This article was published by TalkPoverty.org.
My abuser's father was the one who delivered the court's petition to my slummy apartment. Because I had a protection order in place, my abuser couldn't do it himself. I was in the bathroom, getting ready for bed -- I had an interview the next day for a job as a paid fundraiser for a local arts program -- so my husband accepted the paperwork in my stead. It was a request for genetic testing to establish paternity of the child my abuser had forced me to birth when I was 19 years old.
The first day I stood in the courtroom, all I had was my story. I prepared to tell the judge that I had been groomed by the man seven years my senior since I was 14; that I had been kidnapped, drugged, beaten, bitten, strangled, and raped. I prepared to tell her that the last time we were alone together, the petitioner strangled me while I was holding my infant son until I had a seizure and dropped my baby. I prepared to tell the judge that my son was now an eight-year-old boy who still wore diapers and could not speak, while I was in recovery from a heroin addiction that had, for many years, been my only means of coping with the PTSD.
My abuser came to court equipped with an attorney. His lawyer was a tall man with an olive complexion and an easy self-confidence that he showcased by strolling through the courtroom, addressing the clerks by name and punctuating their interactions with a rolling belly laugh. My abuser's attorney had all the papers in order. I, attorneyless, did not.
When the judge entered she told me I needed a lawyer, and offered me a continuance I didn't know I could request. I took it, thinking it would give me a little more time before my son would officially belong to the man who had terrorized me when I was little more than a child myself. I knew the continuance would ultimately make no difference; there was no attorney I could afford.
This type of legal divide is not uncommon. According to the American Psychological Association, abusive fathers file for sole custody more often than fathers who have no history of domestic violence. Since 99 percent of domestic violence victims also face some form of financial abuse, abusers tend to have more money and thus more access to legal resources than the women fleeing their abuse. That gives them an advantage in the courts that makes them just as likely, or even more likely, to gain custody.
These prolonged legal battles can turn into an abuse of their own. Court-related abuse -- sometimes called litigation abuse -- is a widely under-recognized phenomenon in which a perpetrator of intimate partner violence will use family law court as a means of maintaining contact with their victims, even when legal protections would otherwise forbid it. Women and their children who have endured horrific abuses, including sexual molestation and rape, can be forced to interact repeatedly with their assailants in the courtroom upon escaping the relationships.
My abuser discovered his judicial advantage in 2016. I had a five-year protective order against him, a length of time I was told is rarely granted except in cases of extreme violence. But even that did not stop my abuser from dragging me to court.
Unlike many women, I got lucky. I won a lottery for a pro bono attorney through a program offered by my county that mentors licensed lawyers hoping to switch from their previous specialty to family law. These lawyers are only available -- in limited quantity -- to domestic violence survivors involved in custody cases where a child faces significant danger should the outcome favor the opponent. My attorney's previous specialty was personal injury law. My abuser's attorney had been practicing family law for decades. He filed claim after claim trying to dispute my testimonies, forcing me to recount abuses I hadn't even yet addressed in therapy, and painting me as the negligent junkie who abandoned my son and couldn't even keep a home clean.
When the case was over, I asked my attorney if she still planned to pursue family law. She said no.
After a year of litigation that included a comprehensive assessment by a child's advocate, threats of Child Protective Services involvement, numerous courtroom proceedings that placed me side-by-side with my abuser, and an attempt at mediation, my abuser got bored and gave up his parental rights. Or maybe his new girlfriend became angry that he was giving me so much attention. Or maybe he litigated himself out of money, though that's extremely rare in these types of cases. I don't know. What I do know is that my son's biological father now gets to put his name on the birth certificate. I know that I still have a domestic violence protection order, but it no longer covers my now-10 year old son, who is nonverbal and cannot call for help or tell anyone if he is harmed.
During the proceedings, I lost my job as a fundraiser. I began hallucinating the face of my abuser over the faces of men who resembled him, which made me afraid to leave my home. I had to start taking medication for trauma nightmares that made me dizzy if I stood up too quickly in the morning. I also relapsed on heroin, briefly, and take medication now for that too. Before the case began, my PTSD centered on events in the past. Now I have to be scared of the future: of the possibility that my abuser will come after my son and me again.
Litigation gave him freedom to pick at the most private things about me. I had to defend the reasons why my son didn't live with me. I had to defend how and why I have PTSD. I had to reveal my addiction and treatment history, and then defend that too. On the other hand, I learned very little about my abuser. What I did learn was that he has a new girlfriend. She is not yet fully fluent in English, which fits his pattern of bouncing between underage girls and women who are new to the country and language. I learned that he lives with his girlfriend on a small piece of land outside of the city. I heard they raise chickens, and that on some weekends his girlfriend's daughter -- a young girl who has begun experimenting with hair dye -- stays overnight.
Editor's note: To protect the privacy of certain individuals, identifying details have been changed.Ready to make a difference? Help Truthout provide a platform for exposing injustice and inspiring action. Click here to make a one-time or monthly donation.
US House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi speaks during a weekly news conference March 1, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)Pledge your support for ethical, insightful independent media: Make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout and choose the "monthly" option at checkout.
Republican Rick Saccone came up short in Tuesday's special election for Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district, losing by a few hundred votes to 33-year-old Democrat Conor Lamb. But the biggest losers were arguably Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and his Democratic counterpart Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
From the very beginning of the race, national Republicans worked hard to push the message that the rookie Democrat was nothing more than a stooge of Pelosi and other "liberal elites." They pushed the idea early and often, particularly after the House minority leader repeatedly dismissed the comparatively small amounts of money that middle-income taxpayers received from the recently-passed GOP tax cut as "crumbs." (After resisting intra-party calls to apologize for her accurate but indecorous phrasing, she eventually recanted.)
Democrats who hear such messaging invariably roll their eyes without realizing that they are not its intended audience. Republicans made the same mistake in 2012 when Democrats seized on covertly recorded remarks from GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney which derided "47 percent" of Americans for supposedly being useless wards of the federal government.
While the message is one the GOP has used since 2010, it's effective. Pelosi elicits strongly negative views from Republicans and lukewarm support from Democrats, giving her a less than 29 percent approval rating and 50 percent unfavorable rating as of last September. Attacking her was likely the key to GOP victory last year in Georgia, where insurgent candidate Jon Ossoff failed in his special election bid for the state's 6th congressional district.
"Every morning I wake up and I take a moment to be thankful that the Republican Party still has Nancy Pelosi because Nancy Pelosi is absolutely toxic," Corry Bliss, executive director of a PAC controlled by Ryan, told The Washington Times in reference to the Georgia race.
Instead of allowing the GOP to tie him to Pelosi, however, Lamb repeatedly declared that he did not support Pelosi and would not vote for her as the Democrats' House leader. He took the rhetoric an important step further, not just disowning a link to Pelosi but turning the question around to Paul Ryan. Repeatedly.
"The real issue here is not Nancy Pelosi: It's Paul Ryan," Lamb said in a January interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He's the one who has declared that he's coming after Medicaid and Social Security."
In a February debate, Lamb gave a much more adept response to the GOP tax cut than Pelosi, the legislative veteran, could come up with.
"I've always been for middle class tax cuts. What I'm not happy about is that I think people's health insurance premiums are now going to go up and we've added $1.5 trillion to the national debt," Lamb said when asked what he thought of the new tax law. "We didn't need to add a penny to our debt to have the tax cut for our working and middle class people. We now know that 85-90 percent of that $1.5 trillion went to the one percent, people who earn $700,000-$800,000 a year and to our largest corporations. I don't think that was right," Lamb said.
During the debate, he also managed to turn Saccone's religiosity against him by pointing out how the Republican's claims to be caring for the "helpless" by opposing abortion sound insincere when coupled with his desire to cut federal spending.
This was an incredibly savvy move, for at least three reasons. The first is that for all the liberal anger that President Donald Trump constantly provokes, Ryan is also exceptionally unpopular. In a December poll commissioned by Politico, 36 percent of respondents said that an endorsement from Ryan would make them less likely to support a candidate. Just 25 percent said it would make them more supportive. His numbers tracked respondents' views of Pelosi: Twenty-six percent said an endorsement from her would make them more supportive while 34 percent said it would make them less interested.
The second reason Lamb's attacks on Ryan were smart is that they enabled him to carry out a divide-and-conquer strategy on Pennsylvanians who had voted for Trump. As research has repeatedly shown, about 10 percent of Trump's voters nationally (and even more in Midwestern states) are not committed conservative voters. Instead, they're disaffected Democrats who feel abandoned by a party that under former President Barack Obama began referring to a new "coalition of the ascendant" based on educated whites and racial minorities.
Hillary Clinton carried the idea even further in 2016 by actively refusing to campaign in states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, while openly denigrating half of Trump's supporters as "a basket of deplorables."
"If you look at the map of the United States, there's all that red in the middle where Trump won," Clinton said. "But what the map doesn't show you is that I won the places that represent two-thirds of America's gross domestic product. So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward."
There is some truth to that analysis, but it's not the sort of thing that a savvy politician -- such as Clinton's husband, for instance -- would ever say. Not only because it's patronizing but also because it is morally no better than the type of "maker and taker" rhetoric that Republicans use to justify cuts to anti-poverty programs. Clinton's insult was eerily similar to conservative rhetoric about black Americans supposedly being kept on "plantations" because they generally don't vote Republican.
Michael Moore was correct in proclaiming proclaimed before the 2016 election that Trump would win because he spoke to a population of voters who felt shut out by both parties.
"Trump's election is going to be the biggest 'f**k you' ever recorded in human history — and it will feel good," Moore argued at an event promoting his film "Michael Moore in TrumpLand."
"Whether Trump means it or not is kind of irrelevant because he's saying the things to people who are hurting, and that's why every beaten-down, nameless, forgotten working stiff who used to be part of what was called the middle class loves Trump," Moore continued.
Instead of repeating Hillary Clinton's error, Lamb's focus on Ryan enabled him to peel off enough voters in a district Trump won by 20 percent by reminding them who really calls the policy shots in the GOP. For all the attention Trump's erratic behavior and controversial statements provoke, he is primarily just an old man who likes yelling at the TV. In-between shows, he wants to sign bills and be flattered. Since the GOP controls Congress, Trump is more than happy to do whatever Ryan, a true conservative believer, wants him to.
There's no doubt that some Trump voters were motivated by racism or sexism, but plenty of them were people who got tricked. In a post-election survey by the Washington Post, a full 20 percent of people who voted for Trump also said they approved of Obama's job performance. In another survey commissioned by Priorities USA, 30 percent of Obama-to-Trump voters said that they were primarily voting againstClinton. Just 21 percent of them said they expected Trump to create economic policies that would favor the wealthy.
Conor Lamb reminded those voters that they had been sold a bill of goods in a way that did not insult them.
The third reason why Lamb's attacks on Ryan were smart is that they highlighted the huge division on the role of government between between Republican voters and the conservative elites who rule the party.
Needless to say, these subjects are not ones that Republican politicians want to discuss much. Instead, they'd rather deliver cultural populist appeals to grassroots Republicans about how Democrats are motivated by "hatred" for Trump, America, and even God, as Saccone said at a Monday campaign rally.
Unlike Lamb, Saccone couldn't brush off attacks on his party leader. Not only because Republicans are much less tolerant of intra-party ideological dissent but also because Saccone's campaign was being kept afloat by huge sums of out-of-state money from anti-government Republican fat cats. To disavow Ryan, their golden boy, would have meant cutting himself off financially.
During the candidates' February debate, Saccone refused to name any policies where he would differ with Ryan. In his closing statement, Lamb made the connection between Saccone's sycophancy before the conservative donor class and the over $10 million they spent on his behalf.
"They don't tell the truth in their advertising. They want to buy this election that way. And they try to get legislation that they can buy, like the new budget that's coming out which makes cuts to programs that people rely on," he said.
