Amy Goodman's Blog
June 2, 2016
By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan
It was a bad week for dictators, and a good one for international justice. Two brutal, U.S.-backed dictators who ruled decades ago were convicted for crimes they committed while in power. Hissene Habre took control of the northern African nation of Chad in 1982, and unleashed a reign of terror against his own people, killing at least 40,000 of them, until he was deposed in 1990. Reynaldo Bignone was a general in the Argentinian military, and was the last dictator of the military junta that ruled that country from 1976 to 1983, the period known as ���The Dirty War,��� when an estimated 30,000 dissidents were ���disappeared,��� i.e., killed. Both men will most likely spend the rest of their lives in prison. These verdicts won���t bring back the tens of thousands they tortured and killed, but, hopefully, they will hasten the end of the modern era of impunity for human-rights abusers and their allies.
Bignone���s guilty verdict for his role in the transnational ���Operation Condor��� conspiracy was not his first. He was one of the Argentine generals who overthrew that country���s government in 1976. Bignone took a lead role in setting up and running several of the hundreds of secret detention centers where people suspected of communist or left-wing sympathies were taken and, in most cases, tortured, then killed. Argentina in those years was led by a succession of military dictators, with Bignone being the last in the line, ruling from 1982 to 1983. Bignone oversaw the destruction of documents and other evidence that might have implicated him and his fellow junta members in human-rights abuses and crimes against humanity, and also granted blanket immunity to himself and others, protecting them from future prosecution. Eventually, the amnesty was overturned, and Bignone was convicted in 2010 for the rampant kidnapping, torture and murder he oversaw.
Bignone���s most recent guilty verdict was for his role in Operation Condor, in which six U.S.-backed South American dictatorships���Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay���conspired to track down and kidnap or kill dissidents anywhere in the world. Bignone, 88, now has an additional 20 years added to the life sentence he is currently serving. Operation Condor was coordinated out of Chile, then under dictator Augusto Pinochet, and with the knowledge of the U.S. government, and in particular, then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Chad is a mostly desert country in northern Africa that was under French colonial rule from 1900 to 1960. Sectarian warfare followed. U.S. President Ronald Reagan supported a coup in Chad, led by Hissene Habre, despite knowing his record of brutality. Habre had a mass grave behind his residence. He ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990, and he terrorized his critics, both real and imagined. More than 40,000 people were killed, many tortured in the notorious ���Piscine,��� or ���the Pool,��� a prison and torture center located in a converted swimming pool.
In 2001, 11 years after Habre fled to Senegal (taking most of Chad���s national treasury with him), an intrepid attorney with Human Rights Watch, Reed Brody, entered the abandoned headquarters of Habre���s notorious secret police force, the DDS. What he found there was astounding: thousands upon thousands of documents, dust-covered and forgotten, that detailed arrests, torture and killing of more than 13,000 of Habre���s victims. This documentary evidence, along with unrelenting organizing among the victims themselves, by people like prison survivor Souleymane Guengueng, led to the first trial in an African nation of a former head of state from another African nation. In the past, such trials have taken place in international tribunals, outside of the continent. Senegal formed a special court specifically to try his case.
���It hurts me that many of my colleagues died along the way. They could not be here to see the result, which is why I was moved and brought to tears,��� Souleymane Guengueng said after the verdict was read. ���Hissene Habre was sentenced to life imprisonment. He will finish off his life in prison, and that���s all we wanted. I hope this serves as a lesson to all the other dictators out there.���
Bignone and the Argentine junta, and Hissene Habre, could not have committed their atrocities were it not for the support of the U.S. government. Secretary of State John Kerry called Habre���s verdict ���an opportunity for the United States to reflect on, and learn from, our own connection with past events in Chad.��� The U.S. should definitely reflect on, and learn from, these guilty verdicts. But we also should investigate, charge and put on trial U.S. government officials who aided and abetted these dictators. We need a uniform standard of justice, applied equally, across the globe.
May 26, 2016
By Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan
Thursday, Jan. 28, was a cold morning in Durham, North Carolina. Wildin David Guillen Acosta went outside to head to school, but never made it. He was thrown to the ground and arrested by agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He has been in detention ever since. Wildin, now 19 years old, fled his home in Olancho, Honduras more than two years ago. He was detained when crossing the border, but, as he was a minor at the time, he was allowed to join his family in North Carolina. He started out at Riverside High School, and was set to graduate this June. He wanted to become an engineer. Instead, he has been locked up in the notorious Stewart Detention Center in rural Lumpkin, Georgia, which is run by the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America.
Wildin is just one of hundreds of thousands of children who have fled the violence of Central America in recent years, either alone or, often, with their mothers. They come primarily from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Honduras is now one of the world���s most violent countries, and Olancho has one of the highest murder rates there, causing many to flee. The U.S. Army and the Drug Enforcement Administration both have special-forces units permanently stationed there, joining in counternarcotics operations that have also killed Hondurans.
Wildin was arrested in part of a series of immigration raids, dubbed ���Operation Border Guardian.��� Many believe its intent was to create fear among those still in Central America who might consider taking the perilous journey north to the U.S. ���As I have said repeatedly, our borders are not open to illegal migration,��� Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said at the time. ���If you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values.��� Immediately after Wildin���s arrest, family, friends, classmates and teachers at Riverside High demonstrated their values, rallying to support him and five others who were similarly arrested. The group of imprisoned youth is often referred to as the ���NC6.��� Durham���s Human Relations Commission appealed to ICE to release him, as did the Durham City Council.
���There is so much fear in our community, because, unfortunately, he is not the only child that they have detained,��� said one of Wildin���s teachers, Ellen Holmes, in a support video. ���It���s creating absences and dropouts in our schools. It���s creating just a huge feeling of fear inside our school and in our community.��� While there is scant evidence that the mass arrests and deportations have slowed the flow of Central American refugees to the U.S., they have certainly scared students and families currently here, forcing them to keep their kids out of school lest they be swept up like Wildin.
Wildin���s request for asylum was denied, and on March 19, an immigration judge denied his appeal to reopen his case. He was set for deportation back to Honduras on March 20. However, bowing to the enormous public pressure brought by this youth-led grass-roots organizing, ICE Director Sarah Saldana issued an order that morning, delaying his deportation. Wildin���s case for asylum is before the Board of Immigration Appeals, a process that could take months or even years to resolve.
���He should be released. Ninety days, by any standard, is an egregious period of time to be spending in detention,��� Paromita Shah told us on the ���Democracy Now!��� news hour. She is the associate director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and was in Washington, D.C., with several Riverside High students and teacher Ellen Holmes, visiting members of Congress and Education Secretary John B. King Jr., asking them to support Wildin.
Axel Herrera was one of the students who went to Washington. Like Wildin, he was an undocumented immigrant from Honduras, but entered at the age of 7, and thus qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. ���We���ve talked to representatives. We���ve made calls. We���ve sent letters. We���ve gotten support from a few of our congressmen in North Carolina to ask for their release,��� he told us. ���But we haven���t had the response we���ve wanted, which is to have Wildin and have some of the other NC6 back at our schools.���
Wildin Acosta remains locked up in ICE���s private prison in Georgia. His request that his schoolwork be sent to him was initially denied. After public outcry, the warden relented. Many high-school students get detention for refusing to study. Wildin is stuck in permanent detention, and he has to fight for his right to study. That is determination and commitment Jeh Johnson and everyone at ICE should agree is ���consistent with our values.���
May 19, 2016
By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan
���Welcome to Fort McMurray. We have the energy,��� reads the signs as one enters this northern deep-woods outpost at the center of the Alberta tar sands petroleum-extraction zone. The forests surrounding Fort McMurray are on fire, closing in on the vast tar sands operations. More than 90,000 people have been evacuated, most from Fort McMurray, but thousands more from the oil sands work camps, where what is considered the dirtiest oil on the planet is extracted from tarry sand dug from earth-scarring open-pit mines. Across the hemisphere, the oil giant Shell has begun cleanup operations in the Gulf of Mexico, where oil-drilling operations have leaked, spilling more than 2,000 barrels of oil into the water, 97 miles off the coast of Louisiana.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported this week in its annual Greenhouse Gas Index that ���human activity has increased the direct warming effect of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere by 50 percent above pre-industrial levels during the past 25 years.��� The U.S. space agency NASA reported that April was the hottest April in recorded history, by a greater margin than ever. This continues a streak of month after month breaking each month���s temperature record.
The official response to catastrophic climate change is embodied in the Paris Agreement, the 31-page document agreed to by 175 countries so far. The agreement, reached last December in Paris and signed in April, was the culmination of years of negotiations that many criticized as being far from ���FAB���: Fair, Ambitious or Binding. The agreement is overseen by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, which is now holding a high-level meeting in Bonn, Germany, the first since the Paris Agreement was settled.
Kumi Naidoo, the former head of Greenpeace International, told us in Paris on the eve of the release of the final Paris Agreement, ���There are so many loopholes in that draft text, you could fly Air Force One through it ... the bottom line is, I would say that the fingerprints of the fossil-fuel industry is in far too many places on this draft text.��� He added, ���Most of us in civil society never said, ���The road to Paris,��� we always said, ���The road through Paris.������
And along that road, coordinated globally to precede the Bonn meeting, people are putting their bodies on the line, with blockades, sit-ins, banner-hangs and a whole constellation of confrontational actions, driven by the urgency of the climate crisis. Here is just a sample of some of the protests from the past two weeks, as summarized by the climate action nonprofit group 350.org:
In the U.K., protesters shut down the country���s largest open-cast coal mine for a day. A similar protest halted coal shipments in Newcastle, Australia. In the U.S., people occupied train tracks overnight to stop ���bomb trains,��� oil-filled tanker cars that have exploded in the past, killing hundreds. In Germany, 3,500 people shut down a lignite mine and nearby power station for over 48 hours. In the Philippines, 10,000 marched against a proposed coal plant. Community members blocked traffic outside the gates of Brazil���s largest thermal coal plant. On land and water, people blockaded the Kinder Morgan tar sands facility in Vancouver, and in Turkey, 2,000 people marched to a large coal dump and surrounded it with a giant red line.
World-renowned linguist and political dissident Noam Chomsky has just written a new book called ���Who Rules the World?��� He says that the two critical issues facing humanity are nuclear weapons and climate change, and that it is astounding how rarely these issues are addressed in the 2016 presidential campaign.
���When the Republicans on the Supreme Court just recently beat back a pretty moderate proposed Obama regulation on coal, that again is a message to the world, says, ���Don���t bother doing anything,������ Chomsky told us last week. ���The biggest, most powerful country in the world doesn���t care, so ���you go ahead and do what you like.��� This is all literally saying, ���Let���s race to the precipice.������
There is hope in people taking action, though. In Professor Chomsky���s home state of Massachusetts, four teenage high-school students sued the state Department of Environmental Protection, claiming the state was breaking its own law mandating a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions of 80 percent by 2050 by not taking action quickly enough. This week, the state���s highest court agreed, and Massachusetts must now implement a plan to cut emissions.
There has long been a clarion call to save the planet for future generations. It becomes increasingly clear that it is the younger generation that will save us all.
May 12, 2016
By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan
The White House announced this week that President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, the site of the world���s first atomic-bomb attack. He will be the first sitting president to go there, and only the second president ever, after former President Jimmy Carter visited in 1984. Obama���s pilgrimage to Hiroshima, where 140,000 people were killed and another 100,000 seriously injured on Aug. 6, 1945, will not be accompanied by a formal apology. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the trip was to highlight Obama���s ���continued commitment to pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.��� Yet the Obama administration also recently revealed its 30-year, $1 trillion plan to modernize the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal.
With each passing year, fewer and fewer survivors of the horrific attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain to provide eyewitness accounts. These survivors are referred to with great respect in Japan as ���hibakusha.��� In 2014, we were given a tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park by a hibakusha, Koji Hosokawa. He was 17 in 1945. His sister was 13. ���My biggest sorrow in my life is about my younger sister, who died in the atomic bomb,��� he said.
While in Japan, we also went to Tokyo to speak with the world-renowned writer Kenzaburo Oe in his publisher���s office. He won the 1994 Nobel Prize for literature. We asked him if President Obama should apologize for the two atomic bombings: ���I am not seeking an apology, whether from the president or from any kind of person, in regards to this issue,��� he told us. ���I believe the fact that humanity did create these nuclear weapons is a crime that all of humanity is responsible for. And I believe this is an issue of a much greater scale than any individual politician could make an apology for.��� Oe, 81, is not a hibakusha, but is a survivor of World War II, and the experience as a child deeply impacted him.
