Truthout Stories Fri, 21 Oct 2016 08:33:25 -0400 en-gb In Warmest Year Ever, Climate Change Ignored Again at Debate

The presidential and vice-presidential debates have concluded without a single question about climate change, even though 2016 is on pace to be the warmest year on record. We speak to May Boeve, executive director of 350 Action.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: During Wednesday's debate, the phrase "climate change" only came up one time.

HILLARY CLINTON: I want us to have the biggest jobs program since World War II, jobs in infrastructure and advanced manufacturing. I think we can compete with high-wage countries, and I believe we should. New jobs in clean energy, not only to fight climate change, which is a serious problem, but to create new opportunities and new businesses.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday night, I got response from May Boeve, executive director of 350 Action, about the failure of the candidates and debate moderators to address the issue of climate change in the debates.

MAY BOEVE: Right, and we all deserve so much better than the political conversation that has been had in this debate and in all of the debates. And the debates are obscuring serious issues, like climate change and like so many other problems that we're facing in this country and around the world. And it's true, the question was not asked. It was brought up in the context of a question about jobs.

But there's something important in the answer, which is that Clinton is speaking to progressives. She's speaking to the progressive movement. The way that we've been trying to build a much bigger movement that's focused on the economy, the climate crisis, injustices of all kinds, and weaving those movements together, that was what that answer was trying to speak to. She tied it to debt-free college. She tied it to Bernie Sanders. She tied it to having the wealthy pay for these things. So, those are clues. And she's going to need progressives to win, and she's going to need us to govern. And so, that's important, and we're going to keep pushing. And as many of the guests have said tonight, it is all about the movements.

But one thing that was, I think, shocking and scary here is that we know that to get the climate policy that we need, we need a functional democracy. And questioning the very idea that that can work is as big of a threat to climate change as any number of other issues. So, that was shocking, and we're paying extra close attention to that. And I think Donald Trump's disastrousness just reached another level tonight.

AMY GOODMAN: That's May Boeve. She's head of 350 Action, a climate justice group.

News Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
From Palestine to Black Lives Matter: Alicia Garza and Phyllis Bennis on Issues Ignored at the Debates

In our special broadcast of the final 2016 U.S. presidential debate, we asked Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza what the major-party candidates should have addressed in their exchange: "I want to see more conversation about what it is going to take to preserve the quality of life of black people in this country, who are being systematically murdered, incarcerated, and otherwise marginalized and disenfranchised."


NERMEEN SHAIKH: Let's go back to last night's showdown in Las Vegas. This is debate moderator Chris Wallace.

CHRIS WALLACE: What I'm asking you, sir, is: Do you want to see the court overturned? You've just said you want to see the court protect the Second Amendment. Do you want to see the court overturn Roe v. Wade?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, if we put another two or perhaps three justices on, that's really what's going to be -- that will happen. And that'll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court. I will say this: It will go back to the states, and the states will then make a determination.

HILLARY CLINTON: I do not think the United States government should be stepping in and making those most personal of decisions. So, you can regulate, if you are doing so with the life and the health of the mother taken into account.

CHRIS WALLACE: Mr. Trump, your reaction, and particularly on this issue of late-term, partial birth abortion?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, I think it's terrible. If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: After this last presidential debate before the election, we asked Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, about Donald Trump's comments.

ALICIA GARZA: You know, it's hard for me to take him seriously, to be honest with you. He essentially says that he single-handedly is going to change the course of this country's future. He continues to use really egregious, less than factual stories that stoke fear, that stoke anxiety, and that defy logic and reason. And so, whether it was, you know, the conversation around abortion, or whether it's the conversation around immigration reform, or even if it's this conversation that he continues to bring up around law and order but then says that he's going to be the best friend to African Americans that we've ever had, I mean, honestly, it's hard to take him seriously.

The thing that just strikes me is that he is speaking to a set of audiences that are scared. They're terrified about the future of this country. They feel disenfranchised. They feel left out. They feel like they're being left out of decision making. And that's not going to go away after Trump. Thank goodness Trump will go away, but, unfortunately, that level of anxiety, that level of fear, that level of distrust will not go away.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, you said that Donald Trump --

ALICIA GARZA: And so, we've got to really pay attention to that.

AMY GOODMAN: You said Donald Trump will go away? Are you sure? We just heard this discussion about he will leave the country in suspense as to what he will do, if he lost the election.

ALICIA GARZA: You know, he keeps saying he's got these surprises, that somehow never materialize. Donald Trump, in my estimation, is not going to win the presidency. And if he does, then we've got a lot of reckoning to do. But the thing that I'm more concerned about, quite frankly, again, is the millions of people that he has galvanized, who feel like they're on the outside. And that is something that both parties are going to have to address. And quite frankly, it's something that all of us are going to have to pay attention to.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what would you have liked, Alicia, for the candidates to be asked, I mean, including Donald Trump with, as you described, some of his more outrageous positions and postures? What should he have been asked? What should they both have been asked to address?

ALICIA GARZA: I mean, I think they addressed many of the major issues that are facing our country, but, quite frankly, over these last three debates, I have still been wanting to see more conversation around criminal justice reform. I want to see more conversation about what it's going to take to preserve the quality of life of black people in this country, who are being systematically murdered, incarcerated, and otherwise marginalized and disenfranchised. I wanted to hear more from each of the candidates about how these movements that have emerged over the last few years have influenced their thinking around how they want to bring America into its future.

And quite frankly, just talking about gun control doesn't cut it. We have an epidemic in this country of police murders and police violence, and neither candidate is addressing it, because, clearly, it's not politically expedient to address it. But what's at stake here is the lives of our families. What's at stake are mothers who are losing their children at astronomical rates. And also what's at stake are the attacks that are coming in more form recently against folks who have disabilities or other illnesses. These are things that we need to pay attention to. It's not just a crisis of whether a toddler gets a hold of a loaded gun. Quite frankly, every 28 hours in this country, a black person is murdered by police, vigilantes or security guards. And if it's not by police, then it's by policies that strip black people of our right to dignity, to respect and to living a full and good life.

We have black people throughout the South that are being denied medical care and being denied insurance. Donald Trump talked about how ineffective Obamacare was. And, in fact, we should stop calling it that, right? It's he Affordable Care Act. He talked about how ineffective it is, but, quite frankly, he didn't address the fact that thousands of black people lack access to that very healthcare because Republican governors and Republican senators refuse -- refuse -- to take funding to expand Medicaid programs.

Things like that are things that black folks across the country are looking to hear, and we're not hearing it. And I'm hoping that in this last 20 days both candidates get a little less tone deaf, stop using us as bait, and instead address the issues that we care about.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: During our debate night special, we took questions via social media from our audience.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the questions came into us from Twitter just now: "Do you support the ongoing MSM [mainstream media] self-imposed blackout on reporting on apartheid and Israel's inhumane treatment of Palestinians?" I want to ask this to Phyllis Bennis, but first to Alicia Garza, because in the Black Lives Matter movement's many-point plan, you address the issue of Palestinians.

ALICIA GARZA: Yeah. I mean, I think what's important for folks to understand here is that there is lots of common cause between African Americans and Palestinians, and that is not a new relationship. That's a relationship that has been forged over decades as a result of very similar feeling conditions that folks are existing in. And so, I think that it's important that we open up these conversations to really address the concerns and the issues that are important to all of us. I think that what's happening in Palestine and I think what we've seen through the Movement for Black Lives policy platform, certainly, is that there is a desire for social movements to connect to movements around the world and to support movements who are struggling and fighting for self-determination, as many of the movements here are, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Phyllis Bennis, you're a longtime observer and activist around the issue of Israel-Palestine. I don't think there's been a time recently where it's been talked about less than in these last few months. Talk about the situation on the ground and what you think has to happen right now. We actually just recently had Ann Wright onDemocracy Now!, the colonel, the former American diplomat, who attempted to get to Gaza to challenge the naval blockade there with a group of women from around the world. They were taken into custody at Ashdod, the Israeli Navy, and she was sent back to this country.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: You know, I think it's very important to keep in mind both the situation on the ground and the situation of the discourse here in the United States. What Alicia was just talking about is crucially important, the rising focus of the Movement for Black Lives on this connection, as Alicia said, a long-standing connection, but one that is getting new attention with the black community in the United States looking at the question of Palestine and the links of solidarity with Palestinians, something that emerged so sharply and so powerfully at the time of the uprising in Ferguson, when Palestinian activists were tweeting instructions for the -- for their comrades and colleagues in Ferguson about how to deal with tear gas, because the tear gas used by the Israeli military against Palestinians is made in the United States. It's the same tear gas. So they had a lot of experience with it. And that kind of immediacy made it rise to a new level.

But what we're seeing is a scenario where we have an extraordinary shift in the public discourse on this question in the last five years, 10 years, really 15 years, where things that had never made it before to public discourse is now talked about quite normally. The question of Israeli apartheid was anathema a decade ago. Now it's even talked about by top Israeli officials, who say -- they differ on the timing: We say it's already there; they say that if we don't do something different, we're going to face apartheid. So we have this massive shift in the discourse; a significant shift, not quite there, but a significant shift in the media coverage; only a tiny shift in some political discourse. The decision of 60 members of Congress to skip the speech of the Israeli prime minister this past year would never have happened before. But on the ground, the situation gets worse. So, it's this dichotomy, the new challenge that we face to transform that discourse shift into a real policy shift, where we don't see -- instead of ending U.S. military aid to the 23rd wealthiest country to use for its consistent violations of international law and human rights, we see the Obama administration escalating the annual amount of aid, so that Israel will now start each year with almost $4 billion, with $3.8 billion a year of military aid coming from our tax money to support its military, without any restrictions on how it makes -- how it uses that money, what weapons in the U.S. it's able to buy.

So, we're having a moment when, as we saw in all of these debates, the question of Israel, the relationship of Israel and the United States, did not come up. It didn't come up again tonight. But we do see that there has been this extraordinary shift in the public discourse. The fact that it was addressed as, for Bernie Sanders' campaign, the main foreign policy issue that he took up, that was then reflected in the debate over the Democratic Party platform. It didn't end up well; the platform was as bad or perhaps worse than in 2012. But the fact that it was made an item that had to be fought for was very, very different. So I think there's something to recognize the power of social movements here, but also recognize how far we still have to go, similar to the situation that we're facing with -- with refugees.

We heard tonight this claim from Donald Trump that Hillary Clinton had let in, as he said, tens of thousands of refugees from Syria who were all tied to ISIS. Wrong on all fronts. The fact that the U.S. government was proud of allowing in only 10,000 Syrian refugees in an entire year, in a period where for months Germany was taking in 20,000 a day during the height of the refugee crisis, was one more example. We don't have a refugee crisis here; we have a racism crisis here. And the kind of Islamophobia, the ISIS bashing that we were hearing from Trump about these refugees, what that says about how far we have to go, the kinds of movements that we need to build, linking the antiwar work with the refugee support work in this country to transform how refugees are treated, so that they are welcomed, not grudgingly accepted -- "Well, OK, if we have to take just 10,000 in a whole year, I guess we can" -- but to say we welcome people. Young people should be demanding the right to go to school with Syrians. You know, we weren't hearing any challenge to this sort of mainstream assumption that the refugees are inevitably dangerous, possibly violent, need to be vetted more than any other country in the world even imagines vetting. We heard no challenge to that tonight, and I don't think we can assume that we will hear leadership from the candidates. It's going to have to come from our movements.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She's written several books, including, most recently, Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror. Thanks also to Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter. To watch our full three-and-a-half-hour debate night special, that includes the full Trump-Clinton showdown uninterrupted, go to Also, today we did a special two-hour extended broadcast. Just go to our website, as well. Mark your calendars for November 8th, for our five-hour election night special broadcast. You can follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Snapchat.

News Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Worst Place on Earth: Death and Life in the Lost Town of Leer

Leer, South Sudan -- There it is again. That sickening smell. I'm standing on the threshold of a ghost of a home. Its footprint is all that's left. In the ruins sits a bulbous little silver teakettle -- metal, softly rounded, charred but otherwise perfect, save for two punctures. Something tore through it and ruined it, just as something tore through this home and ruined it, just as something tore through this town and left it a dusty, wasted ruin. 

This, truth be told, is no longer a town, not even a razed one. It's a killing field, a place where human remains lie unburied, whose residents have long since fled, while its few remaining inhabitants are mostly refugees from similarly ravaged villages.

The world is awash in killing fields, sites of slaughter where armed men have laid waste to the innocent, the defenseless, the unlucky; locales where women and children, old and young men have been suffocated, had their skulls shattered, been left gut-shot and gasping.  Or sometimes they're just the unhallowed grounds where the battered and broken bodies of such unfortunates are dumped without ceremony or prayer or even a moment of solemn reflection.  Over the last century, these blood-soaked sites have sprouted across the globe: Cambodia, the Philippines, the Koreas, South Africa, Mexico, Lebanon, Rwanda, Bosnia, Guatemala, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria -- on and on, year after year, country after country. 

Chances are, you once heard something about the 1994 Rwandan genocide that saw up to one million men, women, and children murdered in just 100 days.  You may remember the 1968 massacre of Vietnamese civilians by U.S. troops at My Lai.  And maybe you recall the images of Saddam Hussein's 1988 chemical weapons attack on Kurds in Halabja.  For years, Sudan contributed to this terrible tally.  You might, for instance, remember the attention paid to the slaughter of civilians in Darfur during the 2000s.  The killings there actually never ended, only the public outcry did.  In the 1980s and 1990s, there were also massacres farther south in or around towns you've probably never heard of like Malakal, Bor, and Leer. 

A 2005 peace deal between U.S.-supported rebels in the south of Sudan and the government in the north was supposed to put a stop to such slaughter, but it never quite did.  And in some quarters, worse was predicted for the future.  "Looking ahead over the next five years, a number of countries in Africa and Asia are at significant risk for a new outbreak of mass killing," said U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair in 2010.  "Among these countries, a new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur in Southern Sudan."

In late 2013 and 2014, Malakal, Bor, Leer, and other towns in the world's newest nation, South Sudan, were indeed littered with bodies.  And the killing in this country -- the result of the third civil war since the 1950s -- has only continued. 

In 2014, I traveled to Malakal to learn what I could about the destruction of that town and the civilians who perished there.  In 2015, I walked among the mass graves of Bor where, a year earlier, a bulldozer had dug huge trenches for hundreds of bodies, some so badly decomposed or mutilated that it was impossible to identify whether they had been men, women, or children.  This spring, I find myself in Leer, another battered enclave, as aid groups struggled to reestablish their presence, as armed men still stalked the night, as human skulls gleamed beneath the blazing midday sun.

The nose-curling odor here told me that somewhere, something was burning.  The scent had been in my nostrils all day.  Sometimes, it was just a faint, if harsh, note carried on the hot breeze, but when the wind shifted it became an acrid, all-encompassing stench -- not the comforting smell of a cooking fire, but something far more malign.  I looked to the sky, searching for a plume of smoke, but there was only the same opaque glare, blinding and ashen.  Wiping my eyes, I muttered a quick curse for this place and moved on to the next ruined shell of a home, and the next, and the next.  The devastated wattle-and-daub tukuls and wrecked animal pens stretched on as far as I could see. 

This is Leer -- or at least what's left of it.     

The ruins of Leer, South Sudan. The town was repeatedly attacked by militias allied to the national government during 2015.The ruins of Leer, South Sudan. The town was repeatedly attacked by militias allied to the national government during 2015.

The Fire Last Time

If you want to learn more about this town, about what happened to it, Leer isn't the best place to start.  You'd be better served by traveling down the road several miles to Thonyor, another town in southern Unity State where so much of Leer's population fled. It was there that I found Mary Nyalony, a 31-year-old mother of five who, only days before, had given birth to a son.

Leer was her hometown and life there had never been easy.  War arrived shortly after fighting broke out in the capital, Juba, in December 2013, a rupture that most here call "the crisis."  With civil war came men with guns and, in early 2014, Nyalony was forced to run for her life.  For three months, she and her family lived in the bush, before eventually returning to Leer.  The International Committee of the Red Cross was airdropping food there, she tells me.  In her mind, those were the halcyon days.  "There was enough to eat," she explains.  "Now, we have nothing."        

The road to nothing, like the road to Thonyor, began for her in the early morning hours of a day in May 2015.  Single gunshots and staccato bursts of gunfire began echoing across Leer, followed by screams and panic.  This has been the story of South Sudan's civil war: few pitched battles between armies, many attacks on civilians by armed men.  Often, it's unclear just who is attacking.  Civilians hear gunfire and they begin to run.  If they're lucky they get away with their lives, and often little else. 

The war here has regularly been portrayed as a contest between the president, Salva Kiir, a member of the country's largest tribe, the Dinka, and Riek Machar, a member of the second largest ethnic group, the Nuer.  Kiir and Machar do indeed have a long history as both allies and enemies and as president and vice president of their new nation.  Kiir went on to sack Machar.  Months later, the country plunged into civil war.  Kiir claimed the violence stemmed from an abortive coup by Machar, but an investigation by an African Union commission found no evidence of that. It did, however, find that "Dinka soldiers, members of Presidential Guard, and other security forces conducted house-to-house searches, killing Nuer soldiers and civilians in and near their homes" and that it was carried out "in furtherance of a State policy."  The civil war that ensued "ended" with an August 2015 peace agreement that saw Machar rejoin the government.  But the violence never actually stopped and after a fresh round of killings in the capital in July, he fled the country and has since issued a new call for rebellion. 

In truth, though, the war in South Sudan is far more than a battle between two men, two tribes, two armies -- Kiir's Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and Machar's SPLA-In Opposition (SPLA-IO).  It's a conflict of shifting alliances involving a plethora of armed actors and ad hoc militias led by a corrupt cast of characters fighting wars within wars.  The complexities are mind-boggling: longstanding bad blood, grievances, and feuds intertwined with ethnic enmities tangled, in turn, with internecine tribal and clan animosities, all aided and abetted by the power of modern weaponry and the way the ancient cultural practice of cattle-raiding has morphed into paramilitary raiding.  Add in a nation in financial free-fall; the accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of a tiny, riven elite; the mass availability of weaponry; and so many actors pursuing so many aims that it's impossible to keep them all straight. 

Whatever the complexities of this war, however, the playbooks of its actors remain remarkably uniform. Men armed with AK-47s fall upon undefended communities.  They kill, pillage, loot.  Younger women and girls are singled-out for exceptional forms of violence: gang rapes and sexual slavery.  Some have been forced into so-called rape camps, where they become the "wives" of soldiers; others are sexually assaulted and killed in especially sadistic ways.  Along with women, the soldiers often take cattle -- the traditional rural currency, source of wealth, and means of sustenance in the region.  

In Leer and the surrounding villages of Unity State, last year's government offensive to take back rebel territory followed exactly this pattern, but with a ferocity that was striking even for this war.  More than one expert told me that, at least for a time in 2015, Leer and its surroundings were one of the worst places in the entire world.

Little remains of the town of Leer, South Sudan, after repeated raids by armed men who burned homes, raped women, and drove the population into exile.Little remains of the town of Leer, South Sudan, after repeated raids by armed men who burned homes, raped women, and drove the population into exile.

Armed youth from Nuer clans allied to the government offered no mercy.  Fighting alongside troops from the SPLA and forces loyal to local officials, they carried out a scorched-earth campaign against other ethnic Nuers from spring 2015 though the late fall.  Their pay was whatever they could steal and whomever they could rape. 

"People in southern Unity State have suffered through some of the most harrowing violence that Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has seen in South Sudan -- or in almost any other context where we work," says Pete Buth, Deputy Director of Operations for the aid group.  "Over the course of the last two years, and particularly from May to November of 2015, women, men and children have been indiscriminately targeted with extreme and brutal violence. We've received reports and testimonies of rape, killings, abductions of women and children and the wholesale destruction of villages. The levels of violence have been absolutely staggering." 

By late last year, almost 600,000 people like Nyalony had been displaced in Unity State alone.

"They came to raid the cattle.  They seemed to be allied to the government," she tells me.  Given all she's been through, given the newborn she's gently palpitating, her eyes are surprisingly bright, her voice strong.  Her recollections, however, are exceptionally grim. Two younger male relatives of hers were shot but survived.  Her father-in-law wasn't so fortunate.  He was killed in the attack, she tells me, his body consumed in the same flames that destroyed his home.

