News Releases

Cáceres, Threatened Honduran, Wins Biggest Enviro Award

Berta Cáceres

The Guardian reports today in “Honduran indigenous rights campaigner wins Goldman prize” that “The odds of survival, let alone success, could hardly be more stacked against Berta Cáceres, the Honduran indigenous rights campaigner who has been declared the winner of this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize. [Note: Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández is in Washington, D.C. and will be speaking — along with Secretary of State John Kerry, Chris Christie and others — at a conference Tuesday. He will actually be interviewed by former Director of National Intelligence and ambassador to Honduras John Negroponte.]

“Working in the most murderous country in the world for environmental activists, the mother of four is facing down one of Central America’s biggest hydropower projects, powerful landowners, a U.S.-funded police force, and a mercenary army of private security guards.

“She has received threats of rape and death, been followed, and several of her supporters have been killed, yet those suspected of such wrongdoings have walked free while Cáceres has been forced into hiding and courts have twice issued warrants for her arrest.

“The Goldman prize — the world’s leading environmental award — is a recognition for the courage she has shown in a long and — so far — effective battle to stop construction of the Agua Zarca cascade of four giant dams in the Gualcarque river basin.

“The project — which is being built by local firm Desa with the backing of international engineering and finance companies — would choke the main source of irrigation and drinking water for the community. …

“In 2013, China’s Sinohydro — the largest dam builder in the world — backed out of the Agua Zarca project, saying it was concerned about ‘serious conflicts’ and ‘controversial land acquisition and invasion’ by its local partner. International Rivers and Friends of the Earth are calling upon a German company, Voith Hydro, to end all involvement in the scheme, which has yet to begin construction.”

BEVERLY BELL, bev.otherworlds at gmail.com
Bell is coordinator of the group Other Worlds and associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. For 15 years, Bell has been a close collaborator with Cáceres’ and the group she coordinates, the National Council of Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (better known by its Spanish acronym COPINH).

She said today: “Berta likes to say that Honduras is known only for having been a Contra base and for Hurricane Mitch. But that country also hosts a powerful social movement which has taken on unaccountable government, multinational corporations and oligarchy run amok, and U.S. military domination — the U.S. has numerous bases there and even sent down Marines last week. Berta has led COPINH, which she founded in 1993, to become one of the most effective players in that social movement. COPINH — led by Lenca indigenous people, including Berta — has, furthermore, championed the indigenous struggle, winning collective land title and then throwing out many a dam and logging company from those lands.”

PORFIRO QUINTANO, porfirio31 at yahoo.com
Quintano has known Cáceres since high school in the 1980s. He now lives in the U.S., but has continued his involvement in Honduran movements. He said today: “Mining and other corporations go to Honduras and take the resources. The government is corrupt and they do what they want.”

Official Leaks: “These Senior People Do Whatever They Want”

Leon Panetta [left] and Mark Boal [right]

The Project on Government Oversight recently released government documents showing “CIA staff worked closely with ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ filmmakers and used White House-approved talking points about the intelligence used to locate Osama bin Laden.” See: “New Documents in Zero Dark Thirty Affair Raise Questions of White House Sanctioned Intelligence Leak and Inspector General Coverup.”

Marcy Wheeler just wrote “Official Leaks: ‘These Senior People Do Whatever They Want’” at ExposeFacts.org: “The CIA Director decided to partner with big Hollywood to write a selective version of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and the rest of CIA and DOD had to fall in line, going so far as exposing some of the SEAL team members’ identities.”

LARRY JOHNSON, lcjohnson1 at me.com, @larrycjohnson
Johnson worked as a CIA intelligence analyst and State Department counter-terrorism official. He now writes at noquarterusa.net.

He said today: “I have a friend who was at that awards ceremony and he said the SEALS were visibly angry when Leon Panetta walked in with [‘Zero Dark Thirty’ screenwriter] Mark Boal. This is one more example of national security info being sacrificed for political expedience. …

“The public needs to understand what’s happening here: The government is prosecuting people who are alerting us to actual wrongdoing — while allowing actually potentially damaging national security information to be out there when the higher ups want it even though it hasn’t been properly declassified.”

