Category Archives: News

The U.S. Military Has Deployed A Laser Weapon To The Persian Gulf

from November 25, 2014 at 11:43AM

The U.S. Military Has Deployed A Laser Weapon To The Persian Gulf

As part of its annual training exercises in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. Navy has begun testing a prototype of its High Energy Laser (HEL) weapon. The futuristic device could be used to shoot down drones and small attack boats.

Read more…

Read more at: io9

How Oligarchs Destroyed a Major American City

from November 24, 2014 at 06:30AM

Central Houston has been converted into an exclusive playland for the rich.

A startling change for the worse has occurred in the physical appearance and occupancy of central Houston over the last few years. Entire historic neighborhoods, while superficially modernized, have had their character destroyed. How can change on this scale take place so fast, despite the lessons of the recent national housing collapse? Who are the people behind this transformation, how do they get what they want, and who gets hurt by their callous disregard?

My neighbors and I are currently being affected by what I consider the most monstrous example of gentrification in Houston. I want to expose its sordid aspects, hoping that Houston will do the right thing and that other cities in the early stages of gentrification will take note of what is at stake.

Steel Street at the intersection of Kirby and Alabama, in the heart of Houston’s cultural district: 35 100-year-old live oak trees dominate the street amidst historic 1940s housing set to be torn down. (Anis Shivani/May 2014)

Artists, writers and eccentrics from around the country descended in droves in the 2000s to take advantage of Houston’s livability. They flocked to the legendary “gayborhood” of Montrose and brought other neighborhoods around downtown to life. I called Houston in those halcyon years "Austin-plus" because it had a lot of the capital’s aesthetic attractions in addition to remarkable diversity and friendliness. Despite the influx of the creative class, Houston remained affordable and blissfully free of alienation.

Alas, for many of us the dream has ended. Houston has transmogrified into a city ruled by a brutal strain of neoliberalism, and the city’s well-known tendency to be disrespectful of history has been taken to gothic extremes. It took only a few short years for developers to displace the original population of the central neighborhoods, while converting the core city into an exclusive playland for the rich.

The metamorphosis has received little coverage in local media, which are beholden to the same growth-at-all-costs advocates who fund politicians. Houston now has comparable rents to New York City, and corporate indifference—which I had never known since I moved here almost 20 years ago from New England—stamps out neighborhood intimacy. Houston has ceased being what it was, as rampant commodification destroys its inherent Southern gentleness and live-and-let-live philosophy.

Gentrification is the process of replacing deteriorating inner-city housing stock with upscale residences—townhouses and condos—while the original lower-income residents are evicted. Gentrification, as it started occurring in North American cities in the early 1970s (following the lead of London in the 1960s), goes through certain well-known cycles, typified by what happened to New York’s Lower East Side. In the first wave, gentrifying pioneers (typically educated and older, intrigued by the cultural possibilities of the inner city) move back from the suburbs, followed by a younger wave of gentrifiers (students and artists) who give the inner city a stronger cultural aura, followed at last by yuppies and then even richer and more homogeneous upper-class people for whom moving in has more financial than cultural meaning.

What is happening in Houston does not fit the classical definition of gentrification. Montrose—the quintessential bohemian district—is close to historic wards like the Third, Fourth and Fifth, home to generations of minority homeowners. The condition of these neighborhoods was nothing like the slums of Los Angeles or Detroit, despite the damage caused by freeway construction after the war. There were isolated areas of blight, but on the whole they were vital and functioning. The bohemian areas were ideal as they were.

To call what is happening gentrification or even redevelopment dignifies the current violence. When existing vibrant neighborhoods are torn down and those being displaced are crucial members of the community, we’re not just talking about gentrification. We are witnessing a full-scale sellout to developers, who are working closely with municipal government for short-term speculative gain.

Houston’s geographical patrimony is up for sale to the highest bidder, and politically unaccountable corporations are in a purchasing frenzy.  Boosters rationalize their investments as a means of broadening the tax base or making the city more attractive for business, but in fact the city is being hollowed out for future generations. This is asking for big trouble, as we will recognize when the bubble inevitably bursts. By then the mega-builders will have made their pile of cash and moved on to other cities to destroy whatever is humane and urbane about them. Houston is late to the game, but this is the same process of leveraged gain for the few leading to profound human misery for the many. 

* * * * *

Houston’s bohemian section (Montrose) is adjacent to our most elite neighborhood (River Oaks), both of which are in turn close to the inner-city neighborhoods; this juxtaposition once created possibilities for interaction among different classes. The geographical jumble made segregation all the more difficult once it started being phased out in the 1950s, which had a positive influence on the rest of the city as well, radiating beyond the inner loop of the 610 freeway. But Houston has undergone dramatic resegregation under the guise of development.

My neighbors on Steel Street—at the Kirby and Alabama intersection, arguably the single most desirable location in Houston, with everything interesting located within a few miles’ radius—and I have become victims of the grotesque leveraging of urban space by those who falsely assert that the market alone decide outcomes.

There is no prettier street in all of Houston, with a magnificent vista that opens up as one enters Steel Street from Kirby Drive or Virginia Street; people mention North and South Boulevards as comparisons but the trees on our street are more impressive. Family members of Roy Huffington, the renowned Texas oil baron and philanthropist, are said to have lived in the very townhouse I live in (they combined adjoining townhouses and made delightful alterations including cavernous bookshelves). Even River Oaks does not have a contained urban forest such as this one, so it’s no wonder that the Dickey family, which owns all of the property on the street, invited their friends from River Oaks to maintain residences here. 

