Truthout Stories Fri, 30 Jan 2015 10:36:25 -0500 en-gb Fudging the Future

I recently mentioned in a column on renewable energy that solar power could generate half of the world's electricity by 2050. I cited the International Energy Agency as my source.

Actually, the IEA is predicting that rooftop, utility-scale, and industrial solar will fuel about one quarter of the global grid by then. Wind energy will account for another 18 percent. All told, the IEA says renewable energy will generate at least two-thirds of the world's electricity 35 years from now.

Green energy's future is clearly bright. But I felt bad, even a bit sick about my mistake. I corrected my column at Then, I checked something out. How precise is energy forecasting?

To put it politely, the experts who get paid to predict these things aren't the most accurate arrows in the quiver.

Take the still-unfolding crude crash. Its cause boils down to one simple fact: The industry is producing way more oil than consumers want. With supply outweighing demand, prices have plunged by more than 50 percent since mid-2014.

Oil prices are always volatile and they've plummeted before. Steep declines generally follow events that no one could anticipate with precision, such as the global economic slowdown that began in 2008.

Not this time. As Morgan Stanley's analysts recently observed in their 2015 outlook, "this is a self-inflicted crisis."

Legions of experts monitor the industry. Their insights guide billions of dollars in oil-related investment decisions. Surely they saw this coming, right? Nope.

Take Daniel Yergin, the world's most prominent oil expert. He declared six months ago that without surging U.S. oil production, gas prices would have been painfully high.

Without higher U.S. output, "we'd be looking at an oil crisis," Yergin told a high-octane gathering in the summer of 2014. "We'd have panic in the public. We'd have angry motorists. We'd have inflamed congressional hearings and we'd have the U.S. economy falling back into a recession."

He really said that.

Instead, the low prices that "drill-baby-drill" boom helped trigger are disrupting millions of people's lives. Alaska, North Dakota, and other states are bracing for economic downturns. Economic mayhem is lashing Russia, Venezuela, and other oil-dependent countries.

How about the U.S. Energy Information Administration? That's the Department of Energy's statistics arm. It tracks zillions of data points. Back when Yergin was toasting the U.S. oil boom, the agency said oil prices would average about $105 a barrel this year.

Oops. After crude nosedived to about $47 a barrel in January, the agency slashed its forecast to below the $60 mark.

Economic analyst Jesse Colombo was more prescient. "Crude oil prices are likely to finally experience a bust in the not-too-distant future," he correctly predicted in June of 2014.

There's really no excuse for the collective failure of oil experts to reach the same conclusion.

Back to my mistake. Predicting what will happen with solar power over the next 35 years is hard. The same people who couldn't spot oil's "self-inflicted" wounds seven months ago surely can't be trusted to get it right.

In 2002, a research firm called Management Information Services Inc. assessed the accuracy of energy forecasts during the second half of the 20th century.

Experts consistently claimed that the world would hit "peak oil" — the point when petroleum supplies will stop meeting demand — within 15 years. And they insisted that solar energy and other renewable options were on the brink of hitting critical mass.

In light of that terrible track record, the researchers at Management Information Services correctly predicted that peak oil wasn't around the corner. They also mistakenly said that solar and wind power wouldn't be competitive with dirty-energy options by now.

But green energy, it turns out, is reaching that point. So I think it's fair to say that their crystal ball failed in that regard.

I believe in learning from your mistakes. I hope Daniel Yergin and other energy experts do too.

Opinion Fri, 30 Jan 2015 09:58:20 -0500
The Invisible Man: Jeffrey Sterling, CIA Whistleblower

The mass media have suddenly discovered Jeffrey Sterling — after his conviction Monday afternoon as a CIA whistleblower.

Sterling's indictment four years ago received fleeting news coverage that recited the government's charges. From the outset, the Justice Department portrayed him as bitter and vengeful — with the classic trash-the-whistleblower word "disgruntled" thrown in — all of which the mainline media dutifully recounted without any other perspective.

Year after year, Sterling's case dragged through appellate courts, tangled up with the honorable refusal of journalist James Risen to in any way identify sources for his 2006 book State of War. While news stories or pundits occasionally turned their lens on Risen, they scarcely mentioned Sterling, whose life had been turned upside down — fired by the CIA early in the Bush administration after filing a racial discrimination lawsuit, and much later by the 10-count indictment that included seven counts under the Espionage Act.

Sterling was one of the very few African American case officers in the CIA. He became a whistleblower by virtue of going through channels to the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2003 to inform staffers about the CIA's ill-conceived, poorly executed and dangerous Operation Merlin, which had given a flawed design for a nuclear weapons component to Iran back in 2000.

Long story short, by the start of 2011, Sterling was up against the legal wall. While press-freedom groups and some others gradually rallied around Risen's right to source confidentiality, Sterling remained the Invisible Man.

Like almost everyone, for a long time I knew close to nothing about Sterling or his legal battle. But as I began to realize how much was at stake in the government's ongoing threat to jail Risen for refusing to betray any source, Sterling started to come into my peripheral vision.

Last spring, I worked with colleagues at to launch a petition drive titled We Support James Risen Because We Support a Free Press. As petitions go, it was a big success, for reasons well beyond the fact that it gained more than 100,000 signers with plenty of help from other initiating groups (The Nation, FAIR, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, The Progressive and Center for Media and Democracy).

The Justice Department, which had been aggressively pursuing Risen for a half-dozen years at that point, was set back on its heels by the major favorable publicity that came out of our mid-August presentation of the Risen petition in tandem with a news conference at the National Press Club.

Quick media ripple effects included a strong column by Maureen Dowd in support of fellow New York Times journalist Risen (though she didn't mention the petition or the news conference, which she attended). In the fall, I teamed up with a colleague at, the incisive investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler, to write what turned out to be a cover story in The Nation, The Government War Against Reporter James Risen, providing the first in-depth account of the intertwined cases of Risen and Sterling.

But throughout the fall, for the mass media as well as all but a few progressive media outlets, Jeffrey Sterling remained the Invisible Man.

The principle of supporting whistleblowers as strongly as journalists is crucial. Yet support for the principle is hit-and-miss among individuals and organizations that should be clear and forthright. This need is especially great when the government is invoking "national security" claims.

As the whistleblower advocate Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project has said: "When journalists become targets, they have a community and a lobby of powerful advocates to go to for support. Whistleblowers are in the wilderness. ... They're indicted under the most serious charge you can level against an American: being an enemy of the state."

We encountered this terrain when the same initiating groups launched a new petition — this one in support of Jeffrey Sterling — Blowing the Whistle on Government Recklessness Is a Public Service, Not a Crime.

Some groups that had been wonderfully supportive of the Risen petition — notably the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Committee to Protect Journalists — opted not to have anything to do with the Sterling petition. In sharp contrast, quick endorsement of the Sterling petition came from Reporters Without Borders and the Government Accountability Project.

Two weeks ago, Jeffrey Sterling went to trial at last. He was at the defense table during seven days of proceedings that included very dubious testimony from 23 present and former CIA employees as well as the likes of Condoleezza Rice.

When a court clerk read out the terrible verdict Monday afternoon, Sterling continued to stand with the dignity that he had maintained throughout the trial.

At age 47, Jeffrey Sterling is facing a very long prison sentence. As a whistleblower, he has done a lot for us. He should be invisible no more.

News Fri, 30 Jan 2015 09:39:03 -0500
Billionaires Won't Be Happy Until the US Becomes Austerity-Ravaged Greece

December 12, 2008: Scene from the anti-austerity riots in Greece. (Photo: Murplejane)December 12, 2008: Scene from the anti-austerity riots in Greece. (Photo: Murplejane)

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Billionaires don't need a social safety net, so they're using the right-wing spin machine to destroy it.

Back in December 2013, Republicans gave the US a really nasty Christmas present: they cut off long-term unemployment insurance for 1.3 million people.

