Truthout Stories http://truth-out.org Fri, 28 Nov 2014 12:02:31 -0500 en-gb GOP on Wrong Side of History on Immigration http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/27702-gop-on-wrong-side-of-history-on-immigration http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/27702-gop-on-wrong-side-of-history-on-immigration

At the first Thanksgiving 383 years ago, Native Americans and Pilgrim immigrants gathered with mutual respect to share a bountiful harvest they’d produced together.

This Thanksgiving, though, there’s no respect or sharing in the homes of GOP nativists.

Suffering amnesia about their personal histories, nativist Republicans want to expel the 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants, the people who harvest America’s Thanksgiving vegetables and care for America’s toddlers and grannies. The GOP has threatened to sue, shut down the government and impeach President Obama to punish him for issuing an executive order giving fewer than half of the nation’s undocumented workers a limited ability to remain in the United States.

Americans would prefer if Congress fixed this problem. But Congress hasn’t. In the year and a half since the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill, House leaders have refused to permit a vote on it. So now, President Obama, like all 10 presidents since 1956, Republican and Democrat, has issued an executive order on immigration. The order says America will treat 5 million striving unauthorized immigrants with respect.

Exactly one week before Thanksgiving, President Obama described his order to the American people. It broadens the “dreamer” program that provides temporary reprieves from deportation to unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children. It establishes temporary work authorization for undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least five years and are parents of American citizens or servicemen. It directs the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to focus on deporting criminals and suspected terrorists and orders Homeland Security to help secure the border.

It disqualifies new undocumented immigrants. Anyone who has entered the United States recently or who enters now without authorization is excluded. The order is limited as well. It lasts only as long as Obama is president. The next executive could continue it. Or kill it.

If such a program had been in place 14 years ago, actress Diane Guerrero, who plays Maritza Ramos on the show Orange is the New Black, would have been spared separation from her parents and brother. Guerrero described her family’s deportation in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times earlier this month. She was just 14 when she arrived home from school to find lights on, dinner started but her family missing.

Born in the United States, Guerrero was a citizen. Her parents and brother were not. Neighbors broke the news to her that the INS had seized her family and would deport them to civil war-torn Colombia. In the op-ed, Guerrero pleaded for relief for families like hers. President Obama provided it. Thank goodness.

Immigrants like Guerrero’s family don’t enter the United States to take. Like everyone who has has arrived on America’s shores since that first Thanksgiving, these new émigrés work to give their children a better life. Some young undocumented workers today labor to give their parents in Mexico remittances that enable them to survive after NAFTA destroyed their ability to eke out a living from subsistence farms. Americans respect those family values.

Unauthorized immigrants are lured into the United States by the promise of jobs, whether it’s making hotel beds, washing cars or picking produce. Employers want their labor. Farmers who rely on the backbreaking work of unauthorized immigrants found themselves with produce rotting in the fields after some states passed anti-immigration laws in recent years.

As Americans bow their heads before passing the turkey platter this week, they should know that President Obama’s executive order is a blessing to native born citizens as well as immigrants. A study by the Bipartisan Policy Center found that immigration reform is good for the economy, while inaction is destructive.

The task force that produced the study, co-chaired by former governors from both parties, said immigration reform would be a powerful instrument of economic revitalization: “The results make clear that reform has the potential to significantly increase the number of young, working-age people in the economy. This influx of labor would spur economic growth, reduce federal deficits, help the housing sector and mitigate the effects of an aging population. By contrast, preventing unauthorized immigration without providing replacement labor would cause severe damage to the economy.”

In addition, reform means immigrants no longer need fear deportation for reporting violations such as wage theft, perilous working conditions and workplace violence. This protects native-born workers because employers who become accustomed to impunity for illegal exploitation of immigrants quickly attempt to abuse all workers.

While unauthorized immigrants have long prayed for reform, 57 percent of native born Americans now believe those entreaties should be answered. The number is higher – 74 percent– if reform includes a path to citizenship, fines, back taxes and background checks.

But a president’s power is limited, and Obama stopped short extending citizenship. That’s the responsibility of Congress. President Obama asked lawmakers to act: “Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too.”

At a press conference held last week by groups supporting President Obama’s executive action, Maria Teresa Kumar, president of Vote Latino, told the story of one of those strangers.

During the holidays four years ago, she recounted, a young man who had just finished boot camp and was on his way to deployment in Iraq called her for help. He’d just learned that his father had been detained by the INS. On Christmas Eve, the soldier lost his father to deportation, and his family lost a breadwinner.

That is not how Native Americans treated the strangers who arrived on the shores of Plymouth. Those Native Americans broke bread with the immigrants.

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Opinion Fri, 28 Nov 2014 12:02:11 -0500
Native-American Youth Are in Crisis and Need Protection http://truth-out.org/news/item/27701-native-american-youth-are-in-crisis-and-need-protection http://truth-out.org/news/item/27701-native-american-youth-are-in-crisis-and-need-protection

Idle No More Solidarity Gathering, Sacramento, January 26, 2013. (Photo: Daniela Kantorova)Idle No More Solidarity Gathering, Sacramento, January 26, 2013. (Photo: Daniela Kantorova)

Centuries after the first pilgrims and Indians came together in peace to give thanks (so the story goes), Native American youth have nothing close to peace. A new 120-page report from the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence screams that they are in crisis.

Violence Plus Poverty

As reported in The Washington Post, Native American children “face unprecedented challenges” of violence and extreme poverty that hurt their minds as much as their bodies, on top of the “historical trauma” that they carry. The combination of violence and poverty fuels more issues: compromised neurological development, poor health in all aspects, unsatisfactory scholastic performance, unhealthy substance abuse and a high rate of participation in the juvenile justice system.

In 2014, Native American youth are fighting battles that they can’t win at home. The report concluded that they experience post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at the same rate as returning veterans who fought in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan. Compared to the rest of the American youth, they experience PTSD at triple the rate. The consequences can be fatal; it’s not a coincidence that Native American youth are twice as likely as any other group to die before 24.

Legal Loopholes and Losing Funding

The legal system isn’t helping them either. Last year, Congress did pass a law where federally recognized tribes could prosecute non-Indians for domestic violence against women in tribal territory. But there’s a giant loophole: non-Indians can’t be prosecuted for crimes against Native American youth in tribal territory.

As common sensical as the proposed law seems (if Native American women need protection, then why wouldn’t their children need it?), there’s always a chance that it won’t get passed. ThinkProgress explains that “political resistance,” mostly from Republicans, is to be expected since many don’t want to give tribes more authority or autonomy. And frankly, that needs to change.

The tribal legal system is far from perfect. And it doesn’t help that the U.S. government doesn’t adequately support it. It’s hard enough to get basic governmental services in tribal territory. The Interior Department pumps money into the tribal legal system, but unsurprisingly those funds are super low, and it’s getting alarmingly lower every year. The Washington Post describes how the main grant from the Justice Department that protects Native American children fell from $25 million in 2010 to only $5 million in 2014.

Change From the Top

If real change is going to happen, then it needs to start from the top. That legal loophole needs to be closed: non-Indians who abuse Native American youth can’t get away with it and should be prosecuted in tribal territory. In light of this eye-opening report, it’s clear that the Justice Department should consider making budget cuts elsewhere, not cutting funding that is helping Native American youth.

Furthermore, Native American youth deserve better than to live in squalor. Many live in third world living conditions, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development needs to fix that. Basic shelter and basic running water aren’t luxuries, they’re rights. Young people also need proper places to hang out, so they stay off the streets and, hopefully, stay out of trouble.

There also needs to be more Native American representation in leadership. The panel of the report suggests a “fully staffed Native American Affairs Office in the White House” by May 2015. One senior official should oversee the welfare of Native American and Alaska Native youth.

The U.S. government has had centuries to remedy the injustices of the past. Instead, it chooses to turn a blind eye to suffering children and youth. Thanks to this report, there’s no doubt that change needs to happen, but if it will ever come remains to be seen.

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News Fri, 28 Nov 2014 11:43:42 -0500
Government Data Sharpens Focus on Crude-Oil Train Routes http://truth-out.org/news/item/27700-government-data-sharpens-focus-on-crude-oil-train-routes http://truth-out.org/news/item/27700-government-data-sharpens-focus-on-crude-oil-train-routes

The oil boom underway in North Dakota has delivered jobs to local economies and helped bring the United States to the brink of being a net energy exporter for the first time in generations. But moving that oil to the few refineries with the capacity to process it is presenting a new danger to towns and cities nationwide - a danger many appear only dimly aware of and are ill-equipped to handle.

(Photo: Renaud Chodkowski)(Photo: Renaud Chodkowski)

The oil boom underway in North Dakota has delivered jobs to local economies and helped bring the United States to the brink of being a net energy exporter for the first time in generations.

But moving that oil to the few refineries with the capacity to process it is presenting a new danger to towns and cities nationwide — a danger many appear only dimly aware of and are ill-equipped to handle.

Much of North Dakota's oil is being transported by rail, rather than through pipelines, which are the safest way to move crude. Tank carloads of crude are up 50 percent this year from last. Using rail networks has saved the oil and gas industry the time and capital it takes to build new pipelines, but the trade-off is greater risk: Researchers estimates that trains are three and a half times as likely as pipelines to suffer safety lapses.

Indeed, since 2012, when petroleum crude oil first began moving by rail in large quantities, there have been eight major accidents involving trains carrying crude in North America. In the worst of these incidents, in July, 2013, a train derailed at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec and exploded, killing 47 and burning down a quarter of the town. Six months later, another crude-bearing train derailed and exploded in Casselton, North Dakota, prompting the evacuation of most of the town's 2,300 residents.

See interactive map of the crude-oil train data.

In those and other cases, local emergency responders were overwhelmed by the conflagrations resulting from these accidents. Residents often had no idea that such a dangerous cargo, and in such volume, was being transported through their towns.

Out of the disasters came a scramble for information. News outlets around the country began reporting the history of problems associated with the DOT-111 railroad tank cars carrying virtually all of the crude.

Local officials, environmental groups, and concerned citizens began to ask what routes these trains were taking and whether the towns in their paths were ready should an accident occur.

In July, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation ordered railroads to disclose route information to state emergency management officials. Railroads had fought hard to keep this information private, citing security concerns. Even after federal regulators required more disclosure, railroads pressured many state governments to withhold their reports from the public. Some have come out, often as a result of public records requests by news organizations: The Associated Press has obtained disclosures in several states initially unwilling to release them.

Still, those disclosures offer scant detail, often consisting of little more than a list of counties through which crude oil is passing, without further specifics.

There have been attempts to fill in the blanks. KQED in Northern California, for example, combined the information disclosed in federal route reports with maps of the major railroads to show where trains carrying crude passed through California. The environmental group Oil Change International superimposed major refineries and other facilities that handle crude oil onto a national railroad map.

A ProPublica analysis of data from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration adds new details by plotting out where trains carrying crude have experienced safety incidents, most of them minor. The data shows such incidents in more than 250 municipalities over the last four years. We've used the data to create an interactive map showing where safety incidents on trains were reported, where each train began its journey, and where it was ultimately headed.

The data also shows that factors that contributed to major, or even catastrophic, accidents have also been present in hundreds of minor ones: outdated tank car models; component failures; and missing, damaged and loose parts.

Bit by bit, a more realistic notion of where the dangers of crude-bearing trains are most substantial is emerging.

"Frankly, the [previous] disclosures weren't of that much use," says Kelly Huston, a spokesman for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, one of the first state agencies to make those disclosures available for anyone on its website. When it comes to a detailed picture of where crude is moving, Huston says, "The expectation of the public is very far from the reality of what we're actually getting."

The hazardous materials data reviewed by ProPublica adds to that picture.

Only a handful of places around the country have the refinery capacity and infrastructure necessary to handle the massive amounts of oil being extracted from North Dakota's Bakken Shale: Bakersfield, Carson, and Long Beach in California; St. James, Lake Charles, Lacassine in coastal Louisiana; Philadelphia, Paulsboro, New Jersey. Delaware City, Delaware in the Mid-Atlantic.

These cities have become the terminuses for "unit trains" carrying up to 100 tank cars, each containing as much as 30,000 gallons of crude oil. These endpoints also have shaped the paths along which crude-bearing trains now cross hundreds of communities, many of which have never seen such traffic. Tracks all but abandoned for years have sprung back to life on account of the oil boom.

The vulnerabilities of the DOT-111 tank cars in which much of the oil is moved are well known by now. For decades, federal officials have cited concerns over their relatively thin shells, which are prone to puncturing or rupturing in an accident and releasing the hazardous material inside. They also have other components prone to damage, including protruding fittings often left unprotected, and hinged lids held on by bolts that have a history of coming loose, especially if not properly tightened by the original shipper.

When a tank car full of oil ruptures, the consequences can be dire. At a panel held by the National Transportation Safety Board in April, one technical expert with the agency described a "fireball release," in which "the entire content of the tank car, up to 30,000 gallons, is instantly released, along with the potential for rocketing car parts." When one tank car ignites, the heat can set off a chain reaction, causing other cars to explode as well.

In most cases, the tanks cars used to transport crude are supplied by railroad shipping companies, not railroads themselves. Railroads have typically pushed for more stringent safety requirements since they have to move the cars. Shipping companies and oil producers have pushed back against stricter proposals.

In 2011, as the crude-by-rail industry was ramping up and federal regulators were preparing to introduce new rules, industry groups adopted voluntary safety modifications to add thicker shells and other protections to new tank cars. But roughly 85 percent of the fleet currently carrying flammable liquids still consists of the older models. And while PHMSA is expected to issue rules requiring safer tank cars, railroads will have years to phase in the upgrades and it's not yet clear to what extent they will be required to retrofit existing cars.

For most local fire departments, a blaze involving even a single tank car, let alone many, would be too much to handle, emergency response officials acknowledge.

"[Most] fire departments don't have the capacity to deal with more than a standard gasoline tank [fire], which is about 9,000 or 10,000 gallons of fuel," said Richard Edinger, vice chairman of the International Association of Fire Chief's hazardous materials committee. "Well, one DOT-111 car holds about 30,000 gallons — that pretty much exceeds our capacity."

Complicating matters, many towns don't even know that trains carrying crude oil are passing through.

Along the journey south from North Dakota, for example, many trains now make a stop in the tiny town of El Dorado, Arkansas, population 18,500, bound for a refinery that recently added capacity to accommodate Bakken crude. The PHMSA hazmat data includes more than a dozen leaks found on trains headed for the town.

Yet Union County Emergency Management Services deputy director Bobby Braswell, a former Chief Deputy for the El Dorado Fire Department, was unaware of the new crude traffic and its potential risks.

"We've got a little old railroad here, but if they transport crude, I don't know," said Braswell in an interview. If state emergency management officials have a plan to respond to oil train derailments, they haven't shared it with El Dorado yet: "I don't remember anybody calling about crude," Braswell said.

Along the trains' route to the Mid-Atlantic, according to PHMSA's hazmat data, is Mineral City, Ohio, where Tuscarawas county emergency services director Patty Levengood said she didn't know whether fire departments in her jurisdiction had been trained or otherwise advised on the new oil traffic. Such planning was "pretty much left to the individual chiefs," she said.

Other responders said they are acutely aware of the new risks facing their towns, and some expressed alarm. Asked whether his fire department had the capacity to handle a single tank car fire, Duane Hart, fire chief for Juniata County, Pennsylvania, answered with an emphatic "I know we don't!" Crude trains now pass through Port Royal, a town of 925 in Juniata County for which Hart's department provides services.

In many circumstances, all local responders would be able to do in the event of a large tank car fire is simply let it burn, experts say. At the recent NTSB rail safety panel, Gregory Noll, a chairperson for the hazardous materials committee of the National Fire Protection Association, summarized the situation bluntly.

"There's very little that we as a responder are going to do," he said, "other than... to isolate the area, remove people from the problem, and allow the incident to go its natural course until it essentially burns down to a level where we can extinguish it."

But that approach would still involve tremendous damage in the many densely populated areas through which crude is now moving by rail, officials acknowledge.

"The standard evacuation is typically a half-mile," said Jeff Simpson, a 30-year firefighter who lives in North Virginia and teaches a course called "Training for Railroad Emergencies."

"But if you're in the middle of a big city, the footprint is going to be much bigger."

The Pittsburgh-based nonprofit news organization PublicSource reported in August that up to 40 percent of that city's roughly 300,000 residents live within the potential evacuation zone of trains carrying crude through the city.

Another Pennsylvania metropolis, Philadelphia, has become one of the biggest destinations in the U.S. for Bakken crude thanks to newly retrofitted refineries and a brand new rail unloading facility opened just two years ago.

The city appears frequently in hazmat reports: In at least 65 cases over the last two years, tank cars bound for or arriving in Philadelphia were found to have loose, leaking or missing safety components. These parts are meant to prevent flammable contents from escaping in the event of an accident.

There was a more serious incident last January, when a train full of oil derailed a few miles from the city's downtown. Luckily, no one was injured. The train was soon righted and the railroad made repairs, assuring city officials that the danger had passed.

But even after the derailment, Philadelphia "has not issued new plans, directives, or protocols in response to the increase of crude oil shipments," wrote city director of Emergency Management Samantha Phillips in an email to ProPublica.

The Philadelphia County Local Emergency Planning Committee "has not been active on the transportation of Bakken crude oil," Phillips added.

The agency's website contains no emergency information specific to a fire involving crude oil, or any other hazardous substance, other than a video featuring " Wally Wise-Guy, the Shelter in Place Turtle."

The video advises that "in the event of a hazardous materials emergency ... do what Wally Wise Guy does — go inside."

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News Fri, 28 Nov 2014 11:31:47 -0500
Prosecutor Manipulates Grand Jury Process to Shield Officer http://truth-out.org/news/item/27699-prosecutor-manipulates-grand-jury-process-to-shield-officer http://truth-out.org/news/item/27699-prosecutor-manipulates-grand-jury-process-to-shield-officer

You know the fix is in when a suspect who shot an unarmed man voluntarily provides four hours of un-cross examined testimony to a grand jury without taking the Fifth. On August 9, Ferguson, Missouri Police Officer Darren Wilson gunned down 18-year-old African American Michael Brown. Since that fateful day, people across the country have protested against racial profiling, excessive police force, and the failure of the criminal justice system to provide accountability.

Police line up in the street outside the police department in Ferguson, Mo., Nov. 25, 2014. Police say 45 people were arrested overnight in a second night of demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., that were smaller and not as violent as they had been on Monday, following a grand jury decision not to indict a white police officer for killing an unarmed black teenager. (Whitney Curtis/The New York Times)Police line up in the street outside the police department in Ferguson, Mo., Nov. 25, 2014. Police say 45 people were arrested overnight in a second night of demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., that were smaller and not as violent as they had been on Monday, following a grand jury decision not to indict a white police officer for killing an unarmed black teenager. (Whitney Curtis/The New York Times)

You know the fix is in when a suspect who shot an unarmed man voluntarily provides four hours of un-cross examined testimony to a grand jury without taking the Fifth.

On August 9, Ferguson, Missouri Police Officer Darren Wilson gunned down 18-year-old African American Michael Brown. Since that fateful day, people across the country have protested against racial profiling, excessive police force, and the failure of the criminal justice system to provide accountability.

The nail in the coffin of "equal justice under law" came on November 24, when the St. Louis County grand jury refused to indict Wilson for any criminal charges in the shooting death of Brown. In a virtually unprecedented move, St. Louis Prosecutor Robert McCulloch in effect deputized the grand jurors to sit as triers of fact as in a jury trial.

In a normal grand jury proceeding, the prosecutor presents evidence for a few days and then asks the grand jurors to return an indictment, which they nearly always do. Of 162,000 federal cases in 2010, grand juries failed to indict in only 11 of them, according the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The standard of proof for a grand jury to indict is only probable cause to believe the suspect committed a crime. It is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is required for conviction at trial. Yet McCulloch's team presented testimony and documents to the panel for three months, evidence not subjected to adversarial testing by cross-examination.

Justice Antonin Scalia explained the function of the grand jury in United States v. Williams as follows:

[I]t is the grand jury's function not "to enquire . . . upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied," or otherwise to try the suspect's defenses, but only to examine "upon what foundation [the charge] is made" by the prosecutor. [citations omitted] As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.

Every principle Scalia cited was violated in this case. The grand jury was asked to determine whether Wilson acted in self-defense. Wilson was allowed to give four hours of self-serving testimony to the grand jury. And for three months, prosecutors presented both incriminating and exculpatory evidence.

The prosecutor did not ask these grand jurors for an indictment. They were left to sift through the evidence on their own, with no prosecutorial guidance about what to charge. Indeed, the transcripts indicated that prosecutors asked Wilson gentle, leading questions designed to bolster his self-defense claim. For example, a prosecutor told Wilson, "You felt like your life was in jeopardy," followed by, "And use of deadly force was justified at that point, in your opinion?" But prosecutors rigorously challenged witnesses who contradicted Wilson's testimony.

As the grand jury is a secret proceeding, with only the grand jurors and the prosecutor present, the grand jurors did not hear any cross-examination of the officer's testimony, or that of other witnesses (which is customary in an adversarial jury trial). These grand jurors, who were nearing the end of their term, which began in May, knew the drill, since they had sat on several other cases. They knew the prosecutor always asks for indictments. Thus, when the prosecutor handled the Wilson case in a radically different manner, this signaled to the grand jurors that they were not expected to indict. And they did not.

Another unorthodox aspect of this case was McCulloch's announcement of the grand jury's decision on national television. Sounding like a defense attorney delivering a closing argument in a jury trial, McCulloch characterized and analyzed the witness testimony in the light most favorable to the officer.

McCulloch has a history of bias in favor of police involved in altercations with black men. But, ignoring the pleas of 7,000 residents in and near Ferguson who signed a petition, McCulloch refused to recuse himself in the Wilson case.

McCulloch had mischaracterized testimony in a 2000 case in which two black men were killed after officers fired 21 shots at them. As in the Wilson case, the reasonableness of the officers' use of deadly force was critical. In the 2000 case, the officers said the two victims were driving toward them, trying to run them down, and McCulloch claimed that all the witnesses corroborated the officers' story. A later federal investigation, however, determined that the car was not moving forward, and that only three of the thirteen officers said the car was moving forward.

Likewise, Wilson's claim that Brown was "charging" at him when the officer fired the fatal shots into the top of Brown's bowed head was critical to the reasonableness of Wilson's use of deadly force. When McCulloch announced the grand jury's decision, he characterized the witnesses who testified that Brown was "charging" the officer as believable, but dismissed the testimony of witnesses who said Brown was surrendering. McCulloch sounded like a defense attorney, not a prosecutor charged with representing "the people," including Brown.

Wilson fired 12 shots at Brown, six of which struck the teenager. There was a great deal of contradiction among the witnesses, including whether Brown's hands were up or down when Wilson shot at him. That is precisely why there should have been an indictment and a jury trial. Jurors would hear all of the evidence, subjected to adversarial testing by cross-examination. They would assess the credibility of the witnesses, and determine whether Wilson had committed any crime(s) beyond a reasonable doubt.

After reviewing the transcripts and evidence in the Wilson case, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi noted:

Dorian Johnson, the key witness who was standing next to Brown during the encounter, provided strong testimony that called into question Wilson's claim that he was defending his life against a deranged aggressor. Johnson testified that Wilson, enraged that the young men did not obey his order to get on the sidewalk, threw his patrol car into reverse. While Wilson claimed Brown prevented him from opening his door, Johnson testified that the officer smacked them with the door after nearly hitting the pair. Johnson described the ensuing struggle as Wilson attempting to pull Brown through the car window by his neck and shirt, and Brown pulling away. Johnson never saw Brown reach for Wilson's gun or punch the officer. Johnson testified that he watched a wounded Brown partially raise his hands and say, "I don't have a gun" before being fatally shot.

Adachi also wrote, "Prosecutors never asked Wilson why he did not attempt to drive away while Brown was allegedly reaching through his vehicle window or to reconcile the contradiction between his claim that Brown punched the left side of his face and the documented injuries which appear on his right side."

If properly directed, the grand jury may well have indicted Wilson for one of several offenses, including first degree murder, second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, assault with a deadly weapon, unlawful discharge of a firearm, and battery. Wilson testified that he was acting in self-defense when he shot Brown. If he were indicted, the jury would assess whether Wilson acted reasonably when he used deadly force against the teenager.

A police officer in Missouri can use deadly force in making an arrest or preventing escape if he reasonably believes it is necessary to effect the arrest and also reasonably believes the person to be arrested has committed or attempted to commit a felony, or may otherwise endanger life or inflict serious physical injury unless arrested without delay. The key word is "reasonably." The jury would be told to consider whether a deadly weapon was used, how far apart Wilson was from Brown when the former used deadly force, any disparities in the sizes of the two, the crime involved, etc. The evidence was contradictory about the distance between the two during the confrontation, both Wilson and Brown were the same height but Brown was heavier, and the officer contradicted himself about whether he knew that Brown was suspected of committing petty theft for stealing cigarillos (a misdemeanor, not a felony) before the officer stopped him.

In Tennessee v. Garner, the Supreme Court held that an officer cannot arrest an unarmed felony suspect by shooting him dead. If the suspect threatens the officer with a weapon, or there is probable cause to believe he has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm, deadly force may be used if necessary to prevent escape. Although there is a dispute about whether Wilson knew that Brown was suspected of stealing cigarillos before stopping him, Brown had likely committed petty theft - a non-violent misdemeanor, not a felony.

Wilson's testimony raises several questions, listed in a piece by Ezra Klein on Vox: "Why did Michael Brown, an 18-year-old kid headed to college, refuse to move from the middle of the street to the sidewalk? Why would he curse out a police officer? Why would he attack a police officer? Why would he dare a police officer to shoot him? Why would he charge a police officer holding a gun? Why would he put his hand in his waistband while charging, even though he was unarmed?"

In my opinion, McCulloch should have filed charges against Wilson, who would then have had the right to a public preliminary hearing. He could present evidence and cross-examine the witnesses against him. And if it were televised, the viewing public could see that justice is done.

According to Adachi, "Wilson's description of Brown as a 'demon' with superhuman strength and unremitting rage, and his description of the neighborhood as 'hostile,' illustrate implicit racial bias that taints use-of-force decisions. These biases surely contribute to the fact that African Americans are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than whites in the US, but the statement's racial implications remain unexamined."

Because of the great social implications of cases involving police shootings of people of color, the presumption in these cases should be that prosecutors utilize the public preliminary hearing process instead of the secret grand jury proceeding.

In a unified statement, several civil and human rights organizations recommended an independent and comprehensive federal investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ). They said the DOJ should also investigate all police killings and reports of the use of excessive force and racial profiling against youth and people of color. And they would require Body-Worn Cameras to record every police-civilian encounter, and increased community oversight of local law enforcement.

Thousands of people in cities throughout the country are protesting the travesty of justice that occurred in Ferguson. But, as the civil and human rights organizations wrote in their statement, "Nothing will be resolved until there is a systemic change throughout this nation in the implicit and explicit bias against people of color and particularly African-American youth who are routinely targeted by law enforcement even within their own communities."

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News Fri, 28 Nov 2014 10:15:31 -0500
The Second Term That Movements Build http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/27698-the-second-term-that-movements-build http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/27698-the-second-term-that-movements-build

In the wake of the mid-term elections earlier this month, it might have seemed that there wasn't much hope to hold onto for progressives, what with climate deniers and tea party fundamentalists rising to some of the highest offices in the land. What we've seen since, though, has been a string of executive decisions that might be cautiously described as hopeful.

In an official White House statement released early last week, President Obama expressed his support for net neutrality, a framing in itself pushed for by advocates on the issue.

"We cannot allow Internet service providers to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas," he said. "That is why today, I am asking the Federal Communications Commission to answer the call of almost four million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality."

