Truthout Stories Mon, 24 Oct 2016 10:17:15 -0400 en-gb Stop the Bombing, Stop the Wars

Children in Sanaa, Yemen in February of 2015. (Photo: Tyler Hicks / The New York Times)Children in Sanaa, Yemen, in February of 2015. (Photo: Tyler Hicks / The New York Times)

Over a week ago, someone in Yemen flipped some missiles at the USS Mason, an American warship on patrol off the coast. It was determined that the Houthis, a group aligned with Iran, was responsible, even though the Pentagon admitted they could not be sure who actually did the shooting. No matter. The Mason fired a twin salvo of cruise missiles into Yemen, and just like that, the United States became a much more active participant in yet another Middle Eastern killing field.

Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Mali, Egypt and Yemen: Either through direct fighting, "advising," and/or the arming of various participants, we have spread our martial wings over the region in a manner all too consistent with the fever dreams held close by our neoconservative cabal for the last quarter of a century. Remember the Project for a New American Century? They never left; they just got new jobs.

Saudi Arabia is pleased. It has been bombing Yemen for a while now using American weapons and intelligence, killing thousands, including more than 100 mourners at a funeral this month. This is passing strange, since the Saudi Arabian government is a boon ally of ISIS (also known as Daesh), the Sunni fighting force which congealed into a lethal actor in Iraq and Syria after George W. Bush's war "ended."

The US is currently fighting ISIS in the city of Mosul, and in Syria. Who are our friends over there, really? Who are our enemies? It depends on the time of day, who you ask, and where you are on the map. It also depends, of course, on who's cutting us checks for the weapons.

Mosul is a perfect example of the chaos we have unleashed in the region. The city has played host to fierce fighting ever since the 2003 US invasion, and is today a rubbled killing jar reminiscent of Aleppo to the west. ISIS took over Mosul several years ago and turned it into a stronghold, riddling the city with underground tunnels in a tactic highly similar to what the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong did in Vietnam many years ago.

Right now, a ragged coalition of Iraqi forces, US advisers, Kurdish Peshmerga, Shiite militia and Sunni tribesmen are pushing into Mosul. None of these groups like or trust one another. For example, everyone is worried the Kurds will keep Mosul for themselves if they succeed in taking the city. Turkey entered the fray the other day by killing some 200 Kurdish militia members in a bombing raid. Meanwhile, ISIS littered Mosul with improvised explosive devices and other booby traps, and are continually hurling truck bombs and suicide squads at the advancing forces, the latter of which use those tunnels for the element of surprise to great effect.

Mosul, in short, is the ultimate urban warfare nightmare: Close quarters, bombs everywhere, invisible foes, all surrounded by civilians seeking only to live through the day. Residents of Mosul, as the attack approaches, have joined the massive tidal flood of refugees seeking some semblance of safety from the carnage in the region. It will likely take years and an ocean of blood to "secure" the city, and even if that is accomplished, Mosul will be devastated. As with the cities of Tikrit, Ramadi and Falluja, Mosul will resemble a place that was dropped out of the sky to smash on the ground.

The fight for Mosul has claimed its first American casualty. A US service member was killed by an IED outside the city on Thursday. The chief petty officer is the fourth service member to die in Iraq since 2014 while serving in what is called "Operation Inherent Resolve." Some 5,000 US troops are currently in Iraq. According to Reuters, "The Pentagon this week played down any new role for US forces in Iraq's battle to retake Mosul and said they would be behind the forward line of troops. But as the United States has increased its presence in Iraq this year to help in the Mosul fight, officials have acknowledged Americans will be 'closer to the action.'"

Translation: There will be more, because there are always more. You can count on it. One wonders how many people in the US know about any of this.

This is only the Cliff's Notes version of the reality that is the Middle East today. Make no mistake about it: All of this -- every last little bit of it -- was caused by war. We seeded the ground with Desert Storm, exacerbated the trauma with years of missile strikes and debilitating sanctions, and put an exclamation point on the whole affair with the invasion and occupation in 2003. During those intervening years, we bombed water treatment plants in Iraq, which introduced sewage into the drinking water, which is biological warfare by any other name, and that's not counting all the depleted uranium from our ordnance.

When we toppled the Sunni government of Iraq and disbanded the Sunni Ba'athist Army, we gave birth to ISIS. The war caused a massive, persistent wave of refugees to flee into Syria to escape the fighting, which upended that country and gave ISIS a base of operations along with a flood of willing recruits. The rest of the countries where we are actively involved in fighting popped off like a string of firecrackers, and we have been bombing our own weapons over there for quite some time now, an ancillary financial windfall for the weapons dealers. The situation is so unfathomably confused that elements supported by the CIA found themselves in March of this year locked in active combat in Syria with elements supported by the Pentagon. Just another day at the office.

All of this was caused by war, and the only solution we are being offered is more war. This grim alternative is underscored by the fact that either a blatantly bigoted fearmonger or an avowed war hawk is set to sit in the Oval Office come January. One will almost certainly lurch us into further conflict, while the other will likely do so deliberately. "Defense" spending will skyrocket, bodies will drop, new enemies will be made, and the war profiteers will laugh all the way to their bailed-out banks. It has been this way for 25 years now. It will be this way tomorrow.

Not so long ago, a strong and vocal anti-war movement came to vivid life again in the US. February of 2003 saw the largest gathering of anti-war demonstrators the world has ever witnessed, and the movement only grew from there. After 2008, lacking a shared enemy in George W. Bush, and due to simple exhaustion after so many years of struggle, the movement splintered and disintegrated. The gap left by this near-absence allowed the war machine to grow, spread and flourish. This escalation of violence only seems likely to continue during the next presidential administration, no matter who is sitting in that round room.

That is on us, and so it is our responsibility to shake off the doldrums of cynicism and despair. It is a daunting enterprise, as we are almost back to square one again, but the alternatives do not bear contemplation. Freedom and change begin with a "No," with people in the streets, with a convergence of raised voices, with a decision to try and prove that what is does not always have to be. The anti-war movement must be reconstituted in strength, and soon.

It has been done before. It must be done again. Win or lose, we have to try.

So let us, once again, rise.

For Tom Hayden

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Opinion Mon, 24 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The TPP and Free Trade: Time to Retake the English Language

Activists protest the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Seattle, Washington, on June 24, 2016. (Photo: Backbone Campaign; Edited: LW / TO)Activists protest the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Seattle, Washington, on June 24, 2016. (Photo: Backbone Campaign; Edited: LW / TO)

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The proponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are planning to do a full court press in the lame duck session of Congress following the election. We will be bombarded with speeches and columns from President Obama and other illustrious figures telling us how it is important to approve the TPP for a variety of reasons.

We can be certain that one of the reasons will be the inherent virtues of free trade. They will not be telling the truth.

The TPP is not about free trade. It does little to reduce tariffs and quotas for the simple reason that these barriers are already very low. In fact, the United States already has trade deals with six of the other 11 countries in the TPP. This is why the non-partisan United States International Trade Commission (ITC) estimated that when the full gains from the TPP are realized in 2032, they will come to just 0.23 percent of GDP. This is a bit more than a normal month's growth.

In fact, the TPP goes far in the opposite direction, increasing protectionism in the form of stronger and longer patent and copyright protection. These forms of protection for prescription drugs, software and other products, often raise the price by a factor of a hundred or more above the free market price. This makes them equivalent to tariffs of several thousand percent.

These forms of protection do serve a purpose in promoting innovation and creative work, but we have other more efficient mechanisms to accomplish this goal. Furthermore, the fact that they serve a purpose doesn't mean they are not protectionist. After all, protectionism always serves some purpose. A quota to protect the US sugar industry doesn't stop being protectionism because it ensures the survival of a domestic sugar industry.

It is likely the case that the strengthening of patent and copyright related protections in the TPP does more to impede free trade than the modest reductions in tariffs do to promote free trade. Unfortunately, neither the ITC nor anyone else has attempted to quantify the cost of the protectionist measures in the TPP so we don't have a good basis for comparison at this point.

The other point to be made about free trade and protectionism is that our push for free trade has always been very selective. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other trade deals were explicitly designed to make it as easy as possible for US corporations to manufacture goods in the developing world and ship them back to the United States.

This pattern of trade had the predicted and actual effect of reducing jobs and lowering pay for manufacturing workers. This pattern of trade has been an important factor in the wage stagnation seen by workers without college degrees over the last four decades.

But there was nothing inevitable about this process. While manufacturing workers in the developing world are willing to work for much lower pay than manufacturing workers in the United States, so are doctors in the developing world.

Unlike manufacturing workers, doctors are powerful enough to get protection. It is not generally possible for a doctor trained in another country to practice medicine in the United States unless they pass a US residency program -- for which there is a strict quota on foreign trained students. As a result of this restriction, doctors in the United States earn on average twice as much as doctors in Canada, Germany and other wealthy countries. This protectionism costs the United States roughly $100 billion a year (around $700 per family) in higher health care costs.

If our trade negotiators actually were interested in "free trade," they would have constructed a system whereby foreign trained doctors could be certified as meeting US standards. They would then have the same freedom to practice as any doctor born and trained in the United States.

Note that this is a trade issue, not an immigration issue. Foreign doctors could probably get away with working in restaurants or construction in the US, they just can't get away with working as doctors. If we had a number of additional foreign doctors enter the US equal to just one month's normal flow of immigrants, it would hugely transform the market for physicians in the United States.  

The potential gains from eliminating the barriers that prevent foreign doctors and other highly paid professionals from working in the United States are enormous. These barriers are not removed in trade deals because the people negotiating them all have parents, siblings and/or children in these professions. They want to protect their incomes; they don't care about the income of autoworkers and textile workers.    

So let's be clear. President Obama and other proponents of TPP are protectionists. This matters hugely in public debate because most educated people have a Trumpian-type commitment to anything labeled as "free trade." They think that they have to support it because otherwise they will be bad people.

The real story here is that the TPP is a deal about redistributing more income upward. It's imposing more competition on those at the middle and the bottom while maintaining and increasing forms of protectionism that benefits those at the top. When reporters call the TPP a "free trade" deal, they are acting as advocates, not reporters. The TPP is a protectionist pact for those at the top who are worried that free trade will undermine their income -- like it did for those at the middle and bottom.

Opinion Mon, 24 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
We Are Living in the Golden Age of Defense Waste and Corruption; Trump Will Make It Much Worse

(Photo: Paul Hohmann; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: Paul Hohmann; Edited: LW / TO)

In October 2015, when he was a very, very long shot for the Republican nomination, Donald Trump the businessman promised to make the military "much stronger than it is right now" without increasing military spending. "But you know what?" he declared, "We can do it for less."

In September 2016, as the Republican nominee, Donald Trump the politician dramatically reversed his position. He now proposes a massive increase in military spending. And instead of making the military more efficient by cutting Pentagon waste, Trump will "fully offset" the increase in military spending by reducing spending on non-defense programs through reducing their "government waste and budget gimmicks."

For an idea of what that might entail for non-defense spending, consider the Republican budget blueprint passed by the House in early 2015 (no Democrat voted in favor). To offset a significant increase in military spending, the New York Times reports, Medicaid would be cut by $900 billion. Spending on the food stamp program would be shrunk by hundreds of billions of dollars. Spending for Pell Grants for college, job training and housing assistance would be slashed.

