Truthout Stories Tue, 01 Dec 2015 11:37:06 -0500 en-gb "The Fossil Fuel Era Must Draw to a Close": A Message From the Marshall Islands to the World

One of the most passionate speeches of the opening day of the UN climate change conference in Paris was delivered by Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak. Thousands of residents from the Marshall Islands have already fled the Pacific island state, becoming climate change refugees because of rising sea levels. Loeak urged world leaders to end the fossil fuel era. "For us, COP 21 must be a turning point in history," Loeak says, "and one that gives us hope."


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

AMY GOODMAN: One of the most passionate speeches of the opening day of the UN climate change conference here in Paris was delivered by the Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak. Thousands of residents from the Marshall Islands have already fled the Pacific island state, becoming climate change refugees. Loeak urged world leaders to end the fossil fuel era.

CHRISTOPHER LOEAK: Everything I know and everyone I love is in the hands of all of us gathered here today. The climate we have known over many centuries has, in the matter of three short decades, changed dramatically before our very eyes. We are already limping from climate disaster to climate disaster, and we know there is worse to come. For us, COP21 must be a turning point in history and one that give us hope. Our Paris agreement must set a path for the safe climate future we all strive for. We all know, and much acknowledge, that the packets on the table now are not enough to limit warming to below 1.5 degrees. Although, they are a start in the right direction. Therefore, if it is to deliver the end we all seek, the Paris agreement must be designed for ambition.

It must send a message to the world that if we are to win the battle against climate change, the fossil fuel era must draw to a close to be replaced by clean, green energy future, free of the carbon pollution that is harming our air, stunting our growth, and suffocating our planet. It must set a [indiscernable] for our action to seize us ratcheting our national targets every five years. And it must assure countries as vulnerable as mine that the world's helping hand will be there when climate change, unfortunately and unavoidably, unleashes its devastating impacts.

AMY GOODMAN: Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak speaking here in Paris at the UN Climate Summit. When we come back, we'll speak with two climate negotiators who have taken their struggle to the streets. Stay with us.

News Tue, 01 Dec 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Pope Francis to World Leaders at UN Climate Summit: "We Are at the Limits of Suicide"

Pope Francis has warned that the world is heading toward suicide if more is not done to combat climate change. His message was directed at nearly 150 heads of state gathered in Paris for the UN Climate Summit to finalize pledges to make voluntary greenhouse gas emission cuts. On Monday, France and India launched an international alliance to deliver solar energy to some of the planet's poorest even as India continues to heavily promote coal power. India is expected to open a new coal plant every single month until 2020 as the country plans to double its coal production. Chinese President Xi Jinping called on the world's wealthiest nations to help the developing world adapt to a changing climate, as smog in Beijing climbed to more than 35 times safety levels set by the World Health Organization and the country ordered thousands of factories to be temporarily shut down.


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

AMY GOODMAN: As nearly 150 heads of state gathered here in Paris for what organizers called the largest-ever gathering of its kind, Pope Francis warned Monday the world is heading toward suicide if more is not done to combat climate change. The Pope made the remark aboard a plane at the end of a six-day trip to Africa.

POPE FRANCIS: [translated] We are at the limits. If I may use a strong word, I would say that we are at the limits of suicide. I'm certain that almost all of those who are in Paris at COP21 are conscious of this and want to do something.

AMY GOODMAN: Nearly 170 nations arrived here in Paris with pledges to make voluntary greenhouse gas emission cuts, but scientists say far more is needed to prevent catastrophic climate change. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the world needs to move much faster to address the crisis.

BAN KI-MOON:Paris must mark a decisive turning point. We need the world to know that we are headed toward lower emissions, climate resilient future, and there is no going back. The national climate plans submitted by more than 180 countries as of today cover close to 100 percent of global emissions. This is a very good start, but we need to go much faster, much farther if we are to limit the global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, France and India launched an international alliance to deliver solar energy to some of the planet's poorest. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the initiative.

NARENDRA MODI: One must turn to sun to power the future. As developing world leaps billions of people into prosperity, our hope for a sustainable planet rests on a bold global initiative. It will mean advanced countries living in a carbon space for developing countries to grow. It will create unlimited economic opportunities that will be the foundation of the new economy of the century. This is an alliance that brings together developed and developing countries.

AMY GOODMAN: While India is pushing solar energy, it's also heavily promoting coal power. India is expected to open a new coal plant every single month until 2020 as the country plans to double its coal production. Chinese President Xi Jinping called on the world's wealthiest nations to help the developing world adapt to a changing climate.

XI JINPING: [translated] The Paris agreement should help increase the investment and ensure the actions on climate change. Developed countries should keep their commitments to mobilizing $100 billion US dollars each year by 2020, and provide the stronger financial support to developing countries afterwards. It's also important to transfer climate-friendly technology to developing countries. The Paris agreement should help accommodate different conditions in various countries, emphasize on being practical and effective. We should respect differences, especially developing countries, in domestic policies, capacity building, and economic structure.

AMY GOODMAN: Chinese president Xi Jinping spoke in Paris as smog in Beijing climbed to more than 35 times safety levels set by the World Health Organization. China has ordered thousands of factories to be temporarily shut down.

News Tue, 01 Dec 2015 00:00:00 -0500
How Black Lives Matter Came Back Stronger After White Supremacist Attacks

2015.12.1.BLM.1Black Lives Matter Minneapolis marches after the shooting by white supremacists. (Photo: Adja Gildersleve / Facebook)

When five protesters were shot by white supremacists in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 22, my world turned a bit upside down. My time as an activist there, from 2006-13, has largely informed how I organize and do movement building. I knew at a lot of the people involved and was quickly on the phone. The protesters' campaign demanded justice for Jamar Clark, an unarmed African American who was killed by Minneapolis police a week before.

