Truthout Stories Mon, 24 Nov 2014 13:15:58 -0500 en-gb On the News With Thom Hartmann: The Future of the Postal Service May Be in Jeopardy, and More

In today's On the News segment: If Congress refuses to act in the next month, the future of the United States Postal Service could be in jeopardy; about one out of every 30 kids in the US is homeless; Walmart workers are preparing for their biggest Black Friday strike yet; and more.


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

You need to know this. If Congress refuses to act in the next month, the future of the United States Postal Service could be in jeopardy. This lame duck session may be the last chance to pass the Postal Reform Act of 2014 before Sen. Ron Johnson takes over as chair of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which oversees the Postal Service. While that legislation is far from perfect, it's unlikely that the new, anti-union, pro-privatization Republican chairman will offer any better solutions. The Postal Reform Act of 2014 would begin to scale back the poison-pill requirement that they pre-fund employee benefits 75 years into the future. However, that bipartisan bill would also open the door to ending Saturday mail delivery, raising postal rates, or even stopping door-to-door delivery. As bad as those provisions may be, none of them are mandated in the bill, and they could be removed from the legislation before it's enacted. And, they're still far better than Ron Johnson's suggestions, which include bankruptcy, layoffs, terminating union contracts, and even privatization. They only way to prevent Republicans from trying to push these extreme measures is to pass the Postal Reform Act now, preferably without provisions that threaten Saturday or door-to-door delivery. The Postal Service is a national treasure that has provided reliable, affordable communication since the beginning of our country. Republicans can't stand the fact that USPS is the largest unionized employer in our nation, and that's one of the most important reasons we must fight to protect it. There are only a few days left in this lame duck session, so call Congress now and tell them to save the Postal Service.

About one out of every 30 kids in the US is homeless. A new report called "America's Youngest Outcasts" from the National Center on Family Homelessness says that almost 2.5 million children did not have a place to call home at some point in 2013. That's an all-time high for our nation, but it's not the type of record we should be celebrating. In the richest country on Earth, low-wages, lack of affordable housing, and a shrinking social safety net are pushing more and more parents out on the street, and that means their kids are going right along with them. These homeless children face immediate problems like hunger and illness, but the long-term effects on their education and social development can impact their entire lives. Carmela DeCandia, one of the co-authors of the report, said, "As a society, we're going to pay a high price in human and economic terms." We're failing these kids, and there is no acceptable reason for it. We can afford to pay parents more. We can afford to fund our safety net. And, if we can't afford to care for our children, what right do we have to call ourselves "exceptional?"

Walmart workers are preparing for their biggest Black Friday strike yet. For the last two years, employees and organizers from the group Our Walmart held rallies outside Walmart stores all over the country. This year, protests are expected outside at least 1,600 stores, and workers will be joined by tens of thousands of their supporters. Once again, these protests will focus on the workers' fight for better wages and the right to unionize, and they'll take place on the busiest shopping day of the year. Organizers hope to remind shoppers that the low-price retailer can afford to pay a living wage without raising prices, and highlight their ongoing fight to help workers form a union. Walmart rakes in billions every year in profits, and even more in direct and in-direct taxpayer subsidies. There's no excuse for the company to keep paying poverty wages. The Our Walmart protesters want the right to fair pay and union representation, and they're not giving up until those reasonable demands have been met.

You may think that slavery came to an end about 150 years ago, but according to Australia's "Walk Free Foundation," you'd be wrong. A new report from that organization says that slavery was found in every country they studied, and there are more than 35 million people living in slavery right now. That report explains that forms of modern-day slavery range from children being forced to work or marry early, to men who can't leave work because of crushing debts, to women and girls who are exploited as unpaid, abused domestic help. Even here in the U.S., the researchers found people subject to many different forms of modern-day slavery, like bonded labor, physical confinement, or deplorable working conditions without rest or drinking water. Our so-called developed nation is not immune to human exploitation. Andrew Forrest, Chairman of the Walk Free Foundation, said, "These findings show that modern slavery exists in every country. We are all responsible for the most appalling situations where modern slavery exists and the desperate misery it brings upon our fellow human beings." And, that means we're all responsible for bringing this horrible practice to an end.

And finally... New York City understands that internet access is a basic right, not a privilege. So, next year, the Big Apple is going to turn their old payphones into free WiFi hotspots. The new plan, called LinkNYC, will replace 10,000 decrepit payphones with new towers that offer people free WiFi, nationwide calling, and even a place to charge their phones and other devices. Even in New York City, one of the most modern cities on the planet, 20 percent of residents don't have access to high-speed internet. That number is even higher among minority communities and the elderly. Considering that many important applications, services, and agencies are now only available online, the lack of internet access can prevent someone from applying for jobs, registering for government benefits, or requesting help with various services. These new WiFi hotspots can help bridge that gap, and connect millions to the world wide web. Although the LinkNYC plan hasn't been approved yet, city regulators are already working to ensure it complies with laws and regulations, and a team of companies is ready to install the new towers. Just like basic phone service and utilities, everyone should have access to the web, and LinkNYC is a great way to make that happen.

And that's the way it is - for the week of November 24, 2014 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 12:47:42 -0500
Thanksgiving Tirade ]]> Art Mon, 24 Nov 2014 12:36:27 -0500 Nearly 5 Million Undocumented Immigrants Benefit From President Obama's Executive Action

The ongoing debate regarding the nearly 11 million undocumented people living in the United States played out in dramatic form on Thursday evening. President Barack Obama made a live address to the nation announcing his executive actions on immigration reform. The speech was a culmination of nearly six years of contentiousness between the White House and, well, everyone else.

From the very beginning of his presidency, President Obama was at odds over his approach to immigration. The first criticism came from his most ardent supporters due to his continuation, and expansion, of the Secure Communities Program that started under former President George W. Bush. Anyone who was booked into a jail, whether it was a simple traffic violation or a more serious offense, was fingerprinted. The information was shared with federal authorities, who would then match them against a database of immigrants, both legal and undocumented.

This led to a significant increase in deportations, causing immigrants rights groups to dub the president the “deporter-in-chief.”

The move was a political calculation on the part of the White House to curb criticism from opponents ready to label the president soft on border security and illegal immigration. After the 2010 midterms, where Republicans gained the majority in the House, the immigration debate became more heated and difficult. Nevertheless, the Senate was able to pass a sweeping bipartisan reform bill in 2013 that gave those already here without legal status a chance to stay and pursue citizenship. It also altered provisions for family sponsorship, eased rules for employers to hire foreign workers and required an extensive increase in border security.

The bill never made it out of the House.

This summer, the president promised to use the power of the executive branch wherever possible to address the decades’ long issues with immigration. He had already done so in 2012, when he signed an executive order establishing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program. That allowed the issuing of work permits and protection from deportation for undocumented immigrants under the age of 31 who came here as children. This enabled them to live and work temporarily with the option to renew their permits every two years.

As many of those permits are being renewed, the president has, once again, been forced to act where Congress has not.

In the nearly 15 minute speech, the president reminded the nation of the ongoing issues and the steps that have been taken to improve the system. He pointed out that Congress has had the opportunity to take action, and that the 2013 Senate bill is still awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives. He also said he was ready to follow up on his promise from this summer and do what he could via executive action.

He announced the continuation and expansion of the DACA program. He eliminated the age cap of 31, and opened it to anyone who arrived in the US illegally prior to the age of 16, in the country for at least five years, even if they were over the age of 31 in 2012. Furthermore, those adults that came in as children and have lived here since January 1, 2010 are also available for the temporary two year visa and the subsequent renewals.

These newly eligible immigrants can begin applying next year.

Undocumented parents with children that qualify under DACA or who have children that are American citizens can also apply for a temporary visa if they have lived in the country for five years or more. To do so, they must register with the government, pass a criminal background check and pay all applicable taxes. While this will not grant a path to citizenship or otherwise bestow rights to those that are legal residents, they can now remain in the country without fear of deportation.

The immigrants that qualify for these visas also have greater flexibility to travel outside of the country. For those here on employment visas, they will be able to change jobs more easily. Their spouses will also find it easier to get visas.

The new actions include a new approach to deportations by focusing strictly on criminals and not families. While many local cities and states were not participating in the Secure Communities Program, the focus on criminal activity will reduce the number of undocumented immigrants that were deported for minor infractions. There will also be immigration enforcement reform, as well as continued focus on border security.

The order still falls short of the 2013 Senate bill. The president does not have legal authority to allow parents of the children who qualified for DACA in 2012 to apply for temporary status. Immigrants cannot be granted permanent status by the president’s order, as that can only be done by Congress. And unlike the Senate bill, those immigrants already deported can not apply to return. Most importantly, no one who has been here for less than five years is eligible for any of these reprieves.

It is expected that these actions will allow almost 5 million undocumented immigrants to remain in the US legally, at least temporarily.

While critics are suggesting that the president’s actions are illegal, he has simply followed a long line of previous president exercising similar authority. Furthermore, legal scholars agree that this falls under the authority of the Executive Branch. In fact, President Ronald Reagan, the last president credited with significant immigration reform, perfected the law passed by Congress in 1985, by issuing an executive order.

President Reagan’s order also shielded family members from deportation.

The president acknowledged his critics would be unhappy with his moves, but said that he was willing to work with them to find a permanent solution. “To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill,” he reminded them.

He continued, “The day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary.”

The ball is now in Congress’ court. Again.

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:35:55 -0500
Obama Extends War in Afghanistan

News agencies reported Saturday morning that weeks ago President Obama signed an order, kept secret until now, to authorize continuation of the Afghan war for at least another year. The order authorizes US airstrikes “to support Afghan military operations in the country” and US ground troops to continue normal operations, which is to say, to “occasionally accompany Afghan troops” on operations against the Taliban.

The administration, in its leak to the New York Times, affirmed that there had been “heated debate” between Pentagon advisers and others in Obama’s cabinet chiefly concerned not to lose soldiers in combat.  Oil strategy isn't mentioned as having been debated and neither is further encirclement of China, but the most notable absence in the reporting was any mention of cabinet members’ concern for Afghan civilians affected by air strikes and ground troop operations, in a country already afflicted by nightmares of poverty and social breakdown.  

