Truthout Stories Fri, 31 Oct 2014 09:51:13 -0400 en-gb Viral Panic and the Politics of Quarantine

Dominion over nature and uneven development produce illness, both communicable and noncommunicable, while our involvement in new wars prevents us from addressing the desperate demography and ecology of poor regions that see eco-illness go viral. These are choices, not iron laws. We could have avoided internal combustion, meat, the Manhattan Project. It is not too late to quarantine capitalism.

An ambulance drives past Bellevue Hospital, where Dr. Craig Spencer is receiving treatments for the Ebola virus, in New York, Oct. 23, 2014. (Photo: Joshua Bright / The New York Times)An ambulance drives past Bellevue Hospital, where Dr. Craig Spencer is receiving treatments for the Ebola virus, in New York, Oct. 23, 2014. (Photo: Joshua Bright / The New York Times)

My students are probably tired of me saying that "everything relates," even if I mutter about Hegel's concept of totality. But I have proof: Recently, we emerged from our classroom only to find that a storm was raging, near Dallas, and trees were uprooted. A few days later, after taking a chainsaw to felled trees on my property, I slipped while carrying logs and dinged my wrist. An eventual trip to a Dallas hospital for an x-ray began with questioning, from every health-care provider I saw, about whether I had traveled to Africa recently.

This was hours after Dallas had become the ground zero of viral panic about Ebola. Within weeks, Governor Christie responded to emerging viral panic by quarantining medical workers returning from West Africa, leaving us with internment-camp images of the nurse who, a decade earlier, had attended the university at which I work in Texas.

The possibly-lone-wolf shooter in Ottawa was bumped from the news cycle by the sad news about the doctor returning from Guinea to fight Ebola, who, upon his return to NYC, had been diagnosed with Ebola and is now being treated at Bellevue Hospital. He has become the centerpiece of viral panic inasmuch as he ventured out in public before he came down with Ebola symptoms, leading some to rant on message boards that he should have his medical license revoked and even face prosecution.

Seeking the sensational, the New York Post just reported that he supposedly concealed his movements to medical detectives until police outed him with a credit-card statement and evidence of mass-transit travel, demonstrating that he was really a gallivanting cosmopolite. Not even the 87th school shooting since Newtown could squeeze Ebola panic off the screen for long, although some speculated that there is a parallel between the epidemic nature of school shootings and viruses.

For me, the storm raised my viral consciousness by sending me for that X-ray. By now, given climate changes, October storms in the Southwest aren't surprising, suggesting what Max Horkheimer in 1947 called the "revolt of nature." Here, I want to understand medical geography, viral panic, and quarantine politics in terms of nature's revolt and also in terms of Marx's, Lenin's and Trotsky's notions of uneven development.

These are two sides of the same global-capitalist coin. Newsfeed journalism, such as CNN's endless "breaking news" announcements, under-theorizes the relationship between the local and global, dwelling on details and surfaces, such as the preference of the internment-camp nurse for Pizza Hut rather than the granola bar and water she was offered or the range of opinions about whether one could catch Ebola from the Brooklyn doctor's bowling ball.

Horkheimer and the other Frankfurt School theorists argued that the domination of nature is a framework that can explain all manner of attempts to master the external world, producing what postmodernists call "othering." This was a way for them to explain the stunning fact that the Holocaust occurred in Germany, which was also a site of the 17th century Enlightenment.

Faith in science redoubles mythology as the world is shorn of mystery by methodology. But method cannot do our thinking for us; everything is narrative. The Enlightenment "subject," armed with method and technology, views the external and environmental "object" as a happy hunting ground. The Frankfurters don't reject the project of modernity because they agree with Marx and Henry Ford that mass production can free people from hunger and the political skirmishes that hunger provokes. But in denying its own dogmatic tendencies, positivism becomes as dogmatic as the religions it displaces, leading to the mad admixture of Aryan blood worship and the scientific management of the extermination camps.

Theodor Adorno joined with several empirical social psychologists to produce the 1950 work Authoritarian Personality in which they explore the domineering-but-submissive character type who genuflects to those above and oppresses those below, all the while scapegoating "others" who don't fit the dominant narrative.

There is emerging consensus that Ebola, possibly like HIV/AIDS, can be traced to animal-human interactions in sub-Saharan Africa, especially where we see both deforestation and urban slums. Bats and other bush animals such as chimps are food for people living in penury, and the absence of adequate public health allows a few isolated cases to tip over into an epidemic. This appears on biomedical radar, as did HIV/AIDS, when illness jumps from Africa to western countries.

Illness goes viral when exploration, trade, as well as capital and population flows marry with the domination of nature. This is not a new story. The devastating rat-born plagues of the late-14th century infected squalid city life via seafaring. The pandemic influenza that killed tens of millions between 1918 and 1920 was hastened by travel and the world war, which concentrated germs in barracks and involved troop movements. Global capitalism promotes global illness.

Doctors without borders are required when borders dissolve. What Marx identified as flight of capital in 1849 is matched by flight of germs - a consequence of a global capitalism that cannot readily reverse nature's ravages. The bubonic European rat has been replaced by the African bat as the nonhuman agent of nature's revolt.

Dystopian narratives, such as the 1971 film treatment of TheAndromeda Strain and the 2011 film Contagion, combine with newsfeed journalism and dire message boards to produce viral panic when nature bites back. In this context, one might notice that Ebola panic and other apocalyptic events such as rampage shootings increasingly pivot on a distinction between heroes and villains. Soldiers are heroes, as are, now, Ebola doctors in West Africa. Villains are the possibly ISIS-inspired lone wolves who killed in Ottawa, Oklahoma and NYC.

This demonology produced the surreal imagery of the Dallas nurse who contracted Ebola, but was cured, hugging President Obama in the Oval Office set against the images of the returning nurse squatting in the quarantine tent, implying punishment. She has since been rehabilitated by "evidence-based" public-health professionals, suggesting a clean positivist resolution, even as Governor Christie pushes back in defending her initial quarantine. In his own words: "She had a tent inside. There's been all kinds of malarkey about this. She was inside the hospital in a climate-controlled area with access to her cell phone, access to the internet, and takeout food from the best restaurants in Newark."

Even at that, facing a 21-day self-quarantine in her home in Maine, she warned that "[I]f these restrictions are not removed for me by tomorrow morning . . . I will go to court." And the secular standard of empirical evidence is not always embraced by Ebola heroes; the second afflicted Dallas nurse, treated at Emory, explained her cure with reference to faith and prayer.

As of this writing, two paradigms of Ebola containment clash: Isolationists would cut off travel from Africa and quarantine health-care workers from West Africa, while globalizers would avoid quarantine in favor of monitored symptoms, such as fever, to treat the West African epidemic at its source.

Ebola is not particularly contagious, typically affecting one or two intimates. Ebola becomes epidemic where a public-health infrastructure is absent, requiring global intervention by progressive doctors and nurses willing to intervene. And it is increasingly clear that there is a differential demography of death, with Ebola mortality much higher in West Africa than (so far) in the United States, where early detection, hospitalization and antibody transfusions from Ebola survivors have allowed all but one US-based Ebola patient to survive.

Of greater moment is how dominion over nature and uneven development produce illness, both communicable and noncommunicable. Hunger, malnourishment and scant resources mean that some sub-Saharan Africans consume far too few categories, whereas others live in areas saturated with primarily Western fast food options that promote ill health in other ways. Blurred boundaries will probably raise the rates of heart disease and diabetes in heretofore poor countries, even as those countries host communicable diseases readily transmitted by travel.

Africa has been allowed to fall so far behind because the United States and former USSR spent the years between 1945 and 1989 spending massively on Cold War defense, preventing the superpowers from transferring capital to pre-industrial regions, which could have spurred literacy, industrialization, democracy, public health and sanitation.

Cold War capital - and not just CARE packages delivered as "foreign aid" - could also have caused a demographic transition in Africa, Asia and Latin America, as newly affluent people voluntarily limit family size to spend on other things. Since the end of the Cold War, world population has more than tripled, exacerbating problems of under- and uneven development.

The end of the Cold War has not ended the permanent war economy, which plays out now in the context of Middle Eastern religious and ethnic conflicts framed by the Western need for oil. Again, everything relates: Our involvement in these new wars prevents us from addressing the desperate demography and ecology of poor regions that see eco-illness go viral. These are choices, not iron laws. We could have avoided internal combustion, meat, the Manhattan Project. It is not too late to quarantine capitalism.

Opinion Thu, 30 Oct 2014 16:36:46 -0400
Breaking 43 Years of Silence, the Last FBI Burglar Tells the Story of Her Years in the Underground

2014 1030 burgl st(Image: Alfred A. Knopf and Vintage Books)The following is excerpted and adapted from the epilogue to the paperback version of Betty Medsger’s The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, out today from Vintage Books.

It was clear to Judi Feingold what she should do after she and seven other people broke into an FBI office near Philadelphia in 1971, removed every file and then anonymously distributed them to two members of Congress and three journalists:

Get out of town.

She took drastic steps. Remaining in Philadelphia seemed dangerous, so she left town and headed west, moved into the underground and lived under an assumed name, moving from place to place west of the Rockies for years, owning only a sleeping bag and what she could carry in her knapsack. As she was about to detach herself from her past geography and her personal connections, she called her parents and told them she had committed a nonviolent direct action “and was possibly being pursued by the federal government. I told them I could not be in touch by phone, and I would do my best to let them know how I was, but not where I was.”

During the forty-three years since the burglary, none of the other burglars knew anything about Feingold’s whereabouts. Efforts to find her in recent years had failed. Some even thought she might have died.

Likewise, Feingold did not know that the other burglars had not left the area and, instead, had lived in the eye of the intensive search the bureau conducted for the people who revealed FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s massive, clandestine political spying and extreme, even violent, dirty tricks operations. Those revelations gave rise to the nation’s first public conversation about the role of intelligence agencies in a democratic society. None of the burglars was found. Only one of them made the list of final suspects. The investigation ended after five years, with the FBI never finding any physical evidence or witness with either direct or indirect knowledge of the burglary.

Immediately after the burglary, Feingold’s Philadelphia neighborhood, Powelton Village, was swarmed by dozens of FBI agents. From many parked cars, agents watched the comings and goings of residents round the clock. Everyone seemed to be regarded as a suspect. The files the burglars removed from the office—the first documentary evidence that under Hoover the FBI had subverted the bureau’s mission—had caused a sensation. For the first time, there were calls in Congress and in newspaper editorials for the bureau and its deeply admired director to be investigated. Hoover, FBI director for half a century by then, was apoplectic, one of his favorite reporters wrote shortly after the burglary. The stolen files emerged, a few at a time, the first ones in a story written by me and published two weeks after the burglary on March 24, 1971, in The Washington Post.

The last time the burglars were together, shortly after the burglary, they had made two promises to each other: that they would take the secret of the burglary to their graves and that they would not associate with each other. They feared that if they continued to associate, the arrest of one might lead to the arrest of others. The seven who continued living as they had before the burglary were silent about what they had done, but they made no attempt to hide or escape.

Throughout the decades since the Media burglary, Feingold kept the pledge the burglars made to each other never to reveal they were the Media burglars. She always assumed no one in the group would break that promise. She never uttered a word about the burglary to anyone.

That’s why she was shocked—angered, even sickened at first—in January when she discovered, by chance, that the other members of the group recently had publicly told the story of how and why they decided in 1971 to risk their freedom for many years to break into an FBI office in search of evidence of whether the FBI was engaged in efforts to suppress dissent.

Until discovering, in news articles about my book, that seven of the eight Media burglars went public, she thought perhaps other Media burglars might also have decided to go underground. Instead, they had lived in plain sight. William Davidon, the physics professor who was the leader of the group and who had thought of the idea of breaking into the office, had continued to teach at Haverford College and continued to be a leader in the antiwar community. John and Bonnie Raines and their three children, all under eight at the time of the burglary, lived for years in the old stone house in the Germantown section of Philadelphia where much of the planning for the burglary had taken place. John Raines is still teaching religion at Temple University. And Bonnie Raines ran a day care center, studied for a graduate degree and eventually became a leading advocate for children’s issues. Keith Forsyth, who trained himself to pick the lock on the FBI office door but in the end had to rely on a crowbar to break in, worked for years as a union reform organizer at the Budd Company, a metal fabricator in Philadelphia, before completing studies to become an electrical engineer. Bob Williamson continued to work for awhile as a social worker for the state of Pennsylvania. Two other members of the group, who have described their roles but have chosen not to be named, also lived as they had lived before.

* * *

During the years I researched and wrote The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, I could not find the woman the other burglars and I often referred to as the eighth burglar. This struck me as strange in the age of the Internet, when it seems as though nearly everyone can be found. The other burglars had told me her name, but despite many attempts by some of the burglars and me to find her, the search for her was futile. Bob Williamson, the member of the group who was closest to her at the time of the break-in, repeatedly tried to find her. Along with Williamson, she was one of the four people who went inside the Media FBI office the night of March 8, 1971, and removed all the files in the dark.

I hoped that soon after The Burglary was published in January she might see a news story about the other burglars becoming public and reach out to them. Without her, the narrative of the Media burglars was not quite complete. But after a month, when many stories had been published and broadcast about the emergence of the Media burglars, I reluctantly concluded that we probably never would hear from her. Perhaps the worst fear of some, that she was not alive, was true.

Then, in late April, as I walked up out of the subway near my New York home and checked email on my phone, I found this message from Williamson:

“I want to give you some very exciting news…. Judi called me yesterday…. She sounded wonderful…. The stories we had heard about her riding the subways of New York at night were completely untrue. She is alive and well, and has had a happy life.”

I practically danced all the way home as I read his words. Judi Feingold, the missing member of the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI—what the burglars called themselves—was alive and well and in touch. Williamson also wrote that “she said she’d be happy to talk with you.”

When I phoned Judi a short time later, she was still somewhat stunned at what she had learned—that the other members of the Citizens Commission had broken their promise to take the secret of the burglary to their graves. By the time we talked in person a few weeks later, her original shock at finding the group’s secret had been exposed had diminished somewhat as a result of being in touch with some of the burglars, people she thought she would never see again.

Like the others, she is now open about that secret that shaped the rest of her life. The forty-three-year journey she reveals is strikingly different from the experiences of the other Media burglars during and since the years when Hoover assigned more than two hundred FBI agents to search for the people who risked decades in prison by breaking into an FBI office and exposing Hoover’s secret files.

Her decision to stay underground and live under an assumed name for nearly a decade, until 1980, meant that she spent the first decade of her adult life as a fugitive. Now 63, she was 19 then, the youngest member of the group. Early in her life, she exhibited the qualities that would enable her at nineteen to see participating in the burglary and living underground as actions she should take—despite the fact that they would be radically life-changing and potentially dangerous. As a kid from Inwood, a neighborhood on the far northwestern end of Manhattan, she adopted pacifism and became an activist in the civil rights and anti-nuclear movements by age twelve. She remembers riding the subway alone by then and going to meetings and demonstrations, including an anti-nuclear weapons rally led by Dr. Benjamin Spock. As a teenager, she had big ideas and made big commitments. Like the other burglars, she was confident that activism could lead to positive change. But she recalls being fairly quiet at home about the depth of her opinions, especially ones about the Vietnam War. Her father had made it clear he disagreed with her.

After a year at the University of Denver, she lived for a year in San Francisco. That’s where she first worked for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization, as an intern. After that she worked as a military counselor at the AFSC headquarters in Philadelphia. For that job, she became thoroughly familiar with the Uniform Code of Military Justice and used it daily to advise people who wanted to get out of the military because they had come to oppose the war; people in the military who faced family hardships and wanted to know how to apply for an honorable or general discharge, and people who didn’t want to enter the military and wanted to know their options. While in this job, she felt sure she was regularly under surveillance near her home. That moved her to agree with William Davidon, the leader of the Media group, when he proposed burglarizing an FBI office in order to search for documentary evidence of whether the FBI was spying on political dissidents. She had met Davidon through Williamson, whom she deeply trusted.

Unlike the other Media burglars, Feingold had never participated in a draft board break-in. Media was her first and only act of resistance. She recalls thinking that the action proposed by Davidon was a powerful idea, one that needed to be executed. She also remembers that although she was only nineteen then her eyes were wide open: She fully realized that participating in the burglary could lead to very harsh consequences.

To avoid harsh consequences from the government, she imposed harsh consequences on herself—going underground, cutting herself off from everyone she knew. Looking back, she says she has no regrets. She sees the burglary as a success that was more than worth the risk, and she sees her life in hiding afterward as involving nothing she did not choose to do. In fact, she regards parts of her post-Media decade in the underground as quite wonderful despite the difficult aspects.

As she watched the FBI presence increase exponentially after the burglary on the streets of Powelton Village, staying there seemed like the worst option. “Everybody in the activist community was talking about Media,” she recalls. Remaining there seemed dangerous. She thought a Media burglar would be much more likely to be arrested if she or he stuck around Philadelphia. Feingold recalls that her decision “came from my gut: Get out of here.”

“Once we saw what the documents revealed at the farm house, we knew it was huge. So I wasn’t sticking around for the aftermath. I was going to do the best I could to live the life I wanted to live, a life without surveillance. I followed my heart…to a nonviolent, peaceful life west of the Rockies.” She got out of Dodge.

With three friends from the women’s collective where she had lived since shortly before the Media break-in, Feingold left Philadelphia and drove to New Mexico. She was charmed by the natural beauty of the area, as Williamson was when he also traveled there, at her urging, a step that also changed the geography of his life forever. She loved Williamson, and they had continued to be close friends after she became part of the women’s collective. But even he was unaware that she had decided to go underground and would do so shortly after he arrived in New Mexico.

Feingold’s first home in the underground was on a goat farm north of Taos. Like several other places she would stay, this farm was owned by a woman and was part of an informal network of rural properties in the West known as “women’s land”—places where lesbians built alternative communities that were intentionally free of patriarchy.

Feingold thought it was the ideal place for her at that time. As she points out, she could have hidden anywhere, but she welcomed the chance to live underground in the country instead of in a city. She loved the outdoors and the physical work required in such places. Growing up in New York City, she had yearned to live in those wide-open spaces she saw as a child on countless television Westerns. Now she had that life. She dug irrigation ditches and learned how to make goat cheese and gather eggs. She remembers living happily in those old cowboy landscapes that recently had been reclaimed by women. Until then, roaming Central Park was as close as Feingold had come to her dream of living in wide-open rural spaces.

When the woman who owned the farm near Taos decided to use it for other purposes, Feingold and others who lived there drove in a caravan of pickup trucks to other women’s land in California. They had heard about the new place at one of the large gatherings of women that took place twice a year in large rural settings in the west, summer and winter solstice celebrations. After a relatively short stay on that California land, she lived for several years on women’s land in Oregon.

She traveled light in those years, carrying only a knapsack and a sleeping bag. “That was all I had,” she remembers. She worked at menial jobs so she could be paid under the table, with no tax records. “I was a dishwasher, I was a dog-trainer…..I worked in plant nurseries…..I just brought in money any way I could.” For medical care, she relied on free clinics. Dental care was sometimes hard to find. She also wrote poetry and kept a journal. One day while browsing in a women’s bookstore in Seattle she leafed through an anthology of lesbian poetry and was delighted to find a poem she had written years earlier and left behind in a house where she had stayed.

The places she called home during those years varied greatly. In addition to long stays on women’s land, for a few months she lived with a young couple and their two children in a garden cottage in Seattle. Once she lived in a beautiful wooden house on a cliff high above the Pacific on the coast of Oregon. She lived awhile in a poor part of Albuquerque and off-season at a ski lodge. At one point she lived in a women’s shelter in Berkeley. There, she said, she learned “immeasurable lessons” about survival from a woman who at age twelve rescued her younger siblings from their abusive parents and raised them on her own in extremely difficult circumstances. Feingold has kept in touch with this woman, who years later became an electrician.

It was a time in the life of the nation, says Feingold, when it was perhaps easier than it ever has been, before or since, to be accepted for who you are, with few questions asked about what you do, where you’ve been. She felt many people had become more accepting, less judgmental. That gestalt was very helpful for a fugitive who needed to live as a person without a past.

A frightening episode took place when she lived with some other women in a house near a hilltop in Oregon, part of a horse farm. The owners and their three children lived in the main house at the foot of the hill. One day one of the children ran up the hill and, with a sense of urgency, told them, “Mom says you have to leave. The FBI is here.” Feingold never knew why the FBI was there. She assumes the reason was unrelated to her, but she took no chances. She and the other women grabbed their few possessions and left immediately, going down the other side of the hill and never returning to that location. Someone who lived nearby gave them a ride to Portland. No one at the farm knew exactly why Feingold was concerned about being caught by the FBI, just that she was. And that was enough to cause them to protect her.

In the underground, Feingold lived what she calls a horizontal life rather than a vertical life. In the latter, a person follows a plan, such as: go to high school, go to college, go to graduate school, enter a profession, marry, buy a home, have children, live for long periods in the same location and develop life-long friends and acquaintances. Her horizontal life, by contrast, had none of those elements. Instead of being a series of expected steps, each leading to the next, her life became a series of experiences, some of which were anticipated or connected, others not.

Feingold found many aspects of her underground life satisfying, especially living on several parts of the women’s land network, but she missed some of the rewards of a vertical life. She learned something valuable from most of her underground stays, but at times she longed for the stability and pleasure that are the rewards of routines, such as being able to return repeatedly to favorite people you’ve known for years for contentment or mutual personal support. She also missed the pleasure of returning often to long-cherished places.

She had always read the New York Times. She kept that habit while in the underground, reading it and other newspapers in local libraries wherever she was. After a long time between libraries, the next time she would go to a library she caught up with the news by reading spooled films of newspaper pages on microfiche machines. It was in quiet corners of small western libraries that she learned that her most important wish was being fulfilled—the Vietnam War was ending. Perhaps no one in those libraries ever noticed the small woman crying some days as she squinted at the microfiche machine screen. That news stimulated both deep sadness and happiness—sadness at how long the war had lasted and how much damage it had caused, happiness that it was, at last, over.

It also was in libraries that she read about the 1976 Church Committee hearings taking place in the U.S. Senate. She read about the testimony of FBI officials who revealed outrageous, even violent, past FBI actions and about the reforms that resulted from the congressional investigations. She realized that this was happening, in large part, as a result of what the band of eight she had been part of in Media, Pennsylvania, had done.

She talked with the women she lived with about some of this exciting news, but she did not mention her connection to the events. That was her sweet secret. Sometimes she found a way to express her happiness and pride. She would read about a major reform that had taken place in Washington after the intelligence hearings and dance alone on a mountainside and yelled a loud and joyful “Yay!” to the empty, beautiful countryside.

“I was really excited and happy,” she recalls. “You do something like this, you were willing to give up your freedom, and then you find out what happened. It was an affirmation that the sacrifice was worth it.”

* * *

In 1980 Feingold decided to leave the underground and take back her identity. She had managed to live on very little, but gradually she wanted to make more than she was making in menial jobs. “I was getting older,” she recalls. “I wanted to make a better living. And I wanted to do it at something I enjoyed…something I’d do outdoors.”

She felt the political climate had changed. She had noticed that some people from the Weather Underground had emerged and were not suffering heavy repercussions. With the end of the war, she felt a shift had taken place, one that meant she might be in less danger of being pursued for the Media burglary. She paid a lawyer $500 to answer this question: What’s the statute of limitations for someone who committed a federal offense and crossed state lines after they committed the offense? He told her that whatever danger originally existed for such a person continued to exist. Even with that answer, she decided to take a chance.

Her immediate goal was to take courses at a school in Washington state that would qualify her to be certified as a forest technician. To enroll, she needed to request transcripts from schools where she had taken courses before the burglary. To do so, of course, she had to use her real name. That was her first step out of the underground. All went well. When she used her name for the first time in nearly a decade, she did not set off an alarm. She took a civil service test and was hired as a park ranger in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee.

It was quite a transition: She had moved from being a federal fugitive in the underground to being a federal employee protecting federal land.

But, “It was not easy for me to be Smokey the Bear,” says Feingold. The job was a good beginning to a new life but not for the long haul. Wearing a government uniform and turning people in for running stills on federal property in Appalachia wasn’t the niche she wanted. She left the National Park Service and moved on to landscaping.

She soon found work she still regards as a perfect fit: horticultural therapy. For many years now, in various places she has lived, she has conducted this therapy with developmentally delayed adults, teaching them to propagate and sell plants and work on grounds crews. She enjoys the outdoor and service aspects of this job. “It’s very gratifying to developmentally challenged people,” she said, “to be able to grow and care for plants and do landscaping. Seeing the pretty results of their work builds confidence.”

Feingold lovingly and painstakingly rebuilt her family ties, which had been completely severed for years. After she took back her name, she found her parents and sister and talked with them by phone, but she realized that far more was needed. In order to try to heal emotional wounds and build a loving relationship with her parents, she moved from Oregon to Florida, where they had moved while she was in the underground. For two years she rented an apartment near their home, worked in the garden department at the local Sears store and had dinner with her parents regularly.

Face-to-face communication among them was awkward at first. It was a matter of starting over and building trust and love where those qualities had been weak even before she went underground. In the early months, they didn’t have much to say to each other at dinner. “I just kept doing it, and eventually we started talking…really talking….like, ‘Remember the time you did this?’ or ‘I can’t believe that.’ I started to have deep connections with my parents, and we grew to enjoy each other’s company…..We got to be a family.”

Many years later, when it became clear that her parents could no longer live on their own, they accepted Feingold’s suggestion that they leave Florida and live near her in Oregon. She took care of both of them until, just seven months apart, they died, first her mother in 2009, then her father in 2010. She looks back on those care-giving years as “a wonderful gift.” Her smile is strong and warm as she says that.

Ultimately, both of her parents received hospice treatment, an exposure that led to Feingold’s recent decision at sixty-three to study to be certified as a nurse’s assistant who will provide comfort care to hospice patients. As a volunteer now, she helps care for a ninety-six-year-old woman in hospice care near the small Arizona town where she lives.

* * *

Feingold had not returned to Philadelphia since the day she headed west in 1971. Early in 2014, Judith Bouzoun—her friend in love, the term they use for each other—asked her if she’d like to go with her on a trip to Philadelphia in May. Bouzoun was going to visit her daughter in Princeton and spend a few days in Philadelphia. Even though Feingold no longer feared arrest, the idea of visiting Philadelphia made her a little nervous. When she left in 1971, she intended never to go back. She wanted to think about it.

On January 22—the experience was so traumatic that she remembers the date—she was at her local computer club checking email when she decided to search online for Media, Pennsylvania. She did it out of curiosity prompted by Bouzoun’s invitation. She had done that online search a few times over the years. Each time she got the same two hits related to the burglary. One was about the Brandywine Peace Community’s annual celebration of the burglary, and the other was a story that expressed regret that the significance of the Media burglary had been overlooked.

This time was different.

On this January evening, when she typed “Media, PA” in the search box, as she had before, instead of only those two items, up popped about ten pages with ten or more articles each. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. The first headline she saw was “Burglars Go Public.”

“I was like a deer in the headlights. I mean, I just got sick. I was like, What?!” Because she was in public she could not shout what was roaring through her mind. In an effort to calm herself down, she said to herself “Okay, okay, okay, okay, okay.” She tried to stand up, but her legs were too weak. When she was able to stand, she tried to walk a short distance across the room, but she couldn’t. “The earth shifted. I couldn’t function.”

“They have a printer in the club. So I printed the first six articles. I didn’t read them. I was shaking. As I printed, I was glancing, seeing the headlines. And I was, like, What the hell? And then I took them home, the six articles…and I put them in a drawer. And then I went for a swim. It’s good to think when you’re swimming. So I take a swim and, I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God. I can’t believe it.’”

“And I just kept swimming and swimming and swimming. And then I felt better from swimming, and I went home and I took a shower. And I sat down and took the pages out and I started to read. I just couldn’t believe it. I absolutely couldn’t believe it. I was so upset.”

Needing a comforting voice, she called Bouzoun. A year earlier, she had asked Bouzoun if she wanted to know what her 1971 crime was, and Bouzoun, a retired military nurse and now a hospice nurse, said no. It was the first time Feingold had broached the possibility of telling someone the secret. She told herself then that revealing the secret might cross an ethical line with Bouzoun and might even end their relationship. She accepted that possibility and says she did not fear what Bouzoun’s reaction might be. For decades, she said, she had accepted who she was and what she had done and was determined not to be upset by being rejected because of that part of her life.

Now, when Feingold called Bouzoun, she told her she had just learned something very upsetting. She explained that it was about something that “happened long ago and far away. I told her I did an action I was proud of and that I went underground for it and it changed my life.” And now, Feingold told her, the “other people” involved in the action had now gone public, despite a promise everyone in the group had made to take the secret of the action to their graves. “And I can’t believe it,” she told Bouzoun. “And now there’s a book about it and a documentary.” (A documentary film, 1971 by director/producer Johanna Hamilton, also tells the story of the burglary.)

She thinks she talked to Bouzoun for a couple hours, somewhat incoherently. She kept repeating herself. Finally, she said goodbye. She did so without stating what she and the others had done. She did not do so despite the fact that she now knew that anyone in the world could learn the burglars’ secret on the Internet.

Feingold tried to sleep that night, but she couldn’t. Finally, at 4:30 in the morning she got up and walked around her neighborhood. She walked for three hours. At 7:30 she walked into Bouzoun’s house, just five doors down the street from hers. Feingold again talked continuously about how upset she was that the other members of the group had revealed the secret.

Finally, Bouzoun asked her, “What the hell did you guys do?”

It was still hard for Feingold to state what she had thought would be secret forever, but, confronted now with a direct question, she uttered the words for the first time. She told Bouzoun what she and seven other people did the night of March 8, 1971, in Media, Pennsylvania.

After she got the words out, they were both very quiet. Then Bouzoun said, in a simple, powerful way, “That was a really brave thing you did.” Later, Bouzoun made it clear that she not only admired what Feingold did all those years ago, but she thought Feingold should be willing to publicly claim what she did. Feingold was not ready for that.

But she did think she now had an obligation to reveal her hidden past to people deeply affected by it. After she called her sister, she called five women who had taken Feingold into their homes at various times. “These were people who sheltered me, loved me on and off for years…so I could have a safe harbor.” They had trusted her before without knowing what she had done. Now, her secret past revealed to them, each of the women expressed respect for her long hidden action.

After she reconnected with Bob Williamson and Keith Forsyth, the two members of the Media group she knew best and had missed most over the years, her profound confusion about why the others had gone public was replaced by the deep joy she felt by being reconnected with them. She also came to see positive value in the story being told.

Reflecting on the forty-three years that have passed—nine years spent in the underground, forty-three years totally silent about the burglary—Feingold says, “I chose a path of nonviolent direct action. I committed a federal crime with serious consequences. I knew my life would be fundamentally changed. I had made the right decision for me. My heart was breaking then over the deaths in Southeast Asia.”

Memories sealed away for years now play in Feingold’s mind as a black and white movie. She remembers feeling a sense of contentment as she and Williamson cased the area near the Media FBI office night after night. They had deep conversations and good laughs during the countless hours they watched and waited. Then, inside the office during the burglary, “I felt like I was not breathing. My body was on high alert. I remember thinking, ‘I am functioning, and I am not breathing.’” On the way to the farm house with the files, “I have a strong sense of taking a wrong turn on the road and feeling lost.” When lost on country roads even today, she says, she still flashes to the drive that night from Media to Fellowship Farm, the trunk filled with suitcases full of FBI files, and the fear of being lost, of being followed and, then, pulled over.

Thinking about the days the group spent at the farm reading and sorting the files, Feingold recalls an unsettling reaction that remains vivid. “My memory of the farm that will be with me forever is standing outside, looking over the rolling hills and the road entering the farm, half expecting FBI agents to be driving up that road toward us.”

Several months after Feingold’s discovery that the Media burglars had broken their silence, she was enthusiastic that her old partners in non-violent resistance had emerged and revealed they were part of the group that was responsible for the burglary that shook the foundations of the FBI and led to the first congressional oversight of all intelligence agencies. “Once I recovered,” she said, “I was grateful to be able to reconnect with people once so important to me, who I care for and respect. I am glad to know they are alive and healthy and explaining our purpose. It’s quite something.”

News Fri, 31 Oct 2014 09:18:51 -0400
What Would Republicans Do With a Senate Majority?

2014 1030 senate fwSenate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, September 9, 2014. Regardless of which party controls it, Republicans will almost certainly control the House, and Democrats will hold the White House. Given how far apart the parties are on almost every major issue, the odds that major legislation will become law in the next two years are scant. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

By now I'm sure that a lot of Americans, especially in the "Senate swing states," are wishing that the November election would be over with already. Many are no doubt empathizing with teary-eyed Abigael Evans, the little girl in Colorado who told her mother in the run-up to the 2012 Presidential election, "I'm tired of Branco Bama and Mitt Romney." (She seemed to be happy, though, when Obama won, which I guess could be taken as evidence that youthful impatience should not always have the last word.)

According to Nate Silver's poll aggregation and prediction site, Republicans currently have a two-thirds chance of capturing the Senate. But as Silver himself would be quick to point out, saying that this means that a Republican takeover is guaranteed would be akin to saying that the best hitter in baseball is guaranteed to fail to get on base the next time he goes to the plate, since the best hitters in baseball get on base about a third of the time, which is roughly Silver's estimate of the Democrats' chances of keeping a Senate majority.

Election fatigue can often foster election cynicism. An Irish poet once wrote: "Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart." Maybe some progressives are asking themselves: would it really be so terrible if Republicans take over the Senate? Maybe Democrats are exaggerating how bad Republican control of the Senate would be, in order to try to gin up Democratic turnout.

So perhaps it would be useful for progressives who are asking themselves how bothered they should really be about the prospect of Republican control of the Senate to eavesdrop a bit on what Republicans are saying to other Republicans about what they should do with a majority in the Senate.

The Hill reports [my emphasis]:

Conservatives salivating over the prospects of a huge victory on Nov. 4 are pressuring House and Senate GOP leaders to go big after Election Day.

The right argues leaders should forget about playing small ball and use momentum from the midterms to put big checks on President Obama's agenda.

"People want to see a bold vision. They want to see a real fight on ObamaCare repeal and tax reform that takes a blowtorch to the tax code. They want to see real entitlement reform, not empty talk," one conservative GOP aide said.

As every politically active person should know by now, "real entitlement reform" is an insider euphemism for such things as cutting Social Security benefits by lowering the cost-of-living adjustment and raising the retirement age.

