Archive | January 10th, 2018

Nazi New Blacklist of BDS-Supporting Groups

Israel’s New Blacklist of BDS-Supporting Groups Sparks Outrage

By: Common Dreams | 

An activist displays a sign during a rally for Palestinian rights on March 26, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian)

An activist displays a sign during a rally for Palestinian rights on March 26, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian)

Advocacy groups vowed to continue their fight for peace and justice on Sunday after the Israeli government announced they are banned from the country for their support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement known as BDS.

“By banning the leaders of peace organizations like CODEPINK, Israel is isolating itself even further as an apartheid state,” said Ariel Gold, national director of CODEPINK. “Their BDS blacklist is contrary to democratic principles and Jewish values. As an American Jew, I am proud of my work to challenge Israel’s policies of repression. I will not give up the fight.”

The list of 20 groups was published Sunday by the Strategic Affairs Minister, and follows Israel’s passage of a law in March 2017 banning BDS supporters from entering the country.

“We have shifted from defense to offense,” said Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan. “The boycott organizations need to know that the State of Israel will act against them and not allow [them] to enter its territory to harm its citizens.”

In addition to CODEPINK, the US-based groups on the list include the Nobel Peace Prize-winning American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), American Muslims for Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), National Students for Justice in Palestine, and US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. Among the European organizations on the list are War on Want and Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

According to JVP executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson, the development “is disconcerting but not surprising, given the further erosion of democratic norms as well as rising anxiety about the power of BDS as a tool to demand freedom. JVP members are now joining Palestinians as well as Muslims from around the world, people of color, and other activists who are often barred from entry.”

By Barring Me And My Fellow Activists, Israel Is Further Isolating Itself  via @jdforward@codepink@ArielElyseGold

Opinion | By Barring Me And My Fellow Activists, Israel Is Further Isolating Itself

I feel a deep loss for my children and for myself that I am now banned from Israel.

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Trump’s Nuclear Threat Warrants Removal From Office


By Marjorie Cohn

A man watches a television news broadcast showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's New Year's speech, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, on January 1, 2018. (Photo: JUNG YEON-JE / AFP / Getty Images)

A man watches a television news broadcast showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s speech, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, on January 1, 2018. (Photo: JUNG YEON-JE / AFP / Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s veiled threat to use nuclear weapons against North Korea is not only horrifying, but also illegal. It warrants his removal from office.

On New Year’s Day, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un asserted, “The entire area of the US mainland is within our nuclear strike range. The United States can never start a war against me and our country,” adding, “The United States should know that the button for nuclear weapons is on my table.” Kim clarified that he would not use those weapons except in response to aggression.

Not to be outdone by Kim, Trump tweeted in response, “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

To read more stories like this, visit Human Rights and Global Wrongs.

The president’s cavalier threat to start a nuclear holocaust cannot be dismissed as the rant of an immature bully. Trump controls a powerful nuclear arsenal. In fact, a few days after Trump’s nuclear button tweet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared it would sponsor a public meeting to cover “planning and preparation efforts” in the event of a nuclear attack.

Trump’s Tweet Is Illegal

Trump’s tweet violates several laws. Threatening to use nuclear weapons runs afoul of the United Nations Charter, which forbids the use of or threat to use military force except in self-defense or when approved by the Security Council. North Korea has not mounted an armed attack on the United States nor is such an attack imminent. And the UN Security Council has not given the US its blessing to attack North Korea. Trump’s tweet also constitutes a threat to commit genocide and a crime against humanity.

The ominous tweet follows Trump’s promise last summer that North Korean threats would be “met with fire and fury,” a phrase that found its way into the title of Michael Wolff’s explosive new book. Trump also told the UN General Assembly he would “totally destroy North Korea.”

“Nuclear war is not a game,” said Derek Johnson, executive director of Global Zero, the international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons, in a statement. “We are flirting with unacceptably high risks that carry catastrophic consequences for the country and the world. No one can afford to not take Trump’s threats seriously — least of all the North Koreans, who could be provoked into striking first in order to preempt what they perceive as an imminent attack.”

Lawmakers are echoing the concerns of advocates like Johnson.

“A nuclear conflict on the Korean peninsula would be a catastrophe, leading to the deaths of potentially millions of people, including American service members and families stationed there,” Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts) stated.

Indeed, “even a conventional war between the US and [North Korea] could kill more than 1 million people; a nuclear exchange, therefore might result in tens of millions of casualties,” The Intercept reported.

Jeffrey Lewis, an expert in nuclear policy at Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told HuffPost that after a nuclear strike, “there would be survivors for days trying to make their way out of the rubble and back home, dying of radiation poisoning.”

Markey said that Trump’s tweet “borders on presidential malpractice,” adding, “We cannot let this war of words result in an actual war.”

Eliot A. Cohen, assistant to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during the George W. Bush administration, was alarmed by Trump’s nuclear button tweet.

A president can be constitutionally removed from office without actually committing a crime.

Cohen tweeted, “Spoken like a petulant ten year old,” adding, “But one with nuclear weapons — for real — at his disposal. How responsible people around him, or supporting him, can dismiss this or laugh it off is beyond me.”

Some of those surrounding Trump are indeed laughing: Consider the disturbing comments of Michael Flynn Jr., son of Trump’s former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, who recently pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Flynn Jr. thought Trump’s tweet was “just awesome.” Flynn Jr. tweeted, “This is why Trump was elected. A no bulls#t leader not afraid to stand up for his country.”

Removal Under the 25th Amendment

A president can be constitutionally removed from office — either by using the 25th Amendment or impeachment — even without actually committing a crime.

The 25th Amendment provides for the vice president to assume the presidency when he and a majority of the president’s cabinet declare in writing that the president “is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” If the president challenges that determination, two-thirds of both houses of Congress are required to affirm that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.

“This tweet alone is grounds for removal from office under the 25th Amendment,” tweeted Richard Painter, ethics lawyer for George W. Bush and currently vice chairman of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington DC. “This man should not have nukes.”

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The New York Times in October that Trump was setting us “on the path to World War III.” He said, “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him.” Corker noted that those apprehensions “were shared by nearly every Senate Republican.”

In his new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Wolff writes that his interviewees “all say [Trump] is like a child.” One source said it was frequently impossible for staff to determine what Trump wished to do. It was like “trying to figure out what a child wants.”

Wolff wrote in the Hollywood Reporter, “Hoping for the best, with their personal futures as well as the country’s future depending on it, my indelible impression of talking to them and observing them through much of the first year of his presidency, is that they all — 100 percent — came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.”

Impeachment of the President

The Constitution provides for impeachment when the president commits “high crimes and misdemeanors.” This does not require actual law breaking. A president can be impeached for abuse of power or obstruction of justice, which were two of the articles of impeachment charged against Richard Nixon.

Impeachment is a political, not a legal, process. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 65, offenses are impeachable if they “proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.” Hamilton added, “They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”

As I described in my article, “Time to Impeach Trump,” his illegal threats against North Korea and his efforts to obstruct justice regarding the Russia investigation constitute grounds for impeachment.

But we cannot expect the Republican-controlled Congress will either impeach Trump or affirm a decision to remove him under the 25th Amendment. They are thrilled that Trump spearheaded their tax cuts for the rich and is appointing radical right-wing judges who will eliminate reproductive and LGBTQ rights.

“By all accounts,” Eric Levitz wrote in New York Magazine, “most GOP Congress members recognize that Donald Trump” maintains “only peripheral contact with reality.” But, Levitz added, “They have, nonetheless, decided to let him retain unilateral command of the largest nuclear arsenal on planet Earth because it would be politically and personally inconvenient to remove his finger from the button.”

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It’s Time to Confront the Scourge of Capitalism in the Food System


By Justin Theodra

Mr. Peanut joins other Kraft Heinz mascots in Times Square for the kick-off event of the 'Feed Your Family, Feed The World' program, on April 27, 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Jason Kempin / Getty Images for Kraft Heinz)

Mr. Peanut joins other Kraft Heinz mascots in Times Square for the kick-off event of the ‘Feed Your Family, Feed The World’ program, on April 27, 2017, in New York City. (Photo: Jason Kempin / Getty Images for Kraft Heinz)

In December, the Kraft Heinz Company launched a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign in response to “prolonged negative perceptions” about the health risk associated with its products. Between 2014 and 2016, Kraft Heinz’s net income fell by an astounding 24 percent, due in no small part to concerns about the corporation’s nutritional record. Kraft’s new “Family Greatly” campaign attempts to dissuade parents from substituting Kraft classics for more nutritious alternatives. Ostensibly, it enjoins parents to cut themselves some well-deserved slack, by reminding them “nobody’s perfect.” The predatory character of this advertising campaign should come as no surprise given that it has been administered by the Leo Burnett Co. advertising house of the creator of both Marlboro Man and Ronald McDonald, the originator behind both “lifestyle advertising” and “lifestyle diseases.” While much ink has been spilled critiquing the likes of Burnett (see the work of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, Adbusters and Juliet Schor), his advertising model has only grown stronger and more perverse over the decades. Therefore, a restatement of old critiques will not be enough to consign predatory advertising to the dustbin of history. The “silent ingredient in our food system” — capitalism — must be reintroduced into the food discourse, according to Eric Holt-Giménez’s A Foodie’s Guide to Capitalism. Only then will steps be taken to remedy the structural causes of predatory advertising.

The Recrudescence of Marlboro Man

One of the most despised figures in advertising — the Marlboro Man — stands for deceit, depravity and the callousness of Corporate America. But when he first trotted onto the nation’s TV screens, the Marlboro Man symbolized something that even the staunchest anti-capitalist is for: hope. For the men of 1950s suburbia, working 9-to-5 jobs and engaging in the regimented rituals of family life, the Marlboro Man was a vicarious glimpse into the free and unencumbered life of the fictional “Great American Cowboy.” Marlboro Man turned each cigarette into a time machine — a tiny escape pod that could jettison the loyal Marlboro smoker from his soul-crushing suburban existence into a daydream of sweet sea breezes and roaring open plains: a few moments of freedom for scarcely a few dollars per pack. No wonder they sold like wildfire.

Kraft’s new “Family Greatly” campaign is essentially a modern rendition of Marlboro Man. But while it retains the fundamental appeal to vicarious escape, what is being escaped from is different, and the escape route has changed as well. At the heart of the campaign is a rather dubiously administered in-house study, which finds that 80 percent of parents surveyed feel pressure to be perfect, yet almost 80 percent of children that participated prefer parents who aren’t. The implication, of course, is that parents should cut themselves some slack, since by the only measure that really counts in the end, the children’s measure, they’re doing a splendid job as is. Images of teary-eyed parents embracing their fawning children to string quartets and cascading keys help tease out this inference. Just as the Marlboro Man ads presented an escape from the regimented rigmarole of suburban life in the 1950s, the Family Greatly campaign presents an escape from the intensely one-sided, unattainably perfectionist character of 21st Century parenting.

Sentimental as notions of freedom and family are, both Marlboro Man and Family Greatly are, in the end, about as warmhearted as a cold-blooded cobra. The Marlboro Man showed suburbia’s disenfranchised what was beyond their reach, not what they could strive for. The message was not “live a meaningful life,” it was “smoke two packs a day and forget you have a meaningless life.” In much the same way, Family Greatly doesn’t tell parents what they can do to “family greatly,” it tells them what they must not do if they wish to have intimate, sincere relationships with their children — they must not stop serving up that good ‘ol mac-n-cheese, because if they do, then they’re trying too hard, and missing out on the little moments that make a strong parent-child bond.

However, of course, a diet composed mostly of mac-n-cheese doesn’t give families more time together; it takes time away by endangering children’s health. Echoes of Margaret Thatcher’s “There is No Alternative,” reverberate with the Family Greatly campaign. Marlboro Man may have been slain, but it appears that his legacy of using people’s existential heartaches against them, has survived.

Battle for the Plates of the People

While predatory advertising seems more entrenched than ever, there is a silver lining in the fact that Kraft has not undertaken its campaign from a position of strength but rather one of weakness. Changing public perceptions about Kraft reflect a nutritional awakening at the national level. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of Google searches for “fruits and vegetables” nearly doubled, and there has been a concomitant increase (76 percent) in the number of farmers markets registered with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). An unprecedented 80 percent of North Americans surveyed, are now willing to pay premiums for healthier foods. Parents have been particularly vocal (they are referred to as “cadres” and “fanatics” in marketing journals). A recent study found that 80 percent of parents questioned were concerned about the health of their children, and 91 percent supported at least one serving of fruit with every school meal. Parents are seeing the casualties of the corporate food regime in front of their eyes, and they fear their own children will be next. To reassure them — or rather, silence them — advertisers like Leo Burnett Co. have engineered licentiously deceptive ruses that attempt to turn the very love parents feel for their children against their struggle for a healthier future.