Here are just three events, excerpted from an August 2014 Amnesty International report, which President Obama and his advisors should have considered (and allowed into a public debate) before once more expanding the US combat role in Afghanistan:

1. In September, 2012 a group of women from an impoverished village in mountainous Laghman province were collecting firewood when a US plane dropped at least two bombs on them, killing seven and injuring seven others, four of them seriously. One villager, Mullah Bashir, told Amnesty, “…I started searching for my daughter. Finally I found her. Her face was covered with blood and her body was shattered.”

2. A US Special Operations Forces unit was responsible for extrajudicial killing, torture and enforced disappearances during the period of December, 2012 to February, 2013. Included among those tortured was 51 year old Qandi Agha, “a petty employee of the Ministry of Culture,” who described in detail the various torture techniques he suffered.  He was told that he would be tortured using “14 different types of torture”. These included: Beatings with cables, electric shock, prolonged, painful stress positions, repeated head first dunking in a barrel of water, and burial in a hole full of cold water for entire nights. He said that both US Special Forces and Afghans participated in the torture and often smoked hashish while doing so.

3. On March 26, 2013 the village of Sajawand was attacked by joint Afghan—ISAF (International Special Assistance Forces). Between 20-30 people were killed including children. After the attack, a cousin of one of the villagers visited the scene and stated, ”The first thing I saw as I entered the compound was a little child of maybe three years old whose chest was torn apart; you could see inside her body. The house was turned into a pile of mud and poles and there was nothing left. When we were taking out the bodies we didn’t see any Taliban among the dead, and we didn’t know why they were hit or killed.”

New York Times coverage of the leaked debate mentions Obama's promise, made earlier this year and now broken, to withdraw troops.  The article doesn’t make any other mention of US public opposition to a continuation of the war.

Attempts to remake Afghanistan by military force have resulted in warlordism, ever more widespread and desperate poverty, and bereavement for hundreds of thousands whose loved ones are among the tens of thousands of casualties. Area hospitals report seeing fewer IED injuries and many more bullet wounds from pitched battles between rival armed militias whose allegiances, Taliban, government, or other, are hard to determine.  With 40% of US weapon supplies to Afghan security forces now unaccounted for, many of the weapons employed on all sides may have been supplied by the US.

Meanwhile the implications for US democracy aren’t reassuring.  Was this decision really made weeks ago but only announced now that congressional elections are safely over? Was a Friday night cabinet leak, buried between official Administration announcements on immigration and Iran sanctions, really the President’s solution to the unpopularity of  a decision affecting the lives of so many?  With concern for the wishes of US citizens given so little weight, it is doubtful that much thought was given to the terrible costs of these military interventions for ordinary people trying to live, raise families and survive in Afghanistan.

But for those whose “heated debates” focus solely on what is best for US national interests, here are a few suggestions:

1. The US should end its current provocative drive toward military alliances and encirclement of Russia and China with missiles.  It should accept pluralism of economic and political power in the contemporary world.  Present US policies are provoking a return to Cold War with Russia and possibly beginning one with China.  This is a lose/lose proposition for all countries involved.

2. By a resetting of policy focused on cooperation with Russia, China and other influential countries within the framework of the United Nations, the United States could foster international mediation.

3. The US should offer generous medical and economic aid and technical expertise wherever it may be helpful in other countries and thus build a reservoir of international goodwill and positive influence.

That’s something that nobody would have to keep secret.

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:23:23 -0500
Oklahoma Ignores Link Between Record Number of Earthquakes and Fracking Wastewater Disposal Wells

As Oklahoma continues to experience more earthquakes than California this year, residents are questioning why regulators haven’t taken any meaningful action to guard against increased seismic activity.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) says that wastewater injection into deep geologic formations, a part of the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process, is a likely contributing factor to this increase in quakes. The phenomenon, known as “injection-induced seismicity,” has been documented for nearly half a century, according to the USGS.

“The rate of earthquakes in Oklahoma has increased remarkably since October 2013 — by about 50 per cent — significantly increasing the chance for a damaging magnitude 5.5 or greater quake in central Oklahoma,” says the USGS report.

Angela Spotts is one of many Oklahoma residents who is wondering why no meaningful action has been taken to safeguard residents.

Angela Spotts across from a drilling rig at a hydraulic fracturing site near her home. ©2014 Julie DermanskyAngela Spotts across from a drilling rig at a hydraulic fracturing site near her home. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

“It is kind of like an assault. You feel like you are being sacrificed for this gold they are pulling out of the ground. And you start meeting people that are getting sick,” Spotts, a member of Stop Fracking Payne County, told DeSmogBlog. “It is the tobacco industry all over again.” 

Drilling rig in Stillwater County, near Angela Spotts home. ©2014 Julie DermanskyDrilling rig in Stillwater County, near Angela Spotts home. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

When oil and gas companies use a method called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” they blast a high-pressure chemical concoction underground to break apart rock to release oil and gas. This process results in high volumes of toxic wastewater that is disposed of by injecting it at high pressures deep under ground into what are known as wastewater injection wells. These disposal wells can lubricate subterranean faults, causing earthquakes.

There have been more than 400 magnitude 3.0 or greater earthquakes in Oklahoma this year, coinciding with a fracking boom in Central and Northern Oklahoma, and across the state line in southern Kansas. Stop Fracking Payne County counts 480 earthquakes over magnitude 3.0 as of today. The group's figures are derived by following Oklahoma's USGS site.

