Archive | February 5th, 2018

Tim DeChristopher | In the Face of Climate Crisis, Let’s Make 2018 a Year for Realism


By Tim DeChristopher

In the Face of Climate Crisis, Let's Make 2018 a Year for Realism

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

This story is the first in Truthout’s Visions of 2018 series, in which activist leaders answer the question: “What would you like to see created, built, imagined or begun this year?” Each piece will focus on a bold idea for transformation, to give us fuel as the year moves forward.

“So, the next time I tell you how easily I come out of my skin, don’t try to put me back in

just say here we are together at the window aching for it to all to get better

but knowing as bad as it hurts our hearts may have only just skinned their

knees knowing there is a chance the worst day might still be coming

let me say right now for the record, I’m still gonna be here …

you — you stay here with me, okay?

You stay here with me.”

—Andrea Gibson

Just a few years ago, the resounding narrative in our country was “It Gets Better.” This mantra was not just a message to queer youth, but an article of faith in a culture that embraced the notion of eternal progress. This empowering campaign emerged on the scene in 2010, at a time when, for those of us who pay close attention to the climate crisis, it was becoming increasingly clear that things were not, in fact, going to get better. Then in 2017, it became brutally obvious to a broad swath of our society that the march of progress is certainly not inevitable. Perhaps 2018 can be a year in which we embrace that realism and develop a model of leadership rooted in vulnerability.

The conventional wisdom assumes that in order to motivate people to action or to win elections, leaders have to project optimism about our ability to cure all evils and create a world free of hardship. We see this in both climate organizations and progressive politicians who promise that we can stop climate change and increase long-term economic growth at the same time. Sober analysis tells us that not only are these two goals not possible in combination, but we have almost certainly reached a point where neither goal is possible on its own. But to publicly acknowledge such harsh truths is assumed to be political suicide, immobilizing an audience into hopelessness.

When we deny our pain, doubt and despair, we deny the opportunity for solidarity with others who feel the same thing.

But the thing about realism is that reality is the place where we all actually live. We can cling to painless delusions, but to do so alienates us from the authentic experience of those around us. The poet Andrea Gibson, to whom I sometimes refer as the greatest theologian of the 21st century, says, “What I know about living is that the pain is never just ours.”

When we deny our pain, doubt and despair, we deny the opportunity for solidarity with others who feel the same thing. We end up convinced that we are small, weak and alone. Given the massively powerful forces that must be overcome to address the climate crisis, economic injustice and white supremacy, there is nothing more hopeless than thinking of ourselves as isolated individuals.

2018 provides an opportunity for the emergence of leadership that holds space for our shared vulnerability.

The most talked about climate story of 2017 was an article by David Wallace-Wells entitled The Uninhabitable Earth.” Wallace-Wells received a great deal of criticism for what some perceived as a pessimistic tone. But the article was the most read piece in the history of the New York Magazine and one of the most read climate articles anywhere, prompting many of us to realize, in Gibson’s words, “Other people feel this too.” For me, it was a moment of sincere hopefulness.

After a year full of shattered illusions, 2018 provides an opportunity for the emergence of leadership that holds space for our shared vulnerability. Rather than trying to make us believe in those illusions again by making false promises and telling people what they think we want to hear, leaders can let go of those illusions and be honest about their limitations and uncertainties. Such leadership is embodied not in one’s ability to control a situation, but in one’s courage to engage with and relate to a situation.

Abandoning the dream of endless economic growth allows for a broader public discourse about what the purpose of an economy should be and who it should serve.

This is a leadership that can emerge this year in the halls of power and in small community gatherings. By holding public space for insecurity, leaders can invite others who feel similarly to experience authentic solidarity, because in that solidarity is our real power. By building that felt sense that we are part of something much bigger and more powerful than our individual selves, perhaps acknowledging that some things are impossible can help expand the realm of what is possible.

If we are liberated from impossible goals this year, we can begin to reconnect with the pursuits that we truly value. Because infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet, the pursuit of economic growth has always demanded sacrifices from other people and other parts of our ecosystem. Abandoning the dream of endless economic growth allows for a broader public discourse about what the purpose of an economy should be and who it should serve.

Unlike abandoning the false god of economic growth, however, the reality of climate change means that we will suffer real losses and hardship. But as with any real loss, denial does not prevent grief; it only makes us lonelier in our grief. Sharing that grief is the only way we can bear it and continue to do the work that needs to be done. There is much work that needs to be done, and in the endless struggle ahead of us, there will continue to be much work to be done. Here in 2018, a time of end-stage capitalism and early-stage climate crisis, we have a heavy load to bear, so let’s hope this is the year of rising leaders who are willing to bear it.

Posted in Climate Crisis0 Comments

The Hidden History of Black Nationalist Women’s Political Activism


By Keisha N. Blain

Amy Jacques Garvey, the second wife of Marcus Garvey, is seated on the stage as John McNair, General Secretary of the ILP (Independent Labour Party) addresses the first Pan-African Congress in Manchester. Original Publication: Picture Post - 3024 - Africa Speaks In Manchester - pub. 1945 (Photo: John Deakin / Picture Post / Getty Images)
Amy Jacques Garvey, the second wife of Marcus Garvey, is seated on the stage as John McNair, General Secretary of the ILP (Independent Labour Party) addresses the first Pan-African Congress in Manchester. Original Publication: Picture Post – 3024 – Africa Speaks In Manchester – pub. 1945 (Photo: John Deakin / Picture Post / Getty Images)

Black History Month is an opportunity to reflect on the historical contributions of black people in the United States. Too often, however, this history focuses on black men, sidelining black women and diminishing their contributions.

This is true in mainstream narratives of black nationalist movements in the United States. These narratives almost always highlight the experiences of a handful of black nationalist men, including Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan.

Contrary to popular conceptions, women were also instrumental to the spread and articulation of black nationalism  — the political view that people of African descent constitute a separate group on the basis of their distinct culture, shared history and experiences.

As I demonstrate in my new book, Set the World on Fire, black nationalist movements would have all but disappeared were it not for women. What’s more, these women laid the groundwork for the generation of black activists who came of age during the civil rights-black power era. In the 1960s, many black activists — including Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Robert F. Williams, Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael — drew on these women’s ideas and political strategies.

So, let’s use this Black History Month to begin to set the record straight.

The Universal Negro Improvement Association

In 1914, when the Jamaican black nationalist Marcus Garvey launched the Universal Negro Improvement Association, Amy Ashwood — who later became his first wife — was the organization’s first secretary and co-founder.

Her efforts were invaluable to the success of the association, which became the most influential black nationalist organization of the 20th century. The organzation’s earliest meetings were held at the home of Ashwood’s parents. When the organization’s headquarters relocated from Jamaica to Harlem, Ashwood was actively engaged in its affairs.

In addition to serving as general secretary in the New York office, Ashwood helped to popularize the Negro World, the organization’s official newspaper. She also contributed to the financial growth of the organization, relying on her parents’ money to meet some of the growing expenses.

In 1922, months after Garvey’s divorce from Amy Ashwood, Amy Jacques became Garvey’s new wife — a position she used to leverage her involvement and leadership in the organization. During these years, she helped to popularize and preserve her husband’s ideas. When her husband was imprisoned in 1925 and later deported — on trumped-up charges of mail fraud orchestrated by the FBI — Amy Jacques Garvey oversaw the organization’s day-to-day activities.

In the aftermath of Garvey’s 1927 deportation, women helped to popularize black nationalist politics. With limited financial resources and resistance from the FBI, these women asserted their political power in various cities across the United States.

The Peace Movement of Ethiopia

During the Great Depression, Chicago was one of the key cities where black nationalist women organized. In 1932, Mittie Maude Lena Gordon, a former member of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, established an organization called the Peace Movement of Ethiopia which became the largest black nationalist organization established by a woman in the United States. At its peak, the organization attracted an estimated 300,000 supporters in Chicago and across the country.

In 1933, Gordon initiated a nationwide emigration campaign, utilizing her widespread political networks in Chicago and across the Midwest. With the assistance of other black nationalist activists, she collected signatures for a pro-emigration petition. In August of that year, she mailed the petition to President Franklin D. Roosevelt with approximately 400,000 signatures of black Americans willing to leave the country. Drawing inspiration from FDR’s New Deal programs, Gordon requested federal support for those who desired to relocate to West Africa in hopes of securing a better life.

Gordon’s attempt to secure federal support failed. Yet she drew an even larger following of supporters who were inspired by her bold move. Many of these new members were women. Black women found in her organization a space of empowerment and opportunity. They occupied a number of visible leadership roles, working alongside the organization’s female founder.

Celia Jane Allen, a black woman from Mississippi who had relocated to Chicago, was one of these women. In the mid-1930s, she became an active member of the Peace Movement of Ethiopia. Embracing Gordon’s vision for unifying black people in the US and abroad, Allen took on a leadership role in the organization. In 1937, she became one of the national organizers. From the late 1930s to the mid-1940s, Allen traveled extensively throughout the South, visiting local homes and churches to recruit new members and advocate the relocation to West Africa. By the end of World War II, she was successful in getting thousands of black southerners to join the movement and embrace black nationalist ideas.