Rather than cater to demands for healthier meals, the corporate food regime has redirected billions into advertising. Kraft tripled its advertising expenditures (between 2014 and 2016), spending upwards of $700 million in some years. But Kraft isn’t the only one. Between 2009 and 2012, fast-food advertising expenditures in the US as a whole increased by 8 percent, reaching an eye-watering $4.6 billion in 2012. That year, McDonalds alone spent more on advertising than all fruit and vegetable producers did, combined. But fast food only accounts for about a third of net advertising. The total advertising bill in 2002 was a staggering $12.7 billion — most of which promoted fast food, processed snacks and soft drinks. This level of spending made possible an exposure rate of 10 food ads per hour of TV watched in 2002. By 2009, that figure had increased to 12.7 per hour.

Many have seen these food advertisements for what they are — attempts to silence inconvenient consumer preferences, and mold the citizen into an unremitting consumer — and have mounted a resistance in response. Adbusters has released a series of “spoof ads” targeting fast-food ads (McDonalds in particular) as part of their “culture jamming” activist strategy. The UK’s Committee of Advertising Practice banned junk food advertising across children’s media, including online and social media, in December of 2016. Across the pond, KFC was forced to pull ads that claimed that “fried chicken can in fact, be part of a healthy diet” in 2004.

Capitalism: The Secret Ingredient

Why must food producers buck consumer preferences in the first place? Why not just provide the healthy foods people demand? Why spend more than $10 billion a year trying to convince them to continue eating unhealthily? Consider that the US’s 7 billion livestock animals consume five times as much grain as the entire US population. What would happen if Americans suddenly took drastic health measures and cut their meat consumption in half? Where would the grain that once fed the now-redundant livestock go? Latin America is still sore about NAFTA and the corn dump. The biofuels industry seems to be far less keen on corn, now that the dirtiness of corn production has become public knowledge. If there is no market, prices have to fall, and when prices fall, farmers increase production rather than decrease it, as we saw in the Dust Bowl. Why? According to Holt-Giménez’s A Foodie’s Guide to Capitalism, it’s to keep up with the interest payments on the loans they took out to finance the huge fixed costs associated with starting up a farm in the capitalist system. Of course, because all farmers are increasing their production at the same time, the glut is exacerbated and prices fall even further. When corn becomes so cheap, it isn’t even worth transporting to the cities, it ends up “rott[ing] in silos in the countryside” while the urbanites go hungry, Holt-Giménez writes.

Advertising is capital’s bulwark against such crises of over-accumulation. It keeps demand for overproduced commodities high enough to keep the food system solvent, quarter to quarter. So vital is advertising to the soundness of the food system that the state actively subsidizes it. The USDA’s checkoff program, a mandatory pooling program that consolidates funds from across the food industry, reinvests $750 million per year into marketing and research for commodities covered by the program (more if you count the multiplier effect). Checkoff dollars fund some odious efforts, like the push to promote Domino’s Wisconsin pizza, which has almost twice as much cheese as the regular Domino’s pizza. Another example is the egg checkoff’s illegal involvement in the egg industry’s lawsuit against Hampton Creek, producer of the non-egg based mayonnaise, “Just Mayo.” In addition to these direct subsidies, the USDA provides an indirect subsidy in the form of protection from negative advertising. For instance, in 2009, at the height of the H1N1 “swine-flu” outbreak, USDA Secretary General Tom Vilsack had the term “swine flu” dropped from national news broadcasts because it could hurt pork sales, saving the hog industry hundreds of millions in lost sales and food-safety lawsuits. Throw on an annual $80 million tax subsidy, along with favorable access to foreign markets, and you have just enough demand to keep the system solvent for another quarter.

But “solvent” isn’t “successful.” Cheese is the number one source of saturated fat in the Standard American Diet (SAD), and Americans are already eating more than twice the daily recommended amount. Egg, the key ingredient in mayonnaise, is the most concentrated source of cholesterol in the SAD, and as of 2015, 71 million Americans had high cholesterol. A non-egg mayonnaise is something to be welcomed onto supermarket shelves, not attacked in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit. By boosting demand for unhealthy foods, the checkoff program increases annual health care costs by $7.8 billion, and that number is rising, according to D.R. Simon’s Meatonomics. Similarly, the tax subsidy for food advertisers has cost us about $352 million in extraneous health care costs and a staggering 4,538 quality life years lost each year since its inception. As Khalid M. Alkharfy presciently puts it, “We are obviously being conditioned to look at food as an entertainment.” Sometimes, the emergence of large-scale hyper-stimulating forms of entertainment signal a society in decline: Think gladiator games in Rome before the fall.

The Necessity of a Systemic Critique

Lifestyle advertising has encouraged the proliferation of lifestyle diseases. The existential heartaches of ordinary people have been exploited by advertisers like Leo Burnett Co. to market lethal products like cigarettes and fast food. Rather than cater to consumer demands for nutritious foods, Kraft and other food conglomerates have stepped up, and in some cases tripled, advertising expenditures in order to “re-educate” consumers. In response, parents and consumers have organized and won major political victories, initially in Europe, but increasingly in the United States as well. As encouraging as these signs are, a lasting solution to the epidemic of malnutrition and the cultural annihilation wrought by predatory advertising will need to address the systemic contradictions inherent in the capitalist food system. Without access to the means of production, farmers will continue to be straddled with interest payments which force them to increase production in response to price declines, ultimately reproducing chronic oversupply and creating the raison d’être for licentious advertising ala Leo Burnett Co.

To counter the recrudescence of despicable characters like the Marlboro Man — and the senseless suffering they create — concerned parents, food activists, minimalists, consumer protection activists and cultural critics, along with any other interest group concerned about the pernicious effects of dissolute advertising on ordinary people’s lives, need to set their sights on the structural flaws of the food system. Let the recrudescence of Marlboro Man be matched by a recrudescence of structural critiques of the food system that get to the heart of the problem. As Holt-Giménez presciently puts it, “If you don’t set the menu, you’re on the menu.”

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Democracy Is Not a Choice

Book Excerpt

People hold banners during a protest in response to violence erupting at the white supremacist rally those organized by racist and nationalist groups in Charlottesville, at Federal Plaza Square in New York, United States on August 14, 2017.

People hold banners during a protest in response to violence erupting at the white supremacist rally those organized by racist and nationalist groups in Charlottesville, at Federal Plaza Square in New York City on August 14, 2017. (Photo: Selcuk Acar / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

As we enter 2018, one thing is clear: just as we need it most, Americans’ commitment to democracy seems to be fading. Frightened by President Trump’s lies about the prevalence of voter fraud, a majority of Republicans say they’re open to the idea of postponing the 2020 election. Even more disturbing, one in six of us now say we’d settle for military rule.

It’s time American patriots face a hard but liberating truth: Democracy — governance accountable and responsive to the people — is not a choice; it’s the only pathway to protect life on Earth as we’ve inherited it and to realize humanity’s potential. The reason is simple. Only democracy can call forth the best in us, while keeping our worst in check.

We need only look at what history has shown time and again to elicit the worst. It is democracy’s opposite, showing up in three conditions.

First, concentrated power. From Nazi Germany to Stalinist Russia to Maoist China, when power moves into the hands of a few, decent people commit unspeakable acts. Moreover, concentrated economic power itself saps the life out of a society, document UK social epidemiologists, as it correlates with a vast range of social and physical ills, from homicide to mental illness. Tightly held economic power also typically translates into political power, leading to the oxymoron “privately-held government.” In ours, a fraction of 1 percent of Americans gain vast influence by footing most of the billions our elections now cost.

Second, secrecy. Before the 2008 financial collapse, bankers were feverishly pushing risky financial “products,” and among their creators a favorite slogan was IBG, YBG: “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone.” The traders knew they would be out the door before their schemes went south. Wall Street bankers are human, after all, and when we believe no one’s watching, we’re vastly more likely to behave badly. Thus, the danger in the Trump administration’s penchant for secrecy, from the president’s failure to disclose taxes to the GOP’s unwillingness to make proposed legislation available for open debate.

Third, a culture of blame. Finger-pointing is a tool favored by authoritarians and self-serving politicians and community leaders everywhere, and unfortunately we humans are highly vulnerable to its allure. A proclivity to prefer those like us and to distance ourselves from those perceived as different shows up even in infancy. It brings real harm for those directly excluded, but also for whole societies deprived of the contributions of those blocked from their full flourishing.

Humanity doesn’t have to stay stuck in the dreadful grip of these three negatives, for democracy embodies their opposites: the dispersion of power, transparency in public affairs and a culture assuming mutual accountability for outcomes instead of playing the blame game.

On this last point, we acknowledge that humans may not be able to eliminate “othering” entirely. Only democracy, however, can defend the voices of all as well as foster an understanding that welcoming diversity is not just a matter of basic fairness and avoiding harm. It also enhances human creativity, innovation, and our problem-solving capacities.

And there’s more.

Besides keeping harmful human proclivities in check, these three positive conditions defining democracy are essential to meet humanity’s emotional requirements for thriving: our need for connection with each other and the earth, for meaning in our lives beyond our own survival, and for a sense of personal power — what philosopher Erich Fromm called our need to “make a dent.”

Preventing many Americans from even imagining real democracy is a belief that humans are capable only of self-interest. But even Adam Smith, often used to justify narrow self-interest, wrote that humans feel “in a peculiar manner tied, bound and obliged to the observation of justice.” And, as the most social of primates, our deep sensitivity to fairness is accompanied by strong capacities for cooperation. Researchers observing the brain activity of subjects competing and cooperating find that cooperation stimulates the brain’s reward-processing center in ways comparable to eating chocolate and other great pleasures. Indeed, Homo sapiens are unique in our capacity for “shared intentionality” — forming goals together and cooperating to achieve them.

Finally, we can resist another misconception dimming our confidence in democracy: the oft-repeated refrain that we are a “divided people.” Hardly. Consider our widely shared sense of betrayal about a “rigged system.” Eighty-four percent of us believe that money has too much influence in our elections. Despite our real differences, a 388-question study comparing views of people living in red versus blue congressional districts or states found “no statistical differences” in two out of three cases.

So we can resist anti-democratic demagoguery dividing us as we reinforce the truth that democracy is essential to fulfilling our deepest human needs and potential. We therefore reject Winston Churchill’s snarky comment that “democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

No. Democracy is noble. And today, in the actions of millions stepping out, many for the first time, to save and advance our democracy — whether by resisting voter suppression efforts or by pushing positively for public financing of elections — we hear a clear message: Democracy is not a choice. It is an essential calling, one worthy of our devotion and sacrifice.

This is an adapted excerpt from the book Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want by Frances Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen (Beacon Press, 2017). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.

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2018 World Inequality Report Shows an Economic Ship Blown Way Off Course


Image result for Inequality Report CARTOON

Income inequality has become one of the biggest political talking points of our age — and for good reason. The new World Inequality Report 2018, by Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez along with collaborators Thomas Piketty and Gabriel Zucman, reviews the recent distribution of gains in wealth among various income brackets. Little surprise to most, their research shows that over the past few decades the majority of income gains have gone to the top 1%, not to the middle class.

Saez and his colleagues’ findings couldn’t have been published at a more appropriate time. As the 2017 legislative session closed, House and Senate lawmakers passed the most sweeping tax reform package since the Reagan years. Mainstream analysts and critics of the proposal say that under the GOP plan, the vast majority of benefits will go to corporations and the wealthiest. The fact is, only the corporate tax breaks are permanent; by 2025, the middle class, by comparison, will be paying vastly more in taxes than they already do today.

Digging deeper into the report’s findings, we learn that income inequality has rendered it virtually impossible for those of lesser means to climb the socioeconomic ladder, and why so many people are projected to be left behind.

The Scope of Study and the Effect of Recent Legislation

Saez and Piketty’s research sought to measure the disparity in income between different socioeconomic classes between the years 1913 and 1998.The results are sobering. The team focused its data on income tax return information — dating back a century to when the income tax was first established.

Prior to 1944, due to progressive taxation, the vast majority of households weren’t liable to pay federal income tax. This was due in large part to the fact that in previous years, middle-income taxpayers often had enough personal exemptions to make the middle class worker’s tax liability all but disappear. This benefited individuals, but primarily benefited families with two or more children, as each child in the household also stood to gain from the personal exemption.

It’s worth nothing that under the freshly passed GOP tax plan, the personal exemption is completely eliminated. True, the standard deduction is higher, which will benefit workers with few children. But for households with two or more children, they come out behind even with an increase in the Child Tax Credit from $1,000 to $2,000. When you contrast this with the $4,150 personal exemption per person per household, you can do the math and see that families with multiple children will take a hit on their 2018 taxes.

Saez and Picketty also looked at the sources of income on the income tax returns they examined. They found that for the majority of workers, their income stemmed primarily from the fruits of their labor, or their wages. Conversely, for the highest income workers, their income stemmed primarily from their investment in stocks and other investment vehicles — in other words, not their labor.

