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truthout - January 26, 2015 - 7:39pm
Categories: Newswire

Why Rand Paul Is Wrong About Social Security Disability

truthout - January 26, 2015 - 5:58pm

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Contrary to analysis, Paul has insisted that half the people getting Social Security disability are only suffering from back aches and occasional anxieties faced by all workers. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

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The Republican Congress decided to make overhauling the Social Security disability program one of its first orders of business. On the first day of the new session it put in place a rule change that would make it difficult to address the shortfall the program is projected to face some time next year.

Republican leaders like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul justified this change by insisting that half the people getting disability had the sort of back aches and occasional anxieties that we all face. The difference is that they get checks from the government rather than working. For this reason, Rand argued the program is in serious need of reform.

As several analysts quickly pointed out, there is no basis for Paul’s assertion. Only a relatively small fraction of disability beneficiaries remotely fit Paul’s description of people with backaches and anxiety. As the data clearly show, it is not easy to get disability. More than three quarters of applicants are initially turned down, and even after the appeals process just over 40 percent of applicants get benefits.

Furthermore, we know that the vast majority of people getting disability would not be working even if they weren’t getting a check from the government. A study published by the University of Michigan a few years ago examined the work patterns of people who were denied disability. It focused on a group of marginal applicants, people who had conditions that would be approved or denied depending in large part on the administrative judge to whom their case was assigned. These were the sort of people that Rand Paul was talking about.

This group comprised roughly a quarter of all applicants. The study found that among this group, 28 percent of the people who were denied benefits were working two years after their application. Since this was a marginal group comprising less than a quarter of applicants, we can infer that somewhere near 7 percent of the people approved would be working without their disability check.

Furthermore, even among this group the study found that average annual earnings were less than half their pre-disability level. This indicates that these people were suffering from a serious condition, even if didn’t make them completely unable to work.

But this 7 percent number gives a useful point of reference. We can set Rand Paul loose on the people with disability and have him throw off the ones that really could be working. If he has perfect judgment, then we will save the program 7 percent by getting rid of the people identified by the Michigan study. If his judgment is less than perfect, we may still save the same amount of money, but it could mean cutting off benefits for terminal cancer patients and other people with extremely serious health conditions.

This gets us to the Federal Reserve Board. If the problem is that we are spending too much money on disability then one sure way of reducing costs is to get the unemployment rate down. There is a regular pattern where more people go on disability when there is a downturn in the economy.

This should not be surprising. There are many employers who keep older workers on the payroll even if a physical condition makes it difficult for them to perform their job. However when there is downturn and they have to cut back their workforce, these workers are likely to be the first to be laid off. In a labor force with a glut of unemployed workers, an older worker with a serious physical problem will find it difficult to get a new job. Therefore many of these people will end up getting disability.

The best way to keep these marginal cases off disability is to keep them on their jobs. Adjusting for the aging of the workforce, the number of people getting disability rose by more than 12 percent from before the recession in 2007 to 2011.

We can infer from this fact that if we had been able to hold the unemployment rate to its pre-recession level we would somewhere around 12 percent fewer people getting disability payments. That is considerably more than the number of would-be workers identified by the University of Michigan study. In other words, we are likely to do more to reduce disability roles by sustaining high levels of employment than by setting Rand Paul loose to get rid of all the shirkers.

This is yet another reason why all good people everywhere should be leaning on the Federal Reserve Board not to raise interest rates this year. The point of raising interest rates is to slow the economy and keep people from getting jobs. We all know many reasons why this is bad, but the disability whiners have given us one more.

If the Fed keeps people from getting jobs, then we will have more people getting disability benefits. If the number of people getting disability bothers you, send a note to Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen asking her not to raise rates.

Categories: Newswire

The Ghastly, Remotely Piloted, Robotic Reaper Drone

truthout - January 26, 2015 - 5:39pm

The MQ9 Reaper - now used by the United States 24/7 over Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere - makes killing too easy. Despite the propaganda in mainstream media, drones are not deployed in a "war on terror." Weaponized drones are terror.

An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flight line at Hurlburt Field Fla., April 24, 2014. (Photo: Staff Sgt. John Bainter/US Air Force)

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The MQ9 Reaper - now deployed 24/7 over Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere - makes killing too easy. It makes war easier to initiate and perpetuate. US drone wars are started with little or no public awareness or support - and with little apparent stake in the game. The weaponized drone cheapens honor. It cheapens life.

The Reaper kills and maims combatants and noncombatants, adults and children, infants and elderly. Drone victims are also those left widowed or orphaned, and those - in the hundreds of thousands - who flee the terrorized tribal countryside. Despite the propaganda that saturates US mainstream media, drones are not deployed in a "war on terrorism." Weaponized drones are terror.

Reaper targeting is both precise and indiscriminate. Precise if and only if the intelligence on the ground is accurate - a very big if. Precise striking is too easily confused with precise selecting. On average, for every alleged high level adversary assassinated, dozens of family members, neighbors and other noncombatants are also killed.

The British human rights organization, Reprieve, notes that certain al-Qaeda leaders have escaped several drone attacks in which they have been reported killed. Many of those attacks result in "collateral damage," i.e. other and innocent lives lost. Drone pilots and their chain of command often have no idea who their victims are, or how many they have killed.

Aerial warfare is cowardly. The Reaper raises cowardice to new heights. Where there's no moral compass, where there's no risk, there's no courage. Despite the lack of physical risk, drone pilots reportedly often suffer post-traumatic stress disorder. These technicians stalk their human targets for hours or days before launching their Hellfire missiles and 500-pound bombs. From their ergonomic armchairs, they observe the assassination and its aftermath up close and personal. They watch "bugsplat" (pilot talk for victims) try to flee.

Minutes later, the pilot may "double tap" - attacking the first responders who converge on the rubble and carnage. Hours later, they may triple tap: targeting those attending the victims' funeral. Killing and maiming mostly civilians, often far from war zones, drones incite hatred, which can lead to blowback or what might be called reactive terrorism: retaliation against suspected informers, aid workers, journalists and US targets near and far. No one can calculate the half-life of such hatred.

Drones violate national sovereignty (Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Gaza etc.), thereby defying international law, thereby rendering the entire planet more hate-filled, anarchic and vulnerable. Drone attacks are racist: They almost exclusively target Muslims and people of color ("Christian terrorism").

US (and, let us not forget, British and Israeli) drone attacks spur proliferation - a drone arms race in which dozens of nations, if only in self-defense, are now acquiring or building weaponized drones. The barbaric use of killer drones creates markets: The deadly robots are first demonstrated eviscerating or vaporizing human flesh, then exported. The barbarity also creates precedents that make all of us, everywhere, less safe

The Pentagon's PR mantra is that "drones save lives." Yet the Reaper's advantages are negated by the larger truth that only in the short-term and within narrow contexts do they reduce US casualties. (Those casualties of other nations, of course, don't mean so much. Par excellence, the weaponized drone is the flagship of US exceptionalism.)

Summing up, the Reaper is tactically clever, but strategically stupid. The Pentagon is surely aware of this insufficiency. But the Pentagon doesn't necessarily seek to "win" its wars. The US military machine seeks to multiply enemies and keep the pot boiling, thereby devouring the national budget and perpetuating mega-profits for its corporate allies. The corporados laugh all the way to the bank.

On the Home Front

Reaper deployment from sites such as Niagara Air Force Base near Buffalo and Hancock Air Force Base near Syracuse in upstate New York extend the war zone to nearby civilian areas. Like it or not, without our consent, we've become part of the battleground. Upstate New Yorkers didn't enlist in these undeclared, clandestine wars. We are conscripts. Our federal taxes pay for these wars; vast slabs of our national treasure are diverted to the military and away from schooling, health care, mass transit and other infrastructure.

Reaper deployment is cloaked in secrecy, mocking democracy. Reaper security measures (as at Hancock, home of the 174th Attack Wing) lead to civil liberties abuse. Since 2010, recurring nonviolent anti-drone protests at Hancock have led to more than 150 arrests and multiple incarcerations of those exposing Pentagon and CIA Reaper lawlessness. We're arrested outside the base entrance as we assemble, speak out and petition the government for a redress of grievances - First Amendment rights, supposedly.

The drone assassination of non-US civilians has morphed into the assassination of US citizens overseas. Will these criminal attacks - devoid of due process - morph into drone strikes against US citizens within the United States itself? The targets here one day may be antiwar activists or someone's political opponent, or simply those guilty of being young, male and black, or Muslim. Or, as in Afghanistan, someone's or some cartel's rival drug dealer.

The Federal Aviation Administration, charged with regulating the safety of our skies, can't keep up with the burgeoning drone industry and escalating domestic drone use. Even with adequate regulations, enforcement will at best be patchy. The more drones in the air, the more difficult the enforcement. Drones have a high accident rate. Drones accidentally or deliberately invading air traffic lanes are a threat to manned commercial passenger aircraft. The more drones in the air, the more collisions. Drones can be launched anonymously. Their origins can be faked. Drones can be hacked and misdirected.

Although a drone pilot's field of vision is like looking through a soda straw, drone surveillance technology is almost preternaturally sophisticated. Drones threaten personal privacy, undermining the Fourth Amendment. Police agencies are itching to deploy drones, leading to surveillance without warrants on a mass, indiscriminate scale - pervasive, persistent, wide-area, suspicionless surveillance. Police drones will also surely be used for crowd control, suppressing demonstrations and other First Amendment activity essential to democracy.

Police surveillance drones can be armed with so-called "non-lethal" devices (facial recognition technology, lasers, sound bombs, rubber bullets etc.). These chill public dissent. Non-lethal can morph into lethal crowd control. Do we really trust the increasingly militarized police and the US intelligence agencies to self-enforce constitutional restraints on their domestic spying? Think NSA.

Drone technology is rapidly evolving. As it penetrates the US economy and the US military machine, drone research in these two spheres will cross-pollinate. The Reaper and its successors are on their way to becoming ever more autonomous and unaccountable.

Domestic drone development has commercial and agricultural application. Drones will create jobs. But rarely mentioned is the fact that drones are a form of automation and that automation snuffs out jobs.

The glitz of consumer drone applications here is already displacing perceptions of the military mayhem over there. Mainstream media hype is already "normalizing" drones (à la the 1950s "Atoms for Peace" campaign providing cover for the then-emerging toxic nuclear industry). Such hype swamps coverage of the vile aspects of drones both domestically and internationally. The multibillion-dollar drone industry has already bought and bamboozled its engineers, its universities, its media and its representatives in Congress.

Categories: Newswire

Hailed as US Counterterrorism Model in Middle East, Yemen Teeters on the Brink of Collapse

truthout - January 26, 2015 - 4:34pm

Yemen is facing political collapse following the mass resignations of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, his prime minister and entire cabinet. Thursday’s exodus came just hours after Shia Houthi rebels stormed the presidential compound in the capital city of Sana’a. Hadi said he could not continue in office after Houthis allegedly broke a peace deal to retreat from key positions in return for increased political power. The Houthis appear to have major backing from longtime former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was ousted in a popular uprising in 2011. The Obama administration had praised the Yemeni government as being a model for "successful" counterterrorism partnerships, but on Thursday the United States announced it was pulling more staff out of its embassy in Yemen. Some experts warn the developments in Yemen could result in civil war and help al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) gain more power. Meanwhile, Oxfam is warning more than half of Yemen’s population needs aid, and a humanitarian crisis of extreme proportions is at risk of unfolding in the country if instability continues. We are joined by Iona Craig, a journalist who was based in Sana’a for four years as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London.

TRANSCRIPT:

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin in Yemen, which is teetering on the brink of collapse after the U.S.-backed president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, his prime minister and entire cabinet resigned on Thursday. The exodus came just 24 hours after Shia Houthi rebels stormed the presidential compound in the capital city of Sana’a. Hadi said he could not continue ruling after Houthis allegedly broke a peace deal to retreat from key positions in return for increased political power. The Houthis appear to have major backing from longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh, the ousted leader who was forced from office in a popular uprising in 2011.

AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration had praised the Yemeni government as being a model for "successful" counterterrorism partnerships, but on Thursday the U.S. announced it was pulling more staff out of its embassy in Yemen. Some experts warn the developments in Yemen could result in civil war and help al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula gain more power. Meanwhile, Oxfam is warning more than half of Yemen’s population needs aid, and a humanitarian crisis of extreme proportions is at risk of unfolding in the country if instability continues. Ten million Yemenis do not have enough to eat, including 850,000 acutely malnourished children.

For more, we go to London, where we’re joined by Iona Craig. She’s a journalist who was based in Sana’a, Yemen, for four years as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London, was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in 2014.

Iona, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about what has taken place.

IONA CRAIG: I think what we’ve seen in the last few days is pretty unprecedented in terms of Yemen, and I think what’s happened now with Hadi handing in his resignation, the prime minister and the cabinet, is really probably the smartest thing they could have done. They were backed into a corner by the Houthis, and quite literally, the Houthis had surrounded Hadi’s house. They obviously couldn’t and hadn’t taken them on militarily, in a fight that they were unlikely to be able to win. And so this was the only way for them to turn around to the Houthis and say, "No, this is enough."

And now we have the prospect of an emergency meeting of the Parliament on Sunday, when Hadi’s resignation will be put forward. Now, they have the option to reject that resignation, which means that Hadi would still be president after that, unless he then hands his resignation in again within three months. So it may actually be that Hadi stays and manages to survive all of this.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Iona, given the constant turbulence within the country, what’s the impact on some of the regional powers—obviously, Iran and the United States and Saudi Arabia?

IONA CRAIG: Well, really, you know, the reason why the international community has been promoting and supporting Hadi is because, for them, there wasn’t another option. They’ve been backing this transition deal from the beginning. It was created initially as Ali Abdullah Saleh signed the deal at the end of 2011 in order to step down, this deal called the GCC deal. But it really originated—and it’s an open secret in Sana’a—from the American Embassy. And the reason we know that is that the politicians in Yemen that first saw it could tell that it was translated from English. So, that transition deal is what the international community have been backing. And that transition deal is really what has brought this to this place today, because it never truly addressed the underlying problems in Yemen. It was all about reshuffling power in order to concentrate on the security issues within Yemen, without actually making the changes that Yemenis have been demanding. So, issues like the Houthis, who were a marginalized group and persecuted under Ali Abdullah Saleh, the issue of southern secession, they were never truly addressed throughout this period. And now this has come to a head now with the Houthis taking their own action to get what they want. So the international community is partly responsible for the situation that Yemen is now in. But, of course, their focus still remains on the security issues in Yemen.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to comments President Obama made last summer when he announced additional U.S. military support to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In response to a question, President Obama invoked U.S. policy in Yemen as a possible model for Iraq and Syria. This is part of what he said.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You look at a country like Yemen, a very impoverished country and one that has its own sectarian or ethnic divisions, there’s—we do have a committed partner in President Hadi and his government, and we have been able to help to develop their capacities without putting large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground, at the same time as we’ve got enough CT, or counterterrorism, capabilities that we’re able to go after folks that might try to hit our embassy or might be trying to export terrorism into Europe or the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama over the summer. Your response, Iona Craig?

IONA CRAIG: Well, I think this really kind of goes back to what I just mentioned. The international focus has always been about security in Yemen. So, even when Ali Abdullah Saleh was in power, they backed him because they could work with him and, you know, to carry out the operations that they wanted, to use drone strikes in Yemen. And there was no plan B. There was no "What will we do if Ali Abdullah Saleh is not there?" And similarly, then, with Hadi. They knew Hadi had been vice president under Ali Abdullah Saleh. It was someone they knew they could work with. They built on the partnership. And again, now, there is—there is no plan B. So if Hadi goes, this leaves them in a position—you know, in a really bad position of who now are they dealing with.

As for the issue of the Yemen model, clearly now that’s something of a joke, really. The Yemen model has all but collapsed. The fighting against al-Qaeda on the ground has actually been done now by the Houthis, but it’s actually made the issue and the problem of al-Qaeda worse in Yemen, anyway. The violence being carried out by al-Qaeda has increased hugely since the Houthis took Sana’a in September. But, you know—and again, looking at those Oxfam figures, the underlying problems in Yemen, you have—now those figures have gone to 16 million people in need of humanitarian aid. The last figures that came out said 14.7 million, out of a population of 25. So, whilst the international community focuses on the security issues, you’ve got an economy that’s collapsing, you’ve got a rising humanitarian crisis and political issues that haven’t been dealt with. So, this kind of short-term thinking about the security situation in Yemen is really never going to get to the bottom of the political problems, the economic problems and the humanitarian issues that all feed into this in the end.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned one of the other underlying problems being an ongoing secessionist movement. Most Americans here have short memories. They forget that it wasn’t long ago when there was a separate Marxist state, the Democratic Republic of Yemen, in a huge portion of what is now Yemen. Could you talk about that secessionist movement in its current form?

