Truthout Stories Wed, 25 Nov 2015 07:26:02 -0500 en-gb Chicago's Call for Peace Over Laquan McDonald Video Does Not Extend to Police Department

Also see: The Power of Choice: Chicago's Black Organizers Refuse a Meeting With Mayor Emanuel

As Chicago braces for protests ahead of the release of video footage of the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, we speak with Charlene Carruthers, the National Director of the Black Youth Project 100. Her organization declined a meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office on Monday as the city tries to quell impending protests. "For us, it was important not to take a meeting with the mayor where it was clear to us that this series of meetings was about how are we going to quell our fears - being the mayor's office's fears - about what young, black people are going to do once this video is released," Carruthers said. "They're very concerned with the city remaining peaceful, but unfortunately, the community, or the target, that is being told to remain peaceful is not the Chicago Police Department."


AMY GOODMAN: In Chicago, a police officer is about to be indicted for first-degree murder. We are joined by Jamie Kalven, founder of the Invisible Institute, freelance journalist who first broke the story of what happened to Laquan McDonald, actually killed October 14, 2014. We're also joined by Charlene Carruthers, National Director of the Black Youth Project 100. This is very unusual, Charlene Carruthers, a police officer about to be indicted for first-degree murder. Can you talk about your response to the fact that a judge has just demanded that the video be released to the public by tomorrow, as well as the officer, we believe, about to be indicted?

CHARLENE CARRUTHERS: So, I sat in the courtroom last week listening to the judge's decision on whether or not to release the video to the public. And in my mind, over and over again, the narrative of that this is not an isolated event. This is not the first time that this has happened. And there is nothing unusual about the killing of a young black person in the city of Chicago by the Chicago Police Department. And so we listened to the Judge Valderrama list reason after reason as to why the Chicago Police Department had no standing to withhold that video from the public. And so for us, we know that videos of black people being gunned down by police officer's are nothing new to the American public, and the broader international public. At the same - on the other hand, we also know that between Mayor Rahm Emanuel, superintendent Garry McCarthy, there has been moment after moment of inaction and poor decision-making regarding policing in this city. We live in a city where the Chicago Police Department takes up 40 percent of our budget, while at the same time, just a few years ago, we close over 50 public schools. And so it says a lot to us about what and who are city prioritizes and who we don't.

AMY GOODMAN: So here you have the story of a white police officer, Jason Van Dyke, who shot and killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald on October 14, 2014. Talk about, Charlene, when you started to understand what had actually taken place. In fact, didn't you have a major rally in Chicago just a few days afterwards at the time?

CHARLENE CARRUTHERS: Well, as Jamie mentioned earlier, last year around the same time that Laquan McDonald was killed, there were nationwide protests around several police involved killings in black communities. And we were actually - we had several protests within that period in the wake of the non-indictment decision of Darren Wilson and killing Mike Brown, we had a national moment of silence day that we had at an action here in Chicago and other places around the country. And so for us, the killing of Laquan McDonald is one more gruesome, violent signal that our organizing to build black political power in Chicago and also nationally is absolutely essential. And so we, BYP 100, along with organizations such as Fearless Leading by the Youth, We Charge Genocide, Assata's Daughters, we organized every single day in Chicago. We, BYP 100, we organized in Detroit, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., New York City and the Bay Area because, again, what happened to Laquan McDonald, there's nothing unusual about that in this country. And how the mayor reacted, even with having access to all of the information, is absolutely not unusual.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, I want to correct the date that he was shot by police officer Van Dyke on October 20, 2014. Now the Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who used to be the chief of staff of President Obama, the Mayor had invited you, Charlene Carruthers, and your group, to meet with him on Monday?

CHARLENE CARRUTHERS: Yes. The mayor's office invited a number of black-led youth organizations that do work every single day in the city of Chicago to attend a meeting. The Mayor's office also invited a number of people who are - that the office determines to be leaders in the city of Chicago to meet with him. And so for us, it was important not to take a meeting with the mayor in a moment where it was clear to us that these meetings, a series of meetings was about how are we going to quell our fears, being the mayor's office fears, about what young black people are going to do once this video is released? And so, while at the same time, we know that the city continues to divest from the things that we need in our communities like quality public schools, job creations, mental health services, things of that nature.

For us, it did not make sense for what we're trying to build in this city to meet with a mayor who also allowed people to starve for over 30 days during the Dyett hunger strike, black folks calling on a quality public school in the neighborhood that I live in in Chicago. And thinking about how we as young people believe in organizing and not representing all black people, we called on a public meeting. We don't want to have closed-door, private meeting with the mayor to talk about an issue that doesn't just impact the 30, 40, 50, 60 of us, it impacts thousands, hundreds of thousands of black people, not just in Chicago, but across the country.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did the mayor respond to you saying no, and what was the reason you gave?

CHARLENE CARRUTHERS: So, we don't have an official response from the mayor's office regarding our decision not to take a meeting with him and to discuss the execution of Laquan McDonald. But for us, we know that the mayor has called meetings before. And we have had meetings with the mayor before. We have not always said, no, we won't sit down with you Mr. Emanuel, to talk about policing in this city. But what we did know is that in this particular moment that the city has very specific interests around what happened. And they're very concerned with the city remaining peaceful. But unfortunately, the community, the target that is being told to remain peaceful, is not the Chicago Police Department. I just learned that - I just learned the there are reports that the Chicago Police Department, they are suiting up through November 29 to deal with whatever comes after the video is released and our concern is actually what Laquan McDonald's family will feel once the video is released. And then what the young black people who walk down the Street in Chicago every single day, who drive in their cars every single day worried about whether or not they will be the next Rekia Boyd, the next Ronnie Mann, the next Laquan McDonald, the list goes on and on and on of young black people who have been gunned down by the Chicago police.

AMY GOODMAN: So what are you calling for right now, Charlene Carruthers?

CHARLENE CARRUTHERS: We're calling for what we have always called for, we're calling for massive divestment and defunding of the police and investment in black communities. As I mentioned earlier, Chicago Police Department comprises 40 percent of our budget. That absolutely has to change. We're calling on what - most recently we have called on the firing of officer Dante Servin, and just las night we learned that superintendent Gary McCarthy is recommending that he is fired. And so we want that to continue. We want full decriminalization of black people in the city, be it for minor marijuana offenses or any other behaviors when other people engage in them they're not criminalized for it. I mean, I want all kinds of things, but our demands have not changed that focus squarely on defunding the police and investing in things like public schools. And that's something that the mayor could do and we are committed to organizing to make that happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Ira Acree, a pastor at the greater St. John Bible Church, told reporters after meeting with the mayor, "many in my community feel betrayed... Protests are imminent... We're hoping that these protests and demonstrations will be peaceful. We know they are coming. If there would be no protest, that would mean that we have become immune to this madness." I wanted to go back to Jamie Kalven. How unusual is it for a police officer to be indicted for first-degree murder?


JAMIE KALVEN: Did she ask?


JAMIE KALVEN: What was the question?

AMY GOODMAN: Jamie? How - Jamie Kalven, can you hear me? - unusual is it for a police officer to be indicted?

CHARLENE CARRUTHERS: How unusual is it for a police officer to be indicted?

JAMIE KALVEN: So this will be, assuming the indictment comes down today, this will be the first time in Chicago history that a police officer has been criminally charged for an on-duty shooting. So we're in this curious space where this is an unprecedented and in some ways monumental event. And at the same time, sort of the capstone of, I'm not sure cover-up is the right word, but a profoundly false narrative that has been maintained by the city about what happened that night on October 20.

AMY GOODMAN: Jamie Kalven, and I know that you don't have an earpiece so Charlene has to say it to you. So Charlene you can say it even as I'm speaking, we'll pull down your mic. Can you talk about what the invisible Institute has found when it comes to police being held responsible for police brutality?

CHARLENE CARRUTHERS: Right, so I think that really is a critical part of the story. When we talk about police accountability, it has two dimensions. One are the particular abuses. Even if you imagine the best trained police force in a city the size and complexity of Chicago with a police of roughly 13,000, bad things will happen. The critical question is, how does the institution of the police department, and the larger institutions of the city, respond when they do? If you have an effective disciplinary system, vigorous investigation, that incentivizes good behavior, it reduces the number of abusive incidents, it builds public confidence it builds a degree of trust between communities and the police. That's not what we have in Chicago. And we have statistics, and they are the city's - based on the city's information, that demonstrate that this is a system that is largely dedicated to not connecting the dots, to not knowing things it's within the city's power to know about fundamental human rights violations against citizens.

The consequence of that, you know, you cited before 97 percent of complaints ending in findings of not sustained, which is a kind of a shrug. We can't figure out what happened. And among the small number of sustained complaints, it's an infinitesimal number that actually gets any meaningful discipline. So what the statistics that we have amassed and have made public reflect, it's a kind of a portrait of if impunity. It means that those officers - and they're a small - they're not - it's not a few bad apples, as is sometimes said, it's still a significant number of officers and they're not evenly distributed through the city, they're in some neighborhoods and not other neighborhoods, but it's still a relatively small subset of the department is responsible for the lions share of abuse. But in a dysfunctional system where they have a kind of de facto impunity, those officers who are disposed to be abusive - and abuse can take many different forms, outright racism, enjoyment of brutality, sort of perverse pleasure in acts of cruelty, corruption, shakedowns of drug dealers, robbing citizens, you know, vile behavior towards women - whatever the pattern of officers inclined to be abusive, they're much more likely to act if they know that they have de facto impunity. That they're very unlikely to be identified. If identified they won't be effectively investigated. If investigated, they won't be subjected - and a finding is made that abuse occurred - they won't face meaningful discipline.

So this is a system dedicated to not knowing things that could be known. And if the city did look for patterns in the citizen complaints and really, as I say, try to connect the dots, it would be an immensely useful tool for protecting citizens and also for protecting officers. I mean, for intervening before small problems become big problems, to intervene with particular officers. And at a time when there is such profound distrust and alienation from the police in the neighborhoods most affected, and such a lack of confidence - such a crisis of legitimacy for the institutions of criminal justice, this is one of the things within the power of the city to do, to begin to restore a degree of confidence, to begin to restore a degree of trust. But it has to start - and I think this is really an important aspect of - it's a way in which, Charlene was saying, Laquan McDonald has now joined Michael Brown and another a number of other names as our kind of shorthand for fundamental defining structural issues in American life.

And the importance of our current debate and discussion of the video and of what happened that night is nothing can go forward, nothing - we cannot reform and improve the conditions we have right now if we don't first acknowledge the realities. And in this case we could have - the reality of what happened that night could have been acknowledged the next day, the next week, it could have been acknowledged at the time without prejudicing any investigation going forward, any criminal prosecution. This was public information that was withheld from the public. The importance of the statistics and the analysis of the city's own figures on - its own information on complaints is there is an opportunity there to be diagnostically smart about what the true conditions are, but we have to reckon with reality before we can go forward with sensible and just common sense reforms that are within our reach to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Charlene Carruthers, is there a protest planned for today? Again, in these two days, it's expected that the police officer Van Dyke will be indicted for first-degree murder and that the city will release the video of the police killing of Laquan McDonald on October 20, 2014.

CHARLENE CARRUTHERS: So after each time we learn of a tragic moment or a tragic moment like the killing of Laquan McDonald becomes - goes on public display and there is an opportunity, a political - an opening for us to bring in more young black folks into this movement to actually, not just received justice for Laquan McDonald, but to end police brutality and police violence in this country, we do something. We are organizers. And so, there will be actions in the wake of the release of the video. But what I will say, is that everything that we do is centered around how do we build on this moment? How do we make it so there are no more parents like Laquan McDonald's mother who have to mourn their children after they have been gunned down, after they been section assaulted, after they have been harassed, after they have been stopped and frisked, after they have been incarcerated? What can we do to make sure that doesn't happen again? And so, actually, today we're holding a healing space for black folks on the - in the center of the city. And if folks are interested in more information, they should check out our social media. But, for us, we know what the media is going to do, we know that young black people will be vilified regardless as to what happens, whether it's a so-called peaceful protest or so-called not peaceful protest, because, what we know for sure is that the police are highly unlikely to be peaceful with us. And so, we're focused on protecting each other and making sure that our work moves forward.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us, Charlene Carruthers, National Director of the Black Youth Project 100. And thank you to Jamie Kalven, we'll certainly link to your piece, founder of The Invisible Institute, freelance journalist who exposed the autopsy of Laquan McDonald who was killed by police officer Van Dyke on October 20, 2014. Sixteen bullets riddled his body. This isDemocracy Now! When we come back, we're going to Washington, D.C. Stay with us.

News Tue, 24 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Calling Out the Republican Party as a Hate Group

With all of the leading Republican candidates spewing various degrees of religious or racial intolerance, and with Republican legislators in the US Congress and in statehouses across the country working to roll back civil rights for disenfranchised racial groups, people who maintain ties to the GOP can no longer deny that they are part of a hate group.

Donald Trump speaks at the First in the Nation Leadership Summit in Nashua, NH, on April 18, 2015. (Photo via Shutterstock)Donald Trump speaks at the First in the Nation Leadership Summit in Nashua, New Hampshire, on April 18, 2015. (Photo: Andrew Cline /

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In October, about a week before Election Day, a Republican candidate running for a city council seat rang my doorbell in Buffalo, New York, with the hope of securing my vote. Despite a very well-funded campaign coordinated by a seasoned Republican strategist, the candidate, Peter Rouff, was still a long shot. The last time a registered Republican was elected to the Buffalo City Council was over a generation earlier, in 1981.

Rouff seemed like an affable guy. He was a dinosaur, cut from a mold that his party threw away decades earlier, who suddenly found himself transported into the future. He was a liberal New York Republican, a species no one younger than a baby boomer could recognize or fathom, the ghost of John Lindsey or Jacob Javits.

But this is 2015. So, after shaking hands and hearing him out on his concerns for our community, I asked him, "How'd you get associated with a hate group?" The local Republican Party, despite having no power in local government, still maintained an official Facebook page, where they posted Donald-Trump-grade drivel, joking about putting a coal facsimile of President Obama's head on Mount Rushmore, promoted notions of an epidemic of Black-on-white "hate crimes," and so on. Rouff countered that I was using harsh language. It only took a few days for his Republican handlers to prove the accuracy of my language, sending out two racially coded mailers.

After writing a local piece about the Rouff mailers, including the line about association with a hate group, I started getting mail along the lines of, "I think I'm going to use that line the next time a Republican asks for my vote." But this got me thinking. Why not use this line anytime I find myself in the presence of a Republican? Why ignore what has, especially recently, become the obvious? On what grounds can I justify ignoring a racist movement? Because calling out someone's association with a hate group is impolite? Or are we just taking our lead from the mainstream media, which has a long history of being toxically polite in their tolerance for mainstream racists and misogynists?

As much as I'd like to ignore Donald Trump and not give any "ink" to a reality TV buffoon, he has held pretty steady as the front-runner in the Republican presidential primary race, only temporarily trading that position with fellow hatemonger Ben Carson. Trump might be a public imbecile by profession, but he is also the favorite of the Republican electorate, and hence, a standard-bearer for the contemporary Republican Party.