Here's what The Hill says the Republican "moderates" want to do with a Senate majority instead of the Republican conservatives' more ambitious agenda [my emphasis]:

McConnell and Boehner appear more interested in approving an authorization of the Keystone XL oil pipeline; repealing the healthcare law's medical device tax, which is unpopular with members of both parties; and moving trade legislation.

All of these measures could pick enough support to make it to Obama's desk and win his signature.

But, The Hill says, "Conservatives decry this as small ball." What do conservatives want instead? [My emphasis.]

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) led the pressure campaign on GOP leaders to take a more forceful stance against ObamaCare and the administration's deferred action on deportations, and he expects to gain new allies if Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton (R), Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) and Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan (R) prevail on Tuesday.

"If all they do is keep their campaign promises, we're going to be in very good shape because they're all running as unabashed conservatives, and one of their top priorities is repealing ObamaCare," said another conservative Senate GOP aide.

If we judge by what these Republicans are saying to each other, we can't say for sure what Republicans are going to do if they take over the Senate, because what they are going to do is going to be the outcome of a fight between "Republican conservatives" and "Republican moderates."

But what we can say is that from a progressive point of view, the possibilities are going to range between "very bad" and "also very bad."

If the "Republican moderates" get their way, the Keystone XL oil pipeline is going to be approved, a huge setback to efforts to reform U.S. energy policies to reduce the threat of "climate chaos." If the "Republican moderates" get their way, the Trans-Pacific Partnership "trade agreement" is going to be approved, a huge setback to efforts to reform U.S. trade policy to protect labor rights, the environment, and access to essential medicines. That's if the "Republican moderates" prevail in the intra-Republican fight.

If the Republican conservatives get their way, Congress will (also) repeal the Affordable Care Act, cut Social Security benefits, and take away authority from the President to defer deporting people who, aside from being undocumented, have never committed any crime in the United States.

This isn't what Democrats are saying Republicans are going to do. This is what Republicans are saying Republicans are going to do.

Suppose that you don't live in a Senate swing state. Is there anything you can do about this, besides clicking on those emails asking you for money?

A lot of people have given serious thought to this question. Here is one example.

Opinion Thu, 30 Oct 2014 15:58:50 -0400
Economic Update: Hostages to Profits

This episode looks at how public higher education is being destroyed; workers not taking days off; labor actions and Vermont labeling GMO food. We also discuss municipal bonds and how profits drive capitalism. Finally, we respond to listeners' questions on PO banks and the history of economic systems.

To listen in live on Saturdays at noon, visit WBAI's Live Stream

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News Fri, 31 Oct 2014 09:27:04 -0400
Defense Spending and Net Exports Spur Higher Than Expected Third Quarter Growth

Health spending continues its slower path, with an inflation rate of just 1.4 percent over the last year.

GDP grew at a higher than expected 3.5 percent annual rate in the third quarter. The biggest factors in this growth were a 16.0 percent increase in defense spending, which added 0.66 percentage points to growth; an 11.0 percent increase in the export of goods, which added 0.99 percentage points to growth; and a 2.4 percent decrease in the import of goods, which added 0.34 percentage points to growth. These three categories accounted for almost two full percentage points of the growth in the quarter.

In other categories, consumption grew at a modest 1.8 percent annual rate, while non-residential investment grew at a 5.5 percent rate. Housing grew at a 1.8 percent annual rate, while government spending outside of defense grew at just over a 1.0 percent rate. Inventories were a drag on growth, subtracting 0.57 percentage points.

Consumption spending was held down by spending on services, which rose at just a 1.1 percent annual rate. This compares to a 1.7 percent average growth rate in the years 2011-2013. Services account for two-thirds of consumption, so weaker growth in services will limit overall consumption growth.

Within services, one of the factors depressing growth in the quarter was a 1.6 percent rate of decline in spending on housing and utilities. This reflects less electricity use due to a relatively mild summer. That will be reversed in coming quarters. The other major factor slowing spending is health services, which increased at just a 1.8 percent annual rate in the quarter. Both health care inflation and total spending have slowed sharply in recent years. Nominal spending in the third quarter is just 3.5 percent above the year-ago level. With real spending up by 2.1 percent, this implies a 1.4 percent inflation rate. It is difficult to determine the extent to which this slowdown can be attributed to the ACA, but clearly the predictions that costs would explode due to the extension of coverage have proven wrong.


The jump in defense spending is almost certainly an anomaly that will be reversed in future quarters. The last double-digit jump in defense spending was an 11.9 percent increase reported for the third quarter of 2012. The following quarter spending fell at a 20.1 percent annual rate.

The improvement in trade largely reflects a reduction in imports of oil. Lower oil prices and reduced oil imports free up money for other consumption. However, increased U.S. oil production may also be a factor contributing to the recent rise in the dollar. This will make U.S. goods less competitive and will be a drag on net exports in future quarters.

This report should further dampen any concerns about growing inflationary pressures. The overall GDP deflator grew at a 1.3 percent annual rate in the quarter and is up by 1.6 percent from its year-ago level. The core PCE deflator that the Fed targets grew at a 1.4 percent annual rate and is up 1.5 percent from its year-ago level.

Going forward, it is likely that GDP growth will be closer to 2.0 percent than 3.0 percent. The surge in defense spending will almost certainly be reversed in the next two quarters, creating a substantial drag on reported growth. Trade will also be more neutral, as we are not likely to see another comparable fall in imports. (There was an unusually large jump in the second quarter.) More normal utility use will provide somewhat of a boost to growth, but there is little reason to expect the pace of overall consumption growth to accelerate much. The saving rate is still relatively low at 5.5 percent (meaning consumption is high relative to income) and with wage growth modest, there is no reason to expect any large upticks in consumption spending. Housing construction may pick-up somewhat, but it is not likely to be a major contributor to demand growth nor is non-residential investment.

In short, we are likely to see the economy continuing to grow at a sluggish pace. With a potential growth rate in the range of 2.0-2.4 percent, the economy is making up little of the ground lost in the downturn.

News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 13:04:05 -0400
"Green World Rising": A Call to Save the Earth From Climate Change

2014 1030 gre st"The threat of climate change is very real, but we have the solutions, knowledge, and ingenuity needed to help save our planet…" (Photo: Hagens World)In two previous videos narrated by Leonard DiCaprio and available over at, we’ve seen the dangers that global warming and climate change present for our planet and the human race.

We’ve seen how there’s a giant sleeping monster lurking underground in the form of trapped methane gas, and we’ve learned that, if we continue to do nothing to fight climate change, that methane could get released, causing even more problems for the only planet we can call home.

Finally, we’ve seen how putting a price on carbon could be one of the best ways to help fight climate change and save the future of not only our planet, but of the human race.

Now, the third video in the four-part series has been released, titled Green World Rising.

Green World Rising represents a call to save the human race from the devastating effects of global warming and climate change.

The video focuses heavily on some of the new solar, wind, and geothermal industries that are at the forefront of creating a greener world for all of us.

The threat of climate change is very real, but we have the solutions, knowledge, and ingenuity needed to help save our planet, and Green World Rising talks about how we can put those solutions and that knowledge into action right now.

Opinion Thu, 30 Oct 2014 12:41:32 -0400
In Depth: How Big Business Buys State Courts

Judge's gavel(Image: Judge's gavel via Shutterstock)

Last Halloween, tobacco giant Reynolds American quietly cut a $30,000 check for Justice For All NC, a nonprofit that funneled more than $1.6 million in outside funding into North Carolina's 2012 Supreme Court elections, to help incumbent conservative Justice Paul Newby keep his seat on the bench.

The Winston-Salem-based company's $30,000 donation was pocket change compared with the wave of outside spending that would flood the primary elections for the state's high court months later, but it was a start.

Judge's gavel(Image: Judge's gavel via Shutterstock)

Last Halloween, tobacco giant Reynolds American quietly cut a $30,000 check for Justice For All NC, a nonprofit that funneled more than $1.6 million in outside funding into North Carolina's 2012 Supreme Court elections, to help incumbent conservative Justice Paul Newby keep his seat on the bench.

The Winston-Salem-based company's $30,000 donation was pocket change compared with the wave of outside spending that would flood the primary elections for the state's high court months later, but it was a start.

Justice For All NC sprung back into action in April, unleashing a flurry of attack ads declaring that state Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson is "not tough on child molesters." Hudson, the TV ads claimed, sided with sexual predators.

The attack was so nasty that the North Carolina Bar Association issued a statement condemning the ads and others like them. Hudson, a Democrat and a mother, called the ads "preposterous."

The ads referenced a 2010 case in which Hudson sided with the dissent in a 4-3 ruling over a law that established an ankle bracelet-monitoring program for sex offenders. In her dissent, Hudson argued the program was cumbersome and did little to protect kids, a point that was echoed in a 2012 investigation by the Winston-Salem Journal. The ineffective program was therefore excessive punishment for sex offenders who committed their crimes before the law was passed, Hudson argued.

At first, it was unclear who paid the $648,000 to run the "child molester" ads. Justice For All NC listed its address at a UPS store in a strip mall and did not say much to the media.

North Carolina law allowed Justice For All NC to keep most of its finances under wraps until after Hudson survived the primary vote, but campaign finance disclosures would show that, the day before its "child molester" ad buy, the group received $650,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC). Another $250,000 from the RSLC came in a week later.

The RSLC gave another $400,000 to Justice For All NC on October 24, according to the most recent campaign disclosure forms filed with the North Carolina Board of Elections.

The RSLC has helped Republicans fill seats in statehouses and legislatures across the country and spent $27 million on races in 42 states during the 2012 election season alone. The group now claims to be the only national political group that is focused on state-level judicial elections, which are traditionally nonpartisan affairs in many states, including North Carolina.

As part of its "Judicial Fairness Initiative" aimed at electing conservative judges, the RLSC has said it plans to spend $5 million in 2014 and has already spread more than $1.6 million across races in North Carolina, Montana and Missouri alone, according to campaign records and analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice.

The RLSC's most generous donors are familiar names in right-wing campaign finance, including Koch Industries, Walmart, AT&T and ExxonMobil, to name a few.

The biggest donor to the RLSC in 2014, however, is Reynolds American, which gave the group $1.1 million this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

"It's really troubling when you look at where the money comes from," said Brennan Center Counsel Alicia Bannon. "Oftentimes it's coming from lawyers and interest groups that have a direct stake in the cases that these courts are hearing."

Smoke Signals

Reynolds American, which owns cigarette brands like Camel and Pall Mall, has given the RLSC a total of $2.1 million since 2011 and is the RSLC's largest donor from North Carolina, according to the Institute for Southern Studies.

Coming in second place is North Carolina cigarette maker Lorillard, which has donated $335,000 to the RLSC since 2011.

Like most big tobacco companies, Reynolds and Lorillard are no strangers to the courtroom.

Lorillard, which counts Newport and Kent among its brands, has long been Reynolds' home-state rival, but that changed in July, when Reynolds announced a $27.4 billion deal to buy Lorillard.

Investors have filed lawsuits in North Carolina courts challenging the buyout, because they claim it would benefit British tobacco firms with stakes in the deal instead of shareholders.

Additionally, state and federal courts outside of North Carolina recently found both companies liable for damages in multi-billion-dollar lawsuits filed by family members of people who died from smoking.

Tobacco companies like Reynolds and Lorillard are used to such lawsuits, but with billions of dollars on the line, it still pays to have friends on the bench.

Last week, a Reynolds subsidiary gave $50,000 to the North Carolina Judicial Committee, a group that used donations from Justice For All NC to support Paul Newby in 2012, according to campaign filings.

