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By Doug Fine, The Drug Peace Bumblebee
The key law of physics that keeps all pundits employed is “no one can time travel.” In a classic Bloom County cartoon from the ‘80s, one economist exclaims, “The key, of course, is the deficit,” to which the other forcefully retorts, “The deficit, my fanny.” It’s one or the other, but both fellows get paid.
The drug policy arena, into which I’ve been drawn as a pundit whenever a television producer Googles “Ending the Drug War,” would seem to be no exception. The last few taxpayer-funded Drug Warriors – people with so little concern about the facts, let alone America’s public health and economy, that they’re still willing to make a career of pushing a 40-year failed Just Say No argument – might go to sleep every night thanking physics for this “no one can be 100% sure about the future” loophole. Their whole mortgage payment depends on it.
But there’s a problem with the usual punditry gravy train model when it comes to drug policy. We do know what happens when the Drug War ends in America. I just wrote a book about it. What happens is the economy improves, cartels are hurt, and public safety takes an immediate turn for the better. The Drug Peace Era is quantifiably good for America and her families.
In fact, the “Zip-tie” program in Mendocino County, CA, under which cannabis farmers were certified by the county Sheriff’s Department and each plant wore a bright yellow necklace with its permit number, was an unmitigated and immediate success. That is, until federal harassment shut the program down at the end of the 2011 farming season.
Don’t take my word for it that the Drug Peace works. The one time Drug Warrior who administered the Mendocino program, Sergeant (now Captain) Randy Johnson, told me during a 2011 farm inspection that the Zip-tie program altered the entire social fabric of the community. This is a place that derives 80% of its economy from its famous Emerald Triangle cannabis harvest.
“After 27 years in law enforcement, for the first time I’m getting tips on domestic violence and home invasion. We have a safer community. That’s why the (Zip-tie) program is important.” In other words, when the Sheriff has permitted and inspected your garden, you’re not worried about getting raided for it. You’re a taxpaying member of society, like a grape farmer. It makes cops’ lives easier. They can focus on, ya know, crime.
I can confirm the home invasion effect. As long as federal prohibition exists, “Rippers” will exist. These are the specialized breed of criminal who plan cannabis crop robberies right at harvest time. One of the farmers I followed in Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution awoke to Rippers disturbing the local deer one morning in October, 2011. Guess what he did? He called the police. Guess what the rapidly responding deputy did? He chased off and nearly apprehended the Rippers, after getting their license plate number. He was protecting the local farmers.
Oh, and the Zip-tie program also raised $600,000 in permitting fees during its first full year of operation, saving seven deputy sheriff positions that had been slated for the budget chopping block. To join, the program cost farmers about $8,500 annually for inspections, fencing-related zoning requirements, and the physical Zip-ties (like what you repair your truck with). This for a crop that could plausibly gross half a million dollars for the not-for-profit cooperatives that formed the county business model.
Win-win-win. Cash-strapped local government, the region’s largest economic engine, and the overall community. Let’s not forget the collectives’ patients and the wider Californian taxpayer (the Golden State now generates $100 million annually in cannabis taxes).
And if all that didn’t convince you that the Drug Peace has broken out and it’s better than the Drug War for the law-abiding citizen, the cannabis organization-sponsored highway cleanup signs are already up in Mendocino, California, to remind you.
At the Mendocino food bank where I volunteered while researching Too High to Fail, the manager told me she welcomed the era when successful growers could donate with recognition instead of passing her wads of cash donations. “Not that we don’t appreciate it.”
When the unconscionable raids that I wrote about occurred in the fall of 2011, this good-for-America permitting program was in the process of expanding to surrounding counties. It would have raised millions in local revenue and increased public safety in California in 2012 and beyond.
Even the many multi-generational black market Emerald Triangle farmers I met in the course of my year-long research were paying attention. Without question, they were ready to come aboveground if it looked safe. They knew it was right, ethically. That wasn’t the issue. They knew it was time.
It was safe, locally, to announce yourself as a farmer of America’s number one crop in 2011. It worked for everyone except for regional Drug Enforcement Administration deciders and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for California’s Northern District.
Which, of course, leads to the conclusion reached by any journalist who’s spent a second researching the Drug War from the front lines: The United States must remove cannabis from the federal Controlled Substance Act and let states regulate it like alcohol.
I’ll pass lightly over how dysfunctionally and counterproductively the federal war is being fought, domestically and all over the world. Which is to say I’ll but quickly remind Americans to check out the Defense Authorization Act of 2013, which approved the use of drones on the Drug War’s domestic fronts. Ya know, on Americans. No, my plan is focus on the positive.
Here’s the positive. A Mendocino-like permitting model, expanded to a national level, combined with the inevitable federal policy decision to let states regulate cannabis, will create a $46.7 billion annual taxable economy, according to Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron. Another $41.3 billion will be pumped into the economy in saved enforcement and incarceration costs. And the Zip-tie program has provisions — including plant number limits — that benefit small farmers who grow sustainably.
It’s not like the U.S. will be going at this alone. Latin America is on board, as evidenced by a conclusion reached by the Organization of American States this week in a long awaited report which President Obama co-commissioned. What was the conclusion of the 190-page report? “Prohibition has failed…Decriminalization of drug use needs to be considered as a core element in any public health strategy.”
Add to this Colorado and Washington’s not-even-close Drug Peace votes in 2012, plus policy in Portugal, the Netherlands, Denmark and other Drug War opt-out nations, and the conclusion is clear: the world is ready for the Drug Peace Era. As Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto put it after the Colorado and Washington votes, “It’s clear that this could bring us to rethinking the (Drug War) strategy.”
The California farmer whose crop and livelihood were saved from Rippers by local deputies at harvest time 2011, Tomas Balogh, recounted the incident to me with head shaking wonder. “It’s a huge change for cannabis in America. The sheriff works for all of the citizens of the county. All of them.” Including the cancer patients to whom Balogh was able to deliver his medicine – I came along on one delivery.
Though Balogh made it back safely from the Drug War’s final front, the same could not be said of all of his would-be taxpaying farmer neighbors. I followed one farming family and chamber of commerce member all season whose organic locavore medicinal cannabis delivery cooperative farm was raided at machine-gunpoint by DEA agents days before harvest, care of your tax dollars. The senseless paramilitary seizure (no charges were filed) deprived 3,300 patients of medicine and the local community of a dozen jobs.
Whether or not Mendocino County’s landmark Zip-tie program was generated by local backwoods loyalty or the demands of “It’s the Economy, Stupid,” it worked for all Americans. And will, again, when the exorbitant travesty of the Drug War ends.
So, sorry pundits who would like to continue running with the Brains on Drugs scare tactics. The facts on the ground are clear. Even your last refuge, the “who will think of the children?” screed, falls flat in the face of real world facts. As a father, it greatly interests me that youth use rates are lower than ours in two Drug Peace nations, Portugal and the Netherlands.
It’s time for you Drug Warrior pundits to find another job. Like segregationists and Vietnam War hawks, you’ve come to the crossroads of public opinion beyond which you’re just making your failed cause look even sillier. Think of your legacy. We build monuments to our MLKs, not our Harry Anslingers. Stop bullying Americans whose only “crime” is continuing humanity’s Millennia-long use of an herb that’s far safer than alcohol.
Americans of all ages and political inclinations are on to the drug policy truths, guys. You might want to follow D.A.R.E’s recent example and give up preaching against cannabis. If you want help with educating folks about alcohol and prescription pill abuse, our real epidemics, I’m available to help.
Somehow I fear you might find these less profitable. Like the alcohol prohibition banner wavers who quickly disappeared from punditry after December fifth, 1933, you’ll creep back to the faculty lounge, grateful for tenure if not for the Zip-tie program.
I understand some folks have their head buried in the sand -- or perhaps some place more stinky -- on the matter of medical marijuana. But for the majority of us willing to pay attention and understand, there is clearly enormous potential here to relieve pain and suffering, reduce the costs of disease and disability, and permit more people to physically function as good citizens at work. More info at this link:
More on the study discussed above in the original article on PTSD and MMJ research, plus links. It also should be noted that HB 1, which is on Gov. Quinn's desk and will make MMJ legal in Illinois, does NOT list PTSD as a qualifying condition. Veterans and others with PTSD would need to petition to add it, presuming it's signed by the governor.
NEW YORK, NY — Brain imaging research published this month in the journal Molecular Psychiatry provides physiological evidence as to why cannabis may mitigate certain symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that is estimated to impact some eight million Americans annually. Yet, to date, there are no pharmaceutical treatments specifically designed or approved to target symptoms of PTSD.
Investigators at the New York University School of Medicine and the New York University Langone Medical Center, Steven and Alexandra Cohen Veterans Center for the Study of Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury reported that subjects diagnosed with PTSD typically possess elevated quantities of endogenous cannabinoid receptors in regions of the brain associated with fear and anxiety.
Investigators also determined that many of these subjects experience a decrease in their natural production of anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid neurotransmitter, resulting in an imbalanced endocannibinoid regulatory system.
Researchers speculated that an increase in the body’s production of cannabinoids would likely restore subjects’ natural brain chemistry and psychological balance. They affirmed:
“[Our] findings substantiate, at least in part, emerging evidence that … plant-derived cannabinoids such as marijuana may possess some benefits in individuals with PTSD by helping relieve haunting nightmares and other symptoms of PTSD.”
“The data reported herein are the first of which we are aware of to demonstrate the critical role of CB1 (cannabinoid) receptors and endocannabinoids in the etiology of PTSD in humans. As such, they provide a foundation upon which to develop and validate informative biomarkers of PTSD vulnerability, as well as to guide the rational development of the next generation of evidence-based treatments for PTSD.”
Anecdotal evidence and case study reports have increasingly indicated that cannabis may mitigate traumatic memories and anxiety. However, clinical trial data remains unavailable, in large part because US federal officials have blocked investigators’ efforts to study cannabis in PTSD subjects.
In 2011 federal administrators halted efforts by investigators at the University of Arizona to complete an FDA-approved, placebo-controlled clinical trial to evaluate the use of cannabis in 50 veterans with treatment-resistant PTSD.
PTSD is also seldom identified as a qualifying condition in states that allow for the physician authorized use of cannabis therapy.
To date, only New Mexico explicitly cites PTSD as a qualifying condition for cannabis treatment, although a handful of other states, like California, allow doctors the discretion to legally recommend marijuana for post-trauma subjects.
