Saturday, August 8, 2015

Violence, Racism, and Fundamentally Changing the United States

Seventy-seven years ago, civil rights activist and poet Langston Hughes wrote his chilling poem “Kids Who Die” to illuminate the horrors of lynchings during the Jim Crow era. Now at the one year mark of Michael Brown's death and the Ferguson uprising that sparked a movement, let us listen to Hughes' words with new ears.

Violence, Racism, and Fundamentally Changing the United States
By Richard Jehn / August 8, 2015

When will it be enough? Another horrible tragedy, self-confessed to be an act of terror and white supremacy has occurred. It isn’t a new phenomenon by any means, but we are seeing a more accurate record of these acts because of the available technology so many people now have in hand. And most observers are appalled to see them, police shooting unarmed black men in the back as they run away, a policeman abusing a young black girl at a junior high school pool party, and nine murders in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, followed by the burning of six more African American churches across the south, three of which have been unmistakably identified as arson.

But the fact is that nothing is new here. This has been happening since the founding of this nation, but events have simply had some different manifestations over time. This country was founded in some of the worst sorts of violence. In the very earliest days, European white settlers made it their business to eliminate, in one way or another, 90% of the resident population of the present-day United States. This took the form of outright slaughter most frequently, but also occurred through quite nefarious means such as burning Native American crops and deliberately passing smallpox infected blankets to Native Americans.1 It should be no surprise that our founding fathers participated in this violence.2

While this “subduing” of the resident population was taking place, the settlers also thought it in their best interest to kidnap a few million Africans to come work for free in the new territory they were opening up. Thousands of those kidnapped never made it to the new world, dying during the voyage of disease, starvation, dehydration, and abject sadness. But those who did survive managed over the next couple of hundred years of mistreatment to create about 60% of present-day wealth in the US.3 Good arguments exist to demonstrate that the revolution that created the United States was a result of British reluctance to sanction continued slave-holding.4

Robert Jensen goes so far as to call these two periods “holocausts,” which they surely were: first, genocide of the Native Americans, followed closely by the genocide of Africans. He also describes the third holocaust as the continuing violence in other nations as the United States “protects” its overseas interests, sometimes in defending the oil industry, sometimes in removing a contrary government, occasionally to “bring democracy” to some needy nation, and for various other reasons in passing.5

Regardless, it is clear that from the earliest days of this nation, white European settlers unequivocally knew that they were superior to both the indigenous population and to the black immigrants who were building their nation. And this white supremacy has become a cultural fact of life for every person who has ever lived in the United States, manifested frequently in outright racist behavior, especially prior to passage of legislation specifically outlawing discrimination and segregation, but more frequently appearing in much more subtle ways, well documented in numerous in-depth studies.6

I have not seen it more appropriately expressed than in this short passage:
In my own lifetime, segregation and antimiscegenation laws were still on the books in many states. During the lifetimes of my parents and grandparents, and for several hundred years before them, laws were used to prevent blacks from learning to read, write, own property, or vote; blacks were, by constitutional mandate, outlawed from the hopeful, loving expectations that come from being treated as a whole, rather than three-fifths of a person. When every resource of a wealthy nation is put to such destructive ends, it will take more than a few generations to mop up the mess.

We are all inheritors of that legacy, whether new to this world or new to this country, for it survives as powerful and invisibly reinforcing structures of thought, language, and law. Thus generalized notions of innocence and guilt have little place in the struggle for transcendence; there is no blame among the living for the dimensions of this historic crime, this national tragedy. There is, however, responsibility for never forgetting another’s history, for making real the psychic obliteration that does live on as a factor in shaping relations not just between blacks and whites …., or between blacks and blacks …., but between whites and whites as well.7
And we continue to live this awful legacy every single day of every single year, in the form of those police murders (I will call them what they are) of black men and women; in the form of the overtly racist murders of nine African Americans in a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina; in the form of continued economic disadvantage of Native and African Americans, and Hispanics8; in the form of significantly greater incarceration rates for Native and African Americans, and Hispanics9; and in the form of the continued existence of intentionally all-white towns and neighborhoods throughout the United States.

Sundown towns require special mention since they are not common knowledge. Between 1890 and 1930, many whites in the US took exception to the outcome of the Civil War, and especially the Reconstruction era, and took upon themselves the continued repression and exclusion of African Americans. These sundown towns were typically characterized by either signage or some other clear signal (such as a whistle that sounded at 6 pm) that blacks were to be out of the town by sundown or face dire (usually violent, including death) consequences. Moreover, these towns were more prevalent in the northern states and included every state in the US. The phenomenon is extensively documented both in James Loewen’s 2005 book on the subject and on his website which contains up-to-date information about these communities.10

To put it bluntly, this is a big-time white people problem and all of the people of color in this nation suffer because of it. And it is time for the white people to act like grown-ups, own this problem, and do something meaningful about it.

Since the event in Charleston, and the more recent incident where Sandra Bland was arrested on a fabricated charge and soon afterward died in jail,11 I have seen some stunningly good suggestions for change. I especially appreciate Aaryn Belfer’s eleven suggestions in her article “How to Be an Interrupter: A White Person’s Guide to Activism,” where she says, “Whatever you do, don’t do nothing. Be an up-stander, not a bystander. Be an interrupter.”

I do not believe anyone has yet proposed a solution to the white supremacy problem in this country that will result in the changes we need to reach a meaningful state of non-racist equilibrium and true social justice. I view what I have read to date as band-aid fixes for what ails us, although absolutely everything helps. I also believe that legislation passed during and after the era of the civil rights movement has turned out in retrospect to be band-aid measures through which those desiring continuation of the racial imbalance always find loopholes. We have reached a moment where we need much more and we have a meaningful precedent to guide us.

John Toland has suggested that Adolf Hitler used the United States model for his treatment of gypsies, Jews, and other non-Aryan undesirables.12
Hitler's concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English and United States history. He admired the camps for Boer prisoners in South Africa and for the Indians in the wild west; and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America's extermination—by starvation and uneven combat—of the red savages who could not be tamed by captivity.

