Four years after former Chicago police officer Dante Servin killed Rekia Boyd, the bureaucratic red tape preventing justice and Servin's ability to resign, with a pension, days before the last stage in his firing process show the government's complicity in police violence.
Chicagoans rally on November 19, 2015, to demand justice for the killing of Rekia Boyd by off-duty police officer Dante Servin. Servin resigned before the last stage of his termination proceedings. (Photo: Bob Simpson / Flickr)
On May 19, organizers and community members around the United States engaged in #SayHerName actions in support of women and femmes who have been harmed by state violence. This national day of action should have coincided with the start of the termination proceedings for Dante Servin, the Chicago police officer who murdered 22-year-old Rekia Boyd on March 22, 2012. Instead, Servin resigned on May 17, two days before an evidentiary hearing was scheduled to begin: as the last stage in his firing process.Dante Servin has literally gotten away with murder.
For four years, Chicago activists and community members, led by Rekia's family, have marched, protested, held teach-ins and attended Chicago Police Board meetings demanding that Servin be held accountable for taking Rekia's young life. Every step of the way, Rekia's family and supporters have been met with bureaucratic red tape preventing justice. From unnecessarily prolonged review periods, to the three years it took for the criminal case to face trial, to the technicality that enabled Servin to walk scot-free even though the presiding judge stated that he should have been charged with first-degree murder, each step illustrated City government's culture of complicity and "blue wall of silence."
Here is the timeline of state violence and government missteps inflicted upon Rekia's family for the past four years:
- March 21, 2012 - Rekia was shot by Chicago Police Department (CPD) officer Dante Servin.
- March 22, 2012 - Rekia was taken off of life support after doctors declared her brain dead.
- November 28, 2013 - Involuntary manslaughter charges were filed against Servin -- 617 days (or one year, eight months and one week) after Rekia Boyd's murder.
- April 9, 2015 - The criminal trial against Servin began, 498 days (one year, four months and two weeks) after the charges were filed.
- April 20, 2015 - Judge Dennis Porter granted the defense a directed verdict acquitting Servin of involuntary manslaughter, stating that he should have been charged with first-degree murder. The state's decision to undercharge Servin for his crime at the outset meant that he could not be convicted of a higher charge at the discretion of the court. Since double jeopardy attached the moment a jury was impaneled, Servin cannot be retried for the murder of Rekia Boyd.
- September 16, 2015 - After five months of protests at the monthly Chicago Police Board meeting, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) -- a city-run entity that has been widely discredited for rubber-stamping police violence -- recommended firing Servin. Per the guidelines, the superintendent had 60 days to respond.
- November 24, 2015 - Seventy days later, the day the video of the murder of Laquan McDonald was released to the public after a court ruling, former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy agreed with IPRA's recommendation to fire Servin. In the week following the release of the video, McCarthy was fired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Per the firing guidelines, the Chicago Police Board had six months to schedule an evidentiary hearing for Servin.
- May 19, 2016 - Six months later, the first date of the evidentiary hearing was scheduled to begin.
Throughout these four years, every single aspect of government dragged its feet to remain in compliance with the unnecessary bureaucratic rules in place to fire a Chicago cop. Only after mounting public pressure were charges even filed. Most Chicago police killings result in no action; Servin's criminal trial reflected the first time a Chicago cop had faced such charges in 17 years. Only after sustained public pressure demanding justice for Rekia, coupled with international outrage over the Laquan McDonald execution, did McCarthy recommend Servin's firing. Every step of the way, the system failed and prevented justice from occurring, revealing how invested the existing Chicago court and police systems are in protecting police at all costs, even when they commit first-degree murder.
Servin was only the second cop IPRA recommended to fire for a shooting since its inception in 2007. Now that Servin has resigned, he can begin collecting his pension when he turns 50 in July 2018. His salary, as of December 31, 2015, was $97,044.
Dante Servin has literally gotten away with murder.
Servin knew he was going to be fired for murdering Rekia Boyd. His resignation is a response to the increasing mass public pressure calling for his firing led by the disciplined organizing of Rekia's family, who have remained steadfast in the demand that he be held accountable for her murder. The fact that it took four years for Servin to face a termination hearing for what Judge Porter called first-degree murder is unconscionable and unacceptable.A full overhaul of this system is needed. We need the people of Chicago in power.
As Chicago has seen with the recent police murders of Pierre Loury, Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier, Chicago police continue to feel invincible because they are well aware that there is no system of real accountability, even when they commit the most atrocious of crimes: taking an innocent human life. The Chicago police officer who executed Laquan McDonald by shooting him 16 times was hired by the Fraternal Order of Police as he faces murder charges brought forth only after a judge mandated the release of the video footage detailing the murder.
Rahm Emanuel told The Chicago Tribune that he will "fix" this system. The mayor said: "Laquan McDonald is a wake-up call to all of us. It's reminder that there's a lot broken. And I'm determined to fix things that have been broken throughout the system. When I say that, you -- it's not just the criminal justice. It's opportunity. It's a promise. And when I say 'opportunity,' meaning the opportunity to get a job and get a skill set. It's the opportunity through mentoring, to give young men a role model and a father figure they wouldn't have."
These statements, while directed at the subject of a murder committed by police, only serve as further evidence that Mayor Emanuel is incapable and unwilling to address the rampant violence and abuse perpetrated by police in his city. Instead of addressing the myriad ways in which police terror has plagued the people of Chicago, he references young men needing role models and father figures. This is both ridiculous and insulting. Rekia Boyd did not die because she needed a skill set; she was in fact set to begin nursing school the following week on April 3. Instead, her funeral occurred that day. Rekia died because Dante Servin murdered her.
Laquan McDonald did not die because he needed an opportunity to get a job. Laquan died because CPD officer Jason Van Dyke shot him 16 times.
A full overhaul of this system is needed. We need the people of Chicago in power. The facts have shown us that the current system is incapable of providing basic safety to its constituents and is unwilling to hold its employees accountable even when they commit heinous acts of violence and murder. We do not need more superficial task forces. We do not need Band-Aids. We need a complete restructuring.
Emanuel continues to enact policies that further exacerbate already desperate conditions. In a city that provides 40 percent of its operating budget to policing and has the most police per 100,000 people in the country, the mayor conducted the largest mass public school closing in US history and closed half of the City's mental health care centers. As predicted, intra-communal violence has increased.
Chicago State University is the state's only predominantly Black university, and faces imminent closure due to a budget stalemate. The people of Chicago continue to suffer under the dictatorial actions of Emanuel and draconian cuts by Gov. Bruce Rauner, and we will continue to suffer, including losing our lives and the lives of our loved ones, until we radically change the ways in which this system operates.
In the wake of Servin's resignation (with an intact pension), grassroots organizers with Black Lives Matter Chicago, Lifted Voices and Women's All Points Bulletin have joined Rekia's family in issuing the following demands:
- We demand the immediate revoking of Dante Servin's pension.
- We demand an immediate cap of CPD's budget.
- We demand the reopening of the 50 schools closed.
- We demand the reopening of the mental health centers closed.
- We demand the immediate closing of Homan Square and all other unknown "black sites."
- We demand the immediate implementation of an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC).
- We demand that all police dashcam and bodycam videos be released within one week.
- We demand the reopening of Ronald Johnson's case.
- We demand immediate disinvestment in CPD and a reallocation of the operating funds currently allocated toward policing, which represent 40 percent of the City's operating budget and result in $4 million a day spent on policing.
- We demand a redirection of these saved funds to be used for housing for the homeless and nearly homeless, the full funding of crisis and trauma centers, and a jobs program for our most underserved communities.
- We demand immediate criminal prosecution of all police officers and government officials involved in the cover-ups of the murders of Rekia Boyd, Cedrick Chatman, Laquan McDonald and Ronald Johnson, including the city lawyers responsible for withholding evidence.
- We demand the firing of all CPD officers who have filed or signed off on false police reports involving violence committed by themselves or other officers.
- We demand that Officers Murphy and Lopez be fired without a pension and be tried for perjury after falsifying reports on Pastor Catherine Brown.
We cannot be satisfied with cosmetic and superficial "solutions" like that of the hiring of the new Chicago police superintendent, Eddie Johnson, who is supposed to "restore trust" merely because he is Black. Moving a Black face to the forefront of a corrupt police department, and allowing Dante Servin to quietly profit from his crimes, does nothing to address the grief and rage of our communities. Passing a murder weapon from one hand to the next will not bring back our dead, or address the impunity with which their lives were taken. We will not accept mere gestures. And we will not be silenced. It is time for a serious change.
Our futures depend on it.
We speak with Annie Bird, director of Rights & Ecology, a project of the Center for Political Ecology, about Hillary Clinton's role as secretary of state during the 2009 coup that ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. "There's no other way to categorize what happened in 2009 other than a military coup with no legal basis," Bird says. "The U.S. was not willing to cut off assistance to Honduras, and that is the only reason it was not called a coup, a military coup. At the time, activists like Berta called for the assistance to be cut off, and today her children are calling for it to be cut off, because the U.S. assistance is actually adding fuel to the fire and stoking the economic interests of the people behind the coup."
Please check back later for full transcript.
President Obama is in Vietnam promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Vietnam? Really?
A year ago the post "Obama To Visit Nike To Promote the TPP. Wait, NIKE? Really?," noted how Nike pioneered moving jobs out of the country to take advantage of low wages and lack of environmental protections in places like Vietnam, which led to many of the problems in our economy today. It seemed that Nike was possibly the worst company to use to support claims that the TPP would benefit the American economy.
President Obama is scheduled to visit Nike's Oregon headquarters on Friday to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Yes, Nike -- a company that grew to billions by outsourcing jobs to overseas sweatshops, a company that sets up P.O.-box subsidiaries in tax havens to avoid paying U.S. taxes, a company that uses threats to extort tax breaks from its "home" state.
Phil Knight, head of Nike, is now worth $23 billion because America's trade policies encourage companies like Nike to create and move jobs outside of the U.S. The 23rd-richest American is one more symbol of the kind of inequality that results from outsourcing enabled and encouraged by these trade policies. Workers here lose (or never get) jobs; workers there are paid squat; a few people become vastly, unimaginably wealthy.
One of the Worst Companies, One of the Worst Countries
Just as Nike might have been one of the worst companies to put forward to promote the TPP to regular Americans, Vietnam is one of the worst countries to highlight.
Human Rights Watch explains some of the problems with Vietnam, in their statement Vietnam: "Obama's Visit Should Advance Human Rights":
In a letter sent to President Obama in April, Human Rights Watch highlighted key human rights issues including the problems of political prisoners, beatings and harassment of activists, legal reform, labor rights, and democratic governance.
… Recent weeks have seen worrying ongoing examples of human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said. Following an environmental disaster, police have beaten, choked, and detained protesters worried about the health effects of contaminated fish. State media has persecuted protesters and their supporters further by denouncing them by name and accusing them of taking money and orders from foreign "reactionary" forces. The government has also used pre-emptive house arrest to prevent potential protesters from attending demonstrations. This tactic has long been deployed against government critics when important foreign dignitaries visit the country.
Aside from its terrible record on human rights, Vietnam also has a terrible record on labor rights. Some members of Congress released a public letter asking the president to understand why opening free trade with Vietnam is a bad idea. In the letter, "Reps. Slaughter, DeLauro, and Tonko Urge President Obama to See Firsthand Why the TPP Is Bad for American Workers During Vietnam Visit," the signers "urged President Obama to meet with dissidents, civil society organizations, and labor unions to see firsthand why its inclusion in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is bad for American workers."
The letter explains that under the TPP, Vietnam would get immediate trade benefits, but has 5 years to establish labor rights. Even then, there are no guarantees that the TPP's labor standards, such as they are, will ever be enforced. Currently "workers do not have the right to strike," and "Independent labor activists are treated like political dissidents: arrested and jailed." "Not only are collective bargaining and the right to join independent unions absent from the entire economy, other abuses including forced labor and child trafficking exist as well, particularly in garments, bricks, and agriculture." If the TPP is signed, it will pit American workers directly against these conditions for at least 5 years, assuming the best-case enforcement scenario. American workers will, of course, lose.
Regarding the hope of enforcement of any labor rights that Vietnam says it will grant in 5 year, the letter states, "Moreover, the United States government has never initiated a labor case under a free trade agreement, and any action against Vietnam pursuant to the side agreement would be at the discretion of, not just your successor, but the winner of the 2020 presidential election."
The Real Reason Corporations and Wall Street Want the TPP?
A recent Washington Post story hints at the real reason the giant multinational corporations and Wall Street are pushing the TPP so vigorously, with the president's blessing: extremely low wages will cause even more (much more) production to move to Vietnam, boosting its economy and tying the country to the US and the multinationals. The report, "Buoyed by U.S. firms, Vietnam emerges as an Asian manufacturing powerhouse," says, "Aides said Obama will use his Vietnam trip to promote the trade pact with business leaders."
Wolverine Worldwide exemplifies a sharp shift among American footwear and garment producers away from China toward an emerging manufacturing hot spot: Vietnam.
Over the past three years, the Rockford, Mich.-based maker of brands such as Keds, Hush Puppies and Saucony has more than doubled its production in the Southeast Asian nation, taking advantage of the lower labor costs there. Vietnam now constitutes nearly 30 percent of Wolverine's output, while China's share has fallen from 90 percent to 50 percent, company officials said.
Many other U.S. firms have made a similar move, brightening the economic fortunes of Vietnam, where President Obama will arrive Monday for a two-day visit to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. If Obama has his way, the communist country will become even more appealing to U.S. capitalists through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an expansive 12-nation trade deal that would phase out steep import tariffs on Vietnamese-made goods.
Business leaders want to lower their "costs" by moving jobs to places like Vietnam that have extremely low wages and lax environmental protections. The TPP further opens Vietnam to this purpose. By lowering tariffs on goods coming back to the US, corporations will gain more profits as production is forced out of our country. Executives and Wall Street shareholders can then pocket the differential for themselves, and tell the American public this is great because they get "lower prices."
The TPP is not about boosting the American economy, Not at all. We can understand why the multinational corporations want to move these jobs to low-wage countries -- they get to pocket the difference in wage and environmental costs.
But why does the Obama administration want to push US production to places like Vietnam?
Foreign Policy Is the Real Point
The Obama administration has its own reasons for wanting the TPP and obviously they have nothing to do with American jobs. They explain that the TPP is needed as a counter to China in Asia. On this Vietnam trip they talk about the TPP "increasing ties" to that country.
The TPP will indeed increase business ties with Vietnam. More and more production will move to places like Vietnam from China as well as the US. Vietnam will become increasingly dependent on these multinational corporations and American customers to boost their economy and keep it going. As the WaPo story says:
But it is on trade and commerce where the administration sees perhaps the biggest potential to draw Vietnam closer to the United States. An economic-impact study from the World Bank in January said Vietnam stands to become the biggest beneficiary of the TPP pact, with its gross domestic product surging by 10 percent by 2030.
Under the trade deal, U.S. footwear tariffs, which can be as high as 40 percent, would be phased out over seven years in Vietnam. That would give Vietnam an advantage over China, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines, which are not TPP members, and accelerate a manufacturing boom inside the country that is already underway.
… The study found that shoe company imports to the United States would rise by an additional 23 percent among TPP countries, mostly from Vietnam, over the next 15 years.
Sacrifice US Jobs to Pull Asian Countries Into the Fold
Again, the TPP obviously is not about increasing American jobs. Not at all. The WaPo goes on to explain that this is the death knell for American manufacturing by companies like New Balance.
