News Wed, 05 Aug 2015 06:28:47 -0400 en-gb Naomi Klein on Visiting the Vatican and the Radical Economic Message Behind Papal Climate Encyclical

Following the publication of Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change, a major conference on climate change was held at the Vatican. Speakers included our guest, Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. We speak to Klein about her trip to the Vatican and the importance of the pope's message - not only on climate change, but the global economy.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Naomi Klein, journalist, best-selling author. Her most recent book is This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, out today in paperback. A documentary film directed by Avi Lewis based on This Changes Everything will be released in the fall.

Naomi, you have recently returned from the Vatican. Can you describe that experience? What were you doing there?

NAOMI KLEIN: So I was there at a conference that was convened by Cardinal Peter Turkson. And Cardinal Peter Turkson is—has been doing a lot of the speaking on the encyclical. It wasn’t convened by Francis, just to set that record straight. It was convened by the Cardinal Turkson’s office and also by the organization representing Catholic development agencies. And it was part of the rollout for the climate change encyclical. The organizers described what they were doing as building a megaphone for the encyclical, because they understand that it’s words on a page unless there are groups of people around the world who are amplifying that message in various ways. So there were people from around the world.

There were people there, for instance, from Brazil, who were talking about how the movements there that have been fighting large dams, oil drilling, fighting for more just transit, are going to be putting huge resources behind popularizing the climate change encyclical, buying radio ads, producing videos, creating teaching materials for every chapter of the encyclical, and really using it as an organizing tool. That was one of the things I was really struck by while I was there, was just how ready particularly the movements in Latin America are to operationalize the encyclical, if you will.

And they also talked about not wanting it to be domesticated, was a phrase I heard a lot, domesticated by the church. You know, there’s a way in which you can just take this document that is, you know, almost 200 pages and just take out the safest parts of it—you know, "Oh, we’re against climate change, and we all need to kind of hold hands." But, in fact, if you read the document, it’s very clear in calling for a different economic model, and it’s a challenge to what Pope Francis calls our throwaway culture. So they want to make sure that the parts of the encyclical that really do represent the deepest challenge to our current economic system and represent the most hope for the people who are excluded from the benefits of that economic system are really highlighted.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, last month, Pope Francis went on a tour of South America in his first foreign trip after unveiling the historic encyclical urging climate action. In Ecuador, he reiterated his call for social justice and environmental preservation.

POPE FRANCIS: [translated] The goods of the Earth are meant for everyone. And however much someone may parade his property, it has a social mortgage. In this way, we move beyond purely economic justice, based on commerce, toward social justice, which upholds the fundamental human right to a dignified life. The tapping of natural resources, which are so abundant in Ecuador, must not be concerned with short-term benefits.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Pope Francis speaking in Ecuador. Naomi Klein, could you talk—you’ve mentioned in the past the significance of the pope’s origins in Argentina and the particular form that Catholicism took in Latin America. Could you talk about the significance of that and the kind of turn that you witnessed at the Vatican in the focus of this new pope and the church under his leadership?

NAOMI KLEIN: Sure, Nermeen. Yeah, it was definitely striking that a lot of the people who are real players in the Vatican right now come from the Global South. As you mentioned, Pope Francis is from Argentina, and he is the first pope from the Global South. And Cardinal Turkson is originally from Ghana and is talked about as potentially going to be the first African pope. And you see the influence. There are a lot of people who have a history with liberation theology around this pope. He doesn’t come from that particular tradition, but there’s clearly an influence, because before he became pope, he worked with the Latin American Council of Bishops, which—you know, the form of Catholicism in Latin America is one that is more influenced by indigenous cosmology than perhaps in North America, and definitely in Europe, precisely because the genocide of indigenous people in Latin America was far less complete.

So, the first phrase of the encyclical, the first paragraph of the encyclical quotes Francis of Assisi, referring to the Earth as "sister" and as "mother," and then goes on to talk about Francis—Francis of Assisi, not Pope Francis—and it’s significant that Pope Francis chose the name Francis, the first pope in history to choose that as his name—how we ministered to plants and animals, and saw them as his brothers and sisters. And obviously, in there, you have echoes of indigenous cosmologies that see all of creation as our relations. And while I was at the Vatican, I did ask and, before and afterwards, talked to different theologians about whether there is any precedent for a pope talking—using this language of Mother Earth so prominently, and nobody could think of a single example of this. So, I think what is significant about it is that it is very much a rebuke to the worldview that humans have been put on Earth to dominate and subjugate nature. That is very clear in the encyclical. And the major theme of the encyclical is the theme of interdependence.

You also mentioned—or you played that clip where Francis talks about natural resources as being something that everybody has a right to. And this, of course, is a challenge to a pretty basic principle of private property under capitalism, that if you buy it, it’s yours to do with whatever you want. And that’s something else that’s very strong in the encyclical, is the idea of the commons, that the atmosphere is a commons, that water is a right. And I do think that you can see the influence of Pope Francis’s many years in Argentina. You know, he ministered in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, and that’s somewhere where I spent some time doing reporting and filmmaking. And the outskirts of Buenos Aires, they have had one of the most catastrophic experiences with water privatization, where a French water company came in and put in the pipes, but then refused to put in the sewers. So every time it rains, there are these huge floods, and there’s even cases of bodies being washed up in the streets and in people’s basements, so—which is simply to say he knows of which he speaks. I mean, he has seen a very brutal form of deregulated capitalism introduced in the Southern Cone of Latin America, and he also understands that this is a form of capitalism that, in that part of the world, was imposed with tremendous violence.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, as we wrap up, very quickly, the pope is coming to the United States in September, but before that, he will go to Cuba first. Can you talk about the significance of the Cuba trip, and then, within the presidential race here, the pope landing in the United States?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I think the timing of this trip is obviously going to be very awkward for several Republican candidates who are Catholic and understand that this is a very, very popular pope. He’s particularly popular among Latinos, and that’s a really coveted voting bloc. So, you know, picking a fight with this pope is not a very smart political move if you’re running for office right now.

And I met somebody while I was—I can’t use his name, because it was just—it wasn’t an interview situation. But I met a fairly prominent Catholic, while I was at the Vatican, from the United States, from a major U.S. organization, who said, "The holy father isn’t doing us any favors by going to Cuba first," by which he meant that there are a lot of people talking about how this pope is sort of a closet socialist, and by going to Cuba first, he was reinforcing that narrative. So I think for conservative Republican Catholics, the fact that this pope is going to Cuba first, but also because he has said such critical things about deregulated capitalism and everything he’s saying about climate change, is putting them into, frankly, uncharted territories. They really don’t know how to navigate these waters.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s President Obama’s birthday today. Do you have any particular birthday wishes for him?

NAOMI KLEIN: Amy, I had no idea. Thanks for telling me. And I wish him a very happy birthday.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, we want to thank you for being with us, journalist, best-selling author. Her most recent book is called This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. It’s out in paperback today. And she’s got a documentary film coming out. It’s directed by Avi Lewis, based on This Changes Everything. It’s out in the fall. She also, together with Avi Lewis, made The Take, about Argentina. Her past books, No Logo and The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

When we come back, another journalist has been killed in Mexico, along with four women, in Mexico City. We’ll go to Mexico City. Stay with us.

News Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Naomi Klein: Obama Is Beginning to Sound Like a Climate Leader; When Will He Act Like One?

As scientists warn 2015 is on pace to become the Earth's hottest year on record, President Obama has unveiled his long-awaited plan to slash carbon emissions from U.S. power plants. Under new Environmental Protection Agency regulations, U.S. power plants will be required to cut emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. In addition, new power plants will be required to be far cleaner, which could effectively prevent any new coal plants from opening. But does the plan go far enough? We speak to Naomi Klein, author of the best-selling book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, which is out in paperback today.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: As scientists warn 2015 is on pace to become the Earth's hottest year on record, President Obama has unveiled his long-awaited plan to slash carbon emissions from U.S. power plants. During a speech at the White House, Obama said no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than a changing climate.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Climate change is no longer just about the future that we're predicting for our children or our grandchildren; it's about the reality that we're living with every day, right now. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. While we can't say any single weather event is entirely caused by climate change, we've seen stronger storms, deeper droughts, longer wildfire seasons. Charleston and Miami now flood at high tide. Shrinking ice caps forced National Geographic to make the biggest change in its atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart. Over the past three decades, nationwide asthma rates have more than doubled, and climate change puts those Americans at greater risk of landing in the hospital. As one of America's governors has said, we're the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it. And that's why I committed the United States to leading the world on this challenge, because I believe there is such a thing as being too late.

AMY GOODMAN: Under new Environmental Protection Agency regulations, U.S. power plants will be required to cut emissions by 32 percent from the 2005 levels by 2030. In addition, new power plants will be required to be far cleaner, which could effectively prevent any new coal plants from opening. President Obama defended the regulations, which are expected to be challenged in court.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Right now our power plants are the source of about a third of America's carbon pollution. That's more pollution than our cars, our airplanes and our homes generate combined. That pollution contributes to climate change, which degrades the air our kids breathe. But there have never been federal limits on the amount of carbon that power plants can dump into the air. Think about that. We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water, and we're better off for it. But existing power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of harmful carbon pollution into the air. For the sake of our kids and the health and safety of all Americans, that has to change. For the sake of the planet, that has to change.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: As President Obama spoke, the impacts of extreme weather could be seen across the globe. In California, more than 9,000 firefighters are battling more than 21 active wildfires. In Japan, temperatures topped 95 degrees on Monday for a record fourth day in a row. Heat records are also being broken across the Middle East. In one Iranian city, the heat index reached 164 degrees last week. Temperatures have been regularly topping 120 degrees in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

Meanwhile, a group of scientists, including former NASA scientist James Hansen, have warned that sea levels could rise as much as 10 feet before the end of the century unless greenhouse gas emissions are drastically reduced. The rise would make cities such as London, New York and Shanghai uninhabitable.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about climate change and President Obama's plan to cut emissions, we're joined by Naomi Klein, author of the best-selling book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, which is out in paperback today. She recently spoke at a Vatican climate change summit organized by Pope Francis. Naomi Klein joins us from Washington, D.C.

Naomi, welcome. Your assessment first of President Obama's plan that he unveiled yesterday at the White House?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, good morning, Amy. It's great to be with you, and Nermeen.

So I think that what we're seeing from Obama is a really good example of what a climate leader sounds like. You know, everything he's saying is absolutely true about the level of threat, about the fact that this is not a threat for future generations, it is a threat unfolding right now around the world, including in the United States. It's a threat that is about people's daily health, with asthma levels, and also about the safety of entire cities, huge coastal cities. So he's doing a very good job of showing us what a climate leader sounds like. But I'm afraid we've got a long way to go before we see what a climate leader acts like, because there is a huge gap between what Obama is saying about this threat, about it being the greatest threat of our time, and indeed this being our last window in which we can take action to prevent truly catastrophic climate change, but the measures that have been unveiled are simply inadequate.

I mean, if we look at what kind of emission reductions this is going to deliver, we're—you know, when you talk about emission reductions, we don't look at just one sector, just at electricity generation; you have to look at the economy as a whole. And what climate scientists are telling us is that relatively wealthy countries, like the United States, if we are going to stay within our carbon budget and give ourselves a chance of keeping warming below two degrees Celsius, which is already very dangerous but is what the United States negotiated, under Obama—when they went to Copenhagen in 2009, they agreed to keep temperatures below two degrees warming, and, in fact, we're still on track for more like four degrees warming—if we were to stay below two degrees, we would need to be cutting emissions by around 8 to 10 percent a year. Those are numbers from the Tyndall Centre on Climate Research in Manchester. And this plan would lower emissions in the United States by around 6 percent overall—I'm not just talking about the power sector, but overall emissions by 6 percent by 2030. So compare what we should be doing—8 to 10 percent a year—with 6 percent by 2030. That's the carbon gap, and it's huge.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And so, Naomi Klein, in your view, why did President Obama choose to focus so much on the power sector and not on other equally important sectors?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, look, it is an incredibly important sector, as he says. It's just that we have to do it all. And I think that this should be seen as a victory for the grassroots social movements that have been fighting dirty coal plants in their backyards, and the clean coal—the campaign that the Sierra Club has led over years now to shut down hundreds of coal plants. So this should be claimed, I think, as a grassroots victory. This phase of the plan is better than the last draft, in some ways, in that it's less of a gift to the natural gas sector and has more supports for renewables. It also has more supports for low-income communities for energy efficiency. It's inadequate, but it's still better than the last draft. There are parts of the plan that are worse than the last draft, because of pressure from industry and from states that are very reliant on coal.

But that's at—you know, the problem is not that this plan itself is bad. If this was announced in Obama's first year in office, I would be the first to celebrate this and say, "OK, great. So now let's bring on a carbon tax. Let's prevent leasing of new oil and gas and coal on public lands. You know, let's do the rest of the package. Let's have huge investments in public transit, and we'll really be on our way." But at the end of his two terms in office, or coming near the end, you know, frankly, this does not buy a climate legacy. It's not enough, because it isn't in line with science, and it also isn't in line with technology. I mean, the team at Stanford University under Mark Jacobson is telling us that we could get to 100 percent renewables, powering our entire economy with renewables, in two decades. So, if the scientists are telling us we need to do it, and the engineers are telling us we can do it, then all that's missing are the politicians willing to introduce the bold policies that will make it happen. And that's what we're missing still.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, during his speech Monday, President Obama also talked about his visit to the Arctic at the end of the month.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'll also be the first American president to visit the Alaskan Arctic, where our fellow Americans have already seen their communities devastated by melting ice and rising oceans, the impact on marine life. We're going to talk about what the world needs to do together to prevent the worst impacts of climate change before it's too late.

AMY GOODMAN: So that's President Obama. Can you talk about what's happening in the Arctic and the activism that's going on, from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington, to prevent what President Obama has allowed—drilling in the Arctic?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, it's extraordinary, actually, that he would be announcing this now, because what the world needs to do to save the Arctic, for starters, is to declare a moratorium on Arctic drilling. And the U.S. could be leading that effort, bringing together all Arctic nations to agree that this is untouchable, this is a no-go zone. And because that leadership is not there, and because indeed Obama has—is opening up the Arctic to drilling for the first time—we know that Shell has drilling rigs there right now, that they began the very preliminary stages of drilling on Thursday—and because his administration has failed to provide leadership on such a basic issue, I mean, Amy, it is the definition of insanity, it would seem to me, to be drilling in the Arctic for oil that is only available because Arctic ice is melting and it's now passable and ships are able to go there and do this.

The CEO of Shell, a few days ago, talked about how they are expecting to find oil underneath that melting ice that is an even bigger deposit than there is off the Gulf of Mexico. He described it as a huge play, but more significantly, he described it as a long-term play. It's unfortunate that the oil and gas industry describes all of this, you know, in the language of games, because obviously it's not a game, but they call it a play. And he says that they don't expect this to be in production until 2030. I mean, that is really striking, because by 2030 we should be really winding down our reliance on existing oil and gas infrastructure, not ramping up and opening up whole new fossil fuel frontiers.

And so this is what I mean about how Obama does not deserve to be called a climate leader simply because he has introduced what is a pretty good plan for cutting emissions from coal-fired power plants. I'm not saying that's not important. It's a step in the right direction. But simultaneously, he's taking some significant steps in the wrong direction with Arctic drilling, with—you know, he's overseen an explosion of fracking for gas. He's still waffling on the Keystone XL pipeline. You know, he's opened up new offshore oil and gas leases. So, you know, when you take one step in the right direction and five steps in the wrong direction, you're going in the wrong direction. You're not going in the right direction. And we have to be honest about this, despite the fact that he's under huge fire from the coal lobby right now.

AMY GOODMAN: This issue of the activists who have been trying to stop the drilling—


AMY GOODMAN: —that the Obama administration has provided license for—I mean, what was it? Forty people—

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, in Portland.

AMY GOODMAN: Forty people were—40 people were hanging from the bridge. You had all these kayaktivists outside. Can you talk about how it is he can announce—as they are all being taken away, as activists are charged for doing the activism they do, he's announcing he's going to the Arctic.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, you know, frankly, if we want to look for climate leaders, climate leaders are the people who rappelled down from that bridge in Portland. Climate leaders are the people who have been taking to their kayaks in Portland, in Seattle, you know, 21-year-olds who have been trying to stop Arctic drilling with their bodies, they feel so passionately about this. People stayed on that bridge, hanging from that bridge, in order to block Shell's icebreaker, for 40 hours, and they did so despite the fact that Shell had gone to the courts and got an injunction and they were being threatened with huge fines. That is real leadership. That is real, moral action, standing up in the face of huge amounts of money and power and might-makes-right logic.

And we've seen this all over the Pacific Northwest. It's one of the ironies of the extreme energy era that we've been living in this past decade or so, where North America has been in the midst of this extreme energy frenzy, with fracking, mountaintop removal and tar sands oil. In order to get this stuff out, it's required that the oil and gas and coal companies build all kinds of new infrastructure in the Pacific Northwest, which is the part of the United States that is probably most environmentally aware, even militant. It's where a lot of the tree sits began. You know, you think about Portland and the history of anti-logging activism, tree sits. In that part of the world, there are a lot of people with deep history in this kind of activism. And Shell, I think, you know, just in order—just logistically, in order to get to the Arctic, they needed to use various ports in the Pacific Northwest as a parking lot for their machinery and also to get repairs done. And, you know, the Pacific Northwest has given them a very, very, very hostile welcome and made it clear that they don't want to be a gateway to this, frankly, suicidal action of drilling in the Arctic.

AMY GOODMAN: Just to be clear, to clarify this point, explaining what the activists were doing, the Greenpeace activists spending 40 hours suspending from a bridge in order to block the icebreaking ship commissioned by Shell from leaving for the Arctic, hundreds of activists gathering on the bridge in kayaks in efforts to stop Shell's plans to drill in the remote Chukchi Sea. They did temporarily stop the ship—


AMY GOODMAN: —but then, ultimately, the ship made its way and is now making its way to the Arctic.

NAOMI KLEIN: They stopped the ship for 40 hours. And, you know, I think sometimes this can be seen as a sort of a stunt or a token action, but it really isn't. You know, I was speaking with Annie Leonard, the executive director of Greenpeace, yesterday, and the really significant part of this is that there is a very small window when it is possible to do this drilling for Shell, because the period where the Arctic is sufficiently ice-free is just a few months. They have until late September to do this. So every day that they're delayed is one less day when they're able to look for this deposit that they claim is going to be a game-changing play. So this is more than token activism. Anything that slows them down is really significant. And these really are heroes.

AMY GOODMAN: And Hillary Clinton and President Obama's position on Keystone XL?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, Hillary, first of all, she was asked about drilling in the Arctic, and she said she was skeptical of it, which some people claimed as, you know, it was Hillary coming out against Arctic drilling. I think it's Hillary understanding that this is a very unpopular position. But just saying that you're skeptical or have doubts, which is another phrase she used, is not anything that she can be held accountable to. That's language that is slippery enough to get a glacier through, Amy. It's not a straight-up "no." She's also refused to comment, as you mentioned, on the Keystone XL pipeline.

And let me say, you know, Hillary Clinton's plan, green energy plan, that she unveiled a few days ago—we're going to get more details soon—is surprisingly bold. There's parts of this that the plan really gets right, in terms of the speed with which she's promising to roll out renewable energy. She's getting the yes part of this equation pretty close to right, in the sense that we need supports for renewable energy. But it's not enough, because if you look at a country like Germany, they have introduced a bold plan to support renewable energy, and in fact Germany now has what Hillary Clinton is promising she would do in the U.S., which is it has 30 percent of its electricity coming from renewables, but Germany's emissions are not going down fast enough, and in some years they've even gone up. And that's because in Germany that yes to renewable energy hasn't been accompanied by a no to fossil fuels. They've allowed a continued mining at very high rates of dirty coal, of lignite coal, the dirtiest coal on the market, and they just export it, if they don't have a market for it in the U.S.

And, you know, this is the problem with Hillary. She is willing to say yes to green technology, green jobs, but she is showing no signs of being willing to say no to the oil and gas lobby, which we know is funding her campaign significantly. So, as secretary of state, we know that there was quite a revolving door between the oil and gas lobby and her people at State and on her previous campaign staff. And I think there's real reason for concern about whether or not she would be willing to stand up to the oil and gas lobby on Keystone, on Arctic drilling, on any of these other issues.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to break, and when we come back, we want to ask you, Naomi, about what happened at the Vatican. You were there over July 4th weekend, one of the people—keynoters of this conference led by Pope Francis. This is Democracy Now! We're speaking with Naomi Klein. Her book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, is out in paperback today. Back with her in a moment.

News Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Are Journalists and Activists Safe Anywhere in Mexico? Protests Erupt Over Killing of Five in Mexico City

In Mexico City, thousands of protesters are continuing to denounce the murder of photojournalist Rubén Espinosa. Espinosa, who worked for the leading newsmagazine Proceso, was killed by gunmen alongside human rights activist Nadia Vera and three other women in an apartment in Mexico City Friday. Both Espinosa and Vera had been working in the southern state of Veracruz, which has seen increasingly deadly violence against journalists and activists. According to human rights groups, Espinosa's murder signals a new level of violence against Mexican journalists, as he may be the first to be killed while in exile in Mexico City. We go to Mexico City to speak with Sebastián Aguirre of the human rights organization Article 19 and Laura Carlsen of the Center for International Policy. We also speak to Andalusia Knoll, freelance journalist who has been reporting on social movements and human rights violations in Mexico for five years.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: In Mexico City, thousands of protesters are continuing to denounce the murder of photojournalist Rubén Espinosa. Espinosa, who worked for the leading newsmagazine, Proceso, was killed by gunmen alongside human rights activist Nadia Vera and three other women in an apartment in Mexico City on Friday. Both Espinosa and Vera had been working in the southern state of Veracruz, which has seen increasingly deadly violence against journalists and activists. According to human rights groups, Espinosa’s murder signals a new level of violence against Mexican journalists, as he may be the first to be killed while in exile in Mexico City. In his final interview, he told the outlet Rompeviento about his exile.

RUBÉN ESPINOSA: [translated] I had to leave due to intimidation, not because of a direct threat, per se, but out of common sense. There had just been an attack on students, who were brutally beaten with machetes and everything, and so we cannot, in this situation, do less, with any kind of threat or intimidation, because we do not know what will happen. In Veracruz, there is no rule of law.

AMY GOODMAN: Rubén Espinosa is at least the 12th journalist who has worked in Veracruz to be killed since 2011.

For more, we go to Mexico City, where we’re joined by two guests. Sebastián Aguirre is with the human rights group Article 19 and helps run its Program for the Protection and Security of Journalists. We’re also joined by Laura Carlsen, director of the Mexico City-based Americas Program of the Center for International Policy.

Here in New York, we’re joined by Andalusia Knoll, freelance journalist who has been reporting on social movements and human rights violations in Mexico for five years. She spoke to Rubén Espinosa last week, right before he was killed.

I want to start in Mexico City with Sebastián. You helped to get Rubén Espinosa to Mexico City to be in exile from the violence and the threats against him in Veracruz. Can you tell us what you understand happened?

SEBASTIÁN AGUIRRE: Right. Well, the case of Rubén, you’ve got to understand it in the general context of violence that happens in Veracruz against the press. Just 14 journalists have been murdered since 2010, and there’s been absolute impunity in all of those cases. So, the founded fear of Rubén was certain that he had a legitimate threat against him, therefore he had to move out of Veracruz. We helped him, when he established in Mexico City, and we tried to encourage him to enter the federal mechanism of protection for human rights defenders and journalists. But there is—you’ve got to understand that there’s also mistrust from the public towards the institutions. In Mexico, there’s a lot of mistrust in the capacity and the way that journalists are going to be protected, so a lot of journalists are not trusting the institutions that could actually protect them. And that was the case of Rubén.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Laura Carlsen, it’s not only Ruben who was killed. Can you talk about the four women who were murdered with him, and who it’s believed killed them?

LAURA CARLSEN: That’s right. It’s very important to keep that in mind, because, of course, the question of the attack on freedom of expression in the case of the photojournalist, Rubén Espinosa, is very important, but Nadia Vera was a human rights defender in Veracruz. She worked with Yosoy 132, the student organization there, and she also had experienced threats and attacks on her. In fact, just eight months before her assassination, she videotaped a message, as well, that said, "I hold responsible the governor of the state of Veracruz, Javier Duarte, for anything that could happen to me and my family." She had reason to believe that she was under threat, and now she’s been assassinated, as well.

We also know the name of one other woman, Yesenia Quiroz, and there are two other women whose names either are unknown or have not been released. But this is very important to take into account. The Front for Freedom of Expression is calling for the investigation to include the possibility that we’re looking at crimes of femicide, because there is some indication that the assassinations were accompanied by rape and sexual torture of the women, and to also include the fact that we’re looking at attacks not only on a journalist, but on a woman human rights defender.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let’s turn to a clip of the human rights activist, Nadia Vera. She was speaking to the outlet Rompeviento.

NADIA VERA: [translated] How many journalists have been assassinated without anything happening? How many students? How many activists? How many human rights defenders have been assassinated or disappeared? We have an impressively high level of disappearances, right? But it also has to do with the type of characters we have governing.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Nadia Vera speaking to Rompeviento. So, Laura Carlsen, could you give us some context here? Why is Veracruz such a dangerous place for journalists and for human rights activists? And what do you think is likely to happen now, given these awful murders in Mexico City of the four women as well as the journalist?

LAURA CARLSEN: Well, it is recognized as one of the most violent places in the country, and this has happened because there have been a series of crimes. The attitude of the governor—there have even been public declarations on his part, warning journalists, in effect. There’s an attitude that "I rule here, and I will not tolerate any kind of criticism or protest." Rubén Espinoza covered movements and covered his government coming in to repress many of those movements, often in a violent way. This, of course, affected his image, and apparently affected his personal ego, as well. And the main context here that you have is impunity, the absolute dysfunction in the system of justice. Once you send out a message that you can kill, a governor or a government in—which, by all indications, seemed to be involved in many of these killings—they’re the prime suspect—you send out a message that this can be done with impunity, then you’ve created a situation in which everyone—a human rights defender, a journalist, everyone who protests against that government—is in—is under threat.

There have been reports of surveillance. Rubén reported that he was under surveillance. And what’s really scary for many of us here in Mexico City now is that Mexico City was considered a haven. It was considered a refuge for people under threat. And the fact that he apparently, or at least possibly, was hunted down here in Mexico City and murdered in what’s considered a peaceful neighborhood within the nation’s capital, it shatters that, perhaps, myth of security that many of us had here.

So, we don’t know what will happen next. Of course, there’s a demand for a full investigation that takes into account all the possibilities here. There’s a lot of fear that the government will try to sweep this under the rug. There’s already talk that, "Oh, this was a robbery." Well, there aren’t these kinds of robberies, and there’s too many so-called coincidences in terms of the previous threats. And there’s talk that since he was unemployed, it isn’t related to his work as a journalist. But there will be a constant pressure from civil society to make sure that these political factors are given primary importance in the investigation and that the investigation goes as high up as it needs to go in terms of responsibilities.

AMY GOODMAN: Andalusia Knoll, I want to bring into the conversation. Andalusia, you chatted with Rubén Espinosa on Facebook right before he was killed. What did you talk about?

ANDALUSIA KNOLL: Yes. Actually, I have been reporting on the journalists, on the danger that they face in Veracruz, for the past three years. I traveled there a few years ago, and I met journalists that were just like myself, young journalists covering social movements, some covering drug trafficking, and they were—you know, I realized they were at—their lives were at risk. And so I started reporting on the situation. And then, this year, when Moisés Sánchez was killed, I started working on a documentary for Al Jazeera Plus and had just traveled to Veracruz to work on this documentary.

And then, right as our documentary was about to come out, I saw that Rubén Espinosa was in exile in Mexico City, and he is a friend of many of my friends. In Mexico, it’s so dangerous to be a journalist that we build networks, so we could support each other and be more secure. And so, he was friends of friends, and I reached out to him. And we talked about the documentary, and I said, "Thanks for sharing it." He said, "No, thanks to you for making it." And I said, "I don’t think we’ve ever met, right? We just have lots of friends in common." He said, "No, but I hope we meet. You know, being in this, it’s so difficult, and that this is where we need more solidarity from people." And we had made plans to hang out, you know, when I got back. And then, a day later, he was assassinated, with four other women.

I mean, this is—it leaves all of us in shock, that it’s not just journalists, it’s not just activists. This is anyone. Every single person I know in Mexico now feels so vulnerable that any dissenting voice can let you be killed.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to your documentary, Andalusia Knoll, made for AJ+. It starts with Jorge Sánchez, the son of Moisés Sánchez, the journalist, Moisés found decapitated earlier this year after reporting on corruption and violence in Veracruz for the weekly newspaper, La Unión. In this clip, we also hear from journalist Felix Marquez in a moment after this. It starts, though, with Moisés’ son, Jorge Sánchez.

JORGE SÁNCHEZ: [translated] I’m Jorge Sánchez, son of Moisés Sánchez, the journalist who was assassinated on January 2nd, 2015. From a young age, he was interested in social activism as a way to inform the people. He used all the tools within his reach, one of which was the newspaper, La Unión.

MOISÉS SÁNCHEZ: [translated] News from the town hall of Medellín, here in the informative weekly, La Unión.