The Fire This Time

On the road from Leer to Thonyor I discovered the source of the harsh odor that had been assaulting my senses all day.  A large agricultural fire was raging along the winding dirt road between the two towns, the former now in the hands of Kiir's SPLA, the latter still controlled by Machar's rebels.  A plume of smoke poured skyward from orange flames that leapt maybe 15 feet high as they consumed palm trees, brush, and swampland. 

I watched the same inferno on my way back to Leer, thinking about the charred corpse of Nyalony's father-in-law, about all the others who never made it out of homes that were now nothing but ankle-high rectangles of mud and wood or piles of shattered concrete.  On another day, in Leer's triple digit heat, I walk through some of the charred remains with a young woman from the area.  Tall, with close-cropped hair and a relaxed, easy demeanor, she guides me through the ruins.  "This one was a very good building," she says of one of the largest piles of rubble, a home whose exterior walls were a striking and atypical mint green.  "They killed the father at this house.  He had two wives.  One wife had, maybe, six babies."  (I find out later that when she says "babies" she means children.)  Pointing to the wrecked shell next to it, what's left of a more traditional decorated mud wall, she says, "The other wife had five babies."

We thread our way through the ravaged tukuls, past support beams for thatched roofs that easily went up in flames.  In her honeyed voice, my guide narrates the contents of the wreckage.  "It's a bed," she explains of a scorched metal frame.  "Now, it's no bed," she adds with a laugh.

She points out another tukul, its mud walls mostly still standing, though its roof is gone and the interior walls scorched.  "I know the man who lived here," she tells me.  His large family is gone now.  She doesn't know where.  "Maybe Juba.  Maybe wherever."

"They were shooting.  They destroyed the house.  If the people were inside the house, they shoot them.  Then they burn it," she says.  Pointing toward another heavy metal bed frame, she explains the obvious just in case I don't understand why the ruins are awash in these orphaned pieces of furniture.  "If they're shooting, you don't care about beds.  You run."  She pauses and I watch as her face slackens and her demeanor goes dark. "You might even leave a baby.  You don't want to, but there's shooting.  They'll shoot you.  You're afraid and you run away."  Then she falls silent.

The Survivors

"What civilians experienced in Leer County was terrible.  When the population was forced to flee from their homes, they had to flee with nothing into these swamps in the middle of the night," says Jonathan Loeb, a human rights investigator who served as a consultant with Amnesty International's crisis response team in Leer.  "And so you had these nightmarish scenarios where parents are abandoning their children, husbands are abandoning their wives, babies are drowning in swamps in the middle of the night.  And this is happening repeatedly."

Nataba, whom I meet in Leer, faces away from me, her legs folded beneath her on the concrete porch.  She carefully removes the straps of her dark blue dress from her left shoulder and then her right, letting it fall from the top half of her body so that she can work unimpeded.  "I came to Leer some weeks ago.  There was lots of shooting in Juong," she says of her home village.  From there she fled with her children to Mayendit, then on to Leer, to this very compound, once evidently a church or religious center.  Nataba leans forward, using a rock to grind maize into meal.  I watch her back muscles shudder and ripple as she folds her body toward the ground like a supplicant, then pulls back, repeating the motion endlessly.  Though hard at work, her voice betrays no hint of exertion.  She just faces forward, nude to the waist, her voice clear and matter-of-fact.  Five people from her village, including her 15-year-old daughter, she tells me, were shot and killed by armed men from nearby Koch County.  "A lot of women were raped," she adds. 

Deborah sits close by with Nataba's four surviving children draped all over her.  I mistake her for a grandmother to the brood, but she's no relation. She was driven out of Dok village last December, also by militia from Koch who -- by her count -- killed eight men and two women.  She fled into the forest where she had neither food nor protection from the elements.  At least here in Leer she's sharing what meager provisions Nataba has, hoping that aid organizations will soon begin bringing in rations. 

Her face is a sun-weathered web of lines etched by adversity, hardship, and want.  Her wiry frame is all muscle and bone.  In the West, you'd have to live at the gym and be 30 years younger to have arms as defined as hers.  She hopes for peace, she tells me, and mentions that she's a Catholic.  "There's nothing here to eat" is, however, the line that she keeps repeating.  As I get up to leave, she grasps my hand.  "Shukran.  Thank you," I tell her, not for the first time, and at that she melts to the ground, kneeling at my feet.  Taken aback, I freeze, then watch -- and feel -- as she takes her thumb and makes a sign of the cross on the toe of each of my shoes.  "God bless you," she says.

It's still early morning, but when I meet Theresa Nyayang Machok she already looks exhausted.  It could be that this widow is responsible for 10 children, six girls and four boys; or that she has no other family here; or that her home in the village of Loam was destroyed; or that, as she says, "there's no work, there's no food"; or all of it combined.  She turns away from time to time to try to persuade several of her children to stop tormenting a tiny puppy with an open wound on one ear. 

The youngest child, a boy with a distended belly, won't leave the puppy alone and breaks into a wail when it snaps at him.  To quiet the toddler, an older brother hands him a torn foil package of Plumpy'Sup, a peanut-based nutrition supplement given out by international aid agencies.  The toddler licks up the last daubs of the high-protein, high-fat paste. 

Men from Koch attacked her village late last year, Machok tells me, taking all the cattle and killing six civilians.  When they came to her home, they demanded money that she didn't have.  She gave them clothes instead, then ran with her children in tow.  Stranded here in Leer on the outskirts of the government camp, she brews up alcohol when she can get the ingredients and sells it to SPLA soldiers. If peace comes, she wants to go home.  Until then, she'll be here.  "There's nobody in my village.  It's empty," she explains. 

Sarah, a withered woman, lives in Giel, a devastated little hamlet on Leer's outskirts. Her home, a wattle hovel, looks like it might collapse on her family at any moment. "There was fighting here," she says.  "Whenever there's fighting we run to the river."  For months last year, she lived with her children in a nearby waterlogged swamp, hiding in the tall grass, hoping the armed men she refers to as SPLM -- the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, Kiir's party -- wouldn't find them.  At least five people in Giel were killed, she says, including her sister's adult son. 

She returned home only to be confronted by more armed men who took most of what little she had left.  "They said 'give us clothes or we'll shoot you,'" she tells me.  Sarah's children, mostly naked, crowd around.  A few wear scraps that are little more than rags.  Her own black dress is so threadbare that it leaves little to the imagination.  Worse yet are her stores of food.  She hid some sorghum, but that's all gone. 

I ask what they're eating.  She gets up, walks over to a spot where a battered sheet of metal leans against an empty animal pen, and comes back with two small handfuls of dried water lily bulbs, which she places at my feet.  It's far too little to feed this family.  I ask if food is their greatest need.  No, she says, gesturing toward her roof -- more gaps than thatch.  She needs plastic tarps to provide some protection for her children.  "The rainy season," she says, "is coming."

Nyanet is an elderly man, though he has no idea just how old.  His eyes are cloudy and haunted, his hearing poor, so my interpreter shouts my questions at him.  "The soldiers come at night," he responds.  "They have guns.  They take clothes; they take food; they take cows," he says.  All the young men of the village are gone.  "They killed them."  The armed men, he tells me, also took girls and young women away. 

Not far from Nyanet's tiny home, I meet Nyango.  She's also unsure of her age.  "If the SPLM comes, they take cattle.  They kill people," she explains.  She also ran to the river and lived there for months.  Like the others in this tumbledown village, her family wears rags.  Her children fell ill living in the mud and muck and water for so long, and still haven't recovered. 

"People have been hiding in the bush and swamps, terrified for their lives with little or no access to humanitarian assistance for months at a time. That's been the status quo for much of the last year," explains MSF's Pete Buth.  "Now, as people gradually leave from their hiding places, we are seeing the aftermath. Children are suffering from fungal infections on their hands and feet, their skin painful and broken as they leave the swamps and then the dirt and heat dry out the wounds."

I look down at the toddler clinging to Nyango's leg.  The child's eyes are covered in milky white mucus and flies are lining up to dine on it. Nyango keeps talking, my interpreter keeps translating, but I'm fixated on this tiny boy.  A sound escapes his lips and Nyango reaches down, pulls him up, and settles him on her hip.

I force my attention back to her as she explains that the men who devastated this place killed six people she knows of.  Another woman in Giel suggests that 50 people died in this small village.  The truth is that no one may ever know how many men, women, and children from Giel, Leer, and surrounding areas were slaughtered in the endless rounds of fighting since this war began. 

Where the Bodies Are Buried

Nobody seems to want to talk about where all the bodies went either.  It's an awkward question to ask and all I get are noncommittal answers or sometimes blank stares.  People are much more willing to talk about killing than to comment on corpses.  But there is plenty of tangible proof of atrocities in Leer if you're willing to look.

In the midday heat, I set out toward the edge of town following simple directions that turn out to be anything but.  I walk down a dirt path that quickly fades into an open expanse, while two new paths begin on either side.  No one said anything about this.  Up ahead, a group of boys are clustered near a broken-down structure.  I don't want to attract attention so I take the path on the right, putting the building between them and me.

I'm in Leer with only quasi-approval from the representative of a government that openly threatens reporters with death, in a nation where the term "press freedom" is often a cruel joke, where journalists are arrested, disappeared, tortured, or even killed, and no one is held accountable.  As a white American, I'm probably immune to the treatment meted out to South Sudanese reporters, but I'm not eager to test the proposition.  At the very least, I can be detained, my reporting cut short. 

I try to maintain a low profile, but as a Caucasian in foreign clothes and a ridiculous boonie hat, it's impossible for me to blend in here.  "Khawaja! [White man!]," the boys yell.  It's what children often say on seeing me.  I offer up an embarrassed half wave and keep moving.  If they follow, I know this expedition's over.  But they stay put.             

I'm worried now that I've gone too far, that I should have taken the other path.  I'm in an open expanse under the relentless midday sun.  In the distance, I see a group of women and decide to move toward a nearby stand of trees.  Suddenly, I think I see it, the area I've been looking for, the area that some around here have taken to calling "the killing field."

Killing Fields: Then

The world is awash in "killing fields" and I've visited my fair share of them.  The term originally comes from the terrible autogenocide of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and was coined by Dith Pran, whose story was chronicled by his New York Times colleague Sydney Schanberg in a magazine article, a book, and finally an Academy-Award-winning film aptly titled The Killing Fields.

"I saw with my eyes that there are many, many killing fields... there's all the skulls and the bones piled up, some in the wells," Pran explained after traveling from town to town across Cambodia during his escape to Thailand in 1979.  Near Siem Reap, now a popular tourist haunt, Pran visited two sites littered with remains -- each holding around four to five thousand bodies covered with a thin layer of dirt.  Fertilized by death, the grass grew far taller and greener where the bodies were buried.

There's a monument to the killing fields at Choeung Ek, a site of mass graves just outside of Phnom Penh, the country's capital.  Although the Cambodian slaughter ended with the Vietnamese invasion of 1979, when I visited decades later, there were still bones jutting up from the bottom of a pit and shards of a long bone, maybe a femur, embedded in a path I took. 

Then there are the skulls.  A Buddhist stupa on the site is filled with thousands of them, piled high, attesting to the sheer scale of the slaughter.  Millions of Cambodians -- two million, three million, no one knows how many -- died at the hands of the murderous Khmer Rouge.  Similarly, no one knows how many South Sudanese have been slaughtered in the current round of fighting, let alone in the civil wars that preceded it.  The war between southern rebels and the Sudanese government, which raged from 1955 to 1972, reportedly cost more than 500,000 lives.  Reignited in 1983, it churned on for another 20-plus years, leaving around two million dead from violence, starvation, and disease.

A rigorous survey by the U.N.'s Office of the Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, released earlier this year, estimated that last year in just one area of Unity State -- 24 communities, including Leer -- 7,165 persons were killed in violence and another 829 drowned while fleeing.  Add to those nearly 8,000 deaths another 1,243 people "lost" -- generally thought to have been killed but without confirmation -- while fleeing and 890 persons who were abducted, and you have a toll of suffering that exceeds 10,000. 

To put the figures in perspective, those 8,000 dead in and around Leer are more than double the number of civilians -- men, women, children -- killed in the war in Afghanistan in 2015, and more than double the number of all civilians killed in the conflict in Yemen last year.  Even a low-end estimate -- 50,000 South Sudanese civilian deaths in roughly two years of civil war from December 2013 through December 2015 -- exceeds the numbers of civiliansestimated killed in Syria over the same span.  Some experts say the number of South Sudanese dead is closer to 300,000.

Killing Fields: Now

Leer's "killing field" is an expanse of sun-desiccated dirt covered in a carpet of crunchy golden leaves and dried grasses.  Even the weeds have been scorched and strangled by the sun, though the area is also dotted with sturdy neem trees casting welcome shade.  From the branches above me, bird calls ring out, filling the air with chaotic, incongruous melodies.  

Riek Machar was born and bred in Leer.  This very spot was his family compound.  The big trees once cast shade on tukuls and fences.  It was a garden spot.  People used to picnic here.  But that was a long, long time ago. 

Today, a stripped and battered white four-wheel-drive SUV sits in the field.  Not so far away, without tires, seats, or a windshield is one of those three-wheeled vehicles known around the world as a Lambretta or a tuck-tuck.  And then there's the clothes.  I find a desert camouflage shirt, its pattern typically called "chocolate chip."  A short way off, there's a rumpled pair of gray pants, beyond it a soiled blue tee-shirt sporting the words "Bird Game" and graphics resembling those of the video game "Angry Birds."

And then there's a spinal column. 

A human one.

And a pelvis.  And a rib cage.  A femur and another piece of a spinal column.  To my left, a gleaming white skull.  I turn slightly and glimpse another one.  A few paces on and there's another.  And then another.

Human remains are scattered across this area.

A skull lies in the “killing field” in Leer, South Sudan.  This area at the edge of town is littered with unburied human remains.A skull lies in the “killing field” in Leer, South Sudan. This area at the edge of town is littered with unburied human remains.

Leer is, in fact, littered with bones.  I see them everywhere.  Most of the time, they're the sun-bleached skeletal remains of animals.  A few times I stop to scrutinize an orphaned bone lying amid the wreckage.  But I'm no expert, so I chalk up those I can't identify to cattle or goats.  But here, in this killing field, there's no question.  The skulls, undoubtedly picked clean by vultures and hyenas, tell the story.  Or rather, these white orbs, staring blankly in the midday glare, tell part of it.

There's a folk tale from South Sudan's Murle tribe about a young man, tending cattle in a pasture, who comes across a strikingly handsome skull.  "Oh my god, but why are you killing such beautiful people?" he asks.  The next day he asks again and this time the skull responds. "Oh my dear," it says, "I died because of lies!"  Frightened, he returns to his village and later tells the chief and his soldiers about what happened.  None of them believes him.  He implores them to witness it firsthand.  If you're lying, the chief asks, what shall we do with you?  And the young man promptly replies, "You have to kill me." 

He then leads the soldiers to the skull and poses his question.  This time, the skull stays silent.  For his lies, the soldiers insist, they must kill him and they do just that.  As they are about to return to the village, a voice calls out, "This is what I told you, young man, and now you have also died as I died."  The soldiers agree not to tell the king about the exchange.  Returning to the village, they say only that the man had lied and so they killed him as ordered.

In South Sudan, soldiers murder and they get away with it, while skulls tell truths that the living are afraid to utter.

"There Might Be Some Mistakes"

No one knows for certain whose mortal remains litter Leer's killing field.  The best guess: some of the more than 60 men and boys suspected of rebel sympathies who were locked in an unventilated shipping container by government forces last October and left to wither in Leer's relentless heat.  According to a March report by Amnesty International, when the door was opened the next day, only one survivor, a 12-year-old boy, staggered out alive.  At least some of the crumpled corpses were dumped on the edge of town in two pits where animals began devouring them.  Government forces may eventually have burned some of the bodies to conceal evidence of the crime.

After visiting Leer, I took the findings of the report and my own observations to President Salva Kiir's press secretary, Ateny Wek Ateny.  "They always copy and paste," he said, implying that human rights organizations often just reproduced each other's generally erroneous allegations.  It was, I respond, an exceptionally rigorous investigation, relying on more than 40 interviews, including 23 eyewitnesses, that left no doubt an atrocity had taken place.

Those witness statements, he assures me, are the fatal flaw of the Amnesty report.  South Sudanese can't be trusted, since they will invariably lie to cast a pall over rival tribes.  In the case of Leer, the witnesses offered up a "concocted sequence of events" to disparage Kiir and his government.  "Americans and Europeans," he protests, "don't understand this."

It's impossible, he adds, that the government could be responsible for violence in Leer blamed in part on militias, because, as he put it, "We have no militia.  Militias are not part of the government."  What about alleged involvement by uniformed SPLA?  Lots of armed men, he claims, wear SPLA uniforms without being part of the army.  "It is not a government policy to kill civilians," he insists, then concedes: "There might be some mistakes."

No one knows for certain whose remains lie strewn across the “killing field” of Leer, South Sudan.  Some may belong to men and boys suffocated to death in a shipping container in October 2015.No one knows for certain whose remains lie strewn across the "killing field" of Leer, South Sudan. Some may belong to men and boys suffocated to death in a shipping container in October 2015.

 "Bullets Aren't Enough.  We'll Use Rape" 

"They come at any time... They even take children and throw them into the burning homes," says Sarah Nyanang.  Her house in Leer was destroyed last year and, more recently, armed men came in the night and took what little her family had left.  "We have no blanket, no mosquito net, no fishing hook, and even now they steal from us." 

Michael lives close by.  His neighbors push him forward.  His eyes seem to swim with fear.  His voice is like wet gravel.  The armed men came one night earlier this year and beat him.  He shows me a nasty looking wound fast becoming a scar on his scalp, then turns his head to reveal another extending down his jaw line.  They took almost all his possessions and something far more precious, his wife.  Sarah Nyanang interjects that women abducted here may be raped by as many as 10 men.  She saw a neighbor being raped in the midst of an attack.  The implication is that this is what happened to Michael's wife. 

She's still alive, he says, and is living in Thonyor, but he hasn't seen her since the night she was taken away.  He doesn't tell me why.

When a team from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights investigated late last year, they found that rape and sexual slavery were one way members of youth militias who carried out attacks alongside the SPLA were paid.  Among others, they interviewed a mother of four who encountered a group of soldiers and armed civilians.  "The men," the report recounts, "proceeded to strip her naked and five soldiers raped her at the roadside in front of her children. She was then dragged into the bush by two other soldiers who raped her and left her there.  When she eventually returned to the roadside, her children, aged between two and seven, were missing.

A woman from a nearby village in Koch County told the investigators that, in October 2015, "after killing her husband, the SPLA soldiers tied her to a tree and forced her to watch as her fifteen year old daughter was raped by at least ten soldiers. The soldiers told her, 'You are a rebel wife so we can kill you.'"  Another mother reported "that she witnessed her 11-year old daughter and the daughter's 9-year old friend being gang-raped by three soldiers during an attack in Koch in May 2015."

"The magnitude of the sexual violence was pretty startling even given the extraordinarily high level throughout the conflict in South Sudan," Jonathan Loeb of Amnesty International's crisis response team tells me.  "Many women were raped repeatedly often by multiple men, many of them were used as sex slaves, and in some cases are still missing."

According to Edmund Yakani, the executive director of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization that promotes human rights in South Sudan, "rape has gone beyond a weapon of war."  He tells me that it's become part of military culture.  "Sexual violence has been used as a strategy to wipe out populations from areas where they may have given support to their opponents.  I think it's the first time in the history of Africa that high-level directives have been put forth to use rape as a way to wipe out populations, the first time leaders said 'bullets aren't enough, we'll use rape.'" 

Apocalypse Then, Now, Always

In the 1979 film Apocalypse Now, Captain Benjamin Willard is sent on a mission that takes him deep into the heart of darkness, a compound in Cambodia from which a rogue American general is waging a private war.  "I was going to the worst place in the world and I didn't even know it yet," says Willard who finds his own killing field there.

The remains of one of the many victims of violence in Leer, South Sudan.  The town has been repeatedly razed over the years and civilians have been mercilessly attacked.  No one has ever been held accountable for the atrocities.The remains of one of the many victims of violence in Leer, South Sudan. The town has been repeatedly razed over the years and civilians have been mercilessly attacked. No one has ever been held accountable for the atrocities.