He was very interested in the way the Indian population had rapidly declined due to epidemics and starvation when the United States government forced them to live on the reservations. He thought the American government's forced migrations of the Indians over great distances to barren reservation land was a deliberate policy of extermination. Just how much Hitler took from the American example of the destruction of the Indian nations is hard to say; however, frightening parallels can be drawn. For some time Hitler considered deporting the Jews to a large 'reservation' in the Lubin area where their numbers would be reduced through starvation and disease.
Assuming that Hitler used the violence and aggression visited by the United States on the Indigenous population as the model for the Nazis’ violence against non-Aryan populations in Europe and other conquered lands, would it be worth considering what the German people decided to do in post-World War II Germany to cleanse themselves of the Nazi atrocities?

Others have made such a suggestion, but not in as explicit terms as I do. Brian Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, said in a recent interview:
So yes, the Confederate flag should come down but more than that, we need to engage with this in a very different way. You can’t go to Germany, to Berlin, and walk 100 meters without seeing a marker or a stone or a monument to mark the places where Jewish families were abducted from their homes and taken to the concentration camps. Germans want you to go to the concentration camps and reflect soberly on the legacy of the Holocaust. We do the opposite here. We don’t want anybody talking about slavery, we don’t want anybody talking about lynching, we don’t want anybody talking about segregation. You say the word “race” and people immediately get nervous. You say the words “racial justice” and they're looking for the exits. If we're going to change the attitudes of the judges who are making sentencing decisions, and police officers who are unfairly suspecting young men of color, and employers and educators who are suspending and expelling kids of color at disproportionately high rates, if we're going to make a difference in overcoming the implicit bias that we all have, we're going to have to deal honestly with this history and have to consciously work on freeing ourselves from this history.
Following World War II, German society implemented a curriculum in all German schools teaching the Holocaust, its results, and how it transpired in gory detail to all German children as they went through school. This curriculum frequently includes trips to concentration camps so students can see for themselves the ovens, the gas chambers, and the horrible living conditions. In the words of a staff member of the German Information Center:
For Germans, the Holocaust is not an event that happened in a faraway place in some distant past, but is part and parcel of their recent history. The memory of the Nazi dictatorship -- of which the Holocaust is an integral part -- and its traumatic legacies have been shaping German policies since the end of World War II. The rebuilding of political institutions in western Germany and postwar political education were largely determined by a serious effort to try to understand the horrors of the Nazi dictatorship and by searching for safeguards in order to prevent history from repeating itself. Consequently, teaching about Nazi dictatorship and the Holocaust at schools is not limited to a niche in the history syllabus like the "French and the Indian Wars." Instead, it is discussed again and again in different ways, in a number of subjects, and at different points in time.

The treatment of the Nazi period in all its aspects -- Hitler's rise to power; his establishment of a dictatorship in Germany; the abolition of the rule of law; the persecution of all kinds of political opponents; the racially motivated persecution of the Jews, culminating in the Holocaust; the reticence and opposition of German citizens; and, Germany's instigation of World War II -- is compulsory teaching matter at all types of schools in Germany and at all levels of education. The Holocaust is treated as the most important aspect of the period of Nazi rule.13
It is not far-fetched in the least to compare the treatment of Native Americans to the Nazi Holocaust, nor is it inappropriate to consider slavery and its seemingly endless aftermath of racism and discrimination comparable to the treatment of Jewish and other non-Aryan Germans in the 1930s and early 1940s.14 Thus, to seek a similar solution to this US problem seems obvious.

So the specific proposal for the United States is to include explicit curriculum in our schools to teach the truth of our past, to include all the gory details of the slaughter of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans, including the aftermath of the Civil War that resulted in covert methods of discrimination and segregation that persist to the present day. Let’s bring this information out into the light of day for detailed examination and include with it the teaching of empathy in our classrooms. Let’s change what our children are learning to instill in them the horror of our past so our culture can learn not to repeat that repulsive past.

Clear precedents and active programs are in place to seed the effort to change the United States curriculum. In particular, Rethinking Schools has been making a significant impact on teaching and curriculum in the past 25 years. Moreover, it is well past time to take meaningful action when we hear Barack Obama say, “… this kind of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency. It is in our power to do something about it.” If we mean what we are saying in all of the eulogies, tirades, rants, and other assorted missives I’ve read and heard since the tragedy in Charleston on June 17, 2015 and the Sandra Bland incident in Waller County, Texas in mid-July, then now is the time to begin the work to change our US society.

I recognize the challenge this poses where some states in control of school curriculum tend toward regression in the teaching of science and history. And even before this conservative regression, history curriculum in the US has been sorely deficient.15 But clear precedents do exist to proceed with development of meaningful curriculum to change our society. More than ten years ago, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the state had ignored its constitutional responsibility to teach indigenous history and culture. That was the beginning of what has turned into a cascade of states implementing curriculum to teach Native American tribal history and culture, now including Idaho, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and most recently Washington.16

Although this is only anecdotal, the letter that appeared in the Bellingham Cascadia Weekly (on page 5) in June 2015 is indicative of the impact such curriculum can have:
I am in seventh grade at Fairhaven Middle School. In my social studies class, we have been learning about the past 200 years of Washington’s history. This includes the genocide of Native Americans, and also the cultural genocide through putting the natives in small reservations and sending the children far off to schools where their culture was belittled and they were transformed into the ways of the white culture. These things have now been found to be directly linked to problems many reservations face today.

Though there have been some apologies made, I feel that there has been little done in acknowledging our society’s actions in the past. The natives were living here first for thousands of years, yet they seem to get little respect. I noticed that in Fairhaven, there is a plaque that apologizes to the Chinese community for the Chinese deadline which was in place in 1898 to 1903. You probably know of this plaque. Former Mayor Dan Pike put it in, in 2011, as a formal apology to the Chinese community.

This made me think, why is there no such thing for the native community?