Democrats looking for a lesson coming out of Pennsylvania now have one: To win, make the election about Paul Ryan, not Donald Trump. And get rid of Nancy Pelosi's limousine liberalism in favor of economic policies advocated by Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., or Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn. The best way to beat fake populism is with real populism.
Protesters dressed as Guantánamo detainees hold an anti-torture demonstration on the 15th anniversary of Guantánamo's opening on January 11, 2017. The Trump administration continues to perpetuate and glorify torture, exemplified by the recent nomination of Gina Haspel to CIA director. (Photo: Justin Norman)
Fifteen years after Bush's invasion of Iraq, we don't talk much about it anymore. This is unfortunate, because advocates and practitioners of torture are about to control the White House, the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency simultaneously. The stain of Bush administration policy remains, like Lady MacBeth's damned spot.
Protesters dressed as Guantánamo detainees hold an anti-torture demonstration on the 15th anniversary of Guantánamo's opening on January 11, 2017. The Trump administration continues to perpetuate and glorify torture, exemplified by the recent nomination of Gina Haspel to CIA director. (Photo: Justin Norman)The following article could only be published thanks to support from our readers. To fund more stories like it, make a donation to Truthout by clicking here!
I would bring back waterboarding, and I'd bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.
—Donald Trump, 02/16/2016
Fifteen years ago this week, George W. Bush and his pack of unprosecuted murderers transformed the city of Baghdad into a bowl of fire, "Shock & Awe," in what was a massive war crime right there on live television. I call it a war crime justly: It was an act based entirely on lies founded in greed and lust for power, for which not one person has been called to account.
Millions of human beings have been butchered, maimed, displaced and undone in those 15 years since the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. The war there has actually been going on in one form or another for 27 years now. Yet no one is held accountable even as we slog, year after year, through the drifting ashes of aftermath.
We simply don't talk about it.
We are allowed, within the narrow confines of permissible debate, to rub our collective woes together and wonder how so much could go so wrong so fast. The physical shock of September 11 doesn't explain it, but the manner in which that day was used against us certainly fills in the blank spaces. They used it to start a war that has now become several wars, and a few people you'll never meet continue to swim in the profits.
More than a trillion dollars have been spent so far on the wars, and that's just the coin on the books, not to mention the trillion or more to be spent as the veterans of that war seek VA care for the damage they will bear all their lives. They are still young, most of those who have survived their multiple tours in the forever wars. They will be with us for a half-century at least, and they deserve every dime we spend on their care. All in all, we will spend plenty on this butcher's bill.I used to imagine George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and the rest of them standing before the bar in The Hague. Fifteen years later, I can't imagine a more farfetched possibility.
We don't talk about the war and what it has stolen from us, because the politicians and news organizations still live in dread of a reckoning that seems, in the orange light of the now, so terribly and enduringly out of reach. I used to imagine George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and the rest of them standing before the bar in The Hague. Fifteen years later, I can't imagine a more farfetched possibility. Neptune is closer.
The war in Iraq was and remains a debasing, despicable act the United States may never recover from. It is a moral catastrophe in every respect, one that still wounds us deeply to this day. No aspect of our shame is more vivid than the stain of torture. Some have tried to scrub that stain out of us -- President Obama famously whitewashed the horror of it all by admitting "We tortured some folks," before calling the critics "sanctimonious" and the torturers "patriots" -- but it's still there, like Lady MacBeth's damned spot.
Now, as we approach the 15th anniversary of Bush's Iraq invasion, two notorious torturers are poised to assume positions of enormous power within the federal government. CIA Director Mike Pompeo has been tapped to replace ignominious failure Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, and agency veteran Gina Haspel is set to replace Pompeo as head of the CIA.
Pompeo was quick to denounce the practice during his CIA confirmation hearings, but his political path to power is littered with the broken bodies of torture victims. He did not lay hands on them himself, but was an ardent supporter of the "black sites" where torture took place, and he has championed an Islamophobia so profound that he once blamed all Muslim leaders everywhere for the Boston Marathon bombing. Pompeo's ardent support for torture is what first caught Donald Trump's attention, as the president is also an ardent believer in "enhanced interrogation."
Gina Haspel is another matter entirely. She was not just another pro-war shouter back in DC. Haspel was in it up to her throat. For a time, she ran one of the "black sites," this one located in Thailand, and was so proud of her work that she destroyed the tapes of her interrogations. For this, she was neither fired nor prosecuted, and pending confirmation will be in charge of one of the largest intelligence organizations in the world.The lengths those talking heads went to try and butter over Pompeo and Haspel's bloody history was positively aerobic.
These are some of the many issues only a thorough investigation can answer, but with torture advocates and practitioners about to control the White House, the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, such an investigation is almost certainly never going to happen. "Gina Haspel does not belong as head of the CIA," journalist Jeremy Scahill told Democracy Now! "She belongs in front of a judge, answering to what she was doing, running a torture operation at a black site in Thailand and destroying evidence."
When the TV news people were covering Tillerson's sudden departure and Pompeo's subsequent elevation, the subject of torture actually elbowed its way into the discussion. Suddenly, we were talking about one of the things we never talk about … and it was as vile as every other seedy, shabby element of this ongoing disgrace.
The lengths those talking heads went to try and butter over Pompeo and Haspel's bloody history was positively aerobic. There hasn't been that much televised stammering since the Porky Pig marathon on the Cartoon Network. The sum and substance of their collective conclusion was, "Well, Steve, it … seems to me … that if we … took away … everyone in CIA who … participated … in … torture … well … there wouldn't … be anyone left … to run the place."
Now there's a thought.
To get through the climate change emergency, we need the state itself to become just and scientific because justice is a climate-change technology of great power, says award-winning science- and climate-fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson. But it would require replacing capitalism with an ecologically-based socialist democracy.
Kim Stanley Robinson is an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author. A science- and climate-fiction novelist, Robinson has written more than 20 books, including the bestselling Mars trilogy and the critically acclaimed Forty Signs of Rain, The Years of Rice and Salt and 2312. In 2008, he was named a "Hero of the Environment" by Time magazine, and he works with the Sierra Nevada Research Institute.
In this interview, Truthout talks with Robinson about his books Green Earth and New York 2140. Set in the present or near future, Green Earth portrays struggles over climate science in the US capital, whereas New York 2140 depicts life in a 22nd century metropolis that has been inundated by the melted polar regions.
Javier Sethness: Stan, thank you kindly for being open to participating in this interview. First, Ursula K. Le Guin passed away recently. Her influence on your own creative writing is marked. Do you have any reflections on Le Guin's life and work that you wish to share?
Kim Stanley Robinson: I wrote a memorial statement after her death for Scientific American. What I can add to that now as I continue to feel the loss of her living presence, is that in listening to the science fiction community talk about her, I'm struck by how beloved she was, both her and her work, and I'm thinking now that this was a very unusual quality in her work and her person. Also, less crucially, her work always had a quick sureness about it; she didn't waste words or pile on details. She cut a clean line, as surfers would say. That's the mark of a good style: distinctive and clear. Her prose has a poetry to it.
One major theme in Green Earth and New York 2140 is democracy versus capitalism. New York 2140 begins with a statement of Proudhonian or Marxian value analysis: The coders Mutt and Jeff (as workers) create the surplus-value (profit) that drives the capitalist monster which persists even in the year 2140, after it has melted Greenland and parts of Antarctica, raising sea levels by 50 feet and devastating coastal and low-lying regions. You clarify that it is capitalism ... responsible for such ecological catastrophe, in parallel to the grossly unequal wealth and power distribution it engenders.... Capital's class divisions are symbolized in New York 2140 in the struggle between flooded lower Manhattan and the intertidal region versus uptown, where the superscrapers of the rich stand on higher ground. Ultimately, you envision mass popular resistance building up from a rent strike toward a global general strike to overturn this oppressive system. Is this how we should wield revolutionary democracy and organize?
A fiscal strike is one possible way to exert people power. Finance is systemically over-leveraged -- and therefore in a precarious position -- if something like the 2008 crash were to occur again. Such a crash will happen anytime there is a crisis of confidence in the markets and in the value of money, and the various money-surrogates. People could all together and at once refuse regularly scheduled payments, or less radically, they could together remove their money from banks and put them in credit unions. Done as a mass-action, this would crash the system. After that, there would have to be a plan to rescue the banks by nationalizing them, as we did to [General Motors] in 2009. This is just one tactic and just one step on the road to post-capitalism, but it does point out the power people have as the ultimate source of value, including financial value. Finance is parasitical on ordinary people, so some modes of detoxification are available. The parasites can't live on their own.
Your exploration of the exercise of autonomy and egalitarian cooperation at the MetLife Tower, transformed into a cooperative living residence, and via the Lower Manhattan Mutual Aid Society in New York 2140 recalls the anarcho-communist Peter Kropotkin's analysis in Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902). Indeed, your Mr. Hexter advises his youthful counterparts that "[h]elping animals or helping people" would be just ways of being in the world. May I ask to what degree libertarian socialism inspires you?
I have never read a definition of the word "libertarian" that makes any sense to me, nor sounds attractive as a principle, so I avoid that word as much as I can. Maybe "democratic socialism" is the better term for me -- the idea being that people in democracies would elect representatives that would then pass laws based on socialist principles. That is a story I'm often interested in telling, as something that could and should happen in our near future. It's my form of utopian science fiction. The social democracies of north Europe and the name "social democrat" also resonate for me, although these political parties, when in power in Europe, have had to make alliances and compromises with capitalism that make them far from satisfactory. But from the viewpoint of the United States, they look like at least a step along the path to more justice. There would be more steps later. I usually favor stepwise reform, but I have to admit we need the steps to come really fast, one after the next, now that climate change is about to overwhelm us.
In both Green Earth and New York 2140, you raise many imaginative possibilities in terms of collective responses to climate catastrophe that we might want to consider: redirecting excess sea-level rise into East Antarctica and inland deserts; introducing Arctic polar bears to Antarctica to avoid extinction; designing floating cities; rebuilding beaches and shorelines; and infusing the Arctic Ocean with vast quantities of salt transported in container fleets in order to restart the thermohaline circulation, or Gulf Stream, threatened by global warming. The emphasis on cooperatives and the commons in New York 2140, in parallel to Green Earth's examination of simple living, "freeganism," and the transition to wind, water and solar energy gives us a lot to think about.
Some of these ideas have been explored by research institutes since I wrote about them in my novels. I don't think the researchers involved read my novels; I think they are ideas that emerge naturally given the problems we are facing. So, pumping seawater up onto the Antarctic ice cap could be done, but would require something like 7 percent of all the energy humanity creates. Even so, it might be considered a good idea compared to losing all sea level infrastructure and beaches and ecologies. Assisted migration is being planned and even tried experimentally, and this will continue, but polar bears to Antarctica was my idea of a joke. It has been taken up and studied, however. Salting the Gulf Stream would probably not work, and yet it might be tried if the Gulf Stream stalled, just to see.
Still, you have caught the drift of my fiction -- I'm interested in describing actions like these. Some are geoengineering, some are political economy and involve return of the commons, socialism, clean energy, etc.
Over the course of Green Earth, we see "gradualist-progressive" elements within the State evermore placing science center-stage in the struggle to curb capitalism's contributions to climate change. We encounter Charlie Quibler, the young aide to Sen. Phil Chase, drafting a bill to legislate the implementation of recommendations made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), only to have the law inevitably watered down by legislators, including Chase himself. Then, Washington, DC, is struck by a massive storm, and it is on the flooded Mall that Quibler confronts Chase, imploring him to finally do something about climate change. Subsequently, Chase announces his Democratic presidential candidacy at the North Pole -- or what's left of it -- and upon being elected as the "first scientific presidential candidate," he launches an emergency climate mobilization in the "first 60 days" of his administration. In New York 2140, similarly, there is a revolutionary, popular upsurge which follows a massive hurricane that sweeps through the city; yet here, too, the revolt "lives on" through the State. In light of these social-democratic models you present for evidence-based policy-making and your view that scientific inquiry is linked to justice and fairness, what do you make of the status of science now one year into the Trump regime?