IONA CRAIG: Yes, the Southern Movement, or al-Hirak al-Janoubi, as it’s known in Yemen, has been around for many years now, technically since 2007. But North and South Yemen, we unified in 1990, and then there was a brief civil war in 1994, and the south was very much crushed in that. But this call for secession has been increasing rapidly over the last few years, particularly obviously since 2011. But the international community again has failed to really engage with the southerners. And they particularly reached out to the U.K., actually, because obviously the British previously had control of Aden, the southern city, for many years. And they reached out to the international community. And really, the international community didn’t—hasn’t engaged with them, mainly because they feel that if they engage with the south, then it’s recognizing their calls for secession, and they don’t want Yemen to break up, because they think it will impact the security situation. So, in that void, it’s actually Iran that a lot of the time in the south has stepped in and has engaged with the southerners, because nobody else will. And they have increasingly been engaging with them and supporting them.

But we’ve also got a situation now in the south over the last 24 hours, since everything’s happened in Sana’a, where they are now taking action. There have been big protests in the south today. They have said—you know, put out a message saying they will refuse to take orders now from Sana’a because of what’s happening with the Houthis. And it now appears that the Houthis are in charge. But, you know, there’s a lot of politicking going on in Aden right now. So you’ve got President Hadi with his supporters and his militiamen and gunmen on the streets. You’ve also got the Houthis, supported by Ali Abdullah Saleh, been trying to make gains in Aden, as well. So, it’s going to come to a head in the south, and that looks like it’s going to happen sooner rather than later now, because of what’s happening in Sana’a.

AMY GOODMAN: Will Saleh return as president?

IONA CRAIG: Ali Abdullah Saleh?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes.

IONA CRAIG: I think that’s very unlikely, but I think the chances of Ahmed Ali, his son, returning as president are possible. I think that’s distinctly possible. It may not happen in the next week, but when it comes the time of presidential elections—goodness knows when that will happen now—but I think there is a possibility that Ahmed Ali, his son, could rule Yemen. And right now, you know, for some Yemenis, they would throw up their hands and say, you know, security, some form of stability, some form of governance is better than nothing. They’re in a pretty dire situation right now with an economy that’s collapsing and this humanitarian crisis going on at the same time. And people most of the time just want stability so they can carry on with their lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Iona Craig, we want to thank you very much for being with us. She’s speaking to us from London, but she lived for four years in Sana’a, in the capital of Yemen, reporting for The Times of London, winner of the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.

Categories: Newswire

Black Lives Matter: New Film on Jordan Davis Captures Family's Struggle to Convict White Vigilante

truthout - January 26, 2015 - 4:31pm

We are broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, where a new film takes on the subject of the growing nationwide protests over the killing of unarmed African Americans by examining one of the cases to make national headlines in recent years: the killing of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. The film, "3 1/2 Minutes," tells the story of what happened on Nov. 23, 2012, when four teenagers pulled into a Florida gas station to buy gum and cigarettes. They were soon confronted by Michael Dunn, a middle-aged white man who pulled in next to them in the parking lot. Dunn demanded the boys turn down the music they were playing, and became angry when they refused. He pulled his gun from his glove box and shot at their car 10 times, even as they tried to drive away from the danger. The shots rang out three-and-a-half minutes after Dunn had arrived. In the hail of bullets, Jordan Davis was killed. After the shooting, Dunn fled the scene, went to a hotel with his girlfriend and ordered pizza. He never called the police. In the murder trial that followed, Davis’ parents attended every day, knowing that the prior year, George Zimmerman — the killer of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, also in Florida — had successfully avoided being convicted. Both cases highlighted the state’s problematic Stand Your Ground law. We spend the hour with Davis’ mother, Lucia McBath, and father, Ron Davis, who have continued to fight for justice. We are also joined by the film’s director, Marc Silver.

TRANSCRIPT:

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

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting live from Park City, Utah, this week, where the Sundance Film Festival is underway. We begin with a film about a subject of growing nationwide protest: the killing of unarmed African Americans. The film is called 3 1/2 Minutes. It tells the story of how on November 23rd, 2012, four teenagers pulled into a Jacksonville gas station to buy gum and cigarettes. They were soon confronted by Michael Dunn, a middle-aged white man who pulled in next to them in the parking lot. Dunn demanded the boys turn down the music they were playing, and became angry when they refused. He pulled his gun from his glove box and shot at their car 10 times, even as they tried to drive away from the danger. The shots rang out three-and-a-half minutes after Dunn had arrived. One of boys, 17-year-old Jordan Davis, was killed. After the shooting, Dunn fled the scene, went to a hotel with his girlfriend, ordered pizza. He never called the police.

In the murder trial that followed, Jordan Davis’s parents attended every day, knowing that the prior year George Zimmerman, the killer of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, had successfully avoided being convicted. Both cases highlighted the state’s problematic Stand Your Grand law.

Today we spend the hour with Jordan’s parents and hear more about their ongoing fight for justice. But first, this is a clip from the trailer for the brand new film, 3 1/2 Minutes.

REPORTER: Forty-five-year-old Michael Dunn is being charged with shooting and killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis. The confrontation began over loud music.

CORY STROLLA: Was there music playing in the car?

LELAND BRUNSON: Yes.

CORY STROLLA: What type of music?

LELAND BRUNSON: Rap.

ERIN WOLFSON: Did the defendant say anything about the music?

RHONDA ROUER: "I hate that thug music."

TEVIN THOMPSON: "Thug" is the new N-word. He just seen four black kids.

MICHAEL DUNN: I’m not racist. They’re racist.

REPORTER: Michael Dunn is claiming self-defense.

CORY STROLLA: Jordan Davis threatened Michael Dunn.

MICHAEL DUNN: He goes, "You’re dead, [bleep]."

I look, and I’m looking at a barrel.

SEN. TED CRUZ: This is about the right of everyone to protect themselves, to protect their family.

CORY STROLLA: Under the law, it’s justified.

MICHAEL DUNN: I said, "You’re not going to kill me, you son of a [bleep]."

POLICE DETECTIVE: There’s no weapons in their car.

MICHAEL DUNN: Could have been just a stick.

POLICE DETECTIVE: Could it have been your imagination?

MICHAEL DUNN: It cert—well, no. I mean, anything’s possible, I guess.

UNIDENTIFIED: Maybe they didn’t have a gun, but he thought they had a gun.

UNIDENTIFIED: They think it’s a gun when it’s in the hands of a young African American.

RON DAVIS: Trayvon Martin’s father texts me: "I just want to welcome you to a club that none of us want to be in."

UNIDENTIFIED: It’s going to be open season.

UNIDENTIFIED: Open season on—on who?

UNIDENTIFIED: You can say later that maybe he did have it.

UNIDENTIFIED: It’s time to pick up where Dr. King left off.

PROTESTER: Justice!

UNIDENTIFIED: I’ve never covered a trial with this much international attention.

UNIDENTIFIED: This was a 21st century lynching.

RON DAVIS: Was he all right to kill my son?

LUCIA McBATH: What happened to Jordan? What happened to Jordan?

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the trailer for 3 1/2 Minutes, which is premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival here in Park City, Utah. Today we spend the hour with the two people at the heart of the film: Jordan’s parents, Lucia McBath and Ron Davis. We’re also joined by Marc Silver. He’s the film’s director. We spoke with Marc last year at Sundance about his film at that time, Who is Dayani Cristal? which won the award for best cinematography.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! It has been remarkable to see you here, actually, for the first time, but at this film showing. And Lucy McBath, if you can talk about what this means? Your son was killed three years ago, and here you are at a festival in the midst of this wave of protests around the killing of young men like Jordan, your son.

LUCIA McBATH: Well, it just speaks to the—to the truth of what’s happening in the country. And, you know, I kind of always believe that things are kind of in divine order. Things don’t just randomly happen. And I think that our film, our story, is really representative of what we see happening across the country. So, this is just so wonderful of an opportunity to be here to really help expand that message and open people’s eyes to the reality of what they may not really understand is happening, not just within the minority communities, but the gun violence and the way people are viewed that don’t look like you, think like you, act like you, those kinds of opinions and ideas, what we’re seeing across the country. So those things have to change.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Ron Davis, the response you’re getting here to the story told about what happened to Jordan?

RON DAVIS: It was an excellent response. We had a premiere on Saturday, and there was an ovation. And we had—after the film aired, we also had a Q and A, and it was just great. The people that want to really know about the meat of the story, not just the three-and-a-half minutes on film, but they also want to know more about the story about Jordan. So, we’re going to take this from Sundance and really go across this country and let them know about the Jordan Davis story, because it’s going to be a movement. It’s not just Jordan. It’s anybody’s child across America this could happen to, and it’s happening every day. And we want to make sure that this film lets everyone know this is the things that we have to fight in order to make sure that our families and our kids grow up in a type of society that don’t get murdered and killed just, as they say right now, for loud music or something as petty as that.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break. When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with Lucy McBath, with Ron Davis, and also the film’s director. It’s called 3 1/2 Minutes. That’s the time it took a middle-aged white man to drive into a gas station, hear loud music, before he went back, reached into his car’s glove compartment, pulled out a gun and shot one of the young people in the car—there were four of them—dead. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting live from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where a remarkable film has just premiered touching on something, an issue, that is ripping through this country: the issue of young African Americans being gunned down, either by police or by, some call them, vigilantes or self-appointed watchmen, but the issue of whether black lives matter. We’re joined right now by Lucia McBath and Ron Davis. They are the parents of Jordan Davis. We are also joined by Marc Silver. He is the director of 3 1/2 Minutes.

Marc, how did you get involved with this film? Why did you choose to take it on? And talk about how you filmed this.

MARC SILVER: Well, some producers saw my previous film here at Sundance and sent me the Jordan Davis story and invited me to Florida to meet Ron and Lucy, Jordan’s parents. We spent about a week together in the summer of 2013. And at that point, when I started to understand what had happened in such a short amount of time, I started to see this perfect storm of racial profiling, access to guns and then laws that give people the confidence to use those guns because of the nuances of duty to retreat. We then managed to get access to the courtroom for the trial, so we filmed the whole trial, fed that footage out to mainstream media, but—

AMY GOODMAN: So you filmed. You had a three-camera shoot—

MARC SILVER: Yeah, we were inside the—yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —in this trial of Marc [sic] Dunn?

MARC SILVER: Of Michael Dunn, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Of Michael Dunn.

MARC SILVER: And then we managed to take all of this material from the trial and use that as about half of the film, where we follow the beginning to end of the trial. And that’s intercut with Ron and Lucy’s journey over the last two years, as well as some prison phone call recordings from Michael Dunn to his fiancée that kind of explain his journey since that three-and-a-half minutes.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is an astounding part of the film. You have the conversations that Michael Dunn is having with his girlfriend. How did you get recordings of these?

MARC SILVER: Well, these are public record in the state of Florida. So, really, we just have to apply for that as media, and then the state redacts some information that might be private or personal. And then, after that, you just get sent all of this material, and then we transcribed it and started to understand the evolution of Dunn’s character since the night of the shooting.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to a clip from 3 1/2 Minutes. First we hear Michael Dunn’s lawyer questioning him on the stand about the night of the shooting. Much of the film takes place in the courtroom. Then we hear Jordan’s friend, Tevin Thompson, one of the three teens in the vehicle with Jordan when Dunn shot at them.

CORY STROLLA: There was some testimony about—you heard Ms. Rouer say, "Oh, I hate that thug music."

MICHAEL DUNN: I didn’t say this, but if I had said anything, I would have characterized it as "rap crap," not "thug music." That’s not a term I’m familiar with.

TEVIN THOMPSON: "Thug" is the new N-word. That’s the new way they pursuing us now. N-word is—N-word is out, and "thug" is in. Michael Dunn, he just seen us. He just seen four black kids, and he heard the music. And he just considered—he just instantly put thug next to four black kids. But, you know, if four white kids was listening to it, you know what I’m saying, what would you think? They don’t call Justin Bieber a thug. He’s racing Lamborghinis and all this crazy stuff. He’s not a thug. He’s just a misled kid. You know what I’m saying? So it’s just like "thug" is just something for African Americans to be called the N-word without being—without being—they don’t want to seem wrong for calling us the N-word, so they be like, "Look at those thugs." "Rap crap" was something that they made up, just made it up in his head, sat in the jail and just repeated it, made it become something in his brain.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Jordan’s friend Tevin Thompson, who—he was one of the three teens with Jordan Davis when Michael Dunn shot them. "Thug" is the new N-word, Ron.

RON DAVIS: Yeah, well, young people, they know that. And what happens is, Michael Dunn came into that gas station, after seconds of being there, and he has this bias in his mind that rap music, or hip-hop music, is considered thug music, and he thought right away that they were gangsters, as he said later on. And for him to have that in his mind, he had no interaction with African-American children or people. So, all he does is draw his decisions about who you are from television, media, movies, whatever, you know, and they see you on shows like Cops in handcuffs, see you as drug dealers, and so that’s his mindset. And this film, 3 1/2 Minutes, is going to show that sometimes, you know, in that small amount of time, your mindset can get you in trouble. And I think in this instance his mindset got him in trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Lucy McBath, go through it with us, if you will—and I am very sorry, because I’m sure you relive it every time—that night. It was Black Friday, right? The day after Thanksgiving in 2012.

LUCIA McBATH: Mm-hmm.

AMY GOODMAN: What you understand took place?

LUCIA McBATH: Well, I mean, everyone was just enjoying, you know, Thanksgiving, the holiday. I had gone back to Chicago to have Thanksgiving with my family, and I understood that, you know, Jordan would be in Jacksonville with Ron. And he actually told me, you know, "I’m going to go shopping and hang with my friends and everything. We’re going to go shopping on Black Friday." He was really excited about that, because he had already decided what he wanted to purchase on Black Friday. So, I remember, you know, having that discussion with him, talking with him Thanksgiving day, and just really feeling that everything was OK, that he was really, really happy. In fact, I hadn’t heard him sound so happy before, so I was really happy that he was excited about Thanksgiving.

And then, you know, for everything to completely just—I was completely devastated when the phone rang. And I was at my family’s house, and I just happened to be up in the bedroom. And I saw, you know, Ron’s face pop up on the phone, and I said, "Hey, Ron," you know, "how are you doing? Happy Thanksgiving," you know. And he kept saying, you know, "Where’s Earl?" And Earl is my cousin. And I’m like, "Well, he’s downstairs. I will go get Earl." And that was an immediate clue to me that something was wrong. And because I just—I just knew in my spirit that it had to do with Jordan. And so, every fear that a parent has, everything you worry about—them being hit in a car, you know, just any fear that you have as a parent, every one of those fears at that moment just—I felt like it was just the weight of the world had fallen on me. And I felt like everything we’ve done to protect him—and we couldn’t protect him. And so, walking through those days right after, and it’s just a complete fog, you know, that my boy was killed over music.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Ron, the recreation of those moments when they pulled in—Jordan was with his three pals, his best friends?

RON DAVIS: Right. You know, they were there. They were at the gas station first. And, you know, they were playing their music loud; of course, like teenagers, we all do, you know? And as a matter of fact, another gentleman pulled in beside them, heard the loud music, decided, "Ah, don’t want to be bothered," pulled away, and he parked somewhere else in the gas station. And then Michael Dunn pulled in and mentioned the thug music.

AMY GOODMAN: And his girlfriend, his fiancée, gets out to buy something in the gas station.

RON DAVIS: Right, she gets out to buy something in the gas station, and Michael Dunn rolls down the window and tells the boys to turn the music down, you know. And so they turn it down. And then Jordan decides, "You know, why should we listen to him? Who is he? We were sitting in here first, you know, playing our music, and then he comes along and tells us to turn our music down. Turn it back up." So he turns it back up. And so Michael Dunn gets irritated, you know, and him and Jordan start talking to each other through the window. And so, Michael Dunn rolls down the window, ultimately, and says, "Are you talking to me?"

And that’s when he decided to go ahead and grab a gun out of his glove box and start shooting at the car. And the young man that was in the store buying the gum and cigarettes is getting back in the car, and so he pulls the car back, you know, to avoid the gunshots. And Michael Dunn is still shooting at him, even as the car is trying to get away from him. And so, that’s where a lot of people, they don’t understand about why he was convicted on attempted murder charges first, which was a separate act.

AMY GOODMAN: Attempted murder being the other three boys.

RON DAVIS: Right, because the attempted murder was because when—even when he thought the danger was past, he jumped out of his car, ran to the back of the car and started shooting at the car as it was driving away, which was a complete separate act, and that’s why he was convicted initially on the attempted murder charges for the three young men in the car.

AMY GOODMAN: People might not realize there were two trials.

RON DAVIS: Yes.

LUCIA McBATH: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Two trials.

RON DAVIS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a clip from 3 1/2 Minutes. This is Jordan’s friend Leland Brunson talking about testifying during the murder trial of Michael Dunn as Dunn looked on. After that, we hear him questioned on the stand.

LELAND BRUNSON: All of us could have been gone, you know? It’s kind of scary. You know, it makes you realize life is short. And we was all young. When I walked in to see Jordan’s family, I just walked straight. I tried not to look at anybody. I just tried to like stay focused, like. I already had, like, too many thoughts going through my mind, like what if and everything like that, so... That was the first time I seen them since the incident. I felt more angry than scared, but my anger is not going to bring me peace to myself.

CORY STROLLA: Now, Mr. Brunson, you were upset that night.

LELAND BRUNSON: Yes.

CORY STROLLA: When you found out your best friend died, you were even more upset. That’s fair to say.

LELAND BRUNSON: Yes.

CORY STROLLA: You’re still upset as you sit here today.