Herein lies just one of the reasons for the growing income inequality, according to the authors. Even the healthiest and most productive human beings have only 24 hours in a day to perform labor, time they must also delicately budget out for sleep, eating, etc. The income of low-to-middle age workers is necessarily limited by the fact that they are human and, as such, need to take time out to rest, to eat and to maintain human connections with those they love.

For those whose wealth is derived from investment vehicles, there is no limit to the number of stocks they can buy, sell and trade. Their investments make money for them around the clock, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Even while the well-off sleep, their investments continue to make income gains for them.

Now, consider that the top tax rate for investments is only 20 percent for capital gains  — meaning the gains made by buying and selling assets of stock and other investment property — whereas those with higher incomes are already taxed at significantly higher rates than most workers. The highest tax bracket for working individuals can be as high as 39 percent if the worker is a doctor, attorney, pilot or other high wage earner.

The way our tax code is structured taxes working people at higher rates than those who can rely on their investments for income. It is almost as if workers are penalized simply for having to work.

A Growing Income Gap in Recent Years

Saez and his team show that since the Tax Reform Act of 1986, income and wealth inequality have advanced more rapidly, deepening the divide between the haves and have-nots. Saez and Pikitty also took a comparative look at how the wages of CEOs have risen versus the rise in regular worker income. The results aren’t surprising.

Since the early 1970s, the annual wage of the average CEO has increased 28 times faster than the wage of the average worker. This makes a powerful case for returning to a more progressive taxation system, such as that which existed under President Eisenhower in the post-WWII era. During that time, income of the top earners was taxed at 55 percent, providing critical capital for rebuilding infrastructure and funding various social programs designed to help the less fortunate climb out of poverty.

Today, top earners are taxed, at most, at 39 percent. Not only has the lowering of the tax rate for the wealthiest created a massive deficit. It’s also left a legacy of failing schools, crumbling infrastructure and the loss of programs designed to help the less fortunate succeed. Should the US continue to institute less-than-progressive tax policies, the gap between the rich and the poor will keep widening until it reaches a breaking point.

According to a recent UN study, the United States has both the largest gap in income between members of the middle class, and the largest proportionate population of poor people, at approximately 44 million Americans. Due to the current “philosophy” that tax cuts will benefit all Americans, not just the lucky few, the number of Americans living in poverty (not to mention without healthcare) is expected to grow, while the very rich continue to get richer and those in the middle class find it even harder to get by.

Posted in USAComments Off on 2018 World Inequality Report Shows an Economic Ship Blown Way Off Course

Trashed: Inside the Deadly World of Private Garbage Collection


By Kiera FeldmanProPublica 

Waste removal is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. On the darkened streets of New York City, it's a race for survival.

Waste removal is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. On the darkened streets of New York City, it’s a race for survival. (Photo: Eden, Janine and Jim)

Shortly before 5 a.m. on a recent November night, a garbage truck with a New York Yankees decal on the side sped through a red light on an empty street in the Bronx. The two workers aboard were running late. Before long, they would start getting calls from their boss. “Where are you on the route? Hurry up, it shouldn’t take this long.” Theirs was one of 133 garbage trucks owned by Action Carting, the largest waste company in New York City, which picks up the garbage and recycling from 16,700 businesses.

Going 20 miles per hour above the city’s 25 mph limit, the Action truck ran another red light with a worker, called a “helper,” hanging off the back. Just a few miles away the week before, another man had died in the middle of the night beneath the wheels of another company’s garbage truck. The Action truck began driving on the wrong side of the road in preparation for the next stop. The workers were racing to pick up as much garbage as possible before dawn arrived and the streets filled with slow traffic. “This route should take you twelve hours,” the boss often told them. “It shouldn’t take you fourteen hours.”

Working 10- to 14-hour days, six days per week, means that no one is ever anything close to rested. The company holds monthly safety meetings and plays videos, taken by cameras installed inside the trucks, of Action drivers falling asleep at the wheel. “You’re showing us videos of guys being fatigued, guys falling asleep,” a driver told me. (All Action employees asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation.) “But you aren’t doing anything about it.”

“In the history of the company I am sure there have been times where supervisors have inappropriately rushed people,” said Action Carting CEO Ron Bergamini. “They shouldn’t be, and they’d be fired if they ever told people to run red lights or speed. But you have to find the balance between efficiency and safety, and that’s a struggle we work on every day. But you cannot turn around and say, ‘Hey just take your time, go as long as you want.'” He pointed out that workers can anonymously report concerns to a safety hotline. As to the questions of overwork and driver fatigue, Bergamini responded, “That’s a struggle that the whole industry has — of getting people to work less.”

In the universe of New York’s garbage industry, Action is considered a company that takes the high road. A union shop, it offers starting pay of about $16 per hour for helpers and $23 for drivers, far more than many other companies. And unlike some other companies, Action provides high-visibility gear and conducts safety meetings. But since 2008, the company’s trucks have killed five pedestrians or cyclists.

In New York City overall, private sanitation trucks killed seven people in 2017. By contrast, city municipal sanitation trucks haven’t caused a fatality since 2014.

Pedestrians aren’t the only casualties, and Action isn’t the only company involved in fatalities. Waste and recycling work is the fifth most fatal job in America — far more deadly than serving as a police officer or a firefighter. Loggers have the highest fatality rate, followed by fishing workers, aircraft pilots and roofers. From the collection out on garbage trucks, to the processing at transfer stations and recycling centers, to the dumping at landfills, the waste industry averages about one worker fatality a week. Nationally, in 2016, 82 percent of waste-worker deaths occurred in the private sector.

There are two vastly different worlds of garbage in New York City: day and night. By day, 7,200 uniformed municipal workers from the city’s Department of Sanitation go door-to-door, collecting the residential trash. Like postal workers, they tend to follow compact routes. They work eight-hour days with time-and-a-half for overtime and snow removal and double-time for Sundays. With a median base pay of $69,000 plus health care, a pension, almost four weeks of paid vacation and unlimited sick days, the Department of Sanitation workforce is overwhelmingly full time and unionized. It’s also 55 percent white, and 91 percent male.

But come nightfall, an army of private garbage trucks from more than 250 sanitation companies zigzag across town in ad hoc fashion, carting away the trash and recycling from every business — every bodega, restaurant and office building in the five boroughs. Those private carters remove more than half of the city’s total waste.

Since each business chooses its own carter, a dozen garbage trucks might converge on a single block over the course of a night. In one five-block stretch near Rockefeller Center, for example, 27 garbage companies stop at 86 businesses, according to an analysis of city data by ProPublica and the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. Plenty of other U.S. cities split trash collection along the same lines — residential waste on the municipal side, commercial waste on the private side — but New York is singular in the scale of private collection operations.

Many waste companies pay workers a flat fee, some as little as $80 a shift, no matter the hours, with no health benefits, overtime pay or retirement plans. The practice of employing helpers off the books is widespread, according to a 2016 report by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. The workforce is more than 60 percent minority, and more than half of Latino workers and about a third of black workers earn less than $35,000 annually. Many of these jobs are non-union, and while the drivers tend to be full-time employees, the helpers are often contract workers with unstable hours — some scrambling to work enough to feed their families, others clocking 18-hour or longer days. A May 2016 study by the nonprofit New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health found that the underpayment or nonpayment of wages is “rampant in the commercial waste industry.”

Five Star Carting, the third biggest garbage company in New York City, with 10,400 customers, has received numerous citations from the New York State Department of Labor for underpayment or nonpayment of wages. In 2015, after two Five Star workers testified at a City Council hearing about their long hours, low pay and unsafe work conditions, they were fired. (They were later reinstated but only after labor advocates and City Council members organized a rally outside of Five Star’s headquarters.) Five Star declined to respond to detailed questions.

Private garbage trucks are ubiquitous on New York’s streets after dark, yet the human effort involved remains largely invisible to most people. To travel deep into the world of New York’s midnight trash collection is to enter a realm where people often toil in grave danger for low pay. Those perils are easy to miss in the roar of a diesel engine, the rush of a giant truck and a waft of scent from a bag we’re all happy to see somebody else remove.


My first night following a garbage truck was on a sweltering Thursday in July 2016. After many rejections, I had persuaded a driver to let me follow him for a shift. He was taking a big chance: Workers can get fired in an instant, but he was willing to risk his job to take me into his world. What I saw opened the door to a far more complex investigation than I’d anticipated, one that involved dozens of interviews over 18 months with drivers, helpers, regulators, owners and experts; combing through thousands of pages of civil and criminal records; reviewing hundreds of documents obtained through public-records requests; and building a database of federal truck inspection records.

That night in 2016, Alex Caban prepared for his shift as a garbage truck driver at #1 Waste and Recycler. New York was then in the middle of the city’s longest heat wave in 14 years. In his apartment above a deli in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Caban dressed quickly in a black T-shirt, black Dickies and black leather work boots. Hot trash and its many leaky juices will soil anything lighter. Caban, a garbage man of three years, does not like to look dirty.

Caban snacked on banana chips while he drove his minivan to the company yard, a gravel lot on an industrial stretch of Pacific Street in Brooklyn where freight trucks, buses and pit bulls are kept behind chain link fences. He prefers to drive to and from work so that when he heads home at the end of his shift soaked in what workers call “garbage juice,” he is not the person in the subway car that other riders move away from. “They think you’re a bum,” Caban explained, wrinkling his face for effect. An animated 45-year-old, Caban spoke in a Puerto Rican staccato, one thought tumbling excitedly into the next. He looked a decade younger with his wire-rimmed glasses, shaved head, and — when he wasn’t working — a button-down shirt and a brimmed hat.

Caban arrived at the yard. Awaiting him was Bilal, 18, an immigrant from Yemen (he asked to be identified only by his first name). A “helper,” Bilal would spend much of the night riding the back “stepper” of Caban’s aging green garbage truck. Several lights were smashed in the rear, and the driver’s side door hung crookedly behind the cab, offering a view inside of ripped seats. Faded lettering on the side recorded the truck’s past lives. (“UNDER CONTRACT TOWN OF ISLIP”) showed it had once hauled trash in a Long Island town. (“PUT YOUR CANS IN OUR HANDS”) pointed to time in the recycling business.

Caban hoped for the same things that every garbage worker hopes for at the start of each shift. No crashes. No injuries. No fires in the hopper. No truck breakdowns. In Caban’s five weeks of driving for #1 Waste, something was always breaking down. One night it was the transmission, he said, another the radiator, another the compactor. Twice the brakes failed, he said — this on a 10-wheeled vehicle that weighs about 40,000 pounds without a load of garbage and more than 80,000 pounds with. Making it home alive each night was a small victory. (#1 Waste and Recycler did not respond to a detailed list of questions.)

It was shortly after 6 p.m. on a night that could last past eight in the morning. Caban stepped up through the opening where the driver’s side door should have been. His helper, Bilal, rode shotgun. The engine growled, the throttle shaking the truck’s body, and with a blast of black exhaust, Caban pulled out and took a right on Classon Avenue, the broken driver’s side door flopping in the breeze.

Rushing makes the job more dangerous, and most everyone has to rush in order to finish hundreds of stops — sometimes more than 1,000 — in a night, covering a route that could easily be 85 miles. As most any private sanitation worker in New York City will tell you, the routes are often too long to finish within the 11-hour driving limit set by federal Department of Transportation regulations. As a result, many garbage truck drivers routinely drive far more than the 11-hour limit, hardly getting any time to rest before they must return to the wheel.

After working a double shift in August 2016 that lasted nearly 23 hours, Queens County Carting driver William Bonds was fired after refusing to work another double shift less than two days later. On the first shift, Bonds had fallen asleep at the wheel. He was worried he might kill someone. (Queens County Carting owner Michael Bilik acknowledged in an unemployment hearing that Bonds routinely worked 60 to 80 hours a week, and his dispatcher explained that daytime drivers sometimes worked doubles when the company was short nighttime drivers. An administrative law judge found that Bonds “had good reason for refusing overtime that day … feeling exhausted and incapable of driving the truck.” Bonds is now a plaintiff in a negligence lawsuit against the company.)

It doesn’t help that many rigs are in terrible condition. Garbage trucks from New York City’s 50 biggest companies are pulled off the road and declared unsafe to drive after 53 percent of government inspections, according to an analysis of data from the city and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Fourteen of those 50 companies hadn’t been inspected even once in the past two years. Nationally, commercial trucks are pulled off the road after 21 percent of inspections.