I knew that the protest site, the Fourth Precinct Police Station on Plymouth Avenue, had previously been the location of a storefront center for black activism named The WAY. Thirty-five years ago, Police Chief Anthony Bouza bragged about how he would turn the site into a police station to show who was on top. Now the location spotlights the violent police role in institutionalized racism in Minnesota. It's no wonder that freelance shooters would show up.

At the same time, it's also no surprise that Black Lives Matter Minnesota quickly organized a mass march from the Fourth Precinct to City Hall the next day. But to fully appreciate this powerful response to the shootings, we need to realize how things might have gone differently. When many people hear about violent attack on their friends and fellow protesters, they react with numbness, shock and rage. Some are caught like deer in the headlights, unable to move because it seems beyond comprehension. Some simply want to fight back with violence, and others want to withdraw. Sometimes, though, we can see other options that strengthen our inner resiliency - the ability to acknowledge events, feel their effect and seek to heal by expressing the power we have in that moment.

That's precisely what the Black Lives Matter organizers did when they quickly planned a march to emphasize the seat of accountability, City Hall. Protesters knew not to withdraw, run or lay low after the violence. Instead, they showed up. The route itself is three miles and difficult to navigate since the city has built an extensive highway system that stands between the predominately black neighborhood of North Minneapolis and downtown. A result of racist urban planning practices, the highway cuts off tourism and commercial business that might spread from downtown. (In neighboring St. Paul this same highway included such obviously racist routing that the city of St. Paul later made a formal apology.)

2015.12.1.BLM.2(Photo: Black Lives Matter MPLS / Twitter)

Marchers at the front, anxious to begin moving, were restless and organizers worked to channel the energy. What they did was brilliant: They changed the chants from the familiar "Black, Lives, Matter" and used different confrontational, specific words that channeled the escalating energy. Knowing that tense people need to move their bodies, organizers led those who were there to circle the precinct, urging the demonstrators to "let them see our faces, let them know who is here." Organizing within a highly tense environment requires responsiveness to the moment. Rather than try to contain or minimize the intensity, the organizers found effective ways to channel it.

One of the wounded protesters, shot in the knee, came back to the precinct station, leaning heavily on a cane, determined to participate in the action. Cultural workers led a healing circle, local artists shared music and body workers set up a shack on wheels for private sessions if needed.

In the meantime, white activists went to Uptown - an upscale shopping district of mostly middle-class white people - where they challenged other whites to stand up against racist violence and speak out.

When the march was ready to head towards City Hall those in front had already practiced marching and could lead from their experience of having handled their own anxiety, sustaining their energy and then moving when the rest of the mass was ready to move with them. The route of the march made sense: It highlighted racial segregation in Minneapolis and illustrated the way that power should flow – from the struggle in the streets to the halls of justice.

Minneapolis has one of the most proactive and diverse city councils in the country. When Rep. Alondra Cano was running for office she personally called me to build a relationship. She and Rep. Keith Ellison are consistently engaged in the community by not only changing policies, but also supporting grassroots organizing. After the shootings Rep. Ellison tweeted, "As we continue our work on these critical issues, the safety of everyone at the Fourth Precinct must be our highest priority. Monday night's shootings are not the fault of the victims or the Black Lives Matter movement, which is committed to nonviolence."

2015.12.1.BLM.3A community meeting to figure out the next steps after the shooting. (Photo: Black Lives Matter MPLS / Twitter)

As one of the largest cities in the Midwest, Minneapolis organizing is successful due in part because of how diverse cultural practices have combined with grassroots organizing. A vibrant East African community, trans youth organizers and the largest urban population of indigenous people in the country each contribute. The quick and effective response to the attack was additionally made possible because local organizers, who have been movement building for decades in the Midwest, have been offering trainings on trauma and resiliency for the last year. Showing Up for Racial Justice, or SURJ - a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice - has supported white allies in Minnesota to talk to people in wealthy districts. The action in Uptown, for instance, was the result of a SURJ Minnesota chapter.

Meanwhile, in October, Training for Change held its three-day core training on direct education in Minneapolis - Training for Social Action Trainers - where Black Lives Matter demonstrators learned skills to confront challenges and facilitate difficult moments. Some organizers are also participants in the Training For Change Judith C. Jones Fellowship for Trainers of Color, as well as The Wildfire Project, which trains, supports and links grassroots groups, helping to lay the foundation for powerful movement building. In August, the Wildfire Project and Training for Change came together to train a number of those who have been active in this recent round of demonstrations.

Another important training, led by a group now known as Ayni, was finishing up the morning the news broke about Jamar Clark. Their approach, which they call the momentum model, "merges the traditions of mass protest and structure-based organizing to create a new tradition of mass protest in the United States." During the last hours of that training, Black Lives Matters Minneapolis organizers were applying momentum concepts to their work that would take place later that day - the occupation of the Fourth Precinct.

The strategy of the civil rights movement turns out to be as relevant in 2015 as in 1960. When white supremacists attack you with violence, increase the pressure of your nonviolent action. The reward the racists were hoping for - to intimidate you into submission or to evoke counter-violence - is not the reward you'll give them. Instead, you come back with stronger action, legitimate leaders applaud your nonviolence, and additional allies come forward. That's the way to win local struggles, whether in Montgomery, Birmingham or Minneapolis.