LELAND BRUNSON: Yes.

CORY STROLLA: You obviously miss your friend, don’t you?

LELAND BRUNSON: Yes.

CORY STROLLA: You don’t want to see your friend’s memory go in vain, do you?

LELAND BRUNSON: No.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Jordan’s friend, Leland Brunson. This is his best friend.

RON DAVIS: This is his best friend. This young man, he’s been through so much. He had to hold my son, and he was the last one that witnessed Jordan alive, which, to me, he will—Leland will forever be my son, you know? And as he said, you know, when he touched Jordan and felt the blood, he knew that Jordan was in trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: So, he had shot into the car 10 times—

RON DAVIS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —even as they were pulling back.

RON DAVIS: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: The driver, his name was?

RON DAVIS: His name is Tommy, Tommy Stornes.

AMY GOODMAN: So Tommy had gone into the—

RON DAVIS: Store.

AMY GOODMAN: —store, and then came out, saw what was happening, pulled the car back. And they didn’t know, as they just ducked, terrified, as the gun—

RON DAVIS: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: —as the bullets were going in—

RON DAVIS: Well, the bullets rang out when Tommy—as soon as Tommy got in the car, because when he got to the car, Tommy was dancing to the music, because then, all of a sudden, they turned the music. And Tommy looked, "Well, why are you turning the music down?" And then Michael Dunn started shooting. And then he pulled the car back.

AMY GOODMAN: Mm-hmm.

RON DAVIS: And so, Leland, he’s a young man that—it’s going to take him ages to get over this. I mean, he comes over to my house from time to time, and he can’t even go in Jordan’s bedroom now without just crying and just falling apart. So, the last time I saw him was Christmas Eve. He came over, and he spent Christmas Eve with us. But he could not go in Jordan’s room.

AMY GOODMAN: So they ducked. They—and he—after the shooting was done, how did he realize what happened to Jordan?

RON DAVIS: He felt Jordan, because he—everybody in the car answered. Tommy said, you know, "Is everybody all right?" And so Tevin answered, Leland answered. And Tommy said, "Is everybody all right?" And so, Leland said, "Jordan, are you all right?" And Jordan didn’t answer, because Jordan had been struck, you know, and the way—he couldn’t breathe, and blood was welling up in his lungs, and so he couldn’t speak. And so, Leland knew that Jordan was in trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to the film. This is a clip of Michael Dunn speaking to his fiancée from jail during a phone call. He tries to comfort her after telling her he’s being held in isolation, and then he defends himself for shooting [Jordan] Davis.

MICHAEL DUNN: So, being in a room by myself kind of sucks, but I guess it would be better than being in a room with them animals. ... So it’s my fault because I asked them to turn their radio down.

RHONDA ROUER: Right.

MICHAEL DUNN: It’s like I got attacked, and I fought back because I didn’t want to be a victim, and now I’m in trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: There was that conversation. Amazingly, you got a hold, Marc, of these recordings of the phone conversations between Michael Dunn and his fiancée, as he talks about being in isolation, but it’s maybe better than being with those animals. Lucy McBath?

LUCIA McBATH: Oh, to hear those words were very, very chilling. But, actually, I was not really surprised. We knew from the very beginning that there was some racial element to what had, you know, transpired. That, for me, was just defining what I already knew and believed Michael Dunn thought about the boys. But it was just very difficult to listen to Rhonda kind of substantiate him, try to lift him up and support him. And in my mind, I kept thinking, "And you never spoke out. You never called 911. You’re just as guilty as he is."

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened that night when they drove away. Here you have Michael Dunn saying he was so traumatized after this. Now, she didn’t know quite what had happened. She was inside.

LUCIA McBATH: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: She hears the firecracker sound of gunshot.

LUCIA McBATH: Right. But, you know, it just—I mean, she was a whole part of that whole entire situation. I mean, she—when she got in the car, of course she didn’t really understand what had happened, what transpired. But to be in the hotel and to see it on television and to know that her fiancé had murdered someone—

AMY GOODMAN: They admitted they watched it on TV while they ate pizza.

LUCIA McBATH: Exactly, exact—well, they had something to eat. They had some stiff drinks. And she went to bed. And he was the one who, you know, remained up for a while. But when she finally did see what happened on television, to simply say, "I just want to go home" and take no responsibility for calling the police and saying, "Michael, we’ve got to do something about this"? You know, and even though she didn’t really understand dynamically what had happened, she knew a child had been murdered. And to keep your mouth closed and say nothing and not even feel for the family, but only be concerned about getting home and getting the puppy home?

AMY GOODMAN: Explain how they were caught.

LUCIA McBATH: Well, there was a homeless couple that were actually at the gas station at that moment. And, you know, thank god that they happened to be there. And the young man, Shawn, who was driving the car, happened to actually see—get the license plate number of Michael Dunn, wrote it down on a paper bag and turned it in to the representative in the gas station, who in turn—

AMY GOODMAN: The woman at the register, cash register?

LUCIA McBATH: Exactly, who in turn they turned the information over to the police. And so, they couldn’t apprehend Michael Dunn at the hotel, because they didn’t know where he was.

AMY GOODMAN: Or who he was.

LUCIA McBATH: Or who he was. But he was apprehended the next morning, you know, 170 miles away, at home. The police apprehended him there. And had it not been for that young couple in the car, we may never have known who shot at the boys and murdered Jordan.

AMY GOODMAN: When we come back, the amazing testimony of the fiancée, Rhonda, when asked directly, right after Michael Dunn had testified that he believed that Jordan Davis had a gun, the amazing testimony when his fiancée was brought in to ask if in fact Michael Dunn had told her, as they’re driving away or that night in the hotel or at any point, had told her he was concerned Jordan Davis had a gun. Of course, a gun was never found. We’ll talk about this after break.

[break]

Categories: Newswire

Federal Prison Sentence Begins for Anti-Drone Activist

truthout - January 26, 2015 - 4:21pm

On January 23, Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end US military and economic warfare, began a three-month jail sentence in federal prison for a protest against drones (also known as “unmanned aerial vehicles”) at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. I had a chance to interview her before she had to turn herself in.

Medea: Can you just say why you have been particularly moved to take action against drone strikes?

Kathy: I think 21st-century militarism is very frightening when you combine the military’s Joint Special Operations Forces with drone and air strike capabilities. The military doesn’t need sprawling bases anymore because they can use these new technologies to control populations and instill tremendous fear. But the use of drones creates resentment and antagonism, and continues to kill civilians.

Wars have been killing civilians for a long time, but with the help of drones, 90 percent of the people killed in wars these days are civilians. The British organization Reprieve reports that for every one person who is selected as a target for assassination by drones, 28 civilians are killed.

The weaponized drones are operated here in the United States in Air National Guard bases and Air Force bases, and with the press of a button they are killing people thousands of miles away in places like Afghanistan. Many people are enamored with being able to send an unmanned aerial vehicle to kill people in another country without a soldier in this country being harmed. But we find that the people operating these drones are experiencing trauma and stress just like soldiers in war zones.

I’m also very worried about drone proliferation, with other countries acquiring these weapons systems. In 1945, only one country possessed a nuclear weapon, and look at the world now. I think the same thing is going to happen with drone proliferation.

I also think that with the activist focus on drones, we can have tangible successes. We have a good possibility of persuading the public that this is a wrongful way to move ahead. It violates international law and makes other people near the bases here in the United States vulnerable as targets themselves.

We’ve already seen considerable progress on this issue. The bases that were getting the drones systems, like the Air National Guard Base in Battle Creek, Michigan, used to be so proud they were popping champagne. Now the commanders at the Battle Creek base, where the Guard is being trained to operate weaponized drones, are reluctant to talk about the drone program.

Medea: Can you tell us about Whiteman Air Force Base and what you did that resulted in this three-month sentence?

Kathy: A squadron at Whiteman, which is in Knob Noster, Missouri, operates weaponized drones over Afghanistan, which has been an epicenter of drone warfare. Whiteman Air Force Base won’t disclose information about the results of these drone strikes, but we, as American citizens, should have the right to know what is being done in our name.

I have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, living with young people who have been victimized by our drones, young people who fled to Kabul and are too frightened to go back home to visit their own relatives, young people who see a future filled with prolonged and agonizing warfare.

We wanted to bring their grievances to the commander at Whiteman. So I crossed a line onto the base. A symbolic action for people in Afghanistan is breaking bread together, so I carried a loaf of bread and a letter to the commander asking how many people were killed by Whiteman Air Force Base on that day.

I took one or two steps over a line. Then I was arrested.

When I went to trial, the military prosecutor told the judge, "Your Honor, Ms. Kelly is in grave need of rehabilitation." But I think it’s our policy that’s in grave need of rehabilitation. We’ve already spent $1 trillion on warfare in Afghanistan and will be spending another $120 billion. The Pentagon wants $57 billion for this year alone. We’re squandering resources that are sorely needed at home and abroad to solve extremely serious problems our world is facing, problems like the climate crisis and global poverty.

Medea: When you crossed the line into the Whiteman Base, did you know that you would be facing such a long sentence? Crossing the line at some bases, and even CIA Headquarters, has resulted in a small fine.

Kathy: My colleague Brian Terrell had previous crossed onto Whiteman Air Force Base and received a six-month sentence. I faced the same judge so I was pretty sure that I would get six months as well. When he only gave me three months, I was actually surprised. I certainly don’t think I did anything criminal; I’m proud of what I did. But I expected the penalty would be higher, and wondered if the judge wanted to look good for a change.

Medea: So I take it that means you would do it again?

Kathy: Oh surely, yes. I think it’s important to take these issues directly to the place where the grievance is occurring, and that’s certainly these military bases.

I also think it’s important to take these issues to all three branches of government. I love it when CODEPINK goes into the halls of Congress or challenges President Obama, because it’s crucial to pressure the executive and legislative branches. But we have to target the judicial branch as well. We have to try every lever and keep on insisting that the Constitution protects our right to express our grievances.

Medea: In early January, you fasted and protested with Witness Against Torture to call for the closing of the Guantanamo prison, including a protest at the home of former vice president Dick Cheney. How do you feel knowing that the people making these policies aren’t held accountable, but you’re heading off to jail?

Kathy: I actually don’t want to see anyone in prison because I don’t believe in the prison system. I don’t want to see people locked up. I believe in rehabilitation. How do you rehabilitate people who have been so murderous and greedy in their war-profiteering and cronyism, and so willing to sacrifice huge numbers of lives?  It’s very hard to know. I’d like to continue in a Quakerly fashion to see decency and goodness and potential in people like Cheney, Rice and Bush. It may be that somehow the examples they set will serve to persuade future leaders not to be that way. So who knows what will come of what they’ve created.

Medea: It’s interesting that you’re against prisons, yet you voluntarily put yourself in a position where you know you’ll be in prison for a significant time. How many times have you been in prison for protesting war?

Kathy: This will be my fourth time in a federal prison. And I’ve been jailed in various county jails and other kinds of lockups more times than I can count.

Medea: Why do you continue to go to jail when there are so many other ways to protest?

Kathy: I think it’s important for peace activists to go inside the prisons and have a vivid sense of how hurtful and punitive this system is. I can read about the realities that prisoners face and the really horrific sentencing procedures but if I’m not sitting in the bunk next to the person pouring out their story, it doesn’t grab my heart and mind in the same way. I’ve been to prison many times before, and I know that when I walk out of a prison, I feel like shouting from the rooftops, “Do you see what’s going on inside these gates?”

Medea: What can people do to support you while you’re in prison? And what about writing to you or sending you books?

Kathy: I love novels, especially novels written by people from other countries. People can contact Voices for Creative Nonviolence in Chicago to find out where to send books and letters.

And people can help Voices for Creative Nonviolence. We’re organizing a walk related to the environment and militarism; we’re sending volunteers to Jeju Island in South Korea to join the movement against militarizing the island; we’re working with the youth in the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul.

A good way to show support would be to join the Afghan Peace Volunteers in their duvet project--a project to make warm blankets for people in need. One winter in Kabul, 26 people froze to death in just one month, eight of them children. It was impossible to read those statistics and not think of something to do. So we helped start the duvet project. The Afghan Peace Volunteers invite women from the different tribal ethnicities, 60 in all, to pick up materials, like wool, coverlets, and thread. They go home and sew these very heavy blankets that can make the difference between life and death. Then the youth distribute the duvets to people in the greatest need. I so admire the young people because they act like social workers, going out to find out who are the neediest in their area. And very generous people in the US and the UK have donated the money. Each duvet costs about $17, and it’s now about a $40,000 project that distributes thousands of blankets each year. So people could help out by contributing to this project.

Author's note: Kathy Kelly is one of the treasures of the peace movement. She’s been an inspiration for many, including myself, so let’s show her love and appreciation while she’s in prison by writing to her and supporting her organization.

Categories: Newswire

ECB: The Ultimate Enforcer of the European Neoliberal Project?

truthout - January 26, 2015 - 4:10pm

If one were asked to describe the formal economic and political processes that have shaped the condition of the eurozone since the eruption of the euro crisis in late 2009 in a terse and peremptory way, he or she might boldly and truly say this: "German Chancellor Angela Merkel's policies spearhead the unraveling of the European project while European Central Bank President Mario Draghi seeks to keep the (neoliberal) game going." The ECB has been trying hard to carry out the role of a traditional central bank by fulfilling its duty as a lender of last resort in order to save the euro.

European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany. (Photo: Casey Hugelfink/Flickr)Help Truthout keep publishing stories like this: They can't be found in corporate media! Make a tax-deductible donation today.

If one were asked to describe the formal economic and political processes that have shaped the condition of the eurozone since the eruption of the euro crisis in late 2009 in a terse and peremptory way, he or she might boldly and truly say this: "German Chancellor Angela Merkel's policies spearhead the unraveling of the European project while European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi seeks to keep the (neoliberal) game going."

Indeed, there is little doubt that Germany's neo-mercantilism is the driving force leading a sizable segment of the eurozone's economy on the path to stagnation and decline (1), while the ECB has been trying hard to carry out the role of a traditional central bank by fulfilling its duty as a lender of last resort in order to save the euro and preserve the eurozone.

The ECB intervened in the euro crisis in May 2010 by buying up government bonds from Greece (even when a 110 billion euros bailout package had been approved for Greece), Spain, Portugal and Ireland under its Securities Market Program. By 2011, the ECB was buying up Spanish and Italian bonds by the bucketload in order to force a drop in the bond yields of the two largest peripheral economies of the eurozone. With the end of the crisis in the periphery nowhere in sight, but Mario Draghi having already pledged in July 2012 to do "whatever it takes" to preserve the euro, in early September of that year the ECB introduced a new government bond purchasing program, known as the Outright Monetary Transactions (OTM) program.

Leaving aside the question as to whether or not ECB's OTM program is legal (Advocate General Pedro Cruz Villalón opined in mid-January 2015 that while "the OTM programme is an unconventional monetary policy measure . . . it is compatible with the TFEU [Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union])" (2), the condition was that OTM would be attached to an appropriate European Financial Stability Facility/European Stability Mechanism (EFSF/ESM) macroeconomic adjustment program. In other words, the imposition of austerity, privatization and market liberalization was a conditionality in the event of the implementation of the OTM program, which raises an important question: Is the ECB seeking to enforce an economic policy measure rather than just a monetary policy measure?

I think this argument can easily be made in the sense that the ECB has been acting since the beginning of the euro crisis as a bulwark against the unraveling of the European neoliberal project, and it receives additional strength from the latest ECB intervention into the eurozone crisis with its own, unique quantitative easing (QE) program. As for the impact of the OTM-related announcements in 2012, the mere claim that "no ex ante quantitative limits are set on the size of Outright Monetary Transactions" (3) was able to lead to a crucial decrease in Italian and Spanish government bond yields although bond markets in Germany and France showed no reaction to the policy. (4)

During the week of January 19, the ECB announced its long-awaited QE program worth 1.1 trillion euros, with the aim of stimulating growth in the eurozone economy (5) and warding off inflation. (6)

The ECB's interventions under former golden boy Draghi (prior to his appointment as ECB president, Draghi had served as Goldman Sachs' international vice-chairman for Europe and governor of the central bank of Italy) may have managed so far to keep the euro game going by providing liquidity to the system and leading to a significant drop in sovereign bond markets (with the exception of Greece) but have hardly made a dent on the feeble performance of the eurozone economy. One should not expect anything different with QE for various reasons.

Firstly, the amount of money to be spent is too little to make any effective impact on the real economy of the eurozone. With official unemployment in the euro area standing at more than 11 percent, and in countries such as Greece and Spain at 25.8 percent and 23.7 percent, respectively, the injection of 1.1 trillion euros into the eurozone economy through a government bond-buying program cannot be expected to help spur sustainable growth by boosting demand that would lead to an improved job market. Furthermore, monetary policy is rather ineffective when interest rates are already near zero. The eurozone's problems in general (most of the indicators of economic health have not even returned to pre-crisis levels in the eurozone) stem from very weak demand growth. The eurozone is in dire need of a superactive fiscal policy geared to stimulate job creation and increase wages. QE cannot do those things nor can it stimulate the expansion of credit when there is no demand for credit. (7)

Secondly, the ECB bond purchases won't work in a manner similar to the quantitative easing measures undertaken by the Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England. Most of the bond purchases won't be underwritten by the ECB, but rather by the various national central banks in the eurozone. Essentially, what this means is that the actual sum of money injected into the eurozone via "euro-style QE" (8) will be significantly less than 1.1 trillion euros. This apparent "compromise" on the part of the ECB was made because of Germany and Holland's opposition to risk-sharing.

