Saturday, May 31, 2014

Glimmers of hope on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Manderson, South Dakota — The big open sky over the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation swelled angrily, breaking into a million tiny shards of ice. The main road through town grew whiter and lonelier. And all Principal Alice Phelps could muster as she looked out onto the Olympic-sized slush pool forming in her school’s parking lot was a sigh of resignation: another day, another obstacle to overcome.

It was two hours after the morning bell and less than half of Phelps’ students had made it to school. The freak April sleet storm had left many of them stranded down muddied dirt tracks, some as far as two miles off the main road. Most of her students’ families don’t have cars or cars in good condition. And the school’s small fleet of travel-worn school buses was down to three, none of which would’ve survived the trek across what is inhospitable terrain on a good day.

The next day would be a loss as well, as a half-day was scheduled to honor a tribal elder who had recently passed away. With no community center on the reservation, school buildings are often the only communal spaces for celebrations, meetings and mourning.

“There are no community centers. But there’s alcohol, there’s drugs, there’s gang-banging. There’s up to no good. There’s making kids,” said Phelps, principal of the Wounded Knee School, a K-8 on the reservation. “So that’s why we try to instill hope and try to instill possibilities. Maybe some of it’s circumstantial, but then again, you don’t have to drink. You don’t have to do drugs. You don’t have to neglect your family.”


American P.O.W. Is Freed in Trade With the Taliban

WASHINGTON — The lone American prisoner of war from the Afghan conflict, captured by insurgents nearly five years ago, has been released to American forces in exchange for five Taliban prisoners held at the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility, Obama administration officials said Saturday.
The soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, was handed over to American Special Operations forces inside Afghanistan about 10:30 a.m. Saturday by a group of 18 Taliban, officials said.
American officials said that Sergeant Bergdahl was in good condition and able to walk.
The five Taliban prisoners at Guantánamo were being transferred into the custody of officials from Qatar, who will accompany them back to that Persian Gulf state, where they will be subject to security restrictions, including a one-year travel ban.
Talks on the exchange resumed in earnest about a week ago with Qatari officials who were acting as intermediaries for the Taliban.

September: Climate Week NYC

September 22 - 28, 2014. New York City

Climate Week NYC is a key international platform for governments, businesses and civil society to collaborate on low carbon leadership, through a week filled with events, activities and high-profile meetings.

In 2014 Climate Week NYC will also coincide with the UN’s Climate Summit. Together we have the potential to catapult climate change back to the top of the world agenda, mobilizing leaders to act now.

Join us in NYC to create a real tipping-point for transformative change.​

Top Bush Admin Official Says Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld All Guilty of War Crimes (Video)

During an interview with Democracy Now! Clarke was asked whether or not Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld could be tried by an international court for war crimes:
“I think things that they authorized probably fall within the area of war crimes. Whether that would be productive or not, I think, is a discussion we could all have. But we have established procedures now with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where people who take actions as serving presidents or prime ministers of countries have been indicted and have been tried. So the precedent is there to do that sort of thing. And I think we need to ask ourselves whether or not it would be useful to do that in the case of members of the Bush administration. It’s clear that things that the Bush administration did — in my mind, at least, it’s clear that some of the things they did were war crimes.”
My apologies to Mr. Clarke, but he’s wrong on one part of that statement.  It’s not just “in his mind” that some of the things they did were war crimes – they did commit war crimes.

But the real injustice is that none of these men will ever see the inside of a courtroom for the crimes they’ve admitted to committing.

- See more at:

NBC Censors Snowden’s Critical 9/11 Comments from Prime Time Audience

Statements made by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden regarding the 9/11 terror attacks were edited out of his NBC Nightly News interview with Brian Williams Wednesday in what appears to be an attempt to bolster legitimacy for the agency’s controversial surveillance programs.

Snowden’s comments surrounding the failure of dragnet surveillance in stopping the 9/11 attacks were censored from the prime time broadcast and instead buried in an hour long clip on NBC’s website.

Read more:

Not a 'know-all:' Tutu says he won't tell Canadians what to do about environment

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. - South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu says he has come to northern Alberta not as an expert on climate change, but hoping to bring people together on an issue that he says is crucial to the future of all creation.

"I don't come as a know-all who is going to pontificate and tell you Canadians what you must do," he told reporters Friday before opening a two-day conference on oilsands development and First Nations treaties in Fort McMurray.

"I think I can almost say, without fear of contradiction, that you do know what you should do."

But he didn't minimize his assessment of how serious a threat climate change poses. Effects are already being felt all over the world, he said, citing stories people have told him from Norway to Nigeria.