Craig Aaron, president of the long-running net neutrality campaign group Free Press, told the New York Times, "It was the kind of clear, bold statement we had been waiting for" since 2008.

Then there's Obama's newly emboldened statements on immigration, which could create a pathway to citizenship for an estimated five million undocumented Americans. The move would extend amnesty to the parents of those granted legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. In the lead-up to the election, organizers with United We Dream interrupted a series of high-profile Democratic campaign events, calling on Obama and other Democrats, including presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, to "put families over politics."

The White House had promised in June that it would take similar action before the end of the summer, only to announce later that it would postpone any decisions on immigration reform until after the election to benefit Democrats in red and purple states facing tough contests with Republicans. Immigrant rights groups also held a wave of action this summer calling for administrative relief from detention and deportation, and were instrumental in the passage of DACA and the DREAM Act for tuition equity in several states nationwide.

Environmentalists saw positive signs, too, as Obama pledged to veto any Congressional legislation that would force a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, superseding federal review requirements. The biggest news for the climate movement, however, is that China and the United States — the world's first and second largest polluters, respectively — have been brokering an until-now "secret" deal to cap both countries' emissions post-2020. Secretary of State John Kerry took the pact public on Tuesday in an op-ed for the New York Times, writing, "Two countries regarded for 20 years as the leaders of opposing camps in climate negotiations have come together to find common ground, determined to make lasting progress on an unprecedented global challenge." Both of these revelations come after increasingly militant and popular escalation in the climate movement, including September's 400,000-person People's Climate March, the growing on and off-campus fossil fuel divestment movement, as well as ongoing efforts to block the expansion of fossil fuel extraction and transportation infrastructure.

Of course, none of these announcements are guaranteed to translate into actual policy shifts. For all of the above, details on enforcement are vague at best. Even the statements themselves are something of a mixed bag: The immigration reform package could include increased funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and the climate deal is non-binding. Naomi Klein commented that free trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership could even trump legislation by "[bestowing] corporations with outrageous powers to challenge national policies at international tribunals," which could prove a threat to climate action and net neutrality alike. Democratic strategists are already plotting how they can leverage support for the Keystone pipeline to win over moderate Democrats in Mary Landrieu's upcoming senatorial run-off election in Louisiana. Progressives are no strangers to false assurances; as United We Dream managing director Cristina Jimenez told CNN, "Details matter and promises have been made before."

Responding to his new-found willingness to take on the GOP, pundits have commented that Obama is attempting to carve out a progressive legacy in the latter half of his second term. This may be true, but this week's announcements are also evidence of the work grassroots organizers have been doing to put pressure on the White House since well before the 2008 election. In other words, like other presidents, any progressive legacy Obama manages to build between now and 2016 will be a product of the movements that challenged him most.

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Opinion Thu, 27 Nov 2014 11:29:24 -0500
"Coercive Diplomacy" and the Failure of the Nuclear Negotiations http://truth-out.org/news/item/27697-coercive-diplomacy-and-the-failure-of-the-nuclear-negotiations http://truth-out.org/news/item/27697-coercive-diplomacy-and-the-failure-of-the-nuclear-negotiations

After more than a year of negotiations between the United States and Iran, the two sides have failed to reach an agreement by the agreed deadline in July. They have agreed to continue negotiating, but the failure to meet the deadline was clearly not caused by the lack of time.

To understand why the talks have remained deadlocked, it is necessary to review the Obama administration's stance on diplomacy with Iran in the context of the long US history of favouring "coercive diplomacy" over traditional negotiations in managing conflicts with adversaries.

Reliance on coercive diplomacy is deeply imbedded in the strategic culture of US national security institutions. It has evolved over decades of US military and economic dominance in international politics, which has allowed the United States to avoid genuine diplomacy repeatedly.

Based on that military supremacy, the United States avoided negotiations with its communist adversaries up to the early 1970s, when Henry Kissinger courted China and launched his détente policy with the Soviet Union. But that brief period of serious negotiating came in the wake of political pressures for reducing US military spending and foreign military presence during the long and exhausting US war in Vietnam. It soon gave way to renewed reliance on coercive diplomacy during the Reagan administration.

The concept of coercive diplomacy emerged from the belief that the United States could use the threat of force to leverage favourable outcomes in international conflicts, as the United States assumed – wrongly, as we now know - that the threat of force by the John F. Kennedy had forced Khrushchev to back down in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

But the practice of coercive diplomacy came to include the use of trade and technology denial for coercive purposes as well, and Iran was one of the first applications of the concept. The Reagan administration used its diplomatic clout with France and Germany to choke off all technical cooperation with Iran's nuclear programme in 1983, even though it acknowledged it had no reason to suspect that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons. A few years later, the George H. W. Bush administration banned exports of peaceful nuclear technology to Iran and pressured its allies to do the same. The technology denial policy, aimed at strangling the Iranian nuclear programme, was a pure expression of the concept of "coercive diplomacy."

The George W. Bush administration's accusation that Iran was using its nuclear programme as a cover for development of nuclear weapons was aimed at preparing the political ground for regime change by force, if necessary. But in 2005, it became part of a strategy for coercive diplomacy to force Iran to stop enrichment. US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice pressured Britain, France and Germany to eschew genuine negotiations with Iran and use the threat of economic sanctions to force an end to Iranian enrichment. The Bush administration would later accuse Iran of having a covert nuclear weapons programme, based on intelligence documents that I have shown in my book "Manufactured Crisis" to be fabrications, but when it first used coercive diplomacy to force an end to Iran's nuclear programme in the 1980s the Reagan administration did not claim that Iran had done anything to indicate an interest in nuclear weapons.

The Obama years

Ironically, although the Obama administration appeared to be committed to traditional diplomacy with Iran on the surface, his administration has relied even more heavily on coercive diplomacy against Iran than its predecessor.

Obama sent an unpublicised message to supreme leader Khamenei in May 2009, offering to conduct talks with Iran on a range of issues "without preconditions," Gary Samore, a former Obama official, admitted last year. But within weeks of his inauguration, Obama gave his approval to a plan for cyber war against Iran's nuclear programme in order to gain more leverage.

Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei did not know about the cyber war decision. He did know, however, that Obama was planning to use new sanctions to compel Iran to accept these policy changes, which that included the unfreezing of assets and the lifting of some sanctions.

When Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asked in the spring of 2009 for the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) assistance in purchasing nuclear fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor, the Obama administration blocked Iran's recourse to the market, hoping to use Iran's need for fuel for the TRR to put additional pressure on Iran. Samore drafted a proposal under which Iran would have to send as much 75 to 80 percent of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Russia to be turned into fuel assemblies for the reactor, giving the US a stronger position in future negotiations.

The Washington Post reported on 22 October 2009, that US officials said the proposed uranium swap "would be only the first step in a difficult process to persuade Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities and that suspension remains the primary goal."

The administration even used its Nuclear Policy Review (NPR) in the spring of 2010 as a heavy-handed means of coercing Iran. The new nuclear policy suggested that Iran was one of the few exceptions to a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons in case of a conventional attack "against the US or its allies or partners."

Obama explicitly linked the new policy to the administration's broader campaign of coercive diplomacy with Iran, saying: "[W]e want to send a very strong message both through sanctions, through the articulation of the Nuclear Posture Review... that the international community is serious about Iran facing consequences if it doesn't change its behaviour."

The administration's main hope for coercing Iran, however, was the imposition of the sanctions against Iran's oil and banking sectors that took effect in mid-2012. In May 2012, a senior US official told the New York Times that those sanctions - and especially the moves by EU member states to cut imports of Iranian oil - would "increase the leverage" on the negotiations that had begun with Iran that spring.

After Hassan Rouhani was elected President of Iran in 2013, with a commitment to a negotiated solution to the issue of the nuclear programme and sanctions relief, the Obama administration assumed that its coercive diplomacy - especially in the form of sanctions - had forced Iran to negotiate. Although the administration had now given up the hope of ending Iran's enrichment completely, the administration lost no time in making it clear that the US objective was the "dismantling" of most of the Iranian enrichment capacity.

Kerry testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on 11 December 2013, a little more than two weeks after the Joint Plan of Action had been announced, that the United States had imposed sanctions on Iran, "because we knew that it would hopefully help Iran dismantle its nuclear programme. That was the whole point of the [sanctions] regime."

In April 2014, Kerry announced that the administration would require Iran's agreement to reduce its enrichment capability so that it would take at least six to twelve months to achieve a "breakout" capacity – i.e., enough low enriched uranium for one bomb's worth of weapon's grade enriched uranium. Robert Einhorn, former proliferation official in the Obama administration's State Department, explained in an article published 9 May, that anything more than "a few thousand" centrifuges would give Iran "an unacceptably rapid breakout capability."

Iran had already declared that dismantling its nuclear infrastructure was a "red line" in the talks, but that it would take measures that would assure that its low-enriched uranium could not be enriched to weapons grade level. Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif revealed to the New York Times on 14 July that Iran had proposal to retain 9,400 "Separative Work Units (SWU), which would represent less than half the enrichment capacity installed in its two enrichment facilities.

An unidentified senior US official responded to the Iranian proposal by implying the right to demand that Iran submit to the will of the coalition arrayed against it. "[T]his is not a negotiation between two equal parties," the official said. "This is the international community assessing whether Iran can come in line with its numerous non-proliferation obligations, to which it has been in violation for years."

Later, Iran agreed to draw down its stockpile of low-enrichment uranium by shipping it to Russia to be converted into fuel assemblies for its nuclear reactor at Bushehr. That would have the same effect in increasing the "breakout" timeline announced by Kerry as the deep centrifuge reduction the US was demanding. But by then, the United States had escalated its demands on Iran, saying that it would have to increase that mythical measure of risk to at least a year.

US negotiators continued to demand that Iran accept a dramatic cut in existing operational enrichment capacity to as few as 5000 centrifuges. Meanwhile, the US delegation was making it clear that the P5+1 would not provide "extensive" relief from sanctions until late in the implementation of the agreement, keeping the "architecture of sanctions" in place as leverage on Iran.

The whole US posture in the talks has thus reflected the perspective of a dominant power accustomed to employing coercive diplomacy, with sanctions replacing military force as the source of presumed coercive power. Iran's refusal to play its assigned role in the relationship between superpower and lesser state challenges Washington's strategic assumptions. Now Obama must weigh the appeal of coercive diplomacy to the US national security state against his own strong desire for an agreement.

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News Thu, 27 Nov 2014 11:23:40 -0500
How ACA Fuels Corporatization of American Health Care http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/27696-how-aca-fuels-corporatization-of-american-health-care http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/27696-how-aca-fuels-corporatization-of-american-health-care

A new Harvard study has found that Americans' trust in the medical profession has dropped dramatically in recent years and lags behind that in many other wealthy countries. At the same time, doctors are becoming increasingly unhappy with our profession. In his new memoir, " Doctored," Dr. Sandeep Jauhar eloquently explains why: More and more doctors are coming to view our profession as just another job.

We now have a situation where patients are losing confidence in their doctors, while doctors are losing confidence in our ability to do the right thing for our patients. We have a health care system becoming more hostile to doctors and patients and more friendly to health care corporations.

These trends are collateral damage caused by another trend: our increasingly corporatized, commodified and commercialized U.S. health care "industry" that is being put into hyper drive by the Affordable Care Act. The ACA is accelerating an ongoing wave of hospital consolidations and acquisition of doctors' practices by large corporations, such as Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems and MaineHealth.

As we continue down this road, doctors see our clinical autonomy disappearing as more and more of us become corporate employees subject to pressure to meet corporate financial goals that often differ from what is best for our patients. Patients sense that pressure as they are rushed through exams and are subject to more tests and procedures, some of them of questionable clinical value. They can almost hear the cash registers ringing as they move through their doctors' offices, as more wealth is transferred from patients to those selling health care goods and services.

Why is American medicine, once the crown jewel of American professionalism and a proud and respected calling, becoming just another commercial enterprise? In his 2010 book " Hijacked," Dr. John Geyman, chairman emeritus of the department of family practice at the University of Washington, explains how during the year-long Congressional debate leading up to enactment of the ACA, the interests of the public, including doctors and patients, were subverted to those of large health care corporations.

The highjacking of health care reform is paying off handsomely. Robert Pear of the New York Times recently described how the federal government and the commercial health insurance industry have morphed into one big fan club for the ACA. He quotes the libertarian Cato Institute's Michael Cannon explaining that since the ACA's enactment, "Insurers and the government have developed a symbiotic relationship, nurtured by tens of billions of dollars that flow from the federal Treasury to insurers each year."

Pear goes on to report that, "Since Mr. Obama signed the law, share prices for four of the major insurance companies — Aetna, Cigna, Humana and UnitedHealth — have more than doubled, while the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index has increased about 70 percent."

Pharmaceutical companies also have done very well. The ACA contains no authority for the government to negotiate pharmaceutical prices but continues the federal prohibition on the importation by U.S. residents of lower priced prescription drugs from many foreign countries.

This situation won't change anytime soon. Congress is gridlocked. What is widely recognized as a drafting error in the ACA — which, in saner times, could have been fixed quickly without attracting much attention — is now headed to the Supreme Court.

Of course, health care is just one of many examples in which the welfare of corporations has been put ahead of the interests of the public, but it may be the poster child. Health care is now more than a sixth of our economy, and human lives and dollars are at stake.

Corporate stranglehold of our public policy traces back to the increasingly corrupt way our political campaigns are financed. The recent midterm elections were a stark reminder of that, setting record levels for corporate spending, even on local races, and saturating voters with negative, intrusive and often obnoxious messages.

What's at stake is the future of health care and many other issues that will determine what kind of a country our children will live in. That future depends on how active and informed the public is willing to become in electing public officials who place the welfare of their constituents ahead of the wishes of their corporate contributors.

The results of the recent elections are not encouraging. But what's becoming clearer is that our struggle is not between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, or occupiers and tea partiers. It is between real American people and corporations.

I, for one, intend to continue pointing that out. That's where our attention should be focused.

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Opinion Thu, 27 Nov 2014 11:12:11 -0500
#Not1More Means Not One More http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/27695-not1more-means-not-one-more http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/27695-not1more-means-not-one-more

I watched the President's announcement in a packed room, filled with people who have been putting their bodies on the line to fight for expanded deportation relief. While many advocates in D.C. are claiming victory, no one in that room was celebrating. Even the eyes of those who will likely qualify for relief were brimming with tears, unable to set aside the many who will be left out.

Trying to find the magic words that will convince Americans to accept immigrants and support reform, millions of dollars have been invested in communications consultants who have complicated our message so fully that today, many are thanking the President for providing relief to less than 40% of our community and once again using the border as a bargaining chip.

Sometimes we've been told to be tough on crime, reflect a nation of laws, or call ourselves New Americans despite generational ties and, for many, indigenous claims to the continent. The newest line we are supposed to swallow is that the President is prioritizing deportations of "felons, not families."

Meanwhile the Right-wing has boiled their message down to the phrase, "What part of illegal don't you understand?" It ignores the illegality of racial profiling, unconstitutionality of ICE holds, the denial of indigenous sovereignty along the U.S.-Mexico border, and the violations of civil and human rights in the name of enforcement but it makes for a simple argument that has carried the debate so far.

But over the course of the last year, the migrant rights movement has found strength and momentum around its own simple phrase, "Not one more." We first painted it on a banner raised as people shut down Sheriff Arpaio's jail in Arizona the first day that the racial profiling law, SB1070, was to go into effect back in 2010. It meant not one more raid, not one more victim of Arpaio's sweeps, not one more racist law.

In 2014, "not one more" means "not one more."

Some people have bristled at the idea. In an attempt to get reform in Congress, a compromise approach shakes at the thought that we would defend our entire community or hold the position that deportations are not bargaining chips, they are wrong, immoral, and should be stopped altogether. Not one more.

It is an end point, a long-term goal that we will build toward through the incremental steps of stopping the removal of individuals who have lost fear and decided to fight for the right to remain and incremental steps of passing local and national policies that dismantle the deportation machine and protect our families. But it is the goal. There's no one we wish to see thrown under the bus or left behind. We are fighting for nothing less than the liberation of our people, for the decriminalization of immigrant lives.

It's time we shift from an assimilationist approach that puts on caps and gowns and sets forward our valedictorians as the face of immigration. While the strategy has earned the acceptance of immigrant youth, it has set an unreal standard of sainthood for us and has led to us being divided between good and bad immigrants, the deserving and undeserving, felons and families. If one person is a dreamer, does that mean that someone else is a nightmare?

Our organizing is based in the idea that when you organize from below, defending the most vulnerable, you lift everyone else up with you. When the most stigmatized have their humanity recognized, everyone else's expands as well. That position has shifted and evolved over time but if one listens to the debate now, both the fearmongering from the Right and the rational discernment from the Democrats made evident in the President's announcement, immigrants with criminal convictions are clearly living on the chopping block.

Elected officials who give the fullest condemnation of the current deportation crisis still have an asterisk at the end of their speech that cuts "criminals" out from their compassion. And the anti-immigrants spend their time constantly asking "but what about criminals." The President's announcement last night made clear that he decided it was politically expedient to provide relief for some, while putting those with criminal records in ICE's crosshairs.

Cutting out people stigmatized as "criminal" from our circle of compassion might be politically convenient but it lacks both an understanding of the extent to which immigration itself has been criminalized and how historically unjust the criminal justice system is, especially for people of color.

Immigration has always been understood as a civil offense but since Clinton's Presidency, federal criminal prosecution of immigrants who have re-entered the country rose 2,800% accounting for more than half of federal prosecutions. With George W. Bush's executive order to end "catch and release" at the border in 2006 and the expansion of Operation Streamline courtrooms that convict people at the rate of seventy defendants per hour, the deportation machine has also become a conviction factory.

For those of us who either got past the border or entered through other ways, there's then the life of being targeted by biased policing that over-patrols the communities we call home. In my home state of Arizona, people of color were found to be 2 to 3 times more likely to be stopped by the police before SB1070 legalized racial profiling. After getting arrested, 92% of people in the US will plead guilty and up to 60% without a lawyer. In such a system, deportation becomes double jeopardy and a cruel and unusual additional punishment that doesn't make anyone safer but in fact does the opposite.

If we understand that the act of migrating has been criminalized and that people of color disproportionately end up with criminal convictions, we realize that path to citizenship starts by rejecting criminalization. There's no other way to arrive at legalization.

Before the rest of advocates adopted the objective of the #Not1More campaign and pivoted to the President, we were told that we were giving up on long-term change, "tone deaf to what was going on on Capitol Hill,"putting a historic victory in jeopardy. Now that the President himself proved those people wrong by acting on parts of our demands, there will once again be an effort to steer the movement back toward the pattern of blaming Republicans and investing solely in Congress.

But if #Not1More has shown us anything its that there are multiple paths toward winning rights and stopping suffering. Organizing to stop deportations isn't giving up hope on immigration reform or legislation in Congress. It empowers and allows people to be engaged in our own liberation. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals came in the shadow of the DREAM Act's failure but it was no less of a victory. Deferred Action for Parents is much much less than what the President could do and nowhere near what the people who have fought for it deserve. But we will never allow either to be undone and we will press forward at every level of government, starting from the bottom up.

#No1LeftBehind #FelonsAreFamilies

Este op-ed disponible en español aquí.

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Opinion Thu, 27 Nov 2014 11:05:01 -0500
Thanksgiving Day and the Powerful Play http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/27694-thanksgiving-day-and-the-powerful-play http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/27694-thanksgiving-day-and-the-powerful-play

Snowy sky(Photo: Lotus Carroll; Lost and Taken; Edited: JR/TO)

Two hours ago, as of this Wednesday night writing, the ground around my back porch was brown and bare and sere. Where only scant weeks ago there was deep color in the New Hampshire woods - an astonishing riot of maple red and oak orange and birch yellow, the likes of which I have never seen before and may never see again, because it was simply that extraordinary - there are now only the skeletal fingers of bare trees holding court over a graveyard of fallen leaves. A few studiously green pines stand the watch, as they always do, but in the main, it is the Autumnal end of things in this particular patch of this particular place.

And then, two hours ago, it began to snow.

Snowy sky(Photo: Lotus Carroll; Lost and Taken; Edited: JR/TO)

Two hours ago, as of this Wednesday night writing, the ground around my back porch was brown and bare and sere. Where only scant weeks ago there was deep color in the New Hampshire woods - an astonishing riot of maple red and oak orange and birch yellow, the likes of which I have never seen before and may never see again, because it was simply that extraordinary - there are now only the skeletal fingers of bare trees holding court over a graveyard of fallen leaves. A few studiously green pines stand the watch, as they always do, but in the main, it is the Autumnal end of things in this particular patch of this particular place.

And then, two hours ago, it began to snow. The East Coast, from the middle of Florida to the middle of Maine, is getting slapped with a good old-fashioned early-winter walloper that is going to perfectly and profoundly screw anyone looking to put the rubber to the road ahead of this Thanksgiving holiday. I feel for them, I really and sincerely do, but the branches of the cherry tree are graced with two inches of latticed snow, the forest beyond is a laden mystery of white, and all I can do is stare out the window and wonder at the exchange of one beautiful for another beautiful as the seasons change right before my eyes.

My 20-month-old daughter spent the morning banging around the house in her usual fashion, taking her shoes off and then demanding they be put back on immediately, all the while running under the floppy Hunter S. Thompson fishing hat that makes her look so much like her fly-fishing great-grandmother that my mother startles every time she sees her grandchild. My daughter categorically refuses to let this hat leave her head. She sleeps with it on, no joke. My genes are weird.

All of her wiggling stomping busybody frantic toddler mayhem stopped, like a needle jumping off a record, when she saw the snow pouring down outside. She pressed her nose to the cold windowpane of the porch door and stared, and stared, her breath fogging the reflection of her chin in the glass. She was born on April Fools Day, and was too young to appreciate her first winter - which might be for the best, as last winter was a stone bastard fully until late May - so this was her first true encompassing of what happens when the world turns white.

On Thanksgiving - weather permitting - we will bundle her up and strap her in and drive to Nelson, a couple of towns over, with a pot of buffalo chicken dip and a piping-hot pan of scalloped potatoes in the back of the car steaming up the windows and driving us mad with hunger from the smell of it all. We will be welcomed into the home of dear friends, warm ourselves by a roaring fire, swap tales of glory and madness and workaday muddling, we will lift a toast to the hosts, to family and friends, and to the glorious game of chance that brought us all together in that place. We are that lucky.

When we sit at table, there will be no place set for Pop, who has gone from us after Thanksgivings beyond memory. In Woburn, there will be no place set for my beloved friend and roommate and partner in crime, who passed last week. At tables in every city and town and village from one shore to the other, places will not be set for those who cannot sit and eat, or join in a laugh, or share a tale, or simply smile, because they are also gone from us. There will be a hole in many tables and many hearts on this Thanksgiving Day, and that is a truth of this life.

So.

Hold tight to who you have in this world, even if you're down deep in a ditch. I hope someone sets a place at table for you on Thanksgiving, but if not, remember that you're still here, and if you're here, it means matters can change for the better, because you're here. Hold tight to who you have, and tell those who are your heart you love them. Do not let the grass grow under the last conversation you had with one who is a part of who you are. I am here to tell you, from the well of my soul, that it is a savage, brutal shock to lose that chance forever.

We live in a world of shrinking margins, of narrowing visions, a world ruled and ruined by fools. This is the fact of our time, and no one is going to fix it today. Tomorrow, perhaps, but in the meantime, hold close what you hold most dear, and give thanks for the chance of that holding. If you truly appreciate what you have, no matter how mean or meager, you are doing it right. On this day of all days, remember where you came from, contemplate where you are, imagine where you can be, stand stock still a moment, and be thankful that you are here.

"That the powerful play goes on," Mr. Whitman reminds us, "and you may contribute a verse."

Contribute a verse. Because you can. Because you are here.

Happy Thanksgiving.

For Brian

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Opinion Thu, 27 Nov 2014 09:55:46 -0500
Ferguson Thanksgiving: A Former Slave Proposed the Holiday 55 Years Before Lincoln. Why His Version Matters Today http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/27693-ferguson-thanksgiving-a-former-slave-proposed-the-holiday-55-years-before-lincoln-why-his-version-matters-today http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/27693-ferguson-thanksgiving-a-former-slave-proposed-the-holiday-55-years-before-lincoln-why-his-version-matters-today

Ferguson, Missouri. October, 2014.Ferguson, Missouri. October, 2014. (Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

This is a strange year, even an awful one, to celebrate Thanksgiving. A grand jury's refusal to indict Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson has crystallized ugly truths. Many Americans feel unsafe in their own neighborhoods, not despite law enforcement but because of it. In some places, the police act like an occupying force. If the law does not represent you but only governs you, you are a subject, not a citizen.

So what are the "blessings" that Americans should "gratefully acknowledge," as Abraham Lincoln put it in the 1863 proclamation creating the first national Thanksgiving? That you are one of the lucky first-class citizens who feel safe wherever you go and expect polite help from the police and other authorities? Or, if you aren't so lucky, that things aren't worse? That you're still walking around? Taking satisfaction in national blessings feels grotesque just now.

This November, I'm remembering a mostly forgotten American tradition that lies behind Thanksgiving's cheery feasting and mutual congratulation. In 1776, the Continental Congress announced "a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer," a day of acknowledging "manifold sins and transgressions" and seeking "sincere repentance and amendment of life." Such fasting days were fixtures of the founders' civic culture. Prayer, repentance, and thanksgiving were woven together in the national holidays that George Washington and other early presidents announced.

Yes, remembering national wrongs and seeking "amendment of life" seem better now than just being grateful. But even that 1776 proclamation contains the seeds of today's troubles. It warned that the British were trying to reduce Americans to "ignominious bondage" with the help of "the savages of the wilderness, and our own domestics"—that is, slaves. The prayer and repentance of 1776 were ways of seeking God's help in building a white man's colony, an empire of liberty pitched on the backs of unfree labor and land cleared with violence.

Ferguson arises from conditions—black poverty, mutual racial distrust, a tradition of policing by and for white people—that are the direct legacy of Jim Crow. Segregation, in turn, was the direct legacy of the slavery that many of the founders practiced and prayed for help in defending. The same words from 1776 contain a spirit of searching reflection and a steadfast willingness to protect what later generations would learn to call white privilege.

In 1808, preaching in Philadelphia, a former slave named Absalom Jones urged a national day of thanksgiving 55 years ahead of Abraham Lincoln. Jones's date was not a harvest festival but January 1, the dead of winter. Why? January 1, 1808, was the day that Congress banned the import of slaves. (The Constitution protected the slave trade until 1808, a time-limited compromise that the founders made iron-clad by immunizing it from amendment.) On that day of remembrance, Jones said, "the history of the sufferings of our brethren" should survive down "to the remotest generations." Absalom Jones's Thanksgiving is more help this November than Abraham Lincoln's or the founders'.

The root of thanks ties the word to think and thought: at its base it means "to hold in mind." Gratitude is a kind of remembrance, an act of holding in mind, and so is meditating on an unjust past that remains terribly present.

Lincoln praised "fruitful fields and healthful skies" in creating Thanksgiving. He also warned just 18 months later, in his second inaugural address, that after centuries of slavery, "every drop of blood of drawn with the lash" might be repaid with the sword before the country knew peace.

In a better Thanksgiving, we would try to hold both these thoughts at once, the call to gratitude and the call to justice. No doubt this is hard for everyone, and for different reasons. For some, racial inequality and fear are raw realities every day, and anything inspiring in American history rings false and remote. For others, the call to reflect on injustice feels like a personal accusation. But we are caught in this history together.

Lincoln's Thanksgiving proclamation called for thanks "with one heart and one voice by the whole American people." He did not say that, for those words to be more than hypocrisy or obtuseness, Americans needed to build a country where one voice could be possible. But he knew that they did. And still do.

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Opinion Thu, 27 Nov 2014 09:47:33 -0500