Speakout http://www.truth-out.org Wed, 29 Jun 2016 23:12:07 -0400 en-gb "The War Against All Puerto Ricans" -- One Year Later http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36628-the-war-against-all-puerto-ricans-one-year-later http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36628-the-war-against-all-puerto-ricans-one-year-later

When published in April 2015, War Against All Puerto Ricans ignited debate throughout the US and Puerto Rico. I was called a "liar" by several history professors … yet the book became a #1 Amazon Bestseller for 13 months, and the top-selling book in Puerto Rico. It even outsold Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Why was this book so successful? A factual narrative with over 700 footnotes, the book is a history of US-Puerto Rico relations. But it also reads like a police blotter.

Pedro Albizu Campos was the president of Puerto Rico's Nationalist Party. (Photo: Public Domain)Pedro Albizu Campos was the president of Puerto Rico's Nationalist Party. (Photo: Public Domain)

When published in April 2015, War Against All Puerto Ricans ignited debate throughout the US and Puerto Rico. I was called a "liar" by several history professors … yet the book became a #1 Amazon Bestseller for 13 months, and the top-selling book in Puerto Rico. It even outsold Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Why was this book so successful?

A factual narrative with over 700 footnotes, the book is a history of US-Puerto Rico relations. But it also reads like a police blotter.

One reviewer wrote: "It provides detailed accounts of government corruption, police abuse, Wall Street greed, scientific experimentation, politicking, graft, racism, wholesale slaughter, surveillance, assassinations, eugenics, propaganda, espionage, forgery and falsification -- all within the span of half a century, on an island no bigger than Connecticut."

The book was covered in the The New York Times, New York Daily News, Mother Jones, VIBE Magazine,VIVA Magazine,WABC TV, MSNBC, C-SPAN, New York 1, Al Jazeera TV, WNYC, WBAI, WNPR and dozens more TV, radio and print outlets.

The largest newspaper in Puerto Rico, El Nuevo Día, ran four articles about it, including a Sunday front page feature.

On the island, the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) created an eight-city book tour attended by PIP President Ruben Berríos, PIP gubernatorial candidate María de Lourdes Santiago, PIP party leaders and thousands of PIP delegates and members.

On the internet, the book's website received over 2.8 million views in 14 months. The Facebook page received more than double this number, close to 6 million.

In New York and 10 other cities, I presented the book to unions; youth groups, local radio stations, bookstores; civic groups; church and evangelical, community and arts groups; high school, college, and graduate students; bar associations; political clubs; radical left organizations; Independentistas; women's groups; senior centers; book and library clubs; salsa concerts; night clubs; university history, criminal justice, and Latin American studies departments; a boxing gym, Costco book signings, Puerto Rico book signings, a maximum security prison; and a séance in the Bronx.

Oscar López Rivera read it in his prison cell in Terre Haute, Indiana. He recommended it to other prisoners, and wrote a blurb which appears on the front cover of the Spanish-language book, Guerra Contra Todos Los Puertorriqueños.

Was It the Story?

In a publishing industry where seven of 10 books don't earn out their advance, I reflected on my book's success. The central story was gripping … for decades, the FBI shot Puerto Ricans in the street and kept secret police files (carpetas) on more than 100,000 of them. Owning a Puerto Rican flag, singing La Borinqueña or shouting "¡Que viva Puerto Rico libre!" were all felonies, punishable by 10 years in jail.

On October 30, 1950, a violent revolution finally exploded: Nationalists tried to kill President Harry S. Truman; gunfights roared in eight towns; patriots burned police stations, post offices and selective service centers.

To suppress this revolution, the US Army deployed 5,000 troops and bombarded the towns of Jayuya and Utuado -- the only time in history that the US government has bombed its own citizens.

They also arrested 3,000 Puerto Ricans and imprisoned Pedro Albizu Campos.

While Don Pedro was in prison, evidence strongly indicates, the US subjected him to TBI (Total Body Irradiation) until it killed him.

As Arthur Miller once wrote, attention must be paid to such a man. The life and death of Don Pedro, the drama of his revolution, the depravity of the FBI, are largely unknown to the US public. It is a shocking story that had to be told.

Was It the Market?

At 55 million and growing, there are more Latinos in the US than there are senior citizens. As of 2014, the Theatrical Markets Report of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA, pp.12-14) shows that Latinos are buying twice as many movie tickets as African-Americans.

The island of Puerto Rico, where my book outsold Harry Potter, has its own marketing surprise. Until their chain folded in 2011, Borders operated 642 stores in the US and Puerto Rico. Of all these outlets, the Borders store in Plaza Las Americas (San Juan, Puerto Rico) sold the most books, and was the most profitable by far, with annual sales of $17 million.

Both in the US and Puerto Rico, Latinos are a hugely underserved market. They are hungry for stories. Starving for role models. But they're not getting them.

I wrote a book by and about US Latinos: specifically Puerto Ricans. That is why it struck an immediate and resonant chord. That is why it sold out repeatedly, and required emergency print runs.

Yet currently, the major publishers service the US Latino market with mostly foreign literature (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Isabel Allende, Javier Sierra, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Julio Cortázar, et al). These foreign imports with pre-packaged P&L numbers produce an easier sale at the weekly marketing meetings, and lackluster sales in the bookstores.

A tectonic shift -- a tipping point -- will inexorably occur. There are too many US Latinos, with our own heritage and experience and stories. Junot Díaz is the merest tip of that iceberg, and he didn't scratch it very far.

Sooner or later, one media gatekeeper will realize this, make a fortune, and all the others will stampede to be second.

Was It the Economic Crisis?

War Against All Puerto Ricans arrived at a critical time. Puerto Rico is on the verge of defaulting on a $72 billion debt -- the largest municipal bond default in US history.

The US response -- to impose a Financial Control Board as a Wall Street collection agent, and recommend a minimum wage of $4.25 – may trigger a humanitarian crisis on the island.

The economic malaise is already extreme: with an 11.5 percent sales tax, a 60 percent water rate increase, multiple gasoline tax hikes, electrical rates and energy costs 250 percent higher than in the US, 30,000 government workers laid off, pension rollbacks, an increase in the retirement age and the closure of 150 schools.

One report found that, in the years 2013-14 alone, 105 different taxes had been raised in Puerto Rico.

After 96 years, the Jones Act (Merchant Marine Act of 1920, § 27) continues to strangle every corner of the insular economy.

Working class and middle-income Puerto Ricans are being squeezed off their own homeland. Over 80,000 of them are fleeing the island annually, leaving only 3.6 million to shoulder the rising tax burden.

In June 2015, Gov. Garcia-Padilla announced the obvious: that Puerto Rico is in a death spiral. But the governor failed to provide any solutions. And so, one year later, Puerto Rico faces a Financial Control Board, a humanitarian crisis and a growing outcry for independence from the United States.

What does this have to do with War Against All Puerto Ricans?

Everything.

The history of the US - Puerto Rico relationship, the evolution of fatally inept US policies toward an island it never understood, has led to the insolvency of Puerto Rico and the plutocracy of a Financial Control Board.

This history is dissected and deeply documented in the book. In the end, every page of War Against All Puerto Ricans is an indictment of 118 years of US abuse, of its "territorial possession" in the Caribbean.

All over Puerto Rico, and in every city that asked me to present the book -- in New York, Orlando, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Newark, Buffalo, Hartford, Holyoke -- the same question that confounded Albizu Campos, is now being asked: "If owning one man (slavery) makes you a scoundrel, then how does owning a nation (Puerto Rico) make you a colonial benefactor?"