Anthrax: Lawsuit Alleges F.B.I. Hiding Evidence 

Bruce E. Ivins

The New York Times recently reported: “When Bruce E. Ivins, an Army microbiologist, took a fatal overdose of Tylenol in 2008, the government declared that he had been responsible for the anthrax letter attacks of 2001, which killed five people and set off a nationwide panic, and closed the case.

“Now, a former senior F.B.I. agent who ran the anthrax investigation for four years says that the bureau gathered ‘a staggering amount of exculpatory evidence’ regarding Dr. Ivins that remains secret. The former agent, Richard L. Lambert, who spent 24 years at the F.B.I., says he believes it is possible that Dr. Ivins was the anthrax mailer, but he does not think prosecutors could have convicted him had he lived to face criminal charges.”

See Courthouse News piece: “Former Agent Says FBI Memo Cost Him New Job,” which states: “Lambert says part of the reason he was unfairly targeted was due to a whistleblower report he filed in 2006 about the mismanagement of an investigation into 2001 anthrax letters.”

MERYL NASS, M.D., merylnass at gmail.com, @NassMeryl
Nass writes at the Anthrax Vaccine blog.

GRAEME MACQUEEN, gmacqueen at cogeco.ca
MacQueen is founder of the Centre for Peace Studies at McMaster University and author of the book The 2001 Anthrax Deception.

The day before the New York Times article appeared, Nass wrote about the case on her blog and highlighted these allegations from the legal action:

“While leading the investigation for the next four years, Plaintiff’s efforts to advance the case met with intransigence from the Washington Field Office’s (WFO) executive management, apathy and error from the FBI Laboratory, politically motivated communication embargoes from FBI Headquarters, and yet another preceding and equally erroneous legal opinion from Defendant Kelley – all of which greatly obstructed and impeded the investigation. …

“WFO’s insistence on staffing the AMERITHRAX investigation principally with new Agents recently graduated from the FBI Academy resulting in an average investigative tenure of 18 months with 12 of 20 Agents assigned to the case having no prior investigative experience at all…

“The FBI Laboratory’s deliberate concealment from the Task Force of its discovery of human DNA on the anthrax-laden envelope addressed to Senator Leahy and the Lab’s initial refusal to perform comparison testing…

“The FBI’s subsequent efforts to railroad the prosecution of Ivins in the face of daunting exculpatory evidence. Following the announcement of its circumstantial case against Ivins, Defendants DOJ and FBI crafted an elaborate perception management campaign to bolster their assertion of Ivins’ guilt. These efforts included press conferences and highly selective evidentiary presentations which were replete with material omissions. …

“Plaintiff continued to advocate that while Bruce Ivins may have been the anthrax mailer, there is a wealth of exculpatory evidence to the contrary which the FBI continues to conceal from Congress and the American people.”

Background: The anthrax attacks, coming right after the 9/11 attacks, were used by pundits to galvanize the public for war in 2001 — against Afghanistan and against Iraq. For example on October 17, 2001, Andrew Sullivan wrote “The Coming Conflict,” which states: “We have to extend it to Iraq. It is by far the most likely source of this weapon (anthrax); it is clearly willing to use such weapons in the future; and no war against terrorism of this kind can be won without dealing decisively with the Iraqi threat. We no longer have any choice in the matter. Slowly, incrementally, a Rubicon has been crossed. The terrorists have launched a biological weapon against the United States. They have therefore made biological warfare thinkable and thus repeatable. We once had a doctrine that such a Rubicon would be answered with a nuclear response. We backed down on that threat in the Gulf War but Saddam didn’t dare use biological weapons then. Someone has dared to use them now. Our response must be as grave as this new threat.”

Repealing the Estate Tax: “Today’s Merely Wealthy Become Tomorrow’s Obscenely Rich” 

Bloomberg reported: “The House of Representatives will vote this week on the latest effort to repeal the tax, which is now paid by only 0.2 percent of U.S. estates. Republicans are drawing attention to what they see as an unjust levy by bringing up the legislation at the annual tax-filing deadline.

“They’re also shrugging aside criticism from President Barack Obama, who calls the plan a budget-busting handout to the nation’s wealthiest families at a time when lawmakers should focus on the middle class. Instead, they’re moving in the opposite direction, making repeal more attractive for business owners and creating an even wider gap between the parties on how to tax inherited wealth.”

SCOTT KLINGER, sklinger at foreffectivegov.org
Klinger is Director of Revenue and Spending Policies at the Center for Effective Government. He recently wrote the piece “From Class to Caste: How Congress Is Set to Accelerate Inequality by Repealing the Estate Tax,” which states: “This week the Republican-controlled House of Representatives plans to pass legislation that would accelerate inequality ensuring today’s merely wealthy become tomorrow’s obscenely rich.

“Those who want to repeal the estate tax have labeled it ‘the death tax,’ but they couldn’t be further from the truth. More than 99.8 percent of Americans who inherit money or property from a loved one get a big tax break. Only one in five members of the top 1 percent pays any estate tax. And those fortunate few who have enough wealth to be subject to the tax pay less than two dimes in tax on every dollar in the estate. …

“Congress is on the path to creating a permanent class of Americans who never have to work or pay taxes.

“If Congress eliminates the estate tax, America will move closer to becoming an aristocracy of inherited wealth where your lot in life will be determined more by the family you were born into, instead of your hard work and creativity.”

U.S. – Cuba Relations Improve But Issues Remain for Others in Region 

BBC recently reported: “The Summit of the Americas brings together the leaders of North, Central and South America. This, the seventh, is the first which Cuba attended… As U.S. ties with Cuba improve, those between Venezuela and Washington remain fractious. The U.S. imposed sanctions last month on a group of Venezuelan officials it accuses of human rights abuses. Mr Obama also issued an executive order declaring Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security.”

AVIVA CHOMSKY, achomsky at salemstate.edu
Aviva Chomsky is a historian, activist and author of eight books, including The Cuba Reader and A History of the Cuban Revolution. She teaches at Salem State University in Massachusetts, where she is also the coordinator of the Latin American studies program.

She said today: “President Obama has received a lot of credit for partially reversing half a century of hostility and taking steps to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. He himself attributed the change to his recognition that ‘isolation has not worked.’ More likely, the threat of numerous Latin American leaders to boycott the Panama Summit if Cuba was prohibited from attending played a major role in both the recognition and the timing. Obama’s historic meeting with Raúl Castro led many to conclude that the end of the Cold War had finally arrived to the Americas.

“The end of the Cold War, maybe. But not the end to a much more deeply-rooted historical commitment on the part of the United States to impose its will on Latin American countries. Obama has not rescinded the U.S. intention to ‘change’ the Cuban government, or more generally, the U.S. assumption that it has the right to dictate to Latin American countries what kinds of government are acceptable. In the double-speak of U.S. foreign policy pronouncements, Obama claims that the United States will continue, by means other than diplomatic isolation, to attempt to bring about ‘democracy'; ‘freedom'; and ‘human rights’ in Cuba. From a Latin American perspective, the implication is clear: the United States reserves the right to determine what these grand terms mean, and impose its will. Meanwhile, the United States imposed sanctions on Venezuela, labeling the country an ‘unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.’ Obama then claimed that Venezuela should not take the designation seriously, though he also refused to rescind it. While Latin America’s leaders have welcomed Obama’s apparent willingness to open dialogue, they are—and should be—wary that the same arrogant and aggressive policies are merely being offered with some new window dressing.”

Should the U.S. be on Cuba’s State Terrorism List?