FELIX MARQUEZ: [translated] La Unión was created by Moisés Sánchez to share the stories that were not being published by the media outlets that are co-opted by the system. This is the kind of journalism that should exist, the ideal journalism, journalism that is connected to the people. We use the newspaper like a flag to spread the stories. I don’t think any of us studied journalism to cover the deaths of our colleagues. My idea is to do a series, to take the belongings of the journalists who have been assassinated and revive the essence of each of them, to search for the items that represent them, in this case Moisés Sánchez.

JORGE SÁNCHEZ: [translated] We have a loudspeaker that he used to use, a little one. We still have it here, the one that he brought to demonstrations. That’s what my father used to do, expose the corrupt acts of the police.

FELIX MARQUEZ: [translated] He would present evidence that the authorities of Medellín de Bravo weren’t doing their jobs well. There were various political personalities who didn’t like that.

JORGE SÁNCHEZ: [translated] He had been warned that the mayor was planning to scare him.

FELIX MARQUEZ: [translated] Moisés was kidnapped at night, right in front of his family, and then was assassinated.

JORGE SÁNCHEZ: [translated] According to his lawyer, the mayor has left the state. And there are many irregularities in the investigation. These are the same anomalies that exist in all of the investigations of journalists’ murders. The authorities don’t investigate. They don’t do their job. After this happened, the government brought these security agents, but it feels weird, because they’re the ones who didn’t do anything when they took my father away, and now the police are the ones taking care of us. One would think that the other people are the ones who should be locked away, not us. But this is how things work here. The criminals roam free, and we are the ones that have to be locked up.

FELIX MARQUEZ: [translated] Most people normally work to live. And here in Veracruz, it seems like the journalists are working to die.

JORGE SÁNCHEZ: [translated] If they have already told you that they are going to kill you, why do you keep on publishing? And he used to always say to us, "We can’t live with fear. If we live with fear, things are never going to change."

FELIX MARQUEZ: [translated] His family has been very active in demanding justice and punishment for those who are responsible.

JORGE SÁNCHEZ: [translated] In Veracruz, it is dangerous to tell the truth. I know that they are going to kill me. It is very clear. But the other option is to stay silent, and the situation will just repeat itself.

FELIX MARQUEZ: [translated] The struggle we must wage is behind the cameras, behind the pens. It is to inform society, our only boss, with the truth.

AMY GOODMAN: That was photojournalist Felix Marquez and, before that, Jorge Sánchez, the son of Moisés Sánchez, who was found decapitated earlier this year after reporting on corruption and violence in Veracruz for his weekly newspaper, La Unión. It was produced by our guest today, the independent journalist Andalusia Knoll. Sebastián Aguirre, you’re with Article 19, part of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights that guarantees free press, freedom of expression. What are you demanding now in Mexico? What are you demanding of the president? And do you feel that he bears any responsibility here, President Peña Nieto?

SEBASTIÁN AGUIRRE: Well, there is definitely a response—our demands are very clear. It’s basically, do investigation of all aggressions against journalists all over the country, because it’s not only Veracruz. We can talk about Guerrero. We can talk about Oaxaca. We’ve documented seven murders just this year. And this year was an election year, so just imagine, when we are supposed, as a country, to practice democracy, we’re seeing such high violence against the press. So, our demands are quite clear: a full investigation to all aggressions against journalists. We have a special prosecutor—a prosecution for crimes against freedom of expression, which they have presented no results in the—ever. Not so ever. I wanted to say a day, but they haven’t presented any results of the murders of Moisés Sánchez, of the murders of Regina Martínez in Veracruz, as well. She used to be a colleague with Rubén in the Proceso magazine. So, our demands are quite clear: We want a full investigation. And I think, yeah, there is a responsibility from all parts of the government, the federal, the state and the municipal government, for the systematic impunity of crimes against human rights defenders and crimes against journalists. We can actually talk about a systematic impunity, because in Article 19, we documented 88 cases since 2000, and none of them have ended up in trial.

AMY GOODMAN: Sebastián, we’re going to have to leave it there, but of course we will continue to cover this. Sebastián Aguirre with Article 19; Laura Carlsen, Center for International Policy; and Andalusia Knoll, independent journalist. We will link to her piece at AJ+.

News Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
As Obama Ramps Up Climate Battle, McConnell Readies Counterattack

Washington - Your move, Mitch McConnell.

The just-released Clean Power Plan from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is a far-reaching attempt to cut the amount of carbon pollution pumped into the atmosphere, all in a bid to help curtail climate change. It's part of President Barack Obama's legacy-building climate change agenda, designed to make the United States an international leader in addressing the issue in advance of major talks set for Paris at the end of the year.

The plan's formal release comes with what the administration said will be an "all-out climate push" by the White House, with the president scheduled to hit the road to sell his vision for attacking climate change."Climate change is not a problem for another generation," the president says in a video the White House released this week to detail the plan's environmental and health benefits. "Not anymore."

And while he's on the road, McConnell – the Senate majority leader, a Republican from coal-rich Kentucky – will be doing whatever he can to undermine it.

McConnell laid out his case in a statement Monday on the Senate floor, saying that the rule would hurt workers and possibly even the environment, as energy production is outsourced to nations with poor environmental records.

"It represents a triumph of blind ideology over sound policy and honest compassion," McConnell said. "And in Kentucky, these regulations would likely mean fewer jobs, shuttered power plants, and higher electricity costs for families and businesses. I will not sit by while the White House takes aim at the lifeblood of our state's economy. I'm going to keep doing everything I can to fight them."

Even before the White House and the EPA came out with their plan, McConnell has been laying the groundwork for a major challenge to it. First elected to the Senate in 1984, McConnell became Senate majority leader when Republicans took over the body this year – and in that role, McConnell is in a key position to oversee the interests of his party's agenda as well as the needs of his coal-country constituents.

He joined a Senate Appropriations subcommittee this year specifically so he could oversee the EPA's budget – and the influence that agency has over his state.

"Leader McConnell's actions on this issue have literally changed the game," said Bill Bissett, president the Kentucky Coal Association, an industry group. "His 'just say no' policy that he's suggested to all 50 governors really moved the issue forward, and I think started a drumbeat of discontent."

Bissett added that the EPA expected "some response, some negatively, harsh letter-writing" – but nothing like it has received. "The EPA, we've heard, has been absolutely caught flat-footed regarding this criticism," he said.

The Clean Power Plan was announced in draft form in June 2014 and finalized this week. It's designed to shift power production from carbon-heavy sources such as coal to cleaner ones. That shift is already under way in many states, while other have – or will –struggle to do so.

The news this week is merely a continuation of a battle that's been underway for more than a year. On Monday, Obama and the EPA formally announced the final version of the plan, which differs in some details from the draft but keeps the same general structure.

It gives individual states carbon-reduction targets and lets them work alone or with neighbors to modify their mix of coal, natural gas and renewables such as wind to achieve those targets. The plan seeks to cut power-sector carbon pollution by 32 percent from 2005 levels.

"Just say no" is a reference to one of the strategies McConnell is using to try and derail the Clean Power Plan.

In a March letter to governors across the nation, McConnell said he has "serious legal and policy concerns" about the plan and that "it is the EPA that is failing to comply with the law here."

In the three-page letter, McConnell reviewed a list of reasons for what he said was the plan's questionable legal underpinnings and urged states to "carefully review the consequences before signing up for this deeply misguided plan. I believe you will find, as I have, that the EPA's proposal goes far beyond its legal authority and that the courts are likely to strike it down."

Rather than submitting state-specific plans now, he said, states should allow the courts to rule on the merits of the overall Clean Power Plan.

That the plan will be challenged in court is a given, and as soon as the rule is formally published in the Federal Register some states and industry groups will pounce.

But Ann Weeks, senior counsel and legal director for the Clean Air Task Force, said it's clear the president has the authority to do what he's doing on the power plan. One recent U.S. Supreme Court case that challenged aspects of a separate EPA clean-air rule still let that basic rule stand.

"It's quite clear there will be challenges to what they do," Weeks said. "But that's always the case. Everything the EPA does is challenged in court. Everything. Always. But is there legal authority to regulate power plants to control carbon dioxide emissions? Yes. I think that's very clear."

Whatever becomes of the legal push-back, McConnell and others in Congress are employing another strategy to try and derail the power plan: tacking what are known as "riders" onto other pieces of legislation, seeking to force the administration's hand.

In a recent appropriations bill, McConnell inserted language that prohibits the administration from retaliating against states that don't submit a state implementation plan under the Clean Power Plan, thus effectively neutralizing it.

It's one of multiple riders on both the House and Senate appropriations bills that seek to hamstring EPA activities on the Clean Power Plan and other regulations. The White House has challenged those efforts, deriding "numerous highly problematic ideological provisions that have no place in funding legislation."

What the rider strategy is setting up is a game of climate change chicken, one in which Republicans in Congress are trying to make Obama back down from what is a key part of his legacy.

It's certain Obama would veto any spending bill with riders attached that kill the climate change plan, said Norman Ornstein, a centrist scholar on politics and Congress at the American Enterprise Institute.

And the Republicans don't have enough votes to override the president's veto, so a government shutdown could result.

"I don't see much chance at all that they can use the appropriations process to accomplish the goal," Ornstein said of the Republican strategy.

"I think the bottom-line reality of this is that all the leverage when it comes to these showdowns is with the president," Ornstein said. "Republicans, in the leadership at least, understand full well that if you shut down the government, they will get blamed."

McConnell could attempt to negotiate with the White House on a continuing resolution to keep the government running, offering to trade spending on other areas for an easing of the climate change rules.

But Obama is not likely to agree to that, and many Republicans – including senators running for president – won't support a deal for more spending, Ornstein said.

News Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Feds Call for More Scrutiny of Nursing Home Errors Involving Blood Thinner

The federal government is asking health inspectors nationwide to be on the lookout for errors by nursing homes in managing the blood thinner Coumadin, including those that lead to patient hospitalizations and deaths. In a memo, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services focused on the harm caused by homes' failure to manage the drug.

Nursing home(Image: Nursing home via Shutterstock)

Also see: Popular Blood Thinner Causing Deaths and Injuries at Nursing Homes

The federal government is asking health inspectors nationwide to be on the lookout for errors by nursing homes in managing the blood thinner Coumadin, including those that lead to patient hospitalizations and deaths.

In a memo sent last month to state health departments, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cited a report by ProPublica and The Washington Post that focused on the harm caused by homes' failure to manage the drug.

The analysis of government inspection reports found that, between 2011 and 2014, at least 165 nursing home residents were hospitalized or died after errors involving Coumadin or its generic version, warfarin. In some cases, homes gave residents too much of the drug, which caused internal bleeding. In other cases, they gave residents too little, leading to blood clots and strokes.

ProPublica's findings "highlighted the adverse effects of poor Coumadin management for our beneficiaries and nursing home stakeholders," Thomas Hamilton, director of CMS' survey and certification group, said in a written response to questions from ProPublica. "We wanted the public to have confidence that CMS is aware of this as well as other high risk medications."

In its July 17 memo, CMS – the federal agency that regulates nursing homes – also told state health departments that inspect nursing homes on its behalf about a new tool for identifying and reducing medication errors. The tool, developed with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, is designed to help determine whether nursing homes are taking adequate steps to prevent mistakes and whether they respond appropriately if they occur.

Although Coumadin has clear benefits and is life-saving for those taking the right dose, a number of peer-reviewed studies suggest that it is can be dangerous if not closely monitored. A 2007 study in The American Journal of Medicine estimated that nursing home residents suffer 34,000 fatal, life-threatening or serious events each year related to the drug.

Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services identified Coumadin and other anticoagulants as a category of drugs frequently implicated in "adverse drug events" and called on government agencies to work on solutions.

"Adverse events related to high risk medications can have devastating effects to nursing home residents," the July 17 memo said. "We are very concerned about the prevalence of adverse events involving such medications."

Despite such evidence, Coumadin deaths and hospitalizations have drawn far less attention than other problems in nursing homes, including the use of antipsychotic medications. Such medications can put elderly patients into a stupor and increase their risk of falls.

Officials with the American Health Care Association, a trade group for the nursing home industry, said that they want to know whether the government intends to use its new medication error tool as a means to help nursing homes improve or a way to punish them.

"This document is written to detect stuff after the fact, to catch folks if they've done something wrong," said David Gifford, the group's senior vice president of quality and regulatory affairs. "I'm a little worried about that. We'll wait and see."

About 1 in 6 of the nation's 1.3 million nursing home residents take an anticoagulant, according to federal data from earlier this year; the majority are believed to be on Coumadin or its generic.

Newer anticoagulants such as Eliquis, Pradaxa and Xarelto have entered the market in recent years and, in some ways, are easier to use than Coumadin. Patients taking these drugs don't need regular blood tests and don't have to avoid certain foods.

But unlike Coumadin, the effects of which can be reversed with vitamin K, there's currently no antidote if patients taking the newer drugs begin bleeding uncontrollably.

Janet Snipes, administrator at Holly Heights Care Center in Denver, recently discussed her home's approach to preventing Coumadin errors on a national call with other nursing home leaders. Nursing supervisors in every unit monitor a document that tracks each patient on Coumadin, their dose, the rate at which their blood clots, their ideal clotting rate, when tests are ordered, whether they have been performed, and whether doctors have been identified.

"If there's a mistake, we want a system in place so that it's caught," Snipes said. "People get busy and they forget things but if you have a system, then it gets caught."

This story was co-published with The Washington Post.

News Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Music's Role in the Movement for Black Lives: An Interview With Robert Glasper

Grammy-winning jazz artist Robert Glasper is known for blending soul and hip hop to elevate contemporary jazz. With his newest album, Covered, Glasper also blends politics and art to elevate Black entertainment. On "I'm Dying of Thirst," the last track on Covered, Glasper helps restore Black culture to its original, intentional, political power.

Robert Glasper performs live at Capitol Studios.Robert Glasper performs live at Capitol Studios. (Photo:

If you say to my 6-year-old son, "What do we want?" he'll tell you, "Justice." If you ask him, "When do we want it?" he'll tell you. "Now." He has marched and chanted, and he knows Black Lives Matter.

He knows he matters.

My husband and I want Ralphie fully invested in his own liberation. We want him to know - no matter what his history teacher might tell him - that Lincoln did not free the slaves. Black people freed the slaves. We want him to know he will be the one to free himself.

When the indictments came down for the officers charged in the murder of Freddie Gray, I cried and held him close and clapped and said, "Remember when we went to the march for Eric Garner and Michael Brown?" When he said he did, I told him he had done something great. "Well, you did it!" I said. "You and all those people we were with helped us take a little step toward justice. We are a little closer to freedom." He asked questions about our liberation, about how he had participated in something that took us all closer to freedom, for weeks after. This freedom thing stayed with him. In him.

