Roger’s note: the Uruguayan journalist and historian, Eduardo Galeano, coined the phrase “upsidedown world” to characterize the reverse moral reality that governs our capitalist world. I find myself constantly outraged by the way in which men (well, almost always men) in high positions gain wealth, fame, and honor, having committed grievous crimes. Henry Kissinger and Dick Cheney are surely poster boys for this “charity” in our day. Recently I have posted stories about George Washington, Winston Churchill and General George Patton, men held in high esteem who deserve the opposite. Today I bring you news about the United States’ first Afro American Attorney General, who is about to retire after an apparently illustrious career in law enforcement. This is news you will not find in the main stream media. This is a man who deserves condemnation, not praise, a man who after a life time of work in government retires with a net worth of 11.5 million dollars (I looked it up).
February 23, 2015
Putting Police Above the Law
by JAMES BOVARD
Attorney General Eric Holder is collecting buckets of accolades in his final weeks in office. Newspapers are especially praising Holder’s suggestion that the feds begin keeping tabs on shootings by police across the nation. But Holder’s own career shows his devotion to ignoring or covering up law enforcement killings unless a bonanza of profitable publicity awaited him.
As the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia from 1993 to 1997, Holder was in charge of policing the local police. When police violence spiraled out of control, he did little or nothing to protect D.C. residents from rampaging lawmen.
The number of killings by D.C. police quadrupled between 1989 and 1995, when 16 civilians died owing to police gunfire. D.C. police shot and killed people at a higher rate than any other major city police department, as a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post investigation revealed in late 1998. But Holder had no problem with D.C.’s quick-trigger force: “I can’t honestly say I saw anything that was excessive.” He never noticed that the D.C. police department failed to count almost half the people killed by its officers between 1994 and 1997.
Even when police-review boards ruled that shootings were unjustified or found contradictions in officers’ testimony, police were not prosecuted. In one case an officer shot a suspect four times in the back when he was unarmed and lying on the ground. But Holder’s office never bothered interviewing the shooter.
Holder is now being portrayed as a champion of minorities victimized by police but he did not play that role in the 1990s. The Post noted that “none of the police shootings of civilians has occurred in the more affluent areas west of Rock Creek Park.” Because most victims of the police were from the lower-income parts of the city, their plight went largely unnoticed.
Holder is now trumpeting the need for openness, but in the 1990s he acceded to pervasive secrecy on lawmen’s killings. The Post noted, “The extent and pattern of police shootings have been obscured from public view. Police officials investigate incidents in secret, producing reports that become public only when a judge intercedes.”
Shortly after Holder became U.S. attorney, a local judge slammed the D.C. government for its “deliberate indifference” to police-brutality complaints. In 1995 the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which supposedly investigated alleged police abuses, was shut down because it was overwhelmed by a backlog of accusations from aggrieved citizens. Despite the collapse of the system’s safeguards, Holder’s office remained asleep at the switch. Even D.C.’s assistant police chief Terrance Gainer admitted, “We shoot too often, and we shoot too much when we do shoot.”
Some of the most abusive cases involved police shooting unarmed drivers — a practice that is severely discouraged because of the high risk of collateral damage. Holder told the Post, “I do kind of remember more than a few in cars. I don’t know if that’s typical of what you find in police shootings outside D.C.” Actually, D.C. police were more than 20 times as likely to shoot at cars as were New York City police and “more than 50 officers over five years had shot at unarmed drivers in cars,” the Post noted.
When he visited Missouri last August, Holder made a heavily trumpeted visit to the parents of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old killed by a Ferguson policeman. But did Holder ever bother visiting the families of young people unjustifiably slain by the D.C. police? I called the Justice Department press office asking that question but never heard back. Press clips from the 1990s do not include any reports of Holder’s meeting with parents of children unjustifiably slain by the D.C. police.
At 9 a.m. on May 15, 1995, a D.C. policeman pursued a car that he claimed he had seen moving recklessly on Florida Avenue NW. The policeman walked up to the vehicle and shot 16-year-old Kedemah Dorsey in the chest. The car began pulling away, and the policeman hopped alongside and shot the boy again in the back, killing him. Lawyer Doug Sparks, sitting in a nearby car, told the Post, “It was basically at point-blank range. I thought it was some kind of drug shooting.” The policeman claimed that he fired because Dorsey, who was scheduled to start his shift at Burger King later that morning, was trying to run him down. Attorney Michael Morganstern, who sued the District government and collected $150,000 for the family, commented, “It’s somewhat difficult to use the car as a weapon when it is wedged in rush-hour traffic and the officer is standing to the side of it, not in front of it.” A police department investigation concluded that the shooting was unjustified, but Holder’s office refused to file charges against the policeman.
Holder was feckless even when a policeman confessed to lying about killing an unarmed teenager. After Roosevelt Askew killed a 19-year-old motorist during a 1994 traffic stop, he claimed he fired because the driver was trying to run over another policeman. But that story soon collapsed. In early 1995, Askew admitted to Holder’s office that he had lied and then claimed he shot the teenager accidentally. No charges were filed against Askew until a year and a half after his confession. The case lingered on the back burner until after Holder moved on to become deputy attorney general under Janet Reno. The U.S. attorney’s office eventually signed off on a deal that let Askew plead guilty merely to filing a false police report; he received two years probation and a $5,000 fine. Federal judge Harold Greene was appalled at the wrist slap: “This is a bizarre situation. Everybody, including the government and the probation office, suggests that probation is the appropriate remedy. Although I am not entirely satisfied we have the full story, I’m going to go along.”
The Post series sparked an uproar that resulted in the Justice Department Civil Rights Division’s investigating D.C. police shootings from the prior five years. And whom did Attorney General Janet Reno put in charge of that effort? Eric Holder. His office denied that any conflict of interest existed, instead insisting that Holder’s “oversight of the review signifies the importance of this endeavor to the Department of Justice.” But a 1999 Post article observed, “A closer look at the role of Holder and the U.S. attorney’s office shows the difficulty that arises when law enforcement investigates itself.” Holder’s review of D.C. police shootings was careful not to uncover anything that might impede Holder’s political career.
In a speech this past Martin Luther King day, Holder lamented “the troubling reality…that we lack the ability right now to comprehensively track” police shootings across the nation. But there was a law on the books that Congress enacted in 1994 to require the Attorney General to collect and publish annual data on “the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers.” Holder, like prior attorney generals, ignored the law. And Holder’s Justice Department continues covering up killings by federal agents, including a rash of fatal shootings by Border Patrol agents and the FBI killing of 27-year-old Ibragim Todashev during questioning at his Florida apartment in 2013 regarding the Boston Marathon bombing.
There is no reason to expect Holder’s closing public relations gestures to diminish government agents’ prerogative to kill other Americans. Nor is there any reason to expect the Justice Department to admit that the Bill of Rights prohibits placing the vast majority of police above the law.
Roger’s note: this story symbolizes for me not only what is wrong with the American judicial system, but what is essentially wrong with the country itself.
January 28, 2015
by JOHN LAFORGE
A former Army Brigadier General was busted two ranks and fined $20,000 this year after being charged with sexual assault of an Army Captain — a subordinate he reportedly threatened to kill if she revealed their affair. Jeffrey A. Sinclair’s multiple convictions should have gotten him thrown out of the military, sent to prison and registered as a sexual predator, but the judge in the case, Col. James L. Pohl, allowed him to retire as a Lt. Col. with full benefits and a $105,000 pension. Sinclair, 51, spent 28 years in the Army.
Meanwhile Nukewatch just celebrated the retirement of peace activist Bonnie Urfer, 62, who has stopped answering the Nukewatch phone after co-directing here for 28 years.
Bonnie won’t get a pension from our small, non-profit nuclear watchdog, just her $662.00-per-month Social Security check which amounts to about $8,000 a year (Col. Sinclair will get $8,750 every month). This is no hardship since Bonnie is a master of political economy and downward mobility. She lives rent-free and mortgage-free in a house she helped build with her own hands at the Plowshares Land Trust. She grows her own vegetables and has reduced her expenses to a fraction of what most North Americans mistakenly believe to be bare minimum. Property taxes, groceries, gas, dog food and vet’ bills, insurance, art supplies, sundries and an internet connection are about all she needs to cover.
Bonnie’s conscientiously self-limited income keeps her from supporting the war system which now gets about half of everyone’s federal income taxes. Living under the taxable limit has always been part of her life of resisting militarism in thought, word and deed.
Bonnie’s been focused and committed in her work for nuclear disarmament and has done every sort of action to shine some light on the weapons complex: from interrupting a Gulf War “victory” parade in Madison, and sitting-in at the Oak Ridge, Tenn. H-bomb factory, to shutting down Wisconsin’s former nuclear first-strike ELF antenna with peace activist Michael Sprong (using Swede saws). She’s served a total of over six and a half years in jail and prison for taking part in about 100 civil resistance actions. In addition to her Nukewatch work, she’s spent five decades using her art and direct action in defense of women’s rights and gender equality, and against any sort of bullying, sexual harassment or abuse. With Jane Simons she helped found the Women’s Jail Project in Madison, Wis.
Compare her record to that of Sinclair, which the Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, condemned as displaying “a pattern of … illegal behavior both while serving as a brigadier general and a colonel.” Sinclair was initially charged with forcible sodomy, wrongful sexual conduct, wrongful personal relationships with subordinates, misuse of gov’t charge cards (he arranged trysts with it), maltreatment of subordinates and conduct unbecoming an officer. The L.A. Times reported that the Army Captain who was his mistress accused Sinclair of threatening to kill her and her parents if she divulged their affair and of groping and fondling her against her will in public. The charges of sexual violence and assault carried a possible life sentence and registration as a sex offender.
But Sinclair’s more serious charges were dismissed. He pleaded guilty to “maltreatment,” adultery, soliciting explicit pictures from female officers, using derogatory and demeaning language toward female officers, impeding an investigation, disobeying an Order to stay away from the Captain, and Army travel card theft. Jamie Bartlett, a lawyer for the Captain, called the sentence “a travesty” and said, “Now the Army has to face the reality that this is likely to happen again, and victims will be less likely to come forward.”
In contrast, Bonnie wears her peace activism and years of incarceration almost anonymously as something of a badge of honor as she embarks on new adventures — although her “record” will keep her from landing conventional jobs for some pocket money. Conversely, Sinclair’s solid gold plea bargain and military record of warrior heroics and ambitious rank-climbing guarantee him a fat pension and decades in which to pursue a second income-doubling career — probably with weapons contractors.
Sinclair’s lawyer said after sentencing, “He is a highly decorated war hero who made great sacrifices for his country, and it’s right that he be permitted to retire honorably.” Now, thanks to the Army Captain who leveled the charges, Sinclair will be remembered mostly as a violent, abusive sexual predator.
Bonnie on the other hand, with decades of simple, sustainable living and 35 years of nonviolent resistance to sexism, militarism and nuclear madness, is simultaneously a humble (if impish) laughing Buddha and a luminous living example of how a person can enjoy life harmlessly, thrive while living below a taxable income and still shame the devil every day.
John LaForge works for Nukewatch and lives on the Plowshares Land Trust near Luck, Wisc.
Roger’s note: This week, a low life scum by the name of John McCain, presiding over a Senate committee, referred to peace activists who had come to make a citizen’s arrest on war criminal Henry Kissinger, as — well, low life scum. I have always had a strong distaste for people in positions of power and authority, of whatever nationality, who are liars, racists, warmongers, etc. This goes as well for dead “heroes” who happened to be on the winning side, the side that writes history. My obsessive antipathy towards Winston Churchill began when I read about the fire bombing of Dresden toward the end of World War II, ordered by Churchill to terrorize and punish the the residents of this city that had great cultural heritage but zero strategic importance from a military point of view. This incineration of almost an entire population compares to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it was the inspiration for the celebrated novel, “Slaughterhouse Five,” written by an American soldier who survived the Dresden bombing, Kurt Vonnegut. If you didn’t already know that Churchill, who is considered by most to have been a noble statesman and warrior, was a disgusting racist pig, you will after reading this.