The industry doesn’t display a lot of urgency on safety issues. In October, garbage company owners, lobbyists and city officials held an event billed as a Safety Symposium, where industry participants seemed more eager to blame cyclists than take responsibility. “We’ve been talking about as an industry what we’ve been doing,” said Bill Falletta, safety manager of Action Carting, whose truck killed 27-year-old cyclist Neftaly Ramirez in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn on July 22. “Is there anything being done to educate the bicyclists on safety? They should be following the same traffic rules that we do. I very rarely see that.” Later, when a city official explained that — although it was perhaps counterintuitive — narrower streets are actually safer because they slow the flow of traffic, David Biderman, an industry lobbyist, raised his hand and asked if narrower bike lanes could be used to slow down bicyclists. The consensus seemed to be that two-wheeled transportation was the real menace on the road.

Said City Council member Antonio Reynoso at a Nov. 27 hearing on safety in the industry: “I thought by now that we would have seen more change, and we haven’t.”


In real life, the need to move fast trumps traffic rules as often as not. On the July night I spent following Caban’s truck, it barreled past restaurant supply stores of Atlantic Avenue, made a right on Franklin Avenue, a left on Dean Street and another left on Kingston Avenue. Along the way, Caban and Bilal, his helper, sent bags sailing through the air from the curb into the street and from the street up into the truck’s back hopper. From Broccoli Farm to Superior Market, from Subway to Fulton Gourmet Deli, Caban made his way down the 500 stops on his route sheet, leaving a plume of hot garbage odor in the truck’s wake. Delis, liquor stores, laundromats, grocery stores, pharmacies, pizzerias, restaurants — Caban’s stops went from Crown Heights to Fort Greene and Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick in Brooklyn, and then to the Lower East Side, Midtown, the Upper East Side, Harlem, East Harlem and Washington Heights in Manhattan.

Setting up, as it’s called, is the foundation of successful — which is to say fast — driver-helper teamwork, and it requires both driver and helper to memorize the entire route sheet. The drill worked like this: Bilal jumped off the back stepper, raced ahead to a stop, and began to toss or drag garbage bags from the curb to the street. Caban, meanwhile, parked the truck to align its back hopper with the garbage and ran around back in time to help heave the bags from the street into the hopper.

If a helper is skilled, like Bilal, and if there are multiple stops on a single stretch, he won’t wait for the driver but run ahead and continue setting up stops along the route. Tonight, Caban would often drive further ahead, get the stops with lighter bags himself and then circle back to get the set-up garbage. And if a helper is really, really fast, by the time Caban drives back the helper will have returned to where he started, and together the two can quickly make their way down the set-up stops.

Helpers change from night to night, and having a good helper is the difference between Caban working 10 hours and 15. In Caban’s estimation, Bilal is “the number one helper” at #1 Waste. “He dazzles me every time,” said Caban. Bilal knows the art of the set-up and he knows the route; he knows when and where to sprint ahead.

Theirs was a carefully choreographed routine, their faces set and focused, every motion swift and economical to shave off the seconds and the minutes. At a stop on Verona Place, Bilal threw bags over a parked silver Jeep, Caban catching one in mid-air and tossing it in the hopper, like a perfectly executed assist. At the Kennedy Fried Chicken on Marcus Garvey Boulevard, Bilal hopped off the back of the moving garbage truck, sprinted ahead to the curb, motioned back-up directions to Caban with a few quick flicks of the wrist. Caban then jumped out to get the bags while Bilal sprinted through traffic to the next stop. Caban then ran back into the truck and drove diagonally across the intersection to meet him. Repeat. “It’s a beautiful thing,” Caban said, and it was.

Baby-faced, with a ready grin, Bilal looked young for his 18 years and barely weighed more than some of the bags he was lifting. He wore a blue and white striped polo shirt, and neither he nor Caban wore reflective vests — they said #1 Waste hadn’t provided any safety equipment. Workers say that’s common in the industry. Caban and Bilal purchased their own thin black cloth work gloves with traction on the fingers (about $15 for a pack of three, which might last a week or two). Cloth won’t protect against the glass that often protrudes through the garbage bags, but nobody wears thick leather safety gloves. The grip is bad and slows you down; you’re liable to lose your hold on the slick plastic bags and punch yourself in the face.

Private carting companies have been part of the fabric of New York since the early 1900s. The carters handled trash in commercial areas, and municipal sanitation workers picked up the trash everywhere else, residential and business alike. That changed in 1957 when the city decided that commercial trash was too much trouble. Suddenly, all businesses had to pay for their trash collection. The Mafia quickly carved the city into territories. Under what was called the property-rights system, each stop was “owned” by a specified hauler. Attempting to underbid another carter was considered to be “stealing” his customer. Garbage haulers colluded, submitting uniformly high price estimates to a customer. Then the stop’s owner would offer a slightly lower estimate to win the contract — a practice better known as bid-rigging.

Controlled primarily by the Gambino and Genovese crime families, four trade waste associations enforced the property-rights system — the cartel — using extortion, threats and violence. Favored tactics involved baseball bats, firebombing garbage trucks and the occasional murder. When Browning-Ferris Industries, a major national waste company, tried to enter the market in 1993, an executive found the severed head of a dog on his doorstep one morning. A note was stuffed into its mouth: “Welcome to New York.”

“It was an open secret for four decades that the mob was in control of the commercial carting industry,” explained Daniel Castleman, former head of investigations in Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s office. Castleman was a script advisor for “The Sopranos” and even played the federal prosecutor who tried to take down Junior Soprano. The show’s fictional universe was very much representative of reality, Castleman said. “There’s a reason that Tony Soprano was in the carting industry.”

In the early 1990s, Morgenthau’s office launched an undercover investigation of the industry. An NYPD agent posed as “cousin Danny” in a Brooklyn carting company, another posed as a building manager, and another as a Browning-Ferris Industries employee. Secret recordings confirmed the existence of the property-rights system and its control by mob members. The first of many rounds of indictments came down in 1995, and ultimately 72 defendants were charged: carting companies, owners, trade waste association leaders, the trade waste associations themselves, and the capos and soldiers they reported to.

In 1996, the city passed Local Law 42, aimed at cracking the cartel, and created the licensing agency that is now known as the Business Integrity Commission to root out organized crime. The waste industry fought the reforms, but its suit against Local Law 42 was unsuccessful.

The prosecutions brought down the cartel. Many leaders went to jail, had their assets seized and agreed to a lifetime ban, called a debarment, from the industry. Others were never prosecuted but still signed debarment agreements. Some people on BIC’s debarment list moved their companies out of town or sold them.

But many on the debarment list simply handed their companies over to their wives or sons, who continued in the industry. Being related to someone on the debarment list is not grounds for the denial of a BIC license. (Haulers must be of “good character, honesty, and integrity.”) More than one person told me the sins of the father should not be imputed to the son … but you might want to want to take a close look at anyone related to past cartel members.

To get a flavor of the sometimes dizzying ways in which families and entities intertwined, consider the Toscano family and its waste operations. In 1975, a company called TNT Carting was one of 55 haulers in New York that pleaded guilty to restraint of trade. TNT’s officers included Thomas J. Toscano and his brother Nicholas. Later Thomas J. Toscano founded Mr. T Carting. A nonagenarian, today he fills a more ceremonial role in the company (currently the fifth-largest hauler in New York), while his grandson Thomas N. Toscano is the company’s CFO.

For their parts, Nicholas Toscano and several other family members were debarred from the industry. They had started a spin-off company in the 1980s called Mr. N Carting on land purchased by a realty corporation based at the same address as Mr. T Carting. (“The companies were completely separate. It was strictly a tenant-landlord relationship,” explained Thomas N. Toscano. “There’s an old saying, ‘You can’t pick your family.’ So, you know, we had nothing to do with them.”)

For all the upheaval, many cartel-era companies survived the transition. For example, Liberty Ashes, Mr. T Carting and New Style Waste Removal Corp (now Boro-Wide Recycling) were all members of the trade waste associations in the days of the cartel, according to lists recovered from the associations’ offices during the execution of search warrants in 1995. “You couldn’t do business in this industry without being members of those associations,” explained Thomas N. Toscano. “Yes, we were members. Yes, we paid dues. And the only time they ever went there was every three years when the union negotiation came up.” The Brooklyn association pleaded guilty to criminal restraint of trade in 1997, and the Queens association pleaded guilty to a criminal antitrust violation in 1998.

Lupe Todd-Medina, a spokesperson for New Yorkers for Responsible Waste Management, an industry group, responded to questions sent to multiple companies, including Liberty Ashes, New Style Recycling, Viking Sanitation and Boro-Wide Recycling. Todd-Medina did not address the detailed questions regarding the individual companies, but did provide a general statement: “The companies addressed in your story are all privately-held businesses — many of which are multi-generational,” she wrote. “For more than twenty years, the city’s Business Integrity Commission regulates [sic] the industry’s operations, and granted licenses to these companies following an intensive review process that independent observers agree has restored the industry’s competitiveness and high level of service to its customers.”

Still, the industry has its fair share of eyebrow-raising episodes. In late 2012, the BIC told Mr. T Carting that it couldn’t hire a convicted drug trafficker with ties to the Gambino and Lucchese crime families as a sales representative. Thomas N. Toscano, the CFO of Mr. T Carting, then sued the BIC in an attempt to keep the employee, which proved unsuccessful. (“They literally put the poor guy on ice after he had quit his other job,” said Toscano of the employee, who the BIC had previously approved to work for another carting company.)

In August 2016, the de Blasio administration released a study that recommended reining in the chaos of New York’s waste and recycling industry by dividing the city into zones. A company would make a bid to collect the garbage from all of the businesses in a given zone, and the city would pick the winner. According to the study, which was done by the Department of Sanitation and the BIC, zoning could reduce truck traffic by up to 68 percent and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 64 percent, leading to “cleaner air” and “safer streets,” as well as improve recycling rates, customer service and worker safety. A handful of cities, including Seattle, San Jose and Los Angeles, have introduced zoning. The efforts in Seattle and San Jose have yielded improved recycling rates and higher wages; the changes in Los Angeles are still being implemented.

Past city administrations have periodically attempted to adopt zoned waste collection, but industry resistance proved insurmountable. Today, again, zoning has the support of the de Blasio administration but legislation has yet to be introduced in the City Council — and the industry is still resisting. In 2016, the haulers launched NYRWM, which has spent $298,000 lobbying city officials. In her statement, Todd-Medina blasted zoning as “an arbitrary system,” arguing that it would “eliminate customer choice, decrease industry employment, and increase costs to businesses …” On the NYRWM website, prospective members are invited to contact the group’s general counsel/secretary-treasurer, a lawyer named Ray Shain who was disbarred from practicing law in New York in 2003 after pleading guilty to a criminal bid-rigging, bribery and kickback scheme that defrauded Queens public schools out of an estimated $6.3 million. (“Ray Shain is engaged as counsel to NYRWM, and provides administrative support for its operations,” said Todd-Medina in her written statement. She pointed out that he was re-instated to the bar several years ago and “does not own or operate a waste services business.”)

Industry opposition notwithstanding, the de Blasio administration is pressing forward with its reform efforts. The Department of Sanitation has hired consultants who are developing a proposal for what zoning might look like in New York. The exact number of zones is to be determined — Los Angeles has 11, for example — but only one company would operate in each. That suggests most of the city’s 250 private carters would have no chance at winning a bid. Even as it stands, the smaller companies tend not to last long; bigger companies snap them up. The 20 biggest companies in New York currently generate 80 percent of the revenue, according to the 2016 study, with the other roughly 200 operators fighting over the rest.

In Caban’s view, the old days were the golden era of garbage. If a man worked himself to the bone, he could earn enough to buy a house and a car and send a kid to college. Working the night shift at a garbage company in New York basically had all the perks of working the day shift at the Sanitation Department. Almost every garbage company in the city was in the same union, Teamsters Local 813, and every three years, the union would rent out the ballroom at the Sheraton Hotel so garbage men could ratify the contract, which achieved routine raises, triple-time pay for snow duty, as well as paid holidays, vacations and a pension.

That changed after the sweeping prosecutions of the 1990s. The gates were opened for a flood of non-union companies, and citywide collective bargaining became a thing of the past. “They got the mob out. But the workers got screwed royally,” said Teamsters organizer Allan Henry.

Powerful AFL-CIO-affiliated unions like the Laborers and the Teamsters were edged out of private garbage operators. They were replaced by “independent unions” that cut sweetheart deals with employers, locking employees into jobs with low wages and poor benefits. One example is a union called LIFE 890, which represents workers at major New York City garbage companies including Boro-Wide Recycling, Liberty Ashes and Five Star Carting.

A man named John N. Mongello runs the union and its health care benefit plan out of a residential townhouse in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, that he and his wife Kathy purchased in 1988. In 2016, LIFE’s benefit plan paid John Mongello $199,000 and his daughter Jessica Mongello Gambino took home $103,000. The union pays an LLC owned by Kathy $90,000 per year in rent, and the whole family — his wife, two daughters and a son — has been on the payroll in various capacities, off and on, since 2000. Filings with the Department of Labor show that administrative expenses have consumed as much as 45 percent of the health care fund’s expenses. Mongello was indicted in 1978, when he was president of a different union, on federal charges of conspiracy, perjury and obstruction of labor hearings. In 1985, he resolved the case, pleading guilty to making false claims; he was sentenced to 360 months’ probation and a small fine. (LIFE 890 and John Mongello did not respond to a detailed list of questions.)