Buying Justice

More than 90 percent of judicial business in the United States is decided in state courts, and with business interests tangled up in much of the litigation, it's easy to understand why corporations spend big on state judicial campaigns. 

"Special interest groups continue to dump money into state supreme court races in an attempt to stack the deck in their favor," Bannon said. "Voters should feel like our courts are fair and impartial, not political playgrounds where business interests and lawyers can tilt the scales of justice with their pocketbooks."

Since January, political parties, outside groups and candidates spent more than $12.1 million on TV ads for state judicial races across the country. In the past week, outside groups spent a total of nearly $1 million on ads in Michigan, Montana, Ohio, North Carolina and Illinois in a last-minute surge before the election.

The 2012 election cycle was the first full cycle since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling that struck down caps on outside corporate campaign spending, and special interest groups spent a record $15.4 million on TV ads for state high court races, nearly half the total spent on those races that year, according to a 2013 report by the Brennan Center and other watchdogs.

"Special interest groups have realized that it doesn’t take much money to reshape an entire state court compared to high-cost elections for statewide political offices," Bannon said.

Last year, the American Constitution Society released analysis of judicial campaign finance data from 2000-2009 showing that the more campaign cash a state justice receives from business interests, the more likely they are to rule in favor of business litigants who show up in their courts.

Judges or Politicians?

So what does Justice For All NC have planned for the last-minute $400,000 donation it received from the RSLC last week? The group has been quiet since its "child molester" ads became national news fodder, but it began airing an ad on Wednesday supporting conservative high court candidate Mike Robinson.

North Carolina Supreme Court candidates have been responsible for most of the $2 million in TV ad buys during the general election, in contrast to the primaries, when Justice for All NC and the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce spent massive amounts of money on TV ads, many of them either attacking Hudson or supporting her conservative opponents.

Fundraising among the nine candidates for the court's four open seats has skyrocketed to a total of $2.2 million, according to the Brennan Center. Judicial candidates in North Carolina have not raised more than $200,000 in any race since 2008.

Why the huge uptick in fundraising? State lawmakers removed North Carolina's public financing program for judicial candidates last year, a move that forced candidates to seek out private donors. Bannon, however, said that is only one part of the story. The threat of another wave of outside spending, she said, has put pressure on the judicial candidates to build solid war chests and behave more like politicians than judges.

"If I have a case before the judge, I want that judge to be judging that case according to the law, not thinking about where the next campaign donation is coming from," Bannon said.

News Fri, 31 Oct 2014 09:35:30 -0400
"The Red Cross' Secret Disaster": Charity Prioritized PR Over People After Superstorm Sandy

This week marks the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy hitting the New York City region, becoming one of the most destructive storms in the nation’s history. A new joint investigation by ProPublica and NPR contends the American Red Cross bungled its response to Superstorm Sandy by caring more about its image and reputation than providing service to those in need. It alleges the organization diverted vehicles and resources to press conferences instead of using them to deliver services. And it estimates the Red Cross wasted an average of 30 percent of the meals it was producing in the early days of its Sandy response effort. We speak to ProPublica reporter Justin Elliott and Richard Rieckenberg, former disaster expert with the Red Cross - he oversaw aspects of the organization’s efforts to provide food, shelter and supplies after the 2012 storms. We also air an official Red Cross response to their investigation.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: This week marks the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy hitting the New York region, becoming one of the most destructive storms in the nation’s history. After first pummeling Cuba, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, Sandy made its way up the East Coast. On October 29th, the hurricane blasted New York City with a record storm surge as high as 13 feet. The storm also heavily hit the Jersey Shore and parts of New England. Sandy ultimately killed 159 people along the East Coast and damaged more than 650,000 homes. The storm caused $70 billion in damage across eight states. Millions were left without power, some for weeks.

Well, a new investigation by ProPublica and NPR says there were actually two disasters during Sandy: the hurricane itself and the ensuing relief effort by the Red Cross. This is a clip from a video accompanying the investigation headlined "The Red Cross’ Secret Disaster."

LAURA SULLIVAN: It’s October 2012. Superstorm Sandy barrels up the Eastern Seaboard from Florida to Maine. The storm leaves millions in the cold and dark. Dozens die. A star-studded relief effort helps the Red Cross rake in more than $300 million in donations. This is the untold story of that Red Cross relief effort, how one of the nation’s most revered charities bungled its mission and misled the public.

GAIL McGOVERN: I think that we are near flawless so far in this operation. I’m just so proud of everything that we are doing on the ground. It is incredible.

LAURA SULLIVAN: But confidential documents and insider accounts paint a different picture.

RICHARD RIECKENBERG: They lost confidence in their ability to do the right thing, and so they did the next best thing, which is, what can we do to make people think that we’re doing the right thing?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was a clip from a video accompanying the new joint investigation by ProPublica and NPR called "The Red Cross’ Secret Disaster." The report contends that the American Red Cross bungled its response to Superstorm Sandy by caring more about its image and reputation than providing service to those in need. It alleges the organization diverted vehicles and resources to press conferences instead of using them to deliver services. And it estimates the Red Cross wasted an average of 30 percent of the meals it was producing in the early days of its Sandy response effort.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined now by two guests. Here in New York, Justin Elliott, reporter for ProPublica and one of the lead authors of their new investigation, "The Red Cross’ Secret Disaster." And in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Richard Rieckenberg joins us, former disaster expert with the Red Cross who oversaw aspects of the organization’s efforts to provide food, shelter and supplies after the 2012 storms.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Justin Elliott, just lay out your findings.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Sure. So, this investigation is based, as you mentioned, on the Red Cross’s internal documents, some of their after-action reports, emails from the time, and also interviews with a lot of officials that were involved in the Sandy response, as well as victims in New York and New Jersey. And we found, first of all, that the Red Cross botched the key elements of its mission to provide relief after the storm. And I think most disturbingly, we found that one of the reasons for that was that the Red Cross’s leadership has become so obsessed with burnishing the brand and public relations that it’s actually undermined the disaster relief efforts and undermined some of the people on the ground, like Richard, who were trying to, you know, actually accomplish the mission of delivering aid.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, could you give us an example of how it is that the Red Cross diverted resources to maintain its image or for public relations purposes, rather than providing resources to those in need?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Sure. So, one example, after Sandy hit New York a couple years ago, several officials on the—Red Cross officials on the ground told us that there were issues where the Red Cross’s emergency response vehicles, which are sort of these van truck vehicles where there’s a window and they’re used to deliver food and relief items to people in affected areas, were diverted by leadership to instead be backdrops at press conferences and in photo ops. And this was done at a level that was actually hurting the relief effort. And this is not just drawn from accounts of people at the time. We also published on ProPublica a "Lessons Learned" presentation by the Red Cross, where there’s a slide that says, "hindrances to service delivery," and the first bullet point is national headquarters. And then, under that, it says national headquarters was "diverting assets for public relations purposes."

AMY GOODMAN: You talked about the Hurricane Isaac even before Sandy, the two of them, when Red Cross ordered 80 trucks and emergency response vehicles to leave the lot empty, drive around Mississippi, to make it look like they were doing something.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: That’s right. We’ve talked to multiple people who either observed or actually took part in that incident. I spoke with one of the emergency response vehicle drivers, who is a volunteer, like most Red Cross workers, had driven from North Carolina to respond to Isaac, which hit the Gulf Coast a couple months before Sandy, and told me that the Red Cross effort was actually worse than the storm. And in particular, there was this incident where he was told to take his emergency response vehicle out and just drive around to make it look like they were doing something.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, yesterday Democracy Now! spoke with Laura Howe, vice president of public relations for the American Red Cross. We asked her if the Red Cross diverted these vehicles and resources to press conferences, like, you know, Heidi Klum, in Staten Island to be the backdrop instead of using them to deliver services. This is how she responded.

LAURA HOWE: This is just patently untrue. The Red Cross didn’t host any press conferences during the first month of Sandy. We participated in a limited number of press events that were hosted by other people. Most of those took place for about 15 minutes or so. And the important thing to remember is they took place in places where service delivery was already happening, so our trucks were already there, our people were already there, and there were—there was a response happening in those locations. So, we had hundreds of requests from media outlets to see our services. And part of what we have to do is inform the public about how to get help from us. And so, it stands to reason that we would do that.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Laura Howe, vice president of public relations for the American Red Cross. Again, we had hoped that she would be on with our guests today, but they refused. We’re also joined by Richard Rieckenberg, the former disaster expert with the Red Cross who oversaw aspects of its efforts to provide food during the—after the storms. Your response to the Red Cross, Richard Rieckenberg?

RICHARD RIECKENBERG: Response specifically to what? What Laura Howe said?


RICHARD RIECKENBERG: I think I can understand Laura’s position, that public relations is important. The issue that I saw in Isaac and Sandy, for the first time that I worked with the Red Cross, is that public relations became more important than mass care. I like to paraphrase something that Bob Scheifele said, who’s the senior mass care chief in the country: Is it more important to feed a person or more important to tell the world that you fed a person? And Sandy was my 26th disaster relief operation, and Isaac and Sandy were the first time that I worked with the Red Cross that I felt it was more important for the Red Cross to tell the world they fed a person than it was to feed them.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Richard Rieckenberg, what do you think accounts for this change in the focus of the work of the Red Cross? It was the 26th—Sandy was the 26th emergency operation that you worked for with the Red Cross, and Isaac and Sandy were the first times that you witnessed this emphasis on public relations rather than the provision of services. What accounts for the shift?

RICHARD RIECKENBERG: I think a couple of things. I think the restructuring of the Red Cross really hurt the ability of the Red Cross to do disaster relief. They had been closing down a lot of the small local chapters around the country. And when you start to do that, consolidating them into bigger chapters and also consolidating resources in Washington, D.C.—when you start to do that, you start to lose your expertise and your contact with the local community, and you start to lose the volunteers who have got a lot of experience in disaster relief. I think—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me go back to Laura Howe, the spokesperson, who talked directly about you, Richard Rieckenberg, saying you had "a very limited view" of the Red Cross’s response to Hurricane Sandy.

LAURA HOWE: Mr. Rieckenberg was one of 79 chiefs that served in a similar role on the Sandy operation. So, given that, he had a very limited view of the operation, and that limited view lasted just a few weeks. So he reported into a much larger, much broader chain of command, and the people above him, the people that spoke to ProPublica and spoke to NPR on the record on behalf of the Red Cross, had a much, much broader view of what was happening within the organization.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Laura Howe of the Red Cross. Richard Rieckenberg, your response?

RICHARD RIECKENBERG: Well, my response is that I was the mass care planning chief, first in Washington, D.C., and then I decided to go to New York City. As such, I was the senior mass care person at the scene. Laura is right in that I can only speak about mass care. But mass care is the bulk of what the Red Cross did, the bulk of what they do for all—for the beginning of all disasters. And so, the bulk of the Red Cross workers there are mass care workers, and I’m the one that was planning the mass care efforts.

AMY GOODMAN: Justin Elliott?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: I just want to make a point here. I mean, I just think it’s sad that the Red Cross’s position here is trying to sort of cast doubt on Richard’s accounts. I mean, first of all, the point that he makes is obviously true. Our reporting shows that he was a high-level person responding to both Isaac and Sandy. But also, everything we reported that Richard told us was confirmed by other officials, and in almost all cases is actually also corroborated by Red Cross documents, that we encourage people to look at on our website at ProPublica. I mean, again, there is a Red Cross—it’s called a "Lessons Learned" presentation, that says, "a hindrance to service delivery," national headquarters diverting aid, diverting disaster relief assets, like trucks, "for public relations purposes." So, again, that’s in black and white, a Red Cross document that came out of headquarters. And as we were doing our reporting and interviewing Richard and several other officials who were on the ground, they all said that that was totally true.

And one point on the press conference is, there’s actually pictures of the CEO of the Red Cross, Gail McGovern, giving—participating in a press conference out on Staten Island a few days after Sandy, again, published on our website, where you can see in the background emergency response vehicles being used as backdrops, just like Richard says. And one other point, since the story was published yesterday, I’ve since heard from another person who was involved in that effort who confirmed the entire account that we published, which we already knew was true, but, I mean, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Talking about the CEO, McGovern, she went on NBC and said the Red Cross’s response was "near flawless" to Sandy. Talk about your meeting minutes that you got from the Red Cross.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right. I mean, this, in some ways, was kind of one of the most shocking things we found in the course of our reporting. As you mentioned, about two or three weeks after Sandy, the CEO of the Red Cross, Gail McGovern, went on national television, NBC, because there were some questions sort of anecdotally on the ground of sort of "Where was the Red Cross?" And she said, our response effort so far has been, quote, "near flawless."

Just a few weeks later, there was a meeting of Red Cross executives, at the sort of vice-president level, which is the highest position in the organization below CEO, and they’re just painting a totally, starkly different picture, saying things like—and again, we published this—"We didn’t have the sophistication for this size job," "multiple systems failed," you know, our "biggest challenge" is the "skillset ... possessed by our workforce," which gets at something that Richard mentioned, which was—I mean, sort of a little bit of a backstory here—there’s been restructurings and layoffs in recent years, and a lot of experienced disaster responders have left. So, the sort of public version of what happened, that was given by the CEO, compared to just a couple weeks later, the behind-closed-doors version, were just utterly at odds with each other.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Richard Rieckenberg, when you first noticed the failings of the Red Cross while you were still employed there, you raised some of your concerns with your colleagues and your superiors. Could you explain what you did and what kind of response, if any, you received?

RICHARD RIECKENBERG: Yes, I was very upset about the response to Hurricane Isaac, because I think we made some very important decisions that were fundamentally against our principles. I mean, in my mind, they were fundamentally immoral decisions. Bob Scheifele and I—I was, with Hurricane Isaac, in Florida, and then I went to Mississippi, where we really weren’t prepared for a hurricane that we should have been very easily prepared for. So Bob Scheifele, who was in Louisiana, and I contacted the vice president of the Red Cross, Trevor Riggen. I sent him an email, and I sent him my travel report from Mississippi and Florida and said that we’re very upset about what we saw there, and we asked to meet with him and two other vice presidents in Washington, D.C., which he agreed to do. So we ended up flying to Washington, D.C., in October and presenting him with our concerns.

AMY GOODMAN: This goes back to—I mean, it can go back before, but, Justin Elliott, for example, Hurricane Katrina. What was the Red Cross’s response there? And what ultimately most shocked you in your reporting?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Sure. I mean, the Red Cross has had a tough past sort of decade and a half. There were scandals involving financial mismanagement after—actually, after September 11th, when they raised a lot of money, I believe over a billion dollars, and then after Katrina. One interesting thing about the Red Cross is it’s actually created by Congress, so there’s some congressional oversight, and Congress actually forced an overhaul after Katrina. The new CEO, Gail McGovern, was brought in a couple years after Katrina, and sort of publicly it seemed like things had stabilized a little bit. But, I mean, just in general, the thing that sort of was most surprising is that behind the scenes, again, talking to many, many officials, who either used to or currently work at the Red Cross, have lost faith in the leadership. And part of that has to do with sort of basic issues of competence in responding to disasters, but part of it also has to do with the sort of values of the management, that at this point seem to prioritize public relations and sort of the brand above the actual hard work of disaster—

AMY GOODMAN: They get $300 million from one superstar concert. And you have Occupy Sandy. Talk about that, the offshoot of Occupy Wall Street—


AMY GOODMAN: —and what happened on the ground with people who had almost nothing.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Right, so, I mean, the $300 million is actually the Red Cross’s overall fundraising for Sandy, part of which was from this celebrity concert. But yeah, there were some volunteer sort of groups, including Occupy Sandy, which was a sort of offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, that sprang into action after Sandy. And some of those people are quoted in my piece, where those groups were, for example, in the Rockaways, one of the most devastated areas out in Queens, and they didn’t really see the Red Cross until a couple weeks after the storm. So, you know, and they were sort of operating on a shoestring budget.

I mean, I think one of the reasons we thought that this was so important to do is, as you say, when there’s a big disaster, most Americans, you know, they’re seeing these terrible images on their television screen, and they want to do something, and they give money to the Red Cross. And to be clear, you know, I believe that it’s an incredibly important institution, and there’s a lot of good people that have worked there and do work there, like Richard, who are trying to—who are real experts who are trying to do disaster relief. So, it’s very unfortunate that a lot of—you know, a lot of that money was squandered.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much, and we’ll certainly link to your reports at ProPublica, Justin Elliott, reporter for ProPublica and one of the lead authors for this new investigation, "The Red Cross’ Secret Disaster." Richard Rieckenberg, thanks so much also for joining us, former disaster expert with the Red Cross who oversaw aspects of the Red Cross efforts to provide food, shelter and supplies after Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy. He was speaking to us from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, money in judicial elections. Stay with us.

News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 11:11:30 -0400
Showdown Over Ebola: Will Quarantines of Health Care Workers Harm the Fight Against Epidemic?

A debate is intensifying in the United States over quarantining health care workers who return from West Africa but do not show signs of Ebola. On Wednesday, Maine’s governor said that he would seek legal authority to enforce a 21-day home quarantine on Kaci Hickox, a nurse who has tested negative for Ebola after treating patients in Sierra Leone. Hickox made national headlines when she publicly criticized New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for quarantining her in a tent outside the hospital. Hickox said she would challenge Maine’s restrictions just as she did in New Jersey. "I completely understand that the state’s purpose is to protect the state of Maine,” Hickox said last night. “I have worked in public health for many years, and that has always been my purpose, as well, but we have to make decisions on science, and I am completely healthy.” To discuss the debate, we speak to Lawrence Gostin, professor and faculty director at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. He is also the director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Public Health Law.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: The World Health Organization says Liberia, the country worst hit by an Ebola epidemic, may be seeing a decline in the spread of the virus. While the number of burials and new admissions has fallen in Liberia, World Health Organization Assistant Director-General Dr. Bruce Aylward said the international community must continue to step up its response to the virus that’s killed around 5,000 people in West Africa.

DR. BRUCE AYLWARD: It would be a huge mistake for anybody to think, "Oh, great, we’re getting in front of this virus, we can scale back on some of the investments planned." I mean, you know, these are wily viruses. They’re waiting for you to make that kind of a mistake. And as you’ve seen in places, you know, in Guinea, you’ve seen in Guéckédou, this thing will go on for a very, very long time at lower rates of transmission. So, you’ve got to exploit those opportunities as they arise, step up your game. And if anything, this should be really a sign that, look, make those investments because this can be turned around, this virus can be stopped eventually, but it’s going to take a very, very aggressive program of work to capitalize on those opportunities.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general of the World Health Organization. This comes as a debate intensifies in the United States over quarantining healthcare workers who return from West Africa but don’t show signs of Ebola. On Wednesday, Maine’s governor said that he would seek legal authority to enforce a 21-day home quarantine on Kaci Hickox, a nurse who has tested negative for Ebola after treating patients in Sierra Leone. Hickox made national headlines when she publicly criticized New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for quarantining her in a tent outside the hospital. Hickox said she would challenge Maine’s restrictions, just as she did in New Jersey. Last night, Hickox spoke outside her boyfriend’s home in Maine.

KACI HICKOX: I completely understand that the state’s purpose is to protect the state of Maine. I have worked in public health for many years, and that has always been my purpose, as well. But we have to make decisions on science. And I am completely healthy. You know, you could hug me, you could shake my hand. There is no way that I would give you Ebola. If I develop symptoms—and there’s even some evidence that, you know, in the beginning periods there’s not enough virus in your blood, that you’re shedding virus. It’s, you know, still not perfect science, because we don’t know everything we need to know about Ebola, because it’s a rare enough disease. But, you know, I don’t want to hurt anyone in the public, but I don’t think this is an acceptable line to be drawn.

AMY GOODMAN: As Hickox spoke on her boyfriend’s doorstep, he had his arm around her the whole time. Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said the state is filing a court order to keep Kaci Hickox isolated at home until November 10th.

MARY MAYHEW: We will make it mandatory. It is certainly in everyone’s best interest to just cooperate and work with us to minimize contact. It is very difficult, outside of that voluntary agreement to stay at home, to monitor someone who may come into contact with many individuals, that if that individual then becomes symptomatic, we will have to work with every single one of those individuals to quarantine those individuals.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, President Obama held an event at the White House to honor American doctors, nurses and healthcare workers returning from West Africa.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Like our military men and women deploying to West Africa, they do this for no other reason than their own sense of duty, their sense of purpose, their sense of serving a cause greater than themselves. So we need to call them what they are, which is American heroes. They deserve our gratitude. And they deserve to be treated with dignity and with respect.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the debate over quarantining healthcare workers, we’re joined by Lawrence Gostin, university professor and faculty director at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, also the director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Public Health Law.

You’re one of the leading experts, Dr. Gostin, on the issue of quarantine. This showdown is only getting hotter in this country, and it’s not just about this one crusading nurse, Kaci Hickox. But can you talk about what it is she’s saying, why she objected to being held in the hospital in New Jersey, and then went home to Maine and was told she had to stay there, why she feels she shouldn’t be there for 21 days?

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Well, I really don’t think she should be there for 21 days. I, like her, believe—and I’ve spent my entire life defending the public’s health. And if I actually thought that she or any of the other health workers coming from the region were a risk to the public, I would support a quarantine. But the Supreme Court has said that if you confine somebody who has committed no crime, it’s, quote, "a massive deprivation of liberty." It’s not a trivial thing. We have to make sure that we balance civil liberties with public health. In this case, all the public health experts are telling us that it’s unnecessary—the CDC, the World Health Organization. There’s no organization that I know of that believes it’s right to quarantine for three weeks somebody that really is, as President Obama said, is a hero. They’ve sacrificed. They’ve done things that most of us wouldn’t do. They’ve put themselves at risk, gone in a compassionate way. And I do think we need to treat them better than we are. This is self-defeating. We think that we’re actually decreasing our risk by quarantining her, but actually we’re increasing it, because if we impede people from going to the region, then the epidemic there will spin out of control, and that is where our risk lies.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to turn to comments made by NBC cameraman and Ebola survivor Ashoka Mukpo. He was asked about the mandatory quarantine being imposed on Kaci Hickox. He also talked about Dr. Craig Spencer, who’s being treated for Ebola in New York. He was speaking on CNN. Let’s just go to a clip.

ASHOKA MUKPO: She’s earned a right to, you know, have a sense of her own safety and her own risk factor to others. And I don’t think that Dr. Spencer endangered anyone. My feeling is—and, you know, again, I’m not an expert, this is just my own view on the exposure that I’ve had to Ebola—is I think that Governor Christie is playing politics right now. It seems to me that it’s an effort to, you know, work with public opinion rather than listen to the advice of the experts. And I just think that it’s counterproductive. You know, these are people who have gone and endangered their lives to work with people who have very limited resources and are dying in relatively large numbers. So, to make it more difficult and to treat them as if they’re a potential problem as opposed to a public asset, I just think it’s a shame, and I don’t think it’s the right way to act.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Ebola survivor Ashoka Mukpo speaking on CNN. So, Lawrence Gostin, can you explain why it is people are so fearful? They’ve have been so critical, many people, of Kaci and of Dr. Craig Spencer, for what they claim was endangering the lives of the public. Could you explain why that’s not really been the case?

