Truthout Stories Wed, 22 Oct 2014 23:04:21 -0400 en-gb Time to Rethink the War on Terror

2014 1022 war st"We're the land of the free and the home of the brave." (Image: Gayle Nicholson)

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When Eric Holder eventually steps down as Attorney General, he will leave behind a complicated legacy, some of it tragic, like his decision not to prosecute Wall Street after the financial crisis, and his all-out war on whistleblowers like Edward Snowden.

But if there's one thing Eric Holder has done right as Attorney General, it's his commitment to trying terrorism suspects in civilian courts.

As the New York Times pointed out yesterday,

[A]s Mr. Holder prepares to leave office, his success in reversing the Bush administration's emphasis on trying terrorism suspects in secret prisons or at offshore military tribunals may be one of his most significant achievements. While he did not end the debate... the Justice Department can now point to a string of courtroom victories that his liberal supporters, as well as many law enforcement officials, believe has reshaped the government's approach to prosecuting terrorism.

This really is a positive change. Trying murderers like Benghazi plotter Abu Khattala in civilian courts doesn't just bring justice to their victims, it also sends a message to the rest of the world that America won't sacrifice its core values in the fight against terrorism.

That's really important because when the terrorists we're trying to stop will do anything to make America look like a tyrannical force for evil, we need to preserve our principles or risk becoming the very thing the terrorists want us to be.

That's something the Bush administration never really understood.

George Bush didn't just lie us into Iraq or spend the first nine months of his presidency ignoring the 9/11 plotters, he also responded to the tragedy that was 9/11 in a totally inappropriate way.

Instead of rallying the world around America and working with international agencies like Interpol to track down and then bring to justice the people responsible for 9/11, he decided to fight terrorism with war, which, when you really think about it, is just another form of terrorism.

This was a huge mistake, and it has costs us lives both at home and abroad.

4,500 dead Americans and hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and Afghanis later, Iraq and Afghanistan are still nowhere near democracy and are both far worse off than they were before we invaded.

Meanwhile, the $4.4 trillion we've spent on Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade could have easily been used to send everyone in America to college for free for a decade.

At the same time, we now have surveillance state that's as powerful and invasive as anything out of the former East Germany.

But the worst part is that this was all totally unnecessary. If George Bush had just accepted the Taliban's offer to hand Osama Bin Laden over to a third country for prosecution in 2001, we would have been able to bring him to justice without wasting all that blood and treasure on two stupid and needless wars.

Instead, Bush did exactly what the terrorists wanted him to do. As Bin Laden himself said in a 2004 video message to the American people, "All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda, in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving anything of note other than some benefits for their private corporations."

Thirteen years after 9/11, it's clear who the losers are in "the War on Terror": the American people and our freedoms. Which makes it all the more important that the Obama administration finish what it started by trying terrorist suspects in civilian courts, and ending the "War on Terror" as we know it.

Just over a year ago during his big speech at the National Defense University here in Washington, President Obama actually talked about winding down Bush's War on Terror.

But with the rise of ISIS and Republicans trying to out-hawk each other during an election year, he's been drawn back into another war in the Middle East. This President has put more thought into this war than Bush did into his, but it's still a war, and thus the wrong approach to fighting terrorism.

Ultimately, war only fuels more terrorism abroad and erodes freedom at home. That should be obvious to everyone, given this administration's failed drone campaigns in Yemen and Somalia and its ongoing support for mass surveillance.

James Madison once said that "No nation [can] preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare," and when you look at the past 13 years of American history, it's pretty clear he was right.

So let's stop this "War on Terror" business once-and-for-all and start fighting terrorism with law enforcement like sensible people.

We're the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Let's start acting like it.

Opinion Wed, 22 Oct 2014 15:26:43 -0400
The Brain Cancer Rate for Girls in This Town Shot Up 550 Percent - Is a Defense Contractor to Blame?

This article was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, with support from the Gertrude Blumenthal Kasbekar Fund.

A pixielike girl with big blue eyes and long brown hair, Hannah Samarripa began experiencing headaches and fatigue in the middle of eighth grade. By the time the spring dance rolled around, Hannah didn't have the strength to paint her own toenails. Her mother, Becky Samarripa, did it for her, and then drove Hannah to school and waited outside, knowing she'd be able to put in only a brief appearance. The teenager's mysterious decline continued on to limping, vomiting, incontinence and—perhaps her most disturbing symptom—occasional fits of barking laughter that sounded so strange and demonic, her father wondered whether she was on drugs. Then, in the summer before ninth grade, while her family was visiting a Civil War memorial on the coast of Alabama, Hannah collapsed.

Still, it was a full six months later, when a doctor spotted her brain tumor during an eye exam—literally seeing the growth through the lens of Hannah's eye—that the 14-year-old got the diagnosis and then the surgery that saved her life.

When Hannah got sick in 2007, her mother had no idea that, just a few blocks away in the Acreage—their lush South Florida community—other children had also suffered through the same awful symptoms. Had she known about Jessica Newfield, who was close to her daughter's age and had been ill for many months before being diagnosed; Joey Baratta, who developed two tumors before dying at age 20; or little Jenna McCann, who got sick at age 3, perhaps she'd have gotten Hannah's tumor diagnosed sooner.

But it would take all of the afflicted families years to connect the dots among their tragedies.

* * *

When Becky heard from a friend that another child in the neighborhood had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor, "I was like: what is going on?" Just after Hannah underwent surgery to remove her tumor, and less than a year after the boy—a 5-year-old named Garrett Dunsford—had his brain surgery, the parents started talking.

At the time, neither Jennifer Dunsford nor Becky Samarripa considered that her child's illness might be part of something larger. "I figured it was a weird coincidence," says Dunsford, a sharp-witted mother of three with glasses and shoulder-length brown hair. Like Samarripa, Dunsford was consumed with her own crisis—first, Garrett's loss of the use of his left hand and arm; then, his misdiagnosis (Garrett's doctor thought he had a sore elbow); and after his brain tumor was discovered, the failure of surgery to completely remove it.

But a few months later, Dunsford learned that another student in the local elementary school had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, which made four children with brain cancer that she knew about, all living within two miles of one another. This odd fact kept troubling her, and at the suggestion of Garrett's neurologist, she e-mailed the Florida Department of Health about it. The department responded by sending forms that she was encouraged to share with anyone she encountered in the area who had cancer, asking about the specifics of their diagnoses, their ages and their addresses.

By May 2009, Jennifer Dunsford had developed a database documenting dozens of cancers in children and adults throughout the neighborhood. She had also gotten together with the mothers of other sick children, including Tracy Newfield, Becky Samarripa and Kaye McCann, as well as a few concerned friends and relatives, to see how they might get to the bottom of what was going on in the Acreage. "We were moms and wives and grandmothers on a mission," remembers Newfield, who describes herself as both "this little housewife" and—as she would come to see herself over the years of struggle that followed—someone who, if necessary, could become "your worst enemy."

* * *

Less than twenty miles inland of West Palm Beach, the Acreage functions as that city's country cousin. In contrast to the smooth pavement and careful landscaping of coastal West Palm, the Acreage has a wild, almost jungly feel. Shaggy cabbage-palm and cypress trees flank the neighborhood's sandy, unpaved roads. The smallest plots are more than an acre, and many are larger, so houses are a good distance from one another. Because the Acreage is unincorporated, the city doesn't provide services—even water. Instead, most homeowners rely on private wells.

Many of the young families in the Acreage were drawn there by its relative lack of development. When she first moved to the area, Becky Samarripa was charmed by the sight of horses trotting by and people fishing in the canals that crisscrossed the neighborhood. She explains why she came: "I wanted my children to play in the dirt and enjoy nature and breathe the fresh air." Tracy Newfield also liked the community's spaciousness, which allowed ample storage for her family's boat and Jet Skis. And Joey Baratta, who moved to the Acreage with his mother and stepfather in 2004, when he was 15, spent much of his time there riding his ATV and working on his parents' land, which abutted one of the area's many canals.

Jenna McCann, too, liked the outdoors. In the fall of 2004, the little girl often played in the grass of her yard with her two dogs. During the next year, while Jenna was undergoing cancer treatment, both dogs developed tumors and died. Jenna was a strong-willed, generous and ultimately prescient child, according to her mother, Kaye. After Jenna got sick, Kaye and her husband, David, began making kid-size surgical scrub caps with cars and animals on them. When Jenna was near death, she told her mother she wanted to take her caps to the hospital so the other kids could use them after she was gone. "She knew and somehow understood and was OK with it," Kaye McCann said recently. When she died, Jenna was 4 years old.

* * *

In June of 2009, a local reporter got hold of one of the forms Dunsford was sending around and wrote a story about her efforts. Soon after, the state announced it would undertake an official cancer-cluster investigation—a rare step, given the high expense and low likelihood of finding any statistically significant increase.

Half a year later, on a mild evening in early 2010, state officials called a town meeting at the local high school to tell the community what the investigation had found. Seminole Ridge High is a big school, and its ample, stucco-walled auditorium can hold hundreds of people, as it does for the pep rallies before Hawks games. Still, the crowd was standing-room-only on this night. As they anxiously eyed the array of health officials lined up on the stage, the Acreage's residents got the news that none of them wanted.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a cancer cluster as a "greater-than-expected number of cancer cases that occurs within a group of people in a geographic area over a period of time." Yet because elevated numbers of any disease can occur by chance, and because cancer is relatively rare—and it's incredibly difficult to determine if rare events occur by chance—the vast majority of investigations into suspected clusters don't confirm them.

Some in the room knew the long odds, having followed the pediatric brain-cancer scare in the neighboring town of Port St. Lucie a few years earlier. Like most other suspected clusters, that one had failed upon investigation to clear the statistical bar. So they were shocked to hear the health officials explain that the community was definitely experiencing a cluster of pediatric brain tumors, as well as elevated rates of all cancers at all ages.

Typically, each year, one in 30,000 to 40,000 children in the United States is expected to develop a brain tumor; but the Acreage, with a population of 39,000, had four pediatric brain-tumor cases between 2005 and 2007. Though the investigation turned up thirteen brain tumors in Acreage kids between 1994 and 2007, the official cluster consisted of just three girls, all of whom were diagnosed with brain cancer between 2005 and 2007. Based on the calculations in the report from the Florida Department of Health, a girl's chance of getting a brain tumor in the Acreage was five and a half times what it was in the rest of Florida. And that scary figure didn't include the four additional Acreage children who were diagnosed with brain tumors the following year, 2008. Nor did it account for the fact that many of the cases were clumped in the northern part of the study area, which meant that the concentration of cancer in that particular spot was even higher there than what the Health Department had found in the larger area. Indeed, some of the children with cancer had lived just 1,000 feet from one another.

Tracy Newfield cried when she first heard the news. Becky Samarripa, too, was shaken by the cluster designation, which seemed to confirm her worst fear: that something in their surroundings was making them sick. Still, mixed in with an overwhelming sadness, Samarripa felt a sliver of hope that the Acreage was on its way to finding—and eliminating—whatever carcinogens were lurking in the environment.

Kaye McCann, also in the auditorium, was more pessimistic. Since Jenna's death in 2006, Kaye had become less trusting. That night, she found herself wondering whether health officials would ever find out what had caused her daughter's cancer—or whether they would even try.

* * *

Kaye's doubts proved well-founded just a few days later, when Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the Palm Beach County Health Department, told reporters that her agency wasn't planning to do any soil testing or other investigation into the causes of the cluster beyond interviewing families. Alonso emphasized the many questions about the causes of cancer: "diet soda, cellphones and microwave ovens may play a role," she said, concluding that "it doesn't seem practical or reasonable to start searching blindly." Instead, Alonso said, the health agency would focus on raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of brain cancer to increase early detection.

Alonso argues that tracking down environmental causes of cancer is not her agency's forte. When it comes to cancer, "we're more on the prevention side," she told me when I met with her in Palm Beach this past April. "That's where public health does its best job." She felt that the high number of pediatric brain tumors in the Acreage was most likely due to chance rather than any environmental cause (she also noted that the rate was no longer elevated).

Alonso was surely aware of how daunting a task it would be to pinpoint and prove the cause of the increase. In fact, by current standards, conclusively blaming a chemical culprit for a cancer cluster is so difficult that only three of 428 cluster investigations conducted in the United States since 1990 have established a link between pollution and illness.

"The epidemiological tools are too crude," explains Richard Clapp, an epidemiologist who has been involved in dozens of investigations into possible disease clusters in his career. Given the expense and labor involved, health departments are often loath even to attempt to track down the causes of clusters. "They don't walk, they run in the opposite direction of these kinds of things," says Clapp. "If they do have to do an investigation, they have to find the funds for it or have to get the Legislature to appropriate funds. Then they have to say, 'Well, we don't even know that this is cause and effect'—in which case, people feel like they got nothing."

So it's to the credit of those who pushed for a more thorough look at the Acreage—including then-Governor Charlie Crist and Senator Bill Nelson—that an investigation into the possible causes of the cluster was launched at all. The process involved, at various points, the CDC, the state and Palm Beach County departments of health, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). The agencies tested water from over seventy private wells and several of the canals that ran through the area, as well as soil samples from thirty-five homes, for more than 200 chemicals.

As the results of those studies trickled out, the community found itself divided into two distinct camps. One, composed primarily of families of the children stricken with cancer, focused on the fact that the research had identified several contaminants above FDEP cleanup levels, including radium-226, benzene and a variety of other commonly occurring carcinogens. Though nothing stood out as the obvious cause, they felt such findings should have prompted further testing.

The other camp focused on the good news, such as the FDEP's pronouncement that the local drinking water was "generally good," as the letter accompanying the water-testing results put it, reassuring residents that "in general, residential property in the Acreage is safe for families to enjoy outside activities in their yards."

Much of the information released by the Health Department during this period was open to interpretation. To a lay audience, the scientific documents were indecipherable. The results of radon testing appeared as strings of letters and numbers, and the soil-testing report was essentially a 500-page compendium of test values and chemical names.

So reactions in the community were decidedly mixed when, in November 2010, with the battery of state and local studies having rendered their results, the Acreage investigation was officially closed. Many parents of the children with cancer were angry and frustrated, but other residents felt relief. Though it was unclear whether probing for answers would ever solve the cancer mystery, there was no question that all the attention to the risks of living in the Acreage had carried a steep financial cost.

* * *

By that time, home prices in the acreage had fallen to about half their peak in 2006. Some of that drop was due to the nationwide crash that followed the housing bubble, but the news of the cancer cluster clearly played a role. In August, the Federal Housing Authority began advising appraisers that the cluster might affect properties in the neighborhood, a move that made it very difficult to get a mortgage there. Some who were unable to sell simply walked away from their homes.

Without a clear culprit for the cancers, some residents began blaming the families of the sick for the crisis. Tracy Newfield, who had been vocal in asking for an investigation, started receiving prank calls about the cluster and had her mailbox knocked over several times. Someone threw a rock at her house, breaking her glass porch light.

Becky Samarripa felt the hostility, too. On one occasion, her car got egged. On another, two of her children, then toddlers, were shot with a paintball gun while they played in her backyard. "None of this stuff had ever happened before," Samarripa says. "I felt like people were looking at me saying, 'She's the evil one who wants to ruin everything.'"

Much of the mudslinging took place online. Within six months of the cluster designation, five community-run websites had sprung up and just as quickly devolved into nastiness. Some online commenters went so far as to accuse the affected families of "just plain lying." As one poster put it, "Using your child's illness as a platform is repulsive."

Jen Dunsford, who created the Acreage Cancer Study website and had posted a picture of Garrett in the hospital with his head bandaged, was particularly savaged. "The Dunsfords created all this fear," resident Michelle James told The Palm Beach Post. Eventually, the family moved to Tennessee, but even now the comments still sting. "People said stuff like 'The Dunsfords are gold diggers, and they used their son's tumor as an excuse to go after a big company and get dollars,' " Dunsford remembers.

* * *

The entire story might have ended there, in 2010, if attorneys hadn't taken up where public-health officials left off. Erin Brockovich, who inspired the eponymous film about her fight against polluted water in California, had taken on some of the affected families as clients. And a local firm began representing several of the cases.

The Acreage suits—which now include at least thirteen individual personal-injury and wrongful-death cases, and two class-action suits over the loss of real-estate value—are no easy moneymakers. The history of such litigation doesn't paint a hopeful picture for the plaintiffs, who include Jessica Newfield; Garrett's parents, Jennifer and Greg Dunsford; and Joyce and Bill Featherston, the mother and stepfather of Joey Baratta.

Only two personal-injury and wrongful-death lawsuits involving cancer clusters in the United States have yielded any financial reward for plaintiffs. And both were so grueling that they left the "victors" unsure whether the effort had been worth it. The suit over whether several companies had caused a cluster of leukemia cases in children in Woburn, Massachusetts, chronicled in the book (and later movie) A Civil Action, was incredibly lengthy, costly and labor-intensive, and the plaintiffs walked away with relatively small settlements. After years of litigation, their attorney, Jan Schlictmann, was left temporarily bankrupt, homeless and personally devastated.

The case in Toms River, New Jersey, documented in Dan Fagin's Pulitzer Prize–winning book Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation, took place over ten years and was similar to the Woburn case in both its underwhelming financial payoff and the monumental public and private effort that led to it. The epidemiological investigation of the cluster took five years to conduct and cost taxpayers more than $10 million. "One of Toms River's legacies is that public-health agencies are quite uninterested in pursuing these investigations, which are very expensive, very difficult to resolve conclusively, make a lot of people angry, and make life difficult for politicians," Fagin told me.

Perhaps because of all these obstacles, in September 2011, Brockovich's firm withdrew from the Acreage case, leaving the local law firm of Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley to represent the families of at least seven children and five adults who had developed tumors and brain cancer.

* * *

Definitively proving the cause of a cluster is so difficult because we live amid so many carcinogens. Unequivocally laying the blame on one often requires showing that no other was involved. "Experimental science tries to understand the relationship between x chemical and y outcome in a controlled setting," says Madeleine Scammell, an assistant professor of environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health. "Whatever you find, there will be people who doubt the veracity of your findings because we don't live in an experimental setting, and you can never control all of the factors that might have contributed to that disease occurrence."

In the Acreage, there were many possible hazards to consider. Workers dressed in protective gear sometimes sprayed pesticides in the citrus groves that abut Seminole Ridge High, even as teenagers practiced on nearby sports fields in shorts and T-shirts. Then there were the rumors that the area had been a dumping ground before the Acreage was developed. Who knew what had been in the water that might be coming back to haunt residents? And the air was often filled with smoke, which came from both the burning of sugar cane and the fires on the banks of nearby Lake Okeechobee.

Yet to Mara Hatfield, the attorney from the local firm who spent the most time on the Acreage cases, the unusual cancer cluster was likely caused by an unusual pollutant. Hatfield, who had grown up in the area and had young children of her own, was familiar with the rumors of pollution and pesticides in the Acreage—and throughout South Florida. "There are a lot of communities down here built on that," says Hatfield. "But not a lot of communities with brain-tumor clusters."

The one kind of contamination that distinguished the Acreage, according to Hatfield, was ionizing radiation, which was not just an established cause of brain cancer but the byproduct of local industry.

Though Becky Samarripa chose not to get involved in any litigation, the radiation theory makes sense to her. The Samarripas left the Acreage in 2010. But when they lived there, Becky's husband, who worked as a customs official, wore a radiation-detecting gun belt for his job and stored it in the closet. Periodically, the belt would start beeping in the middle of the night. "After a while, we realized it was going off when our water was regenerating from our well," says Samarripa, who worried over the fact that Hannah's bedroom was closest to the well.

Hatfield and her colleagues at the law firm traced the radioactive contamination in the Acreage to two companies with operations in the area. One is the local mining company Palm Beach Aggregates, which has mined limestone for road construction for more than two decades using a dredging process that contributed naturally occurring radiation to the local water system. ("Naturally occurring" means that the radioactive substances originated in the soil, water or other natural materials, but may have been concentrated by industrial activity.) At various points, contaminated water escaped the dredging pits and seeped into the canal and groundwater in the Acreage, according to the plaintiffs' complaint.

Palm Beach Aggregates did not respond to a request for comment for this article, and in court documents has vehemently denied causing any environmental harm.

The mining company had already been caught up in a related environmental scandal. In 2003, Palm Beach Aggregates sold its used mining pits to the South Florida Water Management District, the local government agency that oversees water usage, for $217 million. The deal, which helped land two county commissioners in prison for fraud (a consultant advising the agency, it turned out, was being paid by the mining company), stipulated that Palm Beach Aggregates couldn't be held legally responsible for any contamination of water in the used pits. In its eagerness to close on the deal, Palm Beach Aggregates minimized the hazards posed by its pits and allowed the radiation problem to escalate, according to the plaintiffs' lawyers in the Acreage case.

But Hatfield's radiation theory also involves the operations of another, far larger company: Pratt & Whitney, one of the "big three" airplane-engine manufacturers in the world, whose local industrial site was separated from the homes of the sick children in the Acreage by a swampy preserve.

In 2011, Hatfield's firm filed its first suit against both Palm Beach Aggregates and Pratt & Whitney, accusing the companies of creating the pollution, including radiation, that caused Joey Baratta's death.

* * *

At the opening of Pratt & Whitney's South Florida campus in 1958, the chairman of the county commission said that "Pratt & Whitney's coming to this site is considered the largest single industrial accomplishment so far in Palm Beach County." Since then, Pratt and its parent company, United Technologies, have received tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks from the county and state to encourage it to keep its operations—and jobs—in Florida.

Today, Pratt & Whitney has more than $10 billion in defense contracts, and United Technologies is the sixth-biggest Pentagon contractor. Pratt & Whitney designs and manufactures engines for airplanes, rockets and even the space shuttle. With its engines for fighter planes such as the F-22 Raptor, Pratt & Whitney's products power air forces in twenty-two countries.

Isolation was clearly part of the reason that Pratt originally chose its location in Florida. The company's 7,000 acres of swampland are bordered on the south by a 60,000-plus-acre wildlife preserve. At least at first, the land to the south of that was uninhabited—and, since much of it was underwater, largely uninhabitable. The company was seeking privacy because some of its projects were classified. As retired engineer Robert Abernethy reminisced at a 2004 reunion of Pratt employees who had worked on the J58 engine, "In late 1957, Pratt & Whitney had two top-secret—'black'—engine projects that were to use poison fuels! Not a good idea in the middle of Connecticut... how about the middle of the Everglades?"

One of those projects, known by its code name "Suntan," was an engine to be powered by liquid hydrogen, which was later scrapped in part because of the danger of explosion. Pratt was taking other risks, too. Consider Abernethy's 2004 description of his work on the J58 engine: "We built a huge swimming pool with a tall tower to centrifuge the poison out of the exhaust." (When recently deposed by attorneys in the Acreage case, Abernethy said he had trouble recalling any "poison fuel.")

In court filings, Pratt & Whitney has denied the use of poison fuel, calling charges that it contaminated the Acreage "completely speculative." But while the company's attorneys dismissed their opponents' theories, Pratt & Whitney hasn't offered much explanation of its operations: it resisted requests to do water and soil testing on its property and declined to answer several of the opposing lawyers' questions on the grounds that they related to classified matters of national security.

So the plaintiffs' attorneys have been constructing their case based on the defense contractor's well-known history of involvement with projects that involve radioactive materials. Since so many of its operations are top secret, it is difficult to disprove the company's claims that it has never worked on nuclear planes or spacecraft in Florida. But documents from the 1960s through the '90s show that Pratt & Whitney had licenses to use at least a dozen radioactive substances [PDF], including radium D and E, thoriated nickel and cesium-137, in Florida. The plaintiffs' lawyers also unearthed company correspondence indicating that some of these radioactive materials wound up outside of their proper storage places. In court filings, Pratt & Whitney denied having any "contaminations" beyond "properly stored chemical compounds."

In fact, there is a clear documentary record, stretching across many decades, of Pratt & Whitney contaminating its Florida environs with a variety of toxic materials, both radioactive and nonradioactive. According to a 1985 Department of Environmental Regulation update, the company had soil on its property that contained PCBs—chemicals that have been linked to brain cancer—at more than 200 times the maximum level now allowed even in fenced-off, nonresidential areas. PCBs were also found in fish [PDF] that swam in ponds on the company's grounds, at more than 7,000 times the safe level set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for human consumption.

Jet fuel, which was the suspected cause of another cancer cluster in Fallon, Nevada, may also have played a role at the Acreage. A mixture of chemicals that can cross the blood-brain barrier and cause cancer in mice, jet fuel was found at the Pratt & Whitney facility in Florida. According to a 1983 report, there were three plumes of jet fuel totaling some 53,000 gallons beneath the company's property, and a layer on top of the groundwater in certain places as well.

In 1979, just one year after the Acreage Homeowners Association formed and began constructing a system of canals to make the area habitable, 2,000 gallons of trichloroethylene (TCE), a carcinogenic solvent, leaked into the groundwater and surface water on Pratt & Whitney's campus, as the company later admitted. After the company shut several of the wells that supplied water to its workers, it commissioned a study by the University of Miami to look into the possible health effects of the contamination. The research found that, between 1967 and 1980, the average death rate from cancer among the company's employees had shot up from 13 per 100,000 workers to 122 [PDF]—a roughly ninefold increase. When the study came out, a Pratt & Whitney vice president called the university's research "full of crap," according to a report in The Palm Beach Post. Then, two years later, another study was published concluding that cancer rates among the company's workers were not elevated.

A similar back-and-forth ensued when Pratt & Whitney hired epidemiologists to investigate a possible cancer cluster in its North Haven, Connecticut, jet-engine plant, where an unusual number of workers had died from an especially lethal form of brain cancer called glioblastoma—the same kind that Joey Baratta and Debora Craig, another Acreage plaintiff, had. The company trumpeted the results of a ten-year investigation that found "no statistically significant elevations in the overall cancer rates among the workforce" throughout the state. However, though the study did not find an association with workplace exposures, it did confirm the elevated brain-cancer rate at the North Haven plant.

* * *

Throughout the 1980s, the EPA was preparing to designate Pratt & Whitney's South Florida location as a federal Superfund site, which would have required detailed public disclosure of the contamination and the various steps that would be taken to remediate it. The designation would have also alerted people in the area—and those considering moving there—to the potential for environmental danger. And, most important, it would have ensured a higher level of enforcement than the state was likely to provide.

In response, the company waged a fierce, years-long battle against the Superfund designation—and, in 1985, it won that fight.

Since then, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has overseen the cleanup of the area, a process that has involved the removal of many tens of thousands of tons of contaminated soil and thousands of gallons of fuel from the groundwater. But the details of the process aren't public. Though the FDEP says that Pratt & Whitney is in compliance, it also says there are still twenty-five hazardous-waste sites being remediated, and the cleanup—which began in 1985—is today only 77 percent complete.

Meanwhile, the government's investigation into the Acreage cancer cluster provided some evidence for the theory that radiation was behind it. Water testing in the affected homes turned up several radioactive contaminants. Hatfield and her boss, Jack Scarola, ordered further testing of the soil and water. In August 2013, the results showed some extremely high levels of radioactive contamination, including non-naturally occurring radioactive substances—the kind that can only be produced by a man-made nuclear reaction.

To the attorneys' assertion that Pratt & Whitney was the only possible source of the radiation, Pratt's lawyers replied that it could have come from other sources, such as the Chernobyl disaster, through which nuclear radiation "has been spread world-wide."

The plaintiffs' attorneys notified both the state and county health departments of their findings in September of last year and urged them to begin larger-scale testing. Yet neither agency did so. Instead, the Palm Beach County Health Department told Hatfield to direct further contacts to its lawyer.

"Once the lawyers get involved, then the lawyers have to talk," the county's Alina Alonso explained to me.

So Hatfield and Scarola took their test results to the media. Their press conference last August yielded a few local stories, and one unintended consequence: Judge Joseph Marx, who was presiding over Joey Baratta's case, ordered the attorneys not to speak about the case with the press. He claimed that further press coverage could bias jury selection. Interviews for this article with Hatfield and her firm's plaintiffs were conducted before the gag order went into effect in September. Also citing the gag order, Pratt & Whitney declined to answer questions for this article, stating only that "Pratt & Whitney's position is documented in its court filings related to the Acreage."

* * *

There are many factors that make it easy for a company to pollute with impunity. In Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution, historian David Rosner describes how plastics and chemical manufacturers avoided regulation in part by making their own economic interests seem synonymous with those of the country. In Pratt & Whitney's case, no fancy PR was necessary: its product is already understood to be not just airplane and rocket engines but national security itself. And being part of the defense industry carries weight not just in the court of public opinion, but also in a court of law.

"Judges tend to be, historically, extremely deferential to anything relating to national security, especially if it involves the military," says Stephen Dycus, a professor at Vermont Law School and the author of National Defense and the Environment. Dycus notes that it's not uncommon for defense-related companies to resist providing information because of military sensitivity, as Pratt & Whitney has done in the Acreage case.

Although the Defense Department (which utilizes some 30 million acres of land) and its contractors are subject to the same environmental laws as everyone else, the difficulties of prosecuting such cases means that they can—and often do, according to Dycus— get away with contaminating the environment. This constitutes a huge problem, though one that, he says, seems to spur little outrage.

"If Al Qaeda sent a team of sleeper cells to poison our groundwater and release toxic materials into the air, people would go nuts. It would be an act of war," Dycus notes. "But if we do it to ourselves in the name of national security, in preparation for war, that seems to be sort of OK."

Pratt & Whitney has not only identified itself with the country's security but has enhanced its public image by embracing the fight against cancer and the cause of protecting the environment. It's a gold-level sponsor of the American Cancer Association's local "Relay for Life" fundraiser, and its chief executive was a vice chair of the group CEOs Against Cancer. It helped start the P2 Coalition of Palm Beach County ("P2" is short for "pollution prevention") in 1994, along with the Palm Beach County Health Department, other local businesses and the Jupiter Chamber of Commerce. P2 began as a friendly collaboration based on "the good working relationship between the regulatory community and industry," as one internal document put it. The group's efforts extend to sponsoring green-themed events, such as elementary-school poster contests on environmental topics and Earth Day "Peace Jams."

But the defense contractor and the county were less keen about publicizing contamination on the company's property. In 2000, when Pratt & Whitney was considering leaving its Florida site, it entered into discussions with Palm Beach County about selling some of its land as a site for drinking wells. But after two assessments of the plot in question found "ubiquitous" contamination, the deal quietly fell through. Though the parcel was on the part of the company's property nearest the Acreage, this never came up during the cluster investigation. (It did come up in the litigation, but the company's lawyers dismissed it as a "red herring.")

Meanwhile, Pratt & Whitney enjoys close ties with regulators. One state regulator who was involved in the process that spared the company from the Superfund designation went directly to work for Pratt & Whitney after those negotiations.

The tangle of allegiances between the company and local officials was on display in 2009, when the Acreage Community Focus Group was founded, supposedly to address residents' concerns about the cluster. Within a few months, some of the participants felt they were being pressured to stop pursuing questions about water contamination. "They wanted us to move on and say our water was fine," recalls Tracy Newfield, who was a member of the group.

Newfield's mistrust, and that of others in the group, grew when they realized that the group's chair—who seemed particularly eager to put the questions of contamination to rest—was a former Pratt & Whitney employee. "He was introduced to us as an engineer," Newfield says. "He left out the fact that he was an engineer for Pratt & Whitney." While the frustrated participants resigned in protest, another member of the group, who had expressed doubts about environmental factors in the cluster, later received a nice surprise: a letter from the Florida Department of Health commending his efforts and offering help in finding funding for his projects.

It will likely take years for the lawsuits against Pratt & Whitney to be resolved. In the meantime, after so much bitterness, the subject of the cancer cluster has become almost taboo in the Acreage. When I asked Jess Santamaria, the Palm Beach County commissioner representing the Acreage, whether there was ever a cancer cluster there, he told me he doesn't know: "I'm not an expert." And when I called Michelle Damone, a local politician who helped set up the Acreage Community Focus Group, to discuss the cancer cluster, she told me that she will "never utter those two words," because "they drive a stake into the heart of my community."

The remaining residents of the Acreage now live with excruciating uncertainty about what caused the cancers here. "I think about it every day," says one resident, who didn't want to give her name lest she be pilloried for believing in the cluster. Even though her children are healthy, she said her life was forever changed by that announcement four years ago. "I'm usually a very rational person, but that night I put on a pair of shoes that belong to someone with OCD. Every day since, I've woken up with a pit in my stomach, worrying about my children. I think about it every time I open up the freezer and we're out of store-bought ice."

This woman was one of several who told me they fought often with their husbands about leaving the Acreage. She wants so desperately to remove her children from the possible harm there that she keeps a bag packed in her bedroom and thinks about leaving daily. "I feel a panic for my kids' health. It's always with me—we're out to dinner or whatever, and you hear 'Tick, tock.'" Her husband refuses to leave, though, because they are three years from paying off their mortgage and, if they sold the house, would lose so much money that they couldn't afford to buy another.

For many of the families whose children developed cancer, there was simply no question of staying. The Samarripas moved to Alabama, where Hannah, now 20 and in college, is flourishing, according to her mother. Perhaps because her tumor was only partially removed by the surgery, or perhaps because she now has fluid in her skull, she still suffers from severe headaches, vomiting and peripheral eye damage. She can't see some colors and has difficulty with organization and telling time, according to her mother. But she is also a musical girl who enjoys life and loves to sing.

Garrett Dunsford, too, is both thriving and living with the ongoing health effects of his cancer. Now 12, he has auditory processing problems, memory issues and dyslexia, which were all diagnosed after his cancer. And he's particularly prone to headaches. But he also has a special outlook on life that his mother treasures—and thinks may have resulted from his trauma. "He doesn't value things at all," is how Dunsford described Garrett recently, adding that he's become the "family comforter. He'll ask for something and say, 'I appreciate that you bought me that, but let's go snuggle.' He values spending time with people."

The ordeal was also a turning point for Jennifer Dunsford. The family moved to Tennessee and sold their Acreage home through a short sale in 2011. Because of the damage to their credit, they haven't been able to buy another, Jennifer told me. But that's not her focus. "We have learned what's truly important in life, and it's definitely not a house," she says.

The McCanns left as well and are now living in the mountains of North Georgia with their two children. Kaye McCann says she doesn't miss Florida—only Jenna, who is still buried there. McCann ultimately found it too painful to be around the group of Acreage parents pursuing the cause of their children's cancer, because most of their children survived. "In one sense, I would not go through what they're going through every day of their lives, wondering if [regular testing for cancer] is going to come back positive," she says. "But on the other hand, I envy them every day of their lives." The loss of her daughter has only become harder over time. She enjoys her family, her job and her small town. "But when the low times do hit, each time it hits a little bit harder and lasts a little bit longer."

McCann knows that even if the puzzle of the Acreage cluster is finally solved, it wouldn't bring Jenna back. Still, she fervently hopes that someone can find "whatever it is that's made kids sick, stop it, and help clean it up." She is now exploring the possibility of moving Jenna's grave near their home in Georgia.

The Newfields are one of the few directly affected families to stay in the Acreage. While Jessica, now 20, is attending college, Tracy has been spearheading the creation of the Garden of Hope, a place in the Acreage where people can go to honor their loved ones who have had cancer. The Newfields also recently installed a sophisticated water-filtration system for their well, though Tracy recently discovered that Jessica had bought and stashed away bottled water.

For its part, Pratt & Whitney is staying, too. In November 2012, the company announced plans to add 230 jobs at its Florida campus over the next eight years and to invest $63 million in its facilities there. The deal is being financed with some $4.4 million in public incentives, including $3.4 million from the state and $1 million from Palm Beach County.

News Wed, 22 Oct 2014 13:12:09 -0400
Former UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk on the Legitimacy of Hope in the Palestinian Struggle

On Monday, the Israeli government made a rare appearance before the United Nations Human Rights Committee, but its delegation refused to acknowledge responsibility for the conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, occupied by Israel for nearly half a century. We speak to a legal expert who has just spent six years trying to hold Israel to account for its actions in the Occupied Territories. Richard Falk recently completed his term as special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights for the United Nations Human Rights Council. His writings about the Israel-Palestine issue and his experience as U.N. rapporteur are compiled in the new book, "Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope."


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

AARON MATÉ: We turn now to Israel and the Occupied Territories. On Monday, the Israeli government made a rare appearance before the U.N. Human Rights Committee. Each member state is reviewed every four years for its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. That task was especially significant coming just weeks after Israel ended an assault on Gaza that killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians, including more than 500 children. Emi Palmor, the director-general of Israel's Justice Ministry, pledged her government's "sincere approach" to the panel's mandate.

EMI PALMOR: We decided to bring along the highest-ranking experts on the issues that we are supposed to answer. And indeed, you can see that for the first time the director-general, myself, is heading the delegation. The deputy attorney general, Dr. Schöndorf, is second on the delegation, and the others as were presented during the session. And we believe that this shows our seriousness, the sincere approach of Israel to these issues.

AARON MATÉ: That's Emi Palmor, head of the Israeli delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Committee. But as the session got underway, a key problem emerged: Israel would not be answering for conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the territory it's occupied for nearly half a century. While Israel provided a written report for human rights within its own borders, it did not agree the covenant applies to its actions in the Occupied Territories. In response, two U.N. panelists expressed their frustration.

CORNELIS FLINTERMAN: We have that information about the doubling, the recent announcement in Israel of further expansion of the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and in East Jerusalem. So, that was the reason that I raised the question. It seemed that no attention had been given whatsoever to our earlier recommendation.

NIGEL RODLEY: Of course, they're not responsible for the violations that may be committed by Hamas. Of course they're not. But they are responsible for any violations that may be their own responsibility. It's not an issue of legal jurisdiction one way or the other; it's an issue of who has control.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Nigel Rodley from Britain and, before that, Cornelis Flinterman. As it turned out, the assault on Gaza did not receive the scrutiny that had been expected. As The Jerusalem Post reported at day's end, Israel's Emi Palmor, quote, "said she was relieved that the delegation had not been extensively quizzed about the IDF's military actions in Gaza this summer under Operation Protective Edge. Israel had imagined that committee members would focus on that issue," The Jerusalem Post said.

Well, we're still joined by a legal expert who's just spent six years trying to hold Israel to account for its actions in the Occupied Territories. Richard Falk has just completed his term as special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights for the United Nations Human Rights Council. His writings about the Israel-Palestine issue and his experience as U.N. rapporteur are compiled in a new book. It's out today. It's called Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope. Richard Falk is professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and research professor in the global studies department at UC Santa Barbara. He presented the Edward Said Memorial Lecture last night at Columbia University.

Can you talk about, well, just that, this latest news on what is happening right now with Israel and Gaza?

RICHARD FALK: Well, as far as their cooperation with the U.N. is concerned, this report that you just showed your audience is very misleading. They have refused to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry in—that the Human Rights Council appointed to look into the allegations of war crimes associated with the attack on Gaza in July and August. And they refused to cooperate with my successor, an Indonesian diplomat who they favored, actually, and they persuaded the president of the Human Rights Council to appoint, with the expectation that they would cooperate with him. But as I've said all along, you only have to be 10 percent objective to come to the same critical conclusions that I came to in relation to Israel's violation of fundamental human rights in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, the three segments of occupied territory.

AMY GOODMAN: What is that conclusion that you came to?

RICHARD FALK: Well, the conclusion is flagrant violations that are official policy—it's not deviations—from the extension of the settlements as a violation of international humanitarian law, not disallowing transfer of the occupying country's population to the occupied society, the imposition of a regime of collective punishment on the whole civilian population of Gaza. And locking that civilian population into the combat zone during Protective Edge is a distinctive atrocity, where women and children were not allowed to become refugees, and there was no opportunity to be an internally displaced person. As horrible as things were for civilians in Syria and in Iraq in recent years, they always had—the civilian population always could leave the combat zone. Here, they're literally locked into the combat zone, and only those Gazans with foreign passports were allowed to leave. That involved 800 people out of 1,800,000. So it is a very extreme situation that is not treated as an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe for geopolitical reasons. The U.S. has a geopolitical veto over what the U.N. can do in relation to a situation of this kind. We react to Kobani, as we spoke earlier, but we ignore what is happening day by day in Gaza, particularly, but to a lesser extent, in the West Bank.

AARON MATÉ: Well, you mentioned the U.S. Can you talk about the obstacles that you faced as you tried to raise these issues over these past six years as the top U.N. investigator in the territories?

RICHARD FALK: Well, there were two main kinds of obstacles. I was very much attacked in a kind of defamatory way by UN Watch and other very extreme Zionist organizations, which tried—wherever I went, anywhere in the world, they would try to prevent me from speaking and mounted a kind of defamatory campaign, called me an anti-Semite, a leading anti-Semite. The Wiesenthal Center in L.A. listed me as the third most dangerous anti-Semite in the world, which was—made me feel I must be doing something right in this role. And the only two people that were more dangerous than I was the supreme leader of Iran and the prime minister of Turkey, Erdogan. And other—

AMY GOODMAN: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power called you, as you were leaving your U.N. post, a—talked about your "relentless anti-Israeli bias."

RICHARD FALK: Well, it certainly has been a consistent anti-Israeli critical narrative, because that's what the reality is. I mean, if you take international law seriously and, as I said, you're 10 percent objective, you have to come to these conclusions. And that's why this Indonesian, who was determined to please Israel—he told me that—it turned out that they—

AMY GOODMAN: Makarim Wibisono.

RICHARD FALK: Yes. It turned he's already angered Israel, because you can't—you can't look at these realities without coming to these conclusions, unless you completely somehow blindfold yourself.

AARON MATÉ: Well, let's talk about what Palestinians are trying to do now—the Palestinian Authority, at least. The PA has drafted a U.N. Security Council measure that would impose a three-year deadline for Israel to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Speaking at the U.N. last month, Palestinian lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi dismissed the threat of losing U.S. government support.

HANAN ASHRAWI: We will be seeking a Security Council resolution on ending the occupation within that specified date. And any solution must be based on international law, cannot violate international law and U.N. conventions and agreements. If the U.S. wants to isolate itself as a reaction to Palestinians joining the international community, then they are welcome to do that. The American funding is not that essential to Palestinian survival. Quite often, joining the international community, having the protection of the law and so on is much more important than getting some funding from Congress that is conditional.

AARON MATÉ: Hanan Ashrawi went on to say, quote, "Enough is enough. What has the U.S. done for us?" And, in fact, there was a report last week that Secretary of State John Kerry has asked the PA to delay its U.N. Security Council bid measure here, proposal, until after the midterm elections. Is the PA actually distancing itself from this whole U.S. process? And is that important?

RICHARD FALK: Well, it's caught between the militancy of its own people and this kind of pragmatic adaptation to the power situation, and its economic dependence on funding that is controlled by Israel and the U.S. And also, its security forces have been—the PA's security forces have been trained under U.S. authority. So it's a—they're in a very compromised position. So the Palestinian Authority leadership, in order to retain some modicum of legitimacy, has to appear to be reflecting the will of the Palestinian people. And they've been trying to walk this tightrope all along, and it becomes more and more difficult. And the recent polls show that Hamas, even on the West Bank, would now win an election if an election was held. And that's not because there's a shift toward an Islamic orientation. It's because Hamas, for all its problems and failures, resists and is resilient and has maintained the spirit of resistance that's so important to the political morale of the Palestinian movement.

AARON MATÉ: On the issue of resistance, you talked last night about the importance of defending the right to resist, but advocating peaceful resistance. Can you talk more about this vis-à-vis the Palestinian struggle?

RICHARD FALK: Well, I don't purport to speak for the Palestinians. And one of the tragedies of the Palestinians, ever since the Balfour Declaration, is that others have decided what's good for Palestine. And so, what I was—I was partly being descriptive. The Palestinians have failed with armed struggle. They failed, with the Arab neighbors, trying to liberate Palestine from Israeli control. They failed with the Oslo-type intergovernmental diplomacy. So what they've tried in the last several years, increasingly, is a combination of nonviolent resistance in various forms within the occupied territory and this growing global solidarity movement that has centered on the BDS campaign.

I think that's—and I don't say—I wouldn't judge their desire to or their feeling that the only effective form of resistance is to defend themselves violently. I mean, that's a decision that I don't think it's appropriate for someone outside the context of oppression to make. Hamas, which is accused of being a terrorist organization, of course, has limited its violence since its political election in 2006 to responding to Israeli provocations. It hasn't used violence as a way of promoting the empowerment of a Palestinian movement of liberation. In fact, its politics have been directed toward long-term peaceful coexistence with Israel, if Israel withdraws to the '67 borders. It's offered a 50-year plan of peaceful coexistence.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to end where you begin, and that's the title of your book, Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope. Richard Falk, what do you mean by "the legitimacy of hope"?

RICHARD FALK: What I mean is that if you look at the way in which conflicts have been resolved since the end of World War II, particularly involving foreign domination or foreign rule in a Third World country, the decisive factor in their resolution has been gaining the high ground of international morality and international law. And not having—military superiority has not produced political outcomes favorable to the intervening or the more powerful side. And so, the hope comes from this pattern of gaining legitimacy, in what I call "legitimacy war," being more significant politically than being able to control the results on a battlefield. And that's a profound change in the whole structure of power in the world that hasn't been absorbed by either Israel or the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Richard Falk, we want to thank you for being with us, just completed his six-year term as United Nations special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, a prolific writer. His book, Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope, has just been published today. Professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and research professor in the global studies department at UC Santa Barbara, he presented the Edward Said Memorial Lecture last night at Columbia University.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Mumia Abu-Jamal in his own words. Stay with us.

News Wed, 22 Oct 2014 11:12:57 -0400
After Ignoring ISIS Assault on Kobani, US Launches Major Strikes and Arms Turkey's Kurdish Foes

Earlier this month, Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States would not act to prevent the Islamic State from seizing Kobani because the Syrian Kurdish town was not a "strategic objective." But as news cameras on the Turkish-Syrian border showed Islamic State fighters assaulting a town in plain sight, the U.S.-led coalition responded with the most airstrikes of its Syria campaign. The U.S.-led coalition has also begun dropping air supplies of weapons and aid to the Syrian Kurds, a move it had resisted for weeks. Now Turkey says it will open its border with Syria to let Iraqi Kurdish fighters join the fight. The Turkish government had opposed aiding the Syrian Kurds in Kobani because of their links to Turkey's longtime foe, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK. To help us sort out this complicated picture, we are joined by longtime international law professor and former United Nations Special Rapporteur Richard Falk, who has just returned from four months in Turkey.


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

AARON MATÉ: We begin with the continued fight for the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani and the issues it's raised with the country on its border, Turkey. After a more than month-long assault, the Islamic State appeared on the verge of taking Kobani just last week. The U.S. initially appeared indifferent, saying Kobani was not a part of its, quote, "strategic objective." But as news cameras on the Turkish-Syrian border showed Islamic State fighters assaulting a town in plain sight, the U.S. responded with the most airstrikes of its Syria campaign. A resurgent defense by Syrian Kurdish forces appears to have stopped the ISIS advance for now. And after weeks of U.S. pressure, Turkey said Monday it will open its border with Syria to let Iraqi Kurdish fighters join the fight. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced the move.

MEVLUT CAVUSOGLU: [translated] We are fully cooperating with the coalition with respect to Kobani. We want to eliminate all kinds of threats in the region, and we see the military and medical aid, outfitted by our Iraq Kurdish brothers and airdropped by the United States to all groups defending Kobani, from that perspective. We are facilitating the passage of Peshmerga fighters to Kobani. Further talks are underway on this matter.

AARON MATÉ: For weeks, the Obama administration had been urging Turkey to take a more active role against ISIS. The Turkish government has opposed aiding the Syrian Kurdish PYD, which it considers an extension of its longtime foe, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK. But Turkey reportedly backed down this weekend under heavy U.S. pressure. According to Al Jazeera, President Obama told Turkish counterpart Recep Erdogan that the situation in Kobani is "desperate."

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. has also begun dropping air supplies of weapons and aid to the Syrian Kurds, a move it had resisted for weeks. That adds a new twist to the shifting alliances that the fight against ISIS has provoked. The Syrian PYD is closely allied to the PKK, a group on the U.S. terrorism list. Just last week, Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdish PKK rebels near the Iraqi border. The strikes were the first by Turkey against the PKK since a 2012 truce.

Well, to help us sort out this complicated picture, we're joined by a guest who's just spent four months in Turkey. He's been involved in global politics for a lot longer—since the 1960s. Richard Falk is with us, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and research professor in the global studies department at UC Santa Barbara. He has authored, co-authored, edited more than 40 books on international law and world affairs, and has just completed a six-year term as the United Nations special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, which we will talk about in our next segment.

Richard Falk, we welcome you to Democracy Now! Start off by talking about these latest developments with Turkey, Syria, the United States.

RICHARD FALK: Well, I think it's a very complicated situation in which none of the political actors know quite what to do, what will work and what they really are trying to achieve. And the whole situation there is complicated—in my view, unnecessarily—by the refusal to treat the conflict as potentially solvable by diplomacy rather than relying totally on military power, which has consistently failed in the region. American interventions, especially the Iraqi intervention of 2003, is really the proximate cause of this surge of extremism in the region. And we, over and over again, rely on military intervention and refuse to learn the lesson of the 21st century, that wars are not won by weapons alone. They are won primarily in this period by securing a political outcome that reflects not only the equities involved, but also what the people subject to these pressures wish to achieve. Self-determination on the ground is a very important dimension of political reality that Washington can't seem to perceive, because it's invested so heavily in the military machine and it's so powerful within the bureaucracy, that it's almost impossible for our elected leaders to think outside the military box.

See, if Iran was brought into this diplomatic framework—it's been excluded, mainly, I think, due to Israeli objections to having Iran be a political player in the region, and that limits the possibility of solving the Syrian conflict, which in turn makes it very difficult to conduct this kind of limited war against ISIS. So, there's—and Turkey is caught in the middle between—

AMY GOODMAN: You think if Iran were included, this could be resolved much more easily?

RICHARD FALK: I think you never know. Diplomacy is filled with uncertainties and different kinds of trade-offs, but not to try to solve it that way is really a terrible failure of political imagination.

AARON MATÉ: You were just in Turkey. The U.S. appears to have accepted that Assad is not going to be overthrown, at least for now. Turkey has not come to that position. Do you see them changing their stance and accepting that Assad will have to be a part of a political solution that you talk about?

RICHARD FALK: I think Turkey has a much more flexible leadership than the American media portrays, and it's much more balanced. Erdogan is not Putin, the way he's sort of presented as this kind of autocratic, domineering figure in the Turkish scene. That's the way the opposition in Turkey wants to perceive him. But there's a very capable prime minister, who's Ahmet Davutoglu, who has a very nuanced sense of the difficulties confronting Turkey in shaping a policy. On the one hand, they're trying to solve the problems with Turkish Kurds, the Kurdish minority. On the other hand, the PKK has become more militant in this phase, perhaps to increase their bargaining power in this political process of ending the Turkish conflict. So there's a Turkish dimension, and then there's the extremist ISIS dimension, which Turkey probably is partly responsible for because of its earlier preoccupation with getting the Syrian regime, the Assad regime, overthrown. So, the enemy of your enemy has become the sort of operational logic of the region.

AMY GOODMAN: So the Turkish warplanes bomb the Kurdish PKK rebels for the first time since the 2012 truce, but they also let Kurds go over into Syria to fight.

RICHARD FALK: Well, that illustrates this tension between opposing goals. They want the Kurds to act against ISIS, but they of course don't want the Kurds to resume their internal struggle against the Turkish central government. And for whatever reasons—it may be internal to the Kurdish movement in Turkey that they have assumed a more militant posture. And the bombing of the PKK didn't come in a vacuum. The PKK was doing things. They were capturing Turkish children, and they were committing various acts in some of the villages in eastern Turkey. So, it's a complicated—everything in that region is complicated—

AMY GOODMAN: And the Kurds feel—the Kurds feel immensely oppressed in Turkey.

RICHARD FALK: And they have been. On the other hand, this government has tried more than any other government—

AMY GOODMAN: Leyla Zana, the famous Kurdish parliamentarian—


AMY GOODMAN: —imprisoned simply because she spoke Kurdish in the Turkish Parliament.

RICHARD FALK: Yeah. But this government is moving beyond that phase of the Turkish-Kurdish relationship, and it has a much more pluralistic sense of what will make Turkey stable and successful. And if you read Erdogan's acceptance speech after he won the presidential election, it was all about seeing how to implement a pluralist vision of Turkey, which means bringing the minorities into a position of equality, which goes directly against the Ataturk Kemalist view that Turkey—the ethnic identity of Turks should all be Turkish. And he called, you know, the Kurds "mountain Turks," for instance, and forbade the language, and it was all part of his state-building project that went far too far.

AARON MATÉ: If you could help us sort out what the U.S. is doing in Kobani—it initially appeared the U.S. would not act to prevent Kobani's fall to the Islamic State. Speaking earlier this month, Secretary of State John Kerry said protecting Kobani is not a strategic U.S. objective.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: As horrific as it is to watch in real time what's happening in Kobani, it's also important to remember you have to step back and understand the strategic objective and where we have begun over the course of the last weeks. ... Notwithstanding the crisis in Kobani, the original targets of our efforts have been the command-and-control centers, the infrastructure. We're trying to deprive the ISIL of the overall ability to wage this, not just in Kobani, but throughout Syria and into Iraq.

AARON MATÉ: That's Secretary of State John Kerry just a few weeks ago. Well, on Monday, Kerry said it would be "irresponsible" and "morally very difficult" not to support the Kurds fighting the Islamic State in Kobani and also to allow Kobani to fall.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: Let me just say, very, very respectfully, to our allies, the Turks, that we understand fully the fundamentals of their opposition, and ours, to any kind of terrorist group, and particularly, obviously, the challenges they face with respect to the PKK. We talked with Turkish authorities—I did, the president did—to make it very, very clear this is not a shift in policy by the United States. It is a crisis moment, an emergency, where we clearly do not want to see Kobani become a horrible example of the unwillingness of people to be able to help those who are fighting ISIL.

AARON MATÉ: Kerry was speaking in Indonesia. So you go from it's not a strategic objective to then the most intense bombardment of the U.S. bombing of Syria so far. What happened here?

RICHARD FALK: It's hard to say. I mean, it seems to me that the U.S. government felt that it couldn't just stand by as a spectator while this humanitarian catastrophe in Kobani was unfolding, and probably had recollections of what happened in Srebrenica in 1995 when the U.N. peacekeepers watched the massacre occur and didn't try to intervene to stop it. So, my sense is that they don't have a very clear sense of what their strategic objectives are, and therefore there's bound to be inconsistencies in the implementation of it.

One of the mysteries here, seems to me, is how this ISIS emerged as such an effective military force. After the U.S. has failed to train the Iraqi military for a decade and spent billions to do that, suddenly this ISIS emerges as the most powerful, most effective military operating force in the region. How did this happen? Nobody really has given a satisfactory answer to that.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Saudi Arabia has something to do with it?

RICHARD FALK: Well, I think they had funding, but Saudi Arabia's own military capability is very dysfunctional. So what made this military capability so potent so quickly? And it probably has something to do with the politics of the region, where there was such a dissatisfaction with the Shia attempt to oppress the peoples in northern Iraq that there was a receptivity to ISIS, and they were able to create this image of almost invulnerability. It's hard to understand.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, whether the U.S. is meeting directly with Iran—and behind the scenes, there's probably a lot of communication—Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met with Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, in Tehran today. Rouhani says Iran will continue to provide Baghdad with military advisers and weapons.

RICHARD FALK: Yes, but that's not the key issue. The key issue seems to me to bring Iran in as a major political player in the region and see if one can get some kind of compromise in Syria.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Richard Falk, who just completed a six-year term as United Nations special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. He's just back, actually, from Turkey. We'll come back with him to talk about what's happening in Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories in a moment.

News Wed, 22 Oct 2014 11:02:35 -0400
In UN Speech, Noam Chomsky Blasts United States for Supporting Israel, Blocking Palestinian State

As U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announces plans to set up an investigation into the attacks on United Nations facilities during Israel's recent assault on the Gaza Strip, we broadcast the speech of world-renowned political dissident Noam Chomsky, who recently spoke in the hall of the U.N. General Assembly at an event sponsored by the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. "The pattern that was set in January 1976 continues to the present," said Chomsky, Institute Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Israel rejects a settlement of these terms and for many years has been devoting extensive resources to ensuring it will not be implemented with the unremitting and decisive support of the United States — military, economic, diplomatic and ideological."

News Wed, 22 Oct 2014 10:47:11 -0400
Ten Reasons Why You Should Care What You Wear

2014 1022 eco swOrganic Cotton (Photo: saoriweaver)The United States represents the largest apparel market in the world, with total annual sales of $331 billion. The average American household spends about 3.8 percent of its total income on clothing. That may be only about one third the amount consumer households spend on food. Still, every consumer dollar spent on clothing has an impact—from economic to environmental, ethical to health.

Here are ten reasons why you should care what you wear.

1. Synthetic fibers pollute the natural environment. Clothes are made from both natural fibers, like cotton, hemp and wool, and synthetic fibers, like viscose rayon and polyester. Clothes made from synthetic fibers may not require as much agricultural land to produce as clothes made from cotton and hemp. But synthetic fibers, often marketed as wrinkle-resistant, durable, or easy to clean, are produced using industrial methods that are both energy-intensive and polluting. Polyester, for example, is made from petroleum, a non-renewable natural resource. And rayon, technically “semi-synthetic,” is derived from wood pulp and transformed into fiber through a highly water-and chemical-intensive factory process. Once these synthetic materials are transformed into fleece sweaters, bath towels and garments, consumers take them home where the synthetic fibers continue to pollute the natural environment in the form of “micro-plastics,” nanoparticles, and chemical residues which contaminate water. Micro-plastics and nanoparticles (along with processing chemicals and cleaning detergents) travel to the oceans and mingle with groundwater when synthetic clothes are washed.

2. Non-organic cotton is one of the most genetically engineered, pesticide- and chemically-contaminated crops in the world. The massive use of GMOs and chemicals on non-organic cotton lends a more sinister meaning to the phrase made popular by hikers: “Cotton kills.” More than 90 percent of the cotton grown in the US is genetically engineered, spliced with the Bt toxin and modified in order to withstand large quantities of Monsanto’s herbicide, Roundup. Cotton occupies a relatively small percentage (2.4 percent) of arable land globally. Yet conventional cotton crops account for a staggering 25 percent of global insecticide sales. In the U.S, it typically takes a third of a pound of toxic agricultural chemicals to produce a pound of cotton—the amount of cotton it takes to make one T-shirt. Several pesticides used on cotton are known carcinogens. Not only do these pesticides linger on the clothes worn next to human skin, but the fish, marine and wildlife surrounding or downstream from cotton fields also suffer from pesticide pollution. Non-organic cotton crops are doused with large amounts of chemical fertilizers that routinely pollute groundwater and emit nitrous oxide, the most destructive (300 times more destructive-per-weight than CO2) of all greenhouse gases. Non-organic cotton must be irrigated, requiring large quantities of water. And it’s typically processed and dyed with synthetic chemicals. 

3. GMO and toxic cotton: You’re eating it. Government regulatory agencies, prompted by large cotton farmers and the garment industry, falsely claim that cotton is not a “food crop,” in spite of the fact that 60 percent (by weight) of cotton harvested in the US ends up in the food chain. The result is that chemicals which are banned for use on food crops are widely used on cotton. But many so-called cotton by-products, including cotton seeds, cotton seed oil, and cotton gin trash, end up being sold and consumed as ingredients in both animal feed and human food—despite the fact that cotton is one of the most chemically contaminated crops in the world. The pesticide residues in cottonseed accumulate in the fatty tissues of livestock, which is in turn consumed by humans, in the form of meat. Cottonseed oil is also used in a variety of food products, such as vitamins and potato chips, and it’s often used as a dilutive in olive oil—unlabeled. When GMOs and pesticide residues from cotton crops find their way into food products, they can potentially trigger health issues including food allergies, cancer, and liver, kidney and immune system damage.  

4. Agricultural workers suffer dangerous effects from farming toxic cotton. Farmers, farm workers and people who live in rural communities near cotton fields suffer from exposure to pesticides, GMOs and chemicals. Many of these agricultural workers suffer from acute pesticide poisoning. Rural cotton farmers in particular lack the necessary safety equipment and training for handling the hazardous pesticides, leading to chronic and acute health issues. Pesticides used in cotton farming have been shown to cause endocrine dysfunction, with farmers in rural and poor areas especially at risk

5. Cotton farmers in the developing world are exploited in the global marketplace. Small cotton farmers in developing countries struggle financially, unable to compete in the global market because of US cotton subsidies. The result is both economically and socially devastating. Subsidies allow US cotton farmers to sell cotton at less than the price of production. This lowers the global market price for cotton, even at a time when the costs associated with growing and processing cotton are rising, because of increases in the cost of seeds and in the amount required, rising prices, of pesticides. As a result, cotton farming in some developing countries is no longer financially viable. Developing countries dependent on agricultural production falter economically, as farmers fall into debt. India’s cotton farmers are committing suicide at an alarming rate. The country’s once-thriving cotton belt has been renamed the “suicide belt.”

6. Most garments are manufactured in sweatshops that abuse and exploit their workers. Paid less than minimum wage, less than a living wage, and often deprived even of these wages, garment factory workers suffer from unsafe working conditions, physical, psychological and sexual abuse, 18-hour work shifts and other illegal labor practices in an industry that prospers from the dehumanization of its labor force. Women, who make up the overwhelming percentage of garment factory workers, are forced to work in these conditions under the threat of extreme poverty. Obscured by the maze of global industry, labor laws remain unenforced in sweatshops, while those who sell these garments to consumers claim ignorance of the exploitation from which they profit. 

7. Chemical-intensive clothing poses dangers to human health. Skin is the body’s largest organ. One of its major jobs is to protect internal systems. But your skin also acts as a conduit, a means for toxic chemicals and pesticides from synthetic materials to enter your bloodstream. If you care about what you put in your body, you should also care what you put on your body. Health issues from such toxic chemical exposure range from headache to asthma to cancer. 

8. These dangers increase the more your clothing promises. “Easy care” garments are especially saturated by chemicals, including formaldehyde, triclosan and preflourinated chemicals, in order to allow manufacturers to market the clothes as anti-microbial, anti-odor or anti-wrinkle. Formaldehyde, used to eliminate wrinkles, static, odor and bacteria from clothes, is highly toxic and known to cause cancer, skin ulcerations, heart palpitations, eczema, asthma and other health issues. The US Environmental Protection Agency classifies preflourinated chemicals—which make fabric stain-resistant—as cancer-causing agents. Triclosan is another chemical used in clothing, especially athletic wear, to prevent the growth of bacteria. These chemicals in “easy care” garments enter the bloodstream via the skin. Clothing containing nanoparticles, often marketed as stain or odor-resistant, represents a new and ominous health and environmental threat. Nanoparticles in consumer products are neither labeled nor safety tested. 

9. What you wear “down there” is not as innocuous as you may think. Because feminine hygiene products are considered “medical devices,” those who manufacture pads and tampons are not required to disclose their ingredients. Bleached and made from the chemical- and pesticide-drenched materials of non-organic cotton and rayon (wood pulp), pads and tampons contain various ingredients that may be toxic and absorbed through skin and mucus membranes. The FDA regulates the process through which tampon materials are bleached, claiming that levels of dioxins (toxic, chemically-related compounds common in environmental pollutants) are at or below the “detectable level” and that such trace amounts do not trigger health concerns. The World Health Organization says that “dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, and may interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.” Dioxins are present in environmental pollution and commonly consumed by humans through food. Though new bleaching procedures for tampon materials generate a significantly lower amount of dioxins, trace amounts remain. Cotton used in pads and tampons also contains the pesticide residue from this highly treated, almost always GMO, crop. What looks like cotton can also be bleached wood pulp or rayon, a semi-synthetic material made in a chemically-intensive process. Toxic Shock Syndrome, a rare and dangerous illness caused by a bacterial infection from Staphylococcus aureus, has been linked to super-absorbent tampons made of a blend of synthetic materials including rayon. Toxic Shock Syndrome is linked to leaving such tampons inserted for long periods of time, creating both an environment for the bacteria to grow, and causing tears and abrasions inside the vagina. As with anti-odor clothing, tampons with fragrance or anti-odor properties contain even more potentially harmful chemicals. Safer alternatives to conventional feminine hygiene products include organic tampons and pads.

10. The choices you make regarding your clothing are not only expressions of style or identity, but are vital to personal health as well as environmental and ethical responsibility.You should feel good in your clothes. Good about the way your clothes were produced and made. Good about their effects on your health. Good about the way they make you feel. Consumerist culture is toxic in the way it encourages people to constantly buy and replace clothing produced through unethical conditions. It can be difficult to divorce yourself from this toxic culture, to establish your clothing choices outside of this pressure. To not care about clothes is not the solution. The solution is to care how fibers are produced and processed. To care how your clothes are made. To care what’s in the garments you wear next to your skin, and ultimately, to care how you feel wearing them. The solution is simple: Care what you wear.

News Wed, 22 Oct 2014 10:35:04 -0400
Chevron Greases Local Election With Gusher of Cash

2014 1022 chev st(Image: AK Rockefeller)

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When the Citizens United decision came down in 2010, many feared the Supreme Court had unleashed vast and unfettered campaign contributions from corporations bent on tightening their hammerlock on government and politics.

That hasn't happen as much as anticipated – yet. Individual billionaires and millionaires have dominated the scene instead. Perhaps it's in part because some corporations dipping their toes into new modes of campaign funding have been rebuffed by hostile consumer and stockholder reaction: witness the backlash in 2010 when Target contributed $150,000 to a 501(c)(4) supporting anti-gay rights gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer in Minnesota.

But other corporate giants seem to have no such qualms about negative public feedback. Chevron, for example. Based in California, the multinational energy company is the third largest producer of crude in the world and greedily grateful for ongoing, generous subsidies from Congress.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "In 2013, its revenue topped those of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., Apple Inc. and General Motors Co., trailing only retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and rival Exxon Mobil Corp... In August, Chevron reported $57.9 billion in revenue for the second quarter, which ended June 30."

Yes, Chevron has money to burn – look at the millions and millions the company has spent fighting the $9.5 billion in damages they were ordered to pay by the Ecuadorian Supreme Court for pollution of part of the Amazon rainforest. That extravagance extends to electioneering as well, and not only to federal races but right down to a local city council election.

Chevron has made big contributions this campaign cycle to the National Republican Senatorial and Congressional Committees, US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Texas Senator John Cornyn, Senate minority whip as well as an influential member of the Senate Finance Committee.

What's more, the Center for Responsive Politics' reports that Chevron recently donated $1 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, "a conservative super PAC with ties to Karl Rove's dark money network in early July, a rare instance of a prominent publicly traded company taking advantage of the post-Citizens United rules on corporate involvement in politics. It's not the first time Chevron has made such a donation — in the 2012 cycle, it gave $2.5 million to the same group..." At the time, the Public Campaign Action Fund noted, "The donation appears to be the largest from a publicly-traded corporation in the post-Citizens United era."

In the midterms so far, OpenSecrets says "the super PAC has spent just $504,000 on ads, mounting attacks on three Democrats — particularly Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Texas). But CLF has already paid out close to $2.2 million to a media buying firm for 'pre-payment' of ads that have yet to run; that money almost certainly will be spent, it's just a question of when and where."

One other place we know that Chevron has targeted for its electoral cash largesse is the city of Richmond, California (population 107,571), site of one of the state's two largest oil refineries – both owned by Chevron.

In August 2012, toxic smoke from a fire at the Richmond refinery (there had been other serious fires in 1989 and 1999) sent 15,000 residents to local hospitals seeking treatment, many of them for respiratory problems. A year later, Chevron paid $2 million in fines and restitution and pled no contest to six charges that included, the Associated Press reported, "failing to correct deficiencies in equipment and failing to require the use of certain equipment to protect employees from potential harm."

Around the same time as the settlement, Richmond's City Council decided to file its own suit, accusing Chevron of "a continuation of years of neglect, lax oversight and corporate indifference to necessary safety inspection and repairs." Fourteen other incidents of toxic gas releases from the refinery since 1989 were cited in the filing.

Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin told Democracy Now's Amy Goodman, "We owe it to our community to totally ensure their safety and to bring forward and safeguard the rights of our community to live, play and work without the threat of injury because of Chevron and with the threat of Chevron bringing forward yet another incident... due to the lack of safety in their facilities. We really feel strongly. This is serious in Richmond, and we're not backing down."

On top of all this, Chevron has long sought approval of a billion-dollar modernization plan for its refinery but had to deal with pressure from local officials for additional air pollution restrictions and other safety requirements. This summer, the city council finally approved the plan when improvements were promised as well as $90 million in "community benefits."

Presumably, Chevron, vexed by such governmental interference, decided enough was enough. Cue the campaign cash machine. Turn on the pumps.

Harriet Rowan, a first-year student at the University of California at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, is an intrepid reporter at the website Richmond Confidential, created by UC/Berkeley to train its journalism students and offer in-depth coverage of Richmond not provided by Bay Area mainstream media. On October 10, Rowan reported, "Chevron has funneled $3 million into a trio of campaign committees to influence the Nov. 4 Richmond city election, including a nearly $1.3 million contribution on Aug. 8, according to newly-filed campaign documents."

The committees, each a variation of Chevron's "Moving Forward" campaign, spent about $1.3 million on the Richmond mayoral and city council races as of the end of September, much of it on attack ads targeting local officials who are critical of Chevron's massive local refinery.

"Moving Forward" describes itself as "a coalition of labor unions, small businesses, public safety and firefighters associations. Major funding by Chevron" – "Major," as in 99.7 percent of the money, according to Harriet Rowan. Moving Forward was created after the 2012 fire to advance the oil company's political interests in Richmond and this year has especially targeted for attack three city council candidates, including Gayle McLaughlin, who cannot run for re-election as mayor but is seeking a council seat.

The assault also has come from a Chevron-funded website called the Richmond Standard, described by Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik as "purporting to be a news portal for residents of Richmond," but in reality run by "an employee of Chevron's PR firm named Mike Aldax." What's more, voters allegedly have been subjected to massive "push polling" – that is, telephoned attacks on candidates thinly disguised as opinion surveys. Author, activist and Richmond resident Steve Early writes that one such pollster told him — among other slurs posed as survey questions — that Gayle McLaughlin and fellow council candidate Eduardo Martinez were part of "a group of radicals out of touch with Richmond voters."

The Los Angeles Times' Hiltzik estimates that given the dollars being spread around, "Chevron is preparing to spend at least $33 for the vote of every resident of the city 18 or older." He writes:

For a corporation to manipulate a municipal election on this scale should be illegal. Chevron may pose as a company enjoying its free speech rights, as secured through the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, but a pincer movement employing pantsfuls of money and misleading, manipulative "news" demonstrates the potential of a big company's speech to drown out every other voice.

His words were echoed by independent US Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who visited Richmond last week and said, "We are not living in a democracy when giant corporations like Chevron can buy local governments. That's called oligarchy, not democracy. We have got to fight back."

Meanwhile, second graders at Peres Elementary School in Richmond were delighted by the appearance of the Oakland A's "loveable elephant" Stomper. The mascot arrived in a Chevron car, delivering iPads and other Apple products worth a little under a thousand dollars, courtesy of Chevron's Fuel Your School program. "The kids were extremely excited," their teacher said. "There was a lot of laughing."

At least they can't vote — yet.

News Wed, 22 Oct 2014 10:34:11 -0400
Amid Shootings, Chicago Police Department Upholds Culture of Impunity

Ortiz Glaze. (Photo: Alison Flowers)Ortiz Glaze, who had no criminal record and was unarmed, was running away with his back to police, when officers fired multiple shots at him, hitting him twice. (Photo: Alison Flowers)

An exclusive Truthout investigation - released today on a day of national protest against police brutality - reveals that the City of Chicago fails to recognize, let alone sanction, police guilty of repeated episodes of violence, including the shooting deaths of unarmed civilians.

An exclusive Truthout investigation - released today on a day of national protest against police brutality - reveals that the City of Chicago fails to recognize, let alone sanction, police guilty of repeated episodes of violence, including the shooting deaths of unarmed civilians.

Ortiz Glaze. (Photo: Alison Flowers)Ortiz Glaze, who had no criminal record and was unarmed, was running away with his back to police, when officers fired multiple shots at him, hitting him twice. (Photo: Alison Flowers)

This story could not have been published without the support of readers like you. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout and fund more stories like it!

On a clear, warm April day in 2013, a 35-year-old father of two, Ortiz Glaze, was manning a grill in his South Chicago neighborhood. He was cooking seafood, chicken and potatoes for scores of guests, including kids, in a parking lot. The barbecue, which stretched from day to night, was to commemorate his friend who had recently died from a shooting.

A group of Chicago police officers pulled up to the party, some wearing plain clothes and arriving in unmarked cars.

What happened next is where the stories differ. Police officers say Glaze was holding a cup appearing to contain alcohol, was ignoring orders and was gesturing to his waistband where Officer Louis Garcia and his partner, Officer Jeffrey Jones, say they believed he stowed a gun.

The other version is one corroborated by witnesses - that Jones fired into the crowd upon approach, causing everyone, including Glaze, to run away.

"The police are authorized to use force in ways that no other citizen is authorized to act . . . Police are rewarded for exercising force."

From there, the following facts are not in dispute: Glaze, who had no criminal record, was unarmed. No gun was recovered. And while he was running away with his back to police, Jones and Garcia fired multiple shots at him, hitting him twice.

Glaze lived to tell his story.

"I laid there scared," Glaze said of the moment when the bullets hit him. "Then he stood over me with his gun. I didn't know if he was going to shoot at me again."

When Glaze fell to the ground, his left arm and thigh wounded, Garcia handcuffed his right hand to his belt loop, arrested him and sent him to the hospital for treatment.

"My arm was a jangle," Glaze said, pointing to the scar on his arm and the surgical plate beneath his flesh.

The officers fingerprinted Glaze, handcuffed his good hand to his hospital bed and used patient restraints to tie down his foot to the bed rail. They interrogated him.

After the shooting, a felony review unit at the Cook County State's Attorney's Office did not charge Glaze. The officers instead pursued charges of lesser misdemeanor offenses, including aggravated assault and resisting and obstructing police.

At Glaze's bench trial almost a year later, it was the word of five police officers against Glaze. The judge quickly acquitted him of the charges.

"The judge saw right through them," Glaze said. "It lets you know that they was lying."

"The data we have would suggest conditions of virtual impunity for abusive officers."

Glaze filed a lawsuit last April suing the City of Chicago, the Chicago Police Department and a slew of named officers, including Jones and Garcia. The lawsuit claims police planted a silver cell phone on Glaze - what police say resembled a gun as he was running - to justify their shooting. The device did not show up during an initial inventory report of Glaze's belongings, according to the lawsuit. Chicago Police, on behalf of the department and named officers in this story, did not respond to Truthout's requests for comment.

Unemployed, today Glaze keeps to himself and doesn't go out much.

"I'm not the person like I was," he said. "I'm just not really coming back around. Only time I can kick it is when I'm out of town. When I'm in Chicago, I can't be myself."

"Quasi-Military Organizations"

In 2013, Glaze was one of 43 people Chicago Police shot that year. Thirteen were killed, according to the City of Chicago Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), the agency that reviews officer-involved shootings. IPRA did not respond to Truthout's requests for comment.

"Police departments are quasi-military organizations," said Art Lurigio, a criminologist and clinical psychologist who teaches at Loyola University. "The police are authorized to use force in ways that no other citizen is authorized to act."

"The officer repeatedly called Mr. Johnson a n-gger" and "threatened to kill Mr. Johnson."

The officer who shot at Glaze multiple times - Louis Garcia - has shot before. A May 2006 news release from the Chicago Police Department shows Garcia and his former partner, Martin Teresi, shot an armed offender in 2005. The Chicago Police Department awarded the pair the Superintendent's Award of Valor for the shooting.

"Police are rewarded for exercising force and sometimes engaging in violent behaviors, including shooting at the suspects, including shooting dead the suspects, including tasing the suspects," Lurigio said. "They are not credited for performance that's passive."

According to a new report by Chicago organization We Charge Genocide, which will be presented to the United Nations Committee Against Torture this November, more than 75 percent of those shot by Chicago Police over the last five years have been black people. African-Americans are more than 10 times likely to be shot by police than white people, IPRA data show.

Protesters rally in Chicago in reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown. (Photo: Alison Flowers)Protesters rally in Chicago in reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown. (Photo: Alison Flowers)

(Photo: Alison Flowers)(Photo: Alison Flowers)

(Photo: Alison Flowers)(Photo: Alison Flowers)A two-month investigation by Truthout delved into police shootings and misconduct complaints in Chicago, uncovering several key facts that raise questions about deadly force and police impunity.

The investigation matched and analyzed data of officers with a high volume of historic misconduct complaints with police unit designations and current City of Chicago employee and budgetary public data. Alongside researching public documents, such as legal complaints and police news releases, the investigation was able to track the position of repeat alleged abusers still on the force and study the city's investment in their conduct by way of salary, overtime pay and settlements.

To identify police shooters in controversial cases, Truthout cross-referenced media accounts naming victims with corresponding civil suits naming officers, screening hundreds of documents.

Out of the approximately 12,000 officers on the Chicago force between 2001 and 2006, most officers saw between zero and two misconduct complaints.

Reporters also interviewed victims of police brutality, criminologists, lawyers and a retired police officer, in addition to Jamie Kalven of the Invisible Institute, a Chicago-based journalistic production company, which led the seven-year battle to make misconduct complaint data public.

