Speakout http://www.truth-out.org Sun, 14 Feb 2016 09:54:20 -0500 en-gb Pope Francis, Mexico, and the Legacies of Liberation Theology and Camilo Torres http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/34818-pope-francis-mexico-and-the-legacies-of-liberation-theology-and-camilo-torres http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/34818-pope-francis-mexico-and-the-legacies-of-liberation-theology-and-camilo-torres

The imminent pilgrimage to Mexico between February 12 and 18 of Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope, will highlight some of the most painful dimensions of the country's deepening human rights crisis. Liberation theology is a global phenomenon with unique roots and expressions in Latin America, which are reflected in the pope's trajectory before being elected to the position in 2013, and in his overall leadership since then.

The imminent pilgrimage to Mexico between February 12 and 18 of Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope, will highlight some of the most painful dimensions of the country's deepening human rights crisis. Liberation theology is a global phenomenon with unique roots and expressions in Latin America, which are reflected in the pope's trajectory before being elected to the position in 2013, and in his overall leadership since then. Its emphasis has historically been on aligning communities of faith with the defense of the poor and human rights, and with social movements rooted in the most marginalized social sectors. This has often resulted in the persecution and even killing of those associated with its tenets such as bishops Oscar Arnulfo Romero of El Salvador or Juan Gerardi of Guatemala, or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the US.

The trip to Mexico will be especially complex because of the high stakes for both the Mexican government and the pope inherent in a visit to the country with the single largest population of Catholics in the world, which is headed by a government that is widely repudiated for its serious human rights violations. The government, meanwhile, is clearly concerned that the pope's visit will expose it to scrutiny and possible criticism that will be embarrassing.

The pope's visit to Mexico will coincide with widespread commemorations in Colombia and elsewhere of the 50th anniversary of the death in combat of the region's most celebrated revolutionary priest, Camilo Torres Restrepo (1929-1966). He is best known for his insistence that the "duty of every Catholic is to be a revolutionary, and the duty of every revolutionary is to make the revolution… The Catholic who is not a revolutionary is living in mortal sin." Torres emphasized in this context that the gospel's imperative of love had to be made effective in practice, and that, in the end, when confronted by the contradiction between this commitment and the church's institutional limitations and complicities with oppression, he was ultimately compelled to take "off his cassock in order to be more truly a priest."

Torres, a sociologist, is widely recognized as a key precursor of what has become known as the ethics, philosophy, theology and politics of liberation through the writings of scholars such as Gustavo Gutiérrez of Perú and Enrique Dussel of Argentina and Mexico. Torres' legacy - and that of liberation theology - is especially relevant as Colombia's peace process moves closer to the planned signing of a historic accord in Havana on March 23, which the pope has helped facilitate.

Mexico's human rights landscape is one of the most devastating in the world in terms of its mounting human costs, which are comparable to much more publicized cases such as Syria or Iraq. As the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights noted at the conclusion of his own visit in October of 2015:

Many of the people I have spoken to have painted a very bleak - and consistent - picture of a society that is wracked by high levels of insecurity, disappearances and killings, continuing harassment of human rights defenders and journalists, violence against women, and terrible abuses of migrants and refugees transiting the country on their way to the United States … (T)here is a very broad consensus nationally, regionally and internationally on the gravity of the human rights situation in Mexico today. For a country that is not engaged in a conflict, the estimated figures are simply staggering: 151,233 people killed between December 2006 and August 2015, including thousands of transiting migrants. At least 26,000 people missing, many believed to be as a result of enforced disappearances, since 2007. Thousands of women and girls are sexually assaulted, or become victims of the crime of femicide. And hardly anyone is convicted for the above crimes.

These overall patterns are reflected concretely in cases which have drawn global attention, such as the still unsolved forced disappearances in September, 2014, of the 43 students of the rural teachers' college of Ayotzinapa. This also includes the mounting toll of journalists killed or disappeared (the largest number of such cases in the world), including most recently Anabel Flores of Veracruz. All of this tends to be swept up in intermittent media and public fascination with Mexico's so-called "drug war," but in fact, reflects the deeper consequences of billions of dollars of US aid related to NAFTA and support for the country's military and police.

As a result, US policy in Mexico is deeply entangled with the responsibility of Mexican authorities for serious human rights crimes in complicity with drug traffickers. This is reflected in cases such as Ayotzinapa, where military and federal police personnel stood by while the 43 students were allegedly handed over by local police to one of the country's most notorious drug gangs.  

It is widely hoped that the pope will agree to meet with the parents of the 43 students during his trip, publicly or privately, but there is still no confirmation of this. Many of us in Mexico's transnational human rights community were greatly disappointed when he failed to meet with a delegation of five mothers of the 43 students in either New York or Philadelphia during his visits there in September 2015, which coincided with the first anniversary of the case. The pope has referred specifically to the case on several occasions, but some speculate that his decision not to meet the parents may have helped lay the groundwork for the upcoming trip to Mexico, which was initially postponed because of tensions produced by his earlier references to the dangers of "Mexicanization" in reference to the violence and corruption associated with the drug war. There is also concern that the demands of the Mexican victims of child sexual abuse by clerics such as former Legion of Christ head Marcial Maciel will not be adequately addressed during the visit.

The pope's visit will include stops at or near the country's northern and southern borders (Ciudad Juárez, bordering El Paso and Chiapas, respectively). These will highlight both the plight of migrants in transit primarily from Central America subjected to convergent persecution by Mexican and US authorities and human traffickers, and the continuing efforts of the Maya Indigenous communities of Chiapas to build autonomy within the framework of the Zapatista rebellion.

Liberation theology played a very important role in the origins of the Zapatista movement in Chiapas during the period when Bishops Samuel Ruiz and later Raúl Vera helped ground it there through their commitment to its expressions in the region's Indigenous communities. Gustavo Gutiérrez has emphasized the historical roots of contemporary liberation theology in the defense of the rights of Indigenous peoples by the first Bishop of Chiapas, Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas [1]. Ruiz identified himself closely with this tradition, including his founding of the Las Casas Human Rights Center in the highlands city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas (named for its first bishop), which the pope will visit on February 15.

Ruiz was also instrumental as a mediator in the now suspended peace process between the Mexican government and the Zapatistas, which produced the San Andrés accords on Indigenous rights issues, signed on February 16, 1996 (yet another key anniversary that coincides with the pope's visit), and which the Mexican government continues to flout.

The pope will have the opportunity to express his solidarity with the continuing struggle for the full recognition of the rights of Mexico's Indigenous peoples in contexts such as Chiapas. Hopefully this will include a meeting with the Abejas ("Bees") of Acteal, who represent the survivors and family members of the 45 victims (36 of them women and girls) of the December, 1997, Acteal Massacre of Maya villagers forcibly displaced due to counterinsurgency programs carried out by Mexican authorities with US knowledge and support. Bishop Raúl Vera, who served first in Chiapas as coadjutor to Ruiz and is now bishop of Saltillo in the northern border region of Coahuila, has become the country's single most widely recognized human rights defender [2], and played a key role in briefing the pope regarding his upcoming trip to Mexico.

Juárez, meanwhile, was the site of the most concentrated urban casualties (over 10,500 deaths between 2007 and 2012) in Mexico's drug war, and has also been the epicenter of cases of feminicide [3]. The pope's trip will also include Michoacán, one of the regions most affected by violence related to the drug war, where entire communities (such as the Purepecha Indigenous people of Cherán, and Nahuas and their allies in Ostula, and others) have risen up to organize community-based police and self-defense forces in resistance to the complicity between local, state and federal authorities and drug lords.

The pope's relationship to liberation theology is complex. On the one hand, many argue that the convergence between liberation theology and the Vatican has never been greater than during his papacy, including an unprecedented private meeting in Rome with one of its key founders, Dominican friar Gustavo Gutiérrez. The pope has also underlined the centrality of the poor and of the defense of marginalized groups such as migrants, which has been highlighted in the church's social doctrine since Vatican II and the Latin American bishops' conferences of Medelín in 1968 and Puebla in 1979.

On the other hand, he is a head of state and will be received as such by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. The pope's presence has awakened the hopes of many in Mexico that he will speak out forcefully in solidarity with the country's poor and most oppressed sectors. Will this be muted due to the political implications of his visit? Millions will be watching and listening closely during the next few days as his pilgrimage unfolds.

Footnotes:

1. Gustavo Gutiérrez, Las Casas: In Search of the Poor of Jesus Christ (Orbis, 1993).

2. Vera was awarded the prestigious Rafto Prize for human rights in 2010, and has been a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, as was Ruiz.

3. (2010) Fregoso and Bejarano (eds.), Terrorizing Women: Feminicide in the Americas (Duke University Press); (2009) González et. al v. Mexico ("Cottonfield Case", Inter-American Court of Human Rights): http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_205_ing.pdf

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Speakout Fri, 12 Feb 2016 11:54:12 -0500
Hammer of "Justice": Heartland Peace Activist Facing Felonies for Breaking Northrup Grumman Windows http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/34817-hammer-of-justice-heartland-peace-activist-facing-felonies-for-breaking-northrup-grumman-windows http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/34817-hammer-of-justice-heartland-peace-activist-facing-felonies-for-breaking-northrup-grumman-windows

Jessica Reznicek, 34, an Iowa peace activist, was arraigned and charged with two felonies for breaking three windows with a sledgehammer at the Northrup Grumman facility outside the Omaha Nebraska Strategic Air Command at Offut Air Force base. After her court appearance, she was returned to the Sarpy County Jail, where she has remained on $100,000 bond since her action on December 27, 2015. Reznicek, who has no plans to post a cash bond, is facing up to 20 years in prison if convicted on both counts. Her trial is set for May 24.

Jessica Reznicek, 34, an Iowa peace activist, was arraigned and charged with two felonies for breaking three windows with a sledgehammer at the Northrup Grumman facility outside the Omaha Nebraska Strategic Air Command at Offut Air Force base. After her court appearance, she was returned to the Sarpy County Jail, where she has remained on $100,000 bond since her action on December 27, 2015. Reznicek, who has no plans to post a cash bond, is facing up to 20 years in prison if convicted on both counts. Her trial is set for May 24.

Writing from her jail cell, Reznicek, who has lived and worked at the Des Moines Catholic Worker for years, said she broke the windows as an act of conscience "in an effort to expose the details of the defense contracts currently held by Northrup Grumman with US Strategic Air Command (STRATCOM) at Offutt Air Force Base. Over the years, billions of taxpayer dollars are pouring into the hands of these money-hungry, bomb-building, and computer geek space war criminals."

Her letter continued,

Yes, glass did shatter. It shattered like the illusion that Northrop Grumman holds human life in any way in its best interest. It shattered like the illusion Iraq ever possessed weapons of mass destruction. It shattered like the illusion Iraqis were involved in 9/11. It shattered like the lie that perpetual war will ever bring peace. Glass shattered in the name of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives taken when Northrop Grumman/STRATCOM’s direct bombs from space rained down upon them from space. I destroyed two windows and a door, yes! STRATCOM with its cooperate partner Northrop Grumman destroys life in the tens of thousands.

"My intention was to be on the property and to do property destruction - that's what I wanted to do," Reznicek told a local television reporter via a jailhouse phone interview. "I didn't want to hurt anybody. I didn't want to scare anybody."

Why Northrup Grumman? Northrup Grumman has been manufacturing weapons and weapon systems for profit for the US government for decades. Its primary customer is the US government, which accounts for about 85 percent of its total sales every year. The massive corporation spends $10 to $20 million each year lobbying Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In return, it is one of the very top recipients of federal contracts year after year.

In October 2015, Northrup Grumman received the biggest prize of all: a $55 billion contract from the US to build 21 long-range strike bombers. According to the Secretary of the Air Force, these bombers will "allow the Air Force to launch an airstrike from the continental US to anywhere in the world."

USA Today included Northrup Grumman in its list of the 10 companies profiting the most from war. The corporation recently reported it generated $2.6 billion in income and earned a profit of 12.9 percent. Its CEO makes more than $21 million a year. Board members are paid over $250,000 each, per year and include several who passed through the revolving door of government, like one high-ranking 20-year Democratic member of Congress; a general who was appointed by President Bush to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and an admiral who was chief of naval operations under President Bush.

Even in jail, Reznicek remains hopeful:

I want to say now that I truly believe that the American people are done with war - done funding, killing and dying in US-led wars and terrorism - and are ready to pave a path to peace.