"We are sitting on a powder keg if we don't do something urgently, quickly."

Tutu suggested we are all members of one global family who should look out for each other.

"It is better working together than being at loggerheads, at daggers drawn," he said. "It is far better — it is cheaper — for people to be friends than enemies."

He pointed to his own experience fighting the apartheid regime in South Africa as an example of people can work out even the toughest problems.

"We could have had one awful conflagration," he said. "It didn't happen."

The archbishop, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the fight against apartheid, has taken strong stands on climate change and against projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline. Tutu has signed a petition against the project. In an opinion column earlier this year in the British newspaper the Guardian, the 82-year-old called the Keystone proposal to move oilsands bitumen from Alberta to the U.S. appalling.

He has also called for boycotts of events sponsored by the fossil fuel industry, for health warnings on oil company ads and for divestment of oil industry investments held by universities and municipalities, similar to measures that were brought against South Africa's old apartheid regime.

"It is effective," he said, emphasizing the statement with a loud cry and throwing his hands in the air.
Tutu brought a religious bent to a debate often restricted to science and economics. "The Bible says God said to Adam, 'Till it and keep it.' Not 'Till it and destroy it.'"

Tutu was to take an aerial tour of the massive oilsands development Friday afternoon, but heavy winds put that in doubt. There were no plans for him to meet with industry officials during his time in Fort McMurray.

Some in the oilsands capital seemed open to hearing what he had to say.

Syncrude employee Melvin Campbell said he feels Tutu's opinion carries more weight than that of others who have been critical of the industry.

"He has a little bit more credibility than the actors and the players," said Campbell. "Desmond Tutu has a lot of political experience and the public's ear. I hope he uses it well."


Daniel Ellsberg: Snowden Would Not Get a Fair Trial – and Kerry Is Wrong

As the author knows from conversations with him over the past year, Snowden knew of the constitutionally questionable efforts of the Obama administration, in particular, to use the Espionage Act in a way it was never intended - Photo from NBC News
John Kerry was in my mind Wednesday morning, and not because he had called me a patriot on NBC News. I was reading the lead story in the New York Times – "US Troops to Leave Afghanistan by End of 2016" – with a photo of American soldiers looking for caves. I recalled not the Secretary of State but a 27-year-old Kerry, asking, as he testified to the Senate about the US troops who were still in Vietnam and were to remain for another two years: How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?
I wondered how a 70-year-old Kerry would relate to that question as he looked at that picture and that headline. And then there he was on MSNBC an hour later, thinking about me, too, during a round of interviews about Afghanistan that inevitably turned to Edward Snowden ahead of my fellow whistleblower’s own primetime interview that night:
There are many a patriot – you can go back to the Pentagon Papers with Dan Ellsberg and others who stood and went to the court system of America and made their case. Edward Snowden is a coward, he is a traitor, and he has betrayed his country. And if he wants to come home tomorrow to face the music, he can do so.
On the Today show and CBS, Kerry complimented me again – and said Snowden "should man up and come back to the United States" to face charges. But John Kerry is wrong, because that's not the measure of patriotism when it comes to whistleblowing, for me or Snowden, who is facing the same criminal charges I did for exposing the Pentagon Papers.

As Snowden told Brian Williams on NBC later that night and Snowden's lawyer told me the next morning, he would have no chance whatsoever to come home and make his case – in public or in court.



NARF hosts National Day of Prayer for the Protection of Native American Sacred Places

Please join us for a sunrise ceremony at 7:00 am on Friday, June 20, on the front lawn of the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder, Colorado, for the National Day of Prayer for the Protection of Native American Sacred Places.  The program and prayer service will last about one hour, followed by a potluck breakfast.  Speakers will include Ute elder Kenny Frost, and NARF staff attorneys involved in sacred places work.  Speakers will be followed by a moment of silence in honor of the many sacred places that are being threatened, damaged, and destroyed today.

As part of its mission, the Native American Rights Fund has long advocated for sacred site protection, religious freedom efforts, and cultural rights.  Recently, NARF expanded its efforts to protect lands that are sacred and precious to Native Americans.  As Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee), a national leader in the protection of sacred places and partner with NARF in its efforts in the area, explains, “Native and non-Native people gather at this Solstice time for ceremonies and events to honor sacred places . . . . Observances are necessary because Native Peoples are engaged in myriad struggles with developers that endanger or destroy Native sacred places.”

Please show your support for the protection of sacred places by joining us for the June 20th program.  We ask you to please bring food and/or beverages to share at the completion of the program.  Sharing of nourishment together is part of the ceremony.

For more information, please contact NARF at (303) 447-8760.