Today, these women’s stories are largely absent in popular accounts of black nationalism. More often than not, the assumption is that men exclusively established and led black nationalist organizations. This could not be farther from the truth. As these few examples reveal, women were key players in black nationalist movements, and their efforts helped to keep black nationalist ideas alive in US politics. No history of black nationalism is complete without acknowledging women’s significant contributions.

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Ahed Tamimi: Whose Symbol?


By Wendy KozolTruthout 

Palestinians hold candles during a support demonstration for Ahed Tamimi in Gaza City on January 8, 2018. (Photo: Majdi Fathi / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Palestinians hold candles during a support demonstration for Ahed Tamimi in Gaza City on January 8, 2018. (Photo: Majdi Fathi / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Last month, a video went viral of a young Palestinian woman, 16-year-old Ahed al-Tamimi (now 17) in an altercation with two Israeli soldiers. Tensions escalated, as the soldiers appeared to laugh at and taunt her until she repeatedly pushed and kicked them. Subsequently, the Israeli state arrested and charged Tamimi with 12 counts of assault, incitement and throwing stones, and today she remains in jail awaiting trial.

Documenting scenes of the dispossessed confronting state power has escalated with the increased accessibility of smartphones. Both recording and circulating videos through social media has become a strategic tool in efforts to publicize state violence. Like resistance efforts elsewhere, pro-Palestinian activists have increasingly relied on this technology to counter Israeli state’s efforts to silence opposition through media censorship and the military courts.

Without taking anything away from the ability of videos to show the horrific impacts of state violence, it is worth pausing to consider why this particular video went viral. To many, the video powerfully conveys the anger, frustration and courage of a young woman being mocked by male soldiers whose power leaches through the weapons they hold. Far from being interpreted from a singular position, however, Tamimi has become a symbol mobilized as much by pro-Israeli commentators as by those who support the Palestinian resistance movement. Opposing headlines claiming her to be a child victim, a heroine or a fraud too often preface commentaries that ignore her voice, and thus fail to convey Tamimi and her family’s lived experiences. Recognition of the contributions and limitations of video documentation is, therefore, vital in order to render them politically viable in support of the Palestinian struggle.

Competing interpretations stem in large measure from the broader contexts through which people see the video. For instance, the ominous sensation that pervades the video intensifies if you are aware that Tamimi had just learned that an Israeli soldier had shot her cousin, 15-year-old Mohammed Fadl al-Tamimi, in the head with a rubber bullet. Likewise, for those viewing the video since Tamimi’s appearance in court in early January, the ensuing arrests, the years in prison she potentially faces and the fact that Israeli prosecutors have nearly a 100 percent success rate in such cases retrospectively heightens attention to the already palpable violence in the video. The deeper legacy of economic subjugation and the loss of village lands confiscated for Israeli settlements, to say nothing of multigenerational experiences of occupation, further contextualize the young woman’s actions. Unexceptional, some commentators observe, Tamimi exemplifies a generation of young Palestinians who routinely endure traumas such as deaths and injuries sustained by relatives and friends, nighttime arrests and the bulldozing of homes, to name but a few of the social, psychological and physical injuries they face daily.

Other contexts, however, make video technology not quite as reliable a truth-telling medium as we sometimes presume. Pro-Israeli commentators point to the decades-long political activism of Tamimi’s parents and other relatives. Rather than exemplify youthful resistance to the Occupation, these critics insist that the video reveals these Palestinians to be provocateurs who threaten Israeli security. Tamimi’s age, they argue, demonstrates the willingness of her activist parents to exploit her in support of their agendas.

Importantly, the mediated process of turning Tamimi into a contested symbol resides in how commentators react to her race, gender and age. Watching a young woman lash out at the soldiers can destabilize conventional assumptions about Palestinian women as deferential and subservient. Supporters note that she follows in the footsteps of a long and valued history of women’s activism in Palestine. In Israel, gender too has become a focal point of debates, as some commentators have mobilized nationalist anxieties in response to the emasculating implications of a 16-year-old girl shaming these soldiers. Likewise, critics often rely on simplistic racial assessments of Tamimi’s blond curly hair and blue eyes, most prominently those who charge that she and/or her parents have skillfully exploited her “Westernized” looks on social media.

What lessons one takes from the emergence of Tamimi as a symbol of Palestinian resistance are deeply entrenched in the cultural politics of perception. Individuals get elevated to symbolic status when others see them as exemplifying broader political forces. Even as we can recognize Tamimi as a representative figure, it is well worth remembering that at the heart of this vexed debate about social media and Palestinian resistance is a teenager whose daily experiences, as well as dreams and desires, are elided in our hurry to claim her as our symbol.

Posted in Palestine Affairs0 Comments

They’re Talking About “Winnable” Nuclear War Again


By William Rivers Pitt

 An activist with a mask of Kim Jong-un, chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea and supreme leader of North Korea (L), and another with a mask of U.S. President Donald Trump, march with a model of a nuclear rocket during a demonstration against nuclear weapons on November 18, 2017 in Berlin, Germany. About 700 demonstrators protested against the current escalation of threat of nuclear attack between the United States of America and North Korea. The event was organized by peace advocacy organizations including the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which won the Nobel Prize for Peace this year. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)

An activist with a mask of Kim Jong-un, and another with a mask of President Donald Trump, march with a model of a nuclear rocket during a demonstration against nuclear weapons on November 18, 2017 in Berlin, Germany.  (Photo: Adam Berry / Getty Images)

The night before my 18th birthday, I sternly reminded myself to get down to the post office in the morning and sign up for the Selective Service. I wasn’t in a hurry to get drafted or anything like that; it was a chore and I wanted it off my desk … and yes, there was an element of ritual to it, a martial rite of passage into manhood that was mandated by law.  Volunteering to be involuntarily dragooned into fighting a war far away is what American men do on their 18th birthday, and I was a man. It said so right there on my driver’s license.

I woke up the next day with Alice Cooper ringing in my head, cracked open the newspaper, and realized I was suddenly on a different planet: The Berlin Wall had fallen. People were dancing on the rubble and sledgehammering the rest. Checkpoint Charlie was a disco. It was the party of the century. My very first birthday present that day was history, living history — brilliant, jubilant, rowdy, oh-shit-what-now history.

Filling out the Selective Service card later that morning, I found myself grinning like a fool. Yeah, sure, fellas, here’s my name and vitals, but the Cold War just ended right there on the TV, so I don’t think you’ll have much use for these. I walked out of that building sure and certain in mind and heart that now, finally, there would be less war, less fear, less everything bad.

Before you go calling me starry-eyed, you had to be there to understand — not in Berlin so much as anyplace with a television — and if you were there, you remember. That mood, that feeling of lightness, was infectious even thousands of miles away. For more than 50 years, we had all been waking and working and sleeping and waking again under a nuclear sword of Damocles, a fear that was pervasive and permanent. It didn’t disappear on my birthday, but damn if it didn’t feel just a little bit better, and a little bit of that goes an awful long way.

was a fool that day, of course. We got two years of politicians talking about the “peace dividend” and the end of history after that, and then we kicked off a war in Iraq that hasn’t ended some 27 years later. The Cold War turned out to be a nifty little dry run for the “war on terror,” except this time the weapons weren’t ballistic and coming over the pole.

The missiles are still there, though. Thousands and thousands of them, marking time in their holes like funnel-web spiders.

They were airplanes out of a clear blue sky, shoes, any car at any moment anywhere, so we got the mail with our oven mitts on and were told to watch what we say by the president’s top spokesman. The threat was different, but the affliction of permanent fear was exactly the same. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

The missiles are still there, though. Thousands and thousands of them, marking time in their holes like funnel-web spiders. The astonishingly toxic byproduct left by their creation is still there, entombed in places like Yucca Mountain, and will be there for thousands of years unless it leaks or is stolen. The ability of a sitting president to use them is still there.

Some 25 years ago, we mostly broke the habit of building and testing more of these engines of annihilation, an absolute good in every sense. Not entirely, to be sure: The nuclear weapons program had its own gravity long before Trump came along, and it was President Obama who first put the trillion dollar weapons modernization program on the table. Still, it feels as if we’ve forgotten the things still exist and are existentially lethal.

We talked about Donald Trump’s lack of fitness to have control of such weapons during the 2016 campaign, but it was almost an abstraction. Regardless, the man won the election, which means a great many people didn’t much care that he could conceivably blow the mantle off the planet with a single conversation if he gets a bad bit of burger at bedtime.

Not even Trump’s ongoing middle school shoving match with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and his growing nuclear toybox appears to have ruffled a great many feathers around here. Perhaps it’s the surreal nature of this president and his administration that explains our national shrug at this incredibly dangerous, feckless faceoff. It’s a strange plot twist in a weird animation starring two cartoon characters ordering bombs from the Acme catalog. Who could take these guys seriously?