This is about foreign policy and the US "pivot to Asia" confronting China. What is really happening here is the President telling Asian countries that the US will sacrifice jobs to bring them into the fold in opposition to China. Doyle McManus explains in the LA Times, in"Obama's pivot to Asia is working":
Almost every country in the region is clamoring for a closer relationship with the United States.
The most striking case is Vietnam, most of whose leaders are old enough to have fought in their country's war with the United States. The communist regime has been openly courting a deeper military relationship, and has even invited the U.S. Navy to return to Cam Ranh Bay, its base during much of the war. During his visit, Obama is expected to announce an expansion of American military sales.
… "Any time China tries to put its thumb on any of its neighbors, that makes them enthusiastic about getting close to us," noted Derek Chollet, a former Defense Department official.
Only a few hundred miles from Vietnam's coast, Chinese construction teams have been dredging the seafloor and using landfill techniques to increase the size of China's territories, then building infrastructure to support military facilities.
The telling factor is that the president is not just in Vietnam to promote the TPP. He is also there promoting arms deals. Monday morning, the president ended the decades-old US arms embargo on Vietnam. The US will now make "appropriate" arms sales to that country. The New York Times explained, "American officials have portrayed lifting the embargo as part of a strategy to help Vietnam defend itself against an increasing threat from China in the South China Sea. Analysts have speculated that in return, Vietnam would grant the United States access to the deep water port at Cam Ranh Bay."
The TPP appears to be a promise to countries in the Asian region to move production to boost their economies. American workers will pay the price. The gamble is that this will create opposition to China and align these countries with the US, meaning in this case Wall Street and the giant multinational corporations, not the American people.
In a message to fellow Senate Democratic caucus members, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Monday called for the defeat of emergency legislation to address Puerto Rico's fiscal crisis.
A bill introduced last week by House Republicans would require the island territory to give up its budget-making autonomy in exchange for debt relief. The measure has the tentative support of the Obama administration and Democratic leadership.
Puerto Rico is currently $72 billion in the hole, and already defaulting on financial obligations. Sanders, a presidential hopeful, said in a statement that the proposed initiative would "make a terrible situation even worse."
He took aim at a federal oversight board that under the legislation would have direct control of the nation's fiscal affairs, including the power to cut spending, raise taxes, and privatize public assets without the input or approval of Puerto Rico's democratically-elected government.
"We must never give an unelected control board the power to balance Puerto Rico's budget on the backs of children, senior citizens, the sick and the most vulnerable people in Puerto Rico while giving the people of Puerto Rico absolutely no say at all in the process," Sanders said in a statement.
Sanders also took aim at measures in the bill that would shred labor protections on the island. The legislation would exempt Puerto Ricans workers from new Department of Labor overtime rules and some federal minimum wage laws.
Puerto Rico is seeking the power to declare bankruptcy and restructure its debt -- a maneuver that the territory is currently forbidden from doing by federal law. Bankruptcy proceedings are also heavily opposed by vulture funds–financial interests that have purchased chunks of the nation's debt for pennies on the dollar, but don't want to take any losses on those investments.
"We have an important choice to make," Sanders told Senate Democrats in a letter, "do we stand with the working people of Puerto Rico or do we stand with Wall Street and the Tea Party? The choice could not be clearer."
Although it objected to some of the language in the bill, the Obama administration has largely endorsed it.
"We are encouraged that Democrats and Republicans did work together to produce this piece of legislation. Bipartisanship is hard to come by in the United States Congress for a few years now," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said last week.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Democratic Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also support the bill.
Sanders' opposition to the proposal could animate the current presidential race. His primary rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton approves of the deal. "We must move forward with this legislation," she said on Friday.
Puerto Rico is scheduled to hold its Democratic Primary contest on June 5.
Sanders has proposed an alternative plan to deal with the island's debt crisis, which includes allowing it to restructure its debt in bankruptcy court, as municipalities in the US are able to do. He also called on the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department to provide loans to Puerto Rico to stimulate its economy.
"We must stop treating Puerto Rico like a colony and start treating the American citizens of Puerto Rico with the respect and dignity that they deserve during this very difficult period," Sanders urged.
Crude oil in an open toxic oil waste pit abandoned by Chevron in the Ecuadorean Amazon rain forest near Lago Agrio. (Photo: Caroline Bennett / Rainforest Action Network)
From 1964-1990, Texaco (later bought by Chevron) ran drilling and pipeline operations in Ecuador's Amazon region. During that time, 16 billion gallons of waste had been dumped.
In 2013, the Ecuadorean Supreme Court affirmed an earlier ruling that found Chevron responsible for environmental contamination in the Ecuadorean Amazon and set the compensation at US$9.5 billion. Since then, Chevron has said it would not pay and has set out on a deliberate campaign to delegitimize the ruling, and has also looked to sue the Ecuadorean government on the International level.
Santiago Escobar, an Ecuadorean activist, became a key witness in the case, revealing information that he says proved the oil giant was involved in underhanded activities against the litigants. He received threats and subsequently left the country.
Sitting down with teleSUR English, Escobar accuses publications run by Chevron of "harassment and defamation" against him.
teleSUR: How did you get involved in this case?
Santiago Escobar: In 2009, I received information from a former Chevron contractor about Chevron's shady operations in Ecuador. After evaluating this information, I felt it was my duty to expose and denounce it before the authorities of Ecuador and the United States. A plot was being perpetrated by Chevron and their agents in Ecuador in order to delegitimize the Judicial system and a supposed denial of justice.
The plot included several dirty tricks such as the secret recording of the Judge in charge of the lawsuit in Ecuador by undercover agents of Chevron.
I became indignant with all their dirty operations, and felt I had to make the evidence I had public.
TS: How has the involvement affected you personally? Have you been threatened as a result of the information you had?
SE: Since 2009, I have been receiving different kind of threats and in some cases, death threats. These threats and intimidation attempts have come by mail, phone calls to my parents, by email and often through the online web pages openly funded by Chevron. In 2010, before and after I denounced the corruption of Chevron before Ecuador’s attorney general, I had to get police protection and even wear a bulletproof vest due to the death threats that I received.
TS: You have also been involved with supporting the Correa government. Do you see the two issues connected?
SE: Since President Rafael Correa took office, Chevron has been harassing and pressuring Correa’s administration to try and stop the lawsuit that 30,000 indigenous and peasants affected by Chevron’s pollution initiated 22 years ago. The Ecuadorean government has made it clear that the Republic of Ecuador is not a party involved in that lawsuit and Correa’s administration respects due process.
As part of their intimidation, harassment and defamation campaign against the Ecuadorean people, Chevron has launched 3 lawsuits against Ecuador.
Ecuador won the first arbitration, but we already lost the second arbitration. When I say we, I mean the Republic of Ecuador, the citizens and the taxpayers, as we must pay US$96 million to Chevron.
Chevron’s allegations are based on the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) signed between Ecuador and the United States in 1993, which entered into force in 1997, five years after Texaco-Chevron left the country (in 1992). Chevron is trying to use the BIT retroactively, although no retroactive clause is contemplated in the treaty.
The current, ongoing, third arbitration -- called Chevron III -- started in 2009 (and) is also before the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, which in fact is a private tribunal with strong ties to transnational corporations and the global banking cartel.
Again, the oil giant accuses Ecuador of an alleged procedural fraud that would set violations of international law and the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT). This arbitration has not yet been resolved and it is likely that the ruling will be some time later this year.
If the Republic of Ecuador loses this arbitration, Ecuadoreans will have to compensate Chevron for the same amount they owe the victims of the Ecuadorean Amazon disaster they created - US$9.5 billion.
This is equivalent to a third of the annual budget of Ecuador (US$29.84 billion), which will severely affect the welfare state built in the last 9 years during the Citizen’s Revolution. This means the health system, education and infrastructure would be affected.
Chevron could even seize Ecuadorean assets abroad and implement an economic blockade against Ecuador. It is clear that this transnational seeks to achieve a soft coup against President Rafael Correa because of his anti-neoliberal policies.
In this context I strongly believe that all Ecuadoreans that believe in social and environmental justice should support President Correa and join the campaign to demand that Chevron stop attacking the Ecuadorean people and clean up their mess in the Amazon.
Because I know what is at stake for my country, I have decided to expose Chevron's dirty tricks and create awareness about the issue. One way of doing this is by supporting the campaign of the affected communities against Chevron, as well as the separate campaign launched by the government.
TS: Publications connected to Chevron have begun focusing on you, and accuse you of being employed by the government to do this work. Is this the case? What do you think they are trying to achieve by doing this?
SE: I’m not employed by the government, nor have I received any payments from them or any other party involved in the Chevron case. As mentioned, I have been exposing Chevron, because I believe it is the right thing to do, and that does not have a price. I was never paid or had any arrangements for any other form of compensation from anybody to do this work.
The things published by The Amazon Post and Crudo Juicio are part of their harassment and defamation campaign against the Ecuadorean people and myself. Chevron is known for using any means to subjugate anyone who supports the affected communities or the Republic of Ecuador, with including lawsuits and smear campaigns with the support of some media outlets.
They are trying to discredit my work and my image now by saying that being the PAIS Alliance (the governing party in Ecuador) director in Canada is some form of compensation for my Anti-Chevron work. That is beyond ludicrous. First of all, this is not a paid position and is an elected position by Ecuadorean migrants affiliated to PAIS in Canada -- it is not an appointed position. Lastly, I assumed the director position because I believe it is a way to support my country and community abroad and help create awareness about the important social changes the country is undergoing.
I do this work out of conviction, in the same way I support the Anti-Chevron campaign out of a moral conviction. But certainly for a corporation such as Chevron, who puts profit over people and has no morals, this is something they will never understand.
The Department of Defense is taking active measures to disguise how it is spending the hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars it receives every year. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)
Now you see it, now you don't. Think of it as the Department of Defense's version of the street con game, three-card monte, or maybe simply as the Pentagon shuffle. In any case, the Pentagon's budget is as close to a work of art as you're likely to find in the U.S. government -- if, that is, by work of art you mean scam.
The United States is on track to spend more than $600 billion on the military this year -- more, that is, than was spent at the height of President Ronald Reagan's Cold War military buildup, and more than the military budgets of at least the next seven nations in the world combined. And keep in mind that that's just a partial total. As an analysis by the Straus Military Reform Project has shown, if we count related activities like homeland security, veterans' affairs, nuclear warhead production at the Department of Energy, military aid to other countries, and interest on the military-related national debt, that figure reaches a cool $1 trillion.
The more that's spent on "defense," however, the less the Pentagon wants us to know about how those mountains of money are actually being used. As the only major federal agency that can't pass an audit, the Department of Defense (DoD) is the poster child for irresponsible budgeting.
It's not just that its books don't add up, however. The DoD is taking active measures to disguise how it is spending the hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars it receives every year -- from using the separate "war budget" as a slush fund to pay for pet projects that have nothing to do with fighting wars to keeping the cost of its new nuclear bomber a secret. Add in dozens of other secret projects hidden in the department's budget and the Pentagon's poorly documented military aid programs, and it's clear that the DoD believes it has something to hide.
Don't for a moment imagine that the Pentagon's growing list of secret programs and evasive budgetary maneuvers is accidental or simply a matter of sloppy bookkeeping. Much of it is remarkably purposeful. By keeping us in the dark about how it spends our money, the Pentagon has made it virtually impossible for anyone to hold it accountable for just about anything. An entrenched bureaucracy is determined not to provide information that might be used to bring its sprawling budget -- and so the institution itself -- under control. That's why budgetary deception has become such a standard operating procedure at the Department of Defense.
The audit problem is a case in point. The Pentagon along with all other major federal agencies was first required to make its books auditable in the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990. More than 25 years later, there is no evidence to suggest that the Pentagon will ever be able to pass an audit. In fact, the one limited instance in which success seemed to be within reach -- an audit of a portion of the books of a single service, the Marine Corps -- turned out, upon closer inspection, to be a case study in bureaucratic resistance.
In April 2014, when it appeared that the Corps had come back with a clean audit, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was so elated that he held a special ceremony in the "Hall of Heroes" at the Pentagon. "It might seem a bit unusual to be in the Hall of Heroes to honor a bookkeeping accomplishment," he acknowledged, "but damn, this is an accomplishment."
In March 2015, however, that "accomplishment" vanished into thin air. The Pentagon's Office of Inspector General (OIG), which had overseen the work of Grant Thornton, the private firm that conducted the audit, denied that it had been successful (allegedly in response to "new information"). In fact, in late 2013, as Reuters reported, auditors at the OIG had argued for months against green-lighting Grant Thornton's work, believing that it was full of obvious holes. They were, however, overruled by the deputy inspector general for auditing, who had what Reuters described as a "longstanding professional relationship" with the Grant Thornton executive supervising the audit.
The Pentagon and the firm deny that there was any conflict of interest, but the bottom line is clear enough: there was far more interest in promoting the idea that the Marine Corps could pass an audit than in seeing it actually do so, even if inconvenient facts had to be swept under the rug. This sort of behavior is hardly surprising once you consider all the benefits from an undisturbed status quo that accrue to Pentagon bureaucrats and cash-hungry contractors.
Without a reliable paper trail, there is no systematic way to track waste, fraud, and abuse in Pentagon contracting, or even to figure out how many contractors the Pentagon employs, though a conservative estimate puts the number at well over 600,000. The result is easy money with minimal accountability.
How to Arm the Planet
In recent years, keeping tabs on how the Pentagon spends its money has grown even more difficult thanks to the "war budget" -- known in Pentagonese as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account -- which has become a nearly bottomless pit for items that have nothing to do with fighting wars. The use of the OCO as a slush fund began in earnest in the early years of the Bush administration's war in Iraq and has continued ever since. It's hard to put a precise number on how much money has been slipped into that budget or taken out of it to pay for pet projects of every sort in the last decade-plus, but the total is certainly more than $100 billion and counting.
The Pentagon's routine use of the war budget as a way to fund whatever it wants has set an example for a Congress that's seldom seen a military project it wasn't eager to pay for. Only recently, for instance, the House Armed Services Committee chair, Texas Republican Congressman Mac Thornberry, proposed taking $18 billion from the war budget to cover items like an extra 11 F-35 combat aircraft and 14 F-18 fighter-bombers that the Pentagon hadn't even asked for.
This was great news for Lockheed Martin, which needs a shot in the arm for its troubled F-35 program, already slated to be the most expensive weapons system in history, and for Boeing, which has been lobbying aggressively to keep its F-18 production line open in the face of declining orders from the Navy. But it's bad news for the troops because, as the Project on Government Oversight has demonstrated, the money used to pay for the unneeded planes will come at the expense of training and maintenance funds.
This is, by the way, the height of hypocrisy at a time when the House Armed Services Committee is routinely sending out hysterical missives about the country's supposed lack of military readiness. The money to adequately train military personnel and keep their equipment running is, in fact, there. Members of Congress like Thornberry would just have to stop raiding the operations budget to pay for big ticket weapons systems, while turning a blind eye on wasteful spending in other parts of the Pentagon budget.
Thornberry's gambit may not carry the day, since both President Obama and Senate Armed Services Committee chair John McCain oppose it. But as long as a separate war budget exists, the temptation to stuff it with unnecessary programs will persist as well.
Of course, that war budget is just part of the problem. The Pentagon has so many budding programs tucked away in so many different lines of its budget that even its officials have a hard time keeping track of what's actually going on. As for the rest of us, we're essentially in the dark.
Consider, for instance, the proliferation of military aid programs. The Security Assistance Monitor, a nonprofit that tracks such programs, has identified more than two dozen of them worth about $10 billion annually. Combine them with similar programs tucked away in the State Department's budget, and the U.S. is contributing to the arming and training of security forces in 180 countries. (To put that mind-boggling total in perspective, there are at most 196 countries on the planet.) Who could possibly keep track of such programs, no less what effect they may be having on the countries and militaries involved, or on the complex politics of, and conflicts in, various regions?
Best suggestion: don't even think about it (which is exactly what the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex want you to do). And no need for Congress to do so either. After all, as Lora Lumpe and Jeremy Ravinsky of the Open Society Foundations noted earlier this year, the Pentagon is the only government agency providing foreign assistance that does not even have to submit to Congress an annual budget justification for what it does. As a result, they write, "the public does not know how much the DoD is spending in a given country and why."
Slush Funds Galore
If smokescreens and evasive maneuvers aren't enough to hide the Pentagon's actual priorities from the taxpaying public, there's always secrecy. The Secrecy Project at the Federation of American Scientists recently put the size of the intelligence portion of the national security state's "black budget" -- its secret spending on everything from spying to developing high-tech weaponry -- at more than $70 billion. That figure includes a wide variety of activities carried out through the CIA, the NSA, and other members of the intelligence community, but $16.8 billion of it was requested directly by the Department of Defense. And that $70 billion is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to secret spending programs, since billions more in secret financing for the development and acquisition of new weapons systems has been squirreled away elsewhere.
The largest recent project to have its total costs shrouded in secrecy is the B-21, the Air Force's new nuclear bomber. Air Force officials claim that they need to keep the cost secret lest potential enemies "connect the dots" and learn too much about the plane's key characteristics. In a letter to Senator McCain, an advocate of making the cost of the plane public, Ronald Walden of the Air Force's Rapid Capabilities Office claimed that there was "a strong correlation between the cost of an air vehicle and its total weight." This, he suggested, might make it "decisively easier" for potential opponents to guess its range and payload.
If such assessments sound ludicrous, it's because they are. As the histories of other major Pentagon acquisition programs have shown, the price of a system tells you just that -- its price -- and nothing more. Otherwise, with its classic cost overruns, the F-35 would have a range beyond compare, possibly to Mars and back. Of course, the real rationale for keeping the full cost estimate for the B-21 secret is to avoid bad publicity. Budget analyst Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies suggests that it's an attempt to avoid "sticker shock" for a program that he estimates could cost more than $100 billion to develop and purchase.
The bomber, in turn, is just part of a planned $1 trillion splurge over the next three decades on a new generation of bombers, ballistic missile submarines, and ground-based nuclear missiles, part of an updating of the vast U.S. nuclear arsenal. And keep this in mind: that trillion dollars is simply an initial estimate before the usual Pentagon cost overruns even begin to come into play. Financially, the nuclear plan is going to hit taxpayer wallets particularly hard in the mid-2020s when a number of wildly expensive non-nuclear systems like the F-35 combat aircraft will also be hitting peak production.
Under the circumstances, it doesn't take a genius to know that there's only one way to avoid the budgetary equivalent of a 30-car pile up: increase the Pentagon's already ample finances yet again. Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Brian McKeon was referring to the costs of building new nuclear delivery vehicles when he said that the administration was "wondering how the heck we're going to pay for it, and probably thanking our lucky stars we won't be here to answer the question." Of course, the rest of us will be stuck holding the bag when all those programs cloaked in secrecy suddenly come out of hiding and the bills come fully due.
At this point, you may not be shocked to learn that, in response to McKeon's uncomfortable question, the Pentagon has come up with yet another budgetary gimmick. It's known as the "National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund," or as Taxpayers for Common Sense more accurately labels it, "the Navy's submarine slush fund." The idea -- a longstanding darling of the submarine lobby (and yes, Virginia, there is a submarine lobby in Washington) -- is to set up a separate slush fund outside the Navy's normal shipbuilding budget. That's where the money for the new ballistic missile submarine program, currently slated to cost $139 billion for 12 subs, would go.
Establishing such a new slush fund would, in turn, finesse any direct budgetary competition between the submarine program and the new surface ships the Navy also wants, and so avoid a political battle that might end up substantially reducing the number of vessels the Navy is hoping to buy over the next 30 years. Naturally, the money for the submarine fund will have to come from somewhere, either one of the other military services or that operations and maintenance budget so regularly raided to help pay for expensive weapons programs.
Not to be outmaneuvered, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James has now asked Congress to set up a "strategic deterrence fund" to pay for its two newest nuclear delivery vehicles, the planned bomber and a long-range nuclear-armed ballistic missile. In theory, this would take pressure off other major Air Force projects like the F-35, but as with the submarine fund, it only adds up if a future president and a future Congress can be persuaded to jack up the Pentagon budget to make room for these and other weapons systems.
In the end, however the specifics work out, any "fund" for such weaponry will be just another case of smoke and mirrors, a way of kicking the nuclear funding crisis down the road in hopes of fatter budgets to come. Why make choices now when the Pentagon and the military services can bet on blackmailing a future Trump or Clinton administration and a future Congress into ponying up the extra billions of dollars needed to make their latest ill-conceived plans add up?
If your head is spinning after this brief tour of the Pentagon's budget labyrinth, it should be. That's just what the Pentagon wants its painfully complicated budget practices to do: leave Congress, any administration, and the public too confused and exhausted to actually hold it accountable for how our tax dollars are being spent. So far, they're getting away with it.
Bernie Sanders speaks at the San Diego Convention Center, March 22. (Photo: San Diego Convention Center / Flickr)
A shocker. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has Bernie up 54 to 39 over Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, according to the same poll, Hillary Clinton no longer has a double digit lead over Donald Trump like she did just a month ago -- her lead over Trump is just 3 points.
On the other hand, while less than a quarter of likely Republican voters backed Trump a month ago, he's since gained 14 points. Only 66% percent of Sanders supporters say they'd vote for Clinton in November, which her supporters say will rise if Sanders drops out. After all, that's what happened on the Republican side. But 17% of Sanders supporters have already vowed to vote for Trump if Clinton is the nominee -- a greater margin than Clinton had of Republican voters when Cruz and Kasich remained in the race.
Hillary Clinton wins with all the demographics that Trump loses with painfully. In a general election, she would win African American voters 88% to Trump's 9%. Still, with other demographics -- such as women and young people -- Sanders would defeat Trump by a greater margin.
Just last week, Bernie Sanders told NBC's Andrea Mitchell he was the stronger candidate to defeat Donald Trump. "The case we'll make [with the superdelegates] is that I am the stronger candidate. It's not just the polling. Our campaign is the campaign bringing in working class people," Sanders said.
Just days after the Brazilian Senate voted to suspend former President Dilma Rousseff and subject her to an impeachment trial, the country's new right-wing government is already planning to balance the budget by imposing austerity measures on the nation's poor people.
More than 15,000 people protest at Praça da Cinelândia in Rio de Janeiro against the new right-wing government under Brazil's interim president, Michel Temer. (Photo: Mídia NINJA)
Just days after the Brazilian Senate voted to suspend former President Dilma Rousseff and subject her to an impeachment trial, the country's new right-wing government is already planning to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.
To be sure, Brazil's economic problems are real and they are serious. The country is currently in the midst of its worst recession in decades. The economy shrank by 3.8 percent last year, and the International Monetary Fund projects that it will shrink by another 3.8 percent this year. Unemployment has reached 10 percent -- the highest level recorded in years.
This economic slowdown has contributed to a significant government budget deficit. According to Bloomberg, the difference between government spending and incoming revenues during the first three months of 2016 was $1.7 billion -- the largest figure registered in over a decade. The financial news service writes that the "deficit expanded to a record 2.28 percent of gross domestic product in the 12 months through March" of this year.
In order to close that gap, the Brazilian government has three basic options: raising revenues, cutting spending or some combination thereof.
To raise revenues, the government could perhaps focus on combating tax evasion, which is usually carried out by big businesses and the rich, and has cost Brazil nearly $56 billion in lost revenues so far this year, according to a government-sponsored monitoring website.
Or, the government could raise taxes on the super-wealthy, who have only gotten richer despite ongoing political and economic turmoil in the country.
But instead, Brazil's new interim president, Michel Temer -- who was recently convicted of breaking campaign finance laws and has been linked to a massive corruption scandal -- just installed an all-white, all-male cabinet that appears poised to slash the social programs that helped bring millions of Brazilians out of poverty over the past decade.
For example, the newly installed minister of social and agrarian development, Osmar Terra, warned in a recent interview with the news outlet O Globo that more than one in 10 recipients could be cut off from the widely praised Bolsa Família program, which provides cash benefits to low-income families if they meet certain criteria.
Additionally, the new minister of cities, Bruno Araujo, announced that the new government would not fulfill a promise made during Rousseff's last days in office to construct more than 11,000 new low-income housing units under another widely hailed program known as "Minha Casa, Minha Vida" ("My House, My Life.")
Guilherme Boulos, an activist with the Homeless Workers Movement, told the Folha de São Paulo newspaper that the decision to cancel the construction was "unfortunate," but "predictable."
"We said from the beginning that the [impeachment] process was also intended to attack social rights," Boulos said. "Today was only the first cut."
It seems Boulos' prediction could come true. Brazil's new health minister, Ricardo Barros, recently said that the government might not meet its constitutional mandate to provide health care to all citizens.
"We're going to have to renegotiate, as happened in Greece," Barros told Folha de São Paulo. "And in other countries that had to renegotiate the obligations of the state because it no longer had the capacity to sustain them."
Similarly, the Temer administration has floated plans to reform the pension system by raising the retirement age -- a proposal that has met with strong resistance from labor unions and left-leaning politicians in Brazil's Congress.
The Temer government is also reportedly considering selling off state assets in order to raise funds.
In an interview on the television news program "Good Morning Brasil," the new finance minister, Henrique Meirelles, defended the new government's austere economic plans, calling for the government to "tell the truth" about the state of public finances, and to put forward "realistic" solutions.
"We are going to have to reverse the trend," Meirelles said. "Public debt cannot continue growing. We are going to have to cut costs."
The Temer administration's pick to run Brazil's central bank, Ilan Goldfajn, appears to agree.
According to Reuters, Goldfajn -- who "has been widely praised on Wall Street for his orthodox approach to economics" -- "has said Brazil urgently needs to rebalance its fiscal accounts with pension reforms and public spending caps."
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has expressed "deep concern" over the new government's economic plans, cautioning that Brazil's international obligations bar the government from implementing policies that could "worsen the situation of economic, social, and cultural rights enjoyed by the population."
As the Brazil-based journalist Alex Cuadros recently tweeted, "Obviously Brazil must close its budget deficit. Question is, who will be forced to give up more? Under Temer, answer seems to be: the poor."
Cuadros also pointed out that running for elected office in Brazil on a platform of cutting social programs like health care would amount to political suicide.
Another Brazil-based writer, Pulitzer Prize winner Glenn Greenwald, responded: "This is the *absolute key* to understanding impeachment: [the Temer government is] imposing an agenda that could never win an election."
Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill discusses his new book, The Assassination Complex, written with the staff of The Intercept; how US intelligence agencies and the military use cell phones and drones in targeted killings; and who is profiting from the military-industrial complex's technological advances.
When it comes to targeted killing by US drones, "due process" is basically reversed -- everyone killed in a drone strike is designated as an enemy killed in action until proven otherwise, says Jeremy Scahill. (Photo: Sergey Melkonov / Flickr; Edited: JR / TO)
If drone warfare has come up at all this election season, it's been in passing. The candidates don't differ much on the use of pilotless drones. But how is the face of war changing, and how do our peace movements need to respond?
Jeremy Scahill is an award-winning investigative journalist and a founding editor of The Intercept. He's the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, Dirty Wars (the book and the film), and now The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government's Secret Drone Warfare Program, written with the staff of The Intercept.
Scahill joined me recently for a conversation that ranged from "death by metadata," to corporations in the kill chain and the military-industrial complex.
You can watch the conversation in full (or listen to the podcast) on "The Laura Flanders Show."
Laura Flanders: Let's start with the meat of the matter, the book. It is based on a mountain of classified documents that you and your colleagues went through. Briefly, what is the most important thing we need to take from it?
Jeremy Scahill: The Obama administration and the president himself have claimed really from the first year of the administration on, that this is somehow a cleaner way of waging war, that it's a smarter way of waging war and that it's a more effective way of killing terrorists and protecting Americans. There's no doubt that under President Obama dozens of people, who, I think, objectively could be declared terrorists, have been killed. Whether they went through a judicial process is a whole other story. But the entire thing is predicated on a lie, the lie that this is a cleaner, safer way of waging war. The reality is -- and the documents that we obtained show this -- in nine times out of 10, of the people killed in drone strikes by the US, the US doesn't even know their identities. In other words, nine of the 10 people were not the intended targets of the strike. Were they other so-called bad guys? Maybe.
You have a chapter in the book co-authored with Glenn Greenwald called "Death by Metadata."
Right. That's how people are essentially being killed today. It's not that you are locating an individual and killing them. They are locating people's SIM cards [in their cell phones] or their handset numbers, and there's a number of things. They call them selectors. Everything is in corporate language.... The SIM card has a way of communicating with the cell phone tower, and the phone itself has a way of communicating with the Wi-Fi communication. Your phone is basically just like a homing beacon that's constantly admitting signals without your knowledge. So the US, the NSA, the CIA and the military are using those signals being emitted by everyone's phones to triangulate the location of a phone that they believe to be in the possession of an individual, and that's how they trigger the drone strike. In many cases, they're not even 100 percent certain that they have the person, but they know they have the phone.
What if you've given your phone to someone?
It does happen. In fact, the source who gave us these documents, the whistleblower who worked on the targeted assassination campaign, said that they would watch the Taliban go into meetings. Then they would shuffle a bag of SIM cards, pass them out, and then they would all go their separate ways. They understand the system. There have also been a number of cases where people have been killed because they had a phone that US intelligence believed was connected to terrorism. Then a drone strike takes place, and it turns out not [to have targeted] the "right" person.
Now, the White House says it's releasing documents purporting to tell us more about who's targeted and why. What do we need to think about when we hear the White House talk about its releases?
President Obama is a constitutional lawyer by trade and training and has a lot of support from liberals ... I think people generally on the liberal end of the spectrum say, "Well, we trust Obama with this stuff. We wouldn't want the Republicans to have it" -- which is a whole other moral discussion -- "but we trust Obama.""Corporations are making a killing off of this killing."
When the president of the United States looks into a camera and says, "The number of civilians killed is minimal" ... I don't think it's that the president is knowingly lying to people. It's that the system -- and this is what our documents in the book show -- is created so that the number will almost always be zero when asked how many civilians were killed because everyone killed in a drone strike, unless they are clearly a woman or a child, is going to be designated as an enemy killed in action. The only way you lose that designation after death is if posthumously you are proven to have not been a terrorist.
It's sort of the reverse of due process. When Obama says, "The number of civilians killed is minimal," it's because the system produces the number zero or very low numbers every time they do a strike unless a journalist or a human rights organization goes to the scene and figures out, "Wait, these people weren't terrorists. This was a wedding party."
Now, you said some people even on the liberal side of the spectrum are comfortable with, "Well, as long as Obama's in charge," but he's not the only person in charge. There's a whole kill chain. An extraordinary part of your book is Cora Currier's reporting on the materials that you were able to receive. The other piece of it is that corporations are involved in all of this, too. Talk a little bit about the role the corporations play in our assassination complex.
First of all, many of the slides that were produced that we have in the book for the US military were actually done by a national security division of the IBM corporation where they have a whole national security division. They use some of the same language and actually the same templates for slides that are about hunting and killing people for other corporate clients [too]. It seems like they are producing widgets. I mean that's how they talk about it. The banality of evil just is kind of oozing from these things because it's like, who are the authors who wrote these documents that refer to find, fix, finish, all of these terms that they use? We have a whole glossary of them in there."There's nothing new in warfare except the technology."
I mean corporations are making a killing off of this killing. You have Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and then you have these huge farms filled with private contractors who are on loan or being rented to the US government to be drone pilots or to be intelligence analysts. Those individuals are essentially part of a matrix that is a for-profit industry of killing. It's wrapped in this flag of patriotism and national security. But at the end of the day there's very little difference between what is happening now with the warfare industry and drones [and] what happened with [President] Lyndon Johnson when he was throwing contracts to Bell Helicopter because they were a Texas company and the Vietnam War seemed like a great market for them.
The military-industrial-war-killing complex is, as you said, nothing brand new, but this definitely is a new form. We often talk on this program about the history of capitalism and how it keeps going. First you exploit land, then you exploit people, and increasingly it looks as if war has become the way capitalism self-perpetuates.
If you look at what the US is doing in Africa right now, it is a form of neocolonialism.... You have an increasing number of what they call small footprint bases throughout Africa. The US, rather than deploying large numbers of troops, is starting to create outposts where they can fly drones and other essentially robotic tools of war and then also partnering up with unsavory militias or human rights-abusing governments. I recently did a story about how Erik Prince ... the creator of Blackwater [is] creating a privatized air force using crop dusters manufactured by a farm company in the US state of Georgia and weaponizing them to sell to the Christian supremacist leader of South Sudan.
You have this growing covert or not-so-covert military presence in Africa. If you just rewind history half a century, there were these liberation struggles against exploitation of natural resources, against stomping out any attempts at self-determination. I feel like there's nothing new in warfare except the technology. These companies are very much like the Dutch East India Trading Company and United Fruit. They're just a little bit more sophisticated in how they conduct their business.
One of the topics we hear about a lot is the close relationship between the US policing system and Israel's. Does Israel show up a lot in these leaks?
Well, Israel doesn't show up in these documents. In some ways, Israel is more effective at keeping secrets than the US intelligence community. You haven't had this scale of a leak on the Israeli program at all. In fact, the only real ... remember, and I know you've reported on this a lot, Mordechai Vanunu, the former Israeli nuclear worker, blew the whistle in the early 1980s about Israel having nuclear weapons, which was an open secret, but he confirmed it. Then, he was, as a result of that, kidnapped and then had his entire life destroyed, spent decades basically in prison or being driven to insanity."All of these policies that were unleashed around the world now have come home in the most real way ever."
There is a very deep Israeli connection to this. That is that the US has whole cloth adopted the Israeli assassination model. In the '90s, Israel began very openly and proudly bumping off people, Palestinians who they considered to be either too popular of leaders or they accused of being heads of terror cells. After 9/11, when the Bush administration was trying to basically keep all of the blame on the Clinton era, Richard Clarke, who was the counterterrorism czar in the waning years of Clinton and then continued on with Bush, testified in the secret hearing in front of Congress that the reason that they didn't want to use a weaponized drone to kill [Osama] bin Laden early on or to launch a cruise missile strike that would effectively kill him is they didn't want to give the perception to the world that the US was running an Israeli-style assassination program. Fast forward to the middle of the Bush administration and then the Obama administration, [and] we have become the Israeli assassination program across the globe.
How does our peace movement need to change to respond to the current moment?
I think that if we step back and look at it, especially people that are just really focused on antiwar activism [need to] pay attention to the fact that everything you've been opposing around the world is here now ... It's in the targeting of young Black people by law enforcement. It's in the paramilitarization of police forces in this country.... It's [in] the militarization of the border. All of these policies that were unleashed around the world now have come home in the most real way ever, where local police forces all look like SWAT teams now. There's a whole program that the Homeland Security Department runs to give grants to local law enforcement to obtain armored vehicles that the military is done using in Afghanistan. Those are now facing down against protesters, but also [more generally against] Black communities or poor communities.
Jeremy Scahill's book is The Assassination Complex co-authored with the staff of The Intercept. "The Laura Flanders Show" airs multiple times weekly on KCET/LINKtv, (DIRECTV Ch. 375 and DISH Network Ch. 9410), on FreeSpeech TV and in Spanish and English on the Latin American network teleSUR. For more information or to watch more coverage of drone warfare, go to LauraFlanders.com.
US Representative Betty McCollum speaks to summit attendees on February 27, 2016. (Photo: Office of Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith)
If you count yourself among the folks who might be willing occasionally to engage Congress to try to help protect Palestinian civilians living under Israeli military occupation if there were a plausible story that your action could have a positive impact, I have some good news. Today is your special day. Today is your opportunity to serve.
Minnesota Democrat Betty McCollum is circulating a letter to House colleagues urging President Obama to take action to protect Palestinian kids in Israeli military detention. The letter closes early next week.
The American Friends Service Committee; Defense for Children International, Palestine; Jewish Voice for Peace; the Friends Committee on National Legislation; the US Campaign Against the Israeli Occupation; American Muslims for Palestine and Just Foreign Policy are collaborating on generating contacts to the House in support of this letter. Churches for Middle East Peace did an alert. CODEPINK did an alert.
Now, you might think to yourself: McCollum's letter looks great, but there's no way my poopy-doopy representative in the House is going to sign it. Well, let me be perfectly honest. (What other way is there to be?) You might be right.
If your representative is a Republican, then you are surely right. This is a Democratic letter. Three-fourths of the current signers are Congressional Progressive Caucus. There is no way on God's green earth that your poopy-doopy Republican representative is going to sign this Democratic letter. So don't bother to call them. Instead, sign a petition, share it on Facebook or Twitter or however you share things; some of your friends online aren't represented by poopy-doopy Republicans in the House.
Now, you might think, my representative is a Democrat, but my representative is a poopy-doopy Democrat who is never going to sign the McCollum letter. Again: you might be right.
If your representative is a Democrat who opposed the Iran deal, then you are almost surely right. Your representative missed a slow pitch that was lobbed right over the plate. There's no way on God's green earth that your poopy-doopy representative is going to sign a letter implying that Palestinian kids are human beings with "certain, inalienable rights." Don't bother to call them. Sign a petition. Put it on the ground, spread it all around.
If, however, you have reached this part of the flow chart, then it is my sacred duty to inform you that relative to the matter at hand, your representative is not a lost cause. Regardless of what you think of them otherwise, if your representative supported the Iran deal, then it is a historical fact that one fine day, when the sun was shining and the birds were singing, your representative told AIPAC to go drink the water of the sea. And therefore, your representative is not a lost cause. QED.
If you don't remember where your representative was on the Iran deal, you can check here to see if they were one of the 150 Democrats who signed the Schakowsky letter in support of the Iran framework agreement, widely understood at the time as "I pledge to help block Republican/AIPAC efforts to scuttle the Iran deal."
If your representative signed the Schakowsky letter, call them right now at 202-225-3121. Ask to speak to the staffer who handles foreign policy. When you speak to a staffer or leave a message, you can say something like:
"As a constituent, I urge you to sign the McCollum letter asking President Obama to take action to protect Palestinian children in Israeli military detention."
When you've made your call, you can report it here.
If you think this is impossible, consider this: the Iran deal was impossible. The Bernie Sanders campaign was impossible. Maybe some things that used to be impossible are now possible. Let's put this proposition to the test. What kind of sacrifice is it to try? Not a very big one.
You can learn more about the "No Way to Treat a Child Campaign" here.
(Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center; Edited: LW / TO)
Human-caused climate disruption is causing "unprecedented" melting in the Arctic, and record wildfires and warm temperatures. It's also a driving force behind increased risks of extinction for one-third of all North American birds -- and for human beings.
(Photo: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center; Edited: LW / TO)
A recent trip up Washington State's Mount Rainier brought home to me how rapidly things are changing, even in the high country.
I first climbed the mountain in 1994, when the main route was a picturesque climb up smooth glaciers. Most of the time crevasses weren't even visible, and snow cover was abundant.
But anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) has been speeding up with each passing year, and in the same area 22 years later, I found large portions of it nearly unrecognizable. We took a somewhat different route than the one I'd climbed in 1994, primarily because the lower portion of that route is now unusable, as the glacier it traversed is so broken up and crevassed as to make it impassable."Changes that normally occur over a matter of centuries are transpiring over decades."
It being early season (most of the guide services had yet to begin taking clients up the mountain), I expected much heavier snow cover and the snow bridges over crevasses to be in decent shape. That wasn't the case. After gingerly stepping our way over several sketchy snow bridges, I was grateful we weren't on the 14,411-foot-high northwestern volcano any later in the season than we were. Thankfully, we were able to summit and get back down without incident.
Less than a year and a half earlier, in December 2014, Nature World News reported that ACD was melting Rainier's glaciers at "unprecedented" rates (six times the historic speed).
"Changes that normally occur over a matter of centuries are transpiring over decades," according to the report. "The Nisqually Glacier, for example, one of Rainier's 28 named glaciers, has been disappearing since 1983. It's currently at a historic minimum and still shrinking - more than 3 feet every 10 days."
Paul Kennard, a National Park Service geomorphologist, said of the rapidity of the decline of the glaciers, "If you look at it on a graph, it's like a Ping-Pong ball just fell off the edge of the table."
And things have only sped up since then, both in terms of hotter temperatures as well as loss of ice on the Pacific Northwest iconic mountain.
To give you an idea of how rapidly ACD is occurring, one of the most striking infographics I've ever seen on the rapidity with which the global temperature is increasing can be viewed here. Make sure you watch it; it only takes a moment.
Climate disruption only continues to speed up.
NASA recently released data showing that the planet has just seen seven straight months of not just record-breaking, but record-shattering heat. It is clear, through the space agency's data, that this year we are already well on track to see what will likely be the largest increase in global temperature a single year has ever seen.
The NASA data also show that April was the hottest April ever recorded, as well as the fact that it crushed the previous April record by the largest margin of increase ever recorded.
That makes it three months in a row that the monthly record has been broken, and easily at that, by the largest margin ever. When record-smashing months started in February, it was then that scientists began talking about a "climate emergency," and since then our situation has only escalated."Scientists know that a warming climate can be expected to gradually sap the ocean of oxygen."
In particular, the way this is playing out in the Arctic is horrifying. An Arctic without summer sea ice could happen as early as this September, a turn of events that would have serious implications for global climate patterns. The decline in Arctic sea ice extent, area and volume is in the midst of a deep dive more severe than those that occurred in 2007 and 2012. The loss of sea ice is even outpacing the worst-case modeling predictions. It's worth noting that less than 10 years ago, scientists believed that an Arctic free of summer sea ice was not something that would happen until at least 2100.
But given that a recent four-day period saw a net loss of ice area the size of New Mexico, we will be lucky to see summer sea ice in the Arctic in September two to three years from now. Given the radically high temperature records and corresponding ice loss, scientists have been saying that the Arctic is now in "uncharted territory."
When we look at the amount of human-generated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it too is only continuing to increase.
Global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration first crossed over the 400 parts per million threshold in 2013, but now, scientists are speculating that we may have entered an era when the global concentration remains permanently over that mark -- an event some scientists are seeing as a point of no return.
And with the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide increasing, temperatures are increasing right alongside it, and with higher temperatures comes a lowering of the oxygen content of most of the global oceans before 2040.
Yes, that is as scary as it sounds. According to a recent press release from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a reduction in the amount of dissolved oxygen in the oceans due to ACD is already happening, and will become widespread before 2040.
Matthew Long, the lead author of the study that this press release is based on, stated, bluntly:
Loss of oxygen in the ocean is one of the serious side effects of a warming atmosphere, and a major threat to marine life. Since oxygen concentrations in the ocean naturally vary depending on variations in winds and temperature at the surface, it's been challenging to attribute any deoxygenation to climate change. This new study tells us when we can expect the impact from climate change to overwhelm the natural variability.
The press release added, "Scientists know that a warming climate can be expected to gradually sap the ocean of oxygen." This is literally making it harder for fish to breathe, as well as exacerbating the effects of ACD and ocean acidification.
Facts like these are why, according to a report recently published in the UK, a person may be five times as likely to die in an extinction event than in a car crash.
On multiple levels, this is extremely difficult information to take in: emotionally, intellectually, psychologically, spiritually. But this is the world we live in today, and we need an accurate understanding of what is happening in order to make informed, and better choices for how we are to live our lives.
It is in the spirit of providing the most updated, accurate information available that this dispatch is written.
Read on, sit with the information and then use it as a mirror for your life.
A report by Lloyd's of London sees the single greatest threat to civilization over the next four decades as ACD-amplified extreme floods and droughts that impact multiple global grain-producing "breadbaskets" simultaneously. Hence, the "Food System Shock" report warns that when this occurs, mass rioting, civil war, terrorist attacks and mass starvation are likely to happen.
The impacts of ACD on various species continue to make themselves known.
A cascade effect of ACD impacting weather, insect availability and other food sources is taking a serious toll on birds like the red knot, which is seeing its populations decline as the birds' body mass shrinks, according to a recently published study.
The report shows how, in the case of the red knot, the consequences of ACD are only being seen at a distance, which is another important concept for us to get our minds around as the crisis unfolds on multiple levels.
In this case, the body size of the red knot has been decreasing as its breeding grounds in the Arctic continue to warm, but, as the report states: "The real toll of this change appears not in the rapidly changing northern part of their range but in the apparently more stable tropical wintering range. The resulting smaller, short-billed birds have difficulty reaching their major food source, deeply buried mollusks, which decreases the survival of birds born during particularly warm years."
On that note, a recently released report by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative shows that one-third of all North American bird species are at risk of going extinct, and ACD is one of the drivers of the catastrophic bird loss.
As usual, the majority of the most dramatically obvious impacts of ACD are in this sector of the dispatch.
The World Bank issued a new report warning that global water shortages will deal a "severe hit" to economies across the Middle East, North Africa, and Central and South Asia as ACD progresses. The report warned that by 2050 growing demand for water from both cities and agriculture will cause dramatic water shortages in regions where it is currently in abundance, in addition to worsening shortages that already exist. This will, according to the World Bank, generate broad amounts of conflict and human migration across the regions cited.Lake Mead, the largest US reservoir, broke a record in May by declining to its lowest level ever recorded.
Another report from the World Bank shows that, conversely, by 2050 there will be 1.3 billion people, along with $158 trillion in assets, put at risk from flooding and sea level rise alone. The twin factors of ACD and urbanization are the culprits, and the report warns that increasingly intense extreme weather disasters will continue to make matters worse as well.
Meanwhile, in the Micronesian island nation of Palau, the famous UNESCO World Heritage site of Jellyfish Lake is losing its namesake. Severe drought and increasingly hot temperatures are causing the unique non-stinging jellyfish to vanish, and possibly not return.
Sea level rise is continuing at abrupt rates.
A study in the journal Environmental Research Letters linked ACD-caused sea level rise, along with wave action, to the Pacific Ocean swallowing several villages and five of the Solomon Islands.
More and more studies are showing the likelihood of far higher sea level increases than previously projected, as the rapid pace of melting of both the Antarctic and Greenland icecaps increases. The studies show that abrupt sea level rise is an increasingly realistic threat, with sea levels estimated to rise by six feet within this century, and far higher in the next -- flooding out many of the world's heavily populated coastal areas and cities.