Ralphie, who contributed to Robert Glasper’s new album, rides on his father's shoulders at a #BlackLivesMatter protest in New York City. (Photo: Eisa Ulen)Ralphie, who contributed to Robert Glasper's new album, rides on his father's shoulders at a #BlackLivesMatter protest in New York City. (Photo: Eisa Ulen)So, when my friend Angelika Beener asked if we would let Ralphie contribute to a recording her husband was doing about the #BlackLivesMatter movement, my husband and I very quickly said yes. Of course, we knew it would be amazing for Ralphie to record his own voice for Grammy-winning jazz great Robert Glasper, even though, for Ralphie, Rob is just "Riley's dad." But we were saying yes to something more than an exciting opportunity for our son. We were saying yes to something we knew would honor the victims of police brutality, be in the tradition of the centuries-long freedom struggle, and pay tribute to all the multitude who added their voices to #BlackLivesMatter.

And the song does all of that.

"I'm Dying of Thirst" is the last track on Covered, Robert Glasper's eighth album. Winner of the 2013 Grammy for Best R&B Album for Black Radio, and the 2015 Grammy for Best R&B Performance for "Jesus Children," with Lala Hathaway and Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Glasper disrupts the categories that define and demarcate genre. His music is jazz, but it is also hip hop. It is also soul.

On "I'm Dying of Thirst," a cover of Kendrick Lamar's aching wonder of a rhyme, Angelika's and Rob's son Riley, also 6, Ralphie and three of his other friends recite the names of recent victims of police brutality. Like the track that precedes it - "Got Over," featuring Harry Belafonte, which is one of the most powerful statements on Black life that you'll ever hear - "I'm Dying of Thirst" is both politics and art.

In this exclusive Truthout interview, Glasper talks about working with Harry Belafonte, the activism of his peers in the industry, and the current state of Black entertainment.

The Robert Glasper Trio.The Robert Glasper Trio. (Photo:

Truthout: What kind of household did you grow up in? Was politics, or political consciousness, a big part of your childhood?

Robert Glasper: I was pretty much raised by my mother. She was the music director at the church and also sang a lot in jazz and R&B clubs. I was home alone a lot because my mom worked a day job and sang at night, so I was on my own a lot of the time. Because of that dynamic, there wasn't much about politics being discussed in the house.

Harry Belafonte appears on Covered in a powerful song that kind of lets him rhyme a little, do a little spoken word, as he bears witness to his own experience as a Black man in America - and the world. It almost sounds like you were recording a conversation and decided to lay down part of what he said on the track. Where did the idea for "Got Over" come from? Did you specifically ask Belafonte to talk about his life or to talk about what the term "got over" means to him?

I had the honor of going to his home and sitting with him for a few hours. We traded music back and forth, and he told me many wonderful stories about his hand in history … very inspiring. He came up with "Got Over" himself. I just told him to say something that he thought people needed to hear.

So many of our Baby Boomer artists and entertainers are activists and continue to participate in social justice causes as they age. I'm thinking of everyone from Danny Glover to Stevie Wonder, from Ruby Dee to Lena Horne. Do you think our generation of artists and entertainers has honored their legacy with their own political activism? Of course, there are important artists and entertainers in our Generation, Gen X, who infuse their work and their lives with a political consciousness - I'm thinking of Q-Tip, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Russell Simmons, Don Cheadle, Azealia Banks and Amandla Stenberg. I'm even thinking of Prince, who made an important statement at the 2015 Grammys about #BlackLivesMatter, when he announced the Album of the Year award (after receiving a standing ovation for simply walking on stage). But I do think many African Americans look at the most financially successful entertainers of our generation and wonder where the take-a-risk activism is. Stevie Wonder wrote the anthem to make MLK's birthday a national holiday, but he was also arrested because he protested apartheid. Where is that level of political engagement? Is there work - organized activist work - that our generation's entertainers are doing that we need to know about?

I don't think artists of today show enough support in the struggle at all. And if they do, it's only for a hot second, or they give money on the low to an organization but don't want people to know. ... There are many artist who do speak out about #BlackLivesMatter: Mos Def, Qtip, Talib Kwali, Erykah Badu and the list goes on. I am referring to the artists who have a huge stage and can reach more people at one time. The people who can actually make a change on a big level fast don't really speak out. 

What is the current state of affairs in Black entertainment?

Black entertainment has become humorous entertainment for white people to watch. ... Intelligent, great art isn't radio-friendly, so everybody is going for the same dumbed-down sound to make it on the radio and get "the hit." Every song talks about being in the club, money or sex. That's the majority of what you hear from Black music these days on the radio.

Has the organized struggle of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, this newest iteration of the struggle for social justice in our community, influenced some of your peers in entertainment? Are artists, actors and musicians talking about, even participating in, #BlackLivesMatter?

Yes people are aware and are definitely talking about it, but not everybody will reflect it in their art or do much of anything to make change. Artists are struggling nowadays, so it's a risk most are not willing to take.

How did "Dying of Thirst" happen? Where did the idea for your haunting tribute to the most recent victims of police brutality come from?

I love that song. It's my favorite from that particular Kendrick Lamar album. I knew I wanted to speak on that topic for this record but wanted to do it in a way that would hit home. Children's voices are so innocent and honest. ... Since I'm a father now, I process matters of the world differently.

At what point did you come up with the idea to include your own son's voice on this record?

My son was the first person I thought of when I decided to do this particular piece. He is 6 years old but very aware of who he is and what color he is. My wife makes sure of that. That's him talking uncoached at the end of the song. Those are his own thoughts.

Thank you so much for including my son on this song. Why was it important to you that some of Riley's friends, including Ralphie, also speak the names of those victims?

I wanted to use Ralphie and other friends of Riley to represent the many victims. I wanted the listener to hear different voices and realize these victims could easily be our children.

Robert Glasper's song I'm Dying of Thirst, incorporates the words of Riley (second from right), who is shown here with three friends, two of whom also participated in the album. (Photo: Angelika Beener)Robert Glasper's song "I'm Dying of Thirst," incorporates the words of Riley (second from right), who is shown here with three friends, two of whom also participated in the album. (Photo: Kelley Bruso)

What are your greatest hopes for Riley's future? And, as you think of him growing into his own manhood, what are your greatest fears?

My hope is that he continues to be fully aware of who Riley Glasper is and will be as he grows up and never waver from that. My fear is that America will try its hardest to take that away. My son is strong and has a strong foundation with me and his mother so I ain't really that worried about that. But you can only control so much ...

Did you hear that Angelika, Dara [Roach] and I just cried as we listened to the Robert Glasper trio perform "Dying of Thirst" at the Blue Note? I think we are all walking around with so much feeling, including fear, frustration, even rage, because of what is happening when our people interact with the police - and because this has been going on for nearly 500 years now - but we have to put on our face to go to work, to buy groceries. We have to put on our face to interact with our young children. So, "Dying of Thirst" just, I think, let us release all that feeling pent up inside. We cried because your song gave us permission to express our real selves. Thank you for that, too.

Thank You. I cry damn near every time I play it live. I love my son so much ...

News Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Thanks to Reliance on "Signature" Drone Strikes, US Military Doesn't Know Who It's Killing

A signature strike takes place when a drone hits a target based on a target's patterns of behavior - but without knowing the target's identity.A "signature strike" takes place when a drone hits a target based on a target's patterns of behavior - but without knowing the target's identity. (Image: Predator drone via Shutterstock)

A new form of militarism based on futuristic, high-tech weaponry is killing thousands of unidentified people worldwide and maintaining the United States' permanent war machine.

A signature strike takes place when a drone hits a target based on a target's patterns of behavior - but without knowing the target's identity.A "signature strike" takes place when a drone hits a target based on a target's patterns of behavior - but without knowing the target's identity. (Image: Predator drone via Shutterstock)

Last month, on June 9, the United States launched a drone strike that killed Nasir al-Wuhayshi, a high-ranking leader in the Islamic militant group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). What makes the strike notable is that it was a coincidence: The CIA - the agency that pulled the trigger - had no idea al-Wuhayshi was among the group of suspected militants it targeted. Al-Wuhayshi's death at the hands of a US drone reveals that the United States continues to fire drone missiles at people whose identities it does not know.

Government officials confirmed the June 9 strike was a "signature strike" to The Washington Post. A signature strike takes place when a drone hits a target based on a target's patterns of behavior, but without knowing that target's identity. Thus, a US drone, in a signature strike, will target an area the government believes is filled with militant activity but will not know who exactly they are killing. While signature strikes have been happening for a while in the global war on terror, they signify a serious shift in US war-making. American warfare is increasingly placing a greater emphasis on big data, advanced computing, unmanned systems and cyberwarfare. While this approach may seem "cleaner" and more precise than previous tactics (particularly in contrast the drawn-out and bloody occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan), it is not. High-tech militarism is far from "accurate." Even more importantly, it inflicts serious human suffering and perpetuates the US permanent-war machine.  

Signature Strikes

Signature strikes began during the Bush years, in January 2008, as the US intensified drone strikes in Pakistan. When Obama entered office in 2009, his administration picked up where Bush left off and exponentially increased the number of drone strikes. During his eight years in office, Bush launched 51 drone strikes in Pakistan and killed between 410 and 595 people. Obama, so far, has launched 419 drone strikes in Pakistan, alone, and killed over 4,500 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia since 2009.

When a drone strike takes place, the US government "counts all military-aged males in a strike zone as combatant" unless posthumous intelligence proves them innocent, according to a May 2012 New York Times report. A White House fact sheet says this is "not the case." However, that contradicts what government officials leaked to the media outlets like The New York Times and ProPublica. As the Times report notes, "Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: People in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good."

In fact, US drone strikes have killed teenagers in countries like Pakistan and Yemen. One example is 16-year-old US citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki (son of Islamic militant preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, also a US citizen killed in a US drone strike) in 2011. Then-Attorney General Eric Holder said Abdulrahman was not ''specifically targeted.'' Another is Mohammed Tuaiman, a 13-year-old Yemeni boy who was killed by a CIA drone strike in Yemen last February. Drones had killed his brother and father beforehand.

Some State Department officials complained to the White House that the CIA's criteria for signature strikes was "too lax," according to The New York Times report. "The joke was that when the C.I.A. sees 'three guys doing jumping jacks,' the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp, said one senior official. Men loading a truck with fertilizer could be bomb makers - but they might also be farmers, skeptics argued," the report says.  

Drone strikes are launched by the CIA and the US military's Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), an elite military unit that carries out specialized, risky missions - or "special operations" - such as manhunts, "targeted killings" and rescues. Underneath JSOC's umbrella are special mission units that directly perform the operations. Those units include the Army's Delta Force, the Air Force's 24th Special Tactics Squadron and the Navy's SEAL Team Six, which killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.

The CIA has a similar paramilitary unit, known as the Special Operations Group (SOG). SOG operates under the CIA's Special Activities Division - the division that carries out covert operations - and often selects operatives from JSOC. JSOC's activities are distinct from conventional troops in the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. The US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) oversees JSOC and all special operations units within every military branch. JSOC also answers directly to the executive branch, with little to no oversight from Congress. Its missions are secret. The CIA is subject to some congressional oversight but still largely answers to the executive branch. This means JSOC and the CIA's paramilitary unit are virtually the president's private armies.  

The CIA has no drone bases in Yemen, but flies drones out of bases in Saudi Arabia and Djibouti. Last year, the United States signed a new, 20-year lease on its military base in Djibouti, Camp Lemonnier, which is a key hub in the US's counterterrorism wars in the Horn of Africa. The US flies surveillance and armed drones out of Camp Lemonnier to spy on and kill militant groups in Somalia and Yemen. Recently, Foreign Policy magazine reported that the US has two military bases in Somalia, from which JSOC operates. The bases are used to carry out counterterrorism operations and surveillance, as well as lethal drone missions.

In order to know where to launch a drone strike or other lethal operation, the US needs intelligence. For drone strikes, the main source for that intelligence is electronic - it's known as "signals intelligence," as it is the result of monitoring anything with an electronic signal. Targeting for US drone strikes and other extrajudicial operations is based on a complex analysis of metadata and tracking of cellphone SIM cards.

Metadata is data about data - such as who called whom at what time, what day, and for how long - rather than the data's actual content. Analyzing electronic intelligence can help analysts connect the dots and map a person's activity, though often not the purpose or substance of that activity. In an earlier email interview, former CIA case officer Robert Steele explained, "Signals intelligence has always relied primarily on seeing the dots and connecting the dots, not on knowing what the dots are saying. When combined with a history of the dots, and particularly the dots coming together in meetings, or a black (anonymous) cellphone residing next to a white (known) cellphone, such that the black acquires the white identity by extension, it becomes possible to 'map' human activity in relation to weapons caches, mosques, meetings, etcetera."

According to The Intercept, "Rather than confirming a target's identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military then orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using." The NSA will typically pinpoint the location of a suspected terrorist's cellphone or handset SIM card and feed that information to the CIA or JSOC, which will either launch a lethal drone strike or conduct a raid. JSOC used a similar approach when it conducted raids in Iraq and Afghanistan. To capture or kill militants in Iraq and Afghanistan, JSOC analyzed insurgent networks through surveillance drone imagery and the tracking of cellphone numbers.

However, that approach often leads to killing the wrong people. Because the US government is targeting cellphone SIM cards that are supposedly linked to individuals, rather than the individuals themselves, innocent people are regularly killed. Sometimes Taliban leaders in Pakistan - aware of the US government's tracking methods - will randomly distribute SIM cards among their fighters to confuse trackers. People who are unaware their phones are being tracked will often "lend their phone, with the SIM card in it, to friends, children, spouses and family members," according to The Intercept.  

Lethal Impacts

The use of signature strikes poses serious legal, strategic and moral questions. The recent Houthi rebellion in Yemen overthrew the US-backed Yemeni government, which the United States relied on to help wage its covert counterterrorism war in the country. As a result, the US has fewer operatives and on-the-ground intelligence sources in Yemen. According to Reuters, the US "will now be forced to rely more on surveillance drones, spy satellites and electronic eavesdropping, as well as their own 'human intelligence' sources on the ground." Thus, the government will defend drone strikes and signature strikes on the basis of convenience and efficacy. The Washington Post reported that "CIA officials have staunchly defended the targeting approach [of signature strikes], saying that analysts poring over drone footage and other surveillance have become adept at detecting patterns - such as the composition and movement of a security detail - associated with senior al-Qaeda operatives." The government also claims that signature strikes have killed many high-value al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan.

So far this year, there have been between 14 to 15 confirmed US drone strikes in Yemen, which have killed 46 to 69 people, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism's (TBIJ) figures. In 2014, there were 13 to 15 confirmed US drone strikes in the country, killing between 82 to 118 people, along with 3 additional US attacks that killed 21 to 22 people. TBIJ's figures don't differentiate between who was and was not a "militant," however; that is hard to determine since many drone strike victims are unknown people. The US government largely does not know who it is killing in drone strikes.

