Truthout Stories http://www.truth-out.org Wed, 26 Nov 2014 12:41:30 -0500 en-gb No Justice In Ferguson http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27679-no-justice-in-ferguson http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27679-no-justice-in-ferguson

The grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., has reached the decision many of us dreaded, but fully expected. Now, we must forge our profound disappointment into determination to achieve lasting justice, in Ferguson and beyond.

The Ferguson grand jury decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. In the coming days, Wilson will sit down for major media interviews, and Thanksgiving dinner with his new wife. Michael Brown’s parents will sit with his empty chair, and the knowledge that the man who killed him is not only free, but all over the media — perhaps even celebrated in right-wing media, which may or may not stop short of celebrating their son’s death.

We knew this decision was coming. It’s heartbreaking, but it is not a surprise. This decision was coming when prosecutor Tim McCulloch refused to recuse himself, and governor Jay Nixon refused to appoint a special prosecutor. It was coming when McCulloch referred the case to the grand jury, instead of filing charges himself. It was coming when McCulloch failed to recommend charges to the grand jury. It was coming when the governor declared a state of emergency, and law enforcement agencies purchased even more paramilitary equipment to use on protestors. It’s been coming since August 9, and now here we are.

The wheels of justice have ground to a halt in the Michael Brown case, leaving us in sadly familiar territory. As I said on KFPA-FM’s “Saturday Morning Talkies” this weekend, African-American parents have always lived with the sorrow of sons who never return home, while the men who killed them remain free. Michael Brown’s parents are now members of a centuries-old, exclusive club that no one ever wants to join. It’s most recent members include the families of Trayvon Martin, Darrien Hunt, and John Crawford, among others.

On August 9, the same day that Michael Brown was killed, John Crawford was shot and killed by police officers in Beaverton, Ohio. A customer in a Beaverton Walmart called 911 after seeing Crawford walking around with a pellet gun he’d picked up in the store. Police said Crawford ignored commands to drop the weapon.

Ohio’s attorney general Mike DeWine refused to release the store’s surveillance video, asking the public to “Trust the system” and “let the judicial process work.” In September, a grand jury decided not to indict the officers who killed Crawford. Surveillance video released after the grand jury decision showed that Crawford was talking on his phone when officers entered the store, with the gun pointed at the floor. Officers shot Crawford on sight, within seconds of entering the store.

In Ohio, we were asked to “trust the system,” and that trust was betrayed. Now we are told we must “accept” the grand jury’s decision, and trust that “the system worked.” There is no doubt that “the system worked.” It ran its course, and it yielded the expected result.

“The system worked” quite well for those for whom it is designed to work. We should refuse, however, to call that “justice,” even if the process had resulted in an indictment. It would not amount to the kind of justice necessary to prevent the next city that’s “one dead black teenager away” from exploding into the next Ferguson.

  • We must change the way our communities are policed. Law enforcement officers in every department in the country should be required to undergo racial bias training. These departments must prioritize diversity in the hiring and retention of officers, and be accountable to the public. We must demand an end to programs that give military weapons to police departments.
  • We must demand an end to racial profiling. Law enforcement departments must be prohibited from relying on race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion in its investigative practices, and required to cease or eliminate existing practices that rely on racial profiling.
  • We must demand economic justice. Ferguson and other cities like it didn’t become hyper-segregated dens of economic despair overnight. Changing them requires undoing damage done by decades of federal, state, and local government policies that created segregated metropolises. We must demand investment in education, jobs, and training for young people, instead of surplus military weapons for police departments.

We do not have the luxury of time. With the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice — shot by police officers while playing with a BB gun — Cleveland, Ohio, may have already become “the next Ferguson,” for now.

Until no city is at risk of becoming “the next Ferguson” or “the next Sanford,” and no one’s child is at risk of becoming “the next Michael Brown” or “the next Trayvon Martin,” there can be no justice in Ferguson, or anywhere else.

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News Wed, 26 Nov 2014 11:34:28 -0500
Should We Impeach Chief Justice John Roberts? http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27677-should-we-impeach-chief-justice-john-roberts http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27677-should-we-impeach-chief-justice-john-roberts

Republicans like to talk about impeaching President Obama, but there is a far more deserving candidate for impeachment—Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court. While the Republicans in Congress have blocked Democrats from enacting much of substance, the GOP majority in control of the Court has been effectively legislating on its own, following an agenda neatly aligned with their conservative party. Step by step, the five right-wing justices are transforming the terms of the American political system—including the Constitution.

They empowered “dark money” in politics and produced the $4 billion by-election of 2014. They assigned spiritual values to soulless corporations who thus gained First Amendment protection of free speech and religion. The justices effectively gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, even as they allowed state governments to create new obstacles for minority voting. The High Court made it okay to take guns to church and more difficult to keep guns from dangerous people. It rendered a series of decisions that collectively shifted political power from the many to the few.

This power grab by the unelected—and supposedly non-partisan—justices has already produced a historic rewrite of America democracy. But it was done by blatantly usurping the decision-making authority that belongs to the elected government in Congress and the executive branch. The Republican justices are not finished with their undeclared revolution. They will continue unless and until people rise up and stop them.

The Roberts Court’s latest target is once again President Obama’s singular achievement, the Affordable Care Act. Under peculiar circumstances just three days after the midterm elections, the Court announced it will hear another legal challenge that threatens to disable and perhaps destroy the new healthcare system.

The timing of this new intervention has a distinct odor of political collusion. The Republican takeover of the Senate is already invoked by Court allies to suggest the justices are merely responding to the will of the people. Some conservative Court watchers tout the new case as a chance for the chief justice to make amends and get with the program. The latest challenge was fashioned in Washington by the same club of right-wing legal foundations and pricey corporate lawyers who have been attacking affirmative action and other liberal reforms since the Reagan administration.

Michael Carvin of the Jones Day law firm is a cocky veteran of the right’s long crusade and the lead lawyer for the new case. He is already boasting of the outcome, even though the intermediate DC Circuit Court of Appeals has not yet ruled up or down as would normally occur before the Supreme Court agreed to consider it. Carvin dismissed the DC Circuit Court, now dominated by Democratic appointees, as a meaningless anomaly. He told a Talking Points Memo reporter he doubts that Supreme Court conservatives “are going to give much of a damn about what a bunch of Obama appointees on the DC Circuit think.” Goodbye to deference and regular order.

But might Carvin’s case still lose at the Supreme Court? “Oh, I don’t think so,” he said. That was his cute way of saying this time Chief Justice Roberts will be on board with the other four conservative justices. Carvin didn’t say why he is so confident, but he and Roberts seem to be old chums. At a Federalist Society event last year, Michael Carvin indulged in a bit of classy namedropping. The admiring conservative society reported that Carvin “told an anecdote in which Chief Justice Roberts approached him and jokingly chided him for having favored appointing Samuel Alito before Roberts.” What does this say about their relationship? Maybe nothing, but one would like to ask a few follow-up questions.

Roberts himself takes offense at accusations that the Roberts Court renders politicized decisions. He has frequently denied the charge. “We’re not Republicans or Democrats,” Roberts told students at the University of Nebraska law school. Unlike some of his right-wing colleagues, Roberts wants to have it both ways. He’s not an ideologue, just an earnest umpire calling balls and strikes.

Baloney. If Carvin and other conservative legal eagles are correct that this time the Chief Justice will rule against the healthcare law, that should give people a prima facie case for considering impeachment. At a minimum, people should demand a thorough public investigation into whether surreptitious political interference occurred (who said what to whom offstage?). If politicians are reluctant to go down that road, people can start their own inquiries. The chief justice should be forewarned what will likely happen if he does scuttle the ACA. I expect “Impeach John Roberts” signs and billboards to start popping up all over America as people finally figure out who did this to them. Hint: it was not Barack Obama.