As if to underscore that point, a study recently released by the UK-based charity Christian Aid projected over 1 billion people at risk from coastal flooding by 2060, with the populations of China, India and the United States being the most heavily impacted. Again, ACD and overpopulation are cited as the prime drivers of the crisis.
Recent images of the unprecedented coral bleaching event that is signaling the demise of Australia's Great Barrier Reef reveal the complete destruction of coral colonies that are large enough to fill an area the size of Scotland.
Recent findings by leading ACD researchers and coral reef scientists show that the exceedingly warm water temperatures that drove the bleaching event at the Great Barrier Reef were made 175 times more likely by ACD, and could well become the "normal" water temperature with permanent bleaching there within the next 18 years.
Meanwhile, India is experiencing dramatic coral bleaching events as well. Rohan Arthur, the scientist who heads the coral reef program at the Nature Conservation Foundation based in India, has been studying the coral reefs and documenting the bleaching. Arthur described India's widespread coral bleaching as "heart wrenching," and expects it to continue to worsen.
In Florida, it's not warm waters that are destroying coral. Instead, acidification is causing that state's coral to disintegrate faster than had been predicted, and a recent report shows that this trend will only accelerate as ocean acidification progresses, with the world's oceans continuing to rapidly absorb carbon dioxide.
Positive feedback loops have been wreaking havoc in the Arctic as well.
Arctic Ocean acidification is being sped up by erosion and river runoff in Siberia. As the permafrost is thawing there, coastlines across Russia are falling into the ocean, along with rivers dumping massive amounts of carbon into the ocean, which is all combining to ramp up the acidification, which is bad news for all things living in the once-pristine waters of the Arctic.
In Austria, the glaciers are melting so fast, they have retreated an average of 72 feet during last year alone, which is more than twice the rate of the previous year, according to a recent survey.Half of all conservatives in the US believe that ACD is real, which is an increase of 19 percent over the last two years.
In the Antarctic, the news of more melting continues. In eastern Antarctica, where the vast majority of the ice volume resides -- an area once believed to be largely free of the impacts of ACD -- the Nansen Ice Shelf has produced an iceberg 20 kilometers long. A giant crack in the shelf that has existed since 1999 expanded dramatically in 2014, and that trend continued into this year, when melting on the surface and from the warming seas below the shelf caused an area larger than the area of Manhattan to release out into the ocean.
On the other side of that continent, the Antarctic Peninsula saw an incredible new record high temperature of 17 degrees Celsius last year. This, coupled with the ongoing ramping up of the melting of the ice shelves, is having global implications already, including sea level rise, and impacts on global weather patterns.
Extreme drought across the world continues.
In California, Gov. Jerry Brown has deemed that state's water conservation efforts permanent, a sign of resignation to the fact that the state's drought is now being considered ongoing, without an end in sight. Ninety percent of California remains in drought, and summer is just beginning.
As if to underscore that point, Lake Mead, the largest US reservoir, broke a record in May by declining to its lowest level ever recorded.
In Zimbabwe, the UN Development Programme announced recently that 4.5 million people, which is at least half of the country's total rural population, will need food and water aid by next March, as an extreme drought persists with no end in sight.
Summer had barely found its stride when residents of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada, became part of the historical record: Their town saw the single largest fire evacuation event in Alberta's history. More than 80,000 residents of the tar sands oil town fled massive wildfires, in what couldn't be a more obvious sign from the planet that engaging in the most environmentally destructive method of fossil fuel extraction might not be the best idea.
Things settled down a bit after the winds shifted and the fires subsided -- until the winds shifted again and the fires returned, forcing yet more evacuations as people again did not get the earth's memo.
So far this year, 22 times more land has burned than burned in the same period last year, and that year was one of the worst fire seasons in Canada's history. Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with the rest of the country's mainstream media, have opted not to mention ACD when discussing the wildfires that threaten their earth-destroying cash cow, the tar sands.
Meanwhile, a recently published study shows what we are already seeing -- that warming temperatures in the northern latitudes are spurring more fires across Alaska, which in turn cause increasingly warming temperatures ... hence, yet another runaway feedback loop is unveiled.
Out-of-control wildfires raged across the Russian-Chinese border, as well as nearby Lake Baikal, according to The Siberian Times, resulting in more ACD refugees.
As mentioned in the introduction of this dispatch, heat records around the world continue to be set at a breakneck pace, including the overall record heat increases for the entire planet.
More specifically, Southwest Asia and India recently saw historic heat waves that have brought more than 150 deaths. Cambodia and Laos each set record highs for any day of the year during April. Cambodia saw 108.7 degrees Fahrenheit on April 15, and on April 26, Thailand set a record for national energy consumption (air conditioning), according to The Associated Press.
India went on to break its heat record in May, when the city of Rajasthan saw 51 degrees Celsius (123.8 degrees Fahrenheit), as the heat wave besetting northern India persists, as temperatures have exceeded 40 degrees Celsius for several weeks in a row now.
Looking to the north, the Russian Hydrometeorological Center recently reported that since May 2015, every single month has been the warmest in Russia's history. By way of example, in March, the temperature deviation on islands in the Barents Sea was a staggering 12 degrees Celsius.
In Alaska, despite it being very early in the summer, heat records are breaking by the dozens. Recent statements from the National Weather Service reported that the towns of McGrath and Delta Junction in the interior of the state hit a high of 78 degrees and a low of 49 degrees, respectively, beating the previous records set in 2005 and 1988 for each. Fairbanks set a new high temperature record of 82, which shattered a century-old record of 80 degrees set in 1915.
The largest city in Alaska, Anchorage, set a record of 72 degrees, a stunning seven degrees above the previous high that was set in 2014, while Juneau and Bethel, set new heat records. Even Barrow, in the far north, saw 42 degrees recently, breaking the previous heat record by four degrees. Given that Anchorage has already seen the second-largest number of record high temperatures for any year and there is still 63 percent of the year left, 2016 will certainly break the previous record of high temperatures seen, which was set in 2003.
In Africa, the heat continues to be unrelenting, and that trend is expected to not only continue, but increase, according to a study recently published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. According to the study, by 2100, heat waves on that continent will be hotter, last longer and occur with much greater frequency.
One of the research team's authors said that "unusual" heat events will become much more regular, "meaning it can occur every year, and not just once in 38 years -- in climate change scenarios."
Denial and Reality
Never a dull moment on the ACD denial front, especially with Donald Trump dominating headlines in the United States, and the corporate media giving him all the coverage he could possibly hope for.
Trump, who could very well become the next US president, recently named ACD "skeptic" Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota) as his energy adviser. Cramer is one of the leading oil and gas drilling advocates in the US, and North Dakota has been one of the states on the front lines of the US shale oil and gas boom.
Over in the UK, a group of the most eminent scientists there recently criticized The Times of London newspaper for its "distorted coverage" of ACD, along with the "poor quality" of its journalism around human-caused climate disruption. Media misrepresentation has been a major culprit for much of the public unawareness and misunderstanding of ACD.
Back in the US, on the reality front, Kevin Faulconer, the Republican mayor of San Diego, is pushing forward with a plan to run the city completely on renewable energy by 2035.
Another hopeful note: Recent polling shows that now half of all conservatives in the United States believe that ACD is real, which is an increase of 19 percent over the last two years.
Exxon, now targeted by a campaign aimed at making the oil giant pay for ACD, is working overtime to blunt the attack. Exxon is sending executives and lobbyists to meet with state representatives in an effort to mitigate what could be extreme economic losses for the company if the campaign continues to be as successful as it has been thus far. The campaign against Exxon is now deeply tied to the overall campaign to pressure universities and businesses to divest from fossil fuel companies, which has been incredibly successful and is becoming more so by the week.
Lastly, in a story that has not gotten anywhere near the coverage it deserves, the US government has been actively resettling its first official ACD "climate refugees." A large grant of federal money was given to Louisiana's community of Isle de Jean Charles, where the people have been struggling (and losing) against rising seas, coastal erosion and increasingly violent storms.
It is important to note this development, since well before 2100, there will be millions of people along US coastlines who will have to be resettled further inland as sea level rise only continues to speed up.
Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's latest inventory of greenhouse gas emissions provided the warning that methane and carbon dioxide emissions are "going completely in the wrong direction," as the amounts being injected into the atmosphere continue to accelerate.
Supporters of the student protest group Concerned Student 1950 celebrate and chant following the announcement of the resignation of University of Missouri President Timothy Wolfe, on campus in Columbia, Missouri, November 9, 2015. Wolfe announced that he was stepping down after a wave of student outcry, including an ultimatum from dozens of Black football players that they would not play if he did not resign. (Daniel Brenner / The New York Times)
During the past academic year, an upsurge of student activism, a movement of millennials, has swept campuses across the country and attracted the attention of the media. From coast to coast, from the Ivy League to state universities to small liberal arts colleges, a wave of student activism has focused on stopping climate change, promoting a living wage, fighting mass incarceration practices, supporting immigrant rights, and of course campaigning for Bernie Sanders.
Both the media and the schools that have been the targets of some of these protests have seized upon certain aspects of the upsurge for criticism or praise, while ignoring others. Commentators, pundits, and reporters have frequently trivialized and mocked the passion of the students and the ways in which it has been directed, even as universities have tried to appropriate it by promoting what some have called "neoliberal multiculturalism." Think of this as a way, in particular, of taming the power of the present demands for racial justice and absorbing them into an increasingly market-oriented system of higher education.
In some of their most dramatic actions, students of color, inspired in part by the Black Lives Matter movement, have challenged the racial climate at their schools. In the process, they have launched a wave of campus activism, including sit-ins, hunger strikes, demonstrations, and petitions, as well as emotional, in-your-face demands of various sorts. One national coalition of student organizations, the Black Liberation Collective, has called for the percentage of black students and faculty on campus to approximate that of blacks in the society. It has also called for free tuition for black and Native American students, and demanded that schools divest from private prison corporations. Other student demands for racial justice have included promoting a living wage for college employees, reducing administrative salaries, lowering tuitions and fees, increasing financial aid, and reforming the practices of campus police. These are not, however, the issues that have generally attracted the attention either of media commentators or the colleges themselves.
Instead, the spotlight has been on student demands for cultural changes at their institutions that focus on deep-seated assumptions about whiteness, sexuality, and ability. At some universities, students have personalized these demands, insisting on the removal of specific faculty members and administrators. Emphasizing a politics of what they call "recognition," they have also demanded that significant on-campus figures issue public apologies or acknowledge that "black lives matter." Some want universities to implement in-class "trigger warnings" when difficult material is being presented and to create "safe spaces" for marginalized students as a sanctuary from the daily struggle with the mainstream culture. By seizing upon and responding to these (and only these) student demands, university administrators around the country are attempting to domesticate and appropriate this new wave of activism.
In the meantime, right-wing commentators have depicted students as coddled, entitled, and enemies of free speech. The libertarian right has launched a broad media critique of the current wave of student activism. Commentators have been quick to dismiss student protesters as over-sensitive and entitled purveyors of "academic victimology." They lament the "coddling of the American mind." The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf has termed students "misguided" in their protests against racist language, ideas, and assumptions, their targeting of "microaggression" (that is, unconscious offensive comments) and insensitivity, and their sometimes highly personal attacks against those they accuse. One of the most vocal critics of the new campus politics, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, argues that such rampant "liberalism" and "political correctness" violate academic freedom and freedom of speech. (In this, they are in accord with the liberal American Civil Liberties Union. Free speech advocates Daphne Patai and the ACLU's Harvey Silvergate, for example, bemoan a new diversity requirement at the University of Massachusetts for its "politicization of education.")
In a response that, under the circumstances, might at first seem surprising, college administrators have been been remarkably open to some of these student demands -- often the very ones derided by the right. In this way, the commentators and the administrators have tended to shine a bright light on what is both personal and symbolic in the new politics of the student protesters, while ignoring or downplaying their more structural and economically challenging desires and demands.
The Neoliberal University
University administrators have been particularly amenable to student demands that fit with current trends in higher education. Today's neoliberal university is increasingly facing market pressures like loss of state funding, privatization, rising tuition, and student debt, while promoting a business model that emphasizes the managerial control of faculty through constant "assessment," emphasis on "accountability," and rewards for "efficiency." Meanwhile, in a society in which labor unions are constantly being weakened, the higher education labor force is similarly being -- in the term of the moment -- "flexibilized" through the weakening of tenure, that once ironclad guarantee of professorial lifetime employment, and the increased use of temporary adjunct faculty.
In this context, universities are scrambling to accommodate student activism for racial justice by incorporating the more individualized and personal side of it into increasingly depoliticized cultural studies programs and business-friendly, market-oriented academic ways of thinking. Not surprisingly, how today's students frame their demands often reflects the environment in which they are being raised and educated. Postmodern theory, an approach which still reigns in so many liberal arts programs, encourages textual analysis that reveals hidden assumptions encoded in words; psychology has popularized the importance of individual trauma; and the neoliberal ideology that has come to permeate so many schools emphasizes individual behavior as the most important agent for social change. Add together these three strands of thought, now deeply embedded in a college education, and injustice becomes a matter of the wrongs individuals inflict on others at a deeply personal level. Deemphasized are the policies and structures that are built into how society (and the university) works.
For this reason, while schools have downplayed or ignored student demands for changes in admissions, tuition, union rights, pay scales, and management prerogatives, they have jumped into the heated debate the student movement has launched over "microaggressions" -- pervasive, stereotypical remarks that assume whiteness as a norm and exoticize people of color, while taking for granted the white nature of institutions of higher learning. As part of the present wave of protest, students of color have, for instance, highlighted their daily experiences of casual and everyday racism -- statements or questions like "where are you from?" (when the answer is: the same place you're from) or "as a [fill in the blank], how do you feel about..." Student protests against such comments, especially when they are made by professors or school administrators, and the mindsets that go with them are precisely what the right is apt to dismiss as political correctness run wild and university administrations are embracing as the essence of the present on-campus movement.
At Yale, the Intercultural Affairs Committee advised students to avoid racially offensive Halloween costumes. When a faculty member and resident house adviser circulated an email critiquing the paternalism of such an administrative mandate, student protests erupted calling for her removal. While Yale declined to remove her from her post as a house adviser, she stepped down from her teaching position. At Emory, students protested the "pain" they experienced at seeing "Trump 2016" graffiti on campus, and the university president assured them that he "heard [their] message... about values regarding diversity and respect that clash with Emory's own." Administrators are scrambling to implement new diversity initiatives and on-campus training programs -- and hiring expensive private consulting firms to help them do so.
At the University of Missouri, the president and chancellor both resigned in the face of student protests including a hunger strike and a football team game boycott in the wake of racial incidents on campus including public racist slurs and symbols. So did the dean of students at Claremont McKenna College (CMC), when protest erupted over her reference to students (implicitly of color) who "don't fit our CMC mold."
Historian and activist Robin Kelley suggests that today's protests, even as they "push for measures that would make campuses more hospitable to students of color: greater diversity, inclusion, safety, and affordability," operate under a contradictory logic that is seldom articulated. To what extent, he wonders, does the student goal of "leaning in" and creating more spaces for people of color at the top of an unequal and unjust social order clash with the urge of the same protesters to challenge that unjust social order?