It's been a year of continuous assault on science and justice by the Trump administration, and it's been shocking to see how many people there are willing to implement such a ... wicked vision.... But all of these poor people will immediately run to a scientist the moment they feel sick -- that's their doctors. They believe in science when they're scared for their lives. What this reveals is their hypocrisy ... and greed, but also, the strength of the system they're attacking, which enfolds them completely. We live in a world that is a scientific achievement, and we can't live without the scientific achievements, and even though some of the scientific achievements have definitely led us to our current crisis -- public health and agriculture leading to quick population rise, and carbon-burning energy leading to climate change -- still, it's science in action that will be involved in all the solutions, along with politics aiming our scientific work.
I think the science is robust and will survive this attack from Trump, his supporters, the Republican Party in the US and capitalism worldwide. There will be damage, and the political battles will never end, but over the long arc of history.... You know the rest.
In New York 2140, you cite John Dos Passos recalling a meeting with Emma Goldman at which "everybody [gathered] was for peace and the cooperative commonwealth and the Russian Revolution." It is clear that your work features several anarchistic characters and themes, yet you also often invoke Lincoln's vision of government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" as an ideal. So, 100-plus years since the Russian Revolution, do you consider the state necessary for the transition to an egalitarian, ecological post-capitalist world?
Yes, I do. This is not an easy thing to say, given how much that is bad has accrued around what we call "the state" in world history. But the term is probably too broad and philosophical. If you want to use it, and speak at that level of broad generality, I'll join briefly and say, we need the state itself to become just and scientific, and the expression of everyone alive agreeing how to live together. That agreement formalized as laws becomes the state.... Best to focus on creating a good state based on just laws. For getting through the climate change emergency, I think it's the only way that will work.
In closing, do you have any thoughts for the ongoing struggle of promoting "compassion for all sentient beings" (Green Earth) within the context of the sixth mass extinction?
Time is running short in terms of dodging a really bad sixth mass extinction that would result if we create a much, much warmer world by our burning of carbon into the atmosphere. If we can quickly reduce our carbon burn, which is really what powers our culture now, that would be a huge change and would allow all sorts of other good potentialities to come to pass. We have to keep emphasizing the need to decarbonize fast. Fortunately, the technologies to do this include women's rights (this stabilizes population) and economic equality (this reduces impacts of poverty and over-consumption). Justice is a climate-change technology of great power, so there is no need to set up false dichotomies as to which good cause we support. The good causes reinforce each other and we need them all at once. This is why capitalism has to give way to an ecologically-based post-capitalism, which, in some features, will be aspects of socialism chosen democratically. We have to figure out a way to pay ourselves to do the work of survival.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.You don't need an ad blocker to view Truthout, because we don't run advertisements. In fact, we refuse all corporate-interest funding. Help Truthout stay independent: Make a donation now!
Anti-torture activists protest the Republican National Convention outside the Minnesota State Capitol August 31, 2008, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Gina Haspell, the Trump nominee to head the CIA, has been directly involved in torture. (Photo: Max Whittaker / Getty Images)
Employees are highly unlikely to speak out against torture if their boss has been responsible for such an atrocity, says Gerald Staberock, secretary general of the Geneva-based World Organisation against Torture. That's just one reason why the appointment of known torturer Gina Haspel to head the CIA has horrified human rights workers worldwide.
Anti-torture activists protest the Republican National Convention outside the Minnesota State Capitol August 31, 2008, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Gina Haspell, the Trump nominee to head the CIA, has been directly involved in torture. (Photo: Max Whittaker / Getty Images)Exposing the wrongdoing of those in power has never been more important. Support Truthout's independent, investigative journalism by making a donation!
Trump's decision to nominate Gina Haspel -- a US intelligence officer whose direct involvement in torture has been copiously documented in the Senate torture report and beyond -- to head the CIA has provoked expressions of horror and outrage among human rights workers worldwide.
Truthout asked Gerald Staberock, the secretary general of the Geneva-based World Organisation against Torture (most commonly known by its French acronym OMCT), one of the world's foremost organizations tracking torture and opposing its use, to share his analysis of this week's announcement.
You said in an official OMCT statement: "The appointment of a person against whom there is serious evidence having responsibility over serious international crimes, including torture and enforced disappearance, is truly shocking." Nobody from the United States has been disturbed in the least way for being involved in -- much less carrying out -- torture. In view of that, isn't Gina Haspel better described as "the rule" than a shocking exception?
Gerald Staberock: Indeed, the normalcy with which this appointment is received is deeply disturbing. For many of us outside, the American dream was not only about making it to be rich, but about values. An American dream without values is not possible, it would be reduced to greed.
But of course, we also have seen another America. I think about the many generals that spoke out about torture. I firmly believe that intelligence is vital to counter the threats in the world, but intelligent intelligence, not torturing intelligence.Nobody is likely to speak out against torture if her/his very boss has been responsible for such a crime.
I am convinced that many -- even within the US intelligence community -- reject torture and consider it antithetical to their profession, which involves helping to understand threats, defining strategies to counter them. They know and understand that torture only makes terrorism great, feeds into its causes. And many also know how lucky they are not to have ended up before courts during the Bush period. I doubt that there is much appetite to get close to this red line once again.
But the problem, apart from the torturer being a criminal -- and it is rarely positive for any institution to be led by a criminal -- is that nobody is likely to speak out against torture if her/his very boss has been responsible for such a crime.
The appointment of such a person in that sense is poison to the integrity of an institution or profession -- it is far more than just "a bad choice."
President Obama and his two attorneys general steadfastly refused to prosecute anybody for torture. Under international law, does this not make them complicit -- equally guilty -- for, in effect, endorsing torture? And does this not also extend to Donald Trump and Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions? Can you imagine arrest warrants being issued for these people?
I am not asking Mr. Obama or even Mr. Trump to decide on the prosecution. It is none of their business. It is not a political choice. It is about, "the law is the law." I expect prosecutors to say, "This is torture -- this is a crime. I investigate to bring to justice." Criminal law is not dependent on who is the perpetrator -- and this is why we must have an independent judiciary. But why did this not happen in the US? Does it not tell us something about the ethics in certain areas of the legal profession, or about a lack of courage and independence?
Wolfgang Kaleck, the general secretary of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights based in Berlin, in an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, spoke of intending to push for an arrest warrant for Gina Haspel so that, if she came to Germany, she could be arrested. Could you comment on this as well as on the possibility of such a thing happening to others, for example from the Bush administration, even at this late date?
I think this is an important element: many from the Bush period have to be careful in their travel.
In fact, I believe some do already constrain themselves, but they won't say so. Even George [W.] Bush had to cancel a visit to Geneva back in 2010.
What happened is beyond denial, and there is even more information coming out as we speak. The point is: the US would be the primary state to prosecute, but it is unwilling or incapable.
So, while the appetite for prosecution may be limited in many prosecution services in Europe [where] the US is concerned, the policies and abuses are on the record. They can be difficult for an independent prosecutor to ignore. In fact, the more time passes, the more likely I see such prosecutions happening.
Regarding the US being the primary state to prosecute, can you explain the situation in reference to the International Convention against Torture, which the United States has ratified, and the status of torture in international law as a crime against humanity?
The very essence -- or an important element -- of the Convention is that the crime of torture is a universal crime according to the Convention. Any state may establish jurisdiction over a torturer, even if the torture did not happen on its territory. Torture is also a war crime if it is part of a war and can be a crime against humanity. So, if the evidence is strong, it may be difficult to look the other way. So, any of [Haspel's] travel will be a risk -- or a major embarrassment for a European country.
What can you tell us about the last appearance by the United States before the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) to report on its efforts to comply with the provisions of the International Convention against Torture, which it has ratified?
The United Nations Committee Against Torture is the primary universal expert body dealing with more than 150 countries and their laws and policies against torture in light of the Convention. The Committee was for long led by Claudio Grossman, dean of the American University's law school, and has today an American vice chair, Felice Gaer. It is globally a tremendously important body. The US had -- like any other country -- to report back under the Bush period when its legal advisers were trying to pervert the interpretations of the Convention to say that kidnapping, keeping detained persons without telling anybody, is not a disappearance, and that torture is not torture. Luckily, we saw an attitude shift during the Obama administration when the US was called again to report. But one thing despite some improvements is very clear: you cannot claim that you fully comply with the legal and moral obligation that torture can never be justified if you at the same [time] do everything to ensure impunity. This was the central message of the CAT's recommendations after the meeting with the United States delegation. And it remains as valid today as back then.
But what about those who have gone on to prestigious careers in academia and business? Why are there no threats of arrest warrants against them?
Under the law it is clear that all those who tortured, aided and abetted, including those responsible for setting up the policy, are liable under the law. And this is not about politics, it is about the law. So, this whole story does not start nor end with Gina Haspel. Getting international arrest warrants is a very difficult business, especially when you deal with a powerful government. There is overwhelming evidence of what the policies were, whom they targeted, etc., but it is of course, more difficult to establish individual criminal responsibility of an intelligence community that by definition opposes transparency like nothing else.US torture has a massive impact on torture policies across the world.
And indeed, I think we have to show that torturers cannot simply go on with their lives, take reputable jobs as if nothing happened. If you have blood on your hands you should not be allowed to pursue an academic career.
But there is one point I feel strongly about -- also in relation to the Obama administration. One of the first things I should have expected was that all those who said no, who rejected torture within the system, be rehabilitated, honored. I am speaking of the Alberto Moras of this world and many more. This would also have sent a strong message to the system. Unfortunately, this opportunity -- even more important than punishing people and much easier to do -- was missed.
Peter van Buren, a former United States Foreign Service officer, writing at the end of 2012, stated emphatically: "Torture is, however, invariably about shame and vengeance, humiliation, power, and control." In concluding the article, he says that "we are torturers and unless we awaken to confront the nightmare of what we are continuing to become, it will eventually transform and so consume us." Could you comment -- and elaborate -- on both statements from your perspective as head of the OMCT?
I think those are important points, torture is always about a dangerous 'me and the other' -- whatever the other is -- terror suspects, dissident, a different class, caste -- whatever. And it is about destroying a person. This is why torture is much more than a simple physical assault. Torture survivors will deal all their life with the consequences because somebody tried to destroy their personality.
And we do often ignore the long-term consequences for our security, for an institutional culture and ethics. As absolute power corrupts, so does torture. It corrupts our institutions and the rule of law. It changes who we are.
What about the United States' use of psychologists to make the torture "more effective"?
This is one of the most troublesome elements for me in this whole chapter. People with training to help, to cure, put their energy, their imagination and creativity into making people suffer! It could not be more anti-ethical. But it is not completely new -- think about the doctors of the Argentinian junta who assisted the torture program. We have also heard similar accounts about doctors (mainly guest workers from Asia) who have such roles in some Arab countries.
Finally, what is the OMCT's overall take on this subject?
The OMCT believes that torture is never acceptable, and we fight for justice wherever it happens. There is no right for the US to be different. There is no "America first" in terms of being excepted from the call for justice. To the contrary, US torture has a massive impact on torture policies across the world. You cannot imagine in how many senior government meetings I hear that the US, too, is torturing and not bringing anybody to justice. The Bush administration delivered a blow to some of the most fundamental values and norms. It is a long-term battle to repair it, one that cannot be done with Americans doing this for America.
Content Warning: This video contains graphic footage of the Vietnam War.
As a group of Vietnam War veterans and peace activists travel back to Vietnam to mark the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre, Amy Goodman and Juan González speak with three members of the delegation: Vietnam veteran Paul Cox, who later co-founded the Veterans for Peace chapter in San Francisco; Susan Schnall, former Navy nurse who was court-martialed for opposing the Vietnam War; and longtime activist Ron Carver, who has organized an exhibit honoring the GI antiwar movement at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City.