“This isn’t new science,” Oklahoma State University geology professor Todd Halihan told DeSmogBlog.

What is new is how we deal with science that is coupled with uncertainty, he says. Though scientists can link injection well use to earthquakes, linking a specific well to a specific quake is not possible.

“Uncertainty used to be a reason we would slow things down and now uncertainly is being used to avoid things,” Halihan says. 

He fears that if no action is taken and there is a catastrophic quake, lives will be lost and, in the disaster’s aftermath, industry in the area could be shut down completely. 

“The options for moving forward in effective ways are not being taken,” Halihan said.

Though Halihan doesn’t believe there is a need to shut down all the wells, “taking high volume ones [wells] off line or lowering their rates is advisable. If seismicity is reduced or stops completely in the following months, a connection could be verified.”

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma, stopped operations at an injection well thought to have caused a 4.3 magnitude earthquake near Cushing in October. Yet the commission still fails to embrace the science. 

A bipartisan interim study undertaken at the request of state representativesJason Murphey (R-Guthrie) and Cory Williams (D-Stillwater), whose districts are in areas with high levels of seismic activity, was presented at the state capitol on October 28. 

During the hearing, politicians questioned regulators and scientists who outlined the progress of research into the increased incidence of earthquakes in Oklahoma. After reviewing the data, the state is expected to write new legislation regarding wastewater injection well use. 

“The study reassured us that the Corporation Commission and governor’s Coordinating Council are working hard to research and oversee injection wells in Oklahoma,” State Rep. Mark McBride (R-Moore) said.

“Currently, there is no scientific evidence that there is a correlation between the injection wells and seismic activity,” states a press release from Moore.

Yet Halihan presented information during the hearing that says otherwise. And you’d think the US Geological Survey would count as a pretty reputable source.

Since the study, notable seismic events have rattled the state including five quakes that struck within minutes of each other on November 9 and a 4.8 earthquake on November 12 near Conway Springs, Kansas, that was felt in Oklahoma and Arkansas. 

The Oklahoma regulatory agency is not alone in ignoring the science that links earthquakes to injection well use. The Texas Railroad Commission came up with new rules to deal with injection wells after an earthquake swarm rattled cities west of Fort Worth. The commission’s new rules fail to acknowledge a connection between injection wells and seismic activity and are similar to new rules set in Oklahoma.

The connection between the fracking process and earthquakes is likely contributing to seismicity as well, according to Cliff Frohlich, associate director and senior research scientist at the Institute of Geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin.

“In the last year there have been three well-documented earthquakes that occurred during frack jobs and were probably related to fracking. They were all small earthquakes — of a magnitude of 2 or 3 — and, considering that there are millions of frack jobs, fracking-related earthquakes are rare,” Frohlich told NPR’s StateImpact Texas

Sara Winsted, a resident of Edmond, an upscale Oklahoma City suburb, finds the quakes terrifying and is frustrated with politicians in both parties for failing to act beyond asking for further study. 

“It isn't a Democratic or Republican issue. It is an earthquake fracking issue. Republicans are feeling the same earthquakes the liberals are,” she told DeSmogBlog. 

She downloaded apps on her phone to follow the activity, but many of the quakes don’t show up, so she calls them in to the USGS.

“There are many more than the USGS is reporting,” she says. 

An app on Sara Winsted’s phone shows her earthquakes around the world. ©2014 Julie DermanskyAn app on Sara Winsted’s phone shows her earthquakes around the world. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

Regulators in Oklahoma continue monitoring the situation while refusing to acknowledge the connection between fracking and earthquakes. Halihan points out there are psychological studies that show people only support science that supports their beliefs. 

“Science has become an opinion, versus a process that looks at data from a neutral perspective,” he says. 

Drilling rig in Stillwater County, Oklahoma, near Angela Spotts' home. ©2104 Julie DermanskyDrilling rig in Stillwater County, Oklahoma, near Angela Spotts' home. ©2104 Julie Dermansky

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:10:01 -0500
Viggo Mortensen Helps Mark 10 Years of Howard Zinn's "Voices of a People's History"

Actors including Viggo Mortensen, Peter Sarsgaard and Kelly Macdonald are gathering in New York today for a reading of "Voices of a People’s History of the United States," based on the late historian Howard Zinn’s book "A People’s History of the United States" — which has sold over a million copies. The event marks the 10th anniversary of publication of "Voices," which was edited by Zinn and Anthony Arnove. Mortensen, an Academy Award-nominated actor whose credits include The Lord of the Rings trilogy, has appeared in numerous performances of "Voices" and is a cast member of the television documentary version, "The People Speak." He joins us along with Anthony Arnove to discuss the 10th anniversary of "Voices" and its continued political relevance today.


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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Actors including Viggo Mortensen, Peter Sarsgaard and Kelly Macdonald are gathering in New York today for a reading of Voices of a People’s History of the United States, based on the late historian Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States, which has sold over a million copies. The event marks the 10th anniversary of publication of Voices, which was edited by Zinn and Anthony Arnove. At a reading in 2005 in Los Angeles, Zinn talked about why he wrote the book.

