Newswire

Slip of an Officer’s Tongue Suggests Police Are Monitoring #BlackLivesMatter Protesters’ Cell Phones

In These Times - 9 hours 40 min ago

"We Surveil and Protect" is an ongoing investigation into the techniques and technology that the Chicago Police Department employs to spy on activists, unions and heavily policed communities of color.

A police officer’s blunder appears to have shed a thin ray of light on one of the Chicago Police Department’s most closely held secrets.

During a Black Friday Boycott march, one of many Ferguson-related demonstrations held that week, a Chicago police officer radioed the city’s “fusion center,” where the city police collaborate with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, among many other agencies.

Officer: “Yeah, one of the girls, she's kind of an organizer here, she’s been on her phone a lot. You guys picking up any information, uh, where they’re going, possibly?”

Crime Prevention and Information Center (CPIC): “Yeah, we’re keeping an eye on it. We’ll let you know if we hear anything.”

A member of an online subculture of police scanner enthusiasts caught the call as it came in on Chicago Citywide 6—the police band used for special events—and paraphrased it on Twitter. Protesters seized upon the information, widely sharing it online. Later that week, Anonymous published a video of the call and transcript, dramatized with music and voiceover assurances from President Obama that the government is not listening to citizens’ phone calls.

To activists, privacy advocates, and police observers who have suspected for years that the CPD covertly steals data from cell phones through the use of so-called stingray devices, the officer’s request was a red flag.

StingRays—the brand name of a device made by the military equipment manufacturer Harris Corporation, as well as a catch-all term for similar devices—simulate a cell tower’s radio signal, prompting nearby mobile phones, tablets and similar wireless devices to send the information that would be transmitted to a tower. This includes: each phone’s unique identifying code, known as the International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI); the time, date, duration and location of all calls made to and from the phone; metadata from text messages and emails; and GPS location. In combination with other devices and software, stingrays can also allow real-time listening to cell calls.

The devices were used exclusively by federal intelligence agencies in the 1990s and early 2000s. But after September 11, the federal government began to let local law enforcement agencies acquire and use the devices. Many police departments—including the Illinois State Police—bought stingrays with Department of Homeland Security grants with the purported intention of helping local authorities prepare for terrorist attacks. Since 2002, DHS has given more than $40 billion to local agencies for a range of surveillance equipment and training.

For years, the Chicago Police Department denied having any stingray technology. Only in response to a September 2014 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit by local privacy advocate Freddy Martinez did the CPD release purchase records indicating it has owned stingray devices since at least 2009.

The released documents—two invoices and a price quote from the Harris Corporation—reveal that the CPD bought a StingRay II Upgrade, an Amberjack antenna, a Harpoon signal amplifier and associated software, at a total cost of $152,500.

The purchase of the StingRay II Upgrade, which converts the first-generation StingRay to work on newer cell networks, strongly suggests that the CPD already owned an original StingRay. These early models are the size of a large briefcase and are often kept in law enforcement vehicles to allow for quick, mobile use.

The Amberjack is a disc-shaped antenna that allows the pinpointing of individual phones within the mass of location data from hundreds or thousands of cell signals, while the Harpoon boosts the stingray’s signal to encompass cell phones in a larger radius.

Martinez wanted to know more. Represented by Matt Topic at the civil rights law firm Loevy and Loevy, he filed a follow-up FOIA request and lawsuit demanding the disclosure of how and when Chicago police have used stingray technology, as well as information concerning the storage and sharing of the data collected, and the constitutionality of the practice.

The CPD’s response to the second request is emblematic of the secrecy surrounding the use of stingrays by police across the country. The department hired Drinker Biddle & Reath, one of the largest law firms in the United States. In response to Martinez’s records request, the firm claimed that releasing such records, “to the extent they may exist,” would violate the Homeland Security Act and the Arms Export Control Act, and infringe upon the Harris Corporation’s proprietary information and trade secrets.

During similar disputes elsewhere in the country, the Department of Justice has instructed local police agencies to deny records requests and continue to conceal information about stingrays. Harris now requires police departments to sign non-disclosure agreements before buying or using the equipment. And there are numerous accounts by media and the ACLU of police hiding or misrepresenting the use of stingrays from judges, even when they used the devices to locate and prosecute suspects.

Within such a context, one can begin to understand how a CPD officer’s apparent mistake at the Black Friday march—asking on an open radio channel what the fusion center could gather from a protester’s cell phone—could become such a tantalizing piece of information.

Immediately following his request from CPIC, the officer, referred to as “Mobile 1800” on the radio, was relayed a message from “Car 41,” who had earlier directed other police officers patrolling the march.

Car 41: Yeah, Mobile 1800, I want to give you a call on your cell.

[Silent pause.]

Dispatcher: 1800, did you copy?

Officer: No, I didn’t.

Dispatcher: Car 41’s gonna give you a call on your cell phone.

Whether Car 41 was calling to share eavesdropped intelligence or perhaps to chew out the loose-lipped officer, is just one mystery among many that surround the police’s use of stingray technology.

A CPD spokesperson told Chicago’s NPR-affiliate WBEZ that the device was not used during the demonstrations. But then, with all the potential muzzles in place—from the Department of Justice, from Harris, from the CPD itself—who's to say what a denial means?

Tips or experiences with high-tech police surveillance can be sent to joelhandley <at> gmail.com.

“We Surveil and Protect” is a project of the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting.

Categories: Newswire

Whatever Obama’s Calculations, Socialism Is Still Alive and Well in Cuba

In These Times - 9 hours 52 min ago

In 1992, a ragtag group of 106 caravanistas confronted some 400 federal officials at the U.S.-Mexico border in Laredo, Texas. Under the leadership of the late Rev. Lucius Walker, we were loaded with medicines, school supplies and used bicycles bound for Havana. This was the first public challenge to the U.S. blockade of Cuba since the blockade’s establishment in 1961. 

It was a time of fear and boding—for us, for Cuba, and for the Left as a whole. Months before the caravan, the U.S. Treasury Department sent the caravan’s participants letters threatening 10 years in prison and fines of $250,000 each if we went through with our plans. 

In Cuba, the population was suffering from a sudden and unexpected loss of Soviet trade after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The economy shrank by nearly half between 1989 and 1995. All my friends on the island lost weight, as there simply wasn’t enough food. 

Meanwhile, right-wingers, liberals and social democrats in the U.S. were still celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sensing “victory” in struggling Cuba, Congress passed the Torricelli Law, followed a few years later by Helms-Burton, both strengthening four decades of an economic blockade of the island. Miami’s infamously anticommunist Cuban-Americans were making plans for a triumphant return to a newly capitalist Cuba. 

How times have changed. On December 17, Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro opened a new era of U.S.-Cuba relations with simultaneous speeches in Washington and Havana. A prisoner exchange—three Cubans, who infiltrated terrorist groups in Miami planning to attack Cuba, for a U.S. spy and a U.S.A.I.D. agent—garnered immediate attention. 

But Obama may be casting a wider net, including restored diplomatic relations, relaxed travel restrictions, bilateral bank operations, increased family remittances and commerce and removal of Cuba from its ridiculous inclusion on the U.S. list of terrorist countries. It remains to be seen if a Tea Party Congress will try to sabotage these modest, and long overdue, changes.

Cuban President Raúl Castro was circumspect. He heralded the move toward formal diplomatic relations, while noting the blockade is codified in law and only a willing U.S. Congress can end it. Obama retains executive authority to modify its implementation, but how far will he go? Even if new travel regulations restrict US tourist visits and bilateral commerce is limited to its current one-way “cash for food and medicine,” it would help Cuba immensely if the U.S. simply stopped internationalizing the blockade by fining foreign banks for processing dollar-denominated transactions, forcing foreign ships that stop in Cuba to wait six months before entering US harbors, and using backroom diplomacy or ourtright threats to convince foreign corporations with business interests in the US to avoid Cuban commerce, all very much to the chagrin of our allies around the world. 

Cuba already enjoys friendly relations with the rest of the world, and has a well-developed pharmaceutical industry, a growing tourist industry and the possibility of off-shore oil. If U.S. officials simply leave Cuba alone, the economy will do quite well, thank you. 

After all, Cuba retooled its entire economy twice, from U.S. technology pre-1959, to Soviet bloc technology until 1990, to an amalgam of Chinese, Latin American and European technology today. The fact that Cuba survived is a testament to the creativity of the Cuban people and the intelligence of the political leadership.

The next steps are unclear. Republicans and some Democrats are threatening to withhold money to establish an Embassy, though the current “Interest Section” in Havana is already fully operational, lacking only an Ambassador in name.

One wonders what caused Obama to act now. Perhaps we can take him at his word: that confrontation and blockades have accomplished nothing (aside from making 11 million Cubans poorer). After all, he’s right. Perhaps he has in mind the 2016 presidential election and changing voting patterns among younger Cuban-Americans in Florida. It’s hard to imagine this decision wasn’t consulted with Hillary Clinton. Or perhaps he is learning a lesson from the Middle East, where a series of U.S.-inspired military conflicts and economic meddling spawned not democracy and prosperity, but ISIS and misery. 

Perhaps the Obama administration is learning the inevitable dialectic of unforeseen consequences. As he noted in his speech, “We know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos”—a profound, if belated, indictment of U.S. support for Cuban-American terrorist operations on the island as well as the blockade. 

Whatever Obama’s calculations may have been, in Cuba, socialism is alive and well, if changing in form, and Cubans are celebrating—watchfully. After 54 years of the most powerful country on earth with its boot on your collective neck, any relief is worthy of celebration.

Cuba continues to play an outsized role internationally. More Cuban doctors are fighting Ebola in West Africa (15,000 doctors volunteered) than any other country, and they far outpace the U.S. contribution. Cuban influence among youth and the Left in Latin America continues to be strong. Universal free health care and education make Cubans among the continent’s most healthy and educated people. 

The U.S. stands to learn a lot from Cuban socialism. Let’s hope this new Obama initiative is not another false start, one more in a long history. It’s too early to pop the Champagne, but this author jumped for joy and cracked a beer.

By the way, after a daylong standoff, the caravan crossed into Mexico and continued on to Cuba via ship, the first of many such efforts at popular diplomacy and civil disobedience. Rev. Walker often characterized us as a civil rights movement in defense of Cuban sovereignty. We were proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with 11 million Cubans, because whatever their political positions, I dare say not a single island resident supports the blockade. Too bad our political class wouldn’t listen back then.

Categories: Newswire

Incremental Gains for Women in Congress

Feminist Daily News - 10 hours 23 min ago
At this rate, it would take more than another 2 generations of women to get to parity in Congressional representation. “Clearly, this is not acceptable,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. Related posts:
  1. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Says Controversial Nominee Lacks Support
  2. Women Legislators Lead Fight Against Controversial Spending Bill
  3. Senate Maneuvering Allows for Confirmation of Obama Nominees
Categories: Newswire

DC City Council Unanimously Approves Reproductive Health Anti-Discrimination Bill

Feminist Daily News - 10 hours 54 min ago
Wednesday, the Washington, DC City Council unanimously passed a bill that will prohibit employer interference in the reproductive health decisions of their employees. The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014 was first introduced by DC Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large), just ahead of the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of for-profit retail chain Hobby Lobby this summer. The bill amends DC’s 1977 Human Rights Act and “expands discrimination on the basis of sex to include discrimination based upon the reproductive health decisions of an employee, their spouse or their dependent.” The original Human Rights Act includes language that explicitly protects DC residents from discrimination on the basis of pregnancy status, childbirth, or related medical conditions or needs. Some advocates say the bill could be interpreted as a reversal of the controversial Hobby Lobby decision, but according to a committee report, the bill “is not about insurance coverage, but rather about employee discrimination.” Outgoing DC Mayor Vincent Gray is expected to sign the bill before year’s end. As in the case of all legislation in DC, the measure will still need to be approved by both chambers of Congress and President Barack Obama before it can be fully enacted. Media Resources: RH Reality Check 12/18/14; Committee […] Related posts:
  1. CVS Will Refund 11,000 Customers Illegally Charged for Birth Control
  2. Under the Affordable Care Act, More Women Then Ever Have Free Access to Contraception
  3. Experts Recommend IUDs and Contraceptive Implants for Sexually Active Teenagers
Categories: Newswire

Woman on Life Support Revives Ireland’s Abortion Debate

Feminist Daily News - 11 hours 11 min ago
Ireland's ban on abortion has come up in debate again following a current case involving a dead woman who is being kept on life support because she is pregnant. Related posts:
  1. Tennessee OB/GYNs Urge Voters to Reject Amendment 1
Categories: Newswire

Introducing ‘We Surveil and Protect’: An In These Times Investigation

In These Times - 11 hours 21 min ago

The Chicago Police Department eagerly tests new tools and strategies to gather intelligence on the city’s population, making it a model for other departments across the country. In an era of high-tech policing, the CPD has been the first to make an arrest with facial recognition technology, to combine its security cameras with statistics-driven policing, and to test predictive crime modeling systems.

The department’s focus on surveillance goes all the way back to its earliest days, in the 1800s—when, amid widespread worker unrest, officers took notes at public speeches and heavily patrolled immigrant neighborhoods. As Sam Mitrani writes in The Rise of the Chicago Police Department, the modern-day CPD was formed in 1855 at the behest of the business elite, with the founding document written on the stationary of the Illinois Central Railroad. Orders to police were explicit: Break strikes and put down riots, monitor working-class neighborhoods for petty crimes and disorderly conduct, and protect visiting East Coast businessmen from thieves.

Throughout the frequent strikes of the late 1800s, the CPD would carry out this mission not only through overt violence against strikers, but also by gathering an ever-increasing amount of covert intelligence.

From the focus on unionists and anarchists in the 19th century, the CPD’s target list swelled during the 20th century to include civil society organizations, perceived political challenges to the Democratic Machine, black activists and anti-war groups in the '60s and ‘70s.

The intelligence unit at the center of such spying, commonly known as the Red Squad, became infamous for its excesses—keeping files on more than 100,000 Chicagoans, infiltrating and antagonizing radical and mainstream political organizations alike, and, in concert with the FBI, assassinating the leader of Chicago’s Black Panthers chapter, Fred Hampton, in 1969.