I believe what was done to them was worse than the Chinese deadline, the native people’s culture was absolutely destroyed! I think they deserve an apology from Whatcom County. It doesn’t have to be big or grand, but something like a plaque would remind our society of what has been done and it will show that we acknowledge previous actions and are sorry for them. It is just a thought, but I believe that it is the right thing to do. —Klara M. Schwarz, Bellingham
Any curriculum developed for meaningful portrayal of United States history must depend critically on the participation of the African American and the Native American communities, as well as all minority communities that suffer from the effects of white supremacy. I also believe that such a curriculum must be taught throughout the school years, starting at the earliest ages to ensure the lessons are deeply embedded.

Another component of US curriculum must be a program such as Roots of Empathy. This Canadian-born program has now been adopted for pilot study in four US states (California, Washington, New Mexico, New York, and Washington, D.C.), and is used in many nations around the globe. The original purpose of the program was to reduce the incidence of bullying and aggression in schools:
The focus of Roots of Empathy in the long term is to build capacity of the next generation for responsible citizenship and responsive parenting. In the short term, Roots of Empathy focuses on raising levels of empathy, resulting in more respectful and caring relationships and reduced levels of bullying and aggression. Part of our success is the universal nature of the program; all students are positively engaged instead of targeting bullies or aggressive children.17
But with little doubt, such a program would have more far-reaching effects. If it were combined with the teaching of US history, including the gross mistreatment of Native and African Americans, perhaps the impact would be even greater.

We can no longer continue living the lie of United States history as it is currently understood in this nation. We must take the next steps in our growth and evolution in order to eliminate the scourge of white supremacy and its racist manifestations from our culture. As Barack Obama says, “It is in our power to do something about it.” Let’s make sure what we do is meaningful.


1. "An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (ReVisioning American History)," Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Sept. 2014. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press.
2. See also Dunbar-Ortiz, pp. 77-82.
3. "The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism," Edward E. Baptist. 2014. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Basic Books.
4. "The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America," Gerald Horne. 2014. New York and London: New York University Press.
5. “The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism, and White Privilege,” Robert Jensen. 2005. San Francisco: City Light Books. And for a listing of US incursions at home and abroad since 1890, see Zoltan Grossman’s website.
6. See, for example, “Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class,” Ian Haney Lόpez. 2014. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, and “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” Michelle Alexander. 2012. New York, New York: The New Press.
7. “The Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a Law Professor,” Patricia J. Williams (1991). Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press. Pp. 60-61.
8. “People’s History of the United States,” Howard Zinn. 2001. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
9. “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” Michelle Alexander. 2012. New York, New York: The New Press.
10. “Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism,” James Loewen. 2005. New York: Touchstone. See also his website.
11. And see full video of arrest here, which, I believe, corroborates my claim that it is a fabricated charge.
12. “Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography,” John Toland. 1991. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. P. 202. Cited in “Hitler’s Inspiration and Guide: The Native American Holocaust” by Lia Mandelbaum. Jewish Journal, June 18, 2013.
13. “Holocaust Education in Germany,” German Information Center. 1998.
14. And Robert Jensen agrees with that analysis. See “The Heart of Whiteness,” pp. 27-44.
15. “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong,” James M. Loewen. 2007. New York: Touchstone.
16. “Since Time Immemorial,”

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Guantanamo News: Just How Overdue Is This?

Protest at the White House against torture and abuse in Guantanamo Bay and Bagram U.S. military prisons February 27, 2009. Photo: mike.benedetti/flickr/cc.

White House Losing Ground in Bid to Keep Guantanamo Bay Abuse Secret
By Sarah Lazare / October 3, 2014

Federal judge rejects Obama administration request for secret trial and demands partial public release of videos showing force-feeding abuse of Guantanamo captive

Federal Judge Gladys Kessler on Friday ordered the U.S. government to publicly release videos showing the force-feedings of Abu Wa'el Dhiab, a Syrian man held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. However, Kessler ruled that, before releasing the videos, the U.S. government may redact "identifiers of individuals in the videotapes," including "faces other thatn Mr. Dhiab's, voices, names, etc." According to Reprieve, this amounts to approximately 11 hours of redacted tape.

“This may well be the most significant court decision on Guantanamo Bay in years," said Alka Pradhan, Reprieve attorney to Mr Dhiab. "No longer does the American public have to rely on propaganda and misinformation, but can finally watch the videotapes and judge for themselves whether this terrible prison should continue to be the image America projects to the world, or whether we should reclaim our values and shut it down for good.”


A federal judge on Thursday rejected an Obama administration effort to shut the public out of the first-ever trial for abuse and torture at Guantanamo Bay, slamming the White House push for secrecy as "deeply troubling."

Judge Gladys Kessler of the Washington DC district court wrote, "With such a long-standing and ongoing public interest at stake, it would be particularly egregious to bar the public from observing the credibility of live witnesses, the substance of their testimony, whether proper procedures are being followed, and whether the court is treating all participants fairly."

Kessler criticized the Justice Department for filing a motion last Friday to hold the trial almost completely behind closed doors, arguing that the request "appears to have been deliberately made on short notice." She continued, "[O]ne of the strongest pillars of our system of justice in the United States is the presumption that all judicial proceedings are open to the public whom the judiciary serves."

The case pertains to Abu Wa'el Dhiab, a Syrian man currently who has been held at the U.S. military's offshore prison since 2002, despite being cleared for release in 2009. Dhiab, who has been on hunger strike off and on for years to protest the conditions of his confinement, is suing the Obama administration for torturous force-feeding practices, which include: forcible removal from his cell to force-feedings by a squad of soldiers donning riot gear; painful tube insertions; and use of a painful restraint chair for the process, according to a statement from Reprieve, the UK-based legal charity representing him. Dhiab's hearing is slated to take place next Monday and Tuesday in Washington, DC, and expert witnesses are to testify on the man's abuse.

The government argues that the trial must be held completely behind closed doors, except for opening statements, to protect "national security." But Dhiab's lawyers say this argument reeks of a cover-up. "The was a brazen attempt by the Obama Administration to shut the American people out of their own courtroom," said Cori Crider, Reprieve director and one of Mr. Dhiab's attorneys. "And how sad to see our Justice Department deliberately undermining one of the central pillars of our democracy: open justice."

This is not the first time the U.S. government has sought to hide information about Dhiab's case. The White House has fought to hide video recordings of the force-feedings of Dhiab and other men held captive at Guantanamo. Dhiab was the first of these prisoners to legally challenge the Obama administration on the videos, resulting in a partial win: Dhiab's lawyers from Reprieve were permitted to view the tapes, but their content remains classified, effectively gagging the tapes' viewers. Kessler has agreed with the government's argument that these videos can remain hidden from the public, which, in the words of Guardian journalist Spencer Ackerman, means "the most graphic depictions of the force-feedings will remain hidden from view."

Sixteen major media organizations filed suit in June calling for the public release of the videos on first amendment grounds. In a recent article, Dhiab's wife Umm Wa'el joined in the call for disclosure of the tapes. She wrote:
America was shocked by the images from Abu Ghraib. These films from Guantanamo threaten to do the same. The American people should be given the chance to see them, and to decide whether they accept what is being done daily to my husband. I am certain that if they are given the chance, they will see the reality: the simple desperation of an innocent man, held without charge or trial, using the only means at his disposal to get back to his wife and children.

[This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.]

Source / Common Dreams

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The War on Drugs Is a Failure: UN Commission

Photo: M.A. Cabrera Luengo.

Citing Failed War on Drugs, World Leaders Call for Widespread Decriminalization
Global commission condemns "harsh measures grounded in repressive ideologies"
By Deirdre Fulton / September 9, 2014

In the face of a failed War on Drugs, a global commission composed mostly of former world leaders recommended on Tuesday that governments decriminalize and regulate the use of currently illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and psychedelics.

"The international drug regime is broken," reads the report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, whose members include former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan; former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz; former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and former high commissioner for human rights at the UN Louise Arbour; and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, as well as the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Portugal. "[O]verwhelming evidence points to not just the failure of the regime to attain its stated goals but also the horrific unintended consequences of punitive and prohibitionist laws and policies."

Punitive drug law enforcement has done nothing to decrease global drug use, the Commission says in "Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work" (pdf). Instead, such policies have fueled crime, maximized health risks, undermined human rights, and fostered discrimination — all while wasting tens of billions of dollars.

In place of these "harsh measures grounded in repressive ideologies," the commission recommends that world governments:

  • Shift their focus from enforcement to prevention and harm reduction;
  • Ensure equitable and affordable access to "essential medicines" like opiate-based pain medications;
  • Stop criminalizing people for drug use and possession;
  • Rely on alternatives to incarceration for non-violent, low-level participants in illicit drug markets such as farmers and couriers;
  • Look for alternatives to militarized anti-drug efforts when going after organized crime groups;
  • "Allow and encourage diverse experiments in legally regulating markets in currently illicit drugs, beginning with but not limited to cannabis, coca leaf and certain novel psychoactive substances;"
  • Use the upcoming major review of drug policies by the UN General Assembly, scheduled for 2016, as an opportunity to open debate on true reform.

Implementing such reforms "is necessary because global drug prohibition, the dominant paradigm in the last 40 years, has not only failed in achieving its original stated objectives, which was to reduce drug consumption and improve health worldwide, but it has, in fact, generated a lot of harm, including an AIDS and hepatitis epidemic among people who use drugs and social violence and infiltration of democracies with narco-traffickers and the birth of a few narco-states in the world," commission member Michel Kazatchkine, UN Secretary General Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said in an interview with The World Today's Eleanor Hall.

He continued:

We're promoting a model similar to let's say what exists with tobacco. That is, put government in control: in control of who produces the drug, of the quality of the drug, on how and where it is sold, to whom it is sold — for example, forbid it to people less than let's say 18 years old or whatever.

Take back control of that market and therefore reduce, not only the violence, but also reduce the health and social harms that the current international regime has generated.

Experts called the report groundbreaking. In a statement, Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann said, “The import of the Commission’s report lies in both the distinction of its members and the boldness of their recommendations. The former presidents and other Commission members pull no punches in insisting that national and global drug control policies reject the failed prohibitionist policies of the 20th century in favor of new policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. There’s no question now that the genie of reform has escaped the prohibitionist bottle."

In its report, the Commission acknowledges that reshaping the global discussion on drugs will be a challenge:

The obstacles to drug policy reform are both daunting and diverse. Powerful and established drug control bureaucracies, both national and international, staunchly defend status quo policies. They seldom question whether their involvement and tactics in enforcing drug policy are doing more harm than good. Meanwhile, there is often a tendency to sensationalize each new “drug scare” in the media. And politicians regularly subscribe to the appealing rhetoric of “zero tolerance” and creating “drug free” societies rather than pursuing an informed approach based on evidence of what works. Popular associations of illicit drugs with ethnic and racial minorities stir fear and inspire harsh legislation. And enlightened reform advocates are routinely attacked as “soft on crime” or even “pro-drug.”

But the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session — and the time between now and then — is seen as an opportunity to overthrow that status quo. Several Latin American leaders, including Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos and Guatemala's Otto Perez Molina, have already called for a paradigm shift on international drug policy.

"2016 will be the beginning of years, perhaps decades, of debate on new drug conventions," Arbour said at the New York press conference marking the report's release. The conversation was already beginning on Tuesday, under the Twitter hashtag #ControlDrugs.

Source / Common Dreams

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Chomsky: The Owl of Minerva and Human History

Global warming has had a particularly strong impact on the Arctic, yet the effects on the region’s ice have been anything but steady or predictable. Some glaciers are spitting out icebergs and draining the Greenland ice sheet at an alarming pace; others are barely moving; a few are growing thicker.
(Photo: NASA/Jefferson Beck and Maria-José Viñas/Flickr CC 2.0)

Noam Chomsky: Are We Approaching the End of Human History?
By Noam Chomsky / September 9, 2014

It is not pleasant to contemplate the thoughts that must be passing through the mind of the Owl of Minerva as the dusk falls and she undertakes the task of interpreting the era of human civilization, which may now be approaching its inglorious end.

The era opened almost 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, stretching from the lands of the Tigris and Euphrates, through Phoenicia on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean to the Nile Valley, and from there to Greece and beyond. What is happening in this region provides painful lessons on the depths to which the species can descend.

The land of the Tigris and Euphrates has been the scene of unspeakable horrors in recent years. The George W. Bush-Tony Blair aggression in 2003, which many Iraqis compared to the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, was yet another lethal blow. It destroyed much of what survived the Bill Clinton-driven UN sanctions on Iraq, condemned as “genocidal” by the distinguished diplomats Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, who administered them before resigning in protest. Halliday and von Sponeck’s devastating reports received the usual treatment accorded to unwanted facts.

One dreadful consequence of the US-UK invasion is depicted in a New York Times “visual guide to the crisis in Iraq and Syria”: the radical change of Baghdad from mixed neighborhoods in 2003 to today’s sectarian enclaves trapped in bitter hatred. The conflicts ignited by the invasion have spread beyond and are now tearing the entire region to shreds.

Much of the Tigris-Euphrates area is in the hands of ISIS and its self-proclaimed Islamic State, a grim caricature of the extremist form of radical Islam that has its home in Saudi Arabia. Patrick Cockburn, a Middle East correspondent for The Independent and one of the best-informed analysts of ISIS, describes it as “a very horrible, in many ways fascist organization, very sectarian, kills anybody who doesn’t believe in their particular rigorous brand of Islam.”

Cockburn also points out the contradiction in the Western reaction to the emergence of ISIS: efforts to stem its advance in Iraq along with others to undermine the group’s major opponent in Syria, the brutal Bashar Assad regime. Meanwhile a major barrier to the spread of the ISIS plague to Lebanon is Hezbollah, a hated enemy of the US and its Israeli ally. And to complicate the situation further, the US and Iran now share a justified concern about the rise of the Islamic State, as do others in this highly conflicted region.

Egypt has plunged into some of its darkest days under a military dictatorship that continues to receive US support. Egypt’s fate was not written in the stars. For centuries, alternative paths have been quite feasible, and not infrequently, a heavy imperial hand has barred the way.

After the renewed horrors of the past few weeks it should be unnecessary to comment on what emanates from Jerusalem, in remote history considered a moral center.

Eighty years ago, Martin Heidegger extolled Nazi Germany as providing the best hope for rescuing the glorious civilization of the Greeks from the barbarians of the East and West. Today, German bankers are crushing Greece under an economic regime designed to maintain their wealth and power.

The likely end of the era of civilization is foreshadowed in a new draft report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the generally conservative monitor of what is happening to the physical world.

The report concludes that increasing greenhouse gas emissions risk “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems” over the coming decades. The world is nearing the temperature when loss of the vast ice sheet over Greenland will be unstoppable. Along with melting Antarctic ice, that could raise sea levels to inundate major cities as well as coastal plains.

The era of civilization coincides closely with the geological epoch of the Holocene, beginning over 11,000 years ago. The previous Pleistocene epoch lasted 2.5 million years. Scientists now suggest that a new epoch began about 250 years ago, the Anthropocene, the period when human activity has had a dramatic impact on the physical world. The rate of change of geological epochs is hard to ignore.

One index of human impact is the extinction of species, now estimated to be at about the same rate as it was 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the Earth. That is the presumed cause for the ending of the age of the dinosaurs, which opened the way for small mammals to proliferate, and ultimately modern humans. Today, it is humans who are the asteroid, condemning much of life to extinction.

The IPCC report reaffirms that the “vast majority” of known fuel reserves must be left in the ground to avert intolerable risks to future generations. Meanwhile the major energy corporations make no secret of their goal of exploiting these reserves and discovering new ones.

A day before it ran a summary of the IPCC conclusions, The New York Times reported that huge Midwestern grain stocks are rotting so that the products of the North Dakota oil boom can be shipped by rail to Asia and Europe.

One of the most feared consequences of anthropogenic global warming is the thawing of permafrost regions. A study in Science magazine warns that “even slightly warmer temperatures [less than anticipated in coming years] could start melting permafrost, which in turn threatens to trigger the release of huge amounts of greenhouse gases trapped in ice,” with possible “fatal consequences” for the global climate.

Arundhati Roy suggests that the “most appropriate metaphor for the insanity of our times” is the Siachen Glacier, where Indian and Pakistani soldiers have killed each other on the highest battlefield in the world. The glacier is now melting and revealing “thousands of empty artillery shells, empty fuel drums, ice axes, old boots, tents and every other kind of waste that thousands of warring human beings generate” in meaningless conflict. And as the glaciers melt, India and Pakistan face indescribable disaster.

Sad species. Poor Owl.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among his recent books are Hegemony or Survival, Failed States, Power Systems, Occupy, and Hopes and Prospects. His latest book, Masters of Mankind, will be published soon by Haymarket Books, which is also reissuing twelve of his classic books in new editions over the coming year. His website is

Source / In These Times

Fluxed Up World

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Obama: Remember, He Does This Every Day Now

Obama NSA Defense FAIL: The al-Mihdar Red Herring
By Juan Cole / Jan. 17, 2014

In his speech on the National Security Agency domestic surveillance program on Friday, Obama offered an explanation of its origins:

The program grew out of a desire to address a gap identified after 9/11. One of the 9/11 hijackers – Khalid al-Mihdhar – made a phone call from San Diego to a known al Qaeda safe-house in Yemen. NSA saw that call, but could not see that it was coming from an individual already in the United States. The telephone metadata program under Section 215 was designed to map the communications of terrorists, so we can see who they may be in contact with as quickly as possible.

This is, of course, a steaming crock of crap. The fact is that Khalid al-Mihdar was under surveillance and so was his contact in Yemen. The US even had videotape of al-Mihdar at an al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur shortly before he went to San Diego. And US intelligence knew that al-Mihdar was in the United States.

The problem? The various intelligence agencies were each looking to make their own bust and refused to properly share information with one another.

They don’t need to spy on all of our smartphone information and track 310 million people’s telephone calls and whereabouts! They need to talk with each other there in Washington! And in fact there is a joint FBI/ CIA facility in the DC area now where files can be accessed by officers with the right clearances across agencies.

Obama’s anecdote simply does not support the case for holding phone metadata, either in the government or by private telcos. And since I don’t think Obama is ignorant or lacking in smarts, I think he and whoever crafted that reference to 9/11 into his violent assault on the Fourth Amendment were doing so in a calculated and wholly dishonest fashion.

Obama was from 2007 frank that he admired Ronald Reagan. What you’re a little afraid of is that he may harbor some sneaking admiration for Tricky Dick Nixon.

Jim Gilmore writes at PBS:

In September 2002, agents and officials from the CIA and FBI testified before a joint congressional panel about how their security agencies failed to fully share information about suspected terrorists and their activities in the months leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks.

As much as anyone working in counterterrorism, John O’Neill knew about this communication breakdown. In fact, just two months before Sept. 11, in a speech to Spanish police on interagency cooperation, he had asked his audience, “How much more successful could we all be if we really knew what our agencies really knew?” O’Neill’s last major FBI investigation — the attack on the USS Cole on Oct. 12, 2000 — was a case study of just how bad inter-agency communication had become.

-The Critical Meeting in Malaysia

The story of this intelligence failure begins with a 1999 CIA breakthrough — the interception of communications from an Al Qaeda logistics center in Yemen about a meeting of operatives that would take place in January 2000 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The names of two of the participants were mentioned: Khalid Almidhar and Nawaf Alhazmi.

The CIA tracked Almidhar on his way to Malaysia. An agent told FRONTLINE that during a passport check at a stopover, the CIA even got access to his Saudi Arabian passport and learned Almidhar had been issued a multiple-entry visa to the U.S.

Once in Kuala Lumpur, the Al Qaeda operatives were photographed — at the CIA’s request — by Malaysian authorities at a series of meetings. Reportedly, no sound recordings were made, but intelligence sources now believe the meetings were held to plan future Al Qaeda attacks. Among the men captured in the surveillance photos were:

Almidhar and Alhazmi (later hijackers of American Flight 77 which flew into the Pentagon on Sept. 11);
Ramzi bin al-Shibh (a Sept. 11 co-conspirator and Mohamed Atta’s roommate. It would not be until after Sept. 11 that bin al-Shibh would be identified in the Malaysia surveillance photos);
Tawfiq bin-Atash — AKA “Khallad” (a suspected intermediary between bin Laden and plotters of the October 2000 USS Cole attack).

The CIA maintains that it did notify the FBI by e-mail of the Malaysia meetings soon after they occurred — and that it did mention Almidhar had a U.S. visa. The FBI, however, states they have no record of this notification.

The CIA admits that it did not inform the bureau that after the Malaysia meetings ended, it tracked Almidhar and Alhazmi to Los Angeles. The CIA further admits that it failed to warn the INS or the State Department, and as a result, the men’s names were not added to a terrorist watch list.

h/t for the tweet that inspired this post to @ZoeSCarpenter

Source / Informed Comment

Fluxed Up World

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Friday, January 10, 2014

America's Firm Grounding in Neo-Nazi Facism

The Malthusian Obsession: Eugenics, American-Style
By Jeffrey St. Clair / January 10, 2014

In 1952, Charlie Follett, a wayward orphan, was a resident of the Sonoma County State Boys Home. One day when he was 14-years old, he was taken to the hospital, told to disrobe and sit on a table. The orderly didn’t explain what was about to happen to him.

“First, they shot me with some kind of medicine. It was supposed to deaden the nerves,” Charlie Follett told the Sacramento Bee, describing his forced vasectomy. “Then the next thing I heard was snip, snip. Then when they did the other side, it seemed like they were pulling my whole insides out.”

Follett was a minor, unaware of what was happening to him or why, unable to resist or even challenge it. The state had simply decided that this teenager (and thousands of others like him) was a derelict, unworthy of the right to reproduce.

Follett was one of at least 20,000 people sterilized against their will by the state of California from 1909 to 1963, in a eugenics program explicitly geared toward ridding the state of “enfeebled” and “defective” people.

California’s eugenics program proved so efficient that in the 1930s, Nazi scientists asked California eugenicists for advice on how to run their own sterilization regime. “Germany used California’s program as its chief example that this was a working, successful policy,” says Christina Cogdell, author of Eugenic Design. ”They modeled their law on California’s law.”

But California wasn’t alone. The state of Virginia forcibly sterilized 8,300 people. North Carolina sterilized 7,600 people against their will, the last in 1974. My home state of Indiana has a wretched record, with 2,500 forced sterilizations, nearly equally divided between young women and men, with most occurring between 1938 and 1953. Oregon, which had a population about half the size of Indiana, performed 2300 sterilizations, with 60 percent of them conducted on patients entombed in the barbarous state mental hospital. The sterilizations were approved by the state-sanctioned Oregon Eugenics Board. Incredibly, this board wasn’t disbanded until 1975, though the state’s eugenics program persisted until 1983.

A grim chapter of history, you say. But the era of sterilization hasn’t ended yet. It has simply migrated from state hospitals and health departments to the courts and medical offices. Take the case of Kathy Looney, a Louisiana woman convicted in 2000 of abusing three of her eight children. She was given a savage choice: either undergo medical sterilization or face lengthy jail time. Ultimately, she agreed to the sterilization and the judge issued a 10-year suspended sentence and placed Ms. Looney on five years of probation.

“I don’t want to have to lock you up to keep you from having any more children,” barked District Judge Carl V. Sharp. “So some kind of medical procedure is needed to make sure you don’t.”