I acted in accordance with my conscience and my spirit and that my property destruction was a useful form of nonviolent direct action. I do not stand in judgment of folks who feel uncomfortable using such methods. Nonetheless, I want to stand beside them, asking them to develop and apply their own means to expose the lies of Northrop Grumman and STRATCOM be it through education, research, writing letters, public discussions, public vigils, rallies and marches and yes, even civil disobedience.

We all have our part to play. Here in the heartland of America we who seek peace must make efforts to dismantle the US military dominance of space from the top down, by publicly and nonviolently resisting the joint Northrup Grumman and STRATCOM missions.

This is why I acted. You do not have to act as radically or dramatically as I did, but please make a statement in your own way against government funded companies which focus on war and destruction.

I’ll sit in jail for as long as I need to if it gets people talking.

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Speakout Fri, 12 Feb 2016 11:44:29 -0500
Charles Krauthammer: The United States' Conservative Voice http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/34802-charles-krauthammer-the-united-states-conservative-voice http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/34802-charles-krauthammer-the-united-states-conservative-voice

For Krauthammer, as for so many other conservative thinkers who have never really evolved away from 19th century capitalist economic theory, conservatism in power means the "reform" of big government, or as he still describes it, "the 20th century welfare state." Reform essentially means significant downsizing of government in the name of individual "freedom," primarily in the marketplace, and, of course, a corresponding cut in taxes for the business class.

Part I - Krauthammer Conservatism

Charles Krauthammer is the most celebrated contemporary conservative thinker in the United States. However, let it be known that he is not just a theorist. He is man of political action who wants a conservative in the White House to line up with those already in control of Congress. Thus he supports Republican candidates such Marco Rubio and Chris Christie (Ted Cruz, while a "genuine conservative," is too "radical," and Jeb Bush isn't mentioned at all) as potential presidents who "would give conservatism its best opportunity since Reagan tobecome the country's governing philosophy." Those are the words of an unapologetic ideologue: what is good for the country is the Krauthammer philosophy of conservatism in control of the government.

What does this mean? For Krauthammer, as for so many other conservative thinkers who have never really evolved away from 19th century capitalist economic theory, conservatism in power means the "reform" of big government, or as he still describes it, "the 20th century welfare state." Reform essentially means significant downsizing of government in the name of individual "freedom," primarily in the marketplace, and, of course, a corresponding cut in taxes for the business class.

There are several things dangerously wrong about Krauthammer's simplistic approach to "conservativegoverning." One is that, in a country like the US with approximately 320 million people (a considerable number of them getting steadily poorer), doing away with welfare state services and regulations seriously risks further impoverishment, increased economic exploitation in the workplace, an erosion of state and local infrastructures, and an explosion in business corruption. While Krauthammer would never agree, it is simply historically untrue that capitalism, without widespread government regulation and significant financial support for basic services, has ever brought prosperity to the majority of any population. The second thing wrong withKrauthammer's thinking is his apparent inability to understand the difference between inefficiency and government size. Big government is necessary for the social and economic health of big societies. However, increased size does not automatically translate into government inefficiency. The need to monitor the efficiency of all bureaucracies so that they perform their jobs in a smooth and timely fashion is one thing. Downsizing tothe point of near dismantlement of necessary government bureaus based on the conservative ideological assumption that they are chronically inefficient and overly expensive dead weight is quite another. The former will make things better. The latter will risk societal collapse.

Part II - Populism and Socialism

Nonetheless, it is this downsizing "reform" of the welfare state that Krauthammer tells us is the answer to the"deep anxiety stemming from the secular (sic) stagnation of wages and living standards that has squeezed themiddle and working classes for a generation." He juxtaposes this ideologically dictated answer against those he believes come from Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. The former offers "ethnonationalist populism." However, while debunking Trump's xenophobia, Krauthammer fails to mention that it is those conservativeideologues of his own camp who have pushed hardest for the sort of free trade agreements that have allowed Donald Trump to focus on outsiders.

Then there is the phenomenon of Bernie Sanders. As far as Krauthammer's understanding goes, Sanders is preaching socialism, and the apparent positive response to this baffles him. "It is hard to believe that the US, having resisted the siren song of socialism during its entire 20th century heyday … should suddenly succumbto its charms a decade after its intellectual demise." Only from behind the walls of Krauthammer's conservativeideology can socialism be considered "intellectually dead." It is certainly alive and politically competitive in western and northern Europe.

Of course, despite Krauthammer's failure to make the distinction, Sanders is nowhere near the kind of socialist found in the Soviet bloc during the Cold War. In truth Sanders is closer to the prevailing social democrats of Western Europe or even the liberal wing of the Democratic Party prior to the coming to power of the Bill Clinton crowd. And, it can be argued, the success of Sanders's message is in direct proportion to the failure ofKrauthammer's conservatism to bring lasting economic prosperity and secure social services to the people ofthe United States.

Nonetheless, Krauthammer cannot see this relationship. For him, Sanders's ultimate success is unimaginable. "The Dems would be risking a November electoral disaster of historic dimensions" if they nominated Sanders. Actually this might be so, but not because of any real socialist program on Sanders's part. Rather, disaster would be the product of relentless Republican red-baiting, to the point that the reality of Sanders's policy proposals becomes irrelevant. Indeed, Krauthammer's characterization of Sanders may well be the first shot in such a red-baiting campaign.

Part III - Conclusion

Charles Krauthammer's conservative ideological outlook is every bit as destructive as Trump's "ethnonationalist populism." The reality is that Krauthammer's conservatism has been the guiding light of theUS economy since its inception and produced a history of continual booms and busts, the latter coming as ever deeper and prolonged depressions. This went on throughout the late 18th, 19th centuries and into the20th century, culminating in the Great Depression of 1929. So disastrous was that crash, along with the fact of competition from the young Soviet Union, that there was finally some soul-searching on the part of the smarter capitalists, who then made the effort to rationalize their system. In the US this came in the form of Roosevelt's New Deal. Franklin Roosevelt brought the necessary regulation and government expansion to semi-stabilizethe economy and bring a modicum of security to the common citizen. Depressions were held down to periodic recessions while Social Security, unemployment insurance and other commonsense social programs made their debut.

It is a mark of the ahistorical nature of their ideological worldview that Krauthammer conservatives have been complaining about big government ever since, while apparently forgetting all about capitalism's original sins. Just to juice up their argument, they throw in talk of "individual freedom" in the marketplace while disparaging other freedoms and rights, such as those relating to healthcare, education, equal opportunity, and gender equality and the like as if they were not part of the mix that should make up a modern civilization.

