Rogue Isle Observer
Alternative Media Outlet


Danny Glover, Peter Hallward, and Anthony Fenton contribute to breaking down the media avoidance of Haiti’s history of foreign intervention. According to Hallward, Haiti’s poverty can be explained as a series of foreign responses to the independence and strength of the Haitian people, but since the media doesn’t acknowledge this, they are forced to propose weakness and bad luck as the sources of Haiti’s poverty. Glover adds that without the history, we are prone to misunderstanding and the blaming of the victim, which in some cases serves to absolve us of our own responsibility for the situation. Fenton reminds that it’s not only the U.S. that has taken part in undermining democracy in Haiti, in recent years Canada has played a very significant role, among others.


Peter Hallward is a Professor of Modern European Philosophy at Middlesex University in England. In 2007 he published the acclaimed historical account of post-1990 Haitian politics, Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment. He is the editor of the journal Radical Philosophy and a contributing editor to Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities.

Danny Glover is a long-time actor and activist. While attending San Francisco State University, Glover was a member of the Black Students Union who along with the Third World Liberation Front led the five month strike. Not only did this help to create the first school of Ethnic Studies in the U.S., but it was also the longest student strike in the history of the United States. He is presently chair of the TransAfrica Forum, “a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the general public — particularly African-Americans — on the economic, political and moral ramifications of U.S. foreign policy as it affects Africa and the Diaspora in the Caribbean and Latin America”. Glover is the director of the upcoming movie Toussaint, detailing the life of Toussaint Louverture, leader of the Haitian Revolution.

Anthony Fenton is a Canadian-based independent researcher and journalist. He is the co-author of Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority. His work has been published by Asia Times, The Dominion, Foreign Policy in Focus, IPS, Mother Jones, Upside Down World, THIS Magazine, and others.


Zbigniew Brzezinski on Afghanistan and the American strategy for Eurasia and the world


Zbigniew Brzezinski Zbigniew Brzezinski is a CSIS counselor and trustee and cochairs the CSIS Advisory Board. He is also the Robert E. Osgood Professor of American Foreign Policy at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, in Washington, D.C. He is cochair of the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus and is a former chairman of the American-Ukrainian Advisory Committee. He is also a member of the International Advisory Board of the Atlantic Council. He was a member of the Policy Planning Council of the Department of State from 1966 to 1968; chairman of the Humphrey Foreign Policy Task Force in the 1968 presidential campaign; director of the Trilateral Commission from 1973 to 1976; and principal foreign policy adviser to Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential campaign. From 1977 to 1981, Dr. Brzezinski was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter. In 1981, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role in the normalization of U.S.-China relations and for his contributions to the human rights and national security policies of the United States. He was also a member of the President’s Chemical Warfare Commission (1985), the National Security Council–Defense Department Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy (1987–1988), and the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (1987–1989). In 1988, he was cochairman of the Bush National Security Advisory Task Force, and in 2004, he was cochairman of a Council on Foreign Relations task force that issued the report Iran: Time for a New Approach. Dr. Brzezinski received a B.A. and M.A. from McGill University (1949, 1950) and Ph.D. from Harvard University (1953). He was a member of the faculties of Columbia University (1960–1989) and Harvard University (1953–1960). Dr. Brzezinski holds honorary degrees from Georgetown University, Williams College, Fordham University, College of the Holy Cross, Alliance College, the Catholic University of Lublin, Warsaw University, and Vilnius University. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards. His many books include America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy (Basic Books, 2008), coauthored with Brent Scowcroft and David Ignatius; Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower (Basic Books, 2007); The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership (Basic Books, 2004); The Geostrategic Triad: Living with China, Europe, and Russia (CSIS, 2001); The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (Basic Books, 1997); and The Grand Failure: The Birth and Death of Communism in the 20th Century (Scribners, 1989).


WARNING: This video contains graphic footage.


The Millennial Decade screwed with our heads and destroyed our national identity. Are we in for a cataclysmic century?

It’s been one helluva decade, even though we’ve reached the end without knowing what to call it. Some have tried “the aughts,” others the “double-Os.” I’m content to simply call it over. To mark its location in the great march of history, I’ve taken to calling it the millennial decade, after the great numerological transition it heralded. Yet for describing its character, nothing comes closer than the Decade of Trauma — American trauma, that is.

Here in the home of the brave, we’ve endured a decade that shattered nearly every notion of what it meant to be an American, whether you live on the left or the right. And so we shout. Or hide. Or startle too easily.

In America today, it seems we all have a touch of post-traumatic stress disorder, as evidenced by our increasingly vitriolic political environment, where reality is denied and histrionics run riot. Anger, we’re told, is the natural reaction to trauma; in people with PTSD, the anger is out of control. By that measure, the millennial decade has brought us 10 years of PTSD politics — with no end in sight.

From the Tea Party madness, the unwillingness of Republicans in Congress to vote for any piece of legislation drafted by Democrats, the misuse of the filibuster in the Senate to all but break the institution, and the outsized rage on the left toward the Obama administration for simply behaving as politicians do, our national politics have moved beyond the bounds of extreme partisanship into the realm of mental illness.

This breaking of the national psyche was bound to happen; it’s been decades in the making. American exceptionalism — the idea that we are somehow better and more blessed than any other people on the face of the earth by dint of our own hard work, ingenuity, innate goodness and superior democracy — was bound to fail as our nation, like every other before it, found itself caught in the grinding wheels of history.

Rooted in denial, the doctrine of American exceptionalism edits out of the American story the sins against humanity that created our nation: the genocide of the people who were here before the Europeans came, and the building of the nation on the backs of involuntary laborers who were tortured, abused and even killed for their trouble. Once you ditch that, it becomes easier to look past the other unpleasant realities of our history, be it our neo-colonialism throughout the world, which helped to build our economy, or the enduring practices of racism and sexism. But denial almost invariably leads to trauma, when on one day, or in one decade, the decay that denial fostered summons home the demons set loose through willful ignorance to do their fright dance before one’s very eyes.

The 2000 election, 9/11, Enron and WorldCom, Afghanistan, Iraq on a lie, Abu Ghraib, the USA Patriot Act, Guantánamo, Katrina and near economic collapse: each of these — and many, many others — challenged our sense of national identity, giving the lie to who we thought we were, and compromising a sense of safety, however delusional, that we once enjoyed. No longer were Americans exempt from the perils that face other nations.

Even the decade’s great culminating moment, the election of Barack Obama, beautiful though it was, rocked the nation, provoking revulsion on the right and an unsustainable ecstasy on the left — extremes of emotion that do not speak well to the emotional stability of a people.

The decades that led us here were fraught with their own traumas. The ’60s were convulsive; the ’70s unnerving. The ’80s and ’90s brought a backlash against the changes wrought by the two previous decades. People of my generation saw, as children, three of our greatest national leaders gunned down. We saw dogs and fire hoses turned on people peaceably assembled to petition the government for redress. Women took to the streets, demanding a reordering of society, and ultimately, a reconfiguration of the family. We watched our nation at war in close-up video while young people filled the streets in protests. Gay people made themselves visible in vigils and rallies shown on the nightly news and in adorably cute sitcoms. We viewed it all in wood-paneled family rooms, our Swanson dinners before us on TV trays.

We saw a president resign in disgrace, and the taking of American hostages by an Islamic state. Yet, despite the upheaval, at the passing of each crisis we managed to stuff the genie back in the bottle — or so we thought. Our belief in our democracy somehow prevailed in our thinking. Civil rights, centuries too late, were eventually won through the legislative process. The Vietnam War ended.  Women emerged from the confines of the home. The assassination of one president and the resignation of another were succeeded by orderly transfers of power.

History being history, the story of the millennial decade is, in many ways, about the very same things that characterized the decades that ushered it in: racial strife, the renegotiation of gender roles, our nation’s place in the world, declining economic fortunes, ugly wars and unconstitutional actions by the government. But this decade offered one critical difference; the disorderly world was no longer contained within a glass tube in a wood-paneled bunker. It sneaked up behind us and whacked us in the head.

The Numerology of the End-Times

It didn’t help that the 2000s came upon us with a handicap conferred by Western numerology. Throughout the Christian Bible, three is a heavy number, and here we are, at the dawn of the Third Millennium, measured from the presumed date of the birth of Jesus the Christ, who is one-third of the Holy Trinity, who died at the age of 33, only to rise again on the third day.

It really doesn’t matter what religion you were raised in, or whether you were raised in one at all; America is culturally Christian, and this numerology is written into the DNA of all Christian nations. Hence the popularity of religio-conspiracy tales such as The DaVinci Code and “National Treasure,” or the apocalyptic fantasies of the Left Behind book series.

The new decade made its entrance under the threat of a terrorist act planned for the United States. Two weeks before New Year’s Eve, authorities arrested Ahmed Ressam at a Canadian border crossing, where customs officials found bomb-making materials in his car. Ressam’s target, intelligence officials said, was Los Angeles International Airport. Other cites, it was said, were in the terrorists’ sights, as well. The Millennium Plot, they called it.

Celebrations for the great turning of the millennial wheel took place amid a backdrop of jitters; city officials across the nation talked of suspending New Year’s events. In Washington D.C., a debate took place over whether a planned fireworks display was appropriate, in light of the threat.

The brave decided to party like it was 1999.

Win, Lose or Draw

The millennial decade got underway in America in the midst of a presidential campaign. Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush, both scions of political families, faced off in a hard-fought contest that appeared to end in a draw. When the polls closed, the electoral college map featured several states that offered no clear winner, an outcome that had never occurred in the television age.

The drama dragged on for more than a month, culminating in an action by the Supreme Court that history will likely judge to have been unconstitutional.

The impact of this election on the American psyche was, I believe, profound; regardless of one’s political orientation. A large part of the narrative of American exceptionalism hinges upon our belief that we are a self-governing people. However weak we may have felt in the face of corporate malfeasance or government overreach, we still clung to the notion of our collective power as a people through the use of the ballot box.

After the 2000 election, the ballot box was exposed as an arbitrary measure, its verdict determined by hanging chads and poorly organized ballots. Still, however imperfect, it was the expression of our will — until the Supreme Court stepped in and ordered a halt to the recount taking place in Florida, the last state to determine a winner.

The Supreme Court essentially overruled the State of Florida’s right to see its disorderly election to a conclusion, throwing the election to Bush and stomping on the states’ rights conservatives so championed until the high court intervened to grant them the presidential candidate of their choice. A subsequent study found that Gore won the popular vote by more than 500,000 votes.

Powerlessness, writes Dr. Judith Herman of Harvard Medical School, is the central experience of trauma. The source of our power as a people is our electoral system, which was revealed to be either broken or a joke. Even those who supported Bush likely experienced something deeply unsettling in the six weeks before the Supreme Court rendered its verdict, when Republican congressional staffers were sent to the Sunshine state to disrupt the recount with riotous tactics, and chaos reigned in the political sphere.

When the decision finally came on December 12, 2000, it came not from the people, but from the very judiciary the right so despises.

And we weren’t even through the decade’s first year.

Terror From the Skies

If the American people weren’t traumatized by the breakdown of our democracy in 2000, they surely were by the events of September 11, 2001, when four commercial aircraft were commandeered by al Qaeda terrorists, successfully taking down the World Trade Center in New York City — the leading symbol of America’s domination of the global economy — and leaving a gaping hole in the Pentagon, the symbol of America’s military might. The fourth plane, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field, was apparently headed for the U.S. Capitol building, the symbol of America’s representative democracy.

More than 3,000 people were killed in the attacks. In New York, bodies tumbled from the sky as workers in the Trade Center towers leaped to their deaths in order to escape the flames.

Any people subjected to such a fearsome sight would rightly be traumatized. But America’s trauma was exacerbated by the myth of our own exceptionalism — the belief that such things don’t happen here — as well as the media’s endless repetition of the video loops of the planes hitting the Trade Center towers. In the mind of a traumatized person, the reliving of traumatic events often recurs in regular flashbacks, keeping alive the terror and sense of powerlessness caused by the original event. In the wake of 9/11, we didn’t need our own minds to hit the replay button; the media did it for us, setting us up for a decade of unconstitutional horrors that went virtually unchecked with the acquiescence of our traumatized populace.

We didn’t think twice when our nation invaded Afghanistan; after all, the reasoning went, al Qaeda, a non-state actor, was based there. We barely blinked when the USA Patriot Act — a legislative repudiation of the Bill of Rights — passed with the votes of Democrats and Republicans alike, allowing the federal government to detain, without charges or warrants, virtually anybody it cared to, all in the name of national security. Only one Democratic senator voted against the bill: Russell Feingold of Wisconsin.

In 2002, amid revelations about the role of the Roman Catholic Church in a massive cover-up of sexual crimes against children by a number of priests, and the Enron and WorldCom corporate scandals, the Bush administration began banging the drum for an invasion of Iraq. Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, we were told, that an unscrupulous dictator was bent on using against us.

Very few in the political opposition actually believed the claims made by President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell in early 2003, but almost no one dared to defy them. In March, the United States invaded Iraq, with the permission of congressional majorities in both political parties. Only a few would dare, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on America’s “homeland,” to risk looking like wimps.

Suffering neglect at the hands of one’s caretaker, psychology textbooks tell us, can sometimes result in psychological trauma. If you view our elected officials as caretakers of a sort, we were indeed neglected.

Our own dissociation from the passage of the USA Patriot Act speaks to our collective trauma; even those of us who were hell-bent against it failed to organize a fight. As our constitutional rights were put through the shredder, we threw up our hands.

It wasn’t until the country went to war that the left organized massive protests. But the media’s failure to fully report on the widespread anti-war sentiment served to further demoralize many. The only ones not looking away, it seemed, were the Bush administration and the organs of the permanent government, such as the FBI and the National Security Agency.

Play It Again, Uncle Sam

April 2004 brought us the horrifying images of prisoner torture–some of it highly sexualized — by U.S. soldiers and contractors of detainees held at the U.S. prison at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and the destruction of any real claim to America’s moral superiority among nations. Photographs leaked to the news media included one of a pyramid of naked male prisoners and one of a naked male prisoner with a leash around his neck, held by a small, female soldier, Private Lynndie England. One of the most infamous photos depicted a prisoner outfitted in a hood and made to stand on a box with wires attached to his extremities, part of a psychological torture scheme to make him believe he was about to be electrocuted.

America’s sins were now exposed to the world, and to her own people, compounded by the fact that our leaders lied to us with assurances that the U.S. did not torture its detainees.

We were now completely unmoored from the safe harbor of our belief in our fundamental goodness as a nation, with no one trustworthy in charge of anything that mattered. We were utterly abandoned.

In the midst of another presidential election, we grappled with this truth. With the 9/11 attacks still fresh in our minds, we remained a traumatized people, now broken and stripped of our identity.

In its bid to retain power, the Bush administration played what the media termed the politics of fear or the politics of terror, but in truth it was the politics of trauma. The 9/11 attacks were invoked repeatedly, most notably at the Republican National Convention, held in a locked-down New York City, where an entire evening was devoted to a 9/11 tribute designed to manipulate convention-goers and TV viewers into seeing the current president as heroic in the face of attacks whose probability he had been warned of, a warning he did nothing to address at the time he received it.

At the time, I chafed at the media’s description of Bush’s campaign tactics, writing:

The politics of fear is based around ideas such as these: that homosexuals are out to recruit your children, that God will punish the nation for its sins, that the family is broken when women have power, that membership in the United Nations demands the surrender of our nation’s sovereignty. In short, the politics of fear exploits the trepidation innate in humans when facing change of any kind, and tweaks it to a twitchy pitch in times of great social change.

The politics of trauma is another beast entirely, based as it is, not on fear of the unknown, but the exploitation of something atrocious that has already occurred, the fear that it will happen again, and the psychological toxins produced by experiencing the atrocity.

Put another way, our 9/11 trauma was invoked as a means of disempowering us. And it worked — well enough, anyway.

Just as the media looked away when hundreds of protesters were rounded up in New York that week and illegally detained in a makeshift jail on the Chelsea Pier,  they also lost their nerve after the election returns rolled in, leaving behind their own reports of shenanigans at the polls and in the counting-rooms of Ohio, where another election may have been stolen. Had Ohio been called for Democratic candidate John Kerry, he would have won the election.

Even Democrats wanted no part of an inquiry into the long lines at polling places in Ohio that served African-American neighborhoods, or the eviction of the media from a county building where votes were being counted. Only Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., dared to conduct an inquiry, which was promptly ignored.

Such was the defeat of the American people that we allowed this to happen with barely a passing glance. This is the way traumatized people behave at the hands of an abuser — by playing dead, dissociating, or slipping into denial at the injustice that has been done to them.

By the year’s end, reports began to surface of torture at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But George W. Bush and his meglomaniacal Vice President Dick Cheney would have another four years to prostrate a nation that was already on its knees.

Hurricane Katrina and the Lie of Racial Comity

One tenet of American exceptionalism is that it claims to worship the heterogeneous nature of our society, and the belief that anyone can make it in our nation if he or she just tries hard enough. Along the way, after the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s, we told ourselves that we were on the path to redemption for a past rife with racism.

After Hurricane Katrina barreled up a man-made waterway in New Orleans on August 29, 2005, yet another myth — one fundamental to our own self-concept — was battered. Despite warnings that the levies protecting one of America’s oldest cities were about to give way, the president looked away. The federal government failed spectacularly to respond to a city under water, a city inhabited largely by African Americans.

The ugliness of our nation’s racialized past is never far from the surface in New Orleans, an ancient trading post that was a major port of entry for African slaves, who were sold at its markets. The rhythms of New Orleans are distinctly African, and it is the birthplace of America’s highest form of indigenous music — jazz. The religion of the place is laced with voodoo, a syncretization of West African and European Christian beliefs. For these reasons — all reminders of the involuntary labor that built this nation — more than a few wouldn’t mind seeing New Orleans fall into the Gulf of Mexico.

Within days after Katrina hit, it became apparent that something was terribly wrong. There was no food or water in the Morial Convention Center, where as many as 20,000 had gathered for refuge at the direction of city officials. Television captured the desperation: children begging for help, mothers begging for food for their children. If national television crews could find their way there, we wondered, then why couldn’t federal emergency responders?

You know the rest of the story. I retell just enough to remind you of what it felt like to watch that: helpless. It’s hard to imagine a sensation more disempowering than helplessness. And powerlessness, you’ll recall, is the central experience of trauma.

We’ll never know how many people died on the Gulf Coast as a result of Hurricane Katrina: many bodies are believed to have washed out to sea. In February 2006, documented deaths were tallied at 1,300, with another 2,300 reported missing.

Economic Meltdown

An ancillary to the doctrine of American exceptionalism is the belief that every generation of Americans will do better economically than their parents did before them. It’s a ridiculous notion if you really think about it — the cycles of economic history utterly defy it — but one that enables the American propensity for building economic bubbles. In the 2000s, we built a big one, and today we suffer the effects of its bursting with a mighty pop.

The apparent prosperity of the early years of the decade was built on a lot of fake money (what we call credit), much of it invested in real estate, which was said never to lose value. (Did anybody bother to phone back to the ’80s, when real estate values took a dive?) The deregulation of the financial industry, begun under President Bill Clinton, encouraged the creation of all manner of financial instruments — some that were gambles animated by complicated formulas, others that allowed you to use the equity in your home as a line of credit, still others that were mortgages with adjustable rates on homes granted to buyers who could not afford them. The junky mortgages were then unloaded by their creators, lapped up by other financial entities eager to take on those debts for their promised returns.

By 2006, housing values began to dip, and the returns on that debt began to slide. By 2007, the housing bubble was on the verge of bursting. In 2008, in the midst of yet another presidential campaign, it did.

An Historic Vote

And what an election it was. The contest for the Democratic nomination lasted far longer than any in recent memory, with the two candidates left standing after Super Tuesday each representing a potential “first” for the country: If the Democrats won, the next president would either be a white woman or an African-American man. The contest drew a division between the party’s two most stalwart activist constituencies, the feminist and civil rights movements. Many black women felt themselves both ignored and torn between the two candidates.

When Barack Obama emerged as the Democrats’ pick, American exceptionalism both found expression in his story and a test in his candidacy. The narrative of American exceptionalism, begun in Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, hinges on the idea of our nation as one hospitable to immigrants. Yet Obama’s exotic name provoked an hysterical conspiracy theory based on right-wing allegations that he was not born in the U.S., and was therefore ineligible for the presidency. This theory lives on today, even though authorities and reporters have authenticated his Hawaii birth certificate.

In September 2008, the stock market crashed, all but ensuring the election of America’s first black president, as his Republican opponent, John McCain, was associated in the public mind with all that had gone wrong under George W. Bush. Our traumatized republic had at last reached its tipping point. While Obama’s core supporters were wild about him, his majority was secured by many who voted for him reluctantly.

Before we had an African-American president, it was easier to believe we had, as a nation, largely put that old racist past to bed. Obama’s election hit the nation like a thunderclap, shaking the nuts from the trees. For those on the right, the election of America’s first black president was yet another trauma added to the string that had piled up over the course of the decade. On the left, the elation felt by a constituency traumatized by the authoritarian and oligarchical excesses of the Bush years was bound to deflate when the new president was revealed to be both human and a politician.

Take a Deep Breath

So, here we find ourselves, on the brink of a new decade, traumatized, at odds with each other, constituencies shattering within constituencies. Just when you thought the Republican Party could move no further to the right, the Tea Party movement emerges, its adherents full of rage and convinced that their way of life will be brought to an end with the election of the new president, whom they see as foreign and threatening. And so he is given the same attributes as threats of the historical past: He’s a socialist, a fascist, a communist.

“The thoughts or beliefs that people have to help them understand and make sense of their environment can often overexaggerate threat,” reads a brief from the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. “Often the individual is not fully aware of these thoughts and beliefs, but they cause the person to perceive more hostility, danger, or threat than others might feel is necessary.”

The left is no less traumatized, its various constituencies now at odds over the health care bill, with some turning their sense of threatened destruction back on the president with an exaggerated sense of betrayal.

Whether denying the reality of the president’s birth certificate or the votes required by a filibuster-happy Senate, both sides in our political dialogue are at work creating their own, closed-universe realities.

Untreated PTSD, according to Raymond B. Flannery, a clinical psychology professor at Harvard Medical School, can lead to “increased industrial accidents, social and community disorganization, lost productivity, and intense psychological distress. The toll in human suffering is enormous…” In other words, unless we deal with this, America’s Decade of Trauma may just be the opening act to a cataclysmic century.

I recommend we begin the new decade with a sort of national intervention, where we stop and breathe for a minute, slowly and evenly, and then review the events of the last decade, and think about how each of them made us feel. That’s what the therapists would have us do.

But wait — there’s more. According to the sages at Helpguide, PTSD therapy also entails “identifying upsetting thoughts about the traumatic event — particularly thoughts that are distorted and irrational — and replacing them with more a balanced picture.” Of course, all this hinges on admitting we have a problem and wanting to address it.

Never mind. We’re Americans. Problem? Who’s got a problem?


Myths can be innocuous enough, providing pleasure and comfort to believers, for instance, the Jesus birth stories that are celebrated at Christmas or the legends of Abraham and Moses conveying God’s promised land to the Israelites.

But myths can have a darker side when they are embraced as religious or ideological truths. A millennium ago, Christian Crusaders slaughtered tens of thousands of Muslims to secure the Holy Land for Christian pilgrims, and even today many Israeli Jews resist compromises for peace because of the legends contained in the Torah, or Old Testament.

Other Judeo-Christian myths have contributed to horrendous bloodshed. The crucifixion story in one gospel – that of John – shifted blame for the killing of Jesus from the Romans to his fellow Jews, contributing to centuries of vicious anti-Semitism culminating in the Holocaust. Most likely, John’s story reflected a religious rivalry between early Christians and Jews and was a bid to appease the Romans by lessening their role.

Similarly, over the past century, Zionists who advocated a Jewish homeland in ancient Israel exploited the myth of the Diaspora, the supposed Roman dispersal of Jews from the Holy Land to be scattered throughout Europe. The Diaspora justified the return of European Jews to their “original” home, thus correcting a historical injustice.

However, research by Israeli historian Shlomo Sand and others indicates that the Diaspora never happened, that the vast majority of European Jews originated from the religious conversion of large tribes in Eastern Europe and Northern Africa more than a millennium ago, not from some mass exodus organized by the Romans after Jewish uprisings almost two millennia ago.

The research further suggests that most of the original Israelites remained in the Middle East. They either created strong Jewish communities across the region or converted to Islam. In other words, the Palestinians who have been displaced by the modern state of Israel were likely the descendants of the ancient Israelites, not the European Jews who emigrated after World War II.

In that way, when history replaces myth, powerful narratives can change – shifting the sense of right and wrong, often bestowing greater humanity on a persecuted people, whether the Arabs killed by the Crusaders, the Jews persecuted in Europe, or the Palestinians displaced from their land.

Modern Myths

There also have been modern myths used to justify political decisions, whether on a grand scale or more narrowly.

For instance, grand theories about American “exceptionalism” have rationalized U.S. imperial interventions around the world, wars and covert actions that would have been condemned as aggression or even terrorism if carried out by some other nation.

A smaller myth, George W. Bush’s “successful surge” in Iraq, contributed to President Barack Obama following a similar surge strategy in Afghanistan.

Though the “successful surge” myth in Iraq is now a cherished conventional wisdom in Washington, the actual evidence of why Iraqi violence declined points to many other reasons – some predating President Bush’s 2007 order to send in more than 20,000 additional troops. [For details, see’s “Explaining the Drop in Iraqi War Dead” and “Obama Pleases the Neocons.”]

Another Afghan-related myth is the hard lesson supposedly learned from the U.S. abandonment of Afghanistan immediately after the Soviets departed in February 1989. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has cited that experience – popularized in the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War” – to explain why the Obama administration must now stick it out there.

Accompanying Gates on a recent trip to Afghanistan, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd described how “Gates promised that America would not repeat its disappearing act of 1989. Flying from Kabul to Iraq, I asked him if … he was driven to war because of guilt at abandoning people we had promised to stand by.

“‘I don’t feel guilt about it, but we made a strategic mistake,’ he said. ‘And it wasn’t just the Afghans. At almost the same time, we basically cut off our relationship with the Pakistanis. And the mistrust that exists today is a reflection of that action on our part.’” [NYT, Dec. 15, 2009]

However, as Gates well knows, there was no sudden disappearing act. Indeed, as the Soviets began pulling out in 1988, Gates – as deputy CIA director – was in the middle of policy discussions about what to do next.

The State Department was open to working with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev who favored a negotiated settlement to the war, followed by a coalition government involving remnants of the communist regime of President Najibullah and representatives of the U.S.-backed mujahedeen.

However, Gates championed the CIA faction that wanted to rebuff Gorbachev and rely on the mujahedeen to quickly wipe out Najibullah.

‘Strung Up’

At the time, I was a Newsweek correspondent covering intelligence issues and I asked some CIA officials why the United States wasn’t willing to just collect its winnings from the Soviet withdrawal and help patch Afghanistan back up as best they could.

One CIA hardliner responded to my question with disgust. “We want to see Najibullah strung up by a light pole,” he snapped.

Gates was on the inside pushing a CIA analysis that Najibullah’s government would fall promptly once the Soviets left, which their final combat units did on Feb. 15, 1989.

By then, Gates had moved from CIA to be President George H.W. Bush’s deputy national security adviser — and Gates’s position carried the day.
Instead of collaborating with Gorbachev on a peace initiative or simply cutting off U.S. covert aid once the original goal of a Soviet withdrawal had been achieved, Bush signed a new finding that justified a continued war on behalf of Afghan “self-determination.”

In the authoritative book on the Afghan conflict, Ghost Wars, author Steve Coll wrote that “throughout 1989, the CIA pumped yet more arms, money, food, and humanitarian supplies into the Paktia border regions where the Arabs [Osama bin Laden’s group] were building up their strength.”

With the CIA determined to oust Najibullah from power, U.S. officials also continued to press Saudi Arabia to continue its massive investment in the Afghan conflict. Only gradually did Congress reduce the level of U.S. funding, though it remained substantial more than a year after the Soviets left.

“For the period from October 1989 through October 1990, Congress cut its secret allocation for the CIA’s covert Afghan program by about 60 percent, to $280 million,” Coll wrote. “Saudi intelligence, meanwhile, provided $435 million from the kingdom’s official treasury and another $100 million from the private resources of various Saudi and Kuwaiti princes. Saudi and Kuwaiti funding continued to increase during the first seven months of 1990, bettering the CIA’s contribution.”


Contrary to Gates’s expectation, however, the Najibullah government didn’t fall easily. Using its Soviet weapons and advisers, Najibullah’s regime beat back a mujahedeen offensive in 1990. Najibullah hung on – and the war, the violence and the disorder continued ripping Afghanistan apart.

Gates finally recognized that his CIA rapid-collapse analysis was wrong. In his memoir, From the Shadows, he acknowledged that the State Department’s analysis predicting a more resilient Najibullah army had proved correct.

Yet, by the time George H.W. Bush’s administration recognized that Gates and the CIA hardliners were wrong, it was too late to work with Gorbachev on a negotiated settlement. He was struggling to survive a challenge from communist hardliners before the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991 and Boris Yeltsin rose to power.

In his memoir, Gates revealed that he was well aware that the United States did not immediately abandon the Afghan cause once the Soviet troops left in February 1989.

“Najibullah would remain in power for another three years [after the Soviet pull-out], as the United States and the USSR continued to aid their respective sides,” Gates wrote. “On Dec. 11, 1991, both Moscow and Washington cut off all assistance, and Najibullah’s government fell four months later. He had outlasted both Gorbachev and the Soviet Union itself.”

[By the way, Gates and the CIA analytical division that he helped politicize also missed the collapse of the Soviet Union.]

Najibullah’s belated fall in 1992 may have brought an end to the communist regime, but it didn’t stop the war.

The capital of Kabul came under the control of a relatively moderate rebel force led by Ahmad Shah Massoud, an Islamist but not a fanatic. However, Massoud, a Tajik, was not favored by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, which backed more extreme Pashtun elements of the mujahedeen and funneled most of the covert aid to them.

The various Afghan warlords battled for another four years as the ISI readied its own army of Islamic extremists drawn from Pashtun refugee camps inside Pakistan. With the ISI’s backing, this group, known as the Taliban, entered Afghanistan with the promise of restoring order.

The Taliban seized the capital of Kabul in September 1996, driving Massoud and his Northern Alliance into a northward retreat. The ousted communist leader Najibullah, who had stayed in Kabul, sought shelter in the United Nations compound, but was captured.

The Taliban tortured, castrated and killed Najibullah, his mutilated body hung from a light pole, just as CIA hardliners had envisioned seven years earlier.

Setting the Stage for 9/11

The victorious Taliban then imposed harsh Islamic law on Afghanistan. Their rule was devastating to women who had made gains toward equal rights under the communists, but were forced by the Taliban to live under highly restrictive rules, to cover themselves when in public, and to forgo schooling.

In the late 1990s, the Taliban also granted Saudi exile Osama bin Laden and his extremist al-Qaeda organization a safe haven when they were on the run from the United States angered over bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa and other terrorist attacks.

Bin Laden, who shared the Taliban’s fundamentalist view of Islam, was welcomed back because bin Laden and his fellow Arab militants had collaborated with the CIA-supported Afghan rebels in their war against the Soviets in the 1980s.

By the late 1990s, however, bin Laden and al-Qaeda had a new enemy: the United States. The stage was set for the 9/11 attacks.

Though Gates is familiar with all this ugly history – and even recounts some of it in his memoir – he was happy to exploit the widely accepted myth of the immediate U.S. abandonment of the Afghan cause once the Soviets departed.

Today, the abandonment myth plays into Gates’s desire for an escalated war in Afghanistan rather than serious peace talks aimed at bringing together a coalition government that would include some factions that might be very distasteful to the United States.

As with so many myths that prove useful to powerful interests, the Afghan abandonment myth also obscures the actual history, which – if known – would teach a strikingly different lesson.

If the American journalists traveling with Gates had understood that Gates and other Bush-I officials chose to continue the earlier Afghan war with visions of total triumph dancing in their heads, the reporters might have challenged Gates and argued that the real lesson of 1989 was that an imperfect peace can be preferable to an expanded war.

They also might have recognized that Gates’s reputation as an esteemed Wise Man, who in the words of Washington Post columnist David Broder is “incapable of dissembling,” is another myth. [For more on Gates’s real history, see’s “The Secret World of Robert Gates.”]

So, while myths – whether ancient or modern – can sometimes tell a pleasing tale, they have the capacity to get many people killed.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there. Or go to


Since he began writing a column for the New York Times eight years ago, Nicholas D. Kristof has become the closest thing we have to a voice of conscience on human rights abuses around the world.

His latest book, co-written with his wife Sheryl WuDunn, is the well-received Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

Kristof was in town recently to speak at a fundraiser for Day One, a Providence organization that provides counseling and advocacy for victims of sexual abuse. The Phoenix sat down with him afterward for a Q&A. His answers are edited and condensed for length.

YOU ARGUE IN HALF THE SKY THAT THE GLOBAL FIGHT FOR WOMEN’S EQUALITY IS THE “PARAMOUNT MORAL CHALLENGE” OF OUR ERA. WHY IS THIS SO? There are a lot of bad things that happen around the world. But one measure of oppression of women is that about 100 million women have been discriminated against to death. There are actually more males than females in the world today and that’s because, although women live longer and there are more women in the U.S. and Europe, in much of the world they’re starved, not treated when they get sick. And, so, more women have died as a consequence of that kind of discrimination than were killed in all the wars of the 20th century. It just feels like a vast problem. And even the slavery side of it — the sexual slavery side of it — is probably substantially bigger than early 19th-century slavery was. So, just put it all together and it just feels like the central moral challenge for us all.

THE BOOK ALSO SUGGESTS THAT ACHIEVING GENDER EQUALITY IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD IS NOT MERELY A MATTER OF JUSTICE BUT OF UNLEASHING NATIONS’ POTENTIAL FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. CAN THAT ARGUMENT BE PERSUASIVE IN DEEPLY SEXIST CULTURES? I think the argument that women are a huge opportunity actually gets more traction in sexist countries than the rights-based argument. Poor countries want to grow faster economically. They’re looking for any kind of resource they can exploit. And if one can show them that China is booming, partly because it figured out how to use the female half of the population, then that’s an argument that really has resonance for them.

HAVE YOU SEEN EVIDENCE OF THAT SINKING IN? Even in Afghanistan, which is as about as oppressive a place as there is, there are a growing number of people who really do appreciate that girls’ education is a good thing. They’re nervous about it — they want girls only to be taught by women, they are careful about what they think should be taught to girls — but, at the end of the day, they think that it is important for their daughters to be taught. You do see progress, you really do.

THERE IS A CHAPTER IN YOUR BOOK TITLED “IS ISLAM MISOGYNISTIC?” WHAT DO YOU CONCLUDE? Islam started out as an advance for women. Women benefitted when Islam came to a particular area. But conservative schools within Islam haven’t evolved over the last 1200 years. So these days, in more fundamentalist Muslim countries, women are at a real disadvantage and it is Koranic arguments that are used to suppress them. I tend to think that Prophet Muhammad would be horrified if he were to see what was being done in the name of Islam.

SO, IS ISLAM INHERENTLY MISOGYNISTIC IN SOME WAY? No, I do not think Islam is inherently misogynistic, because initially it was an advance.

WHY WAS THAT? It gave women certain rights — inheritance rights, for example, that Christian communities, for example, did not have. And even in areas like polygamy — it reduced polygamy, it limited polygamy, which had been unlimited, to four wives. You had to treat them equally. But then, it kind of stopped there. It said you can’t have female infanticide, things that had been previously accepted. It was socially progressive in its context.

WHAT IS THE SINGLE MOST EFFECTIVE THING WOMEN AND MEN IN THE WEST CAN DO TO ADDRESS GENDER INEQUITY IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD? I’d say that education has the single best record. It’s not perfect and it doesn’t always work right. It’s hard to make a difference in people’s lives. But education has a better record than anything else. And it’s very cheap.



by Kaomi Goetz

The Obama administration may be trying to mount a case against digital finger-imaging of federal food assistance applicants, a practice four states are implementing in order to combat fraud.

Anti-hunger workers say it discriminates against the country’s poor and treats them like criminals when they are entitled to benefits.

New York City is one of the places that uses finger-imaging.

Angel Jean Seymore, a New York City resident, says she felt degraded when she had to give her digital fingerprint as part of her application to buy food under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). A severe back injury forced her to stop working as a home health aide.

“They treated me in a disgusting way. They did not care that I had a disability,” says Seymore. “I’m a U.S. citizen, born and raised in the Bronx all my life. I have my identity in the health department and Social Security. And yet I’m being treated like a criminal.”

If she lived elsewhere in the state, it wouldn’t have happened. That’s because the rest of the state has opted out of the finger-imaging requirement. Advocates who work with many of the city’s poor are frustrated.

“It’s as if the mayor is saying his own constituents are more criminal,” says Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.

Berg says finger-imaging discriminates against people who can’t physically come to an office to have it done, either because of work or disabilities. People often feel like it’s a tracking system or they’ve done something wrong. And he says there are other ways to detect fraud, such as computer matching with Social Security numbers.

“There’s only one kind of fraud potentially captured by finger-imaging. That’s when a person actually creates a duplicate identity, like they’re in James Bond. It’s preposterous,” says Berg. “It’s hard enough for an eligible person on the program to get the benefits.”

An Urban Institute study found that finger-imaging deterred 4 percent from completing their application. Critics say that’s tens of thousands of people. But New York City counters that the practice has been one of the best weapons against fraud over the past decade.

Robert Doar, commissioner of the city’s Human Resources Administration, has not seen the study, but he says people aren’t being discouraged from applying. He points to the nearly 300,000 more New Yorkers who received SNAP benefits in the past year.

“It’s not an ink process, like what would take place in some criminal justice situation. It’s easy, it’s simple and fast, and the numbers prove our point,” Doar says.

Yet it puts New York City at odds with most of the rest of the country. Just three other states — Texas, California and Arizona — also use finger-imaging. But a few weeks ago, Agriculture Department Undersecretary Kevin Concannon was in New York City, where he said the practice is under scrutiny.

“We are examining that whole question of the efficacy of it. Does it really do what it’s alleged to do? My biggest concern: Does it have an unintended consequence of dissuading people from coming forward who need the benefits?”

Concannon added that if a state wanted to start the finger-imaging today, the Obama administration wouldn’t approve it. Anti-hunger workers say they’re hopeful a rollback is coming. After all, they say, President Obama is the first president to have grown up in a household where food stamps meant food on the table.



Insurgents in Iraq have hacked into live video feeds from unmanned American drone aircraft, US media reports say.

Shia fighters are said to have used off-the-shelf software programs such as SkyGrabber to capture the footage.

The hacking was possible because the remotely flown planes have an unprotected communications link.

Obtaining such video feeds could provide insurgents with information about sites the military might be planning to target.

Mark Ward, technology correspondent, BBC News
As its name implies, SkyGrabber is a program that grabs data being broadcast by satellites – it acts as a radio for data feeds and lets people tune into different data streams as they might radio stations.

Anyone downloading via a wire only shares that net link with a few neighbours. By contrast, anyone using a satellite net connection effectively shares all the data they are getting with everyone in the area covered by a satellite.

Those other people do not see that data because their PC is only watching for what they want. However, SkyGrabber eavesdrops on all the data being downloaded over a link and turns it back into whole files.

The way that data is sent over the net makes it very easy for anyone to reconstruct files. SkyGrabber has proved popular because it has good filters that let people sort the types of files, mp3, wmv, jpg they want to get.

It also knows about many different satellites and can be re-tuned to look at other data streams – such as those coming from drones.

The downside is that SkyGrabber users only get what other people want.

The Associated Press news agency quotes a US Department of Defense official as saying the military has also found evidence of at least one instance where insurgents in Afghanistan monitored drone video.

The breach of the Pentagon surveillance system’s security in Iraq is said to have come to light when footage shot by a Predator drone was found on the laptop of an apprehended insurgent.

A senior Pentagon official is quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying that although militants were able to view the video, there was no evidence that they were able to jam electronic signals from the aircraft or take control of them.

The unnamed official said the US defence department had addressed the issue by working to encrypt all video feeds provided by drones in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Predator drones can fly for several hours, remotely controlled by pilots thousands of miles away. The aircraft can carry out surveillance and attack targets with on-board missiles.

Responding to the reports, a Pentagon spokesman said: “The Department of Defense constantly evaluates and seeks to improve the performance and security of our various systems and platforms.

“As we identify shortfalls, we correct them as part of a continuous process of seeking to improve capabilities and security. As a matter of policy, we don’t comment on specific vulnerabilities or intelligence issues.”


By Anneli Rufus, AlterNet. Posted December 14, 2009.

By making paranoia part of pop culture, writers like Dan Brown have made a fortune. Then again, maybe he belongs to a secret cabal.

The paranormal pops up everywhere these days. In the last week, two different people have warned me against Ouija boards. In a video posted on YouTube, Richard Heene—who pretended a few weeks ago that his son was trapped in a runaway weather balloon—ponders the question of whether Hillary Clinton is one of those bloodthirsty, shape-shifting, humanoid alien “reptilians” that conspiracy theorists believe are planning a global takeover. At least three different ghost-hunting reality shows are currently airing on cable, all of them featuring muscular dudes storming down hallways in deserted schools and jails clasping electronic recording devices and howling, “Did you hear that?!”

This is hardly the first time in history that people have suddenly started spouting prophecies and speaking with the dead. These fads come in waves, usually fostered in the wake of unbearable tragedy. What else to do about earthquakes, floods, epidemics, dictators and wars than wonder which demon or deity devised this living hell and why, and what sacrifice or sorcery might make it stop? It is always fear and despair that sets us on this train of thought. During a gold rush or when we’ve just been given a clean bill of health, we need not believe in magic.

In the Black Death-ridden Middle Ages, chilled and starved by a climate shift now known as the Little Ice Age, Europe became obsessed with the body parts of saints. Crystal-encased, gem-bedecked bones and hanks of hair and half-mummified fingers, heads and hearts were credited with curative powers. Pilgrims packed cathedrals housing so-called holy relics, sometimes trampling the sick and weak during stampedes. Centuries later, the occult became the next big thing again as World War I and the 1918 flu epidemic found seances filling entire auditoriums around the world. Yet another paranormal paroxysm crested in the early 1970s: Think Watergate, Vietnam and the post-’60s awareness—a tragedy for some—that nothing would ever be the same again.

And now: Twin Towers. Financial collapse. War. Flood. The H1N1 virus is our plague.

Or is it? “In recognition of the continuing progression of the pandemic, and in further preparation as a nation,” as he put it, Barack Obama declared a national state of emergency on October 23. This declaration allows the federal government to waive certain requirements regarding prevention and treatment procedures because “the potential exists for the pandemic to overburden health care resources in some localities,” Obama said.

But the folks at would probably say this is just his latest step in “progressing the Antichrist system that is gathering pace after the recent world economic upheaval”—a system that “implicates not only Barack Obama but also Javier Solana of the European Union, Prince Charles of Wales, Queen Beatrix of Netherlands and Prince Hassan of Jordan,” a “power bloc” that “will drive the Antichrist world government.” The folks at call it “amazing stuff going on here, right before our eyes … and it fits the pattern set out in Revelation 13.”

Every paranormal paroxysm involves politics. That’s only natural. We cannot help but brood about whomever rules the world. Is their might the result of keen diplomacy—or sigils chiseled into halls-of-power floors? Who’s really in that entourage? We cannot help but wonder as, joking-but-not-quite-joking, we doodle cartoons of George W. Bush with devil horns.

It’s all about control, as that’s what wizards, angels, demons, gods and elected officials wield. Is it such a long  leap from superpower to supernatural?

Rumors of a secret cabal plotting to create a New World Order have been swirling almost ever since the Old World Order began. The nature of these shady puppeteers depends on who’s doing the worrying. Jews have been evergreen suspects, whether it’s the Elders of Zion or my penniless ancestors slogging through the Polish mud. Secret societies such as the Knights Templar and Freemasons stoke automatic fear: What are they doing in there?

As initiated members of a nondenominational, multiracial, all-male society whose origins are veiled in mystery but was probably founded in the late 16th century, Freemasons base their symbology on the tools of traditional stonemasons and allude, in their top-secret, tell-no-tales rituals, to the building of the Temple of Solomon. They wear lambskin aprons and do things with compasses, and they’ve been blamed for darn near everything. The Vatican officially condemned the brotherhood in 1738 for being “as political as they were religious,” writes Jay Kinney in The Masonic Myth: Unlocking the Truth About the Symbols, the Secret Rites, and the History of Freemasonry (HarperOne, 2009). And even though George Washington, Paul Revere and Benjamin Franklin were all Masons (lending support to rumors that the Boston Tea Party was a Masonic plot), America’s first third party was the Anti-Masonic Party. It was founded in 1826 and four years later, Kinney tells us, 124 different anti-Masonic newspapers were thriving.

Like others before and after him, Adolf Hitler believed that Freemasonry was a Zionist front. Railing against “the international world Jew” in Mein Kampf, he conjectured that “to strengthen his political position … the governing circles and the higher strata of the political and economic bourgeoisie are brought into his nets by the strings of Freemasonry. … The prohibition of Masonic secret societies,” Hitler predicted, would silence “the hissing of the Jewish world hydra.”

Article 22 of the Hamas Covenant repeats the Jewish/Mason claim, and then some: “With their money, they formed secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies.” Other conspiracy theorists charge the Masons with faking the moon landing, worshiping Satan and assassinating JFK.

“Within the thriving subculture of present-day born-again Christianity,” writes Kinney, a longtime Gnosis magazine editor and 32nd-degree Knight Commander Court of Honor in Freemasonry’s Scottish Rite, “anti-Masonic books are a mainstay,” thanks to evangelists such as Pat Robertson, who has called the brotherhood “a mystery religion designed to replace the old Christian world order of Europe and America.” Kinney mocks those “legions of anti-Masons, most of them superstitious believers in the occult as a demon-infested quagmire,” who “shiver dramatically as they hawk their books and videos.” He also notes that British conspiracy theorist David Icke, the most famous proponent of the reptilian concept, posts material at his Web site alleging that “there are secret tunnels beneath every Masonic lodge to facilitate reptilian rendezvous.” Yet Kinney insists that Freemasonry’s origins were neither alien nor occult: “Rather, it seems to have been an attempt to create a nucleus of men of goodwill, over and above fractious religious conflicts, using the motifs and symbols of temple building as working tools both for the deepening of the individual soul and for building an archetypal temple to the Most High in the collective imagination of humanity.”

Okay, but what are they doing in there? And are they or are they not intertwined with the Illuminati, a soooopersecret club founded in Germany in 1776 and modeled on the Masons but which Kinney claims disbanded in the 1780s but which conspiracy theorists insist still thrives, boasting such members as Barack Obama and both Bushes. “All this chaos, genocide, ethnic cleansing and the overall disasters have a genuine purpose,” we read at

“It is all very carefully planned by a few people, mostly men, behind the scenes, high up in the society. … These people on top, who basically are of Royal Bloodlines, is currently working on reducing the world population in order to easier maintain their control. … So who are those people I am talking about? They are basically 13 super wealthy families and their off-shoots, with the European Nobility on top, and their fellow travelers are the International Bankers. Their bloodlines go back in time—way back to old Babylon and further.”

As for UFOs: “The sightings, abductions and encounters are so numerous that we can’t ignore them and say that the whole thing is just imagination. That would be stupid. The phenomenon does exist, but the questions are: what is it and what is the agenda?”

Such questions are now bingo-night and soccer-mom staples, thanks mainly to The X-Files and Dan Brown, whose record-breaking thrillers feature history’s most prominent Western artists, scientists, religious figures and rulers enacting sinister global plots as ancient brotherhoods guard mysteries that might just end or save the world. Brown’s book Angels and Demons dangled the notion that the eye-in-the-pyramid on the U.S. dollar was the work of the Illuminati. The Da Vinci Code featured a royal line sired by Jesus Christ. Subterranean Masonic structures beneath Washington D.C. figure in this fall’s The Lost Symbol. By making paranoia part of pop culture, Brown has earned a fortune. Then again, maybe he belongs to a secret cabal.

It all comes down to: Who knows what, how do they know it and what will they do with what they know? In this information age, it’s not such a stretch from Patriot Act surveillance to the possibility of government programs testing and using telepathy, clairvoyance and hypnosis. Now a major motion picture starring George Clooney, The Men Who Stare at Goats is based on British journalist Jon Ronson’s allegedly nonfiction 2005 book of the same name, which explores exactly such a program. Instituted in the U.S. military in 1979, the First Earth Battalion comprised psychic soldiers trained to read minds, make themselves invisible, kill living things just by gazing at them, and walk through walls: “General Stubblebine is confounded by his continual failure to walk through his wall,” Ronson writes, describing a scene that he claims took place in Fort Bragg, North Carolina during the Cold War summer of 1983. “What’s wrong with him that he can’t do it? Maybe there is simply too much in his in-tray for him to give it the requisite level of concentration. There is no doubt in his mind that the ability to pass through objects will one day be a common tool in the intelligence-gathering arsenal. And, when that happens … who would want to screw around with an army that could do that?”

But by 1983, the psychic cold war was already at least two decades old. Created by the CIA and the Defense Department in a desperate struggle to keep pace with mind-control advances in the USSR, the U.S. government’s secret psychic-spy program went by many different names throughout the second half of the 20th century, including Scanate, Sun Streak, Grill Flame, Center Lane and Stargate. According to recently declassified documents, it was employed in searches for terrorists, Soviet missile-storage facilities, and moles but was ended by then-CIA director John Deutch in 1995.

Think of all the money and lives governments could save if they just hired psychics to find stuff. That’s what happens in C.S. Graham’s new psychic-cold-war thriller The Solomon Effect, whose heroine is a hot, honey-haired young Iraq War veteran whose telepathic talents help the CIA hunt for a hidden weapon that unidentified terrorists plan to use in an imminent attack. Although by closing her eyes and entering her “remote-viewing zone” Naval Ensign October Guinness can see where the weapon is but not what it is or who plans to use it, we learn rather quickly that the terrorists are a wildly rich Miami pharmaceutical magnate and a fundamentalist Christian U.S. Army general who share a loathing for Arabs and Jews and have devised a diabolical scheme for eliminating both: “In the end, the world would be a better place. No more endless Middle East crises. No more suicide bombers. No more money-grubbing Jews, siphoning off billions in foreign aid, competing with American arms manufacturers, and wreaking havoc on the world financial scene … The country was flushing itself down the toilet, wasting billions and billions of dollars every month for — what? To wipe the noses of a bunch of ungrateful ragheads in Afghanistan and Iraq? To prop up Israel? Why?”

Concentrate, Ensign Guinness. Concentrate.

Deflecting a skeptic, one government official in the novel asserts, “Remote viewing is not woo-woo. It’s science.”

And science changes everything. A key feature of our current paranormal paroxysm is the fact that science and technology play such a prominent role in it, from YouTube videos allegedly capturing ghosts and guardian angels to music recorded at certain frequencies said to induce instant trance states and miraculously “repair” DNA. Ghosthunters use highly sensitive devices called electronic-voice phenomena—or EVP—machines. Quantum physics is invoked to explain everything from premonitions to astral projection.

In her angry new book Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America (Metropolitan, 2009), Barbara Ehrenreich describes how she encountered this psychic/science convergence while undergoing chemotherapy, when self-help gurus and fellow cancer patients kept exhorting her to smile. Positive thinking boosts the immune system, went the claim for which Ehrenreich, who holds a Ph.D in cell biology, could find no scientific proof. Visualizing microscopic crusades in which squealing cancer cells are slaughtered follows the same procedure as spells I used to find in paperbacks and perform after school in seventh grade: Burn red candles for love and green for cash, picture kisses and coins and wish.

It’s the exact same easy-come thesis that made a worldwide movement out of Rhonda Byrne’s 2007 megabestselling book The Secret. Courting what Byrne calls the Law of Attraction—and which she claims, surprise surprise, functions via quantum physics—millions now believe that their mere thoughts affect material reality and that if they want something intensely enough, they’ll “attract” it. They post thousands of “mind movies” at YouTube featuring footage of mansions and Corvettes with captions reading “This is my house” and “This is my car.” These captions aren’t true, but … wish.

The socially accepted version of this process is called prayer. Bemused and horrified, Ehrenreich observed “pastorpreneurs” preaching the “prosperity gospel,” in which God “manifests” goodies if you ask. Centimillionaire televangelist Joyce Meyer, whose private jet and $23,000 marble toilet spurred Republican Senator Chuck Grassley to launch an investigation into her wealth in 2007, explains the gospel thusly: “God wants to give us nice things.” Bye-bye, Calvinist ethic, in which God rewards hard work.

The number of megachurches in this country doubled to 1,210 betwen 2001 and 2006, boasting a combined congregation of nearly 4.4 million, Ehrenreich reports. Three of the biggest four tout the prosperity gospel. That’s a hefty voting bloc. Its members worship a candy-man God who showers them with riches. A large but almost entirely separate faction at the far end of the spectrum swore allegiance last year to a presidential candidate who more or less promised to shower his voters with riches. At least in the early months, photographers loved to snap Obama with what looks like a halo: a trick of the light sometimes, or his head ringed just so by his campaign logo or the presidential seal. Children sang virtual Obama hymns. These are scenes from an adulation not entirely secular and unlike any ever seen in U.S. politics before.

Adversaries they are, but both blocs harbor the same hilariously obvious spirituality: Our dear leader makes us rich just because we want him to. One faction calls it grace. The other calls it human rights. Each faction mocks and fears the other’s form of worship and the other’s entity. Liberal children wake screaming from nightmares featuring the Christian Right. Megachurch kids dream fitfully of a fallen angel who steals through taxation what God manifests.

“The dicey subprime and Alt-A categories of mortgages had expanded to 40 percent of total mortgages” in 2006, Ehrenreich notes, “many of them requiring little or no income documentation or down payment.” To “buy” a home under such conditions is to believe in magic. We display this belief every day, as even credit cards are wands granting us things we want with money we don’t have.

But the susceptible among us trusted mortgage brokers just as the susceptible among our ancestors trusted soothsayers and snake-oil salesmen and voices in their heads they thought belonged to spirits of the dead. The rise of truthiness renders it ever harder to draw lines between science, psychology, spirituality, and lies. We find ourselves despairing as Ehrenreich did at a convention watching “life coaches” make outrageous claims about the transformative power of mental “vibrations” and the Law of Attraction and subatomic particles.

“Maybe I should have been impressed,” she muses, “that these positive thinkers bothered to appeal to science at all … in however degraded a form. To base a belief or worldview on science or what passes for science is to reach out to the nonbelievers and the uninitiated. … The alternative is to base one’s worldview on revelation or mystical insight, and these are things that cannot be reliably shared.”

And as we panic over healthcare, job loss and war in this funhouse of the proven and unproven, ascribing otherworldly powers to those who control us lets us off the hook. If they became this strong, this devious, this cruel by paranormal means, then heck: The world’s in bad shape not because I voted wrong or didn’t vote at all or wasn’t a good enough activist. The world’s in bad shape because our rulers are aliens or possess divine DNA or intone incantations under the full moon. In other words, it’s not my fault.



By Jennifer D. Jordan

Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE — Some education and union officials are warning that Governor Carcieri’s proposed midyear cuts to public schools will have a “devastating impact,” particularly on struggling urban districts that will see the deepest cuts.

But Carcieri’s plan to cut about $40 million between now and June from the state’s 38 school districts, 13 charter schools and 3 state-run schools is more than a budget reduction — it’s a message to Rhode Island’s 14,600 public school teachers. Put simply, Carcieri wants teachers to take the same 3-percent pay cut that state workers accepted earlier this year, and he wants their pension plans reduced.

“These are unprecedented times,” Carcieri said at a news conference at the State House, where he unveiled his method for bridging a $225-million deficit. “There are 75,000 Rhode Islanders out of work. … If everyone takes a little bit of a pay cut, 3 percent, we can keep everyone working and get through the next few years.”

Carcieri said he wants teachers to make the same sacrifice state workers are making. He wants every district to reopen teacher contracts and get the unions to agree to salary reductions rather than increase property taxes, but he also recognizes it is up to municipalities to figure out how they will absorb the cuts.

“I’m a big supporter of education,” Carcieri said. “But all we’re saying is, if people give a little bit this year and next year, we’ll hopefully get through this.”

Carcieri is proposing slashing state aid to schools by $20.5 million, plus cutting another $18.5 million in state payments to teacher pensions — contingent on lawmakers approving his pension-reform plan. In addition, Carcieri plans to take $5 million of $30 million in federal “stabilization” funds earmarked for 2011, and use it this year instead.

Urban districts, in particular, would be hard hit by the proposal. Providence, the state’s largest district with 2,000 teachers, would lose $5.3 million in state aid over the next six months, plus $2.9 million in pension payments. Pawtucket would lose $1.8 million in state aid to schools, and Woonsocket would lose $1.3 million. Central Falls, the state’s poorest district, would lose $1.3 million. Warwick and Cranston, the state’s second- and third-largest districts, respectively, would each lose about $1 million. In contrast, Jamestown, a wealthy town that receives little state education aid, would lose just $12,000.

The General Assembly would have to approve Carcieri’s plan for it to go into effect.

“We’re terribly concerned about the reductions,” said Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist. “We recognize this announcement will mean real difficulty for our districts at the same time we are expecting more from them. I want to offer the support of the department to assist them and help them find ways to have the smallest impact on students.”

Teacher unions decried the governor’s proposal, saying it was unfair to impose an across-the-board cut when teachers earn different salaries in each district. They also lashed out at Carcieri for decreasing school aid even as the federal government pumps millions in the form of stimulus funds to strengthen education during the recession. States had to agree to protect education funding to receive the stimulus “stabilization” money for schools in 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11.

“The real problem with the governor’s proposal is that it targets school districts and their employees for specific cuts at the same time the federal government is doing all it can to protect programs in our schools,” said James Parisi, field representative for the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals. “The federal government has asked states to maintain their support for public schools, and this goes against that promise.”

Robert A. Walsh Jr., executive director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island, said Carcieri is unfairly targeting teachers, some of whom have made concessions in recent contract negotiations, including paying more into health insurance, agreeing to longer school days or school years and, in the case of East Providence, receiving a 5-percent pay cut.

“This is beginning to feel personal,” Walsh said. “A unilateral approach like this … gives no recognition to sacrifices that have already been made.”

Tim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, called the proposed cuts “devastating,” and said there are many obstacles to school committees reopening teacher contracts, as the governor is urging.

“Some school committees wanted to do away with [teacher assignment based on] seniority,” Duffy said. “All that could get lost in the shuffle if school committees are asking for salary cuts.”

Duffy said it is unlikely lawmakers will approve Carcieri’s plan to eliminate the cost-of-living adjustment that retired public employees, including teachers, now receive since they rejected it last year. He also predicted layoffs and program cuts in urban districts, rather than reductions in teacher pay.Local officials react

The governor says municipal leaders should cut spending, not raise taxes, to cope with the loss of $125 million in local aid. But mayors and town managers say this midyear cut — only months after lawmakers wiped out a $55-million revenue-sharing program — leaves them few options. “They change one bad budget into 39 bad budgets,” says Johnston Mayor Joseph M.

Polisena. Story, Page A15

Rising waters threaten Louisiana

The southern coast of Louisiana in the United States is among the fastest disappearing areas in the world.

Rising waters have led to the state losing a land mass equivalent to 30 football fields every day.

And as the communities disappear, more and more people are leaving the region.

Nick Clark reports from Louisiana.


Hickey: Four conservative Dems force Reid on public option; Medicare may be expanded


Roger Hickey is co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, an organization launched by 100 prominent Americans to expand the national debate about America’s economic future. The Campaign seeks to empower working Americans, middle-class families, and the poor to make their voices heard in support of a populist economic agenda and an expansion of democracy. Recently, Hickey organized and helped to lead a national coalition of citizen leaders known as Americans United to Protect Social Security.



Klein tells AlJazeera why climate change is the single greatest barrier to human development

At the climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, environmental groups have said that while everybody agrees that there is a climate crisis, no action has been taken in accordance with the consensus. Naomi Klein, author and journalist, tells Al Jazeera why climate change has emerged as the single greatest barrier to human development, and why there is a critical need for a mass movement to tackle it.


By Thomas J. Morgan

Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE — The FBI arrested a Woonsocket police officer Thursday on charges of assaulting a juvenile in his custody and obstructing justice.

Officer John H. Douglas pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court.

A federal grand jury indicted Douglas, 34, with depriving the 16-year-old victim of his right under the Constitution to be free from the use of unreasonable force by someone acting “under color of law,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The indictment charges that, on Sept. 15, Douglas did “punch, strike, and otherwise assault” the victim, resulting in bodily injury.

The second count of the indictment charges Douglas with obstructing justice by trying to persuade other Woonsocket officers to provide false information to FBI agents who were investigating the matter.

Lt. Eugene Jalette, public-information officer for the Woonsocket police, said that Douglas, who has been with the department for four years, has been placed on unpaid leave pending the outcome of the case. He referred other inquiries to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Robert M. Laren, a lawyer who represents the teenager, described the youth’s injuries.

“His eye socket was broken, his nose was broken, he had cuts, and he had been Tasered,” Laren said after learning of Douglas’s arrest on Thursday. “He had bruises, typically of what you expect from someone being beaten,” he added.

Laren said he had been informed months ago that three officers had been suspended, and said that, to the best of his knowledge, they remain suspended. He said he believes up to six officers were involved.

Thomas Connell, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha, declined to say whether further arrests are contemplated.

The Associated Press quoted Douglas’s lawyer as saying he was “a model policeman.”

Laren said it is “more than likely” that he will sue the City of Woonsocket for damages on behalf of his client.

The brutality allegations were first reported in The Providence Journal on Sept. 18 after Chief Family Court Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah Jr. called the newspaper. Jeremiah said that the boy had appeared in his courtroom two days earlier and he was suffering from extensive facial injuries.

In response to Jeremiah’s questions, the boy said that several Woonsocket police officers had punched, kicked and repeatedly shot him with a stun gun. The first beating allegedly took place around 6:15 p.m. in the World War II Memorial State Park in Woonsocket.

After the initial alleged beating, the boy told investigators that the police brought him to police headquarters where he received a second beating. Laren said the police took the boy to Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket to be treated. Afterward, he said, they brought him back to the police station where several officers allegedly beat him again.

Douglas was arraigned Thursday before Magistrate Judge David L. Martin in U.S. District Court, and was released pending further legal action.

In a news release issued Thursday afternoon, Neronha said that the maximum penalty for the civil-rights allegation would be 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for obstruction of justice would be 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.

With reports from

W. Zachary Malinowski


By Bryan Farrell

From the November 20, 2009 issue | Posted in National | Email this article

ACTION FROM BELOW: Climate camp activists protest the coal-fired Hazelwood Power Station Sept. 12 in Australia. PHOTO: FLICKR.COM/HAZELWOOD2009

ACTION FROM BELOW: Climate camp activists protest the coal-fired Hazelwood Power Station Sept. 12 in Australia. PHOTO: FLICKR.COM/HAZELWOOD2009

Hundreds of climate activists swarmed down a hill toward Britain’s largest coal-burning power plant Oct. 17 with the intention of shutting it down. Within minutes, dozens had broken through the perimeter fence, erected specifically for this protest, and entered the site, known as Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station. But 650 police officers rapidly secured the breach and over the next six hours battled about 300 activists determined to topple other sections of the fence.

While a few broke through again to block the main gates and occupy railway tracks, many were injured by police batons or dog bites. By the next day, 57 arrests had been made without a single service interruption at the plant.

Nonetheless, organizers of the event — dubbed the Great Climate Swoop — considered their effort a “massive success.” In a press statement, Natasha Blair, from Camp for Climate Action, said, “We’ve achieved what we came here to do: to show that coal has no future and there is a growing movement which is prepared to take action on climate change.”

British climate activists have been stressing this message for a few years now. In fact, the storming of Ratcliffe came on the heels of a recent announcement by German energy corporation E.ON that it was shelving plans to build Britain’s first new coal-fired power station in 30 years. Although the company blamed the recession, climate activists believe their work was a deciding factor.

Groups like the anarchist-influenced Camp for Climate Action, known for its weeklong gatherings of mostly young people that end in direct action, and the suffragette- inspired Climate Rush have worked with international fixtures like Greenpeace since 2007 to wage a campaign against E.ON. They’ve shut down a coal conveyer belt, blockaded company headquarters in Nottingham, occupied the roof of the PR firm it employs and won a major criminal trial using climate change as a legal defense.

Due to such widespread and effective activism, many see Britain as a climate movement leader. British weekly political magazine The New Statesman recently said, “Climate change activism is more developed in this country than anywhere else in the world.”

Some argue, however, that this perception might be different if developing countries had the same media access as the industrialized world. International groups like Rising Tide and Rainforest Action Network (RAN) continually stress climate organizing by indigenous communities and people of color.

The Great Climate Swoop got more coverage than an even larger action in Thailand last month, which saw 4,000 people in the streets outside the U.N. Climate Talks in Bangkok. Many had come from as far away as Indonesia, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

“Climate change should always be looked at as a justice issue,” said RAN’s Joshua Kahn Russell. Since its founding in 1985, RAN has lent its expertise in finance campaigning — going after banks that invest in projects like rainforest destruction — to native communities fighting on the frontlines.

“We have no illusion that we’re a mostly white NGO from the States,” he said. “We consider ourselves justice-minded climate activists, as opposed to climate justice activists.”

The difference, according to Kahn Russell, is that climate justice groups are led by people affected by issues of class and race. Their work and perspectives have generally been overlooked in the West, perhaps at the peril of building a more cohesive climate movement.

“Even though the issue is beginning to get that kind of force behind it,” said Abigail Singer, an organizer with the Bay Area’s Rising Tide North America, “it needs to be framed more for regular people and folks who tend to be more marginalized.”

Instead, the number of Americans concerned by global warming is dropping. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that only 57 percent “believe there is strong scientific evidence the Earth has gotten hotter over the past few decades.”


There is one rich nation, however, that is being forced to accept this reality. Australia is in the midst of an epic drought that could cause its fifth largest city, Adelaide, to run out of drinking water next year. It has also suffered dust storms, fires, cyclones and bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef — all of which scientists have linked to global warming.

Australia has become a hotbed of climate activism, mainly against the coal industry, which is responsible for nearly 50 percent of Australia’s energy and has made it the world’s leading exporter. According to, which tracks nonviolent direct actions against the coal industry, Australians have waged at least a dozen actions in the last year alone, far outpacing the U.K.

Greenpeace has been at the forefront, temporarily shutting down Hazelwood Power Station, one of the world’s worst polluting coal plants, several times. Last month Australia’s first Climate Camp drew 500 people to the country’s oldest coal mine in an effort to block expansion.


Such mass direct action has only recently surfaced in the United States, where climate activists have relied more on awareness campaigns and symbolic actions. Last March 2 in Washington, D.C., 2,500 people blocked the entrances to the Capitol Power Plant for more than four hours in what organizers called “the largest mass civil disobedience for the climate in U.S. history.”

Many viewed the action as a success because congressional leaders announced that the plant would switch from coal to natural gas, a marginally cleaner fuel. But other activists blamed the organizers for accepting a weak compromise and not taking stronger action while they had the numbers.

“Our intention was to reach out and engage people who did not consider themselves activists and create a positive experience,” said organizer Kahn Russell. “But maybe we shouldn’t have done as much hand-holding.”

Three weeks after the Capital Climate Action, some 200 Kansas residents rallied outside the statehouse in Topeka to protest two proposed new coal plants in the western part of the state. In April, 44 were arrested protesting Duke Energy’s plans to add coal-burning capabilities to its Cliffside plant in Charlotte, N.C.

A number of small groups in Appalachia are seeking to abolish mountaintop removal coal mining — a highly destructive practice that levels mountains and poisons the air, land and drinking water.

“It’s not about protesting the use of coal or about ending the use of coal,” said Mike Roselle, a longtime environmental activist, who helped found radical environmental groups like Earth First! and the Ruckus society and now heads Climate Ground Zero (CGZ). “Coal is really just a symbol of what we have to do with all the fossil fuels, and if we can’t win on mountaintop removal, then there’s very little hope that anything can be done.”

CGZ members say a bottom-up approach can effectively build public support.

“We’re very cognizant of the fact that we’re a part of the broader climate movement,” said Mathew Louis-Rosenberg, an organizer with CGZ. “We believe this issue is the most powerful tool to use against coal. It’s not an invisible gas and a bunch of science that people don’t really understand. … People can look at a mountaintop removal site and go, ‘Oh my God, that’s terrible.’”

Since February, CGZ, has led 16 nonviolent direct actions — with a small number of locals and former underground miners — in the Coal River Valley of West Virginia, resulting in 116 arrests. According to, nearly a third of all nonviolent direct actions against coal have been waged by mountaintop removal activists.

One of the most dramatic involved the arrest of 29 people in late June, including NASA’s top climatologist Dr. James Hansen, the first scientist to warn Congress of the dangers of climate change 20 years ago.

Hansen has come to the aid of activists standing trial, like the ones in Britain who won their case, and has endorsed perhaps the most far-reaching climate campaign yet, known as

Started in 2007 by Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature, the first book on global warming for a general audience, attempts to bring the research of Hansen and his colleagues to the mainstream. Using thousands of years of reconstructed climate data and computer simulations, these scientists determined that the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is 350 parts per million (ppm). Right now it’s at 383 ppm, about 100 ppm greater than before the Industrial Revolution.

In order to get to 350 ppm by 2100, the world will have to completely decarbonize by 2050. To reach 350, we need to produce net negative emissions, which will require large-scale sequestration technologies that go far beyond reforestation.

Almost everyone, including scientists and activists, agrees that effecting such a transformation requires a global treaty with binding commitments to reduce emissions and policies that make renewable technology affordable and prioritize restructuring cities, transportation and agriculture. This is why sights are set on the climate treaty now being developed by the United Nations.

Unfortunately, there are two major obstacles. The United States and European Union are looking to enact what critics call “false solutions,” essentially techno-fixes (such as biofuels) and market mechanisms (like cap and trade) that maintain the status quo.

Second, although the treaty was supposed to be ready by December at a conference in Copenhagen, world leaders, including President Barack Obama, have decided to delay legally binding elements to a second summit next year in Mexico City.

“We’ll need to have a way to explain why whatever mediocre agreement gets signed is at the very best [sic] a beginning — that’s why the number 350 is so useful,” McKibben said.

To get the ball rolling, put together the first-ever global day of climate action Oct. 24. Through its website, groups and individuals from 181 different countries were able to set up over 5,200 actions, ranging from rallies and marches to concerts and green markets. Since did not call for direct action, many more radical activists have criticized this education-oriented approach.

“Our not doing nonviolent direct action has less to do with our philosophical approach and more to do with organizing the most people and laying the groundwork that would make mass action possible,” said organizer Will Bates.

This explains a lot of the new and creative actions in the United States, organized mainly by young people who are just becoming politically aware. They want, as McKibben put it, “new forms of organizing that don’t look like what’s come before.” is the perfect example, he said, in that it’s “people around the world rallying around a scientific data point, with music and art and faith and passion. Who’d a thunk it?”


Roselle, on the other hand, doesn’t find this fun, all-inclusive protest style all that encouraging. He says that it is unlikely that tactics like flash mobs, where people use social media to assemble a large group for a seemingly spontaneous visual stunt, can pose a real challenge to corporate executives and politicians.

“These types of actions don’t have the element of sacrifice or risk that a powerful action might have,” Roselle said. “Dressing up like a zombie and standing in front of a bank on Halloween isn’t going to work when you’re dealing with a violent and powerful regime.”

While there appears to be a split between direct action-oriented groups and movementbuilding organizations like, some people are attempting to meld traditional tactics with the new creative approach. University of Utah economics student Tim De- Christopher last year walked into a federal auction of oil and gas leases and posed as a bidder. He outbid speculators for thousands of acres of land worth $1.7 million.

Fueled by frustration with what he called the climate movement’s “path of incrementalism,” DeChristopher was influenced by a group known as the Yes Men, two men who frequently pose as corporate executives at conferences or on major media outlets and either admit wrongdoing or satirize the company’s destructive ideology in an absurd way.

“Everybody’s talking about climate change,” said Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men, “but what we really need to change is the lack of people taking to the streets.”

Along with several other leading organizers, the Yes Men launched a website called, which is attempting to gather 10,000 people willing “to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience.” The primary day of action being organized by a mixture of climate groups, from RAN and Rising Tide to, has been set for Nov. 30, the 10th anniversary of the nonviolent protests that shut down the World Trade Organization in Seattle.


As Naomi Klein recently noted in The Nation, “There is certainly a Seattle quality to the Copenhagen mobilization: the huge range of groups that will be there; the diverse tactics that will be on display; and the developing-country governments ready to bring activist demands into the summit. But Copenhagen is not merely a Seattle do-over. It feels, instead, as though the progressive tectonic plates are shifting, creating a movement that builds on the strengths of an earlier era but also learns from its mistakes.”

Klein says, unlike Seattle, which “had a laundry list of grievances and few concrete alternatives,” Copenhagen “is about a single issue — climate change — but it weaves a coherent narrative about its cause, and its cures, that incorporates virtually every issue on the planet.”

In that context, the varied approach to climate activism in the United States and around the world doesn’t seem like the liability activists often make it out to be.

“The climate movement is like a board of chess,” Kahn Russell said. “Different groups are better suited to taking on different opponents.”

Bryan Farrell writes regularly for the blog,

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Half-baked Homeland Security is spending millions to develop sensors capable of detecting a person’s level of ‘malintent’ as a counter-terrorism tool.

In the sci-fi thriller Minority Report, Tom Cruise plays a D.C. police detective, circa 2054, in the department of “pre-crime,” an experimental law enforcement unit whose mission — to hunt down criminals before they strike — relies on the psychic visions of mutant “pre-cogs” (short for precognition) who can see the future. It may be futuristic Hollywood fantasy, but the underlying premise — that we can predict (if not see) a person’s sinister plans before they follow through — is already here.

This past February, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) awarded a one-year, $2.6 million grant to the Cambridge, MA.-based Charles Stark Draper Laboratory to develop computerized sensors capable of detecting a person’s level of “malintent” — or intention to do harm. It’s only the most recent of numerous contracts awarded to Draper and assorted research outfits by the U.S. government over the past few years under the auspices of a project called “Future Attribute Screening Technologies,” or FAST. It’s the next wave of behavior surveillance from DHS and taxpayers have paid some $20 million on it so far.

Conceived as a cutting-edge counter-terrorism tool, the FAST program will ostensibly detect subjects’ bad intentions by monitoring their physiological characteristics, particularly those associated with fear and anxiety. It’s part of a broader “initiative to develop innovative, non-invasive technologies to screen people at security checkpoints,” according to DHS.

The “non-invasive” claim might be a bit of a stretch. A DHS report issued last December outlined some of the possible technological features of FAST, which include “a remote cardiovascular and respiratory sensor” to measure “heart rate, heart rate variability, respiration rate, and respiratory sinus arrhythmia,” a “remote eye tracker” that “uses a camera and processing software to track the position and gaze of the eyes (and, in some instances, the entire head),” “thermal cameras that provide detailed information on the changes in the thermal properties of the skin in the face,” and “a high resolution video that allows for highly detailed images of the face and body … and an audio system for analyzing human voice for pitch change.”

Ultimately, all of these components would be combined to take the form of a “prototypical mobile suite (FAST M2) … used to increase the accuracy and validity of identifying persons with malintent.”

Coupled with the Transportation Security Administration’s Behavior Detection Officers, 3,000 of whom are already scrutinizing travelers’ expressions and body language at airports and travel hubs nationwide, DHS officials say that FAST will add a potentially lifesaving layer of security to prevent another terrorist attack. “There’s only so much you can see with the naked eye,” DHS spokesperson John Verrico told AlterNet. “We can’t see somebody’s heart rate…. We may be able to see movements of the eye and changes in dilation of the pupil, but will those give us enough [information] to make a determination as to what we’re really seeing?”

Ideally, Verrico says, FAST mobile units would be used for security, not just at airports, but at “any sort of a large-scale event,” including sporting events or political rallies. (“When the Pope visited Washington D.C.,” he says, “it would have been nice to have something like this at the entrance of the stadium.”)

“Basically,” says Verrico, “we’re looking to give the security folks just some more tools that will help to add to their toolbox.”

If you think eye scanners and thermal cameras sound like the twisted props of some Orwellian dystopia, you’re not alone. FAST may be years from being operational, but civil libertarians have already raised concerns over its implications.

“We think that you have an inherent privacy right to your bodily metabolic functions,” Jay Stanley, director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty program told AlterNet. “Just because somebody can build some high-tech piece of equipment that can detect your pulse and perspiration and breathing and heart rate, that doesn’t mean that it should be open season to detect that on anybody without suspicion.”

Besides, he says, the FAST program is based on “the same old pseudo-scientific baloney that we’ve seen in so many other areas. As far as I can tell, there’s very little science that establishes the efficacy of this kind of thing. And there probably never will be.”

Bruce Schneier, a security technologist and bestselling author who has been one of the most vociferous critics of such new high-tech DHS initiatives, concurs. In fact, he says, all the evidence suggests the opposite. “The problem is the false positives,” he says.

Beyond the fact that ordinary travelers are likely to exhibit many of the symptoms supposedly indicative of malintent (how many people run to catch a plane and end up overheated and out of breath?), compare the rarity of terrorist attacks with the millions of travelers who pass through a security checkpoint. Statistically, Schneier argues, it’s a fool’s errand. “If you run the math, you get several million false positives for every real attack you find. So it ends up being as useless as picking people randomly. If you’re going to spend money on something, you can spend money on dice — it’s cheaper. And equally as effective.”

‘The Theory of Malintent’

The FAST program, and others like it, have been in the works for a few years. In 2007, New Scientist reported on a DHS project called Project Hostile Intent, which “aims to identify facial expressions, gait, blood pressure, pulse and perspiration rates that are characteristic of hostility or the desire to deceive.” Under the purview of DHS’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA), the project would “include heart rate and breathing sensors, infrared light, laser, video, audio and eye tracking.”

According to New Scientist, “PHI got quietly under way on 9 July, when HSARPA issued a ‘request for information’ in which it asked security companies and U.S. government labs to suggest technologies that could be used to achieve the project’s aims. It hopes to test them at a handful of airports, borders and ports as early as 2010 and to deploy the system at all points of entry to the U.S. by 2012.”

Subsequent news reports have conflated Project Hostile Intent and FAST, claiming that the latter is the same program, under a new name. But Verrico says this is incorrect. They are two separate programs, both seeking to “find the things that we can’t see with the naked eye.”

FAST was inspired by what DHS officials refer to as the “Theory of Malintent.” Don’t bother Googling it; it seems to exist primarily in relation to FAST, apparently pioneered in the service of the program. According to Verrico, the theory was — and continues to be — developed by Dr. Dan Martin, an adviser to the program, who posits that one can identify specific physiological cues that are diagnostic of malintent. Currently, Verrico says, researchers are trying to devise an algorithm that can differentiate between people whose heart rate is up because they are, say, afraid of flying, and those who are potential terrorists about to carry out some sort of attack. Verrico says they are searching for the “combination of signs that will tell us the difference between somebody who’s just stressed or out of breath or overheated or whatever … and somebody who really is planning to do something nasty.” But can such (admittedly common) variables really be distilled into an equation and fed into a machine?

Stanley argues that it is misguided to pour so much faith into “this idea that everything can be reduced to machinery and numbers.” He says it shows naivete on the part of government officials about the limits of technology. He also blames it on “vendors pushing expensive new products.” In the search for the next cutting-edge counter-terrorism tool, DHS has thrown millions of dollars at scientists purporting to be developing the Next Big Thing in security technology. As private military contractors know, providing security equals big bucks.

“I’ve heard it called the ‘Security Industrial Complex,'” says Schneier. “There’s money to be made and there are people out there who are going to say it can be done. And, yeah, it’s techie and sexy and sounds good.”

Schneier, who travels around the world speaking about the intersection of security and technology, says this has been especially true since 2001. “After 9/11 the money faucets turned on. And anybody with any half-baked security idea got funded.”

Technology v. Fourth Amendment

It will probably be years before FAST is implemented. “It’s sort of at the ‘gee whiz’ stage,” says Stanley. The technology has only been tested using human subjects twice; once last year, at the Prince George’s County Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, MD, and another time this summer at Draper Labs.

According to Verrico, the demonstrations were partly intended to test the theories behind FAST, “but were mostly done to demonstrate the system to government observers and the media.”

“We can’t go into too much detail on the laboratory protocol,” he says, “but basically, participants were told they were going to attend a special event. Some of them were asked to create some sort of disturbance. As they were entering the facility, they were asked a series of questions while being observed by the various sensors. The earlier tests were done to determine whether the sensors could detect the physiological signs we were looking for and to validate their accuracy. For example, some people wore contact heart monitors and readings were compared to those picked up by the remote sensor.”

Verrico is quick to clarify that none of the study’s participants had their personal data stored; last December DHS issued an official Privacy Impact Statement asserting that subjects would have their privacy vigorously protected.

As for broader privacy concerns about the program itself, Verrico denies there’s a problem. “We’re not X-raying you,” he says. Besides, “these are things that you are already presenting. Your body temperature is what it is. The fluctuations on your skin are what they are. Your heart rate is what it is. All we’re doing is trying to see it a little better.”

But when similar logic was presented to the Supreme Court, in Kyllo v. United States a few years back, the justices were unconvinced that this was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment. In that case, federal agents used a thermal imaging device in order to detect an unusual level of heat emanating from the home of an Oregon man named Danny Lee Kyllo. According to authorities, there was an unusually high level of heat radiating from Kyllo’s garage, as compared with the rest of the house, suggesting that there were high-intensity lamps inside, of the type used to grow marijuana. On these grounds, federal agents searched the house, uncovering more than 100 marijuana plants; a crime for which Kyllo was subsequently convicted. Kyllo’s appeal reached the Supreme Court, and in 2001, the justices ruled 5 to 4 in his favor.

“It would be foolish to contend that the degree of privacy secured to citizens by the Fourth Amendment has been entirely unaffected by the advance of technology,” Judge Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority. “The question we confront today is what limits there are upon this power of technology to shrink the realm of guaranteed privacy.”

‘We Don’t Live in a Police State’

Existing precursors to FAST, like the TSA’s SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Technique) program, have so far had pretty dismal results. As I reported last month, in 2008 alone, TSA’s Behavior Detection Officers across the country pulled 98,805 passengers aside for additional screenings, out of whom only 813 were eventually arrested. SPOT’s defenders argue that at least this means we are catching “bad guys” — as Dr. Paul Ekman, who helped pioneer the program told AlterNet, “I would think that the American public would not feel badly that they are catching money or drug smugglers, or wanted felons for serious crimes” — but Bruce Schneier calls this “ridiculous.”

“I can just invent a program where I arrest one in every ten people in the street,” he says. “I guarantee you I’m gonna catch bad guys. I mean, shoot, how about we arrest everybody whose name starts with G?”

“We don’t live in a police state,” says Schneier, “so be careful of the logic, ‘Well, you know, we catch some bad guys.'”

Jay Stanley hopes the FAST machinery will never get off the ground. “But it’s possible that this kind of thing could be perceived as blunderingly effective, even though it’s violating privacy rights and it could catch people who are nervous for other reasons,” he warns. “The authorities could push to expand it and that’s a very troublesome notion. I think that only concerned citizens making their voices heard could stop it if things turn out this way.”

“I think maybe we need more English majors in the Department of Homeland Security,” he jokes, “because each person is like a walking War and Peace: We all have complicated lives that could be written into thousand-page novels. The idea that somebody could take a snapshot of our breathing rate and decide that, of all the possible sources of human stress and excitement, that it is a terrorist attack we’re plotting is simply absurd.”

Liliana Segura is an AlterNet staff writer and editor of Rights & Liberties and World Special Coverage.

The US government has agreed to pay more than $3bn to settle a long-standing lawsuit over the management of native American land.
If cleared by congress and a federal judge, it would be the largest such claim ever approved, creating an important step for reconciliation.
Kimberly Halkett reports.
Source: Al Jazeera

Dr Anthony Mbah

Dr Anthony Mbah is planning another mass burial soon

A Nigerian hospital has told the BBC it is overwhelmed by the number of corpses being brought to them by police.

The Chief Medical Director at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital in Enugu says his staff are being forced to carry out mass burials.

The BBC has established that at least seven people were last seen alive in police custody, accused of kidnapping.

Enugu State Police Commissioner Mohamed Zarewa told the BBC he was too busy to talk about their case.

This boy was not an armed robber. He was never a thief, much less an armed robber
Chief Dennis Onovo

Nigeria’s police have faced strong criticism from human rights groups for carrying out extrajudicial and arbitrary killings.

Amnesty international is presenting the results of a three-year investigation on Wednesday, in which they will describe the level of police killings as shocking.

The BBC has visited the morgue and taken photographs. The images are disturbing.

They show piles of young men, lying on top of one another and strewn about on tables and floors.

In places the corpses are stacked four or five deep.

Officers killed

Records show 75 corpses were delivered to the morgue by police between June and 26 November this year.

Some of the dead bodies in the morgue

Some of the bodies were piled on top of each other

The Chief Medical Director of the hospital, Dr Anthony Mbah, says his staff were forced to carry out a mass burial of between 70 and 80 bodies some weeks ago.

He says that another mass burial is planned to take place soon.

Seven of those in the morgue were arrested, accused of kidnapping, and paraded alive in front of the media in early September.

But their names appear in the morgue register – on 15 and 16 of September.

Police Commissioner Zarewa told the BBC he was unaware of the number of young men lying dead in the morgue.

He says his officers are forced to engage armed robbers in gunfights and that many police officers are also killed.

He insists that his police force operate within the law.



Bombs go off in quick succession across Iraqi capital, wounding more than 190 people

Iraq today suffered one of its worst days of violence this year as insurgents struck government buildings in Baghdad, killing at least 112 people and injuring up to 197.The explosions happened within minutes of each other, with police saying there could have been as many as four or five. Insurgents, who included suicide bombers, detonated powerful explosives near the labour ministry building, a court complex near the Iraqi-protected Green Zone and the new site of the finance ministry after its previous building was destroyed in attacks in August.

An interior ministry official said at least 99 people were killed and 192 injured in those three assaults.

“We had entered a shop seconds before the blast, the ceiling caved in on us, and we lost consciousness. Then I heard screams and sirens all around,” Mohammed Abdul Ridha, one of the 197 wounded in the blasts, told Reuters.

About an hour before those blasts, a suicide car bomber struck a police patrol in the mostly Sunni district of Dora in southern Baghdad, killing at least three police officers and one civilian, and injuring five people.

The explosions underlined the precarious nature of security in Baghdad ahead of an auction of oilfield contracts at the weekend and with elections due in February. Iraqi and US military officials fear that insurgents will step up their attacks to weaken the authority of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, ahead of elections that are meant to showcase Iraq’s return to political stability.

Although violence has declined sharply recently – the health ministry last month reported the lowest monthly death toll of civilians in six and a half years – insurgents continue to target Iraqi security forces and civilians.

Today’s attacks are the deadliest in Baghdad since late October, when at least 155 people died in car bomb attacks outside municipal offices.

That attack, and a similar bombing in August, marked a change of tactics. Rather than frequent small-scale attacks against soft targets, such as markets or mosques, insurgent groups have recently carried out far more spectacular and lethal attacks against heavily defended government buildings.

Iraqi authorities blamed the October attacks on loyalists to Saddam Hussein’s banned Ba’athist party, and paraded on national television three suspects who gave what officials termed confessions. But there are questions over whether Iraqi leaders are seeking to divert attention from a possible resurgence of Sunni insurgency led by al-Qaida in Iraq. A rise in violence could undermine the government’s claims that it can provide security without the help of US troops.

On Sunday, Iraqi MPs approved plans to hold parliamentary elections early next year, seen as an important step towards political reconciliation and easing the withdrawal of US troops. The vote, during an emergency session, followed marathon talks to break an impasse over balloting provisions that would satisfy the country’s rival groups.

In an attack yesterday, at least eight people died in an explosion outside a primary school in a Shia district of Baghdad yesterday. Six children, aged between six and 12, were among the dead.

Source: © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009


US no business in the middle of Afghan civil war

Phyllis Bennis: Obama said that there was no military solution, but that’s all he’s really offering

Afghan war not about self-defence

Phyllis Bennis Pt2: Afghan people must fight the Taliban and the warlords, US occupation makes it worse


Phyllis Bennis is a Senior Analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC. She is the author of Before and After: US Foreign Policy and the September 11 Crisis , Challenging Empire: How People, Governments, and the UN Defy US Power. and Understanding the US-Iran Crisis: A Primer.


By David Goldstein | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — State labor officials on Monday urged Congress to renew emergency jobless benefits that have been available through economic stimulus funds, but are due to expire this month.

One million workers could lose their benefits in January without the extension, according to a new report on the stimulus act unemployment benefits, written by several labor advocacy groups.

“This is a lifeline,” said Jim Garner, the secretary of the Kansas Department of Labor.

Garner was one of eight state labor officials who appeared at a news conference alongside labor advocates. Though last week’s economic report showed hopeful signs, “We are facing a real catastrophe,” said Christine Owens, the executive director of the National Employment Law Project, one of the co-authors of the report.

Backers of renewing the stimulus act unemployment assistance said it helped families pay for mortgages and other bills and kept money circulating into the economy.

“We stop now, we risk stalling the nascent recovery,” said Heather Boushey, an economist with the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy organization and a co-author of the report.

The unemployment rate dropped slightly last week, to 10 percent, but more than 15 million people remain out of work.

Basic unemployment insurance provides up to 26 weeks of benefits at an average rate of about $284 a week.

The stimulus added as much as a year’s worth of extended aid, depending upon a state’s unemployment rate. It also provided an additional $25 boost in weekly assistance, a health insurance subsidy and a break on federal income taxes. Renewing the programs would cost about $100 billion.

State labor officials and others said they’re hopeful that Congress will act. Though the Senate is bogged down on health care, Congress still must pass an omnibus spending bill to fund the government, which could provide a vehicle for the extended benefits renewal, they said.

Without the extension, nearly 20,000 jobless workers in Missouri, for instance, whose basic unemployment benefits run out this month, would enter 2010 without extended assistance, according to the report.

Kansas, however, would be one of a dozen states forced to dip into their coffers to maintain some extended benefits.

That’s because they signed onto an optional federal program, separate from the stimulus act, for states with high unemployment where the federal and state governments equally shared the costs of extending unemployment benefits.

Under the stimulus program, though, the federal government paid the entire cost. If that money is no longer available, Kansas would still be obligated to pay its share.

Workers exhausting regular state benefits

State ……………. No. of workers

Alabama ………….. 15,539

Alaska …………… 0

Arizona ………….. 38,417

Arkansas …………. 12,213

California ……….. 233,464

Colorado …………. 25,308

Connecticut ………. 0

Delaware …………. 3,928

District of Columbia . 5,794

Florida ………….. 117,324

Georgia ………….. 52,618

Hawaii …………… 5,125

Idaho ……………. 7,563

Illinois …………. 66,217

Indiana ………….. 39,685

Iowa …………….. 10,716

Kansas …………… 0

Kentucky …………. 13,252

Louisiana ………… 13,330

Maine ……………. 4,119

Maryland …………. 18,600

Massachusetts …….. 40,819

Michigan …………. 49,331

Minnesota ………… 0

Mississippi ………. 9,518

Missouri …………. 19,620

Montana ………….. 2,591

Nebraska …………. 6,732

Nevada …………… 0

New Hampshire …….. 0

New Jersey ……….. 0

New Mexico ……….. 0

New York …………. 87,093

North Carolina ……. 0

North Dakota ……… 1,416

Ohio …………….. 40,371

Oklahoma …………. 11,257

Oregon …………… 0

Pennsylvania ……… 0

Rhode Island ……… 0

South Carolina ……. 27,223

South Dakota ……… 541

Tennessee ………… 28,115

Texas ……………. 86,640

Utah …………….. 9,402

Vermont ………….. 0

Virginia …………. 24,195

Washington ……….. 0

West Virginia …….. 4,289

Wisconsin ………… 29,319

Wyoming ………….. 2,645

United States …….. 1,164,330

States with “0” workers listed in the table above have the Extended Benefits program in place, which is funded 50 percent by the states after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expires

Source: National Employment Law Project


Expiring insurance subsidy imperils laid-off Americans

What can you do about high credit card rates? Not much

Economy’s plunge forcing more kids into school lunch plans

One industry that’s booming: debt collection

Follow the latest politics news at McClatchy’s Planet Washington

Source: McClatchy Newspapers 2009

By Maria Armental

Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE — Two city police officers have been put on administrative duty as the department investigates a reported beating of an unarmed suspect on Oct. 20, Chief Dean M. Esserman announced Monday evening.

The statement — released by e-mail from Mayor David N. Cicilline’s spokeswoman — does not name the officers.

But lawyer Alberto Aponte Cardona, who represents 20-year-old Luis Mendonca of Pawtucket, has said the officer who struck Mendonca repeatedly is Detective Robert R. DeCarlo.

Aponte Cardona said he welcomed the news but would like to see more done.

“It’s our position that a crime was committed and administrative [duty] is just not enough,” he said, adding, “What we really want to see is criminal action taken.”

“If it was the other way around, the kid would be looking at some severe charges,” he said.

The incident — which was caught on a surveillance video — remains under investigation by the Providence police internal affairs unit and the state attorney general’s office.

Aponte Cardona said a copy of the video was also forwarded to the FBI.

A spokeswoman for the FBI said she was aware of the incident, but could not confirm or deny if the federal agency was investigating civil-rights violations.

Esserman declined further comment.

According to testimony in District Court, Providence, Mendonca was stopped by the Rhode Island School of Design police at about 7:20 p.m. near Hemenway’s Restaurant on South Main Street after a report of an attempted trespass at a university dormitory at 15 Westminster St.

The university police officers said Mendonca resisted arrest and assaulted the two officers. He was sentenced Friday to one year of probation and one year suspended on each of the simple-assault charges.

He was also sentenced to 90 days in jail for violating probation on an unrelated shoplifting conviction.

The resisting-arrest charge was dropped.

The surveillance video, which has no sound, shows an apparently unarmed and handcuffed Mendonca being dragged from under a car into the center of a parking lot off Benefit Street on the city’s East Side by a group of police officers, including the Providence officers who had responded to the scene.

Mendonca is then seen being kicked and beaten with a flashlight.

The officers are then seen dragging him up a flight of stairs leading to Benefit Street.


By Neil Downing

Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE –– Two young men were shot to death on a downtown street early Sunday morning and the brother of one of the victims was critically wounded, the police said.

The shootings occurred at about 2:30 a.m. on Dorrance Street in front of the J. Joseph Garrahy Judicial Complex.

All three victims were from Boston, said Providence Police Chief Dean M. Esserman.

Providence police Detective Capt. James Desmarais identified the dead as Domingo Ortiz, 21, of Boston’s Dorchester section, and David Thomas, 22, from Boston’s Mattapan section, an Army private on leave from Georgia.

The survivor, Dwaynne Thomas, 18, of Boston’s Mattapan section, brother of David Thomas, was wounded and taken to Rhode Island Hospital, where he underwent surgery and was listed in critical condition as of midday, Desmarais said.

Later in the day, Esserman said Thomas was conscious though sedated. “I talked to him and to his father,” Esserman said.

Esserman also contacted the Boston Police Department. That agency sent detectives to Providence Sunday, where they worked throughout the day “in support of the Providence police investigation,” Esserman said.

As of late Sunday afternoon, no arrests had been made. Further details of the shooting were not disclosed, though Esserman said, “We think we have a . . . good handle” on what happened.

Responding to a 911 distress call, the police found a car — a Mazda 6 — on Dorrance Street that had been “fired into,” Desmarais said.

The car was in front of the courthouse, between Friendship and Clifford Streets, pointed south, toward Allens Avenue, he said.

Inside the car, the police found two men — later identified as Ortiz and David Thomas — who had suffered gunshot wounds, Desmarais said. They were pronounced dead at the scene, he said.

The police found a third young man, later identified as Dwaynne Thomas, outside the car. He, too, had been shot.

All three were in the car when the vehicle was fired upon, Desmarais said.

Dwaynne Thomas, though wounded, managed to leave the vehicle and approach a nearby car to ask for help, Desmarais said.

On sidewalks and at other locations in front of the courthouse Sunday afternoon, lengths of yellow police tape marked where the shooting occurred.

Desmarais declined to say what might have sparked the shooting, but he said it was not gang-related. “There’s no indication of anything gang-wise whatsoever,” he said.

The shooting occurred just after a number of nightclubs in the neighborhood were closing up, Desmarais said.

The victims were “probably” in Providence to visit one or more clubs, Desmarais said, but he declined to elaborate.

Some people who were in the area of the shooting when it occurred “are being questioned,” Desmarais said.

He declined to provide other details of the shooting.

The car was registered in Georgia, Desmarais said.

Asked whether any of the victims had a criminal record, Desmarais replied, “One subject has had contact” with police in Massachusetts. He declined to elaborate.

Esserman said he was at the scene of the shooting in the early hours, and briefed Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline about the case several times throughout the day. Esserman said he also worked with detectives and met with victims’ family members later in the day.

The two deaths represented the city’s 19th and 20th homicides so far this year.

Desmarais said that anyone with information about the shooting should call the Providence police at (401) 243-6406.


The summit began with a filmed plea from children, and a welcome from Denmark’s PM

Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen has described the UN climate summit in Copenhagen as an “opportunity the world cannot afford to miss”.

Opening the two-week conference in the Danish capital, he told delegates from 192 countries a “strong and ambitious climate change agreement” was needed.

About 100 leaders are to attend the meeting, which is intended to supplant the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

The UN says an unprecedented number of countries have promised emissions cuts.

Richard Black
Richard Black, BBC environment correspondent

Even before the talks officially opened, fault lines between the various blocs here appeared to be widening.

Although UN climate convention head Yvo de Boer said things were in “excellent shape”, with more countries than ever before proposing emission cuts, two big questions hang over these proposals: will they be acceptable to the developing world, and are they enough to prevent “dangerous” climate change?

At this stage, the answers appear to be “no” and “maybe”. The UN Environment Programme calculates that cuts on the table are nearly enough if every country turns its most ambitious pledges into action.

But other analyses suggest there is still a significant gap between what scientists say is necessary and what is on offer politically.

That is of great concern to governments that feel themselves on the “front line” of climate impacts.

Mr Rasmussen told delegates that the world was looking to the conference to safeguard humanity.

“For the next two weeks,” he said, “Copenhagen will be Hopenhagen. By the end, we must be able to deliver back to the world what was granted us here today: hope for a better future.”

Later, Rajendra Pachauri, who heads the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), criticised the “climategate” affair – the recent publication of e-mails among scientists assessing global warming at Britain’s University of East Anglia.

He said the breaches showed “that some would go to the extent of carrying out illegal acts, perhaps in an attempt to discredit the IPCC”.

On Sunday, UN climate convention head Yvo de Boer expressed optimism about cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

“Never in 17 years of climate negotiations have so many different countries made so many pledges,” he told the BBC.

Tougher targets?

Mr de Boer said offers of finance for clean technology for poor countries were also coming through and that talks were progressing on a long-term vision of massive carbon cuts by 2050.

At the deal’s heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world
Jointly written editorial in 56 newspapers in 45 countries

On Monday, South Africa became the latest country to make an offer – saying it would cut by one-third the growth of its carbon emissions over the next decade, subject to getting more funding and technological help from wealthier countries.

In July, the G8 bloc of industrialised countries and some major developing countries adopted a target of keeping the global average temperature rise since pre-industrial times to 2C.

However now the G77/China bloc – which speaks on behalf of developing countries – is discussing whether to demand a much tougher target of 1.5C

Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC chairman: “These e-mails don’t change anything”

A number of African delegations are backing the argument made by small island states that 2C will bring major impacts to their countries.

BBC environment correspondent Richard Black says this would raise a huge obstacle, because none of the industrialised countries have put forward emission cuts in the range that would be required to meet a 1.5C target.

The African Union has said industrialised countries must help poor ones pay for the transition to cleaner economies – and has threatened to walk out of the talks if it does not get what it wants.

Tougher targets?

Meanwhile, a new poll commissioned by the BBC suggests that public concern over climate change is growing across the world.

In the survey, by Globescan, 64% of people questioned said that they considered global warming a very serious problem – up 20% from a 1998 poll.

Begin 7 December
To discuss emissions targets and financial measures to combat climate change
Hard bargaining expected in last days of meeting
Due to end 18 December

To stress the importance of the summit, 56 newspapers in 45 countries are publishing the same editorial on Monday, warning that climate change will “ravage our planet” unless action is agreed, the London-based Guardian reported.

The editorial – to be published in 20 languages – has been thrashed out by editors ahead of the Copenhagen talks, the newspaper said.

“At the deal’s heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world,” the editorial says.

Environmental activists are planning to hold protests in Copenhagen and around the world on 12 December to encourage delegates to reach the strongest possible deal.


Any agreement made at Copenhagen is intended to supplant the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which expires in 2012.

World leaders who have pledged to attend include US President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The main areas for discussion include:

  • Targets to curb greenhouse gas emissions, in particular by developed countries
  • Financial support for mitigation of and adaptation to climate change by developing countries
  • A carbon trading scheme aimed at ending the destruction of the world’s forests by 2030

Outlining his ambitions for the summit, Mr de Boer said: “I think what we will see coming out of Copenhagen is a package of decisions that define a long-term goal.

“Then, first of all, what will rich countries do to reduce their emissions. Secondly, what will major developing countries do to limit the growth of their emissions and thirdly prompt finance that will allow developing countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change.”


The remaining money could be put into a jobs scheme to tackle unemployment [EPA]

The second instalment of the United States’ bank rescue programme is going to cost $200bn less than first estimated, a treasury official has said.

The official’s comments, reported on Monday, mean the administration believes the cost of the bailout’s final stage will be at most $141bn, sharply down from its August estimate of $341bn.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the new projection has not yet been presented to congress, said the reduced estimate reflected faster repayments by big banks and less spending on some of the programmes.

Barack Obama, the US president, is expected to raise the idea of using the repaid funds for a jobs programme aimed at tackling the high unemployment in the US.

Deficit fears

That idea is likely to run into opposition from Republicans, many of whom are opposed to spending the remaining funds on a jobs bill and would rather see it used to lessen the budget deficit.

The deficit for the 2009 budget year, which ended in September, hit a record $1.4 trillion and the administration has projected a slightly higher deficit for the current year.

The US congress authorised $700bn for the financial rescue programme, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Programme (TARP) in October 2008, at the height of the worst financial crisis to hit the country since the 1930s.

The first $350bn were released on in October, 2008, and congress voted to approve the release of the final $350bn in January this year.

Banks have already repaid about $70bn in support they have received from the bailout fund, and Bank of America recently announced it was returning the $45bn in government support it had received.

Source: Agencies

Lawrence Wilkerson: Obama’s campaign rhetoric and his generals put him in a corner on Afghanistan


Lawrence Wilkerson is a retired United States Army soldier and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson is an adjunct professor at the College of William & Mary where he teaches courses on US national security. He also instructs a senior seminar in the Honors Department at the George Washington University entitled “National Security Decision Making.”


Why women have signed onto marijuana reform — and why they could be the movement’s game-changers.

In September, ladymag Marieclaire ruffled some feathers when it published a piece about women who smoke weed. But its most interesting effect was not the “marijuana moms” chatter it unleashed, and instead the fact that it brought to the mainstream media a more open discussion of the fact that women can be avid tokers, too.

Public acceptance of pot is at an all-time high, and the fact that women have drastically changed their attitudes may be what is most fascinating about the sea change in public opinion — and policy — regarding marijuana. In 2005, only 32 percent of polled women told Gallup they approved legalizing pot, but this year 44 percent of them were for it, compared to 45 percent of men. In effect, women have narrowed what had been a 12-point gender gap.

Women are also smoking more weed. The most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that current marijuana use increased from 3.8 to 4.5 percent among women, while there was no significant statistical change for men.

Indeed, it appears the growing acceptance of marijuana is fueled by women having joined the movement for reform.

Women “can reach people’s hearts and minds,” says Mikki Norris, co-author of Shattered Lives: Portraits from America’s Drug War, managing editor of the West Coast Leaf, and director of the Cannabis Consumers Campaign. “I think we can really take it from the third- to the first-person, and make it personal.”

Norris, who’s participated in numerous successful marijuana campaigns, may be onto something. If pro-weed women are a new momentum behind the normalization of marijuana, they may also become the driving force behind game-changing drug reform.

If that’s the case, then it’s worth examining why some women have signed onto the marijuana reform movement — because it may soon be why many others will as well.

‘A bigger amygdala’

The avenue through which women have been foremost leaders in the movement is medical marijuana advocacy.

There are currently 13 states that have legalized medical marijuana use and at least 14 other states with pending legislation or ballot measures. In California, where cannabis has been legalized for medical use since 1996, a Field poll found 56 percent support for adult legalization — and the matter may very well make its way onto the 2010 ballot.

Every woman I spoke to referenced cannabis’ medicinal properties as a major reason they are so personally impassioned by the marijuana reform debate.

One of these is Valerie Corral, dubbed “the Mother Teresa of the medical marijuana movement,” by Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Corral was introduced to the medical benefits of marijuana in 1973, when she was the victim of a car crash that left her an epileptic. At one point, while on pharmaceuticals, she was having up to five seizures each day.

In 1974, her husband read an article in a medical journal that described how positively rats had reacted to cannabis when treated for certain ailments. Soon thereafter, Corral started applying a strict regimen of marijuana, and kept a catalog of its effects.

“Within a few weeks, I noticed change,” Corral said. And over time, she was able to control seizure activity in a way that allowed her to wean herself off the prescription drugs. To this day she does not take anything other than marijuana for her epilepsy.

Not only did medical marijuana change Corral’s quality of life, it changed its course. She went on to found Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), a patient collective based in Santa Cruz, Calif. that offers organic medical marijuana and assistance to those who have received a terminal or chronic illness diagnosis.

WAMM currently serves about 170 patients. When I spoke to Corral, she was late to hit the road for her Thanksgiving holiday. She had spent the morning with a patient who was anxious about his radiation therapy. She then spent the afternoon delivering’ marijuana before counseling — “and learning from” — terminal patients.

While Corral knows first-hand the physical benefits of marijuana, she believes its most important effect is “the way it affects how we look at things that are difficult.”

“No matter what else happens to us,” Corral said, “the quality with which we live our lives is so important.”

Cheryl Shuman, a 49-year-old optician in Los Angeles, would agree. Up until she started using cannabis therapy to treat her cancer, she was on a daily regimen of 27 prescription drugs, attached to a mobile intravenous morphine pump, and undergoing constant CAT and MRI scans. In 2006, her doctors told her she’d be dead by the end of that year.

“I had to make a decision [regarding] which way I was going to go and quite frankly, I thought if I am going to die, I want to control how my life is going to be,” Shuman said, her voice breaking. “And the only side-effects were that I was happy and laughing.”

It turns out those may not have been the only effects of her cannabis therapy. Her cancer has been in remission for 18 months now — and that coincides precisely with the start of the marijuana treatment.

Shuman had previously used pot medicinally in 1994, when going through a harrowing divorce. Up to 80 milligrams of Prozac a day, coupled with multiple therapy sessions a week, did not help her get over the sense that she could barely make it through each day.

During one session, she says, “my therapist said, ‘I could lose my license, but I think what would help you more than anything is just smoking a joint.’ I didn’t know how to respond! I said I couldn’t do that — I don’t drink, I’ve never even smoked a cigarette!”

But after researching medical marijuana and realizing that cannabis had been available in pharmacies until the early 20th century, Shuman acquiesced and tried a joint. At 36 — after learning to inhale — Shuman says she found she “finally had some peace.”

This year, Shuman became the founding director of Beverly Hills’ National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) chapter — and she hopes to attract women to the cause.

Corral, for her part, acknowledges that the role she fills within the marijuana movement is one that fits the traditional female archetype. “Maybe it’s because we have a bigger amygdala,” she laughs, referring to the part of the brain that processes emotions. “It probably is!”

Debby Goldsberry, director of the Berkeley Patients Group, a medical marijuana dispensary, feels similarly: “It’s our job in our families and in our circles of friends to be caregivers. It makes sense that women would gravitate to cannabis.”

In a recent study of a sample of patient reviews at a chain of medical marijuana assessment clinics in California, Craig Reinarman, a sociology professor at UC-Santa Cruz, found that only 27.1 percent of the patients were female. Another study, conducted on a sample of patients at Goldsberry’s Berkeley dispensary, found that 30.7 percent of those patients were women.

Those numbers are close to the general expert estimate that women constitute about a third of marijuana consumers.

Mainstream myth-busting

Since more women are smoking weed, it’s no surprise there has finally been an onslaught of girl stoner coverage in the corporate media.

It probably started with “Weeds” — a Showtime series about a bodacious soccer mom who deals and smokes pot — which is now readying for its sixth season premiere. But the big dam opener this year was the aforementioned publication of the Marieclaire article, “Stiletto Stoners,” which paints the portrait of a whole class of “card-carrying, type A workaholics who just happen to prefer kicking back with a blunt instead of a bottle.”

Julie Holland, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine, has been called onto NBC’s Today Show twice now to explain why women are gravitating towards weed.

During one of her appearances, Holland seemingly shocks the hosts by telling them that 100 million Americans have tried weed — 25 million of them over the past year. The most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that 10.6 million women used marijuana in 2008.

Also surprising to the TV hosts was Holland’s assertion that marijuana is the least addictive substance among many. According to a 1999 Institute of Medicine report, the rate at which people who try a substance and go on to become addicted is 32 percent for nicotine, 23 percent for heroin, 17 percent for cocaine, 15 percent for alcohol, and 9 percent for cannabis.

“Look at what the choices are. Cannabis isn’t toxic to your brain, to your liver, it doesn’t cause cancer, you can’t overdose, and there’s no evidence that it’s a gateway drug,” Holland said. “I believe that the majority of adults can healthfully integrate altered states into their lives, and it makes sense to do it with the least toxic substance you can. ”

The public seems to agree.

Societal mores around marijuana are at their most progressive in at least 40 years, when Gallup first started asking Americans whether they believed marijuana ought be legalized. This year, 44 percent of those polled — up from 36 percent in 2005 — said they are in favor of legalization. A May Zogby poll found marijuana legalization was even more popular with its respondents, at 52 percent.

Harry Levine, professor of sociology at Queens College and co-author of Crack in America: Demon Drugs and Social Justice, attributes a lot of the mainstreaming of progressive views on pot to the medical marijuana movement.

“What it has done is change the image of marijuana from this tie-dye 1960s hippie-dippy kind of thing to a real drug, a real substance that has medical uses,” he said. “You can separate it from the scary image of drugs.”

Why do girls smoke?

As weed is no longer considered by the public to be a “hard drug,” three presidents — 41, 42, and 43 — have admitted to smoking marijuana. “The whole association of failure and dropouts [with marijuana] has been smashed in an important kind of way,” Levine says.

In other words, you can smoke pot and be successful. Look at Natalie Angier, for example. In her book Woman: Intimate Geography, this Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer interjects a personal note of — and case for — female empowerment through weed:

All the women in my immediate family learned how to climax by smoking grass — my mother when she was over thirty and already the mother of four. Yet I have never seen anorgasmia on the list of indications for the medical use of marijuana. Instead we are told that some women don’t need to have orgasms to have a satisfying sex life, an argument as convincing as the insistence that homeless people like living outdoors.

As Angier writes, alcohol is a “global depressant of the nervous system” so marijuana can be a woman’s best friend. In that vein, Holland has clinically observed that many of her female patients choose marijuana over alcohol — for all kinds of social situations — because it makes them “more present instead of absent.”

“You can relax but not be incapacitated. You can keep your wits about you and protect yourself,” Holland told me, adding that women don’t always tolerate alcohol the way men do.

Diana, 37, a published writer in Madison is one such woman. She uses marijuana as a social lubricant: “If I drink, I know I’ll be throwing up by night’s end, even if it’s only a couple of beers. But with weed, I know I can make it to closing time — and keep up with all the steely-stomached drinkers.”

Paloma, 25, a Bay Area union organizer, told me she smokes weed two to three times a week to “relax, sleep, work on arts and crafts or clean the house and cook” without being distracted by what she calls her “explosive” attention deficit disorder.

A few women smokers said they did not initially like the effects marijuana had on them. Tessa, 29, a doctoral student in Portland, said, she didn’t enjoy weed in college “because I would not be able to do anything besides be high and stupid. Now I know to smoke less — maybe a hit or two — and then relax on that.”

What a lot of women like Tessa don’t know is that there are several kinds of weed that have different effects on the mind and body. Women who live in places where marijuana can be purchased at dispensaries are often more attuned to the fact that cannabis sativa gives a euphoric head high while cannabis indica results in a lazy body high. And then there are hybrids — the equivalent to blends in wine culture.

Ally, 34, an architect and mother in San Francisco, sees weed as similar to vino: “Smoking a joint and taking a bath is what drinking a glass of wine and taking a bath was to my mom,” she says, balancing a baby on her knee. “It’s ‘me’ time!”

Think of the children!

The acceptance of pot has led to discussion of how marijuana reform might positively impact families and children. This may change the debate because family values have long been employed by drug warriors as reasoning for why weed ought remain criminalized.

Enter Jessica Corry, a pro-life Republican from Denver. A mother of girls aged two and four, this 30-year-old newly-minted lawyer is widely hailed as a rising star in Colorado politics. She is currently working on her first book, which she described to me as an “analysis of how race consciousness and political correctness are silencing America’s students and our entrepreneurial spirit.”

A real conservative. Yet she is also one of the most outspoken proponents of marijuana legalization.

In 2006, she started a group called Guarding Our Children Against Marijuana Prohibition, which supported a statewide initiative to legalize marijuana.

“I had high-ranking Republicans politely encouraging me to write my political eulogy,” Corry said. “Fortunately, they were wrong. While the initiative failed, it garnered more general election support than that year’s Republican candidate for governor.”

Corry doesn’t smoke pot — though she is open about past use. “As a mother,” she says, “I’m far more concerned about my kids having access to a medicine cabinet than having access to a joint or a liquor cabinet. Marijuana, when consumed independently, has never been linked to a single death.”

Mothers like Corry are drawn to marijuana regulation as part of a larger appeal that encourages the use of harm reduction to more pragmatically deal with substance abuse. Examples of harm reduction include providing designated drivers for drinkers and clean needles for heroin addicts.

Concerned moms may be moved to action by studies such as the Teen Survey, conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia. This year, there was a 37 percent increase in teens who said pot is easier to buy than cigarettes, beer or prescription drugs. Nearly one-quarter said they can get weed within the hour.

Those stats matter to women. In light of this, children and family will be included in the mission statement of the Women’s Alliance, a group NORML will launch next year. The coordinator, Sabrina Fendrick, plans to include mention of how current marijuana policy undermines the American family and sends mixed messages to young people.

An economic savior?

The harm reduction approach extends itself from families and children to our ailing economy. With the largest economic recession since the Great Depression firmly in place, more people see the benefits of taxing and regulating marijuana for adults.

Economist Jeffrey Miron has calculated that, assuming a national market of about $13 billion annually, legalization would reap state and federal governments about $7 billion each year in extra tax revenues and save about $13.5 billion in law enforcement costs.

This kind of math attracts libertarian support, ranging from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California who recently called for an open discussion on legalization, to Rep. Ron Paul, a physician and Republican congressman from Texas, who has long advocated it.

The problem with a fiscal approach, however, might be that it could have more traction as a top-down rather than a bottom-up movement. Deborah Small, a drug reform veteran and founder of Break the Chains, a group that engages communities of color around drug reform policy, believes the reason the medical marijuana movement has been so successful is that its female leaders have made it a “real grassroots movement.”

“Male-dominated libertarian philosophy and money has dominated” the general marijuana reform movement, Small says, and “there’s a struggle in this next stage to see whether the movement will be driven by people with a lot of money or people on the ground — or if they can agree to work together.”

Perhaps male drug reform leaders can learn from the ladies. Jessica Corry, the GOP mom from Denver, turns the economic discussion back to the home: “It’s generational child abuse to waste billions of dollars every year on marijuana prohibition.”

Mikki Norris, the California marijuana activist, observed gender-specific focus groups in Oakland on Measure Z, a 2004 ballot initiative that ultimately succeeded in making marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority. She heard the women’s group speaking on behalf of their children — “they wanted money for their kids’ education and they didn’t want kids arrested for pot.” Men, on the other hand, were more worried about children getting involved with drugs, she told me.

Norris said, “I just think women have a better grasp of home economics,” or what’s really important in a family.

Today’s economic climate lends itself to easy parallels with the fight to repeal Prohibition in the 1920s, which was also framed as a family issue. Harry Levine, the sociologist, reminded me of Pauline Sabin, a high-society Chicago feminist who organized women in the fight to repeal the 18th Amendment.

“Sabin said that because of the violence, the corruption, the bootleggers, and all the resulting lost tax revenue, that alcohol undermined the home and therefore women should speak out for themselves and children,” Levine said.

Many point to the moment when women joined the fight against Prohibition as the tipping point for the ultimate success of the movement.

Women as a new force

The women in the marijuana reform movement have different reasons for trumpeting policy change. Some see cannabis as a medicinal wonder drug, others see tangible — and sensible — socio-economic benefits to taxing and regulating it.

Trends indicate that as more states legalize the use of cannabis for medical purposes, more people will discover first-hand that legalization of marijuana does not equate with anarchy and instead with more effective control of a substance so readily available to Americans — and American kids — across the country.

And as Californians may next year, Americans will soon be exposed to the choice between regulating marijuana for adult use or continuing a failed drug war that incarcerates 850,000 people a year — tearing apart families, ruining futures, and siphoning from public funds that might otherwise benefit the next generation. All this for a relatively mild psychotropic that at least a third of us has tried.

As the recession continues to unravel communities across the country, the economic incentive to end this drug war will affect the opinions of many who might never otherwise have considered legalization. The time may very well be now.

Similar to the prohibition of alcohol in the early twentieth century, what we have today is a federal policy that is at odds with public opinion. It is a policy without a plurality of citizen supporters.

And many women are at the vanguard of the movement that recognizes this and is fighting for change.


By Phil Marcelo and Amanda Milkovits
Journal staff writers

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Luis Mendonca, the Pawtucket man who is accusing a Providence police officer of brutality during his arrest two months ago, was found guilty of violating the terms of his probation on previous charges and sentenced to 90 days in prison, following a hearing in Sixth District Court on Friday.

Luis Mendonca, 20, held at the ACI since early November on assault charges, was sentenced Friday to 90 days in prison for violating his probation. He has lodged a brutality complaint against a Providence detective for assaulting him after an arrest. Providence Journal / Kathy Borchers

Video: Security-camera footage of Luis Mendonca allegedly being kicked by one officer as he is being arrested and led away by other officers last month.

Meanwhile, Providence Police Chief Dean M. Esserman said his department has forwarded the results of its own internal-affairs investigation to the Attorney General’s office regarding the detective’s use of force.

“The department takes the matter very seriously,” Esserman said.

In District Court Friday, Judge Elaine T. Bucci also sentenced Mendonca, upon completion of his prison term, to one year probation and a one year suspended sentence on two charges of simple assault.

According to police, Mendonca was arrested by the Providence police and charged with assaulting two RISD officers who had been chasing him because he was suspected of trying to get into the dormitories at RISD’s Mandle Building. He was chased behind the attorney general’s office and into a parking lot, where he tried hiding under a vehicle, according to a police report. After the arrest, he was taken to Rhode Island Hospital, where a spokeswoman said Mendonca remained until Oct. 22.

Mendonca’s lawyer, Alberto Aponte Cordona, says his client will appeal.

Mendonca lodged a brutality complaint against a Providence detective for assaulting him after his Oct. 20 arrest.

Chief Esserman said Friday that the internal review into the officer’s use of force began the night that Mendonca was arrested, a few weeks before Mendonca filed his complaint. Such a review is standard at the department whenever an officer uses force during an apprehension, Esserman said.

Internal-affairs investigators retrieved the video of the arrest soon after it happened, Esserman said. He declined to comment specifically on what the video shows. The investigators also questioned the witnesses and officers at the scene and “reached out to Mendonca,” Esserman said.

The chief wouldn’t comment specifically on the exact use of force or the error-riddled police report written by another officer about the incident that night.

“We are looking into everything,” Esserman said. “One officer is under investigation, but the entire incident is being looked at as well.”

The detective remains on duty. Mendonca filed the brutality complaint a few weeks after his arrest, accusing the detective of causing a head injury. Deputy Chief Paul Kennedy confirmed last month that the complaint had been filed.

Mendonca, 20, has been held at the ACI since early November on two counts of simple assault against two Rhode Island School of Design police officers.

At the time of his arrest, he had been on probation for one year after pleading no contest in April to a misdemeanor shoplifting charge. He’d also received one year of probation last December when he pleaded no contest to another misdemeanor shoplifting charge, according to court records.

Mendonca has been held without bail at the Adult Correctional Institutions since Nov. 6 for a probation violation, said a spokeswoman for the Department of Correction. Mendonca’s violation hearing had been continued since Nov. 9, said courts spokesman Craig Berke.

The Providence police report on the incident contains several errors and omits any reference to any officer’s use of force. For one, the report lists Mendonca’s last name as Mendoza and also lists his home address on a Providence street that doesn’t exist.

The police report gives the names of the two RISD officers who were allegedly assaulted by Mendonca, but not the names of the Providence police officers who responded to the call. The report also doesn’t say anything about an officer’s use of force or why a rescue was called to take him to Rhode Island Hospital.

There’s just this: “After a brief struggle, the subject was placed in restraints.”

The original version of this story was posted at 11:34 a.m. and updated at 1:54 p.m.

Posted on Dec 4, 2009
Anne Frank's diary
AP / Evert Elzinga
A facsimile of Anne Frank’s diary is displayed during a press conference at Anne Frank House in Amsterdam last June 11.

By Robert Fisk

Editor’s note: This article was originally printed in The Independent.

“This young woman who upsets people …” was the headline in Lebanon’s L’Orient Littáraire yesterday [Thursday]. The teenager was Anne Frank, who died of typhoid at Bergen-Belsen in 1945 after being betrayed to the Nazi authorities, along with her family, in her Amsterdam “safe house”. The upset people were the Lebanese Hizbollah, who successfully persuaded teachers at a Beirut school to withdraw an English language primer from the library after it discovered extracts from Anne Frank’s world-famous diary in the book. Yesterday, in a brave and literary defence of freedom of speech, Michel Hajji Georgiou told his readers why this act of censorship was against the Arabs.

Anne Frank, he said, was “a child in revolt against fear, against intolerance, against a mad world, who escapes her Lebanese critics … Anne, under injustice, in a suffering transcended by art and writing, is nothing less than the sister of the Palestinian or Lebanese children in the novels of Elias Khoury or Ghassan Kanafani … of the British children in J G Ballard’s Empire of the Sun and John Boorman’s Hope and Glory.”

Jews and Israelis may object to the parallel – indeed, will object to the parallel – between Jewish suffering under the Nazis and Palestinian suffering under the Israelis, but they should at least admire Georgiou’s front-page article. It is accompanied by a large and well-known photograph of Anne, smiling in all innocence into the camera, unaware how short her life will be. The Jewish Holocaust is not a subject which Arabs have learned to live with. While Arab censorship is not as outrageous as Turkish laws against all mention of the 1915 Christian Armenian Holocaust by the Muslim Ottoman Turks – which can send writers to prison – Hitler’s Mein Kampf is freely on sale in Beirut and reference to the Jewish Holocaust has been censored on television.

When I made a two-and-a-half-hour documentary on the Arab-Israeli conflict, Lebanon’s New TV channel initially cut out a 16-minute sequence on the murder of Polish Jews whose surviving families eventually arrived in Israel. Only after angry remonstrations did I persuade the station’s owner to show the uncut film – which he did the following night. But being the first Westerner to put the Jewish Holocaust on a Lebanese television channel did not win any favours. Respectable, well educated families in Beirut argued with me for years afterwards that the Nazi massacres were either exaggerated or non-existent.


// <![CDATA[
// //

There is no doubt that Israel’s use of the Holocaust to suppress any legitimate criticism of Israel’s current brutality towards the Palestinians has much to do with this. Holocaust denial is anti-Semitic, but the facile slander of anti-Semitism against anyone who condemns Israel’s outrageous behaviour towards its neighbours long ago provoked a deep sense of cynicism among Arabs towards the facts of 20th century Jewish history in Europe. The insistence of Palestinian academics such as Edward Said that the Jewish Holocaust should not be denied – on the basis that a denial of one people’s suffering automatically negated another people’s suffering (the Palestinians, albeit on a far smaller scale) – has received little understanding in the Muslim world. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s ravings about the Holocaust have only encouraged the habit of “denialism”.

A pity. For while serious study of the subject might have been denied to pupils at a school at Mseitbeh – a Shia suburb of Beirut – who were using The Interactive Reader Plus for English Learners, Lebanese students are also deprived of Victor Klemperer’s diaries. Klemperer, a German Jewish academic, condemned the Jewish colonisation of pre-Second World War Palestine even as he and his wife were threatened by the Nazis in his native Dresden. Ironically, I bought my copy of Klemperer’s books in highly Islamic Pakistan.

In other words, not all Jewish Holocaust survivors – or victims – would automatically have supported the creation of the State of Israel. Israel’s constant demonisation of Palestinians as Nazis – the late prime minister Menachem Begin specifically compared Yasser Arafat to Hitler – finds its apotheosis in the Holocaust museum at Yad Vashem outside Jerusalem where the equally late Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini is pictured with Hitler. Al-Husseini’s picture is real; Israel’s racist foreign minister used it a few weeks ago to further demean the Palestinians, although it is immensely to Israel’s credit that the fairest biography of this anti-Jewish figure was written by a former Israeli military governor of Gaza.

Hizbollah, of course, has well and truly managed to put its foot in it in Beirut. Its Al Manar television station criticised Anne Frank’s diaries because they are “devoted to the persecution of the Jews… Even more dangerous still is the dramatic and theatrical way in which the diary is written – it is full of emotion.” Poor 15-year old Anne Frank’s record of her suffering was not unemotional enough for the warriors of the Hizbollah, her book mere proof of “the Zionist invasion of [Lebanese] education.” In fairness, Beirut’s bookshops show no fear of selling books on the Jewish Holocaust and the evils of the Second World War. The Jews of Lebanon were once counted in their thousands; many came from Nazi Germany en route to Palestine but stayed because they loved the country and the Arab people. The government is repairing the old Jewish synagogue whose roof was shot off in 1982 – by an Israeli gunboat.

Obama said he plans to unveil a proposal to ‘jump-start’ a new jobs measure next week [AFP]

The number of US job losses declined unexpectedly last month, in the strongest employment report since the recession began nearly two years ago, the US Labour Department has said.

A US government report released on Friday showed that jobless numbers in the country fell last month to ten per cent from 10.2 per cent in October.

In all, employers cut 11,000 thousand jobs in November, which marked a significant decline from the 111,000 jobs lost in October.

The number was well below the 130,000 loss that financial markets had been bracing for and the news surprised economists who predicted the jobless rate would remain the same.

But despite the slight drop in jobless numbers, more than 15 million Americans remained unemployed.

‘Good news’

Barack Obama, the US president, said the report was good news and indicated that better days are ahead for the US economy.

But he warned that there is still more work to do.

“We still have a long way to go. I still consider one job lost one job too many,” he said during a speech in the eastern US state of Pennsylvania.

“The journey from here will not be without setbacks or struggle. There will be more bumps in the road. But the direction is clear.”

Obama said his administration is also working on a proposal to “jump-start” support for a new jobs measure he is expected to unveil next week.

“…The decline has slowed, it has not stopped”

Ron Blackwell, chief economist for the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Unions

“We need to grow jobs and get America back to work as quickly as we can.”On Tuesday, I’m going to speak in greater detail about the ideas I’ll be sending to Congress to help jump-start private sector hiring and get Americans back to work.”

Ron Blackwell, the chief economist for the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Unions, the largest federation of unions in the US and Canada, said the government’s initial economic stimulus plan had brought the country “back from the brink” of the economic crisis.

“But the accurate way to put it is that the decline has slowed, it has not stopped,” he told Al Jazeera.

“We’re going to have to do much more than has been done so far by our government and by other governments, if we’re going to do something to staunch the employment crisis in the United States and in the world.”

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Obama says US is not an empire as he sends 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan

Part 1

Part 2

Paul Jay speaks to Reese Erlich following Obama’s announcement about dispatching 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.


Reese Erlich is a freelance journalist and author from the United States. His books include the 2003 best-seller, Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You, 2007’s The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of US Policy and the Middle-East Crisis, and his newest release Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba. He has produced many radio documentaries, including a series hosted by Walter Cronkite.



By Philip Marcelo

Journal Staff Writer

At 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, a child walks to school past a pile of trash that had been in front of 90 Paul St. for several weeks, neighbors say.
The Providence Journal / Mary Murphy

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — One month after Mayor David N. Cicilline imposed a new, stricter trash-collection policy, garbage is still piled high in front of some households even as there are signs elsewhere that more residents are recycling.

On Paul Street in the city’s North End, for example, garbage accumulated in front of multifamily residences near the Windmill Street Elementary School because landlords still had not put out the mandatory two recycling bins for each barrel of trash.

Children walking to school have had to step around bags of smelly trash and broken furniture and mattresses on the sidewalks.

By 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, the trash at 90 Paul St., near the Windmill Street Elementary School, had been picked up, leaving the sidewalk clear.
The Providence Journal / Mary Murphy

“It’s becoming a health issue,” said City Councilman Nicholas Narducci, who finally persuaded the city Wednesday to clear away the worst of the trash piles after four weeks. “We’re worried about swine flu, and now we have this to complicate things.”

But that’s not the case everywhere.

On Camp Street in Mount Hope, there was less trash left out on the streets late on Monday, that neighborhood’s trash day.

Mount Hope resident Amelia Rose says she’s seeing a positive response from neighborhood households after some initial protests.

“People are participating or want to participate,” says Rose, who is director for the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island, an advocacy group that helped the city with community outreach for the program.

In Elmhurst, near Providence College, on Tuesday, there were still visible piles of garbage in front of multifamily houses, but not as many as before.

Trash piles up along Atwells Avenue in Providence early last month, after a new city ordinance took effect requiring residents to put out recyclables in order to have their garbage removed.
The Providence Journal / John Freidah

“Definitely before, there was a lot of garbage left out in my neighborhood,” Tiesha Nieves, a Radcliffe Avenue resident, said. “But this morning, before I went to work, I could see that there were a lot fewer bins with trash in them.”

City officials say recycling rates overall are up, and trash tonnage is down, putting the city on course to meet its goals of doubling its recycling rate and saving money on trash fees at the state landfill.

What happens now in neighborhoods where trash continues to accumulate, though, is unclear.

City Director of Operations Alix Ogden says the city has no plans to clear the trash unless residents fully comply with the program. Starting Dec.7, it will also begin fining landlords $50 for each instance of noncompliance.

But this week, city workers started placing recycling bins in front of houses with the worst piles of trash in order to get the trash picked up.

Ogden says that a “limited number” of recycling bins are being made available to residents who “clearly seem to be having difficulty complying.”

Giving out the bins for free citywide would have cost more than $500,000, said Odgen, and the city didn’t have the money to do it. Instead, about $60,000 is being allocated with money from federal Community Develop Block Grant Funds and the City Council contingency fund.

The city has sold nearly 28,000 of the $5 recycling bins since rolling out the program on Nov. 1.

“This isn’t a free bin giveaway,” said Ogden. “We’re giving these bins out in a systematic and strategic way. … We need to break down the barriers to get people to recycle.”

Said Narducci, the councilor: “I don’t agree with [the free bins] at all. Don’t give them away for nothing. Send the bill to the landlords.”

Meanwhile, criticism about how the program was implemented has not diminished.

For many, the most glaring mistake was how the city explained the program. Early notices left out the crucial detail that two recycling bins, not just one, were required to comply with the program.

The name of the program also caused confusion. In the five communities in the state where a similar policy has been put into action, it has been called “no-bin, no-barrel.” The city officially billed it as “Green Up Providence!”

“What does ‘green up’ mean? It doesn’t have any meaning to anyone,” says City Councilman Miguel Luna, who represents Elmwood. “No-bin, no-barrel. That should have been the message.”

Another failure often cited is the city’s outreach efforts.

In a city where more than 40 languages are spoken, residents say materials should have been more widely translated (rather than just in English and Spanish) and distributed through community-based organizations. Mailings also should have been sent to landlords who live outside the city.

The city is only now addressing some of those shortcomings. It has enlisted the Socio-Economic Development Center for Southeast Asians, in Elmwood, to translate program information into Cambodian, Hmong, Vietnamese and Laotian, according to Ogden.

And, starting two weeks ago, more than 6,500 notices were sent to absentee landlords with buildings of six units or less telling them about the new policy and potential fines.

Wanskuck landlord Michelle Ferrini is one of the many out-of-state property owners still not complying with the recycling program. The two trash barrels in front of her six-unit building on Douglas Avenue were overflowing Wednesday, with bags of trash and boxes leaning against them.

A Boston resident, she says she heard about the program only last week from a tenant and planned on getting the bins before the next garbage day.

Until then? “I’m telling my tenants to keep putting out the trash on the street,” she said. “If the city wants its neighborhoods to look bad, that is their decision.”

BY THE NUMBERS Getting the message

Recycling is up and recycling bins are selling under the city’s month-old Green Up Providence! program.

128 Average weekly tons of recycling for city before program

223Tons of recycling the week of Nov. 23 (third week of city enforcement)

1,300 Average weekly tons of trash for city before program

1,021 Tons of trash for the week of Nov.

2310,000 Maximum number of city recycling bins sold annually up to now

28,000 Number of city recycling bins sold since program began Nov. 1


by David Scharfenberg

The Providence Journal ran a recent piece suggesting, rightly, that pro-life Congressman Jim Langevin will play a more central role in the Congressional tussle over health care reform and abortion than Congressman Patrick Kennedy.

Langevin was among a small group of representatives who tried to work out a compromise that would prevent abortion from scuttling health care reform, only to watch that compromise fall apart on the eve of the House vote. Instead, a strong anti-abortion amendment, the Stupak Amendment, wound up passing – pulling pro-life Democrats into a coalition that narrowly passed the bill, and outraging pro-choice advocates in the process.

The Senate is expected to pass a bill more acceptable to pro-choicers, setting the stage for a showdown between the two chambers. The ProJo piece concludes: “The question for Langevin, as a prominent opponent of abortion, is whether he will work with other abortion foes for strong anti-subsidy language when the final House-Senate compromise is being crafted.”

But it says here that Langevin will stay as far from any push for strong anti-abortion language as possible. He has staked out a compromise position for months – out of principle, perhaps (health care reform must pass), but also out of political calculation, no doubt.

Rhode Island, after all, is strongly pro-choice – as is Langevin’s opponent in next year’s Democratic primary, Betsy Dennigan. And while the incumbent is the odds-on favorite to win that race, nothing would do more to upend the contest than handing Dennigan ammunition on the choice issue. Abortion is the primary line of demarcation between the two.

Joy Fox, a spokeswoman for Langevin, said the congressman is waiting to see what the Senate will do, but “still feels very strongly about not letting any issue” – read, abortion – kill health care reform.

This will be a tricky issue for the Congressman. There are questions of principle and politics. And in the end, if hard-liners on either side of the issue get strong language attached to the bill, he will have to cast a difficult vote. Indeed, it is in his interest to push hard for a compromise so that he can avoid such a tough vote. And if he can’t get that compromise, well, he’ll be left to make the case that he tried.


Tomgram: Barbara Ehrenreich, Welcome to the Women’s Movement 2.0
Posted by Barbara Ehrenreich at 5:15am, December 2, 2009.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Here’s a little reminder as we head into the year’s great gift-buying season.  If you plan on using to make some of your purchases, whatever they may be, please head there by clicking on any book link or cover image in a TomDispatch post.  If you then buy anything at all at Amazon, this site will get a small cut of that purchase (and it won’t cost you an extra cent).  Believe me, this makes a difference to us.  If it’s books you’re looking for and you want to plunge into another universe, try Booker-Prize-winning author Hillary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety and find yourself, for 750 remarkable pages, inside the (very disposable) heads of those who made the French Revolution.  Or, for the afterlife of a more recent conflict, you might consider Beverly Gologorsky’s deeply moving novel, The Things We Do to Make It Home, about a group of Vietnam Vets, their wives and children.  (Check out a recent review of it here.)  Or you might plunge into the fascinating history of positive thinking in America and its distinctly negative effects via Barbara Ehrenreich’s splendid new book Bright-Sided.  All come with the Engelhardt guarantee.  I read each of them and was swept away.

One more thing:  As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the nifty-looking new version of TomDispatch is now in better working shape, but it still has plenty of kinks in it, especially when it comes to the finding of, and the formatting of older TD posts.  Be patient.  We’re at work.  In the next few weeks, these issues will be ironed out.  In the meantime, many thanks for your encouraging emails and your continuing contributions!  Tom]

No group with a major stake in health-care reform has seen as many peaks and valleys this year as women’s health activists. After pressuring lawmakers and rolling out initiatives like the “Being a Woman Is Not a Pre-Existing Condition” campaign, they scored three significant victories when the House of Representatives released its health bill in late October. The draft legislation included language that would eliminate the discriminatory practice of “gender rating,” block companies from deeming C-sections and domestic violence “pre-existing conditions,” and require employers to pay for maternity care.

A week later, that momentum came to a screeching halt when Congressman Bart Stupak’s amendment to ban federal funding for most abortions, on public and private insurance plans alike, landed in the House’s legislation. Democratic leaders called the eleventh-hour amendment a necessary political compromise.  Women’s health advocates decried the move, and blasted legislators for caving in and dealing a heavy blow to the most contested of reproductive rights. While the public debate over Stupak’s amendment continues, another behind-the-scenes struggle is underway over coverage for crucial preventive health services for women, including basic gynecological “well visits,” for which funding was dropped in the Senate’s comprehensive health bill. Early victories notwithstanding, women’s health advocates have their work cut out for them as health-care reform heads into the next round in Congress.

That’s why Barbara Ehrenreich’s call below for a new women’s health movement geared to the battles ahead couldn’t be more timely.  In “Smile or Die: The Bright Side of Cancer,” the first chapter of her recent book, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, she plunges you into the pink-ribbon culture she discusses below.  It shouldn’t be missed.  Tom

Not So Pretty in Pink
The Uproar Over New Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines
By Barbara Ehrenreich

Has feminism been replaced by the pink-ribbon breast cancer cult? When the House of Representatives passed the Stupak amendment, which would take abortion rights away even from women who have private insurance, the female response ranged from muted to inaudible.

A few weeks later, when the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommended that regular screening mammography not start until age 50, all hell broke loose. Sheryl Crow, Whoopi Goldberg, and Olivia Newton-John raised their voices in protest; a few dozen non-boldface women picketed the Department of Health and Human Services.  If you didn’t look too closely, it almost seemed as if the women’s health movement of the 1970s and 1980s had returned in full force.

Never mind that Dr. Susan Love, author of what the New York Times dubbed “the bible for women with breast cancer,” endorses the new guidelines along with leading women’s health groups like Breast Cancer Action, the National Breast Cancer Coalition, and the National Women’s Health Network (NWHN). For years, these groups have been warning about the excessive use of screening mammography in the U.S., which carries its own dangers and leads to no detectible lowering of breast cancer mortality relative to less mammogram-happy nations.

Nonetheless, on CNN last week, we had the unsettling spectacle of NWHN director and noted women’s health advocate Cindy Pearson speaking out for the new guidelines, while ordinary women lined up to attribute their survival from the disease to mammography. Once upon a time, grassroots women challenged the establishment by figuratively burning their bras. Now, in some masochistic perversion of feminism, they are raising their voices to yell, “Squeeze our tits!”

When the Stupak anti-choice amendment passed, and so entered the health reform bill, no congressional representative stood up on the floor of the House to recount how access to abortion had saved her life or her family’s well-being. And where were the tea-baggers when we needed them? If anything represents the true danger of “government involvement” in health care, it’s a health reform bill that – if the Senate enacts something similar — will snatch away all but the wealthiest women’s right to choose.

It’s not just that abortion is deemed a morally trickier issue than mammography. To some extent, pink-ribbon culture has replaced feminism as a focus of female identity and solidarity. When a corporation wants to signal that it’s “woman friendly,” what does it do?  It stamps a pink ribbon on its widget and proclaims that some miniscule portion of the profits will go to breast cancer research. I’ve even seen a bottle of Shiraz called “Hope” with a pink ribbon on its label, but no information, alas, on how much you have to drink to achieve the promised effect. When Laura Bush traveled to Saudi Arabia in 2007, what grave issue did she take up with the locals? Not women’s rights (to drive, to go outside without a man, etc.), but “breast cancer awareness.” In the post-feminist United States, issues like rape, domestic violence, and unwanted pregnancy seem to be too edgy for much public discussion, but breast cancer is all apple pie.

So welcome to the Women’s Movement 2.0: Instead of the proud female symbol — a circle on top of a cross — we have a droopy ribbon. Instead of embracing the full spectrum of human colors — black, brown, red, yellow, and white — we stick to princess pink. While we used to march in protest against sexist laws and practices, now we race or walk “for the cure.” And while we once sought full “consciousness” of all that oppresses us, now we’re content to achieve “awareness,” which has come to mean one thing — dutifully baring our breasts for the annual mammogram.

Look, the issue here isn’t health-care costs. If the current levels of screening mammography demonstrably saved lives, I would say go for it, and damn the expense. But the numbers are increasingly insistent: Routine mammographic screening of women under 50 does not reduce breast cancer mortality in that group, nor do older women necessarily need an annual mammogram. In fact, the whole dogma about “early detection” is shaky, as Susan Love reminds us:  the idea has been to catch cancers early, when they’re still small, but some tiny cancers are viciously aggressive, and some large ones aren’t going anywhere.

One response to the new guidelines has been that numbers don’t matter — only individuals do — and if just one life is saved, that’s good enough. So OK, let me cite my own individual experience. In 2000, at the age of 59, I was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer on the basis of one dubious mammogram followed by a really bad one, followed by a biopsy.  Maybe I should be grateful that the cancer was detected in time, but the truth is, I’m not sure whether these mammograms detected the tumor or, along with many earlier ones, contributed to it: One known environmental cause of breast cancer is radiation, in amounts easily accumulated through regular mammography.

And why was I bothering with this mammogram in the first place? I had long ago made the decision not to spend my golden years undergoing cancer surveillance, but I wanted to get my Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) prescription renewed, and the nurse practitioner wouldn’t do that without a fresh mammogram.

As for the HRT, I was taking it because I had been convinced, by the prevailing medical propaganda, that HRT helps prevent heart disease and Alzheimer’s. In 2002, we found out that HRT is itself a risk factor for breast cancer (as well as being ineffective at warding off heart disease and Alzheimer’s), but we didn’t know that in 2000. So did I get breast cancer because of the HRT — and possibly because of the mammograms themselves — or did HRT lead to the detection of a cancer I would have gotten anyway?

I don’t know, but I do know that that biopsy was followed by the worst six months of my life, spent bald and barfing my way through chemotherapy. This is what’s at stake here: Not only the possibility that some women may die because their cancers go undetected, but that many others will lose months or years of their lives to debilitating and possibly unnecessary treatments.

You don’t have to be suffering from “chemobrain” (chemotherapy-induced cognitive decline) to discern evil, iatrogenic, profit-driven forces at work here.  In a recent column on the new guidelines, patient-advocate Naomi Freundlich raises the possibility that “entrenched interests — in screening, surgery, chemotherapy and other treatments associated with diagnosing more and more cancers — are impeding scientific evidence.” I am particularly suspicious of the oncologists, who saw their incomes soar starting in the late 80s when they began administering and selling chemotherapy drugs themselves in their ghastly, pink-themed, “chemotherapy suites.” Mammograms recruit women into chemotherapy, and of course, the pink-ribbon cult recruits women into mammography.

What we really need is a new women’s health movement, one that’s sharp and skeptical enough to ask all the hard questions: What are the environmental (or possibly life-style) causes of the breast cancer epidemic? Why are existing treatments like chemotherapy so toxic and heavy-handed? And, if the old narrative of cancer’s progression from “early” to “late” stages no longer holds, what is the course of this disease (or diseases)? What we don’t need, no matter how pretty and pink, is a ladies’ auxiliary to the cancer-industrial complex.

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of 17 books, including the bestsellers Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. A frequent contributor to Harper’s and the Nation, she has also been a columnist at the New York Times and Time magazine. Her seventeenth book, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America (Metropolitan Books), has just been published.

Copyright 2009 Barbara Ehrenreich


— Photo: Wikimedia Commons

For centuries we’ve displaced people to save nature. A huge project in Africa offers a chance to turn that around.

— By Mark Dowie

After legendary explorer and ecologist J. Michael Fay completed his remarkable 1,200-mile, 455-day trek across the Congo Basin in 2002, he asked Africa’s longest-serving leader, President El Hadj Omar Bongo of Gabon, to sit down for a chat. Bongo agreed to meet the world-famous adventurer, and brought his Cabinet along to listen in. Fay looks like a man who has crossed the heart of Africa more than once, weather-beaten and wiry, handsome and rugged. But it is his message and its trenchant delivery that wins over crowds—and politicians.

In the midst of a PowerPoint presentation that included stunning photos of wildlife in the Basin he believes few humans have ever seen, Fay projected a map of Gabon featuring forest concessions in red that he predicted would soon be clearcut by foreign logging companies. Huge red blotches covered most of the country that hadn’t already been cleared for oil fields and manganese mines. The next slide showed an imaginary, “virtual” Gabon with 13 emerald green patches scattered about the landscape. These, Fay said, could be national parks that would protect hundreds of species of flora and fauna from extinction and create a global magnet for ecotourism, at that moment the fastest-growing sector of the fastest-growing industry in the world. Fay said the parks offered Gabon a golden opportunity to diversify an economy that had become heavily reliant on oil, gas, and other dwindling extractive resources.

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Continued From Above

When Bongo’s Minister of Forest Economy, Emile Doumba, expressed an interest in one of Fay’s proposed parks, Bongo shocked both Fay and his Cabinet by saying he wanted all of them gazetted and opened immediately. He ordered Doumba to produce 13 separate decrees, one for each park, which he agreed to sign that very day. An ecstatic Fay promised to find the money to manage the new parks. He stressed that Gabon was about to become the most ecologically significant nation in Africa, and a world-class experiment in biodiversity preservation. With the stroke of a dictator’s pen, 10 percent of the country’s landmass was placed under protection. “This is one of the most courageous conservation acts in the last 20 years,” declared Dr. Steven Sanderson, president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Michael Fay’s boss at the time.

But there was another, more historically significant opportunity facing Gabon that day, one that Fay merely hinted at in his presentation and Sanderson didn’t mention at all. It was the opportunity their own industry, transnational conservation, had in Gabon: to do right by the thousands of tribal people living inside those emerald patches, by allowing them to remain in their homelands and participate directly in the stewardship and management of the new parks. They would then not be passive “stakeholders” relocated to the margins of the park, the typical fate of indigenous peoples who find themselves in conservation “hot spots,” but equal players in the complex and challenging process of defending biological diversity. The goal of such a policy would be the concurrent preservation of nature and culture; Gabon just might come to signify a happy ending of a tense, century-long conflict between global environmentalism and native people, millions of whom have been displaced from traditional homelands in the interest of conservation.

It’s a century-long story of violence and abuse that began in Yosemite Valley in the mid 19th century, when the Ahwahneechee band of Miwoks were chased about, caught on, then forcefully expelled from a landscape they had cultivated for about 200 generations. Militias like the vicious Mariposa Battalion were sent into Yosemite to burn acorn caches and rout native people from remote reaches of the Valley. After the militias came the nature romantics who mythologized the vacated valley as the wilderness it never was, then lobbied state and federal governments to create a national park. They got their wish in 1890, and the remaining Indians were removed from the area, with a few allowed to remain temporarily, as menial laborers in a segregated village of 20-by-20-foot shacks.

Yosemite’s Indian policy spread to Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Mount Ranier, Zion, Glacier, Everglades, and Olympic National Parks, all of which expelled thousands of tribal people from their homes and hunting grounds so the new parks could remain in an undisturbed “state of nature.” Three hundred Shoshone Indians were killed in a single day during the expulsion from Yellowstone. This was the birth of what would come to be known, worldwide, as the Yosemite model of wildlife conservation. In Africa it would be renamed “fortress conservation,” and like so many other products from the North, the model would be exported with vigor to all other continents.

One consequence of creating a few million conservation refugees around the world has been the emergence of a vast and surprisingly powerful movement of communities that have proven themselves stewards of nature (otherwise conservationists would have no interest in their land), but were turned by circumstance into self-described “enemies of conservation.”

In early 2004, a United Nations meeting was convened for the ninth year in a row to push for passage of a resolution protecting the territorial and human rights of indigenous peoples. During the meeting, one indigenous delegate rose to state that extractive industries, while still a serious threat to their welfare and cultural integrity, were no longer the main antagonist of native cultures. Their new and biggest enemy, she said, was “conservation.” Later that spring, at a meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, of the International Forum on Indigenous Mapping, all 200 delegates signed a declaration stating that “conservation has become the number one threat to indigenous territories.”

Then in February 2008, representatives of the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB) walked out of a Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) annual meeting, condemning the convention for ignoring their interests. “We found ourselves marginalized and without opportunity to take the floor and express our views,” read their statement. “None of our recommendations were included in [the meeting’s report]. So we have decided to leave this process…”

These are all rhetorical jabs, of course, and perhaps not entirely accurate or fair. But they are based on fact and driven by experience, and have shaken the international conservation community. So have a spate of critical studies and articles calling international conservationists to task for their historical mistreatment of indigenous peoples.

Some, but not all, conservation leaders are hearing the indictment and seem open to exploring a new model of protected area, a new conservation paradigm that includes native people and local communities as equal players in humanity’s quest to protect wildlife in wild places. Gabon is set to become the world’s test site for the new paradigm, a global laboratory seeking better ways to do conservation. And indigenous people on every continent are watching closely.

The central strategy of modern transnational conservation relies largely on the creation of so-called protected areas (PAs) like Gabon’s new parks. There are several categories, ranging from rigid exclusionary “wilderness” zones, off-limits to all but a few park guards and an occasional scientist, to community-conserved areas (CCAs) initiated and managed by a local population. While the categories vary widely in style and purpose, the essential goal is the same: protect and preserve biological diversity.

From 1900 to 1950, about 600 official protected areas were created worldwide. By 1960 there were almost a thousand. Today there are at least 110,000, and more are added every month. The size and number of protected areas is a common benchmark for measuring the success of global conservation.

The total area of land now under protection worldwide has doubled since 1990, when the World Parks Commission set a goal of protecting 10 percent of the planet’s surface: Today more than 12 percent of all land, a total area of 11.75 million square miles (18.8 million square kilometers), is set aside. That’s an area greater than the entire landmass of Africa and equal to half the planet’s endowment of cultivated land. At first glance, such a degree of land conservation seems undeniably good, an enormous achievement in doing the right thing for our planet. But the record is less impressive when you consider the social, economic, and cultural impact of the system.

About half the land selected for protection by the global conservation establishment over the past century was either occupied or regularly used by indigenous peoples. In the Americas that number is more than 80 percent. In Guyana, of the 10 new areas gazetted for protection, native people currently occupy 8. And in Chad, which during the 1990s increased protected areas from 1 to 9.1 percent of its national land, all of that newly protected land was previously occupied by what are now an estimated 600,000 displaced people.

No country I could find besides Chad and India, which officially admits to about 100,000 people displaced for conservation (a number that is almost certainly deflated), is counting this growing new class of refugee. Worldwide estimates range from 5 million to tens of millions of refugees created since Yosemite Valley was first gazetted for protection. Charles Geisler, a rural sociologist at Cornell University who has been studying the problem for decades, believes that since the beginning of the colonial era in Africa there could have been as many as 14 million on that continent alone. The true figure, if it were ever known, would depend on the semantics of words like displacement and refugee, over which parties on all sides of the issue argue endlessly.

However, the point is not the exact number of people who have lost their homeland to conservation. It is that these refugees, however defined, exist in large numbers on every continent but Antarctica, banished from lands they thrived on, often for thousands of years, in ways that even some of the conservationists who looked aside while evictions took place have since admitted were sustainable.

Which leads to another complaint heard at one international meeting after another: Relocation often occurs with the tacit approval of one or more of the five largest conservation organizations—The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Conservation International (CI), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)—which collectively have been nicknamed the BINGOs (Big International NGOs) by indigenous leaders. All except the Nature Conservancy have offices in Gabon, and they are to divide up management responsibilities for the country’s new parks.

Keeping his promise to President Bongo, Michael Fay returned to the US and began the arduous process of raising the millions that would be needed to turn “paper parks” into real parks and keep them safe from poachers and prospectors—about $50 million was his guess. As an inveterate and well-known conservation lobbyist, with connections to powerful fixers like Gabon’s registered foreign agent, David Barron, and top officials in the State Department, Fay managed to get the attention of key congressmen, most notably Ed Royce, the chairman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Africa. In 2003, Royce scheduled Fay to testify about his amazing voyage and seek support for protected areas in the Congo Basin, which, Fay would emphasize, hosts a tropical forest second only in size to the Amazon Basin.

“We have an historic opportunity here,” Fay told the legislators, “to create what will be one of the world’s most important national park systems covering over 25 million acres in one of the richest areas for biodiversity on the planet. But we have an opportunity to do much more, really. We have an opportunity to shift how entire landscapes are developed and to assure that future generations can sustain and enhance their lives.”

Those were encouraging words to Gabon’s tribal citizens, the Bakas, Babongo, Akula, Bakoya, and Fang, all of whom are painfully aware of how their counterparts have been treated by conservation projects elsewhere in Africa. Fay went on to speak of “maximizing benefits for local people.”

But then Fay made a revealing observation about American history. “I believe that Teddy Roosevelt had it right,” he said. “In 1907, when the United States was at the stage in its development not dissimilar to the Congo Basin today…President Roosevelt made the creation of 230 million acres of protected areas the cornerstone of [his domestic policy]…My work in the Congo Basin has been basically to try to bring this US model to Africa.”

While he was singing the praises of “wise use” Teddy Roosevelt also proclaimed that “the rude, fierce settler who drives the savage from the land lays all civilized mankind under a debt to him… It is of incalculable importance that America, Australia, and Siberia should pass out of the hands of their red, black, and yellow aboriginal owners and become the heritage of the dominant world races.”

Is this really the legacy American conservationists wish to be spreading about the world? And is the Northern method of protecting biological diversity, with its paternalistic view of nature and condescending view of traditional knowledge, appropriate to the rest of the planet? Does it even work? A planet tipping into ecological chaos, with more than 40,000 plant and animal species facing extinction and 60 percent of the ecosystem services that support us failing, suggests that what we’ve been doing may not have been working so well after all. Perhaps a new strategy is called for.

Omar Bongo died in June of this year, leaving uncertain the leadership of his country and the fate of the parks he created. The entire Gabonese Parks system has recently been placed under the leadership of Lee White, the British head of the Wildlife Conservation Society. White is currently supporting Omar Bongo’s son Ali as the “green presidential candidate.” White also makes no secret of his intention “to establish and sustain Gabon as a new unique global destination for African rainforest tourism.” What role the parks’ natives will play in that industry has yet to be determined.

Mark Dowie’s latest book is Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples. He’s also the author of Mother Jones’ 1977 expose of the Ford Pinto.



AP / Charles Dharapak
President Barack Obama speaks about the war in Afghanistan at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

By Robert Scheer

It is already a 30-year war begun by one Democratic president, and thanks to the political opportunism of the current commander in chief the Afghanistan war is still without end or logical purpose. President Barack Obama’s own top national security adviser has stated that there are fewer than 100 al-Qaida members in Afghanistan and that they are not capable of launching attacks. What superheroes they must be, then, to require 100,000 U.S. troops to contain them.

The president handled that absurdity by conflating al-Qaida, which he admitted is holed up in Pakistan, with the Taliban and denying the McChrystal report’s basic assumption that the enemy in Afghanistan is local in both origin and focus. Obama stated Tuesday in a speech announcing a major escalation of the war, “It’s important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place.” But he then cut off any serious consideration of that question with the bald assertion that “we did not ask for this fight.”

Of course we did. The Islamic fanatics who seized power in Afghanistan were previously backed by the U.S. as “freedom fighters” in what was once marketed as a bold adventure in Cold War one-upmanship against the Soviets. It was President Jimmy Carter, aided by a young liberal hawk named Richard Holbrooke, now Obama’s civilian point man on Afghanistan, who decided to support Muslim fanatics there. Holbrooke began his government service as one of the “Best and the Brightest” in Vietnam and was involved with the rural pacification and Phoenix assassination program in that country, and he is now a big advocate of the counterinsurgency program proposed by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal to once again win the hearts and minds of locals who want none of it.

The current president’s military point man, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, served in Carter’s National Security Council and knows that Obama is speaking falsely when he asserts it was the Soviet occupation that gave rise to the Muslim insurgency that we abetted. Gates wrote a memoir in 1996 which, as his publisher proclaimed, exposed “Carter’s never-before-revealed covert support to Afghan mujahedeen—six months before the Soviets invaded.”

Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was asked in a 1998 interview with the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur if he regretted “having given arms and advice to future terrorists,” and he answered, “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?” Brzezinski made that statement three years before the 9/11 attack by those “stirred-up Muslims.”

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So here we go again, selling firewater to the natives and calling it salvation. We have decided to prop up a hopelessly corrupt Afghan government because, as Obama argued in one of the more disgraceful passages of Tuesday’s West Point speech, “although it was marred by fraud, [the recent] election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan’s laws and constitution.”

To suggest that the Afghan government will be in seriously better shape 18 months after 30,000 additional U.S. and perhaps 5,000 more NATO troops are dispatched is bizarrely out of touch with the strategy of the McChrystal report, which calls for American troops to restructure life down to the level of the most forlorn village. Surely the civilian and military supporters of that approach who are cheering Obama on have been giving assurances that he will not be held to such an unrealistically short timeline. Evidence of this was offered in the president’s speech when he said of the planned withdrawal of some forces by July of 2011: “Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We’ll continue to advise and assist Afghanistan’s security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul.”

A very long haul indeed, if one checks the experience of Matthew Hoh, the former Marine captain who was credited with being as successful as anyone in implementing the counterinsurgency strategy now in vogue. In his letter of resignation as a foreign service officer in charge of one of the most hotly contested areas, Hoh wrote: “In the course of my five months of service in Afghanistan … I have lost understanding and confidence in the strategic purpose of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan. … I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul.”

Maybe they should have given Capt. Hoh the Noble Peace Prize.


The US president’s decision to send 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan has received a mixed reaction from American pundits in Washington.

Tariq Ali, a historian and political activist, told Al Jazeera that Barack Obama’s decision to send more troops echoed the policies of George Bush, the former president.

“Obama is masqueraded as a peace president and he’s now deciding to send more troops… In order to try and appease his own supporters, he’s giving an approximate date for an exit strategy, but that never works.

“We’ve seen this before in Vietnam, where the commander in chief was saying ‘the boys will be home by Christmas next year’ and they didn’t come home for a long time.

“I think Obama has fallen into a trap laid for him by generals… I think it’s a fateful decision and it could determine whether he’s a one-term president.”

‘Masterful job’

But Larry Korb, a former assistant secretary of defence, described Obama’s speech as “a masterful job.”

Korb highlighted the parts of the address where Obama described the US operation in Afghanistan as time-limited and as seeking a partnership with the Afghans.

“I think it’s a fateful decision and it could determine whether he’s a one-term president.”

Tariq Ali, historian
and political activist

“One of the most interesting things he said [to the Afghan people] was that we’re your partner, not your patron. In the final hours it’s going to have to be up to you.”At the end of a speech, when he said the US doesn’t have the resources for an open-ended commitment and can’t solve all the world’s problems, it also was a message to Karzai: ‘I would like you to take more control more in the next 18 months.'”

Nasrine Gross, an Afghan women’s activist based in Washington, also stressed the need for co-operation with Afghans.

“The voice of the Afghan people needs to be heard, the government of Afghanistan needs to be worked with in such a way that not only corruption gets decreased but also services are delivered to ordinary people.

“I’m very happy that the troops are finally going… The troops are very needed. If the troops are not there, the people of Afghanistan are suffering too much.”

War tax

However, Mike Honda, a Democratic congressman, voiced concerned over how the troops will be paid for, and called for a war tax.

“Every war we’ve been engaged in, we’ve always had a tax attached to it. But since we went into Iraq in 2003, we’ve had no war tax to support the effort. We’ve been borrowing against our budget.

“That’s why our deficit and our debts have increased… If we’re going into Afghanistan with 30,000 more troops, let’s pay for it through a war tax so that it’s not going to increase our debt.”

Source: Al Jazeera

Exclusive: World’s leading climate change expert says summit talks so flawed that deal would be a disaster

James Hansen‘We don’t have a leader who is able to grasp [the issue] and say what is really needed. Instead we are trying to continue business as usual,’ say James Hansen. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

The scientist who convinced the world to take notice of the looming danger of global warming says it would be better for the planet and for future generations if next week’s Copenhagen climate change summit ended in collapse.

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James Hansen talks to Suzanne Goldenberg Link to this audioIn an interview with the Guardian, James Hansen, the world’s pre-eminent climate scientist, said any agreement likely to emerge from the negotiations would be so deeply flawed that it would be better to start again from scratch.

“I would rather it not happen if people accept that as being the right track because it’s a disaster track,” said Hansen, who heads the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

“The whole approach is so fundamentally wrong that it is better to reassess the situation. If it is going to be the Kyoto-type thing then [people] will spend years trying to determine exactly what that means.” He was speaking as progress towards a deal in Copenhagen received a boost today, with India revealing a target to curb its carbon emissions. All four of the major emitters – the US, China, EU and India – have now tabled offers on emissions, although the equally vexed issue of funding for developing nations to deal with global warming remains deadlocked.

Hansen, in repeated appearances before Congress beginning in 1989, has done more than any other scientist to educate politicians about the causes of global warming and to prod them into action to avoid its most catastrophic consequences. But he is vehemently opposed to the carbon market schemes – in which permits to pollute are bought and sold – which are seen by the EU and other governments as the most efficient way to cut emissions and move to a new clean energy economy.

Hansen is also fiercely critical of Barack Obama – and even Al Gore, who won a Nobel peace prize for his efforts to get the world to act on climate change – saying politicians have failed to meet what he regards as the moral challenge of our age.

In Hansen’s view, dealing with climate change allows no room for the compromises that rule the world of elected politics. “This is analagous to the issue of slavery faced by Abraham Lincoln or the issue of Nazism faced by Winston Churchill,” he said. “On those kind of issues you cannot compromise. You can’t say let’s reduce slavery, let’s find a compromise and reduce it 50% or reduce it 40%.”

He added: “We don’t have a leader who is able to grasp it and say what is really needed. Instead we are trying to continue business as usual.”

The understated Iowan’s journey from climate scientist to activist accelerated in the last years of the Bush administration. Hansen, a reluctant public speaker, says he was forced into the public realm by the increasingly clear looming spectre of droughts, floods, famines and drowned cities indicated by the science.

That enormous body of scientific evidence has been put under a microscope by climate sceptics after last month’s release online of hacked emails sent by respected researchers at the climate research unit of the University of East Anglia. Hansen admitted the controversy could shake public’s trust, and called for an investigation. “All that stuff they are arguing about the data doesn’t really change the analysis at all, but it does leave a very bad impression,” he said.

The row reached Congress today, with Republicans accusing the researchers of engaging in “scientific fascism” and pressing the Obama administration’s top science adviser, John Holdren, to condemn the email. Holdren, a climate scientist who wrote one of the emails in the UEA trove, said he was prepared to denounce any misuse of data by the scientists – if one is proved.

Hansen has emerged as a leading campaigner against the coal industry, which produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other fuel source.

He has become a fixture at campus demonstrations and last summer was arrested at a protest against mountaintop mining in West Virginia, where he called the Obama government’s policies “half-assed”.

He has irked some environmentalists by espousing a direct carbon tax on fuel use. Some see that as a distraction from rallying support in Congress for cap-and-trade legislation that is on the table.

He is scathing of that approach. “This is analagous to the indulgences that the Catholic church sold in the middle ages. The bishops collected lots of money and the sinners got redemption. Both parties liked that arrangement despite its absurdity. That is exactly what’s happening,” he said. “We’ve got the developed countries who want to continue more or less business as usual and then these developing countries who want money and that is what they can get through offsets [sold through the carbon markets].”

For all Hansen’s pessimism, he insists there is still hope. “It may be that we have already committed to a future sea level rise of a metre or even more but that doesn’t mean that you give up.

“Because if you give up you could be talking about tens of metres. So I find it screwy that people say you passed a tipping point so it’s too late. In that case what are you thinking: that we are going to abandon the planet? You want to minimise the damage.”

• James Hansen’s book Storms of My Grandchildren is published by Bloomsbury, £18.99


(CNN) — Brazilian, French and Senegalese rescue teams combed vast sections of the Atlantic after an Air France jet disappeared in a possible crash.

Anne and Michael Harris, who lived in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, were two Americans aboard the flight.

Anne and Michael Harris, who lived in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, were two Americans aboard the flight.

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A report of “shiny spots” in the sea along the route of Flight 447 by a crew from the Brazilian airline TAM prompted a search in the territorial waters off Senegal, but without result.

The developments came as more details about the victims of Flight 447 began to emerge Tuesday.

The Airbus A330 encountered heavy turbulence early Monday, some three hours after the jet carrying 228 people left Rio de Janeiro for Paris on an 11-hour flight, according to Air France CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon.

At that point, the plane’s automatic system initiated a four-minute exchange of messages to the company’s maintenance computers, indicating that “several pieces of aircraft equipment were at fault or had broken down,” he told reporters.

During that time, there was no contact with the crew, Gourgeon said.

“It was probable that it was a little bit after those messages that the impact of the plane took place in the Atlantic,” he added.

The Airbus A330 was off radar and probably closer to Brazil than to Africa at the time, he said.

Two squadrons from Brazil’s air force launched a search near the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha in the Atlantic Ocean, about 365 kilometers (225 miles) from Brazil’s coast, an air force spokesman told CNN. And French President Nicolas Sarkozy said France sent ships and planes to the area about 400 kilometers (250 miles) from Brazil. See map of suspected crash zone »

“Our Spanish friends are helping us, Brazilians are helping us a lot as well,” he said.

Among the passengers were 126 men, 82 women, seven children and a baby, in addition to the 12 crew members, Air France said. Of the crew, 11 were French and one was Brazilian. Video Watch latest report on missing aircraft »

An official list of victims by name was not available late Monday, but the only two Americans on board — Michael Harris, 60, and his wife, Anne, 54 — were identified by the couple’s family and his employer.

“Anne and Mike were indeed a beautiful couple inside and out, and I miss them terribly already,” said Anne Harris’ sister, Mary Miley.

Michael Harris was a geologist in Rio de Janeiro for Devon Energy, the largest U.S.-based independent natural gas and oil producer, according to a company spokesman.

The couple had lived in the city since July 2008 and were traveling to Paris for a training seminar for Michael and for a vacation, Miley told CNN.

The airliner identified the nationalities of the other victims as: Argentinean (1); Austrian (1); Belgian (1); Brazilian (58); British (5); Canadian (1); Chinese (9); Croatian (1); Danish (1); Dutch (1); Estonian (1); Filipino (1); French (61); Gambian (1); German (26); Hungarian (4); Icelandic (1); Irish (3); Italian (9); Lebanese (5); Moroccan (2); Norwegian (3); Polish (2); Romanian (1); Russian (1); Slovakian (3); Spanish (2); Swedish (1); Swiss (6); Turkish (1).

The jet was 4 years old and had last undergone routine maintenance April 16. Video Watch report on what could have caused aircraft to go down »

Its crew was comprised of three pilots, including a 58-year-old captain who had logged 11,000 hours in flight, and nine cabin crew members, Air France said in a statement. Some 1,700 of the captain’s hours were on two Airbus models. Of the two co-pilots — ages 37 and 32 — one had 3,000 hours of flying experience and the other 6,600 hours. The aircraft had flown 18,870 hours, the statement said.

Of the passengers, 149 had planned to connect to flights going elsewhere in Europe or as far away as China, Gourgeon said.

“This is a catastrophe the likes of which Air France has never seen before,” Sarkozy told reporters at Charles de Gaulle International Airport, where he had met with relatives of the missing aboard the flight.

“I said the truth to them: The prospects of finding survivors are very low,” he said. Video Watch comments from Sarkozy »

France asked the U.S. military to assist in the search with U.S. detection satellites, French Transport Minister Jean-Louis Borloo told CNN affiliate France 2. Pentagon officials did not immediately confirm the request.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told reporters in San Salvador, El Salvador, that he had spoken with Sarkozy, but neither leader knew what to say.

“All we could do was thank each other,” Lula said. “He thanked me for the speed with which the Brazilian air force took charge.”

He added, “In times like these, there is little to do but to deeply lament, to wish the families a lot of strength, because there are no words.”

The jet, which was flying at 35,000 feet and at 521 mph, also sent a warning that it had lost pressure, the Brazilian air force said.

The jet took off from Rio de Janeiro‘s Galeao International Airport at 11:30 p.m. Sunday. Its last known contact occurred at 02:33 a.m. Monday, the Brazilian air force spokesman said. It was not clear what that final contact was.

It was expected to check in with air traffic controllers at 03:20 a.m. but did not do so. Brazilian authorities asked the air force to launch a search mission just over three hours later.


On Monday, former Veep Dick Cheney admitted at long last that there was no link between the Sept. 11 attacks and Iraq, contrary to what the Bush administration had led the nation to believe in 2003 in order to justify waging a war on a country rich in history, culture … and oil. Tens of thousands of Iraqi and American casualties later, we thank you, Dick.


By James Rowley and Jonathan D. Salant

June 1 (Bloomberg) — Former Vice President Dick Cheney disavowed intelligence he once cited to suggest that then-Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein collaborated with al-Qaeda to stage the Sept. 11 attacks.

Cheney said today that information by the Central Intelligence Agency of collaboration between Iraq and al-Qaeda on Sept. 11 “turned out not to be true.” Still, Cheney said a longstanding relationship existed between Hussein and terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, that justified the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“I thought it was strong at the time and I still feel so today,” Cheney said at a National Press Club lunch in Washington. “There was a relationship between al-Qaeda and Iraq that stretched back 10 years. That’s not something I made up.” Citing 2002 Senate testimony by George Tenet, then the CIA director, he said, “We know for a fact that Saddam Hussein was a state sponsor of terrorism.”

On whether Hussein helped al-Qaeda carry out the 2001 terrorist attacks, Cheney said, “I do not believe, and I have never seen any evidence, that he was involved in 9/11.”

Cheney continued his attacks on President Barack Obama’s pledge to close the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where suspected terrorists are being held. Obama has called the indefinite detention of suspects at Guantanamo a “mistake” and said he will close the camp — a vow that has been complicated by the refusal of lawmakers, including Democrats, to provide funding.

Difficult to Close

“I think it’s going to be very difficult to close Guantanamo,” Cheney said. “It’s a good, well-run facility. If you’re going to be engaged in a world conflict such as we are in terms of global war on terrorism, if you don’t have a place where you can hold these people, your only other option is to kill them. We don’t operate that way.”

Several months after the Sept. 11 attacks, Cheney said it was “pretty well” confirmed that Mohamed Atta, one of the leaders of the attack, had met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official in Prague in April 2000, according to a Washington Post account. Cheney later said the meeting’s existence couldn’t be proven, the Post said.

The presidential commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks concluded in 2004 that meetings or contacts between al- Qaeda and Iraqi officials didn’t result in collaboration between the terrorist group and Hussein’s regime.

Defending Policies

Cheney’s midday speech marked his latest salvo in a personal campaign to defend the Bush administration’s post-9/11 policies while suggesting that Obama’s actions have made the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

In his press club appearance, Cheney said that foreign governments that have criticized Guantanamo haven’t been willing to take in suspects detained there. And if detainees are admitted to the U.S., they would gain certain rights and protections they do not have in the prison in Cuba.

“If you bring them here and a judge rules you can’t hold them any longer, you have to release them in the United States,” Cheney said.

Cheney, 68, has said lives were saved by Bush administration actions, including authorizing the use of harsh interrogation techniques considered to be torture, such as waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning.

Obama has banned waterboarding, saying such actions betray the country’s “ideals” and aren’t necessary to “wage an aggressive battle against organizations like al-Qaeda.

‘Worried’ About GM

Cheney also said today he was “worried” about General Motors Corp.’s bankruptcy protection that was forced upon the automaker by the Obama administration. The bankruptcy plan calls for taxpayers to own more than 60 percent of General Motors. “Once you get into the business of a government running a major corporation like General Motors,” political pressures “come to bear and not economic interests,’” Cheney said.

In an interview before his speech, Cheney said the U.S. will face “enormous pressure” to manage GM in a way that doesn’t cost jobs. Cheney, asked about gay rights at the luncheon, said decisions on whether to legalize same-sex marriages should be made by states, not the federal government.

Cheney, whose daughter, Mary, is gay, indicated that he supports same-sex marriages. “Freedom means freedom for everyone,” he said. “I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish, any kind of arrangement they wish.”


Swanson: Obama allowing Cheney to play offense; constitution demands prosecution

David Swanson: “Torture was always illegal”


McGovern: Liz Cheney’s accusation of Wilkerson’s “fantasy stories” would be wonderful if it were true

Paul Jay speaks to Ray McGovern, retired CIA analyst under seven US presidents. On May 17, Liz Cheney, Dick Cheney’s daughter, accused Lawrence Wilkerson, the former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, of creating a “cottage industry” making up “fantasy stories” about her father on the George Stephanopoulos Show. After interviewing Wilkerson, McGovern says “it would be wonderful if it were [a] fantasy. [But] It’s all too real.”


Ray McGovern is a retired CIA officer. McGovern was employed under seven US presidents for over 27 years, presenting the morning intelligence briefings at the White House under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. McGovern was born and raised in the Bronx, graduated summa cum laude from Fordham University, received an M.A. in Russian Studies from Fordham, a certificate in Theological Studies from Georgetown University, and graduated from Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program.


Sen. Graham: “The Geneva Convention did not apply until 2006”

ANP: Senator Lindsey Graham was a passionate critic of the Bush Justice attorneys during this past summer’s Armed Services Committee hearings on interrogation. Lately, however, Graham seems to have had second thoughts on the matter. At a recent Judiciary subcommittee hearing investigating the torture memos, Graham mounted a feisty defense of Jay Bybee, John Yoo and the lawyers who provided legal cover for detainee abuse. This performance sent ANP producer Mike Fritz back to the ANP archives to confirm that this was indeed the same Lindsey Graham we remembered from the summer, and sure enough, it was. As this video reveals, same tie – different message.


The Republican National Committee to re-brand the Democratic Party as the “Dem Socialist Party”

The Republican National Committee will conclude a special session with a much-anticipated vote on a resolution to re-brand the Democratic Party as the “Democrat Socialist Party.” ANP senior producer Harry Hanbury roamed the RNC meeting with a camera and spoke with committeemen and state chairs to hear their thoughts on the vote and their ideas about both parties.


Pepe Escobar: Israeli PM tries everything to subvert Obama’s priorities

Defying enormous expectations, the White House meeting between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was a big let down. Obama wants a Palestinian state, a precondition to solve the decades-long Arab-Israeli conflict. Netanyahu just mentioned an “arrangement”. Obama wants to talk to the leadership of Iran. Netanyahu tried all the time to change the subject from Palestine to – non-existent – Iranian nuclear weapons. Pepe Escobar warns about the danger of the powerful Israel lobby in Washington hijacking the terms of the debate and helping Netanyahu to derail Obama’s strategy.


Pepe Escobar, born in Brazil is the roving correspondent for Asia Times and an analyst for The Real News Network. He’s been a foreign correspondent since 1985, based in London, Milan, Los Angeles, Paris, Singapore, and Bangkok. Since the late 1990s, he has specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central Asia, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has made frequent visits to Iran and is the author of Globalistan and also Red Zone Blues: A Snapshot of Baghdad During the Surge both published by Nimble Books in 2007.



WHEN THE 1981-82 recession put a dent in steak sales, things could have gotten dicey for A1 Steak Sauce. Yet the 100-year-old brand turned adversity into great advertising. You might remember the TV spot: As a family sits around the dinner table, an incredulous kid catches sight of his uncle drowning a burger in A1. “Mom,” the kid blurts out, “he’s putting A1 Steak Sauce on his hamburger!” The boy’s uncle responds, “My dear nephew, what is hamburger, chopped ham? No. It is chopped steak. And what tastes better on steak than A1?” And then the killer tagline: “A1 makes hamburgers taste like steakburgers.”

It was brilliant repositioning. In one bold stroke, A1 shed its filet mignon pedigree in favor of a recession-proof staple. (And it’s been there ever since; Burger King’s $3.79 Steakhouse Burger is slathered in the sauce.) This episode illustrates the cardinal rule of recession marketing: When life gives you hamburger, make chopped steak.

If only it were still so easy. After years of being sold useless stuff, we media-savvy consumers can spot a con job when we see one. We know advertising is a game; our idea of entertainment is watching the cigarette smoke-and-mirrors heyday of Madison Avenue on Mad Men or Trust Me‘s Sarah Krajicek-Hunter as she comes to terms with shilling for Dove shampoo (which is, in itself, a genius bit of shilling). So when we see Dodge dealerships offering two-for-one deals or Ed McMahon joking about his home foreclosure while flacking for Cash 4 Gold, we’re less likely to be swayed than wonder if that’s truly the best our sharpest marketing minds can come up with. Still, one feels a twinge of empathy while imagining the flop sweat of the modern-day Don Drapers as they try to figure out how to help their belt-tightening clients keep their belt-tightening customers. And all this at a time when print media seems to be on its deathbed and Internet marketing looks like the Wild West.

In a striking admission of the chaotic new reality, in March the advertising goliath Ogilvy & Mather—which counts Coca-Cola, Ford, Kraft, and IBM among its blue-chip clients—launched a dedicated Recession Marketing Practice. Brochures announcing the new venture ooze confidence, but also give off a slightly ominous vibe; they open with a quote from Charles Darwin (“It is not the strong, nor the intelligent who survive, but those who are quickest to adapt”) and prominently feature Ogilvy’s fatalistic motto: “We sell—or else.” Forget dog eat dog. This is Wild Kingdom meets Glengarry Glen Ross. The timid are about to be culled from the herd.

The key to brand survival, Ogilvy asserts, is for companies to do anything but “go dark”—i.e., fire their ad agency. Conveniently for ad firms, students of recession and depression economics (from Wharton professors to basement-dwelling business bloggers) advise spending as much on ads as possible—to “steer into the skid,” rather than slam on the brakes and wind up in the ditch. According to Ogilvy’s own stats, companies with enough cojones “to increase marketing spend” will dramatically enlarge their market share during the recession and—just as enticingly—recover an average of three times faster once happy days return. Counterintuitively, product visibility, more than price cuts or gimmicks like BOGOF (buy one get one free), drives consumers’ purchases in tough times. Better, in short, to blow your budget on aggressive advertising than to lose money offering discounts.

But the real challenge—the art, even—of recession marketing is perfecting a pitch that doesn’t emphasize your hunger for your cash-conscious buyers’ cash. Ogilvy recommends using “reassurance messages”—acknowledgments of the current situation, couched in a spirit of we’re-in-this-together-ness. A good example is a recent Allstate commercial, in which Dennis Haysbert (known as 24‘s crisis-plagued first black president) intones over a Ken Burns-style slideshow of Depression-era photographs, “1931 was not exactly a great year to start a business, but that’s when Allstate opened its doors.” He goes on, “After the fears subside, a funny thing happens: People start enjoying the small things in life—a home-cooked meal, time with loved ones, appreciating the things we do have, the things we can count on. It’s back to basics, and the basics are good.” What exactly home cooking has to do with car insurance is unclear, but that’s the point. Allstate is feeling our pain.

Not that any of this has to be true or even reflect consumers’ best interests: Reassurance messages, Ogilvy notes, “don’t need to be purely rational, of course. Indeed, there is growing evidence that emotionally based messages are more persuasive than rational ones.” Hard to believe companies pay big bucks for news flashes like this.

Ogilvy’s already tried to work its magic for Kool-Aid, a Kraft brand that competes with soft drinks—one of the first things it claims recession-spooked consumers stop buying. “For the price of one bottle of soda, you can mix up five big pitchers of Kool-Aid,” the ad announces, closing with this feel-good tag: “For pennies a glass, keep the whole family refreshed and smiling!” Seriously? Is that all it takes to keep consumers drinking the Kool-Aid?

Maybe so. Like Ogilvy emphasizes, it’s not about intelligence; it’s about speed. In March, after a year of heavy losses, Starbucks announced a new line of instant-coffee packets that sold for less than a dollar apiece. Right idea, but way too late: The coffee juggernaut’s competitors had been attacking its upscale image for months. Dunkin’ Donuts had orchestrated an online “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink Starbucks” viral campaign. McDonald’s was even blunter, rolling out a line of specialty coffees with the in-your-face slogan “Four bucks is dumb. Now serving espresso.” And just like that, fancy-schmancy coffee had been reclaimed for the masses.

So if a $4 mocha latte is now a ridiculous extravagance, how do aspirational brands advertise their way out of this? The current downturn hit just as Hyundai was completing its transformation from economy to luxury brand, unveiling the $37,000 Genesis 4.6 sedan. It could hardly pitch its new line of Lexus wannabes as a frugal investment, nor could it slash prices. In January, it revealed the ultimate reassurance ploy, the Hyundai Assurance Plan. The premise was simple and eye-catching: Buy one of our cars, and if you lose your job, we’ll buy it back.

Once you get into the fine print, of course, the deal isn’t as great as it sounds. The offer is only good for the first year of ownership, if you have made several payments already (or made a steep down payment), and if you can prove that you lost your job involuntarily or went bankrupt. Even then, the Assurance Plan only covers up to $7,500 worth of depreciation.

But what’s remarkable about the promotion is that Hyundai is betting that most buyers will keep their jobs and any returned cars will retain a significant percentage of their value—two assumptions that echo the gamble that landed us in so much trouble in the housing market. The genius of subprime lending was supposed to be the invincible collateral of a big-ticket item. But when too many buyers default on their payments, that same collateral floods the market and swamps new sales—be that for a house or a car. Still, the pitch worked, at least for a month: Hyundai’s January sales jumped 14 percent compared with January 2008, even as the rest of the auto industry’s dropped 37 percent. With numbers like those, other companies are bound to mimic the strategy. (JetBlue already has.) Whatever it takes to make the unnecessary seem less unnecessary.

Of course, it’s not a bad thing if the recession encourges consumers—and by extension, corporate America—to live more within their means. Just in the past few months, GM has announced that it will eliminate its Hummer brand as part of its restructuring; communities across the country, saddled with the closures of chains like Circuit City and Linens ‘n Things, have passed bans on superstores; and sagging sales for the four largest bottled water labels have led their parent companies to cut back on production. Maybe this truly is the dawning of a new market Darwinism. Who will mourn if gas-guzzling SUVs, big-box stores, and mountains of plastic waste go the way of the dodo?

Madison Avenue will, but it will still find a way to repackage our newfound distrust of the big, the slick, and the entitled. Consider a recent Cheetos campaign that never explicitly mentions the economy but plays out like textbook class warfare. In a spot first aired during what some pessimists dubbed the “Dust Bowl Super Bowl,” a woman munches Cheetos while she listens to a snooty soccer mom go on about her son’s “trilingual immersion program.” In the end, the beleaguered woman smears her orange-cheese-tipped fingers all over the back of the snob’s white jacket.

Another spot features a guy named Alejandro eating Flaming Hot Cheetos until his eyes water and his nose runs; when his Gordon Gekko-type boss mistakes him for sick and orders him home, Alejandro responds in an ironic monotone, “Okay, I’ll do it for the sake of this great American corporation.” The message: Your mass-produced corporate junk food hates rich people as much as you do.


By Chalmers Johnson

In her foreword to “The Bases of Empire: The Global Struggle Against U.S. Military Posts,” an important collection of articles on United States militarism and imperialism, edited by Catherine Lutz, the prominent feminist writer Cynthia Enloe notes one of our most abject failures as a government and a democracy: “There is virtually no news coverage—no journalists’ or editors’ curiosity—about the pressures or lures at work when the U.S. government seeks to persuade officials of Romania, Aruba or Ecuador that providing U.S. military-basing access would be good for their countries.” The American public, if not the residents of the territories in question, is almost totally innocent of the huge costs involved, the crimes committed by our soldiers against women and children in the occupied territories, the environmental pollution, and the deep and abiding suspicions generated among people forced to live close to thousands of heavily armed, culturally myopic and dangerously indoctrinated American soldiers. This book is an antidote to such parochialism.

Catherine Lutz is an anthropologist at Brown University and the author of an ethnography of an American city that is indubitably part of the American military complex: Fayetteville, N.C., adjacent to Fort Bragg, home of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School (see “Homefront, A Military City and the American Twentieth Century,” Beacon Press, 2002). On the opening page of her introduction to the current volume, Lutz makes a real contribution to the study of the American empire of bases. She writes, “Officially, over 190,000 troops and 115,000 civilian employees are massed in 909 military facilities in 46 countries and territories.” She cites as her source the Department of Defense’s Base Structure Report for fiscal year 2007. This is the Defense Department’s annual inventory of real estate that it owns or leases in the United States and in foreign countries. Oddly, however, the total of 909 foreign bases does not appear in the 2007 BSR. Instead, it gives the numbers of 823 bases located in other people’s countries and 86 sites located in U.S. territories. So Lutz has combined the foreign and territorial bases—which include American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, Johnston Atoll, the Northern Marianas Islands, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Wake Island. Guam is host to at least 30 military sites and Puerto Rico to 41 bases.

book cover

The Bases of Empire

By Catherine Lutz

NYU Press, 356 pages

Buy the book

Combining the two numbers is a good idea. Some of the most deplorable conditions in the American military empire exist in U.S. territories, notably in Puerto Rico, where the citizens fought a long battle to stop the naval bombardment of Vieques Island, and in Guam, where the government plans to relocate more than 8,000 Marines from Okinawa together with a $13 billion expansion of Air Force and Navy facilities. The result will be an almost 15 percent increase in Guam’s population, which will significantly exceed the capacity of the island’s water and solid-waste systems. (See “U.S. Military Guam Buildup Spurs Worry over Services,” San Diego Union-Tribune, April 12, 2009.) In the book under review here, Lutz also includes an essay on the state of Hawaii, with its 161 military installations (in 2004) covering 6 percent of the state’s land area (22 percent of the state’s most densely populated island, Oahu). The military is easily Hawaii’s largest polluter, including the secret use of depleted uranium ammunition at the Shofield range, evidence of which was uncovered in 2006.

It should be noted that the BSR for fiscal 2008 has been available since the summer of last year and it somewhat alters Lutz’s figures. It gives details on 761 bases in other people’s countries and 104 U.S. territories, which produces a Lutz total of 865. Such small variations from year to year have been typical of the American empire throughout the Cold War. Some 865 bases located in all the continents except Antarctica is not only a staggeringly large number compared even with the great empires of the past, but one the U.S. clearly cannot afford given its severely weakened economic condition.

Nonetheless, there has been no public discussion by the Obama administration over starting to liquidate our overseas bases or beginning to scale back our imperialist presence in the rest of the world. One must also remember that the BSR is an official source that often conflicts with other reports on the numbers of American military personnel located all over the world. It omits many bases that the Department of Defense wants to conceal or play down, notably those in Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel. For example, just one of the many unlisted bases in Iraq, Ballad Air Base, houses 30,000 troops and 10,000 contractors, and extends across 16 square miles with an additional 12-square-mile “security perimeter.”

One other subject that Lutz touches on in her introduction and that cries out for a book-length study is the political machinations that every American embassy and military base on earth engages in to undermine and change local laws that stand in the way of U.S.  military plans. For years the United States has interfered in the domestic affairs of nations to bring about “regime change,” rig elections, free American servicemen who have been charged with extremely serious felonies against local civilians, indoctrinate the local officer corps in American militarist values (as at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Fort Benning, Ga.), and preserve and protect the so-called Status of Forces Agreements that the United States imposes on all nations with U.S. bases. These SOFAs give our troops extraterritorial privileges such as freedom from local laws and from passport and travel regulations, and they absolve the U.S. from a country’s anti-pollution requirements, noise restrictions and environmental laws.

Mapping U.S. Power

The first essay in Lutz’s collection is by one of the few genuine veterans of military base studies, Joseph Gerson, the New England director of programs for the American Friends Service Committee. He is the editor (along with Bruce Birchard) of “The Sun Never Sets: Confronting the Network of U.S. Military Bases” (Boston: South End Press, 1991). His essay on “U.S. Foreign Military Bases and Military Colonialism: Personal and Analytical Perspectives” is particularly good on the hypocrisy and opportunism that imperialism imposes on our foreign policy, regardless of our intentions. For example, he notes, in the words of the American Declaration of Independence, the “abuses and usurpations” that King George III of England imposed on us though his “standing armies kept among us, in times of peace.”

Today the “abuses and usurpations” of American standing armies “include more than rape, murder, sexual harassment, robbery, other common crimes, seizure of people’s lands, destruction of property, and the cultural imperialism that have accompanied foreign armies since time immemorial. They now include terrorizing jet blasts of frequent low-altitude and night-landing exercises, helicopters and warplanes crashing into homes and schools and the poisoning of environments and communities with military toxins; and they transform ‘host’ communities into targets for genocidal nuclear as well as ‘conventional’ attacks.” When it comes to opportunism, Gerson notes that the Navy’s Indian Ocean tsunami relief operations of 2005 helped open the way for U.S. forces to return to Thailand and for greater cooperation with the Indonesian military.

John Lindsay-Poland’s essay “U.S. Military Bases in Latin America and the Caribbean” is informed by his extensive background in organizing and supporting struggles for the closure and environmental cleanup of U.S. military bases in Panama and Puerto Rico. His essay is comprehensive and historically detailed, although it appears to have been completed in late 2007 or early 2008 and some of the information has been overtaken by recent events. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has refused to renew our lease on Manta Air Base when it expires in November 2009; and the U.S. Army’s 2005 attempt to woo Paraguay flopped. After the Americans are expelled from the Manta base in November the only physical facilities of the U.S. military in South America will be in Colombia.

In 2005 and 2006, the United States tried to seduce Paraguay into giving the U.S. a permanent base by sending several hundred soldiers to provide medical assistance and dig wells. As it turned out, these ancient ploys did not work. Suspicions of the American military’s motives were aroused throughout the cone of South America, and the local population pronounced itself fully capable of digging wells unassisted by foreign troops. Lindsay-Poland notes that the “medical attention [in Paraguay] was one-time only, and …  U.S. personnel handed out unlabeled medicines indiscriminately, regardless of the differences in medical conditions.”

David Heller and Hans Lammerant have contributed one of the most useful essays in the volume on “U.S. Nuclear Weapons Bases in Europe.” Information on this subject is scarce and the U.S. press is frightened of reporting what little is available for fear of raising a taboo topic. Heller has been actively involved with anti-nuclear and anti-militarist campaigns in Britain, Belgium and other European countries since the early 1990s. Lammerant has long supported the Belgian branch of War Resisters International.

They reveal that there are today still an estimated 350 to 480 free-fall B-61-type tactical nuclear weapons in the territories of the NATO allies, compared with a maximum of 7,300 land, air, and sea-based nuclear weapons based in Europe in 1971. The bombs are housed at eight air bases in six NATO countries, all of which enjoy Bechtel-installed Weapons Storage and Security Systems, type WS-3. These devices are vaults installed in the floors within a “protective aircraft shelter” and allow for the arming of bombs and aircraft inside hangars, offering high degrees of secrecy and (supposedly) security. Heller and Lammerant note that the weapons based in Europe are “secret, deadly, illegal, costly, militarily useless, politically motivated, and deeply, deeply unpopular.” Before they were all withdrawn, ground-launched nuclear missiles were based at Greenham Common and Molesworth in Britain, Comiso in Italy, Florennes in Belgium, and Wuescheim in the former West Germany. Pershing II missiles were based at Schwaebisch-Gmuend, Neu Ulm, and Waldheide-Neckarsulm in West Germany.

One of the themes stressed by Catherine Lutz as editor of this book is the prominent role played by women and women’s organizations in resisting American military imperialism over the years. All of the chapters offer details on the contributions of women to anti-base resistance activities, particularly in the case of the nuclear bases in Europe. Following the U.S. decision to station nuclear weapons at Greenham Common in the south of England, local women created “Women for Life on Earth” and maintained a constant presence in front of the base from 1981 to 2000 (even though the nuclear weapons were secretly removed in 1991).

Heller and Lammerant conclude their essay with details on the early-warning radars, anti-missile bases, military hubs to support operations in Africa, and facilities extant or being constructed at Thule in Greenland, Vardo in Denmark, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Vicenza in northern Italy. On March 17, 2009, the Czech government rejected a proposal by the Pentagon to install a U.S. military radar base in the Czech Republic because the lower house of the Czech parliament seemed certain to vote against it.

Tom Engelhardt’s contribution, “Iraq as a Pentagon Construction Site,” is a cobbled-together version of two essays first published on TomDispatch, of which Engelhardt is editor. All source citations have been removed from the Lutz version, but readers can consult the original essays—“A Basis for Enduring Relationships in Iraq,” Dec. 2, 2007, and “Baseless Considerations,” Nov. 4, 2007.

The essays are tours de force on the construction of probably permanent American military bases in occupied Iraq and of the massive fortress—- as large as the Vatican—in the Green Zone of Baghdad that is the “American Embassy.” Engelhardt’s work is a model of how to glean information from the public press on subjects that the American military is trying to keep secret. This is the best research we have to date on the bases in Iraq and the billions of dollars that flowed into the coffers of Halliburton Corp. to build them. (Truth in reporting: Engelhardt is the editor of all three of my books in the Blowback Trilogy.)

Global Resistance

Roland G. Simbulan’s “People’s Movement Responses to Evolving U.S. Military Activities in the Philippines” is a detailed analysis of how the United States has tried to get back into its former colony after the Philippine Senate voted on Sept. 16, 1991, to close all American military facilities and ordered U.S. troops to withdraw. Simbulan is a professor at the University of the Philippines and he played an active role in the “people’s power” movement that overthrew the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and led to the 1991 rejection of the bases treaty.

Simbulan is justified in calling his country’s active protests against the Americans and their domestic lackeys “the most vibrant social movement in Southeast Asia,” but he is at pains to stress that the Americans are unreconciled to their colonial defeat. They continue with unabated creativity to invent “visiting forces agreements” aimed at restoring the U.S. troops’ old extraterritorial privileges and “joint military exercises” against domestic criminal gangs such as the Abu Sayyaf bandits in Mindanao and other Islamic provinces of the southern Philippines.

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. has also tried to overstate the threat of Islamic radicalism in the Philippines, even though there has been a slow-burning insurgency by indigenous Muslims for over 20 years, and it has pressured the Philippine government to abandon the anti-nuclear weapons provisions of its 1987 constitution. Americans may also be implicated in a clandestine campaign of selective killings of political activists, peasant and trade union leaders, human rights workers, lawyers and church people “in a pattern that was strikingly similar to that of Operation Phoenix”—the terrorist exercise run by the CIA in Vietnam that took the lives of some 30,000 suspected members of the National Liberation Front. Simbulan has written an important analysis of why the Philippines seems unable to get out from under the shadow of the United States despite the victories of “people power” almost 20 years ago.

David Vine’s and Laura Jeffrey’s article entitled “Give Us Back Diego Garcia: Unity and Division Among Activists in the Indian Ocean,” is a lively treatment of the seemingly hopeless efforts of the indigenous people of the island of Diego Garcia to obtain some measure of justice. In 1964, they were expropriated and forcibly expelled by the British government at the insistence of the U.S. Navy so that it could turn the entire island into an American military base.

This essay builds on Vine’s important monograph “Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia,” Princeton University Press, 2009. Vine is a professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, D.C. Jeffrey holds a postdoctoral fellowship in anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. She has carried out ethnographic fieldwork among the Chagossians, the exiled people of Diego Garcia, now living in Mauritius and the United Kingdom.

In 1960, U.S. government officials secretly approached their British counterparts about acquiring the tiny island of Diego Garcia in the middle of the Indian Ocean as a site for a military base. By 1964, the United Kingdom agreed to detach Diego Garcia and the rest of the surrounding Chagos archipelago from its colony Mauritius and several island groups from colonial Seychelles to create a strategic military colony, the British Indian Ocean Territory. In a flagrant violation of human rights, Britain then removed the native inhabitants of Diego Garcia and Chagos, dumping them in Mauritius and Seychelles, 1,300 miles away, where they live today in abject poverty.

By 1973, the United States had completed the nucleus of a super-secret base that would grow faster than any other U.S. base since the Vietnam War. After the attacks of 9/11, the United States used Diego Garcia’s twin parallel runways, each over two miles in length, to launch its fleet of B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers in its assault on Afghanistan, and its 2003 “shock and awe” campaign against Iraq. Diego Garcia also became the site of a secret CIA detention and torture facility for suspected terrorists.

According to John Pike, who runs the military analysis Web site, Diego Garcia lies at the center of American imperialist plans in case the nations of East Asia should decide that they have had enough of American military forces based on their territories. According to Pike, “[Diego Garcia] is the single most important military facility we’ve got.” The military’s goal, Pike says, is that “we’ll be able to run the planet from Guam and Diego Garcia by 2015, even if the entire Eastern Hemisphere has drop-kicked us from bases on their territory.” With characteristic hypocrisy, the Pentagon has named the Diego Garcia base “Camp Justice.”

Environmental Issues

Environmental and health issues have become the most important new focus in the long-standing conflicts between the U.S. military and civilian communities. Chief evidence is the victory of popular mobilization and civil disobedience against the Navy’s 60-year-long bombing of Vieques, a 51-square-mile island municipality six miles off the southeast coast of the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. Katherine T. McCaffrey’s expert treatment of the four-year-long movement to force an end to the bombing of Vieques is one the most important pieces in Lutz’s anthology. The bombing of a Caribbean island inhabited by 10,000 American civilians also exposed Puerto Rico’s lack of sovereignty and the second-class status of its residents within the U.S. polity. Emphasis on environmental issues overcame the Puerto Ricans’ traditional reluctance to politicize their plight and created a broad popular movement that mobilized women and caused the Catholic and Protestant churches to join hands.

On April 19, 1999, the Vieques movement was further strengthened and united when it acquired a martyr. Two U.S. Navy F-18 jet aircraft traveling at supersonic speeds accidentally dropped two 500-pound bombs on the compound that the Navy used to survey the shelling. A civilian security guard, David Sanes, who was patrolling the area, was knocked unconscious and subsequently bled to death. The result was that civilians occupied the site for more than a year, causing the Navy to move its bombing range to North Carolina. Given their access to the site, the occupiers also discovered that the Navy was using depleted uranium ammunition on Vieques. In May 2003, the Navy was finally forced off the island. McCaffrey concludes, “After decades of secrecy surrounding its activities, the military is emerging as the single largest polluter in the United States, single-handedly producing 27,000 toxic-waste sites in this country.”

From Vieques, mobilization based on environmental and health concerns spread to the Navy-controlled island of Kahoolawe in Hawaii, where it was equally successful in forcing the Navy to pull out. Kahoolawe had been occupied and bombed by the U.S. Navy since the outbreak of World War II. Kyle Kajihiro’s essay “Resisting Militarization in Hawaii,” touches on this and other military issues in Hawaii. Kajihiro is the American Friends Service Committee’s program director in Hawaii, who since 1996 has been active in the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. His article is less a scholarly analysis of the popular protests against the huge military presence in Hawaii than a well-informed, impassioned brief for the rights of the Kanaka Maoli (native Hawaiians). Kajihiro also points out that for the first time since World War II, tourism is now a bigger part of the Hawaiian economy than the military installations. His essay is a valuable contribution to the comparatively small literature on the problems of militarism within the United States.

The essay by Ayse Gul Altinay and Amy Holmes, “Opposition to the U.S. Military Presence in Turkey in the Context of the Iraq War,” is important for three reasons. First, there is very little published on the bases in Turkey; second, Incirlik Air Base on the outskirts of Adana, Turkey, is the largest U.S. military facility in a strategically vital NATO ally; and third, the decision on March 1, 2003, of the Turkish National Assembly not to deploy Turkish forces in Iraq nor to allow the United States to use Turkey as an invasion route into Iraq was one of the Bush administration’s greatest setbacks. Public opinion polls in January 2003 revealed that 90 percent of Turks opposed U.S. imperialism against Iraq and 83 percent opposed Turkey’s cooperating with the United States. Nonetheless, major U.S. newspapers either ignored or trivialized Turkey’s opposition to U.S. war plans.

Altinay is a professor of anthropology at Sabanci University, Turkey, and the author of “The Myth of the Military Nation: Militarism, Gender, and Education in Turkey” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). Holmes is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the Johns Hopkins University and has written extensively on American bases in Germany and Turkey.

Turkey is not an easy place to do research on American bases. Some 41 percent of bilateral agreements between the U.S. and Turkey between 1947 and 1965 were secret. It was not known that the U.S. had stationed missiles on Turkish territory until the U.S. promised to remove them in return for the USSR’s withdrawing its missiles from Cuba. Incirlik became even more central to U.S. strategy after 1974. In that year, Turkey invaded Cyprus and the United States imposed an arms embargo on its ally. As a result, Turkey closed all 27 U.S. bases in the country except for one, Incirlik. As Altinay and Holmes write, “It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of the Incirlik Air Base for U.S. power projection in the Middle East, particularly since the early 1990s; for more than a decade, the entire Iraq policy of the United States hinged on Incirlik.”

My choice of the best article in the Lutz volume is Kozue Akibayashi’s and Suzuyo Takazato‘s “Okinawa: Women’s Struggle for Demilitarization.” The persecution of the native population of the island of Okinawa, Japan’s most southerly and poorest prefecture, by the American occupiers and the Japanese government since at least the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 has been told often and is reasonably well known in mainland Japan and among the U.S. armed forces. Akibayashi and Takazato expertly retell the essence of the story here, but what makes the article a standout is their emphasis on the mistreatment of Okinawan women and girls and their theoretically sophisticated conclusions.

Akibayashi is a researcher at the Institute for Gender Studies of Ochanomizu University in Tokyo. Takazato is one of the best-known activists in the struggle of Okinawan women to escape the threat of sexual violence by American military personnel. She is an elected member of the City Council in Naha, the capital of Okinawa, and one of the founders of Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, which was created in the wake of the gang rape on Sept. 4, 1995 of a 12-year-old Okinawa schoolgirl by two U.S. Marines and a sailor. The purpose of Takazato’s organization was to prevent a recurrence of attacks by the U.S. military on Okinawan women and to protect the young victim of Sept. 4 from unwanted publicity. The organization subsequently created the Rape Emergency Intervention Counseling Center in Okinawa, and has worked to end the U.S. military occupation of the island chain. Unfortunately, despite heroic efforts to get American military commanders to enforce discipline among their troops and strong representations to the Japanese government to take an interest in the plight of the Okinawans, little has changed. This has led Akibayashi and Takazato to two significant conclusions.

(1) “Integral elements of misogyny infect military training. …The military is a violence-producing institution to which sexual and gender violence are intrinsic. … The essence of military forces is their pervasive, deep-rooted contempt for women, which can be seen in military training that completely denies femininity and praises hegemonic masculinity.”

(2) “The OWAAMV [Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence] movement illustrates from a gender perspective that ‘the protected,’ who are structurally deprived of political power, are in fact not protected by the militarized security policies; rather their livelihoods are made insecure by these very policies. The movement has also illuminated the fact that ‘gated’ bases do not confine military violence to within the bases. Those hundred-of-miles-long fences around the bases are there only to assure the readiness of the military and military operations by excluding and even oppressing the people living outside the gated bases.”

These two propositions—misogyny in the official education of American troops and hypocrisy in describing the benefits to locals of foreign military bases—are significant. I believe that they should inform future research on the American empire around the world to see if they can be verified in many different contexts and to further develop their various implications. Meanwhile, these erudite essays should cause Americans to reflect on the nature of U.S. imperialism just at the point where it is most probably starting to decline due to economic constraints and popular exhaustion with the wars and deaths it has caused.

Chalmers Johnson is the author of “Blowback” (2000), “The Sorrows of Empire” (2004), and “Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic” (2006), and editor of “Okinawa: Cold War Island” (1999).

Source :


Sut Jhally: On film Peace, Propaganda & The Promised Land: US Media & The Israeli-Palestinian

Peace, Propaganda & the Promised Land is a film that provides a comparison of U.S. and international media coverage of the crisis in the Middle East, zeroing in on how structural distortions in U.S. coverage have reinforced false perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This pivotal documentary exposes how the foreign policy interests of American political elites–oil, and a need to have a secure military base in the region, among others–work in combination with Israeli public relations strategies to exercise a powerful influence over how news from the region is reported.

Here’s a link to the full length film Peace Propaganda and The Promise Land….


The Obama administration has renewed sanctions on Syria because of “serious concerns” over its behavior, despite sending two envoys to Damascus this week to try to improve ties, U.S. officials said on Friday.

“The president felt it was necessary,” said State Department spokesman Robert Wood, referring to the renewal of the sanctions, which is required each year by Congress.

“This shows you that we still have some very serious concerns about Syrian behavior and activities in the world.”


The sanctions, imposed by former President George W. Bush, prohibit arms exports to Syria, block Syrian airlines from operating in the United States and deny Syrians suspected of being associated with terrorist groups access to the U.S. financial system.

While the United States has made clear it wants better relations with Syria, a nation it has long accused of supporting terrorism, the renewal of sanctions shows Washington is not yet ready for a dramatic improvement in relations.

The announcement came a day after Jeffrey Feltman, the State Department’s top Middle East envoy, held talks with Syrian officials in Damascus.

Feltman was accompanied to Damascus by White House official Daniel
Shapiro. Their trip was part of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration’s outreach to nations shunned by former President George Bush.

Meanwhile, a U.S. diplomat told Lebanese officials Friday that his country will not pursue relations with Syria at the expense of its ties to Lebanon.

“There is no deal with Damascus at Lebanon’s expense and no compromise on the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (for the assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri),” US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Hale said after meeting with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman at Baabda palace.

The Lebanese daily an-Nahar said Hale is expected to inform Lebanese officials about the results of Feltman’s meetings in Damascus. He will also reiterate U.S. support for Lebanon.

Syria, which has been a power broker in Lebanon for 30 years, pulled its troops from its small neighboring country in 2005, but still has influential allies in the opposition. Those allies are in a tight race with the majority in Lebanon’s upcoming Parliamentary elections, scheduled for June.


Rage spreads in Afghanistan after a U.S. bombing kills some 130 people; Meanwhile the Pentagon spins a cover-up and Obama readies more troops.

By Jeremy Scahill, Rebel Reports. Posted May 7, 2009.

As President Barack Obama prepares to send some 21,000 more U.S. troops into Afghanistan, anger is rising in the western province of Farah, the scene of a U.S. bombing massacre that may have killed as many as 130 Afghans, including 13 members of one family. At least six houses were bombed and among the dead and wounded are women and children. As of this writing reports indicate some people remain buried in rubble. The U.S. airstrikes happened on Monday and Tuesday. Just hours after Obama met with U.S.-backed president Hamid Karzai Wednesday, hundreds of Afghans — perhaps as many as 2,000 — poured into the streets of the provincial capital, chanting “Death to America.” The protesters demanded a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In Washington, Karzai said he and the U.S. occupation forces should operate from a “higher platform of morality,” saying, “We must be conducting this war as better human beings,” and recognize that “force won’t buy you obedience.” And yet, his security forces opened fire on the demonstrators, reportedly wounding five people.

According to The New York Times:

In a phone call played on a loudspeaker on Wednesday to outraged members of the Afghan Parliament, the governor of Farah Province, Rohul Amin, said that as many as 130 civilians had been killed, according to a legislator, Mohammad Naim Farahi. Afghan lawmakers immediately called for an agreement regulating foreign military operations in the country.

“The governor said that the villagers have brought two tractor trailers full of pieces of human bodies to his office to prove the casualties that had occurred,” Mr. Farahi said. “Everyone at the governor’s office was crying, watching that shocking scene.”

Mr. Farahi said he had talked to someone he knew personally who had counted 113 bodies being buried, including those of many women and children. Later, more bodies were pulled from the rubble and some victims who had been taken to the hospital died, he said.

The U.S. airstrikes hit villages in two areas of Farah province on Monday night and Tuesday. The extent of the deaths only came to public light because local people brought 20-30 corpses to the provincial capital. If the estimates of 130 dead are confirmed, it would reportedly be the single largest number of deaths caused by a U.S. bombing since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton initially “apologized” Wednesday for the civilian deaths and Obama reportedly conveyed similar sentiments to Karzai when they met in person, later in the day Clinton’s spokesperson, Robert Wood, framed her apology as being based on preliminary information and, according to AP, said they “were offered as a gesture, before all the facts of the incident are known.” By day’s end, the Pentagon was seeking to blame the Taliban for “staging” the massacre to blame it on the U.S. Last night, NBC News’s Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski said military sources told him Taliban fighters used grenades to kill three families to “stage” a massacre and then blame it on the U.S.

The senior U.S. military and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, spoke in general terms: “We have some other information that leads us to distinctly different conclusions about the cause of the civilian casualties,” he said. McKiernan left the specific details of the spin to unnamed officials.

According to The Washington Post, “A U.S. defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that ‘the Taliban went to a concerted effort to make it look like the U.S. airstrikes caused this. The official did not offer evidence to support the claim, and could not say what had caused the deaths.” Meanwhile, according to the Associated Press, a senior Defense official who did not want to be identified “said late Wednesday that Marine special operations forces believe the Afghan civilians were killed by grenades hurled by Taliban militants, who then loaded some of the bodies into a vehicle and drove them around the village, claiming the dead were victims of an American airstrike. A second U.S. official said a senior Taliban commander is believed to have ordered the grenade attack.”

As the AP reported, “it would be the first time the Taliban has used grenades in this way.”

While the Pentagon spins its story, the International Committee of the Red Cross has stated bluntly that U.S. airstrikes hit civilian houses and revealed that an ICRC counterpart in the Red Crescent was among the dead. “We know that those killed included an Afghan Red Crescent volunteer and 13 members of his family who had been sheltering from fighting in a house that was bombed in an air strike,” said the ICRC’s head of delegation in Kabul, Reto Stocker. “We are deeply concerned by these events. Tribal elders in the villages called the ICRC during the fighting to report civilian casualties and ask for help. As soon as we heard of the attacks we contacted all sides to warn them that there were civilians and injured people in the area.”

Read the entire ICRC statement here.

The Times, meanwhile, interviewed local people who contradict the unnamed U.S. Defense officials’ version of events:

Villagers reached by telephone said many were killed by aerial bombing. Muhammad Jan, a farmer, said fighting had broken out in his village, Shiwan, and another, Granai, in the Bala Baluk district. An hour after it stopped, the planes came, he said.

In Granai, he said, women and children had sought shelter in orchards and houses. “Six houses were bombed and destroyed completely, and people in the houses still remain under the rubble,” he said, “and now I am working with other villagers trying to excavate the dead bodies.”

He said that villagers, crazed with grief, were collecting mangled bodies in blankets and shawls and piling them on three tractors. People were still missing, he said.

Mr. Agha, who lives in Granai, said the bombing started at 5 p.m. on Monday and lasted until late into the night. “People were rushing to go to their relatives’ houses, where they believed they would be safe, but they were hit on the way,” he said.

In her earlier statement regarding the bombing, Clinton told Hamid Karzai “there will be a joint investigation by your government and ours.”

But before that investigation began, the Pentagon was already using its unnamed officials to blame the Taliban. It also bears remembering that the U.S. track record of thoroughly “investigating” U.S. massacres is pathetic. The UN said there was convincing evidence that last year’s U.S. attack on the village of Azizabad in western Afghanistan killed 90 civilians, but the military only acknowledged 30 civilian deaths.

Standing between Hamid Karzai and Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday, Obama said the U.S. would “make every effort” to avoid civilian deaths in both countries (which are regularly bombed by the U.S.). But as he was making those remarks, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was arriving in Kabul on Wednesday “to make sure that preparations were moving forward for the troop increase and that soldiers and Marines were getting the equipment they needed.”

Jessica Barry, a spokesperson for the ICRC said, “With more troops coming in, there is a risk that civilians will be more and more vulnerable.”


See more stories tagged with: pentagon, afghanistan, robert gates, barack obama, taliban, hilary clinton, u.s. military, hamid karzai, david mckiernan, farah, afghan airstrikes, asif ali zardari, rohul amin, mohammad naim farahi, jim miklaszewski

Jeremy Scahill, an independent journalist who reports frequently for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!, has spent extensive time reporting from Iraq and Yugoslavia. He is currently a Puffin Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. Scahill is the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. His writing and reporting is available at


By Mark Feeney and Bryan Marquard, Globe Staff

Howard Zinn, the Boston University historian and political activist who was an early opponent of US involvement in Vietnam and whose books, such as “A People’s History of the United States,” inspired young and old to rethink the way textbooks present the American experience, died today in Santa Monica, Calif, where he was traveling. He was 87.

His daughter, Myla Kabat-Zinn of Lexington, said he suffered a heart attack.

“He’s made an amazing contribution to American intellectual and moral culture,” Noam Chomsky, the left-wing activist and MIT professor, said tonight. “He’s changed the conscience of America in a highly constructive way. I really can’t think of anyone I can compare him to in this respect.”

Howard Zinn Howard Zinn.
ARCHIVE | 4/1/08

Chomsky added that Dr. Zinn’s writings “simply changed perspective and understanding for a whole generation. He opened up approaches to history that were novel and highly significant. Both by his actions, and his writings for 50 years, he played a powerful role in helping and in many ways inspiring the Civil rights movement and the anti-war movement.”

For Dr. Zinn, activism was a natural extension of the revisionist brand of history he taught. “A People’s History of the United States” (1980), his best-known book, had for its heroes not the Founding Fathers — many of them slaveholders and deeply attached to the status quo, as Dr. Zinn was quick to point out — but rather the farmers of Shays’ Rebellion and union organizers of the 1930s.

As he wrote in his autobiography, “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train” (1994), “From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than ‘objectivity’; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble.”

Certainly, it was a recipe for rancor between Dr. Zinn and John Silber, former president of Boston University. Dr. Zinn, a leading critic of Silber, twice helped lead faculty votes to oust the BU president, who in turn once accused Dr. Zinn of arson (a charge he quickly retracted) and cited him as a prime example of teachers “who poison the well of academe.”

Dr. Zinn was a cochairman of the strike committee when BU professors walked out in 1979. After the strike was settled, he and four colleagues were charged with violating their contract when they refused to cross a picket line of striking secretaries. The charges against “the BU Five” were soon dropped.

In 1997, Dr. Zinn slipped into popular culture when his writing made a cameo appearance in the film “Good Will Hunting.” The title character, played by Matt Damon, lauds “A People’s History” and urges Robin Williams’s character to read it. Damon, who co-wrote the script, was a neighbor of the Zinns growing up.

“Howard had a great mind and was one of the great voices in the American political life,” Ben Affleck, also a family friend growing up and Damon’s co-star in “Good Will Hunting,” said in a statement. “He taught me how valuable — how necessary — dissent was to democracy and to America itself. He taught that history was made by the everyman, not the elites. I was lucky enough to know him personally and I will carry with me what I learned from him — and try to impart it to my own children — in his memory.”

Damon was later involved in a television version of the book, “The People Speak,” which ran on the History Channel in 2009, and he narrated a 2004 biographical documentary, “Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.”

“Howard had a genius for the shape of public morality and for articulating the great alternative vision of peace as more than a dream,” said James Carroll a columnist for the Globe’s opinion pages whose friendship with Dr. Zinn dates to when Carroll was a Catholic chaplain at BU. “But above all, he had a genius for the practical meaning of love. That is what drew legions of the young to him and what made the wide circle of his friends so constantly amazed and grateful.”

Dr. Zinn was born in New York City on Aug. 24, 1922, the son of Jewish immigrants, Edward Zinn, a waiter, and Jennie (Rabinowitz) Zinn, a housewife. He attended New York public schools and was working in the Brooklyn Navy Yard when he met Roslyn Shechter.

“She was working as a secretary,” Dr. Zinn said in an interview with the Globe nearly two years ago. “We were both working in the same neighborhood, but we didn’t know each other. A mutual friend asked me to deliver something to her. She opened the door, I saw her, and that was it.”

He joined the Army Air Corps, and they courted through the mail before marrying in October 1944 while he was on his first furlough. She died in 2008.

During World War II, he served as a bombardier, was awarded the Air Medal, and attained the rank of second lieutenant.

After the war, Dr. Zinn worked at a series of menial jobs until entering New York University on the GI Bill as a 27-year-old freshman. He worked nights in a warehouse loading trucks to support his studies. He received his bachelor’s degree from NYU, followed by master’s and doctoral degrees in history from Columbia University.

Dr. Zinn was an instructor at Upsala College and lecturer at Brooklyn College before joining the faculty of Spelman College in Atlanta, in 1956. He served at the historically black women’s institution as chairman of the history department. Among his students were novelist Alice Walker, who called him “the best teacher I ever had,” and Marian Wright Edelman, future head of the Children’s Defense Fund.

During this time, Dr. Zinn became active in the civil rights movement. He served on the executive committee of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the most aggressive civil rights organization of the time, and participated in numerous demonstrations.

Dr. Zinn became an associate professor of political science at BU in 1964 and was named full professor in 1966.

The focus of his activism became the Vietnam War. Dr. Zinn spoke at many rallies and teach-ins and drew national attention when he and the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, another leading antiwar activist, went to Hanoi in 1968 to receive three prisoners released by the North Vietnamese.

Dr. Zinn’s involvement in the antiwar movement led to his publishing two books: “Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal” (1967) and “Disobedience and Democracy” (1968). He had previously published “LaGuardia in Congress” (1959), which had won the American Historical Association’s Albert J. Beveridge Prize; “SNCC: The New Abolitionists” (1964); “The Southern Mystique” (1964); and “New Deal Thought” (1966).

He also was the author of “The Politics of History” (1970); “Postwar America” (1973); “Justice in Everyday Life” (1974); and “Declarations of Independence” (1990).

In 1988, Dr. Zinn took early retirement to concentrate on speaking and writing. The latter activity included writing for the stage. Dr. Zinn had two plays produced: “Emma,” about the anarchist leader Emma Goldman, and “Daughter of Venus.”

On his last day at BU, Dr. Zinn ended class 30 minutes early so he could join a picket line and urged the 500 students attending his lecture to come along. A hundred did.

“Howard was an old and very close friend,” Chomsky said. “He was a person of real courage and integrity, warmth and humor. He was just a remarkable person.”

Carroll called Dr. Zinn “simply one of the greatest Americans of our time. He will not be replaced — or soon forgotten. How we loved him back.”

In addition to his daughter, Dr. Zinn leaves a son, Jeff of Wellfleet; three granddaughters; and two grandsons.

Funeral plans were not available.