Overall, US drone strikes and other counterterrorism operations have, so far, killed between 3,155 and 5,285 people, including around 563 to 1,213 civilians, in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, according to TBIJ's numbers. A report by the human rights organization Reprieve found that US drone strikes kill 28 unknown people for each intended target. Only 2 percent of those killed by drone strikes in Pakistan are top-level al-Qaeda leaders. The rest of those killed are either lower-level fighters who pose little existential threat to the US, or else they are simply civilians or other unknown individuals.

Stanford and NYU Law Schools released a joint report in late 2012 revealing that not only do drone strikes cause physical harm, they also "[terrorize] men, women and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities." Because of the harm, terror and anxiety they inflict, drone strikes breed anti-American resentment and are a useful recruitment tool for militant groups to bring people into their fold.

Jack Serle, a data journalist for TBIJ's Covert Drone War team, who also works on the organization's Naming the Dead project (which names people killed by CIA drone strikes in Pakistan), told Truthout that signature strikes are very imprecise. He said, "Signature strikes, as a concept, is an incredibly imprecise method of carrying out, what we are told are surgically-precise attacks that destroy the cancer of al-Qaeda, whilst leaving the rest of the tissue in fine fettle. Actually, what they're doing is using patterns of behavior that aren't necessarily far from the norm to target groups of people where what the US would consider combatants and would consider noncombatants look pretty much the same and act pretty much the same."

For example, it is fairly common for men in areas of Pakistan to carry rifles for protection, given the region's instability and insecurity. That does not mean that they are necessarily "combatants" or members of the Taliban or al-Qaeda. "The core issue here is, actually, the CIA doesn't really know who they're killing, and they're using a tactic which exacerbates that problem," he added.

Serle pointed out that even though drones have killed some top-level Taliban and al-Qaeda militants, they have not helped stabilize a country like Yemen, which is currently experiencing a civil war. This situation "could well provide AQAP with the space to establish themselves once again like they did in 2011 and 2012." Bombing people in eastern Yemen "isn't the best way to resolve the current crisis," Serle said.

However, alternate ways of addressing terrorism have receded into the background, despite the fact that diplomacy is often the most effective tool for long-term resolution. A RAND study that analyzed 268 terrorist groups worldwide between 1968 and 2006 found that 43 percent ended through a "peaceful political resolution with their government," 40 percent "were penetrated and eliminated by local police and intelligence agencies," while only 7 percent were eliminated by military force.

Beyond their ineffectiveness, Naureen Shah, director of security and human rights at Amnesty International USA, told Truthout that signature strikes are potentially illegal under international law. She explained, "The same rules … apply to signature strikes as [would apply to] any other strike. If it's happening inside an armed conflict then there are rules about distinction and proportionality. The US has to be distinguishing between combatants - people who can be lawfully directly targeted - and people who are civilians who aren't participating in hostilities. The concern about signature strikes is if you do not know if the people that you're targeting are lawful military targets because you don't know their identity then the strike could be unlawful."

Under international law, combatants and lawful military targets can include members of a state's armed forces and militia groups. Shah said that the US's approach of counting military-age males in a strike zone as combatants is "contrary to international humanitarian law - that is the laws of war - [and] it's also contrary to US military manuals that require positive identification of targets prior to any strike."  

Shah added there are situations in armed conflicts "where you don't know the precise identity of the people but you could still know that they were a lawful military target or that they were combatants or that they were civilians participating in hostilities." But this assumes that there is a legally declared war taking place. And, of course, the US would still have to abide by international regulations regarding distinction and proportionality in combat.

The entire premise of the US global war on terror is legally unsound. The United States claims it is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban and "associated forces" - a term the US created to mean co-belligerents with al-Qaeda, such as AQAP. As a result, the US asserts it has the right and duty to engage in extrajudicial killing operations against those groups, even in countries where the US has not declared war, like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

However, terrorist and militant groups like al-Qaeda are too loosely organized and disparate to constitute legitimate parties in an armed conflict under international law. For example, AQAP is not the same organization as al-Shabaab or the Taliban. Terrorist groups are more like criminal gangs or drug cartels than armies, paramilitaries or guerrilla fighters. Thus, a so-called "war" against terrorist groups violates the basic tenets of international law.

Future of US Warfare

The advanced computing and intelligence-gathering required for drone strikes signifies what the future of US war-making will look like. To institutionalize the extrajudicial killing program for an indefinite future, the Obama administration created a massive database of terrorism suspects for kill-or-capture operations called the "disposition matrix."

According to the Washington Post, which exposed the matrix's existence in 2012, the "continually evolving" database catalogues "biographies, locations, known associates and affiliated organizations," along with "strategies for taking targets down, including extradition requests, capture operations and drone patrols." The Post notes that "the government expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years," meaning that drone strikes and high-tech military and other lethal operations are becoming a solid fixture in the American war machine.

According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the military's intelligence-sharing system, "A key challenge facing the military services is providing users with the capabilities to analyze the huge amount of intelligence data being collected." Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems collect and analyze intelligence for numerous military and national security operations. ISR systems include satellites, manned aircraft like the U-2, unmanned drones, ground-based sensors, human intelligence teams, and other ground, air, sea, or space-based equipment. Intelligence can be drawn from numerous sources - publicly available information known as "open-source intelligence," people including spies or informants (human intelligence), maps and imagery called "geospatial intelligence," and electronic data and communications known as "signals intelligence."

The proliferation of drones, growth of new technologies and sensors, expansion of advanced ISR systems (particularly to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), and the changing nature of military operations - with an emphasis on counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan and counterterrorism in countries like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia - "changed some of the traditional ways intelligence information was used." As a result, "The need to integrate the large amount of available intelligence data, including the ability to synthesize information from different types of intelligence sources (e.g., HUMINT, SIGINT, GEOINT, and open source), has become increasingly important in addressing, for example, improvised explosive device threats and tracking the activities of certain components of the local population."

A report by the think tank Center for a New American Security (CNAS) argued that "the next several decades may see a period of discontinuous change in both technology and warfare," also known as a "military-technical revolution" or ''revolution in military affairs,'' which is a revolution in ''new military technologies, operational concepts and organizations.'' A simple example would be the shift from bows and arrows to gunpowder. The proliferation of drones and other unmanned systems in the United States and around the world contributes greatly to this change.

According to the GAO report, "From 2002 to 2010, the number of unmanned aerial systems in DOD's [Department of Defense] inventory has increased about forty fold, from about 170 to 7,500 aircraft." The CIA has over 80 Predator drones, while the Air Force has 468 Predators and the Army has 110, according to an October 2014 War Is Boring piece - based on General Atomics' (company that makes Predator drones) numbers - on drone fleet figures.  

Finding and killing insurgents and terrorists is difficult, because they know how to mix with (or are part of) the local population, as P.W. Singer explains in his book Wired for War. Drones and other robotic weapons are attractive because they can hover over territory for a long time, surveil and gather intelligence, and fire missiles on command without risking the lives of US troops. However, there are always still people in "harm's way": those at the receiving end of the missile.

Drones are not the only harbinger of a military-technical revolution. The CNAS report says that "[o]ther emerging technologies may disrupt the global military balance as well, such as offensive cyber warfare tools; advanced computing; artificial intelligence; densely interconnected, multi-phenomology sensors; electric weapons such as directed energy, electromagnetic rail guns and high-powered microwave weapons; additive manufacturing and 3-D printing; synthetic biology; and even technologies to enhance human performance on the battlefield."

During the Cold War, the US government funded research and development into advanced technologies that led to "missiles, guided munitions, computer networking, satellites, global positioning" and stealth technology. However, this military-technical revolution, the report says, "is not being led by the American military-industrial complex." Instead, "companies focused on producing consumer goods and business-to-business services are driving many other key enabling technologies, such as advanced computing and 'big data,' autonomy, artificial intelligence, miniaturization, additive manufacturing and small but high density power systems." This means the private sector, particularly Silicon Valley, is driving this military-technical revolution. The report asserts, "All of these technologies - largely evolving in the thriving commercial computing and robotics sectors - could be exploited to build increasingly sophisticated and capable unmanned and autonomous military systems."

In fact, the US war machine is already building strong ties with Silicon Valley. Google, for example, sells its technologies to numerous US military, intelligence and law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, CIA, NSA, DEA and NGA. The company has a contract with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) - which provides geospatial intelligence like maps and satellite imagery to the military and other intelligence agencies - that allows the agency to use Google Earth Builder for geospatial intelligence purposes. According to a press release, the contract "allows NGA to customize Google Earth & Maps to provide maps and globes to support U.S. government activities, including: U.S. national security; homeland security; environmental impact and monitoring; and humanitarian assistance, disaster response and preparedness efforts" (emphasis added).

Google also has partnerships with two of the country's biggest defense contractors - Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Google worked with Lockheed in 2007 to design geospatial technologies, particularly a Google Earth product for the NGA's activities in Iraq during the 2003-2011 war. Google also partners with military/intelligence contractors like Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and Blackbird Technologies. Blackbird supplies locators that track, tag and locate suspected enemies to the US military, particularly the US Navy and SOCOM. Some Blackbird employees were also sent as armed operatives to join US special operations forces on secret missions. Blackbird's vice president is Cofer Black, a former CIA operative who ran the agency's Counterterrorist Center before 9/11 and helped create the torture program when the war on terror began.

Palantir is another tech company with deep ties to the national security state. The Palo-Alto-based company makes and sells data-mining and analysis software to multiple branches of the US military, as well as intelligence and law enforcement agencies: Its customers include the US Marine Corps, SOCOM, CIA, NSA, FBI, Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of Homeland Security, National Counterterrorism Center, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and New York Police Department (NYPD). According to the Wall Street Journal, Palantir's software is unique because it can quickly scan and categorize - via a " 'tagging' technique similar to that used by the search functions on most Web sites" - multiple sources of incoming data, like a first or last name or phone number. This helps analysts "connect the dots" among large pools of information.

As a result, the US military and many police and intelligence agencies want Palantir's software in their arsenal. US Marines and special operations forces used Palantir's software and found it useful to locate insurgents who made homemade bombs, and for their other missions.

Even if Palantir's technology is useful in certain situations, the real question to ask is to what end is that technology being used. When the US war machine's primary goals are full-spectrum dominance and global hegemony, advanced technology will be used to advance them. Protecting lives takes a backseat to the US's overarching goal of maintaining its global hegemony, especially with respect to technological advances. If any other nation gains a military technological advantage over the United States, then that undermines the US hegemony in the international system. This is more about power projection and protecting US economic and geopolitical interests than "defense." On top of that, making fancy technological tools for the US military and other intelligence agencies is a massive cash-cow for the private sector - from defense/intelligence contractors like Booz Allen Hamilton to Silicon Valley companies like Google.

Futuristic, high-tech militarism is not as "clean" nor "precise" as it is marketed. Drone strikes, particularly signature strikes, are very imprecise, kill thousands of people, and inflict serious harm, suffering and injury. What this new form of militarism does do, however, is maintain the US's permanent war machine in a new form. The US's goals of global hegemony and full-spectrum dominance remain the same. This latest military-technical revolution is simply another - more sophisticated and less visible - way of achieving it.

News Tue, 04 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Keystone XL Hits New Turbulence as South Dakota Permit Hearing Implodes

Holes too big to fix were poked in TransCanada's narrative that its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will be the safest pipeline ever built. And questions were raised about the company's financial dealings during hearings in South Dakota last week, where state regulators are tasked to decide if the company is capable of following the rules.

Also see: TransCanada's Keystone XL Permit Renewal Hearing Sheds Light on Serious Pipeline Risks

Holes too big to fix were poked in TransCanada's narrative that its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will be the safest pipeline ever built. And questions were raised about how the pipeline company's financial dealings are set up during Public Utilities Commission hearings in Pierre, South Dakota last week where state regulators are tasked to decide if the company is capable of following the rules the state set when the original Keystone pipeline permit was granted in 2010.

A team of lawyers representing Native American tribes and the grassroots group Dakota Rural Action took the upper hand during the proceedings as they tried to have a TransCanada executive's testimony impeached. The proceedings took on a circus-like atmosphere when TransCanada was unable to prevent lines of questioning it didn't like. 

The commissioners seemed unsure of its own procedures. At one point, Commissioner Gary Hanson expressed frustration that he was having trouble drawing a distinction between TransCanada's evidence and its advertising statements.

The testimony of TransCanada's key witness, Corey Goulet, president of Keystone Pipeline Projects, turned out to be an important centerpiece of the hearing.

In pretrial testimony filed by Goulet, he stated the company would have no problem meeting the Commission's amended conditions.

However, TransCanada's promises to build safe pipelines have been called into question with several high-profile incidents involving its existing pipelines, particularly the corrosion problems with the Keystone 1 pipeline. 

A TransCanada 'root cause analysis' document, made available online by DeSmog on Tuesday, shed troubling light on the external corrosion encountered on the Keystone 1.

"Root Cause Analysis" Document Creates Headaches, Questions for TransCanada

When Goulet was questioned about the significant corrosion discovered on the Keystone 1 pipeline in Missouri in 2012 - when the pipeline's wall had corroded in one spot to the thickness of a dime - he downplayed the incident, claiming that none of the defects were close to rupturing. 

"None of the defects, in my experience in 30 years of pipelines, would be injurious from the perspective of being close to rupturing. Therefore the only problem would have been the depth of corrosion," Goulet testified. (Audio of Goulet testimony, relevant corrosion section at ~ 32:45 – 33:40)   

Bruce Ellison, one of the lawyers for the interveners, had handed Goulet a copy of the company's root cause analysis report of the incident, before pointing out the corrosion area was much larger than Goulet had described. One of the defects involved a section of pipe where the wall had eroded 96.8 percent, which Ellison noted was close to a rupture incident.

TransCanada lawyers objected to any reference to the report because Goulet claimed he had never seen it and that it was classified. But since the report had already been entered into evidence, the interveners' lawyers were allowed by the Commission to continue questioning him. 

In the course of discovery, TransCanada provided the report in question as part of the unclassified documents, and therefore could not exclude the report from evidence, the Commission said.

After that dispute was settled, Goulet admitted he knew the location of sites where the pipeline had been dug up for inspection and repair. 

As indicated in the 'root cause' report, Site 5 was only 200 feet from the Mississippi River, the primary drinking water source for 18 million Americans, as well as agricultural water for crop production. 

Image of Site 5 defect from TransCanada's report pg. 22. (Photo: Courtesy of Julie Dermansky)Image of Site 5 defect from TransCanada's report, page 22. (Photo: Courtesy of Julie Dermansky)

Evan Vokes, former TransCanada employee turned whistleblower, and an expert witness for the interveners, told DeSmog he has never seen a pipeline coating corroded as badly as the failed coating of the Keystone 1. It looked as if "it had been gnawed at by rats," he told DeSmog.