The party of Scrooge left Americans high and dry in the cold, and unable to provide for their families during what's supposed to be one of the most joyous times of the year.

Republicans blocked the extension of unemployment insurance in December 2013 because they said it would encourage US citizens to find a job and get back to work.

The fact that there were no jobs to find didn't really matter to them.

Fast-forward to today, and the right-wing is claiming a big victory.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

The right-wing spin machine is using a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research to claim that leaving millions of Americans without unemployment insurance actually helped job growth in 2014.

The NBER paper says that, "The analysis based on this simple inference implies that the cut in benefits in 2014 can explain nearly all of the observed aggregate employment growth in 2014."

Naturally, the right-wing spin machine is taking the paper's findings and running with them.

An article in the conservative Washington Examiner about the paper reads in part, "The study gives ammo to conservatives who argue that welfare benefits for able-bodied adults encourage people to live off government handouts instead of seeking work."

A piece over at The Wall Street Journal reads,

Since the states with the highest unemployment were targeted with the most federal benefits, the extra benefits harmed the people and regions that suffered the worst of the recession and weak recovery. Had Mr. Obama done the opposite, the stimulus might have recognized that people prefer the dignity of a job to claiming a government stipend for not having one. Both individuals and the larger economy would have been healthier.

This ridiculous meme that cutting unemployment insurance helps create job growth has been repeated over and over again on right-wing talk radio, in right-wing papers, on Fox So-Called News, and even on The Big Picture.

But here's the thing.

It's completely bogus.

What the right-wing spin machine isn't telling you is that the paper by the NBER is highly flawed, relies on bad numbers, and confuses correlation with causation.

The Roosevelt Institute found that the paper failed to back up many of the claims it made about employer dynamics.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research found that a similar study conducted with more reliable and accurate numbers came up with the exact opposite conclusion.

And even the paper's co-author, Kurt Mitman, rejected the conclusion that unemployment insurance makes people lazy.

Mitman told The Washington Post that, "People who are out of work are always out looking for jobs, whether or not they're getting unemployment insurance."

The fact is that cutting unemployment insurance doesn't help people find jobs and doesn't provide a boost to the economy.

It's actually the opposite.

As the Economic Policy Institute points out, unemployment insurance is, "among the most effective forms of economic stimulus." When unemployed people get the unemployment benefits from the fund they paid into their whole lives, they use that money to buy things - and that is what stimulates the economy.

Of course, the right-wing spin machine doesn't care about any of that.

All conservative pundits care about is latching on to anything, whether it's accurate or not, that backs up the lies that support their oligarchs.

And unfortunately, the right-wing spin machine in our country is incredibly effective and efficient, and has taken over most of our media and political dialogue.

The right-wing spin machine will lie about anything, if it means those lies will help right-wing lawmakers slash benefits, eat away at the social safety net, and throw working-class Americans out into the cold.

And, behind the right-wing spin machine are the United States' billionaires and wealthy elite.

Billionaires don't need a social safety net, and don't care if working-class Americans are thrown onto the streets to starve. If anything, doing that provides them with cheaper and more desperate labor.

More importantly, the billionaires don't want their not-so-hard earned money going to help others.

Bottom line, US billionaires don't want working-class Americans, or as they like to say, the "riff raff," to be anything but so terrified they'll take any kind of crap wages the big corporations offer them.

So, they fund right-wing websites, they fund right-wing blogs and newspapers, they fund right-wing talk radio, and they fund right-wing TV, all so they can make sure their message of "screw the working-class, screw the social safety net" is heard loud and clear by their conservative lapdogs in Congress.

Billionaires and conservatives in the US think that by turning our country into Greece, it will somehow magically be a better place, and they're using the right-wing spin machine to spread that message to the masses.

Don't believe their lies.

Opinion Thu, 29 Jan 2015 15:33:16 -0500
Economic Update: Economics and Revolutions

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News Fri, 30 Jan 2015 09:20:52 -0500
Punished for Playing by the Rules

2015.1.29.Krugman.main A woman sells produce last year at a vegetable market in Athens. (Photo: Angelos Tzortzinis for The New York Times)

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, the international business editor at The Telegraph, recently wrote that Europe's slide toward deflation amounts to a "betrayal" of Southern Europe. This sounds over the top, but it is the simple truth. So let me elaborate with a picture I find illuminating.

The chart here shows core inflation (which excludes energy, food, alcohol and tobacco) in Germany, Spain and the euro area as a whole.

As you can see, there have been two distinct eras for the euro system.


In the first era, which lasted until the financial crisis, capital flooded into Southern Europe. In retrospect, this was a bad thing, but few people in positions of authority were complaining at the time. The result was a boom in the south, and also somewhat elevated inflation.

Again, however, this was regarded as perfectly normal and good. After all, you don't expect everyone in a currency union to have the same inflation rate. Overall inflation was fine, and rising prices in Southern Europe helped Germany become super-competitive and emerge from the economic doldrums in which it found itself at the end of the 1990s without needing actual deflation.

Then the capital flows stopped, and it became necessary for Southern Europe to reverse the rise in relative costs and prices that had taken place during the previous era. Both basic macroeconomics and the agreed-on rules of the game for the euro said that this adjustment should be symmetric with what came before — that overall inflation in the eurozone should remain at target (or higher, according to the economics, but leave that aside), with Germany running significantly higher inflation so that low inflation in the south could deliver the needed "internal devaluation."

In fact, however, there was no rise in German inflation, and at this point it amounts to a fall. Overall euro inflation is far below target, and Southern Europe has been forced into deflation, which is very costly and worsens the region's debt burden.

Then you have the Germans saying that they dealt with their problems, so why can't Southern Europe do the same? Why, because Southern Europe played by the rules, but in its time of need the rules were changed, hugely to its disadvantage.

You might ask: What would have been needed to avoid this situation? The European Central Bank should have aggressively expanded as soon as it became clear that inflation was sliding. There should have been a determined effort to offset fiscal austerity in Southern Europe with expansion in the north. Instead, inflation and deficit obsession were allowed to rule for years, and now the situation is very close to irretrievable.

Opinion Thu, 29 Jan 2015 13:13:12 -0500
Save Us From Washington's Visionaries: In (Modest) Praise of a Comforting Mediocrity

En route back to Washington at the tail end of his most recent overseas trip, John Kerry, America’s peripatetic secretary of state, stopped off in France “to share a hug with all of Paris.” Whether Paris reciprocated the secretary’s embrace went unrecorded.

Despite the requisite reference to General Pershing (“Lafayette, we are here!”) and flying James Taylor in from the 1960s to assure Parisians that “You’ve Got a Friend,” in the annals of American diplomacy Kerry’s hug will likely rank with President Eisenhower’s award of the Legion of Merit to Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza for “exceptionally meritorious conduct” and Jimmy Carter’s acknowledgment of the “admiration and love” said to define the relationship between the Iranian people and their Shah.  In short, it was a moment best forgotten.

Alas, this vapid, profoundly silly event is all too emblematic of statecraft in the Obama era.  Seldom have well-credentialed and well-meaning people worked so hard to produce so little of substance.

Not one of the signature foreign policy initiatives conceived in Obama’s first term has borne fruit. When it came to making a fresh start with the Islamic world, responsibly ending the “dumb” war in Iraq (while winning the “necessary” one in Afghanistan), “resetting” U.S.-Russian relations, and “pivoting” toward Asia, mark your scorecard 0 for 4.

There’s no doubt that when Kerry arrived at the State Department he brought with him some much-needed energy.  That he is giving it his all -- the department’s website reports that the secretary has already clocked over 682,000 miles of travel -- is doubtless true as well.  The problem is the absence of results.  Remember when his signature initiative was going to be an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal?  Sadly, that quixotic plan, too, has come to naught.