A view of the front of my house on Steel Street. (Anis Shivani/Nov. 2014)

The 370-unit 30-story high-rise Hanover Co. wishes to put in its place. ( 2014)

In the 1890s, William Dickey, a physician, bought a huge tract of land alongside Kirby Drive stretching all the way to Buffalo Bayou, including parts of River Oaks and the Avalon neighborhood and what is known as Upper Kirby. Upon the death of William Dickey’s son in 1999, the current owner, Tommy, started selling chunks of this vast property bit by bit, taking advantage of tax incentives to "redevelop" a large stretch of Kirby Drive, from River Oaks to the 59 Freeway.

Tommy Dickey, the current owner of Steel Street, often recognized by the city for his contributions to "redeveloping" the already elite Upper Kirby area. (Upper Kirby District Street Talk/2011).

Such tax incentives (called TIRZ’s, Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones) are common to the gentrification narrative in other cities so it’s disingenuous to claim that market forces alone determine outcomes. Municipal policies guide urban transformation, spurring developers to focus on areas that are already well-developed. Before Dickey started selling it off in pieces, Kirby Drive already had thriving independent restaurants and businesses. Perverse tax incentives for the destruction of distinctive neighborhoods should have no place in rational urban planning.

Our immediate neighbor, a pretentious luxury condo called Gables River Oaks (they keep changing names, hoping that the next one will lure in occupants), remains largely empty, and the retail businesses within it keep closing down. The new residents have little loyalty to local businesses. And an infamous high-rise building that went up on Kirby remains largely empty five years after construction, so it’s not as if the development is all in response to pent-up demand from young professionals moving into Houston by the tens of thousands.

All over Montrose and Upper Kirby one sees boosters carrying signs on the streets, as empty luxury apartment towers try to lure in occupants. (Anis Shivani/Nov. 2014).

Tommy Dickey tried for a while to get the city to "abandon" Steel Street, so that the oak trees would no longer be in the right of way and the developer could do whatever he wished with them. He met with success at last when Hanover Co., with presumable help from the planning commission, came up with a scheme that would fly: present the plan as developing only a portion of the street, get everyone accustomed to the idea of losing the incredible vista, and take care of the rest piecemeal.

Before the planning commission meeting on August 21, the developer announced that only five trees would be affected, and that the high-rise involved only a section of Steel Street. Since then, however, things have been moving rapidly, as the rest of the property has been sold off. Dickey apparently didn’t hold out for a higher price for the rest of Steel Street, afraid of possible resistance.

The planning commission meeting was a revelation to me. I have never seen a more hardened bunch of 27 people gathered in one place (city council members often seem to have their hearts in the right place, but this is not so with the planning commission). Developers make their pitch (the proposals are predeveloped, formed in conjunction with the city to offer whatever suits public consumption, as was true of gentrification in New York and elsewhere) and the planning commission staff invariably rubber-stamps it. Members of the public are free to comment but the commission may go ahead with the original decision anyway. 

Hanover’s representatives, primarily David Ott, came off as gangsters dressed in nice suits. They made obvious misrepresentations while the planning commission just sat there and took it with a wink and a nod. Hanover claimed that an arborist had done a study for them showing that the trees would be "helped" and "improved" by construction. It isn’t hard to imagine that in a few years the company will say that the trees are dying—which they surely will because of the damage caused by the construction—and should be taken down for public safety.

A man rose in support of the highrise as a member of the "Steel Street Townhome Owners’ Association"; he may belong to a part of Steel Street on the other side of Kirby, but has nothing to do with our section of Steel Street. The planning commission (headed by Patrick Walsh, director of Planning and Development) asked politely if the public would continue to have access to the trees (assuming they would continue to exist) and Hanover replied that the public would be happier than ever. I imagine a ghastly private walkway like the one at Gables River Oaks, the trees (if any survive) nestled amidst failing high-end stores for the private enjoyment of those who can afford a million-dollars-plus for one of the 370 units in the high-rise.

But Houston is not known for leaving well enough alone. Three years ago I was traveling to national parks in the mountain west and came back to discover that the entire tree cover for Memorial Park—oaks that were planted in the 1920s by the city fathers—was gone! The drought had supposedly killed the trees and they were in danger of falling over runners so the city had to prevent the risk. I haven’t encountered anything like Memorial Park’s vast acreage of ancient trees anywhere in the country. There is no such place, in the dead center of urban density, set aside in quite the same manner, yet in the blink of an eye, without public discussion, the trees were demolished. It became an excuse to "redevelop" Memorial Park; Council Member Ellen Cohen (who wants to be the next mayor) is a fierce advocate for this $150 million boondoggle, courtesy of a New York company. The idea is to take down pristine ecological systems and rebuild them for commercial ends.

Council Member Cohen (whose district includes most of the central neighborhoods that have been devastated) is a recurring presence in these scenarios. Buffalo Bayou Park, connecting downtown with River Oaks/Upper Kirby/Montrose, was another ecological treasure, yet—without much public input—its pristine wilderness was also demolished, leaving a massive redevelopment project in its wake. There was a bit of a fuss about the riparian forest that will give way to commercialization, but this being Houston, the conclusion was foregone.

* * * * *

It has become almost a rite of passage for liberal-minded Houstonians to get a 30-day eviction notice.. Over on Steel Street, my neighbor Angela works at Whole Foods and has three young daughters, one of whom attends the prestigious Lanier Middle School. Angela has been preparing her daughters for a massive downgrade and is even considering abandoning her nine-year-old dog. Like many others here, Angela has little idea of how to proceed because there is no affordable housing within the city. Buying is out of the question, as tiny houses cost half a million dollars and decent-sized houses a cool million.

