Truthout Stories http://www.truth-out.org Wed, 06 May 2015 03:24:37 -0400 en-gb Fifty-Seven Percent of Republicans Want to Undo the American Revolution http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30626-fifty-seven-percent-of-republicans-want-to-undo-the-american-revolution http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30626-fifty-seven-percent-of-republicans-want-to-undo-the-american-revolution

Political commentator and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), March 7, 2014.Political commentator and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), March 7, 2014. (Photo: Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com)

The United States is a Christian nation.

That's an idea former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has harped on time and time again during his political career.

And while he didn't explicitly talk about it today during his presidential announcement, it's bound to pop up some time during his campaign.

That's because most Republicans agree that the US is a Christian nation. In fact, according to one recent survey, 57 percent of them actually want to establish Christianity as the official state religion of our republic.

That's right - 57 percent of Republicans want to turn our democracy into a theocracy!

Thomas Jefferson must be rolling over in his grave.

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

The idea that the US is some sort of "Christian nation" is so out of whack with the both the history of this country and the Enlightenment values that inspired its founding that it just boggles the mind.

Despite what Mike Huckabee would have you believe, most of the most influential people who created this country - Founders like Jefferson, Washington and Franklin - were not devout Christians, and many were actively hostile to religion having any role whatsoever in public life.

But the Founders didn't just believe that the US should be a secular nation; they actively worked to make it one.

Thomas Jefferson, for example, was the main force behind Virginia's famous 1786 "Statute for Religious Freedom," which ended the Church of England's role as Virginia's official state religion and guaranteed other faiths an equal footing under the law.

Jefferson was so proud of this law that he made it, along with the founding of the University of Virginia and writing the Declaration of Independence, one of the three accomplishments listed on his tombstone. He designed and wrote his own tombstone, and considered the Virginia Statute to be more important than that he was president for two terms - something he omitted from his tombstone.

Jefferson's friend James Madison, although a Christian, also worked to keep the US secular.

In 1811, he vetoed a bill that would have authorized government payments to a church in Washington, DC, to help the poor, because as he put it, doing so "would be a precedent for giving to religious societies, as such, a legal agency in carrying into effect a public and civil duty."

George Washington was no friend to theocracy, either, and one of his landmark accomplishments as our nation's first president was, in part, a rebuttal to the idea that the US was a Christian nation.

The Treaty of Tripoli, worked out with the Muslim rulers of Libya under Washington's guidance and then signed into law by John Adams in 1797, reads:

As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, --as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-- and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

But for Founders like Washington, Madison and Jefferson, the fight against theocracy wasn't just about what the United States was founded on, it was about what they wanted it to become.

As students of history who were just a few centuries removed from the great European religious wars, the Founders knew the threat theocracy posed to liberty.

And as scholars of the Enlightenment, they saw organized religion as one of the many irrational tyrannies that were holding mankind back from a rational, democratic future.

Thomas Paine, the author of "Common Sense," even went so far as to write that, "Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny of religion is the worse."

Only by remaining secular, the Founders believed, could the US preserve its democracy.

They were actually so serious about preserving this secular democracy that some of them didn't want to let Massachusetts into the union because its political system was, for all intents and purposes, a Puritan theocracy.

Today, of course, Massachusetts is one of the most secular and, thus small-d democratic, states in the entire country.

But that doesn't mean threat of theocracy is gone.

Far from it, actually.

The theocratic tyranny our Founders tried so hard to wipe out lives on in the modern day Republican Party, and in politicians like Mike Huckabee who repeat the lie that the US was founded as, and thus always will be, a Christian nation.

In reality, the US was founded as, and thus hopefully always will be, a secular nation.

It's right there in the Constitution: "[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States" (Article VI), and, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." (First Amendment)

Let's work to keep it that way, and reject the posturing and grandstanding of hucksters and hustlers like Huckabee.

Both for our sake, our democracy's sake, and our children's sake.

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Opinion Tue, 05 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Wars Come Home: A Five-Step Guide to the Police Repression of Protest http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30618-the-wars-come-home-a-five-step-guide-to-the-police-repression-of-protest http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30618-the-wars-come-home-a-five-step-guide-to-the-police-repression-of-protest

Last week, as Baltimore braced for renewed protests over the death of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) prepared for battle. With state-of-the-art surveillance of local teenagers’ Twitter feeds, law enforcement had learned that a group of high school students was planning to march on the Mondawmin Mall. In response, the BPD did what any self-respecting police department in post-9/11 America would do: it declared war on the protesters.

Over the course of 24 hours, which would see economically devastated parts of Baltimore erupt in open rebellion, city and state police would deploy everything from a drone and a “military counter attack vehicle” known as a Bearcat to SWAT teams armed with assault rifles, shotguns loaded with lead pellets, barricade projectiles filled with tear gas, and military-style smoke grenades. The BPD also came equipped with “Hailstorm” or “Stingray” technology, developed in America’s distant war zones to conduct wireless surveillance of enemy communications.  This would allow officers to force cell phones to connect to it, to collect mobile data, and to jam cell signals within a one-mile radius.

“Up and down the East Coast since 9/11, our region has armed itself for that type of emergency,” said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.  She was defending her police department’s acquisition of this type of military technology under the Department of Defense’s now infamous 1033 Program.  It sends used weaponry and other equipment from the battlefields of the country’s global war on terror directly to local police departments across the country. “But it’s very unusual,” Mayor Rawlings-Blake added, “that it would be used against your own citizens.”

It is, in fact, no longer unusual but predictable for peacefully protesting citizens to face military-grade weaponry and paramilitary-style tactics, as the counterinsurgency school of protest policing has become the new normal in our homeland security state. Its techniques and technologies have come a long way in the years since Occupy Wall Street (and even in the months since the first protests kicked off in response to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri). Here, then, is a step-by-step guide, based on the latest developments in the security sector, on how to police a protest movement in the new age of domestic counterinsurgency.

1. Equate Dissidents With Domestic Terrorists.

Since 2012, law enforcement and intelligence agencies have repeatedly sought to link street activism with domestic terrorism and radical activists to “violent extremists.” For instance, one memo from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Intelligence and Analysis attempted to tie events in Ferguson last year to recruitment efforts by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS): “Although at this time, violence in Ferguson has largely subsided... radical Islamists [have] used social media to urge others... to conduct Jihad.” A separate arm of DHS, the Threat Management Division, issued an ominous warning around the same time:

“Currently there is no indication that protests are expected to become violent. However, current civil unrest associated with the incident in Ferguson, MO, presents the potential for civil disobedience... Absent a specific actionable threat, you should refer to the list of suspicious activity indicators in identifying and mitigating threats. Some of these behavioral indicators may be constitutionally protected activities.”

Earlier this year, amid the fallout from the refusal of a grand jury to indict a police officer in the Eric Garner “chokehold” death, New York City Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Bill Bratton proposed the creation of a new special ops unit he called the Strategic Response Group.  It was to be “designed for dealing with events like our recent protests, or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris.” The group would be “equipped and trained in ways that our normal patrol officers are not,” and outfitted “with the long rifles and machine guns.” Though Bratton, facing a public outcry, later walked his statement back, his conflation of events involving unarmed protesters and armed militants was clearly no coincidence.

In recent years, the war on dissent has hit ever closer to home, with police departments importing some of the practices first pioneered in counterterrorism operations overseas.

One of these is the use of “black sites” for the temporary disappearance and detention of political dissidents. Anti-war activists learned this lesson firsthand during May 2012 protests against the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit in Chicago, when nine demonstrators were arrested by the police and transported to a warehouse in Homan Square. Three would be held incommunicado for nearly 24 hours, shackled to a bench and kept in a wire cage before being charged with material support for terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism, and possession of incendiary devices -- devices constructed with the assistance of undercover officers in what turned out to be an elaborate act of entrapment in the run-up to the NATO Summit.