In response to such abuses, a federal consent decree in 1981 sought to ensure that the department’s investigations into the political and social lives of Chicagoans were constitutional. However, that consent decree is no longer in effect. After years of challenges by city and department lawyers left the decree toothless, a federal judge dissolved it in its entirety in 2009. But a prior ruling in 2001 had already allowed the CPD to resume intelligence gathering and broad investigations.

After September 11, 2001, the CPD, like other police departments, strengthened partnerships with intelligence agencies—working alongside federal agents in fusion centers and the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force—and joined information-sharing initiatives with thousands of other law enforcement groups around the country.

Chicago police now employ a network of more than 20,000 security cameras, as well as license plate scanners, facial recognition software, surveillance vans with high-definition cameras and cell phone-tracking equipment that can collect data from entire city blocks and monitor real-time conversations.

The department is reluctant to discuss, or at times even acknowledge, the new technology, leaving the public in the dark about the extent of police spying. We don’t know the amount of data collected, who is targeted, how it’s used, how widely it’s shared or whether any privacy protections are in place.

That’s why In These Times has launched “We Surveil and Protect,” an investigation into the extent of the CPD’s surveillance activities today. 

Through wide-ranging interviews, the study of available public documents and dozens of Freedom of Information Act requests, this series will explore the relationships between the department, federal intelligence agencies and private companies in the lucrative surveillance and data-sharing markets.

In particular, the series will examine the extent to which these technologies and techniques are used on the city’s activists, labor unions and already heavily policed communities of color.

Because this is a live issue for many Chicago communities, particularly at a time when the city is demonstrating against police violence in Chicago and elsewhere, significant findings will be posted immediately. To follow the investigation as it unfolds, go to: http://inthesetimes.com/surveilandprotect.

Tips or experiences with high-tech police surveillance can be sent to joelhandley <at> gmail.com.

“We Surveil and Protect” is a project of the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting.

Categories: Newswire

Why Bernie Sanders Needs to Run for President—As an Independent

In These Times - 12 hours 31 min ago

Bernie Sanders, the fiery, independent, populist U.S. Senator from Vermont, has been mulling a presidential campaign in 2016. There is no question about it: He should absolutely run.  

Mr. Sanders has the credentials, the charisma and the community support he needs to seize the populist moment we are in and help spark a grassroots insurgency against the billionaire class. Somebody has to take on Hillary Clinton from the Left—otherwise the 2016 elections will be nothing more than two corporate politicians making hollow promises to the American people while selling their souls behind the scenes to war profiteers and Wall Street banksters. And while Elizabeth Warren is also a compelling candidate, chances are at least moderately high that she may not run, opting to play it safe in favor of maintaining good standing with the party’s leadership. And even if Warren does run, her candidacy will not contribute to the building of a genuine third party movement—which is what the Left really needs to do to build long-term independent political power.

That’s why Bernie Sanders must run—and it’s why he should run on a third party ticket, not as a Democrat.

Merely impacting the 2016 presidential elections through the Democratic primaries is too small of a goal given the times we are in, and will not go far or fast enough to move the people and the planet away from the brink of corporate and climate catastrophe. The last thing we need is a firebrand like Mr. Sanders to spearhead a populist electoral charge and raise expectations, only to concede after a few weeks, endorse Hillary and urge his followers back into the folds of the establishment Democratic tent. 

It would be disappointing, to say the least, to see a lifelong independent and self-described democratic socialist using the specter of a Republican boogey-man to scare millions of everyday people back into the two-party closet. The truth is, our country’s neoliberal turn advanced tremendously under the Carter, Clinton and Obama Administrations, and it was the Supreme Court that stole the 2000 election from Al Gore, not Ralph Nader.

Neither should Mr. Sanders run only as an independent without attempting to build the kind of organizational and party infrastructure that can live on after his campaign is over, as Nader failed to do in 2004. Mr. Sanders should instead aim higher and strive to change the course of U.S. history by making 2016 the year that an independent third party broke through the white noise and became a permanent fixture in American politics. This should not be done through the Green Party, but through the construction of a new, broad-based democratic socialist party.

Building a nationally viable third party in less than two years will be challenging, but Mr. Sanders has long enough coattails to pull it off. For one thing, the conditions in this country are ripe for this kind of move. Grassroots social movements, from Madison to Occupy Wall Street to #BlackLivesMatter, have been growing steadily since the economic crash in 2008, and have articulated a reform agenda that neither political party appears willing to embrace.  

The 2014 midterm elections saw the lowest voter turnout of the modern era, after which the much ballyhooed left turn by President Obama and Senate Democrats turned out to be little more than liberal hype. (See, for example, the party’s capitulation to the corporate right without much of a fight during the recent “Crominbus” budget debate.) The incident serves as yet another example of a political culture that has become thoroughly corrupted by big corporate money. 

Voters aren’t stupid. Their apathy in these elections comes from a lack of appealing choices. In a system where neither party is willing to address the bread-and-butter issues that impact us most like jobs, education, housing, health-care and debt, our only options are to stay home or to “vote the bums out,” replacing them with another set of bums we’ll want to vote out, ad infinitum

That’s why the history of U.S. electoral politics is such a schizophrenic seesawing of power back and forth between two wings of the same corporate power structure. One party swoops into office using the voter backlash against the other’s broken promises as a wedge, and then once in power does very little (at best) to make everyday people’s lives better in material, tangible ways.

Such a system will never be able to solve the staggering number of social problems confronting us. A third party candidacy led by Bernie Sanders, perhaps with a strong running mate like Seattle council woman and fellow socialist Kshama Sawant as his running mate, can give voice to the aspirations of millions of working-class Americans who have been effectively shut out of the governing process by the corrosive influence of corporate power. Their goals should include winning at least a third of the popular vote, concrete victories in dozens of local, county, statewide, and federal down-ballot races, construction of permanent party infrastructure and close collaboration with social movement actors independent of the Democratic Party. 

There is already an emerging electoral precedent that suggests such a strategy is not outside of our ambitious reach. Ms. Sawant’s successful campaign in Seattle in 2013 not only elevated a card-carrying socialist to office, it helped catapult (alongside tenacious street demonstrations) the national Fight for $15 movement that has seen several major American cities pass significant minimum wage increases.

The success of Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones on the Green Party ticket in November’s New York gubernatorial race is also strong evidence that the appetite for third-party movement-building is there—if organizers and activists are willing to seize the initiative and take some risks. 

The liberal establishment will cry “spoiler,” but their strategy has long proven to be bankrupt. It’s time for a new course of action—and Bernie Sanders has the name recognition, the resume and the gravitas to be the face of a new national democratic socialist political party that has the potential to change the direction of U.S. politics.

Categories: Newswire

In Border Disaster, Advocates Seek Names of the Dead

truthout - 13 hours 10 min ago

With her daughter missing, Dalila can’t give up hope.

“Sometimes I think … I’m going to find her alive, somewhere, where she might be recovering. A hospital, a shelter.”

Dalila, who lives in Oregon and works as a cleaner, asked that her last name be withheld for safety reasons. She came to the US on a visa nine years ago from El Salvador. In late 2013, Dalila paid a man $3,500 to take her 24-year-old daughter from El Salvador to the US, with the promise to pay another $3,500 when her daughter arrived.

Mother and daughter were never reunited. On Dec. 26, 2013, Dalila’s daughter sent her a text message saying she was about to start walking from McAllen, Texas, to Houston.

Thoughts of what might have happened to her daughter during that 350-mile journey haunt Dalila: “That is what keeps me up at night; that is what is most painful about it all – that I imagine my daughter crying, asking for help.”

Nearly 6,000 people have died crossing the southern border into the US since 1998, according to reports from the US Border Patrol. Violence and poverty in Mexico and Central America push migrants to leave, while family ties and economic opportunities pull them to the US

Many don’t survive the journey. So many bodies have been found – in deserts, rivers and on ranchlands – that local authorities have struggled to deal with the remains.

In southern Arizona, cemetery space used to bury the unidentified filled up, so legislators changed a law so that unidentified remains could be cremated. The morgue at the Pima County, Ariz., medical examiner’s office was expanded to accommodate the need.

The number of people who’ve died while crossing into Arizona went down in 2014, but human rights groups say the flow of migrants is being funneled into Texas, where the border area comprises about 30 poor, rural counties, like Brooks County (pop. 7,223).

In June, forensic anthropologists working in Brooks County discovered the unidentified remains of migrants buried in mass graves in the Sacred Heart cemetery.

Some of the remains were comingled and bones were found in shopping bags and trash bags, according to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

Such revelations spurred changes in how Brooks County handles unidentified remains, but they also cast light on the magnitude of migrant deaths and disappearances.

If hundreds of people perished in plane crashes in the desert, it would make headlines and garner federal support, said Robin Reineke, founder of the Colibrí Center for Human Rights in Tucson, Ariz.

“In other disasters, there is a disaster response agency where people will come in and manage things,” she said.

Show of Force

Fernando Garcia, executive director of Border Network for Human Rights, said the migrant-deaths disaster is the product of US government efforts to “seal” the border between Mexico and the US

The first of those efforts, Operation Hold the Line, began in El Paso in 1993. By concentrating agents and technology in urban areas, the Border Patrol created a “show of force” to deter people from crossing the border illegally. The approach was expanded in 1994 to San Diego under the name Operation Gatekeeper.

Citing a decline in the number of apprehensions, Border Patrol called deterrence a success.

But human rights groups say people continued to cross into the US, taking riskier routes and paying smugglers to help them.

“Actually the numbers of people crossing into the deserts, the mountains, they were not deterred,” Garcia said. “What you saw was people dying.”

Deaths increased almost immediately following increased border fortification, according to a 2014 report published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The causes of deaths changed, too. After Gatekeeper was put into operation, for example, migrant deaths by drowning and exposure rose significantly at the California-Mexico border, the report said.

Prior to border fortification, migrant deaths were occasional and circumstantial, Garcia said. These days, they’re commonplace. When a body is found in the Rio Grande, “It’s like, OK, there’s another floater in the river.”

The death of thousands of migrants is met with apathy, Garcia said.

“If you had that many Canadians – White people – dying, this would be a different story.”

Missing Information

Dalila wants to put an end to the waiting and wondering. She made a missing-person report to Colibrí Center for Human Rights in hopes of finding out what happened to her daughter.

“Whatever it is, alive or dead, I want to be done with this,” she said.

Colibrí founder Robin Reineke is among a coalition of scientists, students and human rights activists working to collect better data from the remains of unidentified border crossers so that they can be positively matched with those reported missing.

Reineke and her colleagues have made 100 positive identifications from remains since 2006.

That leaves about 900 other John and Jane Does found in Arizona alone. Funerals will not be held for them; their families will likely never be notified.

“They have been made invisible many times,” Reineke said.

Clock Is Ticking

When an undocumented migrant dies trying to cross the US-Mexico border, the clock begins ticking. If the body is found before it has decomposed or been eaten by animals, investigators can determine the person’s weight and find scars or tattoos that might aid in identification. There’s also a better chance that clothing and personal items will be found.

“What we have to go on is pretty much in direct proportion to the condition of the remains when they were found,” said Pima County Medical Examiner Gregory Hess.

Despite its relatively small population of 6.6 million, Arizona ranks third in the US, behind California and New York, for number of unidentified remains.

In 2010, the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office saw a spike in the number of unidentified remains coming in. And, with that spike, came people searching for loved ones.

“We get families who show up in the parking lot,” Hess said.

The families had come to the wrong agency to file a missing-person report.

“It’s not like you could search those parameters in the records we use to house our cases. It’s not made for that,” Hess said.

At that time, Reineke was a graduate student working with University of Arizona anthropologist Bruce Anderson to centralize missing-migrant data from southern Arizona. She collected data from consulates – including paper records – and took reports from families.

“The breakdown of the case is most of the families of missing migrants can’t go to police, either because they are afraid of getting reported or because they are in Mexico or Central America,” she said.

Sometimes, the family will choose a delegate who is bilingual or has secure legal status in the US to make the report.

“Other times,” she said, “we can sense the person [making the report] is terrified.”

Colibrí, a nonprofit that grew out of this work, receives as many as 60 reports from families each week and also collects missing-person reports from consulates, nonprofits, journalists and BORSTAR, the Border Patrol’s search-and-rescue unit.

“We’re really just trying to be a clearinghouse of all this data so medical examiners across the border will have an easy list,” Reineke said.

Little is easy about determining migrants’ identities. In 2008, the body of a young woman was brought in to the Pima County ME’s office. Found with the body was an ID card, and the face of the woman matched the photo on the ID, which also had a name. Despite all this, Reineke was unable to locate the woman’s family.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of the data not being comprehensive,” she said.

On one hand is the information collected from the remains. On the other, is missing-person information. One or the other – or both – may be missing or incomplete.

Family members may not file a missing-person report because they are estranged from the relative, involved in the drug trade or too scared, because of their own undocumented status, to make a report.

Information about the remains of unidentified bodies is often inconsistent, since there is no universal protocol on how an unidentified body is handled.

“The way death investigations work is very fragmented. Who is doing this [DNA sampling] depends on where you live,” Hess said.

Pima County takes DNA samples from all unidentified remains, but, as Hess points out, “a physical DNA sample can be useful only insofar as there are other samples with which to compare it.”

In the US, databases of DNA are linked to law enforcement. CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System, is managed by the FBI.

It contains DNA profiles of people who have been arrested, convicted offenders, and family members of missing persons.

Hess and his colleagues sometimes take DNA from unidentified remains and enter the information into CODIS.

“Sometimes that comes back as a hit,” he said. “But then again, do we know the name is a real name, or something that they made up?”

Investigators can also take fingerprints and send them to the Border Patrol, but even a match there can be inconclusive as border crossers often use false identities and addresses.

Dental records are likewise unhelpful because the population of border crosses often has had little access to dental care.

“A Mass Disaster”

Kate Spradley knows all too well the challenges of unidentified remains. A forensic anthropologist at Texas State University, she is conducting an analysis of the remains of 65 unidentified border crossers exhumed from Brooks County’s Sacred Heart cemetery.

The project, she said, is “a mass disaster that was dropped off at our lab.”

Texas state law requires DNA sampling of all unidentified remains, but the law, Spradley said, is rarely enforced.

Texas has 254 counties, only 13 of which have medical examiners, and those examiners serve only their own counties, Spradley said. There are three medical examiners in the border area. An autopsy of unidentified remains costs about $1,500, plus another $1,500 for transport.