Enter Robert R. Monroe, Vice Admiral, US Navy (Ret.) and his recent article in The Hill titled, “Only Trump Can Restore America’s Ability to Win a Nuclear War.” Vice Admiral Monroe, former director of the Defense Nuclear Agency, is the kind of man Curtis LeMay would have recognized as a brother on sight. “When the Cold War ended in 1991,” laments Monroe in his opening line, “America made an unwise decision.”

An arsenal of smaller bombs is key to Admiral Monroe’s fever dream of a winnable nuclear war. It is a dream Trump appears to share.

It goes downhill from there. “Ongoing nuclear programs were stopped,” seethes Monroe. “Budgets were cut. New nuclear capabilities were prohibited by law. A presidential moratorium denied underground nuclear testing. No research into advanced nuclear technology was allowed. Essentially, America went into an unannounced a nuclear freeze, and we have progressively increased its restrictions and denials for a quarter-century.”

These are all good things, unless you are one of those interesting individuals who still believe a nuclear war can be won. “Putin has threatened military action in many areas of Europe,” warns Monroe, “to recover the former Soviet empire. If armed conflict broke out tomorrow, the advancing Russian armor, mobilized troops, artillery, and tactical aircraft would be preceded by dozens of low-yield nuclear detonations, killing everything but leaving roads and bridges intact. The war would be over in days — or hours. How would we react?”

Well, when you put it that way, Admiral, obviously we would knuckle up and win that nuclear war just like The Plan says, and then learn to breathe plutonium dust as we build impenetrable geodesic domes to fend off attacks from the swarms of giant mutant butterfly sharks created by the fallout. It’s all so simple, really. Only a coward could see it otherwise.

Some of those old bombs might still have the fingerprints of a friend of mine on them. He was a sergeant and crew chief in the Air Force during the Nixon administration, stationed at an air base in Thailand. In October of 1973, the Yom Kippur War broke out. The US was arming Israel while the Soviet Union armed Egypt and Syria, and all of a sudden, a highly volatile Cold War proxy fight was underway on the Sinai Peninsula. My friend and his crew were ordered to Guam by way of a KC-135, where they spent the next several days arming B-52D bombers for nuclear war.

“Our military had been elevated to DEFCON 3 alert level,” my friend (who requested his name not be used) explains, “just one level below imminent nuclear war. It was the highest alert status since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Our mission was to convert the B-52Ds from conventional weapons to nuclear weapons capabilities. Not long after we arrived, my crew commenced to converting and testing the weapons system on one plane after another.”

“The hypervigilance and fear were overwhelming at the time,” he recalls. “That mission and all the emotions that went with it are something never to be forgotten. The real danger associated with what I was doing didn’t sink in until years later. It’s still hard for me to comprehend that I was actually participating in preparing for nuclear war. It was not a drill. It was happening in real time. I still have flashbacks of being in a B-52 cockpit, running tests, watching nuclear weapons being loaded and preparing for the worst.”

“The worst” was very real. Israel was threatening to deploy nuclear-armed fighters, and US intelligence had reason to believe a Soviet ship carrying nuclear weapons was on its way to Egypt. It was at this point that Nixon lifted the US military’s alert status to DEFCON 3, and the two superpowers found themselves sliding into a precarious nuclear standoff. That matters reached such a dangerous pitch is not widely known these days — it isn’t part of the common Cold War lore like Cuba is — but it happened all the same.

Donald Trump makes Richard Nixon look like Marcus Aurelius.

My friend endured this for a series of 20-hour days, all the while loading bombs, and every member of that crew knew what he knew: In the event of war, any Soviet nuclear target package would include Guam, because that’s where the bombers were. A peace accord was struck on October 26, and he returned to Thailand with his crew. “Over the years,” he says, “this event manifested itself into my psyche and I had no idea how to handle it. I was 21 at the time, not knowing if I’d live to age 22. I still see a VA psychiatrist every month for PTSD.”

My friend, as you can imagine, doesn’t truck much with the opinions of Vice Admiral Robert R. Monroe, US Navy (Ret.), nor do I or most anyone else. I still remember the fear during those years. My friend closes his eyes sometimes and sees the bombs to this day. Our experiences are not comparable, except in that we both survived an era of peril that must never, ever be allowed to return.

Donald Trump has already announced his desire to increase the massive US nuclear arsenal tenfold. The draft of his soon-to-be-released Nuclear Posture Review seeks significant production of so-called “low-yield” nuclear weapons, because our current weapons are theoretically too big to use with any degree of tactical success. It should be noted that, according to modern metrics, the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were also “low-yield.” An arsenal of smaller bombs is key to Admiral Monroe’s fever dream of a winnable nuclear war. It is a dream Trump appears to share.

The world is dangerous enough as it is, one would think. It is so dangerous, in fact, that a great many people are frozen to near-immobility by it, by the sheer immensity of the perils we face. Where to even begin?

If you seek a place to lay your chisel, I have two words: “No Nukes.”

Should you choose this path, your first task is to remind everyone that the threat not only still exists, but is growing again. White House officials were concerned about Richard Nixon’s mindset during the 1973 crisis, mired as he was in the Watergate scandal. Donald Trump makes Richard Nixon look like Marcus Aurelius. We are all in a great deal of trouble, and no one seems to care.

Make them care, please and thank you. Let’s go find that peace dividend they were talking about on my birthday. I think we’ve earned it.

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Trump’s Financial Arsonists: The Next Financial Crisis May Well Be Around the Corner


By Nomi PrinsTomDispatch 

(Image: Erhui1979 / Getty Images)
(Image: Erhui1979 / Getty Images)

There’s been lots of fire and fury around Washington lately, including a brief government shutdown. In Donald Trump’s White House, you can hardly keep up with the ongoing brouhahas from North Korea to Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation, while it already feels like ages since the celebratory mood over the vast corporate tax cuts Congress passed last year. But don’t be fooled: none of that is as important as what’s missing from the picture. Like a disease, in the nation’s capital it’s often what you can’t see that will, in the end, hurt you most.

Amid a roaring stock market and a planet of upbeat CEOs, few are even thinking about the havoc that a multi-trillion-dollar financial system gone rogue could inflict upon global stability. But watch out. Even in the seemingly best of times, neglecting Wall Street is a dangerous idea. With a rag-tag Trumpian crew of ex-bankers and Goldman Sachs alumni as the only watchdogs in town, it’s time to focus, because one thing is clear: Donald Trump’s economic team is in the process of making the financial system combustible again.

Collectively, the biggest US banks already have their get-out-out-of-jail-free cards and are now sitting on record profits after, not so long ago, triggering sweeping unemployment, wrecking countless lives, and elevating global instability. (Not a single major bank CEO was given jail time for such acts.) Still, let’s not blame the dangers lurking at the heart of the financial system solely on the Trump doctrine of leaving banks alone. They should be shared by the Democrats who, under President Barack Obama, believed, and still believe, in the perfection of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010.

While Dodd-Frank created important financial safeguards like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, even stronger long-term banking reforms were left on the sidelines. Crucially, that law didn’t force banks to separate the deposits of everyday Americans from Wall Street’s complex derivatives transactions. In other words, it didn’t resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 (axed in the Clinton era).

Wall Street is now thoroughly emboldened as the financial elite follows the mantra of Kelly Clarkston’s hit song: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Since the crisis of 2007-2008, the Big Six US banks — JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley — have seen the share price of their stocks significantly outpace those of the S&P 500 index as a whole.

Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank (that’s paid $13 billion in settlements for various fraudulent acts), recently even pooh-poohed the chances of the Democratic Party in 2020, suggesting that it was about time its leaders let banks do whatever they wanted. As he told Maria Bartiromo, host of Fox Business’s “Wall Street Week,” “The thing about the Democrats is they will not have a chance, in my opinion. They don’t have a strong centrist, pro-business, pro-free enterprise person.”

This is a man who was basically gifted two banks, Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, by the U.S government during the financial crisis. That present came as his own company got cheap loans from the Federal Reserve, while clamoring for billions in bailout money that he swore it didn’t need.

Dimon can afford to be brazen. JPMorgan Chase is now the second most profitablecompany in the country. Why should he be worried about what might happen in another crisis, given that the Trump administration is in charge? With pro-business and pro-bailout thinking reigning supreme, what could go wrong?

Protect or Destroy?

There are, of course, supposed to be safeguards against freewheeling types like Dimon. In Washington, key regulatory bodies are tasked with keeping too-big-to-fail banks from wrecking the economy and committing financial crimes against the public. They include the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Treasury Department, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (an independent bureau of the Treasury), and most recently, under the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (an independent agency funded by the Federal Reserve).

These entities are now run by men whose only desire is to give Wall Street more latitude. Former Goldman Sachs partner, now treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin caught the spirit of the moment with a selfie of his wife and him holding reams of newly printed money “like a couple of James Bond villains.” (After all, he was a Hollywood producer and even appeared in the Warren Beatty flick Rules Don’t Apply.) He’s making his mark on us, however, not by producing economic security, but by cheerleading for financial deregulation.