HOWARD ZINN: It seems that a lot of people who read the book were particularly struck by the fact that there were a lot of quotations in it, a lot of sort of nuggets of statements by people you don’t normally hear from, because I wasn’t quoting presidents and congressmen and industrialists and generals. No, I was quoting Native Americans and factory workers and women who went to work in the Lowell Mills at the age of 12 and died at the age of 25, very often. I was quoting dissenters of all sorts. Socialists and anarchists and antiwar people are heroes in this book. The people we quote are not Andrew Jackson, but the Indians that he ordered removed from the Southeastern states of the United States. You know, our heroes are not the war makers. Our heroes are not Theodore Roosevelt, but Mark Twain, not Woodrow Wilson, but Helen Keller.

AMY GOODMAN: Howard Zinn, speaking in 2005 at a reading of Voices of a People’s History of the United States. At the event, the actor Viggo Mortensen read an excerpt of the 16th century Spanish historian Bartolomé de las Casas, who wrote a short account of the destruction of the Indies.

VIGGO MORTENSEN: [reading Bartolomé de las Casas] "The Indies were discovered in the year one thousand four hundred and ninety-two. Forty-nine years have passed since the first settlers penetrated the land, the first being the large and most happy isle called Hispaniola, perhaps the most densely populated place in the world.

“There must be close to two hundred leagues of land on this island, and all the land so far discovered is a beehive of people; it is as though God had crowded into these lands the great majority of mankind.

“And of all the infinite universe of humanity, these people are the most guileless, the most devoid of wickedness and duplicity, the most obedient and faithful to their native masters and to the Spanish Christians whom they serve. And because they are so weak and complaisant, they are less able to endure heavy labor and soon die of no matter what malady.

“Yet into this sheepfold, into this land of meek outcasts there came some Spaniards who immediately behaved like ravening wild beasts, wolves, tigers, or lions that had been starved for many days—killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples, doing all this with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty, never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree that this Island of Hispaniola, once so populous (having a population that I estimated to be more than three millions), has now a population of barely two hundred persons.

"Their reason for killing and destroying such an infinite number of souls is that the Christians have an ultimate aim, which is to acquire gold, and to swell themselves with riches in a very brief time and thus rise to a high estate disproportionate to their merits. It should be kept in mind that their insatiable greed and ambition, the greatest ever seen in the world, is the cause of their villainies. And also, those lands are so rich and felicitous, the native peoples so meek and patient, so easy to subject, that our Spaniards have no more consideration for them than beasts—no, for thanks be to God, they have treated beasts with some respect; I should say instead like excrement on the public squares."

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Viggo Mortensen in 2006, reading Bartolomé de las Casas in a Voices of a People’s History of the United States event. The Academy Award-nominated actor joins us now in New York. He’s appeared in many films, including Lord of the Rings trilogy. Viggo has appeared in numerous performances of Voices and is a cast member of the television documentary version of The People Speak. Also with us, Anthony Arnove, co-editor with Howard Zinn of Voices of a People’s History of the United States and co-directed the documentary, The People Speak.

We welcome you to, both, Democracy Now! Tell us about Bartolomé de las Casas and why he matters to you, Viggo.

VIGGO MORTENSEN: Bartolomé de las Casas was a priest, a religious man, who accompanied some of the first Iberian expeditions to what we call the New World, you know, and what he’s talking about in that text, where he talks about extreme cruelty and basically that period in history’s corporate takeover of what we now call Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica, that region, it’s really–it is very disturbing, what he describes. And he wrote these texts and presented them to the court, to the king in Spain, and complained about it. Nothing really changed, because economic interests are what they are, just as they are in this country and other places. Citizens have to do something, have to demand change, you know.

And, you know, this book, Voices of a People’s History of the United States, is unusual in that it has to do with firsthand accounts, contemporary accounts, throughout this nation’s history by people that maybe we’ve never heard of, events that we’ve never heard of, unfortunately. You know, I think that all tribes, all nations have what some call foundation myths, you know, which are—foundation myths, I think, are—well, Anthony can correct me, he’s the scholar here, but they are stories that we like to tell, or that governments like to tell, to protect, to further, to enforce a status quo, you know, established states of affairs. And what this book presents, however, are texts that are, as I say, firsthand historical accounts, reactions by more or less regular people to real social, political events. I think what I call this is foundation facts, you know, which is, I think, what you guys deal with or try to every day here.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, and the relevance of Zinn’s great work for today, for this specific day, this historic day after President Obama has made his announcements. We had on the show today an immigrant, an undocumented mother, who’s an immigrants’ rights activist, and her daughter; a priest leading a sanctuary movement, a New Sanctuary Movement; and an organizer for the farm workers, Immokalee workers—part of those people’s histories. Anthony, the relevance for today of the book?

ANTHONY ARNOVE: Well, absolutely, and that’s why we’ve just done a new edition of the book. It’s the 10th anniversary of the first edition. Howard and I had an opportunity to update it in 2009, and I’ve just updated it for 2014 with 10 new voices, including voices of the undocumented, voices of a day laborer, voices of new movements that are emerging. And as bittersweet as it was to work on this project and to see Howard’s work continuing after he passed away in 2010, I know that he would have wanted to continue to document these struggles, highlight those voices, which are all too often pushed to the margin, and see the connections between today’s struggles and historical struggles for change.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to a clip of Kerry Washington reading Sojourner Truth.

KERRY WASHINGTON: [reading Sojourner Truth] "Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about? That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?

“Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

“Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? ... Intellect... That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

“Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

"If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them."

AMY GOODMAN: There you have actress Kerry Washington, most recently of Scandal fame, reading Sojourner Truth from Voices of a People’s History of the United States. And that Sojourner Truth speech, Anthony?

ANTHONY ARNOVE: Yeah, well, that’s from 1851, and it really exemplifies the spirit that Howard was trying to capture and gather in these voices. And, you know, the origin of this project was that when Howard wrote A People’s History of the United States, readers came up to him and said, "I hadn’t heard that speech before. I hadn’t read Eugene Debs in my school classroom. I hadn’t come across these powerful, eloquent voices of dissent." And they began to wonder, "Why hadn’t I learned that? Why had my history teacher not taught me these lessons?" And it opens up a totally different way of thinking about history. And that’s why Howard wanted to create this book, because he realized that the most powerful thing that people got out of A People’s History of the United States was that connection with the voices of struggle.

AMY GOODMAN: And Howard Zinn, what he meant to you, Viggo, in this last few seconds?

VIGGO MORTENSEN: Well, he was a gentleman. He had a great sense of humor. He loves donuts. He would sneak away to Dunkin’ Donuts behind his wife’s back. But this contribution that this book makes, it’s not—and Howard’s efforts throughout his life—he didn’t look at historical references or, more importantly, democracy, or progressive work, as a fixed thing, as something that you accomplish—democracy. Like this show is called Democracy Now! Now is not yesterday. Now is now. It’s a process. It’s a game that moves as you play. And I think it makes sense, perfect sense, that Anthony has—

AMY GOODMAN: Two seconds.

VIGGO MORTENSEN: —has included new text. Can I—since—

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue this after the show. Viggo Mortensen, Anthony Arnove, thanks so much.

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 10:56:31 -0500
Postal Workers Push Back Against Privatization and Post Office Closures

Union workers at the US Postal Service staged one of their largest national demonstrations to date November 14, protesting fresh job cuts and continuing efforts to privatize some post office operations.

With rallies at more than 150 locations nationwide, the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) called for a cancellation of plans to close 82 mail processing centers early next year and the reversal of broader privatization efforts that eliminate good union jobs.

The flash point of the demonstrations was in Washington, D.C., where some 250 union members and supporters led by APWU President Mark Dimondstein sought to enter the public meeting of the USPS Board of Governors. The demonstrators were denied entrance, but they kept up a loud demonstration at the entrance to the USPS headquarters to make their anger known to the Board members inside, according to union spokesperson Sally Davidow. Protesting in solidarity with APWU were representatives of several other unions, and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) gave supporting speeches.

A moment of dark levity came when the Board announced that it had accepted the resignation of Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, a development that was cheered by the union members. While Donahoe’s resignation was not tied directly to the plan to close the 82 processing centers or other specific job-cutting plans, the union has been focusing much of its criticism on Donahoe as the author of many of those initiatives. Earlier this year, for example, APWU launched a nationwide boycott of the Staples office supplies chain for its part in a Donahoe-engineered plan to shift some postal operations into the hands of the privately owned, non-union company.

“I think the resignation will be significant only it represents a policy change [at USPS]. If not, we are in the same fight, the same battle” with new Postmaster General Megan Brennan, Dimondstein says. “We want the policies of privatization reversed.”

“She can’t possibly be any worse” than Donahoe, “so there is some hope” for a policy change, says George Askew, President of Baltimore-based APWU Local 181. Leading a group of about 30 protestors at the city’s main post office November 14, Askew said Donahoe’s four-year tenure has been marked by attacks on union jobs and increasing anxiety and disaffection among union members.

APWU’s immediate demand is for a one-year moratorium on the processing center closures now scheduled for 2015. According to Dimondstein, APWU and the other postal unions have gathered the support of 51 US Senators in favor of the moratorium, and Brennan should take this expression of public sentiment into account.

“The Postmaster General has the authority to make the determination,” to order a moratorium, and Brennan should do so when she officially takes office Feb.1, Dimondstein says.

At the informational picket line in Baltimore, Local 181 Shop Steward Courtney Jenkins stated that USPS privatization policy “impacts people like me, who will have to find work elsewhere. It affects hundreds of thousands of us” across the country.

A six-year veteran at the USPS mail facility in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, Jenkins said talk among his co-workers is “apprehensive and stressful” over the potential for job cuts. “People are afraid. They want to know: ‘Is it coming here?’”

Jenkins said he was not hopeful that the appointment of a new Postmaster General would bring any immediate change.

“All of the [recent job cuts and moves towards privatization] have happened under her watch,” he said, in reference to Brennan’s current position as the chief operating officer of USPS. “She was successful at USPS [in earning promotion] by following along with Donahoe the whole time. She would have to change her stripes,” to agree with the union demands for policy changes, he says.

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 10:53:11 -0500
FAIR TV: Keystone Misinformation, War "Works" and NPR's Cosby Questions

On this week's edition: The Keystone XL pipeline is back in the news - and so is a lot of the same old misinformation. Plus we'll look at how some TV journalists think about how war "works." And NPR's Scott Simon got a lot of credit for asking comedian Bill Cosby about rape allegations - but did he actually do that?

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 10:52:38 -0500
Longest-Serving US Prisoner in Solitary Ordered Free Again, but State Obstruction Bars His Release

A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling ordering Louisiana to release Albert Woodfox, a former Black Panther who has spent more than 40 years in solitary confinement, longer than any prisoner in the United States. Woodfox and the late Herman Wallace, another prisoner of the "Angola 3," were convicted of murdering a guard at Angola Prison. The Angola 3 and their supporters say they were framed for their political activism. A federal judge ruled last year that Woodfox should be set free on the basis of racial discrimination in his retrial. It was the third time Woodfox’s conviction has been overturned, but prosecutors have negated the victories with a series of appeals. Thursday’s ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the order for Woodfox’s release in a unanimous decision. But prosecutors could still delay its enforcement with more appeals to keep Woodfox behind bars. We are joined by two guests: Robert King, a member of the Angola 3 who spent 29 years in solitary confinement for a murder he did not commit; and Carine Williams, a lawyer for Albert Woodfox with the firm Squire Patton Boggs.

Please check back later for full transcript.

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 10:48:51 -0500
What "Free Trade" Has Done to Central America

With Republicans winning big in the midterm elections, the debate over so-called “free-trade” agreements could again take center stage in Washington.

President Barack Obama has been angling for “fast-track” authority that would enable him to push the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP—a massive free-trade agreement between the United States and a host of Pacific Rim countries—through Congress with limited debate and no opportunity for amendments.

From the outset, the politicians who support the agreement have overplayed its benefits and underplayed its costs. They seldom note, for example, that the pact would allow corporations to sue governments whose regulations threaten their profits in cases brought before secretive and unaccountable foreign tribunals.

So let’s look closely at the real impact trade agreements have on people and the environment.

A prime example is the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement, or DR-CAFTA. Brokered by the George W. Bush administration and a handful of hemispheric allies, the pact has had a devastating effect on poverty, dislocation, and environmental contamination in the region.

And perhaps even worse, it’s diminished the ability of Central American countries to protect their citizens from corporate abuse.

A Premonition

In 2004 and 2005, hundreds of thousands of protesters filled Central America’s streets.

They warned of the unemploymentpovertyhungerpollution, diminished national sovereignty, and other problems that could result if DR-CAFTA were approved. But despite popular pressure, the agreement was ratified in seven countries—including Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and the United States.

Ten years after the approval of DR-CAFTA, we are seeing many of the effects they cautioned about.

Overall economic indicators in the region have been poor, with some governments unable to provide basic services to the population. Farmers have been displaced when they can’t compete with grain importedfrom the United States. Amid significant levels of unemploymentlabor abuses continue. Workers in export assembly plants often suffer poor working conditions and low wages. And natural resource extraction has proceeded with few protections for the environment.

Contrary to the promises of US officials—who claimed the agreement would improve Central American economies and thereby reduce undocumented immigration—large numbers of Central Americans have migrated to the United States, as dramatized most recently by the influx of children from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras crossing the US-Mexican border last summer. Although most are urgently fleeing violence in their countries, there are important economic roots to the migration—many of which are related to DR-CAFTA.

One of the most pernicious features of the agreement is a provision called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism. This allows private corporations to sue governments over alleged violations of a long list of so-called “investor protections.”

The most controversial cases have involved public interest laws and regulations that corporations claim reduce the value of their investments. That means corporations can sue those countries for profits they say they would have made had those regulations not been put into effect.

Such lawsuits can be financially devastating to poor countries that already struggle to provide basic services to their people, much less engage in costly court battles with multinational firms. They can also prevent governments from making democratically accountable decisions in the first place, pushing them to prioritize the interests of transnational corporations over the needs of their citizens.

The Mining Industry Strikes Gold

These perverse incentives have led to environmental deregulation and increased protections for companies, which have contributed to a boon in the toxic mining industry—with gold at the forefront. A stunning 14 percent of Central American territory is now authorized for mining. According to the Center of Research on Trade and Investment, a Salvadoran NGO, that number approaches 30 percent in Honduras and Nicaragua—and rises to a whopping 35 percent in Honduras.

In contrast to their Central American neighbors, El Salvador and Costa Rica have imposed regulations to defend their environments from destructive mining practices. Community pressure to protect the scarce watersheds of El Salvador—which are deeply vulnerable to toxic mining runoff—has so far prevented companies from successfully extracting minerals like gold on a large scale, and the Salvadoran government has put a moratorium on mining. In Costa Rica, after a long campaign of awareness and national mobilization, the legislature voted unanimously in 2010 to prohibit open-pit mining and ban the use of cyanide and mercury in mining activities.

Yet both countries are being punished for heeding their citizens’ demands. Several US and Canadian companies have been using DR-CAFTA’s investor-state provisions to sue these governments directly. Such disputes are arbitrated by secret tribunals like the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, which is hosted by the World Bank and is not accountable to any democratic body.

In 2009, the US-based Commerce Group sued El Salvador for closing a highly polluting mine.The case was dismissed in 2011for lack of jurisdiction, but El Salvador still had to pay several million dollars in fees for its defense. In a case still in process, the gold-mining conglomerate Pacific Rim has also sued El Salvador under DR-CAFTA for its anti-mining regulations. To get around the fact that the Canadian company wasn’t from a signatory country to DR-CAFTA, it moved its subsidiary from the Cayman Islands to Reno, Nevada in a bid to use the agreement’s provisions. Although that trick failed, the suit has moved forward under an outdated investment law of El Salvador.

Elsewhere, Infinito Gold has used DR-CAFTA to sue Costa Rica for nearly $100 million over disputes related to gold mining. And the US-based Corona Materials has filed a notice of intent to sue the Dominican Republic, also claiming violations of DR-CAFTA. These costly legal cases can have devastating effects on the national economies of these small countries.

Of course, investor-state disputes under DR-CAFTA are not only related to mining.

For example, TECO Guatemala Holdings, a US corporation, alleged in 2009 that Guatemala had wrongfully interfered with its indirect subsidiary’s investment in an electricity distribution company. Specifically, TECO charged that the government had not protected its right to a “minimum standard of treatment”— an exceptionally vague standard that is open to wide interpretation by the international tribunals that rule on such cases — concerning the setting of rates by government regulators. In other words, TECO wanted to charge higher electricity rates to Guatemalan users than those the state deemed fair. Guatemala had to pay $21.1 million in compensatory damages and $7.5 million in legal fees, above and beyond what it spent on its own defense.

The US-based Railroad Development Corporation also sued Guatemala, leading to the country paying out an additional $11.3 million, as well as covering both its own legal fees and the company’s. Elsewhere, Spence International Investments and other companies sued Costa Rica for its decision to expropriate land for a public ecological park.

A Chilling Effect

What’s at stake here is not only the cost of lawsuits or the impact of environmental destruction, but also the ability of a country to make sovereign decisions and advance the public good.

Investment rules that allow companies to circumvent national judicial systems and challenge responsible public policies can create an effect that’s been dubbed “regulatory chill.” This means that countries that might otherwise have curtailed corporate activity won’t—because they’re afraid of being sued.

Guatemala is a prime case. It’s had to pay companies tens of millions of dollars in investor-state lawsuits, especially in the utility and transportation industries. But it hasn’t yet been sued by a mining company. That’s because the Guatemalan government hasn’t limited the companies’ operations or tampered with their profit-making.

Take the Marlin Mine in western Guatemala, for example. In 2010, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights advised the Guatemalan government to close the mine on account of its social and environmental impacts on the surrounding region and its indigenous population. Nonetheless, after briefly agreeing to suspend operations, the Guatemalan government reopened the mine a short time later.

In internal documents obtained by activists, the Guatemalan government cited potential investment arbitration as a reason to avoid suspending the mine, writing that closing the project could provoke the mine’s owners “to activate the World Bank’s [investment court] or to invocate the clauses of the free trade agreement to have access to international arbitration and subsequent claim of damages to the state.” As this example demonstrates, just knowing that a company could sue can prevent a country from standing up for human rights and environmental protection.

More recently in Guatemala, the communities around San Jose del Golfo— about 45,000 people — have engaged in two years of peaceful resistance to prevent the US-based Kappes, Cassiday, and Associates from constructing a new mine. Protesters estimate that 95 percent of families in the region depend on agriculture, an industry that would be virtually destroyed if the water were to be further contaminated. But the company threatened to sue Guatemala if the mine was not opened. “They can’t afford this lawsuit,” a company representative said. “We had a big law group out of [Washington,] DC fire off a letter to the mines minister, copied to the president, explaining what we were doing.”

On May 23, the people of San Jose del Golfo were violently evicted from their lands by military force, pitting the government in league with the company against its own people—potentially all to avoid a costly lawsuit.

A Prelude to the TPP

Warnings about the crises that “free trade” would bring to Central Americans were, unfortunately, correct. Central America is facing a humanitarian crisis that has incited millions to migrate as refugees from violence and poverty, thousands of them children. One push factor is the environmental degradation provoked by ruthless mining corporations that are displacing people from their rural livelihoods.

And it’s not just DR-CAFTA. The many investor-state cases brought under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and in countries all over the world, have exposed the perniciousness of investor protection rules shoehorned into so-called “free-trade” pacts. Many governments are realizing that these agreements have tied their hands when it comes to protecting their own environments and citizens.

We must use these egregious investor-state cases to highlight extreme corporate power in the region. We must work to help Central American people regain their livelihoods lost to ruthless extractive projects like mining. And we must change trade and investment agreements to stop these excessive lawsuits that devastate communities, the environment, and democracy itself.

Like DR-CAFTA, the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership includes investor-state provisions that are likely to hurt poor communities and undermine environmental protections. Instead of being “fast tracked” through Congress, future trade agreements like the TPP—and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership being negotiated between the European Union and the United States—must be subject to a full debate with public input.

And such agreements must not, at any cost, include investor-state mechanisms. Because trading away democracy to transnational corporations is not such a “free trade” after all.

News Mon, 24 Nov 2014 10:28:14 -0500