I thought about that line as I flew into Leer, looking down on the marshes and malarial swamps where so many hid from killers and rapists.  Multiple people told me that Leer was one of the worst places in the world -- and that's nothing new.    

In 1990, during the Sudanese civil war, Leer was bombed by the northern government's Soviet-made Antonov aircraft.  Nobody may know exactly how many died.  Eight years later, Nuer militias opposed to Riek Machar raided Leer three times, looting and burning homes, destroying crops, slaughtering and stealing tens of thousands of cattle.  "Over the past months thousands of people have fled without food or belongings. They've been forced to hide for days in the surrounding swamps and outlying villages, living in constant fear and surviving on just water lilies and fish. Their own villages have been burned down and their grain stores have been looted," said a representative of the World Food Program at the time.  Leer was completely razed. 

In 2003, attacks on civilians by Sudanese forces and allied militia emptied Leer again.  In January 2014, during the opening weeks of the current civil war, the SPLA and partner militias attacked Leer and surrounding towns. Civilians were killed, survivors ran for the swamps, and the attackers burned to the ground some 1,556 residential structures according to satellite imagery.  And then, of course, came last year's raids.

Since American soldiers departed Vietnam in the 1970s, there have been no further massacres at My Lai.  Nor have there been mass killings near Oradour-sur-Glane, France, where the Nazis slaughtered 642 civilians in June 1944.  Both ruined villages have, in fact, been preserved as memorials to the dead.  And although Iraq was turned into a charnel house following the 2003 U.S. invasion and neighboring Syria has seen chemical weapons attacks in recent years, there have been no new victims of poison gas in Halabja since Saddam Hussein's 1988 attack.

Cambodia, too, has seen none of the wholesale bloodletting of the 1970s since the Khmer Rouge was driven from power.  And while periodic fears of impending genocide have lurked in the neighborhood, and Rwanda has experienced arbitrary arrests, torture, and killings of government opponents and critics, it has had nothing like a repeat of 1994. 

In Leer, however, those killed in the bombing of 1990, in the razing of the town of 1998, in the attacks of 2003, in the sack of the town in 2014, and in the waves of attacks of 2015, have been joined by still others unfortunate enough to call this town home.  Those in the area have been trapped by geography and circumstances beyond their control in what can only be called an inter-generational killing field.

The violence of 2015 never actually ended.  It's just continued at a somewhat reduced level.  A couple of weeks before I arrived in Leer, an attack by armed men led locals to shelter at the Médecins Sans Frontières compound.  On the day I arrived in town, armed youths from the rebel-held territory surrounding Leer carried out a series of attacks on government forces, killing nine. 

In July, violence again flared in South Sudan's capital, Juba.  With it came reports of renewed attacks around Leer.  In late August, an SPLA-IO spokesman reported a raid by government forces on a town 25 kilometers from Leer that ended with two killed, 15 women raped, and 50 cows stolen.  In September, around 700 families from Leer County fled to a U.N. camp due to fighting between the SPLA and the IO.  Earlier this October, civilians were killed and families again fled to the swamps around Leer due to gun battles and artillery fire between the two forces.

No one has ever been held accountable for any of this violence, any of the atrocities, any of the deaths.  And there's little reason to believe they ever will -- or even that the violence will end.  Unlike My Lai or Oradour-sur-Glane, Leer seems destined to be a perpetually active killing field, a place where bodies pile up, massacre after massacre, generation after generation -- a town trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of violence.

Almost a year after fleeing Leer, Mary Nyalony is still living out in the open on water lilies and in a state of limbo.  "I'm worried because the government is still there," she says of her ravaged hometown.  When I ask about the future, she tells me that she fears "the same thing is going to happen again."

Peace pacts and the optimism they generate come and go, but decades of history suggest that Mary Nyalony will eventually be proved right.  Peace deals aren't the same as peace.  Southern Sudan has seen plenty of the former, but little of the latter.  "We need peace," she says more than once.  "If there's no peace, all of this is just going to continue."

News Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Debate #3: Our Long National Nightmare Is Far From Over

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton speak during the presidential debate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on October 19, 2016. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton speak during the presidential debate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on October 19, 2016. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)

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Just before noon on Wednesday, my excellent friend and co-worker Dahr Jamail sent me a kind note of encouragement. "Enjoy the last debate, Will!" he wrote. "Sleep with one eye open tonight, Jamail," I replied. "I'm coming for you." He meant well, I know, but I was in a mood. The third presidential debate of 2016 was hanging over me like some foul fog bank, and was still hours away.

As I waited for the starting bell to toll, a number of interesting things had already come to pass. For starters, the day opened with a "wall" of taco trucks that began surrounding Trump's Las Vegas hotel. I can think of worse ways to greet the dawn. Malik Obama, the Kenyan half-brother of the president, had accepted an invitation from Donald Trump to attend the event. The question of "Why" lumbered ponderously through my mind. Was Trump using this man as some sort of racist dog-whistle to fire up his base? A number of other individuals were tapped by Trump to come and enjoy the show, including the last-minute addition of none other than Sarah Palin to the guest list.

I can only guess Trump surmised such a random goulash of attendees would so unnerve Hillary Clinton that she would run screaming into the desert night. However, Clinton stood her ground and their presence proved pointless. As the 90-minute debate ground to its conclusion, Trump's eclectic assortment of attendees barely garnered a mention from the stage.

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, "Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016."

The debate itself was a slow devolution into garbled nonsense. It started well enough; hell, it actually resembled a debate for the first 25 minutes or so, with policy discussions and everything. It was almost disorienting for a minute there until reality reasserted itself. Trump is Trump, forever and ever amen, so there were of course moments where he reached maximum Trumpossity in his answers.

When questioned about how his Supreme Court nominees would interpret the constitution, he said right off the bat, "Something happened recently where Justice Ginsburg made some very, very inappropriate statements toward me and toward a tremendous number of people, many, many millions of people that I represent. And she was forced to apologize. And apologize she did. But these were statements that should never, ever have been made." He wrapped it up with, "I don't think we should have justices appointed that decide what they want to hear. It's all about the Constitution of -- of -- and so important, the Constitution the way it was meant to be."

Translation: I don't know what "strict constitutionalist" or "living document" means. Please let me go home to my building filled with Chinese steel so I can stare at my portraits of myself. If Trump ever actually mastered two facts and rubbed them together, he'd accidentally discover fire and blow himself up.

I made a bet with a friend on exactly how long it would take for Trump to flip out. I said half an hour. I was wrong; Trump's cork popped at 9:35pm Eastern Time when Clinton blasted him with one of the best verbal haymakers you'll ever see in a debate. Trump was stem-winding about Putin having no respect for her, and she laid him out like he'd been trash-talking her mom: "That's because he'd rather have a puppet as president of the United States."

Wham and splatter. The only reason Trump's hair didn't do that twirling Shemp-from-the-Stooges thing is because his people had dogged it down like a spare sail before he went onstage. "No puppet, no puppet!" he frothed. "You're the puppet! No, you're the puppet!" Snot-encrusted pre-school playrooms don't see the kind of tantrum he pitched, and from there the devolution was on. For the remainder of the night, Trump's responses on foreign policy, his sexual assaults, abortion, guns, economics and everything else sounded like they could have come from a Magic 8-Ball. "Answer unclear, ask again later."

According to the sad metrics of the age, Hillary Clinton "won" the debate simply by dint of having command of more facts than her opponent, and by retaining her poise in the face of a man who sounded like a bassoon being played by a vacuum cleaner, all noise and sucking.

In the end, however, this third debate served only to demonstrate just how far to the right the political dialogue in this country has tacked. The "Grand Bargain," austerity's two favorite words, made a star turn regarding Social Security and Medicare, with nary a word spoken on defense spending. Nothing, however, made our rightward swing clearer than the candidates' martial colloquy on Iraq, Iran, Syria and Aleppo. We'll fight them on the ground and in the air, we'll go in and go in and go in. Were he with us, George Orwell might say we have always been at war in the Middle East. One of these days, that's actually going to be true.

As we're on the topic, let's take a moment to focus on Hillary Clinton's greatest failure on Wednesday night. I don't expect Donald Trump to have a grasp on foreign policy any more than I'd expect him to be able to explain superstring theory (no, Donald, it's not about your shoelaces), but Clinton knows better, and should at least be able to articulate black-letter history. Trump blamed her for the rise of ISIS several times, claiming "Iran won," and she essentially let that stand.

False across the board: Iran "won" the moment we invaded Iraq in 2003 on a raft of lies she voted for, tore down the Sunni government and scattered the Ba'athist Army into the wind. ISIS became a foregone conclusion the day George W. Bush was born … oh, and by the diddly bye, US forces left Iraq in large part because Bush cut a deal to do so in 2008, a deal Obama honored. You might remember the day they announced it; a guy threw his shoes at Bush during that press conference.

The region is in chaos? Twenty-five years of war and sanctions and more war has a way of doing that.

Yet you can't say any of that out loud, it seems, and certainly not on television. Killing is business, you see, and business is good.

This was all before Trump hissed, "Such a nasty woman" at Clinton, and before he refused to unequivocally accept the outcome of the election when pressed on all his "rigged" talk. "I'll keep you in suspense," he said to audible gasps from the audience. "OK?"

No, Donald, not OK. The first comment will certainly get a lot of attention from the media, but the second was the ballgame, and undoubtedly made Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus all want to run up a tree and start a whole new society where nothing like Donald Trump has ever existed.

We all have our bad days, and some are demonstrably worse than others. So it goes for Mitch, Pauly and The Priebester. You bought him, boys. Trump is your animal, and on Wednesday night he took a dump in our yard on national television. Enjoy the next 19 days of everyone calling that a disqualifying remark.  There is no joy in Mudville, because Mighty Casey is a clown.

I laid awake long into the wee hours of Wednesday night and Thursday morning trying to encompass the phenomenon that was this now-completed trio of presidential debates. I kept taking sips of water while resisting the urge to spit. I have dealt with nine national elections on a professional level, many more on a personal level, and nothing I have seen or even heard of compares to this sick and sorry display. To misquote the Bard, it was a debate full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Poor players, indeed. We are all in a great deal of trouble.