Yes, Team Obama “got” bin Laden.  And, yes, it deserves credit for abandoning a self-evidently counterproductive 50-plus-year-old policy toward Cuba and for signing a promising agreement with China on climate change.  That said, the administration’s overall record of accomplishment is beyond thin, starting with that first-day-in-the-Oval-Office symbol that things were truly going to be different: Obama’s order to close Guantanamo.  That, of course, remains a work in progress (despite regular reassurances of light glimmering at the end of what has become a very long tunnel).

In fact, taking the president’s record as a whole, noting that on his watch occasional U.S. drone strikes have become routine, the Nobel Committee might want to consider revoking its Peace Prize.

Nor should we expect much in the time that Obama has remaining. Perhaps there is a deal with Iran waiting in the wings (along with the depth charge of ever-fiercer congressionally mandated sanctions), but signs of intellectual exhaustion are distinctly in evidence.

“Where there is no vision,” the Hebrew Bible tells us, “the people perish.”  There’s no use pretending: if there’s one thing the Obama administration most definitely has not got and has never had, it’s a foreign policy vision.

In Search of Truly Wise (White) Men -- Only Those 84 or Older Need Apply

All of this evokes a sense of unease, even consternation bordering on panic, in circles where members of the foreign policy elite congregate.  Absent visionary leadership in Washington, they have persuaded themselves, we’re all going down.  So the world’s sole superpower and self-anointed global leader needs to get game -- and fast.

Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, recently weighed in with a proposal for fixing the problem: clean house.  Obama has surrounded himself with fumbling incompetents, Gelb charges.  Get rid of them and bring in the visionaries.

Writing at the Daily Beast, Gelb urges the president to fire his entire national security team and replace them with “strong and strategic people of proven foreign policy experience.”  Translation: the sort of people who sip sherry and nibble on brie in the august precincts of the Council of Foreign Relations.  In addition to offering his own slate of nominees, including several veterans of the storied George W. Bush administration, Gelb suggests that Obama consult regularly with Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and James Baker.  These distinguished war-horses range in age from 84 to 91.  By implication, only white males born prior to World War II are eligible for induction into the ranks of the Truly Wise Men.

Anyway, Gelb emphasizes, Obama needs to get on with it.  With the planet awash in challenges that “imperil our very survival,” there is simply no time to waste.

At best, Gelb’s got it half right.  When it comes to foreign policy, this president has indeed demonstrated a knack for surrounding himself with lackluster lieutenants.  That statement applies equally to national security adviser Susan Rice (and her predecessor), to Secretary of State Kerry (and his predecessor), and to outgoing Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel.  Ashton Carter, the technocrat slated to replace Hagel as defense secretary, comes from the same mold.

They are all “seasoned”  -- in Washington, a euphemism for bland, conventional, and utterly unimaginative -- charter members of the Rogers-Christopher school of American statecraft.  (That may require some unpacking, so pretend you’re on Jeopardy.  Alex Trebek:  “Two eminently forgettable and completely forgotten twentieth-century secretaries of state.”  You, hitting the buzzer:  “Who were William Rogers and Warren Christopher?”  “Correct!”)

Members of Obama’s national security team worked long and hard to get where they are.  Yet along the way -- perhaps from absorbing too many position papers, PowerPoint briefings, and platitudes about “American global leadership” -- they lost whatever creative spark once endowed them with the appearance of talent and promise.  Ambition, unquestioned patriotism, and a capacity for putting in endless hours (and enduring endless travel) -- all these remain.  But a serious conception of where the world is heading and what that implies for basic U.S. policy?  Individually and collectively, they are without a clue.

I submit that maybe that’s okay, that plodding mediocrity can be a boon if, as at present, the alternatives on offer look even worse.

A Hug for Obama

You want vision?  Obama’s predecessor surrounded himself with visionaries.  Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, products of the Cold War one and all, certainly fancied themselves large-bore strategic thinkers.  Busily positioning the United States to run (just another “i” and you have “ruin”) the world, they were blindsided by 9/11.  Unembarrassed and unchastened by this disaster, they initiated a series of morally dubious, strategically boneheaded moves that were either (take your pick) going to spread freedom and democracy or position the United States to exercise permanent dominion.  The ensuing Global War on Terror did neither, of course, while adding trillions to the national debt and helping fracture great expanses of the planet.  Obama is still, however ineffectually, trying to clean up the mess they created.

If that’s what handing the keys to big thinkers gets you, give me Susan Rice any day.  Although Obama’s “don’t do stupid shit” may never rank with Washington’s Farewell Address or the Monroe Doctrine in the history books, George W. Bush might have profited from having some comparable axiom taped to his laptop.

Big ideas have their place -- indeed, are essential -- when the issues at hand are clearly defined.  The Fall of France in 1940 was one such moment, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized.  So too, arguably, was the period immediately after World War II.  The defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan had left a dangerous power vacuum in both Europe and the Pacific to which George Marshall, Dean Acheson, and their compatriots forged a necessary response.  Perhaps the period 1968-1969 falls into that same category, the debacle of Vietnam requiring a major adjustment in U.S. Cold War strategy.  This Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger undertook with their opening to China.

Yet despite the overwrought claims of Gelb (and others) that America’s very survival is today at risk, the present historical moment lacks comparable clarity.  Ours is not a time when we face a single overarching threat.  Instead, on several different fronts, worrisome developments are brewing.  Environmental degradation, the rise of China and other emerging powers, the spread of radical Islam, the precarious state of the global economy, vulnerabilities that are an inevitable byproduct of our pursuit of a cyber-utopia: all of these bear very careful watching.  Each one today should entail a defensive response, the United States protecting itself (and its allies) against worst-case outcomes.  But none of these at the present moment justifies embarking upon a let-out-all-the-stops offensive.  Chasing after one problem would necessarily divert attention from the rest.

The immediate future remains too opaque to say with certainty which threat will turn out to pose the greatest danger, whether in the next year or the next decade -- and which might even end up not being a threat at all but an unexpected opportunity.  Conditions are not ripe for boldness.  The abiding imperative of the moment is to discern, which requires careful observation and patience.  In short, forget about strategy.

And there’s a further matter.  Correct discernment assumes a proper vantage point.  What you see depends on where you sit and which way you’re facing.  Those who inhabit the upper ranks of the Obama administration (and those whom Leslie Gelb offers as replacements) sit somewhere back in the twentieth century, their worldview shaped by memories of Munich and Yalta, Korea and Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Berlin Wall, none of which retain more than tangential relevance to the present day.

You want vision?  That will require a new crop of visionaries.  Instead of sitting down with ancients like Kissinger, Scowcroft, Brzezinski, or Baker, this president (or his successor) would be better served to pick the brain of the army captain back from multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the moral theologian specializing in inter-religious dialog, the Peace Corps volunteer who spent the last two years in West Africa, and the Silicon Valley entrepreneur best able to spell out the political implications of the next big thing.

In short, a post-twentieth century vision requires a post-twentieth century generation, able to free itself from old shibboleths to which Leslie Gelb and most of official Washington today remain stubbornly dedicated.  That generation waits in the wings and after another presidential election or two may indeed wield some influence.  We should hope so.  In the meantime, we should bide our time, amending the words of the prophet to something like: “Where there is no vision, the people muddle along and await salvation.”

So as Obama and his team muddle toward their finish line, their achievements negligible, we might even express a modicum of gratitude.  When they depart the scene, we will forget the lot of them.  Yet at least they managed to steer clear of truly epic disasters.  When muddling was the best Washington had on offer, they delivered.  They may even deserve a hug.

Opinion Thu, 29 Jan 2015 13:04:36 -0500
Why Is Hollywood Rewarding Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin for Glamorizing the CIA?

The Screen Actors Guild has nominated Claire Danes of Homeland for its Best Actress Award.  It has also nominated Danes, Mandy Patinkin and the rest of the Homeland cast for the Outstanding Ensemble Award.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association nominated Danes for its Golden Globe Award.  Though Ms. Danes and the Homeland supporting cast did not win the Award, the nominations themselves are a valuable honor, and a troubling sign.

In addition, Homeland will be a strong candidate for Emmy nominations, in several categories (Best Drama, writer, director, etc.) in June.

Homeland dramatizes the actions of a fictional Central Intelligence Agency.

The CIA is pleased with the way it is portrayed on Homeland.  The Agency invited the show’s cast and producers to come on a friendly visit to its headquarters in Virginia.  CIA Director John Brennan gave actor Mandy Patinkin (Brennan’s fictional counterpart) a tour of his office. USA Today reported,  “Patinkin … was struck by the CIA director’s sincerity. ‘I thought he had a wonderful heart,’ [Patinkin] said.”

Later, CIA officials attended a screening of Homeland's third season premiere at D.C.’s Corcoran Gallery of Art.

The CIA likes Homeland.

Homeland likes the CIA.

The problem is that the CIA has a long history of incompetence and, what is more disturbing, a long history of criminal activity.

I believe that most creative endeavors in film and television have a moral dimension.

Specifically, I believe there can be a powerful connection between real-world government criminality and the mass entertainment which we, the people, consume.

Well-crafted dramas can promote our tolerance of immoral behavior.

Actors physically embody the moral implications of the story they help to tell.  For two years, beginning in 2001, I acted in a CBS series, The Agency.  It showed glimpses of the darker side of the CIA, but each episode implied that the Agency’s morally questionable actions were necessary to safeguard the American people, and therefore, not immoral.  Not evil.  Taking money for spreading that lie plagued my conscience.

The greatest shame of my career was a fall 2002 episode which dramatized, convincingly, the proposition that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was actively engaged in the development of nuclear weapons.  The Bush Administration was warning Americans that the WMD “smoking-gun” could appear in the form of “a mushroom cloud.”  And on The Agency, we were confirming Bush’s lies in the minds of viewers in at least 13 million households.   Members of Congress were nervously contemplating a resolution giving Bush the power to invade Iraq, and more than 13 million of their constituents were seeing persuasive dramatic “proof” that an invasion was indeed necessary.  That hour of television drama was one effective salvo in the larger propaganda war.  We all know what followed.  I’ll always regret that I didn’t have the courage to quit The Agency.

The dismissive cliché, “It’s just a TV show,” just isn’t true.

Homeland is more popular and highly esteemed than The Agency was.   Homeland is produced by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa.  The show is a continuation of the flattering posture which they adopted toward the CIA, as producers of Fox’s 24.  Gordon and Gansa are masterful at playing on the audience’s post-9/11 paranoia.  They employ outstanding skills to keep us in suspense, and our fears incline us to tolerate crimes we’d ordinarily find inexcusable.

As the recent Senate Intelligence Committee Report makes clear, one of the CIA’s most atrocious crimes has been the routine torture of detainees.  Kiefer Sutherland and the producers of 24 succeeded where Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld struggled:  they made torture morally acceptable in Bush’s America.  And, thanks to the Senate Report, we now have some idea of how wantonly the CIA exploited that popular tolerance.

In Gordon and Gansa’s new show, Claire Danes follows in Sutherland’s footsteps, as CIA officer Carrie Mathison, and Homeland is even more openly friendly to the CIA than 24 was.

Homeland makes  a hero of Mathison who orders Predator drone attacks from her new post in Pakistan.  It shows that she is guilty of the murder of innocents, but, in the end, Homeland justifies and condones the real-life CIA practice of murder-by-drone, and its horrific “collateral damage.”  Despite her crimes, Danes’s Mathison remains sympathetic and admirable.

Under Barack Obama, the CIA has dramatically expanded its drone-homicide program, the perfect expression of malice and cowardice.  Obama has revealed that Homeland is one of his favorite television shows.

It’s troubling to me that The Hollywood Foreign Press Association nominated Danes for a Golden Globe, and that the Screen Actors Guild, has nominated her and the cast of Homeland, including Patinkin, for SAG Actor Awards.

I can only express the hope that SAG and Emmy voters will consider the voice of their consciences, as well as their personal artistic standards, when they cast their ballots.  Whatever their final conclusions may be, I hope they will allow the moral dimension to have a place in their own, private evaluations.

I myself would expect to be judged, not only on my performance in a project, but also on the moral values of the film or TV program in which I choose to exercise my skills.  I received favorable reviews for my performances on The Agency, but the last thing I would have expected was any kind of award for the use of my craft in a deceitful project that condoned grievous crimes, including a catastrophic war of aggression.

The goodness or evil of a fictional character is not the issue.  The moral stance of the movie or TV program is what matters.  Homeland's Mandy Patinkin skillfully portrays a sympathetic and upright CIA chief, Saul Berenson, who tries to discourage the misdeeds of his subordinates.  Unfortunately, Patinkin’s Good Guy contributes to Homeland's false portrayal of the CIA as a benevolent, self-correcting institution.

I believe that writers, directors and actors all share responsibility for the world-view and the moral values a film or TV show promotes.

In my opinion, giving members of the Homeland cast a Screen Actors Guild Award would be tantamount to rewarding them, and their show, for promoting the CIA and its criminal practices.

I do not advocate censorship.  I just don’t think the legitimization of torture, disinformation, drone-killings, and other crimes should be rewarded.

Opinion Thu, 29 Jan 2015 11:48:02 -0500
Sen. Barbara Boxer on Campus Rape Bill, Climate Skeptics and Why She Supports Obama's War on ISIS

Amy Goodman interviews one of the Senate’s leading advocates for changing the way both universities and the military respond to sexual violence - California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. Boxer talks about her proposed bill to require advocates for sexual assault victims on college campuses, her plans to retire from the Senate in 2016, and why she supports President Obama’s campaign against the Islamic State. "War is a last resort, never a first resort," Boxer says. "I don’t support going to war and sending combat troops. I support President Obama’s plan, which is not to do that, but to make sure we can help people fight against this terror group."


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. We’ve just seen a film called The Hunting Ground, about sexual assault on college campuses. One of the people who has championed the cause of the victims, the survivors, is Senator Barbara Boxer.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re introducing a bill around this issue.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what it is?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Yes. There are two bills, essentially. One is a very broad, comprehensive bill, which is very important—it’s going to take a while to get done—by Kirsten Gillibrand. Mine is a very narrow, but important, bill that would say, until we stop this, we immediately need to have an advocate for the survivors on every single campus that gets federal funds. And that’s, by the way, every campus gets federal funds. So it would say, on all campuses, you need to have an independent advocate.

And what would that advocate do? They’d be available 24/7, so the minute something horrible happens, someone would have an advocate by their side, telling them their rights, putting an arm around them, leading them to the hospital, making sure the forensics were done, letting them know their legal options, and stay with them throughout the entire process.

And what’s exciting to me is, I know how long it takes to get things through this particular Congress, so I took this idea to all my campuses, my public campuses in California. And they have agreed to do this. And it’s exciting. The UC system, the state system and the community college system.

AMY GOODMAN: And the larger bill that Senator Gillibrand has introduced?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Yes. Well, it’s going to take a while, because it really changes the penalties if a college doesn’t really report the truth. It’s pretty broad. And it gives them disincentives not to report. It’s a little more controversial, but I think we can get it done, because these stories are unbelievable. This is an epidemic when 20 percent of the women in college campuses are being attacked. And men are being attacked, too, not in those large numbers, but, still and all, it’s happening to them, too.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is also an issue you’ve taken on in the military.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the progress you did or didn’t make—


AMY GOODMAN: —around sexual assault in the military?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: We have made a lot of progress in the military, but not enough progress. What Kirsten and I wanted to have happen—and we did get bipartisan support for it—was to take the whole handling of sexual assault in the military outside the chain of command, keep it in the military, but give it to professional prosecutors who were not in the chain of command. A lot of times, the commander himself was the one perpetrating. A lot of the times the commander knew who was perpetrating and put "order and discipline," in quotes, ahead of justice. So, we didn’t get that part done.

