Truthout Stories Fri, 31 Jul 2015 11:22:06 -0400 en-gb Police Remove Activists From Portland Bridge After They Blocked Shell Ship

In Portland, Oregon law enforcement officers have removed Greenpeace activists who spent 40 hours suspended from the St. Johns Bridge in order to block an icebreaking ship commissioned by oil giant Shell from leaving for the Arctic. Hundreds of activists have been gathering on the bridge and in kayaks since Tuesday night in efforts to stop Shell's plans to drill in the remote Chukchi Sea. Early Thursday morning, the suspended Greenpeace activists successfully forced Shell's ship to turn back to port in a showdown that grabbed international headlines. Joining us to discuss the action is Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA.

Please check back later for full transcript.

News Fri, 31 Jul 2015 11:17:26 -0400
TransCanada's Keystone XL Permit Renewal Hearing Sheds Light on Serious Pipeline Risks

Just because TransCanada continually states that the Keystone XL pipeline will be the safest pipeline ever built, doesn’t mean it is true.

The company’s pipeline construction record is facing intense scrutiny in America’s heartland, where many see no justifiable rationale to risk their water and agricultural lands for a tar sands export pipeline.

New documents submitted as evidence in the Keystone XL permitting process in South Dakota — including one published here on DeSmog for the first time publicly — paint a troubling picture of the company’s shoddy construction mishaps. This document, produced by TransCanada and signed by two company executives, details the results of its investigation into the “root cause” of the corrosion problems discovered on the Keystone pipeline.

TransCanada Corporation is continuing its push to build the northern route of the Keystone XL pipeline. On July 27, the company appeared at a hearing in Pierre, South Dakota, to seek recertification of the Keystone XLconstruction permit that expired last year. 

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission must decide if TransCanada can guarantee it can build the pipeline under the conditions set in 2010, which it must do in order to have the permit reapproved.

High-profile spills and other incidents already tar TransCanada’s safety record. The company faces at least two known ongoing investigations by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). The incident records of the southern route of the Keystone XL (renamed the Gulf Coast Pipeline) and the Keystone 1 Pipeline call into question TransCanada’s claim that its pipelines are among the safest ever built. 

Over the last couple of years TransCanada’s public relations team, with the help of friendly regulators, have kept critical evidence away from the public and quashed many media inquiries.

But evidence of TransCanada’s poor performance continues to emerge. Earlier this year, DeSmog obtained documents revealing extreme external corrosion in a section of the Keystone 1 pipeline that was only two years old.

Documents the group obtained during discovery show that the corrosion occurred dangerously close to the Mississippi River near St. Louis.

“Talk about a near miss,” Robin Martinez, a lawyer for the grassroots citizens group Dakota Rural Action fighting to stop the permit, told DeSmog.

“Had the pipeline failed, the drinking water supply for a significant number of people could have been destroyed,” Martinez said.

“The Commission is abrogating its responsibility by refusing to look at evidence we want to present,” Martinez told DeSmog.“ It is abundantly clear to us the Commission doesn't want to look at anything from any other agencies.”  

Although Dakota Rural Action was denied the opportunity to enter into evidence documents showing TransCanada failed to follow the federally mandated code of construction while building the southern route of the Keystone XL, Martinez still believes he can present a very strong case against TransCanada’s permit renewal request.

“Granting a permit would be a risky venture for South Dakota, putting the state’s land and water at risk,” he said.

According to Martinez, the witnesses the group will present, including Evan Vokes, former TransCanada employee turned whistleblower, will make it clear that TransCanada’s corporate culture put profits over safety.

report by DeSmog earlier this year revealed an alarming rate of external corrosion to parts of TransCanada’s Keystone 1 pipeline. Documents obtained through a freedom of information act request indicated the pipeline was 95% corroded, leaving it paper-thin in one area (one-third the thickness of a dime) and dangerously thin in three other places, causing TransCanada to immediately shut it down.

In fact, TransCanada’s instrument readings state it was 96.8% corroded.

Due to PHMSA’s open investigation of the pipeline, regulators refused to turn over any documents that might explain the cause of the pipeline failure. 

But lawyers for the Dakota Rural Action group were able to compel TransCanada to turn over documents to which DeSmog and other media sources had been denied acess to — documents the group entered into evidence and is making public.

The documents include TransCanada’s root cause analysis explaining what caused the external corrosion incident in the Keystone 1 pipeline, where it took place and what the damaged pipeline looked like. The report shows how close to a catastrophic failure that pipeline was before a mandatory test exposed the problem. 

What caused such deep corrosion in Keystone 1 in a short period of time? Stray current interference, the company argues. A spokesperson for TransCanada told Politico the problems were linked to “low –voltage electric currents from the Keystone and a nearby pipeline interfering with one another.”

In laymen’s terms, that means “a bunch of professional engineers were behaving badly,” Vokes told DeSmog, “because there are adequate checks and balances in the regulations to avoid this.”

Vokes was not surprised when he reviewed the root cause analysis report, although it was the first time he saw photos of the pipeline’s coating that looked as if “it had been gnawed at by rats.”

When the line was shut down, Vokes advised reporters to look into what happened because he suspected that something very serious had gone wrong. “You don’t shut a pipe down that earns millions of dollars a day over a small anomaly,” he said. And that is how TransCanada described the incident to reporters in 2012.

Even with such damaging evidence, Vokes has doubts the Keystone XL permit will be denied.

“How are we supposed to have a fact-based hearing if the Commission won’t admit the documents into evidence?“ Vokes wonders.

TransCanada’s technical shortcomings are not the only hurdle the company has to overcome. The company is being challenged by Native American tribes. “Tribes have a trump card — the treaty rights,” Gary Dorr, of the Nez Perce Nation told DeSmog. “Treaty rights are the supreme law of the land.”

*The hearings will stream live on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission site.

News Fri, 31 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Seattle Led the Country's Minimum Wage Revolution. Can It Do the Same With Rent Control?

Major cities across the country may soon be finding inspiration from Seattle, the same city that last year sparked the movement for a $15-an-hour minimum wage. The progressive push this time is for what affordable housing proponents see as a necessary antidote to skyrocketing rents, a phenomenon plaguing major cities across the country.

Seattle currently finds itself in the midst of a grand dilemma experienced by other metropolitan cities: How do you maintain growth while simultaneously preserving standards of affordability?

The answer, according to at least one Seattle City Council member, is simple: rent control.

Kshama Sawant, the council member who helped spearhead the adoption of a $15 minimum wage ordinance passed in June 2014, is now calling for the Council to implement a rent control measure she says is critical to Seattle maintaining affordable housing for its residents.

"We aren't experiencing rent increases in this city. We're experiencing rents skyrocketing, because landlords are free to engage in price gouging under a system with no rent stabilization," said Sawant during an interview from her City Hall office.

Sawant said she is not calling for an all-out freeze on rent increases, but instead a ceiling that would prevent rates from soaring skyward, a distinction often lacking in discussions.

Many local housing affordability activists agree.