2. Arm the Police With “Less-Lethal” Weapons (Which Can Actually Create More Lethal Situations).

Under the 1033 Program, more than 460,000 pieces of “controlled property” -- that is, military-grade weaponry and other equipment -- have been transferred from the Pentagon to local police departments since 1997. That includes 92,442 small arms, 44,275 night-vision devices, 5,235 light armored cars, 617 tank-like vehicles, and some 616 aircraft. More than 78,000 such transfers were reported for 2013 alone. As the White House admitted in a recent report, programs like 1033 “do not necessarily foster or require civil rights/civil liberties training,” and “generally lack mechanisms to hold [law enforcement] accountable for the misuse or misapplication of equipment.”

The DHS has an even more expansive mandate to deliver the militarized goods to local law enforcement by way of its Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP). In 2014 alone, the HSGP gave out over $1 billion in grant funding, with special provisions for “high-threat, high-density urban areas.” The list of DHS-authorized equipment provided to local police departments includes everything from Bearcats and helicopters to battle dress uniforms, body armor, ballistic helmets, and shields. Other agencies, like the Bureau of Justice Assistance (the funding arm of the Department of Justice), dole out hundreds of millions of dollars annually to police departments -- about 10% of which goes toward controlled equipment like armored vehicles, explosive devices, firearms, and “less-lethal” weapons like tear gas and TASERs.

This scenario has made for some lucrative investment opportunities. In the wake of the Baltimore riots, TASER International has seen its stock price spike.  One market report noted that as “unrest spreads [and] as these issues continue to boil to the surface, investors are betting that will lead to more sales and profits.” After all, the market for less-lethal weapons alone is expected to more than double in the next five years, while the broader market for what are now called “homeland security products”is projected to grow to more than $107 billion by the year 2020.

Today, private arms developers are perfecting a new generation of “less-lethal” weapons: that is, weapons designed to incapacitate their targets but with a lower likelihood of fatalities. The latest model is known as the “Bozo bullet” for reportedly looking like a clown’s nose, and is currently undergoing its first test run in -- you guessed it -- Ferguson.  It would allow the police to repurpose their service weapons at will, docking the “Bozo” on the barrel of a normal handgun to deliver a “less-lethal” payload. But critics argue that, by disarming the ordinary bullet of its psychological impact, such equipment will encourage police officers to reach for their guns more quickly and so serve to make the use of force more likely.

Meanwhile, peace officers in the thick of recent protests seem to be reaching for those guns ever more quickly, no matter how lethal the payload. At a December demonstration in downtown Oakland, California, an undercover officer was, for instance, photographed pointing a pistol at unarmed demonstrators. At a February march in Manhattan, a Port Authority officer was caught on video cocking a shotgun and asking protesters, “Are you scared?” In Los Angeles last summer, an officer with the Federal Protective Service, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security tasked with policing federal government facilities, admitted to actually opening fire with a handgun on a truck full of pro-Palestinian protesters.

3. Wage Wave Warfare.

Long-range acoustic devices (LRADs), also known as “sound cannons,” have been on American streets in times of protest since the Republican National Convention in 2004. Though the machine is capable of transmitting tones that can cause excruciating pain, until recently, its use against civilians had been limited to communicating police orders at a distance. That changed last year, when the LRAD’s “sound deterrent feature” -- originally designed for military use against “enemy combatants” in the Persian Gulf -- was deployed as an “area denial device” against protesters, first in the streets of Ferguson, then in the streets of Manhattan.

The sound cannon works as a form of wave warfare, concentrating and directing acoustic energy at a volume of up to 152 decibels. Even the NYPD’s own Disorder Control Unit has acknowledged that it can “propel piercing sound at higher levels than are considered safe to human ears.” It can also cause those subjected to it permanent hearing damage.

And this is just considered a beginning in what might be thought of as the domestic sensory wars.  Novel forms of wave warfare are currently under development by the Pentagon’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program. One such innovation, known as “Active Denial Technology,” works much like a microwave oven -- with the waves directed at the skin of a target to produce an “intolerable heating sensation.” A more portable version of this technology, branded the Assault Intervention System and sold by defense contractor Raytheon, has already been made available for domestic deployment in Los Angeles County.

Another innovation, known as “Skunk,” is a type of stink bomb that has been described by those in the know as an irresistible combination of “dead animal and human excrement.” In response to recent urban uprisings, police departments across the country are reported to be eagerly stockpiling the stuff. “We’ve provided some Skunk for the law enforcement agencies in Ferguson,” says Stephen Rust, program manager at a Maryland-based company that manufactures the malodorant. “I’m going to be able to drill [a target] with a round while I put him in the dirt. I can mark him with Skunk and he will be easy to locate when the crowd disperses.”

4. Replace Humans with Robots and Predictive Technology.

Increasingly, law enforcement is moving to replace human “deterrence” with robotic versions of the same -- remotely piloted aircraft, remotely operated vehicles, and other robotic platforms are to become domestic standbys in support of police surveillance missions and SWAT operations. Such platforms have been deployed, on the ground and in the air domestically, to conduct routine surveillance of protest activity, while in other countries they are already being weaponized with pepper spray and other projectiles.

From 2012 to 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration considered requests from at least 19 police and sheriff’s departments, as well as National Guard units in nine states, to fly drones in domestic airspace. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) recently acquired two Draganflyer X6 drones for use during large protests and other “tactical events.” And while the NYPD has refused to release any documents on its own drone program, officials have stated that they are “supportive of the concept of drones, not only for police but for public safety in general,” and that they are currently looking into “what’s on the market, what’s available.”

Support for such surveillance is on the rise. DHS has made millions of dollars available annually for “forward-looking” police forces to procure the latest robotic systems, along with “software upgrades, engine upgrades, arms, drive systems, range extenders, trailers, etc.” Also included is “surveillance/detection” equipment in which drone technology may be integrated with audiovisual systemsand with “optics capable of use in long-range, sometimes long-term, observation."

In recent years, a new frontier has opened up with the advent of “predictive policing” (or “PredPol,” in industry parlance), which aims to use big data and complex algorithms to forecast when and where a crime is likely to be committed, and who might be a likely culprit. The practice started out as a project of the Army Research Office (a centralized science laboratory under the purview of the Pentagon), was converted to civilian use by Bill Bratton during his tenure as commissioner of the LAPD, and has since spread to over 150 departments nationwide.

Take the NYPD. In the immediate aftermath of the Occupy protests, the department entered into an unprecedented partnership with Microsoft to develop a predictive policing technology known as the Domain Awareness System. It “aggregates and analyzes existing public safety data streams in real time,” drawn from thousands of closed-circuit television cameras, license plate readers, and criminal history databases, and is intended to give intelligence analysts “a comprehensive view of potential threats.” Though we don’t yet know the extent to which it has been deployed during protests, we do know that Domain Awareness Systems have been popping up in protest hubs around the country, including Baltimore, Chicago, and Oakland.

5. Make “Friends” and “Follow” People.

Considered “open source intelligence” (or “OSINT”), social media networks like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have proven veritable gold mines for intelligence analysts attempting to track protest events in real time. They have also provided police detectives with a rationale to question individual protesters about their political activities.

Just last week, we learned that amid the protests in New York City following the acquittal of the officers who killed Eric Garner, at least 11 arrestees were interrogated in this manner prior to their release from police headquarters, including several who were asked explicitly about their online activities on social media sites. As Deputy Commissioner Lawrence Byrne tells it, when detectives started seeing threats on social media, “The Detective Bureau began a process of interviewing defendants arrested during the protests... in an attempt to obtain information about the specific acts... as well as the general threat environment relating to such acts.”

Since 2012, the NYPD’s Intelligence Division has officially encouraged its employees to engage in “catfishing” on social media sites “for investigative or research purposes,” which, with the permission of police brass, may include “investigations involving political activity.” Increasingly, such catfishing has become common practice among police and private security forces nationwide. In Bloomington, Minnesota, for example, intelligence analysts working for the Mall of America’s Risk Assessment and Mitigation unit and in conjunction with members of the local Joint Terrorism Task Force (a collaborative intelligence operation anchored by the FBI) reportedly used fake Facebook accounts to build dossiers on at least 10 area activists.  This was ahead of a protest on police accountability (or the lack of it) slated to take place on Mall of America property.