A prime witness should be Linda Greenhouse, who for decades was the influential New York Times correspondent covering the Supreme Court (now at Yale law school). Greenhouse was admired for her fair-minded analysis and great clarity in explaining esoteric legal arguments, She finds the current state of affairs “profoundly depressing.”

Greenhouse explained in her blog posted at NYTimes.com: “In decades of court-watching, I have struggled—sometimes it seems against all odds—to maintain the belief that the Supreme Court really is a court and not just a collection of politicians in robes. This past week I found myself struggling against the impulse to say two words: I surrender.” (Linda Greenhouse has not herself called for impeachment.)

The new case against Obamacare reads like “a politically manufactured argument,” Greenhouse wrote. She called the maneuvering “a naked power grab by conservative justices who two years ago just missed killing the ACA in its cradle.” As evidence, she cited the unusual twists in Supreme Court behavior. Normally it waits to see if there are conflicting views among circuit courts of appeal before taking a case for consideration. This time, the Fourth Circuit based in Richmond, Virginia, upheld the law. The DC Circuit in Washington has all twelve judges reviewing and seems very likely to uphold the law, since that court is now top-heavy with Democratic appointees. The Supremes went ahead regardless.

Greenhouse cited Michael Carvin’s confident boasting as suggesting the political flavor. She also invoked remarks by Professor John Yoo of UC Berkeley—famous in Bush years as the “torture lawyer” who defended brutal interrogations and a former clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas. On National Review Online, Yoo felt sure Roberts will now support the ACA challenge because the case “gives him the chance to atone for his error upholding Obamacare.” Yoo wrote: “What judge can resist the chance to reach the right legal result, fix mistakes from the past and act with popular support? It’s a Supreme Court trifecta.”

Over-confident Republicans naturally assume the public will be grateful if the Supreme Court rescues them from Obama’s healthcare system. But the first result is bound to be utter chaos and confusion and millions of people—mostly in red states—who discover they are the losers. If the GOP legal challenge succeeds, the High Court will rule that the federal exchanges—created for states that declined to create their own state exchanges—operate illegally because the ACA does not give them explicit authority to dispense the tax credits that subsidize health insurance.

A blizzard of low- and moderate-income buyers of insurance would be suddenly stripped of government assistance—around 5.2 million of them. But there is a cruel twist Republican leaders fail to acknowledge: their own red-state constituents will be the most victimized. Leading right-wing politicians have endorsed the very lawsuit that will punish the Southern and Western states if it prevails, while blue states and northern cities that are operating their own state exchanges may not suffer at all.

The lawsuit now before the Supreme Court, for example, has been formally joined by Senators Cornyn and Cruz of Texas, Hatch and Lee of Utah, Portman of Ohio, Rubio of Florida, Representative Darrell Issa of California and the state governments of Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, West Virginia, Nebraska, South Carolina and Kansas. If these politicians win, their states are the big losers.

But of course the citizens who will be screwed in the red states are mostly working poor or moderate-income families. Republicans are okay with that. They ostensibly believe that belt-tightening helps build character. The GOP may have a time with blowback from the insurance industry and other providers in the healthcare system. While it’s not widely understood, many billions in federal subsidies help people of limited means buy health insurance but they never actually see the dollars themselves. The money flows directly from the Treasury to the private enterprises. Insurance lobbyists are already on the case, explaining real life to clueless conservatives.

Up to this point, I have barely mentioned the logic of the conservative assault on Affordable Care. Because there isn’t much logic to it. It depends entirely on a narrow-minded reading of the original legislation—so ridiculously literal that only gnomes in a medieval castle could take it seriously. In a nutshell, the right-wing lawyers claim that the law describes how state-run exchanges will be able to dispense federal subsidies to people in need, but the law fails to say explicitly that federal exchanges have the same powers.

Okay, the drafters could have repeated the requisite language to reassure fly-specking lawyers, but really there was never any doubt about the congressional intent. As the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has ruled, the logic of the entire system over-rules any blurred language. The law says explicitly that the secretary of Health and Human Services has the authority to create federal exchanges when and where states don’t want to do it. In other times, any such ambiguity would have been quickly eliminated with a technical fix, routinely adopted by mutual consent.

But the new Republican Party refuses to go along with anything that resembles cooperation and might shine a good light on Democrats. What the right-wingers really hope to achieve is a total breakdown of the ACA’s complex architecture. Throw sticks in the spokes. Force the Obama administration to open the legislation for Republican tinkering. The Supreme Court appears to be pursuing a similar strategy In other words, right-wing senators want Supreme Court right-wingers to accomplish by edict what GOP legislators could not accomplish for themselves.

Barack Obama can win this fight by not giving in to the Supreme Court, even if he temporarily loses there. The president has to call out his opponents and tell the hard truth about their illegitimate abuse of power. People may listen if he genuinely fights for them.

People may recall the last time Americans wanted to impeach a Chief Justice was in the 1950s, when Earl Warren—a liberal Republican from California—championed Brown v. Board of Education in the long legal battle to defeat Jim Crow segregation. Chief Justice Roberts has been leading in the Court in the opposite direction. Instead of comforting the afflicted, he is comforting the comfortable.

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Opinion Wed, 26 Nov 2014 10:59:14 -0500
The Uber-iffic Future http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/27675-the-uber-iffic-future http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/27675-the-uber-iffic-future ]]> Art Wed, 26 Nov 2014 09:09:18 -0500 Media Must Tell What Happens - and Why - in Ferguson http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27673-media-must-tell-what-happens-and-why-in-ferguson http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27673-media-must-tell-what-happens-and-why-in-ferguson

There were two things I saw in the media coverage of Ferguson, Mo., recently in the ramp up to the grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of 18 year-old Michael Brown.

Two illustrations from different times and places, expressed with different intent, but, for me, carrying the same message: We are missing the story.

Ferguson is not just the story about last summer’s tragic shooting death of Brown — unarmed, hands up, according to some witnesses, who apparently were not credited by the grand jury. It is not just the story of the ugly images of a militarized police force pushing back protesters with rubber bullets and tear gas. It is not just about a process many people believed took way too long to decide whether a crime was committed.

The story of this St. Louis suburb is the story of power. It is power that is enforced at street level by the police and up throughout a justice system that has been engaged in the mass incarceration of people of color. It is a political system that powers the criminal justice system in this process. It is a social system that defines people, identifies them in ways that will justify their place in society — high or low, included or marginalized.

In that process, we often come to see each other, to know each other — as good or bad — through media representations. Our reality, then, is a mediated reality. And the media portrayal of African-Americans by television — where most people get their news — has been in the negative context of crime and poverty. The mediated reality is way out of proportion to the actual reality. And the public takeaway too often is that black is bad.

These points are driven home by my two illustrations. First, as I Googled “Ferguson” this past week — with anxious headlines declaring a state of emergency in Missouri and the call-up of the National Guard in anticipation of angry public reaction to a grand jury decision — I saw a photograph on the Los Angeles Times website. The focal point was a blond-haired white woman in a group of protesters. Her sign read “Thug Protestor” and had arrows pointing to herself. I was struck by that photo, and the irony wrapped in irony.

The irony she intended is based on our recognition that she obviously is not a thug, as some people have called the protesters based on the nightly images of confrontation played out on television in connection with Ferguson.

The woman’s point is that we shouldn’t assume that protesters are thugs. After all, she is a protester and, of course, she does not look like a thug. She looks like the All-American Girl. But, in recognizing that irony, we get twisted in the embedded irony. We have to know what a thug looks like in order to know that she is not one. A thug in TV representation is a person of color — black or brown.

So, in trying to deconstruct the social construct of black as bad, she wound up reinforcing it. The second illustration is a confrontation on NBC’s “Meet the Press” between former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson, during which Giuliani, a former U.S. attorney, engaged in reductive reasoning. “The white police officers wouldn’t be there if you weren’t killing each other 70-75 percent of the time,” Giuliani said. So, in other words, it’s your fault — black people everywhere — that your kids might get shot down in the street by police. Look at how bad things are in the African-American communities.

So what is media’s role in this?

We tell people what is important to think about and we even tell them how to think about it. We set public agenda based on what we cover, we frame the stories and we represent people within that frame. Because of this agenda-setting process, people walk away thinking crime is a bigger problem than it really is. Because people of color are more likely to be seen in mug shots than are whites — far more than the numbers would justify — people like the woman in the L.A. Times photo come to see crime in blackface. Sadly, people like Giuliani — people in positions to make a positive difference — can paint by statistical numbers without getting the full picture.

The story we are missing in this process, though, is the one that provides the full context for the story we are being told -- the meaning of it all. The full picture. Sure, we get the facts. We get the who, what, where and when of it all. But not the why. The why is the context.

It starts with why there is such a wide gap in black and white opinion on the case, whether Darren Wilson should have been indicted for a crime. Why do some people accept police action while others distrust it? At bottom, why are some people angry and others afraid?

Ferguson is presented as a confrontation story. The problem with that frame is that it ultimately directs our gaze away from the underlying story, which is to say, the actual story.

Even more, that very framing can determine public opinion. In a story of confrontation between people you have come to associate with wrongdoing and the police you believe are tied to law and order, the demonstrators are going to lose in the battle for public approval. We need to know why young black people see themselves as victims of prosecutorial discretion and the police as an oppressive force in the process. We need to know why they have come to believe there is a breakdown of the law in their community by people who shoot them down in the street — hands up.

We also need to know why other people see things so differently. Television is a big part of the why. It emphasizes the visual. The immediate. The impact. The confrontation between the police and demonstrators in Ferguson will “make for good TV,”President Obama said in calling for peace following the grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson. Good TV. But is it good journalism?

Not without balance, it isn’t. Not without providing some deeper understanding of the meaning behind the images, the story behind the story. Otherwise, the real confrontation is a clash of perception. A racial Rorschach.

People tend to see what they want to see, what they have been conditioned to see. We have to help them see what is. To see and to understand.

That is the media responsibility—to provide the information we need to make enlightened choices about policy, about consumption, about our social interaction. We can’t get there — enlightened decision-making — without understanding the meaning of it all. The context. The why.

In the many stories that have been told since last summer’s confrontations, we have learned more as the result of follow-up reporting. However, even the background stories we are getting, like the ones about the overpolicing of a majority black community by an overwhelmingly white police force, only provide part of the ultimate truth.

Even when the media begin to tell us the more nuanced stories and try to clarify that violence during the demonstrations is being committed by only a small minority of people — people who are taking advantage of the demonstration as cover — the TV images of much larger crowds and explosive confrontations tell us something different.

The tendency among many people in the viewing audience will be to conclude that the demonstrators — overwhelmingly people of color, who already are perceived to be at fault when it comes to issues of wrongdoing — are the people who are responsible when things go terribly wrong. Even when the confrontations are provoked by police. Research shows that the mere display of a gun by one person can cause the other person to be more aggressive.

So the challenge of the media is to cut through all this and to do it with careful decisions about what goes in the frame of the story and what is left out. To do it with decisions about how to balance breaking news with more background, more interpretation, more perspectives in follow-up stories.

While we want to think we are balanced in our reporting, we must consider whether we really achieve that goal. Do you really see the world in a balanced way through a gas mask, or when you are constrained by a bulletproof vest? Is your judgment guided by a sense of journalistic responsibility or a sense of threat? The answer to that question only raises another obvious one and that is, threat by whom? The police? Or the people the police are confronting? What is the perspective you get on such a confrontation from behind police barricades, in a press pen, subject to feeds by the official sources?

Without question, reporting the who, what, where and when of it all from the frontlines is tough. But if we don’t get at the “why” through more thoughtful enterprising stories, all the rest of it has no meaning and no impact in helping people move away from biases to make more reasoned choices.

If we don’t try to do that, then the question we ultimately should be asking is, “Why not?”

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Opinion Wed, 26 Nov 2014 10:06:17 -0500
New Sanctuary Movement Seeks to Protect Undocumented Immigrants http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27672-new-sanctuary-movement-seeks-to-protect-undocumented-immigrants http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27672-new-sanctuary-movement-seeks-to-protect-undocumented-immigrants

Oscar Alfaro hugs his aunt, Carmen Paz, during a watch party as President Barack Obama outlines his executive actions on immigration in a televised address at Casa de Maryland in Hyattsville, Md., Nov. 20, 2014. Millions of undocumented immigrants, like Alfaro, are beginning to make big new plans for their lives, free of the threat of deportation, after Obama announced he would offer reprieves and work permits. (Jabin Botsford/The New York Times)Oscar Alfaro hugs his aunt, Carmen Paz, during a watch party as President Barack Obama outlines his executive actions on immigration in a televised address at Casa de Maryland in Hyattsville, Md., Nov. 20, 2014. Millions of undocumented immigrants, like Alfaro, are beginning to make big new plans for their lives, free of the threat of deportation, after Obama announced he would offer reprieves and work permits. (Jabin Botsford/The New York Times)

The New Sanctuary Movement is defying the law by sheltering seven undocumented immigrants who are at risk of deportation in churches across the country.

Oscar Alfaro hugs his aunt, Carmen Paz, during a watch party as President Barack Obama outlines his executive actions on immigration in a televised address at Casa de Maryland in Hyattsville, Md., Nov. 20, 2014. Millions of undocumented immigrants, like Alfaro, are beginning to make big new plans for their lives, free of the threat of deportation, after Obama announced he would offer reprieves and work permits. (Jabin Botsford/The New York Times)Oscar Alfaro hugs his aunt, Carmen Paz, during a watch party as President Barack Obama outlines his executive actions on immigration in a televised address at Casa de Maryland in Hyattsville, Md., Nov. 20, 2014. Millions of undocumented immigrants, like Alfaro, are beginning to make big new plans for their lives, free of the threat of deportation, after Obama announced he would offer reprieves and work permits. (Jabin Botsford/The New York Times)

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When President Obama went before the American people to say that he was issuing an executive order to empower Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE, he made no mention of those who are already in the throes of deportation. What's more, he also failed to acknowledge the seven Latino/a immigrants who have taken refuge in churches - in Tempe and Tucson, Arizona; Denver, Colorado; Chicago, Illinois; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Portland, Oregon - in public defiance of policies that threaten to separate parents from children, and husbands from wives.

The seven are part of the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM), a growing faith-based initiative that presently involves 120 congregations across the country, 25 of them ready, willing and able to provide residential protection to those at risk of deportation. Church World Service (CWS), a 68-year-old service group that has assisted immigrants and refugees since the end of World War II, is coordinating their efforts.

According to Rev. Noel Andersen, national grassroots coordinator for immigrant rights at CWS, the New Sanctuary Movement is a "direct descendant of abolition, part of the Sanctuary tradition, the idea that people of faith can be a shelter, a buffer between unjust laws and the government. In the case of undocumented people, we can literally stand between the laws being enforced by ICE and the people directly affected by those laws."

The impetus for the NSM, he says, harkens back to 2006, when 1,300 undocumented workers employed by meat processing plants in Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas and Utah were raided in the largest coordinated immigration enforcement action in US history. Subsequent raids on plants in six additional states further energized - and enraged - people who found these practices repugnant. "Sanctuary has been a way for us to serve a moral imperative," Andersen said, "a way for us to lift up the story of those most impacted by our broken immigration policy."

Such activism is not without precedent. Back in 1982, Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona, became the first US congregation to allow an undocumented immigrant to take sanctuary behind church walls. By the middle of the decade, more than 500 synagogues, churches and temples had followed suit, angering - and in many cases embarrassing - the government.

A year later, in 1986, 16 Mexican and US-based religious leaders were indicted. According to law professor Ellen Yaroshefsky, one of the attorneys who represented those arrested, the 16 were charged with "conspiracy, encouraging and aiding illegal aliens to enter the United States by shielding, harboring and transporting them." Eleven people went to trial, Yaroshefsky says; eight were found guilty, with penalties ranging from probation to suspended sentences, to brief periods of house arrest.

This crackdown has not deterred today's activists. Instead, they say they are following a "prophetic tradition" that is grounded in Scripture.

The canonical Gospel of Matthew is frequently cited: "I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me."

Similarly, an Old Testament passage in which God ordered Moses to establish places of respite for people being persecuted, grounds the NSM and provides the rationale for an Interfaith Covenant of Sanctuary that was completed in October as a model for congregations to consider.

"There are mothers sending their children into the river," the covenant declares, "not the Nile like Moses, but the Rio Grande, in hope that they might escape violence. Children have come seeking safety and to be reunited with their parents and family. If we found Moses in the water, what would we do? If Mary and Joseph fled to the United States to escape violence at home, what would we do? They seek protection from violence, economic desperation, and our policies are seeking to return them to harm."

Dramatic? Absolutely. But as has been well-publicized, the Obama administration has for the past four years deported between 1,000 and 1,100 undocumented people per day, 368,644 in fiscal year 2013 alone.

"We can't allow this to continue," Sarah Lanius, co-founder of Keep Tucson Together, told Truthout. "If the only relief that is possible is for people to go into sanctuary, then so be it."

Lanius is working with Rosa Robles Loreto, a 43-year-old Mexican-born woman who has been in sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church since August 7. Loreto was picked up by the Tucson police in September 2010 when she accidently drove her car into a construction zone. After being questioned by the sheriff, she spent two months in Border Control custody but was released after her husband paid her bond. "Her family had hired a lawyer who did the bare minimum," Lanius said. "He failed to ask for the one form of relief available, prosecutorial discretion."

Lanius is referring to a policy, outlined in a 2011 memo written by former ICE director John Morton, that allows the agency to use common sense when determining which cases to pursue. The memo asks apprehending officers to consider a person's criminal history and family ties before initiating deportation proceedings.

"Rosa has two sons, ages 11 and 8," Lanius said. "She came over on a visa, which she overstayed, but her family is rooted here in the US. She has 16 US permanent resident or citizen relatives here. Her kids are fanatic baseball players. Her husband coaches her older son's team and she is a community volunteer. Before she went into sanctuary, she used to organize carpools and supported the team and cheered her sons on, but now her boys only see her on weekends and holidays."

Lanius' frustration is audible as she lambastes the Obama administration's lip service - but inaction - on "prosecutorial discretion." For the last few years, she sighs, "the administration has been saying that they don't want to deport people, like Rosa, who have extensive community connections and no criminal record, but so far they have been unwilling to exercise the authority they themselves have authorized."

Lanius also cites another inherent problem with ICE: the classification of people into categories of "good" immigrants who should not be deported, and their "bad" counterparts who should. "People with criminal records which render them deportable have very often been arrested for something so minor most of us would scoff at it, like shoplifting," she said. "They usually also have families that will suffer when one member is deported." In these cases, she asks why they can't just pay a fine or do community service, the same penalty that would be given to a US citizen who commits a similar offense.

It's a great question, so far unaddressed by the Obama administration.

Like Lanius, Chicago NSM staffer Lissette Castillo is working directly with people facing deportation proceedings. As a project of the 30-year-old Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America, the Windy City's NSM chapter also addresses the root causes of migration: trade policies, like NAFTA, that exacerbate wage gaps and increase the cost of basic goods; environmental degradation; violence; and war.

In her capacity as a community organizer, Castillo assisted 32-year-old Beatriz Santiago Ramirez, an indigenous Mexican woman and mother of two US-born children after she took sanctuary in Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in early September. Although the case had a relatively happy ending - Ramirez was given a work permit after eight weeks in sanctuary - Castillo says that Ramirez's situation highlights much of what is wrong with immigration policy.

Like Loreto, Castillo first tangled with immigration officials following a traffic violation. Neither case was anomalous: In fiscal 2013, nearly 58,000 people entered deportation due to vehicular infractions such as a broken tail light or making an unauthorized turn. But Castillo notes that Ramirez should never have entered deportation proceedings since she was eligible for a U visa. "A U visa protects immigrants who are victims of a crime but who cooperate with the authorities to nab the perpetrator," Castillo said. "Beatriz fell into this category after she was assaulted. Unfortunately, the process of getting a U visa is confusing and complicated. A lot of immigrants don't even know that these visas exist and in some places there isn't even a point person to sign the application for one."

Not surprisingly, by the time Ramirez learned of her eligibility, she had missed the filing deadline and was in the process of being deported.

Nonetheless, Castillo credits the support that Ramirez received from diverse religious communities for the positive outcome of her case. "ICE did not expect all these non-Latino parishes to come into a space that is typically isolated, to say, 'We're keeping tabs on this. We care about Beatriz.' The different congregations made clear to ICE that this is not just an issue for Latinos. It's an issue of morality and of faith."

Castillo also notes that the NSM has been working to open up dialogue on a broad array of immigration issues throughout Chicago. "Stories are incredibly important," she added. This summer, for example, she worked with many unaccompanied minors entering the United States. "When we spoke in different communities, folks had a lot of questions: What kind of a parent would send a kid on such a dangerous journey? We turned the question around, asking people to imagine the circumstances in which they might send a child off. Clearly, the only way a parent would do that was if the journey was a better option, that what awaited them at home was far worse than the possible perils of travel."

Most of her work, she says, involves "nonsense that impacts people with no criminal record who are simply trying to get by and live their lives." This is why sharing the experiences of people like Loreto and Ramirez matter, she says, since telling their stories helps to "debunk the narrative that classifies undocumented immigrants as criminals."

Toward that end, in April, Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter signed an executive order ending collaboration between federal immigration officials and the city police department. "We worked for six years to end Philadelphia's local deportation policy," said Nicole Kligerman, a community organizer with the Philadelphia NSM. "Getting the police department not to automatically cooperate with ICE is one of the most important policy changes in the country." Under the executive order, those serving less than two years in Philadelphia jails will not be questioned about their immigration status or referred to ICE.

In addition, as of mid-November, a Honduran mother and her two US-born children have taken sanctuary in the city's West Kensington Ministry.

"Some local congregations have questioned the legality of this," Kligerman said. "We make clear that it is civil disobedience. We are seeking to break an unjust law."

Rabbi Linda Holtzman of Philadelphia's Tikkun Olam Chavura is actively supporting the NSM. "If you look at the prophets - Jeremiah, Jesus, Isaiah - they saw the truth and said to people, 'Wake up and act on these truths.' The New Sanctuary Movement comes out of that tradition. The US can't make it impossible for people to live safely in their own countries and then make it impossible for them to live safely in the US."

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News Wed, 26 Nov 2014 10:41:27 -0500
Free Marissa and All Black People http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27671-free-marissa-and-all-black-people http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27671-free-marissa-and-all-black-people

(Photo: Ultraviolet)(Photo: Ultraviolet)

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“What if she goes to jail again? How will you feel?”

The questions bring me up short. My goddaughter hasn’t previously expressed an interest in Marissa Alexander. She knows that I’ve been involved in a local defense committee to support Marissa in her struggle for freedom. But up to this point, she hasn’t asked any questions. Her mother, however, tells me that Nina (not her real name) has been following my updates on social media.