Long-time Steel Street resident Angela Tawater Amundsen with her 13-year-old daughter Emma. (Anis Shivani/Nov. 2014)

Kat Kearns is an artist who has had a tough time finding a place that would accept her rescue dog Birdie. Eddie Graber, with a law degree from UT Austin, has lived here for 40 years, and cannot comprehend the loss. Don Williams lived here for 30 years and was proud of his vegetable garden. Mark (a University of Houston graduate student in literature) and his yoga-teaching wife Lisa also grew a vegetable garden; they have since reluctantly departed to east Houston, the reservoir du jour for the displaced. My next-door neighbors have had three children since they moved here and are unlikely to find any comparable housing elsewhere in the city.

We are real people who make up a real community, only to be displaced by unoccupied zombie high-rises which are pure investment vehicles for global investors. People like us find our lives irreparably damaged by gentrification. We’re not homeless, we’re not welfare recipients, we’re the backbone of Houston, tens of thousands of hardworking residents who put the city in the position of promoting itself as a cultural destination in the first place. We ride bikes or walk; we loyally support local establishments; we love our neighborhoods and treasure them, yet we are the ones whose lives are destroyed.

The real faces of displacement: the Hodge family, my immediate neighbors, Willow, Sidney and Oliver, in front of their house on Steel Street. (Liana Bouchard/Nov. 2014)

In Portland or San Francisco lawsuits would be flying all over the place to save the trees. But the ordinary citizens of Houston feel powerless amidst the development frenzy. Houston’s center has already been transformed beyond recognition,with countless skyscrapers going up, while the original population has been dispersed to distant ramparts or are considering other cities now that Houston has become as unaffordable as Los Angeles or New York.

In Montrose there has been a precipitous decline in foot traffic—which leads to more crime—because the yuppies are content to turn their backs to the world, preferring windowless standardized townhouses, and patronizing establishments that close down early in the evening (because they have to go to their oil and gas industry jobs early the next morning). Taco Milagro, at the intersection of Kirby and Westheimer, used to be a lively public-private space. The food was very healthy and people from all over the city danced the night away and congregated on the large patio. But at the gateway to River Oaks, with condominiums going up all around, this open space was unacceptable, so Taco Milagro suddenly shut down. 

The look of old Montrose (Anis Shivani/Oct. 2014)

New Montrose (Anis Shivani/Oct. 2014)

This is how ruling oligarchies kill a city: one business, one person at a time, pretending that market forces are doing all the work, when in fact all sorts of incentives and disincentives are at play. Certain websites— in particular—have emerged during the same period as cheerleaders for gentrification. Culturemap sent Houston’s leading society reporter, Shelby Hodge, to take pictures of the doomed trees, while breathlessly cheering on the Hanover high-rise as a great favor to the environment. The commentators at the real estate site are often boosters locked into the developers’ myopic viewpoint; not a day has gone by in recent years when Swamplot hasn’t reported the closure of yet another historic restaurant or bar or antique shop. But after about five years of this, there’s nothing distinctive left to shut down anymore

Like the Houston Heights, one of the earliest planned communities in Texas (which has had its own troubles with gentrification), the entire Montrose/Upper Kirby area, along with the neighborhoods surrounding downtown, should long ago have been declared historic neighborhoods, untouchable by developers. This would have preserved vital public space which is now gone forever, replaced by a scale of construction that does not suit a quintessentially low-key, low-density city like Houston.

If the city were truly interested in broadening the tax base and making it a metropolis with lasting appeal, it would focus on improving the old neighborhoods outside the 610 loop. Incentives should be provided to increase livability and expand the range of options for every class of people. Instead, those neighborhoods remain static and ignored, while the mega-developers keep tearing down and rebuilding the stock of inner-city housing that is already solid. The logic of gentrification is to continuously package and commodify and leverage the same bit of land for speculative purposes. Save the neighborhoods that need to be saved and leave those that are doing great alone.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the narrative that is being promoted. Once developers’ spokespeople—like David Ott of Hanover—preemptively reach out to local media to provide what are essentially press releases for new developments, media outlets consider their reporting job finished. The glossy arts magazines cater to the vanities of the nouveau riche rather than question an issue which goes to the base of the wealth of the very people who fund them. Television is missing from this conversation, as is progressive radio. An organization called Preservation Houston has carefully kept distance; supported by the rich folks in River Oaks, they seem interested only in fighting minor battles to embellish their own reputation rather than challenging the real balance of power among the different forces. It remains to be seen if organizations like Trees for Houston will remain content to plant saplings in remote suburbs rather than take forceful legal action in a transformative case like this one.

The final indignity is that while only a part of the street is to be used for the high-rise, all the rest of us have received summary eviction notices. This is gratuitous violence against helpless tenants. Some say that demolition will save them property taxes, but how do you measure the suffering of tenants who have lived here for decades against some tax savings, if that is even the case? If we’d had more time, we would have made better choices. No doubt it will take several years before the high-rise is finished, so the majority of tenants on the rest of the street did not need to be evicted now.

The real reason for urgent eviction is to make the destruction of the idyllic aspect of Steel Street a fact and kill any potential protest. This is in keeping with the rough style of the mega-developers. The evictions alone should be grounds for a lawsuit, as would happen in a more progressive city. I’m sure I’ll be visiting the ruins of Steel Street a year from now and see little in the way of actual construction.   

How beautiful Houston could have been, how livable, how egalitarian, how aesthetically and environmentally pleasing; in parts of the city one can see signs that we could easily have been a greener Portland of the South. The city can still choose to go the humane way and secure its future, which does not come from short-term gains in property values and associated tax revenues but creating the kind of place that people fall in love with. Despite the city’s benign indifference, such a spirit already existed and flourished, but it’s been stabbed to death.