The Department of Homeland Security, for its part, continues to develop its Media Monitoring Capability to impressive effect, “leveraging news stories, media reports and postings on social media sites... for operationally relevant data, information, analysis, and imagery” including “partisan or agenda-driven sites” as well as those that “reflect adversely on DHS.” Many of the nation’s “fusion centers,” set up in the aftermath of 9/11 to encourage collaboration among intelligence agencies, have partnered with social media sites to monitor Occupy-style activism. “Such websites can provide crucial information during civil unrest,” notes Dale Peet, a veteran of Michigan’s statewide fusion center and now an employee of SAS, a private firm that performs social media analytics for the state.

And that’s only a beginning when it comes to social media surveillance.  Its future is already being written in the labs of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), the national intelligence community’s blue-skies research arm. One recent project seeks to match online and offline “behavioral indicators,” including “ideology or worldview.” Another extracts geolocation information from posts, photos, and videos that users might prefer to keep private. Yet another, known as Open Source Indicators, analyzes social media data to “anticipate and/or detect significant societal events, such as political crises [and] riots.” The project’s goal, in the words of its true believers, is ultimately to “beat the news,” giving the government new leverage over alleged enemies of the state.

What we are seeing in the dark corners of cyberspace is of a piece with what we are seeing in the streets of our cities: the leading edge of a new age of domestic counterinsurgency. From black sites to Bearcats, sound cannons to stink bombs, drones to data mining, the component parts of a new police counterinsurgency program are being assembled with remarkable speed. While the basic architecture of this program has been in place ever since 9/11, it is being built up in new and ever more sophisticated ways. The point of all of this: to keep an eye on our posts and tweets, intimidate protesters before they hit the streets, pen them in on those streets, and ensure that they pay a heavy price for exercising their right to assemble and speak. The message is loud and clear in twenty-first-century America: protest at your peril.

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News Tue, 05 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
On the News With Thom Hartmann: Researchers May Have Created a Solution to the Global Lack of Drinking Water, and More http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30611-on-the-news-with-thom-hartmann-researchers-may-have-created-a-solution-to-the-global-lack-of-drinking-water-and-more http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30611-on-the-news-with-thom-hartmann-researchers-may-have-created-a-solution-to-the-global-lack-of-drinking-water-and-more

In today's On the News segment: A team of MIT researchers may have solved one of our world's biggest problems - access to clean drinking water; a once-booming city disappeared into the ocean, but there's an important lesson to be learned from Bayocean, Oregon, that's still valuable today; scientists warn of the serious threats our nation will face because of a decline in science spending; and more.

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

TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here - on the best of the rest of Science and Green news ...

You need to know this. If you've never heard of the city of Bayocean, Oregon, you're probably not alone. By 1960, the last home in that once-booming city disappeared into the ocean, but there's an important lesson to be learned from Bayocean that's still valuable today. If we don't learn to work with our planet, and restore balance to our environment, it's only a matter of time before another city is swallowed up by the sea. Established in 1906, Bayocean, Oregon, was envisioned to be the "Atlantic City of the west," and at one time it contained a hotel, a dance hall, and numerous homes. Before long, residents grew concerned about having to cross the treacherous Columbia River to reach Bayocean, and they began meddling with mother nature. In an effort to ensure safe travel to the city, residents demanded a protective jetty to calm the waters in Tillamook Bay, but their attempt to work against nature backfired. The Army Corp of Engineers explained to town residents that they would need two jetties to calm the bay, but residents only paid to build one. The new jetty changed the current, and started the slow destruction of Bayocean. Slowly, but surely, water began to wear away at the sand beneath the city, and made it more vulnerable to bad weather. By 1938, almost 60 homes had been washed away, and most residents had abandoned their once-booming city. By 1960, Bayocean had completely disappeared, and all that remained was the hard lesson. Instead of working with their environment, Bayocean residents tried to stand up to mother nature, and the result was tragic. If we don't learn from their mistakes, and start working with nature to restore our environment, we could be damning ourselves to the same fate. It will be difficult to undo the damage caused by a century of pumping carbon dioxide into our environment, but it can be done. And, our planet's natural systems can help make it possible. To find out more, check out GreenWorldRising.org.

You may think that people who rise with the sun are woken up by daylight, but it turns out that the color of the sky may have more impact on their biological clock. According to a new study published in the journal PLOS Biology, our neurons are more sensitive to changes in color than changes in brightness. The scientists studied the so-called "brain clock" of mice that were placed under an artificial sky. When the researchers only changed the brightness of the sky, not the color, the day-night cycle of the mice became completely misaligned. When they changed the color of the artificial sky to mimic dusk and dawn, the mice had a normal cycle. Timothy Brown, one of the researchers who worked on the study, said, "This is the first time that we've been able to test the theory that color affects our body clock in any mammal." Although it's unclear what implications this study has for us in the future, it is interesting to know that the color of our environment has such a large effect on our lives.

A team of MIT researchers may have solved one of our world's biggest problems – access to clean drinking water. The researchers teamed up with a US-based manufacturing company, and together they invented a solar-powered desalination system that can remove salt from 2,100 gallons of water in just 24 hours. David L. Chandler of MIT News explained the invention, which works by using solar panels to power an electrodialysis machine. In an article about the achievement, Chandler wrote, "Electrodialysis works by passing a stream of water between two electrodes with opposite charges. Because the salt dissolved in water consists of positive and negative ions, the electrodes pull the ions out of the water, leaving fresher water at the center of the flow." Although solar-powered desalination systems are nothing new, the MIT invention can make 90 percent of the water passed through it drinkable, compared to earlier systems that can only clean 40 to 60 percent of water. If this system is duplicated and expanded, it could literally change the lives of people all over the world.

In 1968, 10 percent of total government outlays went to science and research, but today we're only spending 3 percent on this important function. In a new report called, "The Future Postponed," a committee of scientists warns of the serious threats our nation will face because of this decline in science spending. The authors explained that the United States has cut the budgets of the National Institute of Health and other science agencies, while other nations are investing in science and scoring major achievements as a result. In other words, we're no longer leading the world in areas like space exploration, supercomputing, and medical research. And, our decline in those areas has real-world effects on our economy and national security. We can't sell the most innovative products if they're being invented in other nations, and we can't protect against cyber threats when other countries have more powerful computers. Just like education and infrastructure, we must invest in our nation to excel. If we want to continue to claim "American Exceptionalism," let's be exceptional at more than just cutting budgets.

And finally... If you've seen Jurassic Park, you know that the T. Rex was a meat eater, but scientists have recently discovered that one of its closest relatives preferred a vegetarian fare. The newly-discovered species of dinosaur is a member of the theropod group, which is mostly made up of carnivores, but it survived on a plant-based diet. The dinosaur was actually discovered by a seven-year old boy named Diego Suarez, while on an expedition with his geologist parents in Chile. In honor of his discovery, the new dinosaur was named Chilesaurus Diegosuarezi. The complete skeletons found at the site indicate that Chilesaurus walked on its hind legs like T. Rex, and it grew to over 10 feet long. However, the dinosaur had blunt fingers for hands and a beak-like snout similar to other herbivores. Thomas Carr of Carthage College in Wisconsin called the new species a "wonderful weirdo," and explained that we're still learning things about dinosaur evolution. And, we're learning that even in the Jurassic Era, you could still be big and strong without eating meat.

And that's the way it is for the week of May 4, 2015 – I'm Thom Hartmann, on Science and Green News.

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News Tue, 05 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Europe's Border Policy Is Designed to Push Refugees Into the Sea http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30610-europe-s-border-policy-is-designed-to-push-refugees-into-the-sea http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30610-europe-s-border-policy-is-designed-to-push-refugees-into-the-sea

Shortly before a huge migrant boat disaster early this month, The Sun, a daily paper owned by Rupert Murdoch, published a column by British TV star and rightwing provocateur Katie Hopkins calling migrants "cockroaches" and "a plague of feral humans." 

