Cost of War
As an attorney with over three decades of experience advocating for women and children whose lives have been blighted, some by domestic violence and some by childhood sexual abuse, and as the widow of Elliott Wilk, the judge in the Allen v. Farrow custody case, my interest in Dylan Farrow’s recent disclosures of sexual abuse by Woody Allen is both professional and personal.
Because of Allen’s celebrity, I fear that his deceptive words of denial will reverberate in a way that further silences mothers of child abuse victims, as well as adult survivors, who would otherwise seek justice in our courts. This is one of the reasons his reliance on a flawed forensic report and the testimony of other mental health practitioners, lacking expertise about sexual abuse, is so troubling.
The role of mental health evidence in cases of domestic violence and child sexual abuse has evolved over the last 35 years. Back then, medical and social science research about these atrocities was still in a state of relative infancy. “Domestic violence” was still called “wife beating,” and like cancer, was rarely spoken about in public. Many psychiatrists, trained in the orthodoxies of that profession in those times, viewed its victims as mentally ill masochists. Discussion of child sexual abuse was even more taboo, particularly incest.
Representing a mother whose child was sexually abused by an intimate partner has always been difficult. Allen’s attack on the credibility of Mia Farrow, which was specifically determined to be without basis at trial, is now renewed, again echoing the misogynistic voices in American law that trivialize violence against women and children. This places the mothers of abused children in the untenable position of being savaged as vengeful women, lashing out against the men who have “spurned” them, or being charged with being neglectful parents who have failed to protect their children.
Many attorneys who represented men accused of child sexual abuse and domestic violence resorted to the primitive view that women are unworthy of belief. In one case counsel argued that because my client, her witnesses, and her attorney were all women, her charge of sexual abuse was the result of deceitful female networking. In another, a lawyer concluded that his client, the subject of a claim of domestic violence, was the victim of a female plot — breastfeeding — designed to keep fathers away from their children.
Some jurists were no better. In one of my early cases, the judge began a trial by sternly admonishing me that he would not limit the father’s access to his daughter unless penetration and injury were proved. To him, sexual abuse could mean nothing short of rape, ignoring the fact that sexual abuse often produces no physical injury.
As physicians, psychotherapists and scholars deepened their study of domestic violence and child sexual abuse, our understanding of these social ills increased. Attorneys for victims began drawing upon experts’ knowledge, which became the basis of testimony presented in legal proceedings, criminal and civil.
In child custody cases, the use of mental health testimony had traditionally been a hired-gun “my check is bigger than yours” duel between experts. Over time, judges began appointing impartial forensic experts in an effort to discourage contests between paid partisans and to enhance the quality of the testimony being offered. These mental health professionals did not treat the parents or children. They interviewed family members, other witnesses, and presented their opinions in court, subject to cross-examination.
Unfortunately, some forensic experts, and treating therapists as well, failed to provide ethical and competent testimony. In one disheartening case, also before my husband, a treating therapist, under oath, concealed knowledge of the father’s acts of domestic violence. In another matter, a forensic expert shockingly admitted on my cross-examination that he had no training in domestic violence, a central issue in the case, and that he had not read the clinical notes of the child’s therapist. These contained the boy’s report of seeing his father push his mother down a flight of stairs.
The participation of inadequately trained mental health experts exacerbates already difficult cases. Some have limited knowledge about the clinical issues they are addressing, harbor sexist or other prejudices, or favor a parent whose profession or reputation they admire. Some, in academic and hospital settings, and some in lucrative private practices, give testimony that is deceptive or naïve. Some demonstrate ignorance or avoidance of the rules of evidence which govern court proceedings.
It is on the basis of the forensic report in his custody case that Allen attempts to hijack my husband’s trial decision. Minimizing the rejection of the report as “very irresponsible,” he claims that the contents of the report “disappointed” my husband. Elliott was disappointed, but not for the reasons Allen imagines. He was disappointed, even disgusted, because the forensic experts had destroyed their interview notes and because they were unwilling to personally appear as witnesses, to be cross-examined in court. As he stated, those factors “compromised [the court’s] ability to scrutinize their findings and resulted in a report which was sanitized and, therefore, less credible.”
In the 20-plus years since Allen v. Farrow, progress has been made in achieving a better understanding about how childhood sexual abuse can be more clearly and credibly presented to judges and to the many others in our communities whose lives it so destructively affects.
From those professionals who study and treat victims of sexual abuse, we know that patients who were molested as children, especially by a trusted person, often spend years, sometimes decades, trying to avoid thinking about it, shoving it into a drawer and locking it shut. But the connections of traumatic association — the sounds, smells and images, the sensations of physical invasion — insist on returning, fresh and painful, overwhelming those abused with shame and guilt.
As someone who has worked extensively in this field, I find Dylan Farrow’s disclosures to be compelling. The contents of her open letter are consistent with what knowledgeable mental health experts have taught us about the modus operandi of perpetrators of child sexual abuse. She convincingly describes the details of what occurred, its impact on her, including the symptoms that lead to her diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Those who survive childhood sexual abuse have the right to decide how they can best heal. Some will do it privately, others publicly. Both are legitimate choices. Given the inhospitable environment in which such cases are too often addressed, most recently reflected by Allen’s manipulative and cruel response to his daughter, it is no wonder more victims do not speak out.
It is hard to say which among Dylan Farrow’s experiences are the most heart-wrenching. One is the betrayal by the forensic experts who botched the report in this case. Second is the willingness of treating therapists to express opinions on a subject about which they had no expertise. And third is the pain of having had to endure the public adulation of her abuser.
Dylan Farrow, once a child victim, is now an adult survivor. She is fortunate to have a mother who trusted her, protected her and supported her decision to disclose what occurred. She deserves our belief and empathy. She has mine.Related Stories
Stephen Colbert hilariously lampooned Bill O'Reilly's absurd recent segment on how "there must be a downside" to having a woman as president on Wednesday night. In other words, Hillary Clinton.
In the now famous segment, O'Reilly invited two conservative women on his show and practically begged them to give him a reason why a woman should not be the leader of the free world. They just refused to humor him. "There's gotta be a downside," he pleaded. "No, Bill," they chorused.
Colbert's commentary was priceless and included well-thought out points like the fact that everything in the oval office is "penis activated . . . been that way since the Kennedy Administration," and the obscure scientific fact that "women sit down when they pee."
When O'Reilly pointed out that the "mullahs in Iran" would not approve of our having a woman president, Colbert quipped, "We are the leader of the free world so we have to elect someone Iran wants."
So befuddled was O'Reilly in his desperate attempts to argue his point that he descended into nonsense syllables, which Colbert hilariously mocked. "Bing bing bing bing bing bing bing bing." (That's a quote from O'Reilly, not Colbert.)
It’s hard to change the world when you can’t leave your house. It’s tough to get an education when you’re afraid of being laughed at and humiliated. And the world is a challenging enough place for girls and women every single day without the consistent additional burden, every month, of managing menstruation.
Ask any female who lives in the relative comfort of the West about her relationship with her period and she’ll likely have plenty of horror stories of ill-timed embarrassment at school, or having to grit her teeth through a tense work situation. Periods, after all, are supposed to be endured in cheerful, “Nobody knows I’m bleeding!” tampon-ad silence, lest we appear weak. But in other parts of the world, managing menstruation is a serious hygiene challenge, and periods can be a severe monthly barrier to advancement. Fortunately, that’s changing, thanks to innovation that understands that if you want to help women, you’ve got to take away the shame and stigma and fear around the things their bodies do.
On Tuesday, the BBC ran a fascinating and heartening profile of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a south India inventor who 16 years ago wanted “to impress his young wife” by buying her fresh sanitary pads to replace the “nasty cloths” she’d been hiding from him. “I will be honest,” he says, “I would not even use it to clean my scooter.” But she told him she couldn’t afford to buy clean pads and keep up with other household necessities. And when he learned the markup on pads was 40 times that of regular clean cotton, “He decided he could make them cheaper himself.”
What began as a thoughtful gesture from a newlywed husband evolved into a quest, as Muruganantham – who previously hadn’t even realized that women get their periods on a monthly basis – investigated the plight of women in India. Only 12 percent of the female population use any kind of pads, and many have to resort to “sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash.” Added to the challenge is the fact that during their periods, Indian “women can’t visit temples or public places, they’re not allowed to cook or touch the water supply.” Imagine being part of a family where for five days a month the mother and daughters can’t cook or obtain water. And because they often feel embarrassed about cleaning their menstrual rags, women wind up vulnerable to other problems. The BBC reports that “Approximately 70 percent of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene — it can also affect maternal mortality.”Muruganantham’s quest to build a better menstrual pad made him an outcast in his community. His wife left him. He says friends thought he “had become a pervert” or was possessed by evil spirits. But he kept on pursuing his unlikely dream, and eventually came up with a cost-efficient machine for producing feminine protection. And with that, he created not just the chance for cleaner, healthier periods for women but manufacturing jobs for them as well. There are now machines in 1,300 villages in 23 Indian states, enabling women to make and sell their own sanitary supplies. Muruganantham also works with schools, where nearly a quarter of all girls drop out once they start having periods, and he is looking to expand his operations to other countries including Kenya, Nigeria, Mauritius, the Philippines and Bangladesh.
And Muruganantham is not alone in his efforts. The organization Days for Girls works in over 60 countries to train, create and distribute menstrual hygiene kits to girls around the world. Those kits represent better health and greater dignity for girls, and the opportunity to attend school and go to work instead of being confined for a significant portion of every month. It’s revolutionary stuff.
A girl or woman’s period represents roughly two full months of her life every single year. Those are two months she could be learning and working and living fully, or two months she could be confined, helpless and shamed, in circumstances that compromise her health and hygiene. A little clean cotton can make the whole world a better place. It’s what we all deserve. As Days for Girls puts it, it’s a fight for “Every Girl. Everywhere. Period.”
This article first appeared in the Nation and is reprinted here with their permission.
Last week, the de Blasio administration declared war on charter schools, at least according to the New York Post. Governor Cuomo rushed to the barricades, telling a rally in Albany yesterday: “We are here today to tell you that we stand with you.… You are not alone. We will save charter schools.” Families for Excellent Schools, who organized the rally, claimed the Mayor's decision was met with universal opposition and characterized the move as the back end of a quid pro quo with the teachers union for endorsing the mayor.
Wondering what actually happened? The de Blasio administration released a memo reviewing forty-nine co-location decisions made last fall by the lame-duck Bloomberg administration. A co-location is when two schools occupy the same building, and it’s been a controversial aspect of the charter-school movement. Many charters, which usually serve fewer special ed or bilingual students than regular public schools, get free rent on space in the regular public schools that charter advocates so often disdain--often space that the regular school needs..
De Blasio’s chancellor, Carmen Farina, set aside four of the decisions that won’t take effect until the 2015–16 school year to give more time for study. It ordered thirty-five of the forty-five remaining plans implemented. It called for one to be revised. And it cancelled nine planned co-locations. Six concerned regular public schools, which also often co-locate. Three were for charters.
All three of those cancelled co-locations were for charters proposed by Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy network. Her defenders see that as proof that the mayor, a long-time critic of Moskowitz, was singling her out. But given the aggressive expansion plans of the Success network, it’s not that surprising that she has a large presence on the list. Moskowitz will now need to find space for those students, including some already attending Success Academy’s Harlem 4, which had outgrown the two other co-located sites it was using. Given that Success Academy is rolling in money—Moskowitz reportedly pulls down $475,000, more than the president of the United States—it seems likely she’ll come up with something. Contrary to the shorthand way some have reported it, de Blasio didn’t rescind the schools’ charters—he couldn’t—he just said they can’t use public school space.
(And for the record, the teachers’ union did not endorse de Blasio but his chief rival Bill Thompson in the Democratic primary. The UFT did back de Blasio in the general, along with the rest of the universe.)
Overall, fourteen charter-school co-locations—including five Success Academy ones—got the green light from Farina.
Full disclosure: I’m a charter-school parent. My elder son attends a K-5 school in the Bronx that has its own building and, like many of New York City’s charter schools, has unionized. Despite misgivings about the charter movement, we sent him there because we hoped the school’s progressive philosophy would help him avoid the drudgery of test prep. When I’d toured a regular public school in my district to see if it was right for us, I’d seen a bulletin board of student essays… about their test prep. One kid said he visualized tackling the test and kicking its teeth out. This wasn’t what we were looking for. As it turns out, because our school performed poorly on its first round of standardized testing and had its charter threatened, test prep is now a pretty regular part of life there. But we still like it.
My big take-away from five years as a charter-school daddy, however, is that there’s nothing magic about charter schools, which serve all of 6 percent of the city’s students. Some are good, and some aren’t. There is no “charter school model,” because charters embrace a wide spectrum of educational philosophies. If a charter has a commitment to serving a diverse population and not suspending every kid who doesn’t sit up straight, it’s likely going to struggle on the tests just like regular schools. And the replicability of successful charter-school teaching strategies in regular schools—which I always thought was one of the reasons to permit charter schools—is uncertain not just because of the curriculum rules and union contracts that regular schools must obey, but also because many leading charters have far more resources than the typical public school.
For my money, charters are neither a panacea nor a plague. But whatever they are, they aren’t so extraordinary that they deserve to take space away from regular public schools that need it. Hence the logic behind the decisions rendered by de Blasio’s DOE last week.
Permitting fourteen charters to co-locate while blocking three doesn’t look much like a “war“ on charter schools. At worst, it’s a surgical strike. Perhaps the charter movement sees it as an opening salvo that it must resist or risk worse damage later. Or maybe it’s a convenient rationale to ask for state funding to cover the expense of classroom space, which they currently don’t receive; de Blasio has, after all, made clear that he is very unlikely to approve new co-locations in the future. And he did earlier in February cut $210 million in the budget for programs to help charter schools.
But mostly it seems like everyone is just playing to the script. Charter-school advocates have been waiting for de Blasio to drop a daisy cutter on them. And they’re reacting as if he did, when in fact his administration rendered a pretty modest and narrow decision, especially given the sprawling ambition of the Bloomberg-authorized co-location wave it was reacting to. The de Blasio DOE’s touch was so light, in fact, that Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James have said they’re going ahead with a lawsuit to challenge some of the co-locations the de Blasio administration approved.
Unfortunately, that will just perpetuate this unproductive argument about charter schools. It’d be better to move on, treat charters as the minor part of the system they are, and figure out what to do for the 94 percent of public school kids who don’t attend charters. The lawsuit just gives the governor another opening to swoop in and “save” charter schools. Yawn.
Read Next: Joseph Featherstone reviews a new book by charter school advocate-turned-critic Diane Ravitch.Related Stories
If too many people get sucked in by the current, distorted media coverage of events unfolding now in Ukraine, then there’s a good chance life will get very ugly for a lot of innocent people, since one of the logical end points is the use of nuclear weapons. Everyone in power knows that’s a potential reality, but the urge to demagogue the Russians is presently overwhelming honesty and caution.
Ukraine is NOT a real place. Ukraine has never been a real place, not in the sense that Madascar or Cuba are both undeniably real places with real edges. Ukraine has no real edges, just lines on a map imposed by some treaty or army over the past several thousand years. To speak, as the more pompous do, of Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” is to speak of an imaginary construct, useful for blurring people’s minds for political purposes.
Ukraine in recent years has been what the power brokers of the disintegrating Soviet Union decided to let it be in 1991. Ukraine has no coherent history as a nation. First inhabited some 44,000 years ago, most of the region’s history is as occupied territory.
Russia’s history of maintaining a military presence in Crimea is older than United States history. The Russian Black Sea Fleet has been based in Sevastopol in Crimea continuously since 1783. For the Russians, this is a crucial warm water port, currently leased from Ukraine till 2042.
To understand what this means to the Russians, it probably matters more to them than the United States would care if the Cubans decided to threaten the Naval Base at Guantanamo, and we know that wouldn’t have a happy ending.
Is anyone involved in Ukraine NOT to blame for something?
In spite of its history as a subjugated non-state, Ukraine has managed something like a functioning democratic government from time to time in recent years. Now is not one of those times. The elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, was by all accounts corrupt, but he was elected. Although the process was somewhat messy, he was duly elected in 2010 with almost 49% of the vote, concentrated in Russian-populated eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
Now Yanukovych has been deposed, perhaps justly, but by an unjust process spearheaded by a street mob and a disenthralled parliament. The parliament has appointed an acting president and Yanukovych is in asylum in Russia. It’s not clear that Ukraine now has a legitimate government of any sort.
The Ukrainian presidential crisis, which is ongoing, is surely the result of longstanding, internal Ukrainian faultlines, ethnic, political, and economic. And the crisis is even more surely the result of deliberate, years-long interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine by the United States, the European Union, NATO, and other western forces, as Robert Parry has described. Ukraine appears to be the latest victim of those New American Century conspirators who brought the world such success in Afghanistan, Iraq, Honduras, and Syria (home to another Russian warm water port and only Mediterranean base).
“KREMLIN DEPLOYS MILITARY TO SEIZE CRIMEA” – N.Y. Times headline
That front page headline in the Times is, perhaps, less inflammatory than others elsewhere, but it was five columns wide and deploying “Kremlin” that way is pure Cold War journalism. As for accuracy, it’s close – even if it doesn’t acknowledge that Russian troops have long been based in Crimea and “seize” is a hyperbolic rendering of an unopposed deployment which may even have been welcomed by most of the population.
The subhead – “REBUFF TO OBAMA” – is essentially propaganda, as it tries to make the President personally relevant to a situation that has its own dynamic. It’s also propaganda insofar as it tries to make this an American crisis to which we’re supposed to respond, rather than one we promoted for reasons that remain obscure.
The Times offers some idea of why Russia might be wary, but that’s deep in an inside sidebar, not the front page story. The deadpan tone hides a host of implied threats to Russian stability and safety:
“Ukraine had accomplished some military reform with NATO advice, but since President Yanukovych said that Ukraine was not interested in full NATO membership, cooperation has lagged, the NATO official said. Ukraine has, however, taken part in some military exercises with NATO, contribute some troops to NATO’s response force and helped in a small way in Libya.”In other words, the “pro-Russian” Yanukovych was contributing to NATO, albeit in a small way that might even have been part of a balancing act reflecting Ukraine’s unfortunate but inescapable geographic location bordering both Russia and NATO members Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland. As far as the NATO allies were concerned, Ukraine’s effort to be a buffer state with good relations with all its hostile neighbors was not enough. Both NATO and the European Union were pressuring Ukraine to choose sides, NATO’s side. How did they honestly expect Russia to react, sooner or later?
These provocations have gone on for years in different forms, apparently with President Obama’s blessing, since he apparently did nothing, or nothing effective, to mitigate or even cease the relentless instigation of Ukrainians toward violence. In mid-December 2013, former Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich warned of the trap Ukrainian demonstrators in Independence Square were headed toward.
The fascist, neo-Nazi, ethnic cleansing forces in Kiev and western Ukraine do not control the government at this point, but they control the streets and they the most armed and organized of the factions in Ukraine. They provided many of the shock troops in recent confrontations with police at Independence Square.
Concern about the possible rise to power of right wing forces contributed to the decision by Crimean authorities to reject the legitimacy of the Kiev government and establish de facto control of Crimea as, effectively, a temporary independent and autonomous province of Ukraine. After that, Sergei Aksyonov, prime minister of Crimea, asked the Russians for help safeguarding the region.
Aksyonov also announced that Crimea would hold a public referendum on independence on March 30.
The government in Kiev mobilized the military to defend Ukraine and dispatched some troops to Crimea. There the majority of those troops reportedly joined the forces of the Crimean autonomous region.
“PUTIN GOES TO WAR” – New Yorker online headline, March 1, 2014
The usually brilliant David Remnick somehow sees this multi-faceted, low level, uncertain and ambiguous situation as a “war.” Since no shot had been fired by the time he wrote about what he called a “demonstration war,” that made it an especially interesting demonstration.
“Putin’s reaction exceeded our worst expectation,” Remnick wrote, suggesting that no one had realistic expectations. For this statement to be true, "we" must have been delusional. Remnick must know that a rational person's expectations when provoking a huge nuclear power would have to be extreme – or detached from reality.
What did anyone expect Russia to do in the face of perennial probes affecting its vital interests, real or perceived? Writing with a Cold War approach that denigrates or omits anything that makes sense of Russian behavior, Remnick compares the Russian deployment in Crimea to Georgia in 2008, Afghanistan in 1979, Checkoslovakia in 1968. He omits any mention of Sevastop[ol or NATO. He argues instead that this is all about Putin’s psyche.
Without doubt, Putin’s Russia has its horrors, but not everyone is blinded by them, any more than they are blinded by American horrors. Writing in Haaretz on February 25, before Ukraine fully came apart, Amatzia Baram wrote with clear-eyed analysis of the developing situation:“If Ukraine degenerates into chaos, Russia’s naval base in Sevastopol will be in danger. If that happens, Putin may have an interest in seeing Ukraine split, for he will have no choice but to seize control somehow – perhaps with the services of a loyal Ukrainian politician – of Sevastopol and the surrounding area, or even of Eastern Ukraine, including the Crimean Peninsula where it is situated.” The United States does not bear the sole responsibility for de-stabilizing Ukraine and risking a nuclear power confrontation, but there is little doubt that if the United States had not been an eager co-conspirator in twenty years of increasingly reckless global expansionism we wouldn’t be in this current quandary. But here we are, headed into another media wonderland where the actual context of putting missiles near another country's borders is expected to elicit a reaction different from the one the Russians would get if they tried to finagle Mexico into a military alliance or base missiles in Canada.
Come on, people, keep your wits about you. American exceptionalism isn't always such a good thing.
In the Internet era, members of the general public have unprecedented access to scientific facts and figures. Among the resources now available at one’s fingertips is the National Center for Biotechnology Information database. NCBI is an NIH.gov electronic search engine that allows the public to instantly read the abstracts of hundreds of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers on virtually any subject, including an estimated 20,000 papers on cannabis alone.
So why then does the head of the National Institutes of Health purport to know so little about the science of pot?
Speaking publicly last week at a dinner hosted by USA Today and National Geographic, NIH director Francis Collins—known as one of the nation’s top scientists for his leadership of the international Human Genome Project—acknowledged that pot isn’t necessarily “an evil drug that’s going to ruin our civilization.” Nevertheless, he expressed a surprising lack of familiarity with much of the readily available research that has been conducted on the plant and its impact on those who consume it.
"We don't know a lot about the things we wish we did," with respect to the herb, Collins said, seemingly unaware that a keyword search of the agency’s own sponsored website would yield thousands of scientific papers specific to marijuana and its behavioral and health effects. "I've been asked repeatedly, does regular marijuana smoking, because you inhale deeply, increase your risk of lung cancer? We don't know. Nobody's done that study."
Wrong. In fact, the largest case-controlled study ever to investigate the respiratory effects of marijuana smoking reported that cannabis use was not associated with lung-related cancers, even among subjects who reported smoking more than 22,000 joints over their lifetime. Summarizing the finding of the NIH-funded study to theWashington Post, lead investigator and pulmonologist Donald Tashkin of UCLA affirmed, “We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use. What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect."
Writing in 2013 in the scientific journal Annals of the American Thoracic Society, Tashkin reiterated: “Cannabis smoking is not equivalent to tobacco smoking in terms of respiratory risk. Despite the presence in cannabis smoke of known carcinogens, toxic gases, and particulates, cannabis smoking does not seem to increase risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or airway cancers. In fact, there is even a suggestion that at low doses, cannabis smoking may be protective for both conditions.”
Yet, according to the head of NIH, no one, including Tashkin, has adequately studied the effects of marijuana on the lungs. In truth, not only has the question already been sufficiently asked and answered; it is NIH that paid for the answers.
One study Collins conveniently was aware of was a July 2012 observational trial published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which reported that subjects who use cannabis heavily during adolescence experienced an average drop in IQ of roughly 8 points compared to their non-toking peers. But the NIH director failed to mention that the journal’s editors published a separate analysis just two months later repudiating that paper’s findings, concluding that the original study’s authors failed to adequately control for the subjects’ disparate socioeconomic status.
“The association (between adolescent-onset cannabis use and IQ) is given a causal interpretation by the authors, but existing research suggests an alternative confounding model based on time-varying effects of socioeconomic status on IQ,” the later study determined. “A simulation of the confounding model reproduces the reported associations from the Dunedin cohort, suggesting that the causal effects estimated in Meier et al. are likely to be overestimates, and that the true effect could be zero.”
Finally, Collins implied that there remain unanswered questions surrounding pot because the illegal nature of the substance makes it difficult to study its effects within the general population. "There's a lot we don't know because it's been an illegal drug, so how do you run a research project asking people to sign up who by their signing up are admitting they are breaking a law and might get into trouble?" Actually, such observational studies—where scientists recruit subjects who acknowledge a history of cannabis use and then match them with controls of similar age, ethnicity, and environment but without a history of cannabis use—are plentiful in the peer-reviewed literature. In fact, the IQ study specifically cited by Collins is one such example of an observational trial. (Here’s an example of another. And another.)
By comparison, there are fewer controlled, clinical trials assessing the safety and potential therapeutic efficacy of whole-plant cannabis. (Nonetheless, enough of these trials are available for scientists to recently conclude: “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking.”)
But it is NIH that is to blame for this situation, largely because the policy of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (an institute of the National Institutes of Health established in 1974) has final say on all FDA-approved clinical trials involving cannabis and has publically acknowledged a bias against allowing such trials to go forward. As the director of NIH, one would think that Collins would not only be aware of this reality, but that he would be proactively working to change it. Unfortunately, rather than using his position to foster further scientific exploration of the cannabis plant, Collins appears content to simply promote the politics of prohibition.Related Stories
It’s heartwarming to see how quickly Rep. Paul Ryan’s new poverty report has been debunked and discredited. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has the most exhaustive takedown, but the Fiscal Times report featuring scholars who said Ryan misrepresented their work in order to discredit anti-poverty programs was devastating, too. What’s become clear in the last two days is that, just like Paul, his fellow Republicans have absolutely no plans to fight poverty except, perhaps, repealing the 20th century.
As I noted Tuesday, Ryan did single out one anti-poverty program he likes: the Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps low-wage parents by eliminating their tax burden or giving them a refundable tax credit. President Obama, always on the lookout for areas of compromise, quickly responded, with a budget proposal that expands the credit to benefit 13.5 million workers and increases what it provides them. Obama would pay for the EITC expansion by eliminating the ugly “carried interest” loophole, which lets certain investment bankers evade taxes, along with another tax break for wealthy self-employed individuals.
What was Ryan’s response? He dismissed Obama’s budget as a “campaign brochure.” House Speaker John Boehner, meanwhile, called it the president’s “most irresponsible budget yet.” Sen. Marco Rubio, who briefly pretended to care about poverty, specifically denounced Obama’s EITC expansion. “I am concerned by the President’s call to expand the status quo on the Earned Income Tax Credit. We should be reforming this flawed approach to helping low-income workers, not expanding it.”
Meanwhile, the Center for American Progress is out with a new report showing that hiking the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would save $4.6 billion in food stamp benefits. Benefiting 15 percent of the American workforce, such a hike would lift almost a million workers out of poverty. The Economic Policy Institute has estimated that it would also increase GDP by roughly $32.6 billion and create approximately 140,000 new jobs.
But the minimum wage hike is DOA in the House. Paul Ryan, champion of the poor, calls a minimum wage hike “bad economics” and says it hurts not helps poor people. “Look, what we want are more people to enter into the work force. We don’t want to make it more expensive for employers to be able to hire people,” he told CNBC’s Squawk Box in January. “With these horrible labor force participation rates, what matters most is getting people into the work force, then getting the skills and the economic growth that allows them to get a better paying job.”
Republicans have always claimed, with little evidence, that a minimum wage hike would kill jobs, and they got some backing from a CBO report that said the proposed hike could shave up to 500,000 jobs over several years. Most other studies, it should be noted, find no such impact.
But GOP worries about job loss can’t be taken seriously, either. As the New York Times reports, cuts to extended unemployment insurance and the SNAP program will cost the economy at least 275,000 jobs. Public sector employment alone has fallen by over 600,000 in the last three years, because of public spending cuts – and that’s during an economic recovery.
But you know what’s actually improving the economy? The Affordable Care Act. The Wall St. Journal reports that the law “is already boosting household income and spending.” Spending rose an unusually high 0.4% in January while personal incomes jumped 0.3%, and the WSJ says the ACA’s expanded Medicaid benefits and insurance subsidies “accounted for a big chunk of the increase on both fronts.” But the House just took its 50th vote to repeal the ACA.
Ryan insists the war on poverty created a “poverty trap.” It’s clear what the real poverty trap is: Republicans who resist every effort to improve the lives of American workers.
(Editor’s note. On February 26, democracy reform activist Kai Newkirk interrupted the U.S. Supreme Court to make a statement protesting the court’s recent campaign finance rulings that have created more pathways for wealthy people and interests to influence elections. The Court is expected to rule any week now in a new case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, that may lift contribution limits to political parties.
Newkirk, the co-founder of 99 Rise, was videotaped making a brief statement before police took him away and arrested him. It was the first protest inside the Court in eight years and first time that a video had been made inside the Court. AlterNet’s Steven Rosenfeld spoke to Newkirk on Tuesday about the protest message and action.”
“I rise on behalf of the vast majority of the American people who believe money is not speech, corporations are not people, and government should not be for sale to the highest bidder. We demand that you overturn Citizens United, keep the cap in McCutcheon, and an end to corruption. We demand free and fair elections and a real democracy now.”
Kai Newkirk: It’s been around a year and a half since I left my job for a L.A. City Councilman to help launch 99 Rise, which is a grassroots organization using non-violent resistance to try to end real corruption and promote real democracy. I did that because I felt over the years of community organizing I’ve come see that this issue of corruption and the big money domination of our politics has become critical and central to the question of whether we’re going to be able to address the real problems that we face as a country and make meaningful progressive change. I felt like this is a crisis point. We really have to do something. And the only way to make that change is through building a mass non-violent movement that makes the status quo untenable and moves millions of people from the sidelines into the streets or into action.
The impending McCutcheon decision is an important moment and another milestone in the development of this fight. So I had the opportunity to try to shine a spotlight on—not just the Supreme Court and its role in deepening corruption, but the broader problem of the corruption of money and politics. We thought about what were ways that we could intervene in the process and what were ways to shine that spotlight. Going into the court, protesting in the court is very rare. I think the last one was eight years ago. So I knew that it would be noteworthy if I actually stood up, registered that protest within the court chambers itself, and we knew that if we captured it on video—which was unprecedented—that we would elevate it even further.
AlterNet: Did the Justices look at you while you were giving your short statement? Did you catch their attention? What did that feel like?
Kai Newkirk: The process overall required moving through a lot of fear. It was a very intimidating, scary thing for me to do—to stand up there at the Supreme Court. I think for most people it would be. It certainly was for me. But I knew that this was so important and tried to really stay centered in who I am, and what motivates me, and the people that inspire me to do what’s right and what’s hard.
I stood up. I faced them. I thought that Scalia was most aligned with where I was in the room. I thought I noticed a little bit of a smirk. He sort of noticed it and sat back a little bit. But I wasn’t focused on that. I just had a glimspse of that. I was just standing and trying to get the words out. I was aware of the security people rushing toward me. I was just trying to focus on making my statement and doing so in a strong and composed manner, and getting it out in a clear way as quickly as I could. I knew I didn’t have much time. And then they tackled me and that was it. It all happened very quickly.
AlterNet: How were you treated during the arrest? Were you respected? Or were you treated like you were arrested for drunk driving? What was that like?
Kai Newkirk: As soon as I was grabbed and pulled out, a couple of moments later I was just standing there and being questioned. Then I was brought downstairs and questioned. And eventually they decided to arrest me and I was put through the process in the DC jail system. That’s never easy. I have been in jail in DC before in non-violent political actions but I wasn’t subjected to any special treatment either worse or better as far as I could see.
AlterNet: One of the things that I think is astounding in that a lot of the press reports on this have been focusing more on the fact that you were able to sneak a video camera into the court than the substance of your protest, which is that the Court is exacerbating the most dysfunctional aspects in our political money culture. Have you noticed that?
Kai Newkirk: I have noticed that has been a real strong theme. Looking at it from the media’s perspective, I see that they see the simple fact of the video, which is unprecedented, as being the most unique and newsworthy thing for them that’s happening in the moment, as opposed to the broader historic and impactful crisis of corruption. While that’s disappointing, we have tried to take advantage of that and use that as a tool to elevate this broader issue. I think all the coverage that it has received, none of it has ignored the purpose of our protest. It was to spotlight corruption and to challenge that, and to stand up and defend democracy and to mobilize people to do the same. That message has gotten, even when they focus on how unprecedented the video was.
So far, the response on social media, people going to our website, people covering it in different media venues—the web, to TV, print, radio—has been incredibly encouraging. I think this has been a big step forward, not just for 99 Rise as an organization but for folks who care about this and our movement. That’s been incredibly heartening to see and that is what we wanted. We want this to be a spark that inspires people around the country who agree that corruption in politics is a serious problem; that it is a crisis and the first issue that we need to address to move our country forward. We want to move people in their hearts and their gut to say if this person can stand up in the U.S. Supreme Court and speak out and go to jail, then maybe I can do something too.
“I wish someone would give me one shred of neutral evidence that financial innovation has led to economic growth — one shred of evidence.” —Paul Volker (2009)
All of us suspect the obvious — that Wall Street not only is too big to fail, but also just too damn big. But where's our evidence? It's one thing to direct our anger at financial elites and the top one percent. It's quite another to make a factual case that Wall Street, indeed, is much too big, and therefore should be radically reduced in size. So here's some data.
1. Explosion in Financial Sector Incomes But No Rise in Economic Growth
Check out this chart: Between WWII and 1980, the wages of financial workers were the same as those who worked in non-financial industries. Then the two lines split apart with Wall Street extracting an enormous premium. Do the financiers deserve it? And how would we know if they do or don't? The answer should depend on how much value the financial sector, in fact, produces for our economy. Is there a correlation between the explosion in Wall Street incomes and economic growth?
Yes, there is, but it's negative. As Wall Street wages rise, economic growth slows down.
1950s (1950-1959): 4.17 percent
1960s (1960-1969): 4.44 percent
1970s (1970-1979): 3.26 percent
1980s (1980-1989): 3.05 percent
1990s (1990-1999): 3.2 percent
2000s (2000-2009): 1.82 percent
2: The Decline of Workers' Share of the Economy
Wall Street apologists argue that financiers are responsible for boosting U.S. productivity and creating new, decent-paying jobs. Well, we're still waiting. In fact, in the decade following the early 1990s, labor's share of our national income actually declined by 7.2 percent. Why?
The usual suspects include globalization, technology and too much government spending on the social safety net. You know the arguments: we are falling behind the global competition; we are losing our jobs to new technology; government "entitlements" are crippling the economy; and so on.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) produced an eye-popping study concluding that the biggest factor in the decline in workers' share of income is financialization — that it accounts for almost 50 percent of the decline in labor's share (from ILO, Figure 38).
3. Wall Street Costs Too Much
A compelling measure of financial bloat can be found in an excellent paper by economists Gerald Epstein and James Crotty. They look at the "financing gap" which "measures the extent to which different sectors of the economy depend on external finance as opposed to financing with internal savings."
So for every dollar consumers and businesses borrow, how much does Wall Street charge? More and more, which is the exact opposite of what is supposed to happen in capitalism. The rise of advanced technologies, global markets and more creative work organization should lead to a drop in price, not an increase. But not on Wall Street. If we compare the booming 1960s with the last decade, we see that Wall Street is now charging four times more for its services.
uFor Every Dollar of Financing,
Wall Street Charges How Much?
Source: Epstein and Crotty, Table 1
Enrigue Diaz Alvarez, using different metrics in his article, "The Rent is Too Damn High," draws a similar conclusion:
"For every dollar that our capital stock increases, FIRE [the finance, insurance and real estate sector] collects somewhere between two and four dollars! Old Soviet bureaucrats with their chauffeured Ladas and modest three-bedroom apartments never dreamed of achieving this level of parasitism."
4. Financial Growths Means More Gambling
Another way to measure Wall Street's obesity is to look at how much of its profits comes from playing the markets (or what is politely referred to a proprietary trading). The bigger Wall Street banks and investment firms know they can take risks and grab all the upside, and should they fail spectacularly, the government will find a way to cover the downside fearing an economic meltdown. So we would expect that large Wall Street firms are engaged more in casino activities than traditional financial functions (like helping clients invest their money in the real economy or helping corporations raise money for expansion).
The data compiled by Epstein and Crotty show how large Wall Street investment firms are making the bulk of their profits from casino activities:
Percent of Profits Derived from "Trading"
Source: Epstein and Crotty
How Big Is Too Big?
Given this data, a reasonable person might conclude that the financial sector is two to four time too large. Therefore, we could either dramatically reduce the financial sector to one quarter to one half its current size, or cut its profits, salaries and bonuses by 50 to 75 percent without harming the economy.
This also means that progressives need to be more radical in our demands if we truly wish to tame financialism.
To paraphrase Grover Norquist, our goal should be "to shrink [Wall Street] down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."Related Stories
Can porn really enhance married life? The predominant stereotypes regarding pornographyrevolve around men who can't get enough of it, and women who can't stand it. Traditional thinking dictates that porn-loving men should be hiding in dark corners, terribly ashamed of whatever weakness causes them to want to look at pictures of naked ladies. Women, on the other hand, should never touch porn themselves (no, romance novels aren't porn, they're romantic) and should feel degraded by the very idea of appearing in some. They should also be totally jealous if their own love interest admits to looking at porn because it means he prefers porn to real women.
Of course, the more sex-positive people among us know that today there is a wide variety of pornography out there catering to all kinds of different styles and to both women and men. Pornographic art, film and literature have made it into the mainstream. Heck, we'd probably enjoy pornographic dramas and sitcoms on TV if only they existed.
A new study from Canada's Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy even suggests that porn can positively impact intimacy in a marriage. It's probably not a secret that partners who hide things from each other can experience more stress, anger, and frustration than those who don't. According to the research, women who report that their partner is honest with them about their intake of pornography tend to experience less distress, and be more satisfied with their marriages overall. Before we get too excited, this doesn't mean that if one partner is locked away in an office furiously um … enjoying some porn, that they can claim to be doing it in the name of marital bliss. What it does mean is that talking openly with your spouse about whether you enjoy porn, and what kind(s) you like can be the first step to the kind of openness and honesty that foster marital intimacy. (Learn more about the pros and cons of porn inPorn: Love It or Leave It?)
Does that mean porn should be considered good for couples? Not necessarily. The key to decreasing stress and increasing intimacy is more likely to be found in open and honest discussion than in the porn itself. Still, it shouldn't be denied that many couples can and do use pornographic materials to stimulate foreplay, encourage role playing, or invite new activities into their established sexual routines. (Read more in 6 Ways Bad Pornos Can Improve Your Sex Life.)
The results suggested by this study seem to indicate that whether or not we use porn is not nearly as significant to our relationship as whether or not we are truthful about it. Speaking for myself, I've never been bothered by a partner who watched, read, looked at, or even masturbated to porn -provided my own needs weren't being neglected. But I've always been bothered by lies, regardless of how trivial or inconsequential the subject might be. So use porn, or don't use porn, it's your choice. The important thing, according to the research, is that we're open and honest about what we like, what we do, and what we want to do.
Even if you're not among the 63 percent of Americans who drink coffee every day, caffeine is hard to avoid. It's all over your corner store, from energy drinks to colas and bottles of iced tea to cans of Starbucks "Refreshers." For a while there, it was looking like even your gum was going to be caffeinated.
But despite its pervasiveness, we still understand little about the stuff. It doesn't help that the beverage industry hopes to keep it that way; for instance, though energy drink sales have skyrocketed in recent years, their manufacturers aren't required to label how much caffeine their products contain. Meanwhile, emergency room visits related to energy drink use increased more than tenfold between 2005 to 2009.
In his new book, Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps Us, Hurts, and Hooks Us, out March 13, journalist Murray Carpenter takes on this mysterious substance. He toured Colombian coffee fields, Chinese tea lounges, and factories pumping out synthetic caffeine for soft drinks, interviewing FDA regulators, industry spokesmen, neuroscientists, and cacao cultivators. I chatted with Carpenter about how much caffeine is healthy, where the industry stands on labeling, and the most pretentious coffee preparation he's observed. Here were some of the biggest takeaways.
1. A healthy daily dose of caffeine can be very different depending on who you are.
"When doctors talk about moderate caffeine use, they talk about somewhere in the range of 300 to 400 milligrams. Most coffee drinkers tend to be in that range. Beyond that: 300 milligrams to one person might be perfect, but it might send another one through the roof. It varies so much, depending on your size, if you're a smoker, if you have a genetic predisposition to metabolize caffeine slowly. It would be foolish to say X is the perfect amount or X is too much.
"Women on birth control metabolize caffeine twice as slowly—which means they get double the jolt from the same cup of coffee. And smokers metabolize it twice as fast. There are some people with a genetic predisposition to metabolize caffeine slowly. Those are the people who are going to be super sensitive to caffeine."1. A healthy daily dose of caffeine can be very different depending on who you are.
2. There's no standard amount of caffeine in each cup of coffee—even within the same brand.
"Starbucks gives an approximation of 20 milligrams per ounce. One 16-oounce cup of Starbucks puts you at about 320 milligrams of caffeine. One 16-ounce cup of Starbucks is for many Americans a good daily dose of caffeine.
"One researcher found that a 16-ounce cup had 560 milligrams of caffeine. The researcher, Bruce Goldberger, went to the same Starbucks and ordered the same blend of coffee for six days, and found that the levels varied more than twofold. He's not the only one to have found those things. Even espresso shots, which are much more regimented, can vary."
3. Caffeinated beverage manufacturers are not required by the Food and Drug Administration to label how much caffeine is contained in their product.
"If you market a product as a food or a supplement, they still don't have a requirement that you label the amount of the quantity of caffeine in the product. There's some voluntary labeling initiatives underway: The American Beverage Association has recommended bottlers do that, but you can still find energy drinks that don't tell you how much caffeine is in them.
"But I should note: Lipton, for example, they label the amount of caffeine. A number of tea manufacturers are starting to do this. They seem to be pretty close to the amount tea typically has. It's not impossible for coffee and tea to start doing this. And for the products where caffeine is blended in very specific amounts, I don't see any reason consumers should be left in the dark."
4. Your grandparents probably drank twice as much coffee as you do.
"They were taking twice as many beans, meaning they were actually drinking more caffeine, too. We like to think of ourselves as a supercaffeinated culture, but our grandparents were more caffeinated than we were. I think one of the reasons is counterintuitive: We make a much bigger deal out of coffee than they did. We think of ourselves as coffee lovers. For their generation, it was just like, yeah, gimme a cup of coffee."
5. Pro athletes everywhere depend on caffeine—which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"I used to race bikes, and we used to drink a strong cup of coffee back then before a race. When I work out, I still like to be somewhat caffeinated. I think it helps me work out more vigorously, and I think a lot of people do. The ethics of it are really fascinating; it's definitely complex. What's changed in the past 30 years, since I was racing bikes seriously, is that you have much more specificity now in how people are able to take caffeine. You can quantify your dose, and there are products like gels that can help give the athlete caffeine in very specific doses."
6. Keurig cups—those little disposable, single-serve cups of coffee with a special dispenser—are here to stay. As Carpenter writes in Caffeinated: "The 2011 production of K-Cups, lined up end to end, would encircle the equator six times—a foot-wide belt of plastic, foil, and coffee around the planet."
"At the time I did a story for the New York Times about the environmental impacts of K-cups, Green Mountain was in the middle of doing an environmental analysis of the entire flow of coffee through K-cup through landfill to see if it was indeed more wasteful. It's probably not as cut-and-dried as we first think. You're able to extract the coffee more efficiently than, say, through a cone in your house. If you do a full like cycle analysis, it probably doesn't look as bad as you would think.
"But certainly on the waste end, like downstream from your house, it doesn't look good. And I think people have been pretty critical of the single-serving phenomenon for that reason. They experimented with different things: looked at renewable plastics, K-cups with paper tops and stuff like that. But it's really difficult to make it impermeable. The thing you have to do is keep oxygen out, and it's really hard to do that with any ecofriendly product. At least at the time I did that story, Newman's Own Organics' single top selling product was K-cups. Nell Newman has been a very forceful advocateof minimizing packaging. So some interesting questions there."
7. Mixing caffeine and alcohol hasn't been proven to be inherently unhealthy.
But the resulting behaviors can be dangerous, potentially even fatal.
"From a health perspective, being stimulated could allow you to drink more than you might otherwise. You might otherwise pass out sooner. There's still research going on in that area, for what it's worth. I haven't seen that there's some synergistic effect that's going to blow your brain apart when you mix caffeine and alcohol. Still, not a great idea."
8. Caffeine could be way better for us—and also way worse—than we know.
"This is the question I got all the time: What's the verdict? Is it good or is it bad? If I had a simple answer, it would have been a five-page book. It can be more effective than I had any idea, in terms of improving your alertness, your cognition, your athletic ability. It can have stronger more acute effects on sleep and anxiety than I'd imagined. It can be terrific. I think it's important that everybody recognize how much is good for them, what it does for them when they take it, what they feel like when they don't take it, and experiment."
9. You're not as much of a coffee buff as you think.
"I thought I was a coffee snob before reporting this book. I had no idea. I went into a very high-end coffee shop in New York, and ordered a pour-over, which is a fancy name for filter drip coffee right into a cup. A great way to make coffee, but there's nothing particularly new about it. The guy who was serving me first had a little gram scale, and he weighed out the grounds on the scale, poured them into the thing…and then he weighed the water. That struck me as over the top. You see it all over the place.
"Other people talk to me about seasonality: 'In this season, Colombian coffee is particularly fruity.' There are a lot of people who are full of shit. But people are way on the edge of this. On the plus side, we do live in the golden age of coffee. It's easier to go out anywhere you want—in San Francisco, or even in this little town of Belfast, Maine [where Murray lives]—and just get a really good cup of coffee any time you want it."
The following is an adapted excerpt from The Battle For Justice In Palestine. Copyright © 2014 by Ali Abunimah. Reprinted with permission of Haymarket Books, Chicago, IL.
Israel, European and US leaders often insist, is a shining beacon for the world. François Hollande, the Socialist candidate elected France’s president in 2012, observed that Israel faced so much criticism precisely because it is a “great democracy.” In a similar vein, Matthew Gould, the British ambassador in Tel Aviv, wrote that his country’s close cooperation with Israel stemmed from the “principles of freedom, democracy and the rule of law that we work together to protect. These shared principles are the bedrock of our relationship.” American leaders, however, are second to none in the intensity of their ardor. In 2008, Senator Barack Obama insisted that “the establishment of Israel was just and necessary” and that “the bond between Israel and the United States is rooted in more than our shared national interests—it’s rooted in the shared values and shared stories of our people.” It is a theme he has returned to often as president, enumerating, for instance, some of the “shared values” in a 2012 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC): “A commitment to human dignity. A belief that freedom is a right that is given to all of God’s children. An experience that shows us that democracy is the one and only form of government that can truly respond to the aspirations of citizens.” Among the “shared stories” is the fact that both the United States and Israel were established by European settler colonists who usurped lands inhabited by indigenous peoples, though this is something Obama did not mention to his AIPAC audience. Another contemporary “shared value” that went unacknowledged is that Israel’s practice of “targeted killings”—extrajudicial executions of “terrorist” suspects and bystanders, once condemned by the United States—has become the signature policy of Obama, the only president in history known to keep a “kill list” of US citizens and others. But despite these incongruities, it would appear at first blush that, at least when it comes to officially sanctioned racism and discrimination at home, the United States and Israel diverge sharply.
In his second inaugural address President Obama harked back to the iconic ideas shaping America’s view of itself as a beacon for the world. He stood before a crowd of thousands as the living embodiment of the progress and opportunity he now sought to extend even further in a society more willing than ever to embrace multiple cultures. “We affirm the promise of our democracy,” the president said. “We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional, what makes us America, is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” Yet even Obama conceded that “while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing.” The history of the United States is one of conflict, sometimes at great cost and bloodshed, to make these ideals real for ever more Americans, whether brought in bondage, born at home, or hopeful immigrants coming to seek a better life. It is a familiar story: the time when official white supremacy was the natural and seemingly unassailable order—enforced by a system of juridical and customary violence known as Jim Crow—has passed forever. The abolition of slavery; the civil rights movement and the end of segregation; comprehensive civil rights legislation ending discrimination in education, housing, and employment; and voting rights are celebrated as milestones toward realizing the promise that all are “created equal.” Few deny that significant disparities have yet to be eliminated. Few deny that racial gaps in health, wealth, and education are vast in the United States, just as they are between Jews and Arabs in Israel. But these are often talked about as “legacies.” Even the most conservative opponents of social programs intended to remedy these disparities do not claim—as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has in Israel—that too much integration in and of itself would constitute an existential threat to the United States. Contrast this optimistic and liberal vision to Israel’s record of state-sponsored racism and inequality, which, as we shall see, is broadly supported by Israeli Jewish opinion and justified as necessary for the state’s survival.