Thirdly, ECB-style quantitative easing excludes countries that are in the midst of completing bailout programs and/or have junk-rated debt. This means that Greece and Cyprus (with the former having experienced an economic depression of unimaginable dimensions for an advanced European country during peacetime conditions) have been locked out of the quantitative easing program. The ECB claims that Greece may be allowed to join the QE program in July if satisfactory progress has been made with regard to the bailout terms. The decision to exclude Greece was made literally on the eve of the Greek elections of January 25, in which it was certain that the radical left, anti-austerity Syriza party was going to win the coming vote. Undoubtedly, it was a political decision on the part of the ECB in order to exert pressure on a Syriza-led government to stay the course on austerity and neoliberal structural reforms.

From the beginning of the crisis, the ECB has made the preservation of the euro its No. 1 objective (by providing ceaseless support to eurozone banks and its financial sector while the people in the highly indebted nations always end up paying the price) even when Germany practices a "beggar-thy-neighbor policy" in the eurozone, dragged its feet over the Greek crisis, has demanded draconian austerity measures for all the "bailed-out" peripheral economies when they were already in deep recession and remains the greatest obstacle to the creation of a fiscal and banking union in the eurozone.

The ECB is the ultimate enforcer of the European neoliberal project. Its interventions always come with conditions, which further strengthen the conversion process of the eurozone into a neoliberal capitalist nightmare, thereby imposing additional pain on average working people by reducing the standard of living and putting the nail in the coffin of the social state. In the meantime, ECB interventions, as the Financial Times bluntly put it back in 2012, "exact a high price in national sovereignty." (9)

Indeed, as "Super" Mario Draghi has openly and proudly admitted on a number of occasions since the eruption of the euro crisis, the "social contract" in Europe is gone. (10) What the ECB is now aiming at, like the rest of the EU institutional structures, is the expansion and consolidation of the neoliberal social order. As such, labor market activation policies that aim to enhance labor market flexibility (and, by extension, create precarious working conditions) have been a fundamental objective of ECB intervention into the eurozone economy, and they will remain so until the European neoliberal project is completely finalized.

In this context, it is rather surprising to see various European "progressives" celebrating over the ECB's QE measures and other interventions in the eurozone economy under the current regime. By apparently imagining the ECB as a knight in shining armor, they are either being dangerously naïve or incredibly savvy in their defense of capitalism.

Footnotes:

1. See Bill Lucarelli, "German neomercantilism and the European sovereign debt crisis." Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, Volume 34, No. 2/Winter 2011-12, pp. 205-224.

2. Court of Justice of the European Union. Press Release No. 2/15. "According to Advocate General Cruz Villalón, the ECB's Outright Monetary Transactions programme is compatible, in principle, with the TFEU." Luxembourg, 14 January 2015.

3. European Central Bank. Press Release. "Technical features of Outright Monetary Transactions." September 6, 2012.

4. See Carlo Altavilla, Domenico Giannone, and Michele Lenza, "The Financial and Macroeconomic Effects of OMT Announcements." ECB Working Paper No. 1707. European Central Bank. August 2014.

5. Ben Chu, "ECB announces historic QE programme worth €1.1trn to stimulate growth in the eurozone." The Independent, January 22, 2015.

6. Phillip Inman, "ECB 'takes out the bazooka' with bigger than expected QE stimulus package." The Guardian, January 22, 2015.

7. Cumberland Advisors, "ECB, Euro, USD, Interest Rates." Investing.com. January 25, 2015.

8. The Economist. "The launch of euro-style QE." January 22, 2015.

9. The Financial Times, "Draghi's bold move in euro chess game." August 2, 2012.

10. Brian Blackstone, Matthew Karnitschnig and Robert Thomson, "Europe's Banker Talks Tough." The Wall Street Journal. February 24, 2012.

Categories: Newswire

Forced Disappearances Are Humanitarian Crisis in Mexico

truthout - January 26, 2015 - 4:02pm

Mexico City - The Mexican government will face close scrutiny from the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances – a phenomenon that made international headlines after 43 students from a rural teachers college were killed in September in Iguala, in a case that has not yet been fully clarified.

Twenty-six human rights organisations have sent the UN Committee 12 submissions on the problem of forced disappearance, one of the worst human rights issues facing this Latin American country, where at least 23,000 people are registered as missing, according to official figures that do not specify whether they are victims of forced disappearance.

The submissions, to which IPS had access, say forced disappearances have taken on the magnitude of a humanitarian crisis since December 2006, when then conservative president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) declared the “war on drugs” – a situation that his predecessor, conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto, has not resolved.

The organisations say forced disappearance is not adequately classified as a crime in Mexican law. They also complain about the lack of effective mechanisms and protocols for searching for missing persons and for reparations for direct and indirect victims, the impunity surrounding these crimes, the lack of a unified database of victims, and problems with the investigations.

In addition, they criticise Mexico’s reluctance to accept the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and analyse communications from the victims.

The Committee, made up of 10 independent experts tasked with overseeing compliance with the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, will hold its eight period of sessions Feb. 2-13 in Geneva, Switzerland.

During the sessions, Mexico “will be reviewed in a very critical light, because many recommendations have not been complied with,” said Jacqueline Sáenz of the FUNDAR Centre for Research and Analysis, one of the organisations that sent a report to the U.N. Committee.

The state has failed to implement an adequate public policy, Sáenz, the head of FUNDAR’s human rights and citizen security programme, told IPS. “Its responses have been minimal, more reactive than proactive. The balance is very negative.”

Although forced disappearance was already a serious humanitarian problem, the phenomenon leapt into the global spotlight on Sep. 26, when local police in the town of Iguala, 190 km south of Mexico City in the state of Guerrero, attacked students from the Escuela Normal de Ayotzinapa, a rural teachers’ college, leaving six dead and 25 wounded.

The police also took away 43 students and handed them over to members of “Guerreros Unidos”, one of the drug trafficking organised crime groups involved in turf wars in that area, according to the attorney general’s office.

The investigation found that the bodies of the 43 young people were burnt in a garbage dump on the outskirts of Colula, a town near Iguala, and that their remains were then thrown into a river.

On Dec. 7, prosecutor Jesús Murillo reported that the remains of one of the 43 students had been identified by forensic experts from the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

But on Jan. 20, the university reported that due to “excessive heat” from the fire, the charred remains of the rest of the bodies could not be identified, because of the lack of viable DNA samples.

Mexico’s office on human rights, crime prevention and community service has reported that in this country of 120 million people, 23,271 people have gone missing between 2007 and October 2014.

Although the office does not indicate how many of these people were victims of forced disappearance, its specialised unit in disappeared people only includes 621 on its list for that period, of whom 72 have been found alive and 30 dead.

“It’s important for the (UN) Committee to urge the state to specify the magnitude of the problem,” activist Juan Gutiérrez told IPS. “Very specific recommendations were made in reports long ago and the state has not fulfilled them. Public policies and reforms are necessary.”

More than 9,000 people have gone missing since 2013, under the administration of Peña Nieto, “which puts in doubt the effectiveness of policies for safety and prevention of the disappearance of persons,” said Gutiérez, the head of Strategic Human Rights Litigation I(dh)eas, a local NGO.

Forced disappearance has a long history in Mexico. In November 2009 the Inter-American Court on Human Rights ruled that the Mexican state was responsible for violating the rights to personal liberty, humane treatment, and life itself of Rosendo Radilla, a community leader in the municipality of Atoyac, who disappeared in 1974.

The Court ordered the Mexican state to conduct a serious investigation into his disappearance and to continue to search for him – none of which has happened.

In its submission to the UN Committee, Amnesty International says “the authorities have failed to explain, once again, how many of those people have been victims of abduction or enforced disappearance, and how many of them could be missing due to other reasons. No methodological information has been published, which makes it impossible for civil society organisations to scrutinise the figures.”

It adds that “impunity remains rampant in these cases.”

The rights watchdog notes that at a federal level only six convictions have been achieved, all of them between 2005 and 2009, for crimes committed before 2005.

With respect to the 43 students from Iguala, the attorney general’s office arrested over 40 police officers, presumed drug traffickers, the now former mayor of Iguala, José Abarca, and his wife, who have all been accused of involvement in the attack.

In their alternative report from December 2014, nine organisations said the Iguala case reflected “the current state of forced disappearances” and demonstrated “the ineffectiveness of the Mexican state in searching for missing people and investigating the cases.”

On Jan. 8, in an addendum to their submission to the UN Committee, four organisations stressed the “lack of capacity” and “tardy reaction” by the authorities in this case.

“The investigation was not conducted with due diligence. The Mexican state has been incapable of presenting charges and starting trials for the forced disappearance of the students,” says the text, which adds that the case demonstrates that Mexico’s legal framework falls short and that the authorities completely ignore the Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

On Nov. 27, Peña Nieto presented 10 measures, including a draft law on torture and forced disappearance and the creation of a national system for searching for missing persons.

But Sáenz said “The roots of the problem are not attacked. Mexico has to make a policy shift. The proposal is inadequate. We hope the Committee’s review will give rise to changes. Mexico has not managed to respond to this crisis.”

Gutiérrez said the new measures “are necessary but not sufficient. The law must be discussed with organisations and relatives of the disappeared.”

The Mexican state has not yet responded to the questions that the Committee sent it in September, ahead of the February review.

Categories: Newswire

On the News With Thom Hartmann: Since Citizens United, Alarming Trends Have Emerged, and More

truthout - January 26, 2015 - 3:59pm

In today's On the News segment: In the election cycles since the Citizens United ruling, we've seen "a tidal wave of dark money"; school districts all around our country are doing more to make sure kids aren't going hungry; most lawmakers refuse to fight for single-payer health care, but most voters say that they should; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News...

You need to know this. It's been five years since the United States Supreme Court made their infamous ruling in the case of Citizens United v. FEC. That ruling turned a century of legal precedent on its head with the declaration that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend money in elections. And, that ruling opened the floodgates to massive spending in our political process. In the five years since the Citizens United decision was made, some alarming trends have emerged, and they show exactly why that ruling was disastrous for our democracy. According to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice, three of these dangerous trends were foreseen by the Justices, but virtually ignored nonetheless. In the election cycles since the ruling, we've seen "a tidal wave of dark money," despite the Supreme Court's claim that "prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable." And, those shareholders – the ones that our Supreme Court said would hold corporations accountable – have had a difficult time standing up to corporate spending that they know nothing about. In between elections, wealthy donors and corporations found new ways to collaborate with so-called outside groups, and work around regulations that limit direct campaign contributions. The Court claimed that those remaining regulations would prevent corruption, but donors simply went around them and continued trying to weaken them further. In the last five years, the rich and the powerful have found new ways to buy off our politicians and they've made it possible for lawmakers to ignore everyone except those at the top. In 2014 alone, the top 100 donors to Super PACs spent almost as much as 4.75 million small donors combined. There is just no other way to say it – the Citizens United ruling gave the rich control of our democracy and it's up to us to take it back. We must get money out of politics – go to MoveToAmend.org to find out how.

School districts all around our country are doing more to make sure kids aren't going hungry. Thanks to a pilot program running in 13 states, more than one million children now receive dinner and a healthy after-school snack as part of their free lunch program. The goal of this program is to make sure that all kids have access to a healthy dinner, especially those who come from low-income communities. Making sure that children have enough to eat is one of the most important things we can do to ensure they get a good education, and providing healthy food is one of the best ways to fight childhood obesity. Far too many children in our nation are forced to skip dinner, and many more aren't provided with any nutritious options. In the richest nation on Earth we can afford to do better, and feeding kids a healthy dinner seems like a common sense place to start.

Here in the U.S., we're known for working hard. But, some of us may be working ourselves right in to an early grave. A new article by Alexandra Bradbury over at Alternet says that we need to think about more than just adding more jobs to our economy. In fact, Ms. Bradbury says, "I think we need less work." After learning about Maria Fernandes, a fast food worker who died last year while trying to juggle three jobs, Alexandra realized that our problem isn't that we don't have enough work. It's that the work we have is not being shared among those who want it. Instead of one person working 60 hours or more, that job could provide a 30 hour job to two different people. To do this, our nation would have to demand higher wages and a stronger social safety net, but we have the money to make this idea a reality. For many of us, our work is our life, but that doesn't mean we should give our life just to get enough work.

Most lawmakers refuse to fight for single-payer health care, but most voters say that they should. According to a new poll by the Progressive Change Institute, more than 50 percent of those surveyed said that they would support a single-payer, Medicare-for-all healthcare system. In response to Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin's recent decision to abandon his state's plan for a single-payer system, the Progressive Change Institute conducted this poll to get a feel for public opinion. Out of the 1,500 likely voters who were questioned, more than half supported single-payer, and that even included one out of every four Republicans. Although Governor Shumlin and other lawmakers say that we can't afford single-payer, we already way spend more on healthcare than other developed nations that have national healthcare. In fact, we would likely save money by switching to a Medicare-for-all type system. This new poll shows that Americans know we need to get the profit motive out of healthcare, and now we've got to push our lawmakers to make that happen.

And finally... If New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gets his way, low-wage workers in his state will be getting a raise. At a recent press conference, Governor Cuomo proposed raising the minimum wage in his state to $11.50 in the city, and $10.50 in the rest of the state. Although the proposal calls for a lower wage than Governor Cuomo called for last Spring, it would still be a substantial increase from the current rate of $8.75 an hour. In order to become reality, this pay increase would have to win approval in the state legislature, which includes the Republican-controlled State Senate. Business groups are already making the Republican argument by warning that higher wages will cost the state jobs. However, that claim is not supported by the data in the fourteen states that raised wages in the last year alone. Those states actually saw better job growth and the higher wages improved the lives of millions of workers. A higher minimum wage would likely have the same effects in New York State, so let's hope that New York legislators help Governor Cuomo give workers a raise.

And that's the way it is - for the week of January 26, 2015 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

Categories: Newswire

Solitary Not Yet Over at Rikers, but Advocates Keep Fighting

truthout - January 26, 2015 - 3:37pm

(Image: Rikers Island via Shutterstock)

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A group of prisoners’ rights activists didn’t stop a new isolation unit from being approved on January 13, but they did manage to push through some changes to the proposal, as well as long-overdue limitations to solitary confinement at Rikers Island, New York City’s massive island jail complex. In doing so, they went up against the powerful Correctional Officers’ Benevolent Association.

The Jails Action Coalition is a grassroots group that has been pushing for an end to all forms of solitary confinement, as well as transparency and accountability in what goes on in New York City jails. Some are people who have spent time in jails and prisons. Others are people who work in these systems, such as lawyers, advocates and social workers. Still, others are family members of incarcerated people. For nearly three years, they’ve worked to shine light on jail practices that often remain out of the public eye, from publicizing and demanding accountability for preventable deaths on Rikers to helping push recent legislation requiring the Department of Correction, or DOC, to publicly report the number of people in solitary, the length of their stay and whether they were injured or assaulted.

In April 2013, the group petitioned the New York City Board of Correction, which establishes and monitors minimum standards around conditions in the city’s jails, to amend its minimum standards for the use of solitary confinement, which is also known as “punitive segregation.” The majority of people incarcerated on Rikers cannot afford bail and are awaiting trial. Some are serving sentences of one year or less. The board rejected the petition, but it did commission two reports on the use of solitary in New York City jails.

In September 2013, after both reports condemned solitary at Rikers, the Board of Correction voted to make new rules governing solitary confinement in the city’s jail system. But then they didn’t make them.

More than a year later, in November 2014, the DOC submitted a proposal to build a $14.8 million Enhanced Supervision Housing unit, or ESHU. According to the DOC, the ESHU would decrease jail violence by segregating up to 250 people who are identified as gang members, committed stabbings or slashings, are found with a scalpel, participate in protests, or engage in “serious and persistent violence.” Those placed in the ESHU would be locked into their cells for 17 hours each day. They would have limited access to the law library. Their mail could be read without notifying either them or the sender. They may not be allowed contact visits with family and loved ones. But, in order to move forward with the new unit, the DOC needed the authorization of the Board of Correction.

Activists, including many in the Jails Action Coalition, were horrified. With only one month before the sole public hearing about the unit and two months until the deciding vote, they worked to circulate news about the proposed unit. They urged people to submit written comments to the board opposing the new unit. They urged people to attend and speak at the upcoming hearing. Their outreach was successful. On December 19, 2014, not only had they lined up to attend and signed up to speak at the hearing, but so had many other people who had been incarcerated, worked at or had loved ones in Rikers. At the same time, however, correctional officers were also mobilized, along with their union, including union president Norman Seabrook, who has gone from being called a “roadblock to reform” to an “enemy of reform” by the New York Times. Uniformed correctional officers took up nearly a quarter of the seating, which prevented people arriving after 9 a.m. from being allowed to enter the auditorium.

The hearing lasted for over six-and-a-half hours with 104 people from both sides signed up to testify, many of whom condemned the proposal. After the hearing, members of the Jails Action Coalition met with the three newest members of the board individually to talk with them about the proposed rule and the effects of solitary confinement.

Four days before its January 13 hearing, the board published an amended version of the rule it was considering. The rule would authorize the creation of the ESHU, while also placing limitations around punitive segregation, a form of solitary confinement used to punish people who broke jail rules.

Currently, only 16- and 17-year-olds are separated from other age groups. People ages 18 and over are housed in the adult units at Rikers. The new rule would have excluded people ages 18 to 21 from solitary unless they have committed a Grade One infraction. But these infractions range from serious actions such as assault, escape, and rape to minor acts such as protesting, possession of tobacco or money, and spitting. Those who have serious mental health or physical disabilities are also excluded. Clinicians from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene decide what constitutes a serious mental health or physical disability warranting exclusion from the ESHU. The rule also states that, if a person is excluded because of their age or health, they cannot be placed in punitive segregation for the same rule violation once their age or health status has changed.

In addition, the rule now places a time limit on the amount of time that can be spent in punitive segregation. Under the old system, people could spend months, if not years, in punitive segregation. Now, the department can only place a person in punitive segregation for up to 30 consecutive days. If the segregation sentence exceeds 30 days, the person is given a seven-day break before being sent back to segregation. In addition, the rule sets a limit of 60 days in punitive segregation within a six-month time period unless a person is persistently violent. If a longer time in segregation is sought, the chief of department must approve the extension. The DOC is required to notify both the Board of Correction and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and explain the security concerns. Daily mental health rounds must be provided for those in segregation for more than 60 days during a six-month period. Finally, it eliminates the practice of “owed time” in which a person who had been released from Rikers before finishing his time in segregation is immediately placed in solitary if he is ever re-arrested and re-incarcerated there.

The hearing on January 13 was not as crowded as the previous one. Less than 50 uniformed corrections officers sat in the back rows while advocates filled the front. The auditorium remained a quarter empty but everyone listened intently.

Before the board voted on the proposed rule, Bryanne Hamill, a former family court judge and a commissioner of the Board of Correction, added amendments limiting criteria for ESHU placement and setting a sentencing maximum of 30 days for any one charge. She also added an amendment excluding 18 to 21-year-olds from both the ESHU and punitive segregation beginning on January 1, 2016, so long as the DOC has the resources for alternative programs.

“The process [for this rulemaking] has not been very good,” stated Robert Cohen, another commissioner on the Board of Correction. Calling the rule “ill-conceived and flawed,” he said, “I do not believe the ESH Unit will decrease violence on Rikers Island. The only way we can decrease violence is to recognize that violence is caused by Rikers Island.”

“I do not support locking in ESH inmates for 17 hours a day,” Hamill stated, pointing out that, under the rule, those who participate in protests and other disturbances can be sent to the ESHU.

She also noted that reforming existing practices of solitary confinement seemed to be “held hostage” by the ESHU proposal. And so, the motion to adopt the rules, as amended by Judge Hamill, was unanimously approved.

Although he got the unit he was advocating for, Norman Seabrook seemed infuriated by the accompanying limitations, lambasting the board during the public comments section. He charged them with listening more to the Jails Action Coalition than to the men and women who work at Rikers Island. “Shame on you for allowing yourselves to be influenced by a small group of people — 90 percent of whom have never been incarcerated and never been a corrections officer.” He charged that the board, by limiting time in segregation, is jeopardizing the safety of both jail staff and those they guard, threatening to sue the board any time an officer is assaulted because of the new limitations. On that note, he walked out of the auditorium, taking with him a small cadre of non-uniformed people from the DOC.

Had he stayed, he would have heard the testimony of Evie Litwok, a member of the Jails Action Coalition who has been incarcerated and spent seven weeks in solitary confinement. Litwok also lambasted the board, but for a different reason: “You had an atrocious proposal,” she said. “You were able to tack on some amendments in one month. But you spent a year not passing minimum standards around punitive segregation.” Scott Paltrowitz, associate director of the Prison Visiting Project of the Correctional Association of New York, agreed. “This was an opportunity to create real alternatives to solitary confinement,” he said. “That opportunity wasn’t taken.”

But, advocates conceded after the meeting, there were some wins. Hearings for placement in punitive segregation and the ESHU now allow the accused to call witnesses, which had not been allowed previously. The initial proposal for the ESHU did not allow for exclusions of people with mental health concerns. The limit to 30 consecutive days and maximum of 60 days was, in the words of Johnny Perez who spent 60 days in segregation in Rikers as a teen, “the best news I’ve heard all day.”

Litwok, who had been part of the individual meetings with Board of Correction members, agrees. “I think Jails Action Coalition’s efforts made a dent. It allowed Hamill and Cohen, who were against the unit, to make the amendments [around solitary],” she said. The initial rule, she noted, excluded 16- and 17-year-olds from solitary and eliminated the practice of “owed time,” but did not contain any of the other limits included in the new rule.

“Obviously the exclusions for certain age groups is positive,” said Nick Malinowski, a social worker at Brooklyn Defender Services. “But we haven’t changed the paradigm that punishing people is going to change behavior.” The next step, he said, is ensuring that standards are enforced, a task where the board has sometimes faltered.

“Although [limitations on solitary] are a step in the right direction, we want to see more,” said Perez, who is now on the Strategic Adolescent Advisory Board to recommend further changes in dealing with teens at Rikers. “We want to see more out-of-cell time than seven hours a day. We want to see the elimination of solitary confinement for those under 25 and more humane treatment of those in solitary.” Noting that the rule includes a sunset provision — which means that after 18 months, the board will evaluate the new unit’s effectiveness and decide whether to authorize its continuation — he said, “We’ll be back then. And we’ll continue to fight for the rights of those inside.”

Categories: Newswire

White People for Black Lives

truthout - January 26, 2015 - 3:28pm

Revolutionary imagination is the most dangerous and therefore meaningful thing any of us have to offer. So I am writing in support of coalition building in the struggle against racism that will matter more, and do more. There is a new anti-racist movement led by Blacks, many who are queer Black women, in this country today. We white people need to see them, to recognize this new movement that started in Ferguson, Missouri, and actively support it in whatever way needed.

I went to see the film Selma on opening day in New York City and the theatre was standing room only. I was reminded of the indomitable courage of Blacks to get the right to simply vote. I was also reminded of the brutality and malevolence of white people, including the President at the time. The audience was multi-colored, with about half being white. I wondered if the whites were letting themselves feel the pain and the shame of who “we” can be: full of hatred and terrorizing.

I live in this moment as a white person who deeply believes in and who grew up in the Civil Rights Movement, when my family’s lives and I were predominantly nurtured and shared with Blacks. Most whites hated us. We were white race traitors. I was singled out and bullied in my high school as a dirty Jew N—– lover. We lived in the Black community surrounding Atlanta University, where my father taught. I later came to full adulthood in the US feminist movement with socialist Black feminists as my comrades.

White people have structural power and privilege that gives us more of everything than people of every other color. This power of whiteness is big. It is formidable. It is everywhere. So reforms may help but are incomplete. The new Black Lives Matter activists are attempting to fully disrupt this racism. Die-ins are supposed to stop life as usual—from traffic flow to shopping malls.

The months leading up to seeing Selma have been etched with multiple killings/murders of Black boys and men by white police officers leaving heartbroken families and communities.  Several Black women have also died while in police custody, but have garnered much less publicity. Police officers have not been held accountable, while Black communities have been left to mourn. It seems as though a fully-blown new kind of militarized policing is in place, most particularly for Blacks—gay, straight, and trans.

New-Old Racisms

The structural systems of racism that are in play today are not identical with previous forms. Much has changed. Much that has changed has not necessarily brought greater equality or freedom. Some of the equality trickles down to a few, but not the many.

Emmett Till was murdered at the age of 14 in 1955 on the false charges of rape of a white woman. In 1964, civil rights workers Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman were murdered. Fred Hampton of the Black Panthers was shot and killed by Chicago Police in 1969. Assaults like these have continued. Rodney King was brutalized by white cops in 1991. Abner Louima was sodomized with a broken-off broom handle by New York white police officers. He had been an electrical engineer in Haiti, before.

And then more recently there have been the heartbreaking killings of unarmed Black teenagers Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown, by white officers.  And as if this is not enough, Eric Garner, a father of six is choked and killed while fighting to breathe; and twelve-year old Tamir Rice is mistakenly murdered; and Dontre Hamilton, a mentally impaired young man is shot 14 times and killed in Milwaukee and then Antonio Martin is killed right outside Ferguson, Missouri again.  The autopsy of Ezell Ford in Los Angeles has just been released.  Police shot him in the back and his killing is classified as a homicide. This is what racism looks like:  not-so-random murders by white police of Blacks for being Black. Reform of the police state in the US is a must, but totally not enough.

Racism pours from each and every site/sight. Ebola, a disease of Black Africa, colonialism, white privilege, and wealth, ravages Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea while the US worries about its “white” self. Cuba sends hundreds of doctors, Doctors Without Borders tries to stem the fury of the disease wherever it is, and we punish our few doctors and nurses who have gone with quarantines and fear.

This racism is embedded in misogyny and class inequalities, so rape and sexual violence exist alongside and inside the system of racialized capitalist hetero patriarchy. Marissa Alexander—who fired a warning shot against her abusive husband—is threatened with a jail term of 60 years, and succumbs to a plea deal because there is no justice system she can trust.

Amidst all this, the Black Lives Matter movement emerges. Black Lives Matter (BLM) re-orients and redirects the white gaze. It demands a revolutionary assault on white supremacy. Ending chattel slavery did not uproot the racial hatred; instead, it removed the legal structure upon which it stands. The Black Lives Matter and Hands Up Don’t Shoot movements continue the struggle to dismantle and abolish racial hatred. This hatred must be expunged with the remaining structural leftovers of economic and gender inequality.

Imagining Revolt

Chattel slavery was reformed rather than destroyed. What would it look like to annihilate racism, as B.R. Ambedkar, the Indian Dalit writer and activist might have it? BLM activists are pondering these questions and using new tactics to do so. These demos are spontaneous and dispersed but they are connected. They are making a new movement for racial justice that includes intersectional knowledge of sex, race, and class divisions.

It is good that Obama is president because it proves that this is not the answer for addressing racism today. Racism is not an individual problem so no one individual can fix it, even if they wanted to. The structures themselves corrupt and coopt so the pressures must come from outside/in. This is why the BLM movement seeks to disrupt the systems that support racism. Entry is not an option. They will stay in the streets until police officers are held accountable, and Cheney and his gang are found guilty of war crimes. Disruption can be used to further expose injustices. I dream of a time when this kind of accountability will be fully realized.

Anti-Misogynist Racism

The horrific brutality of white privilege embedded and reproduced first in settler colonialism and then the system of chattel slavery hangs around in every crevice of this country. It is the dirty open secret that keeps being pushed from view in new forms of brutality: from lynchings, to police killings, to rape and sexual violation.  The tactics change some, while the strategy of dispossession and humiliation remain similar.

The misogyny used against Black female slaves and women today is embedded in the racism of chattel slavery. Black male slaves suffered it as well, as they could not lay claim to white patriarchal privilege. Slavery was a class/caste system that relegated all blacks to crushing poverty. It was simultaneously variegated by a racialized gender system. To think of slavery as simply racist is to falsely disconnect it from its white misogynist roots/routes.

This is why any assault against racism puts the misogyny of racism in the mix. The challenge is to dismantle and recreate the white supremacist hetero-capitalist patriarchal structure of everything. So it should be no surprise that the key leaders of the Ferguson rebellions are Black women, two of them queer: Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza. They started the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag after the murder of Trayvon Martin. Cullors is founder and director of Dignity and Power Now, which is a justice organization for incarcerated peoples. Garza is special projects director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.  Tometi is executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

BLM is an all-encompassing site of justice for Cullors, Tometi, and Garza. This specific site takes them to the place of universal justice. If the US can be rid of racism towards Blacks, racism in all its forms begins to be challenged. As Alicia Garza says, when Black people really get free then “every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free.”

I agree with this initiative. In order for democracy to ever be fully inclusive of humanity, it must re-arrange its thinking about universalism, which has historically been an exclusionary concept to begin with. Slaves were not a part. No woman was. Therefore, specificity is needed to re-invent and re-orient democratic theory and practice. Universals and the abstracted “individual” are preferred as though it encompasses everybody in its non-specificity. But the non-specificity is a farce because it originally meant white property owning men. Specify the “individual” by gender and race and the Black woman becomes a newly inclusive notion of democracy rooted in specificity that potentially embraces universality. It is time to try things this way after so much of history has been blinded by exclusionary rights parading as inclusive and just.

White Crazy People

When Frank Rich asks Chris Rock if the election of Barack Obama meant progress, Rock says, yes, it showed progress for white people, they have progressed, they were the one’s with the problem, not us, we were and always and have been ready to be president. “White people were crazy. Now they are not as crazy.” And then, just to make this perfectly clear to whites who might not get it, he says of his daughters: “The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.”

I will take Chris Rock’s optimism and try to put it to good use, but also be reminded of Franz Fanon’s statement: “We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.” Let us be reminded of Eric Garner pleading for his life: “I CANNOT BREATHE.” He said it eleven times before he died.

Reform and Revolution, Again

I love the clarity and energy of Black feminist/writer Brittney Cooper’s activism of every sort. She posts on Facebook, December 12, 2014: “Regarding tomorrow’s March on Washington, let’s just say I been over Marches on Washington since I lived in Washington. There are many problems here, not the least of which is that I need the Civil Rights establishment to be original. Every crisis in Black America does not call for a march on Washington. Those marches are largely about telling us who our new leadership is supposed to be and allowing us a good ‘Sunday Morning shout,’ so to speak, without doing anything substantive…Now in this moment, die-ins disrupt traffic and business as usual. And they are acts that give political place to black rage. I’m also here for tomorrow’s march in NYC, because that is about a show of solidarity in a local place where this occurred. But I couldn’t be more disinterested in another March on Washington. Sharpton and co. keeps doing that because it doesn’t require them to think. Let’s do a new thing, folks. Let’s be creative. Let’s talk to these young folks and follow their lead, and get on board, with whatever we have to give.”

There are newly new systems of racism that make racism and its white privilege more complex to see, and not. Brutal police shootings of mostly unarmed Black boys and men and women harkens back to the terrorism of chattel slavery. But although slavery—its racism and sexism and classism—is present, it is also massively restructured in new forms. In chattel slavery a black person was ascribed his or her status, there was no opportunity, so to speak, to achieve. No race to run. To be Black was to be poor and enslaved; there was homogeneity of powerlessness even if made up of unique individual selves.

Today and recently there has been a Black president, a Black woman secretary of state, a Black Attorney General, a Black Joint Chief of Staff, a Black woman commander of the Army’s elite drill sergeant school. So things have changed while also staying similarly racist. There is an evolving militarized police state that now orchestrates an unforgiving racism that continues to put Black bodies of all genders at risk while also diversifying the gaze. Racism intersects with sexism all the time, and racism also has many colored variations. To complexify and enlarge is not to reduce. It is to open racism to its heterogeneity.

A revolutionary intersectional and coalitional movement is needed today. Central to this coalition must be the attack on racist, capitalist, hetero-patriarchy. The revolutionary status demands intersectional understandings of each and every identity. Hopefully, BLM is working from this commitment because the purpose of any regime of power is to mystify its source of power. Maybe this moment allows for revolutionary change; a complete overhaul from the bottom up to rearrange colors, sexes, races, and genders and with them the white supremacist nation itself.

Do not be looking for a revolution like the past. We need one for the future; one that is accountable to people of all colors, most particularly Black people who suffer the greatest indecencies today.

This may feel impossible, but a politics of the seemingly impossible is needed more than ever. We, the big “we,” need a new modern civil rights movement that disrupts newly.

Categories: Newswire

Goucher College Adjuncts Expect Union Victory as Organizing Spreads in Maryland

truthout - January 26, 2015 - 3:07pm

Part-time faculty members at Maryland’s Goucher College say they are on the threshold of winning formal union representation, marking another step forward in an organizing campaign spread across multiple campuses in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area.

If Goucher adjuncts win, their victory will be among several won last year by Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500, which activists say is successfully harnessing the pent-up demand for labor reforms in the academic sector.

The campaign at Goucher, a small liberal arts school in Towson, Maryland, is not quite finished, however, as lawyers for the college and Local 500 argue over challenged ballots in an unusually close election completed in early December. The tentative count in the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)-supervised election produced a tie, with 33 adjuncts voting in favor of the new Goucher Faculty Union and 33 against, according to Maureen Winter, one of the instructors who helped organize the group.

But that 33-33 count is misleading because the legal challenges against most pro-union votes are spurious, Winter contends, and there is every indication that the union will prevail when the NLRB makes a ruling on the challenged ballots in the coming weeks. Nine ballots—all of them pro-union votes—were challenged by the lawyers for Goucher, she explains, even though all nine of the voters were specifically named as eligible in a pre-election agreement between Goucher and the union. 

Most were very active in the organizing campaign, so the union believes there is a very high probability that these votes will ultimately be counted, and provide the margin of victory, Winter says. What’s more, the union has challenged three ballots by faculty members “who were either not working or tenured and therefore ineligible” to vote in the election.