But let me tell you what we did get done. I had a bill that did—was signed into law, that when there’s questioning of a woman who does report a case, you have to not ask her questions like, "Did you wear a provocative dress? Have you—how many sexual partners have you had?" That’s all out. You can’t do it in a civilian grand jury, and now you can’t do it in the military. Other things that were done is making sure there’s an advocate for the complainant. So, we have made progress, but the big and most important reform, we haven’t made yet, which is to take the reporting outside the chain of command.

AMY GOODMAN: And interestingly, one of your biggest opponents was another woman, another Democrat, Senator McCaskill.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain why you disagreed on that?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Yes. Well, first of all, women are not joined at the hip. We have to understand that. They see things differently. And Claire, I think, was wrong; she thinks I’m wrong. And it’s respectful. But it did hurt us, because out of the 20 women in the Senate, bipartisan, we had 17, she had three. And those three could have made a big difference. So, it’s a sadness for me, but it’s her right to have a different opinion.

AMY GOODMAN: Many of those in the film, or a number of the survivors, the victims of rape and sexual assault, were from the University of California system—


AMY GOODMAN: —whether it was University of Southern California, UC Berkeley, San Diego, Santa Barbara.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, USC is a private college, it’s not in the UC system. So let me make that clear. They’re a private college, and they have some answering to do. And also, the UC system has some answering to do, you’re absolutely right. Santa Barbara was mentioned, UC Berkeley. I think what’s important, as the makers of this film have said, they could have chosen any campus. So, the reason I went to my campuses is I knew they were going to be mentioned in this, and I wanted to get out ahead of it, and I wanted them to start to respond.

And I’m very proud to say—you know, as a senator, you can pass legislation, and you can also use your office as a bully pulpit. And a lot of times my staff will have meetings and will say, "Let’s talk about the bully pulpit today." And what I did was I used the bully pulpit to go to the UC system, the state system, the community college system, and said, "Don’t wait for us to pass this law. Do it now." And they agreed. Now the question is follow-through, and I’m going to make a tour of these campuses in the spring to make sure that they are doing this advocacy.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you spoken to the chancellor, for example, about it?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I have spoken to, absolutely, Janet Napolitano, who is the head of the entire UC system, and they have many, many campuses and hundreds of thousands of students. And she’s really on board with this. I’m excited about it. And, you know, California, we’re just a leader in a lot of ways, and I’m hoping we’ll be a leader on this.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Boxer, speaking of the bully pulpit, you’re giving it up. Why?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I’m not giving up the bully pulpit in any way, shape or form. You have a bully pulpit right here. The person asking the questions has a bully pulpit. There are different bully pulpits. So, I have been in elected office for 40 years. And the truth of the matter is, I wouldn’t have left if I didn’t think we had a wonderful deep bench of progressives in California. And I wouldn’t have left if I didn’t think we had a really good bench of progressives in the United States Senate. I feel really good, because the issues I’ve given my life to on the progressive side are so important, and they will be carried on. But I’m going to be—I’m not retiring in any way. I made that point. I’m going to be working. I don’t know exactly how, where and what, but I’m going to be helping other people. I hope to help Hillary Clinton become the first woman president in 2016. And I have a very full agenda, for the rest of my life, as long as I’m standing here and I’m not horizontal.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you’re still standing in the Senate, and the Senate just voted, about half of the Senate, that climate change is not caused by humanity, by humankind. Can you comment on this? The environment is one of your big issues.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, it’s just a joke. I mean, we offered all kinds of amendments. The Keystone pipeline is being looked at right now. And that is a big wet kiss to the Canadian oil interests and the Koch brothers, who own a lot of land up there. This is the filthiest, dirtiest oil. We don’t need it. It has a trail of misery that accompanies it, from the excavation through the pipeline, if there’s a spill. You know, there’s a spill in Michigan that still hasn’t been cleaned up for years. It’s dangerous. And then, when you refine it in Texas, people get really sick. And then they’re going to export it. We’re not even going to keep it.

So, in relation to that bill, we had one victory. Senator Whitehouse had an amendment that said climate change is not a hoax. It passed 98 to one. So I guess they think it’s not a hoax. But now they say, "OK, we agree, it’s not a hoax, but it is not caused by human activities," which goes up against 98 percent of scientists. You know, if you look back at the struggle we had on tobacco and the dangers of tobacco, honestly, the same people who conducted a disinformation campaign on tobacco are involved in this disinformation campaign. And the Union of Concerned Scientists did an amazing investigatory report, and they told us that. We are really up against it. This is a tragedy for our grandkids. The New York Times recently ran a report that scientists are saying the choice now is between a unpleasant planet or an uninhabitable planet. That’s what we’re left with. So now we have to work for an unpleasant planet. But God help us if we don’t win that battle.

AMY GOODMAN: Does the issue come down to money in politics and politicians, both Democrat and Republican, being beholden to the largest monied interests, and so often it’s the oil, it’s the gas, it’s the coal industry?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I don’t think there is any question that special interests aren’t behind this. Otherwise, why would somebody take a stand against 98 percent of scientists? But I think if you look at the Democrats in the Senate, even those who support the Keystone pipeline, they admit that climate change is real, and they’re willing to work. It’s the Republicans that refuse to sit down with us and do anything about it. And it’s really sad, because when you really attack climate change and you really invest in alternative energies, eventually we’re going to see lower prices for everything, because we’re going to have energy efficiency, is the word of the day. And we’re going to see millions of jobs created as we put solar rooftops on and turn to wind generation. So, it’s a tragedy right now. And I’m proud of the president. He is not giving in. Do you know they tried to cancel the agreement with China that the president agreed? If we don’t have an agreement with China, the number one polluter, I don’t know what the world is going to look like.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama said in his State of the Union address he’s calling for authorization to attack the Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Uh-huh, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m wondering your thoughts? Years ago, it was your colleague, Barbara Lee, who stood alone in the Congress—


AMY GOODMAN: —and said no to the authorization for war after 9/11. What way will you vote?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Oh, I disagreed with Barbara on that, and I still strongly do. I don’t think you sit back when people are cutting off the heads of Americans. I’ve already voted to give the president authority to wage an anti-terror campaign against ISIL, because they are dangerous to humankind. And, you know, some people are pacifists. Barbara, I believe, is a pacifist. And I vote—you know, when I’ve been confronted with these terribly difficult decisions, half the time I’ve said absolutely no to war, and half the time I’ve said it’s a last resort, and it needs to happen. And I think this threat by ISIL is a massive threat, and I think it threatens us all. And so, I’m not putting boots on the ground. I would never vote to put boots on the ground. But there are ways we can help others fight back, so that they don’t have to sit there while their girls have acid thrown in their face and their heads cut off. I’m just not going to do it. Can’t do it.

AMY GOODMAN: But if you look at Iraq and the years that the U.S. has been there, there’s no question there’s a massive problem, but the U.S. has been at war there for well over a decade. Is there another way to deal with this, like the root causes of the violence?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, I was a leader in the antiwar movement on the Iraq War. That was—I think it will go down as the biggest error that has ever been made, you know, in history. But when it comes to this threat of these terrorists, that’s different. I’m not talking about boots on the ground. I’m not talking about going to war. I’m talking about not sitting back while we have people who are—who are so frightening, that they steal women, and they make them sex slaves, and they marry little girls, and then they put suicide vests on them. I am not going to sit back. And Barbara Lee, I adore her—

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about Boko Haram in Nigeria.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I’m talking about terrorists today. And I could tell you, Barbara Lee, I adore Barbara, but we just don’t agree on this.

AMY GOODMAN: But as a leader of the peace movement, you see that diplomacy is not doing nothing.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, you want to do—what do you want to do? Do you want to give money to ISIL so they won’t cut off the head of the Japanese hostage? They’re asking $200 million. I don’t think so. So, you know, how do you negotiate with people who want to cut your head off? I just don’t see it.

AMY GOODMAN: What about looking—

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: So, let me just say, as a leader in what I call the peace movement, because I’ve been ever since Vietnam, I think if someone sits back and allows people like this, who don’t value human life, who enslave women, who rape women, who throw acid in the faces of women, if we can’t stand up to that—sure, if there’s a diplomatic way, you do that. War is a last resort, not a first resort. But for me to stand here and say I’m going to do nothing about ISIL, I think I would—I would be dead wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: But isn’t standing up to that perhaps looking behind that—for example, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. support of Saudi Arabia?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, look, if you won’t be—you and I just disagree, so why do we cut it off? It seems to me that you don’t see any reason ever to confront people who are uncivilized, who don’t care one stitch about your life or mine, who would just as soon cut off your head as say "good morning."

AMY GOODMAN: No, but what about cutting off their support?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: And let me—you’re asking me a question. And I don’t support them. As a matter of fact, I already voted to give the president authority to go after them. So why don’t we leave it at that? And as far as trying to find out the root causes of why they are the way you are, I’ll leave that to you. I’m a senator. My people are threatened, and I’m going to take action. War is the last resort, never a first resort. I don’t support going to war and sending combat troops. I support President Obama’s plan, which is not to do that, but to make sure that we can help people fight against this terror group, which is so frightening and so frightening to humankind. Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Boxer, final question.


AMY GOODMAN: How do you want to be remembered in the Senate?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, I’m not going to tell you that now, because I’ve got two more years left. I’ll come on the show again, and we’ll go over it then.

AMY GOODMAN: I will invite you. Thanks so much.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER: All right. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: California Senator Barbara Boxer. Earlier this month, she announced she is retiring from the Senate in 2016. We’re here in Park City, Utah, at Park City TV at the Sundance Film Festival. When we come back, Egypt. Stay with us.

News Thu, 29 Jan 2015 11:02:56 -0500
Cuba and US Skirt Obstacles to Normalization of Ties

Havana - The biggest discrepancies in the first meeting to normalise relations between Cuba and the United States, after more than half a century, were over the issue of human rights. But what stood out in the talks was a keen interest in forging ahead, in a process led by two women.

After a meeting with representatives of Cuba’s dissident groups, US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson reiterated on Jan. 23 that the questions of democracy and human rights are crucial for her country in the bilateral talks, while stressing that there are “deep” differences with Havana on these points.

But the head of the Washington delegation said these discrepancies would not be an obstacle in the negotiations for restoring diplomatic ties – a goal that was announced simultaneously by Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro on Dec. 17.

In her statement to the media after her two-day official visit to Havana, Jacobson added that her country’s new policy towards Cuba is aimed at greater openness with more rights and freedoms.

Nor does independent journalist Miriam Leiva, founder of the opposition group Ladies in White, believe the US focus on defending human rights and supporting dissidents will be a hurdle. “The Cuban government knew that, and they sat down to talk regardless,” she remarked to IPS.

In her view, the important thing is for the normalisation of ties to open up a direct channel of communication between the two governments. “This is a new phase marked by challenges, but also full of hope and opportunities for the people. Of course it’s not going to be easy, and the road ahead is long,” she added.

The Cuban authorities have consistently referred to opposition groups as “mercenaries” in the pay of the aggressive US policy towards Cuba.

Nor are they happy when US visitors to Cuba meet with opponents of the government. And they are intolerant of the relationship between dissidents and the US Interests Section in Havana, which is to be turned into the new embassy as part of the process that got underway with the first round of talks in the convention centre in the Cuban capital.

Jacobson and her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal, the Foreign Ministry’s chief diplomat for US affairs, addressed the issue of human rights during the talks on Thursday Jan. 22.

The high-level US diplomat described the process of reestablishing bilateral ties as “long” and “complex.”

In a written statement distributed to reporters in a no-questions-allowed media briefing, Jacobson said: “As a central element of our policy, we pressed the Cuban government for improved human rights conditions, including freedom of expression.”

Vidal, meanwhile, said “in our exchange, each party laid out their positions, visions and conceptions on the issue of the exercise of human rights.”

She said the word “pressure” – “pressed” was translated into Spanish as “pressured” – did not come up in the discussion, and that “Cuba has shown throughout its history that it does not and will not respond to pressure.”

In the 1990s and early this century, the question of human rights triggered harsh verbal confrontations between Havana and Washington in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and since 2006 in the UN Human Rights Council.

Havana complained that the US used the issue as part of its “anti-Cuba” policy.

Vidal said she suggested to Jacobson that they hold a specific expert-level dialogue at a date to be agreed, to discuss their views of democracy and human rights.

Jurist Roberto Veiga, who leads the civil society project Cuba Posible, told IPS that “the circumstances that have influenced the issue of human rights should be considered in any bilateral talks on the issue, to avoid mistaken judgments that could stand in the way of possible solutions.”

In his view, during the process that led to the 1959 triumph of the revolution, which was later declared “socialist,” there was a “struggle between a vision that put a priority on so-called individual rights to the unnecessary detriment of social rights and inequality,” and one that put the priority on social and collective rights.

As a result, in this Caribbean island nation what has prevailed up to now is “a conception [of human rights] that favours equality and social rights at the expense of certain freedoms, and of this country’s relations with important countries,” he said.

Veiga said Cubans must complete the effort to find a balance between individual rights and social equality. It is important to discuss this issue “for the development of Cuba’s political system and the consolidation of our civil society,” he argued.

The two delegations also addressed possibilities of cooperation in the areas of telecommunications, national security, international relations, people smuggling, care for the environment, responding to oil spills, the fight against drugs and terrorism, water resources, global health, and a joint response to the ebola epidemic in West Africa, among others.

In the first part of the meeting, the two sides analysed the practical steps to be taken for the opening up of embassies, which will basically follow the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in effect since 1964.

Reporting the results of the first meeting, aimed above all at laying the foundations for the process, Vidal stressed that following the Convention “implies reciprocal respect for the political, economic and social system of both states and avoiding any form of meddling in internal affairs.”

The date for the next round of talks was not announced.

The meeting was preceded, on Wednesday Jan. 21, by a round of follow-up talks on the migration accords reached by the two countries in 1994 and 1995.

Most Cubans are sceptical and even incredulous about the surprising decision to “make friends” with the United States.

“I think both sides are demanding a lot of each other,” 37-year-old Ángel Calvo, a self-employed driver, told IPS. “Both countries have completely different politics, which it is best to respect in order to start reaching agreements.”

Manuel Sánchez, 33, who described himself as a worker in the informal economy, said both countries “will make more progress towards improving relations than in the past, but they’ll never have the excellent ties that many people are hoping for.”

What is clear is that the talks led by the two high-level officials in Havana have raised expectations.

As renowned Cuban writer Leonardo Padura wrote in a column for IPS earlier this month, after the historic Dec. 17 announcement, “with our eyes wide open, we can catch a glimpse of the future, trying to see shapes more clearly through the haze.”

News Thu, 29 Jan 2015 10:55:26 -0500
"The Hunting Ground": Film Exposes How Colleges Cover Up Sexual Assault and Fail to Protect Students

As a jury in Tennessee has convicted two former Vanderbilt University football players of raping an unconscious student in a dorm room, we look at a groundbreaking new documentary about sexual assault on college campuses across the country. Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey could face decades in prison after being convicted of a combined total of 16 felony counts, including aggravated rape. Two other former Vanderbilt football players, Brandon Banks and Jaborian McKenzie, are awaiting trial over their role in the rape. However, the court cases mark a rare example where students accused of sexual assault have actually faced punishment. Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, The Hunting Ground shows how colleges and universities across the nation are covering up sexual assaults and failing to protect students from repeat offenders. We speak with the film’s director, Kirby Dick, and producer, Amy Ziering. Their previous film, The Invisible War, which exposed the epidemic of sexual assault in the military, won the Audience Award at Sundance in 2012 and was nominated for an Academy Award.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where a new documentary on campus rape has just premiered as a major conviction has unfolded in Tennessee. A jury in Nashville has convicted two former Vanderbilt University football players of raping a fellow student in a dorm room. Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey could face decades in prison after being convicted on a combined total of 16 felony counts, including aggravated rape. Two other former Vanderbilt football players—Brandon Banks and Jaborian McKenzie—are awaiting trial over their role in the rape. The victim, who was unconscious at the time, says she doesn’t remember being raped as her assailants took photographs and video of the attack. After the verdict Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Jan Norman read a statement from the victim.

JAN NORMAN: "I am also hopeful that the publicity this case has received will lead to a discussion of how we can end sexual violence on college campuses. Finally, I want to remind other victims of sexual violence: You are not alone. You are not to blame." Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: The Vanderbilt case marks a rare example where college students accused of rape have been punished both by their universities and the legal system. The four students were kicked off the football team and banned from campus after the criminal charges were filed. One of the students, Jaborian McKenzie, enrolled in another school, Alcorn State, where he was allowed to play football despite the charges against him. He was later removed from the team amidst a media firestorm. A fifth player, Chris Boyd, pleaded guilty to helping cover up the rape, and received probation after agreeing to testify against the other suspects. He was dismissed from the football team, but allowed to keep his scholarship and finish his classwork at Vanderbilt. Boyd later joined the National Football League as a member of the practice squad for the Dallas Cowboys.

Well, here at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, a groundbreaking new film has premiered that deals with the issue of sexual assault on college campuses and shows just how rare criminal convictions like the ones at Vanderbilt are. The Hunting Ground was created by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, makers of the 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War. This is the trailer for their latest film, Hunting Ground.

KAMILAH WILLINGHAM: I got a call from the dean of admissions asking, "If you were to get into Harvard, would you accept?" And I said yes, because I knew my mom would kill me if I said anything else.

UNIDENTIFIED: The first few weeks, I made some of my best friends. But two of us were sexually assaulted before classes had even started.

KAMILAH WILLINGHAM: I went to the dean of students’ office, and she said, "I just want to make sure that you don’t talk to anyone about this."

CAROLINE HELDMAN: They protect perpetrators because they have a financial incentive to do so.

UNIDENTIFIED: Problem of sexual assault on campuses is enormous.

UNIDENTIFIED: I think it’s fair to say that they cover these crimes up. There’s a lot of victim blaming.

UNIDENTIFIED: He lectured us about how we shouldn’t go out in short skirts.

UNIDENTIFIED: They told me, despite the fact that I had a written admission of guilt that I presented to them, it could only prove that he loved me.

UNIDENTIFIED: They discourage them from going to the police. If it goes to the police, then it’s more likely to end up as a public record.

UNIDENTIFIED: Universities are protecting a brand.

UNIDENTIFIED: Campus police cannot contact an athlete.

DON McPHERSON: He won the Heisman Trophy with his DNA in a rape kit.

DAVID LISAK: Just sit down with the students and ask them, "Where are the hotspots?"

UNIDENTIFIED: SAE, sexual assault expected.

UNIDENTIFIED: The second most common type of insurance claim against the fraternity industry is for rape.

CAROLINE HELDMAN: Her rapist’s name matched the name of two other cases, and he was allowed back on campus.

UNIDENTIFIED: The message is clear: You’re not going to win.

UNIDENTIFIED: We started seeing, you know, what was happening at campuses across the country.



UNIDENTIFIED: How has no one connected the dots before?

UNIDENTIFIED: These students went from sexual assault victims to survivors and now activists.

CAROLYN LUBY: My name is Carolyn Luby.

ALEXA SCHWARTZ: My name is Alexa Schwartz.

ARI MOSTOV: My name is Ari Mostov.

UNIDENTIFIED: This is a national problem.

UNIDENTIFIED: We are fed up!

UNIDENTIFIED: I was getting threatened. It was working in their favor to silence me, and I was terrified.

UNIDENTIFIED: I thought if I told them, they would take action, but the only action they took was against me.

UNIDENTIFIED: We’ve got a lot further to go.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the trailer for The Hunting Ground. Just after we arrived here in Park City, I sat down with the filmmakers, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering. Their 2012 film, The Invisible War, exposed the issue of sexual assault in the military, prompting changes in policy. That issue remains in the spotlight as just this week a former Army prosecutor who oversaw sexual assault cases was found guilty of rape. Major Erik Burris was court-martialed and sentenced to 20 years in prison. I began by asking Amy Ziering, producer of The Hunting Ground, why she and Kirby Dick decided to make a film on campus rape.

AMY ZIERING: We weren’t anticipating making another film in this same area, but every time we showed Invisible War on campuses, Amy, someone came up to us and said, "Actually, this happened to me here, and there’s a lot of analogies between what you’re pointing out going on in the military going on at my school." And Kirby would find that, as well, at every—at almost every screening at different universities across the country. And then we started getting letters in our inboxes: "Dear Ms. Ziering, Dear Mr. Dick, will you please make a film on campus assaults? This happened to me at X university." And we actually were working on a very different project, and we just looked at each other and said we cannot not make this film. I mean, we were shocked that this is going on, and we felt like, well, actually, we understand these issues, we know how to make this kind of film, and we felt compelled to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: Amy, I went to one of your premieres here at Sundance, and the response afterwards was overwhelming. You were besieged. I watched one woman come up to you and say, "It happened to my daughter."

AMY ZIERING: No, that happens—yeah. With this film also, yeah—

AMY GOODMAN: Said it happened to her daughter.

AMY ZIERING: Yeah, yeah, and also mothers come up and said, "It happened to me 30 years ago at Dartmouth." I’ve gotten that a lot. "It happened to me 30 years ago. And thank you for doing this. I couldn’t speak then."

AMY GOODMAN: Kirby, this film is not only about people who have been deeply hurt, you know, sexually assaulted, raped; it’s about women who are organizing right now all over the country. And it’s led by two women from the University of North Carolina—both of them were raped—Annie Clark and Andrea Pino. They are remarkable. It happened to them several years apart from each other, but they found each other. They’re now traveling the country, helping victims at universities file Title IX antidiscrimination complaints to the Department of Education. They were raped early on in their college careers?

KIRBY DICK: Yes, both of them were, I think, assaulted within the first or second year that they were there, yes. And then, Andrea found out about Annie Clark’s earlier activism three or four years ago and reached out, and they formed this bond. And then they started—you know, Annie was appalled that this was still going on. And so, the two of them decided to really do something. And the first thing they did was start to investigate in how to file a Title IX complaint. And so, they, without any attorneys, wrote and filed a complaint against the school, which was accepted by the Department of Education.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the most galling parts of this film, Amy, is how administrations respond—or don’t respond. I mean, you have Annie Clark, now one of the organizers of a major antirape movement in this country, when she was raped and went to the University of North Carolina administration, one of the officials said, "It’s like a football game"? What is like a football game?

AMY ZIERING: Rape is like football: You have to think back on what you would have done differently, just like you would in any play in any game. That was what she said the administrator had said to her.

KIRBY DICK: This is what was so appalling, is, you know, we interviewed, on camera, over 60 women, and men, and we were—over and over and over, you would hear—you hear the stories of these women who were assaulted, and that was profoundly—you know, it was traumatizing to them. But they trusted their school. They went to their school. They had the courage to come forward to talk about it, and they trusted that their school would do the right thing. And in so many cases, you heard this form of victim blaming, like "It was your fault," like "You drank too much. You were dressed too provocatively." And it was just from across the board, whether it’s Ivy League schools, Southern schools, small liberal arts colleges. It was shocking.

AMY GOODMAN: Amy, can you talk about some of the examples of some of the punishments that are meted out to students? You know, rarely are they found responsible, but in the cases that they are?