Not long after it went to press, as many as 850 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean when their wooden fishing boat capsized about sixty miles off the coast of Italy. Days earlier, 400 refugees had drowned. The death toll this year has already reached 1,780, a more than 50-fold increase from the same time last year. The death toll is projected to rise further during the warmer seasons.

Given the timing, Hopkins' genocidal language generated a great deal of attention and outrage, including a denunciation from Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, who likened her vitriol to Nazi propaganda against Jews in the lead up to the Holocaust.

Largely unnoticed amid the uproar was the fact that Hopkins' proposed solution — to "bring on the gunships, force migrants back to their shores and burn the boats" — is precisely what Europe's supposedly "enlightened" liberals have chosen to do. 

In response to the crisis, European Union leaders have agreed to launch military operations against smugglers in Libya using Apache helicopter gunships, to send nearly all migrants who survive the journey back to where they fled and to destroy the boats before they set sail to Europe. 

The EU also plans to outsource its border patrol operations to security forces in Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Mali and Niger to prevent refugees from reaching the Mediterranean coast, further restricting their freedom of movement and ability to escape persecution and possibly deporting them back to their places of origin, which include Syria, South Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Afghanistan and the Gaza Strip. 

Death as deterrence 

As Europe scrambles to respond to worldwide outrage spurred by this latest migrant boat catastrophe, it has placed the blame squarely on the smugglers. 

There is no doubt that the human traffickers have engaged in murderous exploitation of refugees. In September, smugglers deliberately sank a boat, killing some 500 people, almost all of whom were Palestinians from Gaza. However, shifting all the blame onto smugglers deflects from Europe's own culpability.

Smugglers are merely a symptom of Europe's deadly border policies. 

Over the last decade, the EU has deliberately sealed its land borders, effectively pushing refugees to use deadly sea routes. 

The border between Spain and Morocco, one of just two land borders connecting Europe to Africa, is sealed by fence that is seven yards high and reinforced with barbed wire. Though the fence hasn't stopped people from trying to climb over it, the barbed wire tearing through their flesh in the process, those who manage to scale the fence alive are swiftly deported.

Bulgaria, which two decades ago celebrated the dismantling of a wall that caged people in, is building a wall at its border with Turkey to keep mostly Syrian refugees out. Bulgaria became a preferred route after the construction of a fence at the Turkey-Greece border for the same reason.

With land borders cut off, refugees, no less desperate for security, are predictably risking dangerous sea voyages on rickety vessels to reach safety. 

(US Border Patrol employs a similar policy of  "deterrence" at the US-Mexico border, where the wall funnels migrants into the most dangerous desert terrain, where many die of thirst on the perilous trek from Mexico to the US.)

Let them drown?

After nearly 400 African refugees died in the Mediterranean trying to reach the Sicilian island of Lampedusa in 2013, Italy launched Mare Nostrum, a navy search and rescue operation that saved 150,000 lives until it was scrapped in October 2014. 

The EU replaced Mare Nostrum with Operation Triton, which is overseen by Frontex, the European border management agency. Though the EU agreed to triple the budget of Triton in response to the latest mass drowning, the extra funding is unlikely to stem the deaths. Triton's mandate is surveillance and border protection, not search and rescue, and it only patrols up to thirty miles off the Italian coast. Even the head of Frontex stated that the agency's priority is not to rescue migrants

The British government explicitly refused to take part in any search and rescue operations, arguing, against all available evidence, that saving people encourages migrants to make the dangerous sea voyage. Britain's Home Office minister, James Brokenshire, insisted that halting rescue operations "at the earliest possible opportunity" would deter potential migrants from setting out on their voyages. (According to Frontex, the number of migrants increased 160 percent three months after Triton replaced Mare Nostrum.)

There are more refugees today fleeing war and persecution than at any time since the Second World War, according to the UN. The refugee crisis is largely isolated to the Global South due in no small part to the lasting impacts of colonialism and ongoing imperialism pursued by countries in the Global North. 

Meanwhile, the EU will only offer resettlement to 5,000 people who qualify for asylum, meaning the vast majority who survive the Mediterranean "will be sent back as irregular migrants under a new rapid-return program co-ordinated by the EU's border agency, Frontex," according to The Guardian. 

Such policies are reminiscent of the treatment of another group of persecuted refugees in the not-so-distant past. 

In the lead up to the Nazi Holocaust, Western nations not only placed quotas on Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution, but in some cases boats full of Jewish refugees were turned away. Such was the fate of the SS St. Louis, the infamous cruise liner carrying 900 German Jews who were denied entry in 1939 by Cuba, the United States and Canada, forcing them to sail back to Europe. More than 250 of those on board died at the hands of the Nazis. 

Today, Western leaders atone for their nations' complicity in the Holocaust with cheap pronouncements of "never again," declarations of unconditional support for Israel and a commitment to fight anti-Semitism and discrimination, all the while denying asylum to today's persecuted refugees. 

Cheap talk 

During his 26 April visit to Natzweiler-Struthof camp in Alsace, the only Nazi concentration camp on French soil, French President François Hollande warned, "The worst can still happen. Anti-Semitism and racism are still here." 

"We must not forget anything," he said. 

Just two days earlier, Hollande announced that he would be seeking a UN resolution to grant the EU authorization to destroy migrant boats before they set sail for Europe. 

The fact that most of today's refugees are Muslim provides an ideological imperative for blocking their entry into an increasingly Islamophobic Europe, with politicians stoking fears of Islamic terrorism and anti-Semitism to rationalize border cruelty. 

Indeed, Raymond Shamash, a member of the right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), explained to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that he is running for office to protect Jews from Muslim immigrants. 

"Most of the people coming over from Libya and Sudan and Somalia and Afghanistan do share one characteristic — that they are Muslims. I feel a demographic shift will make the position of the Jewish community untenable," said Shamash. 

UKIP leader Nigel Farage recently issued a similarly panicked warning, arguing that relaxing EU asylum policies would result in "a million Islamic extremists coming to our countries and posing a direct threat to our civilization." 

Likewise, Kent Ekerot, a member of the Swedish Democrats (SD), insists that anti-Semitism in Sweden is entirely "imported" due to "unrestricted immigration" of Arabs and Muslims, which he and his party fervently oppose.  

Rooted in fascism and the country's neo-Nazi movement, SD captured 13 percent of the vote in the last general election, making it the third most popular political party in Sweden. 

Israel's existence as an exclusionary settler state is deceptively justified on similar grounds — as a necessary response to the world's indifference to the Nazi genocide of European Jews. Meanwhile, Israel refuses to grant asylum to non-Jewish African refugees fleeing genocide in places like Eritrea and Sudan, preferring instead to round them up into detention and deport them. 

Openly referred to as "infiltrators" by Israeli government officials, Africans seeking asylum have — like Palestinians — been labeled a threat because they are not Jewish. Earlier this month it was discovered that three Eritreans who Israel deported were among those beheaded in Libya by Islamic State  (also known as ISIS) for not being Muslim. 

Israelis on social media rejoiced at the news, with some heaping praise on the killers. "It's a shame [Islamic State] doesn't catch them before they reach Israel," commented one Israeli. "Now we understand how to deal with the problem, bring here ISIS and they will take of the Eritreans and Palestinians," remarked another.

This is the hatred European leaders are endorsing when they exploit the Holocaust to justify Israeli apartheid. But European support for Israeli discrimination is more than just empty penance for the past. After all, Fortress Europe benefits from Israel's cruel policies of occupation and exclusion. 

Israeli technology created to make the control and removal of Palestinians more efficient may be procured by the EU to militarize the borders of Fortress Europe, as The Electronic Intifada's David Cronin has reported

As the Mediterranean Sea becomes a graveyard for refugees, it's more apparent than ever that Europe has learned all the wrong lessons from one of the darkest chapters in its history.