Two Freedom of Information Act requests submitted to the Chicago Police Department for Tactical Response Reports - the primary source document created by Chicago Police in any instance involving an officer's firearm discharge - were rejected despite narrowing the request to six specific officers and three specific dates and locations.

The investigation found:

-At least 21 Chicago police officers are currently serving on the force, some with honors, after shooting citizens under highly questionable circumstances, resulting in at least $30.2 million in taxpayer-funded City of Chicago settlements thus far.

-Six officers who have shot and killed civilians also have a large volume of unpenalized complaints of misconduct.

-At least 500 Chicago police officers with more than 10 misconduct complaints over a five-year period (2001-2006) are still serving on the force. Their combined salary is $42.5 million dollars.

-Four lieutenants, the director and an organizer of the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS), 55 detectives, a field training officer and 69 sergeants are among the 500 Chicago police officers with more than 10 misconduct complaints over the five-year period.

-Police officer Raymond Piwnicki, now a detective, had the highest number of complaints in the five-year period, with 55 misconduct complaints and zero penalties. Piwnicki was awarded the Superintendent's Award of Valor in 2013, for a shooting in which he is now a defendant in a civil suit that cites his "deliberate indifference" to a fellow officer's deadly force.

-More than 60 of the 662 police officers with at least 10 misconduct complaints hailed from the Special Operations Section, responsible for 1,311 complaints in the five years of data alone. An elite citywide unit tasked with drug and gang investigations, Special Operations was disbanded in 2007 amidst multiple corruption scandals resulting in not only criminal charges of armed robbery, aggravated kidnapping and home invasion among seven of its former members - of which two are in jail - but a guilty plea in a murder for hire scheme. It was replaced by the Mobile Strike Force one year after Special Operations was disbanded, in the same unit headquarters, with the same orders, and many of the same officers. Disbanded in 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel reactivated Mobile Strike Force in 2013 with orders to "smother outbreaks of violence," according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

-From 2002 to 2008, out of 90 excessive force complaints, specifically denoting improper "weapon, use/display of," all but eight were dismissed, with only five noting the violation. In this time period, a paralyzed man, Cornelius Ware, was shot and killed by Officer Anthony Blake, whose record denoted a weapon complaint as "unfounded." The City of Chicago later awarded Ware's family a settlement of $5.25 million.

-During the 2001 to 2006 span, more than three dozen police officers had 29 or more misconduct complaints on their records, more than double the number of complaints that recently indicted Chicago Police commander Glenn Evans accumulated during the same period.

"Full-Time Gangsters"

Martin Teresi, former partner of Louis Garcia, who shot Ortiz Glaze, accumulated 35 misconduct complaints from 2001 to 2006, by the time he and Garcia received their 2006 award. Those complaints resulted in zero penalties.

"The data we have would suggest conditions of virtual impunity for abusive officers," said writer and human rights activist Jamie Kalven of the Invisible Institute. "That means full-time gangsters. That means utterly cruel individuals who get off on humiliating African-Americans or women. A small amount on the force, but a huge impact."

Among the complaints against Teresi are two different excessive force complaints involving the teen children of black officers, one of whom suffered a fractured nose and two broken ribs, according to the complaint, which was settled out of court.

The Chicago Police Department's track record of rarely delivering meaningful penalties for misconduct signals a culture in which incidents of fatal force are nearly always deemed justifiable.

Since the 2001-2006 time period, Teresi was named in another excessive force complaint involving minors, and in the settlement of Mario Navia Jr., whose complaint describes him being pulled over without reason and quickly arrested, pepper-sprayed and beaten by six officers who used a nightstick that left a gash in his head requiring multiple staples.

In 2013, the case settled. In 2014, Teresi received the Superintendent's Award of Valor from Chicago Police, for another incident involving the discharge of his weapon, according to the department's news release.

Garcia's record from 2001 to 2006 did not reach the baseline of surpassing 10 complaints for inclusion in the repeat misconduct complaint list. Yet civil suits against Garcia - three in progress, including that of Glaze - mark a consistent history of extreme excessive force prior to Glaze's shooting.

In 2005, Ronald Johnson, from Chicago's South Side, accused Garcia, seven other officers and the City of Chicago in a lawsuit of excessive force, false arrest, unreasonable search and seizure, malicious prosecution and hate crime.

The city does not track shootings, perform pattern analyses of shootings or examine officers and units with high numbers of misconduct complaints in a short period of time.

Garcia is described as solely responsible for the hate crime of "placing Johnson in a choke-hold which cut off his breathing. The officer repeatedly called Mr. Johnson a n-gger" and "threatened to kill Mr. Johnson," according to the lawsuit.

Johnson's case settled for $99,000.

Five years later, a charge of excessive force was again filed against Garcia. The lawsuit, made by disabled 52-year-old Ruben Sanchez, describes Garcia as emerging from an unmarked police car, gun drawn, in front of Sanchez's home. Ordered to lie on his stomach, Sanchez explained he could not comply given a recent surgery. "Garcia punched Sanchez in the mouth," the civil suit alleges, further elaborating, "When Sanchez, now bloodied, insisted he could not lie on his stomach, Garcia again punched Sanchez in the mouth and forcibly threw Sanchez to the ground."

Three years after the Sanchez incident, Garcia and Jeffrey Jones shot at Ortiz Glaze.

"A Biopsy of the City's Accountability System"

2014 1022mcrps 5Writer and human rights activist Jamie Kalven said the now-public Chicago Police data show "dramatic portraits" of individual officers, "but it's also a biopsy of the city's accountability system." (Photo: Patricia Evans)Earlier this year, a watershed moment in police accountability occurred, opening a small window that has shed light on Chicago Police patterns and practices.

In March, an Illinois appeals court ruled in Kalven v. Chicago that documents bearing on allegations of police misconduct are public information. In July, the City of Chicago released sets of documents long sought by lawyers and journalists.

The sunshine is thanks in large part to Jamie Kalven, who had previously become entangled, and later intervened, in a federal lawsuit where the police records had been at issue.

In the span of six months, Officer Gildardo Sierra shot three people - two of them fatally.

"The dramatic portraits that emerge are of individual officers, but it's also a biopsy of the city's accountability system," Kalven said of the now-public police data. "There are patterns that jump out to you."
Out of the approximately 12,000 officers on the Chicago force between 2001 and 2006, most officers saw between zero and two misconduct complaints, Kalven said. Another set of officers had between two and 10 complaints.
But where the data points blow the whistle is the 662 officers who individually account for 10 misconduct complaints or more - what Kalven calls the "repeater list."

For this investigation, Truthout used Kalven's recently released repeater list, among other public data.


The Chicago Police Department's track record of rarely delivering meaningful penalties for misconduct signals a culture in which incidents of fatal force are nearly always deemed justifiable, Truthout has found.

There is one notable exception: Police officer Dante Servin will, later this month, stand trial for shooting Rekia Boyd in the back of the head while off duty in 2012, killing her. Facing charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless discharge of a firearm and reckless conduct, Servin is the first Chicago police officer in 15 years to stand in a criminal trial.

But among the many remaining officers who have likewise shot civilians - deemed justified under highly questionable circumstances - it is nearly impossible to track the consequences of such impunity.

A patrol car video shows Sierra walking in a semicircle around Farmer, lying face down on the ground wounded, before firing three shots into his back, killing him.

City agencies have shut out efforts to monitor the frequency of Chicago Police officer-involved shootings. Earlier this year, John Conroy, director of investigations at the DePaul Legal Clinic (and the journalist who helped expose the decades-long Chicago Police torture ring under former Commander Jon Burge), submitted several public information requests seeking records related to the frequency of police shootings. The Chicago Mayor's Office, the Chicago Police Board and the City of Chicago Independent Police Review Authority all responded that no such records existed, while the Chicago Police Department turned over a cursory two-page document that illuminated little to nothing.
Kalven's "biopsy" of city data - compiled after a long fight for information by civil rights lawyers - confirms that the city does not track shootings, perform pattern analyses of shootings or examine officers and units with high numbers of misconduct complaints in a short period of time.

Officer Gildardo Sierra

In 2011, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, speaking on the matter with the Chicago Tribune, confirmed the department did not maintain any internal system to track officers involved in multiple shootings. In the span of six months that same year, Officer Gildardo Sierra shot three people - two of them fatally.

Flint Farmer was the last of those shot by Sierra, who had been called on a domestic disturbance to Farmer's Englewood location. When Sierra and his partner arrived, Farmer took off running. At the next block, Sierra, who later claimed he "feared for his life," began shooting at Farmer, who was unarmed. Discharging his weapon a total of 16 times, Sierra hit Farmer with seven of his bullets. It was the final three shots that killed Farmer, according to the Cook County medical examiner.

A patrol car video shows Sierra walking in a semicircle around Farmer, lying face down on the ground wounded, before firing three shots into his back, killing him. The shots are illuminated in the video by muzzle flashes indicative of close range.

Farmer's family settled their civil suit for $4.1 million.

A "good shooting" is when someone's life was at risk, and a "bad shooting" is what the controversial Ferguson, Missouri, killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown looks to be.

Yet Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez ruled the shooting justified. After a two-year investigation, county prosecutors concluded that evidence supported Sierra's claim that he had acted in self-defense - after mistaking Farmer's cellphone as a weapon.

"Not every mistake demands the action of the criminal justice system, even when the results are tragic," Alvarez wrote in a letter to McCarthy.

Stripped of police powers, Sierra was transferred to the city's 311 call center.

Near the beginning of his career on the force, Sierra had been awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the Fraternal Order of Police. At the City Council Finance Committee meeting in which the settlement was approved, Leslie Darling, an attorney for the City of Chicago, told council members Farmer's shooting was in fact the eighth in which Sierra was involved.

City data lists Sierra as a police officer with a salary of $78,012.

Still on the Force

Truthout's investigation identified a number of additional officers1 who have pulled the trigger in instances of highly controversial civilian deaths. Including officers already mentioned herein, the investigation identified that among officers currently serving on the force, there are at least:

  • Five officers who shot and killed civilians from behind, with a record of more than 10 complaints in five years.

Among this group is Officer John Fitzgerald, who shot Aaron Harrison, a black 18-year-old, in 2007, after garnering 25 misconduct complaints between 2001 and 2006. A member of Special Operations, Fitzgerald was awarded the Superintendent's Award of Valor in 2010, according to a Chicago Police Department news release, for the incident. The shooting was ruled justified by the City of Chicago Independent Police Review Authority, largely on the basis of Fitzgerald's assertion Harrison was attempting to shoot him while running away, and a gun recovered on the scene. Multiple witnesses asserted Harrison was unarmed. In 2013, Harrison's family's civil suit settled for $8.5 million.

  • Six officers with a record of more than 10 complaints in five years are named in lawsuits for their involvement in shootings, among them, Raymond Piwnicki, and Chris Hackett, who, according to witnesses, ran over 23-year-old Jamaal Moore.

Unarmed and attempting to flee from the officer and his partner following a car chase in Englewood and the resulting crash, Moore was then shot by Hackett's partner Ruth Castelli two times at close range, once in the back. IPRA exonerated the officers despite both a patrol car dash cam video and a gas station surveillance video that contradict their account, according to a memorandum opinion and order by the judge in the subsequent civil suit, which settled for $1.25 million. From 2001 to 2006, Hackett garnered 15 misconduct complaints and zero penalties.

  • Fourteen officers who fatally shot civilians, without a record of more than 10 misconduct complaints, 2001-2006, including Castelli and Phyllis Clinkscales who shot unarmed 17-year-old Robert Washington at such close range that residue and the muzzle imprint of her weapon were left on his skin.

The Chicago Police Department found the shooting justified within hours, and later ignored IPRA's recommendation that Clinkscales be fired. In-depth Chicago Tribune reporting revealed many other salient facts surrounding the shooting in 2007. Yet city data lists Clinkscales as a police officer, with a salary of $83,706, and 2013 overtime earnings of $38,996.

Collis Underwood, who the City Council granted an honorific resolution this April for intervening in a potentially deadly domestic disturbance, fatally shot 23-year-old Xavier Ferguson twice in the chest following a traffic stop in 2010 while on patrol in the Mobile Strike Force. The officer asserted Ferguson "lunged" for his weapon. Ferguson's family, who did not believe the young father of two would attempt to disarm an officer, filed a wrongful death suit. The jury ruled in Underwood's favor. Another civil suit against him, with a charge of excessive force, is currently underway. According to the lawsuit, Underwood and his partner extensively beat Dennis Dixon, resulting in a "fractured hand that required surgery, a blunt head injury and multiple bruises/contusions."

"We're Not Dirty Harry"

Richard Greenleaf. (Photo: Roark Johnson)Retired police sergeant and police psychology expert Richard Greenleaf says police officers talk about "good shootings" and "bad shootings" in such simple terms. (Photo: Roark Johnson)Outside of Chicago, Richard Greenleaf, a retired Albuquerque police sergeant, teaches criminology at Elmhurst College. He is an expert in police psychology.

Citing the split-second, life-or-death dynamic police operate in, Greenleaf empathizes with police officers who have pulled the trigger. He is one of them.

In 1981, Greenleaf shot and killed an armed robber who was out on bond for an alleged stabbing. The guy turned his gun on him; Greenleaf responded by firing three rounds, hitting him twice - once in the chest, and once in the lower groin.

After the incident, he got three days off with pay and had to visit the police counselor. Later, when psychological services had an opening, he became that counselor. Greenleaf holds a graduate degree in counseling and a PhD in sociology.

"I've been strip-searched in the middle of the street."

Police, who Greenleaf described as being on high alert and in a constant mindset of danger, talk about "good shootings" and "bad shootings" in such simple terms internally. A "good shooting" is when someone's life was at risk, and a "bad shooting" is what the controversial Ferguson, Missouri, killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown looks to be, Greenleaf explained.

Greenleaf witnessed abusive force during his seven years as an officer in Albuquerque.

"There are departments that have histories of not just having bad apples, but a batch of rotten apples," Greenleaf said. "But the number of shootings alone does not necessarily mean that the department is corrupt or has bad officers."

Today, Greenleaf says he steers his students, some of them police officers themselves, away from caricatures of law enforcement like Dirty Harry, John Wayne or even Superman.

But when he speaks of taking a human life, his voice lowers and softens.

"I wish it never happened," Greenleaf said. "I wish he had lived. But I was in fear of my life."

Whether citizens are actually guilty of the perceived offense that leads to apprehension is not what shakes their sense of justice.

However, the aftermath of police shootings in Chicago, Truthout found, contradicts this good shooting/bad shooting dichotomy, with the grisly details behind "good shootings" emerging through video footage, media accounts and civil lawsuits where victims and their families have garnered large settlements. Some of these shootings have not only been "justified" by the Chicago Police Department, the Independent Police Review Authority and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez - but also rewarded. What remains unknown is the process by which they are judged internally and the systemic underpinnings behind how they come to be praised.

At the same time, no government agency consistently tracks "good shootings" and "bad shootings," among the estimated 1,000 police shootings across the country annually. One of the only attempts includes self-reporting from a fraction of the nation's law enforcement agencies to the FBI's data on "justifiable homicides." A journalist and publisher launched another attempt in 2012, the crowdsourcing project "Fatal Encounters." The project seeks to create an impartial, comprehensive and searchable national database of people killed during interactions with law enforcement.

"For Their Reputation"

The City of Chicago Independent Police Review Authority has conducted 272 investigations, spanning from shootings to alleged police violence over the last five years. Officers are rarely disciplined. In 22 complaints, there was no investigation.

Still, many incidents of police misconduct never make it to IPRA's books because the alleged victims do not complain, leaving only anecdotal evidence recounted to those who will listen. Truthout sought police records to confirm the following accounts - just a few of the many incidents that take place on a daily basis in the city - but the Chicago Police Department did not respond to these Freedom of Information Act requests.

A 53-year-old South Sider, Percy McGill, has been in and out of prison on drug charges. He claims to be physically handled by police every day.

"They throw you against the car and search you with no reason," McGill said. "I mean, you don't have to be doing anything. You can be just walking down the street, going to the store. If they see you, they're going to stop you and search you."

Andre Wilson, a 51-year-old West Sider, is also no stranger to the criminal justice system, a fact that he believes has caused police to discriminate against him even when he is clean on the streets.

"I've been strip-searched in the middle of the street," Wilson said. "I think that's really degrading."

On one occasion, he flicked a bag of heroin when he saw police coming after him. The bag was never found, "so they found something for me," Wilson said.

Cory Lyles, a 43-year-old father of two from the West Side, does not have a criminal history like McGill or Wilson, but found himself handcuffed to a wall at a police station for hours after being mistaken for someone else.

Once released, Lyles returned to his car to find it doused in Hennessey, he claims. He tried to tell his story to a "white-shirt" back at the station, but never put in a complaint because he felt intimidated by the officers.

Stanley Davis, 45, a West Sider who had only been home from prison for 40 days when he spoke to Truthout in early October, has spent more time incarcerated than out free, with seven incarcerations totaling 26 years. He admits he has hustled, but asserts innocence in three of the crimes for which he was imprisoned.

There is not always malice behind the misconduct - just the incentive to meet a quota.

Davis experienced police violence around the 2012 incident that led to his most recent incarceration, he says. After being stopped and forced to the ground by two officers, a third officer jumped out of his car and came down on his back with his knee, according to Davis.
"It felt like he pushed my back into the earth," Davis said. "I felt that pain for some time, but wasn't nothing broke."

Whether citizens are actually guilty of the perceived offense that leads to apprehension is not what shakes their sense of justice, according to Art Lurigio, criminologist and clinical psychologist at Loyola University.

"More important to citizens than the actual outcome is how they were treated," Lurigio said. "This ain't a fair fight anymore."
After Davis' forceful shakedown, he couldn't remember the names of the officers involved and says he never filed a complaint.
"These guys, they use aliases," Davis said. "They use these Rambo names. They get people conditioned to them Rambo names, so it kind of throw everybody off. This one, he called hisself 'Thirsty.'"
To Davis, there is not always malice behind the misconduct - just the incentive to meet a quota.
"They are destroying a human life," Davis said. "Take your freedom away and put you in a situation away from your children, away from your family, just for their status. For their reputation."



1. The additional police shooters below emerged in the investigation. They did not respond to requests from TruthOut for comment.

  • Officer Rick Caballero who shot Ben Romaine, who was driving away from Caballero, and killed him; later awarded the Superintendent Award for Valor for the incident, which settled in a civil suit
  • Officer Robert Haile who shot and killed Lazuanjo Brooks multiple times and in the back; the shooting settled in a civil suit
  • Sergeant David Rodriguez who shot Herbert Becker at close range; the shooting settled in a civil suit
  • Officer Vilma Argueta who shot and killed 19-year-old George Lash on the Chicago Transit Authority; receiving an award for the incident, which was voluntarily dismissed by the Lash family lawyers in a civil suit
  • Officer Darren Wright who shot and killed 17-year-old Corey Harris in the back; the shooting settled in a civil suit
  • Officers Shawn Lawryn and Juan Martinez, who shot and killed Eseau Castellanos; in a civil suit currently underway, the complaint highlights ballistics reports contradicting the officers’ accounts
  • Officer Michael St. Clair who shot William Hope multiple times in the chest in broad daylight, while sitting in his car; the shooting later settled
News Wed, 22 Oct 2014 12:57:09 -0400
House of Fear ]]> Art Wed, 22 Oct 2014 08:56:25 -0400 Philadelphia Students Go on Strike for Teachers' Benefits

2014.10.21.Aronoff.MainPhiladelphia students march in Center City earlier this month. (Photo: Cy Wolfe via Facebook)

Typically when you hear about people striking in schools, it’s the teachers on the picket line. This week in Philadelphia — and potentially for many more — it’s the students who are on strike.

At a surprise meeting called on Monday October 6, the School District of Philadelphia unceremoniously cut its ties with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, of PFT, which is the American Federation of Teachers local representing around 15,000 teachers in the district. Since 2001, the School District of Philadelphia has been controlled by a state-appointed, five-person committee rather than an elected school board. Three members are appointed by the governor to serve for five years, and two by the city’s mayor to serve for four years each.

At least 200 students across four high schools staged a walk-out of their classes on Wednesday, October 8, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. The group’s Facebook page explains that they are striking “because every single teacher in the district’s benefits are at risk and being played with through politics.” Students stood outside of their schools chanting, with signs reading “Students for Teachers” and “Save Our Schools.”

The contract abrogation was an attempt by the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, or SRC, to compel teachers to pay anywhere from $21 to $70 into their healthcare benefits; their current contract indicates that they pay nothing. Commission Chair William Green called on PFT members to “share in the sacrifice” of the city’s budget shortfall.

In 2011, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett cut $1 billion from the education budget, which has impacted Philadelphia the most: its school district educates 10 percent of the state’s students, but has been subject to 25 percent of the cuts. Over 27,000 teachers have been laid off state-wide, along with a number of vital support staff including nurses and guidance counselors.

In the hours following the October 6 announcement, Pennsylvania Working Families, Action United and the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools planned an impromptu rally outside Governor Corbett’s office in Center City. Groups organizing the rally have been among the loudest voices calling for the city to hand over control of the school district to a locally elected body.

Strike organizer Leo Levy, who is 16 years old, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he and others wanted “to show student solidarity with the plight of the teachers and to show how invested in a proper education the student body really is.” PFT President Jerry Jordan has called on anyone concerned to attend the next School Reform Council meeting on Thursday, while a number of education, student and labor groups work to formulate their response. Unfortunately, Philadelphia isn’t the first district to be impacted by budget cuts to education, and certainly won’t be the last. The students’ strike may be laying the groundwork for even more coordinated actions to come.

News Wed, 22 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
How Putin Became a Central Figure in the First Ever Vote to Ban Fracking in Texas

2014.10.21.Putin.MainVladimir Putin, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 28, 2009. (Photo: Remy Steinegger / World Economic Forum )

On September 8, a Texas state regulatory agency sent a letter to United States Secretary of State John Kerry, suggesting that US anti-fracking activists are receiving funding from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“It is reasonable to assume,” Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter wrote, “that their intention is to increase their market share of natural gas production and distribution as Russia is the second largest producer of natural gas in the world.”

This move by Texas coincides with the lead up to an Election Day referendum on the state’s first proposed city-wide fracking ban, to be held in the city of Denton on November 4. But this particular move by Texas to discredit activists is not a new one. In fact, it highlights one way climate campaigners have previously been tracked and monitored by intelligence agencies, public relations firms, and their powerful clients to create “actionable intelligence.” That is, information that could help undermine and eventually defeat social movements.

The letter was publicized in a press release headlined, “Porter Exposes Putin Plot to Hurt Texas Economy.” It offers no direct proof to back up the Putin claims, only citing “multiple reports” linking Russia’s massive state-owned natural gas company Gazprom to public relations and lobbying firms, such as industry giant Ketchum.

Porter also wrote that Russia’s strategy includes bankrolling anti-fracking environmental groups and pushing propaganda by distributing the Academy Award-nominated documentary Gasland, which Porter called “an incredibly deceitful film.”

Kerry has not yet responded publicly to the letter. And Carlos Espinosa, the Texas Railroad Commission’s director of special projects, admitted in emails obtained under the Texas Public Information Act that there was no actual paper trail corroborating the Putin story, only claims from others in the news.

“Our information is based off of reports from the New York Times, CNN, National Review, and many others, including a former American Ambassador to Russia,” Espinosa wrote in response to a reporter’s query. “Gazprom is spending tens of millions of dollars — that we know of — to eliminate competition globally. It’s likely they’ve influenced much of the overall anti-hydraulic fracturing movement’s message.”

Texas’ economic interest in developing its natural gas resources and the state’s long history of working hand-in-hand with the energy industry may explain its effort to discredit the anti-fracking movement. In his letter, Porter insists that the US government must protect the “vitality of the industry that produces these resources and paves the way for American energy independence.”

This cozy relationship between the industry and its regulatory agency does not go unnoticed by activists.

“The RRC is not a regulator, but a facilitator of industry’s wishes,” Will Wooten, a Denton, Texas-based anti-fracking activist who has also been involved in the Tar Sands Blockade, said in an email. “Whether approving the eminent domain process for pipelines like the Keystone XL, or allowing fracking to expand in urban areas with no real regulations in place, the RRC is there to make sure industry gets what it wants.”

The Texas Railroad Commission did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article.

History Repeats Itself

The Putin tactic may have originated with Austin, Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor. When the US anti-fracking movement began to gain steam in 2010, Stratfor began monitoring the activities of anti-fracking activists. It did so on behalf of its “biggest client,” the American Petroleum Institute.

In a June 2010 email obtained by Wikileaks from the now-imprisoned Anonymous “hactivist” Jeremy Hammond, Stratfor senior Eurasia analyst Lauren Goodrich made a now-familiar accusatory overture: US-based anti-fracking organizations — and in particular, Gasland director and producer Josh Fox — might be tied to Putin.

“[Fox] said his film was paid for by HBO,” wrote Goodrich. “However, I would be interested to see who else funded this documentary (ie Coal or Russia, etc.).”

Personnel records obtained via the Public Information Act show that the Texas RRC hired Espinosa in August, about a month before the release of the Porter letter. Espinosa formerly worked as a senior counselor at the public relations firm Dezenhall Resources. Importantly, Espinosa gave final guidance to “tee up” Porter’s letter for dissemination to the press.

PR Industry’s “Navy Seals”

Dezenhall, the self-described “Navy SEALs of the communications business,” previously hired security firm Beckett Brown International (BBI) to surveil Greenpeace USA as part of its issues management due diligence process.

In practice, that meant not only open-source snooping on the Web, but also “pilfering documents from trash bins, attempting to plant undercover operatives within groups, casing offices, collecting phone records of activists, and penetrating confidential meetings,” according to a 2008 Mother Jones investigation.

Greenpeace filed a lawsuit in 2010 against both BBI and Dezenhall, which was dismissed upon appeal in August.

In the world of corporate public relations, firms like Dezenhall and Stratfor provide what Judith Richter, author of the book Holding Corporations Accountable: Corporate Conduct, International Codes and Citizen Action, points to as a key public relations technique: “environmental monitoring.”

The practice amounts to an “early warning system that helps PR managers to locate the smoke and take action before a major fire develops,” Richter wrote in her book. “As a result of such information-gathering, public relations firms have [developed] data banks on activist and other relevant groups and organizations.”

It’s no coincidence, then, that such tactics are now being deployed in Texas and beyond, working their way all the way up to the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Barry Smitherman, another Texas Railroad Commissioner, cited these claims made by the NATO Secretary General in a July 11 letter to Denton Mayor Chris Watts. In so doing, Smitherman hinted that those pushing for the city-wide fracking ban in Denton, Texas might be funded by Moscow.

“It would therefore appear that not all efforts to ban hydraulic fracturing are grounded in environmental concerns,” wrote Smitherman. “With this in mind, I trust you will all will determine whether funding and manpower behind this effort to ban hydraulic fracturing in Denton is coming from out of state sources or from those who would profit from the imposition of such a ban.”

Out of Touch?

As Denton narrows in on its vote on the would-be historic fracking ban, powerful industry players have spent big money to defeat the measure. Citizens on the ground in Denton recently told the Dallas Observer that the Putin talking point has woven its way into the door-to-door canvassing operations of those volunteering to get out the vote in support of striking down the fracking ban proposal.

But Wooten, the anti-fracking activist, dismisses the Putin claims.

“While the [Russia] meme may be effective for [industry] on a national and international level, on a local level in Denton it just sounds out-of-touch with the issue at hand and borderline wingnut,” he said. “These tactics are hurting their support among Dentonites, not helping.”

News Wed, 22 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
Symbiosis: Ebola and Reaganomics

2014.10.22.Ebola.MainEbola might be global neoliberal capitalism's greatest test, says Dr. Michael I. Niman. (Image via Shutterstock)How Decades of Indifference Gave Rise to an Epidemic

Last week we saw person to person Ebola transmission on three continents. And in a global culture obsessed with contagion themed apocalypse entertainment, we’re seeing the beginning of a social media panic with the US, according to Twitter trending stats, leading the world in Ebola Tweets. And this is only the beginning. Or is it?

Limp Penises and Malaria

The Ebola story goes back almost four decades, to 1976, when the first two outbreaks occurred in the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Like Malaria, which kills millions around the world, Ebola found a sympathetic partner in a neo-liberal global economy that allocates resources based not on need, but on where corporate capital can find the easiest path to profits. Malaria, by nature, strikes tropical regions dominated by poor people. Ebola, by history, has only hit Africa. Medical research is expensive and usually driven by private investment, which is drawn to profit, not service. Hence, while Malaria continued to devastate the third world, and Ebola lay in hiding like a time bomb, the medical industry mostly ignored both, putting money into more profitable pursuits such as developing erectile dysfunction drugs for octogenarians.

With corporate research money heading toward more profitable products, fighting diseases like Ebola is left to the public sector. Across Africa, where colonialism plundered resources and neo-liberalism saddled governments with structural debt, the public sector isn’t too robust, often unable to provide basic infrastructure for potable water or education. Developing an advanced medical research sector ain’t happening. This leaves the continent at the mercy of American and European philanthropy, which often seems drawn more to sexier or trending causes, like saving wildlife or hating the eminently hateable Joseph Kony.

First world apathy toward Ebola continued even as the current epidemic unfolded over the last six months, eventually spreading to seven counties, with Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea hit the hardest. A month ago, the World Health Organization’s Assistant Director, General Bruce Aylward, declared that the Ebola epidemic has become a health crisis “unparalleled in modern times.” That means, since the Black Death ravaged Europe and the holocaust of European diseases decimated native America.

Terry Pegula Could Have Saved the World

Aylward asked for one billion dollars to combat the epidemic. To put this number in perspective, that’s $400 million less than Fracking magnate and uber sports fan Terry Pegula paid last week to buy the Buffalo Bills. Weeks went by with no real support from any first world nation, as hospitals in Liberia turned Ebola patients away, sending the infection back into crowded slums, while the disease jumped international borders and an ocean. To date, only poor and small Cuba took the threat seriously, initially sending the most medical aid to Africa, with about 450 health workers either on the ground or on their way. If we are to stem a global Ebola pandemic, however, tens of thousands of health care workers along with hundreds of new field hospitals are immediately needed in Africa.

The private sector won’t supply the money, the personnel or the infrastructure needed to fight Ebola. That leaves the public sector, which in our country has been decimated by over three decades of funding cuts stemming from the “shrink government until it fits in your pocket” mentality of the Reagan era. The problem is that small government cannot meet big tasks. This argument comes most alarmingly from Dr. Francis Collins, who heads the National Institutes of Health, which is the agency tasked with developing a vaccine and other drugs to fight Ebola. A seemingly exasperated Collins, in an interview last week with The Huffington Post, said that the agency, in all likelihood, would have already developed, tested and produced an Ebola vaccine, “if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support.” This would be due to the Reagan small government doctrine administered under the administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Collins explained that the agency didn’t just start working on an Ebola response recently, but began its work 13 years ago. Even so, the timeline he lays out, with or without budget issues, is unacceptable, with the agency not taking serious action until 25 years after the first Ebola outbreak.

The Efficiency Virus

Another issue not getting much press is how state, federal and private health care cuts have served to decimate the surge capacity in our health care system. The old model provided extra beds, which almost always sat empty, but sure were and are appreciated during health emergencies when resources are strained. The profit-driven health care model, combined with an almost sociopathic drive for “efficiency,” eliminated the “wasted resources” essential to having a surge capacity able to provide care in a crisis. If Ebola arrives on our shores in any serious way, I’m sure we’ll have the debate we should have been having over the past four decades, only we’ll be having it too late.

In many developing nations, it wasn’t the manic drive for “efficiency” in the private sector that decimated health care. It was the “structural adjustments” that lending agencies such as the World Bank forced upon nations, demanding that they limit or cut health care funding. We’re also seeing the effect of this structural adjustment and austerity on the ground around the world as nations try to plan for dealing with a health crisis they now have no infrastructure to meet.

We’re only talking about Ebola to the degree that we are now because an uninsured Ebola patient in Texas received minimal attention and was sent home with some useless pills, allowing the disease to gain strength in his body and threaten a continent. For 38 years we sat on our hands, thinking Ebola only affected Africa. And, quite frankly, call it racism, greed or just indifference, Americans didn’t really give a shit about Africa. Once upon a time, such indifference would never have come home to roost. But the world is a lot smaller now. Our mistreatment of global others, be it in the way of economic injustice, environmental injustice or just depraved indifference to human life, eventually impacts us all. Ebola might be global neoliberal capitalism’s greatest test.

News Wed, 22 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
The Latin American Disappeared and Repeating History in Mexico

The disappearance of 43 college students, abducted by police and organized crime from the Mexican state of Guerrero for their political activism, is a particularly disturbing example of the resurgence of a terror tactic used during Latin America's dirty wars. The college students' disappearance is yet another episode in the long history of disappearing those critical of Latin American governments during the Cold War and dirty wars in Latin America.

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On October 15, activists rallied outside Mexican embassies across Latin America demanding the return of the 43 students of Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa, commonly referred to as normalistas, who were abducted by police and organized crime from the Mexican state of Guerrero for their political activism. The college students' disappearance is yet another episode in the long history of disappearing those critical of Latin American governments during the Cold War and dirty wars in Latin America.

In Guatemala City, activists from HIJOS Guatemala, an organization that advocates for the investigation of those who were disappeared during the country's 36-year internal armed conflict, organized a demonstration outside the Mexican Embassy. Photos of the disappeared students were displayed, and a banner declaring, "The anger and indignation exceeds borders," was taped below the Mexican crest.

"This is a historic moment for Latin America and it is important for the people who were affected by the Cold War and the dirty war to demonstrate in solidarity with the normalistas in Mexico," said Paco, a HIJOS member from Guatemala. "We are repeating history. The conservative forces are making alliances with the mafias and cartels. They are using the disappearances to advance their interests of market liberation."

Guatemalans know all too well the terror and fear created by disappearances. According to Uruguayan journalist and author Eduardo Galeano, Guatemala was the "first Latin American laboratory in which the dirty war was carried out." During the internal armed conflict, 40,000 people were disappeared by the right-wing military dictatorships. Nearly 20 years after the end of the war, families still demand to know what happened to their loved ones.

Support for the normalistas in Guerrero has come from across Latin America, and from around the world. Similar demonstrations in Argentina, Chile and Brazil, among other countries - all where critics were threatened with disappearances during the dirty wars of the 1960s through 1990s - were held to coincide with the demonstrations in Mexico.

"Alive They Were Taken, Alive We Want Them Back"

The students from Guerrero's Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa, were last seen on September 26 in Iguala, Guerrero, when state police and members of organized crime from the western Mexican state ambushed their buses. Three students were killed at the scene, along with three bystanders in the attack, which was directed at the students. Reports from the scene state that the 43 people were forced off the buses by police, and put into police vehicles. The students have not been seen since.

Soon after the attack, the mayor of Iguala, Albarca Velázquez, and the police chief went into hiding. Both are alleged to have ordered the attack on the students, and have connections to organized crime in Guerrero.

In the search for the missing students, searchers have made the gruesome discovery of more than 19 mass graves in the state of Guerrero around Iguala, a testament to the widespread use of disappearances in the drug war in Mexico. As of yet, none of the graves have contained remains of the missing students.

Normalistas were in Iguala to raise money to fund their travel to Mexico City to participate in demonstrations organized by the students of National Autonomous University and the National Polytechnic School, to mark the October 2 anniversary of the 1968 massacre of students by the military.

2014 1022 miss fwMaria Oliveras, the mother of Antonio Santana, one of 43 missing students, lights a candle and prays at the school campus where she and other relatives of the missing students are holding a constant vigil in Iguala, Mexico, October 16, 2014. (Photo: Janet Jarman / The New York Times)

Teachers from across Mexico joined students in condemning the Mexican government and joined the protests demanding the return of the missing students. The radical Oaxacan teachers union, Section 22 voted in early October to support the students, and strike alongside them. The coalition has held protests across Mexico demanding, "alive they were taken, and alive we want them back."

Students from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, in association with other public and private universities and student organizations, called for a national strike demanding the return of their fellow students.

On October 13, students and teachers demanding the return of the missing students in Guerrero clashed with police, and set fire to the government palace. The following day in the Mexican state of Michoacán, students were arrested for attempting to hijack buses to support the students protesting in Guerrero.

Since the disappearance, federal police have arrested 50 individuals, including 14 police officers, who are allegedly connected to the attack. Yet no amount of effort from Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will eliminate activists' claims that he is partially responsible for the disappearances.

For many activists in Mexico, the disappearance of the students from Iguala is eerily similar to the state violence that occurred during the years of the dirty war in Guerrero where the government targeted guerillas and campesinos and detained and disappeared them, as did the dictatorships of Central and South America in the 1970s and 1980s. Like the disappearances of the dirty wars, the attacks on students are meant to stymie and intimidate their movement.

As a result, the students and teachers are quick to denounce the insecurity and fear that is created by the neoliberal policies of a Mexican government that has allowed the cartels and the state to become deeply intertwined. Furthermore, as critics point out, Peña Nieto has focused more on pursuing neoliberal reforms than tackling corruption within the Mexican state - corruption that allows the disappearance of 43 students with absolute impunity.

Living Memory

The solidarity coming from Latin America is significant. Today, the memory of those who disappeared without a trace during the dirty wars still lingers.

"Disappearing" dissidents was the favored technique used to strike fear into those who challenged the right-wing dictatorships during the dirty wars in South America. Operation Condor in the Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil was responsible for the disappearance of tens of thousands of leftists and critics of the conservative governments who were following Milton Friedman's blueprint for neoliberal reforms. In many cases, those carrying out the disappearances received training from the CIA.

Galeano captures the fear created by the disappearances in his seminal book Days and Nights of Love and War, in which he recounts his experiences during the dirty war in exile from his home in Uruguay.

"The technique of the 'disappeared': There are no prisoners to claim nor martyrs to mourn. The earth devours the people and the government washes its hands," he wrote about the disappearances in Latin America.

The disappearance of the students in Mexico follows this same formula: a state force using criminal or paramilitary elements to execute the repression. This isn't something lost on the activists of Latin America; the memories of terror still remain 20 or 30 years later, as do the memories of those who were never found.

Furthermore, the paramilitary violence - as carried out by the cartels - reflects the violence of neoliberal transformation of the economies of Brazil, Chile and Argentina, when the state apparatus was used to strike terror into the hearts of the critics of dictatorships.

Mexico first embarked down the path toward neoliberal reforms of the economy in the 1980s. The 1994 signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) sped up the reforms, the opening of the economy and the selling off of public institutions. Peña Nieto has overseen the near completion of the neoliberal agenda by privatizing the oil industry, "reforming" the telecommunications industry, breaking teachers unions and utterly transforming the Mexican education system. The recent violence is a return to this dark period in Latin America history, especially as Mexico pursues a neoliberal development policy that activists claim is "ripping the social fabric of their country."

In an interview in August 2014, an educator associated with Section 22 of the Oaxacan teachers union, a radical union that has led the resistance of teachers to Peña Nieto's education reforms, recounted his fear that Mexico was "returning to the era of state repression." In many ways, the disappearance of the 43 students in Guerrero is that return.

News Wed, 22 Oct 2014 09:52:53 -0400
The Lost Generation

2014.10.21.DailyTake.main(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout )Libertarian economic policies are fueling the United States' lost generation.

In the last century, there have been two generations that have seen first-hand the devastating effects of libertarian economics.

The first was the generation that came to age in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Living through the presidencies of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover, that generation saw massive tax cuts, deregulation and privatization, which helped the wealthy elite prosper, but screwed over everyone else.

The second generation to suffer through libertarian economic policies is the one that came to age under the Bush administration, an administration that doubled-down on Reaganomics and libertarian economics so that the wealthy elite could prosper even more.

That generation is the millennial generation, and thanks to our nation's addictions to 34 years of failed Reaganomics, and to devastating libertarian extremist economic policies, it's also the United States' lost generation.

The millennial generation has seen up-close and personal how libertarian economics and unregulated capitalism have brought our nation's economy to its knees.

Take the student loan debt crisis for example.

Right now, the United States' outstanding student loan debt stands at more than $1.18 trillion. More than 40 million Americans hold student loan debt, a number "greater than the entire population of Canada, Poland, North Korea, Australia and more than 200 other countries."

The average debt for a 25-year-old American has risen a staggering 91 percent during the past decade, and most of that is student loan debt.

Student loan debt exceeds both credit card and auto loan debt in the US, and the average college debt per person is over $23,000.

That debt is also hurting the overall economy.

Last year, the New York Federal Reserve showed that there's been an actual drag on our economy, just because of the growing levels of student loan debt.

Americans with piles of student loan debt have less money to spend on anything from consumer products to homes.

First-time home buyers are, or at least used to be, "the bedrock of the housing market."

But, since millions of college graduates are drowning in debt, they can't afford to buy a home, which is killing the United States' housing recovery.

Meanwhile, according to a report from the One Wisconsin Institute, the devastating effects of student loan debt "may reduce new vehicle spending by as much as an estimated $6.4 billion annually in the US."

And, the chief economist for General Motors has even said that student loan debt is one of, if not THE major reason why millennials aren't buying cars.

But the mountains of student loan debt that millenials find themselves buried under today is a relatively new phenomenon.

Before lawmakers in Washington got hooked on Reaganomics and libertarian economics, our country never had a student loan debt crisis.

To compound their problem, while millenials are struggling to pay off their student loan debt, they're also struggling to find employment, another consequence of libertarian economics.

According to Generation Opportunity, as of this past August, the unemployment rate for millenials, aged 18-29, stood at 15 percent, more than double the national unemployment rate.

And that's even more amazing considering millenials make up over a third of the American workforce.

The US has historically had fairly tight job markets, but thanks to libertarian economics and the "free trade" mantra that comes with it, unemployment is through the roof, jobs are being shipped overseas on a daily basis, and millenials are bearing the brunt of it.

Meanwhile, millenials have also seen their parents struggle under devastating libertarian economic policies.

Thanks to massive deregulation of the stock market, millenials saw their parent's 401Ks and retirement plans wiped out when the stock market crashed.

As result, they've become aware of just how dangerous an idea it is to privatize social security and retirement.

From finding themselves buried under mountains of student loan debt, to being unemployed and watching their parent's life savings disappear, the United States' millenials have seen first-hand the dangers of libertarianism, and the devastation that it leaves in its wake.

Fortunately, there's a way to protect future generations from having to go through what the millennial generation has.

The United States' 34-year-long experiment with Reaganomics has been a complete failure and libertarian economic policies, while they might sound great, have done unprecedented damage to our economy and way of life.

Let's not lose the next generation of Americans to the insanity that is libertarianism and Reaganomics.

Opinion Tue, 21 Oct 2014 14:32:25 -0400
Fighting the Last War: Will the War on Terror Be the Template for the Ebola Crisis?

2014.10.21.Ebola.MainCountering Ebola will require a whole new set of protections and priorities, which should emerge from the medical and public health communities. (Image via Shutterstock)

These days, two “wars” are in the headlines: one against the marauding Islamic State and its new caliphate of terror carved out of parts of Iraq and Syria, the other against a marauding disease and potential pandemic, Ebola, spreading across West Africa, with the first cases already reaching the United States and Europe.  Both wars seemed to come out of the blue; both were unpredicted by our vast national security apparatus; both have induced fears bordering on hysteria and, in both cases, those fears have been quickly stirred into the political stew of an American election year. 

The pundits and experts are already pontificating about the threat of 9/11-like attacks on the homeland, fretting about how they might be countered, and in the case of Ebola, raising analogies to the anthrax attacks of 2001. As the medical authorities weigh in, the precedent of 9/11 seems not far from their minds. Meanwhile, Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has tried to calm the country down while openly welcoming “new ideas” in the struggle against the disease.  Given the almost instinctive way references and comparisons to terrorism are arising, it’s hard not to worry that any new ideas will turn out to be eerily similar to those that, in the post-9/11 period, defined the war on terror.

The differences between the two “wars” may seem too obvious to belabor, since Ebola is a disease with a medical etiology and scientific remedies, while ISIS is a sentient enemy.  Nevertheless, Ebola does seem to mimic some of the characteristics experts long ago assigned to al-Qaeda and its various wannabe and successor outfits. It lurks in the shadows until it strikes. It threatens the safety of civilians across the United States.  Its root causes lie in the poverty and squalor of distant countries.  Its spread must be stopped at its region of origin -- in this case, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in West Africa -- just as both the Bush and Obama administrations were convinced that the fight against al-Qaeda had to be taken militarily to the backlands of the planet from Pakistan’s tribal borderlands to Yemen’s rural areas. 

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised then that, while President Obama was sending at least 1,600 military personnel (and the drones and bombers) to fight ISIS, his first response to the Ebola crisis was also to send 3,000 troops into Liberia in what the media has been calling an “Ebola surge” (a reflexive nod to the American troop “surge” in Iraq in 2007). The Obama administration’s second act: to beef up border protections for the screening of people entering the United States (a move whose efficacy has been questioned by some medical experts), just as the authorities moved swiftly in the wake of 9/11 to turn airports and borders into massive security zones. The third act was to begin to trace points of contact for those with Ebola, which, while logical and necessary, eerily mimics the way the national security state began to build a picture of terror networks, establish watch lists, and the like.

The next step under consideration for those who might have been exposed to Ebola, quarantine (that is, detention), is controversial among medical experts, but should similarly remind us of where the war on terror went after 9/11: to Guantanamo.  As if the playbook for the post-9/11 response to terrorism were indeed the playbook for Ebola, Pennsylvania Congressman Tim Murphy, questioning Dr. Frieden, noted that, without putting policies of surveillance, containment, and quarantine in place, “we still have a risk.”

While any of these steps individually may prove sensible, the ease with which non-medical authorities seem to be falling into a familiar war on terror-style response to the disease should be examined -- and quickly. If it becomes the default template for Ebola and the country ends up marching down the road to “war” against a disease, matters could be made so much worse.

So perhaps it’s time to refresh our memories about that war on terror template and offer four cautionary lessons about a road that should never be taken again, not in developing a policy against the latest non-state actors, nor in pursuit of the containment of a disease.

Lesson One: Don’t turn the “war” on Ebola into another set of programs that reflect the national security establishment’s well-developed reliance on intelligence, surveillance, and the military.  Looking, for instance, for people complaining about Ebola-like symptoms in private or searching the metadata of citizens for calls to doctors would be a fool’s errand, the equivalent of finding needles in a field full of haystacks.  

And keep in mind that, as far as we can tell, from 9/11 on, despite the overblown claims of its adherents, the surveillance system they constructed has regularly failed to work as promised. It did not, for instance, stop the Shoe Bomber, the Times Square bomber, or the Boston Marathon bombers. Nor did the intelligence authorities, despite all the money invested since 9/11, prevent the Benghazi attack or the killing of seven CIA agents by a suicide bomber believed to be an American double agent in Khost, Afghanistan, in December 2009, or predict the rise of ISIS for that matter. Similarly, it is hard to imagine how the usual military might, from drones and special ops teams to those much-discussed boots on the ground, will help solve the problem of Ebola.  

In the post-9/11 era, military solutions have often prevailed, no matter the problem at hand.  Yet, at the end of the day, from the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq to the air operation in Libya to the CIA’s drone campaigns across tribal backlands, just about no militarized solution has led to anything approximating victory -- and the new war against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is already following the same dismal pattern.  Against a virus, the U.S. military is likely to be even less successful at anything more than aiding health workers and officials in disease-ridden areas.

The tools that the national security state has relied on in its war on terror not only didn’t work then (and are highly unlikely to work when it comes to the present Middle Eastern conflict either), but applied to Ebola would undoubtedly prove catastrophic. And yet -- count on it -- they will also prove irresistible in the face of fear of that disease.  They are what the government knows how to do even if, in the war on terror itself, they created a vulnerability so much greater than the sum of its parts, helped foster the growth of jihadist movements globally, and eroded the sense of trust that existed between the government and the American people. 

Lesson Two: Keep public health professionals in charge of what needs to be done. All too often in the war on terror, professionals with areas of expertise were cast aside by the security establishment.  The judicial system, for instance, was left in the lurch when it came to dealing with accused al-Qaeda operatives, while the expertise of those who found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2002-2003 was ignored.

Only by trusting our medical professionals will we avoid turning the campaign against Ebola over to the influence of the security state. And only by refusing to militarize the potential crisis, as so many others were in the post-9/11 era, will we avoid the usual set of ensuing disasters.  The key thing here is to keep the Ebola struggle a primarily civilian one.  The more it is left in the hands of doctors and public health experts who know the disease and understand what it means practically to commit the government to keeping people as safe as possible from the spread of the virus, the better.

Lesson Three: Don’t cloak the response to Ebola in secrecy.  The architects of the war on terror invoked secrecy as one of the prime pillars of their new state of being.  From the beginning, the Bush administration cavalierly hid its policies under a shroud of secrecy, claiming that national security demanded that information about what the government was doing should be kept from the American people for their own “safety.”  Although Barack Obama entered the Oval Office proclaiming a “sunshine” presidency, his administration has acted ever more fiercely to keep the actions of both the White House and the national security state under wraps, including, to mention just two examples, its justifications for policies surrounding its drone assassination campaigns and the extent of its warrantless surveillance programs.

As it happened, that wall of secrecy proved endlessly breachable, as leaks came flooding out of that world.  Nonetheless, the urge to recreate such a state of secrecy elsewhere may be all too tempting.  Don’t be surprised if the war on Ebola heads into the shadows, too -- and that’s the last thing the country needs or deserves when it comes to a public health crisis. To date, with medical professionals still at the forefront of those dealing publicly with Ebola, this impulse has yet to truly rise to the surface.  Under their aegis, information about the first Ebola cases to reach this country and the problems involved hasn’t disappeared behind a cloak of secrecy, but don’t count on transparency lasting if things get worse.  Yet keeping important facts about a potential pandemic under wraps is guaranteed to lead to panic and a rapid deterioration of trust between Americans and their government, a relationship already sorely tested in the war on terror years.

Realistically, secrecy and allied tools of the trade would represent a particularly inauspicious starting point for launching a counter-Ebola strategy at a time when it would be crucial for Americans to know about failures as well as successes.  Outbreaks of panic enveloped in hysteria wrapped in ignorance are no way to stop a disease from spreading.

Lesson Four: Don’t apply the “black site” approach to Ebola.  The war on terror was marked by the creation of special prisons or “black sites” beyond the reach of the U.S. justice system for the detention (in the case of Ebola think: isolation and quarantine) of terrorist suspects, places where anything went.  There can, of course, be no question that Ebola patients, once diagnosed with the disease, need to be isolated. Protective gear and isolation units are already being used in treating cases here.

The larger issue of quarantine, however, looms as potentially the first major public policy debate of the Ebola era. Keep an eye on this.  After all, quarantine-style thinking is already imprinted in the government’s way of life, thanks to the war on terror, so moving toward quarantines will seem natural to its officials. 

Quarantine is a phenomenon feared by civil libertarians and others as an overreaction that will prove ineffective when it comes to the spread of the disease.  It stands to punish individuals for their associations, however inadvertent, rather than dealing with them when they actually display signs of the disease. To many, though, it will seem like a quick-fix solution, the Ebola counterpart to Guantanamo, a facility for those who were deemed potential carriers of the disease of terrorism.

The fears a threat of massive quarantines can raise will only make things harder for health officials. So, too, will increasing calls for travel bans for those coming from West African countries, a suggestion reminiscent of sweeping police profiling policies that target groups rather than individuals. Avoiding such bans is not just a matter of preserving civil liberties, but a safety issue as well. Fears of broad quarantines and blanket travel bans could potentially lead affected individuals to become far more secretive about sharing information on the disease and far more deceptive in their travel planning.  It could, that is, spread, not halt the dissemination of Ebola. As Thomas Frieden of the CDC argues, “Right now we know who’s coming in. If we try to eliminate travel, the possibility that some will travel over land, will come from other places, and we don’t know that they’re coming in will mean that we won’t be able to do multiple things. We won’t be able to check them for fever when they leave. We won’t be able to check them for fever when they arrive. We won’t be able, as we do currently, to take a detailed history to see if they were exposed when they arrive.”  In other words, an overly aggressive reaction could actually make medical deterrence exponentially more difficult.

The United States is about to be tested by a disease in ways that could dovetail remarkably well with the war on terror.  In this context, think of Ebola as the universe’s unfair challenge to everything that war bred in our governmental system. As it happens, those things that the U.S. did, often ineffectively and counterproductively, to thwart its enemies, potential enemies, and even its own citizenry will not be an antidote to this “enemy” either. It, too, may be transnational, originate in fragile states, and affect those who come in contact with it, but it cannot be stopped by the methods of the national security state.

Countering Ebola will require a whole new set of protections and priorities, which should emerge from the medical and public health communities. The now sadly underfunded National Institutes of Health and other such organizations have been looking at possible pandemic situations for years. It is imperative that our officials heed the lessons of their research as they have failed to do many times over with their counterparts in public policy in the war on terror years. To once again invoke the powers of the state to address fantasies and fears rather than the realities of a spreading disease would be to recklessly taunt the fates.

News Tue, 21 Oct 2014 12:54:38 -0400
We Want Them Alive: The Search for Mexico's 43 Missing Students

2014.10.21.Mexico.MainPolice at the scene of a grave site that contained 28 badly burned and dismembered bodies, on a hill above Iguala, Mexico, October 7, 2014. Members of a local gang now in custody say the still-unidentified are among the 43 college students reported missing in September - a grim episode in Mexico's ongoing struggle with police corruption and organized crime. (Photo: Adriana Zehbrauskas / The New York Times)

The flames started to engulf the municipal palace of Chilpancingo in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero as the rage built within the students of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College who, for more than three weeks, have received no answers concerning the whereabouts of 43 of their fellow students. The last time the group of missing students were seen was in the custody of Mexican municipal police forces, who detained them after opening fire on their caravan in an attack that killed six people and injured dozens more. This massacre and subsequent disappearance of the students, known as “normalistas,” has sparked an international movement demanding that the 43 students be found alive. But it has also called into question the deep ties between drug cartels and Mexican politicians.

To understand the political significance of the Ayotzinapa case, it’s important to understand who the students are. The Ayotzinapa Normal School was founded in 1926 in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution as a teachers’ boarding school for youth from the most marginalized rural communities in Guerrero, a poor state in the south of the country. The students have been some of the nation’s most politically active; in recent years, they participated in protests against education reforms that they believed would privatize the system. Furthermore, the majority of the 43 who have disappeared grew up in rural farming towns that have been devastated by Mexico’s post-NAFTA economy. These voices of dissent are the ones that the government saw as a target for their machine gun fire — thinking no one would take notice.

But people have taken notice. On October 8, tens of thousands of them marched in solidarity actions in 80 cities across Mexico, Latin America, Europe and North America. On October 15 tens of thousands more people took to the streets, and the majority of public and private universities in Mexico City went on strike.

If You Moved

The initial attack against the students came two and a half weeks ago, when local police, in conjunction with armed gunmen, opened fire on three buses full of normalistas in Iguala, Guerrero, located just 150 miles southwest of Mexico City. The students had traveled to this small city to ask for donations to help them finance their trip to Mexico City for the annual march honoring the 1968 Tlatelolco student massacre. The students had boarded commercial buses, after asking for permission from the bus drivers, according to their testimonies. Commandeering buses is a common practice for the normalistas, who say their schools limited budget drives them to take these measures. They also often engage in Robin Hood-style expropriations of large corporations’ delivery trucks to get milk and other basic food items. (The normalistas constantly engage in anti-capitalist actions that most direct-action anarchists only dream about.)

While the normalistas of Ayotzinapa are known for protesting, that is not what they were doing at the moment that they were ambushed — contrary to the majority of reports that have appeared in the international press. Instead, they were en route to their school aboard the commandeered buses, when, according to students’ testimony, municipal police and armed gunmen opened fire on them in two separate attacks.

“If you moved, they fired, if you yelled or talked, they fired,” said Ayotzinapa student Mario in an interview with VICE News.

Two students, 25-year-old Daniel Solís Gallardo and 19-year-old Aldo Gutiérrez Solano, were killed. Dozens more were injured. In a separate attack nearby, armed men opened fire on a bus of a semi-professional soccer league, most likely mistaking them for the normalista students, killing 15-year-old soccer player David Josué García Evangelista, the bus driver Víctor Manuel Lugo Ortiz, and Blanca Montiel Sánchez in a nearby taxi.

The day after the attack, Ayotzinapa student Julio Cesar Mondragón was found dead. His body exhibited signs of torture: His facial skin was torn off and his eyes gouged out. Since then, 22 police have been detained from Iguala, as well as over a dozen supposed members of the narco-trafficking gang Guerreros Unidos and policemen from the nearby town of Cocula, for their involvement in the ambush.

José Luis Abarca, the mayor of this small city, first claimed to have no knowledge of the attack. (His excuse was that he was busy dancing at a government celebration with his wife.) Shortly thereafter, Abarca fled the town along with Felipe Flores Velázquez, the municipal secretary of security, and his wife, María de los Angeles Pineda, whose family has clear drug cartel ties. There is a search warrant out for Abarca and Velázquez.

Abarca, who belongs to the Party of the Democratic Revolution, which is considered by many to be a leftist opposition party, has been in the spotlight before. Last year, eight members of a campesino organization were kidnapped, of which three were murdered, including leader Arturo Martínez Cardona. One of the kidnapped campesinos managed to escape and gave a testimony stating that Abarca himself pulled the trigger that killed Martínez. No proper investigation was conducted into these murders, and the case currently sits before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Abarca’s mother-in-law, Maria Leonor Villa Ortuño, revealed in a forced testimony in a YouTube video released last year that her family members worked for the Beltran Leyva cartel and that they had financed the gubernatorial campaign of Angel Aguirre, who is the current governor of Guerrero. Thus it should come as no surprise that municipal police were working hand-in-hand with the drug cartel Guerreros Unidos, as the state has a documented history of narco-government collaboration. In fact, this cartel has hung banners in Iguala stating “The War has begun,” threatening to reveal the names of all politicians who have relations with this organized crime group if they don’t release the police detained for attacking the buses of students.

A week after the students disappeared, the state government claimed that testimonies of the detained police and cartel members led them to clandestine graves where the bodies of the normalistas have been buried. The international press immediately started pumping out their stories about the mass graves containing the students. The parents of the students are more skeptical; after all, it was state forces that fired on their children, kidnapped them and, according to the state attorney’s office, handed them off to a drug cartel.

Mexico Is a Mass Grave

Rather than accept the government’s allegations, family members, students and human rights groups began pressing for an independent investigation. A well-known Argentine forensic team rose to the task. On October 14, Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam stated that according to their investigation the bodies in the first round of mass graves do not belong to the students.

The question remains: If it’s not the students’ bodies, who are they? Likely they belong to the close to 10,000 people who have disappeared during President Peña Nieto’s first two years in power.

“Mexico is a mass grave,” writes the Mexican Catholic priest Alejandro Solalinde, famous for his defense of Central America migrants crossing Mexico. In other words, it may seem logical to assume that the remains of the dozens of disappeared people are those in clandestine graves that were discovered a week later, but as mass graves become more common across the country, this likelihood diminishes. Last year, in the nearby state of Jalisco, for example, at least 67 bodies were found buried in 35 different clandestine graves. The same Argentine forensic team is still trying to identify some of the remains of the 72 largely Central American migrants who were killed in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, just 85 miles shy of the U.S. border in 2010.

“The government wants to instill terror in the population,” said Edith Na Savi, a young indigenous activist speaking about why the students were targeted. “Ayotzinapa, here in Guerrero, has been an emblematic example of struggle, with these students who are organized and fighting for their right to education.” Na Savi also pointed to the state’s horrific human rights records; according to local media outlets, between 2011 and 2013, more than 17 political activists have been assassinated and more 16 incarcerated.

The state of Guerrero has a long history of political repression, particularly during the dirty wars of the 1970s, when the government disappeared and assassinated leftist and indigenous guerillas. Lucio Cabañas and Genaro Vázquez, the most famous of these guerillas, were themselves both graduates of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College. These movements gained strength following the government’s massacre of students in Mexico City in Tlatelolco in 1968 and in Halconazo in 1971.

Guerilla armies still operate in Guerrero today but with much less strength. Since the massacre and disappearance of the students, at least three groups have released communiqués, including the People’s Insurgent Revolutionary Army, which stated that they are forming a “Popular Execution Brigade” to confront the Guerreros Unidos cartel. A communiqué from the Popular Militants of Guerrero blamed the government for numerous massacres including the recent military execution of 22 young people in a warehouse in the nearby town of Tlatlaya in Mexico State on June 30, 2014.

We Want Them Back Live

Numerous politicians have threatened to close down the remaining 16 Normal schools, which are run by the Federation of Socialist Campesino Students, claiming that they breed guerrillas. In an interview conducted during the large mobilization in Mexico City on October 8, 2014, one student said that he was proud of the radical political tradition but not of the repression associated with it. “Five of our students have been killed in the past four years,” said the student during the protest, referencing a previous attack when the government opened fire and killed two students blockading a Guerrero highway to demand more resources for their historically underfunded school. “Now the people will think: if I study in Ayotzinapa are they going to kill me?”

As journalist Daniela Rea explained in a recent article, these students are also often on the frontlines of broad community struggles. “They, together with other residents of Guerrero, resist the construction of dams and mines on their land, the domination of the local chiefs, the militarization of indigenous communities,” she wrote.

But this activism has subjected the students to an increasing amount of hostility — both from the country’s elites and the government. And in an atmosphere of impunity, this hatred can turn into an outright massacre. As Mexican journalist Luis Hernando Navarro said, in response to a question on why the government would kill normalistas: “Because they can.” He added, “You see this in the media and society that the police believe that they won’t be tried for their crimes.”

Yet, this attitude is increasingly being challenged by mobilizations by students, family members and broader civil society demanding the reappearance of their fellow comrades. Graffiti painted on the streets of major thoroughfares throughout the nation beg people to not forget the normalistas, declaring: “You took them alive; we want them back live.”

One particularly poignant stencil sprayed on a central avenue in Mexico City features the face on one of the disappeared students and the words: “I don’t know you, but we need you to make a better world.”

News Tue, 21 Oct 2014 12:56:11 -0400
Using Less Energy Doesn't Have to Mean Less Growth

2014.10.21.Krugman.ClimateA cow grazes in a pasture near a coal-fired power plant earlier this year in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. (Photo: Luke Sharrett for the New York Times)

We seem to be having a moment in which three groups with very different agendas - anti-environmentalist conservatives, anti-capitalist people on the left and hard scientists who think they are smarter than economists - have formed an unholy alliance on behalf of the proposition that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is incompatible with growing real gross domestic product.

The right likes this argument because it wants to block any action on climate. Some on the left like it because they think it can be the basis for an attack on our profit-oriented, materialistic society. The scientists like it because it lets them engage in some intellectual imperialism and invade another field (just to be clear, economists do this all the time, often with equally bad results).

A few days ago, Mark Buchanan at Bloomberg published a piece titled "Economists Are Blind to the Limits of Growth" making the standard hard-science argument. Mr. Buchanan wrote that it's not possible to have something bigger - which is apparently what he thinks economic growth has to mean - without using more energy, and declares that "I have yet to see an economist present a coherent argument as to how humans will somehow break free from such physical constraints."

Of course, he's never seen such a thing because he's never looked. But anyway, let me offer an example that I ran across when working on other issues. It is by no means the most important example of how to get by with less energy, and in no sense enough by itself to make that much difference. But it is, I think, a useful corrective to the rigorous-sounding but actually silly notion that you can't produce more without using more energy.

So, let's talk about slow steaming.

After 2008, when oil prices rose sharply, shipping companies - which send massive container ships on regular "pendulum routes," taking stuff, say, from Rotterdam to China and back again - responded by reducing the speed of their ships. It turns out that steaming more slowly reduces fuel consumption more than proportionately to the reduction in speed.

So what happens when you switch to slow steaming? Any one ship will carry less freight over the course of a year, because it can do fewer swings of the pendulum (although the number of trips won't fall as much as the reduction in speed, because the time spent loading and unloading doesn't change). But you can still carry as much freight as before, simply by using more ships - that is, by supplying more labor and capital. If you do that, output - the number of tons shipped - doesn't change, but fuel consumption falls.

And, of course, by using still more ships, you can combine higher output with less fuel consumption. Despite what some people who think they're being sophisticated somehow believe, there is no reason at all that you can't produce more while using less energy.

It's not a free lunch - it requires more of other inputs - but that's just ordinary economics. Energy is just an input like other inputs.

Some other points here: Notice that we aren't talking about having to develop new technologies; slow steaming is just a choice, not a technological advance, and in fact it doesn't even require that you change the equipment - you just have to use the same ships differently.

Given time to redesign ships for fuel efficiency, and maybe develop new technologies, it would presumably be possible to ship the same amount of cargo with even less energy - but that's not necessary to make the case that growth and less energy can go together.

So where does the notion that energy is somehow special come from? Mainly, I'd say, from not thinking about concrete examples. When you read columns like Mr. Buchanan's you see lots of metaphors about bacteria or whatever, nothing about shipping or manufacturing - because if you think about actual economic activities even briefly, it becomes obvious that there are trade-offs that could let you produce more while using less energy.

And greenhouse gas emissions aren't the same thing as energy consumption, either; there's a lot of room to reduce emissions without killing economic growth. If you think you've found a good argument showing that this isn't possible, all you've done is get confused by your own word games.

Opinion Tue, 21 Oct 2014 12:48:53 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: California's Dwindling Water Supply Is Contaminated, and More

In today's On the News segment: The last thing Californians needed was to learn that some of their dwindling water supply has been contaminated; last week, a lab official pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering whether to extend Diablo Canyon's operating license for another 20 years; and more.


Thom Hartmann here - on the best of the rest & green news.....

You need to know this. California is already dealing with the worst drought in that state's history. So, the last thing residents needed was to learn that some of their dwindling water supply has been contaminated. Back in June, California regulators shut down 11 fracking injection wells after finding that wastewater may have contaminated aquifers. The Environmental Protection Agency ordered the state to send a full report, which the California State Water Resources Board turned in earlier this month. The board confirmed that at least nine of the fracking sites in question were dumping waste into aquifers used for drinking water and farm irrigation. The Center for Biological Diversity obtained a copy of the letter that the board sent to the EPA, which revealed some alarming information. That letter said about three billion gallons of fracking wastewater was pumped into injection wells and seeped into aquifers near the center of that state. Water samples taken from these areas have extremely high levels of carcinogens and toxins like thallium and arsenic. Timothy Krantz of the University of Redlands, said, "The fact that high concentrations are showing up in multiple water wells close to wastewater injection sites raises major concerns about the health and safety of nearby residents." Considering that many of California's reservoirs are already sitting at about half of their historic average, that state can't afford to lose access to any of their drinking water. But, thanks to the fossil fuel industry, residents may have to risk consuming dangerous chemicals or risk going thirsty. This is exactly why they can't be trusted. It's time for a complete moratorium on natural gas drilling, and time to end our addiction to fossil fuels.

We've all heard that dogs age seven times faster than humans, but it turns out that ratio is just a myth. According to animal experts, dogs age at different rates, depending on their breed and size, and depending on what stage of life that they're in. Most dogs age very quickly early in life, reaching full maturity by age two, but that aging slows down later in life. And, while smaller dog breeds tend to reach maturity even faster, larger dogs actually have shorter life spans. Although veterinarians have known all along that this calculation wasn't true, the myth seems to be believed by many people. When asked why the 7-to-1 ratio persists, William Fortney, a veterinarian at Kansas State University, told the Wall Street Journal, "[It's] a way to educate the public on how fast a dog ages compared to a human, predominately from a health standpoint. It was a way to encourage owners to bring in their pets [for a check up] at least once a year." We certainly wouldn't go seven years without getting a health check up, and our pets shouldn't wait that long either.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering whether to extend Diablo Canyon's operating license for another 20 years, but environmentalists say that's a really bad idea. Pacific Gas & Electric – AKA PG&E – applied for the license extension back in 2009. However, the permit process was suspended after the massive disaster at Fukushima. Even before the tsunami in Japan, activists were calling on regulators to shut down that plant until operators could prove that it could withstand a major earthquake. In 2011, the NRC released a study that showed Diablo Canyon was the nuclear plant most at risk of failure because of an earthquake, and new data has proven that the threat is even larger than believed. Seismic data released last month shows that the 1960s-era plant is surrounded by fault lines capable of producing earthquakes that the plant could never withstand. The environmental group Friends of the Earth has filed a petition for a public hearing on the new data before Diablo Canyon's license is renewed. We shouldn't have to wait for a massive disaster in the United States before we wake up to the danger of nuclear power, and the public should have a say in which plants are allowed to stay in operation.

Last week, a lab official pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act. John W. Shelton admitting to diluting water samples and substituting clean water to help coal mining companies get away with polluting West Virginia waterways. The charges against Shelton state that the conspiracy helped coal companies "avoid fines and other costs associated with bringing their operations into compliance with the Clean Water Act." The thing is – one person can't commit a conspiracy alone. Based on his admission, we know that Shelton helped coal companies, but as of now, we don't know who at those companies asked him to do so. Under current law, many companies are allowed to "self-report" their supposed compliance with air and water quality samples. The biggest questions we should have after learning of this story is who directed John Shelton to "self-report" a lie, and when will they be punished. It does no good to charge the low-man on the totem pole if you keep the lying, cheating, polluting people in charge of "self-regulation." We should be demanding some answers in this case, and demanding that regulators are the ones doing the regulation.

And finally... It looks like humans aren't the only ones who can be introverts or extroverts. According to a new study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, even sharks have personalities. Dr. David Jacoby of the Institute of Zoology in London conducted a study on ten groups of catsharks, which were monitored in different levels of social structure. Dr. Jacoby and his colleagues found that, "some sharks are gregarious and have strong social connections, whilst others are more solitary and prefer to remain inconspicuous." Those personalities remained constant even when researcher changed the sharks' environment. Once again, science has proven that a quality we think of as unique to humans is actually present among wild animals. These studies should remind us that we are part of an interconnected, amazing web of life, and why it is so important to respect and care for all species. And, if you happen to come across a shark while swimming, I suppose it doesn't hurt to hope that it's one with a friendly personality.

And that's the way it is for the week of October 20, 2014 - I'm Thom Hartmann, on Science & Green News.

News Tue, 21 Oct 2014 11:45:14 -0400
"Women Are Being Driven Offline": Feminist Anita Sarkeesian Terrorized for Critique of Video Games

Anita Sarkeesian, a prominent feminist critic of video games, was forced to cancel a speech at Utah State University last week after the school received an email threatening to carry out "the deadliest shooting in American history" at the event. The email sender wrote: "feminists have ruined my life and I will have my revenge." The sender used the moniker Marc Lepine, the name of a man who killed 14 women, most of them female engineering students, in a mass shooting in Montreal in 1989. Sarkeesian canceled the talk after being told that under Utah law, campus police could not prevent people from bringing guns. We speak to Sarkeesian about the incident, the "Gamergate" controversy, and her campaign to expose misogyny, sexism and violence against female characters in video games despite repeated physical threats. "Online harassment, especially gendered online harassment, is an epidemic," Sarkeesian says. "Women are being driven out, they’re being driven offline; this isn’t just in gaming, this is happening across the board online, especially with women who participate in or work in male-dominated industries."


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

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show by looking at the violent threats faced by a feminist critic for pointing out sexism in video games. Last week, Anita Sarkeesian was forced to cancel a planned lecture in Utah after threats of a shooting massacre. She was scheduled to speak at Utah State University, when the university received an email threatening to carry out, quote, "the deadliest shooting in American history" at the event. The email sender wrote, quote, "feminists have ruined my life and I will have my revenge." He used the moniker Marc Lepine, the name of a man who killed 14 women, most of them female engineering students, in a mass shooting in Montreal in 1989. Anita Sarkeesian canceled her talk after being told that under Utah law, Utah State [University] police could not prevent people from bringing guns to her lecture. A university spokesperson told the Standard-Examiner newspaper the school had determined it was safe for Sarkeesian to speak because, quote, "The threat we received is not out of the norm for (this woman)."

Sarkeesian has long faced bomb, rape and death threats from online harassers opposed to her criticism of the ways in which women are depicted in video games. In August, she was forced to leave her home after an online harasser posted her address and threatened to kill her parents and, quote, "rape [her] to death." Another harasser created a video game called "Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian."

Sarkeesian’s viral web series on video games is titled "Tropes vs. Women." This is a clip.

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Welcome to the second part of our miniseries examining the women-as-background-decoration trope in video games. I need to stress that this video comes with a content warning and is not recommended for children. The game footage I’ll be showcasing will be particularly graphic and includes scenes of extreme violence against women.

I define the women-as-background-decoration trope as the subset of largely insignificant, nonplayable female characters whose sexuality or victimhood is exploited as a way to infuse edgy, gritty or racy flavoring into game worlds. These sexually objectified female bodies are designed to function as environmental texture while titillating presumed straight male players.

In our last video, we discussed the concept of sexual objectification and looked at a specific subset of non-essential female characters, which I classify as nonplayable sex objects. In this episode, we will expand our discussion of the women-as-background-decoration trope to examine how sexualized female bodies often occupy a dual role as both sexual playthings and the perpetual victims of male violence.

CENTO OCCHI: Are you here for the whore?


EZIO: I have your money. Let her go!

CENTO OCCHI: No! Take it up with Cesare!

ANITA SARKEESIAN: The use of sexual or domestic violence as a form of scaffolding to prop up dark and edgy environments has become a pervasive pattern in modern gaming.

JASMINE JOLENE: Well, if it isn’t long-lost Andrew Ryan? Mmm-mm-mm, come here, tiger. I thought you had forgotten about poor Jasmine, but I am so glad you didn’t. I’m sorry Mr. Ryan, I didn’t know. I didn’t know Fontaine had something to do with it. Ah, what? What are you doing? No! No, don’t! Please! I loved you. Don’t! Don’t! Please, no! No!

AMY GOODMAN: That was a clip from Anita Sarkeesian’s web series, "Tropes vs. Women in Video Games." Since Anita launched her critique of misogyny in video games, some in the video game community have launched a relentless campaign of threats and harassment against her.

To find out more, we go to San Francisco, where we’re joined by Anita Sarkeesian, the media critic and executive director of Feminist Frequency, a video web series that explores representations of women in pop culture. Rolling Stone recently called her "pop culture’s most valuable critic."

Anita, welcome to Democracy Now! Let’s start by what happened, or didn’t happen, last week at Utah State. Explain the threats and what you were going to Utah State for.

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Sure. So, the school received some threats against my life and of the students on Monday night. The threats were, as you had described, very much reminiscent of these copycat killers of these, you know, big misogynist school massacres. I didn’t actually find out about the threats until I landed at Salt Lake City airport on Tuesday afternoon, and I found out with everyone else through Twitter and through the media.

So, when I spoke to the organizers of the event and the police, I wanted to know what security precautions they were taking. It wasn’t the first time I was threatened at an event, but this one was—the language was very—it was much more intense in terms of that sort of misogynist, antifeminist attack. So, you know, the school said that they were going to take—not allow backpacks in and have extra security. And when asked about Utah’s concealed gun laws, they said that they couldn’t screen for firearms. I asked them if they could have metal detectors or patdowns, and they said no. And that was just too big of a risk for me to take in terms of my life and that of the students, when the threat was specifically about firearms.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the person signed their email threat "Marc Lepine."


AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to a Canadian news report about what became known as "the Montreal Massacre." This is an excerpt from the TV show 100 Huntley Street.

MAGDALENE JOHN: December 6, 1989, started off like any other day, but ended in horror, forever being labeled in Canadian history as the Montreal Massacre. A young man, identified later as Marc Lépine, entered L’École Polytechnique in Montreal, opening fire, killing 14 female engineering students before turning the .22-caliber gun on himself. This was the first school shooting of its kind in Canada.

AMY GOODMAN: That report from 100 Huntley Street, Magdalene John in Canada. So, Anita Sarkeesian, for those who didn’t know what that name meant in the email that was sent to the Utah State officials, if you could take it from there?

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Yeah, it was very much, you know, specifically referencing Marc Lépine as his hero, using his name, referencing this Montreal massacre about this mass shooting that was very specifically antifeminist. He was going to kill—and actually did kill—these women, because he considered them feminists and that, you know, feminists ruined his life, apparently. The threat that we received at the school last week was exactly the same as that. There was another threat that came in that mentioned Elliot Rodger, which was a young man who committed another school shooting at UC Santa Barbara earlier this year, and his manifesto was very much the same language of antiwomen, antifeminist, very deeply misogynist.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, in that, what you’re referring to, Elliot Rodger, killing seven people, including himself. In a video posted hours before his rampage at a sorority house at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Rodger said he planned to attack, quote, "you girls" for what he called the "crime" of not being attracted to him.

ELLIOT RODGER: On the day of retribution, I am going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB, and I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up blonde slut I see inside there.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Elliot Rodger, the video he posted right before he killed seven people at the University of California, Santa Barbara. So, this decision that you made, your response, Anita Sarkeesian, to the university saying you get threats like this all the time, that they had no reason to up the security?