Another former TransCanada employee reviewed the report and found it shocking. The fact that damaged sections of the pipe were repaired instead of replaced concerned him greatly. "We cut out better pipe than what I've seen in those pictures," he told DeSmog. 

TransCanada's Tax Revenue Calculations Off by a Lot

Goulet testified that the considerably lower amount of taxes TransCanada paid was less than had been estimated before construction - although the tax rate has since increased. 

While he stated he didn't know the technical details of how the taxes are applied, he went on to testify that "TransCanada Pipeline LP is the owner of the Keystone XL pipeline," explaining that it is a wholly owned subsidiary of TransCanada Corporation. While TransCanada Corporation has assets in excess of $50 billion, not all of that value would be assessed for tax purposes. Only the subsidiary's assets would, Goulet explained. While TransCanada estimated that Keystone 1 would deliver at least $45 million in tax revenue to communities, Goulet admitted that the company has only paid $18.4 million over the first 5 years of the pipeline's operation. That's roughly a third of what TransCanada had estimated as the benefit it would deliver in tax revenue to affected communities.

Goulet cited higher capital and operating costs for the discrepancy, blaming regulatory delays, technical changes, and inflation were responsible for the costs ballooning to nearly $2 billion for the Keystone 1 project. (Audio of hearing, relevant section on taxes at ~ 1:22:15 – 1:32:00)

The tax revenue discrepancies could have real impacts on communities that bank on the future of the Keystone pipeline.

"In Harding County a bond was passed and a new school was built on the premise that TransCanada's pipeline taxes would help pay for it," Bret Clanton, a member of Dakota Rural Action said.

TransCanada Bullish on Building Keystone XL Despite Oil Price Slump

In afternoon testimony (audio from ~1:48:00 on), David Diakow, TransCanada's Vice President, Commercial, Liquids Pipelines, opened the door to information that related to TransCanada's business dealings related to the project.  

Diakow revealed that the company intends to build the pipeline no matter how low the price of oil goes. (audio ~ 1:54:40 – 1:57:15)

Robin Martinez, a lawyer for the interveners, described what came next as unusual in an email to DeSmog,

"Paul Blackburn, one of the attorneys for the intervenors in the proceedings, started to question Mr. Diakow about market demand for the KXL pipeline. He began inquiring as to whether TransCanada's customers were demanding changes to their contracts, which TransCanada objected to, claiming their contracts and communications with customers were highly confidential. TransCanada then argued that Mr. Blackburn's questions relating to market demand for the pipeline were not relevant to the question of whether or not TransCanada could meet the conditions imposed by the Commission when it granted the original permit in 2010. However, by placing Mr. Diakow's written testimony into the record they opened the door to full cross-examination of him under the applicable administrative procedure rules. Apparently not wanting to have him questioned, TransCanada withdrew him as a witness and asked the Commission to strike his testimony from the record."

The Commission limited the scope of all further testimony for both parties to be pertinent to the amended conditions of the original 2010 permit, strictly limiting evidence presented for the remainder of the trial.

Peter Caposella, the lawyer representing the Rock Sioux Tribe said in all his years as an attorney, he had never seen a plaintiff remove their own witness in such a manner.  

As the near failure of the Keystone 1 line proved, the consequences of siting TransCanada's bitumen-carrying export lines so close to drinking water supplies is a risk we can ill afford to accept in an age of water scarcity and climate disruption. 

Even if President Obama denies the permit for the pipeline to cross international borders, the next administration could reverse that decision. 

However, if the South Dakota Public Utility Commission decides TransCanada isn't up to the job, TransCanada will have to start the entire re-permitting process again.

News Mon, 03 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Pro-Choice for Christ

Rev. Debra Haffner is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister. She is also the cofounder and president of the Religious Institute, a multi-faith organization that advocates for sexual health and education - including abortion and contraception access - in religious communities and beyond. The Religious Institute is just one of numerous organizations advocating for contraceptive access, abortion rights and LGBT rights.

Comforting hands(Image: Comforting hands via Shutterstock)

"When I introduce myself, I tell people I'm a sexologist and a minister. The most likely response is that people laugh," says Reverend Debra Haffner. "They see those terms as oxymorons, kind of like 'jumbo shrimp.'" 

Haffner, the jumbo shrimp in question, is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister. She is also the co-founder and president of the Religious Institute, a multi-faith organization that advocates for sexual health and education - including abortion and contraception access - in religious communities and beyond.

In a political landscape that seems destined to pit bibles against birth control for as long as the culture wars shall persist (see: Hobby Lobby), the Religious Institute is just one of numerous organizations advocating for contraceptive access, abortion rights, and LGBT rights motivated by - and not despite - Christian faith.

Considering where most Americans stand, this makes sense.

According to most major polls, a slim majority of American adults support abortion rights: 51 percent of American adults think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 43 percent think it should be illegal in all or most cases.

Yet some research suggests that Americans' thinking on abortion is more complicated than this simple binary - and that more people than previously thought support the right to choose. Only a small minority of the public believes abortion should never be legal, and large majorities think that if a woman gets an abortion, the experience should be supportive, comfortable, and non-judgmental. .

Americans' stances on abortion are more complicated than the political rhetoric may lead us to believe. Our understanding of religion and reproductive rights should follow suit.

The majority of Americans are religious. Over 70 percent of Americans identify as Christian, while 22.8 percent don't identify with any particular religion at all. And despite the growth of these so-called "nones," over 90 percent of Americans still believe in God.

It's a statistical inevitability: Many, if not a majority of, Christians in this country support reproductive rights. Of Christians, 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used some kind of contraception at one point or another. Over three-fourths of Catholics believe that the church should permit birth control, while 53 percent of white Catholics, and 43 percent of Latino Catholics, think abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Why do I find this so surprising?

"The American public by and large on some level has bought the myth of the far right," Haffner says, in answer to my unvoiced skepticism. She's referring, of course, to the myth that religion and reproductive justice are mortal enemies. "The reality is that the majority of people of faith in this country support all of those things."

In fact, Haffner says, religious peoples' advocacy for reproductive rights is almost as old as modern birth control itself. "It might surprise you to know that the very first denominational statement on reproductive health and birth control was in 1929," she tells me.

It does and here's why: I'm Catholic. Well, okay - I was raised Catholic. Italian Catholic from New Jersey.

In a red town where "It's Adam and Eve, Not Adam and Steve" was still considered a clever punchline, we were Black Sheep Catholics, cultural-heritage Catholics, Kerry-and-Obama Catholics, the Catholics the nuns didn't like. My mother, a feminist physician who attended Catholic school, was known to get into "disagreements" with church people about contraceptive access, abortion rights, and the War in Iraq.

During mass, I learned to mouth - not say - the prayers for the little aborted fetuses. I learned I would not be permitted marriage in the Church. I learned that I had to choose between my rights as a woman and a queer person, and my belief in God.

So, like youths from time immemorial, I flipped God the bird and pulled my pants down.

Reverend Harry F. Knox says there are a lot of people like me. Knox, president and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) - a coalition of faith organizations that promotes reproductive health and education access - has a slow, gentle voice with a twang.

"It often surprises people when Christians are pro-choice," Knox tells me. "This normally comes from folks whose particular faith backgrounds have a narrow view of reproductive health and rights." This narrow view, says Knox, can sometimes make it difficult for people in the secular reproductive rights movement - people like, you know, feminist journalists - to collaborate with people of faith.

In some ways that's understandable. When right-wing politicians affront our rights under the guise of "religious liberty," it can be easy to see politics as a rumble between Obamacare-covered progesterone and, well, God. "We have a few partners who sometimes have trouble allowing the faith voice to be heard because of the very real hurt that has been done in the name of religion to women over the years," Knox says of this tension. "One of the roles that RCRC plays in the larger movement for reproductive health, rights, and justice is a bridge role in helping our allies deal with that pain."

Knox would know. First denied ordination in two denominations for being gay, Knox, finally ordained in the Metropolitan Community Church, served for years in justice ministry for LGBT people. He came to reproductive rights work through what he calls an "abortion crisis" in his own family.

"The Christian church often seeks to control people through shame," says Knox. Part of his job, then, he says, is to help people "tell their own stories about sexuality, about their own experience as spiritual people who are also sexual beings, fully embodied, and made in the image of God."

And Haffner and Knox tell me that Protestants aren't the only pro-choice Christians. There are, my mother will be delighted to know, Catholics in the game, too. "We say that good Catholics do and can use reproductive healthcare services," says Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, Domestic Program Director at Catholics for Choice.

Catholics for Choice educates and advocates for sexual health - including, yep, abortion rights - both in religious organizations and government.

Ratcliffe, and Catholics for Choice's materials in general, put a lot of emphasis on conscience: The idea that decisions about the morality of abortion, contraception, and other sexual matters must be decided in - as they used to say in mass - "the silence of our hearts." This line of thinking comes with a real anti-authoritarian streak vis-à-vis the Church authorities. Their very sassy mission statement reveals some of this tension, calling out the "Catholic hierarchy" for "punish[ing] and publically sham[ing]" pro-choice Catholics.

Ratcliffe elaborates: "As Catholics, we actually have a right to dissent from teachings." She identifies this as a mission of religious liberty."The idea that someone would tell you what you can and cannot believe, or what you can and cannot access because of what they believe, is anathema to Catholics."

How did I not know about this group as a little gay kid?

Probably because - to no one's surprise - both the American and Canadian Conference of Bishops have denounced the organization. (A choice excerpt from the denouncement: "CFFC is, practically speaking, an arm of the abortion lobby.")

Indeed, the group's been ruffling papal feathers ever since its beginnings. In the seventies, a woman leader of the group had herself crowned Pope, and a member priest baptized a child who had been forbidden baptism by the Archbishop of Boston because his mother was pro-choice. In 1984, the group took out a full-page New York Times ad calling for the Church to accept pro-choice Catholics. It was co-signed by, among others, two priests, two brothers, and 27 nuns.

Which brings us to the nuns themselves. Lay people aren't the only Catholics advocating for reproductive freedom - there's also the nun contingent.

Here's how the most prominent among them got their start. In 1969, a group of women religious with the Catholic Church - many of them radicalized by the women's movement - created the National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN), whose support for abortion and contraception rights and belief in the ordination of women continue to fly in the face of official church teachings.

The organization has been headed for the last few decades by Sister Donna Quinn, herself an activist with a much-storied history. Quinn has been a vocal spokesperson for reproductive rights in (or adjacent to) the Catholic Church for years. A photo of her in an abortion "Clinic Escort" vest is iconic.

NCAN was active most recently in the midst of the Hobby Lobby hullaballoo. The coalition of came out in support of the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate and a "Stand with the Nuns" petition garnered signatures from over 12,000 pro-contraceptive rights people of faith.

"The institutional church men forget that we are women who are educated, articulate, seekers of truth and very, very holy," said Quinn in a 2012 article in Reuters of her and her fellow pro-choice sisters' work.

While remaining active in contemporary debates, however, many activist nuns like Quinn are aging, and according to some a new generation of nuns is less inclined to ruffle feathers.

At the same time, the overall Church's influence may also be waning, as more and more Millennials leave the church.

Still, with 65 percent of Millennials identifying as religiously affiliated, the question of religiosity and support for reproductive rights is far from obsolete. And it's more complicated than the political debate would have us believe, with more young people than ever - even religious ones - supporting causes that have traditionally been met with religious opprobrium, like marriage equality.

For Haffner, the continued relevance of these questions reflects our collective need for meaning.

When Haffner tells me that the majority of Americans attend worship services (at least a couple times a year) I let out an involuntary "Wow."

Right, because it's not your friends, she says.

It's true. I'm a writer for a feminist blog and my voice over the phone sounds twenty-two years old, suburb-raised and Ivy-educated, all of which I am. Two of my four college roommates were presidents of the atheist club. I've got "friends are non-church-going" written all over me.

But when I was researching this article - poring over the Religious Institute's website or the nuns' social justice writings - I found myself crying. Not hard, not uncontrollably, but I kept getting this lump in my throat.

And then it occurred to me, washed over me like a watercolor, all weepy and treble clef - like, oh, duh - that I am actually, in a lot of ways, a very religious person. And I think that the polarization of faith and reproductive justice that the contemporary political landscape so naturalizes does us all a big disservice.

Don't get me wrong. I still think we are all fortuitous conglomerations of cells and St. Teresa was having an orgasm. I don't think that every sperm is sacred or that a guy named Jesus had a sadistic father and a redemptive run-in with the Romans (too soon?).

But I was raised by a family raised on Vatican II, on Sacco and Vanzetti, on the Beatitudes, and every time someone starts talking about the inherent dignity of humankind, and social justice, and mercy, and compassion, I want to weep.

Because I know that my grandmother votes Democrat and is mad about police violence and thinks I should have abortion rights and loves me as a feminist and loves me as a lesbian because she loves God. And God loves the most vulnerable.

Haffner, of course, is onto me.

"An anecdote that is really interesting to me is the number of weddings and memorials and baby christenings I've done since I became a minister in the reproductive health field," Haffner says. "People call me because they still need somebody to marry them, they still need somebody to bury their mother."

Yeah, you might no longer go to church, she seems to be telling me. You might have forgotten the Nicene Creed when the mass was re-translated from Latin and you might only take the Eucharist at Christmas because you think when you cross yourself and your cleavage jiggles you look like Madame Bovary.

But you know what? You may be back. You may be back because all those things you believe in, all those things about humanity and dignity and choice? Yeah, Haffner seems to be saying. We're working on that.

"People return," she says.

News Mon, 03 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Will New Film Force US to Acknowledge Role in 1965 Indonesian Genocide?

October 1 marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the 1965 genocide in Indonesia that left over one million people dead. Human rights groups are circulating petitions calling for the US government to acknowledge its role in the genocide and to release CIA, military and other governmental records related to the mass killings. The United States provided the Indonesian army with financial, military and intelligence support at the time of the mass killings. Today we look at the pursuit of one Indonesian man confronting his brother's killers. In 1965, Adi Rukun's older brother was killed by the Komando Aksi, a paramilitary organization in Aceh. Adi Rukun's pursuit is the focus on Joshua Oppenheimer's new documentary, The Look of Silence. In 2012, Oppenheimer released a companion film titled The Act of Killing, in which he interviewed the Indonesian death squad leaders and worked with them to re-enact the real-life killings. The film was nominated for an Academy Award.


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

AMY GOODMAN: We spend the hour today with the award-winning filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer. In 2012, his debut feature film, The Act of Killing, stunned audiences by unmasking the perpetrators of the mid-1960s genocide in Indonesia, when the military and paramilitary slaughtered up to a million Indonesians after overthrowing the government. That military was backed by the United States and led by General Suharto, who would rule Indonesia for decades. Joshua Oppenheimer spent more than eight years interviewing the Indonesian death squad leaders and worked with them to re-enact the real-life killings. The film went on to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.