“They don’t have the resources to process those deaths,” Spradley said of border counties.

As a result, no one knows for sure how many unidentified border crossers are buried in Texas cemeteries.

“I think whatever number is out there is very much an underestimation,” Spradley said.

Categories: Newswire

In Border Disaster, Advocates Seek Names of the Dead

truthout - 13 hours 10 min ago

With her daughter missing, Dalila can’t give up hope.

“Sometimes I think … I’m going to find her alive, somewhere, where she might be recovering. A hospital, a shelter.”

Dalila, who lives in Oregon and works as a cleaner, asked that her last name be withheld for safety reasons. She came to the US on a visa nine years ago from El Salvador. In late 2013, Dalila paid a man $3,500 to take her 24-year-old daughter from El Salvador to the US, with the promise to pay another $3,500 when her daughter arrived.

Mother and daughter were never reunited. On Dec. 26, 2013, Dalila’s daughter sent her a text message saying she was about to start walking from McAllen, Texas, to Houston.

Thoughts of what might have happened to her daughter during that 350-mile journey haunt Dalila: “That is what keeps me up at night; that is what is most painful about it all – that I imagine my daughter crying, asking for help.”

Nearly 6,000 people have died crossing the southern border into the US since 1998, according to reports from the US Border Patrol. Violence and poverty in Mexico and Central America push migrants to leave, while family ties and economic opportunities pull them to the US

Many don’t survive the journey. So many bodies have been found – in deserts, rivers and on ranchlands – that local authorities have struggled to deal with the remains.

In southern Arizona, cemetery space used to bury the unidentified filled up, so legislators changed a law so that unidentified remains could be cremated. The morgue at the Pima County, Ariz., medical examiner’s office was expanded to accommodate the need.

The number of people who’ve died while crossing into Arizona went down in 2014, but human rights groups say the flow of migrants is being funneled into Texas, where the border area comprises about 30 poor, rural counties, like Brooks County (pop. 7,223).

In June, forensic anthropologists working in Brooks County discovered the unidentified remains of migrants buried in mass graves in the Sacred Heart cemetery.

Some of the remains were comingled and bones were found in shopping bags and trash bags, according to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

Such revelations spurred changes in how Brooks County handles unidentified remains, but they also cast light on the magnitude of migrant deaths and disappearances.

If hundreds of people perished in plane crashes in the desert, it would make headlines and garner federal support, said Robin Reineke, founder of the Colibrí Center for Human Rights in Tucson, Ariz.

“In other disasters, there is a disaster response agency where people will come in and manage things,” she said.

Show of Force

Fernando Garcia, executive director of Border Network for Human Rights, said the migrant-deaths disaster is the product of US government efforts to “seal” the border between Mexico and the US

The first of those efforts, Operation Hold the Line, began in El Paso in 1993. By concentrating agents and technology in urban areas, the Border Patrol created a “show of force” to deter people from crossing the border illegally. The approach was expanded in 1994 to San Diego under the name Operation Gatekeeper.

Citing a decline in the number of apprehensions, Border Patrol called deterrence a success.

But human rights groups say people continued to cross into the US, taking riskier routes and paying smugglers to help them.

“Actually the numbers of people crossing into the deserts, the mountains, they were not deterred,” Garcia said. “What you saw was people dying.”

Deaths increased almost immediately following increased border fortification, according to a 2014 report published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The causes of deaths changed, too. After Gatekeeper was put into operation, for example, migrant deaths by drowning and exposure rose significantly at the California-Mexico border, the report said.

Prior to border fortification, migrant deaths were occasional and circumstantial, Garcia said. These days, they’re commonplace. When a body is found in the Rio Grande, “It’s like, OK, there’s another floater in the river.”

The death of thousands of migrants is met with apathy, Garcia said.

“If you had that many Canadians – White people – dying, this would be a different story.”

Missing Information

Dalila wants to put an end to the waiting and wondering. She made a missing-person report to Colibrí Center for Human Rights in hopes of finding out what happened to her daughter.

“Whatever it is, alive or dead, I want to be done with this,” she said.

Colibrí founder Robin Reineke is among a coalition of scientists, students and human rights activists working to collect better data from the remains of unidentified border crossers so that they can be positively matched with those reported missing.

Reineke and her colleagues have made 100 positive identifications from remains since 2006.

That leaves about 900 other John and Jane Does found in Arizona alone. Funerals will not be held for them; their families will likely never be notified.

“They have been made invisible many times,” Reineke said.

Clock Is Ticking

When an undocumented migrant dies trying to cross the US-Mexico border, the clock begins ticking. If the body is found before it has decomposed or been eaten by animals, investigators can determine the person’s weight and find scars or tattoos that might aid in identification. There’s also a better chance that clothing and personal items will be found.

“What we have to go on is pretty much in direct proportion to the condition of the remains when they were found,” said Pima County Medical Examiner Gregory Hess.

Despite its relatively small population of 6.6 million, Arizona ranks third in the US, behind California and New York, for number of unidentified remains.

In 2010, the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office saw a spike in the number of unidentified remains coming in. And, with that spike, came people searching for loved ones.

“We get families who show up in the parking lot,” Hess said.

The families had come to the wrong agency to file a missing-person report.

“It’s not like you could search those parameters in the records we use to house our cases. It’s not made for that,” Hess said.

At that time, Reineke was a graduate student working with University of Arizona anthropologist Bruce Anderson to centralize missing-migrant data from southern Arizona. She collected data from consulates – including paper records – and took reports from families.

“The breakdown of the case is most of the families of missing migrants can’t go to police, either because they are afraid of getting reported or because they are in Mexico or Central America,” she said.

Sometimes, the family will choose a delegate who is bilingual or has secure legal status in the US to make the report.

“Other times,” she said, “we can sense the person [making the report] is terrified.”

Colibrí, a nonprofit that grew out of this work, receives as many as 60 reports from families each week and also collects missing-person reports from consulates, nonprofits, journalists and BORSTAR, the Border Patrol’s search-and-rescue unit.

“We’re really just trying to be a clearinghouse of all this data so medical examiners across the border will have an easy list,” Reineke said.

Little is easy about determining migrants’ identities. In 2008, the body of a young woman was brought in to the Pima County ME’s office. Found with the body was an ID card, and the face of the woman matched the photo on the ID, which also had a name. Despite all this, Reineke was unable to locate the woman’s family.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of the data not being comprehensive,” she said.

On one hand is the information collected from the remains. On the other, is missing-person information. One or the other – or both – may be missing or incomplete.

Family members may not file a missing-person report because they are estranged from the relative, involved in the drug trade or too scared, because of their own undocumented status, to make a report.

Information about the remains of unidentified bodies is often inconsistent, since there is no universal protocol on how an unidentified body is handled.

“The way death investigations work is very fragmented. Who is doing this [DNA sampling] depends on where you live,” Hess said.

Pima County takes DNA samples from all unidentified remains, but, as Hess points out, “a physical DNA sample can be useful only insofar as there are other samples with which to compare it.”

In the US, databases of DNA are linked to law enforcement. CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System, is managed by the FBI.

It contains DNA profiles of people who have been arrested, convicted offenders, and family members of missing persons.

Hess and his colleagues sometimes take DNA from unidentified remains and enter the information into CODIS.

“Sometimes that comes back as a hit,” he said. “But then again, do we know the name is a real name, or something that they made up?”

Investigators can also take fingerprints and send them to the Border Patrol, but even a match there can be inconclusive as border crossers often use false identities and addresses.

Dental records are likewise unhelpful because the population of border crosses often has had little access to dental care.

“A Mass Disaster”

Kate Spradley knows all too well the challenges of unidentified remains. A forensic anthropologist at Texas State University, she is conducting an analysis of the remains of 65 unidentified border crossers exhumed from Brooks County’s Sacred Heart cemetery.

The project, she said, is “a mass disaster that was dropped off at our lab.”

Texas state law requires DNA sampling of all unidentified remains, but the law, Spradley said, is rarely enforced.

Texas has 254 counties, only 13 of which have medical examiners, and those examiners serve only their own counties, Spradley said. There are three medical examiners in the border area. An autopsy of unidentified remains costs about $1,500, plus another $1,500 for transport.

“They don’t have the resources to process those deaths,” Spradley said of border counties.

As a result, no one knows for sure how many unidentified border crossers are buried in Texas cemeteries.

“I think whatever number is out there is very much an underestimation,” Spradley said.

Categories: Newswire

Elizabeth Warren and the Independent Community Bankers of America Are Right: Antonio Weiss Should Not Become Undersecretary for Domestic Finance

truthout - 13 hours 55 min ago

Antonio Weiss has been nominated to become Undersecretary for Domestic Finance at the Treasury Department. A growing number of people and organizations have expressed reservations about this potential appointment, which requires Senate confirmation – including Senator Dick Durbin (D., IL), Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D.,NH), Senator Joe Manchin (D., WV), the American Federation of Teachers (in a press release on December 17th), and other groups. And, from another part of the political spectrum, the Independent Community Bankers of America has also come out strongly against Mr. Weiss.

In a speech last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren detailed her concerns about Mr. Weiss's background:

"He [Mr. Weiss] has focused on international corporate mergers and companies buying and selling each other. It may be interesting, challenging work, but it does not sufficiently qualify him to oversee consumer protection and domestic regulatory functions at the Treasury that are a critical part of the job."

And Senator Warren made it clear that the Weiss nomination needs to be seen in this broader context:

"Time after time in government, the Wall Street view prevails, and time after time, conflicting views are crowded out."

A line must be drawn and, as Senator Warren said on Friday evening, with regard to the Wall Street view that what is good for executives at big banks is good for the country,

"Enough is enough."

The latest round of pushback from Weiss supporters against Senator Warren makes three points. First, this administration is not captured by the Wall Street view. Second, Mr. Weiss is not captured by the Wall Street view. And, third, that Mr. Weiss is so perfectly qualified for the job that all these broader issues are irrelevant or even illegitimate. None of these points has a substantive basis or can withstand scrutiny. The ICBA, AFT, and Senators Durbin, Machin, Shaheen, and Warren are right to continue opposing Mr. Weiss's appointment.

On the extent of capture of this administration by the Wall Street view, the facts are straightforward. The Obama administration has continually refused to put forward any potential nominee for a senior position who has shown serious backbone with regard to financial reform. There appears to be a litmus test. If you want to be tough on reform – in the sense of confronting Too Big To Fail head-on or even just reducing the reckless risks that big banks take with derivatives – you cannot have a senior administration job.

A few reformers have, of course, managed to get through. Gary Gensler took financial reform seriously and implemented the Dodd-Frank law as chair at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The administration seems to have been surprised by how tough he was – and they did not reappoint him. Janet Yellen became chair of the Federal Reserve Board, but only because the White House could not get sufficient support for Larry Summers. And Tom Hoenig and Jeremiah Norton are strong voices for sensible policy at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – but they were both put in office by the Republicans.

There is no balance of views at the top of the US Treasury. The Wall Street view – what's good for the people who run big banks is good for the country – is fully in control. The most recent demonstration of this point came just last week, when House Republicans proposed to repeal Section 716 of Dodd-Frank – a direct attempt to help Citigroup and other megabanks by allowing them to run more dangerous derivatives out of their insured banks (and therefore create more downside risks for taxpayers and the broader economy). Treasury and the administration not only did not oppose this measure – they actively undermined House Democrats and Senator Warren in their attempts to stick up for Section 716. There is no backbone on financial reform at Treasury.

Regarding Mr. Weiss himself, the reasonable question is: to what extent does he believe in any version of the Wall Street view?

We know many things about Mr. Weiss but we don't know everything. Therefore any reasonable observer faces a signal extraction problem – there is plenty of noise and distraction, but what are his real views? Here is what we have to work with:

  • Weiss has no known competence on anything to do with financial regulation. There is no track record.
  • Weiss has never communicated, in public or private, on financial reform issues with anyone who has worked hard against the Wall Street view over the past six years (or ever).
  • Weiss's employment has involved advising on international mergers and acquisitions for 20 years. Lazard, his firm, does deals involving big banks – and it hires plenty of people who previously worked at global megabanks such as Citigroup.
  • Many people who live and work in this kind of milieu share some version of the Wall Street view. For example, some of the most vociferous defenders of Citigroup are people in smaller financial firms and in law firms (and in think tanks) who make their living from the Citi ecosystem (and the implicit government subsidies that keep this bizarre and dangerous structure going).
  • Not everyone who has worked in finance believes in the Wall Street view (e.g., Gary Gensler). But at this point – six years after the crisis – most of the serious skeptics regarding the supposed advantages of megabanks have made their voices heard, at least in private.
  • Weiss is associated with Robert Rubin, for example through a paper (on fiscal issues) they both signed that was produced by the Center for American Progress. Mr. Rubin has, while in office during the 1990s, while at Citigroup during the 2000s, and still today, consistently exhibited a strong version of the Wall Street view.
  • Rubin has exerted great apparent influence on this administration, including by directly or indirectly encouraging the White House to hire people with minimal public track records on financial reform – who then prove to be profoundly disappointing by siding repeatedly with the big Wall Street players.
  • More broadly, the attitude of the Obama administration on financial reform has been profoundly disappointing – including, now, not even going to bat for their own legislation.
  • Everyone on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System has at this point been appointed or re-appointed by the Obama administration. The only person on that Board who definitely does not share the Wall Street view is Janet Yellen.
  • The administration has steadfastly refused to take seriously any potential appointees to the Fed Board of Governors who would be tough on the Wall Street view. There have long been two vacancies on the Board – and the administration will not advance a single person who worries about the profound risks created by big banks or any kind of proven willingness to implement the Dodd-Frank reforms.

In recent days, Mr. Weiss's supporters have sought to rally support through two outside letters that stress Mr. Weiss's supposed qualifications for the job. But both these letters further weaken the case for Mr. Weiss – seen in terms of the signal extraction problem, these interventions strengthen the likelihood that Mr. Weiss shares a disturbing version of the Wall Street view.

One letter, dated December 11, is from four former Undersecretaries for Domestic Finance. The authors concede that Mr. Weiss has no experience in managing the national debt so, by their own definition, the issue is whether Mr. Weiss is suited to a key position relative to financial regulation. Their argument comes down to this:

"Mr. Weiss has spent a quarter century operating in financial markets, including more than 20 years at Lazard, the last five of which as Global Head of Investment Banking. He has specific expertise advising companies how to grow, and how to finance that growth. Lazard is not a money center or lending bank and does not engage in sales and trading. Mr. Weiss has been deeply involved on behalf of large and small client companies in negotiating every type of financing, from debt and equity through more complex structures."

All this says is: he worked on Wall Street, knows about corporate finance, and did not directly get bailed out in 2008-09. But there is no definite or specific information here that helps us understand or verify whether Mr. Weiss at all shares, or even deeply believes in, the Wall Street view – an important part of which now is "bailouts are fine" and "the government made money"; completely ignoring the costs of the financial crisis to the broader economy and to ordinary Americans.

The fact that Mr. Weiss's strong supporters would send a letter devoid of relevant information on this point should itself be interpreted as a signal. If Mr. Weiss were at all skeptical of megabanks, now would be a good time to communicate that point – and we see nothing of the kind.

The second letter, dated December 12, is from the Partnership for New York City, which is an organization comprised primarily of leading New York-based companies – naturally heavily weighted towards finance. The membership of the Partnership includes all the Too Big To Fail banks, although most of them chose not to sign this letter (with the exception of Morgan Stanley).

Instead, the prominent names among those signing include top Wall Street lawyers, people at financial firms that do a lot of business with TBTF banks as partners or counterparties, and former executives from the largest global megabanks (including the former chairman of Citigroup). Many of these individuals have no material interest in seeing an end to the distortive government subsidies associated with any financial firm perceived as being Too Big To Fail. Indeed, the net worth, status, and professional opportunities for many on the Partnership's letter are presumably closely tied to the fortunes of TBTF banks. These are smart, rational people with a good grip on how the world works – it does not seem unreasonable to think many of them wish to continue receiving, indirectly, the benefits of implicit taxpayer support provided to the likes of Citigroup.

Similar views to those of high-profile individuals in the Partnership for New York are not underrepresented in this administration and in this Treasury Department. Many of these people have access also to the very top of the White House.

And, as matter of routine, an influential subset of this group also appoints, oversees, and can actually remove from office one of our most important financial regulators, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. A major part of our modern difficulties can be traced back to the fact that the New York Fed has become completely captured by the Wall Street view. (Senator Jack Reed has a legislative proposal that would help deal with this problem by reducing the powers of the Board of the New York Fed, where the banking sector still holds the reins.)

It is hard to see the letter from the Partnership for New York as anything other than confirmation of the points made by opponents of Mr. Weiss. Camden R. Fine, president of the ICBA, put it this way:

"While Mr. Weiss has impressive credentials as a top Wall Street executive specializing in international mergers and acquisitions, Wall Street is already well represented at Treasury, and the narrow focus of Mr. Weiss's professional experience is a serious concern for ICBA and community banks nationwide."

Senator Warren agrees completely, with slightly different wording:

"It's all about the revolving door – that well-oiled mechanism that sends Wall Street executives to make policies in the government and that sends government policymakers straight to Wall Street. Weiss defenders are all in, loudly defending the revolving door and telling America how lucky we are that Wall Street is willing to run the economy and the government."

As argued by his opponents and as confirmed by the public statements of his strongest supporters, Antonio Weiss does not have the right background, qualifications, or – as far as anyone can reasonably determine – views to become Undersecretary for Domestic Finance.

Categories: Newswire

Elizabeth Warren and the Independent Community Bankers of America Are Right: Antonio Weiss Should Not Become Undersecretary for Domestic Finance

truthout - 13 hours 55 min ago

Antonio Weiss has been nominated to become Undersecretary for Domestic Finance at the Treasury Department. A growing number of people and organizations have expressed reservations about this potential appointment, which requires Senate confirmation – including Senator Dick Durbin (D., IL), Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D.,NH), Senator Joe Manchin (D., WV), the American Federation of Teachers (in a press release on December 17th), and other groups. And, from another part of the political spectrum, the Independent Community Bankers of America has also come out strongly against Mr. Weiss.

In a speech last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren detailed her concerns about Mr. Weiss's background:

"He [Mr. Weiss] has focused on international corporate mergers and companies buying and selling each other. It may be interesting, challenging work, but it does not sufficiently qualify him to oversee consumer protection and domestic regulatory functions at the Treasury that are a critical part of the job."

And Senator Warren made it clear that the Weiss nomination needs to be seen in this broader context:

"Time after time in government, the Wall Street view prevails, and time after time, conflicting views are crowded out."

A line must be drawn and, as Senator Warren said on Friday evening, with regard to the Wall Street view that what is good for executives at big banks is good for the country,

"Enough is enough."

The latest round of pushback from Weiss supporters against Senator Warren makes three points. First, this administration is not captured by the Wall Street view. Second, Mr. Weiss is not captured by the Wall Street view. And, third, that Mr. Weiss is so perfectly qualified for the job that all these broader issues are irrelevant or even illegitimate. None of these points has a substantive basis or can withstand scrutiny. The ICBA, AFT, and Senators Durbin, Machin, Shaheen, and Warren are right to continue opposing Mr. Weiss's appointment.

On the extent of capture of this administration by the Wall Street view, the facts are straightforward. The Obama administration has continually refused to put forward any potential nominee for a senior position who has shown serious backbone with regard to financial reform. There appears to be a litmus test. If you want to be tough on reform – in the sense of confronting Too Big To Fail head-on or even just reducing the reckless risks that big banks take with derivatives – you cannot have a senior administration job.

A few reformers have, of course, managed to get through. Gary Gensler took financial reform seriously and implemented the Dodd-Frank law as chair at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The administration seems to have been surprised by how tough he was – and they did not reappoint him. Janet Yellen became chair of the Federal Reserve Board, but only because the White House could not get sufficient support for Larry Summers. And Tom Hoenig and Jeremiah Norton are strong voices for sensible policy at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – but they were both put in office by the Republicans.

There is no balance of views at the top of the US Treasury. The Wall Street view – what's good for the people who run big banks is good for the country – is fully in control. The most recent demonstration of this point came just last week, when House Republicans proposed to repeal Section 716 of Dodd-Frank – a direct attempt to help Citigroup and other megabanks by allowing them to run more dangerous derivatives out of their insured banks (and therefore create more downside risks for taxpayers and the broader economy). Treasury and the administration not only did not oppose this measure – they actively undermined House Democrats and Senator Warren in their attempts to stick up for Section 716. There is no backbone on financial reform at Treasury.

Regarding Mr. Weiss himself, the reasonable question is: to what extent does he believe in any version of the Wall Street view?

We know many things about Mr. Weiss but we don't know everything. Therefore any reasonable observer faces a signal extraction problem – there is plenty of noise and distraction, but what are his real views? Here is what we have to work with:

  • Weiss has no known competence on anything to do with financial regulation. There is no track record.
  • Weiss has never communicated, in public or private, on financial reform issues with anyone who has worked hard against the Wall Street view over the past six years (or ever).
  • Weiss's employment has involved advising on international mergers and acquisitions for 20 years. Lazard, his firm, does deals involving big banks – and it hires plenty of people who previously worked at global megabanks such as Citigroup.
  • Many people who live and work in this kind of milieu share some version of the Wall Street view. For example, some of the most vociferous defenders of Citigroup are people in smaller financial firms and in law firms (and in think tanks) who make their living from the Citi ecosystem (and the implicit government subsidies that keep this bizarre and dangerous structure going).
  • Not everyone who has worked in finance believes in the Wall Street view (e.g., Gary Gensler). But at this point – six years after the crisis – most of the serious skeptics regarding the supposed advantages of megabanks have made their voices heard, at least in private.
  • Weiss is associated with Robert Rubin, for example through a paper (on fiscal issues) they both signed that was produced by the Center for American Progress. Mr. Rubin has, while in office during the 1990s, while at Citigroup during the 2000s, and still today, consistently exhibited a strong version of the Wall Street view.
  • Rubin has exerted great apparent influence on this administration, including by directly or indirectly encouraging the White House to hire people with minimal public track records on financial reform – who then prove to be profoundly disappointing by siding repeatedly with the big Wall Street players.
  • More broadly, the attitude of the Obama administration on financial reform has been profoundly disappointing – including, now, not even going to bat for their own legislation.
  • Everyone on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System has at this point been appointed or re-appointed by the Obama administration. The only person on that Board who definitely does not share the Wall Street view is Janet Yellen.
  • The administration has steadfastly refused to take seriously any potential appointees to the Fed Board of Governors who would be tough on the Wall Street view. There have long been two vacancies on the Board – and the administration will not advance a single person who worries about the profound risks created by big banks or any kind of proven willingness to implement the Dodd-Frank reforms.

In recent days, Mr. Weiss's supporters have sought to rally support through two outside letters that stress Mr. Weiss's supposed qualifications for the job. But both these letters further weaken the case for Mr. Weiss – seen in terms of the signal extraction problem, these interventions strengthen the likelihood that Mr. Weiss shares a disturbing version of the Wall Street view.

One letter, dated December 11, is from four former Undersecretaries for Domestic Finance. The authors concede that Mr. Weiss has no experience in managing the national debt so, by their own definition, the issue is whether Mr. Weiss is suited to a key position relative to financial regulation. Their argument comes down to this:

"Mr. Weiss has spent a quarter century operating in financial markets, including more than 20 years at Lazard, the last five of which as Global Head of Investment Banking. He has specific expertise advising companies how to grow, and how to finance that growth. Lazard is not a money center or lending bank and does not engage in sales and trading. Mr. Weiss has been deeply involved on behalf of large and small client companies in negotiating every type of financing, from debt and equity through more complex structures."

All this says is: he worked on Wall Street, knows about corporate finance, and did not directly get bailed out in 2008-09. But there is no definite or specific information here that helps us understand or verify whether Mr. Weiss at all shares, or even deeply believes in, the Wall Street view – an important part of which now is "bailouts are fine" and "the government made money"; completely ignoring the costs of the financial crisis to the broader economy and to ordinary Americans.

The fact that Mr. Weiss's strong supporters would send a letter devoid of relevant information on this point should itself be interpreted as a signal. If Mr. Weiss were at all skeptical of megabanks, now would be a good time to communicate that point – and we see nothing of the kind.

The second letter, dated December 12, is from the Partnership for New York City, which is an organization comprised primarily of leading New York-based companies – naturally heavily weighted towards finance. The membership of the Partnership includes all the Too Big To Fail banks, although most of them chose not to sign this letter (with the exception of Morgan Stanley).

Instead, the prominent names among those signing include top Wall Street lawyers, people at financial firms that do a lot of business with TBTF banks as partners or counterparties, and former executives from the largest global megabanks (including the former chairman of Citigroup). Many of these individuals have no material interest in seeing an end to the distortive government subsidies associated with any financial firm perceived as being Too Big To Fail. Indeed, the net worth, status, and professional opportunities for many on the Partnership's letter are presumably closely tied to the fortunes of TBTF banks. These are smart, rational people with a good grip on how the world works – it does not seem unreasonable to think many of them wish to continue receiving, indirectly, the benefits of implicit taxpayer support provided to the likes of Citigroup.

Similar views to those of high-profile individuals in the Partnership for New York are not underrepresented in this administration and in this Treasury Department. Many of these people have access also to the very top of the White House.

And, as matter of routine, an influential subset of this group also appoints, oversees, and can actually remove from office one of our most important financial regulators, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. A major part of our modern difficulties can be traced back to the fact that the New York Fed has become completely captured by the Wall Street view. (Senator Jack Reed has a legislative proposal that would help deal with this problem by reducing the powers of the Board of the New York Fed, where the banking sector still holds the reins.)

It is hard to see the letter from the Partnership for New York as anything other than confirmation of the points made by opponents of Mr. Weiss. Camden R. Fine, president of the ICBA, put it this way:

"While Mr. Weiss has impressive credentials as a top Wall Street executive specializing in international mergers and acquisitions, Wall Street is already well represented at Treasury, and the narrow focus of Mr. Weiss's professional experience is a serious concern for ICBA and community banks nationwide."

Senator Warren agrees completely, with slightly different wording:

"It's all about the revolving door – that well-oiled mechanism that sends Wall Street executives to make policies in the government and that sends government policymakers straight to Wall Street. Weiss defenders are all in, loudly defending the revolving door and telling America how lucky we are that Wall Street is willing to run the economy and the government."

As argued by his opponents and as confirmed by the public statements of his strongest supporters, Antonio Weiss does not have the right background, qualifications, or – as far as anyone can reasonably determine – views to become Undersecretary for Domestic Finance.

Categories: Newswire

Fracking Movement Wins as NY Bans Fracking

truthout - 14 hours 13 min ago

In a major victory for people who have been working to stop hydraulic fracturing for gas, known as fracking, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York announced a ban on fracking in New York State.

This would not have occurred had it not been for the consistent and ongoing educating, organizing and mobilizing by groups like New Yorkers Against Fracking and We Are Seneca Lake, among others. This has been a six year campaign of creative protests, civil resistance, direct action and local communities voting to ban fracking, a power upheld by New York's highest court. One opponent of fracking, Walter Hang, an environmental mapping consultant wrote:

This stupendous victory was won by an unrelenting grassroots citizen campaign powered by amazing press coverage that systematically highlighted the public health and environmental concerns of shale fracking. That effort has won a victory unparalleled in the annals of the American environmental movement.

Tom Wilber who writes Shale Gas Review which covers gas development in Marcellus and Utica shales, noted the power of the anti-fracking movement and how it related to the science on fracking:

Science is part of the calculus. But despite what Cuomo would like us to believe, scientists don't make these kinds of decisions. The full equation is Science + politics = policy. Cuomo finally got tired of being hounded on the issue by his political base. The movement in New York against shale gas was relentless and it was focused on him.

People rising up and saying 'no' to fracking made it impossible for the government to ignore the health, safety and environmental problems caused by fracking. See this December 2014 compendium of the research. This victory is one that will spur the anti-fracking movement throughout the country and puts in question the fracking infrastructure being built, e.g. pipelines, compressor stations and export terminals, currently being pushed throughout the country by Big Energy.

Inside Climate News reports that Sandra Steingraber, an environmental health expert and fracking activist in New York, told them from the parking lot of a sheriff's office where she was bailing out 28 musicians arrested in an ongoing protest against a fracked gas storage facility in the Seneca Lakes region of New York that when she told the activists the news, they picked up their instruments and there was "singing and dancing in the streets." She added "Fracking is able to roll over so many communities because people are told it is inevitable. This decision emboldens us all. It shows this fight is winnable."

At a meeting in Calvert County last night where Dominion Resources is building a fracked gas export terminal, Tracey Eno of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community, a member of We Are Cove Point, mentioned the Cuomo decision to inspire people to realize that we can defeat big energy.

Yesterday morning we received an email message urging people in New York to prepare to protest as Governor Cuomo was expected to announce three pilot fracking projects in New York, instead the governor decided to continue the moratorium on fracking. This reminds us that we often do not realize how close we are to victory, indeed people often feel like they are failing or cannot win, when in fact victory is within reach and much closer than they realize.

Cuomo spoke briefly at a press conference after his cabinet meeting announcing the fracking ban and saying he was following the advice of experts. He then turned the press conference over to them to explain the decision.

The New York Times reports that the state health commissioner expressed concerns about the health impacts of fracking:

In a presentation at the cabinet meeting, the acting state health commissioner, Dr. Howard A. Zucker, said the examination had found "significant public health risks" associated with fracking.

Holding up copies of scientific studies to animate his arguments, Dr. Zucker listed concerns about water contamination and air pollution, and said there was insufficient scientific evidence to affirm the safety of fracking.

Dr. Zucker said his review boiled down to a simple question: Would he want his family to live in a community where fracking was taking place?

Zucker said that in other states where fracking is already happening, he found that state health commissioners "weren't even at the table."

At the same time, Joe Martens, the environmental commissioner described the economic stimulus from fracking was not as great telling a press conference that the prospects for fracking in New York are "uncertain at best" and describing economic benefits as "far lower than originally forecasted." As The Times reported:

Martens noted the low price of natural gas, the high local cost of industry oversight and the large areas that would be off-limits to shale gas development because of setback requirements, water supply protections, and local prohibitions. He said those factors combine to make fracking less economically beneficial than had been anticipated.

Chip Northrup, a former oil and gas investor who writes the No Fracking Way blog that opposes drilling in New York, wrote about the views of commissioners Zucker and Martens:

Both of them cited the greatly reduced area where fracking would actually take place in New York – since most upstate towns ban it.

And the only towns that might allow it are in an small area by the Pennsylvania border that is not currently economic. So, frankly, simply not worth fracking fooling with.

Which makes perfect sense from all standpoints: environmentally, economically and politically.

At the press conference Cuomo said "I think it's our responsibility to develop an alternative ... for safe, clean economic development."

We urge advocates and the governor to now put in place a strategy to make New York the first state to put in place a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy economy by 2025. This is not an impossible fantasy but an achievable goal. Here is one example of how New York could achieve a clean energy economy. Putting in place a clean energy policy is the kind of leadership that could revive Cuomo, who had a very difficult re-election, as a viable presidential candidate in 2020.

Categories: Newswire

Fracking Movement Wins as NY Bans Fracking

truthout - 14 hours 13 min ago

In a major victory for people who have been working to stop hydraulic fracturing for gas, known as fracking, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York announced a ban on fracking in New York State.

This would not have occurred had it not been for the consistent and ongoing educating, organizing and mobilizing by groups like New Yorkers Against Fracking and We Are Seneca Lake, among others. This has been a six year campaign of creative protests, civil resistance, direct action and local communities voting to ban fracking, a power upheld by New York's highest court. One opponent of fracking, Walter Hang, an environmental mapping consultant wrote:

This stupendous victory was won by an unrelenting grassroots citizen campaign powered by amazing press coverage that systematically highlighted the public health and environmental concerns of shale fracking. That effort has won a victory unparalleled in the annals of the American environmental movement.

Tom Wilber who writes Shale Gas Review which covers gas development in Marcellus and Utica shales, noted the power of the anti-fracking movement and how it related to the science on fracking:

Science is part of the calculus. But despite what Cuomo would like us to believe, scientists don't make these kinds of decisions. The full equation is Science + politics = policy. Cuomo finally got tired of being hounded on the issue by his political base. The movement in New York against shale gas was relentless and it was focused on him.

People rising up and saying 'no' to fracking made it impossible for the government to ignore the health, safety and environmental problems caused by fracking. See this December 2014 compendium of the research. This victory is one that will spur the anti-fracking movement throughout the country and puts in question the fracking infrastructure being built, e.g. pipelines, compressor stations and export terminals, currently being pushed throughout the country by Big Energy.

Inside Climate News reports that Sandra Steingraber, an environmental health expert and fracking activist in New York, told them from the parking lot of a sheriff's office where she was bailing out 28 musicians arrested in an ongoing protest against a fracked gas storage facility in the Seneca Lakes region of New York that when she told the activists the news, they picked up their instruments and there was "singing and dancing in the streets." She added "Fracking is able to roll over so many communities because people are told it is inevitable. This decision emboldens us all. It shows this fight is winnable."

At a meeting in Calvert County last night where Dominion Resources is building a fracked gas export terminal, Tracey Eno of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community, a member of We Are Cove Point, mentioned the Cuomo decision to inspire people to realize that we can defeat big energy.

Yesterday morning we received an email message urging people in New York to prepare to protest as Governor Cuomo was expected to announce three pilot fracking projects in New York, instead the governor decided to continue the moratorium on fracking. This reminds us that we often do not realize how close we are to victory, indeed people often feel like they are failing or cannot win, when in fact victory is within reach and much closer than they realize.

Cuomo spoke briefly at a press conference after his cabinet meeting announcing the fracking ban and saying he was following the advice of experts. He then turned the press conference over to them to explain the decision.

The New York Times reports that the state health commissioner expressed concerns about the health impacts of fracking:

In a presentation at the cabinet meeting, the acting state health commissioner, Dr. Howard A. Zucker, said the examination had found "significant public health risks" associated with fracking.

Holding up copies of scientific studies to animate his arguments, Dr. Zucker listed concerns about water contamination and air pollution, and said there was insufficient scientific evidence to affirm the safety of fracking.

Dr. Zucker said his review boiled down to a simple question: Would he want his family to live in a community where fracking was taking place?

Zucker said that in other states where fracking is already happening, he found that state health commissioners "weren't even at the table."

At the same time, Joe Martens, the environmental commissioner described the economic stimulus from fracking was not as great telling a press conference that the prospects for fracking in New York are "uncertain at best" and describing economic benefits as "far lower than originally forecasted." As The Times reported:

Martens noted the low price of natural gas, the high local cost of industry oversight and the large areas that would be off-limits to shale gas development because of setback requirements, water supply protections, and local prohibitions. He said those factors combine to make fracking less economically beneficial than had been anticipated.

Chip Northrup, a former oil and gas investor who writes the No Fracking Way blog that opposes drilling in New York, wrote about the views of commissioners Zucker and Martens:

Both of them cited the greatly reduced area where fracking would actually take place in New York – since most upstate towns ban it.

And the only towns that might allow it are in an small area by the Pennsylvania border that is not currently economic. So, frankly, simply not worth fracking fooling with.

Which makes perfect sense from all standpoints: environmentally, economically and politically.

At the press conference Cuomo said "I think it's our responsibility to develop an alternative ... for safe, clean economic development."

We urge advocates and the governor to now put in place a strategy to make New York the first state to put in place a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy economy by 2025. This is not an impossible fantasy but an achievable goal. Here is one example of how New York could achieve a clean energy economy. Putting in place a clean energy policy is the kind of leadership that could revive Cuomo, who had a very difficult re-election, as a viable presidential candidate in 2020.

Categories: Newswire

Another Black Boy Gunned Down by Police

truthout - 14 hours 24 min ago

We will never learn of the names, lives, and deaths of countless Black men and boys murdered by police - and slavery enforcers, hate groups, vigilantes, and a host of others – dating back to the earliest days of this country's history. The names and stories of a slew of recent victims of extrajudicial executions, such as Eric Garner and Michael Brown, and the exoneration of their killers, have become widely known through the blowback of public fury.

This is a tale of another Black boy whose name and wrongful death were never reported in any official document or national media. The policeman responsible was not charged, indicted, or prosecuted. This child's prematurely snuffed life was not spent in the US but in the Black nation of Haiti, though the US government subsidized his murderer.

***

In Port-au-Prince on a sweltering day last spring, the collective taxicab I was traveling in turned onto Bicentennaire Street, barely avoiding the prone body of a young teen. Arms thrown out like a startled baby's, he lay in a pool of blood. I spun around in the seat to look. A Haitian passenger, more accustomed to gritty daily reality, looked at me strangely. "What's wrong with you?" she asked.

One truck of Haitian police and two more of UN occupation troops next to the body raised my suspicion, as both parties have been responsible for incalculable harm.

I extricated myself from the crowded cab and ran to the scene. The boy had been shot in his skull and eye. The part of his T-shirt that was not yet covered with blood, which was still flowing from the holes, gleamed white. His mother or sister had surely recently hand-scrubbed that shirt with care.

A policeman told me he had been shot by a "bandit." A bandit robbing and shooting this boy was implausible: emaciated children from that destitute neighborhood do not circulate with riches. That he himself might have been involved in banditry was equally incredible: plastic flip-flops do not make good getaway shoes.

I began asking onlookers and street merchants if they knew what had happened. But two policemen followed me, and so no one had observed anything. As I continued my investigation up a dirt alleyway, one of the cops asked, "Where are you going?" "Just walking," I said. "Don't you need company?" he replied. They laughed.

At a bend in the alley, I ducked behind a tin fence before the police caught up with me and asked a man welding what he had seen. He said the police had driven up and then the shots had rung out.

Police brutality is a time-honored tradition in Haiti. Today, under fraudulently elected President Michel Martelly, the force's killings and abuses – especially of demonstrators, activists, and journalists – are growing. Just this past Sunday, December 14, police attacked anti-government demonstrators in the capital city, killing one.

The US has had a hand in taking down these Black lives. In the three years since Martelly was imposed, the US has underwritten his unaccountable "security" forces to the tune of $73 million, courtesy of our tax dollars. The US has also sold the Haitian government weapons that make the assaults possible. (This same support has gone to many a Haitian autocrat, notably François and Jean-Claude Duvalier.)

Likewise, UN troops - globo-cops – have assassinated, raped, arbitrarily arrested, and committed other human rights violations during their ten-year occupation of Haiti. Moreover, the force is responsible for the deaths of more than 9,000 through cholera, after troops infected with the disease dumped their raw sewage in a river. When families of the victims filed a lawsuit for compensation, the UN claimed legal immunity. (The cholera lawsuit continues nevertheless.)

Haitian and UN forces are Daniel Panteleo, the NYPD officer who strangled Eric Garner to death as he placidly vended cigarettes on a sidewalk. They are Darren Wilson, the St. Louis cop who shot the unarmed teenager Michael Brown seven or eight times. These badge-wearers, and so many more like them, stand above the law.

The continual malfeasance, and exemption from accountability and punishment, of the Haitian police and the UN occupation force would be unthinkable, unacceptable, in a high-income white nation. However, those who control power and those with white skin typically respond to state-sanctioned lawlessness in low-income Black neighborhoods and countries by choosing to remain uninformed; ignoring the matter; or rewriting the narrative as gang activity, Black-on-Black violence, or common crime.

In the global division of capital and human value, a dead Black Haitian like the one lying on Bicentennaire Street was IS? one more worthless body in a worthless life in a worthless piece of real estate.

Both the street-beat cops and the blue helmets are themselves predominantly low-income and Black or brown. They are pawns in a globalized system of political and physical violence, underpaid proxies helping to maintain dominance of the world's elite nations and classes. On the streets, they mirror on a micro-scale the unjust global relations, endowed as they are with personal power that allows them to be protected perpetrators of crimes on those more vulnerable than they.

Two ambulances joined the police and UN trucks. The officials sauntered between the vehicles, talking to each other. No one paid any attention to the blood-drenched body. The men wrote nothing, photographed nothing. Finally, gloved corpse-slingers approached and searched the pockets of the child's nylon shorts; they found them entirely empty. They tossed the cadaver into a litter and into the back of the ambulance. I suspected they would dump him in a potter's field, perhaps after a quick stop at the morgue, and that that would be the end of the story. I would have wagered a large bet that there would be no time spent preparing documentation for headquarters or for possible later identification by his desperate mother. I would have bet everything I owned that a forthcoming lunch mattered a lot more to those men than due process. Likely, this had been just another stop in a routine day.

Still, more public resources were being spent on the boy at that moment than throughout his entire life. Now, however, they were too late to be of any use to him.

Walking back home, I got caught in a wave of little children leaving kindergarten with their parents. They were a sea of blue shorts, blue pinafores, and blue hair ribbons. Which of them would be blown away by their government?

And which would grow up to be protesters in marches, and advocates in campaigns, like those going on all over the US now? Which would commit him or herself to a country in which everyone's husband, father, son, and brother – and wife, mother, daughter, and sister - have worth? And what country would they create?

****

As I penned this article under the drone of police helicopters that circulate every night from sunset until well past midnight above the interlocked towns of Oakland and Berkeley – both of them in full rebellion - an email came in from a workers' rights group in Haiti. It read, "We are made nauseous by seeing assassination after assassination by the US police, with impunity, on any citizen – as long as they happen to be Black... and also by the complete protection of the corrupt justice system... We salute the mobilization of people in that country."

May the resistance and protest grow in strength. May they flourish into strategic organizing and sustained movement-building for physical security, economic and social equality, democratic rights, and government accountability vis-à-vis Blacks and other people of color. May this be so in the US and Haiti and everywhere that is sickened by the poison of structural racism.

Black lives matter.

A revised version of this article appeared as "Another Poor Black Boy Dead in Haiti", Truthout, April 7, 2013.

Categories: Newswire

Another Black Boy Gunned Down by Police

truthout - 14 hours 24 min ago

We will never learn of the names, lives, and deaths of countless Black men and boys murdered by police - and slavery enforcers, hate groups, vigilantes, and a host of others – dating back to the earliest days of this country's history. The names and stories of a slew of recent victims of extrajudicial executions, such as Eric Garner and Michael Brown, and the exoneration of their killers, have become widely known through the blowback of public fury.

This is a tale of another Black boy whose name and wrongful death were never reported in any official document or national media. The policeman responsible was not charged, indicted, or prosecuted. This child's prematurely snuffed life was not spent in the US but in the Black nation of Haiti, though the US government subsidized his murderer.

***

In Port-au-Prince on a sweltering day last spring, the collective taxicab I was traveling in turned onto Bicentennaire Street, barely avoiding the prone body of a young teen. Arms thrown out like a startled baby's, he lay in a pool of blood. I spun around in the seat to look. A Haitian passenger, more accustomed to gritty daily reality, looked at me strangely. "What's wrong with you?" she asked.

One truck of Haitian police and two more of UN occupation troops next to the body raised my suspicion, as both parties have been responsible for incalculable harm.

I extricated myself from the crowded cab and ran to the scene. The boy had been shot in his skull and eye. The part of his T-shirt that was not yet covered with blood, which was still flowing from the holes, gleamed white. His mother or sister had surely recently hand-scrubbed that shirt with care.

A policeman told me he had been shot by a "bandit." A bandit robbing and shooting this boy was implausible: emaciated children from that destitute neighborhood do not circulate with riches. That he himself might have been involved in banditry was equally incredible: plastic flip-flops do not make good getaway shoes.

I began asking onlookers and street merchants if they knew what had happened. But two policemen followed me, and so no one had observed anything. As I continued my investigation up a dirt alleyway, one of the cops asked, "Where are you going?" "Just walking," I said. "Don't you need company?" he replied. They laughed.

At a bend in the alley, I ducked behind a tin fence before the police caught up with me and asked a man welding what he had seen. He said the police had driven up and then the shots had rung out.

Police brutality is a time-honored tradition in Haiti. Today, under fraudulently elected President Michel Martelly, the force's killings and abuses – especially of demonstrators, activists, and journalists – are growing. Just this past Sunday, December 14, police attacked anti-government demonstrators in the capital city, killing one.

The US has had a hand in taking down these Black lives. In the three years since Martelly was imposed, the US has underwritten his unaccountable "security" forces to the tune of $73 million, courtesy of our tax dollars. The US has also sold the Haitian government weapons that make the assaults possible. (This same support has gone to many a Haitian autocrat, notably François and Jean-Claude Duvalier.)

Likewise, UN troops - globo-cops – have assassinated, raped, arbitrarily arrested, and committed other human rights violations during their ten-year occupation of Haiti. Moreover, the force is responsible for the deaths of more than 9,000 through cholera, after troops infected with the disease dumped their raw sewage in a river. When families of the victims filed a lawsuit for compensation, the UN claimed legal immunity. (The cholera lawsuit continues nevertheless.)

Haitian and UN forces are Daniel Panteleo, the NYPD officer who strangled Eric Garner to death as he placidly vended cigarettes on a sidewalk. They are Darren Wilson, the St. Louis cop who shot the unarmed teenager Michael Brown seven or eight times. These badge-wearers, and so many more like them, stand above the law.

The continual malfeasance, and exemption from accountability and punishment, of the Haitian police and the UN occupation force would be unthinkable, unacceptable, in a high-income white nation. However, those who control power and those with white skin typically respond to state-sanctioned lawlessness in low-income Black neighborhoods and countries by choosing to remain uninformed; ignoring the matter; or rewriting the narrative as gang activity, Black-on-Black violence, or common crime.

In the global division of capital and human value, a dead Black Haitian like the one lying on Bicentennaire Street was IS? one more worthless body in a worthless life in a worthless piece of real estate.

Both the street-beat cops and the blue helmets are themselves predominantly low-income and Black or brown. They are pawns in a globalized system of political and physical violence, underpaid proxies helping to maintain dominance of the world's elite nations and classes. On the streets, they mirror on a micro-scale the unjust global relations, endowed as they are with personal power that allows them to be protected perpetrators of crimes on those more vulnerable than they.

Two ambulances joined the police and UN trucks. The officials sauntered between the vehicles, talking to each other. No one paid any attention to the blood-drenched body. The men wrote nothing, photographed nothing. Finally, gloved corpse-slingers approached and searched the pockets of the child's nylon shorts; they found them entirely empty. They tossed the cadaver into a litter and into the back of the ambulance. I suspected they would dump him in a potter's field, perhaps after a quick stop at the morgue, and that that would be the end of the story. I would have wagered a large bet that there would be no time spent preparing documentation for headquarters or for possible later identification by his desperate mother. I would have bet everything I owned that a forthcoming lunch mattered a lot more to those men than due process. Likely, this had been just another stop in a routine day.

Still, more public resources were being spent on the boy at that moment than throughout his entire life. Now, however, they were too late to be of any use to him.

Walking back home, I got caught in a wave of little children leaving kindergarten with their parents. They were a sea of blue shorts, blue pinafores, and blue hair ribbons. Which of them would be blown away by their government?

And which would grow up to be protesters in marches, and advocates in campaigns, like those going on all over the US now? Which would commit him or herself to a country in which everyone's husband, father, son, and brother – and wife, mother, daughter, and sister - have worth? And what country would they create?

****

As I penned this article under the drone of police helicopters that circulate every night from sunset until well past midnight above the interlocked towns of Oakland and Berkeley – both of them in full rebellion - an email came in from a workers' rights group in Haiti. It read, "We are made nauseous by seeing assassination after assassination by the US police, with impunity, on any citizen – as long as they happen to be Black... and also by the complete protection of the corrupt justice system... We salute the mobilization of people in that country."

May the resistance and protest grow in strength. May they flourish into strategic organizing and sustained movement-building for physical security, economic and social equality, democratic rights, and government accountability vis-à-vis Blacks and other people of color. May this be so in the US and Haiti and everywhere that is sickened by the poison of structural racism.

Black lives matter.

A revised version of this article appeared as "Another Poor Black Boy Dead in Haiti", Truthout, April 7, 2013.

Categories: Newswire

Economic Update: Capitalism's Christmas Presents

truthout - 14 hours 31 min ago

This week's episode provides updates on the economics of the oil price collapse, the resumption of US-Cuba relations, a lost middle class and the economics of Uber car service. We respond to listeners' questions on the upsurge of union organizing and on a Supreme Court anti-labor ruling. Finally, we analyze why both men and women in the US are leaving the labor force.

To see more stories like this, visit Economic Update: Your Weekly Dose of Revolutionary Economics

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

Economic Update is in partnership with Truthout.org

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

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

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

Categories: Newswire

The Millions March: The Post-Ferguson Moment Becoming a Movement

truthout - 14 hours 46 min ago

On Saturday, December 13th, tens of thousands of demonstrators (organizers put the number at 70 thousand) – outraged at police brutality and a system of racial inequality - marched in New York City from Washington Square Park, uptown through the heart of the holiday shopping district at Herald Square and then downtown to a rally and speak out at one police plaza. The march was lead by led by family members of those who have lost loved ones to police murder – including family members of Mike Brown, Jordan Davis, Shantel Davis, Sean Bell, Emmitt Till, Alberta Spruill, Ramarley Graham, and Kimani Gray.

What was striking- and encouraging- about this massive action was that it was organized and lead by young people of color- women in particular. The Millions March NYC originally organized by Synead Nichols, 23, and Umaara Iynaas Elliott, 19, in New York City, rapidly turned into an international Day of Resistance with protestors of all ages and ethnicities marching in their communities demanding more accountability in deadly and racially biased police tactics while declaring that #BlackLivesMatter.

Synead Nichols spoke with Acronym TV after the march. "50-70 thousand people were here tonight, showing that we can stand united peacefully. We can have emotions. We can be outraged. We can be angry, because we have a right to be angry. People are dying left and right – our children are dying – it's a travesty. But, we can be here, united and peaceful, and show that we want change. That is what we did today. "

Local organizers stressed that this movement is growing out of the historical moment brought on by the Mike Brown case in and the "incredible bravery" of organizers and protesters in Ferguson, MO who have been in the streets, often facing down a paramilitary police force, for over 100 days and counting.

"This is not something new, this is not just a response to Eric Garner. It is not just a response to Mike Brown. It is a response to building tensions and building issues of racial inequality," according to activist Sabaah Jordan. "The people in Ferguson
really have to be given credit, because it was a handful of young people who saw something wrong and stayed in the street and that was the catalyst that made people wake up and say: 'no, we can't take this anymore.'"

"The inequalities in this system come from white supremacy," according to NYC based activist George Machado. "The system is not broken. It is working perfectly OK. This whole thing needs to go. If we tie everything we win to that, then everything that this (system) is becomes illegitimate. (and then) this world becomes better for everyone, because black liberation is liberation for the entire world."

Categories: Newswire

The Millions March: The Post-Ferguson Moment Becoming a Movement

truthout - 14 hours 46 min ago

On Saturday, December 13th, tens of thousands of demonstrators (organizers put the number at 70 thousand) – outraged at police brutality and a system of racial inequality - marched in New York City from Washington Square Park, uptown through the heart of the holiday shopping district at Herald Square and then downtown to a rally and speak out at one police plaza. The march was lead by led by family members of those who have lost loved ones to police murder – including family members of Mike Brown, Jordan Davis, Shantel Davis, Sean Bell, Emmitt Till, Alberta Spruill, Ramarley Graham, and Kimani Gray.

What was striking- and encouraging- about this massive action was that it was organized and lead by young people of color- women in particular. The Millions March NYC originally organized by Synead Nichols, 23, and Umaara Iynaas Elliott, 19, in New York City, rapidly turned into an international Day of Resistance with protestors of all ages and ethnicities marching in their communities demanding more accountability in deadly and racially biased police tactics while declaring that #BlackLivesMatter.

Synead Nichols spoke with Acronym TV after the march. "50-70 thousand people were here tonight, showing that we can stand united peacefully. We can have emotions. We can be outraged. We can be angry, because we have a right to be angry. People are dying left and right – our children are dying – it's a travesty. But, we can be here, united and peaceful, and show that we want change. That is what we did today. "

Local organizers stressed that this movement is growing out of the historical moment brought on by the Mike Brown case in and the "incredible bravery" of organizers and protesters in Ferguson, MO who have been in the streets, often facing down a paramilitary police force, for over 100 days and counting.

"This is not something new, this is not just a response to Eric Garner. It is not just a response to Mike Brown. It is a response to building tensions and building issues of racial inequality," according to activist Sabaah Jordan. "The people in Ferguson
really have to be given credit, because it was a handful of young people who saw something wrong and stayed in the street and that was the catalyst that made people wake up and say: 'no, we can't take this anymore.'"

"The inequalities in this system come from white supremacy," according to NYC based activist George Machado. "The system is not broken. It is working perfectly OK. This whole thing needs to go. If we tie everything we win to that, then everything that this (system) is becomes illegitimate. (and then) this world becomes better for everyone, because black liberation is liberation for the entire world."

Categories: Newswire

Does the Release of the Cuban Five Prove the US Failed to Destroy Cuba After Decades of Trying?

truthout - 15 hours 1 min ago

As a new chapter in U.S.-Cuban relations begins, we host a roundtable discussion about the prisoners released as part of the new deal. Cuba freed USAID contractor Alan Gross and a former Cuban intelligence officer who who worked secretly for the CIA, and the United States released the remaining members of the Cuban Five: Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino. We speak with attorney Martin Garbus of the Cuban Five legal team and broadcast an excerpt from our 2013 interview with the first freed member of the Cuban Five, René González, who describes why he came to the United States to investigate militant Cuban exile groups. We also discuss the significance of the new relationship between the two countries. "Our government has been trying to destroy the Cuban Revolution since day one ... and essentially this is an admission that it didn't succeed," says guest Michael Ratner, co-author of "Who Killed Che?: How the CIA Got Away with Murder." We are also joined by Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive, who met twice with Gross while he was detained.

TRANSCRIPT:

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, on this historic day after the announcement of both President Obama as well as President Raúl Castro on the beginning of normalizations of relations between the United States and Cuba. But not everyone was happy. Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida blasted President Obama's new Cuba policy, calling it a, quote, "concession to a tyranny." Rubio is Cuban-American. This is part of what he said.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: The White House has conceded everything and gained little. They gained no commitment on the part of the Cuban regime to freedom of press or freedom of speech or elections. No binding commitment was made to truly open up the Internet. No commitment was made to allowing the establishment of political parties or to even begin the semblance of a transition to democracy. And in exchange for all of these concessions, the only thing the Cuban government agreed to do is free 53 political prisoners, who could wind up in jail tomorrow morning if they once again take up the cause of freedom. ...

These changes will lead to legitimacy for a government that shamelessly, continuously abuses human rights, but it will not lead to assistance for those whose rights are being abused. It is just another concession to a tyranny by the Obama administration, rather than a defense of every universal and inalienable right that our country was founded on and stands for.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Florida Senator—that was Florida Senator Rubio.

We are joined right now by a roundtable of people. In Havana, Peter Kornbluh is with us, head of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive. In Washington, D.C., Robert Muse is with us, who is a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer, an expert relating to U.S. laws with Cuba. Michael Ratner, the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights. And we're joined by Martin Garbus, who is part of the Cuban Five legal team. Time magazine calls him one of the best trial lawyers in the United States, while the National Law Journal has named him one of the country's top 10 litigators. Your response to what has taken place this week?

MARTIN GARBUS: I mean, it's extraordinary. It's marvelous. I saw Gerardo about three weeks ago in jail.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Gerardo is one of the three remaining Cuban Five.

MARTIN GARBUS: Gerardo Hernández, who had a double life sentence. And it's hard to believe he ever would have gotten out under the American legal system. He was unjustly convicted, as you mentioned before. And it's just extraordinary to—I was looking at a guy over the last many years who—an extraordinary human being who was languishing in a jail, sometimes under solitary confinement. And the idea that he's now out, will be able to build a family with he and his wife, is just wonderful.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Kornbluh, what was it like when the three remaining jailed members of the Cuban Five arrived in Havana?

PETER KORNBLUH: Well, it certainly was a big moment for quite a few Cubans. Raúl Castro, in his presentation on television yesterday at noon, really led with the story that the counterterrorism heroes, as they're called here in Cuba, were coming home, that Cuba had released a Cuban CIA asset in return and also an American citizen, Alan Gross. And that was essentially his beginning. The normalization of relations with the United States kind of came second, and I wouldn't say it was secondary, but certainly was burying the lede, if you will.

And for Cubans, of course, there's been this campaign here in Cuba, also in the United States and around the world, a solidarity campaign, which Martin has been such a part of, to free these last remaining agents. And just like any other country that I think has people abroad in prison who have represented the government, these men have been away from their families for 16 years. The television last night was filled with images of them reuniting with their families, meeting with Raúl Castro, going to see their old friends. So, it certainly was an important event for Cuba. Certainly, it was. A lot of images on the television, a lot of discussion in the press.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we go to one of the—the first of the Cuban Five who were released, René González, who I interviewed when he returned to Cuba, Martin Garbus, if you could talk about these five men, convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage in the United States, and yet they said they were here, yes, spying, but spying on violent anti-Cuba groups?

MARTIN GARBUS: They were here working with the United States government to try and stop the right-wing groups in Florida from continuing to invade Cuba, through the—sending arms down to Cuba, from flying over the island, and from actually killing people on the island. There was an explosion at a hotel, and many people were killed. So they were working with the cooperation of the American government.

Let me just say one thing before I get into that. There's a lawyer whose name hasn't been mentioned—Lenny Weinglass—who you know very well. And before me, Lenny worked for 10 years on the Cuban Five case, one of the great American lawyers. And whatever the result here is, he certainly is owed something for it, at least an acknowledgment.

AMY GOODMAN: He died a few years ago.

MARTIN GARBUS: He died a few years ago. Wonderful lawyer.

And then, after Elián González in Florida, and at the same time as you had the Bush-Gore vote in Florida, it became necessary to find someone to blame for some killings which occurred in 1996. My client was ultimately arrested and then convicted. He was arrested three-and-a-half years, for allegedly the killings, after the incident occurred, although the American government had all this information for some three-and-a-half years prior to that. And then, ultimately, he's charged. And the first time there's a conviction, the appellate court reverses the conviction, because the jury was unfairly composed of people hostile to the Cuban government. And—excuse me.

AMY GOODMAN: You said that they worked with the U.S. government. Explain.

MARTIN GARBUS: They worked with the U.S. government. They were turning information over to the U.S. government of terrorist activities done by the right wing. And that information was being spread, and there was in fact meetings in Havana between the American government and representatives of the Wasp group who were exchanging information.

AMY GOODMAN: And President Obama said in his address, about the release of these three men, that the release—well, he didn't name Trujillo, the Cuban agent working for the CIA who was held by Cuba for something like 20 years—

MARTIN GARBUS: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: —who was just released yesterday, but he said that that spy for the U.S. had helped give them information that led to the imprisonment of the Cuban Five.

MARTIN GARBUS: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn for a moment to René González, to this Democracy Now! exclusive. He was the first of the men to be freed, the Cuban Five, in October 2011, returned to Cuba last year. He joined us on Democracy Now! from Havana, Cuba. And I began by asking him why he did come to the United States to investigate militant Cuban exile groups.

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, for my generation Cubans, it was part of our development or common experience to have seen people coming from Miami raiding our shores, shooting at hotels, killing people here in Cuba, blowing up airplanes. So, we were really familiar with the terrorist activities that the Cuban people had been suffering for almost four years back then. So it wasn't hard for me to accept the mission of going there and monitor the activities of some of those people, who had been trained by the CIA in the '60s. Some of them had participated in Bay of Pigs. Some of them had gone then—after that, had gone to South America as part of the Operation Condor. And if you look at the history of those people, you can see their link to the worst actions of the U.S. government, be they Iran-contras—even the Kennedy assassination plot was linked to them. So, it wasn't hard for me to accept the mission and to go there to protect the Cuban people's lives, and that's what I did.

AMY GOODMAN: That was René González. He has been now living back in Cuba for a few years, one of the Cuban Five. Now all five are back in Cuba. Less is well known in this country, or certainly in the last 24 hours there's almost no real discussion of who these men are, much more attention paid to Alan Gross, who was the USAID subcontractor who went down to Cuba and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He served five of those years and was released yesterday. Martin Garbus?

MARTIN GARBUS: Robert Gross was a—

AMY GOODMAN: Alan Gross.

MARTIN GARBUS: Pardon me. Alan Gross was a USAID employee. He was sent down with satellite equipment, consistently. He made about six trips down there, sometimes using other people to send equipment. And the equipment was used to break—to allow people on the island to directly communicate with the United States so that the Cuban security networks or the Cuban Internet lines would not pick it up. So it was the setting up of a spy operation within Cuba.

He was supported, because he was Jewish, by Jewish groups. He originally claimed that he was down there working on behalf of Jewish groups to spread information to other Jewish groups in Miami. He ultimately admitted that that wasn't true. He ultimately sued the American government for sending him down there without warning him specifically about what was going to happen to him. So there's very little question any longer that he was sent down by the government. He said he was sent down by the government; the government admitted it. And in America, he's portrayed as something other than that, but that portrayal is wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Kornbluh, you met with Alan Gross in prison in Cuba, is that right?

PETER KORNBLUH: Yes, I met with Alan Gross twice over a one-year period for a total of seven hours. He was in a military hospital, a wing of a military hospital that had been converted to a prison. We talked a lot about what he was doing, what he was feeling. He became very angry at his own government for abandoning him here for all these years. It is clear, for the last year, through back channel means, the Obama White House has been negotiating to get him out. My sense of talking to him was that his mental state was so fragile that he might actually go on a hunger strike and die, attempt some type of suicide escape plan and be hurt or killed, or attack a guard.

And all of that would have—anything that happened to him here in a Cuban military prison would have certainly compromised any possibility of the Obama administration moving forward, as it did yesterday, on completely changing—reversing course 180 percent the history of U.S.-Cuban relations, burying the perpetual antagonism of the past and moving forward to a normal relation in the future. So, getting Alan Gross out through this prisoner exchange was extremely important. It really was the first step. And what we saw yesterday is the Obama White House deciding to do an entire package all at the same time, not doing one step at a time to change U.S.-Cuban relations, but getting Alan Gross out, returning the Cuban spies to Cuba, and then essentially ending, to the degree that the president can, the hostility and the aggression in U.S. policy towards Cuba.

AMY GOODMAN: Upon returning home from five years of imprisonment in Cuba, USAID subcontractor Alan Gross addressed reporters in Washington, D.C.

ALAN GROSS: What a blessing it is to be a citizen of this country. And thank you, President Obama, for everything that you have done today and leading up to today. ... But ultimately—ultimately, the decision to arrange—to arrange for and secure my release was made in the Oval Office. To President Obama and the NSC staff, thank you.

In my last letter to President Obama, I wrote that despite my five-year tenure in captivity, I would not want to trade places with him, and I certainly wouldn't want to trade places with him on this glorious day. Five years of isolation notwithstanding, I did not need daily briefings to be cognizant of what are undoubtedly incredible challenges facing our nation and the global community.

I also feel compelled to share with you my utmost respect for and fondness of the people of Cuba. In no way are they responsible for the ordeal to which my family and I have been subjected. To me, Cubanos—or at least most of them—are incredibly kind, generous and talented. It pains me to see them treated so unjustly as a consequence of two governments' mutually belligerent policies. Five-and-a-half decades of history show us that such belligerence inhibits better judgment. Two wrongs never make a right. I truly hope that we can now get beyond these mutually belligerent policies. And I was very happy to hear what the president had to say today.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Alan Gross speaking in his lawyers' offices yesterday in Washington, D.C. We're also joined by Michael Ratner, the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who co-authored two books on Cuba, one, Who Killed Che?: How the CIA Got Away with Murder, and, as well, another book on the FBI and Che Guevara. Michael, actually, technically, it wasn't a prisoner exchange between Alan Gross and the three remaining members of the Cuban Five. Cuba released Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds?

MICHAEL RATNER: Right. And in Raúl's speech, he was very clear on that. He said, "Under our legal system, what we have done is decide to release Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds." He was not part of the exchange. The exchange was, as Marty has pointed out, for the three Cuban Five members remaining in prison, for freeing this man named Trujillo, who you mentioned, who was the agent that the Cubans had jailed, as well as perhaps what we understand is 53 other, what the U.S. refers to as, political prisoners in Cuba. So, that was the exchange. But Alan Gross was let out on humanitarian grounds. As a broader picture, I mean, you know, when I heard the news first about the Cuban Five, I was just—I almost wept, because that, to me, was the most personal story of outrage.

AMY GOODMAN: They had been held for 15 years, more than.

MICHAEL RATNER: And on a complete—you know, on a case that was not worth anything, as Marty can tell you, as Lenny could have told us before. So I read that, and I found that extraordinary. But I think it should be understood—as Peter said, "finally," for this, after some 50 years—but in fact it's a great victory for the Cuban people and for the Cuban government, because this government, our government, has been trying to destroy the Cuban Revolution since day one, since before day one, and essentially this is an admission that it didn't succeed. Yes, it hurt it. Yes, it made it economically difficult. Yes, it changed it in terms of being an example for the rest of the world, perhaps. But it was unable to destroy it. And in the end, they had to cry uncle, the United States. They tried everything. They tried blowing up airplanes. They tried bombing cafés. And they tried economic—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let's actually go back. It was—it started under President Eisenhower in the last few weeks of his administration, the overall embargo against Cuba, that was then just intensified by President Kennedy. This has gone through 10 presidents.

MICHAEL RATNER: Yes, intensified by President Kennedy, but our listeners should not forget—and many of them were not alive when it happened, unlike Marty and myself—the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, when the U.S. actually tried to overthrow the government of Cuba by landing on the beach in what we call in English the Bay of Pigs. And they failed. And thousands of people were taken prisoners by the Cubans. And after that is when things got very, very—I mean, they were serious then, but at that point, then the embargo was imposed, starting through 1962, with full force. But military actions, terrorism, that just continued up until, as we pointed out, even with Alan Gross and AID still going in there to undermine the government, both physically, like that, as well as economically, which—that we've seen now with the embargo. So, this is really a major, major victory.

Now, the other points I think that are important in Obama's speech and, of course, Raúl's speech, as well—Raúl, as you said, started with the Cuban Five, which shows how important that case was. But in Obama's talk, he talks about diplomatic relations, which we'll see, and then he talks about the embargo and starting to loosen up some aspects of the embargo, giving us a little wider travel, but of course not opening travel fully, which he could do immediately. He could allow you and I to just get on a plane tomorrow as tourists, Amy, and go to Cuba. He didn't do that. He could do a lot more on the embargo. In fact, with licensing, he can probably undercut the embargo completely, almost completely. But he said in that speech, "Well, I have to work with Congress to do it." In fact, he doesn't. So, in fact, he has still a lot to calibrate with regard to Cuba to continue to put pressure on Cuba through ways, or not ways, of lifting the embargo.

And, you know, you ask yourself, why did this happen now? That's one of the questions I think I'd like to hear other people talk about, because I'm not sure. I mean, part of it, of course, is the change in Latin America, and he referred to that. You have progressive, left-of-center and even leftist governments in many countries in Latin America, and Cuba is no longer isolated the way it was in the early '60s, when you had military dictatorships. And maybe to get along in that region, they had to do that. What he also said is, "Well, our policy doesn't work. It didn't work." And, of course, what he claims the policy was, was to bring democracy to Cuba. In fact, it was to destroy the Communist revolution in Cuba, so it couldn't be an example. So now, perhaps, he's buying into the idea if we flood more money into Cuba, maybe we'll be able to subvert the fundamental values of the revolution.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned blowing up an airliner. I want to go to that, to the late Saul Landau's film, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up, about U.S. support for violent anti-Castro militants. This excerpt details in part how Cuban exiles like Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch teamed up in 1976 to bomb a Cuban airliner—something that they deny now. This is that moment that the Cubana Airlines, with 73 passengers on board, is hit.

CUBANA AIRLINES PILOT: Cubana 455.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Cubana 455, [inaudible].

CUBANA AIRLINES PILOT: We have had explosion. We are descending immediately. We have a fire on board.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Cubana 455, are you returning to the field?

CUBANA AIRLINES PILOT: This is Cubana 455. We are requesting immediately, immediately landing. Close the door! Close the door!

FLIGHT RECORDER: The time is 17:27.

CUBANA AIRLINES PILOT: It's getting worse! Crash landing into the sea!

CBS EVENING NEWS: This is the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

WALTER CRONKITE: Good evening. Nine days ago, a Cuban passenger jet en route from Barbados to Havana crashed into the sea following an onboard explosion. Seventy-three persons, 57 of them Cuban, were killed.

AMY GOODMAN: That was an excerpt of the film, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up. We're going to go to break, then come back to this discussion on this day after the historic announcement of the beginning of normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States. Stay with us.

Categories: Newswire

Does the Release of the Cuban Five Prove the US Failed to Destroy Cuba After Decades of Trying?

truthout - 15 hours 1 min ago

As a new chapter in U.S.-Cuban relations begins, we host a roundtable discussion about the prisoners released as part of the new deal. Cuba freed USAID contractor Alan Gross and a former Cuban intelligence officer who who worked secretly for the CIA, and the United States released the remaining members of the Cuban Five: Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino. We speak with attorney Martin Garbus of the Cuban Five legal team and broadcast an excerpt from our 2013 interview with the first freed member of the Cuban Five, René González, who describes why he came to the United States to investigate militant Cuban exile groups. We also discuss the significance of the new relationship between the two countries. "Our government has been trying to destroy the Cuban Revolution since day one ... and essentially this is an admission that it didn't succeed," says guest Michael Ratner, co-author of "Who Killed Che?: How the CIA Got Away with Murder." We are also joined by Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive, who met twice with Gross while he was detained.

TRANSCRIPT:

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, on this historic day after the announcement of both President Obama as well as President Raúl Castro on the beginning of normalizations of relations between the United States and Cuba. But not everyone was happy. Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida blasted President Obama's new Cuba policy, calling it a, quote, "concession to a tyranny." Rubio is Cuban-American. This is part of what he said.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: The White House has conceded everything and gained little. They gained no commitment on the part of the Cuban regime to freedom of press or freedom of speech or elections. No binding commitment was made to truly open up the Internet. No commitment was made to allowing the establishment of political parties or to even begin the semblance of a transition to democracy. And in exchange for all of these concessions, the only thing the Cuban government agreed to do is free 53 political prisoners, who could wind up in jail tomorrow morning if they once again take up the cause of freedom. ...

These changes will lead to legitimacy for a government that shamelessly, continuously abuses human rights, but it will not lead to assistance for those whose rights are being abused. It is just another concession to a tyranny by the Obama administration, rather than a defense of every universal and inalienable right that our country was founded on and stands for.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Florida Senator—that was Florida Senator Rubio.

We are joined right now by a roundtable of people. In Havana, Peter Kornbluh is with us, head of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive. In Washington, D.C., Robert Muse is with us, who is a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer, an expert relating to U.S. laws with Cuba. Michael Ratner, the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights. And we're joined by Martin Garbus, who is part of the Cuban Five legal team. Time magazine calls him one of the best trial lawyers in the United States, while the National Law Journal has named him one of the country's top 10 litigators. Your response to what has taken place this week?

MARTIN GARBUS: I mean, it's extraordinary. It's marvelous. I saw Gerardo about three weeks ago in jail.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Gerardo is one of the three remaining Cuban Five.

MARTIN GARBUS: Gerardo Hernández, who had a double life sentence. And it's hard to believe he ever would have gotten out under the American legal system. He was unjustly convicted, as you mentioned before. And it's just extraordinary to—I was looking at a guy over the last many years who—an extraordinary human being who was languishing in a jail, sometimes under solitary confinement. And the idea that he's now out, will be able to build a family with he and his wife, is just wonderful.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Kornbluh, what was it like when the three remaining jailed members of the Cuban Five arrived in Havana?

PETER KORNBLUH: Well, it certainly was a big moment for quite a few Cubans. Raúl Castro, in his presentation on television yesterday at noon, really led with the story that the counterterrorism heroes, as they're called here in Cuba, were coming home, that Cuba had released a Cuban CIA asset in return and also an American citizen, Alan Gross. And that was essentially his beginning. The normalization of relations with the United States kind of came second, and I wouldn't say it was secondary, but certainly was burying the lede, if you will.

And for Cubans, of course, there's been this campaign here in Cuba, also in the United States and around the world, a solidarity campaign, which Martin has been such a part of, to free these last remaining agents. And just like any other country that I think has people abroad in prison who have represented the government, these men have been away from their families for 16 years. The television last night was filled with images of them reuniting with their families, meeting with Raúl Castro, going to see their old friends. So, it certainly was an important event for Cuba. Certainly, it was. A lot of images on the television, a lot of discussion in the press.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we go to one of the—the first of the Cuban Five who were released, René González, who I interviewed when he returned to Cuba, Martin Garbus, if you could talk about these five men, convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage in the United States, and yet they said they were here, yes, spying, but spying on violent anti-Cuba groups?

MARTIN GARBUS: They were here working with the United States government to try and stop the right-wing groups in Florida from continuing to invade Cuba, through the—sending arms down to Cuba, from flying over the island, and from actually killing people on the island. There was an explosion at a hotel, and many people were killed. So they were working with the cooperation of the American government.

Let me just say one thing before I get into that. There's a lawyer whose name hasn't been mentioned—Lenny Weinglass—who you know very well. And before me, Lenny worked for 10 years on the Cuban Five case, one of the great American lawyers. And whatever the result here is, he certainly is owed something for it, at least an acknowledgment.

AMY GOODMAN: He died a few years ago.

MARTIN GARBUS: He died a few years ago. Wonderful lawyer.

And then, after Elián González in Florida, and at the same time as you had the Bush-Gore vote in Florida, it became necessary to find someone to blame for some killings which occurred in 1996. My client was ultimately arrested and then convicted. He was arrested three-and-a-half years, for allegedly the killings, after the incident occurred, although the American government had all this information for some three-and-a-half years prior to that. And then, ultimately, he's charged. And the first time there's a conviction, the appellate court reverses the conviction, because the jury was unfairly composed of people hostile to the Cuban government. And—excuse me.

AMY GOODMAN: You said that they worked with the U.S. government. Explain.

MARTIN GARBUS: They worked with the U.S. government. They were turning information over to the U.S. government of terrorist activities done by the right wing. And that information was being spread, and there was in fact meetings in Havana between the American government and representatives of the Wasp group who were exchanging information.

AMY GOODMAN: And President Obama said in his address, about the release of these three men, that the release—well, he didn't name Trujillo, the Cuban agent working for the CIA who was held by Cuba for something like 20 years—

MARTIN GARBUS: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: —who was just released yesterday, but he said that that spy for the U.S. had helped give them information that led to the imprisonment of the Cuban Five.

MARTIN GARBUS: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn for a moment to René González, to this Democracy Now! exclusive. He was the first of the men to be freed, the Cuban Five, in October 2011, returned to Cuba last year. He joined us on Democracy Now! from Havana, Cuba. And I began by asking him why he did come to the United States to investigate militant Cuban exile groups.

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, for my generation Cubans, it was part of our development or common experience to have seen people coming from Miami raiding our shores, shooting at hotels, killing people here in Cuba, blowing up airplanes. So, we were really familiar with the terrorist activities that the Cuban people had been suffering for almost four years back then. So it wasn't hard for me to accept the mission of going there and monitor the activities of some of those people, who had been trained by the CIA in the '60s. Some of them had participated in Bay of Pigs. Some of them had gone then—after that, had gone to South America as part of the Operation Condor. And if you look at the history of those people, you can see their link to the worst actions of the U.S. government, be they Iran-contras—even the Kennedy assassination plot was linked to them. So, it wasn't hard for me to accept the mission and to go there to protect the Cuban people's lives, and that's what I did.

AMY GOODMAN: That was René González. He has been now living back in Cuba for a few years, one of the Cuban Five. Now all five are back in Cuba. Less is well known in this country, or certainly in the last 24 hours there's almost no real discussion of who these men are, much more attention paid to Alan Gross, who was the USAID subcontractor who went down to Cuba and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He served five of those years and was released yesterday. Martin Garbus?

MARTIN GARBUS: Robert Gross was a—

AMY GOODMAN: Alan Gross.

MARTIN GARBUS: Pardon me. Alan Gross was a USAID employee. He was sent down with satellite equipment, consistently. He made about six trips down there, sometimes using other people to send equipment. And the equipment was used to break—to allow people on the island to directly communicate with the United States so that the Cuban security networks or the Cuban Internet lines would not pick it up. So it was the setting up of a spy operation within Cuba.

He was supported, because he was Jewish, by Jewish groups. He originally claimed that he was down there working on behalf of Jewish groups to spread information to other Jewish groups in Miami. He ultimately admitted that that wasn't true. He ultimately sued the American government for sending him down there without warning him specifically about what was going to happen to him. So there's very little question any longer that he was sent down by the government. He said he was sent down by the government; the government admitted it. And in America, he's portrayed as something other than that, but that portrayal is wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Kornbluh, you met with Alan Gross in prison in Cuba, is that right?

PETER KORNBLUH: Yes, I met with Alan Gross twice over a one-year period for a total of seven hours. He was in a military hospital, a wing of a military hospital that had been converted to a prison. We talked a lot about what he was doing, what he was feeling. He became very angry at his own government for abandoning him here for all these years. It is clear, for the last year, through back channel means, the Obama White House has been negotiating to get him out. My sense of talking to him was that his mental state was so fragile that he might actually go on a hunger strike and die, attempt some type of suicide escape plan and be hurt or killed, or attack a guard.

And all of that would have—anything that happened to him here in a Cuban military prison would have certainly compromised any possibility of the Obama administration moving forward, as it did yesterday, on completely changing—reversing course 180 percent the history of U.S.-Cuban relations, burying the perpetual antagonism of the past and moving forward to a normal relation in the future. So, getting Alan Gross out through this prisoner exchange was extremely important. It really was the first step. And what we saw yesterday is the Obama White House deciding to do an entire package all at the same time, not doing one step at a time to change U.S.-Cuban relations, but getting Alan Gross out, returning the Cuban spies to Cuba, and then essentially ending, to the degree that the president can, the hostility and the aggression in U.S. policy towards Cuba.

AMY GOODMAN: Upon returning home from five years of imprisonment in Cuba, USAID subcontractor Alan Gross addressed reporters in Washington, D.C.

ALAN GROSS: What a blessing it is to be a citizen of this country. And thank you, President Obama, for everything that you have done today and leading up to today. ... But ultimately—ultimately, the decision to arrange—to arrange for and secure my release was made in the Oval Office. To President Obama and the NSC staff, thank you.

In my last letter to President Obama, I wrote that despite my five-year tenure in captivity, I would not want to trade places with him, and I certainly wouldn't want to trade places with him on this glorious day. Five years of isolation notwithstanding, I did not need daily briefings to be cognizant of what are undoubtedly incredible challenges facing our nation and the global community.

I also feel compelled to share with you my utmost respect for and fondness of the people of Cuba. In no way are they responsible for the ordeal to which my family and I have been subjected. To me, Cubanos—or at least most of them—are incredibly kind, generous and talented. It pains me to see them treated so unjustly as a consequence of two governments' mutually belligerent policies. Five-and-a-half decades of history show us that such belligerence inhibits better judgment. Two wrongs never make a right. I truly hope that we can now get beyond these mutually belligerent policies. And I was very happy to hear what the president had to say today.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Alan Gross speaking in his lawyers' offices yesterday in Washington, D.C. We're also joined by Michael Ratner, the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who co-authored two books on Cuba, one, Who Killed Che?: How the CIA Got Away with Murder, and, as well, another book on the FBI and Che Guevara. Michael, actually, technically, it wasn't a prisoner exchange between Alan Gross and the three remaining members of the Cuban Five. Cuba released Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds?

MICHAEL RATNER: Right. And in Raúl's speech, he was very clear on that. He said, "Under our legal system, what we have done is decide to release Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds." He was not part of the exchange. The exchange was, as Marty has pointed out, for the three Cuban Five members remaining in prison, for freeing this man named Trujillo, who you mentioned, who was the agent that the Cubans had jailed, as well as perhaps what we understand is 53 other, what the U.S. refers to as, political prisoners in Cuba. So, that was the exchange. But Alan Gross was let out on humanitarian grounds. As a broader picture, I mean, you know, when I heard the news first about the Cuban Five, I was just—I almost wept, because that, to me, was the most personal story of outrage.

AMY GOODMAN: They had been held for 15 years, more than.

MICHAEL RATNER: And on a complete—you know, on a case that was not worth anything, as Marty can tell you, as Lenny could have told us before. So I read that, and I found that extraordinary. But I think it should be understood—as Peter said, "finally," for this, after some 50 years—but in fact it's a great victory for the Cuban people and for the Cuban government, because this government, our government, has been trying to destroy the Cuban Revolution since day one, since before day one, and essentially this is an admission that it didn't succeed. Yes, it hurt it. Yes, it made it economically difficult. Yes, it changed it in terms of being an example for the rest of the world, perhaps. But it was unable to destroy it. And in the end, they had to cry uncle, the United States. They tried everything. They tried blowing up airplanes. They tried bombing cafés. And they tried economic—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let's actually go back. It was—it started under President Eisenhower in the last few weeks of his administration, the overall embargo against Cuba, that was then just intensified by President Kennedy. This has gone through 10 presidents.

MICHAEL RATNER: Yes, intensified by President Kennedy, but our listeners should not forget—and many of them were not alive when it happened, unlike Marty and myself—the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, when the U.S. actually tried to overthrow the government of Cuba by landing on the beach in what we call in English the Bay of Pigs. And they failed. And thousands of people were taken prisoners by the Cubans. And after that is when things got very, very—I mean, they were serious then, but at that point, then the embargo was imposed, starting through 1962, with full force. But military actions, terrorism, that just continued up until, as we pointed out, even with Alan Gross and AID still going in there to undermine the government, both physically, like that, as well as economically, which—that we've seen now with the embargo. So, this is really a major, major victory.

Now, the other points I think that are important in Obama's speech and, of course, Raúl's speech, as well—Raúl, as you said, started with the Cuban Five, which shows how important that case was. But in Obama's talk, he talks about diplomatic relations, which we'll see, and then he talks about the embargo and starting to loosen up some aspects of the embargo, giving us a little wider travel, but of course not opening travel fully, which he could do immediately. He could allow you and I to just get on a plane tomorrow as tourists, Amy, and go to Cuba. He didn't do that. He could do a lot more on the embargo. In fact, with licensing, he can probably undercut the embargo completely, almost completely. But he said in that speech, "Well, I have to work with Congress to do it." In fact, he doesn't. So, in fact, he has still a lot to calibrate with regard to Cuba to continue to put pressure on Cuba through ways, or not ways, of lifting the embargo.

And, you know, you ask yourself, why did this happen now? That's one of the questions I think I'd like to hear other people talk about, because I'm not sure. I mean, part of it, of course, is the change in Latin America, and he referred to that. You have progressive, left-of-center and even leftist governments in many countries in Latin America, and Cuba is no longer isolated the way it was in the early '60s, when you had military dictatorships. And maybe to get along in that region, they had to do that. What he also said is, "Well, our policy doesn't work. It didn't work." And, of course, what he claims the policy was, was to bring democracy to Cuba. In fact, it was to destroy the Communist revolution in Cuba, so it couldn't be an example. So now, perhaps, he's buying into the idea if we flood more money into Cuba, maybe we'll be able to subvert the fundamental values of the revolution.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned blowing up an airliner. I want to go to that, to the late Saul Landau's film, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up, about U.S. support for violent anti-Castro militants. This excerpt details in part how Cuban exiles like Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch teamed up in 1976 to bomb a Cuban airliner—something that they deny now. This is that moment that the Cubana Airlines, with 73 passengers on board, is hit.

CUBANA AIRLINES PILOT: Cubana 455.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Cubana 455, [inaudible].

CUBANA AIRLINES PILOT: We have had explosion. We are descending immediately. We have a fire on board.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Cubana 455, are you returning to the field?

CUBANA AIRLINES PILOT: This is Cubana 455. We are requesting immediately, immediately landing. Close the door! Close the door!

FLIGHT RECORDER: The time is 17:27.

CUBANA AIRLINES PILOT: It's getting worse! Crash landing into the sea!

CBS EVENING NEWS: This is the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

WALTER CRONKITE: Good evening. Nine days ago, a Cuban passenger jet en route from Barbados to Havana crashed into the sea following an onboard explosion. Seventy-three persons, 57 of them Cuban, were killed.

AMY GOODMAN: That was an excerpt of the film, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up. We're going to go to break, then come back to this discussion on this day after the historic announcement of the beginning of normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States. Stay with us.

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