Friday, May 30, 2014

Tweet 4 U.S. Political Prisoners

Last 2 Days of the Twitter Storm for U.S. Political Prisoners


More Twitter Campaigns:

Redskins urge fans to troll Sen. Harry Reid, and it doesn't go well

The Washington Redskins have launched a Twitter onslaught at Sen. Harry Reid in their campaign to keep the team's name.

The Redskins instructed fans Thursday to tweet the Nevada Democrat to show their "RedskinsPride" and "tell him what the team means to you."

Fans did just that -- but not always in a manner the Redskins would have preferred, with many telling Reid they support his efforts to change the name. Soon, both "RedskinsPride" and "changethename" were trending in the D.C. area.

Reid said last month that Redskins owner Dan Snyder should "do what is morally right" and change the name. Last week, half of the Senate wrote letters to the NFL urging a change, calling the name a racist slur.

Snyder, meanwhile, has vowed never to change the name.

After many of the responses on twitter backfired on the Redskins, Reid's digital director, Faiz Shakir, told the Washington Post that the failed Twitter campaign had "really made our day."


National Forum on Police Crimes Calls for Civilian Police Accountability Councils

National Forum on Police Crimes held earlier this month in Chicago. Speaking at the closing rally Angels Davis said, mass incarceration and police killings stem from "structural and systemic racism rooted in the failure to fully abolish slavery." Global capital expansion and its pursuit of profit, she said, fuel the prison-industrial complex. Call issued for legislation to create Civilian Police Accountability Councils.

In response to a national epidemic of police and vigilante killings, a two day “National Forum on Police Crimes” took place in Chicago, May 16-17. With some 250 people attending, the Forum called for legislation establishing a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) in Chicago and elsewhere.
The Forum was organized by the Chicago branch of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression on the occasion of the organization’s 41st anniversary. Founded in May 1973, the NAARPR developed out of the national and international campaign to free Angela Davis from a racist and politically-motivated frame-up. Over the years, numerous celebrated cases were won through the organizing efforts of the NAARPR including on behalf of the Rev. Ben Chavis, Joan Little, the Wilmington 10, and the Charlotte 3.

Concluding the two day Forum, a public rally with Angela Davis was held at the Trinity United Church of Christ with 1200 attending. In her address, Davis said mass incarceration and police killings stem from “structural and systemic racism rooted in the failure to fully abolish slavery.”  Global capital expansion and its pursuit of profit, she said, fuel the prison-industrial complex. While money is spent on building prisons for profit, public education and affordable housing deteriorates, she said. Davis called for the abolition of prisons, disarming of police and freedom for all political prisoners held in U.S. jails from Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier to Chelsea Manning and the Cuba Five.


New Voices for Change in U.S. Cuba Policy

Interesting new developments calling for end of ban on travel and trade with Cuba, and for full normalization of relations with socialist Cuba, our closest neighbor in the Caribbean. Open letter to Obama signed by former government officials, including ones who served in his Cabinet. Business groups in the U.S. are now clamoring for a change in policy. Today, Thomas Donohue, President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headed a business delegation to Cuba.


Open Letter to President Obama:  Support Civil Society in Cuba

Cuba Embargo Under Pressure as Obama Urged to Ease It - Bill Faries and David Lerman (Bloomberg News)
U.S. Misses Out on Cuba Investment - DeWayne Wickham (USA Today)

Photographer Captures Tar Sands 'Destruction' From Above

Photographer and pilot Alex MacLean wanted to learn more about the Keystone XL pipeline, which if approved will carry oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, so he decided to take pictures from above of the tar sands that will supply oil to the project.

What he found shocked him.

"The scale of the operation is staggering," MacLean told The Huffington Post. It's "mind-boggling," he said, how expansive it is, and how much money is being poured into drilling and strip mining for the viscous petroleum product that will give the Keystone XL pipeline its oil.

MacLean took photos from 1,000 feet above northern Alberta's oil operations. The tar sands, more commonly referred to in Canada as the oil sands, are the world's third-largest petroleum reserve and underlie an area roughly the size of Florida. While the Alberta government says only 3 percent of the area is suitable for strip mining, in which forest and bog "overburden" is stripped away, that still amounts to about 1,850 square miles -- an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.
Flying above wilderness beauty punctuated by slick oil sheens and puffs of smoke from a refinery, "you realize how wasteful we are," MacLean said.

As of early 2013, mining operations had disturbed about 276 square miles of boreal forest in the region, according to the Pembina Institute, a nonprofit Canadian think tank focused on energy. The area totals over half the size of the city of Los Angeles.

