On World Holocaust Day, leaders warn against the rise of bigotry and intolerance

from January 27, 2017 at 01:28AM http://bit.ly/2jxVaen

More than one million people, mostly European Jews were gassed, shot or hanged at Auschwitz.

On World Holocaust Day, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo paid homage to the victims of the Nazi death camp.

Surrounded by some of the last survivors, she said “memory and truth are our responsibility, they are our weapons against evil.”

She added that the suffering of the victims was a ‘wound that can never be healed and should never be forgotten’, a sentiment echoed by one of the survivors:

“I constantly cry, constantly, because our psyche was mutilated, because we were camp children. Although I was not in Auschwitz but in the camp in Lodz. They called it ‘small Auschwitz’ for Polish youth and children. There were such (harsh) rigors and the procedures were so cruel towards us,” said Krystyna Szpigiel.

On January 27, 1945 the Soviet Red Army liberated the Auschwitz camp. In 1996 the German president marked it as a day to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.

Every year the Germany parliament marks Holocaust day, but this year they paid homage to the more than 300,000 people murdered in Nazi euthanasia programmes. At a time of rising anti-semitism in Europe, the president of the parliament said, ‘Barbarism of language is barbarism of the spirit. Words became deeds.”

Marking Holocaust Memorial Day in the Vatican, a representative of the Holy See urged vigilance, saying that ‘Cruelty did not end at Auschwitz …As such cruelty is still around today,’ adding there is no place for intolerance towards any individual or people.

On Twitter many marked the day with warnings over the current climate and rhetoric in different countries around the world.

UK

The UK which last year voted to leave the EU, has seen a surge in hate crimes. MP Jo Cox was murdered on the referendum campaign trail by a man who witnesses heard shout ‘Britain first’ multiple times. Thomas Alexander “Tommy” Mair was convicted of her murder in June 2016, and had established links to far-right groups.

USA

The phrase ‘America first’ was uttered by the new president of the United States during his inauguration last week. Huge protests have followed his rise to power with activists incensed over Donald Trump’s rhetoric and now actions.

In the last week Trump has made plans to tighten vetting of immigrants and visitors, build a wall on the southern border with Mexico, and has stopped funding to sanctuary cities.

Read more at: Euronews RSS http://bit.ly/1SYzMbo

Chicago Police Assaulted Children, Got Away With Murders: DOJ Report Echoes What Residents Have Long Known

from January 15, 2017 at 04:57AM http://bit.ly/2iZciak

Communities of color in Chicago meticulously documented the CPD’s pattern of racist violence.

In a September 2014 report prepared for the United Nations Committee Against Torture, a grassroots effort called We Charge Genocide documented that, “Young people of color in communities across Chicago are consistently profiled, targeted, harassed, and subjected to excessive force by the (predominantly white) [Chicago Police Department]—leaving far too many physically injured, killed, and emotionally scarred.”

The investigation, led by directly impacted Chicago residents, determined that between 2009 and 2011, 92 percent of all CPD Taser uses targeted black or Latino people. Black residents are 10 times more likely to be shot by the CPD than their white counterparts, the probe found, and thousands of misconduct complaints are going systematically disregarded. The CPD’s “endemic” use of excessive force is racially discriminatory in nature, fuels a climate of fear and trauma and “constitutes torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” concluded the report, which was presented in November 2014 to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland by a team of eight young Chicago residents of color.

That detailed investigation followed in the footsteps of the We Charge Genocide petition brought to the United Nations in 1951 under the Genocide Convention. Written by the Civil Rights Congress, the paper determined that, “oppressed Negro citizens of the United States, segregated, discriminated against and long the target of violence, suffer from genocide as the result of the consistent, conscious, unified policies of every branch of government.” It concluded that, “Once the classic method of lynching was the rope. Now it is the policeman’s bullet.”

Since the 2014 investigation alone, black, brown and poor residents of Chicago have consistently warned that there is an ongoing epidemic of police killings, racism and violence in their city. They have done so in step with the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement. Were it not for the sustained resistance of these communities, including members of Black Lives Matter-Chicago, Black Youth Project 100 and Assata’s Daughters, the world might never know the names of black Chicago residents killed by police over the past five years, among them Rekia Boyd, Joshua Beal, Ronald Johnson, Pierre Loury, Kajuan Raye, Bettie Jones, Quintonio Legrier and Roshad McIntosh. And were it not for continued mobilizations and outrage, the Rahm Emanuel administration might have gotten away with its coverup of the police killing of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old African American who died after being shot by white officer Jason Van Dyke 16 times.

When the Department of Justice released a 164-page report last Friday confirming that the Chicago police department is perpetrating harassment, “unreasonable” killings and systematic civil rights violations against the people of Chicago, bereaved family members and racial justice campaigners said they were neither surprised nor satisfied. Many expressed concern that the findings will almost certainly be used to justify funneling more funding into the police department that continues to unleash atrocities on the city’s residents, on the watch of Mayor Emanuel.

“The statement that the DOJ made today, I said it a long time ago. The system is corrupt,” said Dorothy Holmes, the mother of Ronald Johnson, a 25-year-old black man who was shot to death by Officer George Hernandez in October 2014. Gathered with other bereaved family members and members of Black Lives Matter-Chicago, for a press conference outside the outside the Central District police station on the day the DOJ’s findings were released, Holmes declared, “We want accountability… My son should have been here. I should not be standing here.”

