in India to trial UBI among thousands of villagers in the state of Madhya Pradesh. The findings are electric.

First, they show an increase in economic activity, with new small-scale businesses springing up, more work being performed, and more equipment and livestock being purchased for the local economy. Second, those receiving UBI registered improvements in child nutrition, school attendance and performance, health and healthcare, sanitation and housing. Greater benefits were recorded for women than for men (as women's financial and social autonomy were increased), for the disabled than for others, and for the poorest vis-à-vis the wealthy.

But there is a third dimension that should really make the anti-slavery movement sit up and take note. This is the 'emancipatory dimension'. The economic security provided by UBI not only increased the political participation of the poor, as it gave them the time and resources necessary to represent their interests against the powerful. It also freed them from the clutches of moneylenders. As the author of the UNICEF study puts it:

Money is a scarce commodity in Indian villages and this drives up the price. Moneylenders and landlords can easily put villagers into debt bondage and charge exorbitant rates of interest that families cannot hope to pay off.

Unless, of course, they benefit from UBI, in which case they have the liquidity necessary to maintain their freedom even in the case of economic shocks. If you doubt the transformative potential of this work, just watch this 12-minute video and I defy you not to be inspired.

Historical potential

The contemporary anti-slavery movement stands at the forefront of a critical historical juncture. In the context of global economic crisis, the old social models are breaking down but the new are not yet ready to be born. Into this vacuum we've seen the rise of serious labour exploitation, along with political and consumer activism in response.

At the vanguard of this response stand the modern abolitionists, and they do so with unrivalled discursive power. Nobody that has a place at the table is forslavery: everybody is against it. This is why abolitionists' call to end 'modern-day slavery' within a generation goes entirely un-opposed. It garners allies ranging from the global business elite to the Pope himself. More than 50,000 people a week a sign up to Walk Free's Global Movement, and over the past several years we have witnessed a tidal-wave of pressure to crack down on extreme exploitation.

So what does all this mean? It means that today's abolitionists stand on the verge of a once-in-a-century opportunity. They can play it safe and advocate the market-friendly policies that will—at best—tidy up around the edges. Or they can go big, they can go revolutionary, and they can organise a global shift in the direction of social justice.

Let us be clear: UBI is not merely the most effective tool for abolishing modern-day slavery. It is a tool for radical social justice, for changing the economic game entirely, by emancipating all of us from economic vulnerability. If modern abolitionists have a historic mission, it is to complete the task of their predecessors: they must make freedom not just legal, but feasible. 

Opinion Mon, 04 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400