Houston used to work despite the low-wage, low-service economy, but the unaffordable cost of living spells an end to that path. The distant corporate types who have taken over will not be around when the fiscal crunch soon comes. To be a world-class city, Houston’s political leadership must care about leaving behind a social geography derived from the real sum of human endeavor, not abstract financial maneuvers. Let us not dignify high-stakes real estate deals which destroy the lives of ordinary citizens with the word "gentrification."

Mega-developers like Hanover should be taught a lesson so that this sort of cavalier treatment of precious environmental resources ceases. Will Houston media and activist organizations step up? Will the city do the right thing by calling it off and preserving the entire street, both the trees and the historic housing? Will interested lawyers take up the cause? Hanover will claim in a couple of years, once the construction has done its damage, that the trees were always dying (though they’re as strong as ever, sprouting fresh growth even now), and request the city to abandon Steel Street at last.

Houston happens to have an enlightened mayor, Annise D. Parker, and I hope she will put these bread-and-butter issues squarely on the table. This is a struggle against the power of corrupt oligarchies that are erasing every trace of distinction about Houston. Our entire land-use policy should be up for reconsideration. Houston cannot become a mature city until it introduces equality between the business elite and the low-wage workers who have been exploited since the city’s formation.

Should landlords be allowed to evict tenants with decades worth of residency in just 30 days? Substantial compensation is the least they should be offered, but the first resort should be to allow tenants to form co-ops and buy the properties they have proudly cared for. Tenants should know from the outset what is in the works rather than be confronted with facts after the game is over. In our case, we received setback variance notice on August 11 with the hearing set on August 21—this small window being our only chance to have our opinion heard (and that too on a matter of detail, not the larger issue of whether construction should take place). That is the only point where the public intersects with the city. Predeveloped proposals should be disbarred as manifestations of outright corruption.

There is a way to grow without destroying natural resources and harming vulnerable citizens. Mature cities undertake balanced growth to create shared prosperity, rather than benefit only the global financial elites. In addition to declaring all of Steel Street, both the trees and the housing, as untouchable historic landmarks, Mayor Parker should give thought to the following basic initiatives in the spirit of developing a more progressive urban policy:

  • Projects with a huge public impact should be available for review well before the final stage. Neighborhoods should be equalized rather than pitted against each other.
  • An arbitration committee should provide a mechanism for future disputes between neighborhoods and developers, to reduce the power of developers working through the planning commission. The planning commission’s arbitrary powers should be severely curtailed.
  • Rents should be regulated in central districts to retain the kind of people who create urban vitality. A plan should be set in place to make aesthetically appealing housing available at modest cost in historic neighborhoods, in order to counter renewed segregation.
  • There is talk of legislation to do away with even the current minimal checks on developers’ powers, such as weakening of historical preservation guidelines and setback variance rules. Instead, the opposite direction should be pursued to prevent developers from converting beautiful neighborhoods into instant wastelands.
  • Property conversion should have to follow restrictive new guidelines so that the constant cycle of tearing down and building up to inflated proportions can be rechanneled into citywide development of culture and infrastructure.

Read more at: Alternet

Walmart Workers Chain Massive Food Donation Bin Outside Home Of Alice Walton

from November 25, 2014 at 07:30AM

(photo: @other98)

(photo: @other98)

via Consumerist:

Just days after another Walmart launched the holiday giving season by placing a food donation bin for employees to help out their co-workers in need, some workers have placed a much larger bin outside the home of someone who makes a little bit more than $10/hour from the nation’s largest retailer — Alice Walton.

Alice is the daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton. And while the business is publicly traded, the Walton family owns more than half of that stock, making Alice one of the world’s wealthiest people.

Read More: the rest

The post Walmart Workers Chain Massive Food Donation Bin Outside Home Of Alice Walton appeared first on disinformation.

Read more at: disinformation

Obama Orders U.S. Troops in Afghanistan to Keep Fighting for a 14th Year

from November 25, 2014 at 12:55PM

In May, President Barack Obama said American troops in Afghanistan would cease their “combat mission” by January 1. Now, come January 1, U.S. soldiers will engage in “combat operations,” marking the 14th consecutive year of fighting. So much for the war ending.


The only significant difference between what the U.S. military has been doing in Afghanistan and what it will be doing starting next year is the size of its forces. Instead of tens of thousands of soldiers, the U.S. will station only 9,800 to fight al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.


“Senior administration officials said that Obama agreed that U.S. military leaders in Afghanistan are authorized to approve combat operations, using ground forces, manned aircraft and drones, under three sets of circumstances,” Karen DeYoung and Missy Ryan wrote at The Washington Post.


“They include counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda and other ‘transnational’ terrorist groups, protection of U.S. forces engaged in training or other activities, and assistance to Afghan forces. Under those circumstances, U.S. forces probably will be engaged in direct combat with the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat to them or other members of the remaining international military coalition,” they added.


American engagement with insurgents will include U.S. Special Forces accompanying Afghan National Army Special Forces, which have been cleared to resume nighttime raids. Such missions were banned under former President Hamid Karzai after they resulted in civilian casualties. But the country’s new leader, Ashraf Ghani, “quietly lifted the ban,” according to The New York Times.


“President Ghani has reached out and embraced the international community. We have a strategic opportunity we haven’t had previously with President Karzai,” Gen. John F. Campbell, the allied commander in Afghanistan, has told the Times.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Afghan Mission for U.S. To Continue under New Authorities (by Karen DeYoung and Missy Ryan, Washington Post)

In a Shift, Obama Extends U.S. Role in Afghan Combat (by Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, New York Times)

Afghanistan Quietly Lifts Ban on Nighttime Raids (by Rod Nordland and Taimoor Shah, New York Times)

U.S. Bombing of Afghanistan Hits 2-Year High (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)

Read more at: News – AllGov

“Democracy on Fire”: Protestors Respond to Grand Jury’s Failure to Indict Mike Brown’s Killer

via The Real News

Ferguson, Goddamn: No Indictment for Darren Wilson Is No Surprise. This Is Why We Protest

from November 25, 2014 at 06:19AM

Ferguson is a microcosm of all the narratives about race and America that we fear and suppress.

"I’ve been dreaming of death. Seeing pictures of death. Seeing pictures of bloody sheets hanging on clotheslines."

Just days before Michael Brown and his brown body encountered a white police officer and a gun in Ferguson, Missouri, the 18-year-old child said that to his stepmother. She told the world of this foreshadowing during Brown’s funeral two months ago, as anger turned to tears, and this small community ignited a wave of protests and activism that would continue for more than 100 days – and will begin anew, starting right now.

In the months since, all of the leaks and all of the tweets warning that there would be no indictment for Darren Wilson – that instead there would be black“violence” and a perpetual “state of emergency” – have served as constructed preparations to manage our disappointment, for the big reveal that our criminal justice system was still as broken as it ever was. And now that the grand jury’s decision has arrived in the form of a smirking white prosecutor, all of the agony of that wait has culminated in nothing more than the sum of our grim expectations, to ignite cynicism and an old rage.

Today, Mike Brown is still dead, and Darren Wilson has not been indicted for his murder. And who among us can say anything but: “I am not surprised”?

I remember sitting on a grand jury once. The state and county attorneys present their singular narrative, their small bits of evidence, to construct a case that says that the offender is guilty – or not. And when you sit on the grand jury, you’re not given much in terms of a complete accounting of events that could lead to any of the possible charges.

The 12 citizens on the Ferguson jury may have heard more “than any other grand jury has heard about any other case in living memory”, but the state owns the space, and the state does not own us. Wilson may have testified – he may have said he “feared for my life” – but the state has refused to listen to the testimony of a young black man with his hands in the air. The story cannot end here.

A non-indictment is no absolution of guilt, but are you not angry? Are you not sick of being unsurprised?

Ferguson is indeed a microcosm – of the all the narratives about race and America that we fear and suppress. Still: it is not enough to say that, yes, of course the promise of justice – the promise of America, of democracy – has failed its black citizens, again. It doesn’t make the disappointment any less disappointing, nor the rage any less real. But it doesn’t make the moment any less mighty either.

We can choose to say something else. We are choosing to protest.

There are guidelines – for them and for us, for cops and for protesters – but there is no textbook when history unfolds in real time, and there are no rules for coping with a moment as mighty as this. There will be changes, and there is still a federal civil-rights investigation. Right now, though, there are only tears of rage, frustration and anger – or all three at once.

"To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time."

Fifty-three years ago, James Baldwin aptly observed that devastating truth. Fifty-three years later, the sustained rage restarts every 28 hours, because every 28 hours an African American is killed by law enforcement, or a security guard, or a “vigilante” claiming self-defence – or all three at once.

The students I teach at a community college in Manhattan – freshmen, like Mike Brown would have been right now, returning home to his family for Thanksgiving break – are relatively conscious of this regularity, of this apparent normality.

The young people know about John Crawford III, a 22-year-old black man who died after an Ohio police officer shot him for carrying an unloaded BB rifle in the pet-food aisle of Walmart, whose mother misses her son and doesn’t understand why an Ohio grand jury did not indict the cops responsible for this death.

The young people know about Eric Garner, the 43-year-old black father of six who died after a New York police officer put him in an illegal chokehold, whose family awaits in tears of rage as a grand jury still has not indicted any of the cops responsible for that death.

They know about Darrien Hunt and Vonderrit Myers Jr, another unarmed teenager shot dead by a white law-enforcement officer with a gun. After this weekend, they know about 12-year-old Tamir Rice and 28-year-old Akai Gurley. They know about Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell; I am teaching them about Edmund Perry and the Edmund Pettus Bridge. But do they know about Ezell Ford in Los Angeles or Marlon Horton in Chicago and all the black and brown bodies gunned down by cops every day since that August afternoon when Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown after those 90 seconds on Canfield Drive? Does a grand jury of our supposed peers – an extreme version of the kind I sat on – mean to say that if the cops are never wrong, they never shall experience any penalty or consequences for their errors, especially when they prove fatal? Or do we just expect this and that death, do we just embrace this failure of humanity?

The African American body is still the bellwether of the health, the promise and the problems of the American democratic experiment. The message that the Missouri grand jury has now sent to young African Americans – from Ferguson to my classroom and the rest of the world – is that black lives do not matter, that your rights and your personhood are secondary to an uneasy and negative peace, that the police have more power over your body than you do yourself.

Culpability doesn’t mean much behind a wall of blue, but today, we channel that rage to urge for transformative reforms in law and spirit. Why should we accept these terms that occlude black and brown citizens in the 21st century, in the year 2014? Why should we put faith in our justice system, as it stands, when the laws appear to be so unequally applied? What the fuck is policing that insists on using deadly force for the most minor of offenses? How the hell can such deadly force be excused by the system? What kind of world is this where the cops have more rights than you do?

"I do not want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change… We live here together, this is our home. We’re stronger united."

Mike Brown’s father said that, in a video released on Friday with a message “to heal and to create lasting change”. President Obama and attorney general Eric Holder and all the rest offered healing words, too, mostly so that we would protest in peace, which we will – no matter how many of the battle tanks roll back in, no matter how many rubber bullets get fired, no matter teargas canisters are launched into the streets.

Meanwhile, the (white) leaders attempt to offer a smattering of words to mimic something akin to reform. The “insulated, isolated” Missouri governor, Jay Nixon, announced in advance of the decision a commission to investigate why things fell apart so rapidly, that “they are on edge”. The preachy St Louis mayor, Francis Slay, announced plans to expand a jobs initiative, that “we will protectyour right to peacefully assemble”. There will be all sorts of commissions and initiatives, just as there were after Los Angeles in 1992 and Cincinnati in 2001, just as President Johnson announced in 1968 and President Clinton did in ’97.

But in 2014, can any new commission or initiative or reform really provide very obvious and knowable answers that any other commission or initiative or reform couldn’t?

To offer a committee and yet another jobs program to “save” black parents from burying another black child is not a preventive measure when another white police officer will shoot and kill another big brown body on another empty street on another sunny afternoon any minute now. It’s important to invest in the economic wellbeing of communities, and certainly communities of color. And perhaps we do need a national civilian review board that tracks, monitors and investigates police shootings and excessive force cases. We should be doing all that anyway. Public policy changes and institutional reforms must and will happen after Ferguson, and many of the ideas for them will begin in these here pages.

But when the hands are up and the cop still shoots, reform is merely a Band-aid on a malignancy. When there is still no recognition of black humanity – when law enforcement is still so constantly projecting white fears of black criminality – then the answer is not just a happy political narratives. Because Darren Wilson still would have fired 12 times if Mike Brown had been wearing a tie on Canfield Drive.

The governor and other officials may have sent the message that to protest is to be violent, to channel anger in non-violent protest is to be tantamount to criminal action. But they, too, are wrong. Protest is exactly what we need.

"They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect" 

That decision, 157 years ago by Chief Justice Robert B Taney, ruled that Dred Scott must return to slavery. It sparked rage and frustration and anger, but it was the fuel for an antislavery movement, for a civil war and three amendments to our Constitution and an overhaul of our systems to align our ideals to affirm that, yes, black lives do matter. And yet the hydra of white supremacy persistently sought measures to subvert citizenship.

The definitive moment for Missouri’s social contract with African American citizens manifested itself in bloody, violent race riots initiated by whites in 1917. Missouri’s defining moment now is what we make of unfit justice, even if it manifests itself in protests beyond what we saw this summer.

At some point, we can talk about answers to our questions. But right now, there is only and will be a righteous anger in the streets of Ferguson, and throughout St Louis county, and in so many places across the nation and the globe. Sustained rage is the fuel – it is the best tool we have to insist for equitably applied justice, to compel police departments to respect the social contract it has with its citizens.

The black youth activism since that August day has been nothing short of remarkable. Since October, organizers have staged protests and creative acts of civil disobedience to compel the communities of St Louis County to confront the future of police-community relationships. It has been enough to remind anybody who is even slightly aware of their surroundings – of the pattern of police abuses, excessive force and systemic racism – that there is not a single community in America where people of color are not at a powerful, pernicious tension with their police department. That we have let another white cop who shot a black kid get off the hook.

And so we protest. Because it is our only recourse. We do not explode in violence, but we do not accept these terms that anticipate and perpetuate failure. We channel a sustained, clear-eyed rage, and we insist that our policies and our enactment of those policies ensure equal protection for the most vulnerable among us and accountability for officers in uniform when they kill unarmed youth with impunity.

We protest so that some day, some years from now, justice is not a surprise, nor a dream, nor deferred. So that justice just is.


Read more at: Alternet

PHOTOS: Stunning Scenes From Ferguson, Across The Country After Grand Jury Decision

via TPM News

While many protestors in Ferguson were nonviolent, some people amid the crowds attempted to torch police cars and small businesses. Demonstrators in other cities also marched in solidarity with the Ferguson protestors, from the streets of Chicago to the gates of the White House in Washington, D.C.

Take a look at some of the stunning images below:

Police gather on the street as protesters react after the announcement of the grand jury decision Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting sparked sometimes violent protests. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

A protester squirts lighter fluid on a police car as the car windows are shattered near the Ferguson Police Department after the announcement of the grand jury decision not to indict police Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

A police car is set on fire after a group of protesters vandalize the vehicle after the announcement of the grand jury decision Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting sparked sometimes violent protests. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

A police car is set on fire after a group of protesters vandalize the vehicle after the announcement of the grand jury decision Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting sparked sometimes violent protests. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Demonstrators march through the streets while protesting the August shooting of Michael Brown, Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014, in St. Louis. Ferguson and the St. Louis region are on edge in anticipation of the announcement by a grand jury whether to criminally charge Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of 18-year-old Brown. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

A protester speaks in front of the Ferguson Police Department before the announcement of the grand jury decision about whether to indict a Ferguson police officer in the shooting death of Michael Brown, Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. A Missouri grand jury heard evidence for months as it weighed whether to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of Brown, which was followed by sometimes violent protests. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Protesters block traffic after the announcement of the grand jury decision Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting sparked sometimes violent protests. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

An injured man is escorted away from the streets where protesters gather after the announcement of the grand jury decision Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting sparked sometimes violent protests. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Lesley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, second from left standing on the top of a car, hugs an unidentified man, wearing an I am Mike Brown shirt, as she listens to the announcement of the grand jury decision Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting sparked sometimes violent protests. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Barbara Jones joined by other protesters raise their hands up in the air as they protest Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo., more than three months after an unarmed black 18-year-old man was shot and killed there by a white policeman in Ferguson. Ferguson and the St. Louis region are on edge in anticipation of the announcement by a grand jury whether to criminally charge Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

A protester flies a black and white flag as many protesters gather in front of the Ferguson Police Department as they listen to the announcement of the grand jury decision Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. A grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting sparked sometimes violent protests. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

A protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask is seen at the old Seminole County Courthouse in downtown Sanford, Florida on Monday, November 24, 2014 to await the verdict in the Mike Brown shooting that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, by officer Darren Wilson. A grand jury eventually decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting sparked sometimes violent protests across the country. (AP Photo/Alex Menendez)

Protesters march during a rally near the Chicago Police headquarters after the announcement of the grand jury decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year old, Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Protestors gather in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. on November 24, 2014, following the announcement that no charges will be filed by the grand jury against police officer Darren Wilson in the Ferguson, Missouri shooting of Michael Brown. Photo Credit: Kristoffer Tripplaar/ Sipa USA

Protestors gather in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. on November 24, 2014, following the announcement that no charges will be filed by the grand jury against police officer Darren Wilson in the Ferguson, Missouri shooting of Michael Brown. Photo Credit: Kristoffer Tripplaar/ Sipa USA

Survey: Women in Tech Are Paid Less, Are Unhappier

from November 24, 2014 at 10:28AM

Here comes a survey that breaks down what you already knew about women in tech, and puts some hard
numbers to the industry’s stubbornly persistent male domination. Ever since
companies like Google, Twitter, Microsoft, and the like released disappointing
reports on the lack of diversity in the workplace (sometimes doing so as quietly as possible), it’s been hard to take the meritocracy claims
seriously. Now Glassdoor is backing up the skepticism with evidence about both the salaries of women in tech, and their
job satisfaction.

In dollar terms, the gender
disparities in pay are all over the place. Female senior software engineers at
Google earn $25K less than men, but Microsoft’s female software development engineers
earn $4K more. What’s also kind of dispiriting are the sample sizes, not only because
women make up just 5-30 percent of the 21 engineering teams, but that even
women with greater aggregate job experience sometimes still take home less than
men at the same company do.

Facebook, for instance,
reported 124 male software engineers with an average job experience of 3.2
years, but only 10 female engineers with 0.7 years’ tenure. At first, that
sounds like FB execs panicked about having close to an all-Y-chromosome engineering
team at the home of Lean In and went
on a hiring binge of female newbies (who together are paid about $6,000 less
than their male peers), but since Facebook probably has more than 134 engineers
in total, it’s hard not to wonder about which workers declined to take the
survey and how many of them there were.

The job satisfaction numbers
are harder to get a read on, because the difference between men and women is
very slight and in some cases non-existent, although women appear incrementally
less satisfied across the board. Still, since this goes way beyond what any
company was ever going to self-report, Glassdoor’s survey is valuable.
Conducting another one in a year or two would be even better, because it will
be possible to see who’s committed to gender parity and who isn’t. The only way
to get the change you want to see is to hold people’s feet to the fire.

[Via: SFGateGlassdoor; image via Thinkstock]

Read more at: The Bold Italic – San Francisco

Rain or Shine: Bay Area Internet Users Take the Net Neutrality Fight to City Hall

from November 24, 2014 at 02:40PM

Photo by Steve Rhodes; CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

We want information to flow like water,” protesters yelled outside San Francisco City Hall in the pouring rain, rallying in support of keeping the Internet open.  The rally was in advance of a public forum inside City Hall on the looming net neutrality debate.

The San Francisco Bay Area has been one of the most vocal places in the nation in the fight for net neutrality, and there’s a reason: Internet openness is crucial to the path-breaking artists, technologies, and businesses that thrive in this state.

The Bay Area is home to some of the world’s most recognized technology companies and bleeding-edge inventors and creators. And although this region certainly has a heavy stake in the outcome of the FCC’s net neutrality decision, the vast majority of policy conversations are happening in DC.

That’s why EFF collaborated with other local and national organizations at San Francisco City Hall last Thursday to host “Bay Area Speaks: A People’s Hearing on the Future of the Internet.” Joined by Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, librarians, public officials, and environmental activists, hackers, entrepreneurs, and educators, everyday Internet users from diverse Bay Area communities packed the room at City Hall to testify on why Internet openness is central to our lives.

The Rally

Corporate telecom puppet by David Solnit

The evening began with a rally outside. Holding up a giant puppet of a suit holding a money bag labeled “I$P” and a briefcase that read “net profit,” demonstrators braved the rain Thursday evening to make sure their voice is heard.  Protestors projected giant images in front of City Hall that read “Information Flows Vs. Slow Lanes” and “Net Freedom vs. Corporate Control.”

And as the rain poured, the net neutrality rally was joined in front of City Hall by demonstrators calling for justice for 43 disappeared and 6 slain students in Mexico. [Add a link]. Back and forth in solidarity, activists shared the stage. Common threads emerged on corruption, transparency, and the centrality of organizing online for all projects of social justice and political change. A theme was clear: when corporations or governments control how we access information and connect to each other, democracy loses.

Inside City Hall

Jennifer Johns sings to a packed room.

The room was packed. Silently, Oakland musician and activist Jennifer Johns walked to the front before breaking out into a powerful song that brought the room to a focused silence.

EFF’s Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry kicked off the event, helping to remind us that only a few short months ago the FCC proposed a set of rules that would have given Internet providers clearance to charge websites to reach users faster.

But millions of people took action.

“And what happened?” McSherry asked the room. “The world changed. The FCC heard us load and clear… and last week we learned that the President heard us loud and clear.” The week before the hearing, net neutrality activists experienced a huge gain in momentum when President Obama came out in full support of bright-line net neutrality rules that would protect the open Internet, leaving the FCC to re-write their proposal.

Despite having received invitations, none of the FCC Commissioners made it to San Francisco for the night. Still, long time public interest champion and former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps flew in from Washington D.C. to speak. He reminded us what a world without net neutrality will looks like:

“If Internet service providers can unilaterally decide what news we can hear and what news we can’t, who can advocate online and who can’t, who can get the word out about rallies like the one here tonight… If they can decide that online fast lines will become the playground of the few rather than the common right of all of us, then we are in for real trouble in this country. And we will not be able to solve any of the problems that this country faces right now.”