‘We know these cops are killing our families’

Echoing the findings of We Charge Genocide’s 2014 report, the DOJ investigation determined that the CPD systematically uses force nearly 10 times more often against black residents than whites, and that “officers engage in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, that is unreasonable." The report notes, “Among the most egregious uses of deadly force we reviewed were incidents in which CPD officers shot at suspects who presented no immediate threat." In just one example, the report states:

[A]n off-duty CPD officer spotted the silhouette of a man in a vacant building and suspected the man was burglarizing it. The officer called 911, but did not wait for other officers to arrive. Instead, the off-duty officer summoned the man out of the building. According to a civilian witness, the burglary suspect angrily exited the building, yelling, “You’re not a fucking cop.” The suspect then advanced on the officer, who struck and kicked the suspect. According to the officer, the suspect then reached into his waistband and withdrew a shiny object, prompting the officer to fire twice, killing the man. No weapon was recovered. Instead, officers reported finding a silver watch near the man’s body. IPRA found the shooting justified without addressing the officer’s failure to await backup. According to press reports, in November 2016, this same officer shot a man in the back and killed him, claiming the man had pointed a gun at him during a foot pursuit. No gun was recovered.

The probe cites numerous attacks against children, including the following:

In one incident, officers hit a 16-year-old girl with a baton and then Tasered her after she was asked to leave the school for having a cell phone in violation of school rules. Officers were called in to arrest her for trespassing. Officers claimed the force was justified because she flailed her arms when they tried to arrest her, with no adequate explanation for how such flailing met the criteria for use of a Taser. This was not an isolated incident. We also reviewed incidents in which officers unnecessarily drive-stunned students to break up fights, including one use of a Taser in drive-stun mode against a 14-year-old girl. There was no indication in these files that these students’ conduct warranted use of the Taser instead of a less serious application of force.

Such attacks are well-documented by Chicago residents, including the following testimony highlighted in the 2014 We Charge Genocide report, in which a young black man describes an interaction he had with CPD at the age of 15:

We’re sitting in a house playing video games and we hear a banging on the door. Before we know it, the door is kicked down and there’s five special-ops officers with their huge M16s drawn, pointed at us: Three 15-year-olds playing video games. And they tell us get on the ground. They say if we move they are gonna kill us. “Don’t look at me, we’ll fucking kill you in a second!” Pointing their guns at us. Then they don’t find anything. They let us all go, they laugh, try to joke with us, apologize, then leave out. And we’re sitting there like, “What just happened?” They tear up the house. They stole money.”

According to the DOJ probe, the city “received over 30,000 complaints of police misconduct during the five years preceding our investigation, but fewer than two percent were sustained, resulting in no discipline in 98 percent of these complaints." As a result, the CPD has a “culture in which officers expect to use force and not be questioned about the need for or propriety of that use.” The probe highlights active coverups in which internal investigators “directly sought to influence officers’ statements—in the officer’s favor—by asking unnecessary leading questions during investigative interviews.”

The CPD also shows tolerance for “racially discriminatory conduct,” states the report. Of the 980 complaints of racial or ethnic discrimination filed against the CPD, only 1.3 percent were sustained. Investigators found 354 complaints for the use of the word “n****r” or its variations, and only 1.1 percent of these complaints were sustained. “We have serious concerns about the prevalence of racially discriminatory conduct by some CPD officers,” the probe states.

Amika Tendaji, an organizer with Black Lives Matter-Chicago, said at Friday’s press conference, “When this DOJ report came out, it didn’t tell any family, any person who lives on the south or west side of Chicago, anything new. We know these cops are killing our families, our loved ones, and it’s nothing to them but a mountain of paperwork.”

‘Band aid-like solutions’

The DOJ report determines that “residents in black neighborhoods suffer more of the harms caused by breakdowns in uses of force, training, supervision, accountability and community policing.” Yet it goes on to call for an expansion of a “community policing philosophy,” urging the city to “Develop community policing as a core component of CPD’s policing strategies, tactics, and training.” In addition, the report urges the city to “create liaison officers in each district” and “Increase opportunities for officers to have frequent, positive interactions with people outside of an enforcement context.”

The call to funnel more public dollars into community policing flies in the face of a report released in October 2015 by We Charge Genocide, which found that, “Despite its more palatable label, Chicago’s ‘community policing’ program is used to provide political cover for aggressive enforcement of so-called ‘quality of life’ crimes—and even for the physical displacement of people of color from gentrifying neighborhoods.” The probe takes aim at the euphemistically termed Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS), which was expanded by Rahm Emanuel while he was under fire for rampant CPD killings. "At CAPS meetings, police effectively deputize a small group of residents to engage in surveillance," the report observes. “These residents are disproportionately white property owners, especially in gentrifying neighborhoods. Their complaints reflect their implicit biases about who to consider ‘suspicious.’ CAPS meetings legitimize and amplify these biases.”

The DOJ investigation urges numerous other reforms that would further expand public funding of the CPD it charges with systematic human rights violations, including the call to “Implement policies and develop training to improve interactions with people who are in crisis” and “Ensure investigative agencies have the appropriate resources, training, and structure necessary to conduct investigations thoroughly, efficiently, and fairly.”

Kofi Ademola, an organizer for Black Lives Matter-Chicago, declared at Friday’s press conference, “We know for a fact that putting money into policing—hiring more police, paying for body cameras, paying for Tasers—adds to our oppression, instead of investing in our communities. We need our schools reopened. We need mental health clinics. We need jobs for our young people. We need an investment in the businesses of our community. And how about the lead poisoning in CPS schools and the Park District.”

