Saturday, November 14, 2015

White European French lives matter; Lebanese Muslim ones, not so much.

With the political and media frenzy around Friday's Paris attack, we should remember that on Thursday there were Islamic State suicide bombings in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, targeting Shia Muslims and Hezbollah. Initial reports said there were 43 dead and more than 200 wounded, with the number of dead expected to rise.
The United States government condemned it ("in the strongest possible terms," of course) in a one-paragraph, three-sentence statement of less than one hundred words attributed to "NSC Spokesperson Ned Price."
It appears Mr. Price was too busy to actually pronounce the words himself or even send out the statement, which instead was posted in the press office's section of the White House web site, the last of eight posts on Thursday on the "statements and releases" page. It had been preceded by two on a presidential "emergency board" to look into a labor dispute at New Jersey Transit Rail, and "readouts" on phone calls between Obama and such important world leaders as Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nayhan.
The president condemning the Lebanon attack himself would, of course, have been below Obama's dignity as an honorary white person. And having the vice-president do it would only raise uncomfortable questions about why Obama didn't do it.
Secretary of State John Kerry could have spoken out, or failing that, Anne W. Patterson, who as head of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, is one of only 23 people holding the rank of Assistant Secretary of State, or even just the State Department mouthpiece.
But the terrorist attack did not even rate a mention at the regular Foggy Bottom press briefing, which was conducted by Mark C. Toner, a "deputy spokesperson." And, no, it wasn't mentioned at the regular White House briefing either.
So when it falls to the NSC mouthpiece in a case such as this, there is a very clear message. In case you don't get it, here's a translation of the U.S. Government statement into the vernacular:
"Go f*ck yourselves you towel-headed sand n****rs. We're glad you got bombed."

Monday, September 14, 2015

Don Quijote Sanders and the Spanish media: why are they ignoring him?

Major Spanish language media in the United States are extensively covering Hillary Clinton and other mainstream political figures but almost completely ignoring news about Bernie Sanders.

This despite Bernie Sanders being a great journalistic story. There's a saying among journalists that dog bites man is not a story, but man bites dog sure is. And this is a classic man bites dog.

An underfinanced, crotchety old Senator from a tiny, virtually all-white state, with no national organization or a single significant endorsement, who (in the United States!) proclaims himself a socialist, no less, mounts his horse, picks up his lance, and rides off to tilt at windmills, thinking they are giants.

And the giants start to fall.

Ignored by the mainstream media and even the "progressive" outlets, his message spreads nonetheless. People come out by the thousands to hear and cheer him. The campaign raises millions from donations that average less than $50.

Yet a study of the web sites of the five most important Spanish-language news outlets in the United States --two TV networks and three daily newspapers-- reveals a lopsidedness that is impossible to justify except as an expression of systematic and generalized bias on the part of journalists and editors.

The study looked at the number of stories or other items that included a given candidate's name in the headline as of the afternoon of September 14. It was accomplished through Google searches with the time frame set for one month.

This time frame was chosen because the primary motivation was to check into the degree to which the Sanders campaign is being ignored. By mid August, it was clear Sanders was even more than a major candidate, he was becoming a rock star.

He had been through an extraordinary rise in the polls and had taken the lead in New Hampshire, the state that holds the first primary. He had attracted a total of 70,000 people to campaign rallies over three days. The English language press had increased their coverage somewhat, making information much easier to get.

In gathering the data, for the Democrats I searched for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, as well as the once and (perhaps) future candidate Joe Biden. On the Republican side, Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Jeb Bush, the current top three, as well as Marco Rubio who is of special interest to the Latino community.

By far the most important Spanish language news outlet is Univision, with a combined total of 3.4 million viewers of the two editions of its newscast (6:30 and 11:30 PM) and nearly 6.7 million unique visitors to its web site in January. The Univision results among the Democrats were:

  3  Stories with Sanders in the headline
  5  Stories with Biden in the headline
19  Stories with Clinton in the headline

Even non-candidate Biden has more stories than Sanders!

And there's been no dearth of Sanders news worth covering: his spectacular rise in the polls including the CBS/YouGov survey relased Sunday showing Sanders way ahead in the first states to hold presidential contests, by 10 points in Iowa and an astonishing 22 percent in New Hampshire.

His mega rallies have also been ignored, including the one that drew 27,000 people in Los Angeles, and which that city's Spanish-language daily, La Opinion, did not even mention. Not one of the five major Spanish language outlets whose web sites I examined has covered any of the rallies.

For the five outlets together, now including the Republicans<sub>1</sub>, the results were:

  5 items with Ben Carson in the headline<sub>2</sub>
  7 items with Bernie Sanders in the headline
20 items with Joe Biden in the headline
21 items with Marco Rubio in the headline
43 items with Jeb Bush in the headline
66 items with Hillary Clinton in the headline<sub>3</sub>

I think the conclusion is inescapable: the Spanish language press is failing spectacularly in providing even-handed coverage of the Democratic presidential election. The favored candidates of the political and donor classes are receiving way disproportionate amounts of coverage and attention.

And, from my point of view as a life-long journalist, they're writing the same old boring inside-baseball campaign tactics trivia and completely missing a really great story. And it's not just the Quixotic quest story, there's a social media story, there's a youth story. Sanders had 66% of the 18-34 year old vote in a survey last week.

And then there's the most important story of all, that Sanders is doing this not with charisma, not with Hollywood stars, not with saturation bombing of TV ads, but with a program, a track record of integrity, standing for the same thing today as he did ten years ago and thirty years ago, and an honest admission: that he cannot bring about the changes he is proposing even if he wins the presidency. Making the changes will require a fight by an organized political movement of working people.

This could well turn into the story of a lifetime, and it seems everyone in the major Spanish-language media is clueless.

Some notes on the numbers:

1. Trump far outscores everyone else with 395 headlines. I leave him out of the chart: among Latinos, he is viewed as a distinct, separate phenomenon apart from the rest of the Republican field.

2. Ben Carson's score is not really comparable to other Republicans. He has only just begun to receive a lot of coverage, but mostly in the context of poll results which, on the Republican side, are being followed very closely because of Donald Trump. And it has only been in the last week or 10 days that he's emerged as being in second place among Republicans. We'll have to wait a little longer to judge how the Spanish language press is treating him.

3. Clinton has more coverage in part due to the emails imbroglio. I'd guesstimate without that she'd probably have a total similar to Jed Bush's.

The five media organizations studied and their approximate reach:

Univision, 1.9 million for 6:30 PM news; 1.4 million for 11:30 PM show. 6,670,000

Telemundo 854,000 for its 6:30 PM news 3,150,000

La Opinión, (Los Angeles), 107,000 441,000

El Diario, (New York) 32,000 406,000

El Nuevo Herald, (Miami) 48,000 428,000

All figures come from an April, 2015, report by Pew. The viewer figures are from Nielsen. The print figures are audited average daily circulation. The web figures are unique visitors in the month of January.

Mobile web access outnumbers desktop access roughly 3 to 1, but there is probably overlap, with people using two or more devices counted as a unique visitor for each one,.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Miami Herald Latino hack pushes anti-immigrant nativist propaganda

"Visa overstays are common among foreign nationals visiting the U.S.," says the headline on the (usually paywalled) Miami Herald web site article by Alfonso Chardy, but which --at least for the  time being-- you can see cached at this link.

It's an example of the normal output of a journalistic hack, seizing on one individual's story to illustrate a (supposedly) broader situation. God knows I've been part of perpetrating hundreds if not thousands of these stories over the decades. But at least I never did it to lie to people and promote a racist agenda, which is what Chardy, one of the Herald's house Latinos, has done.

Mister Chardy's headline says "visa overstays are common." Let's look at the claim.

There were more than 170 million non-immigrant visitors to the United States in 2013, according to the official "Annual Flow Report" issued a year ago by Homeland Security.

So out of the 170 million, how many result in visa overstays?

The Chardy article cites the widely accepted Pew Hispanic Center estimate of "up to" 4.9 million of the unauthorized immigrants in the country having entered with a temporary tourist or business visa but failed to leave the country once the visa expired.

But according to another Pew analysis published last September, as of 2013, the median number of years an undocumented immigrant had been in the United States was almost 13 years. This means that, as a very rough estimate, there had been nearly two and a half million visa overstayers in the United States who arrived in this century and were still here as of 2013; the other half had come earlier.

However, until 2008 the unauthorized immigrant population was growing; since then it has declined. For our back-of-the-envelope guesstimates, let's just say before 2008 the yearly rate of visa overstays was well over 200,000, and since then less than 200,000. 