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Opinion Tue, 05 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
"Our Time Is Now": Baltimore State's Attorney Mosby Charges Six Baltimore Cops in Freddie Gray Death http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30609-our-time-is-now-baltimore-state-s-attorney-mosby-charges-six-baltimore-cops-in-freddie-gray-death http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30609-our-time-is-now-baltimore-state-s-attorney-mosby-charges-six-baltimore-cops-in-freddie-gray-death

Baltimore officials have lifted a 10 p.m. curfew and National Guard troops have begun to withdraw as peaceful protests continue over the death of Freddie Gray. On Friday, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced a range of charges against the six officers involved in Gray’s arrest and transport, including murder and manslaughter. Gray’s family says his voice box was crushed and his spine was "80 percent severed at his neck." Police said they arrested Gray for looking a lieutenant in the eye, then running away. We play excerpts from Mosby’s dramatic announcement, when she acknowledges protests calling for justice in the case and argues officers illegally arrested Gray without probable cause, then ignored his pleas for medical help. "To the youth of this city, I will seek justice on your behalf. This is a moment. This is your moment," Mosby says. "Let’s ensure that we have peaceful and productive rallies that will develop structural and systemic changes for generations to come. You’re at the forefront of this cause. And as young people, our time is now."

TRANSCRIPT:

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Baltimore, where officials have lifted a 10:00 p.m. curfew and National Guard troops have begun to withdraw as peaceful protests continue over the death of Freddie Gray. Gray’s family and attorney say his voice box was crushed, his spine was "80 percent severed at [his] neck," they say. This comes after Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby dramatically announced Friday she had filed charges against the six officers connected to Gray’s arrest and transport on April 12, saying they illegally arrested Gray without probable cause, then ignored his pleas for medical help.

MARILYN MOSBY: As the city’s chief prosecutor, I’ve been sworn to uphold justice and to treat every individual within the jurisdiction of Baltimore City equally and fairly under the law. I take this oath seriously, and I want the public to know that my administration is committed to creating a fair and equitable justice system for all, no matter what your occupation, your age, your race, your color or your creed. It is my job to examine and investigate the evidence of each case and apply those facts to the elements of a crime in order to make a determination as to whether individuals should be prosecuted. This is a tremendous responsibility, but one that I sought and accepted when the citizens of Baltimore City elected me as the state’s attorney. And it’s precisely what I did in the case of Freddie Gray.

Once alerted about this incident on April 13th, investigators from my police integrity unit were deployed to investigate the circumstances surrounding Mr. Gray’s apprehension. Over the course of our independent investigation in the untimely death of Mr. Gray, my team worked around the clock, 12- and 14-hour days, to canvas and interview dozens of witnesses, view numerous hours of video footage, repeatedly reviewed and listened to hours of police videotaped statements, surveyed the route, reviewed voluminous medical records, and we leveraged the information made available to us by the police department, the community and the family of Mr. Gray.

The findings of our comprehensive, thorough and independent investigation, coupled with the medical examiner’s determination that Mr. Gray’s death was a homicide, which we received today, has led us to believe that we have probable cause to file criminal charges. [...]

While each of these officers are presumed innocent until proven guilty, we have brought the following charges:

Officer Caesar Goodson is being charged with second-degree depraved-heart murder, involuntary manslaughter, second-degree negligent assault, manslaughter by vehicle by means of gross negligence, manslaughter by vehicle by means of criminal negligence, misconduct in office for failure to secure a prisoner, failure to render aid.

Officer William Porter is being charged with involuntary manslaughter, assault in the second degree, misconduct in office.

Lieutenant Brian Rice is being charged with involuntary manslaughter, assault in the second degree, assault in the second degree, misconduct in office, false imprisonment.

Officer Edward Nero is being charged with assault in the second degree, intentional; assault in the second degree, negligent; misconduct in office; false imprisonment.

Officer Garrett Miller is being charged with intentional assault in the second degree; assault in the second degree, negligent; misconduct in office; and false imprisonment.

Sergeant Alicia White is being charged with manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office. [...]

To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America, I heard your call for "no justice, no peace." Your peace is sincerely needed, as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man. To those that are angry, hurt or have their own experiences of injustice at the hands of police officers, I urge you to channel the energy peacefully as we prosecute this case. I have heard your calls for "no justice, no peace"; however, your peace is sincerely needed, as I work to deliver justice on behalf of Freddie Gray.

To the rank-and-file officers of the Baltimore City Police Department, please know that these accusations of these six officers are not an indictment on the entire force. I come from five generations of law enforcement. My father was an officer. My mother was an officer, several of my aunts and uncles. My recently departed and beloved grandfather was one of the founding members of the first black police organization in Massachusetts. I can tell you that the actions of these officers will not and should not, in any way, damage the important working relationships between police and prosecutors as we continue to fight together to reduce crime in Baltimore. Thank you for your courage, commitment and sacrifice for the betterment of our communities. [...]

Last, but certainly not least, to the youth of this city, I will seek justice on your behalf. This is a moment. This is your moment. Let’s ensure that we have peaceful and productive rallies that will develop structural and systemic changes for generations to come. You’re at the forefront of this cause. And as young people, our time is now.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby speaking on Friday. She’s the youngest state’s attorney of any major city in the United States. Police union officials are now calling for Mosby to appoint an independent prosecutor, saying her marriage to Baltimore City Councilmember Nick Mosby is a conflict of interest because his district includes the area where Gray was arrested. Marilyn Mosby addressed this during her news conference on Friday.

MARILYN MOSBY: I don’t see an appearance of conflict of interest. My husband is a public servant. He works on the legislative side. I am a prosecutor. I am also a public servant. I uphold the law. He makes the laws. And I will prosecute any case within my jurisdiction.

AMY GOODMAN: All six officers charged in Gray’s death have since posted bonds of $250,000 to $350,000. Meanwhile, Alan Bullock, one of the 18-year-olds who turned himself in for participating in the riots, is facing a bond of $500,000. His stepfather, Maurice Hawkins, and mother, Bobbi Smallwood, reacted to the amount in an interview with The Guardian.

MAURICE HAWKINS: That’s my son on top of the police car with the cone in his hand, hitting the window. We don’t condone that, and we believe in peace. I just want justice to be held and not to be—you know, him looked at as a career criminal or a thug.

BOBBI SMALLWOOD: My son, he’s not a evil child. I mean, he’s not somebody that go around and just hurt people. He’s really not. He was really upset about them police who’s just walking free. You gave my son a half-a-million-dollar bail for breaking a police window, and you gave these cops nothing? Nothing for murder? That’s crazy. That’s crazy. That’s not fair.

MAURICE HAWKINS: That’s not justice.

BOBBI SMALLWOOD: That’s not fair.

AMY GOODMAN: Other protesters in Baltimore have seen their bonds set as high as $100,000 for disorderly conduct.

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News Tue, 05 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Bolivia: 15 Years After the Cochabamba Water Revolt, Echoes in New Cases of Corporate Abuse http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30608-bolivia-15-years-after-the-cochabamba-water-revolt-echoes-in-new-cases-of-corporate-abuse http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30608-bolivia-15-years-after-the-cochabamba-water-revolt-echoes-in-new-cases-of-corporate-abuse

Fifteen years ago this month the people of Cochabamba, Bolivia were victorious in their now-famous showdown with one of the most powerful multinational corporations in the world, in what has come to be known as the Cochabamba Water Revolt. The attempt by the US Engineering giant Bechtel to privatize the city’s water supply backfired spectacularly when the people of Cochabamba faced down government forces to kick the multinational out of the country and to reclaim their rights to one of the most basic human necessities on the planet.

For people the world over, this stunning popular victory over corporate hubris in the Andes not only continues to inspire hope that another world is indeed possible; it also shines an urgent light on three fundamentals in the ongoing wider battle against the abuses of corporate power in South America: how the road is paved to allow foreign corporations to seize control of the continent's forests, waters and territories; the damages they inflict when they get there; and how communities are fighting back against a deepening transnational assault on their resources and on their sovereignty.