This week Britain is commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill. Millions of people worldwide watched his state funeral on television in 1965, and thousands of people lined the streets of London to pay their last respects as his cortege slowly passed. But I somehow doubt that President Obama will be adding his own warm words of remembrance for the iconic British wartime leader.
After all, his own paternal grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was one of 150.000 rebellious Kikuyu “blackamoors” forced into detention camps during Churchill’s postwar premiership, when the British governnment began its brutal campaign to suppress the alleged “Mau Mau” uprising in Kenya, in order to protect the privileges of the white settler population at the expense of the indigenous people. About 11,000 Kenyans were killed and 81,000 detained during the British government’s campaign to protect its imperialist heritage.
Suspected Mau Mau insurgents were subject to electric shock, whippings, burning and mutilation in order to crush the local drive for independence. Obama’s grandfather was imprisoned without trial for two years and tortured for resisting Churchill’s empire. He never truly recovered from the ordeal.
Africa was quite a playground for young Winston. Born into the privileged British elite in in 1847, educated at Harrow and Sandhurst, brought up believing the simple story that the superior white man was conquering the primitive, dark-skinned natives, and bringing them the benefits of civilisation, he set off as soon as he could to take his part in “a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples,” whose violence was explained by a “strong aboriginal propensity to kill”.
In Sudan, he bragged that he personally shot at least three “savages”.
In South Africa, where “it was great fun galloping about,” he defended British built concentration camps for white Boers, saying they produced “the minimum of suffering”. The death toll was almost 28,000.
When at least 115,000 black Africans were likewise swept into British camps, where 14,000 died, he wrote only of his “irritation that Kaffirs should be allowed to fire on white men”.
(On his attitude to other races, Churchill’s doctor, Lord Moran, once said: “Winston thinks only of the colour of their skin.”
Churchill found himself in other British dominions besides Africa. As a young officer in the Swat valley, now part of Pakistan, Churchill one day experienced a fleeting revelation. The local population, he wrote in a letter, was fighting back because of “the presence of British troops in lands the local people considered their own,” – just as Britain would if she were invaded.
This idle thought was soon dismissed however , and he gladly took part in raids that laid waste to whole valleys, destroying houses and burning crops, believing the “natives” to be helpless children who will “willingly, naturally, gratefully include themselves within the golden circle of an ancient crown”.
But rebels had to be crushed with extreme force. As Colonial Secretary in the 1920s, Churchill unleashed the notorious Black and Tan thugs on Ireland’s Catholic civilians, making a hypocritical mockery of his comment:
“Indeed it is evident that Christianity, however degraded and distorted by cruelty and intolerance, must always exert a modifying influence on men’s passions, and protect them from the more violent forms of fanatical fever, as we are protected from smallpox by vaccination.”
His fear-mongering views on Islam sound strangely familiar:
“But the Mahommedan religion increases, instead of lessening, the fury of intolerance. It was originally propagated by the sword, and ever since, its votaries have been subject, above the people of all other creeds, to this form of madness.”
“On the subject of India,” said the British Secretary of State to India: “Winston is not quite sane… I didn’t see much difference between his outlook and Hitler’s.”
When Mahatma Gandhi launched his campaign of peaceful resistance against British rule in India, Churchill raged that Gandhi:
“ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back. Gandhi-ism and everything it stands for will have to be grappled with and crushed.”
In 1931 he sneered: “It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer of the type well-known in the East, now posing as a fakir, striding half naked up the steps of the Viceregal palace to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor.”
As Gandhi’s support increased, Churcill announced:
“I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”
In 1943 a famine broke out in Bengal, caused by the imperial policies of the British. In reply to the Secretary of State for India’s telegram requesting food stock to relieve the famine, Churchill wittily replied:
“If food is scarce, why isn’t Gandhi dead yet?”
Up to 3 million people starved to death. Asked in 1944 to explain his refusal to send food aid, Churchill jeered:
“Relief would do no good. Indians breed like rabbits and will outstrip any available food supply.”
Churchill statue in London. Photo: Getty Images.
Just after World War I, approximately one quarter of the world’s land and population fell within the spheres of British influence. The Empire had increased in size with the addition of territories taken from its vanquished enemies.
As British Colonial Secretary, Churchill’s power in the Middle East was immense. He “created Jordan with a stroke of a pen one Sunday afternoon”, allegedly drawing the expansive boundary map after a generous lunch. The huge zigzag in Jordan’s eastern border with Saudi Arabia has been called “Winston’s Hiccup” or “Churchill’s Sneeze”.
He is the man who invented Iraq, another arbitrary patch of desert, which was awarded to a throneless Hashemite prince; Faisal, whose brother Abdullah was given control of Jordan. Sons of King Hussein, Faisal and Abdullah had been war buddies of Churchill’s pal, the famous “T.E. Lawrence of Arabia”.
But the lines drawn in the sand by British imperialism, locking together conflicting peoples behind arbitrary borders were far from stable,and large numbers of Jordanians, Iraqis, Kurds and Palestinians were denied anything resembling real democracy.
In 1920 Churchill advocated the use of chemical weapons on the “uncooperative Arabs” involved in the Iraqi revolution against British rule.
“I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas,” he declared. “I am strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes. It would spread a lively terror.”
As Colonial Secretary, it was Churchill who offered the Jews their free ticket to the ‘Promised Land’ of ‘Israel’, although he thought they should not “take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to suit their convenience.” He dismissed the Palestinians already living in the country as “barbaric hoards who ate little but camel dung.”
Addressing the Peel Commission (1937) on why Britain was justified in deciding the fate of Palestine, Churchill clearly displayed his white supremacist ideology to justify one of the most brutal genocides and mass displacements of people in history, based on his belief that “the Aryan stock is bound to triumph”:
“I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”
In fact, many of the views Churchill held were virtually Nazi. Apart from his support of hierarchical racism, as Home Minister he had advocated euthanasia and sterilisation of the handicapped.
In 1927, after a visit to Rome, he applauded the budding fascist dictator, Mussolini:
“What a man! I have lost my heart!… Fascism has rendered a service to the entire world… If I were Italian, I am sure I would have been with you entirely from the beginning of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passion of Leninism.”
(“The Bestial Appetites and Passions of Leninism”, eh? Where can I get a copy?)
But years later, in his written account of the Second World War (Vol. 111), fickle-hearted Winston applauded the downfall of his erstwhile hero:
“Hitler’s fate was sealed. Mussolini’s fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be ground to powder.”
Britain’s American allies saw to that in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when they dropped their atomic bombs and killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Churchill had ordered the saturation bombing of Dresden, where, on February 13 1945, more than 500,000 German civilians and refugees, mostly women and children, were slaughtered in one day by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United States Army Air Force (USAAF), who dropped over 700,000 phosphorus bombs on the city.
Prime Minister Churchill had said earlier:
“I do not want suggestions as to how we can disable the economy and the machinery of war, what I want are suggestions as to how we can roast the German refugees on their escape from Breslau.”
In Dresden he got his wish. Those who perished in the centre of the city could not be traced, as the temperature in the area reached 1600 degree Centigrade. Dresden’s citizens barely had time to reach their shelters and many who sought refuge underground suffocated as oxygen was pulled from the air to feed the flames. Others perished in a blast of white heat strong enough to melt human flesh.
Instead of being charged with being responsible for ordering one of the most horrific war crimes of recent history, in which up to half a million people died screaming in his firestorms, Churchill emerged from the war as a hero. An unwavering supporter of the British monarchy throughout his life, he was made a knight of the Order of the Garter, Britain’s highest order of knighthoods, by Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
“The monarchy is so extraordinarily useful. When Britain wins a battle she shouts, “God save the Queen”; when she loses, she votes down the prime minister,” he once said.
Shortly after the Second World War was won, however, Churchill’s Conservative government was voted down by a Britain tired of battle, austerity, and hungry for change.
“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it,” said Churchill, and to a certain extent he succeeded. exte habit of dictating in the nude to his male secretaries. y and conscriptioneople were massacred ‘Winnie’ became Britain’s great national icon, with his trade-mark cigar and V-sign, remembered for leading Britain through her finest hour (we won’t mention his eccentric habit of pacing about the office in the nude while dictating to secretaries!) The fat cigar clamped in his mouth a symbol of cocky British defiance, Churchill was genial courageous Big Brother figure, revered by the media. His stirring wartime speech:
“We shall fight them on the beaches! We shall never surrender!” makes no mention of “We shall bomb them in their cities! We shall make them suffer!”
Churchill’s brutality and brutishness have been ignored, but he never reckoned on the invention of the internet, or its power to allow authors to question his view of history and expose the cruelty and racism of the man.
When George W Bush moved out of the White House he left a bust of Winston Churchill in the Oval office. He’d used it to inspire him on his ‘war against terrorism’. Barack Obama had it removed. I wonder if he found the bust offensive? Was it out of respect for the pain and distress his Kenyan grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, suffered on Churchill’s orders ?
Removing a bust is a fairly simple matter, but toppling a statue is quite another. In Westminster Square in front of Parliament in London there are several statues of deceased politicians and dignitaries, one of which I find particularly distasteful. Hands clasped behind back, the jodphur-clad figure striding purposely forward is that of Jan Christian Smuts. racist forefather of the Apartheid system in South Africa.
As for Churchill, who, as Home Secretary, said:
‘I propose that 100,000 degenerate Britons should be forcibly sterilized and others put in labour camps to halt the decline of the British race.’
His hulking toadish statue stands tall on a granite plinth, clutching a walking stick, his unblinking bulldog gaze on the Houses of Parliament where he reigned twice as a Conservative Prime Minister.
If I were Prime Minister of Great Britain, one of the first things on my list would be the removal of memorials to facist-minded racist imperialists. The statues of Smuts and Churchill in Parliament Square would be the first to come down.
Roger’s note: One dimension of US foreign policy can be summarized in two words: regime change. And, with apologies to Malcolm X, one would add, “by any means necessary.” They achieved it a few years ago in Honduras, which today under the US puppet regime has become the most violent country on earth. They achieved it last year in the Ukraine, thanks to a popular revolt against a corrupt, albeit democratically elected government, aided and abetted by neo-Fascist gangs.
Syria and Venezuela are next on the list, but Syria may be useful in combating ISIS, so that leaves Venezuela (they would love to achieve regime change in Ecuador and Bolivia, but that remains on the back burner for a future date). The New York Times published the other day an updated report on Venezuela, which was somewhat more balanced, but which parroted the US official line that the government’s opposition is a victim of government oppression, thereby ignoring the reality that it is being being held criminally responsible for its attempt to overthrow the government with a military coup.
The opposition leader under arrest, Antonio Ledezma, as Mayor of Caracas was responsible for multiple deaths during the failed 2002 coup and the 1987 and as Mayor he directed state troops which assassinated as many as 4000 civilians during the Caracazo uprising of 1989. For this he has to now gotten off Scott free.
Here is the latest on Venezuela.
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with supporters at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, February 19, 2015. | Photo: Reuters
Published 19 February 2015, Telesur
Antonio Ledezma was arrested Thursday afternoon in Caracas after being named in the recently-foiled U.S.-backed coup in Venezuela.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro confirmed the detention on Thursday of the ultra-right wing Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, who is accused of participating in the thwarted coup attempt against the democratically-elected government.
“He was detained and will be tried by the Venezuelan justice system” due to his link to plans to topple the government of Maduro with backing from Washington, the Venezuelan president added.
Maduro emphasized that the White House is directly involved in the coup plans that were foiled last week by the Venezuelan government.
The Speaker of Parliament Diosdado Cabello said Ledezma was involved along with opposition lawmaker Juolio Borges in a plan to kill Leopoldo Lopez, an opposition leader in jail for his participation in last year’s Guarimbas violence that left 43 people dead in an opposition and U.S.-backed attempt to overthrow Maduro.
Ledezma is one of the persons responsible for ordering the massacre of up to 400 students during the Caracazo of Feb. 27, 1989, which was a popular rebelion against the ill-conceived neoliberal policies imposed by the U.S. and its allies in many countries, including Venezuela.
Antonio Ledezma was arrested for plotting to overthrow the democratically-elected government of President Nicolas Maduro. (Photo: teleSUR)
“Today, [Ledezma] is being processed by the Venezuelan justice system, the constitution. I ask for all the people’s support in order to consolidate justice. Enough with the conspiracy,” said Maduro. “Those who do not agree with the revolution, that’s fine, we respect that. They can organize, they can launch their own political party. There are elections this year.” Ledezma, a long-time opposition leader to the Bolivarian process who has been linked to ultra-right wing attempts to destabilize the Venezuelan government, published on his personal Twitter account earlier today that officers from the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) Officers were attempting to enter his office in the wealthy Chacao district of Caracas.
His wife, Mitzsy Capriles, said that he was taken to SEBIN headquarters in Plaza Venezuela.
On Feb. 13, President of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello gave a televised address providing information about the foiled coup plans, with those detained providing information about the involvement of Ledezma and other opposition leaders in the plot.
Socialist legislator and President of the Latin American Parliament Angel Rodriguez announced that Friday he would formally report Ledezma and right-wing opposition leader Maria Corina Machado to the Venezuelan general prosecutor for their “National Agreement for Transition” statement, which was published one day before the coup plot was to take effect.
The document alleges that Nicolas Maduro’s government is in its “final stage” and called for a dissolution of powers, the privatization of the country’s oil industry, and the deregulation of the economy, among other measures.
Last year, Ledezma was also linked to Lorent Saleh, a young opposition activist who organized violent protests, but who was arrested after being deported from Colombia for registering in a military college with false documentation. The Venezuelan government released several Skype video conversations where Saleh speaks openly about having weaponry, as well as plotys schemes to generate violence, including through assassinations.
In one of the videos released in September 2014, Saleh says, “Ledezma is key…he is an old fox, you cannot sell nor buy that kind of experience … the politician that has most supported us is Ledezma, for that reason he was our presidential candidate.”
The young opposition leaders explicitly named Ledezma as providing material support for the 2014’s violent opposition-led protests, which claimed 43 lives.
The Bolivarian government continues to defend the country’s institutions despite ongoing destabilization attempts. During a nationally televised speech Thursday night, Maduro reiterated his allegations that the U.S. embassy was participating in the plans, including attempting to turn officials on the government via bribery.
Raul Castro of Cuba and Venezuela President Nicholas Maduro in this file photo. (Photo: AFP)
A February 15, 2015, op-ed on Venezuela by Enrique Krauze seems to have slipped by the New York Times‘ factcheckers.
Krauze’s thesis (a tired one, but very popular with Venezuelan and Cuban right-wingers in South Florida) is that Venezuela has not only followed “the Cuban model,” but has recently outdone Cuba in moving Venezuela further along a socialist path even as Cuba enacts economic reforms. This idea is not merely an oversimplification–as it might appear to the casual observer of Latin American politics–but is largely misleading. To bolster his case, Krauze–a prominent Mexican writer and publisher–includes numerous false statements and errors, which should have been caught by the Times‘ factcheckers.
Krauze begins by claiming that the Venezuelan government, first under President Hugo Chávez and then his successor Nicolás Maduro, has taken control over the media. Chávez “accumulated control over the organs of government and over much of the information media: radio, television and the press,” we are told, and then Maduro “took over the rest of Venezuelan television.”
A simple factcheck shows this to be false. The majority of media outlets in Venezuela–including television–continue to be privately owned; further, the private TV audience dwarfs the number of viewers watching state TV. A 2010 study of Venezuelan television found that
as of September 2010, Venezuelan state TV channels had just a 5.4 percent audience share. Of the other 94.6 percent of the audience, 61.4 percent were watching privately owned television channels, and 33.1 percent were watching paid TV.
A 2013 Carter Center report found that Venezuela’s private TV outlets had about 74 percent of the audience share for coverage of “recent key newsworthy events.”
The media landscape has changed little since. National opposition station Globovisión was sold in 2013, but to a private party; it was not “taken over” by the government. And opposition voices continue to appear on national TV outlets–even the ones that are often described as “pro-government”–free to make the harshest criticisms of the government and to encourage people to protest, as several prominent opposition figures did last year during the violent street blockades and demonstrations aimed at forcing Maduro to step down.
Globovisión, for example, aired interviews–following its change in ownership–with opposition leader María Corina Machado and Juan Guaido of Leopoldo López’s Voluntad Popular party; during her interview, Machado argued that people have the right to overthrow the democratically elected government. And many other Venezuelan networks also frequently broadcast opposition voices.
In fact, the New York Timesissued a correction last year after reporting that Globovisión was “the only television station that regularly broadcast voices critical of the government.” It’s a shame that the same standards for accuracy in the Times‘ news section apparently do not apply to the opinion page.
Krauze then says that Maduro “confronted” those “protesting students with arrests and gunfire,” and that “many were killed” as, supposedly, Maduro “suppressed demonstrations by the opposition.” A quick review of events last year–as covered by the New York Times, among others–reveals a wholly different story.
First, most of those killed were either pro-government or were bystanders. Many of those killed (at least 11, according to David Smilde of the Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog, who in turn cites the opposition paper El Universal) were National Guard officers, police or pro-government counter-protesters. A number of bystanders and motorists (at least 10) were also killed as a result of the protesters’ violent tactics, which included stringing barbed wire across the streets in order to decapitate Chavista motorcyclists. (Two died this way.) Demonstrators fired on Guard and police officers, killing at least seven.
It is true that some security forces fired on demonstrators, killing at least three. Yet as over a dozen members of Congress noted in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, the Maduro government arrested some 20 security state agents in connection with these incidents. This was not a case of government-ordered crackdown on protests; if it were, the opposition’s street blockades might have been cleared in days–instead, they remained for weeks–and motorists and cyclists might have been saved from decapitation, crashing into barricades, or getting shot when they got out of their stopped cars.
Having attempted to present the Venezuelan government as some sort of dictatorial regime where freedom of press and assembly are crushed, Krauze goes on to present a series of flawed statements about Venezuela’s economic relationship with Cuba.
First, Krauze writes that “Venezuela absorbs 45 percent of Cuba’s trade deficit.” Official data on Venezuela/Cuba trade is opaque, so it is unclear where Krauze is getting his figure. In terms of its overall trade, Cuba does not have a trade deficit, but a small trade surplus ($697 million USD, according to the WTO). So this statement is false.
Krauze states, “Chávez-era economic agreements with Cuba were all highly favorable to the island nation.” But that the agreements are favorable to Cuba does not preclude them from being favorable to Venezuela as well. They are complementary exchanges: Venezuela has a surfeit of oil yet lacks human capital in some sectors. It could be the case that what Venezuela receives is of a lesser value than what it sends, but unfortunately there is a paucity of information to prove this either way.
What is certain is that the services exported to Venezuela extend far beyond the services of 40,000 Cuban medical professionals. Venezuela sends hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans to Cuba for various operations (including Operación Milagro, which extends eye treatments to people in numerous Latin American countries at the joint cost of Venezuela and Cuba). Thousands of Venezuelans have been given scholarships, particularly for the study of medicine. Cuba also exports substantial quantities of pharmaceuticals to Venezuela. It also sends educators and other professionals.
In further arguing that Venezuela is somehow putting Cuba’s interests before its own, Krauze claims, “The expenses for the Missions…involved Venezuelan payments of about $5.5 billion annually, of which the Cuban regime retained 95 percent, the rest going toward paying the doctors.” But this ignores that Cuba provides other services to Venezuela. It also ignores the difficulties in comparing salaries with Cuba, given the vast subsidies for goods that exist in the Cuban economy. The salaries for medics on these foreign postings are vastly larger than normal public sector salaries in Cuba.
Krauze also writes that “thousands” of the Cuban doctors that Venezuela is paying for “have defected to other countries in recent years.” Despite US government efforts to actively encourage such defections, which the New York Timeshas condemned, the overall defection rate of Cuban medics on overseas missions is less than 2 percent (as of 2011, using US figures on the number of defectors and Cuban figures for the number of medics on overseas missions). The amount of defections in Venezuela from 2006-11 was 824, which works out to a rate of about 1.1 percent–slightly less than the overall rate.
Krauze claims: “Oil was supplied at such low prices that Cuba could turn around and refine and export some of it at a profit.” This makes something normal sound very conspiratorial–those two-faced Cubans, getting oil on the cheap from Venezuela then selling it out the back door! Actually, Venezuela has invested heavily in Cuba’s downstream capabilities–renovating a moribund Soviet-era refinery in Cienfuegos, Cuba.
Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, owns a 49 percent stake in the refinery and therefore shares in its proceeds. The aim of the investment project was to create a refinery that could help satisfy Cuba’s domestic requirements but also turn Cuba into a hub for exports of refined products to the Caribbean. Thus it guarantees purchases of Venezuelan oil and allows Venezuela to better access Caribbean markets (i.e. it has a similar justification to Venezuela’s ownership and investments in several US refineries).
Krauze writes, “Mr. Maduro’s government insists that the crisis is an ‘economic war’ conducted by the right and refuses to alter the nation’s currency controls.” Krauze may have missed the news last week, but the Times‘ fact-checkers shouldn’t have: As reported by the Times, the Venezuelan government announced “an easing of the tightly controlled exchange rates that critics say have fed the nation’s economic crisis.”
Maduro’s claim of “economic war”? While there’s little doubt that most of Venezuela’s economic woes stem from its problematic exchange rate regime, the government’s recent documented busts of massive hoarding of essential items by private companies should not be dismissed out of hand, either.
Perhaps Krauze wouldn’t have felt he needed to stretch the truth so far–and present so many inaccurate claims–if his thesis weren’t so flawed. Chávez and Maduro have never claimed that they wanted to bring the Cuban model to Venezuela; this is a fantasy of the Venezuelan right. To the contrary, after announcing his plan for “Socialism for the 21st Century,” Chávez said, “Some are saying that we want to copy the Cuban model. No…. It would be a very serious mistake for Venezuela to copy a model like the Cuban, or any other.”
For his part, Raúl Castro has also expressed support for Latin American countries pursuing their own respective economic and political choices: “Each [leader] is learning their own identity and finding their own identity within the continent. We aren’t the godfathers and they aren’t the heirs,” he told Oliver Stone in the 2010 documentary South of the Border.
The fact is, whether Krauze wants to admit it or not, Venezuela is a democracy, and the Maduro government was democratically elected–as were the Chavista municipal officials who won a majority of elections half a year after Maduro was elected, in a stunning defeat for the opposition. Krauze doesn’t have to like the current Venezuelan government, but he shouldn’t confuse it with an unelected one, as in Cuba.
Nor should he be so easily confused by the Venezuelan economic system–where the private sector enjoyed strong growth in the years after Chávez took office–versus the Cuban model of socialism. More worrying is that the New York Times opinion page would be so baffled by these important differences.
Steve Ellner has taught economic history at the Universidad de Oriente in Venezuela since 1977. His most recent book is his edited Latin America’s Radical Left: Challenges and Complexities of Political Power in the Twenty-First Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).
Roger’s note: this is a companion piece to the post I put up the other day with respect to the Southwest concentration camps established to incarcerate mothers and children seeking asylum from Central American violence (http://wp.me/pjfja-3bB). These camps were declared unconstitutional last week by a federal judge who ruled that these asylum seekers, who had already established a legitimate claim to asylum in the first step of the process, could not be held captive just to deter others from coming.
The article below shows how the victims of “liberated” Nazi concentration camps were re-victimized by their American “saviors,” under the stewardship of General George S. Patton, an avowed anti-Semite. Following Winston Churchill and George Washington, Patton is the third in my series of western “heroes.” men guilty of crimes against humanity who walk away Scott free only because they hold enormous power within the ruling structure of the winning side.
This is not ancient history. Today the likes of the Bushes, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Kissinger and Obama, to mention only the most noteworthy, all of whom belong behind bars, enjoy freedom in the same way that Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler and the rest of the Nazi band of war criminals would have, had the Axis won the War.
WORLD leaders gathered at Auschwitz last month to mark the liberation 70 years earlier of the Nazis’ most infamous concentration camp. More ceremonies will follow in coming months to remember the Allied forces’ discovery, in rapid succession, of other Nazi concentration camps at places like Bergen-Belsen that winter and spring of 1945.
Largely lost to history, however, is the cruel reality of what “liberation” actually meant for hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors discovered barely alive in the Nazi camps.
Even after the victorious American and Allied forces took control of the camps, the survivors — mainly Jews, but also small numbers of gays, Roma, Communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others — remained for months behind barbed wire and under armed guard in what became known euphemistically as displaced persons, or D.P., camps. Many Jews were left wearing the same notorious striped pajamas that the Nazis first gave them.
With the American forces overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of refugees under their control, underfed survivors lived for months in decrepit camps in Germany and Austria — a number of them on the same grounds as the concentration camps. Even after conditions improved, thousands of former prisoners remained inside and in limbo for as long as five years because the United States and most other nations refused to let them in.
In the early months after the war, thousands of survivors died from disease and malnutrition. Food was so scarce that rioting broke out at some camps, as Allied commanders refused to give extra food rations to Jewish survivors because they did not want to be seen as giving them preferential treatment over German P.O.W.s and other prisoners.
Faced with complaints by outside Jewish groups about conditions of “abject misery,” President Harry S. Truman sent a former immigration official, Earl Harrison, to Europe to inspect the camps. His findings were blistering. The survivors “have been ‘liberated’ more in a military sense than actually,” Harrison wrote Truman in the summer of 1945.
“As matters now stand,” he wrote, “we appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them. They are in concentration camps in large numbers under our military guard instead of S.S. troops.”
I ran across Harrison’s report a few years ago while researching a book on the flight of Nazis to the United States after the war. As I examined the path the Nazis took out of Europe, I struggled to understand how so many of them had made it to America so easily while so many Holocaust survivors were left behind.
One answer came in a copy of Gen. George S. Patton’s handwritten journal. In one entry from 1945, Patton, who oversaw the D.P. operations for the United States, seethed after reading Harrison’s findings, which he saw — quite accurately — as an attack on his own command.
“Harrison and his ilk believe that the Displaced Person is a human being, which he is not, and this applies particularly to the Jews who are lower than animals,” Patton wrote. He complained of how the Jews in one camp, with “no sense of human relationships,” would defecate on the floors and live in filth like lazy “locusts,” and he told of taking his commander, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, to tour a makeshift synagogue set up to commemorate the holy day of Yom Kippur.
“We entered the synagogue, which was packed with the greatest stinking mass of humanity I have ever seen,” Patton wrote. “Of course, I have seen them since the beginning and marveled that beings alleged to be made in the form of God can look the way they do or act the way they act.”
Other evidence emerged revealing not only Patton’s disdain for the Jews in the camps, but an odd admiration for the Nazi prisoners of war under his watch.
Under Patton, Nazis prisoners were not only bunked at times with Jewish survivors, but were even allowed to hold positions of authority, despite orders from Eisenhower to “de-Nazify” the camps. “Listen,” Patton told one of his officers of the Nazis, “if you need these men, keep them and don’t worry about anything else.”
Following Harrison’s scathing report to Truman, conditions in the camps slowly became more livable, with schools, synagogues and markets sprouting up and fewer restrictions. But malaise set in, as survivors realized they had no place to go.
At Bergen-Belsen, as many as 12,000 Jewish survivors at a time remained there until the camp was closed in 1951. Menachem Z. Rosensaft was born at the camp in 1948 to two Holocaust survivors. He said in an interview that he believed that the survivors’ hardships after the war had often been overlooked because “it doesn’t neatly fit the story line that we won the war and liberated the camps.”
Mr. Rosensaft, the editor of a new book by Holocaust descendants called “God, Faith and Identity from the Ashes,” added: “Nobody wanted them. They became an inconvenience to the world.”
Joe Sachs, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor who now lives outside Miami, said his three and a half years in a displaced person camp were tolerable. He met his wife there, learned a trade as a dental technician, and, on most days at least, there was enough food for everyone to get a piece of bread or meat.
Compared with the Nazi camps, “it was heaven,” he said. “But of course we felt abandoned,” Mr. Sachs added. “We were treated not quite as human beings. In a camp like that with a few thousand people, the only thing you feel is abnormal.”
The State Department finally approved visas for Mr. Sachs and his wife and their 18-month-old daughter in 1949, just as Holocaust survivors were finally being allowed into the country in large numbers, and they left for New York City.
Roger’s note: this is another in my series of western”heroes” who benefit from the dictum that the victors write history. We have had Winston Churchill, virulent and murderous racist and incinerator of the denizens of Dresden, and forthcoming is our own anti-Semitic General Patton. Here we have the Father of the Country, slave holder and chaser (and his charming wife Martha), he of cherry tree fame (a grade school student when asked why Washington’s father didn’t punish him after he had confessed, speculated it was probably because George still held the axe).
AMID the car and mattress sales that serve as markers for Presidents’ Day, Black History Month reminds Americans to focus on our common history. In 1926, the African-American historian Carter G. Woodson introduced Negro History Week as a commemoration built around the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Now February serves as a point of collision between presidential celebration and marginalized black history.
While Lincoln’s role in ending slavery is understood to have been more nuanced than his reputation as the great emancipator would suggest, it has taken longer for us to replace stories about cherry trees and false teeth with narratives about George Washington’s slaveholding.
When he was 11 years old, Washington inherited 10 slaves from his father’s estate. He continued to acquire slaves — some through the death of family members and others through direct purchase. Washington’s cache of enslaved people peaked in 1759 when he married the wealthy widow Martha Dandridge Custis. His new wife brought more than 80 slaves to the estate at Mount Vernon. On the eve of the American Revolution, nearly 150 souls were counted as part of the property there.
In 1789, Washington became the first president of the United States, a planter president who used and sanctioned black slavery. Washington needed slave labor to maintain his wealth, his lifestyle and his reputation. As he aged, Washington flirted with attempts to extricate himself from the murderous institution — “to get quit of Negroes,” as he famously wrote in 1778. But he never did.
During the president’s two terms in office, the Washingtons relocated first to New York and then to Philadelphia. Although slavery had steadily declined in the North, the Washingtons decided that they could not live without it. Once settled in Philadelphia, Washington encountered his first roadblock to slave ownership in the region — Pennsylvania’s Gradual Abolition Act of 1780.
The act began dismantling slavery, eventually releasing people from bondage after their 28th birthdays. Under the law, any slave who entered Pennsylvania with an owner and lived in the state for longer than six months would be set free automatically. This presented a problem for the new president.
Washington developed a canny strategy that would protect his property and allow him to avoid public scrutiny. Every six months, the president’s slaves would travel back to Mount Vernon or would journey with Mrs. Washington outside the boundaries of the state. In essence, the Washingtons reset the clock. The president was secretive when writing to his personal secretary Tobias Lear in 1791: “I request that these Sentiments and this advise may be known to none but yourself & Mrs. Washington.”
The president went on to support policies that would protect slave owners who had invested money in black lives. In 1793, Washington signed the first fugitive slave law, which allowed fugitives to be seized in any state, tried and returned to their owners. Anyone who harbored or assisted a fugitive faced a $500 penalty and possible imprisonment.
Washington almost made it through his two terms in office without a major incident involving his slave ownership. On a spring evening in May of 1796, though, Ona Judge, the Washingtons’ 22-year-old slave woman, slipped away from the president’s house in Philadelphia. At 15, she had joined the Washingtons on their tour of Northern living. She was among a small cohort of nine slaves who lived with the president and his family in Philadelphia. Judge was Martha Washington’s first attendant; she took care of Mrs. Washington’s personal needs.
What prompted Judge’s decision to bolt was Martha Washington’s plan to give Judge away as a wedding gift to her granddaughter. Judge fled Philadelphia for Portsmouth, N.H., a city with 360 free black people, and virtually no slaves. Within a few months of her arrival, Judge married Jack Staines, a free black sailor, with whom she had three children. Judge and her offspring were vulnerable to slave catchers. They lived as free people, but legally belonged to Martha Washington.
Washington and his agents pursued Judge for three years, dispatching friends, officials and relatives to find and recapture her. Twelve weeks before his death, Washington was still actively pursuing her, but with the help of close allies, Judge managed to elude his slave-catching grasp.
George Washington died on Dec. 14, 1799. At the time of his death, 318 enslaved people lived at Mount Vernon and fewer than half of them belonged to the former president. Washington’s will called for the emancipation of his slaves following the death of his wife. He completed in death what he had been unwilling to do while living, an act made easier because he had no biological children expecting an inheritance. Martha Washington lived until 1802 and upon her death all of her human property went to her inheritors. She emancipated no one.
When asked by a reporter if she had regrets about leaving the Washingtons, Judge responded, “No, I am free, and have, I trust, been made a child of God by the means.” Ona Judge died on Feb. 25, 1848. She has earned a salute during the month of February.
Roger’s note: this article ran, in a sense (at least to my mind), side by side with this article (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/08/sunday-review/surviving-the-nazis-only-to-be-jailed-by-america.html?_r=0) in the same online edition of the New York Times the other day. An uncanny juxtaposition. The heartless racism — buttressed by capitalism’s inherent inequality — that infects America, which has its roots in the First Nations genocide and the African slave trade, is not a matter of the past, as we see here. You can talk about practical politics all you want, but sending children back “home” to be violated and tortured constitutes a moral and ethical crime of the highest nature. President Obama and his heartless Homeland Security (sic) bureaucrats have deported more refugee claimants than his immediate predecessors.
The back story to all this, of course, is that the corruption and violence in the Mexican and Central American nations from which masses are trying to escape to the United States is a direct result of the US government’s policies.
Christina Brown pulled into the refugee camp after an eight-hour drive across the desert. It was late July of last year, and Brown was a 30-year-old immigration lawyer. She had spent a few years after college working on political campaigns, but her law degree was barely a year old, and she had only two clients in her private practice in Denver. When other lawyers told her that the federal government was opening a massive detention center for immigrants in southeastern New Mexico, where hundreds of women and children would be housed in metal trailers surrounded by barbed wire, Brown decided to volunteer legal services to the detainees. She wasn’t sure exactly what rights they might have, but she wanted to make sure they got them. She packed enough clothes to last a week, stopped by Target to pick up coloring books and toys and started driving south.
As she pulled into the dusty town of Artesia, she realized that she still had no idea what to expect. The new detention center was just north of town, behind a guard station in a sprawling complex with restricted access. Two other volunteers had been in town for about a week and had permission from federal officials to access the compound the following day.Brown spent the night at a motel, then drove to the detention camp in the morning. She stood in the wind-swept parking lot with the other lawyers, overlooking the barren plains of the eastern plateau. After a few minutes, a transport van emerged from the facility to pick them up. It swung to a stop in the parking lot, and the attorneys filed on. They sat on the cold metal benches and stared through the caged windows as the bus rolled back into the compound and across the bleak brown landscape. It came to a stop by a small trailer, and the lawyers shuffled out.
As they opened the door to the trailer, Brown felt a blast of cold air. The front room was empty except for two small desks arranged near the center. A door in the back opened to reveal dozens of young women and children huddled together. Many were gaunt and malnourished, with dark circles under their eyes. “The kids were really sick,” Brown told me later. “A lot of the moms were holding them in their arms, even the older kids — holding them like babies, and they’re screaming and crying, and some of them are lying there listlessly.”
Brown took a seat at a desk, and a guard brought a woman to meet her. Brown asked the woman in Spanish how she ended up in detention. The woman explained that she had to escape from her home in El Salvador when gangs targeted her family. “Her husband had just been murdered, and she and her kids found his body,” Brown recalls. “After he was murdered, the gang started coming after her and threatening to kill her.” Brown agreed to help the woman apply for political asylum in the United States, explaining that it might be possible to pay a small bond and then live with friends or relatives while she waited for an asylum hearing. When the woman returned to the back room, Brown met with another, who was fleeing gangs in Guatemala. Then she met another young woman, who fled violence in Honduras. “They were all just breaking down,” Brown said. “They were telling us that they were afraid to go home. They were crying, saying they were scared for themselves and their children. It was a constant refrain: ‘I’ll die if I go back.’ ”
As Brown emerged from the trailer that evening, she already knew it would be difficult to leave at the end of the week. The women she met were just a fraction of those inside the camp, and the government was making plans to open a second facility of nearly the same size in Karnes County, Tex., near San Antonio. “I remember thinking to myself that this was an impossible situation,” she said. “I was overwhelmed and sad and angry. I think the anger is what kept me going.”
Over the past six years, President Obama has tried to make children the centerpiece of his efforts to put a gentler face on U.S. immigration policy. Even as his administration has deported a record number of unauthorized immigrants, surpassing two million deportations last year, it has pushed for greater leniency toward undocumented children. After trying and failing to pass the Dream Act legislation, which would offer a path to permanent residency for immigrants who arrived before the age of 16, the president announced an executive action in 2012 to block their deportation. Last November, Obama added an executive order to extend those protections to their parents. “We’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security,” he said in a speech on Nov. 20. “Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.” But the president’s new policies apply only to immigrants who have been in the United States for more than five years; they do nothing to address the emerging crisis on the border today.
Since the economic collapse of 2008, the number of undocumented immigrants coming from Mexico has plunged, while a surge of violence in Central America has brought a wave of migrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. According to recent statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, the number of refugees fleeing Central America has doubled in the past year alone — with more than 61,000 “family units” crossing the U.S. border, as well as 51,000 unaccompanied children. For the first time, more people are coming to the United States from those countries than from Mexico, and they are coming not just for opportunity but for survival.
The explosion of violence in Central America is often described in the language of war, cartels, extortion and gangs, but none of these capture the chaos overwhelming the region. Four of the five highest murder rates in the world are in Central American nations. The collapse of these countries is among the greatest humanitarian disasters of our time. While criminal organizations like the 18th Street Gang and Mara Salvatrucha exist as street gangs in the United States, in large parts of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador they are so powerful and pervasive that they have supplanted the government altogether. People who run afoul of these gangs — which routinely demand money on threat of death and sometimes kidnap young boys to serve as soldiers and young girls as sexual slaves — may have no recourse to the law and no better option than to flee.
The American immigration system defines a special pathway for refugees. To qualify, most applicants must present themselves to federal authorities, pass a “credible fear interview” to demonstrate a possible basis for asylum and proceed through a “merits hearing” before an immigration judge. Traditionally, those who have completed the first two stages are permitted to live with family and friends in the United States while they await their final hearing, which can be months or years later. If authorities believe an applicant may not appear for that court date, they can require a bond payment as guarantee or place the refugee in a monitoring system that may include a tracking bracelet. In the most extreme cases, a judge may deny bond and keep the refugee in a detention facility until the merits hearing.
The rules are somewhat different when children are involved. Under the terms of a 1997 settlement in the case of Flores v. Meese, children who enter the country without their parents must be granted a “general policy favoring release” to the custody of relatives or a foster program. When there is cause to detain a child, he or she must be housed in the least restrictive environment possible, kept away from unrelated adults and provided access to medical care, exercise and adequate education. Whether these protections apply to children traveling with their parents has been a matter of dispute. The Flores settlement refers to “all minors who are detained” by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and its “agents, employees, contractors and/or successors in office.” When the I.N.S. dissolved into the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, its detention program shifted to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Federal judges have ruled that ICE is required to honor the Flores protections to all children in its custody.
Even so, in 2005, the administration of George W. Bush decided to deny the Flores protections to refugee children traveling with their parents. Instead of a “general policy favoring release,” the administration began to incarcerate hundreds of those families for months at a time. To house them, officials opened the T. Don Hutto Family Detention Center near Austin, Tex. Within a year, the administration faced a lawsuit over the facility’s conditions. Legal filings describe young children forced to wear prison jumpsuits, to live in dormitory housing, to use toilets exposed to public view and to sleep with the lights on, even while being denied access to appropriate schooling. In a pretrial hearing, a federal judge in Texas blasted the administration for denying these children the protections of the Flores settlement. “The court finds it inexplicable that defendants have spent untold amounts of time, effort and taxpayer dollars to establish the Hutto family-detention program, knowing all the while that Flores is still in effect,” the judge wrote. The Bush administration settled the suit with a promise to improve the conditions at Hutto but continued to deny that children in the family detention were entitled to the Flores protections.
In 2009, the Obama administration reversed course, abolishing family detention at Hutto and leaving only a small facility in Pennsylvania to house refugee families in exceptional circumstances. For all other refugee families, the administration returned to a policy of release to await trial. Studies have shown that nearly all detainees who are released from custody with some form of monitoring will appear for their court date. But when the number of refugees from Central America spiked last summer, the administration abruptly announced plans to resume family detention.
From the beginning, officials were clear that the purpose of the new facility in Artesia was not so much to review asylum petitions as to process deportation orders. “We have already added resources to expedite the removal, without a hearing before an immigration judge, of adults who come from these three countries without children,” the secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, told a Senate committee in July. “Then there are adults who brought their children with them. Again, our message to this group is simple: We will send you back.” Elected officials in Artesia say that Johnson made a similar pledge during a visit to the detention camp in July. “He said, ‘As soon as we get them, we’ll ship them back,’ ” a city councilor from Artesia named Jose Luis Aguilar recalled. The mayor of the city, Phillip Burch, added, “His comment to us was that this would be a ‘rapid deportation process.’ Those were his exact words.”
During the first five weeks that the Artesia facility was open, officials deported more than 200 refugees to Central America. But as word of the detention camp began to spread, volunteers like Christina Brown trickled into town. Their goal was to stop the deportations, schedule asylum hearings for the detainees and, whenever possible, release the women and children on bond. Many of the lawyers who came to Artesia were young mothers, and they saw in the detained children a resemblance to their own. By last fall, roughly 200 volunteers were rotating through town in shifts: renting rooms in local motels, working 12-hour days to interview detainees and file asylum paperwork, then staying awake into the night to consult one another. Some volunteers returned to Artesia multiple times. A few spent more than a month there. Brown never moved back to Denver. She moved into a little yellow house by the detention facility, took up office space in a local church and, with help from a nonprofit group called the American Immigration Lawyers Association, or AILA, she began to organize the volunteers pouring in.
As Brown got to know detainees in Artesia, grim patterns emerged from their stories. One was the constant threat of gangs in their lives; another was the prevalence of sexual violence. A detainee in Artesia named Sofia explained that a gang murdered her brother, shot her husband and then kidnapped and raped her 14-year-old stepdaughter. A Guatemalan woman named Kira said that she fled when a gang targeted her family over their involvement in a nonviolence movement at church; when Kira’s husband went into hiding, the gang subjected her to repeated sexual assaults and threatened to cut her unborn baby from her womb. An inmate named Marisol said she crossed the U.S. border in June after a gang in Honduras murdered the father of her 3-year-old twins, then turned its attention to her.
Less than a week after her arrival in Artesia, Brown represented the young Salvadoran mother she met on her first day. It was a preliminary hearing to see whether the woman met the basic preconditions for asylum. A frequent consideration in the refugee process is whether an applicant is being targeted as a member of a “particular social group.” Judges have interpreted the phrase to include a refugee’s victimhood on the basis of sex or sexual orientation. At the hearing, Brown planned to invoke the pervasiveness of gang violence and sexual assault, but she says the immigration judge refused to let her speak.
“I wasn’t allowed to play any role,” Brown said. Speaking to the judge, her client described her husband’s murder and the threats she faced from gangs. “She testified very well,” Brown said. But when the judge asked whether she felt targeted as a member of a “social group,” the woman said no. “Because that is a legal term of art,” Brown said. “She had no idea what the heck it means.” Brown tried to interject, but the judge wouldn’t allow it. He denied the woman’s request for an asylum hearing and slated her for deportation. Afterward, Brown said, “I went behind one of the cubicles, and I started sobbing uncontrollably.”
Detainees who passed their initial hearings often found themselves stranded in Artesia without bond. Lawyers for Homeland Security have adopted a policy they call “no bond or high bond” for the women and children in detention. In court filings, they insist that prolonged detention is necessary to “further screen the detainees and have a better chance of identifying any that present threats to our public safety and national security.” Allowing these young mothers and children to be free on bond, they claim, “would have indirect yet significant adverse national-security consequences.”
As the months ticked by in Artesia, many detainees began to wonder if they would ever be free again. “I arrived on July 5 and turned myself in at 2 a.m.,” a 28-year-old mother of two named Ana recalled. In Honduras, Ana ran a small business selling trinkets and served on the P.T.A. of her daughter’s school. “I lived well,” she said — until the gangs began to pound on her door, demanding extortion payments. Within days, they had escalated their threats, approaching Ana brazenly on the street. “One day, coming home from my daughter’s school, they walked up to me and put a gun to my head,” she said. “They told me that if I didn’t give them the money in less than 24 hours, they would kill me.” Ana had already seen friends raped and murdered by the gang, so she packed her belongings that night and began the 1,800-mile journey to the U.S. border with her 7-year-old daughter. Four weeks later, in McAllen, Tex., they surrendered as refugees.
Ana and her daughter entered Artesia in mid-July. In October they were still there. Ana’s daughter was sick and losing weight rapidly under the strain of incarceration. Their lawyer, a leader in Chicago’s Mormon Church named Rebecca van Uitert, said that Ana’s daughter became so weak and emaciated that doctors threatened drastic measures. “They were like, ‘You’ve got to force her to eat, and if you don’t, we’re going to put a PICC line in her and force-feed her,’ ” van Uitert said. Ana said that when her daughter heard the doctor say this, “She started to cry and cry.”
In October, as van Uitert presented Ana’s case to an immigration judge, the lawyer broke down in the courtroom. “I’m starting to make these arguments before the judge, and I just couldn’t,” she said. “I sounded like a barking seal, just sucking and gasping, and because I was crying, a lot of people started crying. The attorney next to me was crying, Ana was crying, her little girl started crying. I looked over at the bailiff, who actually ended up being my friend when I went back another time. He had tears in his eyes.” The judge granted Ana’s release on bond; she is currently waiting for an asylum hearing in North Carolina.
Many of the volunteers in Artesia tell similar stories about the misery of life in the facility. “I thought I was pretty tough,” said Allegra Love, who spent the previous summer working on the border between Mexico and Guatemala. “I mean, I had seen kids in all manner of suffering, but this was a really different thing. It’s a jail, and the women and children are being led around by guards. There’s this look that the kids have in their eyes. This lackadaisical look. They’re just sitting there, staring off, and they’re wasting away. That was what shocked me most.”
The detainees reported sleeping eight to a room, in violation of the Flores settlement, with little exercise or stimulation for the children. Many were under the age of 6 and had been raised on a diet of tortillas, rice and chicken bits. In Artesia, the institutional cafeteria foods were as unfamiliar as the penal atmosphere, and to their parents’ horror, many of the children refused to eat. “Gaunt kids, moms crying, they’re losing hair, up all night,” an attorney named Maria Andrade recalled. Another, Lisa Johnson-Firth, said: “I saw children who were malnourished and were not adapting. One 7-year-old just lay in his mother’s arms while she bottle-fed him.” Mary O’Leary, who made three trips to Artesia last fall, said: “I was trying to talk to one client about her case, and just a few feet away at another table there was this lady with a toddler between 2 and 4 years old, just lying limp. This was a sick kid, and just with this horrible racking cough.”
In early August, a paralegal from Oregon named Vanessa Sischo arrived at the camp. Raised in a small town near Mount Hood, Sischo did not realize until high school that her parents brought her into the United States from Mexico as an infant without documentation. She gained protection from deportation under the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012. When Sischo learned that children arriving from Central America were being incarcerated in Artesia, she volunteered immediately. She arrived a week after Christina Brown, and like Brown, she stayed. After about a month, AILA and another nonprofit, the American Immigration Council, hired Brown as the pro bono project’s lead attorney. Brown recommended Sischo for the job of project coordinator. The two women began rooming together in the small yellow house near Main Street.
Brown and Sischo make an unlikely pair. Brown, who has a sturdy build and dark brown hair, has an inborn skepticism and a piercing wit. Sischo is six years younger and preternaturally easygoing. Until she discovered her own immigration background, she had little interest in political affairs and spent much of her time in Oregon as a competitive snowboarder. For both, Artesia was a jarring shift from life at home. As they sat together one evening in December, they described a typical week. “The new volunteers come in on Sunday, go through orientation, and by Wednesday night, everyone is crying,” Brown said. “A lot of the attorneys come in and say: ‘I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I’ve seen all of this before. I’ll be fine.’ ”
“I remember the first time I went in,” Sischo said. “I just stopped, and all I could hear was a symphony of coughing and sneezing and crying and wailing.”
“Kids vomiting all over the place,” Brown said.
“There was a big outbreak of fevers,” Sischo said. “It sent an infant into convulsions.”
“Pneumonia, scabies, lice,” Brown said.
Officials for ICE say these accounts are exaggerated. But they declined multiple requests to visit the Artesia facility and took weeks to answer questions about its facilities. Brown, who oversaw more than 500 detainee cases as lead attorney, was also unable to gain access to the camp’s housing, dining, medical and educational facilities. “I requested three times to be taken on a tour,” she said. “I sent it through the appropriate channels. No one ever responded, to date, to my request.”
Visitors who did gain access to the facility have raised troubling questions about the ethics — and legality — of how it handled children. The Flores settlement requires the government to provide regular schooling for juveniles in detention, but the mayor of Artesia, Phillip Burch, said that on several visits to the compound, the classrooms were always empty. “I was told that children were attending classes,” he recalled. “Did I personally witness it? No. And none of the tours that I made did I see the children actually in class.” Members of the New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice, who toured the facility in October, say that officials also showed them the empty school. When one member asked why the building was empty, an ICE official replied that school was temporarily closed. Detainees have consistently told their lawyers that the school was never reliably open. They recall a few weeks in October when classes were in session for an hour or two per day, then several weeks of closure through November, followed by another brief period of classes in December.
In response to questions about the school, ICE officials would say only that “regular school instruction began Oct. 13, 2014, and ended Dec. 17.” Asked whether the school was open consistently, and for how many hours, ICE officials declined to respond. The deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, Esther Olavarria, who has purview over ICE, said that she was aware “there were challenges” at the Artesia school, but couldn’t say exactly when it was open or for how long. Olavarria has a distinguished record as advocate for refugees and previously served as a top immigration adviser for Senator Edward M. Kennedy. She said that she was under the impression that attorneys in Artesia were granted access to the facility, and she could not explain why Brown was not. She also believed that the meal service in Artesia was adapted to reflect the dietary norms of Central America and that medical care was adequate and available. After hearing what detainees, attorneys, faith advocates and elected officials described in Artesia, Olavarria promised to look into these issues and provide further documentation. Despite several attempts to elicit that documentation, she provided none. In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security said: “The regular school instruction began Oct. 13, 2014, but was suspended shortly thereafter in order to ensure appropriate vetting of all teachers.” Officials say that school resumed on Oct. 24 and continued through Dec. 17.
Attorneys for the Obama administration have argued in court, like the Bush administration previously, that the protections guaranteed by the Flores settlement do not apply to children in family detention. “The Flores settlement comes into play with unaccompanied minors,” a lawyer for the Department of Homeland Security named Karen Donoso Stevens insisted to a judge on Aug. 4. “That argument is moot here, because the juvenile is detained — is accompanied and detained — with his mother.”
Federal judges have consistently rejected this position. Just as the judge reviewing family detention in 2007 called the denial of Flores protections “inexplicable,” the judge presiding over the Aug. 4 hearing issued a ruling in September that Homeland Security officials in Artesia must honor the Flores Settlement Agreement. “The language of the F.S.A. is unambiguous,” Judge Roxanne Hladylowycz wrote. “The F.S.A. was designed to create a nationwide policy for the detention of all minors, not only those who are unaccompanied.” Olavarria said she was not aware of that ruling and would not comment on whether the Department of Homeland Security believes that the Flores ruling applies to children in family detention today.
As the pro bono project in Artesia continued into fall, its attorneys continued to win in court. By mid-November, more than 400 of the detained women and children were free on bond. Then on Nov. 20, the administration suddenly announced plans to transfer the Artesia detainees to the ICE detention camp in Karnes, Tex., where they would fall under a new immigration court district with a new slate of judges.
That announcement came at the very moment the president was delivering a live address on the new protections available to established immigrant families. In an email to notify Artesia volunteers about the transfer, an organizer for AILA named Stephen Manning wrote, “The disconnect from the compassionate-ish words of the president and his crushing policies toward these refugees is shocking.” Brown was listening to the speech in her car, while driving to Denver for a rare weekend at home, when her cellphone buzzed with the news that 20 of her clients would be transferred to Texas the next morning. Many of them were close to a bond release; in San Antonio, they might be detained for weeks or months longer. Brown pulled her car to the side of the highway and spent three hours arguing to delay the transfer. Over the next two weeks, officials moved forward with the plan.
By mid-December, most of the Artesia detainees were in Karnes, and Brown and Sischo were scrambling to pack the contents of their home and office. On the afternoon of Dec. 16, they threw their final bags into a U-Haul, its cargo area crammed with laundry baskets, suitcases, file boxes and hiking backpacks, all wedged precariously in place, then set out for the eight-hour drive across the desert to central Texas.
The next morning, a law professor named Barbara Hines was also speeding into San Antonio. Hines is a wiry woman in her 60s with a burst of black curls and an aspect of bristling intensity. In the battle over refugee detention, she is something of a seminal figure for advocates like Brown and Sischo. As co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Texas, Hines helped lead the 2007 lawsuit against the Hutto facility, which brought about its closure in 2009 and the abolition of widespread family detention until last summer. When the Obama administration announced plans to resume the practice in Artesia, Hines was outraged; when officials opened the second facility in Karnes, just two hours from her home in Austin, Hines began to organize a pro bono project of her own. Although she’d never met Brown or Sischo, she had been running a parallel operation for months. Now that they were in Texas, Hines was eager to meet them.
But first, she had a client to represent. Hines pulled into a parking lot behind the immigration court in downtown San Antonio and rushed inside, up a clattering elevator to the third floor and down a long hallway to a cramped courtroom. At the front, behind a vast wooden desk, sat Judge Glenn McPhaul, a tidy man with slicked hair and a pencil mustache. He presided from an elevated platform, with a clerk to his right, an interpreter to his left, and a large television monitor in the corner. On screen was the pale and grainy image of a dozen exhausted Central American women.
These were just a few of the Karnes detainees, linked by video feed to the courtroom. Another 500 women and children were in the compound with them. There was no legal distinction between their cases and those of the women in Artesia; they had simply been sent to a different facility, weeks or months earlier. Each of them, like the women in Artesia, had already been through the early stages of the asylum process — presenting herself to immigration authorities, asking for refugee status and passing the “credible-fear interview” to confirm a basis for her claim. But the odds of release in Karnes were worse. One of McPhaul’s colleagues, Judge Gary Burkholder, was averaging a 91.6 percent denial rate for the asylum claims. Some Karnes detainees had been in the facility for nearly six months and could remain there another six.
The sitting area of the courtroom was nearly empty, save for half a dozen attorneys. Many of the volunteers at Karnes are friends and former students of Hines, who has been drafting every licensed lawyer she can find. As she slid down the long bench to a seat, she nodded to some of the attorneys in the room and stopped to whisper with another. Then she spent a few minutes fidgeting with her phone until the clerk called her client’s name, and Hines sprang forward, slipping past the bar rail to a table facing the judge. On the television screen, her client, Juana, was stepping toward the camera at Karnes. She was a young woman with a narrow face and deep eyes. Her hair was pulled back to reveal high cheekbones and a somber expression.
McPhaul asked the stenographer to begin transcription, then he commenced with the ritualized exchange of detention proceedings, recording the names of the attorneys, the detainee and everyone on the bench. He noted the introduction of a series of legal documents and confirmed that Juana was still happy to be represented by Hines. There was a stream of legal jargon and a few perfunctory remarks about the status of the case, all of it in clipped judicial vernacular and a flat, indifferent tone. Then McPhaul set a date for the next hearing, at which Hines could begin to present an argument for Juana’s release on bond.
For now, Juana’s turn was over; the whole affair took less than 10 minutes, without any meaningful discussion of her case or its merits. As Hines stepped out of the courtroom, Juana was turning away from the camera to return to her children in Karnes. It was impossible to say how much of the hearing she understood, since none of the proceedings were translated into Spanish. The courtroom interpreter was there only to translate the judge’s questions and the detainees’ responses; everything else was said exclusively in English, including the outcome. For all that Juana knew, she might have been granted reprieve or confined for another six months.
Over the next two hours, the scene would repeat a dozen times. Each time McPhaul called a name, a new lawyer would step forward, taking a seat before the bench and proceeding through the verbal Kabuki. In a few cases, McPhaul offered the detainee the opportunity to post bond — usually around $3,000. But the courtroom interpreter was not allowed to convey this news to the detainee, either. If the pro bono attorney spoke Spanish fluently, there might be a few minutes at the end of the session to explain what happened. If not, the detainee would return to custody and might not discover that she had been granted bond until, or unless, someone paid it.
These, of course, were the lucky women with an attorney to represent them at all. Although the families in Artesia and Karnes have been detained in an environment that closely resembles incarceration, there is no requirement in American law to provide them with the sort of legal representation afforded to other defendants. Unlike the Artesia project, where the involvement of AILA brought in hundreds of volunteers from across the country, Hines could scrape together only so many friends and compatriots to lend their time. She formed a partnership with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or Raices, in San Antonio, and the law firm Akin Gump assigned a young lawyer named Lauren Connell to help organize the Karnes project. But there still weren’t enough lawyers to represent the detainees, and Hines and Connell were forced to evaluate which cases were most likely to win. The remaining refugees would proceed to court alone. They would understand little of what happened, and most would be deported.
It was difficult for Hines to think about what might happen to those women next. The refugees who are returned to Central America can be subject to even greater harassment by gangs for having fled. Hector Hernandez, a morgue operator in Honduras, has said that children who come back from U.S. detention “return just to die.” Jose Luis Aguilar, the city councilor for Artesia, recalled a group deportation on the day in July when Secretary Jeh Johnson visited the facility. “He came in the morning, and that same night, they took 79 people and shipped them to El Salvador on the ICE plane,” Aguilar said. “We got reports later that 10 kids had been killed. The church group confirmed that with four of the mortuaries where they went.”
Hines was hoping the attorneys from Artesia would help represent the women in Karnes, but she had no idea whether they would be willing to do so. This was her agenda for the first meeting with Christina Brown, which took place that afternoon in a sunlit conference room in the downtown offices of Akin Gump. Hines sat at the head of a long table, with Lauren Connell to her left and an attorney from Raices named Steven Walden to her right. After a few minutes, Brown appeared in the doorway. She was wearing the same green T-shirt and black leggings she had been wearing the day before in Artesia, and she smiled sheepishly, offering a handshake to Hines.
“I’m really sorry,” Brown said with a small laugh. “I want to let you know that I believe very strongly in first impressions — but I am living out of a U-Haul right now.”
Hines smiled sympathetically as they sat down. “So,” she said. “What are you all going to do here?”
Brown paused. “Well, we know we’re going to be continuing our cases,” she said.
“Mmm-hmm,” Hines said.
“And I’m working on cleaning up our spreadsheet and figuring out who’s here,” Brown said. “Many of our clients who were transferred here had already been granted bond.”
“Wait,” Connell said. “They transferred them here to have them bond out?”
Brown sighed. “Yes,” she said.
“That’s ridiculous,” Connell said.
“We’ve had numerous fights on this issue,” Brown said. “We’ve had family members go to pay, and they can’t because the client is already in transit to Karnes.”
Hines shook her head in disbelief.
“It’s been kind of a nightmare,” Brown said.
“Do you have people who have been detained more than 90 days?” Hines asked.
“Every one we’re going forward with on merits has been detained more than 90 days,” Brown said. “So I want to see how you all are moving forward, so I can see what resources are here for Artesia clients.”
Hines laughed. “We can barely staff our cases,” she said. “My hope was that people who were at Artesia, after they’re finished your cases, are going to help with ours.”
“If she says that enough, maybe it will come true,” Connell said.
Brown shook her head. “At the moment, I can commit to nothing,” she said. “Right now, I’m the only attorney, and there’s no guarantee that other volunteers are coming.”
Hines and Connell exchanged a look. Even if the Artesia lawyers could double or triple their workload, the number of detainees was about to overwhelm them regardless. The day before, officials in Karnes had approved a plan to expand the detention facility from about 500 beds to roughly 1,100. At the same time, two hours west of Karnes, in the little town of Dilley, the Department of Homeland Security was about to open another refugee camp for women and children. It would be the largest detention facility in the country, with up to 2,400 beds. If Hines and Brown had trouble finding lawyers to represent a few hundred women and children, there was little chance of generating support for more than 3,000.
After the meeting, Brown returned to her motel and spent the afternoon searching for an apartment, but the options were limited, and by late afternoon, she and Sischo still had nowhere to live. They decided to spend their first evening in Texas at a vegetarian restaurant downtown. As they settled into a booth at the back of the cafe, they talked about the situation they’d left behind in Artesia, where much of the town opposed the detention facility and the lawyers with equal measure. Town-hall meetings in Artesia became so heated that city officials asked the police to stand guard.
“For people there, it’s a resource issue,” Brown said. “They blame the immigrant community for coming in and being jailed, and for us having to educate their children, when they would like more resources put into their own schools.”
Sischo nodded. “That’s what a guy at the electronics store said: ‘Oh, you’re helping the illegals?’ That’s how they view it. I remember a sign that a protester was holding that was like, ‘What about our children?’ ”
“It’s a legitimate question,” Brown said. “They don’t have a lot of resources in that town, and they should have more.”
“I agree,” Sischo said. “We should not be spending resources on detaining these families. They should be released. But people don’t understand the law. They think they should be deported because they’re ‘illegals.’ So they’re missing a very big part of the story, which is that they aren’t breaking the law. They’re trying to go through the process that’s laid out in our laws.”
For Sischo, seeing the families struggle — families much like her own — was almost more than she could stand. On visits to her parents in Oregon, she struggled to maintain composure. “Every time I’ve gone home, I’ve just cried pretty much nonstop,” she said. “It’s grief and anger and hopelessness and confusion as to how this could happen and whether we’re making a difference.”
For Brown, by contrast, the same experiences seemed to have amplified her energy and commitment. “I haven’t had time to go home and cry yet,” she said. “Maybe I’ll get a job at Dilley, because then I won’t have to process anything!” Brown laughed, but she acknowledged that some part of her was ready to commit to the nomadic life of a legal activist, parachuting into crises for a few months at a time. “That appeals to me,” she said. “It’s nice to be where people need you.”
As dinner came to an end, Brown and Sischo stepped outside into the night. They had parked the U-Haul in a nearby lot, and it had just been towed.
Over the next year, most of the families who are currently in detention will wend their way through the refugee system. Some will be released on bond to await their asylum hearing; others will remain in custody until their hearings are complete. Those without an attorney will most likely fail to articulate a reason for their claim in the appropriate jargon of the immigration courts and will be deported to face whatever horror they hoped to flee. Of the 15 families who have been shepherded through the process by the volunteer lawyers so far, 14 have received asylum — “Which should be all you need to know about the validity of their claims,” Brown said.
By late spring, the construction of the new facility at Dilley should be complete. It already represents a drastic departure from the refugee camp in Artesia. Managed by the Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in the country, the South Texas Family Residential Center has its own promotional website with promissory images of the spacious classrooms, libraries, play areas and lounges that will eventually be available to refugees in long-term detention. Architectural drawings for the site show eight distinct neighborhoods on the campus, with dormitory housing, outdoor pavilions, a chapel and several playgrounds. How much of this will ultimately materialize remains to be seen. Last week, C.C.A. listed job openings for child care workers, library aides and mailroom clerks at the site.
Esther Olavarria, the senior counselor for immigration issues at the Department of Homeland Security, acknowledged that there had been shortcomings in Artesia but described the Dilley facility as a correction. “We stood up Artesia very, very quickly and did the best that we could under the circumstances,” Olavarria said. “As concerns were brought to our attention by advocates, we worked with them to try to address the concerns as quickly as possible.”
Many advocates have expressed concerns about the Dilley facility as well. Its management company, C.C.A., is the same firm that ran the Hutto detention center, and it has been at the center of other significant controversies in recent years. In 2006, federal investigators reported that conditions at a C.C.A. immigration jail in Eloy, Ariz., were so lacking that “detainee welfare is in jeopardy.” Last March, the F.B.I. started an investigation of C.C.A. over a facility the company ran in Idaho, known by inmates as the “Gladiator School” because of unchecked fighting; in 2010, a video surfaced of guards watching one inmate beat another into a coma. Two years ago, C.C.A. executives admitted to fraud in their government contracts at the prison, including 4,800 hours of falsified business records. The state has now taken control of the facility.
The management contract at Dilley was also created with unusual terms. In their hurry to open the new facility, officials for the Obama administration bypassed normal bidding procedures and established Dilley under an existing contract for the troubled C.C.A. jail in Eloy. Although the Dilley camp is nearly 1,000 miles away from Eloy, all federal funding for the new camp in Texas will flow through the small town in Arizona, which will keep $438,000 of the annual operating budget as compensation. Eloy city officials say they do not expect to monitor, or even visit, the Dilley facility.
Any new refugees who surrender this spring may spend more than a year in Dilley before their asylum hearings can be scheduled. Olavarria said that officials hope the process will move more quickly, but it will depend on the immigration courts in San Antonio, which fall under the Department of Justice. “From what I’ve heard from the Justice Department, generally it’s not taking 18 months,” Olavarria said. “We’re hearing that cases are being completed in a shorter time. But it’s a case-by-case situation that depends on the complexity, it depends on continuances that are provided to seek counsel, to prepare for cases, all those kinds of things.” The cost to house each detainee at Dilley is about $108,000 per year. A study funded by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, of more than 500 detainees between 1997 and 2000, found that 93 percent will appear in court when placed in a monitoring program. The savings of such a program for the 2,400 detainees at Dilley would be about $250 million per year.
Officials from the Department of Homeland Security say the facilities in Karnes and Dilley are still insufficient to house the detainees they expect to process in the coming year. “Last year, we saw 60,000 families come in,” Olavarria said. “We’re hoping we don’t see those kinds of numbers this year, but even if we see half, those two facilities would hold a fraction of those numbers.” Olavarria said the department was not yet considering additional facilities. “We are in the middle of a battle with the Congress on our funding, so there’s very little discussion about long-term planning,” she said.
For now, the Artesia facility is closed, its bunk beds and hallways empty. Brown and Sischo remain in Texas; they rescued their U-Haul from an impound lot and found an apartment soon thereafter. That same week, an email from the mayor of Artesia, Phillip Burch, was circulating among city residents. “The pro bono attorneys have left our community,” he wrote. “Hopefully not to return.”
Roger’s note: you may not agree with everything he says, you may be put off by his petulance, defensiveness and critiques, but there is no denying that Dylan outspoken, blunt, acerbic, and — above all — folksy, is one of a kind, a genuine American (in the best sense of the word) phenomenon. Via his music he captured the ethos and spoke to a generation, a generation that found it hard to understand his primary commitment to his music over his message. Here he tells it like it is for him, an insight into the man, a folk genius if nothing else.
Former President Jimmy Carter introduces Bob Dylan as the 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year with Neil Portnow, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, during the MusiCares concert at the Convention Center. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
By Randall Roberts contact the reporter
Transcript of Bob Dylan’s MusiCares Person of Year speech
Bob Dylan was honored by MusiCares, the charity organization that aids musicians in need, at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Friday night. After performances by artists including Tom Jones, Sheryl Crow, Neil Young, Beck, Jackson Browne and others, Dylan himself took a rare opportunity in the spotlight to deliver a 30-plus-minute acceptance speech.
Expansive, funny and insightful, Dylan didn’t pull any punches, calling out songwriters who had criticized his work while indicting Nashville and commercial country music.
He was introduced by former President Jimmy Carter, and walked out to a standing ovation. After thanking the organizers, Dylan referred to his notes and began by saying, “I’m going to read some of this.”
Because of moments of applause, and some echoey acoustics, a few of Dylan’s words were inaudible on the recording I’ve consulted, and I’ve noted as such. Though it upsets him to hear it (see below), Dylan does sometimes mumble and slur his words.
Bob Dylan’s MusiCares person of the year acceptance speech:
I’m glad for my songs to be honored like this. But you know, they didn’t get here by themselves. It’s been a long road and it’s taken a lot of doing. These songs of mine, they’re like mystery stories, the kind that Shakespeare saw when he was growing up. I think you could trace what I do back that far. They were on the fringes then, and I think they’re on the fringes now. And they sound like they’ve been on the hard ground.
I should mention a few people along the way who brought this about. I know I should mention John Hammond, great talent scout for Columbia Records. He signed me to that label when I was nobody. It took a lot of faith to do that, and he took a lot of ridicule, but he was his own man and he was courageous. And for that, I’m eternally grateful. The last person he discovered before me was Aretha Franklin, and before that Count Basie, Billie Holiday and a whole lot of other artists. All noncommercial artists.
Trends did not interest John, and I was very noncommercial but he stayed with me. He believed in my talent and that’s all that mattered. I can’t thank him enough for that.
Lou Levy runs Leeds Music, and they published my earliest songs, but I didn’t stay there too long. Levy himself, he went back a long ways. He signed me to that company and recorded my songs and I sang them into a tape recorder. He told me outright, there was no precedent for what I was doing, that I was either before my time or behind it. And if I brought him a song like “Stardust,” he’d turn it down because it would be too late.
He told me that if I was before my time — and he didn’t really know that for sure — but if it was happening and if it was true, the public would usually take three to five years to catch up — so be prepared. And that did happen. The trouble was, when the public did catch up I was already three to five years beyond that, so it kind of complicated it. But he was encouraging, and he didn’t judge me, and I’ll always remember him for that.