That question can no longer be ignored.

In 1971, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee re-calibrated our nation's moral compass with regard to Native Americans and their tragic history.

That same recalibration is long overdue for nine million Puerto Ricans, and the island that they call home.

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Speakout Wed, 29 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Save Bear Butte http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36627-save-bear-butte http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36627-save-bear-butte

Bear Butte is one of these ancient holy places. My people, the Oceti Sakowin (The Great Sioux Nation), call it Paha Sapa. Bear Butte is crucial to our traditional way of life. It is where the Lakota received star knowledge and divine instruction. Our greatest leaders, like Tatanka Iyotanka (Sitting Bull) and TaSunka Witko (Crazy Horse) prayed there. Even today, I know many Lakota who go there for Hanbleceya, to cry for a vision. Westerners call it Vision Quest. This ceremony takes place on the side of the mountain, over the course of four days and nights. Individuals remain in quiet solitude to fast, pray and commune with Tunkasila and the spirits while supporters keep the fire below.

Turtle Island and the Indigenous groups who have continuously occupied these lands are older than America. Our spiritual beliefs are tied to Ina Maka (Mother Earth). As such, Indian Country holds sacred sites of reverence that pre-date European invasion.

Bear Butte is one of these ancient holy places. My people, the Oceti Sakowin (The Great Sioux Nation), call it Paha Sapa. Bear Butte is crucial to our traditional way of life. It is where the Lakota received star knowledge and divine instruction. Our greatest leaders, like Tatanka Iyotanka (Sitting Bull) and TaSunka Witko (Crazy Horse) prayed there. Even today, I know many Lakota who go there for Hanbleceya, to cry for a vision. Westerners call it Vision Quest. This ceremony takes place on the side of the mountain, over the course of four days and nights. Individuals remain in quiet solitude to fast, pray and commune with Tunkasila and the spirits while supporters keep the fire below.

The Cheyenne refer to it as Noavose. Bear Butte is central to their traditional lifeways as well. Sweet Medicine, a Cheyenne prophet, received four sacred arrows and the covenants of the bundle from BearButte. These teachings provide life guidance.

Along with the Oceti Sakowin and Cheyenne, many Native Nations of the plains recognize the sacred nature of Bear Butte. We continue to perform annual ceremonies and rituals there as they have been for time immemorial. If you’ve ever hiked Bear Butte, you will see evidence of this. Lovingly crafted prayer ties made by Native hands adorn the trees all along its base.

Bear Butte is our Mecca; our Mount Sinai. Bear Butte has been used as our place of worship for thousands of years longer than the Vatican.

Now Bear Butte and the sacred rituals and ceremonies that must be conducted there are threatened.

Last Fall, the popular Sturgis attraction, Full Throttle Saloon, known as “the world’s largest biker bar,” burned to the ground in an epic blaze. The owner, Michael Ballard, is seeking to rebuild it- but not in its original location. He is planning to construct his new establishment at the Broken Spoke Campground, which is only a mile from Bear Butte.

According to reports, the new site will be 600 acres with 300 cabins and 450 RV sites. Sturgis, South Dakota typically has a population of around 6,600 residents, but during its Bike Rally every August, it often sees over 500,000 visitors. Our ceremonies take place all summer, until the end of August.

As you can imagine, its difficult to safeguard the protocol of sacred ceremonies we are responsible for protecting and pray for a vision in peaceful isolation while hundreds of thousands of noisy, raucous non-Natives are getting naked and drunk on your doorstep. Our ancestors did not have to contend with loud concerts, flashing lights, helicopters, revving engines, and gawking tourists, nor should we.

While I hope that Mr. Ballard will reconsider his decision to move his new saloon so close to our holy church simplyout of basic decency and respect, I also remind him that there are possible legal violations that will take place if his plans move forward. Under the Native American Religious Freedom Act, our inherent right to partake in ceremonies without interruption, violation, and destruction, is protected. The construction of this mega-saloon next to Bear Buttewill effectively end rituals and ceremonies at the sacred site as we know it. Our ancestors were beaten, jailed, committed to asylums, and killed for keeping these ancient traditions alive.

Some Tribes hold a vested interest in Bear Butte. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, and Northern Cheyenne all own land there, and pay property taxes. They help keep the land undeveloped and pristine, and suitable for ceremonial use. The Northern Cheyenne and other Tribes also have a land use agreement with the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs).

We cannot allow Bear Butte to be destroyed on our watch. It is our turn to protect the sacred. We are the new ancestors. No one else is coming. It is up to us to insure that our cultures, languages, stories, and sacred lands are preserved for the next seven generations. Strong hearts to the front.

Join me in asking Mr. Ballard not to build his new establishment next to Bear Butte. He may be reached here.

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Speakout Wed, 29 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Case for Legalizing Marijuana in Puerto Rico http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36616-the-case-for-legalizing-marijuana-in-puerto-rico http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36616-the-case-for-legalizing-marijuana-in-puerto-rico

Through no fault of their own, the Puerto Rican people have suffered through decades of heartache, disappointment and having the wool pulled over their eyes. Some may believe exploitation is too strong a term to describe what has happened, but what else can you call it when millions of honest, hard-working American citizens are relegated to a permanent second-class status, suspended somewhere in the netherworld between statehood and independence?

2016.6.28.PR.main(Image courtesy of Sarah Ratliff)Through no fault of their own, the Puerto Rican people have suffered through decades of heartache, disappointment and having the wool pulled over their eyes. Some may believe exploitation is too strong a term to describe what has happened, but what else can you call it when millions of honest, hard-working American citizens are relegated to a permanent second-class status, suspended somewhere in the netherworld between statehood and independence?

Bankruptcy, default, missed bond payments, credit rating downgrades … these are the legacy not of Puerto Ricans, but of offshore financiers and feckless political "leaders" who've spent decades lining their pockets at the people's expense. Perhaps Congress and the last few presidential administrations could have done more to prevent economic catastrophe, but that is water under the bridge and now the question becomes: What must be done next to halt Puerto Rico's financial freefall?

What has been done to Puerto Rico's indigenous economy is a crime against all of us -- those born on the island, those who've been forced to leave in search of a better financial future and people like my husband and me.

My husband and I are not Puerto Rican, but we came here and call this island home. This fertile land is capable of feeding, clothing and sheltering its own (and has done so in the past), but as Nelson Dennis has reported, Puerto Ricans are the largest per capita importers of US goods in the world, a monopoly made enforceable by Puerto Rico's peculiar status as a colonial possession in an allegedly post-colonial era.

The development of our island's political economy has been stunted, strangled, stonewalled and straightjacketed by outside forces with an agenda that is as transparent as it is self-interested. Even our animals are suffering. It's estimated there are 300,000 stray dogs and a staggering 1 million stray cats on the island. These innocent creatures are made to pay the price for the artificially manufactured poverty and deprivation that have become Puerto Rico's calling card.

These outrages (and the dozens documented elsewhere) are deserving of exposure, and if there were truly justice in this world, many would result in the payment of reparations to the families of the abused and to everyone else whose lives were forever affected by these shameful episodes. Collectively, they tell the tragic tale of a people whose basic freedoms and rights of self-determination have been spat upon and trampled in the dust in order to serve political, corporate, military and financial interests in the mainland US.

Meet the New Boss … Same as the Old Boss

The current situation shows that nothing has changed in the last 100-plus years. The only difference now is that financial manipulation, thievery and blackmail have become the tools of choice for the modern-day robber barons. Explicitly violent police-state-style repression has gone somewhat out of style, but chains of debt have proven to be a far more reliable method for imposing the will of the 1% on every hill, hamlet and landscape where even an ounce of independence still exists; in Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Argentina and especially Puerto Rico, where the debt scam has been taken to a whole new level.