For Bechtel, the road into Bolivia and its water systems was paved by Washington Consensus-inspired loan conditionalities. In the late 1990s the World Bank told Bolivia to privatize Cochabamba’s Water as a condition of further lending for water expansion. In 1999, the Bolivian government agreed and signed a lavish forty-year lease with a mysterious Bechtel subsidiary that wasted no time in hiking up the cost of water. Rates rose by 50% and sometimes by as much as double. The result for ordinary Cochabambinos was devastating, with many families being forced to choose between such basics as water or food. People from across the department responded with unified indignation, three times shutting down the entire city with blockades, marches, and general strikes. Despite heavy state repression that left one teenage boy dead and hundreds more injured, the people succeeded in kicking Bechtel out of the country, reclaiming their water supply and achieving a powerful victory that still resonates globally today.

Fast forward to South America 2015. These same fundamental themes of foreign corporate dominance and resistance are echoed across three current cases involving powerful European multinationals, profiled in a recent report, Corporate Conquistadors, from the Democracy Center, Corporate Europe Observatory and Transnational Institute. In Peru, Spanish Repsol is threatening not only the sovereignty but the very existence of local indigenous communities, as it pushes ever deeper into fragile Amazonian ecosystems in the insatiable quest to expand its reserves of oil and gas. To the south of Peru, in the region of Espinar, Swiss Commodities and Mining conglomerate Glencore Xstrata is bulldozing over human rights as local community members share testimonies of  already scarce water supplies being destroyed by its twin mega mining projects, Tintaya and Antapaccay. Finally, Italo-Spanish energy giant Enel-Endesa is set to flood some 8,500 hectares of vitally important agricultural lands in Huila, Colombia where it is constructing a 400MW dam to generate cheap energy - either for export or to set in motion a new wave of mega mining and unconventional gas operations.

Fifteen years after Bolivia's water revolt, the leveraging power of loan conditionalities has given way to a popular myth among conservative governments in the region that securing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is the cornerstone of economic development, regardless of the cost. Just as powers from the Global North are in a frantic scramble to control natural resources, national governments across Latin America are competing to woo investors. Combined with this corporate resource grab is a deeper ideological and political assault that allows multinationals to consolidate ever greater powers over governments already weakened by decades of neoliberal policy prescriptions. In Peru, these dynamics are clear to see: both Repsol and Glencore Xstrata have been directly implicated in an intense industry-led push for widespread deregulation of crucial environmental protections in favour of unfettered extractivism - demands that were dutifully taken up by policymakers in 2014's highly controversial “paquetazo” of reforms. Meanwhile in Colombia, Enel-Endesa was able to use the government's much vaunted promise to uphold “investor confidence” as a weapon against it, pressuring on three separate occasions for weaker commitments to affected communities, in a licence process that already reeks of corporate impunity.

Over and over again, the premise that giving away natural resources is a doorway to a better life has proven devastatingly false. In Peru, indigenous peoples who have inhabited the Amazon for more generations than are countable are seeing their traditional ways of life being decimated in just a few short decades as rapid industrialisation and a series of toxic spills have impacted on their ability to hunt and fish. In the copper and iron rich region of Espinar, community members at the COP20 People's Summit in Lima told us how they are  being left destitute after heavy metals being leached into the water from Glencore Xstrata's mining operations are wiping out herds of livestock. This desolate story is repeated in Huila, where people  who fought for their land rights during the peasant uprisings of the 1970s are now being violently evicted to clear space for Enel-Endesa's megadam project. Like Bechtel fifteen years earlier, both Glencore Xstrata and Enel-Endesa have benefited from the repressive use of state forces against civilians in asserting their government-assisted “rights” over precious raw materials.

And again, as in Cochabamba, ordinary people are undertaking extraordinary actions to reject a model of “development” imposed by foreign investors in connivance with national governments. In Huila, the Association of Peoples Affected by the Quimbo Dam (ASOQUIMBO), in their effort to  shut down Enel-Endesa's operations, has been engaging in strike actions, occupations and resistance to evictions that have succeeded in delaying the project by over a year, pushing it far over budget. Strike action has also been brought to bear on Glencore Xstrata's mining operations in Espinar. In May 2012 the “United Front in Defence of Espinar's Interests” (FUDIE) was met with police violence that claimed the lives of two civilians. Undeterred, many of those living under the shadows of the Tintaya and Antapaccay mines, including the region's former mayor, are continuing to challenge Glencore Xstrata despite being pressed with heavy criminal charges and facing decades in prison. As in Espinar, there have been calls of foul play from the Awajún community in the Amazon where Repsol has been accused of infiltrating movements in a bid to divide and weaken any resistance.

There is one facet in all this that is markedly different than in Cochabamba fifteen years ago: the accelerating climate crisis and the ways in which these new cases exacerbate its impacts. Repsol's relentless bingeing on fossil fuels is taking it to increasingly fragile frontiers in oil and gas exploration, setting in motion a slow industrial genocide for indigenous peoples living in the Peruvian Amazon. Glencore Xstrata is pushing communities in Espinar into greater climate vulnerability with its industrial appetite for water resources already stressed by climate-induced glacial melt. Enel-Endesa's rainforest-destroying, methane-belching hydroelectric dam, El Quimbo, is set to kickstart Colombia's own climate-wrecking fracking industry. Although wrapped in carefully crafted greenwash and invoking the myth of Corporate Social Responsibility, each of these multinationals are emblematic of how corporate activities are not only eroding social justice on the ground in South America but are also simultaneously driving climate change, with devastating consequences the world over.

In the aftermath of Cochabamba Revolt, Bechtel fought back with a US$50 million legal assault against Bolivia in a World Bank trade court (seeking not only return of its tiny investment but 'lost future profits').  Bechtel lost the legal battle as well, the result of a global citizen effort that joined people across continents in collective action. Today's local resistance movements in Peru and Colombia also need international solidarity. To match a globalized neoliberalism, one local activist resisting the Quimbo dam pointed to “a globalization of solidarity”, connecting people across borders to confront a transnational enemy. The ever-louder rumblings and outbursts of a climate in crisis serve as a stark reminder that this kind of international activism, built on links of genuine solidarity, is not only strategic – but vital. As the students, factory workers and farmers holding blockades fifteen years ago would have said, Jallalla Cochabamba!

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News Tue, 05 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
What Conditions Gave Rise to the Baltimore Uprising? http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30607-what-conditions-gave-rise-to-the-baltimore-uprising http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30607-what-conditions-gave-rise-to-the-baltimore-uprising

See The Real News Network's website for both earlier in-depth reporting and current coverage of events in Baltimore, where The Real News Network studios are located.

Community activists Marisela Gomez, Kimberly Ellis and Shaquayah McKenzie discuss the conversations in the media about Black life and Baltimore.

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News Tue, 05 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Jen Sorensen | Invading Texas http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/30606-jen-sorensen-invading-texas http://www.truth-out.org/art/item/30606-jen-sorensen-invading-texas ]]> Art Tue, 05 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400 Maiming the IRS: What Are Those Wily Republicans Up to Now? http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30605-maiming-the-irs-what-are-those-wily-republicans-up-to-now http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/30605-maiming-the-irs-what-are-those-wily-republicans-up-to-now

The IRS is the agency Americans love to hate. For generations it's been lambasted in songs and served as low hanging fruit for comedians. It's workforce, which is about two thirds women, generally work in nondescript offices to avoid attack by terrorists such as Andrew Joseph Stack, the Oklahoman suicide pilot who in 2010 flew his plane into the side of a building housing an IRS field office, murdering one worker and injuring 13 others. Stack died on the spot, but newly empowered Republicans soon took the anti-IRS fight to congress. Since Stack's attack, Congress cut the agency's budget by about ten percent, forcing what so-far has been a four-year agency-wide hiring freeze and overall 11 percent reduction in workers—at a time when implementation of the Affordable Care Act has been increasing the agency's workload.

While many pundits, I'm guessing with no affiliation with any of the victims of Stark's attack, have downplayed the incident, writing it off as a manifestation of mental illness caused by the stress of a difficult tax collection odyssey, it's not so easy to explain what the House Republicans are up to. They usually polish their mayhem with tropes about cutting government waste. But cutting IRS funding reduces the government's ability to effectively collect revenue, thus, like tax cuts for the rich, undermining deficit reduction, in opposition to the Republican Party's signature deficit fighting rhetoric.

"The IRS Sucks"

Four years of these cuts, layoffs and attrition, coupled with new tax reporting mandates associated with the Affordable Care Act and new regulations cracking down on international tax havens, have pushed the IRS over the edge. This tax season, 60 percent of taxpayer phone calls to the IRS help line never got through. That's over eight million people who got hung up on. Of those who did get through, they spent an average of a half hour on hold before reaching a human. Some facilities, such as one in Philadelphia that handles questions about international filing requirements, have lost two thirds of their workers.

Compounding the issue is a loss of lower paid clerical workers, who cannot be replaced due to the hiring freeze. This clerical workload lands on the desks of more highly trained and paid specialists, further cutting efficiency of the agency while destroying morale and adding to the stress load of already overburdened IRS employees, driving many away from the agency, exacerbating budget cuts with a brain drain.

If the hiring freeze is ever lifted, it will be difficult to recruit qualified candidates to work in this hellhole. Bloomberg Businessweek sums this up with a recent magazine cover. It shows a woman sitting at a desk literally surrounded with multi-foot tall stacks of papers and files. The bold 100+ point cover text states, "The IRS Sucks." The subhead reads, "If you think paying your taxes is bad, try working at America's most unloved agency."

It's awful to be working at the IRS, and it's awful to be dealing with the IRS. This is not simply fallout from Republican idiocy. To the contrary, it's the Republican game plan. GOP presidential hopeful, Ted Cruz, summed up his party's stance, albeit more bluntly and more honestly than some of his counterparts. Last month, in announcing his candidacy, he promised to abolish the IRS—with his signature wacky angle being a vow to reassign its legion of auditors, accountants, secretaries and investigators to Border Patrol duty.

The Cruz plan abolishes not only the IRS, but the whole concept of a progressive tax system where the wealthy are taxed at a higher rate than poor, working and middle class folks. In its place he proposes one flat tax rate, raising taxes on those who can least afford to pay them, while dramatically cutting taxes even further on the richest Americans—essentially a bad deal for the 99 percent, and a great deal for the top one tenth of the top one percent. Follow the money. These are the folks who own Congress.

Wrecking the Tax System

Wrecking the tax system has long been a goal of the Republican Party. The long game comes down to cutting taxes for their benefactors and masters, but more importantly, destroying government's ability to function by destroying its ability to raise money to pay its bills. Government agencies that have become artificially cash-strapped despite a growing economy are forced by this Republican engineered austerity to decimate their own ability to provide the basic social functions they exist to provide, such as education, health care and physical infrastructure.

These public service areas represent sectors of our economy that generally operate outside of the greed/profit model. Republican strategy strives to bankrupt government, thus placing these sectors under private control with corporations plundering their riches in the same way carpetbaggers plunder conquered lands. Decimating government ability to protect the environment and financial system from corporate plunder is an added plus for their handlers. This is the Republican end-game. Bankrupt accountable government by any means, then put the people back under the thumb of the party's masters.

The Republicans have been fighting this fight since the New Deal. They can't quite win it and crush all that is good in government because things like Social Security, public education, environmental protection, financial regulations and free public roads are popular. They can't fight on the issues. And they know that. So instead, Republicans dance around who they are and who they represent, running a virtual factory that manufactures tropes and memes, vapid and devoid of any empirical argument, all in a quest to connect with the most banal rot within the American psyche, tapping into deep seated hatred and fear. Our targets become each other, and a carefully a structured Republican concept of enemies—one that never includes our day to day oppressors.

In this meme war, the IRS shows up as a vulnerable link in a social system that Republicans want to disrupt and ultimately disembowel. Overall, the IRS's function of taking money from the greedy sociopathic rich and using it to support basic services for the people who work to keep society running, is a popular function—even as the rich game tax codes toward their own ends. But the IRS takes money from most everyone else as well, making it ideal fodder for contempt. It's easy to paint the people who have the power to seize your savings as jackbooted thugs, and at its worst, the IRS has played this part well. Most people fear and loath the concept of "the taxman," gender inaccurate as it generally is.

Red Meat

Central casting couldn't come up with a better villain than the IRS. Cut its funding, thus making the unpleasant duty of paying taxes and dealing with the IRS even more unpleasant and frustrating, and presto—Republicans can rally working people in support of the anti-tax interests of the greedy rich.

The end result is exemplified in Tea Partyers, some who barely pay taxes themselves, but troll the Internet screaming to abolish estate taxes on multi-million dollar inheritances. Their loyalty is rewarded with some swag and a false notion of comradery with the gentry. Shared hatred of the IRS is the glue that holds this unnatural bond together. Eight million people being hung up upon when they call the IRS for assistance, helps move to ball to a day when there is no IRS—when Ted Cruz is president and IRS auditors and secretaries patrol the wildernesses of northern Minnesota gunning for migrating Canadians.

Right on cue, the same Republicans who defunded the IRS and caused this year's tax mayhem, are stepping in to maul the victim—and doing it on the public dime. The Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee commissioned a "Majority Report" entitled, "Doing Less With Less: IRS's Spending Decisions Harm Taxpayers." They condemn the IRS for spending $1.2 billion, with another $500million budgeted for this year, on costs associated with implementing the Affordable Care Act, as mandated by congress.

House of Idiots

The report just throws these numbers out there like red meat, as if the IRS, and not the congress, created the law. Not executing the tax requirements of the law would be in contempt of congress. Yet this idiocy, blaming the IRS for doing its job, is front and center in the House report, documenting only how intellectually bankrupt the congress has become.

The report contextualizes spending money to administer IRS obligations related to the Affordable Care Act as the IRS "deliberately" cutting spending for customer service. A portion of the Affordable Care Act obligation is tied to enforcing the individual insurance mandate, which began life as a Republican provision and was included in the GOP Romneycare plan, instituted in Massachusetts and essentially plagiarized by the Obama administration in a failed effort to get Republican support for universal healthcare. This hypocrisy knows no bounds. Add that $1.7 billion in new Affordable Care Act obligations to the $1.2 billion in congressional cuts and you can really see how congress has undermined IRS operations.

Though it seems disjointed from the issue at hand, the report also references Republican allegations that the IRS specifically targeted Tea Party and other right wing organizations for audits. Congressional Republicans, while cutting IRS funding, spent $20 million dollars investigating such allegations, only to hit a $20 million dead end. The IRS, for better or worse, was also routinely investigating groups across the political spectrum, including liberal and left groups who claimed not-for-profit status while seeming to engage in political advocacy in violation of their tax exempt status. The final chapter of that story seemed to have escaped mention in the House report, just like it did in much of the corporate media. The report goes on for 14 pages, chastising the IRS for not hiring outside collection agencies, while simultaneous chastising them for hiring outside counsel.

This whole IRS debacle has the stink of a set-up. While the IRS seems like the victim, the GOP's long game condemns us all.

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Opinion Tue, 05 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
"The Army Knew": New Investigation Unravels Mexican Government Account of How 43 Students Disappeared http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30604-the-army-knew-new-investigation-unravels-mexican-government-account-of-how-43-students-disappeared http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/30604-the-army-knew-new-investigation-unravels-mexican-government-account-of-how-43-students-disappeared

An explosive new investigation published by The Intercept reveals the untold story of how 43 students disappeared in Mexico on the night of September 26, 2014. It is based on more than two dozen interviews with survivors of the attacks and family members of the disappeared, as well as Mexican historians, human rights activists and journalists. The Intercept also reviewed official Mexican state and federal records including communication logs by security forces and sealed testimony from municipal police officers and gang members. The evidence shows repeated inconsistencies and omissions in the government’s account of what happened when the students went missing. We speak with Ryan Devereaux, staff reporter at The Intercept and author of the two-part investigation, "Ghosts of Iguala."

TRANSCRIPT:

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to an explosive new investigation called "Ghosts of Iguala," which tells the untold story of how 43 students disappeared in Mexico. The six-month investigation by Ryan Devereaux for The Intercept is based on more than two dozen interviews with survivors of the attacks and family members of the disappeared, as well as Mexican historians, human rights activists and journalists. The Intercept also reviewed official Mexican state and federal records, including communication logs by security forces and sealed testimony from municipal police officers and gang members. The evidence apparently shows repeated inconsistencies, obfuscations and omissions in the government’s account of what happened on that night of September 26, 2014, when the students went missing.

For more, we’re joined by Ryan Devereaux, staff reporter for The Intercept, his two-part investigation, "Ghosts of Iguala."

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Ryan. So you spent last November in Mexico, and you’ve been researching this for many months. What is the latest information on what these parents desperately fear but do not believe at this point that the students, the 43 students, are dead?

RYAN DEVEREAUX: Well, the latest sort of official statement coming out of the federal government in Mexico, the last major sort of turn of events in the case, was in January, when the federal government declared that they had arrived at their legal certainty regarding the students’ fate—namely, that the students were taken by municipal police, handed over to a gang and then incinerated in a trash pit outside of a small town named Cocula. They said that this was the historical truth. And this historical truth was based on testimony provided by detained gangsters, who said that they took part in the events. And there are numerous reasons to question this account that the government has delivered. The Argentine team of investigators that the parents have brought on are continuing their investigation, but the government, the federal government, has worked very hard to effectively say that this case is closed, that they know what happened, but there are all sorts of reasons to question that.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, it has been said that one set of remains were found of one of the students?

RYAN DEVEREAUX: That’s true. One of the students, Alexander Mora Venancio, his remains were recovered, and that was confirmed by the independent Argentine investigators, the team that works with the parents. But it should be pointed out the Argentine team wasn’t present when the federal government recovered those remains in the area near Cocula in the trash pit, where the government says the students were incinerated. In other words, there has been no independent confirmation that the remains were recovered in the area where the government says they were recovered, and, furthermore, that Mora Venancio died in the way that the government described. The government says that because they discovered these remains, that means that the narrative provided by their detainees is true and that the other 42 students shared his supposed fate. And to date, there’s no evidence to indicate that’s true.

AMY GOODMAN: So, take us through the official account of what happened. And what were the key findings in your investigation, Ryan?

RYAN DEVEREAUX: So, according to the government’s account, the students arrived in Iguala on the night of September 26, and there was a confrontation with municipal police. The local mayor, his wife was having an event that night that a lot of people in the area sort of believed was an unofficial kick-off of her campaign to replace him in office, and the mayor supposedly was concerned that the students were going to disrupt this event. The students had been attempting to secure buses. That’s sort of what they do as sort of activist students. They commandeer buses and use them to travel around to observe rural school teachers at work—that’s what they’re all studying to become—and to go to protests. There was a large protest coming up in October, this past year, that the students were preparing for.

AMY GOODMAN: In Mexico City.

RYAN DEVEREAUX: In Mexico City. And this protest was going to sort of commemorate one of the darkest days in Mexican history. Sort of tragically, ironically, this was the massacre of student activists in 1968. So they were trying to get buses to attend this event. They end up in Iguala, and there’s a confrontation with the municipal police. Three of the buses that the students have are traveling through the center of the city, and two are heading out onto the highway. The police attempt to cut them off. There’s gunfire. The students believe initially that the officers are firing warning shots but soon learn that they’re actually shooting at the students. The majority of the students are taken in Iguala off of the third bus trying to make it through the city. The attacks spill over onto the highway. Students are attacked on the highway, removed from their bus. Another group of totally unarmed civilians, totally unrelated to everything that was going on, a team of semi-professional soccer players, is also attacked by gunmen on the highway. A number of people are killed. By the time the sun comes up the next day, you have dead bodies in three locations. You have students killed at the intersection. You have bystanders killed on the highway. And you have one student, Julio César Mondragón, who’s found in a dirt lot not far from the scene of the attacks. His face has been cut off. His ears have been cut off. His eyes have been removed. It’s a truly gruesome crime.

The government says that once the students were taken, they were handed over to local gangsters, where they were driven out to a trash pit outside of a small town near Cocula. The government claims that the remaining students, those who hadn’t suffocated on the way out to the pit, were interrogated about their presence in Iguala that night and then executed one by one. They were thrown into a pit, a pyre was made out of their bodies, and they were incinerated over the course of something between 12 and 15 hours. Their remains were smashed to dust, loaded into trash bags and tossed into a nearby river. The government claims that it recovered remains from those bags. And those remains were sent to experts in Austria and examined. And it was through the examination of those remains that the government was able to announce its positive identification of the one student, Alexander Mora Venancio.

But, as I said, the Argentine investigators weren’t there when the federal government recovered those remains. And the Argentine investigators, in February, after the federal government announced its historical truth and legal certainty, issued a blistering report about the numerous forensic problems with the government’s case—its misidentification of DNA profiles, its breaking of the agreement with the Argentine team in going to the location in Cocula and gathering evidence independently without informing the Argentine team. And it should be said that this Argentine team is one of the most respected forensics teams in the world, and they don’t typically speak out on ongoing investigations. But they had so many problems with what the federal government has done in this case that they broke their silence in February.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the local mayor and his wife are ultimately arrested. They had fled, were found in Mexico City. The government says it was the combination of them working with local drug gangs. What indicates it goes higher?

RYAN DEVEREAUX: Well, the files that we revealed—or, that we reviewed, I should say, detail communications among security forces in the area. And these include communications that were sent to army, federal police, state police working in the area at the time. Through Mexico’s transparency law, earlier this year a small handful of journalists managed to get a hold of military records, logs from—logs and documents pertaining to the night in question. And those records show that the Mexican army knew full well of the students’ presence in the town that night. They were on the street patrolling. They intercepted students at a hospital, a sort of a medical clinic where they were attempting to get care. And so, the army, for sure, knew that the students were there that night. There were records of the students coming into Iguala before they got there, well before the—well before the shots were fired. And so, in cases of enforced disappearance, which is a sort of key question in this case—whether or not this was a case of enforced disappearance—you don’t need to have directly participated in taking students for an investigation to be triggered. State actors that have knowledge of a disappearance happening can be held accountable. And what the records that we have reviewed indicate is that the army certainly had some sense of what was going on that night.

AMY GOODMAN: And why, in this last two minutes that we have—why do you think it’s so important to bring this charge of enforced disappearance? What would it do? Who would be arrested?

RYAN DEVEREAUX: Well, we don’t know who would be arrested. What’s important is that the enforced disappearance investigation is opened, because that will lead us to who we can sort of place blame on. The enforced disappearance charge is key because under Mexican law, government is required to disclose public records of its investigation when evidence of grave human rights abuses, including enforced disappearance, emerges. So, if an enforced disappearance investigation is actually actively pursued, then we would have the possibility of learning more about what actually happened that night and potentially have the ability to understand how this all came to be.

AMY GOODMAN: And how does this relate to the U.S.-Mexico relationship and the enormous amount of money the U.S. gives to the Mexican government?

RYAN DEVEREAUX: Well, in the clips you played earlier, there was discussion about Peña Nieto and President Obama’s meeting in January. That was on January 7th. One day before, in the state of Michoacán neighboring Guerrero, at least 16 people were killed by federal police. It was the third state-sponsored massacre in less than a year. You have that case, you have Iguala, and then you have the Tlatlaya case earlier last year in which the army was accused of killing 22 innocent civilians. Those are three cases in the course of a single year, three different levels of Mexican security forces. The United States has sent billions of dollars to Mexico since the beginning of the so-called war on drugs in Mexico, and we have evidence of just tremendous systemic human rights abuses. And those need to be addressed in a real, substantive way in the United States, and they haven’t been so far.

AMY GOODMAN: Ryan Devereaux, we want to thank you for being with us. Of course, we’re going to link to your piece at The Intercept, new piece, "Ghosts of Iguala," in two parts [part one, part two].

That does it for our show. Congratulations to our director, Becca Staley, on the birth of her daughter, Reese Anne Staley, born May 1st, weighing seven pounds eight ounces. And a very happy birthday to—a landmark birthday for Denis Moynihan.

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