ANITA SARKEESIAN: That was immensely frustrating. You know, the school did take some security measures, but they didn’t—I didn’t think what they did was adequate for this type of threat. You know, to say that I’ve received threats in the past is inconsequential. I mean, I think we need to take all of these threats seriously. There’s a sort of sentiment that online harassment is not real, that we shouldn’t take it seriously. But, you know, as you just showed, Elliot Rodger had his manifesto online and his videos online before he actually took action. So, this is a larger culture of women, you know, one, not being believed about their experiences with online harassment, and when it is seen that they actually are being attacked in really vicious ways, it’s just brushed off as, "Oh, it’s just the Internet," or, you know, it’s just boys being boys, when that’s really not what’s happening here. These threats are very real, whether they are committed or not.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then go to your larger critique in the gaming industry. Anita Sarkeesian, media critic, executive director of Feminist Frequency, a video web series that explores representations of women in pop culture. The students at Utah State didn’t get to hear what she had to say after she canceled her speech because of an email threat to the school, that the shooter, named for the Montreal massacre shooter, would make this the worst massacre in American history. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. Anita Sarkeesian is our guest, and I want to start, asking about your whole critique about video games, by talking about Gamergate controversy, how it emerged. This is a video game developer, Brianna Wu, speaking to CNN over the weekend about so-called Gamergaters threatening her.

BRIANNA WU: I posted a meme making fun of—one of my fans sent me a meme, and it made very gentle fun of Gamergaters, and I posted it. And, you know, as a response to that, pro-Gamergater people and the site 8chan ended up making thousands of memes targeting me, and it escalated to death threats.

AMY GOODMAN: That was video game developer Brianna Wu. Anita Sarkeesian is with us today, media critic and executive director of Feminist Frequency, a video web series that explores representations of women in pop culture, who withdrew from her speaking engagement at Utah State after the school got an email threatening to commit the worst massacre in American history. Anita, can you talk about what Brianna said and talk about these video games, your overall criticism?

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Sure. So, one of the things that she’s referencing is, you know, we have this larger culture in gaming where a subset of mostly male gamers have been viciously going after women and attacking them. It’s mostly women who speak up—excuse me, who speak up against, you know—actually, speak up for the inclusivity of games, right, speak up in terms of creating more diversity in games. And right now, this reference of Gamergate is sort of this big culmination of these toxic harassment—this toxic harassment campaign that’s been happening to me for years and to many other women. And so, they’re sort of lashing out and going after women in these horrible, vicious ways, sort of as trying to preserve gaming as, you know, a male-dominated space, as the status quo. But they’re doing it under the guise of journalism ethics. But really what’s happening is they are attacking women.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened to Zoe Quinn.


AMY GOODMAN: And who she is.

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Zoe is an independent game developer, and an ex of hers wrote a big diatribe saying awful things about her which were not true. And, you know, he claimed that she had slept with a journalist to get coverage for her game, which was also not true. And, I mean, her game is a free game; there’s no need for her to try to get any press for it. But it was another example of going after women and trying to discredit us and silence us, and in some very personal ways.

AMY GOODMAN: And why did that become so extreme, and that became what is known as Gamergate?

ANITA SARKEESIAN: I think it became—I think it culminated at this time because they sort of latched onto this idea of journalism ethics, and that became something that sounded good, but it was a way for them to mask their sexist temper tantrum, where they’ve been going after women for years. And so, I think, because of the intensity and how many people they’re going after and just the sheer toxicity of their behavior, a lot of people in the games industry and in the community and in the industry have started to really take note of the fact that we have a problem. We have a problem with sexism and misogyny, and we need to do something about it.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play two short clips from a video game you’ve critiqued, "Dragon Age: Origins."

FEMALE CHARACTER: Let go of me! Stop, please!

LORD VAUGHN: It’s a party, isn’t it? Grab a whore and have a good time. Savor the hunt, boys.

GUARD CAPTAIN: Well, that’s one less elf breeder in the world.

GUARD 1: A shame, though. Nice body on that one.

GUARD 2: She’s still warm. How picky are you anyway?

AMY GOODMAN: That’s from "Dragon Age: Origins." Can you respond to this, Anita Sarkeesian?

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Sure. So, one of the big—one of the most important pieces of what I do is talking about how we can love a piece of media and also critique it at the same time. So, a series like "Dragon Age" is a highly beloved series that has a lot of great things about it. But there are some examples of, you know, violence against women and sort of exploiting women’s bodies or exploiting their vulnerability in these really awful ways. And so, that’s just one of many examples of games that do that, that sort of take advantage of this vulnerability to try to make players feel more intense, right, to make these worlds more gritty. So—

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you—yes, go ahead.

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Well, no. I just wanted to say, like, so it’s not just one game. You know, in my series, I look at hundreds and hundreds of games, and so I don’t want to just sort of pick out "Dragon Age" as, you know, this big horrible example, when there are so many other examples.

AMY GOODMAN: So give us a sense of this world of video games. How many people use them? Who develops them? How many are women? How many are men?

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Sure. You know, gaming is a multibillion-dollar industry that is bigger than Hollywood at this point in terms of revenue, so it has a huge cultural impact on our society. The last statistic that I saw, I believe, is about 27 percent of developers are women. So we still have a huge problem with gender equity within the development community. But about 40 to 46 percent of gamers are actually women. So this idea that gamers are all men is actually not true, that we are almost—women are almost half of the gaming players.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the comments that, "Come on, this is just online stuff, it’s pretty harmless"—why you take it so seriously, Anita?

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Online harassment, especially gendered online harassment, is an epidemic. Women are being driven out; they’re being driven offline. This isn’t just in gaming. This is happening across the board online, especially with women who participate in or work in male-dominated industries. So the harassment actually has a very real effect on us as a society, in terms of making this space unwelcoming for women. But it also has a chilling effect. So, women who are watching this happen, who are watching me get terrorized for two years, are going to question whether they actually want to be involved, whether they want to speak up, and whether they want to participate.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk more about what you feel needs to be done at this point.

ANITA SARKEESIAN: Yeah, so, in terms of the immediacy of the harassment against women in gaming, I think developers and publishers and key figures in the gaming industry need to vocally step up and say, "We do not accept this harassing behavior. We support women," and further outline steps that they’re going to take to try to make the gaming community more inclusive and more diverse, both within their hiring practices and also within the games that they’re making.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Anita Sarkeesian, I want to thank you for being with us, media critic, executive director of Feminist Frequency, video web series that explores representations of women in pop culture. Final question, the response that you’ve gotten after canceling your speaking engagement at Utah State University?

ANITA SARKEESIAN: I’ve received an enormous amount of support. And that’s one thing I’m really thankful for, is throughout doing this project, there’s been so many people who have been incredibly supportive, that really value and like what I do. And that just means the world to me.

AMY GOODMAN: Anita Sarkeesian, thanks so much.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll talk with people who are representing their own lives, filmmakers from the United States and from Russia who have banded together to raise awareness about disability issues through films. Stay with us.

News Tue, 21 Oct 2014 11:30:49 -0400
Media Enabled Musketeers: Russian and American Filmmakers With Disabilities Document Shared Struggles

Meet the Media Enabled Musketeers, a group of Russians and Americans with disabilities who have banded together to raise awareness about disability issues through film. They have created a dozen short movies that delve into the everyday challenges faced by people with disabilities — issues of accessibility, love, dreams and prejudice. One of the films, Don’t Look Down on Me, has become a YouTube sensation, viewed more than 2.6 million times. The film chronicles a day in the life of Jonathan Novick, a New York resident with achondroplasia, the most common type of dwarfism, who uses a hidden camera to expose the prejudice and insensitivity he encounters on a daily basis. We broadcast excerpts of the Musketeers’ films and speak to four of the people involved about how the Russian-American project provides a deeper understanding of life with disability while bridging the divide between their two countries.


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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Media Enabled Musketeers. That’s the name of a group of Russians and Americans who have banded together to raise awareness about disability issues through films. They’ve created a dozen short films that delve into the everyday issues faced by people with disabilities—issues of accessibility, love, dreams and prejudice. On Friday, the group held its premiere screening at the HBO Theater in New York City.

One of the films, Don’t Look Down on Me, has become a YouTube sensation, viewed over 2.6 million times. The film chronicles a day in the life of Jonathan Novick, a New Yorker with achondroplasia, the most common type of dwarfism. Jonathan uses a hidden camera to expose the prejudice and insensitivity that he encounters on a daily basis. It begins with him as a child.

JONATHAN NOVICK: Here I am, Dad! Here I am!

JONATHAN’S FATHER: Yeah, there you are!

JONATHAN NOVICK: I don’t think there is a certain point in anyone’s life where they grow up. I think that we’re growing up all the time, and we always will be. My name is Jon Novick. I’m 22 years old, and I am a dwarf with achondroplasia.

Before I was even born, my mother studied genetics in graduate school. Specifically, she had interest in achondroplastic dwarfism, that she did a study on. Achondroplastic dwarfism is the kind of dwarfism that I have. So when I was born, she had a lot of extra information, and she had a lot of books to help her parent me. The definition for "dwarfism" is a—the abnormal underdevelopment of the body, characterized predominantly by extreme shortness of stature. Now, there’s a lot of different kinds of dwarfism, as I mentioned before, and the most common kind is the kind that I have, which is achondroplasia.

Achondroplasia is characterized by disproportionately short limbs, a normal-size torso, large head and with a depressed nasal bridge—right here—a small face and stubby hands, as well as the curvature of the spine. The term is "dwarf" or "little person." One or the other is totally fine, just not "midget." A lot of times "midget" is thrown around as the term to describe someone who has dwarfism, and not only is that incorrect, but it’s incredibly offensive.

I moved to New York City about a year ago, and although I consider it ultimately a good experience, it was made a lot more difficult because of my dwarfism. I grew up in a small town, and I would have, you know, negative encounters every now and then, but for the most part I had friends and I had family who supported me. School wasn’t a nightmare, and I just was able to have a pretty average childhood.

A year ago, when I moved to the city, I noticed that there was a lot of people. There was a lot, a lot of people. And because of that, I had a lot of encounters. I would have people to take pictures of me on the subway. I would have people that would harass me. And just all of these things, all of these almost daily occurrences, they would continue happening, continue happening, until it got to a point where I just got fed up with it. I wanted to stop telling people what happened to me, and I wanted to start showing people what happened to me. I wanted to show everyone what a day in my life was like.

I was fortunate enough to be able to use this camera, which is actually known as a "button camera" because the lens I’m going to be using is so tiny, it has a button cover up that I’m going to be slipping through a shirt that will be completely unnoticeable. So, we are all packed up, the camera is all ready and going. I’m going to turn it on right now. It’s rolling. And we’re going to go see what we can capture, so let’s head out.


OKLAHOMAN MAN: Bro, have you been on TV?


OKLAHOMAN MAN: Do you know who you look like?


OKLAHOMAN MAN: Have you ever seen that show, Little People, Big World?


OKLAHOMAN MAN: Yeah. You look like the son, man.



JONATHAN NOVICK: And why is that? I just do? Do you see a lot of little people?

OKLAHOMAN MAN: Man, I’m from Oklahoma.


MAN IN SUBWAY: Little midget! Big man, big penis!

JONATHAN NOVICK: What? What did he say?

MAN ON THE STREET: Hey, short stuff!

JONATHAN NOVICK: [after woman in subway takes his photograph] Wow.

OKLAHOMAN MAN: Man, I hope I didn’t offend you.

JONATHAN NOVICK: Oh, no, no. It’s OK. No, I appreciate that. No, it’s fine.

OKLAHOMAN MAN: Can I get your picture?


WOMAN ON THE STREET: You’re from one of the show with the little people?

JONATHAN NOVICK: Not that I know of, no, I’m not.

WOMAN ON THE STREET: Oh, you look like that coolest guy.

JONATHAN NOVICK: I don’t want to tell anyone what to do or what to think or how to feel. But instead, what I’ll do is I’ll ask. I’ll ask that the next time you see someone who is different than you, think about what their day might be like. Think about all of the events of their life leading up to that point. Then think about their day, and think about what part of their day do you want to be.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Jonathan Novick’s Don’t Look Down on Me. It’s one of the dozen films, part of the Media Enabled Musketeers, a project bringing together Russians and Americans with disabilities to produce films that provide a deeper understanding of their lives and to bridge the divide between their two countries.

Well, for more, we’re joined by four guests. One of them is Jon Novick, a graduate student at Hunter College in the Integrated Media Arts Department. We’re also joined by Maryam Magomedova, a law school student in Russia who made the short film Maryam’s Victory. And we’re joined by the co-directors of Media Enabled Musketeers, Olga Kravtsova and Jon Alpert. Jon is a 16-time national Emmy Award winner, two-time Academy Award nominee.

And we welcome you all to Democracy Now! But I have to follow up on this film. It is so both moving and such—gives us such understanding, Jon, about what you’re going through on a daily basis, how people see you and how you want to be seen, how you want to be treated. Talk a little more about that and why you made the film itself, why you’re part of this project.

JONATHAN NOVICK: Well, I made the film itself personally out of frustration, you know, as you might imagine. It was—basically, I had moved to New York City, and I had been living here for, you know, about a year, a year’s time. And it was just the encounters that I would experience—it’s not something new to me, but what was new was the frequency that it would occur. It would happen almost on a daily basis. And, you know, it would just be—it would become—it would get to a point where I would leave my apartment knowing that I was different, because no one would really let me forget it.

And it all culminated in one moment, when I was coming out of work and a gentleman physically jumped over me while a bunch of people looked on, which was probably one of the worst experiences of my life. But in that moment, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t yell at them, because that would make them laugh more. I couldn’t, you know, run after them and, like, fight them, because, you know, that’s not going to happen.

So it’s just realizing that I wanted to create something, because it’s like, OK, what’s the best thing I can do? The best thing I can do is, you know, do what I do, which is film. You know, I am a grad student. I’ve been studying film, and it’s something I’m passionate about. So I decided to create this work, and not only express myself, but be able to show other people exactly what I go through. And joining the Media Enabled Muskateers, joining this program, was the absolute perfect outlet to do so, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: Now let’s turn to Maryam’s story. This is a film called Maryam’s Victory by our guest, who’s here in studio, just come in from Russia, Maryam Magomedova.

MARYAM MAGOMEDOVA: [translated] I was born with cerebral palsy. I am about to get my college diploma with honors. We came here because I couldn’t recite my poem at the competition. Let’s imagine I’m on a stage and reciting a poem by Ashik Veysel. I am on a long twisted road. I walk day and night. I started my journey the day I came into this world. I am walking from birth to death. I walk day and night. I walk even in my sleep, looking for reasons to wake up. I see everything, but I keep on walking. But I keep walking day and night. For years I’ve been wandering, in valleys, mountains and deserts, in foreign lands. I walk day and night. The road looks long, but the journey is only an instant. I walk day and night. I am surprised. Sometimes I laugh. Sometimes I cry. Only one step left. I walk day and night. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: There you have Maryam’s Victory, Maryam with us today—


AMY GOODMAN: —who has come all the way over from—from Moscow?


AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about why you made this film?

MARYAM MAGOMEDOVA: Well, first of all, I wanted to show that no matter if a person has a disability or not, he should be judged by his spark of talent, which exists in every person. And not only it’s a talent, not only a person can be talented, he can be the best. So, this was first message. And I also wanted to show that education is one of the tools, you know, how to lighten that spark of the talent in a person. So, it’s not only about my talent, but about my everyday struggle for education.

AMY GOODMAN: Which has been?

MARYAM MAGOMEDOVA: Which has been like for seven years of my life. I’m a student. I’ve got a degree in linguistics. So, that’s why I recited in Turkish, which you can see in my film. And now I’m studying law. I’m a law student. I’m a student in a law school. So, I want to advocate for people with disabilities in the future. I plan to go to Harvard Law School, so that people with disabilities will have more rights. And this project is a very good beginning for me, so I can expose the problems that we face every day.

AMY GOODMAN: Maryam Magomedova, one of the Russian students who has joined with American students, like Jonathan Novick, to portray their lives, to speak for themselves. And the people who are coordinating this project are our old colleague, Jon Alpert—not so old—from DCTV, Downtown Community Television, the multiple Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, and Olga Kravtsova, who has come over from Moscow. Jon, talk about how you conceived of this.

JON ALPERT: Well, we’re talking a lot about Ebola, Ebola, Ebola. There’s two people in the United States that have Ebola, none in Russia. There’s 80 million people in both countries that have disabilities. And so, the media could really do a much better job of portraying the needs and the talents of people with disabilities. And so, we thought this would be a good place to start. And also, our countries could do a better job of being friends with each other. Every country could do a better job looking for peace. And this is a good program that helps that. So it helps give people with disabilities a voice, and it also helps to promote peace.

AMY GOODMAN: Olga Kravtsova, how did you get involved?

OLGA KRAVTSOVA: I think we came to the idea, like, together, maybe, and we also had Karina Chupina, who is a U.N. expert on disabilities, and she has a disability herself. And she trains reporters—she also has a background in journalism—how to be sensitive about those issues, how to cover disabilities, you know, with good education and attitude. So we just thought it would be a great project, bringing professional and nonprofessional reporters together, bringing people with disabilities, with no disabilities together, and bringing Russians and Americans together.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to a clip from Natalia Ryzhova’s film, I Want, Therefore I Can. She explains her dream to be a Paralympic archery champion.

NATALIA RYZHOVA: [translated] When I was 13, I was electrocuted by 27,500 volts. I had both legs amputated. It was very difficult at first. Then I realized it didn’t change everything. I had to continue with my life. Life isn’t less interesting because of a disability. I plan to join the Paralympic Games. It’s my dream. I’m training for the next two years. I hope to win.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Natalia Ryzhova’s film, I Want, Therefore I Can. I want to turn right now to another clip that is part of this series. This is a clip of a video made by Donna Cappella called Midlife Disability: No Crystal Ball.

DONNA CAPPELLA: Hi. My name is Donna Cappella. And I want to do my own narration, but I hope I don’t mess it up like I messed up that joke. I want to tell you about my brain surgery, but I really don’t want to go backwards. You see, when I speak, people don’t listen to my words. They think, "What happened to her?" So, the scoop is, in 2005, I had a catastrophic stroke. My condition is called an AVM, arteriovenous malformation.

AMY GOODMAN: And I want to turn to a clip of a video made by Benjamin Rosloff called Can I Call You?

BENJAMIN ROSLOFF: My name is Benjamin, and I’m 22, and I’m autistic. I want to be a filmmaker and have a lot of my own ideas. I see films in my mind and know exactly what I want. I know who I would cast. I hear the music, and I see the scenes. Some things are hard for me, like writing, explaining things to others and making changes. I do know that I want to get married someday and have a family and a normal life.

Have you ever dated someone with autism?

WOMAN: No, I have not.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Benjamin Rosloff. Can I Call You? is the name of his film. In fact, Jon, you were his roommate, Jon Alpert, in Russia, when the group went to Russia. Now the group has come from Russia to the United States.

JON ALPERT: It was one of the most profound learning experiences of my life. I didn’t know that much about autism. Ben’s really intelligent. And I grew to appreciate his intelligence, his kindness and his value that he can bring to society.

AMY GOODMAN: Jon Novick, what has this project meant for you? You went to Russia?


AMY GOODMAN: So, what was that like for you?

JONATHAN NOVICK: It was amazing. I mean, being a part of—being a part of the project, in general, has been fantastic, because you encounter so many different people from different walks of life.

AMY GOODMAN: Why is it called Media Enabled Musketeers?

JONATHAN NOVICK: Media Enabled Muskateers, we have a slogan: "All for one, one for all." We’re all together. We are all one person. We support each other through what we do, not only in life, but as filmmakers, as, you know, hopeful future, I don’t know, journalists or documentarians of the world. We’re in it together. And whether we’re all going to Russia or we’re all going to come to America, we’re in it together.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was your sense of people who are disabled, their treatment in Russia, as you come here from the United States?

JONATHAN NOVICK: Well, it seemed—one of the biggest things or one of the most discussed topics while we were in Russia was education. And it was looking at the separation of people who are physically or cognitively disabled into separate schools, these like separate private schools as opposed to staying in public education. There was a lot of conversation that happened around that. We visited one of these schools. We visited the office for accessibility issues and discussed that several times, so that was a [inaudible]—

AMY GOODMAN: And, Maryam, for you coming here, you’ve been on a major journey. You’ve been to the Empire State Building, to the beach. Were you seeing the ocean for the first time?

MARYAM MAGOMEDOVA: Yes. Yes, I think so. And I touched my feet there.

AMY GOODMAN: And walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.

MARYAM MAGOMEDOVA: Yes, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge was actually my dream for four years. And I finally fulfilled it yesterday with Musketeer teams.

AMY GOODMAN: And what will you do when you go back to Russia?

MARYAM MAGOMEDOVA: Well, I will tell about this project. And I think that right now we can’t even fully comprehend the positive impact it will have. And I hope that I will bring the knowledge, the things that I learned here, and I will share them with my friends, with people that I know. And I hope that this will change things for better in my country.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being with us. Jon, the website people can go to to see more of these videos? You had a big party at HBO on Friday where you showed like a dozen of them.

JON ALPERT:, our website, but if any fans of Democracy Now!, which I’m the biggest one, would like these as the—

AMY GOODMAN: You’re not that big, Jon

JON ALPERT: I am that big. Look at this. And all they need to do is contact Democracy Now!, and they can get the entire set of all these films. And make sure you send in your contribution to Democracy Now! when you do that.

AMY GOODMAN: All right, and to your local station, public television or radio. It’s been wonderful to be with you all. I want to thank Jonathan Novick, Maryam Magomedova. I also want to thank the coordinators of this project, our colleague right here, Jon Alpert, and Olga Kravtsova from Russia.

News Tue, 21 Oct 2014 11:25:47 -0400
Mumia Abu-Jamal Speaks Out From Jail on New Pennsylvania Law Silencing Prisoners

Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Corbett is set to sign into law a bill critics say will trample the free speech rights of prisoners. Last week, lawmakers openly said they passed the legislation as a way to target one of the state’s most well-known prisoners: journalist and former Black Panther, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted in 1982 of killing of a Philadelphia police officer, but has long maintained his innocence. During a late night vote last Tuesday, the Pennsylvania House unanimously approved the "Revictimization Relief Act," which authorizes the censoring of public addresses of prisoners or former offenders if judges agree that allowing them to speak would cause "mental anguish" to the victim. The measure was introduced after Abu-Jamal delivered a pre-taped commencement address for graduating students at Vermont’s Goddard College earlier this month. We air Abu-Jamal’s response to the bill and speak to Noelle Hanrahan, founder of Prison Radio, which has been recording and distributing Abu-Jamal’s commentaries from prison since 1992.


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

AARON MATÉ: We turn now to Pennsylvania, where today Governor Tom Corbett is set to sign into law a bill critics say will trample the free speech rights of prisoners. Last week, lawmakers openly said they passed the bill as a way to target one of the state’s most well-known prisoners: journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal. He was convicted in 1982 of killing of a Philadelphia police officer, has maintained for a long time his innocence. The bill comes as Corbett and other lawmakers face stiff competition as they run for re-election.

AMY GOODMAN: During a late-night vote last Tuesday, the Pennsylvania House unanimously approved the so-called "Revictimization Relief Act," which authorizes the censoring of public addresses of prisoners or former offenders if judges agree that allowing them to speak would cause "mental anguish" to the victim. The measure was introduced after Mumia Abu-Jamal delivered a pretaped commencement address for graduating students at Vermont’s Goddard College earlier this month. The speech was opposed by the widow of Daniel Faulkner, the police officer whom Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett expressed his support earlier this month for the new law that could prevent similar speeches in the future.

GOV. TOM CORBETT: While law-abiding citizens are entitled to an array of rights, from free travel to free speech, convicted felons in prison are in prison because they abused and surrendered their rights. And nobody has a right to continually taunt the victims of their violent crimes in the public square.

AARON MATÉ: The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has criticized the new Pennsylvania measure, calling it, quote, "overbroad and vague," and unable to "pass constitutional muster under the First Amendment." But that has not stopped Governor Corbett from saying he will sign [it into law] this afternoon.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, Mumia Abu-Jamal spoke with Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio Project about the passage of the so-called Revictimization Relief Act, in what could be one of his final media interviews for some time.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: It’s amazing, when you think about it, because—on two fronts, I should say. Of course, the first front is constitutional. I mean, this is a blatant, naked violation of Article I, Section 7, of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which specifically grants the right of free speech to all people in the commonwealth, and, of course, the Constitution of the United States, which fairly recently, in the Snyder v. Phelps case—you remember? The preacher who went around to funerals? Well, he caused, I think, a great deal of emotional distress to veterans’ families. This is what the U.S. Supreme Court said in Snyder. They said that the First Amendment trumps emotional distress. That’s recently, and that was an eight-to-one decision. Look it up. But what’s more important to me is this, that during their discussions, right?—that I’ve heard about; I didn’t hear it, I don’t have access to a computer—members of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania said they did not hear the speech, did not know what the speech was, but, in any event, it was for a judge to determine whether it was unconstitutional. These are people who took an oath of office to protect and defend and uphold the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Constitution of the United States blatantly acting unconstitutionally in office. That’s one point.

Here’s the second point. This is theoretically or reportedly based on emotional distress. Think about being a student at Goddard College when police, by the hundreds and—and threatening these students at their graduation with rape, murder, assault, attacks. These are police writing emails, calling on phones, threatening administrators and students. How about their emotional distress? And all they wanted was to hear from one of their alumni. I went to that college. I’m a part of that college. I spent years at that college as a student. And when I went back and graduated, I am a part of that college forever. And they wanted to hear from me. They called and asked and wrote to me and said they wanted to hear from me. So, I think those things should be a part of your considerations.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Mumia Abu-Jamal speaking from prison in a phone interview recorded Monday by our guest, Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio, who we’ll talk to in a moment. This is another clip from their conversation, when Mumia Abu-Jamal expresses concern that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett would sign the so-called Revictimization Relief Act in order to benefit politically.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: The press ignores prisoners, as a rule. Most of what happens in prisons are never or rarely reported in the press. I would say this. If you wish, read Live from Death Row, and find out—this book that was written years ago—find out how true it was, how accurate it was, how many of the states that began this hellacious mass incarceration are now decarcerating because their budgets are busted.

You know, we’re talking about a bill—again, let me kind of rephrase this—this is a bill that is signed into law by unconstitutional Tom Corbett, probably the least popular governor—Republican governor, I might add—in the United States, who is facing a virtually unknown opponent who has 20 to 25 points on him, right? At last count. This is a political stunt by a failing politician who is seeking support by using fear. Right? Politicians do it all the time. But this is unconstitutional Tom’s latest attempt to stroke and build up his political campaign, his failing political campaign.

When you asked about the press, for most of the press, prisons don’t exist, right? Silence reigns in states all across the United States. But I went to court. I was forced to go to court by the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And I won, in a case called Abu-Jamal v. Price, which gives me the right to write. Now they’re trying to take away my right to read my own writings. How unconstitutional is that?

AMY GOODMAN: That was Mumia Abu-Jamal in what could be one of his final media interviews for some time. He was a resident on Pennsylvania’s death row for 29 years before his sentence was overturned in 2011, award-winning journalist whose writing from his prison cell has reached a worldwide audience both through Prison Radio commentaries and through his nine books. We had hoped to have him on with us today. That interview was recorded by Noelle Hanrahan yesterday. But though it was all set up, we have not been able to reach him yet. He would have to call us. We’re joined, though, now in Philadelphia by Noelle Hanrahan, the investigative journalist and founder and producer of Prison Radio, which has been recording and distributing Mumia Abu-Jamal’s commentaries from prison since 1992, for more than 20 years.

The significance of what we expect Governor Corbett to do today, Noelle Hanrahan, and what it means not only for Mumia Abu-Jamal, but for prisoners around the state?

NOELLE HANRAHAN: This is about Mumia Abu-Jamal, but it’s really about all prisoners and what the journalists have to know from inside prisons. Our society really has this incredible incarceration addiction. And we need to know, as journalists, what’s going on inside. So it affects Robert "Saleem" Holbrook, a juvenile lifer who’s in Pennsylvania. It affects Bryant Arroyo, who’s a jailhouse environmentalist and lawyer inside Frackville prison in Pennsylvania. It affects our ability as a community to get the information that we need to make decisions.

And as you know, around Mumia’s case, he’s been censored before. Mumia was one of the main ways in which the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections shut down prisons to journalists. Prisoners cannot have visits by journalists with cameras and equipment. They can only have in-person visits not even with a paper and a pencil. So this is another attempt for the Fraternal Order of Police and the Department of Corrections and Tom Corbett to really silence what we, as a community, need to know and the information we need to get as journalists, and the voices and the First Amendment rights of prisoners.

AARON MATÉ: Noelle, this bill is framed as one that’s protecting the rights of victims, but your response to that? And on the issue of the First Amendment, which you raise, is there a plan for a legal challenge?

NOELLE HANRAHAN: I think that the Fraternal Order of Police is motivating this bill and that Corbett is using it for political advantage. But also, this is not about crime victims. It’s really about reframing the narrative that the Fraternal Order of Police need to reframe. So it’s shifting the narrative after the wake of Ferguson—

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

NOELLE HANRAHAN: —to really pose them as the victims, when we all know, many of the people who deal with the criminal justice system, hey, one in 46 people in this country are going to do jail time and prison time, one in three black men. It’s really killing black men. It’s really affecting our culture. We spend more money on preschools—more money on prisons than preschools. So, it’s reframing it in their way.

AMY GOODMAN: Noelle Hanrahan, we’re going to have to leave it there, investigative journalist with Prison Radio. That does it for our show. I’ll be speaking in Purchase tonight.


News Tue, 21 Oct 2014 11:17:08 -0400
Suit Against Kern County Schools Alleges Disproportionate Discipline for Students of Color

2014.10.21.CPI.MainThe Jack O. Schulze Auditorium at Arvin High School in Kern County, California. (Photo: Triumph1975 / Wikimedia Commons )

A sweeping lawsuit filed in Kern County, Calif., late last week alleges that African-American and Latino high school students suffer discrimination from disciplinary practices that remove them at disproportionate rates from regular school and place them in inferior alternative settings.

The Center for Public Integrity in 2011 reported that Kern County, in the Golden State’s Central Valley, had the highest rate of student expulsion in California, not just on a per capita basis, but actually numerically higher than populous Los Angeles County.

In 2013, the Center and KQED radio reported that Kern County kids, among them Hispanic children of farmworkers, were removed from regular school for minor reasons and placed in alternative schools so far from home — as much as 40 miles away — that many kids dropped out or were told to perform independent study at home.

Hundreds of expelled kids, including English-as-second-language learners, were placed on independent study while officially enrolled full-time on alternative campuses, records showed. Because Kern resident Mario Ramirez was unable to get his daughter to a distant alternative school, he sent the 14-year-old to Mexico just to get her in a classroom for a few months during a year-long expulsion.

The lawsuit filed Thursday names Ramirez and other kids and parents featured in Center stories as plaintiffs; the suit alleges that in spite of parents’ meetings in recent months with the local school board to urge changes, officials “have failed to take any effective action to require that Kern High School District develop and implement discipline and school assignment plans that ameliorate the rampant racial and ethnic disparities in the district.”

Black and Latino students “routinely assigned” to independent study receive “only minimal interaction with school personnel and other students,” according to the suit, and fall behind academically.

The suit was filed in Kern County Superior Court in the Kern city of Bakersfield, which is north of Los Angeles in an area of oil drilling and some of the world’s most productive agribusiness fields.

Groups filing the suit demanding adoption of alternative discipline and student transfer practices include California Rural Legal Assistance, or CRLA, a nonprofit that has represented Kern kids in school disputes; the nonprofit Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF; the nonprofit Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, Inc.; the Dolores Huerta Foundation, a Kern County group that organizes parents; Faith in Action Kern County, a multi-faith group that also works with families; and the Equal Justice Society, a nonprofit concerned with racial equity that is based in Oakland.

The suit was filed against the 35,000-pupil Kern High School District, California’s second largest high school district. Its student body is 62 percent Latino and 6 percent black. The suit also names as defendants the district’s trustees; the Kern County Office of Education, which runs alternative campuses; and the California Department of Education.

Lisa Krch, the district’s public information and communications manager, said the Kern High School District “cannot comment on pending litigation.”

In September 2013, Mike Zulfa, the district’s associate superintendent of human resources, told the Center that the district “continues to examine our practices and look for ways to improve. By providing professional development, having honest conversations about our practices, and trying to meet the needs of our students and the community, the district has shown improvement in our expulsion rate over the past three years.”

But the suit accuses the Kern High School District of failing to comply with new state discipline policies and adopt alternative practices designed to diffuse problems without resorting to kicking kids out.

The suit also accuses the district of labeling students that its regular campuses kick out as “involuntary” or “voluntary transfers” instead of expulsions that must be reported to state and federal databases.

The suit notes that the district — under scrutiny after media reports — did cut its expulsions from 2,040 in 2011 to 256 students in 2013. But the groups argue that enrollment has not declined at alternative schools because of continuing transfers of students that parents — many of them limited English speakers — agree to authorize without fully understanding other options. 

The district, the suit alleges, “has implemented a ‘waiver’ system, under which students and parents are convinced through intimidation, coerced or tricked into waiving the due process protections accompanying formal discipline and accepting immediate placement in alternative schools.”

The suit also argues that stark ethnic disparities persist among kids officially expelled from Kern’s high schools.

During the 2012-2013 school year, according to the suit, 67 percent of black students who were expelled were kicked out for infractions that did not include physical injury, possession of drugs or weapons. Only 42 percent of white students expelled were removed for similarly less serious infractions.

Eva Paterson, president of the Equal Justice Society, attributed the disproportionate rate of harsh discipline levied against Latino and black students on “implicit biases of students of color.” The U.S. Department of Education has urged schools to examine discipline policies and the impact on children who are ethnic minorities or suffer from disabilities.

Kern’s rate of suspension of students — the path leaving to eventual transfer out of regular school — was three times the state of California’s average in 2013, the suit also says.

Martha Gomez, a MALDEF staff attorney, said: “Kern High School District hurts itself and the state of California by making Latino and African-American students second-class citizens in the educational system.”

Sahar Durali, a CRLA staff attorney in the Kern farm town of Delano, said parents and various organizations have met with Kern education officials this past year to request that they improve teacher training and alternative discipline practices that are being embraced by other California districts.

“The district has the money to do this,” Durali said. She noted that the district is receiving nearly $18 million in supplemental money as part of a statewide funding program to help disadvantaged kids.

On Sept. 9, Brenda Lewis, the district’s assistant superintendent for instruction, told KBAK news station in Bakersfield that a number of schools are trying “positive behavioral” intervention methods.

One of the plaintiffs in the suit is Patricia Crawford, an African-American Bakersfield mother the Center interviewed in 2011, after her daughter was expelled in 2010 for a fight in a gym witnesses agreed she didn’t start. Crawford’s daughter was later cleared, but for weeks, her mother said, her daughter fell behind as teachers declined requests for homework to do at home.

Although the girl was fully exonerated, the suit notes, she was placed on probation when admitted back into to her school and forbidden from participating in volleyball, a sport at which she excelled. The suit alleges that the girl, who has since graduated, “was identified in her school records as a problem student” and that her record “impacted school administrators’ and teachers’ treatment of her.”

Another set of parents and student interviewed by the Center are also plaintiffs in the suit. Antonio M., as the student is identified, was expelled from Arvin High School in Kern County for an alleged fight he denied being involved in. Antonio’s parents, who do not read English, said they were given paperwork in English they thought authorized a five-day suspension. In reality, according to the suit, the parents signed a waiver to an expulsion hearing.

The boy was transferred to an alternative school 30 miles away. When the parents said they had no way to get the boy there, “school personnel suggested that Antonio take the bus, which requires three transfers, or in the alternative, ride a bicycle.”

After a year without any schooling, “Antonio’s educational path has been delayed, and continues to be undermined,” the suit alleges.

News Tue, 21 Oct 2014 11:08:45 -0400
Applauding Black Death in the Hour of Chaos

You need not die today.
Stay here — through pout or pain or peskyness.
Stay here. See what the news is going to be tomorrow.
- Gwendolyn Brooks

On Monday night, I heard a 19 year old young black man say that he wasn't afraid to die for justice in Ferguson. Some in the assembled multi-racial audience applauded. I wanted to throw up.

2014 1021 kaba 1St. Louis, October 11, 2014. (Photo: Page May)

What does it mean to be willing to die for a cause in a society that already considers you to be hyper-disposable? Your evisceration, your death is desirable and actively pursued. What if the revolutionary act in such a society, in such a world, is to live out loud instead? Or simply to live.

I wanted to yell: "No. Stay a while. We don't need any more black 19 year olds in caskets." How are we to reconcile a call for the state to stop killing us with a willingness to die for that end?

I can't get the clapping out of my head.

What were the people who clapped applauding? Did they clap because they thought the young man was courageous? Were they clapping because they too were prepared to die? Did they clap because they were trapped in a 20th century documentary titled 'real freedom fighters are willing to die for justice?' Were they clapping in support of black martyrdom? Were they applauding black death?

Why were they clapping? I can't stop thinking of it.

On Saturday, while we were in St. Louis, my comrade Kelly took a photo of a young woman standing on the bed of a truck exuberantly chanting: "Back up! Back up! We want freedom, freedom! All these racist ass cops, we don't need 'em, need 'em!"

2014 1021 kaba 2St. Louis, October 11, 2014. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Some people chanted along with her while the familiar refrain of 'hands up, don't shoot' reverberated across most of the crowd. Fists up. Voices loud. All around me was love and life. I saw the young woman as I marched past her. In looking at the photograph later, I thought that it captured the youthful resistance that permeated the St. Louis march/rally and has characterized so much of this Ferguson moment.

2014 1021 chaos 3St. Louis, October 11, 2014. (Photo: Page May)

When the young man on Monday's panel described justice as the prosecution of officer Darren Wilson, the man who killed Mike Brown, I felt as if I was dissolving. Maybe I left my body for a second or a minute or I don't know how long. This is the 'justice' for which this young man was prepared to die? This small, narrow, insignificant in the larger scheme of the world thing? We have failed our young by not creating an expansive idea of justice. And then I thought about the fact that his peers had mentioned that they had "nothing" to begin with and I knew that justice would center on addressing that as THE issue.

I kept my mouth shut. I hope that the young man stays in the struggle and that he like so many others in Ferguson and across the country refuses to be quiet. Most of all though, I wish for him a long and healthy life in a future with more justice and some peace.

Graves grow no green that you can use.
Remember, green's your color. You are Spring. – G. Brooks

Opinion Tue, 21 Oct 2014 10:16:13 -0400
Stop the Killing

2014.10.21.Kelly.Main (Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: sashafatcat, Staff Sgt. Liesl Marelli / DVIDSHUB, tanakawho )On August 9, 1983, three people dressed as U.S. soldiers saluted their way onto a U.S. military base and climbed a pine tree. The base contained a school training elite Salvadoran and other foreign troops to serve dictatorships back home, with a record of nightmarish brutality following graduation. That night, once the base's lights went out, the students of this school heard, coming down from on high, the voice of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

"I want to make a special appeal to soldiers, national guardsmen, and policemen: each of you is one of us. The peasants you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear a man telling you to kill, remember God's words, 'thou shalt not kill.' No soldier is obliged to obey a law contrary to the law of God. In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people, I beseech you, I implore you; in the name of God I command you to stop the repression."

The three in the tree with the loudspeaker weren't soldiers – two of them were priests. The recording they played was of Archbishop Romero's final homily, delivered a day before his assassination, just three years previous, at the hands of paramilitary soldiers, two of whom had been trained at this school.

Fr. Larry Rosebaugh, (who was killed in Guatemala on May 18, 2009), Linda Ventimiglia, and Fr. Roy Bourgeois, (a former missioner expelled from Bolivia who was later excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church because of his stance on women's ordination) were sentenced to 15 -18 months in prison for the stirring drama they created on the base that night. Romero's words were heard loud and clear, and even after military police arrived at the base of the tree and stopped the broadcast, Roy Bourgeois, who would later found a movement to close the school, continued shouting Romero's appeal as loudly as he could until he was shoved to the ground, stripped, and arrested.

In approaching the nightmare of renewed, expanded U.S. war in Iraq, I think of Archbishop Romero's words and example. Romero aligned himself, steadily, with the most impoverished people in El Salvador, learning about their plight by listening to them every weekend in the program he hosted on Salvadoran radio. With ringing clarity, he spoke out on their behalf, and he jeopardized his life challenging the elites, the military and the paramilitaries in El Salvador.

I believe we should be trying very hard to hear the grievances of people in Iraq and the region, including those who have joined the Islamic State, as regards U.S. policies and wars that have radically affected their lives and well-being over the past three decades. It could be that many of the Iraqis who are fighting with Islamic State forces lived through Saddam Hussein's oppression when he received fierce and unconditional support from the U.S. during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Many may be survivors of the U.S. Desert Storm bombing in 1991, which destroyed every electrical facility across Iraq. When the U.S. insisted on imposing crushing and murderous economic sanctions on Iraq for the next 13 years, these sanctions directly contributed to the deaths of one half million children under age five. The children who died should have been teenagers now, --are some of the Islamic State fighters the brothers or cousins of the children who were punished to death by economic sanctions? Presumably many of these fighters lived through the U.S.-led 2003 Shock and Awe invasion and bombing of Iraq and the chaos the U.S. chose to create afterwards, using a war-shattered country as some sort of free market experiment; they've endured the repressive corruption of the regime the U.S. helped install in Saddam's place.

The United Nations should take over the response to the Islamic State, and people should continue to pressure the U.S. and its allies to leave the response not merely to the U.N. but to its most democratic constituent body, the General Assembly.

But facing the bloody mess that has developed in Iraq and Syria, I think Archbishop Romero's exhortation to the Salvadoran soldiers pertains directly to U.S. people.

Suppose these words were slightly rewritten: I want to make a special appeal to people of the United States. Each of you is one of us. The peoples you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear a person telling you to kill, remember God's words, 'thou shalt not kill.' No soldier is obliged to obey a law contrary to the law of God. In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people, I beseech you, I implore you ...I command you to stop the repression."

The war on the Islamic State will distract us from what the U.S. has done and is doing to further create despair, in Iraq, and to enlist new recruits for the Islamic State. The Islamic State is the echo of the last war the U.S. waged in Iraq, the so-called "Shock and Awe" bombing and invasion. The emergency is not the Islamic State but war.

We in the U.S. must give up our notions of exceptionalism, recognize the economic and societal misery our country caused in Iraq, recognize that we are a perpetually war-crazed nation, seek to make reparations, and find dramatic, clear ways to insist that Romero's words be heard: Stop the killing.

Opinion Tue, 21 Oct 2014 10:03:24 -0400
Governor Brownback Outsourced Child Support Services to Donor

When he was elected in 2010, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback began to slash core government services and privatize the rest. His austerity politics resulted in the state being downgraded by S&P in August 2014, and his privatization initiatives have also drawn criticism. Kids receiving child support payments from absent parents would be among Brownback's first crash test dummies.

2014.10.21.Brownback.MainKansas Gov. Sam Brownback. (Photo via Wikipedia)When he was elected in 2010, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback began to slash core government services and privatize the rest. His austerity politics resulted in the state being downgraded by S&P in August 2014, and his privatization initiatives have also drawn criticism, causing one leading Republican to state, "I had hoped that it wouldn't be as extreme as it's been ... what we didn't know was that Sam would use this state as crash test dummies for his own fiscal experiments."

Kids receiving child support payments from absent parents would be among Brownback's first crash test dummies.

While Kansas partially outsourced the enforcement of child support to private corporations and law firms in 1997, the private players were only awarded around 20 percent of the contracts; the rest went to public state agencies. In March 2013, however, the Kansas Department of Children and Families (DCF) announced that all child support services would be outsourced, and a request for proposal was issued. Not limited to enforcement, the contracts would include services connected to court petitioning, locating parents, and establishing paternity, which had never been in private hands before.

"Collection is a function that can be carried out more efficiently and more cost-effectively by private companies," DCF secretary Phyllis Gilmore said at a press conference. Similar blanket statements, seldom backed by empirical evidence, are often echoed by privatization proponents, regardless of which public services they want to outsource. In this particular case, there is little evidence to support Gilmore's sound bite. A 2013 report on the privatization of child support services commissioned by the Mississippi Legislature, for example, concluded that "the significant additional cost of privatization would outweigh the potential additional benefits."

Child support is indispensable for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Kansans, mostly single women and children. Nationally child support "represents 40 percent of family income for poor families who receive it, and reduces the poverty rate for children in these families by nearly 25 percent," say experts.

The outsourcing of social services involving vulnerable population is backed by influential groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has developed a raft of model bills to privatize state services and has had model bills to privatize child support services and foster care services since the late 1990s.

According to research group In the Public Interest, a comprehensive resource center on privatization and responsible contracting, "many children and adults rely on government-provided health and human services. The ability of these programs to deliver services efficiently and appropriately can be a matter of life and death. Numerous state and local governmental entities are finding that turning over these programs to private contractors not only fails to achieve projected cost savings but also decreases access to these important services, hurting many vulnerable families. In many cases, the service quality declines dramatically and many sick or at-risk people are left with substandard care."

In June 2013, DCF announced that four firms had been awarded contracts. The winner among the winners was YoungWilliams – a nationwide company based in Mississippi – that received two-thirds of the caseloads or 85,000 child support cases, worth some $50 million. While YoungWilliams boasted that it landed the contract because of its "innovative service delivery structure," there might be more to it than that.

Rob Wells, CEO of YoungWilliams, met Brownback at a fundraiser for the gubernatorial hopeful in 2010. He and his wife went on to donate $2,000 each to Brownback's campaign – the largest contribution allowed under state financing laws. But this pales in comparison to the $67,500 retainer he paid for GOP lobbyist Austin Barbour's services. Through his lobbyist network, Barbour arranged for a private meeting with Brownback's chief-of-staff David Kensinger (currently under FBI investigation for illegal lobbying) and some of the governor's closest aides. The parties met to discuss child service privatization in the conference room of what used to be the State Treasurer's Vault of the Kansas Statehouse, far from the public spotlight.

A few weeks later, the Brownback administration appointed Trisha Thomas from YoungWilliams as director of child support enforcement after firing her predecessor. It didn't take long for the new director to conclude that "privatization was the quickest way to improve Kansas' child support enforcement performance numbers."

Asked whether there was any research in support of Thomas' project of wholesale privatization, a DCF spokesperson said, "No ... It was an informal kind of pitch, I guess; research done, based on her ... experience in other markets."

It is too early yet to say what YoungWilliams will do with Kansas child support enforcement, but if history is any guide, outsourcing vital public services for vulnerable populations to companies that must turn a profit frequently leads to higher costs and worse services. Between 1995 and 2000, privatization behemoth Maximus was in charge of child support enforcement in two Tennessee counties. A report concluded that the company "spent more but collected less money for overdue child support payments in [these] counties, on average, than DHS did in the rest of the state." Sen. Hob Bryan (D-MS) characterized a similar situation simply as "a disaster" for Mississippi families and their kids.

But it is not clear if fact matters to the administration officials pursuing the privatization agenda. Shar Habibi from In the Public Interest notes: "The evidence suggests that expanding the outsourcing of a public service that many Kansas children dearly rely on, was influenced by campaign donations and expensive corporate lobbyists, instead of an objective analysis of what was in the public's best interest."

News Tue, 21 Oct 2014 10:38:35 -0400
New Factories Have Jobs You'd Really Want - and These Chicago Kids Are Skilling Up to Get Them

Dan Swinney bristles when he hears the words "postindustrial."

"The U.S. is not postindustrial, OK?"

Nor should it be, he told the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives when he keynoted their convention in his hometown of Chicago in May.

The United States has lost plenty of manufacturing jobs to other parts of the world. If we want to see the sort of systemic change we need in the United States, manufacturing things on a massive scale must be part of that vision, Swinney said. And it's not about urging a return to the bad old days of the last industrial revolution—it's about embracing a new industrial age, making things in new ways, and making the U.S. heartland hum again.

Factory work can be compatible with thriving communities and a healthy planet, Swinney said. "It depends whose values are in the driver's seat."

There are signs that American manufacturing is poised for a comeback. After years of over-a-cliff decline, the number of new manufacturing jobs has edged up over the past four years, and steadily all summer.

The country still has a long way to go. President Obama set a national goal in 2012 to create 1 million new manufacturing positions by the end of 2016—an aspiration some doubt we'll reach. Still, the idea of creating these jobs gets people excited because they pay better and have greater impact on their communities than the low-wage work where growth has been concentrated up to now.

A manufacturing revival wouldn't just be good for jobs and pay, Swinney says. "Manufacturing is the only way we're going to lift people out of poverty, create strong local economies, and solve the challenge of climate change."

"Drop the language about a postindustrial age," Swinney told the co-op crowd. "You need to enter the new industrial age and attempt to lead it."

But the question, Swinney said, is this: Will the Second Industrial Revolution look like the first, with its child labor, smokestacks, and profits for the few; or will it look like the cooperatively run factories of the Mondragon Corporation in the Basque region of Spain, or the democratically run industries of Italy's Emilia Romagna district? There, worker-owners produce on an industrial scale, but in ways that prioritize the needs of their local community instead of profits for far-off investors.

2014 1021 flanders 1Graphic by Michelle Ney and Natalie Lubsen.

2014 1021 flanders 2Graphic by Michelle Ney and Natalie Lubsen.

Bringing business back to the Candy Capital

Swinney is a social-change-maker with a business plan. A former union machinist who saw his career in labor go up in smoke during the downturn of the 1980s, he's pulled together a big tent partnership of public schools, private businesses, community groups, and labor. The goal is to harness the power of manufacturing for the empowerment of those most affected by the downfall of the last industrial revolution.

Thirty-two years ago, Swinney founded the research group Manufacturing Renaissance, which in 2005 spawned the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council, the Bay Area Manufacturing Renaissance Council, and the National Manufacturing Renaissance Council.

This year, Manufacturing Renaissance went global, linking up with manufacturers and movements in Europe and soon, Swinney hopes, the developing South. For a project founded by a former union organizer, Swinney's manufacturing revolution has a diverse set of fans: among them, the U.S. Department of Labor, the Mondragon cooperatives, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Now the job is selling manufacturing to young Chicagoans—most of whom associate factories with a bygone age.

It's been a couple of generations since Chicago saw its heyday as the metal—and candy—capital of the United States. The brand names that were born here endure: names like Cracker Jack, Wrigley, and Baby Ruth; but only older residents recall smelling sugar in the air and telling the time by the shift-change siren ringing out from the Brach's candy factory.

Darnell Shields Jr. remembers eating Brach's butter toffees off the production line on family days. His father worked there, and colossal Brach was one of the last factories to close.

Shields experienced his father's layoff and saw the place shuttered when new Swiss owners moved the business to Argentina in 2003. He chose to attend a vocational school because, "I grew up around those types of skills."

The federal government started investing in public vocational education at the turn of the last century, when the last Industrial Revolution was creating more jobs than the trade guilds and the 19th-century apprentice system could fill. For decades, those schools were the training ground for high school students who planned to skip college and go directly into the trades or manufacturing. Factory life wasn't for everyone, but it paid a wage on which you could raise a family, and promised a pension—at least before factories starting flooding South.

Shields, a parent now, is not promoting manufacturing to his kids. He got a degree in engineering and architecture, but he works in a community nonprofit.

"I saw the jobs go away and it didn't seem viable," he says.

Besides, before the founding of Austin Polytechnical Academy, a local manufacturing-focused college and prep school that partners with Manufacturing Renaissance, Shields' kids would have had a hard time finding a place to get a technical education. His own high school closed the year after he graduated.

In the 1980s and '90s, Manufacturing Renaissance reports, about 4,000 of Chicago's 7,000 factories closed, sucking away 200,000 jobs. Not long after, as part of a national trend, local high schools started cutting shop class and disparaging "vocational ed" in favor of pushing everyone to college.

The intentions weren't all bad. But beyond the school walls, where there had once been thriving businesses, caverns of deep urban poverty were opening up—especially in black and Latino communities like the Austin area of Chicago's West Side. The taco shops, car wash joints, and snack food stores where factories had stood didn't offer a career path, a pension, or wages that could come anywhere close to paying for college.

Swinney had time to study all this when he lost his job in 1983 after the Taylor Forge metal company closed its doors. A union organizer with experience in the United Steelworkers, Swinney formed a research group to study what was happening.

He found that some companies were outsourcing to find cheap, compliant labor, and some were put out of business by competition or speculators. But others were closing for simple lack of a succession plan, and a good number were determined to stay—though they were having a hard time.

With so much focus on what had been lost in the Candy Capital, educators, politicians, and social movements had failed to see what remained: Chicago was still one of the manufacturing capitals of the United States.

According to a report by Manufacturing Renaissance, 750 manufacturing companies do business in the city's depressed West Side; 3,500 operate within 10 miles.

And it's not just Chicago: Across the country, 600,000 manufacturing jobs are going unfilled.

A school-to-shop-floor pipeline

Freedman Seating has been making things people sit on for 120 years: first, for horse-drawn buggies; now, for delivery trucks and transit buses.

Craig Freedman is the last in a long line of Freedmans who grew up sweeping scraps of upholstery off the shop floor and working summers in the plant. He attended business school and spent a couple of years on Wall Street (he's pretty sure he was the only one in his class who'd held a factory broom in his hand).

When his father got ready to retire, Freedman came back to Chicago. "It's in my blood," he said.

Is seating in his children's blood? He doesn't know, but qualified manufacturing staff is already scarce.

The company has been growing. Last year, it won a contract to produce more than 11,000 new lightweight seats for the Chicago Transit Authority's latest fleet of buses. The company added 100 jobs in 2013, and more this year. The jobs pay $12-$25 an hour, but they're hard to fill because qualified workers are in hot demand and few places train unskilled workers in upholstery and engineering.

According to an survey of 300 manufacturing executives by the consulting firm Accenture, 75 percent of those surveyed reported a moderate to severe shortage of skilled workers, and manufacturing workers are getting older (the proportion of workers who are over 65 years old is growing).

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers predicts that the shortfall of skilled factory workers could increase to 3 million jobs by 2015 due to the aging of the manufacturing workforce and older workers retiring.

"It's more and more difficult to hire for skilled positions," said Freedman, "partly because of the aging of our population and partly because the sophistication of manufacturing has changed so much."

2014 1021 flanders 3Graphic by Michelle Ney and Natalie Lubsen.

2014 1021 flanders 4Graphic by Michelle Ney and Natalie Lubsen.

Americans started turning away from manufacturing (and cutting shop class) in pursuit of the "knowledge economy" just as manufacturing was getting modern and complex.

Since 2008, Swinney's had help from his daughter, Erica Swinney. Erica left Chicago for California to attend college at the University of California, Berkeley, but returned to her old hometown after graduating.

Today, she serves as program director for Manufacturing Renaissance at Austin Polytechnic. She and her team have help from 60 privately owned companies—like Freedman Seating—who agree to give their high school students on-the-job experience and a fair crack at job placements.

In return, Manufacturing Renaissance trains Austin students on the latest computer and metalworking skills, and offers them a chance to win nationally recognized credentials.

Of the class of 2014, Erica estimates that about 45 graduates are enrolling in higher education or pursuing jobs in manufacturing (that's 5 percent of the total class); and 62 percent have earned at least one machine-working credential from the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS). Many had earned two or three.

Although it's still a tiny school, students at Austin Polytechnical Academy accounted for 56 percent of all NIMS credentials earned by high school students in Illinois in 2013. Since 2011, 28 have been placed in full-time jobs.

The Department of Labor is impressed enough that earlier this year, it gave Manufacturing Renaissance a 4-year grant of $2.7 million to fund a "Manufacturing Connect" program, which Swinney is confident will make the school-to-shop-floor route even smoother.

One of the beneficiaries is likely to be 21-year-old TreVon Dotson. Like most of the kids he knows, he didn't grow up thinking about making things.

"I grew up wanting to be Godzilla," Dotson said earlier this year.

More seriously, he describes himself as "lost" like many of his friends, until he got a sense of his own abilities and a taste of computer programming at Austin Poly.

Hooked up with a job-shadowing experience at Dudek Manufacturing, a custom-order metal corporation on Armitage Avenue that partners with Manufacturing Renaissance, Dotson was hired at Dudek not long after graduation. He was proud that he and his teammates manufactured components for the Weber Grill. The work's not easy, Dotson explained, but he loved it. It made him feel needed.

"I'm needed to run the machine, and we're making things people need," he said. "That helps America and it helps other people. It's like giving it forward."

Since then, Dotson's road has gotten rockier. Dudek let him go later earlier this year. While the company didn't return calls for comment, Dotson says he'd made a mistake on a machine and soon afterward he was told it wasn't a good fit. (Dudek has hired two other graduates from Austin Poly since, according to Erica Swinney.)

What Dotson has—that many young workers don't—is a place he can go for help.

Among the academy's partners is the community organization, Austin Coming Together (ACT), where former Brach's candy child Darnell Shields works. ACT gives the students at Austin Poly the wraparound social supports many need to deal with stresses beyond the school walls—especially the problems associated with chronic poverty: "Drug addiction, alcoholism, long-term unemployment in their families," Shields said. The list is long.

Dotson still wants to work in manufacturing. The pay was good. The way it made him feel about himself was good. He may be the first in his family to work in the industry (that he knows of), but he doesn't want to be the last.

Just a few days after being let go, he went back to Austin Poly to meet with Erica. "Our teachers told us we could always come back, and that really meant a lot," he said this August.

What the companies and community groups at Manufacturing Renaissance are doing at Austin Polytechnic is less about job placement than it is about stitching up a torn social fabric. It's about equipping kids (and in their night classes, adults) with the skills they need to have a chance.

But the Swinneys' real priority is improving those chances, for the sake of the community, the economy, and ultimately, the planet.

"The standard for most schools is to prep kids for college," Swinney said. "That's just a portal for kids to flee the community with no idea of what they're going to do. The purpose of our school is to build the community and to learn all the skills that are necessary for that."

That's why they're in Austin, not the suburbs. That's why they're working within the public school system, not setting up a private charter. That's why they're focusing on industry.

"Unless you're talking about manufacturing, you're not talking about transforming the economy," Swinney said.

A blue-collar revival

Economists calculate that every job created in manufacturing generates 4-5 others in the supply chain, or in the neighborhood where better-paid employees live, Swinney told me. In retail, the estimate is 1.5 jobs; in service, it's a quarter of a job.

"If ballet had the same multiplier effect, we'd be starting ballet schools," Erica said.

The "new" economy is spawning a new culture where our dichotomies need an update.

As Matthew Crawford, author of The New York Times' best-seller Shop Class as Soulcraft observes, the divide between white-collar and blue-collar—corresponding to "mental" versus "manual"—is a relic.

"First, it assumes that all blue-collar work is as mindless as assembly line work, and second, that white-collar work is still recognizably mental in character," Crawford writes. "Yet there is evidence to suggest that the new frontier of capitalism lies in doing to office work what was previously done to factory work: draining it of its cognitive elements."

"Paradoxically," Crawford continues, "educators who would steer students toward cognitively rich work might do this best by rehabilitating the manual trades, based on a firmer grasp of what such work is really like."

Assembly lines are already different—and can be more so. Part of what's driving what The Atlantic called "The Insourcing Boom" is the recognition that offshoring puts such distance between manufacture and design that it is hard to respond nimbly to changes in consumer demand, and easy for foreign makers to knock off the product. Go one step further and make the workers owners, and you eliminate that distance.

Democracy at work is not just good for workers, it's good for business, say the worker-owners at the New Era Windows cooperative.

At their plant, across town on Chicago's South Side, the New Era workers had a chance to redesign their workplace when they started their own company and bought their equipment from their former boss.

"We do the work and we know how it goes," said worker-owner Melvin "Ricky" Maclin. "When we worked for the boss, the workers had to move about a lot ... Now we work for ourselves, we laid it out in a more efficient work flow."

Swinney's inspired by the cooperative model. The top-down, profit-up monopoly capitalism that's brought our economy and our planet to the brink is not—despite what Margaret Thatcher said—"the only alternative." Even as the first industrial revolution was crashing like the Brach candy factory's chimney into rubble all over Chicago, social movements in Spain and Italy were creating huge, democratically run manufacturing companies. They were operated for profit, but that profit went to the workers and the community, serving the public interest.

"You can have growth like cancer or growth like a baby," as Swinney sees it. The point is, the underlying values drive the ship.

Cooperation Capital, USA

At Austin, a lot of students can rattle off the high school's values, which include promoting sustainability on a local and global level. Given the chance, those are the values students like Azariah Hutchinson will take into their own business.

Hutchinson is one of four female students running a business cooperative out of what started in shop class at Austin Poly. This February, she displayed delicately what she hopes to soon be selling: a small, brass trumpet mouthpiece.

The idea for the mouthpiece came from her teacher, Pablo Varela. He's a keen trumpet player, but playing is hard. He set his students the task of making a product that might be easier to blow.

After many months of calculations and programming on Austin's computer-controlled machines, the group came up with three models. They have a patent on one. It's called Euterpe, after the Greek muse of music. Now, Hutchinson and her colleagues are just trying to perfect the code that will get the machine to imprint the little goddess logo on the brass.

"I don't know if I'll go into metalworking for my career, but I'm very interested in marketing and sales," Hutchinson says.

Career, sales, metal, shop ... None of these words played much of a role in Hutchinson's life before she came to Austin Poly, she said: "Without this class I would have known nothing about manufacturing, factories, the jobs, any of it."

Looking to the future, Swinney has his sights set on the next step. Having built a pipeline for qualified workers, he's ready to woo new companies to Chicago.

That's the idea behind the Austin Manufacturing Innovation District. With funding from part of a $1.25 million grant in 2012 from the City of Chicago, Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council, and Manufacturing Renaissance have proposed a production, research, development, and training facility in the Austin area.

On the day he spoke to the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives convention, Swinney said they were close to an agreement with a company to build a factory and hire people on Chicago's West Side (the agreement was finalized October 1). There are 13 more companies—including seven international companies—that have signed MOUs to explore siting production within the Innovation District.

"If all goes well we could be responsible for 400-600 new manufacturing jobs in the next 18 months."

One site within the district that has enormous symbolic appeal is the 27-acre Brach candy site that now sits empty. The factory's demolition made for quite a spectacle, the noise heard all across the West Side.

Could Chicago's Second Industrial Revolution turn the Candy Capital into the Cooperation Capital—and make a different sort of boom?

News Tue, 21 Oct 2014 09:41:19 -0400

Copyright Universal Uclick.

Art Tue, 21 Oct 2014 09:02:08 -0400
The Mouse That Roared: Stand With the Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands is "the mouse that roared." It is a small island country standing up to the world's nuclear-armed bullies, saying "enough is enough." The people of the world should stand with the tiny Marshall Islands in their courageous Nuclear Zero lawsuits, aiming to hold the nine nuclear-armed nations accountable to the terms of the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty for the safety of the planet. The Marshall Islands is acting with compassion and commitment, taking risks for all humanity

2014 1022 nuc stUS nuclear weapons test at Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands, 1956. (Photo: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons)

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The Marshall Islands is "the mouse that roared."  It is a small island country standing up to the nuclear-armed bullies of the world saying, "enough is enough."  It is in effect saying to the nuclear-armed countries, "Friends don’t let friends drive drunk (on the false power and prestige of nuclear weapons)."  The Marshall Islands is acting with courage, compassion and commitment, taking risks for all humanity.  It is seeking to restore global sanity and end the overarching threat of nuclear omnicide.

The Nuclear Zero Lawsuits filed by the Marshall Islands against the nine nuclear-armed "Goliaths" have the potential to awaken the public to the current status of nuclear weapons dangers.  For the most part, the public appears ignorant of or apathetic to these dangers.  Awakening the public may be an even more important function of the lawsuits than the legal rulings of the courts. 

The lawsuits raise the following issues:

First, the nuclear-armed countries party to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (the US, Russia, UK, France and China) are obligated "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race and to nuclear disarmament . . . "  The four nuclear-armed countries that are not parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea) have the same obligations under customary international law.

Second, all nine nuclear-armed countries are in breach of their obligations to negotiate a cessation of the nuclear arms race.

Third, all nine nuclear-armed countries are in breach of their obligations to negotiate for nuclear disarmament.

Fourth, all nine nuclear-armed countries are in breach of their obligations to act in good faith.  They are not engaged in negotiations.  Rather, they are modernizing their nuclear arsenals.  The United States alone has plans to spend $1 trillion over the next three decades modernizing its nuclear arsenal.

Fifth, these breaches undermine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and international law itself.

Sixth, continued reliance on nuclear weapons keeps the door open to nuclear proliferation by other countries and by terrorist organizations, and to nuclear weapons use, by accident or design.

According to atmospheric scientists, even a small regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan, in which each side used 50 Hiroshima-size nuclear weapons on the other side’s cities, would result in putting enough soot into the upper stratosphere to block warming sunlight, shorten growing seasons and cause crop failures that could lead to a global nuclear famine resulting in the death by starvation of some two billion people.  It would be a heavy price to pay for the broken promises and breached obligations of the nine nuclear-armed countries. 

There are still over 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world, with some 94 percent of these in the arsenals of the United States and Russia.  A war between these two countries could trigger an ice age that would end civilization and potentially all complex life on Earth.

In sum, the nuclear-armed countries have obligations under international law that they are breaching, and these breaches raise serious threats to the people of the world, now and in the future.  The Marshall Islands has brought lawsuits against the nine nuclear-armed countries in an attempt to compel them to do what the parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty promised to do long ago, and what all nine nuclear-armed countries are required to do under international law.

The people of the world should follow the lead of the Marshall Islands, one of the smallest but most courageous countries in the world.  We should stand with the Marshall Islands and support them in their legal action.  The dream of ending the nuclear weapons threat to humanity should be not only the dream of the Marshall Islands, but our dream as well.  You can find out more about the Nuclear Zero lawsuits and sign a petition supporting the Marshall Islands at

Opinion Wed, 22 Oct 2014 09:43:17 -0400
How a US and International Atomic Energy Agency Deception Haunts the Nuclear Talks

2014.10.21.Porter.Main(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: indigoprime, D Sharon Pruitt)The accusation by US and other Western diplomats that Iran has been "stonewalling" the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) investigation of alleged past nuclear weapons work has been a familiar theme in mainstream media coverage of Iran's relations with the IAEA for years.

What remains virtually unknown, however, is how a brazen deception by the George W. Bush administration and a key official within the IAEA created the false narrative of Iranian refusal to cooperate with the IAEA and was used to justify harsh international sanctions.

The initial deception was the suggestion by the IAEA that Iran had acknowledged that the activities portrayed in controversial intelligence documents purportedly from an Iranian nuclear weapons project were real, but had claimed they were for non-nuclear purposes. The IAEA then used that brazen falsehood as a pretext to demand that Iran provide sensitive military information on its missile program - a demand that the US officials behind the scheme knew would be rejected. That ploy thus offered the Bush administration a crucial rationale for pushing for new international economic sanctions against Iran.

2014.10.21.Porter.Main(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: indigoprime, D Sharon Pruitt)In 2008, the Bush administration and a key IAEA official agreed on a strategy of misrepresenting Iran's position on the authenticity of intelligence documents, which they used to establish an official narrative of Iran "stonewalling" the IAEA investigation. That narrative continues to shape Obama administration policy in the nuclear talks.

The accusation by US and other Western diplomats that Iran has been "stonewalling" the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) investigation of alleged past nuclear weapons work has been a familiar theme in mainstream media coverage of Iran's relations with the IAEA for years.

What remains virtually unknown, however, is how a brazen deception by the George W. Bush administration and a key official within the IAEA created the false narrative of Iranian refusal to cooperate with the IAEA and was used to justify harsh international sanctions.

The initial deception was the suggestion by the IAEA that Iran had acknowledged that the activities portrayed in controversial intelligence documents purportedly from an Iranian nuclear weapons project were real, but had claimed they were for non-nuclear purposes. The IAEA then used that brazen falsehood as a pretext to demand that Iran provide sensitive military information on its missile program - a demand that the US officials behind the scheme knew would be rejected. That ploy thus offered the Bush administration a crucial rationale for pushing for new international economic sanctions against Iran.

The story of that highly successful deception, assembled from the public record, interviews with former IAEA officials and diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, shows the conscious misleading of the public was central to US policy at a crucial turning point in the nuclear issue. It has contributed to the general consensus that Iran must be hiding past work on nuclear weapons that has led the Obama administration to insist that unless Iran satisfies the IAEA on that issue there can be no final agreement to remove the sanctions against Iran.

ElBaradei's enemies in Washington and Tel Aviv also spread rumors aimed at smearing him as an Iranian agent.

The origins of the IAEA deception lie in the Bush administration's determination to force Iran to cease its nuclear enrichment, which required the IAEA to maintain the image of Iran as hiding an alleged past nuclear weapons program. When then IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei negotiated a "work plan" with Iran in August 2007 to resolve a series of six issues the IAEA Safeguards Department had raised in previous years, the Bush administration was furious. Along with its key European allies, the United States warned ElBaradei when he negotiated the plan that clearing Iran of suspicion on the six issues would be unacceptable, according to a January 2008 diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.

After ElBaradei proceeded to clear away the six issues, the United States became even more aggressive toward ElBaradei. Ambassador to the IAEA Gregory Schulte sent a cable to the State Department written in early February focusing on the question of ElBaradei's handling of the intelligence documents purporting to show a covert Iranian weapons program that the Bush administration had been urging the IAEA to use to confront Iran. The United States and its allies would have to "warn the DG [director general] in very stark terms," Schulte wrote, "that . . . any hint of whitewash of Iran's weapons activities would cause irreparable harm to the Agency's relationship with major donors."

In other words, Schulte was saying Washington would have to threaten to severely reduce or even cut off its funding for the IAEA if ElBaradei refused to cooperate.

But US officials had an equally important source of leverage on IAEA policy in the person of Olli Heinonen, the Finnish head of the Safeguards Department.

Heinonen had acquired a reputation in the agency for working closely with the most powerful patron available. When he was responsible for the Middle East region in Safeguards from 2002 to 2005, he went around his boss, Deputy Director General for Safeguards Pierre Goldschmidt, and dealt directly with Director General ElBaradei, according to a former IAEA official. But after ElBaradei named Heinonen head of the Safeguards Department in 2005, the official recalled, he immediately began going around ElBaradei and dealing directly with the Americans.

In late 2007 and early 2008, as US anger toward ElBaradei peaked over his closure of the files on the six issues, Heinonen privately assured US diplomats that he was not happy with ElBaradei's decision, according to a January 2008 diplomatic cable. Another cable from Schulte in March reveals that Heinonen had assured US officials that he wanted to "press ahead" on the investigation of the intelligence documents, despite ElBaradei's reluctance to do so.

Iran objected, in a letter to the IAEA secretariat on September 5, 2008, that the IAEA demand represented an unwarranted intrusion on its conventional military security, as well as a blatant violation of the agency's statute.

Heinonen met with Iranian officials in late January and early February 2008 to show them copies of the intelligence documents and discuss their response to them. In one of those meetings, Heinonen asked Iran's Permanent Representative to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, whether various names of people, organizations and addresses found in the documents were correct. Soltanieh confirmed that the people, organizations and addresses did exist, but added, "So what?" as he recalled to this writer in an interview in Vienna in 2009.

Soltanieh's point was that any competent fabricator of documents tries to include some details that are accurate, such as the ones in those documents shown to Iran in order to convince the targets of the fraud that they are genuine. Iran pointed out in a letter to the IAEA secretariat a few months later that it was standard procedure. The letter denied that Iran had ever acknowledged the accuracy of anything in the intelligence documents except for those incidental details.

Only after Heinonen had left the agency for a position at Harvard University did the IAEA acknowledge in its September 2011 report that the only thing Iran had "confirmed" about the documents had been the "names of people, places and organizations."

Heinonen clearly had intensive discussions with Schulte and other Western officials about the Iranian response to the documents and what to do about it. Two diplomatic cables indicate that Heinonen agreed as a result of those discussions that the IAEA would take the position that Iran had admitted that the documents were authentic, but claimed that the activities described were not for nuclear weapons.

In the first diplomatic cable, sent in mid-February, Schulte wrote that the next phase of the IAEA's should be to force Iran to "fully disclose" its past alleged nuclear weapons program and make a "confession." That cable apparently reflected agreement with Heinonen on the strategy to be pursued.

A second cable dated March 27, 2008, quoted French Ambassador Francois-Xavier Deniau as declaring at a meeting of P5+1 ambassadors, "Iran has acknowledged some of the studies, while claiming they were for non-nuclear purposes."

The Obama administration continued the Bush administration's policy of protesting Iran's alleged refusal to cooperate with the IAEA as a means of building support for its real objective - to pressure Iran to suspend enrichment indefinitely.

Deniau's statement strongly suggests that Heinonen and the Americans had already adopted a very concrete formula to be used publicly to manage the issue several weeks before the drafting of the next IAEA report had begun in May. That statement accurately anticipated the wording of the Iranian position that would be used in the May 2008 IAEA report.

The language in the report was carefully chosen to mislead the reader without technically telling an outright lie. The report said Iran "did not dispute that some of the information contained in the documents was factually accurate, but said the events and activities concerned involved civil or conventional military applications."

That tortured wording avoided saying directly that the "information" that Iran had not disputed involved "events and activities" portrayed in the documents. But it was clearly intended to lead readers to that conclusion. Elsewhere, the report made it clear that the activities shown in the documents on the redesign of the reentry vehicle Shahab-3 ballistic missile and on exploding bridge wire detonators could only have been for a nuclear weapon.

Heinonen and his American handlers exploited the fact that Iran had publicly acknowledged redesigning the Shahab-3 missile and development of an exploding bridge wire (EBW).

The wording on the EBW program issue was further reinforced to drive home the deception. "Iran acknowledged that it had conducted simultaneous testing with two to three EBW detonators with a time precision of about one microsecond," the report said, adding, "Iran said, however, that this was intended for civil and conventional military applications."

Those two sentences were bound to be interpreted by the unwary reader as indicating that Iran had admitted to having done experiments involving the firing rate shown in the documents. In fact, however, as Heinonen had revealed in a briefing for member states on February 25, 2008, the document in question portrayed experiments in which EBW detonators fired at a rate of 130 nanoseconds - nearly eight times faster than the firing rate in the experiments that the report was saying that Iran had acknowledged carrying out.

In meetings of the IAEA Iran report drafting group, Heinonen made no secret that he intended to show that Iran was lying. "He revealed to the Iran report drafting group a strategy to trap the Iranians into some small lies leading to being caught up in a major contradiction," a former IAEA official familiar with those meetings, who asked to remain anonymous because of fear of retaliation by the agency, told Truthout.

IAEA officials in the drafting group who were aligned with ElBaradei were not happy with his proposed wording, according to the former official. "There were a lot of differences over what Iran had admitted," he recalled. "We had to agree with language we weren't entirely comfortable with."

As the text of the May 2008 report shows, the IAEA drafting group also insisted on juxtaposing those misleading sentences on which Heinonen was insisting with US support, with Iran's denial that the documents were genuine and its assertions that the documents "contained numerous inconsistencies" and that "many were based on publicly available information."

The report thus represented a compromise between the positions of Heinonen and ElBaradei, reflecting the political pressure that the United States and its allies was then putting on ElBaradei to go along with its hardline strategy.

The former IAEA official described the US political pressure on ElBaradei at that point as "intense." The US threat of a funding cutoff was only part of it. ElBaradei also knew that his enemies in Washington and Tel Aviv were prepared to use police tactics to destroy him politically. Under Secretary of State John Bolton had tapped ElBaradei's phone in 2004 in the hope of getting information that could be used to prevent ElBaradei from running for a third term in 2005.

Bolton failed to find anything he could use to promote that scheme, but ElBaradei's enemies in Washington and Tel Aviv also spread rumors aimed at smearing him as an Iranian agent. One such story, which ElBaradei recalled in his memoirs, had Iran depositing $600,000 in a bank account under ElBaradei's wife's name in Switzerland. Yet another such rumor was that his wife, Aida, an Egyptian, was actually Iranian.

ElBaradei was also following events in Egypt, where opposition newspapers were being harassed and hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members were being jailed by the Mubarak regime. He knew he would one day want to return to Egypt and he did not want to be viewed by the US government as anti-American.

But the US-Heinonen strategy had an even bigger objective in mind - to use the insinuation that Iran had admitted to the activities that the documents portrayed as a pretext to demand that Iran provide the IAEA with highly sensitive information on both its missile and conventional weapons programs. At two meetings with Iranian officials in August 2008, Heinonen insisted that Iran share with IAEA experts the details of its work on exploding bridge wire technology as well as on the redesign of the Shahab-3 missile in order to prove its innocence.

The September 2008 IAEA report revealed the demand: "The Agency proposed discussions with Iranian experts on the contents of the engineering reports examining in detail modeling studies related to the effects of various physical parameters on the re-entry body from time of launch of the missile to payload detonation." It explained that the discussions would be "aimed at ascertaining whether these studies were associated with nuclear related activities or, as Iran has asserted, related only to conventional military activities."

Heinonen later denied publicly that he had ever demanded the transfer of classified conventional Iranian military data to the IAEA. But a senior IAEA official acknowledged to me in a September 2009 interview that the agency was indeed demanding that Iran turn over such information.

Predictably, Iran objected, in a letter to the IAEA secretariat on September 5, 2008, that the IAEA demand represented an unwarranted intrusion on its conventional military security, as well as a blatant violation of the agency's statute. Iran informed ElBaradei that it was refusing to participate in future meetings on the subject of "possible military dimensions" as long as that demand was on the table.

That was exactly what the Bush administration and Heinonen were hoping for.

US Ambassador Schulte drafted a set of talking points he proposed to be used by the entire P5+1 for all interactions with the IAEA secretariat. As revealed in a diplomatic cable in January 2009, the key points expressed concern that Iran had "refused to cooperate with the IAEA's investigation in a full and substantive manner" and declared, "We do not accept Iran's blockage of the IAEA investigation."

The Obama administration continued the Bush administration's policy of protesting Iran's alleged refusal to cooperate with the IAEA as a means of building support for its real objective - to pressure Iran to suspend enrichment indefinitely. On March 3, 2009, a statement on behalf of all six powers to the IAEA board called on Iran to "cooperate fully with the IAEA by providing the Agency such access and information that it requests" to resolve the "possible military dimensions" issue.

The demand that Iran "cooperate fully with the IAEA" on the "possible military dimensions" became part of the Obama administration's official mantra on Iran, along with the charge that Iran had failed to do so. That charge was even included in UN Security Council Resolution 1929 in June 2010. The administration repeated it in the meetings of the IAEA Board of Governors.

Senior administration officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry have said that Iran must "come clean" about its past nuclear weapons work as part of the comprehensive settlement that is now being negotiated. Israel and its supporters in Congress have pressed that demand on the Obama administration vehemently. The clever dissimulation by the Bush administration and Heinonen continues to cast a long shadow over the talks.

News Tue, 21 Oct 2014 09:40:14 -0400
Ebola Fearmongering: The Right's New Dog Whistle

Former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas speaking at the 2014 CPAC in National Harbor, Maryland.Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas speaking at the 2014 CPAC in National Harbor, Maryland. Huckabee is one of many conservative politicians and pundits linking concerns over Ebola to border security in rhetoric appealing to fear of the disease. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

With revelations of contagion among health care workers in Dallas, including one who traveled cross country by plane after being infected, Ebola panic is rising. While the chance of a significant domestic outbreak remains virtually nil, the round-the-clock media frenzy is nevertheless contributing to surging anxiety. So too is the rhetoric coming from the right.

In the immediate run-up to the midterm elections, we’re witnessing fear mongering about Ebola on the southern border from across the conservative spectrum, from fringe figures to relatively moderate Republicans. It should be obvious — though it is not, for reasons I will explore — that once again we are confronting an election conducted largely in dog whistle terms, with pundits and candidates hoping to use racially coded appeals to drive anxious white voters to the polls.

Former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee offers this: “When the government says it can’t keep people out of the US, what it means is that it won’t keep people out. And why should we be surprised? We’ve seen our borders routinely ignored. So if someone with Ebola really wants to come to the US, just get to Mexico and walk right in.”

Thom Tillis, the Republican candidate for Senate in North Carolina, used a recent debate to claim that his opponent “failed the people of North Carolina and the nation by not securing our border.” Tillis continued, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got an Ebola outbreak, we have bad actors that can come across the border. We need to seal the border and secure it.”

The preposterous idea of an Ebola victim swimming the Rio Grande fits within a larger pattern of conservatives placing dire threats at the southern border. A few weeks ago, it was ISIS terrorists who were supposedly on the border, for instance with Scott Brown, another Republican Senate candidate, who warned that “[r]adical Islamic terrorists are threatening to cause the collapse of our country,” and then assuring voters, “I want to secure the border, keep out the people who would do us harm.” Adapting to recent events, last week Brown switched out Ebola for ISIS: “people with Ebola and other infectious diseases can enter the country without being challenged,” he claimed.

The “border” is key to decoding these remarks as dog whistles. Clearly Ebola deserves attention and immediate response as a humanitarian crisis of calamitous proportions in three West African countries. The warnings we’re hearing, however, have nothing to do with helping Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and everything to do with a supposed infection crossing our border — with fingers almost always pointing south rather than north, eliciting fear of surging Latino numbers and the rapid demographic browning of America.

“Disease” is also a core dog whistle. Even before Ebola, disease was imputed to undocumented immigrants, reviving the racial calumny that some races spread pestilence, like rats or roaches. Speaking of the undocumented children who fled here this summer, long-time conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly recently opined, “out of all the things [Obama’s] done, I think this thing of letting these diseased people into this country to infect our own people is just the most outrageous of all.”

Then, adding Ebola to the mix, Schlafly continued that Obama might secretly hope that Ebola becomes widespread here. “Obama doesn’t want America to believe that we’re exceptional,” she contends. “He wants us to be just like everybody else, and if Africa is suffering from Ebola, we ought to join the group and be suffering from it, too. That’s his attitude.”

This stew of disparate elements and outlandish claims verges on self-parody. As the founder of a Latino-issues website, Julio Varela, remarks, “you take the most extreme examples of xenophobic hysteria — Mexicans, terrorists, ISIS, the border crisis and Ebola — and mash them all together to create a new narrative of craziness.”

Yet “crazy” doesn’t mean ineffectual. A survey from this week shows that 57 percent of tea party supporters believe the federal government is not prepared to prevent a major Ebola outbreak domestically, and another survey shows that 71 percent of Republicans are very worried about Islamic extremism in the US. Again, the actual risks here are virtually nonexistent. Meanwhile, another report shows that 56 percent of Republicans are mad at their own party about immigration, overwhelmingly because they feel that the GOP is not taking a hard-enough stand against undocumented immigrants.

It seems that those spreading panic about Ebola, ISIS and the southern border hope that their new rhetoric will reinvigorate an old tactic: racial dog whistling. It has never been bigotry amid politicians that drives this, so much as the cold calculation that stimulating racial panic can win votes. And as they have before, many within the GOP seem to be banking that it will work again.

But for all the evidence that conservatives are whipping up their base with racially-charged narratives, there has very little criticism of this racial pandering. Why not?

It’s not as if the scare rhetoric has gone unnoticed; on the contrary, The New York Times recently put it on the front page, The Washington Post criticized the Republicans’ “doom-and-disease chorus,” and “Meet the Press” as well as ABC’s “This Week” dedicated panel discussions to fear mongering — yet these venues made no mention of race.

And it’s not as if progressives are timid about indicting dog whistling when they recognize it. Just last spring, when Paul Ryan blamed poverty on a “tailspin of culture in our inner cities,” he was sharply rebuked by figures ranging from Democratic Representative Barbara Lee to Times columnist Paul Krugman. Regarding Ebola, MSNBC’s Alex Wagner did chastise what she called the right-wing media’s “thinly veiled, racially charged questions,” but a Google search doesn’t turn up much else on the topic.

So why are so few decrying the racial elements in today’s scare tactics? A recent primer on coded racial terms provides a clue, for the short glossary focused only on blacks, listing these words: thug, inner city, ghetto, uppity, Oreo, shady and sketchy. In short, we’re increasingly sophisticated in our ability to recognize surreptitious references to African-Americans, but not others.

That blacks should be the quintessential reference in racial politics is no surprise. Dog whistling arose in the South as a replacement language for more open endorsements of segregation rendered unacceptable by the civil rights movement, and as it spread to the rest of the country beginning in the 1970s, African-Americans remained the principal boogeyman. Obama’s election has only added to this potency.

But since 9/11, there have been sonorous new barrages in dog whistle politics emphasizing the threat to national security from brown in addition to black. Whether its “Muslim terrorists” or “illegal aliens” — or, most recently of all, “Ebola!” — the drums of racial threat are also pounding out warnings of extremist elements and diseased hordes at the gates.

The coded terms used in dog whistle politics constantly evolve, partly to fit the times, partly to avoid censure. After a decade and more, we’re long past due to recognize that dog whistling has moved beyond African-Americans, and now also targets Latinos, Muslims and — as of a few weeks ago — African immigrants and Ebola.

Opinion Tue, 21 Oct 2014 09:30:19 -0400
Vote November 4: Defeat Suppression of Minorities, Youth, Workers

Two riveting developments October 8 strike at the heart of Americans’ right to vote and minorities’ abilities to have fair power.

A report by the US Government Accounting Office requested by five senators (Sanders, Leahy, Durbin, Schumer, Nelson) found that minority turnout was reduced 2-3% in states with ID laws—despite no ID fraud—because of the cost of procuring the ID’s. Close elections were clearly at risk. GAO found that “the falloff was greatest among African Americans, young people, and newly registered voters.”

Likewise on October 8th, The Supreme Court voted 7-2 (with dissents from Ginsburg and Sotomayor) overturning the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that would have reinstated same day registration and students’ out-of-precinct voting in North Carolina. This ruling has added North Carolina to the already long list of 22 other states with Republican governors and legislatures that have enacted voter restriction laws across the nation. These laws will take a massive toll unless the courts reverse them or the victimized rebel in large numbers and find a way to the polls.

Given the Supreme Court’s attitude, there will not be time for the former before the November 4 Election Day clock ticks down—so standing in lines again to have voices heard – which worked in 2012 and 2008 — may again be the only answer to stop a right-wing takeover of the Senate and massive progressive losses in the House.

“Voter fraud” legislation curtailing voting when no fraud has occurred has become the staple of the Republican agenda. They were helped by the 2013 Shelby V. Holder decision. The conservatives on the Supreme Court gave a 5-4 decision against Attorney General Eric Holder, invalidating Section 4 of the Voting Right Act. The statute had mandated federal government ‘preclearance’ in regards to changes to state election laws. This legislation was essential in preventing African American disenfranchisement. George W. Bush-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts decreed that we now live in a ‘post-discrimination’ society, despite congress almost unanimously finding the opposite when it passed and amended the law.

Following the court’s ruling, Republican governors and legislatures ran wild. 93 restrictive voting bills were introduced in 33 states; 22 states have passed them, and counting. On September 29th, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, the #2 House Democrat, contended that “Republicans around the country are trying to make it more and more difficult for people to vote, because their premise, which is accurate in my opinion, is if everyone votes, Democrats win.” Pennsylvania had passed a law in 2012, and Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai said: “Voter ID is going to allow Gov. Romney to win Pennsylvania–done.” Not quite—the Pennsylvania courts overturned it. Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz openly admitted voter suppression is directly linked to giving conservatives more power over “abortion, gay marriage, and a whole lot of social issues we care deeply about.”

Republicans present voter fraud as a pervasive problem, something that any fact-checking shows is not true. Between 2002 and 2012, out of a total of 600 million votes cast, only 10 cases of voter impersonation were reported. Any “fraud” has amounted to only 0.00000344666% of all votes cast. Why do Republicans love voter ID laws? They disproportionally affect African American voters, a critical Democratic Party voting bloc. African Americans account for 25% of Americans eligible to vote without Photo ID, while white voters account for only 8%.

Holder avowed that the Justice Department will combat voter suppression state legislation “that seeks to take advantage of the Supreme Court’s (2013) ruling.” Regrettably, his resignation on September 25 this year could prove disastrous for the federal lawsuits battling vote rigging “laws”, if his successor is not as dedicated to the cause as Holder.

Michigan is not exempt from voter “fraud” legislation; a Republican-passed amendment requires ID at the polls, but voters can avoid the ID if they swear and sign an affidavit there affirming their identity. The Republican legislature also passed two bills to require photo ID’s to pick up absentee ballots, cast an Election Day ballot and force citizens to sign paperwork affirming they are American citizens before getting a ballot. Even Republican Governor Rick Snyder considered the additional legislation “confusing” for voters (and knew it would backfire on him politically), resulting in him vetoing the latest bills. Republican legislators will attempt to push through voter “fraud” legislation in the future.

On October 9th, a US Federal Court ruled against Texas, stating that the legislation created “an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics5 and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.”

The ruling was a victory for the Justice Department, who had filed the lawsuit against Texas law because they considered it “stringent and burdensome” for requiring ID’s to vote, and said it was “motivated by discriminatory intent” and “anti-immigrant rhetoric.” Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez had called into question the law’s disproportional effect on Latino voters, noting that “a Hispanic registered voter is at least 46.5 percent more likely than a non-Hispanic registered voter to lack this identification.” The law also prevented college students from using their student ID at the polls. Texas did allow citizens to vote using their gun license – obvious pandering to the right-wing NRA.

Ohio’s Republican legislature eliminated early week voting known as Golden Week. The legislation also ended early voting two Sundays before the election, used heavily by minority voters and church turnout drives like “Souls for Polls.” Following a September 29 court decision, voting on the last two Sundays before Election Day was eliminated and the early voting period reduced from 35 days to 28
Early voting is used greatly by minorities and working class families. During the 2012 election, 19.9% of Ohio’s black voters voted early, while only 6.1% of whites did. American Sociological Review Editor Vincent J. Roscigno stated, Black Ohioans’ income is 60% of that for whites, and Black Ohioans are more likely to have longer hours, less pay and less freedom to take time off.

The right wing is attempting to rig and steal the election. The most assured way to express anger about voter suppression is to show up on Election Day.

News Tue, 21 Oct 2014 09:10:07 -0400
The United States' Grand Fortunes Go Overboard

Imagine yourself part of the typical American family. Your household would have, the Federal Reserve reported in September, a net worth of $81,200.

That’s not a whole lot of money. But half of America’s households would actually have less wealth than you do.

Now imagine that your net worth suddenly quadrupled, to about $325,000. That sum would place you within the ranks of America’s most affluent 20 percent of income earners. You would be “typical” no more. On the other hand, you still wouldn’t be rich, or even close to possessing a grand fortune.

So suppose your wealth quadrupled again. That would bump your net worth — your total assets minus the sum of your debts — all the way up to $1.3 million.

Congratulations. You now hold 16 times more wealth than the typical American. You probably have paid off your mortgage. You have a healthy balance in your 401(k). You have investment income. You have it made.

But not really. You still have to worry financially about everything from losing your job to helping your kids pay their college tuition.

So imagine that your net worth quadruples once again — to $5.2 million.

You now sit comfortably within the ranks of America’s richest 1 percent. You can afford, well, just about anything you want. A getaway in the mountains, another getaway on the shore. Two BMWs in the driveway. Impressive philanthropic gestures. Direct access to your US senators.

Enough already? Actually, no. With a fortune of just $5.2 million, you still have to put up with the inconveniences of mere mortal existence. Yes, you can fly first class. But you still have to share a plane with the unwashed masses back in coach — and they take forever getting their carry-ons up in those overhead bins.

You need relief. So multiply that $5.2 million fortune 1,000 times over — to $5.2 billion. Now you can buy your own private jet.

Even better, you get your name printed in the annual Forbes magazine list of America’s 400 richest people. But even at $5.2 billion, your fortune would rate as just fair-to-middling in super-rich circles. America’s wealthiest 400 now hold a combined net worth of $2.3 trillion. That places the average Forbes 400 fortune at $5.7 billion, an all-time record high.

The richest of the 400 hold far more than that average. Take Larry Ellison, who just stepped down as the CEO of Oracle business software and holds the No. 3 spot. His net worth: $50 billion.

What does Ellison do with all those billions? He collects residences, for starters, with 15 or so homes scattered all around the world. Ellison likes yachts, too. He currently has two extremely big ones, each over half as long as a football field.

Ellison also likes to play basketball, even on his yachts. If a ball bounces over the railing, no problem. Ellison has a powerboat following his yacht, the Wall Street Journal noted this past spring, “to retrieve balls that go overboard.”

Hiring that ball-retriever qualifies Ellison as a “job creator,” right? Maybe not. Ellison has regularly destroyed jobs on his way to grand fortune. He has mastered the merge-and-purge two-step: First you snatch your rival’s customers, then you fire its workers.

In 2005, for instance, Ellison shelled out $10.6 billion to buy out PeopleSoft, an 11,000-employee competitor. He then proceeded to put the ax to 5,000 jobs.

Job massacres like this have been hollowing out America’s middle class ever since the Forbes 400 first appeared back in the 1980s. Since 1989, Federal Reserve figures show, the median net worth of families in America’s statistical middle class — the middle 20 percent of income earners — has actually dropped from $75,300 to $61,700, after taking inflation into account.

Forbes doesn’t bother asking how our absurdly rich went about making their fortunes. But we should. Our top 400, after all, haven’t just made monstrously large fortunes. They’ve made a monstrously large mess.

Opinion Wed, 22 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
Climate Destruction in the Court of Public Opinion

As the leaders of more than a hundred of the world’s governments addressed the U.N. Climate Summit last week, people’s organizations from around the world convened a Climate Justice Tribunal across from the United Nations to indict political leaders and corporate polluters for their failure to protect our health, communities and planet. Those testifying were those living with the real and immediate impacts of climate change and people living on the frontlines of extractive industries that are contributing to climate change. From the front window of the U.N. Church Center auditorium participants could see the U.N. building bathed in bright sunlight, its rooftop festooned with snipers.

Sponsored by the Climate Justice Alliance, which describes itself as a collaboration of 35 U.S. organizations rooted in indigenous, African American, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander, and working-class white frontline communities, the tribunal made no pretense to impartiality. It resembled less a conventional trial than a grand jury drawing up an indictment — not claiming to prove guilt but rather to show “probable cause” for charging the perpetrators with a crime. Movement activists Lisa Garcia of Earth Justice, Julia Olson of Our Children’s Trust, Rex Varona of the Global Coalition on Migration, and I served as a “People’s Judicial Panel,” listening to the testimony and providing commentary on its significance. As judges, we saw our principal role as hearing and amplifying the voices of the witnesses.

Voices of the people

The tribunal presented a panorama of oppression, but also a panorama of resistance. Globally, the witnesses ranged from Antolin Huascar Flores of the Confederación Nacional Agraria in Peru to Mamadou Goita of the Institution for Research and the Promotion of Alternatives in Development in Mali. The many representatives of indigenous communities around the world included Jihan Gearon of the Black Mesa Water Coalition in the Navajo Nation and Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a Cree activist from the tar sands region of Canada.

Witnesses from the United States ranged from Damaris Reyes of the New York group Good Old Lower East Side to Stanley Sturgill, a retired coal miner from Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. Two other witnesses — Xiuhtezcatl Martinez of the Colorado youth group Earth Guardians and Kelsey Julian of Eugene, Ore. — are currently plaintiffs in lawsuits spearheaded by Our Children’s Trust, a group that’s working to legally compel states and nations to protect the climate based on the public trust doctrine.

The tribunal kicked off with a local focus as witnesses from three community organizations from the New York/New Jersey region— the Ironbound Community Corporation in Newark, N.J., UPROSE in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and the North Shore Waterfront Conservancy in Staten Island — described the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy, the inequities of the response, and the self-help mobilization of local communities.

There is no adequate way to summarize the testimony of the score of speakers from around the world, but two of the standout themes of the day — the continuity between historical struggles for justice and the struggle for climate justice and the relation between injustice and action — were captured by Katherine Eglund, chair of the NAACP chapter in Gulfport, Miss. She noted that, “Growing up in the deep South, I am very accustomed to marching for causes that demand freedom and justice.” Her first marches as a young child were about the right to vote, sit where she wished on the bus, and end racially segregated drinking fountains. “Our communities banded together, we marched, and we won those basic civil rights.”

But in her home town of Hattiesburg, Miss., there was a chemical plant that produced 250 chemicals. She and her sisters suffered not only from the unbearable smell, but from asthma, headaches and nosebleeds. Initially they didn’t make the connection to the plant, but eventually the citizens of Hattiesburg realized the chemicals were killing people. “This time, unlike the 1960s, people protested as one united community” and in 2009 the plant was closed.

As an adult she moved to Gulfport where she again faced environmental dangers, this time from an antiquated coal plant four miles from her home, which, thanks to community activism, will stop burning coal as of April 2015.

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina came ashore a quarter mile from her home in Gulfport, devastating everything in its path. Her home was virtually destroyed and two of her dearest family friends drowned from the rapidly rising waters. She already believed that climate change would one day affect our lives, but, as she explained, “This storm was a life-changing wake-up call, which underscored the urgency of climate change.”

Many poor, minority residents did not have the financial means to evacuate or even to stock up on food and water, Eglund recalled. At the distribution centers, it was “no money, no access.” Witnessing the disproportionate impacts of climate change was, for Eglund, “just as unsettling as the separate-but-equal Jim Crow laws.” Climate disasters hurt all of us, she noted, but some more than others. “Corporate greed is the Jim Crow of climate change.”

Like many of the speakers, Eglund described her reaction to the 400,000-strong People’s Climate March two days before, saying, “I witnessed hope. I witnessed the promise of climate justice. I witnessed a worldwide diverse amalgamation of brothers and sisters united in a common cause to save our planet.” She also wondered what Martin Luther King Jr. would have said if he had been able to take part in the climate march. “Maybe he would say, ‘Fossil-free at last! Fossil-free at last! Thank God almighty, one day we’re going to be fossil-free at last.’”


The other judges and I presented a synopsis of the testimony we heard in a preliminary “Findings and Statements.” It noted, for example, “rivers poisoned from toxic discharges, air polluted from incinerators, land destroyed from dangerous chemicals used in wartime, land grabs for industry and from development projects, and forced migration of peoples and communities.” It described decisions disproportionately impacting low-income communities, indigenous people and people of color, whose families suffer illness, are exposed to carcinogens, lead and radioactive waste, and can’t swim in their rivers or safely play in their playgrounds. The judicial panel also recognized specific impacts of climate change, such as “extreme drought, forest fires, lakes that dry up, loss of farms and forests, storm surges in cities, that rob people of livelihoods, jobs and their ways of life.”

Next, we emphasized that the witnesses and the people whom they represent are taking action against these atrocities and crimes against humanity. They are standing up to sue governments and corporations, to speak out, to march, to engage in civil disobedience. They are growing food to nourish their communities without the use of fossil fuels; eliminating waste through composting and recycling; and building on- and off-grid solar energy systems that will feed electricity to the people who need it. The struggle against climate change and those who are responsible for it is “creating a common bond and a common struggle among people everywhere,” manifested in the People’s Climate March and related protests around the world.

The judicial panel concluded by addressing the responsibility — and the culpability — of corporations and governments, saying, “Based on the evidence we have heard here today, the nations of our world are in violation of their most fundamental legal and constitutional obligations.” We called on governments to honor their duty to protect the atmosphere, which belongs in common to the world’s people, and halt their contribution to climate destruction.

While the panel recognized that it does not have the authority to force governments to take such action, it cited the view of international law professor Richard Falk, who — during his opening speech at the World Tribunal on Iraq in 2005 — said, “When governments and the United Nations are silent, and fail to protect victims of aggression, tribunals of concerned citizens possess a law-making authority.” We judges argued the same is true when governments fail to protect victims of climate change and observed that the failure of governments to protect human rights and the public trust has prompted the co-owners of the atmospheric commons to turn to mass civil disobedience to protect their common property. These actions must be seen “not as violations of the law, but as attempts to enforce it.” They represent the effort of tens of thousands of people to assert their collective right and responsibility to protect our public trust property, which includes resources like the earth’s climate that are essential to our survival.

Based on the evidence heard, we concluded that “those who blockade coal-fired power plants or block tar sands oil pipelines are committing no crime.” Rather, they are exercising their right and responsibility to protect the atmospheric commons they own along with all of present and future humankind. They are acting to prevent a far greater harm — indeed, “a harm that by virtue of the public trust doctrine is itself a violation of law on a historic scale.”

The future of climate tribunals

Climate change, as best-selling author and journalist Naomi Klein has said, changes everything. It represents a new stage in human history. It will require change on everyone’s part, including change in our movements. At the Climate Justice Tribunal we could see one aspect of that change going on before our eyes, as social justice activists take on climate change. Their work is a logical, organic evolution from anti-globalization, global justice and environmental justice movements — a growing expression of globalization from below. It will be one element of the emerging response.

Similar self-transformations are going on in other constituencies that participated in the People’s Climate March, such as the veterans of the global justice movement, Occupy Wall Street and organized labor. Each will have to figure out how to relate to the other parts and the movement as a whole. We know how to struggle, we know what’s wrong with the false solutions, but we have yet to envision the overall process of a just transition to a climate safe world.

In 1967, Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre, undoubtedly the most famous philosophers of their era, convened the International War Crimes Tribunal, at which a distinguished panel heard evidence that the United States was committing war crimes in Vietnam. The tribunal led millions of people around the world to question the Vietnam War and encouraged tens of thousands to resist it. Since then, it has inspired many civil society tribunals, including more than 20 independent international tribunals held in countries around the world to examine the criminality of the Iraq war. The Climate Justice Tribunal was neither as prestigious nor as ambitious as the Russell Tribunal. But it might be the start of something of comparable importance.

The Climate Justice Tribunal established a credible case that the governments and corporations of the world are systematically violating human rights, international law and their duty to protect the public trust by allowing the greenhouse gas emissions that are destroying the earth’s climate. Future climate tribunals could examine the evidence in greater detail. They could issue declaratory judgments and injunctions. They could also make findings on the rights and responsibilities of global citizens to enforce the law and their legal rights vis-à-vis governments that try to subdue them when they do so.

Such tribunals might influence official courts to enforce the law against fossil fuel corporations and governments that are acting like their captives. And if they do not, people’s tribunals may have a role to play in legitimating the world’s people to step in and engage in a nonviolent insurgency to save the planet.

News Tue, 21 Oct 2014 09:17:51 -0400
Spare the Rod, Respect the Child: Avoiding the Line Between Discipline and Abuse

Just as we as a society have come to reject all bullying and domestic violence, we must also reject our tolerance for adults hitting children, whether in our homes or in our schools.

2014 1022 child st(Image: Camille)Over the past two seasons, the National Football League (NFL) has sparked public debate and even outrage over several social issues related to violence: bullying, domestic violence and child abuse.

While the NFL likely regrets the lingering association of the league with violence spilling over into the players' lives - something the NFL has worked hard to overcome since the Michael Vick conviction for animal abuse - each of these incidences offers powerful and important lessons about much more than football.

First, we must acknowledge the violent nature of football itself, and how the popularity of football in this country reflects a fairly cavalier attitude about violence in our culture. Recently, reports of the lingering effects of concussions have begun to open the door to confronting the violence that is central to the sport.

Next, then, as we confront how the NFL deals with non-sport issues such as bullying, domestic violence and child abuse, we must also take stock of how the greater US public views and deals with these problems.

The most recent controversy, Adrian Peterson's physical punishment of his 4-year-old son, represents much more than poor judgment by Peterson, something reflected in Peterson's own reaction to the event: "I have to live with the fact that when I disciplined my son the way I was disciplined as a child, I caused an injury that I never intended or thought would happen. I know that many people disagree with the way I disciplined my child."

Peterson may well believe his central claim that he is not a child abuser. And it is true that the distinctions and justification posed by Peterson are reflected in the attitudes of many parents across the United States. In other words, Peterson's perspective is "normal": the idea that parental choices about discipline are the domain of the parents alone. However, the normality of this stance doesn't mean we shouldn't be seriously troubled by it - and by the terms of the debate around the issue.

For example, widespread public legitimacy has been granted to advocates of the idea that there are "appropriate" ways that adults can hit children.

Moreover, this "legitimacy" translates into policy: Corporal punishment not only remains common in homes across the United States but also remains legal in nearly half the states' public schools. In both settings, many people justify spankings as distinct from abuse, and then further justify the practices through reference to their own experiences as children, as well as the words of scripture.

In my own childhood, I was subjected to large amounts of secondhand smoke, no use of seatbelts and no helmet when riding my bicycle; I survived, even thrived. But none of that justifies ignoring the need to avoid those practices myself, when I had my daughter. The same holds for corporal punishment of children.

We have decades of research showing that any level of corporal punishment is less effective than other disciplinary techniques, and that corporal punishment often has extremely negative consequences.

Referring to over 60 years of research on corporal punishment, the American Psychological Association has concluded: "'Until researchers, clinicians, and parents can definitively demonstrate the presence of positive effects of corporal punishment, including effectiveness in halting future misbehavior, not just the absence of negative effects, we as psychologists can not responsibly recommend its use,' [Dr. Elizabeth Thompson] Gershoff writes."

We must reject our tolerance for adults hitting children, whether in our homes or in our schools.

Opinion Wed, 22 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
"Suffered or Permitted to Work" - When Is a Worker an Employee?

In the first week of the Supreme Court's 2014-2015 term lurks an easy-to-miss case. That would be a mistake. Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk reveals the ugly side of business today.

2014.10.21.Amazon.MainAmazon building in Santa Clara, California. Amazon is the world's largest online retailer. (Photo Ken Wolter / Shutterstock)

The Supreme Court kicked off its 2014-2015 term with a case called Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk. The issue in the case is whether employees who do work for Amazon had a right to be paid for time they spent waiting - for as long as 25 minutes - to be screened for theft.

According to Amazon Spokeperson, Nina Lindsey: "We have a longstanding practice of not commenting on pending litigation, but data shows that employees walk through post shift security screening with little or no wait."

Or, to be more accurate, this is a case in which Amazon was not named as a party in the case, because other corporations acted on Amazon's behalf. In this case, the named defendant was Integrity Staffing Solutions (ISS).

The Integrity Staffing Solutions website clearly shows that it is an agent of Amazon who acts on Amazon's behalf. For example, the website says, "Here's where to find Amazon warehouse jobs, light industrial work, temporary and seasonal jobs, part-time employment and a job to make you proud." Indeed, Integrity Staffing's website advertises a number of jobs, but it has specific links only to jobs at Amazon.

What This Case Is About

No doubt, there are many ways to think about this case. It is certainly fair to say that this is a case involving a powerful and wealthy corporation that uses its power and wealth to squeeze workers who have little-to-no power and no wealth.

What evidence do we have that Amazon has used that wealth and power in this case? According to

At the end of each day, all the workers were required to pass through a security clearance checkpoint where they had to remove their keys, wallets, and belts, pass through a metal detector, and submit to being searched. The whole process could take up to 25 minutes. Similarly, up to ten minutes of the workers' 30-minute lunch period was consumed by security clearance and transition time. In 2010, Busk and Castro sued Integrity and argued that these practices violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as well as Nevada state labor laws.

Amazon is known for creating systems that generate as much revenue as possible for Amazon and that do so by squeezing every penny out of Amazon's system. Amazon could have used those skills and that power to ensure its jobs were good jobs. It could have provided good benefits and pay. Or, at least, it could have shortened the wait time at the end of each day by hiring enough screeners to make the process as quick and dignified as possible. But that is not what Amazon chose to do.

Amazon could also have used its power to give its employees a paid lunch or, at least provide an unpaid lunch break that allowed its employees to use all of that half hour for their own needs. And Amazon could have hired enough screeners to make the process of leaving work as efficient as possible instead of delaying workers' true quitting time 25 minutes after the workers had clocked out. But Amazon did none of these things.

Amazon Is Not a Party to the Case or Is It? - The Nesting Doll Strategy

The American Bar Association's website for this case - and all Supreme Court cases - includes links to the parties' briefs and to amicus briefs. In the Amazon case, notice that, although the plaintiff-employees were doing work for Amazon and Amazon was calling the shots, Amazon was not the focus of this case. In fact, Amazon was not even a party in the case.

The parties are plaintiffs Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro, and the defendant is Integrity Staffing Solutions, not Amazon. It may seem odd that Amazon was not a party when the work was carried out on Amazon's behalf, and the outcome of this case could affect Amazon in the future.

In fact, even though there is almost no mention of Amazon, Amazon's interests were well represented. Amazon's subcontractor - Integrity Staffing Solutions - was the defendant and effectively represented Amazon's interests.

Amazon's interests were also represented by most of the organizations that filed amicus briefs in support of Integrity Staffing Solutions, including briefs by National League of Cities, National Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, US Conference of Mayors, Government Finance Officers Association, International Municipal Lawyers Association, National Public Employer Labor Relations Association, and the International Public Management Association For Human Resources, National Retail Federation, the Retail Litigation Center, Inc., Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America, Society for Human Resource Management, National Association of Manufacturers, National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center, and the United States.

Only two amicus briefs were filed on behalf of the plaintiff employees, one filed by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and the other filed by the National Employment Lawyers Association.

What Is at Stake in This Case?

It was not so long ago that at least some captains of industry took pride in providing a good living for their employees and their families. Now, many of their descendants think nothing of grinding their workers down and paying them as little as possible for as much work as possible.

It appears that Amazon, that is, Integrity Staffing Solutions, has chosen to be a thoroughly modern, cost-cutting corporation that uses every angle to pay its workers as little as possible. For example, Integrity's workers have an unpaid, half hour lunch, during which the workers must also spend roughly 10 minutes being scanned and searched.

If the plaintiff employees win this case, their employer will no longer be able to get free work, and the employer will have an incentive to hire more workers to speed up the time it takes the workers to go through the security line during their lunchtime and at their shift's end.

Why Is This Case Being Heard by the US Supreme Court?

The law in this case involves the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), enacted in 1938. The original FLSA set minimum wage and overtime pay. Over the years, the FLSA has been amended a number of times. This case is based on a 1947 amendment - the Portal-to-Portal Pay Act.

Congress enacted the Portal-to-Portal Act to overturn judicial interpretations of the FLSA that, it was claimed, were causing employers' financial ruin and letting their employees receive windfall payments while not doing work for their employers.

The Portal-to-Portal Act divided employees' activities into three categories - preliminary to working, working and postliminary to working. Only working time was to be paid time. That division may seem reasonable, but the Portal-to-Portal Act defined activities that involved preparing to work - for example, changing into and out of work clothes before or after work - as unpaid time. This does not mean that an employer is forbidden from paying for those periods, but how many employers would voluntarily pay for that time?

In this case, Amazon - or actually Amazon's subcontractor, Integrity Staffing Solutions - takes the position that wait time for screening during lunchtime and when leaving for the day is unpaid time.

These may seem to be trivial issues, but, for the workers, delay may mean missing a ride or having to pay a penalty for picking up a child late or just worrying that a child will be upset if a parent is late. And, to make it worse, this is not even paid time.

Bear in mind that Amazon / Integrity Staffing Solutions had the power to speed up the screening process by hiring more screeners, using more screening stations or having staggered start and end times. Any of these solutions would comply with the FLSA policies in § 2(a), which says the law was "to correct and eliminate labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general well-being of workers."

But, of course, that would mean less money for the employer.

While Amazon potentially has the right not to pay for this time, it also has the right to pay for time that is now unpaid. The plaintiff employees obviously felt sufficiently aggrieved that they sued and were able to find a lawyer to take the case.

One must wonder why these companies make lunchtime and time spent passing through security at day's end unpaid. Decisions of this sort that disrespect the workers may eventually lead workers to feeling disrespect for their employers.

Honestly, what is to be lost by making all work good work? In fact, Amazon advertises a book titled Good Work - When Excellence and Ethics Meet. Its blurb says:

What does it mean to carry out "good work"? What strategies allow people to maintain moral and ethical standards at a time when market forces wield unprecedented power and work life is being radically altered by technological innovation? These are the questions at the heart of this important collaboration by three leaders in psychology. Enlivened with stories of real people facing hard decisions, Good Work offers powerful insight into one of the most important issues of our time and, indeed, into the future course of science, technology, and communication.

Perhaps Amazon should read it, rather than just making a buck on it.

Opinion Tue, 21 Oct 2014 10:17:55 -0400
Globola ]]> Art Mon, 20 Oct 2014 12:49:30 -0400 Three Youth, Three Destinies: Which One for Gaza?

Nearly 64 percent of Palestinians in Gaza are age 25 or younger. Since the latest conflict with Israel, some 85 percent are striving to leave, but have been unable. Here are the stories of three youths.

2014 1022 gaza fwPalestinians explore a home badly damaged by Israeli airstrikes in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, August 21, 2014. (Photo: Wissam Nassar / The New York Times)

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With nothing but poverty, trauma and political strife in the news for the Gaza Strip, the future for its 1.8 million inhabitants seems unremittingly bleak. One thing I have learned from my many visits to Gaza is that the people are amazingly resilient. But how much more can they stand?

Nearly 64 percent of Palestinians in Gaza are age 25 or younger. Their future is Gaza's future. These young people have lived through three deadly assaults on their homes; most have never been able to leave the tiny, densely crowded Strip; and youth unemployment is estimated to be as high as 50 percent.

This is a look at the possibilities going forward, as illustrated by the stories of three different youth. Which of their stories predominates will depend on the response of the international community, both to the ongoing suffocation and destruction that have characterized Gaza since the imposition of the Israeli blockade in 2007, and its official adoption by Egypt in 2013. Although the high-level international participants in this month’s Reconstructing Gaza conference said all the right things about the need to end the blockade of Gaza and reunify Palestinians, those words have been said before, and there is very little faith on the ground that talk will transform into action. 

Ahmad Asfour

2014 1022 gaza 1(Photo: Abdelrahman Asfour)I first became acquainted with Ahmad (then 19) and his family in 2010, when I met his father, Samir, at a solidarity demonstration for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails outside Gaza's office of the International Red Cross. The ordeal that brought him there began the year before, during the "First Great War on Gaza," Operation Cast Lead.

Ahmad and four teenaged cousins were hit by fragments from a missile fired by an Israeli drone, while sitting on the front porch of their home east of Khan Younis, in the southern region of the Gaza Strip. The fragments lodged in his left eye, broke his jaw, shattered his teeth, severely lacerated both hands and right thigh, destroyed his genitals, and damaged his pancreas and intestines.

When he was eventually referred to a hospital in Jerusalem for advanced treatment, Ahmad was subjected to lengthy and brutal interrogation at the Erez crossing into Israel. In his weakened state, he "confessed" to charges of supporting terrorism and was imprisoned. (Read his full story.) Only with the intervention of lawyers and several human rights groups was he released back to his family after three years in prison.

"When Ahmad was finally released to us, his health was so bad, because he didn't get proper treatment in jail," recalls his father, Samir, through an interpreter. "He never felt good about life after that, and he didn't fit back in with society well."

Ahmad is not alone. According to Konstantina Bougonikolou, psychologist and medical coordinator with Doctors Without Borders, continuous exposure to violence and conflict can have a long-term, damaging effect on children and youth, even if it does not show immediately. "Their life takes a wrong turn, and it's very hard to take them back.  . . . They often adopt reckless or compulsive behavior and don't hesitate to throw themselves in dangerous situations. They won't be afraid to be engaged in situations that might lead to their death." 

That certainly was true for Ahmad. On Sept. 6, he and three of his cousins (the same ones who were wounded with him in 2009) were among more than 400 refugees who believed the promises of unscrupulous smugglers and boarded a boat they hoped would sail them to asylum in Italy.

According to Samir Asfour, his son and nephews traveled to Egypt after receiving permission to enter for further medical treatment. Ahmad's cousins were the first to hear about the boat to Italy, and Ahmad could not resist; he longed to live someplace where he could live without fear and receive the expensive medical treatment he so desperately needed to control his injury-induced diabetes. The cost for a spot on the boat: $2,200. Ahmed had brought $1,500 for his treatments, and borrowed the rest from relatives in Egypt.

"He told me he wanted to go to Italy by this boat, and I said, 'no! It's too dangerous,'" Samir told me with a sadness that spread to my own heart. "I talked to him many times to try to convince him, but he told me he was dying now. He had no hope. He had to try."

On Sept. 10, the boat sank, apparently after being rammed by the smugglers who had arranged the trip or a competing group. More than half of the 450 to 500 passengers were Palestinians from Gaza; only eight of them survived. Ahmad and his cousins were not among them.

Postscript: With Gaza's Youth Advocacy League reporting that the percentage of young people hoping to leave Gaza has increased from 35 percent last year to 85 percent following the recent assault, concern is high that even more will follow in Ahmad's footsteps. Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights, a Geneva- and Gaza-based nonprofit, has partnered with my new organization (New Generations for Palestinian Children and Youth) to post billboards across the Strip warning them of the dangers of illegal migration. 

Maram Rezeq

2014 1022 gaza 2(Photo: Maram Rezeq)At 18, Maram Rezeq is the third-oldest child among eight in a family in central Gaza that struggles to get by. Her father left the Strip several months before the latest war to find work, and meanwhile, her mother tutors to bring in a little income. (I am the "American mother" of two of her brothers studying in the United States and stay with the Rezeq family when I visit Gaza.)

Throughout the worst of the fighting, Maram and I would chat on Facebook about her fears and uncertainties - including when she was receiving strange calls on her mobile phone that she thought could be the Israeli army - because Maram didn't want to burden her already-stressed mother.

Maram is smart, but her only hope of attending university was to earn a scholarship abroad. Shortly before the Israeli assault began, she was offered a "full-ride" scholarship in Turkey to study business administration and international relations. Throughout the traumatic weeks that followed, Maram questioned her ability to survive, to get out and to perform well if she was able to leave.

"Maram," I kept telling her, "You have to believe. If you don't believe in yourself, who will?" But even I became discouraged when her start date drew closer and she contracted typhoid fever, was told Egypt had banned exits to Turkey and received only silence from Israel about a departure that way.

And then Maram rallied. Fortified by antibiotics, the diminutive teenage girl decided to take her chances with the Egyptian border guards and simply show up at the crossing.

Two days later, she had made it to the dorm that will be her home for at least the next five years - in Izmir, Turkey. Maram had been allowed out of Gaza (likely helped by the US visa from her year at an American high school, which had not yet expired), bought the next ticket for Turkey and made it all the way to her dormitory, on her own. With most of her fellow scholarship winners still stuck in Gaza, "It was a miracle," everyone seemed to agree.

"It was the most scary, crazy and wonderful experience I've ever had," she told me later. "And you know what? I never knew I could be so strong."

I had been so worried about Maram, and now I know I don't need to be. Like Gaza, she has proven - to herself and others - that she can bounce back after almost anything. Yet her achievement meant that Gaza had lost one of its best and brightest.

"Shark" (Ahmed Al-Ghraiz)

2014 1022 gaza 3(Photo: Ahmed Al-Ghraiz)At 25, a resident of one of the poorest refugee "camps" in Gaza (Nuseirat) and unable to find a job as the nurse he trained to be, Ahmed Al-Ghraiz seems likely to have a tale as sad as the "other Ahmad." But he doesn't, and this is the story that makes me most optimistic.

Ahmed and his brothers Mohammed and Jarule grew up initially in Saudi Arabia. Mohammed began watching breakdancing on YouTube as a teenager; the "resistance" form of art first pioneered by American blacks in the '80s appealed to his dancer's soul.

When the family moved to Gaza in 2004 to reunite with relatives, Mohammed started the Strip's first breakdance crew, the Camps Breakerz. His brothers Ahmed and Jarule were among the first members. At first, it was rough. When I interviewed the guys for a video series in 2011, they talked of discrimination within Gaza, as well as out. Breakdance is a Western art that is widely considered "un-Islamic" in the conservative religious culture.

Today, however, despite several painful turnovers in the crew's primary performers (including the departure of Mohammed, who now is studying nursing in the United States), the group is flourishing, not in sophistication of equipment or skill (they lack basic resources such as team T-shirts), but in acceptance. Now led by Shark (Ahmed's "bboy" name), the performers risked their lives to travel to schools used as temporary shelters to entertain homeless children, and now have begun training their first cohort of little "bgirls."

Yes, Shark wants to travel outside of Gaza (the crew is trying to raise funds now to perform in France). But he will, he says, always come back.

"I dont wanna leave Gaza," says Shark. "I have the dance center; I have my 'children'; I have my family; I have people around the world who love us and want us to keep dancing. (He has arranged weekly Skype chats between his students and dancers around the globe.) And I have a larger mission: to keep art alive here, in the hearts of the kids. I have everything that really matters right here."

The most recent war has left both the Strip's physical state and civic morale the worst I've seen. The destruction is overwhelming and the despair is palpable. But the "heart" of Palestinian culture and independence still beats, albeit with a struggle, in Gaza. It's up to international activists everywhere to join with its youth to keep that beat going.

Opinion Wed, 22 Oct 2014 10:21:29 -0400
Code Black Alert: Slave Patrols Alive and Well Across the US

“This latest yet unidentified St. Louis police executioner claimed that he followed Myers and his friends because he felt that the teens were acting suspiciously.”

Ten minutes earlier he had taken the turkey sandwich Berhe Beyet made him and cradled it away from his friend's playful snatching. Then stood breaking off a piece that he shared with another friend. By now, his mother has seen this tape of him standing in silhouette, and watched his peaceful chewing. On his way out the door he gives yet another friend a bite of what he did not know was his last supper, walking off into a night every parent in America cannot begin to imagine. A night every black person in America knows is coming and that the next one coming could be them—might as well be them—every time they imagine the high caliber bullet shattering his cheek bone, eye socket, aorta the medical examiner identified as the cause of death.

The ten minute clock begins running out of time as he steps outside the door and the security camera changes from color to black and white, where the silent footage is of body language, is of laughter and play and ease, making this confluence of uncertainty with the inevitable more cruel still.

Uncertainty, because we will never know what happened in the ten minutes after Vonderrit Myers Jr., 18, carried his turkey sandwich out of frame and into the last ten minutes of his life. Two wildly divergent narratives have emerged: One, told in very carefully crafted language with particulars to this incident sprinkled with assertions of the officer's feeling afraid for his life and his almost reckless waiting for the suspect to fire three rounds his way before dispatching what turned out to be a seasoned and precise lethal response. Myers has been portrayed as a troubled, repeat offender from the wrong side of the tracks. The other narrative, from eye witnesses, most of them black, some of them having themselves been previously fingerprinted, pointing their fingers at a rogue cop out to “put down” a young “suspicious”-looking black male, their voices minimized and cheapened by the state-sponsored press coming out of St. Louis.

“The Ruger 9mm Myers is said to have fired at the stalking vigilante-cum-police-officer that turns into a Smith and Wesson .038 in the police department's next revision.”

There will be solemn intonations on the responsibility to withhold comment on the ongoing investigation beyond proclaiming that Myers was no stranger to the criminal justice system. After all this time we might even be tempted to believe these depictions but for the constantly changing details in the official police story: the hoody Vonderril was said to be wearing when he was attacked by the off duty police officer—said to have been pulled off during a scuffle with his assassin—that he isn't wearing ten minutes earlier when last seen in the security video; the bushes Voderrel is said to have jumped out of but are missing from the crime scene photos; the Ruger 9mm he is said to have fired at the stalking vigilante-cum-police-officer that turns into a Smith and Wesson .038 in the police department's next revision.

Or the overt omission of disclosure about the St. Louis police union rep, Jeff Roorda, who was quoted as saying, "I've known dozens and dozens of officers who have been in a situation to take a life, and they never take it lightly," while the story fails to mention that Roorda himself was fired for repeated incidents of misconduct including falsifying records while he was a cop. Does Roorda only take fraud lightly? No. Roorda, now a democratic state senator in Missouri, "was the primary author and sponsor of legislation this year in Missouri, which aimed to completely conceal the identity of police officers being charged in shootings," according to the DailyKos:

“All of that is to say that the state of Missouri, from the top to the bottom, has absolutely no problem concealing (or even outright concocting) the truth in a case when the career of a police officer is at risk.”

Just 12 miles from the scene of Michael Brown’s murder, one final insult to the dignity of Ferguson residents is that Jeff Roorda is behind the Shield of Hope charity that has raised $500,000 in funds for Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown and Missouri Governor, Jay Nixon has personally campaigned for Roorda since Brown's slaying. Had Roorda gotten his way, no names of police involved in killing civilians would ever have been released, had the bill he authored and introduced not been defeated.

This latest yet unidentified St. Louis police executioner claimed that he followed Myers and his friends because he felt that the teens were acting suspiciously. This case mirrors the Trayvon Martin murder where the teen went to the store to purchase skittles and a soda and was confronted by self-appointed vigilante, George Zimmerman, who also thought Travyon was acting suspiciously. Zimmerman was found innocent of the murder of Travyon and his attorney Mark O’Mara was rewarded for his successful defense of white supremacy with a lucrative CNN contract as a legal consultant.

“Killing black men in America remains a closely held prerogative of white supremacy.”

Kajieme Powell, a 25 year-old mentally disabled man, was killed by St. Louis police days after the murder of Michael Brown. No charges were brought against the police officers who shot him multiple times. Michael Brown was profiled and executed as he walked in the street. A grand jury decision is expected in early November in which white men compose the majority of grand jury panelists. No one will be surprised if Officer Darren Wilson is never charged with Michael’s murder. And, no one will be surprised if the police officers who murdered Vonderrit Myers and Kajieme Powell are never charged with their murders. Killing black men in America remains a closely held prerogative of white supremacy.

...As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods,
They kill us for their sport.
—King Lear
William Shakespeare

Using the scientific modality of empiricism, the ability to predict outcomes based upon historic experiences, observations and reality, the murders of Brown, Powell, Myers, Martin, the hundreds and thousands before them we can extrapolate that if we do not act many more will surely die. It is utterly predictable. These deaths are not the result of hundreds of individual “bad apples” in police forces throughout the United States; these deaths are not accidents of nature, poor police training or officers fearful for their lives. Since Africans were brought to the US these deaths are part and parcel of the programming and desired outcome—the pacification, intimidation, population control and emotional scarring that is necessary to force African-Americans into becoming a pliant and subservient population that accepts minimum wages, apartheid-level education, job discrimination, premature deaths, exploitation of labor, emotional trauma, murder of our children by police, mass incarceration and sub-standard living conditions without resistance. The murders must be seen as a part of the desired outcome to disenfranchise African-Americans in order to have access to a cheap pool of labor and to discourage fighting for their humanity.

Yet every generation finds the courage and resilience to fight back. This is power of the resistance taking place in Ferguson. This is its legacy. We have arrived at this point in American history where we don’t need to be polite, or feign naivety about the intentional murder of black boys and men. The only question is: What is the end game for the African-American community?

As I wrote in my BAR essay: “Code Black Alert: the Execution of John Crawford,” from 1857 to 2014 the disposition of Black life has been circumscribed by the whims and capricious predilection of police, vigilantes and everyday white folks. A systemic and profound variable in the lives of African-Americans has been the pervasive and unrelenting storm of state-sponsored violence. Every 28 hours a black person dies at the hands of police, security guards or vigilantes. This represents an unbroken chain that links the 1857 Dred Scott decision to the present. Thus, one can hardly be surprised at the latest wave of violence directed against African-Americans.

“One can hardly be surprised at the latest wave of violence directed against African-Americans.”

If we are to emulate the human and sex traffickers that are elevated to the status of US founding fathers, what will it take for us to declare for ourselves:

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
—Declaration of Independence, 1776

It took the Founders 126 years to reeach enough is enough.

Contrast this with the human and sex trafficking that was legal in the United States until so-called emancipation in 1865 – after which it has been repackaged through many iterations from Jim Crow to its current offering of a "felon" over a "slave" and preference for the word "thug" over "nigger" and the current historic period of mass incarceration.

Whatever else may be said of Africa-America, 395 years is—very—patient. Three times as patient as the Founding Fathers, to be exact. The Founding Fathers would have thrown off such government and provided new guards for their future security three times by now.

Understanding the history of policing in the US African community is important to developing an analysis and thus the ability to predict whether this system is salvageable or needs to be completely reimagined.

Part II of this series will trace modern policing among African-American to its 1703 ancestral roots in Deep South human trafficking and enslavement called “Slave Patrols.”

Code Black Alert: Boston:

Boston police officers disproportionately observed, interrogated, or searched black residents from 2007 to 2010, according to the preliminary results of a study commissioned by the department that were released Wednesday.

“This study shows evidence not just of racial disparity, but of racial bias,” said Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, which collaborated with the Boston Police Department on the genesis of the study, and on Wednesday released its own analysis of the data. “That is really alarming.”

Code Black Alert: New York:

Another day, another brutal police assault for the crime of standing on the street while Hispanic. Santiago Hernandez, 23, has accused a half-dozen NYPD cops of punching, beating and kicking him as they investigated a noise complaint - really?

Code Black Alert: New York:

The family of 17-year-old Marcel Hamer has released a cell-phone clip of a plainclothes New York City police officer hitting the teen while he lies in the gutter… Hamer’s family says he has suffered from memory loss, dizziness, and headaches ever since. See YouTube.

Code Black Alert: Georgia:

A grand jury in Georgia has declined to charge any of the cops in a SWAT team's botched drug raid who threw a stun grenade into the crib of 19-month-old Bounkham “Baby Bou Bou” Phonesavanh, thereby severely burning him, detaching his nose from his face, disfiguring his mouth and possibly causing him brain damage.

Opinion Mon, 20 Oct 2014 11:36:10 -0400
Racist Policing in the De Blasio Era: Bill Bratton's Crusade to Save a Dying Brand

The tide is beginning to turn in the criminal justice conversation in the United States as four decades of exponential growth of the prison system and the police state have led to fragmented communities, stark racial disproportionalities and exorbitant expense. Yet the commissioner of the largest police force in the country, William "Bill" Bratton of the New York City Police Department, remains an unmoving boulder in the surf, standing fast to these policies.

2014.10.21.NYPD.MainNew York Police Commissioner William Bratton introduces the wearable cameras that some officers will begin wearing as part of a pilot program in New York, September 4, 2014. A federal judge ordered the cameras to be evaluated as a way of curbing unconstitutional stops by officers. (Photo: Chang W. Lee / The New York Times)

The tide is beginning to turn in the criminal justice conversation in the United States as four decades of exponential growth of the prison system and the police state have led to fragmented communities, stark racial disproportionalities and exorbitant expense. Yet the commissioner of the largest police force in the country, William "Bill" Bratton of the New York City Police Department (NYPD), remains an unmoving boulder in the surf, standing fast to policies that assisted him in coming to fame as violent crime crested in the 1990s, but which now stand at irreconcilable odds with the shifting national discourse.

Even while President Barack Obama and US Attorney General Eric Holder, the foremost law enforcement officers in the nation (for now), are speaking out about the burdens on communities, particularly those already marginalized due to predominant racial and economic demographics, that the criminal justice system has levied, Bratton remains the little boy with his finger in the dam, trying his best to hold back what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once described as history's inevitable march toward justice. Bratton, in his swan song, is cementing his legacy where it began - as an agent of state repression during the civil rights movement - squarely on the wrong side of history.

Earlier this summer Bratton, who in January was brought back to New York for a second tour as commissioner by self-styled progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio, tried to clear up what he described as "misunderstandings" about the NYPD having a race problem.

Spending one morning in any criminal courthouse in the city transports you back to the legally segregated United States.

"Are there more minorities impacted by enforcement? Yes. I'm not denying that . . . But it's not an intentional focus on minorities. It's a focus on behavior . . . We are not a racist organization - not at all," Bratton told the Associated Press as part of a media-oriented clean-up session following the choking death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in July. Garner was African-American. The city's medical team ruled Garner's death a homicide; Bratton stated that race had no impact on the incident whatsoever. De Blasio supported him and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito similarly dodged questions about the explicit role of race in Garner's death.

In a recent interview, journalist Jorge Ramos asked de Blasio if Garner would be alive today if he was white, pointing to the disproportionate racial statistics of the NYPD as they relate to the use of force. The NYPD's use of force statistics have, of course, recently come under scrutiny after a City Council whistle-blower challenged Bratton's assessment of the issue and was subsequently fired.

Spending one morning in any criminal courthouse in the city transports you back to the legally segregated United States. And yet NYPD consultant and cheerleader George Kelling recently insisted in The New York Times: "It's not the police's fault." Bratton's complicated perspective on the role of race in law enforcement outcomes is a point of view Andrew Taslitz explains as "racial blindsight" - a subconscious understanding that race does indeed provide an organizing structure for society even while refusing to acknowledge bias and instead constructing psychological fallacies so as to remain consciously blind to the harmful effect of racial inequities. Taslitz offers that because people and institutions are fully capable of removing their blinders to the implications of race, and yet refuse to do so - often for their own benefit - this type of self-deception is particularly "morally reprehensible."

The broken windows pop psychology that undergirds much of contemporary policing in the United States, particularly in New York City under Bratton - its most well-known exponent - is based fundamentally on racially informed understandings of so-called order.

As hard as Bratton - and de Blasio - try to spin the NYPD as not having a race problem, this position runs contrary to the vast bulk of research on the topic. The United States has a race problem and any institution, particularly one of law enforcement, is going to reflect this reality. For obvious examples, see the Human Rights Watch report on how ostensibly race-neutral drug policies came to disproportionately affect African-Americans on a national scale, Khalil Gibran Muhammad's seminal work on the creation of black criminality in the United States, and Babe Howell's research study on misdemeanor arrests in New York City.

Mychal Denzel Smith at The Nation recently described the inescapable influence race plays on policing in the United States:

We don't escape America's history of racism because we believe ourselves to be good people, or that we're just doing our jobs. It's already defined our lives.

Racism created these neighborhoods where people live in poverty without access to decent jobs. Racism has determined which activities are illegal and who has been arrested for those actions. The selling of untaxed cigarettes, for example, for which police officers were attempting to arrest Eric Garner, is a petty crime that is almost exclusively enforced in communities of color. Racism taught us who is and is not a threat. Racism provided the justification for eliminating the threat. Before Eric Garner ever met Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the policeman who put him in the chokehold, racism had completed the work of shaping how they would interact.

The role of the police is to maintain the social order; unfortunately, here in the United States that social order is one where opportunities are doled out or limited on the basis of race. In short, the social order is a racist one, characterized primarily by white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalistic exploitation. Focusing on the optics of the issue, a coalition of groups have written the commissioner about the lack of ethnic diversity among the NYPD's top commanders - nearly all of whom are white.

The Police Reform Organizing Project recently published a report detailing the racial discrimination that remains a part of the NYPD even under its "progressive" leadership.


The broken windows pop psychology that undergirds much of contemporary policing in the United States, particularly in New York City under Bratton - its most well-known exponent - is based fundamentally on racially informed understandings of so-called order. Beginning in the early 1990s, when Bratton was first commissioner of the NYPD, policing became disproportionately concentrated on the city's poorest, most racially non-white neighborhoods; this was after controlling for crime rates and physical disorder. As what is sometimes referred to as order maintenance policing was studied, researchers found that police, like other residents, described as most disorderly not those neighborhoods with the most objective disorder, but rather those neighborhoods that were most densely populated with black residents. A 2002 study found that police officers in video simulations viewed unarmed African-Americans as more threatening than equally unarmed individuals of other races. This is similarly reflected in Bratton's current crusade against subway performers.

It was CompStat that led to stop-and-frisk, and the modern reality that almost no white people are arrested for marijuana or other petty violations in New York City.

During the 1990s, these biases were systematized through the use of CompStat. Whatever its impact on reducing crime, and that remains very much in dispute, there is perhaps no other modern policing advance that is more directly responsible for the racialized criminalization of black and Latino residents and communities in New York City. It was CompStat that led to stop-and-frisk, and the modern reality that almost no white people are arrested for marijuana or other petty violations in New York City. Bratton forced precinct commanders to make arrests, summonses and stops in neighborhoods that were identified by the NYPD as "high-crime" to show that they were doing something to reduce the crime statistics. Thus officers preyed on specific demographics to meet these quotas - euphemistically referred to as productivity goals - usually targeting those groups without political power, groups already marginalized by a host of other public policy decisions. Criminologist Franklin Zimring, an outspoken supporter of Bratton and broken windows recently explained that the minor arrests - specifically marijuana arrests - didn't really have anything to do with reducing crime directly:

The police were not really interested in the possession of marijuana but instead used marijuana arrests to try to discover people with felony warrants outstanding against them.

This use of minor arrests as a pretext targets many young men of color who don't have warrants against them, so the problems of fairness with that tactic and stop-and-frisk are legitimate.

Meanwhile the research began piling up to show that the intensifying arrests for low-level infractions had no bearing on the reductions of serious crimes. Bratton himself recently acknowledged this during an interview on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show in which he explained the fervor he displays for broken windows policing is simply from a gut feeling that it works, from his personal experience. He was quick to clarify that the results of "academic science," which might otherwise appear to point toward the philosophy's demise, have no bearing on his calculus. Now, the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division is considering a deep-dive of its own into "broken windows" policing, which others in the federal government have termed to be racially discriminatory.

We are left with a style of policing that shares a great deal in common with the black codes of the Reconstruction South.

And so we are left with a style of policing that shares a great deal in common with the black codes of the Reconstruction South. Riding a bike on the sidewalk is not considered disorderly in white neighborhoods, but it is in black neighborhoods. Possession of marijuana is de facto legal in white neighborhoods, but not in black neighborhoods. Black New Yorkers are under especially great scrutiny when they travel in mostly-white neighborhoods. Human Rights Watch took the extraordinary step of weighing in on a local policy issue. One New York City Councilmember recently penned an op-ed detailing the way in which the NYPD is arresting black residents of New York for patently legal behaviors.


Perhaps the most racist aspect of the NYPD is Bratton's attachment to a bankrupt policing philosophy that necessitates racially skewed outcomes even as it has been soundly disproved by research. At a recent public forum on policing, Queens College professor Harry Levine explained, perhaps, how someone like Bratton, educated as he is on the topic, could still cling to a policy that appeared promising in the early 1990s, but has since, after decades of study by sociologists, criminologists and economists, been largely debunked as having any significant criminological efficacy.

Bratton has built a significant international brand of policing during his 40 years in law enforcement. His private sector consulting work includes board membership of several companies that sell technology, surveillance gear and other police niceties such as Kroll Inc., Motorola Solutions and ShotSpotter Inc., which coincidentally or not, was just hired by the NYPD to provide gunshot detection services in the Bronx. He now has his own consulting firm, Bratton Technologies, which is developing a social-media network for law enforcement. As chief of the NYPD so far this year, Bratton has made two consulting trips to Israel, and previously engaged with the London Police Department about consulting there - the city turned him down. Bratton and Kroll CEO Emanuele Conti were recently honored side-by-side at an annual New York Fire Department benefit.
Bratton is unlikely to be commissioner in New York City for very long, and his stop here may simply be to burnish his resume before moving back into the private sector. If that's the case, as Levine points out, he cannot abandon his ideological bread and butter, even if he might disagree with it, even if it has been rejected by all who have seriously studied it. But if Bratton, for his personal financial gain, in the face of decades of research to the contrary, continues to export a policing philosophy that necessarily leads to the criminalization of marginalized groups - specifically here in New York City, black men - what exactly is going on?

News Tue, 21 Oct 2014 10:03:38 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: The US Is Number One in Violence, and More

In today's On the News segment: Violence is one of the only reasons the US finds itself at the top of any charts; many colleges around the country will take as much of their students' money as they can get their hands on; the top 1% own half of all the world's assets; and more.


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

You need to know this. The United States is number one... or at least, that's what politicians love to claim. However, our lawmakers fail to mention what it is that makes American so exceptional. According to Lawrence Wittner of the State University of New York, violence is one of the only reasons we find ourselves at the top of any charts. In 2014, the United States ranked 24th in nutrition and basic medical care, 34th in water and sanitation, and 69th in ecosystem sustainability. But, we are number one in military spending, gun ownership, and weapons exports. A recent report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute says that the U.S. government accounts for 37 percent of world military expenditures. Our closest competitors are Russia and China, and together they only account for 16 percent of global military spending. The United States lags far behind other developed nations when it comes to child poverty and life expectancy, but our poor and our sick are better armed than any citizenry in the developed world. In 2013, we had 88 guns for every 100 people, and 40 gun-related deaths per 400,000. In comparison, Britain only has 6 guns per 100 people, and only 1 gun-related fatality for every 400,000 people. Is this what politicians mean when they talk about "American Exceptionalism?" Do we really want to be number one in death and destruction? If we diverted just a fraction of our massive military spending to other programs, we could be exceptional in so many meaningful ways. Investments in education, healthcare, and infrastructure would improve the lives of millions of Americans, and improve our ability to measure up with the rest of the developed world. We can't bomb or shoot our way to a better nation, but we can invest in our country to make it truly exceptional.

A lot of colleges around the United States will take as much of students' money as they can get their hands on. However, a few schools are doing more to prevent kids from racking up so much debt. Broward College in Florida will no longer accept private or unsubsidized loans, and they're "barring students from borrowing more than they need." In addition to restricting loans to protect students, the school will also require all enrollees take a two-hour seminar on financial literacy. That required course will warn students about getting deeper into debt than necessary and teach them important concepts like investment risk. In the last 10 years alone, the total amount of outstanding student debt has tripled in our country, and default rates on those loans are higher than ever. As a nation, we need to do more to help students struggling with debt, and prevent more people from needing such outrageous loans in the first place. It's great to see that a community college is thinking about how to help students, but we need to be thinking about how to resolve these problems once and for all.

The top one percent own half of all the world's assets. In stark contrast, the bottom fifty percent of the world owns less than one percent. According to the 2014 Global Wealth Report from Credit Suisse, global inequality has surged since the 2008 financial collapse. The report explains that while global wealth has more than doubled since the year 2000, the vast majority of overall growth has gone to those who were already wealthy. Emma Seery of Oxfam International explained how serious this inequality has really become. She said, "in poor countries, rising inequality means the difference between children getting the chance to go to school and sick people getting life saving medications." And, thanks to Thomas Piketty, we know that even in so-called developed nations like ours, inequality can be one of the biggest threats to a functioning democracy. It's time to fight for an economy that works for all the people of the world, and a system that asks those with the most to contribute their fair share.

Students in Philadelphia are standing up for their teachers. Earlier this month, the School District of Philadelphia called a surprise meeting and announced they were cutting ties with the local teachers' union. In response to that announcement, about 200 students walked out of classes, and protested threats to their education. According to the group's Facebook page, the kids walked out "because every single teacher in the district's benefits are at risk and being played with through politics." During the protest students carried signs reading "Save Our Schools" and "Students for Teachers," and called on Pennsylvania's lawmakers to reverse a huge cut that was made to education back in 2011. The organizer of the student strike, 16-year-old Leo Levy, said that the kids wanted "to show student solidarity with the plight of the teachers and to show how invested in a proper education the student body really is." All around our nation, teachers unions have been under attack. It's great to see students standing up for the very teachers that work so hard to educate our nation's young people.

And finally... The city of Los Angeles is working to give the homeless a real place to call their own. The new 102-unit, Star Apartments will provide real homes for people living on the street, along with a gym, a garden, a library, and even art studios for residents. The residences are part of a new approach to dealing with homelessness called "permanent supporting housing", and they are subsidized with a combination of state and federal funding. Rather than criminalizing homelessness with unjust laws, Los Angeles is trying to find real solutions. Recent reports have found that it is way more expensive to leave someone on the street than to give them a home. The stability of having a place to call their own will make it easier for people to find jobs, seek medical or mental health treatment, and integrate themselves back into society. The Star Apartments are going to save Los Angeles a ton of money, and they are going to provide homeless people with hope – which can go a long way towards helping them get their lives back on track.

And that's the way it is - for the week of October 20, 2014 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

News Mon, 20 Oct 2014 11:31:43 -0400
Threat of Ebola Highlights Problems in the US Public Health System

On October 15, the second case of Ebola transmitted in the United States was confirmed in Texas between patient Thomas Eric Duncan and a health worker. Even more frightening, perhaps, is the sequence of events leading up to the transmission, and the many questions it generates about the preparedness of the US in responding to public health emergencies.

Six days after Duncan arrived in the United States  – having passed a screening for fever at a Liberian airport – his symptoms progressed and he sought care at a Texas hospital, where he was promptly sent home with antibiotics.

The hospital claimed his early discharge was the fault of the electronic health record (EHR) for not communicating the patient’s travel history, but soon issued a correction saying his history was “available to the full care team…there was no flaw in the EHR.”

No matter who or what is at fault for letting Duncan fall through the cracks, we cannot let this huge breach in protocol happen again.

More than a week later, and several days after the patient was confirmed to have Ebola, the apartment at which he was staying with four individuals remained unsterilized. The quarantined family had the responsibility of arranging clean bedding until a waste management company agreed to clean the apartment. When they arrived, contractors wore no protective equipment and used power washers to sanitize – a practice which is likely not the most effective method of treating infectious surfaces.

And then, on October 12, the CDC confirmed that a nurse who had worn full protective gear while treating Duncan had contracted Ebola due to a yet unknown breach in protocol. On, October 15, another nurse who treated Duncan was confirmed to have the virus, showing symptoms just one day after boarding a commercial flight returning from Cleveland to Dallas.

These events point to several issues in the US public health infrastructure: who is in charge when high-stakes infectious diseases spread? How should the US prevent diseases originating in other countries? What can we learn from this case to prevent other errors in the system?

First, we need to decide who, or which agency, is in charge when a public health emergency occurs. Larry Copeland, a reporter at USA Todayagrees. Currently, the CDC provides assistance and guidelines to states and educates providers about how to prepare for Ebola. The choice to enact these protocols and successful operation of these procedures remains with the states. The CDC also issues guidelines to prohibit practitioners who have treated Ebola patients from boarding commercial flights. Separately, the Department of Homeland Security controls issues of air travel, including providing guidance to airlines and calling for symptom screenings at high-profile airports.

So there is no single entity leading the public health response to Ebola. While the CDC may fall into this role, it is up to individual hospitals and practitioners to respond promptly and effectively. Unfortunately, in Texas, several errors – including sending the patient home while infected, delaying sanitation of the patient's apartment, and developing two more confirmed cases – showcase how disorganization in public health can lead to unfavorable outcomes.

And how should the US prevent diseases originating in other countries? Experts agree that closing borders of West African countries would worsen the crisis. Unfortunately, the issue of Ebola as it relates to air travel has become politicized by conservatives, prompting CDC Director Tom Frieden to speak out strongly against a travel banConservative Republicans have even attempted to relate Ebola to anti-immigration reform by claiming that migrants from Central America could bring Ebola through the southern US border (despite the fact that no outbreak of Ebola has ever occurred in Latin America).

In a press conference, Dr. Frieden assured that strong core public health functions could stop the spread of Ebola. Although the CDC and public health workers successfully tracked close contacts of Duncan and isolated those at high risk, those steps could not stop the first incorrect diagnosis or the spread to front-line health workers – arguably the most important role in stopping the epidemic.

The implications of public health slipups cannot be understated. We need to start a conversation about the relationship between federal, state and local public health authorities. We need to simplify and communicate protocols to hospitals and ensure that providers and communities are enacting preparations for infectious diseases. Valuing the field of public health as much as we do individual appointment-based care is essential to stopping an epidemic. We need to organize authority and mobilize an informed and efficient workforce to improve the preparedness of the US health system in responding to public health emergencies.

Opinion Mon, 20 Oct 2014 11:11:44 -0400
Did Louisiana Attorney General Caldwell Miss the CDC Memo That Incineration Kills Ebola?

Man holds a sign at outside a meeting in Mandeville LA protesting fracking waste. (©2104 Julie Dermansky)Man holds a sign at outside a meeting in Mandeville LA protesting fracking waste. (©2104 Julie Dermansky)

Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell got a temporary restraining order to stop the incinerated remains of Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan’s belongings from being disposed of in Louisiana. Caldwell’s headline grabbing move was mocked by Mother Jones writer Tim Murphy who bestowed Louisiana with the “Prize for Ebola Fearmongering.” 

“There are too many unknowns at this point, and it is absurd to transport potentially hazardous Ebola waste across state lines. We just can't afford to take any risks when it comes to this deadly virus,” Caldwell told the New Orleans Times Picayune

Science be damned when it comes to public health in Louisiana. It would seem so if you pay attention to the statement issued by the Centers for Disease Control: “We certainly know how to inactivate and destroy the Ebola virus. It's readily destroyed by incineration, destroyed by chemical means,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, the CDC director stated during a press conference

Yet Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell got a temporary restraining order to stop the incinerated remains of Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan’s belongings from being disposed of in Louisiana. Caldwell’s headline grabbing move was mocked by Mother Jones writer Tim Murphy who bestowed on Louisiana the “Prize for Ebola Fearmongering.”   

Caldwell's move is in contradiction to Louisiana's standard practice of accepting toxic industrial waste from other states.

The Lake Charles hazardous waste facility — where the incinerated remains were destined for disposal — is no stranger to out of state toxic material. Ten hazardous materials the waste facility previously accepted from out of state include arsenic, asbestos, cadmium, dioxin, mercury, hydrogen fluoride, bromine, lead, barium and manganese, according to a report obtained by The New Orleans Times  Picayune from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory Program.

“It is impossible that the incinerated waste will spread infectious disease,” Dr. Brobson Lutz, a New Orleans specialist in infectious diseases, told DeSmogBlog. “But the whole idea of trucking waste from Dallas to Louisiana is ridiculous.”

He questions why the biggest state in the country needs to transport waste to the poorest one. “Texas should handle their own garbage,” Lutz said.

“The attorney general's actions show movement in the right direction,” retired Lt. General Russel Honoré told DeSmogBlog. Honoré, founder of the Green Army, a coalition of environmental groups fighting pollution, thinks it is good to question any waste being accepted into Louisiana. But he adds, “We have a lot more serious things going on in Louisiana that are a danger to public health, that threaten our air and our water, than this incinerated waste that poses no threat to anyone, that I wish the attorney general would speak to.”

Honore points out the attorney general hasn’t weighed in on a controversial oilfield wastewater injection well that is set to be built in Houma, LA, despite citizens’ objections. Nor has he commented on concerns raised by residents of DeSoto Parish regarding the disposal of fracking industry waste. And then there’s the Coast Guards' decision to consider allowing the transport of waste from fracking sites down the Mississippi River for disposal in Louisiana.

Road signs in Northern Louisiana. (©2104 Julie Dermansky)Road signs in Northern Louisiana. (©2104 Julie Dermansky)

“The attorney general has some kind of unfounded fear or fetish about incinerated non-infectious waste,” Lutz says. “Louisiana, one of the poorest states in the nation, shouldn't be taking other states waste,” Lutz argues. “But for reasons that don't include the possible spread of Ebola.”

News Mon, 20 Oct 2014 10:33:32 -0400
In Tight Midterms Facing Low Turnout, Colorado's Senate Race Could Decide Who Controls Congress

As we broadcast from Denver, Colorado, we examine how the state’s U.S. Senate race in the upcoming midterm election could shape who controls Congress. Republican candidate Cory Gardner and Democratic incumbent Mark Udall are neck and neck in the polls. Gardner is a two-term congressman and son of a tractor salesman who has attacked Udall’s support of the Affordable Care Act and close family political ties. Meanwhile, Udall has accused Gardner of being too far to the right, especially in his previous support for Colorado’s "personhood" ballot measures, which declared that rights begin at conception. Outside groups have poured millions of dollars into the campaigns. We look at the Gardner-Udall contest — and other key issues in the midterm election — with Mike Littwin, a longtime Denver Post political columnist who now writes for The Colorado Independent.


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

AMY GOODMAN: We are broadcasting once again from the studios of Open Media Foundation/Denver Open Media, here in Denver, Colorado, where a key Senate race has become one of the nation’s most closely watched contests. Republican candidate Cory Gardner and Democratic incumbent Mark Udall are neck and neck in the polls. The political battle has the potential to tip control of the Senate to the Republicans.

Gardner is a two-term congressman, son of a tractor salesman, who has attacked Udall’s support of Affordable Care Act and close family political ties. Meanwhile, Senator Udall has accused Gardner of being too far to the right, especially in his previous support for Colorado’s so-called "personhood" ballot measures, which declared that rights begin at conception.

UDALL FOR COLORADO AD: It comes down to respect for women and our lives. So Congressman Cory Gardner’s history promoting harsh anti-abortion laws is disturbing. Gardner sponsored a bill to make abortion a felony, including cases of rape and incest. Gardner even championed an eight-year crusade to outlaw birth control here in Colorado. But Mark Udall protects our right to choose, our access to birth control.

AMY GOODMAN: That ad, endorsed by Senator Udall, but may have backfired. Last week, to the surprise of many, Cory Gardner won the endorsement of the state’s biggest newspaper, The Denver Post. The paper had previously endorsed Udall in his 2008 run for Senate, but shifted allegiances, saying he’s now running a, quote, "obnoxious one-issue campaign" on abortion issues. Senator Udall, the incumbent, responded by telling Reuters, quote, "If Congressman Gardner hadn’t built his entire political career on limiting women’s reproductive choices, we wouldn’t be having this discussion today."

The closely contested Senate race is widely viewed as a litmus test for whether Colorado has shifted into the Democrat column or remains a swing state. President Obama carried Colorado in his two runs for the White House, and Republicans have not won a top-of-the-ticket race here in a decade. However, Democrats are now so concerned about Senator Udall’s chances that President Obama has urged Colorado voters to consider the race as important as the 2008 presidential ballot. And on Monday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headlined a fundraiser for Udall in Denver and posed with him afterwards for a photo shoot. Meanwhile, Colorado voters have been bombarded by political ads from both sides as outside groups have poured millions of dollars into the campaigns. According to The New York Times, Cory Gardner raised $4.5 million and reported $1.4 million more in cash on
hand than Udall.

The governor’s race between the incumbent, Democrat John Hickenlooper, and former Republican Congressman Bob Beauprez is also far tighter than many had anticipated.

Well, for more, we’re joined now by Mike Littwin, veteran Denver Post political columnist who now writes for The Colorado Independent and elsewhere.

Mike Littwin, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.

MIKE LITTWIN: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: So let’s talk about the significance—


AMY GOODMAN: —of the Gardner-Udall contest, the race for the Senate that could determine who controls the Senate starting next year.

MIKE LITTWIN: Well, Colorado, sadly for us who live here, has become one of the key bellwether states—and not sadly to live here, it’s a great place to live, but it’s not a great place if you watch TV, because every single minute of advertising time in Denver, Colorado, is sold out. We have this sad onus of being the most thoroughly advertised—political advertised city in America. So, all you suffering out there, it’s worse here.

And the reason for this is that Colorado is a state that doesn’t easily fit into any one category. It has become sort of a purple state, because our state is divided almost equally among Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliateds. So, every race seems to be a toss-up. Every race seems to be two- or three-point difference. And the Democrats have had that two- or three-point advantage for 10 years now, but it’s still usually a two- or three-point advantage.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the Gardner-Udall contest.