In this context, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a revealing comparison by Drs. Andre N. Sofair and Lauris C. Kaldjian of German and U.S. sterilization policies from 1930 to 1945. During the years when Americans were being involuntarily sterilized as part of a multi-state eugenics program dating back to 1907, what did the leading medical journals here have to say on the topic in their editorials?

The authors reviewed the relevant periodicals only from the 1930s. Even in this narrow time frame, against the backdrop of Nazi eugenic programs, the facts are instructive. The American Journal of Medicine, the Annals of Internal Medicine and the American Journal of Psychiatry had nothing to say. The American Journal of Public Health ran one anonymous editorial on mental health that Sofair and Kaldjian described as “relevant,” probably because it suggested that rising rates of hospitalization for the mentally infirm didn’t necessarily mean that Americans’ mental IQs were falling, a belief that was exploited by the advocates of eugenic sterilization.

A special committee convened by the American Neurological Association endorsed the widely held view that mentally “defective” people were a drain on national resources. The committee took a positive view of “feeblemindedness,” on the grounds that it breeds “servile, useful people who do the dirty work of the race.” The committee reviewed the Germany sterilization law of 1933, and praised it for precision and scientific grounding.

The editorial record of the New England Journal in the early 1930s was dreadful. Editorials lamented the supposed increase in the rate of American feeblemindedness as dangerous, and the economic burden of supporting the mentally feeble as “appalling.” In 1934, The Journal’s editor, Morris Fishbein, wrote that “Germany is perhaps the most progressive nation in restricting fecundity among the unfit,” and argued that the “individual must give way to the greater good.”

While researching our book Whiteout, I came across a remarkable federal court opinion on sterilizations of the poor. In 1974, U.S. District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell wrote that “over the last few years, an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 low-income persons have been sterilized annually in federally-funded programs.”

Gesell pointed out that though Congress had decreed that family planning programs function on a voluntary basis, “an indefinite number of poor people have been improperly coerced into accepting a sterilization operation under the threat that various federally funded benefits would be withdrawn. … Patients receiving Medicaid assistance at childbirth are evidently the most frequent targets of this pressure.”

Starting in the early 1990s, poor women were allowed Medicaid funding to have Norplant inserted into their arms; then, when they complained of pain and other unwelcome side effects, they were told no funding was available to have the Norplant rods taken out. Here, therefore, was a new species of involuntary sterilization, implemented under the approving gaze of Bill and Hillary Clinton, who later imposed their cruel Malthusian obsession on the destitute women of Haiti.

In the coming age of austerity, as poverty, homelessness and huger take deep root across the Republic, the eugenic impulse is almost certain to reemerge, probably dressed in the old progressive guise of social improvement and economic benevolence.

[Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature, Grand Theft Pentagon and Born Under a Bad Sky. His latest book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He can be reached at:]

Source / Counterpunch

Fluxed Up World

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

The First Step to Solving a Problem Is Recognizing That There Is One ....

Source / The New Civil Rights Movement

Thanks to Jerry Withers / Fluxed Up World

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Friday, November 1, 2013

A Little Much-Needed Truth About "Class Warfare"

The Logic of Stupid Poor People
By Tressie McMillan Cottom / October 29, 2013

We hates us some poor people. First, they insist on being poor when it is so easy to not be poor. They do things like buy expensive designer belts and $2500 luxury handbags.

To be fair, this isn’t about Eroll Louis. His is a belief held by many people, including lots of black people, poor people, formerly poor people, etc. It is, I suspect, an honest expression of incredulity. If you are poor, why do you spend money on useless status symbols like handbags and belts and clothes and shoes and televisions and cars?

One thing I’ve learned is that one person’s illogical belief is another person’s survival skill. And nothing is more logical than trying to survive.

My family is a classic black American migration family. We have rural Southern roots, moved north and almost all have returned. I grew up watching my great-grandmother, and later my grandmother and mother, use our minimal resources to help other people make ends meet. We were those good poors, the kind who live mostly within our means. We had a little luck when a male relative got extra military pay when they came home a paraplegic or used the VA to buy a Jim Walter house (pdf). If you were really blessed when a relative died with a paid up insurance policy you might be gifted a lump sum to buy the land that Jim Walters used as collateral to secure your home lease. That’s how generational wealth happens where I’m from: lose a leg, a part of your spine, die right and maybe you can lease-to-own a modular home.

We had a little of that kind of rural black wealth so we were often in a position to help folks less fortunate. But perhaps the greatest resource we had was a bit more education. We were big readers and we encouraged the girl children, especially, to go to some kind of college. Consequently, my grandmother and mother had a particular set of social resources that helped us navigate mostly white bureaucracies to our benefit. We could, as my grandfather would say, talk like white folks. We loaned that privilege out to folks a lot.

I remember my mother taking a next door neighbor down to the social service agency. The elderly woman had been denied benefits to care for the granddaughter she was raising. The woman had been denied in the genteel bureaucratic way — lots of waiting, forms, and deadlines she could not quite navigate. I watched my mother put on her best Diana Ross “Mahogany” outfit: a camel colored cape with matching slacks and knee high boots. I was miffed, as only an only child could be, about sharing my mother’s time with the neighbor girl. I must have said something about why we had to do this. Vivian fixed me with a stare as she was slipping on her pearl earrings and told me that people who can do, must do. It took half a day but something about my mother’s performance of respectable black person — her Queen’s English, her Mahogany outfit, her straight bob and pearl earrings — got done what the elderly lady next door had not been able to get done in over a year. I learned, watching my mother, that there was a price we had to pay to signal to gatekeepers that we were worthy of engaging. It meant dressing well and speaking well. It might not work. It likely wouldn't work but on the off chance that it would, you had to try. It was unfair but, as Vivian also always said, “life isn’t fair little girl.”