Maxx Boykin, organizing co-chair of BYP100-Chicago, agreed, proclaiming in a press statement that, “The best solution I see out of this report is to reallocate CPD funds in order to support the communities most impacted by their terror.” According to BYP100-Chicago, “This means less cops, more social services, better public schools, and more affordable housing in black communities.”

“There’s this clear pattern where these ‘investigations’ happen repeatedly every decade or so and then ‘recommendations’ are made and what happens is these bandaid-like solutions appear as hopeful remedies,” said Monica Trinidad, an organizer with the People’s Response Team who traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, in 2014 with We Charge Genocide to address the United Nations. “We saw the recommendations for police to wear body cameras as a response to police violence and look at how that turned out. Police just turned off their cameras or ‘forgot’ to turn them on.”

‘Our lives are disposable’

Notably, the DOJ report does not come with the customary court-enforced settlement, known as a consent decree, meaning that its calls for a halt to the excessive violence it outlines are largely symbolic. The DOJ says that, “The city of Chicago and the Justice Department have signed an agreement in principle to work together, with community input, to create a federal court-enforceable consent decree addressing the deficiencies found during the investigation.” However, such a decree could be months in the future, handing it over to the incoming Trump administration to enforce. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, who was deemed too racist to serve as a federal judge under President Ronald Reagan, has previously vocalized his opposition to federal consent decrees. At the confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Sessions proclaimed he opposes federal probes into local police departments, claiming they “can undermine respect for police officers."

Mariame Kaba, a former member of We Charge Genocide and founding director of Project Nia, told AlterNet, “It’s no secret that I have said often, and at the beginning of this process, that I have no faith in these kinds of tools to do anything in terms of fixing violent policing. I don’t think it’s a bad thing for the government to document its own abuses against its people. If they put out information that confirms what people on the ground have been saying, I suppose that helps people on the ground in some way make the case that they are not inventing this stuff.”

“In terms of what will actually happen,” Kaba continued, “the Trump administration has made it clear that Sessions, who will most likely be confirmed as attorney general, says he doesn’t believe in consent decrees at all. This just makes it even more unlikely that changes will be made through the DOJ. This will be an agreement between law enforcement at the federal level and ‘city municipal’ law enforcement. I don’t see what’s going to change.” Kaba added, “The purpose of these reports and consent decrees is to funnel more money into policing. I don’t think that the DOJ hides that.”

According to Kaba, the longstanding struggle against police violence “continues to animate people’s resistance, and that’s because it’s one of the most visible ways black people have been made second-class in this country and have faced lethal forms of violence directly from the state.” She added, “especially for younger organizers who might be feeling a sense of, ‘is this ever going to be different?’ I do want to say that abolition has gotten traction over the last five years, even though it’s a framework and a praxis that’s been in existence for many more years than that. People are actually taking seriously the idea that we should be striving to abolish prisons, policing and surveillance and that is not getting you thrown out of rooms.”

“There’s nothing new in this report that can hold the police department accountable, other than the same thing that has been happening in Chicago: community organizing, mobilization, and the watchdogs in the civil rights lawyer community,” Sheila Bedi, clinical associate professor of law at the Northwestern School of Law and an attorney with the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, told AlterNet.

“This report only looks at one aspect of policing—use of excessive force,” she said. “But there’s a lot of problems in Chicago related to coerced confession, torture, stop-and-frisk, and more.”

Arewa Karen Winters, the great aunt of Pierre Loury, a 16-year-old black resident of West Chicago who was shot and killed by CPD in April 2016, said at Friday’s press conference. “There is a problem here. It is systemic, it is historical. Our lives are disposable to the infrastructure and institution of the Chicago Police Department.”

Read more at: Alternet http://bit.ly/1nDoAlo

U.S. Dropped 26,171 Bombs on 7 Muslim-Majority Countries in 2016

from January 10, 2017 at 04:35PM http://bit.ly/2iu8wry

President Obama’s last year in office was marked by heavy bombing in the Middle East and South Asia.

The last year of the presidency of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Barack Obama was marked by heavy bombing throughout the Middle East and South Asia. The United States dropped at least 26,171 bombs in seven Muslim-majority countries in 2016. And, given limitations on available government data, this estimate is "undoubtedly low," according to the Council on Foreign Relations‘ Micah Zenko and Jennifer Wilson, who conducted the research.

Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan were the countries targeted by U.S. airstrikes. 2016 saw an increase in bombing since 2015, when the U.S. dropped at least 23,144 bombs on six Muslim-majority countries (Libya was the seventh country bombed in 2016).

Most of the bombs, 24,287, used in 2016 were dropped in Iraq and Syria, where the U.S. is leading a coalition to fight the self-declared Islamic State. Afghanistan was hit with at least 1,337 bombs. The war in Afghanistan entered its 15th year in 2016, one of the longest standing wars in U.S. history. President Obama was reelected in 2012 on the promise to end the war in 2014, but he prolonged and even expanded it multiple times.

Another 496 bombs were dropped by the U.S. in Libya. The U.S. quietly launched an air campaign in the oil-rich North African country in 2016 in order to beat back Islamic State militants. NATO carried out a regime change operation in Libya in 2011, toppling the government of longtime leader Muammar Qadhafi and plunging the nation into chaos. Extremist groups filled the void, and ISIS established in Libya its largest so-called caliphate outside of Iraq and Syria.

The U.S. also carried out dozens of airstrikes in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, three countries where the U.S. has carried out covert drone wars for years. Hundreds of civilians have been killed in drone strikes in these countries, according to a conservative estimate by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The Obama administration released a report in July claiming just 64 to 116 civilians have been killed in its drone assassination program, but experts say this is a gross underestimate.