As if anticipating the criticism that Obama is now receiving, accused of mounting an ���apology tour,��� Kenzaburo Oe said in 2014: ���I believe that if Mr. Obama were to come to the memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, for example, what he could do is come together with the hibakusha, the survivors, and share that moment of silence, and also express considering the issue of nuclear weapons from the perspective of all humanity and how important nuclear abolition is. [This,] I think, would be the most important thing that any politician or representative could do at this time.���
Since those two devastating bombings in 1945, on Aug. 6 in Hiroshima and Aug. 9 in Nagasaki, there have thankfully been no more military attacks with nuclear weapons. The U.S. and the Soviet Union came close, and nuclear warheads remain armed and aimed in both the U.S. and Russian arsenals. Kevin Martin of Peace Action, responding to the news of Obama���s planned trip to Hiroshima, also places little importance on an apology. Instead, he offers this brief list of to-do items for the president:
���Taking our nuclear weapons off of hair-trigger alert, separating the warheads from their delivery systems, initiating negotiations for the elimination of nuclear weapons globally, initiating talks on a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction. ... But even the current deployed nuclear weapons, we could go down to a thousand or fewer, as the Pentagon has suggested in the past. Those are just some of the steps that would be meaningful and worth a trip to Hiroshima.���
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is a beautiful, haunting place. The most iconic landmark is the ���A-bomb dome,��� atop a large building that was not completely destroyed. As we left the memorial, Koji Hosokawa told us to stop. He looked us in the eye and told us not to forget the victims: ���People lived here. They lived here.��� President Obama should meet Koji Hosokawa and other hibakusha, and hear their stories.
May 6, 2016
BY AMY GOODMAN DENIS MOYNIHAN
A prophet of peace has passed. Daniel Berrigan, a Catholic Jesuit priest, a protester, a poet, a dedicated uncle and brother, died last weekend at the age of 94. His near-century on Earth was marked by compassion and love for humanity, and an unflinching commitment to justice and peace. He spent years in prison for his courageous, peaceful actions against war, living and practising the gospel that he preached. He launched movements, inspired millions, wrote beautifully and, with a wry smile, shared his love of life with family, friends and those with whom he prayed and fought for peace.
Dan, his brother Philip Berrigan and several others peacefully raided a draft board in 1967 and poured their own blood on the records to signify the blood being spilt in the war. A year later, on May 17, 1968, just weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., they and seven others famously removed draft records from the Catonsville, Maryland draft board, and set fire to them with homemade napalm, singing a hymn around the pyre until they were arrested.
"Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlour of the charnel house," Dan Berrigan wrote in the statement released by the group before the action, as they knew they would be arrested. "We could not, so help us God, do otherwise."
The actions of the Catonsville Nine, as the group would come to be known, ratcheted up the intensity of anti-war actions everywhere. Some individuals had burned their draft cards before then, but after the Catonsville action, it became an iconic and increasingly common tactic to demonstrate actual and symbolic opposition to the war. "We have chosen to be powerless criminals in a time of criminal power. We have chosen to be branded as peace criminals by war criminals," he said.
Daniel Berrigan was convicted and, before turning himself in to serve his prison sentence, went underground. Despite being placed on the FBI's Most Wanted list, Berrigan popped up around the country, giving anti-war speeches. He spoke at a large rally at Cornell University, where he was the campus chaplain. Afterward, as the FBI and police closed in on him, Berrigan hid inside one of the Bread & Puppet political theatre troupe's giant puppets. Thus disguised, he exited Cornell's Barton Hall, eluding arrest. Authorities finally caught up to him on Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island, and arrested him. A famous photo captured the moment, as a smiling Father Berrigan is shown being led, handcuffed, by two joyless FBI men who were on the island posing as bird-watchers.
"Given the fact that the American machine is not working well, either in its inner gears, or in its meshing with the world, good men must take action," he wrote in his memoir, No Bars to Manhood. "Some of them ... must be willing to go to jail."
In 1980, Berrigan, again with his brother Phil and others, broke into a General Electric missile plant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. They hammered on missile nose cones, damaging them beyond repair, and poured their blood on the damaged parts. Their action that day launched the Plowshares Movement, which has grown into a global movement. Plowshares actions are inspired by a line from the Old Testament, Isaiah 2:4:
"They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore."
Dan Berrigan fight for peace challenged the U.S. government, the Pentagon and his own Catholic Church's hierarchy. For that last sin, he was banished by the church from the United States. His exile included trips to Latin America and South Africa, which, far from curing him of his commitment to fight injustice, only strengthened it.
We last saw Berrigan, who we and so many others affectionately called "Father Dan," two years ago in the retirement home for elderly Jesuits, at Fordham University in the Bronx. At 93, he was frail, but his eyes twinkled when we gave him his favorite food: ice cream. His devotion to ice cream and social justice earned him his own flavor of Ben & Jerry's, as well as a lifetime supply of their ice cream for him and for the Catholic Worker movement that he so loved.
Daniel J. Berrigan lived his life true to his calling, literally practising what he preached. Rest in peace, Dan Berrigan, just as you lived.
April 28, 2016
By Amy Goodman and Denis Moyhihan
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. ��� The business press is all atwitter with merger news, as federal regulators are set to approve a massive deal between cable giants Charter, Time Warner and Bright House Networks. The $78 billion transaction will create the second-largest cable TV/Internet company, dubbed ���New Charter,��� next to Comcast, and leave just three major cable providers in the U.S. Meanwhile, the Gannett Company, which owns more than 100 newspapers, including USA Today, is attempting to acquire Tribune Publishing, which owns several major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.
This looming consolidation in the corporate media is happening as we celebrate ���Democracy Now!��� news hour���s 20th anniversary. We are on a 100-city tour of the United States, going from city to city, hosting fundraisers for community media outlets and broadcasting the news as we travel. Our travels confirm that a thriving, vibrant community media sector exists, serving the public interest, free from the demands to turn a profit at any cost.
On Feb. 19, 1996, ���Democracy Now!��� began as the only daily election show in public broadcasting. President Bill Clinton was running for re-election against Kansas Sen. Bob Dole and third-party candidate Ross Perot. The plan was for the show to run through Election Day. Our hope was that the issues in the presidential race were important enough and the audience cared enough that they would tune in to daily coverage that brought them voices and ideas not normally heard in the corporate media.
That���s how we started: giving a voice to the grass roots. When the election wrapped up, we thought that ���Democracy Now!��� would wrap up as well. But there was more demand for the show after the elections than before. Why? There is a hunger for authentic voices ��� not the same handful of pundits circulating through all the media networks who know so little about so much, explaining the world to us and getting it so wrong.
The show began on just nine community radio stations in 1996. Today, it���s carried on more than 1,400 outlets, a remarkable constellation of community media organizations: PBS, NPR and Pacifica public radio and television broadcasters, college and community stations, public-access television facilities, low-power FM radio stations, as well as online news organizations and, of course, the many newspapers that carry this column.
These outlets each serve their community uniquely, providing relevant, locally created and curated content. As we travel, we see the connection that local media institutions help forge, both within a community but also across traditional barriers of race, class and age.
Take, for example, the new low-power FM (LPFM) radio station that is being built in Albuquerque, New Mexico. LPFM is a noncommercial radio service that recently got a boost from the Federal Communications Commission after activists spent years pushing the federal government to allow more stations. This new station in Albuquerque is licensed to a long-standing media nonprofit called Quote...Unquote, which provides training in digital-media creation, to empower people to tell their own stories.
To launch the station, they have partnered with the Robert F. Kennedy High School, a remarkable school in the South Valley, one of the poorest neighborhoods of Albuquerque, with a population of students who are largely undocumented immigrants. ���We serve students that traditional schools have given up on,��� Robert Baade, RFK���s director, told us. ���The radio station will be one more tool for them, to allow them to speak for themselves.���
This is just one of hundreds of innovative community media institutions that we are supporting as we travel the country. They are largely nonprofit, supported by enthusiastic volunteers, and are hyperlocal, beloved by the communities they serve.
Juxtapose this with increasingly consolidated major media corporations. ���Thanks to this merger both Charter and Comcast now have unprecedented control over our cable and Internet connections,��� Craig Aaron, of the media reform organization Free Press, said after the news broke that these two corporations will likely merge. ���Their crushing monopoly power will mean fewer choices, higher prices, no accountability and no competition.���
Even in this high-tech digital age, all we get is static: that veil of distortion, lies, misrepresentations and half-truths that obscure reality. We need the media to give us the dictionary definition of static: Criticism. Opposition. Unwanted interference. We need a media that covers power, not covers for power. We need a media that is the Fourth Estate, not for the state. And we need a media that covers the movements that create static and make history. That is the power of independent media. That is a media that will save us.
April 21, 2016
By Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan
U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced Wednesday that the revised $20 bill will feature the portrait of the legendary abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Tubman was born a slave, escaped to freedom and became a conductor on the Underground Railroad, as well as a campaigner for women���s right to vote. She will be replacing President Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. He was a contemporary of hers, who owned slaves (one of 18 presidents who did so) and became wealthy from their forced labor. The decision was influenced by grass-roots action, Lew said, as hundreds of thousands weighed in with their suggestions for which women to honor. It also was not without controversy.
Tubman was the middle of nine children, born Araminta ���Minty��� Ross in 1822 on a plantation in Maryland, not far from where Frederick Douglass was enslaved. She married John Tubman in 1844, and changed her name to Harriet to honor her mother. In 1849, she escaped north (about 10 years after Douglass managed to do so), but wasted no time returning clandestinely to the place of her enslavement to help rescue her family. She became renowned for her daring, late-night escapes, leading slave families to freedom. The slaves called her, simply, ���Moses.��� The slave owners put a bounty on her head. She went on to serve as a nurse during the Civil War, then as a spy. She is considered the first woman to lead an armed expedition in combat, guiding Union forces in South Carolina on a raid that freed over 700 slaves. She did all this without a formal education, never having learned to read or write.
Despite these remarkable achievements, the nation she fought for did not treat her well after the war. She struggled financially later in life, taking on boarders and earning money however she could. Even though she was a combat veteran, it took her decades to win a modest pension from the federal government for her wartime service. She died in her early 90s in the town that she had adopted as her home, Auburn, New York, where she lies buried.
Lew also wrote in his announcement that Andrew Jackson would remain on the bill, just placed on its back side. Jackson should be removed entirely. He was not only a slave owner, but also participated in the genocide against the indigenous population. The Cherokee people called him Sharp Knife, indicating his extreme violence against them.
Akiba Solomon, writing in the racial-justice publication Colorlines, commented: ���Several people have suggested that Tubman on the front, Jackson on the back is a late April Fool���s joke or the product of a 4/20 binge. It is neither. It���s America.��� Others have critiqued the decision to use Tubman���s image at all, writing that Tubman fought her whole life against U.S. capitalism, and that consigning her to the country���s most popular bill is an insult to her legacy.
But how do we popularize the work of revolutionaries? What better tribute to her lifetime of struggle could there be than to place her image into the hands of hundreds of millions of people? Imagine if the minimum-wage movement, currently dubbed the ���fight for fifteen,��� were to be transformed by the defiant visage on that $20 bill. Many felt just years ago that a demand for a $15-an-hour minimum wage was unfathomable; now it has become the norm, with city after city and increasingly state after state moving toward that wage. Let Harriet Tubman on the $20 become the image for the next stage of the movement, the Harriet Tubman movement for the $20-per-hour minimum wage. Let the Harriet Tubman $20 bill become the hallmark of a renewed demand for reparations to African-Americans for the lasting devastations of slavery.
The story of Harriet Tubman, of her courageous resistance to injustice, of her fight to free slaves, for equality for women���all this must be the common currency of our democracy.
April 15, 2016
By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan
STANFORD, Calif.������Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.��� These were the words from the Hindu religious text, the Bhagavad-Gita, that flashed through the mind of the man credited with creating the first atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, as the first nuclear explosion in history lit up the dark desert sky at the Trinity blast site in New Mexico on July 16, 1945.
Weeks after that, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, then Nagasaki, killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, and thrust the world into the atomic age. Since then, humanity has lived with the terrible prospect of nuclear war and mass annihilation. Conventional wisdom holds that the likelihood that these unconventional weapons will be used has decreased since the end of the so-called Cold War. That perception has been challenged lately, especially since President Barack Obama announced a 30-year, $1 trillion program to modernize the U.S. nuclear-weapon arsenal.
Secretary of State John Kerry visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum on Monday, the first sitting U.S. secretary of state to visit the site. Kerry was in Japan for a meeting of the G-7 nations. In his public remarks at the memorial, Kerry offered no apology for the nuclear attacks. He did say, though, that the museum ���was a reminder of the depth of obligation that every single one of us in public life carries���in fact, every person in position of responsibility carries���to work for peace ... to create and pursue a world free from nuclear weapons.���
Despite the lofty rhetoric, President Obama has launched what the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability calls the ���Trillion Dollar Trainwreck.��� That is the title of a new report on Obama���s massive plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear-weapons arsenal, to be released next Monday. Marylia Kelley is one of the report���s authors. She serves as executive director of Tri-Valley CAREs, or Communities Against a Radioactive Environment, a partner organization with the Alliance. Of Kerry���s visit to Hiroshima, Kelley said, on the ���Democracy Now!��� news hour, ���Kerry went empty-handed. The United States needs to go with a concrete plan to roll back its own nuclear-weapons program. You cannot preach abstinence, in terms of nuclear weapons, from the biggest bar stool in the room.���
���The United States is initiating a new nuclear arms race, because the other nuclear-armed states, of course, when they look at our ���modernization program,��� are now beginning their own,��� she told us. ���We need this to be rolled back.��� Kelley lives in Livermore, California, home to one of the U.S. government���s national laboratories dedicated to developing and manufacturing nuclear bombs.