MIKE LITTWIN: The Gardner-Udall race, to me, it’s been kind of a depressing race, because they have avoided so many of what I think are the important issues. You don’t hear very much about immigration. You don’t hear very much about minimum wage. You don’t hear very much about paycheck equity. You don’t hear a lot about what’s going on in Syria. Most of the race, as you were saying, is about Cory Gardner’s previous support of personhood, which he used to brag about supporting and passed out petitions in church. And he is now supporting what is a, yes, national personhood bill.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about this personhood initiative—

MIKE LITTWIN: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —on the November ballot, which would amend the state constitution to define every stage of pregnancy as a legal human being.


AMY GOODMAN: Critics argue it would ban not only abortion, but also common forms of birth control and in vitro fertilization. The Republican Senate candidate, Cory Gardner, has come out against the measure, as you said, after supporting two previous attempts to pass a personhood initiative in 2008 and 2010 here in Colorado. Last month, a reporter asked him why he still supports a personhood bill at the federal level.

ELI STOKOLS: If you don’t support the personhood initiative at the state level anymore, why keep your name on that Life Begins at Conception Act at the federal level?

CORY GARDNER: There is no such thing as a federal personhood bill.

ELI STOKOLS: OK, but Cory, I mean, the people who wrote that bill—Congressman Duncan Hunter of California, Paul Broun of Georgia—they say, Personhood USA says, that that is what the Life Begins at Conception Act is.

CORY GARDNER: When I announced for the Senate, that’s when this outcry started from the Senate campaign of Senator Udall’s. That’s what they’re trying to do. This is all politics. It’s unfortunate that they can’t focus on—

ELI STOKOLS: But the facts are, I mean, just as people—

CORY GARDNER: No, the facts are, Eli, that there is no federal personhood bill. There is no federal personhood bill.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the Republican senatorial candidate, Cory Gardner, being questioned. Mike Littwin?

MIKE LITTWIN: This is the—this is the "What you see before your eyes is not what happened. Who do you believe, me or your lying eyes?" defense. Cory Gardner says, "There is no federal personhood bill, there is no federal personhood bill, there is no federal personhood bill," when of course there is a federal personhood bill. He’s the co-sponsor. As you heard Duncan Hunter say, this is a way to get around Roe v. Wade. They think this would overturn Roe v. Wade, according to the supporters. Personhood USA says it’s a personhood bill. And Cory Gardner says—he says two things: One, it’s not a personhood bill; two, this is just a statement of my belief—that the bill is just a statement of his belief that he’s pro-life.

And so, this has allowed—this has allowed Mark Udall to continue on this path, because not only have we got—yes, we understand that Cory Gardner once supported personhood and now he doesn’t on the state amendment, but why in the world is he still supporting it in Congress? And that’s the question. Why in the world is he still supporting it in Congress?

AMY GOODMAN: What about the money that’s pouring into these campaigns, the outside money? Can you talk about Karl Rove? Can you talk about the Koch brothers?

MIKE LITTWIN: Right, yeah, you mentioned $4.5 million that Cory Gardner had raised. That’s nothing. That’s bupkis. All the money is outside money, and it is pouring in from left and right, and that’s why you see every available second of TV ad time is sold out.

The campaigns, the campaigns themselves, the Udall and Gardner campaign, they can’t spend all of their money. They don’t know how to spend it. They don’t have enough—there is not enough room to spend it. So they’re taking their money—and this will be fascinating—they’re taking their money and spending it on the ground game. They’re spending three or four times as much on ground game as anyone ever spent—ground game meaning get out the vote. And, you know, for the Democrats, this is what the Democrat hope is. Cory Gardner is running about three points ahead of Michael Bennet—I mean, of Mark Udall. The Democrats believe that their get-out-the-vote thing is about a three-point difference. So, if Gardner is three points ahead in the polls, and Democrats think they’re three points ahead, that’s a tie.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Udall is a big oil-and-gas guy, but he’s also, along with Senator Wyden of Oregon, a major figure speaking out around the issue of surveillance in this country.

MIKE LITTWIN: Yes. Udall is old-time Colorado environmentalist, has climbed all of the 14ers in the state of—he’s gone—

AMY GOODMAN: The tallest 14 mountains?

MIKE LITTWIN: The 14,000-feet mountains. He’s gone to—I think there’s 50-something of them. He’s gone around the world and climbed. It’s what—he’s the rugged, outdoor guy. He got his years in—he got his start in Outward Bound. He looks like Colorado. Cory Gardner, who’s also—he’s from the Eastern Plains farming area, but he looks like he’s, I don’t know, a dentist from Connecticut. So, you know, he doesn’t have that same sort of rugged Colorado look that Udall has. And a lot of—so, Gardner just did a commercial about showing himself in the mountains, and The Denver Post made fun of him as, you know, he’s no Mark Udall.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the climate change issue.


AMY GOODMAN: During a debate earlier this month, the moderator asked Cory Gardner to answer a question on climate change with a simple yes-or-no response. Let’s go to that exchange.

MODERATOR: Do you believe humans are contributing significantly to climate change?

CORY GARDNER: Well, I’ve said all along climate change—it’s an important issue, but I don’t think you can say yes or no.

MODERATOR: But you have 60 seconds after—

CORY GARDNER: I believe the climate is changing. I disagree to the extent that it’s been in the news that man is causing—

AMY GOODMAN: OK, there you have it, Cory Gardner not wanting to answer yes or no to this question on climate change.

MIKE LITTWIN: That’s their whole strategy is to vote right, appear moderate. And Cory Gardner is a very moderate-looking person, and that’s—their real hope is to capture the center in Colorado by appearing to be more moderate than the vote indicates.

AMY GOODMAN: The governor’s race, John Hickenlooper versus Bob Beauprez?

MIKE LITTWIN: This is a more of an old-fashioned race about the issues, about Colorado. And John Hickenlooper is touting the economy, which is finally pretty good in Colorado and has grown in Hickenlooper’s career. And on the other side, the two big issues for Beauprez have been that after Sandy Hook and Aurora, that the Democrats—Democratic Legislature passed some very modest gun laws, which led, as you may have heard, to the recall of two state senators, and it’s been a huge issue in Colorado ever since; and then, in the death penalty, where Hickenlooper ran as a pro-death penalty governor in 2010, but when it came to time to execute the first person in Colorado in 20 years, he couldn’t do it. He backed off and said this wasn’t what government should do, and had a real—had a real epiphanous moment. But for—Republicans have said it was a flip-flop, and Beauprez has said that if he is elected governor, that the first thing or one of the first things he’ll do is to execute Nathan Dunlap.

AMY GOODMAN: The congressional race that is getting a lot of attention?

MIKE LITTWIN: Yeah, the race, the Sixth District race between Andrew Romanoff and the incumbent, Mike Coffman, started out being a huge race, and—because it’s a very close district, one of the few ungerrymandered districts in America. It really is one of those third-third-third districts. But since the House became less important—nobody thinks the House is going to swing one way or the other, it’s stuck as a Republican House—that people became less interested, and it’s having a lot of trouble—

AMY GOODMAN: What Coffman’s known for, what Romanoff is known for?

MIKE LITTWIN: Yeah, Romanoff is—

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.

MIKE LITTWIN: —used to be speaker of the House in Colorado, and he’s sort of a mainstream liberal, and Coffman is a former marine who is a conservative Republican, who is very big on cutting money—on the Defense Department, though.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there.


AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much for being with us, Mike Littwin, with The Colorado Independent, former veteran reporter with The Denver Post.

News Mon, 20 Oct 2014 10:44:17 -0400
Sectarianization: Steven Heydemann and Joshua Landis on the Trajectory of the Syrian Nightmare

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to interview two of the leading Syria experts in the world, Steven Heydemann and Joshua Landis, about the “big picture” of the Syrian conflict and the wider crisis engulfing the Middle East today, as part of the CMES Conversations series produced by the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver. Landis, while best known as a blogger and commentator on Syria, is an historian. Heydemann is a political scientist who has written an influential study of Syrian politics covering the years 1946-1970.

The two interviews offer contrasting perspectives, but both take us several steps back from the news cycle and place the events unfolding in the region today in a wider historical, comparative and global lens. This was the focus of the forum that brought them to Denver, “Sectarianization: ISIS, the Syrian Conflict & the Future of the Middle East”. Sectarianization will be a central focus of our  in the coming months, and is the theme of the book my colleague Nader Hashemi and I are currently co-editing (our last book being The Syria Dilemma).

Steven Heydemann is Vice President of Applied Research on Conflict at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). He’s the author of Authoritarianism in Syria: Institutions and Social Conflict, 1946-1970, the editor of War, Institutions and Social Change in the Middle East and co-editor of Middle East Authoritarianisms: Governance, Contestation, and Regime Resilience in Syria and Iran.

Our interview revolves largely around Heydemann’s far-reaching report “Syria’s Uprising: sectarianism, regionalisation, and state order in the Levant”, published by the European think tank FRIDE. Have a look:

Joshua Landis is Associate Professor in the College of International Studies at the University of Oklahoma, where he is also Director of the Center for Middle East Studies. Widely regarded as one of the leading Syria experts in the world, he is the former President of the Syrian Studies Association. He writes and edits the widely-read blog Syria Comment.

Our interview revolves principally around two of his recent articles: “The Great Sorting Out: Ethnicity & the Future of the Levant” and “Why Syria is the Gordian knot of Obama’s anti-ISIL campaign”. Have a look:

News Mon, 20 Oct 2014 10:40:38 -0400
Keeping Faith in Democracy

Marilynne Robinson’s new book, Lila, has been acclaimed by critics as “unflinching,” “an exquisite novel of spiritual redemption and love,” and “a book whose grandeur is found in its humility.”

This week, it was nominated for the National Book Award, the latest of a series of books she set in a fictional Iowa town that began with the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead, published in 2004. In addition to her fiction, Robinson is also an accomplished essayist, and on this week’s show, Bill talks with her about her fervent belief in the power of grace and faith and her devotion to democracy, which she fears “we are gravely in danger of losing.”

She tells Moyers, “Democracy has been meant to remove the artificial constraints, poverty is the huge artificial constraint on human thought and action. In this country, there have been attempts to moderate that entrapment and we’ve abandoned that.”


BILL MOYERS: Welcome. Rarely has a novel been so universally acclaimed as Marilynne Robinson's “Lila”: “An unflinching book,” says “The New Yorker.” “An exquisite novel of spiritual redemption and love,” reports “The Washington Post.”

And that’s just for starters in this latest of her books examining the lives of a minister, his wife, their son and neighbors in a fictional town in Iowa. The first, “Gilead,” won Marilynne Robinson the Pulitzer Prize. “Home” followed. And now “Lila,” nominated just this week for the National Book Award, filled, as one reviewer wrote, "with quiet epiphanies." Exactly what we’ve come to expect from Marilynne Robinson.

She has been described as a woman “who speaks in sentences that accumulate into polished paragraphs” with a mind that “skips the stones of a question across its ample surface.” And of course that's how she writes, including her non-fiction work. In fact, it wasn't her gifts as a novelist that first caught my attention. It was her essays, in such collections as “The Death of Adam,” “Absence of Mind” and “When I Was a Child I Read Books” Those drew me to the way she writes and thinks, and to her strong belief in the power of grace and faith, and her devotion to democracy, which she fears “we are gravely in danger of losing.”

Marilynne Robinson, welcome.

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: Thank you. It's wonderful to be here.

BILL MOYERS: And congratulations for those reviews.

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: Well, thank you.

BILL MOYERS: I was particularly struck with one from “The New York Times” praising you for frankness about a “truly shocking subject: the damage to the human personality done by poverty, neglect and abandonment.” And I wondered, why should anyone be shocked to discover today what can happen to a young girl like Lila?

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: I was also struck by that. It seems, you know, when you, you know, read Dickens or something, I mean, the great subject really of the democratization of Western culture has been the abuse and entrapment of people on the basis of economics or class or whatever, who are capable of wonderful things, you know, and the fact that they are mistreated ought not to be shocking. They're mistreated against the standard of what they're capable of and what they are.

BILL MOYERS: Are we suffering some kind of loss of imagination that we cannot perceive the lived experience of other people?

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: I think it is true. And I think that it's having effects all across the culture. Education, for example, which has very subtly turned toward making a good working class, however well-paid, rather than humanizing people's experience, making them feel what it is to be a human being in the stream of history on this strange planet, you know?

BILL MOYERS: So what's happened to imagination?

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: I think in a way, we've been talked out of it. But I think that there's kind of a influence of crude scientism that--

BILL MOYERS: Crude scientism?

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: Crude scientism that has no way of articulating the fact of mind, the fact of imagination, the complexity of consciousness. And what they can't articulate, they exclude as being not real, being illusory in some way. If you think that a human mind is a wonderful thing, there's an infinite interest in cultivating it.

And if you think it's simply someone who works more expensively than a worker in the third world, you know, you have no interest in people except to make them, you know, a part of the utilitarian system that produces for the sake of producing.

BILL MOYERS: That would explain, I think, why you wrote that “the broadest possible exercise of imagination is the thing most conducive to human health, individual and global.”

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: Yes. It's impossible to achieve things like justice if you don't have enough compassionate imagination for any other human being to understand that they deserve justice. That shorthand justice is not the thing at all. You know, what can I say, I mean, my deepest, I think, religious belief is that we are amongst souls and we have souls.

BILL MOYERS: We are among souls.

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: And that it is a kind, it's a blasphemy. It's not simply an ordinary offense to insult or to deprive another human being. I think that at our best, that has been the assumption we've proceeded from. And at our worst, it's an assumption we don't want to be bothered by.

BILL MOYERS: You once said that at one time, we talked soul to soul. When was that?

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: Well, you know, history is a ragged beast. You know, but it seems to me that in the great American writers, Whitman and Emerson and so on, there's the assumption that something magnificent is going on, human consciousness. And the world in which human consciousness is set as the interpreter. This is as true as it ever was, you know?

I mean, there's something miraculous about human beings. They are, they exist wildly in excess of any sort of survival model that could be posited for them. We're not even very good at that. You know, we're a great danger to ourselves all the time.

But if you create a sort of model, which is probably wrong itself, about animal behavior, and take that as an authoritative basis for describing human behavior, then you've simply excluded everything that we call human. You know, you've excluded imagination and art and, you know, the things that we have defined ourselves with over thousands of years.

BILL MOYERS: So what are you saying when you write that the soul is “the masterpiece of creation?”

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: Well, it's, you know, I always tell my students this first off, I mean, but the human brain is the most complex object known to exist in the universe. This is, science says this, you know?

But I think that if the most exquisite expression of cosmic reality is the human brain, the human mind, this is a thing to be acknowledged. This is a thing very much to be honored, to be felt as a privilege. You know, a universal privilege. What a sweet thing, you know?

BILL MOYERS: Are you using the soul as a metaphor for consciousness or, what do you mean by it?

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: Well, you know, here I am, plunging straight into my personal theology, but I do think that people really are too splendid to be contained in 70 years of life if they are lucky, you know? I think that there's a sort of, you know, if there's an economy, in reality, it would be, it's an enormous extravagance that we are what we are.

And that, there's something very excessive about human beings. They are brilliant beyond any imaginable use, you know? And, I mean, who knows if we live another hundred years what we will have done. If we just can, you know, refrain from violence a little bit. It's amazing.

BILL MOYERS: You have often told your students, I understand through the years, forget definition. Forget assumptions. Watch. Watch what?

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: Well, you know, one of the problems that I come across with people's writing is that they think that they can enumerate what are basically biographical or class traits. And then they think that they have captured a person, that because X and Y and Z are true, they must behave in a certain way, and so on, you know?

When, if you pay attention to people, you find out that they're continuously original. They're continuously generating, you know, a new possibility out of themselves. And I, you know, to the extent that they are permitted to, and to the extent that anyone is alert enough to realize this is happening.

BILL MOYERS: How do you explain the paradox not of wealth and poverty, but given what you think of human beings, our tolerance for it?

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: I'm, well, you know, I think it, wealth has been known to corrupt for a very long time. And people's perspectives change as they move into spheres of relative advantage. And I think it's often not so much that they're indifferent to the poverty of other people, it's that they can actually can be for all purposes, unaware of it, even if they read about it in the newspaper, you know?

I think it's I mean, that is the kind of classic model of human civilization, where you have a tiny little population of privileged people and wretchedness as far as the eye can see. Democracy has been meant to remove the artificial constraints, poverty is the huge artificial constraint, on human thought and action and so on and our mutual perceptions.

And, you know, in this country, in various ways and degrees, there have been attempts to moderate that entrapment if, you know? And we've abandoned that, I think. That, you know, a lot of people politically and economically are persuaded that there's some merit in this terrible division that's settling in.

BILL MOYERS: What do you hear in our public language today, in contrast to what you once called the language of the character of generosity, the largeness of spirit. What are you hearing in our public language today?

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: Well, one thing that really bothers me and really upsets me is that a complex problem cannot be acknowledged as a complex problem. You know, the president makes, you know, a proposal, or establishes a policy. Nobody would say, well, this is good on one hand, but it's problem from another point of view They attack it as being something, you know, something subversive or something, you know?

And the public should hear policies talked over as if among adults, you know? It would have this good effect, it would have this negative effect, we have to choose, you know? That never happens, it seems to me. People find the most ridiculously minor, most opportunistic points of attack, and the attack is all that matters

It is disgraceful that we have to watch people over and again descend to the level of meanness, which we see so often.

It seems sometimes as if political discourse is the cheapest intellectual environment that you can enter into. People have more dignity under most circumstances. They’re not pandering to anybody. I think that pandering has seduced a lot of public behavior, made people operate at levels that they would not really consider worth of themselves.

BILL MOYERS: I remember you once ask, who among us wishes that our hymns, our sermons, were dumber? But there are a lot of people who do.

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: Well, as far as the sermons and so on, I think that people who feel that certain things are associated with an elite feel that they effectively exclude, that they give signals to other people that they're not welcome within the circle, or something like that, you know?

Which, when you consider that, you know, that William Tyndale's Bible was written for the illiterate, you know, I mean, and it is perhaps the masterpiece of the English language. Or Luther's Bible, you know, I mean, he would apparently hang out in marketplaces to hear how Germans spoke German, being so Latinate himself.

But to hear the melodies and to hear the nuances and depths of ordinary speech has been the most fruitful thing that we have done in this civilization in the last 500 years. We, you know, to respect people, to be attentive to them in a way that makes it so that you actually are using these metrics of culture, to re-express it in art or politics or whatever, you know? That's what all the great people have done.

BILL MOYERS: You had this contradiction we were talking about earlier between the high sense of America that Walt Whitman articulated as something more than politics. It’s poetry and it’s prose and he captured that spirit of it. And then you see what we did to the indigenous, what we, the Europeans did to the indigenous people, the slaves, the freed slaves. I mean, when you and I were young, black men were still being lynched in this country.


BILL MOYERS: And children growing up in the Gilded Age, and even today, we have what you call, “a bracing and punitive severity toward the vulnerable among us.”

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: Well, if you read European history or British history, hanging people for stealing rabbits, you know, this kind, I mean, the, or people falling into poverty and then they're put into these horrible workhouses where they basically starve to death. You know, if you really look at history, which we tend not to do, it is grotesque.

And what you see in the best reformist impulses in America is a moving away from history that was profoundly entrenched in western civilization. And, you know, certainly we never broke free of it. And certainly when we're feeling atavistic, we relapse into what are these ancient models of cruelty and injustice. But what we do, I think, that is a mistake is we fail to value progressive change because it's never perfect. It's never absolute. We're dragging this onerous history behind us. Ameliorative behavior is utterly to be valued.

BILL MOYERS: You've said in my favorite book that you’ve done, “When I Was a Child I Read Books,” you wrote that, “the language of public life has lost the character of generosity,” and that, “the largeness of spirit that has created and supported the best of our institutions and brought reform to the worst of them has been erased out of historical memory.”

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: That's something that just is amazing to me. One of the ways that I got started writing the kind of history that I do is that I was trying to think of a moment in which people understood their situation and reacted to it appropriately, effectively. And that led me to the abolitionists, you know?

BILL MOYERS: The abolitionists?

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: Yes, exactly. Who were, you know, they were people that stepped out of privileged places in New England, lived on the open prairie in Kansas or wherever, you know, set up colleges to teach Greek to whoever might settle around them, you know, and so on. Incredibly, wonderful people.

I mean, beautiful writers, beautiful, you know, people that created these amazing little institutions like Oberlin and Grinnell and so on, that maintain the character somehow that was invested in them. You know, I mean, this sort of reverence for high learning and all, and I don't, they were very effective. They turned things around.

People don't realize that slavery was as entrenched in Western civilization as computers are now. You know? Every once in a while they make this amazing discovery, you know? I mean, there's a book just out now about how mortgages were leveraged against slaves and so on.

Well, you know, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote about that, you know? That it was not a small thing that they accomplished. They overturned basically the economic order of contemporary America. And they are, abolitionist is treated as a bad word in many contexts, as if they were some, you know, you'd have to be some sort of frothing maniac to think that slavery should be abolished.

BILL MOYERS: And you make the case in, “When I Was a Child I Read Books,” you make the case that after generations of attention to public education, public health, public safety, access to suffrage and equality under the law, those values are now under siege.

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: They are. These voter identification things, you know, the whole public education, these attempts at reforming public education that seem to me to be designed to model people into a kind of productivity again, making them useful for other people's purposes rather than making their education an end in itself. You know, I went, I'm a proud product of public education until college.

It was probably a very eccentric little establishment by most standards. But I was taught very optimistically in the sense that people always conveyed the idea that they were giving me something really of value, something that would make me richer no matter what I did, you know, in life.

That, you know, giving me my mind, you know? And I think that this is a spectacularly efficient model of education. I think that these assumptions that, you know, making everybody teach to a test, and so on, is valuable in some way. We're just destroying what’s the best impulse, the most successful impulse in our educational system.

BILL MOYERS: So what's happened to that old impulse you once described, that lay behind, and I'm quoting you, "the dissemination of information and learning, the will to ensure that the public will be competent to make the weightiest decisions and to conform society to its best sense of the possible..." What's happened to that impulse?

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: I don't know. I think that people, you know, it was, it's always been a human temptation. But it has been an ethics and an ideology among us lately to say all that matters is money, basically, you know? I don't think people believe that instinctively, or that they live their lives in those terms.

But I think a lot of people who find their way into prominent places in the culture are happy to proceed on that assumption. I mean, if you have a cable program that scares every little old lady in America by the standard of public support, maybe, you know, you can say you've accomplished something. They send you their social security checks, you know? It's terrible to suggest that people proceed on such vulgar motives, but I frankly have to assume it's true.

BILL MOYERS: You write a lot about fear lately.


BILL MOYERS: About not your fear, but fear abroad in the land.


BILL MOYERS: What's the source of it?

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: I think that, I mean, it's exciting to people.


MARILYNNE ROBINSON: Fear. Yes. I mean, look at the ways in which fear manifests itself. You know, this sort of anti-immigration feelings, you know, that people with these crazy weapons, people, you know, buying apocalyptic money, or freeze-dried apocalypse dinners and things like that. You know, I think that it makes a little narrative that makes you the hero in an imagined drama. It makes anybody else a potential threat. It's like late-night TV or something, you know? And I think that it has been pushed on people, it's used as a stimulus to make people watch cable network A rather than B and so on. And it's become a kind of addiction, I think. There's been this amazing reversal that the NRA is probably disproportionately responsible for.

BILL MOYERS: National Rifle Association?

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: Yes, exactly, that makes fear look like courage to so many people. You can't drive your car if you don't have a gun in the glove compartment? Well, what nonsense is that? You know, it's not bold and brave to go around acting like you think everybody's going to be some kind of threat to you. It's psychotic really.

BILL MOYERS: What do you fear?

MARILYNNE ROBINSON: What do I fear? I mean, I fear for, there are things that I, you know, obviously I fear for democracy, for example. I don't know. You know, the oddest thing happened. I became 70. And I realized that in order to be 70, you have to have had basically 69 years of really good fortune and that, you know, what I mean?

I don't feel as though I can lose much. I don't think I can lose much at this point. I've had a good life and a long life by world standards, you know. And this neutralizes many kinds of anxiety for me. If I can fail now, it will be a minor, minor event because I have such a short time to experience the fact of failure.

BILL MOYERS: Marilynne Robinson, thank you very much for being with me.


BILL MOYERS: That’s it for this week. I’m Bill Moyers, I’ll see you here next time.

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News Mon, 20 Oct 2014 10:34:25 -0400
Israel-Palestine: Untying the Knot

2014.10.21.Gaza.MainScores of Israeli army tanks and armored personnel carriers are massed on December 29, 2008 near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. (Photo: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi / Flickr)

When I looked in my fishing tackle box this afternoon, I saw hooks and lines all tangled together. It was a mess. Try as I might, I couldn't get to the knot that held the tangle in its grip. My failed effort made me think of the Israel-Palestine knot and how the parties and the United States have been unable (or unwilling) to break it. 

Of course the tangle tends to shift with each new development in the Middle East. Right now the major strands are: a tenuous ceasefire in Gaza, international efforts to rebuild Gaza, the occupation and Israeli settlement expansion, the PLO-Hamas reconciliation and new European initiatives to recognize Palestine as a state. 

  1. Gaza Ceasefire. Last July's 50-day war ended, but few observers believe the cease-fire will last. Operation Cast Lead of 2008-09 and earlier Israeli attacks on Gaza established a pattern of what Israel has termed "mowing the lawn." Unless the knot at the base of the tangle is pulled loose, it is only a matter of time until Gaza again faces death and destruction from the Israeli military.
  2. Gaza Reconstruction. The October 12 international donors conference in Cairo secured $5.4 billion in pledges (including $212 million from the United States). Only half of the total allocation was earmarked for rebuilding the Gaza Strip, while the destination of the other half was unspecified. Donors are understandably hesitant to rush the building of new structures when a near-term next war is certain to bring them down again. A more immediate constraint is the severe limit the Israelis have placed on the import of construction materials. Meanwhile, ordinary Gazans suffer from inadequate shelter and basic infrastructure.
  3. The Occupation and Israeli Settlement Expansion. The occupation continues in both the West Bank and Gaza, while the Gaza Strip remains effectively blockaded by land, air and sea. More than its checkpoint inconveniences, the occupation dehumanizes Palestinians, while the expansion of Israeli settlements makes the possibility of a viable Palestinian state hopeless. Egypt's closure of the Rafah crossing has helped Israel maintain Gaza as an open-air prison. 
  4. PLO-Hamas Reconciliation. Hamas has already stepped down from its administration of Gaza, allowing the PLO to reenter the strip as the official government. Israel has opposed the reconciliation it considers tainted by a "terrorist organization." It is too early to know whether the reconciliation itself will hold and whether the PLO will be able to stop a resumption of militant attacks on Israel.
  5. European Country Recognition of Palestine.  The new government in Sweden has promised to recognize Palestine as a state in the near future, while the UK parliament has just voted a nonbinding resolution to do the same. Europeans are incensed by Israel's disproportionate use of force and the indiscriminate killing of civilians (especially children) in its bombings of Gaza. We can expect more recognition actions and more support for the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement.

So what knots lie at the center of the current stalemate? The three most important ones are the occupation, Israeli settlement expansion and the blockade of Gaza. Until those entanglements are effectively addressed, there can be no lasting peace for Israel and Palestine. It's as simple as that. 

Indeed, a continuing status quo will likely breed renewed militant activity against Israel, and an excuse for the IDF to once again "mow the lawn" in Gaza. It would discourage any serious Gaza reconstruction, and it would generate anti-Israel feelings (and anti-Semitism) as it fuels an expanding BDS movement. A continuing lack of progress toward peace could also erode the still fragile reconciliation between Hamas and the PLO, boosting Hamas in both Gaza and the West Bank.

What can the United States do to untangle the knots? More action; less talk. It's not enough for US diplomats to express "concern" when Israel expands settlements or bombs civilians. By its bloated military aid (currently more than $3 billion a year), America enables the Israeli oppression of Palestinians. That aid could be a powerful bargaining chip for peace.

Only a threatened embargo of US military assistance to Israel is likely to persuade Prime Minister Netanyahu to stop settlement building, open the Gaza border crossings and begin a good faith negotiation to end the occupation. Similarly, the withholding of military aid to Egypt is what it would likely take to persuade President El Sissi to reopen the Rafah crossing. 

If the diplomatic knots remain untied, the US should reallocate the billions of its Israel and Egypt military aid to the reconstruction of Gaza.

Opinion Tue, 21 Oct 2014 10:27:05 -0400
NSA Documents Suggest a Close Working Relationship Between NSA, US Companies

Newly disclosed National Security Agency documents suggest a closer relationship between American companies and the spy agency than has been previously disclosed.

The documents, published last week by The Intercept, describe "contractual relationships" between the NSA and US companies, as well as the fact that the NSA has "under cover" spies working at or with some US companies.

While not conclusive, the material includes some clear suggestions that at least some American companies are quite willing to help the agency conduct its massive surveillance programs.

The precise role of US companies in the NSA's global surveillance operations remains unclear. Documents obtained by Edward Snowden and published by various news organizations show that companies have turned over their customers' email, phone calling records and other data under court orders. But the level of cooperation beyond those court orders has been an open question, with several leading companies, such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, asserting that they only turn over customer information that is "targeted and specific" in response to legal demands.

The documents do not identify any specific companies as collaborating with the NSA. The references are part of an inventory of operations, of which the very "fact that" they exist is classified information. These include the:



"SIGINT" in NSA jargon is signals intelligence, the intercepting of data and voice communications. According to the document, "contractual relationships" can mean that US companies deliberately insert "backdoors" or other vulnerabilities that the NSA then uses to access communications. The existence of deals to build these backdoors is secret:



The NSA's efforts to break encryption and establish backdoors were disclosed last year, but left open the possibility that the companies didn't know about the activities. This new disclosure makes clear that some of those relationships are cooperative.

The documents also describe a program codenamed Whipgenie. Its purpose is to safeguard one of the NSA's most important secrets, the "relationships" between "US Corporate partners" and the agency division that taps fiber optic cables. It refers to the dealings with US companies as ECI — exceptionally controlled information: It says:



The Whipgenie document details one company's involvement in "domestic wire access collection" – an apparent reference to eavesdropping inside the United States. Under current law, such surveillance is only allowed after the government obtains a court order. But the document said that at least one "Corporate Partner" was involved in a "cooperative effort" to break into US communications. This information, it says, is itself classified and should be closely guarded:

The Whipgenie document makes clear that the program being shielded from public view involves data that moves through the United States. (Emails and other information from one foreign address to another frequently hopscotch across international borders as companies use the cheapest routing for traffic.) The document tells NSA officials that they should protect:



In 2008, Congress authorized the agency to collect information that traveled through the United States. But the agency is supposed to discard entirely domestic communications that it picks up "incidentally."

A draft document indicates that the NSA targets US manufacturers of commercial equipment used for communications. The document obliquely refers to covert operations by NSA agents aimed at what is termed "specific commercial entities." Those companies are identified in the document only by the letters: A, B, and C.



Sentry Owl, the program that protects this particular bit of spying, is among the most closely guarded secrets in the intelligence community. Documents describe it as "Exceptionally Controlled Information" that can only be disclosed to "a very few select" people in government.



Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Rogers, who head the congressional intelligence oversight committees, did not respond to requests for comment on whether they had been briefed on the program. Sen. Ron Wyden, an outspoken critic of NSA activities that impact US residents, also declined to comment.

In a statement, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said NSA surveillance is authorized by law and subject to multiple layers of oversight. She added: "It should come as no surprise that NSA conducts targeted operations to counter increasingly agile adversaries.

News Mon, 20 Oct 2014 10:17:53 -0400
Global Subversion Begets a Question for Ed Snowden

It’s part of the public record that the NSA has engaged in an industry-wide campaign to weaken cryptographic protocols and insert back doors into hi-tech products sold by US companies. We also know that NSA officials have privately congratulated each other in successfully undermining privacy and security across the Internet. Hence it’s only logical to assume that the NSA’s numerous subversion programs extend into foreign “commercial entities”. Thanks to documents recently disclosed by the Intercept we have unambiguous confirmation.

Hi-tech subversion underscores the fact that the whole tired debate regarding cryptographic keys held in escrow for so-called lawful interception (what the Washington Post called “secret golden keys”) only serves to distract the public from programs aimed at wielding covert back doors. In other words, by reviving the zombie idea of an explicit back door the editorial board at the Washington Post is conveniently ignoring all of the clandestine techniques that already exist to sidestep encryption. In a nutshell: zero-day bugs and malware often trump strong crypto.

On an aside it’s interesting to observe the citadel of free thinkers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation continue to promote cryptographic tools as a privacy tonic with a faith that’s almost religious while conspicuously neglecting other important aspects of operational security. The EFF cheerfully provides a litany of alleged success stories. Never mind all of the instances in which the users of said cryptographic tools were compromised, even users who specialized in computer security.

Infiltrating the Media

The NSA’s campaign to undermine software and hardware is mirrored by parallel efforts in other domains. Specifically, the Church Committee and Pike Committee investigations of the 1970s unearthed secret programs like Operation Mockingbird which were conducted to infiltrate the media and develop an apparatus, a Mighty Wurlitzer of sorts, that allowed government spies to quietly influence public perception. The findings of congressional investigators have been substantiated by writers like Deborah Davis and Carl Bernstein.

Though much of the documented evidence is decades old the CIA continues to maintain its long-standing relationship with the press. For example in March of 2010 WikiLeaks published a classified CIA analysis which described a propaganda recipe for the “targeted manipulation of public opinion” in Germany and France to bolster support for NATO military action in Afghanistan. Also, here in the United States New York Times editor Bill Keller admitted to delaying the story on Bush-era warrantless wiretapping in direct service to the powers that be.

So don’t think for a minute that the CIA didn’t have a hand in the media’s assault on journalist Gary Webb after Webb exposed the CIA’s connections to the international drug trade. Gary caught US intelligence with its pants down and spymasters had their operatives in the press destroy him.

More recently, the former editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung revealed that he worked for the CIA. In a televised interview Udo Ulfkotte described Germany as an American client state, noting the role of the CIA in the origins of German intelligence. He warned that powerful interests in the United States were pushing for war with Russia and that American spies have widespread links to foreign news outlets:

“Is this only the case with German journalists? No, I think it is especially the case with British journalists, because they have a much closer relationship. It is especially the case with Israeli journalists. Of course with French journalists. … It is the case for Australians, [with] journalists from New Zealand, from Taiwan, well, there is many countries, … like Jordan for example. …”

A Question for Ed Snowden

While media subversion enables political manipulation through indirect means, US intelligence has been known to employ more direct means to impose its agenda in places like Angola, Chile, Guatemala, Iran, Nicaragua, and Ukraine. In fact, stepping back to view the big picture, one might be tempted to posit that US intelligence has established clandestine footholds globally in any institution seen as vital to the interests of the corporate factions that drive the American Deep State.

All of this subversion raises a question: are covert programs compatible with democracy? Can the public allow secrecy, propaganda, and infiltration to blossom while simultaneously expecting to be immune from their effects? Former CIA officers who went public, intrepid whistleblowers like Philip Agee and John Stockwell, answered this question with a resounding “no.” As would millions of people in third-world countries who suffered through the bloody proxy battles of the Cold War. For instance, Philip Agee stated in his book CIA Diary:

“When the Watergate trials end and the whole episode begins to fade, there will be a movement for national renewal, for reform of electoral practices, and perhaps even for reform of the FBI and the CIA. But the return to our cozy self-righteous traditions should lure no one into believing that the problem has been removed. Reforms attack symptoms rather than the disease”

Hence it’s unsettling to hear Edward Snowden, despite his commendable admonishments for an open debate on mass surveillance, maintain the underlying legitimacy of government subterfuge:

“We can have secret programs. You know, the American people don’t have to know the name of every individual that’s under investigation. We don’t need to know the technical details of absolutely every program in the intelligence community. But we do have to know the bare and broad outlines of the powers our government is claiming … and how they affect us and how they affect our relationships overseas.”

You’re witnessing the power of framing the narrative. Society has been encouraged to discuss the legitimacy of what spies do and how they do it. But the problem with this well-intentioned dialogue is that “we the people” are led away from the more fundamental question of whether society needs spies and their covert ops to begin with.

Author’s Note: In the past I’ve posed a question to Glenn Greenwald and was met with silence. Exceptional behavior for someone who is famous for responding vocally. Now we’ll see how Mr. Snowden replies.

Opinion Mon, 20 Oct 2014 09:55:37 -0400
Domestic Terrorism Allegations Appear to Be Used as War Propaganda

In the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, some terrorism investigations appear to be deliberate attempts to suggest domestic terror connections that will stimulate popular support for the war against Islamic State.

An Australian Federal Police officer, right, and a New South Wales policeman detain a person during a raid on a house in Sydney, Sept. 18, 2014. After hundreds of Australian police mounted several anti-terrorism raids in Sydney and Brisbane early Thursday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said they were acting on intelligence that militants connected with the Islamic State were planning to behead a member of the public in Australia, and officials said they know the identity of a suspected ringleader in the plot. (Photo: Australian Federal Police via The New York Times) An Australian Federal Police officer, right, and a New South Wales policeman detain a person during a raid on a house in Sydney, Sept. 18, 2014. After hundreds of Australian police mounted several anti-terrorism raids in Sydney and Brisbane early Thursday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said they were acting on intelligence that militants connected with the Islamic State were planning to behead a member of the public in Australia, and officials said they know the identity of a suspected ringleader in the plot. (Photo: Australian Federal Police via The New York Times)

When American terror suspect Mufid Elfgeeh, a 30-year-old store owner from Rochester, New York, was first arrested back in June, the FBI of course issued a press release trumpeting their coup. The text briefly mentioned Elfgeeh had expressed support via Twitter for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups across the Middle East, but focused primarily on his attempt to buy a silencer, ammunition and a 9mm handgun from two FBI informants, and a plot to shoot US military personnel based in the United States. It made no mention of two-way communication with any of the foreign groups he had alluded to on Twitter.

In September, when Elfgeeh was actually charged, the FBI press release looked a little different: Instead of leading with the details of his plot, which fit the bill for a self-initiated "lone wolf" attack, it emphasized strongly that Elfgeeh had been charged with providing support, in the forms of personnel, to ISIL.

Even more curiously, Elfgeeh's case comes with two published affidavits.

In the first affidavit, the FBI focused on his attempt to buy a silencer, ammunition and a weapon from two FBI informants who appear to have been paid to "sting" him. This was then used to secure his arrest.

But in the second affidavit, written up by the same special agent, the very same two informants who had initially provided evidence were now contributing something new - information about a more sophisticated plot to provide personnel to ISIL in Syria.

What had changed in that time? The United States had begun a controversial bombing campaign against targets in Syria. An incentive certainly existed to tie Elfgeeh's arrest more explicitly to ISIL, rather than one of the myriad groups Elfgeeh had expressed support for.

In Australia, newsrooms then spun themselves into an indignant fury when a sword belonging to a recently arrested terror suspect was photographed in a transparent evidence bag, clutched by an investigator. The photograph was taken after Australia's largest ever terror raids were ordered, involving more than 800 officers.

The infamous "terror sword," which tabloid reporters in Australia, and across the world, speculated was to be used to stage public executions, later turned out to be made from plastic.

In fact, it was a "Zulfiqar," a traditional symbol of Shiite Islam, commonly available in religious shops and which many Shiite households keep.

To suggest that the owner of the sword, and those arrested alongside him, was in any way affiliated with the Sunni Islamic State, which is dedicated to genocidal acts against Shiite Muslims, was absurd.

The owner was later released without charge - but not before the Australian government had passed draconian "anti-terror" laws which threaten journalists covering national security measures with 10-year sentences and had deployed fighter jets and special forces to Iraq.

Another family is now suing the Australian government after they say they were unfairly targeted in the raids, although they have declined to be identified.

The one charge that resulted from the raids currently stands againstOmarjan Azar, buthas no evidence attached to it, yet, other than the continuing tabloid speculation that an ISIL-style execution was to take place in Martin Place, in central Sydney.

A further claim was then made by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a staunch supporter of intervention in Iraq, in which he suggested that a phone call exists linking the young Australian Muslim directly to ISIL. He did not make this claim under affidavit, and the trial is not likely to take place for some months.

If the group had supposedly been under surveillance since May, which counter-terrorism authorities later admitted, why then the sudden commando raids, why the invitation to the nation's TV crews, why did the counter-terrorism police release such dramatic stills of the raid to the waiting press, and why would you ever carry evidence from the scene out in a transparent bag? All strange behavior, except when you consider the Australian government has been keen to put the country on a war footing.

The United Kingdom, also, has question marks surrounding its terror arrests, all of which have taken place, similarly, just as Prime Minister David Cameron has taken the country back into Iraq.

Anjem Choudary, an extremist activist in London, has been picked up by security forces. He holds some extremely distasteful views, and there's a damning photo of him standing alongside one of Drummer Lee Rigby's despicable executioners. However, he has never been conclusively linked to any terror plots. Choudary is an easy bogeyman to track down at short notice; he openly operates out of a sweet shop in East London and is never far from the newspapers. He was also arrested one day before the British Parliament voted to redeploy military forces into Iraq.

Doubts have also been cast over the arrest of the British Muslim Tarik Hassane, 21, who was arrested with four others on October 9by British police. His friend, Wilson Weaver, who describes himself as a practicing Christian, told The Guardian he had known Hassane since the age of 11, and his friend had never said anything suggesting he supported violence."Ever since I've known him he's been a Muslim and devout. I am prepared to go out on a limb, in the face of the newspapers' lies and misrepresentations: There is nothing in him for me to believe he is a terrorist." Weaver's statement was backed up by other non-Muslim friends. A tweet from Hassane was also splashed across the tabloids, "Oi lads . . . prepare for war," but was later found to refer only to a brewing argument between two female friends. And despite authorities claiming Hassane spent time fighting in Syria earlier this year, Hassane's own university in Sudan later issued a detailed report claiming this was impossible. According to administrators, his passport was in their custody for the duration of his course and was only released to him on September 30.

The security forces of the United States have been shown to fabricate terror plots on a number of occasions. Human Rights Watch issued a 214-page investigation in June entitled "US: Terrorism Prosecutions Often An Illusion."

"Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the US,"Andrea Prasow,one of the authors of the report, told the press. "But take a closer look and you realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts."

Almost 30 percent were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot. In the case of the "Newburgh Four," for example, who were accused of planning to blow up synagogues and attack a US military base, a judgesaidthe government "came up with the crime, provided the means, and removed all relevant obstacles," and had, in the process, made a terrorist out of a man "whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope."

When it comes to the case of Elfgeeh, who had no prior criminal record, and appears to have had no prior contact with terror-linked groups until the two FBI informants came along, the case may fit the bill of a deliberate sting.

In July, I met with a Bangladeshi former prisoner in London who claimed to have spent time while inside a maximum security British prison with a number of men convicted for their role in a high-profile British terror plot some years ago. He said intelligence services had later tried to recruit him as an informant as he awaited deportation linked to his own conviction for petty crime. He told me he refused and claimed he had not been radicalized.

He told me that those convicted insisted that British security services had set them up and encouraged them to engage in terrorist activity. Such stories are extremely commonplace in the British Muslim community, particularly among political Islamists. At the time, I wrote it off as a conspiracy theory.

The domestic terror threat drives much of the justification for our proactive involvement in stemming ISIL's expansion into northern Iraq and Syria.

If this threat has been fabricated or exaggerated, it serves a useful purpose: justifying significant Western intervention, as opposed to letting regional allies lead the way in preventing the group from spreading further.

After what Tony Blair and George W. Bush pulled off last time with WMDs, I remain skeptical, as does Sir Richard Dearlove, who served as head ofMI6 from 1999 to 2004.

Last year he threatened to release a book detailing events running up to the invasion of Iraq, and in July blamed ministers for "warning us again and again about the seriousness of the terrorist problems that we face."

He concluded, "This new conflict is essentially Muslim on Muslim. We must continue to cover the Middle East as a political requirement but without putting the incipient terrorist threat to ourselves at the center of the picture and, in particular, without demonizing our own Muslim community."

Opinion Mon, 20 Oct 2014 12:52:38 -0400
Edward Snowden and the Golden Age of Spying: An Interview With Laura Poitras

Laura Poitras at PopTech 2010, Camden, Maine.Laura Poitras at PopTech 2010, Camden, Maine. (Photo: Kris Krüg)

Here’s a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! stat from our new age of national security. How many Americans have security clearances? The answer: 5.1 million, a figure that reflects the explosive growth of the national security state in the post-9/11 era. Imagine the kind of system needed just to vet that many people for access to our secret world (to the tune of billions of dollars). We’re talking here about the total population of Norway and significantly more people than you can find in Costa Rica, Ireland, or New Zealand. And yet it’s only about 1.6% of the American population, while on ever more matters, the unvetted 98.4% of us are meant to be left in the dark.

For our own safety, of course. That goes without saying.

All of this offers a new definition of democracy in which we, the people, are to know only what the national security state cares to tell us.  Under this system, ignorance is the necessary, legally enforced prerequisite for feeling protected.  In this sense, it is telling that the only crime for which those inside the national security state can be held accountable in post-9/11 Washington is not potential perjury before Congress, or the destruction of evidence of a crime, or torture, or kidnapping, or assassination, or the deaths of prisoners in an extralegal prison system, but whistleblowing; that is, telling the American people something about what their government is actually doing.  And that crime, and only that crime, has been prosecuted to the full extent of the law (and beyond) with a vigor unmatched in American history.  To offer a single example, the only American to go to jail for the CIA’s Bush-era torture program was John Kiriakou, a CIA whistleblower who revealed the name of an agent involved in the program to a reporter.

In these years, as power drained from Congress, an increasingly imperial White House has launched various wars (redefined by its lawyers as anything but), as well as a global assassination campaign in which the White House has its own “kill list” and the president himself decides on global hits.  Then, without regard for national sovereignty or the fact that someone is an American citizen (and upon the secret invocation of legal mumbo-jumbo), the drones are sent off to do the necessary killing.

And yet that doesn’t mean that we, the people, know nothing.  Against increasing odds, there has been some fine reporting in the mainstream media by the likes of James Risen and Barton Gellman on the security state’s post-legal activities and above all, despite the Obama administration’s regular use of the World War I era Espionage Act, whistleblowers have stepped forward from within the government to offer us sometimes staggering amounts of information about the system that has been set up in our name but without our knowledge.

Among them, one young man, whose name is now known worldwide, stands out.  In June of last year, thanks to journalist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras, Edward Snowden, a contractor for the NSA and previously the CIA, stepped into our lives from a hotel room in Hong Kong.  With a treasure trove of documents that are still being released, he changed the way just about all of us view our world.  He has been charged under the Espionage Act.  If indeed he was a “spy,” then the spying he did was for us, for the American people and for the world.  What he revealed to a stunned planet was a global surveillance state whose reach and ambitions were unique, a system based on a single premise: that privacy was no more and that no one was, in theory (and to a remarkable extent in practice), unsurveillable.

Its builders imagined only one exemption: themselves.  This was undoubtedly at least part of the reason why, when Snowden let us peek in on them, they reacted with such over-the-top venom.  Whatever they felt at a policy level, it’s clear that they also felt violated, something that, as far as we can tell, left them with no empathy whatsoever for the rest of us.  One thing that Snowden proved, however, was that the system they built was ready-made for blowback.

Sixteen months after his NSA documents began to be released by the Guardian and the Washington Post, I think it may be possible to speak of the Snowden Era.  And now, a remarkable new film, Citizenfour, which had its premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 10th and will open in select theaters nationwide on October 24th, offers us a window into just how it all happened.  It is already being mentioned as a possible Oscar winner.

Director Laura Poitras, like reporter Glenn Greenwald, is now known almost as widely as Snowden himself, for helping facilitate his entry into the world.  Her new film, the last in a trilogy she’s completed (the previous two being My Country, My Country on the Iraq War and The Oath on Guantanamo), takes you back to June 2013 and locks you in that Hong Kong hotel room with Snowden, Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian, and Poitras herself for eight days that changed the world.  It’s a riveting, surprisingly unclaustrophic, and unforgettable experience.

Before that moment, we were quite literally in the dark.  After it, we have a better sense, at least, of the nature of the darkness that envelops us. Having seen her film in a packed house at the New York Film Festival, I sat down with Poitras in a tiny conference room at the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City to discuss just how our world has changed and her part in it.

Tom Engelhardt: Could you start by laying out briefly what you think we've learned from Edward Snowden about how our world really works?

Laura Poitras: The most striking thing Snowden has revealed is the depth of what the NSA and the Five Eyes countries [Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, and the U.S.] are doing, their hunger for all data, for total bulk dragnet surveillance where they try to collect all communications and do it all sorts of different ways. Their ethos is "collect it all." I worked on a story with Jim Risen of the New York Times about a document -- a four-year plan for signals intelligence -- in which they describe the era as being "the golden age of signals intelligence."  For them, that’s what the Internet is: the basis for a golden age to spy on everyone.

This focus on bulk, dragnet, suspicionless surveillance of the planet is certainly what’s most staggering.  There were many programs that did that.  In addition, you have both the NSA and the GCHQ [British intelligence] doing things like targeting engineers at telecoms.  There was an article published at The Intercept that cited an NSA document Snowden provided, part of which was titled "I Hunt Sysadmins" [systems administrators].  They try to find the custodians of information, the people who are the gateway to customer data, and target them.  So there's this passive collection of everything, and then things that they can't get that way, they go after in other ways.

I think one of the most shocking things is how little our elected officials knew about what the NSA was doing.  Congress is learning from the reporting and that's staggering.  Snowden and [former NSA employee] William Binney, who's also in the film as a whistleblower from a different generation, are technical people who understand the dangers.  We laypeople may have some understanding of these technologies, but they really grasp the dangers of how they can be used.  One of the most frightening things, I think, is the capacity for retroactive searching, so you can go back in time and trace who someone is in contact with and where they've been.  Certainly, when it comes to my profession as a journalist, that allows the government to trace what you're reporting, who you're talking to, and where you've been.  So no matter whether or not I have a commitment to protect my sources, the government may still have information that might allow them to identify whom I'm talking to.

TE: To ask the same question another way, what would the world be like without Edward Snowden?  After all, it seems to me that, in some sense, we are now in the Snowden era.

LP: I agree that Snowden has presented us with choices on how we want to move forward into the future.  We're at a crossroads and we still don't quite know which path we're going to take.  Without Snowden, just about everyone would still be in the dark about the amount of information the government is collecting. I think that Snowden has changed consciousness about the dangers of surveillance.  We see lawyers who take their phones out of meetings now.  People are starting to understand that the devices we carry with us reveal our location, who we're talking to, and all kinds of other information.  So you have a genuine shift of consciousness post the Snowden revelations.

TE: There's clearly been no evidence of a shift in governmental consciousness, though.

LP: Those who are experts in the fields of surveillance, privacy, and technology say that there need to be two tracks: a policy track and a technology track.  The technology track is encryption.  It works and if you want privacy, then you should use it.  We’ve already seen shifts happening in some of the big companies -- Google, Apple -- that now understand how vulnerable their customer data is, and that if it’s vulnerable, then their business is, too, and so you see a beefing up of encryption technologies.  At the same time, no programs have been dismantled at the governmental level, despite international pressure.

TE: In Citizenfour, we spend what must be an hour essentially locked in a room in a Hong Kong hotel with Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Ewan MacAskill, and you, and it’s riveting.  Snowden is almost preternaturally prepossessing and self-possessed.  I think of a novelist whose dream character just walks into his or her head.  It must have been like that with you and Snowden.  But what if he’d been a graying guy with the same documents and far less intelligent things to say about them?  In other words, how exactly did who he was make your movie and remake our world?

LP: Those are two questions.  One is: What was my initial experience?  The other: How do I think it impacted the movie?  We've been editing it and showing it to small groups, and I had no doubt that he's articulate and genuine on screen.  But to see him in a full room [at the New York Film Festival premiere on the night of October 10th], I'm like, wow!  He really commands the screen! And I experienced the film in a new way with a packed house.

TE: But how did you experience him the first time yourself?  I mean you didn't know who you were going to meet, right?

LP: So I was in correspondence with an anonymous source for about five months and in the process of developing a dialogue you build ideas, of course, about who that person might be.  My idea was that he was in his late forties, early fifties.  I figured he must be Internet generation because he was super tech-savvy, but I thought that, given the level of access and information he was able to discuss, he had to be older.  And so my first experience was that I had to do a reboot of my expectations.  Like fantastic, great, he's young and charismatic and I was like wow, this is so disorienting, I have to reboot.  In retrospect, I can see that it's really powerful that somebody so smart, so young, and with so much to lose risked so much.

He was so at peace with the choice he had made and knowing that the consequences could mean the end of his life and that this was still the right decision.  He believed in it, and whatever the consequences, he was willing to accept them.  To meet somebody who has made those kinds of decisions is extraordinary.  And to be able to document that and also how Glenn [Greenwald] stepped in and pushed for this reporting to happen in an aggressive way changed the narrative. Because Glenn and I come at it from an outsider’s perspective, the narrative unfolded in a way that nobody quite knew how to respond to.  That’s why I think the government was initially on its heels.  You know, it's not everyday that a whistleblower is actually willing to be identified.

TE: My guess is that Snowden has given us the feeling that we now grasp the nature of the global surveillance state that is watching us, but I always think to myself, well, he was just one guy coming out of one of 17 interlocked intelligence outfits. Given the remarkable way your film ends -- the punch line, you might say -- with another source or sources coming forward from somewhere inside that world to reveal, among other things, information about the enormous watchlist that you yourself are on, I’m curious: What do you think is still to be known?  I suspect that if whistleblowers were to emerge from the top five or six agencies, the CIA, the DIA, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and so on, with similar documentation to Snowden’s, we would simply be staggered by the system that's been created in our name.

LP: I can't speculate on what we don't know, but I think you're right in terms of the scale and scope of things and the need for that information to be made public. I mean, just consider the CIA and its effort to suppress the Senate’s review of its torture program. Take in the fact that we live in a country that a) legalized torture and b) where no one was ever held to account for it, and now the government's internal look at what happened is being suppressed by the CIA.  That's a frightening landscape to be in.

In terms of sources coming forward, I really reject this idea of talking about one, two, three sources.  There are many sources that have informed the reporting we've done and I think that Americans owe them a debt of gratitude for taking the risk they do.  From a personal perspective, because I’m on a watchlist and went through years of trying to find out why, of having the government refuse to confirm or deny the very existence of such a list, it’s so meaningful to have its existence brought into the open so that the public knows there is a watchlist, and so that the courts can now address the legality of it.  I mean, the person who revealed this has done a huge public service and I’m personally thankful.

TE: You’re referring to the unknown leaker who's mentioned visually and elliptically at the end of your movie and who revealed that the major watchlist your on has more than 1.2 million names on it.  In that context, what's it like to travel as Laura Poitras today?  How do you embody the new national security state?

LP: In 2012, I was ready to edit and I chose to leave the U.S. because I didn't feel I could protect my source footage when I crossed the U.S. border.  The decision was based on six years of being stopped and questioned every time I returned to the United States.  And I just did the math and realized that the risks were too high to edit in the U.S., so I started working in Berlin in 2012.  And then, in January 2013, I got the first email from Snowden.

TE: So you were protecting...

LP: ...other footage.  I had been filming with NSA whistleblower William Binney, with Julian Assange, with Jacob Appelbaum of the Tor Project, people who have also been targeted by the U.S., and I felt that this material I had was not safe.  I was put on a watchlist in 2006.  I was detained and questioned at the border returning to the U.S. probably around 40 times.  If I counted domestic stops and every time I was stopped at European transit points, you're probably getting closer to 80 to 100 times. It became a regular thing, being asked where I’d been and who I’d met with. I found myself caught up in a system you can't ever seem to get out of, this Kafkaesque watchlist that the U.S. doesn't even acknowledge.

TE: Were you stopped this time coming in?

LP: I was not. The detentions stopped in 2012 after a pretty extraordinary incident.

I was coming back in through Newark Airport and I was stopped.  I took out my notebook because I always take notes on what time I'm stopped and who the agents are and stuff like that.  This time, they threatened to handcuff me for taking notes.  They said, "Put the pen down!" They claimed my pen could be a weapon and hurt someone. 

"Put the pen down! The pen is dangerous!" And I'm like, you're not... you've got to be crazy. Several people yelled at me every time I moved my pen down to take notes as if it were a knife. After that, I decided this has gotten crazy, I'd better do something and I called Glenn. He wrote a piece about my experiences. In response to his article, they actually backed off.

TE:  Snowden has told us a lot about the global surveillance structure that's been built.  We know a lot less about what they are doing with all this information.  I'm struck at how poorly they've been able to use such information in, for example, their war on terror.  I mean, they always seem to be a step behind in the Middle East -- not just behind events but behind what I think someone using purely open source information could tell them.  This I find startling.  What sense do you have of what they're doing with the reams, the yottabytes, of data they're pulling in?

LP: Snowden and many other people, including Bill Binney, have said that this mentality -- of trying to suck up everything they can -- has left them drowning in information and so they miss what would be considered more obvious leads.  In the end, the system they’ve created doesn't lead to what they describe as their goal, which is security, because they have too much information to process.

I don't quite know how to fully understand it.  I think about this a lot because I made a film about the Iraq War and one about Guantanamo.  From my perspective, in response to the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. took a small, very radical group of terrorists and engaged in activities that have created two generations of anti-American sentiment motivated by things like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.  Instead of figuring out a way to respond to a small group of people, we've created generations of people who are really angry and hate us.  And then I think, if the goal is security, how do these two things align, because there are more people who hate the United States right now, more people intent on doing us harm?  So either the goal that they proclaim is not the goal or they're just unable to come to terms with the fact that we've made huge mistakes in how we've responded.

TE: I'm struck by the fact that failure has, in its own way, been a launching pad for success.  I mean, the building of an unparallelled intelligence apparatus and the greatest explosion of intelligence gathering in history came out of the 9/11 failure.  Nobody was held accountable, nobody was punished, nobody was demoted or anything, and every similar failure, including the one on the White House lawn recently, simply leads to the bolstering of the system.

LP: So how do you understand that?

TE: I don't think that these are people who are thinking: we need to fail to succeed. I'm not conspiratorial in that way, but I do think that, strangely, failure has built the system and I find that odd. More than that I don't know.

LP: I don't disagree. The fact that the CIA knew that two of the 9/11 hijackers were entering the United States and didn't notify the FBI and that nobody lost their job is shocking.  Instead, we occupied Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11.  I mean, how did those choices get made?

News Mon, 20 Oct 2014 10:20:25 -0400
Documents Show US Siding With Israel in Death of Its Own Citizen

When it comes to this summer's Israeli bombardment of Gaza and the slaughter of more than 2,000 Palestinians, including 500 children, it's easy to wonder if American apologists for Israeli atrocities are living in an alternate reality. But those supporting the apartheid occupation and oppression of Palestinians and those of us opposing it do agree on one point.

IDF Naval Forces prepare to intercept the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla on May 29, 2010.IDF Naval Forces prepare to intercept the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla on May 29, 2010. (Photo: SSgt. Michael Shvadron, IDF Spokesperson's Unit)When it comes to this summer's Israeli bombardment of Gaza and the slaughter of more than 2,000 Palestinians, including 500 children, it's easy to wonder if American apologists for Israeli atrocities are living in an alternate reality. But those supporting the apartheid occupation and oppression of Palestinians and those of us opposing it do agree on one point: Israel's occupation could not continue without the US government's support, funding and weapons.

Yet the depth of US complicity in Israeli human rights abuses can be shocking to even the fiercest critics of US aid to Israel. A rare glimpse into how the United States has protected Israel from accountability for its crimes is seen in a set of government documents obtained by the Center for Constitutional Rights in response to a FOIA lawsuit concerning Israel's raid of the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla; the Center recently released comprehensive guides to the documents, along with several hundred pages of newly released documents.

The 2010 flotilla was a humanitarian effort to bring desperately needed supplies like medicines, wheelchairs, generators and rebuilding supplies to Gazans who live cut off from the world by an illegal Israeli blockade. Israeli forces killed nine people aboard the flotilla, including United States teenager Furkan Doğan. What the 8,500 pages of documents reveal is of particular interest as efforts for accountability for this summer's devastating attacks begin and activists are preparing for another flotilla this fall that will bring aid to the besieged inhabitants of Gaza.

According to Department of Defense documents released to CCR, within days of the May 31, 2010, attack on the Gaza flotilla, instead of heeding international calls to condemn and investigate the Israeli forces responsible for the murders, the United States started planning with the Israeli military how to better deal with future flotillas using "less belligerent" techniques. Despite the DOD's internal concerns that such collaboration could be "perceived as US complicity with the Israeli blockade," as part of the response in the months after the flotilla attack, the United States sent its Seal Team Four to conduct an exchange with an Israeli unit.

This may be just the tip of the iceberg: The full nature of US support remains secret due to the lack of transparency regarding where US training and funding to Israel is ending up. The State Department itself has admitted that when it comes to Israel, there is no mechanism to track which units receive US funding. It's critical to be able to track and share this information, in part because such aid may be in direct violation of the Leahy Laws, which bar US assistance to foreign forces where there is credible information that a unit or individual has engaged in gross human rights violations.

Instead of providing this training, the US should have been seeking accountability for the attack in which a US teenager was shot in the face at point blank range after he already lay wounded. But when it came to the only independent international inquiry into the attack, the UN Human Rights Council's Fact-Finding Mission, not only did the United States vote against the resolution to investigate, but the country tried to derail it. One cable noted that the US Mission in Geneva, where the council is located, had "explored ways to 'turn off ' the flotilla fact finding mission" and that "we very strongly favor having this fact finding mission (FFM) fall away."

The author recommended urging the FFM to not make any "assessments in regards to actual violations," essentially trying to thwart the UN inquiry's mandate and to remove any opportunity for accountability. Instead, the United States supported the UN Secretary General's Panel of Inquiry, which was not designed to make any independent findings of fact and which the US characterized as being focused "appropriately on the future" and the prevention of future incidents, rather than on accountability.

Along with training Israeli forces and shielding them from accountability, the US tried to prevent organizers from setting sail again, apparently at Israel's request. Documents released earlier this month show US efforts in 2010 to identify and prevent US registered boats from sailing to Gaza and note that there is "White House level interest and engagement" on the issue. But the most notable effort occurred in early 2011, in response to Israel's request "to support their efforts to counter plans for another flotilla in late May." The State Department sent a cable directing Embassy officials in dozens of countries to contact their host governments, seek information about the flotilla plans and organizers, and urge its "prevention" through imposing inspections of vessels, "suspension and/or revocation of mariner credentials, termination of voyage, and criminal or civil penalties for negligent operation of vessels."

When flotilla plans progressed anyway, the US pressured governments to close ports or block some vessels from sailing. Ships were placed under surveillance by security teams reporting to the State Department and DOD, and the US Navy classified at least one boat as a "contact of interest," a term often used to describe a potential threat.

As Gaza struggles to rebuild in the face of staggering destruction and a fast approaching winter, it's critical that the US government stop reinforcing the legitimacy of Israel's blockade and other human rights abuses in Gaza. Time and time again, the United States puts its kid gloves on when dealing with Israeli atrocities, and then trains Israelis on how to best enforce its illegal blockade, stop protest before it happens or steer the international community toward an ineffective inquiry that attempted to placate international outrage while ensuring no one was held accountable.

The US expresses mild concern about the Israeli military's tactics at the same moment it transfers munitions and gets out its checkbook to send the country more taxpayer dollars. But Israel's brutality has shown that the soft approach just doesn't work, and, if anything, only adds to Israel's sense of impunity.

The United States must use its influence to challenge the brutal status quo of Israeli domination over Gaza and must stop supporting, funding and arming Israel, or at the very least, specific units that have committed gross human rights violations. 

Opinion Mon, 20 Oct 2014 12:36:18 -0400
Dark Day for Democracy: SCOTUS Allows Racially-Motivated Disenfranchisement of Texas Voters

As the plaintiffs in the otherwise successful challenge to Texas Republicans' polling place Photo ID restriction law pointed out during their emergency petition to the US Supreme Court earlier this week, it was the High Court itself which gutted a central provision of the Voting Rights Act.

Imani Clark, who does not have an approved form of identification and has not voted since Texas’ voter identification law took effect in 2013, in Prairie View, Texas, Sept. 1, 2014. Justice Department lawyers say a voter ID law in the state is unfair to blacks and Hispanics, while Texas argues that Southern states are being unfairly targeted. (Photo: Michael Stravato / The New York Times) Imani Clark, who does not have an approved form of identification and has not voted since Texas’ voter identification law took effect in 2013, in Prairie View, Texas, Sept. 1, 2014. Justice Department lawyers say a voter ID law in the state is unfair to blacks and Hispanics, while Texas argues that Southern states are being unfairly targeted. (Photo: Michael Stravato / The New York Times)

As the plaintiffs in the otherwise successful challenge to Texas Republicans' polling place Photo ID restriction law pointed out during their emergency petition to the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week --- after an appeals court panel had temporarily stayed a lower court's determination that the law was discriminatory and thus, stricken down --- it was the High Court itself which, when it gutted a central provision of the Voting Rights Act last year, promised there were other provisions still standing in the landmark VRA that could adequately be used to prevent discriminatory voting laws in all 50 states.

"Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in [Section] 2" of the Voting Rights Act, the John Roberts Supreme Court majority declared at the time. Apparently they were just kidding.

As the plaintiffs in the case persuasively argued in a filing at the court on Friday, "If voters cannot be protected after findings --- including a finding of intentional racial discrimination --- and a permanent injunction in a case where there was a year of discovery, nine days of trial, and an exhaustive, comprehensive District Court opinion, then when will they be?"

The answer to that question came back from the Court in the form of a pre-dawn order [PDF] issued Saturday morning upholding the appellate court's ruling that, even though the law, SB 14, is discriminatory, as found by the lower court after a full trial on the merits, the Photo ID restrictions that are likely to disenfranchise some 600,000 legally registered and disproportionately minority voters in the Lone Star State will be back in effect for this November's mid-term elections.

The trial earlier this year, challenging the law under both the U.S. Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act --- the section that SCOTUS had previously announced was more than adequate to protect voters --- determined that the Texas law "creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose." U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos also found in her 147-page ruling, that "SB 14 constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax."

Texas had already required ID for every single polling place voter in the state from 2003 to 2013, and even though state Republicans' even more extreme version of Photo ID restrictions on voting instituted by SB 14 had already been found racially discriminatory by the U.S. Dept. of Justice and again by a U.S. District Court in D.C. based on data supplied by the state of Texas itself, and now, once again, found both discriminatory and unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court in Texas after a full trial, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an appellate court stay issued this week on the basis that the lower court's ruling came just too close to the election to change the rules at this point.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeal had reasoned that it was better for all 600,000+ voters to face potential disenfranchisement under the racially-motivated law, rather than just a few who might face a poll worker that didn't receive adequate notice that the more restrictive ID law --- the one allowing concealed weapons permits, but not state-issued Student IDs, the one that doesn't even allow U.S. Government Veterans IDs as proof of identity for voting --- had been approved for use. It appears that a majority of Supreme Court Justices agreed.

Like the appellate court, the SCOTUS majority did not dispute any of the District Court's findings nor explain why those findings did not outweigh the "potential" disruption of the Lone Star State's electoral apparatus on the eve of an election. Its cursory order, however, leaves no room for doubt that the Court has expanded what is known as "the Purcell principle" so that, no matter how egregious the law in question, no matter the evidence establishing deliberate racial discrimination and widespread disenfranchisement, the Court will apply a per se rule that an injunction barring the illegal disenfranchisement of voters will be stayed if it is issued in close proximity to the start of an election.

While the SCOTUS majority failed to offer a written opinion to explain their decision to allow massive disenfranchisement in Texas this year, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing on behalf of herself and Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, provided a tightly written dissent offering documented facts and uncontested evidence to support her opinion that the Supreme Court should have vacated the 5th Circuit's last minute stay of the lower court ruling...

Ginsburg's Dissent

Justice Ginsburg blasted the majority in a number of ways, among them, by noting that they had strayed from long-established, basic rules requiring that appellate courts afford deference to factual findings of a U.S. District Court, in this case, "virtually unchallenged" findings that the state was intentionally acting in order to obtain an advantage for Republicans in elections by racially discriminating against certain voters:

On an extensive factual record developed in the course of a nine-day trial, the District Court found Senate Bill 14 irreconcilable with [Section 2] of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it was enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose and would yield a prohibited discriminatory result. The District Court emphasized the "virtually unchallenged" evidence that Senate Bill 14 "bear[s] more heavily on" minority voters. [Citation]. In light of the "seismic demographic shift" in Texas between 2000 and 2010, making Texas a "majority-minority state," the District Court observed that the Texas Legislature and Governor had an evident incentive to "gain partisan advantage by suppressing" the "votes of African-Americans and Latinos."

Ginsburg pointed to uncontroverted evidence on record from trial demonstrating that these minority, soon to be majority, voters would be disproportionately disenfranchised by SB 14. "On this plain evidence, the District Court concluded that the Bill would not have been enacted absent its racially disparate effects."

She also cited the District Court's finding, uncontested by the Appellate Court, that the radical TX law "operates as an unconstitutional poll tax" in violation of the 24th Amendment, and includes costs to voters "deliberately imposed by the State."

"The potential magnitude of racially discriminatory voter disenfranchisement counseled hesitation before disturbing the District Court's findings and final judgment," she writes. "Senate Bill 14 may prevent more than 600,000 registered Texas voters (about 4.5% of all registered voters) from voting in person for lack of compliant identification."

As the U.S. District Court was not the first to reach similar conclusions about the TX Republicans' law --- either this one, or many of its precursors --- Ginsburg adds [emphasis added]...

Unsurprisingly, Senate Bill 14 did not survive federal preclearance under [Section 5] of the Voting Rights Act. A three-judge District Court unanimously determined that the law would have a prohibited discriminatory effect on minority voters...Although this Court vacated the preclearance denial in light of Shelby County v. Holder...(2013), racial discrimination in elections in Texas is no mere historical artifact. To the contrary, Texas has been found in violation of the Voting Rights Act in every redistricting cycle from and after 1970.

Yes, the Lone Star State has been discriminating and/or attempting to discriminate against certain voters for years, as found time and again both before and after SCOTUS gutted the preclearance provision of Section 5 that had required federal approval of new voting laws in jurisdictions, like Texas, with a long history of racial discrimination.

This was another area where both the appeals court and the SCOTUS majority decisions simply disregarded the District Court's factual findings.

"The District Court noted particularly plaintiffs' evidence --- largely unchallenged by Texas --- regarding the State's long history of official discrimination in voting, the statewide existence of racially polarized voting, the incidence of overtly racial political campaigns, the disproportionate lack of minority elected officials, and the failure of elected officials to respond to the concerns of minority voters" Ginsburg wrote.

"Despite awareness of the Bill's adverse effect on eligible-to-vote minorities, the Texas Legislature rejected a 'litany of ameliorative amendments' designed to lessen the Bill's impact on minority voters --- for example, amendments permitting additional forms of identification, eliminating fees, providing indigence exceptions, and increasing voter education and funding --- without undermining the Bill's purported policy justifications."

During the decade in which the state's previous ID requirement for every voter was in place from 2003 to 2013, she notes, "there were only two in-person voter fraud cases prosecuted to conviction in Texas." Nonetheless, the state deliberately declined to change the new law to make it more inclusive. Proponents of the bill were "unable to 'articulate any reason that a more expansive list of photo IDs would sabotage' their efforts at detecting and determining voter fraud."

"On this plain evidence," Ginsburg writes [emphasis added], "the District Court concluded that the Bill would not have been enacted absent its racially disparate effects."

The Justice went on to highlight just some of the challenges to be faced by legal voters who have the misfortune of not already owning the newly-required, very narrow type of Photo ID now mandated for voting at the polls in Texas.

"A voter whose birth certificate lists her maiden name or misstates her date of birth may be charged $37 for the amended certificate she needs to obtain a qualifying ID. Texas voters born in other States may be required to pay substantially more than that."

"Under Senate Bill 14," she adds, "a cost attends every form of qualified identification available to the general public." That, despite the 1966 Supreme Court ruling that a $1.50 poll tax violated the Constitution.

Ginsburg also went on to cite the fact that, even if a voter could afford the charges for these IDs now required to vote, "more than 400,000 eligible voters face round-trip travel times of three hours or more to the nearest DPS [Department of Public Safety] office" in Texas in order to try and obtain one of the IDs offered by the state. That three-hour round trip presumes the otherwise-eligible voter, who doesn't have a drivers license, is able to arrange someone to drive them the several hours in order to obtain the ID now needed to exercise their "right" to vote.

Body Blow Followed by a Right Hook

The body blow to democracy's gut that made this year's SCOTUS ruling possible, came last year by way of the 5 - 4 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County, AL v. Eric Holder.

In that decision, the Court's right wing majority cited the reduction of discriminatory practices since the Voting Rights Act was first enacted in 1965, as evidence that Section 5 preclearance protections were largely no longer necessary. The days of Jim Crow were over the court majority declared at the time.

That notion drew a sharp dissent, once again, from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who presciently wrote in her 2012 dissent: "Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

The SCOTUS gutting of Section 5 in 2013 would prove akin to the unleashing of a pack of rabid dogs.

Once untethered by the need to receive federal preclearance by demonstrating that new voting laws were not discriminatory, jurisdictions previously covered by Section 5 began enacting the very laws that Section 5 was designed to prevent. In the case of Texas, that meant reinstating the very same law, SB 14, that Section 5 had, indeed, previously prevented from being enforced.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, with his sights set on his gubernatorial candidacy, immediately announce after the SCOTUS decision in Shelby last year, that he would once again implement SB 14 --- this despite more than 600,000 legally registered Texans who would likely be stripped of their right to vote, a right which the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized as providing "the essence of a free society."

With the Section 5 tether removed, in three smaller elections over the past year, none of which entailed a voter turnout of more than 10%, TX was permitted to enforce the very law found to be deliberately racist and disenfranchising.

"To date, the new regime, Senate Bill 14, has been applied in only three low-participation which voter turnout ranged from 1.48% to 9.98%," Ginsburg noted in her 6-page dissent Saturday morning. "The November 2014 election would be the first federal general election conducted under Senate Bill 14's regime. In all likelihood, then, Texas' poll workers are at least as familiar with Texas' pre-Senate Bill 14 procedures as they are with the new law's requirements."

Her logic fell on deaf ears at the Court.

During the course of the litigation against SB 14 earlier this year, Texas Republicans did all that they could to impede judgment day, not only unsuccessfully resisting the plaintiffs' efforts to have the case decided on an expedited basis, but by attempting to conceal documents that would help to establish that SB 14 was racially motivated. Those documents were produced only after U.S. District Court Judge Gonzales Ramos, last April, issued an 8-page order compelling production of the records.

While TX Republicans failed to completely run-out the clock, they did succeed in delaying the 9-day trial until September, and, given the time needed for the Judge to complete her detailed, 147-page decision, the permanent injunction from that court was not forthcoming until October 9 --- only eleven (11) days before the Oct. 20 start date for early voting in the upcoming Texas election.

The Supremes' ruling, issued despite express District Court findings that implementation of SB 14 will cause far more electoral chaos than the injunction, is ultimately a powerful blow to democracy's jaw --- a knock-down blow, if not a knock-out punch. The latter will only come if the Court, in the next term, after this election has passed, disregards the detailed District Court findings in considering the merits of the Texas law, as well as similar findings by a District Court in the Wisconsin photo ID case. That ruling was allowed to stand by SCOTUS last week. Both cases, and others like them, all due to Republican attempts at suppressing the vote, are likely to be heard in full at the Supreme Court next year.

Even if the Court, at such time, should go so far as to heed the devastating opinion of Reagan-appointed, Republican, U.S. 7th Circuit Appeals Court Judge Richard Posner's elegant plea that it strike down, as unconstitutional, each and every "strict photo ID" law (as enacted only by states with Republican majorities in both houses of their legislature), the stain on democracy will remain following the 2014 election in Texas.

Whatever the results of the midterm elections there this year, they will forever be tarnished by the wide-spread, racially motivated disenfranchisement of nearly 4.5% of the Lone Star State's eligible voters.

More disturbingly, a precedent will have been established that no matter how egregiously and purposefully racist a voter suppression scheme may be, those who seek to reinstate Jim Crow at the polls will always get at least one chance to insure a tainted election, simply by running out the clock on well-taken legal challenges.

News Mon, 20 Oct 2014 10:11:45 -0400
Ebola Hysteria Fever: A Real Epidemic

Thus far, the Ebola virus has infected three people in the United States that we know of, however Ebola hysteria seems to have infected somewhere close to 300 million. There are reports of kids being pulled out of schools and even some school closings. People in many areas are not going to work and others are driving cars rather than taking mass transit because they fear catching Ebola from fellow passengers.

Watching for Ebola(Image: CDC Global, checking blinds via Shutterstock)Thus far, the Ebola virus has infected three people in the United States that we know of, however Ebola hysteria seems to have infected somewhere close to 300 million. There are reports of kids being pulled out of schools and even some school closings. People in many areas are not going to work and others are driving cars rather than taking mass transit because they fear catching Ebola from fellow passengers. There are also reports of people staying away from stores, restaurants, and other public places in order to avoid the deadly plague.

This would all be comic if there were not real consequences. People not going to work are going to lose needed paychecks. Our kids need to go to school to get an education. And the cost of the hysteria may grow enormously depending on how the government reacts.

The current fad among politicians is the idea of ban on travel for people from Liberia and other countries where the epidemic is concentrated. This policy is in the “we have to do something” category.

It is reminiscent of the soldier who reports to his commanding officer that their platoon is surrounded by enemy troops. The commanding officer thinks for a moment, then takes big swing and decks the soldier. When the soldier asks officer why he decked him, the officer says, “I had to do something.”

Doing something stupid is not always better than doing nothing. And imposing a travel ban is high on the list of stupid things. Apart from what this would do to efforts to contain Ebola in the countries now suffering from the epidemic, there is the more basic problem that it won’t work.

The travel banners may have enormous faith in the competence of government, but as a practical matter a travel ban will not keep everyone who has been Liberia out of the country. People will come through third countries and simply lie about their travel history. Passport marks will be smudged or removed.

Travel banners may have great confidence in the ability of our immigration authorities to prevent such trickery, but those of us in the real world know that many people will slip by. And, thanks to the travel banners, these people who may have been exposed to Ebola will be hiding from the health authorities because they have broken the law to get into the country. Now isn’t that a great way to control the virus?

One obvious way to control Ebola would be to spend some money developing a vaccine. Francis Collins, the Director of the National Institutes of Health thinks that we would have had an effective vaccine by now had it not been for the cuts to the agency over the last decade.

Needless to say, many of the politicians who are now the biggest promulgators of Ebola hysteria fever were also the ones pushing the budget cuts over the last decade. No doubt they are much happier to spend large amounts of money trying to contain the disease now, and treating victims in the United States, then they would have been spending money a decade ago to develop a vaccine against a disease whose primary victims are Africans.  

If we can get the victims of Ebola hysteria fever to come down for a minute, it is useful to remind them that they face an enormously greater risk of being killed in a car accident than they do from being killed by the Ebola virus. But if that sounds like too much of an abstraction, there is an even simpler point that can be made.

There have been several outbreaks of Ebola in Sub Saharan Africa over the last three decades. Each of them has been successfully brought under control. This means not only that it is possible to contain the virus and keep it from infecting an ever larger group of people, but that the governments in Sub Saharan Africa were able to muster the resources to accomplish this goal. These are among the poorest countries in the world.

If Sudan, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), and Gabon can bring Ebola under control, surely the United States can do the same. Unfortunately, Ebola Hysteria Fever may be a bit harder to contain.

Opinion Mon, 20 Oct 2014 09:59:29 -0400
Major League Baseball Continues to Balk on Player Drug Use: Drugged World Series Stars?

While the media is covering domestic abuse among NFL players nonstop, an equally big and more widespread sports scandal is ongoing drug use in Major League Baseball as the Playoffs and World Series take place.

The federal investigation of ‘anti-aging’ clinic Biogenisis (providing HGH and testosterone) is “ongoing,” confirmed Mark Trouville, Miami DEA Special Agent in Charge, last month. At least five new players are expected to be named.

In the aftermath of the Mitchell Report, the most significant investigation of drug abuse in the history of baseball seven years ago, Commissioner Bud Selig issued “a call for action. And I will act.” What we have seen is MLB inaction despite law enforcement moving forward.

MVP and All-Star Ken Caminiti stated in the Mitchell Report, “at least” half of players were using drugs. The Report concluded that “each of the 30 clubs has had players involved.”

MLB does not know names or number of drugged players now – in the playoffs and even going to the World Series -- because they do not want to know. Occasional tests do not out most potential players abusing. Testing misses “masking agents” that hide the drugs. MLB has disclosed only three players with positive tests this year. Fifty-four Minor League players have been busted in 2014: the Minors are more serious.

MLB players with first offenses for stimulants like amphetamines only face six additional “unannounced tests”. “Performance enhancing drugs” (PED’s) are acceptable in baseball if there is a “valid, medically appropriate prescription” to receive a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE). However, TUEs are a loophole abusers can drive a truck through, a point the Mitchell report quoted from us. Just get a doctor on your payroll to prescribe them for any reason, and you’re in! It’s just a matter of submitting the paperwork because there is virtually no enforcement unless and until baseball really investigates each case.

Even the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, suspended last summer, could play next year. “We’ve done all we can and should do and so the rest is up to Alex and the Yankees,” said outgoing Commissioner Selig on Sept. 23. According to Sports Illustrated and the book, “Blood Sport”, baseball gave A-Rod a TUE for testosterone when he was winning his third MVP award and hitting 54 home runs, in 2007. He was hardly the sickie who needed medical drugs.

According to Sports Illustrated, in 2008, Rodriguez applied for a TUE for clomiphene citrate, a testosterone enhancer popular with body builders. In both years, his doctor wrote to baseball that he had a “testosterone deficiency,” and he was granted a TUE both times. Baseball wanted homers. A-Rod stated, “You’ll hear the full story when the time is right.” That time is now.

Baseball acts like an ostrich’s head in the sand for economic reasons: ratings and revenue. Last year’s World Series games had an average of 14.9 million viewers, and the MLB reached an all-time high annual revenue of $8 billion.

Young fans admire their heroes. Steroid usage among teens quintupled when Mark McGwire admitted using androstenedione. Teenagers who admitted using human growth hormone (HGH) without a prescription increased from 5 percent in 2012 to 11 percent in 2013. An additional 7 percent declared they used steroids.

“My kid died,” said Donald Hooton, father of Taylor Hooton who committed suicide at 17 due to depression after taking steroids.

In 2007, Jason Giambi, former Yankee player, AL MVP and five-time All-Star, went public with his PED confession: “I was wrong doing that stuff.” Giambi wasn’t disciplined and still plays, now for Cleveland.

It’s not just baseball that hides heavy hitters. Andre Agassi, who won eight Grand Slam tennis titles, in his autobiography admitted taking crystal meth during his tournaments. He wrote, “I snort … I've never felt such energy." He tested positive but said his explanation was “filled with lies.” Tennis has done nothing.

Suspending 16 players since last summer is a step, but baseball is not clean for dozens and even hundreds of others.

There is a way forward: Baseball could test each completing player in the playoffs in the future and the World Series this year, ask likely witnesses for evidence, and protect informers. Baseball should announce this process, so the public is informed.

Then we will have a clean World Series.

Opinion Mon, 20 Oct 2014 09:07:46 -0400
Bashing Obama to Make Way for Hillary

Three years ago, during the height of the Occupy movement, I was ejected from a Congressional hearing for allegedly “assaulting” Leon Panetta, then Secretary of Defense and former Director of the CIA. He was testifying to the House Armed Services Committee about “lessons learned by the Department of Defense over the preceding decade.” I jumped out of my audience seat to tell him that young people were paying the price of those “lessons,” and we were sick of the government funding war instead of education. The baseless assault charges against me were ultimately dropped.

A few years and trillions of dollars later, I found myself sitting in front of Leon Panetta once again, this time for his book talk at George Washington University, where he was gunning for more war. Just when we thought the US was finally leaving Iraq alone, the world was hit with a paranoid media frenzy: showcasing ISIS beheadings ad infinitum, hysterical Congresspeople claiming that they were “coming for us all,” paving the way to more war, war, war–– no questions from the public, no Congressional debate. Bombs started falling on Iraq and Syria, innocents are dying, ISIL is gaining traction, yet the White House is declaring the whole operation so far “successful.”

Don’t be fooled: this operation has indeed been a success for some. The weapons-making company Raytheon just signed a $251 million Pentagon contract to produce the Tomahawk missiles the US is dropping on Iraq and Syria. Some media pundits speculate US involvement for a few months, some a few years, but Panetta said we better count on closer to 30 years.

Despite Panetta’s reputation for being a relatively “liberal” Democrat, his legacy is now associated with the expansion of President Obama’s killer drone program–– covertly bombing countries that the US wasn’t, and still isn’t, at war with, killing countless civilians with total impunity.

Without acknowledging America’s role in creating ISIL, or how counterproductive and economically draining over a decade of war has been, Panetta has generated national attention recently for bashing President Obama for not going hard enough on ISIL. In his new book Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace, and during an interview with Susan Page of USA Today timed to coincide with the release of his book, Panetta revealed his true feelings: that President Obama is deficient of leadership skills, indecisive, and weak when it comes to national defense and militarism.

Apparently this revelation, which Dana Milbank of the Washington Post called a “stunning disloyalty,” comes as no surprise since Panetta has been jumping the gun to criticize President Obama since his time as Secretary of Defense. While in office, Panetta wanted to leave some residual troops in Iraq after the withdrawal in 2011, a deal he says could have been negotiated with more effort. He also wanted to arm the Syrian rebels as early as 2012, and frowned upon Obama’s “failure to act” after seeking congressional authorization to bomb Assad in Syria in 2013.

So what does Panetta have to gain from attacking President Obama, a fellow Democrat, with so much time left until the next Presidential election? Some media outlets think it’s no coincidence that he’s on a book tour at the same time as Hillary Clinton, touting the same hawkish foreign policies that will appeal to independent-leaning Republicans in 2016. As one right-wing outlet put it, “he’s flying the same exact anti-Obama flag that the hawkish Clinton wing of the party has been flying all year trying to position themselves for the next stage in their own political careers by stepping on President Obama’s neck.”

Like Panetta, Clinton has made claims that the blame for ISIS’ sudden power grab lands squarely on Obama’s failure to intervene in the Syrian civil war. In an interview with the Atlantic, Clinton said America must develop an “overarching” strategy to confront the growing threat of ISIS, and she went so far as to equate this struggle to the one the US waged against Soviet-led communism. It seems like these now-former Washington insiders are ganging up on the President to pave the way for a dangerous future foreign policy framework.

On October 14, Panetta spoke at an event at George Washington University about his new book. CODEPINK teamed up with the George Washington Progressive Student Alliance to host a protest outside of the event. We passed out hundreds of fliers about the killer drone program under Panetta, and hollered over the megaphone about war criminals not being welcome on campus.

I made my way into the event and took a seat in the front row. The university president fawned over Panetta, who entered the room to a standing ovation.

Panetta bemoaned miniscule cuts to the massively bloated defense budget, saying that it is harmful to our national security. When he mentioned the sequester in that context, I couldn’t stay in my seat any longer. “We need more cuts to the Pentagon’s budget!” I said loudly, trying to move toward the stage so he would be able to hear me. “We don’t want money for war spending, we need that money here at home,” I continued. “Stop pushing the President to go deeper into war. Young people are sick of it, and the opinions of war criminals like yourself are not welcome here!” As I was talking, a large security guard plucked me up by my jacket and quickly yanked me out of the room.

Three years after my first disruption of Panetta, more than ever I stand by my words. I would do it again, and honestly, I probably will do it again. Whether it’s Leon Panetta, or Hillary Clinton. I’m horrified at the prospect of Clinton being the more “liberal” Presidential choice in 2016. If President Obama campaigned for hope and change, but ultimately enshrined some of Bush’s most egregious foreign policies, what are we in store for from the next explicitly pro-war candidates?

Many young people are sick of these war-mongers running the United States (and I know plenty of older folks who are too!). Over the summer of 2014, the youth wing of CODEPINK launched a Youth Manifesto to declare that there is No Future in War. Using that as a resource, we’ve launched a youth outreach campaign to help support student groups organize and mobilize. In a very short amount of time we’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from students who are sick of being robbed of their futures. It’s time for the old, worn out politicians, who have dragged us into more war just to get elected and fatten their wallets, to step aside. We deserve better than the broken two-party system that routinely forces us to choose the “lesser of two evils.”

I, for one, am certainly not “ready for Hillary.”

Opinion Sun, 19 Oct 2014 13:50:04 -0400
When the Ayatollah Said No to Nukes

Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the current Supreme Leader of Iran.Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the current Supreme Leader of Iran. (Photo: an exclusive interview, a top Iranian official says that Khomeini personally stopped him from building Iran's WMD program.

The nuclear negotiations between six world powers and Iran, which are now nearing their November deadline, remain deadlocked over U.S. demands that Iran dismantle the bulk of its capacity to enrich uranium. The demand is based on the suspicion that Iran has worked secretly to develop nuclear weapons in the past and can't be trusted not to do so again.

Iran argues that it has rejected nuclear weapons as incompatible with Islam and cites a fatwa of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as proof. American and European officials remain skeptical, however, that the issue is really governed by Shiite Islamic principles. They have relied instead on murky intelligence that has never been confirmed about an alleged covert Iranian nuclear weapons program.

But the key to understanding Iran's policy toward nuclear weapons lies in a historical episode during its eight-year war with Iraq. The story, told in full for the first time here, explains why Iran never retaliated against Iraq's chemical weapons attacks on Iranian troops and civilians, which killed 20,000 Iranians and severely injured 100,000 more. And it strongly suggests that the Iranian leadership's aversion to developing chemical and nuclear weapons is deep-rooted and sincere.

A few Iranian sources have previously pointed to a fatwa by the Islamic Republic's first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, prohibiting chemical weapons as the explanation for why Iran did not deploy these weapons during the war with Iraq. But no details have ever been made public on when and how Khomeini issued such a fatwa, so it has been ignored for decades.

Now, however, the wartime chief of the Iranian ministry responsible for military procurement has provided an eyewitness account of Khomeini's ban not only on chemical weapons, but on nuclear weapons as well. In an interview with me in Tehran in late September, Mohsen Rafighdoost, who served as minister of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) throughout the eight-year war, revealed that he had proposed to Khomeini that Iran begin working on both nuclear and chemical weapons -- but was told in two separate meetings that weapons of mass destruction are forbidden by Islam. I sought the interview with Rafighdoost after learning of an interview he had with Mehr News Agency in January in which he alluded to the wartime meetings with Khomeini and the supreme leader's forbidding chemical and nuclear weapons.

Rafighdoost was jailed under the Shah for dissident political activity and became a point of contact for anti-Shah activists when he got out of prison in 1978. When Khomeini returned to Tehran from Paris after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Rafighdoost became his bodyguard and head of his security detail. He was also a founding member of the IRGC and was personally involved in every major military decision taken by the corps during the Iran-Iraq War, including the initiation of Iran's ballistic missile program and creation of Hezbollah.

Despite his IRGC background, however, Rafighdoost has embraced the pragmatism of President Hassan Rouhani's government. In October 2013, he recalled in an interview that Khomeini had dissuaded him from setting up the IRGC's headquarters at the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

"Why do you want to go there?" Rafighdoost recalled Khomeini as saying. "Are our disputes with the U.S. supposed to last a thousand years? Do not go there."

Rafighdoost received me in his modest office at the Noor Foundation, of which he has been chairman since 1999. Looking younger than his 74 years, he still has the stocky build of a bodyguard and bright, alert eyes.

Saddam Hussein's Iraq began using chemical weapons against Iranian troops after Iran repelled the initial Iraqi attack and began a counterattack inside Iraq. The Iraqis considered chemical weapons to be the only way to counter Iran's superiority in manpower. Iranian doctors first documented symptoms of mustard gas from Iraqi chemical attacks against Iranian troops in mid-1983. However, Rafighdoost said, a dramatic increase in Iraqi gas attacks occurred during an Iranian offensive in southern Iraq in February and March 1984. The attacks involved both mustard gas and the nerve gas tabun, which prompted him to take a major new initiative in his war planning.

Rafighdoost told me he asked some foreign governments for assistance, including weapons, to counter the chemical-war threat, but all of them rejected his requests. This prompted him to decide that his ministry would have to produce everything Iran needed for the war. "I personally gathered all the researchers who had any knowledge of defense issues," he recalled. He organized groups of specialists to work on each category of military need -- one of which was called "chemical, biological, and nuclear."

Rafighdoost prepared a report on all the specialized groups he had formed and went to discuss it with Khomeini, hoping to get his approval for work on chemical and nuclear weapons. The supreme leader met him accompanied only by his son, Ahmad, who served as chief of staff, according to Rafighdoost. "When Khomeini read the report, he reacted to the chemical-biological-nuclear team by asking, ‘What is this?'" Rafighdoost recalled. 

Khomeini ruled out development of chemical and biological weapons as inconsistent with Islam.

"Imam told me that, instead of producing chemical or biological weapons, we should produce defensive protection for our troops, like gas masks and atropine," Rafighdoost said.

Rafighdoost also told Khomeini that the group had "a plan to produce nuclear weapons." That could only have been a distant goal in 1984, given the rudimentary state of Iran's nuclear program. At that point, Iranian nuclear specialists had no knowledge of how to enrich uranium and had no technology with which to do it. But in any case, Khomeini closed the door to such a program. "We don't want to produce nuclear weapons," Rafighdoost recalls the supreme leader telling him.

Khomeini instructed him instead to "send these scientists to the Atomic Energy Organization," referring to Iran's civilian nuclear-power agency. That edict from Khomeini ended the idea of seeking nuclear weapons, according to Rafighdoost.

The chemical-warfare issue took a new turn in late June 1987, when Iraqi aircraft bombed four residential areas of Sardasht, an ethnically Kurdish city in Iran, with what was believed to be mustard gas. It was the first time Iran's civilian population had been targeted by Iraqi forces with chemical weapons, and the population was completely unprotected. Of 12,000 inhabitants, 8,000 were exposed, and hundreds died.

As popular fears of chemical attacks on more Iranian cities grew quickly, Rafighdoost undertook a major initiative to prepare Iran's retaliation. He worked with the Defense Ministry to create the capability to produce mustard gas weapons.

Rafighdoost was obviously hoping that the new circumstances of Iraqi chemical weapons attacks on Iranian civilians would cause Khomeini to have a different view of the issue. He made it clear to me that Khomeini didn't know about the production of the two chemicals for mustard gas weapons until it had taken place. "In the meeting, I told Imam we have high capability to produce chemical weapons," he recalled. Rafighdoost then asked Khomeini for his view on "this capability to retaliate." 

Iran's permanent representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) disclosed the details of Rafighdoost's chemical weapons program in a document provided to the U.S. delegation to the OPCW on May 17, 2004. It was later made public by WikiLeaks, which published a U.S. diplomatic cable reporting on its contents. The document shows that the two ministries had procured the chemical precursors for mustard gas and in September 1987 began to manufacture the chemicals necessary to produce a weapon -- sulfur mustard and nitrogen mustard. But the document also indicated that the two ministries did not "weaponize" the chemicals by putting them into artillery shells, aerial bombs, or rockets.

The supreme leader was unmoved by the new danger presented by the Iraqi gas attacks on civilians. "It doesn't matter whether it is on the battlefield or in cities; we are against this," he told Rafighdoost. "It is haram [forbidden] to produce such weapons. You are only allowed to produce protection."

Invoking the Islamic Republic's claim to spiritual and moral superiority over the secular Iraqi regime, Rafighdoost recalls Khomeini asking rhetorically, "If we produce chemical weapons, what is the difference between me and Saddam?"

Khomeini's verdict spelled the end of the IRGC's chemical weapons initiative. "Even after Sardasht, there was no way we could retaliate," Rafighdoost recalled. The 2004 Iranian document confirms that production of two chemicals ceased, the buildings in which they were stored were sealed in 1988, and the production equipment was dismantled in 1992.

Khomeini also repeated his edict forbidding work on nuclear weapons, telling him, "Don't talk about nuclear weapons at all."

Rafighdoost understood Khomeini's prohibition on the use or production of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons as a fatwa -- a judgment on Islamic jurisprudence by a qualified Islamic scholar. It was never written down or formalized, but that didn't matter, because it was issued by the "guardian jurist" of the Islamic state -- and was therefore legally binding on the entire government. "When Imam said it was haram[forbidden], he didn't have to say it was fatwa," Rafighdoost explained.

Rafighdoost did not recall the date of that second meeting with Khomeini, but other evidence strongly suggests that it was in December 1987. Iranian Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi said in a late December 1987 speech that Iran "is capable of manufacturing chemical weapons" and added that a "special section" had been set up for "offensive chemical weapons." But Mousavi refrained from saying that Iran actually had chemical weapons, and he hinted that Iran was constrained by religious considerations. "We will produce them only when Islam allows us and when we are compelled to do so," he said.

A few days after Mousavi's speech, a report in the London daily the Independent referred to a Khomeini fatwa against chemical weapons. Former Iranian nuclear negotiator Seyed Hossein Mousavian, now a research scholar at Princeton University, confirmed for this article that Khomeini's fatwa against chemical and nuclear weapons, which accounted for the prime minister's extraordinary statement, was indeed conveyed in the meeting with Rafighdoost.

In February 1988, Saddam stepped up his missile attacks on urban targets in Iran. He also threatened to arm his missiles with chemical weapons, which terrified hundreds of thousands of Iranians. Between a third and a half of the population of Tehran evacuated the city that spring in a panic.

Khomeini's fatwa not only forced the powerful IRGC commander to forgo the desired response to Iraqi chemical weapons attacks, but the fatwa made it all but impossible for Iran to continue the war. Although Khomeini had other reasons for what he called "the bitter decision" to accept a cease-fire with Iraq in July 1988, the use of these devastating tools factored into his decision. In a letter explaining his decision, Khomeini said he was consenting to the cease-fire "in light of the enemy's use of chemical weapons and our lack of equipment to neutralize them."

Khomeini's Islamic ruling against all weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, was continued by Ali Khamenei, who had served as president under Khomeini and succeeded him as supreme leader in 1989. Iran began publicizing Khamenei's fatwa against nuclear weapons in 2004, but commentators and news media in the United States and Europe have regarded it as a propaganda ploy not to be taken seriously.

The analysis of Khamenei's fatwa has been flawed not only due to a lack of understanding of the role of the "guardian jurist" in the Iranian political-legal system, but also due to ignorance of the history of Khamenei's fatwa. A crucial but hitherto unknown fact is that Khamenei had actually issued the anti-nuclear fatwa without any fanfare in the mid-1990s in response to a request from an official for his religious opinion on nuclear weapons. Mousavian recalls seeing the letter in the office of the Supreme National Security Council, where he was head of the Foreign Relations Committee from 1997 to 2005. The Khamenei letter was never released to the public, apparently reflecting the fact that the government of then President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had been arguing against nuclear weapons for years on strategic grounds, so publicizing the fatwa appeared unnecessary at that point. 

Since 2012, the official stance of U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has been to welcome the existence of Khamenei's anti-nuclear fatwa. Obama even referred to it in his U.N. General Assembly speech in September 2013. But it seems clear that Obama's advisors still do not understand the fatwa's full significance: Secretary of State John Kerry told journalists in July, "The fatwa issued by a cleric is an extremely powerful statement about intent," but then added, "It is our need to codify it."

That statement, like most of the commentary on Khamenei's fatwa against nuclear weapons, has confused fatwas issued by any qualified Muslim scholar with fatwas by the supreme leader on matters of state policy. The former are only relevant to those who follow the scholar's views; the latter, however, are binding on the state as a whole in Iran's Shiite Islam-based political system, holding a legal status above mere legislation.

The full story of Khomeini's wartime fatwa against chemical weapons shows that when the "guardian jurist" of Iran's Islamic system issues a religious judgment against weapons of mass destruction as forbidden by Islam, it overrides all other political-military considerations. Khomeini's fatwa against chemical weapons prevented the manufacture and use of such weapons -- even though it put Iranian forces at a major disadvantage in the war against Iraq and even though the IRGC was strongly in favor of using such weapons. It is difficult to imagine a tougher test of the power of the leader's Islamic jurisprudence over an issue.

Given the fundamental misunderstanding of the way in which the Islamic Republic has made policy on weapons of mass destruction, the episode of Khomeini's fatwa has obvious implications for the nuclear negotiations with Iran. Negotiators who are unaware of the real history of Iran's anti-nuclear fatwas will be prone to potentially costly miscalculations.

News Sun, 19 Oct 2014 11:24:45 -0400
My One Minute of Campaign Finance Fame

So I made my movie debut in John Wellington Ennis’s new documentary “Pay 2 Play: Democracy’s High Stakes” with a whopping two sentences.

The film “Pay 2 Play” is a clever look at the issue of money in politics.  For a topic that can be dull as dirt (and I say this with love since I deal with this nearly everyday), Ennis has pulled off the near impossible feat of rescuing the topic from the boredom of FECA, BCRA and FEC advisory opinions.  He does this by reminding the viewer of the telos these campaign finance laws and regs aspire to attain: a functioning, dynamic and responsive democratic process where good people with good ideas have a reasonable chance of attaining elected office.

The film “Pay 2 Play” is a well made and comic introduction into the world of money in politics for those who don’t live and breathe the issue.  And it has Easter eggs for those of us who do work on the issue like footage of the late Bob Edgar telling a crowd as he often did “we are the leaders we have been looking for.” Ennis also captures some of the problem highlighted in the new report, “The New Soft Money” that candidates are constantly dialing for dollars instead of working for constituents or spending time with voters. 

The film spends some quality time with Surya Yalamanchili (or “Chili” for short) a youthful former reality TV star who ran for Congress in Ohio’s Second District.  His campaign signs playfully read, “Washington needs some Chili.”  Shadowing Yalamanchili, Ennis shows us what a new candidate campaigning on a shoe string looks like: hopeful, hard working and doomed.

In the film, “pay to play” is a term used by Van Jones and several others as a summary of America’s general campaign finance system of privately funded elections.  But for campaign finance, governmental procurements and regulatory compliance lawyers, the term “pay to play” has a much more narrow definition.  In the legal world, pay to play rules are those that try to keep lobbyists, government contractors and highly regulated industries (like gaming and alcohol) from giving campaign money, gifts and good old fashioned bribes to government officials to get various perks. Those perks cover a range of things from pushing or stopping legislation, to granting licenses, to inking lucrative contracts.  The whole point is these governmental actions should be done on the basis of merit and not because the recipient wrote the biggest campaign check.

As life imitates art, fights over pay to play laws have been going on in courtrooms as the movie “Pay 2 Play” shows in theatres.  One such anti-pay-to-play rule that is being challenged in the courts is the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC’s) Rule 206(4)-5.  Never heard of it?  Unless you are in the business of investing vast public pension funds for states and cities, you can be forgiven for not noticing this 2010 rule, which aims at curbing pay to play in public pension investments.  

The district court in the case explained the genesis of Rule 206(4)-5: “[a]spate of investigations and prosecution over the past decade revealed the reality of abusive pay-to-play activities in the selection and retention of pension plan investment advisers.  For example, in New York, an investment management firm seeking to win investment business from the New York State Common Retirement Fund paid ‘kickbacks’ to advisers of the New York State Comptroller in order to secure business.”

The New York Republican State Committee and the Tennessee Republican Party sought to stop this rule in its tracks arguing it was unconstitutional to limit the political spending of investment advisers seeking state contracts to invest public pension funds.  This complaint was dismissed by the district court for the District of Columbia for lack of subject matter jurisdiction (in other words that the case was brought in the wrong court).  So it will be up to the plaintiffs if they want to refile this challenge.  If you are a taxpayer, then you likely want this anti-pay-to-play rule to stay in place because who foots the bill in higher cost if pension investing isn’t done in arms-length transactions?  You guessed it.  The taxpayer

In another on-going case, Wagner v. FEC, a 70-year-old ban on politicking by government contractors is being challenged.  That case was heard en banc by the D.C. Circuit on September 30, 2014.  At least some on the bench seemed reluctant to abandon this anti-pay-to-play law. As reported by Politico: “Judge Cornelia Pillard also suggested there might be valid reasons to be more concerned about [government] contractors …. ‘Contractors tend to be individuals who are in and out and in and out,’ she said. ‘Doesn’t that exacerbate the risk of pay to play that’s the dynamic that’s at the center of this effort?’”

And as the AP noted, Judge Tatel saw constitutional tailoring between the goal of the law and its anti-corruption approach:

Appeals judge David Tatel [said], "There's no risk here that Congress is trying to accomplish some nefarious purpose, like leveling the playing field or limiting the amount of money in politics or even protecting incumbents," he said. "This law is focused on government corruption — corruption just in the procurement process — and its focus applies only to people participating in that process and only while they're participating" as contractors, he said. "So it seems that the fit is actually quite snug."

“Pay 2 Play” the film gives viewers a lot to think about including the filmmaker’s suggestions for ways to improve the democratic process like providing public financing for campaigns, improving disclosure of the sources of money in politics and free airtime for candidates.  But it is worth remembering while there are pushes for big, creative improvements in our electoral process, the existing laws and rules that tried to keep pay to play at bay are also fighting for survival in court on a daily basis.  Democracy needs both the lawyers who defend these good laws as well as the filmmakers to remind us of the bigger picture of why fair elections is  worth the fight.

Opinion Sun, 19 Oct 2014 11:11:44 -0400
Unfriending ALEC

A protest against ALEC laws in Wisconsin.A protest against ALEC laws in Wisconsin. (Photo: Light Brigading)Exactly 54 days after Lisa B. Nelson started her job as the CEO of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), she got some bad news from a major supporter: The tech giant Google wanted out of its relationship with ALEC.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said the relationship had been a “mistake.” Nelson fumed that Google’s abrupt “Dear John” note was like “breaking up via text with your girlfriend when you’re 16.”

So who or what is ALEC and why should anyone care about its relationships?

ALEC calls itself a nonpartisan organization that focuses on the principles of “limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty.” Not quite.

Here’s a slightly more accurate description from The New York Times. It’s “a conservative-leaning group that has urged repeal of state renewable power standards and other pro-renewable policies.” ALEC has fought against efforts to address global warming all over the country.

After Schmidt left Nelson high and dry, she may have wanted to “unfriend” him on Facebook. But she couldn’t do that, because Facebook is breaking up with ALEC too. Maybe she could post a torn-up picture of her and Schmidt to Yahoo’s photo-sharing Flickr site? Nope, Yahoo’s also dumping ALEC.

How about leaving nasty comments about Google, Flickr, and Yahoo on the consumer review website Yelp? Sorry, Yelp already gave ALEC the thumbs down. And before she opens Outlook to send some “actually-I’m-the-one-who-broke-up-with-YOU” emails, she might recall that even Microsoft has pressed <ctrl> z to “undo” its relationship with ALEC.

What did ALEC do to scare off all its suitors? For starters, it tried to steal our democracy.

The “council” is a coalition of corporations like Koch Industries and ExxonMobil and corporate-friendly state legislators. The lawmakers pay nominal dues to bring their families on all-expenses-paid vacations, where they mingle with their corporate benefactors and receive “model” bills written by corporate lobbyists on a host of issues.

The rested and relaxed lawmakers then take these Stepford-wife bills home to their statehouses. Why not cut out the middleman and just let the corporations pass the laws themselves?

Technology firms may have hoped that ALEC could help them promote their own issues, such as an open Internet. But now they’re fleeing the group in droves.

What changed? The climate movement emerged.

Schmidt was blunt: ALEC is “literally lying” about the reality of climate change, he said. It’s “hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place.” I can see how that would be a problem for a company whose official corporate motto is still “Don’t be evil.”

The climate movement is making it harder than ever for corporations to get away with poisoning our future. And it’s not just tech companies seeing the light.

In late September, Occidental Petroleum — yes, an oil company — announced it was leaving ALEC over the council’s opposition to environmental regulations. Other companies that have severed ties with ALEC include Amazon, General Electric, Apple, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Bank of America, and Procter & Gamble. Many of these companies left after Color of Change and other grassroots organizations called out ALEC for its support of voter-suppression and “stand your ground” laws around the country.

Unfortunately, plenty of corporations are still palling around with ALEC. Perhaps Lisa Nelson shouldn’t have been so quick to toss all her Google swag in the trash when the tech giant broke her heart — she could have sold it on eBay.

That’s right: eBay is still supporting an organization that Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Yelp, Yahoo, and Facebook have all unfriended. It’s time for eBay and the rest of the corporations that haven’t yet done so to dump ALEC too.

Opinion Sun, 19 Oct 2014 10:53:53 -0400
Truthout Interviews Eisa Ulen on Raven Symone and Black Identity

Raven Symone at the UCLA's Spring Sing 2014 at Pauley Pavilion UCLA on May 16, 2014 in Westwood, CA.Raven Symone at the UCLA's Spring Sing 2014 at Pauley Pavilion UCLA on May 16, 2014 in Westwood, CA. (Image: Helga Esteb / Asregadoo talks to Truthout contributor Eisa Ulen about the larger meaning of Raven Symone’s denial of blackness.

Also see: Raven Is a Shade of Black

When Raven Symone said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey she shuns labels about her sexuality and race, many African-Americans reacted strongly, feeling that she was denying her blackness. Truthout contributor Eisa Ulen is one of the voices who reminds Symone and others that while a post-racial world is a laudable goal – and one Ulen certainly wants to see – we as a society are simply not there yet. The incidents of state-supported violence against people with black and brown skin in the last year have clearly demonstrated that we do not live in a world that has transcended color. Moreover, Ulen asserts that for Symone to say that she is colorless seems to evince more a yearning to erase her blackness (and so constitutes a slap in the face to African-Americans who have supported her work) than a desire to eschew labels that define her ethnicity and sexual orientation.    

News Sun, 19 Oct 2014 10:32:48 -0400
Dahr Jamail | As Casualties Mount, Scientists Say Global Warming Has Been "Hugely Underestimated"

Climate change(Image: High altitude, air pollution via Shutterstock)

As we look across the globe this month, the signs of a continued escalation of the impacts of runaway anthropogenic climate disruption continue to increase, alongside a drumbeat of fresh scientific studies confirming their connection to the ongoing human geo-engineering project of emitting carbon dioxide at ever-increasing rates into the atmosphere.

Climate change(Image: High altitude, air pollution via Shutterstock)

As we look across the globe this month, the signs of a continued escalation of the impacts of runaway anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) continue to increase, alongside a drumbeat of fresh scientific studies confirming their connection to the ongoing human geo-engineering project of emitting carbon dioxide at ever-increasing rates into the atmosphere.

A major study recently published in New Scientist found that "scientists may have hugely underestimated the extent of global warming because temperature readings from southern hemisphere seas were inaccurate," and said that ACD is "worse than we thought" because it is happening "faster than we realized."

As has become predictable now, as evidence of increasing ACD continues to mount, denial and corporate exploitation are accelerating right along with it.

Climate Disruption Dispatches

The famed Northwest Passage is now being exploited by luxury cruise companies. Given the ongoing melting of the Arctic ice cap, a company recently announced a 900-mile, 32-day luxury cruise there, with fares starting at $20,000, so people can luxuriate while viewing the demise of the planetary ecosystem.

This, while even mainstream scientists now no longer view ACD in the future tense, but as a reality that is already well underway and severely impacting the planet.

It is good that even the more conservative scientists have come aboard the reality train, because a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-led (NOAA) study published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has provided yet more evidence linking ACD with extreme heat events.

To provide perspective on how far along we are regarding runaway ACD, another recent study shows that the planet's wildlife population is less than half the size it was four decades ago. The culprits are both ACD and unsustainable human consumption, coupling to destroy habitats faster than previously thought, as biodiversity loss has now reached "critical levels," according to the report. More than half of the vertebrate population on the planet has been annihilated in just four decades.

Let that sink in for a moment before reading further.

Meanwhile, the situation only continues to grow grimmer.

NASA announced that this August was the hottest globally since records began in 1880. Days later, NOAA confirmed this and added that 2014 is on track to become the hottest year on record.

Shortly thereafter, NASA announced that this September was the hottest since 1880.

And emissions only continue to increase.

Global greenhouse gas emissions rose this last year to record levels, increasing 2.3 percent.

The effects of all these developments are especially evident in the Arctic, where sea ice coverage reached its annual minimum on September 17, continuing a trend of below-average years. According to the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic sea ice coverage this year is the sixth lowest recorded since 1978.

Equally disconcerting and symptomatic of the aforementioned, 35,000 walruses crowded onto land near the Northwest Alaska village of Point Lay late last month, when they couldn't find their preferred resting grounds of summer sea ice.


The European Space Agency announced that, due to billions of tons of ice loss, a dip in the gravity field over the Western Antarctic region has occurred, making even gravity itself the latest casualty of ACD.

A recent analysis of 56 studies on ACD-related health problems revealed that increasing global temperatures and extreme weather events will continue to deleteriously impact human health on a global scale.

On a micro-scale, another report showed how Minnesota's warming (and increasingly wetter) climate is escalating the risk of new diseases in the area, according to the Minnesota Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment.

Further north, warming temperatures continue to disrupt the fragile ecological balance in the Canadian Arctic, which is warming faster than most of the rest of the planet. Canada's minister for natural resources provided a new report detailing the impact ACD is having on that country's forests, which are being impacted "faster than the global average."

In neighboring Alaska, summer heat and invasive insects are taking a similar toll on interior Alaska birch trees, according to experts there.

Wildlife populations continue to struggle to adapt to the dramatic changes wrought by ACD. In California, one of the largest populations of state-protected Western pond turtles in the southern part of that state is struggling to survive as its habitat, a natural two-mile long lake, has become a smelly, severely alkaline death trap due to drought and fires there.

Of course it isn't just wildlife that is struggling to adapt and cope with ACD.

Members of the Swinomish tribe, located north of Seattle, were recently awarded a large grant from the federal government in order to deal with rising seas and flooding, as they live near the mouth of the Skagit River.


The extremes of water, flooding and drought continue to persist and escalate as ACD continues.

In California, where record-breaking drought is becoming a way of life for much of the state, at least 14 communities are on the brink of waterlessness and are trucking in water while trying to find a solution.

In East Porterville, a small rural community in Tulare County, California, the situation has become so desperate that residents are no longer able to flush toilets, fill a glass with water or wash their hands without using bottled water.

Dairy farmers in that state are struggling to survive the drought, as the cost for feed and water is being driven up by the lack of water.

The US Energy Information Administration announced that California's ability to produce electricity from hydroelectric dams is being significantly hampered by the drought, which covers 100 percent of the state now. This is because the reservoirs, which create power when the water in them is released into turbines, are drying up, thus providing less pressure to spin the turbines. The first six months of this year have seen the state's hydropower generation decrease by half.

And it's not just California that is experiencing drought. The better part of the entire Western Hemisphere has experienced some form of drought in recent years, according to another recent report published in the journal Science which states: "A dry spell has killed cattle and wiped out crops in Central America, parts of Colombia have seen rioting over scarce water, and southern Brazil is facing its worst dry spell in 50 years."

Across the Atlantic, at a recent international conference that was held to discuss the growing global water crisis, experts warned that Britain must prepare for the "worst droughts in modern times."

In Iran, worshippers have sought divine intervention and they're being urged to literally pray for rain.

An excellent report by National Geographic asked a critical question: What will happen to the American West, which has been built upon the back of snowmelt, when the snows fail?

On the other end of the water spectrum - melting and flooding - we continue to see global evidence of the impact of ACD. The aforementioned recent satellite observations from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center revealed in October that the Arctic ice cap has melted so much that open water is now a mere 350 miles from the North Pole, which is the shortest distance ever recorded, according to scientists.

This coincides with predictions from leading British and American polar researchers that Truthout has previously interviewed who predict the ice cap will melt completely during the summer as early as next year.

A recent report by the Union for Concerned Scientists warned that several major US cities will see at least 10 times more coastal flooding by 2045, in addition to at least 11 inches of sea level rise by the same year.

In Delaware, they aren't waiting. There, millions of dollars have been spent to pump sand in to build up dunes along the beaches in order to create a buffer from future storms and sea level rise.

Down in Miami, hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent to install new storm pumps and storm drains in order to combat sea level rise at Miami Beach. Near the Cape Canaveral area, a low-lying barrier island is getting even lower as sea levels continue to rise, so communities there are investigating ways to keep the water at bay, or to plan a retreat.

Edmonton, Canada, is pushing forward with a $2.4 billion bill for flood prevention, as that city is seeing increasingly severe downpours.

Southern France experienced a deluge of 10 inches of rain in just three hours, which amounted to half a year's worth of rain in one day in Montpellier.

In Norway, massive amounts of melt-water from streams and blue ice on mountains indicated that the ice fields and glaciers on central Norway's highest peaks were in full retreat, and exposed rock and ice that had not been seen for 6,000 years. On that note, recent studies also show that sea-level rise over the last century (20 centimeters) has been unmatched in 6,000 years.

Recent reports indicate that the Gulf of Alaska has become unusually warm, warmer in fact than since researchers began tracking surface water temperatures in the 1980s, according to NOAA.

In the Atlantic, lobsters off the coast of southern New England are moving up into Canada due to warming waters. The exotic lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, is also heading north up the Atlantic coast, as warming waters are changing ocean habitats.

In Greenland, "dark" snow atop the ice sheet is now being called a "positive feedback loop" by an expert there, as the increasing trend is reducing the Arctic's ability to reflect sunlight, further contributing to runaway ACD.

Recent analysis indicates that scientists could have underestimated the size of the heat sink across the upper ocean, according to a recent report. The study, published in Nature Climate Change, found that the upper 700 meters of the ocean have been warming 24 to 55 percent faster since 1970 than previously thought. This means that the pace and scale of planetary warming is much faster than previously believed.

Lastly in this section, and possibly the most distressing, a recent report revealed that fish are failing to adapt to increasing carbon dioxide levels in the oceans. This means that within just a few generations of fish, a mass die-off could occur due to lack of adaptation. More carbon dioxide in the oceans is adversely changing the behavior of fish through generations, which means that marine species may never fully adapt to their changing environment.


A study published in Geophysical Research Letters showed that tornado activity in "Tornado Alley" in the Midwestern United States is peaking two weeks earlier than it did 50 years ago, and ACD is the culprit.

Erratic jet stream behavior is now believed to be caused by the rapid retreating of Arctic sea ice as a result of ACD. The increasingly unpredictable jet stream is being blamed for more frequent, prolonged spells of extreme weather in Europe, North America and Asia. This includes more and longer freezing temperatures, storms and heat waves.

In October, California found itself in yet another heat wave, with record-breaking temperatures reported in several cities and hotter-than-usual temperatures across the state. The National Weather Service put the San Francisco Bay area and San Diego under a heat advisory and issued a hazardous weather outlook for the Los Angeles area. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) cancelled outside activities and sports for the better part of a week due to the extreme heat, which was the second time this school year that LAUSD has had to cancel activities because of high temperatures.

On one day, downtown Los Angeles reached 92 degrees by noon, whereas the average October temperature for that city is 79 degrees. Several cities in Southern California broke record temperatures. Oxnard reached 98 degrees, breaking an almost 70-year-old record.


As wildfires continued to burn across parts of drought-stricken California, a record-breaking amount of fire retardant was used (203,000 gallons in one day alone) while combatting a massive wildfire in Northern California. The fire was burning so hotly and expanding so explosively, due to the prolonged drought, that firefighters found that normal amounts of retardant weren't stopping the flames.

It is now well known that fire season in California, as well as across all the other Western US states, is extending due to ACD.

Denial and Reality

The person who runs the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a free-market lobbying group that opposes policies to mitigate ACD, is not sure whether humans actually cause ACD, according to an interview recently published in National Journal.

When asked specifically whether or not she thought human carbon emissions are causing climate change, ALEC CEO Lisa Nelson said, "I don’t know the science on that."

The denial-based antics of Gov. Chris Christie are ongoing as well. He recently said that a regional cap-and-trade program from which his state of New Jersey withdrew in 2011 was "a completely useless plan" and added that he "would not think of rejoining it."

Louisiana's Gov. Bobby Jindal, a potential Republican presidential candidate for 2016, is taking a "soft denial" approach by admitting that ACD is real, while saying the extent to which humans have a role is still in "doubt."

The denial project's success is evidenced by large numbers of Americans racing to buy and develop seashore properties in areas well known to be at high-risk for rising seas and increasingly intense storms. Mike Huckabee, now apparently a chronic presidential candidate, is among those racing to build on shores that will be submerged in the not-so-distant future.

It's no coincidence that merely 3 percent of current Congressional Republicans have even gone on record to accept the fact that climate disruption is anthropogenic, according to PolitiFact, which also found that there is a grand total of eight Republican non-deniers, total, in the House and Senate.

Another interesting turn of events shows companies like GE and Google operating as large companies do in advance of elections - funding both sides to safeguard their interests. In this case, these companies, along with others, are making campaign contributions to Congressional ACD-deniers - while simultaneously professing to be pro-sustainability companies.

Meanwhile the media blitz continues, as the Rupert Murdoch-owned and ACD-denying Wall Street Journal recently ran an article titled "Climate Science Is Not Settled," which was chock full of the usual ACD-denier talking points. The article provides us with a prime example of how the doubt narrative is consistently slipped in as a meme: "Any serious discussion of the changing climate must begin by acknowledging not only the scientific certainties but also the uncertainties, especially in projecting the future."

In stark contrast to the "doubters" and "deniers," the Pentagon recently announced that ACD poses an "immediate risk" to national security, according to the Department of Defense's 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap.

Shaun Donovan, the new US director of the Office of Management and Budget, used his first speech to talk about the dangers of inaction on climate change, in regards to the federal budget. "From where I sit, climate action is a must do; climate inaction is a can't do; and climate denial scores - and I don't mean scoring points on the board," he said. "I mean that it scores in the budget. Climate denial will cost us billions of dollars."

Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently admitted that funding ALEC was a "mistake," and said that the group's spreading of disinformation and lies about ACD was "making the world a much worse place." During an NPR interview, Schmidt said, "Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren. . . . And so we should not be aligned with such people - they're just, they're just literally lying."

The Endangered Species Coalition recently released a list of things people should take their children to go see outdoors, because if they wait too long, their kids might not get a chance to see them before they become extinct. The list includes monarch butterflies, polar bears, great white sharks, white bark pine trees and Snake River sockeye salmon.

A study published in Environmental Research Letters showed that switching to natural gas will not reduce carbon emissions very much, and could in fact increase them slightly, due to the fact that it would discourage the use of carbon-free renewable energy sources. This is significant because there are many lawmakers who are ACD "realists," including President Obama, who advocate that natural gas is a "solution" to ACD.

A remarkable electronic dashboard created by The Guardian shows some of the key indicators of planetary health, where you can view updated snapshots of the impacts your country, as well as humans, are having on the environment.

Lastly, possibly the most disturbing reality check of all comes from MIT's 2014 Climate and Energy Outlook. The recently released report revealed that global energy use and carbon dioxide emissions will likely double by 2100.

News Mon, 20 Oct 2014 11:07:41 -0400
Thoughts on Pedagogy

There is another aspect to institutional education today and that is the deep reliance on bureaucratic models, and its connection to sociology. It is important to think about who exactly is to be educated.

“The best place to teach architecture is in a simple box.” - Odile Decq

“The political locus of tolerance has changed: while it is more or less quietly and constitutionally withdrawn from the opposition, it is made compulsory behavior with respect to established policies.” - Herbert Marcuse

“Collegiate traditions and the preppy, Ivy League look were some of my earliest design inspirations and the starting point for our signature style.” - Tommy Hilfiger

“As the US war machine increases the intensity of its bombing of Muslim fundamentalists and political extremists in various parts of the world, but especially in Syria and Iraq at the present moment, the official “workstations” of CNN and other news outlets engage in a kind of grotesque production of moral panics in their appeal to fear, insecurity and imminent danger. Violence is not something to be condemned but to be appropriated as a productive source for higher Nielsen ratings and more advertising revenue.” - Henry Giroux

The future is going to happen or not happen depending on pedagogy. The war machine of the United States cannot be stopped. No amount of protest or organizing can stop this train heading toward the cliffs. How many survive the inevitable crash is the crucial question. Can mankind avoid extinction.

I don’t know.

But if one is to survive after, for life to be worth living, then one must begin to think of the pedagogical models that can serve to sustain life. The current issue of Uncube magazine is about education. Radical pedagogical solutions (focused primarily on architecture, but not exclusively). There is the Catholic University of Valparaiso’s School of Architecture and Design (Escuela de Arquitectura y Diseño de la Universidad Católica de Valparaíso), there was HfG in Ulm, Germany, Forensik Mimarlik, in Turkey, and almost a hundred years ago there was The Bauhaus.

Ethel Baraona Pohl, architect and writer, said to learn we must now unlearn. The future is about learning, not acquisition. From peer education, listening to those around you, and from teachers who also want to learn. If you teach and you do not want to learn you are a bad teacher.

To unlearn means unlearning more than the basic commodity form, and the stuff channeled to corporate media by the U.S. government. It means unlearning cultural assumptions that are masked and marketed as something else. Thomas Frank actually wrote a pretty cogent piece back in 1995, in which he pointed out that conformity was sold as a brand of non-conformity, and with a different label. It seems to me that somehow organically developing communities should actually develop around schools. That the idea of school itself should be retired. Everything should be a school. Not a village, but a school. Why else do people gather together? To share, ideas, food, clothing, sex, and art. And by art I mean anything at all creative. And that’s the problem today. In the West the hyper specialization of education has meant that nobody equates planting cauliflower with creativity, or building a small yurt. Is it art? Is cooking art? Is shoemaking? In a sense yes, but in another sense, no. But, in the context of learning, of radical pedagogy, the need to fetishize genius or make art a regressive cultural fetish would be unneeded. The problem is that if one looks at Open City, in Chile, you see they built an ampitheatre. And design students designed a great seat to place on the brick floor. Someone is always creating theatre. For theatre is everywhere all the time. There is a feeling of liberation in such places. The fact is, yes, Shakespeare and Bach and Miles and Bolano and Genet are not the same as cauliflower cultivation. But, they ARE related.

And this is, I think, my point. If one rids oneself of the idea of seeing the world in terms of category and calculation, reduces instrumental thinking, then a village becomes a school by default. Everyone should know how to plant vegetables and cultivate them. Everyone should know basic boat building and basic carpentry. And everyone should be curious. Everyone, literally, should be students until they die. The greatest teachers should remain part time students. Lecture on St Augustine at noon, and take a seat for someone else’s lecture on the history of the Chinese junk rigged sailing or basic trigonometry in the afternoon. And then take part in communal cooking at dinnertime.

I don’t think the general public in the U.S. or Europe any longer can even imagine a world without commodities. Without shit to own. Without the turning of nature into objects to measure and probably sell. They cannot not imagine money, making money, hoarding money. But there is a real depth to this perceptual process. It is not just Capitalism that it hard to imagine gone, it is, for such a population, the difficulty in letting go of hierarchies, of power, of domination, and of control. The controlling of things, and people and people as things. This is basic; curiosity dies in exact proportion to the increase in instrumental thought. The more thinginess there is, the less questions there are.

As Frank pointed out, marketing today is always selling individuality. Or, branded individuality. The illicit is the new conformism. Titillation is in hyper drive all the time now. Politics is couched in titillation. Style style style. The province of the MTVification of news departments. I’ve heard people say, oh Badiou is (or Derrida or Marx, or Freud, or Gramsci, or Obama or Bush) not sexy. Sell different, but not too different. You are sold a certain kind of difference. Sexy different. This has always been true under Capitalism, to some degree anyway. You have four hundred tooth brushes to choose from, all of them almost identical. But if you thought to stain your teeth and not brush them, to walk around with stained blue teeth you would be arrested and put on medication.

The role of education, in the sense it is thought of today, began prior to World War 1 (building on Rousseau by way of Fichte and Shiller), but it was between the wars that a more heated discussion began to take shape. Herbert Read’s Education Through Art, is both an historical curiosity of a kind, but also a somewhat prescient look ahead at mass culture. Read was a singular case, a man of very wide learning and a surprising radicalism.

“…But uniqueness has no practical purpose in isolation. One of the more certain lessons of modern psychology and recent historical experiences, is that education must be a process, not only of individuation but also of integration, which is the reconciliation of individual uniqueness and social unity.” - Herbert Read

It is worth looking back at the writings of people such as F.R. Leavis (and Q.D. Leavis) and their concerns about the growing standardization of society. They saw this from that rarefied vantage point of Cambridge professors, but F.R. Leavis saw nothing good in dumbing-down education, and was hostile in general to most technology. The Cambridge creators of the Scrutiny journal feared the ‘rise of the machine’, and the educational system submitting to middle brow entertainments (this was the time of the BBC’s birth). Lurking as background to what was, in a sense anyway, a sort of nostalgia for British gentlemen’s role in running the world, was the slightly perverse concern with children. Education and children are of course linked. But I suspect linked in ways that mystify the actual problems.

But before I discuss the interface between notions of morality and educating the young, it is useful to look at a few facts and a couple recent articles on education. A recent poll by The National Science Foundation, found that around 25% of Americans did not know if the earth orbited the sun or vice versa. Of course the polls on religion and education are more widly talked about (a third of the U.S. population believes in angels, and an even higher percentage deny evolution). I suspect that if you asked most adults to explain basic science or answer questions such as what is gravity, or what are stars, they would not be able to, nor would they be able to tell you if DaVinci lived before or after Rembrandt. Ask them who is Secretary of State and most wouldnt know, and ask them to name, say, twenty countries in Africa…any twenty…and Id wager about 10% could do it. What does this mean? When I was a boy, I know that my father’s generation certainly had been taught more practical math skills, and taught history, far better than my son was. The public today both revers a kitsch idea of science; a reverence that is almost cultic, while at the same time, largely, are ignorant of science.

One of the problems with leftists today is that they deny culture in the name of this materialist sobriety….what they perceive anyway as sober minded materialism. On the one hand its a corrective to mush headed romanticism, and liberal petit bourgeois relativism (meaning Capitalism). But the shadow side of this tendency is be instrumental and cynical. There is a connection between the need for titillation, and this instrumental sobriety. On the surface this seems contradictory, but in fact that cynical snark of white male America bleeds into factory Marxists in their denial of allocating a greater role to culture in social change. Aesthetic resistance does not mean valorizing only stories about the proletariat. In fact, to imagine a future of documentaries about heroic grain harvests is pretty depressing. The youthful leftist today is more concerned, however, with the titillation factor in theory. (Oh Adorno is sooooooo boring, and Badiou is such a rock star, and etc). The academic left is, with a few exceptions, pretty much not the partner to revolution, and not even a partner in social change. Talk to organizers in grass roots movements, anti death penalty, organic farming, prison reform, housing, and they will almost to a person tell you how bankrupt Academics are, and worse, how totally unhelpful are most Trotskyist movements. A friend once said to me, yes I’m a communist in a party that is labeled Stalinist. When people ask me why, he said, I tell them because its more democratic than the Trotskyist parties.

The privileged white University student, attending lectures on Ranciere or Badiou, is not part of the working class. They are not likely to ever be part of the blue collar work force. Their interests do not coincide with janitors, cab drivers or short oder cooks.

My personal experience with Academics has not been good. They can’t help but fear for their position. Their job, they professorship, in the end comes before all else. The same as home owners in the Hamptons put their property before all else. They work for the corporation. They work for the man. Where are the public intellectuals who live on the margins? They exist, but they have trouble gaining visibility. And if they do find an audience, the snarky white post grad student will recoil. Why? Because any voice from the margin is a threat. This is the shift that has occurred since the 60s. Outsiders were searched for by University students, and welcomed, in 1960, while today the most outside the University student wants to go is VICE or Salon.

The academic (again with some exceptions, but I can count on one hand those exceptions) is afraid of being fired. He of she will not teach certain things in certain ways. They do not offend if they can help it. How many academics would openly praise Fidel Castro, for example? Or tell the truth about the Balkans and Milosevic? The answer is none. I don’t know any. There is this subject position that academics take; it is the false neutral. Lets hear from both sides, etc. Well, its false because one side monopolizes visible discourse today. They own media. So, no, lets not hear from both sides this time, lets hear from the side shut out 99% of the time.

I want to touch again on education, and youth. There was in the decades between WW1 and WW2 an assumption that promoted the idea of self expression for the child. That self expression went hand in hand with self fulfillment or perhaps self realization. But whatever the term this was the beginning of the educated classes condescending to discuss the poor, and the start of a very particular offshoot of narcissism. This was the handed down Romantic idea of the ethical man who has learned from literature and the arts, and which was German was well as English in national origin. As James Donald put it, this was correction through self expression. So today, public education in the U.S. the elite classes can purchase elite education, the kind geared to social networking more than anything else. And for the rest, only the most basic skills are taught, those which would allow one to work as a security guard at a mall, or at Burger King.

So the destruction of public education means, thirty or so years down the line, that half the population thinks angels are hovering above them as the sun circles the earth. At the rarefied end of the educational spectrum are elite schools producing snarky young men and women who are mostly adept at networking. This non critical class of mostly white haute bourgeoisie are the readers of everything from the Atlantic to the New Yorker to NY Times to VICE and Rolling Stone. They believe in gentrification (morally as well as selfishly) and they think, honestly, deep down, that tribal societies (you know, A-rabs and Africans and such) just need help. Its kind a cool to visit those places and get hammered with some tribesmen, or guys in turbans, but, yeah, it's dirty and fucked up and, well, they need help — that’s all. It's not racist to say that. Look at their fucking country, it's dirty and the toilets smell.

The thrust of state mandated education was predicated on several unspoken beliefs. Firstly, that providing students with structure AND with a model of ethical and moral rectitude (the teacher) would generate a sort of osmosis, or thermal-intellectual reaction in the unconscious, or sub conscious, and thereby resulting in a more unified person, both better morally, but better as a citizen. Now the specifics were not addressed, in terms of what makes a good citizen. There is the faint odor of a Puritan cloud over this. The whole person was MORAL. Meaning repressed. Meaning obedient. Herbert Read, a sort of quasi Jungian, was one of the few thinkers of the early 20th century, who openly questioned such ideas in the context of education. In the U.S. the Kennedy presidency marked the start of re-thinking public education. Modernizing it, and also, to genuinely offer it to the poor and disadvantaged. There was a sense then, in 1960, that society was expanding and the system for shaping the young, morally, but also for purposes of control, was in need of overhaul. But it was also the last gasp of a genuine belief in school as a place to develop an ethically good and well rounded person.

There are several side-bar topics related to education today. The dominant narrative for white Americans is colored in with patriarchy crayons. (to sort of abuse metaphors myself). The paint by number program is white, male, and Imperialist. Along with this comes the rote violence of today’s United States.

The entire side industry of trophy hunting, or really almost any hunting (and we can semi exempt certain small indigenous communities, the few that are left) is an expression of the pathology of the society overall. Factory farming, hunting, both express such an acute sadism toward nature that it requires a total burial in the consciousness of the West. People simply compartmentalize, almost completely, such facts. Trophy hunting is a useless activity that is given cover in popular culture by the morbidity of western masculinity and its attendant narratives. Hunting is a symptom of a larger sickness.

Cruelty toward fellow creatures is a kind of self hatred. A deep anger that seems to be surfacing ever more frequently in irrational outbursts. Honestly, if someone sat down and collected date on internet comment threads, the conclusion would be that this is an emotionally starved society, enraged and unable to cope with daily life. There is a desperation to win. Winning is everything. Win or you lose. And what do you win? Doesn’t matter. Its barely a consideration. As long as one wins. Comment threads are internet road rage.

Notice how few questions are asked in comments threads. Comments are about owning your opinion. Not about asking questions. Questions are for weaklings.

"We need people who are not moved by the hysteria of the majority. We need people who openly admit that the majority are often, if not usually, completely wrong. This will not be easy. Westerners, of all social classes, have a strong belief that if Western domination of the Third World were to end, their already threatened lifestyles would suffer – if not entirely collapse. In effect, there is an unspoken consensus that these imperial wars are the best bet the West has for economic recovery. Not only has the Left failed to challenge this consensus, but, by its words and actions has actually become part of it. It may well be that Western culture no longer has the vitality to produce an active and worthwhile Left. This is a possibility we must consider.” - Donnchadh Mac an Ghoill

The erosion of curiosity is tending toward a return to medievalism. It is a technocratic dogma with its own priest class (technology experts and scientists) and a mass public for whom curiosity is now something suspect. Not only has curiosity been blunted, it is perceived as possibly dangerous. Asking questions smacks of dissidence.

“One inhabits a world in which long-standing notions of shared experience atrophy, and yet never one never actually attains the gratifications or rewards promised by the most recent technological options.” - Jonathan Crary

The public is subjected daily to almost unlivable and impossible demands to synchronize itself to electronic media. Bank accounts, on-line ordering, all bureaucratic activity is mediated by technology. The user is ever more helpless and powerless. There is nobody to talk to face to face. There is only submission.

Provide a phone number, an address, a shipping location, a billing location, an ID number, etc. The subject is reduced to compliance and little more. The student is being educated, increasingly, in adaptability. This is the clear message of most educational templates. Adapt.

The working class, or the non working poor, are continually disempowered by the ever more rapid production of meaningless innovation in gadgetry. This is the shopping model for people who can’t afford to shop. Everything is framed by disappointment. By what you cannot afford to have. The modern model for education is both broken and outmoded. It fails to provide even an iota toward a sane communal sense of life. It is geared to create anxiety, insecurity, and frustration. From grade school through high school the class divide is obvious and insidious both. At the University level, the class divide is even more pronounced, and additionally, in a hyper specialized technological universe, a research based corporatized value system is imparted and results in not curiosity and a growing imagination, but in career competition and fear and loathing of your fellow students.

The formation of open schools, the mixing of disciplines (Forensik Mimarlik in Turkey focuses on architecture but includes politics, art, and geography) is what must happen. No more diplomas, no tuition, no grades, and a system of sharing knowledge. At Forensik, projects included installing a kitchen in a bus station where stranded refugees live. But it is less the content, finally, than it is the practice of being a student. One must learn from those who know more, but everyone should submit, in a sense, to being a student. Professors must learn from others. One must always be learning something, a discipline, a craft, a philosophy. And there is another terrible burden placed on those who seek to learn past the accepted age. Adult school is one of those pejorative terms that stigmatizes. Why not learn math at the age of forty? Or Sanskrit or Greek or Russian or Thai or Polish at the age of fifty. Learn how to grow things. Learn farming or beekeeping. I learned beekeeping a year or so ago. An entire other world opened up. Learn how to write, how to think. There is an assumption that the young must be groomed, and cared for. There is a cut off point, a number, what is it? Twenty five? Thirty? Forty? I don’t know. I studied old Roses a few years ago. Suddenly an unknown history opened before me. Roses from the crusades, from Russia, from Bulgaria, for scent, for color, some cultivated since Roman times. Or apple trees. The tragic loss of apple varieties is an almost unknown story. The last real apple nursery in England closed a couple years ago (Scott’s Nursery in Merriot, Somerset. I had the pleasure of buying from 85 year old Frank Naish before the premature death of one of the other owners. Here is a link to the few remaining places to find heirloom apple trees). History is embedded even in the names of apple varities: Hoary Morning, Frederick, Brown Snout, Sweet Alford, Broxwood Foxwhelp, King Thompkins Co., and Laxton’s Fortune to name only a few of the literally thousands one could, at one time, find. Here is a personal favorite of mine.

The citizens of the United States, more than any other country, live lives devoid of joy and wonder. Of course, not everyone, but as a sweeping generalization, it’s true. I see none of that wonder in young children. They are often too busy learning to operate their cell phone. And those who do have it, lose it soon enough. They usually lose it as soon as they go to school. I had an argument recently about the teaching of penmanship. My father had beautiful handwriting. That was another time. The debate was around the question of usefulness. One woman said no, no, teach them how to write code. I was a minority voice, though not totally alone, in arguing that learning to write well, and learning about scripts and fonts and lettering is a part of what links us to our history, and teaches something profound about how to look, and it is a basic primal activity — making signs on rocks and in the dirt, and finally on paper.

There is another aspect to institutional education today and that is the deep reliance on bureaucratic models, and its connection to sociology. It is important to think about who exactly is to be educated.

“In the Renaissance, no Fredericks or Voltaires blossomed behind the scenes; rather they never existed. Among the guild masters of the medieval city, there were no modern entrepreneurial types or trust managers who simply lacked appropriate outlets for their activity, nor among gilded journeymen, was there the unnoticed and silent consciousness, as it were, that characterized the industrial worker today…The doctrine is false that even though times change, the psychological makeup of human beings remains the same.” - Max Horkheimer

Horkheimer wrote this in the 1930s. He went on to suggest that history was not to be ignored just because people from different eras remain far murkier to us than we like to imagine. This would mean even the study of other cultures would be pointless, and clearly this is not the case. But the historical issue, that is historical research, in our own time has largely forgotten that the vast majority of the world’s population in any given time was forced through various means to renounce their instincts. The desire for equality is always driven by those under the boot heal of domination. The rulers seldom want social change. Why would they? So, when discussing the idea of education, of school, it is worth trying to see from what and where the discussion is to start.

If education means children, the question of family influences arises. The focus on children is natural, up to a point, but it only mystifies things to restrict the idea of pedagogy to the very young and adolescents. If the discussion is about the U.S., then it is worth remembering, according the those very unreliable polls (Pew and Gallup and the like) that a vast majority of people believe science should be the primary field of study and that grade school and junior high and high school should be preparatory for advanced specialized technical learning. At the same time, as I mentioned, the vast majority polled have very little understanding or knowledge of science themselves. There is disdain for the arts, and honestly, this is completely understandable given how art is taught today in high school and college. Pyschology has become popular but disliked, a sort of second career for many, oddly. (I know personally five or six people who once worked in the arts and later became accredited therapists, and several of them I think are very good, but still, its an odd phenomenon). Philosophy and the classics are almost obsolete in terms of numbers for post graduate programs. English literature and the humanities are very low, but business school has a long waiting list. But even the idea of evaluating how the public feels about something, based on surveys and polls is itself a symptom of what is wrong.

The presumption of polling and surveys is that people have some degree of self knowledge. Never mind that in certain restrictive contexts polling can be very accurate, but those are specialized circumstances. Polling is largely manipulation, and usually paid for by a corporation of government agency that is looking to buy validation. But the secondary sale is that of opinion itself. And this takes us back to those comment threads in cyber space. People shop for ideas the way they shop for everything else. That the vast majority of Americans think Castro is an evil dictator proves only that propaganda works. Very few people will answer poll questions by saying they dont have enough information or knowledge of the topic. This brings up Horkheimer’s observations again. Today sociology, a badly corrupted version of the discipline, is what shapes policy for most of what affects people’s daily lives. Including education.

The public looks at history, and historical figures, as if they were the same as you and I. Scratch the surface of anyone and you find the family of man. This is the pablum that fuels opinion makers, and it is what shapes kitsch history and biography. As Michael Parenti wrote ‘history’ is written to “enforce the existing political orthodoxy”. It is written by the privileged classes and it presents their value system. This is all sort of obvious, but what is more telling, in a sense, is that the background to historical study, as one finds it in textbooks, is that of a kitsch ‘family of man’ model. Certain rulers were evil because they were, well, evil. So pedagogical resistance means firstly, I think, giving up any bureaucratic institutional setting, and secondly, starting with philosophy and the arts. It may be that we’ve had enough science for the time being. This is not to suggest that science be abandoned, but only that it be freed from its corporate research based and sociological base. My fascination with CERN has to do with the fact that what is going on with the Halldron Collidor is probably closer to philosophy than it is to what conventional thinking terms science. I want more of that and less research on how to extend the shelf life of candy bars.

I want pedagogy without textbooks. I am not sure that anyone who has not recently opened a U.S. textbook knows just how horrifying these things are. I do not want children or anyone opening textbooks written in a mind numbingly bland prose, ahistorical and predicated on sociological premises, that teach generic history and social truisms divorced from all political awareness. Why is that the goal? When did this thing happen in which not offending anyone became the goal? When was it decided that giving offense to a few people was bad, was terminally bad? Sociology simply measures things that shouldnt be measured, or counted, or statistically analysed. It may have been a useful tool at some point, when it seemed oppositional to dogmatic state narratives, but today, textbook sociology is a brain eating protozoal infection whose generalized grammar obscures rather than reveals. Open schools must offend, must drive some off, must never be bland or generic. Better to be wrong.

The presumption of self knowledge is a fascinating topic. It implies this person, this self, with abundant self awareness and willingness to comment on any question asked of him or her. It implies that backdrop to our lives from which we pluck available data when needed. This is a large topic and I will return to it in another, later, post. But, for the sake of thinking about pedagogy, it is important to realize that, for example, the Malala Yousafzai and her winning (co-winning recipient) is a fable straight out of a kitsch Conrad. Edleman PR represents Nestle, Oracle, Microsoft, and Hewlitt Packard among others. They handled the Malala story; which was essentially her rescue from an evil Muslim menace. Her story is getting to meet the President, and Angelina Jolie….er….Dame Angelina Jolie, and a photo op with David Beckham. This is white society rescuing third world girls. Nobody in the teary eyed audience in TV land USA stops to think, how come Malcolm X. never got one, or Huey Newton or Subcomanandante Marcos, or, even Dr. Mads Gilbert. Of course who the fuck wants this diseased blighted trophy anyway, one that sits on the mantle of several war criminals. Chavez didn’t get one, neither did Castro. Why? No, a teenager rescued and brought back to civilization gets one. This is marketing, a sentimental narrative of white compassion, and tolerance. The girl herself is manufactured as an image, a symbol, of moderate Islam, and a friend of the U.S. Mostly she is shown in photo ops with white men. All of it a feel good distraction because, of course, the bombing continues even as the applause dies down. This is all very obvious. And yet, it works. A resistance to such manipulation seems almost the first goal of pedagogical resistance.

Malala serves as a fitted component in this background ideology. This ideological backdrop is also an image, and a grammar. The story is inseparable from the political reality manufactured by corporate media and the government. This is the real against which all entertainment takes place, and all narrative. I suppose in a sense what Derrida did with the Collège international de philosophie is one version of what should happen all over. It is crucial that from kindergarten onwards the role of authority be transformed. Authority is repressive because of how it is practiced. After that the individual should be allowed to attend, or not attend, and to study what they want. If someone chooses to remain illiterate, I’m not sure that’s bad. Not many would so choose. The sociological system demands answers, it privileges answers over questions. It is an anti-philosophy. Answers are fine if ask the right questions. Heidegger, while still studying theology, suggested that the modern individual’s concern for his or her own problems ‘unfolded’ in a way that tangled them with the alienated world. Hence only ontological intellectual pursuits served personal development (of course for Heidegger this later came to mean exterminating Jews and Gypsies and anyone not German, with a Germanic ontological orientation). The constant assault of literal and allegorical clutter was turning pedagogy into intellectual housekeeping.

Peer relationships change. This is my idea of socialism. Self regulating. Class is abolished. I want universities that won’t inspire Tommy Hilfiger. I want no more Tommy Hilfigers. I want no more PR firms. But to reach that place, amid the violence of the state, police and military, much would be to change and I can’t even begin to imagine that happening. I imagine only small autonomous zones of such little importance to the Imperialist power that they are left alone. Reading Mao, reading Lenin, reading Marx. After that Freud and Adorno and Fanon and whoever you want— the point is, read those who worked to make life better. Once that’s done with, choose who you want to read, what you want to study. Start building, tending bees, and gardening. Then read Freire on pedagogy. That is about as Utopian as I can get anymore. Teaching people to see and hear is the first thing. And then to stimulate the mimetic in relation to all of it. To relearn narrative and story. That is the beginning.

“He who thinks and does not learn is in great danger.” - Confucius

As a footnote to discussions of aesthetic resistance, there is this.

Opinion Sun, 19 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
Paying the Price of Tar Sands Expansion

Despite all the reasons to keep tar sands in the ground, the refining equipment tax credit has helped put tar sands development in the US on the rise, accelerating climate change at the expense - in every sense of the word - of American taxpayers.

Carolyn Marsh was in her living room watching television on a Wednesday night in August when she heard a loud boom from somewhere outside. Having lived in the industrial town of Whiting, Indiana––just south of Chicago––for nearly three decades, she wasn’t terribly shaken. “There’s a lot of noise constantly,” she explains.

But when the news came on an hour later and reported an explosion at the nearby BP refinery, Marsh was incensed. It was the second serious incident since the recent completion of BP’s Whiting Refinery Modernization Project, which Marsh had fought to prevent.

In December 2013, after six years of community pushback, court battles, Environmental Protection Agency citations, and ongoing construction in spite of it all, BP’s $4.2 billion retrofitted facility came fully online.

Part of the Whiting Refinery Modernization Project, this new coker creates a byproduct called pet coke that is burned for fuel like coal, but is much dirtier.Part of the Whiting Refinery Modernization Project, this new coker creates a byproduct called pet coke that is burned for fuel like coal, but is much dirtier.It was now a tar sands refinery, capable of refining 350,000 barrels of the world’s dirtiest oil per day. And it was paid for, in large part, by U.S. taxpayers.

A little-known tax break allows companies to write-off half of the cost of new equipment for refining tar sands and shale oil. According to a report by Oil Change International, this subsidy had a potential value to oil companies (and cost to taxpayers) of $610 million in 2013.

Tar sands are petroleum deposits made up of bitumen mixed in with sand, water and clay. Their production is extremely destructive at every stage: from strip mining indigenous lands in Canada, to disastrous accidents along transportation routes, to dangerous emission levels produced by refining the heavy crude, to the hazards imposed on communities saddled with tar sands byproducts like petroleum coke (“petcoke”), and finally to the greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere when the end product is used for fuel.

Despite all the reasons to keep tar sands in the ground, the refining equipment tax credit has helped put tar sands development in the U.S. on the rise, accelerating climate change at the expense––in every sense of the word––of American taxpayers.

Subsidizing the Dirtiest of Dirty Oil

Heavy speculation and investment in Canadian tar sands extraction have been going on since at least 1995, when the oil industry set a production target of 1 million barrels per day by 2020. That goal was reached far ahead of time, in 2004. Now the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers predicts a rate of 4.8 million barrels per day by 2030 if currently planned expansion holds.

In order to take full advantage of Canada’s tar sands-driven energy boom, American refineries would need to make costly retrofits to century-old facilities designed for the light crude that once flowed plentifully from domestic oil wells––not heavy tar sands crude with a consistency like molasses.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) gave the oil industry a kick in that direction when he introduced a tar sands refinery equipment tax break to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a bill that funneled $85 billion worth of subsidies to the energy sector.

A report by The Pew Charitable Trust estimated that, between 2005 and 2009, this refinery equipment tax break alone cost the government $1.2 billion and increased emissions by more than two million metric tons of carbon.

In the years since Grassley incentivized tar sands retrofits, refineries across the midwest have sprung into action, undertaking massive overhauls to accommodate the tar sands crude that already flows into the U.S. through the original Keystone pipeline and Enbridge’s sprawling network of pipelines.

KCBX, a subsidiary of Koch industries, stores open piles of petcoke at it's 90 acre terminal along the Calumet River in Chicago’s Southeast Side. (Credit Public Lab)KCBX, a subsidiary of Koch industries, stores open piles of petcoke at it's 90 acre terminal along the Calumet River in Chicago’s Southeast Side. (Credit Public Lab)As a result, between 2010 and 2012, tar sands refining in the U.S. increased by 43 percent, according to Oil Change International. By 2012, tar sands accounted for 10.7 percent of the total crude oil processed in U.S. refineries.

State and municipal governments have jumped on the tar sands subsidy bandwagon as well, offering tax breaks and other incentives to refineries considering tar sands retrofits.

One of the biggest handouts came, astonishingly, from the cash-strapped city of Detroit, whose city council approved a whopping $175 million tax break to Marathon for a tar sands upgrade in 2007. Earlier this year, city council members expressed dismay that the massive subsidy created only 15 new jobs for Detroit workers.

“In a city with double-digit unemployment, any company that’s receiving a tax abatement of nearly $180 million should be giving more back, including hiring residents,” Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins told the Detroit Free Press.

“They’re dangling carrots in front of minorities in the city of Detroit,” a worker rejected by Marathon told the Detroit Free Press. “They feel like they can do that. It’s a renegade refinery running over poor people.”

BP’s Whiting Refinery Modernization Project got a significant boost from local coffers as well. In 2008, Indiana’s state development agency awarded BP a $400,000 tax break in a deal that required the company to train 1,583 Indiana employees and hire 74 new ones by 2013. Strangely, in 2012, the same agency gave BP an additional $1.2 million with the same stipulation of hiring 74 people by 2013, but without the training.

This cozy relationship between BP and Indiana’s government was solidified several years earlier, before the Whiting Refinery Modernization Project was ever on the table. In 2003, BP successfully pushed for a tax reform law that shifted the company’s tax burden directly onto Indiana residents and paved the way for the refinery expansion.

Refinery Expansions on the Backs of Taxpayers

Carolyn Marsh remembers the shock when her property taxes tripled. “I had been paying less than $1,000––my house is 105 years old––and suddenly I owed almost $3,000.”

Carolyn Marsh spots sparrows in a bird sanctuary on the outskirts of Whiting Indiana, where a BP refinery now processes tar sands. (Credit Anna Simonton)Carolyn Marsh spots sparrows in a bird sanctuary on the outskirts of Whiting Indiana, where a BP refinery now processes tar sands. (Credit Anna Simonton)Born and raised in Chicago, Marsh moved to Whiting in 1987 when her fifteen year career as a steel mill worker came to a grinding halt during one of the final chapters of rust belt de-industrialization.

With no children, a frugal lifestyle, and union wages, Marsh had saved quite a bit, though not enough to live in one of the Windy City’s lakefront neighborhoods. She was an avid birdwatcher, and living within walking distance of Lake Michigan, where migratory birds and waterfowl commingle, was Marsh’s dream.

Whiting, just 17 miles south of downtown Chicago, had parks along the lake and a wilderness area that Marsh would later save from development by pressuring city leaders to designate it as a bird sanctuary. Because it was an industrial area, property taxes were low, and the older homes were affordable.

But Marsh says it was a trade off. “If I wanted to live cheaply and have a house, I would have to tolerate living near a refinery,” she explains. “It’s dangerous. Refineries leak all the time and this whole area has a huge asthma problem.”

For 16 years, Marsh lived with that trade off, until BP threatened to seek out lower property taxes elsewhere and state lawmakers kowtowed to the corporation’s demands. The resulting legislation cut industrial property taxes by 14 percent, shifting hundreds of millions of dollars of taxes onto residential property owners like Marsh.