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: You know, it really isn’t the case. We know from science and epidemiology that if a person is completely symptom-free, if they haven’t had any known exposure, with their skin or anything else, they have no temperature, and if the health department would proactively monitor them—I’m all in favor of that—then if they want to get in their car, or if they want to have a walk on the street, they’re endangering no one at all. And as I say, from a matter of law, the doctrine of quarantine requires that you have an individual assessment of significant risk. And it doesn’t exist here. The CDC itself does not put her in a category that would warrant quarantine. They have guided the states in that way. They’ve asked the states to behave in a way that comports with science. And unfortunately, we’re coming up to elections. Politicians are wanting to follow the polls. They’re basing their decisions on fear rather than science. And while sometimes that might be an OK thing to do, not if you’re depriving somebody of liberty, and not if you’re really making a situation in West Africa worse than it is.

AMY GOODMAN: Maine Governor LePage is one of the most conservative governors in the country. And his Health and Human Services secretary spoke yesterday. What they didn’t explain, they have police outside of the home where Kaci is staying. They have not directly said what they’re going to do to her if she goes outside. But if they’re saying she’s contagious, right—the New Jersey governor, Christie, said she’s "obviously ill," which was obviously wrong—

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Clearly wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: Are they going to be wearing moon suits and tackle her? They will not explain what they’re going to do to her.

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: No, and in fact, unless they’ve actually issued a formal quarantine order under the state’s public health law, the police actually have no authority over her. She has committed no crime. There has been no assessment that she actually, from a scientific point of view, poses any risk to anyone. I don’t see that they’ve got any authority. Now, if they get a court order, they’re going to have to convince a judge that their decision is based upon rationality and science. And I don’t see how they can do that when the entire scientific community disagrees. And they’re just—they’re fanning the fear in the public. The public are wondering, "Why are we getting all these confusing messages?" The president’s saying one thing, the governor’s saying another thing, the WHO and CDC have their own position.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, there—

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: We have to have a consistent position.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Gostin, there are mixed messages.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that all U.S. troops returning from the Ebola zone in West Africa must spend 21 days in quarantine. Let’s go to a clip.

DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: What I signed this morning was a memorandum to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in response to the memorandum of recommendation I received from the chairman and the chiefs yesterday to go forward with a policy of essentially 21-day incubation for our men and women who would be returning from West Africa.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaking on Wednesday. So, Larry Gostin, can you explain the discrepancy in policy? Because on the one hand, the Obama administration seems to be saying that quarantine is not required for health workers, and now we have Chuck Hagel, the defense secretary, saying, but for the military, it is. And presumably healthcare workers are in much closer proximity to those suffering from Ebola in West Africa.

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: I mean it’s a complete contradiction in terms. I was very proud of the United States for sending military troops into West Africa. I actually wish that the military troops could provide direct patient care. But President Obama ruled that out because he didn’t want them to be exposed to any risk—for political reasons. I can understand that. But now, when they’ve not had any patient contact—they may have had no exposure whatsoever—and then come back, and every single one of them will be quarantined 21 days, it defies rationality. Why would you want to do that?

The other thing is, is that we have people coming and going to West Africa all the time. We have U.N. diplomats, high-level American officials, high-level World Bank officials, that will be coming to and from New York City and other places. Do we intend to quarantine them all?

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the U.S. ambassador—

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: We have no consistent—

AMY GOODMAN: —to the United Nations, Samantha Power, just went to all three nations that are hardest hit.


AMY GOODMAN: She said she’ll abide by the law. But this goes even beyond Ebola. I wanted to turn to Steve Hyman, an attorney for the nurse, Kaci Hickox.

STEVEN HYMAN: There’s no basis to arrest her. There’s no basis to detain her. And such action would be illegal and unconstitutional. And we would seek to protect Kaci’s rights as an American citizen under the Constitution. The fact is, she seems to be doing well. She’s now certainly better than she was when she was in the isolation tent, courtesy of Governor Christie, in New Jersey. She is feeling fine—hopefully, she stays that way—and is monitoring herself, as required by the protocols, and is staying in touch with the Maine public health officials. There is no legal basis under Maine law or under the U.S. Constitution to restrain her because she went to Africa to help people get better.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is what else Kaci Hickox’s attorney, Steve Hyman, had to say.

STEVEN HYMAN: In the AIDS crisis, they were trying to do the same thing. People were supposed to be isolated because of AIDS and the fear that ran through the community. And that proved to be totally wrong. And people were subjected to the same thing that’s happening to Kaci by this hysteria that somehow there’s contagion, because of some myth as to how it’s transmitted.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Steve Hyman, an attorney for Kaci Hickox. And I wanted to ask you, Dr. Lawrence Gostin—I was just watching a Mount Sinai Hospital doctor, infectious disease doctor, today on television, who was responding to the question, you know, more than 80 percent of Americans want people quarantined, so how do you deal with that? And he said, you know, if you had asked them if they wanted Ryan White, the boy who had AIDS—


AMY GOODMAN: —if you wanted him quarantined, not to go to school, they would have said the same thing. That doesn’t make it right. How do you deal with this, Dr. Gostin?

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Well, I mean, I think you need to deal with it with clear information. I mean, we didn’t, in the end, quarantine people with AIDS, thank goodness, but we did harass them, discriminate against them. Ryan White, a poor little young boy who had HIV infection, was embarrassed, kick out of school. These are not humane, compassionate ways of dealing with things. Unfortunately, you know, epidemics, particularly fearful ones, bring the worst out in society and civilization and humanity. But we need to find the better parts of ourselves and treat human beings with compassion, and only restrict them if it’s absolutely necessary for the public welfare. And in this case, it clearly is not.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, on Wednesday, representatives of the Centers for Disease Control joined health officials from 31 other countries from the Americas in Cuba for a conference on Ebola. The meeting was convened by ALBA, a regional alliance of Latin American and Caribbean countries. This is Cuban Health Minister Roberto Morales.

DR. ROBERTO MORALES OJEDA: [translated] We hope that this meeting creates a concerted course of action to continue perfecting our national plans, that it ratifies the commitment we have to the most vulnerable people as an expression of the principles of solidarity, genuine cooperation and integration between our countries.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The U.S. presence in Cuba is the latest show of cooperation between the two countries on the Ebola crisis. This is Nelson Arboleda of the CDC.

DR. NELSON ARBOLEDA: [translated] I think that this is an international emergency and that we must all work together and cooperate in this effort.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Larry Gostin, according to the World Health Organization, Cuba is by far the largest provider of doctors and healthcare workers to West Africa in dealing with this Ebola crisis. So could you talk about what you think the U.S. ought to be doing more to deal with the crisis there in West Africa?

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Yeah, well, before I do that, I mean, one—when I just had said that epidemics bring out the worst in us, but here’s a case of where epidemics can bring out the best in us, where it can bring us together, which shouldn’t be a Democrat-Republican issue. It shouldn’t be a Cuba-American issue. It’s a global issue for all of mankind and humankind.

What America needs to do is really ramp up the response in West Africa. We need to be training a reserve work core of experienced doctors and nurses, putting them into the region, supporting them, treating them with respect. And we need to be providing money. And more than anything, we need to mobilize the international community. At least the U.S. has troops there. There are a lot of countries that don’t. I’m really astounded at the delay and the lack of attention that’s been given to what is really one of the worst crises I’ve seen since the AIDS epidemic.

AMY GOODMAN: MSF, Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders, is really suffering now. They’re saying that—


AMY GOODMAN: —because of this controversy over the quarantining of healthy people, that it means that they are getting less recruits, fewer doctors, nurses, health workers offering to go abroad. President Obama almost had tears in his eyes yesterday as he surrounded himself—I think the visual was more important than anything he said, being very close to hugging people who had been in West Africa. What is your—what is the single most important thing you feel needs to happen right now as the U.S. focuses on this debate over local quarantine? What’s brought Liberia’s infection rate down?

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Well, you know, first, we have to stop being so insular and just thinking about ourselves and our own—we have a few very isolated cases. In West Africa, they will have tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands, of people with Ebola. So we’ve got to put it in perspective. And we have to really all come together, as Americans and as an international community, and put our focus in West Africa. You know, if we don’t, and for some reason it jumps to another populous city like Delhi or Beijing, then we could have a global catastrophe, something that would really come back to haunt us. So, this is in our self-interest, but more than that, it’s in our shared humanity, that we really need to focus our attention, resources, human resources and engineering to really build up hospitals, doctors and public health systems. And we have to learn from this lesson. We have to learn what to do in the future. And what that is, is to build the health systems up in low- and middle-income countries so that these things don’t spin out of control.

AMY GOODMAN: Lawrence Gostin, we want to thank you for being with us, university professor, faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University—

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: —also director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Public Health Law. Thank you. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’re going to be looking at the Red Cross, not around the issue of Ebola today, but it’s the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. "Where were they?" people asked all over the East Coast. We’ll look at their own internal documents to find out why they were not present. Stay with us.

News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 11:06:41 -0400
Arming the Warrior Cop: From Guns to Drones, Inside the Booming Business of Police Militarization

In a new cover story for Mother Jones magazine, "The Making of the Warrior Cop," senior reporter Shane Bauer goes inside the corporations and government departments involved in enabling police departments to acquire anything from bayonets to semi-automatic rifles and drones. Reporting from the exposition called "Urban Shield" - which organizers call the largest first-responder training in the world - Bauer says that the equipment police departments have received from the military pales in comparison to the amount of gear purchased from private companies. The Department of Homeland Security has provided some $41 billion in funding to local police departments to buy the equipment from various corporations, on top of more than $5 billion from the Pentagon since 1997.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We continue our conversation about policing communities by looking at who is involved in the increasing militarization of police departments across the country. Shane Bauer’s cover story for Mother Jones magazine, headlined "The Making of the Warrior Cop," gives us a tour through the corporations and government departments involved in enabling police departments to acquire anything from bayonets to semi-automatic rifles to drones. Reporting from the exposition called Urban Shield, which, according to organizers, is the largest first-responder training in the world, Bauer says that the equipment police departments have received from the military, quote, "pales in comparison to the amount of gear purchased from private companies."

AMY GOODMAN: The Department of Homeland Security provides funding to local police departments to buy equipment from various corporations. Shane Bauer writes, quote, "The Department of Defense has given $5.1 billion worth of equipment to state and local police departments since 1997, with even rural counties acquiring things like grenade launchers and armored personnel carriers. But Homeland Security has handed out grants worth eight times as much—$41 billion since 2002." Let’s go to a clip from the Mother Jones piece. Shane Bauer, who will join us in a minute, starts by asking Urban Shield spokesperson, Sergeant JD Nelson, a question.

SHANE BAUER: Do you think there’s any validity to the criticism that the United States is kind of increasingly becoming a police state?

SGT. JD NELSON: I think there is some validity to that.

SHANE BAUER: We’re at Urban Shield in Oakland, California. It’s a cop convention where this weekend SWAT teams from around the Bay Area and around the world are going to be competing around the Bay.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Mother Jones journalist Shane Bauer, who joins us now from University of California, Berkeley, studios, the award-winning investigative journalist, senior reporter at Mother Jones magazine. His cover story is headlined "The Making of the Warrior Cop." Shane is also the journalist who was imprisoned for two years in Iran.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Shane. So, take us through this expo, and these astounding figures. I mean, we’ve heard a lot about the weapons coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon recycling them in towns, cities, hamlets, in their police departments. But the fact that that amount of equipment is dwarfed by direct grants to these communities to buy money—to buy weapons from weapons manufacturers?

SHANE BAUER: Yeah, thanks for having me on, Amy. So, you know, Ferguson is, I think, a good example of this. In Ferguson, a lot of the kind of gear that we saw on television that the police had, you know, throughout the crisis there was not actually military gear. It was stuff, very similar equipment, bought from private companies. And what we’re seeing now is, you know, some towns, some counties are actually giving back the equipment or trying to give back the military equipment, but they also have, you know, very similar stuff that they’re buying from private companies. An example is in Arizona. Sheriff Joe Arpaio kind of made a show of giving some of his gear back, and he put on display all of his kind of military stuff he had, and then he showed the much kind of newer, more up-to-date stuff that he’s buying from companies. And this industry has really, you know, sprung up post-9/11, when Homeland Security start giving grants to local communities for counterterrorism. A lot of the companies I saw at Urban Shield were actually started after 9/11. So they give this stuff for counterterrorism, but, of course, they can use it for anything they want, and most of what it’s used for is drug raids.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what does this mean in terms of these manufacturers or suppliers, in terms of their actually going around lobbying these local governments to buy their material?

SHANE BAUER: Well, I think one example that I saw at Urban Shield was a company called the Armored Group. They were selling the kind of big APC-style armored vehicles. And if you go on their website, you see that they tell local police departments that "if you want to buy our vehicle, we actually have a grant writer that will write the grant for you for Homeland Security so you can get the funding." They also suggest that they use forfeiture money. This is money that is taken in criminal investigations, money or property that police departments take in criminal investigations, even when the defendants are not actually prosecuted in the cases. That money can also be used to buy similar—the same equipment from these companies.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to another clip from your report for Mother Jones. In this video, you’re speaking to Jeremy Johnson of the Armored Group.

JEREMY JOHNSON: Like you, I’ve been all over the world. I’ve seen a lot of the stuff. And I see a lot of the differences. You know, this is not a—they’re not going in to just take care of business. They’re there to, hopefully, handle a situation that could get out of hand, right?

SHANE BAUER: Yeah, yeah.

JEREMY JOHNSON: But you never hear about the ones they handle. I think that’s where it gets a little disconnect from what they want. But you’re right. Some of these trucks do look intimidating—for a reason, though. They should. You know, you don’t want to pull up a Chevy Chevette in front of a house and say, "Here, we’re going to get you." You’re not going to get the effect you want.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I want to turn to another clip from your report, one that features something unbelievable—a university, the University of California, Berkeley, having a SWAT team. After they staged a hostage rescue simulation, you spoke to Eric Tejada of UC Berkeley’s Special Operations.

LT. ERIC TEJADA: It was actually around ’92, ’94, there was an attack on the chancellor of the—


LT. ERIC TEJADA: —at his residence, which is on campus.

SHANE BAUER: OK, uh-huh.

LT. ERIC TEJADA: And we realized at the time that we didn’t have any resources to deal with that kind of threat when it took place.


LT. ERIC TEJADA: So, and I think about 15 years before, they had some kind of semblance of a SWAT team.


LT. ERIC TEJADA: So they regenerated the idea of—


LT. ERIC TEJADA: —activating a SWAT team.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Eric Tejada of UC Berkeley’s Special Operations. Most people might be surprised to hear the University of California, Berkeley, has a SWAT team. Shane Bauer, could you tell us what kind of operations the team has physically carried out?

SHANE BAUER: Yeah, well, I mean, this is interesting, because this scenario, they were doing a kind of high-stakes hostage rescue. They would later go on a boat in the bay to kind of dismantle a terrorist IED. They would go into a church, where, you know, a kind of pretend militant atheist group is holding church members hostage. But when I asked them what they do day to day, most of what they respond to are muggings of students—you know, the kind of normal police work that police departments do. They’re kind of going in, you know, fully armed, geared up in this kind of military-style gear, busting into houses.

You know, I think another aspect that is interesting about this whole situation with the Homeland Security money is that there’s incentive for kind of new equipment. One thing that I saw was a device that attaches to a gun, and it sends out radiation waves that temporarily blind the person it’s pointed at for 10 minutes by—what the vendor told me was, by scrambling their ocular fluid. And that’s something that’s going to be hitting the market early next year.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this is both an expo that you went to, Urban Shield, but also there was a lot of role playing.


AMY GOODMAN: Now, you had your press credentials revoked, is that right?


AMY GOODMAN: Your press credentials were revoked on the last day of the conference. I want to go to a clip, the third day of the conference, and you filmed a police officer asking you to leave the premises.

SHANE BAUER: They told us that we were OK here. Said, "Take their media badges"?

POLICE OFFICER: Yeah, and said, "Hold onto"—

SHANE BAUER: Did he explain why?

POLICE OFFICER: He just said because they were in violation of the rules for filming inside of one of the sites; they were advised to film inside the site.

SHANE BAUER: What site?

POLICE OFFICER: I don’t know.

SHANE BAUER: They didn’t even say what site.

POLICE OFFICER: I assume it’s mine. I assume it’s this site.

AMY GOODMAN: Before you were removed from the conference, Shane, there were numerous instances in which your work was shut down at Urban Shield. So, explain—


AMY GOODMAN: Just give us the global picture of what’s happening, the expo and these other role plays that you were trying to cover that happened outside, like in San Francisco and the bridge.

SHANE BAUER: Yeah, so there was—basically, it was a four-day event. The first two days was an expo. There was an expo hall where all kinds of companies were showing their equipment—guns, trucks, drones, you know, robots that can be printed with 3D printers—trying to sell them to the local police departments. The next two days was a 48-hour straight exercise, where SWAT teams were actually competing with each other, going through around 35 scenarios. And each one, they’re kind of getting points. These were a lot of kind of Bay Area SWAT teams. There were some international SWAT teams from Singapore, South Korea. The U.S. Marines was a team. There was, you know, teams like UC Berkeley, a prison SWAT team. And I had gone to some of these events, and on the morning of the second day, they took our press credentials.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Shane, drones obviously have gotten a lot of attention in recent years. Did you get any sense that that was a hot item among these different law enforcement agencies this time around?

SHANE BAUER: Oh, yeah. There were a ton of drones. Actually, when I got kicked out, there was a vendor. Each of these kind of sites where they were doing these scenarios had a particular vendor. And at that site, there was a drone vendor who we had interviewed. And he was hoping to use their drones, his company’s drones, in the exercise on the Bay Bridge, but because of FAA regulations, they were not allowed to use them. You know, the county in—Alameda County hasn’t gotten approval yet to use them. But you saw, you know, a big thing right now is the 3D-printable drones. So, police departments can print out a drone, attach the wiring and, you know, set it out.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s been a lot of protest in Oakland around urging the Oakland mayor, Jean Quan, to cancel the Urban Shield conference next year. Can you talk about these protests and the significance of this happening in Oakland in this post-Ferguson period?

SHANE BAUER: Yeah, well, Urban Shield has been happening for years. It’s been going on since the mid-2000s. And in recent years, there’s been regular protest of it. And this year, in particular, Jean Quan said that Urban Shield will not be allowed to come back to Oakland. Now, the county has said, "Yes, they will." So there’s kind of a battle between the city and the county right now.

You know, when I was at Urban Shield, the protests, something I noticed was that the protests were referencing Ferguson quite a bit. And that was something that just wasn’t really talked about on the inside; inside Urban Shield, there wasn’t any discussion of Ferguson. But at the same time, you know, I was seeing T-shirts for sale that—where, you know, you see kind of an image of a gun sight, and says, "This is my peace sign." You see, you know, kind of this Spartan imagery, very militaristic kind of imagery, that in many ways, you know, is kind of—

AMY GOODMAN: What is "This is my peace sign"? What is it actually showing?

SHANE BAUER: That’s a sight of an AR-15, looking kind of down the scope of an AR-15 sight.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Shane, the—

SHANE BAUER: And, you know, I think this—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’m sorry. Go ahead.

SHANE BAUER: Oh, you know, I think something that—something that really was interesting to me about being there was this kind of overlap with the military. You know, some of these companies that I seen and vendors that I spoke to were from the military. Their companies were actually set up to distribute to the military, and they’ve since kind of come over to also bringing in police. You know, the Marines were a team competing there. I talked to the Marines after one of their scenarios, and they said that they actually learn from the police. The spokesperson of Urban Shield told me, you know, "We should be talking not about militarization of the police, but policization of the military." There’s this kind of interesting dynamic now where the Marines are actually learning from the kind of urban SWAT team tactics, to bring back and kind of train their people.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Shane, I wanted to ask you about the Pentagon’s 1033 program. It’s transferred more than $5.1 billion in military equipment to local agencies since 1991. That includes some 600 mine-resistant armor-protected vehicles, or MRAPs.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Last month, during a Senate hearing on police militarization, Brian Kamoie of the Department of Homeland Security defended the program. He said equipment helped locate the surviving suspect after the Boston Marathon bombing last year.

BRIAN KAMOIE: The response to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing demonstrated how preparedness grant investments have improved capabilities. Grant-funded equipment, such as the forward-looking infrared camera on a Massachusetts State Police helicopter, enabled the apprehension of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, while enhancing the personal safety of law enforcement officers and protecting public safety.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Brian Kamoie of the Department of Homeland Security. So, isn’t—some people would say that’s a justification for all of this hardware.

SHANE BAUER: Right. I mean, you know, there’s no doubt that people in a kind of extreme situation are going to want to have some kind of response. The issue is that a lot of this hardware is going to small towns. I mean, everybody is getting this stuff. And most of it is used for drug raids. It’s the kind of situations where there has been—there’s not an active shooter, there’s not a hostage scenario—the kind of stuff that police often talk about in why they need this equipment. It’s used to raid people’s houses, you know, often in no-knock raids to try to find drugs. And these SWAT teams are mostly used—about 71 percent of the time they’re used to target people of color, even though the people that are the most likely to be, you know, the active shooters, the hostage takers, are white. In North Carolina in one town, African Americans were targeted 47 times the amount of white people by SWAT teams.

AMY GOODMAN: Shane, as we wrap up, I wanted to switch gears. As we talk to you and you’re talking about the amount of money that’s going into the militarization of police at home, we’re seeing the U.S. attack Syria and Iraq, dealing with the Islamic State. You were held in Iran with Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd for—well, you and Josh for two years by the Iranian authorities; you were imprisoned. And I wanted to know your reaction to when you see, for example, the video of James Foley, the horrid video of his beheading, and then his mother coming out and saying she was threatened that if she dared try to raise any kind of ransom, she herself would be prosecuted. Your thoughts on this issue, as journalists like yourself have been held?

SHANE BAUER: I mean, it’s terrible, I mean, all the way around. My heart goes out to the Foley family, to the families of all of the people who are held hostage in Syria, including, you know, Syrians. Most of the people that are missing right now are Syrians. And, you know—

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, before you were arrested, you and Sarah worked in Syria. You were teaching English in Syria.

SHANE BAUER: Right. Yeah, I was actually working as a journalist in Syria. Sarah was teaching. And, you know, it’s still hard for me to really get my head around what is happening there. It’s just such a different place. And I do, you know, wish that our government did more, that people weren’t—people like Foley’s mom didn’t face punishment for trying to raise money to get her son out of prison. I mean, it’s not a simple situation. You know, giving money to the Islamic State is not the answer, either. But we need to have kind of a more active way of dealing with this, I think.

AMY GOODMAN: Shane, thanks so much for being with us. Shane Bauer, award-winning investigative journalist, senior reporter at Mother Jones magazine, his cover story headlined "The Making of the Warrior Cop." And we’ll link to it at

When we come back, we go to Austin, Texas. We’ll be speaking with a Texas man on trial—for filming the police? Well, we’ll find out what’s happening. Stay with us.

News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:53:28 -0400