In Oregon, lawmakers in the House are considering Senate-approved legislation, SB 281, that would allow PTSD patients to legally consume cannabis under the state’s nearly 15-year-old medical marijuana program.
by Dave Johnson
Remember the video of the guy in the “pimp costume” who got advice from ACORN employees on how to run his prostitution ring? Turns out the whole story was just a lie, a doctored-video smear job on an important organization. The guy never wore a “pimp costume” and the real, undoctored videos showed that ACORN employees did nothing wrong. But a lie travels around the world before the corporate media bothers to check the facts. The “news” media blasted the story everywhere, and Congress was so outraged they forced ACORN to close its doors. And here we are again.
The corporate media is blasting out the story that the IRS “targeted conservative groups.” Some in the media say there was “IRS harassment of conservative groups.” Some of the media are going so far as claiming that conservative groups were “audited.”
This story that is being repeated and treated as “true” is just not what happened at all. It is one more right-wing victimization fable, repeated endlessly until the public has no choice except t believe it.
Conservative Groups Were Not “Targeted,” “Singled Out” Or Anything Else
You are hearing that conservative groups were “targeted.” What you are not hearing is that progressive groups were also “targeted.” So were groups that are not progressive or conservative.
All that happened here is that groups applying to the IRS for special tax status were checked to see if they were engaged in political activity. They were checked, not targeted. Only 1/3 of the groups checked were conservative groups.
Once again: Only 1/3 of the groups checked were conservative groups.
Conservative groups were not “singled out,” were not “targeted” and in the end none were denied special tax status — even though many obviously should have been.
From last week’s House hearings on this:
Rep. Peter Roskam, R-IL: “How come only conservative groups got snagged?”
Outgoing acting IRS commissioner Steve Miller: “They didn’t sir. Organizations of all walks and all persuasions were pulled in. That’s shown by the fact that only 70 of the 300 organizations were tea party organizations, of the ones that were looked at by TIGTA [Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration].”
Bet you didn’t see that blasted all over your TV news that night.
Click here to watch the video clip of this. It’s worth it.
And from Bloomberg reporting: IRS Sent Same Letter to Democrats That Fed Tea Party Row, (emphasis added, for emphasis)
One of those groups, Emerge America, saw its tax-exempt status denied, forcing it to disclose its donors and pay some taxes. None of the Republican groups have said their applications were rejected. Progress Texas … faced the same lines of questioning as the Tea Party groups from the same IRS office that issued letters to the Republican-friendly applicants. A third group, Clean Elections Texas, which supports public funding of campaigns, also received IRS inquiries.
In a statement late yesterday, the tax agency said it had pooled together the politically active nonpartisan applicants — including a “minority” that were identified because of their names. “It is also important to understand that the group of centralized cases included organizations of all political views,” the IRS said in its statement.
Again, for emphasis: “It is also important to understand that the group of centralized cases included organizations of all political views,” the IRS said in its statement.”
But no matter, its conventional wisdom now that “the IRS targeted conservative groups.” And it’s very useful to the right if people believe this. But it just is not true. (If you want to see conventional wisdom at work watch this clip from the most recent Saturday Night Live.)
What Did Happen?
Here’s the story. After the “Citizen’s United” decision allowed unlimited corporate money into elections there was a flood of applications to get special tax status that allowed an organization to hide its donors from the public, and in some cases even be tax-exempt. But the rules say that political groups can’t get this special tax status. The IRS has to check out applications for tax status to see if it is really a political group trying to sneak in to a special tax status.
Because they were flooded and couldn’t check out every applying organization, the IRS group looked for things in the applications that “flagged” an organization as a possibly a political group. These flagged applications were then passed along to specialists to look deeper and determine if they were legit or not.
So What Was The “Wrongdoing”?
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has issued a full report: Inappropriate Criteria Were Used to Identify Tax-Exempt Applications for Review that looked into the accusation that the IRS “targeted” tea party groups that were applying for special tax status for extra scrutiny. The report is not all that long. You should read it. (Apparently most the people you are hearing from in the media haven’t read it.)
According to the report, the swamped IRS group involved in this came up with ways — “criteria” — to identify groups that really needed to be checked further because it was possible they might be engaged in the kind of political activity that would exclude them from getting the special tax status. (The rules for what constitutes political activity that would keep a group for getting special tax status are, to say the least, not clear. See the PS below.) Some groups were chosen to receive the required scrutiny because they had “political-sounding” names. Some of the “political-sounding names” included the words “tea party.” Others included “We the People” and “Take Back the Country.” (The IG report does not disclose if or which other “political sounding names” were also used as criteria.)
And the other problem was that the scrutiny these groups received involved some “unnecessary, burdensome questions.”
That was the extent of the wrongdoing. At a time when they couldn’t give all applying groups the necessary scrutiny they used criteria that included the names of an applying group to decide if it would get the required scrutiny. And they asked “unnecessary, burdensome questions.” That’s it. That’s the whole thing.
Normally all groups applying for special tax status would and should all get looked at to see if they were really political groups. In this case no groups received any extra scrutiny as has been accused, instead many received less than usual. No group was “singled out” or “targeted” for extra scrutiny, instead they were not given the free pass others were getting because of the overload of applicants.
The IG report concluded that it was wrong to use a group’s name as a criteria to help determine if an applicant would be checked out at a time when there were so many applications that every group was not being checked out. (However the IG report did say that most of the groups forwarded with this criteria in fact should have been forwarded.)
Again, that’s the wrongdoing that has triggered the absolute frenzy of outrage you are hearing from … everyone. They said it was silly to use a group’s name as criteria for deciding if they should be checked out thoroughly at a time when the IRS was too busy to thoroughly check all applications as they usually do. And they said groups filing for a special tax status but suspected of political activity were then asked “unnecessary, burdensome questions.”
And again, that’s it, That’s the whole “scandal.” That’s the whole “IRS harassing conservative groups.” That;s the whole “Obama the dictatorial tyrant going after his enemies” hissy-fit. (Pleasee read Digby’s The Art of the Hissy-Fit)
A Few Facts
Fact: The IRS is required to determine whether organizations applying for special tax status are “social welfare” groups or are instead engaged in political activity. Political groups cannot get the special tax status these groups were applying for.
Fact: Only 1/3 of the groups that were passed to specialists for a closer look were “conservative.” Lots of other organizations were also checked, including progressive organizations.
Fact: No groups were audited or harassed or “targeted” or “singled out”. This was about applications for special tax status being forwarded to specialists for a closer look to see if they were engaged in political activity that would disqualify them for the special tax status. This closer look is the kind of review all organization should get, but the IRS was swamped because of the flood of groups applying for a status that let them mask their donors, after Citizens United.
Fact: No groups were harmed. There were delays while the groups were checked to see if they should have special tax status. That’s it. But the rules are that they are allowed to operate as if they had that status while they waited for official approval.
Fact: The only groups actually denied special tax status were progressive groups, not conservative groups. In 2011, during the period that “conservative groups were targeted” the NY Times carried the story, 3 Groups Denied Break by I.R.S. Are Named . The three groups? Drum roll … “The I.R.S. denied tax exemption to the groups — Emerge Nevada, Emerge Maine and Emerge Massachusetts — because, the agency wrote in denial letters, they were set up specifically to cultivate Democratic candidates.”
Fact: The IRS commissioner in charge at the IRS at the time this happened was appointed President George W. Bush.
Fact: According to the IG Report (p. 10) in the “majority of cases, we agreed that the applications submitted included indications of significant political campaign intervention.”
The stage for this story to take off at this time was set by other “scandals” in the news. The scandal frenzy began when ABC News’ Jonathan Karl falsely reported that White House emails had “taken out” “all references to al Queda and all references to CIA warnings before the attack about the terror threat in Benghazi.” He said that these emails “show that many of these changes were directed by Hillary Clinton’s spokesperson …”
But a couple of days later CNN broke the news that the emails Karl used for his ABC report were edited by Republicans to make it appear they said these things. Parts of the edited emails Karl used were “inaccurate” and “invented” to make the administration and State Department look bad. (The word “fabricated” comes to mind.)
Next came a story that the Justice Department had looked at records of AP reporters to see who in the administration had leaked a story. The story was that an informer high up in al Queda in Yemen had delivered a new kind of bomb to target airliners, while the government was still analyzing how to detect it and the informer was still in Yemen. The Justice Department looked at call records — phone numbers only — to see if they cold spot who had called AP. This became a “scandal” with accusations that the government was “wiretapping” reporters and “secretly monitoring” or “listening in” on their calls — with the “scandal” gaining traction with its conjunction with the “Benghazi scandal” story promoted by ABC.
Driving Right-Wing Themes Out To Wider Audiences
It is worth noting that Jonathan Karl is a graduate of a conservative-movement “media training” program, the Collegiate Network. The significance of this is explained by Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), in A Right-Wing Mole at ABC News: Jonathan Karl and the success of the conservative media movement,
Conservatives don’t just complain loudly, endlessly and inaccurately about liberal media bias. They also train right-leaning journalists to make their way into the supposedly hostile terrain of Beltway media. And one of the most famous alums of a conservative media training program is now a major star at a network news outlet: ABC’s senior political correspondent Jonathan Karl.
Karl came to mainstream journalism via the Collegiate Network, an organization primarily devoted to promoting and supporting right-leaning newspapers on college campuses – such as the Rutgers paper launched by the infamous James O’Keefe. The network, founded in 1979, is one of several projects of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which seeks to strengthen conservative ideology on college campuses. William F. Buckley was the ISI’s first president, and the current board chair is American Spectator publisher Alfred Regnery. Several leading right-wing pundits came out of Collegiate-affiliated papers, including Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza, Michelle Malkin, Rich Lowry and Laura Ingraham.
ABC’s Jonathan Karl is also one of the reporters driving the “IRS scandal” story to a wider audience, with on-air reports like “Document Draft Shows IRS Targeted Conservative Groups,” “IRS IG Report: Targeting Conservatives Began In 2010,” “IRS Scandal Spreads Wider Than Cincinnati Officers” and more such stories, usually with inflammatory headlines and sensationalist scandal-hyping story lines.
The Daou Triangle
In 2005 Peter Daou wrote a widely-discussed paper describing how the right’s media machine works to drive false stories and smears out to wide audiences. In THE TRIANGLE: Limits of Blog Power Daou described how “a triangle of blogs, media, and the political establishment” worked together to “generate the critical mass necessary to alter or create conventional wisdom.” “…it’s still the Russerts and Broders and Gergens and Finemans, the WSJ, WaPo and NYT editorial pages, the cable nets, Stewart and Letterman and Leno, and senior elected officials, who play a pivotal role in shaping people’s political views.”
Describing a triangle of “netroots + media + party establishment = CW,” (netroots = “the base” and CW means “conventional wisdom”), Daou explained how they work together,
“…a well-developed echo chamber and superior top-down discipline, the right has a much easier time forming the triangle. Fox News, talk radio, Drudge, a well-trained and highly visible punditocracy, and a lily-livered press corps takes care of the media side of the triangle. Iron-clad party loyalty – with rare exceptions – and a willingness of Republican officials to jump on the Limbaugh-Hannity bandwagon du jour takes care of the party establishment side of the triangle. “
The Daou triangle described how Republican politicians work in concert with the echo chamber to turn false stories into “conventional wisdom.” One the progressive-aligned side? Not so much. Daou again,
Whereas rightwing bloggers can rely on their leadership and the rightwing noise machine to build the triangle, left-leaning bloggers face the challenge of a mass media consumed by the shop-worn narrative of Bush the popular, plain-spoken leader, and a Democratic Party incapacitated (for the most part) by the focus-grouped fear of turning off “swing voters” by attacking Bush. For the progressive netroots, the past half-decade has been a Sisyphean loop of scandal after scandal melting away as the media and party establishment remain disengaged.
Six years later Doau wrote an update, How the Democratic establishment shunned the left, spawned the Tea Party and moved America right. From Daou’s follow-up piece,
At the root of the problem is this: the GOP benefits from a superior communications mechanism with which to shape and reshape conventional wisdom. Faced with a public that holds opposing views, politicians can either change their positions to match the public’s views or change the public’s views to match their positions — Republicans almost always choose the latter, bolstered by a highly sophisticated framing and messaging infrastructure crafted and funded over decades.
… On the other side you have the Democratic establishment, political leaders, pollsters and strategists who, by and large, are poll addicts, chronically incapable of taking principled stands, obsessed with appealing to independent voters, hostile to progressive advocates, often just as captive to moneyed interests as their Republican counterparts. …
[. . .] So the brashest, loudest, most confident-sounding voices end up filling the knowledge void, voices that sound authoritative and principled. Rush Limbaugh, for instance. Or Sarah Palin. Sean Hannity. Ann Coulter. Bill O’Reilly.
Echoing these blaring ‘voices of authority’ are Republican politicians and the right’s online denizens. Conservative pundits and columnists then lend it all an air of seriousness. And the media, desperately seeking to appear “fair,” give an uncritical national platform to those voices. Not to mention Fox News, which pipes a steady stream of propaganda into millions of American homes. The triangle of establishment, media, and Internet comes together on the right and conventional wisdom is created. Pollsters then dutifully register that shift in sentiment and the media regurgitate it. A virtuous loop for the right.
There’s simply nothing comparable on the Democratic side.
If anything, in the debt debate, President Obama and leading Democrats were part of the Republican triangle, reinforcing GOP talking points and running roughshod over a country that didn’t even agree with the conservative position.
But The President “Admitted It”
Daou’s last point is key. While Republican politicians work with the conservative movement’s propaganda outlets, often Democratic politicians also echo Republican messages. In the case of the “IRS scandal” the President did just that, saying that what happened was “intolerable” and firing the acting IRS commissioner. This validated and propelled the false message that the IRS had “targeted” conservative outlets for “harassment” instead of refuting the accusations with facts. And this admission served to validate by proxy the other false right-wing scandal accusations about Benghazi and “wiretapping reporters.”
This is not the first time the Obama administration was taken in by false stories originating at right-wing propaganda outlets before the real facts were known. Van Jones had to leave the Obama administration after Glenn Beck accused him of being a “communist” and other right-wing sites accused him of being a “9/11 Truther.” Shirley Sherrod was fired from the Department of Agriculture after the Breitbart (the same website that had showed the doctored ACORN videos) posted doctored video that made it appear she had made racist remarks — even though the full video later showed the opposite to be true.
The great Brad Blog tells these stories, in IRS ‘Scandal’ Appears Nearly as Phony as Shirley Sherrod, Van Jones, ACORN ‘Scandals’,
… if you listened only to the corporate media, you — like the Obama Administration — also probably thought that the phony, trumped-up “scandals” that led to the inappropriate firing of USDA official Shirley Sherrod, the cowardly firing of White House green jobs adviser Van Jones and the outrageous federal defunding of ACORN were also the unhappy result of an endemic culture of corruption by the Obama Administration, the Democratic Party and its insidious political apparatchiks.
Those fake scandals, however, all three of them, were shams. They were eventually identified as such, though only after a great deal of harm to Sherrod, Jones and ACORN had already been done by the Democrats who fell for them and acted out of knee-jerk and cowardly fear to try and contain the perception of “scandal” which was, naturally, helped along by the very loud misreporting of “the nightly news”.
A Teachable Moment
This is a teachable moment — to US — to recognize how the right’s machine operates, to see how the corporate media and DC Democrats react, and to learn not to get taken in by it. This is what they do. We shouldn’t fall for it — again and again. Remember, it was DC Democrats who were taken in by right-wing smear operations, responding by defunding ACORN and censuring MoveOn.
These “scandals” are intended to distract us from the important stories that are unfolding around us, and obstruct the Obama administration from being able to accomplish anything more. For example, one unfolding story is how Senate Republicans are obstructing all attempts to get the government functioning and the economy recovering. By obstructing the NLRB and Labor Dept. nominations, they are preventing the government from being able to enforce laws and rules that enable people to organize and bargain for better wages and benefits. By filibustering laws like last year’s Bring Jobs Home Act and The American Jobs Act they are keeping us from growing the economy and rebuilding our infrastructure, and from preventing the offshoring of jobs. By using hostage-taking tactics with the debt ceiling they are forcing cuts in programs that help people and grow the economy.
This is where our attention should be focused.
PS – A Note About The Law VS The Rules For Groups APplying For Special Tax Status
While researching this post I came across something interesting about the kind of special-tax-status organization that is allowed to do political work while masking its donors. This is called a 501 (c) (4) organization, often just called a “C4.” According to the IRS,
The statute: IRC 501(c)(4) provides, in part, for the exemption from federal income taxation of civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.
The IRS regulation, or “interpretation” of the law: Section 1.501(c)(4)-1(a)(2)(i) of the Income Tax Regulations states that an organization will be considered to be operated exclusively for social welfare purposes if it is primarily engaged in promoting in some way the common good and general welfare of the people of the community, i.e. primarily for the purpose of bringing about civic betterments and social improvements.
Note the shift from “exclusively” to “primarily.” These words have VERY different meanings. While the law says these “social welfare” organizations cannot engage in what is called political intervention, the IRS “interprets” this to mean that up to 49% of their activity can.
Recently the NY Times explained some of the ambiguity this difference creates, in Uneven I.R.S. Scrutiny Seen in Political Spending by Big Tax-Exempt Groups,
The tax code states that 501(c)(4)’s must operate “exclusively” to promote social welfare, a category that excludes political spending. Some court decisions have interpreted that language to mean that a minimal amount of political spending would be permissible. But the I.R.S. has for years maintained that groups meet that rule as long as they are not “primarily engaged” in election work, a substantially different threshold.
Nowhere do the rules specify what “primarily engaged” means, though there are indications that the agency has begun to re-examine the question. In March, the I.R.S. began sending out questionnaires to roughly 1,300 tax-exempt organizations, including some 501(c)(4)s, regarding their political lobbying and other activities. The agency has said it is merely seeking a clearer picture of how tax-exempt groups operate to ensure better compliance.
So all of those smear ads you see at election time, and no one knows who is paying for them? THAT is the difference between the law and this “interpretation” of the law. This “interpretation” of a law that requires groups with special tax status to operate “exclusively” for the social welfare is used to mask the corporate and billionaire donors and enable the smear ads that are destroying our civility and democracy.
by Chris Hedges
Joe Sacco and I spent two years reporting from the poorest pockets of the United States for our book “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.” We went into our nation’s impoverished “sacrifice zones”—the first areas forced to kneel before the dictates of the marketplace—to show what happens when unfettered corporate capitalism and ceaseless economic expansion no longer have external impediments. We wanted to illustrate what unrestrained corporate exploitation does to families, communities and the natural world. We wanted to challenge the reigning ideology of globalization and laissez-faire capitalism to illustrate what life becomes when human beings and the ecosystem are ruthlessly turned into commodities to exploit until exhaustion or collapse. And we wanted to expose as impotent the formal liberal and governmental institutions that once made reform possible, institutions no longer equipped with enough authority to check the assault of corporate power.
What has taken place in these sacrifice zones—in postindustrial cities such as Camden, N.J., and Detroit, in coalfields of southern West Virginia where mining companies blast off mountaintops, in Indian reservations where the demented project of limitless economic expansion and exploitation worked some of its earliest evil, and in produce fields where laborers often endure conditions that replicate slavery—is now happening to much of the rest of the country. These sacrifice zones succumbed first. You and I are next.
Corporations write our legislation. They control our systems of information. They manage the political theater of electoral politics and impose our educational curriculum. They have turned the judiciary into one of their wholly owned subsidiaries. They have decimated labor unions and other independent mass organizations, as well as having bought off the Democratic Party, which once defended the rights of workers. With the evisceration of piecemeal and incremental reform—the primary role of liberal, democratic institutions—we are left defenseless against corporate power.
The Department of Justice seizure of two months of records of phone calls to and from editors and reporters at The Associated Press is the latest in a series of dramatic assaults against our civil liberties. The DOJ move is part of an effort to hunt down the government official or officials who leaked information to the AP about the foiling of a plot to blow up a passenger jet. Information concerning phones of Associated Press bureaus in New York, Washington, D.C., and Hartford, Conn., as well as the home and mobile phones of editors and reporters, was secretly confiscated. This, along with measures such as the use of the Espionage Act against whistle-blowers, will put a deep freeze on all independent investigations into abuses of government and corporate power.
Seizing the AP phone logs is part of the corporate state’s broader efforts to silence all voices that defy the official narrative, the state’s Newspeak, and hide from public view the inner workings, lies and crimes of empire. The person or persons who provided the classified information to the AP will, if arrested, mostly likely be prosecuted under the Espionage Act. That law was never intended when it was instituted in 1917 to silence whistle-blowers. And from 1917 until Barack Obama took office in 2009 it was employed against whistle-blowers only three times, the first time against Daniel Ellsberg for leaking the Pentagon Papers in 1971. The Espionage Act has been used six times by the Obama administration against government whistle-blowers, including Thomas Drake.
The government’s fierce persecution of the press—an attack pressed by many of the governmental agencies that are arrayed against WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and activists such as Jeremy Hammond—dovetails with the government’s use of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force to carry out the assassination of U.S. citizens; of the FISA Amendments Act, which retroactively makes legal what under our Constitution was once illegal—the warrantless wiretapping and monitoring of tens of millions of U.S. citizens; and of Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which permits the government to have the military seize U.S. citizens, strip them of due process and hold them in indefinite detention. These measures, taken together, mean there are almost no civil liberties left.
Ahandful of corporate oligarchs around the globe have everything—wealth, power and privilege—and the rest of us struggle as part of a vast underclass, increasingly impoverished and ruthlessly repressed. There is one set of laws and regulations for us; there is another set of laws and regulations for a power elite that functions as a global mafia.
We stand helpless before the corporate onslaught. There is no way to vote against corporate power. Citizens have no way to bring about the prosecution of Wall Street bankers and financiers for fraud, military and intelligence officials for torture and war crimes, or security and surveillance officers for human rights abuses. The Federal Reserve is reduced to printing money for banks and financiers and lending it to them at almost zero percent interest; corporate officers then lend it to us at usurious rates as high as 30 percent. I do not know what to call this system. It is certainly not capitalism. Extortion might be a better word. The fossil fuel industry, meanwhile, relentlessly trashes the ecosystem for profit. The melting of 40 percent of the summer Arctic sea ice is, to corporations, a business opportunity. Companies rush to the Arctic and extract the last vestiges of oil, natural gas, minerals and fish stocks, indifferent to the death pangs of the planet. The same corporate forces that give us endless soap operas that pass for news, from the latest court proceedings surrounding O.J. Simpson to the tawdry details of the Jodi Arias murder trial, also give us atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide that surpass 400 parts per million. They entrance us with their electronic hallucinations as we waiver, as paralyzed with fear as Odysseus’ sailors, between Scylla and Charybdis.
There is nothing in 5,000 years of economic history to justify the belief that human societies should structure their behavior around the demands of the marketplace. This is an absurd, utopian ideology. The airy promises of the market economy have, by now, all been exposed as lies. The ability of corporations to migrate overseas has decimated our manufacturing base. It has driven down wages, impoverishing our working class and ravaging our middle class. It has forced huge segments of the population—including those burdened by student loans—into decades of debt peonage. It has also opened the way to massive tax shelters that allow companies such as General Electric to pay no income tax. Corporations employ virtual slave labor in Bangladesh and China, making obscene profits. As corporations suck the last resources from communities and the natural world, they leave behind, as Joe Sacco and I saw in the sacrifice zones we wrote about, horrific human suffering and dead landscapes. The greater the destruction, the greater the apparatus crushes dissent.
More than 100 million Americans—one-third of the population—live in poverty or a category called “near poverty.” Yet the stories of the poor and the near poor, the hardships they endure, are rarely told by a media that is owned by a handful of corporations—Viacom, General Electric, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., Clear Channel and Disney. The suffering of the underclass, like the crimes of the power elite, has been rendered invisible.
In the Lakota Indian reservation at Pine Ridge, S.D., in the United States’ second poorest county, the average life expectancy for a male is 48. This is the lowest in the Western Hemisphere outside of Haiti. About 60 percent of the Pine Ridge dwellings, many of which are sod huts, lack electricity, running water, adequate insulation or sewage systems. In the old coal camps of southern West Virginia, amid poisoned air, soil and water, cancer is an epidemic. There are few jobs. And the Appalachian Mountains, which provide the headwaters for much of the Eastern Seaboard, are dotted with enormous impoundment ponds filled with heavy metals and toxic sludge. In order to breathe, children go to school in southern West Virginia clutching inhalers. Residents trapped in the internal colonies of our blighted cities endure levels of poverty and violence, as well as mass incarceration, that leave them psychologically and emotionally shattered. And the nation’s agricultural workers, denied legal protection, are often forced to labor in conditions of unpaid bondage. This is the terrible algebra of corporate domination. This is where we are all headed. And in this accelerated race to the bottom we will end up as serfs or slaves.
Rebel. Even if you fail, even if we all fail, we will have asserted against the corporate forces of exploitation and death our ultimate dignity as human beings. We will have defended what is sacred. Rebellion means steadfast defiance. It means resisting just as have Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, just as has Mumia Abu-Jamal, the radical journalist whom Cornel West, James Cone and I visited in prison last week in Frackville, Pa. It means refusing to succumb to fear. It means refusing to surrender, even if you find yourself, like Manning and Abu-Jamal, caged like an animal. It means saying no. To remain safe, to remain “innocent” in the eyes of the law in this moment in history is to be complicit in a monstrous evil. In his poem of resistance, “If We Must Die,” Claude McKay knew that the odds were stacked against African-Americans who resisted white supremacy. But he also knew that resistance to tyranny saves our souls. McKay wrote:
If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! We must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
It is time to build radical mass movements that defy all formal centers of power and make concessions to none. It is time to employ the harsh language of open rebellion and class warfare. It is time to march to the beat of our own drum. The law historically has been a very imperfect tool for justice, as African-Americans know, but now it is exclusively the handmaiden of our corporate oppressors; now it is a mechanism of injustice. It was our corporate overlords who launched this war. Not us. Revolt will see us branded as criminals. Revolt will push us into the shadows. And yet, if we do not revolt we can no longer use the word “hope.”
Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” grasps the dark soul of global capitalism. We are all aboard the doomed ship Pequod, a name connected to an Indian tribe eradicated by genocide, and Ahab is in charge. “All my means are sane,” Ahab says, “my motive and my object mad.” We are sailing on a maniacal voyage of self-destruction, and no one in a position of authority, even if he or she sees what lies ahead, is willing or able to stop it. Those on the Pequod who had a conscience, including Starbuck, did not have the courage to defy Ahab. The ship and its crew were doomed by habit, cowardice and hubris. Melville’s warning must become ours. Rise up or die.
Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times.
GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemala's constitutional court on Monday overturned a genocide conviction against former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, throwing out all proceedings in his case since a dispute broke out last month over who should hear it.
Rios Montt was found guilty on May 10 of overseeing the deliberate killings by the armed forces of at least 1,771 members of the Maya Ixil population during his 1982-83 rule. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison.
But the constitutional court said it had thrown out all proceedings in the case dating back until April 19. It was then that the trial against Rios Montt was suspended after a spat between judges over who should take the case.
(Reporting by Mike McDonald; Editing by Dave Graham)
Copyright 2013 Reuters
“This systematic abuse cannot be fixed with just one resignation, or two,” said David Camp, the Republican chairman of the House tax-writing committee, at an oversight hearing Friday morning dealing with the IRS. “This is not a personnel problem. This is a problem of the IRS being too large, too intrusive, too abusive.”
David Camp has it wrong. There has been a “systematic” abuse of power, but it’s not what Camp has in mind. The real scandal is that:
The IRS has interpreted our tax laws to allow big corporations and wealthy individuals to make unlimited secret campaign donations through sham political fronts called “social welfare organizations,” like Karl Rove’s “Crossroads,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and “Priorites USA.”
This campaign money has been used to bribe Congress to keep in place tax loopholes like the “carried interest” rule that allows the managers of hedge funds and private equity funds to treat their income as capital gains, subject only to low capital gains taxes rather than ordinary income taxes, and other loopholes that allow CEOs to get special tax treatment on giant compensation packages that now average $10 million a year.
Despite a growing number of billionaires and multi-millionaires using every tax dodge imaginable – laundering their money through phantom corporations and tax havens — the IRS’s budget has been cut by 17 percent since 2002, adjusted for inflation. To manage the $594.5 million in additional cuts required by the sequester, the agency will furlough each of its more than 89,000 employees for at least five days this year.
Finally, all of this, coming at a time when the Supreme Court has deemed corporations “people” under the First Amendment and when income and wealth are more concentrated at the top than they’ve been in over a hundred years, has enabled America’s financial elite to further entrench their wealth and power and thereby take over much of American democracy.
This is the real scandal and the real abuse, Congressman Camp. Your indignation over the IRS’s alleged “targeting” of conservative groups is a distraction from the main event.
© 2013 Robert Reich
Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century.
Illinois Medical Marijuana: Great First Step, Room for Improvements
Advocates have raised a number of concerns over the bill, and plan to pursue follow-up legislation to improve its effectiveness in meeting patients' needs
by Americans for Safe Access
SPRINGFIELD, IL — The Illinois Senate voted 35-21 Friday to pass the “Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act,” which creates a framework to protect physicians and certain qualified medical marijuana patients from arrest and prosecution — but only for the next four years.
Friday’s vote comes a month after the Illinois House voted 61-57 in favor of House Bill 1, which now goes to Governor Quinn. If the bill is signed into law, Illinois would become the country’s 19th — and most restrictive — medical marijuana state.
Advocates have raised a number of concerns over the bill, and plan to pursue follow-up legislation to improve its effectiveness in meeting patients’ needs.
“This is a great day for patients in Illinois,” Mike Liszewski, Policy Director with Americans for Safe Access, said Friday. “We hope that Governor Quinn will see the importance of signing this bill into law, which we look forward to implementing and also improving with follow-up legislation.”
House Bill 1, which is scheduled to expire in four years, was called one of the most restrictive laws in the country by one of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Bill Haine (D-Alton).
House Bill 1 would allow patients with one of 33 “debilitating medical conditions,” such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and HIV to obtain approval from a physician to use medical marijuana. The law would entitle qualifying patients to possess 2.5 ounces for a 2-week period.
Patients would not be able to cultivate the marijuana themselves, contrary to most state laws, but they could obtain it from one of the state’s 60 “registered dispensing organizations,” which would be supplied by 22 “licensed cultivation centers.”
The bill would also tax the sale of medical marijuana at 7 percent.
Patient advocates consider House Bill 1 a great first step, but also admit there are a number of concerns they wish to address with follow-up legislation.
Chief among the concerns is that the bill would continue to criminalize patients growing their own medicine, a right afforded to most patients covered by state medical marijuana laws in the U.S. It’s expected that the cost of obtaining marijuana from a “dispensing organization” will be prohibitively expensive for thousands of patients.
The bill also imposes a 7 percent tax on the sale of medical marijuana, fails to establish an affirmative defense for patients if they’re arrested, mandates fingerprinting and criminal background checks for patients, and gives police unfettered access to their records.
Advocates did, however, manage to win an amendment that exempted qualified patients from the state’s zero-tolerance DUID law.
Passage of HB1 by the Senate comes a month after nearly 250 Illinois physicians pledged their support for legalizing medical marijuana in the state.
A Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll released in February, showed that more than 63 percent of Illinois voters support the legalization of medical marijuana.
Today's News-Gazette carried a headline about the legislature's passage of the medical marijuana law. It goes to Gov. Pat Quinn next for signature. As was typical of the paper's editorial board, the article focused on a certain state of unreality that can only be described as hallucinatory.
Sen. Chapin Rose of Mahomet made an argument that it was the federal government's responsibility to provide medical marijuana through its existing system of government bureaucracy-- never mind that the feds have willfully ignored important research findings in favor of political maneuvering to prevent needed research from going forward. He argued the proposed state-regulated program amounted to "pot clubs" -- even though no one need join a "club" to get marijuana currently.
Rookie Sen. Jason Barickman took the slippery slope argument, saying no one knows "what drug is next." Well, probably none, as I don't see anyone making an argument that any other drug to be included in the medical marijuana program.
Another Republican, Senator Kyle McCarter took the gateway drug argument, implying that his daughter, who died of a drug overdose, would be alive if they could only keep medical marijuana from falling into the hands of sick people. While his daughter's death was tragic, it certainly had nothing to do with marijuana, which unlike most drugs -- legal or not -- has no fatal dose level. Marijuana never killed anyone, unlike alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and a long list of pharmaceutical drugs. He wails against the fact that the law is "asking us now to make [medical marijuana] a normal part of our communities."
I don't know about Sen. McCarter, but a normal community makes sure the sick and suffering get the best medicine available, instead of seeking to deny them proper care to grandstand on a political issue.
The one that took the cake was Sen. Darin LaHood's statement that states that adopt medical marijuana laws see kids getting a hold of it, since according to him, "teenagers smoke more pot in states with medical marijuana laws." Interesting statement, but wholly incorrect. First of all, the lack of a regulated market is what puts marijuana in the hands of teenagers. The crackdowns on underage drinking and tobacco use, while not perfect, have reduced availability to the youth by the exact same mechanism that society has found works best, through government regulation of business activities -- just like the new Illinois medical marijuana provides.
The second strike against LaHood's statement is that it is factually incorrect. In fact, scientific studies show there is no correlation between medical marijuana and teen marijuana use:
In fact, scientific studies have shown the actual gateway drug most correlated to teen drug use is -- alcohol.
Whatever the case, we don't solve medical problems like drug abuse through legal means. Hiding such things away, which is the inevitable result of using the law where medical treatment is far more appropriate, aggravates existing problems.
Third, it will still be a whole lot easier to go to the guy on the street corner for kids than to fill out the paperwork to try to beat the Illinois medical marijuana distribution scheme. In fact, if it's like anything else in Illinois government, it's likely to actually more effective in slowing down and limiting marijuana distribution to those who really need it than it will be to provide it to anyone who doesn't qualify. Rose, Barickman, McCarter and LaHood should all be HAPPY that Illinois is screwing with the marijuana market given the state's ability to f-up even the simplest of tasks like paying its bills or funding its pensions as required by law. Maybe they need to pay more attention to those sort of things and quit using lies to beat up on sick people for their own political gain?
...But folks down at the county still go through the motions of trying to ruin your life anyway.
Reason-Rupe has just released new polling data (http://reason.com/assets/db/13687576664698.pdf) that revealed only a minuscule percentage of Americans believe that marijuana use and possession should result in jail time. When asked which approach they thought the government and law enforcement should take toward someone found smoking marijuana or in possession of a small amount of marijuana, only 6% responded that they should be sent to jail. 35% of respondents said that these individuals shouldn’t be punished at all, 32% responded they should pay a fine, and 20% said they should have to attended substance abuse courses.
The survey also found that 52% of Americans favor federal legislation that would prevent the federal government from prosecuting people who grow, possess, or sell marijuana in the states that have legalized it. Recently, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) introduced the “Respect State Marijuana Laws Act” which would do exactly that.
You can click here to easily contact your Representative and urge him or her to support this measure.
Full results of this poll are available here.
Source: Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director
by Elisabeth Malkin
MEXICO CITY — In 1999, President Bill Clinton went to Guatemala and apologized. Just two weeks earlier, a United Nations truth commission found Guatemalan security forces responsible for more than 90 percent of the human rights violations committed during the country’s long civil war.
Mr. Clinton’s apology was an admission that the Guatemalan military had not acted alone. American support for Guatemalan security forces that had engaged in “violent and widespread repression,” the president said, “was wrong.”
But that long history of United States support for Guatemala’s military, which began with a coup engineered by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1954, went unacknowledged during the genocide trial and conviction of the man most closely identified with the war’s brutality, the former dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt.
During a month of testimony before the three-judge panel that found General Ríos Montt guilty last Friday, the prosecution never raised the issue of American military backing in the army’s war against leftist guerrillas. The 86-year-old former dictator barely mentioned the United States when he argued in his own defense that he had no operational command over the troops that massacred and terrorized the Maya-Ixil population during his rule in 1982 and 1983.
“This was a trial about Guatemala, about the structure of the country, about racism,” said Kate Doyle, a Guatemala expert at the National Security Archive in Washington, an independent research organization that seeks the release of classified government documents.
Adrián Zapata, a former guerrilla who is now a professor of social sciences at the University of San Carlos of Guatemala, said that to prove a genocide charge, “it was not pertinent to point out the international context or the external actors.”
But Washington’s cold war alliance with General Ríos Montt three decades ago was not forgotten in the giant vaulted courtroom, where the current American ambassador, Arnold A. Chacon, sat as a spectator in a show of support for the trial.
“Part of the burden of that historical responsibility was that the United States tried to use Guatemala as a bulwark against Communism,” Ms. Doyle said. “The U.S. played a very powerful and direct role in the life of this institution, the army, that went on to commit genocide.”
Back in 1983, Elliott Abrams, the assistant secretary of state for human rights under President Ronald Reagan, once suggested that General Ríos Montt’s rule had “brought considerable progress” on human rights.
Mr. Abrams was defending the Reagan administration’s request to lift a five-year embargo on military aid to Guatemala. Brushing off concern from human rights groups about the rising scale of the massacres in Mayan villages, Mr. Abrams declared that “the amount of killing of innocent civilians is being reduced step by step.”
Speaking on “The MacNeil-Lehrer Report,” he argued, “We think that kind of progress needs to be rewarded and encouraged.”
After the 1954 coup deposed the reformist President Jacobo Arbenz, the United States supported a series of military dictators, who were seen as a bulwark against Communism, particularly after the victory of the Cuban revolution in 1959.
But an emphasis on human rights by President Jimmy Carter’s administration led to the cutoff of military aid in 1977. Even though after 1981 the Reagan administration became intensely involved in supporting El Salvador’s government against leftist guerrillas, and contra rebels against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua, the Guatemalan government was so brutal that Washington kept it at arm’s length for a time.
When General Ríos Montt was installed in a coup in March 1982, Reagan administration officials were eager to embrace him as an ally. Embassy officials trekked up to the scene of massacres and reported back the army’s line that the guerrillas were doing the killing, according to documents uncovered by Ms. Doyle.
Over the next two years, about $15 million in spare parts and vehicles from the United States reached the Guatemalan military, said Prof. Michael E. Allison, a political scientist at the University of Scranton who studies Central America. More aid came from American allies like Israel, Taiwan, Argentina and Chile. In the 1990s, the American government revealed that the C.I.A. had been paying top military officers throughout the period.
“It was like a monster that we created over which we had little leverage,” Professor Allison said.
During a hearing on reparations for the Ixil on Monday, the tribunal that convicted General Ríos Montt ordered the Guatemalan government to apologize in the main Ixil communities. President Otto Pérez Molina, a former general who served in the region but denies any role in atrocities, said he was willing to make the apologies.
Meanwhile, Guatemala’s highest court has postponed rulings on a dozen procedural challenges from the defense that some experts say could ultimately annul the trial. The country’s conservative leaders, represented by a business association known as Cacif, called on the constitutional court to “amend the anomalies” in the trial and complained that the world now viewed all Guatemalans as similar to Nazis.
For some in Guatemala, the virtual invisibility of the American role in the trial was disturbing.
“Who trained them?” asked Raquel Zelaya, a former peace negotiator for the government who now runs a research institute, referring to American support for the military. The trial seemed to be removed from all historical context, she said.
Copyright 2013 The New York Times
The Three Heroines of Guatemala: The Judge, the Attorney General and the Nobel Peace Laureate
by Amy Goodman
Former Guatemalan President Efrain Rios Montt was hauled off to prison last Friday. It was a historic moment, the first time in history that a former leader of a country was tried for genocide in a national court. More than three decades after he seized power in a coup in Guatemala, unleashing a U.S.-backed campaign of slaughter against his own people, the 86-year-old stood trial, charged with genocide and crimes against humanity. He was given an 80-year prison sentence. The case was inspired and pursued by three brave Guatemalan women: the judge, the attorney general and the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
“My brother Patrocinio was burnt to death in the Ixil region. We never found his remains,” Rigoberta Menchu told me after Rios Montt’s verdict was announced. She detailed the systematic slaughter of her family: “As for my mother, we never found her remains, either. ... If her remains weren’t eaten by wild animals after having been tortured brutally and humiliated, then her remains are probably in a mass grave close to the Ixil region. ... My father was also burned alive in the embassy of Spain [in Guatemala City] on January 30th, 1980.”
Rigoberta Menchu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, “in recognition of her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples.” She continued telling me about her family’s destruction: “In 1983, my brother Victor Menchu was also shot dead. His wife had her throat slit, and he was fleeing with his three children. Victor was jailed in the little town, but his three children were kept in a military bunker. My two nieces died of hunger in this military base, and my brother Victor was shot. We still have not found his remains.”
According to the official Commission on Historical Clarification, which undertook a comprehensive investigation of Guatemala’s three-decade genocide, at least 200,000 people were killed. Menchu brought one of the original lawsuits against the perpetrators of the genocide, which resulted in the trial that ended with Rios Montt’s conviction.
Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey was appointed as Guatemala’s first female attorney general in December 2010, and has earned wide acclaim for her pursuit of perpetrators of crimes against humanity. The judge in the case is another woman, Yassmin Barrios. In a country where, historically, people who challenge those in power are often killed, Paz y Paz and Barrios demonstrated tremendous courage.
Journalist Allan Nairn, who has covered Guatemala, among other conflict zones, since the early 1980s, observed the trial. In mid-April, the trial was ordered shut down by another Guatemalan court, presumably under the influence of President Otto Perez Molina. From Guatemala City, Nairn reported then: “The judge, Yassmin Barrios, and the attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz, both say they’re going to defy this order to kill the case, which is extraordinary.” They continued the trial, and eventually Rios Montt was found guilty. Nairn said, after the verdict: “Judge Barrios ... ran the trial. She was the one who had to deliver the verdict. As she left the courthouse every night, you could see her wearing a bulletproof vest. The judges and prosecutors involved in the case received death threats. In one case, a threat against a prosecutor, the person delivering the threat put a pistol on the table and said, ‘I know where your children are.’ It takes a lot of courage to push a case like this.”
Menchu said: “This verdict is historic. It’s monumental. The verdict against Rios Montt is historic. We waited for 33 years for justice to prevail. It’s clear that there is no peace without justice.” It is all the more so because it occurred in a national court in Guatemala. She noted that the International Criminal Court, as currently empowered, could not have taken the case, saying: “It’s not retroactive. It doesn’t address those cases that were committed before the court was created. So the statute of limitations on the International Criminal Court should be lifted.”
Nairn was supposed to testify at the trial. One interview he conducted in 1982 has attracted widespread attention. On camera, he spoke with “Major Tito,” who said entire families of indigenous villagers worked with the guerrillas. Tito’s troops told Nairn that they routinely killed such civilian villagers. “Tito,” it turns out, is none other than the current president of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina. Nairn sees the guilty verdict against Rios Montt as an opening to potential prosecution of Perez Molina and others: “There would be hundreds of U.S. officials who were complicit in this and should be subpoenaed, called before a grand jury and subjected to indictment - including [President Reagan’s Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights] Elliott Abrams. And the U.S. should be ready to extradite them to Guatemala to face punishment, if the Guatemalan authorities are able to proceed with this. And General Perez Molina is one who should be included.”
Regardless of where the case goes from here, Guatemala has set an example for the world, away from violence and impunity. Or as Nairn puts it, “Guatemala’s Mayans have reached a higher level of civilization than the United States.”
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.
Just in case you missed it because you only read the News-Gazette for your news...
Marijuana Smokers Have Better Blood Sugar Control, Lower Diabetes Risk
Marijuana Users Have 16% Lower Fasting Insulin Levels Compared to Non-Users, According to The American Journal of Medicine
Regular marijuana use is associated with favorable indices related to diabetic control, say investigators who have found that current marijuana users had significantly lower fasting insulin and were less likely to be insulin resistant, even after excluding patients with a diagnosis of diabetes mellitus.
Their findings are reported in the current issue of The American Journal of Medicine.
Cannabis, has been used for centuries to relieve pain, improve mood, and increase appetite. Outlawed in the United States in 1937, its social use continues to increase and public opinion is swinging in favor of the medicinal use of marijuana. There are an estimated 17.4 million current users of marijuana in the United States. Approximately 4.6 million of these users smoke marijuana daily or almost daily.
A synthetic form of its active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC, has already been approved to treat side-effects of chemotherapy, AIDS-induced anorexia, nausea, and other medical conditions. With the recent legalization of recreational marijuana in two states and the legalization of medical marijuana in 19 states and the District of Columbia, physicians will increasingly encounter marijuana use among their patient populations.
A multicenter research team analyzed data obtained during the National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES) between 2005 and 2010. They studied data from 4,657 patients who completed a drug use questionnaire. Of these, 579 were current marijuana users, 1,975 had used marijuana in the past but were not current users, and 2,103 had never inhaled or ingested marijuana. Fasting insulin and glucose were measured via blood samples following a nine hour fast, and homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR) was calculated to evaluate insulin resistance.
Participants who reported using marijuana in the past month had lower levels of fasting insulin and HOMA-IR and higher levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C). These associations were weaker among those who reported using marijuana at least once, but not in the past thirty days, suggesting that the impact of marijuana use on insulin and insulin resistance exists during periods of recent use. Current users had 16% lower fasting insulin levels than participants who reported never having used marijuana in their lifetimes.
Large waist circumference is linked to diabetes risk. In the current study there were also significant associations between marijuana use and smaller waist circumferences.
“Previous epidemiologic studies have found lower prevalence rates of obesity and diabetes mellitus in marijuana users compared to people who have never used marijuana, suggesting a relationship between cannabinoids and peripheral metabolic processes, but ours is the first study to investigate the relationship between marijuana use and fasting insulin, glucose, and insulin resistance,” says lead investigator Murray A. Mittleman, MD, DrPH, of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston.
“It is possible that the inverse association in fasting insulin levels and insulin resistance seen among current marijuana users could be in part due to changes in usage patterns among those with a diagnosis of diabetes (i.e., those with diabetes may have been told to cease smoking). However, after we excluded those subjects with a diagnosis of diabetes mellitus, the associations between marijuana use and insulin levels, HOMA-IR, waist circumference, and HDL-C were similar and remained statistically significant,” states Elizabeth Penner, MD, MPH, an author of the study.
Although people who smoke marijuana have higher average caloric intake levels than non-users, marijuana use has been associated with lower body-mass index (BMI) in two previous surveys. “The mechanisms underlying this paradox have not been determined and the impact of regular marijuana use on insulin resistance and cardiometabolic risk factors remains unknown,” says coauthor Hannah Buettner.
The investigators acknowledge that data on marijuana use were self-reported and may be subject to underestimation or denial of illicit drug use. However, they point out, underestimation of drug use would likely yield results biased toward observing no association.
Editor-in-Chief Joseph S. Alpert, MD, Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson, comments, “These are indeed remarkable observations that are supported, as the authors note, by basic science experiments that came to similar conclusions.
“We desperately need a great deal more basic and clinical research into the short- and long-term effects of marijuana in a variety of clinical settings such as cancer, diabetes, and frailty of the elderly,” continues Alpert.” I would like to call on the NIH and the DEA to collaborate in developing policies to implement solid scientific investigations that would lead to information assisting physicians in the proper use and prescription of THC in its synthetic or herbal form.”
Study: No Association Between Cannabis Smoke and Risk of Lung Cancer
LOS ANGELES, CA — In a recent presentation given at the annual meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research, investigators from the University of California, Los Angeles provided the latest data reaffirming that cannabis consumption is not associated with an elevated risk of lung cancer.
Below is a summary of the findings from The Oncology Report:
"The study included data from six case-control studies conducted from 1999 to 2012 in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand, with a subject pool of 2,159 lung cancer cases and 2,985 controls. All of the studies were part of the International Lung Cancer Consortium (ILCCO), an international group of lung cancer researchers with the aim of sharing comparable data from ongoing and recently completed lung cancer studies from different geographical areas and ethnicities.
"Dr. Zhang of the University of California, Los Angeles, performed two analyses. One compared all lung cancer cases and all controls, regardless of concurrent or past tobacco use. Then, to reduce confounding by tobacco, she restricted the analysis to those who had never smoked tobacco.
"… When compared with cannabis smokers who also used tobacco, habitual pot smokers had no significant increase in cancer risk. In an analysis of marijuana smokers that excluded tobacco smokers, there were no significant differences in any of the comparisons, including habitual vs. nonhabitual use; number of joints smoked per day; duration of up to 20 years or duration of more than 20 years."
The abstract of the presentation, which concludes “Our pooled results showed no significant association between the intensity, duration, or cumulative consumption of cannabis smoke and the risk of lung cancer overall or in never smokers,” is available online here.
Numerous preclinical studies have documented that cannabinoids possess potent anti-cancer properties, including the inhibition of lung cancer cell growth.
Source: Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director
Study: Cannabinoid Agonists Mitigate HIV Infection
PHILADELPHIA, PA — The administration of synthetic cannabinoid agonists limits HIV infection in macrophages (white blood cells that aid in the body’s immune response), according to preclinical data published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology. Macrophages are one of the first type of cells infected by the HIV virus when it enters the body.
Investigators at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia assessed the impact of three commercially available synthetic THC agonists on HIV-infected macrophage cells.
Following administration, researchers sampled the cells periodically to measure the activity of an enzyme called reverse transcriptase (RT), which is essential for HIV replication. By day 7, investigators reported that the administration of all three compounds was associated with a significant decreased in HIV replication.
Stated a Temple University Health System press release: “The results suggest that selective CB2 (cannabinoid 2 receptor) agonists could potentially be used in tandem with existing antiretroviral drugs, opening the door to the generation of new drug therapies for HIV/AIDS. The data also support the idea that the human immune system could be leveraged to fight HIV infection.”
Patients living with HIV/AIDS frequently report consuming cannabis to counter symptoms of anxiety, appetite loss, chronic pain, and nausea, and one study has reported that patients who use cannabis therapeutically are 3.3 times more likely to adhere to their antiretroviral therapy regimens than non-cannabis users.
In preclinical models, the long-term administration of delta-9-THC has recently been associated with decreased mortality and ameliorated disease progression in monkeys. In clinical models, cannabis inhalation is associated with decreased neuropathy and increased levels of appetite hormones in the blood of subjects with HIV infection.
The abstract of the study, “Attenuation of HIV-1 replication in macrophages by cannabinoid receptor 2 agonists,” appears online here.
Source: Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director
PHOENIX, AZ — A new study released this week by the Behavior Research Center has concluded that marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage have strong support in Arizona.
While recent nationwide polls have shown that a majority of all all Americans support marijuana legalization, the survey data released this week shows even stronger support at the state level in Arizona.
Behavior Research Center asked respondents whether or not they favored or opposed legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, 56% responded they favored the idea and only 37% were opposed.
Marijuana legalization had support from all age groups, across all counties and with both Democrats and Independents.
More men (62%) than women (50%) are supportive of marijuana legalization, and decriminalization also enjoys majority support in all age groups, across all counties and among both Democrats and Independent voters.
Independent voters are the most supportive of marijuana legalization at a very strong 72 percent, with only one in five opposed.
“It is perhaps ironic that as support for same-sex marriage and defelonization of marijuana have long been albatrosses which conservative candidates could hang around the necks of some of their moderate or liberal challengers,” the survey concluded. “It now appears that hard opposition to gay marriage and perhaps even to marijuana liberalization could become issues moderates and liberals can use against their conservative opponents.”
You can view the full results of the poll here.
Source: Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director
by Victoria Sanford
The conviction last Friday of the former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity is of monumental significance. It was the first time in history that a former head of state was indicted by a national tribunal on charges of genocide. It offers hopes to those similarly seeking justice in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.
But it’s too soon to declare victory in Guatemala. There is serious evidence that the current president, the former military commander Otto Pérez Molina, who took office in January 2012, may have been involved in the same mass killings for which General Ríos Montt has now been convicted.
During the 17-month dictatorship of General Ríos Montt, from April 1982 to July 1983, as much as 5.5 percent of the indigenous Maya Ixil population was killed, according to testimony presented in court.
In September 1982, during the dictatorship, Mr. Pérez Molina, then a major in the Guatemalan Army, was filmed by a Finnish documentarian, Mikael Wahlforss, standing amid dead men, as soldiers were kicking their bodies, in a Mayan area known as Nebaj. One soldier says in the film that the soldiers had taken the men to Mr. Pérez Molina for interrogation, but that the men gave no information. The soldiers do not explain how the men were killed.
Mr. Pérez Molina has acknowledged that atrocities were committed during the country’s civil war, which lasted from 1960 to 1996 and left up to 200,000 people dead or missing. He has, however, denied committing atrocities. He won election in 2011 on a law-and-order platform that pledged to curb drug- and gang-related violence.
For many years, General Ríos Montt, who was a member of Guatemala’s Congress after he was dictator, hid behind legal immunity. He left Congress in January 2012, and that same month was charged by the tribunal. Mr. Pérez Molina is similarly hiding behind the immunity that comes with the office of president.
The Obama administration should call for Mr. Pérez Molina’s resignation and rally support among other members of the Organization of American States to join this call. This kind of action is not without precedent. In June 1979, with backing from the Carter administration, the O.A.S. successfully demanded the resignation of the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle.
What made the Ríos Montt conviction possible was not only pressure from the international community, which had raised the possibility of an independent tribunal along the lines of the panels responsible for investigating war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, but also the rise of a new generation of Guatemalans committed to the rule of law.
As General Ríos Montt’s trial moved forward haltingly over 17 months, it was nearly derailed by threats to witnesses, objections by the defense’s lawyers, and even criticisms by Mr. Pérez Molina, who denied that there was genocide. Prosecutors and judges repeatedly pushed the case back on track. At one point, when the trial proceedings were stuck, Stephen J. Rapp, the United States ambassador at large for war crimes issues, tweeted the American government’s support for the proceedings: “Identification of those responsible allows for peace.”
Upon sentencing General Ríos Montt to 80 years in prison, Yasmín Barrios, one of the three judges on the tribunal, declared. “Justice must exist before there can be peace.” She then ordered the court to reconvene to consider reparations to the victims. Significantly, she also ordered prosecutors to investigate any other individuals who might have participated in the genocide.
The problem with trying people for genocide and crimes against humanity is usually not a lack of evidence. The issue, throughout Central America, is how to bring war criminals to justice when they continue to hold significant political power.
In Guatemala, Mr. Pérez Molina is not the only former general who could be held to account. Another likely candidate is former general José Luis Quilo Ayuso, whose expert witness testimony for the defense ended up providing evidence of General Ríos Montt’s “command responsibility” for the genocide. (Under the legal doctrine of “command responsibility,” a military commander is responsible for failing to prevent or punish war crimes committed by his subordinates.)
Similar trials in El Salvador could result in the trials of the former military officers Inocente Orlando Montana and Guillermo Alfredo Benavides. In Honduras, Juan Carlos Bonilla could be a candidate for prosecution, as could Alesio Gutiérrez in Nicaragua.
None of this is to detract from the significance of General Ríos Montt’s conviction. On Monday, the tribunal ordered that March 23 — the day he came to power through a military coup — would be known as the National Day Against Genocide. Reaffirming the findings of a 1999 Truth Commission, the tribunal also recommended the construction of education centers and monuments in the Maya Ixil area, and ceremonies to remember the victims. They also directed the government to offer a formal apology to Maya Ixil women who survived sexual violence.
The trial has opened the possibility that Guatemalan society will reconcile itself with its own history of exclusion and genocide. It has strengthened Guatemala’s democracy by making domestic courts a preferable venue for these types of crimes to international or hybrid models that lack deep roots in the countries where they work. Still, the lesson of Guatemala may be that the only way to get the generals to a local court is by first prosecuting them everywhere possible. The Ríos Montt case came about only after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in 2004 that genocide in Guatemala had occurred and that the Ríos Montt regime was responsible, and an international arrest warrant was issued by a Spanish judge in 2006. No doubt, it is the relentless dedication of survivors that brings war criminals to justice.
Appeals in the Ríos Montt case will be inevitably be filed, and there will be much political wrangling about Mr. Pérez Molina’s presidential immunity if charges against him are pursued.
Aside from Ambassador Rapp’s visit to Guatemala in April, during the trial, the Obama administration has departed little from Bush-era foreign policy in Central America, supporting free trade and development, giving financial aid to grow the legal system, and providing equipment and training to police and military units to reduce the flow of drugs and migrants to the United States.
Mr. Pérez Molina has been lobbying the United States for direct military assistance to aid his war on drug traffickers — whom he claims to see everywhere he finds opposition to his policies. Earlier this month he declared a “state of siege” and suspended civil liberties in response to an environmental protest in four mining towns. How can the Obama administration possibly justify sending military aid to a president who does this, let alone a president who might be guilty of genocide?
Victoria Sanford, a professor of anthropology and director of the Center for Human Rights and Peace Studies at Lehman College, City University of New York, is the author of “Buried Secrets: Truth and Human Rights in Guatemala.”
Copyright 2013 The New York Times
A Formal Legal Mandate for a Criminal Investigation of Guatemala's Current President, Perez Molina
by Allan Nairn
General Efrain Rios Montt has been found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. He has already begun his "irrevocable" sentence of 80 years in prison.
The court that convicted Rios Montt has also ordered the attorney general to launch an immediate investigation of "all others" connected to the crimes.
This important and unexpected aspect of the verdict means that there now exists a formal legal mandate for a criminal investigation of the President of Guatemala, General Otto Perez Molina.
As President, Perez Molina enjoys temporary legal immunity, but that immunity does not block the prosecutors from starting their investigation.
Last night, in a live post-verdict interview on CNN Espanol TV, Perez Molina was confronted about his own role during the Rios Montt massacres.
The interviewer, Fernando del Rincon, repeatedly asked Perez Molina about his filmed interviews with me when he was Rios Montt's Ixil field commander.
At that time, Perez Molina, operating under the alias "Major Tito Arias," commanded troops who described to me how, under orders, they killed civilians.
At first, Perez Molina refused to answer, then CNN's satellite link to him was cut off, then, after it was restored minutes later, Perez Molina replied that women, children and "complete families" had in fact aided guerrillas.
Offering what appears to be a rationale for killing families may not be a sufficient defense. But that is up to Perez Molina.
He too deserves his day in court.
© 2013 Allan Nairn
Former Leader of Guatemala Is Guilty of Genocide Against Mayan Group
by Elisabeth Malkin
GUATEMALA CITY — A Guatemalan court on Friday found Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, the former dictator who ruled Guatemala during one of the bloodiest periods of its long civil war, guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Judge Yasmín Barrios sentenced General Ríos Montt, 86, to 80 years in prison. His co-defendant, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, who served as the director of intelligence under the general, was acquitted of the same two charges.
“We are completely convinced of the intent to destroy the Ixil ethnic group,” Judge Barrios said as she read the hourlong summary of the ruling by the three-judge panel. Over five weeks, the tribunal heard more than 100 witnesses, including psychologists, military experts and Maya Ixil Indian survivors who told how General Ríos Montt’s soldiers had killed their families and wiped out their villages.
The judge said that as the commander in chief of Guatemala’s armed forces, the general knew about the systematic massacres of Ixil villagers living in hillside hamlets in El Quiché department and did nothing to stop them or the aerial bombardment of the refugees who had fled to nearby mountains.
The crowd packed into the courtroom was quiet for much of Judge Barrios’s reading. But cries of “Justicia! Justicia!” erupted when she pronounced the lengthy sentence and ordered General Ríos Montt to begin serving it immediately.
As the general tried to walk out a side door, Judge Barrios shouted at him to stay where he was and called for security forces. An hour after the verdict and sentence were read, General Ríos Montt was escorted from the courtroom by a dozen police officers. He said he was ready to go to prison.
How long he will stay there is less clear than the verdict. His lawyers said they would appeal, and injunctions filed during the case still await rulings.
Wiping tears from his eyes, Antonio Caba, 41, an Ixil leader of the Mayan survivors’ group that first brought the case more than a decade ago, said the sentence had “broken impunity and achieved justice.”
“We showed them that we’re not communists,” said Mr. Caba, who was 11 when soldiers stormed his village and killed 95 men. “We are simply villagers.”
For international human rights organizations, the trial took on a significance beyond Guatemala’s own history.
Adama Dieng, the United Nations special adviser on the prevention of genocide, said last month that the case was the first in which a former head of state had been indicted by a national tribunal on charges of genocide.
The “historical precedent,” and especially a guilty verdict, he said, could serve as an example to other countries “that have failed to hold accountable those individuals responsible for serious and massive human rights violations.”
But the trial’s international significance was irrelevant to the Maya Ixil Indians who had testified. “He gave the order,” said Elena de Paz Santiago, 42, as she waited on Friday for the verdict. Ms. de Paz had testified that she was 12 when she and her mother were taken by soldiers to an army base and raped. The soldiers let her go, but she never saw her mother again.
“Each one of us who is watching,” she said, nodding at the rows of Maya Ixil sitting behind her, “has lost their mother or their grandparents. That is why we are here.
“God wants him to go to jail,” she said of General Ríos Montt. “God knows that we are telling the truth.”
The villages of the Mayan highlands endured the worst of the army’s brutality in the early 1980s, the darkest period of Guatemala’s 36-year civil war. During much of the 17 months of General Ríos Montt’s rule, the army intensified a scorched-earth policy to flush out leftist guerrillas fighting from the hills.
In the cities, security forces had identified labor and student leaders as enemies of the state and snatched them off the street to be killed or disappeared.
But the military campaigns against the Mayan communities did not bother to select their targets. Military planning documents simply described all the Ixil as guerrilla supporters.
In court testimony, Patrick Ball of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group in San Francisco estimated that from April 1982 to July 1983, 5.5 percent of the Maya Ixil population were killed. The proportion for the nonindigenous population was 0.7 percent.
In reopening such a searing chapter of Guatemala’s history, the trial deepened the already profound abyss between the country’s left and right.
Allies of General Ríos Montt published newspaper supplements celebrating the army’s fight against communism. The country’s deeply conservative oligarchy, represented by a business association known as Cacif, declared that it was important to “know how to leave the past behind.”
Even a respected group of academics and politicians, including a former vice president, Eduardo Stein, warned that a conviction could embolden other Mayan groups that had endured similar atrocities. “One cannot assume that the accusation of genocide will stop with the Ixil people,” Mr. Stein said.
The involvement of the United States in Guatemala’s politics received scant attention during the trial.
The American military had a close relationship with the Guatemalan military well into the 1970s before President Jimmy Carter’s administration cut off aid. When General Ríos Montt seized power in March 1982, President Ronald Reagan’s administration cultivated him as a reliable Central American ally in its battle against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government and Salvadoran guerrillas.
Those interests influenced the way American officials treated evidence of the massacres. They were quick to accept military explanations that guerrillas had carried out the killings, said Kate Doyle, a Guatemala expert at the National Security Archive, a Washington research group that works to obtain declassified government documents.
By the end of 1982, however, the State Department had gathered evidence that the army was behind the massacres.
But even then, the administration insisted that General Ríos Montt was working to reduce the violence. After a regional meeting, President Reagan described him as “a man of great personal integrity and commitment.”
Copyright 2013 The New York Times
by Norman Solomon
The president’s new choices for Commerce secretary and FCC chair underscore how far down the rabbit hole his populist conceits have tumbled. Yet the Obama rhetoric about standing up for working people against “special interests” is as profuse as ever. Would you care for a spot of Kool-Aid at the Mad Hatter’s tea party?
Of course the Republican economic program is worse, and President Romney’s policies would have been even more corporate-driven. That doesn't in the slightest make acceptable what Obama is doing. His latest high-level appointments -- boosting corporate power and shafting the public -- are despicable.
To nominate Penny Pritzker for secretary of Commerce is to throw in the towel for any pretense of integrity that could pass a laugh test. Pritzker is “a longtime political supporter and heavyweight fundraiser,” the Chicago Tribune reported with notable understatement last week, adding: “She is on the board of Hyatt Hotels Corp., which was founded by her family and has had rocky relations with labor unions, and she could face questions about the failure of a bank partly owned by her family. With a personal fortune estimated at $1.85 billion, Pritzker is listed by Forbes magazine among the 300 wealthiest Americans.”
A more blunt assessment came from journalist Dennis Bernstein: “Her pioneering sub-prime operations, out of Superior Bank in Chicago, specifically targeted poor and working class people of color across the country. She ended up crashing Superior for a billion-dollar cost to taxpayers, and creating a personal tragedy for the 1,400 people who lost their savings when the bank failed.” Pritzker, whose family controls Hyatt Regency Hotels, has a vile anti-union record.
Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker? What’s next? Labor Secretary Donald Trump? SEC Chairman Bernie Madoff?
The choice of Penny Pritzker to run the Commerce Department is a matched set with the simultaneous pick of Tom Wheeler -- another mega-fundraiser for candidate Obama -- to chair the Federal Communications Commission.
With crucial decisions on the near horizon at the FCC, the president’s nomination of Wheeler has dire implications for the future of the Internet, digital communications and democracy. For analysis, my colleagues at the Institute for Public Accuracy turned to the progressive former FCC commissioner Nicholas Johnson, who called the choice “bizarre.”
“There is no single independent regulatory commission that comes close to the impact of the FCC on every American’s life,” Johnson said. “That’s why Congress, in creating it, characterized its mission as serving ‘the public interest’ -- an expression used throughout the Act.”
But with countless billions of dollars at stake, the corporate fix was in. As Johnson pointed out, “Wheeler’s background is as a trade association representative for companies appearing before the Commission, a lobbyist in Congress for other FCC customers, and a venture capitalist investing in and profiting from others whose requests he’ll have to pass on. He has no record, of which I am aware, of challenging corporate abuse of power on behalf of consumers and the poor.”
But wait. There’s more. “Nor does Wheeler’s membership on the president’s Intelligence Advisory Board bode well for those who believe Americans’ Fourth Amendment privacy rights should be getting at least as much attention as the government’s perceived need to engage in even more secret snooping.”
To urge senators to reject the nominations of Pritzker and Wheeler, click here:
Meanwhile, at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Obama’s recent appointment of Wall Street insider Mary Jo White as SEC chair is playing out in predictable fashion. Days ago, in an editorial, the New York Times faulted her role in an SEC decision on regulating the huge derivatives market: “Last week, in her first commission vote, Ms. White led the commissioners in approving a proposal that, if finalized, could leave investors and taxpayers exposed to the ravages of reckless bank trading.”
We need to ask ourselves how the forces of corporate capitalism have gained so much power over government, to the extreme detriment of people who aren’t rich. Humpty Dumpty’s brief dialectical exchange with Alice is on point:
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."
"The question is," Alice replied, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," Humpty Dumpty responded, "which is to be master -- that's all."
Denunciations and protests against the dominant power structure are essential. And insufficient. For the body politic and the potential of democracy, accommodating to the Democratic Party leadership is a deathly prescription. So is failure to fight for electoral power by challenging that leadership, fielding genuinely progressive candidates and organizing to win.
Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” and "Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America's Warfare State".
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 7, 2013
Bipartisan Task Force on Over-Criminalization a Step in Right Direction
WASHINGTON - May 7 - A new, bipartisan task force aimed at reducing the federal criminal code is a positive step toward breaking our country's addiction to incarceration, said the American Civil Liberties Union today. The House Committee on the Judiciary Over-Criminalization Task Force of 2013, which is made up of five Republicans and five Democrats, will comb through the code and identify unnecessary and ineffective criminal statutes.
"Sending people to prison should be the option of last resort, not the first," said Jennifer Bellamy, ACLU legislative counsel. "Over the last couple of years, we've seen a bipartisan consensus emerge around the idea that we waste billions of dollars on a criminal justice system that just isn't working. This task force has an opportunity to protect the civil liberties of the many Americans who are locked up unnecessarily and with no benefit to public safety every day. We’re optimistic this will lead to real reform."
At a time of historically low rates of crime, the federal prison system is operating at almost 40 percent over capacity. A recent report by the Congressional Research Service found that the federal prison population has grown by almost 790 percent since 1980.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
The local fish wrap, the News-Gazette, is dead-set against any change in marijuana laws in Illinois, even for medical use -- where, like the federal government, they feel government knows best about ALL healthcare decisions, except for abortion, of course.
Their latest round was a recent, lame editorial against the equally lame medical marijuana law trying to make it's way through the state legislature. Although t would be the most restrictive in the nation, so restrictive that many patients are leery of participating with it in lieu of just taking their chances on the street, the N-G opposed it.
Today (May6) the N-G ran a column by their favorite pollster, the Republican-leading Scott Rasmussen. Mr. Rasmussen, bless his heart, has found what other pollsters are also acknowledging -- the public is fed up with the war on marihuana. They overwhelmingly support medical marijuana and a growing majority support legalization of marijuana -- period.
Seeing no irony, the N-G editors ran Rasmussen's latest column, where he takes to task politicians thinking they know better than the electorate. Apparently, the N-G thinks the elitist views Rasmussen's skewers are wholly reserved for politicians. I rather suspect that Rasmussen would hold that his concerns also apply to those in the media who rubber-stamp those in the political elite who think they know better than the voters.
Even better, Rasmussen also quoted California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom in his column. He did not note Newsom's position on marijuana legalization -- one where Newsome rejects the ruling elite's position on a policy of widespread, personal interest to many citizens...
Voters Don't Like Political Class Bossing Them Around
by Scott Rasmussen
There are many ways to describe the enormous gap between the American people and their elected politicians.
Most in official Washington tend to think that their elite community is smarter and better than the rest of us. Many hold a condescending view of voters and suggest that the general public is too ignorant to be treated seriously. Only 5 percent of the nation's voters, however, believe that Congress and its staff members represent the nation's best and brightest.
Gavin Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco and now California's Democratic lieutenant governor, recognized the disconnect and wrote a book on it, "Citizenville." Unlike most politicians, Newsom doesn't just blame the voters. "It wasn't just that people weren't engaging with their government," he writes. "Elected officials weren't bothering to engage with the people, either -- that is, of course, until election time."
However, Newsom adds, "We have to disenthrall ourselves, as Abraham Lincoln used to say, of the notion that politicians and government institutions will solve our problems."
The data suggests that the American people have already gotten over that notion. In terms of being a good citizen, 67 percent of voters believe it is more important to do volunteer work for church and community organizations than it is to get involved in politics and political campaigns. Only 16 percent disagree and put political involvement first.
That is perhaps the biggest gap between the American people and the Political Class. Those in politics take the self-serving view that they are uniquely qualified to solve the nation's problems. Those in the general public have a much firmer grasp on reality.
Most recognize that we're better off when individuals make the decisions that affect their own lives. A one-size-fits-all solution will never work in a nation as diverse and vibrant as the United States.
This can be seen on an issue like Social Security. Voters strongly reject congressional tampering with the promise made by the government to American workers. But two-out-of-three believe individuals should have the right to select their own Social Security retirement age. Those who want to retire earlier could pay more in taxes. Those who want to retire later would pay less.
On health care issues, three out of four voters believe everyone should have a choice between more expensive insurance policies that cover just about everything and less expensive plans that cover only major medical expenses. They don't want government, insurance companies or their employer making medical care decisions on their behalf. Americans want the power to make their own choices.
We see the same desire for choice in education. Seventy-four percent of voters think parents should have a choice of whether to send their children to schools that allow prayer and those that don't.
Sixty-eight percent believe parents should have the choice between a traditional school calendar and one that has classes 12 months a year.
It's important to note that a solid majority favors giving parents a choice about year-round schools, even though most oppose the concept. It's about choice, not policy.
Americans recognize that they have more power acting as consumers than they do when acting as voters. That's why they want choice. Politicians prefer a top-down approach where they write the rules. That's the source of the disconnect.
COPYRIGHT 2013 SCOTT RASMUSSEN
DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
To find out more about Scott Rasmussen, and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.