Read more at: Alternet http://bit.ly/1nDoAlo

Protests Erupt in Kentucky After GOP Supermajority Passes Extreme Anti-Choice, Anti-Union Bills

from January 9, 2017 at 04:01PM http://bit.ly/2iu5pQg

Republicans now have control of the House, the Senate and the governorship for the first time in Kentucky state history.

In Kentucky, hundreds of demonstrators packed into the Capitol building Saturday to protest the state Legislature’s passage of a slew of controversial bills, including an anti-union "right-to-work" law and extreme anti-choice legislation that bans abortions after 20 weeks and requires a woman to have an ultrasound before having an abortion. The surprise emergency legislative session Saturday came after Republicans seized a supermajority in the House of Representatives, giving the Republicans control of the House, the Senate and the governorship for the first time in Kentucky state history. On Saturday, the Legislature also repealed a law that had guaranteed higher wages for workers on publicly financed construction projects. We go to Louisville, Kentucky, for an update from Richard Becker, a union organizer with Service Employees International Union, and we speak with Lisa Abbott, a community organizer with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In this video, filmed by a member of Teamsters Local 89, you can hear Democratic State Representative Rick Rand speak in the House gallery, condemning one of the measures, Senate Bill 6, which Republicans call the "paycheck protection" bill. As he speaks, you can hear the crowd outside the chambers chanting and booing. REP. RICK RAND: Labor has a strong voice in these hallways. They have a strong voice in the district I come from. And I know when a strong voice comes to Frankfort, and sometimes they hit a brick wall. And not only have they hit a brick wall, but they are being blocked in, their voices being diminished by this very body.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by two guests. Joining us in New York, Lisa Abbott is community organizer with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. And in Louisville, Kentucky, Richard Becker is a union organizer with Service Employees International Union. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Richard, let’s start with you. The capital is actually not Louisville. The capital is in Frankfort. But you’re speaking to us from Louisville. Describe what happened in the Legislature and outside.

RICHARD BECKER: Well, thanks, Amy, for having me on this morning. What we saw on Saturday was a response to what had been a week of legislation being passed out of this new House of Representatives at an unprecedented breakneck speed. On Tuesday, new members were sworn in, and by Wednesday the House Economic Development Committee was passing right-to-work out of committee before freshman members had even had phone lines set up or office space set up. And the bills were, of course, as you said, passed out of both chambers on Saturday and got the governor’s signature later in the weekend. Union members flooded in from across the state, from Paducah to Pikeville, to come to Frankfort so that they could have their voices heard. They had been shut out of the committee rooms on Wednesday, while members of Americans for Prosperity were allowed into the committee room. Union members had been thrown out of the House gallery for daring to take photos of vote counts as they happened. And so, you had a lot of angry people, people whose very livelihoods, the way they feed their families, were on the line. And they came out in droves Saturday, bright and early, before the sun even came up, to make their voices heard, as you heard in that video of Representative Rand speaking.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what actually took place? I mean, first you have the November election, and the Republicans get a supermajority, Lisa. So you have the House, the Senate and the governorship.

LISA ABBOTT: Yes. And I think it’s important to understand that the political earthquake that we experienced in Kentucky in November—and certainly a similar earthquake, perhaps, could be said occurred across the country—it’s been a long time in coming in Kentucky. Kentucky is historically a conservative Democratic state. There are significantly more Democrats, registered Democrats, in the state than Republicans. But over the last 20 years, there has been—the Republican Party has really gained strength both in the Legislature and in terms of our delegation in Washington, D.C. So what happened in November was a long time coming, but it also was an earthquake. Seventeen members of the House of Representatives, incumbents, lost their seats. And we had been—Kentucky had been the only state legislature in the South with a divided chamber. The House was controlled by the Democrats, the Senate controlled by Republicans. That came to an end, and the Republicans now have a supermajority in both the House, the Senate. And in 2015, Kentuckians elected Governor Matt Bevin, a tea party Republican, as governor. And so, with that power, that’s—they are now exercising the power that they have just won.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you’re headed to North Carolina before going back to Kentucky.

LISA ABBOTT: Yes. AMY GOODMAN: But I couldn’t help but think of parallels here, when you talk about this emergency session that was called. Is that how it usually happens in Kentucky?

LISA ABBOTT: Well, no. It’s not how it usually happens in Kentucky. And I think the parallels to places like North Carolina, to places like Wisconsin, are clear. What we’re seeing is not just enacting a policy agenda, but really breaking down whatever norms need to be broken down to exercise power in some of the sort of crudest, rawest ways possible. And really, we’re watching as democracy itself in North Carolina and in Kentucky is weakened.

AMY GOODMAN: This is also very significant for the country because Mitch McConnell is from Kentucky. Can you tell us a little about his background, as he wields more and more power in the United States now as the Senate majority leader? But, you know, of course— LISA ABBOTT: Well, sure. He’s a familiar figure to most Americans watching politics now. His career actually began in Louisville, and when he was elected to local office in Louisville, at the time, he really prided himself on being very pragmatic, on making sure the trains ran on time. As he moved to Washington, he declared that the three rules of politics were very simple. They were money, money and money. And he has pursued those rules for the past 30 years. As a result, he is today one of the wealthiest members of a very wealthy Senate. Meanwhile, the living conditions in Kentucky continue to be very hard. And he has not provided the kind of leadership that is needed or the kind of policy agenda that’s needed to improve the welfare of people living in either our rural areas or our urban communities.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Richard Becker, the actual laws that were passed, the slew of laws that were passed on Saturday, if you could go quickly through them?

RICHARD BECKER: Yeah, so, we had House Bill 1, which was the so-called right-to-work legislation. There is, of course—before Kentucky passed it, 26 other states under this recognition. And that, just to quickly touch on what that is, is a law that allows workers in a unionized workplace to opt out of paying union dues, even while enjoying union representation and the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement. What it does is it erodes solidarity in the union, in that workplace, and it forces—unions under the law have to represent everybody in a workplace, whether they pay dues or not. So it sets up a scenario that really weakens unions in the state that it’s passed. The other bill we had was House Bill 3, which was repeal of the prevailing wage law, which is a law that sets a minimum wage for skilled construction work on publicly funded projects and encourages local hiring for publicly funded projects. That bill passed, repealing prevailing wage. And then we had Senate Bill 6, which, as you referred to it—they call it the "paycheck protection act," or we call it sometimes "paycheck deception act," because, like all these bills, its true purpose is shrouded in a lot of mystery. And frankly, I just wanted to add that part of what has been such an outrage this week here in Kentucky has been the means by which this legislation was passed. Members of the Legislature were not given the opportunity to read these bills, to thoroughly debate them in committee, to thoroughly debate them on the floors of the chambers before they were passed. And as a result, those of us on the ground here in Kentucky are still actually trying to wrap our heads around what exactly passed. I’m told there were some amendments that were attached to Senate Bill 6. We’re going to have to spend some time letting the dust settle to figure out what exactly came out of the chambers this weekend.

AMY GOODMAN: And the role of Koch brothers, very quickly, before we wrap up, Lisa Abbott?

LISA ABBOTT: Well, sure. I think that we’ve seen—

AMY GOODMAN: And ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.

LISA ABBOTT: ALEC, the American—sure, absolutely. And the Koch brothers and groups funded by them, like Americans for Prosperity, have been very active in Kentucky, as in many other places around the country, active in elections, active in providing so-called model legislation to state lawmakers who very often don’t even know what is in the bills that they are putting before the Legislature as sponsors. And so, we are certainly contending with a very well-funded, multi-strategy agenda from the right.

AMY GOODMAN: Americans for Prosperity stayed in the room, Richard Becker, this weekend. Can you explain what happened?

RICHARD BECKER: So, actually, last Wednesday—so the day after new members were sworn in—the House Economic Development Committee held its meeting, at which they were to be discussing right-to-work and the repeal of prevailing wage. I was with several hundred union members in the halls of the Capitol Annex for the hours leading up to when the meeting was supposed to take place. And five minutes before the meeting was supposed to start, we were told that the room was full. None of us had been able to make it in. We later found out that that’s because Americans for Prosperity had reserved the committee room for a breakfast that morning, and come time for the committee to meet, they all just remained in their seats. So, when the committee meeting started, union members were shut out of the committee room, and the doors were shut, and state troopers stood in front of the doors to keep union members from attending the committee hearing.

Read more at: Alternet http://bit.ly/1nDoAlo

Trump Is Leaving the Nuclear Oversight Agency With No One in Charge

from January 10, 2017 at 06:21AM http://bit.ly/2ilpDxa

On Monday, Gizmodo reported the alarming news that Donald Trump’s transition team had dismissed two political appointees who run the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), without replacements on tap to oversee the nation’s nuclear arsenal. The story was "inaccurate," an official with the Department of Energy, which oversees the NNSA, subsequently told Mother Jones. "There have been no discussions between the president-elect’s transition team and any of NNSA’s political appointees on extending their public service past January 20." That is, the Trump team didn’t exactly send the two officials—retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz and his deputy, Madelyn Creedon—packing; it just had not held any talks about keeping them on after President Barack Obama’s term expires, and their appointments will automatically end. So the end result is the same: By the end of next week, the government division that oversees the nation’s nuclear weapons could lack its senior leadership—a prospect that concerns some nuclear experts.

"You won’t have senior-level oversight," says Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, an organization focused on nuclear weapons security. "You won’t have somebody actually running the department. You can do that for a little while, but if this goes on for any extended period of time, bad things are going to happen."

The Trump transition team and Hope Hicks, Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, did not respond to requests for comment.

Cirincione says the NNSA, with a $12 billion annual budget, oversees not only the nation’s nuclear stockpile but the contractors involved in maintaining it and its supporting infrastructure. And while the day-to-day mission of the agency will go on, strategic decisions and other senior-level responsibilities will fall by the wayside.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a nonprofit dedicated to better control of nuclear, chemical, biological, and conventional weapons, says it’s normal for political appointees to be out the door at the end of the administration that appointed them. But the NNSA head, even if a political appointee, typically stays put until a successor is in place, according to Defense News.

"It does begin to affect the government if it goes on for a while," Kimball says. "It’s not a crisis if it’s the situation for a couple months."

Rebecca Friedman Lissner, a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says context is important. Broadly speaking, "very few sub-cabinet officials have been named," she says, so it’s "not particularly surprising that we don’t yet know who would be taking over NNSA." But the NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency with a "tradition of professionalism and bipartisanship such that there has been continuity in terms of people who have stayed over."

As reported by Defense News, NNSA heads have sometimes stayed years into subsequent administrations. It happened with John Gordon, who was appointed by Bill Clinton and stayed two years into the first George W. Bush administration, and with Tom D’Agostino, who was appointed by George W. Bush and served six years into the Obama administration.

Lissner says that a gap in agency leadership will have to be judged in terms of whether Trump plans a major shakeup of nuclear policy, which would require more detailed reviews by the relevant officials. If not, filling the role is less urgent, she says.

"Either way, the NNSA mission is a vital mission," she says. "It’s a no-fail mission, [and] they manage an incredibly challenging and important and often overlooked portfolio."

Read more at: Politics | Mother Jones http://bit.ly/1tZ6E7y

Feds Release Scathing Report On Chicago Police Civil Rights Violations

from January 13, 2017 at 12:35AM http://bit.ly/2ilaYlT

The Justice Department launched its investigation of the 12,000-officer force — one of the nation’s largest — in December 2015 following the release of dashcam video showing a white police officer shoot a black teenager, Laquan McDonald, 16 times as he walked away holding a small, folded knife. The video of the 2014 shooting, which the city fought to keep from being released, inspired large protests and cost the city’s police commissioner his job.

Among other findings, the report found city police used excessive and that “this pattern is largely attributable to systemic deficiencies within CPD and the City.” It also cited insufficient training and a failure to hold bad officers accountable.

Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department has conducted 25 civil rights investigations of police departments, including those of Cleveland, Baltimore and Seattle, among others. The release of a report is one step in a long process that, in recent years, has typically led to bilateral talks between the Justice Department and a city, followed by an agreed upon police-reform plan that’s enforceable by a federal judge.

Chicago’s case is unique in that the report comes just days before a change from an administration that strongly backed the process to President-elect Donald Trump’s, whose commitment to such federal scrutiny is unclear.

The perception that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel badly mishandled the Laquan McDonald shooting hurt the former Obama chief of staff politically and he may feel pressure to address all, or nearly all, of the Justice Department’s findings to restore his political fortunes.

Chicago’s police department has long had a reputation for brutality, particularly in minority communities. The most notorious example was Jon Burge, a commander of a detective unit on Chicago’s South Side. Burge and his men beat, suffocated and used electric shock for decades starting in the 1970s to get black men to confess to crimes they didn’t commit.

The McDonald video, which showed Officer Jason Van Dyke continuing to shoot the teen even as he slumped to the ground, unmoving, provoked widespread outrage. It wasn’t until the day the video was released, which was more than a year after the shooting, that Van Dyke was charged with murder. He has pleaded not guilty. Police reports of the shooting later suggested a possible cover-up by other officers who were at the scene.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Alabama NAACP Not Backing Down After Jeff Sessions’ Office Lashes Out

from January 6, 2017 at 04:16PM http://bit.ly/2iowCR5

Protesters want to stop Sessions from becoming Attorney General due to his racist record.

“We are trying to stop Jeff Sessions from becoming the Attorney General of the United States,” Benard Simelton, president of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, told AlterNet over the phone. “We are not backing down at all.”

Just days ago, Simelton was one of dozens who staged a sit-in at Sessions’ Mobile, Alabama office, an action timed to coincide with the onset of the 115th Congress. Media attention and support from across the country poured in.

Simelton, one of six people arrested for the action, noted that following their release from detention, protesters met at a TGI Fridays restaurant to “plan our next strategy.”

By then, their protest had caught the attention of Sessions’ office, whose spokesperson, Sarah Isgur Flores, smeared the protesters in her comments to the Washington Examiner. "What a sad statement on the left’s political reality that they would falsely smear a man’s character and reputation as a fundraising gimmick," she said. Flores sent a series of tweets referring to the protesters as “pathetic.”

But Simelton says the response is proof that their protest got under Sessions’ skin. “The statements don’t bother us at all,” he said. “Irrationality is what we expect. They are trying to change the focus from them to us, so that people won’t focus on the things he has done.”

Sessions, a U.S. Senator from Alabama, built his national reputation by vociferously opposing civil rights. In the 1984 case now known as the Marion Three, he prosecuted three civil rights workers on baseless charges of voter fraud (all were acquitted), in an effort to intimidate and suppress the black vote. His opposition to voting rights has continued throughout his career, including his support for the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to gut the Voting Rights Act.

Sessions was appointed by former President Ronald Reagan in 1986 as a federal judge, but rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee—some of them Republicans—on the grounds that he was too racist to serve.

Former Justice Department civil rights lawyer J. Gerald Hebert testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that Sessions had called the NAACP “un-American” and “communist-inspired.” More recently, Hebert told CNN, "Things that I had heard firsthand from him were things that demonstrated gross racial insensitivity to black citizens of Alabama and the United States.”

Thomas Figures, a former assistant U.S. attorney who is African American, testified that Sessions called him “boy” and joked about the Ku Klux Klan, saying he thought they were “okay, until I found out they smoked pot.”

Sessions has been one of the most right-wing members of the Senate, consistently voting for harsh crackdowns on immigrants and punishing austerity measures. In just one example, he supported Alabama’s harsh HB56, described by the ACLU as “an extraordinary attempt to regulate every aspect of the lives of immigrants.”

The first sitting senator to support Trump’s presidential bid, Sessions has expressed his support for a form of torture euphemistically referred to as waterboarding. He was part of a small group of senators who voted against the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, which according to Human Rights Watch, “barred the use of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment against any detainee in U.S. custody and required the Defense Department to follow the U.S. Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogations when conducting interrogations.” He also opposed a later anti-torture amendment to the annual defense bill, which passed in 2015.

Sessions opposed a 2009 law to protect women from job discrimination and defended Trump’s boasting about sexually assaulting women. He has consistently voted against the most basic LGBTQ protections.

Writing for the Nation, Ari Berman noted that Sessions, if confirmed Attorney General, will be in charge “of enforcing the civil-rights laws he once opposed, like the Voting Rights Act.”

More than 1,100 law school professors from across the United States registered their opposition to Sessions in an open letter sent Tuesday. "Nothing in Senator Sessions’ public life since 1986 has convinced us that he is a different man than the 39-year-old attorney who was deemed too racially insensitive to be a federal district court judge,” they wrote. A petition opposing Sessions has garnered over 200,000 signatures.

“To not support something like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to not believe that there is voter suppression going on in the United States, to not support the expansion of the Voting Rights act—those are the things the attorney general would be responsible for enforcing,” said Simelton. “This is very urgent, and we want to get the word out to people cross the nation that we here in Alabama are not supporting Sessions for Attorney General. We want people to know what kind of record he has.”

Read more at: Alternet http://bit.ly/1nDoAlo

The Massive Election-Rigging Scandal the Media Ignored

from January 6, 2017 at 04:16PM http://bit.ly/2jgp4UK

Republicans denied 7 million their right to vote, and no one seems to care.

The election of 2016 may well have been stolen—or to use Donald Trump’s oft-repeated phrase—"rigged," and nobody in the media seems willing to discuss it.

The rigging was a pretty simple process, in fact: in 27 Republican-controlled states (including critical swing states) hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of people showed up to vote, but were mysteriously blocked from voting for allegedly being registered with the intent to vote in multiple states.

Greg Palast, an award-winning investigative journalist, writes a stinging piece in the highly respected Rolling Stone magazine (August 2016 edition), predicting that the November 8, 2016 presidential election had already been decided: "The GOP’s Stealth War Against Voters." He also wrote and produced a brilliant documentary on this exact subject that was released well before the election, titled The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.

He said a program called the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck had been quietly put together in Kansas and was being used by Republican secretaries of state in 27 states to suppress and purge African American, Asian and Hispanic votes in what would almost certainly be the swing states of the 2016 election.

Crosscheck was started by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach back in 2007 under the guise of combating so-called voter fraud. In the ultimate thumb in the eye to the American voter, the state where Crosscheck started was the only state to refuse to participate in a New York Times review of voter fraud in the 2016 election, which found that, basically, there wasn’t any fraud at the level of individual voters. Turns out, according to Palast, that a total of 7 million voters—including up to 344,000 in Pennsylvania, 589,000 in North Carolina and up to 449,000 in Michigan (based on available Crosscheck data from 2014)—may have been denied the right to have their votes counted under this little known but enormously potent Crosscheck program.

Yes, that’s way more than enough votes to swing the 2016 election to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. But no one seems to care.

Not Hillary Clinton, not the DNC, not the New York Times, not the Washington Post, not even MSNBC. In fact, on November 26, MSNBC Host Joy Reid ended her interview of Greg Palast by saying, "I wish more people would listen to what you have to say."

But he was never asked back, by Joy or anyone else at MSNBC.

Why?

Why wouldn’t the media and lawyers swoop in to every swing state and demand that every single purged, provisional or uncounted vote either be counted or verified to be illegitimate?

Why is it more relevant to focus on a crazed and completely unsubstantiated and untrue allegation about 3 million “illegal aliens” voting, but not a claim by a fellow journalist that 7 million American citizens weren’t allowed to have their votes counted?

Yes, Hillary was insistent that we must accept the results of the election, but doesn’t that require legitimate, verified or verifiable results? A coach who questions a call on the field is not challenging the system, he just wants to make sure the result is accurate.

So maybe investigative journalist Greg Palast is completely wrong. Completely inaccurate. Maybe there weren’t 7 million voters who were at risk of being excluded, with millions of them being handed “placebo" ballots (provisional ballots) that almost never get opened or counted. Maybe it’s only a million or two citizens. The problem is that the Republican secretaries of state are refusing to say, and the press has dropped the topic.

What we do know is that there is a program called Crosscheck implemented in 27 states that serves to disqualify voters who are not qualified to vote, trying to vote multiple times, or trying to defraud the electoral system. And if Palast’s reporting (and interview of Kobach) is accurate, that system is primarily being used to disenfranchise large numbers of African American, Hispanic and Asian voters.

In 2000, the United States Supreme Court wrongly ruled that America was not allowed to count the votes that were cast in Florida that determined the presidency of the United States.

In 2016, the Democratic Party and the American media and American people have wrongly decided that America should not count the votes that were not cast in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and so many other places that determined the presidency of the United States.

The DNC and the press need to get on this story now.    

Read more at: Alternet http://bit.ly/1nDoAlo

U.S.-backed Saudi War in Yemen Fuels ‘Largest Food Security Emergency in the World’

from January 6, 2017 at 04:16PM http://bit.ly/2js6czN

U.S.-backed bombing has killed thousands of Yemenis and pushed millions to the brink of famine.

A prominent famine monitor created by the U.S. government has acknowledged that the U.S.-backed war in Yemen has fueled the "largest food security emergency in the world." And acording to its analysis, the catastrophic situation only continues to get worse.

Since March 2015, the U.S. has supported a Saudi-led coalition that has bombed Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East. With tens of billions of dollars worth of American and British weapons, more than 1,000 refueling sorties by U.S. planes and intelligence and guidance from the American and British militaries, Saudi Arabia has carried out thousands of airstrikes, at least one-third of which have struck civilian sites.

The Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition has also intentionally targeted food production and the agricultural sector in its bombing campaign in Yemen, in what a leading expert has described as a "scorched-earth strategy."

In August, the United Nations reported that more than 10,000 Yemenis had been killed, with an average of 13 civilian casualties per day, in a U.S.-fueled war that has gotten little attention in the U.S. media and which received virtually no mention in the entirety of the 2016 presidential campaign.

The war has plunged Yemen into what the U.N. has characterized as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Yemen already suffered from widespread food insecurity before the coalition launched its bombing campaign and implemented a blockade 21 months ago. Since then, the U.N. has repeatedly reported that more than half of Yemen’s population is going hungry and that millions are on the brink of famine.

In a report released in December, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network warned, "Conflict in Yemen is the primary driver of the largest food security emergency in the world."

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network is a leading monitor of global food insecurity, created by the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, in 1985. The monitor is not officially part of the U.S. government, but works with a variety of government agencies.

According to the group’s report, hunger in Yemen is getting worse. Although there is limited access to data, the food security and nutrition data available from the governorate of al-Hudayda, one of Yemen’s largest urban centers, suggests that hunger is on the rise. The number of children with severe acute malnutrition admitted to treatment programs in the governorate has increased by roughly 40 percent, compared to 2014 and 2015 levels.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network gauges the severity of a hunger crisis on a five-point scale, in which IPC Phase 5 is "Famine" and IPC Phase 1 is "Minimal." In Yemen, at least 2 million people are in IPC Phase 4: Emergency. They "face an increased risk of mortality" from hunger, the monitor says. An additional 5 to 8 million Yemenis are classified in IPC Phase 3: Crisis, and "in need of urgent humanitarian assistance."

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network’s analysis of food insecurity in Yemen in December 2016.

The whole western half of Yemen, the more populated part of the country with the large urban centers, is in IPC Phase 3: Crisis, according to the monitor. A large strip on the western coast, including the major cities al-Hudayda and Taizz, is in IPC Phase 4: Emergency.

In the upcoming months, between February and May, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network estimates that large swaths of the country will also be plunged into emergency status, including the capital, Sanaa, along with the Saada, Hajja and Shabwa governorates.

More than 14 million Yemenis are already food insecure, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in a population of 26 million. The World Food Program is providing assistance to an average of 3.5 million Yemenis per month, but the Famine Early Warning Systems Network warns this "is not sufficient to meet Yemen’s current needs."

War crimes and targeting of civilian areas

Since March 2015, a coalition of Middle Eastern countries led by Saudi Arabia and armed and supported by the U.S. and the U.K., has sought to topple Yemen’s Houthi movement, which seized power in late 2014, and Houthi-allied forces loyal to former Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh. The coalition has carried out thousands of airstrikes in hopes of restoring to power the former pro-Saudi leader Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was ousted by the Houthis. Hadi had been appointed president in 2012, after winning a putative election in which there were no opposition candidates.

Human rights groups have documented a vast array of atrocities committed on both sides of the war. The U.N. has nevertheless repeatedly reported that the Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition is responsible for nearly two-thirds of civilian casualties, whereas the Houthis and allied pro-Saleh militias have been responsible for less than one-fourth. The rest of the atrocities have been committed by extremist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS, which have been strengthened by the U.S.-backed war.

The U.N., Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have on several occasions accused the coalition of carrying out apparent war crimes, documenting Saudi-led bombing of a slew of civilian sites, including hospitals, schools, homes, weddings, funerals, and refugee camps. Cluster munitions, which are banned in much of the world, provided by the U.S. and U.K. have also been used in civilian areas.

Research conducted by Martha Mundy, a professor emeritus at the London School of Economics, has shown how the coalition is deliberately bombing targets that are part of the system of food production and agricultural sector in Yemen.

A blockade the coalition imposed in early 2015 has also fueled the humanitarian catastrophe. The blockade was ostensibly created in order to prevent foreign actors from arming the Houthis and pro-Saleh militias. Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have accused Iran of arming the Houthi-Saleh forces. The extent to which Iran is involved in the conflict is debated, nonetheless, and has often been exaggerated.

Before the war began, Yemen imported 90 percent of its food; the blockade has thus plunged the impoverished country into even worse hunger. The U.S. Navy has helped to implement the Saudi-led coalition’s blockade since it was first established.

The war has led to the displacement of more than 3 million Yemenis. Since the summer of 2015, humanitarian groups have warned that more than 80 percent of Yemen’s population has been in desperate need of aid, in the form of food, water, medicine, and oil.

The war has also totally decimated the poorest country in the Middle East’s fragile economy. In November, the New York Times reported that the coalition has been "systematically obliterating Yemen’s already bare-bones economy."

Health crisis

Growing hunger is an enormous problem in Yemen, but it is by no means the only one. A public health crisis has also taken thousands of lives. The coalition has bombed scores of hospitals and medical facilities in Yemen. The U.N. has repeatedly warned that Yemen’s health-care system is "on the verge of collapse." Less than one-third of the population has access to medical care, and more than half of Yemen’s health facilities are non-functional.

Every week, more than 1,000 Yemeni children die due to preventable diseases — an average of one child every 10 minutes — according to UNICEF. Thousands are perishing from malnutrition, diarrhea, and respiratory infections. More than 2.2 million Yemeni children need urgent care, and at least 462,000 are suffering from severe acute malnutrition, at risk of starvation, a 200 percent increase since 2014.

"The state of health of children in the Middle East’s poorest country has never been as catastrophic as it is today," Meritxell Relano, the deputy UNICEF representative in Yemen, warned in December. "Malnutrition in Yemen is at an all-time high and increasing."

Cholera, which had nearly been eradicated, is also on the rise on Yemen. In its December humanitarian bulletin, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that it had documented 122 confirmed cases of the disease in 12 governorates, with 7,700 more suspected cases.

 

Read more at: Alternet http://bit.ly/1nDoAlo