Workers at several LIFE 890 shops, meanwhile, have said they’ve either never heard of the union or rarely see its representatives. And to the extent that the union plays a role, it hardly seems like a champion for its workers’ wages. At Liberty Ashes, the LIFE 890 contract sets starting pay at $0.25 per hour above minimum wage in perpetuity.

Perhaps as a result of such stances, companies seem more enthusiastic about LIFE 890 than workers do. When LIFE 890 attempted to replace the Teamsters as the union at Planet Waste last year, company owner Tom Tolentino told the Daily News he favored LIFE 890, claiming the Teamsters pension plan could bankrupt the company. The workers then voted to join LIFE 890. (Tolentino declined to comment.)

In a wage-related class action lawsuit filed against Five Star in 2014, LIFE’s representative submitted an affidavit that supported the company rather than the workers the union ostensibly represents. “Nino [Tristani] is very quick to respond to my emails and address the grievances,” the union rep said of Five Star’s cofounder, “and is open to discussing the best way to resolve the issue.” Five Star settled with 61 workers in 2016 for $400,000 without admitting liability; LIFE 890 members were excluded from the settlement because the union’s contract mandates arbitration for grievances.

LIFE 890’s role is at issue in a current suit in Manhattan federal court, in which former Liberty Ashes workers are suing over unpaid overtime wages. The company argues that the plaintiffs lack legal standing to bring the case on the grounds that all pay disputes must be addressed in arbitration proceedings. As it happens, LIFE 890 added a mandatory arbitration clause to the Liberty Ashes contract in December 2016 — just weeks before the company submitted it as evidence — which lawyers for Liberty Ashes maintain should be applied retroactively.

A federal judge expressed skepticism about that position. “It seems to me at least counterintuitive that an employer and current employees through their union would be able to negotiate away rights of former employees,” said the judge, Richard Sullivan, in a hearing in February 2017.

When I described LIFE 890 to Ronald Goldstock, the former director of the New York State Organized Crime Task Force, he emailed me a law review article on labor racketeering, defined as “the use of union power for personal benefit.” Goldstock said, “This is right out of the playbook. I think a DA’s office would be very interested.”

Independent unions have helped lower wages across the industry. In 1985, a helper started out making $16 an hour. At #1 Waste in 2016, Caban — a driver — made less.

The sun hadn’t even set, and Caban was already tired. On Sunday and Monday, Caban had a helper who didn’t know the route, so they were on the road for 14 1/2-hours each shift and didn’t finish up until 8:30 a.m. Six days a week on the nightshift made it hard for anybody to ever get enough sleep. Caban usually woke in the afternoon, and before long it was time to head back to the yard. On Saturday, his one day off, his body ached and he was too exhausted to leave his apartment. Days passed where Caban hardly talked to anyone outside of work.

Caban raced down Marcy, west on DeKalb, and north on Bedford, following a circuitous route and running more red lights than one could count. As the hopper filled with bags spurting garbage juice, Bilal pulled a lever on the right side to “run a cycle,” bringing the blade down to grab the bags. Then he pulled it again to “send it up,” packing the garbage into the truck’s body.

If there was one thing Caban was grateful for each night, it was that his route involved only garbage bags — no containers (what laypeople call dumpsters). When he had worked with containers at previous jobs at Viking Sanitation and La Vega Carting, he faced the constant fear of being crushed. Wrestling a container into the back of a garbage truck is a precarious maneuver, and it can easily slip and fall on you — a common way to die or lose a limb in this industry, according to the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health.

After three years on the job, Caban was marked from head to toe. He had a deep scar on his left leg (stitches after glass in a bag sliced open his calf). On his right leg, there was crosshatching below his kneecap (more glass), and below that another scar from the time he missed when jumping onto the back of a Viking Sanitation garbage truck as it hurriedly pulled away (a jump he might have landed had he not been so exhausted at 5 a.m.). Then there was the deep indent on the left side of his head “about four inches behind what used to be my hairline,” Caban explained: A winch once slipped off a Viking container and smashed open his skull. Perhaps the most gruesome injury was from November 2013, when another Viking worker moved a container at just the wrong moment, crushing his hand. That night, he lost the tip of his right index finger.

That severed finger was how I originally found Caban. I was tracking down injuries in New York City’s waste industry through contacts from a Teamsters local. Caban entered my notes as “severed finger #5.”

Missing finger #1 was Sidney Marthone, a former Five Star Carting worker. He severed his left middle finger while emptying a broken container. “If you make a complaint about safety, they just stop calling you to come and do work,” said Marthone, a young Haitian immigrant. (A spokesperson for Five Star Carting declined to comment.)

After Marthone, I found three men who’d worked at Liberty Ashes who each lost a finger on the same garbage truck — Truck 11 — according to a review of workers compensation records and interviews with five workers. Several workers said the company had removed a safety latch in the back that would have locked in the container while it was being emptied. Liberty’s containers were too big to fit the latch, the workers said, so the company took it off instead of spending the money to buy new containers. The three amputations occurred between 2010 and 2016: First, Lenny Menna, a driver, severed a pinkie. Then came Luis Acevedo, a helper, who also severed a pinkie. A third worker lost his ring finger in early 2016. (Michael Bellino, Jr. of Liberty Ashes said, “I’m well aware of incidents that have happened with my company.”) Menna and Acevedo are plaintiffs in the wage and hours suit against the company.

No New York City agency is directly responsible for waste worker health and safety. Instead, it’s a regulatory patchwork: The city’s Department of Sanitation oversees what’s done with the waste itself, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation oversees the waste transfer stations, the state’s Department of Transportation inspects the trucks, and the city’s Business Integrity Commission handles licensing and background checks to determine that a company isn’t mobbed up.

That leaves the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a federal agency with 67 inspectors for millions of workers in the state of New York, to look after the wellbeing of the workers. Waste companies “routinely violate OSHA requirements,” according to the 2016 study by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. Removal of a safety latch is the kind of thing that would probably warrant an OSHA citation, but Liberty, according to OSHA’s database, has never received one; what’s more, the company has never been inspected, according to several FOIA requests of OSHA. (Todd-Medina, speaking on behalf of Liberty Ashes, declined to comment.)

A missing safety latch can claim more than a finger. In 2014, a helper at Flag Container Services on Staten Island was crushed to death after a container slipped. His truck had no safety latch. OSHA fined the company $7,000, the maximum allowable by law.

Drivers devise inventive ways to make do with broken equipment and run-down garbage trucks. As Rodney Miles, a former driver at Five Star, put it, “You’ve got to know the distance.” Which meant: the length it took for his truck to come to a rolling halt. On his truck, moving below 25 miles an hour, he estimated the distance was the length of five cars. “If you were going down a hill with no load on it, you stand a better chance of stopping,” he said. “But if you have a load, then forget about it.” Twice, Miles said, unable to stop suddenly, he crashed into other vehicles. Another night, a wheel of his garbage truck came rolling off while he was driving on Canal Street in Staten Island. On a different night, both the brakes and the steering failed. “God was with me that night. I avoided death and killing somebody else,” Miles recalled. (Trucks from Five Star Carting are pulled off the road for being unsafe after 69 percent of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration inspections. A spokesperson for the company declined to comment.)

Workers at companies large and small told similar stories. At Queens County Carting, Ernesto Waight said he drove one truck where the shifter would suddenly jump into reverse, and another where a wheel rolled off on Astoria Boulevard in Queens. After Wilson Perez’s brakes failed exiting the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, he said, a supervisor told him to drive the truck back to the yard regardless. Carl Orlando said he drove one truck where the dashboard caught fire. Orlando recalled another shift, this one on a cold winter night, when the air line in his brakes froze. To stop the truck, he crashed it into a utility pole.

Queens County’s owner, Bilik, disputes that his trucks were ever “anything less than safe,” adding “we have recently replaced almost our entire fleet.” And he denies that a driver would ever have been required to drive a truck he’d flagged for failing brakes. Queens County trucks were pulled off the road for being unsafe after 12 of the last 16 inspections, according to data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Federal Department of Transportation regulations require that truck operators maintain logbooks of inspections, but Orlando and Perez allege that Anthony LaPuma of Queens County Carting gave instructions to falsify the records. “You put ‘Everything is good’ on the report, and then you write on a piece of paper what is wrong and you give that to the mechanic. When you get pulled over, the DOT will see that everything is good,” Perez remembered LaPuma saying. (Bilik called the allegation “fictional.” He added, “We run a tight ship here.”)

In 2007, LaPuma was among four defendants indicted in Queens for trying to take over another waste company by setting fire to garbage trucks, stealing 205 of their containers and threatening to kill the owner. LaPuma pleaded guilty to first-degree attempted falsifying of business records, a felony. He did not respond to requests for comment.


At 7:30 p.m., Caban made his way south on Franklin Avenue in Bed-Stuy, reversing diagonally against traffic through the intersection at Lafayette Avenue to get the garbage from a deli across the street from Dough Donuts, then drove diagonally back into southbound traffic. Bilal perched on the stepper with his back pressed to the truck (hanging wide increases the odds of getting knocked off and run over, another common way to die, according to the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health). When the squeeze was tight with a parked car, Bilal swung gracefully from the back right stepper up into the truck’s hopper.

With less experienced helpers, Caban taught them what they needed to know. “Place your back, your legs, and your arms like if you’re swinging a golf club,” he explained. Swinging a bag like a baseball bat will risk spraying garbage juice in your partner’s eyes or mouth. Hold the bag away from your body to avoid gashes from glass. For lighter bags, use a down-and-up-and-over torso twist-swing. For heavier ones, over 70 or 80 pounds, do a full 360-degree spin-and-drag move, not unlike an Olympic hammer throw, using the weight of the bag to gain momentum.

At the Putnam Deli on the corner of Classon Avenue, Caban tossed bags into the hopper and then ran inside to get his first bottled water of the night. Caban, who is Muslim, chatted in Arabic with the proprietor while Nancy, the bodega cat, looked on. Arabic was one of several languages he taught himself in jail.

Caban has a rap sheet that included several felonies and trips “upstate,” as he called New York state prison, for drug, violence and other convictions. Caban readily admitted that his criminal record was “messed up,” and as a result his job options were severely curtailed. To his great frustration, he knew there were many other kinds of work besides hauling garbage that he was capable of doing: work that paid more and was far less dangerous. But those doors were closed. Driving for Uber, for example, was forever out of reach. He applied for a license from the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission and was denied. “So you see,” said Caban, “I’m forced to work in this type of company.”

For many men with a criminal record, private sanitation is one of the few jobs they can get. When Caban got out of jail, he began as a helper at Viking Sanitation, in south Brooklyn. His first night on the job, he showed up and hopped aboard the back stepper — no training at all, a common way to start in this industry. Other helpers showed Caban the ropes, and after two years of hanging off the back of a garbage truck, he passed the commercial driver’s license exam and road test, and received a license to drive vehicles that weigh more than 26,000 pounds. In making the leap from helper to driver, he went from $120 to $200 per night at Viking. At #1 Waste, he made $1,000 a week working six days a week, routinely driving more than 10 hours a night.

Caban’s dream was to work at New York City’s Department of Sanitation, but between his criminal record and the intense competition, he couldn’t believe that would ever happen. Picking up residential trash is one of the city’s most coveted municipal jobs. In 2015, more than 68,000 people took the sanitation civil service exam; it was the first time in eight years DSNY had offered the exam, and the department hires only about 500 people a year off the list. With seniority and overtime, experienced workers can make $90,000 or more annually. The job, which requires no college degree, offers a chance at a comfortable middle-class life, a five-day work week and the promise of upward mobility.

Of the many private sanitation workers I talked to for this story — more than 20 in all — again and again I heard the same longing. In their eyes, DSNY workers have won the lottery. One night shift worker said, “We look at them like you made it.”

Municipal sanitation work is still dangerous, to be sure, but workers undergo weeks of training, and the safety regulations are strict. In recent years, DSNY removed the back steppers from its entire fleet after pressure from the Teamsters.

The difference between the day shift and the night shift can be measured by pace. In New York, the municipal garbage man almost never runs. He walks. The private carters also work far more hours and hoist way more trash. “We’re going crazy sweating bullets,” said Anthony Carmona, who worked with Caban at Viking Sanitation. “Department of Sanitation, you see them chilling. I wish I could work like that.”

Carmona still hopes for a city job, but he has since achieved the next best thing: a spot at one of the top private companies. Carmona knew a guy who pulled some strings and got him hired by IESI, the second-largest waste hauler in New York City. It’s a Teamsters shop where starting pay for helpers is $22.40 an hour. The job was still backbreaking — it requires picking up far more tons per night than the day shift at the city — but IESI workers had a pension to look forward to. With overtime, a helper could pull in $70,000-$85,000; an experienced driver at IESI could make $80,000-$110,000 a year. And with that comes medical coverage, paid vacations and sick days. When he wasn’t on the back of an IESI truck — a behemoth outfitted with all the bells and whistles, like a back-up camera for the driver to monitor — he was dreaming of the vacation days he’d save up.

Meanwhile, Eric Hyde, another Viking helper, had been cut from working three days a week, to two days, to one day — never knowing which day it’d be, making it nearly impossible to hold a second job. Hyde was now close to losing his apartment. On the Department of Sanitation hiring list, his number was 63,019.

In this industry, everyone hopes for a break, but few will get one. Hyde said simply: “I’m probably going to die on the back of the truck.”


As the night wore on, Caban started treating red lights like stop signs: Slow down, look both ways, then go. A little before 9 p.m., Caban stopped at a deli on Pulaski Street, at the edge of Bushwick — a new stop his boss added to the route the night before with a short text message. Routes were always getting longer, but the nightly pay stayed the same.

Caban made his way down Broadway in Brooklyn, then headed to Speedy Gas on Metropolitan Avenue to refuel. It was their first, brief rest after four breakneck hours. With his glasses atop his head, Caban played a phone game while Bilal put 62 gallons of diesel into the truck’s underbelly tank. Then Caban handed him a plastic bag and a rubber band. “Be sure to make it nice and tight,” Caban told him. “Strong — strong like bull.” Their truck had no gas cap.

Shortly before 10 p.m., Caban headed to Hi-Tech Resource Recovery, one of New York’s 60 waste transfer stations (half of which are located in three black and Latino neighborhoods — north Brooklyn, the south Bronx and southeast Queens). Hi-Tech, which looks like a massive warehouse from the street, sits in an industrial but gentrifying area now known as East Williamsburg. From Hi-Tech, the garbage would get loaded onto long-haul trucks and carted to landfills and recycling centers hundreds of miles away.

From there, Caban headed toward the Williamsburg Bridge. He would spend the second half of the night in Manhattan, picking up cardboard. Garbage and cardboard can’t (or rather, shouldn’t) mix in the truck. On other nights, the order was reversed: garbage stops in Manhattan then cardboard stops in Brooklyn. Learning the route meant memorizing which stops were which — garbage or cardboard — and on which days of the week, and how much to pick up (businesses pay by weight). A stop might be only cardboard on a Wednesday, or only garbage on Mondays and Thursdays, or only garbage on Tuesdays, or every day.

How did he keep all the stops straight? “You learn. Trust me,” said Caban. “If you don’t learn, you don’t get to drive for them too often.” Businesses tend to complain about smelly trash left on their curb, or getting a ticket for a pile of cardboard that never got picked up.

Caban stopped at a deli, a pizzeria and a grocery on Pitt Street just above Delancey Street on the Lower East Side. He carried a small packing knife with a retractable blade of about 2.5 inches, using it to slash through the cords of unwieldy bundles of cardboard, making the job go faster. Cardboard can be easier than garbage — at times it’s lighter — except when it isn’t. Some stops had 300-pound bales of cardboard, which Caban and Bilal had to lift together, bringing them from the pavement to a winch mounted onto the back of the truck. Tonight, luckily, it did not bash his head in.

To stay awake the rest of the night, Caban followed his routine: coffee, Red Bull when it got bad and 5-Hour Energy when it got really bad. As the hours wore on, the streets grew quiet. That was another reason he kept the packing knife on him. One night they were stopped on a deserted Manhattan street, and three guys jumped Bilal and punched him, according to Caban. He came to Bilal’s rescue with his knife at the ready.

Caban and Bilal made their way up First Avenue. On other nights he continued up to the top of Manhattan, to stops at 191st Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, but not tonight. Tonight, the two men picked up cardboard from the Crown Fried Chicken on 163rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, then headed west to Broadway and south. A fish market, a pizzeria, a deli, Boost Mobile, another Crown Fried Chicken — toward Second Avenue and then all the way back downtown.

When Caban passed other garbage trucks, they honked their horns in salute. “We know we down in this shithole together,” he said.

The stops became a blur. By the end of the night, when Caban did stop for red lights, he fell asleep at the wheel.

A little before 4:30 a.m., he parked the truck back at the yard. Pacific Street was desolate. Caban and Bilal had made good time, finishing the route in about 10 1/2 hours. Still, Caban was exhausted.

Driving back to his apartment, he passed the hulking armory building on Pacific Street, a homeless men’s shelter dubbed Grayskull Castle. He had lived there after getting out of jail. After he got the job at Viking Sanitation and got a place of his own, each injury that put him out of work left him feeling one step closer to Grayskull Castle.

He got home and took a shower. The next night he would do the same thing again.

July turned into August 2016, and Caban’s garbage bags grew heavier and juicier. In the summertime, New Yorkers go out more and spend more money, making more garbage for workers to lift off the street. On a summer night, a truck might pick up five or 10 more tons than it would in the winter.

The next time I checked in with Caban in late summer, he told me he was too tired to talk. Eventually, Caban and I lost touch.

This fall, I learned that he is incarcerated. On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I took the Q100 bus to Rikers Island to find out what had transpired in the year since. The bus pulled up to the front building, the planes of LaGuardia Airport visible just across the water. The passengers — almost entirely women and children on their way to visiting hours — got off. There was space set aside near the entrance to park strollers.

It would take almost four hours to make it through the many rounds of metal detectors, searches and long periods of sitting in waiting areas that lead to other waiting areas. “Jail is mad stressful,” said a young woman who was visiting her boyfriend. She laughed, then grew quiet and put her head in her hand. “I feel like I live here.”

Alex Caban entered the large gymnasium that served as a visiting hall and took a seat across the table from me. To my right, an inmate in a gray jumpsuit smiled down at a toddler in his arms. The wall to the left was a big Sesame Street mural: Bert and Ernie waved while Grover flew above in the sky holding aloft the New York City Department of Correction shield. Caban recounted the events that led him to Rikers. I committed what I could to memory; a guard had instructed me to put my notebook and phone in a locker.

Caban said his trouble began in August 2016, when he got a call about an opportunity to earn more money at another carting company. “I never should have left #1 Waste,” he said.

As Caban told it, two of his new coworkers repeatedly used a Latino slur against him. Soon, Caban was at the end of his rope. On Aug. 31, 2016, according to Caban, the slurs continued and things heated up. He took out his packing knife and stabbed one of the coworkers. “I’m not a young guy like they are,” said Caban by way of explanation. “I didn’t want to fight them.”

Caban was arrested but got out on bail. He then bounced around working at different garbage companies. He had a short stint back at #1 Waste, but then one night while driving a truck that he said was missing a side mirror, he backed into a woman’s new Volkswagen. His career at #1 Waste was soon over.

In the spring, Caban landed at a company called Yankel’s. He began driving a roll-off truck — the kind that typically carries a 10- to 40-cubic yard dumpster that “rolls off” onto the ground. Whereas before Caban heaved garbage by hand, now the machinery of the well-maintained Yankel’s truck did the lifting. Plus, it was a day shift job with a proper weekend: The owners were observant Jews, and all work came to a halt before sundown on Fridays. Caban posted photos online of himself at the wheel, happy to finally be driving a truck that other men would call pretty. “This truck smells like new car!” he told friends.

But soon it was time to head to court again. He pleaded guilty to a third-degree misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to a year in jail, which he began serving in June 2017.

Inmates at the Eric M. Taylor Center, where Caban was incarcerated, often do the trash pick-up for the ten jails on Rikers Island. But Caban said he was working in a bakery, where he likely earns less than 50 cents an hour. For once, he told me, he has enough time to sleep, exercise, pray and read books, most recently “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” a critique of the Eurocentric history taught to schoolchildren. Caban told me that Bilal, his helper from the summer before, is now working as a driver for #1 Waste.

Caban was thinking about the future, and it was weighing on him. He was now 46. If he returned to the garbage man’s life of working six nights a week and sleeping days, when would he ever meet someone, let alone go on a date? A nice meal out on a Saturday night, he told me, would surely end with him falling asleep at the table. “I can’t be alone anymore,” he said. This was a theme I’d heard again and again from other workers. Relationships failed, marriages ended. “You’re never there,” I offered, echoing the words of other men. “And when you’re there,” Caban added, “you’re not there.”

Caban looked forward to his release in 2018. He said he might take some garbage shifts to save up money, but ultimately he wanted to move on up in the world of commercial trucking: getting a Class A license. He wanted to drive a car-transport tractor-trailer or perhaps a big rig. Or maybe he and some friends would buy some property to fix up and start a business of their own. His career as a garbage man, he hoped, was coming to an end.

Posted in USAComments Off on Trashed: Inside the Deadly World of Private Garbage Collection

Let the Two-State Solution Die a Natural Death


by: Prof Richard Falk

[Prefatory Note: This post is a modified version of an article published in Middle East Eye on Jan. 1, 2018. It contends that the proper priority for genuine advocates of peace between Israelis and Palestinians should be centered around apartheid rather than be devoted to reviving an Oslo style ‘peace process’ (always a sham) or proclaiming the goal of an independent and sovereign Palestine as attainable without first dismantling the apartheid structures that subjugate the Palestinian people as a whole so as to maintain the Zionist insistence on Israel as the state of the Jewish people (rather than providing a homeland within a normal and legitiamt state based on ethnic and religious equality, human rights, and secular principles.]


Let the Two-State Solution Die a Natural Death


Despite all appearances to the contrary, those in the West who do not want to join the premature and ill-considered Israeli victory party, are clinging firmly to the Two-State Solution amid calls to renew direct diplomatic negotiations between the parties so as to reach, in the extravagant language of Donald Trump, ‘the ultimate deal.’


Israel has increasingly indicated by deeds and words, including those of Netanyahu, an unconditional opposition to the establishment of a genuinely independent and sovereign Palestine. The settlement expansion project is accelerating with pledges made by a range of Israel political figures that no settler would ever be ejected from a settlement even if the unlawful dwelling units inhabited by Jews were not located in a settlement bloc that have been conceded as annexable by Israel in the event that agreement is reached on other issues. What is more Netanyahu, although sometimes talking to the West as if he favors a resumption of peace negotiations seems far more authentic when he demands the recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people as a precondition for any resumption of talks with the Palestinians or joins in welcoming American pro-Israeli zealots who insist that the conflict is over, and that Israel deserves to be anointed as victor. To top it all off, the Trump decision of December 6, 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to follow this up by soon relocating the U.S. Embassy, effectively withdraws from future negotiations one of the most sensitive issues—the status and sharing of Jerusalem—despite the language accompanying Trump’s statement on recognition that purports to leave to the future, permanent Jerusalem borders and disposition of the city on a permanent basis that is misleadingly declared to remain open for an agreement between the parties to be achieved at a later date of their choosing.


All in all, it seems time to recognize three related conclusions:

         –first, the leadership of Israel has rejected the Two-State Solution as the path to conflict resolution;

         –secondly, Israel has created conditions, almost impossible to reverse, that make totally unrealistic to expect the establishment of an independent Palestinian state;

         –thirdly, Trump even more than prior presidents has weighted American diplomacy heavily and visibly in favor of whatever Israel’s leaders seek as the endgame for this struggle of decades between these two peoples.


Despite these obstacles, which seem conclusive, many people of good will who are dedicated to peace and political compromises, cling to the Two State Solution as the most realistic approach to peace. The words of Amos Oz, celebrated Israeli novelist, expressed recently this widely shared sentiment among liberal supporters of a Zionist Israel: “..despite the setbacks, we must continue to work for a two-state solution. It remains the only pragmatic, practical solution to our conflict that has brought so much bloodshed and heartbreak to this land.” It is also significant that Oz made this statement in the course of a yearend funding appeal on behalf of J-Street in 2017, the strongest voice of moderate Zionism in the United States.


What Oz says, and is widely believed, is that there is no solution available to Palestine unless there is a sovereign independent Jewish state along 1967 borders as the essential core of any credible diplomatic package. All alternatives would, in other words, not be ‘pragmatic, practical’ according to Oz and many others. Why this is so is rarely articulated, but appears to rest on the proposition that the Zionist movement, from its inception, sought a homeland for the Jewish people that could only be secured and properly proclaimed if under the protection of a Jewish state that was permanently, as a matter of constitutional framework, under Jewish control.


For many years the internationally recognized Palestinian leadership has shared this view, and has given its formal blessings in its 1988 PNC/PLO declaration that looked toward the acceptance of Israel as a legitimate state, if the occupation were ended, Israeli forces withdrawn, and Palestinian sovereignty established within the 1967 borders. It is notable that this Palestinian conditional recognition of Israeli statehood accepted a territorial delimitation that was significantly larger than what the UN had proposed by way of partition in GA Resolution 181(that is, Israel would have 78% rather than 55% of the overall territory comprised by the British Mandate, leaving the Palestinian with the remaining 22% for their state). This type of outcome was also endorsed by the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 and was confidently depicted as the solution during the Obama presidency, and even adapted to meet Israel’s security demands in ways designed to make such a solution appeal to Israel. Even Hamas endorsed the spirit of the two-state approach by proposing over the course of the last decade a long-term ceasefire, up to 50 years, if Israel were to end the occupation of the East Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza. If Israel were to agree, the resulting situation would materialize the Two-State Solution in the form of two de facto states: Israel and Palestine. It differs from the two-state approach only to the extent that it refuses to grant Israel de jure legitimacy or to renounce formally Palestinian claims to Palestine as a whole. Among the deficiencies of such territorially oriented approaches to peace is the marginalization of the grievances of up to seven million Palestinians living for generations as refugees or involuntary exiles.


There are at least four problems, conveniently swept under the nearest rug by two-state advocates, any one of which is sufficiently serious to raise severe doubts about the viability and desirability of the Two-State Solution: (1) Liberal Zionism expressed an outlook toward a diplomatic settlement that was not shared by the Likud-led rightest Israeli governments that have dominated Israeli politics throughout the 21st century; the Israeli goal involved territorial expansion, especially with respect to an enlarged and annexed Jerusalem, and by way of an extensive network of settlements and transport links in the West Bank, underpinned by the fundamental belief that Israel should not establish permanent borders until the whole of ‘the promised land’ as depicted in the Bible was deemed part of Israel. In effect, despite some coyness about engaging with a diplomatic process, Israel never credibly endorsed a commitment to a Palestinian state within 1967 borders that was based on the equality of the two peoples.


(2) Israel created extensive facts on the ground that have definitively contradicted its professes intention to seek a sustainable peace based on the Two-State Solution; these developments associated with the settlements, road network linking settlement blocs to Israel, references with Israel to the West Bank as ‘Judea and Samaria,’ that is, as belonging to biblical or historical Israel.


(3) The Two-State Solution as envisioned by its supporters effectively overlooked the plight of the Palestinian minority in Israel, which amounts to 20% of the population, or about 1.5 million persons. To expect such a large non-Jewish minority to accept the ethnic hegemony and discriminatory policies and practices of the Israeli state is unrealistic, as well as being contrary to international human rights standards. In this fundamental sense, an ethnic state that is exclusively associated with a particular people, is by its own proclamations and legal constructions, an ‘illegitimate state’ from the perspective of international law.


(4) Beyond this, to sustain Israel in relation to the dispossessed and oppressed Palestinian people has depended on establishing structures of ethnic domination over the Palestinian people as a whole that constitute the crime of apartheid. As in South Africa, there can be no peace with the Palestinians until these apartheid structures used to subjugate the Palestinian people are renounced and dismantled (including those imposed on Palestinian refugees and involuntary exiles); this will not happen until the Israeli leadership and public give up their insistence that Israel is exclusively the state of the Jewish people, with includes an unlimited and exclusive right of return for Jews and other privileges based on Jewish ethnic identity; in effect, the core of the struggle is about people rather than as in two-state thinking, about territory.


If we discard the Two-State Solution as unwanted by Israel, normatively unacceptable for the Palestinians, not diplomatically attainable, and inconsistent with modern international law, then what? It should be understood that even if a strong political will unexpectedly emerged that was genuinely dedicated to the balanced implementation of the Two-State Solution it would be highly unlikely to be achieveable. Against this critical background, we are obliged to do our best to answer this haunting question: ‘Is there a solution that is both desirable and attainable, even if not presently visible on the political horizon?’


Following the lines prefigured 20 years ago by Edward Said two overriding principles must be served if a sustainable and honorable peace is to be achieved: Israelis must be given a Jewish homeland within a reconfigured, and possibly neutrally renamed Palestine and the two people must allocate constitutional authority in ways that uphold the cardinal principles of collective equality and individual human dignity. Operationalizing such a vision would seem to necessitate the establishment of a secular unified state maybe with two flags and two names, which would have a certain resemblance to a bi-national state. There are many variations, provided there is strong existential respect for the equality of the two peoples in the constitutional and institutional structures of governance. Said also believed that there must be some kind of formal acknowledgement of Israel’s past crimes against the Palestinian people, possibly taking the form of a commission of peace and reconciliation with a mandate to review the entire history of the conflict.


If the liberal Zionist approach seems impractical and unacceptable, is not this conception prescribed as a preferred alternative ‘an irrelevant utopia’ that should be put aside because it would be a source of false hopes? If the Palestinians were to propose such a solution in the present political atmosphere, Israel would undoubtedly either ignore or react dismissively, and much of the rest of the international community would scoff, believing that the Palestinian are living in a dreamland of their own devising.


This seems like an accurate expectation, despite my insistence that what is being proposed here is a relevant utopia, the only realistic path to a sustainable and just peace. There is no doubt that the present constellation of forces is such that an initial dismissal is to be expected. Although if the Palestinian Authority were to put such a vision forward in the form of a carefully worked out proposal, it would constitute fresh ground for a debate more responsive to the actual circumstances faced by Israelis, as well as Palestinians. It would also be a step toward unity, overcoming the current political fragmentation that has weakened the Palestinians as a political force.


The primary political and ethical question is how to create political traction for a secular state shared equally by Israelis and Palestinians. It is my view that this can only happen in this context if the global solidarity movement presently supportive of the Palestinian national struggle mounts sufficient pressure on Israel so that the Israeli leadership recalculates its interests. The South African precedent, while differing in many aspects, is still instructive. Few imagined a peaceful transition from apartheid South Africa to a constitutional democracy based on racial equality to be remotely possible until after it happened.


I envisage a comparable potentiality with respect to Israel/Palestine, although undoubtedly there would also be present a series of factors that established the originality of this latter sequence of development. In politics, if political will and requisite capabilities are present and mobilized, the impossible can and does happen, as it did in South Africa and in struggles against the European colonial regimes in the latter half of the 20th century.


Further, without such a politics of impossibility there is no path to genuine peace and justice for both Palestinians and Israelis, massive suffering will persist, and the normalcy of an existential peace based on living together on the basis of mutual respect and under a mature, humane, and democratic version of the rule of law, underpinned by checks and balances, and upholding constitutionally anchored fundamental rights. Only then, could we as citizen pilgrims dedicated to the construction of human-centered world order give our blessings to a peace that is legitimate and existentially balanced as between ethical values and political realities.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZIComments Off on Let the Two-State Solution Die a Natural Death



Image result for SYRIA CARTOON


Forget the decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.  It’s not meaningful anyways.  And it is “inconsequential” because it’s just another city in Syria with a history of massive casualties.  The only reason for all this clamor and clangor is the Islamic Noble Sanctuary and the various Christian sites all of which have something to do with the growth and suffering of Jesus. That’s about it.  For the Jews, it should have no meaning because their true Jerusalem is in Yemen’s ‘Aseer Province as proven by Professor Kamal Salibi in his monumental book:  “The Bible Came from Arabia”. Moreover, it should have no meaning because the average Jew in Palestine doesn’t have any of the requisite DNA.

What is more important is that the U.S. is planning to establish a Kurdish state in Syria in defiance of Turkey’s absolute hostility to the idea.  And, as the Syrian government has pointed out repeatedly, such action would be in violation of international law.  So far, the Europeans have been most punctilious in adhering to such laws as evidenced by their near-unanimous condemnation of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Zionist Settler State.  Even if Britain was in cahoots with the U.S. in trying to set up a Kurdish state, their announced rejection of deviation from the traditional positions of Europe in dealing with the Arab-Zionist conflict would seem to belie that.  I see a massive disconnect coming between Europe and the United States thanks to Trump.  With this coming this year, one can detect the friction from Vladimir Putin rubbing his palms feverishly in Moscow.

Trump will seal the fate of the United States with more than Europe.  He has already ostracized Pakistan for taking American money without returning anything.  He has also decided to stay the course in Afghanistan even as the war there enters its 17th year with no end in sight and the Taliban extending their writ over more captured territories.  With Britain and France unwilling to share his Pollyannish optimism about the longevity of the Kabul government, it can only be expected that with the rise of Jeremy Corbin in the U.K., that the Brits will abandon the sinking ship and fly back to Old Blighty.  The French will do the same.

The patsies in all this are the Kurds who are signing on to their own extermination.  Turkey is not going to accept any state for them in Syria or Iraq and the Turks know they have an ally in Dr. Assad.  The Iraqis are just as anxious as the Turks since an effort to build a Kurd state in Syria will almost certainly gain ground in northern Iraq.  Iran, of course, with a Rabelaisian interest in extending its natural gas pipeline to the Syrian littoral, will do whatever must be done to dash American hopes.  That means that the Kurds had better prepare themselves for all-out war with Syria’s, Iraq’s, Turkey’s and Iran’s militaries.  There is no way out of this conclusion even if the U.S. decides it will fight to the last Kurd to make it work.

This plan is a Zionist plan.  If you remember Dr. Bashar Ja’afari’s analysis which I mentioned in several essays, you will immediately understand why Netanyahu is committed to a Kurdish rump state.  As Dr. Ja’afari explains it, Zionism needs to Balkanize the Near East into statelets, each with a peculiar religious or ethnic core, in order to justify the apartheid Zionism is practicing against the Palestinians.  Only through the existence of a Maronite state,  a Druze state, an Alawi state, a Sunni state, a Jewish state and a Kurdish state, can the Jews inside Palestine justify the perverse structure of their Warsaw Ghetto nation.  The Kurds are playing right into this illogic and their fate is uglier than that of the Khwarezmian shahs.

Chris tells me that there are thousands of Marines inside the Kurd enclave we shall call “Rojava” despite the well-established fact that the Kurds have little history in Syria.  The U.S. is kiting the lie that the marines are there to protect borders.  Of course, this is very laughable and typical of the undying stupidity of the imbeciles in Washington D.C.  It is a new plan promoted by the CIA to offset the disastrous consequences of its previous support for terrorists obsessed with ousting the Syrian central government.  As I have written before, there are still remnants of the CIA team which refuses to accept the collapse of their project in Syria which has led to a redirection of the plan to block Iran’s pipeline.  What this means is that Dr. Assad was never the real target – he was only incidental to the plan.  He and his government had to be removed only because they had acquiesced to Teheran’s machinations.  Now, the CIA is not interested in Dr. Assad’s duration in office, that’s simply obvious; instead they have shifted their emphasis to the Kurdish state they expect to recognize once all the attributes of statehood have been established.  Then, and only then, will Nikki Haley, WOG of the YEAR, be able to present the U.N.S.C. with the fait accompli she expects the members to swallow.  They won’t and she will be back threatening and posturing.

In the meantime, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran will be doing everything possible to sabotage this miserable stratagem.  Now, for this plan to work, it requires military preparation.  If and when Iraq finally tells the U.S. to get out along with its aircraft; and the Turks tell Washington to pack up its hardware and leave Incirlik, the U.S. will be constrained to maneuver militarily to protect Rojava.  However, if you have been following the news, the U.S. has been building air bases in the target area and all this in anticipation of the rancor that is going to be unloaded on the American plan to redraw the Middle East.  Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we first practice to deceive. 

Trump’s plan is going to flop in a big way.  If you will take notice, the U.S.airbases in the Kurdish area being developed for statehood are within easy reach of Syria’s artillery.  It is even within reach of everybody’s artillery.  If you consider Syria’s vast missile arsenal, which is designed to disable Zionist airbases in Occupied Palestine, it becomes even easier to understand how this plan must fail miserably.

It appears the U.S. is anticipating respect for its combat troops in Syria because, well, they are American, after all, and should not be assailed in any way lest the aggressors be willing to sustain the unleashed wrath of America’s incomparable military.  YAWN.  The U.S. has not won a war since Russia handed it a victory in WWII over Germany (with the exception of triumphs in banana republics like Panama and Grenada).  Whether it’s Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan, the U.S. record is dismal.  This Syrian adventure will not improve the American record. Nay! It will convince everyone that the U.S. is a paper tiger no more powerful than Saudi Arabia.

No rest for the wicked.  No sooner does Syria vanquish the terrorist rodents than the U.S. props up another villain for Damascus to fight.  But, as Chris, has written to me frequently: this battle for Syria is not viewed as some frivolous sideshow – rather – it goes to the heart of American/Zionist/Masonic plans for the Middle East.  It is a part of America’s expected future in its dealings with Europe.  As Chris has opined,  the plan to steal the oil of the Golan Heights; to destroy Iran’s burgeoning power; to enslave the Iraqis; to further entrench retrogressive regimes in the area are part and parcel of Zionist hegemonism whose stench leads straight to the ornate chambers of the Rothschilds and Rockefellers.  This plan is not going to go away any time soon because it was developed to serve up the lifeblood of the Arab peoples to the Zionist hordes infecting the land of Palestine.


Iran’s Protests Take Place Against a Backdrop of Inequality


By Negin 

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As 2017 came to a close, a groundswell of Iranian protesters captured international attention. The demonstrators’ slogans questioned everything from the price of eggs to the legitimacy of the highest levels of government, as viewers from around the world sought to pin down the precise motivations for their displeasure. At this time, the protesters may offer more questions than answers. Reports are building conflicting narratives as to who the protesters are, what brought them into the streets, and what they hope to accomplish.

Though there may be cacophony of analyses — many of them surely to be discredited in coming days and weeks — some facts still remain undisputed. Primarily among them: the protests are taking place against a backdrop of economic frustration and inequality within Iran.

Economic concerns have been simmering for some time. As Iranian writer Amir Ahmadi Arian noted in the New York Times, inequality has become front and center as the wealthy display their opulence with luxury cars in city streets, while the rest of the country struggles. The economy was a focal point in the country’s May 2017 elections. President Hassan Rouhani campaigned on the nuclear deal, promising it would bring more money into the country. But while Iran’s economy grew — by 13.4 percent in 2016 — it didn’t necessarily translate into prospects for Iranians. Unemployment rose to 12.6 percent that same year, a number that’s even higher for Iranian youth.

The discrepancy between the promise and reality of the nuclear deal hasn’t been lost on the country’s residents. In May of 2015, when hopes for the agreement were high, more than half of Iranians felt the economy was at least somewhat good. But by 2017, nearly two thirds called the country’s economic situation bad, one poll found. And they’re not optimistic about the future — fifty percent of people said they thought the economy was getting even worse.

Just as with the protests, analysts will point fingers in a variety of directions as to the cause of the country’s economic ills. Certainly, years of crippling international sanctions have played a role. And while the nuclear deal left the door open for more economic opportunities, constant uncertainty over the future of the agreement has left banks and businesses skeptical.

But regardless of the causes, the protests signal that Iran’s citizens may disagree with the government on next steps. One spark behind the recent demonstrations? President Rouhani’s conservative 2018 budget, released even as minor protests took place around the country over lost jobs and missing wages.

One particular point of ire is the budget cut to the country’s popular cash transfer program. As economist Djavad Salehi-Isfahani notes in one analysis, the program — which gave Iranians a small monthly stipend — played a role in stemming poverty rates, especially in the country’s rural areas, helping to bridge inequality between Tehran and the rest of the country. Salehi-Isfahani also points out that high inflation already cut the value of the transfers to less than a third of their original value. To top off that indignity, the government has decided to limit the number of people eligible for the program.

While the international community buzzes about the meaning behind the protests, at least one group is standing behind Rouhani’s austerity budget. The IMF released a consultation report on Iran in December, shortly before the protests took off, in which they said revisions to the cash transfer program, among other measures, would lead to “much needed fiscal space.” In a memo, Peter Bakvis, who directs the Washington, DC office of the International Trade Union Confederation, questioned this move. “It is safe to assume that no one among those participating in the recent mass protests in Iran was consulted by the IMF’s mission before it endorsed the 2018/19 budget and issued recommendations for the country’s economic and social policies.” Though the IMF does not lend to Iran, their recommendation still carries a good deal of weight.

The question to be asked: will Iran listen to groups like the IMF or the voice of its people? The government says the demonstrations have died down. But no matter the face of Iran’s protesters or the future of their movement, this much is clear: the country needs to deal with inequality, or the frustration will continue to simmer.

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As International Criminal Court Considers Probing Nazi regime for War Crimes


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As International Criminal Court Considers Probing Israel for War Crimes, US Moves to Defund UN Palestine Refugee Agency

By Amy GoodmanDemocracy Now! 

Israel is facing a possible International Criminal Court war crimes probe over its 2014 assault on Gaza and the ongoing expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank. Despite the threat, the Israeli defense minister announced on Tuesday Israel would approve the construction of hundreds of new settlement homes in the West Bank. This comes as Sweden criticized the Trump administration for threatening to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars of annual aid to the UN’s relief agency for Palestinian refugees. Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi compared President Trump’s threat to cut off aid money to blackmail. For more, we speak with author and scholar Norman Finkelstein. His new book is titled Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom. Norman Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors. He is the author of many other books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Human Suffering and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End.


AMY GOODMAN: Israel is facing a possible International Criminal Court war crimes probe over its 2014 assault on Gaza and the ongoing expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank. According to the Israeli TV station Channel 10, Israel’s National Security Council recently warned Israeli lawmakers that the ICC could open an investigation at some point this year. Despite the warning, the Israeli defense minister announced Tuesday Israel will approve the construction of hundreds of new settlement homes in the West Bank. Palestinian leaders began calling for an ICCprobe soon after the 2014 assault on Gaza, which killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, including over 500 children.

This comes as Israel and the United States are facing growing international condemnation over their treatment of Palestinians. Last month, the United Nations voted 128 to 9 in favor of a resolution calling for the United States to drop its recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Sweden criticized the Trump administration for threatening to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars of annual aid to the UN’s relief agency for Palestinian refugees. Sweden’s ambassador to the United Nations said the cutting off of the aid, quote, “would be destabilizing for the region.” Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi compared President Trump’s threat to cut off aid money to blackmail.

HANAN ASHRAWI: I would say that Palestinian rights are not for sale, and we will not succumb to blackmail. There are imperatives and requirements for peace. And unilaterally, President Trump has destroyed them. He has even sabotaged our efforts at achieving a just peace and getting freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people. By recognizing occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, he has not only disqualified himself as a peace broker or a mediator by taking sides and by becoming complicit in Israel’s occupation, he has also totally sabotaged, he has totally destroyed, the very foundations of peace.

AMY GOODMAN: Part of the UN aid money goes to refugees living in occupied Gaza, the most densely populated area in the world. For years, the United Nations and aid groups have warned conditions in Gaza are almost unlivable due to the decade-long Israeli military blockade and multiple Israeli assaults on the region. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, seven out of 10 people in Gaza live off humanitarian aid. The unemployment rate, 44 percent. Electricity cuts can reach up to 20 hours every day.

Gaza is the subject of a new book by the author and scholar Norman Finkelstein. It’s titled Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom. Norman Finkelstein is the son of Holocaust survivors. He’s the author of many other books, including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Human Suffering and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End.

Norman Finkelstein, welcome back to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with the latest news of this report of a possible ICC, International Criminal Court, war crimes probe into the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, there’s been long-standing ICC investigations of Israeli conduct, and this is another phase, the report in the Israeli press that it’s moving along. The chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, she has been very soft, as has the previous ICC chief prosecutor, when it comes to prosecuting anyone except Africans. Since the founding of the ICC in 1998, the only persons who have ever been tried are African leaders or Africans accused of significant human rights crimes. It’s called — by many African states, it’s called the International Caucasian Court, not Criminal Court.

What will come of this, it’s unclear. It’s possible that the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, will use the Palestine case to demonstrate that not only Africans are prosecuted, as a way of demonstrating that she’s going to break the precedent. I, myself, have contacted her, because, as I said, it’s been an ongoing process, and what happened in 2014, which I discuss at length in my book, is part of the investigation. And people who know her and have been enthusiastic about my manuscript have also contacted her.

I would also just want to make one point. Of course an investigation would be a good thing. Of course an investigation is warranted. However, we have to bear in mind that the Palestinians have won many important political and legal victories. In 2004, the International Court of Justice found in favor of the Palestinians across the board. Then there was the Goldstone Report, which was another important victory. The problem is not that the Palestinians lack in political and legal victories. The problem is that the Palestinian leadership, or so-called leadership, has never translated the legal and political victories into something practical on the ground. And so, even if — and I’m hoping it will happen — but even if there’s an ICC victory for the Palestinians, even on that remote possibility, the problem is: What do you do with it? And the Palestinian leadership has never done anything with its victories.

AMY GOODMAN: So, before we get into your inquest into Gaza, I want to also ask about this threat of the US cutting off millions of dollars to UNRWA, to the Palestinian refugee agency. Explain the significance of this agency and why Palestinians rely on this so much.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: OK. First of all, you have to bear in mind that 70 percent of Palestinians in Gaza — let’s just call them Gazans — 70 percent of Gazans are classified as refugees. That means, technically, actual refugees and children of refugees. But under the categorization used in Gaza, they’re all classified as refugees. So that’s 70 percent. Secondly, half of Gaza’s population, or slightly more, are children. And so you have this overwhelmingly refugee child population, and they rely overwhelmingly on UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

UNRWA is financed between 25 and 30 percent by the United States, and that comes to about $300 million a year. And so, the threat of cutting the money to UNRWA would be — it would be devastating for an already devastated population, overwhelmingly children. Nonetheless, I would like to keep things in proportion. So, it would be a catastrophe, no doubt about it, if UNRWA is defunded by the United States. However, let’s look at the numbers. We’re talking about $300 million annually. Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, he paid $500 million for a yacht. That would have covered all of UNRWA’s expenses, American — the American portion, for more than a year. He paid $450 million for a da Vinci painting. That would have covered all US expenses, again, for more than a year. He paid $300 million for a house in Versailles. That would have covered all the UN expense — UNRWA expenses by the United States. And God only knows how much money he paid for Tom Friedman’s column in The New York Times.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, why don’t you explain what you’re referring to, the op-ed piece in The New York Times about Mohammad bin Salman —


AMY GOODMAN:  — the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: There are young people here, so I have to be careful about my language. But all it was was a very expensive — it was a —

AMY GOODMAN: Yeah, be careful. No cursing on here.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: No, it’s not cursing. But it was a protracted — it was a verbal blowjob, probably the most expensive one in world history, that was administered to Mohammad bin Salman, the column he wrote in the Times. It was vintage Tom Friedman. He goes into Saudi Arabia for three days, says everything is wonderful, talks to the crown prince’s sister, who’s representative of the people of Saudi Arabia, says they’re all very enthusiastic about him, and then he walks away and writes this column.

AMY GOODMAN: Hardly mentioning in this column, among other issues, Yemen. Mohammad bin Salman, who is in charge of the US-backed Saudi assault on Yemen.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yes. Well, Yemen is — look, the fact of the matter is that every reactionary, every regressive movement in the Arab world is financed by the Saudis, whether it’s Yemen, whether it’s Bahrain, whether it’s Syria, whether it’s Egypt. Everywhere, it’s the Saudi money. And it’s also, incidentally, the Saudi money that keeps the Palestinian Authority afloat. That’s why they have to pay all — they have to pay deference to the Saudis. It’s a wretched, parasitic regime.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Jared Kushner’s relationship with Mohammad bin Salman? And how does that play in here? He’s gone repeatedly to Saudi Arabia. Jared Kushner, senior adviser to his father-in-law, President Trump, apparently is in charge of the Middle East peace process. And they have, apparently, cooked up a plan — Jared Kushner and Mohammad bin Salman — for peace in the Middle East.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, first of all, we have to look at the context: Jared Kushner knows nothing about anything. Jared Kushner is only there because he’s married to Trump’s daughter. He’s the son of Charles Kushner. Charles Kushner is a real estate mogul, a billionaire who has the distinguishing characteristic of actually having been arrested and spending time in jail. Now, that’s very rare —

AMY GOODMAN: By Chris Christie, when he was a prosecutor in New Jersey.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Right. That’s very rare in the United States for a billionaire to spend time in jail. Among other things, he hired a prostitute and had her photographed in order to — hired a prostitute to have his brother-in-law photographed, and then presented the video to his wife at some family gathering. Jared Kushner, he got into Harvard University because the year he applied, his father gave $2.3 million to Harvard. Everybody agreed he didn’t have the grades, he didn’t have the test scores. These are people who profit — who profit from their parents’ profit. There’s no known knowledge that he possesses about the Middle East.

And incidentally, it’s the same thing with Mohammad bin Salman. His only interest is — has only one interest. And, of course, the interest is to maintain his power. But the Saudi regime is a parasitic regime. Work — literally, in Saudi Arabia, “work” is the four-letter word. If you say that you have a job, that you work, the Saudi ruling class looks at you with contempt. “You work?” And so, the Saudis know — in their now battle with Iran, they know that they couldn’t prevail against Iran on a military level, on a strategic level. You know, Iran is a 5,000-year-old civilization. It’s a very impressive place. And so they’re hoping that the United States and Israel will take their chestnuts out of the fire. So they want Israel and the United States to go to war with Iran. And so they’re willing to do anything. You know, they’ll give away Palestine. They’ll give away this studio. They’ll purchase it and give it away to get the United States and Israel to do their bidding. So, we’re not really talking about a peace plan. We’re talking about handing Israel everything it wants, in exchange for Israel and the United States taking out Iran.

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