News Tue, 01 Dec 2015 00:00:00 -0500
On World AIDS Day 2015: HIV Orphans in India Struggle With the Disease and for Their Future

2015.12.1.IPS.mainDr. Ashok Rau, the executive trustee of Freedom Foundation, makes it a point to play with the HIV orphans to sustain a bonding. (Photo: Malini Shankar / IPS)

As the globe marks World AIDS Day, December 1, experts say still there is much to do to end the spread of HIV and Aids. Ending the Aids epidemic is part of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, to be reached by 2030.

UNAIDS says Asia and the Pacific have the second largest population of people living with HIV, at an estimated 4.8 million [4.1 million–5.5 million] people. Figures for India are difficult to pin down as there is a wide gap in data collection and dissemination.

According to a UNAIDS Gap report from 2014 said India has the third largest HIV epidemic in the world. In 2013, HIV prevalence in India was an estimated 0.3%. This equates to 2.1 million people living with HIV. In the same year, an estimated 130,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses.

India's HIV epidemic is slowing down with a 19 per cent decline in new HIV infections, 130,000 in 2013, and a 38% decline in AIDS-related deaths between 2005 and 2013. Despite this, 51 per cent of deaths in Asia are in India.

Children living with HIV face tremendous challenges. IPS correspondent Malini Shankar spent time with some of these children in Bangalore and this is what they shared with her (the names of all the children have been changed to protect their privacy):

Dr. Ashok Rau, the Chief Executive Officer and Executive Trustee of the Freedom Foundation in Bangalore said, spending time with these children "certainly helps, if done in a very sensitive way, because children and people living with HIV and AIDS still suffer from stigma and discrimination with social acceptance still very poor."

Neethi, 12, is new to the Freedom Foundation orphanage and is still feeling the difficulty of the transition.

"I am studying in the 6th Standard (grade). I was 2 ½-years-old when my mother died. I do not remember her face either. She died of HIV/AIDS. No I do not know how old she was or if she had it first or Dad had it first. After my mother's death my father left me in the care of my maternal grandparents."

She described how her father remarried and his second wife also had HIV. She went to live with them but she said she entered a hostile environment. She said at some point after her mother died, she was diagnosed with HIV.

"In the hospital I was admitted to the female paediatric ward. I had been put on a drip and my hand was swollen. So my dad was feeding me the evening supper. At 8.00p.m. the hospital staff sent my father packing because visiting hours were over. He was made to sit outside and my dad asked my step mother to feed me because no men were allowed to stay in the female paediatric ward. But my step mother refused to feed me and instead she took it and ate it herself," said Neethi.

After this Neethi's father decided to move her to the Freedom Foundation. "My father realised that my step mother was ill-treating and abusing me. My father brought me here and admitted me here. He is still alive, he visits me, showers me love, and calls me once a week. I am desperate and I crave for love because I feel the world does not care for people like me, counsellors tell me to be brave and to face the world."

Hamsini, 16, is fighting hard to come to terms with her future. Her father died a decade ago and her mother six years ago. "I did not know that my parents were HIV-positive. It was when my younger sister too succumbed to HIV that I was tested. It was not known for sure if I was HIV-positive because the test results were not conclusive."

She described the stigma attached to the disease and how she suffered. "After my parents and sister died, I was being stigmatised and discriminated, emotionally abused and insulted by relatives. I felt confounded at this new reality. Then I was brought here to Freedom Foundation and about three years ago when the tests confirmed that I too am HIV-positive."

Basavalinga, 15, comes from Gulbarga one of the northernmost districts in the state of Karnataka. "I came to the Freedom Foundation orphanage in 2009. My father died of HIV/AIDS in 2005 and my Mother died of HIV/AIDS in 2007. But I remember in 2004 when I was only four years old, someone had come and told me that I was suffering from an incurable disease. My parents took me to someone who branded me on my stomach with a hot iron rod. The scars are still there," he said.

"After both my parents succumbed to HIV/AIDS my uncles were taking care of me, but they started ill-treating me and discriminating me among other children. That is when I sensed that something was wrong. In 2007 I was tested for HIV and it was positive but my uncles took care of me till 2009 and that was when I was brought to Freedom Foundation orphanage. "

Tejas and his 14-year old brother Tarun come from Malur in Kolar district near Bangalore. Their entire family was hit hard by the disease. Both have been at the Freedom Foundation for six years. Tejas is not sure if he is HIV positive. "But my younger brother Tarun is HIV-positive. My father had three wives and he had two sons with each of his three wives but all my parents are now dead and gone, they all died of HIV/AIDS. I do not know if my stepbrothers are also HIV-positive," he said.

Ashok Rau, the Freedom Foundation's CEO told IPS, "Children need school fees, books, uniforms for effective integration. The criterion of seamless integration is education and life skills besides medication and effective counselling; many have got married and are living productive lives as young adults."

"Our counselling and support for integration has had some amazing success stories: some of our HIV orphans have gotten married, some others are working in leading multinationals, and corporate sector; it vindicates the need for education, training in life skills and mainstreaming these orphans." Rau said funds are badly-needed to keep the orphanage going.

News Tue, 01 Dec 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Museums Challenged to Sever Ties With Climate Deniers

In the past decade David Koch has poured vast sums of money into some of New York's most prominent cultural institutions - $100 million to renovate and rename the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, $65 million for the David H. Koch Plaza in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and $20 million for the David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing at the American Museum of Natural History.

Since 1997, Koch, who heads the oil and manufacturing conglomerate Koch Industries, has also provided at least $79 million in funding to groups that deny climate change and thwart government policies that would address it, according to Greenpeace.

His largesse is a particularly striking example of the money poured into cultural and scientific institutions by the oil and gas industry.

In Europe, BP sponsors four major arts institutions in the United Kingdom - the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum, the Royal Portrait Gallery and the Tate; the Italian oil giant Eni is a main corporate partner of the Louvre; and Shell was a sponsor of a climate change exhibition at the Science Museum in London.