The 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) stopped the Republicans from achieving their guns-not-butter budgetary. The BCA emerged from a confluence of events: A soaring deficit, the result of extensive federal spending that stopped a major economic recession from becoming a major economic depression and the Republican takeover of the House after the 2010 election. The result was a dramatic near government shut down showdown on how to cut the deficit.

The White House and Congress couldn't agree. The BCA was a bludgeon, a crude across-the-board spending mandate intended to spur Congress and the White House to negotiate a more thoughtful approach. They couldn't. As a consequence, in 2013 there was an immediate $110 billion cut in spending, divided more or less equally from defense and non-defense programs. Defense spending comprises about 54 percent of the discretionary budget, that part of the federal budget over which Congress has direct control through annual appropriations. Congress also imposed caps on defense and non-defense spending through 2021.

Although the cuts were supposedly proportional, the pain inflicted was not. Real per-capita funding for non-defense programs have fallen more than 10 percent below 2010 levels while the population served and the demand for services grew. The Veterans Administration, considered non-defense spending, has been swamped by increased demand from older Vietnam War veterans and a new influx from Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. Rising rents and stagnant incomes have led to an increased demand for rental assistance even while the total number of families receiving assistance has fallen.

The injury to the Pentagon was far more modest. Troop levels declined, but that was to be expected given that two major wars were winding down. The Navy and Air Force got fewer new ships and aircraft than they wanted. Base construction slowed.

The Pentagon also suffered less because it was able to tap into another source of funding: The Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) reserve established to give the Pentagon immediate flexibility in war spending. Originally the OCO was subject to budget caps but in 2011, the same year caps were enacted, Congress exempted OCO spending, expanded the fund and began tapping it for non war-related Pentagon spending.

Since 2013, Republicans and Democrats have battled over the caps. Each time, at the 11th hour they've agreed to increase them equally for both military and non-military spending, most recently in late 2015 after President Obama vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act that would have raised military but not non-military spending.

Donald Trump proposes to eliminate the caps on military spending and reimburse DOD tens of billions of dollars it lost from past cuts. Increased military spending will be offset by decreasing non-defense spending through improving program efficiency and reducing waste. But the evidence is overwhelming that the inefficiencies and waste fall most heavily on the military side.

Consider that in 1994, the Government Management Reform Act required the Inspector General of each federal agency to audit and publish the financial statements of their agency. All Non-Defense agencies complied. The Department of Defense did not.

In 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld confessed, "we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions." In June 2016, Pentagon's Inspector General criticized the US Army for misreporting $6.5 trillion (yes, trillion with a T) for the 2015 fiscal year. "(I)nserting phony numbers" is how Reuters describes the Pentagon's strategy for balancing the books.

In 2009 the GAO reported on audit quality and independence issues at the Pentagon's Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA), the federal watchdog responsible for auditing oversight of military contractors. One Pentagon auditor admitted he did not perform detailed tests because, "The contractor would not appreciate it." That statement makes no sense unless you understand the intimate relationship between the Pentagon and its contractors. From 2004 to 2008, 80 percent of retiring three and four star officers went to work as consultants or defense executives.

"In almost any other realm it would seem a clear conflict of interest. But this is the Pentagon where … such apparent conflicts are a routine fact of life", an in-depth investigation by the Boston Globe concluded.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 imposes criminal penalties on corporate managers who certify false financial reports. But, according to Mike Young, a former Air Force logistics officer, "The concept of Sarbanes-Oxley is completely foreign" to the Pentagon.

According to the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) the Pentagon so far has spent roughly $6 billion on "fixing" the audit problem without success. (POGO is by far the best resource for information related to military spending.)

I doubt there's a real sense of urgency. The military knows that if it misses the next congressionally mandated deadline there will be no consequences. In 2012 Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced a bill Audit the Pentagon that would reduce by 5 percent the budget of any federal agency without an unqualified audit opinion by an external, independent auditor. The bill did not receive a hearing. In 2014 and 2015 she reintroduced the bill but reduced the penalty to a 0.5 percent budget reduction. Still there were no hearings.

For William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy we are living in "a golden age for Pentagon waste". A recent Reuters investigation by Scot J. Paltrow sums up the shocking mess. The Pentagon is "largely incapable of keeping track of its vast stores of weapons, ammunition and other supplies; thus it continues to spend money on new supplies it doesn't need and on storing others long out of date. It has amassed a backlog of more than half a trillion dollars in unaudited contracts with outside vendors; how much of that money paid for actual goods and services delivered isn't known. And it repeatedly falls prey to fraud and theft that can go undiscovered for years, often eventually detected by external law enforcement agencies."

When outside agencies have been able to gather data they've discovered rampant fraud. Records show that the Raytheon Company defrauded the Pentagon 5 times up until 2003. Lockheed Martin 7 times as of 2013, Northrup Grumman 7 times as of 2010. They continued to receive huge Pentagon contracts.

What could be more vulgar than corruption disguised as patriotism?

Jon Basil Utley, publisher of The American Conservative describes the sorry process by which the Pentagon develops weapons.

"Weapons are designed to be built in key congressional districts, not to be the most efficient or cost effective…. The F-22 had 1,000 suppliers in 44 states. The F-35 has 1,300 suppliers in 45 states in key congressional districts and is now estimated to cost up to $300 million per plane. Weapons manufacturing is started before finalized testing so as to build a constituency for programs' continuation. Military contractors then get cost-plus contracts to modify the weapons, which won't work properly because insufficient initial testing was done before manufacturing them. "

Given this dysfunctional and self-serving process, it should come as no surprise that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found "staggering" cost overruns of almost $300 billion in nearly 70 percent of the Pentagon's 96 major weapons.

In the 1960s, Pentagon whistleblower Ernest Fitzgerald exposed $2 billion in cost overruns on Lockheed's C-5A transport aircraft. It was considered a scandal. Today's F-35 fighter plane already has posted cost overruns of $500 billion and more is to come. The F-35 has yet to prove itself battle-ready, and may never be. Nevertheless, earlier this year Congress added and the President signed off on 11 additional F-35's to DOD appropriations.

Wastefulness is not the hallmark only of weapons procurement. Personnel costs are also wildly excessive. The Pentagon is top heavy with officers and generals paid vastly more than civilians with the same skills and education. Most of these officers work in public affairs or procurement or financial management or other jobs that do not require an officer.

The Pentagon currently has over 640,000 private contractors. No one knows the exact number but this is almost certainly an underestimate. They work alongside 800,000 civilian employees. A Rand Corporation report concluded contracting out is 25 percent more expensive than if performed by government employees. One Congressional study found that such contracts are on average, twice as expansive as in-house work. Some 70 percent of federal spending on intelligence is on private contracts. (Think Edward Snowden).

POGO estimates the Pentagon could save more than $20 billion a year if it reduced just its contractor work force by 15 percent.

Walter Pincus writes in the Washington Post about the inherent inefficiencies of contracting out. "The government pays to get the worker qualified, then ends up leasing back . . . former employees."

There is another danger in contracting out. As a 2014 GAO report warns, "Without a thorough review of contractor activities, DOD risks becoming overly reliant on contractors to support core missions."

Major Kevin P. Stiens and Lt. Colonel (Ret.) Susan L. Turley have observed, "The government lost personnel experience and continuity, along with operational control, by moving to contractors." Air Force Colonel Steven Zamperelli adds, "Private employees have distinctly different motivations, responsibilities and loyalties than those in the public military."

In 2008, in an infamous incident starkly revealed the flaws in private contracting. At least 12 U.S. soldiers were accidentally electrocuted inside their bases in Iraq. Later it was discovered the private contractor knew there were potentially serious electrical problems in the facility's construction, but its contract didn't cover "fixing potential hazards." It only required repairing items already broken!

While politicians refuse to penalize the DOD for not cleaning up its act, many are more than willing to demand accountability for every penny spent on non-defense programs, especially those helping the poor. In March 2014 Virginia House GOP leaders demanded the state's Medicaid program undergo a two-year external audit before expanding it. More than 60 audits had already been performed. In 2013 the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform did a detailed analysis of New York State's Medicaid program because, "Each dollar misspent on Medicaid is one less dollar for the country to use for better health care for the poor, education, infrastructure, national defense, deficit reduction, or any other priority." To date the Committee has yet to do any such analysis of Pentagon spending.

Facing up to and correcting the wastefulness and corruption in the military budget could go a long way toward meeting the rising demands on the non-military, aka, the "butter" side of our national ledger. In this election season, will the citizenry force this issue, this travesty on the national agenda?

News Sun, 23 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Why Are Police the Priority in Rahm Emanuel's Chicago?

"Of course we are going to find the money."

That was the response of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel last month, when asked how he was going to find the money to pay for the 970 additional police officers that his administration had pledged to hire over the next two years in response to an increase in violent crime in the city.

For months, Emanuel and other city officials had insisted that there was no money to cover contributions to the pensions of Chicago teachers or to fully fund public schools. The city was broke, they claimed. That lie was exposed when the city came up with a last-minute contract offer for teachers that included tens of millions of dollars taken from Emanuel's "tax increment financing" surplus.

But the money for the still-to-be-ratified teachers' contract had to be pried out of Emanuel. When it comes to funding more cops, the mayor doesn't hesitate.

And it's a lot of money, too. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, "At a first-year cost of $138,000-per-officer including salary, benefits and supervision, the 970 additional officers carry a two-year price tag of $133.8 million."

There couldn't be a starker illustration of priorities for city leaders. As they strangle public services and ignore the real roots of the violence plaguing Chicago, their only solution is to expand a police force that is notoriously brutal, racist and corrupt.


Influenced by the city's propaganda, many people accept the need to hire more cops as common sense.

As of October 18, there have been 596 murders in the city this year. That's a marked increase over 492 homicides in all of 2015 -- which was itself an increase over 2014. According to the Chicago Tribune, as of October 17, 3,475 people had been shot in the city, compared with 2,441 people shot this time last year. August was the deadliest month in the city since 1993 -- with 90 homicides and more than 400 shootings.

To date, Chicago has had more homicides this year than New York, which is three times larger, and Los Angeles combined.

But the violence doesn't impact every Chicagoan equally. The vast majority of the victims live in Black and Latino neighborhoods on the city's South and West Sides.

While it's easy to get lost in the numbers, each statistic represents the suffering of families and communities being ripped apart -- like the unnamed woman who a Chicago Tribune reporter saw sobbing at the entrance to the emergency room of Mount Sinai Hospital on October 14 following a shooting with multiple victims in the West Side neighborhood of East Garfield Park. The woman held a young boy and sobbed, "Please don't do this to us," before collapsing to the ground in grief.

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump has been quick to point to Chicago's murder rate as evidence of "inner cities" that are "horrible, horrible death traps."

But on the other side of the mainstream partisan divide, there is a different racist reaction: the failure of the Democratic political establishment that runs the city -- from Emanuel to the overwhelmingly Democratic City Council -- to talk about the causes of violence or offer solutions that do anything more than paint a target on communities already suffering under the yoke of poverty and police brutality.


When Emanuel announced last month that his solution to the rising murder rate would be to fund nearly 1,000 more cops over the rate of attrition over the next two years, it raised eyebrows coming amid deadlocked negotiations with the teachers -- and, in fact, the layoff of 1,000 teachers and staff shortly before the school year started.

But even more importantly, the money for more police does nothing to address the social factors contributing to the violence.

These include inflated rates of poverty and unemployment, especially among the city's African American population; the disruption caused by the closure of more than 50 public schools by the mayor, which inflamed tensions between different gangs; the ongoing attack on social services, like Emanuel's closure of half of the city's mental health clinics, which mainly served high-crime, low-income Black and Hispanic communities; and increasing gentrification that causes families to be uprooted from their neighborhoods.

It's worth questioning Emanuel's logic that says spending well over $100 million on more cops would do more to quell violence than, say, putting that money toward providing jobs, housing and better schools in the neighborhoods most prone to violence.

In general, say experts, increasing the size of a police force doesn't necessarily lead to a decrease in violent crime. If that were true, then Chicago -- which at around 12,500 officers already has the second-largest police force in the country -- would already have lower crime rates.

On the other hand, hiring more police automatically means there are more officers who can abuse their powers on a force already notorious for its brutality.

There is a bitter irony to the fact that Emanuel wants to spend tens of millions more on extra cops -- since the city has, between 2004 and early 2016, paid out more than $642 million in settlements to the victims of police brutality and their families.

Meanwhile, as social services will inevitably be cut further to pay for additional police, an investigation by the Chicago Reader recently found that since 2009, Chicago police have seized nearly $72 million in cash and assets through a process known as "civil forfeiture" -- seizing the assets, like cars, of people either accused of a crime or, often, tangentially related to the commission of an alleged crime.

Not surprisingly, the civil forfeitures have hit poor and working-class residents -- especially Black and Latino residents -- the hardest, because they lack the resources to challenge the police in court to reclaim property and cash.

Chicago cops have always had a reputation for corruption and brutality, but lately, every day seems to bring new revelations of wrongdoing. In a recent four-part investigative report for the Intercept, for example, reporter Jamie Kalven documents the claims of two officers who were told by department higher-ups to ignore evidence of a fellow officer's extortion of drug dealers.

Or there is the story that New York Daily News journalist Shaun King reported earlier this month: A Chicago cop who sodomized a suspect with a screwdriver during a strip search in 2004, along with his partner who stood by as it happened, are both still on the force, each making approximately $90,000 a year.


After Emanuel's announcement, Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson -- who was appointed to the job after the public outcry over the police execution of Laquan McDonald forced Emanuel to fire former Superintendent Garry McCarthy last year -- told reporters recently, "This will make us a bigger department, a better department and a more effective department."

But "better" and "more effective" at what?

A thousand more cops on Chicago's streets is a slap in the face to the families of Laquan McDonald, Rekia Boyd, Paul O'Neal or any of the many other victims of Chicago police.

McDonald's family had to fight for more than a year for the release of police video that showed the teen being ruthlessly murdered by police.

Boyd's killer, officer Dante Servin, will never serve a day in jail after a judge earlier this year cleared him of the involuntary manslaughter charge against him -- on the twisted reasoning that he should have been charged with murder, so it was better to dismiss the case against him.

And partial video finally released after the killing of O'Neal -- "partial" because the officer who fired the fatal shot hadn't turned his body camera on -- show cops pushing the wounded teen's head into the ground and calling him a "bitch ass motherfucker." Later, they can be seen high-fiving each other and celebrating that "We got one over here."

For these families, the promise of a thousand more cops feels more like a threat than a comfort. That's especially true given Johnson's own outlandish statement earlier this year that, in 27 years on the job as a Chicago cop, he's "never encountered police misconduct."

To pretend that more police on the streets will translate into more peaceful communities ignores these victims -- and the reality that the role of police is primarily to protect private property and serve the interests of the state, not to safeguard our rights.

As Pastor Marshall Hatch, whose congregation is in the West Garfield Park neighborhood, recently told NPR, the hiring of more police won't stop the systemic problems that fuel the violence. "[E]verybody knows you can't police yourself out of a problem like this when the real problem is poverty, despair and disinvestment," he said.

News Sun, 23 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
From Higher Education to Water Treatment, Financialization Is Harming Our Economy

An empty classroom at Junior High School 50 in Brooklyn in June 23, 2016. (Photo: Christopher Lee / The New York Times)An empty classroom at Junior High School 50 in Brooklyn in June 23, 2016. Public schools around the nation have all seen huge decreases in state funding in recent decades. (Photo: Christopher Lee / The New York Times)

One of the standout features of our increasingly financialized economy is a systemic disinvestment in public goods such as infrastructure and education. As the finance sector hoards the wealth our economy produces, wages stagnate, corporations and the wealthy avoid contributing their rightful share in taxes, and money and power coalesces at the top, revenues at all levels of government have declined.

Correspondingly, we have witnessed a turn to austerity measures including big cuts to the budgets of the entities that provide vital public goods, from water to public education. This is no accident -- it's a feature of a rigged economic system in which austerity is the price most of us pay for the wealthiest to get even wealthier.

Austerity creates vulnerability. As the stewards of public goods strive to meet the needs of the constituents they serve -- from water customers to students attending public colleges -- without breaking their shrinking budgets, they can become susceptible to financing schemes peddled by the financial industry.

Banks have pushed a variety of financial products, such as interest rate swaps, auction rate securities, and capital appreciation bonds, that are risky to borrowers and invariably deliver massive returns to the financial institutions selling them. Many of these deals have gone horribly wrong for public borrowers, draining even more money out their diminishing budgets.

The combination of austerity politics and a financial industry with an increasingly predatory business model has created a vicious cycle of decreased revenues, budget cuts, increased reliance on borrowing, the use of risky financial products in an attempt to save money, big losses on those risky deals, and more austerity.

Roosevelt and ReFund America Project recently released a report about the impact of toxic financial deals like interest rate swaps on colleges and universities across the country. We looked at 19 schools, from community colleges and public four-year universities to elite private schools, and found swap cost them a combined total of $2.7 billion.

Swaps, which were intended to create a synthetic fixed rate on variable rate bonds, were pitched to borrowers as a way to borrow more cheaply. But these deals turned out to be disastrous for many colleges -- just as they have been for the cities, school districts, state governments, transit agencies, and water departments that also got mixed up with them.

The public colleges we looked at in our report -- like public colleges around the nation -- have all seen huge decreases in state funding in recent decades, and they have all tried to bridge the funding gap by raising fees and tuition on students. This disinvestment in a vital public good parallels decreases in funding for other vital infrastructure -- most notably, public water and wastewater systems.

Federal funding for local water infrastructure projects has decreased almost fourfold in the last 3 decades. At the same, water systems have been aging and deteriorating to the point where most of the nation's water infrastructure is desperately in need of repair or replacement. The problems include sewage leaking into waterways, an estimated 25% of drinking water lost to leaks, and crumbling pipes leaching lead into drinking water.

Many local water systems, facing decreased federal funding and crumbling systems, have issued bonds to invest in infrastructure projects -- sometimes as part of complying with EPA consent decrees issued after an investigation of, for example, wastewater pollution of a local body of water.

Like the colleges in our recent report, many of these local water systems got stuck in risky deals that proved to be financially disastrous, leading to huge spikes in water bills for customers, water shut offs for people who couldn't pay their skyrocketing bills, and even less money for necessary projects.

In Detroit and Baltimore, people have even lost their homes to foreclosure because of late water bills. In some cases, the end result has been a move towards private control of the water systems as a "solution" to the financing crisis. This is classic disaster capitalism.

We are seeing this across our economy. The affordability and accessibility crisis in higher education is paralleled by similar crises in water infrastructure and other forms of public goods we rely on to make our country work. These crises have direct roots in the financialization of our economy and the power the financial industry has over our political system. The consequences affect all of us.

The good news is that we have an opportunity to build an intersectional movement of ordinary people to demand a more just and fair system and to hold Wall Street and the politicians they control accountable to we the people.

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Opinion Sun, 23 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
"We've Never Seen the Government Stand Up to the Fossil Fuel Industry": Tim DeChristopher on Our Climate Future

Tim DeChristopher. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)Tim DeChristopher. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

Tim DeChristopher is one of the leading climate activists in the US and a thorn in the side of the fossil fuel industry. In this exclusive Truthout interview, he discusses the moral agency and importance of direct confrontational civil disobedience for the climate justice movement.

Tim DeChristopher. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)Tim DeChristopher. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

In 2008, Tim DeChristopher found himself bidding for parcels of public land around Arches and Canyonlands National Parks of Utah at an illegitimate Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease auction.

A climate activist acting as a bidder at the auction, DeChristopher ended up successfully winning 22,500 acres of land by bidding a total of $1.8 million, which he never intended to pay one nickel of, hence effectively killing the auction.

Taken into custody by federal agents, DeChristopher ended up serving 21 months in prison for his action, despite the US Department of the Interior cancelling many of the leases just after the auction.

To see more stories like this, visit "Planet or Profit?"

His actions thrust him into the national and international media spotlight. DeChristopher co-founded the group Peaceful Uprising, a climate justice group that describes its task as "working to build an uncompromising movement to defend a livable future," and remains committed to nonviolence while functioning effectively within the most violent society and government on the planet.

The urgency of his work, and that of Peaceful Uprising, could not be more justified.

Earth's atmosphere recently passed the 400 parts per million threshold of CO2. According to NASA, 11 of the last 12 months have been the hottest months, respectively, in the 136 years of record keeping. This year is, once again, on track to be another hottest year ever for the planet, beating last year, which was itself the hottest year yet recorded. In fact, 15 of the 16 hottest years ever recorded, globally, have happened since 2000.

This past February, in the dead of winter, a Norwegian Coast Guard icebreaker ship found no ice to break, despite the fact that it was barely 800 miles from the North Pole. This is devastating, but not surprising: This year, the Arctic summer sea ice tied its second lowest extent on record.

Satellite data now shows a very rapid acceleration in global sea level rise, a rate increase not seen since the end of the last Ice Age -- and it continues to accelerate.

Early this February, atmospheric CO2 reached a level not seen on the planet for more than 2.5 million years. These levels of CO2, which we are now living with permanently, are bringing Earth to a realm not experienced since the Pliocene epoch, which was the period 2.6 to 5.3 million years ago that saw atmospheric CO2 levels between 350 and 405 parts per million and average global temperatures that ranged between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius warmer than the climate of the 1880s. At that time, there were even lower CO2 levels in the atmosphere than we have today, and global sea levels were 80 feet higher than they are right now.

In short, we are living in a new world, and the planet is rapidly adjusting to the level of heating we have imposed upon it.

Through this lens, it's clear that the actions of DeChristopher and other activists involved with Peaceful Uprising are both urgent and crucial, given that the US government is completely beholden to the fossil fuel industry.

Earlier this month, in what Reuters described as "the biggest coordinated move on US energy infrastructure ever undertaken by environmental protesters," activists across four states shut down five tar sands pipelines flowing into the US from Canada, bringing to a full stop the daily ration of 2.8 million gallons of tar sands crude oil.

The government responded in predictably draconian fashion by arresting the activists, supporting personnel and independent filmmakers. They are facing the most serious charges ever leveled at US climate activists: One of the filmmakers is facing up to 45 years in prison if convicted.

Yet, increasing numbers of people are taking up the struggle and joining DeChristopher -- as well as many Indigenous activists like those at Standing Rock -- as the planet burns.  The fact that the government continues to overtly side with the fossil fuel industry is only adding fuel to the activists' proverbial fire.

DeChristopher has used his public presence as a platform to spread the message of urgency of the climate crisis along with the need for courageous, directly confrontational civil disobedience. His work is aimed at creating a just and healthy world by halting fossil fuel projects, and continuing to bring attention to the crisis that is upon us.

Truthout recently spoke with DeChristopher about the imperativeness of "moral agency," the difference between the environmental and climate justice movements, and the importance of spiritual resiliency in the face of the prospect of a collapsing civilization.

Truthout: Talk about the importance of what you've referred to as "moral agency." We are living in a time when the government is clearly on the side of corporate power, and talking more specifically about climate disruption, government is in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry. For people who are concerned about the planet, and worried about how far along we already are regarding climate disruption, acting from a place of moral agency is going to put them in a position, eventually, where they are squarely confronting the government (local, state, federal). From your experience, and your understanding of the system, why is it more important than ever for people to act from that place of moral agency?

Tim DeChristopher: Folks in positions of power in the government are not adequately addressing the climate crisis. Those of us outside that structure, if we're to address it with integrity and moral agency, we have to confront those in power. Even [from] those in government [who are] closer to taking action, all we're hearing from them is mild rhetoric and small steps we needed to have taken about 20 years ago. So they are certainly not up to speed to where we need to be right now, so the task of acting with the sense of urgency necessary is up to ordinary citizens. By and large, the government is still beholden to those corporations beholden to the status quo, which is not something that will provide us with a livable future.

"The law is a tool of those in power," you said during an interview on Bill Moyers' program. Talk more about that, from the perspective of the dovetailing of government and the fossil fuel industry.

Look at what is happening in North Dakota today and over the last few months. This is what it looks like for a government to be acting like a private security force for the fossil fuel industry. Using military force to prevent the Indigenous folks in Standing Rock, and their allies, from standing in the way of a pipeline project. And when folks do take a stand to shut down all five tar sands pipelines, they are met with a draconian response from the government that is acting on behalf of the fossil fuel industry. So folks taking one of the boldest steps so far by actively shutting down the pipelines -- they are met with the harshest criminal charges that any climate activist in the US has ever faced for taking a nonviolent direct action. They are facing up to 80 years in prison, and that is something we've not seen before in this movement. That puts us in a new era of our government acting on behalf of the fossil fuel industry, while activists are acting on behalf of future generations.

Given that we are living in a world whose resources are now going to continue to be increasingly restricted and constricted and shrunken by climate disruption, do you think western civilization, as it exists today, will continue? If not, what might it look like in, say, 25 years?

In terms of this globalist, capitalist, Western-dominated world, I don't see that lasting. It's obvious that this system is mortal. That in and of itself is an idea people like to deny: that this system has always been mortal, but that we're now at a point where we're reaching the final stand of that civilization and that collapse is now pretty imminent.

There is still a huge degree of uncertainty around what that collapse looks like, and it's clear you can't keep living in a world that continues to increase material consumption year after year. So, we have to be on a fundamentally different path, and there are positive steps in controlling that process of collapse and steering us towards a collapse that still holds onto our humanity and shared values. We have communities working towards social justice and towards a common good, as opposed to individual greed. Neither of those is inevitable now and activism is so critical on direct climate issues, but also towards the social justice issues that will determine if we turn against each other through fear and greed, or with cooperation, love and mutual support.

You're not a fan of the idea that we should work towards the greening of corporate power. You are not hoping to pressure a company like Walmart to become more eco-conscious; rather, you have spoken about having a Walmart that is "subservient to human interests." What would that look like?

This week's action of the five that shut down the tar sands pipelines is a great example of that. They are not under the illusion that they'll get a company, whose fundamental business model is to destroy our planet, to be on our side. They [activists] are immediately hurting the bottom lines of those companies that put their product, directly and indirectly, through those pipelines. The activists are putting the government on a line where they have to choose between those companies and the common good of the people.

The immediate aftermath of those actions is the government choosing to stay on the side of industry. But we have seen times when that can't really hold and the government has to back down. And a big part of that is public attention and pressure on the issue. This is why how we support other activists when they are taking bold action is critical. It remains to be seen if the government continues to follow through all the way and locks the activists up for decades, as they are threatening, or whether the public outcry over that is so great that the government cannot jail them for the decades they are threatening to and still hold onto their power. This is why those who support the front-line activists and the media telling their story are critical, not only to protect those activists but in terms of the broader goal of shifting the balance of power in our society.

What would an appropriate response from the federal government towards the climate crisis look like?

Many of the plans that have been on the table since before President Obama even took office have addressed this. There were organizations, as well as individuals providing lists, like an economic policy that included a carbon tax, changes in our agricultural system to shift subsidies away from industrial agriculture to food that is actually healthy for people and the planet, to steps that revolutionize our transportation system and invest in public transportation in both urban and rural areas to get us away from our car culture. All those plans have been on the table for quite some time. But the only stances the government takes are consistently consumer- and demand-oriented. We've never seen the government stand up to the fossil fuel industry.

Not just the government, but the executive office of the presidency itself has control over fossil fuel leases on public lands, so Obama could keep those fossil fuels in the ground, and that's just a bare minimum to address the climate crisis to meet the Paris agreements.

But unfortunately, we've seen the opposite during the Obama presidency ... the opening of the Powder River Basin to new coal development, an amount of coal that alone vastly outweighs the consumer measures he's taken. He's also opened huge new areas of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Coast to new drilling.

What is the difference between the climate justice movement, and the environmental movement?

Largely it's a matter of opinion. But the environmental movement has been fading out over the last 15 to 20 years and is now pretty marginal. The environmental movement, what's left of it today, addresses largely localized issues -- issues of land protection and toxic pollution, for example -- whereas the climate justice movement is taking a larger, more holistic view of global problems, and while it addresses those on local levels along with the human impact of these issues, it looks at the bigger picture of how all of these things are connected. A lot of the tools we use to fight climate justice battles, like the Endangered Species Act, are still used to defend areas and stop fossil fuel projects, but they [are] ultimately too narrow in scope to address the climate crisis.

What are the strengths of the climate justice movement?

It is [a] holistic view, and this extends beyond environmental issues to where those are connected to all of the social justice issues. The climate justice movement has helped build working relationships with organizations and movements that are addressing immigrant and labor and LGBT rights, and [it is] not only building allies and relationships, but addressing how all of these issues are fundamentally interconnected.

We are helping our allies with each of their battles while viewing it through the lens of climate change. There's been a tremendous amount of progress on that, but there is a lot of baggage to overcome through the roots of the environmental movement, which was a mostly white, upper middle class movement.


There is a lot of progress to be made. The biggest weakness is the tendency towards self-righteousness. We've moved beyond where the environmental movement used to be, and now see how interconnected all the various movements are. But there is a tendency to shame and call out those who are one step behind us and congratulate ourselves, and there's not much room for growth and progress when this happens.

What does a strong, vibrant, heavily populated, powerful, and most importantly, effective climate justice movement look like?

It is constantly developing and changing, like the crisis itself. We're learning more and more about the threats and the ways in which our opponents are trying to maintain the status quo, yet we need to be constantly innovating and challenging our old assumptions and constantly exploring new territory. This recent tar sands shutdown is new territory for our movement, and [for] the activists who entered into this bold unknown territory of higher risk and more confrontation by targeting this essential infrastructure.

All these new steps forward need to be supported and encouraged, even the ones that don't work out.

We need to see more of these actions that take us into new territories, and an increase and expansion of these types of actions. But there is also a need for an increase and expansion of a lot of the other actions in the movement. We've seen some real steps towards electoral involvement, like via the Bernie Sanders movement. This needs to be expanded as well. And things like building community solar needs to be ramped up, for example.  It's not that everybody needs to be doing just one of these, but all of these at the same time, as a movement, and we need to be putting more resources into all of these efforts.

Are you seeing a movement of climate activists that is approaching critical mass?

I don't know. Where would that critical mass be? I wonder. It's hard to judge exactly where that tipping point is. We could be close to it, and a few more people in the movement could get us there, but we're in unprecedented territory now. It's hard to say where that tipping point is going to be. We just know need more people acting more boldly and taking more initiative and being more creative.

Are you optimistic about climate activism in the US?

I wouldn't say that I'm optimistic. We've gotten a lot deeper in our movement in the past few years alone. Not only in terms of a deeper understanding of justice and an intersectional analysis, but a deeper spiritual understanding within the movement as well. A lot more people are recognizing the need to be spiritually grounded when we do this work.

More and more folks understand that it is now too late to stop the climate crisis, and we are headed towards some sort of collapse. We need to be able to handle that in a way we never have before. We need a spiritual resiliency and a different foundation for meaning than we've had before. We've found more people willing to have that conversation and explore that territory. That holds a lot of promise -- not that things are going to be okay and we're going to overcome our social evils and have a green utopia forever, but that we are going to be able to continue the struggle.

We still have all the way to go. The struggle will always be with us, all the interconnected struggles against our social ills, and we're not going to solve racism and patriarchy and classism, but we can learn and grow and make positive steps forward, while knowing that we will always have more steps to take.

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Opinion Mon, 24 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The United States Has Still Not Acknowledged It Committed Genocide Against Indigenous Peoples

Historians Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker discuss how genocide is integral to the structure of settler colonialism, which seeks to replace Indigenous peoples with settlers. Those who settled the US intentionally killed and displaced Native communities en masse.

Indigenous Americans protest the Columbus Day celebration in Denver, Colorado, on October 9, 2007. (Photo: AJ Schroetlin)Indigenous Americans protest the Columbus Day celebration in Denver, Colorado, on October 9, 2007. (Photo: AJ Schroetlin)

What myths have most of us been taught about Native Americans? In a new book, "All the Real Indians Died Off" And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker show how generations of people in the United States have been misinformed about Indigenous Americans as part of a colonial agenda of erasure. Click here to order this important book from Truthout.

The following is the Truthout interview with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker.

Mark Karlin: I was profoundly enlightened when I interviewed you about your last book The Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States.Your new book, written with Dina Gilio-Whitaker debunks 21 myths about Native Americans. Before we get to the book, I want to start and ask you a truly global question, how is the Indigenous rights movement becoming increasingly transnational?

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: The international Indigenous movement is becoming increasingly visible, but it has been developing since the early 1920s, when the Haudenosaunee (six Nations of the Iroquois federation) sent a representative, Cayuga leader Deskaheh, to Geneva, Switzerland, in 1923 to address the League of Nations. From the 1930s onwards, Muskogee Creek, Cherokee and Hopi representatives built ties with Indigenous Peoples in Central Mexico, where their peoples had originated.

In 1940, The Interamerican Indian Convention was signed by the governments of the hemisphere, and the Interamerican Indian Institute was founded, which still exists today. In the 1950s, the newly established National Congress of American Indians in the United States and other Native activists actively sought ties with Indigenous Peoples in other parts of the world. But it was in 1974, with the founding of the International Indian Treaty Council by the militant American Indian Movement, and of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples, that formal relations with the United Nations began.

The United Nations Sub-Commission on Racism and Racial Discrimination had taken up a study of Indigenous Peoples globally in 1972 and in 1977, the first international Indigenous Peoples conference was held at the United Nations -- the delegates of Indigenous representatives organized by the International Indian Treaty Council. After four years of arduous Indigenous lobbying, a UN Working Group on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was established and met for the first time in 1982, and thereafter annually for 25 years, resulting in massive documentation and testimonies, as well as official reports, and in the 2007 UN General Assembly resolution, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Early in the new millennium, a UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues were established, the latter meeting for two weeks annually at UN headquarters in New York, bringing together thousands of Indigenous Peoples' representatives. In addition to the institutional transnational relationships are the daily exchange of communications among Indigenous Peoples on local, regional and continental issues and emergencies, particularly effective during the past 20y years of increasing Internet capacity.

Truthout Progressive Pick

All the Real Indians Died Off And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans

What myths have most of us been taught about Native Americans?

Click here now to get the book!

What are the roles of erasure and disappearance in creating settler colonialist myth about Native Americans that then justify suppression and theft of land?

Dina Gilio-Whitaker: Disappearance of the Indigenous population was necessary for the settler project to inherit the land that they believed was rightfully theirs, by divine providence. Very early on, for example, when the Mayflower immigrants of the Plymouth colony were starving and trying to figure out how to feed themselves, we know from primary documents that some of them found villages that had been emptied out due to a disease epidemic a year or two earlier, or in some cases, were still inhabited. They raided food stores and even graves, and saw it as an expression of God's favor on them, having gotten rid of the Indians so that they could now inhabit the land.

By the 1840s this belief crystalized into the concept of manifest destiny. Then we begin to see the emergence of anthropology and what we now call scientific racism -- a science-based ideology that all non-white people are inferior to white Europeans. This Social Darwinism finds its way into Supreme Court decisions about Native lands and nations, which then become the basis for laws and policies that systematically justify extermination, forced assimilation and endless other depredations -- that all have at their root the goal of transferring Native lands into white ownership. This is why we say that settler colonialism is a structure that eliminates Natives so that settlers can replace them. And it is this structure that still frames the body of federal Indian law that governs what happens to Native nations and individuals today, all guided by the impulse to eliminate.

You have a chapter on the myth that the US did not engage in a policy of genocide toward Native Americans. Given that's a loaded term that denialists love to split hairs about, wouldn't it just be easier to say the European conquerors maintained a policy of trying to make Native Americans vanish?

Dunbar-Ortiz: The importance of the term "genocide" for many Indigenous Peoples is that it is more than a term or an accusation; it is a word created in the wake of the Shoah in Europe to describe what happens when a people are targeted by a government for extermination, as were the Jews of Europe, and which is the term used in the most important international law related to concerned Indigenous Peoples, as the only international human rights law that pertains specifically to collectivities of people rather than individuals.

We have researched and studied only US policies and actions related to Indigenous peoples in North America, but think that the analysis of the US applies to several of the republics of the Americas, as well as Australia and New Zealand, that imposed settler-colonialism on the Indigenous Peoples, seeking to displace and disappear Indigenous communities and nations to replace them with European settlers.

As the late Australian anthropologist Patrick Wolfe wrote, "The question of genocide is never far from discussions of settler colonialism." The history of the United States is a history of settler colonialism. The objective of US authorities was to terminate their existence as peoples -- not as random individuals. This is the very definition of modern genocide. The term "genocide" is often incorrectly assumed to mean extreme examples of mass murder associated with war, with the death of millions of individuals, as, for instance in Cambodia. Although clearly the Holocaust was the most extreme of all genocides, the bar set by the Nazis is not the bar required to be considered genocide. Most importantly, genocide does not have to be complete to be considered genocide. Cases of genocide carried out as policy may be found in historical documents as well as in the oral histories of Indigenous communities. An example from 1873 is typical, with General William T. Sherman writing, "We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women and children ... during an assault, the soldiers cannot pause to distinguish between male and female, or even discriminate as to age."

We talked about this in our last interview. Many historical accounts tried to make it appear that presidents and Congress viewed themselves as white saviors to Native Americans. Was that any different than the attitude of European colonialism that decimated vast populations in Africa, the Middle East and the Far East, for example? 

Dunbar-Ortiz: I think there's a great deal of similarity in this respect among various European and Euroamerican colonialisms, with attempts to justify the capitalist plunder that drove and drives the past 500 years of European and United States imperialism. One of the myths we include in the present book is on the presumed benevolence of US presidents towards Native Americans (Myth 9).

What is different is the goal of elimination of the Native in the four sites of Anglo settler-colonialism in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Whether it was an expression of the "laws of nature," that is, the survival of the fittest as explicitly expressed by Andrew Jackson and the embrace of eugenics by Theodore Roosevelt during their presidencies, or in popular culture by Walt Whitman and other writers, or the disappearance through forced assimilation, such as the Indian boarding schools' goal to "kill the Indian and save the man," the stamping out and total disappearance of the Native was predominant. In the present, the way benevolence is expressed is in conceptualizing the Native as a historical relic; US people have to be constantly reminded that there are still existent Indigenous peoples and communities in North America, but whether left or right, recent immigrant or descendants of settlers, even descendants of enslaved Africans, the Native presence is not a consideration in the day to day life of individuals and municipal, state and national governments.

Since we are coming close to this holiday, can you expand on dispelling the myth that Thanksgiving proves the Indians welcomed the pilgrims?

Gilio-Whitaker:  The story, as it is commonly conveyed, is a feel-good tale of a deep friendship between Pilgrims and Indians, signified by a formal, ostensibly prearranged engagement where they all sit down together to give thanks for a bountiful harvest.

There is not enough evidence to surmise anything of the sort; what there is suggests that it was a random, rather accidental occurrence in which the Wampanoag were investigating the sound of gunfire coming from the English settlement, and then were invited to stay for dinner. The actual relationship between the Wampanoag and the pilgrims can best be described as a political alliance based on desperation and the mutual need for survival. Both were extremely vulnerable.

The pilgrims needed the Indians to teach them how to live on the land, and extreme population decline due to disease had weakened the Wampanoag militarily. A treaty had been negotiated in an atmosphere of mistrust and tension. Within two years, it had completely broken down but then, after about 40 years of relative peace, by 1675 full-scale war had broken out between them, becoming what we know now as King Philip's War, what's been called the bloodiest war ever fought on American soil.

This is too recent for your book, but I think your opinion on the activism surrounding the Dakota Access pipeline and the expanding support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe should be explored. Do you think it is a threshold point for a new stage of defiant, stalwart activism on behalf of reclaiming sovereignty over Indigenous lands and water?

Gilio-Whitaker:  It remains to be seen, but at the moment it does seem that way. What we have to compare it to in this country is the Alcatraz occupation from 1969-1971, the Trail of Broken Treaties in 1972 and Wounded Knee in 1973.

Those movements, like this one, were youth-led (although women are much more out front these days). Those were also the days that gave birth to the ethnic studies disciplines, and growing numbers of Indians becoming lawyers. So what we have now is new generations of Natives with sophisticated educations, and savvy political and organizing skills. They understand their history, they understand they're living with intergenerational trauma, but they still have enough of their cultures and traditions that have the power to heal them. And that makes them strong and relentless, like their ancestors before them. What's different now is that there are greater levels of support coming from non-Natives, because it's recognized now that Native struggles to protect land and water are everyone's struggles. And let's remember that this standoff at Standing Rock comes on the heels of years of climate justice activism, which is widely acknowledged to be led by Indigenous peoples. Standing Rock is only the most recent manifestation of that.

Opinion Sun, 23 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Venezuela's Economic Crisis: Does It Mean That the Left Has Failed?

Venezuela can turn its economy around without the prolonged recession a neoliberal adjustment normally creates. It can do this by unifying its multiple exchange rate system and sharply reducing imports because the hardest part of the adjustment -- the fall in living standards -- has already been done.

A woman shakes a bag of corn flour, shouting "Why is it so difficult for me to buy this," as hundreds of people wait in line to buy food at a grocery store in Catia, a slum in western Caracas, Venezuela, on June 11, 2016. The nation is anxiously searching for ways to feed itself, as the economic collapse of recent years has left it unable to produce or import sufficient food. (Photo: Meridith Kohut / The New York Times)A woman shakes a bag of corn flour, shouting "Why is it so difficult for me to buy this?" as hundreds of people wait in line to buy food at a grocery store in Catia, a slum in western Caracas, Venezuela, on June 11, 2016. The nation is anxiously searching for ways to feed itself, as the economic collapse of recent years has left it unable to produce or import sufficient food. (Photo: Meridith Kohut / The New York Times)

The international media have provided a constant fusillade of stories and editorials (not always easily distinguished from each other) about the collapse of the Venezuelan economy for some time now. Shortages of food and medicine, hours-long lines for basic goods, incomes eroded by triple-digit inflation and even food riots have dominated press reports.

The conventional wisdom has a set of predictable narratives to explain the current economic mess. "Socialism" has failed -- never mind that the vast majority of jobs created during the Hugo Chávez years were in the private sector, and that the size of the state has been much smaller than in France. The whole experiment, it is said, was a failure from the beginning.

According to this narrative, nationalizations, anti-business policies, populist overspending during the years of high oil prices and the collapse of oil prices since 2014 sealed Venezuela's fate. Adherents to this explanation say the downward spiral will continue until the chavistas are removed from power, either through elections or through a coup (most pundits don't seem to care which).

The reality is somewhat more complicated. First, the Bolivarian experiment did pretty well until 2014. From 2004 -- after the Chávez government got control over the national oil industry -- until 2014, real income per person grew by more than 2 percent annually. This is an enormous change from the horrendous long-term decline in the 20 years prior to Chávez, when GDP per capita actually shrank at an average annual rate of 1.2 percent. During the same years (2004–2014), poverty fell by 49 percent and extreme poverty by 63 percent -- and this counts only cash income. The number of people over 60 years old receiving public pensions tripled, and millions of Venezuelans gained access to health care and education. It is the gains over this decade of chavismo that explain how the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) was able to win 41 percent of the vote in National Assembly elections in December 2015, despite serious shortages of consumer goods, 180 percent inflation and a deep recession.

Now for the downward spiral of the economy over the past three years: Was this inevitable? And is it irreversible until the PSUV leaves power? To answer these questions, we must look at how Venezuela got into this situation, and how it might get out of it.

The Story of Venezuela's Economic Recession

In the fall of 2012, and again in February 2013, the government sharply reduced the availability of foreign exchange. It was during this time that shortages of basic goods accelerated, along with inflation and the black market price of the dollar. The official exchange rate, at which the government sold the vast majority of dollars earned from oil sales, was at 6.3 Bolivares Fuertes (Bs.F) per dollar. But a parallel market already existed, and the shortage of dollars at the official rate drove the parallel market sharply upward. At the same time, the higher parallel market price of the dollar increased inflation, because it increases the price of imported goods.

