PNN - SHAKEN not SERVED
Brook Hines Political Commentator
Michelle Allen - Florida Representative Food & Water Watch
Karen Dwyer - Stonecrab Alliance
Mike Trout - Candidate CD 21
1. A Member of Congress Issued a Warning to the World Bank: 'Stop Privatizing Water'
Rep. Gwen Moore's actions could mean the beginning of the end of the World Bank’s harmful water-for-profit pursuits.
Around the globe, people’s access to water is being threatened every day by one of the most powerful institutions on the globe—the World Bank. Under the guise of development, the World Bank and its investment arm, the International Finance Corporation, invest hundreds of millions in water privatization schemes that reduce access to water, increase costs and have a devastating impact on people. What’s worse is that the IFC often positions itself to profit from these projects, creating an irreconcilable conflict of interest.
But one congresswoman just took a stand against this threat that could mean the beginning of the end of the World Bank’s harmful water-for-profit pursuits. In a letter, Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI) demanded the World Bank cease all promotion and financing of these projects pending an external review and congressional hearings on conflicts of interest. Because Moore is the ranking member of a subcommittee with direct World Bank oversight, it has no choice but to listen.
The letter, addressed to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, describes the failure of a World Bank-backed water privatization project in Manila, Philippines—the “success story” the IFC uses in marketing around the world—as the foundation of her concern. In Manila, the IFC advised the government to contract with two private corporations to manage the city’s water system, which it did in 1997 in a concession deal that favored one corporation, Manila Water Company, with less debt and better infrastructure. The IFC subsequently took part ownership in MWC only.
Since taking over, MWC has raised rates nearly 850 percent, and has evenbrought the Manila regulator—and the Philippines Department of Finance—into arbitration in an attempt to hike the cost of water even higher.
As part owner of MWC, the IFC is now in direct opposition to the government’s efforts to keep water affordable for its people. And while the IFC has stood by MWC, it has made $43 million from its initial investment.
Regrettably, these shady dealings aren’t unique to Manila. Recently, as adviser to the government in Kigali, Rwanda, the IFC awarded a 27-year public-private partnership contract to a subsidiary of Metito—in which IFC also has an ownership stake. As if that weren’t enough, it also approved a $14 million loan to the corporation as part of the deal.
These deals create a perverse incentive for the World Bank to try to squeeze money out of the very people it’s supposed to be helping.
Thanks to organizing and powerful leaders like Moore, the World Bank’s course could be changing. In the face of campaigning and public scrutiny, the IFC divested its ownership stake in global water privatizer Veolia in 2014. And in Lagos, Nigeria, a popular movement against a proposed privatization project has brought the World Bank to its knees, forcing it to drop its goal of securing a private sector contract for the water system in that city.
Moore’s intervention wasn’t only inspired by the struggles for water outside of the United States. People in her home state of Wisconsin successfully blocked a bill that would have fast-tracked water privatization by removing a public-vote requirement. Just last month, Moore traveled to Flint to hear firsthand from families affected by the lead contamination caused by corrupt management of that city.
The situation in Flint, Moore says, "demands swift and effective action from federal, state, and local stakeholders.” But as Moore explains, “It also begs of us in positions of influence to take a broader look at the world around us to help identify similar problems.”
Globally, access to water is threatened when those in power treat water as a business, not a public right. The IFC openly markets such an approach to water delivery, using various buzzwords like privatization, “public-private partnerships” and “full-cost recovery.” But, regardless of how they spin it, the results are the same: people lose.
Rep. Gwen Moore’s bold stance this week will likely compel others to take action and demand answers. Ultimately, given that the lives and well-being of millions around the world are at stake, there is no other option. If we are to ensure that everyone has access to water, the World Bank must not only address this conflict of interest, it must abandon its blind pursuit of water privatization and other models that undermine democratic control.
2. Documents from the Panama Papers leak reveal that Saudi king Salman bin Abdulaziz financed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rise to power.
Isaac Herzog, member of the Knesset and Chairman of the Israeli Labor party, revealed that the Saudi king has been overtly influential in the election campaign that saw Netanyahu get elected.
“In March 2015, King Salman has deposited eighty million dollars to support Netanyahu’s campaign via a Syrian-Spanish person named Mohamed Eyad Kayali.
The money was deposited to a company’s account in British Virgin Islands owned by Teddy Sagi, an Israeli billionaire and businessman, who has allocated the money to fund the campaign Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu”, Herzog cited from a leaked Panama Paper.
Related Panama Papers can be found in the following links:
Texas-based Burnett Oil Company submitted to the National Park Service for approval a Plan of Operations (POP), a formal request to conduct a seismic survey of 110 square miles (70,454 acres) in the Preserve. A seismic survey is a preliminary research technique used to determine the presence of potential oil-bearing structures by introducing an energy source to the subsurface and recording and analyzing the returning sound waves. Stratigraphic anomalies detected by this technique may become future targets for oil and gas exploration drilling. An Environmental Assessment (EA), analyzing the environmental effects of the proposed survey and alternatives, was also prepared. The EA resulted in a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), documenting selection of the preferred alternative. This alternative will utilize Vibroseis buggies as the energy source, as detailed in the POP. The NPS conditionally approved the POP on May 10, 2016.
You will find on this website a copy of the POP, EA, FONSI, POP approval letter, and other documents and links.
4. OH MY LOOK ANOTHER BP Spill
HOUSTON (Reuters) - A 2,100-barrel oil spill in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico forced Royal Dutch Shell on Thursday to shut in all wells that flow to its Brutus platform, federal regulators said.
The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) said a 2 mile by 13 mile (about 3 km by 21 km) sheen was visible in the sea about 97 miles off the Louisiana coast.
About 88,200 gallons was reportedly released from the pipeline, the Coast Guard said, adding the source of the discharge was reported as secured.
The sheen is near Shell’s Glider Field, a group of four subsea wells whose production flows through a subsea manifold to the Brutus platform, which sits in water with a depth of 2,900 feet (884 m).
In a statement, Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said a company helicopter observed the sheen on Thursday, and that the wells were under control after it isolated the leak and shut in production.
“There are no drilling activities at Brutus, and this is not a well control incident,” Shell said.
Brutus began operation in 2001 and was designed with top capacity of 100,000 barrels of oil and 150 million cubic feet (4.25 million cubic meters) of gas per day, according to industry trade publications.
Shell said the sheen likely came from a release of oil from subsea infrastructure, though it is still determining the exact cause of the release by inspecting subsea equipment and flowlines.
Authorities said the cause of the incident is under investigation.
BSEE has tightened regulations for offshore operators since the 2010 BP Plc Macondo well blowout that spilled more than 3 million barrels of oil, making it the worst disaster of its kind in U.S. history.
Shell said no injuries resulted from the incident and that the company has mobilized response vessels, including aircraft, to see if it could recover the spilled oil.
5. The Petroleum Industrial Development Site: formerly known as the Big Cypress Preserve
It's time to escalate efforts against oil exploration in the Big Cypress! Just as we must save the Arctic Refuge in the North, so too, we must save the Big Cypress National Preserve in the South from new oil drilling and fracking.
The National Park Service has failed to protect the Big Cypress from the permanent and cumulative impacts of large-scale seismic testing on wildlife, wetlands, and recreation as well as South Florida's fresh water supplies.
The magnitude, precedent-setting scope, controversial nature, and potential for cumulative and permanent damage to our vital watersheds and wetlands
was more than enough to trigger a full Environmental Impact Statement. By failing to require a full Environmental Impact Statement, NPS has failed in their responsibility to base their decision on the latest,
most accurate, up-to-date science. They are putting our water, wildlife, and wetlands in grave danger, since seismic oil exploration, to echo U.S. Senator Bill Nelson in his objections to this project, is the first step toward fracking, and a dangerous step in the wrong direction.
Solution? NPS needs to order a full Environmental Impact Statement so that they will have the documented evidence they need to deny this project;
Collier Resources and Burnett Oil should mutually terminate this lease since the oil drilling that will proceed from the testing endangers public safety and health by depleting and contaminating our already dwindling water resources.
6. Demand the Chairwoman be held accountable
Sunday, May 15, 2016
Dear Chairwoman Roberta Gustave Lange:
The conduct you have displayed as the chair of the Nevada Democratic Party during the 2016 Nevada Democratic State Convention is unethical and is undemocratic.
I am notifying you that I am personally sending a notice to the Nevada Democratic Party and the United States Department of Justice to take action against your undemocratic behavior to Nevada Democrats.
You unethically and unjustly ignored hundreds of Bernie Sanders delegates at approximately 10:48pm Nevada Time PDT on May 14, 2016, by approving a motion to rapidly approve the official votes without addressing the recount, and adjourning the convention. Thus, I believe that this action amongst others displays a clear bias for Hillary Clinton and it ignored the clear majority, or at least a good 40%-50%+ of the democrats at that moment and throughout the day.
Since the beginning of the convention at approximately 9am Nevada Time PDT on May 14, 2016, you have enacted your own rules with the assistance of allegedly some backdoor motion to run the convention and you have avoided to keep in place Robert’s Rules of Order even though a clear 50%+ of those available voices against the rules you presented that would nullify the motion for the new temporary convention rules that did not use Robert’s Rules of Order, when you, as the chair, brought it to a voice vote. Furthermore, you did this without a full quorum. Even if you hadn’t made a clear distinction, you should have made the call for another voice vote to occur to ensure accuracy and then make a final call giving it to the NO’s. Nothing justifies approving the temporary convention rules without even a quorum.
If anything, please read and think about this: How can we be a "democratic" party when we have dictatorship? How can we be united against Donald Trump, when you are ignoring a crucial base of the Democratic Party and many will most likely exit the party if actions like these occur?
I hope you will evaluate the actions you took throughout the day and come to a decision to resign immediately. Sad to say this but we WILL NOT win in November, if these tricks continue.
Again, the vote for a recount clearly had a majority and this not only offends me, but the millions of supporters of Senator Sanders.
The actions you have made did not achieve the goal you may have wished for, but all it did was to further divide us in the Democratic Party.
Therefore, as the President of the Southern Broward High School Democrats, a candidate for the Director of Development for the Florida High School Democrats, and Florida Young Democrat, I am utterly ashamed of our party due to this conduct since the start of this convention and herein demand the following but not limited to:
· that the National Chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and the Nevada Democratic Party to remove you, Ms. Roberta Gustava Lange, as the Chairwoman of the Nevada Democratic Party, if you do not resign immediately, for the negligence and disrespect you have displayed to the democrats not only in the State of Nevada, and in Nevada State Convention, but all over the nation;
· and, to reverse all decisions approved by you where a clear voice vote was ignored and not brought to the floor;
· and, it shall be the duty of Nevada Democrats who caucused for Bernie Sanders to make the justifications for which voice votes were denied as mentioned in the previous point;
· and, for you and the Nevada Democratic Party to release a public apology addressing Bernie Sanders, the democrats who supported Bernie at the convention, and all supporters nationally and worldwide for the unjust actions committed on May 14, 2016 at the Nevada Democratic Party State convention.
I, Michaelangelo Hamilton, here undersigned certify that this is written by me and is my personal opinion and not those of any democratic club, organization, or person.
7. Alabama Prison Strike
We go behind bars to get an update on the end of a 10-day strike by Alabama prisoners to protest severe overcrowding, poor living conditions and the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which bans slavery and servitude “except as a punishment for crime,” thus sanctioning the legality of forced, unpaid prison labor. "These strikes are our methods of challenging mass incarceration, as we understand the prison system is a continuation of the slave system, which is an economic system," says Kinetik Justice, who joins us by phone from solitary confinement in Holman Correctional Facility.
8. Prison Sufferance
Prison Legal News (PLN), a magazine dedicated to prison reform and news developments related to federal and state prison systems, has filed a lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) after the DOC banned four issues of the magazine because of “sexually explicit material.” What’s the nature of this sexual material? It’s four articles about prison guards and other prison employees raping prisoners. The Arizona DOC actions are not meant to ensure the smooth running of the prison system, as it asserts, but instead to keep prisoners in the dark about official abuse, malfeasance, and criminal activity. The DOC has sought to settle the case out of court. Even they recognize that they’re holding a losing hand.
The DOC’s guidelines regarding prisoners receiving sexually explicit material are clear. They state, “Sexually explicit material is defined as publications that feature nudity and/or sexual behaviors/acts and/or the publication is promoted based on such depictions.” The description bears no resemblance whatsoever to Prison Legal News, which contains only news articles and the occasional advertisement.
This Arizona DOC’s actions are not new to Prison Legal News. Indeed, PLN has filed dozens of lawsuits against the Federal Bureau of Prisons, corrections departments, local jails, and states since 2000. Just this year, for example, the Northwest Regional Adult Detention Center in Winchester, Virginia, agreed to PLN demands that prisoners be allowed to receive the magazine, after initially banning it and all other printed material. Similarly, earlier this year the Nevada Department of Corrections agreed to pay PLN $475,000 and to allow prisoners to receive the magazine after PLN filed a federal suit there. PLN has had similar wins across the country over the past few years.
Other prisoners’ rights organizations get far more news coverage than PLN, a publication of the Florida-based Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC). The Innocence Project, for example, uses DNA evidence to work to exonerate those people wrongly convicted of murder and serving sentences of life, or even death. Every Innocence Project win is major national news.
But it’s the small and underfunded HRDC and PLN that work to defend prisoners’ rights on virtually every other issue. HRDC currently has numerous lawsuits pending against the federal government, states, municipalities, and private prisons, not only related to freedom of speech, but also to prevent prisons from forcing released prisoners to accept all of their remaining commissary money on high-fee debit cards; to prevent prisons from banning all prisoner mail except postcards; and fighting the decision made by several private prisons to ban in-person visits in favor of expensive video-only visits. PLN and HRDC are also leaders in the fight against substandard and incompetent medical care in prisons across the country.
The question is why PLN is the only organization taking on these issues. Frankly, in a real democracy, in a country that respects its own constitution and the rule of law, PLN and an organization like HRDC would not even be necessary. But that’s not the society we live in. We live in a system that seeks vengeance against those convicted of crimes, a society that doesn’t just want people to repay their debts to society, but wants them to continue to suffer, both during and after release.
That’s why there’s no public outcry against the human and civil rights violations that current and former prisoners face every day. That’s why there’s no public outcry when prisoners die unnecessarily in prison because of substandard medical care. That’s why there’s anger when governors reinstate the voting rights of former felons.
Society won’t change by itself. And certainly the lemmings in Congress won’t lead the way. That’s why organizations like HRDC and publications like PLN are so important. They are the only voice for prisoners and for the human and civil rights prisoners deserve.
9. Discrimination in CAR SALES
Listen to HuffPost’s analysis of the auto market discrimination bill in the podcast embedded above.
Most dealerships are authorized to sell cars and make loans to finance the purchase. They send their customers’ financial information to a bank, which then sends the dealer an appropriate interest rate for a borrower with that particular credit profile. But banks also permit dealers to “mark up” the interest rate on the loan to a higher level, and allow the dealership to pocket some of the additional charge.
That, of course, creates incentives for the dealer to charge people higher interest rates. But lawsuits dating back to the 1990s have shown that people of color are more likely to have their interest rates marked up than white borrowers. Black, Latino and Asian-American borrowers also tend to see higher markups than white borrowers.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued regulatory guidance in 2013 instructing companies on how to cope with this phenomenon. Since the markup practice tends to result in overcharging borrowers of color, the CFPB recommended that banks and dealerships ditch the practice. If they didn’t, however, they needed to ensure that borrowers with similar credit profiles weren’t receiving different interest rates due to their race or national origin.
Since issuing the guidance, the CFPB has taken action against Honda and Ally Bank for overcharging borrowers of color, forcing them to return more than $100 million to their customers.
This was apparently too much for banks and auto dealers to handle. They lobbied for a bill that would nullify the CFPB’s regulatory move. The NAACP, the Urban League, the National Council of La Raza, Americans for Financial Reform and other groups opposed the legislation. The Congressional Progressive Caucus urged lawmakers to vote against it, as did Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the top-ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee. President Barack Obama issued a statement saying he “strongly opposes” the bill, but stopped short of a formal veto threat.
None of the opposition was enough to counter two interest groups that wield tremendous power on Capitol Hill. No Republicans voted against the bill to curb the CFPB’s enforcement of anti-discrimination law this week, while 88 Democrats voted in favor. The legislation cleared by a vote of 332 to 96.
The lopsided vote makes it a prime target for inclusion in a year-end government spending bill. In December 2014, Republicans secured a measure to subsidize risky Wall Street derivatives trading by including it in a bill to fund the government. Democrats would have had to shut down the government in order to reject the deregulation measure. At the time, then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pointed to the dozens of votes the subsidy had received from Democrats as evidence that the provision should be considered uncontroversial.
The 88 House Democrats who voted to enable racial discrimination in the automobile market:
Pete Aguilar (Calif.)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.)
Brad Ashford (Neb.)
Joyce Beatty (Ohio)
Amerish Babulal “Ami” Bera (Calif.)
Don Beyer (Va.)
Sanford Dixon Bishop Jr. (Ga.)
Brendan Boyle (Pa.)
Robert Brady (Pa.)
Julia Brownley (Calif.)
Cheryl “Cheri” Bustos (Ill.)
Matt Cartwright (Pa.)
James “Jim” Clyburn (S.C.)
Gerald “Gerry” Connolly (Va.)
Jim Cooper (Tenn.)
James “Jim” Costa (Calif.)
Joseph “Joe” Courtney (Conn.)
Joseph Crowley (N.Y.)
Henry Cuellar (Texas)
John K. Delaney (Md.)
Suzan DelBene (Wash.)
Debbie Dingell (Mich.)
Mike Doyle (Pa.)
Tammy Duckworth (Ill.)
Elizabeth Esty (Conn.)
Bill Foster (Ill.)
Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii)
Ruben Gallego (Ariz.)
Gwen Graham (Fla.)
Alan Grayson (Fla.)
Eugene “Gene” Green (Texas)
Janice Hahn (Calif.)
Alcee L. Hastings (Fla.)
Dennis “Denny” Heck (Wash.)
Brian Higgins (N.Y.)
Rubén Hinojosa (Texas)
Jared Huffman (Calif.)
Steve Israel (N.Y.)
Marcy Kaptur (Ohio)
William “Bill” Keating (Mass.)
Dan Kildee (Mich.)
Derek Kilmer (Wash.)
Ron Kind (Wis.)
Ann Kirkpatrick (Ariz.)
Ann Kuster (N.H.)
Rick Larsen (Wash.)
Brenda Lawrence (Mich.)
Ted Lieu (Calif.)
Dan Lipinski (Ill.)
Dave Loebsack (Iowa)
Michelle Lujan Grisham (N.M.)
Ben Ray Lujan (N.M.)
Jim McDermott (Wash.)
Grace Meng (N.Y.)
Patrick Murphy (Fla.)
Rick Nolan (Minn.)
Donald Norcross (N.J.)
Beto O’Rourke (Texas)
Bill Pascrell (N.J.)
Ed Perlmutter (Colo.)
Scott Peters (Calif.)
Collin Peterson (Minn.)
Mike Quigley (Ill.)
Kathleen Rice (N.Y.)
Raul Ruiz (Calif.)
Tim Ryan (Ohio)
Loretta Sanchez (Calif.)
Adam Schiff (Calif.)
Kurt Schrader (Ore.)
David Scott (Ga.)
Terri Sewell (Ala.)
Brad Sherman (Calif.)
Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.)
Albio Sires (N.J.)
Louise Slaughter (N.Y.)
Adam Smith (Wash.)
Jackie Speier (Calif.)
Eric Swalwell (Calif.)
Mike Thompson (Calif.)
Dina Titus (Nev.)
Paul Tonko (N.Y.)
Norma Torres (Calif.)
Nikki Tsongas (Mass.)
Juan Vargas (Calif.)
Marc Veasey (Texas)
Filemon Vela (Texas)
Tim Walz (Minn.)
Peter Welch (Vt.)
10. Why Don't Entitlement 'Reformers' Ever Talk About Military Spending and Tax Shelters?
The Washington Post‘s Charles Lane (4/27/16) objects to politicians following voters’ desires on entitlements because of ” the preemption of actual political choice it represents.”
Now that Donald Trump seems to be a sure thing for the Republican nomination, a GOP-led “entitlement reform” movement is all but done—for now. The Republicans put “entitlement reform” front and center as a major issue in 2012, but given Clinton’s ostensible opposition and the meteoric rise of Trump, who says he opposes Social Security cuts, the legendary “Grand Bargain” is now on the political back burner. This, predictably, has left some of the “entitlement reform” holdouts very upset.
First, resident Washington Post fat-trimmer Charles Lane, in “Entitlement Reform, RIP” (4/27/16), lamented that a Trump/Clinton match-up means “entitlement reform” is all but dead. The Weekly Standard‘s Mark Hemingway (4/28/16) incredulously asked, “Whatever Happened to Entitlement Reform?” And the emerging “Never Trump” crowd, which is rushing to find a third party to help bring back the Romney-Ryan reform magic — including Sen. Ben Sasse, who published a call for an independent candidate, based largely on prioritizing “entitlement reform.”
There’s really no mystery why a public struggling to get by after watching Wall Street get trillions in interest-free loans isn’t eager to fork over their Social Security checks. And the fascinating part of all this concern with “stealing from future generations” is it almost never includes military spending or the trillions in offshore tax shelters. Even if one accepts the claim that Social Security and Medicare are urgent issues “bankrupting” our country, it’s curious why other things that also cost trillions don’t appear as part of that conversation.
By framing the problem, to the extent that there is one, as being the things the average citizen is “entitled” to—rather than the things military contractors and billionaires are afforded—we limit the scope almost entirely to the most vulnerable among us.
The Post’s Lane rarely writes about tax avoidance that cost the United States government at least $3 trillion a year — $500 billion of which is in tax havens and corporate avoidance schemes. His one attempt to gesture toward it was an argument in favor of a consumption tax—widely seen as regressive. He fails to harp on the problem of military spending overages. One of the few times Lane did complain about the Pentagon’s budget (9/3/14) he focused entirely on “reforming” the pensions of veterans. Indeed, his entire argument was that the Defense Department’s ability to take on “Putin’s aggression” and ISIS (e.g., blow things up) was being hampered by socialist-style healthcare for our vets:
As the United States’ defense budget shrinks relative to its economy, more and more of it is destined to purposes that have little, or nothing, to do with deterring or, if necessary, winning wars in the here and now.
Missing from his argument was anything on the corporate welfare side: No mention of an absurdly wasteful F-35 program whose lifetime costs are expected to exceed $1.5 trillion. No mention of the approximately $1 trillion cost of upgrading America’s nuclear weapons system. No mention of the over $4 trillion we set aside for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To “entitlement” reformers, only that which is guaranteed to the most vulnerable — the elderly, the sick, veterans — is in urgent need of cost-cutting. Everything else is an existential necessity, the wisdom of which is simply taken for granted.
Hemingway’s arbitrary concern for costs is even more cynical. Not only has he never called for a reduction in spending (not even to slash the pensions of those greedy Iraq War veterans), he—and the Weekly Standard in general—routinely call for America to increase its military spending. Indeed, they ran a sort of defense of the costly F-35 program, and aggressively lobbied for the multi-trillion-dollar war in Iraq.
The reason these pundits don’t spend time on non-“entitlement” costs, the expense of running a global empire and handing out tax breaks to the super rich, is entirely ideological. By simply asserting a premise — that military spending is untouchable, and tax-avoidance is a cost of doing business — they stack the deck in the wealthy’s favor and shift the burden to those groups least likely to have their voices heard in corporate media.
Freedom in the United States today is a moving target, and when the government catches wind of an innovation that makes life easier and more affordable for ordinary people, it always steps in to take control. Take, for example, the growing effort to outlaw offgrid living in the U.S., as well as moves by local governments around the country to criminalize private rainwater collection.
Now, the federal government is making a major move against the tiny house movement, seeking to give the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) authority to require tiny houses to conform to the standards of recreational vehicles (RV’s), of which one of the rules is that the vehicles may not be used or marketed for permanent living. HUD is seeking to regulate tiny house living out of existence or to turn it into a regulated industry by requiring that tiny homes be manufactured in factories, conforming to codified standards.
The tiny house movement is one of the latest innovations in personal freedom from an overly consumeristic and a debt-driven society. Many people construct tiny houses themselves, often but not always on wheels, for a fraction of the cost of typical housing. In a tiny home, one has everything needed to live a comfortable life, but in a tiny space often less than a couple of hundred square feet. They park them in hospitable places and enjoy life without a mortgage and everything else you need to fill and maintain a big American house.
12. Mothers in Resistance
Berta Cáceres – indigenous, environmental, and human rights defender and fierce feminist who was assassinated in Honduras on March 3rd, 2016 – was, among so many other things, a mother in resistance. She inherited this from her mother, who was an inspiration to her, and she passed this down to her own daughters and son.
Berta’s mother, Austra Bertha Flores Lopez, worked as a midwife and served as mayor of their town and then governor of their state. She taught her daughter about fighting for justice from the time she was a child. During the period of intense violence of the 1980s, Austra took in and cared for refugees from El Salvador, showing her children what real solidarity looks like.
As a young person Berta got involved in social justice work and co-founded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). She was key in organizing Lenca communities to defend their land from being taken over by developers for industrial mega projects. One of these major struggles has been against the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) and their Agua Zarca Dam project. If built, the Agua Zarca dam would cut off the access of the Lenca people to the Gualcarque River, a river that they consider sacred.
In 2013 Berta led the local Lenca communities in organizing a blockade to stop construction vehicles from entering or exiting the Agua Zarca site. This blockade was made up of groups of families who would take shifts night and day to peacefully block the road. The blockade lasted for over a year and resulted in withdrawal of Sinohydro, the world’s largest dam developer (based out of China), from the project.
Berta’s assassination has resulted in international outcry for justice in solidarity with Berta’s family, COPINH, and international social movements. Berta received countless death threats for her work defending the Lenca people and Mother Earth, threats that came from DESA employees, private security forces and hired thugs.
The Honduran authorities have been anything but helpful in the investigation into her murder. They held her friend Gustavo Castro, sole witness to her assassination and also shot twice during the attack, refusing to allow him to return to Mexico for over a month. Also, despite calls from Berta’s family and international pressure, the Honduran government has not allowed the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to conduct an independent investigation into her death. Additionally, Honduran authorities have not communicated directly with Berta’s family, instead leaving them to receive updates about the investigation from the evening news with the rest of the public.
On May 2 – one month after Berta’s murder – four people were arrested as suspects who are associated with the Honduran military, DESA, and hired gangs. While these arrests are good steps forward, Berta’s family has said that there needs to be accountability at the highest levels of Honduran government, and that not only those who carried out the assassination but the authors as well must be held accountable.
13. Where’s the Peace Platform
This year’s Democratic primary debate has been dominated by criticism of Hillary Clinton for her 2002 vote to authorize the Iraq war, and her general support of regime change. It’s forgotten that Bernie Sanders was for regime change as well. This week Jeremy Scahill, author of Dirty Wars and his new The Assassination Complex, sets the record straight on Democracy Now on Bernie’s earlier involvement in promoting sanctions and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Scahill told Amy Goodman on May 3rd that Sanders, “has been given a pass,” on these issues. He supports Obama’s kill list. He signed on to the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which mandated Bill Clinton, “To make regime change in Iraq the law of the land.” Sanders “signed on to neoconservative agenda,“ that led straight to, “the most brutal regime of economic sanctions in world history that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.” And so on.
Scahill may err at times because of the purity of his stance, but he’s an investigative journalist, not a political organizer. He definitely speaks truth to power, as is his function.
His perspective only deepens the challenges, intellectual and political, as we enter the endgame of the primary campaign. Scahill criticizes the Democrats for our own defaults on foreign policy. Where to begin with the crucial task of generating an independent and non-sectarian anti-war movement with a presence on the ground in key Congressional districts and races this Fall?
First, as Rep. Barbara Lee and President Obama have long insisted, we need a revised Authorization for the Utilization of Military Force (AUMF). There is little chance of that happening this year, even if Obama keeps demanding an authorization for war against ISIS. We are floating in constant wars, running up our deficits, casualty rates, and even military suicides.
Such an authorization needs to target the “enemy” in question, to avoid the current policy that targets Al Qaida and “associated forces”. Our politics are so paralyzed that war with ISIS is impossible to legalize. This failure leads to the slippery slope.
Next, an authorization should limit or bar US ground troops. Despite the rhetoric, thousands of US troops are on the ground anyway, including Special Forces.
Third, an authorization will either include a timeline with metrics and reports to Congress or be open-ended, a green light to the permanent doctrine of “the Long War”, which was projected to continue for eighty years just a decade ago.
History clearly shows that Congress begins to respond when there is an active anti-war movement, as in the 60s and the 80s. But the peace movement today is undermined by fatigue and factionalism, no doubt promoted by agents of domestic counter-insurgency and paid informants. Sectarianism and extremism are toxins, which infect too many activist groups. There are liberal-left institutionalized groups like the NAACP, the immigrant rights organizers, the labor movement, and more, but there is no AFL-CIO or Sierra Club for Peace. The task of rebuilding the peace movement lies ahead, in a time of permanent war.
Bernie, or his followers, could stimulate a new movement against regime change and nuclear weapons, but there is no sign yet that he intends to. Perhaps he will, if there’s platform agreement on an alternative to regime change.
14. POINT OF NO RETURN
t’s now evident, fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, that Obama’s foreign policy has maintained many of the core elements of the global war on terror initiated by his predecessor—assassinations, drone attacks, heavy reliance on special forces, covert operations, and, in the case of Afghanistan, the continued use of American ground forces in combat. And, as in the years of Bush and Cheney, there has been no progress, let alone victory, in the fight against terrorism. The Islamic State has succeeded Al Qaeda as the United States’ most feared terrorist enemy, one that now reaches deep into Africa and sends shockwaves into Western Europe and America. Obama still views Russia, a nation with the same international terrorist enemies as Washington, as an evil empire that must be confronted rather than as an ally. Since 9/11 I have had access to some of the thinking inside the White House on the war on terror. I learned early in the Obama presidency that he was prepared to walk away from first principles. His first public act as president took place on January 22, 2009, two days after his inauguration, when he announced that he was returning the nation to the “moral high ground” by signing an executive order calling for the closing, “as soon as practical,” of Guantánamo. As of this writing, that has yet to happen, and more than ninety prisoners continue to fester there, with no due process and no accountability, to America’s shame.
Obama had described Afghanistan as “the right war” during his campaign and talked about the need for more troops on the ground there. Many of his supporters were not listening, or chose not to hear. I was told that within three weeks of taking office he informed his senior advisers at a secret National Security Council meeting of his plan to send an additional 17,000 American troops to join the more than 30,000 already stationed there. This outcome was not the product of an interagency staff decision, but a unilateral action taken by Obama and retired Marine Corps general James Jones, the national security adviser at the time. Obama and Jones were said to believe that the focus of American foreign policy needed to be on Pakistan, a nuclear power supporting and harboring the Taliban troops that had become the main opponent in Afghanistan after Al Qaeda’s retreat. There was much hubris and—as usual in new administrations—not much consideration of what had gone before. Furthermore, I was told by someone in a position to know that Jones had explained at one meeting, in essence, that “Afghanistan is not in our national security interest, but we don’t want to betray the good men who went there before. We will not abandon Afghanistan, but we will not let it get worse.”
Obama would spend much of his first year discussing what to do about Afghanistan. The debate was not about whether to expand the war there but how many troops to commit to what would become America’s longest and least successful war. The president, who would spend the rest of his time in office cracking down on press leaks and internal dissent, stood aside as a group of American generals staged what amounted to a public debate over the number of troops needed to “win” the Afghan war. At one point, a highly classified internal request from Army general Stanley McChrystal, an expert on special operations and commander of U.S. forces in the Afghan war, was leaked to the Washington Post within a week of its delivery to the White House, with no significant protest or sanction from Obama. McChrystal had asked permission to deploy as many as 80,000 more troops.
Obama eventually committed a first tranche of 30,000 additional American soldiers. It was a decision marketed as a compromise between a reluctant president and a gung-ho Pentagon. There was at least one senior member of Congress who had reason to suspect that Obama, despite his resentment of the military’s public posturing, had wanted these higher troop numbers all along.
By 2009, David Obey, a Democratic lawmaker from Wisconsin, was chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, one of two committees responsible for funding all government programs, including secret military and intelligence activities. Elected to Congress in 1969, at the height of the anti–Vietnam War protests, Obey was an outspoken liberal. He had dared to take on George Bush and Dick Cheney over aspects of their war on terror that—as Obey and others in Congress believed—were not being shared with, and perhaps were not even financed by, Congress, as stipulated by the Constitution. Obey got nowhere with his protests, but his efforts in early 2005—including a little-noted speech on the House floor and the solicitation of a rush of unfulfilled promises from the Bush White House to provide greater communication—were remarkable simply for having taken place. He told me at the time that “disquieting” actions had been taken in secret and “Congress [had] failed in its oversight abilities.”
Obey stunned his colleagues in 2010 by announcing his retirement. He and I had talked on and off during the Bush years—he would listen but say little. Six or so months after he left the Congress he was more forthcoming. He told me of a presidential meeting he and a few other congressional leaders had attended at the White House in March 2009. The issue was Afghanistan, and Obama wanted them to know he was going to make a significant troop commitment to the war there. “He said he was being told by a lot of people that he ought to expand the war and then asked all of us, one by one, what we thought. The only word of caution came from [Vice President] Joe Biden, who raised a question about the cost. When it came to me, I said, ‘Mr. President, you could have the best policy in the world but you need to have the tools to carry it out—and the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan are pretty lousy tools. If you did a surge in Afghanistan you will have to face the fact that it would crowd out large portions of your domestic program—except perhaps health care.’” (A later in-house estimate put the cost of the war, if forty thousand additional troops were committed, at $1 trillion over the next ten years, as much as the president’s health care proposal.)
At the end of the meeting, according to Obey, he had a private chat with the president and asked him whether he had ever spent time listening to the broadcasts of President Lyndon Johnson’s telephone conversations, in particular his discussions about expanding America’s commitment to the war in South Vietnam. Johnson had taped more than nine thousand of his telephone calls while in office. They created a sensation in Washington upon their public release in 2003—just as President Bush was expanding America’s war in Iraq. Obama said he had. “I then asked Obama if he recalled listening to the conversation with Richard Russell when they both talked about how upping the American effort in Vietnam wouldn’t help,” Obey said. “My point was that Johnson and Russell were making a decision to go ahead when they were telling themselves privately that it would not work.”
Senator Russell was a segregationist and archconservative from Georgia, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and a longtime Johnson confidant. The conversation in question took place in May 1964, fourteen months before Johnson would make a major commitment of American troops to the war. It remains one of the most riveting and instructive of the presidential recordings. Both men agreed that any American escalation would lead to a major war with China, with untold consequences. “I’ll tell you,” Russell told Johnson, “it’ll be the most expensive adventure this country ever went into.” Johnson answered, “It just makes the chills run up my back. . . . I haven’t the nerve to do it, but I don’t see any other way out of it.”
Obey then asked a third question: “Who’s your George Ball?” Ball, a high-ranking member of the State Department in the Kennedy years, was renowned as the only senior official in the government to argue again and again—at great personal cost—against Kennedy’s decision to escalate the American presence in South Vietnam. Obama did not answer. “Either the president chose not to answer, or he didn’t have one,” Obey told me. “But I didn’t hear anyone tell the president that he ought to put on the brakes in Afghanistan.”
In a review of my interviews about Obama’s early decision to raise the ante in Afghanistan, one fact stood out: Obama’s faith in the world of special operations and in Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan who worked closely with Dick Cheney from 2003 to 2008 as head of the Joint Special Operations Command. JSOC’s forces include elite Navy SEALs and the Army’s Delta Force, and they have won fame in countless books and movies since 9/11 for their nighttime operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan and the jihadists in Iraq. It was a JSOC SEAL team that killed bin Laden at his redoubt in Pakistan in early 2011. There is no ambivalence about the skills and determination of those special operators who took part in Obama’s renewed nighttime war against the Taliban in 2009 and thereafter. But, as I was told at the time, there is another side to the elite units. “You’ve got really good guys who are strongly motivated, and individual initiative is the game,” a former senior military official said. “But JSOC’s individualism also breeds a group of childish men who take advantage of their operational freedom to act immaturely. ‘We’re special and the rules don’t apply.’ This is why the regular army has always tried to limit the size of the special forces. McChrystal was not paid to be thoughtful. He was paid to let his troops do what they want with all the toys to play with they want.”
This former senior official, who has been involved in war planning since 9/11, was pessimistic at the time about Obama’s reliance on special operations. “The intersection between the high-mindedness of Obama and the ruthlessness of Dick Cheney is so great that there is a vacuum in the planning. And no one knows what will happen. My own belief is that over time we’re going to do the Afghanization of the war”—trying, as in Iraq, to finance and train an Afghan Army capable of standing up to the Taliban—“and the same thing will happen to them as happened to our South Vietnamese Army allies. In the end, the Taliban, disciplined and motivated, will take the country back.”
McChrystal was cashiered in June 2010, after he and his aides were quoted in Rolling Stone making a series of derogatory remarks about the president and others in the White House. According to one of McChrystal’s advisors, he thought an early face-to-face meeting with the president was inconsequential and trivial—little more than a “10-minute photo op.” By then, there was much concern about a major aspect of McChrystal’s approach to the war, which was to find and kill the Taliban. I was visited that June by a senior official of the International Committee of the Red Cross whose humanitarian mission is to monitor, in secret, the conditions of civilians and prisoners of war in an effort to insure compliance with the 1949 Geneva Conventions. The ICRC was even granted limited access to the prison at Guatánamo, among other facilities in the war on terror, with the understanding that its findings were not to be made public. The official who sought me out did not want to discuss the prison system in Afghanistan, about which there have been many public revelations. His issue was the Obama administration’s overall conduct of the war. He had come to Washington in the hope of seeing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior State Department officials, but had been shunted aside. His message was blunt: McChrystal’s men were killing the wrong people. “Our inspectors are the only visitors from a secular institution who are tolerated by the Taliban leadership, and you Americans are killing those who support our activity,” he said. “You are killing those Taliban who are not jihadists—who don’t want to die and don’t give a shit about bombing Times Square. They have no grudge against America.” The indiscriminate targeting of all who are Taliban, he said, “is reaching a point of no return, and the more radical and extreme elements are picking up momentum.”
At one point, he said, there had been a heated internal debate among the Taliban leadership about the use of chemical weapons in an attack on Kabul, the Afghan capital, and the moderates won. The ICRC wouldn’t say how it learned of that debate, but the official added, “The guys who prevented that use have been smoked out”—assassinated by JSOC operators—“by the Americans. The moderates are going down.”
A longtime consultant to the special operations community depicted the mindless killing in Afghanistan as a “symptom of the weakness in the U.S. policy for combatting terrorism: It’s all about tactics and nobody, Republican or Democrat, has advanced a strategic vision. The special-ops guys are simply carrying out orders, like a dog eager to get off the leash and run in the woods—and not think about where it is going. We’ve had an abject failure of military and political leadership.”
The American-led coalition unilaterally declared an end to the Afghan war at the close of 2014. And, as widely predicted, the Afghan National Army, supported at an annual cost of billions by the Obama administration, continues to be riddled with corruption and lacks leadership and motivation. Obama again decided last year to send over more troops, under the guise of advisers, and, inevitably, they have been drawn into combat. They kill and are killed in the name of democracy—a word that has dwindling appeal and little relevance for many Afghans.
Did any of the dozens of analyses put forward as the president reviewed the options in 2009 and in 2015 estimate the number of innocent lives that would be lost as a consequence of the American surge? Were those presidential advisers skeptical of the capability and motivation of an upgraded and modernized Afghan army able to find a place at the White House planning table? Is there an American soldier who wants to be the last to die in Afghanistan?
It is not too early to dwell on Obama’s legacy, a deepening concern for any president as the end of his tenure approaches. It would be easy to say it will be mixed—on the plus side there was the health-care bill and America’s recovery from the economic shambles left by the Bush administration. He faced an unbridgeable congressional impasse caused by an increasingly radical Republican opposition. But Obama, whatever his private thoughts, still speaks of American exceptionalism and still believes, or acts as if he does, that the war on terror, a war against an ideology, can be won with American bombers, drone attacks, and special forces. There is no evidence yet for that belief.