This kind of financial support garners a lot of love from its beneficiaries. Daniel Brodsky, chair of the Met, has hailed Koch for "his vision and generosity." Critics, meanwhile, say that this kind of giving is little more than "greenwashing" and have started a multi-national campaign to pressure scientific and cultural institutions to sever their financial ties to the fossil fuel industry.

"It's strategic marketing, that's why most [fossil fuel companies] line up for museum sponsorships - because it makes them look good in the public eye," said Robert Janes, author of Museums in a Troubled World and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship.

In September, a coalition of groups that includes the Natural History Museum, Art Not Oil and BP or Not BP? launched a campaign urging arts and cultural institutions and individual cultural agents to sign a pledge refusing to promote fossil fuel interests in their artistic and business practices by divesting from fossil fuels, refusing fossil fuel sponsorship and kicking fossil fuel executives off their boards. The Fossil Funds Free pledge now has over 300 signers, including playwright Caryl Churchill, artist and composer Jem Finer and comedian Francesca Martinez.

Most of the groups that have signed the appeal so far are smaller, progressive institutions that were never likely to gain support from fossil fuel corporations. However, for campaign organizers, the early signers of the pledge provide a baseline from which to pursue larger, more prominent organizations to become signatories.

This initiative follows on the heels of an open letter published in March by the Natural History Museum calling on natural history and science museums to sever their ties to the fossil fuel industry. It was signed by more than 100 climate scientists and received widespread media attention.

"You shouldn't have a science denier on the board of a science museum. It's a contradiction in terms," James Powell, former president of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, told Democracy Now!.

The appeal to museums to steer clear of fossil fuel funding comes at a time when budget cuts to arts and science funding in the United States have left museums feeling more pressure to tap private sector funding streams. According to a report by the American Alliance of Museums, in 2012 more than 67 percent of museums felt economic stress, yet only 14 percent reported increases in government support, versus 35 percent who reported decreases in government support.

Nonetheless, says Powell, citing the debates about the South Africa divestment movement of the 1980s, "there is a right side and a wrong side, and if I were president at one of these institutions today, I would be arguing that my institution needed to get on the right side of this issue."

While climate justice activists are busy trying to get fossil fuel companies out of museums, they are also developing innovative ways to bring their ideas into museums. Launched in September 2014, the mobile Natural History Museum is modeling what the role of a science museum can be when unbounded by corporate sponsorship and the strings that come attached with it.

Its exhibitions - an iconic polar bear roaming amid the detritus of industrial civilization, a feedback loop of clean water and water polluted by Koch Industries circulating between two tanks and a water fountain - highlight the sociopolitical forces that shape nature in a way rarely seen at a conventional museum.

The Natural History Museum's co-founder and director Beka Economopoulos has made presentations in the past year at the annual conventions of the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Science-Technology Centers. Now in the works is a new fossil fuel exhibition that will explain the fossil fuel ecosystem in the United States, which will debut in Houston in the spring.

With more museums in the United States than Starbucks and McDonalds combined, Economopoulos sees an opportunity to make a major cultural impact if museums break with the "authoritative neutrality" that she says has defined their aesthetic for generations.

"They see hundreds of thousands, even millions, of visitors a year, they're key spaces for bridging science to the public and educating people," Economopoulos said. "Imagine if this sector, these museums, became hubs for organizing and for communities feeling the brunt of the [climate] crisis to go and find solace and find solidarity."

The newspaper Naomi Klein calls "utterly unique," full of insightful dispatches from around the world, The Indypendent offers a fresh take on today's events.

News Tue, 01 Dec 2015 10:23:43 -0500
Inaccurate Diagnostic Tests Lead to Misdiagnosis, Death and FDA Scrutiny

There is a certain vulnerability when going to the doctor. When people have the option, they seek recommendations in order to find someone with whom they can build a trusting relationship. Yet, even if you can find a doctor you trust to literally have your life in her hands, there are many individuals involved that impact the quality of medical care for which there is no way to research. Now, the Federal Drug Administration is seeking to increase oversight in one crucial area that has come under increased scrutiny.

Advances in research have led to the development of medical tests that can detect thousands of conditions. Tests that would take days, if not weeks, to get results just a few decades ago can now give health care providers answers in mere hours or even minutes. From glucose testing to HIV tests, doctors and hospitals rely heavily on these tests in order to diagnose patients. Some tests, like pregnancy indicators, can be done in the doctor's office. Others are sent to labs which have their own rapid tests that can provide information quickly. Yet for several years now these tests, and the laboratories and technicians that administer them, have come under greater scrutiny due to errors that have led to misdiagnosis and even death.

Diagnostic tests are regulated differently depending on how they are manufactured and distributed. Currently, the FDA has to review and approve tests that are manufactured and sold commercially to multiple labs. It is the manufacturers' responsibility to inform the government if there has been a death or serious injury as a result of the tests, as well as if there is a recall. However, tests that are manufactured by and for use in a single lab do not fall under FDA review. Often these "waived tests" are based off commercially approved ones, though their accuracy may vary.

Over the years, lab developed tests have claimed to be able to detect ovarian cancer, heart disease risk, and even fetal abnormalities. A recent investigation by the FDA has discovered that many of these claims have not been scientifically supported. Doctors and patients have made treatment decisions based on information that was ultimately false. This has resulted in unnecessary treatments, or the wrong treatment for a condition, as well as abortions or drastic surgeries in order to correct a condition that ultimately did not exist.