The most recent act of public racism in the GOP presidential primary campaign occurred recently at an almost all-white Donald Trump rally in predominantly Black Birmingham, Alabama. A local activist, Mercutio Southall, accompanied by two other protesters, shouted three words, "Black Lives Matter," after which he was attacked by the crowd, knocked to the ground, and apparently kicked and punched by a mob of angry white men, as Trump called for them to "Get him the hell out of here." If there was any ambiguity about exactly what happened, Trump went on Fox News to clear things up the next day, explaining, "Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing." Non-white protesters have been spit on, attacked and called racial slurs at other Trump events, creating a haunting pattern reminiscent of the early stages of some of history's most hideous hate movements.

On the same day, Trump retweeted a table of bogus crime stats that inflated Black-on-white murder by 547 percent, while understating white-on-Black murder by 380 percent. New York magazine investigated the genesis of the tweet, with the earliest incarnation they could find stemming from a Nazi troll.

Trump also has publicly insisted that "thousand and thousands" of people, representing "a heavy Arab population," in Jersey City, New Jersey, came out into the streets to cheer the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001. Despite the lack of any other witness to the supposed event, at the time of this writing, Trump is still holding firm on his baseless allegation, and Republican voters are still holding firm on their support for the delusional racist demagogue.

Trump's alternate in the Republican front-runner position, Ben Carson, recently compared Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS to "rabid dogs." Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who media wonks often tout as the most moderate of the pack, suggested a religious litmus test for Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the United States, only accepting those purporting to be Christians.

Beyond the presidential contest, almost every Republican governor in the United States has come out in support of barring Syrian refugees from their states, despite the fact that they have no authority to do so, and that the federal government will have spent at least 18 months investigating and vetting each asylum applicant before admitting them to the country. Most of the rhetoric from these Republican governors was laced with xenophobia.

Nationally, Republican-controlled state legislatures have spent much of the past few years passing laws designed to undermine Black and Latino voting rights, using racially targeted barriers to suppress the Black and Latino vote. Republican governors and legislators have been defunding programs designed to increase access to education, health care and housing for groups who traditionally faced racial barriers in these areas.

With all of the leading Republican candidates spewing various degrees of religious or racial intolerance, and with Republican legislators in the US Congress and in statehouses across the country working to roll back civil rights for disenfranchised racial groups, people who maintain ties to the Republican Party, either through party registration or voting history, can no longer deny that they are part of a hate group. Those of us who, in the interest of being polite, or for fear of reprisal, choose to ignore the racism that is now endemic in the Republican Party, are facilitating the public acceptance of both this hate group, and worse, racist rhetoric in mainstream politics.

Opinion Tue, 24 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
The Difference Between Super PACs and Dark Money Groups

(Photo: Corruption via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: Corruption via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)

2015.11.24.SUPERPAC.mainKey differences between super PACs and dark money groups. (Graphic credit: Sunlight Foundation)

After an investigative report by The Washington Post revealed several super PACs acting in support of his campaign, Donald Trump acted swiftly, condemning the activities of the super PACs and ordering his attorneys to send cease and desist letters to several groups.

This action, as well as the placement of television ads by a dark money group supporting Marco Rubio, has triggered a debate within the Republican party about the impact of money in the election, with both Trump and fellow GOP hopeful Jeb Bush  taking swings at each other about the influence of dark money in the election.

We were glad to hear candidates having a spirited discussion about the role of money in the 2016 election cycle. However, a lot of the headlines mentioned Trump rejecting "dark money" in particular. (Probably because the title of his press release was "Donald J. Trump Calls On All Presidential Candidates to Return Dark Money Sent to Super PACs.")

We reached out to the Trump Campaign for clarification; what exactly did Trump mean when he used the term dark money? Press contact Hope Hicks confirmed that Trump means all money given to super PACs in particular; however, like other political action committees, super PACs do have to file regular financial disclosure forms with the Federal Election Commission, including the source of donations and the amounts given. That's why we generally refer to super PAC funds as "unlimited money."

Here's the huge caveat: Because super PACs are permitted to accept money from entities that do not have to make the sources of their funding public, such as 501(c)(4) groups, it's possible for them to keep the names of actual donors hidden from the public. We call this "dead-end disclosure."

Since campaign finance can be a complicated issue, we thought we would do a quick 101 for super PACs versus dark money for the 2016 election cycle.

Here are some of the key characteristics of unlimited money from super PACs, also referred to as "independent expenditure groups."

  • No limit on the dollar amount of contributions
  • Do disclose donors
  • Cannot coordinate with or donate money to candidates
  • Federal Election Commission has jurisdiction over these organizations
  • In election years, file reports on donors either monthly or quarterly, as well as reports on independent expenditures within either 24 or 48 hours (based upon the date and amount of the expenditure); in nonelection years, file reports on donors monthly or semi-annually, as well as reports on independent expenditures within either 24 or 48 hours (based upon the date and amount of the expenditure)

Here's an example of a super PAC disclosure form from the FEC, Karl Rove's American Crossroads. Note how each donor is listed out with specific details:


Now, let's turn to dark money. When we use the term "dark money," we mean money coming from 501(c) organizations, named after their identification in the tax code. These include social welfare groups, unions and trade organizations registered with the IRS. Recently, the focus has been on 501(c)(4) social welfare groups, since the Citizens United ruling empowered these nonprofits in particular to participate in politicking much more actively. (Here's a great rundown of 501(c)(4) groups from our friends at if you want greater detail.) Some characteristics of these groups:

  • No limit on the dollar amount of contributions

  • Do NOT have to disclose their donors

  • Cannot coordinate with or donate money to candidates

  • IRS has jurisdiction over these organizations

  • May participate in nonpartisan political activity providing a "majority" of their activity go to "social welfare" activities. (It's widely accepted that this means at least 50.1 percent of their efforts must go toward social welfare activities, which are broadly defined by the IRS.)

  • Report their spending through 990 IRS tax forms, which are typically delayed by a year or more and often long after the elections have ended; 990s often show major vendors these nonprofit hire and what groups they give money to, but are not obligated to say what the money purchased with any specificity. (However, 501(c) groups must report independent expenditures to the FEC as well.)

  • Campaign donations are sometimes funneled through these organizations to super PACs to mask donors

Here's an example of a dark money disclosure form, courtesy of ProPublica. In this case, it is American Crossroads' sister organization, Crossroads GPS.


Note how few details are released; only the dollar amount is available, even though these are big-money contributions.

The nuances of these two terms become important when you look at the attacks happening between fellow Floridians Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. After the most recent filing deadline, Rubio's campaign bragged that it had more cash on hand than the Bush Campaign.

A Bush spokesman fired back with this tweet:

Most of Rubio's television advertising has been funded by a 501(c)(4). The only reason we know about how much they are spending is because, under FCC rules, broadcasters are required to keep information about who is buying ads on their stations and make them available to the public online. This is one of the only ways to pick up on how dark money groups are getting involved in elections. However, there is no standardization of what information broadcasters are required to file making it often difficult to figure out who is behind the dark money groups.

Bush has advocated for unlimited money in elections, but requiring disclosure of donors as well as reporting contributions within 48 hours of receipt. However, it should be noted that Bush also has a 501(c)(4) dark money group, Right to Rise Solutions, supporting him as well. We have not yet seen that organization run ads on Bush's behalf, though a pro-Bush super PAC is quite active in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

News Tue, 24 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Water Pollution Trading Programs Under Fire as Report Finds Lax Oversight

A little-noticed federally-backed program is chipping away at the foundation of the Clean Water Act, one of the nation's core environmental laws, allowing major polluters to evade responsibility for contaminating rivers, streams and other waterways, an environmental group said in a report released Thursday.

So called "water quality trading" programs have quietly spread into more than 20 states, the report said, with a goal of establishing a water pollution credit trading market — essentially a cap-and-trade system, like those controversially proposed for climate change, but covering the dumping of pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorus into America's waterways.

Those nutrients are behind algae blooms that suck oxygen out of water supplies, killing fish and other wildlife and sometimes making people sick. The EPA calls nutrient pollution "one of America's most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems" and warns that the hazards are likely to grow worse as the climate warms.

Programs to trade credits for nutrient pollution are still relatively small scale, but have gained the backing of the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture. They are based on the idea that a free market can help identify the cheapest ways to cut pollution in a watershed.

"Trading programs allow facilities facing higher pollution control costs to meet their regulatory obligations by purchasing environmentally equivalent (or superior) pollution reductions from another source at lower cost, thus achieving the same water quality improvement at lower overall cost," the EPA explains on its website.

But after reviewing over 1,000 documents from pilot trading programs in Pennsylvania and Ohio, Food and Water Watchresearchers came to the conclusion that the programs, though they sound reasonable on paper, operate very differently than predicted in the real world.

With little state oversight, private contractors have been permitted to run pollution trading markets that offer highly-regulated industrial polluters the chance to essentially swap places with farms, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and feed lots whose runoff is not as tightly controlled under the Clean Water Act.

"The big, big problem that we see on the credit generating side is that agriculture operations never have to monitor, sample, never have to verify that they actually generated the pollution that underlies these credits," said Food and Water Watch attorney Scott Edwards. "It's all based on modeling. "

Although the researchers did not uncover any direct evidence of fraud, they described lax record-keeping that made any attempt to audit the programs difficult.

The programs also cross an important line in the Clean Water Act, operating in a way that environmentalists described as legally dubious, although a lawsuit challenging the emerging programs was dismissed in 2013 when a court ruled that it was premature to sue.

The Clean Water Act draws a sharp distinction between pollution that happens at a single point, like a pipe that spews chemicals into a river, and pollution that happens when rain waters flood over an area and pick up pollutants as the water flows across land. Pollution from specific point sources requires a permit, and individual people who get their water downstream from those points can sue if those permits are breached. Run-off pollution, on the other hand, is exempt from those rules, and managing that pollution is left to the discretion of state governments.

The pollution trading programs described in the Food and Water Watch report, Water Quality Trading: Polluting Public Waterways for Private Gain, allow industrial polluters like power plants to buy credits for their point source pollution, in exchange for preventing pollution from run-off. But tracking how credits move around is far more difficult than enforcing a permit with a clear limit, advocates warn.

In Pennsylvania, the researchers found, the private company running the state's trading program issued pollution credits for moving over 15 million pounds of chicken manure out of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, allowing industrial polluters like coal-fired power plants to buy up the rights to dump an equal amount of nitrogen. But 90 percent of that chicken manure was shipped to a single hay farm, the documents showed — in the Ohio River Basin rather than the Chesapeake Bay watershed, but less than a mile from a creek that's already considered "impaired," or too heavily polluted, under the Clean Water Act.

But the trail doesn't end there. That hay farm, the researchers found, acts as a manure broker, meaning that the chicken waste could be resold. And regulators weren't checking to make sure that the manure didn't wind right back up in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the report said, labeling the end result "what can only be described as a shell game."

Earlier this month, New York state rejected a similar trading proposal, citing the cost of preventing fraud or abuse.

"While they may appear on the surface to be beneficial, market-based water quality trading programs that include trading with agricultural operations require significant verification protocols that favor neither agricultural landowners nor point source dischargers," Department of Environmental Conservation spokesperson Benning DeLaMater told EP News Wire. "Such programs also include significant management overhead."

Asked about the critiques raised in the Food and Water Watch report, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection officials did not respond to questions as of press time.

Water quality trading programs in Ohio also came under scrutiny, with researchers concluding that one facility, Alpine Cheese Company, which had a long history of violating its Clean Water Act permits, pollution trading effectively allowed the company, in the Ohio River Basin, to raise its annual phosphorus pollution six-fold.

This track record has some environmentalists concerned that the trading programs have made things worse rather than better.

"I work every day with communities across the Bay states, including Pennsylvania, who struggle to get access to clean water," said Maria Payan, regional consultant for the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project. "Now, with pollution trading, one of our most important tools in that struggle — the Clean Water Act — is being taken away."

"We can no longer hold polluters accountable," she said, "when they simply buy their way out of permit compliance."

News Tue, 24 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Caricatures and Labor Force Distortions

2015.11.24.Krugman.mainJeb Bush speaks during the Republican presidential debate at the Milwaukee Theatre in Milwaukee, November 10, 2015. (Photo: Michael Appleton / The New York Times)

It's been obvious for a while that Jeb Bush is toast. Recently, however, he became French toast: After making a crack about French workweeks that was completely wrong, the Republican presidential candidate apologized for the mistake.

Fool! As National Review made clear, real men don't admit to, let alone apologize for, errors: "Apologizing to the French will not score Bush any points with the G.O.P. primary electorate," John Fund, the magazine's national-affairs correspondent, wrote. "It may show he is a gentleman, but it also shows he lacks the killer instinct of his father and brother when they ran for president."

Hey, look at Ben Carson.

But in truth the French deserve an apology from a lot of American politicians and commentators. If you think that France is a nation where everyone is either lazy or unemployed, compared with hard-working America, you're not just repeating a caricature, you're repeating a caricature that's been out of date for many years. The French do take more vacations than Americans do, but in their prime working years, they're a lot more likely to be employed than we are (see the chart).


Whenever I mention this fact, I get mail from people who insist that I must be wrong and demand a correction. And even well-informed commentators seem to be underinformed on this point. For example, Justin Fox - while not wrong in what he wrote in a recent Bloomberg column on entitlement spending - doesn't seem aware that France's lower overall labor force participation is entirely the result of early retirement and lower employment among the young, which in turn partly reflects students not having to work while they're in college.

Of course, such employment success isn't supposed to happen in countries with generous welfare states like France's. And to be fair, the chart here may reflect American failure as much as it does French success. Still, people should know that their image of France, and Europe in general, is really, really wrong.

Opinion Tue, 24 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Home, Sweet Kleptocracy: Kabul in the US

(Photo: Torn US Flag via Shutterstock)Corruption, it turns out, doesn't just devour the lives of people in far-off nations. Right now, it's busy shoving what's left of our own democracy down our throats. (Photo: Tattered US Flag via Shutterstock)

A top government official with energy industry holdings huddles in secret with oil company executives to work out the details of a potentially lucrative "national energy policy." Later, that same official steers billions of government dollars to his former oil-field services company. Well-paid elected representatives act with impunity, routinely trading government contracts and other favors for millions of dollars. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens live in fear of venal police forces that suck them dry by charging fees for services, throwing them in jail when they can't pay arbitrary fines or selling their court "debts" to private companies. Sometimes the police just take people's life savings leaving them with no recourse whatsoever. Sometimes they steal and deal drugs on the side. Meanwhile, the country's infrastructure crumbles. Bridges collapse, or take a quarter-century to fix after a natural disaster, or (despite millions spent) turn out not to be fixed at all. Many citizens regard their government at all levels with a weary combination of cynicism and contempt. Fundamentalist groups respond by calling for a return to religious values and the imposition of religious law.