President Obama delivered his first address on the U.S. nuclear arsenal on April 5, 2009, in Prague: ���Today, the Cold War has disappeared but thousands of those weapons have not. In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. More nations have acquired these weapons. Testing has continued. Black-market trade in nuclear secrets and nuclear materials abound,��� he said.
As with his pledge to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, his pledge to move the U.S. toward nuclear disarmament seems to have been abandoned. Grass-roots groups in the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability would like to see Obama make an historic trip to Hiroshima, as the first sitting U.S. president to do so. ���If Obama goes to Hiroshima,��� Marylia Kelley said, ���he needs to use that as an opportunity, not to speak empty promises and rhetoric about an eventual world free of nuclear weapons, but to make concrete proposals about how the United States is going to take steps in that direction and how we���re going to change course, because right now we���re taking giant steps in the opposite direction.���
The U.S. nuclear arsenal, and all the expense, nuclear waste and immense danger it continuously poses, has received almost no attention in the U.S. presidential debates. The day after he launched his campaign in late May 2015, Sen. Bernie Sanders was asked about the trillion-dollar nuclear-arsenal upgrade at a town hall in New Hampshire. ���What all of this is about is our national priorities,��� he replied. ���Who are we as a people? Does Congress listen to the military-industrial complex, who has never seen a war that they didn���t like? Or do we listen to the people of this country who are hurting?���
In 1946, the year after Trinity, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Albert Einstein, whose theory of relativity gave birth to the atomic bomb, offered a warning to the world that remains starkly relevant today: ���The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.���
April 7, 2016
By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan
When victims defend themselves, they put themselves at risk of becoming doubly victimized���first by their abusers, then by the criminal justice system.
Cherelle Baldwin is lucky to be alive. She was repeatedly abused by her ex-partner. She was attacked by him in her own home and defended herself, for which she went to prison. Domestic violence, also referred to as intimate partner violence, afflicts millions of people annually, mostly, but not exclusively, women. When victims defend themselves, they put themselves at risk of becoming doubly victimized: first by their abuser, then at the hands of the criminal-justice system. Women of color are particularly vulnerable, as Cherelle Baldwin���s case so starkly demonstrates.
Cherelle Baldwin met Jeffrey Brown in Connecticut in 2010, when she was 19 years old. Before long they had a baby boy together. Brown became abusive, and by 2013 the couple had split up. After that, according to court documents, Brown repeatedly threatened her, took her credit cards and money, and assaulted her during visits to see their son. She eventually got a court order barring threats, harassment and assaults during visits, but Brown continued sending threatening texts. On May 18, 2013, he sent over a dozen threats via text, two of which read ���DOA on sight��� (sic), indicating she would be Dead On Arrival. His car was parked down the street.
Cherelle was awakened to find Brown in her room. He beat her, and strangled and whipped her with a belt. She fled the house in her nightgown, without her shoes or her glasses. She raced into her car. ���She crashed her car into a cement wall,��� her defense attorney, Miles Gerety, told us on the ���Democracy Now!��� news hour. ���She wakes up next to the car, not really knowing what had happened, because she had retrograde amnesia.��� What happened next is unclear. Baldwin suffered a broken leg in the crash. Police found Jeffrey Brown pinned between the car and the wall, dead. According to Gerety, he still had the belt that he had used to beat Baldwin wrapped around his hand.
Despite her injuries, despite the order of protection, despite the slew of threatening text messages from Brown against her, Cherelle Baldwin was charged with first-degree murder and remanded to Connecticut���s maximum-security prison, with bail set at $1 million. After a six-week trial, 11 of the 12 jurors voted to acquit. One juror held out, so the judge declared a mistrial. The prosecutor sought a second trial, insisting on maintaining the impossibly high bail. Baldwin remained behind bars.
Last week, at her second trial, Baldwin was acquitted of all charges. Yet she had spent close to three years in prison���her only crime being the inability to meet bail. The U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to courts in March about the problem of jailing poor people who can���t pay fines or meet bail. It read, in part, ���Bail that is set without regard to defendants��� financial capacity can result in the incarceration of individuals not because they pose a threat to public safety or a flight risk, but rather because they cannot afford the assigned bail amount.���
Baldwin���s case parallels another that got far more media attention. In August 2010 in Florida, Marissa Alexander, also an African-American and a mother of three, defended herself against her abusive estranged husband. When he threatened her in her own home, she fired her licensed pistol into the ceiling as a warning. He fled, called the police, and she was arrested. She was charged with aggravated assault, convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Marissa Alexander tried to use Florida���s ���stand your ground��� law in her defense. The prosecutor, Angela Corey, also prosecuted white vigilante George Zimmerman for the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman succeeded in using the stand your ground defense. Alexander did not. Ohio State University law professor Michelle Alexander compared the cases of Marissa Alexander and George Zimmerman on ���Democracy Now!,��� calling Marissa���s case a ���stark example of the discriminatory application of the stand your ground law itself. Here is a woman firing shots in the air to protect herself from what she believed is an abusive spouse, and she winds up getting 20 years, while George Zimmerman is released scot-free after pursuing someone based on racial stereotypes and assumptions of criminality.���
Marissa Alexander eventually won an appeal, but, facing the potential of 60 years behind bars in a retrial, accepted a plea bargain for time served plus two years of house arrest. She is in her second year of that now.
Back in Connecticut, Cherelle Baldwin is slowly but surely trying to put her life back together with her 4-year-old son. Cherelle and Marissa are just two of the 12.7 million people in the U.S. who are physically abused, raped or stalked by their partners annually. This national crisis, and related issues of mass incarceration and racial discrimination in the criminal-justice system, deserves a full public hearing, especially during this presidential election year.
March 31, 2016
By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan
Opponents call it "the Bathroom Bill." In a special session last week, the North Carolina state legislature passed HB2, officially called the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act. Gov. Pat McCrory signed the law that night. The new law denies transgender people use of the bathroom, changing room or locker room that matches their gender identity. Resistance to the bill is fierce, and growing daily.
HB2 was rushed into law in response to the expansion of the anti-discrimination ordinance in Charlotte, North Carolina, passed just over a month ago. The city law added protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. The state law bans local governments from making any such accommodation, rendering Charlotte's inclusive ordinance illegal. Similar bills have been put forth in states "from Washington state to Virginia (and everywhere in-between)," writes Chase Strangio, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union.
"The larger context in which these laws are playing out is deeply disturbing," Strangio told us on the "Democracy Now!" news hour. "The North Carolina law is almost a greatest hits of all of the terrible things we've seen in the almost 200 bills that have been introduced targeting LGBT people this year."
The ACLU has filed suit challenging the constitutionality of HB2. "You pass an unconstitutional law Wednesday night, we're going to sue you on Monday morning," Strangio said. We spoke with one of the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit, Payton McGarry, a 20-year-old sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro ��� the site of the legendary Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins against segregation in 1960.
Of the immediate impact on his life, McGarry said, "It's requiring me to use the female restroom ... this is distressing because I used the female restroom until it was not feasible for me to, until I was getting pushed, shoved, slapped, screamed at every time I went into a female bathroom." Strangio concurred: "It means that trans people are now completely unable to participate in public life, because trans people have no idea where they're supposed to go to the bathroom."
The bathroom ban is a symptom of systemic, institutionalized discrimination against transgender people. Last year, more transgender people were murdered in the United States than in any previous year. In particular, Chad Griffin, president of Human Rights Campaign, writes, "transgender women of color are facing an epidemic of violence that occurs at the intersections of racism, sexism and transphobia." A survey of 6,450 people in the U.S. who identify as transgender, conducted by the National LGBTQ Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, found that respondents were four times more likely to live in poverty than the average American. A stunning 41 percent had attempted suicide.
As HB2 became law, Charlotte marked the one-year anniversary of the suicide of Blake Brockington, the first transgender high school homecoming king in North Carolina. In a video shot before his death, 18-year-old Brockington said, "I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, in a Southern Baptist home. I've always been kind of different, and it was always a bad thing in my family. ... And it's been really hard. High school has been really hard." On being crowned homecoming king, he said, "It made me feel like, for once, I could just be ... a normal teenage boy just doing normal teenage guy things, like being homecoming king."
North Carolina's attorney general, Roy Cooper, who is running for governor against Pat McCrory, announced he would not defend the new law in court. More than 90 major corporate CEOs, including those from Apple, Google, Facebook, Marriott International and Charlotte-based Bank of America, have signed a letter to Gov. McCrory saying: "We are disappointed in your decision to sign this discriminatory legislation into law. The business community, by and large, has consistently communicated to lawmakers at every level that such laws are bad for our employees and bad for business." The NBA said it may pull its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte. Facing comparable pressure in Georgia, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a similar bill this week.
Payton McGarry sees hope in the reaction, both on his own campus and around the country: "This is really bringing people together and making people realize that this is a threat to our movement to accept each other and our movement to love each other."
Let's celebrate love, acceptance and equality. Take American politics out of the toilet.