Out of nearly 200 million non-immigrant admissions a year, less than 200K would be roughly around one tenth of one percent.

For Alfonso Chardy and the Miami Herald headline writers, this makes visa overstays "common."

But would the Miami Herald write that crime is "common" in the United States, with about 10 million a year, according to government statistics? That works out to one crime for every 25 adults, not one out of 1000 visitors, as in the case of Visa overstayers.

Would the Herald say crimes of violence are "common," since there are more than a million each year, but only a couple of hundred thousand (give or take) visa overstayers?

Or what about rape? There were 173,000 victims of rape in 2013 according to a Department of Justice survey cited by Wikipedia, a victimization rate of 0.1% of the population that is 12 years of age or older. This is roughly the same as our back-of-the-envelope number for visa overstays that year. And if you focus on only the number of rapes committed by males between the ages of 15 and 50, the rate would quadruple or more.

Can the Miami Herald point to an item it has published where a case of an individual sexual assault was used to publish a headline about how rapists are "common" among men living in the United States, just as it says that "Visa overstays are common among foreign nationals visiting the U.S."?

I think the Miami Herald has just shown us once more that it is a despicable racist rag suitable for wrapping fish or --in the case of an extreme shortage of toilet paper-- perhaps one other use. But toilet paper shortage or not, it's still full of shit.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Perfect Dictatorship

In his speech accepting the Nobel prize for literature, Gabriel García Márquez noted that while most of the world imagined that he had invented so-called "magical realism," in fact, he had only copied what had been the way Latin America had lived been presented in literature for centuries.

A week ago I saw a movie that was much less ambitious. It only copies from Mexico's history in the last fifteen --not five hundred-- years to spin the yarn of how an incompetent, murderous and ultra-corrupt state governor gets sold as the country's savior and winds up as the next president.

The movie, The Perfect Dictatorship, shook Mexico's political and media elite last fall to become the country's top box office draw for the year. Inspired by (but perhaps it would be closer to the truth to say "plagiarizing") various more-than-surreal episodes in Mexico's recent history, it describes exactly what has happened in that country.

As someone who is at least superficially familiar with Mexico's recent political and media history, my reaction to the the film can only be described as ROTFLMAO.

Of course, for people who don't speak Spanish much of this will be lost, since the American English-language press refuses to cover México. The Mexican press is terrible, yes, but Mexico has an intense social media culture (which is reflected in the film) and also a unique tradition of popular topical songs, called "corridos." Right now on YouTube you can find literally dozens if not hundreds of these songs about Chapo Guzman's escape from prison, with the most popular having 2.8 million views.

The film revolves around the tv network, Televisión Mexicana, an onion-skin-thin disguise for Televisa. How thin? Well, Televisa's nightly newscast for decades was called "24 hours." The fictional network's is called "24 hours in 30 minutes."

Each and every absurdity in the film's twisted plot is drawn from actual events -- including the climactic live coverage of the "rescue" of kidnapped 5-year-old twins, who in fact had been returned to their family a day or two before, and is staged solely for the benefit of the cameras.

This obviously satirized Televisa's #2 anchor Carlos Loret de Mola who, giving himself the benefit of the doubt, says he was hoodwinked into broadcasting live the supposed rescue of three kidnapped hostages, and the capture of French Citizen Florence Cassez and others in what was, in fact, scripted cop theater.

Cassez revealed the fraud during a live TV show, and soon the government was forced to confess. This clip shows anchor Carlos Loret de Mola claiming he didn't know, and then a long interview by Carmen Aristegui with the journalist who at the time was the news director of Loret de Mola's show. He says that it was obvious from the control room that this was all staged. After all, the cops had a false start, were quickly pulled back to their starting positions, and only moved when the cue from the broadcast's director was relayed to them.

The Cassez case caused a major diplomatic blow-up with France, and although initially found guilty of being part of a kidnapping ring, the Mexican Supreme Court eventually ordered she be freed due to multiple violations of her due process rights.

Even the linchpin of the film's final act -- the (old) President saying "I am not the lady of the house" in response to questions about how a new economic adjustment package raising the prices of basic necessities would impact an average family, is literally a word-for-word quote from the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, who said it during a radio interview where he couldn't even remember what the minimum wage was at the time nor the price of tortillas or meat.

Indeed, the picture starts with the disclaimer, "In this story, all the names are fictional. The events are suspiciously real. Any likeness or similarity to reality is not merely a coincidence."

But even if you know nothing about Mexico's memes, trending topics and viral videos of the last few years, it is an entirely enjoyable and rollicking albeit very dark comedy. Just remember every last detail --including the new President having been essentially created and imposed by a hegemonic TV empire and his marrying the network's top soap opera star-- is true.

If you ask, how can that be, just remember that Salvador Dalí once said, "There is no way I will ever return to Mexico. I can't stand a country that is more surrealist than my paintings."

I do not believe the film has been commercially distributed in theaters outside Mexico, as the distributor was to have been an affiliate of the Televisa TV empire that took on the project after reading the shooting script but dumped it after seeing the rough cut. Inside the country it was the production company itself that became the distributor with the help of an indie distributor.

Of course only cynics (and those who have seen the movie) would say Televisa's commitment to distribute the film was made precisely to pull the rug from underneath the project once it was ready.

In the U.S., the debut finally came via Netflix streaming on June 1, and you can pick the dubbed-to-English or English subtitled version if you don't speak Spanish. In keeping with the film's surrealist character, I guess, the two translations --verbal and written-- aren't coordinated, so while on the screen a good is threatening to "really scare you" (in one place) or "Kill you" (in another) but in the subtitles it's "fuck you."

As far as I can tell, the Blu Ray and DVD versions are all imported from Mexico, and I don't believe they have the English dub or subtitles due to the movie monopoly mafia's anti-consumer "copyright" rules that usually won't allow both English and Spanish versions of a film on the same disks.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Did Donald Trump just blow up his campaign by sliming John McCain?

"He's not a war hero. He's a war hero because he was captured," the bigwig multi-millionaire said. "I like people who weren't captured." He also branded the Arizona Senator a "loser" for his 2008 presidential campaign.

While I don't view raining down death and destruction on civilians as being particularly heroic, the aviators who were shot down over North Vietnam yet survived and were captured were the main people sold to the public as "heroes" following the humiliating American defeat in the Vietnam War.

By attacking McCain, I think Trump just stepped on a land mine. With a handful of exceptions, Republican Party apparatchiks, politicians, columnists, commentators and TV talking heads have been pulling their hair out over Trump's hijacking of the campaign.

And now "the Donald" has just invited the entire world to go nuclear against him. Already most of the other Republican candidates have attacked him. The only one to have publicly demurred was Ted Cruz, who is angling to inherit the crazy vote.

Adding to Trump's vulnerability is that, like other sons of multi-millionaires born in the first years of the post WWII baby boom, he dodged the draft during the Vietnam War first with a student deferment and then by buying himself a medically unfit draft status due to a supposed bone spur in one of his feet. This doctor-certified condition was so debilitating that Trump doesn't even remember which foot it was supposed to have affected.

McCain, on the other hand, volunteered for combat postings as a naval aviator, even though as the son and grandson of full (four star) admirals, the Navy's highest rank, we can assume if he had put in for some other assignment, the request would have been taken very seriously.

So here we have a New York loud-mouthed draft-dodging rich kid saying that the guy who volunteered to go and fight, who spent five and a half years as prisoner of war, who suffered especially harsh treatment because of his father's high rank in the military, and came out of the POW prison with permanent disabilities is a "loser" and "not a war hero."

I think the Republicans will have him so thoroughly roasted by tomorrow night that you can stick a fork in him and see that he is done. If they can't, it will be an unequivocal sign that the GOP is DOA for the 2016 presidential race. It will show that Trump is the albatross around the Republican's neck that seals their doom.

The Democrats will, of course, applaud (as faintly as possible) those Republicans who denounce Trump's insult against the national honor in  general and McCain in particular. And some, I assume, will even be sincere about it.

But none of them are about to do the slightest bit of the heavy lifting, as they will be too busy preparing for the right moment to pounce on the Republicans as a whole for having tolerated and encouraged the outrage of Trump's campaign for all this time.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

My sexist upbringing and the brutalization of a teenage girl

My very Cuban mother taught me that men who treat women like in this video --especially a much older, taller, bigger and stronger armed man dealing with a much smaller, weaker, unarmed, handcuffed and more vulnerable young woman-- should have their balls cut off and stuffed in their mouths before they are dumped into the Gulf Stream from Havana's Malecón to feed the sharks.