I’m still considering how to respond and I must have been silent for too long because Nina apologizes. “Forget about it, Auntie,” she says. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

It’s interesting that she thinks I am upset. She knows that I have no faith in the U.S. criminal legal system and perhaps assumes that I am pessimistic about Marissa’s prospects in court. I tell her that while I have no faith in the criminal punishment system, I am hopeful for a legal victory in Marissa’s case. I say that while the system as a whole is unjust, in some individual cases legal victories can be achieved. I tell her that this is particularly true for defendants who have good legal representation and resources. Money makes a difference in securing legal victories. I explain that this is why I have worked so hard to fundraise for Marissa’s legal defense.

“But how will you feel if she’s convicted again though?” Nina persists.

“I’ll definitely be sad for her and her family,” I respond.

“I think that you’ll be a lot more than sad,” she says.

Does sadness have levels? I guess so. I’m not sure what “more than sad” feels like so I keep quiet.

A friend, who has spent years supporting Marissa Alexander through the Free Marissa NOW National Mobilization Campaign, recently confided that she was unable to contemplate another conviction for Marissa at her retrial in December. Many of us who’ve been supporting Marissa have been bracing ourselves. Each of us trying to cope as best we can. Over the past few weeks, I’d taken to asking comrades if they believed that Marissa would be free. Some answered affirmatively without hesitation but they were in the minority. Most eyed me warily and slowly said that they were hopeful of an acquittal. I don’t think that they believed what they were saying.

The U.S. criminal punishment system cannot deliver any “justice.” Marissa has already served over 1000 days in jail and prison. She spent another year under strict house arrest wearing an ankle monitor costing her family $105 every two weeks. Marissa fired a warning shot to ward off her abusive husband and no one was injured. For this, she was facing a 60 year sentence if convicted in her re-trial. True justice is not being arrested and taken away from her children, family and friends. Justice is living a life free of domestic abuse. Justice is benefiting from state protection rather than suffering from state violence. Justice is having a self to defend in the first place.

Yesterday morning, I got news that Marissa had agreed to a plea deal. A couple of hours later, the news broke on social media. I saw a mix of people celebrating this outcome and others expressing their anger that Marissa was forced into a Faustian ‘choice’. I got calls, texts and emails from friends and family checking in on me. I appreciated everyone’s concern but I was unfortunately thrust into action when I heard that the grand jury in St. Louis would be announcing their indictment decision in the killing of Mike Brown later in the day. It was a mad rush to make arrangements to combine solidarity events since we already had one planned for Marissa yesterday evening.

The parallels between Marissa’s unjust prosecution/imprisonment & Mike Brown’s killing by law enforcement are evident to me. Yet, I am well aware that for too many these are treated as distinct and separate occurrences. They are not. In fact, the logic of anti-blackness and punishment connects both.

In the late 19th century, a remark was attributed to a Southern police chief who suggested that there were three types of homicides: “If a nigger kills a white man, that’s murder. If a white man kills a nigger, that’s justifiable homicide. If a nigger kills a nigger, that’s one less nigger (Berg, 2011, p.116).” The devaluing of black life in this country has its roots in colonial America. In the book “Popular Justice: A History of Lynching in America,” Manfred Berg makes a convincing case that: “The slave codes singled out blacks for extremely cruel punishment, thus marking black bodies as innately inferior (p.11).” Berg argues that: “Colonial slavery set clear patterns for future racial violence in America (p.11).”

“Innately inferior” bodies can be debased, punished and killed without consequence. The twist is that black people have always been considered dangerous along with our disposability. Mike Brown’s (disposable) body is a lethal weapon and so he is justifiably threatening. Marissa’s (disposable) body is deserving of abuse and is incapable of claiming a self worth defending. Mike Brown was described by his killer, Darren Wilson, as a “demon” and called an “It.”

The doctrine of pre-emptive killing and preventative captivity finds expression in the daily lives of all black people in the U.S. Black people are never ‘innocent.’ That language or concept doesn’t apply. We are always guilty until proven something less than suspect or dangerous.

Marissa and Mike are inextricably linked. They can only be seen as the aggressors and are never the victims. Mike is painted as a super-subhuman and Marissa is described as not seeming fearful. Black skin is a repellent to empathy which makes it difficult to seek redress in courts of law and public opinion. If we can’t generate empathy in others, then the humanity that is denied to us is always out of reach.

So we combined our solidarity actions for Marissa and for Mike yesterday because we take it as a fact that all #BlackLivesMatter. Charlene Carruthers of BYP 100 made this clear as she lifted up the name of Islan Nettles alongside those of Marissa & Mike.

I’m not naive though. I know that our response to the grand jury non-indictment of Darren Wilson unfortunately stands apart from some of the others. I thought about some lines from one of my favorite poems “Sister Outsider” by Opal Palmer Adisa yesterday:

we
women black
are always
outside
even when
we believe
we’re in

Marissa, Cece, Islan, Monica, Tanesha and many others are too often out side of our discourse about interpersonal & state violence and so they are out side of our protests too. It’s imperative that they be brought inside and centered.

Marissa decided that she had had enough of living in the in-between. Not behind the walls of the prison and yet not quite out side. She made a decision for herself and her family to accelerate the possibility that she can experience again the (un-free) freedom that all of us who live black in the United States have when we aren’t formally caged. She should have been able to demand total freedom but this must feel like Everest. So she took a plea that will ensure that she won’t spend the rest of her natural life in a cage. As Alisa Bierria of Free Marissa NOW said yesterday:

“The deal will help Marissa and her family avoid yet another very expensive and emotionally exhausting trial that could have led to the devastating ruling of spending the rest of her life in prison. Marissa’s children, family, and community need her to be free as soon as possible. However, the absurdity in Marissa’s case was always the fact that the courts punished and criminalized her for surviving domestic violence, for saving her own life. The mandatory minimum sentences of 20 years, and then 60 years, just made the state’s prosecution increasingly shocking. But we have always believed that forcing Marissa to serve even one day in prison represents a profound and systemic attack on black women’s right to exist and all women’s right to self-defense.”

2014.11.25.MarissaAlexander.1Chicago emergency call to action in solidarity with Ferguson and Marissa Alexander. (Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

When I’ve been tabling or facilitating teach-ins about Marissa, people sometimes ask if I know her personally. I don’t. I can read the questions on their faces. ‘Why then are you talking about her case? Why are you committed to her freedom?’ I devoted so many hours to raising awareness and funds for Marissa’s legal defense because she is a human being who has been unjustly targeted and is STILL fighting to get free. I’m always on the freedom side. Marissa’s un-freedom cages me. Who will keep our sisters if not us?

“If I hadn’t helped my sister
They’d have put those chains on me!
They tied her body to a tree
And left her bleeding until we
Cut her down and took her home
As a daughter.” – Song of A Sister’s Freedom by Niobeh Tsaba

Yesterday, I stood in the freezing Chicago night with hundreds of other people to show our solidarity with Marissa. In our own way, we were cutting her down from the tree to take her home as a sister.

2014.11.25.MarissaAlexander.2Chicago emergency call to action in solidarity with Ferguson and Marissa Alexander. (Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

Until Marissa is free…

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Opinion Wed, 26 Nov 2014 12:07:20 -0500
Torture Report: Mark Udall's Historic Moment to Rescue CIA Oversight http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27670-torture-report-mark-udall-s-historic-moment-to-rescue-cia-oversight http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27670-torture-report-mark-udall-s-historic-moment-to-rescue-cia-oversight

In the struggle over the release of the CIA torture report, a litmus test of the ability and willingness of Congress to conduct any meaningful oversight of the CIA, outgoing Colorado Sen. Mark Udall may be the Senate Democrats' last line of defense.

2014.11.25.Udall.MainSen. Mark Udall. (Photo: Talk Radio News Service / Flickr)Will Truthout keep publishing stories like this in 2015 and beyond? That depends on readers like you. Donate now to ensure our work continues!