The project "impressed on me, more than ever, just what the demand is for petroleum products downstream," MacLean said, and it shows how that demand drives "vast destruction of natural systems."

According to MacLean, some Albertans supported the idea of the project, but felt the growth has been too rapid and poorly managed. But among scientists and researchers, he said, there's a "real feeling that the environment is being poisoned, with both water and air pollution."

A University of Toronto study published earlier this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that official environmental impact assessments have likely underestimated toxic emissions from tar sands operations. Another recent study found that the Alberta work is polluting groundwater and the nearby Athabasca River.

MacLean previously told Fast Company he hopes his work "will expose why this fuel is so carbon intensive and how the extraction process is polluting both the water and air."
The oil derived from the tar sands bitumen is 14 to 17 percent more carbon intensive over its lifecycle than traditional crude. If built, the Keystone XL pipeline would bring 830,000 barrels of this oil to market every day -- adding several million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere annually.

"After seeing it in person, it seems like a really bad idea," MacLean told HuffPost of the pipeline. "It looks like really organized bad behavior on a large scale, for what the implications are."


This Weekend: U.S. Human Rights Network Panels at the 2014 Left Forum, NYC

NBC News Confirms Attempt by Edward Snowden to Go Through Channels at NSA

One major argument from critics of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has been that he did not go through “proper channels” in government before taking documents on top secret surveillance programs and providing them to journalists. But, during NBC News’ exclusive interview with Snowden, the network indicated that it was able to confirm Snowden had made at least one attempt to go through channels and the network is in the process of obtaining records showing other complaints were made to superiors.
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams asked Snowden, “When the president and others have made the point that you should have gone through channels, become a whistleblower and not pursued the route you did, what’s your response?”

“I actually did go through channels and that is documented,” Snowden answered. “The NSA has records. They have copies of emails right now to their Office of General Counsel, to their oversight and compliance folks, from me raising concerns about the NSA’s interpretations of its legal authorities.”

“Now, I had raised these complaints not just officially in writing through email to these offices and these individuals but to my supervisors, to my colleagues in more than one office,” Snowden added. He said he had gone through channels at Fort Meade and in Hawaii.

Snowden claimed, “Many, many of these individuals were shocked by these programs. They had never seen themselves, and the ones who had went, you know, you’re right. These are things that are really concerning. These aren’t things that we should be doing. Maybe we’re going too far here, but if you say something about this they’re going to destroy you. Do you know what happens to people who stand up and talk about this?”

Williams asked for specifics. “What did you report? What was the response?”

“I reported that there were real problems with the way the NSA was interpreting its legal authorities and the response more or less, in bureaucratic language, was you should stop asking questions,” Snowden responded.

According to Snowden, this all happened in the months before he left the NSA with documents.

“I would say one of my final official acts in government was continuing one of these communications with a legal office,” Snowden said. “In fact, I’m so sure that these communications exist that I’ve called on Congress to write a letter to the NSA to verify that they do. Write to the Office of General Counsel and say, ‘Did Mr. Snowden ever communicate any concerns about the NSA’s interpretation of its legal authorities?’”

After this portion of the interview played, Williams informed viewers that NBC News had learned from “multiple sources that Snowden did indeed send at least one email to the General Counsel’s office raising policy and legal questions.” It was working to confirm further details and had filed a Freedom of Information Act request for any other records of Snowden going through channels.

Remarkably, during the post-interview analysis show that streamed on the web, NBC News anchor and correspondent Andrea Mitchell said in April 2013 he sent the one email to the General Counsel, which he talked about. She then acknowledged the NSA could be covering up “other emails” and Snowden could be right—that there is a “paper trail” showing he made “multiple attempts” to take his concerns to superiors.
“I asked one top official, do you think they could be lying to you and not turning it over to the legislative branch? And this person said I can’t be 100% sure,” Mitchell reported. “That is the degree to which what Snowden has revealed has affected supporters of the government surveillance program, their sense of the credibility, because we do think that people are lying to us about it.”

NBC News counterterrorism analyst Michael Leiter, who served as the director of the United States National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, attempted to justify the NSA General Counsel’s handling of Snowden’s email.

Imagine you’re the General Counsel at the National Security Agency and you get an email that says, listen, I think that you’re violating the law here. This is unconstitutional. And the General Counsel gets this note and he says, well, gosh, the Congress has authorized this over and over. The FISA court says it’s okay. Mr. Snowden, I appreciate your interest, but I’ve got two other branches of government who are pretty good at understanding the Constitution and they say it’s just fine.

Regardless of what he raised, this is an awfully odd whistleblowing act for them to know what to do with. [emphasis added]

Williams reacted, “Is that really what the counsel says? Knowing that in war powers times this was not FDR telling Chrysler they’re going to switch to making tanks but the Bush administration use of war powers with Bush and Cheney, isn’t the General Counsel at the NSA a little bit on guard for a perversion, as Snowden put it?

“I think if that email comes in 2004, 2005, before some other revelations in the New York Times about initial collection programs, that comes up and then you get scared,” Leiter suggested. “But post-2004, 2005, 2006, the Congress has been told about this. The Congress has approved it. The FISA court’s have approved it. So, yeah, maybe the general counsel kind of wonders, but he still says, should I listen to Edward Snowden? Or should I listen to the FISA court judges that have repeatedly approved this for the past five years?”

Leiter is spreading ignorance. People like William Binney, Thomas Drake, Ed Loomis, Kirk Wiebe and even a House Intelligence Committee staffer named Diane Roark had raised concerns about the surveillance being unconstitutional, unethical and illegal. Drake had a conversation with NSA Deputy General Counsel Vito Potenza over the phone, where he specifically raised the issue of dragnet surveillance being directed at Americans without a warrant.

Potenza did not want to have anything to do with Drake. He told FRONTLINE PBS, “There’s no doubt in my mind I would have told him, you know, go talk to your management. Don’t bother me with this. I mean, you know, the minute he said, if he did say you’re using this to violate the Constitution, I mean, I probably would have stopped the conversation at that point quite frankly. So, I mean, if that’s what he said he said, then anything after that I probably wasn’t listening to anyway.”

These people never made anyone in the higher echelons of the NSA “scared” until they started to expose details of warrantless wiretapping and other abuses of power to the press. After that, employees who were raising concerns became targets of a wide-ranging FBI investigation to stamp out leaks.

However, Leiter’s description of how this would have been an “awfully odd whistleblowing act” for them is noteworthy. It is similar to what NSA Inspector General George Ellard has said. Ellard would have told Snowden “fifteen federal judges have certified” the NSA phone records collection program is “okay.” He would have “explained to Mr. Snowden his misperceptions, his lack of understanding of what we do.” If that did not work, maybe he would make the Senate and House Intelligence Committees available to him all so they could say similar things to him: it’s all legal.

The NSA’s own top lawyers were invested in serving the Bush administration by finding a way to legally justify warrantless surveillance after the 9/11 attacks. They would have been disrupting the response to the attacks if they had tried to put the brakes on any expansion of surveillance. So, of course, someone telling the truth about the surveillance being illegal would be “awfully odd.” That person would have to be ignored or silenced so business as usual could continue.

Finally, it is not as if America has never been in a moment where all branches of government were, in effect, participants in the perpetuation of warrantless electronic surveillance. The Church Committee indicated in “Book III” of its report in the mid-1970s, “The legal theories advanced to justify the use” of “warrantless wiretapping” were “developed almost entirely by the executive branch itself,” and had been “‘legitimized’ largely by the reluctance of Congress and the Supreme Court to confront directly the arguments presented by executive officers.”

The FBI also actively sought to thwart any sort of congressional inquiry into electronic surveillance by any committee or subcommittee. In 1965, top FBI officials convinced Senator Edward Long of Missouri, who was under pressure to investigate FBI activities, to issue a statement after meeting with them that said he was now “completely satisfied” that the “FBI had never participated in uncontrolled usage of wiretaps or microphones and that FBI usage of such devices had been completely justified in all instances.” FBI officials wrote the statement Long eventually released to the public, and this intervention effectively convinced Long not to hold hearings into FBI warrantless surveillance.

Warrantless wiretapping is a felony. Yet, in 2008, Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act (FAA), which essentially legalized much of the surveillance that had been ongoing under the Bush administration and granted retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies and made it virtually impossible to prosecute anyone, including government officials, for engaging in criminal surveillance.

As the New York Times wrote in an editorial in January, “Mr. Snowden told The Washington Post earlier this month that he did report his misgivings to two superiors at the agency, showing them the volume of data collected by the NSA, and that they took no action. (The NSA. says there is no evidence of this.) That’s almost certainly because the agency and its leaders don’t consider these collection programs to be an abuse and would never have acted on Mr. Snowden’s concerns.

“In retrospect, Mr. Snowden was clearly justified in believing that the only way to blow the whistle on this kind of intelligence-gathering was to expose it to the public and let the resulting furor do the work his superiors would not.”               

[Kevin Gosztola is a writer and documentary filmmaker whose blog, The Dissenter, is posted at FireDogLake.]