“Living cheap is no longer the situation for me or for others,” Marsh says. “But we still live with the pollution and the results of accidents at the plant.”

When the company announced its plans to refine tar sands in 2006, a BP executive credited the 2003 tax reform, saying the expansion would have been “much less likely,” under the old tax structure.

Marsh was instrumental in challenging the modernization project, testifying in a lawsuit concerning BP’s air permit. A 2012 settlement forced the company to pay an $8 million fine and spend an additional $400 million dollars on technology to reduce pollution.

Marsh was also involved in the public outcry against BP’s water permit, which originally allowed the refinery to discharge 54 percent more ammonia and 35 percent more industrial waste into Lake Michigan.

But, in Marsh’s view, these hard-won mitigations have had a minimal impact.

Only three months after BP’s Whiting Refinery Modernization Project was complete, the facility spilled what BP estimated to be between 15 and 39 barrels of oil, very likely the heavy tar sands crude, into Lake Michigan, a source of drinking water for millions of people. Five months after that, the explosion Marsh heard caused a fire inside the refinery. It was quelled by the end of the night, with one reported injury, according to BP.

“They should shut the damn thing down,” Marsh says. “We can’t keep exploiting our natural resources to put gas in our cars. It’s insane.”

Investing in Politicians to Protect Their Profits

Accidents like these are run of the mill for BP. With annual profits in the tens of billions of dollars, the corporation has a long history of opting to pay big fines rather than clean up its act.

The company also uses its war chest to exert influence over policymakers. According to The Center for Responsive Politics, BP has spent $95 million lobbying Congress since 1998. Individuals and PACs affiliated with BP have contributed a total of $7 million to Congressional election campaigns.

When the Energy Policy Act made its way through Congress in 2005, BP threw down $1.6 million to lobby for a number of provisions, including, ““issues with expanding refining capacity” according to their lobbying disclosure.

Though BP’s SEC filings don’t specify which tax credits the company has taken advantage of, its 2013 annual report does say that BP not only had $200 million in U.S. tax benefits that year, it also had $1.7 billion in U.S. tax credits stored up.

Corporations are allowed to carry over tax credits from one year to the next in order to use them at the most opportune time––generally those years when profits are high.

A footnote in the filing further explains that BP accumulated the $1.7 billion in tax credits between 2005 and 2011, which is both within the time window of eligibility for the refining equipment tax credit and within the time that construction at the Whiting refinery was underway.

All in all, it seems that BP got a big bang for its buck, spending $1.6 million to push through a plethora of self-serving provisions and likely writing off huge chunks of its $4.2 billion refinery upgrade as a result.

But they were hardly the only ones. On the long list of corporations that poured lobbying money into the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the infamous Koch Industries stands out. They too had something to gain in pushing for the refinery equipment tax break, which was among the many provisions they spent nearly $1.58 million lobbying for.

Mounting Toxic Byproducts

Olga Bautista has lead the fight to ban petcoke storage in Southeast Side, Chicago. Now she’s running for 10th Ward Alderman. (Credit Anna Simonton)Olga Bautista has lead the fight to ban petcoke storage in Southeast Side, Chicago. Now she’s running for 10th Ward Alderman. (Credit Anna Simonton)When the 30-foot-tall black mounds appeared along the Calumet River in Southeast Chicago in early 2013, Olga Bautista thought the ominous forms were piles of coal. She grew up in the industrial area and was used to coal trains passing through on their way to the power plant in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.

In the coming months, Bautista’s husband would pressure wash a sticky black film off their home multiple times. Her young daughter would come in from playing in the backyard, her face smudged with a sooty-looking substance that didn’t wash off easily.

Shortly after Bautista gave birth to her second daughter, a friend visited, bringing news from a meeting of the Southeast Environmental Task Force, where both women volunteered. The huge mounds were something called petcoke, the friend told Bautista.

“We started to make the connection,” she says.

They learned that petcoke, or petroleum coke, is a byproduct of oil refining that looks and burns like coal, but is much dirtier, emitting 5-10 percent more carbon dioxide per unit of energy. Refining tar sands bitumen requires a process called coking that produces far more petcoke than conventional oil refining.

Thus, as the Whiting Refinery Modernization Project gradually came online, petcoke began piling up on the banks of the Calumet River, awaiting shipment to countries where emissions standards are lower. The middleman? KCBX, a subsidiary of Koch Industries.

Piles of petcoke at the East 100th Street entrance to the KCBX terminal. (Credit Anna Simonton)Piles of petcoke at the East 100th Street entrance to the KCBX terminal. (Credit Anna Simonton)Bautista describes the population of Southeast Chicago as working class. “We are teachers, nurses, police officers, firemen. We are in the service industry, cleaning hotels, working at Wal Mart and Dollar Stores. We are the backbone of this city.”

Yet, the neighborhoods that make up Southeast Chicago are some of the most underserved, particularly South Deering, one of the areas nearest to the petcoke piles.

“It’s a transit desert, it’s a food desert,” Bautista says. “They had one laundromat that has recently burned down. People are washing their clothes in their bathtubs.”

Southeast Chicago is predominantly Latino. As the city’s industrial corridor, it’s long borne the brunt of environmental racism. The Southeast Side has higher rates of asthma, heart disease, stroke, and cancer than the Chicago area as a whole.

After years of living with pollution, Bautista says, many residents were initially unfazed by the petcoke piles. But then a particularly windy day in August, 2013 catalyzed the community into action.

Hulking hills of pet coke loom behind this baseball field, where a little league game was cancelled last year after strong winds covered players and their families in pet coke dust.Hulking hills of pet coke loom behind this baseball field, where a little league game was cancelled last year after strong winds covered players and their families in pet coke dust.

“People were calling 911 because they thought the neighborhood was on fire,” Bautista says, describing the thick cloud of petcoke dust that whipped through Southeast Chicago that day, blanketing homes and sending dozens of people to clinics with respiratory issues.

After that, a number of community groups formed Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke and began a campaign to pressure city government to force out KCBX and it’s waste piles.

Petcoke covers the railroad tracks that are a border between the backyards of Southeast Side, Chicago families and KCBX’s terminal. (Credit Anna Simonton)Petcoke covers the railroad tracks that are a border between the backyards of Southeast Side, Chicago families and KCBX’s terminal. (Credit Anna Simonton)They’ve packed public meetings, taken elected officials on petcoke tours, and marched through the streets of Southeast Chicago, 200 strong.

Last March, Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued regulations that ban new petcoke facilities and require KCBX terminals to fully enclose its petcoke piles by 2016.

KCBX says they need at least four years to accomplish this––and they’ve threatened to sue to get their way. They’re also demanding permission to pile the petcoke fifteen feet higher.

Meanwhile Illinois’ Attorney General has filed suits against KCBX for pollution violations, and in June the US EPA found KCBX to be in violation of the Clean Air Act.

While these moves constitute some modest progress, a Chicago city webpage about petcoke casts doubt on how seriously elected officials are treating the issue. The patronizing Q and A actually instructs residents to just stay inside and clean their homes in order to avoid exposure to petcoke dust.

“This is the kind of violence we’re under,” Bautista says. “We’re risking our lives just by breathing the air while these corporations are using tax loopholes to abuse us and make a profit. We’re financing our own misery.”

Fighting Petcoke, Fighting for Climate Justice

A view of the Koch brothers’ petcoke piles from the property line of a resident in the Slag Valley neighborhood of Southeast Side Chicago. (Credit Anna Simonton)A view of the Koch brothers’ petcoke piles from the property line of a resident in the Slag Valley neighborhood of Southeast Side Chicago. (Credit Anna Simonton)Recently, KCBX’s petcoke piles have shrunk. But members of the Southeast Coalition to Ban Petcoke discovered they’ve been moved onto barges anchored at points in the river not visible from public property.

Bautista suspects that this is a tactic to minimize the issue of the petcoke piles in the upcoming elections. It’s unlikely to work, since she’s running for Alderman.

Her platform isn’t only about opposition to KCBX storing petcoke, though. Bautista is part of a growing movement for climate justice that demands broader systemic change from corporations and governments. In September she spoke in the closing plenary of the NYC Climate Convergence, held in conjunction with the historic People’s Climate March.

Her speech connected the struggles of people in Whiting, Southeast Chicago, Detroit, and so many other communities suffering the consequences of massive corporate welfare for the fossil fuel industry.

“BP and Koch industries are polluting our community, and it’s time they and companies like theirs pay up big time or get out,” she told her audience.

“This is what is meant by class warfare, but it’s only war when we rise up and fight against the forces that have hijacked our lives…Win or lose there is something about living a life with dignity––with our heads held high and exposing these systems that tear us down everyday while only a small minority profits in any way…Our backs are already against the wall. The only way to move is forward.”

News Sun, 19 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
The Shell Game of Contingent Employment

2014 1018 mich 1This article appears in the special neoliberal edition of The Public Eye magazine by Political Research Associates.When subcontractors, freelancers and independent contractors get hurt or abused on the job, these workers are finding it harder to hold employers accountable. This is no accident - it's a direct result of a neoliberal labor agenda.

In 2011, Host Hotels & Resorts, Inc., a corporate partner of the Marriott hotel chain, used a general contractor that it had hired to renovate guest rooms at the Host-owned Copley Marriott in Boston.   A convoluted web of subcontractors emerged, as the general contractor subcontracted the work to several other companies, and some of that subcontracted work was then further subcontracted, with more than a dozen firms working on the same project.

A state-led, multi-agency investigation found that 15 contractors on the project committed a wide array of labor law violations. Workers from a church-sponsored rehabilitation project in Philadelphia were paid only four dollars an hour—just half the state minimum wage—and no overtime, though they were required to work 12-hour days and more than 60 hours per week. All told, contractors failed to report or pay taxes on more than $1 million in wages, and at least one of them failed to maintain workers’ compensation insurance policies for the hazardous work. They misclassified many of the workers as independent contractors, thus evading tens of thousands of dollars more in unemployment insurance taxes, workers compensation premiums, and employer-side taxes, while stripping workers of basic workplace rights.[1]

2014 1019shel

Because so many layers of contractors were involved in the project, investigators had difficulty determining which ones could be held responsible for the violations. Host Hotels, which ultimately benefited from the sub-minimum wages and tax evasion, asserted that it had no legal obligation to the workers and should not be held liable for any of the violations committed by the subcontractors or their subcontractors.[2]

Companies at every possible level of the project avoided accountability for the mistreatment of the workers.  Despite having found that 15 companies had broken the law and abused their workers, authorities only held three subcontractors to the most immediate sanction—Stop Work Orders. The general contractor neither faced significant penalties nor admitted wrongdoing. As a summary of the investigation put it, “The issue of which entity was legally the employer and responsible for the wages was never resolved.”[3]

 An Old Neoliberal Paradigm

We increasingly see businesses like the Marriott (and corporate partner Host Hotels) seeking to shed the burden of government regulation by passing off liability to intermediaries, like staffing agencies, or by falsely claiming that no labor laws at all apply because the workers are either independent contractors or corporations in business for themselves. By restructuring work relationships in these ways, some of the nation’s largest corporations aim to shift much of their workforce outside the scope of employment laws and employment taxes that apply to “employees”—as defined by a set of labor laws that still presume a conventional workplace with one employer and the on-site workers it directly hires.

This shift in work structures, combined with increased attacks on the labor movement and the de-funding of the nation’s labor enforcement agencies, has depressed workers’ income and weakened their ability to claim basic workplace rights like overtime pay and health and safety protections. Outsourcing and independent contractor misclassification have also drained millions from local, state, and federal coffers, undermining the social safety net just as workers need its protection even more.  The isolation from fellow workers that the “independent contractor” designation engenders cuts against workers’ ability to organize to challenge abuses resulting from subcontracted work structures.

Reorganization of work structures also acts to direct workers’ anger away from the company calling the shots (such as a general contractor) and onto the direct employer, or even to the workers themselves, who may believe their situation stems from their own failings as independent business people.  All of these factors undermine workers’ ability to organize into unions and worker collectives, one of the fundamental goals of neoliberalism and its pursuit of an unregulated free market.

Free Markets, Unfree Workers

The rise to power of Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom ushered in a new era of economic policy. Minimal corporate taxation, privatization of public goods, and the deregulation of businesses became the dominant policies promoted for economic growth. The attacks against organized labor, progressive organizations, and community groups that opposed the new regime were brutal. The percentage of workers in unions plummeted.

Across the country, new formations emerged that tried to deal with this onslaught of attacks on workers.  Coalitions of organized labor, grassroots organizations, and worker centers began fighting back together and winning campaigns using a combination of militant rank-and-file membership, intelligent planning, and strategic organizing. The target of these campaigns was often a clearly identifiable owner of the business, and so workers and community allies knew whom to hold responsible for the conditions of work. This, however, is no longer the case, as seen in the Copley Mariott and other examples where companies pass on liability to their subcontractors and outsourced agencies, making it difficult for workers to hold real employers accountable.

Such interruption in the employer-employee relationship is reminiscent of the neoliberal structural adjustment policies the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have imposed on so-called developing countries.  As the IMF and World Bank required national governments to loosen labor laws and other regulations to promote free trade and supposed foreign investment, corporations have similarly restructured the relationship between employer and employee to avoid government regulation altogether and to create confusion over who is responsible for workers. Ultimately, the result is the same: structural adjustment and debt repayment policies increased poverty and stripped local governments’ ability to provide basic health care, education, and employment for their citizens, while the restructuring of employer/employee relationships has helped create a shadow (or underground) economy free from regulation and has reduced the government’s ability to provide an adequate safety net for the growing low-wage, contingent workforce.

In Massachusetts, the Joint Task Force on the Underground Economy and Employee Misclassification has collected more than $55 million in the past five years from individuals and businesses that engage in strategies to avoid responsibility to their workers.[4] The Task Force utilizes existing labor laws and regulations to recover nonpayment of wages and payroll taxes; licenses and permit fees; unemployment and workman’s compensation insurance, and other important monies owed to workers and the state. Despite its successes, the Task Force is limited by existing labor law and is unable to broaden its scope of accountability to include companies who surely profit from workers, but may not be legally defined as their direct employer.

 Toward A New Legal Framework

Extensive use of abusive subcontracting and misclassification schemes and other outsourcing tools are eroding the 80 years of labor protections that many have come to take for granted. Community Labor United and the Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative are working to close that accountability gap in Massachusetts with a new legal framework, being developed by the National Employment Law Project, that holds all entities in the labor supply chain responsible—whether they initiate the demand for the work, orchestrate a project, or directly hire and supervise the workers. We call this the “accountable employer” framework.

Accountable employers know what work is being performed, often control the conditions under which it is performed, and have the power to ensure compliance with labor laws and regulations. All entities and creators of supply chain or outsourced work arrangements would then be held liable for performing these key employer functions.

In the Copley Marriott case, the Accountable Employer framework would hold multiple parties responsible because of the labor violations they perpetrated. The Philadelphia church that supplied $4-an-hour workers would be accountable for creating and ending the employment relationship; the general contractor and its subcontractor would be accountable for managing the enterprise internally and externally; and Host Hotels would be accountable because it received the fruits of the workers’ labor.

Similarly, a new Accountable Employer statute would make a large corporate employer like Wal-Mart responsible for wages and working conditions in its supply chain even if it outsources much of the labor (and even management). Wal-Mart controls the timing and manner of delivery of the goods on its store shelves, decides how goods are handled when they are unloaded and delivered, and uses its market dominance to force contractors to keep costs as low as possible. Wal-Mart engenders labor violations in its supply chain and therefore should be on the hook for these abuses.

As corporations continue to look for ways to skirt government regulations and increase their profit margins, many will continue to hire intermediaries or misclassify workers as a way of outsourcing their responsibility and escaping liability. This shift is part of neoliberalism’s broader political realignment towards deregulation of markets and the empowerment of corporations.  However, employer accountability can be restored through legislation that holds all entities throughout the web of contractors and subcontractors responsible for their workers.



[1] Massachusetts Joint Enforcement Task Force on the Underground Economy and Employee Misclassification (JTF), 2013. “2012 Annual Report,” p. 6. []

[2] Casey Ross, “Marriott Copley Place project flouted pay law.” Boston Globe, 4 September 2012. []

[3] Massachusetts Joint Enforcement Task Force on the Underground Economy and Employee Misclassification (JTF), 2013. “2012 Annual Report,” p. 6. []

[4] Massachusetts Joint Enforcement Task Force on the Underground Economy and Employee Misclassification (JTF), 2014. “2013 Annual Report,” []

News Sun, 19 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
The United States Is Number One ... but in What?

2014 1018 us sw(Image: United States via Shutterstock)American politicians are fond of telling their audiences that the United States is the greatest country in the world. Is there any evidence for this claim?

Well, yes. When it comes to violence and preparations for violence, the United States is, indeed, No. 1. In 2013, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the U.S. government accounted for 37 percent of world military expenditures, putting it far ahead of all other nations. (The two closest competitors, China and Russia, accounted for 11 percent and 5 percent respectively.) From 2004 to 2013, the United States was also the No. 1 weapons exporter in the world. Moreover, given the U.S. government’s almost continuous series of wars and acts of military intervention since 1941, it seems likely that it surpasses all rivals when it comes to international violence.

This record is paralleled on the domestic front, where the United States has more guns and gun-related deaths than any other country. A study released in late 2013 reported that the United States had 88 guns for every 100 people, and 40 gun-related deaths for every 400,000 people―the most of any of the 27 economically developed countries surveyed. By contrast, in Britain there were 6 guns per 100 people and 1 gun-related death per 400,000 people.

Yet, in a great many other areas, the United States is not No. 1 at all.

Take education. In late 2013, the Program for International Student Assessment released a report on how 15-year old students from 65 nations performed on its tests. The report showed that U.S. students ranked 17th in reading and 21st in math. An international survey a bit earlier that year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that the ranking was slightly worse for American adults. In 2014, Pearson, a multinational educational services company, placed the United States 20th in the world in “educational attainment”―well behind Poland and the Slovak Republic.

American healthcare and health fare even worse. In a 2014 study of healthcare (including infant mortality, healthy life expectancy, and mortality from preventable conditions) in 11 advanced industrial countries, the Commonwealth Fund concluded that the United States ranked last among them. According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. healthcare system ranks 30th in the world. Other studies reach somewhat different conclusions, but all are very unflattering to the United States, as are studies of American health. The United States, for example, has one of the world’s worst cancer rates (the seventh highest), and life expectancy is declining compared to other nations. An article in the Washington Post in late 2013 reported that the United States ranked 26th among nations in life expectancy, and that the average American lifespan had fallen a year behind the international average.

What about the environment? Specialists at Yale University have developed a highly sophisticated Environmental Performance Index to examine the behavior of nations. In the area of protection of human health from environmental harm, their 2014 index placed the United States 35th in health impacts, 36th in water and sanitation, and 38th in air quality. In the other area studied―protection of ecosystems―the United States ranked 32nd in water resources, 49th in climate and energy, 86th in biodiversity and habitat, 96th in fisheries, 107th in forests, and 109th in agriculture.

These and other areas of interest are dealt with by the Social Progress Index, which was developed by Michael Porter, an eminent professor of business (and a Republican) at Harvard. According to Porter and his team, in 2014 the United States ranked 23rd in access to information and communications, 24th in nutrition and basic medical care, 31st in personal safety, 34th in water and sanitation, 39th in access to basic knowledge, 69th in ecosystem sustainability, and 70th in health and wellness.

The widespread extent of poverty, especially among children, remains a disgrace in one of the world’s wealthiest nations. A 2013 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund noted that, of the 35 economically advanced countries that had been studied, only Rumania had a higher percentage of children living in poverty than did the United States.

Of course, the United States is not locked into these dismal rankings and the sad situation they reveal about the health, education, and welfare of its citizens. It could do much better if its vast wealth, resources, and technology were employed differently than they are at present.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of priorities. When most U.S. government discretionary spending goes for war and preparations for war, it should come as no surprise that the United States emerges No. 1 among nations in its capacity for violence and falls far behind other nations in providing for the well-being of its people.

Americans might want to keep this in mind as their nation embarks upon yet another costly military crusade.

News Sat, 18 Oct 2014 12:28:43 -0400
Our Empathetic Rich: The Rarest of Birds

2014 1018 rich stBillionaires like Nick Woodman, pictured here, regularly make headlines with their charitable giving, but they seldom give either enough or what helps those most in need. (Photo: TechCrunch)A landmark new study has laid bare the dirty little secret of modern American philanthropy: The United States' wealthy don’t particularly care all that much about the rest of us.

Billionaire CEO Nicholas Woodman, news reports trumpeted earlier this month, has set aside $450 million worth of his GoPro software stock to set up a brand-new charitable foundation.

“We wake up every morning grateful for the opportunities life has given us,” Woodman and his wife Jill noted in a joint statement. “We hope to return the favor as best we can.”

Stories about charitable billionaires have long been a media staple. The defenders of our economic order love them — and regularly trot them out to justify America’s ever more top-heavy concentration of income and wealth.

Our charities depend, the argument goes, on the generosity of the rich. The richer the rich, the better off our charitable enterprises will be.

But this defense of inequality, analysts have understood for quite some time, holds precious little water. Low- and middle-income people, the research shows, give a greater share of their incomes to charity than people of decidedly more ample means.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the nation’s top monitor of everything charitable, last week dramatically added to this research.

Between 2006 and 2012, a new Chronicle analysis of IRS tax return data reveals, Americans who make over $200,000 a year decreased the share of their income they devote to charity by 4.6 percent.

Over those same years, a time of recession and limited recovery, these same affluent Americans saw their own incomes increase. For the nation’s top 5 percent of income earners, that increase averaged 9.9 percent.

By contrast, those Americans making less than $100,000 actually increased their giving between 2006 and 2012. The most generous Americans of all? Those making less than $25,000. Amid the hard times of recent years, low-income Americans devoted 16.6 percent more of their meager incomes to charity.

Overall, those making under $100,000 increased their giving by 4.5 percent.

In the half-dozen years this new study covers, the Chronicle of Philanthropy concludes, “poor and middle class Americans dug deeper into their wallets to give to charity, even though they were earning less.”

America’s affluent do still remain, in absolute terms, the nation’s largest givers to charity. In 2012, the Chronicle analysis shows, those earning under $100,000 handed charities $57.3 billion. Americans making over $200,000 gave away $77.5 billion.

But that $77.5 billion pales against at how much more the rich could — rather painlessly — be giving. Between 2006 and 2012, the combined wealth of the Forbes 400 alone increased by $1.04 trillion.

What the rich do give to charity often does people truly in need no good at all. Wealthy people do the bulk of their giving to colleges and cultural institutions, notes Chronicle of Philanthropy editor Stacy Palmer. Food banks and other social service charities “depend more on lower income Americans.”

Low- and middle-income people, adds Palmer, “know people who lost their jobs or are homeless.” They’ve been sacrificing “to help their neighbors.”

America’s increasing economic segregation, meanwhile, has left America’s rich less and less exposed to “neighbors” struggling to get by. That’s opening up, says Vox policy analyst Danielle Kurtzleben, an “empathy gap.”

“After all,” she explains, “if I can’t see you, I’m less likely to help you.”

The more wealth concentrates, the more nonprofits chase after these less-than-empathetic rich for donations. The priorities of these rich, notes Kurtzleben, become the priorities for more and more nonprofits.

The end result? Elite universities get mega-million-dollar donations to build mahogany-appointed students dorms. Art museums get new wings. Hospitals get windfalls to tackle the diseases that spook the high-end set.

Some in that set do seem to sense the growing disconnect between real need and real resources. Last week billionaire hedge fund manager David Einhorn announced a $50 million gift to help Cornell University set students up in “real-world experiences” that address the challenges hard-pressed communities face.

“When you go out beyond the classroom and into the community and find problems and have to deal with people in the real world,” says Einhorn, “you develop skills for empathy.”

True enough — but in a society growing ever more unequal and separate, not enough. In that society — our society — the privileged will continue to go “blind to how people outside their own class are living,” as Danielle Kurtzleben puts it.

We need, in short, much more than Empathy 101. We need more equality.

Opinion Sat, 18 Oct 2014 12:02:45 -0400
Thwarting Democracy and the Battle for Voting Rights

It’s election season! And there may be new voting requirements where you live. Since the 2013 Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act, many states have pushed a dizzying array of changes to voter laws that raise disturbing connections to the past.

On this week’s show, we’ll hear stories about the hard fought battles for the right to vote, and examine whether modern day voting requirements are a step backwards in the ongoing struggle for civil rights.


Reverend Tyrone Edwards, civil rights historian in Plaquemines Parish Louisiana; Tyrone Brooks, Georgia State Representative; Clifford Kuhn, Professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; JT Johnson, civil rights organizer; Allen Secher, rabbi; Jerel James and Tamia Adkinson, docents at Civil Rights Museum of St. Augustine;  August Tinson, testified in U.S. vs Fox (1962); Gary May, professor of history at the University of Delaware and the author of Bending Towards Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy. 

Timing and Cues

Program #43-14- Begin date: 10/22/14. End date: 04/22/15.

Total run time is 29 minutes (no hard breaks)
- Music in/out.

Additional Credits

Host: Laura Flynn
Producers: Laura Flynn, Andrew Stelzer, George Lavender, Jasmin Lopez
Contributing Producers: Anna Simonton and Dina Weinstein
Executive Director: Lisa Rudman
Web Editor: Kwan Booth

Related Website

News Sat, 18 Oct 2014 11:31:22 -0400
How Germany Managed to Abolish University Tuition Fees

2014 1018 germ stHeidelberg University, the oldest university in Germany and among Europe's best ranked. (Photo: Jan Beckendorf)If Germany has done it, why can’t we? That’s the question being asked by many students around the world in countries that charge tuition fees to university. From this semester, all higher education will be free for both Germans and international students at universities across the country, after Lower Saxony became the final state to abolish tuition fees.

It’s important to be aware of two things when it comes to understanding how German higher education is funded and how the country got to this point. First, Germany is a federal country with 16 autonomous states responsible for education, higher education and cultural affairs. Second, the German higher education system – consisting of 379 higher education institutions with about 2.4m students – is a public system which is publicly funded. There are a number of small private institutions but they enrol less than 5% of the total student body.

Back and forth with fees

Until 1970-71, West-German higher education students had to pay tuition fees at the level of about 120 to 150 German Marks per semester. There were needs-based exceptions but basically these fees had to be paid by every student.

When they came to power in the late 1960s, Germany’s Social Democrats supported higher education expansion by promoting widening participation and equal opportunities and by increasing the number of higher education institutions. From 1971 onwards, a system of state financial assistance for students was established and tuition fees were abolished. The assistance came first as a grant, later as a mix of half repayable-loan and half grant.

During the peak period of higher education expansion in the late 1960s, exclusive funding of higher education by the states became too much of a burden. New provisions were introduced for a framework law laying down the general principles governing higher education across West Germany. The first law, introduced in 1976, included a prohibition of tuition fees.

Despite a flirtation with the idea of re-introducing tuition fees under the conservative-liberal coalition government in the 1980s, a stalemate ensued over whether tuition fees would lead state governments to reduce their regular funding to universities.

Fees win out in late 1990s

The fall of the Berlin Wall and German Unification put all reform plans on hold for several years until the whole East German system of higher education institutions and academies had been evaluated and reformed. A new discussion about tuition fees then started around the mid-1990s, with their re-introduction seen as a solution to a number of existing problems in the higher education system.

Around the end of the 1990s, the dam of resistance broke by allowing the introduction of fees for so-called long-term students: students who had been enrolled several semesters past the regular duration of their study programme and had not finished.

Those states with a conservative government filed a law suit in 2002 against the framework law of higher education, arguing that its prohibition of tuition fees was an illegitimate intervention into the legal authority for educational matters of the states. The Federal Constitutional Court upheld the complaint in 2005; immediately, seven states introduced tuition fees.

In 2006, the framework law was abolished under wider reforms of German federalism. Tuition fees were capped at 500 Euros per semester, but Berlin and all East-German states refused to introduce them.

Excellence and crisis

Yet the same reform of federalism led the states to reclaim complete authority and responsibility for their higher education. This led the Federal Ministry for Education and Research to refuse any further co-funding with states on higher education. And it left the federal ministry with a lot of spare money. A large part of this was eventually invested into the German Excellence Initiative, a competitive funding programme launched in 2005 to support a group of universities to become global players.

But this also meant that the poorer states faced a funding crisis for their higher education institutions. The problem was aggravated by the fact the a number of the poorer states were located in East Germany, where all states had decided not to introduce tuition fees in the hopes to attract more students.

Gradual abolition

In successive years, as soon as state government elections have elected social democratic or green party governments, tuition fees have been abolished. The state of Hesse, for example, had tuition fees for only a single year. In the end only two states were left with tuition fees: Bavaria and Lower Saxony. The conservative government of Bavaria gave into the mainstream and abolished tuition fees in the winter semester 2013-14, with Lower Saxony abolishing fees in the winter semester 2014-15.

But the heads of higher education institutions negotiated with their ministries, arguing that they could not properly do their job of offering high-quality student experience if the loss of income from tuition fees was not compensated one way or another.

So most states have agreed to compensate their higher education institutions with extra money – not quite covering the loss in fees though – which was to be invested exclusively into the improvement of the quality of studies and teaching. Most ministries decreed that students had to be involved in decisions about how and for what purposes the money was going to be spent.

How funding works now

The present situation is that all higher education institutions receive a budget from the responsible ministry of the state in which they are located, based on annual or biennial negotiations. This basic budget is complemented by additional agreements between higher education institutions and the state concerning the intake of additional numbers of students and the money to compensate the loss of income from tuition fees.

There are additional funding programmes – some funded jointly by the states and the federal ministry – for supporting and promoting research, in the competition for excellence.

Of course, most higher education institutions continue to feel underfunded. The pressure on academic staff to attract external research funding has increased, as has competition for such grants. Still, compared to other countries in Europe, German higher education institutions continue to be rather generously funded by their states – an estimated 80% of their overall budgetary needs. There are also ample opportunities and considerable amounts of external research funding available.

Publicly funded, but for how long?

Despite the fact that competition for funding and accountability has increased in German higher education, there is still a general consensus that it is a public system and should be state-funded. The abolition of tuition fees, even by conservative state governments, reflects this consensus too. In fact, the new Federal Minister for Education and Research, a member of the Conservative Party, recently announced a major increase in the levels of needs-based state financial assistance to students that will start in the 2016-17 academic year.

But funding varies considerably depending on different institutional and regional factors. The winners of the German Excellence Initiative have received and are receiving considerable amounts of additional funding in the hope that more German universities will be able to achieve better positions on world university rankings. There were 12 German universities in the 2014-15 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, up from 10 the year before.

Higher education institutions in the poorer states (most of them in the east of Germany) receive less money and academic staff are being paid lower salaries while higher education institutions in the richer states (typically in the south) are better funded.

The debate about tuition fees – though dead for the moment – can easily be revived in the future. It has not been dropped from the agenda once and for all. Government policies continue to be in favour of tuition fees, most representatives of institutional leadership are as well, though for different reasons. But there is currently a lack of general public support. Once this has changed – and influential advisory bodies and think tanks are working towards such a change – the idea of tuition fees will be introduced again.

News Sat, 18 Oct 2014 11:19:45 -0400
Farms Angry at Labor Department Crackdown on Suspected Worker Abuses

- An attempted crackdown on minimum wage and child labor violations at berry farms in the Pacific Northwest has sparked a backlash that threatens one of the U.S. Labor Department’s most potent tools for enforcing protections for farm workers.

At issue is the little-known “hot goods’’ provision of federal wage law. It allows the government to halt shipments of goods produced in violation of employment laws. The weapon has been used mainly to combat minimum wage and overtime pay abuses by garment makers but, under President Barack Obama, federal officials have invoked the hot goods provision against farm owners somewhat more often than earlier administrations.

Farm worker advocates have pressed the Labor Department to keep using the tactic against exploitative growers. They argue that aggressive action is needed to fight abuses that government inspectors have found for decades on U.S. farms.

Farmers and their political allies – including the powerful American Farm Bureau Federation – have lined up behind a bill in Congress to prevent authorities from using the hot goods provision to stop shipments of perishable crops like berries. Even if the bill does not pass the gridlocked Congress, worker advocates worry that the backlash might have a chilling effect on the agency, or that its use of the tactic could be restricted through the budget process.

Critics argue that the hot goods provision never was intended to apply to farm products that can spoil quickly. They say it puts producers in an impossible situation: Pay the penalties, even if you don’t agree with the Labor Department’s accusations, or watch your crop rot.

Under the Obama administration, the government has used the weapon in various states, including actions against a Massachusetts sprout grower and a Hawaiian basil producer charged with violating minimum wage laws – and a wave of Labor Department inspections of Washington and Oregon farms in 2011 and 2012.

The department wound up citing three farms in Ridgefield and Woodland, Wash., in 2011 for child labor violations and collecting $73,050 in back wages and penalties. In late July, the Labor Department sued three blueberry farms in southeastern Washington’s Walla Walla County, accusing them of a “hot goods” violation for allegedly failing to pay minimum wage and overtime to pickers and packing workers. The growers – Blue Mountain Farms LLC , Great Columbia Berry Farm LLC and Applegate Orchards LLC – have yet to file an answer. Their attorney, Tim Bernasek, said the growers will contest the methods the Labor Department’s used to determine whether violations occurred.

However, the biggest flashpoint was a crackdown on three Oregon blueberry farms that allegedly underpaid about 1,000 workers. To extract roughly $240,000 in back wages, damages and penalties, the Labor Department said it would use its hot goods authority to get a court order to halt the shipment of what the growers estimate was $5.5 million of fruit.

The three growers paid up, saying they felt they had no other choice. Instead of helping lots of workers, however, the Labor Department has provoked push-back from critics who say the agency has gone rogue and made unsubstantiated allegations against the berry growers.

Their cause has been taken up by lawmakers led by Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., who calls the use of the hot goods provision on farms “extortion.”

Two of the Oregon blueberry growers, meanwhile, have won a court ruling that voided their settlements with the government because it was made under what the judge called “economic duress.” This month the Labor Department said in a court document that it had returned all but one-third of the growers’ money –everything except for what already was paid to some of the workers.

In all, the Labor Department has used its hot goods authority against growers in at least 20 cases since 2010, according to a review of agency data and news releases. The actions took aim at shipments of fruits, nuts and vegetables. Since 2001, the agency has invoked its hot goods authority more than 4,000 times overall, covering a wide range of industries.

An entrenched problem

The abuse of farm workers in the U.S. has been chronicled for decades. But agricultural workers remain some of the lowest paid, most exploited laborers in the country – with factors like immigration status, language barriers and relative isolation from the rest of society increasing their vulnerability, advocates say.

Cornelio Ramirez, a 28-year-old Mexican immigrant who has picked berries in Washington state for five seasons, says he and his co-workers often aren’t paid their due. When the picking isn’t good, the workers – who are paid by the pound – don’t always make minimum wage, he said. In such cases, federal law requires the employer to pay the difference.

“You got paid for what you picked. But if you only picked $50 worth of berries in 10 hours, they didn’t make up the rest,” Ramirez said.

A 2013 court declaration by Janice Hendrix, then a Labor Department official, underscored the pervasiveness of minimum wage, child labor and other violations in agriculture. Federal investigators find such abuses on about half of the farms they inspect, she said.

To combat the problems, worker advocates such as Catherine Ruckelshaus, general counsel and program director of the National Employment Law Project, say hot goods is one of the Labor Department’s few effective, and swift, options. She said workers can get paid in days or weeks instead of slogging through drawn-out court cases.

And a crackdown on one farm can send a message to the entire industry. “The tool is so powerful and, when it works the way it’s supposed to, people sit up and pay attention,” Ruckelshaus said.

The big hammer

The hot goods provision dates back to 1938 when Congress, at the end of the Great Depression, passed the Fair Labor Standards Act – sweeping legislation that set minimum wage, child labor and overtime laws. In urging Congress to pass the law, President Franklin D. Roosevelt alluded to the hot goods provision, saying, “Goods produced under conditions which do not meet rudimentary standards of decency should be regarded as contraband and ought not to be allowed to pollute the channels of interstate trade.” The provision was intended not only to protect workers, but also to make sure that companies that exploit their employees don’t gain an advantage over law-abiding competitors. Since the 1940s, the tactic has been used to force compliance from producers of goods ranging from croissants to aloe vera to designer jeans.

But Schrader, the author of the House bill seeking to clamp down on the hot goods provision, thinks the Labor Department has been too quick to resort to its hot goods powers. “You don’t use the stick before you use the carrot,” said Schrader, a large-animal veterinarian and member of the House Agriculture Committee. His biggest campaign contributor in the current election cycle is the agriculture industry, which has given him $80,350, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

His bill would revoke the government’s authority to use the hot goods provision to halt the shipment of products such as berries or melons. Labor officials could still use it in cases involving goods with a longer shelf life, like processed foods and clothing.

Schrader already has 10 co-sponsors for the measure and is seeking more. They include Reps. Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, both Washington state Republicans.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are taking other steps to inhibit the use of hot goods against farmers. Earlier this year, a provision was inserted into the farm bill that requires the Labor Department to consult with the U.S. Department of Agriculture before invoking its hot goods authority on a farm.

Despite the political and legal pressure, the Labor Department defends its actions. David Weil, the head of the department’s Wage and Hour Division, said in an interview that the hot goods authority is invoked sparingly and fairly to protect vulnerable workers. “We are going down this road in those cases where we’ve found systematic problems and significant problems and violations of our most basic laws,” Weil said.

Weil also argued that Schrader is wrong in arguing that the hot goods provision never was meant for perishable farm products. Even manufactured goods like clothing have a short shelf life, he says, because styles change quickly and delays can lead to breached contracts. “The courts have never made that distinction; the statute doesn’t make that distinction,” Weil said.

The hot goods fight has its roots in blueberry fields south of Portland, Ore. In 2012, the agency decided to focus on berry farms across the Pacific Northwest, after discovering children working in Washington state berry fields and other alleged violations the year before.

Inspectors eventually concluded that three farms in Schrader’s district had underpaid more than 1,000 workers overall. The inspectors also found that an 11-year-old had picked berries on one of the farms, violating child labor law that generally sets a minimum age of 12 for farm work. Authorities determined that the operations – PanAmerican Berry Farm, B&G Ditchen farm and E&S Farm –owed about $240,000 in back wages, damages and penalties. At that point, the Labor Department turned to its hot goods authority, and the growers quickly settled.

Bernasek, the lawyer for the farms, had seen hot goods cases before, but this one had an important distinction. In previous cases, the money farmers paid went into escrow, so that workers would be paid only if violations were proved. This time, however, the escrow option wasn’t offered, and if the farmers fought back, they feared that they would lose their harvest.

Bernasek says his clients paid settlements only to avoid letting their berries rot. “If you’re walking down a dark alley at night and someone puts a gun to your head and says, ‘Give me you wallet,’ you can decide not to give them your wallet, but you’re going to get shot,” he said.

Weil declined to comment on the dispute except to say that the agency decides whether to hold money in escrow based on the facts of each case. According to a court transcript from December, Jeremiah Miller, a Labor Department lawyer, said the money was not put into escrow because the agency was “driving a hard bargain.”

The Labor Department inspectors concluded that minimum wage violations were widespread on the Oregon farms, based partly on an assumption that a single worker could be expected to pick no more than 55.5 pounds of berries per hour.

But the farmers contend the Labor Department’s estimates are way off. One hired a retired Labor Department investigator who calculated, after observing a group of pickers, that even the slowest one brought in 112 pounds per hour.

In the summer of 2013 – a year after signing the agreements with the Labor Department – two of the farms, Ditchen and PanAmerican, filed their successful motion to nullify the consent agreements. U.S. Magistrate Thomas Coffin wrote: “When one party must agree to a comparatively minor penalty or lose millions simply to engage in the judicial process, such heavy handed leverage is fraught with economic duress brought about by an unfair advantage.”


A version of this story appears on FairWarning (, a Los Angeles-based news organization focused on public health, safety and environmental issues.

News Sat, 18 Oct 2014 09:57:21 -0400
Islamic State: No One Wants to Talk to Terrorists, but We Always Do - and Sometimes It Works

2014 1018 is fwLt. Gen. Erdal Ozturk, representing Turkey, listens as President Barack Obama speaks at a meeting of more than 20 defense chiefs regarding operations against the Islamic State group, at Andrews Air Force Base. Gen. Joseph Votel, left, is head of the U.S. Special Operations Command. Maryland, October 14, 2014. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

The Islamic State (IS) now occupies significant swaths of Iraq and Syria, has pushed as far as the border with Turkey, and has succeeded in dragging “the West” into two civil wars in the Middle East. The West’s offensive, spearheaded by the US and supported by the UK and others, is to “degrade and ultimately destroy” IS.

But in the face of IS’s state-building efforts, that strategy will only work if it manages to degrade the group’s legitimacy as a governing enterprise.

While IS’s extreme ideology and brutal tactics obviously pose problems for its legitimacy among the population it now rules, it has taken many steps to try to win local people’s hearts and minds and to build local alliances. It has set up local governing structures, a tax system, a judicial system, and formed an education policy.

And though little is really known about what people living in IS-controlled territory actually think of their new overlords, the group may well enjoy more legitimacy than we give it credit for.

Legitimacy vacuum

This is not least because Assad’s authoritarian Syria and sectarian Iraq long ago threw away any credibility they may once have had as states. IS has thrived on the plight of the Syrian opposition’s campaign against Assad’s authoritarian regime and was welcomed back into Iraq by Sunni groups and former Ba'ath Party members who were sidelined under Nouri al-Maliki’s sectarian regime.

The group’s remarkably fast military advance can be attributed to a core of officers with training and experience from Saddam Hussein’s army – in addition to a ready supply of foreign fighters. Combined with its ability to quickly set up functional governing structures, that means IS is not just a terrorist organisation; it is a well-trained army with at least some popular support. And whether we like it or not, it has successfully embarked on what looks like a state-building process.

This is all bad news for the “degrade and destroy” strategy, as a military solution is not going to be enough. The question is, what does military force against IS do to its legitimacy? One of two things. Western air raids and potential ground deployments can strengthen the group’s image of the West as an external threat and, as such, boost its legitimacy.

There is of course an alternative outcome, one in which military force could also badly degrade IS’s legitimacy by showing the population it seeks to rule that it cannot fulfil one of the main functions of a state: providing security from external threats. But until Iraq and Syria can do a better job of protecting the very same citizens’ security, degrading IS’s legitimacy militarily might not make much difference.

Instead, for the campaign to stand any chance of eroding the group’s legitimacy with the populations it now seeks to govern, the West needs to be just as focused on boosting the legitimacy of Iraq and Syria. This will be crucial if the West wants to decisively end the conflict, not just defeat IS at a few tactical flashpoints. And that, of course, will be a monstrous task.

Fighting on two fronts

A political solution becomes all the more important when we consider the possible paths to conflict termination. The civil wars in which IS is embedded span a large area covering two states with ethnic and religious differences, take place in inhospitable terrain, feature numerous actors and are fought in states with poor economies, low capacity to govern their territories and porous borders – all of which makes it easy for an insurgency to emerge and thrive.

And while neither Iraq nor Syria is strong enough to defeat IS on its own, IS itself is becoming mightier by the minute. In fact, thus far the air campaigns against IS seem to have pushed its erstwhile ally-turned-enemy, Jabhat al-Nusra, back in the IS camp.

However, the West is clearly determined not to let IS win, and that makes a decisive victory on either side unlikely. This is consistent with trends in the post-Cold War era, where relatively few civil wars have ended in military victories. Any solution, then, will have to be political.

On the surface, the prospects for any kind of negotiated settlement look bleak. Given that the fight against IS is embedded in two civil wars, we’re talking about reaching settlements in two different conflicts, both of which involve numerous actors besides IS. Moreover, no one in the West really wants to talk to IS, it’s unclear whether IS actually wants to talk, and both host states are looking like they lack the political legitimacy to challenge IS.

And yet, this might not be quite the insurmountable challenge it looks like.

Getting to the table

Lasting settlements are far more challenging in conflicts with multiple actors, but they’re certainly not impossible. The majority of civil conflicts involve multiple insurgent groups – and, since the end of the Cold War, about 38% of civil war terminations have involved a political settlement of some sort.

No one in the West, it seems, wants to talk to IS. Officially, of course: “We don’t talk to terrorists“. Actually, we always do. And sometimes it works. Political negotiations with the Taliban, IRA and FARC would once have seemed absurd, but are now an accepted necessity by politicians and their constituents.

What’s unclear, of course, is whether IS has any interest in talking. But the group has proven capable of negotiating alliances with a disparate collection of actors and its state-building efforts have required compromise and coalition-building. They also share a number of core characteristics with other revolutionary insurgencies that proved open to dialogue.

Also, on the upside, research has shown that as the governing and military capacity of an insurgent force grows, so does the likelihood of a negotiated settlement. Put another way, only strong rebel groups are generally capable of forcing states into making the concessions necessary for a peace agreement.

This means that the growing strength of IS, while no doubt threatening for peace and security in the region, could paradoxically be the very catalyst to force Iraq and Syria to engage with the terms required for peace.

Long way to go

Of course, IS is unlikely to come to the table while it continues to make significant gains. Military action might then serve a useful purpose in pushing IS towards a settlement (as it did in Bosnia); military force is after all an extension of politics by other means. This is in contrast to the current approach of military without much, or any, politics, which will most likely just make things worse.

But political negotiations will only work once IS’s twin host states regain some of their lost political legitimacy. Tragically, this is probably beyond the Syrian state while Assad remains in power, but post-Maliki Iraq does potentially have the capacity to reform and stabilise itself enough to offer a chance for resolution.

While this might seem optimistic, there are no other good options. The chance of a military victory against IS in either of these countries is slim. In many civil wars, violence does somehow fizzle out, but this is typically only the case in conflicts far below the threshold of violence we have seen in Syria and Iraq.

A political solution to install and bolster legitimate regimes in both Syria and Iraq is therefore paramount; it is certainly central to whether military action against IS will work.

The stakes could scarcely be higher: in the absence of a political strategy, the current approach may be paving the way for the emergence of a de facto state under IS control. That will do little but perpetuate instability in the region.

A political solution to two deeply complex civil wars taking place in weak and fractional states is, of course, easier imagined than achieved. Still, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The White House and Downing Street would do better to start formulating and initiating a coherent policy now, rather than continue with a strategy that’s rapidly heading in the wrong direction.

Opinion Sat, 18 Oct 2014 09:23:00 -0400
Manufactured Emergency: The Neoliberal Assault on Michigan

2014 1018 mich fwThousands march to protest anti-union legislation called "Right to work" in Lansing, Michigan, December 11, 2012. (Photo: John Rummel / PW)

Those who want to privatize public services and destroy unions have made some successful incursions into the once union-friendly state. Whether Michiganders can mount an effective resistance remains to be seen.

When Michigan Republicans decided to push through a so-called right-to-work bill in December 2012, schools in three districts were forced to close for a day because so many teachers went to the Capitol to protest. Several dozen protesters demonstrated in the Capitol Rotunda; nine were arrested.

Misnamed right-to-work laws make a certain type of agreement between a union and an employer illegal: union-represented employees may not be required to pay dues or near-equivalent “agency fees.” By law, the union is still obligated to represent non-paying workers as if they were members, which is why unions call the laws “right to freeload.” Since a certain portion of the workforce will take advantage of the chance to save a few bucks, these laws weaken unions financially—including their political operations—as well as breaking up solidarity. A weaker union has less clout to defend its members at the bargaining table or on the shop floor.

But right-to-work in Michigan was a done deal, signed into law by Governor Rick “The Nerd” Snyder just a week after it was introduced. Unions hastily bused demonstrators to Lansing, bringing the crowd to 10,000, but Snyder remained unmoved. After all, the previous year his counterpart in Wisconsin, Scott Walker, had ignored crowds of up to a hundred thousand who kept the state in turmoil for a month as they protested an anti-union bill.

A central goal of the neoliberal project is to weaken unions, and state legislation is one method. Unions are anathema in the free-market ideology, since they constrain employers’ liberty to operate exactly as they please. Unions also bargain higher wages and benefits and give employees some workplace rights not to be ordered about like indentured servants—thus cutting into potential profits, in the private sector.

A Midwestern Trend

Several Midwestern states have become laboratories for such neoliberal experiments. Wisconsin’s legislature passed a bill in 2011 that required state employees to contribute more to their pensions and health insurance—the equivalent of an eight to 12 percent pay cut in some cases—and eliminated collective bargaining for most public employees on everything except base wages; raises were in practice limited to the rate of inflation.

In Ohio, the legislature passed a measure that effectively took away collective bargaining rights from  state employees, including those in higher education, changed their pay structure, and required many of them to pay at least 20 percent of the cost of their health care plans.  (Ohio voters later overturned this bill in a hard-fought referendum.)

Indiana became the first Rust Belt state to take the right-to-work path, in February 2012, as thousands of unionists shouted their anger from the Statehouse hallways.

Michigan made use of an “emergency manager” law, which allowed the governor—citing any of a variety of triggers—to appoint an unelected overseer to run towns or cities. This included those whose budgets were in the red. These managers used their authority to tear up union contracts. Detroit’s takeover by an emergency manager, and its subsequent bankruptcy, had a similar effect, with city employees taking wage and pension cuts.

Still, Michigan’s sudden move to become the 24th right-to-work state rocked the labor movement nationwide. A birthplace of industrial unionism, Michigan still enjoyed a 16.6 percent unionization rate, the seventh-highest in the country. Its premier union, the United Auto Workers, was treated in the press as a major political player. And yet Michigan had joined the ranks of anti-union strongholds like Mississippi and Wyoming.

Too Divisive

How did right-to-work come about in the seemingly solid union state of Michigan? Governor Snyder had previously said it was too divisive and not on his political agenda. So, union members and supporters were shocked when the governor announced his change of heart. United Auto Workers (UAW) President Bob King, who had 151,000 members and 190,000 retirees in the state, said the governor’s about-face had “blindsided” him.

But the plan to make Michigan right-to-work was actually long brewing. With its record of voting for Democratic presidents, Michigan was a tempting target for such billionaire-funded national groups as Americans for Prosperity (founded by the Koch brothers) and for the state’s home-grown billionaire, Richard  DeVos of the Amway fortune. As Lee Fang reported for The Nation, Americans for Prosperity’s Michigan chapter quadrupled its spending in 2010, the year Snyder was elected, to $1.1 million. The Mackinac Center, a longtime right-wing think tank in the state, spent $5.7 million on Michigan-based advocacy in 2011. (DeVos is a funder of both groups.)

Mark Brewer, who was then the Michigan Democratic Party chair, dated the plotting for right to work to at least 2007. A video shows former Michigan Republican Party Chair Ron Weiser speaking to a Tea Party meeting in August 2012. Weiser, who was  finance chair of the Republican National Committee, described meeting with DeVos, former Michigan Governor John Engler (now with the Business Roundtable), representatives from Americans for Prosperity, and Frank Keating, the former governor of Oklahoma which passed right-to-work in 2001. (The CEO of Oklahoma’s Chamber of Commerce had admitted he can’t name any companies that moved to Oklahoma because of right-to-work.  But that inconvenient fact, which holds true in other states as well, has not deterred the pro-right-to-work forces from claiming to be “job creators.”)

Weiser says the group decided not to move on right-to-work until Republicans controlled both the legislature and the governorship. Those elements were in place by January 2011, but in February the tumultuous uprising against anti-union measures kicked off in next-door Wisconsin, bringing tens of thousands of union members and progressives repeatedly to the Capitol, and demonstrations in cities and small towns across the country.

2014 1018 mich 1This article appears in the special neoliberal edition of The Public Eye magazine by Political Research Associates.So Michigan’s neoliberal strategists instead pursued a piecemeal strategy: appointing emergency managers to run financially troubled cities and throw out union contracts; taking away the lifeline of teachers’ automatic union dues deductions; rescinding domestic partner benefits for public employees; defining university research assistants as non-workers; and a host of other measures designed not to rile everyone at once.

Proactive Strategy

To head off the possibility of right-to-work and to nullify all these laws that were interfering with collective bargaining, the UAW’s King and allied unions developed an offensive plan, to pass a constitutional amendment. Proposal 2, on the November 2012 ballot, would have made collective bargaining a constitutional right in the state.

But campaign leaders were reluctant to be specific about any particular laws that Proposal 2 would have outlawed, according to Mark O’Keefe, a staffer for the Detroit Federation of Teachers. O’Keefe said leaders were afraid that any specific was likely to offend someone. Meanwhile, Proposal 2 was opposed by every business interest in the state, some of whom mounted a $30 million disinformation campaign. This included ads from a front group called Citizens for Protecting Michigan’s Constitution claiming that the bill would prevent school districts from firing child molesters. Proposal 2 went down to defeat decisively, 57 to 42 percent.

Locked In

Because of an accident of timing, it’s still too soon to know how right-to-work will play out in Michigan’s largest private-sector contracts, the UAW’s pacts with the Big 3 automakers. The law doesn’t affect contracts already in place, and the Big 3’s won’t expire until September 2015.

UAW leaders, though they decried right-to-work, were oddly complacent about the prospect of losing a chunk of their union’s core members.   The UAW convention this summer—which took place as King retired– even voted to raise dues by 25 percent—surely a disincentive for wavering members to stay on board.

Teachers’ local unions took a different tack, quickly opening up existing contracts and bargaining new ones before right-to-work was due to take effect in March 2013. By signing new contracts under the old law, they locked in dues or the agency fee as a funding stream for the length of the new contracts. In most cases, though, those contracts were concession-filled, as management bargainers took advantage of leaders’ desperation.

A conservative think tank monitoring unions’ efforts to “dodge” right-to-work reported that at least 54 school districts signed contracts before the deadline. In Detroit, teachers signed a pay freeze through 2016—after already taking huge cuts in 2010 and 2011. In Taylor, a blue-collar suburb, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) locked in 10 years of agency fee and took a 10 percent pay cut.

Attack on Tenure

Perhaps the example that shows most clearly how the attack on unions fits with other neoliberal aims is at Detroit’s Wayne State University. Allan Gilmour, then-president of Wayne State (who had been a top officer at Ford Motor Co.), had made headlines a few months before right-to-work was passed, when he proposed that Wayne become among the first major U.S. universities to effectively end tenure. Allies of the union quickly got 6,000 signatures on an online petition, and Gilmour backed down.

But this set the stage for the university to take the offensive during contract negotiations. The union representing 1,950 full-time faculty bargained eight years of dues security but, said chief negotiator Anca Vlasopolos, “We had to make concessions to obtain the length of the contract.”

Decrying the “corporatization” hitting universities everywhere, Vlasopolos said the faculty union was forced to concede on issues that affected the quality of education at Wayne State. “We were not able to hold on as strongly to things that were very dear to our hearts and important for the university to remain a university,” she said.

In particular, under the pressure of settling before the deadline, the question of online teaching—where professors now have no say and may have as many as 350 students in a class—was put off to a committee.

“The aim of the corporate university is to become a diploma mill and rely on a large percentage of part-time teachers,” Vlasopolos said, while the union’s aim is to “make sure we don’t become a University of Phoenix.”

If unions in Michigan do end up substantially smaller, workers will have less bargaining power and therefore can expect even weaker contracts: lower wages, higher payments for health insurance, and less protection against workload increases. After Walker’s successful attack on public employees in Wisconsin, unions there were caught in a vicious spiral: with unions’ right to bargain eviscerated, workers could see less reason to pay dues. As members dropped out in droves, the unions’ infrastructure was weakened and they could do far less to make themselves relevant. Said John Matthews, longtime leader of the Madison teachers’ local: “working conditions have been rolled back to the mid-1950s by some regressive public employers.”

At the Michigan unions’ 2012 anti-right-to-work rally, Teamsters President James Hoffa, who is from the state, admitted that the way back for unions will be a long fight. The slide down has been long, too, but it’s accelerating.

News Sat, 18 Oct 2014 09:14:51 -0400
William Rivers Pitt | George W. Bush: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

2014 1018 weap stUS Army soldiers take samples from items found in a weapons cache, Baqubah, Iraq, January 3, 2009. (Photo: The US Army)Thirteen years ago, after the Towers came down but before the war started, I wrote a book that claimed there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and therefore there was no reason to go to war there. That book has stood the test of time, but as it turns out, there were WMD in that shattered, battered and bombed-out nation...just not in the way it was explained to us.

On Tuesday, The New York Times published a thunderclap of an article titled "The Secret Casualties of Iraq's Abandoned Chemical Weapons." The gist of it, in short, is that Iraq was littered with thousands of chemical munitions the US and other countries had sold to the country before 1991. US troops were tasked to police them up and destroy them, a process that injured many of them in ways they still endure today, but because the Bush administration wanted to keep these munitions secret, the troops who happened to scoop up a leaking mustard gas shell and woke up the following day covered in boils and unable to breathe never received proper medical treatment.

But wait, hold the phone: Wasn't the whole point of the exercise about the presence of WMD in Iraq? If US troops found thousands of chemical shells, which they dealt with at their peril, why didn't the Bush administration bellow the fact to the heavens?

2014 1018 weap stUS Army soldiers take samples from items found in a weapons cache, Baqubah, Iraq, January 3, 2009. (Photo: The US Army)Thirteen years ago, after the Towers came down but before the war started, I wrote a book that claimed there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and therefore there was no reason to go to war there. That book has stood the test of time, but as it turns out, there were WMD in that shattered, battered and bombed-out nation...just not in the way it was explained to us.

On Tuesday, The New York Times published a thunderclap of an article titled "The Secret Casualties of Iraq's Abandoned Chemical Weapons." The gist of it, in short, is that Iraq was littered with thousands of chemical munitions the US and other countries had sold to the country before 1991. US troops were tasked to police them up and destroy them, a process that injured many of them in ways they still endure today, but because the Bush administration wanted to keep these munitions secret, the troops who happened to scoop up a leaking mustard gas shell and woke up the following day covered in boils and unable to breathe never received proper medical treatment.

But wait, hold the phone: Wasn't the whole point of the exercise about the presence of WMD in Iraq? If US troops found thousands of chemical shells, which they dealt with at their peril, why didn't the Bush administration bellow the fact to the heavens?

Ask Karl Rove:

Starting in 2004, some members of the George W. Bush administration and Republican lawmakers began to find evidence of discarded chemical weapons in Iraq. But when the information was brought up with the White House, senior adviser Karl Rove told them to "let these sleeping dogs lie."

The issue of Iraq's WMD remnants was suddenly thrust back into the fore this week, with a blockbuster New York Times report accusing the Bush administration of covering up American troops' chemically induced wounds.

To people familiar with the issue, both inside that administration and outside, the blame for the coverup falls on one particular set of shoulders: Rove's.

Some very stupid people heralded the Times' article as vindication of their long-embraced belief that Iraq actually did have WMD, and therefore George W. Bush's calamitous war was justified. There are several problems with this premise: 1. One actually has to read the article, which is long and full of words, several of which explain that the chemical munitions discovered were from 1991 or before, and were utterly useless as designed when found during the war; 2. None of it was worth fighting a decade-long war over; 3. The Bush administration didn't announce the existence of these decrepit munitions to the world because the US sold them to Iraq during the last Bush administration, and because pretending they weren't there meant the VA could blow off the affected soldiers.

The rhetoric, circa March 2003: Iraq was in possession of 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX gas, mobile biological weapons labs, and uranium from Niger for use in a "robust" nuclear weapons programs.



Meanwhile, as these old dogs grapple and scrape over this well-stripped bone, the fruits of their pestiferous labors continue to bloom. The latest revelation, from McClatchy News, reads US Will Build New Syrian Rebel Force to Battle Islamic State:

For most of the three years of the Syrian conflict, the U.S. ground game hinged on rebel militias that are loosely affiliated under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, or FSA. Their problems were no secret: a lack of cohesion, uneven fighting skills and frequent battlefield coordination with the al Qaida loyalists of the Nusra Front.

This time, (retired Marine General John) Allen said, the United States and its allies will work to strengthen the political opposition and make sure it's tied to "a credible field force" that will have undergone an intense vetting process.

"It's not going to happen immediately," Allen said. "We're working to establish the training sites now, and we'll ultimately go through a vetting process and beginning to bring the trainers and the fighters in to begin to build that force out."

This time...

This time...

This time?

It is always this time, until next time, which becomes this time, and by God, we're going to deploy the same catastrophically failed tactics that led us here to begin with. Why? Because eternal war means eternal weapons sales...and a nifty side benefit happens to be the irrational paranoia consistently dosed to the American public by way of the "news" media, which lets things like "George W. Bush was right and the Iraq war was good!" slide by unremarked.

I have said this many times before, and will have to say it many times again until either these people are in jail or I am wrapped in my shroud: The single greatest strength of the American right is their utter and complete lack of shame. They will say anything - literally anything - if it moves the political ball even a few inches down the field.

P.S. The region of Iraq where the majority of these pre-1991 US-made chemical munitions can still be found is currently under the control of ISIS.

Thanks, George. You're the gift that keeps on giving.

Opinion Sat, 18 Oct 2014 09:04:00 -0400
Theodore Roosevelt, Walt Whitman and Andrew Jackson Were Proponents of Native American Genocide

"It's essential to remember that the United States had been involved in overseas imperialism from the beginning," author and Professor Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes. That policy was forged as the original 13 colonies expanded westward and committed genocide against Native Americans.

US Marines searching for the Native Americans among the mangroves during the Seminole War. US Marines searching for the Native Americans among the mangroves during the Seminole War. (Photo: USMC)Author Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz speaks about her book on the true history of how the United States became a nation and the Eurocentric racism used to justify it.

The false narrative of Columbus "discovering" the Americas still pervades history books and the Eurocentric mindset of the United States. Learn the true history of what author and Professor Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz calls the legacy of Columbus's voyages: the annihilation and conquest of Native-Americans. Read "An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States" now.

"It's essential to remember that the United States had been involved in overseas imperialism from the beginning," author and Professor Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes. That policy was forged as the original 13 colonies expanded westward and committed genocide against Native Americans. Many of the empire-building acts of the United States throughout its history - including at the current moment - can be explained by its war on indigenous inhabitants of North America that was justified by Eurocentric racism and "manifest destiny."

The following is an extensive interview with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz on the true history of how the United States became a nation, occupying land it did not own by decimating native residents. It's an eye-opening account that thoroughly debunks jingoistic and false history taught in the vast majority of US schools.

Mark Karlin: Here it is October and the nation celebrated the 13th of this month as Columbus Day, "honoring" Columbus for "discovering" the Western Hemisphere. Many people, at least now, have the alternative of celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day, including those of us at Truthout. Isn't it a bit galling that Columbus Day is still a federal holiday, given that it reinforces a false narrative that resulted in a magnitude of death and barbarity that is almost incompressible?

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: Yes. As the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Our nation was born in genocide.  . . . We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode."

Continuing to celebrate Columbus's first voyage is an example of what Dr. King refers to as elevating genocide to a noble crusade. Columbus' voyage on behalf of the Spanish monarchs, endorsed by the Holy Roman empire, marked the onset of modern colonialism as well as the beginning of the African and Native-American slave trade. And capitalism. Marx aptly described the process of primary accumulation of capital: "The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting
 of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signaled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of prior accumulation." - Karl Marx, from Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist 

Following up on Columbus Day, your 11th chapter is entitled "The Doctrine of Discovery." How has this doctrine been used to seize what were indigenous lands by the United States?

From the mid-15th century to the mid-20th century, most of the non-European world was colonized under the Doctrine of Discovery, one of the first principles of international law Christian European monarchies promulgated to legitimize investigating, mapping and claiming lands belonging to peoples outside Europe. It originated in a papal bull issued in 1455 that permitted the Portuguese monarchy to seize West Africa. Following Columbus' voyage, another papal bull extended similar permission to Spain. Disputes between the Portuguese and Spanish monarchies led to the papal-initiated Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), which, besides dividing the globe equally between the two Iberian empires, clarified that only non-Christian lands fell under the discovery doctrine.

This doctrine, on which all European states relied, thus originated with the arbitrary and unilateral establishment of the Iberian monarchies' exclusive rights under Christian canon law to colonize foreign peoples, and this right was later seized by other European monarchical colonizing projects. The French Republic used this legalistic instrument for its 19th- and 20th-century settler colonialist projects, as did the newly independent United States, when it continued the colonization of North America begun by the British.

In 1792, not long after the US founding, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson claimed that the Doctrine of Discovery developed by European states was international law applicable to the new US government as well. In 1823, the US Supreme Court issued its decision in Johnson v. McIntosh. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Marshall held that the Doctrine of Discovery had been an established principle of European law and of English law in effect in Britain's North American colonies and was also the law of the United States. The Court defined the exclusive property rights that a European country acquired by dint of discovery: "Discovery gave title to the government, by whose subjects, or by whose authority, it was made, against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession." Indigenous rights were, in the court's words, "in no instance, entirely disregarded; but were necessarily, to a considerable extent, impaired." The court further held that indigenous "rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations, were necessarily diminished." Indigenous peoples could continue to live on the land, but title resided with the discovering power, the United States. The decision concluded that native nations were "domestic, dependent nations." This remains the fundamental colonial law under which the United States' government structures its relationship with Native-American nations.

The doctrine of discovery has been used by many colonial powers historically to claim land. After all, most of what is now the United States was first seized in the name of European powers, particularly Britain, Spain and France. Can you elaborate on the related notion of terra nullius (meaning land belonging to no one in Latin) that was used by British explorers, for example, to assert that aborigines and other indigenous populations did not occupy what is now Australia, so therefore they could be slaughtered since they were disposable and not a sovereign nation. Wasn't this doctrine also applied to the lands acquired by the US through "manifest destiny," even though the indigenous populations of North America did have identities that were a variation on nationhood, just different from the European model?

The Doctrine of Discovery does not require terra nullius in order to seize land from the indigenous inhabitants. However, the British settlers of the 13 North American colonies, particularly Massachusetts Bay colony, as well as Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, and carried on the independent US republic as well as by the republics of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay, justified their brutal massacres of Native farmers and fishing people by claiming that the land was sparsely populated, invoking terra nullius.

That's why the first chapter in the book, "Follow the Corn," about precolonial North America, is so important. Here I document the large populations that existed, with 99 percent of the indigenous population, agricultural producers, living in towns and cities, with vast irrigation systems, as well as networks of roads for robust trade and travel. The Valley of México was the source of the spread of agriculture all over the temperate, as well as even arid, regions of North America. Along the coasts, fishing villages thrived, with travel and trade around the Pacific, Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico/Caribbean. The nomadic people of the bison in the Plains were also involved in trading - the bison were even imported into upstate New York by the nations of the Iroquois. Rather than hunting, Native peoples built deer parks and practiced game management that brought the animals to them, rather than having to hunt them down. 

The other important element has been called the "terminal narrative." In this version of terra nullius, infectious diseases brought by the Europeans wiped out most of the indigenous populations and would have depopulated the continent even if European settlers had never come, due to the trading ships along the Atlantic coast before settlement began. The principal reason the consensus view is wrong and ahistorical is that it erases the effects of settler colonialism with its antecedents in the Spanish "Reconquest" and the English conquest of Scotland, Ireland and Wales. By the time Spain, Portugal and Britain arrived to colonize the Americas, their methods of eradicating peoples or forcing them into dependency and servitude were ingrained, streamlined and effective. If disease could have done the job, it is not clear why the European colonizers in America found it necessary to carry out unrelenting wars against indigenous communities in order to gain every inch of land they took from them - nearly 300 years of colonial warfare, followed by continued wars waged by the independent republics of the hemisphere.

What was the role of religious manifest destiny to "conquer the heathens in the name of God," as you discuss in your section on Calvinism?

Most US historians of the pre-Republican period of Anglo colonizing projects attribute to the Puritans the fundamental ideology that still forms the basis for US nationalism and identity. The Puritans' arguments justifying their "errand in the wilderness" are very similar to those made by the Calvinist Boer settlers in Southern Africa, as well as the Calvinist Scots settlers in Northern Ireland, all of them embracing the concept of "Zion" and a new "Jerusalem," a godly mission to realize their god's will for creating "civilization" and destroying the devil-filled savages, false occupiers of land granted to the Calvinists' god's children. This rhetoric is nearly identical to that used by Zionism in seizing and settling the land of the Palestinians.  

Although most US citizens today would not make the Calvinist argument, the residue of that ideology produces the nearly totally embraced concept of US exceptionalism. As President Barak Obama told an Al Arabiya television interviewer in Dubai, in affirming that the United States could be an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: "We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power." Of course, he was lambasted by right-wing patriots and even the press for claiming the US was less than perfect.

Your book is replete with research confirming how the US waged a conscious, often proclaimed war of annihilation, including ongoing massacres of women and children, against Native Americans to obtain land for white "settlers." How many Native-Americans were killed in the barbaric expansion of the US westward?

I don't believe anyone knows for sure how many Native Americans were killed in the process of US colonization of the continent, from founding to 1916. In the 16th century, it is estimated that there were 15 million native people in what is now the continental United States (but 30 million in the Valley of Mexico, which is inseparable from North American precolonial relations; 100 million in the Western Hemisphere); today, there are 3 million Native Americans within US borders.

Settler colonialism, as an institution or system, requires violence or the threat of violence to attain its goals. People do not hand over their land, resources, children and futures without a fight, and that fight is met with violence. In employing the force necessary to accomplish its expansionist goals, a colonizing regime institutionalizes violence. The notion that settler-indigenous conflict is an inevitable product of cultural differences and misunderstandings, or that violence was committed equally by the colonized and the colonizer, blurs the nature of the historical processes.

The term "genocide" was coined following the Shoah, or Holocaust, and its prohibition was enshrined in the United Nations convention adopted in 1948: the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The convention is not retroactive but is applicable to US-Indigenous relations since 1988, when the US Senate ratified it. The terms of the genocide convention are also useful tools for historical analysis of the effects of colonialism in any era. In the convention, any one of five acts is considered genocide if "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group":

• killing members of the group;

• causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

• deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

• imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

• forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The colonization of North America was genocidal by plan, not simply the tragic fate of populations lacking immunity to disease. In the case of the Jewish Holocaust, no one denies that more Jews died of starvation, overwork and disease under Nazi incarceration than died in gas ovens, yet the acts of creating and maintaining the conditions that led to those deaths clearly constitute genocide.

Can you sum up how Andrew Jackson engaged in "career building through genocide"?

As the most notorious land speculator in western Tennessee, Jackson enriched himself by acquiring a portion of the Chickasaw Nation's land from which he carved his large slave-worked plantation. In 1801, Jackson took command of the Tennessee militia as a colonel and began his Indian-killing military career. With his army of white settlers promised booty and land, his militia waged a brutal war of annihilation against the Muskogee Creek Nation. Jackson, far from being reprimanded for his genocidal methods, won a commission from President James Madison as major general in the US Army. In that capacity, he commanded regular and mercenary troops in attacking resistant Muskogee Seminole villages in Spanish Florida. Wars against the Seminoles continued into and through and beyond his presidency. Jackson was elected to the presidency in 1828 as a hero to the planter class as well as the landless poor whites, to whom he promised land. He carried out their will as commander and chief of the armed forces in forcibly removing the five large agricultural nations in the Southeast to Indian Territory (later the state of Oklahoma) in forced marches.

After the Civil War, journalist James Mooney interviewed people who had been involved in the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation. Based on these firsthand accounts, he described the scene in 1838, when the US Army removed the last of the Cherokees by force:

Under [General Winfield] Scott's orders, the troops were disposed at various points throughout the Cherokee country, where stockade forts were erected for gathering in and holding the Indians preparatory to removal. From these, squads of troops were sent to search out with rifle and bayonet every small cabin hidden away in the coves or by sides of mountain streams, to seize and bring in as prisoners all the occupants, however or wherever they might be found. Families at dinner were startled by the sudden gleam of bayonets in the doorway and rose up to be driven with blows and oaths along the weary miles of trail that led to the stockade. Men were seized in their fields or going along the road, women were taken from their wheels and children from their play. In many cases, on turning for one last look as they crossed the ridge, they saw their homes in flames, fired by the lawless rabble that followed on the heels of the soldiers to loot and pillage. So keen were these outlaws on the scene that in some instances they were driving off the cattle and other stock of the Indians almost before the soldiers had fairly started their owners in the other direction. Systematic hunts were made by the same men for Indian graves, to rob them of the silver pendants and other valuables deposited with the dead. A Georgia volunteer, afterward a colonel in the Confederate service, said: 'I fought through the civil war and have seen men shot to pieces and slaughtered by thousands, but the Cherokee removal was the cruelest work I ever knew.'

You quote many famous figures in US history, including Walt Whitman and Theodore Roosevelt, expressing their abject racism toward the indigenous population. In essence, the Euro-centric wave of US occupation of indigenous lands appeared grounded in a wanton racial stereotype of Native-Americans as an inferior race, even implying that they were a species so inferior that causing their extinction was a benefit to the human species. From where did this despicable outlook derive?

By the time of Theodore Roosevelt, US society, including "scientists," was awash in Social Darwinism and eugenics. But, clearly, Walt Whitman was a true visionary in the sense that his vile language of Mexicans, "Injuns," and "niggers," fit into the Social Darwinism that developed in the Atlantic world as a justification for colonialism and genocide, not just in North America, but all the Americas and Caribbean, South Asia, the Middle East, the Pacific, and especially, Africa and African Americans.

As an enthusiastic supporter of the US war against Mexico in 1846, Whitman proposed the stationing of 60,000 US troops in Mexico in order to establish a regime change there "whose efficiency and permanency shall be guaranteed by the United States. This will bring out enterprise, open the way for manufacturers and commerce, into which the immense dead capital of the country [Mexico] will find its way." Whitman explicitly grounded this prescription in racism: "The nigger, like the Injun, will be eliminated; it is the law of the races, history.  . . . A superior grade of rats come and then all the minor rats are cleared out." The whole world would benefit from US expansion: "We pant to see our country and its rule far-reaching. What has miserable, inefficient Mexico . . . to do with the great mission of peopling the New World with a noble race?" In September 1846, when General Zachary Taylor's troops captured Monterrey, Whitman hailed it as "another clinching proof of the indomitable energy of the Anglo-Saxon character." Whitman's sentiments reflected the established US origin myth that had the frontier settlers replacing the native peoples as historical destiny.

That Whitman remains the idol of so many US American intellectuals, scholars, and writers, including predominately the Beat Era rebel poets, attests to the deep-seated racism in US culture, a kind of toxic that oozes everywhere. Thanks to the powerful African-American-led Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century, there is much greater awareness now of the crimes of the Atlantic slave trade and the institution of legalized enslavement of Africans in the United States. Although deep-seated racial discrimination and racial hatred persists, such acts are at least denounced and are formally illegal. However, the residue of Indian-hating and Indian-killing has been dealt with sporadically, and the myth of a "natural" disappearance of a "backward race" is not far from the surface of most US Americans' consciousness. The renewed and very public indigenous resistance movements in the 20th century have produced hundreds of researchers, writers and spokespersons that are beginning to have an effect, as witness a widespread questioning of celebrating Columbus, and, of course, the public debate about the Washington football team's moniker.

You draw a close relationship to the US using strategies of empire against the indigenous population that became part of a pattern in how the United States became a colonial power independent of Europe. Can you give an example of how this played out with possessions such as the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico?

Yes, but it's essential to remember that the United States had been involved in overseas imperialism from the beginning. Traversing the continent "from sea to shining sea" was hardly a natural westward procession of covered wagons as portrayed in Western movies. The US invasion of Mexico was carried out by US marines, by sea, through Veracruz, and the early colonization of California initially progressed from the Pacific coast, reached from the Atlantic coast by way of Tierra del Fuego.

Between the Mississippi River and the Rockies lay a vast region controlled by indigenous nations that were neither conquered nor colonized by any European power, and although the United States managed to annex northern Mexico, large numbers of settlers could not reach the Northern California goldfields or the fertile Willamette Valley region of the Pacific Northwest without army regiments accompanying them. Why then does the popular US historical narrative of a "natural" westward movement persist? The answer is that those who still hold to the narrative remain captives of the ideology of "manifest destiny," according to which the United States expanded across the continent to assume its preordained size and shape. This ideology normalizes the successive invasions and occupations of indigenous nations and Mexico as not being colonialist or imperialist, rather simply ordained progress. In this view, Mexico was just another Indian nation to be crushed.

Then there were the Barbary Wars. The opening lyric of the official hymn of the US Marine Corps, composed and adopted soon after the invasion of Mexico, "From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli," refers in part to 1801-1805, when the Marines were dispatched by President Thomas Jefferson to invade the Berber Nation of North Africa. This was the "First Barbary War," the ostensible goal of which was to persuade Tripoli to release US sailors it held hostage and to end "pirate" attacks on US merchant ships. The "Second Barbary War," in 1815-1816, ended when pasha Yusuf Karamanli, ruler of Tripoli, agreed not to exact fees from US ships entering their territorial waters.

But, yes, the post-Civil War US Army of the West that carried out the genocidal counterinsurgencies against the peoples of the Northern Plains, the Intermountain West, and the Southwest moved abroad in the 1890s to the Caribbean, Central America and the Pacific, carrying out tried and tested counterinsurgency campaigns against those peoples who resisted. The prime target by 1898 were the Spanish colonies of the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico, where nationalist forces were fighting for independence from Spain, and the US intervened to drive Spain out, then turned on the insurgents, holding the Philippines as a colony for nearly a half century, dominated Cuba until the Cuban Revolution, and seized and still holds Puerto Rico as a colony (also Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, American Samoa, the Marshall Islands, and other Pacific islands).

In your conclusion, you state bluntly that "North America is a crime scene." Can you expand on that?

I take that concept of North America as a "crime scene" from Chickasaw scholar Jodi Byrd. One can imagine yellow tape surrounding the whole of the United States. I think the metaphor of a crime scene brings to consciousness the unfinished business of dealing with the past. It also raises the question of the violence and criminalization that permeates the society, the prison-industrial complex as well as the proliferation of firearms and attachment to them, and the continued US wars against much of the rest of the world, rhetorically and militarily.

On pages 64-65, you provide background to the barbaric origin of the term "redskins." In light of your historical account, how do you view the refusal of the Washington DC NFL franchise to change its name?

Not only the Washington franchise, but also public schools and colleges across the country use "redskins" as their nickname. And not only does the Washington team balk at dropping the odious name, but also the fans continue to support its retention. I believe this willfulness is based on something more profound than ignorance of the historical significance of the term and is actually an affirmation of settler-colonialism, that a dead Indian is the symbol of the team that inhabits the US capitol.

The source of "redskins": As an incentive to recruit fighters, colonial authorities early on introduced a program of scalp hunting that became a permanent and long-lasting element of settler warfare against indigenous nations. During the Pequot War, Connecticut and Massachusetts colonial officials had offered bounties initially for the heads of murdered indigenous people and later for only their scalps, which were more portable in large numbers. But scalp hunting became routine only in the mid-1670s, following an incident on the northern frontier of the Massachusetts colony. The practice began in earnest in 1697, when settler Hannah Dustin, having murdered 10 of her Abenaki captors in a nighttime escape, presented their 10 scalps to the Massachusetts General Assembly and was rewarded with bounties for two men, two women and six children. Dustin soon became a folk hero among New England settlers.

Scalp hunting became a lucrative commercial practice. The settler authorities had hit upon a way to encourage settlers to take off on their own or with a few others to gather scalps, at random, for the reward money. "In the process," military historian John Grenier points out, "they established the large-scale privatization of war within American frontier communities."

Although the colonial government in time raised the bounty for adult male scalps, lowered that for adult females, and eliminated that for indigenous children under 10, the age and gender of victims were not easily distinguished by their scalps nor checked carefully. What is more, the scalp hunter could take the children captive and sell them into slavery. These practices erased any remaining distinction between indigenous combatants and noncombatants and introduced a market for indigenous slaves. Bounties for indigenous scalps were honored even in absence of war. Scalps and indigenous children became means of exchange, currency, and this development may even have created a black market. Scalp hunting was not only a profitable privatized enterprise but also a means to eradicate or subjugate the indigenous population of the Anglo-American Atlantic seaboard. The settlers gave a name to the mutilated and bloody corpses they left in the wake of scalp-hunts: redskins.

White House Petition: Change the Columbus Day Holiday to Indigenous Peoples' Day

Progressive Picks Sun, 19 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
A US Nurse Witnesses Ebola's Ravages in Sierra Leone, Where Horrific Conditions Claim Lives Daily

As the infections of two Dallas nurses fuel concerns about Ebola in the United States, the death toll in West Africa is approaching 5,000. The World Health Organization has warned there could be up to 10,000 new Ebola cases per week in the coming months, up from the current 1,000. We are joined by Michelle Dynes, a nurse and epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who has returned from Sierra Leone. Dynes spent the past several weeks responding to the Ebola epidemic in the country’s Kenema district. "It’s a strange situation to see that much pain and suffering and not be able to provide a hug, or comfort," Dynes says.


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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Centers for Disease Control Director Thomas Frieden is set to testify before Congress today at a hearing on what U.S. officials are doing to contain the spread of the Ebola virus. This comes as two nurses have been placed in isolation at Emory Hospital in Atlanta after they contracted Ebola in Texas while treating an infected patient who has since died [Correction: The second nurse, Amber Vinson, has been transferred to Emory; the first, Nina Pham, is still being treated in Dallas]. President Obama canceled two days of planned travel to stay at the White House and oversee the government’s response. After meeting with Cabinet officials Wednesday, he called for more aggressive action, while insisting that the risk of an outbreak in the United States is extremely low.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I want to use myself as an example, just so that people have a sense of the science here. I shook hands with, hugged and kissed—not the doctors, but a couple of the nurses at Emory because of the valiant work that they did in treating one of the patients. They followed the protocols, they knew what they were doing, and I felt perfectly safe doing so. And so, this is not a situation in which, like a flu, the risks of a rapid spread of the disease are imminent. If we do these protocols properly, if we follow the steps, if we get the information out, then the likelihood of widespread Ebola outbreaks in this country are very, very low.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Concerns about the spread of Ebola in the United States grew after it was reported the second Texas nurse who contracted the deadly disease had boarded a plane the day before she was diagnosed. CDC Director Tom Frieden said Wednesday she should never have stepped foot on the flight. But another official said no one at the agency stopped her, even after she called to report she had an elevated temperature. Today, two schools in Cleveland announced they’ll remain closed because a staff member may have traveled aboard the same plane.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile in West Africa, nearly 5,000 people have died as authorities struggle to contain the outbreak. In Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown, police fired tear gas on people who took to the streets to complain that the body of a woman who died from Ebola was left on the street for two days. This comes as a British nurse who has recovered from Ebola after he contracted the disease in Sierra Leone says doctors told him his antibodies now make him immune to the virus for months to come. As a result, Will Pooley said he will return to Sierra Leone to treat more patients.

WILLIAM POOLEY: Because there’s still a lot of work to do out there, and I’m in sort of the same or better position as I was before, when I chose to go out before. So, yeah, it’s the same decision. My exposure was an—as with everyone’s exposure, it was an accident. And yeah, the only—then, something that everyone will be thinking about, going out, all the volunteers that are here tonight will be thinking, it’s just vigilance, really, and just being really cautious.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we go to Atlanta, where we’re joined by Michelle Dynes. She’s a nurse and epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She spent the past several weeks responding to the Ebola epidemic in the Kenema district of Sierra Leone. She just returned to Atlanta.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what you experienced in Sierra Leone?

MICHELLE DYNES: Thank you for having me this morning. I spent about five-and-a-half weeks in Sierra Leone in Kenema district. I was a health promoter for the CDC, working to disseminate key messages about Ebola to support the social mobilization and psychosocial efforts within the district. By the time I arrived in Kenema hospital, over 20 nurses had contracted Ebola and had died at that point. So I immediately realized the importance of supporting the staff who were there, who have been working day in and day out from the very beginning, who needed their own psychosocial counseling in order to move forward in their own care. So I worked with the psychosocial team at Kenema hospital, and we created a space for the health personnel to receive counseling and also for the survivors of Ebola to receive counseling. We also worked in the communities in Kenema district in order to support families who had been quarantined. We actually came upon a woman one day who had lost 10 members of her family, and two of them had died that very morning. You know, it’s a strange situation to see that much pain and suffering and to not be able to provide a hug or comfort in that way. But it’s important in a situation like that that you maintain distance and you just provide counseling and support in other ways.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Michelle Dynes—


NERMEEN SHAIKH: Sorry, could you explain to some of our viewers here what some of the conditions are under which you were operating in Sierra Leone and what the local medical staff have access to and what they don’t have access to as they try to fight this deadly virus?

MICHELLE DYNES: In the Ebola treatment centers, they have access to personal protective equipment, similar to that which is used in the United States. However, some of the issues that they had was getting supplies into the country due to a reduced number of flights into the country. So getting supplies in was definitely a challenge. They did use personal protective equipment, but there are not enough staff to take care of the Ebola patients. And so, staff oftentimes worked longer hours than they should have, and kept coming day after day, putting their own lives at risk, essentially.

AMY GOODMAN: Michelle Dynes, you told a story on Dave Isay’s wonderful StoryCorps recently about what happened to a woman who brought her baby into a hospital. Can you describe that story?

MICHELLE DYNES: Shortly before I arrived in Kenema, a woman had come into the treatment center sick with Ebola. And she had brought her baby with her. The mother, unfortunately, tested positive for Ebola, but the baby tested negative. In a situation like that, it’s very, very difficult to know how to move forward with the care of the baby, because we know, as healthcare providers, as public health professionals, that the risk of that baby becoming Ebola-positive is quite high. We know that the Ebola virus is found in breast milk, and that baby was breast-fed. And so, in that situation, the hospital staff chose to keep the baby in their presence so that they could monitor the baby for symptoms of Ebola, especially since the baby had tested negative initially. Unfortunately, over time, the baby did develop Ebola, and those hospital workers had all placed themselves at risk by caring for that baby. It’s the humanitarian side of all of us that reaches out and says, you know, we have to pick up this baby and take care of it, even though you know you’re at risk.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened to the nurses and doctors that cared for this baby, cuddled this baby?

MICHELLE DYNES: There were several nurses who contracted Ebola as a result of contact with that baby. And unfortunately, many of them died since that time.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And the baby?

MICHELLE DYNES: Unfortunately, the baby also passed away. You know, Ebola is a very, very difficult disease to treat. We can provide supportive measures, but in many cases the body is unable to mount an effective immune response, and that baby succumbed.

AMY GOODMAN: I am sure many people who are watching this broadcast, Michelle, are—consider you a saint. You went to Sierra Leone when all of these nurses died, not to mention all the—many of the people they treated. How did you protect yourself? You know, right now, there’s two major issues in the world: ISIS—the whole discussion, boots on the ground, boots on the ground; but what about medical boots on the ground when it comes to Ebola, what it would mean if tens of thousands of people like you in this country and around the world provided help and care in places like Sierra Leone and Liberia? But first, how do you protect yourself? And what would that look like if people actually responded in this way?

MICHELLE DYNES: First, I want to make it clear that my role in Sierra Leone was not as a nurse. I was not providing direct care to patients. I was there in a health promotion role, trying to make sure that communities were educated, that healthcare workers were properly trained. So, being at Kenema hospital and in that environment, in general, we did take measures every single day to protect ourselves. There were buckets of chlorine water to wash your hands as you entered pretty much every building in the hospital. We used chlorine wipes to wipe down surfaces, to protect ourselves. There were even roadblocks to prevent people coming in and outside of Kenema city and Kenema district, to make sure that people did not come in or leave with a fever. So, there are many, many ways that we were protecting ourselves. And for those who have considered going to help, those measures will continue. And you are there to help others, but you can’t help others if you yourself become ill.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, this is a clip from a video of a Sierra Leone man that went viral last week about a man whose life was ripped apart by Ebola. Douda Fullah lost his father, his two-year-old brother and his stepmother, who was six months pregnant and miscarried when sick in hospital. In a tearful plea, he called on the global community to do more to stop the spread of the virus.

DOUDA FULLAH: This is a really difficult situation. I am begging that you’ll come to our aid. We are suffering. They don’t come to our aid, we don’t have any hope. There is no hope for us. They really have to explain it.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was a man, Douda Fullah, who lost so many members of his family to Ebola. Could you talk about what you think the international community could be doing or should be doing in response to this crisis?

MICHELLE DYNES: The international community is doing a lot. CDC is doing everything it can. We just need to continue these efforts and to step up even more, if that’s possible. We’re sending out teams of epidemiologists, teams of lab specialists, health promotion and health communication specialists, and infection control specialists. And now, moving forward, if new cases occur in the United States, we’re sending out rapid response teams to be there within hours on the ground to make sure that the Ebola is contained, of course, in this country, but as much as possible in West Africa.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, something that’s astounding is Cuba just sent something like 160 health professionals. This is a country of something like 11 million people. Washington Post headline on it was "Cuba Punches Above Its Weight," that they sent that many health professionals to deal with this crisis. Didn’t the CDC put out a call, and something like they’re training a group of eight people? If you look at what’s happened in Texas, the number of people required just to deal with, first, Mr. Duncan, who died, and then the two nurses who went to his aid and they are now sick, the number of people that are dealing with the ramifications of all of this—and this is just three people—how many people are needed to go into these West African countries to help? And I wanted to ask also what your thought is about those in Congress who are calling for, basically, a cordon around these countries, stopping planes from going in and out of these countries, what this would mean. Would, in fact, this actually increase the threat of an Ebola—I mean, there already is an epidemic, but explosion?

MICHELLE DYNES: I think that we need hundreds, if not thousands, of additional support in West Africa to help contain Ebola. Now, this idea of preventing planes from coming in or leaving those countries would lead to even greater difficulties in getting necessary supplies to the places like Kenema hospital, where they’re treating Ebola patients. While I can’t speak for the CDC, I think making broad decisions like that would only hurt the situation even further and reduce the support that these countries are receiving from the international community.

AMY GOODMAN: Michelle Dynes, we want to thank you very much for being with us, nurse and epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spent the past several weeks responding to the Ebola epidemic in Kenema district of Sierra Leone, recently returned to Atlanta. Final question: If people do want to get involved, if people do want to help, especially health professionals, what way do they have to link in?

MICHELLE DYNES: There are many international nongovernmental organizations that people can get involved. For example, there are WHO volunteers. The Red Cross Societies from around the world are sending in volunteers, and many other organizations, such as MSF, Doctors Without Borders. So I would just recommend that people find the organization that really speaks to them and the type of work and support that they’re providing, and look into those opportunities.

AMY GOODMAN: Michelle Dynes, thanks so much.

MICHELLE DYNES: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: As we bring in Leigh Phillips now into this conversation—Michelle speaking to us from Atlanta.

News Fri, 17 Oct 2014 11:31:08 -0400
An Unprofitable Disease: In the Political Economy of Ebola, Who Lives and Who Dies?

We look at the political and economic circumstances of the spread of Ebola with science writer Leigh Phillips, who calls for a socialization of pharmaceutical research and production. Phillips says that using revenues from profitable drugs to subsidize research for unprofitable drugs would reduce the costs of vaccines and their development. He also argues the decimation of the healthcare infrastructure is linked to the same free market policies and austerity measures pushed by Western countries and the International Monetary Fund that impoverished the West African countries where the Ebola outbreak has occurred. "We need to begin to ask whether capitalism itself is not pathogenic," says Phillips, whose recent article for Jacobin magazine is "The Political Economy of Ebola."


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

AMY GOODMAN: We bring in Leigh Phillips now into this conversation—Michelle speaking to us from Atlanta. He’s a science writer and European Union affairs journalist. His writing has appeared in Nature, The Guardian, Scientific American. His recent piece for Jacobin is headlined "The Political Economy of Ebola." What do you mean by this, "the political economy of Ebola," Leigh Phillips?

LEIGH PHILLIPS: Well, I think we need to look at the political and economic circumstances, particularly around this particular disease both in the United States and Western countries in terms of the funding for research, where that’s coming from, and in terms of austerity in Europe, but also austerity in West Africa, as well. There’s sort of two prongs to this. The first, of course, was that, you know, over the last few months we’ve seen over and over again people from the CDC, senior figures from the WHO, even John Ashton, the head of the U.K. Faculty of Health, who have said, basically, that the knowledge is there, the know-how is there—we have five candidate vaccines, there’s a number of other different treatments that, you know, are well in hand—but there just hasn’t been any buy-in from the major pharmaceutical companies. John Ashton, as I was saying, from the U.K. Faculty of Health, you know, sort of the doctor-in-chief, if you will, in the U.K., described this as "the moral bankruptcy of capitalism." It sounds, you know, quite vituperative there, quite explosive language, but it really expresses the anger that a lot of the researchers feel about how, look, we know what to do here, but this is just an unprofitable disease.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, could you elaborate, Leigh Phillips, on the point that you make in your article about why it is that pharmaceutical companies are more interested in funding medications that people have to take over a long term, rather than investing in one-off medicines like vaccines?

LEIGH PHILLIPS: It’s fairly straightforward, and it’s not—the argument is not that the major pharmaceutical companies are somehow evil or malevolent. This is just the way that the free market works. If Ebola, like many, many other unprofitable diseases, is something that—basically, if we’re going to resolve the situation, we’re going to basically cure it. We’re not going to handle it for the long term. We want something that—some drug or some vaccine or some treatment that people are going to take once, twice, maybe for a short period of time, but then that’s it. We don’t want to be dealing with this for the rest of—somebody doesn’t want to be dealing with this, obviously, for the rest of their lives.

And compare that to the situation with, say, insulin for diabetes or other drugs that people might need to have to take every day for the rest of their lives. Any sort of major pharmaceutical company, if you—they’re trying to decide where they’re going to invest their, you know, roughly, maybe around a billion dollars’ investments into any new drug. Are they going to invest that money in a product that is going to have a very low return on investment or not much of a return on investment at all, or something that is much more likely to have quite a high return on investment? It’s a bit of a no-brainer where they’re going to allocate the bulk of their money.

And so, what we see here is, this is—Ebola, in many cases, is just an example of a wider problem that we have with pharmaceutical research. Antibiotic resistance right now is a very, very frightening situation, where we are facing a sort of 30-year—what’s called in research journals a "discovery void," that is, that pharmaceutical companies have for about three decades now refused to engage in any—the development of any new classes of antibiotic. And we’re really coming towards the edge—the end of the efficacy of the antibiotics that we have in the cabinet at the moment. And we have about five to 20 years left before we see a sort of fairly rampant increase in deaths from bacterial infections.

AMY GOODMAN: Leigh Phillips, I just wanted—

LEIGH PHILLIPS: The bulk of modern medicine—

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to just—Leigh?


AMY GOODMAN: I just wanted to ask—you’re speaking to us from Vancouver, Canada.

LEIGH PHILLIPS: That’s right, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Vancouver, Canada, where you have a public healthcare system.

LEIGH PHILLIPS: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: The piece you wrote is called "Socialize Big Pharma." So can you talk about—I mean, you’re saying that for private drug companies, for these mega-multinational corporations, to invest in a vaccine, for example, for Ebola, doesn’t—is not profitable for them. So what then is the solution? This, of course, is really magnifying this issue on a global stage, how public health systems in the United States and all over have so deteriorated. Can you talk about your point, socializing Big Pharma?

LEIGH PHILLIPS: Absolutely. I think if we look at most Western countries in the postwar period—’40s, '50s and ’60s—most Western countries nationalized their healthcare systems to a greater or lesser degree. And the United States is one of the only sort of countries that hasn't done this yet, but it’s still pretty much—we’re moving—the United States is, even there—is moving in that direction. But this is basically half of the task. The other half of the task is to bring in the pharmaceutical sector into the public sector, for exactly the same reasons, that it is simply too dangerous an issue for this to be left to the vagaries of the profit motive within the market. What we can do is—

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what would that look like?

LEIGH PHILLIPS: —recognizing that this is a market failure. And this is not just some, you know, far-left analysis; this is recognized right across the board, that there is a major market failure within the pharmaceutical sector. The companies themselves recognize this. The solution is one of two things: either a fairly major public intervention to fill that gap or, as I argue, just much more simply is, if we can use the profits from profitable—the revenues from profitable drugs to subsidize the research and development and commercialization of unprofitable diseases, we’re going to, as a society, spend far less to solve this problem anyway. So, that’s the simple calculus there.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Leigh Phillips, another point that you make in your article is that it’s not coincidental that Ebola is affecting some of the poorest countries in the world. So could you talk about some of the collapse of the infrastructure, public infrastructure, in Liberia and in Sierra Leone that has allowed this virus to spread as rapidly as it has? And what contributed to that collapse of public facilities?

LEIGH PHILLIPS: Absolutely. I think that—I mean, one of the really, really frustrating things with this particular issue is how it really demonstrates the—as John Ashton wrote in the U.K., the moral bankruptcy of capitalism, not just on the one end in terms of research, but in West Africa, as well, and in Spain. We see that the same processes, the same free-market-driving ideology that has reduced these countries to real dire poverty. These three countries are some of the most poor countries in the world. And when I say "most poor countries in the world," I mean really right at the bottom of the global league tables. And their public healthcare infrastructure has been utterly decimated, not merely by civil war but by a series of processes that are imposed by Western countries, international financial organizations like the International Monetary Fund. The International Monetary Fund itself recognizes this, because just last week Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, said to West Africa, "Look, now is not the time to be worrying about your spending. Go ahead, increase your spending," and she finished her comments by saying, "We don’t normally say this." Well, this is exactly true. The sort of structural adjustment that has been imposed in these countries, and many other countries, as well, is what is responsible for the decimation of the healthcare infrastructure in these countries.

And we’re seeing it in—in fact, this exact same process is in Spain. The European Union has imposed, you know, since the economic crisis, since the eurozone crisis, a series of absolutely brutal austerity programs in the southern flank—in Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal—and in Ireland, as well. Part of the response—the result of this has been, again, a real deterioration of public health infrastructure. Spain has seen basically a quarter of its spending on healthcare cut for the last few years annually. So you see nurses and other medics marching in the streets in Spain—they call them these white ties, because people are wearing their white lab coats—protesting what’s happening with austerity. The hospital where we’ve seen the cases in Spain, their isolation ward was shut down directly as a result of the imposition of austerity by Brussels and the decisions in Madrid.

It is on both ends; both the market failure in terms of pharmaceutical research and the decimation of public healthcare infrastructure, both in West Africa and in Europe, it’s two sides of the same coin. They both put capitalism in the dark here. There’s a friend of mine who’s a phylogeographer, Rob Wallace. He has this wonderful phrase about this, about how pathogens follow inequality and expropriations like water falls—follows cracks in ice. I think that’s absolutely correct. I think we need to begin to ask whether capitalism itself is not pathogenic, whether neoliberalism is not pathogenic.

AMY GOODMAN: Leigh Phillips, we’re going to have to leave it there. We thank you so much. Science writer, European Union affairs journalist, joining us from Vancouver, Canada. We’ll link to your piece in Jacobin headlined "The Political Economy of Ebola" at

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, women’s healthcare here at home. Stay with us.

News Fri, 17 Oct 2014 11:27:20 -0400
In Historic Police Brutality Case, Family of Homeless Denver Pastor Killed in Custody Awarded $4.6 Million

As Denver faces a string of police brutality cases, a federal jury has awarded a historic $4.6 million in damages to the family of a homeless preacher killed while he was in the booking area of the Denver jail. Marvin Booker died after he was grabbed and then piled on by a team of officers who handcuffed him, put him in a chokehold and tasered him. The coroner ruled his death a homicide, but prosecutors declined to charge the deputies involved, and Denver Sheriff Department officials never disciplined them, saying Booker could have harmed someone and that force was needed to restrain him. The case highlights a history of alleged misconduct by the police department, and has added momentum to calls for reform both locally and nationwide in the aftermath of calls for justice in the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by an officer in Ferguson. We are joined by two guests: Rev. Reginald Holmes, pastor of the New Covenant Christian Church Alpha and Omega Ministries, who has been a leading voice calling for law enforcement accountability, and Susan Greene, editor of The Colorado Independent and longtime reporter formerly with The Denver Post.


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

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Denver, Colorado, broadcasting from the studios of Open Media Foundation/Denver Open Media. Denver has been plagued by a string of police brutality cases, and this week a federal jury awarded an historic $4.6 million to the family of a homeless preacher who died when sheriff’s deputies used excessive force against him. Marvin Booker was a homeless street preacher from a prominent family of Southern preachers. In 2010, he was killed by deputies in the booking room of the Denver jail.

Surveillance video of Booker’s death shows what happened. A warning to our TV viewers, as we show the video now, it contains disturbing content. It shows Marvin Booker being grabbed by an officer, then piled on by a team of officers, who then restrain him in handcuffs and put him in a chokehold. After he appears motionless, he’s then tasered. Eventually, deputies carry him out of sight of the camera. Booker was pronounced dead hours later in what the coroner ruled a homicide. Prosecutors declined to charge the deputies involved, and Sheriff’s Department officials never disciplined them, saying they believed Booker could harm someone and that force was needed to restrain him.

On Tuesday, Booker’s family and supporters gathered on the steps of Denver’s city jail after a jury awarded the Booker family $4.65 million in compensation and damages. This is Reverend Timothy Tyler, pastor at Shorter Community AME Church in Denver.

REV. TIMOTHY TYLER: Today, in the court of law, a jury stood up. A body of authority stood up for the first time in four years and declared that five sheriff deputies were guilty of excessive force, leading to the death of Marvin Lewis Booker. All Marvin wanted to do was get his shoes.

AMY GOODMAN: Marvin Booker’s case highlights a history of misconduct by the Denver Sheriff’s Department and added momentum to calls for reform. This is the attorney for Marvin Booker’s family, Darold Killmer, speaking after Tuesday’s verdict.

DAROLD KILLMER: This was not unforeseeable. This was inevitable. This is the way we’ve allowed our jails to be run, and too many people have been injured and maimed and killed. This case has been watched nationally, as well it should be. This happens in Colorado, in Missouri, in New York. It happens in California. It happens in Texas. It happens in Florida. This is a signal that people are not going to put up with it anymore. This is the people that are telling its government, "You have to change." This issue has reached a tipping point.

AMY GOODMAN: The verdict in Booker’s case comes amidst calls for a federal investigation of the Sheriff Department of several cases of abuse. In July, Sheriff Gary Wilson resigned after Denver agreed to pay $3.3 million to settle another federal jail abuse lawsuit by a former prisoner over a beating. It was the largest payout in Denver history to settle a civil rights case—until the Booker case, which the city refused to settle. This is Denver Mayor Michael Hancock responding to the verdict in an interview with News 9.

MAYOR MICHAEL HANCOCK: It’s a loss of life. It’s a tragedy. This family lost a loved one. The whole city has had to deal with this. And, you know, certainly, we’re disappointed in the verdict and the amount of the verdict, but it doesn’t replace the life of Marvin Booker, and we understand that.

AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now! invited the mayor to join us on the program, but his office didn’t respond to our request.

For more, though, we are joined here in Denver by two guests. Reverend Reginald Holmes is pastor of the New Covenant Christian Church/Alpha and Omega Ministries. He has been a leading voice calling for law enforcement accountability in this case and others in Denver. He’s past president of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance. And we’re joined again by Susan Greene, editor of The Colorado Independent, longtime reporter and columnist, formerly with The Denver Post. She’s followed the case of Marvin Booker extensively, along with numerous other cases of excessive force at the Denver jail.

Pastor Holmes, Susan Greene, welcome to Democracy Now! Pastor Holmes, let’s begin with you. Your response to the $4.6 million settlement that will go to Marvin Booker’s family?

REV. REGINALD HOLMES: Well, having spoken to the family, I think one of the things that the family wanted to be very clear about is that they’re grateful that this ordeal has come to some conclusion, but they did not want and do not want those of us who live here in Denver to believe that somehow the money is a panacea for their pain. And they are very adamant about what they want from this city, and that is, they want those officers removed from their positions. They’ve been very, very clear on that. I think the family—I spoke with Calvin, Marvin’s brother, on yesterday, and one of the things that Calvin said was, is that he wants the community to know that their family forgives the officers, but in forgiving the officers, in no way do they want the officers not to deal with the consequences of their actions.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how many officers were involved?

REV. REGINALD HOLMES: I believe there was a total of five officers that were involved in this case. Amy, the listeners and the viewers—well, the viewers, rather, have seen the video. This was no high-tech lynching. This was a vigilante lynching. This was a lynching in which it was sanctioned and supported by this city government. And it was sanctioned and supported all the way up until the trial. What was done to this family was unconscionable.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for radio listeners and people all over the world who have perhaps maybe seen this video for the first time, can you explain exactly what happened? Explain the date, and although I laid it out a bit in the lede, talk about what happened to Marvin Booker.

REV. REGINALD HOLMES: In July of 2010, Marvin was arrested. Marvin was in the booking area, getting ready to be processed. He had stayed in the booking area for some hours, and I don’t know exactly how many, but it was a while that he had remained in the booking area. When they finally got around to booking Marvin in, Marvin had taken off his shoes. He had become comfortable. They finally got to him. He was called up to the booking desk, which was being manned at the time by a female.

AMY GOODMAN: And you see this on the video.

REV. REGINALD HOLMES: You see this on the video. He goes up to the booking desk. He has a conversation, a conversation with the booking officer. Finally, she says to Marvin, "It’s time for you to go into the cell." Marvin says, "Before I go, I need to go get my shoes." He goes to get his shoes, and as he’s going to get his shoes, she says to him, "No, you can’t go." She physically touches Marvin on the arm, and Marvin pulls away. And when he pulls away, that created the altercation. Officers came from everywhere. From the video, you can see that they pounced on top of him. Marvin was 135 pounds, 135 pounds, with existing medical conditions, a heart condition. He had a 250-pound officer, along with others, on top of him. The 250-pound officer put Marvin in a carotid chokehold, a chokehold that was held on him for minutes.

AMY GOODMAN: When you say "carotid," you mean the carotid artery.

REV. REGINALD HOLMES: The carotid artery—choked Marvin out. The officers testified in court they felt threatened. Four of them on a 135-pound man, they felt threatened. And they were threatened so much that even with the carotid chokehold being applied, someone ordered Marvin to be tased. They actually took the time to go get a taser, to come back and to tase him. His body is limp. He has no movement. He’s fought. He’s struggled. He’s being choked, so it’s not that he’s resisting. He’s doing—

AMY GOODMAN: He’s handcuffed.

REV. REGINALD HOLMES: Yes, and he’s doing what anyone would do who’s gasping for air: He’s trying to get his last breaths. And in trying to get his last breath, the officers determined that he was still struggling. So they get a taser, and they tase him. They take him back to the cell and do not even give him the decency of checking up on him. And when it comes to the medical examiners getting there, of course, he’s dead.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did they do then?

REV. REGINALD HOLMES: Well, from the testimony in court, many of the officers—actually, four of them—went outside, smoked cigarettes. And we are assuming, although they did not admit it, but that was a time for them to corroborate their stories. The medical people came in, took Marvin in, but he was DOA, dead on arrival.

AMY GOODMAN: Susan Greene of The Colorado Independent, you wrote, "Tuesday’s verdict put an exclamation point on what civil rights activists and leaders of metro Denver’s African American community long have said: that Denver killed the wrong man." Explain what you mean.

SUSAN GREENE: I mean that on several levels. I mean that, in part, because of what Pastor Holmes just said: He was a 135-pound man, a frail, homeless man, who had a bad heart. So he was not much bigger than me. He posed no threat. His struggle was, as everybody can see on the video, very minimal. And at the time that he was tased, he was motionless, OK? So, those facts, in and of itself, make him the wrong man.

Another thing is, there was an assumption by Marvin Booker and a portrayal of him after his death that he was just another homeless guy who was causing trouble in the jail. And what they didn’t calculate is that that "just homeless guy" had a rich history in the South, in his hometown in Memphis, where he became really well known, not just in Memphis, but throughout the South and really the nation, for having memorized Martin Luther King’s speeches. His family was close to Martin Luther King. He was 14 when Martin Luther King was shot in his community. Verbatim, he mentioned these speeches, and over time he was able to deliver them with the cadence and tone of King. And he was the guy who would go into churches and go into civil rights events and give the speeches that King wouldn’t give, right? He has two brothers who have congregations, who chose to be pastors. They followed in the footsteps of their father. He chose a different path. He wanted to preach on the street like, he said, Jesus did. He wasn’t a saint. He had some drug problems. The fact that he was homeless was disturbing to his family. They tried in many ways to help him. And he was really adamant that’s the life he wanted to live.

So, when he died, again, I think—and I was here when he died, and I know what the city’s response to it was, and I heard the city’s response at trial, which is, this guy had no value, he was a nothing, right? And they sat three weeks in trial and just denigrated him and smeared his relationships with his family.

AMY GOODMAN: When did the trial take place?

SUSAN GREENE: It took place for three weeks, and it ended on Friday, and the verdict was Tuesday.

AMY GOODMAN: So it was years later.

SUSAN GREENE: Four years.


SUSAN GREENE: Four years later. But when I say they picked the wrong man, they didn’t know that this man had a community of people in this city, nationally, in the faith community, who were behind him.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to read from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on the officers’ treatment of Marvin Booker: quote, "The Defendants had a front-row seat to Mr. Booker’s rapid deterioration ... [and] actively participated in producing Mr. Booker’s serious condition through their use of force against him." The court added, quote, "Given their training, the Defendants were in a position to know of a substantial risk to Mr. Booker’s health and safety. Because Mr. Booker was handcuffed and on his stomach, we conclude the force was not proportional to the need presented." Reverend Holmes, take it from there.

REV. REGINALD HOLMES: Yeah, we were quite pleased, because those of us in the community who said all along that the officers used excessive force and that they were actually liable for Marvin’s death, we were pleased when the 10th Circuit Court of Appeal came and said that the officers were indeed liable for using excessive force. This is a situation that’s happening, Amy, here in Denver, but as you well know, it’s happening all over this country. Police officers are the only people that we give a free pass when they exercise a lapse in judgment. And I don’t think we can continue to do that. We must hold them accountable. Yes, it’s a dangerous job, but you know it’s a dangerous job when you take the job. We don’t give the mechanic a free pass for a lapse in judgment. We don’t give the surgeon a free pass when there’s a lapse in judgment. But we continue—throughout this country, district attorneys continue to give police officers these free passes for their lapse in judgment.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break, but when we come back, I want to ask you, why four years?


AMY GOODMAN: Why did it take four years for the settlement to happen? And also, about the other cases here in the greater Denver area. We’re talking with Reverend Reginald Holmes, pastor of the New Covenant Christian Church/Alpha and Omega Ministries, and we’re talking with the editor of The Colorado Independent. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. We’ll be back in a minute here in Denver.

News Fri, 17 Oct 2014 11:21:55 -0400
Henry Giroux on the Rise of Neoliberalism

Rise of Neoliberalism(Image: Hand selects, world map via Shutterstock)Henry Giroux: I think since the 1970s it's been the predominant ideology, certainly in Western Europe and North America. As is well known, it raised havoc in Latin America, especially in Argentina and Chile and other states. It first gained momentum in Chile as a result of the Chicago Boys. Milton Friedman and that group went down there and basically used the Pinochet regime as a type of petri dish to produce a whole series of policies. But I think if we look at this very specifically, we're talking about a lot of things.

We're talking about an ideology marked by the selling off of public goods to private interests; the attack on social provisions; the rise of the corporate state organized around privatization, free trade, and deregulation; the celebration of self interests over social needs; the celebration of profit-making as the essence of democracy coupled with the utterly reductionist notion that consumption is the only applicable form of
citizenship. But even more than that, it upholds the notion that the market serves as a model for structuring all social relations: not just the economy, but the governing of all of social life.

I think that as a mode of governance, it is really quite dreadful because it tends to produce identities, subjects and ways of life driven by a kind of "survival of the fittest" ethic, grounded in the notion of the free, possessive individual and committed to the right of individual and ruling groups to accrue wealth removed from matters of ethics and social cost.

Rise of Neoliberalism(Image: Hand selects, world map via Shutterstock)Henry Giroux discusses the increasingly negative impact of neoliberalism across the world, politically, socially, economically and in terms of education, and he offers some suggestions for what we must do now.

An interview with Henry Giroux:

Michael Nevradakis for Dialogos: Let's begin with a discussion about some topics you've spoken and written extensively about ... neoliberalism and what you have described as "casino capitalism." How have these ideas taken hold politically and intellectually across the world in recent years?

Henry Giroux: I think since the 1970s it's been the predominant ideology, certainly in Western Europe and North America. As is well known, it raised havoc in Latin America, especially in Argentina and Chile and other states. It first gained momentum in Chile as a result of the Chicago Boys. Milton Friedman and that group went down there and basically used the Pinochet regime as a type of petri dish to produce a whole series of policies. But I think if we look at this very specifically, we're talking about a lot of things.

We're talking about an ideology marked by the selling off of public goods to private interests; the attack on social provisions; the rise of the corporate state organized around privatization, free trade, and deregulation; the celebration of self interests over social needs; the celebration of profit-making as the essence of democracy coupled with the utterly reductionist notion that consumption is the only applicable form of citizenship. But even more than that, it upholds the notion that the market serves as a model for structuring all social relations: not just the economy, but the governing of all of social life.

"This is a particular political and economic and social project that not only consolidates class power in the hands of the one percent, but operates off the assumption that economics can divorce itself from social costs, that it doesn't have to deal with matters of ethical and social responsibility."

I think that as a mode of governance, it is really quite dreadful because it tends to produce identities, subjects and ways of life driven by a kind of "survival of the fittest" ethic, grounded in the notion of the free, possessive individual and committed to the right of individual and ruling groups to accrue wealth removed from matters of ethics and social cost.

That's a key issue. I mean, this is a particular political and economic and social project that not only consolidates class power in the hands of the one percent, but operates off the assumption that economics can divorce itself from social costs, that it doesn't have to deal with matters of ethical and social responsibility, that these things get in the way. And I think the consequences of these policies across the globe have caused massive suffering, misery, and the spread of a massive inequalities in wealth, power, and income. Moreover, increasingly, we are witnessing a number of people who are committing suicide because they have lost their pensions, jobs and dignity. We see the attack on the welfare state; we see the privatization of public services, the dismantling of the connection between private issues and public problems, the selling off of state functions, deregulations, an unchecked emphasis on self-interest, the refusal to tax the rich, and really the redistribution of wealth from the middle and working classes to the ruling class, the elite class, what the Occupy movement called the one percent. It really has created a very bleak emotional and economic landscape for the 99 percent of the population throughout the world.

And having mentioned this impact on the social state and the 99%, would you go as far as to say that these ideologies have been the direct cause of the economic crisis the world is presently experiencing?

Oh, absolutely. I think when you look at the crisis in 2007, what are you looking at? You're looking at the merging of unchecked financial power and a pathological notion of greed that implemented banking policies and deregulated the financial world and allowed the financial elite, the one percent, to pursue a series of policies, particularly the selling of junk bonds and the illegality of what we call subprime mortgages to people who couldn't pay for them. This created a bubble and it exploded. This is directly related to the assumption that the market should drive all aspects of political, economic, and social life and that the ruling elite can exercise their ruthless power and financial tools in ways that defy accountability. And what we saw is that it failed, and it not only failed, but it caused an enormous amount of cruelty and hardship across the world. More importantly, it emerged from the crisis not only entirely unapologetic about what it did, but reinvented itself, particularly in the United States under the Rubin boys along with Larry Summers and others, by attempting to prevent any policies from being implemented that would have overturned this massively failed policy of deregulation.

It gets worse. In the aftermath of this sordid crisis produced by the banks and financial elite, we have also learned that the feudal politics of the rich was legitimated by the false notion that they were too big to fail, an irrational conceit that gave way to the notion that they were too big to jail, which is a more realistic measure of the criminogenic/zombie culture that nourishes casino capitalism.

Henry, to build on your last point, how has this growth in neoliberal thought and doctrine contributed, in your view, to a democratic deficit nowadays in Europe and the United States?

Democracy has really become two things for a whole range of anti-democratic politicians, anti-intellectuals, and the people who support these policies. Democracy basically is a word they use, but they empty it, and invert its meaning to justify the most anti-democratic practices and policies, meaning that it's a term that has nothing to do with questions of justice, nothing to do with questions of rights, nothing to do with questions of legality. As a matter of fact, it becomes a term of deception and diversion - a kind of counterfeit term that's used to justify a whole range of policies that actually are anti-democratic. It's oxymoronic. The other side of this is that the financial elite and oligarchs despise democracy since they know that neoliberalism is the antithesis of real democracy because it feeds on inequality; it feeds on privilege, it feeds on massive divisiveness, and it revels in producing a theater of cruelty. All you have to do is look at the way it enshrines a kind of rabid individualism. It believes that privatization is the essence of all relationships. It works very hard to eliminate any investment in public values, in public trust. It believes that democracy is something that doesn't work, and we hear and see this increasingly from the bankers, anti-public intellectuals and other cheerleaders for neoliberal policies.

"Neoliberalism is the antithesis of real democracy because it feeds on inequality; it feeds on privilege, it feeds on massive divisiveness, and it feeds on a theater of cruelty."

What shocks me about neoliberalism in all of its forms is how utterly unapologetic it is about the misery it produces. And it's unapologetic not just in that it says "we don't care," because we have a punishing state that will actually take care of young black kids and dissenting college students and dissenting professors who basically don't believe in this stuff. It also blames the very victims that suffer under these policies.

The vocabulary of neoliberalism posits a false notion of freedom, which it wraps in the mantle of individualism and choice, and in doing so reduces all problems to private issues, suggesting that whatever problems bear down on people, the only way to understand them is through the restrictive lens of individual responsibility, character and self-resilience. In this instance, the discourse of character and personal responsibility becomes a smoke screen to prevent people from connecting private troubles with larger social and systemic considerations.

"What shocks me about neoliberalism in all of its forms is how utterly unapologetic it is about the misery it produces."

This tactic is really pathological and points to an utter disdain for communal relationships, an utter disdain for unions, for public servants and the common good. In this instance, neoliberalism views anything to do with supporting the public good as something to be attacked, whether we are talking about public transit or public schools, because these things, in their eyes, should be privatized. The only value public goods may have are as assets from which people can make money by selling them to private interests. They're not seen as institutions that somehow contribute to a formative culture that's essential for any viable democracy.

And having mentioned public education just now, a big issue in Greece, as well as in many other countries today, is the increasing privatization of education, and certainly this is something that has been promoted heavily during the crisis in many of these countries. How have neoliberalism and casino capitalism impacted the quality of education and also access to education?

That's a terrific question. Regarding the quality, it's dumbed-down education to the point where it literally behaves in a way that's hard to fathom or understand. Education has become a site of policies that devalue learning, collapse education into training, or they are viewed as potential sites for neoliberal modes of governance and in some cases to be privatized. The radical and critical imagination is under assault in most neoliberal societies because it poses a threat as does the idea that the mission of education should have something to do with creating critically thoughtful, engaged young people who have a sense of their own agency and integrity and possibility to really believe they can make a difference in the world. Neoliberals believe that the curriculum should be organized around testing, creating passive students, and enforcing a pedagogy of repression. Most importantly, the attack on communal relationships is also an attack on democratic values and the public spaces that nourish them. These spaces are dangerous because they harbor the possibility of speaking the unspeakable, uttering critical thoughts, producing dissent, and creating critically engaged citizens.

"What is at stake here is the notion that thinking is dangerous."

What is at stake here is the notion that thinking is dangerous. It's a policy that suggests that education is not about creating critically informed young people. It's really about training for the workplace. It tends to promote a kind of political and ideological conformity; it's a depoliticizing process - and it's also oppressive, because it removes from education any sense of vision that suggests that education is really about constructing a future that doesn't repeat the worst dimensions of the present, that can see beyond the horizons of the alleged practical and possible. I think in that sense, this emphasis on rote memorization, this emphasis on testing, this emphasis on discipline...many of these schools are being turned into military academies, many high schools, particularly in Chicago.

I think that what neoliberal reforms do is ignore all those basic problems that matter through which schools have to be understood in order to be reformed in the interest of creating critically engaged citizens. This suggests that any attempt at reforming schools has to be connected to the wider struggles over racism, inequality, poverty, militarization and the rise of the punishing state. Kids can't learn if they're hungry. Kids can't learn if they find themselves in schools where there are no resources. Kids can't learn in classes that have 40 students in them. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure this out. And I think that what you really need to figure out is that the right-wing knows this. This is not just a kind of willful ignorance. Schools are not being defunded because the state and federal governments don't have the money. They are being defunded because the right-wing wants them to fail. The funds are available, but they are being redirected into the military-industrial complex, into policies that lower taxes for the rich, and into the exorbitant salaries of the financial elite. This is a very systemic policy to make sure that if education is going to matter, it's going to matter for the elite. It's not going to matter for everybody else, in the sense of offering the best possible resources and capabilities that it can offer.

So would you go as far as saying that education, and particularly higher education today, actually reinforce neoliberal doctrine inside the classroom?

I don't think there's any question about this. You can pick up the paper every day and read the idiocy that comes out of the mouths of these administrators, whether you're talking about Texas or Arizona or Florida. The university is being corporatized in a way that we've never seen before. And we know what that means; we know what the conditions are that are producing this. What is particularly disturbing is how alleged reforms such as the Common Core standards, which decontextualize teaching and learning by claiming that the larger conditions that place all kinds of constraints on pubic schools, teaching, and how students learn do not matter. This is a very privatizing and commerce driven form of education that depoliticizes as it decontextualizes the most important aspects of schooling and pedagogy. How can we talk about learning without talking about the machinery of inequality that drives how schools are financed, the right-wing policies that are implementing the fundamentalist modes of learning such as creationism, or the deskilling of teachers by suggesting that their only role is to teach to the test? This is truly a pedagogy of repression and ironically is being championed not just conservatives, the billionaires club, but also some progressives.

At one level you have right-wing governors who view themselves as the servants of corporate rich, and are all too willing to view all social relations in strictly commercial terms. This dastardly political world view is reinforced by democrats who should be viewed not simply as another branch of the business party, but as members of the deceitful club, which might be called "Republicans lite." What both parties share is a love affair with a capitalist society structured in massive inequalities in wealth and power, a strong believe in military expansion abroad, the intensification of militarization at home, and the ruthless ongoing shift in power from the working and middle classes to the 1 percent. We see glimpses of their shared ideology in their mutual embrace of military hardware such as the F-35 strike fighter jet, which will not fly in the rain, and costs about $200 million apiece. Politicians today are mostly groupies of the rich and powerful who are all too willing to dish out billions for the warfare state but very little to provide every young person in the United States with a quality education and decent way of life. As Imara Jones has pointed out, the $4.4 trillion already spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could finance a free college education for every person in America for the next ten years.

"It's not that we don't have the money for education, it's how we appropriate those funds."

I mean, the military budget is bloated; it's the largest in the world; you can combine the next 15 military budgets: they don't add up to the cost of America's military budget. So you have this misappropriation of money. It's not that we don't have the money for education, it's how we appropriate those funds. We don't appropriate them in the interest of young people. We don't appropriate them in the interest of education. We don't use our wealth to create a single-payer health system, or provide food for the needy. And so, as education is being defunded, what happens is that you have these business models now being incorporated at the university which calls, for instance, administrators "CEOs." And by the way, as you know, they're the largest-rising group in education in the United States. Administrators now outnumber faculty, and they're draining huge amounts of resources away from students.

Secondly, of course, faculty have lost power. Thirdly, they're abolishing unions, dissent is being cracked down on in ways that are abominable and reminders of the McCarthy period. You have faculty who basically are being defined by the degree to which they can write grants. Subjects that don't lend themselves immediately to training are going to cost more for students in states like Texas. Texas went so far as to claim that it would lower tuition for those faculties and courses that lent themselves directly to business interests. Can you imagine? While raising the tuition for courses in the humanities and the liberal arts which these right-wing governors claim contribute nothing to the economy. And of course students, on the other hand, are now seen as consumers or restless children who need to be entertained. They're not seen as important investments in the future, and particularly for a democratic future. They're just seen as slots, and that's why there's a big push in the universities for foreign students, because they're a cash cow. I think the university is in crisis, and it's in a terrible crisis over what's going on in terms of its inability to really take advantage of a mission that in the '50s and '60s, for all of its contradictions and all of its problems, at least had a sense that college was more than simply a job training opportunity or that the university was more than an adjunct of the military-industrial complex.

Henry, building on what you said about the university being in crisis, how has this shift that has taken place impacted education specifically in the liberal arts and the humanities, and how has it impacted the job market for academics? There are many in Greece, for instance, who view an academic career overseas as a "way out" of the crisis in their country.

I think two things have happened. I think that the liberal arts and the humanities are being defined as useless. They don't correlate well with the notion of the university as a factory. They don't correlate well with the university as a place that really is less interested in teaching kids how to think critically than it is about teaching them how to be semi-skilled workers. And it doesn't work well with the governing structure in the university that, in some fundamental ways, says "hey look, power is basically in the hands of CEOs; it's a business culture; we'll tell you what to do."

"The liberal arts and the humanities ... don't correlate well with the notion of the university as a factory."

While it is true that democratic visions and matters of critique and engaged analysis are not simply invested in humanities and the liberal arts, what is true is that the liberal arts and the humanities have a long history of supporting those ideals. Those ideals are not prized or in favor at this moment in higher education, except for the elite schools. Politicians from Arnie Duncan, the Secretary of Education, to a number of state politicians, education officials, and popular pundits scorn these ideals because they get in the way; they create problems for administrators who don't want critical faculty, who don't want students learning how to think, who want to build on the educational struggles that went on in the 1960s. Not only did you have students demanding all kinds of things, from more inclusive courses, eliminating racism, making schools more democratic, but they opened up schools - and this relates to your second question - these student struggles opened up schools in ways that allowed for the education of a variety of subordinate groups who were excluded from education - those others from the working class, low and middle income students, immigrants, poor minorities, and so it goes. See for instance, the brilliant work by Chris Newfield on this issue. This utterly petrified the right. The fact that blacks, minorities of race and color, and immigrants could become educated was a terrifying assumption for many right-wingers, to say the least.

"You opened up schools in ways that allowed for the education of a variety of subordinate groups who were excluded from education - those others from the working class, low and middle income students, immigrants, poor minorities, and so it goes.... This utterly petrified the right."

I think what we see now, and you have to connect the dots here...remember, you have a Republican Party in the United States that is doing everything it can to violate the Voting Rights Act. It's trying to limit, as much as possible, the ability of Black people to vote. Think about how that correlates so easily with making sure that tuitions are sky high in the schools, a policy that enables the evisceration from higher education of working-class people, poor minorities, people who are considered disposable, people who basically would never be able to afford college, unless they had adequate funds, adequate grants, adequate scholarships.

This is really not just about a predatory economic system trying to redistribute wealth from students to administrators to the military-industrial complex or the financial elite. It's also basically about a systemic policy of exclusion. So yes, I think there are questions of opportunity - as tuitions get raised to unbelievable heights, you have endless range of students who can't get in because the tuition is too high, or you have students who will be saddled with debt for the rest of their lives in a way so that they would never even imagine going into public service, because it doesn't provide the salaries that the private market does. I think when you begin to put these dots together, you begin to see how crucial education is to the neoliberal project.

People in Greece oftentimes have this perception that the international media operates on a very objective and credible do you see the media's role, however, in reinforcing this system of neoliberalism and casino capitalism?

I think it's silly, it borders on being silly if not utterly naive to assume that the media is somehow removed from questions of power. In the United States, the statistics are very clear. You have six major companies that control the media. The media is in the hands of corporate power. Whether we're talking about Fox News or any of these other right-wing groups, the Murdochs that control the media...where do you see left-wing analysis included in the mainsream media? Almost never. But if you look at the new media, if you look at alternative media, like the radio station I'm on right now, there are new spaces that are opening up and that's very encouraging, because it speaks to and encourages further cracks in the system that both limit the ability of the system, in light of these new technologies, to be able to wage the type of control that they have in the past, but also provide a space for more critical voices.

So in spite of that concentrated economic power in the media, which is far from objective and unbiased - the mainstream media for the most part is entirely tuned into reproducing a society that upholds massive class inequities, racist policies, an attack on women’s reproductive rights, and holds hostage the future of young people at any cost, and whether that means further policies designed to destroy both a free press and country like Greece, or Spain, or Portugal, or Chile, or Argentina, they have no trouble with that; they don't think twice about it. These people are basically ideological lackeys. They're in the service of the financial elite, and that's what they do, they do their job. But to claim that they're objective, that makes no sense to me.

From a political point of view, we've seen a rising tide of authoritarianism and official far-right parties making electoral gains in recent years in numerous countries On the other hand, we've perhaps seen a failure of the left to respond to this new political climate. How would you characterize the response of the global left to this trend that we have been discussing?

I think there are three things missing from the left that need to be addressed. I think we need to be careful in assuming that the left has failed, as much as the left is learning as quickly as it possibly can about what it needs to do in light of policies that it's used in the past that don't basically work anymore, particularly when it comes to developing policies in a world in which power has become globalized. And I think the three things are this: first, I believe that the left has to become an international left. Power is now separated from politics, meaning that power is global and politics is local, so that local politics really has very little power; states really have very little power over corporate sovereignty anymore. They can't control it; it has an allegiance to no one; it floats above national boundaries. So we have to begin to think about ways to create movements, laws, policies that actually deal with this kind of global network of power. That's the first thing.

"States really have very little power over corporate sovereignty anymore. They can't control it; it has an allegiance to no one; it floats above national boundaries."

Secondly, I think the left has to take the question of education seriously. Education is not marginal to politics; it's central to politics! If we can't create the formative culture globally that allows people to understand that their interests are being trampled on, that they live in a political system that has been constructed by human beings and can be overturned by human beings, but also, a political, economic, and social system that has nothing to do with their needs, that basically exploits their needs, then people will not be moved to think critically and act collectively.

Thirdly, it seems to me that the left has got to get beyond demonstrations. I mean, it's got to come up with an international vision of what it wants to do, one that is flexible, so that it can work in associations with a variety of groups. For this to happen, it needs a comprehensive vision that brings various groups together so that it can develop an organization that basically is going to have some clout, and in some cases that means it can be involved in local elections, and in some cases it can develop third parties, and in some cases it can work with NGOs. But it's got to take the question of power seriously. Power is not just a one-shot deal. It doesn't mean you demonstrate in the street with 200,000 people and then you walk away. It's got to become more systemic. We need more than what my friend Stanley Aronowitz calls "signpost politics," the politics of banners. Mass demonstrations for climate change, for instance, are encouraging because the draw attention to a crucial threat to the planet and that's a pedagogical moment, but we have to go far beyond that. We need to create ideologically, politically, educationally, international organizations that can begin to bring their weight to bear on this global politics that now controls basically state politics and nations all across the world. This means moving from education to confrontation; it means moving from critique to action; it means moving from recognizing a crisis to the practice of freedom, one driven by sustainable organizations, self-sustaining resources, and the collective will to act.

Opinion Sun, 19 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
Here Come the Rain and Drought

2014 1017 raindr sw(Image: Rain and drought via Shutterstock)What is it about natural disasters and irony?

Just as local authorities in Detroit were denying thousands of people access to running water, the bankrupt city experienced an epic downpour. More than 4.5 inches of rain pounded Motown in mid-August, causing $1.2 billion in damage. Three people died, including a 100-year-old woman who apparently drowned in her flooded basement.

And what’s even more ironic? Both freakish storms like the one that swamped Detroit’s freeways and catastrophic droughts of the sort now parching California are about to become a lot more common. A raft of new research makes it clear that there’s going to be nowhere to hide from the devastation wrought by climate chaos.

For starters, consider a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists on the floods that will wash over the Atlantic Seaboard and the Gulf Coast during the next three decades as sea levels rise. It’s a painful snapshot of when everyone in those areas will be shopping for a new canoe, no matter how far they live from a body of water.

According to the report, Maryland in particular must watch out. Baltimore’s bustling Inner Harbor neighborhood and seaport could wind up underwater 875 hours per year — 10 percent of the time — by 2045, and parts of Annapolis might become perpetually soggy. Ocean City, Cambridge, and other towns across the state are slated for a constant flow of increasingly major “tidal events.”

Without decisive climate action and local efforts to mitigate the impact of rising tides, floods throughout the Atlantic and Gulf coastal regions could become three times more common by 2030 and 10 times more frequent by 2045, the Union of Concerned Scientists predicts.

Yet Congress isn’t exactly pumping big bucks into climate action, leaving cities and states to fend for themselves.

Ready for more irony? The metropolitan area most vulnerable to floods three decades from now is, of all places, Washington, D.C. On average, the nation’s capital and its suburbs could experience three floods a week by 2030 and a flood a day by 2045.

That could prove ideal for growing rice, but is bound to get in the way of governing the country.

What are state and local governments doing to brace for this wet future? Taking a page from Mad Magazine‘s mascot, most are taking the Alfred E. Neuman approach: “What — Me Worry?” Only 14 states have gotten started with plans to cope with the watery world around the corner.

While the East and Gulf Coasts and Midwest grow soggier, scientists predict that the Southwest, including California, will get more parched. Droughts and wildfires, already dire, will grow more common. You can read all about what’s in store for where you live in the congressionally mandated Third National Climate Assessment.

Just as much of the United States must brace for inconceivably common floods, some of our most important freshwater sources are running low. The Ogallala Aquifer — an ancient underground reservoir that irrigates fields in Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and five other states — is getting tapped out, changing the future of farming in the nation’s breadbasket.

Likewise, the Colorado River Basin is drying up, jeopardizing water security across the American West. At stake is the well-being of 40 million people living in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, San Diego, and other cities, and the viability of 4 million acres of farmland.

What can you do, aside from doing your best to enjoy days that are neither overly rainy nor parched?

Speak up and press for local action in your community.

Opinion Fri, 17 Oct 2014 10:50:24 -0400
War on Witches: Reagan Judge Denounces Myth of Voter Fraud

Voter ID is "a mere fig leaf for efforts to disenfranchise voters likely to vote for the political party that does not control the state government," federal appellate Judge Richard Posner wrote in a scorching dissent published October 10.

"As there is no evidence that voter-impersonation fraud is a problem, how can the fact that the Legislature says it's a problem turn it into one" that could justify voter ID restrictions, Posner asked.

"If the Wisconsin Legislature says witches are a problem, shall Wisconsin courts be permitted to conduct witch trials?"

Judge Posner's dissent calling out voter ID as a means of voter suppression was issued just hours before Wisconsin's gubernatorial debate, where Governor Scott Walker effectively argued that the phantom menace of voter fraud justified the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters.

Wisconsin's voter ID case has ping-ponged between the 7th Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court in recent weeks. Judge Posner -- who was named to the bench by President Ronald Reagan -- wrote in dissent from the 7th Circuit's 5-5 decision not to rehear an October 6 ruling upholding the law. The decision had little immediate effect, though, as it was issued one day after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked Wisconsin's voter ID restrictions for the November elections.

Motivation for Voter ID Is "to Discourage Voting"

In advance of the 2012 recall elections, Walker told the Weekly Standard that voter fraud amounts to "one or two points" in Wisconsin elections. Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus made a similar claim, alleging that Republican candidates in Wisconsin "need to do a point or two better than where we think we need to be, to overcome it."

For Priebus and Walker to be correct about fraud equaling "one or two points" in recent elections -- where 3 million people voted -- there would need to have been between 30,000 and 60,000 fraudulent ballots.

Yet when the state defended the voter ID law in federal court, it "could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past," Judge Posner noted, although Wisconsin officials did not dispute that over 300,000 Wisconsin voters lacked the forms of ID required under the law.

During the first gubernatorial debate on October 10, Walker was asked about voter ID, and he cited an unauthorized and discredited 2008 report from an investigative unit of the Milwaukee Police Department that identified some voter irregularities during the 2004 elections -- yet nothing that would have been prevented by requiring ID at the polls. Walker declined to put a precise number on the amount of fraud in the state, but said:

"I was at a town hall meeting yesterday in Appleton, and took questions from the crowd, and one person asked me how many cases of fraud there have been in the state. I said, does not matter if it was one or a hundred or a thousand. I ask amongst us, who would be that one person who would want to have our vote canceled out by a vote cast illegally?"

On the same day as Walker's statements in the gubernatorial debate, Reagan appointee Posner noted specifically that "voter impersonation fraud is essentially nonexistent in Wisconsin," adding:

"There is only one motivation for imposing burdens on voting that are ostensibly designed to discourage voter impersonation fraud, if there is no actual danger of such fraud, and that is to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the party responsible for imposing the burdens."

Wisconsin has consistently ranked among the best in the country for election performance, even without a strict ID requirement in place, according to Pew Charitable Trusts.

"The Effects of the Photo ID Requirement on Voter Suppression Are Likely to Be Much Greater in Wisconsin" Than Indiana

Judges hearing constitutional challenges to voter ID restrictions have balanced the law's burdens on voters against the state's interest in preventing voter fraud. The question is how much weight should be given to each side of the scale.

In April, District Court Judge Lynn Adelman found that the the burdens imposed on the voting rights of nearly 300,000 Wisconsin citizens who lack ID are not outweighed by the state interest in stopping a statistically insignificant rate of "fraud." Stopping fraud can be a legitimate state interest, Adelman held, yet one that should be given little weight in Wisconsin, where repeated investigations by both Republicans and Democrats have shown that in-person voter impersonation fraud occurs at an infinitesimally low rate, if at all.

The three-judge 7th Circuit panel that recently reversed Adelman's decision disagreed, asserting that the U.S. Supreme Court's 2008 decision in Crawford v. Marion (which upheld Indiana's voter ID law) demands that the state's purported interest in preventing even a nonexistent threat of fraud amounts to a thumb on the scales.

Posner -- who authored the Crawford decision later upheld by the Supreme Court -- vehemently disagreed, writing that Crawford "does not resolve the present case, which involves a different statute and has a different record and arises against a background of a changed political culture in the United States."

The burdens on Wisconsin voters are more significant than those that faced Indiana voters in the Crawford case, Posner noted. Wisconsin's law is more restrictive than Indiana's, and would affect more people. Nine percent of Wisconsin voters (300,000 people) don't have ID, versus just one percent of Indiana voters in Crawford. Wisconsin has just 90 DMVs, only 30 are open during regular business hours, and only one open on Saturday; Indiana has 140 Bureaus of Motor Vehicles, and nearly all are open full time, many on the weekends.

"Hence the effects of the photo ID requirement on voter suppression are likely to be much greater in Wisconsin," Posner wrote.

"Some of the 'Evidence' of Voter-Impersonation Fraud Is Downright Goofy, If Not Paranoid"

The significant evidence of the Wisconsin law's burdens on voters requires that the court look more carefully at the state's claims about voter fraud than did the Supreme Court in Crawford. And, Posner noted, "there is compelling evidence that voter impersonation fraud is essentially nonexistent in Wisconsin."

"Some of the 'evidence' of voter-impersonation fraud is downright goofy, if not paranoid," Posner wrote, "such as the nonexistent buses that according to the 'True the Vote' movement transport foreigners and reservation Indians to polling places."

True the Vote, a Texas-based group that supports voter ID laws and hypes the voter fraud myth, worked with Wisconsin Tea Party groups during the recall elections to create an error-ridden online database of all recall petition signers, and to train poll watchers in tactics that voting rights advocates say bordered on intimidation.

The Bradley Foundation, whose president and CEO is Walker's campaign co-chair, funds True the Vote, including a $50,000 donation last year "to support a Wisconsin project."

Wisconsin's voter ID law remains blocked for November, although its ultimate fate in future elections remains uncertain. The U.S. Supreme Court blocked an order from a 7th Circuit panel reinstating the law for this year, but has yet to review the panel's full decision upholding the law on the merits.

The 7th Circuit has twice split 5-5 on whether to rehear Wisconsin's voter ID case. The court's eleventh seat has been vacant for more than four years, and the appointment of the judge that could have broken the tie has been blocked by Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, who himself has repeated the claims about "busloads" of voter fraud.

Voter ID is “a mere fig leaf for efforts to disenfranchise voters likely to vote for the political party that does not control the state government,” federal appellate Judge Richard Posner wrote in a scorching dissent published October 10.

“As there is no evidence that voter-impersonation fraud is a problem, how can the fact that the Legislature says it’s a problem turn it into one" that could justify voter ID restrictions, Posner asked.

"If the Wisconsin Legislature says witches are a problem, shall Wisconsin courts be permitted to conduct witch trials?”

Judge Posner's dissent calling out voter ID as a means of voter suppression was issued just hours before Wisconsin's gubernatorial debate, where Governor Scott Walker effectively argued that the phantom menace of voter fraud justified the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters.

Wisconsin's voter ID case has ping-ponged between the 7th Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court in recent weeks. Judge Posner -- who was named to the bench by President Ronald Reagan -- wrote in dissent from the 7th Circuit's 5-5 decision not to rehear an October 6 ruling upholding the law. The decision had little immediate effect, though, as it was issued one day after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked Wisconsin's voter ID restrictions for the November elections.

Motivation for Voter ID Is "to Discourage Voting"

In advance of the 2012 recall elections, Walker told the Weekly Standard that voter fraud amounts to "one or two points" in Wisconsin elections. Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus made a similar claim, alleging that Republican candidates in Wisconsin "need to do a point or two better than where we think we need to be, to overcome it."

For Priebus and Walker to be correct about fraud equaling "one or two points" in recent elections -- where 3 million people voted -- there would need to have been between 30,000 and 60,000 fraudulent ballots.

Yet when the state defended the voter ID law in federal court, it "could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past," Judge Posner noted, although Wisconsin officials did not dispute that over 300,000 Wisconsin voters lacked the forms of ID required under the law.

During the first gubernatorial debate on October 10, Walker was asked about voter ID, and he cited an unauthorized and discredited 2008 report from an investigative unit of the Milwaukee Police Department that identified some voter irregularities during the 2004 elections -- yet nothing that would have been prevented by requiring ID at the polls. Walker declined to put a precise number on the amount of fraud in the state, but said:

"I was at a town hall meeting yesterday in Appleton, and took questions from the crowd, and one person asked me how many cases of fraud there have been in the state. I said, does not matter if it was one or a hundred or a thousand. I ask amongst us, who would be that one person who would want to have our vote canceled out by a vote cast illegally?"

On the same day as Walker's statements in the gubernatorial debate, Reagan appointee Posner noted specifically that "voter impersonation fraud is essentially nonexistent in Wisconsin," adding:

"There is only one motivation for imposing burdens on voting that are ostensibly designed to discourage voter impersonation fraud, if there is no actual danger of such fraud, and that is to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the party responsible for imposing the burdens."

Wisconsin has consistently ranked among the best in the country for election performance, even without a strict ID requirement in place, according to Pew Charitable Trusts.

"The Effects of the Photo ID Requirement on Voter Suppression Are Likely to Be Much Greater in Wisconsin" than Indiana

Judges hearing constitutional challenges to voter ID restrictions have balanced the law's burdens on voters against the state's interest in preventing voter fraud. The question is how much weight should be given to each side of the scale.

In April, District Court Judge Lynn Adelman found that the the burdens imposed on the voting rights of nearly 300,000 Wisconsin citizens who lack ID are not outweighed by the state interest in stopping a statistically insignificant rate of "fraud." Stopping fraud can be a legitimate state interest, Adelman held, yet one that should be given little weight in Wisconsin, where repeated investigations by both Republicans and Democrats have shown that in-person voter impersonation fraud occurs at an infinitesimally low rate, if at all.

The three-judge 7th Circuit panel that recently reversed Adelman's decision disagreed, asserting that the U.S. Supreme Court's 2008 decision in Crawford v. Marion (which upheld Indiana's voter ID law) demands that the state's purported interest in preventing even a nonexistent threat of fraud amounts to a thumb on the scales.

Posner -- who authored the Crawford decision later upheld by the Supreme Court -- vehemently disagreed, writing that Crawford "does not resolve the present case, which involves a different statute and has a different record and arises against a background of a changed political culture in the United States."

The burdens on Wisconsin voters are more significant than those that faced Indiana voters in the Crawford case, Posner noted. Wisconsin's law is more restrictive than Indiana's, and would affect more people. Nine percent of Wisconsin voters (300,000 people) don't have ID, versus just one percent of Indiana voters in Crawford. Wisconsin has just 90 DMVs, only 30 are open during regular business hours, and only one open on Saturday; Indiana has 140 Bureaus of Motor Vehicles, and nearly all are open full time, many on the weekends.

"Hence the effects of the photo ID requirement on voter suppression are likely to be much greater in Wisconsin," Posner wrote.

“Some of the ‘Evidence’ of Voter-Impersonation Fraud Is Downright Goofy, If Not Paranoid”

The significant evidence of the Wisconsin law's burdens on voters requires that the court look more carefully at the state's claims about voter fraud than did the Supreme Court in Crawford. And, Posner noted, "there is compelling evidence that voter impersonation fraud is essentially nonexistent in Wisconsin."

“Some of the ‘evidence’ of voter-impersonation fraud is downright goofy, if not paranoid,” Posner wrote, “such as the nonexistent buses that according to the ‘True the Vote’ movement transport foreigners and reservation Indians to polling places.”

True the Vote, a Texas-based group that supports voter ID laws and hypes the voter fraud myth, worked with Wisconsin Tea Party groups during the recall elections to create an error-ridden online database of all recall petition signers, and to train poll watchers in tactics that voting rights advocates say bordered on intimidation.

The Bradley Foundation, whose president and CEO is Walker's campaign co-chair, funds True the Vote, including a $50,000 donation last year "to support a Wisconsin project."

Wisconsin's voter ID law remains blocked for November, although its ultimate fate in future elections remains uncertain. The U.S. Supreme Court blocked an order from a 7th Circuit panel reinstating the law for this year, but has yet to review the panel's full decision upholding the law on the merits.

The 7th Circuit has twice split 5-5 on whether to rehear Wisconsin's voter ID case. The court's eleventh seat has been vacant for more than four years, and the appointment of the judge that could have broken the tie has been blocked by Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, who himself has repeated the claims about "busloads" of voter fraud.

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News Fri, 17 Oct 2014 10:32:27 -0400
Shifting Syria Threats

2014 1017 syria sw(Image: Military strike via Shutterstock)The US is under pressure to respond to allegations of war crimes in connection with its air strikes on Syria. But how do you assess disproportionate harm when this entire assault is disproportionate and premised on undefined threats?

Local residents in the village of Kafr Deryan recently video taped bits of a Tomahawk missile at the site of a strike that they say killed at least two men two women and five kids September 23.

Only the US and UK have Tomahawks so Human Rights Watch is asking the US to investigate. The group is further demanding that international law be obeyed and strikes be avoided that might have a disproportionate impact on civilians versus the expected military advantage.

Now I've always been skeptical of international laws of war. They tend to coddle the conscience and imply war can be made kind. But the problem here is even more specific. Even when Barack Obama launched his bombing campaign he made no claim of self defense. At that time, remember, American intelligence had concluded that ISIS posed "no immediate threat" to the U.S. so-called "homeland." In his speech, launching the attack, the president said exactly that.

 The no-threat story was front page news. Many officials and terrorism experts quoted at the time believed that the actual danger of ISIS had been distorted by hours of alarmist TV.

 An anti-terror analyst with the Rand Corporation was quoted by the New York Times, saying “It’s pretty clear that upping our involvement in Iraq and Syria makes it more likely that we will be targeted by the people we are attacking.”

 And still the campaign was launched. All that history's worth remember because now officials and the press are full of talk of a brand new supposed threat, dire enough to merit the US assault. The Khorasan Group: supposedly a pack of Al Quaeda veterans whom the Administration say do intend to target the US.

Frankly, when it comes to threats to the President's "homeland" at least, a far greater threat seems to come from American vets --  the disturbed veterans of the US's own wars. No Al Qaeda vet has so far managed to open the front door and run through the White House with a knife.,

Still, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made it sound scary when he said “In terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as the Islamic State.”

Scary, Until you remember, that that’s not saying much.

The point is, proof of claim doesn't seem to be required for the US to bomb and kill; nor even any evidence of military advantage.

In that Syrian village, it's the reverse. There, the Department of Defense says it has no credible proof of civilian deaths, despite video and eye witness reports. They do, on the other hand, claim that several strikes have “disrupted an imminent attack against the US and Western interests.”

To all those who imagined the presidency of phantom threats was over with the departure of George W. Bush, that's over. The one threat that is very real is that the US public will be terrified by all this and the killing and dying will escalate.

The "F" Word is a weekly commentary . Watch "The Laura Flanders Show" in full, on TeleSUR English or at This week: Gar Alperovitz on "America After Capitalism". To tell me what you think, write

News Fri, 17 Oct 2014 10:14:23 -0400
Charter School Power Broker Turns Public Education Into Private Profits

2014 1017 edu sw(Image: Public education via Shutterstock)Versions of this story were co-published with The Daily Beast and the Raleigh News & Observer.

In late February, the North Carolina chapter of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation — a group co-founded by the libertarian billionaire Koch brothers — embarked on what it billed as a statewide tour of charter schools, a cornerstone of the group's education agenda. The first — and it turns out, only — stop was Douglass Academy, a new charter school in downtown Wilmington.

Douglass Academy was an unusual choice. A few weeks before, the school had been warned by the state about low enrollment. It had just 35 students, roughly half the state's minimum. And a month earlier, a local newspaper had reported that federal regulators were investigating the school's operations.

But the school has other attributes that may have appealed to the Koch group. The school's founder, a politically active North Carolina businessman named Baker Mitchell, shares the Kochs' free-market ideals.  His model for success embraces decreased government regulation, increased privatization and, if all goes well, healthy corporate profits.

In that regard, Mitchell, 74, appears to be thriving. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell's chain of four nonprofit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.

Over six years, Mitchell's two companies have taken in close to $20 million in fees and rent — some of the schools' biggest expenses. That's from audited financial statements for just two schools. Mitchell has recently opened two more.

The schools buy or lease nearly everything from companies owned by Mitchell. Their desks. Their computers. The training they provide to teachers. Most of the land and buildings. Unlike with traditional school districts, at Mitchell's charter schools there's no competitive bidding. No evidence of haggling over rent or contracts.

The schools have all hired the same for-profit management company to run their day-to-day operations. The company, Roger Bacon Academy, is owned by Mitchell. It functions as the schools' administrative arm, taking the lead in hiring and firing school staff. It handles most of the bookkeeping. The treasurer of the nonprofit that controls the four schools is also the chief financial officer of Mitchell's management company. The two organizations even share a bank account.

Mitchell's management company was chosen by the schools' nonprofit board, which Mitchell was on at the time — an arrangement that is illegal in many other states.

Charters are privately run but government-funded schools that are supposed to be open to all. Policymakers and many parents have embraced charters as an alternative to poorly performing and underfunded traditional public schools. As charters have grown in popularity, an industry of management companies like Mitchell's has sprung up to assist them.

Many of these companies are becoming political players in their states, working to shape the still-emerging set of rules charters must play by. A few, including Mitchell's company, have aligned themselves with influential conservative groups, such as Americans for Prosperity and the Koch-supported American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

This new reality — in which businesses can run chains of public schools — has spurred questions about the role of profit in public education and whether more safeguards are needed to prevent corruption. The U.S. Department of Education has declared the relationships between charter schools and their management companies, both for-profit and nonprofit, a "current and emerging risk" for misuse of federal dollars. It is conducting a wide-ranging look at such relationships. In the last year alone, the FBI sent out subpoenas as part of an investigation into a Connecticut-based charter-management company and raided schools that are part of a New Mexico chain and a large network of charter schools spanning Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

Two of Mitchell's former employees told ProPublica they have been interviewed by federal investigators. Mitchell says he does not know if his schools are part of any inquiry and has not been contacted by any investigators.

To Mitchell, his schools are simply an example of the triumph of the free market. "People here think it's unholy if you make a profit" from schools, he said in July, while attending a country-club luncheon to celebrate the legacy of free-market sage Milton Friedman.

It's impossible to know how much Mitchell  is taking home in profits from his companies. He's fought to keep most of the financial details secret. Still, audited financial statements show that over six years, companies owned by Mitchell took in close to $20 million in revenue from his first two schools. Those records go through the middle of 2013. Mitchell has since opened two more schools.

Many in the charter-school industry say that charter schools are more accountable than traditional public schools because, as Mitchell is fond of saying, "parents can shut us down overnight. They stop bringing their kids here? We don't get any money."

Moreover, Mitchell said, students at his two more established schools have produced higher test scores at lower costs than those in traditional public schools: "Maybe Baker Mitchell gets a huge profit. Maybe he doesn't get any profit. Who cares?"

But many charter supporters question that perspective. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers, a group that promotes best practices for overseeing charter schools, says schools should be independent from their contractors. Mitchell's dual roles as both a charter-school board member and a vendor, for instance, were a blatant violation of those standards.

"This kind of conflict of interest is what I would consider shocking," said Parker Baxter, a program director for the group.

"This isn't as if one of the board members happens to own a chalk company where they buy chalk from, and he recused himself from buying chalk," he said. "This is the entire management and operation of the school."

Mitchell was pushed by North Carolina regulators to step down from his schools' board last fall, a move he derides as unnecessary. "It's so silly," he told ProPublica. "Undue influence, blah blah blah."

But concerns about his influence continued even after he stepped down. One board member resigned in frustration over the role of Mitchell's company. Two others also quit around the same time. Mitchell still serves as secretary for the board, taking notes and doing the meeting minutes. Asked about frustrations among board members over his involvement, Mitchell said, "Everybody's free to their own opinion."

When charter schools were first established in the early 1990s, supporters sought flexibility and freedom from the bureaucratic rules they believed hamstrung traditional schools. Charter schools have leeway over their calendar, curriculum, and who they hire and fire. In most states, they do not have to follow many of the processes meant to prevent corruption and misspending of public dollars, such as putting contracts out for competitive bidding.

Mitchell moved to North Carolina in 1997, a year after the state passed a law allowing charter schools. He said he dreamed of starting a school after selling his computer business in Houston in 1989. He had planned on a private school, but when he moved to North Carolina and read about charters, he said he figured that was his chance. He applied to open his first school in 1999, laying out his plans to teach what his company website describes as a "classical curriculum espousing the values of traditional western civilization." He opened Charter Day School the following year.

Settled into the southeastern part of the state, Mitchell quickly connected with the state's big political players, including conservative kingmaker Art Pope. By 2002, he was sitting alongside Pope on the board of the John Locke Foundation. The foundation is part of the State Policy Network, a Koch-supported group of think tanks whose agenda includes steering public funds away from traditional schools and toward charters, vouchers and tax credits for homeschoolers.

From the beginning, concerns about excessive profits and Mitchell's conflicts of interest dogged the new school. In 2001, the Internal Revenue Service rejected the group's application for tax-exempt status, noting Mitchell's dual roles as both a board member and head of a company doing business with the board. The IRS also noted the bank account shared by the schools' nonprofit and Mitchell's for-profit company, and that the school was leasing space from another company owned by Mitchell.

"Mr. Mitchell thus controls