KIM BROWN, TRNN: Today the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it will phase out the federal use of private prisons. This decision follows an investigative report that the DOJ released last week, which found that conditions in private prisons are far more unsafe and harsh than in their publicly-owned counterparts.
Now joining us to discuss this is Maya Schenwar. Maya is the editor in chief of Truthout, and also the author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better. Maya, thanks so much for joining us.
MAYA SCHENWAR: Thanks for having me.
BROWN: Maya, let's talk about the significance of this DOJ announcement. They have said that over the next five years they'll let their contracts expire with the 13 private prisons they currently use. Over 22,000 federal inmates are currently in those prisons, and that's about 11 percent of all federal prisoners. What were your initial reactions to this? Are you celebrating?
SCHENWAR: Absolutely. I do think it's a positive step. And I say step because it is definitely not an end in itself.
What we want is decarceration, right? We want fewer people in prison. But as long as our government is still caging people, we have to remember that these are human beings living in these prisons, and the conditions in private prisons are in general worse than public prisons. There are even fewer resources, more violence, particularly perpetrated by guards. And also just fundamentally, the idea of a profit motive that's contingent on caging human beings is just repugnant.
So these companies lobby to continue existing and continue expanding, so basically they're lobbying for violence. Their interest is in continuing to cage people and lock people up. And I think we need to reject that completely.
So yes, I'm celebrating. But I do think that this announcement by the Department of Justice should not cause us to sit back. Really, we need to, I think, step up as a result of it, because federal private prisons are actually a very, very small percent of the overall system. And even deprivatizing them or moving those people who are incarcerated in private prisons to public prisons doesn't actually get anyone out.
So I think -- just a couple of things about this. First of all, it does not apply to state prisons. So most incarcerated people in the United States are in state prisons or local jails, and this plan doesn't apply to them. So I think first of all we have to recognize this is just happening in the federal system. Also, I think we have to recognize that this is the Department of Justice specifically. It's not the Department of Homeland Security, that deals with immigration. And I think we can get more into that in detail, if you'd like.
And also, I just want to point out the Department of Justice has hundreds of halfway houses, so like, reentry centers, which are operated by private companies. And this decision about getting away from private prisons explicitly doesn't apply to those. It says that in the DOJ memo.
So I think we have to recognize this is a small percentage of the prison population. And ultimately also we have no idea whether this plan will actually fuel decarceration. Getting people out. So that's the question that we need to be asking.
BROWN: Maya, in the past few years there has been increased attention placed on the for-profit prison industry, and the attention has created some momentum. For example, Hillary Clinton stopped accepting funds from private prison lobbyists last October after her campaign had a series of meetings with groups, including Color of Change, Black Lives Matter, and United We Dream. So is this raised awareness and activism to be credited for this DOJ decision?
SCHENWAR: Yeah, I think absolutely activism has played a huge role. And I think that's being minimized a little bit in all of the headlines today. It's being talked about as if there was just this investigation by the Department of Justice and inspector general, and oops, they found the private prisons are not so great. And so therefore they're making these changes.
And I think really, this decision is the result of years and years of activist pressure, of public pressure, including by groups like the Human Rights Defense Center, which has been doing this for years and years and years, just pushing, pushing, pushing on private prisons, as well as all of the momentum happening as a result of the current racial justice movement, the Movement for Black Lives.
And so I think, you know, which is putting, I think, a lot more pressure in general around policing, incarceration, criminalization itself. The idea of criminality, and who that's tied to. And so I think that all of these things have really created a certain amount of momentum.
One thing in my mind around this, and this came up during the primaries, because you know Bernie Sanders, his position on prisons, his advocacy of a ban on private prisons was really, really centered in this idea of privatization. And the one thing that I would caution against is getting the idea that this is a victory that kind of stops. And certainly a lot of the activists who have been pushing back against private prisons would say that they're just one component of this much, much larger system.
And you mentioned Black Lives Matter. I mean, certainly within that movement there is a wholesale recognition that that piece is just a small, small part. So I think that the response needs to be, of course, celebration, but also a renewed commitment. And I think particularly on the part of people who are just sort of seeing this news come through and aren't directly engaged in the issues, I would definitely urge a strong awareness that private prisons are a small piece of the puzzle.
BROWN: Well, over 60 percent of immigration detention beds are operated by these private prisons, and most recently the Obama administration approved a no-bid, $1 billion deal to construct one of these immigration detention centers to house, specifically, Central American refugees who were coming into, coming across the border. Are those amongst the private prisons that will be phased out of use?
SCHENWAR: No. So actually, when I first heard the news, that was the first thing I thought of, because I kind of just heard this. Oh, private prisons are being banned on the federal level. And I thought, that must also include immigrant detention. But no, the Department of Justice's plan does not apply to immigrant detention. That's under the Department of Homeland Security, and this was DOJ specific.
So that's definitely something where you have a system in which the majority of prisons -- they're really prisons, jails, as opposed to just facilities -- these immigrant jails are majority operated by private companies. And so I think that's another area to definitely push back in addition to pushing for, you know, decriminalization in that regard, too, and thinking really seriously about immigrant policy as a whole, as opposed to just who's operating the detention centers.
BROWN: So, Maya, quick question, because obviously we are in an election season and there will be a new president come January of next year. Should we elect a President Trump, is it possible that he could direct the Department of Justice to scrap this Obama initiative, and to maintain contracts with private prisons? Is that a possibility? Could a new administration just say, eh, you know, that was Obama's thing, we're going to do something else?
SCHENWAR: Oh, I see what you're saying. When you first asked that question I thought you were saying, should we elect a President Trump?
SCHENWAR: One word answer. Yeah. I mean, I think the one thing to really bear in mind with this is it is a plan. It's not a directive that is forevermore, and it's actually, it's not ending private prisons this instant, it's letting the contracts expire, which will happen over the next few years. And the next few years, obviously, is continuing into the new administration. So I think this is definitely something that we have to be continually vigilant about, as well as continuing to push for decarceration, continuing to push for decriminalization, and continuing to push for recognition of mass incarceration as a whole, and kind of the prison-industrial complex in a larger sense.
BROWN: We've been speaking with Maya Schenwar. Maya is the editor in chief of Truthout. She's also the author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work, and How We Can Do Better. We've been talking about the DOJ announcement, that they will phase out contracts with private prison operators. Maya, we appreciate your time today. Thank you.
SCHENWAR: Thank you so much.
BROWN: I'm Kim Brown, and you're watching the Real News Network.
After 1,000 days of detention without trial and the denial of basic medical care, Chelsea Manning is facing yet another complication in her case: possible indefinite solitary confinement for her recent suicide attempt. Likely to exacerbate mental health issues, these recent charges are inhumane.
(Photo: DieselDemon / Flickr)
On August 10, Army Secretary Eric Fanning received a petition with 115,000 signatures, part of an ongoing effort by activists to ensure Chelsea Manning's additional suicide-related charges are dropped. Although public pressure has mounted, there has been no sign that the charges will be dropped any time soon.
Manning's case has been fraught with government abuses of power, ranging from 1,000 days of detention without trial to denial of medical resources when dealing with gender dysphoria. Now, after a suicide attempt, Manning is facing potential conviction that would force her back into solitary confinement. This horribly inhumane treatment is used for many prisoners, particularly those seen as threatening to the state. But Manning hasn't just been punished because of her charges; she has been denied basic resources necessary for dealing with the complexity of both gender dysphoria and the mental ramifications of solitary confinement.
In her personal account of her whistleblowing ordeal, Manning describes how releasing documents revealing "the deliberate diplomatic and economic exploitation of developing countries" would show the public elements of war that had so long been hidden from them. This case was deemed unconvincing by the US military: Manning was found guilty of five accounts of espionage and five of theft, and in August 2013, after a lengthy and abuse-ridden period of trial-less detention, was sentenced to 35 years.
The transparency sought by Manning was by no means desired by the US military. Before her 2013 trial, at the beginning of her detention, Manning was transferred to a large cage in a Kuwaiti prison camp, where she lived for several weeks with no access to legal representation, and no sense of which charges were being brought against her. Not knowing when she was leaving or whether she would be given a public trial, Manning tried to choke herself with a blanket and was placed on suicide watch.
Her three years of detention have only gotten worse as she has been subject to horrible strip searches, banned from having many routine items in her cell due to suicide watch, and denied access to the health care she needs as a transgender woman.
After coming out as a woman and requesting medically necessary support for gender transition -- namely, estrogen and androgen blockers -- Manning's request for medical care was initially denied. Almost a year and a half after the initial request in 2013, Manning was allowed proper medical treatment to continue her transition. Nearly every element of Manning's detention, trial and pursuit of medical treatment has been slow, with Manning kept in the dark for weeks or months at a time.
Then, the day after July 4, Manning attempted suicide again. The new charges being brought against her claim she engaged in "conduct which threatens" and resistance toward staff who entered her cell following her suicide attempt. This is bewildering, though, because ACLU attorney Chase Strangio claims Manning was unconscious following the attempt, and that she has no recollection of any altercation in her cell. It is impossible for the general public to know what specifically happened in the wake of Manning's suicide attempt -- and with only tenuous transparency, it is easy for the military to stack on additional potentially unjust charges against Manning.
ACLU attorneys stress that these charges could increase Manning's 35-year sentence by nine years and deny her parole eligibility, as well as put her into indefinite solitary confinement. The horrors of solitary confinement hardly need to be enumerated. Any person with a sense of decency should be concerned by the way she and others in her situation have been deprived of basic human contact.
Penal Reform International estimates that around 80,000 individuals are being held in "some form of isolation" in the United States. Used as discipline, as a means of managing difficult or risky prisoners, or to coerce, solitary confinement is seen by many as a deprivation of the basic human rights that should be afforded to all -- including prisoners. A 2014 study in the American Journal of Public Health attempted to make sense of increased self-harm risks for those in solitary confinement, finding that prisoners "punished by solitary confinement were 6.9 times more likely to commit acts of self-harm." Any reasonable observer would deduce, from these statistics and Manning's personal account, that another nine years in solitary confinement will only exacerbate current suicidality.