Whether it's a commercial testing kit or a waived test, the accuracy is also highly dependent on which laboratory is used and who in the lab performs the test. In an investigative report published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in October, they found that more than half the time, directions on how to perform the test were not followed, expired products were used, chemicals weren't properly refrigerated or stored, and labs performed tests they were not authorized to do. They also found that there is little to no training and education for lab technicians who perform the tests. Furthermore, of the more than 180,000 labs in the United States, barely one percent of these labs are ever inspected - and most are done by private companies which charge for doing so.

The problem is that current law allows waived tests to be used without oversight. Passed by Congress in 1988 the law allowed labs to administer simple tests that were proven to have little risk of being inaccurate, or, if an incorrect result did occur, a patient would not be harmed. At the time the law passed, there were only eight tests, such as a simple urinalysis, that qualified. Today there are over 3000 waived tests.

In addition, most of these tests are much more complex than a simple testing strip. Even with detailed instructions, often with pictures, technicians and even nurses can perform tests incorrectly. Some are so sensitive that if a sample does not incubate for the exact amount of time, or if more than one drop of blood is used, the results will be inaccurate. Doctors rely on these results, not knowing how the testing was done, and patients have to make decisions based on the information their doctor provides.

Makers of these diagnostic tests are unsurprisingly not supportive of more regulation, highlighting that current law doesn't allow the FDA to oversee these labs. Nevertheless, the Obama administration is seeking ways to exert authority over this sector, which many doctors and laboratories welcome. Many detractors fear that excess oversight would stunt innovation, but supporters argue that the right regulation can still foster innovation and provide safety by separating the bad tests from the good.

News Tue, 01 Dec 2015 00:00:00 -0500
The Lee of the Door: Planned Parenthood and Freedom

2015.12.1.Pitt.mainDennis Apuan holds a sign at a vigil for victims of the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood mass shooting, at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, November 28, 2015. The deaths of two civilians and one police officer jarred a state that has recently seen a string of mass shootings. (Photo: Nick Cote/The New York Times)

In late December of 1994, an anti-choice extremist named John Salvi walked into the Planned Parenthood clinic on Commonwealth Avenue in Brookline, Massachusetts, and opened fire with a rifle. By the time he was done, there were seven bodies on the floor. Two were dead, and five were wounded. Among the dead was 38-year-old Lee Ann Nichols, who took ten bullets before she died to the sound of Salvi shouting, "This is what you get!"

Salvi ran to Norfolk, Virginia, where he shot up another Planned Parenthood clinic. No one was injured in that incident. He was arrested, tried and convicted for the murders of Lee Ann Nichols and Shannon Lowney. He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms, with 18-20 years added for assault. He served his time at MCI Cedar Junction in Walpole, Massachusetts, one of the darkest holes in all of North America, until November 29, 1996. Salvi's body was found that day in his cell with a garbage bag tied around his head. The coroner ruled it a suicide.

Today, the Planned Parenthood clinic on Commonwealth Avenue is a fortress. There are no windows, and only one door. To enter, you must pass through a small lobby area and empty your pockets for the metal detector, precisely as if you were boarding an airplane. After that, you pass through a door and enter a small box about twice the size of an old phone booth. The door closes behind you, and you are faced with a huge reinforced metal door before you that can only be opened by one of the clinic employees on the inside, after they check you out through a small rectangular window. All the while, you are under the watchful eye of an armed guard, who has on his desk a dozen small monitors that carry feeds from cameras placed within and without. Nothing, but nothing, is left to chance. Not after Salvi.

I have passed through that door on several occasions, accompanying friends without health insurance seeking affordable OBGYN care. Why did my friends ask me to come? Because my friends were frightened, because like as not the door to the clinic was clotted with Jesus-shouters seeking to intimidate women from accessing the services they need. Sometimes they just stand there and drone, "Praise God ... Praise God ... Praise God." Other times, however, they are far more aggressive.

One friend I escorted had a man charge at her shouting, "Don't kill your baby!" while brandishing a Bible like a club. I yelled back, "She's getting a pap smear, you stupid asshole!" which was true ... but he kept roaring "Don't kill your baby!" with his eyes bugging and his lips flecked with white spittle. My friend almost fled, but with my support, she was able to get inside safely, and the noise of his rage diminished to nothing with the slow closing of the door. It was good she made it inside; the doctor found pre-cancerous cells on her cervix and saved her life. She was one of two friends I walked in through the mayhem whose lives were saved by those doctors and nurses. They would not be here today, but for the Planned Parenthood clinic on Commonwealth Avenue.

There is a bright white line on the sidewalk demarcating by law where the protesters can and cannot be outside the clinic, but the span from the car across the sidewalk to that door is wider than the Mississippi River when the shouters find their bull-throated roar. They were disturbing enough. The shadow of John Salvi hangs long and low over that facility, however, and the most disturbing part of all was the tingle of fear upon entry, the idea that another Salvi might make it through that hard door and empty his clip in a fit of fury.

Welcome to the world of Planned Parenthood. The fact that it takes courage to dispense medical services, that it takes courage - Courage! - to avail yourself of those services under threat of assault or even death spits in the eye of the idea that this is a nation of freedom. Planned Parenthood provides basic, affordable OBGYN care, breast cancer exams and contraception for people not fortunate enough to have another option.

Planned Parenthood clinics also offer abortions. It's the law, it's a right. Does the so-called "pro-life" crowd recognize this in the context of Friday's shooting in Colorado? Let's see what Twitter has to say:

"No sympathy for any pregnant female who was injured in the Planned Parenthood shooting that was there to get an abortion. She deserved it." - Ryan
"We should terminate the 500,000 female humans. They could have protected sex. But they're too lazy & slutty." - Tyranny Hunter
"Active Shooter Colorado Planned Parenthood. I would think this brave HERO is saving innocent Baby lives!" - David J. Goodwin

In counterpoint, I offer a few testimonials from friends who responded to a question I asked about the deaths at the Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic:

"I stand with them as they bravely provide affordable safe & legal health care in the face of violent threats to themselves & their families every day." - K.
"I stand with PP because when I didn't have a pot, or a window, I was able to go to them for much needed gynecological care and then pre-natal care. They are kind and caring not to mention they risk their lives on a daily basis giving women, and some men, reasonably priced healthcare." - J.
"I used Planned Parenthood in my 20s so I would never need to have an abortion. I am grateful they were there for that reason! For that reason I stand with Planned Parenthood." - L.
"I support Planned Parenthood because it helps many with medical care who could not otherwise afford it; because I am a woman; because half of the population is female; because it is a legally operating entity; and because supporting PP pushes back against those whose goal is to subjugate women." - A.

The man with the gun who killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado allegedly told the arresting officers "No more baby parts" when taken into custody, referencing a wildly discredited meme proffered by Fox News and other right-wing outlets. The rest of the "news" media has been very delicate in their reporting. They use the noun, "gunman," and the adjective, "disgruntled," while avoiding the more accurate term: "terrorist."

This is the war on women, underscored. The bellowers who cluster outside these clinics are preventing women from getting checked for cervical cancer, for breast cancer, preventing them from getting birth control, basic OBGYN care and abortions. Why? They would rather see women dead than see them free, and some of them take up arms to reinforce the point.

I have passed through that steel door after elbowing through a crowd of Bibles accompanying friends into a place that saved their lives. Lives were lost - on Commonwealth Avenue, in Colorado Springs and many other places besides - to guarantee that possibility. Lives are risked every day to continue that promise. I stand with Planned Parenthood, shoulder to shoulder and back to back. It has saved more people than those sidewalk-bound nitwits have ever met.

On the lee of that door lies freedom. That it requires steel, fear and an armed guard is a disgrace beyond reckoning. I stand with Planned Parenthood. So should you.

Opinion Tue, 01 Dec 2015 00:00:00 -0500
How the US Would React to Planned Parenthood Attacks in an Alternate Universe ]]> Art Tue, 01 Dec 2015 00:00:00 -0500 Dinner With Syrian Refugees: A Meal Every Member of Congress Should Have

In my travels around Lebanon, I have met Syrian refugees struggling with various challenges, from depression to poverty. Members of Congress fail to recognize these hardships, reducing refugees to unsubstantiated security risks.

2015.12.1.Bailey.4Dalia and her family. The Syrian family fled to Lebanon two and a half years ago. (Photo: Pam Bailey)

I spent my Thanksgiving in Bire, a small town in northern Lebanon about an hour from Tripoli and within sight of the Syrian border, across from the ancient city of Homs. It is a village of maybe 5,000 Lebanese residents but now is more than twice its original size as it has swelled with Syrians who have fled the brutal civil war in their country.

2015.12.1.Bailey.2The Thanksgiving meal the author ate with Dalia and her family. (Photo: Pam Bailey)The family of Syrian refugees I was staying with in Bire served what seemed like a fitting feast for Thanksgiving - homemade local dishes such as chicken kabob, fatoush, capsa, hummus and tea with cinnamon. Mohammed, 12, who dreams of being a chef, helped to prepare the food. Over our meal, Mohammed's mother, Dalia - who fled to Lebanon two and a half years ago with her husband and three sons - asked if it is true what she heard on the news, that the United States may refuse to accept any more Syrian refugees.

I almost choked. Right before flying to Beirut, I had attended the hearing of the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives, at which several Republicans boldly and without any apparent shame proposed rejecting all Syrians, or at least all Syrian Muslims. "Can you name one suicide terrorist who was not a Muslim?" Rep. Steve King of Iowa asked a State Department spokesperson.

Their entire lives have been on "pause" for nearly five years, since civil war broke out in Syria.

Responding to Dalia's question, I hesitated, trying to think of the least offensive way to describe the full House vote a couple of days later, which demanded a suspension in acceptance of Syrian and Iraqi refugees until national security agencies can certify they don't pose a security risk (an impossible task because how can one ever prove a negative?). The bill now is headed to the Senate, fueled by unsubstantiated reports that "jihadist" cells are hiding among the refugees in Lebanon.

"The Republicans and the few Democrats who support them say they want a 'pause' in the review of Syrian refugees for resettlement," I tried to explain. "They want the president to guarantee without a doubt you're not terrorists."

I looked around the restaurant-turned-refugee-home, a cavernous building with furniture handmade by Dalia's husband, Abdullah; curtains bought at a secondhand shop; and a still scraggly garden where the family is trying to grow their own potatoes, radishes and mint. Their entire lives have been on "pause" for nearly five years, since civil war broke out in Syria. Fatigue from working long hours as a bus driver and, whenever he can, as a construction laborer is clear around Abdullah's eyes. What could I do but apologize for my country?

2015.12.1.Baily.1Hadi's, Mohammed's and Taim's beds, made by their father, Abdullah. You can tell somewhat that the home is a converted restaurant (and before that, a gym). (Photo: Pam Bailey)

When Syria's civil war intensified, Dalia and Abdullah were forced to abandon their comfortable life - her job as an English teacher, his thriving chicken farm, and the lush garden where Hadi (now 13), Mohammed and Taim (7) loved to play. Abdullah had retired earlier from a career as a first assistant in the Syrian army, but as the fighting escalated, he was summoned back. Fleeing to Lebanon seemed the only way to avoid being forced to kill. As it turned out, the family was exceedingly fortunate in being able to escape; not too long after, the Syrian army razed most of their little hamlet outside Homs - gutting their home, killing five of Abdullah's friends who also had gone AWOL from the army and imprisoning his 30-year-old nephew, who was forced to give himself up to save his wife and 5-year-old daughter.

"I cry every time I watch the video," Dalia told me, her eyes welling up. The video of her once beautiful home, now a burned shell, was shot by another of Abdullah's nephews, who remains in the Syrian army to avoid his cousin's unknown fate. "We just talked to him by phone two weeks ago, and he was crying. He doesn't want to be there, to be part of what is going on." Even if the young man could elude the army alive, Lebanon has stopped accepting new Syrian refugees, and entering illegally costs an excessive amount few can muster.

At first, Dalia, Abdullah and their boys crowded into the two-bedroom-one-bath apartment rented by her parents in Tripoli's Baddawi camp, occupied primarily by Palestinians. But Dalia and Abdullah describe themselves as quiet "village people," and they soon made their way to Bire looking for a more rural respite. The first shelter they found was an even more cramped, dank, two-room flat where I first met them on a previous trip to Lebanon in April. The crumbling, exposed-cement rooms rented for $250 per month, a sum that quickly burned through the funds they had managed to bring with them.

Their situation improved when Dalia was able to get a job teaching English in a private school run by a sympathetic Lebanese man whose brother, the original owner, was assassinated for his support of the early opposition to Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad. The school opened its doors for an afternoon shift of free education for Syrian refugees, and Dalia had started volunteering almost immediately. Her effectiveness as a teacher soon attracted attention, and when one of the English teachers for the Lebanese classes suddenly quit, the headmaster gave her a chance. (Since Syrian refugees officially are prohibited from working, their jobs must be "under the table" - putting them at risk of exploitation, like other undocumented workers worldwide. Dalia and the other full-time teachers are paid only $300 per month.)

On this trip, I found them in their converted restaurant. Abdullah has managed to find semiregular work driving a bus for the same Lebanese school, to supplement his construction day labor. With their combined pay, they can cover rent and food. However, they are in debt to friends and relatives for more than $1,000, a small fortune for the family. Medical care, like the MRI Dalia needed recently for a suspected disc problem (a medical expense that I paid for), and luxuries like toys and books for the boys are out of the question. Fear is never far from their consciousness. When Dalia took a "service" (a shared car that is a very cheap form of transportation) to pick me up at the bus station in Tripoli, she left Abdullah at home. Men are routinely stopped by the military, and Abdullah's Lebanese residency permit has long since expired.

2015.12.1.Bailey.5Abdullah helping 7-year-old Taim with his homework. (Photo: Pam Bailey)

Still, Dalia and Abdullah are fortunate. They had relatives who could take them in for a short time and have managed to find some work, although it is illegal. Without those meager advantages, survival would have been next to impossible, as I am quickly reminded. Dalia's employer takes me on a drive through the seemingly idyllic countryside, and when we turn down a country road, soon a few rows of old cement chicken coops appear. I look closer, and I see them: People. Families. Living in the coops.

2015.12.1.Bailey.8Refugee families live in chicken coop houses. (Photo: Pam Bailey)

In each building, there are about 12 families. Mohammed Ghazi Harfoush explains to me through Rania, who serves as my interpreter, how they ended up there: "We are from the city of Koussair [south of Homs], very close to the border. After the demonstrations during the rebellion, the army destroyed so much. We had no food or medical care. We spent many weeks shuttling between our houses and the shelters we dug to get away from the bombs. "

2015.12.1.Bailey.6The outside of a chicken coop-turned-shelter that now houses refugees. (Photo: Pam Bailey)

Mohammed has seven children; one, a baby girl, was born in their coop-turned-shelter, making her officially "stateless." (Lebanon has not even allowed citizenship for Palestinians, despite the fact that many have lived there for decades. To be Syrian, the girl's birth must be registered in person, in Damascus.) In 2013, the family and others fled on foot when they heard that a Hezbollah militia was entering the city to support the army. "They killed everyone they saw!" Mohammed said. "We were lucky to get out alive."

2015.12.1.Bailey.9Inside a chicken coop-turned-shelter. (Photo: Pam Bailey)

When they reached the border with Lebanon, the group paid about $300 per family to pass safely into the country. At first, they crowded into a school; they had no money left. Later, an aid agency gave them some tents. Fares Faisal Al-Harfoush, one of Mohammed's relatives, explains why they eventually left: "There were seven families in just two tents, and it was so crowded that my youngest child was burned by a candle. Then we found a snake in his cradle. We applied to UNHCR [the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] to move someplace else, and that's how we ended up in the coops. As bad as it is, the farmer who owns them is threatening to make us leave."

Mohammed's wife is struggling to afford milk and diapers for the new baby. The UNHCR-supplied "nutrition card," worth $13 per month per person, is simply not enough. Five of her children do not attend school because they can't afford the transportation. (The school where Dalia teaches, the closest one, is free, but transportation is not provided.)

2015.12.1.Baily.3The family shows pictures of the garden in their Syrian home, which Dalia prized so much. (Photo: Pam Bailey)

"I regret we came to Lebanon," Mohammed's wife said. "I wish we had just died."

To date, the United States has accepted a mere 2,000 out of nearly 4 million Syrian refugees. Screening for "security risks" takes 18 to 24 months, compared to Europe's average of four. I cannot help but wonder, when senators, representatives and presidents choose to send drones, military advisers or any other type of militarized intervention into another country (which I do not support), should they not acknowledge up front that there will be refugees - along with a responsibility to care for a reasonable share?

In my travels around Lebanon, I have seen refugees struggling with widely varying conditions. Some develop depression, with their already degrading surroundings falling into further disrepair as they sink into a metaphorical black hole. Others, like Dalia and Abdullah, manage to make whatever they can of wherever they are. At night before I fell asleep, I found Dalia down on her knees, sweeping up crumbs from their cold floors, after helping her children study for an exam the next day. Is this not a strength of character we should welcome into our country, while adding as little pain as possible to lives already stressed beyond most people's imaginations?

"I think about my children's future day and night," Dalia told me. "In Syria, Hadi dreamed about being a doctor, Mohammed, a chef, and Taim, a pilot. I have no idea when or if we can ever return home, and how can they achieve their dreams here? Every day, their lives are slipping away."

Note: Details from this article were adapted from Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor's September 2015 report "Life in Limbo: Lebanon as a Microcosm of a Global Refugee Crisis," researched and written on the ground in Lebanon by Pam Bailey.

Opinion Tue, 01 Dec 2015 10:28:04 -0500
Smear Tactics Backfire on CEO of Prison Phone Company

A Federal Communications Commission vote to regulate the prison phone industry has companies upset. The CEO of one company, Securus, has even taken to scolding a young woman because she is protesting expensive calls.

2015.12.1.FCC.mainFCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn addresses America's Digital Inclusion Summit at The Newseum, March 9, 2010. (Photo: Knight Foundation / Flickr )Unlike many government bureaucrats, Mignon Clyburn, a member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), doesn't only pay attention to data and documents. She also understands the importance of a simple phone call for the millions of people incarcerated in the United States.
At a hearing before the congressional committee that oversees the FCC, Commissioner Clyburn spoke proudly of the body's recent vote to slash the cost of phone calls from prisons and jails in the United States. She was moved by the case of a young woman living in New Mexico, Jazlin Mendoza, whose family has spent an astounding $28,000 so that she could have a weekly five-minute conversation with her father in prison.

Securus Technologies, one of the major players in what is a billion-dollar industry, disputed this claim. On November 20, Securus CEO Richard A. Smith sent a letter to US Representatives Greg Walden (R-Oregon) and Anna Eshoo (D-California), who head the oversight committee. He challenged the veracity of Clyburn's testimony, as well as Mendoza's story. These were "sensational accusations," he said.

The FCC's intervention is the result of 15 years of legal action by the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and grassroots organizing by the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice and other groups. The FCC vote, which took place on October 22, caps calls from prisons at a maximum of 11 cents per minute. Calls from jails are set between 14 to 22 cents per minute, depending on the size. The ruling will take effect in 2016. When it does, the cost of calls will be cut in half at most prisons and jails across the country.

Ever since the FCC's vote, the private companies who provide these calls have been throwing a fit. The dog with the loudest bark has been Securus' Richard A. Smith. He vowed Securus would take legal action to block the vote.

In his letter to Walden and Eshoo, Smith challenged the facts set forth by the FCC and Clyburn, as well as Mendoza's experience. I wrote about the 21-year-old in an earlier article for Truthout. A video of Mendoza telling her story is available online. It was produced by Generation Justice, a youth media project she works with in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This was the first time she had shared with her friends, and the world, that her father is in prison. Now for doing so, she has been ridiculed by the head of a powerful company.

"It is sad," said Roberta Rael, who is the executive director of Generation Justice, and a mentor to Mendoza. "The CEO of Securus, who has profited off of the distress of families, is picking on a young woman who had the courage to speak up about her life experience in hopes of creating change for other children. Mr. Smith's misplaced assumptions are just a small political ploy for Securus to try to punish Commissioner Clyburn for her leadership on one of the most compassionate FCC votes in history."

In his letter, Smith makes two false assumptions. First, he assumes Mendoza's father is held in a state prison, when he is actually held in a federal prison where calls are more expensive. Second, he claims that the phone calls in question lasted five minutes each (the length of time Mendoza spoke with her father), but, as Mendoza clearly states, she could only talk to her father for five minutes because her grandparents also wanted to speak with him. As a report released by the Ella Baker Center points out, families often share the burden of maintaining contact with an incarcerated loved one.

Smith knows very well that people with incarcerated family members sometimes pay tens of thousands of dollars just to talk on the phone. Indeed, another person I interviewed, Miguel Saucedo of Chicago, told me his family has spent $20,000 to talk to his brother, who is serving a long-term sentence.

Alex Friedmann of the Human Rights Defense Center, and a member of the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, has followed Securus for years. "Beyond individual cases," he told Truthout, "Securus is trying to divert attention from the larger issue - that the prison phone industry has systematically exploited prisoners' families for decades by charging exorbitant phone rates."

Smith has a knack for hyperbole. After the FCC imposed new rules, he claimed the ability to monitor phone calls would be compromised. He predicted blood would be flowing in the streets: "The lives of witnesses, judges, victims and others will be lost due to the inability to provide the technology that prisons and jails need to keep us safe." Ostensibly, there are people listening in on phone calls to prevent criminal activity, although much of this process has been digitized.

In the past, Smith has portrayed Securus as a valiant defender of public safety, as important as police officers and firefighters. Yet it appears Securus can't even keep its own data safe with the news of a recent leak of some 70 million phone calls. The anonymous hacker released routine calls by people discussing daily activities, as well as thousands of conversations that are supposed to be protected by attorney-client privilege.

In 2014, Securus made a record $114 million from these calls. The FCC's decision threatens to cut into their profits. Smith is more concerned with the company's bottom line than the well-being of those incarcerated and their families.

The latest of Smith's rants turns out to be baseless. Before telling others to stick to the facts, he might check his own. The FCC, and Commissioner Clyburn, should be praised for reining in these predatory companies.

Opinion Tue, 01 Dec 2015 00:00:00 -0500