There is something truly inhumane in the Krauthammer perspective. However, that does not mean that those politicians such as Marco Rubio and Chris Christie who espouse such bankrupt ideas are incapable of winning local, state and national elections. Never underestimate the ignorance and gullibility of conservative-minded voters. For them there will always be the siren song of a Charles Krauthammer. One is reminded of thedescription of a British conservative politician given by the English philosopher Gilbert Ryle, one that fits America's celebrated conservative thinker pretty well: "He stood like a light out to sea, firmly beckoning ships on to the rocks."

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Speakout Thu, 11 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Cancer Patients Arrested at World Cancer Day Protest http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/34792-cancer-patients-arrested-at-world-cancer-day-protest http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/34792-cancer-patients-arrested-at-world-cancer-day-protest

On World Cancer Day, Zahara Heckscher, a 51-year old mother and author from Washington, DC, who has been in treatment for advanced breast cancer for seven years, and Hannah Lyon, a 29-year old from California who is in treatment for advanced cervical cancer, linked arms and refused to leave the lobby of the office building that houses PhRMA, the trade association that has pushed for extreme monopolies in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, while dozens of supporters chanted outside, until they were arrested.

Also see: Cancer Patients Arrested for Protesting TPP's Big Pharma-Favoring Provisions

On World Cancer Day, Zahara Heckscher, a 51-year old mother and author from Washington, DC, who has been in treatment for advanced breast cancer for seven years, and Hannah Lyon, a 29-year old from California who is in treatment for advanced cervical cancer, linked arms and refused to leave the lobby of the office building that houses PhRMA, the trade association that has pushed for extreme monopolies in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, while dozens of supporters chanted outside, until they were arrested. (Video by Evan Ottenfeld, Jessa Boehner and John Lett).

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Speakout Thu, 11 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Larry Yarbrough: A Case for Clemency http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/34788-larry-yarbrough-a-case-for-clemency http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/34788-larry-yarbrough-a-case-for-clemency

In Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin's 2015 inaugural address, she promised to pursue "smart on crime" solutions to over-incarceration, saying that nonviolent drug offenders "don't need to spend long stints at the state penitentiary," and that they "need to be returned to their communities as sober adults ready to support themselves and their families."

In Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin's 2015 inaugural address, she promised to pursue "smart on crime" solutions to over-incarceration, saying that nonviolent drug offenders "don't need to spend long stints at the state penitentiary," and that they "need to be returned to their communities as sober adults ready to support themselves and their families."

Today, February 10, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board will have the perfect opportunity to help the governor keep her promise in a commutation hearing for Larry Yarbrough, Sr.

Larry Yarbrough is a husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. He was a successful businessman whose family has owned land near Kingfisher since the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889.

And he has spent more than 20 years serving a life without parole sentence for possession of a single ounce of cocaine.

His 1997 trial was marred by charges of jury tampering, destruction of evidence, blatant racism and good-old-boy nepotism. Even those on the jury have spoken out on his behalf.

But his supporters say that regardless of the question of guilt or innocence, Larry has paid his debt to society and deserves to be free.

According to former Oklahoma Senator Connie Johnson, "Larry is the poster child for a rehabilitated man who never allowed the wrongness to get to him. He has received commendations from the Department of Corrections for training seeing-eye dogs for the blind, mentored younger inmates and has never had a write-up in over 20 years of incarceration."

Yarbrough was named one of the top 25 prisoners deserving of clemency by The Clemency Report, and is the subject of the upcoming documentary, Voices in a Jailhouse.

In a 2011 AlterNet article, the author said: "These are tough times for state governments as well as most Americans. For these reasons, continuing to incarcerate Larry Yarbrough is very poor stewardship of our state's limited resources."

Oklahoma has the second highest incarceration in the nation, according to 2013 statistics published by the Department of Justice, and one of the highest numbers of nonviolent prisoners serving life without parole (LWOP) sentences. In a 2013 study, the American Civil Liberties Union said that it cost taxpayers $1.784 billion to keep the 3,278 currently serving LWOP for nonviolent offenses incarcerated for the rest of their lives.

Over 20 years of incarceration and Larry's deteriorating health have cost the taxpayers of Oklahoma substantial amounts of money, even as the state struggles with a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall.

Releasing Larry Yarbrough to live out the remainder of his life with his family is simply the right thing to do, morally, ethically and fiscally. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board and Gov. Mary Fallin can send a clear message that they are serious about justice reform, reducing incarceration rates and saving taxpayer money in Oklahoma.

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Speakout Wed, 10 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Immigrant Rights Affect Us All http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/34781-immigrant-rights-affect-us-all http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/34781-immigrant-rights-affect-us-all

As Barack Obama prepares to exit his presidency, he leaves a list of accomplishments, but immigrant rights advocates judging his legacy will likely remember this president as the "deporter-in-chief." During the latest round of deportations ordered by his administration - whose most recent targets include children fleeing violence from Central America - the stalemate in Congress over immigration reform has been made worse by Obama's refusal to lead on this issue.

As Barack Obama prepares to exit his presidency, he leaves a list of accomplishments, but immigrant rights advocates judging his legacy will likely remember this president as the "deporter-in-chief." During the latest round of deportations ordered by his administration - whose most recent targets include children fleeing violence from Central America - the stalemate in Congress over immigration reform has been made worse by Obama's refusal to lead on this issue. Since he came into office in 2009, Obama has facilitated the deportation of 400,000 immigrants each year, a group that is disproportionately male and Latino. This is bad public policy.

First, contrary to what anti-immigrant groups would have you believe, the country is spending more today than it ever has ever on immigration enforcement, a wasteful and terrible use of taxpayer dollars. In fiscal year 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has a budget of $64.9 billion, only six percent of which goes to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the component of DHS devoted to customer service and processing immigrants' applications to adjust status. In fact, the DHS receives more funding than any other federal criminal law enforcement agency. While the Obama policy purports to be targeting only those convicted of a crime with standing deportation orders, as outlined under his new PEP-Comm (Priority Enforcement Program) set of priorities, the reality is that the program incentivizes racist policing and creates a dragnet even for individuals who have never been convicted of a crime.

Second, these policies are destructive to families - 16.6 million individuals live in mixed status families (with at least one unauthorized individual), and middle-of-the-night roundups are causing lasting traumas, especially to children - a fact recognized even by the Department of Justice. Removing primary breadwinners and caregivers creates psychological and economic damage to families. For those deported parents who are left with the choice to either leave behind their native-born and US citizen children, or take them to a country where they often don't know the language and face bureaucratic barriers to full integration and well-being, there can be devastating consequences.

Lastly, Americans should be wary of any policy that expulses individuals without due process. Contrary to popular belief, immigration law is a civil matter. Yet, the number of immigrants in detention centers went from 6,785 in 1995 to 34,000 in 2013. Many of these detention centers are privately run, house women and children, and routinely deny detainees access to counsel. In the recent spate of removals, judges have already halted the deportation of 20 individuals last month who had not been able to exhaust their legal options in the hasty rush to detain and deport.

The rush to deport has meant that actually our laws are not being enforced, because those who are most vulnerable are being denied the legal counsel that even those in the criminal legal system are usually afforded. To the contrary, in detention centers, pro-bono lawyers have been banned from doing their work in South Texas and Southern California, and attorneys are finding it increasingly difficult to advocate for those most in need.

In immigration law court, judges with lifetime appointments can issue exorbitant bonds that indigent migrants are unable to pay. They also evaluate asylum claims in inconsistent ways, which have resulted in gross inequities across the country. But most returned immigrants never even see a day in court, and their removal is in the hands of low-level immigration officers who decide their fate within minutes. Those who remain in detention are protesting their living conditions - including sexual abuse, lack of medical care and even deaths - in a system that was never meant to be punitive. This is a threat to US democracy.

History will reveal this era of deportation to be a time of nativism, with little regard for the structural forces that are causing our neighbors to the South to flee economic precarity and the violence that the United States has had a large hand in creating through negligent drug and trade policy.

We should be concerned with the growth of immigrant-only prisons, mass removals without due process and the ongoing terrorizing of largely Latino communities. We should be concerned regardless of the economic impact these migrants play (though the research suggests their contributions outweigh their costs), and we should scrutinize the precarious workplace conditions that generate these economic benefits.

We should be especially concerned for vulnerable children and continue to question a system that disproportionately deports men to their deaths. We must question the racist and uneven policing that impacts communities of color, including those undocumented immigrants who are framed as priorities for removal.

As Republicans debate who can double down on immigration enforcement more effectively, I urge progressives to consider immigrant rights as a canary in the coal mine for all our rights.

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Speakout Wed, 10 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Labor Movement Needs to Organize Against Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/34778-the-labor-movement-needs-to-actively-organize-against-friedrichs-vs-california-teachers-association http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/34778-the-labor-movement-needs-to-actively-organize-against-friedrichs-vs-california-teachers-association

After dreamily sleepwalking in denial, unions were shocked and awed awake by the Supreme Court's hearing of Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association. If unions lose Friedrichs, the fallout might ruin labor for a generation or more. A red alert should be broadcasted across every union hall in the country and to the broader public, since Friedrichs is an attack on all working people. Union memberships must be educated about the dire urgency of Friedrichs.

After dreamily sleepwalking in denial, unions were shocked and awed awake by the Supreme Court's hearing of Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association. If unions lose Friedrichs, the fallout might ruin labor for a generation or more.

A red alert should be broadcasted across every union hall in the country and to the broader public, since Friedrichs is an attack on all working people. Union memberships must be educated about the dire urgency of Friedrichs, and must be engaged in creating and implementing the strategy to defeat the case. By directly engaging members and publicly mobilizing before the decision in June, Friedrichs can be defeated.

Staying quiet about Friedrichs is a form of surrender. Some union leaders have already publicly surrendered, such as SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, who told David Axelrod in an interview that "by next summer, we're [the labor movement] going to lose another 2 million [members] because of a Supreme Court case … that means another chunk of the movement will be gone."

Henry surely knows the Supreme Court is a political institution that is affected by political pressure. And SEIU members deserve a leadership willing to apply massive pressure, by any means necessary. An anti-union Friedrichs decision is not inevitable.

The AFL-CIO leadership seems equally frozen by inaction. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka also went AWOL in the Friedrichs fight. Trumka released a short video of him denouncing Friedrichs and telling people that they could learn how to "fight back" by visiting the website "America Works Together" (apparently he didn't have the time to explain the strategy in the video).

The America Works Together website is bare bones and uninspiring. The only thing resembling "fighting back" is a petition, directed against the anti-union group the Center For Individual Rights, which is providing the legal support for the Friedrichs case against the unions.

Of course, petitioning your enemy to stop attacking you isn't very effective. And if the AFL-CIO is only using this tactic in the face of an advancing Friedrichs, the petition will be as useful a weapon as a white flag.

On the other side of the fight is the plaintiff, Rebecca Friedrichs, who has been 100 times more vocal in publicly opposing unions than the unions have been in publicly defending themselves. Friedrichs is all over the TV, blasting away at unions, who steadfastly refuse to return fire.

Sure, Friedrichs uses half truths and lies in her attacks on unions, and yes she is backed by large corporate groups, but her tenacity is exactly what the union leaders are missing. While Friedrichs boldly denounces unions, the union leaders seem ashamed to show their face in public to defend themselves, let alone lead a counter-attack.

Luckily, there is more to the union movement than its semi-celebrity leadership. The de-facto leaders ofthe national union movement are now the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), and the various teacher unions that have copied the CTU model of engaging rank-and-file members and fighting back publiclyagainst the attacks on teachers and public services.

This is the way forward. The example of the CTU should be mimicked by every union, and the book - How to Jump Start Your Union - about organizing tactics should be required reading for every union officer, activist and staff member.

The Chicago teachers rebuilt the union with member engagement and participation, while successfully appealing to the broader public for support. Because of their successes, the CTU is less vulnerable to Friedrichs than other unions.

After a very public teachers' strike in 2012 that shut down the mayor's anti-union proposals, the union is mobilizing again for another strike, expressing the latent strength of all unions, as the Supreme Court is testing this strength with Friedrichs.

The twin strategy of building a fighting membership by defending their interests and rallying the public by defending their interests as well is the recipe for a strong union movement. On the other hand, thetop-down, business-as-usual unionism is dead, since the disengaged membership it creates weakens unions, making them vulnerable to the Friedrichs assault.

Strong unions demand an active and engaged membership, where members play a significant role, have a strong voice and are meaningfully engaged in other ways. This also requires a return to participatory democracy, where members actually feel that they are the union, instead of a small clique making all thedecisions.

Long time labor organizer Jane McAlevey has been reinforcing the "member first" approach to union rejuvenation: "The key strategic pivot we have to make is having a ton of faith in the capacities of ordinary rank-and-file workers and in the ordinary intelligence of workers. We have to prioritize our strategy on teaching, skilling up, and training tens of thousands of workers how to fight."

This is what the Chicago teachers did: They engaged their members as part of a fight back; they put theimportant decision-making in the hands of the membership, while re-educating the labor movementabout a critical lesson in power - "no justice, no peace."

The teachers responded to injustice by shutting down the school system; the threats of the Chicago mayor were trumped by the actions of the teachers. People thought the mayor's attacks were "inevitable" until the CTU mobilized and rallied the public. Friedrichs must be fought in the same manner.

Every historic victory of organized labor was won with "no justice, no peace" at its foundation, and every other organized group of oppressed people used the same approach to win power.

This is the only way to fight Friedrichs, since it was how unions won the decision that Friedrichs seeks to destroy. When unions won Abood v. Detroit in 1977, it was the culmination of years of mass strikes inthe public sector, where public transportation grinded to a halt and teachers shut down school districts, demanding the dignity that comes with strong unions.

The pro-union Abood decision wasn't a gift from the Supreme Court, but a recognition of the existing power that unions were actively expressing. The 1977 Supreme Court said publicly that the Abooddecision was, in large part, motivated in order to deliver "social peace." And after the court gave theunions justice, the unions gave the government peace.

Unions are under attack now precisely because they aren't viewed as a potential threat. But there is still time to show that the court has misjudged union power. The court will not decide Friedrichs until June, and until then, labor remains on the battlefield. If unions engage and mobilize their memberships tostrike preemptively, it may lessen the blow of Friedrichs, while a powerful strike could avoid the blow completely.

Such a preemptive strike was called for by the San Francisco Labor Council, which called on the AFL-CIO to organize "massive marches in Washington DC and on the west coast to defend public services and to call on the Supreme Court to rule against the plaintiffs in Friedrichs v. CTA…"

In Oregon, SEIU 49 and Portland Jobs With Justice passed a similar resolution, as did the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, which called for May 1, 2015, to be the day of national action.

Mass mobilizations on May Day is entirely possible if unions join with the immigrant rights groups and others who already are planning these rallies in major cities. A massive show of force is possible beforethe Supreme Court decides Friedrichs. And if unions show up in force on May Day, they can use theplatform to threaten even more aggressive actions if the Supreme Court decides against them. Doing nothing, however, can have devastating effects.

When the union acts powerfully, the members feel powerful; strong unions defend themselves. And they defend their community against corporate attacks. Just as the Chicago Teachers Union has been a powerful voice against the privatization and defunding of public education, so should all unions be a voice for the community in the ongoing fight against low wages, high rents, the poisoning of Flint's water and other issues that are devastating working-class people across the country.

Ultimately, unions must be transformed back into the mobilizing and fighting organizations that earned them the rights the Supreme Court is now attempting to take away. May 1 could be known as the rebirth of the labor movement, or the court's decision in June may mark its terminal decline.

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Speakout Wed, 10 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
In Michigan, Petitioning Against The Government Lands You a Prison Sentence http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/34766-in-michigan-petitioning-against-the-government-lands-you-a-prison-sentence http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/34766-in-michigan-petitioning-against-the-government-lands-you-a-prison-sentence

As all eyes are on Michigan's poisoned water crisis, Reverend Edward Pinkney continues to servea prison sentence for effectively organizing against the first Emergency Manager put into place in the entire country in Benton Harbor, Michigan. There, the Emergecy Manager legally suspended thelocal city government and appointed himself supreme ruler of the city. Pinkney visited San Jose in 2011 warning us about the dangerous experience just beginning then.

As all eyes are on Michigan's poisoned water crisis, Reverend Edward Pinkney continues to servea prison sentence for effectively organizing against the first Emergency Manager put into place in the entire country in Benton Harbor, Michigan. There, the Emergecy Manager legally suspended thelocal city government and appointed himself supreme ruler of the city. Pinkney visited San Jose in 2011 warning us about the dangerous experience just beginning then and now has created the humanitarian disaster in Flint. We need to do everything inour power to free Reverend Pinkney so he can continue to speak out against this draconian law.

Reverend Edward Pinkney, with Associate Pastor Adrienne Lawton, of CHAM and his wife, Dorothy. (Photo: Silicon Valley Debug)Reverend Edward Pinkney, with Associate Pastor Adrienne Lawton, of CHAM and his wife, Dorothy. (Photo: Silicon Valley Debug)

No one has protested longer and more loudly against the Emergency Manager law in Michingan - that allowsthe state of Michigan to appoint individuals to take control of cities and school districts - than a friend of our ministry, Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor, Michigan. The law allows the Governor of Michigan to suspend democracy wherever he sees fit, and so far he has chosen to do so in the state's poorest, most working class cities like Benton Harbor, Detroit, and Flint. And for the crime of "practicing democracy" in Michigan, Rev. Pinkney is now serving a 2 ½ to 10-year sentence in the state penitentiary.

By now, the entire world has heard how Emergency Managers in Flint, Michigan poisoned the entire city by diverting polluted and corrosive river water into its drinking supply. Trying to save a few dollars for their corporate sponsors, the Emergency Managers switched over the water without even adding the recommended anti-corrosive treatment. As a result, it leached lead out of the city's pipes and into its tap water for almost two years, and now thousands of residents have suffered permanent, dangerously elevated lead levels in their bloodstreams.

This did not happen without protest. Thousands of Michigan residents were raising their voices against theEmergency Managers for almost five years. The people of Flint have been marching and speaking out ever since the water switch was made back in 2014. However, the Emergency Manager system effectively stripped them of their right to vote and placed them under the rule of a corporate dictator who shut his ears to their plea.

Rev. Pinkney and his wife Dorothy spoke in San Jose when we hosted them at Silicon Valley De-Bug inSeptember 2011. "Beware the Emergency Manager," were the very first words out of his mouth, as he described the experiences of Benton Harbor; the first city in America to experience the pain and indignity of having its democracy suppressed by the notorious Emergency Manager law.

In Benton Harbor, the Emergency Manager declared all acts by the elected Mayor and City Council null and void. "The Mayor's desk was even moved to storage in the basement," said Rev. Pinkney. "The City Council was allowed to meet, but with only two agenda items allowed: Call to Order, and Adjourn. When the City Council tried to declare September 17 'Constitution Day' the Emergency Manager cancelled the declaration and refused to allow a celebration of the US Constitution."

Rev. Pinkney's protests in Benton Harbor were effective, and at long last the Emergency Manager there was removed and a new Mayor elected. Unfortunately this Mayor turned out to be closely allied with the Whirlpool Corporation, whose practices have impoverished the community over several decades. As a result of automation and offshoring, Benton Harbor now has a high unemployment rate and nearly half of the residents live below the poverty line, nearly 90% of the population is African American.

In late 2013 and early 2014, Rev. Pinkney led a petition campaign to recall the Mayor, and in February 2014 was arrested after a violent SWAT Team raid on his house. Police officials apparently found five dates that were changed out of the hundreds of signatures submitted on the recall petitions. Rev. Pinkney was charged with five felonies. In November, after a trial before an all-white jury, he was unjustly convicted and sentenced to 2 ½ to 10 years in prison.

The jury reached its verdict without any evidence that Pinkney committed any crime at all. Many witnesses who gathered petition signatures testified that some signers themselves changed the dates next to their own names. Three witnesses testified that they saw someone other than Pinkney changing dates on the petitions after signatures were gathered. Mark Goff, a forensic document examiner with the Michigan State Police, testified that he could not determine when the changes were made, by whom, or whether they were changed by the signers themselves. No witness testimony or physical evidence supported the charges that Pinkney changed any dates, and Rev. Pinkney has emphatically denied all the charges.

"They are saying they don't need evidence to send someone to prison," said Rev. Pinkney. "Now everybody inBenton Harbor is in jeopardy. We have to say enough is enough. Here, Whirlpool controls not only Benton Harbor and the residents, but also the court system itself. They will do anything to crush you if you stand up to them. That's why it's so important to fight this."

Rev. Pinkney is like the watchman in the Book of Ezekiel. When the watchman sees wickedness, and does not sound a warning or speak out to stop an evil from taking place, then the wicked person will face theconsequences of his or her actions, and the watchman will be held accountable. But if the watchman warns thewicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will face theconsequences, but the watchman will be saved.

Rev. Pinkney fulfilled his duty by sounding the warning early and often about Michigan's Emergency Managers. Perhaps if he had not been imprisoned, he could have prevented the disaster in Flint before so many were poisoned. All of his warnings about Emergency Managers were vindicated, and the Lord is watching over him. But now it is up to us to help get him out of prison.

Since he was sentenced over a year ago, Rev. Pinkney has been in three different prisons. Currently he is inMarquette Branch Prison, in the Michigan Upper Peninsula, 500 miles from his home and his wife, Dorothy. He has had his phone privileges taken away and at times been placed in solitary confinement. These are attempts to cut him off from his family and the support that is growing for him both nationally and internationally.

He has an appeal in the court system, but more public pressure is necessary. It is up to us to speak out againstthe evil being done to Rev. Pinkney - or else we ourselves will be held accountable. The future of democracyin Michigan and all across America is at stake.

We should not think it could not happen to us, or happen here. The miserable treatment of the homeless in Silicon Valley is exactly similar to the evils done to the people of Flint and Benton Harbor, by the same kind of corporations and for the same reasons. Those that the system has no use for, it discards and sacrifices withthe most shocking and callous disregard for the value of human life. It is time for all of us to say with Rev. Pinkney: Enough is enough!

More info on the campaign to free Rev. Pinkney http://justice4pinkney.com/

Write Rev. Pinkney at the following address: Rev. Edward Pinkney # 294671, Marquette Branch Prison, 1960 US Hwy 41 South, Marquette, MI 49855.

Publicize this case. Write letters of support for Rev. Pinkney to BANCO (Black Autonomous Network of Community Organizations) at banco9342@sbcglobal.net.

Donations for legal defense may be sent to BANCO, 1940 Union Street, Benton Harbor, MI 49022.

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Speakout Tue, 09 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Supporting the Real Job Creators http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/34765-supporting-the-real-job-creators http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/34765-supporting-the-real-job-creators

It's a common economic development strategy in the South: State policymakers offer deep tax incentives and relocation subsidies to lure big corporations from elsewhere, a tactic sometimes called "smokestack chasing." New evidence, however, suggests supporting in-state startups and existing local companies is a far more effective strategy for creating jobs and building strong economies.

It's a common economic development strategy in the South: State policymakers offer deep tax incentives and relocation subsidies to lure big corporations from elsewhere, a tactic sometimes called "smokestack chasing." New evidence, however, suggests supporting in-state startups and existing local companies is a far more effective strategy for creating jobs and building strong economies. In "State Job Creation Strategies Often Off Base" the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyzed new data from the Labor Department, the Census Bureau and business analysis firm Dun & Bradstreet. The numbers show homegrown business contributed more than 80 percent of total private-sector job creation in every state from 1995 to 2013. Jobs that moved into one state from another represented only 1 to 4 percent of total job creation each year.

In a survey, entrepreneurs of fast-growing companies overwhelmingly said they started their businesses where they lived at the time, and they decided where to live based on personal connections, the talent of the local workforce and quality of life. Therefore, study authors Michael Mazerov and Michael Leachman conclude, "States can add certainty to the equation by showing businesses a commitment to a skilled workforce, good roads for moving goods to market, fostering research on campuses and offering communities where people want to live. … Policymakers should avoid frittering away precious tax revenue on scattershot tax cuts for small businesses and yet more incentive programs aimed at poaching today's hot out-of-state industry. Such actions will only harm their state's ability to provide the high-quality public education, transportation, and recreation that build the skilled workforce and quality of life that today's high-growth entrepreneurs seek."

States wouldn't have to look far for the kind of readymade support startups need. There is a robust and growing network of community development corporations and community development financial institutions (CDFIs) offering training, technical assistance, capital and risk support for entrepreneurs. One example is Hope Credit Union, itself a startup success story. Hope started in a church 20 years ago to provide financial tools for Jackson residents. It now has 26 branches across Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee and has generated billions of dollars in financing for entrepreneurs, homebuyers and community development projects. "CDFIs help foster equity and stability through small business lending programs that support job creation and affordable housing development, as well as community infrastructure expertise that expands access to high quality health care and education," says CEO Bill Bynum. "By financing entrepreneurs and affordable housing development and making other investments that improve lives in low-income communities, CDFIs help mitigate the rampant disinvestment that plagues poor areas."

The South is also dotted with workforce development organizations like NOVA Workforce Institute of Northeast Louisiana that train people for available jobs and connect them with employers. The Foundation for the Mid South helps jobseekers, including ex-offenders, develop skills for high-paying positions in fields like transportation, distribution and logistics. Oxfam America, which is working on coastal restoration projects in Louisiana and Mississippi, has partnered with Moore Community House in Biloxi for its highly successful program training women in construction, welding, shipbuilding and other high-skill jobs.

While the CBPP study points to new data that argues against smokestack chasing, organizations across the South have been observing those policies' harmful effects for years and making the case for stronger investment in the public good. The Kentucky Center for Economic Policy (KCEP) conducts extensive research and advocates for stronger investments in vital public infrastructure. Last week, KCEP released a report identifying more than 30 options for reforming the state tax code and restoring investments in schools, higher education, health, transportation and more. KCEP also helped build a broad coalition of organizations making the case for sustained funding for the Commonwealth's infrastructure. Kentucky Together tells the stories of families who stand to benefit from such reforms, including an Elsmere family with two special-needs children and a Harlan mother seeking welding skills from a community college. A teacher in Paducah who's concerned about her retirement says she prints materials with her own ink at home so she can teach her students colors. Mostly, though, she worries about the impacts of drastic cuts to textbooks and after-school programs on the next generation. "I don't know how I would react if we had full funding, if the state invested in our children," Mattie Morris says through tears. "These children are our future, and the more that we can give to them now, the more they can give back to us later."

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Speakout Tue, 09 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500
Silencing Critics of Israel http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/34749-silencing-critics-of-israel http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/34749-silencing-critics-of-israel

Israel doesn't accept criticism. In fact, whether from friend or foe, even mild criticism is viewed as an existential threat, prompting Israeli officials to unleash a torrent of abuse in an effort to silence and/or punish critics. And given new initiatives being rolled out in Israel and here is the US by Congress and some state legislatures, this effort to silence critics is endangering free speech and the search for peace.

Israel doesn't accept criticism. In fact, whether from friend or foe, even mild criticism is viewed as an existential threat, prompting Israeli officials to unleash a torrent of abuse in an effort to silence and/or punish critics. And given new initiatives being rolled out in Israel and here is the US by Congress and some state legislatures, this effort to silence critics is endangering free speech and the search for peace.

This worrisome tendency was on display in recent weeks, as Israelis reacted with striking vehemence to remarks by United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, and US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro.

In a speech to the Security Council, the secretary general decried the "unacceptable levels of violence and polarized public discourse" that has taken hold in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. He condemned the Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians and insisted that "the full force of law must be brought to bear on all of those committing crimes - with a system of justice applied equally for Israelis and Palestinians alike."

But Ban went further, observing that,

Security measures alone will not stop the violence. They cannot address the profound sense of alienation and despair driving some Palestinians ... Palestinian frustration is growing under the weight of a half century of occupation ... [and] as oppressed peoples have demonstrated throughout the ages, it is human nature to react to occupation, which often serves as a potent incubator of hate and extremism.

The secretary general went on to express his concern with recent Israeli announcements to expand settlements in the occupied lands, urging them to stop the demolitions of Palestinian homes and confiscation of Palestinian lands; address the humanitarian situation in Gaza; and to take concrete steps to improve the daily lives of the Palestinian people - noting that all of these behaviors made more difficult the achievement of an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Ban offered, as well, a series of steps the Palestinians needed to take to end their internal divisions, put their house in order and end incitement against Israel.  

In an address to an Israeli think tank, Ambassador Shapiro echoed some of Ban's concerns, noting,

We are concerned and perplexed by Israel's strategy on settlements. This government and previous Israeli governments have repeatedly expressed their support for a negotiated two-state solution - a solution that would involve both mutual recognition and separation … Yet separation will become more and more difficult if Israel plans to continue to expand the footprint of settlements.

Shapiro also criticized the way Israel governs in the occupied lands. "Too much Israeli vigilantism in the West Bank goes on unchecked," he said. "There is a lack of thorough investigations … at times it seems Israel has two standards of adherence to rule of law in the West Bank - one for Israelis and one for Palestinians."

The Israeli reactions to both Ban and Shapiro were predictably harsh. Ban was accused of demonstrating a "double standard," with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that the United Nations had "lost its neutrality and moral force" and charging that Ban had given "tail wind to terror." Netanyahu also called Shapiro's observations "unacceptable." The ambassador was accused of demonstrating a "double standard" and was crudely dismissed by a former Netanyahu aide as a "little Jew boy" courting favor.  

All of this heightened hyper-reaction to criticism plays out against a backdrop of dangerous moves by Israel and its supporters in the US to not only defame and politically punish critics, but in some instances, to go further by making criticism illegal. In Israel, steps have been taken to punish teachers and artists, and the Knesset is considering a series of measures and the passage of a new law that target domestic critics in an effort to blacklist them as "traitors."

Meanwhile, here in the US, the Department of State has issued guidelines on anti-Semitism which, in addition to including examples of displays of "hatred toward Jews ... Jewish institutions and religious facilities" also goes down a dangerous path terming as anti-Semitic "applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] behavior not expected of any other democratic nation." And several state governments have passed laws prohibiting efforts that call for boycotting, sanctioning and divesting from Israel because of Israel's treatment of Palestinians.    

The net effect of all these measures will be to silence critics and to deny them not only their right to speak out, but to peacefully organize and act to affect change in Israel's policies in the occupied Palestinian lands.

There is a certain irony in all of this, because in their hysterical charge of a "double standard" - i.e. that Israel is being "singled out for criticism" - it is Israel's supporters who are themselves guilty of a "double standard," since, if they were to have their way, it is Israel which would be singled out as the only country that cannot be criticized.  

In the end, Ban and Shapiro are right: Israel's behavior is doing grave damage to the Palestinian people and to any hope for peace. And their critics are wrong. It is not a double standard to criticize Israel, and it is most certainly not anti-Semitic. In fact, the overreaction to criticism harms our political discourse, damages the effort to combat real anti-Semitism, and because it serves to enable destructive Israeli policies, it makes a just peace a near unattainable goal. 

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Speakout Mon, 08 Feb 2016 00:00:00 -0500