The latest insult to this island's dignity, H.R. 4900 bill -- dubbed the so-called Promesa ("promise" in Spanish) -- would put the island's fate under the control of a financial management board of outsiders whose primary purpose would be to see that bondholders get paid first and that no meaningful debt restructuring occurs. Of course, the sponsors' real, deeper purpose would be to impose an austerity program on Puerto Rico designed to bring it into line with the neoliberal vision of a completely privatized, deregulated world.

This model of "development" hasn't worked anywhere. And yet it's the only alternative being offered to the people of our beleaguered island, who are seeing our world crash all around us, thanks to the tactics of the financiers and their foolish collaborators in the Puerto Rican government.

Never mind that this thoroughly discredited model for a political economy has brought massive un-payable debt, the destruction of the middle class and a loss of economic security everywhere it is tried. No, as long as the ownership class benefits, this is the type of economy we are forced to accept, come hell or high water (and we have plenty of both).

Big banks and hedge funds matter more than ordinary people, and what they want must come first, in an absurd global economy where people get obscenely rich through usury and speculation and not by producing actual goods and services.

Austerity will chain us to the mistakes and greedy predations of the past and leave us helpless to overcome our present situation. As an alternative to this counterproductive nonsense, along with some measure of sensible debt relief, we need a way to generate our own income, expand our tax base organically and put Puerto Ricans back to work in sustainable jobs that pay respectable wages.

The Argument for Marijuana Legalization

Legalizing marijuana would have been seen as far too radical and speculative in the past, but the legalization experiments in Washington State and Colorado have, by any objective measure, been a success and have set a great example that aspiring entrepreneurs here in Puerto Rico could follow.

As of now, each of these two states is bringing in somewhere around $70 million respectively annually in expanded tax revenue as a result of their forward-thinking about marijuana. If we adjust for population size, this could mean a $40-$50 million yearly revenue increase for Puerto Rico, should it be allowed to pursue the legalization option.

But this number is deceptive, because it doesn't include all the money saved after legalization through reduced costs for policing, prosecution, probation and imprisonment. It is safe to say the failed "war on drugs" has largely and primarily been a war against marijuana and people of color, and ending that hopeless campaign could save taxpayers in Puerto Rico tens of millions of dollars annually.

It is nearly impossible to cite hard numbers as they relate to arrests and imprisonment of marijuana-related crimes in Puerto Rico (both possession and selling) for two reasons:

1. They are lumped in with US statistics

2. The drug busts that most often make the news are seizures by the Drug Enforcement Administration either at the airport or using the US Postal Service as an entry point from South America to the US.

However, this infographic should give you an idea of the number of people serving prison sentences for nonviolent crimes.

To quote Robert Weisberg, faculty co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, "We have the highest incarceration rate in the world; over forty percent of our state inmates and a full half of our federal inmates are incarcerated for nonviolent drug crimes, drug arrests have tripled in the last three decades, with over eighty percent essentially for mere possession."

If legalization were done right, locally owned enterprises would control every aspect of the marijuana trade on the island, from production and processing to distribution and retail sales. The new taxes collected could be used to fund vital social services and help pay off the debt. Marijuana legalization could set Puerto Rico on the road to at least partial self-sufficiency, reducing poverty and unemployment while encouraging the spirit of entrepreneurship.

Enhanced revenue from legalization wouldn't get the banks and the hedge funds paid off completely; not in the short term anyway. But it could stabilize the situation just enough to give the Puerto Rican government the breathing room it needs to negotiate a new debt repayment agreement on terms it could actually almost maybe possibly afford -- as opposed to now, when paying the debt in full would mean the end of everything.

People Build, Neoliberalism Destroys

It is easy to see why some might dismiss marijuana legalization as a gimmick and not a real alternative to the plunder, pillage and profit extraction that currently reign supreme. But while legalization is not a be-all and end-all, it could represent a significant step in the right direction. Authentic, sustainable grassroots development could finally become a reality on an island that desperately needs to start building something of its own.

And what is the alternative, anyway? A $4.25 minimum wage for young workers, as H.R. 4900 Promesa bill sponsors propose? The selling-off of public assets to private interests at pennies on the dollar?

Even the people responsible for these ideas don't believe they're going to do the people of Puerto Rico any good -- they see an opportunity to ramp up the exploitation and they don't intend to let it pass by. Moreover, they don't have to live with their proposals -- we do.

Poverty rates on the island are above 40 percent, and no one in their right mind could believe adding a new lower tier to the minimum wage is going to make that number better.

Puerto Rico's population has begun to decline again, as young adults in particular leave the island for the mainland in search of better opportunities. As an example, the island has only one pediatric cardiologist. Ultimately, all of these men and women are going to need quality jobs, if they're to add to the GNP, pay taxes and support their families. Wouldn't it be better if they could stay right where they are to find those jobs, instead of leaving for supposedly greener pastures that these days no longer even exist?

Let the People Decide

The best way to address the issue of marijuana legalization is through a ballot initiative. The citizens of several US states have been allowed to have them and we who live in Puerto Rico and who are most affected by any measure taken should have that same right.

Allow us to speak, hear what we have to say and let our collective preference guide your policy decisions going forward. Congress might not agree, but that shouldn't stop us from having the final say -- for once and for the first time ever.

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Speakout Tue, 28 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400
What's at Stake http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36615-what-s-at-stake http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36615-what-s-at-stake

In the historic port city of Yalta, located on the Crimean Peninsula, we visited the site where Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, in February of 1945, concluded negotiations ending World War II. These leaders and their top advisors were also present at the creation of the United Nations and other instruments of international negotiation and non-military cooperation. Tragically, the creation of the "Cold War" was underway soon after.  Reviving tensions between the United States and Russia make it seem as though the Cold War might not have ended.

In the historic port city of Yalta, located on the Crimean Peninsula, we visited the site where Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, in February of 1945, concluded negotiations ending World War II.

These leaders and their top advisors were also present at the creation of the United Nations and other instruments of international negotiation and non-military cooperation. Tragically, the creation of the "Cold War" was underway soon after. Reviving tensions between the United States and Russia make it seem as though the Cold War might not have ended.

We also met with groups of young adults, teachers, and veterans of foreign wars. At each meeting, participants readily agreed that new peace agreements are needed.

Olga, a tour guide, told me that she was fairly sure most young people here in Yalta would know what NATO is, what the acronym stands for, and they would know about recent NATO developments. Our delegation has been wondering how to cope with a quite different reality in the US, where many people may be poorly informed about NATO and would know even less about the Anti -Ballistic Missile treaty that the US more or less tore up in 2001.

The Federation of American Scientists, in its 2016 inventory of nuclear forces, states that approximately 93 percent of all nuclear warheads are owned by Russia and the United States who each have roughly 4,500-4,700 warheads in their military stockpiles.

Konstatin, a veteran from the USSR war in Afghanistan, now a grandfather, spoke to us about Yalta's history during World War II. "Many people perished here," he said. "More than a million perished during WWII. This tourist resort was founded from the bones of people killed in the war." Some 22 million Russians overall died during World War II, most of them civilians. Konstatin urged all of us to find ways for avoiding further war, and he spoke about how funds spent on weapons are crucially needed to help heal children afflicted by disease or hunger. Julia, a university student who wants to become an interpreter working with diplomats, said that she is glad and grateful never to have lived through a war." I always want to choose words instead of weapons," Julia said.