Kelley argues that the language of "trauma" and mental health that has come to dominate campuses also works to individualize and depoliticize the very idea of racial oppression. The words "trauma, PTSD, micro-aggression, and triggers," he points out, "have virtually replaced oppression, repression, and subjugation." He explains that, "while trauma can be an entrance into activism, it is not in itself a destination and may even trick activists into adopting the language of the neoliberal institutions they are at pains to reject." This is why, he adds, for university administrators, diversity and cultural competency initiatives have become go-to solutions that "shift race from the public sphere into the psyche" and strip the present round of demonstrations of some of their power.
Cultural Politics and Inequality
In recent years, cultural, or identity, politics has certainly challenged the ways that Marxist and other old and new left organizations of the past managed to ignore, or even help reproduce, racial and gender inequalities. It has questioned the value of class-only or class-first analysis on subjects as wide-ranging as the Cuban Revolution -- did it successfully address racial inequality as it redistributed resources to the poor, or did it repress black identity by privileging class analysis? -- and the Bernie Sanders campaign -- will his social programs aimed at reducing economic inequality alleviate racial inequality by helping the poor, or will his class-based project leave the issue of racial inequality in the lurch? In other words, the question of whether a political project aimed at attacking the structures of economic inequality can also advance racial and gender equality is crucial to today's campus politics.
Put another way, the question is: How political is the personal? Political scientist Adolph Reed argues that if class is left out, race politics on campus becomes "the politics of the left-wing of neoliberalism." As he puts it, race-first politics of the sort being pushed today by university administrators promotes a "moral economy... in which 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources could be just, provided that roughly 12% of the 1% were black, 12% were Latino, 50% were women, and whatever the appropriate proportions were LGBT people."
The student movement that has swept across the nation has challenged colleges and universities on the basics of their way of (quite literally) doing business. The question for these institutions now is: Can student demands largely be tamed and embedded inside an administration-sanctioned agenda that in no way undermines how schools now operate in the world?
Feminist theorist Nancy Fraser has shown how feminist ideas of a previous generation were successfully "recuperated by neoliberalism" -- that is, how they were repurposed as rationales for greater inequality. "Feminist ideas that once formed part of a radical worldview," she argues, are now "increasingly expressed in individualist terms." Feminist demands for workplace access and equal pay have, for example, been used to undermine worker gains for a "family wage," while a feminist emphasis on gender equality has similarly been used on campus to divert attention from growing class inequality.
Student demands for racial justice risk being absorbed into a comparable framework. University administrators have found many ways to use student demands for racial justice to strengthen their business model and so the micro-management of faculty. In one case seized upon by free-speech libertarians, the Brandeis administration placed an assistant provost in a classroom to monitor a professor after students accused him of using the word "wetback" in a Latin American politics class. More commonly, universities employ a plethora of consulting firms and create new administrative positions to manage "diversity" and "inclusion." Workshops and training sessions proliferate, as do "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings." Such a vision of "diversity" is then promoted as a means to prepare students to compete in the "global marketplace."
There are even deeper ways in which a diversity agenda aligns with neoliberal politics. Literary theorist Walter Benn Michaels argues, for example, that diversity can give a veneer of social justice to ideas about market competition and meritocracy that in reality promote inequality. "The rule in neoliberal economies is that the difference between the rich and the poor gets wider rather than shrinks -- but that no culture should be treated invidiously," he explains. "It's basically OK if economic differences widen as long as the increasingly successful elites come to look like the increasingly unsuccessful non-elites. So the model of social justice is not that the rich don't make as much and the poor make more, the model of social justice is that the rich make whatever they make, but an appropriate percentage of them are minorities or women." Or as Forbes Magazine put it, "Businesses need to vastly increase their ability to sense new opportunities, develop creative solutions, and move on them with much greater speed. The only way to accomplish these changes is through a revamped workplace culture that embraces diversity so that sensing, creativity, and speed are all vastly improved."
Clearly, university administrators prefer student demands that can be coopted or absorbed into their current business model. Allowing the prevailing culture to define the parameters of their protest has left the burgeoning Millennial Movement in a precarious position. The more that students -- with the support of college and university administrations -- accept the individualized cultural path to social change while forgoing the possibility of anything greater than cosmetic changes to prevailing hierarchies, on campus and beyond, the more they face ridicule from those on the right who present them as fragile, coddled, privileged whiners.
Still, this young, vibrant movement has momentum and will continue to evolve. In this time of great social and political flux, it's possible that its many constituencies -- fighting for racial justice, economic justice, and climate justice -- will use their growing clout to build on recent victories, no matter how limited.
Keep an eye on college campuses. The battle for the soul of American higher education being fought there today is going to matter for the wider world tomorrow. Whether that future will be defined by a culture of trigger warnings and safe spaces or by democratized education and radical efforts to fight inequality may be won or lost in the shadow of the Ivory Tower. The Millennial Movement matters. Our future is in their hands.
On the News With Thom Hartmann: More Than 600,000 Miles of Arctic Sea Ice Have Disappeared, and More
In today's On the News segment: The current rate of sea ice loss could lead to ice-free summers in the Arctic within the next two decades; a new study is identifying food that can help prevent chronic inflammation that leads to many causes of death; cells may carry the memory of an injury; and more.
Thom Hartmann here -- on the best of the rest of Science and Green News...
You need to know this... David Appell, Yale Climate Connections, is asking the question -- Will the Arctic be ice-free within the next two decades? When white sea ice melts, the ocean loses its reflective surface and the darker water absorbs more heat from the sun. Kristina Pistone of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Ames Research Center says, "melting Arctic sea ice is not only a symptom of global warming, it's also an important contributor because of the albedo effect." So -- when Arctic sea ice melts, the underlying ocean water absorbs more of the sun's heat and warms up. Then that melts more sea ice, producing the dreaded "positive feedback" effect that's only "positive" in that it generates more heat. Since 1979, over 600,000 square miles of winter sea ice have disappeared -- an area larger than twice the size of Texas. Pistone said that rate of loss could lead to ice-free summers in the Arctic within the next two decades. This will be disastrous for local ecosystems, accelerate global warming and affect weather patterns worldwide.
Did you know there are foods that help with chronic inflammation? Well... A new study by the University of Liverpool's Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease, is identifying food that can help prevent chronic inflammation that leads to many causes of death. It now looks like diets rich in fruits and vegetables, that contain polyphenols, are the ones to look for. What are they? Onions, turmeric, red grapes, green tea and açai berries for starters. How do they do this? T-cells, or T-lymphocytes, are a type of white blood cell that circulates around our bodies, constantly monitoring for cellular abnormalities and infections. They contribute to cell signalling molecules (cytokines) that aid cell-to-cell communication in immune responses and stimulate the movement of cells towards sites of inflammation, infection and trauma. Cytokines are modulated by fruit and vegetable intake. Sian Richardson, was involved with this study, said polyphenols, "may help reduce the release of pro-inflammatory mediators in people at risk of chronic inflammation."
According to a new study published in the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, Benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), a chemical commonly used in the food manufacturing process, can increase fat storage in the body even before birth. This studies shows that the cell lines exposed to increasingly higher levels of BBP also showed higher levels of adipogenesis. This is how fat cells develop -- and apparently they develop five-times higher, depending on the dose. Mahua Choudhury, Ph.D, who led this study, said, "We were quite surprised by the results. We had thought we would see some increase, but nothing this dramatic." I'm surprised too. Aren't you…? More than one-third of adult Americans are obese, and obesity contributes to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease. It now looks like plastics may be contributing to this problem….
Let's get geeky on music. Ever wonder what's happening in a musician's brain when they're actually playing a song? What about when a musician starts improvising -- starts playing music directly "off the cuff"? Thanks to the research from Dr. Charles Limb -- an ear and throat doctor and surgeon who also happens to be obsessed with music -- we now have a much better idea. Over the last few years -- Limb put jazz musicians and rappers into MRI machines to see what's happening in their brain when they improvise or freestyle rap. Inside of the MRI machine -- he'd have them simply play scales followed by having them improvise on scales -- and then he'd have the musicians play a memorized piece of music -- and then finally he'd have them play an improvised version of that. What he found was when one of the subjects started improvising -- parts of the brain that are associated with "self-expression" were activated -- language regions and at times regions associated with visual imagery activated too. But what's really interesting is that regions of the brain that are involved in inhibition -- the parts of the brain that self-monitor and hold us back from saying and doing offensive or inappropriate things -- were actually LESS active during improvisation. Limb points out, "Without this type of creativity, humans wouldn't have advanced as a species." He's right, understanding creativity and how humans improvise -- especially in groups -- isn't just fascinating: It's critical to understanding how humans have been so successful as a species.
Can mushrooms treat depression? Looks like it. The Imperial College London, in a study gave patients psilocybin, a hallucinogenic chemical found in the mushrooms. Dr. Cahart-Harris of the study said a "majority of the patients had a rapid dip in their depressive signs, including predictable side effects like nausea, anxiety and headaches." Looks like the mushroom's psilocybin targets the brain's receptors, which usually responds to the hormone serotonin, that is involved in mood.
Cells may carry the memory of an injury. A recent study by Science News, shows why chronic pain can last even when the injury that caused it has gone. Although the research is just starting, this could explain how small and seemingly harmless injuries leaving a molecular "footprint" which may lead to chronic pain.
Scientists have confirmed -- a folk remedy repels mosquitoes. The American beautyberry plant, Callicarpa americana, keeps chomping insects away. Charles T. Bryson, an ARS botanist in Stoneville, Mississippi, said, "I was a small child, maybe 7 or 8 years old, when he told me about the plant the first time. For almost 40 years, I've grabbed a handful of leaves, crushed them and rubbed them on my skin with the same results." Now it's been been proven and the naturally chemical has been found that repels insects in this plant.
And finally... In closing -- you can now drink beer and save ocean life. Cheers to that. Saltwater Brewery in Florida has collaborate with the New York-based ad agency We Believers -- to create a plastic-free six-pack ring that feeds marine life, rather than hurting them.
And that's the way it is -- for the week of May 23, 2016 -- on the Science & Green News....
Illinois lawmakers are considering a bill that would limit the use of solitary confinement. This bill is vital: Solitary confinement is used arbitrarily to humiliate, degrade and dehumanize people every day. I know because I endured solitary confinement for years.
A prisoner in the security housing unit of Pelican Bay State Prison takes a dinner tray in Crescent City, California, on Feburary 9, 2012. (Jim Wilson / The New York Times)
Solitary confinement. Administrative segregation. Administrative detention. Restrictive housing. Temporary confinement. Protective custody. Appropriate placement. There are many names for solitary confinement. In the Illinois prisons where I was incarcerated, it was called "segregation," but most of the women called it "seg" or "jail." No matter the language, it is all solitary -- and it is torture.
Solitary confinement is being locked in a cell alone and segregated from the general population of the prison for 23 hours a day. More often than not, the allowed hour out does not happen. Meals are delivered through a slot in the door, which is kept locked except during the delivery of meals, mail and medication. Being in solitary means being handcuffed for transport to the shower or a visit.
Depending on where in the building the cell is, there may be a window. Often these windows are painted or clouded over, but some windows can be opened and occasionally there is a window that one can actually see through. No spontaneous phone calls are permitted, no matter the circumstances: Prescheduled calls from a lawyer are the only type of calls allowed.
Most people who've never been to prison do not understand what solitary means, or how it affects those who are isolated and their families. Far too many people buy into the myth that only the "worst of the worst" are placed there, but this just is not so.For years after my last trip to solitary, I still panicked when I saw a correctional officer coming toward me.
Though some are placed in solitary for fighting, most women are placed there at the whim of a correctional officer. One can be placed in solitary for rolling one's eyes at a correctional officer -- for "insolence," defined as anything said or done that irks, irritates or annoys staff. In prisons, it is well known -- though never spoken of openly -- that insolence can also mean turning down the sexual advance of a correctional officer, or taking some other stand such as speaking out against abuses of power.
Women have been taken to solitary for having a couple of pieces of candy in their pockets while standing in line waiting for medications or while in "mass movement" (moving in a group to or from the chow hall or job or school assignments). Women have been taken to solitary for waving hello to someone on the other side of the chow hall or in a line or mass movement.
Saying "no" often puts a woman in prison in a dangerous position. When a woman in prison turns down a correctional officer, it is often assumed that she "thinks she is better than other inmates," and she is targeted. She becomes subject to "random" shakedowns, and her few belongings -- including pictures of children and family -- may be torn through and often torn up. Other belongings may be damaged or confiscated as "contraband" (the correctional officer decides what qualifies as "contraband," whether it is available for purchase within the prison or not). Finally, the woman is placed in solitary, because being in possession of contraband is a disciplinary infraction.
The power of the staff in prison is nearly absolute, as evidenced by the casual use of solitary to "punish" women who refuse their advances.
It is rare that a woman is initially sentenced to a year or more in solitary; more often it is a sentence of 30, 60 or 90 days. But these sentences often turn into more months, and even years, once in solitary, because more disciplinary tickets are written, usually for insolence. In other cases, a woman is taken to solitary for 30, 60 or 90 days, then released -- and taken back to solitary within a few days.
Women spend years like this, going in and out of solitary. This is jarring to the psyche: to be taken back and forth to solitary, never having the chance to stabilize and readjust to general population, or to receive a visit while in general population -- never having the chance to make phone calls or even breathe a little easier, before being taken back. It causes a constant wariness, a paranoiac state of mind.
All of this has happened to me. I was placed in solitary for insolence and "unauthorized movement," which means being someplace in the prison without permission. However, when the lieutenant came to handcuff me, I was exactly where I was supposed to be: in the kitchen, where I was assigned to work. Nevertheless, he took me to solitary. I knew why I was really going: for saying "no" to an officer. But what was I to do? I had no proof, nothing written and no audio recording -- just my word, which counts for nothing in the penitentiary.
When my belongings were finally brought to me in solitary, most of them were missing; the rest were damaged. I spent 60 days in solitary, was released into general population and then was taken back to solitary in less than a week. I spent a few years like this.Solitary confinement is used to break people, to destroy people. It is not disciplinary. It is torture, and it needs to stop.
I had already spent a year in solitary. Then, the few years of back and forth, in and out. I became very sensitive to the sound of handcuffs, keys and radio. I heard them in my sleep, when I was able to sleep. Correctional officers jingle their cuffs and keys a lot, especially when they are around someone who has been to solitary. These small noises started causing me to shiver. Every time I saw a correctional officer or lieutenant coming my way, I just knew I was going back to solitary.
For years after my last trip to solitary, I still panicked when I saw a correctional officer coming toward me. Even my friends would freak out on my behalf, always worried about me being taken back. I have not been in solitary since 2004 or 2005, and have been out of prison since December 2015, after serving 20 years. Still, any sound remotely like cuffs, keys or radio has me involuntarily shivering. I still sometimes have a hard time in large crowds of people. I am still half expecting to be taken back.
In solitary, a woman is even more at the mercy of correctional officers than she already is in general population. Showering, which is supposed to happen three times a week, is often only made available at the whim of the staff, and sometimes there isn't enough staff to run a shower. To go take a shower, I had to stand with my hands behind my back and back up to the slot in the door so the correctional officers could place handcuffs on me before they opened the door. Then I would be walked to the shower in cuffs (not only was I already handcuffed, the correctional officer still has to have their hands on you for transport) and step into the shower. The officer then would close the cage door, and I would back up to the gate so I could be uncuffed to take my shower. If I was lucky, the water would be warm, maybe even hot. Most of the time, it was cold.
Meals were also at the whim of the correctional officers. The meals were slid into my cell through the same slot used to handcuff me, and I ate whenever staff got around to serving the meals. Similarly, mail was passed out when staff felt like passing it out -- and I received two envelopes from my sister and mother, addressed to me, with my name and ID number on them, but with letters from another woman's husband and children in the envelopes.