Please check back later for full transcript.
Fifty Years After My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, Revisiting the Slaughter the US Military Tried to Hide
Content Warning: This video contains graphic photos of the My Lai massacre.
Fifty years ago, on March 16, 1968, US soldiers attacked the Vietnamese village of My Lai. Even though the soldiers met no resistance, they slaughtered more than 500 Vietnamese women, children and old men over the next four hours, in what became known as the My Lai massacre. After the massacre, the US military attempted to cover up what happened. But in 1969 a young reporter named Seymour Hersh would reveal a 26-year-old soldier named William Calley was being investigated for killing 109 Vietnamese civilians. Today, memorials have been held in My Lai to mark the 50th anniversary of this horrific attack.
Please check back later for full transcript.
Donald and Melania Trump arrive to greet Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar outside the White House March 15, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images)With everything going on in the White House, the media must maintain relentless pressure on the Trump administration. Can you support Truthout in this endeavor? Click here to donate.
In the latest sign that special counsel Robert Mueller's probe is moving closer to President Donald Trump, the New York Times reported on Thursday that Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization to turn over documents, some of which are related to Russia.
Citing anonymous officials, the Times notes that the subpoena was delivered "in recent weeks," adding that "Mueller ordered the Trump Organization to hand over all documents related to Russia and other topics he is investigating."
"It is the first known instance of the special counsel demanding documents directly related to President Trump's businesses," the Times reports. "The subpoena is the latest indication that the investigation, which Mr. Trump's lawyers once regularly assured him would be completed by now, will drag on for at least several more months."
Mueller search terms include “Russia,” and he appears to be looking for things related to Trump Tower Moscow https://t.co/dPm4fN9ysw— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) March 15, 2018
In an interview with the Times last year, Trump bristled at the notion that the Mueller probe could ultimately reach into his sprawling business empire.
"I think that's a violation," Trump said when Times reporter Michael Schmidt suggested that Mueller may be interested in his finances.
Asked if he would consider firing Mueller if he did begin to investigate his organization, Trump said: "I can't answer that question because I don’t think it's going to happen."
As Common Dreams reported last year, polls have shown that the vast majority Americans disagree with the president and believe Mueller should have the ability to investigate the Trump family's financial dealings.
According to one CNN poll, 70 percent of Americans think "Mueller should be able to investigate whether Donald Trump had any financial dealings with Russia."
(Photo: Derneuemann; Edited: LW / TO)Truthout is funded by readers, not by corporations, lobbyists or government interests. Help us publish more stories like this one: Click here to make a tax-deductible donation!
The new Food & Water Watch report "Take Back the Tap: The Big Business Hustle of Bottled Water" details the deceit and trickery of the bottled water industry. Here's one more angle to consider: The bottled water business is closely tied to fracking.
The report reveals that the majority of bottled water is municipal tap water, a common resource captured in plastic bottles and re-sold at an astonishing markup -- as much as 2,000 times the price of tap, and even four times the price of gasoline. Besides being a rip-off, there is plenty more to loathe about the corporate water scam: The environmental impacts from pumping groundwater (especially in drought-prone areas), the plastic junk fouling up our waterways and oceans, and the air pollution created as petrochemical plants manufacture the materials necessary for making those plastic bottles filled with overpriced tap water.
There is a growing international awareness that plastic is a serious problem. In 2016, about 4 billion pounds of plastic were used in the bottled water business, and most of those bottles are not recycled -- meaning they often end up in landfills or as litter. There's also the matter of whether we should be putting our drinking water in those bottles in the first place: The most common packaging (polyethylene terephthalate, or PET) includes compounds like benzene, and the bottles can leach toxins like formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.
But perhaps the biggest problem is where we get all this plastic in the first place. Many of the raw materials used to create those plastic bottles come from fracking. In addition to air and water pollution, the fracking boom has delivered an abundant supply of the hydrocarbon ethane, which is used in petrochemical manufacturing to create ethylene, which is turned into plastic.
One of the global powerhouses in this industry is a company called Ineos, which needs to expand fracking in order to keep profiting from plastics. To do this, massive "dragon ships" carry ethane from the United States to its facilities in Europe. The company wants even more of this raw material, which is one of the big reasons that Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners is building the Mariner East 2, a dangerous pipeline that will travel across hundreds of miles of the state of Pennsylvania. Getting more ethane means Ineos can turn more of those hydrocarbons into plastic, with the accompanying industrial pollution and carbon emissions we have come to expect from a company that has amassed a horrendous environmental record.
The corporate water business is a costly scam that affects our air, water, and climate. It robs communities of a resource that is a public good and must be treated as one, and it relies heavily on dirty fossil fuels to produce and transport a product that it sells at an extravagant markup. It rakes in billions of dollars while our public tap water infrastructure -- that these companies benefit from -- remains in desperate need of federal funding to provide all Americans with access to clean, affordable drinking water.
When we turn the full power of our attention on practicing our values within our work, we can generate abundant justice and liberation. But first we must commit to liberating ourselves from reactionary tendencies and operating against a backdrop of low-grade terror, which prompts so many of our decisions.
Prioritizing "principled struggle" over being bombarded with trending news can save our attention for the causes that matter. (Photo: Hero Images / Getty Images)
This story is the fifth in Truthout's "Visions of 2018" series, in which activist leaders answer the question: "What would you like to see created, built, imagined or begun this year?" Each piece will focus on a bold idea for transformation, to give us fuel as the year moves forward
What we pay attention to grows. Attention is the way humans bring water and sunlight to our seeds of ideas, concerns, relationships, and to our transformation. Capitalism understands this; corporations are constantly trying to gain our attention for the purpose of selling us things so they can grow their own profits. Disaster capitalism wants to keep our attention on that which terrifies and overwhelms us, which makes us more susceptible to investing in false solutions -- solutions that won't actually ever address our needs as a community, as a species.
Within our social justice work, we understand the power of mass attention. We are, every day, trying to bring the attention of our families, friends, communities and nation to the injustices and oppressions of our existence, and to the solutions and changes we believe will set us free. We feel urgency around gaining this attention, because everything we are working on has direct impact on our lives and the lives of those we love, on the well-being of the only planet on which we know we can survive. We feel heartbreak when we see people choose to keep their attention on trending topics and fleeting profits instead of doing the self/societal examination and change work needed to guarantee our survival as a species, our collective quality of life.
But we do the same thing within our movements: We let our attention be caught by clickbait headlines, midnight tweets and petty dramas. (I am all for conflict -- if it advances our survival. Otherwise, set some boundaries and move on.) Since the 2016 election, it has become even harder to discern between news, propaganda, diversion, scandal and total waste of time. We expend precious energy processing illusionary issues, with low-grade terror as a backdrop for our decisions.I believe that we would get so much further if we respected the power of our attention, if we liberated it from reactionary and groupthink tendencies.
If we put our attention on the ways we are overwhelmed by the odds we are up against, the truth of those odds may become an insurmountable obstacle. But our odds have always been impossible, and we are not yet extinct. I believe that we would get so much further if we respected the power of our attention, if we liberated it from reactionary and groupthink tendencies and put it on practicing our values inside of our work. Here are some of the things I have seen become possible when groups decided to put their attention into their own values and drop under surface-level reactions.Principled Struggle
I have heard these two words juxtaposed for years, and thought they were self-explanatory. But then I heard people start to fling them at each other and question them; words fall apart when we realize that they are always open for interpretation, always shaped by entire lives. So, what does principled struggle mean?
Last year I had the honor of co-facilitating a Movement for Black Lives meeting with N'Tanya Lee of Left Roots, and she broke this term down in a way that felt like a light bulb coming on in a dark room. She said that in struggle that is principled, we struggle for the sake of building deeper unity, that we are honest and direct while holding compassion, that we each take responsibility for our own feelings and actions, and seek deeper understanding by asking questions and reading a text (such as an article or proposal) before we launch our counter argument. She also spoke to the reality that we must always consider that this meeting may or may not be the container to hold what we need to bring. A coalition meeting may not feel like a political home, a strategy table may not be the space to work through interpersonal dynamics. It might! But it's worth asking ourselves, what is the right space and who are the right people for this concern?
This way of understanding principled struggle works as an attention-focusing device. We live in a nation that is both pro-war and conflict avoidant. It's hard to learn how to be in righteous disagreement without either repressing our differences or trying to destroy each other. But principled struggle offers us another way, a way to struggle in which we are not being conflict avoidant, or conflict aggressive, but rather engaging in generative conflict, conflict that grows each of us and that creates more possibilities for what we can do in the world together. When we put our attention on conflict and difference in this way, it allows us to grow our capacity to be in integrity and unity with each other.Critical Construction
Attention liberation is not just about where our attention goes, but about the quality of attention we bring to the work we do and to the relationships that make our work possible. I have been in meeting after meeting where we have tasked people (or they have volunteered) to go and put some thought into how we could do the work, and come back with a proposal, which we then rip apart. Often with blood (or whatever fluid runs in the veins of PDFs) still on our lips we say, "who wants to make another proposal?" This creates a dynamic of defensive creativity -- that even as we are trying to come up with new liberation strategies, we are checking ourselves against what we think our community will accept.We live in a nation that is both pro-war and conflict avoidant. Principled struggle offers us another way.
Critique is an important and irreplaceable part of a community-building process, and a way that we hold each other accountable across different ideologies and strategies. Critique is a way we ensure collectivity in the process of generating our future -- to say "not that, this"; to increase rigor in our values; to increase the quality of our creative work. But for the sake of our creativity and innovation, we need to learn to wield critique as a tool in constructing a new society, rather than just using it as a hammer to tear things down.
Using critique as a constructive extension of our attention looks like beginning feedback sessions by noticing what is working in a proposal, and approaching things that aren't working with curiosity and respect for the person/people who did the initial thinking/planning, and then working together to generate solutions to strengthen the proposal.Abundant Justice
I was recently facilitating an exciting gathering aimed at forming a new coalition. There was a ton of good intention and both old and brand-new relationships in the space. On the first day, almost every time we opened up the floor for conversation, people would fall into a sort of routine practice of not actually engaging with each other, but rather adding their issues to the conversation with brief arguments for why they needed more attention. I think of this as "laundry listing."
Laundry listing is rooted in a visceral experience of attention scarcity -- we need such focus on each of these fault lines of injustice and oppression, and we all know that at any moment a new devastation will eclipse our ongoing work and it will need our attention. It's like oppression Olympics on high alert: crisis Olympics. We do strange things as we compete with each other to bring attention to our work. We stop listening in a spirit of collaboration and start listening defensively, competitively, listening for where we are left out, or not at the top of the list; listening for where we must insert ourselves. As a result, we end up struggling to have conversations that can actually get us to the most strategic focus and action at any given moment.We must pivot away from competing for scarce attention, scarce liberation and scarce justice. Instead, we must work together to generate an abundance of each of these, to believe that we will evolve beyond the scarcity culture of capitalism.
I woke up on day two of the gathering with this thought: We are trying to build a majority among many peoples. We have legacies of solidarity between us, but we also have legacies of betrayal, of war, of being pitted against each other for survival and equality. We have legacies of strategic divergence -- some trying to escape and others to assimilate and others to transform conditions. We have divergent long-term visions in this room. And yet we believe we can be a majority, must be a majority, to get through this moment and to shape a future that works for all of us. So, our orientation here should not reduce any of our issues, under-nourish our work, shrink the realities or the complexity, or run from the things which could keep us apart. We want to find more than a list of woes. We seek points of alignment, and we want to name the places where collective work needs to happen for authentic alignment.
I shared some version of those thoughts on the second morning of the gathering. We spent the day seeking and finding alignment in the areas of work that could move forward, as well as coming up with plans for where to address the areas of divergence and competition. I left feeling hopeful and wanting to share more broadly the fact that this sort of attention liberation is possible. We must pivot away from competing for scarce attention, scarce liberation and scarce justice. Instead, we must work together to generate an abundance of each of these, to believe that we will evolve beyond the scarcity culture of capitalism.Core Practice for 2018: Be Where You Are
The final piece of attention liberation that I want to focus on for 2018 is an invitation. I have been to so many meetings in the last year, across various communities and issue areas, where most of the participants did not really come. I mean, there were bodies in the room, but people's attention was so in and out, working on other projects throughout the meeting, taking phone calls, arriving late, leaving early. In this urgent moment we are spreading ourselves too thin and it is impacting our work.
How do we keep our attention on our liberation work, and actually show up for the things we express commitment to?
I suspect if we reclaim some of our attention from the 24-hour news cycle, and the president's Twitter stream, and movement drama that isn't generative, then we would have more attention to bring to the work we have chosen to do.
I am excited for that future, a future in which we are not perfect, but in which there is a sense that all of our concerns, all of our needs, all of our particular traumas will get the nourishing attention, care and love they deserve, will get the campaigns and policies and collective practices they deserve. We will all get what we need and deserve because we will have enough attention available to focus on changing, together. And in that abundance of needs getting met, of issues being addressed, of trauma being healed instead of just accumulated ... perhaps we can stop being a million small voices making demands of each other; perhaps we can become a solidarity, a wave of voices and bodies and hearts shaping a world that works for all of us.This Truthout original was only possible because of our readers' ongoing support. Can you make a monthly donation to ensure we can publish more like it? Click here to give.
Once again, the debate over an individual's right to bear arms has been framed as yet another partisan conflict. But the reality is more nuanced, with people on both sides of the aisle crossing party lines on the issue. In particular, many people of color say they have good reason to be protective of their right to bear arms.
Two members of the Black Panther Party are met on the steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento, May 2, 1967, by Police Lt. Ernest Holloway, who informs them they will be allowed to keep their weapons as long as they cause no trouble and do not disturb the peace. Earlier several members had invaded the Assembly chambers and had their guns taken away.
Siwatu-Salama Ra, 26, will likely spend the next two years in a Michigan prison. In early February, a Wayne County jury found the six-months pregnant Black mother of a toddler guilty of felonious assault and felony firearm possession. She was sentenced last week.
Outside her mother's Detroit home last summer, she pulled a gun on a neighbor, who Ra says used her vehicle to hit her car with Ra's 2-year-old daughter inside, and then tried to "run over" her and her mother. The firearm was not discharged, in fact, Ra alleged the gun was not even loaded. Her attorneys argued that her actions were in self-defense. An appeal is underway.
Ra is a Concealed Pistol License holder. Her case -- which centers on self-defense with a firearm in a Stand Your Ground state -- is happening during a national debate over gun laws and the Second Amendment, which states: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
The debate over an individual's right to bear arms was reignited since last month's mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, where 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz took 17 lives, has been framed as yet another partisan conflict that has divided the country. Those on the right support the Second Amendment, and those on the left are calling for either its repeal, or tighter gun control. But the reality is more nuanced: some on the right support gun law reform, and some on the left support the Second Amendment.
In particular, many people of color say they have good reason to be protective of their right to bear arms.
(NOTE: An ongoing court case against Yafeuh Balogun's brother, Christopher Daniels, could become the first prosecution of someone tracked as a so-called "Black Identity Extremist" in the US. See Truthout's coverage for more on that story.)
In Dallas, Texas, Yafeuh Balogun describes himself as being "on the left side of things" even though in 2008 he co-founded Guerrilla Mainframe, a political organization that supports the Second Amendment and the basic right to defend yourself. Guerrilla Mainframe is also a community organization that provides programs for food, clothing and shelter, health and wellness, and self-defense, which includes firearms safety and training. It is part of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, a coalition of several organizations with a common goal of educating and arming African American communities to "defend themselves against police brutality and fratricide."
"I think a lot of people, especially African Americans, are really starting to wake up to the idea of self-defense, especially when we have a megalomanic like Donald Trump in office."
Balogun seems to be correct. Gun sales, and gun club memberships among African Americans have gone up since the election of Trump, whose campaign was backed by the National Rifle Association. However, gun sales in the overall population have gone down since the election.
After the Parkland shooting, corporations such as Dick's Sporting Goods, Kroger, and Walmart raised the minimum age for firearm sales from 18 to 21. The Florida Legislature also raised the state age for gun purchases to 21. But reform advocates don't think that goes far enough. They're calling for a ban of assault rifles, such as the AR-15, which has been a weapon of choice for mass shooters. Some are even calling for a repeal of the Second Amendment.
Balogun doesn't think banning assault weapons will stop the violence -- mass shootings, or otherwise. "It is the culture, the political climate, [racism, capitalism, imperialism, sexism/genderism, and anti-immigrant policies] in America that creates the violence. America has always been a very violent place from its inception. So, banning assault weapons does not cure it."
And he may be right, according to historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.
Dunbar-Ortiz writes in her new book, Loaded: A Disarming of the Second Amendment, "While gun-rights proponents are hard-pressed to offer a legitimate reason for civilians to own assault weapons, they are used in a very small proportion of gun crimes. Most crimes involve ordinary handguns."
The type of gun, Dunbar-Ortiz asserts, is not the problem. The problem is that people want to interpret the Second Amendment as being about more than individual rights.
Total gun deaths in the United States average around 37,000 a year, she writes, "with two-thirds of those deaths being suicide, leaving 12,000 homicides, a thousand of those at the hands of police." Mass shootings, although horrible enough, account for only 2 percent of gun killings annually.
In an interview, Dunbar-Ortiz explained that the right to have a gun comes from the Bill of Rights. "And the Bill of Rights is about individual rights," which at the time it was written meant the rights of White men who needed guns to dominate slaves and Native Americans.
There's a misconception that the Second Amendment is about state's rights and arming a military. It's not, she says. The establishment of a standing army is in the Constitution. The establishment of formal militias, which became the modern-day National Guard, is in the body of the Constitution -- it's constitutional law, she adds. Collective rights are already in the Constitution.
"So the Bill of Rights is the right for each individual to practice whatever religion they want, freedom of speech, and so forth. And to arm themselves." There was a period in time, she said, when it was against the law for the new settlers not to carry a weapon.
"But it doesn't work for freedom movements," said Dunbar-Ortiz. "It was created for domination of people of color -- for slave patrols, and militias to kill Indians. So, it still has that element": Now it is used to criminalize people of color, she said.
Throughout history, gun control laws have been used against people of color as a tool to invite brutal state responses. Consider the Black Panthers who armed themselves, the Native Americans who fought in the Battle of Wounded Knee, Black Lives Matter protesters, the Standing Rock uprising.
We've witnessed it more recently for individuals like Philando Castile, who was killed by a fearful police officer in 2016 for legally having a firearm during a traffic stop.
In 2012, a Black Florida woman, Marissa Alexander, was sentenced to 20 years for firing a gun at her estranged husband who she said was attacking her. She had a permit for the gun. Since her release last year after serving five years, she has sided with Florida Republicans and become an advocate for gun ownership and stand-your-ground defenses.
In fact, many Black people are against tighter gun laws because those laws, even more so than drug laws, continue to be used disproportionately to put them into the criminal system.
According to the 2009 report Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the US Criminal Justice System, Black people are arrested for weapons crimes at a rate 4.4 times higher than White people. FBI data for 2016 shows weapons violations at the city, state, and federal level were used to arrest Black people 42 percent of the time, and White people 56 percent. Black people make up 13 percent of the population.
Chanel Tillman of the Black Gun Owners Association in Jacksonville, Florida, said she could only imagine the horrors for people of color if gun laws were reformed.
"If they can remove firearms like that from the masses, that basically…takes them away from us," Tillman said. "And honestly, I think that's the biggest part of it [for us]. You can guarantee that there will be some kind of loophole that will affect Black and Brown people more than anybody else."
Our motto is "Stay armed. Live free." If you take our guns from us, she said, we are no longer free. "Then they are free to do whatever they want to us, and we have no way to protect ourselves."
Tillman co-founded the Jacksonville chapter last September, and it now has 32 members.
She said she's aware the origin of the Second Amendment was to arm White people against people of color and also understands Dunbar-Ortiz's position that we're not really "free" if we have to carry guns to protect us.
But, she said, "why worry, if you know you have the ability to protect yourself? You don't have to worry about it. You just have to be proactive and ready when the time comes."
And this is the message the national Black Gun Owners Association shares with its membership of 10,000 legal gun owners. Its one-year anniversary is in April.
"Safety and protection of family, that's the biggest thing. And making sure we're aware of our rights." Firearm safety and tactical training are part of what members receive, too, she said, and someone to look out for them.
The association is not a political organization, she said, but exists for their community "to get an understanding of firearm safety and obtain proper training with people who look like them and share the same concerns as them for our people."
Gun ownership among Black people is about the same things as for White People, she says. "Protection of self, family and property. Gun ownership has always been taught as a pseudoscience for Blacks because of slavery and Jim Crow. We aren't here to hurt anyone, but protecting our own will come first."
"We just want people like us to know there are gun advocate groups that are here for them," she said. "The NRA comes out when things happen to White people, but when things happen to Black people you don't hear from the NRA," she said. "So, we're hoping to bridge that gap. Somebody to stand for us when there's a gun crime against one of us."
Meanwhile, Detroit attorney Desiree Ferguson, who is advising on the appeal for Siwatu-Salama Ra's Second Amendment defense, expects an uphill battle.
Appeals take a long time, and there's a good probability that Ra could have served the two years by the time there's a resolution. The hope, Ferguson said, lies with the governor's office and a possible pardon or commutation. She is also hoping to get Ra released on bond pending the appeal "so that she can be with her family when she gives birth. And not have to be immediately severed from her newborn baby."
What is certain is that gun control and Second Amendment debates do not clearly line up as left-right issues, and many people of color are faced with uneasy support for a civil right that began as a way to oppress them.
Author Dunbar-Ortiz says, if more people on the left understood the history of the Second Amendment and how it's been used against people of color, she doubts they would support it.
"They don't need the Second Amendment to justify self-defense. That's an international human right. That's a basic human right."With your support, we can publish more stories like this one. Click here to make a donation towards independent media now!
In scenes unprecedented in previous school shootings, the past few weeks have been marked by students taking to the streets, to the media, to corporations and elected officials in protest over gun practices and policies.
Responses to these teens have been mixed. Some have celebrated their passion. Some concluded that the students are immature and don’t yet fully grasp longstanding issues with the Second Amendment. Some questioned the voices and perspectives of the teens. Still others see the protests as an inappropriate use of time that might be better spent reaching out to loner students who may be prone to future acts of violence.
Some schools have even threatened to take disciplinary action against students for engaging in protests during school hours. This has prompted universities like my own to promise students that disciplinary actions that stem from peaceful protest will not be held against them when they seek college admission.What Schools Should Do
Immediately after the Parkland shootings, some scholars urged society to consider "the nature of education and schooling in American society." Indeed, we need an educational response to the shootings. This response should account for the purposes of our schools within American democracy and offer students opportunities to learn, even in the face of tragedy. As the author of a new book on how schools can get students to become more civically engaged, and a 2012 book on how schools can cultivate the skills necessary for political dissent, I contend that the student protesters that have emerged in the wake of the Parkland shooting offer insight into a worthwhile response.
While seldom acknowledged, students have a right to engage in political dissent and, more significantly, the entitlement to an education that nurtures their ability to do so. In the 1969 landmark Tinker case, the Supreme Court ruled that students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." But, the court held, it is reasonable to limit protest activities that interfere with the opportunity for others to learn. The right to dissent is not explicitly stated in the Constitution, but rather is a civil right that arises out of how we understand good citizenship and thriving democracy. Dissent allows for a proliferation of views on the good life. It sparks conversation and ignites change to better align practices and policies with the wishes and needs of the people. It keeps democracy vibrant.Dissent Is an American Tradition
Often, we think of student protest as a type of public self-expression that should not be hindered as long as it meets certain criteria, like not preventing other children from learning. In America, our democracy requires the consent of the governed. Our Declaration of Independence even says that when we are not in agreement or when our well-being is in jeopardy, we have a duty to speak up. It’s the American way and has been from the time the nation began.
It is only with the opportunity and capacity to dissent that we can determine if our laws and systems guiding us are good or just. Further, in order to invoke our right to dissent, citizens have to know how to dissent, which calls into play the role of schooling.
As a scholar in the philosophy of education, I would argue that our children, as burgeoning citizens, are entitled to such an education in our schools.
There, they should learn the skills of dissent, including consciousness-raising, coalition building, persuasion, public demonstration and pursuit of traditional government avenues for change. This type of instruction is happening in some schools, but not systematically enough across all schools, as courses in civics and social studies have been cut in order to focus on testing and such. Students receive even less of this kind of instruction in poorer schools.
And, our students must learn about the responsibilities of citizenship that correlate with their right to dissent. This includes learning how to evaluate the justice of laws, how to distinguish effective dissent from simple rabble-rousing, and how to protest in ways that do not unduly infringe on others.
Teaching children how to dissent in response to a violent situation that they feel threatens their well-being is aligned with the purposes of democratic schooling. Indeed, a flourishing democracy depends on such an informed and active citizenry who will speak out when they find laws to be unjust.
Sarah Stitzlein receives funding from The Spencer Foundation and American Association of University Women.
This week's episode discusses how globalization has worsened inequality, the YMCA workers' strike, UK universities and Oklahoma schools, how Quebec doctors reject pay increases, the US warning Africa about China, and the growing Japanese co-op movement. This episode also includes an interview Tim Faust on medical care and insurance in the US today.
Visit Professor Wolff's social movement project, democracyatwork.info.
Permission to reprint Professor Wolff's writing and videos is granted on an individual basis. Please contact email@example.com to request permission. We reserve the right to refuse or rescind permission at any time.
When you think of organic food, you probably imagine a bucolic farm with happy cows out in the pasture and crops growing lush and healthy in fields free of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and other agricultural chemicals.
There's a reason for that image: It was the original intent of the organic movement, which aimed to reclaim farming and preserve soil integrity. Unfortunately, the value of the organic label -- now regulated by the USDA -- has been undermined in recent years by the rise of what some refer to as "industrial organic."
Now, "organic" includes confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), hydroponics and crops grown in industrial settings that don't adhere to the spirit of the label. Backed by ferocious marketing, organic is big business, with consumers paying a premium for products labeled "organic." Following the money, numerous major agriculture firms have entered the organic business, and small farms are getting fed up.
It's not just the industrialization of organic food that's worrying some food producers. They're also concerned about changes they see at the Department of Agriculture, fearing that the protections they've fought for will erode. They argue that "USDA organic" is losing its meaning, and creating a maze of paperwork and finicky requirements that benefit big corporations, but present challenges for small farms.
And with big corporations entering the fray, organic certifications face some major changes. Companies are lobbying to increase yields and save money, not necessarily to protect natural resources or be kind to farm animals.
They'd like to get together as a group to develop farmer-driven recommendations for standards and practices that better reflect organic ideals. That includes better animal welfare protections, as well as the elimination of hydroponics and other steps to protect the integrity of the label.
Through a series of meetings, producers hope to develop guidelines and then explore next steps. Ideally, these would involve a reputable third party certification process, with the label designed as a supplement to -- not necessarily a replacement for -- the USDA organic label.
Some farmers think this initiative should go a step further. John Ikerd agrees that broad national standards are helpful, but he suggests bioregional certifications adjusted to fit the specifics of a region's ecology and farming community. Ikerd says such certifications could supplement national labels and work through systems of cooperatives and mutual accountability in the community; farmers and community members could collaborate together on labeling and enforcing values. This could foster a deeper connection to the earth, as well as helping farmers build relationships with their communities.
The Real Organic Project team hopes to announce some preliminary findings later in 2018, laying the groundwork for developing a pilot program that will help them explore practicalities. By keeping the advisory committee tightly focused on small farmers and some consultants like scientists, they aim to develop a plan that promotes sustainable agriculture while increasing consumer choice.
(Photo: Peshkov / Getty Images)
Pricing agreements between insurers and drug manufacturers have long saddled people living with chronic illnesses like diabetes with the cost of keeping premiums lower for everyone else. Faced with public outrage, the corporations involved are fighting back with PR campaigns that blame each other.
(Photo: Peshkov / Getty Images)
Faced with angry consumers and impending political reforms, the massive corporations that shape the way we pay for medicine are clamoring to preserve their public image, profit margins and political clout -- often by pointing the finger of blame at each other. The poster child for the debate is insulin, a hormone replacement drug that many people with diabetes need to stay alive. As Truthout has reported, the market price of popular insulin products has skyrocketed in recent years. Some people with diabetes go broke paying for their medicine. Others have died while attempting to ration dosages.
Despite public outrage over insulin prices, three of the largest insulin manufacturers have refused to seek a settlement in a class action lawsuit filed against them on behalf of diabetes patients. The drug makers Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi-Aventis asked a federal judge in New Jersey to dismiss the case and suggested that the plaintiffs turn their attention to insurance companies instead, according to briefs filed last Friday.
Court records show that plaintiff attorneys and advocates for people with diabetes have sparred over how to proceed with the case and whether to include insurance companies and their pharmacy benefit managers (who negotiate drug prices) as defendants in the lawsuit. Currently, only manufacturers are named as defendants.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has also put insurers on notice. In a speech before an insurance industry conference last Wednesday, Gottlieb said that current pharmaceutical pricing agreements between insurers and drug manufacturers have saddled people living with serious or long-term illnesses (such as diabetes) with the cost of keeping premiums lower for everyone else.
"But sick people aren't supposed to be subsidizing the healthy," Gottlieb said. "That's exactly the opposite of what most people thought they were buying when they bought into the notion of having insurance."
Gottlieb was referring to the system of "rebates" that currently controls the price of pharmaceuticals. Under this system, drug makers pay billions of dollars to insurance companies in order to sell drugs to people enrolled in health plans. It's a system that benefits people who can afford expensive insurance coverage, but for many working people, this system is a total failure. To understand why, we must consider how the different industry players use the money that flows in from drug manufacturers.Patient advocates say this system creates perverse incentives that push the price of drugs like insulin through the roof.
In his speech, Gottlieb applauded insurance giant UnitedHealth for announcing plans to pass savings secured by lavish rebates it receives from drug manufacturers directly to members when they buy drugs at the pharmacy, rather than using the money to pad its central coffers and lower premiums across the board.
These rebating agreements are at the center of the drug pricing system that a growing chorus of advocates and policy makers say must change.
High drug prices are usually blamed entirely on pharmaceutical companies because they make the drugs and set the prices. However, these manufacturers do not set prices in a vacuum: They say they shape prices around the costs of rebate payments they're required to make to insurance companies in exchange for selling prescription drugs to their members.
Yes, this means that insurance companies are making secret deals with drug manufactures, and that's why people with health coverage don't pay full price for drugs at the pharmacy. These "kickbacks," as advocates call them, raise an important question: Are insurance companies giving customers what they pay for?The Sick Subsidizing the Healthy
Here's how the system works: Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) work with insurers to decide which drugs will be covered by their health plans. This provides PBMs with considerable leverage over drug makers. In 2017, the three largest PBMs -- Express Scripts, OptimaRx and CVS/Caremark -- controlled access to about 72 percent of the drug market, according to the Drug Channels Institute. This explains why individual insurance plans cover certain types or brands of medicines and not others.
Using this leverage, PBMs make secret agreements with manufacturers like Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly to place their drugs on health plans in exchange for large discounts and rebate payments. The PBM keeps a percentage of the rebate, and the insurance company takes the rest.
This gives drug companies access to millions of customers in exchange for billions of dollars in discounts and rebates that can significantly lower costs for people with health coverage, depending on how insurance companies share the savings. The Drug Channels Institute estimates that drug companies spent $127 billion on rebates, discounts and price concessions in 2016 alone.
PhRMA, the industry group representing major drug makers, estimates that one third of the original price of all brand name drugs is rebated back to insurers and other members of the supply chain. Some drugs are more heavily rebated than others. Insulin, for example, secures rebates for insurers at rates of up to 75 percent of the original market price of the drug, or "list price," according to diabetes advocates.Insurers and PBMs tend to include higher-priced drugs that bring bigger rebates on the list of drugs they cover, rather than including cheaper generics and biosimilars.
Patient advocates say this system creates perverse incentives that push the price of drugs like insulin through the roof. Insurers can use hefty rebates from commonly used drugs to lower premiums and attract new customers, and the demand for steeper rebates pushes manufacturers to set their list prices higher and higher. As result, many pharmacy benefit plans operate like "reverse insurance," according to Drug Channel Institute CEO Adam Fein.
"The sickest people taking medicines for chronic illnesses generate the majority of manufacturer rebate payments," Fein wrote last week at Drug Channels, his oft-cited blog. "Today, these funds are used to subsidize the premiums for healthier plan members."
People who can afford robust insurance plans may not notice the price increases, but those buying medicine with cheaper plans do. Insurance companies often calculate coinsurance and deductibles with the original list price of a drug, not the after-rebate "net price" they actually pay. That means cheaper health plans with high out-of-pocket costs require patients to pay all or part of the inflated list price until deductibles are paid off. In the case of insulin, that list price could be hundreds of dollars higher than what the insurer pays after rebates.
High out-of-pocket costs are a leading reason why patients don't take their medication, which can lead to medical problems that increase the cost of health care for everyone, according to Steven Knievel, an access to medicines advocate at Public Citizen.
"The practice of raising the list price [to increase the size of rebates] benefits the drug companies and the PBMs. Both come out winners," Knievel said. "But the consumer is the loser."
Meanwhile, insurers and PBMs tend to include higher-priced drugs that bring bigger rebates on the list of drugs they cover, rather than including cheaper generics and biosimilars. (The FDA is currently promoting generics as competitive solutions to high drug prices, but that solution seems unlikely to take hold without serious changes to the pricing system.) Major PBMs are increasingly merging with insurance companies, a sign that their interests have long been aligned.
"Patients shouldn't be penalized by their biology if they need a drug that isn't on formulary," Gottlieb said, referring to a health plan's list of covered drugs. "Patients shouldn't face exorbitant out-of-pocket costs and pay money where the primary purpose is to help subsidize rebates paid to a long list of supply chain intermediaries, or is used to buy down the premium costs for everyone else."
It's a system of profit built on the backs of sick people. Faced with lawsuits from insulin users, proposed rebating reforms for Medicare and angry members of Congress, the major players in the drug supply chain have consistently blamed each other for it.
"The manufacturers point the finger at the PBMs and say, 'The rebates that you are demanding are so large that we have to raise our prices to maintain a reasonable rate of returns,'" said Patricia Danzon, a professor of health care management at the University of Pennsylvania, in an interview. "The PBMs say the drug companies are the ones that set the prices, and we are only trying to get the best prices for our customers."The Court of Public Opinion
The result is an opaque blend of public relations messaging and raw economics. For example, manufacturers claim to be unfairly singled out by a growing number of state-level drug-pricing transparency laws, and they are eagerly promoting research suggesting that insurers are not passing savings from drug rebates on to their customers.
If lawmakers agree, they may pass transparency legislation requiring insurers to report the rebates they receive, or at least disclose the actual net cost of prescriptions to their customers. Once this information is disclosed, it's only a matter of time before consumers demand insurers pass the rebate savings on to them directly.
"The manufacturers could in theory benefit from the pass-through of the rebates to patients through co-payments," Danzon said. "This could make rebates visible. In theory, if manufacturers in any industry know how much their competitors are rebating, this visibility makes it easier for them to keep their prices in line without illegally colluding with each other."
PBMs and insurers, however, argue that rebates must remain secret in order to maintain the negotiating advantage and competitive bidding that brings prices down. Plus, if two manufacturers of a specialty drug know each other's price, they can tacitly collude to raise it. Danzon said this is why the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has assumed in their analysis of legislative proposals that making rebates fully transparent could increase costs for programs like Medicare.
"The argument for transparency is very intuitive, people understand that, but the fact the CBO has consistently come out against full transparency -- that has economic argument behind it," Danzon said.
Meanwhile, Ben Wakana, executive director of Patients for Affordable Drugs, told Truthout that consumers would benefit from more transparency in the rebating system -- if not a different system altogether -- but rebates are not the only factors pushing up drug prices. In the United States, drug manufacturers enjoy patent exclusivity on new drugs for years, allowing them to charge monopoly prices. They also spend huge amounts of money on advertising and influencing politicians.
"Drug companies can claim they have to raise drug prices to pay PBM rebates, but ... they could take those terrible ads off the air and stop paying their CEOs a hundred million dollars," Wakana said. "It's a murky system and patients need to know where their money is going, but drug corporations have to lower their prices."
Wakana supports allowing the government to negotiate drug prices with the buying power generated by millions of Medicare members, a proposal supported by progressives in Congress. Perhaps if drug prices came down, then insurers would not be so reliant on rebates to control costs. Still, the question of whether consumers are getting what they pay for from insurance providers remains, and that's exactly how drug makers like it.
There are profiteers standing on all sides of the drug pricing equation. Consumers are stuck in the middle, shelling out monthly premiums along with rising out-of-pocket costs at the pharmacy. However, the more light we shine on this system, the more we see it beginning to crumble under its own weight -- and the weight of public opinion.This story wasn't funded by corporate advertising, but by readers like you. Can you help sustain our work with a tax-deductible donation?
The choice of Jacques Leider, an adviser to the Burma military's Armed Forces Historical Museum, to write about the Rohingya situation for the Oxford Research Encyclopedias has provoked strong opposition. Leider's questioning of Rohingya identity and denial that the violence is motivated by Islamophobia feeds into a far-reaching anti-Muslim framework.
Rohingya refugees at Cox's Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh on January 27, 2018. (Photo: Masfiqur Sohan / NurPhoto via Getty Images)This Truthout original was only possible because of our readers' ongoing support. Can you make a monthly donation to ensure we can publish more like it? Click here to give.
The genocidal killings and suppression of the Rohingya people in Myanmar has drawn the world's attention to what the Economist has called the "most persecuted people in the world." Because deep knowledge about the Rohingya is often sparse, it is crucial that reputable sources cover what is going on in Burma (also known as Myanmar) with accuracy and objectivity. Now a group of academics and human rights workers has issued a strong letter to the Oxford University Press, arguing that its choice of an author to write on the Rohingya is deeply flawed and could have wide-ranging consequences. The Press has commissioned Jacques Leider, whom the letter identifies as the head of the Bangkok-based École française d'Extrême-Orient and an adviser to the Burma military's Armed Forces Historical Museum, to write the reference article on the Rohingya for its Oxford Research Encyclopedias.
This is not the first time Leider's appointment as an expert on the Rohingya has been a matter of debate. In January 2015, the UN hired him as a senior consultant to the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Burma, Renata Lok-Dessallien. Rohingya leaders protested the nomination because at that time Leider had described claims by Human Rights Watch that the Rohingya were facing ethnic cleansing as "extreme." Later, in October 2017, The Guardian reported that Lok-Dessallien's office was accused of suppressing a UN report warning of an imminent crisis in Rakhine State and urging immediate action to forestall a human rights crisis amongst the Rohingya population. It predicted that state security forces would be "heavy-handed and indiscriminate" in dealing with the Rohingya. According to The Guardian, "Lok-Dessallien faces fresh charges that she undermined attempts to publicly promote the rights of the Rohingya, the stateless Muslim minority. Aid workers said the UN prioritized good relations with the Burma government over humanitarian and human rights advocacy."
In response to this criticism, the UN has said that "the focus on terminology is inhibiting progress in resolving broader issues in Rakhine." And this is precisely Leider's take on the situation. In a YouTube video, he argues that international sympathy has been extended to only one of the two groups in the conflict -- the Rohingya -- while the other group, the Rakhine Buddhists, are ignored. He claims the Rohingya narrative now occupies the "moral high ground," arguing that it has become "politically correct" to side with the Rohingya, and that this has created a dangerous situation for free speech. He argues for a set of quite different terms from the ones used by most international human rights organizations to describe the situation of the Rohingya. While he does not deny that the Rohingya are suffering, Leider says the Rakhine Buddhists are suffering as well, and equally so. He claims both groups are being "manipulated" by the government.
While it is true that in 2016 the government began cracking down on a Buddhist nationalist group, the Ma Ba Tha, many see this as a temporary political maneuver to deflect international protest. In actuality, Reuters notes: "The [Buddhist nationalist] 969 movement now enjoys support from senior government officials, establishment monks and even some members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), the political party of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi."
And whatever constraint the government is placing on the Buddhist nationalists, the magnitude and nature of its suppression of and attacks on the Rohingya have no counterpart with regard to the Rakhine Buddhists.
Leider's written work for the popular press contains the same kind of sentiments, downplaying the immense disproportion of violence and suffering that has been set upon the Rohingya by a constellation of actors, not the least of which is the Burma government. Leider dismisses the claim that the state favors the Rakhine Buddhists, saying that's "easy to argue" (as if that fact makes the argument incorrect). In fact, as we will see below, there is considerable evidence, gathered by neutral international rights organizations, that the Burma military is aiding the Rakhine Buddhists in attacking and killing Rohingya.
Among his other denials, Leider rejects the perception that the Rakhine Buddhists harbor "racist" feelings toward the Rohingya -- he claims instead they have an "extremely strong ... emotional reaction." Yet, a report entitled "How Myanmar's Buddhists Actually Feel About the Rohingya" claims, "There appears to be little sympathy for the Muslim minority in a country where there has been an upsurge in Buddhist nationalism.... Prejudice against the Rohingya, who are not seen as citizens of Burma, is long held and people aren't shy to share their views."
Leider dismisses as well the notion that "Rohingya" is a meaningful ethnic name, saying that it's a recent political appropriation of an old term. Yet, his denial of Rohingya identity is part of the government's strategy of denying the Rohingya rights and citizenship. Quartz notes, "The Rohingya are a largely Muslim ethnic minority in Burma at the center of a humanitarian catastrophe. But the Burma government won't even use the word 'Rohingya,' let alone admit they're being persecuted. Instead, the government calls them Bengalis, foreigners, or worse, terrorists."
Finally, and perhaps most devastatingly, Leider vehemently denies that anything like genocide is being committed against the Rohingya, saying, "That is ... way beyond anything that matches reality."
Most international human rights organizations beg to differ. In surveys conducted by Doctors Without Borders, in a one-month period this fall, at least 9,000 Rohingya died "when the Burma military, police and local militias launched the latest 'clearance operations' in Rakhine in response to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army [ARSA]." Since then, more than 647,000 Rohingya have fled the country. To put this in perspective, a BBC report described an attack by ARSA in which its members were armed mostly with "knives and home-made bombs," certainly nothing to compare with the combined force of the army, security police and armed vigilantes. Contrary to Leider's claim that the conflict is between two equal groups, the state being "neutral," Human Rights Watch reports that:
For months, local Arakanese political party officials and senior Buddhist monks publicly vilified the Rohingya population and described them as a threat to Arakan State. On October 23, thousands of Arakanese men armed with machetes, swords, homemade guns, Molotov cocktails, and other weapons descended upon and attacked Muslim villages in nine townships throughout the state. State security forces either failed to intervene or participated directly in the violence ...
In the deadliest incident, on October 23 at least 70 Rohingya were killed in a massacre in Yan Thei village in Mrauk-U Township. Despite advance warning of the attack, only a small number of riot police, local police, and army soldiers were on duty to provide security. Instead of preventing the attack by the Arakanese mob or escorting the villagers to safety, they assisted the killings by disarming the Rohingya of their sticks and other rudimentary weapons they carried to defend themselves.
Just a few days ago, on March 12, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma, Yanghee Lee, told the Human Rights Council she was "increasingly of the opinion that the events in Rakhine State bear the hallmarks of genocide and called in the strongest terms for accountability."
That same day, experts of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Burma issued a report that listed eight major findings in relation to allegations in Rakhine State of so-called "clearance operations" of the Burma security forces: "Credible accounts are rife of the State's various security forces having committed gross human rights violations in the course of these operations.... People died from gunshot wounds, often due to indiscriminate shooting at fleeing villagers. Some were burned alive in their homes -- often the elderly, disabled and young children. Others were hacked to death."
Besides the UN, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal, the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, and the International State Crime Initiative are among the organizations and groups that have found evidence of genocide against the Rohingya.
Amnesty International has called the system the Rohingya lived under "apartheid": "This system appears designed to make Rohingyas' lives as hopeless and humiliating as possible. The security forces' brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing ... is just another manifestation of this appalling attitude," according to a report from the organization.
There is certainly enough evidence that a significant number of researchers and scholars -- armed with masses of data -- have a very different view from that of Jacques Leider so as to make his selection as the author of an encyclopedia entry on the Rohingya more than problematic.
Oxford University Press has assured those mounting the protest that it will vigorously vet what Leider submits for publication, but the very fact he was invited in the first place, by one of the premier academic publishing houses in the world, raises huge questions, for a narrative established in such an august and authoritative publication may be applied in all sorts of ways.
Professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, one of the signatories of the letter to Oxford University Press, told Truthout that Leider's appointment continues a colonial project with deep economic interests. "European knowledge management authorities subsidize histories that establish a new colonial bias supporting (sometimes unwittingly) Burma's entry into the global scene -- a new stock exchange with immense investments by India, China, and general nation state investors," she said. "Jacques Leider's colonial bias -- masquerading as 'objectivity' --- comes in useful here. This is how historical accounts are put to use in the interests of an economic growth that has little to do with social inclusion."
Moreover, the dismissal and distortion of the actual realities surrounding the Rohingya feeds into a broader anti-Muslim framework. Leider denies that the violence against the Rohingya is motivated by Islamophobia -- but Islamophobic venues such as The Muslim Issue are quick to use his dismissal of the Rohingya as a way to dismiss the issue of Palestine with claims such as these:
Dr Jacques Leider clarifies that the Rohingya was not even known as Rohingya until the 1990's (this again is similar to the "Palestinians" who never called themselves so until 1972) and that they are painting a victimhood narrative.... All of this originates from the Islamic nationalism to create yet one more Islamic state out of [Burma]. All these conflicts originate from the "Palestinian" conflict which encouraged muslims [sic] a lot to infiltrate through immigration to take possession of a nation.
It is precisely because the connection between the Rohingya and the Palestinians has been made so prominent that denying the suffering of the Rohingya has implications beyond Burma. As the Christian Science Monitor notes: "the state-driven violence in Myanmar (Burma), which reportedly has killed more than 1,000 people and driven 370,000 Muslim Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh, has caught the attention of the Arab world, promoting a rare outpouring of support, solidarity, and activism." And Foreign Policy declared, "The Rohingya are the New Palestinians," noting:
Both groups became disenfranchised in the aftermath of colonial rule and imperial collapse, and both the Burma and Israeli governments have attempted to relocate them from their territory, portraying them as foreigners with no claim to the land. In both Israel and Burma, there have been attempts to rewrite the history of the two persecuted groups, claiming that neither constitute a "real" ethnic group and are thus interlopers and invaders.
It is precisely in this last sense -- of rewriting history -- that Jacques Leider's appointment is suspect. Professor Richard Falk, former Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council on Occupied Palestinian Territories and a signatory of the protest letter, told Truthout: "As someone who has long experienced media and publishing efforts to obscure and minimize the severe crimes experienced by the Palestinian people, I regard the Oxford University Press choice of Leider to assess the treatment of the Rohingya people by the Burma government to be similarly indefensible."
In response to Truthout's request for comment, Leider stated, "I did the job that I was asked to do. Now I am looking forward to seeing my essay published by OUP. As the publication is under their responsibility and yet unfinished business, it's not the best moment to make personal statements."
In sum, the issue is not, contrary to what Leider says, a matter of free speech. As the letter-writers note: "We do not deny that Dr. Leider, like anyone else, has a right to comment on the Rohingya or any other topic, but when someone takes such a strong position against the historicity of one group's claims regarding ethnicity/identity (and only one group's in a context of conflict between two or more groups), it seems unfair that they should be commissioned for a project to write an article on the ethnic group in question that seeks to present itself as a fair and unbiased reference source."
Farmworkers Bring Human Rights Fight to Wendy's Doorstep, Fasting and Calling for Boycott Over Abuses
Dozens of farmworkers with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers have entered their last day of a 5-day fast outside the Manhattan office of Nelson Peltz, the board chair and largest shareholder of the restaurant chain Wendy's. They are demanding Wendy's sign onto the Fair Food Program, which would require the fast-food giant to purchase tomatoes from growers that follow a worker-designed code of conduct that includes a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and abuse in the fields. Wendy's is the only major fast-food chain that has refused to sign onto the Fair Food Program. Wendy's competitors McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, Chipotle and Taco Bell all have joined the Fair Food Program, which CIW members say has virtually ended sexual harassment and assault for tens of thousands of workers on participating farms in seven states. The fast today will end in a "Time's Up Wendy's" march in New York. For more, we are joined by Gerardo Reyes Chavez, a farmworker and an organizer with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
Please check back later for full transcript.
Wednesday's nationwide student walkout occurred one month after 17 students and staff were shot dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Many students left classes for 17 minutes -- one minute for each person murdered in Parkland. But in Alabama some students walked out for 18 minutes to remember another student who was recently killed by gun violence at school: Courtlin Arrington, a 17-year-old African-American student who was shot dead last week at Huffman High School in Birmingham, Alabama, by a fellow student. She was a high school senior who was planning to attend college next year. She had dreams of becoming a nurse. While the Parkland shooting has dominated national headlines for a month, far less coverage was paid to the death of Courtlin Arrington. We are joined by Courtlin's aunt, Shenise Abercrombie.
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An airman observes a US Army helicopter at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan, February 9, 2018. (Photo: The US Army)
Overseas, the United States is engaged in real wars in which bombs are dropped, missiles are launched, and people (generally not Americans) are killed, wounded, uprooted, and displaced. Yet here at home, there's nothing real about those wars. Here, it's phony war all the way. In the last 17 years of "forever war," this nation hasn't for one second been mobilized. Taxes are being cut instead of raised. Wartime rationing is a faint memory from the World War II era. No one is being required to sacrifice a thing.
Now, ask yourself a simple question: What sort of war requires no sacrifice? What sort of war requires that almost no one in the country waging it take the slightest notice of it?
US conflicts in distant lands rumble on, even as individual attacks flash like lightning in our news feeds. "Shock and awe" campaigns in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, initially celebrated as decisive and game changing, ultimately led nowhere. Various "surges" produced much sound and fury, but missions were left decidedly unaccomplished. More recent strikes by the Trump administration against a Syrian air base or the first use of the most powerful non-nuclear weapon in the US arsenal, the MOAB super-bomb, in Afghanistan flared brightly, only to fizzle even more quickly. These versions of the German blitzkrieg-style attacks of World War II have been lightning assaults that promised much but in the end delivered little. As these flashes of violence send America's enemies of the moment (and nearby civilians) to early graves, the homeland (that's us) slumbers. Sounds of war, if heard at all, come from TV or video screens or Hollywood films in local multiplexes.
We are, in fact, kept isolated from Washington's wars, even as the US's warriors traverse a remarkable expanse of the globe, from the Philippines through the Greater Middle East deep into Africa. As conflicts flare and sputter, ramp up and down and up again, Americans have been placed in a form of behavioral lockdown. Little more is expected of us than to be taxpaying spectators or, when it comes to the US military, starry-eyed cheerleaders. Most of the time, those conflicts are not just out of sight, but meant to be out of mind as well. Rare exceptions are moments when our government asks us to mourn US service members like Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens, killed in an abortive raid President Trump ordered in Yemen in early 2017 in which children also died (though that was something just about no one here even noticed). While the military has been deploying and striking on a global scale, we've been told from the very first moments of Washington's self-proclaimed war on terror to go shopping or to Disney World and let the experts handle it.
We have, in short, been sidelined in what, to draw on the lexicon of World War II, might be thought of as a sitzkrieg, the German term for phony war.
A bizarre version of blitzkrieg overseas and an even stranger version of sitzkrieg at home could be said to define this peculiar American moment. These two versions exist in a curiously yin-yang relationship to each other. For how can a nation's military be engaged in warfare at a near-global level -- blitzing people across vast swaths of the globe -- when its citizens are sitting on their collective duffs, demobilized and mentally disarmed? Such a state of mind can exist only when it's in the interest of those in power. Appeals to "patriotism" (especially to revering "our" troops) and an overwhelming atmosphere of secrecy to preserve American "safety" and "security" have been remarkably effective in controlling and stifling interest in the country's wars and their costs, long before such an interest might morph into dissent or opposition. If you want an image of just how effective this has been, recall the moment in July 2016 when small numbers of earnest war protesters quite literally had the lights turned off on them at the Democratic National Convention.
To use an expression I heard more than a few times in my years in the military, when it comes to its wars, the government treats the people like mushrooms, keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit.The Fog of Phony War
Prussian war theorist Carl von Clausewitz famously spoke of the "fog of war," the confusion created by and inherent uncertainty built into that complex human endeavor. As thick as that fog often is, in these years the fog of phony war has proven even thicker and more disorienting.
By its very nature, a real war of necessity, of survival, like the Civil War or World War II brings with it clarity of purpose and a demand for results. Poorly performing leaders are relieved of command when not killed outright in combat. Consider the number of mediocre Union generals Abraham Lincoln cycled through before he found Ulysses S. Grant. Consider the number of senior officers relieved during World War II by General George C. Marshall, who knew that, in a global struggle against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, subpar performances couldn't be tolerated. In wars of necessity or survival, moreover, the people are invariably involved. In part, they may have little choice, but they also know (or at least believe they know) "why we fight" -- and generally approve of it.
Admittedly, even in wars of necessity there are always those who will find ways to duck service. In the Civil War, for example, the rich could pay others to fight in their place. But typically in such wars, everyone serves in some capacity. Necessity demands it.
The definition of twenty-first-century phony war, on the other hand, is its lack of clarity, its lack of purpose, its lack of any true imperative for national survival (despite a never-ending fervor over the "terrorist threat"). The fog it produces is especially disorienting. Americans today have little idea "why we fight" other than a vague sense of fighting them over there (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Niger, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, etc.) so they won't kill us here, to cite George W. Bush's rationale for launching the war on terror. Meanwhile, with such a lack of national involvement and accountability, there's no pressure for the Pentagon or the rest of the national security state to up its game; there's no one even to point out that wherever the US military has gone into battle in these years, yet more terror groups have subsequently sprouted. Bureaucracy and mediocrity go unchallenged; massive boosts in military spending reward incompetency and the creation of a series of quagmire-like "generational" wars.
Think of it as war on a Möbius strip. More money shoveled into the Pentagon brings more chaos overseas, more imperial overreach, and undoubtedly more blowback here at home, all witnessed -- or rather largely ignored -- by a sitzkrieg citizenry.
Of course, for those fighting the wars, they are anything but phony. It's just that their experience remains largely isolated from that of the rest of us, an isolation that only serves to elevate post-traumatic stress disorder rates, suicides, and the like. When today's troops come home, they generally suffer in silence and among themselves.The US's New (Phony) National Defense Strategy
Even phony wars need enemies. In fact, they may need them more (and more of them) than real wars do. No surprise then that the Trump administration's recently announced National Defense Strategy (NDS) offers a laundry list of such enemies. China and Russia top it as "revisionist powers" looking to reverse America's putative victory over Communism in the Cold War. "Rogue" powers like North Korea and Iran are singled out as especially dangerous because of their nuclear ambitions. (The United States, of course, doesn't have a "rogue" bone in its body, even if it is now devoting at least $1.2 trillion to building a new generation of more usable nuclear weapons.) Nor does the NDS neglect Washington's need to hammer away at global terrorists until the end of time or to extend "full-spectrum dominance" not just to the traditional realms of combat (land, sea, and air) but also to space and cyberspace.
Amid such a plethora of enemies, only one thing is missing in the US's new defense strategy, the very thing that's been missing all these years, that makes twenty-first-century American war so phony: any sense of national mobilization and shared sacrifice (or its opposite, antiwar resistance). If the United States truly faces all these existential threats to our democracy and our way of life, what are we doing frittering away more than $45 billion annually in a quagmire war in Afghanistan? What are we doing spending staggering sums on exotic weaponry like the F-35 jet fighter (total projected program cost: $1.45 trillion) when we have far more pressing national needs to deal with?
Like so much else in Washington in these years, the NDS doesn't represent a strategy for real war, only a call for more of the same raised to a higher power. That mainly means more money for the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, and related "defense" agencies, facilitating more blitz attacks on various enemies overseas. The formula -- serial blitzkrieg abroad, serial sitzkrieg in the homeland -- adds up to victory, but only for the military-industrial complex.Solutions to Sitzkrieg
Of course, one solution to phony war would be to engage in real war, but for that the famed American way of life would actually have to be endangered. (By Afghans? Syrians? Iraqis? Yemenis? Really?) Congress would then have to declare war; the public would have to be mobilized, a draft undoubtedly reinstated, and taxes raised. And those would be just for starters. A clear strategy would have to be defined and losing generals demoted or dismissed.
Who could imagine such an approach when it comes to the US's forever wars? Another solution to phony war would be for the American people to actually start paying attention. The Pentagon would then have to be starved of funds. (With less money, admirals and generals might actually have to think.) All those attacks overseas that blitzed innocents and spread chaos would have to end. Here at home, the cheerleaders would have to put down the pom-poms, stop mindlessly praising the troops for their service, and pick up a few protest signs.
In point of fact, the US's all-too-real wars overseas aren't likely to end until the phony war here at home is dispatched to oblivion.
A final thought: Americans tell pollsters that, after all these years of failed wars abroad, they continue to trust the military more than any other societal institution. Consistent with phony war, however, much of that trust is based on ignorance, on not really knowing what that military is doing overseas. So, is there a chance that, one of these days, Americans might actually begin to pay some attention to "their" wars? And if so, would those polls begin to change and how might that military, which has experienced its share of blood, sweat, and tears, respond to such a loss of societal prestige? Beware the anger of the legions.
Faith in institutions undergirds democracy. Keeping the people deliberately demobilized and in the dark about the costs and carnage of America's wars follows a pattern of governmental lying and deceit that stretches from the Vietnam War to the Iraq Wars of 1991 and 2003, to military operations in Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere today. Systemic lies and the phony war that goes with them continue to contribute to a slow-motion process of political and social disintegration that could result in a much grimmer future for this country: perhaps an authoritarian one; certainly, a more chaotic and less democratic one.
Societal degradation and democratic implosion, caused in part by endless phony war and the lies associated with it, are this country's real existential enemies, even if you can't find them listed in any National Defense Strategy. Indeed, the price tag for US wars may in the end prove not just heavy but catastrophic.Nonprofit, independent news outlets like Truthout are critical to countering the mainstream media narrative. Help get the real stories out by supporting Truthout with a tax-deductible donation.