"Time Is Running Out on the CIA Torture Report," National Journal reports:

Backroom negotiations over the release of a long-delayed Senate report on the George W. Bush administration's use of so-called "enhanced interrogation" practices are again hitting a wall.
[...]
The Senate is set to adjourn in mid-December, but [Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne] Feinstein can still hold off on submitting the report until the start of next year by obtaining a consent agreement that would allow her to file when Congress is not in session.

But the extension would only give Feinstein a few weeks of extra daylight. The current Senate will formally expire at noon on Jan. 3.
[...]
The continued fraying of negotiations has some suggesting that the White House might be intentionally stalling, in hopes that it can run out the clock on the report's release, especially with Republicans slated to take over.

National Journal notes that outgoing Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colorado) - no longer constrained even in theory by the perceived need to curry favor with power - is the last line of defense for Senate Democrats: He can declassify the Senate Intelligence Committee's preferred version of the report by himself, by reading it into the Congressional Record, under the protection of the US Constitution's speech or debate clause.

More is at stake than establishing a public record on the CIA's use of torture and its illegal attempts to hide its crimes from other executive branch officials and Congress, important though that is. The struggle over the release of the CIA torture report is a litmus test of the ability and willingness of Congress to conduct any meaningful oversight of the CIA at all. If Senate Democrats lose this crucial confrontation with the CIA, the negative effects are likely to be wide-ranging and long-lasting.

As National Journal notes, "Civil-liberties advocates say publicizing the document also represents a major sign of progress for the Intelligence Committee as it seeks to reestablish itself as a watchdog of the CIA." Acting as a watchdog over the intelligence agencies - that's exactly what the Intelligence Committee was established by the Senate to do following the CIA scandals of the 1970s. You can only "reestablish" yourself as something if you stopped doing it. So what's at stake here is whether the Intelligence Committee can resume the role assigned to it by Congress of acting as a watchdog over the CIA. The likely alternative is no effective oversight of the CIA by Congress at all.

If there is no effective oversight of the CIA by Congress at all, that's a mortal threat to the idea that we should be a constitutional, rule of law democracy when it comes to deciding on the use of military force in other people's countries.

Many of the democratic, rule of law and human rights abuses of the "long war" since 2001 are fundamentally questions of CIA oversight or the lack of it. How many civilians have been killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia? The government refuses to say publicly, because "that's classified." How did such a basic fact get to be classified? Because the drone war is a "CIA operation." The planes are generally US military planes; the pilots are generally US military pilots. But it's a "CIA operation," so it's classified.

Of course the track record suggests that the causation actually runs the other way; it's not classified because it's a CIA operation; it's a CIA operation in order for it to be classified. The Obama administration has chosen to make it a CIA operation so the US government won't have to answer questions about it on the public record. The executive branch has perceived - largely correctly, unfortunately, until now - stamping a CIA label on an operation as a get-out-of-jail-free card to escape transparency and accountability.

This game is extremely damaging to the Schoolhouse Rock notion that we should make basic policy choices in a transparent and democratic way about whether, when and how the US government should try to kill people in other people's countries.

Consider the question of US military involvement in the civil war in Syria. This is a policy that was chosen without a congressional debate and vote. Last year, when it was first proposed that the United States arm Syrian insurgents, a bipartisan group of members of Congress, led by Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont) and Rep. Chris Gibson (R- New York), objected and introduced an amendment to block it.

But the Republican leadership in the House, acting in collusion with the White House, blocked the Gibson-Welch amendment from coming to a vote. The consequence of this was that the administration was able to run the policy of arming Syrian rebels as a CIA operation with the approval of the intelligence committees - Congress didn't debate and Congress didn't vote. The current strength of ISIS is in significant measure a consequence of US military intervention in Syria's civil war; some of their weapons were originally sent to other Syrian rebels, but Congress never approved that.

This year, Congress did debate and vote on a military program to arm and train the Syrian rebels. But by this time, the CIA program was already an accomplished fact. Indeed, The Washington Post reports that the CIA program is already operating at the scale that the military program is supposed to be operating at a year from now.

The size of the CIA program turns the congressional debate over the military program into a kind of farce. On the one hand, we're going to have this great show of a debate and vote on the military program, allowing Congress to attach transparency and accountability conditions. Meanwhile, we'll do whatever the hell we want through the CIA. The facts on the ground created by the nontransparent and unaccountable CIA part of foreign military policy decisively shape debate on the (relatively) more transparent and accountable Pentagon part: What's the point of going to the wall to oppose or restrict the military program, if the administration is going to do whatever the hell they want anyway under a less transparent and less accountable CIA program?

On the CIA torture report, Senate Democrats drew a line in the sand. "Choose your battles," the saying goes. That's the battle that the Senate Democrats chose. That's where they put down their marker. That's why, if the Senate Democrats lose this confrontation, it will be especially devastating. The story will be told that even when Senate Democrats decided to make a stand for CIA oversight, they got rolled.

And that's why it's so urgent for Senator Udall to find his phone booth and change into his Transparency Man superhero uniform. At this writing, 140,000 Americans are urging Udall to act. You can join us here.

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Opinion Tue, 25 Nov 2014 15:40:08 -0500
Can Democrats Set Out a New Path? http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27669-can-democrats-set-out-a-new-path http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27669-can-democrats-set-out-a-new-path

2014.11.25.DT.MainUS Senators, including Chuck Schumer (D-New York), push for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would ensure women receive equal pay for equal work, April 2014. (Photo: Senate Democrats / Flickr)If you value media that isn't controlled by advertisers or billionaire sponsors, show your support today! Donate to Truthout now to keep independent media strong.

Democrats must embrace a pro-government platform, not run away from it.

Those were the sentiments of Sen. Chuck Schumer today, in a speech given at the National Press Club.

Talking about the reasons for Democrats' losses on Election Day, Schumer said that those losses were proof that the US public and middle class want a government that will work more effectively for them.

He went on to say that, for the first time ever, the middle class has lost faith in the American Dream, and that in 2014, Democrats lost because the US public has lost faith in the party and the government's ability to improve the lives of the middle class.

But it wasn't always like this.

As Schumer pointed out, a pro-government mentality dominated the US and the political landscape from the days of FDR until 1980 when Reagan came to Washington.

With FDR's New Deal policies and programs, the US public saw that government can strengthen the middle class, improve the economy and protect everyone's ability to live the American Dream.

For several generations, Americans trusted our government's ability to improve living conditions for the working class. As a result, Democrats stayed in power for a long time.

Then Reagan happened, and everything changed.

First, as Schumer points out, the Democratic Party veered way off course while Reagan was president, and abandoned its working-class base.

Second, Schumer says that because the Democratic Party had been so successful at creating a stable economy that worked for everyone for so long, people began to think that they no longer needed government, and were fine on their own.

Reagan capitalized on those sentiments, and was able to successfully create an anti-government mentality that exists to this day, and that helped fuel the Republican landslide on Election Day.

But this anti-government mentality that exists today isn't just some random phenomenon.

There are lots of reasons for it.

As Schumer said, "When government fails to prosecute those who work in financial institutions (some of which were propped up or bailed out by the government) for what seems, on its face, blatant fraud - Americans feel that government is not working for them. When CEOs and executives pay less in taxes than their secretaries - Americans feel that government is not working for them."

So, what can be done to restore the US peoples' trust in the Democratic Party's and our government's ability to protect and strengthen the middle class? How do we go back to the pre-1980 days?

Schumer suggested Democrats should start taking more of a populist approach, saying that populism is, "necessary to open the door before we can rally people to the view that a strong government program must be implemented."

One of the biggest takeaways from the 2014 election is that, nationally, progressive ideas and policies are very popular.

All across the United States, progressive ballot initiatives won and progressive candidates won.

Those are the very same progressive ideas and policies that made the US public trust the Democratic Party and our government for over four decades from the 1930s to the 1980s.

And, those are the ideas and polices that both built the Democratic Party and the US middle class.

As the old saying goes, sometimes you have to look back in order to go forward.

If the Democratic Party is serious about taking back Washington in 2016, then it needs to embrace its base, and restore the US public's faith in our government.

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Opinion Tue, 25 Nov 2014 15:22:24 -0500
Economic Update: Economics of Private Property http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27668-economic-update-economics-of-private-property http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27668-economic-update-economics-of-private-property

This weeks episode provides updates on unpaid internships, extreme wealth and economic perceptions as well as responses to listener questions on real economics of public pensions and of home refinancing. We also discuss college an in depth analyses of private property and income and of economic regulation vs system change.

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

Economic Update is in partnership with Truthout.org

Your radio station needs Economic Update! If you are a radio station, check this out. If you want to hear Economic Update on your favorite local station, send them this.

Visit Professor Wolff's social movement project, democracyatwork.info.

Permission to reprint Professor Wolff's writing and videos is granted on an individual basis. Please contact  profwolff@rdwolff.com to request permission. We reserve the right to refuse or rescind permission at any time.

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News Wed, 26 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0500
Russians Invade Afghanistan (Again!), Chinese Fight Iraq War (Again!): What If It Weren't Us? http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27663-russians-invade-afghanistan-again-chinese-fight-iraq-war-again-what-if-it-weren-t-us http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27663-russians-invade-afghanistan-again-chinese-fight-iraq-war-again-what-if-it-weren-t-us

Let’s play a game, the kind that makes no sense on this single-superpower planet of ours. For a moment, do your best to suspend disbelief and imagine that there’s another superpower, great power, or even regional power somewhere that, between 2001 and 2003, launched two major wars in the Greater Middle East. We’re talking about full-scale invasions, long-term occupations, and nation-building programs, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq.

In both countries, that power quickly succeeded in its stated objective of “regime change,” only to find itself mired in deadly conflicts with modestly armed minority insurgencies that it simply couldn’t win. In each country, to the tune of billions and billions of dollars, it built up a humongous army and allied “security” forces, poured money into “reconstruction” projects (most of which proved disasters of corruption and incompetence), and spent trillions of dollars of national treasure.

Having imagined that, ask yourself: How well did all of that turn out for this other power?  In Afghanistan, a recent news story highlights something of what was accomplished.  Though that country took slot 175 out of 177 on Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, though its security forces continue to suffer grievous casualties, and though parts of the country are falling to a strengthening Taliban insurgency, it has for some years proudly held a firm grip on one record: Afghanistan is the leading narco-state on planet Earth.

In 2013, it upped its opium poppy cultivation by 36%, its opium production by almost 50%, and drug profits soared. Preliminary figures for this year, recently released by the U.N., indicate that opium cultivation has risen by another 7% and opium production by 17%, both to historic highs, as Afghanistan itself has become “one of the world’s most addicted societies.”

Meanwhile, where there once was Iraq (171st on that index of kleptocracies), there is now a Shiite government in Baghdad defended by a collapsed army and sectarian militias, a de facto Kurdish state to the north, and, in the third of the country in-between, a newly proclaimed “caliphate” run by a terror movement so brutal it’s establishing records for pure bloodiness.  It’s headed by men whose West Point was a military prison run by that same great power and its bloodthirstiness is funded in part by captured oil fields and refineries.

In other words, after 13 years of doing its damnedest, on one side of the Greater Middle East this power has somehow overseen the rise of the dominant narco-state on the planet with monopoly control over 80%-90% of the global opium supply and 75% of the heroin. On the other side of the region, it’s been complicit in the creation of the first terrorist mini-oil state in history, a post-al-Qaeda triumph of extreme jihadism.

A Fraudulent Election and a Collapsed Army

Though I have no doubt that the fantasy of relocating Washington’s deeds to Beijing, Moscow, Tehran, or any other capital crumbled paragraphs ago, take a moment for one more experiment.  If this had been the work of any other power we thought less well of than we do of ourselves, imagine the blazing headlines right now.  Conjure up -- and it shouldn’t be hard -- what the usual war hawks would be spouting in Congress, what the usual suspects on the Sunday morning talk shows might be saying, and what stories cable news networks from CNN to Fox would be carrying.

You know perfectly well that the denunciations of such global behavior would be blistering, that the assorted pundits and talking heads would be excoriating, that the fear and hysteria over that heroin and those terrorists crossing our border would be somewhere in the stratosphere.  You would hear words like “evil” and “barbaric.”  It would be implied, or stated outright, that this avalanche of disaster was no happenstance but planned by that same grim power with its hand on the trigger these last 13 years, in part to harm the interests of the United States.  We would never hear the end of it.

Instead, the recent reports about Afghanistan’s bumper crop of opium poppies slipped by in the media like a ship on a dark ocean.  No blame was laid, no responsibility mentioned.  There were neither blazing headlines, nor angry jeremiads, nor blistering comments -- none of the things that would have been commonplace if the Russians, the Chinese, or the Iranians had been responsible.

Just about no one in the mainstream excoriates or blames Washington for the 13 years leading up to this.  In fact, to the extent that Washington is blamed at all for the rise of the Islamic State, the focus has been on the Obama administration’s decision not to stay longer in Iraq in 2011 and do even more of the same.  (Hence, President Obama's recent decision to extend the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan through at least 2015.)

All in all, we’ve experienced a remarkable performance here when it comes to not connecting the dots or feeling the need to assign responsibility or accountability for what’s happened in these years.  In some fashion, we Americans continue to see ourselves, as we have since 9/11, as victims, not destabilizers, of the world we inhabit.

To add to this spectacle, the Obama administration spent endless weeks helping engineer a fraudulent Afghan presidential election -- funded in part by the opium trade -- into a new, extra-constitutional form of government.  The actual vote count in that election is now, by mutual agreement of the two presidential candidates, never to be revealed.  All of this took place, in part, simply to have an Afghan president in place who could ink a new bilateral security agreement that would leave U.S. troops and bases there for afurther decade.  If another country had meddled with an election in this fashion, can you imagine the headlines and commentary?  While reported here, all of this again passed by without significant comment.

When it comes to a path “forward” in Iraq, it’s been ever deeper into Iraq War 3.0.  Since a limited, “humanitarian” bombing campaign began in August, the Obama administration and the Pentagon have been on the up escalator: more air strikes, more advisers, more weaponry, more money.

Two and a half weeks ago, the president doubled the corps of American advisers (plus assorted other U.S. personnel) there to 3,000-plus.  Last week, the news came in that they were being hustled into the country faster than expected -- specifically into dangerous, war-torn al-Anbar Province -- to retrain the American-created, now thoroughly sectarian Iraqi army, reportedly in a state of remarkable disarray.

In the meantime, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, the Pentagon, and the White House continue to struggle over whether American boots can be put on the ground in a combat capacity, and if so, how many and in what roles in a “war” that essentially may have no legal basis in the American system of government. (Shades of Afghanistan!)  Of course, much of this internecine struggle in Washington is likely to be obviated the first time U.S. advisers are attacked in Anbar Province or elsewhere and boots end up hitting the ground fast, weapons firing.

Vietnamizing Iraq, Iraqicizing Vietnam

In the meantime, think about what we would have said if the Russians had acted as Washington did in Afghanistan, or if the Chinese had pursued an Iraq-like path in a country of their choosing for the third time with the same army, the same “unified” government, the same drones and weaponry, and in key cases, the same personnel!  (Or, if you want to make the task easier for yourself, just check out U.S. commentary these last months on Ukraine.)

For those of a certain age, the escalatory path the Obama administration has set us on in Iraq has a certain resonance and so, not surprisingly, at the edges of our world, familiar words like “quagmire” are again rising.  And who could deny that there’s something eerily familiar about it all?  Keep in mind that it took less than three years for the Kennedy administration to transition from the first several hundred American advisers it sent to Vietnam to work with the South Vietnamese Army in 1961 to 16,000 armed “advisers” in November 1963 when the president was assassinated.

The Obama administration seems to be in the grips of a similar escalatory fever and on a somewhat similar schedule, even if ahead of the Vietnam timetable when it comes to loosing air power over Iraq and Syria.  However, the comparison is, in a sense, unfair to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. After all, they were in the dark; they didn’t have a “Vietnam” to refer to.

For a more accurate equivalent, you would have to conjure up a Vietnam scenario that couldn’t have happened.  You would have to imagine that, in May 1975, at the time of the Mayaguez Incident (in which the Cambodians seized an American ship), just two weeks after the South Vietnamese capital Saigon fell, or perhaps even more appropriately in terms of the dual chronologies of the two wars, in December 1978 when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia, President Gerald Ford had decided to send thousands of American troops back into Vietnam.

Inconceivable as that was then, only such an absurd scenario could catch the true eeriness of the escalatory path of our third Iraq war.

Four More Years!  Four More Years!

Try to imagine the reaction here, if the Russians were suddenly to send their military back into conflict-ridden Afghanistan to refight the lost war of the 1980s more effectively, bringing old Red Army commanders out of retirement to do so.

As it happens, the present war in Iraq and Syria is so unnervingly déjà vu all over again that an equivalency of any sort is next to impossible to conjure up.  However, since in the American imagination terrorism has taken over the bogeyman-like role that Communism once filled, the new Islamic State might in one sense at least be considered the equivalent of the North Vietnamese (and the rebel National Liberation Front, or Vietcong, in South Vietnam).  There is, for instance, some similarity in the inflamed fantasies Washington has attached to each: in the way both were conjured up here as larger-than-life phenomena capable of spreading across the globe.  (Look up “domino theory” on the meaning of a Communist victory in South Vietnam if you doubt me.)

There is also at least some equivalency in the inability of American leaders and commanders to bring the nature, or even the numbers, of the enemy into sharp focus.  Only recently, for instance, General Dempsey, who has played a crucial role in the launching of this latest war, rushed off on just the sort of “surprise visit” to Baghdad that American officials often made to Saigon to proclaim “progress” or “light at the end of the tunnel” in the Vietnam War.  He met with American Marines at the massive U.S. embassy in that city and offered an assessment that seemed to capture some of Washington’s confusions about the nature of its newest war.

Keep in mind that, at the moment the war was launched, the Islamic State was being portrayed here as a monster movement engorging itself on the region, one that potentially imperiled just about every American interest on the planet.  In Baghdad, Dempsey suddenly insisted that the monster was faltering, that the momentum of battle in Iraq was “starting to turn.”  He then labeled the militants of the Islamic State as "a bunch of midgets running around with a really radical ideology" and concluded that, despite the nature of those formerly giant, now-puny fellows and the changing momentum of the war, it might nonetheless take “years” to win.  On his return to Washington he became more specific, claiming that the war could last up to four years and adding, “This is my third shot at Iraq, and that's probably a poor choice of words." Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers recently offered a similar four-year estimate, but tagged an “or more” onto it. (Four more years! Four more years! Or more! Or more!)

Despite their sudden access to crystal balls some 11-and-a-half years after the initial invasion of Iraq, such estimates should be taken with a grain of salt.  They reveal less a serious assessment of the Islamic State than just how shaky America’s top leadership, civilian and military, has become about what the U.S. is capable of achieving in the wake of an era of dismal failure in the Greater Middle East.

In reality, unlike North Vietnam in 1963, the Islamic “State” is a wildly sectarian rebel movement that sits atop what is at best a shaky proto-state (despite recent laughable news reports about claims that it will soon mint gold or silver coins).  It is not popular across the region.  Its growth is bound to be limited both by its extreme ideology and its Sunni sectarianism.  It faces enemies galore.  While its skill in puffing itself up -- in Wizard of Oz fashion -- to monstrous size and baiting the U.S. into further involvement may be striking, it is neither a goliath nor a “midget.”

General Dempsey can’t know how long (or short) its lifespan in the region may be.  One thing we do know, however: as long as the global giant, the United States, continues to escalate its fight against the Islamic State, it gains a credibility and increasing popularity in the world of jihadism that it would never otherwise garner.  As historian Stephen Kinzer wrote recently of the movement’s followers, “To face the mighty United States on Middle Eastern soil, and if possible to kill an American or die at American hands, is their dream. We are giving them a chance to realize it. Through its impressive mastery of social media, the Islamic State is already using our escalation as a recruiting tool.”

Awaiting Iraq War 4.0

Given all this, it should amaze us how seldom the dismal results of America’s actions in the Greater Middle East are mentioned in this country.  Think of it this way: Washington entered Iraq War 3.0 with a military that, for 13 years, had proven itself incapable of making its way to victory.  It entered the latest battle with an air force that, from the “shock and awe” moment it launched 50 “decapitation” strikes against Saddam Hussein and his top officials and killed none of them but dozens of ordinary Iraqis, has brought none of its engagements to what might be called a positive conclusion.  It entered battle with an interlocking set of 17 intelligence agencies that have eaten the better part of a trillion taxpayer dollars in these years and yet, in an area where the U.S. has fought three wars, still manages to be surprised by just about any development, an area that, in the words of an anonymous American official, remains a “black hole” of information.  It has entered battle with leaders who, under the strain of fast-moving events, make essentially the same decision again and again to ever worse results.

In the end, the American national security machinery seems incapable of dealing with the single thing it was built to destroy in the 9/11 period: Islamic terrorism.  Instead its troops, special ops forces, drones, and intelligence operatives have destabilized and inflamed country after country, while turning a minor phenomenon on the planet into, as recent figures indicate, an increasing force for turmoil across the Greater Middle East and Africa.

Given the history of this last period, even if the Islamic State were to collapse tomorrow under American pressure, there would likely be worse to come.  It might not look like that movement or anything else we’ve experienced thus far, but it will predictably shock American officials yet again.  Whatever it may be, rest assured that there’s a solution for it brewing in Washington and you already know what it is.  Call it Iraq War 4.0.

To put the present escalating disaster in the region in perspective, a final analogy to Vietnam might be in order.  If, in 1975, you had suggested to Americans that, almost four decades later, the U.S. and Vietnam would be de facto allies in a new Asia, no one would have believed you, and yet such is the case today.

The Vietnamese decisively won their war against Washington, though much of their country was destroyed and millions died in the process.  In the U.S., the bitterness and sense of defeat took years to recede.  It’s worth remembering that the first president to launch a war in Iraq in 1990 was convinced that the singularly tonic effect of "victory" there was to “kick the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.”  Now, all of official Washington seems to have a post-modern, twenty-first-century version of the same syndrome.

In the meantime, the world changed in few of the ways anyone expected.  Communism did not sweep the Third World and has since disappeared except in Vietnam, now a U.S. ally, tiny Cuba, and that wreck of a country, North Korea, as well as the world’s leading state on the “capitalist road,” China.  In other words, none of the inflamed fears of that era panned out.

Whatever the bloody horror, fragmentation, and chaos in the Middle East today, 40 years from now the fears and fantasies that led Washington into such repetitively destructive behavior will look no less foolish than the domino theory does today.  If only, in a final thought experiment, we could simply skip those decades and instantly look back upon the present nightmare from the clearer light of a future day, perhaps the next predictable escalatory steps might be avoided.  But don't hold your breath, not with Washington chanting "Four more years!," "Four more years!"

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Opinion Tue, 25 Nov 2014 12:38:33 -0500