Keep that eye open, Jamail. Nineteen days to go.

Opinion Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Another Victory for Workers in Seattle -- This Time It's Their Schedules

Although she was hired on as a full-time employee at Domino's Pizza, Crystal Thompson had a schedule that became erratic and unreliable shortly after she began working there in 2009. One day she'd start at 9 a.m. and work until 9 p.m.; and then she'd get a call asking her to work the morning shift the next day.

"It's so hard trying to plan your life."

The single mother of three relied on the job to pay over $1,200 a month in rent, utilities, food, and child care, but during the most volatile weeks, she was lucky if she got even 20 hours in shifts. Moreover, it was difficult to find a babysitter or make doctor's appointments when she sometimes received her schedule only a day in advance. At a loss, Thompson moved one of her children into the living room and found a roommate to shoulder the part of the rent that she couldn't afford.

"It's crazy," Thompson says about her schedule. "It's so hard trying to plan your life."

But thanks to an ordinance passed in Seattle last month, Thompson and other workers in the service and retail industries will finally have the freedom to think more than one day ahead. The new law, known as "secure scheduling," will take effect in July 2017 and will impact large retail, service, and drinking establishments with a minimum of 500 workers globally, as well as full-service restaurants with more than 500 workers and 40 or more locations.

The measure requires that employers post work schedules at least two weeks in advance, offer additional hours to existing workers before hiring new employees, and provide at least a 10-hour break between closing and opening shifts. Thompson says that anything less than that doesn't leave enough time to rest, shower, care for her children, and be alert enough to work another shift.

The Seattle measure comes on the heels of similar legislation passed in San Francisco in 2014, which labor activists call a game changer for the labor movement. It provides that hourly workers have the ability to better budget their expenses, take on second jobs, and plan for education and family time.

Workers in the service and retail industries will finally have the freedom to think more than one day ahead.

Working Washington, a Seattle-based labor advocacy organization that led the efforts, attests that, much like legislation for a $15 minimum wage that passed in Seattle in 2014, predictable schedules will likely spread to other cities and states too. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced that he and other city officials plan on drafting legislation to ensure secure scheduling for fast-food workers.

Thompson's plight is common for workers in the service and retail industry nationally, as shown in a report co-authored by associate professor Susan Lambert at the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration. About 3 out of 4 early-career adults in hourly jobs report fluctuations in the number of hours they've worked in a month, and nearly half of part-time workers said that their employers gave them a week's notice or less when their schedules changed.

The problem is especially severe among African Americans and Latinos in Seattle. Another study, this one commissioned by the city itself in July, revealed that the two groups were the most likely to receive their schedules with less than a week's notice, be required to be on-call, or to be sent home during slow shifts. They also reported higher rates of having difficulty attending classes and working second jobs because of their schedules.

Sejal Parikh, executive director of Working Washington, says that erratic scheduling has proliferated in the past two decades with the advent of scheduling software programs. After her group pushed for a $15 minimum wage and won, a campaign for secure scheduling seemed like a natural next step, she says. "The $15 minimum wage is about money, and the secure scheduling campaign is really about power."

A stable schedule allows workers to spend time with their families, have hobbies, and further their careers.

But the measure is not immune to opposition. The advocacy group Washington Retail Association issued a press release in August stating that the measure undermines the fluctuating nature of business and would lead to layoffs. But Parikh counters that companies are already staffing leanly and that there's usually not an excess of workers during one shift. A secure schedule simply allows a barista who lives an hour away from work to get eight hours of sleep at home instead of sleeping inside of the coffee shop, she contends.

It's important that the more than 75 million people who work hourly jobs nationally have some say in their own schedule, says Carrie Gleason, director of the Fair Workweek initiative at the Center for Popular Democracy. A stable schedule allows workers to spend time with their families, have hobbies, and further their careers. Gleason adds that the legislation "ensures that Seattle workers can have a voice" in determining how many hours they work, which is something she hopes catches on in other cities.

In Seattle, Thompson is already planning out the time she'll enjoy once she has a more predictable schedule. She is now working part time because she's caring for her 9-month-old baby, but Thompson says she plans on going back to school to get a degree in Spanish and to become an interpreter. The new ordinance will also allow her to figure out child care and to budget for the rent in her new Section 8 housing, which takes 30 percent of her income.

More than anything, Thompson says she's looking forward "to more peace of mind."

News Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Environmental Official Murdered in Brazilian Amazon

On Thursday 13 October, Luiz Alberto Araújo, 54 years old, who headed the environment department for the municipal government of the town of Altamira in the Amazonian state of Pará, was killed by two gunmen. They drove up to his car and fired nine shots into him, in front of his wife and two stepsons. Nothing was stolen and the killing is believed to have been a political assassination.

In his endeavors to enforce environmental legislation in the largely lawless Amazonian region, Araújo made powerful enemies. He, along with others, provided information to the Federal Police and to Brazil's Federal Public Ministry (MPF), an independent branch of government, that enabled them to launch Operaçāo Rios Voadores (Flying Rivers Operation) earlier this year.

This illegal logging investigation, one of the largest in the Amazon in recent times, led to 24 arrests, including that of the ringleader, Antonio José Junqueira Vilela Filho, known as AJJ. He and his son were accused of illegally invading the Amazon rainforest, extracting valuable hard timber, slashing-and-burning the remaining forest and turning it into pasture for cattle.

According to Luciano Evaristo, Director of Environmental Protection at Brazil's environmental agency, Ibama, AJJ developed a new method for clearing the forest. "He employed geo-processing technicians to organize numerous small-scale operations," he said.

The technicians made sure that the tallest trees were left standing so that the satellites operated by INPE (National Institute of Space Research) did not detect the wide-scale felling that was happening below the canopy.

According to the police, the laborers clearing the forest were held "in conditions analogous to slavery".

AJJ's group cleared 294 square kilometers (113 square miles) of forest around Altamira. AJJ was fined R$119.8 million (US$37 million), the biggest fine ever imposed in the Brazilian Amazon, for ten years of illegal forest clearing.

Luis Alberto Araújo also contributed to Operação Castanheira (Brazil Nut Operation) in 2014, which uncovered large-scale illegal forest clearance around the town of Novo Progresso in southwest Pará.

More recently, in February of this year, Araújo's team collected tons of dead fish secretly buried near the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, located on the outskirts of Altamira, that began operation earlier this year.

As a result, Norte Energia, the company in charge of Belo Monte, was fined RS$35.3 million (US$11.0 million) for the 16.2 tons of fish illegally killed during the flooding of the dam's reservoir.

Araújo is the latest in a long list of environmentalists assassinated in Brazil. According to the NGO Global Witness, 448 environmentalists were killed in Brazil from 2002-2013. This was half of the total killed worldwide.

News Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Many Pernicious Myths About Native Americans That Need to Be Uprooted Now

It's not uncommon for non-Native people in the United States to assume that there are no Native Americans who live among them. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz attempts to dispell the myths that emerge from these assumptions in her book, "All the Real Indians Died Off" And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans.

Phyllis Young, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux, speaks with reporters from a protest camp near the site of a planned road that would be used in constructing a portion of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, August 18, 2016. Five hundred years after the violence of settler colonialism began in the Americas, Native peoples are still fighting to protect their lands and their rights to exist as distinct political communities and individuals. (Photo: Daniella Zalcman / The New York Times)Phyllis Young, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux, speaks with reporters from a protest camp near the site of a planned road that would be used in constructing a portion of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, August 18, 2016. Five hundred years after the violence of settler colonialism began in the Americas, Native peoples are still fighting to protect their lands and their rights to exist as distinct political communities and individuals. (Photo: Daniella Zalcman / The New York Times)

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

The following is an excerpt from the Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz introduction to "All the Real Indians Died Off" and 20 Other Myths About Native Americans. Dunbar is co-author of the book with Dina Gilio-Whitaker.

No collectivity of people in US American society is as enigmatic or misunderstood as Indigenous peoples. From the very first encounters with them five centuries ago, Europeans were confounded by these peoples who looked so different and lived lives that seemed diametrically opposed to theirs and even blasphemous. Europeans brought with them their fears and prejudices accompanied by a sense of entitlement to the land that had been home to the Indigenous peoples for untold thousands of years. They were occasionally respected by the newcomers, some of whom voluntarily left their own communities in the early days of settlement to live among the Indians. They learned to speak the Natives' languages, intermarried, and had children with them, sometimes for love or companionship, sometimes just to build alliances and gain access to Native territories and to convert them to Christianity. But by and large the history of relations between Indigenous and settler is fraught with conflict, defined by a struggle for land, which is inevitably a struggle for power and control. Five hundred years later, Native peoples are still fighting to protect their lands and their rights to exist as distinct political communities and individuals.

Most US citizens' knowledge about Indians is inaccurate, distorted, or limited to elementary-school textbooks, cheesy old spaghetti westerns, or more contemporary films like Dances with Wolves or The Last of the Mohicans. Few can name more than a handful of Native nations out of the over five hundred that still exist or can tell you who Leonard Peltier is. Mention Indian gaming and they will have strong opinions about it one way or another. Some might even have an Indian casino in their community, but they will probably be curiously incurious if you ask them how Indian gaming came to be or about the history of the nation that owns the casino. In many parts of the country it's not uncommon for non-Native people to have never met a Native person or to assume that there are no Indians who live among them. On the other hand, in places where there is a concentration of Natives, like in reservation border towns, what non- Native people think they know about Indians is typically limited to racist tropes about drunk or lazy Indians. They are seen as people who are maladjusted to the modern world and cannot free themselves from their tragic past.

On the whole, it can be said that the average US citizen's knowledge about American Indians is confined to a collection of well-worn myths and half-truths that have Native people either not existing at all or existing in a way that fails to live up to their expectations about who "real" Indians are. If Indians do exist, they are seen as mere shadows of their former selves, making counterfeit identity claims or performing fraudulent acts of Indianness that are no longer authentic or even relevant. Non-Natives thus position themselves, either wittingly or unwittingly, as being the true experts about Indians and their histories -- and it happens at all levels of society, from the uneducated all the way up to those with advanced college degrees, and even in the halls of Congress. The result is the perpetual erasure of Indians from the US political and cultural landscape. In short, for five centuries Indians have been disappearing in the collective imagination. They are disappearing in plain sight.

The myths about Indigenous peoples that this book identifies can be traced to narratives of erasure. They have had -- and continue to have -- a profoundly negative impact on the lives of the millions of Native people who still live on the continent of their ancient ancestors. They work further to keep non-Natives in a state of ignorance, forever misinformed and condemned to repeat the mistakes of history, silently eroding their own humanity when they fail to recognize their roles in -- or, more specifically, the ways they benefit from -- the ongoing injustice of a colonial system. For Native people the effects are felt at every level of personal and public life. They play out in a dizzying array of overt and subtly bigoted ways, resulting in what social scientists call structural violence. Structural violence describes social arrangements that cause harm to people as they are embedded in the social and political structures of society. It can be so blatant that it manifests in acts of individual physical violence, but it can just as easily result in harm by neglect. Erasure is one of the more subtle forms of structural violence visited upon Native peoples.

 At a cultural level, structural violence shows up in dehumanizing portrayals of caricaturized images of Indians in the name of honor and respect. This is most obvious in the stubborn adherence to Indian sports mascots, as in the case of Dan Snyder's Washington R*dskins team name. It is also visible in cultural appropriations such as the ubiquitous (and seemingly harmless) Indian Halloween costumes and feather headdresses worn at music festivals or by models for fashion layouts and runway displays. Cultural appropriation is especially egregious when it involves the co-optation of spiritual ceremonies and the inappropriate use of lands deemed sacred by Native peoples. The New Age movement is a Pandora's box full of examples of what has been called the plastic or white shaman. Misuse of sacred land has a long history, and it continues. In 2015, Lakota people in South Dakota protested the annual hippie Rainbow Family gathering in the sacred Paha Sapa (Black Hills). The Lakota claimed that these gatherings have a long history of destructive land use and also cited Rainbow Family drug culture, which they saw as highly disrespectful in a place they believe to be the heart and origin of their people.

Popular culture has a long history of portraying stereotyped and blatantly racist images of American Indians, especially in film. Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond's documentary Reel Injuns traces the history of Indians in Hollywood movies, identifying images we are all too familiar with. With roots in the "vanishing Indian" era of late nineteenth and early twentieth century history, Hollywood filmmakers (like other photo-documentarians of the time such as Edward Curtis) rushed to capture images of Indians before they disappeared into the mists of the past.

Throughout each era of the twentieth century, Indians appeared in films as literal projections of non-Natives' fantasies about Indians. They include the tragically vanishing Indian, the mystic warrior, the noble and ignoble savage, and eventually the "groovy injun," embodied as the environmental Indian (the iconic crying "Indian" Iron Eyes Cody), the civil rights fighter (Billy Jack), and others.

Structural violence against Native people often entails a staggering assortment of legislation, court cases, executive decisions, and municipal and state actions that directly affect their lives. This sort of violence will be explored throughout this book, but one of the most potent ways that violence of erasure is deployed in US society is through education. A body of scholarship identifies the ways that Native children have for generations been miseducated under deliberately repressive federal policy, and a substantial body of research also identifies the ways children in public schools are miseducated on US and Native history.  Education scholar Timothy Lintner writes, "History is a delicate amalgam of fact and fiction tempered by personal and pedagogical perception. Though the premise of history is rooted in empiricism, the teaching of history is not so subjective. History classrooms are not neutral; they are contested supremacy." James Loewen reflected this perhaps most famously in 1995 with the release of his now acclaimed book Lies My Teacher Told Me, in which he tackled the fallacies of the Columbus and Thanksgiving stories.

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

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

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Most tellingly, in a 2015 study, scholars examined the state standards for teaching Indigenous history and culture in all fifty states and found a wide variance between them. Some states include Indigenous curriculum content and some do not, but the report concluded that, overall, "Standards overwhelmingly present Indigenous Peoples in a pre-1900 context and relegate the importance and presence of Indigenous Peoples to the distant past."  In other words, Indians are largely portrayed as extinct. Research on Indigenous invisibility and erasure is naturally most prevalent in Native studies, but it intersects with broader research on race and ethnicity too. Critical race theorists and sociologists point out that US society operates on a system of privilege. Systems of privilege can inhere in families, workplaces, and society in general, and are organized around the principles of domination, identification, and centeredness. Whiteness is centered by default, for example: because white people tend to occupy positions of power, they possess a form of unearned privilege. Scholars emphasize the idea that racism is more than acts of individual meanness. It is built into society and functions systemically, rendering it nearly invisible. White privilege, then, stems in large part from race as a social construction. In other words, society and its state are based on a racial hierarchy in which those identified as white have always been at the top. A conservative backlash after the civil rights gains of the 1960s and 1970s resulted in a widespread social denial that racism still exists. Overtly racist laws were abolished, but race and racism are still very difficult for white people to talk about.

The myths about Native peoples outlined in this book grow from the racialized social structures upon which the United States is built. Because these structures are systemic, the myths tenaciously persist despite changes in law and policy over time. Ultimately they serve the settler state and by extension its international allies, who largely fail to recognize the political existence of Indigenous peoples. In the effort to dismantle the myths, the chapters that follow attempt to unpack various tenets of settler colonialism and at the same time construct a counter narrative, one based on truth.

Copyright (2016) by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker. Not to be reposted without permission of the publisher, Beacon Press.

Opinion Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Blackstone's Tony James Touting What Looks Like Clinton's Scheme to Gut Social Security

Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event at Wayne State University in Detroit, Oct. 10, 2016. (Doug Mills / The New York Times)Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event at Wayne State University in Detroit, October 10, 2016. (Doug Mills / The New York Times)

Readers may recall that Bill Clinton planned to privatize Social Security in the second term of his Presidency. The Monica Lewinsky scandal derailed his plan.

As the Clintons knew, only a Democrat can dismantle Social Security. Hillary looks to be picking up where Bill left off. As David Sirota describes in a must-read story, Hillary is planning to introduce mandatory retirement accounts, a scheme that Hillary has mentioned in high concept form earlier. As details emerge, this "enrich Wall Street at the expense of everyone else" program is even more attractive to pet Democratic party constituencies than the 1.0 version of going after Social Security directly. No one in the Clinton or George W. Bush administration was so audacious as to cut in private equity and hedge funds in the way this variant would.

But Hillary, and her major advisor on the plan who is also on her short list of Treasury Secretary candidates, Blackstone CEO Tony James, are too adept to label these required savings accounts as a stealth replacement for Social Security. The plan, as described in Sirota's article parallels the way the contributions are made now to Social Security, with both employers and employees required to put aside a percentage of payroll…but not in the form of Social Security taxes, but in individual retirement accounts that in turn are put in "pooled plans run by professional managers."

If you look at James' speech, what he is proposing sounds innocuous, a supposed additional 3% of worker savings. But that is a nearly 25% increase over what workers are paying into Social Security now. Moreover, most experts agree that to the extent that Social Security needs fixing (30 forecasts are fraught), some not very onerous tweaks would do the trick. First and foremost would be to eliminate the payroll tax ceiling.

It's not hard to see the long-term game plan. Social Security will be cut due to purported need to keep the budget balanced while funding bombing runs in the Middle East. It will be turned from a universal social safety net more and more into a welfare program. That in turn makes it easier to make more cuts, since its core supporters will be further and further down the food chain.

Moreover, the canard is the assumption that James makes: "…if these savings are invested correctly and earn a good return for the retiree." Tell me how this happens in a world of ZIRP, NIRP, low growth, high private debt levels, and equity prices increasingly dependent on unsustainable stock buybacks?

There are fundamental problems with "saving and investing" for retirement as a mass solution, as opposed to for a relatively small group of high income individuals. One is that everyone's financial asset is someone else's financial liability. Expecting a return over the long-term GDP growth level on average isn't attainable as the pool of financial claims keeps rising. That's why, as Michael Hudson keeps pointing out, debt jubilees were a regular part of ancient civilization. The burden of outstanding claims became economically destructive and socially destabilizing. And as Keynes and others have pointed out in the more modern formulation, high savings rates produce the paradox of thrift: what seems virtuous on an individual level is destructive on a societal level.

In fact, rather than more savings, what the US needs is higher worker incomes, which in turn would support more spending, more job creation, and more investment. Ultimately, the cost of supporting non-working members of society is a function of the size of the economy in the future, as in the quality of infrastructure, how many people are employed productively, the utility of inventions in the intervening decades (as in advances that lower the cost of treating cancer have vastly greater positive societal spill-overs than apps that generate the same amount of GDP). That is why having the Federal government be obligated to provide a retirement social safety net aligns incentives much better: the authorities should be concerned about how to produce long-term growth for the economy, not just get through the next quarter, um election. But neoliberalism remains dominant despite its abject failure here and in Europe, so policy-makers are still relying on the economic equivalent of snake oil.

And despite the smooth talk, let's underscore the point: even if you buy into the false narrative that Social Security needs to come out of individual contributions, when it is in fact a pay as you go system, a 3% increase in employee contributions across the board now is well beyond what anyone is calling for in the way of fixes.

Put it another way: this is just another form of looting. Obamacare was written by the health insurance lobby and look how well that has turned out. Just imagine what sort of cooking ordinary Americans will get from the kitchen of Tony James and his fellow private equity robber barons. From Sirota's story:

The proposal would require workers and employers to put a percentage of payroll into individual retirement accounts "to be invested well in pooled plans run by professional investment managers," as James put it. In other words, individual voluntary 401(k)s would be replaced by a single national system, and much of the mandated savings would flow to Wall Street, where companies like Blackstone could earn big fees off the assets. And because of a gap in federal anti-corruption rules, there would be little to prevent the biggest investment contracts from being awarded to the biggest presidential campaign donors.

In other words, this is the worst of all possible worlds. You have an individual account, but you are not permitted to invest in stocks and bonds; you may not be permitted even to choose your asset allocation. Worse, James' language suggests that the vehicles will be "run by professional asset managers," as in many or perhaps all will be actively managed, as opposed to indexes. As any student of John Bogle will tell you, paying for active managers is a waste of money, but Hillary wants to go that route on an industrial scale so as to further enrich grifters like Tony James (let us not forget that the Blackstone has paid fines in an SEC settlement for charging fees it was not authorized to take, which in most walks of life would be called embezzlement).