Being on my menstrual cycle in solitary was horrifying and degrading. Getting enough sanitary napkins and toilet paper was a particular trial, and it was near impossible to get a Tylenol or Motrin for cramps. I was told to just "sit on the toilet and let it flow" (which I actually had to do, because I had no pads, and it took hours for staff to locate some and get them to me). I was told that I had to squeeze my legs and vagina shut, to figure out how to hold it in. I had a cellmate once who soiled her sheets and clothing and could not get them replaced or washed for a week.
I refused a visitor from outside the prison -- my legal counsel, who was like family to me -- once while in solitary because I was so ashamed at being there. I'd been so isolated that I began to isolate myself further. I always felt like I stank of sweat and menstruation, and who would want to see me like that?
Plus, I did not want to undergo the process one must submit to in order to meet with an outside visitor. I did not want to have to strip down in front of staff, to spread my cheeks, squat and cough while on my cycle -- all while not being able to get a clean sanitary napkin. I gave up on myself.
To this day, I take three or four showers a day, still trying to wash off the stink and stench of solitary.
I have listened to the screams of mentally ill people placed in solitary because staff does not know what to do with them. I have listened to them being taunted by correctional officers. I have heard the cries of women missing their children or losing their loved ones. I have seen and smelled death and despair.
I've been out of solitary for over 11 years, but I still smell my cell. I still hear the correctional officers clanging the bars and jingling their keys and handcuffs. Because I said "no." Because I took what I believed was the only stand I could make. And that stand brought me to my knees and cracked my spirit.
Solitary confinement is used to break people, to destroy people. It is not disciplinary. It is torture, and it needs to stop.
In Illinois, where I live, there is currently a bill pending to limit the use of solitary confinement to no more than five days within a 150-day period: HB5417, the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act, sponsored by State Rep. L. Ford and others. This bill is vital: Solitary confinement is used arbitrarily to humiliate, degrade and dehumanize people every day in Illinois prisons. It can and does traumatize people so severely that they often cannot function in the general population within the prison, let alone outside in society once released from prison. It is my hope that if and when this bill is passed here in Illinois, it will inspire other states to take similar action to limit the use of solitary confinement. It will save sanity and lives.
In a Democracy Now! broadcast exclusive, we speak with a former senior Pentagon official about how his superiors broke the law to punish a key National Security Agency whistleblower for leaking information about waste, mismanagement and surveillance. His account sheds light on how and why Edward Snowden revealed how the government was spying on hundreds of millions of people around the world. John Crane worked 25 years for the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General, which helps federal employees expose abuse. He now says whistleblowers have little choice but to go outside the system, and is speaking out about what happened to NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, who revealed the existence of a widespread illegal program of domestic surveillance. Crane describes how in December 2010 Drake's lawyers filed a complaint with the inspector general alleging he had been punished in retaliation for his whistleblowing, and that the crimes Drake was later charged with were "based in part, or entirely," on information he provided to the Pentagon inspector general. Mark Hertsgaard recounts Crane's story in his new book, Bravehearts: Whistle-Blowing in the Age of Snowden, and shows how Drake's persecution sent an unmistakable message to Edward Snowden: Raising concerns within the system meant he would be targeted next. Edward Snowden has responded to Crane's revelations by calling for a complete overhaul of US whistleblower protections. "To me, the main issue is: Can we have a workable system that lets whistleblowers follow their own principled dissent without having them destroyed in the process?" asks John Crane. We are also joined by Mark Hertsgaard.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, a Democracy Now! broadcast exclusive: A former senior Pentagon official speaks out for the first time about how his superiors broke the law to punish a key National Security Agency whistleblower. By now, everyone knows how Edward Snowden revealed the government spying on hundreds of millions of people around the world. But if you want to know why Snowden did it, and the way he did it, you need to know the story of John Crane, who worked 25 years for the Department of Defense Inspector General's Office, which helps federal employees expose abuse and corruption. He now says whistleblowers have little choice but to go outside the system.
Crane is coming forward to speak about what happened to NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, who revealed the existence of a widespread illegal program of domestic surveillance. Drake's house was raided by the FBI in 2007. He was charged in 2010 under the Espionage Act. In 2011, he pled guilty to a minor misdemeanor of unauthorized use of a government computer. He did not serve jail time.
John Crane and Edward Snowden's stories are told in the new book, Bravehearts: Whistle-Blowing in the Age of Snowden. In dozens of hours of interviews with reporter Mark Hertsgaard, Crane described how in December 2010 Drake's lawyers filed a complaint with the inspector general alleging he had been punished in retaliation for his whistleblowing, and that the crimes Drake had been charged with were, quote, "based in part, or entirely," unquote, on information that Drake provided to the Pentagon inspector general during its investigation of the NSA whistleblowers. In other words, the indictment had unmistakable similarities to the confidential testimony Drake had given to Crane's staff at the Pentagon's Inspector General's office. This suggests investigators had not simply given Drake's name to the FBI, but shared his entire testimony.
Mark Hertsgaard recounts this and much more of Crane's story publicly in his book, Bravehearts. In it, Hertsgaard tells how Drake's arrest, indictment and persecution sent an unmistakable message to Snowden: Raising concerns within the system meant he would be targeted next. Edward Snowden has responded to Crane's revelations by calling for a complete overhaul of the US whistleblower protections. Snowden told The Guardian, quote, "We need iron-clad, enforceable protections for whistleblowers, and we need a public record of success stories. Protect the people who go to members of Congress with oversight roles, and if their efforts lead to a positive change in policy -- recognize them for their efforts. There are no incentives for people to stand up against an agency on the wrong side of the law today, and that's got to change," Snowden said. He continued, "The sad reality of today's policies is that going to the inspector general with evidence of truly serious wrongdoing is often a mistake. Going to the press involves serious risks, but at least you've got a chance," he says.
Well, for more, we're joined here for the first time by John Crane, formerly with the Department of Defense Inspector General's Office, which helps federal employees expose abuse and corruption. And we're joined by Mark Hertsgaard, who is the correspondent at Nation magazine, author of the newly published book, Bravehearts: Whistle-Blowing in the Age of Snowden.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now!
JOHN CRANE: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: So, John Crane, talk about why you are coming out publicly for the first time.
JOHN CRANE: I'm coming out publicly for the first time because what Edward Snowden did is it was the largest, most massive classified leak in this country's history. And so we have two separate issues here, that one is we, I think, need to make sure that there won't be any more massive disclosures like that, but we can only assure that, should we have a whistleblower protection system in place that will make sure, one, whistleblowers have the confidence to step forward without having their own individual identities compromised, and when they step forward, that they're not subject to multiyear retaliation.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about where you worked -- people may not even realize the Pentagon has an Inspector General's Office -- and what you were in charge of.
JOHN CRANE: Yes. I was with the Inspector General's Office. I worked there for 25 years. I was a senior executive there. I was one of the founding generations there. I had an office that was largely responsible for transparency and for accountability. Transparency meant that I dealt with the media, Congress. Accountability meant that I was responsible for the overall whistleblowing process. DOD is a huge agency. We have 1.2 million military. We have almost 700,000 civilians. We have half of the federal workforce. I was charged to make sure that within the Pentagon, that there could be principled dissent that would help to inform senior management regarding the way senior management made their own decisions, and -- and that that system guaranteed that those people stepping forward would not be destroyed.
AMY GOODMAN: And that included, you oversaw the NSA, as well.
JOHN CRANE: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: So when did you start to get nervous? When did you start to get alarmed?
JOHN CRANE: I got alarmed fairly early on, because since I was responsible for working with the Hill, when we received the first whistleblowing complaints, the so-called four plus one -- Drake was called "plus one" because he wanted to have confidentiality maintained -- that I then went up to the House and Senate Intel Committees, and they were making complaints about a large multibillion-dollar program that was responsible to gather huge amounts of information from US citizens also. And it was simply behind schedule, over cost. It wasn't meeting acquisition milestones. So we, of course, met with the Congress, and then we started a 18-month audit effort to see whether or not the various allegations brought to us were actually valid, that we found that most of their concerns were valid, and then we had the audit report issued in December of 2004.
One of the very important points of that audit report was -- was that this is our audit report, IG DOD audit report, talked about a climate within the NSA regarding management reprisal. As the inspector general DOD, by statute, it is our responsibility making sure management reprisal does not take place. When I saw that, I said, "Look, we now have a civilian reprisal investigator on staff, Daniel Meyer, and he is now the whistleblower ombudsman for the larger intelligence community." And I wanted him to have the matter investigated, because we had made a finding. And I was subsequently told that we could not have the matter investigated, and that was the first warning flag to me that there was a problem.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to go to National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake in his own words. He was initially charged under the Espionage Act for leaking information about waste management at the agency, but the case against him later collapsed. We talked to Thomas Drake in 2012 about his case.
THOMAS DRAKE: I was charged under the Espionage Act as part of an indictment that was handed down on me in April of 2010. There was five counts under the Espionage Act for retaining -- not leaking, retaining -- national defense information, although the government alleged that I was doing so for the purpose of disclosure to those unauthorized to receive it. I was also charged with obstruction of justice, as well as making false statements to FBI agents. ...
My first day on the job was 9/11. And it was shortly after 9/11 that I was exposed to the Pandora's box of illegality and government wrongdoing on a very significant scale. So, you had the twin fraud, waste -- you know, the twin specters of fraud, waste and abuse being committed on a vast scale through a program called Trailblazer, a multibillion-dollar program, when in fact there was alternatives that already existed and fulfilled most all the requirements of Trailblazer, even prior to 9/11.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened to both Thomas Drake and Bill Binney and other NSA officials was frightening. We had a chance in April of 2012 to interview NSA whistleblower William Binney. He was appearing on Democracy Now! in his first-ever television interview, and he described what happened when FBI agents raided his home after he became a whistleblower. This was right before they raided Tom Drake's house, but this was Bill Binney's description of what happened to him.
WILLIAM BINNEY: I live in Maryland, actually four miles from NSA.
AMY GOODMAN: And what happened?
WILLIAM BINNEY: They came busting in.
AMY GOODMAN: Who's "they"?
WILLIAM BINNEY: The FBI. About 12 of them, I think, 10 to 12. They came in with the guns drawn, on my house.
AMY GOODMAN: Where were you?
WILLIAM BINNEY: I was in the shower. I was taking a shower, so my son answered the door. And they of course pushed him out of the way at gunpoint and came running upstairs and found me in the shower, and came in and pointed the gun at me while I was, you know --
AMY GOODMAN: Pointed a gun at your head?
WILLIAM BINNEY: Oh, yeah. Yes. Wanted to make sure I saw it and that I was duly intimidated, I guess.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what did they -- what did they do at that point? Did they begin questioning you? Or they just took you to headquarters? Or --
WILLIAM BINNEY: No, no. Yeah, they basically separated us from -- I was separated from my family. Took me on the back porch, and they started asking me questions about it. They were basically wanting me to tell them something that would implicate someone in a crime. And so, I told them that I didn't really know -- they wanted to know about certain people, that was -- they were the ones that were being raided at the same time, people who -- we all signed -- those who were raided that day, all of us signed the DOD IG complaint. We were the ones who filed that complaint.
AMY GOODMAN: The Pentagon --
WILLIAM BINNEY: The Pentagon DOD IG, against --
AMY GOODMAN: -- inspector general complaint.
WILLIAM BINNEY: Against NSA, yes, talking about fraud -- basically corruption, fraud, waste and abuse. And then --
AMY GOODMAN: Tom Drake was raided at the same time?
WILLIAM BINNEY: No, he was raided in November of that year. We were just the ones who signed it, were raided.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, and who were the other people that were raided that same day?
WILLIAM BINNEY: Diane Roark, Kirk Wiebe and Ed Loomis.
AMY GOODMAN: Diane Roark worked for the Senate committee?
WILLIAM BINNEY: Diane was the senior staffer. She had the NSA account on the HPSCI side, on the House side.
AMY GOODMAN: So, they were the four, and plus one was Drake. His house would be raided soon after. John Crane, if you could explain -- Bill Binney ultimately would not be charged. Bill Binney, by the way, is a double amputee.
JOHN CRANE: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: But Tom Drake was charged, and you noticed something very similar about the charges against him and what he revealed to your office.
JOHN CRANE: Yes. I was very concerned, because when there was a 10-count indictment returned, that three of the counts involved him housing information at his home. I was concerned that -- well, first, he was a confidential whistleblower. And under the Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended, that their confidentialities are not revealed, and they can only be revealed under two separate circumstances, that, one, you have to ask the whistleblower whether they can have their identities revealed, and, two, only if there is no other alternative. This is a case where this was not a threat to health, safety -- immediate threat. And my concern was -- and this was actually raised through the Government Accountability Project, because they represented him -- was that three of the charges could have related to whether or not he was following advice from the inspector general DOD. And I was concerned that should he have had housed material at his home, based upon IG DOD advice, he was then being on trial -- put on trial under the Espionage Act because he was a confidential informant working with the IG, inspector general.
AMY GOODMAN: We're going to break, but I have to ask: What happened to you when you started raising these concerns? You're there supposed to be protecting whistleblowers --
JOHN CRANE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: -- in the Pentagon and the NSA.
JOHN CRANE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: And you are now becoming a whistleblower.
JOHN CRANE: Right. I was shut down, that I was the IG DOD FOIA appellate authority also. And --
AMY GOODMAN: Meaning when people asked you, under the Freedom of Information Act, for information.
JOHN CRANE: Absolutely. So, when his attorneys came to us, they wanted to see whether -- in the 2004 audit, that whether in those work papers that there was exculpatory information regarding why Drake acted the way he did. As the FOIA appellate authority, I was in charge of simply gathering all of the information in the agency, that -- those are documents that should have been retained, that they should have been permanent record. Some of them were also secret documents, top-secret documents, sensitive intelligence documents. There's a very strict protocol regarding how those are handled, where they are, and if and when they are destroyed, and, of course, by whom. Those were answers I could not receive, and that was highly unusual.
AMY GOODMAN: We're going to continue this discussion in a moment. John Crane, former senior official at the Pentagon, has revealed major privacy and security lapses within the government's whistleblower program. For a quarter of a century, he worked with the Department of Defense Inspector General's Office, which is supposed to help federal employees expose abuse and corruption. This is a secret chapter that even Edward Snowden did not know about but is now coming to understand, what was happening within the government. And we're going to speak with Mark Hertsgaard, as well, when we come back, to get a full picture of how this all fits together. His new book is out; it's called Bravehearts: Whistle-Blowing in the Age of Snowden. Stay with us.
Noam Chomsky and former finance minister of Greece Yanis Varoufakis recently spoke at the New York Public Library about the hypocrisies of the finance and tech industries -- and what neoliberalism really means.
Full transcript below:
NOAM CHOMSKY: One of the paradoxes of neoliberalism is that it's not new and it's not liberal. (applause)
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Exactly. Exactly.
NOAM CHOMSKY: If you look at what you describe is a form of hypocrisy but the same is true of saying that we should not support tax-funded institutions. The financial sector is basically tax-funded.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Of course.