USA Today states in “Obama’s next Cuba step: The state terrorism list” that “President Obama held an historic meeting Saturday with Cuban counterpart Raul Castro, but held off on a major announcement: Whether to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.”

KEITH BOLENDER, bolodive at gmail.com
Bolender is a freelance journalist and author of Voices From the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba (Pluto Press 2010). He said today, “President Obama is soon to announce the removal of Cuba from the State Department list of states that sponsor terrorism, a designation that has long been opposed by the Castro government for its hypocrisy based on the long history of terrorism the United States has supported against Cuba. The Cuban side has claimed more than 3,000 of its citizens have been victimized by acts of terrorism dating back to the 1960s, conducted in the majority by violent anti-revolutionary Cuban-American organizations based in Florida, often with the backing of the American government. Acts include the destruction of Cubana Airlines flight 455 in 1976, resulting in the deaths of all 72 on board, as well as the bombing campaign against Cuban tourist facilities in 1997. Cuban-American Luis Posada Carriles, the acknowledged mastermind of the Cubana Airlines and tourist bombings, continues to reside in Miami, despite requests for his extradition to Havana. Other acts of terrorism against Cuban civilian targets include the torture and killing of Cuban students for teaching adults to read and write during the Literacy Campaign in 1961; the introduction of biological germs such as Dengue 2 that resulted in the death of more than 100 children; attacks on small villages and the psychological terror program known as Operation Peter Pan that convinced thousands of Cuban parents to send their children out of country.”

*Obama in Latin America* Assessing AIPAC

President Obama is making his first trip south of the U.S. border since February of 2014. On April 9, he will be in Kingston, Jamaica for meetings with Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller and the leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), an organization made up of 15 Caribbean governments. Then on April 10 and 11, he will be in Panama City, Panama where he’ll participate in the seventh Summit of the Americas alongside the leaders of every independent government in the hemisphere including — for the first time — the Republic of Cuba.

MARK WEISBROT, via Dan Beeton, beeton at cepr.net, @Dan_Beeton
Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which has just released a primer on Obama’s trip. Weisbrot also just wrote the pieces “Obama Should Put an End to Extreme Austerity in Jamaica” and “Obama Could Face Another Disastrous Summit Due to Sanctions Against Venezuela.”

There has been a great deal of discussion of the U.S.-Israeli relationship recently. On Friday, an all-day conference at the National Press Club examines “The Israel Lobby: Is It Good for the U.S.? Is It Good for Israel?

For more information on the conference or to arrange an interview with the organizers or participants, contact: Delinda C. Hanley, news_editor at wrmea.org or Grant F. Smith.

Participants include:

Miko Peled is an Israeli writer and activist living in the U.S.; he is author of The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine. Former congressman Paul Findley is the author of They Dare To Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s LobbyNick Rahall is a former member of congress from West Virginia. Paul Pillar is a nonresident senior fellow at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University. M.J. Rosenberg is a writer, primarily on matters relating to Israel; he is former editor of AIPAC’s Near East Report and as senior adviser to then-Executive Director Thomas Dine. Seth Morrison has held leadership posts in various local, regional and national Jewish organizations, starting in college as a youth leader in Young Judea. He is currently active in Jewish Voice for Peace.

Amani Alkhatahtbeh is the founding editor-in-chief of MuslimGirl.net. Gideon Levy is a columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz and a member of its editorial board.

Grant F. Smith is the director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy and is the author of two unofficial histories about the American Israel Public Affairs Committee: America’s Defense Line: The Justice Department’s Battle to Register the Israel Lobby as Agents of a Foreign Government and Foreign Agents: AIPAC from the 1963 Fulbright Hearings to the 2005 Espionage Scandal.

See the full list of speakers and other information on the conference.

Police Killing and the Criminalization of Poverty

Video of Walter Scott’s killing has shed a light on the actions of the police officer involved and somewhat, on police conduct generally — but a recently released report highlights how minor infractions ruin lives. The report begins: “Poor people, especially people of color, face a far greater risk of being fined, arrested, and even incarcerated for minor offenses than other Americans. A broken taillight, an unpaid parking ticket, a minor drug offense, sitting on a sidewalk, or sleeping in a park can all result in jail time. In this report, we seek to understand the multi-faceted, growing phenomenon of the ‘criminalization of poverty.'” See PDF of the report.

Huffington Post reports: “The confrontation started when [North Charleston Police Officer Michael] Slager had reportedly pulled over Scott because of a broken taillight. It escalated into a foot chase as Scott allegedly fled because there were family court-issued warrants for his arrest.”

The Los Angeles Times reports: “The victim was engaged to be married and worked for a trucking supply company, L. Chris Stewart [who is representing the Scott family] said. The attorney said Scott was driving a used Mercedes he had recently purchased from a neighbor and was on his way to buy parts for the car when Slager encountered him.”

KAREN DOLAN, karen at ips-dc.org, @karendolan
JODI L. CARR, jodicarr at verizon.net
Dolan is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and directs the Criminalization of Poverty Project. Carr is a research associate with the group and a doctoral student in education policy at George Mason University. They co-wrote a recently-released report: “The Poor Get Prison: The Alarming Spread of the Criminalization of Poverty,” which includes an introduction by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Dolan said today: “The situation that led to the alleged murder of Walter Scott by a white police officer in North Charleston, S.C. is, sadly, indicative of the crisis created by the growing criminalization of poverty in America.

“Poor people are targeted and aggressively policed for minor infractions such as the broken taillight on Mr. Scott’s car. Once pulled over, other debts or warrants for similar misdemeanors may show up, resulting in arrest and jail time and increased spiraling of debt. Lives are ruined.

“When you put that overwrought situation in the middle of the factors that cause racial profiling and aggressive police action against black men, you get the killing of Walter Scott.”

See Dolan’s piece “The Poor Get Prison: The Alarming Spread of the Criminalization of Poverty.”

Video of Killing of Walter Scott: Tip of an Iceberg?

The New York Times reports: “A white police officer in North Charleston, S.C., was charged with murder on Tuesday after a video surfaced showing him shooting in the back and killing an apparently unarmed black man while the man ran away.

“The officer, Michael T. Slager, 33, said he had feared for his life because the man had taken his stun gun in a scuffle after a traffic stop on Saturday. A video, however, shows the officer firing eight times as the man, Walter L. Scott, 50, fled. The North Charleston mayor announced the state charges at a news conference Tuesday evening.”

KEVIN ALEXANDER GRAY, kevinagray57 at gmail.com, @kevinagray
Co-editor of the new book Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.  He said today: “Clearly, if that video hadn’t come out, this murder would have been covered up. The video clearly shows that the police lied. And it’s not uncommon for the police to lie. We have to ask about the shooting police officer’s partner. …” Gray appeared on “Democracy Now!” this morning.

CARLOS MILLER, carlosmiller at pinac.org
Miller founded the website PhotographyIsNotACrime.com and is author of The Citizen Journalist Photography Handbook. His recent pieces include: “Texas Deputies Caught on Camera Punching Pregnant Woman During CPS Visit,” “San Francisco Cops Caught on Video Beating Man With Nightstick as he Yells for Help,” “Minnesota Cop Claims to be ‘Officer Friendly’ as he Threatens to Break Legs of Young Man in Custody” and “New Jersey Cops Tried Confiscating Cameras After Mauling Man to Death With Police Dog.”

Miller just wrote the piece “South Carolina Cop Arrested for Murder After Video Shows Him Shooting Man in Back,” which states: “Prior to the video materializing, North Charleston police officer Michael Slager claimed he had chased Walter Scott on foot Saturday after trying to pull him over for a broken tail light.

“Slager claimed he tried to subdue Scott with a taser, only for Scott to take the taser from him before trying to overpower him, making the cop fear for his life, leaving him no choice but to open fire and kill the 50-year-old man.