GOP Lawmaker: It's 'Immoral' For Feds To Block Medical Marijuana

The Republican sponsor of a House amendment that would ban federal spending to arrest state-licensed medical marijuana patients and providers made an impassioned plea Thursday night for the government to stay out of doctor-patient relationships.

"Some people are suffering and if a doctor feels that he needs to prescribe something to alleviate that suffering it is immoral for this government to get in the way," Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said. "And that's what's happening. The state governments have recognized that a doctor has a right to treat his patient in any way he sees fit and so did our founding fathers. I ask for support for my amendment."

The amendment passed 219-189 early Friday.

The debate pitted three House Republicans who also are doctors against one another. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) and Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) opposed the amendment, while Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) supported it. Harris insisted that there were no medical benefits to marijuana and that medical marijuana laws were a step toward legalizing recreational pot.

A visibly frustrated Rohrabacher rejected those arguments.

"Over half the states have already gone through every argument that was presented and decided against what you just heard," Rohrabacher argued. "There are doctors in every one of those states that participated in a long debate over this and found exactly the opposite of what we've heard today."

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use. Five other states -- Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Utah, and Wisconsin -- have legalized regulating CBD oils, a non-psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana that has been found to be effective at treating epilepsy.

The federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance with "no currently accepted medical use."


House Tells DEA To Leave State Hemp Programs Alone

WASHINGTON -- House members early Friday blocked the Drug Enforcement Administration from using funds to interfere in state-legal industrial hemp research, a rebuke to the agency less than a month after it seized hemp seeds intended for Kentucky's pilot program.

Two hemp-related amendments to a DEA funding bill introduced by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) prohibit the Department of Justice, including the DEA, from blocking states' importation of hemp seeds, and from preventing states from implementing laws authorizing industrial hemp activities.

Massie’s amendment passed 246-162, and Bonamici’s was approved 237-170. The Senate will likely consider its own appropriations bill for the DEA and Justice Department, and the House amendments would have to survive a joint conference before going into effect.

"The DEA has more important things to do than interfere with legal activities at the state level," Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said. "We need to remove the cloud of uncertainty," Massie said Kentucky was forced into a "waste of time and money and the court system's limited resources" during a legal battle with the DEA over its hemp seeds this month. “The DEA is not above Congress, it’s not above the law,” Massie added. “This amendment simply asks the DEA to follow existing laws.”


The War On Coal Miners: How Companies Hide The Threat Of Black Lung From Watchdogs And Workers

The dust was so thick that Justin Greenwell could barely see what was in front of him.

A 29-year-old miner, Greenwell had grown accustomed to working in the coal dust below ground in the Parkway Mine in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. Yet the prevalence of the dust in the air bothered Greenwell more and more. He'd labored for seven years in the mines, and already he was experiencing shortness of breath when he worked on his farm on the weekends.

Prolonged exposure to coal dust leads to coal worker's pneumoconiosis, known colloquially as black lung. It's a miserable disease that forces miners to live out their last days coughing and gasping for air. To protect employees, mine operators are required by law to keep their coal dust levels in check. While inspectors do some of the monitoring, the operators themselves also collect samples and provide them to federal regulators to prove they're in compliance.

According to Greenwell, there was a simple reason the Parkway Mine managed to avoid fines despite all the dust: Its operator, Armstrong Coal, a subsidiary of St. Louis-based Armstrong Energy, was submitting misleading samples to regulators.

"It's been going on since I started there," Greenwell alleged in an interview. "All these guys in management, they know it's wrong. But they don't care about our health."


Moms to EPA: Recall Monsanto’s Roundup

Alexis Baden-Mayer, News Analysis: This year, the EPA will publish a risk assessment and open a 60-day public comment period. Then it will publish a proposed registration and provide another opportunity for public comments. Finally, the EPA will make a registration decision to either continue business-as-usual, place new restrictions on the use of glyphosate, or to take it off the market. Moms want it off the market. Moms Across America and Thinking Moms Revolution are currently working with the EPA to develop protocols for an independent scientific study of glyphosate in breast milk for inclusion in the agency’s review.


How Climate Change Could Lead to More Oil Train Derailments

Brandon Baker, News Report: Fossil fuels contribute to climate change when they are produced and emitted, and, now, a report shows that rising temperatures are making the railway transportation of them riskier than ever. With temperatures in the U.S. rising by as much as 9 degrees, the rails that oil-carrying trains travel on are vulnerable to “sun kinks,” or buckling as a result of extreme heat, according to a report from Climate Central. When a railway gets a sun kink, heat expands its metal, causing rails to curve and making travel dangerous for trains, particularly ones that are carrying oil.