On its face, then, the American system—and the liberal narrative that Obama offers—would appear to share everything in common with the “state of all its citizens” that Palestinian parties in Israel demand, and nothing at all with a discriminatory and demographics-obsessed “Jewish and democratic state.” Sadly, however, despite Obama’s colorblind rhetoric, Palestinians under Israeli rule and people of color in the United States increasingly find themselves facing similar racist ideologies—even if they sometimes take veiled forms—and systems of physical and social control that are interconnected. These may be the real “shared values” of Israel and the United States—and they demand of us a shared understanding and a shared struggle to change them. While abolishing the racism and violence Zionism practices against Palestinians is the key to justice and peace in historic Palestine, no less than the abolition of slavery and Jim Crow in the United States were absolutely necessary, recent American history demonstrates that systems of racial control and the ideologies under- pinning them remain robust and adaptable. A formally liberal and rights-based order can allow a system just as oppressive as Jim Crow to hide and flourish in plain sight. Understanding the present-day experience of African Americans and other non-European groups in the United States offers critically important lessons to Palestinians and underscores that the struggle for Palestinian human rights must be closely linked to the struggle for human rights in the United States and around the world.
On the eve of Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election, 51 percent of Americans ex- pressed “explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in 2008,” an Associated Press survey found. The number of Americans with implicit “anti-black sentiments” jumped from 49 to 56 percent from 2008, while “the share of Americans expressing pro-black attitudes fell.” In 2008, 55 percent of whites voted for Obama’s Republican opponent, Senator John McCain, while in 2012, 59 percent of whites voted for Republican Mitt Romney. Obama lost every white age group and white women. These are signs that even as legal forms of discrimination have been abolished, the United States has in many ways become more racially polarized; Obama’s re-election was secured only because he won majorities of every nonwhite demographic group. These facts—and the incessant cable news and Internet propaganda depicting Obama variously as foreign and Muslim—run counter to the warm narrative that Obama’s 2008 election was historic proof that America had overcome its troubled racial past. These attitudes challenge the com- forting assertion that, though there is still much work to be done, the history of the United States is one of steady progress. Indeed, in important respects, things are moving backward.
Becky Pettit, professor of sociology at the University of Washington and author of the 2012 book Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress, found that the exclusion of millions of incarcerated Black men from national statistics on voting, wages, employment, and education has for years grossly exaggerated “progress” in virtually all indicators of achievement. When the population of incarcerated Black men is included in the statistics, the status of African Americans overall has, shockingly, actually deteriorated in the decades since the great civil rights victories. How could this be?
In her influential 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, civil rights lawyer and Ohio State University law professor Michelle Alexander challenges the optimistic liberal narrative “that emphasizes the death of slavery and Jim Crow and celebrates the nation’s ‘triumphs over race’ with the election of Barack Obama” as “dangerously misguided.” Alexander argues that, after enacting formal civil rights, the United States took a wrong turn and reversed much of what had been achieved, despite the increasingly common sight of prominent African Americans in high office. As Jim Crow once replaced slavery, so mass incarceration, brought about with the drug war, has “emerged as a stunningly comprehensive and well-designed system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow”:
What has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of our society than the language we use to justify it. In the era of color- blindness it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways in which it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal. As a criminal you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.
Alexander describes a system in which children, overwhelmingly Black, are shuttled from decrepit and underfunded schools and neighborhoods where unemployment far exceeds even the levels during the era of formal segregation to brand-new, high- tech, and well-funded prisons, often owned and operated by the multibillion-dollar private prison industry. Within a span of thirty years, “for reasons unrelated to crime rates,” incarceration rates quintupled in the United States and the prison population exploded from three hundred thousand to more than two million, as the country created a penal system on a scale unprecedented in world history. US incarceration rates far surpass those of Russia, China, and Iran, countries regularly portrayed as particularly repressive.By the mid-2000s, thirty-one million Americans, roughly the population of Canada, had been arrested in the war on drugs; seven million are currently behind bars, on probation, or on parole. These millions are in many cases juridically “locked out” of voting, work, jury service, housing, and other basic needs by the “criminal” label they will carry all their lives. The devastation affects not only the individuals themselves, but millions more people in their families and communities.
But it is the racial dimension that Alexander finds most striking: “No other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities.” In many urban communities, three out of four young Black men can expect to serve time in prison. More African American adults are in prison or under correctional supervision, probation, or control than were enslaved in 1850 in the United States. In 2004, more African American men were denied the right to vote due to felon disenfranchisement laws than in 1870 due to formal racial discrimination, poll taxes, and literacy tests. In jurisdictions across the United States, Black men are admitted to prison on drug charges at a rate ranging from twenty to fifty-seven times greater than white men. In 2006, one in every fourteen Black men was in prison, compared with one in every 106 white men. The systematic removal of Black men from their communities has produced such a significant gender gap that the difficulty many Black women face in finding life partners is a widely discussed phenomenon.
Drawing on meticulous research, Alexander demonstrates that no crime statistics can explain the dramatic rise in incarceration—or its disproportionate impact on people of color. Rates of crime and incarceration have moved independently of each other. Government statistics show that people of all races use and sell drugs at roughly the same rates. Among students, for example, whites and Blacks use marijuana at nearly identical rates, although white students use crack and cocaine at more than seven times the rate of Black students. And like much else in American life, drug markets are segmented by race and class: whites sell drugs to whites, Blacks to Blacks, students to students, rural people to rural people. Alexander explodes the myth that the focus on people of color is justified because hardcore violent criminals are concentrated in their neighborhoods, and that the war on drugs is aimed at “kingpins” and big-time dealers. The vast majority of arrests—four out of five in 2005—were for possession; only one out of five was for selling. Arrests for marijuana possession accounted for 80 percent of the growth in drug arrests during the 1990s. Nor can violent crime explain the shocking numbers. Violent crime rates have been falling; only a minuscule proportion of the astronomical increase in incarcerations is due to convictions for homicide. It is the way that the war on drugs has been waged, in communities already devastated by economic neglect, decline, and mass incarceration, that has proved to be one of the great engines for generating crime and violence.
In major cities, homicides are heavily concentrated in the poorest, most economically disenfranchised, and most heavily policed communities. In 2013, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel received press accolades for bringing down the city’s homicide rate by “saturating” specific neighborhoods with hundreds of police officers (at a massive and unsustainable cost to the city’s budget of tens of millions of dollars in extra overtime pay). Meanwhile, Emanuel has overseen the largest mass shutdown of public schools in the country’s history. The children in the fifty schools Emanuel announced he would close in 2013 were 88 percent Black, 94 percent low-income, and overwhelmingly concentrated in economically deprived areas. It is difficult to see how such slash-and-burn tactics can do anything but speed up what many in Chicago call the “rail to jail” for children and their parents. As Glenn Greenwald observes, “growing up with a parent in prison is itself a predictor of later criminality.” Thus the very mass incarceration policies that target the poorest and most powerless, while political and economic elites enjoy ever-greater immunity from the law, actually perpetuate the crime they are supposedly intended to fight.
The “enemy” in the drug war, Alexander argues, has been racially defined; the war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color. Draconian sentencing laws give prosecutors immense power to coerce people, often with little evidence, to accept plea bargains that send them to prison because losing the gamble of a trial with inadequate legal resources could result in a sentence lasting decades. Nonetheless, going to prison at all is enough to mark one as a “felon,” with all of that label’s lifelong consequences. This system “locks people not only behind actual bars in actual prisons, but also behind virtual bars and virtual walls that are invisible to the naked eye but function nearly as effectively as Jim Crow.”
It has become common to associate the post–September 11, 2001, PATRIOT Act with the dramatic erosion of civil liberties and individual rights and the increase in intrusive government surveillance in the United States and other Western societies. In fact, this gutting of constitutional protections began much earlier. In cities across the United States and along the highways connecting them, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people, overwhelmingly brown and Black, are subjected annually to intrusive “stop-and-frisk” searches or traffic stops used as a pretext for such searches.
Several years ago, while driving with a friend toward Chicago through northwest Indiana, I was pulled over by an Indiana state trooper for what was ostensibly a routine traffic stop. But the officer subjected me to frightening and intimidating treatment. I was made to get out of the car and stand in the cold rain in the glaring headlights of his squad car as he questioned me aggressively. He wanted to know where I was coming from, where I was going, and where I lived. My voice shaking, I asked him if I was required to answer his questions. He said I wasn’t, but if I refused he would issue me all sorts of citations.
I remember thinking, “This is one of those moments when things could go badly wrong if I am not very careful about what I say and do.” It was shortly after a spate of police shootings in which unarmed motorists had been shot because police claimed to have mistaken ordinary objects in their hands for weapons. I did my best to stay calm as the officer kept badgering me and accusing me of giving “suspicious” answers. In reality I was freezing and scared, but I think I understood at the time that he was trying to provoke me into reacting to create a pretext to search the car without my consent—the legal term is “probable cause.” I did my best not to give it to him. But when he started to ask me about my friend, I said I didn’t think I should have to answer questions about any passengers in my car. The officer said he would go and speak to my friend himself and ordered me to remain standing with my hands on my head and face the headlights of his car, which was stopped behind mine. “If you turn around I will arrest you for assault,” he warned. My friend was not legally obliged to speak to the police officer either, but managed to convince him that we were simply two people driving in a car. The officer returned with a completely changed demeanor and offered me his hand. He explained that police were monitoring the highway for people driving suspiciously slowly, who they suspected might be drug couriers trying to avoid detection. What had made me a target of suspicion, apparently, was obeying the speed limit on that stretch of the Indiana Toll Road. It is outrageous that he thought this explanation would make me feel better or justify his behavior, but I was too shaken and relieved to offer any more resistance. He let me go with no citation. It was an experience I will never forget.
Only after I read Alexander’s book did I recognize that what happened exactly fit a pattern used hundreds of thousands of times by local police departments all over the country as part of a federal Drug Enforcement Agency program called Operation Pipeline. This program has trained tens of thousands of officers “how to use a minor traffic violation as a pretext to stop someone, how to lengthen a routine traffic stop and leverage it into a search for drugs, how to obtain consent from a reluctant motorist, and how to use drug-sniffing dogs to obtain probable cause.” Blessed by the Supreme Court, such stops, which rarely turn up any drugs, eviscerate constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. They allow police to use arbitrary and nonsensical profiling criteria including “traveling with luggage, traveling without luggage, driving an expensive car, driving a car that needs repairs, driving a rental car, driving with out-of-state license places,” and driving with “mismatched occupants.” In some states—clearly, in my experience, in Indiana—officers are even told to watch out for “scrupulous obedience to traffic laws.” The effect of such scattershot criteria is to give police the power to stop anyone at any time for any reason and bully them into cooperating.
While, fortunately, I have rarely been subjected to such special attention (at least outside of airports), it is daily routine for many young people in American cities. “The militarized nature of law enforcement in ghetto communities has in- spired rap artists and Black youth to refer to the police presence in Black communities as ‘The Occupation,’” observes Alexander. “In these occupied territories, many Black youth automatically ‘assume the position’ when a patrol car pulls up, knowing full well that they will be detained and frisked no matter what.” These tactics, ubiquitous in American inner cities, are unknown in predominantly white suburban areas or on college campuses, where drugs are just as prevalent. But as narrated through the lyrics of Tupac Shakur and of Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet, this “occupation” was immediately recognizable to three young men in Lydd, near Tel Aviv, who were inspired to form the pioneering and now world-acclaimed Palestinian hip-hop group DAM.
From the Old to the New Jim Crow
What is devastating about Alexander’s thesis is her explanation of how racial targeting was not just the outcome of this project but integral to its design. She traces the origins of this “human rights nightmare” to the lingering resentments and racial fears that accompanied the civil rights era. Among whites, the end of formal segregation had its greatest impact not on the liberal elites who were pushing the reforms, but on poor working-class whites, scarcely better educated on average than Black people. These whites faced what many saw as a social demotion. Poor whites were the ones expected to “bear the burden of this profound social adjustment even though many of them were as desperate for upward social mobility and quality education as African Americans.” Affirmative action, moreover, created the impression that Blacks were leapfrogging over whites. In the absence of a narrative, social investments, and a movement that could have given everyone a stake in the “nascent integrated racial order,” the situation was ripe for political exploitation.
Civil rights had made overt racial fearmongering unavailable as a political dis- course in the new era of colorblindness, but conservative, especially Republican, politicians “found they could mobilize white racial resentment by vowing to crack down on crime.”30 An ostensibly race-neutral but highly racialized discourse preyed on fears about social disorder, explicitly linking crime to the kinds of civil disobedience that had been practiced during the struggle to end Jim Crow. This was the essence of Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” to lure white voters away from the then-dominant Democratic Party. Nixon himself had explained to an advisor “that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the Blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this without appearing to.” Nixon’s 1968 campaign strategy, as presidential advisor John Ehrlichman explained, was to “go after the racists” and so a “subliminal appeal to the anti-Black voter was always present in Nixon’s statements and speeches.”
But it was Ronald Reagan who perfected this method by announcing the “war on drugs” in 1982 as a convenient vehicle to advance a racialized discourse on crime without having to use any explicitly racial language. Reagan’s “war on drugs” was never intended to be about drugs or crime, so the initial resistance from law enforcement agencies that couldn’t see the need for it was eventually broken by massive federal financial incentives, including the transfer of vast quantities of military weaponry to police forces across the country. When the “epidemic” of crack-cocaine use emerged in 1985, years after the drug war had been declared, the Reagan administration launched a massive propaganda effort, assisted by the media, effectively associating drugs and crime with people of color. Deeply entrenched stereotypes of “crack whores,” “crack babies,” and young Black men as feral “predators” took on the forms that shape perceptions and policies to this day. Israeli politicians, too, have aggressively portrayed Black African migrants and asylum seekers as a criminal class, despite the fact that their crime rate is lower than that of the general Israeli population—but without taking the care Reagan did to avoid explicitly racial language. In America, racialized yet overtly colorblind language has also found a use in international relations. As Joseph Massad observes, Israeli and American politicians, including Obama, frequently describe Israel as “living in a tough neighbor- hood” where Iranians and Arabs “are the ‘violent blacks’ of the Middle East and Jews are the ‘peaceful white folks.’”
The triumph of Reagan’s strategy was how quickly and thoroughly it was adopted by ostensibly liberal Democrats eager not to be seen as “soft on crime.” Under the Clinton and Obama administrations, the war on drugs, the militarization of policing, mass incarceration, and the number of rights and benefits formally denied to people labeled “felons” reached ever-more-astounding heights. The war on drugs, “cloaked in race-neutral language, offered whites opposed to racial reform a unique opportunity to express their hostility toward blacks and black progress with- out being exposed to the charge of racism,” Alexander writes. And so it is little surprise that “mass incarceration tends to be categorized as a criminal justice issue as opposed to a racial justice or civil rights issue.” The system now runs on autopilot, with no need for the major campaigns of the 1980s to convince the public of the need for the war on drugs. It requires no overt or conscious bigotry to produce these grossly disproportionate racial outcomes. The “war propaganda” has moved on to new ground: “Crack is out; terrorism is in.” The “colorblind” parallel should be clear: there was no need to call the “War on Terror” a “war on Muslims.” Everyone understood this—those fighting it as well as its victims at home and abroad—despite the constant assurances by public officials to the contrary.
Israel as Warning and Model
As America’s wars spread domestically and internationally, Israel and its occupation of the Palestinians have emerged as direct inspirations, not just as metaphor in the rhymes of hip-hop artists. In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein offered Israel as a cautionary example for the rest of the world. The assumption in the early days of the “peace process” was that Israel needed peace in order to foster and sustain economic growth and prosperity. But in the post–9/11 environment, Klein shows how Israel transformed its economy into one “that expands in direct response to escalating violence” and has become the world’s “shopping mall for homeland security technologies,” reaping billions. In 2012, Israel’s “security” and “defense” industries, including conventional arms sales, saw record exports worth $7.5 billion, with much of the recent growth coming from the Asia-Pacific region. Israel’s arms exports have more than doubled from $3.5 billion in 2003, making it the world’s sixth largest arms exporter. Israel’s global sales of unmanned aerial vehicles—more commonly known as drones—are second only to those of the United States.
Klein says Israel has offered the “West” a simple pitch: “‘The War on Terror you are just embarking on is one we have been fighting since our birth. Let our high-tech firms and privatized spy companies show you how it’s done.’” “From a corporate perspective, this development has made Israel a model to be emulated in the post- 9/11 market,” but from a social and political perspective, Israel should serve as a “stark warning.” The fact that “Israel continues to enjoy booming prosperity, even as it wages war against its neighbors and escalates the brutality in the occupied territories, demonstrates just how perilous it is to build an economy based on the premise of continual war and deepening disasters.” As Klein shows, the United States has been a major market for Israeli technologies of surveillance and control that were frequently developed and tested on captive Palestinian populations. Indeed, four million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip “have become little more than guinea pigs in military experiments designed to enrich a new elite of arms dealers and former generals,” according to a 2013 investigative Franco-Belgian–produced documentary by Israeli di- rector Yotam Feldman.Jeff Halper, founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, argues that this gives Israel even more reason to want to hold onto the West Bank. “The occupied territories are crucial as a laboratory not just in terms of Israel’s internal security, but because they have allowed Israel to become pivotal to the global homeland security industry,” Halper has observed.
Since 9/11, pro-Israel lobbying groups have created a veritable industry of shuttling police chiefs from major US cities to Israel to “learn” from the “best.” These missions function as important marketing opportunities for Israel’s “security” industry as well as to shore up ideological support for, and identification with, Israel among US elites. In 2010, the Jewish United Fund, in cooperation with the Israeli government and Israel’s notoriously abusive Shin Bet secret police, sponsored a high- level delegation of Chicago law enforcement officials to Israel, where they were treated to an “intensive seminar” on “intelligence-led policing techniques and responses to critical events.”Among the sites they visited were occupied East Jerusalem and “checkpoints for people, vehicles and cargo.” Israel’s oppressive and internationally condemned occupation regime was being openly touted as a model for Chicago, a city that Michelle Alexander identifies as already one of the worst places to see the devastating effects of racial segregation, militarized policing, and mass incarceration. This trip was the second of its kind; between the two delegations, commanders of every major division of the Chicago police had been to Israel, including Counter-Terrorism and Intelligence, Bureau of Investigative Services, Organized Crime Division, Mobile Strike Force, SWAT, and the city’s Office of Emergency Management. The Chicago Police Department “is today more effective operationally and tactically as a result of these two trips and the enduring partnership with our Israeli institutional and individual counterparts,” said department chief of staff Michael Masters.
A 2008 ADL-sponsored delegation with police officials from fourteen cities, including Miami; Philadelphia; Lexington, Kentucky; Mobile, Alabama; and Salt Lake City, Utah, featured tours of checkpoints in the occupied West Bank and a visit to Hebron, where one hundred thousand Palestinians have lived for years under lock- down so that a few thousand of the most extreme Israeli settlers can have the run of their city. Hebron is where some of the worst abuses by Israeli occupation forces have been consistently documented by Palestinian and international human-rights organizations. The Israeli organization Breaking the Silence collected testimonies from former Israeli soldiers stationed throughout the occupied territories between 2005 and 2011. One soldier from the Kfir Brigade, stationed in Hebron in 2006 and 2007, explained what he and his colleagues would do for amusement: “We’d be on patrol, walking in the village, bored, so we’d trash shops, find a detonator, beat someone to a pulp, you know how it is. Search, mess it all up. Say we’d want a riot? We’d go up to the windows of a mosque, smash the panes, throw in a stun grenade, make a big boom, then we’d get a riot.” It is no wonder that soldiers and settlers attack Palestinians with complete impunity, whether for fun or to take their land. Yesh Din, an Israeli legal advocacy group, examined 781 cases of criminal complaints filed by Palestinians for alleged criminal acts by Israeli civilians against people or property from 2005 to 2011. It found that 84 percent of cases were closed due to “investigational failures” and observed that the “failure to maintain an effective law enforcement mechanism in the West Bank indicates that the State of Israel is failing to meet its obligation to protect Palestinian civilians in areas subject to its military occupation.”
One recent victim of this lawlessness was Muhammad al-Salaymeh, who was shot dead by an Israeli Border Police officer at a checkpoint only feet from his home in Hebron on December 12, 2012, his seventeenth birthday, as he went out to buy a cake. The officer, Nofar Mizrahi, told Israeli media that Salaymeh, a talented athlete who attended acrobatics school, had seized her colleague by the neck and was holding a gun to his temple, even after she fired the first shot. A video released days later disproved the officer’s account. Salaymeh never pulled out a gun and held it to anyone’s temple. Although the video showed a brief altercation with one of the occupation soldiers, when Muhammad was shot he was not in contact with anyone and presented no danger.
Why did Muhammad die? What really happened? His case, like those of thou- sands of other shootings and killings of Palestinians by Israeli “security” forces and settlers, has never been credibly investigated. When it comes to the lives, limbs, and property of Palestinians, the advanced evidence-gathering techniques Israel show- cases for its American guests are nowhere in sight. But in cases where investigations do take place, Yesh Din found that 94 percent of criminal investigations by the Military Police Criminal Investigations Division against soldiers suspected of criminal violent attacks against Palestinians and their property were closed without indictments. Almost any Palestinian child knows he is without protection, including Atta Muhammad Atta Sabah, a twelve-year-old boy who was shot and paralyzed by an Israeli soldier in the Jalazoun refugee camp in the West Bank in May 2013, as he approached a checkpoint to retrieve a school bag soldiers had confiscated the day before. “I’m not expecting anything to happen to [the soldier who shot me],” Atta said in an interview with Defence for Children International. In the minority of cases where there were indictments, conviction resulted in very light sentences. Nevertheless, Chief Alan Rodbell of the Scottsdale, Arizona, police department came away from his tour of the occupied West Bank struck by the “Israeli people’s amazing capacity for compassion.”
An October 2012 delegation to Israel, the tenth of its kind, organized by the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange, included officers from New York; Los Angeles; Oakland, California; Maryland; and Austin and Houston, Texas. On their itinerary was a visit to Megiddo Prison, near Haifa, notoriously one of the sites where Israel holds hundreds of Palestinian political prisoners. These include “administrative detainees” held without charge or trial, a practice Amnesty International has frequently demanded Israel end. These calls became more urgent as thousands of Palestinian prisoners, among them hundreds held without charge or trial, emulated Khader Adnan, an administrative detainee at Megiddo Prison who waged an epic sixty-six-day hunger strike in early 2012 to secure his release. These hunger strikes gained global attention, especially after calls on Israel from international football stars and Sepp Blatter, president of the global soccer federation FIFA, to release Mahmoud Sarsak. Sarsak, a twenty-two-year-old member of the Palestinian national football squad, was arrested on his way to a match and held for more than two years without charge or trial at Ramleh Prison. By the time Israel agreed to free Sarsak, he had been on a hunger strike for three months and was on the brink of death. Israel’s detention practices came under renewed scrutiny in February 2013, when Arafat Jaradat, a thirty-year-old father of two young children, died at Megiddo Prison after an interrogation by the Shin Bet. Palestinian human- rights groups and Physicians for Human Rights Israel observed that Jaradat’s death was “symptomatic of the utter disregard with which Israel holds the lives of Palestinian prisoners” after an autopsy found evidence that he had been tortured.
Megiddo Prison is also where Israel detains Palestinian children who are subjected to abuses amounting to torture. In 2011, sixty-eight of more than two hundred Palestinian children detained from the occupied territories were held there. In one case documented by Defense for Children International’s Palestine Section, in the same month as one of the visits by US police chiefs, Adham D., a sixteen- year-old from Nablus in the occupied West Bank, went with a friend to the Israeli military coordination office to apply for permits that would allow them to work in Israel. Instead, the boys were detained, cuffed, blindfolded, and marched on foot to the Huwwara detention center. Adham was then transferred from the occupied territories to the Al-Jalame interrogation center inside Israel, a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, where he was held for twelve days in solitary confinement in a filthy, tiny cell and subjected to frequent harsh interrogation. Adham said:
The mattress was very dirty. The toilet had a horrible smell and there were two holes in the ceiling that allowed freezing cold air in. The lights were dim yellow and left on the whole time. I spent 12 days in this cell. I could not tell day from night. I could not tell what time it was. I did not even see the prison guard who brought me food and passed it through a gap in the door. I did not sleep at all on the first night because I was so scared.
Adham described being bound to a small chair in a painful position (a frequent Israeli torture technique) and interrogated without access to a lawyer or his family. He denied accusations, typically leveled against Palestinian youths, that he had thrown stones or Molotov cocktails. But suffering from the cold, pain, and fear, he broke. “On the third day a doctor came to see me and asked me a few questions about my health but did not examine me physically. I was in bad shape. . . It was really hard to spend days and nights in the cell, not to mention that the interrogator told me all my friends had provided confessions against me. This is why I decided to confess,” Adham recalled. “Even though I confessed on the fourth day, I was interrogated for 11 days. The interrogator wanted information about other people in my town but I did not cooperate.” After that Adham was transferred to Megiddo Prison, where he remained as of early 2013.
Jamal S., sixteen, a Nablus teen who was snatched from his bed during a night raid on his family home by Israeli soldiers, also ended up at Megiddo that month. Like Adham, he was first taken to Al Jalame, where he was forced to confess to accusations he denied, with no lawyer or family present; the interrogator threatened him with prolonged solitary confinement. “I actually believed him when he said this,” Jamal recalled. “My body started shaking and I felt really dizzy. I begged him not to put me back in the cell and I confessed to throwing stones, Molotov cocktails and grenades at military jeeps, even though I never did it.” Adham and Jamal bear witness to just two examples of what Defence for Children International terms the “systematic and institutionalized ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities.” The abuse of children at Israeli facilities is so pervasive that the British–Danish multinational security company G4S has become a major target of international boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns for providing security equipment to Al Jalame and Megiddo. G4S also describes itself as “the leading security company in the United States,” where it is a major contractor to federal, state, and local police agencies and runs numerous prisons and juvenile detention centers nationwide. Palestinians such as Jamal and Adham, if they ever face “trial,” would go before the military court reserved for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank; the conviction rate in these kangaroo courts is 99.74 percent.65
It is instructive to contrast this with the treatment received by Israeli settlers and their children, who, unlike Palestinians, go before Israeli civilian courts. Jamila Hassan, her husband Ayman, and their children, Iman, four, and Muhammad, six, were riding in a taxi in the occupied West Bank south of Bethlehem in August 2012, along with another passenger and the driver, when their vehicle was hit by a Molotov cocktail. Ayman and the two children were badly injured, with Muhammad suffering severe burns on his back, hands, legs, and face. “We are lost, our life has turned upside down, the father, son and daughter are each in different worlds, our life is difficult and we’re miserable,” Jamila told Ma’an News Agency two weeks after the attack, just as Muhammad emerged in agony from another surgery. “He screams from the pain a lot,” the child’s mother said.
Israeli police arrested three minors from a nearby Jewish settlement in the attack and told the judge who remanded the boys in custody that they had found finger- prints linking the suspects to the crime. According to Haaretz, Judge Yaron Mintkevich “said he rules to keep the boys in police custody with a heavy heart, due to their age,” which was reported to be between twelve and thirteen. But in January 2013, Israeli prosecutors dropped the case, citing a “lack of evidence,” even though the DNA of one of the suspects was found on a glove at the scene of the crime. Certainly, there was no question of the settler boys being kept in solitary confine- ment, shackled in painful positions, deprived of family contact and legal counsel, and otherwise abused until they confessed. It is unknown whether any children jailed at Megiddo, such as Adham D. or Jamal S., might have caught a glimpse of the visiting American police officials. But following the familiar script, Los Angeles Police Department commander Richard Webb praised the Israeli officials he had met as “world leaders and innovators in counterterrorism and security” who “do their duties while vigilantly protecting human rights.” Webb vowed to “take many lessons I learned back to Los Angeles.”
How widespread is the Israeli-American cooperation in policing? No comprehensive studies appear to have been done, but the claims made by Israel lobby groups alone are impressive. The Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs (JINSA), a neoconservative Washington think tank that advocates for Israeli interests, says it has brought more than one hundred federal, state, and local law enforcement officials to Israel as part of its Law Enforcement Exchange Program and has trained eleven thousand more law enforcement officers across the United States since 2002. JINSA has worked closely with the US-based International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the world’s largest organization of police executives. In 2008, an IACP luncheon hosted by JINSA honored the Israel National Police. One JINSA delegation to Israel that year included officers from the New York and Los Angeles police departments, the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, the New York Port Authority, and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange, which claims to have taken six thousand influential figures from dozens of countries to Israel since 1982, doesn’t only target law enforcement agencies in the United States. Recent delegations have included city, county, and state elected officials, “Latino leaders,” and a “civil rights” delegation. The American Israel Education Foundation, an arm of AIPAC, also frequently brings US law enforcement leaders on visits to Israel and the occupied territories.
It is also clear that the Israeli government is itself directly invested in promoting relations with US law enforcement agencies in order to boost Israel’s lucrative “homeland security” export industry. The Consulate General of Israel to the Mid- west in Chicago, for example, sponsored two visits by Israeli police officials in 2012 to address hundreds of US law enforcement officials in St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis–St. Paul, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Indianapolis. The participants “were encouraged to attend the HLS2012 Conference, Israel’s premier Homeland Security Seminar and Exhibition.” Ofer Sachs, chief executive officer of the Israeli Export Institute, one of the conference sponsors, explained that a key goal was to increase Israel’s “market share” of the estimated two-hundred-billion-dollar global homeland security sector.This weapons and security technology fair, held in Tel Aviv in November 2012, was addressed by much of Israel’s top military and security echelon, including former leaders of the Shin Bet secret police, Atlanta chief of police George Turner, and Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania and US Secretary of Homeland Security (and now a homeland security profiteer). Turner is also chair of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, created by Congress at the height of the drug war to promote exactly the kinds of practices that have led to mass incarceration.
Journalist Max Blumenthal believes that examples such as these are only the tip of the iceberg. What he calls the “Israelification” of American policing came into full view with attacks on Occupy Wall Street movement protestors in 2011, but, he as- serts, it has taken place “at every level of law enforcement, and in areas that have yet to be exposed. The phenomenon has been documented in bits and pieces, through occasional news reports that typically highlight Israel’s national security prowess without examining the problematic nature of working with a country accused of grave human rights abuses” or the quality of what is being sold. Also unexamined is the fact that “former Israeli military officers have been hired to spearhead security operations at American airports and suburban shopping malls, leading to a wave of disturbing incidents of racial profiling, intimidation, and FBI interrogations of innocent, unsuspecting people.”Related Stories
Do you remember the "hygiene hypothesis" of the late 1990s? It theorized that humans had so over-sanitized their environment with disinfectants and hand cleansers, our immune systems were no longer doing their jobs. So many consumer products like toothpaste, hand and dish soap, laundry detergents and even clothes now include antibiotics, said the theory, we seldom encounter the "bad" germs our immune systems are supposed to recognize and fight.
Since the hygiene hypothesis surfaced, there is growing evidence of its truth. In fact the theory that certain medical conditions, especially autoimmune ones, may be caused by a changing or declining bacterial environment in the human gut is gaining momentum and now called the "disappearing microbiota hypothesis."
The bacteria in our gut, collectively called our microbiome, is a huge, ever-changing universe of billions of microbes. Each person's intestinal ecosystem is so individualized and such a reflection of his unique inner and outer environments, "gut microbiota may even be considered as another vital human organ," says one scientific paper. The microbiome has also been called a second genome and even a second brain.
Most people know that taking antibiotics can change their microbiome by killing off the "good" bacteria with the bad. That's why antibiotics can cause diarrhea and many clinicians recommend taking probiotics with them. But what scientists are just beginning to learn is microbiomes are also affected by their outside environment including influences like house dust and even aerosolized matter when a toilet is flushed. They are also learning that gut bacteria is highly adaptive and one person's gut bacteria will take root and flourish in another's intestines. This explains the growing popularity of "fecal transplants" (yes, you read that right) between people who have been depleted of "good" bacteria and donors with healthy populations of microbes in their intestines.
Still, the most astounding research that is developing around the microbiome is the ability of our gut bacteria to affect our brain and "influence our mood and temperament," says food expert Michael Pollan. "If you transplant the gut microbiota of relaxed and adventurous mice into the guts of timid and anxious mice they become less stressed and more adventurous."
Here are some conditions which could be linked to the state of your gut bacteria.
One of the most detested microbes in the Western world is H. pylori which causes both acute and chronic gastritis and peptic ulcers and is highly correlated with gastrointestinal-related cancers. But even as antibiotic treatment has reduced and almost eliminated H. pylori in the gut of many humans in Western countries, there is a downside to H. pylori eradication. In the same time frame that "H. pylori infection rates have dropped from > 50% at the beginning of the 20th century to < 10% at its end…the incidence of many immune disorders has increased at an alarming rate," says a 2012 paper in the journal Gut Microbes. "Among these are allergic diseases such as hay fever, eczema, and asthma, but also auto-immune diseases (multiple sclerosis, type I diabetes) and chronic inflammatory conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease." Asthma is especially on the increase, say epidemiologists, growing by 28 percent in all US adults in the last decade and 50 percent in African-American children. Now researchers are asking whether H. pylori had provided asthma protection such as suppression of allergic airway disease and other immunomodulatory properties and whether the microbe could be harnessed for asthma prevention and treatment.
There is only one affliction that seems to be growing as fast in the US population as asthma, and that's obesity. The waning influence of H. pylori may also be a factor. In some countries less than 10 percent of school children now carry H. pylori anymore, say researchers, and "at the same time, the incidence of obesity among the same population group has been observed." H. pylori influences the hormones leptin and ghrelin, both of which affect weight and body mass. The increase in obesity also correlates with the indiscriminate use of antibiotics on factory farms, says a paper in Frontiers of Public Health and cannot be fully explained by "excess food energy intake, changes in diet and eating behavior" and increasing sedentary lifestyles. Antibiotics likely increase weight in livestock by strengthening microbes that absorb nutrients, so why would they not increase human weight in the same way? Both obese mice and humans have lost weight when the intestinal microbes of lean mice and humans were insertedinto their systems. And there is another environmental source of antibiotics. Triclosan, found in products like Colgate's Total and Ajax and Dawn dish detergent is an antibiotic that also acts as an endocrine-disruptingpesticide. Traces of it have been found in earthworms from agricultural fields and Atlantic dolphins. Endocrine disrupters like Triclosan are also suspected of causing early puberty by impairing hormonal regulation.
3. Mood Disorders
Could the microbes in your gut—or lacking in your gut—actually affect your mood? Yes, say several studies in medical journals, which link gut microbes to depression, anxiety, stress, mood disorders, and even eating and sleep disorders! Cross-reacting chemicals may provide a link between your brain and your gut and "Alteration of this link may contribute to several neuropsychiatric disorders, emphasizing the key role of nutrition among other factors influencing gut content and intestinal permeability," says an article in the journal Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care. Gut bacteria influence the behavior of serotonin, dopamine and GABA—three substances many psychiatric drugs target. Many recent studies in scientific journals are exploring the link between your brain and gut, now referred to as the "microbiota-gut-brain axis." "The expression 'thinking with your gut' may contain a larger kernel of truth than we thought," writes Michael Pollan. Depression may also be caused by another action in the gut, inflammatory responses says another paper in the scientific literature which postulates that is why it is so "common in the context of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases."
Remember the old explanation for acne—that it was caused by chocolate, fried foods or pizza? Increasingly, scientists are linking acne to what’s going on in the gut, so maybe the original theories had a kernel of truth. While acne has traditionally been treated with antibiotics to kill the "bad" bacteria, the idea of adding "good" bacteria in the form of probiotics is now gaining favor. It is a "gentler and more effective way to ease problem skin," says Huiying Li of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. Researchers know now that not all bacteria linked to acne are bad. Some may cause problem skin, but other appear to protect the skin and keep it healthy and the latter may have genes that may even fight the former, researchers now suspect. A 2013 study in Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery suggests that probiotics "may be considered a therapeutic option or adjunct for acne vulgaris" and an article in Gut Pathogens agrees that gut bacteria "have important implications in acne." The research is so promising, a project at the Genome Institute at Washington University is now underway "to investigate the relationship between acne and the microbiome, or community of microbes, residing underneath the surface of the human skin."
5. Childhood Disorders
Research is still preliminary, but gut bacteria may also play a role in childhood problems. James Greenblatt, a psychiatrist and clinical faculty member at Tufts Medical School, successfully treated a teenager with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder by boosting her "good" bacteria with high-powered probiotics reported ABC news. Symptoms begin to subside after six months and after a year, they had disappeared and the patient had recovered. Studies have also found a byproduct of one gut bacterium elevated in autistic children. "Researchers need to complete additional studies to confirm the existence of abnormalities in autistic individuals intestines," said an article in Alternative Therapies In Health And Medicine. The gut bacteria of a mother may even affect her baby. Researchers now suspect the reason babies born by C-section are more likely to be overweight or obese by the time they are adults is because they are deprived of important bacteria from the mother during the birth process. "Members of the mother's gut microbiota are transferred to the child during vaginal delivery," say researchers and "caesarian section leads to an altered colonization pattern of the infant's lower intestine."Related Stories
On Tuesday, the DC City Council voted 10 to 1 to decriminalize the possession of marijuana in the nation's capital, and the bill now heads to the desk of Mayor Vincent Gray, who has previously pledged support for such legislation.
Possession and sale of medical marijuana is currently legal in DC, but the penalty for possession of recreational pot is up to six months and jail and a $1,000 fine - not to mention a criminal record, which can have damning effects on a person's ability to apply for a job, find housing and build credit. Under the new measure, those found in possession of up to an ounce would be ticketed for $25.
The vote was motivated in large part by the racist nature of marijuana-related arrests. Across the country, blacks are nearly 4x as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. This disparity is even worse in DC, where blacks are over8x more likely to be arrested for possession than whites—the largest disparity of any comparable jurisdiction in the country except Iowa.
Council member Tommy Wells, the lead sponsor of the bill, commented to the Washington Post on the unjust nature of marijuana laws in DC:
"In D.C., there are more than 5,000 arrests per year for marijuana; 90 percent are African American. One drug charge can change a life forever. Our action . . . does not repeal all negative impacts caused by criminalization of marijuana, but it moves us in the right direction."
The vote in DC is important for the overall thrust of change in drug laws because of how many people DC police arrest for possession. The rate of arrest for simple possession is higher in DC than any other comparable jurisdiction in the country. The District also saw a 62% increase in marijuana possession arrests between 2001 and 2010, behind only four other states.
The most interesting dimension of the DC vote will be how federal law plays out against the district's right to self-governance. Although the Obama administration has chosen not to directy confront pot legalization in Washington and Colorado, there are more than two dozen federal law enforcement agencies in DC that could easily enforce the dictates of federal law over pot-holding Washingtonians.
Some doubt that half measures like decriminalization will even do much to stem the rate of arrests for pot. The lone dissenter of the measure, Council member Yvette Alexander, suggested to the Washington Post that the city should either endorse outright legalization or no change at all, since the current measure would do nothing to decriminalize the consumption of pot:
"There will not be any reduction in the amount of arrests because . . . there will still be arrests when someone is smoking marijuana on the corner, or when someone is selling marijuana on the corner,” Alexander said. “If you’re the lucky one who happens to possess it, then you’re off the hook.”
Currently, activists are waiting to hear back from the DC Board of Elections on whether they can begin to gather signatures for a November ballot measure that would fully legalize pot in the nation's capital.Related Stories
After noting that the recently passed Farm Bill cut $8.6 billion in food stamps, Jon Stewart took aim at Fox News' strange obsession with poor people buying healthy food with their food stamps.
First he mocked the fact that Fox News simply passes along all sorts of wildly unsubstantiated stories about food stamp recipients buying iPads and taking trips to Vegas with their lavish food stamps. "Yes, you hear all these things," Stewart mocked, before pointing out that sometimes news organizations don't simply repeat rumors they might have heard on the "chain emails your grandma gets."
He then played a montage of Fox Newsians vociferously complaining about the stories they have heard about people receiving supplemental nutrition assistance actually buying nutritious food. One fixation: "People going to the East Village and buying organic salmon!"
How horrific! Don't these poor people know that they are only entitled to eat salmon from a can?
Something is definitely fishy about Fox's concern with what poor people eat.
House Speaker John Boehner says raising the minimum wage is “bad policy” because it will cause job losses.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says a minimum wage increase would be a job killer. Republicans and the Chamber also say unions are job killers, workplace safety regulations are job killers, environmental regulations are job killers, and the Affordable Care Act is a job killer. The California Chamber of Commerce even publishes an annual list of “job killers,” including almost any measures that lift wages or protect workers and the environment.
Most of this is bunk.
When in 1996 I recommended the minimum wage be raised, Republicans and the Chamber screamed it would “kill jobs.” In fact, in the four years after it was raised, the U.S. economy created more jobs than were ever created in any four-year period.
For one thing, a higher minimum wage doesn’t necessarily increase business costs. It draws more job applicants into the labor market, giving employers more choice of whom to hire. As a result, employers often get more reliable workers who remain longer – thereby saving employers at least as much money as they spend on higher wages.
A higher wage can also help build employee morale, resulting in better performance. Gap, America’s largest clothing retailer, recently announced it would boost its hourly wage to $10. Wall Street approved. “You treat people well, they’ll treat your customers well,” said Dorothy Lakner, a Wall Street analyst. “Gap had a strong year last year compared to a lot of their peers. That sends a pretty strong message to employees that, ‘we had a good year, but you’re going to be rewarded too.’”
Even when raising the minimum wage — or bargaining for higher wages and better working conditions, or requiring businesses to provide safer workplaces or a cleaner environment — increases the cost of business, this doesn’t necessarily kill jobs.
Most companies today can easily absorb such costs without reducing payrolls. Corporate profits now account for the largest percentage of the economy on record. Large companies are sitting on more than $1.5 trillion in cash they don’t even know what to do with. Many are using their cash to buy back their own shares of stock – artificially increasing share value by reducing the number of shares traded on the market.
Walmart spent $7.6 billion last year buying back shares of its own stock — a move that papered over its falling profits. Had it used that money on wages instead, it could have given its workers a raise from around $9 an hour to almost $15. Arguably, that would have been a better use of the money over the long-term – not only improving worker loyalty and morale but also giving workers enough to buy more goods from Walmart (reminiscent of Henry Ford’s pay strategy a century ago).
There’s also a deeper issue here. Even assuming some of these measures might cause some job losses, does that mean we shouldn’t proceed with them?
Americans need jobs, but we also need minimally decent jobs. The nation could create millions of jobs tomorrow if we eliminated the minimum wage altogether and allowed employers to pay workers $1 an hour or less. But do we really want to do that?
Likewise, America could create lots of jobs if all health and safety regulations were repealed, but that would subject millions of workers to severe illness and injury.
Lots of jobs could be added if all environmental rules were eliminated, but that would result in the kind of air and water pollution that many people in poor nations have to contend with daily.
If the Affordable Care Act were repealed, hundreds of thousands of Americans would have to go back to working at jobs they don’t want but feel compelled to do in order to get health insurance.
We’d create jobs, but not progress. Progress requires creating more jobs that pay well, are safe, sustain the environment, and provide a modicum of security. If seeking to achieve a minimum level of decency ends up “killing” some jobs, then maybe those aren’t the kind of jobs we ought to try to preserve in the first place.
Finally, it’s important to remember the real source of job creation. Businesses hire more workers only when they have more customers. When they have fewer customers, they lay off workers. So the real job creators are consumers with enough money to buy.
Even Walmart may be starting to understand this. The company is “looking at” whether to support a minimum wage increase. David Tovar, a Walmart spokesman, noted that such a move would increase the company’s payroll costs but would also put more money in the pockets of some of Walmart’s customers.
In other words, forget what you’re hearing from the Republicans and the Chamber of Commerce. The real job killers in America are lousy jobs at lousy wages.
The escalating crisis in Ukraine has set off reckless missile-rattling and muscle-flexing in this country. My Post colleague Charles Krauthammer sees this as a Cold War faceoff, calling for the United States to ante up $15 billion for Ukraine and send a flotilla to the Black Sea. A front-page headline in The Post on Sunday said that the crisis “tests Obama’s focus on diplomacy over force,” quoting Andrew C. Kuchins of the Center for Strategic and International Studies decrying President Obama for “taking the stick option off the table.”Right-wing and Republican posturing fills the airwaves.
The Obama administration has responded to the crisis by flexing its own rhetorical muscle. When Vladimir Putin ignored Obama’s warning that “there will be costs” if he sent troops into Crimea, Secretary of State John Kerry denounced the “brazen act of aggression,”vowing that “Russia is going to lose [and] the Russian people are going to lose,” suggesting“asset freezes [and] isolation with respect to trade [and] investment” while promising economic assistance of a “major sort” for whatever government emerges in Kiev. Cooler heads such as Reagan’s ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack Matlock described Obama’s warnings to Putin as “ill-advised” and argued that “whatever slim hope that Moscow might avoid overt military intervention in Ukraine disappeared when Obama in effect threw down a gauntlet and challenged him. This was not just a mistake of political judgment — it was a failure to understand human psychology — unless, of course, he actually wanted a Russian intervention, which is hard for me to believe.”
Let’s all take a deep breath before we commit our limited treasure and prestige to an unknown and still unsettled leadership in a country on Russia’s border, harbor to its fleet, that has had a fragile independent existence for barely 20 years.
That said, Russia’s dispatch of military forces to Crimea is a clear violation of international law, as the Obama administration has stated. Putin justifies the invasion as necessary to protect Russian citizens and allies, but this is an unacceptable fig leaf. The administration is right to condemn it, as should the world community, although much of the world will grimace at the irony of Kerry denouncing the invasion of a sovereign country as unacceptable in the 21st century when the United States is only now winding down its “war of choice” in Iraq.
Some history would also serve us well if we’re to understand fast-moving developments. The United States is reaping the bitter fruit of a deeply flawed post-Cold War settlement that looks more like Versailles than it does Bretton Woods, and that settlement was made even worse by the United States’ violation of the settlement by deciding to enlarge NATO and pursue other triumphalist policies aimed at isolating Russia and ignoring Russian interests.
Fugitive Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was an unpopular, corrupt, compromised but democratically elected leader of Ukraine. He was leading the country towards membership in the European Union when, confronted by Russia’s substantial financial blandishments, he reversed course. That led to street demonstrations, spurred in part by the European Union and the United States, and eventually to the rebellion that sent him packing.
The nature of the new government is far from clear. Ukraine itself is deeply divided. As David C. Speedie, director of U.S. Global Engagement at the Carnegie Council of Ethics in International Affairs, says, “In simple terms, half of the people in Ukraine look to Russia, and the other half look to the West.” The new leaders in Kiev include ultra-nationalists who, in one of their first acts, voted to repeal the 2012 law allowing Russian and other minority languages to be used locally. (Not surprisingly, these new leaders are very unpopular in semi-autonomous Crimea, which is populated largely by Russian-speaking people, and in many parts of eastern and southern Ukraine.) It is also worth noting that a key ally of the new government, holding central leadership positions in the parliament and law enforcement, is the Svoboda party, which the European Parliament has condemned for its“racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic views.”
Yanukovych’s decision to postpone consideration of joining the European Union was not irrational. The E.U. Association Agreement would have forced Ukraine to decide between Russia and the European Union, flatly rejecting Putin’s offer of a tripartite arrangement that would allow Ukraine to sustain its ties with Russia. In December, Putin then offered to rescue the bankrupt Ukraine. Ukraine’s economy depends heavily on Russia, which supplies and subsidizes much of its energy and is its largest trading partner. The European Union and the United States, for all the bluster, are not about to replace that with Western aid and trade.
Americans across the political spectrum will not be eager to send billions of dollars to Kiev while we are starving investment in education, Head Start and other vital programs here at home. The European Union, dominated by Germany, has inflicted a brutal austerity on members such as Greece, Spain and Portugal. And there is good evidence to assume that the union’s approach to Ukraine would be similar. The country might get promises of aid in the crisis, but any sober government would be worried about how much support would be sustained over the next years.
In a Western media culture that largely disdains context or history, Putin has been made the villain in the piece. But Russia has legitimate security concerns in its near-neighbor. The Russian fear is far less about economic relations with the European Union (Russia is a major source of energy for the Europeans) than about the further extension of NATO to its borders. A hostile Ukraine might displace Russian bases in the Black Sea, harbor the U.S. fleet and provide a home to NATO bases. This isn’t an irrational fear. Despite U.S. promises by George H.W. Bush not to extend NATO when Germany was united, the reality is that nine former Warsaw Pact nations and three former Soviet republics have been incorporated into NATO, including a military outpost in Georgia. And the E.U. agreement, advertised as offering access to free trade, in fact included military clauses that called for integrating Ukraine into the E.U. defense structure, including cooperation on “civilian and military crisis management operations” and “relevant exercises” concerning them. No one should be surprised that Putin reacted negatively to that prospect. No U.S. administration would put up with Putin cutting a deal with Mexico to join a military alliance with Russia.
We desperately need a strong dose of realism and common sense. There is no “stick” in relation to Ukraine. Americans have no desire and no reason to go to war with Russia over what happens in Crimea. The European Union and the United States are not going to supplant Russia’s economic influence in Ukraine. The United States is not going to provide the aid, the trade or the subsidized energy — and the E.U. austerity regime doesn’t offer an expansive or growing region to join. An unpopular and corrupt leader has been unseated in Kiev, but the new Ukrainian government is neither elected nor settled. Before this new, fragile and bitterly divided country breaks apart, the international community should be pushing hard for elections and compromise.
Neoconservatives, politicians and frustrated Cold Warriors filling armchairs in the outdated “strategic” think tanks that litter Washington will continue to howl at the moon. But U.S. policy should be run by the sober. The president would be well advised to investigate whether the European Union, Russia and the United States can join together to preserve Ukraine’s territorial unity; to support new and free elections; and to agree to allow Ukraine to be part of both the European Union and Russian customs union, while reaffirming the pledge that NATO will not extend itself into Ukraine. It is time to reduce tensions and create possibility, not flex rhetorical muscles and fan the flames of folly.Related Stories
The U.S. is backing Ukraine's extreme right-wing Svoboda party and violent neo-Nazis whose armed uprising paved the way for a Western-backed coup. Events in the Ukraine are giving us another glimpse through the looking-glass of U.S. propaganda wars against fascism, drugs and terrorism. The ugly reality behind the mirror is that the U.S. government has a long and unbroken record of working with fascists, dictators, druglords and state sponsors of terrorism in every region of the world in its elusive but relentless quest for unchallenged global power.
Behind a firewall of impunity and protection from the State Department and the CIA, U.S. clients and puppets have engaged in the worst crimes known to man, from murder and torture to coups and genocide. The trail of blood from this carnage and chaos leads directly back to the steps of the U.S. Capitol and the White House. As historian Gabriel Kolko observed in 1988, "The notion of an honest puppet is a contradiction Washington has failed to resolve anywhere in the world since 1945." What follows is a brief A to Z guide to the history of that failure.
In the 1980s, the U.S. worked with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to overthrow Afghanistan's socialist government. It funded, trained and armed forces led by conservative tribal leaders whose power was threatened by their country's progress on education, women's rights and land reform. After Mikhail Gorbachev withdrew Soviet forces in 1989, these U.S.-backed warlords tore the country apart and boosted opium production to an unprecedented level of 2,000 to 3,400 tons per year. The Taliban government cut opium production by 95% in two years between 1999 and 2001, but the U.S. invasion in 2001 restored the warlords and drug lords to power. Afghanistan now ranks 175th out of 177 countries in the world for corruption, 175th out of 186 in human development, and since 2004, it has produced an unprecedented 5,300 tons of opium per year. President Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, was well known as a CIA-backed drug lord. After a major U.S. offensive in Kandahar province in 2011, Colonel Abdul Razziq was appointed provincial police chief, boosting a heroin smuggling operation that already earned him $60 million per year in one of the poorest countries in the world.
Between 1949 and 1953, the U.S. and U.K. set out to overthrow the government of Albania, the smallest and most vulnerable communist country in Eastern Europe. Exiles were recruited and trained to return to Albania to stir up dissent and plan an armed uprising. Many of the exiles involved in the plan were former collaborators with the Italian and German occupation during World War II. They included former Interior Minister Xhafer Deva, who oversaw the deportations of "Jews, Communists, partisans and suspicious persons" (as described in a Nazi document) to Auschwitz. Declassified U.S. documents have since revealed that Deva was one of 743 fascist war criminals recruited by the U.S. after the war.
U.S. documents declassified in 2003 detail conversations between U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Argentinian Foreign Minister Admiral Guzzetti in October 1976, soon after the military junta seized power in Argentina. Kissinger explicitly approved the junta's "dirty war," in which it eventually killed up to 30,000, most of them young people, and stole 400 children from the families of their murdered parents. Kissinger told Guzzetti, "Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed... the quicker you succeed the better." The U.S. Ambassador in Buenos Aires reported that Guzzetti "returned in a state of jubilation, convinced that there is no real problem with the US government over that issue." ("Daniel Gandolfo," "Presente!")
In 1964, General Castelo Branco led a coup that sparked 20 years of brutal military dictatorship. U.S. military attache Vernon Walters, later Deputy CIA Director and UN Ambassador, knew Castelo Branco well from World War II in Italy. As a clandestine CIA officer, Walters' records from Brazil have never been declassified, but the CIA provided all the support needed to ensure the success of the coup, including funding for opposition labor and student groups in street protests, as in Ukraine and Venezuela today. A U.S. Marine amphibious force on standby to land in Sao Paolo was not needed. Like other victims of U.S.-backed coups in Latin America, the elected President Joao Goulart was a wealthy landowner, not a communist, but his efforts to remain neutral in the Cold War were as unacceptable to Washington as President Yanukovich's refusal to hand the Ukraine over to the west 50 years later.
When President Nixon ordered the secret and illegal bombing of Cambodia in 1969, American pilots were ordered to falsify their logs to conceal their crimes. They killed at least half a million Cambodians, dropping more bombs than on Germany and Japan combined in World War II. As the Khmer Rouge gained strength in 1973, the CIA reported that its "propaganda has been most effective among refugees subjected to B-52 strikes." After the Khmer Rouge killed at least 2 million of its own people and was finally driven out by the Vietnamese army in 1979, the U.S. Kampuchea Emergency Group, based in the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, set out to feed and supply them as the "resistance" to the new Vietnamese-backed Cambodian government. Under U.S. pressure, the World Food Program provided $12 million to feed 20,000 to 40,000 Khmer Rouge soldiers. For at least another decade, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency provided the Khmer Rouge with satellite intelligence, while U.S. and British special forces trained them to lay millions of land mines across Western Cambodia which still kill or maim hundreds of people every year.
When Salvador Allende became President in 1970, President Nixon promised to"make the economy scream" in Chile. The U.S., Chile's largest trading partner, cut off trade to cause shortages and economic chaos. The CIA and State Department had conducted sophisticated propaganda operations in Chile for a decade, funding conservative politicians, parties, unions, student groups and all forms of media, while expanding ties with the military. After General Pinochet seized power, the CIA kept Chilean officials on its payroll and worked closely with Chile's DINA intelligence agency as the military government killed thousands of people and jailed and tortured tens of thousands more. Meanwhile, the "Chicago Boys," over 100 Chilean students sent by a State Department program to study under Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago, launched a radical program of privatization, deregulation and neoliberal policies that kept the economy screaming for most Chileans throughout Pinochet's 16-year military dictatorship.
By the end of 1945, 100,000 U.S. troops were fighting alongside Chinese Kuomintang (and Japanese) forces in Communist-held areas of northern China. Chiang Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang may have been the most corrupt of all U.S. allies. A steady stream of U.S. advisers in China warned that U.S. aid was being stolen by Chiang and his cronies, some of it even sold to the Japanese, but the U.S. commitment to Chiang continued throughout the war, his defeat by the Communists and his rule of Taiwan. Secretary of State Dulles' brinksmanship on behalf of Chiang twice led the U.S. to the brink of nuclear war with China on his behalf in 1955 and 1958 over Matsu and Qemoy, two small islands off the coast of China.
When U.S. special forces and the Drug Enforcement Administration aided Colombian forces to track down and kill drug lord Pablo Escobar, they worked with a vigilante group called Los Pepes. In 1997, Diego Murillo-Bejarano and other Los Pepes' leaders co-founded the AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) which was responsible for 75% of violent civilian deaths in Colombia over the next 10 years.
The United States supported the Batista dictatorship as it created the repressive conditions that led to the Cuban Revolution, killing up to 20,000 of its own people. Former U.S. Ambassador Earl Smith testified to Congress that, "the U.S. was so overwhelmingly influential in Cuba that the American Ambassador was the second most important man, sometimes even more important than the Cuban president." After the revolution, the CIA launched a long campaign of terrorism against Cuba, training Cuban exiles in Florida, Central America and the Dominican Republic to commit assassinations and sabotage in Cuba. CIA-backed operations against Cuba included the attempted invasion at the Bay of Pigs, in which 100 Cuban exiles and four Americans were killed; several attempted assassinations of Fidel Castro and successful assassinations of other officials; several bombing raids in 1960 (three Americans killed and two captured) and terrorist bombings targeting tourists as recently as 1997; the apparent bombing of a French ship in Havana harbor (at least 75 killed); a biological swine flu attack that killed half a million pigs; and the terrorist bombing of a Cuban airliner (78 killed) planned by Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, who remain free in America despite the U.S. pretense of waging a war against terrorism. Bosch was granted a presidential pardon by the first President Bush.
10. El Salvador
The civil war that swept El Salvador in the 1980s was a popular uprising against a government that ruled with the utmost brutality. At least 70,000 people were killed and thousands more were disappeared. The UN Truth Commission set up after the war found that 95% of the dead were killed by government forces and death squads, and only 5% by FLMN guerrillas. The government forces responsible for this one-sided slaughter were almost entirely established, trained, armed and supervised by the CIA, U.S. special forces and the U.S. School of the Americas. The UN Truth Commission found that the units guilty of the worst atrocities, like the Atlacatl Battalion which conducted the infamous El Mozote massacre, were precisely the ones most closely supervised by American advisers. The American role in this campaign of state terrorism is now hailed by senior U.S. military officers as a model for "counter-insurgency" in Colombia and elsewhere as the U.S. war on terror spreads its violence and chaos across the world.
In France, Italy, Greece, Indochina, Indonesia, Korea and the Philippines at the end of World War II, advancing allied forces found that communist resistance forces had gained effective control of large areas or even entire countries as German and Japanese forces withdrew or surrendered. In Marseille, the CGT communist trade union controlled the docks that were critical to trade with the U.S. and the Marshall plan. The OSS had worked with the U.S.-Sicilian mafia and Corsican gangsters during the war. So after the OSS merged into the new CIA after the war, it used its contacts to restore Corsican gangsters to power in Marseille, to break dock strikes and CGT control of the docks. It protected the Corsicans as they set up heroin labs and began shipping heroin to New York, where the American-Sicilian mafia also flourished under CIA protection. Ironically, supply disruptions due to the war and the Chinese Revolution had reduced the number of heroin addicts in the U.S. to 20,000 by 1945 and heroin addiction could have been virtually eliminated, but the CIA's infamous French Connection instead brought a new wave of heroin addiction, organized crime and drug-related violence to New York and other American cities.
There seem to be no inspiring national leaders in Africa these days. But that may be America's fault. In the 1950s and 1960s, there was a rising star in Ghana: Kwame Nkrumah. He was Prime Minister under British rule from 1952 to 1960, when Ghana became independent and he became president. He was a socialist, a pan-African and an anti-imperialist, and, in 1965, he wrote a book called Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism. Nkrumah was overthrown in a CIA coup in 1966. The CIA denied involvement at the time, but the British press later reported that 40 CIA officers operated out of the U.S. Embassy "distributing largesse among President Nkrumah's secret adversaries," and that their work "was fully rewarded." Former CIA officer John Stockwell revealed more about the CIA's decisive role in the coup in his book In Search of Enemies.
When British forces landed in Greece in October 1944, they found the country under the effective control of ELAS-EAM, the leftist partisan group formed by the Greek Communist Party in 1941 after the Italian and German invasion. ELAS-EAM welcomed the British forces, but the British refused any accommodation with them and installed a government that included royalists and Nazi collaborators. When ELAS-EAM held a huge demonstration in Athens, police opened fire and killed 28 people. The British recruited members of the Nazi-trained Security Battalions to hunt down and arrest ELAS members, who once again took up arms as a resistance movement. In 1947, with a civil war raging, the bankrupt British asked the U.S. to take over their role in occupied Greece. The U.S. role in supporting an incompetent fascist government in Greece was enshrined in the "Truman Doctrine," seen by many historians as the beginning of the Cold War. ELAS-EAM fighters laid down their arms in 1949 after Yugoslavia withdrew its support, and 100,000 were either executed, exiled or jailed. The liberal Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup in 1967, leading to seven more years of military rule. His son Andreas was elected as Greece's first "socialist" president in 1981, but many ELAS-EAM members jailed in the 1940s were never freed and died in prison.
After its first operation to overthrow a foreign government in Iran in 1953, the CIA launched a more elaborate operation to remove the elected liberal government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954. The CIA recruited and trained a small army of mercenaries under Guatemalan exile Castillo Armas to invade Guatemala, with 30 unmarked U.S. planes providing air support. U.S. Ambassador Peurifoy prepared a list of Guatemalans to be executed, and Armas was installed as president. The reign of terror that followed led to 40 years of civil war, in which at least 200,000 were killed, most of them indigenous people. The climax of the war was the campaign of genocide in Ixil by President Rios Montt, for which he was sentenced to life in prison in 2013, until Guatemala's Supreme Court rescued him on a technicality. A new trial is scheduled for 2015. Declassified CIA documents reveal that the Reagan administration was well aware of the indiscriminate and genocidal nature of Guatemalan military operations when it approved new military aid in 1981, including military vehicles, spare parts for helicopters and U.S. military advisers. The CIA documents detail the massacre and destruction of entire villages, and conclude, "The well documented belief by the army that the entire Ixil Indian population is pro-EGP (Guerrilla Army of the Poor) has created a situation in which the army can be expected to give no quarter to combatants and non-combatants alike."
Almost 200 years after the slave rebellion that created the nation of Haiti and defeated Napoleon's armies, the long-suffering people of Haiti finally elected a truly democratic government led by Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991. But President Aristide was overthrown in a U.S.-backed military coup after eight months in office, and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) recruited a paramilitary force called FRAPH to target and destroy Aristide's Lavalas movement in Haiti. The CIA put FRAPH's leader Emmanuel "Toto" Constant on its payroll and shipped in weapons from Florida. When President Clinton sent a U.S. occupation force to restore Aristide to office in 1994, FRAPH members detained by U.S. forces were freed on orders from Washington, and the CIA maintained FRAPH as a criminal gang to undermine Aristide and Lavalas. After Aristide was elected president a second time in 2000, a force of 200 U.S. special forces trained 600 former FRAPH members and others in the Dominican Republic to prepare for a second coup. In 2004, they launched a campaign of violence to destabilize Haiti, which provided the pretext for U.S. forces to land in Haiti and remove Aristide from office.
The 2009 coup in Honduras has led to severe repression and death squad murders of political opponents, union organizers and journalists. At the time of the coup, U.S. officials denied any role in the coup and used semantics to avoid cutting off U.S. military aid as required under U.S. law. But two Wikileaks cables revealed that the U.S. Embassy was the main power broker in managing the aftermath of the coup and forming a government that is now repressing and murdering its people.
In 1965, General Suharto seized effective power from President Sukarno on the pretext of combatting a failed coup and unleashed an orgy of mass murderthat killed at least half a million people. U.S. diplomats later admitted providing lists of 5,000 Communist Party members to be killed. Political officer Robert Martens said, "It really was a big help to the army. They probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that's not all bad. There's a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment."
Iran may be the most instructive case of a CIA coup that caused endless long-term problems for the United States. In 1953, the CIA and the U.K.'s MI6 overthrew the popular, elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh. Iran had nationalized its oil industry by a unanimous vote of parliament, ending a BP monopoly that only paid Iran a 16% royalty on its oil. For two years, Iran resisted a British naval blockade and international economic sanctions. After President Eisenhower took office in 1953, the CIA agreed to a British request to intervene. After the initial coup failed and the Shah and his family fled to Italy, the CIA payed millions of dollars to bribe military officers and pay gangsters to unleash violence in the streets of Tehran. Mossadegh was finally removed and the Shah returned to rule as a brutal Western puppet until the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
Just as the U.S. uses its economic and military power, its sophisticated propaganda system and its position as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council to violate international law with impunity, it also uses the same tools to shield its ally Israel from accountability for international crimes. Since 1966, the U.S. has used its Security Council veto 83 times, more than the other four Permanent Members combined, and 42 of those vetoes have been on resolutions related to Israel and/or Palestine. Just last week, Amnesty International published a report that, "Israeli forces have displayed a callous disregard for human life by killing dozens of Palestinian civilians, including children, in the occupied West Bank over the past three years with near total impunity." Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Territories condemned the 2008 assault on Gaza as a "massive violation of international law," adding that nations like the U.S. "that have supplied weapons and supported the siege are complicit in the crimes." The Leahy Lawrequires the U.S. to cut off military aid to forces that violate human rights, but it has never been enforced against Israel. Israel continues to build settlements in occupied territory in violation of the 4th Geneva Convention, making it harder to comply with Security Council resolutions that require it to withdraw from occupied territory. But Israel remains beyond the rule of law, shielded from accountability by its powerful patron, the United States.
In 1958, after the British-backed monarchy was overthrown by General Abdul Qasim, the CIA hired a 22-year-old Iraqi named Saddam Hussein to assassinate the new president. Hussein and his gang botched the job and he fled to Lebanon, wounded in the leg by one of his companions. The CIA rented him an apartment in Beirut and then moved him to Cairo, where he was paid as an agent of Egyptian intelligence and was a frequent visitor at the U.S. Embassy. Qasim was killed in a CIA-backed Baathist coup in 1963, and as in Guatemala and Indonesia, the CIA gave the new government a list of at least 4,000 communists to be killed. But, once in power, the Baathist revolutionary government was no Western puppet, and it nationalized Iraq's oil industry, adopted an Arab nationalist foreign policy and built the best education and health systems in the Arab world. In 1979, Saddam Hussein became president, conducted purges of political opponents and launched a disastrous war against Iran. The U.S. DIA provided satellite intelligence to target chemical weapons that the West helped him to produce, and Donald Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials welcomed him as an ally against Iran. Only after Iraq invaded Kuwait and Hussein became more useful as an enemy did U.S. propaganda brand him as "a new Hitler." After the U.S. invaded Iraq on false pretenses in 2003, the CIA recruited 27 brigades of "Special Police," merging the most brutal of Saddam Hussein's security forces with the Iranian-trained Badr militia to form death squads that murdered tens of thousands of mostly Sunni Arab men and boys in Baghdad and elsewhere in a reign of terror that continues to this day.
When U.S. forces arrived in Korea in 1945, they were greeted by officials of the Korean People's Republic (KPR), formed by resistance groups which had disarmed surrendering Japanese forces and begun to establish law and order throughout Korea. General Hodge had them thrown out of his office and placed the southern half of Korea under U.S. military occupation. By contrast, Russian forces in the North recognized the KPR, leading to the long-term division of Korea. The U.S. flew in Syngman Rhee,a conservative Korean exile, and installed him as President of South Korea in 1948. Rhee became a dictator on an anti-communist crusade, arresting and torturing suspected communists, brutally putting down rebellions, killing 100,000 people and vowing to take over North Korea. He was at least partly responsible for the outbreak of the Korean War and for the allied decision to invade North Korea once South Korea had been recaptured. He was finally forced to resign by mass student protests in 1960.
The CIA began providing air support to French forces in Laos in 1950, and remained involved there for 25 years. The CIA engineered at least three coups between 1958 and 1960 to keep the growing leftist Pathet Lao out of government. It worked with right-wing Laotian drug lords like General Phoumi Nosavan, transporting opium between Burma, Laos and Vietnam and protecting his monopoly on the opium trade in Laos. In 1962, the CIA recruited a clandestine mercenary army of 30,000 veterans of previous guerrilla wars from Thailand, Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines to fight the Pathet Lao. As large numbers of American GIs in Vietnam got hooked on heroin, the CIA's Air America transported opium from Hmong territory in the Plain of Jars to General Vang Pao's heroin labs in Long Tieng and Vientiane for shipment to Vietnam. When the CIA failed to defeat the Pathet Lao, the U.S. bombed Laos almost as heavily as Cambodia, with 2 million tons of bombs.
NATO's war on Libya epitomized President Obama's "disguised, quiet, media-free" approach to war. NATO's bombing campaign was fraudulently justified to the UN Security Council as an effort to protect civilians, and the instrumental role of Western and other foreign special forces on the ground was well-disguised, even when Qatari special forces (including ex-ISI Pakistani mercenaries) led the final assault on the Bab Al-Aziziya HQ in Tripoli. NATO conducted 7,700 air strikes, 30,000 -100,000 people were killed, loyalist towns were bombed to rubble and ethnically cleansed, and the country is in chaos as Western-trained and -armed Islamist militias seize territory and oil facilities and vie for power. The Misrata militia, trained and armed by Western special forces, is one of the most violent and powerful. As I write this, protesters have just stormed the Congress building in Tripoli for the fourth or fifth time in recent months, and two elected Representatives have been shot and wounded as they fled.
The death toll in Mexico's drug wars recently passed 100,000. The most violent of the drug cartels is Los Zetas. U.S. officials call the Zetas "the most technologically advanced, sophisticated and dangerous drug cartel operating in Mexico." The Zetas cartel was formed by Mexican security forces trained by U.S. special forces at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, and at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
After the Chinese Revolution, Kuomintang generals moved into northern Burma and became powerful drug lords, with Thai military protection, financing from Taiwan and air transport and logistical support from the CIA. Burma's opium production grew from 18 tons in 1958 to 600 tons in 1970. The CIA maintained these forces as a bulwark against communist China but they transformed the "golden triangle" into the world's largest opium producer. Most of the opium was shipped by mule trains into Thailand where other CIA allies shipped it to heroin labs in Hong Kong and Malaysia. The trade shifted around 1970 as CIA partner General Vang Pao set up new labs in Laos to provide heroin to GIs in Vietnam.
Anastasio Somosa ruled Nicaragua as his personal fiefdom for 43 years with unconditional U.S. support, as his National Guard committed every crime imaginable from massacres and torture to extortion and rape with complete impunity. After he was finally overthrown by the Sandinista Revolution in 1979, the CIA recruited, trained and supported "contra" mercenaries to invade Nicaragua and conduct terrorism to destabilize the country. In 1986, the International Court of Justice found the United States guilty of aggression against Nicaragua for deploying the contras and mining Nicaraguan ports. The court ordered the U.S. to cease its aggression and pay war reparations to Nicaragua, but they have never been paid. The U.S. response was to declare that it would no longer recognize the binding jurisdiction of the ICJ, effectively setting itself beyond the rule of international law.
27.Pakistan; 28.Saudi Arabia; 29. Turkey
After reading my last AlterNet piece on the failed war on terror, former CIA and State Department terrorism expert Larry Johnson told me, "The main problem with respect to assessing the terrorist threat is to accurately define the state sponsorship. The biggest culprits today, in contrast to 20 years ago, are Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Iran, despite the right-wing/neocon ravings, is not that active in encouraging and/or facilitating terrorism." In the past 12 years, U.S. military aid to Pakistan has totaled $18.6 billion. The U.S. has just negotiated the largest arms deal in history with Saudi Arabia. And Turkey is a long-standing member of NATO. All three major state sponsors of terrorism in the world today are U.S. allies.
U.S. drug enforcement officials wanted to arrest Manuel Noriega in 1971, when he was the chief of military intelligence in Panama. They had enough evidence to convict him of drug trafficking, but he was also a long-time agent and informer for the CIA, so like other drug-dealing CIA agents from Marseille to Macao, he was untouchable. He was temporarily cut loose during the Carter administration but otherwise kept collecting at least $100,000 per year from the U.S. Treasury. As he rose to be the de facto ruler of Panama, he became even more valuable to the CIA, reporting on meetings with Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and supporting U.S. covert wars in Central America. Noriega probably quit drug trafficking in about 1985, well before the U.S. indicted him for it in 1988. The indictment was a pretext for the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989, whose main purpose was to give the U.S. greater control over Panama, at the expense of at least 2,000 lives.
31. The Philippines
Since the U.S. launched its so-called war on terror in 2001, a task force of 500 US JSOC forces has conducted covert operations in the southern Philippines. Now, under Obama's "pivot to Asia," U.S. military aid to the Philippines is increasing, from $12 million in 2011 to $50 million this year. But Filippino human rights activists report that the increased aid coincides with increased military death squad operations against civilians. The past three years have seen at least 158 people killed by death squads.
When President Obama approved flying weapons and militiamen from Libya to the "Free Syrian Army" base in Turkey in unmarked NATO planes in late 2011, he was calculating that the U.S. and its allies could replicate the "successful" overthrow of the Libyan government. Everyone involved understood that Syria would be a longer and bloodier conflict, but they gambled that the end result would be the same, even though 55% of Syrians told pollsters they still supported Assad. A few months later, Western leaders undermined Kofi Annan's peace plan with their "Plan B," "Friends of Syria." This was not an alternative peace plan, but a commitment to escalation, offering guaranteed support, money and weapons to the jihadis in Syria to make sure they ignored the Annan peace plan and kept fighting. That move sealed the fate of millions of Syrians. Over the past two years Qatar has spent $3 billion and flown in planeloads of weapons, Saudi Arabia has shipped weapons from Croatia, and Western and Arab royalist special forces have trained thousands of increasingly radicalized fundamentalist jihadis, now allied with al-Qaeda. The Geneva II talks were a half-hearted effort to revive the 2012 Annan peace plan, but Western insistence that a "political transition" means the immediate resignation of Assad reveals that Western leaders still value regime change more than peace. To paraphrase Phyllis Bennis, the U.S. and its allies are still willing to fight to the last Syrian.
The foreign officials the U.S. has worked with include many who have benefited from their cooperation in American crimes around the world. But in Uruguay in 1970, when Police Chief Alejandro Otero objected to Americans training his officers in the art of torture, he was demoted. The U.S. official he complained to was Dan Mitrione, who worked for the U.S. Office of Public Safety, a division of the US Agency for International Development. Mitrione's training sessions reportedly included torturing homeless people to death with electric shocks to teach his students how far they could go.
The NATO aerial bombardment of Yugoslavia in 1999 was a flagrant crime of aggression in violation of Article 2.4 of the UN Charter. When British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told Secretary of State Albright that the U.K. was having "difficulties with its lawyers" over the planned attack, she told him the U.K. should "get new lawyers," according to her deputy James Rubin. NATO's proxy ground force in its aggression against Yugoslavia was the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), led by Hashim Thaci. A 2010 report by the Council of Europe and a book by Carla Del Ponte, the former prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, support long-standing allegations that at the time of the NATO invasion, Thaci ran a criminal organization called the Drenica group which sent more than 400 captured Serbs to Albania to be killed so that their organs could be extracted and sold for transplant. Hashim Thaci is now the Prime Minister of the NATO protectorate of Kosovo.
Patrice Lumumba, the president of the pan-Africanist Mouvement National Congolais, took part in the Congo's struggle for independence and became the Congo's first elected Prime Minister in 1960. He was deposed in a CIA-backed coup led by Joseph-Desire Mobutu, his Army Chief of Staff. Mobutu handed Lumumba over to the Belgian-backed separatists and Belgian mercenaries he had been fighting in Katanga province, and he was shot by a firing squad led by a Belgian mercenary. Mobutu abolished elections and appointed himself president in 1965, and ruled as a dictator for 30 years. He killed political opponents in public hangings, had others tortured to death, and eventually embezzled at least $5 billion while Zaire, as he renamed it, remained one of the poorest countries in the world. But U.S. support for Mobutu continued. Even as President Carter publicly distanced himself, Zaire continued to receive 50% of all U.S. military aid to sub-Saharan Africa. When Congress voted to cut off military aid, Carter and U.S. business interests worked to restore it. Only in the 1990s did U.S. support start to waver, until Mobutu was deposed by Laurent Kabila in 1997 and died soon afterward.
Major Joe Blair was the director of instruction at the U.S. School of the Americas (SOA) from 1986 to 1989. He described the training he oversaw at SOA as the following: "The doctrine that was taught was that if you want information you use physical abuse, false imprisonment, threats to family members, and killing. If you can't get the information you want, if you can't get that person to shut up or stop what they're doing, you assassinate them—and you assassinate them with one of your death squads."
The stock response of U.S. officials to the exposure of the systematic crimes I've described is that such things may have occurred at certain times in the past but that they in no way reflect long-term or ongoing U.S. policy. The School of the Americas was moved from the Panama Canal Zone to Fort Benning, Georgia, and replaced by the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001. But Joe Blair has something to say about that too. Testifying at a trial of SOA Watch protesters in 2002, he said, "There are no substantive changes besides the name. They teach the identical courses that I taught, and changed the course names and use the same manuals."
A huge amount of human suffering could be alleviated and global problems solved if the United States would make a genuine commitment to human rights and the rule of law, as opposed to one it only applies cynically and opportunistically to its enemies, but never to itself or its allies.Related Stories
The country’s most important effort to raise the minimum wage—in California to $12 a hour via a statewide ballot initiative—is in trouble because a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who launched the effort says that he cannot afford to spend $2 million to hire petition circulators and politically active unions so far have not offered to help fill the gap.
“I don’t have anything against unions and I’d been looking forward to working closely with them on this campaign,” he said. “But obviously there’s no campaign at all unless I can somehow raise the funding to get the initiative on the ballot.”
California has many politically active unions that are logical backers for a statewide ballot measure that arguably is the nation’s most far-reaching minimum wage increase proposal. President Obama has proposed raising the federal minimum to $10.10 an hour, but congressional Republicans have balked. In contrast, the California measure, which Unz said was ahead in recent polls by 27 percent, is likely to pass if it is on the fall ballot. The state’s minimum wage is now $8 an hour and rises to $10 an hour in 2016.
Unz, a Republican, has received a great deal of media attention, including from GOP-friendly venues, where he has been somewhat successful in changing the minds of long-time opponents based on conservative arguments such as lessening government subsidies to underpaid workers and bolstering working people’s economic independence.
Unz said he was placing an ad in Silicon Valley’s daily newspaper on Wednesday to explain the situation and ask others to help. “Reports of my personal wealth have been exaggerated, and I don’t have the money to fund the signature drive necessary to place the initiative on the ballot,” it says. “But Silicon Valley has other people who do.”
The campaign needs to raise about $2 million to hire a crew to collect 800,000 signatures statewide to generate at least 505,000 valid signatures from registered voters to put the initiative on the November ballot. Working families will gain about $15 billion a year starting in 2016, the ad says, and taxpayers “would also save billions once those low-wage workers no longer require food stamps and other anti-poverty assistance.”
Unz said he hit a brick wall with various California unions—which have state-level organizations and operate with some autonomy from their national political leadership. Last fall, Unz said that Damon Silver, the AFL-CIO’s national policy director, was very supportive and helped to introduce him to California union leaders. Unz said that he met with some of them in recent weeks to explain the funding issue, including two unions that are known nationally for minimum-wage campaigns: Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
“Over several weeks I spoke with many of their leaders and answered all their questions,” Unz said. “They soon became quite supportive of the effort and eager to see it get on the ballot and win. But none of them have been willing to provide the necessary financial backing, although some of them did consider doing so.”
SEIU is backing three other California statewide ballot measures this year. The first seeks to lower healthcare costs by capping hospital charges at 25 percent above their cost. The second would limit multi-million-dollar compensation packages for non-profit hospital executives. The third would create a minimum wage for home care workers.
“They’re all focused on their own political projects, aimed at benefiting their own small slice of union members,” Unz said, saying that was ironic because last summer the unions were talking about spending $12-$13 million on a state minimum-wage ballot measure. Unz also said California unions spent roughly $60 million in 2012 to stop an anti-union dues ballot measure that would have undermined funding their political efforts.
“The [California] unions have been a huge disappointment on this,” he said. “Admittedly the bulk of the $10 to $15 billion in annual wage gains from a $12 minimum wage would go to non-unionized workers, but at least a billion or two dollars would go to union members and the cost of qualifying the measure is so trivial by comparison, it would seem extremely cost-effective since the polls show it would win in a huge landslide.”
Union officials reached on Tuesday praised Unz’s efforts but declined to do more.
“SEIU welcomes Mr. Unz to the labor movement’s long-term struggle to lift wages, rebuild the middle class, and reduce our growing inequality, and we wish him well with this particular initiative,” Jon Youngdahl, executive director, SEIU California State Council, said. “This is a long-term struggle with many fronts and many strategies, and Mr. Unz has lent his voice and wealth to amplify one part of that bigger conversation. Regardless of whether he succeeds in raising the money needed, that’s a good thing.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), which has been involved in living wage campaigns at Walmart stores, declined to comment Tuesday. Unz said the state chapter of the National Education Association has not returned his calls, although teacher salaries are not really impacted by the minimum wage. Unz said he has not yet reached out to the California Nurses Association.
“The unions say the wealthy liberals should pay for it and the wealthy liberals assume the unions will pay for it,” he said.
The bottom line appears to be that Unz will have to find other wealthy individuals who support raising the state’s minimum wage. He said he has been trying for weeks to quietly raise the funds, but because he has not succeeded he is now going public.
“There are so many wealthy people in California, including many of whom who believe in raising the minimum wage,” he said. “Maybe someone sees the ad. There’s hundreds of people who could do it without noticing any difference to their bank accounts.”
Unz said that there was one more possibility for finding a funder—going to conservatives who might draw some pleasure in outflanking unions and raising the minimum wage.
“There are lots of ultra-wealthy conservatives and libertarians around and maybe I can get one of them to fund the campaign,” he said. “Late last week, when I was getting desperate, I pointed out to the union leaders how bad it would look if some right-winger raised the wages of California workers by $15 billion while the unions were just too cheap and selfish and sat on their hands….I was trying to really light a fire under those union leaders last week, but I never heard anything back from them.”
The silence from unions and liberals has been truly mystifying, Unz said.
“I’d very much hoped to be able to raise the money from wealthy liberals and have been surprised it’s been so extremely difficult,” he said. “I can’t figure out why someone wouldn’t want to take national credit for such an important project. Even if they tell me the unions will surely pay for it, why wouldn't they want the credit for themselves? But I just haven’t had any luck and I'm really getting desperate, which is why I'll be running that public newspaper ad starting tomorrow, which is pretty much a last resort.”Related Stories