And of course, private equity is on the list of preferred investment. And even better: James holds up private equity as a solution, just as it supposedly is for public pension funds, even as Blackstone was one of the first private equity firms to warn that returns in the future would be paltry. Indeed, the valuations of the private equity firms that are public say that they expect none of them will be earning any carry fees over the next few years. It's perverse to see James praise public pension funds for their high allocations to alternative investments even when he and his private equity colleagues snigger privately about their lack of sophistications.

Again from Sirota:

In the blueprint of the plan, James lamented that 401(k) systems "don't invest in longer-term, illiquid alternatives such as hedge funds, private equity and real estate," and said the new program could invest in "high-yielding and risk-reducing alternative asset classes." In a CNBC interview, James said he wants the billions of dollars of new retiree savings to be invested "like pension plans." He noted that in "the average pension plan in America, about 25 percent is invested in stuff we do, in alternatives, in real estate and private equity and commodities and hedge funds." Unlike stock index funds and Treasury bills, those investments generate big fees for financial firms — and critics say they do not generate returns that justify the costs.

So James is looking for a way for Blackstone to unload its failed investment in single family rental homes, where it is struggling to find an exit strategy, on government-mandated investors? How sporting of him.

And as for the other supposed virtues of this scheme, let us not forget that this story appeared a day after New York's pension overseer blasted the state comptroller for paying big fees for hedge fund underperformance, and for not knowing what private equity fees and costs were when the state has a clear duty to do so, and reason to be vigilant in light of SEC reports of widespread abuses.

And there is another layer of this that is not pretty: the more money that is in the hands of mega-funds, the less corporate accountability. CEOs can regularly pay themselves well out of line with performance and get away with other governance failings by virtue of the fact that most institutional investors either can't be bothered to try to discipline them or have incentives not to (they want the 401 (k) or pension or Treasury funds management business). Mega-funds that are selected via a largely if not entirely political process have even less reason to push for good governance.

I hope you'll circulate this post and/or Sirota's story widely. This is what you can look forward to in a Clinton administration. Don't say you weren't warned.

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News Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Polling Places in Police Stations? Why Civil Rights Groups Are Still Fighting for Voting Rights

(Photo: C. Holmes; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: C. Holmes; Edited: LW / TO)

While some conservatives cling to unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud, civil rights activists are fighting to remove obstacles to the ballot 51 years after the Voting Rights Act passed. Like this election, the debate over voting rights is steeped in partisan politics and racism.

(Photo: C. Holmes; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: C. Holmes; Edited: LW / TO)

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When civil rights groups learned that a county elections board planned to relocate the polling station for a predominately Black precinct in Macon, Georgia, to a local sheriff's office, they warned election officials that the move would unfairly discourage turnout. The officials didn't budge at first.

Allegations of police brutality and the 2012 police killing of an unarmed Black man have raised tensions in this southern community. Nse Ufot, executive director of the non-partisan New Georgia Project, said that requiring voters of color to show up at the county jailer's office, where they would be under camera surveillance and potentially subject to search, would "have a chilling effect at best."

"They didn't give [public] notice ... everything about this move was out of order," Ufot told Truthout.

Ufot said the election board initially ignored requests to cancel the move, so members of the local NAACP chapter and other groups picked up their clipboards, enlisted volunteers from a local college and started knocking on doors, gathering signatures for a petition opposing the move.

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, "Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016."

Volunteers collected signatures from 40 percent of the voters in the precinct. Georgia law requires signatures from 20 percent of a precinct to petition an election board, but Ufot said volunteers gathered twice as many signatures as necessary, just in case officials tried to invalidate them. They didn't, and the election board soon agreed to move the polling station to a neighborhood church instead.

"This is the type of thing we have to do because the Justice Department can't enforce the Voting Rights Act," Ufot said.

Each of Georgia's 159 counties has its own election board. Ufot said the New Georgia Project uses a considerable number of resources to monitor each board for plans to close and consolidate polling places, especially in communities of color, and to make sure that voters are properly registered. Boards often close precincts on the pretense of saving money, but Ufot said that sometimes there appears to be a "racial or partisan motivation" as well.

Earlier this year, Georgia's secretary of state removed an archaic, 90-day "blackout period" to give boards more time to process new voter registrations, but some boards did not comply, creating backlogs that frustrated advocates running voter drives.

"I can't imagine [how] this would have come to light had we not had massive Black civic engagement project in the state," Ufot said.

Voters of color in Georgia have reasons to be worried, and not just because of the state's racist history. A recent review of registration records revealed that Black voters were eight times more likely than whites to have their voter applications rejected, often due to clerical errors, such as one letter missing from the spelling of a name, according to the New Georgia Project.

Partisanship and Racism

This year marks the first major election season since the Supreme Court threw out a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that helped end the era of Jim Crow by requiring 15 states with long histories of discrimination to have polling changes cleared by federal officials. Meanwhile, 14 states have new voting restrictions in effect this election season, ranging from photo ID requirements to restrictions on registration. Six of those states were included in the "pre-clearance" section of the act before the court's decision, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Three former pre-clearance states -- Georgia, South Carolina and Florida -- were able to put restrictions on the books before the high court's ruling, and South Carolina has new photo ID requirements this year.

Earlier this year, a federal court struck down a strict voter ID law in North Carolina, another former pre-clearance state, in a sweeping ruling that called out lawmakers for intentionally targeting African American voters with "surgical precision." In Missouri, civil rights groups are rallying voters against a ballot proposal that would enshrine voter ID requirements in the state's constitution.

For advocates like Ufot, assuring that all voters can access the ballot without obstacles and intimidation is crucial for empowering those who have long faced exclusion from the democratic process, especially in the South.

Among politicians, however, the debate over voting rights is mired in partisanship.

Typical voting restrictions include photo ID requirements, curbing early voting opportunities and making it difficult or impossible for people with criminal records to vote, even after they have served their time.

All of these restrictions disproportionately impact lower income voters of color, who tend to favor Democrats over Republicans. The majority of states that have passed voter restrictions since 2010 also had the nation's highest rates of Black voter turnout in 2008 and/or saw large increases in Latino populations, according to the Brennan Center.

If Republicans did want to rally support from voters of color instead of making it more difficult for them to vote, the candidate leading the party's ticket, Donald Trump, is not helping. Trump's reckless and racist rhetoric has alienated allies in his own party, especially Republicans of color. Still, Trump has doubled down on his bombastic claims, telling his supporters that the election is "rigged" against him and they should be actively monitoring polling places on Election Day.

Judith Brown, director of the Advancement Project, a national civil rights group, told reporters last week that voters of color are now under threat from vigilantes due to Trump's reckless behavior.

"The Trump campaign and other lawmakers at state and local levels have repeatedly lodged false claims about voter fraud that they say is widespread," Brown said. "The Trump campaign has gone even further, calling for aggressive poll watching and a call to police voters."

Trump fans are apparently answering the call. One supporter in Ohio told the Boston Globe that he would be at the polls to engage in "racial profiling" of "Mexicans" "Syrians" and "people who can't speak American."

Fanning the Flames of Intimidation

At first glance, a recent report by the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) makes it seem as if the state of Virginia is fending off a Martian attack. The front cover features a flying saucer and declares an "alien invasion in Virginia."

A blog post about the report by PILF director J. Christian Adams, a conservative pundit whose claims to fame include litigating the first case under the Voting Rights Act on behalf of white voters, features grey-faced space invaders holding laser guns.

Upon closer inspection, however, it's clear that the "aliens" at the center of the report are not aliens at all. In fact, they are human beings who live and work in the United States and, at some point in the past five years, decided to fulfill the legal requirements for driving a car.

If you've been wondering where all the accusations of "voter fraud" in the media have been coming from, look no further. Brown says PILF is one of a small handful of right-wing groups that have been on a "witch hunt" for voter fraud, providing Republicans with justification for their racially motivated voting restrictions, and allowing Trump and his surrogates to declare that the election is "rigged."

In Virginia, PILF used voting records from eight counties to show that 1,046 undocumented immigrants have registered to vote in the state since 2011. The report blames a 23-year-old law that requires states to offer voter registration to people applying for driver's licenses.

All of these undocumented immigrants were removed from voter rolls when they renewed their licenses, and records show that the vast majority never voted at all. Critics point out that much of the evidence in the report is outdated, and the undocumented immigrants mentioned in the report -- their full names and addresses are included -- may be legal residents or even citizens by now.

"We are worried that this is going to fan the flames of voter intimidation," said Sabrina Khan, a staff attorney for the Advancement Project.

Adams argues that Virginia's voter rolls have been "polluted by an excess of a thousand aliens," but civil rights organizers say that making it easier for immigrants to gain citizenship and voting rights is good for democracy. After all, immigrants live in our neighborhoods and participate in the economy. They drop their kids off at the same schools as everyone else. If they are left out of the political process, then what does democracy even mean?

Consider Florida, a state where a web of voting restrictions prevents many of its residents -- including naturalized and born-in-the-USA citizens -- from participating in elections.

"Florida has a low Democracy index," said Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. "This means that a small proportion of the population, about five million residents, make decisions for 20 million Floridians. These five million are disproportionately older white voters."

Rules barring people who have been convicted of felonies from voting even after they served their sentences will keep 1.6 million Floridians from voting this year, and a backlog of naturalization applications means that 66,000 people who hoped to vote in this year's election will not, according to Rodriguez and other organizers.

Brown said that, without the protection of the Voting Rights Act, the burden of preventing voter suppression now falls on civil rights organizations and voters themselves. At this point in the election season, it's too late to put more voters on the rolls by repealing state restrictions.

It's also too late to impose new voting restrictions -- but that doesn't mean states can't continue to ramp up suppression.

"State-sanctioned voter suppression can still happen at the state and local level through the actions of local election officials," Brown said. "The other concern for this election cycle is we may see anti-democracy vigilantes being engaged and erecting barriers to the ballot."

It's not easy to hear a civil rights leader bring up "anti-democracy vigilantes" so many years after poll taxes and Jim Crow laws were abolished. Voting is one simple act that, theoretically, makes us all political equals, even if it's only for a few minutes of one day. It's a cornerstone principle of our civic society -- every one of us gets one vote.

Everyone, that is, except those of us who don't.

News Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Ken Bone: Undecided Menace ]]> (Lauren Walker) Art Wed, 19 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400