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    What Happened After Cairo? Assessing 20 Years of Work on "Population and Development"

    Truthout - Thu, 09/25/2014 - 00:00

    Refugees from wars in Libya to Syria look out a bus window as they wait to be transferred to temporary accommodations shortly after arriving to Sicily by boat at the Catania port in Sicily, Italy, Sept. 12, 2014. (Photo: Lynsey Addario / The New York Times)

    Truthout readers like you made this story possible. Show your support for independent news and make a tax-deductible donation today!

    Twenty years after the first International Conference on Population and Development, a billion people have moved out of extreme poverty, literacy rates in some of the world's least developed countries are on the rise, life expectancy is up and yet there remains far more to do.

    The place was Egypt, the year, 1994. The number of governments present was 179. The issue on the table was, well, everything.

    The acronym known to a knot of international development experts, activists and heads of state as the "ICPD" is a relatively obscure reference to the rest of the world.

    It refers to a landmark gathering, the International Conference on Population and Development, where world leaders unanimously agreed to a remarkable set of goals to tackle some of the most pressing problems of the time: gaping inequalities, ragged poverty and environmental degradation.

    Perhaps most significantly, the Egypt meeting in 1994 was the first time in history when every government present recognized that equality of the sexes, as well as sexual and reproductive health and rights, were "prerequisite" to sustainable development. The consensus paved the way for two decades of solid efforts to ship contraceptives to far-flung corners of the world, educate young people about sex and sexuality, and stem the bloodbath of maternal mortality.

    This year is the 20th anniversary of the Cairo conference, and the United Nations tells us there is a lot to celebrate: One billion people have moved out of extreme poverty; literacy rates in some of the world's least developed countries are on the rise; life expectancy is up and fears of overpopulation have been largely dispelled, replaced by the more concrete analysis that overconsumption by wealthy nations, rather than rampant childbearing in poorer nations, is the main culprit behind ecological stress, global warming and aching hunger.

    But scour the many thousands of pages dedicated to tracking progress on the ICPD Program of Action, and it would appear the good news stops there. This vague and nebulous topic known as "population and development" encompasses everything from slums and female genital mutilation to HIV and gender violence - and if you break them down to bare math, the numbers are stunning:

    • Every single day, 800 women die while giving birth.
    • In 2012, 863 million people were living in slums, up from 650 million in 1990.
    • The death rate from abortions in Africa and Asia stand at 460 and 160 deaths per 100,000 abortions.
    • Some 142 million girls are at risk of being married off before their 18th birthday, while 15 million girls, 15 to 19 years old, give birth every year.
    • One in three women worldwide has experienced physical or sexual abuse, most likely at the hands of an intimate partner.
    • About 125 million women and girls worldwide live with the consequences of female genital mutilation and cutting.
    • Roughly 15.4 million people were classified as refugees in 2012, the same year that saw 28.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs).
    • Over 30 percent of the world's 7 billion people are still living in poverty.

    It is hard to fathom such statistics, let alone the vast plains of law, policy and politics on which they lie. But we must grapple with them in order to understand the world we live in; we must assess where 20 years of massive economic growth and technological advancement have brought us and we must similarly use this moment to solemnly consider the changing population dynamics that will shape the next two decades.

    Consider, for instance, that in 2007, for the first time in history, the global urban population exceeded the global rural population, with 54 percent of humans now dwelling in cities, a number that the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) says is projected to hit 66 percent by 2060.

    Consider also that while maternal deaths have dropped by 47 percent over the last decade, some nations still lose one in 38 mothers for every 100,000 live births. In sub-Saharan Africa - the same region that is home to the 10 countries with the worst maternal mortality ratios in the world - 179,000 women die while giving birth every single year, according to the World Health Organization.

    Consider that tucked under headlines celebrating advances in curbing the HIV/AIDS epidemic, there is a full-blown crisis in the Middle East and North Africa, where new infections have grown by 55 percent (to 34,000) and where 270,000 people are currently living with the syndrome. All the while, according to UNAIDS, antiretroviral coverage in the region is a mere 14 percent, the lowest in the world.

    And then consider that these staggering realities are hanging on the lip of a deep abyss, within which lurks the specter of catastrophic climate change: The latest from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates that current levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are higher than they have been in 3 million years, prompted by the ravenous consumption of just 11 percent of the population.

    In fact, only a third of the world has consumption profiles that contribute to emissions, an unsurprising result of a horribly unequal division of wealth that has put 82 percent of the earth's riches in the hands of 8 percent of the population. The remaining 92 percent will bear the brunt of changing climates, the predicted 25-percent reduction in crop yields and 84-percent food price hikes feared by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.

    What happened after Cairo? In 1994, policies were set in place to tackle every single one of the issues listed above, and more, much more. Between then and now, global GDP has grown to $223 trillion, according to the 2012 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, but it would be fair to conclude that progress in achieving unanimously accepted goals has not been nearly as impressive.

    The options today are more limited than they were in the 1990s. The enormity of the challenges ahead seems to point to only two paths: to go on as before and accept a stunning loss of life and wretchedness of existence for billions, or walk a different road, a less incremental one, towards a revolutionary redistribution of wealth and a more sustainable social and economic system.

    The year is 2014. You decide.

    Hands Up! Don't Shoot! Death and Visibility in Black America

    Truthout - Thu, 09/25/2014 - 00:00

    He lay for hours, face down; blood trickled from his body into the street as an angry crowd gathered. Neighbors stared at his death, knowing, how easily it could have been their own while a cop laid a sheet over the young man. In Ferguson, stores burned as people ran in and out of clouds of tear gas. In the fire light, the nation and the world could see the black rage underneath the American Dream. But as the riots end and ashes are swept, a question remains. Why is our suffering so invisible, so unvalued that it takes a city in flames to see it?

    A woman waits in the rain to cross West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, August 26, 2014. Many of the those protesting the Michael Brown shooting emphasized that their frustrations go far beyond the city of Ferguson and the single incident, acknowledging that the world they hoped to change wasn't going to do so quickly or easily. (Photo: Todd Heisler / The New York Times)

    Truthout only exists thanks to the support of our readers. Help us continue to publish truly independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today!

    Black "innocence" always has to be proven and depends on attaining a "respectability" defined by white mores and the white gaze.

    He lay for hours, face down; blood trickled from his body into the street as an angry crowd gathered. In a cellphone video of the scene, a man yelled, "They could have just Tased him. That's some bullshit." Neighbors stared at his death, knowing, how easily it could have been their own while a cop laid a sheet over the young man.

    On August 9, about a month and a half ago, we heard news of police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, shooting an unarmed black teen, Michael Brown. Instantly, we people of color saw in him our sons, our brothers, our friends, uncles and fathers. The bullets that killed Brown ricochet throughout Black America and it felt like our spirits were bleeding drops of gasoline on the smoldering coals inside. And when the rage erupted, we filled the cities yelling, "No Justice, No Peace!"

    In Ferguson, stores burned as people ran in and out of clouds of tear gas. In the fire light, the nation and the world could see the black rage underneath the American Dream. But as the riots end and ashes are swept, a question remains. Why is our suffering so invisible, so unvalued that it takes a city in flames to see it?

    The Price of Innocence

    "You took my son away from me," Lesley McSpadden, Brown's mother yelled to a reporter, "Do you know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school? You know how many black men graduate? Not many." Her voice broke as a relative held her. Nearly two weeks later, Rico, a friend of the murdered teen, said on Democracy Now!: "He was a good friend of mine. I mean . . . you know a lot of black people don't graduate. And Mike wasn't one of them. He was one of them guys who went to school."

    Innocence - it's what repeats in the description of Brown's murder. He didn't deserve to be shot. He was a good kid. He was just walking home. He didn't have a gun. He even put his hands up. He was going to college in the fall.

    The victim's innocence allows black pain to be visible and to show in contrast the guilt of a racist system. It's why we marched with arms raised, shouting, "Hands Up! Don't Shoot!" It's why two years ago, we wore hoodies when Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida. It's why we counted to 50, one for each bullet fired by police at Sean Bell in 2006. And it's why we waved plungers at the NYPD in 1999 after officers used one to sodomize Abner Louima in a bath stall.

    The innocence of a black victim of state violence is necessary because whites, consciously or unconsciously, presume us to be guilty or incompetent or not even human. When we drive or walk into a store, we are presumed to be dealers or thieves. When we apply for jobs, if our names sound "too black," a white former convict will have a greater chance of being hired. When Obama ran for office, angry white voters wore T-shirts with monkeys on them that read, "Obama in 08."

    Racism makes the humanity of the other invisible. And for five centuries now, black pain has been invisible to the "white gaze," an ideological vision driven into history by the Atlantic slave trade. Starting in the 16th century, Europeans became "white" to the degree they "blackened" Africans by making brown skin a symbol of the Curse of Ham or heathen savagery, animal lust or genetic inferiority. In the cargo holds of slave ships, they did not see captured victims, but living shadows in chains. The white gaze "blackened" people by making them already guilty; they were monkeys not men, so any violence done was justified. Slave traders and owners raped women and blamed them for being lascivious. They flayed the skin off slaves if they talked back. Or cut their tendons if they tried to escape. Millions of enslaved human beings died, and they did so invisibly.

    Black people tried to end this violence by becoming visible through the politics of respectability. Michelle Alexander, in her book The New Jim Crow, defined it as, "the notion that the goal of racial equality can only be obtained if black people are able to successfully prove to whites that they are worthy of equal treatment . . . they must demonstrate their ability to live by and aspire to the same moral codes of the white middle class." Michael Brown was going to college. Sean Bell was getting married. Trayvon Martin had Skittles and a fruit drink. Their murders are highlighted by their respectable lives in contrast to our presumed guilt.

    Many of us try to be "innocent" to achieve respectability and fail, try again and fail again, but some of us sometimes eke out a win, get a BET Image Award or a middle-class job. But many of us don't, and we blame ourselves. We look in the mirror and think we're too dark, too ghetto, too poor, too not enough to be anyone worth a shit.

    No one tells us that the price of innocence is alienation, or that the politics of respectability means internalizing the white gaze, creating what W.E.B. Du Bois called in his book The Souls of Black Folk, a Double Consciousness: "this sense of always looking at one's sense through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in contempt and pity." Worse, the white gaze enters a second phase in that it becomes not just how we see ourselves, but also others.

    A whole vocabulary makes visible the second phase white gaze blaring from our eyes - hood-rat, nigga, nigger, jump off, monkey, tar baby, darkness and ratchet. Every day, we knife each other with curses and step on each other to get to that light emanating from the dollar sign floating above us. Hell, so much of hip-hop is exactly this. Challenging it is a small protest tradition from Dead Prez to Lupe Fiasco. Black gang violence - which Alexander says, is itself driven by poverty and mass incarceration - is also a sign of second phase Double Consciousness. It doesn't help that white conservative pundits scream about "black-on-black" crime when most crime, "white" included, is intraracial. Yet anyone with ears can hear an element of internalized racism in gangs of color. What we can see is that Black America is under constant pressure, a whole spectrum of violence - from microaggressions of the "let me touch your hair" kind to predatory corporations selling us subprime loans to police harassment and murder - hits us and then we, too often turn around and hurt each other.

    But then we see another murder, by police or by some G.I. Joe-wannabe vigilante who kills an unarmed, innocent black person, usually male, and suddenly the spell is snapped. No matter how hard one tries, the white gaze will only see a "blackened" body to suspect, to handcuff, to shoot or to jail.

    In that gun flash, the centuries collapse into the present and show that no amount of class distance, no upward striving can free us from the danger we live in. The white gaze itself becomes visible as we hold up the innocent's death like a mirror to reflect the evil back to its self. And so on the night of Michael Brown's shooting, loud police cars pulled into his neighborhood. As cops got out, people yelled, "The Ku Klux Klan is here! Ku Klux Klan!"

    Underneath every US city is this kerosene of rage. Soon another innocent black man or woman will be shot by a cop or vigilante, another "Michael Brown" will be a spark that ignites fear into the fires whipping out of broken store windows. In the flames, a terrible truth is visible; the value of our lives can only be seen when we create the light.

    Israeli Government Eventually Admits that Mohammed Is the Top Baby Name

    The Intercept - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 15:50

    Are Palestinian babies actually babies? That’s been a surprisingly thorny question for the Israeli government this week, when the Population, Immigration and Border Authority at first declared the Hebrew name “Yosef” the most popular baby name for the past year, and then was forced to admit that the nation’s most popular name was actually “Mohammed” — assuming one includes Arab babies.

    By their nature, babies are generally uninterested in politics. But in Israel’s highly-charged political environment, even infants are imbued with broader significance. For having the temerity to be born, Palestinian babies have been referred to by Israeli politicians as “demographic threats” and even “time-bombs.”

    The rationale for this is the belief among many Israeli politicians that Jewish-Israelis must constitute a clear majority of the national population, and that any large increase in the population of indigenous Palestinian Arabs (already at 21 percent), sub-Saharan Africans, or other minority populations is potentially a threat to the “character” of the state. By this logic, the birth of a lot of baby boys named “Mohammed” and “Ahmed” within Israel is less a cause for celebration than for existential angst.

    It was against that political backdrop that the government released a list of popular baby names this week that included only Hebrew names. After publishing the initial rankings, the Haaretz newspaper asked government officials why there weren’t any Arab names on the list. It turns out they had been excluded, and a new list was given to Haaretz. The Israeli government told the publication that its original decision to effectively exclude Palestinian babies from its list, released just ahead of the Jewish new year, was not done with any ideological intention in mind and that, “contrary to the assumptions of the Haaretz newspaper, there is no plot to deliberately hide information.”

    The Population, Immigration and Border Authority certainly should have known its list would be controversial. In Britain, Mohammed has been the most popular name for newborns for several years, and that fact has been used as a rallying cry for ethno-nationalist movements which claim to be fighting to preserve a traditionally “British” identity. Like many Israeli political figures, these movements are often fixated on the birthrates of minority women in their midst.

    But as the journalist Doug Saunders ably pointed out in his book “The Myth of the Muslim Tide” these fears of a demographic tidal wave are deeply misguided:

    In 2010, if you combined all 12 spelling variants of the Islamic prophet’s name, “Mohammed” was more popular than any other name given to new babies. But that’s more a consequence of naming trends than anything else. In a great many Muslim cultures, all male babies are given “Mohammed” as an official first name. As a result, Mohammed manages to reach the Number 1 spot without being all that common — when combined, babies named after the Islamic prophet made up only 1% of British newborns in 2010.

    In other words, whatever the official records may show, the State of Israel is not about to raise a generation of boys mostly named Mohammed. But on the other hand, so what if it was?

    The post Israeli Government Eventually Admits that Mohammed Is the Top Baby Name appeared first on The Intercept.

    For-Profit Insanity Is Killing Americans

    Truthout - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 15:37

    (Photo: Bob Harwig)

    Truthout readers like you made this story possible. Show your support for independent news and make a tax-deductible donation today!

    Despite what you might hear on Fox So-Called News, Obamacare really is working.

    Uninsured rates are dropping, premiums are a lot lower than expected, and in the states that have expanded Medicaid, hundreds of thousands of working Americans now have access to free, I repeat, free healthcare.

    Everywhere you look, there's good news to be found about healthcare reform. Even so, for-profit insurance companies and for-profit hospitals are still finding new ways to screw people over.

    For example, since insurance companies are now banned from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, they're now trying to make money off sick people by charging them higher co-pays for drugs that they used to get for close to nothing.

    This practice has very real consequences for public health. As one expert told Talking Points Memo, "There's very strong evidence...that even a $1 difference in out-of-pocket expenditures changes Americans' behavior [regarding their use of medical services]."

    In other words, when drugs cost more, people don't buy them and therefore don't get healthy.

    But making sick people pay more for their drugs isn't the only way the for-profit health industry is trying make a quick buck these days.

    One other scam it's come up with is a practice called "drive-by doctoring," where patients are charged for services they didn't ask for and for doctors they didn't know they needed to see.

    Hospitals have gotten so good at "drive-by doctoring" that most patients don't even know it's happening to them. As The New York Times reported this weekend,

    The phenomenon can take many forms. In some instances, a patient may be lying on a gurney in the emergency room or in a hospital bed, unaware that all of the people in white coats or scrubs who turn up at the bedside will charge for their services. At times, a fully trained physician is called in when a resident or a nurse, who would not charge, would have sufficed. Services that were once included in the daily hospital rate are now often provided by contractors, and even many emergency rooms are staffed by out-of-network physicians who bill separately.

    If there's an example of everything that's wrong with the American healthcare system, drive-by doctoring is it.

    Healthcare should be about taking care of people and helping them get better - not about ripping them off. But here in the U.S., ripping people off is the dominant business model.

    And while Obamacare has outlawed some of the worst behaviors of this business model, it will never totally prevent for-profit hospitals or insurance companies from screwing over their patients and customers.

    That's because, for all the good things it does, Obamacare still lets hospitals and health insurance companies operate on a for-profit basis. And that is just absolutely insane.

    Think of it this way: When you create a company and register it as either a non-profit corporation or a for-profit corporation, you are defining up-front what is and what is not important to that corporation.

    When a hospital or health insurance company is set up as a for-profit corporation, they're saying that its first and primary purpose is to make money.

    If, on the other hand, it was registered it as a non-profit corporation, then its main purpose is to actually help people, money be damned.

    Obviously, not-for-profit corporations, like all corporations, have their problems. But when it comes to healthcare, they really are the way to go.

    As long as we stick with our failed for-profit model, people like UnitedHealthCare CEO Stephen J. Hemsley will sit pretty on their $700 million in unexercised stock options and everyday people will get stuck with medical bills they'll never be able to pay.

    This is just insane, and it needs to end now.

    It's time for America to abandon its experiment with for-profit healthcare and follow the lead of countries like Switzerland, Sweden, and Canada that have either required health insurance companies to be non-profits or have done away with health insurance companies altogether and replaced them with a national single-payer system.

    The fact of the matter is that the whole American healthcare system is mind-bogglingly corrupt and needs to be reformed from the top to the bottom.

    Obamacare is a great start, but we could do a whole lot better.

    We should end the for-profit cancer in this part of our society once and for all and require hospitals and insurance companies to put people over profits by operating on an exclusively non-profit basis.

    It's as simple as that.

    For-Profit Insanity Is Killing Americans

    Truthout - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 15:37

    (Photo: Bob Harwig)

    Truthout readers like you made this story possible. Show your support for independent news and make a tax-deductible donation today!

    Despite what you might hear on Fox So-Called News, Obamacare really is working.

    Uninsured rates are dropping, premiums are a lot lower than expected, and in the states that have expanded Medicaid, hundreds of thousands of working Americans now have access to free, I repeat, free healthcare.

    Everywhere you look, there's good news to be found about healthcare reform. Even so, for-profit insurance companies and for-profit hospitals are still finding new ways to screw people over.

    For example, since insurance companies are now banned from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, they're now trying to make money off sick people by charging them higher co-pays for drugs that they used to get for close to nothing.

    This practice has very real consequences for public health. As one expert told Talking Points Memo, "There's very strong evidence...that even a $1 difference in out-of-pocket expenditures changes Americans' behavior [regarding their use of medical services]."

    In other words, when drugs cost more, people don't buy them and therefore don't get healthy.

    But making sick people pay more for their drugs isn't the only way the for-profit health industry is trying make a quick buck these days.

    One other scam it's come up with is a practice called "drive-by doctoring," where patients are charged for services they didn't ask for and for doctors they didn't know they needed to see.

    Hospitals have gotten so good at "drive-by doctoring" that most patients don't even know it's happening to them. As The New York Times reported this weekend,

    The phenomenon can take many forms. In some instances, a patient may be lying on a gurney in the emergency room or in a hospital bed, unaware that all of the people in white coats or scrubs who turn up at the bedside will charge for their services. At times, a fully trained physician is called in when a resident or a nurse, who would not charge, would have sufficed. Services that were once included in the daily hospital rate are now often provided by contractors, and even many emergency rooms are staffed by out-of-network physicians who bill separately.

    If there's an example of everything that's wrong with the American healthcare system, drive-by doctoring is it.

    Healthcare should be about taking care of people and helping them get better - not about ripping them off. But here in the U.S., ripping people off is the dominant business model.

    And while Obamacare has outlawed some of the worst behaviors of this business model, it will never totally prevent for-profit hospitals or insurance companies from screwing over their patients and customers.

    That's because, for all the good things it does, Obamacare still lets hospitals and health insurance companies operate on a for-profit basis. And that is just absolutely insane.

    Think of it this way: When you create a company and register it as either a non-profit corporation or a for-profit corporation, you are defining up-front what is and what is not important to that corporation.

    When a hospital or health insurance company is set up as a for-profit corporation, they're saying that its first and primary purpose is to make money.

    If, on the other hand, it was registered it as a non-profit corporation, then its main purpose is to actually help people, money be damned.

    Obviously, not-for-profit corporations, like all corporations, have their problems. But when it comes to healthcare, they really are the way to go.

    As long as we stick with our failed for-profit model, people like UnitedHealthCare CEO Stephen J. Hemsley will sit pretty on their $700 million in unexercised stock options and everyday people will get stuck with medical bills they'll never be able to pay.

    This is just insane, and it needs to end now.

    It's time for America to abandon its experiment with for-profit healthcare and follow the lead of countries like Switzerland, Sweden, and Canada that have either required health insurance companies to be non-profits or have done away with health insurance companies altogether and replaced them with a national single-payer system.

    The fact of the matter is that the whole American healthcare system is mind-bogglingly corrupt and needs to be reformed from the top to the bottom.

    Obamacare is a great start, but we could do a whole lot better.

    We should end the for-profit cancer in this part of our society once and for all and require hospitals and insurance companies to put people over profits by operating on an exclusively non-profit basis.

    It's as simple as that.

    2:00PM Water Cooler 9/24/14

    Naked Capitalism - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 13:58
    Today's Water Cooler: War in Syraqistan, Peoples' March on Climate roundup, Scotland aftermath, our financialized economy, and Cyprus gas
    Categories: political economy

    Detroit's Water Shut-Offs at the Center of Bankruptcy Proceedings

    Truthout - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 12:35

    Glen Ford is a distinguished radio-show host and commentator. In 1977, Ford co-launched, produced and hosted America's Black Forum, the first nationally syndicated Black news interview program on commercial television. In 1987, Ford launched Rap It Up, the first nationally syndicated Hip Hop music show, broadcast on 65 radio stations. Ford co-founded the Black Commentator in 2002 and in 2006 he launched the Black Agenda Report. Ford is also the author of The Big Lie: An Analysis of U.S. Media Coverage of the Grenada Invasion.

    TRANSCRIPT: 

    SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

    The City of Detroit's bankruptcy proceedings are now hearing testimony on the mass water shutoffs. Detroit's water department defended its shutoff policy on Monday and warned that free service to people with unpaid bills could be very devastating to the bottom line of the city. What about the bottom line of the citizens? Whose side is the city on?

    Now joining us to provide his report is Glen Ford. Glen Ford is the executive editor of the Black Agenda Report.

    And, Glen, thank you for joining us today.

    GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Thank you.

    PERIES: So, Glen, what's in your notebook today on Detroit?

    FORD: Well, you said that the city is speaking on behalf of its citizens before that federal bankruptcy judge. And everybody uses that language. But we must remind everyone as well that the emergency manager of Detroit, imposed on the city, appointed by the Republican governor, is acting as the city. So even the fundamentals of the story are confusing and in many ways have people looking in the wrong direction.

    The city, that is, the emergency financial manager, says that if they were to halt the cutoffs of water to thousands of poorer Detroiters, it wouldn't be fair. It would be fair to the bondholders of the city water department. In other words, the city's water department is more beholden to the rich individuals and institutions that hold the bonds than it is to its own citizens, even in the case of a vital life-giving resource such as water.

    And that really, I think, is where the battle line has been drawn, and not just in Detroit, but across the nation and across the entire planet in this late stage of capitalism that some people call neoliberalism, in which the corporations are trying to swallow up all the resources of the world, public and private, for their own use. And so this story goes beyond the basic inequities in Detroit regarding water. The fact that although thousands--and tens of thousands, in fact--of poor households have been targeted for cutoff of their water, mainly businesses have been left alone, businesses that own millions of dollars in back water bills. But they're not threatened.

    And I think what we're actually seeing in the guise of defending the bottom line of the Detroit water department is a continuation of the ethnic cleansing of Detroit, the ethnic and economic cleansing of the city, trying to get rid of all these poor people in Detroit so that a better business environment can be created.

    PERIES: Glen, hold on for second. Are you saying that there's businesses with unpaid water bills that are getting away with not paying, and their businesses aren't being shut down?

    FORD: Yes. Chrysler owns about owes about half a million dollars. Lots of other big businesses also have huge bills. And the state of Michigan, the state that appointed to the emergency financial manager who is speaking on behalf of Detroit, the state of Michigan owes more than $4 million to the Detroit water department. So these cutoffs are quite selective in terms of the class of customer that's being cut off.
    Also, in thousands of cases, the water leaks that are just draining away the resource are actually emanating from the foreclosed homes, homes that were--in which the people who live in them were put out because they couldn't keep up with their mortgages, and so those homes were foreclosed, but often with water still running. The city of Detroit, or the emergency financial manager, did not see fit when they were doing their much vaunted blight survey to go into those houses and turn off the water. So we kept on draining the precious resource. Now, obviously, the water is not so important as the mission of getting rid of these poor people.

    But back again to the fundamental problem that underlies all of this: if the water department in Detroit, which is still public, is actually accountable to the people who own the bonds, then it's really not public. It has already, in the most fundamental sense, been privatized. And that goes for any public agency that operates on the same philosophy, that the bondholder comes first. And it goes for all the cities--and all cities float bonds--it all goes for all cities that have that philosophy, that the interests of the bondholder are supreme.

    You know, the people in Detroit wonder out loud all the time why water should be so expensive when Detroit sits on the Great Lakes, which is the biggest reservoir of fresh water on the entire planet. But if all of these agencies, most of them public, that process the water to bring it to households are more accountable to bondholders, as Detroit's water department is, more accountable to the rich capitalists who hold these financial instruments than they are to the people at the end of the faucet, then the Great Lakes themselves have actually been privatized. And I think that if we look at it that way, then we see that this irrational capitalism in this age that people call neoliberalism is actually accelerating and creating the same kinds of scarcities that we associate with climate change. And it's very difficult to separate those symptoms, those consequences between what happens under capitalism and what happens under a climate change that is largely produced by capitalism.

    PERIES: Glen, if Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola can get free water, why can't ordinary citizens?

    FORD: Well, that is the fundamental question. And if water can't be free and we know that we need that with regularity for life, I guess air should not be free either. Nothing that human beings, just by virtue of being human beings, not just citizens of a country, but human beings, are owed nothing by their fellow human beings. In other words, there is no social compact among people whatsoever. And that in fact is the philosophy that underlies capitalism.

    PERIES: Perhaps there is a solution. I mean, in a place like Bolivia, Evo Morales was very involved in the water wars there, and now he's elected president of Bolivia. Maybe the Detroit people could look at a solution of that sort.

    FORD: That certainly should be one of our demands. However, on Sunday, with this giant march in New York City, the organizers of it made no demands it all. So we should start making demands that apply to not just climate change but the scarcities that result from neoliberal swallowing up of resources as well, and free water ought to be at the top, right along with free air.

    PERIES: Thank you so much for joining us, Glen.

    FORD: And thank you for the opportunity.

    PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

    Detroit's Water Shut-Offs at the Center of Bankruptcy Proceedings

    Truthout - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 12:35

    Glen Ford is a distinguished radio-show host and commentator. In 1977, Ford co-launched, produced and hosted America's Black Forum, the first nationally syndicated Black news interview program on commercial television. In 1987, Ford launched Rap It Up, the first nationally syndicated Hip Hop music show, broadcast on 65 radio stations. Ford co-founded the Black Commentator in 2002 and in 2006 he launched the Black Agenda Report. Ford is also the author of The Big Lie: An Analysis of U.S. Media Coverage of the Grenada Invasion.

    TRANSCRIPT: 

    SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

    The City of Detroit's bankruptcy proceedings are now hearing testimony on the mass water shutoffs. Detroit's water department defended its shutoff policy on Monday and warned that free service to people with unpaid bills could be very devastating to the bottom line of the city. What about the bottom line of the citizens? Whose side is the city on?

    Now joining us to provide his report is Glen Ford. Glen Ford is the executive editor of the Black Agenda Report.

    And, Glen, thank you for joining us today.

    GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Thank you.

    PERIES: So, Glen, what's in your notebook today on Detroit?

    FORD: Well, you said that the city is speaking on behalf of its citizens before that federal bankruptcy judge. And everybody uses that language. But we must remind everyone as well that the emergency manager of Detroit, imposed on the city, appointed by the Republican governor, is acting as the city. So even the fundamentals of the story are confusing and in many ways have people looking in the wrong direction.

    The city, that is, the emergency financial manager, says that if they were to halt the cutoffs of water to thousands of poorer Detroiters, it wouldn't be fair. It would be fair to the bondholders of the city water department. In other words, the city's water department is more beholden to the rich individuals and institutions that hold the bonds than it is to its own citizens, even in the case of a vital life-giving resource such as water.

    And that really, I think, is where the battle line has been drawn, and not just in Detroit, but across the nation and across the entire planet in this late stage of capitalism that some people call neoliberalism, in which the corporations are trying to swallow up all the resources of the world, public and private, for their own use. And so this story goes beyond the basic inequities in Detroit regarding water. The fact that although thousands--and tens of thousands, in fact--of poor households have been targeted for cutoff of their water, mainly businesses have been left alone, businesses that own millions of dollars in back water bills. But they're not threatened.

    And I think what we're actually seeing in the guise of defending the bottom line of the Detroit water department is a continuation of the ethnic cleansing of Detroit, the ethnic and economic cleansing of the city, trying to get rid of all these poor people in Detroit so that a better business environment can be created.

    PERIES: Glen, hold on for second. Are you saying that there's businesses with unpaid water bills that are getting away with not paying, and their businesses aren't being shut down?

    FORD: Yes. Chrysler owns about owes about half a million dollars. Lots of other big businesses also have huge bills. And the state of Michigan, the state that appointed to the emergency financial manager who is speaking on behalf of Detroit, the state of Michigan owes more than $4 million to the Detroit water department. So these cutoffs are quite selective in terms of the class of customer that's being cut off.
    Also, in thousands of cases, the water leaks that are just draining away the resource are actually emanating from the foreclosed homes, homes that were--in which the people who live in them were put out because they couldn't keep up with their mortgages, and so those homes were foreclosed, but often with water still running. The city of Detroit, or the emergency financial manager, did not see fit when they were doing their much vaunted blight survey to go into those houses and turn off the water. So we kept on draining the precious resource. Now, obviously, the water is not so important as the mission of getting rid of these poor people.

    But back again to the fundamental problem that underlies all of this: if the water department in Detroit, which is still public, is actually accountable to the people who own the bonds, then it's really not public. It has already, in the most fundamental sense, been privatized. And that goes for any public agency that operates on the same philosophy, that the bondholder comes first. And it goes for all the cities--and all cities float bonds--it all goes for all cities that have that philosophy, that the interests of the bondholder are supreme.

    You know, the people in Detroit wonder out loud all the time why water should be so expensive when Detroit sits on the Great Lakes, which is the biggest reservoir of fresh water on the entire planet. But if all of these agencies, most of them public, that process the water to bring it to households are more accountable to bondholders, as Detroit's water department is, more accountable to the rich capitalists who hold these financial instruments than they are to the people at the end of the faucet, then the Great Lakes themselves have actually been privatized. And I think that if we look at it that way, then we see that this irrational capitalism in this age that people call neoliberalism is actually accelerating and creating the same kinds of scarcities that we associate with climate change. And it's very difficult to separate those symptoms, those consequences between what happens under capitalism and what happens under a climate change that is largely produced by capitalism.

    PERIES: Glen, if Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola can get free water, why can't ordinary citizens?

    FORD: Well, that is the fundamental question. And if water can't be free and we know that we need that with regularity for life, I guess air should not be free either. Nothing that human beings, just by virtue of being human beings, not just citizens of a country, but human beings, are owed nothing by their fellow human beings. In other words, there is no social compact among people whatsoever. And that in fact is the philosophy that underlies capitalism.

    PERIES: Perhaps there is a solution. I mean, in a place like Bolivia, Evo Morales was very involved in the water wars there, and now he's elected president of Bolivia. Maybe the Detroit people could look at a solution of that sort.

    FORD: That certainly should be one of our demands. However, on Sunday, with this giant march in New York City, the organizers of it made no demands it all. So we should start making demands that apply to not just climate change but the scarcities that result from neoliberal swallowing up of resources as well, and free water ought to be at the top, right along with free air.

    PERIES: Thank you so much for joining us, Glen.

    FORD: And thank you for the opportunity.

    PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

    Body of War

    Truthout - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 12:22

    Body of War, a film by Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to several standing ovations and acclaim. It won Best Documentary from the prestigious National Board of Review and was nominated for Best Documentary from Producer's Guild of America. Body of War was short-listed for an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary and was released theatrically through Landmark Theatres. Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro were featured in a special on Bill Moyers, as well as appearing on all the major networks and publications.

    Body of War is an intimate and transformational feature documentary about the true face of war today. Meet Tomas Young, 25 years old, paralyzed from a bullet to his spine - wounded after serving in Iraq for less than a week.

    Body of War is Tomas' coming home story as he evolves into a new person, coming to terms with his disability and finding his own unique and passionate voice against the war. The film is produced and directed by Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro, and features two original songs by Eddie Vedder. Body of War is a naked and honest portrayal of what it's like inside the body, heart and soul of this extraordinary and heroic young man.

    Body of War unfolds on two parallel tracks. On the one hand, we see Tomas evolving into a powerful voice against the war as he struggles to deal with the complexities of a paralyzed body. And on the other, we see the historic debate unfolding in the Congress about going to war in Iraq.

    The film opens as Tomas and his fiance Brie prepare for their wedding. However, because of his disability, we see how the simple everyday activities for Tomas are involved and challenging. War is personal and the film takes us into the skin and bones of what it means to have no control over basic bodily functions. In many remarkable scenes, we directly experience how vulnerable and open Tomas is as he interacts with his wife, family, and friends.

    For their honeymoon, Tomas and Brie journey to Camp Casey, the anti-war encampment in Crawford, Texas, down the road from President Bush's Texas ranch. It was here that Cindy Sheehan galvanized the world's media and jumpstarted a new and growing anti-war movement. Cindy's son Casey and Tomas were both shot on the same day in Iraq. Tomas speaks publicly, gives interviews, finding his new voice and role. As the film progresses, we witness Tomas' evolution into a powerful leader, finding fresh abilities out of his disability and expressing his new form of patriotism. He is interviewed by Mike Wallace for "60 Minutes" and featured in a photo essay in The Nation magazine.

    On a parallel track, Body of War follows the historic deliberations in Congress to grant President Bush authority to invade Iraq. During the fall of 2002, both Houses debated the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Forces against Iraq (H. J. Res 114). The House of Representatives adopted the resolution on October 10, by a vote of 296-133. The next day, the Senate passed it by a vote of 77-23.

    In the film, scenes of Tomas speaking out against the war are interspersed with the packaged debate in both houses of Congress, and the vote by vote tally in the U.S. Senate. (The vote on this resolution remains highly controversial five years later. In the current presidential campaign, the vote comes up again and again.)

    The foremost voice of restraint in Congress was Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, the longest serving senator in U. S. history, first elected in 1958. His eloquent opposition to this momentous resolution is vividly captured in Body of War.

    In the final riveting scene, the two streams of the film come together, as Tomas visits Senator Byrd in his office on Capitol Hill. Together, they review the historic Senate vote and read aloud the names of the "Immortal 23" who stood against the war.

    Body of War

    Truthout - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 12:22

    Body of War, a film by Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to several standing ovations and acclaim. It won Best Documentary from the prestigious National Board of Review and was nominated for Best Documentary from Producer's Guild of America. Body of War was short-listed for an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary and was released theatrically through Landmark Theatres. Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro were featured in a special on Bill Moyers, as well as appearing on all the major networks and publications.

    Body of War is an intimate and transformational feature documentary about the true face of war today. Meet Tomas Young, 25 years old, paralyzed from a bullet to his spine - wounded after serving in Iraq for less than a week.

    Body of War is Tomas' coming home story as he evolves into a new person, coming to terms with his disability and finding his own unique and passionate voice against the war. The film is produced and directed by Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro, and features two original songs by Eddie Vedder. Body of War is a naked and honest portrayal of what it's like inside the body, heart and soul of this extraordinary and heroic young man.

    Body of War unfolds on two parallel tracks. On the one hand, we see Tomas evolving into a powerful voice against the war as he struggles to deal with the complexities of a paralyzed body. And on the other, we see the historic debate unfolding in the Congress about going to war in Iraq.

    The film opens as Tomas and his fiance Brie prepare for their wedding. However, because of his disability, we see how the simple everyday activities for Tomas are involved and challenging. War is personal and the film takes us into the skin and bones of what it means to have no control over basic bodily functions. In many remarkable scenes, we directly experience how vulnerable and open Tomas is as he interacts with his wife, family, and friends.

    For their honeymoon, Tomas and Brie journey to Camp Casey, the anti-war encampment in Crawford, Texas, down the road from President Bush's Texas ranch. It was here that Cindy Sheehan galvanized the world's media and jumpstarted a new and growing anti-war movement. Cindy's son Casey and Tomas were both shot on the same day in Iraq. Tomas speaks publicly, gives interviews, finding his new voice and role. As the film progresses, we witness Tomas' evolution into a powerful leader, finding fresh abilities out of his disability and expressing his new form of patriotism. He is interviewed by Mike Wallace for "60 Minutes" and featured in a photo essay in The Nation magazine.

    On a parallel track, Body of War follows the historic deliberations in Congress to grant President Bush authority to invade Iraq. During the fall of 2002, both Houses debated the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Forces against Iraq (H. J. Res 114). The House of Representatives adopted the resolution on October 10, by a vote of 296-133. The next day, the Senate passed it by a vote of 77-23.

    In the film, scenes of Tomas speaking out against the war are interspersed with the packaged debate in both houses of Congress, and the vote by vote tally in the U.S. Senate. (The vote on this resolution remains highly controversial five years later. In the current presidential campaign, the vote comes up again and again.)

    The foremost voice of restraint in Congress was Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, the longest serving senator in U. S. history, first elected in 1958. His eloquent opposition to this momentous resolution is vividly captured in Body of War.

    In the final riveting scene, the two streams of the film come together, as Tomas visits Senator Byrd in his office on Capitol Hill. Together, they review the historic Senate vote and read aloud the names of the "Immortal 23" who stood against the war.

    What Role Is Turkey Playing in the War Against ISIS?

    Truthout - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 12:12

    Baris Karaagac is a lecturer in International Development Studies at Trent University, in Ontario. He is also the editor of the book Accumulations, Crises and Struggles: Capital and Labour in Contemporary Capitalism.

    TRANSCRIPT: 

    ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.

    The U.S. has begun its bombing campaign in Syria, ostensibly against the Islamic State, only a year after a failed effort by President Obama to initiate a bombing campaign against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Fighting between IS and various armed groups has brought about 140,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees across the border into Turkey. A member of NATO, Turkey has been playing a major role for the past couple of years in facilitating aid, armaments, transportation to Syrian rebel groups that had been fighting Assad. Though the Turkish government has said it will not be joining the broad coalition in the war against the Islamic State, being on the border with Syria, it is without question a major player here.

    Now joining us to give his take on Turkey's role in all of this is Baris Karaagac. Baris is a lecture in international development studies at Trent University in Ontario. He is also the editor of the book Accumulations, Crises, Struggles: Capital and Labour in Contemporary Capitalism.

    Thanks for joining us, Baris.

    BARIS KARAAGAC, LECTURER OF INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT STUDIES, TRENT UNIV.: Thanks for having me, Anton.

    WORONCZUK: So, Baris, what role does it look like Turkey's going to play in the fight against ISIS over the next couple of months?

    KARAAGAC: It is actually difficult to know. We can only speculate about the future at this point, because the Turkish government stance towards ISIS has been, at best, ambiguous in the past couple of years. So I don't know.

    But there's a lot of anger on the part of the Turkish population, as well as an important part of the Kurdish population, directed towards the government, because these people had been accusing Turkey of giving significant support, logistical support, or providing them with the military equipment to ISIS in the past couple of years.

    WORONCZUK: So is that the relationship that you would say Turkey has with the so-called moderate rebels that Obama says that he's planning to arm to combat IS?

    KARAAGAC: I don't know what Obama is referring to when he talks about moderate rebels. I don't see many moderate rebels in Syria right now. ISIS has become the dominant force, political and military force, especially in the Sunni-dominated areas in Syria, as well as in Iraq. I don't know who he's referring to by moderate rebels.

    WORONCZUK: Okay. And what responsibility does the Turkish state have right now, in your opinion, for the fighting that's taking place across Syria?

    KARAAGAC: Well, we do not have evidence, but there have been so many allegations that the Turkish government has been arming or providing logistical support to the rebels, above all, first, the al-Nusra Front and ISIS and the Islamic State, finally, in the past couple of years. For example, in January, on 2 January, a truck was stopped in the province of Hatay, which neighbors Syria, by the military. And this truck was allegedly sent by the Humanitarian Aid Foundation as humanitarian assistance in Syria. However, military equipment was found. And then the minister of interior said these were going to the Turkmens in Syria. And in Syria there are about one hundred or two hundred thousand Turkmens. We didn't know the exact numbers. But then the Turkmens said, oh, we know nothing about this. And 17 days later, on January 19, seven trucks were stopped--again, by the military, gendarmerie, in the province of Adana, which is close to Syria. And three of them were searched partially, partially, until it was stopped. And again there was military equipment there, including missiles and mortar shells and cannonballs. Of course, we don't know to whom this equipment was going to, but we can argue that it was going to the rebels in Syria, but above all the fundamentalist jihadist elements within that opposition group.

    In addition to the alleged military support, we have heard many people talking about many wounded rebels--but these are fundamentalist jihadists--being treated in Turkish hospitals. There's even one newspaper report which said basically that it was an illegal hospital set up in the province of [Gaziantep (?)] in the southeastern part of Turkey. And this hospital was treating wounded rebels from Syria. So the Turkish government, the Turkish state, has been accused of having an open-border policy when it comes to these rebels, but above all the al-Nusra Front and ISIS. When ISIS launched its northern Iraq offensive last summer and took Mosul, a city which has almost 2 million people, it also occupied, invaded the Turkish Consulate there and took 49 people who were in the consulate, working for the Turkish Consulate, as hostages. And 46 of them were Turkish nationalists. And until they were released--and that was last Saturday--after more than three months, when they were taken as hostages, the official discourse by the Turkish government, by Erdoğan and Davutoğlu, the then foreign minister and now the prime minister, was that Turkey was unable to take a strong stance against ISIS, because they were holding 46 Turkish nationals as hostages. And last Saturday, they were released by ISIS. And there are now rumors--and one will be people, actually, who participated in this debate as to what Turkey gave in return--is--it's a columnist writing for an influential newspaper [incompr.] that is close to the government. He said, well, in return of these 49 hostages, Turkey gave ISIS 50 people. And among these 50 people--I mean, these are considered very important people--some people claim that there's also the family of [incompr.] who was a late ISIS commander who was killed last year. So right now I'm quite curious as to what the discourse will be. And today I was watching the news, and Erdoğan said Turkey will do any kind of support to the coalition against ISIS. But I don't know what the substance of this support will be. And I'm also not quite sure if they will wholeheartedly do anything against ISIS.

    WORONCZUK: Okay. And more than 130,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees have crossed the border into Turkey in recent weeks. And there were also many Kurdish refugee camps that are at the border between Turkey and Syria. What historically has been the relationship between those refugee camps, and how can that help inform us to what our expectations should be, how these refugees will be treated by the Turkish government?

    KARAAGAC: Well, when the Syrian conflict started and the first refugees started to flee Syria and arrive in Turkey, the critical threshold was 100,000. So the argument was that we can host 100,000 Syrian refugees. More than that, it would be a huge challenge, a burden for the Turkish state. And today we have more than one and a half million Syrian refugees in Turkey. And, of course, the infrastructure is not sufficient to host that many people. Some of these people stay with their relatives, and some have spread around the country. And this has actually led to a lot of racist attacks towards these people as they struggle to survive and living in other parts of the country, including the west and north western parts of Turkey.
    The recent one, it's a very interesting case, because when ISIS attacked Kobane, which is one of the three cantons that have been set up in January 2014, that attack started on September 15. And last Friday, the first refugees started to arrive in Turkey. And I've been following the news quite closely since then. The first day, there were about 400 people on the border, and in a couple of hours this became thousands. And in a couple of days, it reached more than--the number reached more than 100,000. And there are about a hundred and thirty, thirty-three thousand Syrian refugees fleeing from the Kobane assault by ISIS. And about 125,000 of them are staying with their families, because we have to keep in mind that that border is a very artificial one, and it split families when it was drawn almost 100 years ago. So these people have relatives, family on both sides of the border. So most of these refugees are staying with their families right now, and the other are in refugee camps. But, of course, the conditions are not the best there, and definitely Turkey needs international assistance in that regard.

    WORONCZUK: And Turkey said it also will refuse to arm the Kurdish Workers' Party, or the PKK, which it considers a terrorist organization--as well, the U.S. and the E.U. also does--though it has been one of the major resistance forces against it, as well as the YPG, which is the main Kurdish force in northern Syria. Do you think this policy will hold?

    KARAAGAC: Well, many people have argued one of the most important reasons why Turkey has been reluctant to take a stand, says--against ISIS is that ISIS would have been thought by the--has been thought by the Turkish government as an antidote to a Kurdish political strengthening and consolidation of the Kurdish political and military power in the northern part of Syria. And I agree with this to a great extent, because when you look at the northern part of Syria, it's mostly populated/inhabited by Kurds, not exclusively. It's still very heterogeneous region, with Christians, with Turkmens, with Arabs, etc., but Kurds constitute the majority. And in January 2014, they set up three what they refer to as cantons, one in the west, one of the middle, and one in the east of northern Syria. And these declared their autonomy from the Syrian government, from the Syrian state. And again--and these also constitute--these cantons, these polities, they constitute the most significant challenge, a particularly ideological challenge, to groups like ISIS in the region, because when, you know, the leading, you know, political groups, and above all the PYD, which is an affiliate of the PKK, which has been fighting a war for three decades against the Turkish state, they are quite different. They talk about the inclusion of various cultures, ethnic groups, and religious groups in the administration. They talk about a fair redistribution. They talk about the inclusion of women in the government. And then also on the ground we see many Kurdish women fighting against the ISIS. So this is an also very significant ideological challenge. But Turkey--and now, also, I don't think that it's coincidental that ISIS decided first to attack Kobane among the three Turkish-Kurdish regions in northern Syria. So the Kobane is located right in the middle of this Kurdish formation. And by attacking and then taking Kobane--and I think Kobane will fall very soon, unfortunately--they would cut off the ties between the eastern and the western parts of Syrian Kurdistan.

    WORONCZUK: So, Baris, a really important element here is that Turkey has entered into peace negotiations with the PKK after about 30 years of pretty brutal fighting, and it was only about a year ago that a main Kurdish leader had called for an end to armed resistance against the Turkish government. Give us some context of what role that this plays here. And what is the status of any peace negotiations?

    KARAAGAC: Again, this is a very--this is difficult to understand, because since December 2012, we're supposed to be in a process that has been referred to as a solution process or the peace process. This is a process that has been going on, started by the Turkish then prime minister Erdoğan. It's a process between the Kurdish-Turkish state and the Kurdish insurgents, the PKK, to find a peaceful solution to this problem and to end the war between these two sides that has been going on for three decades.

    But while this process has been going on, at least on paper, it seems that Turkey has given direct or indirect support to these opposition groups, above all ISIS, and before that al-Nusra, that has consistently attacked Kurds in Syria. So this is a dilemma. I mean, this is a contradiction. It seems Turkey doesn't want the Kurds to get stronger and to be autonomous in northern Syria.

    Another important thing is that Kurds are not seeking independence but autonomy in the predominantly Kurdish populated areas in northern Syria. This has led to a lot of anger on the part of Kurds towards the Turkish state. Actually, when the Kurds started to flee from ISIS towards a Turkish border and entered Turkey last weekend, there was a lot of tension, because most of these people, they cross the border over to Turkey to leave the more vulnerable people--the children, kids, other children, and the women, and the elderly--and then they want to go back to Kobane to fight ISIS. But until today or until yesterday, Turkish state closed the border and did not let these people go back to fight.

    WORONCZUK: Okay, Baris Karaagac, thank you so much for joining us.

    KARAAGAC: Thank you for having me.

    WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

    What Role Is Turkey Playing in the War Against ISIS?

    Truthout - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 12:12

    Baris Karaagac is a lecturer in International Development Studies at Trent University, in Ontario. He is also the editor of the book Accumulations, Crises and Struggles: Capital and Labour in Contemporary Capitalism.

    TRANSCRIPT: 

    ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.

    The U.S. has begun its bombing campaign in Syria, ostensibly against the Islamic State, only a year after a failed effort by President Obama to initiate a bombing campaign against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Fighting between IS and various armed groups has brought about 140,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees across the border into Turkey. A member of NATO, Turkey has been playing a major role for the past couple of years in facilitating aid, armaments, transportation to Syrian rebel groups that had been fighting Assad. Though the Turkish government has said it will not be joining the broad coalition in the war against the Islamic State, being on the border with Syria, it is without question a major player here.

    Now joining us to give his take on Turkey's role in all of this is Baris Karaagac. Baris is a lecture in international development studies at Trent University in Ontario. He is also the editor of the book Accumulations, Crises, Struggles: Capital and Labour in Contemporary Capitalism.

    Thanks for joining us, Baris.

    BARIS KARAAGAC, LECTURER OF INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT STUDIES, TRENT UNIV.: Thanks for having me, Anton.

    WORONCZUK: So, Baris, what role does it look like Turkey's going to play in the fight against ISIS over the next couple of months?

    KARAAGAC: It is actually difficult to know. We can only speculate about the future at this point, because the Turkish government stance towards ISIS has been, at best, ambiguous in the past couple of years. So I don't know.

    But there's a lot of anger on the part of the Turkish population, as well as an important part of the Kurdish population, directed towards the government, because these people had been accusing Turkey of giving significant support, logistical support, or providing them with the military equipment to ISIS in the past couple of years.

    WORONCZUK: So is that the relationship that you would say Turkey has with the so-called moderate rebels that Obama says that he's planning to arm to combat IS?

    KARAAGAC: I don't know what Obama is referring to when he talks about moderate rebels. I don't see many moderate rebels in Syria right now. ISIS has become the dominant force, political and military force, especially in the Sunni-dominated areas in Syria, as well as in Iraq. I don't know who he's referring to by moderate rebels.

    WORONCZUK: Okay. And what responsibility does the Turkish state have right now, in your opinion, for the fighting that's taking place across Syria?

    KARAAGAC: Well, we do not have evidence, but there have been so many allegations that the Turkish government has been arming or providing logistical support to the rebels, above all, first, the al-Nusra Front and ISIS and the Islamic State, finally, in the past couple of years. For example, in January, on 2 January, a truck was stopped in the province of Hatay, which neighbors Syria, by the military. And this truck was allegedly sent by the Humanitarian Aid Foundation as humanitarian assistance in Syria. However, military equipment was found. And then the minister of interior said these were going to the Turkmens in Syria. And in Syria there are about one hundred or two hundred thousand Turkmens. We didn't know the exact numbers. But then the Turkmens said, oh, we know nothing about this. And 17 days later, on January 19, seven trucks were stopped--again, by the military, gendarmerie, in the province of Adana, which is close to Syria. And three of them were searched partially, partially, until it was stopped. And again there was military equipment there, including missiles and mortar shells and cannonballs. Of course, we don't know to whom this equipment was going to, but we can argue that it was going to the rebels in Syria, but above all the fundamentalist jihadist elements within that opposition group.

    In addition to the alleged military support, we have heard many people talking about many wounded rebels--but these are fundamentalist jihadists--being treated in Turkish hospitals. There's even one newspaper report which said basically that it was an illegal hospital set up in the province of [Gaziantep (?)] in the southeastern part of Turkey. And this hospital was treating wounded rebels from Syria. So the Turkish government, the Turkish state, has been accused of having an open-border policy when it comes to these rebels, but above all the al-Nusra Front and ISIS. When ISIS launched its northern Iraq offensive last summer and took Mosul, a city which has almost 2 million people, it also occupied, invaded the Turkish Consulate there and took 49 people who were in the consulate, working for the Turkish Consulate, as hostages. And 46 of them were Turkish nationalists. And until they were released--and that was last Saturday--after more than three months, when they were taken as hostages, the official discourse by the Turkish government, by Erdoğan and Davutoğlu, the then foreign minister and now the prime minister, was that Turkey was unable to take a strong stance against ISIS, because they were holding 46 Turkish nationals as hostages. And last Saturday, they were released by ISIS. And there are now rumors--and one will be people, actually, who participated in this debate as to what Turkey gave in return--is--it's a columnist writing for an influential newspaper [incompr.] that is close to the government. He said, well, in return of these 49 hostages, Turkey gave ISIS 50 people. And among these 50 people--I mean, these are considered very important people--some people claim that there's also the family of [incompr.] who was a late ISIS commander who was killed last year. So right now I'm quite curious as to what the discourse will be. And today I was watching the news, and Erdoğan said Turkey will do any kind of support to the coalition against ISIS. But I don't know what the substance of this support will be. And I'm also not quite sure if they will wholeheartedly do anything against ISIS.

    WORONCZUK: Okay. And more than 130,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees have crossed the border into Turkey in recent weeks. And there were also many Kurdish refugee camps that are at the border between Turkey and Syria. What historically has been the relationship between those refugee camps, and how can that help inform us to what our expectations should be, how these refugees will be treated by the Turkish government?

    KARAAGAC: Well, when the Syrian conflict started and the first refugees started to flee Syria and arrive in Turkey, the critical threshold was 100,000. So the argument was that we can host 100,000 Syrian refugees. More than that, it would be a huge challenge, a burden for the Turkish state. And today we have more than one and a half million Syrian refugees in Turkey. And, of course, the infrastructure is not sufficient to host that many people. Some of these people stay with their relatives, and some have spread around the country. And this has actually led to a lot of racist attacks towards these people as they struggle to survive and living in other parts of the country, including the west and north western parts of Turkey.
    The recent one, it's a very interesting case, because when ISIS attacked Kobane, which is one of the three cantons that have been set up in January 2014, that attack started on September 15. And last Friday, the first refugees started to arrive in Turkey. And I've been following the news quite closely since then. The first day, there were about 400 people on the border, and in a couple of hours this became thousands. And in a couple of days, it reached more than--the number reached more than 100,000. And there are about a hundred and thirty, thirty-three thousand Syrian refugees fleeing from the Kobane assault by ISIS. And about 125,000 of them are staying with their families, because we have to keep in mind that that border is a very artificial one, and it split families when it was drawn almost 100 years ago. So these people have relatives, family on both sides of the border. So most of these refugees are staying with their families right now, and the other are in refugee camps. But, of course, the conditions are not the best there, and definitely Turkey needs international assistance in that regard.

    WORONCZUK: And Turkey said it also will refuse to arm the Kurdish Workers' Party, or the PKK, which it considers a terrorist organization--as well, the U.S. and the E.U. also does--though it has been one of the major resistance forces against it, as well as the YPG, which is the main Kurdish force in northern Syria. Do you think this policy will hold?

    KARAAGAC: Well, many people have argued one of the most important reasons why Turkey has been reluctant to take a stand, says--against ISIS is that ISIS would have been thought by the--has been thought by the Turkish government as an antidote to a Kurdish political strengthening and consolidation of the Kurdish political and military power in the northern part of Syria. And I agree with this to a great extent, because when you look at the northern part of Syria, it's mostly populated/inhabited by Kurds, not exclusively. It's still very heterogeneous region, with Christians, with Turkmens, with Arabs, etc., but Kurds constitute the majority. And in January 2014, they set up three what they refer to as cantons, one in the west, one of the middle, and one in the east of northern Syria. And these declared their autonomy from the Syrian government, from the Syrian state. And again--and these also constitute--these cantons, these polities, they constitute the most significant challenge, a particularly ideological challenge, to groups like ISIS in the region, because when, you know, the leading, you know, political groups, and above all the PYD, which is an affiliate of the PKK, which has been fighting a war for three decades against the Turkish state, they are quite different. They talk about the inclusion of various cultures, ethnic groups, and religious groups in the administration. They talk about a fair redistribution. They talk about the inclusion of women in the government. And then also on the ground we see many Kurdish women fighting against the ISIS. So this is an also very significant ideological challenge. But Turkey--and now, also, I don't think that it's coincidental that ISIS decided first to attack Kobane among the three Turkish-Kurdish regions in northern Syria. So the Kobane is located right in the middle of this Kurdish formation. And by attacking and then taking Kobane--and I think Kobane will fall very soon, unfortunately--they would cut off the ties between the eastern and the western parts of Syrian Kurdistan.

    WORONCZUK: So, Baris, a really important element here is that Turkey has entered into peace negotiations with the PKK after about 30 years of pretty brutal fighting, and it was only about a year ago that a main Kurdish leader had called for an end to armed resistance against the Turkish government. Give us some context of what role that this plays here. And what is the status of any peace negotiations?

    KARAAGAC: Again, this is a very--this is difficult to understand, because since December 2012, we're supposed to be in a process that has been referred to as a solution process or the peace process. This is a process that has been going on, started by the Turkish then prime minister Erdoğan. It's a process between the Kurdish-Turkish state and the Kurdish insurgents, the PKK, to find a peaceful solution to this problem and to end the war between these two sides that has been going on for three decades.

    But while this process has been going on, at least on paper, it seems that Turkey has given direct or indirect support to these opposition groups, above all ISIS, and before that al-Nusra, that has consistently attacked Kurds in Syria. So this is a dilemma. I mean, this is a contradiction. It seems Turkey doesn't want the Kurds to get stronger and to be autonomous in northern Syria.

    Another important thing is that Kurds are not seeking independence but autonomy in the predominantly Kurdish populated areas in northern Syria. This has led to a lot of anger on the part of Kurds towards the Turkish state. Actually, when the Kurds started to flee from ISIS towards a Turkish border and entered Turkey last weekend, there was a lot of tension, because most of these people, they cross the border over to Turkey to leave the more vulnerable people--the children, kids, other children, and the women, and the elderly--and then they want to go back to Kobane to fight ISIS. But until today or until yesterday, Turkish state closed the border and did not let these people go back to fight.

    WORONCZUK: Okay, Baris Karaagac, thank you so much for joining us.

    KARAAGAC: Thank you for having me.

    WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

    US Bombs Syria without Congressional Approval

    The Real News Network - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 12:09
    After the House passes a rule banning calls for a debate or vote on war authorization, critics say Obama and congressional leadership are curbing dissent within own their ranks

    What the Movement Against Mass Incarceration Can Learn From the Struggle for Climate Justice

    Truthout - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 11:27

    The movement against mass incarceration can learn much from the struggle for climate justice. Environmental justice activists' engagement with governments, global organizations and corporations holds many lessons in fighting for justice in the criminal legal system.

    A general view of world leaders meeting during the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development or Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. June 3, 1992. (Photo: Michos Tzovaras / UN Photo)

    Truthout only exists thanks to the support of our readers. Help us continue to publish truly independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today!

    As the eyes of the social justice world turn to the UN climate summit this week, those of us involved in the struggle against mass incarceration would do well to examine the history of the campaign for climate justice. A starting point to connect the histories of the two movements might be illusions of progress. For the past four years, anti-mass incarceration activists have celebrated the first annual declines in the nation's prison population since the late 1970s. The message about the US criminal legal system seemed to be spreading far and wide. Eric Holder was calling for releasing people with drug offense convictions. A New York Times editorial in May stated: "The American experiment in mass incarceration has been a moral, legal, social and economic disaster. It cannot end soon enough."

    Even conservatives like Newt Gingrich and Rand Paul came on board to denounce the excessive use of imprisonment. The success stories of states like Texas in cutting prison populations made the rounds to appreciative audiences who increasingly became convinced a new "convergence" of agendas would be sufficient to reverse a disgraceful social policy episode.

    Last week, the movement got a wake-up call. The steady decline in prison numbers suddenly went the other way. The Bureau of Justice's annual statistical analysis of prisoner populations for 2013 showed that total numbers were up, by a mere 0.3 percent, but up nonetheless. To make matters worse for carceral optimists, poster child Texas showed an increase in prison population, with its nation-leading incarcerated cohort climbing from 157,900 to 160,295. So what does this mean for the convergence of agendas that was supposed to take us past the tipping point in ending mass incarceration?

    The Rio Moment

    In climate change terms, perhaps this represents the "Rio moment" for the movement against mass incarceration. In 1992, 172 government representatives along with thousands of environmental activists flocked to Rio de Janeiro to the first "Earth Summit." People from across the political spectrum put their stamp on the Rio Declaration. This comprehensive document, eventually passed by the UN General Assembly, laid out clear-cut principles for sustainable development, seemingly compelling national governments, corporations and consumers to head down a new road. With smiles and handshakes all around, a new era was born. A few years later, the Kyoto agreement limiting emissions seemed to seal the deal.

    Profiteers and their political allies don't give up the ship without mobilizing all their resources for the fight. They will grant small concessions, window dress their past practice, even invite their most intransigent enemies into the tent, but they will not change unless a political force emerges that compels them to do so.

    Yet, in the long run, climate change has not been reversed, maybe not even slowed down. The Rio Declaration and its successors didn't stick. Instead of adhering to promises and principles, too many political leaders did very little while corporate powers re-grouped. The corporations cherry-picked their token changes while mounting marketing campaigns about how self-regulation, carbon trading, a few windmills and abundant rhetoric on sustainable development were going to turn climate change around. Now 22 years after Rio, the outcomes are dire. While the Energy Information Administration reports that only 10 percent of US energy comes from renewables, companies continue to frack and promote the Keystone XL pipeline. President Obama proudly proclaimed in 2012 that: "We've quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high." Growing fossil fuel production, not saving the planet, remains the focal point of national pride.

    At the global level, the National Climatic Data Center reports that August 2014 was the warmest on record. Global emissions have kept rising and, according to a report this month from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere hit a new record high in 2013. Climatic-related disasters such as Katrina, Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan, which displaced 4 million people in the Philippines in November 2013, continue to abound.

    Throughout this process, climate change activists have learned the hard way that the profiteers and their political allies don't give up the ship without mobilizing all their resources for the fight. They will grant small concessions, window dress their past practice, even invite their most intransigent enemies into the tent, but they will not change unless a political force emerges that compels them to do so.

    Naomi Klein and the Climate Change Movement

    In her recently released book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, author Naomi Klein chronicles much of the troubled history of the climate change movement. Several key points offer useful lessons for those fighting against mass incarceration. First, the problems we face are systemic. They are not about changing a few laws or regulating a few bad apple corporations, be they oil companies or private corrections firms. The system has to change from top to bottom.

    A movement to drive this kind of change requires leaders and organizations with a vision of the world 30, 40, 50 years down the road, not CEOs focused on share prices and annual bottom lines - much less politicians dancing to the tune of public opinion polls. In the criminal legal world, movement leaders must be driven by a notion of a system that sits within the context of a just society, one that values all peoples equally and will tackle the race, class and gender issues that lay at the heart of mass incarceration. Like pollution, mass incarceration has damaged communities from the bottom up. Only a massive shift of resources can reverse that damage. Letting a few thousand people out of prison or slashing corrections budgets, while definitely desirable, will not solve this problem any more than recycling and scrapping incandescent light bulbs will halt climate change.

    Secondly, certain sectors of the climate change movement equated victory with being invited into the big policy circles - UN Summits, the World Economic Forum, global habitat conferences. They spent the bulk of their lives crafting and tweaking resolutions and counter-resolutions which in the end yielded little or no substantive change, apart from opening better-paying career paths for nonprofit "superstars." Perhaps South African Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu spelled this out most clearly: "People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change." In this regard, the movement against mass incarceration in the United States remains in its infancy. But inevitably a number of activists will (maybe already are) measure success solely by the volume of Congressional hearing invitations and the number of foundation grants scored rather than the extent of genuine movement building.

    Thirdly, for many years, as Klein also points out, the climate change movement was labelled "tree-huggers," cast as the spoiled children of the global North caught up in a fit of zeal among the young and privileged which would disappear faster than the spotted owl. For a long time, perhaps there was a certain truth to this characterization. No more. The vagaries of global climate change have hit the poor, especially from the global South. Spokespeople from African countries such as the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, a coalition of over a thousand civil society organizations, are stepping up. Post-Haiyan, nurses unions from the Philippines are joining the fray. Women have also raised the gender dimensions of global climate justice. In its call on members to join the September 21 climate march in Manhattan, the International Alliance of Women stressed, "there can be no climate justice without gender justice." They pointed out the importance of "acknowledging that women, particularly in the global South, have contributed the least to global warming and degradation of the planet and yet they suffer the most from environmental destruction and unsustainable consumption and production."

    In North America, similar processes in climate justice circles are at work. Indigenous people are playing a key role in halting the exploitation of the Canadian tar sands. Organizations like the NAACP and black church leaders are taking up environmental issues, developing their own climate justice initiatives focusing on people of color hit by Sandy, Katrina and Rita and bringing African-American hip-hop artists to the table. Those critically impacted at the ground level are becoming active.

    Empowering the Critically Impacted

    Similarly, during its brief lifetime, too much of the movement against mass incarceration has been led, both politically and ideologically, by a small core of dedicated activists and academics with no direct experience of mass incarceration and little genuine connection to the communities, which mass incarceration impacts. While many of these activists have done admirable work, the voice of those directly impacted - those who have been locked up, their loved ones, their communities - must step to the fore. At the moment, their voice remains a whisper. Moreover, the movement against mass incarceration is only beginning to recognize the gender dimensions of mass incarceration. While men may constitute roughly 90 percent of those behind bars, women and children shoulder the other half of the burdens of mass incarceration - sustaining family and community with ever-dwindling resources in the absence of those captured by the world of corrections.

    Like climate justice, ending mass incarceration links to a broad spectrum of social change. Ending mass incarceration is about racial and gender justice, but also about economic justice - an economy that generates jobs with a living wage, a public sector that delivers public housing programs, not prison building booms, an education system that channels youth of color onto the road to success, not into the prison pipeline, a social welfare system that offers support and respect to women heads of households, not an impoverished pigeon hole of wife, sister or mother of a prisoner.

    Wake Up Call

    The release of the Bureau of Justice statistics for 2013 is perhaps the Rio moment for the movement against mass incarceration. This may be the time for the movement to seriously reflect on the limitations of cherry picking "non-violent offenders" and diverting a few people into drug courts or community service. Ending mass incarceration requires a different kind of movement, one with the active participation and leadership of millions of poor people of color.

    While policy reports and legislative lobbying can play an important role, as the Blockadia activists in North America are emphasizing, direct action from the critically impacted also needs to be added to the agenda. Let us hope that long before 20 years after this "Rio moment," the movement against mass incarceration will not be lamenting the miniscule impact our actions have had on this systemic problem and still be wondering why a piecemeal, expert-driven approach has not changed the world. And let us also hope that by that time, the vagaries of climate change have not rendered our efforts too late.

    Detroit's Water Shut-offs at the Center of Bankruptcy Proceedings

    The Real News Network - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 11:09
    Glen Ford Report: Detroit sits on the Great Lakes system that is the biggest source of fresh water on the planet and yet it is shutting off water of the poor, while providing deferrals to corporations

    Meet the Activist Group That's Making Student Loan Debt Disappear

    Truthout - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 11:07

    The Strike Debt movement at Occupy Wall Street S17 Anniversary Concert in Foley Square, New York City. September 17, 2012. (Photo: Steve Rhodes / OWS)

    I messed up. But I’m not alone. Seven out of ten college graduates have an average of $29,000 in debt along with their diploma. It sucks, and I’m one of the lucky ones. Since I’ve put off grad school primarily for this reason, I’m only looking at my student loan debt for the next seven-ish years. My heart breaks for those who don’t see an end.

    Fortunately, activists on behalf of students believe that we all deserve to see an end. In a radical twist, these activists believe that our lives are worth more than any debt. So they’re doing what Wall Street and the government can’t seem to figure out — they’re canceling student loan debt.

    The Strike Debt Movement

    The Rolling Jubilee is making a world of difference to thousands of college graduates. But we wouldn’t have the Rolling Jubilee without Strike Debt. The Strike Debt movement aims to put humanity back in the student loan process. As they say, “You are not a loan.” The movement that has swept the nation is filled with debt resisters who believe that economic justice and freedom (at least, in democracies) go hand-in-hand. For the Strike Debt movement, debt is what keeps the 99 percent, or the have-nots, imprisoned. The average person is “forced to go into debt” for necessities; the 99 percent “surrender” their futures to Wall Street. In the process of giving up their futures, the have-nots gain a lifetime of isolation, shame and fear.

    Strike Debt wants to give the power back to the people by confronting our current illegitimate and unjust system of lenders and borrowers head-on. The movement advocates that alternative systems need to be created.

    How Does the Rolling Jubilee Work?

    Beginning in 2012, the Rolling Jubilee, a project of Strike Debt, served as a “bailout of the bailout by the people.” To date, the completely crowdsourced project as raised $701,317 and they’ve gotten rid of rid of $18,591,435.98 of debt.

    How does the Rolling Jubilee work? The project buys debt “for pennies on the dollar.” Instead of collecting the debt and letting interest and years pile on, the Rolling Jubilee does something extraordinary. The project completely abolishes, or cancels, the debt.

    There’s no catch or gimmick. Debtors don’t have to wait years for help. They don’t have to complete never-ending questionnaires that are out to disqualify them. Influences like age, race and sexual orientation don’t matter. The debtors are chosen at random. The Rolling Jubilee is rooted in the desire of helping the common good. The Rolling Jubilee values “mutual support, good will and collective refusal of debt resistance.”

    The Occupy Wall Street activists behind the Rolling Jubilee know that the program can’t eliminate all student loan debt. It was never meant to. As reported in The Guardian, the Rolling Jubilee bought student loan debt for $3,856,866.11, but $3.8 million is nothing compared to our current financial crises of American student debt that’s beyond $1 trillion. Activists also wanted to prove that getting rid of debt wasn’t out-of-this-world; activists paid $107,709.48 in cash, or 3¢ for every $1 in student debt. Along this vein, our debt is worth a lot less than we imagine, and our lives and future are worth so much more. For some, debt is an illusion of sorts.

    As reported in The Guardian, activists first tried to approach Sallie Mae. From a conversation with Sallie Mae’s vice president of portfolio management at Navient — a Sallie Mae “spinoff” — student debt activists discovered that Sallie Mae sold student debts to two major companies for pennies again, or as low as 15 cents on the dollar. Activists claim that Sallie Mae wouldn’t sell to them because they refused to collect. So activists turned their attention to Corinthian Colleges — the poster child of predatory lending. So far, the Rolling Jubilee has abolished the debt of 2,761 Everest College students.

    Initiatives like the Rolling Jubilee are meant to inspire and enlighten by making us question the system of debt. The goal is that the collective power of debtors becomes a force to be reckoned with — a force that demands greater economic equality. A force that values ourselves and each other more than dollar signs.

    For more information on how to spot predatory lending, visit Debt.org.

    Meet the Activist Group That's Making Student Loan Debt Disappear

    Truthout - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 11:07

    The Strike Debt movement at Occupy Wall Street S17 Anniversary Concert in Foley Square, New York City. September 17, 2012. (Photo: Steve Rhodes / OWS)

    I messed up. But I’m not alone. Seven out of ten college graduates have an average of $29,000 in debt along with their diploma. It sucks, and I’m one of the lucky ones. Since I’ve put off grad school primarily for this reason, I’m only looking at my student loan debt for the next seven-ish years. My heart breaks for those who don’t see an end.

    Fortunately, activists on behalf of students believe that we all deserve to see an end. In a radical twist, these activists believe that our lives are worth more than any debt. So they’re doing what Wall Street and the government can’t seem to figure out — they’re canceling student loan debt.

    The Strike Debt Movement

    The Rolling Jubilee is making a world of difference to thousands of college graduates. But we wouldn’t have the Rolling Jubilee without Strike Debt. The Strike Debt movement aims to put humanity back in the student loan process. As they say, “You are not a loan.” The movement that has swept the nation is filled with debt resisters who believe that economic justice and freedom (at least, in democracies) go hand-in-hand. For the Strike Debt movement, debt is what keeps the 99 percent, or the have-nots, imprisoned. The average person is “forced to go into debt” for necessities; the 99 percent “surrender” their futures to Wall Street. In the process of giving up their futures, the have-nots gain a lifetime of isolation, shame and fear.

    Strike Debt wants to give the power back to the people by confronting our current illegitimate and unjust system of lenders and borrowers head-on. The movement advocates that alternative systems need to be created.

    How Does the Rolling Jubilee Work?

    Beginning in 2012, the Rolling Jubilee, a project of Strike Debt, served as a “bailout of the bailout by the people.” To date, the completely crowdsourced project as raised $701,317 and they’ve gotten rid of rid of $18,591,435.98 of debt.

    How does the Rolling Jubilee work? The project buys debt “for pennies on the dollar.” Instead of collecting the debt and letting interest and years pile on, the Rolling Jubilee does something extraordinary. The project completely abolishes, or cancels, the debt.

    There’s no catch or gimmick. Debtors don’t have to wait years for help. They don’t have to complete never-ending questionnaires that are out to disqualify them. Influences like age, race and sexual orientation don’t matter. The debtors are chosen at random. The Rolling Jubilee is rooted in the desire of helping the common good. The Rolling Jubilee values “mutual support, good will and collective refusal of debt resistance.”

    The Occupy Wall Street activists behind the Rolling Jubilee know that the program can’t eliminate all student loan debt. It was never meant to. As reported in The Guardian, the Rolling Jubilee bought student loan debt for $3,856,866.11, but $3.8 million is nothing compared to our current financial crises of American student debt that’s beyond $1 trillion. Activists also wanted to prove that getting rid of debt wasn’t out-of-this-world; activists paid $107,709.48 in cash, or 3¢ for every $1 in student debt. Along this vein, our debt is worth a lot less than we imagine, and our lives and future are worth so much more. For some, debt is an illusion of sorts.

    As reported in The Guardian, activists first tried to approach Sallie Mae. From a conversation with Sallie Mae’s vice president of portfolio management at Navient — a Sallie Mae “spinoff” — student debt activists discovered that Sallie Mae sold student debts to two major companies for pennies again, or as low as 15 cents on the dollar. Activists claim that Sallie Mae wouldn’t sell to them because they refused to collect. So activists turned their attention to Corinthian Colleges — the poster child of predatory lending. So far, the Rolling Jubilee has abolished the debt of 2,761 Everest College students.

    Initiatives like the Rolling Jubilee are meant to inspire and enlighten by making us question the system of debt. The goal is that the collective power of debtors becomes a force to be reckoned with — a force that demands greater economic equality. A force that values ourselves and each other more than dollar signs.

    For more information on how to spot predatory lending, visit Debt.org.

    In a Warming World We Can't Keep Depending on the Same Few Crops

    Truthout - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 10:35

    Rice crop (Photo: Cristian Viarisio)

    We are in the middle of one of the biggest experiments in human history. At its core is the homogenisation of global food systems, which increasingly must deliver the same products to an expanding population (in all senses) across the world.

    I now live in Kajang, in the Klang Valley around Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This area typifies many fast emerging economies where increasing wealth and aspirations lead to an appetite for global brands – to buy and to eat. Within a few kilometres of my house I can purchase the same fast-food as in New York, London or Sydney.

    The first McDonald’s in Kuala Lumpur opened in 1982. Now, there are more than 250 restaurants in Malaysia, with 42% of the local fast-food market in the Klang Valley. It is hard to imagine that when the McDonald brothers opened their first branch in California in 1940, they would initiate a global phenomenon whereby 70m customers in 118 countries would consume an estimated 1% of the food eaten every day on the planet in a McDonald’s outlet.

    Kajang actually claims to be the home of satay. However, it seems inconceivable that a local “mamak” stall owner could ever sell satay on virtually every street corner around the world. McDonald’s now serves 144m “happy meals” in Malaysian outlets each year. Presumably, this saves 144m bored Malaysians from staring into their bowls of curry mee, satay and Roti Canai.

    Global Systems for Global Food

    The homogenisation of global food systems means that any fast-food outlet must depend on a long, complex and increasingly vulnerable supply chain to source products whose ingredients are derived from a tiny range of plant and animal species. While there are an estimated 30,000 edible plant species, just three (wheat, rice and maize) now account for more than 60% of the calories consumed by 7 billion people across the world.

    If we disturb the supply chains or the productivity of these major crops we are in trouble – wherever we live. Precisely because of their global significance and the consequences of their failure, virtually all our agricultural research, funding and promotion focuses exclusively on squeezing more out of these major crops grown as monocultures.

    As the climate changes, our increasing reliance on a few major crops will jeopardise food security. The recent IPCC (2014) report predicts that, without adaptation, temperature increases of above about 1o C from pre-industrial levels will negatively affect yields on the major crops in both tropical and temperate regions for the rest of the century.

    These impacts need to be seen in the context of crop demand, which is predicted to increase by about 14% per decade until 2050. In a recent study in Nature, an international team of scientists found that iron and zinc concentrations were substantially reduced in wheat, rice, soybean and pea crops grown under the CO2 levels expected by 2050. In other words, climate change will reduce both the yield and the nutritional content of the world’s major crops – leaving many hungry and malnourished.

    While we might modify the characteristics and management of major crops sufficiently to yield under the lower range of temperature increases, we are unlikely to succeed at higher temperatures. So what should we do for agriculture in hotter, drier climates? A good start would be to explore the many hundreds of underutilised crops that have survived, yielded and fed people for millennia despite, not because of, agricultural science.

    For example, bambara groundnut (Vigna subterranea) is a highly nutritious, drought-tolerant African food legume. However, during Africa’s colonial period it was increasingly displaced by the oil-rich peanut, grown for its cash and export potential. Bambara – “the groundnut of the women” – has survived more through its own resilience and the tenacity of the communities that have cultivated it than the contribution of agricultural scientists to its improvement or extension agencies to its expansion.

    Our entire food system is in a precarious state, propped up by a narrow elite range of major crops backed by global research and advocacy. Meanwhile everything else, including the underutilised and ignored crops that could sustain us in the future, is increasingly starved of resources.

    Without urgent, serious and comparative research on crops that can yield in hotter, volatile climates of the future, the global food system will increasingly depend on only a few crops. Future generations will not thank us for allowing the rest to wither away.

    In a Warming World We Can't Keep Depending on the Same Few Crops

    Truthout - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 10:35

    Rice crop (Photo: Cristian Viarisio)

    We are in the middle of one of the biggest experiments in human history. At its core is the homogenisation of global food systems, which increasingly must deliver the same products to an expanding population (in all senses) across the world.

    I now live in Kajang, in the Klang Valley around Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This area typifies many fast emerging economies where increasing wealth and aspirations lead to an appetite for global brands – to buy and to eat. Within a few kilometres of my house I can purchase the same fast-food as in New York, London or Sydney.

    The first McDonald’s in Kuala Lumpur opened in 1982. Now, there are more than 250 restaurants in Malaysia, with 42% of the local fast-food market in the Klang Valley. It is hard to imagine that when the McDonald brothers opened their first branch in California in 1940, they would initiate a global phenomenon whereby 70m customers in 118 countries would consume an estimated 1% of the food eaten every day on the planet in a McDonald’s outlet.

    Kajang actually claims to be the home of satay. However, it seems inconceivable that a local “mamak” stall owner could ever sell satay on virtually every street corner around the world. McDonald’s now serves 144m “happy meals” in Malaysian outlets each year. Presumably, this saves 144m bored Malaysians from staring into their bowls of curry mee, satay and Roti Canai.

    Global Systems for Global Food

    The homogenisation of global food systems means that any fast-food outlet must depend on a long, complex and increasingly vulnerable supply chain to source products whose ingredients are derived from a tiny range of plant and animal species. While there are an estimated 30,000 edible plant species, just three (wheat, rice and maize) now account for more than 60% of the calories consumed by 7 billion people across the world.

    If we disturb the supply chains or the productivity of these major crops we are in trouble – wherever we live. Precisely because of their global significance and the consequences of their failure, virtually all our agricultural research, funding and promotion focuses exclusively on squeezing more out of these major crops grown as monocultures.

    As the climate changes, our increasing reliance on a few major crops will jeopardise food security. The recent IPCC (2014) report predicts that, without adaptation, temperature increases of above about 1o C from pre-industrial levels will negatively affect yields on the major crops in both tropical and temperate regions for the rest of the century.

    These impacts need to be seen in the context of crop demand, which is predicted to increase by about 14% per decade until 2050. In a recent study in Nature, an international team of scientists found that iron and zinc concentrations were substantially reduced in wheat, rice, soybean and pea crops grown under the CO2 levels expected by 2050. In other words, climate change will reduce both the yield and the nutritional content of the world’s major crops – leaving many hungry and malnourished.

    While we might modify the characteristics and management of major crops sufficiently to yield under the lower range of temperature increases, we are unlikely to succeed at higher temperatures. So what should we do for agriculture in hotter, drier climates? A good start would be to explore the many hundreds of underutilised crops that have survived, yielded and fed people for millennia despite, not because of, agricultural science.

    For example, bambara groundnut (Vigna subterranea) is a highly nutritious, drought-tolerant African food legume. However, during Africa’s colonial period it was increasingly displaced by the oil-rich peanut, grown for its cash and export potential. Bambara – “the groundnut of the women” – has survived more through its own resilience and the tenacity of the communities that have cultivated it than the contribution of agricultural scientists to its improvement or extension agencies to its expansion.

    Our entire food system is in a precarious state, propped up by a narrow elite range of major crops backed by global research and advocacy. Meanwhile everything else, including the underutilised and ignored crops that could sustain us in the future, is increasingly starved of resources.

    Without urgent, serious and comparative research on crops that can yield in hotter, volatile climates of the future, the global food system will increasingly depend on only a few crops. Future generations will not thank us for allowing the rest to wither away.

    Sixteen for '16 - Number 13: Let People Vote

    Truthout - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 10:05

    Most law-abiding Americans are guaranteed the right to vote, but most Americans don't vote most of the time. Of course, that's their choice. Or is it? Voter suppression has re-emerged as a strategy for winning elections and is so widespread in the United States that it criminally undermines the integrity of our democracy.

    Waiting in line to vote in Miami, Florida. November 3, 2012. (Photo: Phillip)This story could not have been published without the support of readers like you. Click here to fund more stories like it!

    In this series, sociologist Salvatore Babones previews 16 topics that should be on every progressive's agenda for 2016.

    Most law-abiding Americans are guaranteed the right to vote, but most Americans don't vote most of the time. Of course, that's their choice. Or is it?

    It's one thing to choose to vote when voting is as easy as clicking on a link or mailing back a postage-paid form. It's another thing to choose to vote when voting means waiting outdoors in a six-hour line without food or water on a workday when you could lose your job if you are late to work.

    The first two centuries of American democracy saw repeated electoral reforms aimed at fulfilling the US Constitution's promise of a more perfect union by expanding the franchise and making it easier for people to vote.

    Voter suppression has reemerged as a dangerous strategy for winning elections.

    But since 1991 the historical record has been more uneven, and in many states the trend is now in the wrong direction. Many states are making it harder to vote and erecting barriers to voter registration. Voter suppression has reemerged as a dangerous strategy for winning elections.

    In the four years from 2010 to 2014, at least 22 states introduced new restrictions on voting, according to a report from New York University's Brennan Center for Justice. (1) These include new restrictive regulations on voter registration drives, new limitations on early voting and new avenues for partisan lawyers to challenge voters inside polling places on Election Day.

    Some of the most underhanded and pernicious approaches to voter suppression involve voter ID laws. On the surface these laws sound reasonable enough: People should have to show a valid ID in order to vote. In practice in a free country like the United States, these laws are highly repressive.

    In a free country like the United States, people are always on the move. People get married, get divorced, and change their names just because they feel like it. Teenagers go away to college without asking their parents' permission, never mind the government's. You can choose to be footloose, and you can even choose to be homeless.

    When you show up to vote, you may have an ID card that is expired, has your old address on it, or has your old name on it. You may not have any ID card at all. In a free country, you don't have to carry your "papers" to prove who you are. And in a free country that is also a democracy you are guaranteed the right to vote.

    In theory voter ID laws exist to protect the right to vote by guarding against voter impersonation. Impersonating a voter by pretending to be someone else and voting in his or her place is a serious crime, but it is a crime that almost never occurs. The reason is obvious: any one vote is almost always irrelevant in a typical election.

    It would take massive levels of voter impersonation to swing the typical election. Studies of voter impersonation show that this simply does not happen in the United States. For example, an exhaustive News21 investigation was able to identify just 10 cases of in-person voter fraud occurring over an 11-year period, from 2000 to 2010, or less than one case per year. (2)

    In reality voter ID laws exist to prevent certain types of people from voting: women (whose names change regularly), the young (whose addresses change regularly), the elderly (who often don't have drivers' licenses), and the homeless (who don't have fixed addresses). (3)

    Research by MIT political scientist Charles Stewart III shows that in the 2012 elections the residents of 75 percent minority zip codes waited more than twice as long to vote as the residents of 75 percent white zip codes.

    To be effective in swinging an election, a voter ID law doesn't have to prevent every woman, young person, old person and homeless person from voting. It just has to reduce voting in these categories in ways that systematically affect the total vote. Voter ID laws can suppress the vote even when people do have proper, current identification because they foster an atmosphere of fear on Election Day.

    It can be scary when partisan lawyers in suits and dark sunglasses invade your polling place and demand to see your papers. And that's what the lawyers are there for: to scare people away. They particularly try to scare away voters of color, and they succeed. (4)

    Long lines are another tool used to discourage voting by African-Americans and other people of color. Massive lines for voting are almost exclusively experienced by these communities. Research by MIT political scientist Charles Stewart III shows that in the 2012 elections the residents of 75 percent minority zip codes waited more than twice as long to vote as the residents of 75 percent white zip codes. (5)

    There was almost no difference in waiting time by average income level. The zip codes with the longest lines were minority zip codes, not poor zip codes. Queue up pictures from Miami and Cleveland.

    These kinds of problems really are serious enough to swing elections. If the 2000 presidential election was stolen, it was stolen not by the Supreme Court and hanging chads but by systematic voter suppression among people of color, the elderly, the young and the poor. (6) Hanging chads only became an issue because the actual vote was so close. In the absence of systematic voter suppression, the actual vote might not have been close at all.

    Similarly, the outcome of the 2004 presidential election was almost certainly affected by voter suppression (if not outright fraud). (7) Lines of four hours were commonplace in minority districts in Ohio, discouraging tens of thousands of African-Americans from voting. (8) Similar problems of disenfranchisement were experienced in at least two-dozen states. (9)

    The right to vote is the most basic democratic right. Without it democracy is meaningless. But the right to vote is not a strict either-or dichotomy. Like all rights, it exists (and can be infringed) in varying degrees.

    Progressive public policy should always seek to encourage people to vote by ensuring that voting is as quick, easy and unthreatening as possible. Polling stations should be welcoming, not hostile or forbidding. Election monitors should offer cookies, not challenges.

    People have to vote where they live, not where they work, so elections should be held on weekends, not on workdays. Election Day is set by federal law as a Tuesday, but this is not specified in the US Constitution. Congress can change it at any time.

    Voting hours should be expanded, and more voters should be encouraged to vote early and vote by mail. Why not mail a registration form to everyone in the United States? Or even register people automatically and send them ballots? If junk mail companies can find us, so can state election agencies.

    Most importantly, no one should be turned away at the polls. If someone accidentally turns up at the wrong polling station, surely the information technology of the 21st century can handle the situation. States should be helping people vote, not preventing them from voting.

    Voter suppression is antithetical to democracy. It dishonors the extraordinary sacrifices that past generations of Americans have made to create, safeguard and spread the right to vote from a few small British colonies to the rest of the world. Suppressing the vote in order to win an election is both petty and criminal.

    Petty it may be, but voter suppression is so widespread in the United States that it criminally undermines the integrity of our democracy. Progressives are right to fight for voters' rights. And for once the moral high ground is also the political high ground: The more people are able to vote, the more progressives are likely to win.

    Footnotes

    1. Brennan Center for Justice, States With New Voting Restrictions Since 2010 Election, updated June 18, 2014.

    2. Natasha Khan and Corbin Carson, Comprehensive Database of U.S. Voter Fraud Uncovers No Evidence That Photo ID Is Needed, News21, August 12, 2012.

    3. Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens without Proof: A Survey of American's Possession of Documentary Proof of Citizenship and Photo Identification, November 2006.

    4. Project Vote, The Role of Challengers in Elections, January 3, 2008, page 4.

    5. Charles Stewart III, Waiting to Vote in 2012, The Journal of Law and Politics, Summer 2013, page 458.

    6. Myrna Pérez, Voter Purges, Brennan Center for Justice, 2008, page 3.

    7. Steve Freeman and Joel Bleifuss, Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count, Seven Stories Press, 2006.

    8. Adam Cohen, No One Should Have to Stand in Line for 10 Hours to Vote. New York Times, August 26, 2008.

    9. People for the American Way, NAACP, and Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights under Law, Shattering the Myth: An Initial Snapshot of Voter Disenfranchisement in the 2004 Elections, December 2004

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