And when inflation goes up, more people want to buy dollars, because they see the dollar as something secure that won't lose value to inflation. But this drives the price of the dollar up on the parallel market, which increases inflation even more. This cycle continues, causing an "inflation-depreciation" spiral. In October 2012, inflation was at 18 percent, and the parallel market rate was at 13 percent. By the end of 2015, annual inflation was at 180 percent and the parallel market rate was at 833 percent. The shortages of consumer and other goods also contribute to this spiral, and they have increased with it.

By the first quarter of 2014, the Venezuelan economy was already in recession, even though international oil prices were more than $100 a barrel. By January 2015, prices had fallen to $48 a barrel, and are about the same today. This depleted the government's revenue by a similar percentage, and the government resorted to printing money to cover expenses. The money creation would not necessarily accelerate inflation, but in the context of the inflation-depreciation spiral it certainly did. So inflation rose even faster.

Since late March, the parallel market rate has fallen from a peak of more than 1,211 to about 1,025 Bs. per dollar today -- about a 15 percent drop in the price of the dollar as measured in domestic currency -- after shooting up rapidly for more than three years. At the same time, the government allowed the price of the dollar on a third market, called the SIMADI or DICOM rate, to go up. It is now at about 640 Bs. per dollar, or more than 60 percent of the parallel market rate.

However, this does not mean that the economy is on the road to stabilization.

First, the parallel rate is still 100 times the lower official rate of 10. Second, one of the main things that has slowed the inflation-depreciation spiral has been the deepening recession. There are far fewer people with money to buy dollars, and many are depleting their dollar savings in order to buy necessities. This has pushed down the price of the dollar on the parallel market.

What this means is that the Venezuelan economy cannot recover under the current exchange rate system. It is stuck in recession. Furthermore, the multiple exchange rate system, with its vast differences between the different rates, creates an enormous incentive for corruption. Anyone with access to official dollars can multiply their income by 100 simply by selling them on the black market, which is completely accessible to almost anyone.

But the official exchange rate system is only one way that the government's dollar revenue is lost. Gasoline, even after the recent price increases, is about 6 Bs. per liter -- or about one US cent per liter at the SIMADI exchange rate. Electricity and gas are also heavily subsidized. These subsidies cost the government more than 13 percent of GDP. For comparison, the total income tax revenue (individual plus corporate) of the US federal government in 2015 was about 10.6 percent of GDP. At the same time, there are price controls that are difficult or impossible to maintain in the current economic situation. In 2015, overall consumer prices increased by 180 percent; yet food prices, which are subject to price controls, increased by 300 percent. This is a pretty clear demonstration that price controls are not working.

A Possible Path to Recovery

Millions of Venezuelans now make their living from arbitrage of some sort -- from waiting in line for hours for a small allocation of subsidized food and reselling it, to trading currency on the parallel market, to selling stolen goods. Even a dictatorship with considerable repressive power to crack down on all illegal transactions would have trouble maintaining a functioning economy with the magnitude of these price distortions. But Venezuela is not a dictatorship; in fact, the state is very weak in terms of law enforcement.

Given this situation, it is clear that serious reforms are necessary in order to restart the economy. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has assembled a team of economists, headed by former president of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández, which has presented a set of proposals. (Full disclosure: I am one of the members of this team.)

The most obvious change that is needed is to unify the multiple exchange rate system. This should be done quickly, and in one step. The government can auction a fixed amount of dollars each day, with the price determined by supply and demand. Although allowing the currency to float seems scary to many people, the price of the dollar would undoubtedly stabilize at something considerably less than the current parallel market rate of about 1,000. A floating rate is also the only way to avoid wasting scarce foreign exchange reserves in a futile attempt to maintain an overvalued fixed rate.

Since devaluations generally lead to price increases, it would be necessary to protect people from any rising costs of essential goods, including food. This could be done with a vast expansion of the government's current system of the Tarjeta Misiones Socialistas (a card system providing direct subsidies to lower-income families), which would give people a large discount that could compensate for any price increases. This system would be in place before the unification of the exchange rate.

The energy subsidies could then be phased out more gradually over the next 18 months. To make this economically and politically acceptable, the additional government revenue as energy prices are allowed to rise would be added to the tarjetas (cards). This would be a net gain for the vast majority of Venezuelans. Some price controls -- including those that do not allow producers to meet their costs -- would be phased out.

Other measures to protect people's living standards would include indexing wages to inflation, and creating a temporary public works program to create employment. These could be financed by a wealth tax similar to one in Colombia, and by a tax on financial transactions.

The government can help finance the transition by selling some of its foreign assets. At the same time, it will have to restructure its debt in order to reduce the $17 billion of debt payments (interest and principal) that would otherwise be due over the next year and a half.

All of this is feasible even with current oil prices because Venezuela has already adjusted its level of imports to match the fall in oil prices, which provide more than 90 percent of the country's dollar earnings. It has been an enormous adjustment; imports have fallen by more than half since 2012. For comparison, Greece, after more than six years of depression, has reduced its imports by 28 percent.

This means that the hard part of the adjustment -- the one that often requires people to reduce their living standards in order to sharply reduce imports -- has already been done. It is relative prices now that have to be adjusted in order to recover. The result is that Venezuela can return to growth rather quickly, without the prolonged recession that neoliberal adjustment normally creates.

Left Critiques of Proposed Economic Reforms

Much of the left -- including people inside the government and among the base of its party, the PSUV -- rejects these economic reforms. They think it is a "paquetazo" (package) similar to International Monetary Fund (IMF) or neoliberal reforms that increased poverty in the past. They see the fixed exchange rate as socialistic and a floating exchange rate as a "free market" reform. But in reality, the informal economy for dollars constitutes one of the most destructive "free markets" that exists; it is the "capitalismo salvaje" ("savage capitalism") that Hugo Chávez used to denounce. (Chávez himself successfully floated Venezuela's currency in February 2002, and dollar reserves actually increased despite serious political instability.) And we can recall that the IMF supported fixed, overvalued exchange rates with disastrous results in Argentina, Brazil, Russia and a number of Asian countries in the last years of the 20th century.

There is nothing neoliberal about a program in which the government creates employment, protects wages from inflation (which has not happened since inflation began to skyrocket nearly four years ago), subsidizes food and essential items on a large scale, and protects people generally from the burden of the adjustment of relative prices.

Yet there are those on the left who seem to think that Venezuela can recover without fixing its most fundamental and destructive imbalances. Alfredo Serrano, an adviser to the government, posted eight "economic theses" on Venezuela on September 1. In 2,700 words, there is no mention of Venezuela's dysfunctional exchange rate system.

At the same time, the US government -- which has sought "regime change" in Venezuela for the past 15 years -- is trying to further destabilize the economy. In March 2016 President Obama once again declared that Venezuela posed an "unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security" of the United States, and imposed economic sanctions. The sanctions themselves are not economically important, but they send a message to investors who know what happens to countries that are labeled an "extraordinary threat" to the United States. The Obama administration has also pressured US financial institutions not to do business with Venezuela.

The international media and their usual sources are also playing their traditional role, and some of the widely reported stories have been wrong. By 2015, there were widespread reports that the poverty rate had increased to 76 percent when this was practically impossible. The IMF, which has a long history of politically influenced forecasts, projected that GDP would shrink by 10 percent last year, when the actual figure was 5.7 percent. The media report IMF projections of 720 percent inflation for this year, although this is likely to be way off. It is further evidence of the media's extreme hostility to the Venezuelan government that so many journalists feel the need to exaggerate, even when Venezuela is facing its worst economic crisis in decades. But even during most of the economic boom between 2003 and 2008, when employment was rising rapidly and poverty was plummeting, it was hard to find anything positive about Venezuela in the major media.

Nonetheless, it should be clear that the Venezuelan economy will not recover, even if oil prices were to rise rapidly, without some major reforms that can resolve its worst economic imbalances.

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News Sun, 23 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Chicago Cops Who Broke "Code of Silence" to Report Police Drug Gang Face Deadly Retaliation

Two Chicago police officers say they have faced retaliation and suffered from PTSD since they blew the whistle on a gang of their fellow cops who were demanding bribes from drug dealers in the housing projects of Chicago. We speak with one of the whistleblowers, Shannon Spalding, and with reporter Jamie Kalven, who documented their ordeal in a major investigation for The Intercept called "Code of Silence."


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today's show with an explosive story of two Chicago police officers who blew the whistle on a gang of their colleagues after they discovered they were demanding bribes from drug dealers in the housing projects of Chicago, arresting their rivals and blocking any internal investigations into their actions. The two whistleblowers, Shannon Spalding and her partner Danny Echeverria, spent five years working with the Chicago Police Department and the FBI in their case, only to be sidelined, outed as informants, threatened and eventually forced out of the police department. In contrast, the named senior officials and cops who helped cover for their fellow officers were able to retire from the force with their pensions intact and faced no punishment for their role in the cover-up. Spalding says she has even received death threats. She and her partner both took stress-related medical leave, and she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

AMY GOODMAN: Their ordeal is chronicled in a four-part investigation published by The Intercept called "The Code of Silence." Part 1 is headlined "In the Chicago Police Department, If the Bosses Say It Didn't Happen, It Didn't Happen." It's written by the award-winning Chicago journalist Jamie Kalven, who's made a career of exposing police misconduct in Chicago. He spent three years interviewing Spalding for the report. He's also known for uncovering the autopsy report that showed Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by Chicago police in [ 2014 ], and was the first to report on the existence of the video of the shooting, which was released 400 days after McDonald was killed. Thursday marked the second anniversary of the killing. Kalven is now working with Spalding on a project called the Invisible Institute, which has set up an encrypted drop box for Chicago police officers to anonymously upload evidence of corruption. They also offer to link whistleblowing cops to mental health and legal resources.

For more, we go to Chicago, where Jamie Kalven joins us to discuss the investigation. And we're joined by the whistleblower at the center of his story, Shannon Spalding.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Jamie, let's begin with you. Lay out this story.

JAMIE KALVEN: So, this is really a Serpico saga for our time, of two undercover -- two narcotics officers who undercover a massive criminal enterprise, as your setup said, in high-rise public housing in Chicago during its last decade of existence. It's all been demolished now, so the scene of the crime has essentially disappeared. They make conscientious efforts to bring this criminal activity to the attention of their superiors. They're blown off, ultimately go to the FBI and provide information. It's not conclusive information, but grounds for investigation. They then are detailed to work undercover with the FBI and pursue this investigation for a number of years, are at the point of breaking the case wide open when they are outed within the department, and have since suffered constant retaliation.

I think part of what is really important about this story is what it illustrates about the nature of the code of silence. You know, I think the common understanding of the code of silence is it's a kind of peer-to-peer phenomena of the rank and file: "We're in the foxhole together. You've got my back. I've got mine. Nobody likes a tattletale." There certainly is that dimension within police culture, but what's so striking about this story is that the retaliation against these officers is ordered by high-ranking supervisory officials within the department. So it's really a story, in great detail, of how the code of silence operates at the center of the Chicago Police Department.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Jamie, about this issue of retaliation being ordered at high levels. How was that documented in the lawsuit? And also, the city settled for $2 million before there was a trial. Could you talk about the tactic of the city of settling the suit?

JAMIE KALVEN: Right. So, there was a -- in the midst of this ordeal, the two officers, Shannon and Danny, brought a whistleblower lawsuit -- really, an employment suit -- hoping, above all, to be protected from further retaliation. It only compounded and intensified the retaliation at that point. There are a number of allegations in the lawsuit, and The Intercept piece links to all the underlying legal documents. But, you know, supervisors -- the commander of narcotics, the chief of organized crime -- made it clear that they did not want these officers working in units that they controlled. They went so far, in one instance, of really delivering a threat -- and, paradoxically, the threat was conveyed by the chief of Internal Affairs, who's charged with investigating this sort of thing -- a threat against their personal safety. You know, I believe the quote was "If they call for backup, it's not coming."

So, you know, this was not just a matter of being ostracized or shunned within the department, although it certainly was that. These -- as Shannon says at one point in the article, I quote her saying, you know, "We were officers without a department." So they're left out on the streets in this really dangerous investigation, investigating a team of officers who are thought to have been implicated in two murders. It hasn't been proven yet, but it's scarcely been investigated, apart from Shannon and Danny's work. And they're kind of left wholly exposed. So -- and this was coming from the top. This wasn't some kind of, you know, aberrant behavior. This is really the machinery of how the Chicago Police Department controls the narrative. Amy quoted the line about, you know, if the bosses say it didn't happen, it didn't happen. That's really what's at the center of this story.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's go to Shannon Spalding, former Chicago police officer. On May 31st, Chicago agrees to settle a whistleblower lawsuit brought by Shannon Spalding and her colleague, Daniel Echeverria, who alleged they suffered retaliation for reporting and investigating criminal activity by fellow officers. Shannon Spalding, tell us: What was it that you were investigating? When did it happen? And when did the cover-up, do you feel, and the retaliation against you start?

SHANNON SPALDING: My partner Danny and I started investigating allegations that kept surfacing. There was a sergeant, Ronald Watts, and members of his TAC team, who worked directly underneath him, that were imposing what they called on the street a "Watts tax." Basically, he was extorting the drug dealers. He was receiving money from drug dealers that ran different drug lines within the Ida B. Wells housing projects and the surrounding area. And in exchange for that money, they were guaranteed protection from prosecution and arrest. In addition to that, the allegations were that this crew of rogue officers, under the command of Ronald Watts, were also planting narcotics on innocent individuals and falsifying police reports, falsely arresting them, putting them in prison for false allegations. There's also the allegations of, you know, physical violence, of being beaten, if they didn't want to comply and pay this tax, as well as warrantless seizures, kicking in doors and going through people's apartments, stealing everything that wasn't nailed down. And the allegations kept being repeated over and over again from every individual that we would do intelligence debriefings with, along with our confidential informants.

And I think you said, "When did the retaliation begin on this investigation?" We began to investigate it and brought it to the FBI in 2006. We were not officially assigned with our department to work with the FBI at that time. We were doing this on our own time. In 2007, we were assigned by the Chicago Police Department to work with the FBI solely on what was dubbed Operation Brass Tax, "brass" meaning the top officials in the police department -- "brass" refers to a boss -- "tax," because that's what they were implementing on the drug dealers and the gangbangers. It was about -- I believe it was 2010, August of 2010, when I realized that our identity had been compromised and that we were now out in the open. This was supposed to remain a strictly confidential investigation. And it was imperative that our identities not be revealed, because the targets of this investigation were officers and bosses, and we didn't know how far up the chain it would go, which meant that they had access to all of our personal information -- where we lived, our children, anything that they wanted, which made us very vulnerable. So, to expose our identity is basically throwing us to the wolves. These targets could now know who we are, what we're investigating. And you have to remember, these are police officers. They know what they did. And now they know we know. And that -- with that comes the implication of federal prison time, losing your job, losing your livelihood. That makes us targets and makes it very dangerous for us to work.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I want to turn to Janet Hanna, a 20-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department. She says she witnessed the harassment of you, Shannon, and your partner, Danny Echeverria. On one occasion, Hanna said she overheard a sergeant warning you about her own safety. This is Hanna telling NBC Chicago's Phil Rogers what she overheard.

JANET HANNA: That she better where her bulletproof vest. She may go home in a casket, and he doesn't want have to call her daughter and tell her that she's -- you know, she's gone.

PHIL ROGERS: And that was because she would be in danger from bad guys and they wouldn't protect her from the bad guys, or she'd be in danger from her fellow officers?


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What about that? What kind of retaliation did you feel when you were still working there?

SHANNON SPALDING: Oh, the retaliation was horrific. I actually felt so anxious walking into work every day, because once I filed the whistleblower lawsuit, I am now working for the defendants of my lawsuit. So can you just imagine what that was like? I felt like I was walking into the lion's den with a steak around my neck every single day.

And I recall that incident. That incident is just burned into my memory. It was my direct supervisor at the time within Fugitive Apprehension that was telling me that because we had investigated other officers, because we had basically broken the code of silence and we had gone against other sworn members, that the officers within that unit -- the supervisors were relaying to me that the officers on the team and in this unit "will not back you up. You're on your own. You're in -- you're in a lot of danger." And he went so far as to saying -- as to say, "You're going to end up in a box, and I'm going to be the one knocking on the door and telling your daughter you're coming home in a box." And those were the type of threats that would happen just on a regular basis. It was almost -- the retaliation was relentless, and it was daily.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to also ask Jamie Kalven -- you've been investigating both police abuse and now this entire police corruption scandal. For those of us who have been following crime stories and police departments now for decades, this is almost likedéjà vu all over again, if it wasn't Serpico in the 1960s here in New York City, and then in the '90s there was a similar type of scandal with a corrupt group of officers named -- headed by a guy named Michael Dowd, and, again, a whistle -- a police officer within the department, Joe Trimboli, trying to ferret them out. But the Dowd criminal group was only revealed when Long Island police arrested him on charges. And it seems to me that there's always been sort of a link between corruption in police departments and abuse within police departments, that there seem to be upsurges in abuse at the same time that there are upsurges in corruption. I'm wondering your understanding of what's been going on in Chicago.

JAMIE KALVEN: Yeah, well, I think that's -- that's well put. And a huge part of that is the war on drugs and the way in which we've conducted it. I mean, I think we've found consistently, in, you know, multiple, multiple scandals, that it happens in sort of specialized units working in supposedly combating the war on drugs. And -- but again and again, that proves to be a sort of setting and medium for corruption and all the attendant abuse.

So, what Shannon was describing was this sort of protection racket that -- you know, hugely corrupt. The officers are really an integral part of the drug trade. At the same time, as part of that, they are daily, multiple times, violating the constitutional rights of citizens -- false arrest, excessive force, the fabrication of evidence, on and on. So this all goes together.

And I think we will continue to have recurring scandals of this nature until we can address the -- you know, we use this term, "the code of silence," to describe a kind of culture within the department, a, really, mode of governance within the department. And until officers like Shannon and Danny are held up as models of good police officers and good police work, until the incentive-disincentive sort of scheme shifts, right now, for officers to break ranks and come forward and report really grievous abuse by fellow officers requires them to be heroic almost to the point of self-sacrifice.

AMY GOODMAN: So, in --

JAMIE KALVEN: That can't work.

AMY GOODMAN: In February of 2015, the former Chicago Police Department superintendent, Garry McCarthy, releases a statement to NBC Chicago saying, quote, "Superintendent McCarthy and the CPD [Chicago Police Department] have zero tolerance for retaliation against whistleblowers. ... However, the City believes the claims of these particular plaintiffs are without merit. The City will continue to vigorously litigate this case." That was in February 2015. Shannon, the day you were going to trial, right, in May of 2016, they settled with you and Danny, your fellow police officer, for $2 million?

SHANNON SPALDING: That is correct. They waited until the last minute, and then they decided to settle. And I personally believe that's because they did not want me getting on the stand and telling everything that I know about how the operation within the police department really works. And they didn't want that on public record. So, they would rather settle than have me expose all of their dirty laundry in a courtroom.

AMY GOODMAN: How much money were you talking about, by the way, when it came to what these officers were doing?

SHANNON SPALDING: Oh, you know, we'll never have a final count. But, you know, the range varied. We got information that some of the drug lines would pay a couple thousand dollars a week. We had several sources say that one of the biggest dope lines that was run in the city of Chicago was named "Obama," and they would pay as much as $50,000. So, it depended on the drug dealer. The amount of money they were bringing in, the amount of protection that they would need, how many locations they were running would vary. It was -- it was really a criminal enterprise. It was a complete business, a criminal business.

AMY GOODMAN: Has anyone been prosecuted?

SHANNON SPALDING: Ronald Watts, Sergeant Ronald Watts, and Kallatt Mohammed pled guilty, and they served their sentences in federal prison. I believe it was 18 and 22 months, Ronald -- Sergeant Ronald Watts doing 22 months, and I believe Kallatt Mohammed did 18 months.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jamie Kalven, you were interviewing these officers off and on for several years before you actually were able to -- The Intercept story came out. Could you talk about the difficulties in getting this story out?

JAMIE KALVEN: Yeah, so, this is a -- I mean, this is a complicated story for a journalist to figure out how to bring to the public. You know, when an Edward Snowden comes to us with a treasure trove of documents, we know what to do with that sort of whistleblower. When somebody like Shannon and her partner Danny come with a compelling story that they have -- that's cost them, and they've taken great risks to tell, but it -- by the nature of the story, it can't be fully corroborated. You can't, you know, double source. Other people who were in the room for various conversations won't talk to you. And it's fundamentally a story about the code of silence, which we should really call by its true name, which is "official lying," concerted, sustained lying by high officials. You know, the question of how to tell that story in a way that is consistent with journalistic ethics and standards of rigor and care, you know, I struggled with that and found, ultimately, with The Intercept, a great partner in bringing this story out.

And where the story sort of ends -- and I urge people to go to The Intercept site and read it. It really -- you know, partly because of Shannon's great storytelling ability, it reads like a novel. But it ends at a point where I want to leave the reader with a question, which is: If Shannon and Danny are telling the truth -- and you've read this long story, you can make your own judgments about credibility -- if they are telling the truth, then a whole array of high officials are lying, and lying in concert. So, the story really ultimately hinges on arriving at that question. And that question remains open for the city of Chicago. You know, the settlement of the case did not resolve the -- of Shannon's case did not resolve the issues raised by the case. And what we hope to do through the reporting and ongoing reporting about this is to keep those issues very centrally in the public eye.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, late last year, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel apologized for Laquan McDonald's death. In his speech to the Chicago City Council, Emanuel broke with the city's long history of denying the existence of the code of silence.

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: As we move forward, I am looking for a new leader of the Chicago Police Department to address the problems at the very heart of the policing profession. The problem is sometimes referred to as "the thin blue line." The problem is other times referred to as "the code of silence." It is this tendency to ignore. It is the tendency to deny. It is the tendency, in some cases, to cover up the bad actions of a colleague or colleagues. No officer should be allowed to behave as if they are above the law, just because they are responsible for upholding the law. Permitting and protecting even the smallest acts of abuse by a tiny fraction of our officers leads to a culture where extreme acts of abuse are more likely -- just like what happened to Laquan McDonald.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as Thursday marked the second anniversary of the death of Laquan McDonald, fatally shot by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014. Jamie Kalven, you were the first to report the existence of the video of the shooting, which was released 400 days after McDonald was killed, released after Mayor Rahm Emanuel was re-elected. As we wrap up, can you talk about the significance of here he's acknowledging the code of silence, and what this case has meant for the city? Basically, Laquan McDonald, shot 16 times, that's almost one bullet for every year of his life. He died at the age of 17.

JAMIE KALVEN: No, it's an extraordinary -- it's an extraordinary moment for the city. And I've now compared the public narrative of Laquan McDonald to the story of Emmett Till, another -- another child of Chicago, that so illuminated the underlying violence of the Jim Crow era. The revelations about Laquan McDonald, not simply the atrocity of his death, but the institutional response after, which is really a classic illustration of the code of silence as control of the narrative -- you know, the suppression of evidence, the intimidation of witnesses, fabrication of reports -- that now has become a sort of framing narrative in Chicago and caused a political earthquake, changed the landscape of the city.

So we have, amid all of the sort of bad news and all the disclosures of wrongdoing and corruption within the department -- I think it's important to emphasize that as a consequence of the McDonald tragedy, there is an historic opening in Chicago for really meaningful police reform. The language quoted from the -- that was one of the mayor's better moments, acknowledging the existence of the code of silence. And so, there really is, going forward, I believe, a kind of irresistible momentum towards reform. But it's a big challenge. It's going to be a long slog. And only by addressing the culture within the department that we refer to as the code of silence will change really be meaningful and endure. We can make all sorts of changes in institutions, tweak procedures, but culture will always trump procedure.

AMY GOODMAN: Jamie Kalven, we want to thank you for being with us. We will link to your series, "Code of Silence," at And, Shannon Spalding, thank you for your bravery and for speaking out here today on Democracy Now!, former Chicago police officer, whistleblower featured in the series. She says she suffered retaliation for reporting and investigating criminal activity by fellow Chicago officers.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Shaun King joins us to talk about many issues. Stay with us.

News Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
"I Work Like an Independent Worker, and I Feel Happy"

(Photo: Leeroy / Lifeofpix)(Photo: Leeroy / Lifeofpix)

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Nelson Gamio gets up at 6:30 a.m. each morning. After putting on his usual t-shirt and jeans, he sits in the chair and laces up his paint-splattered boots. He has just enough time to run across the street to grab a $1 cup of coffee with a piece of bread and to feel a bit of San Diego's gentle sun before he starts work at 7 a.m.

In 2010, the labor market was still recovering from the recession, so Gamio was happy to have a two-month-long assignment remodeling an upholstery store. "I enjoy doing construction jobs," he confirms. "I like building things." Whether it was laying carpet, painting, or re-stuccoing, Gamio took pride in transforming spaces and nodded at his own craftsmanship when he saw the once-drab store take on new form. What he relished most was that he was in the seventh year of being his own boss. "I work like an independent worker, and I feel happy."

The backdrop of lively music, working alongside his comrades, and his passion for the project helped the 12-hour shifts pass by. Working long hours had become common for Gamio, who agreed to a flat rate of $50 dollars a day, plus lunch. It was less than the minimum wage, "but it was near Christmas and I had to send money home," Gamio recalls. "It was a big recession at the time."

Though Gamio had accepted the rate, he was shocked when his employer refused to pay him -- an issue he had never experienced before. He refused to take the loss without a fight. For the first time, he decided to reach out to a local association of day laborers to learn his rights. He later filed his case with the California Labor Commissioner's Officeand won.

Many of the current benefits and protections for workers like Gamio can be traced to the tireless grassroots organizing that came before him. Day laborers and domestic workers have long struggled in an on-demand and shift-work economy. These are some of the original gig economy workers, and they have decades of experience organizing in the absence of the job security, health benefits, and retirement plans afforded by traditional workplaces.

Today, the scope of on-demand labor is expanding. Most of the new jobs created since the 2008 financial crisis aren't traditional jobs at all, but some form of contract or temporary employment. The growth has been especially fast among those who find work through smartphone applications like Uber, Lyft, and TaskRabbit.

As these millions of newcomers struggle to organize, they can look to those who've come before for guidance. One of the most effective tools has been worker centers, where participants can learn their rights, get work assignments, earn certifications, and develop new skills. Large coalitions like Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), and the National Guest worker Alliance (NGA) are examples of effective mass organizing of informal workers.

The key has been moving from the individual to the collective, which is challenging because these workers are used to seeing themselves as lone entrepreneurs. But when independent contractors begin to face labor-related challenges, they realize they need support and seek alliances. "You start organizing by selflessly helping workers," says Mark Day, executive director at San Diego Workers Center (SDWC), "whether it's wage theft, social security, immigration, domestic violence, or health and safety questions." Gamio is one of the workers Day helped, and today the two co-run SDWC.

Day isn't sure the most recent crop of gig economy workers realize they need that kind of organizing yet. Uber drivers, for example, may be too "individualistic," he says. But they could start by having local house meetings to establish their common concerns and goals and then branch out.

Hard-Won Wisdom

Omar Leon, workforce development coordinator for NDLON and a former Los Angeles day laborer, says workers' commitment to assembly meetings has been crucial to their success. Skilled in landscaping, carpentry, construction, demolition, and more, these workers contribute to many construction projects.

Day laborers who stand on the corner waiting for work are often a part of an "organized corner" supported by a day laborer center. "This is our workplace," says Leon. "We have rules. We're going to keep it clean. No one will be disrespectful, no drinking, no one goes out for less than the minimum agreed wage, and everyone participates on cleaning day." If a worker violates the rules, the center will give him a warning, a one- to three-day suspension, or a permanent ban, depending on the offense.

The centers help regulate their industry by setting and enforcing standards. During assembly meetings -- held in coffee shops, at workers' homes, or at work centers -- laborers participate in the decision-making, speak up about their needs, and decide which actions and campaigns to support. The meetings serve as a platform to discuss issues and ways to grow. "Even though this is an informal economy," Leon says, "the workers learn about marketing, brand strategy, work ethics, and customer satisfaction."

Just like the makers of Etsy and the drivers of Uber, many day laborers say independence is a draw. Day laborers set their own schedules, work with a variety of employers, and decide what jobs work best for them. In many cases, they earn more than their counterparts in factories, says Leon. "Workers are part of these day laborer centers, but they're still independent and autonomous."

Building connections among the autonomous is part of the foundation for organizing old-school on-demand workers. Barbara Young, a domestic worker for 17 years, is a national organizer for the NDWA. She says she felt called to work on behalf of fellow domestic workers after receiving an informational leaflet while sitting in a Brooklyn, New York, park with the child she was tending. She later attended a Domestic Workers United (DWU) meeting.

"They offered CPR training from the American Heart Association, which was great, but [they also discussed] the history of the domestic workers in the country," said Young. "It was about the exclusion that we faced. I was so interested, and I just wanted every domestic worker in New York to know what was going on." Soon, Young began handing out newsletters to domestic workers she encountered at bus stops and park benches.

Abuse in the industry inspired Young and other domestic workers -- alongside unions, employers, clergy, and community groups -- to organize for labor protections they had been specifically excluded from. Although many domestic workers were sent out by an agency, that didn't mean they were safe. Young realized this after a housekeeper told her an employer in the Hamptons had said she could leave the worker to die in the basement and no one would know.

The NDWA's original goal was to make agencies accountable for workers' safety by keeping a three-year record of all workers dispatched. But the campaign ultimately led to greater achievements. In 2010, after six years of organizing, the New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights passed, giving these workers the right to overtime pay, a day of rest every seven days, protection under the state's human rights law, and more. The NDWA later successfully spearheaded the fight that led to the implementation of similar bills of rights in California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Oregon.

Some new on-demand workers are following the same path of grassroots organizing that Young credits for much of the NDWA's success. In 2015, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to give workers for Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hailing apps the ability to unionize. The road to victory was fraught with obstacles, says Daniel Ajema, an attorney and former Uber driver.

Drawn in by the flexibility and independence, many drivers in Seattle started out happy at Uber. They felt in control and like an integral part of the company. But soon, Ajema says, drivers started to feel that the company was more concerned about its own bottom line than with workers' lives. "Whether it was disciplining, firing and hiring, or the percentage they took from the driver, they had all the power, and the changes they implemented on a daily basis maximized their income as a company."

Seattle Uber drivers shared a common goal of job security and decent wages. Drivers wanted to act, but they didn't know where to begin, says Ajema. Many feared retaliation from Uber and didn't want to lose their jobs. "I needed to do some convincing and make them believe that we would make more impact as a group than individual," says the Ethiopian native. First, he needed a list of all Seattle-based Uber drivers -- a list Uber refused to distribute. So he stood outside of the company's Seattle headquarters and spoke to drivers as they came and went. Soon, he assembled a cadre of drivers who began distributing flyers, using social media, and holding political forums to get the word out. After two years, Seattle's contract drivers became the first in the United States to win the right to unionize.

Some on-demand workers have also achieved success by forming alliances outside their industries. In 1999, when janitors in Los Angeles went on strike, some of the cleaning companies went to the corners and workers' centers where day laborers gathered and tried to hire them. But the day laborers didn't take the jobs and marched alongside the janitors instead. Each corner held an assembly meeting, took a vote, and decided to refuse all work from employers facing strikes, Leon recalls. Later, when car wash workers picketed because businesses failed to pay the minimum wage or abide by basic labor and safety laws, day laborers refused to accept their enticing offers of $10 an hour.

"We always respected the picket lines and respected the struggle," Leon says. "No matter how much need we are in, even if we haven't paid our rent or worked for two weeks, we decided we wouldn't take the jobs."

Most recently, NDLON supported a Raise the Wage campaign in Pasadena, California, which fought to gradually increase the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour. Leon believes allegiance across occupational lines aids all informal and low-earning workers, because they're more likely to gain leverage if they are unified.

New Workers, New Power

Gig economy workers aren't necessarily that different from traditional employees, says Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of ROC United and director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. "There is a bit of an idea that 'Oh well, we're moving to a world in which nobody really has an employer and people transition from one place to another, and we're all sort of in an independent contractor world with portable benefits.'" She says that thinking fails to hold companies accountable.

"They're not just independent contractors. There is an employer. There are corporate actors involved -- even if they are in Silicon Valley." She suggests a "low road, high road" strategy, in which organizers simultaneously name and shame and campaign against the low-road actors that dominate these industries, while lifting up those doing it ethically.

As the entire economy starts to get a taste of on-demand workers' lives, Jayaraman says it's an opportunity to recognize the concerns shared by all on-demand workers -- whether they get their work on the street corner or on their smart phones. "The whole on-demand economy has become a lot more prominent, a lot more central, a lot more mainstream, as higher-income on-demand workers have now started to deal with the instability and insecurity of being on-demand," says Jayaraman.

Ajema agrees. The more the gig economy's labor force diversifies, he adds, and particularly as it includes people with voting power, the stronger chance there is for legislative change. And that's the ultimate goal.

News Sun, 23 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400