I internalized that lesson and I think it has worked out for me, if unevenly. A woman at Belk’s once refused to show me the Dooney and Burke purse I was interested in buying. Vivian once made a salesgirl cry after she ignored us in an empty store. I have walked away from many of hotly desired purchases, like the impractical off-white winter coat I desperately wanted, after some bigot at the counter insulted me and my mother. But, I have half a PhD and I support myself aping the white male privileged life of the mind. It’s a mixed bag. Of course, the trick is you can never know the counterfactual of your life. There is no evidence of access denied. Who knows what I was not granted for not enacting the right status behaviors or symbols at the right time for an agreeable authority? Respectability rewards are a crap-shoot but we do what we can within the limits of the constraints imposed by a complex set of structural and social interactions designed to limit access to status, wealth, and power.

I do not know how much my mother spent on her camel colored cape or knee-high boots but I know that whatever she paid it returned in hard-to-measure dividends. How do you put a price on the double-take of a clerk at the welfare office who decides you might not be like those other trifling women in the waiting room and provides an extra bit of information about completing a form that you would not have known to ask about? What is the retail value of a school principal who defers a bit more to your child because your mother’s presentation of self signals that she might unleash the bureaucratic savvy of middle class parents to advocate for her child? I don’t know the price of these critical engagements with organizations and gatekeepers relative to our poverty when I was growing up. But, I am living proof of its investment yield.

Why do poor people make stupid, illogical decisions to buy status symbols? For the same reason all but only the most wealthy buy status symbols, I suppose. We want to belong. And, not just for the psychic rewards, but belonging to one group at the right time can mean the difference between unemployment and employment, a good job as opposed to a bad job, housing or a shelter, and so on. Someone mentioned on twitter that poor people can be presentable with affordable options from Kmart. But the issue is not about being presentable. Presentable is the bare minimum of social civility. It means being clean, not smelling, wearing shirts and shoes for service and the like. Presentable as a sufficient condition for gainful, dignified work or successful social interactions is a privilege. It’s the aging white hippie who can cut the ponytail of his youthful rebellion and walk into senior management while aging black panthers can never completely outrun the effects of stigmatization against which they were courting a revolution. Presentable is relative and, like life, it ain’t fair.

In contrast, “acceptable” is about gaining access to a limited set of rewards granted upon group membership. I cannot know exactly how often my presentation of acceptable has helped me but I have enough feedback to know it is not inconsequential. One manager at the apartment complex where I worked while in college told me, repeatedly, that she knew I was “Okay” because my little Nissan was clean. That I had worn a Jones of New York suit to the interview really sealed the deal. She could call the suit by name because she asked me about the label in the interview. Another hiring manager at my first professional job looked me up and down in the waiting room, cataloging my outfit, and later told me that she had decided I was too classy to be on the call center floor. I was hired as a trainer instead. The difference meant no shift work, greater prestige, better pay and a baseline salary for all my future employment.

I have about a half dozen other stories like this. What is remarkable is not that this happened. There is empirical evidence that women and people of color are judged by appearances differently and more harshly than are white men. What is remarkable is that these gatekeepers told me the story. They wanted me to know how I had properly signaled that I was not a typical black or a typical woman, two identities that in combination are almost always conflated with being poor.

I sat in on an interview for a new administrative assistant once. My regional vice president was doing the hiring. A long line of mostly black and brown women applied because we were a cosmetology school. Trade schools at the margins of skilled labor in a gendered field are necessarily classed and raced. I found one candidate particularly charming. She was trying to get out of a salon because 10 hours on her feet cutting hair would average out to an hourly rate below minimum wage. A desk job with 40 set hours and medical benefits represented mobility for her. When she left my VP turned to me and said, “did you see that tank top she had on under her blouse?! OMG, you wear a silk shell, not a tank top!” Both of the women were black.

The VP had constructed her job as senior management. She drove a brand new BMW because she, “should treat herself” and liked to tell us that ours was an image business. A girl wearing a cotton tank top as a shell was incompatible with BMW-driving VPs in the image business. Gatekeeping is a complex job of managing boundaries that do not just define others but that also define ourselves. Status symbols — silk shells, designer shoes, luxury handbags — become keys to unlock these gates. If I need a job that will save my lower back and move my baby from medicaid to an HMO, how much should I spend signaling to people like my former VP that I will not compromise her status by opening the door to me? That candidate maybe could not afford a proper shell. I will never know. But I do know that had she gone hungry for two days to pay for it or missed wages for a trip to the store to buy it, she may have been rewarded a job that could have lifted her above minimum wage. Shells aren’t designer handbags, perhaps. But a cosmetology school in a strip mall isn’t a job at Bank of America, either.

At the heart of these incredulous statements about the poor decisions poor people make is a belief that we would never be like them. We would know better. We would know to save our money, eschew status symbols, cut coupons, practice puritanical sacrifice to amass a million dollars. There is a regular news story of a lunch lady who, unbeknownst to all who knew her, died rich and leaves it all to a cat or a charity or some such. Books about the modest lives of the rich like to tell us how they drive Buicks instead of BMWs. What we forget, if we ever know, is that what we know now about status and wealth creation and sacrifice are predicated on who we are, i.e. not poor. If you change the conditions of your not-poor status, you change everything you know as a result of being a not-poor. You have no idea what you would do if you were poor until you are poor. And not intermittently poor or formerly not-poor, but born poor, expected to be poor and treated by bureaucracies, gatekeepers and well-meaning respectability authorities as inherently poor. Then, and only then, will you understand the relative value of a ridiculous status symbol to someone who intuits that they cannot afford to not have it.

Source / tressiemc

Thanks to Alan Brodrick / Fluxed Up World

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Friday, October 25, 2013

To Retain Your Perspective, Throw Away Your Television

Source / YouTube

Thanks to Telebob / Fluxed Up World

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Russell Brand Rants On the Corporate Establishment

Source / Common Dreams

Fluxed Up World

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

We Still Seek the Cure Even When the Cause Is Under Our Noses

Protestor at the March Against Monsanto in Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 12, 2013.

Source / March Against Monsanto Facebook Page

Fluxed Up World

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