In his new film, The Look of Silence, Oppenheimer revisits the scenes of the crimes while focusing on the victims of the genocide. The film follows one family as it attempts to confront the murderers, many of whom are still in power since there has been no official reconciliation process in Indonesia. This is the trailer for The Look of Silence.

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] No, I don't think it's a big problem.

ADI RUKUN: [translated] But a million people were killed.

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] That's politics.

ADI RUKUN: [translated] Mom, how do you feel living, surrounded by your son's killers? In our village, the mayor, the teachers, they were all killers. Are your neighbors afraid of you?

INONG SUNGAI ULAR: [translated] They're scared of me. They know they're powerless against me.

ADI RUKUN: [translated] My story is, my brother was killed, too.

AMIR SIAHAAN: [translated] Adi, where did your brother live?

ADI RUKUN: [translated] I'm sorry, I won't tell you.

AMIR SIAHAAN: [translated] Just tell me. It's OK.

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] If you keep making an issue of the past, it will definitely happen again.

ADI RUKUN: [translated] If I came to you like this during the military dictatorship, what would you have done to me?

AMIR SIAHAAN: [translated] You can't imagine what would have happened.

AMY GOODMAN: That's the trailer for The Look of Silence. The Oscar-nominated director Joshua Oppenheimer was in New York for the release of the movie. He came by the Democracy Now! studio on the day The Look of Silence was released. I started by asking him about the title of the film.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: The Look of Silence really defines a project, for me, which was to show what this invisible thing, silence, a silence born of fear, looks like. What is it like for human beings to have to live for 50 years afraid? Trying to give vision to that silence and to that fear was what kind of defined the film's project. And I had the title long before I had the title The Act of Killing, in fact. And then, of course, there's this other layer of meaning, because it follows one survivor of the killings, Adi Rukun, the main character in the film, as he goes and visits the men who killed his brother, still in power, and tries to get them to take responsibility for what they've done, while testing their eyes. And so emerges - he's an optometrist. And so emerges this kind of metaphor for blindness, which was also there for me in the title. The men are willfully blind to the meaning of what they've done, and he's trying to help them see.

AMY GOODMAN: So now let's step back, and give us the political context to this story. Talk about Indonesia.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: So, in 1965, there was a military coup, sponsored and supported by the West - the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan - with the United States taking a key role. And there was the charismatic first president of Indonesia, a populist, left-leaning populist, named Sukarno, and the founder of the Non-Aligned Movement, the movement within the - during the Cold War that was trying to chart a kind of third way, an independent path neither aligned with the Soviet Union nor the West. He's the president, Sukarno, who - the president who led Indonesia out from Dutch colonialism. He's the founding father of Indonesia. He was overthrown in a military coup where, within like six months, somewhere between half a million and three million people were killed. Every opponent of the new - or potential opponent of the new military dictatorship - trade union leaders, intellectuals, teachers, the ethnic Chinese, members of the farmers' cooperative, leaders of the Indonesian women's movement - were rounded up, put in concentration camps, and then a great many of them dispatched out to be killed.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about your first film, what you covered there, and what you're covering with this film.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: So, in 2003, I began my work on the 1965 genocide and, more importantly, its present-day legacy. It's the current regime of fear and thuggery and corruption. And I began that work, actually, in collaboration with Adi Rukun and his family, the family at the center of The Look of Silence. And they would gather survivors to tell me their stories. Some of them had never talked before about what they had been through. And when they would come to tell me their stories, they would arrive crying already, just at the thought of speaking about what they'd experienced. And they would, in this very vulnerable state, share with me what they had been through.

But after three weeks, the army came and threatened all of the survivors not to participate in the film. And Adi responded by calling me to a midnight meeting in his parents' house and saying, "Please don't give up. Try to film the perpetrators." I went, afraid at first, to approach the perpetrators, but when I did, I found that they were open - not just open, but they were immediately boastful about the worst details of what they'd done. When I showed this back to Adi, he said, "Continue to film the perpetrators." And then, so did the rest of the Indonesian human rights community, saying, "Film the perpetrators and expose the terrible the scent that the genocide hasn't really ended, because the perpetrators are still in power and millions of people's lives are still being destroyed by fear and silence." And so, I then spent seven years working with the perpetrators.

And what begins with them taking me to their places where they killed and launching into spontaneous demonstrations of how they killed gradually evolved into something much more surreal, maybe even a much vaster project, where to try and understand why they're boasting, why they're open, for whom they're boasting, how they want to be seen, how they really see themselves, I gave them the chance - or I asked them to dramatize what they had done, in whatever ways they wish, in order to show essentially the lies, the fantasies, the stories that the perpetrators tell themselves so they can live with themselves, and the terrible consequences of these lies on the whole society.

AMY GOODMAN: Joshua Oppenheimer, talking about his new film, The Look of Silence. We'll be back with him in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, as we continue our conversation with the award-winning filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, director of the new film, The Look of Silence, about the US-backed genocide in Indonesia during the 1960s that led to the deaths of more than a million Indonesians. I asked Oppenheimer about his first feature film, The Act of Killing, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: The Act of Killing, my first film, follows one death squad leader, who killed a thousand people, perhaps, as he sets about dramatizing his memories, his experiences of genocide as a way of somehow desperately trying to cling to the lies that this whole regime has told and imposed on the whole society. And as he goes through that process, gradually he comes to see, through his own dramatizations, that these are lies. And he has this wrenching confrontation with his own conscience. And as all of Anwar's personal lies collapse, for Indonesia, the national lie, that this was heroic, also collapses.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's go to a trailer from The Act of Killing.

HERMAN KOTO: [translated] Cut! Cut! Cut! You acted so well, but you can stop crying now.

ADI ZULKADRY: [translated] "War crimes" are defined by the winners. I'm a winner.

SURYONO: [translated] Have mercy on me!

ANWAR CONGO: [translated] Honestly, I never expected it to look this brutal.

I can't do that again.

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] Kill!

ANWAR CONGO: [translated] I did this to so many people. Have I sinned?

AMY GOODMAN: That's the Oscar-nominated film, The Act of Killing. And, Joshua, I mean, the danger in doing what you have done - yes, the perpetrators spoke to you, the victims spoke to you. Talk about the chronology. You made The Act of Killing. All of these killers participated and were proud of what they did. And what did you do in the wake of this?

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Then I went - I returned to make, in a sense, the film that I set out to make at the beginning, at least thematically, a film that explores what does it do - what is it like for the survivors to have to live in the midst of the still-powerful killers, in fear. And when I returned, I had no idea that I would be filming a survivor as he goes and confronts the men who killed his brother. When Adi proposed that, he said to me, "Joshua, I've spent seven years watching your footage with the perpetrators, and it's changed me. I need to go and meet the men who killed my brother." At first, reflexively, instantly, I said, "Absolutely not. It's too dangerous. There has never been a film where survivors confront perpetrators who are still in power. It's never been done before. We cannot do it."

And Adi explained to me that he was hoping to visit - he was hoping that if he could visit the perpetrators, and if they could take responsibility for what they've done, he would somehow be able to reconcile himself with his neighbors, that they would - that the men who killed his brother, the men who had been terrorizing his family for half a century, would welcome his arrival as this chance to make peace with their neighbors and to take - and to find forgiveness from one of their victims' families. I was doubtful that that would happen, but I realized that if we could show why we failed, if we could show what I thought would happen, which is that the perpetrators get defensive and angry and fearful and threaten us, and if we could somehow do this safely, we would be able to show how torn this society is, how urgently truth, reconciliation and justice are needed.

And we realized that because I had made The Act of Killing, but it had not yet screened, because I was - I was therefore believed to be close to some of the most powerful men in the country and some of the most powerful perpetrators in the country: the vice president of the country, who's in The Act of Killing; leaders of the paramilitary - national leaders of the paramilitary movement that committed the killings with the army; ministers in the cabinet. I was believed - people thought, because they hadn't seen The Act of Killing yet, but they knew I had made this film with them, that these were my friends. And we realized that because of that, the men Adi wanted to confront are regionally powerful, not nationally powerful, and they would be unlikely to detain us, and certainly, let alone physically attack us, and that this was what would allow us to do this unprecedented thing of confronting the perpetrators while they still hold power.

AMY GOODMAN: So you made the film after The Act of Killing, but before it was shown around the country.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: That's right. We had this window after we finished editing The Act of Killing. We knew that we wouldn't be able to return again after it - we wouldn't be able to return safely after the film came out, so we had to shoot the second film in the interim.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us who Adi is and who his brother, Romli, is.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: So, Romli was the leader of the - the village head of a farmers' cooperative. And just for that, he was seen as a likely opponent to the new dictatorship and was killed.

AMY GOODMAN: And where did he live?

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: In this small village in North Sumatra in the middle of a vast area of oil palm and rubber plantations. And what was unique about his murder was not so much his - what was unique about him, about his story, was not so much his position, but the fact that his was one of the only murders that had witnesses. Tens of thousands of other people from that region had been taked to rivers, killed, and their bodies allowed to drift out to see, and their families were never told what happened. Like the relatives of the disappeared in Latin America, they then were unable to grieve, unable to mourn. They couldn't even say that their loved ones had died. All they could say is they hadn't come home yet, belum pulang in Indonesian, which meant that they were - they lived in this prison of cognitive dissonance, where they knew their loved - that the person must be dead, but couldn't say it. And a small part of that grief, they could articulate by talking about Romli. So, over the decades, from 1965 until I first arrived in 2003 and started working on this, over the decades, Romli became a kind of synonym for the genocide as a whole.

And when I started this work, I was introduced to his family. Romli's mother and father immediately wanted me to meet Adi. They said, "He's Romli's replacement." We were - Romli's mother said, "I was going crazy after Romli was murdered. And because I had Adi, I was able to somehow continue to live." And she said, "He talks like Romli, looks like Romli, acts like Romli. You must meet him." She called into the village, and I met this young man, born after the killings, not as afraid as the rest of his family, because he hadn't experienced the killings firsthand, who was desperate to understand what happened. All he knew was the government propaganda justifying what had happened, and he knew the story of Romli's murder, which he would hear again and again and again from his mother. She couldn't stop telling the story. It was like an echo, he would say, that would never fade. And he wanted to understand what happened to his mother, to his father, to his village, and so he latched on to my filmmaking as a way of answering these questions.

AMY GOODMAN: Introduce this first clip of Adi's mother.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: So, in this first scene, we see here Adi asking his mother, while she's cutting tamarind fruits in her garden, what it's like to be surrounded by the men who killed her son, Romli, and what it's like to live in a space of silence and fear, haunted by the ghosts of the unburied dead, really.

AMY GOODMAN: The Look of Silence.

ROHANI: [translated] They stole from their victims. Now they are rich. They killed the husband and took the wives.

ADI RUKUN: [translated] How do you feel living surrounded by your son's killers and see them every day?

ROHANI: [translated] It's horrible. When we meet in the village, we don't speak. I hate them.

AMY GOODMAN: That is a clip of The Look of Silence, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer. So that is Adi's mother being questioned by Adi, her son. What happened to Romli, her older son?

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Well, Romli was taken from the prison, the holding prison from which people were dispatched out to be killed, where in fact he was guarded, we found out - we find out during the film, by his own uncle, by his mother's brother, something the family didn't know.

AMY GOODMAN: Until you made the film.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Until we were actually - one day Adi decided he would go and visit his uncle and test his eyes as a favor that he'd promised, and started asking about what - because I was there, started asking what his uncle remembered of that time. And his uncle just volunteered it.

So he was dispatched out from the prison with a truckload of other people to be taken to North Sumatra's Snake River and killed, a spot where 10,500 people were killed. And on the way, the truck had to pass the turnoff to his family's home, and he panicked, because he realized what was happening and perhaps also because he was passing the road to his home. And there was a commotion on the truck. And because of that, two people escaped and survived. Everybody else, apart from Romli, was killed right there. Romli was injured and managed to crawl home through rice fields about a mile to the house, to his parents' home, where his mother took him in and tried desperately to keep him alive.

Two hours later, the death squad came with the army to pick him up, and clearly threatening to kill the whole family if Rohani, Romli's mother, didn't turn him over. And to sort of make it easier for her, but in a terrible way, ultimately making it much harder, the death squad leader said, "We're taking him to the hospital." And she knew it was a lie, but in order to do what she had to do in that moment, which was to give up her son, she had to somehow believe it was true in that moment, terribly making her a kind of, in her own mind, a collaborator in that moment. And that story has therefore, I think, never faded. It's just - she repeats it like a mantra, like a - not like a mantra, like something - just this horrible thing that she can't - that she needs to have heard and she can't let go of, all the time.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did they do to him?

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: They took him from the house. They brought him to a nearby river, because day was breaking and the official site for killing had closed for the night. And they took him to a nearby stream. They hacked him up, left him for dead. He wasn't dead. He was calling for help. A crowd gathered. So they came back. They fished him out of the river, took him into the palm plantation and killed him. And his father's co-workers - his father worked on the plantation - saw the body the next day and informed the family where the body was. And so now there's a grave, a small grave, there.

AMY GOODMAN: His father is also a key figure in your film, though he is not really speaking.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Yeah, he becomes - in fact, it was part of how Adi persuaded me that we ought to film, that we ought to confront the perpetrators. When I said, "No, it's not possible," Adi showed me a - "because it's too dangerous," Adi showed me a scene that he shot with a small camera I had given him to use as a kind of notebook to look for images that might inspire the making of this film a couple years earlier. And he showed me this scene where his father is lost in his own home. It's the only scene in the film that Adi shot.

He's crawling through his own home, lost, calling for help. And Adi told me that - thinking he's in a stranger's house and could be beaten up. And Adi told me that his father - that, essentially, his father had forgotten the son whose murder destroyed his life and his family's life, but he hadn't forgotten the fear. He's trapped in a kind of prison of fear, because he can't - and he'll never be able to heal, because he can't remember what happened. He'll never be able to work through it. He'll never be able to move beyond it. And so he's like a man locked in a room, who can't find the door even, let alone the key. And he said to me, "You see, if I can only meet the perpetrators, they will - and if they can accept what they've done is wrong, and I could forgive them, then my children will not have to grow up afraid of their neighbors."