AMY ZIERING: Oh, the punishments are ridiculous. One was like a $75 fine, a $25 fine, a book report, a poster board on 10 ways to approach a girl you like. What was it at another school?

KIRBY DICK: Well, it was 50 hours of community service at a rape crisis center.

AMY GOODMAN: Perpetrator is told to serve at a rape crisis center?

KIRBY DICK: Yes, yes, which is just the most absurd.

AMY GOODMAN: Kirby, you have these full screens in the film that show statistics, the number of people who complain on campuses of rape or sexual assault—and, of course, this is very small compared to how many are actually raped or assaulted—but those numbers compared to how many people are expelled. And at university after university, you see on the screen a big fat zero?

KIRBY DICK: Yeah, yeah. I mean, this is—you know, this is what was so shocking, is that these schools—I mean, we know that assaults are going on in each of these schools in the hundreds of times a year, perhaps even thousands of times a year at these schools, and yet no one is getting expelled, year after year after year. You know, at University of Virginia, for example, well over 200 assaults over a period of time, that people have reported—these are only the reported assaults, keep in mind—no one was expelled during that time.

AMY GOODMAN: There’s something else that’s very profound in this film. You come to understand universities all too often want to protect their brand more than the victim, that they don’t want to report these assaults. They don’t want to expel people. And yet, when it comes to what is called "honor crimes," like plagiarism, they expel scores of people. Explain.

KIRBY DICK: I mean, one of the unfortunate things is there’s very low transparency on this issue across the campus—across the country, so it’s very hard to even get these numbers. We were fortunate to get these numbers from the University of Virginia, who had not expelled anyone over a multi-year period, yet they had expelled, I think, nearly 200 people for other much more minor infractions like plagiarism. So that really tells you a lot about the priorities of the school and about, you know, the fact that protecting their students is not the number one priority.

AMY GOODMAN: In The Hunting Ground, you interview people at every level, the women or men who have been sexual assaulted. You also have a rapist, who has come out of jail, his face fogged. Explain his story.

KIRBY DICK: Well, what he had to say was that—I mean, one of the things our film shows is, just like in the military, these crimes are committed by a small number of men, a small percentage of men. It’s—most men are not rapists. Most men and athletes—you know, most athletes are not rapists. Most men in fraternities are not rapists. But it’s a small percentage of men who are committing these crimes, and committing them over and over. So, repeat offenders really are the core of this problem.

So we were able to interview one. And he talked about the MO of a repeat offender, which is, you know, to pick out someone who seems—doesn’t seem to have friends around them, who is getting drunk, who feels safe in a college environment, and then befriend them. And then he said it’s something that, you know, can be done again and again. And he actually did say if they’re not caught, the likelihood of them repeating is, in his words, nearly 100 percent.

AMY ZIERING: And if I can add, it was based on all that research and our knowledge that we wanted to name the film The Hunting Ground and show that it’s actually a calculated, premeditated act. It is not a hook-up gone bad. It’s not he said/she said. It’s not all the things that people intuitively think is what’s going on. "Oh, we can’t do anything about it. Kids drink. What are you going to do?" It’s actually not, you know, and that, I think, is really shocking and revelatory and what people need to know and understand.

AMY GOODMAN: You interview a campus police officer at the University of Notre Dame who would ultimately resign because he felt he was thwarted from conducting investigations into allegations of sexual assault. He said that the campus police were not allowed to approach any student athlete or an employee of an athletic facility or department to find out where an athlete might be.

AMY ZIERING: So that’s what the problem is. It’s not that, you know, athletes are rapists. It’s a problem as we have a broken system that allows them to commit these crimes without any kind of repercussions.

KIRBY DICK: Yeah, it’s—

AMY ZIERING: Right? They’re protected. I mean, it’s crazy. And that’s really what we want to come across, is it’s a hunting ground, it’s a place where people are not safe, not because there’s a preponderance of perpetrators, but because there’s nothing in place to prosecute those people, and there’s no incentive to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: Kirby Dick, the statistics are astounding. When you talk about 16 to 20 percent of undergraduate women have been sexually assaulted on college campuses across the country, you say 88 percent of women raped on college campuses do not report. Eighty-eight percent? In 2012, 40 percent of colleges reported zero sexual assaults. And less than 8 percent of men commit more than 90 percent of the assaults?

KIRBY DICK: Yeah, I mean, this is—you know, it’s astonishing. Again, of course, the last figure goes back to the fact that these are repeat offenders, that, you know, this is not drunk hook-ups, he said/she said. This is—really, another way to refer to it is "target rape," that these are men who do this again and again and get better at it each time.

AMY GOODMAN: In September, we spoke to Emma Sulkowicz, who’s also featured in The Hunting Ground. Emma Sulkowicz is the Columbia University student who says she was raped by a fellow student. After she reported her assault to Columbia, she had to go before a disciplinary panel, where she was forced to explain to a university official how the painful manner in which she had been raped was physically possible. Then the panel found that the accused assailant was not responsible. Two other women also came forward with complaints against the same student. So, in protest, Emma Sulkowicz vowed to carry a dorm mattress around with her everywhere on campus until the student is either expelled or leaves on his own. So, on Democracy Now!, she explained why she chose this form of protest.

EMMA SULKOWICZ: I was raped in my own bed. And, of course, rape can happen anywhere, but for me, it sort of desecrated one of the most intimate and private places of my life. And the way that I’ve brought my story from a place that I keep secret out into the public eye sort of mirrors carrying the mattress itself out into the light for everyone to see. So I felt like it would be an appropriate metaphor.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student, on Democracy Now! She was just invited by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to be her guest at the State of the Union address. Can you talk about how these women, who feel that their complaints, that their allegations of rape and sexual assault, are not being taken seriously by administrations, are taking action? They are building a movement in this country.

KIRBY DICK: It is incredible what they’ve accomplished, what—young women like Emma, and Annie and Andrea in our film. I mean, in two years, this has gone from something that nobody talked about to something that’s on the front pages daily. But I just want to say that that’s just the beginning. It’s really up to all of us—you know, parents, teachers, faculty, trustees, everyone—to solve this problem, because it’s been going on for decades.

AMY GOODMAN: Now scores of universities, colleges across the country are being investigated?

KIRBY DICK: Yeah, I think we now have up to 95 schools are being investigated for Title IX violations. And, you know, those investigations take a long, long time. I mean, and so far—I mean, I applaud the Department of Education for taking this on, but the schools themselves should not wait to be investigated. They should be solving this problem themselves before this ever happens.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, you did Invisible War, to tremendous acclaim, and it has really begun a movement in this country to deal with sexual assault in the military. And the big move, especially in Congress, is to have these investigations taken out of the chain of command, because so often they’re involved either with the cover-up or perhaps even involved. Now, with this film, The Hunting Ground, you’re talking about assaults on college campuses. Is there a similar move in the movement that’s growing around the country to, in a sense, take the investigation out of the chain of command, as well, out of the power of the university that’s protecting its brand?

AMY ZIERING: Yeah, there has been. I mean, one of the solutions that people have come up with is have independent bodies investigate these crimes that don’t answer to the university itself, so that you take out that inherent bias. And that would make—just ensure a fairer system, whatever the outcome is. And so, that is something that many people are pushing and suggesting, and one of the things that we recommend.

AMY GOODMAN: That was producer Amy Ziering and director Kirby Dick. Their film, The Hunting Ground, about sexual assault on college campuses, has just premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival. Their previous film, The Invisible War, about rape in the military, won the Audience Award at Sundance in 2012 and was nominated for an Academy Award.

When we come back, I speak with one of the Senate’s leading advocates for changing the way universities and the military respond to sexual violence: California Senator Barbara Boxer. We’ll talk about her bill, her plans for retirement, and why she supports President Obama’s authorization for war. This is Democracy Now! We’re broadcasting from Park City TV. Back in a minute.

News Thu, 29 Jan 2015 10:53:42 -0500