No, my Mom didn't put it quite that way. But she did teach her children, especially her boys, and very emphatically, that the worst kind of low-life scum in the entire universe was the male who would take advantage of his size, strength or social position to "abusar de una mujer." Which means, literally, to abuse a woman, to threaten or do violence onto her.

In the moral code I learned, it did not matter that the woman "provoked" the aggressor, that she "hit him first," nor anything else like that. The man who hit a woman was much less than a man, and therefore he should not be allowed to continue to live.

That may be why I seethe with rage when I see something like what is on this video.

"She was drunk" is no excuse for the brutalization -- on the contrary, what my mother would have said is that this girl being drunk was all the more reason for the male cop to have been more tolerant, more forgiving, more willing to allow her excesses and even drunken rage. Because she's just a kid and because especially because in that state, and already handcuffed, she could do him no harm. And even if by some freak accident she did succeed in striking him, the chivalrous gentleman takes the blow without wincing or complaint, otherwise, what kind of man is it that starts crying like a girl because another girl hit him?

She tried to kick him, yes, but it is obvious from the video he was entirely unharmed. With training in psychoanalysis, my mother might have said the blow was to masculinity, and so insecure and doubtful was he of his own masculinity that he savagely attacked a handcuffed teenage girl who was much smaller and weaker than he was as if that would prove the potency of his masculine virility -- instead of, as my mother inculcated in her kids, his abuse of the girl proving precisely the contrary.

But even if had have been hit, the code I was brought up with was: running the risk of being hit. or actually taking the blow under those circumstances, is the price of admission we men pay for the privilege of being considered "real men," and those who would respond with more than it would take to  simply fend off the blow, those who respond with a reprisal, show thereby that they are not real men.

I realize that there are all kinds of really fucked-up, gendered and misogynist sentiments and attitudes that were part of the way I was brought up. My outraged gut reaction to this video shows they still live inside me now.

But the fucking truth is that when I see a video like this, I can't help myself from seething with rage because someone who did this to a young woman
is still alive.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Lawyers and psychologist-torturers: the heart of darkness of this tale

I've just read the 72-page executive summary of the report from the Sidley Austin law firm on the American Psychological Association's complicity with the CIA and the Pentagon in carrying out torture and other crimes against humanity.

The report was written under the purview of David Hoffman, a hot shot Yale law school grad who clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, served as a congressional staffer, was a high-ranking federal prosecutor in Illinois, and spent five years as Chicago's Inspector General.

Of Jewish and Puerto Rican descent, he ran for U.S. Senate as an anti-establishment "independent voice" a few years ago, but not even the bullshit factory formerly headed by Obama's David Axelrod was able to sell that one and Hoffman lost.

Hoffman's report, while thoroughly and systematically documenting the cynical and corrupt conspiracy by the association's leadership in enabling and covering up the participation of psychologists in torture and other crimes against humanity, can't even bring itself to call a criminal conspiracy by its right name, instead parsing the word "collusion" in the style of Bill Clinton explaining the different meanings of the word "is" during his Monica Lewinsky testimony.

And even while noting the clear evidence in the public domain and therefore before the association that the U.S. military and intelligence agencies were violating the Geneva Agreements, carrying out forced disappearances, torture and other war crimes, the report constructs an Eichmann-like defense, saying the group could not have really proved the suspicions it should have had, so it may not really be guilty of hiding its head in the sand.

The report even refuses to call torture by its right name, ridiculing the Bush Administrations' memos but pointedly refusing to accept how torture is defined by international law ... even as the report criticizes the APA's chief ethics officer's underhanded maneuvers to exclude any reference to the Geneva Agreements from the group's ethics policies.

You might say --as the report argues-- such characterizations go beyond the brief given to Hoffman and his accomplices. I disagree. Under these circumstances, a law firm charged with a full and impartial investigation that uncovers such facts and actions is duty bound to call things by their right names.

They are not the defense attorneys for the APA but have been (supposedly) explicitly tasked with only one responsibility: to investigate and report the truth. That means calling things by their right names.

And the truth is that here you have shameless violations of the laws of war, forced disappearances, torture, research on human subjects without their consent including by applying such tactics of terror as to break them utterly.

And these are not just crimes against humanity, but crimes  by a state, carried out with the guarantee of total and complete impunity that these little Eichmanns believe government sponsorship gives them.

Given the facts in the report, to temporize, equivocate, play games like, "on the one hand, on the other," and obfuscate with dictionary defintions is to become an accomplice after the fact.

I believe there is one more way that the Sidley law firm has failed to live up to its duty, in this case, to its direct client, the American Psychological Association. I think given the facts it uncovered, the firm was duty bound to violate the terms of its engagement which said it should not draw conclusions for the APA about what it found and tell the group what it should do.

I think the investigators had an inescapable ethical responsibility to tell the APA that it must disband.

Violating the explicit charge of a client is such a serious breach of a client's trust in a case like this that I can think of only one circumstance where it is called for. And that is when the investigator discovers that the client that hired them, seemingly in good faith to simply find out the facts, cannot be trusted to draw the inescapable conclusions that flow from those facts.

And that is conclusion is that behind the duplicity, committee-stacking, nepotism, manipulation, bad faith and corruption documented by the report, there is a central, inescapable conflict of interest.

The APA tries to represent both those practitioners who seek to use their scientific knowledge to help their clients as well as those practitioners who use their training for other purposes, including hurting the interests, well-being, health and even sanity of the individuals who are the objects of their professional attention.

There should not --must not-- be a common professional association for those two groups of people because there cannot be a common code of ethics between practitioners of a healing art who seek to help their patients, and those who have other purposes, especially helping the tormentors of those the healer would be helping.

What the Sidley law firm found was that the motivation of the APA leadership was to promote "the profession," and especially protect and expand the role of psychologists in Washington's military and intelligence apparatus, i.e., in waging war.

The fundamental corruption is that they did that in an association that projects itself as having the ultimate aim of helping people, rather than killing them.

The horror is not the monstrous criminality of the APA's leaders, but the very pedestrian venality that made it possible -- and that also led to the emasculation of the report we have before us.

That is the heart of darkness of this tale.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

National Latino organizations demand NBC dump Trump

A coalition of major national Latino organizations is demanding that NBC-Universal drop its July 12 Broadcast of the Miss USA program, part of the Miss Universe contest, which is a partnership between NBC-U and The Trump Organization.

After 11 days of shameful silence, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda issued a press release this Saturday saying that NBC-U should not only " withdraw from airing the Miss U.S.A. pageant" but also "terminate its financial ties to Donald Trump."
The coalition was obviously shamed into action by Univision's decision to dump Trump. The statement starts by hailing the decision by the nation's (by far) most popular Spanish-language TV network to drop Miss Universe and break off all other collaboration with Trump-linked outfits.
“Univision Communications’ courageous action ... is civil rights leadership in the digital age,” the statement quotes Felix Sánchez of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts..
The NHLA includes 39 groups among them the better-known national Latino lobbying, business and professional organizations, such as the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) Education Fund.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

NBC botches a simple curtain-raiser for the Mexican midterm elections

You'd think by now have gotten over something like this ... or at least been distracted enough by turning 64 today to ignore it just this once.

But over at NBC Latino, they posted one of those articles that just drive me crazy.

No, it's not the slant on the story, nor the lack of context, nor outright lies. Those I can deal with.

It's the sheer incompetence. 

The article is a curtain raiser for tomorrow's Mexican mid-terms. The first paragraph is the usual BS: "Amid deadly violence and a climate of dissatisfaction ..." blah blah blah.

The second paragraph seems to be reporting, but offers very few details. And those details show the writer has no business writing about the situation in México.
In the days leading to the voting there have been clashes as groups opposed to what they deem are corrupt and ineffective elections have burned ballots and tried to occupy government buildings. This has been the case in several regions including Guerrero and Ayotzinapa, where a group of 43 teachers' college students were taken by local authorities working with criminal gangs and presumably killed.
We're told the problems are in "several regions" including Guerrero and Ayotzinapa. Guerrero isn't exactly a "region" but a state, but let it pass. Ayotzinapa is not at all a region but the place where a college to train rural teachers is located. And it is in the state of Guerrero.

But worse: we are told that Ayotzinapa is "where a group of 43 teachers' college students were taken by local authorities working with criminal gangs and presumably killed."

Not true: The Ayotzinapa rural teacher's college is where the students were from, but they were attacked by police in Iguala, two hours to the north.

Moreover, the suggestion that the forced disappearance of the students was carried out at the behest of drug lords has been from the first the central government's alibi, but it has not convinced the parents, journalists or international experts.

As if this weren't enough, the article continues:
Mexico's National Electoral Institute (INE in Spanish) spokesperson Jaime Córdova assured Mexicans in a press conference that voting would not be compromised, though INE did say there could be voter difficulties in 6,000 out of 68,000 voting places.
What's wrong with this? Well, first of all, the person who spoke for the INE is not named Jaime. His name is Lorenzo. Second, he is not the spokesperson for the Institute. He is its president. And third, if his name was going to be brought up when talking about the opposition to these elections, his racist comments that enraged indigenous people should have been mentioned.

The article is barely 300 words, and the author, Sandra Lilley, is the managing editor of NBC Latino and has been a working journalist for nearly three decades, according top her Linked-In profile.

WTF has happened to American journalism?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Feds take a dive on massive fraud even as the bankers confess

So the big news is that five of the biggest banks in the world have now admitted guilt to criminal charges of manipulating the dollar-euro exchange rate (the most important exchange rate in the world) or LIBOR -- (the London InterBank Offered Rate, which is the most important interest rate in the world).

All told, the five will have to pay $5.6 billion in fines. Sounds like a lot, unless you consider that the foreign exchange market alone has a daily trading volume about 1,000 times as high ($5.3 trillion a day in 2013).

Which means, if these swindlers were able to make just one percent of one percent of one percent (0.000001) on those transactions, it would equal more than $5 million a day, or $14 billion over the seven years involved in the charges.

Or, looked at another way, these five banks reported only the first thee months of this year profits of $19.8 billion, once you add back in the "reserves" the banks set aside to pay for the cost of this and other legal problems.

So when you do the math, these guys are paying less than a third of their profits for three months --25 days by my calculation-- for 2,555 days' worth --7 years-- of criminality.

Now, despite the five banks admitting guilt, not a single one of the hundreds or thousands of people involved in these criminal schemes at the banks --not one single human being!-- has been charged or is going to be charged for racketeering, conspiracy, securities fraud, theft or even jaywalking.

Not one!!!

Further, under U.S. police-state "drug war" laws, the government can demand that property used in committing a crime be forfeited to the government unless the owner can prove to the satisfaction of a federal judge that the owner not only did not participate in the alleged illegal act, not only did not know of the alleged illegal act, but had no way of knowing or suspecting that such things were going on in relation to their property.

So if you own a rental house or an apartment building where the government imagines one of your tenants or a visitor sold or even smoked dope, your property can be seized, even if no one is declared guilty of any crime that took place on your property, and even if no one is even charged with a crime.

And mind you, the *owner* has to prove their innocence. (What happened to "innocent until proven guilty?" Well, if you believe that fairy tale, I have a really great business opportunity involving a bridge in Brooklyn that you should look at).

Under the drug war money laundering, racketeering  and criminal conspiracy statutes, those five banks could and should now be our property -- the property of "we the people." There is no question but that they were involved in criminal acts -- and not just as the passive scene of the crime, but the actual instrument of the criminal activity. They themselves have admitted as much.

One hundred percent of the ownership interest in those five banks should have been expropriated without compensation by the federal government. These are recidivist criminal enterprises that have been called on the carpet time and again for securities violations, false swearing, theft, fraud, conspiracy, racketeering and other crimes.

You say, why punish the shareholders by expropriating them? Because they are exempt for all personal liability in exchange for the corporation they have created and the leadership they have elected bearing full responsibility. The shareholders used their ownership stake in the corporation to delegate the full authority to a Board of Directors they elected. Since they cannot be held liable in any other way for their empowerment of an incompetent or even criminal board, this is the price they pay for the board they chose.

In addition, even if not indicted, why are the feds allowing those who organized, tolerated, or were just too incompetent to detect this seven-year swindle in the world's single most important financial market to continue holding their positions or have similar ones in the future?

If I am an accountant who admits guilt to tax fraud, I am never again allowed to practice as such. If I am a lawyer who admits to cheating and betraying my clients, I forfeit my license.

But despite banking and securities being heavily regulated industries, there are no civil sanctions against the *individuals* involved. There is no statement saying that because this board of directors proved unable to prevent or stop this massive fraud, its members are disqualified from ever serving on another board of directors like this one. Nor is there any such penalty against a chief executive officer, chief operating officer, chief financial officer nor any other executive or supervisor. And not even against the traders themselves, even though the five legal "persons" --these banks organized as corporations-- confessed that, while acting on the behalf of, and as authorized agents of the banks, these traders broke the law.
*  *  *
Meanwhile, in Florida, a 21-year-old waitress faces five years in prison for supposedly finagling the credit card charges for her tips. The DA claims the discrepancy totaled $1,074.15, and anything over $300 is felony "grand theft" and you not only have to pay back those you cheated but do hard time in prison.

The DA forgot to add, unless you're a bank.

From where I sit, the waitress's crime wasn't stealing, but not stealing enough. With a few more zeros to her haul, sure, not only would she have had to turn over every last penny of the spare change in her pocket, but then she would have to listen to a very severe lecture from the Attorney General.

But right after, her chauffeur would have driven her to her private jet to take her to some private island in the Caribbean.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

And then they complain about riots: cop shoots Black teen in the back -- Illinois DA says 'A-OK,' no charges

Riddle me this: what is the difference between today's "officer involved shooting" and a good, old-fashioned Dixie lynching from a century ago?

ANSWER: Less bullshit.

"CHICAGO (CBS) — Lake County prosecutors announced an investigation has determined a Zion police officer was justified when he shot and killed 17-year-old Justus Howell last month.

"Identifying the officer publicly for the first time, Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim said Officer Eric Hill fired at Howell 'in fear for his life,' after Howell ignored repeated commands to drop a handgun he was holding in his right hand.

"Nerheim said Hill would not face criminal charges for the shooting. He said at least four independent witnesses saw Howell running away from Hill with a gun in his hand, and refusing Hill’s orders to stop and drop the weapon..."

"An autopsy determined Howell was shot twice in the back, and his death was ruled a homicide...."

You be the judge and jury and decide whether the cop was "in fear of his life" or whether it was murder ... because an Illinois prosecutor decided a real jury will never see the evidence, as he can't imagine why anyone might think it wasn't self-defense.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Black suspect in white woman's death lynched. Cops: 'no foul play'

A black man who'd recently been questioned in connection with the death of a white woman was found dead hanging from a tree Monday morning in rural Greensboro, Georgia, police said. Local and state investigators said there was nothing to immediately suggest foul play. --NBC News

Another day, another killing: cops shoot 72-year-old in his own home

On the morning of Thursday, May 7, police from Gwinnett County in the Atlanta metro area shot and killed Joseph Roy, a 72 year old man undergoing chemotherapy for stage four lung cancer. Police went to his home after receiving a 911 call claiming the man was suicidal. Police say they found him "barricaded in the bathroom" when they got there,

"When they got out to the situation they made contact with the subject inside," said Corporal Michele Pihera, spokesperson for the county police. "During the course of the incident our officers discharged their firearms and the subject is now deceased."

Having been treated for cancer, albeit not in my 70s but in my 50s, I know that cancer treatments themselves really mess with your head, never mind the realization that you may well be standing in your grave. Suicidal? I can't say "been there, done that," but I certainly saw it from where I stood six years ago.

But I also know that a 72-year-old man undergoing chemotherapy is not a real threat to anyone's life if the most minimal care is taken, if you don't charge in there like Pentagon special forces going to take out Osama bin Laden. And that's so even if what the police claim --that he had armed himself with a household kitchen knife and came out of the bathroom where he had sought refuge threatening them-- were true. Which claim I don't believe, by the way. Fool me once, shame on you. Try to fool me 3,000 times: go fuck yourselves.

It is entirely legitimate to experience fear and seek to protect yourself when hyper-aggressive armed thugs break into your home, with all sorts of noise, shouting all sorts of things you may not even physically hear very well because not just age, but also chemotherapy drugs degrade your hearing. Or even if you do hear it, you may not understand what is going on or what exactly is being said, given the chaos that's just broken out. Arming yourself with a knife, an AK-47 or even an M1 Abrams tank, if you have one handy, is completely legitimate and to be expected, and cops should not be allowed to use the panic and terror they themselves provoke as a pretext for murder.

When the cops got to the man, he was "barricaded in the bathroom," according to the spokesperson for the Georgia Bureau of Investigations. What does that say? That he feared for his safety and his life, and tried to protect himself.

On the basis of their own account, the intervention by Gwinnett cops provoked a physical confrontation with a man who had tried to protect himself in his own home by locking himself in a bathroom. They provoked this confrontation despite having been called to the scene because the man was said to not be behaving rationally by threatening suicide.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigations, which supposedly was going to carry out an independent and objective investigation, instead seemed to immediately go into cover-up mode.

According to news reports, GBI spokesperson Sherry Lang said shortly after arriving at the scene, "The subject opened the door, and started yelling threats at the officers and then charged the officers with a knife."

In that same press briefing, Lang and a press person for the Gwinnett police said they did not know whether someone else had been at the house at the time of the shooting, that they did not know who had called 911 claiming the man was suicidal, that they did not know whether the man's wife had been there in the morning or where the man's wife since the incident.

The one and only thing they were sure about, apparently, is that the man who was shot was guilty of attacking the cops who invaded his home, and the cops who invaded his home and shot him were just defending themselves.

So even before any real investigation had begun, the GBI, which Gwinnett County is now relying on to cover up investigate police murders officer involved shootings was already justifying the police killing of a very sick 72-year-old man on the basis that he asked for it.

But even if the cop version that he asked for it is true, what does it say about this society that we gave it to him? He may have been a very sick man physically and mentally, but our society is even sicker, politically and morally.

At any rate, cops know that their own claim to have felt threatened is an automatic "get out of jail free" card, even for murder, and murder most foul, as happened in this case. That thanks to the robed reactionaries of the ruling rich on the Supreme Court.

So even if the cops forgot to bring a gun to plant on their victim, they still escape any punishment by simply claiming that a 72-year-old-man suffering from stage four lung cancer and further weakened by chemotherapy, and who was cowering in a bathroom, seeking refuge from the sudden, violent assault on his home, that this man.threatened the police officers with a steak knife, and thus the cops had no choice but to summarily execute Joseph Roy in a confrontation that there was no need to stage at all and that I think any first-year psychology undergrad would have told them they should not have provoked.

Neither the race of the cops nor of the victim has been given by any of the news reports or police statements; however, TV coverage at the scene shortly after the shooting show only white cops. And the neighbors interviewed about what happened are Black. You do the math.

According to American journalistic style books and ethical guidelines, a person's race or ethnicity should not be mentioned if it has nothing to do with the story. How any journalist in the United States today could imagine that the race of those involved in one more police killing are not relevant is beyond me. In my mind, it only shows the complicity of the media with unjustified or just avoidable police killings.

Supposedly police had gone to the man's home after 911 received a call claiming he was threatening suicide. So the response was to send heavily armed militarized police trained to shoot to kill. Police officers who are absolved beforehand from any responsibility for their actions by the Supreme Court, provided only they claim they were scared. And now the man is no longer threatening to kill himself, thanks to the police, because they killed him.

This doesn't happen in other market-economy industrialized countries like Germany, France, Britain, Canada, Japan or Australia. Some people say, but those countries don't have America's gun culture. But they all have steak knives, the weapon the septuagenarian cancer patient supposedly attacked the police with when they finally cornered him cowering in fear in a bathroom in his home.

I firmly believe that if God or some other force summarily executed and hung from lamp posts for the moral instruction of future generations 10 or 20 cops every time something like this happened, or just blew up the police station involved during roll call the day after a killing, incidents like this would very quickly end.

And if this unending deluge of police killings does not stop, history teaches that something like that will happen. Guaranteed.

A very meaningless court victory against government spying

All over the Internet liberals, libertarians and other assorted members of the chattering classes are cheering the decision by a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals holding that the bulk collection by the NSA of data about every phone call anyone makes in the United States is illegal.

The panel's unanimous decision said Section 215 of the Patriot Act did not authorize the NSA to spy on everything that everyone in this country did all the time. The (secret) Bush and (public) Obama administration position was something like that a really tiny footnote to the ultra-fine print that Congress put in between line 92 and 93 of Section 215 did --if properly read with police-state magnifying classes-- authorize some of the people (namely, those working for the NSA) to spy on all of the people all of the time.

And actually, that was the government's fall-back position. The original position of Bush's and Obama's lawyers when these sorts of lawsuits were first being filed was that those suing had no "standing." That means no right to bring their complaints to court, because there was no proof --"none whatsoever!" thundered the government's paid legal thugs-- that this sort of hanky-panky was going on.

Now that Snowden has committed "treason" by telling you and me, and proving with documentation what "our" government was actually doing to us, even as the government's lawyers were swearing on a stack of Bibles in court that it was outrageous to suggest they were doing that, the official story has changed. Now it's, "Of course that was going on. Didn't you read the Patriot Act? Your elected representatives are the ones you should be talking to, they voted for it, don't go moaning to a judge." And so on.

Which is, in reality, what the learned judges of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals have given us, the old three co-equal branches of government song-and-dance routine, a three card monte scam that even Manhattan street hustlers would admire.

Some, like this witless scribbler for fusion, are claiming the court found NSA spying "unconstitutional." Not so. The court did not find the program unconstitutional. They found that it is not authorized by the Patriot Act.

The author says they found it "unconstitutional" and "separately" that is was "not authorized." But under American legal norms, a court does not rule on constitutional questions if the case can be decided on less sweeping grounds, which is what happened here. In this case, they said the wholesale collection of records by the NSA was illegal simply because the NSA is only supposed to do those things it is authorized to do by law. So they ought not to have done it. The judges also said there would be grave constitutional concerns had this spying been authorized, but since it wasn't, they didn't have to decide that question.

It is the same as if the NSA started marrying people. Marriages are 100% legal and constitutional, but, no, the NSA is not authorized to perform them, and, like its wholesale spying, there would be grave constitutional concerns if Congress said they could do it, in this hypothetical case, because it is the job of state governments, not the federal government, to issue marriage licenses.

There are three things about the Circuit Court's decision that make it much less than in seems.

Thing one: another federal court --the secret FISA court-- decided that the NSA did have authority to do this under Section 215. The FISA court is not directly under the Second Circuit court of appeals and thus not bound by the Circuit Court's ruling. But in the states covered by the circuit (Vermont, Connecticut and New York) this new ruling is now the law, it is binding. In other words, you have certain rights and protections --in theory-- while you're in Manhattan but they magically disappear as you're crossing the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey.

Not that it makes any difference, because ...

Thing two: the Circuit Court did not take any practical action. They did not tell the NSA "you are ordered to stop" or "you have to delete all the records." The case was "remanded" --sent back-- to the lower federal court, the District Court, which would have to issue orders for any practical action.

And that District Court is not going to take any practical action because ...

Thing three: before the District Court has a chance to carry it out, the Circuit Court decision will almost certainly become irrelevant, or "moot," as they say in the lawyering racket. Section 215 of the Patriot Act automatically expires on June 1, in three weeks, unless Congress acts to re-authorize it. If Congress were to re-authorize just as it stands, then the ruling might continue to mean something.

But if Congress shuffles a few words around, then the courts will say it is a new law and you have to start all over again ... provided, of course, you have enough money and lawyers to do so.

As Don Barzini famously remarked, there is a price to be paid. "After all, we are not communists."

So the real practical effect of the Circuit Court decision is to tell Congress that they can't simply say, "well, NSA, continue on doing whatever you've been doing" by voting for the text of Section 215 to continue in force for another few years, as they've done in the past because this court says you can't keep on doing what you used to be doing under Section  215.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals said, in effect: if you, Congress, want to tell the American people that the feds can access every phone call they make, email they send, web search they carry out, and web site they visit, without the probable cause backed by a sworn statement like the Constitution requires for a search or seizure, then you, Congress are going to have to do the heavy lifting and tell them yourselves.

The courts are not going to take the fall for you by saying that actually it was in Section 215 all along, so blame George Bush and whoever was in Congress 14 years ago when the Patriot Act was first passed right after 9/11 without anyone in Congress actually bothering to read it.

And, of course, Congress is going to say it wasn't us, it was secret executive branch programs approved by a secret court that are to blame. But still, right now Congress is "it" in  this game of  tag.

I expect the dodge on this is going to be that Congress says, no the NSA shouldn't keep records on all phone calls, but the phone companies must keep such records and in a way that the NSA can access them at any time. Whether the NSA does it or the phone companies do it for them is really a distinction without a difference, the sort of scam all experience shows we should expect from our rat-brained congresscritters.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The American police state: Woman arrested as terrorist, banned from social media for Facebook post

Once upon a time there was a country where the constitution said you have freedom of speech. In face of the continuing murder of Blacks by police, a 33-year-old Black woman expresses her anger by writing a status on her Facebook page the Monday night of the Baltimore rebellion saying that cops should be killed.

It was, obviously and transparently, an expression of rage, for she adds, "I condone black on white killings."Why? Because "they condone crimes against us."

She even pulls out the Constitution to defend her right to express her anger in such extreme terms. She says that police are "reading this ... right now" and adding "Freedom of speech, tho. So when you can absolutely show me in the 1st amendment where it explicitly says you can't say 'kill all cops' then I'll delete my status. Other than that.... NOPE."

Still, on Tuesday, the next day, she deletes the post. My guess is she thought better of how she expressed her anguish.

The fairy tale: end of story.

The reality: acting as part of a widespread multi-agency effort, cops raid the woman's home on Tuesday, April 28. They confiscate all sorts of property including three computers and a cellphone, and arrest her on some sort of terrorism charge(s).

Press reports say the agencies involved included: the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Department of Homeland Security,  the Fulton County District Attorney, the Atlanta Police, the East Point Police, the Fulton County Sheriff and the New York Police Department. (No explanation is given for the NYPD, but it is listed with the rest.)

WSB-TV channel 2 credited itself with an assist, saying the station had "reported it [the post] to Atlanta Police and our FBI contacts," according to the corporate outlet's own news story. Channel 2 is part of Cox, the dominant news operation in Atlanta, which also owns the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and six radio stations, including the main news and talk station.

According to 11 Alive, Gannet's Atlanta TV station, the woman, Ebony Dickens "was charged with dissemination of information to facilitate terroristic threats."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said she was "charged with making terroristic threats," adding that "Police said Wednesday they would try to get charges upgraded to a felony, because a gun found during a search showed she had the means to carry out the threats."

Channel 2 claims: "Dickens has been charged with disseminating information related to terrorist acts."

CNN, a national outlet based in Atlanta, agreed with Channel 2: "Dickens, 33, appeared in court Wednesday on a charge of disseminating information related to terrorist acts."

But CNN seems to think there was an aggravating factor. Their story begins, "A fake name on a Facebook post can still get you in real trouble," adding that "Ebony Dickens of East Point, Georgia, posted her Facebook rant under the name Tiffany Milan, police said."

And then there is what a judge did. Instead of apologizing to her and raking the cops and prosecutors over the coals for violating the woman's constitutional rights, the judge forced her to post a $10,000 bond and "banned her from social media" as a condition for releasing her from jail.

This was a clearly illegal, nay, despotic, order. You can't tell someone they have to shut up or remain in jail. The prosecutor who pushed for this and the judge who granted it should be fired immediately, for they are a menace to our rights and liberty.

What the judge ordered is known as a prior restraint of publication. This was precisely what the 1971 Pentagon Papers case was about. The New York Times started publishing excerpts from a secret, classified government history of the Vietnam War that showed how one administration after another lied to the public. The Nixon administration sought a court order to stop publication.

In his opinion as part of the 6-3 majority rejecting the Nixon Administration's request, Justice Hugo Black wrote:
[T]he injunction against the New York Times should have been vacated without oral argument when the cases were first presented ... . [E]very moment's continuance of the injunctions ... amounts to a flagrant, indefensible, and continuing violation of the First Amendment. ... In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. ... To find that the President has 'inherent power' to halt the publication of news ... would wipe out the First Amendment and destroy the fundamental liberty and security of the very people the Government hopes to make 'secure.'
And remember, that was the publication of classified government documents in wartime about a war that was still going on. And still the Supreme Court said you can't get an order to stop them from publishing, even if you might be able to charge and convict them of a criminal offense later for doing so. At the end of the day the Nixon administration decided it could not get away with prosecuting major newspapers, and focused instead of leaker Daniel Ellsberg.

It is unclear from the press reports whether Dickens is being charged under Georgia Code Title 16, Section 16-11-37, for "the offense of a terroristic threat" or under the following section, 16-11-37.1 "Dissemination of information relating to terroristic acts." My guess is both, and in keeping with the complete, utter incompetence of today's mainstream journalists, none of those covering the story figured it out.

At any rate, the second section, banning "information relating to terroristic acts" is clearly an unconstitutional law in violation of the First Amendment. It says: 
It shall be unlawful for any person knowingly to furnish or disseminate through a computer or computer network any picture, photograph, drawing, or similar visual representation or verbal description of any information designed to encourage, solicit, or otherwise promote terroristic acts.
Why only through computers? Who knows.

The other section, on terroristic threats, applies only when there is a threat with intent to terrorize, like, for example, burning crosses on people's lawns.

Ms. Dickens's post was clearly an expression of anger and rage. But even if some twisted mind really believed that she intended to encourage people to shoot cops or do so herself, that would still be constitutionally protected speech. 

In the 1969 Brandenburg decision, the Supreme Court said: 
Freedoms of speech and press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action" (emphasis added).
In addition, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that people have a right to speak anonymously:
Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation." (McIntyre v. Ohio, 1995)
Moreover, the United States has a tradition of anonymous speech older than the country itself. Like Thomas Paine, whose January, 1776, pamphlet "Common Sense," published with no name attached, is credited with playing a central role in sparking the American revolution. One historian described it as "the most incendiary and popular pamphlet of the entire revolutionary era." Or the Federalist Papers, written by Alexander Hamilton and friends 12 years later under the collective pseudonym Publius that pushed through the adoption of the Constitution.

The suggestion that there is something wrong or sinister with using a pseudonym is downright Orwellian. That is an adjective derived from the last name of the author of the novel 1984, George Orwell. His real name was Eric Blair.

It is clear that the criminals here were the cops. There was a multi-jurisdictional interstate law-enforcement conspiracy to violate Ms. Dickens's constitutionally-protected rights, not just to express herself, but to do so anonymously. 

In addition to the dismissal of all charges against her, I hope there will be a civil suit and substantial financial penalties imposed on all the police agencies involved. This is important, not just to compensate Ms. Dickens for her ordeal and vindicate her rights, but also to counter the chilling effect of this police action and to dissuade the cops from ever pulling a stunt like this in the future.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Lies, damn lies, and bullshit about Cuba's betrayal of political refugees

The story was a shocker: "Cubans to open talks about US fugitives including Assata Shakur as ties warm", said the headline in the Guardian. Giving it credence was the source and dateline of the article: Associated Press, Havana.

Assata Shakur (the cops call her JoAnne Chesimard) is a Black liberation fighter who has lived in Cuba with political asylum for more than 30 years. Her expulsion from Cuba to the United States, where there is a $2 million bounty on her head, would be seen by Black activists and revolutionaries everywhere as a betrayal. It would also be a violation of long-standing legal principles in Latin America that political crimes are not subject to extradition, as well as the principle of non-refoulement (returning refugees to the country where they are persecuted), the cornerstone of international asylum treaties, which the Cuban revolution has always adhered to.

But other news outlets seemed to confirm the report: "Cuba open to discussing extradition of U.S. fugitives, including cop killer Chesimard," brayed the headline on Fox News Latino over a graphic screaming "Most Wanted Terrorists" in red, white and blue. However, all had the very same Havana-datelined text that U.S. News and World Report helpfully told us was written by the AP's Michael Weissenstein and Matthew Lee.

All of them with the same exact story? Yes, all.

Could it really be true that the AP had a world wide exclusive? Where were the New York Times and Washington Post's own reports? What had happened to wire services like the French AFP, the Spanish EFE, the British Reuters and even Cuba's own Prensa Latina?

Actually, it really was a world-wide AP exclusive. And for a very good reason. No one else had the story because it was bullshit. The AP made it up.

They did it by consciously taking diplomatic evasions and misdirections by a fourteenth-rank State Department mouthpiece with the august title of "Acting Deputy Spokesperson" and spinning them so violently that even diamonds would have been reduced to an invisible dust of disconnected carbon atoms as a result.

When I first saw the story, clear evidence that something was amiss came in the Guardian's sub-headline: "State Department says Cuba has agreed to open talks about two of the most-wanted US fugitives following re-establishment of diplomatic ties."

You may say, "so what." But me, I've earned my living as a hack for four and a half decades, and if there's one thing we "professional journalists" are experts in, it is rats. Just consider who we spend our days covering, whether in politics, business or international relations. And I smelled a rat.

Because a story about what the State Department was saying should be written by the AP Foggy Bottom scribbler in Washington, D.C., not somebody in Havana. 

And the "lead" -- the first sentence -- confirmed this was not something AP covered first-hand in Havana: "The U.S. and Cuba will open talks about two of America's most-wanted fugitives as part of a new dialogue about law-enforcement cooperation made possible by President Barack Obama's decision to remove Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terror, the State Department announced Wednesday."

Did the State Department actually "announce" that on Wednesday? Normally, State Department "announcements" come at the beginning of a press conference and not buried in a sentence in response to a question, so I say no. But listen to the briefing and judge for yourself.

According to the transcript, all that the fill-in spokesperson for the State Department would say was that the U.S. and Cuba agreed to have a "dialogue" about law enforcement issues. He said this included "issues related to fugitives," but was ambiguous, never saying that Cuba had agreed to even talk about returning these "fugitives," among them Assata Shakur and Puerto Rican patriot William Morales.

On the contrary, when reporters tried to pin down Acting Deputy Spokesperson Jeff Rathke, this was the exchange: 
QUESTION: Okay, thanks. I just wanted to jump back to the fugitive issue ... because Assistant Secretary of State Jacobson has said in the past that when they bring up the issue of Joanne Chesimard and others who are being harbored in Cuba, that the Cubans just refuse to talk about it, that they don’t get any traction at all. And I was wondering if there’s been any change in that recently, if you've gotten to the point where they’re actually talking about it, if there’s more of a constructive process going on.

MR RATHKE: I don’t have details from those discussions to read out, but again, as I said, we've agreed to a law enforcement dialogue that will address law enforcement cooperation, including issues related to fugitives.
In case you didn't get it "I don't have the details from those discussions" is diplomatese for "Hell No! What the fuck have you been smoking? This is Cuba we're talking about!"

And our two hard-working AP reporters in Havana confirm as much.
A Cuban government spokesman did not return calls seeking comment on Wednesday, but Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s top diplomat for US affairs, recently ruled out any return of political refugees.

On Tuesday night she said that “the Cuban government recognizes the president of the United States’ just decision to take Cuba off a list in which it should never have been included.”
No, I don't expect Cuba to have a press conference denouncing the AP report. And Cuba may well have agreed to let "issues related to fugitives" be raised in law enforcement talks. Why not?

So Cuba will raise the United States harboring of Luis Posada Carriles, a CIA operative who was the mastermind of the 1976 mid-air terrorist bombing of a Cubana de Aviación civilian airliner, killing 73 people, and many other terrorist attacks. And the United States will object to Cuba's solidarity with liberation fighters from the United States that have taken refuge on the island. But either side handing someone like that over to the other is about as likely as a Beatles reunion tour complete with John and George freshly returned from the grave.

What's going on with this AP story is a tactic as old as the revolution itself. Most of the time the U.S. press depicts Cuba as an unmitigated catastrophe, a blood-soaked devil-spawned regime where the only reason some people escaped the firing squad is because they starved to death first.

But every once in a while some outlet addresses those of us on the left; "Comrades! What we feared is coming to pass! The Havana bureaucracy has sold out! They want iPhones and in exchange, they're even sending back into the clutches of the imperialists sister Assata Shakur and brother William Morales."

It's been the same old song about a revolution betrayed since the Cuban revolution came to power in 1959:

  • When guerrilla war hero Camilo Cienfuegos's small plane was lost that October over the ocean (just after he had put down an incipient pro-American military rebellion), supposedly Fidel had ordered it shot down. 
  • When Che Guevara withdrew from public view in 1965, it was because Fidel had him assassinated.
  • When Che resurfaced in Bolivia, but a CIA agent ordered his execution after Che was wounded and captured leading a guerrilla column, it was because Fidel had set him up. 
  • When Cuba sent thousands of volunteers to Angola to kick South Africa's ass out of that country (and kicked it so hard that Namibia was freed from colonial rule, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and the odious apartheid regime collapsed), why then Fidel had turned Cuba's sons into cannon fodder for Russian imperial ambitions. 
  • And today, when Cuba, a country of only 11 million people, has more doctors working in other countries bringing medical care to poor people than the rest of the world combined, these are not internationalists but medical mercenaries, a Trojan Horse for Cuban propaganda and political domination.

Although cut from the same cloth as those, this ridiculous little AP fairy tale isn't even large enough for a Barbie Doll handkerchief. But it was completely conscious and intentional. That is why it was datelined in Havana, not just to give it credibility but to cover the AP's ass if the distortions of what the State Department guy said became an issue.

Still, these stories have an impact. I've written this tonight because a comrade whose principled integrity I admire, even though his rigidity in applying principles sometimes drive me batty, texted me, worried that the report might be true, and if it were so, suggesting we begin planning how to defend William Morales. I shot him back a quick message saying not to worry, that the story was bullshit. But I felt I owed him a fuller accounting.

The reason we tend to be at least initially shaken and confused by these manipulations is the history of the socialist movement in the 20th Century. The degeneration of the Russian Revolution and the terrible crimes and persecutions carried out in its name culminated with the dismantling a quarter century ago of such vestiges of the Revolution as still remained, and a dismantling led by bureaucrats from the same social group had usurped the name and banner of socialism decades earlier to justify their own privileges.

Of all the countries that claimed to have set out on a socialist road in the 20th Century, Cuba is the only one where people are still inspired by the same dreams. The Chinese and Vietnamese Revolutions were world-historic events, even if from today's perspective, the reason is the independence and unification of those countries, and not the fight to develop a new social system, a quest they have now put aside.

It has been more than half a century since the Cuban Revolution came to power. Over the decades it has made many mistakes, more than I can remember, probably more than I ever knew. Changing world circumstances and the actions of the enemy more than once forced it to double back and look for another road. It was born in a world where there seemed to be an alternative model to capitalism: bureaucratic central planning. For all that Fidel and especially Che tried to challenge its bureaucratic logic and subordinate it to a genuinely popular revolution, Cuba still bears the marks of what the Soviets called "really existing socialism," which ceased to exist a quarter century ago.

But for all that, the Cuban Revolution never betrayed its principles, has never turned its back on its revolutionary duty as best it has understood it, And thus it has survived to this century, and become part of a fresh start, Latin America's movement towards the creation of a Socialism of the 21st Century.

It is slow and difficult because not only a new social system has to be created, but also the only political space in which it can truly develop: a united Latin America. To this process Cuba offers thousands of doctors, health care workers, teachers and technicians. It offers the experiences of half a century of victories and setbacks. But most of all Cuba offers what it has offered since 1959, and which Fidel summarized in the Second Declaration of Havana in 1962:
What Cuba can give to the people, and has already given, is its example. 
And what does the Cuban Revolution teach? That revolution is possible, that the people can make it, that in the contemporary world there are no forces capable of halting the liberation movement of the peoples.
And what it has taught since then it that it can survive, battered and bloodied but not beaten, never broken.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Show trial ends with prison for educators who wouldn't confess

It was a final act straight out of The Crucible, Arthur Miller's McCarthy-era recounting of the Salem Witch-Hunt.

On April 14, ten Black Atlanta educators stood before white Fulton County Judge Jerry Baxter for sentencing. They had been found guilty of violating the state's "Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations" law, a local version of the super-conspiracy statute pushed by Richard Nixon that --supposedly-- applied only to mafia dons, drug dealers and hit men.

In an "only in America" Alice-In-Wonderland moment, two of those already found guilty made a post-conviction deal with the prosecutor. In exchange for not appealing the verdict and publicly confessing their sins, they received slap-on-the-wrist sentences instead of prison. One got a year-long 7:00PM-7:00AM at-home curfew, plus probation. The other, about 50 days of weekend detention, and probation.

As for the rest, Judge Baxter said, “All I want for many of these people is to just take some responsibility, but they refuse. They refuse."

So as punishment for the refusal, three of the educators were sentenced to 20 years, seven to be served in prison, the rest on probation, and $25,000 in fines. The rest received five-year sentences, with one or two to be served in prison. Sentencing was postponed for one teacher who had just had a baby.

The substance of the crime was that Atlanta educators has either given the answers to students during standardized tests or erased wrong answers on answer cards and filled in correct ones after the test.

I'm not sure if there is a law against that, but those actions were not what they were accused of. The main charge was the RICO one of being part of a criminal organization -- in essence, conspiracy. Of the twelve who went to trial, eleven were found guilty of this so-called "racketeering." One was found innocent of all charges.

In the best Moscow Trials fashion, they were tried en masse, instead of individually, even though they weren't accused of doing something together, just of being in an unspoken, implicit, de facto conspiracy.

The one person who tied them all together was Beverly Hall, head of Atlanta schools for more than a decade. According to the official accounts, Hall was a data driven despot who, through relentless pressure for ever-higher standardized test scores, set the cheating in motion. This, the state insisted, created the conspiracy that was a "corrupt organization," allowing the prosecutor to threaten draconian punishment under a vague and sweeping statute.