Problems for transgender inmates seeking health care are not isolated to Manning alone. The case of Marius Manson, occurring simultaneously, has striking similarities to Manning's, as Manson -- a trans masculine environmental activist -- began undergoing his gender change while serving time in a federal corrections facility. Although there is currently a federal policy on how to properly deal with gender dysphoria in inmates (including a requirement that prison personnel must use gender-affirming pronouns), prisons are often deliberately slow to adopt these practices. Manson, for example, began initial requests to undergo hormone treatment in 2013. These requests were only accepted recently after pressure from an independent expert review, making it a three-year process to gain necessary medical treatment. As long as prison administrators deny the immense challenges that come with gender dysphoria, acute mental health problems will continue to torment trans prisoners.
In Manning's case, the criminal legal system seems most interested in making an example out of a powerful whistleblower who attempted to bring greater transparency to the way the US military wages war. In a larger sense, the use of solitary confinement to respond to suicide attempts illustrates the system's insistence on punishment as the answer to any problem, particularly when it comes to the most marginalized people in prison.
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On August 18, the Department of Justice announced an end to using private prisons for its federal prisoners, but the decision does not apply to the 46 immigration jails currently run by private prison corporations. In light of these limitations, what does the announcement mean for mass incarceration and decarceration efforts?
Prisoners walk across the prison yard of Saguaro Correctional Center, a private prison in Eloy, Arizona, on October 16, 2009. (Monica Almeida / The New York Times)
The US Department of Justice's decision to no longer use private prisons for its federal prisoners is a groundbreaking first step, but the August 18 announcement doesn't spell the end to private prisons: Private prison corporations will continue to control 46 immigration detention centers that detain nearly 25,000 people (or 62 percent of the country's 33,676 immigrant detainees) on any given day.
It is perhaps telling that in the hours after the announcement made headlines yesterday, stock prices for both Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, two of the country's largest private prison corporations, dropped 40 percent, but by today they had started to climb again.
In the Department of Justice's memo on August 18, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates instructed officials to decline to renew contracts with private prison operators when they expire or to "substantially reduce" the contracts' scope. Her reasoning was that private prisons "simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs and resources," "do not substantially save on costs," and "do not maintain the same level of safety and security" as the prisons operated by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The decision impacts 13 privately run federal prisons and approximately 22,600 federal prisoners.
The BOP runs more than 100 prisons that incarcerate more than 170,000 people. Those figures do not include the 22,600 people currently incarcerated in private prisons, many of whom are non-citizens and are likely to be deported after serving their sentences. As the BOP declines to renew its contracts with CCA and GEO Group, it will most likely begin shifting those prisoners to government-run federal prisons to finish their sentences.
While advocates and organizers have hailed the announcement as a victory, some are cautious in their optimism. "Anything is good in the direction of not putting people in private prisons, which is another form of selling people's bodies, particularly Black and Brown people," stated Andrea James, a cofounder of Families for Justice as Healing and the National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. But, she cautioned, the memo "doesn't say that they're not going to incarcerate them somewhere else." Having spent a year and a half in the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut, run by the federal BOP, James knows firsthand that government-run prisons come with their own set of abuses. There, she witnessed numerous examples of neglect and abuse ranging from the lack of soap in the prison's bathrooms to extremely inadequate medical care.
"We advocate for not replacing these prisons," James told Truthout. "We advocate instead for investing the money into the communities most impacted."
In the days ahead, exerting pressure for the US government to also end its use of private prison corporations to run its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers will likely be a major focus for opponents of private prisons.
Two years ago, in a much-less publicized deal, the Obama administration signed a four-year, $1 billion dollar contract with CCA to build two immigration detention facilities in Texas specifically for mothers and children seeking asylum from Central America. One, in Dilley, holds up to 2,400 asylum seekers; the other is a family detention center in Karnes City that can hold up to 532 women and children. The contract pays CCA a "fixed monthly fee for use of the entire facility regardless of the number of residents." CCA also operates 73 other immigrant detention facilities across the country.
James is still haunted by her visit three weeks earlier to the CCA-run Eloy Detention Center in Phoenix, which detains nearly 1,600 people. "There were men who had been brought from across the country because they couldn't prove citizenship," she said. She met wives and children of several of these men. "Some of them [the children] were 7 or 8 years old, the same age as my son," she said. She recalled one young boy who was in the car with his father when they were pulled over by Sheriff Joe Arpaio. When his father was unable to produce documents affirming his residency or citizenship, he was arrested. "He hasn't seen his father since then," James said. His family, lacking US passports, cannot visit him.
She reiterates that, knowing about abusive conditions inside privately run prisons, the federal government should also end its contracts for immigration detention. Continuing to do so, she charges, sends the message that some people, solely because of their immigration status, are "not worthy to come out of these abusive conditions."
At the same time, she refuses to let government-run jails and prisons off the hook. On that same trip to Phoenix, she participated in a rally outside Tent City, the notorious city-run outdoor jail. The sheriff has proudly compared Tent City to a concentration camp. "It was 112 degrees on the sidewalk," she remembered. "Inside the tents were 135 degrees." Tent City can hold up to 2,126 people -- the majority of them are awaiting trial.
James emphasizes that, regardless of the classification under which people are confined, "It's all the same thing. It's incarcerating people and separating them from their families."
In a provocative interview with Paul Jay on The Real News Network, Henry Giroux comments on the rise of neo-fascism in America and its link to a culture of fear, white supremacy and the expanding racist incarceration state.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay.
In the 1930s capitalism faced a very deep crisis, and the strategy for dealing with it was more or less one of two ways: either fascism, or the kind of social democracy of the New Deal, compromise with the domestic working class. The United States chose, on the whole, the new deal.
Roosevelt, to a large extent, excluding Britain, which came very close to choosing fascism, didn't. But certainly Europe did choose fascism. But many economists think not that far from another bout of quite deep crises. '07-'08 was, many people say, a tip of the iceberg. And I think many people are getting ready for the next round that might be far more deep and more profound.
You have the rise of a kind of neofascism in the United States that we once saw in many places in the world in the 1930s, and see again now in Europe in various forms. But on the other side, Hillary Clinton ain't no Roosevelt. She's not a proponent of the New Deal. The closest one could get to that was Bernie Sanders, and that clearly was crushed, that campaign, by the people that control the machinery of the Democratic Party. So what does that mean for people of the United States, and the choices they will make, and what might face them in the coming days?
Joining me to have another round of chat about these types of issues is Henry Giroux. He's a professor for scholarship in the public interest at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He's author of his -- he's the author of a recent book, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle. Thanks for joining us, Henry.
HENRY GIROUX: Nice to be here, Paul. Thanks for inviting me.
JAY: So what do you make of that? The -- what won out in the 1930s, certainly a strategy, you know, many people have said, to save capitalism. But as a strategy to save capitalism, you can either have kind of compromises of the New Deal, or you can have the hammer of a kind of new authoritarianism, totalitarianism. Where are we at in that process? And why aren't we seeing a stronger kind of New Deal as an alternative?
GIROUX: I think we're in a very distinctively different historical moment. I mean, I think that you had two things that were operating in the 1930s that seem to be, in many ways, to have been weakened or disappeared. And of course the beginning of the 21st century, I mean, you have -- at one level you had massive social movements. I mean, you had workers' movements. You had left organizations, the Communist Party, that were mobilizing in profoundly powerful ways to basically address the great injustices of capitalism.
And FDR was enormously influenced by this, and afraid. I mean, his intervention was to save capitalism. It wasn't to basically appease the workers. And I think that today you don't have those movements. I mean, those movements, at least to the degree that we had them in the, in the 1930s and '40s, whether we're talking about [inaud.], we're talking about the Communist Party, the Socialist worker's movement, those movements basically have been underlined. We have other movements, but they're not as powerful as the movements that we had then.
Secondly, I think the very idea of the social contract is in disarray. I mean, with the exception of Bernie Sanders, the Black Lives Movement, it's very difficult to, in a sense, especially since the 1980s, to talk about what the social contract is and what it means, and what it means to celebrate public goods, what it means to make, create social investments. Because the ideology of neoliberalism, with its privatization, its deregulation, its emphasis on consumption, its elimination of basically apparatuses that can provide alternative points of view, has been so powerful and so normalized. Certainly I think the state is more than willing to not only attempt to change the consciousness of people, but to employ violence in ways that make people quite fearful.
And finally, I think you have a period of [inaud.] and uncertainty unlike anything we have seen before, because it now has expanded to a whole range of populations, from working-class people to the [underclass], to poor blacks and minorities, to basically the middle class. I mean, I think people now live in an age in which the only thing -- they don't think about getting ahead. They think about surviving. And I think those four factors are pretty important in sort of distinguishing what's happening today from what happened in the 1930s.
JAY: Right. Maybe I'd add a few things to that. In the 1930s there was the vision of what people thought was a socialist alternative, the Soviet Union. You know, whether that was or wasn't, it turned out not to be. Certainly workers had a vision to fight for at that time. And it was a great threat to the whole global capitalist system. Not just ideologically. Even the Soviet Union was not within the sphere of global economics. It was a massive market outside of the capitalist economy.
The other thing is the rise of globalization has so weakened the hand of the American working class and working the unions, that workers from all over the world could be played off against each other. Although interesting enough, in sort of an objective way, the slogan "Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains," from Marx, the truth is for a lot of the American working class for a long time, they actually had a lot more to lose than chains. They had colleges and cars and guaranteed college educations for the upper stratum of the American workers. Auto workers, people working in transport and such. With the rise of globalization and the shift in the balance of power between capital and labor, this upper stratum of American workers got attacked, to the point now where auto workers are starting at $14 an hour. Not even what people are claiming should be a minimum wage, of $15. So that upper stratum, to a large extent, has lost a lot of its privilege and power, especially political power, not just bargaining power.
And then I guess I'd add to that, even though the financial sector was very strong in the late 1920s, nothing compared to what it's become now. The financialization of the economy, and how much of that political power is in the hands of a finance sector which is almost utterly parasitical, invests far more money in [inaud.]. Yeah, go ahead.
GIROUX: I agree with all of that. The rise of globalization, the rise of finance capital, the elimination of the manufacturing base, the decimation of the working class, particularly in terms of those who had some comforts that approximated what the middle class had.
But I think the other side of this is that you really have, in this balance between the social state and the punishing state, remember, the social state has been decimated. And the question becomes, how is finance capital, how does the 1 percent now resort to governing? And they govern basically through a form of lawlessness and what I call the punishing state, in which we've had a punishment creep, and now it moves from the prison to almost every institution in society, from airports to schools to social services. I mean, the degree to which fear now becomes an organizing principle of society is enormous compared to what it was like in the past.
JAY: Yeah, and I think the great threat to this, and the soft underbelly of this, is in fact people who are already established experiencing a fairly overt police state. And that's poor and working black people in many American cities. And there the answer clearly coming from neofascist -- and in practice it's coming from neoliberals as well, or the Democratic Party leadership, as well, is it's going to be the hammer, and it's not going to be the social safety net.
Here's a quote, a little clip from Sheriff David Clarke, who spoke the first night of the Republican convention, which is a pretty overt expression. Of course, they get a black cop to say these things. I think it would be hard for anyone to take from a white cop, but here's Sheriff Clarke from Milwaukee County at the convention.
DAVID CLARKE: What we witnessed in Ferguson and Baltimore and Baton Rouge was a collapse of the social order. So many of the actions of the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter transcends peaceful protest, and violates the code of conduct we rely on. I call it anarchy.
JAY: And of course, this threat of anarchy is what we've heard as the threat that fascists have referred to for more than 100 years. But this kind of threat, this hard use of the state, when Trump calls himself, I'm going to be the law and order president, he's appealing to people that want, want the use of this hammer.
GIROUX: Yeah. I mean, this -- I think this is really crucial, because it -- and it's a wonderful clip to use, because I think it speaks to a level of oppression that's almost unimaginable in a democracy. You know, when you begin to suggest that dissent, opposition, resistance, the only way to deal with it is not to listen to it and to engage in dialog with it, but basically to label it as anarchy and to repress it with the most violent, in the most violent means possible. I mean, that's essentially an element of neofascism. That's not about democracy.
And I also think that one of the things we often fail to realize is that that kind of violence is now legitimated in multiple public spheres. And not only that, we no longer have the public spheres available to be able to contest that violence. We don't see it in the mainstream media, we no longer see it in the schools. I mean, this endless criminalization, militarization, of every form of behavior, I mean, strikes me as one of the most dangerous and one of the most ever-growing threats to the United States, of which that speech exemplifies perfectly, and which Trump exemplifies with the endless call for law and order.
I mean, think about [Arpaio]. I mean, who is the guy in Arizona, the sheriff, you know, who has been doing this stuff for a long time. This is really the discourse of objectification and demonization. This is a discourse that trades in fear, and ultimately its endpoint is the prison, and massive expressions of repression.
JAY: The other side of the situation -- and Sheriff Clarke mentions Baltimore, the breakdown of social order, and so on. The other side of this is you cannot elect a Republican in Baltimore to be dogcatcher. This is a city that will not support this kind of overt racist and fascist politics at all. And as much as the state uses the hammer against poor and dispossessed people in Baltimore, the Democratic Party machine is vulnerable here. You know, this is a 65 percent black city. And when this city really wakes up at a more conscious, political level, and I think it's inevitable that it will, you could see quite a transformation in a place like this. And cities like Baltimore could actually become the sort of cracks in the armor of this state.
GIROUX: I think that what people have failed to talk about is white supremacy. I mean, we're not talking about simply racism, we're taking about white supremacy. I mean, think of Flint. I mean, think of the lead poisoning of thousands of poor and black children across the United States. Think of the question of mass incarceration. Think of the coding that the Republican Party has used for years, whether they're talking about Obama or blacks or Willie Horton.
I mean, all of this in Trump now has become so overt that it's difficult when we talk about repression not to talk about white supremacy, not to talk about its legacy, from slavery to lynching to mass incarceration, and what it has developed into. I mean, it's developed into, basically, a [race war]. When we talk about total war, and we talk about war zones, and we talk about the breakdown of the cities, when you exclude questions of race from that discourse, something disappears that's really central to the forms of repression that we're talking about.
JAY: Yeah. I mean, that certainly is the overriding ideological justification for the existence of such chronic poverty in a place like Baltimore. The official poverty rate here is about 24 percent, and in reality it's more like 35 percent.
GIROUX: I mean, I think the other side of this -- and you're one of the people who talk about this brilliantly -- is that, you know, we're not just talking about the oppression of economic structures, right? I mean, we're talking about race. It's ideology, it's a mode of policy. It's a practice. And it intertwines with class in a very specific way to create something very distinctive that we see now being legitimated in the United States by fascists who absolutely are unapologetic about what they're saying.
JAY: Now, the other side of this is the role of the Democratic Party. We've had a black president for the last eight years who's spent most of the time running away from that fact. And Hillary Clinton has claimed, and some of her supporters have said, she'll actually be able to do more for urban black communities because she doesn't have to deal with the baggage of being accused of, because Obama's black he can't do more for poor blacks than poor whites. Do you think there's anything to that?
GIROUX: Look, you know and I know she comes out of a legacy with her husband in which the Democratic Party did more, it seems to me, to subjugate blacks to the dynamics of oppression, poverty. The mass incarceration state.
And the real question is, until she faces that legacy and admits that what her husband did was absolutely in the interest of a white supremacist nation, to put it bluntly, I just don't trust her. I mean, even the notion that, you know, Clinton was the black president strikes me as the greatest irony of all times. And you know, and her sort of very cautious kind of uncomfortable, clumsy interaction with the black lives movement, who are very smart in recognizing that historical memory matters, that those legacies live on when you don't identify them, when you're not willing to be in dialog with them, when you're not willing to be self-reflective about the very part that you played as part of that apparatus of power. And I don't see that in her discourse, do you?
JAY: No. The only thing I think might play a role with her, and this goes back to sort of the classic concept of imperialism, that the United States elites, the more conscious elites -- and I think there's a division in the elites, as there is in the working class. There's sections of the working class that are class-conscious and sections that are not very. And I think I get the same thing in the elites, the capitalist elites, that some of them are more class-conscious than others. And what I mean by that is they do see systemic risk as a problem. Like a person like Soros, who has no problem benefiting from all kinds of speculative activity, that's not particularly good for the economic system. Yet he understands if that goes too far there won't be much of an economic system left to take your, your bets with.
So he's for more regulation and mitigating the extent of the speculation, where other people like John Paulson could care less, and don't want any regulation. And some of the hedge fund guys, they just want a complete free-for-all. And I think that division's been in the capitalist class for the longest time. There's a big fight within the capitalist class about whether to have child labor or not. You know, people that had mines, many of them wanted child labor. We're talking about into the mid-1800s or so. And others saw that you're actually wiping out the future working class. You won't have workers to work for you if you wipe out whole sections of young workers before they can reproduce.
GIROUX: I think that your argument is right on. I mean, unless you recognize the contradictions within various strata, you fall prey to a really kind of false homogenization that does not do justice to the way in which those contradictions can be both understood and is sometimes actually used to the benefit of people who need them.
But I think the other side of this is that while the contradictions matter, one of the things that you cannot lose sight of is that even with a guy like Soros the thing that he doesn't question, which does unify that class, is that they don't want to get rid of the capitalist system, they don't see an alternative. And I think that's where we can both seize upon the contradictions and push them to limits that these people would not consider, while at the same time in some way you're taking advantage of what these people are saying within a discourse that has some legitimacy.
JAY: Yeah. I mean, what I was going to add to that was that, you know, for the American elites to maintain social order there's two approaches. One is the hammer, and the second is somewhat of a social safety net. I mean, there are food stamps. There is a, while welfare was gutted by Clinton, there's still something of it left. There are some social services left. And one could imagine that when -- I wouldn't say if -- when the economic crisis deepens the American elites will throw some more crumbs to try to maintain social order, meaning that section led by the Democratic Party.
GIROUX: I think you left one out that is absolutely as central as the other two, and that is, look, in neoliberalism the ruling elite understand something. What they understand is that matters of desire, subjectivities, identities matter. And they take the cultural apparatuses that they control enormously, enormously, in an enormously important way. They have think tanks, they have research institutes, they've invaded universities, they've monopolized the cultural apparatuses.
So neoliberal ideology is enormously powerful. And they haven't given up on it, they use it. And I think they've normalized that ideology, the notion that, for instance, that economics should govern all of social life, to such a degree that it becomes increasingly difficult to challenge it. And I think in light of the other two registers that you mention, there's also that moment. I mean, to what degree do we begin to take education seriously about the production of a subject in which questions of individual and social agency are linked to democratic possibilities?
And so for me, there are three registers there that we need to address.
JAY: Yeah, I agree with that. I just, I would also just go back to the earlier point. I think the weak link in all of this is the African-American population and cities with big black populations. Because they're already living under kind of a police state, and you know -- .
GIROUX: But at the same time, you see in those studies, you see the emergence of various movements among black youth that are really challenging the ideology of neoliberalism since the 1980s.
JAY: And that's, that's my point. That, that could really, has already and could in a much more profound way, ignite a real opposition in the country.
GIROUX: I mean, think about the sheriff that we, the clip you played from. He very specifically mentions the black lives movement. National television, a major convention, and he associates it with anarchy. That to me is a victory for the black lives movement, while also a window into their refusal to actually deal with the questions that they're raising. Because any dominant ideology operates off the assumption that what it has to say is unaccountable and unquestionable.
JAY: All right. Thanks very much for joining us, Henry.
GIROUX: Okay, thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
However, a new investigation of the groups by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reveals them to be anything but that. Joan Walsh in the Nation broke this story this week along with other new details about these not-so independent women's groups.
CMD's Reporters' Guide exposes the groups' leaders admitting to -- and boasting about -- their true role for what it is: finding ways to sell right-wing policies and candidates favored by their funders to reach independent women voters under the guise of neutrality.
IWV Boasts of Its Role in "Republican Conservative Arsenal"
"Being branded as neutral, but actually having people who know know that you're actually conservative puts us in a unique position," Heather Richardson Higgins, the President of the Independent Women's Voice and the Board Chair of the Independent Women's Forum, admitted in a speech to potential 2016 donors at a David Horowitz Freedom Center retreat.
"Our value here and what is needed in the Republican conservative arsenal is a group that can talk to those cohorts [women who are not Republican conservatives] that would not otherwise listen but can do it in a way that is taking a conservative message and packaging it in a way that will be acceptable," she said.
While the Independent Women's Forum and the Independent Women's Voice claim to the public and press that they are a mainstream voice for women voters, their spending and their leaders' speeches reveal the truth.
"Independent" is a PR term these groups use to appeal to women while pushing corporate-backed policies or extreme candidates that actually make things harder for working women and their families, in CMD's assessment.
IWF Attacks Work Policies It Admits Many Women Like
The Independent Women's Forum routinely attacks policies popular with many women, like equal pay, earned sick leave, and raising the minimum wage, as well as Title IX and protections for battered women.
And it has often done so by making extreme claims, which CMD also documents.
CMD's investigation includes analysis of remarks to right-wing donors by the Independent Women's Voice's leader Heather Higgins in 2015.
CMD also analyzed notes from a meeting of the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council in July, at which Independent Women's Forum President Sabrina Schaefer offered to help ALEC legislators "sell" corporate-backed alternatives to paid sick leave, equal pay, quality childcare, and workplace flexibility in their home states.
IWV Spent to Help "War on Women" GOP Candidates
CMD also describes how Independent Women's Voice made "independent expenditures" on political ads or calls to aid some of the most extreme "War on Women" GOP candidates, including the following:
- It spent $67,242 to aid Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin with calls and independent voter outreach in November 2012, after Akin claimed on August 19, 2012 that rape victims couldn't get pregnant because "if it's legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
- It spent $176,991 on a "Romney wants Mourdock" ad after Indiana U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock asserted that when a woman is raped, she carries a "gift from God" and that such a pregnancy "is something that God intended to happen."
- Joe Walsh, a GOP Rep. from Illinois claimed in the 2012 race against Tammy Duckworth that abortions to save a mother's life are never medically necessary. Two weeks later, Independent Women's Voice spent more than $5,000 on calls and outreach to independent voters in his district.
- In the 2014 Senate races, CMD's research finds that Independent Women's Voice spent more than $850,000 on GOP candidates, most of whom had 0% NARAL ratings; it spent more than $5 million that year on related advocacy.
- Higgins also told donors that Independent Women's Voice made the only significant independent expenditure in Mark Sanford's 2012 congressional race in South Carolina. She said Independent Women's Voice worked to convince "evangelicals to hold their nose and vote for Mark in order to be able to hold onto that seat and not have the liberal win it."
IWF's Koch Ties and More
CMD's investigation also includes an analysis of how the Independent Women's Forum works as part of the Koch policy world infrastructure through its staff and alliances.
No fewer than half of the Independent Women's Forum's full-time staff previously worked directly for Koch-controlled groups or for entities that received Koch funding.
The Independent Women's Forum also pushes numerous policies aligned with Koch-funded groups like David Koch's Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council.
CMD's analysis also shows that between 2001 and 2014, DonorsTrust and DonorsCapital Fund -- funding entities with ties to the Koch network of billionaires -- gave the Independent Women's Forum a total of $5,344,000 in donations.
In a similar period, Koch-controlled foundations gave the group more than $800,000. Although many of the names of the Independent Women's Forum's big donors are not disclosed, documents analyzed by CMD reveal funding from the fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil and right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh, among others.
A review of tax filings shows that Higgins is the largest individually identified donor to IWF in recent years.
The full CMD Reporters' Guide is available here. And here are links to materials with quotes from IWF/V in general and about women's rights, civil rights, unions and worker rights, LGBTQ rights, our environment, education, guns, health, and the ACA.
Arn Pearson, Max Abbott, David Armiak, and Sari Williams also assisted with the report.
(Photo: Thomas Wanhoff; Edited: LW / TO)
A federal judge in California allowed class action wage theft litigation to proceed against McDonald's, on the grounds that a jury could find it guilty of negligence.
Judge Richard Seeborg said Tuesday that the lawsuit against the corporation may continue under the "ostensible agency theory."
The doctrine holds an actor responsible for the fault of another, if victims reasonably believe that the perpetrator committed wrongdoing in the employ of said actor.
The case involves McDonald's franchise co-owners, Bobby and Carol Haynes, who operate eight restaurants in Northern California. Leading the class are three women who work in one of their Oakland restaurants: Guadalupe Salazar, Judith Zarate, and Genoveva Lopez.
"Looking at the record, there is considerable evidence, albeit subject to dispute, that McDonalds caused plaintiffs reasonably to believe Haynes was acting as its agent," Seeborg ruled.
"[P]laintiffs submit they sought employment at McDonalds because it 'is a large corporation with many stores around the world,' 'would involve a steady job in a safe environment,' and 'would make sure [they were] paid and treated correctly, because it is a large corporation with standardized systems,'" he also said.
Seeborg also noted that the plaintiffs "believed both they and Haynes worked for McDonalds" (emphasis his).
Retail corporations have absolved themselves of much legal responsibility for working conditions they heavily influence by arguing that they are not "joint employers." They simply oversee a system of franchises and contractors, without directly impacting terms of employment, their lawyers often successfully argue.
Seeborg did say that his ruling came down to a "close call" and dismissed some of the workers' claims, but one of their attorneys was pleased with the decision, regardless.
"If plaintiffs prevail on our ostensible agency theory at trial, we will have no need to appeal the ruling on our other liability theories," Michael Rubin told Courthouse News. "And if we do not prevail at trial on ostensible agency, we have very strong grounds for appeal given the many disputed issues of fact that we believe are material to McDonald's 'joint employer' status."
Rubin is representing McDonalds workers in six class action wage theft lawsuits that were filed in 2014.
Another one of those cases, Ochoa v. McDonalds, is set to go to the trial phase in December, as Courthouse News noted. The case is also being argued in Northern California. It was also permitted under the ostensible agency doctrine.
Early on the afternoon of June 4, 2012, Vachel Howard was handcuffed to a bench inside the Los Angeles Police Department's 77th Street Station Jail. He was 56 years old, and had been taken into custody for driving while intoxicated. The grandfather of seven had been strip-searched, and his shirt still hung open. Howard told the officers present that he suffered from schizophrenia. Police suspected he was high on cocaine.
Less than an hour later, Howard was pronounced dead at Good Samaritan Hospital, just miles from the jail. He had been released from the handcuffs, but later subdued by half a dozen officers after he became, by their testimony, "violent and combative." A coroner eventually listed three contributing causes of death: cocaine intoxication, heart disease, and a chokehold employed by one of the officers.
Two years of litigation followed before, in October of 2015, the city of Los Angeles agreed to pay Howard's family $2.85 million to settle a wrongful death claim.
The legal fight included dozens of depositions and competing medical opinions and claims of responsibility, all of them publicly filed in federal court in Los Angeles. What never became public, however, were 30 minutes of video showing Howard's death inside the 77th Street Station Jail -- recordings of a sequence of events that had enraged a family and cost Los Angeles taxpayers nearly $3 million. The tapes -- recorded by two fixed cameras in the jail -- had been filed with the judge in the case, S. James Otero, but when ProPublica requested the footage, Otero's clerk said he was unsure if the judge still had it, and that the judge's practice was not to make such material available to the news media. The police department denied a request for any video and the city attorney's office said it didn't have the footage.
ProPublica has now obtained copies of the tapes, and is publishing them in the interest of establishing a more complete public record of a controversial and costly death. The videos offer compelling evidence of how Howard died and how police and medical personnel at the jail responded to Howard's needs in the aftermath of an ultimately deadly jailhouse struggle.
The videos capture Howard in an agitated state on the station house bench. They show the officers shooting him with a Taser while simultaneously tackling him to the ground. For four minutes, six officers are either on top of or surrounding Howard, handcuffing his hands and feet. One officer is atop him, with a knee in his back. Another, at least briefly, can be seen with his arm around Howard's neck and shoulders. Officers and medical personnel slowly come to realize Howard is in distress. Four different people perform CPR over nine minutes. Finally, emergency medical personnel arrive and work on Howard for another eight minutes. Howard is then wheeled to an ambulance and police tape is used to cordon off the station house floor.
ProPublica contacted Howard's daughter and her lawyer. Tushana Howard said her father had struggled with drugs for years, but that he did not deserve to die that night in the jail. V. James DeSimone, Tushana Howard's lawyer, was more blunt.
"Mr. Howard posed no threat whatsoever," said DeSimone. "He was down on the ground, six officers on top of him, no guns in the nearby vicinity executing a chokehold where there was no threat to the officers or to anybody else. It's out of policy, it's unlawful, and in this case it's murder."
Officials with the police department and the city attorney's office would not comment. Neither agency admitted to wrongdoing as part of the settlement. The officer accused of using the chokehold, Juan Romero, was suspended for 22 days. Prosecutors decided not to pursue a case against Romero. In court filings, the police said Howard had tried to bite Romero and defended the officer's actions.
"Given what were indisputably tense and rapidly evolving circumstances, Officer Romero's decision to apply and upper body hold on the decedent was justified," the filing said.
The five-member board that reviewed the fatal encounter between Howard and the police was established in the 1920s. Known as the Board of Police Commissioners, it sets policy for the department and recommends discipline of officers. On April 16, 2013, it reviewed the Howard case and subsequently issued an 18-page summary of its findings. Its detailed analysis noted that some things might have been handled differently -- the decision to remove the handcuffs from Howard among them -- but determined that, as a matter of policy, only Romero's chokehold amounted to a violation.
Video recordings have played a central role in heightening the nation's attention on deadly interactions between the police and the public. They have surfaced in Chicago and New York, North Charleston, S.C., and Cleveland. Some of the videos have served as grim vindication for black communities whose allegations of police misconduct are often meet with skepticism, and whose calls for the punishment of offending officers often go unsatisfied. For their part, the police have argued the disputed episodes are isolated, and some officials have even claimed that the making and sharing of videos have hurt law enforcement's efforts to fight crime.
Video images such as those involving Howard's encounter with the LAPD have rarely been seen by Californians. Since the late 1970s, California law has specifically authorized police agencies to keep material involving real or alleged police misconduct secret from the general public. But the question of what police owe the public has been given fresh context as the LAPD moves to become the largest police department in the country to routinely outfit its officers with body cameras. The department so far has said it has no plans to make footage readily available to the public, even after deadly incidents.
The events that led to Howard's death began with a traffic stop. Officers had seen Howard's car swerving, crossing a center divide and nearly striking a car in oncoming traffic.
According to his family, Howard had made money restoring old cars and working with his father's lawn service. He had a history of drug use, but his daughter, Tushana, said she had years ago drawn a line with him. If he was to have a relationship with her children, she said, he would have to kick the drugs. Tushana said her father appeared to make good on the deal.
"He said his family was more important, and he wanted to be there for my kids," she said.
Tushana Howard said she was surprised to learn her father had cocaine in his system the day he died. Still, she made clear, his relapse hardly warranted his death.
"Someone's past doesn't determine who they are in the present and people shouldn't assume the worst," she said.
Howard's initial arrest, however, did not go smoothly, involving a car chase and a tense standoff with officers, one of whom wound up drawing his weapon. Howard had driven off after the initial stop, and according to the commission's report, officers worried that he had reached under the driver's side seat for a gun when he again came to a halt. Howard eventually got out of the car and was handcuffed. The two arresting officers noted Howard was sweating profusely, that his speech was repetitive, and that he seemed paranoid, but there was no further drama in the patrol car as they transported him for evaluation and booking.
At the jail, Howard was strip-searched, during which an officer said Howard described himself as a paranoid schizophrenic and indicated that he had not recently been taking his prescribed medication. On one video -- there is no accompanying audio for either tape -- Howard and several officers can be seen returning to the jail lobby after the search. Howard appears to have been told by an officer to sit on a bench. He sits down and is handcuffed to the bench. He appears agitated and moves constantly while on the bench, turning from left to right and gesturing at officers.
Howard sits on the bench for about 90 seconds before an officer begins to unshackle him. At that point, another officer, Maryann Bunag, enters the camera's view and un-holsters her stun gun. Howard, who still appears to be talking to officers, is escorted out of the camera's view. Court records state that Howard was being taken to see a nurse in the dispensary. Howard and the officers are off camera for about 90 seconds.
The report by the board of commissioners said officers claimed Howard became uncooperative and refused to be assessed by a nurse. He was, the officers said, verbally abusive, and had advanced toward the nurse, prompting her to scream. One officer described Howard, 5-foot–8, 247 pounds, as having been foaming at the mouth during the earlier strip search.
What followed was an extended wrestling match, one that spilled back into the camera's view. Four officers can be seen grabbing at Howard's waist and legs. A Taser was employed five times, according to the commission's report. The officers said Howard was unfazed, often swearing and once removing the Taser probes from his body. The officers reported that at least twice they themselves were exposed to the Taser's electrical charge.
Once Howard is on the ground, a fifth and sixth officer join the fracas. It is then that Romero alleges Howard tried to bite him. The officers told the commission they feared for their lives.
It is difficult to clearly see Romero in the video. But the commission summed up his actions:
"Detention Officer A placed his right arm around the subject's neck, with his right bicep pressed into the right side of the subject's neck, and his right forearm pressed into the left side of the subject's neck. Detention Officer A cupped his left hand over his right wrist, and applied downward pressure with his bodyweight as the subject tried to push off the floor with his right hand."
Romero said he applied the hold for only five seconds. He said Howard did not lose consciousness, and that he let go of Howard's neck once another officer got on top of Howard and put a knee into his back.
Officers eventually handcuff Howard and bind his feet. Officer Richard Fox, 6-foot–3, 230 pounds, then puts his knee into Howard's back and keeps it there for about a minute in order to maintain control, and because, he said in a deposition, he was utterly exhausted.
Howard is visibly motionless. One officer uses his feet to move Howard's feet, but there is no visible response from Howard. About 40 seconds later, a nurse, Irene Rowe, responds to calls from officers and peers over Howard. She walks away to retrieve her stethoscope.
While Rowe is retrieving her stethoscope, officers can be seen laughing and smiling. It is unclear what prompts the chuckling or what is said. When Rowe returns about 50 seconds later she appears to have a hard time assessing Howard because he is lying on his side or stomach. The officers then roll Howard over on his back.
Another 20 seconds pass. Rowe couldn't hear Howard's heart, she testified. He wasn't breathing. Fox makes a 911 call on the radio for an ambulance.
Rowe then begins her first compressions on Howard's chest, nearly 4 minutes after he was first visibly motionless. The resuscitation effort is interrupted momentarily to allow officers to roll Howard on his side so they could undo his handcuffs and foot restraints. Medical staff and officers, including Romero, spend the next nine minutes compressing Howard's chest until paramedics arrive. He was never revived. The coroner found hemorrhages and fractured cartilage in Howard's neck.
Howard, who was affectionately called Big Duck by friends and family because of the way he walked, was laid to rest on June 16, 2012 in Inglewood, California. A number of restored late-model vehicles and their owners were present in tribute at Howard's funeral. His family filed their lawsuit in March of 2013, asserting that Howard was the victim of abusive treatment and unnecessary use of deadly force in the form of a chokehold.
Across the months of legal sparring, lawyers for the department and the city cited Howard's obesity, health history and state of delirium as critical to his death. One officer described Howard as super human, akin to the cartoon character the Hulk.
The family said through its lawyer that it had no knowledge of any mental health history for Howard. They blamed the chokehold, and argued that the officers and nurses failed to render aid to Howard in a timely fashion.
"They're noticeably laughing on the video when they've essentially just killed a man and he's lying at their feet," said DeSimone, the lawyer for Howard's daughter, of one moment in the episode.
The LAPD declined requests by ProPublica to speak with the officers involved.
The Board of Commissioners that reviewed the incident included two former US Attorneys, including one who had investigated the infamous Rodney King beating, as well as a civil rights leader and law school dean. Its report offers a detailed chronology, from the traffic stop through Howard's departure for the hospital from the jail. The board notes that the officers initially failed to broadcast a required alert during the chase, but determined that the circumstances made that understandable. It noted that re-handcuffing Howard after he had been freed from the jail bench "would have been tactically prudent," but did not amount to a policy violation. It faulted an officer for how she holstered her Taser, but found its repeated use to have been reasonable.
Only Romero was sanctioned in any way. The board noted Howard was on the ground in a controlled position with five officers on top of him and two others monitoring. It said Howard's attempt to bite Romero did not equate to a deadly threat and did not require the chokehold.
"Given the totality of the circumstances," the board wrote, "the BOPC found that a detention officer with similar training and experience as detention officer a, while faced with similar circumstances, would not reasonably believe that the subject's actions presented an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death. The BOPC found detention officer a's use of lethal force to be out of policy."
The penalty was a suspension of 22 days. Romero was soon back on the job.
Earlier this year, California State Sen. Mark Leno put forward a bill that would have given the public more access to police disciplinary records and videos. This was Leno's second attempt to change the state's laws pertaining to police misconduct. But Leno's bill didn't so much as make it out of committee.
Police officers do important and dangerous work critical to a civil society, and that work is based on trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, said Leno.
"But the lack of transparency and accountability does not serve the establishment of trust," he said. "We're now seeing throughout the country, due to a lack of transparency and an inability for the public to access important information, that that trust is seriously frayed."
A member of the board that suspended Romero after Howard's death told the Los Angeles Times last month that the LAPD's policy on police videos needed to be revisited. The board member said he and his colleagues would look into how other cities are handling police videos.
For Tushana Howard, the lack of transparency by the authorities can wind up diminishing those whose lives have been lost or damaged.
"It sort of says that we don't matter because we don't have the badge backing us," she said. "They matter more than we do. It's more important for them to go home to their families instead of the people they come in contact with to return to their families as well."
Warning: This video shows graphic content.
An aerial view of the yard at the Albert M. "Bo" Robinson Assessment and Treatment Center in Trenton, New Jersey, on April 19, 2012. The Bo Robinson center is run by a company with deep ties to Gov. Chris Christie that dominates New Jersey's system of large halfway houses, where there has been little state oversight, despite widespread problems. (Richard Perry / The New York Times)
The U.S. Justice Department issued a memo, first reported Thursday by Matt Zapotosky and Chico Harlan of the Washington Post, in which the federal agency claims that it will end the use of private prisons.
"I am eager to enlist your help in beginning the process of reducing -- and ultimately ending -- our use of privately operated prisons," wrote Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. "As you know, all of the Bureau's existing contracts with private prison companies are term-limited and subject to renewal or termination. I am directing that, as each contract reaches the end of its term, the Bureau should either decline to renew that contract or substantially reduce its scope in a manner consistent with law and the overall decline of the Bureau's inmate population."
The declaration has been met with considerable fanfare among a public weary of mass incarceration. In a country that comprises just 5 percent of the global population, the U.S. is responsible for locking up 20 percent of the world’s prison population.
However, human rights campaigners and scholars of prisons and criminality are greeting the announcement with caution. Christopher Petrella is a lecturer at Bates College who sits on the board of Grassroots Leadership. He told AlterNet, "This is a small slice of a large pie, and I worry that our diagnostic tool is the microscope when it should be a mountaintop."
DOJ Plan Doesn't Reduce Prison Population
While private prisons have been rightfully rebuked for their human rights abuses, they ultimately are not the key driver behind mass incarceration, a point illustrated in the following graph provided by the Prison Policy Initiative:
Ruth Wilson Gilmore, professor at the City University of New York and expert in race, prisons and capitalism, pointed out in an article published last February, "Private prisons hold about 8 percent of the prison population and a barely measurable number (5 percent) of those in jails. Overall, about 5 percent of the people locked up are doing time in private prisons."
In fact, according to the reporting of Zapotosky and Harlan, the directive is "limited to the 13 privately run facilities, housing a little more than 22,000 inmates, in the federal Bureau of Prisons system."
Gilmore argued that, to truly take on the horrors of mass incarceration, it is necessary to take on public prisons. "What kind of future will prison divestment campaigns produce if they pay no attention to the money that flows through and is extracted from the public prisons and jails, where 95 percent of inmates are held?" she posed. "Jurisdiction by jurisdiction, we can see that contracts come and go, without a corresponding change in the number or the demographic identity of people in custody. In addition, many contracts are not even held by private firms, but by rather municipalities to whom custody has been delegated by state corrections departments."
Won't Address Human Rights Abuses in Immigrant Detention Centers
Because the memo only applies to Bureau of Prison facilities, it will not impact notorious immigrant detention centers -- the fastest growing area of the U.S. private prison industry. As of last year, 62 percent all beds in ICE immigrant detention centers were operated by for-profit companies -- a significant jump from 49 percent in 2009.
For-profit immigrant detention centers, some of which house mothers with their children, have been rocked by repeated protests and hunger strikes against inhumane conditions.
Bethany Carson, immigration researcher and organizer for Grassroots Leadership, told AlterNet, "We believe that the DOJ should sever all contracts with for-profit prisons." Grassroots Leadership found in a report last year that the private prison industry has played a critical role in driving harsh and inhumane immigration policies. The organization’s report, titled "Payoff: How Congress Ensures Private Prison Profit with an Immigrant Detention Quota," found:
In 2009, in the midst of a multi-year decline in the undocumented immigrant population, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), then Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, inserted the following language regarding Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) detention budget into the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2010: "…funding made available under this heading shall maintain a level of not less than 33,400 detention beds." This directive established what would become a controversial policy interpreted by ICE as a mandate to contract for and fill 33,400 (increased in 2013 to 34,000) detention beds on a daily basis. The directive would come to be known as the "immigrant detention quota" or "bed mandate." The immigration detention quota is unprecedented; no other law enforcement agency operates under a detention quota mandated by Congress.
Revival of "Law-and-Order" Framework
In her memo, Yates proclaimed that private prisons "do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security."
According to Petrella, "the language reads like private prisons don’t provide the same level of correctional services and don’t maintain the same safety and security. That’s a very conservative framework within which to house an ostensibly progressive intervention. It tacitly forces a law-and-order paradigm and reinforces the legitimacy of public prisons."
"By a law-and-order framework, I mean the rhetorical strategies that shore up broad-based support for continued criminalization of marginalized communities in this country," Petrella continued. "Shifting populations does nothing to disturb that paradigm at all. If anything, it reinforces the paradigm by allowing white moderates and liberals to pat themselves on the backs and inoculate themselves of guilt."
Announcement Has Not Curbed Prison Profiteering
It is too soon to determine exactly how the new directive will play out, particularly given that it does not apply to existing contracts and it is not yet clear what it will mean to "substantially reduce" contracts.
Prison profiteering extends into both public and private prisons, in an industry where ankle monitors and prison phone calls bring windfall profits. While private prison stocks have taken a nose dive following the DOJ announcement, Petrella thinks they will bounce back. "I am unconvinced that that is the new normal for them," he said. "They will probably announce a new venture over the next month or so."
Some human rights campaigners are greeting the DOJ’s announcement with cautious optimism. "We must end prison profiteering as a part of mass decarceration and reconciliation," Danielle Chynoweth, organizer with the Center for Media Justice, told AlterNet. "The DOJ's decision is a great first step. But we also need to take on auxiliary services like the private prison phone industry that to this day continues to fight reasonable regulation of phone call costs. As part of the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, we have worked for over a decade to keep families connected. Because of industry blockades, many families are still waiting for phone justice."
Others warn that it is dangerous to overstate the accomplishment. "This is another example of a more symbolic prison reform, which is what the prison reforms of the last few years have been," Dan Berger, the author ofCaptive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era, told AlterNet. "It makes a difference to some people’s lives, but it is nowhere near the sweeping and realizable changes that are needed."
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In a major victory for the criminal justice reform movement, the Department of Justice released plans today to end its use of private prisons over the next five years, according to a memo obtained by The Washington Post.
The memo, from Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, states that the department plans on not renewing contracts with private prison operators or substantially scaling down those contracts, with the ultimate goal of abolishing federal private prisons altogether.
Yates also wrote that private prisons “do not provide the same level of correctional services,” “do not save substantially on costs” and “do not maintain the same level of safety and security.”
There are currently over 22,000 prisoners—about 11 percent of the total federal prison population—in 13 federally contracted private prisons around the nation. The memo does not detail where the prisoners will be moved, but Yates told the Post that by May 1, 2017, the total federal private prison population will fall to less than 14,200 inmates.
The 13 federal private prisons are operated by three corporations: the Corrections Corporation of America, The GEO Group, Inc. and Management & Training Corporation. According to Yates, all of the contracts with these corporations will be up within the next five years.
The DOJ announcement follows years of protests, petitions and divestment movements both through coalitions of immigrant and labor groups and on college campuses.
Organizers against private prisons note that the for-profit institutions increase recidivism (and are incentivized to do so, as they can make over $3,000 profit per year per prisoner) and often force prisoners to work for free. The private prisons also have more incidents of contraband, lockdowns, inmate discipline, telephone monitoring and grievances per capita than public prisons, according to a review by the Office of the Inspector General of the DOJ. Contract prisons have higher rates of assaults, both by inmates on prison guards and inmates on each other, than public prisons. In 2012, one GEO Group private juvenile prison in Florida closed after a judge called it "a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions."
Some universities, such as Columbia University in June 2015 and the University of California system in December 2015, heeded the warnings of student activists who organized awareness weeks, orchestrated extended sit-ins and passed student government resolutions, and divested substantially from private prisons. Other universities, such as Northwestern University in Chicago, ignored their student activists and spoke of fiduciary responsibilities and profit margins.
In what may prove to be quite the “I-told-you-so” moment for divestment activists, stocks for the corporations have already begun plummeting. On Thursday morning, stocks for the Corrections Corporation of America dropped 38.02 percent in the first four hours after the announcement and stocks for the GEO Group dropped 39.19 percent.
The fight against private prisons ranged beyond the college campus, stretching across many aspects of the progressive movement. The National Prison Divestment Campaign hosted protest marches in New York and met with Congressional staffers in Washington, D.C. The ACLU has organized protests and released damning reports of abuses within private facilities. Earlier this year, progressive outlets such as Mother Jones and The Nation published exposés and in-depth investigations on the cruelties of the private prison industry, finding that prisoners with serious illnesses are often denied healthcare to save the bottom line, which has led to the premature death of at least two private prison inmates. When the Movement for Black Lives released their platform earlier this month, they demanded federal action “against G4S and other global private prison companies that are profiting from the shackling of our community in the US, in Palestine, in Brazil and around the world.” Even Bernie Sanders introduced a bill in 2015 to end for-profit prisons.
However, while this development is a step in the right direction for the United States’ broken criminal justice system, it is by no means a panacea. Most significantly, the majority of prisoners are held in public prisons, which are often home to similar abuses and are more than capable of perpetuating the social ills of mass incarceration even without their private counterparts. The DOJ memo makes no mention of closing public prisons or attempting to diminish the total prison population.
The DOJ memo also fails to abolish the private detention centers scattered around the U.S.-Mexico border and throughout the country, operated by corporations such as G4S and Geo Group through contracts from the Department of Homeland Security. These detention centers hold tens of thousands of people, including thousands of children, who are denied the due process of law and held in inhumane conditions.
Additionally, state private prisons remain untouched by the DOJ’s policy. There are over 100,000 inmates in state private prisons, almost five times more than those in federal private prisons, according to 2014 statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Finally, the private prison industry has a powerful lobby, and could feasibly reverse the DOJ’s plans. Even after Hillary Clinton announced that she wanted to “end private prisons and private detention centers,” Damon Hininger, the CEO of Corrections Corporation of America, said his company would be “just fine.”
“I would say that being around 30 years and being in operation in many, many states, and also doing work with the federal government going back to the 1980s, where you had Clinton White House, you had a Bush White House, you had Obama White House, we’ve done very, very well,” Hininger said, while speaking at a REITWeek investor forum in June.
Still, up until 2013, the inmate population at private prisons had been rapidly increasing, up by almost 800 percent since 1980, with no end in sight. The closure of 13 federal private prisons is the most significant reversal of that tide to date and serves as a welcome reminder that marching in the streets can lead to reforms down the road.
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We may be watching the Labour Party’s death throes. It gets harder by the day to recall that heady time less than 20 years ago when Labour won the General Election—after 18 years of Tory rule—with a huge majority. So what’s happened? Paradoxically, given its title, Richard Seymour’s Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics charts a history of the party’s decline.
It’s a long story of successful efforts by the Labour Party establishment to keep its left wing under control and as far as possible from power. Under Tony Blair, the party was firmly centre-right. Yes, there were a few improvements on welfare and taxation, but Blair was in thrall to Thatcherism, and his government did little to reduce inequality and nothing to return privatised industries and utilities to public ownership. Manufacturing had taken an enormous blow under Thatcher, as had unions. Neither revived under Blair.
Some say it was Blair’s 2003 decision to join Bush in invading Iraq and the war’s disastrous aftermath, followed by “the expenses scandal”—MPs were caught getting fat at the public trough—that inspired this country’s current scepticism about politics, as demonstrated by the fact that the electorate has shrunk across all parties.
Then there was the world recession of 2008, which was not the Labour government’s fault. Indeed, Gordon Brown, who was then the prime minister and a vocal opponent of austerity, saved the UK and some of Europe from even greater economic catastrophe, but the recession probably cost Labour the 2010 election. For the next five years, we lived with a coalition government of Tories and Liberal Democrats.
During that period, Labour MPs were weak in critiquing that coalition’s austerity policies, and even promised more of the same. Their defeat in May 2015 owed a good deal to the almost total obliteration of Labour in Scotland and severe inroads made by the far-right UK Independence Party (UKIP).
The errors and misjudgements of Labour MPs let Jeremy Corbyn emerge as the party’s first-ever leader from its “hard” left wing. Corbyn’s candidacy inspired thousands of people, old and young, to join or rejoin the party to support him, as I did. Last summer Corbyn was elected by a huge majority of party members. He stands for nuclear disarmament and a genuine welfare state.
At the moment, there are 229 Labour MPs in the House of Commons and 172 of them want Corbyn out. They insist he is no leader, is incompetent, that he was lukewarm about Europe and is making their party unelectable. As I write, another leadership contest is planned. Again, members are allowed to vote, and about half a million have signed up—though this time, they will have to pay £25 to do so unless they can prove they’re long-term members.
Owen Smith is standing against Corbyn, and is not markedly more charismatic. But the party, most of the press and some of my friends are convinced that a party led by Corbyn is a party of protest, uninterested in power and therefore to be resisted.
There’s been a good deal of name-calling. Corbyn has been called “devious” and “vain” by some devious and vain senior politicians. Len McCluskey, a union boss and Corbyn backer, has called the whole thing “a squalid coup.” Corbyn supporters are accused of throwing bricks through an MP’s office window, while Corbyn himself is said to have locked himself in his office.
Corbyn may win this leadership contest again, in which case it seems likely that the party will split and cease to serve as an effective opposition. If there is a solution, and there may not be, it lies in electoral reform. Our first-past-the-post system, which in the May election resulted in a Conservative government that was supported by only 37 percent of the voters, no longer suits our differences and anomalies. But I doubt there is anyone or any party that will risk all to introduce some form of proportional representation.
I shall vote for Corbyn because of his policies, because he has inspired a lot of people to return to the Labour Party, and because the parliamentary party has refused to listen to him or to his supporters.
(Photo: Tim Dorr)
President Obama started a fresh push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) on Friday when he sent Congress a draft Statement of Administrative Action.
That action means that after 30 days, the White House will be able to present Congress with legislation on the TPP.
And on Tuesday, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton chose Ken Salazar, who is an aggressively outspoken supporter of the TPP, to lead her White House transition team, despite the fact that Clinton has come out firmly against the TPP.
Salazar's appointment raises serious questions about what we can expect from a Clinton administration, and whether she's sincere in her opposition to the TPP and other so-called "free trade" deals that are still being negotiated.
And it's important to remember why these trade deals are so dangerous to begin with.
Activists from the right and the left have been working hard to raise awareness about the dangers of the TPP and its transatlantic cousin, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
But by far the most sweeping deal that's being negotiated in secret and largely overlooked by activists is the Trade in Services Agreement, also known as TiSA.
TiSA will undermine citizens' privacy and governments' sovereignty, and negotiators are hoping to have a deal finalized by the end of this year.
Paola Casale at EconomyInCrisis writes bluntly about TiSA that, "You may be asking: 'how does this affect me?' The best one sentence response I can come up with is: 'how does this not affect you.'"
Fifty-one countries would be initially governed by TiSA, including the United States, the European Union, and 22 other nations from around the world, representing 70 percent of the world's services' trade.
If it goes into effect, it would cover close to 80 percent of the US economy that falls under the heading of "services."
"Services" is a broad term that covers all sorts of things, such as shipping, air travel, e-commerce, telecommunications, the internet, health care, financial services, engineering and the list goes on and on.
Based on leaked texts and summaries published by the European Union, it's clear that TiSA aims to go even further than the World Trade Organization (WTO) to globalize markets, functionally destroy national borders, and to create new corporate-friendly rules and regulations in sectors like e-commerce and financial services.
TiSA would include a "standstill clause" for financial services, and Switzerland has proposed that the agreement force all signatories to allow "any new financial service" to enter the market, which would virtually guarantee that banks all over the world, freed from sovereign regulation, would adopt the same sort of reckless speculation that destroyed the global economy just eight years ago.
The deal also aims to make it so that banks and e-commerce outlets like Amazon could send an individual's data out of a TiSA country for processing, regardless of national privacy laws, breaking with centuries of precedent on locally kept business records accounting to David Dayen at The New Republic.
Alberto Mucci recently explained in an article on Politico that, "TiSA deals with barriers to services' trade such as the conditions by which lawyers from Norway might be able to practice in the United States or German engineers might gain easier access to Mexico."
In other words, TiSA will have profound impacts on immigration and employment policies in every single country that takes part in the agreement.
More than that, it will cripple our democratic republic by making it even easier for corporations to manage or strike down our public laws.
In recent months under existing trade laws, we've seen Canada and Mexico successfully sue the United States to force us to overturn our "Country Of Origin Labeling" law for meat imports.
And Transcanada is suing the United States right now for $15 billion as retaliation for President Obama's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Dayen also reported last year that under TiSA, "governments may not be able to regulate staff to patient ratios in hospitals, or ban fracking, or tighten safety controls on airlines, or refuse accreditation to [bad] schools and universities. Foreign corporations must receive the same 'national treatment' as domestic ones, and could argue that such regulations violate their ability to provide the service."
Based on leaked documents, we know that democratically passed government regulations would only be allowed so long as they are not "more burdensome than necessary to ensure the quality of service."
That would likely mean gutting important rules on financial services, foreign investment limits and it could force state-owned public services around the world to compete with foreign corporations.
Almost every single country that's taking part in the TiSA negotiations is already part of the WTO, and the agreement is actually based on the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services, also known as GATS, which includes 159 member countries.
And it's telling that TiSA involves WTO member nations and is based on the WTO, because as Dayen points out, "The only reason to re-write the rules is to replace GATS, which the European Union readily admits."
On the European Commission's webpage it says very clearly that "if enough WTO members join, TiSA could be turned into a broader WTO agreement."
In other words, TiSA isn't just another sweeping regional trade agreement like the TPP or the TTIP.
TiSA aims to corporatize markets and functionally destroy borders around the world so that Corporate Big Brother can know everything about everyone, and so that Big Business can sell anything to anyone, no matter the harm it may cause.
Call your lawmakers and tell them that you oppose any trade deal that gives corporations the ability to challenge the sovereignty of governments around the world.
Instead, democratic republics should be able to pass and enforce laws and trade policies that first serve the best interests of its citizens instead of transnational corporations and billionaires.
Just say "no" to TPP, TTIP and especially to TiSA.
The yard at the Albert M. "Bo" Robinson Assessment and Treatment Center in Trenton, New Jersey, March 13, 2012. The Bo Robinson center is run by a company with deep ties to Gov. Chris Christie that dominates New Jersey's system of large halfway houses, where there has been little state oversight, despite widespread problems. (Richard Perry / The New York Times)
The Justice Department said that it will attempt to cease its use of for-profit prisons, in the wake of a scathing inspector general investigation that found privately-run detention centers are more dangerous and inefficiently run than public sector counterparts.
Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates revealed the move on Thursday in a directive ordering department officials to either let corporate prisons' contracts expire or to "substantially reduce" reliance on their services.
The purpose of the initiative is "reducing -- and ultimately ending -- our use of privately operated prisons," Yates said, according to The Washington Post. There are currently 13 privately-run federal correctional institutions under the Justice Department.
"The fact of the matter is that private prisons don't compare favorably to Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities in terms of safety or security or services, and now with the decline in the federal prison population, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to do something about that," Yates told the paper.
She said that DOJ officials had been discussing for months how to end reliance on the facilities. Scrutiny of private prisons has increased this year in the wake of exposes published by Mother Jones and The Nation magazines, the Post noted.
The move to end department use of for-profit prisons already began, Yates said in her memo, when the Bureau of Prisons decided against renewing a contract for a 1,200-bed private facility in New Mexico.
She predicted that by May 1, 2017, the population throughout privately-operated federal facilities would be less than 14,200. She also said for-profit prison contracts would all be subject to renewal within the next five years.
"We have to be realistic about the time it will take, but that really depends on the continuing decline of the federal prison population, and that's really hard to accurately predict," Yates added.
The federal private prison population reached a fulcrum in 2013, after for-profit prisons were first established by the Justice Department under the George W. Bush administration. Yates said it started to diminish due to a push to adjust sentencing guidelines and relative leniency for minor drug offenders.
She also described for-profit prisons as having "served an important role during a difficult time period."
There are currently 22,660 federal inmates at BOP-contracted facilities. The prisons are managed by three companies: the Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group, Inc. and the Management Training Corporation. The population and their prisons accounts for roughly 12 percent of the total federal prison population.
The Justice Department inspector general report, which was released last week, revealed that BOP outlays on for-profit prisons increased to $639 million in 2014, from $569 million in 2011, despite the decline in population.
According to the findings, "contract prisons" experience higher rates of assaults and use of force by guards. They also experienced more lockdowns, inmate disciplinary actions, and more grievances filed by prisoners against staff.
Earlier this week, The Washington Post also exposed how the Corrections Corporation of America was chosen in 2014 by the Department of Homeland Security -- in a secretive no-bid, four-year contract -- to run immigration detention facilities for $1 billion.
The family detention centers were opened as part of Secretary Jeh Johnson's "aggressive deterrence strategy," amid an uptick in the arrival of asylum-seekers from Central America. The strategy was later effectively declared legal in two separate rulings by federal judges.
Asylum seekers were not held in detention in the US "until two years ago," the Post noted.
"They instead settled in whatever town they chose, told to eventually appear in court," the paper said.
The Justice Department's decision Thursday has no bearing on DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities.
The surprise agreement on Syria between Turkey and Iran, which sidelines the US, may have much to do with Turkey's concerns that the US alliance with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party militia against Daesh may lead to an eventual push for Kurdish statehood.
President Obama and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey leave after holding a joint news conference, at the White House in Washington, May 16, 2013. (Doug Mills / The New York Times)
In a stunning diplomatic surprise, Turkey and Iran have announced a preliminary agreement on fundamental principles for a settlement of the Syrian conflict.
The dramatic turn in the diplomacy of the Syria War was revealed in Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim's regular weekly speech to the ruling AKP Party in the parliament and confirmed by a senior Iranian foreign ministry official Tuesday.
Both Yildirim's speech and the Iranian corroboration were reported Tuesday by Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Al-Hayat, Arabic-language newspapers published in London, but the potentially pivotal development has been unreported thus far in Western news media.
The common approach to a Syria settlement outlined by Turkey and Iran represent what appears to be the first significant diplomatic break in a five-year international conflict on Syria that has been immune from any real peace negotiations up to now. International conferences on Syria under UN auspices have generated no real moves toward compromise.
The new negotiations between Iran and Turkey are the result of a major policy shift by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan toward diplomatic cooperation with Russia and Iran on Syria and away from alignment with the United States and its Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Turkey has been coordinating military assistance to the armed opposition to the Assad government -- including jihadists and other hardline extremists -- with Saudi Arabia and Qatar since early in the war. However, Erdogan began searching in May for an alternative policy more in line with Turkey's primary strategic interest in Syria: containing the threat of Kurdish demands for a separate state.
The announced agreement on broad principles for ending the Syrian crisis is only the beginning of a process of negotiations on the details of a settlement, as Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari made clear. "This agreement on the general lines will contribute to creating an environment suitable to solving the Syrian crisis," Ansari said, according to Al Hayat.
It is also possible that Turkey may be planning to use the threat of allying with Russia and Iran on Syria to force the United States to reduce its own reliance on Kurdish forces in Northern Syria -- the main issue dividing US and Turkish policies toward the conflict. But Yildirim had already hinted last month -- before the failed military coup in Turkey and the launching of a new offensive by al-Qaeda's al-Nusra Front around and in Aleppo -- at Turkey's intention to revise its policy toward Syria in order to prevent Kurdish forces in Syria from establishing their own mini-state.
Yildirim said in his speech Tuesday that the solution to the Syrian crisis would require "two basic conditions: first to preserve the territorial unity of Syria and second, establishing a system of government in which all ethnicities and religions are represented."
In the context of the territorial unity issue, Yildirim raised the specter of an international drift toward the partitioning of Syria. "Someone would come and say, I will give the West of Syria to one," he said, "and the south to another and the north to the Kurds."
"This is not possible," said Yildirim, meaning that Turkey would not stand for it.
The Turkish prime minister's reference to the threat of partition in general and Kurdish inheritance of much of northern Syria in particular was clearly aimed at the Obama administration's de facto military alliance with the YPG militia units of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the war against Daesh. That policy has encouraged the Kurds to continue to extend their territorial control westward along the Turkish border.
Turkey is especially upset that the YPG units have already moved west of the Euphrates River, which was Turkey's publicly announced "red line," and don't intend to stop. Turkey has been demanding that the United States keep its promise that the Kurds will retreat to east of the Euphrates, but the YPG has said it intends to link Manbij -- the city west of the Euphrates that it has just helped recover from Daesh -- with Afrin and then gain control of al-Bab city on the border, thus uniting two previously separate Kurdish zones of control.
Turkey fears that a consolidation of Kurdish power over such a large territory on the Turkish border will embolden the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey to demand its own state. "A Kurdish state in the Middle East," Yildirim declared, "will not bring a solution."
On the second condition for a settlement, Yildirim said there is a "possibility to establish a Syrian administration in which all of Syria's religious communities and ethnicities can be represented...." After that was accomplished, he said, "there will be no obstacle to reaching a solution."
Al-Hayat quoted Ansari as saying that a third principle discussed but not agreed on was that "the Syrian people will decide their own fate." That was apparently a coded reference to the fate of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Turkey has publicly insisted in the past that Assad must step down before a settlement can be reached.
Yildirim's language on the second principle and Ansari's further clarification suggest that Turkey is dangling before Iran and Russia the possibility that Assad could remain in the government if Turkey is satisfied with a set of reforms to assure that all ethnic and religious communities in Syria have adequate political representation. Despite speculation by pundits that Iran would not mind having Syria carved up into a set of enclaves under foreign protection, Tehran has responded with unconditional endorsement of the Turkish demand.
The principles that have been announced indicate that Turkey will insist on Russia and Iran using their weight in Syria to pressure the Kurds to retreat from their territorial gains in the northwest. Turkey, in return, would have to halt all support for the armed opposition, starting with its favorite Syrian military client Ahrar al Sham and that group's close political-military ally, the newly renamed Jabhat Fateh al-Sham -- the al-Qaeda affiliate formerly called Jabhat al-Nusra.
Russia was instrumental in initiating the new diplomatic approach with Turkey. On August 8, just before Erdogan met with President Putin in St. Petersburg, Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia's deputy foreign minister for Middle East and Africa, met with Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmet Yildiz for four hours, Iran's Ansari told Al-Hayat.
After that summit, Bogdanov briefed Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the Russian-Turkish discussions related to Syria. That led to Zarif's crucial visit to Ankara last Friday -- including a meeting with Erdogan -- which Ansari said was necessary to the formulation of the framework that was agreed to by Turkey.
The two countries will try to keep the diplomatic momentum toward an agreement this coming week, when Turkey's Yildiz will travel to Tehran for more negotiations on the framework, according to Al-Hayat. Although it is still partial and tentative, the framework appears to offer far more hope for peace than any cooperation between Russia and an Obama administration without any consistent strategy.
This article was first posted at Fair.org
“How the Most Dangerous Place on Earth Got Safer” was the headline over the lead article in the New York Times' "Week in Review" (8/11/16), with the teaser reading, “Programs funded by the United States are helping transform Honduras. Who says American power is dead?”
The piece never really got around to explaining, though, how Honduras became the most dangerous place on Earth. That’s American power, too.
Reporter Sonia Nazario returned to Honduras after a three-year absence to find
a remarkable reduction in violence, much of it thanks to programs funded by the United States that have helped community leaders tackle crime…. The United States has not only helped to make these places safer, but has also reduced the strain on our own country.
Nazario described U.S.-funded anti-violence programs in a high-crime neighborhood in the Honduran city San Pedro Sula:
The United States has provided local leaders with audio speakers for events, tools to clear 10 abandoned soccer fields that had become dumping grounds for bodies, notebooks and school uniforms, and funding to install streetlights and trash cans.
She offered the results of this and similar programs as evidence that “smart investments in Honduras are succeeding” and “a striking rebuke to the rising isolationists in American politics,” who “seem to have lost their faith in American power.”
But Nazario failed to explain how American power paved the way for the shocking rise in violence in Honduras. In the early 2000s, the murder rate in Honduras fluctuated between 44.3 and 61.4 per 100,000—very high by global standards, but similar to rates in neighboring El Salvador and Guatemala. (It’s not coincidental that all three countries were dominated by violent, U.S.-backed right-wing governments in the 1980s—historical context that the op-ed entirely omitted.) Then, in June 2009, Honduras’ left-leaning President Manuel Zelaya was overthrown in a military coup, kidnapped and flown out of the country via the joint U.S./Honduran military base at Palmerola.
The U.S. is supposed to cut off aid to a country that has a military coup—and “there is no doubt” that Zelaya’s ouster “constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup,” according to a secret report sent by the U.S. ambassador to Honduras on July 24, 2009, and later exposed by WikiLeaks. But the U.S. continued most aid to Honduras, carefully avoiding the magic words “military coup” that would have necessitated withdrawing support from the coup regime.
Internal emails reveal that the State Department pressured the OAS not to support the country’s constitutional government. In her memoir Hard Choices, Hillary Clinton recalled how as secretary of State she worked behind the scenes to legitimate the new regime:
In the subsequent days (following the coup) I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary Espinosa in Mexico. We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras, and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.
With a corrupt, drug-linked regime in place, thanks in large part to U.S. intervention, murder in Honduras soared, rising to 70.7 per 100,000 in 2009, 81.8 in 2010 and 91.4 in 2011—fully 50 percent above the pre-coup level. While many of the murders involved criminal gangs, much of the post-coup violence was political, with resuscitated death squads targeting journalists, opposition figures, labor activists and environmentalists—of whom indigenous leader Berta Cáceres was only the most famous.
At one point, it seemed like Nazario was going to acknowledge the U.S. role in creating the problems she gives “American power” credit for ameliorating. “We are also repairing harms the United States inflicted,” she wrote—but the explanation she gives for that was strangely circumscribed:
first by deporting tens of thousands of gangsters to Honduras over the past two decades, a decision that fueled much of the recent mayhem, and second by our continuing demand for drugs, which are shipped from Colombia and Venezuela through Honduras.
No mention of the U.S. supporting Honduras’ coup, or the political murders of the U.S.-backed regime.
At one point, three-quarters of the way through the lengthy piece, Nazario did acknowledge in passing the sinister role the U.S. plays in Latin America:
It will take much more than this project to change the reputation of the United States in this part of the world, where we are famous for exploiting workers and resources and helping to keep despots in power.
Surely it’s relevant that some of the despots the U.S. helped keep in power were in the country she’s reporting from, and that this led directly to the problem she’s writing about? But she dropped the idea there, moving on immediately to talk about the U.S.’s interest in reducing the flow of child refugees.
The most troubling part of the op-ed is that it didn’t feel the need to acknowledge or even dispute the relationship between U.S. support for the coup and Honduras’ shocking murder rate. The New York Times covered much of this ground, after all, in an op-ed by Dana Frank four years ago (1/26/12). Now, however, that information is down the memory hole—leaving the Times free to tout donations of trashcans and school uniforms as an advertisement for American power.
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