Despite the fact that the Republican platform in election 2016 endorsed reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act, Mnuchin made it clear that he has no intention of letting that happen. In a signal to every too-big-not-to-fail financial outfit around, he also released AIG from its regulatory chains. That’s the insurance company that was at the epicenter of the last financial crisis. By freeing AIG from being monitored by the Financial Services Oversight Board that he chairs, he’s left it and others like it free to repeat the same mistakes.

Elsewhere, having successfully spun through the revolving door from banking to Washington, Joseph Otting, a former colleague of Mnuchin’s, is now running the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). While he’s no household name, he was the CEO of OneWest (formerly, the failed California-based bank IndyMac). That’s the bank Mnuchin and his billionaire posse picked up on the cheap in 2009 before carrying out a vast set of foreclosures on the homes of ordinary Americans (including active-duty servicemen and -women) and reselling it for hundreds of millions of dollars in personal profits.

At the Federal Reserve, Trump’s selection for chairman, Jerome Powell (another Mnuchin pick), has repeatedly expressed his disinterest in bank regulations. To him, too-big-to-fail banks are a thing of the past. And to round out this heady crew, there’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) head Mick Mulvaney now also at the helm of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), whose very existence he’s mocked.

In time, we’ll come to a reckoning with this era of Trumpian finance. Meanwhile, however, the agenda of these men (and they are all men) could lead to a financial crisis of the first order. So here’s a little rundown on them: what drives them and how they are blindly taking the economy onto distinctly treacherous ground.

Joseph Otting, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency

The Office of the Comptroller is responsible for ensuring that banks operate in a secure and reasonable manner, provide equal access to their services, treat customers properly, and adhere to the laws of the land as well as federal regulations.

As for Joseph Otting, though the Senate confirmed him as the new head of the OCC in November, four key senators called him “highly unqualified for [the] job.” He will run an agency whose history snakes back to the Civil War. Established by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, it was meant to safeguard the solidity and viability of the banking system. Its leader remains charged with preventing bank-caused financial crashes, not enabling them.

Fast forward to the 1990s when Otting held a ranking position at Union Bank NA, overseeing its lending practices to medium-sized companies. From there he transitioned to US Bancorp, where he was tasked with building its middle-market business (covering companies with $50 million to $1 billion in annual revenues) as part of that lender’s expansion in California.

In 2010, Otting was hired as CEO of OneWest (now owned by CIT Group). During his time there with Mnuchin, OneWest foreclosed on about 36,000 people and was faced with sweeping allegations of abusive foreclosure practices for which it was fined $89 million. Otting received $10.5 million in an employment contract payout when terminated by CIT in 2015. As Senator Sherrod Brown tweeted all too accurately during his confirmation hearings in the Senate, “Joseph Otting is yet another bank exec who profited off the financial crisis who is being rewarded by the Trump Administration with a powerful job overseeing our nation’s banking system.”

Like Trump and Mnuchin, Otting has never held public office. He is, however, an enthusiastic proponent of loosening lending regulations. Not only is he against reinstating Glass-Steagall, but he also wants to weaken the “Volcker Rule,” a part of the Dodd-Frank Act that was meant to place restrictions on various kinds of speculative transactions by banks that might not benefit their customers.

Jay Clayton, the Securities and Exchange Commission

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1934, in the wake of the crash of 1929 and in the midst of the Great Depression. Its intention was to protect investors by certifying that the securities business operated in a fair, transparent, and legal manner. Admittedly, its first head, Joseph Kennedy (President John F. Kennedy’s father), wasn’t exactly a beacon of virtue. He had helped raise contributions for Roosevelt’s election campaign even while under suspicion for alleged bootlegging and other illicit activities.

Since May 2017, the SEC has been run by Jay Clayton, a top Wall Street lawyer. Following law school, he eventually made partner at the elite legal firm Sullivan & Cromwell. After the 2008 financial crisis, Clayton was deeply involved in dealing with the companies that tanked as that crisis began. He advised Barclays during its acquisition of Lehman Brothers’ assets and then represented Bear Stearns when JPMorgan Chase acquired it.

In the three years before he became head of the SEC, Clayton represented eight of the 10 largest Wall Street banks, institutions that were then regularly being investigated and charged with securities violations by the very agency Clayton now heads. He and his wife happen to hold assets valued at between $12 million and $47 million in some of those very institutions.

Not surprisingly in this administration (or any other recent one), Clayton also has solid Goldman Sachs ties. On at least seven occasions between 2007 and 2014, he advised Goldman directly or represented its corporate clients in their initial public offerings. Recently, Goldman Sachs requested that the SEC release it from having to report its lobbying activities or payments because, it claimed, they didn’t make up a large enough percentage of its assets to be worth the bother. (Don’t be surprised when the agency agrees.)

Clayton’s main accomplishment so far has been to significantly reduce oversight activities. SEC penalties, for instance, fell by 15.5% to $3.5 billion during the first year of the Trump administration. The SEC also issued enforcement actions against only 62 public companies in 2017, a 33% decline from the previous year. Perhaps you won’t then be surprised to learn that its enforcement division has an estimated 100unfilled investigative and supervisory positions, while it has also trimmed its wish list for new regulatory provisions. As for Dodd-Frank, Clayton insists he won’t “attack” it, but thinks it should be “looked” at.

Mick Mulvaney, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Office of Management and Budget

As a congressman from South Carolina, ultra-conservative Republican Mick Mulvaney, dubbed “Mick the Knife,” once even labeled himself a “right-wing nut job.” Chosen by President Trump in November 2016 to run the Office of Management and Budget, he was confirmed by Congress last February.

As he said during his confirmation hearings, “Each day, families across our nation make disciplined choices about how to spend their hard-earned money, and the federal government should exercise the same discretion that hard-working Americans do every day.” As soon as he was at the OMB, he took an axe to social programs that help everyday Americans. He was instrumental in creating the GOP tax plan that will add up to $1.5 trillion to the country’s debt in order to provide major tax breaks to corporations and wealthy individuals. He was also a key figure in selling the plan to the media.

When Richard Cordray resigned as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in November, Trump promptly selected Mick the Knife for that role, undercutting the deputy director Cordray had appointed to the post. After much debate and a court order in his favor, Mulvaney grabbed a box of Dunkin’ Donutsand headed over from his OMB office adjacent to the White House. So even though he’s got a new job, Mulvaney is never far from Trump’s reach.

The problem for the rest of us: Mulvaney loathes the CFPB, an agency he once called“a joke.” While he can’t unilaterally demolish it, he’s already obstructed its ability to enforce its government mandates. Soon after Trump appointed him, he imposed a 30-day freeze on hiring and similarly froze all further rule-making and regulatory actions.

In his latest effort to undermine American consumers, he’s working to defund the CFPB. He just sent the Federal Reserve a letter stating that, “for the second quarter of fiscal year 2018, the Bureau is requesting $0.” That doesn’t bode well for American consumers.

Jerome “Jay” Powell, Federal Reserve

Thanks to the Senate confirmation of his selection for chairman of the board, Donald Trump now owns the Fed, too. The former number two man under Janet Yellen, Jerome Powell will be running the Fed, come Monday morning, February 5th.

Established in 1913 during President Woodrow Wilson’s administration, the Fed’s official mission is to “promote a safe, sound, competitive, and accessible banking system.” In reality, it’s acted more like that system’s main drug dealer in recent years. In the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, in addition to buying trillions of dollars in bonds (a strategy called “quantitative easing,” or QE), the Fed supplied four of the biggest Wall Street banks with an injection of $7.8 trillion in secret loans. The move was meant to stimulate the economy, but really, it coddled the banks.

Powell’s monetary policy undoubtedly won’t represent a startling change from that of previous head Janet Yellen, or her predecessor, Ben Bernanke. History shows that Powell has repeatedly voted for pumping financial markets with Federal Reserve funds and, despite displaying reservations about the practice of quantitative easing, he always voted in favor of it, too. What makes his nomination out of the ordinary, though, is that he’s a trained lawyer, not an economist.

Powell is assuming the helm at a time when deregulation is central to the White House’s economic and financial strategy. Keep in mind that he will also have a role in choosing and guiding future Fed appointments. (At present, the Fed has the smallest number of sitting governors in its history.) The first such appointee, private equity investor Randal Quarles, already approved as the Fed’s vice chairman for supervision, is another major deregulator.

Powell will be able to steer banking system decisions in other ways. In recent Senate testimony, he confirmed his deregulatory predisposition. In that vein, the Fed has already announced that it seeks to loosen the capital requirements big banks need to put behind their riskier assets and activities. This will, it claims, allow them to more freely make loans to Main Street, in case a decade of cheap money wasn’t enough of an incentive.

The Emperor Has No Rules

Nearly every regulatory institution in Trumpville tasked with monitoring the financial system is now run by someone who once profited from bending or breaking its rules. Historically, severe financial crises tend to erupt after periods of lax oversight and loose banking regulations. By filling America’s key institutions with representatives of just such negligence, Trump has effectively hired a team of financial arsonists.

Naturally, Wall Street views Trump’s chosen ones with glee. Amid the present financial euphoria of the stock market, big bank stock prices have soared. But one thing is certain: when the next crisis comes, it will leave the last meltdown in the shade because our financial system is, at its core, unreformed and without adult supervision. Banks not only remain too big to fail but are still growing, while this government pushes policies guaranteed to put us all at risk again.

There’s a pattern to this: first, there’s a crash; then comes a period of remorse and talk of reform; and eventually comes the great forgetting. As time passes, markets rise, greed becomes good, and Wall Street begins to champion more deregulation. The government attracts deregulatory enthusiasts and then, of course, there’s another crash, millions suffer, and remorse returns.

Ominously, we’re now in the deregulation stage following the bull run. We know what comes next, just not when. Count on one thing: it won’t be pretty.

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Trump Joins Obama and Bush in Using State of the Union to Hail “Progress” in Afghan War


Image result for Trump Joins Obama CARTOON

On Tuesday night, President Trump became the third president in a row to attempt to put a positive spin on the war in Afghanistan — the longest war in US history. Five years earlier, President Barack Obama predicted at his 2013 State of the Union that the war would soon be over. And back in 2006, President George W. Bush used his State of the Union to praise Afghanistan for building a “new democracy.” More than 16 years after the US War in Afghanistan began, the country remains in a state of crisis. On Saturday, more than 100 people died in Kabul when an ambulance packed with explosives blew up. Then, on Monday, Islamic State militants carried out an early-morning attack on a military academy in the western outskirts of the capital of Kabul, killing at least 11 troops and wounding 16. We speak to investigative reporter May Jeong in Kabul. Her most recent piece for The Intercept is titled “Losing Sight: A 4-Year-Old Girl Was the Sole Survivor of a US Drone Strike in Afghanistan. Then She Disappeared.”


NERMEEN SHAIKH: On Tuesday night, President Trump became the third president in a row to attempt to put a positive spin on the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in US history.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our warriors in Afghanistan have new rules of engagement. … Along with their heroic Afghan partners, our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans.

AMY GOODMAN: Five years earlier, President Barack Obama predicted at his 2013 State of the Union that the war would soon be over.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead. Tonight I can announce that over the next year another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.

AMY GOODMAN: And back in 2005 [sic], President George W. Bush used his State of the Union — I think it was 2006 — to praise Afghanistan for building a, quote, “new democracy.”

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We remain on the offensive in Afghanistan, where a fine president and a National Assembly are fighting terror while building the institutions of a new democracy.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, more than 16 years after the US War in Afghanistan began, the country remains in a state of crisis. On Saturday, more than 100 people died in Kabul when an ambulance packed with explosives blew up. Then, on Monday, Islamic State militants carried out an early-morning attack on a military academy in the western outskirts of the capital of Kabul, killing at least 11 troops and wounding 16.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Kabul, Afghanistan, where we’re joined by investigative reporter May Jeong. Her most recent piece for The Intercept is titled “Losing Sight: A 4-Year-Old Girl Was the Sole Survivor of a US Drone Strike in Afghanistan. Then She Disappeared.” May Jeong is also a Logan nonfiction fellow at the Carey Institute for Global Good and a visiting scholar at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

May, it’s great to have you with us, joining us from Kabul. First, respond to this incredibly bloody week in Afghanistan, in the “Ring of Steel” in Kabul.

MAY JEONG: Yes, as you, Amy, and Nermeen mentioned, it’s been a terrible, terrible winter, really, for Afghanistan. Just before coming on air, I was talking to my colleagues about the bloodbath that has been, you know, Kabul for the past couple weeks. Apart from the massive attack, the MoI — on the MoI Road, the Ministry of Interior Road, and the military academy, there’s also been the Intercontinental Hotel that has been attacked. In a nearby city, in Jalalabad, Save the Children office, an NGO there, was attacked, as well. And there’s a real sense of a crescendoing of violence.

And there’s real helplessness among the people about the lack of options that are, you know, provided for them, and also a massive grievance and resentment. Today, there was a protest in front of the embassy in Pakistan here in Kabul, organized by civil society members who wanted to, you know, protest the absence of, lack of action on part of the Afghan government, which is exactly the thing — the message that the Taliban was hoping to send. You know, these spectacular attacks, they are, in a way — they could be pure disasters, in a way, for the insurgent group. Most of the people who die are civilians. But they do this because the message that they want to send to the public is telling them that your government cannot protect you. It’s this — it’s become this sick popularity contest almost between the Afghan state and various insurgent groups — the Taliban, ISIS, Haqqani network, you know, being among the big ones.

But the other — the other note that you detect among the people here is that for foreigners watching from abroad, this week seems very bloody, but this kind of atrocity happens on a daily basis in provinces that we have no access to, never mind the fact that the war has been ongoing — the NATO war, as we call it here, has been ongoing for 17 years. And even before that, there’s been the civil war, the Russian, you know, Soviet occupation. And yeah, I mean, people here have been living with this kind of conflict. Sorry, there’s a — speaking of which, a NATO helicopter overhead, so you might not be able to hear me. But it’s been a continuation of conflict in various iterations.

And with that has come various coping mechanisms, one of which is humor. And so, my colleague and I were talking about how at this protest earlier, people who had — you know, they were meant to have been burning the flag of Pakistan, which can be confused with the national flag of Nigeria. And so there were — some protesters were mistakenly burning a Nigerian flag. And, you know, there was a rare respite, from this sort of a moment of unexpected humor. But that’s what people do here to get by, because, otherwise, taking everything — really internalizing everything that happens, I think, is — you know, that way lies insanity for a lot of people.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, May, you talked about the fact that this protest that took place in Kabul took place outside the Pakistani Embassy and that protesters were burning the Pakistani flag. Can you talk about the role of Pakistan, the Pakistani state and military intelligence services, in Afghanistan, in particular their relationship to two of the three groups that you mentioned, insurgent groups, the Taliban and the Haqqani network?

MAY JEONG: Of course. It’s widely established now that the Taliban and the Haqqani network have their safe havens in Pakistan, which is the way that they’ve been managed — they’ve managed to operate, consolidate their power and also, you know, arrange for funding streams. And it’s a very contentious, controversial topic here. President Ashraf Ghani, when he first came to power in late 2014, used a lot of his political power — political capital, pardon me, to try to negotiate peace by going straight to Islamabad. But that did not — that didn’t amount to anything. But the reason why he did that was because he, you know, like the head of state before him, understood that if you want to have a peace settlement with the Taliban, it’s not just that particular insurgent group — pardon me — that you are dealing with, it’s all these other stakeholders of the conflict that are at play, you know?

We often talk about the war in Afghanistan as a proxy war. Who are the — you know, who are the proxies? Afghanistan and Pakistan. Who are their backers? I mean, the obvious one for the Afghan government right now is, you know, the American government. And on the other side, for the Taliban, it is the government of Pakistan. And President Donald Trump has been making a lot of public statements about how he wants to cut funding to force the Pakistan state to, you know, force them into submission. But, I mean, the American policy towards Pakistan — I mean, of course, and also Afghanistan — has been very inconsistent. And so it’s no wonder that the actors don’t respond to these incentive structures that are presented to them —

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk —

MAY JEONG: — because it’s unclear for them how long this will last.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about the US role. You just did a very important piececalled “Losing Sight: A 4-Year-Old Girl Was the Sole Survivor of a US Drone Strike in Afghanistan. Then She Disappeared.” Talk about this story and its significance for what the US is doing there.

MAY JEONG: I think the important thing to know about — note about this story is that it’s about a specific drone strike, just one of them, one of many. There’s been hundreds and hundreds over the course of, you know, the duration of the war here.

This particular strike happened in September of 2013. There was a family traveling in a pickup truck from Asadabad, which is the provincial capital of Kunar province. Kunar province is to east of Kabul. That’s where Lone Survivor was shot, you know, for audiences who might be aware of that, or Restrepo, as well, the documentary by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington. And from Asadabad, they set off midday, and they were on their way to Gambir province, which is in the Pech Valley, which is where a majority of the family members were from. And along the way, this truck was hit by what the American military calls the precision strike, and everyone died, except for a 4-year-old girl, who was then taken to a hospal — hospital, pardon me, in another town called Jalalabad and then to a French Role 3 hospital in Kabul, the military hospital here.

She came to prominence among — in the Afghan local media initially, because President Karzai, who was the head of state at the time, who had been, you know, increasingly growing vocal about his anger and discontent at the preponderance of civilian casualties incurred by NATO, the foreign troops, went to go see her. And then, in successive remarks publicly he had, he would sort of often evoke her as one of the many reasons why he did not want to sign this thing called the bilateral securities agreement. This is the — the BSA is the memorandum of understanding that allows for foreign troops to remain in Afghanistan. And the negotiation for the BSA was ongoing at the time, in 2013, and then onwards into 2014. And when he was often asked about his recalcitrance for signing the agreement, he would mention this girl, Aisha, as well as many other, you know, instances of wedding parties being bombed, houses being bombed, mothers and fathers taking their children to school being bombed — I mean, the countless attacks that have happened on civilians during the war here.

And my investigation really tried to bore into what happens to just one of them and the human cost of this policy that we call “clean.” I mean, we have all these, you know, words, like it being a “precision strike,” or it’s — the drones are meant to be the “saner” option to the bloodiness of ground battle. But really, as I mention in the piece, we don’t — at times, we don’t even know who we kill.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, May, a lot of people suggest, though, that US and other NATO ground troops are necessary in Afghanistan to maintain a modicum of security. A BBC study found yesterday, which was just published yesterday — found that the Taliban are now operative in 70 percent of the country, which is, of course, far more than was the case in 2014. So, could you respond to that? I mean, do you think, despite these casualties, the girl Aisha, whom you mention, that a US presence is necessary in Afghanistan, as some suggest?

MAY JEONG: Absolutely not. The places where people suffer the most are in contested areas, where there’s still battle between government forces and various insurgent groups. You mentioned that 70 percent of the country is under Taliban control. Areas that are very safely with one side or the other are not being fought over, therefore there is no, you know, active battle there. I think that’s something that we often forget. You know, over the past 17 years, there’s been a lot of money that’s been spent on, you know, gender initiatives and promoting women’s rights and children’s rights and capacity-building exercises and all this stuff. And that’s all very good, but I think what people often forget is that even before we can get to the part of being enlightened or empowered or whatever, most Afghans, you know, their primary desire is to live and not to die. And for that to happen, the war needs to end.

And why is the war continuing? The war continues because there’s no understanding of the fact that we are in a stalemate and both sides are suffering. Both sides cling onto this delusional fiction that a military victory is possible. And President Trump is still talking about the fact that — he still subscribes to this insane logic that what we actually need to do is to advance the war so that we negotiate from an advantage. I mean, what is the definition of insanity? It’s doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. And as you, Amy, earlier mentioned, the State of the Union speeches are tragic for the fact that, you know, they’re just iterations of the one that’s come before, when it comes to Afghanistan. Nothing has changed. So what makes us think that this mini-surge that President Trump has allowed General Mattis to go ahead with, that’s going to make any difference, when, under President Obama, we had 140,000 soldiers in country, and that didn’t change anything?

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to lose the satellite in a minute, but I wanted to ask you about this meeting President Trump had with members of the UN Security Council, rejecting the idea of peace talks with the Taliban. What is your assessment of this?

MAY JEONG: It’s a real shame. It saddens me, personally, deeply. There’s a certain momentum that’s been built with these peace talks. I mean, the fact that we have a — whatever you feel about the Taliban, I mean, I think we can all agree that having dialogue is a good thing. And, you know, a lot of resources have been spent trying to get people onto the negotiating table. And for a head of state of a major country that is a big player in the war to come out saying — you know, denouncing the whole process really takes back the prospects for peace by many, many years. I mean, people don’t talk —

AMY GOODMAN: We just lost the satellite, but that’s May Jeong, who’s an investigative reporter based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Her most recent piece, we’ll link to at The intercept, called “Losing Sight: A 4-Year-Old Girl Was the Sole Survivor of a US Drone Strike in Afghanistan. Then She Disappeared.”

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, a new book is out. It’s called Lost Connections. We’ll look at the issue of antidepressants, depression and the best treatments for a very common malady. Stay with us.

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Even the Right to an Attorney Comes With a Price Tag: 21st Century Debtors’ Prisons


By Peter EdelmanThe New Press 

(Photo: HopeMedia Stock Photography; Edited: LW / TO)

(Photo: HopeMedia Stock Photography; Edited: LW / TO)

The mass incarceration system in the United States is structured to make poverty itself a crime. Peter Edelman, early on in his book, offers some initial examples of how.

In New Orleans’s Municipal Court, Section A, even when the judge was presiding, not a word was audible to anyone in the audience, and, with multiple negotiations happening simultaneously around the room, no one in the gallery could understand anything that was going on. In the center of the grim circus were the shackled men wearing orange jumpsuits — almost all African American — being held for arraignment, awaiting trial because they could not make bail, or doing time for criminal contempt because they had not appeared in response to a ” judicial attachment” or bench warrant for nonpayment of debt owed to the court. Most of the shackled men, many quite young, were embarking on (or well along in) a long or even endless voyage of debt and incarceration. Unlike other jurisdictions, New Orleans does not jail people at the time they are sentenced and unable to pay a fine. But this is a distinction without a difference: many of the accused are held for days before being arraigned, and more are in for longer times while awaiting trial because they can’t afford to post bail. More yet will serve multiple stints in jail for nonpayment of debts to the court, ad infinitum.

In too many cities and small towns across the country, scenes like the one in New Orleans occur every day. The details differ, but high fines and fees are the order of the day in juvenile as well as adult courts. Even in jurisdictions and individual courtrooms where low-income arrestees are not jailed when initially sentenced, the dearth of public defenders, the almost ubiquitous use of money bail (in adult courts), and the ever-mounting payments owed mean repeated time in jail along with unmanageable debt. Ferguson is almost everywhere.

Constitutional violations on the part of the courts are rife, and they go uncorrected largely because of the shortage of public defenders. Police often violate the Fourth Amendment, making stops without reasonable suspicion, making arrests without probable cause, and using excessive force. First Amendment rights are violated when free expression is suppressed, including prohibition of the use of cellphone cameras to film police activity in a public setting. Fourteenth Amendment rights are curtailed when there is racial, economic, and other discrimination by police, judges, and other officials who disregard equal protection and due process.

The very act of jailing an indigent person for a fine-only, low-level offense is unconstitutional, and many of these jailings occur in states that actually have laws explicitly banning debtors’ prisons. In 1983 the Supreme Court heard the case of Danny Bearden, an illiterate ninth-grade dropout who was convicted of receiving stolen goods and placed on probation with a fine of $500 and a $250 order of restitution. His parents put up the first $200. Danny Bearden was going to pay the rest himself but was laid off from his factory job. He tried very hard to find work, but finally had to tell the probation people he had lost his job and could not make the payment then due. His probation was revoked and he was sent to jail. The Supreme Court decided in Bearden v. Georgia that “punishing a person for his poverty” violates the equal protection clause and that an indigent defendant cannot be jailed for inability to pay a fine unless he has “willfully refused to pay the fine or restitution when he has the means to pay.”

Yes, Bearden and state law are flouted every day. The people who hear the low-level cases are often municipal judges or justices of the peace who are not lawyers or are lawyers but serve part-time and practice in completely different areas of the law. Some judges do not know the law, but other judges know it well and apply it harshly nonetheless.

The Supreme Court has not given clear guidance for what “willfully refused” means, and the literature abounds with instances where the judge said the defendant had expensive-looking shoes or the like and therefore must be able to pay. A judge in Illinois asked all defendants if they smoked, and when any said yes, the judge said they have the means to pay. A judge in Michigan found that because the defendant had cable television he was capable of paying.

And the Bearden ruling that a defendant’s ability to pay must be taken into account does not apply when a person is arrested on a bench warrant for defaulting on a payment plan, because now the debtor has committed a crime that does carry a jail sentence. Failure to pay constitutes criminal contempt, which allows incarceration as well as further fines and fees. Because the contempt is a crime that allows jailing, there is no protection for indigence and Bearden becomes irrelevant. The right to an attorney that stemmed from Gideon v. Wainwright applies (which doesn’t mean one is available), but Bearden does not apply.

Even the right to an attorney comes with a price tag. The Supreme Court decided in Fuller v. Oregon that charging a fee for a public defender can be constitutional if people who would suffer a “manifest hardship” are relieved from paying it (a requirement ignored in some states). In fact, forty-three states charge for having a public defender. Florida does not waive its $50 public defender application fee for the indigent, instead instructing its courts to include it as part of sentencing or as a condition of probation.


Not a Crime to Be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in AmericaPoor people should not be punished.

Click here now to get the book!

In North Carolina, defendants have to pay not only the $50 fee but also the full value of the defense services provided, and in Virginia a defendant must pay up to $1,235 for a public defender on each count for certain felonies. South Dakota charges $92 an hour; even a defendant found innocent nonetheless owes $920 for ten hours of representation. If he cannot pay, it is a crime.

Coming into focus now is the highly questionable constitutionality of money bail — the practice of making a defendant put up a large sum of money to ensure that he will appear for trial, regardless of whether he poses a danger to the community or himself. Defendants who cannot come up with bail — in low-level matters as well as in more serious cases — are kept in jail pending trial. The unmistakably different impact of money bail on the rich and poor calls for litigation, which is now under way in a growing number of courts, both on equal protection and due process grounds and the Eighth Amendment’s explicit ban on “excessive bail.”

[The Cook County Court system reformed bail for the poor last July. It is currently in the process of implementation.]

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I Had to Bury My 26-Year-Old Son Because He Couldn’t Afford Insulin


By Nicole Smith-Holt

(Photo: Hero Images / Getty Images)

(Photo: Hero Images / Getty Images)

On June 27, 2017, my son Alec was found dead, alone in his Minneapolis apartment. It shouldn’t have happened.

Alec had Type 1 diabetes, a serious condition that is manageable with access to insulin and proper supplies. But Alec turned 26 years old on May 20 of last year, which meant that his coverage under my health insurance policy ended a few days later. Alec had a full-time, steady job. But, like a lot of US workers, he did not have good health insurance offered through his employer.

For Alec and others with diabetes, this presents a deadly situation. Many people with type 2 diabetes need regular access to insulin to live; all persons with Type 1 do. Insulin is a 95-year-old drug whose discoverers sold their patents for $1 each, but its price has increased over 1,000 percent since the late 1990s. A vial of the same insulin that was once sold for around $25 can now cost patients like Alec nearly $300, and many people need multiple vials per month to survive.

The pharmaceutical companies that sell insulin won’t disclose any details, but it is likely that this same vial is manufactured for just a few dollars. Which means that those companies are making huge profits and paying huge CEO salaries. The three insulin manufacturers have raised their prices in lockstep for many years now, prompting a class-action lawsuit and criminal investigations into collusion. Additionally, the insurance industry is also complicit in the drug pricing scheme.

For Alec, this meant that his insulin and supplies cost almost $1,300 a month. He and I together researched for months in advance about his health insurance options. They weren’t good. The best plan we found would cost him $450 a month for the premium with a whopping $7,600 deductible. That deductible meant he would be paying out-of-pocket for his medicine for many months anyway, so he decided to go without the plan until he could find a different job with benefits.

With the cost so high, Alec tried to ration his insulin. I have since learned that this is not uncommon. Globally, half of the people who need insulin can’t reliably get access to it. With 6 million people in the US insulin-dependent, and nearly 40 percent of Americans uninsured or facing high deductibles that leave their medicine costs uncovered, the crisis is occurring right here, too.

Endocrinologists here in the US report that as many as one in five of their patients are not able to afford their insulin. For many persons with diabetes, that means they land in the emergency room with diabetic ketoacidosis. For others, like Alec, they never get there. Just 27 days after his coverage under my insurance ended, I received the call no parent ever wants to get.

As you would imagine, my family and I are still grieving. But I’ve decided that sharing our story may help prevent someone else from going through what Alec did. There are a lot of proposals to increase access to affordable health coverage and to lower the price of medicines, including forcing drug companies to be transparent about their research costs and profits, and allowing Medicare to negotiate down the price it pays for prescription drugs. To me, they all boil down to one theme: Access to insulin, and other life-essential medicines, is a human right.

The inventor of insulin, Frederick Banting, believed that. When he was asked why he gave away his patent for $1, he replied, “Because insulin does not belong to me. It belongs to the world.” That spirit is being violated today, where there are thousands of GoFundMe pages devoted to people like Alec, desperately trying to cobble together the money they need for their monthly insulin.

There are a lot of good people working to change this, including US lawmakers. But it seems clear to me that significant movement toward universal access to essential medicines will only come when the affected patients and their loved ones help lead the way.

So I was happy to see that people with diabetes in Nevada were able to help push through a law that requires transparency in insulin pricing there. And that is why I support the patient group T1International‘s demand that insulin manufacturers disclose the profits they are making off of each vial and reverse their unjustified price increases. That is why I shared Alec’s story at a recent demonstration led by Type 1 diabetes patients outside the headquarters of insulin manufacturer Eli Lilly and Company, demanding increased transparency and lower prices.

As I told the patients and activists gathered there, my Alec was the best son anyone could ask for. He was loved by so many and I am so proud to have been his mom for the short 26 years I had with him. But he should still be here. I should not have buried my son at 26 because he couldn’t afford the one thing in life that was created to keep him alive.

Posted in USA, Health0 Comments

Nazi killers in uniform


These are the Israelis Labour should support – not its killers in uniform

Emily Thornberry should be supporting Israel’s Teenage Refuseniks not Labour’s Apologists for Israeli Apartheid

Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary and member of Labour Friends of Israel has called for all critics of Zionism and the Israeli settler state to be expelled from the Labour Party.  As the Morning Star observed recently, she is following a Blairite foreign policy.

Thornberry argues for support for a 2 state solution but one thing she isn’t is stupid.  A careerist, an Atlanticist, an astute right-winger yes, but stupid no.  She is well aware that the 2 state solution has long since died.  She only supports it because she knows that as long as this fiction survives, then the demand for equality of rights for Palestinians can be resisted.  The nonsense of 2 state is the only argument for maintaining Israel’s apartheid without calling it such.

What we should be doing is supporting those Israelis who are confronting Israel’s military establishment such as the soldiers group Breaking the Silence and those young Israelis who refuse to enlist in an army of occupation.

IDF swearing in ceremony at Western Wall, Jerusalem

Dozens of Israeli teens: ‘We refuse to enlist out of a commitment to peace’

‘Testimonies of former soldiers teach us that the reality of occupation does not allow one to make a difference from within. The power to change reality does not lay with the single soldier — but with the system as a whole.’

Solidarity protesters and family members protest for Israeli conscientious objector Tair Kaminer, Prison 400, central Israel, January 23, 2016. (Oren Ziv/

Sixty-three Israeli teenagers have published an open letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu on Thursday, declaring their refusal to join the Israeli army due to their opposition to the occupation.

 “The army carries out a racist government policy that enforces one legal system for Israelis and another for Palestinian in the same territory,” they write. “Therefore, we have decided not to take any part in the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people… for as long as people live under an occupation that denies their human rights and national rights – we cannot have peace.”

The group calls itself the “2017 Seniors’ Letter,” continuing a long tradition of similar letters sent by high school seniors announcing their refusal to join the army, dating back to 1970 (the writer of this text was a signatory of the 2001 letter). Members of the group have stated they are willing to be imprisoned for their conscientious objection; one of them, Matan Helman, is already serving a prison sentence. The teens have also stated they will be traveling the country, speaking to others their age, challenging them to rethink their positions on military service and inviting them to join the movement.

The Israeli army does not recognize the right to conscientiously object to the draft based on rejection of the occupation. It does, however, allow for objection based solely on pacifism and the rejection of all forms of violence. These young refusers, therefore, are likely to be denied exemptions, and sent to repeated prison sentences of two to four weeks each, as has been the case with other conscientious objectors in recent years.

IDF refuseniks protest in Haifa in 2014 rami shlosh

In their letter, the young refusers list the occupation, the siege on Gaza, settlements, and violence toward Palestinians as the main reasons for the decision. However, they also mention the ongoing effects of militarism on the Israeli society, enshrining violent solutions instead of peace as a central value, and the effect the occupation has on strengthening Israeli capitalism and dependence on American military aid.

“Testimonies of former soldiers and heads of the security establishment teach us that the reality of occupation does not allow one to make a difference from within,” they write. “The power to change reality does not lay with the single soldier but with the system as a whole. Similarly, the blame for this reality does not lie with the soldier, but with the army and government. This is the system we wish to change.”

‘We Won’t Take Part in Occupation’: Dozens of Teens Refuse to Enlist in Israeli Army in Letter to Netanyahu

A group of 63 teens have publicly declared they will refuse to be drafted into the Israel army, Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Thursday morning.

We have decided not to take part in the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people,” they wrote in a letter sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and the defense and education ministers. “The ‘temporary’ situation has dragged on for 50 years, and we will not go on lending a hand.”

The high-schoolers criticized the government and the military in the letter. “The army is carrying out the government’s racist policy, which violates basic human rights and executes one law for Israelis and another law for Palestinians on the same territory,” they wrote.

The students also protested “intentional institutional incitement against Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line,” referring to the 1949 armistice line separating Israel from the West Bank, “and we here – draft-age boys and girls from different areas of the country and from different socioeconomic backgrounds – refuse to believe the system of incitement and to participate in the government’s arm of oppression and occupation.”

The letter called on others to reconsider being drafted, adding that intended to go around the country to recruit for their initiative.

“We refuse to be drafted and to serve in the army out of an obligation to values of peace, justice and equality, with the knowledge that there is another reality that we could create together,” they wrote. “We call on girls our age to ask themselves, will army service work toward this reality?”

The signatories include Matan Helman, 20, of Kibbutz Haogen, who is serving jail time because of his refusal to be drafted into the army.

In early December, the education ministry and the IDF announced that they were working on a plan to increase the number of draftees enlisting for combat service. Currently, enlistment rates are sinking and dropout rates stand at over 7,000 male and female soldiers annually.

63 Israeli Teens Sign Open Letter To Netanyahu: We Refuse To Serve IDF

Israeli conscientious objectors.Read more:

Israeli conscientious objectors.Read more:

Israeli conscientious objectors.Read more:

(JTA) — Some 63 Israeli high school students signed a public letter declaring that they will refuse to be drafted into the Israel Defense Forces.

The letter, published on Thursday in the Hebrew-language daily Yediot Acharonot, was addressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot.

“The army implements the policy of a racist government that violates basic human rights, which applies one law to Israelis and another to the Palestinians in the same area,” the students, most in 12th grade, wrote. “Therefore we decided to not take part in the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people, which separates people into two hostile camps. Because as long as people live under occupation that denies them human rights and national rights we cannot achieve peace.”

The letter also said: “An entire nation is living under institutionalized incitement directed against Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line, and we are here – young men and women from different parts of the country and different social backgrounds – refusing to believe the systematic incitement or participate in the government’s oppressive and occupying arm.’

One of the signatories currently is serving in jail over his refusal to be drafted, Haaretz reported.

Medical issues and religious objection are considered valid reason for exemption from military service. Exemptions are not made for conscientious objectors.

Posted by Tony Greenstein 

Posted in ZIO-NAZI0 Comments

Nazi Highest Court Gives Shin Bet “a Green Light to Continue With Torture”

Israel’s Highest Court Gives Shin Bet “a Green Light to Continue With Torture”

Israeli onlookers in Tel Aviv are amused by an activist’s depiction of torture techniques used to extract information from Palestinian prisoners, on the U.N.-sponsored International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, June 26, 2004. (TAL COHEN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March/April 2018, pp. 8-9

The Nakba Continues

By Jonathan Cook

FOR THE FIRST time in its history, an interrogator from Israel’s much-feared secret police agency, the Shin Bet, is to face a criminal investigation over allegations of torture.

It will be the first probe of the Shin Bet since Israel’s Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling nearly two decades ago prohibiting, except in extraordinary circumstances, the use of what it termed “special methods” of interrogation. (See December 1999 Washington Report, p. 49.)

Before the ruling, physical abuse of Palestinians had been routine, and resulted in a spate of deaths in custody.

According to human rights groups, however, the Supreme Court ban has had a limited impact. The Shin Bet, formally known as Israel’s general intelligence service, has simply been more careful about hiding its use of torture, they say.

More than 1,000 complaints from Palestinians have been submitted to a government watchdog body over the past 18 years, but this is the first time one has led to a criminal investigation.

Many Palestinians are jailed based on confessions either they or other Palestinians make during Shin Bet questioning. Israeli military courts almost never examine how such confessions were obtained or whether they are reliable, say lawyers, contributing to a 99.7 percent conviction rate.

In December, in freeing a Palestinian man who was jailed based on a false confession, an Israeli court accused the Shin Bet of using techniques that were “liable to induce innocent people to admit to acts that they did not commit.”

But rights groups said the current investigation of the Shin Bet agent is unlikely to bring an end to the long-standing impunity of interrogators, or a change in its practices.

Instead, they noted, December’s updated decision on torture from the Israeli Supreme Court, revising 1999’s landmark ruling, had moved the goalposts significantly in the Shin Bet’s favor.

Hassan Jabareen, the director of Adalah, a legal rights group representing Israel’s large Palestinian minority, said: “This case is the exception that proves the rule—one investigation after many hundreds of complaints have been ignored.

“It will be promoted to suggest—wrongly—that the system has limits, that it respects the rule of law.”

That view was shared by Rachel Stroumsa, head of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, which has submitted many of the 1,100 complaints of torture filed against the Shin Bet.

She said Israel was “highly unusual” in making legal justifications for interrogation practices that clearly violated the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which Israel ratified in 1991.

The convention forbids intentionally inflicting “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental” on those in detention in an effort to gain information.

The 1999 ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court banned torture except in extremely rare cases of “necessity,” or what it termed “ticking bombs”—suspects from whom it was essential to gain information quickly.

But Stroumsa said the large number of complaints from Palestinians submitted to Mivtan, a watchdog body in the Justice Ministry, indicated that the Shin Bet had never stopped using torture.

The Justice Ministry has refused to divulge details of the criminal investigation, apart from saying it refers to “a field interrogation” in 2015. Field interrogations are usually conducted moments after a Palestinian has been seized by security forces.

Speaking of the case in late January, Emi Palmor, director general of the Justice Ministry, said that this was “the first case that will be translated, presumably, into an indictment.”

Stroumsa said the investigation was not in response to a complaint her committee had filed. Israeli media have speculated that the case may have progressed only because it was supported by testimony from another Israeli intelligence agent.

Rights groups have been harshly critical of Mivtan over its consistent failure to investigate Palestinian complaints of torture.

For most of its history the unit was part of the Shin Bet and employed only one investigator.

But following criticism in 2013 from a state inquiry, the Turkel Commission, Mivtan was transferred to the Justice Ministry. Last year it recruited a second investigator, who reportedly speaks Arabic.

Before the 1999 ruling, the Shin Bet was regularly accused of violently shaking prisoners and beating them, including by banging their heads against a wall.

According to testimonies, the Shin Bet still uses physical violence, though less routinely, including choking, forcing victims into stress positions that cause intense pain, and tightly cuffing their hands to prevent blood flow.

But the Shin Bet is reported now to prioritze mental torture that does not leave tell-tale signs doctors could identify. These include threats of physical and sexual violence, including against family members, interrogation lasting for days, sleep deprivation, and prolonged exposure to loud music.

Palestinians are often denied access to daylight, sometimes for weeks, so they become disorientated. “They are completely isolated—they feel buried. They don’t know when their interrogation will end or how it will end,” said Anat Litvin, a researcher for Physicians for Human Rights–Israel.

She added that it was often hard to prove torture because the Shin Bet denied requests for doctors to inspect prisoners. “That creates a vicious circle—those who are tortured cannot prove they were because there is no documentation.”

Even so, she said, doctors usually only recorded bumps and bruises, without noting claims from Palestinians that their injuries were inflicted by their interrogators.

Last year an unnamed senior interrogator confirmed that the agency uses torture to the Haaretz newspaper. He said agents were required to record details of how many blows they inflicted and what painful positions they used on detainees. Interrogators concentrated on sensitive regions such as the nose, ears and lips.

In an indication of high-level support for torture in Israel, he said logs were sent afterward to the attorney general, Israel’s chief law officer.


“Israel is a torturing society,” said Litvin. “It requires that all levels of the system turn a blind eye—the Shin Bet, investigators, government officials, the courts, and doctors. There has to be a climate that allows this to happen.”

A global survey by the International Red Cross in 2016 found more support for torture in Israel than any other country apart from Nigeria. Half of Israelis backed its use, with only a quarter opposed.

Stroumsa said: “The fact is many Israelis can live with these things as long as they are being done in the dark, out of view, without any documentation. They assume all cases of torture are ‘ticking bombs.’”

Efforts to prove torture have also been hampered by an emergency order passed in 2002, in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, that exempts Shin Bet interrogations from being videotaped.

In 2015 the cabinet justified the exemption on the grounds that taping “could cause real damage to the quality of the interrogation and the ability to investigate security offenses.”

Omar Shakir, director of Human Rights Watch in Israel and Palestine, noted that, aside from the ethical problem, research showed that torture was unreliable.

“Torture pushes detainees to provide wrong or misleading information just to get the torture to stop, as Human Rights Watch has documented in hundreds of cases across the world,” he said.

A U.S. Senate report published in 2014 concluded that it was “not an effective means of obtaining accurate information.”

Nonetheless, the signs are that the Israeli courts are rolling back the restrictions on torture they put in place at the end of the 1990s.

In December the Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case of Assad Abu Ghosh, a Hamas activist who, the Israeli state admits, was subjected to “special methods” of interrogation in 2007.

According to a petition to the court from the Public Committee, he was beaten and repeatedly slammed against a wall, and forced into the “banana position,” putting extreme pressure on his back. Abu Ghosh was left with neurological damage as a result.

Human rights groups had hoped the court would close the ticking bomb “loophole” which has allowed the Shin Bet to carry on torturing prisoners, or at least more tightly control the kinds of methods they use.

Instead, said Adalah’s Jabareen, the ruling appeared to give greater license to the Shin Bet to use torture.

“It is now enough that the [Shin Bet] agent believes subjectively that the prisoner is a ‘ticking bomb,’ even in the absence of objective facts to support that belief,” he said. “His actions will not be treated as criminal in nature because they are assumed to be done in good faith.”

Stroumsa said she found the judges’ ruling in the Abu Ghosh case “astonishing,” given the injunction in international law against torture.

“The court ruled that, even if technically in international law interrogation methods were considered torture, in Israel they were not regarded as such. The judges effectively gave the Shin Bet a green light to continue with torture.”

Mivtan has failed to hold the Shin Bet to account even in cases, like Abu Ghosh’s, where the state has admitted that techniques amounting to torture were used.

In 2013, the unit failed to open an investigation after a Palestinian man was left with serious physical and psychological injuries. An internal Shin Bet document, seen by lawyers, conceded that illegal methods had been used during his questioning.

They included interrogating him for 18 hours at a stretch, with only two hours’ break, over five days. State officials admitted that the man, whose is unnamed, had been forced to kneel for prolonged periods.

Mivtan also failed to investigate allegations from Ayman Hamida, a 37-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem, after he was acquitted of terrorism charges in 2011. A military court accepted that he had provided a false confession under pressure.

Hamida said he had been beaten and choked in his cell, deprived of food and stripped naked. During his 40-day interrogation, the Shin Bet had also threatened family members, including his sister.

The court ruled that Hamida “was forced into telling his interrogators anything in order to stop the interrogation”.

Palestinian children are also sometimes subjected to torture, according to a report by Amnesty International last year. It found that they were beaten, slapped, throttled, shackled painfully, deprived of sleep and threatened.


Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI, Human Rights0 Comments

Shoah’s pages


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