Hall was to be the main defendant in the trial that started eight months ago, but she couldn't be tried as she was undergoing cancer treatment. She died before the trial was over in March.

Much of the testimony against the educators was obtained by what is technically known in the legal biz as "subornation of perjury" -- but only when someone who is not a prosecutor does it. It means offering a witness "anything of value" in exchange for their testimony, even if that testimony is true. And for you and me, it is a felony.

What did the prosecutor offer witnesses that fit the category of "anything of value?" Well, total immunity or –for the majority of those indicted-- dropping 20-year-prison-sentence RICO counts if the accused pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor with no jail time ... provided you testify against others.

In this case, it is a matter of public record that nearly 200 educator-"cheaters" were identified, and more than 80 admitted to taking steps to improperly raise scores. Many were threatened with prosecution and a total of 35 indicted, including these defendants. A majority of those indicted cut deals, pleading guilty to misdemeanor false statement or obstruction charges.

The sort of cheating that went on in Atlanta is not unique. According to the Government Accountability Office, 40 states reported allegations of standardized test cheating for the school years 2010-11 and 2011-12. Thirty three confirmed at least one instance of cheating; 32 said they invalidated at least some test scores as a result.

This cheating is the result of the 2001 bipartisan "No child left behind" federal takeover of local education. It requires all of a school's students to reach at least the same minimum score in standardized tests -- without, however, addressing any of the social, economic and political factors that impact testing results. There are mounting severe and disruptive penalties for each year a school fails, so principals and teachers are getting penalized and even fired if their students have low test scores. The quite foreseeable and well-nigh inevitable result was doctoring the test performance.

Atlanta's is said to be the nation's biggest test cheating scandal, but if so, that may well be because the rest have not been investigated. A USA Today analysis in 2011 cast suspicion on more than 100 Washington, DC, public schools, compared to the 44 involved in Atlanta. But unlike in Georgia, there was no criminal investigation.

The Atlanta teachers were singled out for reprisal by the state's Republican governor, who ordered a multi-million dollar Georgia Bureau of Investigations probe after a statistical analysis by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggested cheating was going on.

The final report from the investigation found widespread cheating driven by unrealistic test result targets from the district backed by threats and actual reprisals against teachers and administrators, creating "a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation ... throughout the district." Those who tried to report the cheating were ignored and suffered reprisals.

I wish it could be said the governor's order for a state investigation was driven by concern for the students and their education, but I do not believe it. A big reason was to counter opposition to the governor's cuts in the state education budget. Another was to boost the privatization of education through charter schools.

But the biggest one is simply because Georgia politics revolves around race, usually disguised as "urban versus rural" or "metro Atlanta" against the rest of the state and so on.

So, for example, as the trial was winding down, the state legislature approved a plan to create an “opportunity school district” directly under the governor that would take over "failing" schools, stripping elected school boards of control. Unsaid but understood by everyone involved that the targets will be minority schools, especially Black ones, and the real aim is privatization, the creation of more charter schools.

The area’s main news organization, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, detonated the scandal through investigative reports in 2009 and followed it closely. Systematically it covered up the racial aspect of the case. But after the sentencing, AJC reporter Bill Torpy finally lifted the veil:

"Race has always lurked in the wings of this recent public morality tale. All 35 educators indicted were black, as anyone who saw the mugshots in the media knows." But you had to have seen the mugshots, because the newspaper and most other media never mentioned it.

Torpy was recently minted as some sort of star journalist, so he gets to write folksy first-person commentaries. Here is some more of what he wrote:

"Monday morning, I was in the parking lot across from the Fulton County courthouse when a former co-worker remarked, via Facebook, that she was 'struck by the racial divide' on whether the convicted educators in the Atlanta schools cheating trial should get locked up….

"'Most black commenters believe the teachers may have done wrong but don’t deserve prison. Most white commenters believe the opposite,' my old colleague wrote. 'Like the OJ and Rodney King cases, it’s very revealing.'"

Perhaps even more revealing was Torpy's own take on the sentencing: "I had noted earlier that they rolled the dice and lost. They went to trial, were found guilty and were likely headed to prison. That’s how it works. If they got the same probation deals as those who fessed up before the trial, I reasoned, then why make deals in the first place? The judge warned them — repeatedly — about it." Torpy is white, as anyone who reads his musings knows, and not just because his mugshot accompanies every one, if you're a person of color.

But by and large, the dozens of teachers and principals caught up in the Atlanta scandal were not criminals but victims, along with the children. Yes, they did quietly point out to some children the right answer during the tests, or erase a wrong answer and fill in the right one afterwards.

But as former Atlanta mayor and civil rights movement leader Andrew Young told Judge Baxter, the real problem is the high-stakes testing madness imposed by politicians and bureaucrats. “We have messed up education so much that tests and grades do not make you educated,” Young said. “I think these teachers got caught in a trap. Take this mess and make a good thing out of it.”

Young also quoted Martin Luther King. "When people are placed in darkness, crimes will be committed. The guilty are those who created the darkness."

And Young was not the only one protesting. It was ignored elsewhere in the media, but Torpy noted, "As I left my car to walk to the courthouse Monday, I heard a chant bouncing off the buildings: 'Let the teachers go! Let the teachers go!'

"It was an old-style Atlanta rally," Torpy added, "with all the old-line agitators — the Rev. Timothy McDonald, Joe Beasley, John Evans — and about 75 others outside on the steps." And even old-style Atlanta snarking by white reporters.

It would be nice to imagine you could find a corps of incorruptible teachers who would gladly fall on their swords, sacrifice their careers but do what is right against a regime of repression and retribution imposed by the head of the school system. But Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall was said to be even more monomaniacal about standardized test results than the federal law. The fate of the first few Don Quixotes who tried to resist served as an object lesson to the rest about the futility of tilting at windmills. As it was, 90% of Atlanta school principals were removed during her tenure.

And resistance might have been easier if the organizations that supposedly represent the teachers could be counted to stand up for their members. But both were present at the sentencing, and backed the vindictive judge.

"They should have taken the deal," said Verdaillia Turner, head of both the Atlanta and Georgia federation of teachers. "I have no idea why these folks were so hardheaded."

Apparently she wasn't listening when Dana Evans responded to Judge Baxter's pleading for capitulation. He said her conviction was "probably the biggest tragedy of all of them … I want to tell you I consider you a wonderful educator, and that is what makes it so sad."

Evans's reply: "I know you may want to hear an admission of guilt, but I can’t do that because it’s not the truth." After being freed on an appeals bond she told reporters, "I was surprised by the verdict. I couldn’t fathom how they (the jurors) could come to that decision … that I knowingly and willingly was involved in a conspiracy."

According to an NBC report, however, the union official was, in essence, a prosecution aide. Turner "knows the value of taking a deal. She helped dozens of members arrange for lenient punishment in return for admitting their roles early on in the investigation" and, of course, throwing the colleagues the prosecutors chose as scapegoats under the bus, although NBC forgot that part.

"Turner said 48 of her members were 'disposed of' before the trial, and most have 'landed on their feet,' some in education jobs, others out of the industry."

Georgia's other teacher's group, the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, also piled on. The sentences were "fairly harsh," said the group's mouthpiece, Tim Callahan. But "certainly a wrong had been done, and needed to be exposed, and people needed to pay the price."

What some people will do for 30 pieces of silver.

Apart from rampant racism in what they used to claim was "the city too busy to hate," what the Atlanta scandal showed was the wholesale degradation of the school system through the infiltration of America's corrupt corporate culture. It is there --not among the teachers-- that you will find Beverly Hall's real co-conspirators: in the chamber of commerce; in its pliant school board; in famous foundations like the Gates foundation that have pushed for corporate education reform; and, of course, among the bipartisan political racketeers.

The judge's demand for capitulation in exchange for lenient sentences is profoundly corrupt and unfair. It shows that to all intents and purposes, the constitutional guarantee of due process of law is no more. The right to a trial, to defend yourself, and to appeal a guilty verdict has been abolished. Because if you can be punished with years in prison for exercising a right, and rewarded for abandoning it, then it is no longer a right.

But the most disturbing thing of all is that the demand for capitulation and confession has long been a hallmark of police states and totalitarian dictatorships. What the authorities want most of all is to set an example: resistance is futile, no one can stand up to the state.

That is why by standing up and saying no to the state's demand for capitulation, these educators are teaching the most important lesson of all.