Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cops get $4 million after killing black man

In 2010, George Diego and Allan Corrales of the Los Angeles Police Department shot and killed an unarmed black man, Steven Eugene Washington. The case was one of several high-profile shootings that activists protesting under the auspices of “Black Lives Matter” brought up with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck when they met with him in January: Washington had been walking down Vermont Avenue, minding his own business, when Diego and Corrales drove by in their cruiser, deemed said walking suspicious, and shot him in the head, telling investigators that they feared his cell phone was a gun; the phone wasn’t even in his hand, but it was dark and so was he and so the officers were placed on desk duty instead of being fired.

The officers did have their day in court, though – they sued, alleging discrimination. Would a white cop who kills an unarmed black man get stuck behind a desk or would they get a promotion and be hailed as a hero on AM radio? A jury ruled in their favor, awarding over $4 million to the two killer cops whose only punishment had been getting to keep their jobs as police while facing none of the risks cops cite to justifying killing civilians.

God damn America.” – Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Is the CIA deliberately funding Al Qaeda?

On March 14, The New York Times published an article entitled, "C.I.A. Cash Ended Up in Coffers of Al Qaeda," detailing how the government of Afghanistan used "a secret fund that the Central Intelligence Agency bankrolled" to help pay a $5 million ransom to Al Qaeda, which had kidnapped an Afghan diplomat. Responding to the headline, those who suggest the US government is deliberately funding Al Qaeda in order to create an enemy whose existence it can then cite to justify intervention chortled at the Times' use of the passive voice. "Oh, come on," the marginalized conspiracy theorists groaned, "it just 'ended up' in their hands, now did it?"

The New York Times often runs terrible headlines, but I would suggest that those who believe this article, based on documents that were reportedly recovered in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, provides evidence for their theory that the United States is funding Al Qaeda on purpose, are quite mistaken
And the see-through-the-spectacle analysis they apply to Washington? It could also be applied to one of its long-time foes, were their analysis coherent and consistent. Reading past the headline, one discovers that while the Afghan government did indeed take $1 million from that secret fund to pay off an Al Qaeda ransom, "$4 million more [was] provided from other countries." Pakistan "contributed nearly half the ransom," the paper notes, while the remainder that didn't come from the CIA "came from Iran and Persian Gulf states, which had also contributed to the Afghan president’s secret fund."

Are we to believe the Islamic Republic of Iran is deliberately funding Al Qaeda as well? Not only did it help pay the ransom, it contributed to the same secret slush fund as the CIA. That money just "ended up" in the hands of a group whose existence Tehran has cited to justify intervening in both Syria and Iraq? Yes, actually: I don't believe the evidence that's not the case is any stronger with respect to Iran than it is with respect to the United States.

If Washington (or Tehran) wanted to fund Al Qaeda, it wouldn't need to go the indirect route of dropping bags of cash outside Hamid Karzai's office in Kabul in the hope that some of it would in turn, on occasion, be used to pay off 20 percent of a ransom: It could just end its policy of not paying the ransoms itself. Many have called for it do just that and it would be far from alone in doing so.

"Paying Ransoms, Europe Bankrolls Qaeda Terror," The New York Times reported last July, noting that Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland have all paid ransoms directly to Al Qaeda and its affiliates: $165 million since 2008, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, and $66 million in 2013 alone. "Only a handful of countries have resisted paying," the Times observed, "led by the United States and Britain." If the U.S. empire really does have a deliberate policy of funding Al Qaeda, this stance is perplexing: Here is a clear and convenient opportunity to hand over millions of dollars to extremists, openly, in a way that much of the public would find morally defensible, and it's not . . . because? I'm sure someone has a theory -- I just doubt it's any good.

This ain’t ‘anti-imperialism’

Ah, 2003: When opposing imperialism meant opposing imperialism, not simply denying the existence of evil in the world or, worse yet, defending it as good and just. The warmongers' claim that opponents of invading and destroying Iraq were mere apologists for Saddam Hussein? Oh, grow up, you neocon creep. Where were you when Ronald Reagan was arming the guy? These “apologists” you speak of, George Galloway perhaps excepted, are not actually a thing, pal.

To be young again . . .

These days, most anti-imperialists still hold to the idea that opposing the dropping of bombs does not require simply ignoring or excusing the crimes of any nation-state that is not currently allied with the criminal regime in Washington. Being against war does not, actually, require that one reflexively defend war criminals – a word justly applied to those who would bomb and starve Palestinians, for instance, be they in Gaza or Yarmouk – under the infantile reasoning that raising awareness complicates the antiwar cause. Moral credibility is the anti-imperialist's strongest card and it's lost forever when dead children in one place demands all of our outrage while in another conspicuous silence is seen as the only way to be effectively antiwar, or the only way to not be an imperialist, even, which can get confusing: Is this sectarian death squad backed by America or Iran? Both? Damn, this is hard.

If you're an American, it makes sense to focus on American war crimes and support for them, but it also strikes me as increasingly indefensible to simply ignore the humanitarian crisis in Syria, to name one glaring example, where nearly a quarter million are dead and millions more living in destitution as refugees, because the man most responsible for the killing, hereditary dictator Bashar Assad, is not on good terms with the White House that feeds him intelligence on its bombing campaign against the Islamic State. What's become clear is that some who were the biggest critics of George W. Bush are some of the biggest defenders of Assad's "war on terror," every atrocity at worst the regrettable consequence of fighting "imperialism" and "jihadists," though the vast majority of victims are civilians and not all Sunnis with guns are members of ISIS.

To these sorts, the war in Syria is but an abstraction -- the West vs. a perhaps unsavory (though secular and moderate!) dictator -- but let's take a look at what is actually being defended by amoral "anti-imperialists":



What's seen in this video is what happened on March 16, 2015, in the town of Sarmin, where eyewitnesses report that “Syrian armed forces helicopters dropped four barrels containing [chlorine] gas," as noted by Amnesty International. A hundred people were exposed: “a small number of fighters from the Free Syrian Army armed group, but the vast majority . . . civilians,” including a an entire family with three small children that suffocated to death. As in every war, those who suffer the most are not the imperialists or the butchers who justify their butchery in the name of anti-imperialism, but innocent men, women and children. This sort of incident is no anomaly in Syria, though typically the atrocity is carried out the humane and enlightened way: with conventional weapons that tear people limb from limb.

“I saw body parts everywhere,” one resident of Raqqa told Amnesty after the Syrian military bombed a crowded marketplace there. “I carried 40 bodies to cars, ambulances and pick-ups that transferred them to [hospitals].” In the span of two weeks last November, regime airstrikes on the Islamic State-occupied city, in “most cases” on non-military targets, killed up to 115 civilians, including 14 children – more than the U.S.-led airstrikes on ISIS have killed in over six months (Syria's state news agency hasn't reported on civilians killed by either U.S. or Syrian bombs).

Again, even if one were to believe all that is claimed from Assad's apologists and the vulgar reductionists of the reactionary "left," the vast majority of people the Syrian government is killing aren't “jihadists” or “imperial proxies” or “Contras,” but Syrian civilians: 176,000 of them, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, on which the United Nations relies for such statistics; though the Islamic State boats of its crimes, more people have allegedly been killed by the regime snipers (5,761) than the social media-savvy terrorists. And according to Physicians for Human Rights, “The Syrian government is responsible for 88 percent of the recorded hospital attacks and 97 percent of medical personnel killings, with 139 deaths directly attributed to torture or execution.”

If one takes these numbers with an iceberg of salt – which would be fair enough given the fog of war in a country where journalists are denied access by the government and killed by ISIS – the overall picture is fairly clear and the idea that this picture is the product of a State Department fabulist is more than just an absurdity, it's an insult. Rather than denial, anti-imperialists ought to own the fact that a lot of evil can be perpetrated without the direct support of the U.S. empire -- and that the only thing that could make Syria even worse at this point would be an imperial “liberation" by way of airstrikes on the regime or Marines on the ground.

Skepticism is certainly warranted when allegations are made about a state the American empire doesn't like, but one can be skeptical without being an apologist who white-washes war crimes and baits as an "imperialist" anyone who doesn't believe every dead baby is the product of a rebel false flag. If I were a young intelligence officer (let me stress that: if) trying to come up with a PsyOp to discredit the anti-war left, though? I would suggest doing just that. There's no better way to tar anti-imperialists as rank apologists than having anti-imperialists become rank apologists.

Friday, March 13, 2015

From the killing fields to a prison cell

"The next 5 to 10 years are going to be a shit show." That's what an attorney who represents military veterans with PTSD told me when I asked him about veterans treatment courts, which are intended to deal with the particular issues facing alleged criminals who were turned into killers by their government. He's a fan of those courts, which let veterans avoid prison by undergoing treatment, and would like to see them flourish -- anything that keeps people from experiencing incarceration is a good thing -- but he says the worst is yet to come, even with these courts: The most troubled veterans aren't the ones currently getting arrested, but the ones still in special forces overseas masking their deep emotional problems by engaging in continual combat. Instead of committing crimes at home, they are committing them abroad -- but someday they will come home and bring their troubles with them. War: It Keeps Killing Long After It's Over.

On that uplifting note, check out the piece I wrote on this topic for TakePart. And happy Friday!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Against mugshots

Photos of the state's latest catch don't belong in a free press, or so I argue in a piece for Truthout. Check it out.

When it's wrong to keep your word

Edward Snowden was trusted with keeping a secret. When he took a job working as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), he voluntarily took an oath pledging to not divulge classified information about the US government’s electronic surveillance programs. In the end, he couldn’t keep that oath. He broke it.

Good for him.

Many had access to the same information Snowden had, including members of Congress who had the platform to do something about it -- but none did. That’s a shame, because if any member of the political establishment had the courage to inform the public about what was being done in their name (and with their money), we would have known about the NSA’s gobbling up of telephone metadata several years ago. We would have known that the US government can tap into a Skype call or email thread with nothing more than a broad authorization from justices on a secret court that approved a full 100 percent of the surveillance requests they received in 2010.

But we don’t have people like that in Congress. We put people like that in prison.

Oath keepers

“Mr. Snowden broke the law,” Dick Durbin, the second highest ranking member of the Senate, recently told reporters. Never mind the wrongdoing Snowden exposed. What was important to liberal Democrat from Illinois was that Snowden -- “a man of limited education and limited life experience” -- wronged those whose wrongdoing he swore he’d take to the grave. “They told him, we will give you access to the most important and delicate classified information in America,” said Durbin. “You gotta take an oath that you will never disclose it. We take the same oath, members of Congress. He broke his oath. He committed a crime. He needs to pay a price for it.”

Durbin, of all people, should know better.

On April 25, 2007, the Illinois lawmaker took to the Senate floor to reveal a shocking secret: As a member of the Intelligence Committee during the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he knew the Bush administration was lying.
“I would read the headlines in the paper in the morning and watch the television newscasts and shake my head because, you see, just a few hundred feet away from here in a closed room, carefully guarded, the Intelligence Committee was meeting on a daily basis for top-secret briefings about the information we were receiving, and the information we had in the Intelligence Committee was not the same information being given to the American public,” he said.

In particular, Durbin highlighted the case of Iraq’s “aluminum tubes,” which the Bush administration regularly claimed could have no other purpose than to deliver a nuclear warhead to the heartland, despite strong objections from US government scientists. Inside the committee room, this disagreement was acknowledged. Outside the room, however, “members of the administration were telling the American people to be fearful of mushroom-shaped clouds.”

“I was angry about it,” the senator continued. But, “Frankly, I couldn't do much about it,” he maintained, “because, in the Intelligence Committee, we are sworn to secrecy.”

No courage in Congress

Durbin could have come forward and announced the White House was lying to the American public. He could have dared the Bush administration to prosecute a sitting senator. But he kept his oath; he kept a promise with liars to keep their lies a secret. And then hundreds of thousands of people died.
Durbin isn’t the only senator who has kept silent when he witnessed something wrong, of course. There are 99 others.

Speaking on the Senate floor last year, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden warned the US government was relying on a secret interpretation of the law to justify its broad surveillance programs “should never be a secret from the American people.” In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, he also said that “Justice Department officials have -- on a number of occasions -- made what we believe are misleading statements pertaining to the government’s interpretation of surveillance law.”

But Wyden kept secret what they lied about. Why? Because he took an oath. As The New York Times reported, the senator “had to be content to sit in a special sealed room, soak in information that they said appalled and frightened them, then offer veiled messages that were largely ignored.”

Telling the truth works

When Snowden broke his oath and leaked evidence of the NSA’s appalling and frightening surveillance capabilities, the evidence wasn’t ignored. It made headlines around the globe. Rather than working within a system designed to stifle dissent, he went directly to the public. And it worked: everyone is talking about it.

In reasonable doses, loyalty can be a good thing. But when loyalty to power comes at the public's expense, it is a character flaw, not a virtue, something both Snowden and Chelsea Manning before him recognized despite their “limited education and limited life experience.” In fact, that's probably why they did what they did. Neither had been conditioned by years in Washington to believe there's anything honorable about keeping an oath with a liar. They knew shutting their mouths would only make them accessories.

Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning would make terrible senators. For that, we should be thankful.

An earlier version of this essay was posted by another website quite a while ago. I prefer this one.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Trend Watch: Former feds smearing antiwar activists

Coleen Rowley spent more than two decades with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. What's she up to now? Attacking antiwar activists by suggesting they're imperialists for being too critical of Syria's hereditary dictator.

In a piece published by both the Huffington Post and Consortium News, “Selling 'Peace Groups on US-Led Wars,” Rowley and co-author Margaret Sarfehjooy conclude that a group of Quaker pacifists in Minnesota – the “Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria,” or CISPOS, which is part of “Friends for a Nonviolent World” – is part of a campaign to promote democracy, “U.S. militarism style,” because it hosted “speakers and essayists with strong ties to the violent uprising to topple the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, resulting in a war that has already taken some 200,000 lives.”

Observe the language here: the initially peaceful 2011 uprising in Syria is characterized as “violent” (a curious critique for a revolutionary leftist) and to blame for all the violence followed; the brutal crackdown by a state armed with modern fighter jets and crude, indiscriminate barrel bombs is left unmentioned, lest the authors themselves be accused of spreading propaganda for a war against a regime with which the White House is currently coordinating its air strikes on Syria. Rowley and her coauthor strongly insinuate that the peaceniks whom they are tarring as imperialists hosted speakers with ties to the US government, but the most they can come up with is that the State Department has given grants to some opposition activists – it's done the same in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia – and that the ex-husband of one woman who spoke to the group was once, nearly a decade ago, in the same room as Dick Cheney. All they have is innuendo and a series of links to tangentially related evidence that isn't really evidence of anything that undermines the argument that "this Assad guy seems like a bad dude," ultimately convincing only to those who skim articles that make arguments with which they are already inclined to agree.

There is a glaring omission, however, which was noted by commentator Louis Proyect: That just a few weeks before they were smeared by a former federal agent (right eyebrow status: hella fuckin' raised), the imperialists of CISPOS were promoting a protest “against US-led Coalition airstrikes on Syria.” Those strikes, like the Assad regime's record of mass murder, are not mentioned in Rowley's article, which might make those inclined to engage in a conspiratorial analysis go: Hmm. But one need not think the moon landing was directed by Stanley Kubrick to think that's really weird.

Indeed, let's think about this: Imperial powers are actively bombing Syria in the name of a U.S.-led “war on terror” that Assad has repeatedly expressed a desire in joining himself – he tortured people for George W. Bush and long ago labelled all who oppose him “terrorists," while the head of the Council on Foreign Relations, in The New York Times, has called for “capitalizing on Mr. Assad's anti-jihadi instincts” – and a former fed decides now is the time to go after those who oppose both bombing Syria and rehabilitating its brutal (but secular and beardless) dictator as a potential ally of the West? Strange, one might say. Makes ya think.

This isn't the first time a former federal agent has decided to weigh in on Syria by smearing as “imperialists” members of an antiwar movement they were quite late in joining themselves. In December 2011, former FBI agent Sibel Edmonds wrote of a “very troubling switch of position and changes at AntiWar.com.” The issue, in her view: The site's coverage of Syria, which by virtue of its being insufficiently apologist, was determined to be “MSM produced war propaganda,” a development – a site called AntiWar learning to love the bomb and go pro-war – she blamed on “mystery-undisclosed funders.”

“I have researchers who are compiling data on their recent changes,” wrote Edmonds, “and running background checks on their new team members who have successfully altered this once truly valuable source of information.” There have been no updates since, presumably meaning that the investigation is still ongoing.

Now, is there a conspiracy to co-opt the antiwar movement by targeting those in it who refuse to go along with the rehabilitation of a butcher who U.S. elites appear to now view as a lesser evil? Yeah, probably not, but regardless: the divisive and disingenuous way these former agents of the state have engaged those who -- by the way -- were on to the whole “antiwar” thing back while they were still serving empire suggests that, perhaps, the antiwar left has been a little too welcoming of those who haven't quite given up the with-us-or-against-us mentality of a federal agent. At the very least, we should be viewing their work with as much cynical skepticism as we do the work of other, lesser known freelance writers for web-based publications. And while their transformations are very likely genuine, the Left has every reason to distrust anyone who ever freely associated with the FBI.

Amusingly, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, with which Rowley is now associated, knows there's a good reason for that general policy of distrust, having been targeted by the FBI for allegedly providing “material support” for terrorism, which took the form of expressing solidarity with the victims of war -- like millions of Syrians, for instance, who are currently freezing in refugee camps across the Middle East. As Freedom Road's Tom Burke told me, the FBI infiltrated the organization during a rare moment of unity in the often divisive world of antiwar activism, the bureau having long sought to sow sectarian division on the left (to that end, the FBI's woman on the inside would often attack her comrades for being insufficiently militant, masquerading as the only real revolutionary in the room). Around the same time, Brandon Darby, an agent provocateur on the payroll of the FBI, helped entrap activists at the 2006 Republican Convention in Minnesota by encouraging them to set off incendiary devices. One of his favorite approaches for dealing with those who questioned the wisdom of his tactics? “Pointing fingers at and 'snitch-jacketing' other people, accusing them of being cops, FBI agents, etc.,” according to Lisa Fithian, one of the many activists he betrayed.

In the case of Syria, the trend embraced by Rowley and Edmonds before her is to “imperial-jacket” those who think maybe the opposition to Bashad Assad has something to do with the policies of Bashar Assad, not just the meddling of outside agitators; rather than engage in good faith those who may have a different opinion, and whose years of antiwar activism ought to buy them the benefit of the doubt, Rowley and others like her have chosen to paint them as tools of empire – perhaps willing ones, they not so subtly insinuate – at a time, ironically, when the empire is busy bombing Syria in the name of fighting terrorism, not Bashar Assad. They may not be in the pay of the federal government, but they're still policing the antiwar left and the effect of their work is the same, turning leftists against each other when they should be working together to fight the common enemy: those who would have us believe cruise missiles are an effective means of addressing a humanitarian crisis.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Feds make awful friends

My latest piece for Salon is on the US government's practice of encouraging vulnerable people to be terrible. Check it out.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Actually

. . . The New Republic is good, based solely on the litmus test, "Did they publish me?" So check out my report on how the US government covers for Border Patrol agents who shoot unarmed people.

I also covered a rowdy Police Commission hearing in Los Angeles in which protesters with Black Lives Matter were told that the city's ostensibly independent civilian review board could not actually discuss Ezell Ford, the unarmed 25-year-old who was shot by the LAPD last August. You can check that out over at Take Part.

And finally, for LAist, I wrote about the meeting that took place after that commission hearing between activists and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. Read it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The week in me

Over at Salon, I argue that torture is as American as slavery and genocide.

At Take Part, I report on a Drone Expo held in Los Angeles over the weekend where protesters were called racial slurs for interrupting a war profiteer.

And at Capital and Main, I report on how about 200 lawyers and law students held a "die-in" outside an LA courthouse to protest police brutality and a legal system they know is rigged.

Also: I forgot to link to this before, so here's something I wrote for Salon about how Amazon's decision to kick WikiLeaks off its servers was tied to the major contract it later received courtesy the US intelligence community.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

LA's Drone Expo Stresses the 'Good' Side of UAVs

“There's a good chance you will meet the next Steve Jobs here,” said Keith Kaplan, CEO of the Unmanned Autonomous Vehicle System Association (UAVSA), when I called him up earlier this week to talk about the Drone Expo his group was putting on in Los Angeles. Like the Internet, Kaplan argued that the much-maligned drone could do a lot of good – he mentioned “organic farming,” with some farmers using unmanned vehicles to track the growth of weeds on their land – and that we should distinguish the commercial and scientific applications of the technology from its “bad,” military-industrial roots.
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The roots are, of course, totally rotten: From Gaza to Waziristan, drones have been used by the world's most powerful militaries to extrajudicially execute “suspected militants,” problematic young activists and whoever happens to be standing around them at the time. Meanwhile, police departments around the country have been trying to get their hands on the unmanned surveillance variety, sparking protest from those skeezed out by the idea of robots with high-definition cameras hovering above their homes.

But cops and soldiers were nowhere to be found at Saturday's expo, hosted in the Memorial Sports Arena just off the University of Southern California's South Central campus. Instead, what I saw were hobbyists – nerds, who looked like they probably had some very strong opinions about Linux distros – and young women in booty shorts next to exhibitors' booths trying to the overwhelmingly male crowd to check out were essentially remote-controlled helicopters; patriarchy was present as always, but the police state was pretty much AWOL, with companies gearing their marketing toward people who want to take “epic” nature photos.

Still, there was reason to believe the kinder, gentler face of drones and their potentially, legitimately good uses were being emphasized by some in attendance to deflect from the rightfully bad name drones have gotten from their use in, for instance, wanton murder. Just after the expo opened at 11am, around a dozen activists associated with a campaign against the Los Angeles Police Department's proposed use of drones disrupted a keynote speaker, Austin Blue, whose company SciFly "operates both fixed and rotary wing aircraft in support of advanced technologies in support of US Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement programs."

Video of the protest uploaded to YouTube (and since taken down) shows the protesters holding signs and chanting before one poindexter in the audience got up from his seat in a rage and snatched away all their signs. Later, as the activists shouted "hands up, don't shoot," a man can be heard saying: "Choke them." A protester said he also heard a man call one of his comrades a "nigger" as they were being escorted out

Perhaps affected by the commotion, later speakers stressed that they were for the “good” sort of drones, not those other kind (left undefined), with Captain Dave Anderson, who runs a whale-watching company in Orange County and recorded a popular video of said whales with an unmanned aerial vehicle, explaining that he was committed to using the word “drone” in order to reclaim it from those using the technology for less majestic purposes.

The most offensive part of the expo from the perspective of this left-wing anti-war scold was not the drones themselves – the privacy concerns are real and troubling, but like any technology it seems to me it can be used for both good (journalists exposing corporate agriculture) and bad (basically what the military does) – but former White House counsel Lisa Ellman's attempt to coin a new word: “polivation,” a portmanteau of “policymaking” and “innovation,” a linguistic equivalent of a war crime that Ellman earlier deployed in a TED talk, achieving Peak Insufferability. Two of the following speakers, all repeating the the mantra that we need to get over our fear of the commercial use of drones and just Legalize It already, also used the term.

I bailed at that point.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pro-war pundits: always wrong, always claiming to be right

Over at a website called Medium that I guess looks prettier than this website, I explain that neoconservative pundits Max Boot and Deroy Murdoch are heartless monsters who live in nicer homes than you or me. Read it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hooked on finance

My latest piece for Salon is on the recent trend of big banks opening branches literally inside high schools, ostensibly to teach students how to deal with money but also, conveniently -- and as they openly admit -- to promote their brands. Check it out and may peace be with you.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The latest in me

Friends! It occurred to me the other day: I have a blog. I should post things on it. Things I've written! And so here we go.
“The United States doesn’t ever trade its concern for human rights for any other objective," US Secretary of State John Kerry said the other day. I respond on Counterpunch.
Despite a bunch of lawsuits, Hollywood production companies continue to rely on unpaid labor -- though as I note in The Baffler, they'll claim it's a mistake if you ask about it.
That last piece was originally to be published by Vice, a media platform for which I once worked. It was killed because it implicated too many #brands with which Vice may want to partner one day, and because Vice doesn't exactly have a spotless labor record, but such is life. All that out of the way: I wrote a bunch of things for Vice that I never linked to here.
I love you all. Happy Wednesday.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

New Hampshire makes life harder for military recruiters

The state of New Hampshire has just passed a law that bars schools from handing over "test results, detailed demographic information, and social security numbers to military recruiting services without the consent of parents," according to the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy (NCPSP).

The bill, sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, was signed into law on July 14 by Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan. Specifically, it bars schools from handing over data to recruiters obtained through the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam, which is ostensibly a vocational test administered by the Department of Defense. However, New Hampshire schools are still required by the No Child Left Behind law to hand over so-called "directory information" to military recruiters -- names, addresses and phone numbers -- unless parents explicitly object (and even then, there's still no guarantee their child's information isn't being stored in a Pentagon database).

The victory, albeit small, comes after a similar bill was defeated earlier this year by Democrats in Connecticut, which I wrote about for Rupert Murdoch. The difference this time, according NCPSP director Pat Elder, was that the lobbying campaign was much more low-key.

"We didn't mention it publicly," Elder told me, which meant opponents "were caught off guard." New Hampshire is the third state to enact such legislation, joining Maryland and Hawaii.

Families rally for Gaza, old people for Israel

On Sunday, hundreds of people in Los Angeles attended a rally for Gaza. I attended that rally and wrote about it. I also took pictures, which I once again don't feel like embedding on this decrepit website, so if you're at all interested, go over here.

You're looking nice today.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The modern American breadline

Look, I have a fancy new url that I paid good money for -- www.FreeCharlesDavis.com -- and it's a real pain to cross-post pieces that have embedded images and I don't feel like wasting 20 minutes dealing with formatting issues, so: go read my latest, "The modern American breadline," over at the other place.

Good day to you.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Not all refugees can be Cuban

Were the state in question Cuba or Venezuela, the fact that it is deploying an “elite unit” of the national police to prevent people from leaving would feature prominently in US government propaganda. What kind of totalitarian hell-hole need deploy men with guns in order to stop parents from seeking a better life for their children? That fact alone would be cast as a condemnation of socialism and all those tyrants who stand opposed to the hegemonic desires of the freest country on the planet.

In this case, however, the totalitarian state is not an official enemy of the land of the free, but one of its clients, Honduras; that elite unit of the national police is “trained and funded by the United States,” as reported by the Los Angeles Times, just as those who launched the 2009 military coup d'état against the elected, center-left government of Manuel Zelaya, were trained and funded by the US government. As a result, the fact that Honduras is using force against innocent men, women and children fleeing the lack of opportunity in their country – in the wake of the coup, one of the world’s most violent – is not condemned like an East German in the 80s because there is nothing to gain; there is no way to spin the situation in Honduras as the fault of authoritarian socialists indifferent to the plight of their own people. Honduras is home to more US military bases than any other country in Central America and the only time it had a government that seemed mildly interested in pursuing economic policies independent of the United States that government was almost immediately overthrown with the tacit approval of the Obama administration.

As Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo noted at a pro-migrant rally earlier this month, the people coming to America “are products of our foreign policy.” There’s no spinning the humanitarian crisis in Honduras as the responsibility of Fidel Castro or international communism. It’s our fault – we did this – and so understandably silent are those who would otherwise be inclined to publicize the use of state violence against those fleeing misery for a better life in the land of the free.

Ana Maria Ramos and her two-year-old son are the sort of people this joint US-Honduran operation is keeping out. Interviewed by the Los Angeles Times after she was stopped at a US-funded police checkpoint in Honduras, she explained her reasons for wanting to leave everything behind.
"I don't want my boy to grow up in such a violent environment,” said Ramos. “I don't want him to see the violence and learn it. I don't want this for my son.”

Police forbade her from leaving the country because she did not have a notarized authorization of consent from the boy’s father, a legal requirement that it’s not hard to see harming those who are fleeing not just state and economic violence, but a violent, abusive partner. And that’s the sort of thing the US government is now doing so that Barack Obama can look “tough” on refugees, which in a sick political culture is generally viewed as a good thing to be. If you want to be welcomed here, it helps to have a strong pitching arm and the ability to serve as propaganda for US foreign policy; if you are a product of that policy, sorry, but you are out of luck.

(via Mr. Henry Krinkle)

Monday, July 07, 2014

LA residents denounce the deportation of migrant youth

LA rally for migrant youth - 4 Dozens of people rallied today outside the US federal building in downtown Los Angeles to show solidarity with tens of thousands of migrant children who have sought refuge in the United States – and to denounce President Barack Obama's efforts to send them back to the countries they fled.

“I call upon the president not to deport any of these children and to embrace them as refugees,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo, who joined other speakers in attributing the recent influx of children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to decisions made in Washington. “They are products of our foreign policy. They are seeking an opportunity.”

The rally, organized by the Human Rights Alliance for Child Refugees and Families, came as the president is seeking another $2 billion to bolster border security and speed up the deportation process, a request that comes in response to a significant rise over the last couple years in the number of unaccompanied minors from the Americas crossing into the United States. In fiscal year 2012, just over 10,000 youth sought refuge in the US; between October 2013 and June 2014 alone, that number rose to more than 39,000.

The dominant media narrative has been that these children are coming to the United States because of misinformation; because they believe that the administration which has deported more immigrants than any of its predecessors would show them leniency. But Leisy Abrego, a professor of Chicano/a studies at UCLA, said that what was causing these children to leave the only land they have ever known – and to leave everything, including their parents, behind – was the dire situation in their home countries.

LA rally for migrant youth - 9“Today, as I see these very heartbreaking images of children coming here, risking their lives . . . I remember that this is just the most recent chapter of a very long and painful history in the region,” said Abrego, who came to the US as child after fleeing a US-backed civil war in El Salvador.

“As a child, I did not understand what was causing the bombings and shootings that forced us to leave our country,” said Abrego. “It took many years for me to learn that history and to understand the very central role of the US government.” Today, she argued, US-backed violence continues under the guise of “free trade” agreements that compel the nations of Central America to favor US corporations at the expense of independent economic development.

For its part, the Obama administration has sought to dispel the notion that it is welcoming of those fleeing violence and economic hardship in Central America, arguing that it would be deporting these children at a faster pace were it not for a law signed by President George W. Bush in 2008 that “made it nearly impossible to repatriate unaccompanied minors to Central America without letting them appear before an immigration judge,” as The Los Angeles Times reported. Because of the law, which the administration is trying to change, these children are allowed to request asylum, which delays deportation but is almost never granted to Latin Americans.

Alex Sanchez, who also fled the war in El Salvador as a child – “seeking refuge, ironically, in the country that was investing in the war” – said the Obama administration should show compassion toward those child migrants who are today fleeing “economic violence” and breakdown of society caused by the US-backed war on drugs.

“We need to have the US government redirect those 2 billion dollars to support those children here,” said Sanchez, who founded the group Homies Unidos, which works with LA youth to provide peaceful alternatives to gang life. “These are children. Children! These are children coming here seeking refuge.”
And these are children the Obama administration are deporting – children who have learned that talk of American compassion was just a rumor.

Check out more pictures from the rally and watch a video of the press conference: