Democracy Now!

'Afghan people are boiling grass to eat' while the US refuses to release frozen assets

The Biden administration has ruled out releasing roughly $7 billion of frozen U.S.-held Afghan assets, a year after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and occupation, even as the United Nations warns a staggering 95% of Afghans are not getting enough to eat. “This money belongs to the Afghan people. And the U.S., for 365 days, has been holding their money in a New York vault while Afghan people are boiling grass to eat, are selling their kidneys, are watching their children starve,” says Unfreeze Afghanistan co-founder Medea Benjamin. We also speak with Shah Mehrabi, chair of the audit committee of the central bank of Afghanistan, who says the return of funds is necessary to bring back price stability, which would put cash back into the hands of Afghan people so they can afford basic necessities.

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN:

This week marks one year since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, after more than two decades of U.S. war and occupation. As the United Nations warns a staggering 95% of Afghans are not getting enough to eat, with that number rising to almost 100% in households headed by women, the Biden administration announced this week that it had ruled out releasing roughly $7 billion in foreign assets held by Afghanistan’s central bank on U.S. soil. That’s according to The Wall Street Journal, which reports Biden’s decision not to return the funds came after he ordered the assassination of al-Qaeda’s leader in Kabul. On Monday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price disputed reports that the Biden administration has ruled out releasing the billions of dollars in foreign assets.
NED PRICE: I don’t mean to play media critic today, but there has also been some inaccurate — highly inaccurate reporting today regarding the ultimate disposition of the $3.5 billion in reserve funds. The idea that we have decided not to use these funds for the benefit of the Afghan people is simply wrong. It is not true. Our focus right now is on ongoing efforts to enable the $3.5 billion in licensed Afghan central bank reserves to be used precisely for the benefit of the Afghan people. …
The presence of Ayman al-Zawahiri on Afghan soil with the knowledge of senior members of the Haqqani Taliban Network only reinforces the deep concerns that we have regarding the potential diversion of such funds to terrorist groups. So right now we’re looking at mechanisms that could be put in place to see to it that these $3.5 billion in preserved assets make their way efficiently and effectively to the people of Afghanistan in a way that doesn’t make them ripe for diversion to terrorist groups or elsewhere.

AMY GOODMAN:

For more, we’re joined by two guests. Shah Mehrabi is the chair of the audit committee of the central bank of Afghanistan, professor of economics at Montgomery College. He’s also a former adviser to the Afghan president. His recent piece for Al Jazeera is headlined 'Afghanistan’s economy is collapsing, the US can help stop it.' Also with us, longtime peace activist Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Unfreeze Afghanistan and CodePink. She last visited Afghanistan in April with an American Women’s Peace and Education Delegation.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Shah Mehrabi, let’s begin with you. Can you clarify what the U.S. is doing, what this $7 billion is, why the U.S. is holding onto it, if they are?

SHAH MEHRABI:

Thank you very much for inviting me.

It’s important, I think, to mention the fact that President Biden, on February 11th, split the Afghanistan reserve, which was $7 billion, into two — that is, $3.5 billion to be used, as President Biden mentioned, and I quote, 'for the benefits of Afghan people' and the remaining $3.5 billion to be set aside for September 11 plaintiffs to litigate. Now, the policy of splitting this, obviously, has created a situation where the central bank of Afghanistan could easily — this policy could easily decapitalize the central bank and, in turn, could easily dismantle it.

So, establishing, in a way, a mechanism that will allow central bank to use its reserve for the purpose — and the main purpose of the central bank is to bring stability and to strengthen the currency and also stabilize the economy — is very important. I think this function cannot be performed — the central bank cannot fulfill its primary objective of price stability, that is done by continuously engaging in foreign exchange auctions to prevent depreciation of local currency against foreign currencies and be able to bring price stability, because ordinary Afghans, if there’s no stable prices, they are not going to be able to buy basic household goods at reasonable prices. Reducing inflation will have to be done, because inflation now is at 52%. And auctioning will allow a situation where this inflation of double digit of 52% could be reduced to a single level, because higher prices are one of the major causes of poverty.

Now more than 70% of the world’s poorest people are women. And you have the women and children who cannot go ahead afford to buy the basic necessities. They cannot buy bread. They cannot buy cooking oil. They cannot buy sugar and fuel. I think it’s very important that Afghans be allowed to have their cash to be able to buy these basic necessities, to be able to have access to cash. And the Afghanistan reserve need to be returned to the central bank so that ordinary Afghans, as well as businesses, will be able to have access to USD, to be — businesses specifically to be able to pay for imports, and then ordinary Afghans to be able to get access to the deposits, because now the cap that is placed on ordinary Afghans and businesses, even at that cap, many of ordinary Afghans and businesses cannot get access because there is a shortage of reserve in the country.

So, I had suggested back in September that the United States should allow limited monetary release of reserve to pay for imports. And I suggested $150 million. And access could be conditioned, I said, on specific use, and that is for auctioning purposes. And this can be independently monitored and audited by an external auditing firm.

AMY GOODMAN:

So, Ned Price —

SHAH MEHRABI:

And if it’s — if it’s not, then it should be terminated. Yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

Ned Price, the State Department spokesperson, directly addressed the issue of the money going to the Afghan central bank. This is what he said.
NED PRICE: We don’t see recapitalization of the Afghan central bank as a near-term option. We’ve engaged, and we still continue to engage, Afghan technocrats with the central bank for many months now about measures to enhance the country’s economic — macroeconomic stability. We just don’t have confidence that the institutions, safeguards and monitoring are in place to manage those assets responsibly.

AMY GOODMAN:

Shah Mehrabi, he’s directly addressing your bank, the central bank of Afghanistan, says can’t handle it.

SHAH MEHRABI:

This is what I said. There has to be a way, a mechanism, established to be able to test us, as a trust-building mechanism. As I said here, that what needs to be done, release this thing and monitor it, independently have auditors trying to see if the money is going to be used for the purpose for which it is designed to be used. And that is to auctioning and bring price stability. And this process could build confidence and could be considered a trust-building mechanism between the United States government and Taliban.

Now, the United States government needs to be actively engaged, and I think dialogue should continue, as it is, I’ve argued, in the best interest of the United States. Now, and I think this temporary pause that exists now, I think, is understandable. But the United States’ strategic interest in the long run dictates that there has to be a dialogue and engagement; otherwise, I think I would argue the United States will pay higher price if Afghanistan collapses, because a failed state could create more space for terror organizations.

AMY GOODMAN:

Medea Benjamin, The Wall Street Journal reports that the Biden administration has ruled out releasing the billions of dollars in foreign assets because of their learning of and then killing the al-Qaeda leader in Kabul, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Your response?

MEDEA BENJAMIN:

Thirty-eight million Afghan people should not be punished because a 71-year-old figurehead of al-Qaeda was living in Kabul. This money belongs to the Afghan people. And the U.S., for 365 days, has been holding their money in a New York vault while Afghan people are boiling grass to eat, are selling their kidneys, are watching their children starve. This is unconscionable. That money has to be returned. The U.S., for 20 years, built up a central bank in Afghanistan with a monitoring mechanism. It’s one of the only things that continues to exist after 20 years of U.S. occupation. And now it wants to hollow out that central bank, create a separate mechanism.

I think the Biden administration, instead of listening to the war hawks in his own party and the Republicans, should listen to the women’s organizations in Afghanistan, the 9/11 family members, the economists from around the world, including Joseph Stiglitz, the human rights organizations, who have all said that this humanitarian crisis can only be solved by reinvigorating the economy and returning the Afghans’ money to their central bank.

AMY GOODMAN:

We’re here talking about — I don’t know if it’s seven — whether it’s $7 billion or $9 billion, but half of that, because the other half, the Biden administration has determined, would go to the 9/11 victims. If you could respond to that, Medea? And also this issue — I mean, you’re a longtime women’s rights activist, a feminist — of the enormous crackdown on women and girls in Afghanistan, how that money would not go to supporting the Taliban, who are doing this?

MEDEA BENJAMIN:

The lawsuits by a small number of 9/11 family members really will enrich the lawyers more than anyone else. And I think we should listen to the September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, who have spearheaded a letter that 76 family members have signed, calling — saying that not a penny of that money should go for the 9/11 families, it should all go for the Afghan people.
As a feminist, I am certainly opposed to the policies of the Taliban, which have been horrific in not letting girls go to secondary schools and forcing women to cover themselves when they’re out in public and saying they can’t travel around the country without a guardian. All of these things must be opposed. And we are in touch with Afghan women every day that are working to change those policies. But they are already victimized by the Taliban; they should not be victimized by the United States by stealing the funds that they need to get their economy going. There are about 50,000 women businesses that are still trying to function in Afghanistan. They need access to the bank to pay for the salaries of their staff. Pensioners, women, need access to the bank to get their pensions. So, as a feminist, and I think all feminists should say, let’s help reinvigorate the Afghan economy so that people can get jobs and that they can feed their children.

AMY GOODMAN:

Shah Mehrabi, your final comments? And would you support a third party getting that money?

SHAH MEHRABI:

I think a mechanism that is under negotiation that will enable the transfer of fund to be used for, from my point of view, for price stability and also for reducing the volatility in exchange rate, I think, is a positive move. Now, there has been, as I said, in one way or another, a pause, and the pause hopefully is temporary. And I think negotiation and dialogue that will enable the central bank of Afghanistan to have access to its reserve must continue, as it is not only in the best interest of the United States, but it’s in the best interest of ordinary Afghans.
I want to also mention that there’s no — that no increase in the humanitarian aid can compensate for the macroeconomic harm of higher prices for basic commodities. That is, you know, aiming for a banking collapse or balance of payment crisis. And I think severe consequences could ripple throughout Afghan society and harm the most vulnerable people. And I think we have the tools and mechanism to be able to reverse it. And I think the freezing of Afghan assets will not — very important: It will not weaken the interim Taliban administration, while the overwhelming impact of that will be on — it will fall on innocent Afghans, who have suffered decades of — decades of war and poverty.

And I think, while we have the means to be able to reverse this, why not go ahead and reverse this worst economic and humanitarian crisis? And I think the best way is by having — releasing the Afghanistan reserve, that rightfully belong to Afghan people, who established an independent central bank, and allow the central bank to be able to manage, to maintain this reserve and to be able to safeguard the international value of afghani, which is the national currency, and restore and keep and maintain price stability and also be able to allow and foster liquidity and also bring confidence in Afghanistan money and exchange rate policies.

AMY GOODMAN:

Shah Mehrabi, we want to thank you for being with us, chair of the audit committee of the Afghanistan central bank, longtime economist, economics professor at Montgomery College. And, Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink, Unfreeze Afghanistan, please stay with us. When we come back, I want to ask you about the Biden administration’s sanctions on Cuba, making it difficult for Cuba to effectively respond to a recent tragic fire, also the military budget that has been proposed, and the sentencing of a Saudi feminist to decades in prison in Saudi Arabia. Stay with us.

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The Iraqi and Afghan people were burn pit victims too

The close to $700 billion appropriated in the PACT ACT for the next ten years will help alleviate some suffering caused by Halliburton’s war profiteering, but only for U.S. victims. It won’t do a thing for the people in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Military veterans and their supporters camped out in front of the U.S. Capitol for close to a week after Republican senators withdrew their support for a major expansion of health care for veterans exposed to toxic “burn pits” in Iraq and Afghanistan. Formally titled, “The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022,” the PACT Act targets the Pentagon’s reliance on burn pits for disposing of the vast amounts of waste produced during the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Plumes of polluted smoke and particulates from the burn pits injured up to an estimated 3.5 million U.S. service members over the past two decades.

After blocking the bill, Senate Republicans faced withering criticism from veterans and their supporters, including renowned comedian Jon Stewart. “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a situation where people who have already given so much had to fight so hard to get so little,” said Stewart, deadly serious, flanked by vets and families of veterans who died from the exposure.

Earlier, Stewart assailed the Republicans:

“Ain’t this a bitch? America’s heroes, who fought in our wars, outside, sweating their asses off, with oxygen, battling all kinds of ailments, while these motherf*****s sit in the air conditioning, walled off from any of it. They don’t have to hear it. They don’t have to see it.”

Stewart wept after the Senate finally passed the bill.

Burn pits were used to dispose of everything from trash, tires, paint and other volatile organic solvents, batteries, unexploded ordnance, petroleum products, plastics, and medical waste, including body parts. These constantly burning dumps were often sited adjacent to barracks. Little or no protective gear was provided for impacted soldiers.

“Burn pits are massive incineration fields, sometimes as big as football fields, but there were many smaller ones throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, as well,” Purdue University anthropology professor Kali Rubaii said on the Democracy Now! news hour.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has identified a slew of cancers related to burn pit exposure, along with skin problems, asthma, bronchitis, respiratory, pulmonary and cardiovascular problems, migraines and other neurological conditions.

These illnesses could have been prevented. The military typically used jet or diesel fuel to burn everything, creating far more pollution than high-temperature incinerators. But using incinerators would have cost more money. Waste disposal was handled by the military contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root, or KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton. Halliburton’s CEO prior to 2001 was Dick Cheney. Cheney then became U.S. Vice President and was a key architect of the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. KBR received no-bid contracts to handle an array of logistics for the wars, including waste disposal. KBR chose cheap and dirty burn pits, maximizing profits.

“War is a racket,” retired U.S. Marine Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler wrote in 1935. Butler was a career Marine, admitting, in a 1931 speech, “I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers,” Butler said. “I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

The close to $700 billion appropriated in the PACT ACT for the next ten years will help alleviate some suffering caused by Halliburton’s war profiteering, but only for U.S. victims. It won’t do a thing for the people in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Veterans saw acute, short-term exposure to burn pits at peak health, at the prime of their lives,” Kali Rubaii, who recently returned from the heavily war-impacted Iraqi city of Fallujah, said. “Iraqis faced long-term, diffuse exposure at all stages of the life course, so the health effects were varied and widespread. Living near U.S. bases in Iraq, and therefore near burn pits, increased the likelihood of giving birth to a child with a birth defect or of getting cancer.

“Burn pits are not the biggest figure of environmental and health harm for Iraqis,” Professor Rabii elaborated. “They have also been facing military occupation, bombings, shootings, displacement and layers of military incursion by different occupation forces since the U.S. invasion. These things have all added up to collapse in public infrastructure that would be used to contend with the health effects of burn pits, poor overall health, and damaged conditions for farming and fishing.”

She concluded, “There is one really great way to avoid war-related injury, which is to not go [to war].”

The scars of the U.S. invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are deep, spanning decades. We will never know how many millions were killed or injured. The United States bears responsibility, and owes the survivors reparations, no less than has been pledged, belatedly, to U.S. veterans.

Greenpeace warns of twin nuclear quandaries in Ukraine

Safety conditions at Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant are “completely out of control,” according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. This comes as the Russian military has deployed heavy artillery batteries and laid anti-personnel landmines at the site in recent weeks. “Nuclear plants are extremely vulnerable to external attack in the context of a war zone,” says Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace, who says something as simple as the loss of power could unleash “massive releases of radioactivity” at rates worse than the Cheronobyl disaster of 1986.

AMY GOODMAN:

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is warning the situation at Ukraine’s largest nuclear plant, Zaporizhzhia, is, quote, 'completely out of control.' In an interview with the Associated Press, Rafael Grossi said Tuesday, quote, 'Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated [at the plant]. … What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely grave and dangerous.'

In recent weeks, the Russian military has deployed heavy artillery batteries and laid anti-personnel landmines at the plant. Ukrainian officials say Russia is using the nuclear plant as a base for its artillery, knowing that Ukraine cannot attack a nuclear power plant without risking a nuclear disaster. Zaporizhzhia is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.

We begin today’s show with Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace, who has just returned from Ukraine, where he was conducting an investigation at Chernobyl, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster. Russian forces occupied Chernobyl for a month immediately after the invasion of Ukraine began in February.

Shaun Burnie, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the situation at Zaporizhzhia and what you found at Chernobyl?

SHAUN BURNIE:

Well, thank you.

The situation at Zaporizhzhia, it’s unusual for Greenpeace to agree with the International Atomic Energy Agency, but Mr. Grossi is absolutely right to be deeply concerned. The occupation began on the 4th of March. And since then, hundreds of Russian forces, as well as state employees of the Russian nuclear state company, Rosatom, have been on the site. So that’s bad enough.

The fighting around the plant, if anything, is more serious in terms of what’s actually going on at the site itself, because nuclear power plants are dependent upon reliable offsite power, and already we saw, in March and April, the loss of so-called grid connection. These are incredibly important, because nuclear plants also require electricity to maintain operations, to maintain the facilities — for example, the cooling pumps that pump water into the reactors and keep the reactors relatively safe. And what we saw in March and April was a loss of grid in a number of grid lines, and the reason for that was because of fighting 50, 60, 80 kilometers from the actual site. So, even if nothing happens at the site itself, nuclear plants are extremely vulnerable to external attack in the context of a war zone. And that’s exactly what we are in the situation at the moment in southern Ukraine.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:

And, Shaun, you’ve said that the situation, of course, is extremely high risk in Zaporizhzhia, but you’ve also suggested that the role of the International Atomic Agency is highly political. Could you explain why?

SHAUN BURNIE:

It’s a really complicated situation. This is a nuclear plant in Ukraine, obviously, but it’s under Russian military control, with the Russian nuclear state agency, Rosatom, on site. And the IAEA and Mr. Grossi have been trying to get access for a number of months. The problem is, if you, as an IAEA, go to Zaporizhzhia, are you therefore getting the approval of the Russian state, the Russian government, to access a nuclear facility in another country that actually still is a sovereign nation and for which the Zaporizhzhia plant still belongs? So there’s lots of behind-the-scenes tensions in terms of whether the Russian state has any right to say to the IAEA, 'Yes, you can come and visit us.' So, the politics of this are really complicated.

It’s not really clear to us what safety role the IAEA would play. We have Ukrainian nuclear employees working on the site. We have Russian military, and we have Russian state nuclear agency people. So, what role does the IAEA play in that? It has a safeguards function, which is to ensure that nuclear material is not diverted for military purposes, but there’s absolutely no evidence that any nuclear material on the Zaporizhzhia site will be diverted by the Ukrainian government at this stage. That’s clearly ridiculous. And the Russians, they’ve got so many nuclear weapons and nuclear material in their own country, they don’t need to divert from Zaporizhzhia. So, it’s not really clear what is going on with regards the IAEA’s ambition to go there. I think, in part, it’s also driven by Mr. Grossi’s personal ambition. He seems to want to be seen as the savior of everything. And actually, the situation is a lot more serious than the individual ego of any one particular individual at a U.N. agency.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:

Shaun, we’ll turn in a second to your report, the Greenpeace report, the investigation into the Chernobyl plant, which Russian forces occupied during their invasion for over a month in the early days. But could you talk about what your concerns are with respect to Zaporizhzhia, people saying that it could actually — if the plant is damaged, the situation could be worse than what happened at Chernobyl?

SHAUN BURNIE:

Well, clearly, it’s an intolerable situation that Russian military, Russian nuclear state employees are occupying Ukraine’s nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia. For the workers, for their families, whose job it is to try and maintain the safe operation of those reactors, that’s clearly an outrageous situation, and it must be terminated and ended as soon as possible. The only way that can happen is for the Russians to withdraw immediately. Again, that’s not going to happen.

So, what sort of scenarios are the most severe? The loss of cooling function to the reactor cores — there’s three reactors out of six that are currently operating — that would be a major problem. We know that the generators that provide emergency power at Zaporizhzhia have got long-standing problems, not particularly reliable. The battery power is also extremely limited. So, loss of power is really the most severe issue that concerns us.

Also at the site, there are thousands of tons of spent fuel. That’s the highly radioactive fuel that comes out of the reactors. Much of that is in dry stores, which are of less concern. But the material that’s in the pools — that’s the swimming pools that are inside the reactor buildings — they need to be constantly cooled, which means that in the Zaporizhzhia site you’ve got much more radioactivity than was ever released by Chernobyl, in a war zone, where the personnel are under direct military threat at all times. So the ability to respond to any event, particularly a more severe event like loss of cooling, is extremely compromised. So, at that point, you’re looking at potential massive releases of radioactivity, potentially even greater than Chernobyl. That’s not scaremongering; that’s just the reality of having nuclear power plants in a war zone.

AMY GOODMAN:

And on the issue of Chernobyl, talk more extensively about what you found in your report, that says that the damage at Chernobyl, as you said, is so much worse than we understood.

SHAUN BURNIE:

So, for a number of months, we’ve been in discussion with the Ukrainian government, and we had the opportunity, a unique opportunity, to actually conduct a survey, a radiation survey, and also to meet with scientists whose responsibility is to manage and oversee this enormous exclusion zone around the nuclear plant from 1986, still highly complex, highly radioactive, with many, many problems.

And then the Russians occupied on the 24th of February, left on the 30th of March. And the reports coming out at that time seemed to be confused, and so we basically went in there to, A, listen and hear from the scientists who experienced the occupation — and these are laboratories that are fulfilling vital safety work on radiation moving through the environment. This is an ongoing disaster site. And we clearly saw that the Russian military had damaged, destroyed parts of the laboratory, stolen databases, smashed computers, removed hard drives.

But then we also went into the area which they managed. It’s 2,600 square kilometers. And we were only able to go to one very small specific area, because, unfortunately, the Russian military have also decided to place landmines throughout the territory, some of it organized and some of it completely chaotic, tripwires, anti-personnel mines. So, the impact on the scientists whose job it is to monitor radioactivity in the Chernobyl zone, also to provide warnings to firefighters, all of that has been compromised by the Russian military occupation. What we found was that radioactivity levels, in particular one area where the Russian military were, yes, it was high, but if you moved only 500 meters away, it was many, many times higher.

And so, the idea that this is a situation under control, that the radiation levels are normal — which is what the IAEA and Mr. Grossi communicated in April — is clearly not true. And so, the situation is incredibly complex. And basically, turning this into soundbites saying that things are normal, it doesn’t give any information whatsoever. So we have some severe doubts about the accuracy of what the IAEA was trying to communicate back in April. This is an ongoing crisis at the Chernobyl site. The workers, the scientists, the state agency, they need as much help as possible, because this is of national and international significance, in terms of what radioactivity is doing to the environment there and what it potentially poses as further threats in the future.

AMY GOODMAN:

Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace, I wanted to bring in Dr. Ira Helfand, the immediate past president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won the Nobel Peace Prize, also co-founder and past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility and serves on the international steering group of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapon, which also won the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Helfand, as you listen to this report, Shaun Burnie just back from Ukraine, both about what’s happening at Zaporizhzhia, where the Russians are basing themselves there so the Ukrainians cannot attack because that would create a nuclear catastrophe, and his findings at Chernobyl, your response?

DR. IRA HELFAND:

Well, you know, clearly, the situation around the nuclear reactors in Ukraine is extremely worrisome and it underlines, as Shaun was saying, the fact that these reactors are not designed to function in a war zone. And it calls into question, I think, the entire nuclear power enterprise globally, because we just can’t afford to run the risk of this kind of catastrophic accident occurring, with the enormous public health implications that would follow from that. Tens of thousands of people were exposed to doses of radiation from Chernobyl that led to them developing cancer and dying. The exact number is very difficult to come by, but the estimates are that it’s at least in the tens of thousands, and perhaps higher. And we can’t afford to continue to operate these nuclear reactors, given those kinds of risks.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, we want to thank Shaun Burnie for being with us, Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace, who’s just back right now from Ukraine, where he investigated what took place at Chernobyl and is talking about the situation at Zaporizhzhia. And we’ll link to your Greenpeace report, 'Investigation Inside the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone.' Dr. Helfand, we’d like you to stay with us as we talk further about the threat of nuclear war. Stay with us.

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'Pathetic': Author laments 'how cheap it is' for oil companies to fund climate opposition

A scorching heat wave continues to fuel wildfires across southern Europe and parts of North Africa, resulting in hundreds of heat-related deaths and forcing thousands to evacuate their homes. The record-breaking temperatures come as Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has effectively killed President Biden’s Build Back Better climate legislation after stringing Biden along for 18 months. “It’s appalling, but it’s not unexpected. It’s why we have to keep building movements bigger,” says Bill McKibben, climate author, educator, environmentalist and founder of the organizations Third Act and 350.org.

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN:

Bill McKibben, I also want to ask you about the scorching heat wave that continues to fuel wildfires across southern Europe and parts of North Africa. In France, thousands have been forced to evacuate fires that have scorched over 22,000 acres. Meanwhile, the governments of Spain and Portugal said hundreds of people died from heat-related causes during the second week of July. In the United Kingdom, the British government has issued its first-ever 'Red' extreme heat national severe weather warning, with forecasters predicting high temperatures will top 40 degrees Celsius, 105 degrees Fahrenheit, for the first time ever.

This coming as last week West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin told Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill he will not support legislation to combat the climate emergency or any tax increases on the wealthy and large corporations. The youth-led climate justice group Sunrise Movement called Manchin’s decision 'nothing short of a death sentence.' And you tweeted in response, 'Manchin has taken more money from the fossil fuel industry than anyone else in DC. And the return on that investment has been enormous. Big Oil got its money worth a thousand times over.'

Talk more about what’s happening in the world with these scorching heat waves, and what the U.S. is not doing about it.

BILL McKIBBEN:

Well, let’s talk first about the heat. Britain has the longest temperature record in the world. People have been looking at thermometers there longer than they have any other part of the planet. And the temperatures we’re seeing today and tomorrow in Britain are going to smash those records, not even just beat them by a tenth of a degree but by a full 1 or 2 degrees Celsius, 3 or 4 degrees Fahrenheit. That shouldn’t be statistically possible, but it is, because we’re living on a different world than those old thermometers were on.

The scariest thing, really, about what’s happening this week, not just in Europe, but also in China, where there’s an extraordinary heat wave underway, and also across much of the U.S. — the temperature is going to be 104 in Minneapolis today, I think — the scariest thing is, we’re in the middle of a La Niña, a cold cycle on this planet. As you know, we break new global temperature records normally when we’re in an El Niño phase in the Pacific, but June, last month, was the hottest June ever recorded on Earth. When we next have an El Niño, the numbers are going to be just completely off the charts. This is very, very scary.

And what makes it scarier, as you point out, is the lack of a real political response from most places around the world, the U.S. in particular. Joe Manchin choosing this moment to sabotage finally the climate legislation that the president had put forward is particularly galling. This is the third time in the last 30 years that the U.S. Congress has considered serious climate legislation — the Kyoto stuff back in the 1990s, the cap-and-trade stuff in 2009, 2010, and now this Build Back Better bill, that groups like the Sunrise Movement had fought for years to get through.

I’m afraid that, in retrospect, it’s pretty clear Manchin was going to do this all along. You remember that leaked secret hidden videotape that came out last year, where Exxon’s chief lobbyist described Manchin as their 'kingmaker' and said that they met with him every week to discuss policy. It’s pretty clear how those meetings have been going. He’s played this very well by stringing it out all these many, many months, 18 months. He’s kept the Biden administration from being able to take executive action for fear of offending him. It’s appalling, but it’s not unexpected. It’s why we have to keep building movements bigger. We need more pressure on this system in order to make change, or we’re going to be stuck just where we are.

The one upside? We know, and we get more confirmation with each passing week, that renewable energy is getting cheaper and cheaper and cheaper. There was an auction last week in the United Kingdom for new tenders for electricity provision. And the cost of offshore wind was coming in at one-quarter the price of burning gas to produce electricity.

We can do this. We can get out of a world where we have to go kowtow, fist-bump the idiot king of Saudi Arabia. We can do it, but only if we’re willing to make the effort that Joe Manchin has kept us from making this week.

AMY GOODMAN:

Let’s name some names. I’m looking at a Politico piece that talks about where Senator Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, you know, the top recipient of oil and gas funds, gets his money. Last quarter’s campaign finance data shows the trend is continuing. 'The senator received donations from executives at Georgia Power, including the utility’s CFO Aaron Abramovitz, and from Dominion Energy CEO Robert Blue. Energy services firm Concord Energy CEO Matthew Flavin gave Manchin the maximum allowable amount of $5,800, as did Southern Company Gas CEO Kim Greene and Harvest Midstream CEO Jason Rebrook. Southern Company’s chair and CEO Chris Cummiskey gave Manchin $2,000, while three other company executives gave at least $1,000. An in-house lobbyist for the company donated $1,000 as well. Kara G. Moriarty, president of the Alaska Oil & Gas Association, gave $1,000, too, along with two executives from the energy storage company Form Energy.'

And it goes on: 'Manchin also took in more than $19,000 from political action committees belonging to fossil fuel or energy companies and their trade groups, including the Coterra Energy, NextEra Energy, North American Coal Corp., the American Exploration & Production Council’s PAC. The PACs for private equity giant the Carlyle Group and AT&T contributed $10,000 and $5,000, respectively.' Your response, Bill?

BILL McKIBBEN:

You know what’s pathetic? It’s pathetic how cheap it is to buy these guys. So, you know, for a few hundred thousand dollars, you can afford a senator, and he is able to put the kibosh on hundreds of billions of dollars in renewable energy spending. The list you just read is a list of all the people who don’t want the status quo to change, who want to slow down that change as much as they can. That’s what they are paying for, and that’s what they got, man. This was money well spent, from their point of view.

AMY GOODMAN:

António Guterres said today, the U.N. secretary-general, 'Half of humanity is in the danger zone from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires. No nation is immune. Yet we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction. … We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands.' Bill McKibben, your final comments on this?

BILL McKIBBEN:

Guterres has actually been a hero, and he’s exactly right. And it’s not that hard. Look, there’s four big banks that are the big funders to the fossil fuel industry. They’re all American. That’s why at Third Act we’re working so hard to try and cut off that flow of funding to the fossil fuel industry. There’s a handful of people who are keeping us on a path toward existential destruction, and we have got to stand up to them, and we’ve got to do it now.

AMY GOODMAN:

Your final comment about Saudi Arabia and other countries the U.S. is relying on to increase oil production, when in fact, actually, now gas prices are dropping, but, more importantly, it looks like these oil companies — while people think it’s because there’s a lack of oil and gas, it’s that they’re using this moment, this opportunity, this war in Ukraine — these corporations — to gouge consumers and are making more than they ever have in their history?

BILL McKIBBEN:

If you don’t like the oil companies — and, man, you should not like the oil companies — if you don’t like the Saudis — and I sure don’t — we need e-bikes, e-buses, electric vehicles. The day that we’ve got a bunch of them on the road is the day that we can tell these guys to go take a jump in the lake.

AMY GOODMAN:

Bill McKibben, author, educator, environmentalist, founder of Third Act, organizing people over 60 for progressive change, also founder of 350.org, we’ll link to your piece in The New Yorker, 'If Egypt Won’t Free Alaa Abd El-Fattah, It Had Better Brace for an Angry Climate Conference.' His book is just out, The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened.

Watch below:

Watch: James Earl Jones reads Frederick Douglass' 'What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?' speech

We begin our July Fourth special broadcast with the words of Frederick Douglass. Born into slavery around 1818, Douglass became a key leader of the abolitionist movement. On July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York, Douglass gave one of his most famous speeches, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” He was addressing the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society. James Earl Jones reads the historic address during a performance of “Voices of a People’s History of the United States,” which was co-edited by Howard Zinn. The late great historian introduces the address.

Cecilia Hart and James Earl Jones at the 15th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA. 01-25-09

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN:

Today, in this special broadcast, we begin with the words of Frederick Douglass. Born into slavery around 1818, Douglass became a key leader of the abolitionist movement. On July 5th, 1852, in Rochester, New York, Frederick Douglass gave one of his most famous speeches, “What to the Slave Is Your Fourth of July?” He was addressing the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society.
This is James Earl Jones reading the historic address during a performance of Voices of a People’s History of the United States. It was co-edited by Howard Zinn. The late great historian introduced the address.

HOWARD ZINN:

Frederick Douglass, once a slave, became a brilliant and powerful leader of the anti-slavery movement. In 1852, he was asked to speak in celebration of the Fourth of July.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS: [read by James Earl Jones]:

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?
What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.
At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour forth a stream, a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and the crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

AMY GOODMAN:

James Earl Jones, reading the words of Frederick Douglass.

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Not just in the United States: Arms control experts decry global slaughter by American weapons

As U.S. lawmakers struggle to reach a consensus on legislation to curb gun violence in the wake of mass shootings, the U.S. also remains the largest international supplier of arms, funneling billions in military weaponry into wars in Ukraine and Yemen. Until there is a serious curtailment of U.S. militarism, it will continue to prioritize U.S. lives over lives abroad, says Norman Solomon, national director of RootsAction and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, whose new piece is headlined, “How About Some Gun Control at the Pentagon?” International arms control advocate Rebecca Peters describes U.S. efforts to block weapons control efforts at the United Nations and adds that New Zealand’s swift action on gun control following the Christchurch mosque killings in 2019 should give the U.S. impetus to do the same.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN:
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.Another mass shooting. It was Wednesday night, four people shot dead in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after a gunman attacked a medical complex at a Catholic hospital. It’s the 20th mass shooting in the United States since the school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, killed 19 fourth graders and two teachers last Tuesday.
On Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of nine U.S. senators met Wednesday to discuss new legislation in the wake of the shooting. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he hoped lawmakers would target what he called the source of U.S. mass shootings.
MINORITY LEADER MITCH McCONNELL: It seems to me there are two broad categories that underscore the problem: mental illness and school safety.

AMY GOODMAN:

Mental illness and school safety. He did not mention guns.
President Biden said Tuesday much of the violence from mass shootings is preventable, after he met with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and discussed how her country moved quickly to change its gun laws after the 2019 massacre at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.
As we continue our coverage of gun violence in the United States, we turn now to look at an issue seldom discussed: the role of the U.S. as the world’s leading weapons exporter. For more, we’re joined by two guests. Rebecca Peters is an international arms control advocate, former director of the International Action Network on Small Arms. She’s joining us from Guatemala. And Norman Solomon is with us. He’s with RootsAction and the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. And he’s got a new piece on Common Dreams headlined 'How About Some Gun Control at the Pentagon? The weapons of war that maim and kill — the big ones and the small — let’s do something to curb them all.' He’s joining us from San Francisco.
We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Norm Solomon, let’s begin with you. Talk about the connection between the massive number of mass shootings in this country — 20 since last week alone, since the Uvalde massacre — and mass shootings are defined as shootings of four or more people, whether they’re maimed or they’re killed — that connection — and we’re all seeing it on our screens now — to what happens abroad and how the U.S. may, horribly, be the link.

NORMAN SOLOMON:

The connections are really hidden in plain sight. And it’s really stunning that with all the discourse about gun control and the debates in the political and media arenas, there’s virtually no discussion of the crying need for gun control at the Pentagon. And we know that implementing gun control restrictions in other countries has really reduced drastically the shootings, the mass killings with guns. And yet it’s off the media map, because of the internalized militarism of mass media and the political establishment in this country, to talk about the huge amount of gun usage by the Pentagon.
When you look at the stats, we know that about 19,000 people a year, on average, in the United States are killed with shootings. And when you look at the stats from the Costs of War Project at Brown University, you see that in the last two decades a comparable number of civilians have been killed by the U.S. military. And that really understates the extent of, really, the murder using weapons. You know, we talk about assault weapons in the United States. Well, the U.S. Pentagon is wielding a huge array of assault weapons in many countries around the world, and the figure of about 19,000 average civilian deaths since 2001 caused by the U.S. military really understates — for one thing, those are just the direct effects. The destruction of infrastructure and the less direct deaths are severalfold times that 19,000 average per year. And then, as the great journalist Anand Gopal said on this program last summer, the official estimates of deaths caused by U.S. military actions in Afghanistan are woeful underestimates.
So what we have is this sort of hidden conceit in the United States, in so many different realms, that, 'Oh, yeah, we’re going to talk about whether to have gun control in the United States' — well, we should, and it should be implemented. But until we have a serious curtailment of the militarism of the Pentagon and the U.S. government, then tacitly what the U.S. society is saying, in silence, is that the grief of some people in the United States who have loved ones who were killed with weapons because of lack of gun control inside the country, that grief is really, really important — and it is, and we should recognize that — but another part of the message is, the grief of people in Somalia or Afghanistan or Syria or Iraq, that is completely off the media map because, to be blunt about it, the tacit message from U.S. media and political power structure, the elephants and the donkeys in the living room, they are essentially saying, in silence, 'We don’t care about the grief of people elsewhere in the the world. Not only that, but we particularly don’t care when the U.S. military is causing the grief.'

NERMEEN SHAIKH:

Rebecca Peters, you, of course, were the former director of the International Action Network on Small Arms. I’d like to ask about the role that the U.S. has played in advancing or blocking treaties at the U.N. that govern the arms trade — the U.S., of course, the largest exporter of military equipment worldwide. And if you could speak specifically about the Arms Trade Treaty, which the U.S. played a major role in crafting but the Trump administration pulled out of a few years ago, and the Biden administration has not rejoined?

REBECCA PETERS:

Yeah, thanks. Though it’s — the point that Norman makes about U.S. arms exports, in general, and the damage they do applies, of course, absolutely, to the question of guns, which in U.N. parlance are called small arms. The U.S. is the biggest producer of guns in the world and also the biggest exporter, both illegally and legally. So these two streams of guns flow out from the U.S. into others countries and cause havoc, including where I am, in Guatemala.
And within the U.N. — the U.N. started to try to get countries to work together to strengthen their controls on guns around 2000. So, for 20 years there’s been an effort within the U.N. And during most of those discussions, the U.S. has really taken a pretty unhelpful position. In the very beginning, there was a — the main agreement relating to guns in the U.N. is called the Program of Action, and that was developed in 2001. And a really important point that was not able to be included in that agreement because of the U.S.'s insistence was there's no mention of any regulation of guns in the civilian population. Although almost every other country in the world felt it was important to say, you know, 85% of guns in the world are in civilian hands, regulation of guns should deal with civilian-owned weapons, but the U.S. refused, and therefore that wasn’t able to be included.
Later we were able to develop the Arms Trade Treaty, which is the first internationally binding treaty dealing with — trying to link arms sales to, for example, human rights standards. The U.S. would privately say to us, 'Of course we need this,' but they were very concerned by the fact that the American gun lobby felt that the Arms Trade Treaty — or, I don’t think they really thought this, but the American gun lobby claimed the Arms Trade Treaty was a global ban on the Second Amendment. And so, the U.S. definitely made the whole negotiation of that treaty harder. But it finally was adopted, and it’s come into force. And unfortunately, yeah, now as — the U.S., the biggest producer of military equipment, has not actually ratified it. And so, I mean, it doesn’t obviate the need for the treaty. Obviously, even if the big producer is not — hasn’t ratified it, but still, obviously, it would make — it would be really, really helpful if the biggest producer of weapons would join the international treaties governing and agreements governing that industry.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:

And could you speak, Rebecca — just earlier this week, on Tuesday, the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, met with President Biden, in which, of course, among the issues they spoke of was gun control. Explain what happened in New Zealand following the Christchurch massacre, and the significance of this meeting between the two.

REBECCA PETERS:

Well, New Zealand was an example of a country that got it wrong once, and later got it right. New Zealand was supposed to be part of the changes that came about in Australia’s gun laws in 1996, because those changes were under a body called the Australasian Police Ministers’ Council. And Australasian means Australia and New Zealand. So, when Australia changed its gun laws to ban semiautomatic rifles and shotguns, New Zealand should have adopted that change, too. But at the time, the gun lobby in New Zealand persuaded the New Zealand government that there was no need for that, and therefore New Zealand didn’t change its laws in ’96.
Then, in 2019, the massacre at the mosque in New Zealand was actually carried out by an Australian, who would not have been able to do that in Australia, wouldn’t have been able to get the weapons, but went to New Zealand, where he was able to get assault weapons and murdered over 50 people in a — it was a massacre. It was also an act of terrorism. It was also an act of white supremacy. And then New Zealand did change its laws.
And I suppose the — I was interested to see Jacinda Ardern’s comments in the U.S. I mean, she said that New Zealanders just saw it was a problem that needed to be solved; New Zealanders are a practical people. And she also said, of course, it’s up to the U.S. what it does; we can only tell you what we do in other countries, and that’s true for Australia, as well. But I think that the more that the U.S. government and the U.S. people can hear from the leaders of other countries, which are culturally similar, which are — you know, where the lifestyle is similar, from other countries that can see 'when there’s a problem, fix it,' that I’m hoping that that will give a bit of force to or bit of impetus to change in the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN:

So, we will end with the words of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, delivering the Harvard University commencement speech last week. She was met with a standing ovation.
PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: On the 15th of March, 2019, 51 people were killed in a terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The entire brutal act was live-streamed on social media. The Royal Commission that followed found that the terrorist responsible was radicalized online. Now, in the aftermath of New Zealand’s experience, we felt a sense of responsibility. We knew that we needed significant gun reform, and so that is what we did.

AMY GOODMAN:

That was New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Rebecca Peters, we want to thank you for being with us, international arms control advocate, former director of the International Action Network on Small Arms, and Norman Solomon, national director of RootsAction and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. We’ll link to your piece on Common Dreams, 'How About Some Gun Control at the Pentagon?' Stay with us.

Watch below:

A reluctant warrior? An examination of Gen. Colin Powell’s bloody legacy from Iraq to Latin America

We look at the life and legacy of Colin Powell, who is best known for giving false testimony to the U.N. Security Council in 2003 about nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, paving the way for the U.S. invasion and occupation that would kill over 1 million Iraqis. Powell, who was the first Black secretary of state, the first Black and youngest chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the first Black national security adviser, died on Monday due to blood cancer and Parkinson's disease that left him vulnerable to infection from COVID-19. Tributes poured in from top U.S. leaders in both Republican and Democratic circles on Monday, but in other parts of the world Powell is remembered very differently. We speak with journalist and author Roberto Lovato, and Clarence Lusane, activist, journalist and political science professor at Howard University. Lusane describes Powell as "a complicated political figure who leaves a complicated legacy" whose public image was "in conflict with many of the policies of the party he supported and the administration in which he was involved." Assessing Powell's role in U.S. invasions around the world, from Vietnam to Central America, Lovato says "he's made a career out of being a good soldier and supporting U.S. mass murder around the world, but evading the credit for it."



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

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden ordered flags at the White House to be flown at half-staff in honor of General Colin Powell, who died Monday at the age of 84. Powell was the first Black secretary of state, the first Black and youngest chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the first Black national security adviser. On Monday, tributes poured in from both Republican and Democratic leaders. President Biden called Powell a, quote, "patriot of unmatched honor and dignity."

But in other parts of the world, Powell is remembered very differently. In Iraq, the journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi, who famously threw a shoe at President George W. Bush, tweeted that he was sad Powell had died before being tried for his crimes in Iraq. While serving as secretary of state under Bush, General Powell played a pivotal role in paving the way for the U.S. invasion. It was February 5th, 2003, that Powell addressed the United Nations Security Council and made the case for a first strike on Iraq. Powell's message was clear: Iraq possessed extremely dangerous weapons of mass destruction, and Saddam Hussein was systematically trying to deceive U.N. inspectors by hiding the prohibited weapons.

SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL: One of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq's biological weapons is the existence of mobile production facilities used to make biological agents. Let me take you inside that intelligence file and share with you what we know from eyewitness accounts. We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails. The trucks and train cars are easily moved and are designed to evade detection by inspectors. In a matter of months, they can produce a quantity of biological poison equal to the entire amount that Iraq claimed to have produced in the years prior to the Gulf War.

AMY GOODMAN: All of Colin Powell's main claims about weapons of mass destruction turned out to be false. He later described the speech as a "blot" on his record.

But the 2003 speech was not the first time General Powell had falsely alleged Iraq had WMDs. In 1991, during the Persian Gulf War, the U.S. bombed Iraq's only baby formula factory. At the time, General Powell said, quote, "It is not an infant formula factory. … It was a biological weapons facility, of that we are sure," he said. Well, U.N. investigators later confirmed the bombed factory was in fact making baby formula.

While many in Iraq consider Powell to be a war criminal, just like they consider George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, Powell has long been celebrated at home. Colin Powell was born in Harlem in 1937. His parents had both immigrated from Jamaica. He was educated in public schools, including City College of New York, before he joined the military through ROTC. He served two tours in Vietnam. He was later accused of helping to whitewash the My Lai massacre, when U.S. soldiers slaughtered up to 500 villagers, most of them women and children and the elderly. While investigating an account of the massacre filed by a soldier, Powell wrote, quote, "In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent," he said.

Powell spent 35 years in the military, rising to chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In the 1980s, he helped shape U.S. military policy in Latin America at a time when U.S.-backed forces killed hundreds of thousands of people in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and other countries. Powell also helped oversee the U.S. invasion of Panama and the Persian Gulf War.

From 2001 to 2005, he served as secretary of state under George W. Bush. After working under three Republican presidents, General Powell made headlines in 2008 when he endorsed Barack Obama for president just two weeks before Election Day. Earlier this year, General Powell said he no longer considered himself a Republican, following the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

General Colin Powell died on Monday. His family said he died from COVID-19 complications. He was struggling with both Parkinson's disease and multiple myeloma, which left him severely immunocompromised.

To talk more about Powell's life and legacy, we're joined by two guests. Roberto Lovato is with us, award-winning journalist, author of Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas. He has closely tracked General Powell's history in Latin America. We're also joined by Clarence Lusane, professor at Howard University. He's author of many books, including Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice: Foreign Policy, Race, and the New American Century.

Professor Lusane, let's begin with you. If you can talk about the legacy of Colin Powell?

CLARENCE LUSANE: Thank you, Amy. And thank your other guests.

So, Powell leaves a very — he was a complicated political figure who leaves a complicated legacy. As you outlined in your introduction, Powell has a rise-from-the-bottom story that really captured the imagination of many people. He rose from growing up in poor areas, or at least low-income areas, in New York to become fourth in line to president, when he became the secretary of state.

In the early 1990s, he was championed by both Democrats and Republicans and recruited by both to run for president. He declined in 1995. And when he declined, he announced that he was joining the Republican Party. Now, the Republican Party he joined in 1995 was the Republican Party of Newt Gingrich, and it did not seem to be a fit. Colin was pro-choice, pro-affirmative action, pro-immigration, called for gun control, all of which the Republican Party, under Newt Gingrich and going forward, have been against.

As you point out, he joins the George W. Bush administration, the very first choice, in fact, of George W. Bush for his Cabinet because Powell has the international gravitas and respect that nobody else in and around George W. Bush has. But he never really fit in. And in the first eight or nine months of the George W. Bush administration, Powell lost fight after fight after fight when Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and others, who were what we call the neoconservatives, the neocons, were really running the administration. And there was a pretty good bet that Powell was not going to last until the end of the year. But then September 11 happens. Powell, always the loyal soldier, decides to stay, but he's still very isolated. He says that they basically saw him as a milk carton. They put him in the refrigerator, and when they needed him, they would bring him off the shelf, and then they would put him back. They brought him off the shelf in 2003 to talk at the U.N. because there was no one else in the administration who could get the attention and at least some belated respect. And Colin Powell went and gave that talk, which was, from A to Z, false. But he was the only one in the administration, and then, of course, a year and a half later, he's gone.

But he's complicated because, in many ways, he did not fit in with the Republican Party, even though he did not leave until early this year. But he increasingly, and anyone who was a moderate, and particularly Black moderates, simply had no place in the Republican Party. And so, he endorses Obama, he endorses Biden, he endorses Hillary Clinton — or at least he votes for them. So he really had moved and been moved out of the Republican Party for many years. But he really wasn't a Democrat or seen as a progressive, either, again, because of a long history of aggression internationally, going all the way back to Reagan and the Contras and all of the foreign policy controversies of the 1980s, and then under the Bush administration, which not only included Iraq but also included the Bush policies towards Cuba, towards Venezuela, their policies around Africa, all of which increasingly isolated Colin Powell from the progressive communities.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Professor, I wanted to ask you, in terms of the need for both the Democrats and the Republicans to repeatedly lionize and hold up General Powell especially, but then as Secretary of State Powell, as a key and important American figure, given the fact that the U.S. military — of all the institutions in American society, none is more racially diverse, it seems to me, than the U.S. military, with about 40% or more than 40% of the troops as people of color. So, could you talk about the importance of Powell as a figure, given the demographics and the changes in the American military?

CLARENCE LUSANE: Thanks, Juan.

So, part of the capital that Colin Powell bills is precisely because he rises up to the top of an institution, one of the few that had not seemed to be tainted by political partisanship, and he rises up and becomes the head, becomes the head of Joint Chiefs of Staff. And Powell's personality is not a belligerent one, one that we have, unfortunately, come to see more and more in military figures and political figures, and Powell's activism relative to addressing issues of race. So, when we think of the conservative African Americans who are in and around the Republican Party — the Clarence Thomases, the Candace Owens — those types tend to come to mind. But there were African American conservatives who took positions that were supportive of issues related to the Black community and were active and supportive of civil rights. So, Powell fits into that, and so that gave him some cachet. He spoke at my graduation at Howard University in 1994 and talked about issues of racism, issues of being socially engaged. You're not going to find that coming from virtually any of the people we think of as Black Republicans these days. So, that gave Colin Powell a different kind of public-facing image, which was in conflict, again, with many of the policies in the party that he supported and in the administration in which he was involved.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I'd like to also bring in Robert Lovato into the discussion. And, Roberto, I'm wondering if you could talk especially about — people forget that back in the invasion of Panama that not only was Colin Powell a key figure, but that the secretary of defense at the time was Dick Cheney.

ROBERTO LOVATO: Yeah. Thank you, Juan and Amy. I'm glad to be back with you.

The story of Colin Powell in Central America and other parts of the world is what I would call a tragic tale of militarism in the service of declining empire. And it also previews what I call the age of intersectional empire, that Clarence laid out a little bit of, in terms of how race is being deployed by the militaristic, bipartisan consensus elites in the United States. And so, Panama comes about, remember, right after the Central America engagements in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and that was preceded by the Vietnam War, when you have a decline in the morale and the sensibilities of the U.S. military, having suffered a defeat, a severe defeat, in Vietnam. And so, Powell was part of a cadre of leaders trying to figure out how to create a post-Vietnam animus for the U.S. military machine.

But one thing I want to make clear is that the Powell doctrine of overwhelming force, bringing in the public into supporting U.S. war, clearly defined national security objectives and other things that define what they call the Powell-Weinberger doctrine, are still war policies. And so, Colin Powell's political career was one thing, in terms of race and being pro-abortion, but in terms of militarism, it was clear. In El Chorrillo neighborhood, which taxi drivers in Panama still call the "little Hiroshima," you know, hundreds of people were killed. They're still excavating mass grave sites of the invasion of Panama. And so, you know — and prior to that, remember, Powell was an assistant to then-secretary of defense, under the Reagan administration, Caspar Weinberger, who was charged with looking — overseeing military policy in Central America, which, instead of going into what they called asymmetrical warfare, like they did in Vietnam and got beat up, the militarists, like Colin Powell, decided to stray away from those kinds of war and fight them through proxies, and instead focus on building up to get big, you know, state-to-state military wars. And so, the fight against Manuel Noriega, also on false pretenses, was a preview and a preparation for the state-to-state war that followed in Kuwait and Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: And in that U.S. invasion of Panama that he spearheaded, can you talk about who died, Clarence Lusane, in Panama? We're not just talking about abstract, intellectual, you know, policy issues.

CLARENCE LUSANE: No, that's exactly right, as Ron [sic] laid out. I actually went to Panama. I went with another reporter, Stan Woods from out of Chicago. We went down after the invasion, and it was horrific. As was mentioned, there were mass graves. There were the total destruction of neighborhoods. They bombed — these were poor neighborhoods, we should be clear. So, there were wealthy neighborhoods that were surgically missed, while they bombed neighborhoods that had not only been active, but had been — you know, very much embodied people who live there. So, it was a horrific invasion. And Powell said nothing about it. It was similar to other military endeavors by the Bush administration and Reagan administration. Powell was silent on the consequences that thousands and thousands and thousands of people — and hundreds of thousands of people died in Iraq, but certainly thousands of people died in Panama. And there still has not been an accounting for that particularly horrible invasion.

AMY GOODMAN: And these were a heavily Black population of Panama.

CLARENCE LUSANE: And these were Afro-Panamanians. That's exactly right.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Roberto Lovato, go a little before the invasion of Panama to explain the Iran-Contra deal and the role of General Powell at the time. The invasion of Panama was under George H.W. Bush, and the Iran-Contra deal, of course, was when he was vice president, when it was President Ronald Reagan, the ultimately illegal deal to sell weapons to Iran, take that money and illegally support the Contras, which was against, at the time, the Boland Amendment, that said the U.S. could not support the counterrevolutionaries in Nicaragua.

ROBERTO LOVATO: So, Powell, we have to remember, was what he himself called the, quote, "chief administration advocate" for the Contras. The U.S. sponsored an insurgency to try to overthrow the Nicaraguan Sandinista government. I mean, Human Rights Watch and other organizations around the world have documented tens of thousands of people killed, nuns raped, children destroyed by the Contras. And Colin Powell would go on to say that "I have no regrets about my role" and that he fought very hard to get support for the Contras. So, Powell, as assistant secretary to Caspar Weinberger, was privy to information about the arms for hostages and giving money to the Contras deal, but managed to evade judgment, unlike Weinberger, who was indicted and condemned, and then, I believe, pardoned, thanks to lobbying by Colin Powell.

And so, Powell has proven skillful not just in terms of kind of helping reengineer the post-Vietnam military, but he's also been skillful at evading political judgment, as we saw with My Lai, as we see in Iran-Contra. And, you know, having this idea that the one, quote-unquote, "blot" on his record is the lies around Iraq is a travesty, because he's made a career out of, you know, being a good soldier and supporting U.S. mass murder around the world, but evading the credit for it. So, this is — yeah, I'll leave it there.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah. And I'm wondering if you could talk, Roberto, a little bit about, for instance, his legacy in terms of arming and training the Salvadoran Army, and including his relation with José Napoleón Duarte, who was the president of El Salvador in the 1980s.

ROBERTO LOVATO: Yeah. Powell was one of the Reagan administration's point people in Central America and, as the point person, helped to tee up and then legitimate, when necessary, the Salvadoran military dictatorships and the Guatemalan and other militaries in the region that were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents — and so, in the case of Guatemala, like 200,000 or more mostly Mayan Indigenous people. And so, like, in 1983, for example, Powell was part of a fact-finding kind of mission, that included Jeane Kirkpatrick and Weinberger, to go and see if the Salvadoran — to go confirm the Salvadoran military and government were doing the right thing under Duarte. And, you know, they found that they were doing the right thing and that the U.S. should continue heavily funding and training these murderous militaries. He never said anything about the fact that just a year before and a couple of years before, the massacre of El Sumpul, where about 600 people were killed, was perpetrated by the U.S.-backed Salvadoran government; the massacre of El Mozote, where a thousand people were killed, an entire town wiped out, half of the victims under age 12, and half of those children under age 12 were under age 6. Powell seemed to have amnesia about that, along with Elliott Abrams, another, I would say, war criminal. And El Calabozo and other massacres were completely ignored.

And so, we see Powell playing a role in Central America over the years, from the early '80s all the way 'til the end of the war. And, you know, Powell was very sophisticated and smart in terms of moving with the times, so that when it called for a hard line at the beginning of the Reagan era, he was there. When it called for — remember, in 1989, the FMLN guerrillas, for example, we launched an offensive in the capital of San Salvador to basically demonstrate to the U.S. government and the Salvadoran government, that it was supporting, that they couldn't defeat the FMLN guerrillas. And so, that worked. It was basically — the offensive showed that the guerrillas were able to enter into the capital and fight on their own terms. So, Powell and the Bush administration, you know, seeing this, pivoted and pushed the Salvadoran government to peace. Now, some historians will call Powell a peacenik almost, a liberal, which, I mean, if you're comparing him to like Alexander Haig or some just uber fascist like that, then, yeah, but in the larger scheme of empire and militarism, Colin Powell has been, you know, was always, a loyal cadre to mass-murdering empire.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's go back to Colin Powell's 2003 speech at the U.N., where he falsely accused Iraq of possessing weapons of mass destruction.

SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL: Every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.

AMY GOODMAN: All of General Powell's main claims about weapons of mass destruction turned out to be false. But at the time, most of the media took Powell at his word. The invasion of Iraq began six weeks after he made his speech at the United Nations. He himself recognized it was the final nail in the coffin for so many, because he had called himself a "reluctant warrior." He had dragged his feet on the war, and President Bush wanted his support to be the voice and face of this war. In 2013, Democracy Now! spoke to Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005. Wilkerson helped prepare Powell's infamous U.N. speech, which he later renounced. Wilkerson said Powell himself was suspicious of the intelligence and wanted to delete any reference in the speech to ties between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: The seminal moment, as we were out at Langley and Colin Powell was getting ready to throw everything out of his presentation that had anything to do with terrorism — that is, substantial contacts between Baghdad and al-Qaeda, in particular — as he was getting — he was really angry. He took me in a room by myself and literally attacked me over it. And I said, "Boss, let's throw it out. I have as many doubts about it as you do. Let's throw it out." And so, we made a decision right there to throw it out.
Within 30 minutes of the secretary having made that decision and instructed me to do so, George Tenet showed up with a bombshell. And the bombshell was that a high-level al-Qaeda operative, under interrogation, had revealed substantial contacts between al-Qaeda and Baghdad.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is the chief of staff of former Secretary of State Colin Powell. He is an Army colonel, Lawrence Wilkerson. In 2009, Sam Husseini of the Institute for Public Accuracy questioned Colin Powell about the false claims he made during the U.N. speech, that was based in part on false information provided by prisoners who had been tortured.

SAM HUSSEINI: General, can you talk about the al-Libi case and the link between torture and the production of tortured evidence for war?
COLIN POWELL: I don't have any details on the al-Libi case.
SAM HUSSEINI: Can you tell us when you learned that some of the evidence that you used in front of the U.N. was based on torture? When did you learn that?
COLIN POWELL: I don't know that. I don't know what information you're referring to, so I can't answer.
SAM HUSSEINI: Your chief of staff, Wilkerson, has written about this.
COLIN POWELL: So what? [inaudible] Mr. Wilkerson.
SAM HUSSEINI: So, you'd think you'd know about it.
COLIN POWELL: The information I presented to the U.N. was vetted by the CIA. Every word came from the CIA. And they stood behind all that information. I don't know that any of them would believe that torture was involved. I don't know that as a fact. There's a lot of speculation, particularly by people who never attended any of these meetings. But I'm not aware of that.

AMY GOODMAN: Clarence Lusane, we're going to give you the final word. Again, this speech, he would late call a "blot" on his career.

CLARENCE LUSANE: So, the thing to remember about that period is that the entire global community was against the invasion. So, when Colin Powell and the Bush administration says that they were vetting this information, they were not listening not only to their allies, they were not listening to what the United Nations itself was actually doing and had essentially proven that there were no weapons of mass destruction. But the administration was determined to go, and Colin Powell basically acceded to that, as he would do both prior to that speech, as he did with the World Conference Against Racism, when the United States and Israel were the only two countries that pulled out, and as he would do after the invasion of Iraq on other policies by the George W. Bush administration, until he was finally driven out. So, there does have to be an accounting for that record. There's no way to kind of pretty it up. It was atrocious. And again, hundreds of thousands — in some estimates, up to a million — people died as a result of that war.

AMY GOODMAN: And there are still thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq. Clarence Lusane, I want to thank you for being with us, professor at Howard University, author of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice: Foreign Policy, Race, and the New American Century, and Robert Lovato, Salvadoran American journalist and author, wrote his memoir, Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas.

In 30 seconds, we bring you a Democracy Now! exclusive: a conversation with Jean Montrevil, a prominent Haitian American immigrant rights activist who was deported to Haiti several years ago. Now, in a remarkable development, he was allowed to fly back to New York. Stay with us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

A star’s trek to space obscures deadly desert treks below

"Star Trek" was in the news this week, as actor William Shatner, who played "Captain Kirk" in the classic 1960s TV program, blasted into space at the age of 90 as one of billionaire Jeff Bezos' latest Blue Origin space tourists. In this remote region of west Texas, mere miles from Bezos' gilded launch pad, a trek of another kind takes place every day, as migrants, many fleeing violence, the climate crisis and poverty attempt the difficult journey from Mexico to the U.S. While the spacecraft lifted its privileged passengers aloft, lost lives littered the Chihuahuan Desert floor far below. Travel by foot under the blazing hot sun is difficult through the sand, rock and cacti, made harder by the militarized enforcement of the broken U.S. immigration system.

Thousands of migrants have died attempting this journey. Armando Alejo Hernandez was last heard from in early May. Armando's disappearance in the desert has been addressed in this column before, also with a reference to the Blue Origin space facility in nearby Van Horn, Texas. In July, the heat of the desert was at its deadliest, and Jeff Bezos was locked in what has been dubbed "the billionaire's space race" with Richard Branson, who flew with a small crew aboard his own spaceship to achieve a few minutes of suborbital weightlessness.

Their brief trips received international acclaim. If only the media scrum would linger, and focus their cameras on the more perilous journeys of these earthbound desert travelers.

Armando spent a decade in the United States, working and building a family, with two sons who were U.S. citizens by birth. Armando, though, never obtained legal documentation, and was deported in 2016. His older son, Derek, speaking on the Democracy Now! news hour, described the genesis of Armando's fateful trip last May:

"Not having him around was tough on me, because I grew up, pretty much my whole childhood…all the time with my dad," Derek explained. "So, we were on the phone one day, and I asked him if he could come back, because I just wanted him around… I didn't get to see him for four years."

Alexis Corona was in a small group of migrants traveling north with Armando. He recently told Telemundo TV, "Armando said he couldn't walk anymore, and he wanted to see if he could be rescued…From where he stayed, maybe eight or nine miles ahead, the
rest of us were caught by immigration agents. We explained where Armando was, that he couldn't walk anymore, that he didn't have enough water or food. The reaction was, 'Well, if he stayed behind, he'll just have to stay there.'"

Derek was communicating with his father at that time. Armando sent
recorded voice messages to his son, describing his clothing, that he had no water and felt he couldn't go on. He sent a photo with a building high on a mountain in front of him. The photo clearly shows a U.S. government radar installation, placing Armando along the southern slope of Eagle Peak, in Hudspeth County, not far from El Paso.

Border Patrol agent Alex Jara, interviewed for the documentary "Missing in Brooks County," admitted, "We don't call them people anymore. We call them 'bodies.' Because if you start calling them people, then it starts getting to you."

Brooks County is home to one of the inland Customs and Border Protection checkpoints, which drives migrants lacking documentation off of Brooks County's single main roadway and into the desert to avoid capture.

"The increase of migration has begun since the beginning of the Biden administration," Eddie Canales, the director of the South Texas Human Rights Center, based in Brooks County, said on Democracy Now! "I have families here, representatives from different countries right now, that are still searching for their missing loved ones… the number has increased. There have been 99 recoveries of bodies and skeletal remains in Brooks County alone this year."

Average temperatures in the desert are cooler at this time of year, but unguided travel through the harsh environment is still perilous. Many more will needlessly die. Immigrant rights activists are pressuring the White House and Congress to ensure that a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents is included in the Build Back Better bill. The overall bill is being blocked by conservative Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema, of another border state, Arizona, home to the equally dangerous Sonoran Desert.

It is fine to gaze heavenward, to reach for the stars, inspired by the green-card-holding, Canadian actor William Shatner. But the crises that engulf us now will not be solved by spaceshots, but by people pulling together here on earth, with feet firmly planted on the ground.

'Another world is possible': How Occupy Wall Street reshaped politics and kicked off a new era of protest

On the 10th anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, we examine the legacy of the historic protests with three veterans of the movement: Nelini Stamp, now the director of strategy and partnerships at the Working Families Party; Jillian Johnson, a key organizer in Occupy Durham who now serves on the Durham City Council and is the city's mayor pro tempore; and writer and filmmaker Astra Tayor, an organizer with the Debt Collective. Occupy Wall Street "broke the spell" protecting the economic status quo and marked a major shift in protests against capitalism, Taylor says. "Occupy kind of inaugurated this social movement renaissance," she tells Democracy Now! "We've been in an age of defiant protest ever since Occupy Wall Street."




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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman.

As Congress debates a $3.5 trillion bill to expand the nation's social safety net and to increase taxes on the rich, we look back at Occupy Wall Street, the movement, how it reshaped the national debate on economics and inequality. Yes, it was 10 years ago today, September 17th, 2011, when Occupy began. Democracy Now! was one of the only national outlets to report on the first day of the action. Our producer Sam Alcoff filed this report.

SAM ALCOFF: On Saturday, thousands of protesters took to the streets of downtown Manhattan for what was described as an action to "Occupy Wall Street." Inspired by the popular uprisings of the Arab Spring and the European anti-austerity movements, Adbusters, a Vancouver-based culture-jamming magazine, put out a call for Saturday's protest on Wall Street in July. The goals were various, from limiting corporate contributions to political campaigns, to auditing the Federal Reserve, to challenging all of global capitalism. Protesters included 71-year-old Mary Ellen Marino of Princeton, New Jersey.
MARY ELLEN MARINO: I came because I'm upset with the fact that the bailout of Wall Street didn't help any of the people holding mortgages. All of the money went to Wall Street, and none of it went to Main Street. Now, we've just learned that Geithner was actually asked to split up the Citibank, and he didn't do it. And Obama didn't do anything about it.
SAM ALCOFF: The plan wasn't simply for a one-day protest, but an ongoing and creative occupation of the Financial District itself. Organizer Lorenzo Serna.
LORENZO SERNA: The idea is to have an encampment. Like, this isn't a one-day event. Like, we're hoping that people come prepared to stay as long as they can and that we're there to support each other.
SAM ALCOFF: But on Saturday, after hundreds arrived, the NYPD shut Wall Street down itself, barricading activists off of Wall Street and forcing a move to the nearby Zuccotti Park. Despite sometimes tense standoffs with the police, hundreds slept in the park and have maintained that they will stay until their demands are met.

AMY GOODMAN: Two days later, Democracy Now! interviewed the activist and anthropologist David Graeber, who's been credited with helping to coin Occupy's defining rallying call, "We are the 99%." He talked about how Occupy had been inspired by earlier protests in Europe.

DAVID GRAEBER: Well, what people are doing in Europe is essentially trying to reinvent democracy. The idea is that, you know, all of the political parties have basically bankrupted themselves. They're all essentially bought and sold by the financial elite that's created this crisis. There's no possibility of their actually coming up with a solution. And sometimes you have to start over. People have to, like, go into their public squares, meet each other, start talking to each other, and start brainstorming of ideas. I mean, essentially, the idea is the system is not going to save us; we're going to have to save ourselves. So, we're going to try to get as many people as possible to camp in some public place and start rebuilding society as we'd like to see it.
AMY GOODMAN: How many people turned out?
DAVID GRAEBER: Well, at first, we were a little worried at Bowling Green, but more and more people kept showing up. So I ended up helping to facilitate a meeting which was at least 2,000 people. … It was mostly young people, and most of them were people who had gone through the educational system, who were deeply in debt, and who found it completely impossible to get jobs. I mean, these people have felt — really feel very strongly that they did the right thing. They did exactly what they were supposed to. The system has completely failed them. And they're not going to be saved by the people in charge. You're just going to have — if there's going to be any kind of society like we — worth living in, we're going to have to create it ourselves.

AMY GOODMAN: That's David Graeber speaking on Democracy Now! September 19, 2011, two days after the start of Occupy Wall Street encampment. David died last year in Venice, Italy, at the age of 59.

Protesters would go on to sleep in Zuccotti Park for nearly two months before the New York police raided the encampment. The Occupy movement spread across the nation and the globe. And the impact of Occupy is still being felt in countless ways.

We spend the rest of the hour hosting a roundtable looking at the legacy of Occupy. Joining us from Philadelphia is Nelini Stamp, the director of strategy and partnership at the Working Families Party. Ten years ago, she was part of Outreach, Labor and Facilitation Working Groups during Occupy Wall Street. She later helped start the Dream Defenders.

In Durham, North Carolina, we're joined by Jillian Johnson. Ten years ago, she was a key organizer in Occupy Durham. Today she serves on the Durham City Council and is the Durham's mayor pro tem.

And in Asheville, North Carolina, we are joined by writer and filmmaker Astra Taylor, who was involved in Occupy Wall Street and co-edited the Occupy Gazette, which featured reports from Occupies around the world. She's also an organizer with the Debt Collective, an organization with its roots in the Occupy Wall Street movement. She has just co-authored a piece in New York magazine headlined "Occupy Wall Street Changed Everything: Ten years later, the legacy of Zuccotti Park has never been clearer."

So, Astra, let's begin with you. Talk about how it changed everything, and where — how you see it has affected everything today.

ASTRA TAYLOR: Well, to understand how Occupy changed everything, I think we have to remember what it was like before. Occupy sort of broke the spell. It was really hard to talk about class, talk about capitalism, talk about inequality. We were in the world of Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, where there was no alternative to the status quo. It was a kind of bipartisan consensus around neoliberal capitalism. So, part of what created the conditions for the banking crisis was the repeal of Glass-Steagall, which was a Depression-era law. And that was repealed under the Clinton administration. Also, there was the period after September 11, 2001. It was very difficult to protest in New York City. Part of what made Occupy seem so improbable was that it was actually illegal to have unpermitted gatherings of more than 20 people. So, there was just this — you know, the left was very demoralized. The left was really fragmented and beaten down.

And something changed in that year. And, you know, your reporter touched on this. People were watching these movements around the world, from the Arab Spring to the movement of the squares, the movement of the indignados in Spain, and elsewhere. And people started to think, you know, "We've got to do something. Maybe we can actually protest and make a difference."

And so, that first day, 10 years ago today, you know, I have to say it was — I went. I went to Zuccotti Park, marched from Bowling Green up to Zuccotti Park. And, you know, it was powerful, but not because there were so many people, not because there were thousands and thousands of people, but because it was a space where those of us who felt that things were wrong could come together and meet each other and talk and decide we had to express our discontent, had to express our outrage. And so it was a major shift.

And so, 10 years later, I think we can see that Occupy kind of inaugurated this social movement renaissance. We've been in an age of defiant protest ever since Occupy Wall Street. The political landscape has really changed. People are now — you know, we have not stopped talking about capitalism. We haven't stopped talking about class. We haven't stopped talking about debt. And, you know, people have figured out how to challenge the political establishment. So I think it's had a tremendous legacy. And its offshoots actually — you know, we've never tallied them up. All over the country, Occupy sprouted different efforts, different initiatives, and changed lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's go to Nelini Stamp in Philadelphia. You were part — you're now with Working Families Party, but, then, you were part of the Outreach, Labor and Facilitation Working Groups during Occupy Wall Street. Much of the power was the community that was created there. Can you talk about the decision-making and why you even chose to go to Occupy Wall Street, and how it has shaped you and this country today?

NELINI STAMP: Yeah. I mean, I was — even before Occupy, I was a part of the Working Families Party but knew the limits of electoral process and work. And I was very skeptical. I wasn't at Bowling Green. I came and rolled in when people were just at Zuccotti already. But what motivated me was something different. There was something different about saying, "We're going to stay here, and we are going to collectively work together to build another world, because we believe another world is possible."

So, what really — you know, I say this every time I say what really, really hooked me, was the general assembly that evening, where people could, as Astra said, tell their stories. And it was the first time I said I was a high school dropout. I hid it for years. I mean, some people knew. But it was the first time I could say to a big crowd I could not afford to go to college. I wasn't actually one of those people that went to college and came out with the economy. I couldn't even afford it then. And I remember just everybody together collectively uptwinkling, because part of it was direct democracy.

And that's, you know, the decision-making, the teams, the working groups. Immediately when they said, "Here are different working groups, and you should create more," I felt like I could take ownership of it. That evening, I was like, "Definitely outreach. I know how to organize." I didn't know about direct action or anything else. And I went to the outreach group.

We said we were going to support every single — we wanted to map out every single labor issue and labor dispute in the city of New York, or at least Manhattan, and that we would show up with our cardboard signs saying "You are the 99%." Labor unions are definitely a part of the 99%. And we did. We showed up at the Verizon building when CWA was — the communication workers were fighting against Verizon. We showed up at Sotheby's with the Teamsters. We showed up at so many different labor disputes. And it was something that, because of my background in building electoral politics with labor, was heard and felt in the labor movement, and they started to open their doors to us so that we could have meetings in places like DC 37 and the communication workers, that had offices nearby.

And so, that was just — it was really beautiful to be able to — for people to have ownership. And I think that was also what was radically different. It wasn't, "We're going to tell you what to do." Those facilitators that first night, which included David, which included many of our friends, they were like, "This is yours now," just because we were the folks who were building it. "This is yours now." And that revolutionized what movements have come since, where it is everybody's and people can take something and make it their own.

So, having those processes of general assemblies every evening — now, there were problems that happened with that, as well, but having that, having direct democracy, coming up with guiding principles together and being free to make decisions in our principles of working — so, direct action can make the decisions of the opening and closing bell, labor can make decisions for this and that, and so on and so forth — was actually more inviting for people, because people could show up for a couple days and participate at a higher level than them showing up and being a body at an action. And that was what I think really transformed the way we were able to relate and build with one another.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Occupy Wall Street wasn't, of course, just in Zuccotti Park. It was all over the country and, actually, all over the world. Jillian Johnson, you are now the mayor pro tem of Durham, North Carolina. You were a key figure in Occupy Durham. Talk about how you came to that, what you were looking for, how it changed your city, and your choice to get involved with electoral politics afterwards.

MAYOR PRO TEM JILLIAN JOHNSON: So, we had heard about the occupation that was happening in Zuccotti Park and were following it really closely, the movement community in Durham. And after a couple of weeks, we saw these other occupations sprouting up all over the country, and we were like, "Well, we've got to get in on that." And we were just so inspired and excited by the growth of this movement. And it was unprecedented, what we were seeing.

And so, a friend of mine and I, my friend Ben, who had just been kind of following the news and getting more and more excited, just decided to call for an Occupy Durham general assembly in the middle of our city, in a downtown plaza that we quickly renamed the People's Plaza. If anyone's ever been to Durham, it's the one with the giant bull statue. And we had about 400 people show up. And we were just so excited by being able to be a part of this growing global movement.

We moved quickly into starting to have general assemblies, having more and more people come out, trying to figure out what this looks like in the context of a midsize Southern town. Durham at the time had, you know, just over 200,000 people. But it was also beginning to go through some serious economic struggles, gentrification, housing displacement. There were a lot of people in Durham who were really struggling. And so, we really resonated with the message that was coming out of New York and with the same conversations that people were having about income inequality, about housing inequality.

I ran for office just four years after Occupy, in 2015. And I think at first it was kind of a leap of faith. I didn't really have a sense that I was going to be able to change things from an elected position. I was hoping that there was an opportunity there. And I think our movement was started to turn more and more toward the idea that electoral politics could provide some opportunities for us to make change and to leverage resources for the benefit of working-class and communities of color.

And I've been able to do that in ways that I didn't expect. I think the transition has been — it's been difficult in ways, but it's also been very empowering and exciting to be able to put my organizing skills and movement skills to work in a different context. And I think bringing more people into the electoral world, through some of the work I'm doing with a national organization called Local Progress and just folks in my community talking to other movement people, younger people who might be interested in moving into the electoral realm someday, I've felt like I've been able to gain skills and knowledge and then pass those skills and knowledge on to other people within the movement. So, it feels — it's felt really rewarding — difficult, of course, at times, but ultimately I feel like I've been able to do something good in this position, and I'm excited about passing the torch on to somebody else.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a few months later, November 2011, during the Occupy protests, about a thousand students marching in New York City outside a meeting where CUNY trustees — that's City University of New York trustees — voted to authorize annual tuition increases. This is Julian Guerrero of Students United for a Free CUNY.

JULIAN GUERRERO: [echoed by the People's Mic] Me, myself, I'm in debt $70,000. I actually got a letter from Sallie Mae saying that if I don't start paying today $900 a month, they're going to have more aggressive attempts at collecting my debt. And so, I'm going to burn this right here and now.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's Julian Guerrero of Students United for a Free CUNY, using the whole idea of the mic check and the open mic and the mic repeats that we've come to see that are so familiar. Astra Taylor, you are a key member of the Debt Collective. Talk about how that movement has evolved to today.

ASTRA TAYLOR: Now, the Debt Collective is an organization for debtors that fights for the cancellation of all kinds of debt and the provision of the services, the public goods we all need to survive and thrive. It has its roots directly at Occupy Wall Street.

So, just like Nelini felt that space to talk about her condition honestly, you know, for many of us who were in debt, Occupy was a similar space, where we could see that we were not alone — and that is actually the Debt Collective's slogan: "You are not a loan" — A space L-O-A-N, right? — a space where we could come together. And debt was actually part of the protests around the world at the time. Tuition hikes sparked protests in Latin America. And later, in Quebec, there was a wave of protests.

And so, you know, we followed the threads of debt, once the parks were cleared, because how we were thinking about it at the time was, you know, "Yes, we're occupying Wall Street, but Wall Street occupies our lives. And how does it do that? Often in the form of debt. We're forced to debt finance things that should be publicly provided." And it was at Occupy Wall Street that we had the collective epiphany. We started to recognize that our debts, which were so burdensome, could actually be a potential source of power, a source of leverage.

And by consistently organizing, we've moved the needle on that issue. I think, you know, we now are in a world where leading politicians talk about student debt cancellation. The Debt Collective has won billions of dollars of student loan cancellation for debtors. And that demand started at Occupy Wall Street. And the media was very skeptical. They mocked the demand. They said, "It's never going to happen. Isn't Occupy so naive?" Well, look where we are today. We've really moved the debate. And so, I think that's a really concrete, concrete result of this movement.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the issue of police repression of Occupy protests across the country. On November 18th, 2011, campus police officers at the University of California, Davis pepper-sprayed peaceful student protesters. Video of the police attack went viral.

PROTESTERS: Don't shoot students! Don't shoot students!
The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!
Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!
ELLI PEARSON: I wasn't aware I was going to be pepper-sprayed until people told me to protect myself. And then I have friends who were pepper-sprayed who said they did not know that that was happening and that that was coming. And we were actually expected — we were expecting to be shot in the back with something, because they were behind us. And we really had no idea what was going to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: That's UC Davis student Elli Pearson speaking on Democracy Now! after she was pepper-sprayed. And you have the whole coordination. It later came out — I remember that piece in The Guardian by Naomi Wolf, "Revealed: how the FBI coordinated the crackdown on Occupy," the destruction of Occupy Wall Street and other places all over the country, well over a dozen cities. Nelini Stamp, if you can talk about what you understand took place, and how the police dealt with you?

NELINI STAMP: Yeah. I mean, you know, it was interesting, because the first — very early on, that first weekend, I remember going to an officer and saying, "Can my friend's car be there?" And they were like, "Yeah. Y'all will be gone by Monday."

And increasingly, as soon as we started — one of the first direct actions, regular direct actions, we did at Occupy Wall Street was the opening and closing bell. We would march for the opening bell and closing bell of the Stock Exchange and Wall Street. And that first Monday, we started getting shoved and pushed. And every single day that we were out there, things escalated to then a few arrests, to then a few more arrests. And I think things really changed on the Saturday.

There was a few things that I feel like people don't understand, what happened those first two weeks, also in the nation. Troy Davis was executed by the state of Georgia — a huge case of misjustice and racial reckoning again. There was a huge debate in the city of New York around stop-and-frisk. And so, all of these tensions were underlying. But there was also this idea and original, you know, sentiment to say that the cops are the 99%, too, because most of them were not making — if we were really a uniting movement. So, it was this really interesting juxtaposition that was happening those first two weeks.

And that Saturday — we did weekly actions on Saturday, and I don't remember if it was the 24th or the — I usually used to remember all of the dates in my mind. We took the streets. And it was civil disobedience like New York hasn't seen in a really long time. And I remember getting to Union Square, and all of a sudden they had this orange netting all around us, which I think is now illegal in the city of New York for cops to do. But they had orange netting, and pepper spray was just going everywhere.

And that was kind of the — I think that was a radicalizing moment for a lot of our white comrades at Occupy Wall Street, who never had to deal with the police as those of us who come from communities of color in New York had to, or those of us who have a history of — when I was younger, I remember seeing Amadou Diallo's murder on every single thing, and people marching on the Brooklyn Bridge. And so, for those who didn't have that background or that personal experience, they finally did have that. And that's when I think there was this awakening of a lot of young white folks or more affluent folks who didn't come from overpoliced communities actually saying and trying to hold the police accountable.

So, what you see is, right after Occupy Wall Street, you see Ramarley Graham gets killed in the city of New York, and then Trayvon Martin gets killed in Florida, and people start to act up, you know? I flew down to Florida, because they wanted somebody to train them in direct action, and helped co-found the Dream Defenders. We marched for miles to Sanford. And then you see a big march in June of 2012 with 50,000 people that said, "End stop-and-frisk." And I don't think that would have been — that would have had the new people involved as it did, if we didn't have so much, like, repression from the state. And I think part of it was to make people not come out, to make — people were really threatened by Occupy at that time. And I think that that's what ended up happening, and it was really beautiful to see people get involved and actually call out police brutality after that.

AMY GOODMAN: Nelini Stamp, I want to thank you for being with us. This has to end this discussion today. Nelini Stamp of Working Families Party in Philadelphia; Astra Taylor of the Debt Collective, speaking to us from Asheville; and Jillian Johnson, mayor pro tem of Durham, North Carolina — all three involved in the Occupy movement 10 years ago. And we continue to cover it when we look at the bills that are in Congress right now and so much more. I'm Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

'The crisis started with a crime': How Big Pharma fueled the opioid crisis that killed 500,000 and counting

As the U.S. continues to deal with the fallout from the devastating opioid epidemic that has killed over 500,000 people in the country since 1999, we speak with Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney, whose latest documentary, "The Crime of the Century," looks at the pharmaceutical industry's methods in promoting and selling the powerful drugs. "I realized that the big problem here was that we had been seeing it as a crisis, like a natural disaster like a flood or a hurricane, rather than as a series of crimes," says Gibney. "You had these terrible incentives, where the incentive is not to cure the patient. The incentive is to just make as much money as possible." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says U.S. drug overdose deaths skyrocketed to a record 93,000 last year — a nearly 30% increase. It is the largest one-year increase ever recorded, with overdoses rising in 48 of 50 states.


Please check back later for full transcript.


Afghan activist: George W. Bush’s claim US war in Afghanistan protected women is a 'shameless lie'

As the United States continues to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan after 20 years of war and occupation, the Taliban say they now control most Afghan territory, surrounding major population centers and holding more than two-thirds of Afghanistan's border with Tajikistan. Former President George W. Bush made a rare criticism of U.S. policy, saying, "I'm afraid Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm." But a leading Afghan women's rights activist says the plight of women in the country has always served as a "very good excuse" for U.S. military goals, while conditions in the country have barely improved. "Unfortunately, they pushed us from the frying pan into the fire as they replaced the barbaric regime of the Taliban with the misogynist warlords," says Malalai Joya, who in 2005 became the youngest person ever elected to the Afghan Parliament. She says the decades of U.S. occupation have accomplished little for the people of Afghanistan. "No nation can donate liberation to another nation," she says.


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

AMY GOODMAN: As the United States continues to withdraw most of its forces from Afghanistan after 20 years of war and occupation, Taliban fighters in Afghanistan said Wednesday they had seized a major border crossing with Pakistan as part of a rapid advance across the country. This comes after 22 members of the Afghan elite special forces were reportedly massacred by Taliban forces earlier this week. The commandos had surrendered and were unarmed.

A Taliban delegation in Moscow said Friday the group now controls over 85% of Afghan territory and has surrounded population centers, captured a key Afghan border crossing with Iran and holds more than two-thirds of Afghanistan's border with Tajikistan.

All of this is happening as President Biden said last week the U.S. military will complete its withdrawal from Afghanistan by August 31st — nearly two weeks ahead of the previous September 11th deadline.

On Wednesday, former Republican President George W. Bush responded with a rare criticism of U.S. policy in Afghanistan during an interview with the German news outlet Deutsche Welle.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm afraid Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm. … I'm sad. And I spend a — Laura and I spend a lot of time with Afghan women, and they're scared.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we go to Afghanistan to speak to a leading Afghan woman, Malalai Joya. She's a women's rights activist and human rights activist who in 2005 became the youngest person ever elected to the Afghan Parliament. In 2007, she was suspended for publicly denouncing the presence of warlords and war criminals in the Afghan Parliament. She's also the author of A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Woman Who Dared to Speak Out.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Malalai Joya. Thank you for joining us from Afghanistan. I was wondering if you could respond to President Bush's criticism of Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan, particularly relating it to the condition of women. Have the condition of women improved after the last two decades of U.S. war and occupation there?

MALALAI JOYA: Hello, dear Amy and Nermeen. Thanks for the interview. And hello to all listeners.

As I was saying in the past, as well, and repeating again, that catastrophic situation of the women of Afghanistan was a very good excuse for U.S. and NATO to occupy our country. Unfortunately, they pushed us from the frying pan into the fire as they replaced the barbaric regime of the Taliban with the misogynist warlords, who are — their nature seem like the Taliban. They physically changed, imposed on the destiny of Afghan people. That's why today millions of Afghans are suffering from insecurity, corruption, joblessness, poverty. And still most of Afghan women are the victim.

No doubt that some project that they had for Afghan women and girls, some schools they built, especially in the big cities, for justification of their occupation, this criminal War in Afghanistan. But still now you see the rape cases, domestic violences, acid attacks, forced marriages, self-immolation, beat women publicly with lashes, stoning to death. This list can be prolonged, that these all women rights violation against women continues.

And it was not enough that now that U.S. and NATO invite the terrorist Taliban in the name of the so-called peace reconciliation to join this nondemocratic regime. It is clear that, again, the women of Afghanistan will be the most victims, as to the men and women of my country do not have liberation at all. And you may also hear just now that they are talking about so-called peace reconciliation with the Taliban, but these Taliban announced their declaration that — they were saying, through their declaration, that when they come in power, the girls 15 years old and the widows below 45 years old, they will force marry their commanders with them. And it is only one example, while we have many other example of their misogynist act against women, that their nature never changed. For example, that two 14- and 16-years-old girls in Samangan province just recently, in front of their mother, two commander raped brutally. And 9-years-old, two babies in Kabul, few months ago, they were raped. And this list can be prolonged, that's unfortunately situation of the women is a disaster.

And now, from one end, Afghan people are — they are suffering awfully from the COVID-19. But from another end, they are suffering from insecurity, corruption, joblessness, poverty. In fact, in the past 20 years, U.S. and NATO, they doubled the sorrows and miseries of Afghan people. Around 1 million Afghan were killed in the past 20 years. And they even dropped matters of all other bomb in our country, used white phosphorus cluster bomb and polluted our environment. They corrupted our economy. The wave of asylum seekers itself is another strong evidence of the wrong policy of the U.S. and NATO in Afghanistan.

And they changed Afghanistan to the center of the drug. There are now tens of thousands of orphans, widows and disabled people we have. And millions of Afghan, over 3 million, that they are giving report officially that they are addicted. This list can be prolonged, that the result of this criminal war of the U.S. and NATO, that in fact the victim was ordinary Afghan people. That's why always I say that it was better they changed this banner of the so-called war on terror to the war on innocent Afghan people.

And now they proved that the U.S. government has a inseparable bond with their lackeys, like Taliban, not only warlords, as they're giving them amnesty to these misogynist, bloodthirsty humans and try to bring them in power and sharing power with them and even give the international recognition to these terrorists. No doubt that the situation will be more disaster.

And for years I have called for the withdrawal of the foreign occupation from our country, as I believe no nation can donate liberation to another nation. Now it has been proved for our people, as well, that U.S. and NATO were not honest for them. And now, from one end, U.S. and NATO, as their puppet regime is in power, continue to their barbarism against our people; from another end, the terrorist Taliban continue to their fascism and ISIS and all these other terrorists. And no doubt that with the withdrawal of these foreign troops, for the short term, people will face more economic insecure problem, but for the long run, it is the interest of Afghan people, because they're fed up from this kind of so-called democracy, as they give bad view about democracy to our people. And that, again, says this big lie put us on the eyes of the U.S. public, great people of the U.S. and around the world, that apparently actually that we are leaving from Afghanistan, but their puppet mafia corrupt regime remain in power, and they are supporting more these other terrorist band of terrorists, like ISIS, like Taliban, warlords, that each of these, from this, the disaster situation, try to catch their own fishes in our country. Anywhere, that as long as the foreigner interfere in our country and with the Western and neighbor countries, there is no chance that people will breathe a little bit in peace.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Malalai, you've talked about these criminal warlords and the criminal mujahideen — could you explain? — who are complicit with the present government of Ashraf Ghani and have been, for the last 20 years, with successive Afghan governments. Who are these criminal mujahideen, who in fact are being armed by the Afghan government to fight the Taliban now?

MALALAI JOYA: You know, there are now — world know about some of them, as 20 years they were in power, like Abdullah Abdullah, like Sayyaf, Mohaqiq, Khalili, Rabbani, who were killed by brother in creed like Taliban, and this less than before long, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, this fascist man whose name was on the blacklist of the U.S., has a long list of the human rights, women rights violation. And he welcomed in Kabul like a groom and come in power, as well, in the name of the peace reconciliation, this terrorist man. It's another example that by these terrorists never come peace or democracy, women rights in our country. The name of these warlords, they are all those, most of them, who are in power, and also some Western technocrat who compromise with them because of the dollar and because of the position, high position, and chair that they have, unfortunately. And that's why situation of Afghanistan is very disaster today.

And the only demand of Afghan people is that they must come to the court. They must be prosecuted. Same about the Taliban. This so-called peace that U.S. and NATO is talking about is more dangerous than war. The result will make more united the sworn enemies of democracy, peace and justice, and also more force will be released on the destiny of Afghan people. Peace without justice is meaningless. The only demand of Afghan people is justice.

And our people divide the mujahideen to two parts. One is most people of Afghanistan fighted against Russia invasion. They are real mujahideen. They are heroes. But a small party, there's about eight fundamentalist extremist parties that their leaders now in power. Some name of them I mentioned. You can see in Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International. And many book has been written: Eyes for Infidel, Ghost Wars, Bleeding Afghanistan, my book. This list can be prolonged, that today world know about them. Now they are in power, and all of them — the warlords, the ISIS, the Taliban — their nature is same and all fighting for the same bone, like dogs, the bone of the power. Hopefully, do not be insulted to dogs.

Anyway, our people are really fed up from this disgusting, criminal policy of the U.S. and NATO, who are responsible for the current disaster situation of my country. If they are honest for Afghan people, when they are leaving the country, they should take all their lackeys, these bunch of puppets and these terrorists, with themselves. They have no motivate to fight, but just because of the dollar, because of the money and because of their foreign master, they are killing our people, still continue to their barbarism, terrorism against our people. In fact, terrorism itself was a big tool in the hand of the U.S., NATO and neighbor countries, used for their own interests, for their own strategic policies. And the people of Afghanistan are the victim.

And these terrorists never want to lose, these terrorists. I am giving you example about the Taliban. In the past 20 years, they in fact played a game of Tom & Jerry with these terrorists: one day, divide these terrorists to two parts — moderate Talib, extremist Talib. It make no sense. Or another day, for example, recently, they released 5,000 terrorist Talib from the jail. It is clear that most of them joined again the rank of the terrorist Taliban, continue, as they joined. And also that many other examples that we have, according that game of Tom & Jerry that I said, they are not serious to defeat these terrorists. Some commander of the Taliban, leaders of the Taliban, like Mullah Muttawakil, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, Mullah Rahmatullah Hashemi. This list can be prolonged — Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef. All the hot key posts in Kabul, safe life, in the safest area, all expenses the government paid. Never they regret from their past, at least to say apologize to Afghan people, while our people want them to come to the court. Or this nondemocratic government call these terrorists dissenter brothers, you know, when they are doing society attacks and shed the blood of the innocent people.

And from this disgusting situation, disaster situation, all these terrorists also misuse. For example, they are paying for their fighters $600 per month, because millions of Afghans now suffering from the joblessness. They only had some super infrastructure project for justification of their occupation, that now again Taliban are destroying every day. But the infrastructure projects that to create job for Afghan people, they never worked on this, because they don't want Afghanistan to stand on its own field. For example, they didn't build factories, and many other examples that we have like this.

Anyway, that they are not honest for Afghan people, and now they betray the destiny of Afghan people. How? Well, they are doing deals with these terrorist Taliban. As they have [inaudible] their deal is that they should not attack, the terrorist Taliban do not attack their troops, the foreign troops. Even puppet Ghani recently confessed that in the past four years 45,000 Afghan security forces were killed, only 70 foreigners were killed. And also now in the name of — as I said, in the name of peace, reconciliation, bring them in power to betray the peace, and many deals that they have with them, and not only with them, with the U.S. and also these other neighbor countries, as, for example, now they are going to give the control of the airport of Kabul to the nondemocratic dictator regime of Erdogan, whose supporting created ISIS and want to exporting in Afghanistan more, and the terrorist Taliban against this act. And we have many example like this that they want to — they don't want to have Afghanistan situation — I mean, that civility to come in Afghanistan, because of their own dirty agendas that they have in our country. And I have many other example of their [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN: Malalai, I'm just going to interrupt to say: As the U.S. troops leave, what message do you have for the American people, after the, for the United States, longest war in its history? And for President Bush, who was the one who led the war into Afghanistan, who said that he and his wife Laura did it for the — partly for the safety and security of Afghan women?

MALALAI JOYA: These are shameless lie. These are big lies, that now, today, fortunately, it's become like an open secret for the great people of the world, as well. In fact, they wasted the blood of their soldiers, their taxpayer money. Not only they betrayed Afghan people. The blood of Afghan people has no value for them, has now put more fuel in the fire in this situation by supporting these extremist terrorists.

No doubt that they must come to the International Criminal Court for the war crimes that they committed, all these warmongers — the criminal Bush, that Obama, that racist, fascist Trump, and now the Biden, who follow this disgusting criminal policy, that they don't care about the wishes of Afghan people, how much they are tired. No doubt that the people thirsty for the peace. But this peace, this is not peace. This is more dangerous than the war. They push Afghanistan more toward Dark Ages.

It's not only the situation of Afghanistan, what they did here, the war crime they committed. They waged this criminal war to Syria, to Libya, to Yemen, to Ukraine, to Palestine. What they are doing is heart-wrenching. This list can be prolonged. Not only the terrorists in Afghanistan, the ISIS, jihadis, Taliban, that they are supporting; also the Boko Haram, the Abu Sayyaf and al-Nusra. This list can be prolonged, that these other terrorist group, that the background of them —

AMY GOODMAN: Malalai, we just have 10 seconds. You continue to name names, as you did in the Afghan Parliament as the youngest person ever elected there, and then you were thrown out. What gives you the courage to continue to do this as you remain in Afghanistan?

MALALAI JOYA: Yes, the truth itself is enough to give me courage. The support of my people, this voiceless, suffering people of Afghanistan, the solidarity of the justice-loving great people of the world. That when we want the withdrawal of the troops, but we are asking, in the meantime, for the solidarity of antiwar movement, peace-loving, justice-loving secular movement, feminist movement, that they should not leave Afghan people and do not allow them to forget again Afghanistan and as these terrorists that bring them in power and this war they imposed on the destiny of Afghan people. We have no other way except of to do a struggle. From your tribune, I ask my people, men and women, that as I believe in equal rights, that this is the time that we put the secondhand issues aside, all together, to be united and organize to fight for our country, because, again, I repeat and insist that no nation can donate liberation to another nation. And this 20 years is another example that proved that foreigners were not honest for our people.

AMY GOODMAN: Malalai Joya, we thank you so much for being with us, women, human rights activist in Afghanistan, youngest person ever elected to the Afghan Parliament, suspended in 2007 for publicly denouncing the presence of warlords and war criminals in the Afghan Parliament. She is author of A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Woman Who Dared to Speak Out.

Next up, we go to South Africa, where thousands have been arrested in demonstrations against poverty, inequity and the jailing of the former president. Stay with us.

How Cuba beat the pandemic: From developing new vaccines to sending doctors overseas to help others

Since last year, approximately 440 Cubans have died from COVID-19, giving Cuba one of the lowest death rates per capita in the world. Cuba is also developing five COVID-19 vaccines, including two which have entered stage 3 trials. Cuba has heavily invested in its medical and pharmaceutical system for decades, in part because of the six-decade U.S. embargo that has made it harder for Cuba to import equipment and raw materials from other countries. That investment, coupled with the country's free, universal healthcare system, has helped Cuba keep the virus under control and quickly develop vaccines against it, says Dr. Rolando Pérez Rodríguez, the director of science and innovation at BioCubaFarma, which oversees Cuba's medicine development. "We have long experience with these kinds of technologies," he says. We also speak with Reed Lindsay, journalist and founder of the independent, Cuba-focused media organization Belly of the Beast, who says U.S. sanctions on Cuba continue to cripple the country. "Cuba is going through an unbelievable economic crisis, and the sanctions have been absolutely devastating," says Lindsay.




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

AMY GOODMAN: As the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 tops 560,000 and Brazil records over 4,200 deaths in a single day, we begin today's show looking at how Cuba has successfully fought the pandemic. Since last year, only about 440 Cubans have died from COVID-19, giving the island one of the lowest death rates per capita in the world. Cuba is also developing five COVID-19 vaccines, including two which have entered stage 3 trials. Martinez is the president of BioCubaFarma..

EDUARDO MARTÍNEZ DÍAZ: [translated] We are very confident that our vaccines will be effective, the vaccines that are being developed. The results that we have had to date point to satisfactory results. And we maintain that before the end of 2021, our population will be immunized with the vaccines that we're developing. … Given the blockade that we are subjected to and the situation in the country, it would have been very difficult for us to get the results that we are getting in the fight against the pandemic, if we had not developed this industry more than 35 years ago in our country.

AMY GOODMAN: For decades, Cuba has heavily invested in its medical and pharmaceutical system, in part because of the six-decade-old U.S. embargo that's made it harder for Cuba to import equipment and raw materials from other countries. In the 1980s, Cuba developed the world's first meningitis B vaccine. It's also developed important cancer drugs that are now being used in the United States and elsewhere.

In a moment, we'll go to Havana, but first I want to turn to an excerpt from the recent online documentary series The War on Cuba, produced by Belly of the Beast, an independent media group in Cuba. One episode looks at Cuba's efforts to fight COVID-19 at home and abroad. It's narrated by the Cuban journalist Liz Oliva Fernández.

LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: Every morning, tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and medical students take to the streets across Cuba. They are on the frontlines of our fight against COVID. Talía Ruíz is a first-year medical student.
TALÍA RUÍZ: [translated] I don't feel afraid. If we are careful and take the necessary measures, we won't get infected. There are doctors who have faced the disease head on, and they haven't gotten sick. For example, my dad. Hi, Dad.
LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: Talía's father, Juan Jesús, is a family doctor who works at a small clinic next to their home. In March, he joined a group of Cuban doctors on a medical mission to Lombardy, Italy. At the time, Lombardy was the global epicenter of the pandemic.
DR. JUAN JESÚS RUIZ ALEMÁN: [translated] The number of cases overwhelmed the health system there. We helped the medical personnel who could no longer handle so many cases. And we saved some lives. As we walked to the farewell ceremony, from every home, people came out and applauded us. It was the best feeling I've had in my life. That's why you go on missions.
LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: It wasn't the first time Juan Jesús risked his life far from home. He's part of the Henry Reeve Brigade, Cuba's medical special forces.
DR. JUAN JESÚS RUIZ ALEMÁN: [translated] Henry Reeve was a soldier from the United States who fought for Cuba against the Spanish in the 1868 war. The brigade was formed in 2005. A hurricane called Katrina destroyed New Orleans. There was a huge number of deaths. Cuba offered to send 100 doctors to work alongside U.S. doctors. We were ready to go.
LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: George W. Bush rejected Cuba's offer to help New Orleans. Since then, Juan Jesús has treated survivors of natural disasters and epidemics around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: That's an excerpt from the video series The War on Cuba, which was produced by Belly of the Beast, an independent media organization in Cuba founded by journalist Reed Lindsay, who joins us from Havana, where we're also joined by Dr. Rolando Pérez Rodríguez, the director of science and innovation at BioCubaFarma, which oversees Cuba's medicine development, including the development of COVID-19 vaccines. He's also the founder of Cuba's Molecular Immunology Center and a member of the Cuban Academy of Science.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Dr. Rolando Pérez Rodríguez, why don't you talk about the latest vaccines, two of which are in trial three? Soberana-2 is one of them.

DR. ROLANDO PÉREZ RODRÍGUEZ: Good morning. I would like to thank you for this invitation to share with you our experience in facing COVID-19 pandemics.

I have to say that we had the first case of COVID-19 in Cuba, was reported on March 11, [ 2020 ]. And in April this [last] year, we decided to start this COVID vaccine project, different several vaccine — a COVID-19 vaccine project. And in August 13, we already got the first approval to start a Phase 1 clinical trial with the first vaccine candidate. So, in a very short time, we succeeded to get to clinical development of this candidate vaccine.

Today, we have, as you said, five different vaccine candidates in clinical development, two of them in Phase 3 clinical trials. Three of these, in all of the — sorry. All of these candidate vaccines use as anti the receptor-binding domain of the S5 protein, which bind to the surface receptor, so this anti is expressed in different technology platforms. Three of the vaccines use the recombinant protein produced in mammalian cells, and the other two in geese. But all of these vaccines we are developing now, we use a platform technology that are very safe, are [inaudible] vaccines. All the formulation also benefit from all the technology we have used in Cuba for a previous prophylactic vaccine, so are very safe. We have long experience with these kind of technologies. And that's the reason we can really go so far through a clinical development.

AMY GOODMAN: Cuba will be the first country in Latin America to develop vaccines, this despite the U.S. embargo. Can you talk about how these — why you think Cuba is so far ahead?

DR. ROLANDO PÉREZ RODRÍGUEZ: No, maybe I have to say that we — in Cuba, we made a huge investment, you know, in biotechnology last century. By the '80s of last century, we had started developing a biotech industry, so early maybe. And then, in combination with a healthcare system that, you know, is free, is universal, full coverage, and this combination of a biotech industry and a good health primary care system, I think that that combination made possible to assimilate or have impact of all these biotech products in the healthcare and provide us the experience and the capacity to make so fast the development of these vaccine projects and to introduce in the healthcare system.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think Cuba has far surpassed the United States when it comes to COVID-19 and people surviving? I mean, the U.S. — I mean, per capita, I think Cuba has something like, over the year, between 40 and 60 times less the death toll per capita than the United States. How is this possible, with the U.S. being the wealthiest country in the world and the U.S. imposing this massive embargo against Cuba, which is not only stopping U.S. support for Cuba, but countries around the world?

DR. ROLANDO PÉREZ RODRÍGUEZ: You know, it's what I tried to explain before. There is a combination of a national pharmaceutical — biopharmaceutical industry, but also how we organize the healthcare system in Cuba, that is free, universal, full coverage, with access to all the population, and also this health primary care system that is looking for people with disease. So, we are not expecting that people come to the healthcare system; we are looking for the people, so it's a very active and preventive approach to the healthcare. And I think that this kind of organization made possible that with not so much resources, you can have a big impact on healthcare. That is the reason maybe, the way we organize all this healthcare system.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring journalist Reed Lindsay into this conversation, who has put out this series, founder of Belly of the Beast, called The War on Cuba. If you can talk about, overall, during the time of COVID, even beyond the vaccines, what Cuba has done, what you document in your film series, like sending doctors to places like Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and beyond?

REED LINDSAY: Thanks a lot, Amy.

You know, I was in Haiti for five years, and that was my first direct experience with Cuban doctors. And I found it remarkable. What the Cuban program in Haiti was doing wasn't only bringing Cuban doctors to work in the poorest areas of Haiti, it was also training Haitian doctors in Cuba. And Cuba, at that time, was graduating more doctors than the public universities in Haiti, and they were returning to Haiti and working there. And, in a sense, it was brain drain in reverse.

And living here in Cuba, you know, my doctor is just a block or two away. If I have any problem, I walk down there. It's free. I don't have to show any papers. And that's what it's like for healthcare here. It can be a little shocking not having to go in and fill out forms and showing your insurance and anything.

And, of course, when COVID hit, I knew that Cuba would be prepared. And I felt safer here, frankly, a lot safer, than I did if I had been in the United States. I remember telling my mom, who has often been worried about different places I've been around the world — I told her now I was more worried about her than she was about me.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to another excerpt from your film, The War on Cuba, about Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro expelling thousands of Cuban doctors in 2018.

DR. MARIO DÍAZ: [translated] Bolsonaro has always followed the U.S. president. They call him the Latino Trump. The U.S. wants to cut off the income to choke the Cuban economy, to try to bring about a political change here on the island. When Cuba left the program, around 1,700 municipalities were suddenly left without doctors. I had a patient in Brazil, a 70-year-old man, illiterate. He made an appointment so he could say goodbye. He cried right here on my shoulder.
LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: Millions of Brazilians in poor communities were left without healthcare. It was just the beginning. Ecuador's president became a Trump ally, and then, in November 2019, he expelled hundreds of Cuban doctors. That same month, a U.S.-supported coup ousted Bolivian President Evo Morales. Bolivia's de facto government immediately took aim at the Cuban doctors.
INTERIM PRESIDENT JEANINE ÁÑEZ: [translated] The false Cuban doctors …
DR. YOANDRA MURO VALLE: [translated] They said we weren't doctors. They accused us of being criminals.
LIZ OLIVA FERNÁNDEZ: Yoandra Muro was head of the Cuban medical mission in Bolivia.
DR. YOANDRA MURO VALLE: [translated] They threatened to burn down the Cuban doctors' homes. They took others to Interpol. They pointed guns at two brigade members. They strip-searched some of our women.

AMY GOODMAN: That, an excerpt from The War on Cuba, Reed Lindsay, a founder of the Belly of the Beast production that made this series. Now, this is very interesting, what's happening in Brazil. And if you can talk about the effects of this? I mean, we just reported that 4,200 people died in Brazil just yesterday. That's over 10 times the number of Cubans who have died during the entire pandemic.

REED LINDSAY: Yeah, you know, and in doing the series, we spoke with numerous doctors who were part of — Cuban doctors who were in Brazil. And they were hurting, because they knew that these communities that they were helping, they weren't able to help, and that they were suffering. People were dying of COVID.

You know, what that is was part of Trump's policies to crush the Cuban economy, because Cuba sends doctors to other parts of the world, and, like Haiti, there are many cases where there's really no evidence it's anything but altruistic, but it also sends doctors to places like Brazil, and Cuba receives some money for that, and they use that money to subsidize healthcare in Cuba. And so, the Trump administration went after these programs to try to basically hurt the Cuban economy. And it wasn't the only thing they've done.

What's really remarkable about the vaccines and what Cuba has achieved in the last year is that Cuba right now is undergoing a severe economic crisis, and in part it's because of COVID. Obviously, there's no more tourism, and Cuba depended greatly on tourism for its economy. But even before then, there were people who were comparing the economic situation in Cuba to the Special Period after the fall of the Soviet Union, which was considered worse than the Great Depression. And the reason was because of the U.S. sanctions. Now, the embargo has been around for decades, but Trump — under Trump, those sanctions became far, far worse.

And, you know, that's really the story we were trying to tell with The War on Cuba. And I feel it's important to point out that this is a project — what's really unique about Belly of the Beast — and I'm very proud of being a part of it — is that it is a collaboration between U.S. journalists and filmmakers and Cuban journalists and filmmakers. Most of the people in Belly of the Beast are young Cuban journalists and filmmakers. They're telling stories about U.S. intervention in Cuba for a young audience in the United States. And we feel that's really important because people in the United States are at the forefront of pushing for change in policy in the U.S., but they don't always get information about the impact of U.S. policy in other parts of the world, such as Cuba, not only how that policy is affecting Cubans, but also how that policy affects people in the U.S. And you cited an example earlier. Cuba produces life-saving drugs that cannot be obtained in the United States because of the U.S. embargo.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go back to Dr. Rolando Pérez Rodríguez. What plans does Cuba have for your vaccines, like Soberana? How do you plan to use it? And as with doctors, do you plan to export this vaccine? And how many people have participated in trials in Cuba?

DR. ROLANDO PÉREZ RODRÍGUEZ: OK, you know, we are expecting to get the result of the first three clinical trials by June. So, if we have ready the clinical data for the efficacy of these vaccines, we should get an authorization for emergency use from the Cuban regulatory agency. And then we can start a massive immunization program in our country.

But, in parallel, you know, with these first three clinical trials, that involve more than 80,000 people — because Soberana candidate vaccine, or vaccine candidate, has a clinical trial that should include more than 44,000 people, and the other vaccine, candidate vaccine, Abdala, has a clinical trial that should include 48,000 volunteers. But in parallel to these first three clinical trials, we are also making clinical histories of population scale in risk groups, population groups, for example, the healthcare workers, all people that are facing the disease directly. And then, in this personnel — medical doctors, nurses and employees — we are also now making a clinical history. All this data from Phase 3 and the clinical data in this population, a clinical history, that is like real work, because in that kind of history, you will not only the efficacy, but also how effective will be the vaccine in somehow stop the viral transmission, not just preventing the disease. We should have an update up by June to have this emergency use authorization from the Cuban regulatory agency.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the U.S. — I want to go to the U.S. administration approach to Cuba. During his campaign, President Biden promised to lift current restrictions on remittances and travel to Cuba. But it remains unclear if he's going to pursue resetting relationships with the island. Last month, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said a shift in U.S. policy on Cuba is not a priority for Biden, adding his administration is reviewing Trump's designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. This is Biden speaking to a crowd in Broward County, Florida, just days before the 2020 presidential election.

JOE BIDEN: We have to vote for a new Cuba policy, as well. This administration's approach isn't working. Cuba is no closer to freedom and democracy today than it was four years ago. In fact, there are more political prisoners, and secret police are as brutal as ever. And Russia once again is a major presence in Havana.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Biden right before the election. Of course, during the Obama-Biden years, they were normalizing relations with Cuba. Reed Brody [sic], we're going to end with you — Reed Lindsay, we're going to end with you. If you can talk about what the effect of these U.S. sanctions has been on Cuba, and what it would mean if those sanctions were lifted?

REED LINDSAY: As you mentioned, Cuba is going through an unbelievable economic crisis. And the sanctions have been absolutely devastating, and they've taken on every part of the Cuban economy. They've blocked oil shipments from Venezuela. There was an energy crisis in Cuba. They've blocked remittances. If you wanted to send me some money in Cuba, you wouldn't be able to do so. You no longer can send money via Western Union. They've basically stopped all investment. They've called Cuba a state sponsor of terror. They've stopped all U.S. tourism. Even if there wasn't COVID, there would be no U.S. tourists coming here.

And basically, Biden, although he said that he was going to implement a new Cuban policy, has not shown that he will. And just yesterday, Juan Gonzalez, who is the — basically, for the National Security Council that runs point on Latin American policy, told CNN, quote, "Biden is not Obama in Cuba policy." And he said that Biden would — that the administration would not invest the political capital necessary to change policy towards Cuba. The Biden administration is being pressured by powerful Cuban Americans. Two Cuban Americans are the chairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. They're getting a lot of pressure, and they're just not interested in changing policy. At least so far, they've shown they're not. So, so far, it's status quo as far as policy towards Cuba.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, Reed Lindsay, journalist and founder of Belly of the Beast, independent media organization that covers Cuba and U.S.-Cuba relations, also the director of The War on Cuba series, which is executive produced by Danny Glover and Oliver Stone; and Dr. Rolando Pérez Rodríguez, the director of science and innovation at BioCubaFarma. He's also the founder of Cuba's Molecular Immunology Center, a member of the Cuban Academy of Science.


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The burglary that exposed COINTELPRO: Activists mark 50th anniversary of daring FBI break-in

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



AMY GOODMAN: Fifty years ago this week, a group of activists staged one of the most stunning acts of defiance of the Vietnam War era. On March 8th, 1971, eight activists, including a cab driver, a daycare director, two professors, broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and stole every document they found. They wanted to document how FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was spying on citizens and actively suppressing dissent. The break-in occurred as much of the nation was fixated on a boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, which was billed as the "Fight of the Century." The identity of the burglars would remain a mystery for over 40 years.

Soon after stealing the documents, the activists, calling themselves the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI, began leaking shocking details about FBI abuses to the media. The documents exposed COINTELPRO, the FBI's secret Counterintelligence Program, a global, clandestine, unconstitutional practice of surveillance, infiltration and disruption of groups engaged in protest, dissent and social change. Targets included the Reverend Martin Luther King, the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement, the Young Lords, antiwar groups, Black booksellers and other groups. The leaked documents triggered congressional investigations, increased oversight and the eventual passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The FBI never knew who was involved in the break-in until 2014, when several of the burglars made their identity public to coincide with the publication of The Burglary, a book by former Washington Post reporter Betty Medsger, who had reported on the leaked documents back in '71. In 2014, Betty Medsger appeared on Democracy Now!

BETTY MEDSGER: One of the things that I remember most from those files was the truly blanket surveillance of African American people that was described. It was in Philadelphia, but it also prescribed national programs. And it was quite stunning. First, it described the surveillance. It took place in every place where people would gather — churches, classrooms, stores down the street, just everything. But it also specifically prescribed that every FBI agent was supposed to have an informer, just for the purpose of coming back every two weeks and talking to them about what they had observed about Black Americans. And in Washington, D.C., at the time, that was six informers for every FBI agent informing on Black Americans. The surveillance was so enormous that it led various people, rather sedate people in editorial offices and in Congress, to compare it to the Stasi, the dreaded secret police of East Germany.

AMY GOODMAN: Three of the burglars also appeared on Democracy Now! back in 2014 in one of their first joint interviews. Keith Forsyth served as designated lock-picker during the break-in. He hoped the break-in would speed the end of the Vietnam War.

KEITH FORSYTH: The war was escalating and not deescalating. And I think what really pushed me over the edge was, shortly after the invasion of Cambodia, there were four students killed at Kent State and two more killed at Jackson State. And — I'm sorry, I'd think I'd have this down after all these years. And that really pushed me over the edge, that it was time to do more than just — than just protest and just march with a sign.

AMY GOODMAN: John Raines was another one of the burglars. At the time of the break-in, he was a professor of religion at Temple University.

JOHN RAINES: The problem was, J. Edgar Hoover was untouchable. He was a national icon. I mean, he had presidents who were afraid of him. The people that we elected to oversee J. Edgar Hoover's FBI were either enamored of him or terrified of him. Nobody was holding him accountable. And that meant that somebody had to get objective evidence of what his FBI was doing. And that led us to the idea that Bill Davidon suggested to us: Let's break into an FBI office, get their files and get what they're doing in their own handwriting.

AMY GOODMAN: That was John Raines speaking on Democracy Now! in 2014. He died in 2017. Raines' wife Bonnie Raines also helped break into the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, 50 years ago. At the time of the break-in, John and Bonnie had three young children. She's joining us now from her home in Philadelphia. We are also joined by Paul Coates, the founder and director of Black Classic Press and BCP Digital Printing. He's a former member and defense captain of the Black Panther Party in Baltimore. As a Black bookseller, he was targeted by the FBI as part of its COINTELPRO, its Counterintelligence Program. And, yes, he is also the father of the acclaimed writer Ta-Nehisi Coates.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Bonnie, you were the one who cased the joint — is that right? — who went to these Media FBI offices — that's Media, Pennsylvania — beforehand to get a sense of the blueprints of the two rooms, whatever it was.

BONNIE RAINES: That's right. I mean, we had cased the exterior environment, so we knew what the police patrols were. But we had to get inside the offices to see whether there were alarm systems and to see what the layout of the offices were, where the doors were that we hoped we could get through. And so, I had to call and say that I was a Swarthmore College student doing research on opportunities for women in the FBI, and I wondered if I could have an interview with the head of the office. And they very graciously gave me an appointment. And I showed up trying to look not at all like my usual identity. I disguised my appearance as much as I possibly could. But they were very gracious and gave me a half an hour or so. And that gave me the opportunity to get the layout of the office, to see that there were no alarms, to see that the file cabinets were not even locked, and to check out a second door that we might need to use to get through on the night of the burglary.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Bonnie, you told Will Bunch at The Philadelphia Inquirer in a recent interview that "Fifty years ago, we were criminals, and now we're heroes." Could you talk about how — your decision to get involved in this? At the time, you were 29 years old, a mother of three.

BONNIE RAINES: Well, my husband and I, we had been involved in the draft resistance movement, the so-called Catholic left, previously, going into draft boards in the middle of the night and removing draft files to destroy the files and try to disrupt the draft system. So, we like to say that we got our burglary skills from nuns and priests.

But when all of the protests against the War in Vietnam were not making any difference and we realized that the government was lying to citizens about the war, we thought that we needed to take another — a different kind of step in civil disobedience and get proof to show what FBI agents were doing in the Philadelphia area, things that were unconstitutional, immoral and illegal. And the only way to do that was to get our hands on documents, so that it seemed like a rational thing to do to get the truth out to the American public.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I'd like to bring Paul Coates into the conversation and ask you, Paul: From your perspective, your involvement in the Black Panther Party at the time, what the group looked like and what the impact of this break-in, these revelations about COINTELPRO, had on you and your organization?

PAUL COATES: You know, the large impact, I think, at the time, was — we already knew that we were being infiltrated. We knew that provocateurs were all throughout. We knew that the FBI had us under constant surveillance. But I don't think anyone at the time really knew the full extent of the program, of COINTELPRO. We saw the surveillance, we saw the interference and the setups that were being done as acts that the government, as a broad government, was doing. But the break-in actually, I like to think of it as, put flesh to the bones of what became known as COINTELPRO. And they did it in a way that, like — I guess like they intended to do, they did it with the FBI's own documents. They named people. They named places. And that documentation not only served us then, but the documentation serves us — it continues to serve us today. And I think that's the major, major impact. It made visible what we knew was there but could not really see.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, in fact, this was the first time — wasn't it? — that COINTELPRO was being made known, Bonnie, these documents that you were putting out everywhere. And then, Paul, this whole story of not only the FBI's war on the Black Power movement, but specifically — and this directly related to you — Black-owned bookstores, why they saw Black-owned bookstores, like yours, as such a target?

PAUL COATES: Yeah, this is true, Amy. I think a lot of that comes out of certainly the FBI history in following socialist groups and knowing that the bookstores were critical information centers, as they were in our community. And the store we established certainly was, because that was its intent. It was intended to be an information center, particularly for people — not just Panthers, but people who were incarcerated in jail, coming out of jail and becoming contributing members of the community. We felt we could do that with information.

And certainly, we came under a lot of — a lot of pressure from the FBI, a lot of pressure from the state and the city at the time, who saw this, perceived this as a threat. The very thought that information, the very thought that knowledge, could equip people to be better in their community and contributors in their community was a threat to them.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Juan, at the beginning of this story, we talked about the people who were targeted — Black Panthers, antiwar movement, peace activists and the Young Lords. You're one of the co-founders of the Young Lords. Can you talk about what you understood at the time?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I think what Paul is saying about, we understood that there were agents within our organizations, but we never understood how systematic and how widespread it was. And I recall, particularly — this is about a year before the break-in of the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania — I was traveling with another Young Lord member, we thought secretly, to Puerto Rico to look at the possibility of opening up new branches. And we're on the plane heading to San Juan. We suddenly see a young African American attorney who we knew from Legal Aid in East Harlem. And he came over, sat by us, started joking. And we said to him, "So, Bobby, what are you doing? You're in Legal Aid. Why are you going down to Puerto Rico?" And he said, "Well, I don't work for Legal Aid anymore. I work for the U.S. Justice Department. And I've been assigned to the two of you. And I want you to know" — he looked at us directly in the eyes, and he said, "I want you to know that every second that you are in Puerto Rico, you are going to be tailed by the agents of the CIC." That's the Puerto Rico equivalent of the Red Squad in Puerto Rico. "And wherever you go in Puerto Rico, we're going to be there." And, sure enough, they were always not only following us, but interviewing anybody who we talked to or we met with, because they saw the need to appear to be everywhere.

And I want to ask Paul, because people don't realize the psychological impact it had on these organizations to know that there were agents within them but not know who they were. And often people were targeted who were innocent people but were mistaken for agents, and the real agents were still providing information on a regular basis and creating dissension within the groups.

PAUL COATES: Yeah, Juan, you're so right. You're so on. It was like a double whammy, because, on the one hand, you would have agents who would make themselves known, and then you knew there were plenty of other agents who were unknown, but you would — let's say if you're doing something today, information on that would be broadcast in multiple ways the next day, and so you know someone from the inside did it.

And, Juan, you probably have this experience, as well. Certainly, COINTELPRO had its impact when the events were taking place. But now we're talking about 50 years later, five decades later, Juan, and we're still trying to figure out who were agents at the time. You have to — it's that going on, but also the rumors that were started, the identification of people who weren't — like you were saying, who weren't agents, but they were labeled as agents. And even today, among comrades in the Panther Party, you'll have a conversation with someone, a name will come up, and you say, "Well, you know he was a snitch, don't you? Or he was an agent, don't you?" And that may not be the case at all. We're still living through and picking through the rumors that literally split our movement at the time. We're still living through those rumors now, and they still split us.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I wanted to also bring in Bonnie Raines to talk about the latest member of the Media 8, the burglars, including you, who has just come forward in a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, "50 years after an FBI office burglary, a San Rafael man reveals his role."

And it says, "Before the Pentagon Papers, before WikiLeaks, before Edward Snowden's NSA files, a group of eight Vietnam War protesters teamed up to steal FBI records from a Pennsylvania office." And it goes on to say, "Ralph Daniel squeezed himself through the door and looked around the dark room. They had cased this small FBI office in the Philadelphia suburb of Media for months. Now he was inside. Rows of file cabinets beckoned. This was the moment the group of eight had planned. They had long suspected FBI malfeasance and were convinced these records would prove it." Daniel was 26 at the time, "rolled out the first metal cabinet drawer, scooped up the files and threw them into a suitcase. His gloved hands shook. The burglars had to hurry. They had chosen March 8, 1971, because Muhammad Ali's title fight against Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden would keep most of the country and world — and most importantly, FBI agents and police — glued to closed-circuit screens and radios for a few hours. One of the intruders could hear the broadcast in nearby apartments."

So, they thought that the sound of the fight would cover your actions, is that right, Bonnie? And were you surprised to see that Ralph Daniel has come forward?

BONNIE RAINES: Well, I'm delighted that Ralph has. He played a key role in the burglary. And he was reluctant to come forward earlier because he was afraid that it would affect his professional life. But he's always been in communication with us, since 2014. And it's great to have him be able to tell his story now, which is significant.

We scooped up every single document, I think about a thousand documents. We didn't leave anything behind. And going back to what we were talking about a few minutes ago in the broadcast, one of the memos that we discovered, a document said that agents should increase the paranoia among the left to have them believe that there's an FBI agent behind every mailbox. So they wanted to give this impression that everyone everywhere was under surveillance and no one could believe that their constitutional rights would be protected.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Bonnie, we only have about 30 seconds, but could you — the lessons for today, for the Black Lives Matter movement and other activists, of this COINTELPRO era?

BONNIE RAINES: Well, we've just come through a Trump era, and I think we saw the effects of a lack of transparency and accountability. And now we really have to insist that the powers that be are transparent and accountable. And it's up to the average citizen to pay attention, be informed and be vigilant, and then call the powers that be to account for their decisions.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to have to leave it there. And I thank you so much for being with us, Bonnie Raines, one of the 1971 break-in burglars at the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and Paul Coates, founder and director of Black Classic Press. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

How Octavia Butler’s visions of the future have transformed a generation of readers

The visionary Black science-fiction writer Octavia Butler died 15 years ago on February 24, 2006, but her influence and readership has only continued to grow since then. In September, Butler's novel "Parable of the Sower" became her first to reach the New York Times best-seller list. We speak with adrienne maree brown, a writer and Octavia Butler scholar, who says Butler had a remarkable talent for universalizing Black stories. "She wrote about Black women and about Black feminism, about Black futures, but she wrote in a way that appealed to all human beings," says Brown.

Transcript:

MY GOODMAN: To talk more about Octavia Butler's legacy, we're joined by the writer and activist adrienne maree brown. She and the musician Toshi Reagon co-host Octavia's Parables, a podcast that dives deeply into Octavia Butler's books Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. adrienne maree brown is also co-editor of the book Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements. She's joining us from Detroit.

It's great to have you with us, adrienne. In fact, the last time we had you on, we were talking about Octavia. If you can just briefly talk about her biography and then her significance in the world of literature, but also this visionary look at what's happening today?

adrienne maree brown: Yes. Well, thanks for the opportunity to share. I love speaking about Octavia. I'll talk about her every day if I can.

She gave us 12 novels and a collection of short stories. And she took us, as she took herself, from California. She drove across country to get her story for Kindred. She took herself north to Seattle. And one of the most famous stories, that we just heard about, The Parables, is her protagonist character making her way north.

And as Octavia learned and as she questioned and as she wondered how were humans going to find a way to survive on this planet, she asked those questions and brought them into the text. And in her text, we see all the ways that she was trying to answer those questions, trying to trouble the waters, trying to give us nothing easy, but something super compelling to look forward to. So, the work that she did, Walidah Imarisha and I, when we did Octavia's Brood, Walidah called it "visionary fiction," to look ahead at the future and then write ourselves in. And that's what Octavia was doing with all of her work.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about her life, what led her to write. We've heard some of her describing that herself.

adrienne maree brown: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And the whole genre of Afrofuturism, what that means?

adrienne maree brown: Yeah. So, she talks about this, that when she was, I think, 9, 10 years old, she saw The Devil Girl from Mars, and she said, "I could write something better than that." And so she started to write things. She started to write her own short stories, her own novels.

And she had the idea for the Patternist series when she was quite young, and kept writing it, kept writing it. It ended up being her first novel. She wrote the series backwards. So, if you read the stories — I always love knowing that, that when you read The Patternmaster, that was the first one, but then she wrote backwards to find out the source of that story, how we would get there.

But she was a worker, so she was a laborer. She was always working. And her writing process would be waking up at 3:00 in the morning, because she needed to do it. She had what she called "positive obsession," a positive obsession with moving these stories out.

And I think it would be remiss of me not to say that, just like many of us, she was looking at the world around her and feeling terrified and feeling like, "How are we going to change this? What happens if this goes on?" And it led her to write things that ended up feeling very prophetic. You know, in the Parables, there's a president who runs for office on the slogan "Make America great." And there's a way that she took what was happening around her, what she saw as a very shy, introverted, powerful Black woman — with a super sexy underbite — she was looking at the world around her and figuring out, like, "How do I think about community? How do I think about organizing? How do I think about change?" And so, that's how she did it in her lifetime. She wrote it onto these pages for us.

Afrofuturism, I will say, is a thrilling — to me, a thrilling arena. And now there's African futurism. There's Black speculative fiction. There's all these arenas where, basically, Black people and people of African lineage are saying, "We were almost erased from the lineage. Right? People wanted to erase us and have us just be labor. We're writing ourselves back in. We're writing ourselves back in. We're creating stories that are rooted in African heritage and that articulate an African future." So, it's an exciting place. It's an exciting arc to be inside of as a creator.

AMY GOODMAN: She is also seen, obviously, as a deeply feminist writer. How are women, especially Black women, represented in her work? And how do they grapple with the real-world power structures? I mean, even the publishing world, you have this example of, in 1987, the publisher still insisted on putting two white women on the jacket of her novel Dawn, whose main character is Black.

adrienne maree brown: Yes. I mean, so much has changed there because of the work of Octavia, because of the work of Nnedi Okorafor, because of the work of Tananarive Due.

But I think one of the things that was so powerful to me when I first picked up Octavia is that she wrote these strong Black feminine characters, these protagonists, who now you might look back and see the nonbinary, see the queerness, see other things in them, but at the time, she was writing these characters, and it was like, "Oh, there's young Black women, and they're leading."

And what happened over and over again in the stories, and you see this over and over again, is that people doubted their capacity not only to lead, but to be of use in any way. And then, her characters, rather than pushing, rather than fighting, they would turn inward. They would gather themselves and get aligned with what they thought. So, in the Parables, it's the Earthseed belief system. They would get aligned and be like, "I have a greater destiny than your oppression. And my destiny will take me beyond anything that your oppression can hold me from."

And then, over and over again, we watch those characters follow that path of destiny and take themselves and anyone who wants to come with them beyond, which I also think is important, because she wrote about Black women and about Black feminism, about Black futures, but she wrote in a way that appealed to all human beings. And I think that that, to me, is one of the essences of feminism. It's like, we're not saying we're better than or beyond. We're saying we are right here, equal to anyone else and able to lead as much as anyone else. So, she understood that. She wrote it beautifully.

AMY GOODMAN: adrienne maree brown, we want to thank you for being with us, co-host of the podcast Octavia's Parables — we will link to your podcast — and also co-editor of the book Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements.

On Wednesday, Symphony Space in New York will present an all-star celebration of Octavia Butler to mark the 15th anniversary of her death, and that will be virtually. You can check it out online.

'Work won't love you back': Inside toxic US work culture and the fight against inequality

Amid the economic crisis and precarious working conditions for millions of people during the pandemic, we look at a new book by Sarah Jaffe, an independent journalist and author who covers labor and economic justice. "Work Won't Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone" looks at the unsustainable expectations of fulfillment around work and how the "labor of love" myth has contributed to the rise of toxic workplaces. Jaffe says the pandemic has shown that work can always get worse, and that more and more people are pushing back. "It's not just that it's a bad, grinding, slow, miserable job, but it's also a bad, grinding, slow, miserable job that could kill you now."

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

AMY GOODMAN: As Congress debates whether to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, fast-food workers in 15 cities held a Black History Month strike Tuesday as part of the Fight for 15 campaign and to emphasize the, quote, "crisis among Black communities who have faced generations of low pay and insufficient protections on the job." These are some of their voices.

MARK LOGAN: Hi. My name is Mark Logan. I'm from Detroit, Michigan, a fast-food worker at McDonald's. Minimum wage is $9.45. That's not enough. I'm going on strike today for $15 an hour and a union job.
SYLCORIA CARROLL: My name is Sylcoria Carrroll. I'm a member of McDonald's and a member of the NC Fight for 15. I've been in this organization for six years. I'm doing this because my kids need me. I'm pregnant with a baby on the way. It's the third baby, and I already have two kids. I can't take this no more. There was times when I didn't have a break. I came in on my day off. And then my own manager didn't tell me how much I'm getting paid an hour. The highest check I ever got was literally $291. I can't take it no more. I'm halfway homeless. I need this $15 an hour, not only for me, but for everybody.
ERICA HUNT: I was 16 years old, first day working in fast food. Just like the young lady that spoke today, fresh on the job, I didn't understand what was going on. … So I learned to put an armor on. I continued to smile and be friendly with my customers. And I teach the crew to put on the same armor that I wear. But this armor gets heavy, real heavy, when you can't pay your bills.

AMY GOODMAN: That last voice, Taco Bell worker Erica Hunt at a Fight for 15 protest in Wisconsin Tuesday.

For more on fast-food workers, teachers, nurses, gig workers, many others organizing to improve conditions, we're joined by Sarah Jaffe, longtime labor, economic justice reporter, who writes about all of this in her new book, Work Won't Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone. Her feature in the new issue of The Nation magazine is headlined "First, Nurses Saved Our Lives—Now They're Saving Our Health Care."

Sarah, you are following our first discussion about the teachers' unions fighting for safe workplaces for kids to return to around the country, to their schools. And then we talked about this first-time union vote organizing effort in Bessemer, Alabama, at an Amazon warehouse. Your thoughts on jobs right now?

SARAH JAFFE: I think pretty much everyone's job has gotten a lot worse in the last year — right? — whether you're like me and suddenly you're trapped in this tiny little box here that you see me in pretty much, you know, for 10 hours a day every day, or you're like those fast-food workers or Amazon workers you were just talking to who have to go into a workplace knowing that that workplace has just gotten a lot more dangerous. I think we're all realizing how much worse things can get.

And it's making some of those workers more willing to stand up and speak out, when, you know, it's not just that it's a bad, grinding, slow, miserable job, but it's also a bad, grinding, slow, miserable job that could kill you now.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the irony of the term "Amazon fulfillment centers."

SARAH JAFFE: Yeah, it's so interesting, right? Because now we're all expected, like I write about in this book, to find fulfillment from our jobs. But, actually, you know, when it comes down to it, we don't work because we're bored and just need something to do with our day. We work, like that last worker who was just speaking was saying, because we have bills to pay. And when that work isn't covering the expenses that people have to feed their families, it's a really big disconnect that we're still expected to show up.

And what that last fast-food worker was saying about putting on that armor every day was so striking, right? Because, like, you do — I remember from my time working in the service industry — sort of have to go in and push all your feelings down and put on that smile.

AMY GOODMAN: You write in your book, "Once upon a time, it was assumed, to put it bluntly, that work sucked." What changed? Describe the evolution of the labor of love myth.

SARAH JAFFE: Yeah. So, I trace this in the book through the history of sort of women's unpaid work in the home and also the creative work of the artists, both of which are sort of always assumed to not be work at all. And as the decline of industrial labor, through outsourcing, through automation, through changes in the shape of capitalism, what we got instead was much more work, like the people that we've just been talking about, like those Amazon workers, like those fast-food workers, like the nurses and other healthcare workers that I wrote about in that Nation piece you mentioned, whose job is to provide the services that keep us all going, who are doing that so-called essential work that we've heard so much about since the pandemic.

And this is work that often requires you to show up and put on that smile, that requires you to, if not actually enjoy it, at least sort of pretend and project the image that you're enjoying it, in order to go to work. And so, it's literally a change in just like the shape of the economy and what jobs people are doing. But then that also spreads into things like the Amazon fulfillment center, where if the narrative we hear over and over again is that we go to work in order to find fulfillment, then even the Amazon billboard that I saw the other day off of the New Jersey Turnpike that says, "Get a job delivering smiles," is like, well, the conditions that that worker was just describing in the warehouse in Alabama don't sound terribly fulfilling, and they don't sound like they'd make me smile.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how about teachers now being asked to risk their lives to go back to school? And then, of course, you have nurses doing the same thing, risking their lives every day, and they're not only fighting to save their patients, but now the healthcare system, changing it.

SARAH JAFFE: Yeah, yeah. I mean, teachers are, I write the book, sort of the ultimate laborers of love. And we've had decades, maybe centuries, of expecting them to make up for all of the gaps in the social safety net, just by loving the kids that they teach more and more and more.

And so, you know, we're seeing right now sort of the real return of this demonizing teachers rhetoric in yet another way, because teachers are not willing to march back into, in many cases, overcrowded, underfunded schools that haven't had repairs. In Philadelphia, they were talking about, like, strapping a box fan to a window to create ventilation so that the virus supposedly wouldn't spread in these school buildings that are overcrowded. In Los Angeles — I think the last time we spoke was when I was in L.A. for the teachers' strike there, and they were fighting to get class sizes down from 45 students, in a room that is supposed to house 20. And, you know, you can't socially distance with 25 kids in a room, let alone when you've packed 40 of them in a room that is supposed to have 25.

So, the very things that teachers have been demanding, that would have made the schools more safe to reopen in the first place, they're now getting blamed for not being able to solve that problem. And it's just this ongoing expectation that teachers can somehow, with their just pure motivation and love and care, overcome all of these obstacles that we have put, as a society, in their way.

AMY GOODMAN: And nurses, let's end there, since it's also —

SARAH JAFFE: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — what you wrote your Nation piece on.

SARAH JAFFE: Yeah, absolutely, nurses who have been fighting since the beginning of the pandemic just to get enough masks and gowns to keep them safe while they're trying to save lives. And in between, you know, they've been — the nurses' unions, like National Nurses United, like New York State Nurses Association, have been the loudest voices in this country, saying, again, for decades, that we need a real national healthcare system that would actually prioritize public health, because this pandemic has taught us that we are only as well as the last person to get vaccinated, as the last person to get healthcare.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Sarah Jaffe, for being with us, longtime labor and economic justice reporter. Her new book, Work Won't Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone.

That does it for our show. Happy Birthday to Neil Shibata! Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Libby Rainey, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Carla Wills, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Adriano Contreras. Special thanks to Julie Crosby, Becca Staley. Wearing a mask is an act of love. Wearing two is even better. And try a shield on top of it. I'm Amy Goodman.

From Charlottesville to the Capitol: Trump fueled right-wing violence -- and it may soon get even worse

As security is ramped up in Washington, D.C., and state capitols across the U.S., the FBI is warning of more potential violence in the lead-up to Joe Biden's inauguration on January 20. Federal authorities have arrested over 100 people who took part in last week's deadly insurrection at the Capitol, and The Washington Post reports that dozens of people on a terrorist watch list — including many white supremacists — were in Washington on the day of the insurrection. "This was something that had been coming for a long time," ProPublica reporter A.C. Thompson, who covers right-wing extremism, says of the January 6 riot. "If you looked at the rhetoric online … it was all about revolution, it was all about death to tyrants, it was all about civil war."


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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman.

Security is being ramped up in Washington, D.C., and state capitols across the United States as the FBI is warning of more "potential armed protests" in the lead-up to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris's inauguration, following last week's deadly insurrection at the Capitol. By Wednesday, 21,000 National Guard troops are expected to be in Washington, D.C. FBI Director Christopher Wray spoke publicly for the first time, more than a week after the insurrection, Thursday.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY: We're concerned about the potential for violence at multiple protests and rallies planned here in D.C. and at state capitol buildings around the country in the days to come, that could bring armed individuals within close proximity to government buildings and officials.

AMY GOODMAN: Federal authorities have arrested over a hundred people who took part in last week's deadly insurrection at the Capitol that left five — actually, six [sic] people — dead. Police and federal agents continued to round up rioters Thursday. That's five people dead. Among the latest arrests, Kevin Seefried, who was photographed carrying a Confederate battle flag through the Capitol; former U.S. Olympic medalist Klete Keller, who wore his Olympic swim team jacket to the riots; Robert Sanford, a retired firefighter who was filmed throwing a fire extinguisher at Capitol Police officers, striking three of them in the head; and Peter Stager, an Arkansas man filmed beating a police officer at the Capitol with an American flag.

In Arizona, prosecutors say they've uncovered evidence that the intent of some of the rioters was to, quote, "capture and assassinate elected officials in the United States government." Prosecutors revealed the QAnon conspiracy theorist Jacob Chansley, who is also known as Jake Angeli, left a note for Mike Pence in the Senate, warning, quote, "It's only a matter of time, justice is coming." Chansley faces charges of violent entry and disorderly conduct, after he was filmed posing shirtless, wearing buffalo horns and holding a spear on the Senate dais.

And in Texas, a federal prosecutor has revealed more details about its case against retired Air Force officer Larry Brock, who was seen inside the Capitol dressed in military gear, holding zip ties. Prosecutors claim that Brock was prepared to take hostages and, quote, "perhaps execute members of the U.S. government."

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports dozens of people on a terrorist watch list — mostly white supremacists — were in Washington on the day of the insurrection.

We go now to A.C. Thompson, staff reporter with ProPublica, who has covered the rise of the right-wing extremist and white supremacist groups for years, his latest piece headlined "Members of Several Well-Known Hate Groups Identified at Capitol Riot." He's joining us from Lansing, Michigan.

A.C., thanks so much for coming back to Democracy Now! Can you start off by responding to what happened last week in Washington, D.C.? Did it surprise you, this mass insurrection, after President Trump had for weeks been calling for this protest and addressed them before they marched to the Capitol? And who was behind it?

A.C. THOMPSON: One of our contacts in the far-right movement said to us, "Hey, I think this is going to go in a very extreme direction. And, in fact, I'm not going to mobilize my people to participate, because I think it's going to be very violent." And that was a signal to us that this was going to be quite extreme.

We had seen this building over the past year, though. If you go back to January 2020, in Richmond, Virginia, 20,000 armed people showed up at the state House there. In the spring, there were protests that were armed in Michigan at the state House, including one in which people stormed the building and intimidated legislators with weapons, with AR-15 assault rifles. We saw the Idaho state House get stormed. We saw the Oregon state House get stormed. We saw, in Olympia, Washington, by the Capitol there, there were shootings in the street two weeks in a row. Two people were shot, one each week. And so, this had been building for a long time.

I personally was at an armed rally at the Virginia state House a couple months ago, where about 50 men with weapons showed up and basically dared the police to arrest them, because they were in violation of the law. So, this was something that had been coming for a long time. And if you looked at the rhetoric online and you looked at what had been said by members of these groups for a long time, it was all about revolution, it was all about death to tyrants, it was all about civil war, for a long time.

On the day of the event, we saw militia groups like the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers, who were playing a big role. We saw the conspiracy theorists, like the QAnon people, who were there. We saw, I think, a significant role played by the Proud Boys, who you could call an ultranationalist street-fighting gang or group. And I think we saw a lot of military vets and some current military there. And there were also people who belong to straight-up white supremacist or white nationalist groups.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned Virginia. We reported earlier this week that two of the rioters were off-duty Virginia police. And this goes to the issue of police and military from all over the country. You know, people were saying, "Where were the police?" Well, they were part of the riot, the insurrection, a number of them. You have police from Seattle, apparently New York, Philadelphia transit officers, a number of them, two Virginia officers. Now, this is just people who were identified. Can you talk about the — a PSYOPS guy, a military psychological operations. Can you talk about the significance of this?

A.C. THOMPSON: You know, I think there is a big concern that what we've seen in recent years is a lot of members of police departments, or at least some members of police departments, being radicalized in this right-wing direction. And in part, I think, what that's been a product of is they've seen the rise of the racial justice movements and police accountability movements, and they say, "I feel under attack. The person who's sticking up for us is Donald Trump, who's super law and order, and so I'm going to get deep into the Donald Trump world." And I think that's part of what's happened.

What's happening now, though, is different. And what's happening now is, when I was in D.C. at "Stop the Steal" protests and other protests in recent months, you would see the right-wing protesters did not want to fight with the police. They would say, "We're the law-and-order people. We're the pro-police people. We're not going to fight with the police. We want to fight with the police, but we're going to back off." That has changed. That has pivoted. And now what you're seeing in the chatter amongst the right-wing groups is, "We are at war with the police. The police are in bed with the reds. The police are a tool of this socialist takeover, which we believe magically is happening, without any facts. We believe that the police are subverting democracy. And we are now going after the police." And that's what you saw at the Capitol.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's talk about the lack of preparation at the Capitol. You see these police officers, the Capitol Police, some help by the Metropolitan Police, fending for themselves. And we got the reports this week of the level of threat assessment reports that would come before each Black Lives Matter protest. Nothing like that was issued now, and yet you have this coming together of all of these people from — and if you can explain what the terrorist watch list is? It's not a no-fly list. And for many progressives, they may be very concerned about who makes up this list, but the fact is, scores of people on the FBI's own list had gathered, and yet the FBI issued no reports, and there was so little preparation. We saw African American Capitol police essentially running for their lives, saying they didn't have the support from the top, and they were being chased by the mob.

A.C. THOMPSON: Right. So, there's a few things that I want to touch on here. And a few years ago, you and I were talking about Charlottesville. And what we had seen there was an intelligence breakdown, where, really, the intelligence analysts and the law enforcement personnel, who should have really been monitoring the online channels and the chatter, missed what was going on and what was going to develop. And then you saw multiple law enforcement agencies who were supposed to be there coordinating, working together, who really didn't have a plan, and cooperation totally broke down. And when violence and rioting broke out, the people with the tactical gear, with the shields, with the helmets, with the riot gear, were nowhere near the violence.

You saw a lot of that happen at the Capitol, a lot of the same things happening over again, years later, with basically some of the same people showing up at both events. This is what's baffling to me. The FBI has gotten very good in recent years at tracking and arresting and building cases against right-wing extremists, white supremacist extremists, anti-government extremists. In the run-up to the election, they built a lot of very complicated, important cases against people who were bent on violence against public officials, the kidnapping plot against Gretchen Whitmer, the governor in Michigan. They were very, very busy. And what I don't understand is how that knowledge from the field agents out in the field doesn't seem to have translated, as far as we can tell at this point, into intelligence products that would have gone out and been disseminated more broadly to other law enforcement agencies. That's a thing.

Another thing is just simply the lack of personnel and the lack of preparation by the Capitol Police on the day of the event. I've been watching the D.C. Metropolitan Police for months now, and I think that they've been very professional, very sophisticated, in allowing protesters at these right-wing events in D.C. to express themselves, but not to harm people and not for violence to break out. That is clearly not the case with the Capitol Police. They did not evince that level of professionalism and sophistication.

AMY GOODMAN: The Washington Post reported earlier this week the FBI explicitly warned of violence and "war" at the U.S. Capitol in an internal report issued one day before last Wednesday's deadly invasion. The report cited online posts, including one which said, quote, "Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in, and blood from their BLM and Pantifa slave soldiers being spilled. Get violent. Stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest. Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die."

So, A.C. Thompson, I mean, how much more explicit can you get? And, I mean, we're not only talking about let's do a postmortem on last week's event — and "postmortem" is the right word. I mean, you're talking about a number of people dead: two police officers — the Capitol Hill police officer, Sicknick, who died, and then one who took his own life — and then you have three people who died in medical emergencies, apparently. But we're not only talking about the past; we're talking about whether this is prologue to this weekend. I mean, Monday is Dr. Martin Luther King's federal birthday, which is official — his birthday was today. But for years, white supremacists marched on state capitols to prevent it from being recognized as a national holiday. And then, of course, Wednesday, the inauguration.

A.C. THOMPSON: Yeah, I think I don't want to be alarmist, and I don't want to be the person who says the sky is falling, but I do think we have to be vigilant. I think we have to be looking forward. I think we have to be very, very careful in the months ahead. And this is why.

We were out on the campaign trail filming for Frontline at Trump rallies and at Trump speeches. And when we'd meet people, they would all say, "The only way the president is going to lose the election is if there's massive fraud, and it'll be probably massive fraud orchestrated by those nefarious globalists." There are millions of people who believe, because of Trump's incessant false messaging, that the election was fraudulent, that the election was stolen from him. And if you have just a very small percentage of those millions of people who are inclined to take violent action because they believe that we are on the cusp of a massively undemocratic transition of power, built around fraud, of course some of those people are likely to take very violent action to save, in their mind — you know, in their minds, to save this republic.

And that is the thing we must be concerned about. In America, it does not take very much money and very much skill to create a mass casualty event with a bomb or a gun. And that is something we're going to have to be very vigilant about, while at the same time ensuring that people have a right to protest, that people have a right to express themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: I'm wondering if you can talk about the alliances between all of these groups and current sitting members of Congress. You've got Utah Republican Congressmember John Curtis, who showed reporters a death threat left on his door on Thursday, a poster with skulls and crossbones pasted over his eyes, and the caption, "Wanted for treason! For resisting the true electoral victor Trump." Now, here is a congressman who, of course, was voicing concern about the fact that Republicans were not accepting the election of Joe Biden, but you've got other ones who led the charge about doing this. Can you talk about whether — the congressmembers and what should happen to them now? Even in President Trump's latest video, he will not acknowledge this election of Joe Biden. And does it actually encourage the violence, the fact that he's not showing up for the inauguration? Many may be deeply relieved that Trump won't be there, but does that send a message it's OK to target?

A.C. THOMPSON: I think there's a couple things going on here. And the first thing is that we have not acknowledged the scale of threats, intimidation and violence against public leaders that's occurred over the past year. We have so many public health officials in this country, at county and state levels, who have been threatened — at federal levels, as well — been threatened, who have been terrorized, who have had to get extra security, who have been doing their jobs and are in fear for their lives. And we, basically, as a society, have not grappled with that.

Now we've got elections officials, Republican and Democrat, who are dealing with that. We've got members of Congress who are dealing with that. We've got law enforcement leaders who are dealing with that. You know, in California, we had two law enforcement officials who were shot by an extremist group, allegedly, during the spring. Somebody is now facing federal charges for that. So I think there's been a —

AMY GOODMAN: Boogaloo bois.

A.C. THOMPSON: Yeah, the boogaloo bois, exactly. So I think there's been a level of violence and aggression towards public officials and government leaders that we have not seen in decades. And I don't think we've reckoned with that at all. It's a scary time to be a public leader.

Now, when you're talking about Congress, this is a thing that we're going to have to understand deeply, and we're going to need serious, serious investigations about what was the role of sympathetic members of Congress in possibly fomenting or even enabling this insurrection, because I don't think we've gotten to the bottom of that. We've heard names thrown out as potential members of Congress, from Arizona and Alabama, who may have aided and abetted these groups, but we don't know yet. I think that's a very concerning thing, as well. We also —

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you have Mikie Sherrill — right? — the New Jersey congressmember, who said she — they called the sergeant-of-arms the day before, saying, "What are all these tour groups?" they now recognize were the people who were part of this insurrection being taken around. I mean, COVID times, they're not doing tours there, so they could only get in through a congressmember or their staff.

A.C. THOMPSON: Exactly. And that is a big concern. I'll tell you, from interviewing members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, they said to us — you know, we had a Democratic congressman say to us, "I'm worried that we have empathizers and sympathizers within the ranks of the Capitol Police." That was Rep. Andre Carson from the Indianapolis area. We had a GOP congresswoman, Nancy Mace, who said, "Look, I could tell, days before this happened, that it was going to be ugly, because I was getting relentless threats online and through all different channels. And I'm a Trump supporter, but I had said I'm not going to try to overturn this election. And so then I was the one targeted." And it doesn't sound like she got a lot of help with that. She sent her children home to South Carolina because she was scared for their lives. We have not even begun to grapple with how serious this problem is.

AMY GOODMAN: If you could very quickly — we only have a minute to go, but you detail in your pieces, and you just talked about, the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers, boogaloo bois, Proud Boys. Tell us who some of these people are. Many people haven't even heard of these groups before.

A.C. THOMPSON: Right. So, the boogaloo bois are an anti-government group who joined the Capitol insurrection, who have been tied to murders, kidnapping plots and the rest. The Proud Boys are an ultranationalist street gang or street-fighting group that have been at many of these events and seem to have been a key player here. The Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters are militia groups that sort of are traditional, longtime anti-government groups. And QAnon is the conspiracy theory followers who believe that there's a vast cabal of globalists and satanists who are trying to take over America.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, you have Ali Alexander, and this from The Washington Post, who organized the so-called Stop the Steal movement, who said he hatched the plan for this insurrection with the support of the three Republican lawmakers — you alluded to them, but — Congressmembers Andy Biggs of Arizona, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Paul Gosar of Arizona, all hard-line Trump supporters.

A.C. THOMPSON: Yeah. And that's the thing. That's going to be a really key investigative point there. And honestly, like, looking at Mr. Alexander and how he raised money and what his role in all this was, as well, is going to be a key thing to look at.

AMY GOODMAN: A.C. Thompson, we want to thank you so much for being with us. Keep up your great investigation. Staff reporter with ProPublica who's covered the rise of right-wing extremist and white supremacist groups for years. We'll link to your latest piece, "Members of Several Well-Known Hate Groups Identified at Capitol Riot."

Next up, as the U.S. death toll for COVID-19 approaches 400,000, we'll speak with Dr. Peter Salk. His father, Dr. Jonas Salk, he first developed the first polio vaccine. Stay with us.

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Obit Omit: What Corporate Media Left Out of John McCain’s Record of Militarism and Misogyny

We host a roundtable discussion on the life and legacy of John McCain, the Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war, six-term senator and two-time presidential candidate, who died Saturday at the age of 81 of brain cancer. We speak with Mehdi Hasan, columnist for The Intercept and host of their “Deconstructed” podcast. He’s also host of “UpFront” at Al Jazeera English. He’s been tweeting in response to McCain’s death and wrote a piece last year headlined “Despite What the Press Says, 'Maverick' McCain Has a Long and Distinguished Record of Horribleness.” We are also joined by Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink, which McCain once referred to as “low-life scum,” and by Norman Solomon, national coordinator of RootsAction, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”

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Chomsky: Mainstream Media Is 'Basically a Joke' Now - And Fox News Is 'State Media'

The New York Times reports special counsel Robert Mueller is scrutinizing President Trump’s tweets as part of Mueller’s expanding probe into Trump’s ties to Russia. This latest revelation in the Mueller investigation is part of a nearly 24-hour stream of headlines about Trump, Russia and the administration’s various scandals. But is the mainstream media missing the real stories amid its obsession with “Russiagate”? For more, we speak with world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author and professor Noam Chomsky on media manipulation in the Trump era.

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CIA-Linked Military Contractor Secretly Jailed Dozens of Migrant Children on Arizona 'Black Site'

A major U.S. military and CIA contractor has been detaining dozens of migrant children inside a vacant Phoenix office building with dark windows, no kitchen and only a few toilets, according to a new investigation by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Reveal learned about what some are calling the “black site” for migrant children after one local resident filmed children in sweatsuits being led into the building. The building was leased in March by MVM, a defense contractor that Reveal reports has received nearly $250 million in contracts to transport immigrant children since 2014. We speak with the lead reporter on this story, Aura Bogado, in Oakland, California. She is the immigration reporter for Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting.

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Mom Confronts EPA Head At DC Restaurant And Asks Him to Resign: We Need Someone 'Who Actually Does Protect our Environment'

Meanwhile, on Monday, Scott Pruitt fled a restaurant after he was confronted during lunch by a schoolteacher holding her child. The woman, Kristin Mink, posted a video of their interaction online.

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NFL’s Michael Bennett on Players Kneeling for Racial Justice: 'Things That Make White People Uncomfortable'

Over the past two seasons, dozens of National Football League players have knelt during the national anthem to protest police shootings of black teenagers and men like Antwon Rose, a 17-year-old unarmed African-American teenager who was shot dead by East Pittsburgh police last week. The NFL’s on-field protests began in August 2016 when quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the anthem to protest racism and police brutality. The National Football League announced last month that it will fine teams if players refuse to stand for the national anthem before games. Under the new rules adopted by the league’s 32 owners, players will be allowed to stay in the locker room during the anthem. We speak with NFL three-time Pro Bowler and longtime activist Michael Bennett, who has been part of a movement, led by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, protesting police shootings of unarmed black men. Bennett was recently traded to the Super Bowl champions Philadelphia Eagles—the same team President Trump recently disinvited to the White House. He is the author of a new book, “Things That Make White People Uncomfortable.”

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Trump Escalates Already Deadly U.S. Border Policies, Ordering National Guard to Mexican Border

A new wave of troops could soon be deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border, even as border crossings by undocumented immigrants are at their lowest levels since 1971. The move comes as a caravan of Central American migrants and asylum seekers in Mexico has prompted a series of threats from President Trump. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports the Trump administration is requesting that the U.S. military build walls for at least one military base along the U.S.-Mexico border. We go to Tucson, Arizona, for an update from Todd Miller, a border security journalist and author of “Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security.”

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Media Giant Sinclair, Under Fire for Forcing Anchors to Read Trumpian Screed, Is Rapidly Expanding

While Sinclair Broadcast Group is not a household name, it is one of the most powerful TV companies in the nation. It owns 173 local TV stations across the country, including affiliates of all the major networks. And it’s attempting to grow even larger by purchasing Tribune Media—a $3.9 billion deal currently under regulatory review. Sinclair has been widely criticized for its close ties to the White House. But Sinclair is facing new scrutiny after it ordered news anchors at scores of its affiliate stations to recite nearly identical “must-read” commentaries warning of the dangers of “fake news” in language that echoes President Trump’s rhetoric. The commentaries reached millions of viewers last month and drew widespread attention after the website Deadspin published a video over the weekend showing side-by-side comparisons of the broadcasts from 45 Sinclair-owned stations. We speak to Andy Kroll, senior reporter at Mother Jones magazine.

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Teachers in Revolt: Meet the Educators in Kentucky and Oklahoma Walking Out Over School Funding

Schools across Oklahoma are closed today for a third day as teachers continue their strike demanding more funding for education and increased pay. Oklahoma’s public education budget has been slashed more than any other state since the start of the recession in 2008, and its teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation. Scores of teachers are planning to begin a 123-mile protest march today from Tulsa to Oklahoma City. Meanwhile, thousands of teachers continue to protest in Kentucky, demanding a reversal to a provision in a recently passed bill about sewage treatment that gutted their pension benefits. On Monday, every school in the state was closed either due to spring break or in anticipation of a massive rally in the capital of Frankfort, where teachers filled the rotunda of the Kentucky state Capitol, chanting “Fund our schools!” This year’s wave of teacher rebellions began in West Virginia, where teachers won a 5 percent pay raise after a historic strike. We speak to four guests: Oklahoma teacher Andrea Thomas, Kentucky state lawmaker Attica Scott, retired Kentucky teacher Mickey McCoy and labor journalist Mike Elk.

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Meet the Doctor Suing Trump: Dr. Eugene Gu on Gun Violence, Privatization of VA and White Supremacy

Doctors across the country are slamming former Republican Senator Rick Santorum for arguing that young people protesting for gun control would be better served by learning CPR. Dr. Eugene Gu of Vanderbilt University Medical Center tweeted, “As a surgeon, I’ve operated on gunshot victims who’ve had bullets tear through their intestines, cut through their spinal cord, and pulverize their kidneys and liver. Rick Santorum telling kids to shut up and take CPR classes is simply unconscionable.” We speak to Dr. Gu about gun violence, his lawsuit against President Trump and why he was suspended for taking a knee to fight white supremacy.

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David Shulkin's Firing at the VA Is Latest Step in Trump-Koch Push to Privatize Veterans' Health Care

On Wednesday, President Trump fired Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin and said he’d replace him with White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson, a rear admiral in the Navy. Dr. Jackson has no experience running a large agency. The Department of Veterans Affairs is the federal government’s second-largest department, with 360,000 employees. Shulkin had been facing criticism for various ethics violations, including using taxpayer money to pay for his wife’s airfare during a trip to Europe last summer. But Shulkin says he’s actually being ousted because of his opposition to privatizing the VA, which runs 1,700 hospitals and clinics. The push to privatize the VA has been led by a group called Concerned Veterans for America, which is funded by the billionaire conservative Koch brothers. We speak to Suzanne Gordon, an award-winning healthcare journalist. Her forthcoming book is titled “Wounds of War: Veterans’ Healthcare in the Era of Privatization.”

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Family to Bury Slain Sacramento Man Stephon Clark, as Protests Continue Demanding Justice

The family of Stephon Clark is holding his funeral today in Sacramento, California, as massive protests continue against the police shooting that killed the unarmed African-American man in his grandmother’s backyard on March 18. Police first claimed he was holding a gun, but later admitted they found only his cellphone near his body. We get an update from Berry Accius, with Voice of the Youth in Sacramento.

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Killed in Cold Blood: Alton Sterling’s Family Decries Decision Not to Charge Officers for Murder

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has announced the state will not bring charges against two white police officers from Baton Rouge for the 2016 killing of Alton Sterling, an African-American father of five. Bystander video shows Sterling was pinned to the ground by the two police officers when they shot him. Alton Sterling’s killing sparked nationwide protests. It’s the latest case in which authorities have refused to bring charges against officers for killing civilians, despite video evidence of the killings and mass protests demanding accountability for the death. We speak to Chris Stewart, an attorney for Alton Sterling’s children.

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Naomi Wadler, 11: I Speak for Black Girls Victimized by Guns Whose Stories Don’t Make the Front Page

Hundreds of thousands rallied for gun control in Washington, D.C., today for the March for Our Lives. The march was organized by survivors of last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Speakers included 11-year-old Naomi Wadler of Alexandria, Virginia.

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