We asked university students what they thought of prospects for abolition of nuclear weapons. Anton, who studies engineering, told us that he believes "the youth of different countries would like to bridge the gap and work out ways to unite people." His words are extremely important now, as Russia and the US, possessing such huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons, engage in intensifying conflict. "All of us should soften the geopolitical relations between our countries," Anton continued, "and try to get together on the same level, on the same ground. The idea of this future should be attractive to everyone and enable us to solve ecological problems. And if we all put efforts into reaching this idea of development and creativity, in the future, then the nuclear abolition will be something we can accomplish."

In 1954 the Soviet government transferred this largely Russian-speaking area from Russia to the Ukraine. In 2014, after Ukraine's elected president was ousted and its new government formed in part by avowed neo-Nazis, Russia occupied the Crimea and after overwhelmingly winning an uncomfortably hasty vote, annexed it or "reunited" the Crimean peninsula with Russia, depending on who describes the history. The Ukraine ouster, it is widely believed here and in much of the world outside the United States, is considered to have been engineered by the United States and NATO. What plays in the US as Russian aggression is seen by many here as a response to antidemocratic NATO interference along the Russian border. It can be credibly argued that at its creation NATO's mission was essentially defensive. Stalin was a terrifying dictator, suffering from increasing psychosis, with a long history of betraying even those who seemed to be his closest allies. Yet, as one Russian World War II veteran noted, the Russians had not tried to take over other countries far from their borders. They actually had been very cautious and conservative about extending the boundaries or reach of the Soviet empire by military force, and after World War II Russia needed to focus on rebuilding the internal Soviet economy and society.

The continuously assertive military posturing of NATO undermines and conflicts with the mission and development of instruments for international negotiation and constructive cooperation. Among the most striking examples in recent years are:

i) the decision to expand NATO into eastern and southern Europe by accepting the membership or candidacy of countries as far south as Georgia;

ii) the 2001 decision by George Bush to abrogate the US-Russian Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems treaty and to build a so-called ballistic missile shield system in East European countries, allegedly intended to protect against prospective Iranian missile launches directed toward Europe;

iii) the 2001 to the present decisions by the US and NATO to invade Afghanistan and to establish long term military bases there, anchoring a military presence in the center of Central Asia.

New conflicts around the Ukraine are still brewing.

Milan Rai, writing for Peace News, helps put this conflict in context:

 "Since Vladimir Putin's first ascendancy to the Russian presidency in 2000, the Russian state has used its armed forces against other countries twice: against Georgia, in 2008; and now against Ukraine…

In the same time period, the US has used its armed forces in a criminal fashion against a number of countries, including: Afghanistan (2001-present); Yemen (drone attacks, 2002-present); Iraq (2003-present); Pakistan (drone attacks, 2004-present); Libya (2011); Somalia (2011-present)….

The western powers are in no position to lecture Putin, whose actions in Crimea look like a Gandhian direct action when compared to the normal US-UK mode of operation. From 28 February to 18 March, Russian forces captured over a dozen Ukrainian bases or military posts without the loss of a single life. Compare this to the US use of tank-mounted ploughs to bury alive perhaps thousands of Iraqi conscripts in desert trenches during the opening moves of the 1991 invasion of Iraq. (US colonel Lon Maggart, in charge of one of the brigades involved, estimated that between 80 and 250 Iraqis had been buried alive.)

When one thinks of the number of deaths caused by US-UK aggression since 2000, including the grim ongoing tragedy of the Iraqi civil war, it is difficult to listen to the wave of western outrage."

"This is not to deny that Putin has presided over a repressive administration," Mil continues, noting that Putin has also carried out atrocities, particularly the indiscriminate bombing of civilians in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya, which followed massacres and the enforced disappearance of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Chechens."

I believe that the greatest threat to the long range peace and security of Europe and the United States is the reality that the military sectors of western governments and the military spending sectors of western economies are so huge and bloated, like incurable cancers, that they cannot give up on inventing military threats and advocating military solutions which powerfully undermine diplomatic efforts to secure peace.

I hope Anton's ideas will echo in the US and help steer his generation toward pursuit of new acutely needed agreements.

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Speakout Tue, 28 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Exploiting the Nightmare of Orlando http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36597-exploiting-the-nightmare-of-orlando http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36597-exploiting-the-nightmare-of-orlando

We woke up last Sunday morning to news ofthe senseless slaughter of 49 innocents at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Because many of the victims were gay, it appeared that this had been a hate crime. It wasn't long before the killer was identified as Omar Mateen, the US-born son of an Afghan immigrant to the United States. Law enforcement officials cautioned against any rush to judgment insisting that they were still investigating "troubling aspects" of the crime. Nevertheless, as soon as politicians, pundits and the mainstream media heard the news ofthe faith ofthe perpetrator, they were off to the races.

We woke up last Sunday morning to news ofthe senseless slaughter of 49 innocents at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Because many of the victims were gay, it appeared that this had been a hate crime.

It wasn't long before the killer was identified as Omar Mateen, the US-born son of an Afghan immigrant to the United States. Law enforcement officials cautioned against any rush to judgment insisting that they were still investigating "troubling aspects" of the crime. Nevertheless, as soon as politicians, pundits and the mainstream media heard the news ofthe faith ofthe perpetrator, they were off to the races.

Donald Trump immediately congratulated himself for "being right on "radical Islamic terrorism" and reiterated his call for a ban on Muslims coming to the US. He went further suggesting that "something was going on" with President Obama, implying that the president either knew more about the murders than he was admitting or had been derelict in his duty to stop this terrorist threat. While many Republicans expressed outrage at Trump's "hints" of presidential culpability, it was almost universally accepted that this had been an act of "Muslim terror." New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, for example, struck out against "radical Muslims" saying "these people hate us because of who we are, and they're going to try and kill us, and that's what this is all about.... we've got to hit back."

For their part, the networks also accepted this as "fact," devoting endless hours to nonsense chatter from "terrorism experts" who despite knowing very little about the crime in question were not going to pass up an opportunity to appear on TV. And then there were columns and commentaries galore about ISIS, violence and homophobia in Islam, what should be done to stop the "radicalization" of Muslim youth, and praise for or criticism of what the Obama administration was or was not doing to stop the next "terrorist attack" from, as Trump and his GOP colleagues would have it, "radical Islam."

The problem with this narrative version of the Orlando massacre is that it doesn't hold up when we look at it more closely. Another explanation is possible.

Consider the following: Omar Mateen was a deeply disturbed man with a long record of violent and disruptive behavior and spousal abuse. He also seems to have had conflicted feelings about his sexual orientation. Mateen had frequented gay nightclubs and gay dating sites. The report that he recently became enraged expressing disgust when he saw two men kissing in public puts the finishing touches on what appears to be the classic portrait of a very troubled individual living a lie and tormented by his own confused sexuality. Unable to resolve his inner conflict, he exploded striking out at gays because he feared that he, himself, was gay. He was destroying them because he wanted to destroy that part of himself.

Seen in this light, the despicable senseless mass murder in Orlando would have little or nothing to do with Islam or "radicalization." ISIS, it appears, was only used by the murderer in an effort to "cover his tracks" -- that is to say, to mask his true motivation. ISIS didn't lead him to this act of mass homicide. They didn't train him or inspire him. In some of his communications, Mateen conflated ISIS with Hezbollah demonstrating that he either didn't understand or didn't care to understand that group's demented ideology. His final message, pledging loyalty to ISIS, would be his final act of denial. He was lying to himself and the world about who he was and why he did what he did. Being the despicable group that they are, ISIS proudly embraced the murderer's claimof allegiance.