What country is this? Could it be Nigeria or some other kleptocratic developing state? Or post-invasion Afghanistan where Ahmed Wali Karzai, CIA asset and brother of the U.S.-installed president Hamid Karzai, made many millions on the opium trade (which the U.S. was ostensibly trying to suppress), while his brother Mahmoud raked in millions more from the fraud-ridden Bank of Kabul? Or could it be Mexico, where the actions of both the government and drug cartels have created perhaps the world's first narco-terrorist state?

In fact, everything in this list happened (and much of it is still happening) in the United States, the world leader - or so we like to think - in clean government. These days, however, according to the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International (TI), our country comes in only 17th in the least-corrupt sweepstakes, trailing European and Scandinavian countries as well as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In fact, TI considers us on a par with Caribbean island nations like Barbados and the Bahamas. In the U.S., TI says, "from fraud and embezzlement charges to the failure to uphold ethical standards, there are multiple cases of corruption at the federal, state and local level."

And here's a reasonable bet: it's not going to get better any time soon and it could get a lot worse. When it comes to the growth of American corruption, one of TI's key concerns is the how the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision opened the pay-to-play floodgates of the political system, allowing Super PACs to pour billions of private and corporate money into it, sometimes in complete secrecy. Citizens United undammed the wealth of the super-rich and their enablers, allowing big donors like casino capitalist - a description that couldn't be more literal - Sheldon Adelson to use their millions to influence government policy.

Kleptocracy USA?

Every now and then, a book changes the way you see the world. It's like shaking a kaleidoscope and suddenly all the bits and pieces fall into a new pattern. Sarah Chayes's Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security shook my kaleidoscope. Chayes traveled to Afghanistan in 2001 as a reporter for NPR. Moved by the land and people, she soon gave up reporting to devote herself to working with non-governmental organizations helping "Afghans rebuild their shattered but extraordinary country."

In the process, she came to understand the central role government corruption plays in the collapse of nations and the rise of fundamentalist organizations like the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State. She also discovered just how unable (and often unwilling) American military and civilian officials were to put a stop to the thievery that characterized Afghanistan's government at every level - from the skimming of billions in reconstruction funds at the top to the daily drumbeat of demands for bribes and "fees" from ordinary citizens seeking any kind of government service further down the chain of organized corruption. In general, writes Chayes, kleptocratic countries operate very much as pyramid schemes, with people at one level paying those at the next for the privilege of extracting money from those below.

Chayes suggests that "acute government corruption" may be a major factor "at the root" of the violent extremism now spreading across the Greater Middle East and Africa. When government robs ordinary people blind, in what she calls a "vertically integrated criminal enterprise," the victims tend to look for justice elsewhere. When officials treat the law with criminal contempt, or when the law explicitly permits government extortion, they turn to what seem like uncorrupted systems of reprisal and redemption outside those laws. Increasingly, they look to God or God's laws and, of course, to God's self-proclaimed representatives. The result can be dangerously violent explosions of anger and retribution. Eruptions can take the form of the Puritan iconoclasm that rocked Catholic Europe in the sixteenth century or present-day attempts by the Taliban or the Islamic State to implement a harsh, even vindictive version of Islamic Sharia law, while attacking "unbelievers" in the territory they control.

Reading Thieves of State, it didn't take long for my mind to wander from Kabul to Washington, from a place where American-funded corruption was an open secret to a place where few would think it applicable. Why was it, I began to wonder, that in our country "corruption" never came up in relation to bankers the government allowed to sell mortgages to people who couldn't repay them, then slicing and dicing their debt into investment "securities" that brought on the worst recession since the 1930s? (Neil Barofsky, who took on the thankless role of inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Fund, tells the grim tale of how the government was "captured by the banks" in his 2012 book Bailout.)

Chayes made me wander ever deeper into the recent history of Washington's wheeling and dealing, including, for instance, the story of the National Energy Policy Development Group, which Vice President Dick Cheney convened in the first weeks of George W. Bush's presidency. Its charge was to develop a national energy policy for the country and its deliberations -attended by top executives of all the major oil companies (some of whom then denied before Congress that they had been present) - were held in complete secrecy. Cheney even refused to surrender the list of attendees when the Government Accountability Office sued him, a suit eventually dropped after Congress cut that agency's budget. If the goal was to create a policy that would suit the oil companies, Cheney was the perfect man to chair the enterprise.

In 2001, having suggested himself as the only reasonable running mate for Bush, Cheney left his post as CEO at oilfield services corporation Halliburton. "Big changes are coming to Washington," he told ABC News, "and I want to be a part of them." And so he was, including launching a disastrous war on Iraq, foreseen and planned for in those energy policy meetings. Indeed, documents shaken loose in a Freedom of Information Act suit brought by Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club showed that in March 2001 - months before the 9/11 attacks - energy task force members were already salivating over taking possession of those Iraqi oil fields. Nor did Cheney forget his friends at Halliburton. Their spin-off company, KBR, would receive a better-than-1,000-to-1 return on their investment in the vice president (who'd gotten a $34 million severance package from them), reaping $39.5 billion in government contracts in Iraq. And yet when did anyone mention "corruption" in connection with any of this?

Chayes's book made me think in a new way about the long-term effects of the revolving door between the Capitol - supposedly occupied by the people's representatives - and the K Street suites of Washington's myriad lobbyists. It also brought to mind all those former members of Congressgenerals, and national security state officials who parachute directly out of government service and onto the boards of defense-oriented companies or into cushy consultancies catering to that same security state.

It also made me think in a new way about the ever-lower turnouts for our elections. There are good reasons why so many Americans - especially those living in poverty and in communities of color - don't vote. It's not that they don't know their forebears died for that right. It's not that they don't object when their votes are suppressed. It's that, like many other Americans, they clearly believe their government to be so corrupt that voting is pointless.

Are We in Ferguson - or Kabul?

What surprises me most, however, isn't the corruption at the top, but the ways in which lives at the bottom are affected by it. Reading Thieves of State set me thinking about how regularly money in this country now flows from the bottom up that pyramid. If you head down, you no longer find yourself on Main Street, U.S.A., but in a place that seems uncomfortably like Kabul; in other words, a Ponzi-scheme world of the first order.

Consider, for instance, the Justice Department's 2015 report on the police in Ferguson, Missouri, about whom we've learned so much since Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot to death on August 9, 2014. As it happens, the dangers for Ferguson's residents hardly ended with police misconduct. "Ferguson's law enforcement practices are shaped by the city's focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs," Justice Department investigators found:

"This emphasis on revenue has compromised the institutional character of Ferguson's police department, contributing to a pattern of unconstitutional policing, and has also shaped its municipal court, leading to procedures that raise due process concerns and inflict unnecessary harm on members of the Ferguson community."

The report then recounted in excruciating detail the extent to which the police were a plague on the city's largely black population. Ferguson was - make no mistake about it - distinctly Kabul, U.S.A. The police, for instance, regularly accosted residents for what might be termed "sitting in a car while Black," and then charged them with bogus "crimes" like failing to wear a seat belt in a parked car or "making a false declaration" that, say, one's name was "Mike," not "Michael." While these arrests didn't make money directly for the police force, officers interested in promotion were told to keep in mind that their tally of "self-initiated activities" (tickets and traffic stops) would have a significant effect on their future success on the force. Meanwhile, those charged often lost their jobs and livelihoods amid a welter of court appearances.

Ferguson's municipal court played its own grim role in this ugly scheme. As Justice Department investigators discovered, it did not "act as a neutral arbiter of the law or a check on unlawful police conduct." Instead, it used its judicial authority "as the means to compel the payment of fines and fees that advance[d] the city's financial interests."

By issuing repeated arrest warrants when people missed court appearances or were unable to pay fines, it managed to regularly pile one fine on top of another and then often refused to accept partial payments for the sums owed. Under Missouri state law, moving traffic violations, for instance, automatically required the temporary suspension of a driver's license. Ferguson residents couldn't get their licenses back until - you guessed it - they paid their fines in full, often for charges that were manufactured in the first place.

As if in Kabul, people then had to weigh the risk of driving license-less (and getting arrested) against losing their jobs or - without a car - not making it to court. With no community service option available, many found themselves spending time in jail. From the police to the courts to city hall, what had been organized was, in short, an everyday money-raising racket of the first order.

And all of this was linked to the police department, which actually ran the municipal court. As the Justice Department report put it, that court "operates as part of the police department... is supervised by the Ferguson chief of police, is considered part of the police department for city organizational purposes, and is physically located within the police station. Court staff report directly to the chief of police." He, in turn, ran the show, doing everything from collecting fines to determining bail amounts.

The Harvard Law Review reported that, in 2013, Ferguson had a population of 22,000. That same year, "its municipal court issued 32,975 arrest warrants for nonviolent offenses," or almost one-and-a-half arrests per inhabitant. The report continued:

"In Ferguson, residents who fall behind on fines and don't appear in court after a warrant is issued for their arrest (or arrive in court after the courtroom doors close, which often happens just five minutes after the session is set to start for the day) are charged an additional $120 to $130 fine, along with a $50 fee for a new arrest warrant and 56 cents for each mile that police drive to serve it. Once arrested, everyone who can't pay their fines or post bail (which is usually set to equal the amount of their total debt) is imprisoned until the next court session (which happens three days a month). Anyone who is imprisoned is charged $30 to $60 a night by the jail."

Whether in Kabul or Ferguson, this kind of daily oppression wears people down. It's no surprise that long before the police shot Michael Brown, the citizens of Ferguson had little trust or respect for them.

Privatizing Official Corruption

But might Ferguson not have been an outlier, a unique Kabul-in-America case of a rogue city government bent on extracting every penny from its poorest residents? Consider, then, the town of Pagedale, Missouri, which came up with a hardly less kleptocratic way of squeezing money out of its citizens. Instead of focusing on driving and parking, Pagedale routinely hit homeowners with fines for "offenses" like failing to have blinds and "matching curtains" on their windows or "unsightly lawns." Pagedale is a small town, with 3,300 residents. In 2013, the city's general revenues totaled $2 million, 17% percent from such fines and fees.

Might such kleptocratic local revenue-extraction systems, however, be limited to just one Midwestern state? Consider then the cozy relationship that Augusta, capital of Georgia, has with Sentinel Offender Services, LLC. That company makes electronic monitoring equipment used by state and local government agencies, ranging from the Los Angeles County Probation Department to the Massachusetts Office of the Commissioner of Probation. Its website touts the benefits to municipalities of what it calls "offender-funded programs" in which the person on probation pays the company directly for his or her own monitoring, saving the courts the cost of administering a probation system. In return, the company sets its own fees at whatever level it chooses. "By individually assessing each participant a fee based on income," says Sentinel, "our sliding-fee scale approach has shifted the financial burden to the participant, allowing program growth and size to be a function of correctional need rather than budget availability."

"Profiting from Probation," a 2014 Human Rights Watch report, offers a typical tale of an Augusta resident named Michael Barrett. Arrested for shoplifting a can of beer, he entered a local court system that was focused on revenue extraction via a kind of official extortion, which is the definition of corruption. Even to step into a courtroom to deal with his "case," he had to hand over an $80 fee for a court-appointed defense lawyer. Then, convicted, he would be sentenced to a $200 fine and probation. Because the charge was "alcohol-related," the court required Barrett to wear an electronic bracelet that would monitor his alcohol consumption, even though his sentence placed no restrictions on his drinking. For that Sentinel bracelet, there was a $50 startup fee, a $39 monthly "service" charge, and a $12 "daily usage" fee. In total, he was forced to pay about $400 a month to monitor something he was legally allowed to do. Since Barrett couldn't even pay the startup fee, he was promptly thrown in jail for a month until a friend lent him the money.

Such systems of privatized "justice" that bleed the poor are now spreading across the U.S., a country officially without debtor's prisons. According to the Harvard Law Review article, some cities charge a "fee" to everyone they arrest, whether or not they're ever convicted of an offense. In Washington, D.C., on the other hand, for "certain traffic and a number of lower level criminal offenses," you can simply pay your arresting officer "to end a case on the spot," avoiding lengthy and expensive court costs. Other jurisdictions charge people who are arrested for the costs of police investigations, prosecution, public defender services, a jury trial ("sometimes with different fees depending on how many jurors a defendant requests"), and incarceration.

Watch Your Ass(ets)

Even Machiavelli, who counseled princes seizing new territory to commit all their crimes at once because human beings have such short memories, warned that people will accept pretty much any kind of oppression unless "you prey on the possessions or the women of your subjects." So many centuries later, while we women now tend to believe we belong to ourselves, civil asset forfeiture is still a part of American life. Unlike criminal asset forfeiture, which permits the government to seize a person's assets after conviction of a crime, civil forfeiture allows local, state, or federal law enforcement to seize and keep someone's money or other property even if he or she is never charged. If, say, you are suspected of involvement with drugs or terrorism, the police can seize all the money you have on you on the spot, even if they don't arrest you - and you have to go to court to get it back.

Federal asset forfeiture collections have risen from around $800 million in 2002 to almost $4.5 billion in 2014, according to the Institute for Justice (IJ). Governments defend the practice as a means of preventing suspected criminals - especially high-level drug dealers - from using their money to commit more crimes. But all too often, it's poor people whose money is "forfeited," even when they've committed no crime. The Pennsylvania ACLU reported that police take around a million dollars from Philadelphians each year in 6,000 separate cases - and not from drug lords either. More than half the cases involve seizures of less than $192, and in a city that's only 43% black, 71% of those seizures from people charged with no crimes come from African Americans. If your property is seized, you can try to go to court to get it back but, says the ACLU, you should expect to make an average of four court appearances. Most people just give up.

Reading Thieves of State reminded me that we're not living in the country many of us imagine, but in something like an American klepto-state. Corruption, it turns out, doesn't just devour the lives of people in far-off nations. Right now, it's busy shoving what's left of our own democracy down our throats.

Chayes documents how such corruption can lead to violent explosions in other countries. Indeed, it was a final kleptocratic insult - a police woman's slap in the face after he refused to pay a bribe to retrieve his confiscated vegetable cart - that led Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi to burn himself to death and touch off the Arab Spring. As Machiavelli wrote so long ago, people will put up with a lot - torture, mass surveillance, even a car full of clowns masquerading as candidates for president - but they don't like being robbed by their own government. Sooner or later, they will rebel. Let's hope, when that happens, that we don't end up under the rule of our own American Taliban or some billionaire reality TV star.

Opinion Tue, 24 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
My Mom Fled War, Too: Finding Compassion for Syrian Refugees

Syrian children walk through a refugee camp in Suruc, Turkey,  March 4th, 2015. (Photo via Shutterstock)Syrian children walk through a refugee camp in Suruc, Turkey, March 4, 2015. (Photo: Procyk Radek /

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Sonia Orellana stepped into the musty van, unsure of what awaited her. The then-17-year-old, a mere cipota, Salvadoran slang for little girl, had heard stories of what happens to young Salvadoreñas during their nearly 3,000-mile trek to the United States: kidnappings, rape, death. She had already crossed over from El Salvador to Guatemala unscathed, but the road to Mexico was the one to fear. Luckily for her, Orellana wasn't traveling alone. She was joined by two others, Evangelina Funes and Efrain Funes, who would eventually become her in-laws - and my aunt and uncle.

This cipota is my mother. Now 45, she lives in Uniondale, New York, the same town where her American life began 28 years ago and where I grew up. It's my home, and my mother has made it her home too.

"I didn't want to come," my mom told me in Spanish. "I came for my mother. She wanted me to have a better life, to live better; many things that one's mother wants for them, just like I want for you guys."

My mother's story reminds me of those in Syria. Most immigrants and refugees flee to find a better life. Syrians are no different. Their opportunity, however, is being attacked. When the image of the drowned 3-year-old child circulated around the Web in September, everyone rose up in solidarity. Now, following the Paris attacks, many are cowering in fear. The House passed a bill yesterday to limit refugee entrance to the United States.

We need more people like the governors in Utah and Connecticut, who have pledged to welcome refugees, because the refugees aren't the ones to fear. They are afraid too. They are escaping the very terror that wreaked havoc in Paris last week. And this fear toward outsiders? This fear that they can hurt us? It reminds me of the xenophobic rhetoric that targets Latin immigrants like my mother.

The truth is that like Syrian refugees, many of whom have chosen to risk death at sea rather than facing constant threat at home, my mother would have preferred to stay in El Salvador. Twenty-eight years later, she still feels that way. "Perhaps I should have lived my life there," she tells me. "I miss those little moments when I lived there. I was happy."

My mother fled in November 1987, arriving in New York just in time for the holidays, her first away from home. She longed to return, even with all the madness taking the country over. Just seven years earlier, people in the United States had heard about mutilated bodies appearing on roadsides. The murder of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero followed just a month after. A bomb and machine gun killed between 27 to 40 people and wounded another 200 at his funeral.

The Civil War was at full throttle.

The Salvadoran Civil War, which lasted from 1980 to 1991, left more than 75,000 Salvadorans, primarily civilians, dead. The United Nations Commission on the Truth for El Salvador in 1992-93 attributed 85 percent of these deaths to state agents. Only 5 percent of the deaths were attributed to the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, the guerilla group rebelling against the military-led government.

My mother and grandmother remember all too clearly the gruesome sight of decapitated bodies. "They'd leave the heads stuck, hanging on the fences, the hogs eating the people," my abuelita went on to tell me. The bodies belonged to people from elsewhere. San Pedro Nonualco, where my mother lived and my grandmother still does, was merely a drop-off spot, a display of terror. Once, my mother says she saw a little boy kicking around a head, playing with it.

This sort of scene is not too different than what many have described in Syria's current civil war. Theirs started four years ago. In these four short years, more than 200,000 people have been killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a nonpartisan organization documenting the situation. That's almost three times more than El Salvador's 10-year war.

Even after experiencing such trauma, these survivors come to the United States with little welcome. My mother says she felt strange when she got here. She had never met her aunt, with whom she stayed. She would go to church and beg for food and clothes. "I suffered when I came," she told me with a pained expression. "I suffered."

She remembers picking up shifts as a mall janitor and receiving strange looks from people when she couldn't communicate her thoughts. She experienced hints of racism then, but she felt it most with her meager pay. "You've got to accept the work they give."

I try to imagine what my life would be like if my mother hadn't hid in the brisk brush of the midnight desert, risking her safety for a fresh start - and I can't. My home is here. I can't imagine being somewhere else.

I imagine that Syrian refugees can. Their minds must be filled with dreams of homes where they're safe. Maybe they first dreamed of a Syria without war, but now they're forced to wake up and realize a safe home means a new home.

Eventually, these Syrian refugees will have children. They will be born in Sweden or Greece. Maybe even in Washington if President Obama's veto of the House bill succeeds. They'll learn the tongues of their grandparents and parents, but they'll also speak the language of their native country: Swedish, Greek, English. They'll be products of two worlds, human beings with compassion because they understand both sides. They'll be, well, sort of like me.

These children will have a better chance to survive and succeed than in Syria's current state. And like El Salvador, which still feels the ill effects of a civil war that ended more than 20 years ago, Syria won't recover easily. El Salvador isn't a war zone anymore, but gangs have taken over. My grandma says it's worse now than before. We don't know how Syria will end up. We will have to wait and see. What we do know is the possibilities that await these families if they are allowed peace.

As my mother and I sit in our cluttered backyard, I ask her how she feels about my siblings and me being born here. "I give thanks to God because if I would have made my life over there, I don't know," she says. "Maybe I wouldn't have all of you with me. Maybe you'd all be in gangs or involved in something. You wouldn't be what you are: prepared, alive, and with me."

I scribble what she's said and then pause. I realize she's right.

Opinion Tue, 24 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
The Power of Choice: Chicago's Black Organizers Refuse a Meeting With Mayor Emanuel

A year ago this week, Black Youth Project 100 staged a die-in at Chicago's City Hall in the wake of the non indictment of Darren Wilson. After a year of being alternately ignored and scapegoated by their city's mayor, young Black organizers in Chicago have now refused to meet with Mayor Rahm Emanuel as his administration attempts to navigate a major PR crisis. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)A year ago this week, Black Youth Project 100 staged a die-in at Chicago's City Hall in the wake of the non-indictment of Darren Wilson. After a year of being alternately ignored and scapegoated by their city's mayor, young Black organizers in Chicago have now refused to meet with Mayor Rahm Emanuel as his administration attempts to navigate a major PR crisis. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Also see: Chicago's Call for Peace Over Laquan McDonald Video Does Not Extend to Police Department

As the city of Chicago continued to await the release of a graphic police dashcam video, on Monday, with officials hinting that unprecedented charges against a Chicago police officer might be in the works, a coalition of young Black organizers announced that they were refusing a private meeting with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel, scrambling in the face of a PR nightmare, had hoped to discuss the pending release of police dashcam footage of the death of Laquan McDonald with Black youth leaders. A refusal issued Monday morning, in a statement jointly issued by the grassroots groups Black Youth Project 100, Fearless Leading by the Youth, We Charge Genocide, Assata's Daughters, the #LetUsBreathe Collective and Black Lives Matter: Chicago, carried the sentiments of those who have led the charge against police brutality in Chicago during the last year. The mayor was no doubt hoping to harness the power of these groups' credibility in the coming days as he continues to call for a tempered response to the sight of a white police officer firing 16 shots into the body of a young Black man, who reportedly posed no threat to the officer's safety. Upon receiving word of the coalition's refusal, I was both heartened, and unsurprised.

In a situation that has been defined by the choices of those with political and structural power, the power of the Black community has now been asserted, and the legitimacy of a politician who deserves no respect has been denied. It was a choice made from a position of strength and moral authority, and I am grateful for it.

This situation has been a complex one for young organizers, who are faced with the pending community trauma of the video's release. The video is said to have captured white police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times, as he attempted to walk away from approaching officers. Police, who had been following McDonald for allegedly slashing tires, have offered claims that the young man was armed with a small knife, and under the influence of drugs, in defense of the killing, but with a video of a young man riddled with bullets while simply trying to walk away about to be released, few expect those excuses to hold up to scrutiny. From what is already known of the killing, it seems evident that this is yet another case where the mere act of Black disobedience was deemed a capital offense by a white police officer, who was all-too-ready to play the part of executioner.

McDonald's mother has not viewed the video of her son's death, and has openly expressed that she does not want footage put on public display. But the clamor over the video's release has continued over time, as the city has continued to drag its feet, over the course of a year, neither firing nor indicting McDonald's killer. With the video's release now imminent, organizers are faced with the task of helping a community to express its outrage, and find love and healing in one another, as they continue to demand justice for McDonald and others.

In my own conversations with organizers, I have consistently heard them talk of love, of healing, and of wanting to show respect for McDonald's mother, who never should have endured the loss of her child, and who should not have to bear witness to the media spectacle to come. Her pain has been in their thoughts daily, as they've worked to envision a way forward, and in mine as well.

When I think about McDonald's mother, whose son's death will soon be elevated to a world stage against her wishes, I am reminded of Mamie Till Bradley's decision to have an open casket funeral for her son, Emmett Till, in 1955, after he was lynched at the age of 14 in Mississippi. After bringing his body home to Chicago, Till's mother chose to let the world bear witness to the horror of her son's death by holding a public, open-casket memorial service. She explained her decision by saying, "There was just no way I could describe what was in that box. No way. And I just wanted the world to see."

Those words are crucial, so allow me to emphasize them again:

She wanted the world to see.

Mamie Till Bradley chose to allow her son's bloated, mutilated body to be viewed by the public, and photographed by the media. She believed there was meaning in doing so. That matters. And it matters that McDonald's mother did not believe there was anything to be gained by what's currently unfolding. And given the endless spectacles of Black death that this country bears witness to, I can understand how she might feel that one more video - her son's video - won't be the one to turn the tide, and may in fact cause her and others more unnecessary pain.

In any case, her reasons are her own, and I respect that she has them. I recognize the harm of her being deprived of the right to choose what would be seen and unseen, with regard to her son's death. And we all should.

I also respect that young Black people have made a significant decision about how to build forward as the release of this video approaches. Monday morning, as dozens of Chicago activists headed to court to face charges related to last month's massive act of civil disobedience against police violence, a number of the city's most prominent young Black organizers released a statement announcing that they have refused Mayor Rahm Emanuel's invitation to discuss the pending release of the video of McDonald's death. In their press release, the group stated, "The Mayor's office is calling on community 'leaders' to control Black people's response to the execution recorded on the dashcam video to be released. It was important to deny this invitation to meet because we believe that the community has a right to respond as it sees fit."

Critical of the mayor's overall treatment of peaceful protesters, the group rejects the administration's current efforts to make young organizers players in its damage control efforts. Having challenged the mayor on the slashing of public services, and the unchecked brutality of local police, the city's efforts to host a private sit-down, at this late stage of an unfolding PR crisis, ring hollow to many in Chicago's organizing community. After all, the mayor has had no shortage of opportunities to address the concerns that Black youth have steadily raised about his slash-and-burn attitude toward Black and Brown communities and the overall nature of policing in Chicago. And while Emanuel has repeatedly claimed that community oversight has caused police to hesitate in their work, effectively scapegoating activists for Chicago's infamous crime rate, organizers point out that in spite of this alleged hesitation, Chicago police have not ceased their overwhelming use of violence.

"Chicago police kill more civilians than any other police force in the nation," according to Veronica Morris Moore, a local activist who organizes with the grassroots group Fearless Leading by the Youth.

The problems with policing in Chicago run much deeper than the current controversy over one young man's murder, at the hands of police, no matter how egregious the circumstances of his death may have been. While much has been made of the $5 million settlement paid to McDonald's family, the larger context of that number is far more telling. The city of Chicago has spent more than $500 million over the past 10 years in settlements for police misconduct. And as Chicago's mayor continues to cry poverty with regard to the city's schools, educators and public health care, he continues to oversee a police department that bleeds Chicago's public coffers of $4 million a day.

Ask anyone in Chicago if they think they are getting their money's worth, in terms of public safety, given that level of investment, and you will hear a chorus of negative responses loud enough to drown out one of the most powerful municipal PR machines in the country.

And now, finally, after so much failure, so much protest, so much distrust, the mayor wants to talk with young organizers. But privately, and quietly, so that when the video is released, he can claim that he consulted with local activists, and imply that they are in agreement with his vision of "healing" and forgetting. Emanuel wants his city to enjoy its heaviest shopping season, stare at the shiny objects in the store windows of Michigan Avenue, and to forget all about Laquan McDonald. And more than anything, he wants to avoid the world bearing witness to any of those windows breaking, because in a city as troubled and poorly governed as Chicago, he knows that the blame for such unrest would fall squarely at his feet.

After all, what action has Emanuel taken to address the tragedy of McDonald's death, prior to the imminent release of this video? What action had he taken on behalf of any Black or Brown person murdered by police in his city? Now that the visual proof of McDonald's murder is about to hit the airwaves, Emanuel is ready to acknowledge that the officer who shot McDonald "violated [the public's] trust at every level," but where were such pronouncements when young people cried out for justice for Dominique Franklin, who was tased to death by police for allegedly stealing a bottle of liquor? And where was the mayor's indignation when Chicago Police Officer Dante Servin was acquitted after firing into a crowd and killing Rekia Boyd?

Fortunately, Chicago's young organizers aren't amateurs. They are not about to lend their power to a politician who has done nothing to earn an audience with them. If Emanuel wants to engage with these young people, he will have to do so publicly, and be accountable for rejecting calls to fire an incompetent police superintendent, who has routinely defended killer cops, no matter how high the mountain of evidence against them.

At this tense moment, as we all await the trauma of our city, and the world, bearing witness to yet another police murder, Rahm Emanuel will find no free shelter. His choices have paved the path to this moment, and no one who cares about our city should stand beside him as he calls for calm and patience.

Instead, we should stand with those whose choices have always reflected a willingness to fight for a better Chicago.

It's important to remember that this is not the first time in recent history that fears of unrest in the streets have been stirred up by both politicians and the local media. Last year, as our communities prepared to protest the pending non-indictment of Darren Wilson, for the murder of Mike Brown, I was asked by numerous reporters if I was afraid of the violence that might erupt upon an announcement being made. It was a year ago this week that I took those calls, and responded to each inquiry by explaining that the fears of our communities were grounded in our fear of what police are capable of, of what they perpetrate in our communities daily, and what they might do to harm peaceful protesters.

There was, of course, no rioting in Chicago that week. Community members marched. They sat in. They created art in tribute to those the police have killed. And they built forward in strength, harnessing the momentum of the movement for Black lives to win the passage of the Reparations Ordinance - making Chicago the first city in the nation to pay reparations to victims of police torture. The organizing of Chicago's youth was sound and strategic, and unlike Emanuel's governance, it was grounded in accountability and an abiding love of Chicago's most marginalized communities.

Throughout this year, the young leaders who have carried the fight against police violence in Chicago have made the right choices. And in exchange for their efforts, they have been ignored and ultimately scapegoated by a mayor who has not cared for his city, or delivered justice when it was needed.

And now, because of this mayor's ineptitude, and that of his police superintendent, a case that could have been handled swiftly, in accordance with the rule of law, has dragged on, and the spectacle of a young man's death will further traumatize a mother, a city, and to some extent, an entire nation. One cannot feel the sting of being pushed into the margins and not feel bruised by the brutality inflicted on others who live at the mercy of a system that does not care for them.

So if Rahm Emanuel wants the counsel of Chicago's organizing community during this difficult time, he'll obviously have to offer them much better terms, but as an organizer who has worked against the violence of Emanuel's police for years, I will offer my own bit of advice to the mayor: Hold your police accountable for their violence, and answer the calls for justice that young people have issued. Let your responses to their demands be just, and as public as the horror of Laquan McDonald's death is about to be. Because you cannot spin your way out of the mess you've made, and at this juncture, damage control is going to have to mean a lot more than addressing one incident whose imagery happens to exemplify the anti-Blackness you've both allowed and perpetuated with your policies, your silence, and your disregard for the lives of the marginalized.