Los Seis de Boulder

After 40 years, the two car bombings that resulted in the deaths of six young Chicano activists are still the most important unsolved crimes in Boulder County history

At 9:47 p.m. on May 27, 1974, a car parked near Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder exploded with so much force that it shook buildings and homes for miles around and could be heard throughout most of the city. The explosion killed the car’s three young occupants instantly: 26-year-old Reyes Martinez, his girlfriend Una Jaakola, age 24, and University of Colorado student Neva Romero, age 21.

Just two days later, another car mysteriously exploded in suspiciously similar fashion in the parking lot of a Burger King at 1728 28th St., where four young men had stopped to buy beer at the nearby Pudlik’s Liquor. Killed in this second blast were Francisco Dougherty, 20, Heriberto Terán, 24, and Florencio Granado, age 31.

The fourth man, Antonio Alcantar, survived the blast only because he was just returning to the car, beer in hand, when it exploded. His leg was blown off and he sustained other life-threatening injuries.
It would later be determined that both vehicles had been destroyed by powerful homemade bombs composed of as many as nine sticks of dynamite. Body parts of those killed were found up to a half-mile away from the destroyed vehicles. These grotesque scenes still haunt the Latino community to this day for a variety of reasons.
The six who were killed 40 years ago this week were all friends and fellow Chicano activists who since their untimely deaths have been referred to as Los Seis de Boulder. These six young Chicanos were, and are still, powerful symbols within the Latino community, wherein many believe that they were assassinated either by the federal government or, at best, because of actions taken by the government.
Those who blame the deaths on the federal government, primarily the Federal Bureau of Investigation, do so out of the belief that Los Seis were killed because of their political activism and, in some cases, leadership roles within the Chicano Movement. Unfortunately, such a belief is not out of the realm of possibilities, based on what we now know was happening to activists who encouraged political dissent and militant action among minority populations at that time. But there are other theories about what happened to Los Seis.
The FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and local law enforcement insist that the six young activists accidentally blew themselves up while trying to set the timers on poorly constructed homemade bombs they had built and intended to use to destroy unknown targets located in Boulder, Denver or elsewhere along the Front Range.
Still others believe that the two bombings were the result of Chicanoon-Chicano violence that had erupted between rival factions within the movement.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

We Must Move Beyond the 'Patriot' vs. 'Traitor' Debate Around Edward Snowden

One thing I got from the Edward Snowden interview that was shown on NBC last night is that we best refocus our energy on engaging one another above and beyond our fancy electronic devices. While these are helpful tools and can allow us to reach large numbers of people all at once, it's important not to isolate ourselves behind keyboards. It's important not to put our self-worth and sense of well-being in algorithms we don't understand or control. In short, we should all take time out to check in with folks, make sure we're on the same page with our neighbors and keep our communication skills sharp. A lot of things are lost in text messaging and Facebook posts.

It's interesting to see how some have foolishly engaged in a debate about why Snowden has not "come home to face the music." What does that mean? he should come home and go to jail? Are we romanticizing and putting nobility on being locked up? Really?

About a month ago, I spoke with former political prisoner Dhoruba Bin-Wahad on Hard Knock Radio about this assertion, the legacy of domestic spying and opposing the government for oppressing its citizens. For those who are unaware, Dhoruba spent almost 20 years behind bars and was a member of the New York Panther 21 which included Afeni Shakur, the mother of 2Pac. During our interview Dhoruba meticulously laid out all the ways in which the government stacked the deck against him and others Panthers members fighting injustice in the '60s and '70s. He noted that many Panthers and for that matter freedom fighters from all over the world, from South Africa to Chile went into exile. Do we want folks like Asaata Shakur to come home and "face the music"? Are we satisfied that those who did face the music have been tortured and have been in jail for 30 and 40 years, much of it in solitary confinement? Are we satisfied with the treatment of folks like the late Geronimo Jigga Pratt, Herman Wallace and Marilyn Buck or those recently released like Lynn Stewart? Are we satisfied with the treatment of those who are currently locked up who 'faced the music' from Chelsea Manning (Bradley) to Mumia to Leonard Peltier to Mutulu Shakur?


The Edward Snowden clips NBC didn’t broadcast on TV

Former National Security Agency contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden made his American television debut Wednesday evening, appearing in a lengthy (and heavily-edited) one hour special on NBC.

In the interview, Snowden spoke to NBC’s Brian Williams at length about a variety of topics, many of which he has discussed in conversations with foreign and print journalists. Among them, Snowden refuted claims that he is a traitor, denied suggestions that is he is being controlled by the Russian government and expressed a desire to return to the United States.

During a web special in which NBC analysts picked apart the interview, the network published three clips that did not make the final cut in the broadcast. Those clips offered a rare glimpse into Snowden’s thoughts on President Obama, how the government interprets the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution and why the whistleblower believes government officials pervasively exploit the fear of another September 11-style terrorist attack in its design of surreptitious surveillance programs.

Audio and Transcripts:

FULL - Edward Snowden Exclusive Interview with NBC Brian Williams

Modern-Day Slavery in America's Prison Workforce

Laurie Hazen has bad taste in men. “They’re my downfall,” the 41-year-old jokes in her Massachusetts accent. “I have to really stay single.” An ex-boyfriend first introduced her to prescription drugs, she says, a habit she maintained through the course of another relationship, with another addict, and through two stints in prison, most recently in 2012 for writing fake prescriptions.

When she arrived at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Framingham, Hazen left behind a job as a records manager for a fiber-optics company. Her $14-an-hour salary had covered food, utilities, and rent on the modest apartment she shared with her boyfriend and her teenage son. She would have been putting some money away, too, if her paycheck hadn’t also been covering the couple’s drug habit. As it was, like many inmates, she went to prison with no savings and, because her boyfriend was locked up too, had no one on the outside to send her money. Her son went to live with his dad.

After two weeks in prison, Hazen could apply for a job. Because her sentence was less than a year, she wasn’t eligible for the prison’s highest-paying job at $20 per week—stitching American flags for the state police—and she had to choose between washing dishes in the kitchen and cleaning bathrooms. Because portions in prison are notoriously small, Hazen took the kitchen job so she could eat a little extra before and after her shifts. She earned $2 a day collecting inmates’ dirty trays and loading them into the dishwasher during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The cramped room where she worked had no windows and routinely filled with steam from the 200-degree dishwasher. There was one tiny fan. “It was pretty much slave labor,” she says, “but there was nothing I could do about that. I needed stamps to write to my child. I needed hygiene products.”

About half of the 1.6 million Americans serving time in prison have full-time jobs like Hazen did. They aren’t counted in standard labor surveys, but prisoners make up a sizable workforce: with 870,000 working inmates, roughly the same number of workers as in the states of Vermont and Rhode Island combined. Despite decades’ worth of talk about reform—of giving prisoners the skills and resources they need to build a life after prison—the vast majority of these workers, almost 700,000, still do “institutional maintenance” work like Hazen’s. They mop cellblock floors, prepare and serve food in the dining hall, mow the lawns, file papers in the warden’s office, and launder millions of tons of uniforms and bed linens. Compensation varies from state to state and facility to facility, but the median wage in state and federal prisons is 20 and 31 cents an hour, respectively.


FBI files on iconoclastic musician Pete Seeger to be released online

Thousands of investigative files that the FBI maintained for more than half a century on folk singer Pete Seeger are set to be released to the public online, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has told Al Jazeera.

When Seeger died in January at the age of 94, dozens of journalists, researchers and curious members of the public sought his files from the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act. The FBI has been informing requesters that it turned over all of Seeger’s files to the NARA before his death.

NARA spokeswoman Miriam Kleinman said in an interview that the archive would now seek to publish the files once it completes processing them. They are thought to total about 2,500 pages and need to be screened for information that is exempt from disclosure, as well as names and details that might be redacted to protect the identities of informants or confidential sources.

“As soon as possible, NARA will post this file online,” Kleinman said. “We are waiting for review to be complete.”

The NARA initially decided to release the files only to researchers on request, for a hefty administrative fee of at least $2,000. But Kleinman said public interest in the files prompted a switch in policy.

Seeger, the subject of secret FBI and CIA surveillance dating to the 1940s, was blacklisted during the McCarthy era because of his political beliefs and was indicted for contempt of Congress.


FBI spied on Nelson Mandela during first U.S. trip

The FBI spied on Nelson Mandela when the legendary South African leader arrived in the United States in June 1990, according to newly released files exclusively obtained by Al Jazeera. A May 30, 1990, FBI memo from the Atlanta field office to then–FBI Director William Sessions about the upcoming visit noted that the bureau had cultivated a new confidential informant — either directly within Mandela’s inner circle or closely affiliated with his entourage — who had provided logistical information about Mandela’s travel itinerary.

Mandela arrived in the U.S. four months after his release from 27 years in prison, not only as the world’s most celebrated political prisoner and liberation icon but also as the leader of a U.S.-designated “terrorist organization.” The African National Congress was not removed from the State Department’s list of such organizations until 2008. Moreover, it was widely alleged at the time that the CIA had provided information to the apartheid authorities in South Africa that led to Mandela’s arrest in 1962, in line with a Cold War approach that treated many African liberation leaders as threats to U.S. interests.