A conversation about a man driven to a violent act of mass murder because he was unable to reconcile himself to his sexual inclination might not have served the perverse purposes of Donald Trump or our political/media culture. Such a discussion might not have been good for ratings and wouldn't have played on the public's fear of Muslims or create rage against President Obama.

It should be noted that there were many stories that needed to be told after Orlando -- all of which were ignored or given short shrift. In the first place, despite the outpouring of support for the victims ofthe massacre, gays remain vulnerable to hate crimes and the disgraceful intolerance demonstrated by traditionalists of all stripes (MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, for example, played videotapes of two Baptist preachers expressing the delight that 49 were killed). It is likely that it was this fear of being rejected and stigmatized that may have festered inside of Mateen finally exploding in his deranged act.

And then there is the issue of assault weapons. It should be clear that it is the very availability of these instruments of death that is responsible for theepidemic of devastating mass killings in the US. These weapons are not for hunters; they are for murderers. They should be banned.

And finally, we need to carefully examine our terminology. If Mateen had been a Christian, like the Charleston slayer, would we have termed the killings "terrorism"? Would the media have indulged itself in an examination about "what's wrong with Christianity"? Would we have called for surveillance ofeveryone with a Confederate flag license plate? The assumption that a murder by a Muslim is fundamentally different is not only wrong-headed; it keeps us from more closely examining the deeper problem of mass killings and their causes.

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Speakout Mon, 27 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Palestine's "Prayer for Rain": How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36596-palestine-s-prayer-for-rain-how-israel-uses-water-as-a-weapon-of-war http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36596-palestine-s-prayer-for-rain-how-israel-uses-water-as-a-weapon-of-war

Entire communities in the West Bank either have no access to water or have had their water supply reduced almost by half. Israel has been "waging a water war" against Palestinians, according to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah. The irony is that the water provided by Mekorot is actually Palestinian water, usurped from West Bank aquifers. While Israelis, including illegal West Bank settlements, use the vast majority of it, Palestinians are sold their own water back at high prices.

Entire communities in the West Bank either have no access to water or have had their water supply reduced almost by half.

This alarming development has been taking place for weeks, since Israel's national water company, "Mekorot," decided to cut off -- or significantly reduce -- its water supply to Jenin, Salfit and many villages around Nablus, among other regions.

Israel has been "waging a water war" against Palestinians, according to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah. The irony is that the water provided by Mekorot is actually Palestinian water, usurped from West Bank aquifers. While Israelis, including illegal West Bank settlements, use the vast majority of it, Palestinians are sold their own water back at high prices.

By shutting down the water supply at a time that Israeli officials are planning to export essentially Palestinian water, Israel is once more utilizing water as a form of collective punishment.

This is hardly new. I still remember the trepidation in my parents' voices whenever they feared that the water supply was reaching adangerously low level. It was almost a daily discussion at home.

Whenever clashes erupted between stone-throwing children and Israeli occupation forces on the outskirts of the refugee camp, we always, instinctively, rushed to fill up the few water buckets and bottles we had scattered around the house.

This was the case during the First Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, which erupted in 1987 throughout the occupied Palestinian territories.

Whenever clashes erupted, one of the initial actions carried out by the Israeli Civil Administration -- a less ominous title for the offices ofthe Israeli occupation army -- was to collectively punish the whole population of whichever refugee camp rose up in rebellion.

The steps the Israeli army took became redundant, although grew more vengeful with time: a strict military curfew (meaning the shutting down of the entire area and the confinement of all residents to their homes under the threat of death), cutting off electricity and shutting off the water supply.

Of course, these steps were taken only in the first stage of the collective punishment, which lasted for days or weeks, sometimes even months, pushing some refugee camps to the point of starvation.

Since there was little the refugees could do to challenge the authority of a well-equipped army, they invested whatever meager resources or time they had to plot their survival.

Thus, the obsession over water -- because once the water supply ran out, there was nothing to be done; except, of course, that of Salat Al-Istisqa or the "Prayer for Rain" that devout Muslims invoke during times of drought. The elders in the camp insist that it actually works, and reference miraculous stories from the past where this special prayer even yielded results during summer time, when rain was least expected.

In fact, more Palestinians have been conducting their prayer for rain since 1967 than at any other time. In that year, almost exactly 49 years ago, Israel occupied the two remaining regions of historic Palestine: the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. And throughout those years, Israel has resorted to a protracted policy of collective punishment: limiting all kinds of freedom, and using the denial of water as a weapon.

Indeed, water was used as a weapon to subdue rebelling Palestinians during many stages of their struggle. In fact, this history goes back to the war of 1948, when Zionist militias cut off the water supply to scores of Palestinian villages around Jerusalem to facilitate the ethnic cleansing of that region.

During the Nakba (or Catastrophe) of 1948, whenever a village or a town was conquered, the militias would immediately demolish its wells to prevent the inhabitants from returning. Illegal Jewish settlers still utilize this tactic to this day.

The Israeli military, too, continued to use this strategy, most notably in the first and second uprisings. In the Second Intifada, Israeli airplanes shelled the water supply of whichever village or refugee camp they planned to invade and subdue. During the Jenin Refugee Camp invasion and massacre of April 2002, the water supply for the camp was blown up before the soldiers moved into the camp from all directions, killing and wounding hundreds.

Gaza remains the most extreme example of water-related collective punishment, to date. Not only the water supply is targeted duringwar, but electric generators, which are used to purify the water, are often blown up from the sky. And until the decade-long siege is over, there is little hope to permanently repair either of these.

It is now common knowledge that the Oslo Accord was a political disaster for Palestinians; less known, however, is how Oslo facilitated the ongoing inequality under way in the West Bank.

The so-called Oslo II, or the Israel-Palestinian Interim Agreement of 1995, made Gaza a separate water sector from the West Bank, thus leaving the Strip to develop its own water sources located within its boundaries. With the siege and recurring wars, Gaza's aquifers produce anywhere between 5-10 percent of "drinking-quality water." According to ANERA, 90 percent of Gaza water (is) unfit forhuman consumption.

Therefore, most Gazans subsist on sewage-polluted or untreated water. But the West Bank should -- at least theoretically -- enjoy greater access to water than Gaza. Yet, this is hardly the case.

The West Bank's largest water source is the Mountain Aquifer, which includes several basins: Northern, Western and Eastern. West Bankers' access to these basins is restricted by Israel, which also denies them access to water from the Jordan River and to the Coastal Aquifer. Oslo II, which was meant to be a temporary arrangement until a final status negotiations are concluded, enshrined the existing inequality by giving Palestinians less than a fifth of the amount of water enjoyed by Israel.

But even that prejudicial agreement has not been respected, partly because a joint committee to resolve water issues gives Israel veto power over Palestinian demands. Practically, this translates to 100 percent of all Israeli water projects receiving the go-ahead, including those in the illegal settlements, while nearly half of Palestinian needs are rejected.

Presently, according to Oxfam, Israel controls 80 percent of Palestinian water resources. "The 520,000 Israeli settlers use approximately six times the amount of water more than that used by the 2.6 million Palestinians in the West Bank."

The reasoning behind this is quite straightforward, according to Stephanie Westbrook, writing in Israel's +972 Magazine. "The company pumping the water out is 'Mekorot', Israel's national water company. 'Mekorot' not only operates more than 40 wells in the West Bank, appropriating Palestinian water resources, Israel also effectively controls the valves, deciding who gets water and who does not."