This is a moment informed and complicated by many choices. A young man chose to walk away from law enforcement, in a city where he had every reason to fear it. A police officer decided to gun that young man down for an alleged act of vandalism, and for attempting to leave the situation with his body and life intact. McDonald's mother was deprived of her choice, because the matter of her son's death was left unattended for so long that it became an unchecked opportunity to sensationalize yet another community trauma.

Now, those most affected by the continuance of police violence and impunity have chosen to turn their backs on a mayor who has never served them, and instead connect with their communities, in the hopes of building, resisting and healing with those who deserve to be heard in this moment. They will be neither political pawns nor passive observers. They will be what they have always been - a community of change-makers who deserve the support of their city, and of people around the country who are willing to own up to the realities of police violence in the United States, and demand something better.

While reports began to circulate on Monday evening that an indictment in the case could be announced on Tuesday, with some suggesting that Officer Van Dyke might actually be charged with murder, local activists remained skeptical. "If there is an indictment announced, that's no definite signal of justice," says Charlene Carruthers, the National Director of Black Youth Project 100. "Laquan is no longer alive," Carruthers stressed, emphasizing that a single indictment will neither heal the community's loss, nor address the underlying issues that have led to so many Black residents being killed and harmed by police.

"We also know that an indictment does not guarantee a conviction," Carruthers noted, "as we just saw with the case of Rekia Boyd and Dante Servin."

Rather than celebrating what some already view as an emergency public relations move on the city's part, Carruthers says her community will continue to focus on the larger picture. "Given the reality of what we face, in light of the Dante Servin case, and many others, we cannot put our hopes for justice in the so-called criminal justice system," she explained. "Restorative and transformative justice can only come from the community, and those who actually have our best interests in mind."

If the rumored timeline is correct, an indictment will be announced today, with the video's release to follow on Wednesday. If a murder charge is filed against Van Dyke, it will be the first time in the city's history that a Chicago police officer has faced such a charge for an on-duty shooting.

Update: In addition to the rumored indictment, it was announced Tuesday night that Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy will recommend the firing of Officer Dante Servin, saying that Servin "showed incredibly poor judgement" on the night of Rekia Boyd's death. Servin's dismissal has been a consistent demand of Black Youth Project 100, and other organizers who refused to meet with the mayor on Monday.

Opinion Tue, 24 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Neocons Make Rubio Their Favorite

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, March 14, 2013. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, March 14, 2013. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

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"We'll be fine." That's what neoconservative scion William Kristol told Beltway insiders on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" when asked about the prospect of Donald Trump winning the GOP nomination.

Although he was initially warm to Trump's candidacy, Kristol quickly cooled during the "Summer of Trump" as the GOP's surprise frontrunner began piling up insults and, more importantly, as he began piling-on the disastrous foreign policy legacy of President George W. Bush. Trump's barrages against the Iraq War on the stump, on Sunday shows and, most entertainingly, on Twitter transformed the main foreign policy "achievement" of the neoconservative movement into a toxic campaign issue for the GOP's Establishment-friendly candidates.

To wit, Trump's relentless critique of the neocon-driven Iraq debacle wounded - perhaps mortally - the presidential prospects of "The Next Bush in Line" and, in so doing, jeopardized the most obvious governmental re-entry point for the restive cadre of neocon men and women currently languishing at the American Enterprise Institute. Many are also among Jeb Bush's closest foreign policy advisers.

With the Bush brand in jeopardy and Trump unwilling to either parrot long-standing GOP talking points or regurgitate their partially-digested tropes on foreign policy, things looked bleak for the Republican Party's bellicose backbenchers.

And its big-money benefactors have been left wanting ever since Wisconsin wunderkind Scott Walker ignominiously left the race with a whimper. Unlike the rest of the field, Troublesome Trump is not running for a big payday in the Sheldon Adelson primary. And Trump is not beholden to big-dollar bundlers nor is he quietly coordinating with a well-funded Super PAC.

The prospect of a Republican nominee who is - whether for good or for ill - entirely free from traditional levers of influence led Kristol to go so far as to declare he'd support a third-party candidate if Trump became the standard bearer of a party the neoconservatives have dominated for three decades.

But the big GOP Establishment freak-out over the possibility of a string-less presidential nominee may be coming to an end. And Kristol, who is a notoriously flat-footed prognosticator, anticipated it a week before the punditocracy crowned Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, the winner of the now-notorious CNBC "dumpster fire" debate and long before the Paris Attack refocused both the GOP race and the tragedy-obsessed media on national security.

This is Sen. Marco Rubio's best chance yet to turn his national security candidacy into the Establishment's main alternative to both Trump and to the Evangelical-fueled anomaly of Dr. Ben Carson. Rubio's recent move to the Establishment's pole position - complete with the public backing of billionaire Paul Singer and the Weekly's Standard's recent pronouncement that Jeb's flaccid candidacy was "dead" - also presents the best opportunity for neoconservatives eager to retake control of U.S. foreign policy.

Ironically, Trump may have done them a favor. By burning Bush on his well-funded ties to SuperPAC puppet-masters and by relentlessly linking him with the worst memories of his brother's tenure, Trump cleared the way for the ultimate neoconservative dreamboat - Marco Rubio.

Which may be why, after reassuring everyone that "We'll be fine," the Conservative Cassandra told the "Morning Joe" scrum that a "Rubio-Fiorina or a Fiorina-Rubio ticket's going to win in November" and that "everyone should calm down."

Who Is "We"?

When Bill Kristol says "we'll be fine," who is the "we" he's talking about? The country? The Republican Party?

Or is he talking specifically about the neoconservative brand and the much-maligned "shoot first, spend copiously and don't bother to ask questions later" approach to foreign policy that turned the "neocon" name into pejorative term while also tarnishing the Republican Party and, in many ways, opening it up to outsiders and insurgents.

When pundits refer to Trump as an "outsider" who is running afoul of the "Establishment," in many ways the Establishment they are talking about is the neoconservative-neoliberal alliance that has dominated the GOP since neoconservatives began exerting control over Ronald Reagan's often-brutal and occasionally-illegal policies in Central America and their neoliberal soul-mates ushered-in the era of low taxes, high spending and wholesale deregulation most people refer to as "Reaganomics."

Over time, this has opened up a schism in the Republican Party between this dominant force and so-called paleo-conservatives, assorted libertarians and lingering "country-club" moderates who've failed to regain traction in a party dominated by Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and the ghost of Milton Friedman.

At the end of the grand neocon experiment, also known as "Bush-43," a potent combination of runaway spending, painful skepticism about the grinding Iraq War and, most directly, the hastily-engineered bailout of Wall Street blew that rift wide open. That's when the Tea Party rushed in and wrested control of the GOP agenda away from the Establishment.

And, like him or not, Donald Trump has, like the Tea Party before him, exploited that rift in the GOP to great effect, particularly on the issue of interventionism. Unlike most of the other candidates, Trump's evisceration of the Iran Nuke Deal stops short of "ripping it up" on "day one" of his presidency. Rather, he proclaims he'll be all over the Iranians like a cheap suit, pressing the enforcement of the deal like no other leader could.

And he's one of the few major political figures of either party to state bluntly that both Iraq and Libya would both be better off if the United States hadn't taken it upon itself to replace Saddam Hussein and Col. Gaddafi with swirling maelstroms of chaos. But even worse in the neocon universe is Trump's position on Syria and his approach to Vladimir Putin.

In a direct challenge to the neoconservative policy of relentless Middle Eastern fight-picking and their decades-long obsession with crippling Russia, a President Trump would, according to his repeated statements, prefer to let Russia and Iran have at it in the fight against the Islamic State. Trump is also willing to let Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stay in power if that would keep a lid on the beheading badguys.

And - in what has become one of the ultimate neocon "no-nos" - Trump said he'd work to "get along" with Putin. To coin a phrase, "That's huge."

Trump's transgression of neoconservative orthodoxy set off warning bells at Commentary and its sirens have been ringing like a shrill car alarm ever since. Noah Rothman warned that if elected, Trump would start cutting some of his famous deals directly with "the devil." The devil is, of course, not in the details. The devil is, according to neoconservatives, Vladimir Putin.

And Max "Don't Call Me Jack" Boot summarily labeled Trump an "apologist for dictators," while Rothman tarred Trump's demonstrable claim that America was not, in fact, "safe" on 9/11 as tantamount to a dreaded "conspiracy theory."

Meanwhile, The Weekly Standard has subtlety jabbed Trump with petty guilt-by-association blurbs about Mike Tyson and Barack Obama even as the folks at Commentary have accused Trump of going "full Democrat." But the irony is that Trump is not pulling Democratic ideas into the GOP race. Rather, Trump is leveraging a long-simmering feud between GOP insurgents - one that dates back to Pat Buchanan's challenge to then-President George H.W. Bush in 1992 - and the GOP Establishment.

The "outsiders" are now a hodge-podge of Tea Party activists, Dr. Ben Carson's disgruntled Evangelicals and the traditional, cautious conservatism expressed by The American Conservative. It is also found in the lingering, almost rock-star appeal of longtime Libertarian representative and former presidential candidate Ron Paul.

Trump's support, which often overlaps with the Tea Party, exemplifies its split on foreign policy. Like Trump, Tea Partiers are vociferous hawks, but also not necessarily interventionist. Rather, the Tea Party harbors a range of views from the knee-jerk militarism of Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, to the surprisingly less enthusiastic stance of another presidential hopeful, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

On "Meet the Press," Cruz told Chuck Todd, "I don't believe we should be engaged in nation building. I don't believe we should be trying to transform foreign countries into democratic utopias, trying to turn Iraq into Switzerland. But I do think it is the job of our military to protect this country, to hunt down and kill jihadists who would murder us."

Obviously, Americans have heard that one before and it's entirely likely that the opportunistic Cruz is simply positioning himself to soak-up Trump's base of support if and when he falters. But it's notable that the astute political move to capture Trump's support is to position yourself in opposition to knee-jerk interventionism and, therefore, to neoconservatism.

This lingering war-weariness and unease with empire is often derided by neoconservatives and, for that matter, by the foreign policy establishments of both parties, as "isolationism." In many ways, the choice between "interventionism" and "isolationism" is Beltway Establishment's ultimate litmus test. When politicians and pundits label a candidate as "isolationist" it's usually the kiss of death. Nothing is more dangerous than someone who threatens to derail 75 years of hegemonic momentum.

And unlike Trump, it is this test that Sen. Marco Rubio has purposefully and methodically passed since he announced his candidacy last April. He quickly followed up with a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in May that hit all the interventionist sweet spots.

According to the Guardian, Rubio stopped short of appointing Uncle Sam as the "world's policeman," yet also wanted to "arm the Ukrainian military, pull back from negotiations with Iran, increase air strikes in Iraq, increase naval activity in the China Sea, [and] reverse the 'normalization' of relations with Cuba."

Rubio further differentiated himself from Trump and "America Firsters" in a Weekly Standard feature article inauspiciously titled, "The Republican Obama." In an interview for the story, Rubio stakes out a decidedly neoconservative position on the increasingly failed state of Libya. According to Rubio, the bloody chaos is not a result of the vacuum created by intervention, but because President Obama failed to "help quickly bring the civil war to a decisive conclusion."

In other words, Obama's intervention did not go far enough. And, as he told John McCormack, neither did the base of his own party: "When I called for us to be more aggressive in Libya, there were a lot of people in the base of my party who were against that," he said in the interview. "I wouldn't call it isolationism per se, but there was a growing movement in that direction in 2011, 2012, and 2013 that really didn't end until ISIS beheaded two Americans."

And if this stark contrast with Trump's blistering critique of U.S. foreign policy and Cruz's admonition against transforming other nations into "democratic utopias" doesn't expose the fissure between the GOP's insurgents and its increasingly discredited Establishment, Rubio's stance on Russia and Vladimir Putin shows the extent to which Trump stands in direct contraposition to the neoconservative agenda and how qualified Rubio is to be its standard bearer.

In October, The Wall Street Journal detailed Rubio's ever-hardening line on Putin which is, by subtle extension, an attack on Trump's foreign policy bona fides. Rubio said, "We are barreling toward a second Cold War, and strong American leadership is the only force capable of ensuring that peace and security once again prevail," and promised that "under my administration, there will be no pleading for meetings with Vladimir Putin. He will be treated as the gangster and thug that he is. And yes, I stand by that phrasing."

The Standard-Bearer

Remember the last time someone proposed a "New American Century"? That was The Project for a New American Century (PNAC), which formed in the late 1990s, and its roster read like a who's who of neoconservative busybodies, defense industry enthusiasts and future functionaries of President George W. Bush's Global War on Terror.

In September of 2000, the now-defunct "Project" infamously outlined its principles in a document titled "Rebuilding America's Defenses." In it, PNAC lamented the lagging military power of the United States in absence of the Cold War. It also detailed an expensive plan to militarize every level of existence from microbes to space and, most notoriously, said this massive "rebuilding" of "defenses" would be impossible to sell to the American people without a catalyzing event like "a new Pearl Harbor."

Sadly, that catalyzing event came on 9/11. But the subsequent "project" for a new American century quickly turned into a burning tire around the neck of neoconservatives. It also opened a financial sinkhole in the U.S. budget and it visited a multigenerational disaster on the inhabitants of the Middle East.

For critics, PNAC's big plan looked a lot like a smoking gun that demonstrated the premeditated opportunism of Administration insiders who quickly and effectively turned the Saudi-dominated attack on 9/11 into the wholesale destruction of a sovereign, bystander nation, Iraq, under patently false pretenses.

Yet, as if on cue, PNAC pulled their plug in 2006. That was just about the same time their much-ballyhooed "transformative" War on Iraq was devolving into a much-maligned quagmire. Thus, PNAC quietly disbanded just as public opinion finally turned on President Bush and after the neocons had engineered a global, full-spectrum war against an age-old asymmetrical tactic called terrorism.

Since then - and since the election of Barack Obama in 2008 - the neoconservatives have been relegated mostly to the pundit peanut gallery. William Kristol, Bush functionary Dan Senor and PNAC signatory Robert Kagan rebooted PNAC as the much-less confrontationally named Foreign Policy Initiative.

Kagan's wife, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, lorded over Ukraine's chaotic shift away from neocon nemesis Vladimir Putin, but Kristol's Emergency Committee for Israel failed to derail President Obama's nuclear deal with another favorite target - the Islamic Republic of Iran.

And although Kristol seems to have found an acolyte in Tea Party-propelled Sen. Tom Cotton, neocon pundit Max Boot recently lamented the failure of Congress to force through the kind of bloated defense budget that has long animated his fellow travelers.

The rub is that although the GOP is still reflexively pro-military, there is also a strong strain of budgetary squeamishness built into the anti-government appeal of the Tea Party. In part, that led to the infamous "budget sequester" deal with the President in 2011 that put caps on everything, including defense spending.

Since then, according to Boot, the defense budget hasn't been "serious" - and by "serious" he means that an annual budget of nearly a trillion dollars (a total including ALL defense-related spending) simply isn't enough if America plans on seriously dealing with a panoply of "threats" from China, ISIS, Iran and Russia, among others.

Not coincidentally, all those "threats" also appear on Sen. Marco Rubio's laundry list of doom. Also not coincidentally, the boyish charmer with a Hispanic name, Cuban roots and a compelling immigrant back story is pitching his transformative candidacy with a catchy campaign slogan that sounds vaguely, perhaps even ominously familiar: "Marco Rubio: A New American Century."

Yes, Rubio has gone "Full-Neocon" and the echoes of grand designs past don't stop with his blatant campaign slogan. On Nov. 5, Rubio gave a sweeping speech in New Hampshire outlining his defense policies that could, according to an expert at the Cato Institute, add upwards of $1 trillion dollars on top of current budget projections over the next decade.

It was that extra trillion dollars that GOP hopeful Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, attacked as "not conservative" in the FOX Business Debate. Rubio responded predictably by labeling Paul as an "isolationist."

But Sen. Paul highlighted the key difference between the Tea Party and Rubio, who is not a real conservative in the fiscal sense. Rather, Rubio is a neoconservative armed with global aspirations and a staggering military-industrial wish-list to boot. No doubt, it certainly is the type of "serious" defense budget that makes Max Boot dance. Rubio calls it his plan to "Restore Military Strength," which sounds an awful lot like PNAC's "Rebuilding America's Defenses."

Among the pricy "restorations" on Rubio's To-Do List:

–Reverse the current cuts and maintain the Marine Corps and the Army at their pre-9/11 end-strengths of 182,000 and 490,000 respectively.

–Immediately begin to increase the size of the Navy to a minimum of 323 ships by 2024.

–Build at least two attack submarines every year to preserve America's undersea dominance amid intensifying naval competition.

–Develop and field the Long Range Strike Bomber capable of both conventional and nuclear missions to replace our current aging fleet of B-52, B-1, and B-2 bombers.

–Expand missile defense by speeding up deployment of interceptors in Europe, deploying a third site in the United States, and ensuring that advanced programs are adequately funded.

–Increase the Missile Defense Agency's Research & Development budget and create a rapid-fielding office to focus on fielding directed energy weapons, railguns, UAV-enabled defenses, and other means to defeat a threat missile across its entire flight trajectory.

–Modernize the nuclear arsenal and stop the Obama administration's proposed cuts to the nuclear arsenal.

–Improve anti-submarine capabilities; procure advanced air warfare capabilities; sustain our advantage in precision strike from land, air, and sea; and invest in electronic warfare capabilities.

–Reposture the tactical Air Force for increased presence in Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Northeast Asia.

–Build a "full spectrum" force able to maintain security simultaneously in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

–Maintain the Army's proficiency across the full spectrum of war in order to combat state actors, defeat non-state threats, and shape the security environment to America's advantage.

This emphasis on "full-spectrum dominance" was exactly the thrust of the neoconservative agenda outlined in "Rebuilding America's Defenses" and is, in essence, a de facto program for complete military dominance of the entire planet on the land, the sea, in space and, for the tech-enthusiastic Rubio, in cyberspace.

And it also puts him in good company with the neoconservative agenda outlined by the Executive branch backbenchers at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

In what cannot be written off as a mere coincidence, PNAC's former executive director Gary J. Schmitt is now at AEI and his name tops the header of AEI's new, daunting 87-page plan "To rebuild America's military." In addition to wanting to expand U.S. capabilities to be able to fight wars inthreetheaters simultaneously, the neoconservative's latest assessment details these "key points" of concern about America's military power:

–The current U.S. military force is too small, its equipment is too old, and it is not trained or ready for a large or long fight.

–The decline of U.S. military power has severe implications for security and prosperity not just in America but also in Europe, in East Asia, and especially across the greater Middle East.

–Defense planning for the next administration must take a long-term perspective, adopting a three-theater force construct, increasing military capacity, introducing new capabilities urgently, and increasing and sustaining defense budgets.

Not surprisingly, the issues highlighted in this latest neocon manifesto would all be resolved by Rubio's suspiciously simpatico wish list. Perhaps more troubling is that Rubio is also being supported by a secretive non-profit that is, for all intents and purposes, running a shadow campaign to get Rubio elected.

The Shadow Campaign

Amidst a dizzying array of heavily-funded SuperPACs, billionaire benefactors and the troubling news that nearly half of the cash poured into presidential campaign came from just 158 families, The Conservative Solutions Project (CSP) is quietly reshaping the already skewed campaign finance system.

"The Project" is a non-profit "social welfare" organization that has thus far raised $15 million. There's nothing wrong with that. However, their novel idea of social welfare centers on a single-minded "project" to elect Sen. Marco Rubio as America's first truly neoconservative president.

Unlike Jeb Bush's much-discussed $100+ million Right to Rise PAC, the Conservative Solutions Project is not a "SuperPAC." In post-Citizens United America, SuperPACs can raise and spend unlimited amount of cash, but also have to disclose the names of donors and the amounts of their donations. But, because CSP is officially registered as a "501(c)(4) social welfare organizations," it is able to keep the names and amounts of its financially unfettered donors completely secret.

Like SuperPACs, social welfare organizations cannot coordinate directly with a candidate. But unlike SuperPACs, that shouldn't even be an issue because social welfare organizations are not supposed to advocate directly for political campaigns at all. Period.

The IRS states bluntly, "The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office." They can "engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity."

Yet, the Conservative Solutions Project has been the primary source of an "ad blitz" starring none other than Marco Rubio. And, according to the National Journal, that's quite literally "none other." S.V. Dáte reported in late October that "every single one of the group's thou­sands of tele­vi­sion ads, in fact, has fea­tured Ru­bio" and it shouldn't come as a surprise since "its lead­er co-foun­ded a polit­ic­al con­sult­ing firm with the man­ager of Ru­bio's pres­id­en­tial cam­paign."

Even more glaring is that "there have been no TV ads tout­ing Ru­bio thus far oth­er than those by Con­ser­vat­ive Solu­tions Pro­ject."

Apparently, the impressive roster of GOP insiders at CSP believe there is no conflict in running $3 million worth of ads touting Rubio's anti-Iran Nuke Deal stance. Nor is there any problem with the $3 million ad-buy showing Rubio at the Iowa State Fair. Nor is there any problem with the $2 million they've allocated to run even more Rubio-centric ads through this coming February, according to Associated Press.

But the campaign finance watchdogs at The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 disagree. According to The Hill, both sent letters to the Justice Department requesting an investigation of CSP's specious interpretation of IRS code. And those requests come on the heels of an earlier complaint filed directly with the IRS by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Noah Bookbinder, director of CREW, bluntly told the Associated Press that CSP's Rubio-centric media blitz "is an abuse of the nonprofit status."

Those allegations are simply not true, according to Conservative Solutions Project spokesperson Jeff Sadosky. He claims that CSP meets the IRS requirement of "promoting greater social welfare" by using its website to tout the accomplishments of a few other Republicans besides Marco Rubio.

Still, it's a strange interpretation of social welfare. But, then again, this is the sort of shameless spin you might expect from a person who is doing double-duty as spokesperson for both a faux non-profit and for a pro-Rubio super-PAC that is named, and this is not a joke, Conservative Solutions PAC.

So, Rubio's candidacy is not only being propelled by a SuperPAC that cannot officially coordinate with his campaign, his SuperPAC is working hand-in-glove with a secretly-funded social welfare organization that cannot legally be engaged in wholesale political activities.

The kicker is that their idea of "social welfare" - beyond touting the "accomplishments" of various and sundry politicians - is an "Agenda for American Exceptionalism" that includes "reforming the tax code" (meaning tax cuts) and "shrinking and restructuring the federal government" while also "restoring our military and America's standing in the world to promote peace, freedom, and prosperity" - all of which Rubio dutifully and robotically regurgitates in every speech and during each debate.

As noted previously, Rubio's PNAC-echoing national security plan is called "Restore Military Strength" which, of course, is reflected in CSP's "Agenda for American Exceptionalism."

While it is true that this could all be mere coincidence, what is not coincidental is, as Scott Bland reported in the National Journal last April, the incestuous relationships behind Rubio's bid for the White House. Bland revealed that CSP "com­mis­sioned a minutely de­tailed, 270-page polit­ic­al re­search book on early-state primary voters last year, and the re­port was pre­pared by a firm on Ru­bio's own polit­ic­al payroll."

That firm is 0p­timus Con­sult­ing and it has a remunerative relationship with Rubio's leadership PAC dating back to 2013. According to the National Journal, Ru­bio's leadership PAC - Reclaim America PAC - paid 0p­timus "$200,000 in 2013 and 2014 for data and ana­lyt­ics con­sult­ing, ac­cord­ing to fed­er­al cam­paign-fin­ance dis­clos­ures."

Although Rubio's campaign cannot coordinate with Conservative Solutions PAC and neither his campaign nor the SuperPAC is allowed to sync-up activities with the Conservative Solutions Project because it is forbidden to do so by the IRS, the 270-page research book is not only available on Con­ser­vat­ive Solu­tions Pro­ject's web­site, but Bland reported that it is "also on the Op­timus web­site, where a de­scrip­tion says it was pro­duced 'in con­junc­tion with the Con­ser­vat­ive Solu­tions PAC,' though the re­port it­self is branded with the non­profit's name."

Thus far, the Conservative Solutions Project has raised somewhere around $15 million dollars and spent about $8 million on the Rubio ad blitz. Conservative Solutions PAC has, as of the last report in June, raised $16 million and spent almost none of it.

That two-headed beast allows Rubio's federally regulated campaign to conserve cash while it engages in a pitched battle on the airwaves with the SuperPAC and the campaign of the other Establishment option, Jeb Bush. Jeb's SuperPAC - which is not "officially" coordinating with his campaign - spent over $17 million in ads to keep his flagging campaign afloat.

Of course, The Next Bush in Line also has a non-profit "social welfare" organization lingering in the shadows of the campaign. But Right to Rise Policy Solutions doesn't have the money nor is it poised to capture the biggest fish in the muddy waters of modern moneyed electioneering. That's what Rubio's supposedly uncoordinated "social welfare" group is about to do.

The Center for Responsive Politics tracked past giving and found that Sheldon Adelson and his wife "combined to be the biggest campaign donors of the 2012 cycle." Now, The Guardian reports that insiders believe the billionaire casino mogul is leaning toward spilling million of dollars of largesse into the Conservative Solutions Project. It stands to reason because Rubio reportedly calls upon Adelson regularly and CSP's pet project over the summer was a multimillion ad campaign trumpeting Sen. Rubio's hardline opposition to dealing with the dreaded mullahs of Iran.

And Adelson, who is closely connected to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has in the decidedly anti-Iranian and reflexively pro-Israel Rubio a perfect recipient for his lavish financial attention. But Adelson is not alone. Florida billionaire and former Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman is a long-time supporter willing to dip deep into his pocket for Rubio - and for his wife, who, the Washington Post reported, works part-time for the Braman family foundation. Like Adelson, U.S. policy toward Israel is one of Braman's primary concerns.

The same is true for billionaire Paul Singer, who previously teamed up with Adelson, billionaire hedge funder Seth Klarman and Home Depot founder Bernard Marcus to pump "a combined $11.5 million to some of the biggest opponents of the Iran negotiations from 2011 through 2013, and pumped $115 million into Republican Party super PACs in the 2012 and 2014 elections," according to Huffington Post.

A noted Wall Street wizard, Singer's recent endorsement burnishes Rubio's establishment credentials. But Singer has a long history of supporting the junior Senator from Florida. The Center for Responsive Politics lists Singer's hedge fund Elliott Management as the second most prolific giver to Rubio between 2009 and 2014 (right between Club for Growth and Goldman Sachs) and there's little doubt he will give copiously to Rubio's shadowy social welfare-SuperPAC hybrid.

Although Rubio is well-positioned to be the "rational" alternative to Trump and Carson, it also puts him squarely on the other side of the rift that has half of GOP voters supporting the two outsiders. And, like he did with Jeb Bush, Trump characterized Rubio ties to billionaires as puppet strings, calling him a "perfect little puppet" of Sheldon Adelson in one particularly lively tweet.

Strings Attached

This is Marco's moment. Like the neoconservative brand he has franchised, Rubio has been waiting for the catalyzing event he can leverage into to transformative program to "rebuild" the world's largest military and extend its already global-spanning reach.

Within hours of the Islamic State's stunning attack on Paris, the ever-vigilant Rubio turned it into a profligate fundraising pitch and an anti-refugee addendum to his artful dodge on the one issue that Trump and newly-rising Ted Cruz can use against him - immigration.

But that's the double-edged sword of Rubio's Establishment bid - he's a perfectly-crafted neoconservative Ken Doll who hits all their marks, but, at the same time, he's an animatronic Establishment robot who reliably recites a well-worn message at least half of all GOP voters are currently rejecting out of hand.

This isn't the 2000 election, when George W. Bush touted humility and a discomfort with nation building in the campaign before flipping the switch to a messianic mission after the "new Pearl Harbor" changed everything.

The GOP's America Firster and Tea Party elements are distrustful of the Establishment and the nation as a whole is not keen on the neoconservative legacy. In perhaps the ultimate insult, noted lefty commentator Peter Beinart hilariously labeled neocon nemesis Vladimir Putin as the Russian equivalent of … a neocon.

But the danger is that neoconservatives know that they are not popular and that's why they've re-booted themselves into the Foreign Policy Initiative, into the recently launched John Hay Initiative (purposefully named after Secretary of State John Hay, the man behind America's neo-colonial "Open Door" policy in China) and, by every indication, into the not-so-stealthy candidacy of Marco Rubio.

If there is such a thing as "truth" in political advertising, perhaps Rubio's catchy campaign refrain says it all. His election looks like it's their latest "project" for a "new American century."

News Tue, 24 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
The War on Terror Is a War on Youth: Paris and the Impoverishment of the Future

Muslim demonstrators gather in Milan, Italy, on November 21, 2015, in opposition to the terrorist attacks happened in Paris on November 13, 2015. (Photo via Shutterstock)Muslim demonstrators gather in Milan, Italy, on November 21, 2015, in opposition to the terrorist attacks that happened in Paris on November 13, 2015. (Photo: Eugenio Marongiu /

Following the attacks in Paris, we must acknowledge that the seeds of terrorism do not lie simply in ideological fundamentalism, but also in conditions of oppression, war, racism, poverty and violent assaults on young people, in the Middle East and the West.

Muslim demonstrators gather in Milan, Italy, on November 21, 2015, in opposition to the terrorist attacks happened in Paris on November 13, 2015. (Photo via Shutterstock)Muslim demonstrators gather in Milan, Italy, on November 21, 2015, in opposition to the terrorist attacks that happened in Paris on November 13, 2015. (Photo: Eugenio Marongiu /

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"There's a nagging sense of emptiness. So people look for anything; they believe in any extreme - any extremist nonsense is better than nothing." - JG Ballad

There is a revealing similarity between the attacks on September 11, 2001 - when airplanes were flown into the twin towers, killing thousands of people - and the attacks in Paris, in which over 130 people were killed and hundreds wounded. Yet, what they have in common has been largely overlooked in the mainstream and alternative media's coverage of the more recent terrorist attacks. While both assaults have been rightly viewed as desperate acts of alarming terrorism, what has been missed is that both acts of violence were committed by young men. This is not a minor issue because unraveling this similarity provides the possibility for addressing the conditions that made such attacks possible.

ISIS capitalizes on the desperation, humiliation and loss of hope that many young Muslims experience in the West.

While French President François Hollande did say soon after the Paris assault that "youth in all its diversity" was targeted, he did not address the implications of the attacks' heinous and wanton violence. Instead, he embraced the not-so-exceptional discourse of militarism, vengeance and ideological certainty, a discourse that turned 9/11 into an unending war, a tragic mistake that cost millions of lives and ensured that the war on terrorism would benefit and play into the very hands of those at which it was aimed. The call for war, retribution and revenge extended the violent landscape of everyday oppressions by shutting down any possibility for understanding the conditions that gave birth to the violence committed by young people against innocent youthful civilians.

To read more articles by Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

Hollande channeled the Bush/Cheney response to an act of terrorism and in doing so further paved the way for the emergence of the mass surveillance state, and the collapsing of the state-army distinction, all the while legitimating a culture of fear and demonization that unleashed a wave of racism and Islamophobia. There is a hidden politics here that prevents a deeper understanding, not only of the failure of the government's responses to the Paris attacks, but also how such warlike strategies legitimate, reproduce and quicken further the acts of violence, moving governments closer to the practices of a security state. Under such circumstances, fear becomes the foundation for producing both regressive and vindictive policies and for producing subjects willing to accept violence as the best solution to address the conditions that cause such fear. Judith Butler is right in arguing that the fear and rage at the heart of such responses "may well turn into a fierce embrace of a police state." (1)

A War Waged on Youth and by Youth

While politicians, pundits and the mainstream media acknowledged that the Paris attackers largely targeted places where young people gathered - the concert hall, the café and the sports stadium - what they missed was that this act of violence was part of a strategic war on youth. In this instance, youth were targeted by other youth. This incident was part of a larger war waged on youth and by youth. For ISIS, the war on youth translates into what might be called hard and soft targets. As hard targets, young people are subject to intolerable forms of violence of the sort seen in the Paris attacks. Moreover, there is a kind of doubling here because once they are lured into the discourse of extremism and sacrificial violence, they are no longer targeted or defined by their deficits. On the contrary, they now refigure their sense of agency, resentment and powerlessness in the image of the suicide bomber who now targets other young people. The movement here is from an intolerable sense of powerlessness to an intolerable notion of violence defined through the image of a potential killing machine. In this instance, the hard war cannot be separated from the soft war on youth, and it is precisely this combination of tactics that is missed by those Western governments waging the war on terrorism.

The soft war represents another type of violence, one that trades in both fear and a sense of certainty and ideological purity borne of hyper-moral sensibilities, which writes off the victim as a mere necessity to the wider sacred claim. As symbols of the future, youth harbor the possibility of an alternative and more liberating worldview, and in doing so they constitute a threat to the fundamentalist ideology of ISIS. Hence, they are viewed as potential targets subject to intolerable violence - whether they join terrorist groups or protest against such organizations. It is precisely through the mobilization of such fear that whatever hopes they might have for a better world is undermined or erased. This constitutes an attack on the imagination, designed to stamp out any sense of critical agency, thoughtfulness and critical engagement with the present and the future.

This was an attack not simply on the bodies of youth, but also an attempt to kill any sense of a better and more democratic future.

The use of violence by ISIS is deftly designed to both terrorize young people and to create a situation in which France and other governments, influenced by structural racism and xenophobia, will likely escalate their repressive tactics toward Muslims, thereby radicalizing more young people and persuading them to travel to Syria to fight in the war effort. Put differently, when Hollande calls for pitiless vengeance, he is creating the warlike conditions that will enable an entire generation of Muslim youth to become sacrificial agents and the pretext for further violence. When violence becomes the only condition for possibility, it either suppresses political agency or allows it to become either a target or the vehicle for targeting others. War is a fertile ground for resentment, anger and violence because it turns pure survivability into a doctrine, and produces subjects willing to accept violence as the best solution to addressing the conditions that cause an endless cycle of humiliation, fear and powerlessness.

But the soft war does more than trade in a culture of fear. It also relies on a pedagogy of seduction, persuasion and identification. ISIS also capitalizes on the desperation, humiliation and loss of hope that many young Muslims experience in the West, along with an endless barrage of images depicting the violence waged by Western nations against Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern nations. The spectacle of violence is its defining organizational principle. Many youth in the West are vulnerable to ISIS propaganda because they are constantly subject to widespread discrimination, and because of their religion, continue to be harassed, dismissed and humiliated. Much of this is further exacerbated by the expanding Islamophobia produced by right-wing populists in Europe and the United States. (2) All the while, their suffering and impoverishment are ignored while their resentment is dismissed as a variant of ideological and political extremism devoid of both historical forces and personal experiences. Heiner Flassbeck rightly argues that ISIS is particularly adept at highlighting the conditions that produce this sense of resentment, anger and powerlessness, and how it strategically addresses the vulnerability of Muslim youth to join ISIS by luring them with the promise of community, support and visions of an Islamic utopia. He writes:

For as much as we know, they grew up in human and social conditions that few of us can even imagine. They grew up fearing attracting attention to themselves and being branded as potential terrorists if they were a bit too religious (in the eyes of the West) or frequented Arab circles a bit too often. They also saw that the West shows little reservation in bombing what they considered their "home countries" and killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people in order to guarantee the "safety" of its citizens.... The sad truth is that thousands of young men grow up in a world in which premeditated killings take place on an almost daily basis when army personnel from thousands of miles away push a button. Is it really surprising that some of them lose their wits, strike back and create even more violence and the death of many innocent people? (3)

When the conditions that oppress youth are ignored in the face of the ongoing practices of state terrorism - the attacks waged on Muslim youth in France and other countries, the blatant racism that degrades a religion as if all terrorists are Muslims or forgets that all religions produce their own share of terrorists - there is little hope to address the conditions that both impoverish and oppress young people, let alone developing the insight and vision to address such conditions before they erupt into a nihilistic form of rage. Abdelkader Benali gives credence to this argument when he writes:

But I know from my own experience that the lure of extremism can be very powerful when you grow up in a world where the media and everyone around you seems to mock and insult your culture. And European governments are not helping fight extremism by giving in to Islamophobia cooked up by right-wing populists. What I see is a lack of courage to embrace the Muslims of Europe as genuinely European - as citizens like everyone else. (4)

Very few voices are talking about the terrorist attacks in Paris as part of what can be called the war on youth. The terrorists in this case targeted places where young people gather, sending a message that suggests that young people will have no future unless they can accept the ideological fundamentalism that drives terrorist threats and demands. This was an attack not simply on the bodies of youth, but also on the imagination, an attempt to kill any sense of a better and more democratic future. When this script is ignored or derided as an unrealistic fantasy, war, militarism, violence and revenge define the only option for governments and young people to consider: a binary forged in a complex friend-enemy duality that erases the conditions that produce ISIS or the conditions that make possible the recruitment of young people to such a deadly ideology.

The Seeds of Terrorism

The seeds of terrorism do not lie simply in ideological fundamentalism; they also lie in conditions of oppression, war, racism, poverty, the abandonment of entire generations of Palestinian youth, the dictatorships that stifle young people in the Middle East and the racist assaults on Black youth in urban centers in the United States. For too many people, youth are now the subject and object of a continuous state of siege warfare, transformed either into suicide bombers or the collateral damage that comes from the ubiquitous war machines. There are few safe spaces for them any more, unless they are hidden in the gated enclaves and protectorates of the globally enriched.

The "war on terror" is in reality a war on youth who are both its target and the vehicle for targeting others.

In an age of extreme violence, civil wars and increasing terrorism, it is crucial for those wedded to a democratic future to examine the state of youth globally, especially those marginalized by class, race, religion, ethnicity and gender in order to address those underlying forces that produce the conditions of violence, ideological fundamentalism, militarism and massive political and economic inequalities. This is a crucial project that would also necessitate analyzing and distinguishing the ever expanding global war machines that thrive on violence and exclusion from those governmental processes that might offer a transformation for the better.

Surely, there is more to the future than allowing young people to be killed by drones, or while sitting innocently in a café, or for that matter, for their spirit to be crushed or misdirected by impoverishment of body and mind. Maybe it is time to ask important questions about the choices different youth are making: Why are some youth joining and supporting violent organizations? And what has led yet others to resist state violence and terrorism in all of its forms, framing this violence as an indecent assault on individuals, groups and the planet itself?

Maybe it is time to ask ourselves what it means when a society ignores young people and then goes to war because they engage in terrorist acts or are its victims. One thing is clear: There will be no sense of global safety unless the conditions are addressed and eliminated that produce young people as both the subjects and objects of violence. Safety is not guaranteed by war, militarism and vengeance. In fact, this response to violence becomes the generative principle for more violence to come, thereby guaranteeing that no one will be safe until it becomes clear that that these young people who have been initiated into a culture of violence are the product of a world we have created. As Flassbeck rightly argues:

Safety cannot be guaranteed. Airplanes, public building and politicians can be protected, but there is no way to guarantee the safety of citizens. Those who oppose the "system" that, in their eyes, constitutes a destructive and life-threatening force may strike anywhere. To them, it makes little difference who dies, as long as their actions create death, destruction, fear and, of course, more violence as a reaction. Safety can only be achieved if we start to realize and admit to ourselves that these angry young men are a product of our world. They are not just strangers that are driven by some perverted ideology. They are the result of a long series of misjudgments from our part and from our callousness when it comes to identify potential suspects and hit them with bombs and drones in order to restore "order" and "safety."

Western powers cannot allow the fog of violence to cover over the bankruptcy of a militaristic response to an act of terrorism. Such militaristic responses function largely to govern the effects of acts of terrorism by ISIS while ignoring its wider systemic dimensions. Dealing with the violence of ISIS requires political contextualization and serious engagement. However abhorrent we might find their actions, it is patently absurd for any leader involved with the ongoing acts of violence constantly recorded and made available on the internet not to recognize that one strategic assault posed by ISIS is to deploy production values and aesthetics of entertainment used in Hollywood films and video games to project images of subjugation and power like those produced by US military media operations in Guantánamo Bay at the outset of the terror wars.

John Pilger ventures to take this a step further by noting the historical parallels with the Khmer Rouge, which terrorized Cambodia. As Pilger writes, this movement was the direct outcome of a US bombing campaign: "The Americans dropped the equivalent of five Hiroshimas on rural Cambodia during 1969-73. They leveled village after village, returning to bomb the rubble and corpses. The craters left monstrous necklaces of carnage, still visible from the air. The terror was unimaginable." (5) The outcome was the emergence of a group largely made up of radical young men, driven by a dystopian ideology, all dressed in black, sweeping the country in the most violent and terrifying of ways. The historical comparison is all too apparent: "ISIS has a similar past and present. By most scholarly measure, Bush and Blair's invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to the deaths of some 700,000 people - in a country that had no history of jihadism." (6)

If a nation continually bombs a people, invades and occupies their land, appropriates their resources, harms their children, imprisons and humiliates their families, and tears apart the fabric of the social order, there is direct responsibility for the inevitable backlash to follow. It actually produces the very conditions in which violence continues to thrive. The rush to violence kills more innocent people, is strategically useful only as a recruiting tool for terrorists, and further emboldens those who thrive on a culture of fear and benefit from creating a surveillance state, a lockdown society and a violently determined order based on the principles of limitless control, managed forms of social and political exclusion, and privilege - including the privilege to destroy.

But the rush to violence does more than perpetuate a war on youth; it also eliminates what might be called a politics of memory, the legacy of an insurrectional democracy, and in doing so furthers the registers of the militaristic state. The call for lethal violence in the face of the murderous attacks in Paris eviscerates from collective consciousness the mistakes made by President George W. Bush "who declared a 'war on terror' after 9/11, a statement that led us to the Patriot Act, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and Guantánamo." (7) The consequences of that rush to judgment and war are difficult to fathom. As Bret Weinstein observes, Bush responded in a way that fed right into the terrorists' playbook:

The 9/11 attack was symbolic.... It was designed to provoke a reaction. The reaction cost more than 6,000 American lives in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than $3 trillion in U.S. treasure. The reaction also caused the United States to cripple its own Constitution and radicalize the Muslim world with a reign of terror that has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghani civilians. (8)

How different might our futures look now had an alternative response been sought at that particular moment? Continuing the cycle of violence and revenge, the response ramped up the violence and derided anybody who called for "addressing some of the social, cultural, and economic problems that create a context for extremism." (9) The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the failure of the US war in Vietnam, the failure of the Western invasion of Iraq, and the futility of the military attacks on Libya and Syria all testify to the failure of wars waged against foreign populations, especially people in the Middle East. As Peter Van Buren dryly observes,

We gave up many of our freedoms in America to defeat the terrorists. It did not work. We gave the lives of over 4,000 American men and women in Iraq, and thousands more in Afghanistan, to defeat the terrorists, and refuse to ask what they died for. We killed tens of thousands or more in those countries. It did not work. We went to war again in Iraq, and now in Syria, before in Libya, and only created more failed states and ungoverned spaces that provide havens for terrorists and spilled terror like dropped paint across borders. We harass and discriminate against our own Muslim populations and then stand slack-jawed as they become radicalized, and all we do then is blame ISIS for tweeting. (10)

The "war on terror" and the ethos of militarism that has driven it into the normalized fabric of everyday politics is seen by many of its victims as an act of terrorism because of the dreadful toll it takes on noncombatants, and who can blame them. When President Obama uses drone strikes to blow up hospitals, kill members of a wedding party and slaughter innocent children, regardless of the humanitarian signatures, the violence becomes a major recruiting factor for ISIS and other groups. (11) When the practice of moral witnessing disappears, along with the narratives of suffering on the part of the oppressed, politics withers, and the turn to violence and terrorism gains ground, especially among impoverished youth. When the West forgets that as "UN data shows that Muslim avoidable deaths from deprivation in countries subject to Western military intervention in 2001-2015 now total about 27 million" such actions further serve to both create more fear of the "other" and generate more resentment and hatred by those who are relegated to the shameless and morally reprehensible status of collateral damage. (12)

The call for war eliminates historical and public memory. The pedagogical dimensions embedded in its practice of forgetting ensure that any intervention in the present will be limited by erasing any understanding of the past, which might cultivate a renewed sense of political identification, social responsibility and those forms of ethical and political commitments that bear on the immediacy of a world caught in the fog of war and the thoughtlessness of its conditioning. As such, those who forget the past ignore precisely the similarities mentioned above, whether we are discussing the Western actions that created Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge or the histories of violence that created ISIS. (13) Chris Floyd is right to remind us that:

Without the American crime of aggressive war against Iraq - which, by the measurements used by Western governments themselves, left more than a million innocent people dead - there would be no ISIS, no "Al Qaeda in Iraq." Without the Saudi and Western funding and arming of an amalgam of extremist Sunni groups across the Middle East, used as proxies to strike at Iran and its allies, there would be no ISIS. Let's go back further. Without the direct, extensive and deliberate creation by the United States and its Saudi ally of a worldwide movement of armed Sunni extremists during the Carter and Reagan administrations, there would have been no "war on terror" - and no terrorist attacks in Paris. (14)