“And he would likely have gotten away with it had it not been for a pesky bystander with a video camera.

“The video, posted below, shows Slager firing eight times from at least 20 feet away as Scott runs away, who ends up falling on the grass.

“Slager then calmly walks up to him as he speaks into his radio, informing dispatchers of ‘shots fired.’

“He then orders Scott to ‘put your hands behind your back’ as he appears to drop his taser next to his body, most likely an attempt to plant evidence against him.

“The video, recorded by an anonymous witness, lasted for more than three minutes, showing another cop arriving on the scene after Scott was already handcuffed. At no point in the video did the cops notice they were being recorded.

“The witness did a good job of keeping the camera trained on them without voicing any displeasure as we’ve seen so many people do in the past. …”

Background: The person who took the video showing the killing remains anonymous. Miller has said in the past: “I’ve been arrested three times while filming police — the last time was when the police dispersed Occupy Miami. I tell people: you have to be so clean because they’ll find a way to come after you — it’s like a ‘Blue Mafia.’ They all stick together and will find any pretext to come after someone.”

Late last year the choking death of Eric Garner set off headlines, but the video of the police choking him was taken by Ramsey Orta — who was indicted on weapons charges shortly after making that video public and remains at Rikers Island prison. There have been reports he fears for his life.

Reuters reported “At some point during his arrest, Orta told officers, ‘You’re just mad because I filmed your boy,’ an NYPD spokeswoman said.” CBSNewYork reported: “Orta’s mother, Emily Mercado, said police have been following her son ever since he recorded Garner’s arrest.” The report quotes his wife, Chrissie Ortiz, stating: “The day after they declare it a homicide, you find someone next to him with a gun, and you saw him pass it off? Out in public when he knows he’s in the public spotlight? It makes no sense.”

The Criminalization of Poverty

poorgetprisonKAREN DOLAN, karen at ips-dc.org, @karendolan
JODI L. CARR, jodicarr at verizon.net
Dolan is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and directs the Criminalization of Poverty Project. Carr is a research associate with the group and a doctoral student in education policy at George Mason University. They co-wrote a recently-released report: “The Poor Get Prison: The Alarming Spread of the Criminalization of Poverty,” which includes an introduction by Barbara Ehrenreich.

The report finds: “Poor people, especially people of color, face a far greater risk of being fined, arrested, and even incarcerated for minor offenses than other Americans. A broken taillight, an unpaid parking ticket, a minor drug offense, sitting on a sidewalk, or sleeping in a park can all result in jail time. In this report, we seek to understand the multi-faceted, growing phenomenon of the ‘criminalization of poverty.’

“In many ways, this phenomenon is not new: The introduction of public assistance programs gave rise to prejudices against beneficiaries and to systemic efforts to obstruct access to the assistance.

“This form of criminalizing poverty — racial profiling or the targeting of poor black and Latina single mothers trying to access public assistance — is a relatively familiar reality. Less well-known known are the new and growing trends which increase this criminalization of being poor that affect or will affect hundreds of millions of Americans. These troubling trends are eliminating their chances to get out of poverty and access resources that make a safe and decent life possible.”

The report highlights:

– “the targeting of poor people with fines and fees for misdemeanors, and the resurgence of debtors’ prisons — the imprisonment of people unable to pay debts resulting from the increase in fines and fees;

– “mass incarceration of poor ethnic minorities for non-violent offenses, and the barriers to employment and re-entry into society once they have served their sentences;

– “excessive punishment of poor children that creates a ‘school-to-prison pipeline';

– “increase in arrests of homeless people and people feeding the homeless, and criminalizing life-sustaining activities such as sleeping in public when no shelter is available; and

– “confiscating what little resources and property poor people might have through ‘civil asset forfeiture.’ …

“Private companies are profiting off the expanded number of people in the criminal justice system by charging fees for supervision and other costs related to probation. If the people under probation cannot pay, they often face jail time.”

See: PDF of the full report.

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