Internet Users Shared Their Stories

Privacy info. This embed will serve content from

We heard from librarian Amy Sonnie, outreach director for Oakland Public Libraries, who pointed out, ”Net neutrality is critical for intellectual and academic freedom in the digital age.” Public interest advocates like Ana Montes from The Utility Reform Network, and Malkia Cyril from Media Action Grassroots Network, spoke out. Internet entrepreneurs and technologists like Dan Jasper CEO of Bay area ISP and Tim Pozar of joined the call for FCC rules that will protect net neutrality.

We heard from public officials like Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan, Chris Witteman from the California Public Utilities Commission, and San Francisco Chief Officer of Innovation Jay Nath, all talking about how local governments are fighting for net neutrality rules that will protect local Internet users.

Musicians and artists spoke out.  As Thao Nguyen, a popular independent musician put it, “It is plain to see now more than ever, that no musician can release a record, reach listeners or to grow a fan base without the ability to share their work unimpeded on the Internet.”

An organizer from Greenpeace shared how the centrality of the open Internet to their political organizing, Naomi Most from the Noisebridge hackerspace in San Francisco talked about the Internet has a level playing field, and advocacy interests of all stripes joined us: a representative from Engine Advocacy talked about the needs of startups, Paul Goodman of the Greenlining Institute talked about why net neutrality is an issue of particular importance for racial justice, and Dave Steer, advocacy director at Mozilla, talked about why they continue to fight for an open Internet.

We Will Continue to Fight

Throughout this year four million Internet users commented to the FCC demanding regulators enact real, clear net neutrality rules that will prohibit Internet providers from speeding up or slowing down how we access parts of the web.  Over 99% of the comments in the rulemaking were calling on the FCC to craft the kinds of rules that will protect Internet users from censorious and discriminatory conduct by Internet service providers.

To be more specific, Internet users are asking the FCC to change the way the service of providing access to the Internet is classified under federal law. Right now, the FCC legally considers Internet access to be an “information service,” but legally the FCC is only allowed to enact meaningful net neutrality consumer protections if Internet  access is reclassified as a “telecommunications service” (under Title 2 of the 1934 Communications Act). As Dave Steer from Mozilla put it, “Full Title II reclassification is the cleanest, simplest path forward.”

The policies might seem complicated, but the concept isn’t. New political blogs, artist websites, startups, or growing businesses that can’t afford expensive fees for better service will face new barriers to success, leaving users with even fewer options and a less diverse Internet.

The future of the Internet is our future. It is why Bay Area activists stood with signs of giant cell phones and laptops in the rain outside San Francisco City Hall last Thursday.

And as the net neutrality debate looms in Washington D.C., we will continue to speak out, raise our voice, and we won’t stop fighting until we get the kinds of policies that will serve the information needs of our communities. Stay tuned. It’s not over yet.

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Read more at: Deeplinks

Why Did Cops Shoot 12-Year-Old Black Boy Brandishing Fake Gun?

from November 24, 2014 at 06:30AM

Research points to the usual suspect: race.

A 12-year-old African American boy was shot by Cleveland police oficers in a playground Saturday afternoon, according to

Tamir Rice died Sunday morning at a local hospital. Police officers htearrived at the playground after a caller dialed 911 to report that someone was pointing a gun at kids on the playground. 

"There’s a guy in there with a pistol, you know, it’s probably fake, but he’s like pointing it at everybody," according to the audio obtained by CNN. "He’s sitting on a swing right now, but he’s pulling it in and out of his pants and pointing it at people. He’s probably a juvenile, you know?"

When cops arrived, the boy didn’t point the toy gun at them, but according to Deputy Chief Ed Tomba of the Cleveland Division of Police, he did reach into his pants for what appeared to be a weapon. 

"The officers ordered him to stop and to show his hands and he went into his waistband and pulled out the weapon," he said.

Both officers involved in the shooting have been placed on leave as the investigation into what happened takes place. Neither the race of the officers nor their names have been released. The family of Tamir Rice has hired attorney Timothy Kucharski to investigate the case. He was quick to say the shooting wasn’t about race but "right and wrong."

"You have to look at this in the context that this is a 12-year-old boy, not a 35-year-old man with a criminal history," Kucharski said. "You can’t expect adult reactions out of children."

It’s easy to understand why Kucharshi doesn’t want to focus on race; he may very well see it as a "distraction." But research proves that police officers or white people in general have a tendency to be more trigger-happy when confronted with a black suspect. A 2002 study revealed how undergraduate students reacted to video simulations in which they were asked to shoot if they thought a black or white person was armed. The white students had higher rates of error when it came to unarmed black suspects. 

For those who say this study doesn’t apply because the Cleveland boy had a gun, a 2005 study by Florida State University researchers revealed that white cops were more likely to shoot an unarmed black suspect than a white armed suspect.

Charing Ball of Madame Noire created a list of white men who were armed, yet weren’t killed by cops when confronted. Derrick Daniel Thomas of New Orleans walked into a stranger’s home with a handgun, committed robbery and shot at the house before fleeing. He also threatened some construction workers and shot at the contractor five times, and led the cops on a chase. When police caught up with Thomas and told him to drop his weapon, he allegedly refused, pointed the gun at the cops and said, “No, you drop your [expletive] gun!” 

Yet somehow, the cops were able to take Thomas into custody unharmed.

So why did police have to shoot and kill BB gun-carrying 12-year-old Tamir Rice? Seems like race might have everything to do with it. 

Read more at: Alternet