Joseph G. Ramsey is also correct in insisting that those who focus only on the immediate and the shocking images of the suffering and trauma of those young people killed and wounded in Paris, while failing to acknowledge the broader historical context out of which this intolerable violence emerged, "neither do justice to the situation, nor do they help us to achieve a framework for response, in thinking or in action, that can in fact reduce, rather than escalate and increase, the dangers that these terrible events represent, and that they portend." (15)

One way in which such violence can be escalated is by giving free rein to the cheerleaders of racism, denouncement and militarism. This is the "bomb first and think later" group that not only makes a claim to occupy the high moral and political ground, but also refuses adamantly to attend to any alternative narrative that addresses the underlying causes of terrorism, especially those responsible for what we are calling the war on youth. Unfortunately, the gospel of fear and sensationalism is being encouraged by mainstream corporate media outlets, especially the cable news networks, which in their search for higher ratings shamelessly spread moral panics, fuel anti-immigrant sentiment and encourage warmongering by providing coverage that lacks any historical context or complex and informative coverage of terror. (16)

How Fear Turns to Fascism

As Rabbi Michael Lerner has brilliantly argued, fear and the desires it generates is the moving force of fascism. Fear undermines historical memory due to its appeal to intense emotions and quick reactions steeped in violence. And, as Lerner writes, fear also guarantees that

Fascistic and racist right-wing forces will grow more popular as their anti-immigrant policies are portrayed as "common sense." In doing so, the politics of fear will inevitably lead to the empowering of domestic intelligence forces who are eager to invade our private lives and adamant in their call to receive greater support from the American public in the name of a disingenuous commitment to security. The call for tighter security and the allocation of increasing powers of surveillance to the government and its intelligence agencies will be supported by liberal leaders who seek to show that they too can be "tough." (17)

Violence borne of such viscerally felt moments is always rooted in a pedagogical practice that mobilizes fear, embraces emotion over serious deliberation and serves to legitimate a discourse that drowns out historical memory and ethical considerations. This is a discourse that is mobilized as a public pedagogy that is spread through a number of cultural apparatuses that favor the pundits, intellectuals, politicians and others who benefit from the continuation of violence and the normalization of insecurities, thereby using it to promote their own shameless political agendas. At work here is a particularly pernicious discourse embraced by many in the West who want to use any major catastrophe to restrict civil liberties and impose a surveillance state in the name of security. In France and Belgium, for example, top government officials have now called for new sweeping security bills, expanding the anti-terrorism budget, new powers for the police and the use of wiretaps.

Capitalizing on the recent terrorist attacks in Paris in a way that is nothing more than an act of political expediency, John Brennan, the head of the CIA, has now criticized those who had exposed the illegal spying activities of the National Security Agency. The New York Times claimed he was using the tragedy in Paris to further his own agenda and had resorted to a "new and disgraceful low." (18) The Times also stated that Brennan was in fact a certified liar and that it was hard to believe anything he might say. James Comey, the head of the FBI, made a similar case suggesting that the encryption messages used by Apple and Google customers were benefiting terrorists and that these companies should "make it possible for law enforcement to decode encrypted messages." (19)

There is no evidence that the Paris attackers used encryption. While the mainstream media's criticisms of this call for expanded surveillance powers were well placed, they nevertheless failed to report when airing the comments of both Brennan and Comey that the US government was not simply spying on terrorists but on everyone. But there is more at stake here than sacrificing civil liberties in the name of security. In the wake of the Paris attacks, security takes a turn that speaks directly to a widespread move toward practices associated with totalitarian states. We hear it in the words of Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president, who wants to put Syrian immigrants in detention camps. Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's most popular right-wing party, referred to the new migrants as "bacteria" and called "for the country to annihilate Islamist fundamentalism, shut down mosques and expel dangerous 'foreigners' and 'illegal migrants.'" (20)

Intensified Bigotry in the Republican Party

The return to such fascistic language is also evident in the various ways in which the discourse of bigotry has become a major and manipulative tool of politicians in the United States. They empty politics of any viable meaning, substituting in its place an anti-politics that feeds on fear and mobilizes a racist discourse and culture of cruelty. The Republican Party's leading presidential candidates have resorted to racist and politically reactionary comments in the aftermath of the Paris killings that would seem unthinkable in a country that calls itself a democracy.

When asked about Syrian refugees, Ben Carson referred to them as "rabid dogs." (21) Donald Trump echoed the Nazi practice of registering Jews and forcing them to wear a yellow star when he stated that, if elected president, he would force all Muslims living in the United States "to register their personal information in a federal database." (22) He also called for shutting down mosques in the United States. Marco Rubio, another leading Republican presidential candidate, went even further, arguing that he would not only shut down mosques, but would shut down "any place where radical Muslims congregate, whether it be a café, a diner, an internet site - any place where radicals are being inspired." (23)

Carson and Rubio have also called for policies that would eliminate abortions, even for women whose lives are at risk or who have been raped. The roots of anti-democratic practices reach, in this case, deeply into US society. Of course, all of these polices will do nothing more than legitimate and spread insidious acts of racism and xenophobia as an acceptable political discourse while normalizing the forces of oppression and violence. How else to explain the rabid racism expressed by Elaine Morgan, a state senator in Rhode Island, in which she stated in an email that "The Muslim religion and philosophy is to murder, rape, and decapitate anyone who is a non Muslim." (24)

Intellectual Efforts to Legitimize Militarism and Racism

Of course, it is not just Carson, Trump, Rubio and virtually the entire Republican leadership who trade in warmongering and racism. Bigotry is also to be found in public intellectuals such as Bernard-Henri Levy and Niall Ferguson, who provide intellectual legitimacy to the marriage of militarism and racism. Levy, a right-wing favorite of the mainstream media in France and the United States, argues that it is necessary in the face of the Paris attacks to think the unthinkable, accept that everyone in the West is a target, allegedly because of our freedoms, and reluctantly, to go to war! For Levy, caught in his own fog of historical denial, the greatest failing of the West is Western leaders' aversion to war; he goes as far as to claim that the aversion to outright war in these times is democracy's true weakness. (25)

The real weakness is that Levy finds genuine democracy dangerous, while refusing to recognize the anti-democratic intellectual violence he practices and supports. Levy's militarism is matched by the historian Niall Ferguson's contemptuous and despicable claim in a recent Boston Globe op-ed. Channeling Edward Gibbon, he claims that the Syrian refugees are similar to the barbaric hordes that contributed to the fall of Rome. Unapologetically, he offers a disingenuous humanitarian qualification before invoking his "war of civilizations" theses. He states the following regarding the Syrian refugees:

To be sure, most have come hoping only for a better life. Things in their own countries have become just good enough economically for them to afford to leave and just bad enough politically for them to risk leaving. But they cannot stream northward and westward without some of that political malaise coming along with them. As Gibbon saw, convinced monotheists pose a grave threat to a secular empire. (26)

Ferguson also calls the Western countries weak and decadent for opening their gates to outsiders. Effectively inverting the humanitarian mantra of saving strangers, these types of comments reinforce a vision of a deeply divided world, demanding continued militarism and the insatiable call for war. Devoid of political imagination, such an analysis refuses to address the violence, misery, suffering and despair that, in fact, create the conditions that produce terrorists in the first place.

To End the Violence, We Must Eliminate Militarism

Eliminating ISIS means eradicating the conditions that created it. This suggests producing a political settlement in Syria, stabilizing the Middle East and ending Western support for the various anti-democratic and dictatorial regimes it supports throughout the Middle East and around the world. One obvious step would be for the West to stop supporting and arming the ruthless dictators of Saudi Arabia and others who have been linked to providing financial support to terrorist groups all over the globe. It also demands understanding how the "war on terror" is in reality a war on youth who are both its target and the vehicle for targeting others. Zygmunt Bauman's metaphor "Generation Zero" thus becomes more than an indication of the nihilism of the times. (27) It becomes the clearest discursive framing as "0" symbolizes those who are targeted on account of their hopes and future aspirations.

The forms of violence we witness today are not only an attack on the present; these forms of violence also point to an assault on an imagined and hopeful future. As a result, youth connect directly to the age of catastrophe - its multiple forms of endangerment, the normalization of terror and the production of catastrophic futures. Vagaries in the state of war cannot only be understood by reference to juxtaposed temporalities - present horror as distinct from past horror or anticipated horrors to come. Rather they must be addressed in terms of their projects and projections, their attempts to colonize and, failing that, eradicate any vestiges of the radical imagination. War is both an act of concrete violence and a disimagination machine; that is why the present landscape is already littered with corpses of the victims of the violence to come. The cycle of violence already condemns us to walk among the ruins of the future.

We must also not forget the plight of the refugees who are caught in the strategic crossfires. As usual, it's always those who are the most vulnerable in any situation, who become the scapegoats for calculated misdirections. The refugee crisis must be resolved not by simply calling for open borders, however laudable, but by making the countries that the refugees are fleeing from free from war and violence. We must eliminate militarism, encourage genuine political transformation, end neoliberal austerity policies, redistribute wealth globally and stop the widespread discrimination against Muslim youth. Only then can history be steered in a different direction. There will be no safe heavens anywhere in the world until the militaristic, impoverished and violent conditions that humiliate and oppress young people are addressed. As Robert Fisk writes with an acute eye on new radically interconnected and violently contoured geographies of our times:

Our own shock - indeed, our indignation - that our own precious borders were not respected by these largely Muslim armies of the poor was in sharp contrast to our own blithe non-observance of Arab frontiers ... Quite apart from our mournful Afghan adventure and our utterly illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq, our aircraft have been bombing Libya, Iraq and Syria along with the aircraft of various local pseudo-democracies for so long that this state of affairs has become routine, almost normal, scarcely worthy of a front-page headline ... The point, of course, is that we had grown so used to attacking Arab lands - France had become so inured to sending its soldiers and air crews to Africa and the Middle East to shoot and bomb those whom it regarded as its enemies - that only when Muslims began attacking our capital cities did we suddenly announce that we were "at war." (28)

A global system that inflicts violence on young people all over the world cannot be supported. As Michael Lerner has argued, not only must the iniquitous and dangerous structural conditions for economic, political and cultural violence be eliminated, but the subjective and psychological underpinnings of a hateful fundamentalism must be addressed and challenged through a public pedagogy that emphasizes an ethos of trust, compassion, care, solidarity and justice - the opposite of the self-serving, survival-of-the-fittest ethos that now dominates the political landscape. (29)

Young people cannot inherit a future marked by fear, militarism, suicide bombers and a world in which the very idea of democracy has been emptied of any substantive meaning. Or if they do, then the destructive forces of nihilism and resentment will have truly won the political argument. Creating alternative futures requires serious and sustained investment in attesting the cycle of violence, and imagining better futures and styles for living among the world of peoples. It is to destroy the image of a violently fated world we have created for ourselves by taking pedagogy and education seriously, harnessing the power of imagination and equipping global youth with the confidence that the world can be transformed for the better.



1. Judith Butler, "Letter from Paris, Saturday 14th November," [November 16, 2015]

2. See George Packer's description of the alienation faced by Muslim youth in France. George Packer, "The Other France," The New Yorker (August 31, 2015). Online:

3. Heiner Flassbeck, "The Attacks in Paris and Our Responsibility to Work Toward an Open and Tolerant Society," CounterPunch, [November 19, 2015] Online:

4. Abdelkader Benali, "From Teenage Angst to Jihad," The New York Times, (January 13, 2015), Online:

5. John Pilger, "From Pol Pot to ISIS: The Blood Never Dried," CounterPunch, [November 17, 2015] Online:

6. Ibid., Pilger.

7. Mary Kaldor, "Why Another 'War on Terror' Won't Work," The Nation, (November 17, 2015) Online:

8. Bret Weinstein, "Let's Not Get It Wrong This Time: The Terrorists Won After 9/11 Because We Chose to Invade Iraq, Shred Our Constitution - We destroyed ourselves with our dumb 9/11 overreactions. It's essential not to make the same mistake again," Common Dreams (November 16, 2015). Online:

9. Ibid., Kaldor.

10. Peter Van Buren, "Paris: You Don't Want to Read This," Common Dreams, [November 15, 2015] Online:

11. Sheldon Richman, "How to Respond to the Paris Attacks," CounterPunch, [November 17, 2015] Online:

12. Dr. Gideon Polya, "Paris Atrocity Context: 27 Million Muslim Avoidable Deaths From Imposed Deprivation In 20 Countries Violated By US Alliance Since 9-11," Countercurrents, (November 22, 2015). Online:

13. John Pilger, "From Pol Pot to ISIS: The Blood Never Dried," CounterPunch, [November 17, 2015] Online:

14. Chris Floyd, "The Age of Despair: Reaping the Whirlwind of Western Support for Extremist Violence," CounterPunch, [November 13, 2015] Online:

15. Joseph G. Ramsey, "Against Moral Imposters: Mourning the Dead as a Part of the World" CounterPunch, [November 13, 2015]. Online:

16. Deirdre Fulton, "Hysterical Corporate Media Fueling War Fervor, Xenophobia in 24/7 Cycle," Common Dreams (November 18, 2015). Online:

17. Rabbi Michael Lerner, "Paris: A World That Has Lost Its Ethical Direction and Spiritual Foundation and a Media that Cheerleads for Fear and Militarism," The Nation, [November 16, 2015]. Online:

18. Editorial, "Mass Surveillance Isn't the Answer to Fighting Terrorism," The New York Times, [November 17, 2015]. Online:

19. Ibid. Editorial.

20. Marina Jimenez, "France urged by hard-right party to annihilate Islamic radicals," The Star, [November 15, 2015], p. A2

21. David A. Fahrenthold and Jose A. DelReal, "'Rabid' dogs and closing mosques: Anti-Islam rhetoric grows in GOP," The Washington Post, [November 19, 2015] Online:

22. Marina Jimenez, "France urged by hard-right party to annihilate Islamic radicals," The Star, [November 15, 2015], p. A2

23. Kay Steiger, "Rubio Trumps Trump: Shut Down Any Place Muslims Gather To Be 'Inspired' - Not Just Mosques," ThinkProgress, [November 20, 2015]

24. Esther Yu-His Lee, "State Lawmaker Supports Putting Muslim Refugees In 'Segregated' Camps," ThinkProgress, [November 20, 2015] Online:

25. Bernard-Henri Levy, "Thinking the unthinkable: This is war," The Globe and Mail, [November 16, 2015]. Online:

26. Niall Ferguson, "Paris and the fall of Rome," The Boston Globe, [November 16, 2015] Online:

27. Zygmunt Bauman, This Is Not A Diary, (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2012), p. 64.

28. Robert Fisk, "Isis: In a borderless world, the days when we could fight foreign wars and be safe at home may be long gone," The Independent, [November 19, 2015] Online:
29. Op. cit. Lerner.

Opinion Tue, 24 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500