"It should be no surprise that priority is given to Israeli settlements while service to Palestinian towns is routinely reduced or cut off," asis the case at the moment.

The unfairness of it all is inescapable. Yet, for nearly five decades, Israel has been employing the same policies against Palestinians without much censure or meaningful action from the international community.

With current summer temperature in the West Bank reaching 38 degrees Celsius, entire families are reportedly living on as little as 2-3 liters per capita, per day. The problem is reaching catastrophic proportions. This time, the tragedy cannot be brushed aside, for the lives and well-being of entire communities are at stake.

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Speakout Mon, 27 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Family of Slain Chilean Folk Singer Victor Jara Finally Get Their Date in US Court http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36579-family-of-slain-chilean-folk-singer-victor-jara-finally-get-their-date-in-us-court http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36579-family-of-slain-chilean-folk-singer-victor-jara-finally-get-their-date-in-us-court

New details about the brutal murder of Victor Jara in the days following the September 11, 1973, military coup in Chile are finally emerging in a court of law. Pedro Barrientos Nuñez, a former army lieutenant under Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, stands accused of torturing and killings the legendary communist folk singer at Estadio Chile on September 16, 1973. The civil trial began on June 13 and is taking place in Orlando, Florida, not Santiago, Chile. But the proceedings mark an important first step in bringing the Chilean army official to account for Jara's murder.

New details about the brutal murder of Victor Jara in the days following the September 11, 1973, military coup in Chile are finally emerging in a court of law. Pedro Barrientos Nuñez, a former army lieutenant under Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, stands accused of torturing and killings the legendary communist folk singer at Estadio Chile on September 16, 1973. The civil trial began on June 13 and is taking place in Orlando, Florida, not Santiago, Chile. But the proceedings mark an important first step in bringing the Chilean army official to account for Jara's murder.

The effort is being led by Joan Jara, Victor's 88-year-old widow, and her daughters Manuela Bunster and Amanda Jara Turner. The San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) helped the Jara family file the civil suit under Alien Tort Statute and Torture Victim Protection Act. "The pursuit for justice and accountability for the torture and murder of Victor Jara has been 43 years in the making," CJA Executive Director Dixson Osburn tells Truthout. "Joan Jara and her children have been relentless in trying to identify those responsible for his murder."

A folk singer of the people, Jara's music became instrumental to the presidential election Salvador Allende, a socialist, in 1970. For his outspokenness, Jara became targeted for torture and murder in the U.S.-backed coup that toppled Allende's democratically elected government. An investigative report by Chilevisión asked "Quien Mató a Víctor Jara? (Who Killed Víctor Jara?)" decades later in May 2012. It featured an interview with a former conscript who accused Barrientos of being the trigger man. Later that year, a Chilean court indicted Barrientos alongside seven other ex-military officials wanted in connection with Jara's torture and murder.

The ex-lieutenant has made his home in Deltona, Florida, since the 1989 and is now a US citizen. Chile formally asked the United States for the extradition of Barrientos, but the request hasn't been acted on. In the meantime, the civil trial started on June 13 when the plaintiffs presented their case against Barrientos. "One of the reasons this case is so important beyond having justice for the family is that the murder of Victor Jara was one of the most emblematic murders under the Pinochet regime because Victor was such a revered icon in Chile," says Osburn. "Trying to piece some kind of truth of what happened to him in the first few days of the coup at Chile Stadium is vitally important."

Jose Santiago Navarette Barra, a former conscript, stated in a taped testimony that he overheard his superior bragging about killing Jara with his Luger pistol numerous times while working at a mess hall in Arica, Chile. The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported on Navarette's testimony, as it painted a portrait of Barrientos with a deep hatred of Jara and the political ideals he held. On one occasion, a soldier solely named "Rojas" hummed the tune of Jara's "El Cigarrito," a poetic song not political in nature. Barrientos is said to have become so enraged that he beat and tortured "Rojas" to death. Other testimonies by former conscripts place Barrientos at Estadio Chile during the time of Jara's death, noting that he played a key role in operations.

Dennis Navia Perez testified about what he saw happen to Jara at Estadio Chile. He worked at the same university that Jara did on the day of the coup when both got hauled away by the military. The famed folk singer rid himself of his identity card but was recognized. That's when the beatings began. The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that an officer taunted Jara, standing on the guitarist's hand with one foot while stomping his wrists with the other.

Navia, now an attorney, also testified that he gave Jara a pencil and notebook on the morning of September 15, 1973. The singer penned a poem before officers came to beat him again. Jara tossed the notebook in the air and Navia retrieved it. Two hours later, Navia was being transferred to another site when he saw Jara again, only atop a pile of other dead bodies. Soldiers found the poem Jara penned in Navia's possession and tortured him because of it. A version survived and became known as "Somos Cinco Mil," Jara's dramatic last testament.

The defense took its turn in presenting its case last week for Barrientos. Before that, a deposition Barrientos gave was presented to the six-person jury by the plaintiffs. In it, Barrientos claims that he hadn't heard of Victor Jara until 2009, and was similarly unaware of any torture happening at Estadio Chile. Barrientos took the stand in his own defense.

The law firm representing Barrientos didn't return Truthout's request for comment on the trial.

The legacy of Victor Jara spans the globe influencing generations. Arlo Guthrie, the folk singer son of Woody Guthrie, shared a statement of support with CJA. "Victor Jara was the friend and brother I never had the chance to meet," Guthrie states. "He was and remains an inspiration to continue the fight against injustice wherever and whoever profits from the politics of fear." Musicians are paying close attention to the trial of his accused killer and are helping to raise awareness. "I grew up with parents that played Chilean folkloric music. I've been hearing that music all my life," Maria del Pilar, a Chilean-born, California-based musician, tells Truthout. She's inspired by Joan Jara and her fight for justice. "Look at the endurance of this woman; she hasn't given up!"

It's unclear how the verdict could impact the US honoring the extradition request Chile has for Barrientos. But lawyers in the civil case are trying to establish that he was, indeed, the gunman or at the very least aided and abetted Jara's torture and murder. "This is the first trial that is looking at evidence of responsibility for the murder of Victor Jara," Osburn says. "We think we are presenting very compelling evidence that Barrientos was responsible for the torture and murder of Victor Jara." With the trial now in the hands of a deliberating jury, a verdict is expected early this week.

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Speakout Fri, 24 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Exporting the Tools of Repression: An Interview With Professor Michael T. Klare http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36572-exporting-the-tools-of-repression-an-interview-with-professor-michael-t-klare http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36572-exporting-the-tools-of-repression-an-interview-with-professor-michael-t-klare

Michael T. Klare is a well-known academic and professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College. He is the author of Resource Wars and Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Petroleum Dependency, along with numerous other books and articles. Klare is also a contributor to The Nation and Current History and serves on the board of the Arms Control Association. He is based in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Michael T. Klare is a well-known academic and professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College. He is the author of Resource Wars and Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Petroleum Dependency, along with numerous other books and articles. Klare is also a contributor to The Nation and Current History and serves on the board of the Arms Control Association. He is based in Amherst, Massachusetts.

In this interview, Klare reflects on an article he co-authored along with Nancy Stein in 1976 for The Nation entitled, "Exporting the Tools of Repression: Handcuffs, Mace, and Armored Cars." At the time, Klare was an associate of the Center for National Security Studies and a visiting fellow at the Center of International Studies, Princeton University. Stein was a staff member of the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA).

Dan Falcone: You wrote back in the 1970s that "millions of words have been written about US military sales abroad, but nothing has been said about the booming trade in police weapons and services [as] the US is still deeply involved in arming, training and advising foreign police forces." What regions were you discussing particularly and is this still a concern in terms of US foreign policy?

Michael T. Klare: At that time, I was largely focused on two areas: Southeast Asia (notably Vietnam) and Latin America, then ruled in large part by US-backed military dictatorships. As a result of public protest in the US, direct US aid to foreign police forces was banned in the 1970s, but exceptions were made for anti-drug operations and anti-terror operations. Today, the US uses these exceptions to provide military and police equipment to many police and paramilitary forces in the developing world, some with a history of domestic repression and brutality (as in Nigeria).

Aside from discussing the guns, equipment and canisters of mace, in the article you mention additional forms of weapon exportation or "repression technology." It consisted of computer data systems, night-vision devices, etc. The most amazing part of this reading was the uncovering of US small-town cops training foreign police forces. This could potentially mean that taxpayers were providing local law enforcement to essentially train battalions in other parts of the world while our school system or infrastructure failed. To your knowledge, is this sort of thing still practiced?

As I indicated, direct US aid of this type is no longer permitted under US law. However, aid for anti-drug and anti-terror operations is permitted, and there's quite a bit of this. For example, the US provides extensive aid to police and paramilitary forces in Mexico and Colombia, some of which have been accused of human rights abuses.

You mention in the article that there was a statutory ban placed on military and economic assistance to any country whose government was in violation of human rights. I presume that this continues to be a major problem as seen with our current involvement with Saudi Arabia. We also show a refusal to ratify things like the Arms Trade Treaty. Is our foreign policy and inability to enforce laws such as the Arms Export Control Act allowing your article to be as pertinent as ever? After reading it, it seemed like it could have been printed yesterday.

Vermont Sen. [Patrick] Leahy, author of the human rights bill you mention, has worked hard to prevent US arms from falling into the hands of military and paramilitary forces deemed responsible for human rights abuses, such as those in Indonesia. However, under the guise of anti-terrorism, these concerns are often overlooked.

After the Baltimore uprising last year, the country witnessed how small police forces had turned into military machines. I thought it was in correlation to us pulling out of Afghanistan and Iraq. You trace however, the militarization of local law enforcement back to Eisenhower and Kennedy. You cite the roles of the US Agency for International Development, the Office of Public Safety and the International Police Academy. These measures, intended to "neutralize," were in fact offensive opportunities to jail, murder and assassinate in our imperial enterprises. Is my original thought regarding Baltimore based on historical myth?

All this goes back to the [uprisings] of the late 1960s, when, following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., many American cities experienced outbursts of anger on the part of African-American citizens who -- then as now -- were targets of police brutality. In response, many American police forces acquired military-type equipment for so-called "anti-riot" operations -- now used in places like Ferguson and Baltimore.

It looks as though Hillary Clinton could be the next US president. I've noticed that her positions, especially with US foreign policy, seem like Obama's, only more militant. Bernie Sanders, incidentally, won't even discuss foreign policy and Trump blows in the wind. Clinton has been less than forthright with her role in the Honduras coup. President Bill Clinton was a steadfast supporter of Colombia's paramilitary, and we have escalated terrorism sharply in the developing world since President Ronald Reagan. My question relating to this all is that since you wrote this article and mentioned how often narcotics units were actually being used as cover to export repression technology, has terrorism created yet another layer? I'm thinking that the recent Apple encryption case was really about drug trafficking and less about terrorism. In other words, now law enforcement has two covers (drugs and terror) instead of one.

Even under President Obama, we've seen a huge increase in US counterterror operations worldwide, often using advanced military capabilities like drone strikes. For example, the US is deeply involved in covert and not-so-covert operations all over Africa, as I've learned from the excellent reporting of Nick Turse at Tomdispatch.com.

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Speakout Fri, 24 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The New Commandment: Thou Shalt Maximize Shareholder Value at Any Cost http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36570-the-new-commandment-thou-shalt-maximize-shareholder-value-at-any-cost http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36570-the-new-commandment-thou-shalt-maximize-shareholder-value-at-any-cost

On August 5, 2014, Patrick O'Connor wrote in the Wall Street Journal about a WSJ/NBC poll that had just been released. It was a real downer, reflecting great unease about conditions in the US based on substantial economic anxiety and overwhelming pessimism about future prospects for the nation's children. By a significant margin, the respondents placed the blame on Washington and both political parties. The primaries for both major parties this year, and numerous accompanying polls reported in the press, have demonstrated that the 2014 attitudes have not changed. But the truth is this: the responsibility primarily lies elsewhere.

On August 5, 2014, Patrick O'Connor wrote in the Wall Street Journal about a WSJ/NBC poll that had just been released. It was a real downer, reflecting great unease about conditions in the US based on substantial economic anxiety and overwhelming pessimism about future prospects for the nation's children. By a significant margin, the respondents placed the blame on Washington and both political parties. The primaries for both major parties this year, and numerous accompanying polls reported in the press, have demonstrated that the 2014 attitudes have not changed. But the truth is this: the responsibility primarily lies elsewhere. It rests with those corporate chieftains whose recklessness and indifference have brought us the economic havoc, injustice and hardship which led to the terrible poll numbers, and whose political clout through the corrupting influence of political money has caused the virtual paralysis in Washington.

Why has our corporate sector acted so badly? Why the colossal selfishness? Why the inequality so emphatically denounced by Pope Francis and of great concern to so many? I believe the answer can be traced to the arrival, as if from on high, of something I call "the New Commandment." Here's why:

My dad was an altar boy in the North End of Boston. He graduated from Boston College, a Jesuit university. I did not attend a Catholic school, but learned about the faith in after-school catechism classes. My three sons attended Catholic high schools, and one went on to St. Joseph's in Philadelphia, another Jesuit university.

Of course over the years, there were occasional discussions about lessons learned in the various Catholic religious classes or instructions we attended. But never did they include anything about this powerful new commandment that today seems to be the dogma guiding the corporate world: the chief responsibility of corporate management is to enhance shareholder value. Imagine that. Instead, we were taught: "thou shalt not kill"; "thou shalt not steal"; "thou shalt not bear false witness" and "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." We also learned, "When you did this to the least of my brethren, you did it to me." But about the commandment to enhance shareholder value, we were taught nothing.

Where did this new commandment come from? Did a great prophet (not profit) preach it from a mount, such as that on which Jesus taught us how we treat one another? No, that didn't happen. In fact, as Jia Lynn Wang wrote in The Washington Post, there is "… no statute in state or federal law requiring corporations and executives to maximize shareholder value." So it did not come from our secular legislatures either. No, this commandment was given to us by Professors Michael Jensen of the Harvard Business School and William Meckling of the Simon School at the University of Rochester in a paper published in 1976 entitled, "A Theory of the Firm: Governance, Residual Claims and Organizational Forms." Wow! Holy writ from business school heaven! In a startling coincidence, 1976 also was the year that the US Supreme Court struck a key provision of the Federal Election Campaign Act in Buckley v. Valeo, handing us the concept that money equals free speech. This decision has been followed by others that built upon this idea, giving money heavenly power in elections by essentially conferring human rights upon non-human corporations, allowing Mitt Romney to utter his immortal phrase: "Corporations are people too." Was this a miraculous virgin birth? Or was it the creation of a non-fiction Frankenstein monster?

The new commandment to enhance shareholder value was repeated over and over again, sinking into the public consciousness, until it was fully embraced in 1997 by the Business Roundtable with the kind of fervor only devoted disciples could demonstrate. As reported by Wang, "[The Roundtable] stated that the principal objective of a business enterprise 'is to generate economic returns to its owners…'"  

Clearly, this new commandment is not a guide for how to do justice to all touched by a corporation's activity. It is not a prescription for fairness. It is not a call to embrace the community. It is not a reminder that we are our "brother's keeper." It does not tell us to "do unto others as we would have done to ourselves." It does not echo the words of Ebenezer Scrooge's late partner, Jacob Marley, after Scrooge told him, "But you were always a good man of business," to which Jacob Marley's ghost emphatically but mournfully replied, "Mankind was my business." No. This commandment is permission for corporate management to do exactly the opposite. Just think through its implications: management now has an excuse, indeed an incentive, to:

1. Ignore the needs of workers by sending their jobs overseas, cutting their pensions, manipulating their hours to avoid providing health care, fighting the existence of unions with all their considerable might, demonizing an increase in the paltry minimum wage paid to millions who, in turn, cannot pay for necessities;

2. Ignore the needs and safety of their customers, workers and fellow citizens by both fighting and ignoring laws and regulations to insure the safety of products and the working environment. Think General Motors' faulty switches; the Upper Big Branch Mine deadly disaster in West Virginia; the salmonella outbreaks from tainted uninspected food; the inability of the Food and Drug Administration to certify the safety of literally thousands of additives in our foods; and illnesses linked to air and water pollution;

3. Ignore their responsibility to share the burden of financing the government by pursuing every option -- from tax subsidies, to tax avoidance schemes, to mergers with overseas companies -- so as to be taxed at lower rates, even though the bulk of their customers and facilities are in the US. Remember the report about Walgreen's attempt to change its incorporation to Switzerland to avoid US taxes after receiving millions in incentives from its home state of Illinois, and receiving billions from their fellow US taxpayers annually in the form of Medicare payments for its prescription drugs. Walgreens was shamed into abandoning this action, but other US companies have decided to abandon their obligations to the country that nurtured and protected them, for they have no shame; they are "enhancing shareholder value."

4. Ignore the financial security of their fellow citizens by fighting mightily to weaken the agencies which protect them, like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Think of Bernie Madoff and the people he robbed; think of the $13 billion fine levied against JP Morgan, the $16 billion fine levied against Bank of America and other huge fines levied against the "too-big-to-fail" financial giants who devastated the lives of millions of their fellow Americans, brought us to the brink of another Great Depression, successfully sought the help of the US taxpayers and now react with anger at any effort to reign them in and prevent another catastrophe.

Now contrast the passes given to the financial titans with the case of Richard Van Horn, age 60, of Alabama, laid off in 2012 after four years on a job. He was unable to find steady work while caring for an infirm wife, step-daughter and her 1-year-old infant. He could not pay the trash bill for three months for the rental property in which he and his family were struggling to survive, and was charged with a misdemeanor. Despite the fact that such a charge carries no jail time, he was indeed jailed and required to put up a $500 bond for release. Naturally, he could not afford that, so he faced the prospect of almost two months in jail before his court date, with no one able to care for his wife. When the SPLC learned about this atrocity, their lawyers went to work and rescued Van Horn. So there you have the contrast: the privileges enjoyed by our corporate elite -- billions of dollars in fines for ruining the lives of millions of people, but no indictments or prosecutions -- and months of jail time for some poor guy willing to work, but unable to find a steady job leading to inability to pay a paltry trash fee whose failure hurt no one.

The actions described above have resulted from the worship of the new commandment to "enhance shareholder value" and these actions have been abetted by five (including the late Antonin Scalia) members of a US Supreme Court seemingly in love with the idea of corporations having the same rights as real human beings, the latest being "religious rights."

So who benefits from the new commandment? Certainly not workers whose wages have remained virtually stagnant for years. Perhaps the clue to the real beneficiaries lies in the makeup of the CEO compensation packages we read about, which include huge awards of shares. Is it not conceivable that the shareholder value which they are most concerned to "enhance" is their own? If corporate management is so concerned about shareholders, why is it that they fight with all their might to beat back any attempt by shareholders to enhance their influence over the management of the company?

This is the reality: Corporations are not human beings, therefore they have no consciences. The people who run them are human beings, and this new commandment has given them license to ignore their consciences. The effectiveness of the new commandment has been tested and results have been disastrous for everyone except the corporate chieftains who religiously abide by it. 

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Speakout Fri, 24 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Latin Night at Pulse: Homophobia, Islamophobia and the White Left http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36559-latin-night-at-pulse-homophobia-islamophobia-and-the-white-left http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/36559-latin-night-at-pulse-homophobia-islamophobia-and-the-white-left

One dominant narrative on the white left these days is to connect the dots from homophobia to Islamophobia. And so, after the Orlando massacre, all those seeking political expedience to advance their cause were connecting the dots between homophobia and Islamophobia. There was one big problem with this dominant narrative: It ignored thevoices of Latinos -- long subordinate voices on the white left, even as the blood from the murders winded its way in a long river tothe Senate office of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Miami.

One dominant narrative on the white left these days is to connect the dots from homophobia to Islamophobia. And so, after the Orlando massacre, all those seeking political expedience to advance their cause were connecting the dots between homophobia and Islamophobia. There was one big problem with this dominant narrative: It ignored the voices of Latinos -- long subordinate voices on the white left, even as the blood from the murders winded its way in a long river to the Senate office of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Miami.

Ignoring Latino issues is not new in the discourse of the white left. It is par for the course. What I have noticed lately is that the issues of Latinos, African Americans and Indigenous people have become part of the subordinate narrative on the white left with Latino leadership absent everywhere.

There is much to learn when one has a focus on these issues. One learns about the rights of immigrants and farmworkers. One learns about Berta Cáceres and why Hillary Clinton must come before a tribunal in The Hague to face justice for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for her responsibility for the needless deaths of so many in Honduras and in the Middle East. Clinton's recent embrace of Henry Kissinger, who also merits an appointment at The Hague for his role in too many murders to count in Chile and Southeast Asia, does not inspire confidence in her taking over the reins of US foreign policy.

A focus on these issues would allow us to focus on the deaths of trade unionists in Colombia. The left used to care about the lives of trade unionists many years ago.

A focus on these issues would object to placing Hillary Clinton is office so she can continue with her genocidal program for Indigenous people in Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.

It's an interesting gamble to place Hillary Clinton in office so she can continue with the rape and slaughter of Central American women while we pray that when she rolls the dice and nominates a pro-choice candidate to the Supreme Court, Senate Republicans will submissively vote "yes" to placing another white woman on the Supreme Court.

What is missing from the white left narrative on the slaughter in Orlando is the voice of the Latino victims. It's extraordinary that half of the victims were Puerto Rican, and with a few exceptions, the white left has mostly ignored Latino voices.

Who discusses the undocumented Mexican and Salvadoran in Pulse? Who discusses the Cubans in Pulse that night?

I always thought that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was a HAL 9000 computer in feminine form that only spat out anti-Castro slogans on command. But it turns out that when the blood from the Pulse reached her Senate office in Miami, she assisted Orquidea Martínez in getting a visa to travel from Cuba to Orlando to pay final respects to her son.

The white left is very corrupt and immoral in allowing discussion of the Armenian genocide only one day a year. Why should the Armenian narrative also be subordinate?

Harold Koh shamelessly defends Obama's drone strikes, and where is the white left to be found?

The white left has a lot of work to do to gain the confidence of people of color. This includes bringing marginalized groups and individuals into leadership positions while not continuing to subordinate Asian and Armenian voices for the sake of political expediency.

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Speakout Thu, 23 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400