And I understood two things then. I understood that the perpetrators won't apologize. In The Act of Killing, I worked for five years with the main character, Anwar Congo, and at the end of that process, he's retching over his own guilt, but he's still, in the uncut version of the film, the so-called director's - what's out in the United States on Netflix as the director's cut, but which is the version that came out in Indonesia and around the world outside the United States, while he's retching, he's still saying - he's still saying, "My conscience told me they had to be killed." He's still lying to himself. And I had this feeling that if Anwar, after five years, even while he's retching, can't admit what he did was wrong, somehow these men will not get there in an hour and a half with Adi, the men Adi wants to meet. So I realized that we wouldn't get the apology. But if I could show the human - complex human reactions that are inevitable when you go into someone's home and say, "You've killed my brother. Can you take responsibility?" - the shame, the guilt, the fear of their own guilt, and then the defensiveness, the anger, the threats - if I can show that, then I can show, essentially, the previously invisible abyss dividing every Indonesian from each other.

And I also realized, from this clip that Adi showed me of his father, that this must be much more than just a film about impunity and survivors living side by side with perpetrators who are still in power. It must also be a kind of poem about memory and oblivion, about - a poem composed in perhaps in memoriam to all that's destroyed, not just the dead, who can't be wakened, but the lives that have been destroyed by 50 years of fear and silence that can never be made whole again.

AMY GOODMAN: So let's go to the second clip that we have in The Look of Silence. Adi is going to the man who killed his brother, Romli.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Yeah, here we meet Adi confronting the commander of the death squads that were operating in Snake River, a man who told me that he deserves a cruise to America, because it was America who taught him to hate and kill the communists. Then Adi goes and visits him and asks him to take responsibility for what he's done. And we'll see a moment of that.

ADI RUKUN: [translated] You were leader of Komando Aksi in this region, so you were responsible for the mass killing here. Do people around here know that?

AMIR SIAHAAN: [translated] Yes, they do.

ADI RUKUN: [translated] The thing is, I - my older brother, he was killed, because you commanded the killings.

AMIR SIAHAAN: [translated] It wasn't really me.

ADI RUKUN: [translated] You were responsible as leader of Komando Aksi.

AMIR SIAHAAN: [translated] There were many Komando Aksi groups.

ADI RUKUN: [translated] But you were the top leader.

AMIR SIAHAAN: [translated] Komando Aksi was the people united with the army. And we had commanders above us. And we were protected by the government. So you can't say I'm responsible.

ADI RUKUN: [translated] Every killer I meet, none of them feel responsible.

AMY GOODMAN: That's a clip of The Look of Silence. And explain exactly who this man is.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: This man is the head of the civilian - was the head of the civilian death squads that were killing at Snake River. It's a - working, recruited by the army. He's from the same paramilitary group that's at the center of my first film, The Act of Killing. His name is Amir Siahaan. And he would sign off the lists of people every night who had to be killed. And between him and his deputies, 10,500 people were killed in this one spot. He personally signed off, he says, about 600 people, but that's only because it wasn't normally his job to do that. There were many more killed there. After Adi tells him - and we saw a glimpse of this in the trailer, the beginning, a little earlier - after Adi says, "I think you're not taking responsibility," he becomes very angry and starts asking, "Well, where do you live?" And Adi won't tell him. And Adi then says, "Well, what would you have done to me if I came during the military dictatorship?" And he says, "You can't imagine it," and then says, "You see, the real danger is not the known communists, who have been under surveillance and terrorized for decades, and therefore unlikely to speak out. The real dangers are the secret communists, and perhaps this film is a secret communist activity." And he says, "Just continue," threateningly, "continue with your secret communist activity. Go on."

AMY GOODMAN: And this is actually Adi's neighbor.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Yeah, it's - their houses are within minutes of each other.

AMY GOODMAN: Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, director of the new film, The Look of Silence, which has opened around the country. It's being called a masterpiece. This is Democracy Now! We'll be back with Oppenheimer in a moment.


AMY GOODMAN: "Arum Bandung," here on Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, as we continue my conversation with the Oscar-nominated filmmaker, director Joshua Oppenheimer. I asked him to talk about the dangers of making his new film, The Look of Silence. In both The Look of Silence, which is about the victims of the US-backed Indonesian genocide, as well as the film The Act of Killing, about the perpetrators, the credits all are listed - many of them are listed as anonymous.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Yeah, throughout the shooting of the film and the editing of the film and then the release of the film, we knew we were prepared to stop, after every scene. Adi - in preparation for the scenes with the highest-ranking commanders, we would have a second car available to use as a getaway vehicle, so we'd be harder to follow, should we have to flee. Adi's family would be at the airport, ready to evacuate if there was any sign of threat that would persist after we left. And about six months before the film had its first screening at the Venice Film Festival, we met with Adi, his family, the whole team that released The Act of Killing, human rights activists and my crew in Thailand, because I could already no longer safely return to Indonesia, to watch a rough cut of the film and discuss whether we shouldn't bring the film out at all until the perpetrators have died or until there's real change in Indonesia, or whether we should bring the film out, but Adi's family should move to Europe for a while, which is where I'm based.

In the end, we decided - in the end, Adi's family saw the film and said, "This film must come out now," because there was such momentum from The Act of Killing for change in this area. The government of Indonesia had already, as a - in response to The Act of Killing's Oscar nomination, had said, "Look, we know what happened in 1965 was a crime against humanity. We know we need reconciliation. We don't need a film to push us into this. We'll do it in our own time." But it was a wonderful moment, because it was the first time they had admitted it was wrong. The media and the public were now talking openly about the genocide as a genocide. And it was time -

AMY GOODMAN: But The Act of Killing, you first had these underground showings in Indonesia.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Yes, it began in secret, but by - once the media embraced the film, the screenings quickly became public. And by this point, when we were screening The Look of Silence for Adi's family in Thailand, there had been thousands of public showings. We had already made the film available for free for all Indonesians online. It had been downloaded tens of millions of times.

AMY GOODMAN: And the government actually had showings?

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Not of The Act of Killing, no.

AMY GOODMAN: No, no, of The Look of Silence.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: The Look of Silence, and entered that space. And actually, it's distributed by two government bodies: the National Human Rights Commission and the Jakarta Arts Council - something unimaginable if - were it not for The Act of Killing. The first screening in Jakarta was held in the largest theater in Indonesia. There were billboards around the city announcing the screening. Three thousand people turned up. The theater only could hold 1,500. They put on two screenings. Adi came for both and received a 15-minute standing ovation. The next month, the film came out across the country. On the first day, International Human Rights Day, there were 500 public screenings. And over the coming weeks, we reached 3,500 screenings. The film has prompted this national conversation now about how urgently truth and reconciliation and some form of justice are needed. The government has introduced a truth and reconciliation bill, woefully inadequate, but it's a milestone, and it's something for activists in the human rights community to try to improve.

In any case, because of all of this momentum, Adi's family, upon seeing the film, said, "It must come out now. We're ready to move to Europe." The team in Indonesia said, "I think we can - if we can assemble a team and the resources to relocate the family to another part of Indonesia, that should be possible. We should be able to protect the family's safety, because we think the new climate, in part opened by The Act of Killing, will be protective, and Adi will be seen by many as a national hero after the film comes out." In fact, the first screening was on National Heroes Day and trending on Twitter in Indonesia. Indonesia is the largest Twitter-using country in the world. So, trending on Twitter, actually, around the world that day was "Today we have a new national hero, and his name is Adi." And so, all of this meant that Adi's family was able to move a few thousand kilometers from where they were from to another part of the country. They're surrounded by a more supportive community of human rights lawyers, critical journalists, filmmakers, progressive politicians, all of whom are closely monitoring whatever threats there may be. But Adi's family is OK.

AMY GOODMAN: But they're not living where they - he grew up.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: They're not. And for a man who's only trying to have forgiveness with his neighbors, it's a sign of the extent to which Indonesia is not a democracy. A democracy, of course, requires rule of law. And the most powerful in Indonesia are not subject to the same laws as the weakest - as the weakest. And in that sense - and if there's no rule of law, it's not a democracy. We have the same problem, of course, here in the United States, maybe to a slightly lesser extent, that you don't - and not only - not only that, the fact that - at the same - because of this lack of rule of law, you have a shadow state built around the military of oligarchs, of gangsters, of paramilitaries, who - and intelligence services, formally above the law. The military is immune to civilian law. If a military commander were to order the massacre of a whole village, he could not be put on trial in civilian courts. It would be - the military would have to convene its own tribunal for him, which means the military is beyond the law.

AMY GOODMAN: Which brings me to - back to the perpetrator, one of them, the one that Adi confronts, saying that "I am a product of the United States." Talk more, for those who are not familiar with the history of Indonesia, the modern history of Indonesia, back to the '60s, what the US role was.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: The United States provided aid, weapons, money to the military so that they could carry out this genocide. They may have been involved with masterminding or conspiring to create the events that were used as a trigger for the genocide, the excuse for the genocide, which was the murder of six army generals by other members of the armed forces. But those whatever - all of the CIA job documents pertaining to this period in Indonesia remain classified, and we're pushing to have those released. Senator Tom Udall introduced a "sense of the Senate" resolution on the day of the film's release in Indonesia, saying it's time for the United States to declassify and to take responsibility for its role in these crimes and to declassify its records.

We know - what we already know is damning enough. We know that, for example, embassy officials were compiling lists of thousands of names of public - of public figures in Indonesia - US Embassy officials - and handing these to the army and saying, "Kill everybody on these lists and check off the names as you go, and give the lists back to us when you're done." I spoke to one of those men, a man named Robert Martens, early in my journey here, and he talked about how this was crucial intelligence he was giving. But these were public figures. And the United States had already funded and trained the Indonesian army and advised the Indonesian army to be deployed into every village in the country, so they were useless for national defense. They were deployed for internal repression and mass murder. And if you are, like an octopus, with your tentacles, reaching into every village, of course you know - of course you know who a local public figure is - a journalist, an intellectual, a trade union leader - who might be opposed to the military government. So this wasn't intelligence. This was incitement. This was saying - the United States saying, "Kill everybody. We want this new regime to stick. Kill every possible opponent." The US also provided the radios, deliberately, that allowed the - for the purpose of the military coordinating the massacres across the vast archipelago of 17,000 islands that Indonesia is.

And in The Look of Silence, we also see an NBC News report that celebrates the genocide, more or less, right afterwards. And we see, most chillingly, that Goodyear, a major multinational corporation, is on the rubber plantations, where they're harvesting the latex for our tires and our condoms. Goodyear is using slave labor drawn from death camps to harvest their rubber. This is, of course, what German corporations did on the periphery of Auschwitz a mere 20 years earlier. But here it's being broadcast on American TV and celebrated as good news, as a victory for freedom and democracy. It should give every viewer of The Look of Silence pause, leading us to wonder whether this was really done - whether the real reason for US participation was the so-called - the struggle of the so-called free world against the communist world, or whether that was a ruse, a pretext, an excuse, for murderous corporate plunder.

AMY GOODMAN: And this was all about the rise of the US-backed dictator Suharto.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: That's right. This is how Suharto came to power. And he remained in power for 35 years. And while in power, he - the US continued to aid that government and to encourage further abuses, including the invasion and occupation of East Timor, which led to its own genocide, where a third of the population of East Timor was killed. This was all to the tune of billions and billions of dollars aid was showered upon the Suharto dictatorship. And that aid started flowing while the rivers were still choked with bodies.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to end with two points. One is what happens with the crew who made this film, that you work with. But first, the very touching scene where Adi is talking to his son, and you see his son in school, and what his children are learning today.

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Still in Indonesia when we shot the film, and it's maybe starting to change as a result of the film, but still in Indonesia, the government teaches the students, teaches children, that the genocide was heroic, something to be - was the heroic extermination of the Indonesian left, and that the victims were sort of monstrous and deserved what they got, and the perpetrators were heroes. And you see Adi's young son hearing this and hearing that because - that the relatives, the grandchildren of victims shouldn't be allowed decent employment, that they shouldn't be allowed to join the police or get a job in the government, or that they have to be monitored closely, because their grandparents were these terrible people. And we see this stigma being passed on from generation to generation. And, of course, we see essentially the soil being sown for the genocide's recurrence. In the film, we hear again and again, "Let the past be past." But survivors always say it out of fear, and perpetrators always say it as a threat, which means the past is not past, it's right there. It's open. It's a gaping wound. And what's keeping it alive is, of course, the teaching of propaganda in the schools.

And Adi, in many ways, responded to that, the unbearable sense that his children were being stigmatized for their own family's oppression - something that we know all too well in this country, with our own - with our unresolved histories of - the unresolved wounds of race and the Native American genocide. We are - this should not be seen as something unfamiliar to us. And, of course, American - insofar as this is America's genocide, too, this is also part of our history. If America is an empire, what goes on in the far-flung corners of America has everything to do with our life at home and the consumer economy that we perhaps are at least told we should be enjoying at home. So, this is about all of us, too.

AMY GOODMAN: And the credits, the people who worked with you, who cannot still be named, even when this film, The Look of Silence, is being supported by the Indonesian government in its distribution around the archipelago?

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: That's right. Because of the shadow state of the military and the gangsters and the paramilitaries, even if parts of the government are supporting the film, that doesn't mean that it's safer for my team. And it's taken a team of 25 people, five working full time, to ensure the safety of Adi and his family. And we still have a plan B where they evacuate if there's any sign of threat. With my - the same risks are there for my crew, and so my crew, on both films, remains completely anonymous. The credit scrolls on both - it's kind of the finale of both films, is to see that everybody who made the film who's Indonesian is anonymous. These are people who gave 10 years of their lives, some of them, changing their careers from journalists, from human rights lawyers, from university professors, filmmakers, heads of NGOs. They stopped what they were doing, thinking initially they were taking a six-month sabbatical, but would find that actually the project would go on, would get deeper and deeper, and they would decide to continue working on it, risking their safety, knowing they couldn't take credit for their work, until there is real political change. And there's nothing - because they felt it was that important. And there's nothing I'd rather do, really, then to be able to cut the credit scrolls off each film and put on new credits with everybody's name.

AMY GOODMAN: The new president, Jokowi, has he seen this film?

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: We gave him the film months ago. We gave him a letter from me a few weeks ago about the film. There's rumors of a presidential apology to the victims and the families of the victims in the next State of the Union address, but there's already - which is in August. But there's already a backlash. We already have paramilitary groups calling him a communist, calling him a traitor, talking about impeachment proceedings. So, there's - we don't know whether he's seen the film. He received a copy of the film, though, from his - from a relative of his in his mother's living room. And we have a photograph of him holding the film in his mother's living room.

AMY GOODMAN: How many people were killed in 1965, '66, '67 in Indonesia by the Indonesian military and paramilitaries?

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Almost certainly more than a million, perhaps up to three.

AMY GOODMAN: Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, director of The Look of Silence, which has just been released around the United States. October 1st marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the 1965 genocide in Indonesia. Participant media and human rights groups are circulating petitions calling for the United States to declassify and release its CIA, its military, its government, its corporate records about the killings in Indonesia and to acknowledge the US role in the genocide.

News Mon, 03 Aug 2015 00:00:00 -0400