“We’ve actually already had our [victory] celebration. … We’re pretty sure we’ve got it,” Winter says.

Agreeing with Winter about the ultimate victory once the legal issues are cleared away is David Rodich, Executive Director of SEIU Local 500. “We recognize it [the ballot challenges] for what it is—a delaying tactic." Rodich says he is “confident” of the election victory “and that we’ll have a positive relationship with Goucher” in negotiating a first collective bargaining agreement in 2015.

Rodich’s confidence may be boosted by a year of extraordinary success in organizing part-time faculty in the Baltimore-D.C. area. In April 2014, the adjuncts at Baltimore’s Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) voted overwhelmingly to be represented by Local 500. Shortly thereafter, a Local 500 victory was confirmed at D.C.’s Howard University, the country’s most prominent historically black university. At nearly the same time that the Goucher election was getting under way, part-time faculty at University of District of Columbia also voted for union representation.

All told, Local 500 now represents about 3,000 adjuncts in the area, including large contingents at George Washington University, Georgetown University, American University and Montgomery  College, Rodich says.

Rodich says the explosive energy in the union’s college campus campaigns is coming from the part-time faculty members themselves, who are galvanized by an academic workplace far less friendly than they had anticipated when they were earning their advanced degrees. Low wages, chronic job insecurity, and lack of health insurance coverage are common complaints, he says, but the overriding demand from the part-time professors is that they be included as full members of the academic community.

“It’s not just about money. These people want to be seen as contributing to the academy. They demand to be recognized as partners in creating institutional excellence,” and not merely temporary laborers in a corporate environment, he says.

Rodich’s theme was echoed by Tree Turtle, who teaches writing at Goucher. “In a real sense, we are the college just as much as the students, the tenure-track faculty, or the administrators,” Turtle says.

According to Turtle, a 1993 graduate of Goucher, the organizing drive had significant support from the students and the permanent faculty. This was to be expected at Goucher, which values its progressive liberal arts traditions, Turtle says. The student Radical Leftist Club organized an on-campus petition drive in favor of the union (the petition garnered signatures from about one-third of Goucher’s 1,500 students), and a number of the permanent faculty wanted to join.

“To me, the unionizing process is an affirmative, hopeful campaign that is looking out for the professional welfare of a large sector of hardworking people at Goucher,” Turtle says.

But Goucher administrators adopted a “neutral” position on unionization that was tinged with some anti-union rhetoric. “We heard the usual stuff about how the college community did not need a third party—the union—to come in. The president of the college would say stuff like ‘If you feel changes are needed, I’d love to listen. We can do this without a union.’ He tried to walk a fine line,” Winter says.

But Goucher President Jose Antonio Bowen angered some adjuncts when he brought in the notorious anti-union law firm Jackson Lewis to represent the college against the union. (Jackson Lewis aided the defeat of a union drive at Baltimore’s WYPR public radio station last year.)

Bowen’s office declined a request for an interview, but spokesperson Kristen Pinheiro said that Jackson Lewis was Goucher’s long-time labor lawyer  and had not been brought in specifically to defeat the SEIU Local 500 effort. Among other areas, Jackson Lewis represents Goucher in legal matters involving the Laborers International Union of North America, which represents maintenance and custodial staff on campus, Pinheiro said.

More generally, Pinheiro offered this comment on Owen’s behalf:

Goucher strives to be a place where people want to work. And while we do hire non-tenure-track faculty members—many of whom have taught at the college for numerous years—Goucher bucks the national trend of hiring increasing numbers of adjunct faculty. A Goucher education is largely provided by full-time, tenure-track faculty members.We know all of our instructors are deeply committed to our students’ academic and personal success.

Whatever happens with the NLRB’s decision, we will continue to deal fairly and humanely with everyone employed at the college.

“Bowen is not the enemy. … For us, he is not the bad guy,” asserts Winter, who adds she expects contract negotiations to be amicable and productive once they begin. Local 500’s Rodich also agrees with that prediction, saying that productive labor negotiations have been the norm  as the union has established bargaining units on new campuses in recent years.

“There is a real problem in the academic world where what used to be a good middle-class job has devolved into piecework. This is a concern to a lot of administrators, too, and no matter what the official line on unions might be, most of them recognize that a change is needed,” to improve the quality of life for adjuncts, Rodich says.

“This isn’t a local or a regional issue. There is a national movement. What the SEIU represents is a light at the end of the tunnel, an opportunity to effect change,” he concludes. 

Categories: Newswire

Fracking Boom Expands Near Chaco Canyon, Threatens Navajo Ancestral Lands and People

truthout - January 26, 2015 - 3:06pm

Beneath a giant methane gas cloud recently identified by NASA, the oil and gas fracking industry is rapidly expanding in northwestern New Mexico. Flares that light up the night sky at drilling sites along the stretch of Route 550 that passes through the San Juan Basin, which sits on top of the oil rich Mancos Shale. Much of the land being fracked belongs to the federal government. The rest is a mixture of state, private and Navajo Nation land.

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Beneath a giant methane gas cloud recently identified by NASA, the oil and gas fracking industry is rapidly expanding in northwestern New Mexico. Flares that light up the night sky at drilling sites along the stretch of Route 550 that passes through the San Juan Basin, which sits on top of the oil rich Mancos Shale, are tell-tale indicators of the fracking boom.

Much of the land being fracked belongs to the federal government. The rest is a mixture of state, private and Navajo Nation land.

The region is known to the Diné (Navajo) as Dinétah, the land of their ancestors.  It is home of the Bisti Badlands and Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a World Heritage Site.

Flares burning at fracking industry site on federal land near Counselor, New Mexico. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

Bisti Badlands. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

"The land in the Chaco Canyon area has lots of sacred places. The corporations don't care. They come and go and tear up the places. They do their thing and away they go—and somebody else, somewhere else is getting rich off this land, not us," Sarah Jane White, a Diné environmental activist, told DeSmogBlog, "Fracking doesn't benefit the Native American people."

Sarah Jane White and Victoria Gutierrez, mother and daughter Diné environmental activists. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

Ruins of Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Culture National Historical Park. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is tasked with managing resources on federal land including leasing land for extraction.

"The BLM jumped the gun on fracking for oil in the area," Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico energy coordinator for San Juan Citizens Alliance, told DeSmogBlog. 

The agency's last resource management plan for the area was created in 2003 before drilling in the Mancos Shale region was considered technically or economically viable. 

A new analysis of industrial development's impact on the community and its environment is required before such development is permitted. However, the BLM Farmington Field Office issued permits for over 100 wells for exploratory purposes without conducting a new comprehensive analysis.

Eisenfeld suspected oil field development was imminent when federal funds were earmarked to fix a road that cuts across the Mancos Shale region in 2008. By 2013, flares started illuminating the sky between Counselor and the entrance to Chaco Canyon. 

"Within two years, the area went from undeveloped for oil to becoming a mess. Lack of planning is resulting in wasting natural gas by flaring," Eisenfeld said.

Frack job in process in Counselor, New Mexico. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

Industry site on federal land in Lybrook, New Mexico. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

Environmental groups argue industry is past the exploratory phase. The BLM's consideration of the Saddle Butte San Juan Midstream, LLC Piñon Pipeline project, a 130-mile oil pipeline that would transport the extracted oil out of the area, makes it evident industry is in a production phase. 

In October 2014, environmental protection groups called for a moratorium on fracking and a halt to new leases until the BLM finishes a new analysis.

"By our estimate, the BLM has approved approximately 100 new drilling permits for Mancos shale drilling and fracking. Approval of these permits is wholly inappropriate, contrary to law, and must cease immediately", states a letter to the BLM signed by the San Juan Citizens Alliance, the Chaco Alliance, the Western Environmental Law Center and WildEarth Guardians.

The BLM rejected a moratorium but agreed to delay issuing more permits until the end of the year. "We are still approving APDs [applications for permitting to drill] and doing permitting," Peggy Deaton, the BLM representative responsible for the new analysis, told DeSmogBlog.

Environmental groups may resort to legal action against the BLM if they deem it necessary to stop new industrial activity commencing before the agency finishes the required amendment to their resource assessment plan, which is not expected to be signed and implemented until late 2016.

In an effort to protect Chaco Canyon, The Wilderness Society, National Parks Conservation Association, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Archaeology Southwest submitted recommendations for a master leasing plan to the BLM. They suggest the land between Counselor and Lybrook, next to Chaco Canyon, become a "designated development zone" while keeping the greater Chaco Canyon area off-limits. 

Eisenfeld was dismayed these groups felt the need to forsake an area where communities have already been negatively impacted by the fracking industry in order to protect Chaco Canyon.

"While the Chaco Culture National Historical Park needs protecting, indigenous communities also deserve protection from industry," Eisenfeld says. "The proposed designated development zone throws those living in it under the bus."

Fracking industry site on federal land in Lybrook, New Mexico. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

Meanwhile, the "industry is telling Diné people fracking is safe and giving them just a little bit of money to get them to sign leases," White told DeSmogBlog. The proposed Pinon Pipeline Project is being sold to the community as an "economic development."

Yet few Diné see any profit from any of the industrial developments, according to White. Instead, "We pay the price in bad health – respiratory diseases, heart and kidney diseases, and diabetes."

On January 5th, a group of Diné set off on a 200-mile journey commemorating a forced walk their ancestors took away from the area 150 years ago. 

Along the way, they are meeting with members of the Diné community who have little access to the media and are listening to their concerns about the industrial development, and giving them educational materials about fracking. They intend to raise awareness about the fracking industry's negative impacts on their community including the health risks, damage to the roads and an increase in violent crime that typically comes with an influx of temporary oil field workers.

A group of Diné on the first day of a 200-mile walk through their ancestral homeland. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

Nadine Narindrankura, on the first day of a 200-mile walk through the ancestral homeland of the Diné. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

"People are not aware of how devastating horizontal drilling is going to be to this area," Nadine Narindrankura, a Diné youth taking part in the walk, told DeSmogBlog.

"Our ancestors sacrificed their lives for this land. What are we showing for it?"  Nicholas Ashley, another Diné youth, asked. "We are looking at resource colonization," he says.

"Despite being at the forefront of energy extraction, our people do not see its benefits; approximately 1/4 of our people today live without electricity and running water on the Navajo Nation, while our economy functions at an unemployment rate of 60%, and our young people are leaving due to lack of opportunity," their group's mission statement says.

Those taking part in the walk are no strangers to living in the shadow of industry. But to allow fracking in the last undeveloped areas they hold sacred is not something they are willing to accept without fighting back.

After walking over a dozen miles along highway 550 with trucks whizzing past the group, Narindrankura reflected that, despite the industrial activity, the beauty of the land is still ever-present.

During the second week of their walk, a propane-laden truck exploded at one of the industrial sites nearby, a reminder of the dangers the fracking industry brings with it.

Halliburton truck at a fracking industry site on Route 550 in New Mexico. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

Drill site off Route 550 in Lybrook, New Mexico where hydraulic fracturing is done to extract oil. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

The group's journey is a sign of the growing resistance indigenous peoples and environmental groups are mounting against the industrialization of the area.

"If the pipeline is permitted, the fracking industry will expand exponentially," Einsefeld warns.

Actor and environmentalist Robert Redford weighed in on the proposed pipeline in a letter to the BLM:

"I am writing today to respectfully ask that you deny Saddle Butte LLC's permit for the Pinion Pipeline. This pipeline will forever change, and in some cases decimate lands owned by the Navajos, private owners and the state and federal government. As important, it will mean thousands of new oil wells at a time when the price of oil has plummeted and climate change threats have increased dramatically." 

The public can submit comments on the pipeline proposal until January 30 by mail to the BLM Farmington Field Office, Attention: Scott Hall, 6251 N. College Blvd. Suite A, Farmington, NM 87402 or email to BLM_NM_FFO_Comments@blm.gov

Categories: Newswire

State of the Union 2015: Lethal, Predatory, Delusional

truthout - January 26, 2015 - 2:44pm

Tuesday night, in his next-to-last State of the Union address, President Obama flashed the suckers a bag of tricks that has no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Congress, but will allow his apologists to claim that the genuine, more progressive Obama is revealing himself in his final two years in office. Of course, the final-years Obama could have accomplished his modest 2015 agenda, and much more, back in 2009 and 2010, when Democrats dominated both the House and the Senate and the Republicans were in despair and disarray. Which is precisely why Obama chose, instead, to put his party’s perishable congressional majorities at the service of bankers, Wall Street, private insurers and Big Pharma. Now that Democrats are the endangered species on Capitol Hill, Obama hangs a piñata of subsidized community college education, additional tax deductions for child care, seven days paid sick leave, higher capital gains taxes on the wealthy, and billions in fees on casino bankers.

On closer examination, his grab bag of bills and requests for legislation contains even less than advertized – a vapor-thin rhetorical veneer for a center-right presidency whose real accomplishment has been to re-inflate the Wall Street casino, flush the last vestiges of secure employment out of the economy, and put the imperial war machine back on the offensive. Corporate pundits describe Obama’s antics as an appeal to his party’s “base.” In a world in which words actually mean something, a politician’s base would be composed of the people whose interests he actually serves, rather than those he victimizes. But, such logic does not apply in late capitalist America, where both parties cater to the needs of the moneyed classes; one, shamelessly, without inhibition, the other through deployment of talented liars like Obama.

“The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong,” said Obama, reflecting the corporate consensus that the rich can safely get on with the business of appropriating to themselves the wealth of the world. “Over the past five years, our businesses have created more than 11 million new jobs,” he said, failing to clarify that the vast majority of these jobs are low wage and highly insecure, or that five million workers have dropped out of the job market – half a million in December, alone. The economy inhabited by the vast majority of Americans grows smaller and more cutthroat, with nearly all the new wealth accruing to the rich. Yet, “the shadow of crisis has passed....”

Obama celebrated the “resilience” of the “strong, tight-knit” American family, exemplified by a Minneapolis couple that have both regained employment. “Our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999,” said Obama – bad jobs, in a nation of growing inequality. For Blacks, wages relative to whites have regressed to 1980 levels, and Black household wealth has collapsed so completely there is no statistical possibility of ever reaching parity with whites under the existing economic system – period.

The modern State of the Union address is designed to showcase the transparency of US governance, with all three branches of the American State scrunched together in the space of a TV screen, applauding the leader. But late stage capitalism dare not reorder the world in the light of day. Since almost the beginning of the 21st century, lawyers and lobbyists for the global corporate class have been hammering out the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), sometimes called “NAFTA on steroids,” in total secrecy. Speaking to the American people, last night, President Obama feared to utter the treaty’s name. Instead, he asked “both parties to give me trade promotion authority” – ‘fast track’ passage of the legislation, unread by lawmakers – “to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.” If it were fair, of course, they wouldn’t keep it secret. By now, even the illiterate know that NAFTA and other “free trade” pacts smoothed the way for the export of US jobs to the Global South and China, 20 years ago. But Obama inferred to the nation that the new deal will have the opposite effect. “More than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking at bringing jobs back from China. Let’s give them one more reason to get it done.”

For the record, there is no reason to believe that TPP will cause jobs to flow back to the US from China – quite the opposite. But then, Obama didn’t exactly say that the jobs flow would be reversed; like the worst kind of liar, he only inferred it.

What a farce the whole exercise of bourgeois democratic capitalism has become. The world is made to turn under our feet, in secret, while politicians of the two corporate parties allude to the real substance of economic restructuring only in coded language.

China, having served Obama’s speechifying purposes as the jobs-stealing boogeyman, then becomes a prop for presidential self-congratulation on the environment. “In Beijing,” he said, “we made an historic announcement. The United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions.” This is Obama, Enviro-Man. But, wait! Here comes Obama as Frack-Man, who has overseen the hyper-production of US oil and gas and turned the White House into PR central for the fracking industry. “We believed we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet. And today, America is number one in oil and gas.” One million new barrels of US oil per day have flooded world markets, further encouraging fossil fuel-intensive development and global warming. He is a super-fracking enviro-marvel.

Weaponized US oil production threatens to destabilize Russia, Iran and Venezuela – and possibly the entire global economy, which is slumping and does not need the extra fuel. But oil warfare is clearly Obama’s purpose. Sanctions are just gravy. “We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small by opposing Russian aggression and supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies,” he said, celebrating his alliance with Ukrainian Nazis.

Obama urged Congress to lift the trade embargo on Cuba, while Havana’s neighbor and number one ally, Venezuela, is struck with the one-two punch of US sanctions and the oil glut.

He asks permission from Congress to wage a wider war against the Islamic State, whose rise is the direct result of US and Saudi Arabian nurturing of the international jihadist network for more than three decades. But, he is also training more fighters – inevitably, jihadists – to topple the secular government in Syria.

Thousands of US troops now man the machinery of war in Iraq, where the US was compelled to withdraw, five years ago.

Obama has no plans whatsoever to leave Afghanistan, where about 10,000 US troops, largely Special Forces, remain on indefinite assignment. Yet, he begins his State of the Union address with the lie: “Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.”

What is over – kaput! – is the US’s ability to compete in a world that is breaking the chains of Euro-American imperial bondage. Washington can muster no response, except war. Neither can it maintain living standards for the vast majority of its own people, whose interests are diametrically opposed to those of the financial ruling class to whom the Democrats and Republicans answer.