NOAM CHOMSKY: You recall the IMF study of the leading American banks, which determined that virtually all their profits come from their implicit government insurance policy, cheap credit, access to higher credit ratings, incentives to take risky transactions which are profitable but then if it's problematic, you guys pay for it, or just take the basis of the contemporary economy, which actually I've been privileged to see developing in government-subsidized laboratories for decades. MIT, where I've been since the 1950s, is one of the institutions where the government, the funnel in the early days was the Pentagon, was pouring in money to create the basis for the high-tech economy of the future and the profitmaking of the institutions that are regarded as private enterprises. It was decades of work under public funding with a very anticapitalist ideology. So according to capitalist principles, if someone invests in a risky enterprise over a long period and thirty years later it makes some profit, they're supposed to get part of the profit, but it doesn't work like that here. It was the taxpayer who invested for decades. The profit goes to Apple and Microsoft, not to the taxpayer.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Indeed, indeed. If you take an iPhone apart, every single technology in it was developed by some government grant, every single one.
NOAM CHOMSKY: And for long periods.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: And some of them by government grants from other countries, like WiFi from the Australian Commonwealth.
NOAM CHOMSKY: And it's -- you see an interesting picture of it from a place like MIT, or other major research institutions. So if you walked around the building where I work fifty years ago, you would have seen electronic firms, Raytheon, ITech, others, IBM, there to essentially rob the technology that's being developed at public expense and seeing if they can turn it into something applicable for profits. You walk around the institution today, you see different buildings, you see Novartis, Pfizer, other pharmaceutical, big pharmaceutical corporations. Why? Because the cutting edge of the economy has shifted from electronics based to biology based, so therefore the predators in the so-called private sector are there to see what they can pick up from the taxpayer-funded research in the fundamental biological sciences, and that's called free enterprise and a free-market system. So speak of hypocrisy, it's pretty hard to go beyond that.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Quite right. This hypocrisy is fundamental to the whole enterprise culture of capitalism from 250 years ago.
NOAM CHOMSKY: From the beginning.
Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz speaks at an event hosted by the Wall-Street funded Third Way Think Tank on July 14, 2014. (Photo: Third Way Think Tank)
To paraphrase the words of that Scottish master Robert Burns, the best laid plans of mice, men -- and women -- go often astray, or "gang aft agley," as they say in the Highlands. No one knows this better than Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Twice now, the flight of her presidential aspirations has been forced to circle the airport as other contenders put up an unexpected fight: In 2008, Barack Obama emerged to grab the Democratic nomination away and this year, although all signs point to her finally grabbing the brass ring, unexpected and powerful progressive resistance came from the mighty wind of the Bernie Sanders campaign.
Certainly, Hillary Clinton is angered by all of this, but the one seemingly more aggrieved -- if public comments and private actions are any indication -- is Democratic National Committee chair and Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Hillary surrogate who takes umbrage like ordinary folks pop their vitamins in the morning.
As we recently wrote, "… She embodies the tactics that have eroded the ability of Democrats to once again be the party of the working class. As Democratic National Committee chair she has opened the floodgates for Big Money, brought lobbyists into the inner circle and oiled all the moving parts of the revolving door that twirls between government service and cushy jobs in the world of corporate influence."
And that ain't all. As a member of Congress, particularly egregious has been her support of the payday loan business, defying new regulations from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that would rein in an industry that soaks desperate borrowers. As President Obama said, "While payday loans might seem like easy money, folks often end up trapped in a cycle of debt."
In fact, according to an article by Bethany McLean in the May issue of The Atlantic, "After studying millions of payday loans, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that 67 percent went to borrowers with seven or more transactions a year, and the majority of borrowers paid more in fees than the amount of their initial loan."
A recent editorial in the Orlando Sentinel notes that 7 percent of Florida's population "must resort to this predatory form of small-dollar credit – nearly the highest rate in the nation…" What's more, "Based on a 14-day loan term, the typical payday loan… had an annual percentage rate of 278 percent. Many lenders advertise rates of more than 300 percent." Let us repeat that slowly… 300 percent!
So why has Wasserman Schultz been so opposed to the CFPB's proposed rules? She has said, "Payday lending is unfortunately a necessary component of how people get access to capital, [people] that are the working poor." But maybe it has something more to do with the $2.5 million or so the payday loan industry has donated to Florida politicians from both parties since 2009. That's according to a new report by the liberal group Allied Progress. More than $50,000 of that cash has gone to Rep. Wasserman Schultz.
But we digress. It's the skullduggery going on within the Democratic Party establishment that's our current concern and as we wrote in March, Rep. Wasserman Schultz "has played games with the party's voter database, been accused of restricting the number of Democratic candidate debates and scheduling them at odd days and times to favor Hillary Clinton, and recently told CNN's Jake Tapper that superdelegates -- strongly establishment and pro-Clinton -- are necessary at the party's convention so deserving incumbent officials and party leaders don't have to run for delegate slots 'against grassroots activists.' Let that sink in, but hold your nose against the aroma of entitlement."
Now Wasserman Schultz has waded into the controversy over what happened or didn't happen last weekend when Sanders supporters loudly and vehemently objected to the rules at the Nevada State Democratic Convention. In truth, some behaved badly at the event and others made trollish, violent and obscene threats to Democratic state chair Roberta Lange via phone, email and social media. There's no excuse for such aggressive, creepy conduct, and Sanders was quick and direct in apologizing for the behavior of the rowdies and bullies.
But there is a double standard at play here. Why, pray tell, shouldn't the peaceful majority of Sanders people be angry at the slow-motion, largely invisible rigging of the political process by Wasserman Schultz and the Clinton machine -- all for the benefit of Secretary Clinton?
Wasserman Schultz claims the party rules over which she has presided (and manipulated) are "eminently fair." She told CNN on Wednesday morning, "It is critical that we as candidates, we as Democratic Party leaders, everyone involved needs to make sure that we can take all the steps that we need to, to ensure that the process is not only run smoothly but that the response from the supporters of both candidates is appropriate and civil."
In response to the DNC chair's remarks, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver talked to CNN, too, and said Wasserman Schultz had been "throwing shade on the Sanders campaign since the very beginning… Debbie Wasserman Schultz has really been a divider and not really provided the kind of leadership that the Democratic Party needs."
The Nation's Joan Walsh, a Clinton supporter critical of the Sanders campaign, concurs: "Once again, Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz escalated a conflict that she should have worked to defuse," she writes. "… Wasserman Schultz is not helping her friend Hillary Clinton with her attacks on Sanders. Just the appearance of fairness can go a long way in assuaging worries about fairness. Wasserman Schultz's defiant rebuke to the Sanders camp has made it worse."
So, too, has her abolition of the restraints that had been placed on corporate lobbyists and big money -- now they can write checks bankrolling what doubtless will be swank and profligate parties during this summer's Democratic National Convention. At The Intercept, Lee Fang and Zaid Jilani report that a number of the members of the Philadelphia host committee "are actively working to undermine progressive policies achieved by President Barack Obama, including health care reform and net neutrality. Some… are hardly even Democratic Party stalwarts, given that many have donated and raised thousands of dollars for Republican presidential and congressional candidates this cycle."
This is a slap in the face to progressives calling for a halt to big money and allowing lobbyists to buy our elected officials. And it's contrary to what Hillary Clinton herself has said about money and politics on the campaign trail. The Sanders movement has shown that lots of cash can be raised from everyday people making small donations. His supporters and all of us should be outraged that Debbie Wasserman Schultz and convention officials have kowtowed not only to the corporate wing of their own party but also to those high rollers who back the opposition and ideas antithetical to a democracy.
Rep. Wasserman Schultz is facing a primary challenge for the first time this year, her opponent a law professor, activist and progressive Sanders supporter named Tim Canova. But the primary's not until late August, long after the Democratic National Convention. Unless she steps down now or Hillary Clinton has her removed, Philadelphia will be dominated by someone who represents everything that has gone wrong with the Democratic Party and Washington. At the convention's opening session, Debbie Wasserman Schultz will be bringing the gavel down squarely on progressive hopes of returning the party to its legacy as champion of working people and the dispossessed.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: Time for her to go.
Houston in 2015 was the right place and time: a vibrant, diverse Southern city with a beloved Lesbian mayor in her final term and an LGBT community excited to capitalize on the momentum of the U.S. Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling. In May 2014, the City Council had passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), a city policy supported by Mayor Annise Parker that would expand protections from discrimination, including for gender identity. But due to legal challenges, it went to a ballot vote in November of last year. Opponents rebranded the ordinance as "the bathroom bill," whipping up fear that it would allow predators to enter any bathroom they wanted. And they were successful: The ordinance was defeated at the polls with more than 60 percent opposing.
Ordinances like Houston's HERO seek to ensure that people have local recourse when they face discrimination, whether on the basis of race, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other identities that might leave them vulnerable to discrimination. Battles over them have been popping up all around the country. In March, the North Carolina legislature promptly rolled back hard-won protections secured by activists in Charlotte and blocked all cities from creating similar measures. A recent Human Rights Campaign (HRC) report found 44 anti-Transgender bills being considered in 16 states this year -- more than double the 2015 figure -- including 29 involving bathrooms and 23 targeting children in schools. HRC President Chad Griffin, quoted in The Advocate, called this a "deeply disturbing trend [that] is a stark reminder of just how vicious and deplorable opponents of equality are in their relentless attacks against our community."
Though these ordinances protect the rights of many vulnerable groups, the Trans-specific fearmongering perpetrated by opponents can be described only as Transphobia. They have created a narrative in which Trans people commit abominable crimes, while in reality Transgender women are at greater risk of experiencing violence than of perpetrating it.
Even before the Supreme Court held in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples have a right to marry, LGBT activists had been calling on movement leaders to focus on improving legal protections as the next big challenge. "It is well past time for every LGBT person in America to have equal treatment under the law, no matter where they happen to live or work," Courtney Cuff, president of the philanthropic Gill Foundation, wrote in The Advocate. She noted her organization would now focus on passing nondiscrimination ordinances, particularly in red states. Supported in part by the Gill Foundation, HERO was one of the first such post-Obergefell campaigns.
The loss in Houston left the LGBT community reeling -- partly because of the divisions it exposed within the movement. Monica Roberts, a longtime leader in the LGBT community and founder of the blog TransGriot, said strategic errors included not only a failure to effectively address the bathroom propaganda but also a "too little, too late" messaging strategy in the African-American community. Roberts said many activists felt that the Houston Unites campaign, a coalition of LGBT organizations running the pro-HERO effort, was foiled by a lack of diversity in terms of race and gender. "When we formed African Americans for HERO, it was out of frustration that Houston Unites wasn't doing the job in our community," she said.
Paulina Helm-Hernandez, co-director of Southerners on New Ground, an organization focused on the needs of LGBT and gender-nonconforming people of color in the South, emphasized that these communities experience discrimination not just on the basis of gender and sexual orientation but also on race and class. "What plagues many Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Queer, and Trans folks of color cannot be separated as single issues only to do with our gender, sexuality, creed, or class," she said.
This has proven a hard lesson for the movement. In the wake of the 2008 passage of California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, prominent Gay activist and columnist Dan Savage argued that racist Gay White men were a smaller problem "than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans are for Gay Americans, whatever their color." This sentiment became a rallying cry for White activists, despite the fact that activists of color pushed the campaign to better connect with people of color. In the days afterward, one such organizer, Lawrence Ellis, told his story to Colorlines. Ellis had tried to mobilize small Gay and Lesbian organizations already active in Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American communities. "Not building a true coalition, where you get to leverage existing networks -- that is a fatal flaw," Ellis said.
Equal rights ordinance campaigns are prime opportunities for intersectional coalition-building, and, as our conversations on race and immigration overlap, LGBT organizers should better ally with pro-LGBT movements like Black Lives Matter or the DREAMers. These movements, largely led by young, Queer people of color, are putting multiple identities at the fore.
To strengthen coalitions, the mainstream LGBT movement must amplify and center the voices of Transgender people who are being vilified. "I would rather invest my energy in the kinds of efforts that focus on Trans and gender-nonconforming leaders and support them in fighting these battles on their terms, with their vision and strategy," said Gabriel Foster, co-founder and executive director of the Trans Justice Funding Project, which partnered with the Transgender Law Center to pilot a national training institute for leaders.
This strategy has worked in Tennessee and South Dakota, where bills prohibiting Transgender students from using facilities matching their gender were defeated. South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who initially supported his state's bill, met with Trans students after public pressure mounted. Daugaard said the meeting "helped me see things through their eyes a little better and see more of their perspective." Ultimately, he vetoed the bill. In Tennessee, a similar bill died in a committee hearing after Trans students testified. Republican legislator Rick Womick said he withdrew support for the legislation after hearing more about the issue. In these states, Transphobic misinformation was countered by Transgender voices.
On May 12, the Obama administration released a directive to every public school district to allow Transgender students to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity. The directive referenced schools that have already set up such policies with great success. The Justice Department is hedging its bets on the side of protecting the rights of Transgender students. That's some progress, and it's the voices of Transgender students that paved the way for these directives.
The lessons learned from the losses in Houston and elsewhere are not new. These fights show us that understanding multiple, overlapping issues affecting LGBT people is critical, as is the need to understand Trans identity. So far, we have seen that Trans folk are the best spokespeople for themselves. As we enter an election cycle where racism and xenophobia are front and center, these points will be crucial for the broader national movement for LGBT rights.
In April, Gretchen Morgenson boldly called out the hypocrisy of BlackRock pillorying corporate short-termism while the investment giant simultaneously approved more than 96 percent of executive pay packages last fiscal year. She also described one BlackRock investor's intrepid campaign to better align the company's supposed philosophy with its executive pay practices: Stephen Silberstein, a retired software company founder, wrote a shareholder proposal for reform, and BlackRock investors and shareholders in general (including anyone with a pension or college savings) should take heed.
The important connection between short-termism and executive pay that Morgenson and Silberstein are making is not widely understood. People who object to America's grotesque CEO pay practices usually do so in terms of fairness, which is an argument that certainly has its own merit. But what many Americans are not aware of is how bad CEO pay practices are for the economy, particularly in terms of how they are so tied up with short-termism.
Simply put, short-termism is the heavy emphasis corporate managers and shareholders have increasingly placed on the next quarter's stock price over the long-term growth and viability of a company. Executive pay is arguably the primary driver of short-termism. Since the early 1990s, the trend has been to compensate executives primarily with "performance pay," particularly stock options, in order to align the motivations and incentives of executives with corporate shareholders. (Incidentally, this practice helped to propel CEO pay into the stratosphere, as median pay for CEOs of S&P 500 Industrials soared from close to $2 million to nearly $6 million over the course of the 1990s. In 2014, median S&P 500 pay was $10.8 million.)
When executives get paid with stock equity, company stock gets "diluted." In other words, a company's outstanding shares rise and share prices fall. According to economist William Lazonick, this has led to the widespread practice of stock buybacks -- that is, repurchasing a company's stock to boost its value. The trouble is, this comes from the same pot of money that could and should be spent on new hiring, wage increases, and investment in research and innovation.
In other words, buybacks epitomize corporate short-termism. They are bad for the long-term health of companies, for workers, for shareholders, and for the economy as a whole. And buybacks -- along with policies such as the performance pay tax loophole -- are the reason that companies can pay corporate executives so much. Lazonickargues that "the only logical explanation for open-market stock repurchases … is that corporate executives benefit personally from this mode of corporate resource allocation through their ample stock-based pay."
Larry Fink, BlackRock's chief executive, is rumored to be positioning himself as a candidate for Treasury Secretary if Hillary Clinton is elected. As such, he is likely to intensify his public fight over short-termism. But BlackRock investors (who can still vote until May 25, the date of the annual shareholders meeting) and the American public in general need to remember that CEOs must play a central role in making the transition away from corporate short-termism toward long-term value, and that can only happen if we also reform the ways in which CEOs are paid.
For more information on the economic problems of CEO pay, see this infographic: