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    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

    From One North Carolina Prison, Reports of an Eight-Month Lockdown

    Truthout - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 09:59

    Solitary Watch received the following statement via email from North Carolina Department of Public Safety spokesperson Keith Acree:

    The evolving lockdown situation at Scotland Correctional Institution has affected about 600 inmates in close custody regular population housing. The medium custody (~540) and minimum custody (~240) populations have not been affected nor have those on control status (~230). The entire prison population today is 1,663.

    We implement lockdowns when needed to ensure the safety of inmates and staff and to prevent injuries. The December lockdown was prompted by a series of fights between large groups of inmates at Scotland that resulted in injuries to inmates and staff. Since the beginning of 2014, the institution has recorded 61 actual or attempted assaults on staff and 20 actual or attempted inmate on inmate assaults.

    At this point, the lockdown for close custody regular population (RPOP) has stepped down to a point that we call “managed observation”. Close custody RPOP inmates are now allowed about 4 hours of out-of-cell time daily (compared to about 8 hours before the Dec. 28 fights that began the lockdown).

    Visiting, outdoor recreation, telephone use and canteen privileges have resumed. Vocational and educational programs are in session and the prison’s two Correction Enterprises plants (a sewing plant and the Braille plant) are operating normally. Inmates continue to receive hot meals brought to their cells. All activities are occurring in small groups. Religious services have not yet resumed. A new chaplain began work this week.

    Since the lockdown began Dec. 28, restrictions have been lifted in 11 progressive steps, based on inmate behavior and cooperation, to reach the point where we are today.

    Katy Poole has been serving as acting administrator at Scotland CI since Aug. 1 when Sorrell Saunders retired.

    Across the United States, even prisoners who have not been placed in solitary confinement or any form of “segregation” can be subjected to a “lockdown” in which they may be held in solitary-like conditions, confined to their cells nearly round-the-clock. Brief lockdowns are a common occurrence, and lockdowns lasting months or more are not unusual. Individuals subjected to lockdown are generally denied even the pro-forma review processes afforded to most others placed in solitary confinement.

    In the “Close Custody” unit–a single celled, high-security unit–at North Carolina’s Scotland Correctional Institution, nearly 600 men have been on indefinite lockdown since December 28, 2013.

    Individuals subjected to the lockdown have been confined to their cells for 22 to 23 hours a day for eight months and counting.

    When asked by Solitary Watch about the status of Scotland, North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NC DPS) spokesperson Keith Acree stated that he was unaware that the prison was on lockdown.

    In January of this year, the Laurinburg Exchange reported on the lockdown:

    According to Keith Acree, spokesperson for the state department, the institution’s “closed custody” population, which numbers about 800, has been confined to cells since a “series of fights between inmates and minor assaults on staff members” occurred shortly after Christmas.

    Acree said injuries to staff members were “nothing serious,” but that several were “hit or bumped. . .”

    A lockdown means prisoners cannot have visitors, make calls, or leave their cells for meals. They cannot visit the canteen, Acree said, but orders from the canteen can be delivered to their cells.

    Acree said he could not remember when the last time the institution was on lockdown, but he was not aware of the current lockdown until he received an inquiry from The Laurinburg Exchange. In 2011, the prison was one of six in the state placed on lockdown after a surge of gang violence.

    About a dozen people from Scotland’s Close Custody population have written to Solitary Watch describing conditions at the prison. Some people wrote to describe the conditions at the prison in general, while others detailed particular incidents.

    One man recalls the day the Scotland Correctional Institute was put on lockdown:

    On December 28, 2013, two individual fights took place at about 5:35 PM. No one was stabbed or cut, and no staff was hurt. Prison officials labeled the incident a gang fight and shut down the whole facility. For almost a month we were not allowed out of our cells or allowed to take showers. When they did allow us to take showers, we had to do so in cuffs once a week.

    Another man wrote to describe the general conditions at the prison since the lockdown has been put in effect:

    We don’t get but two hours out of our cells a day. In that two hours, 24 people have to use the phone, take showers and get anything done that requires any assistance by the staff because once you’re in your cell, it’s like your forgotten. Then you spend 22 hours in this room. . . The things that go on here are uncalled for. This is supposed to be a place of rehabilitation but it does no one any good the way the staff at SCI mistreats people and writes you up for actions you didn’t commit. It just sends everyone’s minds or actions and feelings back to square one.

    The following comes from a man describes the restrictions at the prison as counterproductive to the point where he’s “about to lose [his] mind”:

    This prison has been on 22-hour-a-day lockdown for months. . . When I got here, I wanted a chance to earn my GED, but this prison is not helping me to better myself in any way. I have not been able to eat hot meals or go outside for fresh air ever in months. The treatment here is cruel and unusual and I’m about to lose my mind behind these doors.

    Another member of the Close Custody population elaborates on the the varying levels of restrictions seen since the lockdown began:

    While on lockdown, we’ve been through different stages. Stage one, we were on lockdown for 24 a day hours without being allowed to shower. It was like this for a month. Then the officers started taking us to the shower one day out of the week with handcuffs on so tight that it made it difficult for us to wash. Stage two, they let 12 of us out of our cells to rec in the dayroom for one hour. Next, they let 24 of us out for two hours. We haven’t had any outside rec since December 28, 2013, and our skin and health is showing that.

    Another man writes to convey the intrusiveness of his confinement, portraying how little privacy he was given, even while showering:

    The first month there was no recreation. Everyone was confined to their cells for 24 hours a day. There were no showers. When they started allowing showers,  you had to go in full restraints with two officers standing at the shower watching with sticks out.  .  .

    No visitors have been allowed for the past three months, nor are we provided with any religious services. . .

    Since we have been on lockdown, we have been having trouble with the officers doing their jobs. If we ask them for writing paper, envelopes or request forms, they will not bring it, especially if we’re housed on the upper tier. One inmate asked an officer for some toilet paper. She said, “I’m not walking upstairs to give you any toilet paper. You better use a shirt,” and left the block.

    He also describes an instance when another prisoner had fallen in his cell and his pleas for help were ignored by staff:

    The major problem we have is that officers do not respond when we hit out call buttons. . . Nobody ever comes to see what we want until we start kicking on the cell doors. There were several incidents where an inmate was feeling dizzy and pushing his cell button every couple of minutes. Nobody came. He passed out and we had to kick on the doors for about 20 minutes before anyone came.

    Another member from the Close Custody population describes a similar incident:

    An inmate’s back gave out on him and he fell to the floor. He started banging on the door with his brush for 15 minutes but no one came to check on him. So we started kicking on the doors, and kicked for almost an hour before an officer came. She looked in his cell and started laughing at him. She left and came back with another officer. She looked in at him again and laughed. They both left and came back with a sergeant, who looked at the inmate and said, “Why don’t you just do us all a favor and die.” Then the sergeant called nurse and they came and took him to Medical – after he’d laid on the floor for about an hour and 10 minutes. . .

    We’ve been asking why they are punishing 600 inmates for something four people were involved in. Those inmates were put in segregation, found guilty of their charges and punished for them. But so are we.

    One man discusses a health condition with which he’s been diagnosed, yet is not being treated for:

    Recently I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. For the last two and half weeks, my blood pressure hasn’t been checked and I haven’t received my medication to treat it.

    Another man writes of problems he has had sending and receiving mail:

    Due to the lockdown, I wrote a grievance to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and mailed it to them on 2/20/14, so I thought. . . But it was opened, taken out of the stamped envelope and signed by the unit manager and the screening officer and returned to me almost a month later. Before my grievance was returned, my mail started coming in late after mail had already been passed out and sometimes not until the next morning. Then I would either not receive mail or it would come looking like it’d been deliberately cut up. . .

    He closes his letter:

    I have not seen my family since my trial ended and I would love to see them. . . No religious services, no visits, no type of outside activity, no books from the library, no school – all this, for no reason. . . I, along with other inmates, are being punished for no reason at all. I have not caused any trouble and do not deserve this cruel and unusual punishment, which is a violation of my Eighth Amendment rights.

    Another prisoner describes the disturbing situation, emphasizing that the deprivations faced by these men are unwarranted:

    To think violence or disrespect is right? That is exactly what they’re doing to us: Disrespecting us and violating us as human beings. We don’t get to stretch our muscles, we don’t get any sunlight. . . We are treated like M-con status inmates, and we haven’t done anything to deserve it. . . They tell our families that they are understaffed, but that isn’t our problem. We are imprisoned inside a prison. . . We have been on lockdown since December 28, 2013, and enough is enough.

    Since these letters were written to Solitary Watch, Scotland Correctional Institution has modified the conditions of confinement in Close Custody. According to people held at the prison, the men are now allowed out of their cells twice a day for approximately for two hours and allowed outside for recreation for one hour twice a week. However, they have not resumed hot meals or any religious services for people held in the unit.

    From One North Carolina Prison, Reports of an Eight-Month Lockdown

    Truthout - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 09:59

    Solitary Watch received the following statement via email from North Carolina Department of Public Safety spokesperson Keith Acree:

    The evolving lockdown situation at Scotland Correctional Institution has affected about 600 inmates in close custody regular population housing. The medium custody (~540) and minimum custody (~240) populations have not been affected nor have those on control status (~230). The entire prison population today is 1,663.

    We implement lockdowns when needed to ensure the safety of inmates and staff and to prevent injuries. The December lockdown was prompted by a series of fights between large groups of inmates at Scotland that resulted in injuries to inmates and staff. Since the beginning of 2014, the institution has recorded 61 actual or attempted assaults on staff and 20 actual or attempted inmate on inmate assaults.

    At this point, the lockdown for close custody regular population (RPOP) has stepped down to a point that we call “managed observation”. Close custody RPOP inmates are now allowed about 4 hours of out-of-cell time daily (compared to about 8 hours before the Dec. 28 fights that began the lockdown).

    Visiting, outdoor recreation, telephone use and canteen privileges have resumed. Vocational and educational programs are in session and the prison’s two Correction Enterprises plants (a sewing plant and the Braille plant) are operating normally. Inmates continue to receive hot meals brought to their cells. All activities are occurring in small groups. Religious services have not yet resumed. A new chaplain began work this week.

    Since the lockdown began Dec. 28, restrictions have been lifted in 11 progressive steps, based on inmate behavior and cooperation, to reach the point where we are today.

    Katy Poole has been serving as acting administrator at Scotland CI since Aug. 1 when Sorrell Saunders retired.

    Across the United States, even prisoners who have not been placed in solitary confinement or any form of “segregation” can be subjected to a “lockdown” in which they may be held in solitary-like conditions, confined to their cells nearly round-the-clock. Brief lockdowns are a common occurrence, and lockdowns lasting months or more are not unusual. Individuals subjected to lockdown are generally denied even the pro-forma review processes afforded to most others placed in solitary confinement.

    In the “Close Custody” unit–a single celled, high-security unit–at North Carolina’s Scotland Correctional Institution, nearly 600 men have been on indefinite lockdown since December 28, 2013.

    Individuals subjected to the lockdown have been confined to their cells for 22 to 23 hours a day for eight months and counting.

    When asked by Solitary Watch about the status of Scotland, North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NC DPS) spokesperson Keith Acree stated that he was unaware that the prison was on lockdown.

    In January of this year, the Laurinburg Exchange reported on the lockdown:

    According to Keith Acree, spokesperson for the state department, the institution’s “closed custody” population, which numbers about 800, has been confined to cells since a “series of fights between inmates and minor assaults on staff members” occurred shortly after Christmas.

    Acree said injuries to staff members were “nothing serious,” but that several were “hit or bumped. . .”

    A lockdown means prisoners cannot have visitors, make calls, or leave their cells for meals. They cannot visit the canteen, Acree said, but orders from the canteen can be delivered to their cells.

    Acree said he could not remember when the last time the institution was on lockdown, but he was not aware of the current lockdown until he received an inquiry from The Laurinburg Exchange. In 2011, the prison was one of six in the state placed on lockdown after a surge of gang violence.

    About a dozen people from Scotland’s Close Custody population have written to Solitary Watch describing conditions at the prison. Some people wrote to describe the conditions at the prison in general, while others detailed particular incidents.

    One man recalls the day the Scotland Correctional Institute was put on lockdown:

    On December 28, 2013, two individual fights took place at about 5:35 PM. No one was stabbed or cut, and no staff was hurt. Prison officials labeled the incident a gang fight and shut down the whole facility. For almost a month we were not allowed out of our cells or allowed to take showers. When they did allow us to take showers, we had to do so in cuffs once a week.

    Another man wrote to describe the general conditions at the prison since the lockdown has been put in effect:

    We don’t get but two hours out of our cells a day. In that two hours, 24 people have to use the phone, take showers and get anything done that requires any assistance by the staff because once you’re in your cell, it’s like your forgotten. Then you spend 22 hours in this room. . . The things that go on here are uncalled for. This is supposed to be a place of rehabilitation but it does no one any good the way the staff at SCI mistreats people and writes you up for actions you didn’t commit. It just sends everyone’s minds or actions and feelings back to square one.

    The following comes from a man describes the restrictions at the prison as counterproductive to the point where he’s “about to lose [his] mind”:

    This prison has been on 22-hour-a-day lockdown for months. . . When I got here, I wanted a chance to earn my GED, but this prison is not helping me to better myself in any way. I have not been able to eat hot meals or go outside for fresh air ever in months. The treatment here is cruel and unusual and I’m about to lose my mind behind these doors.

    Another member of the Close Custody population elaborates on the the varying levels of restrictions seen since the lockdown began:

    While on lockdown, we’ve been through different stages. Stage one, we were on lockdown for 24 a day hours without being allowed to shower. It was like this for a month. Then the officers started taking us to the shower one day out of the week with handcuffs on so tight that it made it difficult for us to wash. Stage two, they let 12 of us out of our cells to rec in the dayroom for one hour. Next, they let 24 of us out for two hours. We haven’t had any outside rec since December 28, 2013, and our skin and health is showing that.

    Another man writes to convey the intrusiveness of his confinement, portraying how little privacy he was given, even while showering:

    The first month there was no recreation. Everyone was confined to their cells for 24 hours a day. There were no showers. When they started allowing showers,  you had to go in full restraints with two officers standing at the shower watching with sticks out.  .  .

    No visitors have been allowed for the past three months, nor are we provided with any religious services. . .

    Since we have been on lockdown, we have been having trouble with the officers doing their jobs. If we ask them for writing paper, envelopes or request forms, they will not bring it, especially if we’re housed on the upper tier. One inmate asked an officer for some toilet paper. She said, “I’m not walking upstairs to give you any toilet paper. You better use a shirt,” and left the block.

    He also describes an instance when another prisoner had fallen in his cell and his pleas for help were ignored by staff:

    The major problem we have is that officers do not respond when we hit out call buttons. . . Nobody ever comes to see what we want until we start kicking on the cell doors. There were several incidents where an inmate was feeling dizzy and pushing his cell button every couple of minutes. Nobody came. He passed out and we had to kick on the doors for about 20 minutes before anyone came.

    Another member from the Close Custody population describes a similar incident:

    An inmate’s back gave out on him and he fell to the floor. He started banging on the door with his brush for 15 minutes but no one came to check on him. So we started kicking on the doors, and kicked for almost an hour before an officer came. She looked in his cell and started laughing at him. She left and came back with another officer. She looked in at him again and laughed. They both left and came back with a sergeant, who looked at the inmate and said, “Why don’t you just do us all a favor and die.” Then the sergeant called nurse and they came and took him to Medical – after he’d laid on the floor for about an hour and 10 minutes. . .

    We’ve been asking why they are punishing 600 inmates for something four people were involved in. Those inmates were put in segregation, found guilty of their charges and punished for them. But so are we.

    One man discusses a health condition with which he’s been diagnosed, yet is not being treated for:

    Recently I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. For the last two and half weeks, my blood pressure hasn’t been checked and I haven’t received my medication to treat it.

    Another man writes of problems he has had sending and receiving mail:

    Due to the lockdown, I wrote a grievance to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and mailed it to them on 2/20/14, so I thought. . . But it was opened, taken out of the stamped envelope and signed by the unit manager and the screening officer and returned to me almost a month later. Before my grievance was returned, my mail started coming in late after mail had already been passed out and sometimes not until the next morning. Then I would either not receive mail or it would come looking like it’d been deliberately cut up. . .

    He closes his letter:

    I have not seen my family since my trial ended and I would love to see them. . . No religious services, no visits, no type of outside activity, no books from the library, no school – all this, for no reason. . . I, along with other inmates, are being punished for no reason at all. I have not caused any trouble and do not deserve this cruel and unusual punishment, which is a violation of my Eighth Amendment rights.

    Another prisoner describes the disturbing situation, emphasizing that the deprivations faced by these men are unwarranted:

    To think violence or disrespect is right? That is exactly what they’re doing to us: Disrespecting us and violating us as human beings. We don’t get to stretch our muscles, we don’t get any sunlight. . . We are treated like M-con status inmates, and we haven’t done anything to deserve it. . . They tell our families that they are understaffed, but that isn’t our problem. We are imprisoned inside a prison. . . We have been on lockdown since December 28, 2013, and enough is enough.

    Since these letters were written to Solitary Watch, Scotland Correctional Institution has modified the conditions of confinement in Close Custody. According to people held at the prison, the men are now allowed out of their cells twice a day for approximately for two hours and allowed outside for recreation for one hour twice a week. However, they have not resumed hot meals or any religious services for people held in the unit.

    Is Rising Inequality Inevitable?

    Naked Capitalism - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 09:55
    Yves here. In the wake of increased debates over rising inequality, particularly income inequality, many economists take the point of view that high levels of disparity are a state of nature. But that's a terribly uninformed way to look at the question. Economies of any complexity are not natural; even modern capitalism comes in many forms. This post looks at developing economies that have done a better job of dampening inequality to see what they have in common.
    Categories: political economy

    Tens of Thousands of Wisconsin Students Face New Voting Hurdles

    Truthout - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 09:48

    The last-minute reinstatement of Wisconsin's voter ID restrictions could create voting problems for over 32,000 students attending state universities.

    University-issued ID cards from most public universities will not be accepted as proof of identification at the polls, and tens of thousands of students will have to go through additional hurdles before election day if they want to exercise their right to vote. University students tend to vote for Democrats, and the voter ID law was pushed by Republican legislators.

    The impact on students is one other ripple in the shockwave that the 7th Circuit sent across Wisconsin last week, when a panel of appellate judges -- all appointed by Republican presidents --reinstated Wisconsin's voter ID law just seven weeks before election day. Federal district Judge Lynn Adelman had blocked the law in April as unconstitutional and violative of the Voting Rights Act.

    More than 32,000 students from out of state attend public universities in Wisconsin, and are eligible to vote in the state, yet cannot use a driver's license from their home state to vote in November. Until the 7th Circuit's decision last week, out-of-state students had little reason to spend the time and money to obtain a Wisconsin ID card.

    "When you are in a different state, your own state's license is valid as a form of ID," says Virginia Andersen, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has a valid driver's license from Nebraska. "It doesn't make sense to get another license."

    The ID cards issued by most Wisconsin universities do not meet the "proof of identification" requirement under the law, since they lack a student's signature.

    "I have a valid Nebraska driver's license, and a Wisconsin student ID," Andersen says. "Now I need another ID card too?"

    University officials have pledged to make available new ID cards that can be used to vote. On some campuses the voter ID card is available immediately; UW-Madison will begin issuing the card next week, and UW-Milwaukee will not do so until October 1.

    Yet, Andersen said she has received no information from the university about what identification she will need to vote, and questions whether other students will jump through extra hoops before election day.

    "Getting an ID is another task to add in to students' already busy schedules," Andersen says, which "could dissuade students from voting." Other students -- particularly those who've voted in past elections with their current forms of identification -- may not find out about the new requirements until election day, when it is too late, she said.

    Judge Adelman's decision striking down the law -- which the 7th Circuit put on hold -- referred to expert testimony about the "calculus of voting," which is the dominant framework for analyzing voter turnout. "Under this framework, even small increases in the costs of voting can deter a person from voting, since the benefits of voting are slight," Judge Adelman wrote.

    Going to the appropriate university building during midterms to pick up an extra ID card, exclusively for voting, creates extra hurdles for students to cast a ballot. Additionally, the law requires that students voting with a newly-issued university ID card must also bring additional documentation to the polls showing proof of enrollment, such as a tuition receipt.

    Taken together, the Republican-backed law creates additional burdens that will be borne exclusively by students -- who tend to vote for Democrats.

    "This is a thinly veiled attempt to dissuade certain populations from voting," Andersen said.

    The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) adopted its model Voter ID Act in 2009 following record turnout from students and people of color in the 2008 presidential race. After the 2010 elections gave Republicans new majorities in statehouses and governor's mansions across the country, ALEC-inspired voter ID bills were proposed in a majority of states, in most cases introduced or sponsored by ALEC legislative members. Wisconsin was no exception: the law passed in 2011, but was quickly blocked by courts -- until last week, when it was reinstated by the all-Republican 7th Circuit panel.

    Overall, at least 300,000 voters across the state lack the forms of ID required under the law, and the Department of Motor Vehicles is unequipped to get IDs into their hands in the less than 48 days before November 4. Two-thirds of Wisconsin DMVs are only open two or three days per week, none are open later than 5pm, and only one is open on Saturday.

    Governor Walker and Republican legislators who pushed for the law have claimed it is necessary to prevent voter fraud. Yet in-depth investigations by both Republican and Democratic prosecutors have found that the in-person fraud that voter ID could prevent occurs extremely rarely, if at all.

    "Virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin and it is exceedingly unlikely that voter impersonation will become a problem in Wisconsin in the foreseeable future," Judge Adelman wrote in his decision, finding that the burdens imposed on the voting rights of over 300,000 Wisconsin voters are not outweighed by the state interest in stopping a virtually non-existent problem of "fraud."

    In other words, in-person voter fraud occurs at a statistically insignificant rate, yet the voter ID "solution" to this nearly non-existent problem could have a statistically significant impact on the outcome of the November election. Polls show that the governor's race is tied.

    “There are three ways you win elections,” said John Ulin, an attorney who represented the challengers to the voter ID law. “You can turn out the people who support you. You can convince the people who are undecided to vote for you. Or you can try to suppress people who might vote against you. And the hucksters behind voter ID laws have decided to opt for that last option. That’s not the way our democracy is supposed to work.”

    Tens of Thousands of Wisconsin Students Face New Voting Hurdles

    Truthout - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 09:48

    The last-minute reinstatement of Wisconsin's voter ID restrictions could create voting problems for over 32,000 students attending state universities.

    University-issued ID cards from most public universities will not be accepted as proof of identification at the polls, and tens of thousands of students will have to go through additional hurdles before election day if they want to exercise their right to vote. University students tend to vote for Democrats, and the voter ID law was pushed by Republican legislators.

    The impact on students is one other ripple in the shockwave that the 7th Circuit sent across Wisconsin last week, when a panel of appellate judges -- all appointed by Republican presidents --reinstated Wisconsin's voter ID law just seven weeks before election day. Federal district Judge Lynn Adelman had blocked the law in April as unconstitutional and violative of the Voting Rights Act.

    More than 32,000 students from out of state attend public universities in Wisconsin, and are eligible to vote in the state, yet cannot use a driver's license from their home state to vote in November. Until the 7th Circuit's decision last week, out-of-state students had little reason to spend the time and money to obtain a Wisconsin ID card.

    "When you are in a different state, your own state's license is valid as a form of ID," says Virginia Andersen, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has a valid driver's license from Nebraska. "It doesn't make sense to get another license."

    The ID cards issued by most Wisconsin universities do not meet the "proof of identification" requirement under the law, since they lack a student's signature.

    "I have a valid Nebraska driver's license, and a Wisconsin student ID," Andersen says. "Now I need another ID card too?"

    University officials have pledged to make available new ID cards that can be used to vote. On some campuses the voter ID card is available immediately; UW-Madison will begin issuing the card next week, and UW-Milwaukee will not do so until October 1.

    Yet, Andersen said she has received no information from the university about what identification she will need to vote, and questions whether other students will jump through extra hoops before election day.

    "Getting an ID is another task to add in to students' already busy schedules," Andersen says, which "could dissuade students from voting." Other students -- particularly those who've voted in past elections with their current forms of identification -- may not find out about the new requirements until election day, when it is too late, she said.

    Judge Adelman's decision striking down the law -- which the 7th Circuit put on hold -- referred to expert testimony about the "calculus of voting," which is the dominant framework for analyzing voter turnout. "Under this framework, even small increases in the costs of voting can deter a person from voting, since the benefits of voting are slight," Judge Adelman wrote.

    Going to the appropriate university building during midterms to pick up an extra ID card, exclusively for voting, creates extra hurdles for students to cast a ballot. Additionally, the law requires that students voting with a newly-issued university ID card must also bring additional documentation to the polls showing proof of enrollment, such as a tuition receipt.

    Taken together, the Republican-backed law creates additional burdens that will be borne exclusively by students -- who tend to vote for Democrats.

    "This is a thinly veiled attempt to dissuade certain populations from voting," Andersen said.

    The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) adopted its model Voter ID Act in 2009 following record turnout from students and people of color in the 2008 presidential race. After the 2010 elections gave Republicans new majorities in statehouses and governor's mansions across the country, ALEC-inspired voter ID bills were proposed in a majority of states, in most cases introduced or sponsored by ALEC legislative members. Wisconsin was no exception: the law passed in 2011, but was quickly blocked by courts -- until last week, when it was reinstated by the all-Republican 7th Circuit panel.

    Overall, at least 300,000 voters across the state lack the forms of ID required under the law, and the Department of Motor Vehicles is unequipped to get IDs into their hands in the less than 48 days before November 4. Two-thirds of Wisconsin DMVs are only open two or three days per week, none are open later than 5pm, and only one is open on Saturday.

    Governor Walker and Republican legislators who pushed for the law have claimed it is necessary to prevent voter fraud. Yet in-depth investigations by both Republican and Democratic prosecutors have found that the in-person fraud that voter ID could prevent occurs extremely rarely, if at all.

    "Virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin and it is exceedingly unlikely that voter impersonation will become a problem in Wisconsin in the foreseeable future," Judge Adelman wrote in his decision, finding that the burdens imposed on the voting rights of over 300,000 Wisconsin voters are not outweighed by the state interest in stopping a virtually non-existent problem of "fraud."

    In other words, in-person voter fraud occurs at a statistically insignificant rate, yet the voter ID "solution" to this nearly non-existent problem could have a statistically significant impact on the outcome of the November election. Polls show that the governor's race is tied.

    “There are three ways you win elections,” said John Ulin, an attorney who represented the challengers to the voter ID law. “You can turn out the people who support you. You can convince the people who are undecided to vote for you. Or you can try to suppress people who might vote against you. And the hucksters behind voter ID laws have decided to opt for that last option. That’s not the way our democracy is supposed to work.”

    Global Drug Report: Don't Just Decriminalize, Demilitarize

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

    Military Police of Colombia (Photo: Pipeafcr)A report released earlier this month by former heads of state and other global political figures made headlines across the world for calling the drug war a failure and for its endorsement of the decriminalization of drugs, including heroin and cocaine.

    However, one of the report’s major criticisms, its critique of the militarization of the drug war, was largely neglected by the media.

    “All out militarized enforcement responses have, counter-intuitively, undermined security in places like Afghanistan, Colombia, and Mexico,” said the Global Commission on Drug Policy in its report, Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies That Work.

    The commission, which released its report on September 9, includes former presidents like Brazil’s Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Mexico’s Ernesto Zedillo, as well as former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan and George P. Schultz, who served as US secretary of state in the Reagan administration.

    The report also stated, “Militarized enforcement responses have sometimes led to infiltration and corruption of governments, armies and police by cartels, and a culture of impunity for human rights abuses, especially extra-judicial killings and disappearances.”

    These critiques have a significant relevance in Latin America, where US-led policies like Plan Colombia and the Merida Initiative in Mexico, the two major theaters in the war on drugs in the region, have had a tremendous toll on human rights in both countries while barely making a dent in curtailing drug trafficking to the United States. Last week’s Colombian Senate debate about former President Alvaro Uribe, who led the drug war in his country between 2002 and 2010, and his alleged links to paramilitaries and drug trafficking, serves as a perfect example supporting the commission’s claims of corruption, human rights abuses and impunity.

    During Uribes’s time in office the country was beset with a parapolitics scandal, which linked the president, members of his party, and members of the military to right-wing paramilitaries.

    Diego Murillo Bejarano, also known as Don Berna, a former leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, the right-wing Colombian paramilitary group often identified by its Spanish acronym AUC, testified in 2009 that he helped fund President Uribe’s 2002 election campaign. Even more disturbing is that members of paramiltary group have testified to cremating massacre victims in ovens, in coordination with government officials.

    In addition, in 2008 Uribe was beset by what came to be known as the false positive scandal. It was revealed that members of the country’s military were murdering poor, rural Colombians and dressing them as rebels. The scandal was seen to be largely instigated by a policy that awarded soldiers with bonuses, promotions and vacation days for their number of kills. According to a 2009 US embassy cable from Bogota, released by Wikileaks, Uribe measured success of the drug war by body counts.

    However, the US role shouldn’t be ignored. A July report on the false positive scandal published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation stated, “Based on data on 5,763 reported executions in Colombia and extensive documentation of US assistance to the Colombian military, we found a positive correlation between the units and officers that received US assistance and training, and the commission of extrajudicial killings.”

    For example, the interfaith peace and justice organization’s report noted that almost 50 percent of Colombian officers who received training between 2001 and 2003 at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, better known by its former name the School of the Americas, “had either been charged with a serious crime or commanded units whose members had reportedly committed multiple extrajudicial killings.” Additionally, the United States has either ignored or looked the other way when faced with reports of human rights scandals in the country

    Sanho Tree, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and director or its Drug Policy Project, told teleSUR English that this scandal never really gained traction in Washington because it “disrupts the dominant and preferred discourse” that the drug war, and Plan Colombia in particular, has been a success.

     “Watergate was peanuts compared to this scandal,” said Tree. “Can you imagine Nixon with domestic death squads?”

    Despite the scandals, murders, disappearances and human rights abuses that plagued Plan Colombia, this drug war model was exported north to Mexico under the name the Merida Initiative in 2008. This “Plan Mexico,” along with former Mexican president Felipe Calderon’s use of the country’s military to fight the so-called drug war, has brought similar results.

    The Mexican drug war is the most deadly conflict in Latin America other than Guatemala's 30-year civil war: http://t.co/zp68K43izV

    — The Takeaway (@TheTakeaway) June 19, 2014

    Molly Molloy, a border and Latin American researcher at New Mexico State University Library, started focusing her research on drug war violence in 2008 after she saw what she called a situation of "hyper-violence" explode in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Molloy’s research contributed to the book Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields, written by the recently deceased Charles Bowden.

    She said that the number of people murdered in the country since 2007 is much higher than Mexican government claims. Using statistics from various Mexican government agencies, she estimates the number of dead to be at least 155,000, in contrast to the 80,000 to 100,000 often cited in media reports. She added, however, that her figures don’t take into account the tens of thousands of Mexicans who have been forcibly disappeared.

    “The Merida Initiative money provided to Mexico and Plan Colombia funding mostly goes to fund fighting drug organizations with violence,” said Molloy. “My observation is that this generates more and more violence and does nothing to destroy drug organizations.”

    In 2012, according to the research and analysis website InSight Crime, makeshift ovens and charred bodies were found in the Mexican state of Michoacan, illustrating how Colombian paramilitary-government tactics traveled north. And as far as generating more violence, as Molloy suggested, Amnesty International published a report this month that stated cases of torture and human rights abuses by Mexico’s police and armed forces increased 600 percent between 2010 and 2013.

    Moreover, despite this militarized approach’s track record of increased violence, the presidents of Guatemala and Honduras have been calling for a Central American version of Plan Colombia to be funded by the United States.

    While the Drug War’s stated goals are drug eradication and reduction of trafficking from Latin America into the United States, its failures have raised questions about potential ulterior motives. Dawn Paley, a journalist and author of the forthcoming book Drug War Capitalism, believes that there are economic motives for militarizing this resource rich region.

    “We should use a new metric to understand the success of Plan Colombia, one that examines how it benefits transnational capital,” Paley told teleSUR English. “If we were to examine the results of Plan Colombia based on how it deepened neoliberalism in Colombia, we would have to recognize that it was a success. This was exactly what inspired the Merida Initiative in Mexico and other, similar drug war policies elsewhere.”

    The drug war cost hundreds of thousands of lives in Latin America. Now, it's moving to West Africa. http://t.co/Qa8MPpACmq

    — Open Society (@OpenSociety) January 31, 2014

    Paley said that in Colombia there are documented cases of where right wing paramilitaries aided transnational corporations operating in the country. For example, banana giant Chiquita Brands International gave over US$1 million to the AUC. Other companies accused of using paramilitaries for profits include US-based coal company Drummond, Occidental and BP.

    “Colombian paramilitaries were involved with anti-labor violence and the displacement of Indigenous communities living in resource rich areas,” said Paley.

    According to a 2001 report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, US oil companies lobbied for increased military aid to Colombia through Plan Colombia.

    "The protection of US oil and trade interests is also a key factor in the plan, and historic links to drug trafficking right wing guerrillas by US allies belie an exclusive commitment to extirpating drug trafficking," said the report.

    Paley called the Global Drug Commission’s report “a step in the right direction,” but argued that it didn’t go far enough.

    “I wish it had included more of an economic analysis about how the drug war has been beneficial for certain sectors of the economy,” added Paley. “This is a crucial element to why the militarized model of the drug war continues to be promoted by the US in Latin America and elsewhere.”

    The commission put human rights front and center among its recommendations.

    “Greater accountability for human rights abuses committed in pursuit of drug law enforcement is essential,” the report stated. However, it didn’t explain how to achieve this, especially in light of the difficulties countries like Colombia and Mexico face, with their problems of widespread corruption and institutionalized impunity.

    “The Commission’s aims are very aspirational, but not very strategic at this point,” said the Institute for Policy Studies’ Tree. “The devil is in the details. How do you actually implement this stuff.”

    Global Drug Report: Don't Just Decriminalize, Demilitarize

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

    Military Police of Colombia (Photo: Pipeafcr)A report released earlier this month by former heads of state and other global political figures made headlines across the world for calling the drug war a failure and for its endorsement of the decriminalization of drugs, including heroin and cocaine.

    However, one of the report’s major criticisms, its critique of the militarization of the drug war, was largely neglected by the media.

    “All out militarized enforcement responses have, counter-intuitively, undermined security in places like Afghanistan, Colombia, and Mexico,” said the Global Commission on Drug Policy in its report, Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies That Work.

    The commission, which released its report on September 9, includes former presidents like Brazil’s Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Mexico’s Ernesto Zedillo, as well as former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan and George P. Schultz, who served as US secretary of state in the Reagan administration.

    The report also stated, “Militarized enforcement responses have sometimes led to infiltration and corruption of governments, armies and police by cartels, and a culture of impunity for human rights abuses, especially extra-judicial killings and disappearances.”

    These critiques have a significant relevance in Latin America, where US-led policies like Plan Colombia and the Merida Initiative in Mexico, the two major theaters in the war on drugs in the region, have had a tremendous toll on human rights in both countries while barely making a dent in curtailing drug trafficking to the United States. Last week’s Colombian Senate debate about former President Alvaro Uribe, who led the drug war in his country between 2002 and 2010, and his alleged links to paramilitaries and drug trafficking, serves as a perfect example supporting the commission’s claims of corruption, human rights abuses and impunity.

    During Uribes’s time in office the country was beset with a parapolitics scandal, which linked the president, members of his party, and members of the military to right-wing paramilitaries.

    Diego Murillo Bejarano, also known as Don Berna, a former leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, the right-wing Colombian paramilitary group often identified by its Spanish acronym AUC, testified in 2009 that he helped fund President Uribe’s 2002 election campaign. Even more disturbing is that members of paramiltary group have testified to cremating massacre victims in ovens, in coordination with government officials.

    In addition, in 2008 Uribe was beset by what came to be known as the false positive scandal. It was revealed that members of the country’s military were murdering poor, rural Colombians and dressing them as rebels. The scandal was seen to be largely instigated by a policy that awarded soldiers with bonuses, promotions and vacation days for their number of kills. According to a 2009 US embassy cable from Bogota, released by Wikileaks, Uribe measured success of the drug war by body counts.

    However, the US role shouldn’t be ignored. A July report on the false positive scandal published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation stated, “Based on data on 5,763 reported executions in Colombia and extensive documentation of US assistance to the Colombian military, we found a positive correlation between the units and officers that received US assistance and training, and the commission of extrajudicial killings.”

    For example, the interfaith peace and justice organization’s report noted that almost 50 percent of Colombian officers who received training between 2001 and 2003 at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, better known by its former name the School of the Americas, “had either been charged with a serious crime or commanded units whose members had reportedly committed multiple extrajudicial killings.” Additionally, the United States has either ignored or looked the other way when faced with reports of human rights scandals in the country

    Sanho Tree, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and director or its Drug Policy Project, told teleSUR English that this scandal never really gained traction in Washington because it “disrupts the dominant and preferred discourse” that the drug war, and Plan Colombia in particular, has been a success.

     “Watergate was peanuts compared to this scandal,” said Tree. “Can you imagine Nixon with domestic death squads?”

    Despite the scandals, murders, disappearances and human rights abuses that plagued Plan Colombia, this drug war model was exported north to Mexico under the name the Merida Initiative in 2008. This “Plan Mexico,” along with former Mexican president Felipe Calderon’s use of the country’s military to fight the so-called drug war, has brought similar results.

    The Mexican drug war is the most deadly conflict in Latin America other than Guatemala's 30-year civil war: http://t.co/zp68K43izV

    — The Takeaway (@TheTakeaway) June 19, 2014

    Molly Molloy, a border and Latin American researcher at New Mexico State University Library, started focusing her research on drug war violence in 2008 after she saw what she called a situation of "hyper-violence" explode in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Molloy’s research contributed to the book Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields, written by the recently deceased Charles Bowden.

    She said that the number of people murdered in the country since 2007 is much higher than Mexican government claims. Using statistics from various Mexican government agencies, she estimates the number of dead to be at least 155,000, in contrast to the 80,000 to 100,000 often cited in media reports. She added, however, that her figures don’t take into account the tens of thousands of Mexicans who have been forcibly disappeared.

    “The Merida Initiative money provided to Mexico and Plan Colombia funding mostly goes to fund fighting drug organizations with violence,” said Molloy. “My observation is that this generates more and more violence and does nothing to destroy drug organizations.”

    In 2012, according to the research and analysis website InSight Crime, makeshift ovens and charred bodies were found in the Mexican state of Michoacan, illustrating how Colombian paramilitary-government tactics traveled north. And as far as generating more violence, as Molloy suggested, Amnesty International published a report this month that stated cases of torture and human rights abuses by Mexico’s police and armed forces increased 600 percent between 2010 and 2013.

    Moreover, despite this militarized approach’s track record of increased violence, the presidents of Guatemala and Honduras have been calling for a Central American version of Plan Colombia to be funded by the United States.

    While the Drug War’s stated goals are drug eradication and reduction of trafficking from Latin America into the United States, its failures have raised questions about potential ulterior motives. Dawn Paley, a journalist and author of the forthcoming book Drug War Capitalism, believes that there are economic motives for militarizing this resource rich region.

    “We should use a new metric to understand the success of Plan Colombia, one that examines how it benefits transnational capital,” Paley told teleSUR English. “If we were to examine the results of Plan Colombia based on how it deepened neoliberalism in Colombia, we would have to recognize that it was a success. This was exactly what inspired the Merida Initiative in Mexico and other, similar drug war policies elsewhere.”

    The drug war cost hundreds of thousands of lives in Latin America. Now, it's moving to West Africa. http://t.co/Qa8MPpACmq

    — Open Society (@OpenSociety) January 31, 2014

    Paley said that in Colombia there are documented cases of where right wing paramilitaries aided transnational corporations operating in the country. For example, banana giant Chiquita Brands International gave over US$1 million to the AUC. Other companies accused of using paramilitaries for profits include US-based coal company Drummond, Occidental and BP.

    “Colombian paramilitaries were involved with anti-labor violence and the displacement of Indigenous communities living in resource rich areas,” said Paley.

    According to a 2001 report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, US oil companies lobbied for increased military aid to Colombia through Plan Colombia.

    "The protection of US oil and trade interests is also a key factor in the plan, and historic links to drug trafficking right wing guerrillas by US allies belie an exclusive commitment to extirpating drug trafficking," said the report.

    Paley called the Global Drug Commission’s report “a step in the right direction,” but argued that it didn’t go far enough.

    “I wish it had included more of an economic analysis about how the drug war has been beneficial for certain sectors of the economy,” added Paley. “This is a crucial element to why the militarized model of the drug war continues to be promoted by the US in Latin America and elsewhere.”

    The commission put human rights front and center among its recommendations.

    “Greater accountability for human rights abuses committed in pursuit of drug law enforcement is essential,” the report stated. However, it didn’t explain how to achieve this, especially in light of the difficulties countries like Colombia and Mexico face, with their problems of widespread corruption and institutionalized impunity.

    “The Commission’s aims are very aspirational, but not very strategic at this point,” said the Institute for Policy Studies’ Tree. “The devil is in the details. How do you actually implement this stuff.”

    Body of War

    The Real News Network - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 09:09
    Body of War, a film by Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue. It is an intimate and transformational feature documentary about the true face of war today.

    What Role Is Turkey Playing in the War against ISIS?

    The Real News Network - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 09:09
    Lecturer Baris Kaaragaac says Turkey is trying to manage its response to the Islamic State in such a way to prevent the Kurds from consolidating political or military power
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