As he prepares for transition, two years from now, to more lucrative position in service of the Lords of Capital, Obama harkens back to his national television debut, at the Democratic convention, in 2004. “I gave a speech in Boston where I said there wasn’t a liberal America, or a conservative America; a black America or a white America?—?but a United States of America.”

He was lying back then, just as he lied Tuesday night when he promised “to reform America’s criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all.”

So said the man who gave the final coup de grace to due process and the rule of law with his preventive detention bill, his Tuesday assassination sessions, and his ever expanding Kill List.

The State of the Union, is lethal.

Categories: Newswire

Kymone Freeman: #DC Ferguson, Poet, Playwright and Guerilla Artist

truthout - January 26, 2015 - 2:06pm

“Until the lions have their historians; the tales of the hunt will continue to glorify the hunters.” – Afrikan Proverb

Papi Kymone Freeman (guerrilla artist) is one of the leaders of #DC Ferguson, an organization devoted to exposing police terror in the Washington, DC area. Kymone, alone with Eugene Puryear, Salim Adafo and Kenny Nero have led non-violent demonstrations that have shut down major economic arteries in the nation’s capitol. Kymone is the director of the National Black LUV Festival that has since become the largest annual AIDS mobilization in Washington, DC. He has authored a collection of poetry entitled Blood.Sweat.Tears.

Kymone is in the process of completing a one-man show called “Whites Only,” a show where, according to Kymone “white folks can witness an angry Black man in therapy from the sanctuary of their seat.” He is also the subject of a chapter in the book entitled: Beat of a Different Drum: The Untold Stories of African Americans Forging Their Own Paths in Work and Life.

Kymone’s dedication to art and activism led him to accept the position of New York City spokesperson and official poet of the anti-war independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader during his campaign in ’04. A scholarship received from the American Friends Service Committee allowed him to spend the summer in Nairobi, Kenya for an international leadership conference. He used his time in Kenya to hone his skills as a playwright. He received the 22nd Annual Larry Neal Award for Drama for the successful play Prison Poetry that has appeared at the Historic Lincoln Theatre and Source Theatre during the Hip Hop Theatre Festival, THEARC Theatre, Oak Hill Juvenile Detention Facility and several college campuses where his work has been included in the Black History curriculum of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He has conducted production workshops at the National Black Theatre Festival and Institute of Policy Studies.

He is currently Program Director of We ACT Radio 1480 AM DC’s new progressive radio station.

Who is Kymone Freeman? Where were you born and where did you go to school?

I am the eldest grandson of Lily Ann Lewis who climbed the steps of the Washington Monument just to show me the highest point in the city to tell me I can do anything. I am an angry Black man in therapy, an autodidact, a guerilla artist, an activist and currently this country’s poorest media mogul. I have produced poetry, theatre, festivals, TV, film, and radio.

I am one of the few indigenous natives of DC. I was born in DC General Hospital and initially raised in my maternal grandmother’s house at 624 Kentucky Ave SE. I grew up during the soulful 70’s but the crack epidemic and violence of the 80’s, along with the death of my grandmother, forced me to attend school in North Carolina and in Alexandria, Virginia.

When did you decide to get involved in political struggle?

I am a product of the Million Man March that gave us the charge to go back to our communities to #dosomething. The fact that no crime was committed in DC for over 48 hours because of the brotherhood and unity that was displayed there is a lost footnote in history but a month later I witnessed the murder of my cousin at a cabaret that I hosted. It was then that I decided to dedicate my life to begin to synthesize my reality with the greater possibilities.

How has your involvement in politics changed your life?

My involvement with politics first began with the case of Mumia Abu Jamal. After reading Death Blossoms I learned more about his case and realized he was innocent and attended my first marches and rallies. I marched in DC, Philly and to the prison he was originally being held at while he was on death row. That activism lead me to the precursor of the explosion of the prison industrial complex which is the War on Drugs.

This enabled me to draw immediate conclusions from my experiences and why I was seeing the devastation of drugs and violence in my community in the 80s with the materialism that drove my generation to early graves and massive incarceration in the 90’s.

During this period I discovered poetry and found my voice to articulate the rage and passion I had regarding these issues. I say this because art is political. My pursuit as an artist also began to open another dimension in my thinking and expanded my circle of friends who didn’t think like the hustlers and government employees I was surrounded by. They were independent thinkers who lived life on their own terms which provided me a reference point to one day escape the plantation confines of a 9 to 5.

With my two passions Art and Politics I decided to combine them with a festival to address the pandemic of AIDS in DC that had claimed the lives of both my Aunt and Uncle. The Black L.U.V. Festival (love.unity.vision) was launched in 1997 and I have since produced 12 festivals. This independent festival was the foundation that introduced me to all the contacts that I would later need to break free from a 9 to 5 to speak truth to power full time. It was through those efforts to organize the festival that I met Kevin Zeese, then the Executive Director of Common Sense for Drug Policy, who mentored me, opened his home to me, and gave me the necessary support for me to make the transition. He sponsored me to attend several People of Color and the War on Drugs Conferences held in various cities across the country produced by the Drug Policy Alliance and Deborah Peterson Small.

What is the mission of We Act Radio?

It was also through the organizing of the Black L.U.V. Festival that I met my business partner Alex Lawson with whom I co-founded We Act Radio, DC’s only independent radio station. Alex was with DC Fights Back, an AIDS advocacy, group that helped me assemble several AIDS Mobile Units to turn the festival into the largest annual AIDS testing event in DC for six years. On November the 11th, 2011 at 11am we launched We Act Radio on MLK Ave SE Washington, DC.

Our mission is dedicated to raising up the stories and voices of those historically excluded from the media.

How does WeAct Radio contribute to educating the community regarding political events?

We Act Radio is an independent radio station that produces original content and provides broadcast media outlet services to the progressive community of Washington, DC and beyond. Everyone comes to DC to protest, march, rally, or hold press conferences. We offer live streaming services at cost to ensure that the content provider is not solely relying upon what other media outlets chooses to broadcast but rather distributing their content in its entirety amongst our platform.

In addition, We Act Radio functions as a community anchor institution in one of the most underserved areas of the nation's capital by partnering with the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities as well as the DC Summer Youth Employment Program to offer Media Arts training classes to at-risk youth every summer for the past three years we have been in operation to effectively contribute to the political education of our young people.

The Anacostia studios of We Act Radio are also large enough to host community events whether produced ourselves are by other individuals or organizations. We host open mics, debates, live productions, film screenings, political education classes and, most recently, have partnered with the National Black United Front to host the N’Joya Weusi Saturday School for extracurricular S.T.E.M. activities for children.

Please share a story of resistance in your work that embodies hope for you.

Spending a week in Ferguson and St. Louis as an independent media outlet after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson I was impressed with the level of commitment from the young people there responding on the ground by beginning to organize their community and politicizing themselves with no fear of an overwhelming show of force by the military industrial complex. This was even a bigger inspiration for me and the hope for the future of our youth than that of the launch of the Occupy Movement in Zuccotti Park that spread around the country and around the world because, finally, young Black people were involved and taking leadership.

But the greatest single story of resistance for me is from Mo Costello, the owner of MoKaBe Coffeehouse that received death threats in St. Louis and was tear-gassed twice just for providing a “Safe Space” for protestors.

In the spirit of John Brown, she risked her livelihood and the safety of not only herself but that of her three children that helped run the family-owned business. I personally saw the police intimidation she and her family faced and despite all that they still chose to support the community and the #BlackLivesMatter cause by operating as an oasis surrounded by a desert of injustice.

What role do you play at WeAct Radio? How has this changed your life and influenced your political activities?

I am the Program Director, the General Manager, and sometimes janitor. I have a paid staff of two and a volunteer staff of two. My life has changed from working for others to working for myself. This alone will greatly alter the thinking of any individual. I remember when I was still picking cotton at the Postal plantation, my manager told me that I don’t get paid to think. Well, now I do.

As an independent media outlet, we don’t just cover stories, we produce content. I am free to break stories I find relevant like the Public Duty Doctrine that states that the government has no duty to provide emergency services including 911 to the general public, but rather it is a “courtesy” it extends. Only fires are excluded from this admission of civic immunity simply to avoid the potential of civil lawsuits against the city for damages in wrongful death cases due to neglect or malpractice. Most people are unaware of this and no major media outlet will ever cover this aspect even in the case of Cedric Mills who had a heart attack and was refused medical attention by emergency personnel and left to die on the street.

Most people don’t know that courts have ruled that the police can legally lie to you and that the media has no legal obligation to tell the truth. They assume the validity of a police report and whatever version they see on the 6 o’clock news.

In your opinion, how is the struggle for justice in Ferguson and the struggle around police terror in Washington, DC interrelated?

First of all, “An injustice anywhere; is a threat to justice everywhere” so I never categorize or compartmentalize various aspects of the struggle separately. I view them all as pieces in one big chess game. There are of course some favorite pieces that I choose to use more than others, but I must pay attention to them all.

In a specific response to #DCFerguson, which is the hashtag we have chose to use locally, we obviously feel very strongly about the interrelatedness of all the cases of police terror and their intersection on the national level that falls at the doorsteps of the DOJ and the White House. DC is the perfect collage of local, national and international affairs.

While all of our problems are either local or national, we now see that Malcolm X was right in his assessment that our only hope for justice is on the world stage.

How can we connect these issues?

We must begin by controlling the narrative and the branding. We should avoid ever repeating talking points from the establishment who effectively sets the limits of the agenda by defining the narrative and deciding the brand words to be used.

For example, by calling a protest against police brutality an “anti-police protest” the establishment has effectively minimized the amount of support you can expect to receive from the public.

If the #BlackLivesMatter movement began referring openly to their cause as the “New Anti-Apartheid” movement they would have effectively conjured up all the aspects that joined the various levels of oppression that manifested itself during the Apartheid regime in South Africa and the tools used to eliminate it. This alone would put the system itself on trial and elevate the debate beyond the realm of good cop vs bad cop to investigate a system that refuses to distinguish between the two and rewards bad behavior when applied to communities of color in general and poor people in particular.

You testified during the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Please summarize what you said.

I basically amplified the demands for community control over the police. I accused them of dancing all around the mulberry bush exchanging pleasantries with talks of new training or stating dwindling crime statistics being offered as proof that what they are doing is working instead of directly addressing the issue at hand of an out of control police force and a corrupt grand jury system that refuses to put a leash on killer cops as long as the victims are Black or Latino.

If the Commission had allowed you additional time, what would you have added to your statement?

I wish I had time to read all the names of unarmed Black people killed by White police officers and all the names of unarmed White people killed by Black police officers.

Is the Commission a hoax? If so, do you think Black folks should participate in it?

Carmen Perez, Executive Director of the Gathering for Justice, said “There is a crisis between police and communities of color.” However, the majority of those on the Commission and particularly those in leadership are not treating it as such. Whether or not the purpose of the President’s Task Force is to continue a policy of “Benign Neglect” by circling the wagons to prevent any true radical police reforms while providing lip service to a decades old issue remains to be seen, but yes we should participate because this is where the current debate is being held.

How can we leverage the Commission process to the advantage of the Black Community?

I was very disappointed that there were no protestors present during the townhall. They purposefully minimized the likelihood of this by hosting it as a 9-5 event rather than (2) evening events which would have resulted in greater community involvement. There are allies to be made whether on the Task Force or in attendance and enemies to be identified. We are in need of intel and data collection just like our adversaries.

Therefore, there should absolutely be a more concerted effort to take these proceedings over and if necessary bumrush the mics like they did at Rev. Al Sharpton’s national demonstration in DC if they continue to avoid the discussion of community control over the police.

What are the challenges facing #DCFerguson and the overall police terror movement?

How do we enforce demands? How do we escalate the calls for justice? How do we protect ourselves? Who are our allies? How do we force the police to share power with the community? How do we fund an organization truly committed to these values?

All these questions must begin to be addressed.

What is the basis of your hope that WeAct Radio or #DCFerguson can move the struggle for black liberation forward?

Hope is a drug and was also the name of a slave ship. But hope got a bi-racial president elected and as the “People’s Pastor” the Reverend Herbert Daughtry of the House of the Lord in Brooklyn, NYC told me, “I am addicted to hope.”

Our hope is echoed in the last words of the late great Dr. Vincent Harding, the author of MLK’s Beyond Vietnam Speech, when I interviewed him last year on April 4th the 47th anniversary of that speech and shortly before his death later that same month when he said, “Don’t be overwhelmed for too long, because we have work to do. Stay strong.”

For more information about Kymone Freeman: http://www.kymonefreeman.com

Testimony before Presidential Commission on Policing: https://www.popularresistance.org/dcferguson-calls-for-radical-police-reform/

http://bordc.org/honor-true-patriots/kymone-freeman

Categories: Newswire

New Front Opens in Cold War of the Koreas: Restaurants

truthout - January 25, 2015 - 4:56pm

If North Korea prides itself on the West never quite knowing what it will do next, there is a fantastic new example worth savouring. Plans are reportedly afoot to open a North Korean restaurant in Scotland – the first in the UK and second in Europe after Amsterdam. They are both part of the same chain, which is otherwise concentrated in Asia and owned by the North Korean government as a means of raising extra funds.

The Kim Jong-un regime would certainly be capitalising on the growing popularity of Korean food. It may still be considered more exotic than Chinese and Japanese fare, but this is changing fast. In the US, the average price of a meal in a Korean restaurant has been constantly rising for the past two decades, in what is a sign of growing prestige. It continued to climb even after 2010, when the prices of Japanese restaurants began to drop.

Changing US restaurant prices

(Image: Krishnendu Ray)

This may be partly a result of the Korean Cuisine (Hansik) Promotion Campaign, which was initiated by the South Korean government in 2009 with the goal of turning Korean food into one of the five most popular ethnic cuisines in the world by 2017. The plan is currently being rethought after receiving much criticism in the media, but there are nonetheless plenty of signs that the country’s cuisine is on the rise.

Seoul nights

London has more than its fair share of Korean restaurants. The Camden area has so many that it is sometimes informally known as Little Seoul. But until a few years ago, these restaurants were primarily patronised by Korean and Japanese businessmen. One of the key drivers for this changing was the arrival of Bibigo in 2012 – not in Camden but in Soho, in the middle of town.

Camden’s Korean preponderance

(Image: University of Leiden)

Bibigo clearly caters to a local clientele hungry for an exotic experience. It was the first European outlet of the South Korean restaurant chain, managed by C J CheilJedang, Korea’s number-one food and bio business, and was followed by a second London opening in the Angel area last week.

The business launched in 2010 as one of the strategies of the government’s promotion campaign and has since also expanded to Beijing, Jakarta, Los Angeles, Singapore and Tokyo. What has worked for the South Korean government, clearly their northern neighbours think can work for them too.

North Korean restaurants are a relatively new addition to the global gastronomic scene. They began to emerge in north China during the 1990s and a decade later began to spring up in Jakarta, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur and other cities across Asia. The Amsterdam restaurant opened in 2012, before closing and reopening in a different location in 2013.

Southern rice and northern noodles

Culinary culture in the Korean peninsula developed locally for centuries, leading to noticeable differences in ingredients and flavours. The food of the northern provinces tended to be less spicy due to the colder climate, for example.

The consumption of noodles is more widespread, since rice agriculture flourished primarily in the south. The most celebrated North Korean dish today is raengmyeon (“cold noodles”), a vinegary dish that comes in various varieties with chewy noodles made from either buckwheat or sweet potato. It only began to be consumed in the south after it was popularised by the North Korean refugees who flocked there after the Korean war (1950-1953).

But what will really distinguish a North Korean restaurant from one dishing up southern fare is the ambience and the song-and-dance routines, which are a unique mix of folklore and Stalinism, with added karakoe. The actual menus will not be much different, on the other hand. For example, the one in Amsterdam offers the Korean classics, such as pulgogi (thin slices of marinated beef grilled at the table), kimchi (pickled vegetables), and pibimpap (rice mixed with vegetables) – as well as sushi and sashimi, which are Japanese but are often served in Korean restaurants in the US to capitalise on the popularity of that cuisine.

North Korea’s marketing advantage

Just because the menus might be similar, this by no means implies that there are parallels in the contemporary culinary culture of North and South Korea. Affluence, the food processing industry and foreign culinary trends have transformed dietary life of South Korea since the 1980s, which has widened the breach with its North Korean neighbour at the same time.

Ironically the image of North Korea as the “nostalgic past”, good old Korea frozen in time, has grown into a powerful marketing tool for North Korean products on sale in South Korea.

With both Korean governments now pushing their countries' cuisines, it raises questions about who owns the property rights to Korean food. Where lies the legitimate source of the authentic Korean culinary tradition? This means that dining at a North Korean restaurant, whether in Amsterdam, Beijing, Hanoi or Scotland is much more than a culinary delight and exotic experience. It is a lesson in history and global politics as well.

Categories: Newswire

New Front Opens in Cold War of the Koreas: Restaurants

truthout - January 25, 2015 - 4:56pm

If North Korea prides itself on the West never quite knowing what it will do next, there is a fantastic new example worth savouring. Plans are reportedly afoot to open a North Korean restaurant in Scotland – the first in the UK and second in Europe after Amsterdam. They are both part of the same chain, which is otherwise concentrated in Asia and owned by the North Korean government as a means of raising extra funds.

The Kim Jong-un regime would certainly be capitalising on the growing popularity of Korean food. It may still be considered more exotic than Chinese and Japanese fare, but this is changing fast. In the US, the average price of a meal in a Korean restaurant has been constantly rising for the past two decades, in what is a sign of growing prestige. It continued to climb even after 2010, when the prices of Japanese restaurants began to drop.

Changing US restaurant prices

(Image: Krishnendu Ray)

This may be partly a result of the Korean Cuisine (Hansik) Promotion Campaign, which was initiated by the South Korean government in 2009 with the goal of turning Korean food into one of the five most popular ethnic cuisines in the world by 2017. The plan is currently being rethought after receiving much criticism in the media, but there are nonetheless plenty of signs that the country’s cuisine is on the rise.

Seoul nights

London has more than its fair share of Korean restaurants. The Camden area has so many that it is sometimes informally known as Little Seoul. But until a few years ago, these restaurants were primarily patronised by Korean and Japanese businessmen. One of the key drivers for this changing was the arrival of Bibigo in 2012 – not in Camden but in Soho, in the middle of town.

Camden’s Korean preponderance

(Image: University of Leiden)

Bibigo clearly caters to a local clientele hungry for an exotic experience. It was the first European outlet of the South Korean restaurant chain, managed by C J CheilJedang, Korea’s number-one food and bio business, and was followed by a second London opening in the Angel area last week.

The business launched in 2010 as one of the strategies of the government’s promotion campaign and has since also expanded to Beijing, Jakarta, Los Angeles, Singapore and Tokyo. What has worked for the South Korean government, clearly their northern neighbours think can work for them too.

North Korean restaurants are a relatively new addition to the global gastronomic scene. They began to emerge in north China during the 1990s and a decade later began to spring up in Jakarta, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur and other cities across Asia. The Amsterdam restaurant opened in 2012, before closing and reopening in a different location in 2013.

Southern rice and northern noodles

Culinary culture in the Korean peninsula developed locally for centuries, leading to noticeable differences in ingredients and flavours. The food of the northern provinces tended to be less spicy due to the colder climate, for example.

The consumption of noodles is more widespread, since rice agriculture flourished primarily in the south. The most celebrated North Korean dish today is raengmyeon (“cold noodles”), a vinegary dish that comes in various varieties with chewy noodles made from either buckwheat or sweet potato. It only began to be consumed in the south after it was popularised by the North Korean refugees who flocked there after the Korean war (1950-1953).

But what will really distinguish a North Korean restaurant from one dishing up southern fare is the ambience and the song-and-dance routines, which are a unique mix of folklore and Stalinism, with added karakoe. The actual menus will not be much different, on the other hand. For example, the one in Amsterdam offers the Korean classics, such as pulgogi (thin slices of marinated beef grilled at the table), kimchi (pickled vegetables), and pibimpap (rice mixed with vegetables) – as well as sushi and sashimi, which are Japanese but are often served in Korean restaurants in the US to capitalise on the popularity of that cuisine.

North Korea’s marketing advantage

Just because the menus might be similar, this by no means implies that there are parallels in the contemporary culinary culture of North and South Korea. Affluence, the food processing industry and foreign culinary trends have transformed dietary life of South Korea since the 1980s, which has widened the breach with its North Korean neighbour at the same time.

Ironically the image of North Korea as the “nostalgic past”, good old Korea frozen in time, has grown into a powerful marketing tool for North Korean products on sale in South Korea.

With both Korean governments now pushing their countries' cuisines, it raises questions about who owns the property rights to Korean food. Where lies the legitimate source of the authentic Korean culinary tradition? This means that dining at a North Korean restaurant, whether in Amsterdam, Beijing, Hanoi or Scotland is much more than a culinary delight and exotic experience. It is a lesson in history and global politics as well.

Categories: Newswire

With Syriza, the Greek People Can Revive Hope in Europe

truthout - January 25, 2015 - 4:14pm

Translated Sunday, January 25, 2015, by Isabelle Métral.

For Alexis Tsipras, Syriza’s candidate, an absolute majority in Parliament would be an asset in order to impose a renegotiation of the Greek debt. The radical Left’s leader promises to set up “a government for all Greek people” if his party comes first in Sunday’s election.

From our special correspondent in Athens:

Syriza is well and truly set to get into the saddle. The last twenty-five opinion polls broadcast by the Greek media all point in the same direction: the anti-austerity Left is in pole position. On the eve of a crucial general election, it even pulls further ahead of conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy. The only question is how much leeway will electors give Alexis Tsipras’ party in Parliament. Short of the absolute majority, Syriza would have to seek alliances in a confusing scene where split-offs cloud party lines as a result of the political crisis. “The stronger Syriza will come out, the safer the country’s future,” Alexis Tsipras insisted in Thessalonike last Tuesday and in Patras last Wednesday. Addressing thousands of supporters, he asked electors to give him a clear majority so that he can implement Syriza’s Leftist platform without having to negotiate and settle for less.

By all appearances, all the international pressure and threats from international financial institutions, all Brussels’ warnings have only fueled the Greeks’ determination to push austerity policies down under. Hence the aggressive radical strategy chosen by Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy. A leading figure in association with the disastrous policies dictated by the Troika (the European Central bank, the IMF, the European Commission), the Greek prime minister is hoping to hedge his losses by posing as the guardian of Greece’s future in the EU. “To initiate a conflict with Europe would be disastrous for Greece,” he insists, without ever assessing the results of the incumbent team’s policies. Never mind that they are disastrous from a social point of view, with an unemployment rate that stands at 27% (and peaks at 50% among young people), and are also significantly heavier on the lower classes. The social distress has worsened into a real humanitarian crisis, where an increasing proportion of the population are unable to meet their elementary needs in terms of food, health, and housing. Those that have newly fallen below the poverty line depend on the solidarity of their families and on volunteer social networks for keeping barely afloat.

Public services sold off to multinationals.

The austerity policies have spread their poison in the country’s economy. 90,000 small and medium-sized companies have been driven out of business between 2008 and 2011. The country’s frail productive foundation has gone bust, while public companies ahave been sold off to multinationals, pension funds and the Greek financial top-brass. To Yannis Eustathopoulos, an economist who works for the General Labour Confederation’s Labour Institute, the policies that have been implemented over the last five years “have contributed to a new model of economic growth based on the degradation of labour, of social rights, of the environment, and of territorial cohesion,” without these mutations however resulting in an alleviation of the public debt. It now stands at 175% of the GDP, against 113% in 2009 before the crisis. As to the 226,7 billion euro in aid granted by the Troïka since 2010 – in exchange for a stringent structural adjustment program – they have on the whole directly or indirectly benefited the financial sector.

In view of this poor track record, the statement of Wolfgang Schaüble, German Finance Minister, exhorting the Greek people to keep to the track of austerity and “accept the Troika’s control”, is ill received. Indeed it gives momentum to the campaign of Alexis Tsipras, who maintains that the only solution lies in “the cancellation of the greater part” of the debt since it is “unsustainable” and in its “restructuring” with a growth tag attached to it. Whereas the Right, which finds renegotiation unrealistic, waves the specter of “Grexit”, Syriza’s leader declares himself ready for a show of strength, even if the tactics were to lead Greece to exit from the euro zone if needs be. “Where would the line be drawn? How many suicides, how many school and hospital closures would we accept to take? Would 150 euro be the tolerable minimum for wages, and 100 euro for pensions? And how many million unemployed people and poor people? If you ask us the question, we will give you a clear answer: the euro must be compatible with dignity, justice, and solidarity,” Tsipras declared yesterday in his address to the Greek diaspora.

If Tsipras should not win the absolute majority, however, he would have to seek an agreement with other political forces. The Greek Communist Party (KKE) has so far been opposed to the principle of collaborating with Syriza. But this week it made a short step in the direction of a conditional support, no doubt to reassure its electors who might opt for a Syriza vote. “Of course, if circumstances permit and if the government proposes a law to stop the regression, we shall support it,” Dimitris Koutsoubas, the party’s secretary promises. But he stakes a clear limit: “If the Communist party openly supports this kind of government, it will lose the trust the people have placed in us; this would just alienate the people’s feelings - as has been the case with other communist parties that have supported governments.”

Pasok’s social democrats at a loss to reposition themselves

Practically wiped out by their support of the memorandums that laid down the austerity measures and by the impopularity of the incumbent coalition, Pasok’s social democrats seek to reposition themselves. Evangelos Venizelos, the vice prime minister and Foreign secretary says he is ready to support “ a national unity government” that included “supporters of the country’s European future”. A similar move towards Syriza was made by Stavros Théodorakis, a former famous TV figure that opted for politics and founded To Potami (the river) – a party that advocates “social policies” and a strict negotiation of the public debt”. Tsipras himself promises to set up a government for all Greeks if his party comes first in the polls - without the supporters of the memorandum. [1]

 

1. The "memorandum" is the document issued by the European Commission, setting forth their demands for crippling austerity policies put into place in 2011. The "memorandum" quickly became the focus for the popular discontent that arose in May 2010. The European Commission describes the memorandum in different terms.

Categories: Newswire

With Syriza, the Greek People Can Revive Hope in Europe

truthout - January 25, 2015 - 4:14pm

Translated Sunday, January 25, 2015, by Isabelle Métral.

For Alexis Tsipras, Syriza’s candidate, an absolute majority in Parliament would be an asset in order to impose a renegotiation of the Greek debt. The radical Left’s leader promises to set up “a government for all Greek people” if his party comes first in Sunday’s election.

From our special correspondent in Athens:

Syriza is well and truly set to get into the saddle. The last twenty-five opinion polls broadcast by the Greek media all point in the same direction: the anti-austerity Left is in pole position. On the eve of a crucial general election, it even pulls further ahead of conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy. The only question is how much leeway will electors give Alexis Tsipras’ party in Parliament. Short of the absolute majority, Syriza would have to seek alliances in a confusing scene where split-offs cloud party lines as a result of the political crisis. “The stronger Syriza will come out, the safer the country’s future,” Alexis Tsipras insisted in Thessalonike last Tuesday and in Patras last Wednesday. Addressing thousands of supporters, he asked electors to give him a clear majority so that he can implement Syriza’s Leftist platform without having to negotiate and settle for less.

By all appearances, all the international pressure and threats from international financial institutions, all Brussels’ warnings have only fueled the Greeks’ determination to push austerity policies down under. Hence the aggressive radical strategy chosen by Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy. A leading figure in association with the disastrous policies dictated by the Troika (the European Central bank, the IMF, the European Commission), the Greek prime minister is hoping to hedge his losses by posing as the guardian of Greece’s future in the EU. “To initiate a conflict with Europe would be disastrous for Greece,” he insists, without ever assessing the results of the incumbent team’s policies. Never mind that they are disastrous from a social point of view, with an unemployment rate that stands at 27% (and peaks at 50% among young people), and are also significantly heavier on the lower classes. The social distress has worsened into a real humanitarian crisis, where an increasing proportion of the population are unable to meet their elementary needs in terms of food, health, and housing. Those that have newly fallen below the poverty line depend on the solidarity of their families and on volunteer social networks for keeping barely afloat.

Public services sold off to multinationals.

The austerity policies have spread their poison in the country’s economy. 90,000 small and medium-sized companies have been driven out of business between 2008 and 2011. The country’s frail productive foundation has gone bust, while public companies ahave been sold off to multinationals, pension funds and the Greek financial top-brass. To Yannis Eustathopoulos, an economist who works for the General Labour Confederation’s Labour Institute, the policies that have been implemented over the last five years “have contributed to a new model of economic growth based on the degradation of labour, of social rights, of the environment, and of territorial cohesion,” without these mutations however resulting in an alleviation of the public debt. It now stands at 175% of the GDP, against 113% in 2009 before the crisis. As to the 226,7 billion euro in aid granted by the Troïka since 2010 – in exchange for a stringent structural adjustment program – they have on the whole directly or indirectly benefited the financial sector.

In view of this poor track record, the statement of Wolfgang Schaüble, German Finance Minister, exhorting the Greek people to keep to the track of austerity and “accept the Troika’s control”, is ill received. Indeed it gives momentum to the campaign of Alexis Tsipras, who maintains that the only solution lies in “the cancellation of the greater part” of the debt since it is “unsustainable” and in its “restructuring” with a growth tag attached to it. Whereas the Right, which finds renegotiation unrealistic, waves the specter of “Grexit”, Syriza’s leader declares himself ready for a show of strength, even if the tactics were to lead Greece to exit from the euro zone if needs be. “Where would the line be drawn? How many suicides, how many school and hospital closures would we accept to take? Would 150 euro be the tolerable minimum for wages, and 100 euro for pensions? And how many million unemployed people and poor people? If you ask us the question, we will give you a clear answer: the euro must be compatible with dignity, justice, and solidarity,” Tsipras declared yesterday in his address to the Greek diaspora.

If Tsipras should not win the absolute majority, however, he would have to seek an agreement with other political forces. The Greek Communist Party (KKE) has so far been opposed to the principle of collaborating with Syriza. But this week it made a short step in the direction of a conditional support, no doubt to reassure its electors who might opt for a Syriza vote. “Of course, if circumstances permit and if the government proposes a law to stop the regression, we shall support it,” Dimitris Koutsoubas, the party’s secretary promises. But he stakes a clear limit: “If the Communist party openly supports this kind of government, it will lose the trust the people have placed in us; this would just alienate the people’s feelings - as has been the case with other communist parties that have supported governments.”

Pasok’s social democrats at a loss to reposition themselves

Practically wiped out by their support of the memorandums that laid down the austerity measures and by the impopularity of the incumbent coalition, Pasok’s social democrats seek to reposition themselves. Evangelos Venizelos, the vice prime minister and Foreign secretary says he is ready to support “ a national unity government” that included “supporters of the country’s European future”. A similar move towards Syriza was made by Stavros Théodorakis, a former famous TV figure that opted for politics and founded To Potami (the river) – a party that advocates “social policies” and a strict negotiation of the public debt”. Tsipras himself promises to set up a government for all Greeks if his party comes first in the polls - without the supporters of the memorandum. [1]

 

1. The "memorandum" is the document issued by the European Commission, setting forth their demands for crippling austerity policies put into place in 2011. The "memorandum" quickly became the focus for the popular discontent that arose in May 2010. The European Commission describes the memorandum in different terms.

Categories: Newswire

Effort to Make the "Right to Vote" a True Constitutional Right

truthout - January 25, 2015 - 3:26pm

(Image: Keith Ivey, justgrimes, debaird™, Erik (HASH) Hersman; Edited: JR / TO)

In an effort to undo the work being done in numerous states and counties to disenfranchise groups of voters, two progressive House members are aiming to make a promise that is implicit in the Constitution explicit – by calling on Congress to pass a “right to vote” constitutional amendment.

Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) unveiled their amendment at a press conference. “We need to have an affirmative right to vote… a minimum voting standard,” Pocan said, and that’s what this amendment is offering.

“The Pocan-Ellison Right to Vote Amendment would amend the Constitution to provide all Americans the affirmative right to vote and empower Congress to protect this right,” according to a statement on Pocan’s website.

The right to vote is not directly enshrined in the Constitution. The 14th and 15th constitutional amendments dictate that voting cannot be denied based on race, the 19th Amendment based on gender, and the 24th Amendment prohibits poll taxes. Each of these amendments has extended the right to vote; however, because the U.S. does not have a national voting process, states and localities currently make their own voting laws.

There are federal statutes that uphold the right to vote, most notably the Voting Rights Act of 1965. However, in June 2013 the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. This section offered guidelines to states that have a history of undermining people’s right to vote, primarily based on race, and required these states to clear changes in their voting rules with the Justice Department. Since this provision was removed, conservative legislatures have successfully passed a series of voting changes, such as voter-ID laws and limits on absentee and non-Election-Day balloting.

Pocan said the disenfranchisement tactics that have been used in the past few years are “making it harder and harder for people to vote.”

Here is the text of the amendment:

SECTION 1: Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.

SECTION 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.

Ellison, in discussing the likelihood that this amendment would pass, pointed to other constitutional amendments that required time and effort of both politicians and activists “Americans just wouldn’t stop pushing for more rights for more people,” he said. “The time is always right to do what is right.”

Civil rights veteran Rev. Jesse Jackson also attended and discussed the work he’s been doing at the city level to garner local government support for the Amendment. Due to his advocacy, local counties are passing Right to Vote resolutions.

Julie Fernandez, Senior Policy Analyst for the Open Society Foundation, discussed the need for laws regarding voter’s rights to have higher standards of scrutiny. If this amendment passes, strict legal scrutiny will be applied to any attempt to disenfranchise voters. “Voting should be the place where we’re all equal,” she said.

Voting should be how any American can be involved and have a say in the laws that govern them. If this Amendment passes, it will give Americans the constitutional right many assume they already have, and will stop the Republican assault on voting rights. If you believe that everyone should have the right to vote, consider researching further and getting involved. Local governments, campuses, and organizations are all signing resolutions and are interested in your participation. FairVote has also initiated a Pledge to Stand With Voters. Click here to learn more and sign.

Categories: Newswire
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