"Rent control is about regulating the rent market. Our city council needs to stop abdicating responsibility for affordable housing to private capital," said Joshua Farris, formerly the executive director of Standing Against Foreclosure and Eviction-Seattle, an anti-homelessness nonprofit.

Farris, who is now running for a City Council seat on the platform of "housing as a human right," was recently evicted from his home after his landlord nearly doubled his rent in the course of three months.

"People determine the rules by which the market works. It's not a question of do we need rent control. It's a question of how strong should our rent control be here," said Farris.

Sawant said she wants to see a policy where tenants would spend no more than 30 percent of their income on rent, with increases being tied directly to the rate of inflation.

Lessons From San Francisco

Rent control often serves as the Kanye West of city land use policy - championed just as often as derided. Although on the books of more than 200 cities nationwide, it has a record of being somewhat of a mixed bag. The densely populated cities of New York and San Francisco have both suffered from soaring rents and gentrification, despite each employing variations of rent control.

In San Francisco, more than 172,000 of about 381,000 housing units are rent controlled. However, as of last April, tenants could expect to pay an average of $3,458 per month for an apartment - a historic high for the city.

"[Rent] here equates to about $40,000 a year. Which means you have to make at least two to three times that to live somewhat comfortably," said Scott Weaver, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Tenants Union.

Weaver said that the reason rent control appears to be floundering in San Francisco is because of loopholes in the law that allow landlords to phase out those protections. The most pernicious of these loopholes, according to many affordable housing supporters, is a process known as vacancy decontrol.

Essentially it works as follows: Once a tenant moves out of a rent controlled apartment (or, once that person dies), a landlord is then permitted to raise the rent of the next tenant to whatever the market will allow; the apartment, in effect, is no longer subject to rent control. Weaver joins other tenants-rights activists in pointing to the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act of 1995 as establishing this practice.

"People who say rent control doesn't work here are uninformed. It just needs to be strengthened," said Weaver.

The case of San Francisco can serve as a valuable lesson for Seattle and other municipalities seeking to promote rent control policies, according to Sawant.

"The reason rent control supposedly doesn't work is that it is being phased out in these other cities," she said. "You have the real estate and landlord lobbies who have pushed through these various loopholes so as to water down rent control."

She compared it to the current state of public education: "We consistently defund public schools, and then turn around and say they don't work, we need free market solutions such as charter schools. The failure of policy becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Sawant said she is not suggesting a freeze on rent prices, just a method to halt extreme price hikes, ensuring rent increases are small enough to avoid economic evictions while leaving landlords with enough profit to finance maintenance and operations.

Her proposal has attracted a hive of critics who say that rent control will not abate the housing affordability crisis the city faces, pointing to the failure of rent control measures in cities that have experienced an astronomical rise. The proposal would also face several obstacles before being put up for a council vote, as Washington state law currently prohibits such regulation.

But Sawant said she's convinced that should a movement emerge from Seattle akin to the $15 minimum wage push, it will span the country.

"Struggles and victories, particularly victories that are achieved through organized struggle, are always contagious," she said. "There's no doubt that it will happen."

News Fri, 31 Jul 2015 10:53:40 -0400
The Americans With Disabilities Act Is a Model for the World - Literally

July 26 marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Its passage harkens back to a bygone era when Americans with disabilities could count on bipartisan efforts in the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Congress passed the ADA in 1990, and President George H.W. Bush signed it into law. Some years later, in 2008, President George W. Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act into law, seeking to restore the drafters’ intentions against a judicial onslaught that had effectively gutted the law.

Breaking with this bipartisan tradition, the Senate could not garner enough votes to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2012. The first human rights treaty of the 21st century, the CRPD is also the first legally binding international instrument with the power specifically to protect the rights of the world’s largest minority: the 1 billion persons with disabilities.

The Senate voted down the treaty against the advice of two esteemed World War II veterans who acquired disabilities during their service, Senator Bob Dole and Senator John McCain, and a host of other supporters from both parties. A decidedly tepid grassroots response failed to counter an overwhelming surge from right-wing homeschooling parent networks, who oppose the protections. A second attempt to ratify the CRPD in 2013 yielded a second defeat.

An International Disabilities Convention

Disability advocates from around the world have long looked to the United States as a leader in opening up space for persons with disabilities to thrive and flourish as full citizens. Borrowed in large part from the American disability rights framework and informed by principles reflected in our disability rights legislation, the CRPD is designed to secure full participation for persons with disabilities in all aspects of life, on an equal basis with others.

In an approach drawn directly from American disability law, the treaty prohibits disability discrimination and mandates the provision of reasonable accommodation that doesn’t impose an undue burden. The CRPD supports full participation and inclusion in the community as well as independence and autonomy, ideas that are hardly subversive to American values. Indeed they are the salient values of our republic. This is standard stuff for us — but not for the vast majority of countries around the world with legal frameworks that simply don’t support or welcome the inclusion of persons with disabilities in schools, workplaces, recreational facilities, or religious spaces.

Many path-breaking US laws on disabilities — the Architectural Barriers Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Education for all Handicapped Children Act (now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) — helped set international guidelines and became standardized in the CRPD. That makes the two US failures at ratification all the more striking.

Some 157 countries have ratified the CRPD. The Obama administration signed it in July 2009. The White House submitted the treaty to the Senate for ratification after a lengthy and very comprehensive inter-agency review process and extensive legal analysis. It prepared recommended reservations, understandings, and declarations that mitigate concerns about inconsistencies with our own legal framework.

Despite this careful consideration, the Senate voted down the measure. In so doing it sent the message that this treaty was not for us, but for the foreign “others” out there.

Human Rights Exceptionalism

In the 1950s, Senator John Bricker (R-OH) and his cohort saw international human rights as a major threat to the preservation of domestic racial discrimination in our country.

Fearful that human rights treaties might threaten America’s legislatively entrenched racism, Bricker proposed an amendment to the Constitution which would have made all treaties non-self-executing — meaning, among other things, that individuals would be unable to invoke treaty provisions in US courts without implementing legislation. This would have made it extremely difficult for the United States to join human rights treaties, helping to preserve racist state legislation.

The senator’s amendment was defeated, but resulted in a Pyrrhic victory. In order to defeat the amendment, the Eisenhower administration promised not to accede to any human rights treaties.

This retrogressive legacy lives on in an enduring resistance to US participation in human rights treaties that cuts across administrations. There remains a real disconnect between some of the human rights-strengthening activities we pursue abroad in USAID- and State Department-funded programs and what we’re doing back home.

During a summer when we’ve been starkly reminded of the deep roots of racism in our country, treaty ratification would signal a move beyond our cultural resistance to human rights treaties — and beyond the legacy of stalwart defenders of segregationist laws.

Until the Senate looks more favorably at ratifying the CRPD, I support Patricia Morrissey’s suggestion. She’s the president of the US International Council on Disabilities. “At a minimum we should amend section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act,” she says, “which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in federally conducted programs or activities and in federally financial assistance awarded in the US, by deleting ‘US’, and extending the reach of section 504 overseas.” Such a move should trigger bipartisan support.

According to Professor Jacobus tenBroek, a renowned law professor and legal scholar who was also blind, the United States wants Americans with disabilities to be abroad in the world. And we, as the longtime leader in disability rights law, policy, and practice, want a seat at the table as an unprecedented era of law reform and policy development occurs across the globe. Americans with disabilities deserve nothing less.

News Fri, 31 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
How Private Sector Is Cashing in on Pentagon's "Insatiable Demand" for Drone War Intelligence

Some months ago, an imagery analyst was sitting in his curtained cubicle at Hurlburt Field airbase in Florida watching footage transmitted from a drone above one of the battlefields in the War on Terror. If he thought the images showed someone doing anything suspicious, or holding a weapon, he had to type it in to a chat channel seen by the pilots controlling the drone's missiles.

Once an observation has been fed in to the chat, he later explained, it's hard to revise it - it influences the whole mindset of the people with their hands on the triggers.

"As a screener anything you say is going to be interpreted in the most hostile way," he said, speaking with the careful deliberation of someone used to their words carrying consequences.

He and the other imagery analysts in the airbase were working gruelling 12-hour shifts: even to take a bathroom break they had to persuade a colleague to step in and watch the computer screen for them. They couldn't let their concentration or judgement lapse for a second. If a spade was misidentified as a weapon, an innocent man could get killed.

"The position I took is that every call I make is a gamble, and I'm betting their life," he said. "That is a motivation to play as safely as I can, because I don't want someone who wasn't a bad guy to get killed."

In spite of his vital role in military operations, the analyst wasn't wearing a uniform. In fact, he wasn't working for the Department of Defense, or indeed any branch of the US government.

He was working for one of a cluster of companies that have made money supplying imagery analysts to the US military's war on terror.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism's award-winning drones team has spent six months exploring this intersection of corporate interests and global surveillance systems. Drawing on interviews with a dozen military insiders (including former generals, drone operators and imagery analysts), contracts obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, scores of contractor CVs publicly available on everyday job sites such as LinkedIn, and the analysis of millions of federal procurement records, the Bureau has identified ten private sector companies operating at the heart of the US's surveillance and targeting networks.

The private sector's involvement could grow: an Air Force official confirmed they are considering bringing in more contractors as it struggles to process the nearly half million hours of video footage filmed each year by drones and other aircraft.

Analysing this video can be a highly sensitive role. As one contractor analyst told the Bureau, "when you mess up, people die."

While the military's use of boots-on-the-ground contractors has prompted numerous congressional responses and tightened procurement protocol, among the general public few are even aware of the private sector's role behind the scenes processing military surveillance video.

"I think they've fallen under the radar to some degree," said Laura Dickinson (pictured), a specialist in military contracting at George Washington University Law School and author of 'Outsourcing War and Peace'. "It's not that these contractors are necessarily doing a bad job, it's that our legal system of oversight isn't necessarily well equipped to deal with this fragmented workforce where you have contractors working alongside uniformed troops."

In theory, these contractors aren't decision-makers. Military officials and project managers are there to ensure they perform effectively, and according to the terms of their contracts.

But past experience in Iraq and Afghanistan suggests that management of military contractors does not always work perfectly in practice, especially when demand for the services they provide is surging.

As one commander told the Bureau, demand for Air Force intelligence against threats such as Islamic State is currently "insatiable."

The ISR Revolution

Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, or ISR as it is known in military jargon, has become central to American warfare in recent years.

US counterterrorism operations such as the May 16 special forces raid on Islamic State commander Abu Sayyaf are critically dependent on the video captured by drones and other aircraft.

Analysts sitting thousands of miles away can tell a team on the ground the exact height of ladder they need to scale a building, or alert them to approaching militants. They can also establish a 'pattern of life', and what constitutes unusual movement in a particular place.

The aircraft are flown by pilots and operators from bases in the US, whilst the imagery analysts poring through the video they transmit are mostly housed in clusters of analysis centres - part of a warfighting structure spreading from Virginia to Germany known as the 'Distributed Common Ground System'.

Remotely Piloted Aircraft, as the US military prefers to call drones, are more often associated with firing missiles at the tribal areas of Pakistan and Yemen than with gathering intelligence.

But it is their intelligence capabilities - particularly the ability to collect and transmit video footage in close to real time - that have revolutionised warfare.

"In Kosovo the intelligence we would get was typically a photo, normally black and white, often from a plane that took it the day before," Lt Colonel David Haworth, director of combat operations at the US's Combined Air Operations Center in Qatar told the Bureau.

"It's like being able to talk on a can and a string before, and now I have a smartphone."

The number of daily drone combat air patrols (CAPs) - that is, the ability to observe a particular spot for 24 hours - went up from five in 2004 to 65 in 2014 as demand for the intelligence they offered soared in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Colonel Jim Cluff, the commander of the drone squadrons at Nevada's Creech Air Force Base, said the recent campaign against Islamic State has fuelled a new surge in demand.

"We're seeing just an insatiable demand signal," he said. "You cannot get enough ISR capability to meet all the warfighters' needs."

Meeting this demand is not simply a question of having enough aircraft. By 2010, according to a presentation by David Deptula, a now retired three star general who was asked to oversee the Air Force's rapidly evolving ISR expansion in 2006, the average Predator or Reaper CAP required 10 pilots and 30 video analysts.

"We're drowning in data," he told the Bureau.

"Growth Industry"

The military has always used the private sector to help operate its drone programmes; according to defence writer Richard Whittle, General Atomics, the manufacturer of the Predator, even supplied some of the pilots for the aircraft's first sorties.

The defence industry's supply of equipment to drone operations is well known, but the private sector's role in providing a workforce has been harder to pin down. Through extensive research, the Bureau has traced the contracting histories of eight companies which have provided the Pentagon with imagery analysts in the past five years (the CIA's transactions remain classified). Two more companies have been linked to the imagery analysis effort.

In 2007, defence industry behemoth SAIC - later rebranded Leidos - was contracted to provide services including imagery analysis to the Air Force Special Operations Command (Afsoc). A contracting document described SAIC's involvement as "intelligence support to direct combat operations." Its 202 contractors embedded in Afsoc were providing "direct support to targeting" among other functions (in military-speak, targeting can refer to surveillance of people and objects as well as lethal strikes).

In a bidding war to renew the deal in 2011, SAIC lost out to a smaller defence firm, MacAulay-Brown.

According to a copy of the contract obtained by the Bureau under a Freedom of Information Act request, MacAulay-Brown was tasked to "support targeting, information operations, deliberate and crisis action planning, and 24/7/365 operations." The company asked for $60 million to perform these functions over three years.

Afsoc required MacAulay-Brown to provide a total of 187 analysts, some of whom were sourced through partnership with another company, Advanced Concepts Enterprises.

A portion of this work was to be carried out outside the US, according to the contract. The Bureau found two CVs posted online by people who had worked for MacAulay-Brown in Afghanistan. Both were embedded with special operations forces supporting targeting.

In January this year the latest award for Afsoc intelligence support went to another company, Zel Technologies. According to a document describing the scope of the contract, Zel was set to provide fewer overall analysts than MacAulay-Brown, but more imagery experts. Zel was also required to offer subject matter experts "in the areas of the Horn of Africa, Arabian Peninsula, Somalia, Syria, Iran, North Africa, Trans Sahel region, Levant region, Gulf States and territorial waters." Afsoc has paid out $12 million for the first year, with options on the contract due to last until January 2018.

Although Zel Technologies is now the prime contractor, MacAulay-Brown is providing some of the intelligence specialists the contract demands. Indeed, it is not unusual for analysts to simply move from company to company as contracts for the same set of services change hands. They market themselves on recruitment sites with a surreal blend of corporate and military jargon.

One boasts of having supported the "kill / capture" of "High Value Targets." Others go in to detail about their expertise in things like establishing a pattern of life and following vehicles.

The Air Force is not the only agency that employs contractor imagery analysts. Intrepid Solutions, a small business based in Reston, Virginia, received an intelligence support contract with the Army's Intelligence and Security Command in 2012, scheduled to run until 2017.

In 2012 TransVoyant LLC, a leading player in real-time intelligence and analysis of big data based in Alexandria, Virginia, was awarded a contract with a maximum value set at $49 million to provide full motion video analysts for a US Marine Corps "exploitation cell" deployed in Afghanistan. Transvoyant had taken over this role from the huge Virginia-based defence companyGeneral Dynamics.

In 2010, the Army gave a million-dollar contract to a translation company, Worldwide Language Resources, to provide US forces in Afghanistan with "intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance collection management and imagery analysis support."

In the same year, the Special Operations Command awarded an imagery analyst services contract to the firm L-3 Communications, which was to net the company $155 million over five years.

Defence industry giants BAE Systems and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's former employer Booz Allen Hamilton are also involved in the US's ISR effort.

BAE Systems describes itself as "the leading provider of full-motion video analytic services to the intelligence community with more than 370 personnel working 24 hours a day." The Bureau has traced some of the activities it carried out through social media profiles of company employees. People identifying themselves as video and imagery analysts for BAE state that they have used real-time and geo-spatial data to support tracking and targeting.

A job advert posted on June 10 by BAE gave further insight into the services provided. The posting sought a "Full Motion Video (FMV) Analyst providing direct intelligence support to Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)" to be "part of a high ops tempo team, embedded in a multi-intelligence fusion watch floor environment."

Booz Allen Hamilton has also aided the intelligence exploitation effort for special operations command at Hurlburt Field. Its role included "ongoing and expanding full motion video PED operational intelligence mission," according to transaction records. A recent job ad shows the company is looking for video analysts to join its team "providing direct intelligence support to the Global War on Terror."

The hundreds of millions of dollars paid to these companies for imagery analysis represent just a fraction of the private sector's stake in America's global surveillance effort. The Bureau has found billions of dollars of contracts for a range of ISR services. These include the provision of smaller drones, the supply and maintenance of data collection systems, and the communications infrastructure to fly the drones and connect their sensors with analysts across the other side of the world. These contracts have gone to companies including General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Ball Aerospace, Boeing, Textron and ITT Corporation.

General Deptula believes military demand for ISR will continue to grow.  As he puts it, "Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance is a growth industry."

Private Eyes

In the Air Force at least, contractor imagery analysts are still in the minority of the work force. Around one in 10 of the people working in the processing, exploitation and dissemination (PED) of intelligence is estimated to be either a government civilian or a contractor. The Hurlburt Field analyst, who is here referred to as John (like other analysts interviewed, he didn't want his real name to be published because of the sensitivity of the subject matter) estimates that they represent around an eighth of the analysts working there in support of Special Operations.

John argues that taking on even a small number of contractors helps ease the strain on the uniformed force without incurring the expense of pensioned, trained, health-insured employees.

"Contractors are used to fill the gap to give enough manpower to provide flexibility necessary for military to do things like take leave," he said.

Contractor imagery analysts are invariably ex-military, but the framework of their employment and their incentives are differently aligned once they join the private sector.

"In the military no-one's obligated to respect your time," explained John. "There were months you'd never get off days - If they need you to clean the bathroom on your off day that's what you've got to do."

"As a contractor you're not as invested in the unit…your motivations are going to be more selfish."

John and other analysts stressed however that contractors were highly professional, and able to provide a concentration of expertise.

"By the time an airman has built up enough experience to be competent at the job it's usually time to change their duty location. Age also has a lot to do with the professionalism of contractors. Most contractors are at the youngest mid to late 20s, whereas Airmen are fresh out of high school," said one analyst. "As an FMV (analyst), you cannot identify something unless you've seen it before."

Screening for Trouble

According to John the PED units at Hurlburt Field were much smaller than those of regular Air Force crews, consisting of only about three or four people.

As well as an analyst to watch the video in near real-time, and one to make the call on whether to type an observation in to the chat channel (often described as a 'screener'), units typically also need a geospatial analyst to cross-reference the images brought up on the screen with other data. 

Sitting there watching a video screen sounds simple, but the herculean amount of concentration involved requires real discipline and commitment. According to analysts interviewed, between 80 and 85% of the time is spent on long-term surveillance, when very little is happening. "You can go days and weeks watching people do nothing," said John.

Another contractor interviewed said that because of the "long durations of monotonous and low activity levels," a good analyst needs "attention to detail and a vested interest in the mission."

"Many of the younger analysts view the job as a game," he said. "It is critical to understand everything that happens, happens in real life. When you mess up, people die. In fact, the main role of the FMV analyst is to ensure that does not happen."

The screeners type their observations in to a chat channel called mIRC, which is seen by the drone pilot and sensor operator, who are usually sitting in a different base. The Mission Coordinator, or Mission Intelligence Coordinator, typically sitting on the same base as the pilot and operator and communicating with them through a headset, helps ensure they don't miss anything important in the mIRC.

Sometimes, John said, the analysts and the Mission Coordinator will communicate directly with each other in what is known as a "Whisper chat."

"It gives you a way to say 'this is what we think we saw,'" he explained, adding dryly, "a large part of the job is an exercise in trying not to kick the hornets' nest." According to John, once you've influenced the mentality of the pilot and operator by typing something which could signal hostility in to the chat, it's hard to retract it.

He likens his role to that of a citizen tipping off armed police about criminals.

"As a civilian I don't have authority to arrest someone, but if I call the police and say 'this person's doing something', and say 'I think that guy's dangerous'…the police are going to turn up primed to respond to the threat, they'll turn up trusting my statement," he said. "It could be argued that I was responsible, but I'm not the one shooting."

John said that in his unit, imagery analysts usually took a back seat once the use of force had been authorised.

Because there is usually a slight delay between the drone crew receiving the feed and the analysis crew seeing it, John said, "in a situation where it gets high-paced they (military personnel)'ll cut the screener out entirely."

The other analyst however said that in his experience the PED unit still maintained its function for "identifying and confirming IMINT (imagery intelligence) lock on the target" once force is authorised. Video analysts, he said, had the capability to tell other crew members to abort a strike under some circumstances, and the analyst could receive "blowback" when things went wrong. The video analyst is the "subject matter expert," he explained. "As such you have an important role in all the events that have led up to the determination for using force on the target. While you are not the one firing the missile, a misidentification of an enemy combatant with a weapon and a female carrying a broom can have dire consequences."

Inherently Governmental?

Given the Air Force's efforts to keep contractors out of sensitive, decision-making positions, the contractors' role in supporting targeting seems surprising, at first glance.

Charles Blanchard was the Air Force's chief lawyer between 2009 and 2013 when he advised the officials spearheading these efforts.

He describes himself as a "purist" when it comes to contractors flying armed drones. But for a function like imagery analysis, his view is more flexible. "I'd be comfortable with some contractors sprinkled in to this framework because you have so many eyes on one target usually," he said.

"I'd be uncomfortable with contractors advising the commander 'here's where the target is', unless the data collected and analysed was so clear that the Commander could confirm this for themselves, as often happens."

The constraints on using contractors are often more to do with command culture than the "mushy" legal framework surrounding inherently governmental functions, Blanchard explained.

"A commander in the military justice system has a lot more authority to take action where mistakes are made. Someone in blue uniform - or green or white - is someone they feel they have authority over."

The consensus seems to be that contractors effectively taking targeting decisions is undesirable.

MacAulay-Brown's contract with Afsoc stipulated that the contractors were not to be "placed in a position of command, supervision, administration of control" over military or civilian personnel.

There are concerns that such safeguards may be diluted in practice if contractor use goes up.

One of the analysts interviewed said that contractors were already relied on for their greater expertise and experience, effectively placing them in the chain of command.

"It will always be military bodies or civilian government bodies as the overall in charge of the missions…however you will have experienced contractors act as a 'right-hand man' many times because typically contractors are the ones with subject matter expertise, so the military/government leadership lean on those people to make better mission related decisions," he said.

The Profit Motive

Although it is hard for the military to discipline contractors, people are keeping tabs on them and providing them with an incentive to do their jobs well.

John noted that the knowledge that "you can get fired" is a motivational factor for contractors.

In theory, the possibility of losing the contract should also incentivise the contractors' bosses to field the best possible staff and manage them closely.

Jerome Traughber of the Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy is a former program manager for airborne reconnaissance acquisitions in the Air Force. He said that in his experience of intelligence support services, a company's bid and performance would be scrutinised closely, with incentive fees built in.

"If a contractor wasn't measuring up we'd make a change very quickly," he said.

A large part of the monitoring is done through contracting officers, who liaise with other personnel inside the warfighting unit to evaluate the performance of the contractors embedded there.

Traughber acknowledged, however, that during the surge in Afghanistan, when thousands of contracts needed to be overseen, contracting officers and their counterparts inside military units were overwhelmed by their work load.

Nor is it clear that poor performance would necessarily prevent a company getting another contract. Daniel Gordon, a retired law professor and previous Administrator of Federal Procurement Policy, argues that the past performance criteria that contracting officers are supposed to take in to account when awarding bids might not always be rigorously assessed.

"As soon as you start saying the contractor didn't do a good job you risk having litigation, lawyers are going to get involved, it's just not worth it, so… everyone's ok, no-one's outstanding, which makes the rating system completely meaningless," he said.

Another potential problem with the profit motive as a way of delivering good performance is that contractor pay has reportedly gone down.

Mary Blackwell, the president of Advanced Concepts Enterprises, one of the subcontractors who provided analysts in Hurlburt Field, said that since mandatory defence budget caps took effect in 2013, the value of contracts has decreased.

Imagery analysts, along with everyone else, have seen their pay cut by between 15 and 20%, she said.

"The military people - their pay is set. The only place where there's any room is the contracts."

This could drive down quality in the long term, contractors say. "It is running good analysts off," said one. "The quality of force is suffering."

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism contacted all of the contractors named in this story with a series of questions. None provided a statement, though several directed queries towards the US military. The Pentagon and the US Air Force were contacted for comment with a series of questions about transparency and oversight for contractors involved in ISR.

A spokeswoman for the Air Force said ISR was "vital to the national security of the United States and its allies," and there was an "insatiable demand" for it from combatant commanders. She said this demand was the reason for increasing use of contractors, which she said was a "normal process within military operations."

On the issue of whether private contractors' assessments risk pre-empting the military's official decisions, she said the service had thorough oversight and followed all appropriate rules.

"Current AF Judge Advocate rulings define the approved roles for contractors in the AF IRS's processing, exploitation and dissemination capability," she said.

"Air Force DCGS [Distributed Common Ground System] works closely with the Judge Advocate's office to ensure a full, complete, and accurate understanding and implementation of those roles.  Oversight is accomplished by Air Force active duty and civilian personnel in real time and on continual basis with personnel trained on the implementation of procedural checks and balances.

Transparency Gap

Contractors such as John pride themselves on their professionalism and skill. But as ISR demand continues to rise, robust oversight is needed - in particular to ensure contractors do not creep into decision-making roles.

"There are tremendous pressures for that ratio of contractors to governmental personnel to swell," she argued.

"If that ratio balloons, oversight could easily break down, and the current prohibition on contractors making targeting decisions could become meaningless.

Laura Dickinson argues the lack of information about drone operations makes such oversight much harder.  "We urgently need more transparency," she said.

The Department of Defense now publishes a quarterly report on the number of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, with a breakdown of their functions, but Dickinson said she was not aware of any such information being released on contractors in drone operations.

"There are tremendous pressures for that ratio of contractors to governmental personnel to swell," she argued.

"If that ratio balloons, oversight could easily break down, and the current prohibition on contractors making targeting decisions could become meaningless."

A version of this story appeared in the Guardian.

News Fri, 31 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Lobbying and Campaign Cash Fuel GOP Attacks on Endangered Species

Corporate lobbyists and conservative lawmakers are working to undermine the protections for endangered species that stand in the way of big agriculture and oil and gas development.


A male sage grouse in Owyhee, Idaho. Large oil companies and their industry groups have repeatedly lobbied members of Congress to prevent the placement of certain threatened species on the endangered list, including the sage grouse - which exist in areas they want to drill.A male sage grouse in Owyhee, Idaho. Large oil companies and their industry groups have repeatedly lobbied members of Congress to prevent the placement of certain threatened species on the endangered list, including the sage grouse - which exist in areas they want to drill. (Photo: Gary O. Grimm/Flickr)

Last year, Exxon Mobile lobbied Congress on a bill that would have placed the greater sage-grouse on the endangered species list. BP lobbied on "Endangered Species Act issues impacting oil and gas development including prairie chicken and sage grouse," according to federal lobbying records.

In 2008, Shell Oil lobbied on the listing of polar bears as an endangered species. The records do not specify the company's position on the issue, but they do indicate that the lobbying was part of an aggressive push to open federal waters in the Arctic to oil drilling.

The sage-grouse and prairie chicken are both western fowl that have seen their populations decline dramatically along with their habitat, and conservationists are fighting to keep them from disappearing entirely. The prairie chicken is currently listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, and the sage-grouse is a candidate for federal protection.

"[The birds] exist in areas where they want to drill - Idaho, Nebraska, Utah, those type of states where there is a lot of oil and gas development," said Jamie Pang, a researcher with the Center for Biological Diversity. "They are literally in the way of oil and gas development."

A Truthout review of lobbying records found that large oil companies and their industry groups have repeatedly lobbied members of Congress to prevent the placement of certain threatened species on the endangered list. These groups have also pushed for a growing list of bills and riders that environmentalists say are designed to weaken the Endangered Species Act.

Environmentalists say that corporate campaign cash may also be influencing lawmakers. A report, coauthored by Pang and released this week, found that the number of "legislative attacks" on endangered species has grown considerably since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling that unleashed a flood of outside campaign spending by corporations and wealthy donors.

This doesn’t bode well for the American burying beetle, which would lose its endangered species protections under several proposals introduced in Congress.

"The American burying beetle is the biggest threat to the Keystone pipeline right now," said Pang, referring to the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and has become an ongoing national controversy. 

Chipping Away at Endangered Species Protections

There have been 166 pieces of legislation aimed at weakening endangered species protections introduced in Congress since 2011, but only 69 were recorded between 1996 and 2010, according to the report. Republicans have introduced 93 percent of the legislation and every one of the 66 bills and riders that have been introduced so far this year.

Some of these "legislative attacks" have sought to weaken the Endangered Species Act in general, but lawmakers have become increasingly focused on reducing or removing protections for specific species that stand in the way of industrial development, as big agriculture and fossil fuel interests fill their campaign coffers with record contributions.

Together, five Republicans are responsible for nearly 25 percent of the 166 pieces of legislation introduced since 2011, and each one has benefited from campaign contributions from industries seeking to undo endangered species protections, according to the report.

Ken Calvert (R-California) leads the pack with 10 bills aimed at species ranging from the mountain yellow-legged frog to the African elephant. Calvert has received $665,009 from big agriculture interests and $277,074 from oil and gas interests during his career.

John Cornyn (R-Texas), who has introduced legislation to weaken protections for several endangered salamanders in his state, has received nearly $1.7 million from big agriculture and $2.9 million from oil and gas interests during his career.

Some of the pieces of legislation are bills and others are stealth riders tucked away deep inside massive spending bills and other must-pass legislation.

A rider that Calvert tacked on to a bill to fund the multiagency Interior Department, introduced in June, for example, would remove gray wolves in the Great Lakes region from the endangered species list but does not mention the gray wolf by name. The rider would force US Fish and Wildlife to reissue a 2011 rule, delisting the wolves, which was struck down in court, and that rule is only identified by its listing in the federal register. Pang said she suspects that big agriculture interests pushed for the rider because wolves are perceived as a threat to cattle.

The report notes that most of the legislation has little chance of passing, but a few have been successful in the past, including a 2011 rider that delisted gray wolves living in the Rocky Mountain region. The legislation can also have a chilling effect on the agencies tasked with monitoring and conserving endangered and threatened species, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service has already weakened protections for the sage-grouse and the northern long-eared bat.

Save the Manatees

Pang said the Endangered Species Act, which was passed by a unanimous vote in 1973, is designed to facilitate citizen participation in conservation policies and has been highly successful at recovering species like gray whales and bald eagles from the brink of extinction. The act enjoys the support of the vast majority of voters, so its conservative critics look seriously out of touch when they meet with business interests behind closed doors to undermine it.

Pang pointed to Rob Bishop (R-Utah), one of the top five Republicans who have railed against protections for endangered species but has recently become an apparent fan of Florida's endangered manatees. Bishop made headlines last month when he attempted to use the endangered status of manatees to help thwart the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

Bishop argued that the Obama administration failed to consult wildlife officials when designing the plan, which could force some old and especially dirty coal plants to shut down. Manatees like to gather in the warm water expelled by coal plants in Florida, Bishop argued, so the clean power rule could adversely impact the marine mammals if the plants closed.

Calling on the Endangered Species Act only when it benefits polluters is probably not a good way to protect the environment and its wildlife. Perhaps that's why environmentalists like Pang want endangered species policies to be based on the best available science, not the interests of corporate lobbyists and campaign donors.

News Fri, 31 Jul 2015 10:34:39 -0400
The Attack on Planned Parenthood, a View From Inside ALEC

At the recent annual American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the newest smear campaign against Planned Parenthood was cause célèbre for the Republican presidential candidates selling their wares. Despite the fact that ALEC purports not to address social issues including abortion, on the other side of the convention wall were the national anti-abortion groups.

A protester stands outside a Planned Parenthood office.A protester stands outside a Planned Parenthood office. (Photo: JBrazito/Flickr)When I went to work for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin (PPWI) in 2003 as their legislative director, I was unprepared for the attacks this organization experiences on a routine basis. There are organizations solely dedicated to shutting Planned Parenthood down, and more pop up every day. Even before the 2010 tea party takeover in state Capitols around the country, including ours, the relentless legal and political attacks on Planned Parenthood were unending.

I thought I knew something about courage, but what I learned at PPWI was that I knew nothing about it. The staff and physicians who walk into a health center every day, who are targeted and harassed while their workplace is sometimes vandalized and threatened, are the heroes. And they do it every day because there are thousands of women in our state who simply wouldn't have access to birth control, cervical and breast cancer screens or testing and treatment for Sexually Transmitted Diseases without PPWI. Even though abortion is only a tiny piece of the services PPWI provides, it is a critical service. And there are people in our state who risk their lives every day to provide it.

When I was elected as a state representative, I saw the attempts to shut PPWI and abortion access down up close and personal. Some legislators in our state capitol are there solely to make abortion, and birth control, illegal. And they will stop at nothing to do it.

You can see their efforts now in their reaction to the latest smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. Newly proposed state legislation is targeted not only at abortion, but also at birth control. A new bill would lower birth control reimbursement rates for safety net providers serving low-income women to a level that could shut most or all of these health centers down. And though Governor Walker and legislative Republicans have already denied any state funding for birth control and cancer detection efforts PPWI provides (no public monies can be used for abortion services), they now are attempting to deny any federal family planning funds to providers, including PPWI.

And it is a national effort. At the recent annual American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the newest smear campaign against Planned Parenthood was cause célèbre for the Republican presidential candidates selling their wares. Despite the fact that ALEC purports not to address social issues including abortion, on the other side of the convention wall were the national anti-abortion groups exhibiting their model policies and rubber fetuses. ALEC and the anti-abortion movement have many of the same funding sources and have the same goals - electing Republicans across this country who will carry out their agendas.

Under the ALEC banner of free markets and limited government, Scott Walker touted defunding PPWI, though he failed to mention that the result was the shutting down of five mostly rural health centers that didn't provide abortions but cervical and breast cancer screens (new numbers just released last week show that 25% fewer women had access to a women's health center in 2013 than in 2010). Mike Huckabee referred to the legalization of abortion as the prime example of our country's moral depravity. Ted Cruz, the most verbally strident of the three, speaking by video at the conference, referenced specifically shutting down Planned Parenthood. Though all three talked about smaller government, it apparently doesn't apply to women's private medical decisions, when they want government as big and intrusive as possible.

But the biggest lesson I have learned about reproductive health issues hasn't been in the Capitol or even working at PPWI, but as a woman who struggled through six pregnancies, more than half unsuccessfully. The biggest lesson I learned is that decisions women make about our reproductive health aren't about death, but about life. About living. Whether we are making decisions when faced with an unintended pregnancy, or when a wanted pregnancy goes heartbreakingly wrong, we are simply trying to live the life we imagine for ourselves and our families.

And this is where the right is the most out of touch. They want to talk about death and fetal tissue and body parts, leaving women out of the discussion on abortion and reproductive health. They ignore the reality of women's lives, and the dreams that we have for ourselves and the families we may, or may not, someday have.

To the right, they want to stamp out abortion by stamping out Planned Parenthood. But what they really want is to stamp out our ability to make the most personal, private decisions about our lives. They are using the latest campaign to shut down Planned Parenthood to do just that.

We must make sure that doesn't happen.

Opinion Fri, 31 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Ordinary Hero: Jerry Berrigan Cared a Whole Awful Lot

A lifetime of peaceful protest brought Jerry Berrigan many places, including the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.A lifetime of peaceful protest brought Jerry Berrigan many places, including the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. (Photo: Wikipedia)It's the same way every night. My wife and I walk our daughter into her room at bedtime, change her clothes, play "Bounce" (which basically involves letting her jump around like a monkey so as to spend the last lingering scraps of her formidable arsenal of little-girl energy), and then it's story time. I light the lamp, occupy the Reading Chair, she crawls into my lap and nestles close, and we choose.

"Where the Wild Things Are?"


"The Very Hungry Caterpillar?"


"The Cat in the Hat?"


"Oh, The Places You'll Go?"


"Goodnight Moon?"


"Then what will we read?"

"The Lorax!"


"Yeah! Again! Again!"

... and I selfishly sigh, because lost time is the first fate of fatherhood. I'll admit it: I push for "Caterpillar" and "Wild Things" because they're wonderful, but are also because they're blessedly short at the close of long days. No such luck; my daughter is bonkers for The Lorax, and so I drop my blade and plow through it night after night upon darling request ... and I am here to tell you that I will put my recitation of that tale up against any and all challengers. Dr. Seuss and I are blood brothers.

... and every single time, when I reach the second-to-last page, right before the Once-ler gifts the last Truffula seed, I get to read this to my little girl:

The word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear.
UNLESS someone like you
Cares a whole awful lot
Nothing is going to get better.
It's not.

Jerry Berrigan died in Syracuse on Sunday at the towering age of 95 years old. Philip and Daniel, his brothers - both priests - became known and beloved as singular activists over the years. Jerry Berrigan gained no such fame, but he also dropped his blade and served his fellow humans well, and we are this day lessened by his absence.

Jerry Berrigan served three years in World War II. He marched the Pettus Bridge in the name of freedom and civil rights in Selma, Alabama. He smelled the gas, saw the violence, and stood. He poured blood on the Pentagon itself, and on a nuclear missile nosecone. He took a can of spray paint and wrote the word "Shame" on a Federal building to protest the war in Iraq. He was arrested more than 30 times over the years for the cause of peace, the last one when he was 92 and protesting drone warfare.

A former seminarian, he was active in the Catholic Worker movement thanks to his long friendship with Dorothy Day. He ministered to prisoners and homeless people. He taught English, composition, literature and Shakespeare, and according to his family, regularly donated almost sixty percent of his annual income to various charities. He had a smile a mile wide, never sought the spotlight, and lived a life of good works in full.

When word of his passing reached the office of the Mayor of Syracuse, the flags at City Hall were ordered lowered to half-mast.

Jerry's brother Daniel wrote this a long time ago:

Some stood up once, and sat down.
Some walked a mile, and walked away.

Some stood up twice, then sat down.
"It's too much," they cried.

Some walked two miles, then walked away.
"I've had it," they cried,

Some stood and stood and stood.
They were taken for fools,
they were taken for being taken in.

Some walked and walked and walked -
they walked the earth,
they walked the waters,
they walked the air.

"Why do you stand?" they were asked, and
"Why do you walk?"

"Because of the children," they said, and
"Because of the heart, and
"Because of the bread,"

"Because the cause is
the heart's beat, and
the children born, and
the risen bread."

You wonder where you'll finish when all is said and done, you know? You wonder where you'll fetch up once you've played out your string, and if any damn thing you've done amounts to that single damn ... and then Jerry Berrigan passes away, beloved brother of Philip and Daniel, a trio whose towering devotion to justice and peace has no peer, and you pause, and take honest stock.

Jerry Berrigan put in the work, in your name and mine, for more years than I've been on the planet. He lived and died in grace and service to his fellow souls. He was, and will ever remain, a man standing for his human family, a strand of hair on the head of God, a member of a bloodline that has saved more lives than can be appropriately accounted.

Tonight, when a reading of The Lorax is again demanded by my daughter, and I recite from memory, "UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not," I will also whisper to her the story of Jerry Berrigan, of his brothers Daniel, and Philip, and of the work.

And of the heart's beat, and the children born, and the risen bread.

Jerry Berrigan cared a whole awful lot.

Be that guy.

Opinion Fri, 31 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Failure - and Future - of Democracy in Europe

There's at least one reason we should be grateful to the Greek people for exposing the European Union's democratic dysfunction this summer: Their recent referendum showed that majority rule is impossible in a multinational union.

Creating the illusion of democratic decisions within the EU, even when there is no clear will among the member states, has returned like a boomerang with the recent Greek vote - the Greek people voted overwhelmingly against more austerity, but their European neighbors forced it on them anyway. This is especially relevant for a group of states with a single currency, a single financial pillar that supports not only a vast economic-monetary-regulatory platform, but the destiny of multiple countries and millions of human lives.

Thomas Jefferson was right when he claimed that "banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties then standing armies." With the Greek government's reluctant decision to accept a proposed bailout plan in which nobody believes, Greeks are heading toward death by installment.

The Greek lesson is not new. A number of multinational states have fallen apart due to irreconcilable differences - between national sovereignty and the democratic principle of majority rule - that have enabled big nations to impose their will on the small ones. The Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and even Czechoslovakia fell apart after democratic elections simply because every nation wants to decide its own destiny. Therefore democracy is beautiful and efficient as long as it acts within national boundaries. But in a union of states like the EU, the issue of decision-making among nations presents a big problem.

To this end I wrote a seemingly bold statement in the first part of an article last year, claiming that "the will of the people" would be the reef past which the EU would be unable to sail without serious reforms and changes. Absent those changes, the EU risked foundering on the reef and breaking up.

The Greek referendum has confirmed exactly this. They are a nation and can autonomously decide their destiny, even at their own expense. The problem is that their decision will not be without consequences for other nations - which are also in the EU, use the Euro, and retain the right to take a different position. If Greece's destiny were decided by a referendum of the whole of the EU - according to the principle one EU citizen, one vote - everything would be different. The largest nations or interest alliances would have the majority in such power brawls.

This political inevitability may have inspired the great playwright Henrik Ibsen to quip: "The majority is always wrong; the minority is rarely right."

In short, the future of Europe is caught in a very simple paradox. This paradox has been swept under the rug for decades, camouflaged by bureaucratic regulations concerning energy-saving light bulbs and the length and shape of vegetables. Nobody has seriously dealt with the unsustainability of decision-making within the EU since a fairly decent attempt in the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe in 2004.

At this level of its development, the EU is obviously not able to face these facts. But the facts won't go away. Winston Churchill's simple wisdom has been haunting the EU ever since the statesman's speech at the University of Zürich in 1946: "The structure of the United States of Europe will be such as to make the material strength of a single state less important," he predicted. "Small nations will count as much as large ones and gain their honor by a contribution to the common cause."

As we can see, we're not much closer to this ideal now than we were in Churchill's times.

In this fashion we can understand the frustrations of the European bureaucracy. In its inability to seek truly important political solutions for the progress of the EU, it has produced loads of unnecessarily precise directives for almost everything, from cattle farming to waste disposal and the shapes of yogurt cups. Yet when a single member state decides to refuse the EU's proposal, the mighty Union is shaken to its foundation.

The biggest problem here isn't not knowing how to proceed; far worse, it's not knowing how to go back.

The Greek decision is - like it or not - only a decision by an EU member state. It's entirely legitimate, entirely legal, and entirely within the framework of basic principles on which the EU functions and was founded on. The same goes for the French and the Dutch referendums in 2005 that, by a convincing majority, rejected the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe and most likely averted the first step on the path to Churchill's vision of a United States of Europe.

Ironically, French President Francois Hollande is the first to admit that the EU needs to be reformed - exactly as it was proposed 10 years ago and rejected by the French in that 2005 referendum!

The EU is a structure in which a gigantic monetary building stands on a political pillar that is a mere toothpick. Hollande is now proposing to strengthen the toothpick by turning the current consensus decision-making into a government and a parliament of the 18 countries using the euro. But again, this kind of structure has so far not worked in a multinational exercise so far. To make a United States of Europe without Europeans is no more sensible than making America without Americans.

When Cicero was campaigning for senator in the year 64 BC, his immensely cunning brother Quintus, a precursor of the great Machiavelli, advised him how to win in that decisive year for Rome and ascend to the levels of power: "Promise them anything, look them in the eyes and lie, spread joy and optimism. After the elections you will keep some of the promises, especially the ones which suit you."

The similarity of the current Greek story with this antique wisdom is by no mean accidental. Its moral is far above the banality of the common saying that "those who don't work, should not eat." Ultimately we are united on this European ship more than we might think, and definitely more than we're aware of.

News Fri, 31 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Sandra Bland Was Killed for Standing Up to State Power

Sandra Bland should not be dead but she may have taken her own life. I awoke this morning thinking about Sandra and that edited (and here and here) dash cam video. It is clear, to my mind at least, that sista refused the oppressors oppression, did not mince words, and quite possibly chose her own destiny.

Prior to watching the edited video I doubted Sandra would take her own life. I still do. But there's a possibility that she did. I doubted Sandra would commit suicide because I believed the police state would kill her first and enjoy it. I still do. Why wouldn't I?

We are living in the wild wild West. Black flesh is the prey. And the state seems to be out for blood. Sandra knew this too. Dead black flesh line our streets and media daily. So of course when this story first broke I pondered the possibility of murder and I refused the narrative of self-affliction.

But the truth is, we don't know.

What we do know is, though edited, there is power in that dash cam. The video shows something we haven't seen. It shows a black woman embracing her right to be angry. Too often these kinds of violent and traumatic videos reveal unarmed black men and women being beaten into submission by seemingly powerful police abusing their authority. We hear "I can't breathe" and "why'd you shoot me?" We see black folk running. We see hands up.

But we rarely see the embodiment of black womanish dis/respectability politics that Sandra provides. In the video we hear her state her rights. We hear her ask at least 14 times the reason for arrest. We hear her call bullshit. We hear her signify the arresting officer as "scary," "bitch ass," "pussy ass," and "mother fucker." We hear her name his fear and pursuit of power. We hear her let the arresting officer know that he has no real power over her, that all he can do is arrest her body. We hear her call out the black female police officer who rushes to the scene claiming she'd seen everything. We hear Sandra refuse that revisioning and name her own truth.

Sandra told her mother that her purpose in life was to fight oppression in Texas. From what we can tell from the edited dash cam video, she went down fighting with the only thing she had: her voice. Even through her tears and physical pain Sandra spoke courageously, unapologetically and unequivocally. She noted the arresting officers' violence as a sign of weakness and his need to feel "like a man." She noted the black woman officers' eager participation in the horrid ordeal as a shame.

I found power in Sandra's voice.

In Sandra I heard Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and Fannie Lou Hamer. I saw a woman who knew her power, who refused to accept white supremacist antiblackness as normative. I saw a woman who refused to let the police state have her. I saw a woman who was rightfully angry and refused to be quiet about it. I saw a woman who found joy in her work and had every intention of making a difference in this world. I saw a woman who knew her value. I saw a woman who chose her own pleasures, to include smoking cigarettes while driving. I saw a woman who knew the power of voice and who knew the power of media.

I'd like to see all of the unedited footage of Sandra in jail. If they bashed her head and tried to break her wrists in public, we have to raise questions about what did they did in private. The historical archives certainly tell us what's possible, particularly to black women who refuse state and local violence. I don't need to revisit those stories here (her face in the orange jumpsuit provides a clue), but I do want to know, what did Sandra have to survive during her final hours? And I wonder, did she sing like the ancestors? Did she cry herself to sleep? Or did she courageously belt out Oh, Freedom, "and before I'd be a slave, I'd be buried in my grave. And go home to my Lord and be free"?

Sandra should have never been taken out of her car.

She was harassed from the start. The arresting officer tried to elicit a response and have power over her from the beginning. And he was confused and visibly upset when Sandra told him to get on with the ticket. In the video we see him ball his fists at his side like a small child who realizes the person he's trying to bully is not afraid. And then we see him do the only thing a "scary ass cop" (Sandra's words) would do once realizing he's powerless. He pulled out his weapon and misused his authority.

But even then Sandra didn't back down.

So is it possible that while in jail Sandra said I will Lord over my own life before you do? I don't know. But we must sit with this possibility and the power in it. Many of the ancestors jumped overboard during the Maafa and countless others took their and their children's lives on this soil during slavery. Historian, Darlene Clark Hine writes that the latter was seen as not only a form of resistance but the highest manifestation of love. And Sandra loved deeply. She loved all of us. But she loved herself too.

Still, is it possible that Sandra was killed?


It's also possible that she refused state sanctioned oppression and chose her own destiny.

Either way the state took her life.

But regardless, Sandra chose how she'd live it.


Opinion Fri, 31 Jul 2015 00:00:00 -0400