Artie Mogull at Witmark Music signed me next to his company, and he told me to just keep writing songs no matter what, that I might be on to something. Well, he too stood behind me, and he could never wait to see what I’d give him next. I didn’t even think of myself as a songwriter before then. I’ll always be grateful for him also for that attitude
I also have to mention some of the early artists who recorded my songs very, very early, without having to be asked. Just something they felt about them that was right for them. I’ve got to say thank you to Peter, Paul and Mary, who I knew all separately before they ever became a group. I didn’t even think of myself as writing songs for others to sing but it was starting to happen and it couldn’t have happened to, or with, a better group.
They took a song of mine that had been recorded before that was buried on one of my records and turned it into a hit song. Not the way I would have done it — they straightened it out. But since then hundreds of people have recorded it and I don’t think that would have happened if it wasn’t for them. They definitely started something for me.
MusiCares 2015 | Concert photos
The Byrds, the Turtles, Sonny & Cher — they made some of my songs Top 10 hits but I wasn’t a pop songwriter and I really didn’t want to be that, but it was good that it happened. Their versions of songs were like commercials, but I didn’t really mind that because 50 years later my songs were being used in the commercials. So that was good too. I was glad it happened, and I was glad they’d done it.
Pervis Staples and the Staple Singers — long before they were on Stax they were on Epic and they were one of my favorite groups of all time. I met them all in ’62 or ’63. They heard my songs live and Pervis wanted to record three or four of them and he did with the Staples Singers. They were the type of artists that I wanted recording my songs.
Nina Simone. I used to cross paths with her in New York City in the Village Gate nightclub. These were the artists I looked up to. She recorded some of my songs that she [inaudible] to me. She was an overwhelming artist, piano player and singer. Very strong woman, very outspoken. That she was recording my songs validated everything that I was about.
Oh, and can’t forget Jimi Hendrix. I actually saw Jimi Hendrix perform when he was in a band called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames — something like that. And Jimi didn’t even sing. He was just the guitar player. He took some small songs of mine that nobody paid any attention to and pumped them up into the outer limits of the stratosphere and turned them all into classics. I have to thank Jimi, too. I wish he was here.
Johnny Cash recorded some of my songs early on, too, up in about ’63, when he was all skin and bones. He traveled long, he traveled hard, but he was a hero of mine. I heard many of his songs growing up. I knew them better than I knew my own. “Big River,” “I Walk the Line.”
“How high’s the water, Mama?” I wrote “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” with that song reverberating inside my head. I still ask, “How high is the water, mama?” Johnny was an intense character. And he saw that people were putting me down playing electric music, and he posted letters to magazines scolding people, telling them to shut up and let him sing.
In Johnny Cash’s world — hardcore Southern drama — that kind of thing didn’t exist. Nobody told anybody what to sing or what not to sing. They just didn’t do that kind of thing. I’m always going to thank him for that. Johnny Cash was a giant of a man, the man in black. And I’ll always cherish the friendship we had until the day there is no more days.
Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Joan Baez. She was the queen of folk music then and now. She took a liking to my songs and brought me with her to play concerts, where she had crowds of thousands of people enthralled with her beauty and voice.
People would say, “What are you doing with that ragtag scrubby little waif?” And she’d tell everybody in no uncertain terms, “Now you better be quiet and listen to the songs.” We even played a few of them together. Joan Baez is as tough-minded as they come. Love. And she’s a free, independent spirit. Nobody can tell her what to do if she doesn’t want to do it. I learned a lot of things from her. A woman with devastating honesty. And for her kind of love and devotion, I could never pay that back.
These songs didn’t come out of thin air. I didn’t just make them up out of whole cloth. Contrary to what Lou Levy said, there was a precedent. It all came out of traditional music: traditional folk music, traditional rock ‘n’ roll and traditional big-band swing orchestra music.
I learned lyrics and how to write them from listening to folk songs. And I played them, and I met other people that played them back when nobody was doing it. Sang nothing but these folk songs, and they gave me the code for everything that’s fair game, that everything belongs to everyone.
For three or four years all I listened to were folk standards. I went to sleep singing folk songs. I sang them everywhere, clubs, parties, bars, coffeehouses, fields, festivals. And I met other singers along the way who did the same thing and we just learned songs from each other. I could learn one song and sing it next in an hour if I’d heard it just once.
If you sang “John Henry” as many times as me — “John Henry was a steel-driving man / Died with a hammer in his hand / John Henry said a man ain’t nothin’ but a man / Before I let that steam drill drive me down / I’ll die with that hammer in my hand.”
If you had sung that song as many times as I did, you’d have written “How many roads must a man walk down?” too.
Big Bill Broonzy had a song called “Key to the Highway.” “I’ve got a key to the highway / I’m booked and I’m bound to go / Gonna leave here runnin’ because walking is most too slow.” I sang that a lot. If you sing that a lot, you just might write,
Georgia Sam he had a bloody nose
Welfare Department they wouldn’t give him no clothes
He asked poor Howard where can I go
Howard said there’s only one place I know
Sam said tell me quick man I got to run
Howard just pointed with his gun
And said that way down on Highway 61
You’d have written that too if you’d sang “Key to the Highway” as much as me.
“Ain’t no use sit ‘n cry / You’ll be an angel by and by / Sail away, ladies, sail away.” “I’m sailing away my own true love.” “Boots of Spanish Leather” — Sheryl Crow just sung that.
“Roll the cotton down, aw, yeah, roll the cotton down / Ten dollars a day is a white man’s pay / A dollar a day is the black man’s pay / Roll the cotton down.” If you sang that song as many times as me, you’d be writing “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more,” too.
I sang a lot of “come all you” songs. There’s plenty of them. There’s way too many to be counted. “Come along boys and listen to my tale / Tell you of my trouble on the old Chisholm Trail.” Or, “Come all ye good people, listen while I tell / the fate of Floyd Collins a lad we all know well / The fate of Floyd Collins, a lad we all know well.”
“Come all ye fair and tender ladies / Take warning how you court your men / They’re like a star on a summer morning / They first appear and then they’re gone again.” “If you’ll gather ’round, people / A story I will tell / ‘Bout Pretty Boy Floyd, an outlaw / Oklahoma knew him well.”
If you sung all these “come all ye” songs all the time, you’d be writing, “Come gather ’round people where ever you roam, admit that the waters around you have grown / Accept that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone / If your time to you is worth saving / And you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone / The times they are a-changing.”
You’d have written them too. There’s nothing secret about it. You just do it subliminally and unconsciously, because that’s all enough, and that’s all I sang. That was all that was dear to me. They were the only kinds of songs that made sense.
“When you go down to Deep Ellum keep your money in your socks / Women in Deep Ellum put you on the rocks.” Sing that song for a while and you just might come up with, “When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez and it’s Easter time too / And your gravity fails and negativity don’t pull you through / Don’t put on any airs / When you’re down on Rue Morgue Avenue / They got some hungry women there / And they really make a mess outta you.”
All these songs are connected. Don’t be fooled. I just opened up a different door in a different kind of way. It’s just different, saying the same thing. I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary.
Well you know, I just thought I was doing something natural, but right from the start, my songs were divisive for some reason. They divided people. I never knew why. Some got angered, others loved them. Didn’t know why my songs had detractors and supporters. A strange environment to have to throw your songs into, but I did it anyway.
Last thing I thought of was who cared about what song I was writing. I was just writing them. I didn’t think I was doing anything different. I thought I was just extending the line. Maybe a little bit unruly, but I was just elaborating on situations. Maybe hard to pin down, but so what? A lot of people are hard to pin down. You’ve just got to bear it. I didn’t really care what Lieber and Stoller thought of my songs.
They didn’t like ‘em, but Doc Pomus did. That was all right that they didn’t like ‘em, because I never liked their songs either. “Yakety yak, don’t talk back.” “Charlie Brown is a clown,” “Baby I’m a hog for you.” Novelty songs. They weren’t saying anything serious. Doc’s songs, they were better. “This Magic Moment.” “Lonely Avenue.” Save the Last Dance for Me.
Those songs broke my heart. I figured I’d rather have his blessings any day than theirs.
Ahmet Ertegun didn’t think much of my songs, but Sam Phillips did. Ahmet founded Atlantic Records. He produced some great records: Ray Charles, Ray Brown, just to name a few.
There were some great records in there, no question about it. But Sam Phillips, he recorded Elvis and Jerry Lee, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Radical eyes that shook the very essence of humanity. Revolution in style and scope. Heavy shape and color. Radical to the bone. Songs that cut you to the bone. Renegades in all degrees, doing songs that would never decay, and still resound to this day. Oh, yeah, I’d rather have Sam Phillips’ blessing any day.
Merle Haggard didn’t even think much of my songs. I know he didn’t. He didn’t say that to me, but I know [inaudible]. Buck Owens did, and he recorded some of my early songs. Merle Haggard — “Mama Tried,” “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive.” I can’t imagine Waylon Jennings singing “The Bottle Let Me Down.”
“Together Again”? That’s Buck Owens, and that trumps anything coming out of Bakersfield. Buck Owens and Merle Haggard? If you have to have somebody’s blessing — you figure it out.
Oh, yeah. Critics have been giving me a hard time since Day One. Critics say I can’t sing. I croak. Sound like a frog. Why don’t critics say that same thing about Tom Waits? Critics say my voice is shot. That I have no voice. What don’t they say those things about Leonard Cohen? Why do I get special treatment? Critics say I can’t carry a tune and I talk my way through a song. Really? I’ve never heard that said about Lou Reed. Why does he get to go scot-free?
What have I done to deserve this special attention? No vocal range? When’s the last time you heard Dr. John? Why don’t you say that about him? Slur my words, got no diction. Have you people ever listened to Charley Patton or Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters. Talk about slurred words and no diction. [Inaudible] doesn’t even matter.
“Why me, Lord?” I would say that to myself.
Critics say I mangle my melodies, render my songs unrecognizable. Oh, really? Let me tell you something. I was at a boxing match a few years ago seeing Floyd Mayweather fight a Puerto Rican guy. And the Puerto Rican national anthem, somebody sang it and it was beautiful. It was heartfelt and it was moving.
After that it was time for our national anthem. And a very popular soul-singing sister was chosen to sing. She sang every note — that exists, and some that don’t exist. Talk about mangling a melody. You take a one-syllable word and make it last for 15 minutes? She was doing vocal gymnastics like she was on a trapeze act. But to me it was not funny.
Where were the critics? Mangling lyrics? Mangling a melody? Mangling a treasured song? No, I get the blame. But I don’t really think I do that. I just think critics say I do.
Sam Cooke said this when told he had a beautiful voice: He said, “Well that’s very kind of you, but voices ought not to be measured by how pretty they are. Instead they matter only if they convince you that they are telling the truth.” Think about that the next time you [inaudible].
Times always change. They really do. And you have to always be ready for something that’s coming along and you never expected it. Way back when, I was in Nashville making some records and I read this article, a Tom T. Hall interview. Tom T. Hall, he was bitching about some kind of new song, and he couldn’t understand what these new kinds of songs that were coming in were about.
Now Tom, he was one of the most preeminent songwriters of the time in Nashville. A lot of people were recording his songs and he himself even did it. But he was all in a fuss about James Taylor, a song James had called “Country Road.” Tom was going off in this interview — “But James don’t say nothing about a country road. He’s just says how you can feel it on the country road. I don’t understand that.”
Now some might say Tom is a great songwriter. I’m not going to doubt that. At the time he was doing this interview I was actually listening to a song of his on the radio.
It was called “I Love.” I was listening to it in a recording studio, and he was talking about all the things he loves, an everyman kind of song, trying to connect with people. Trying to make you think that he’s just like you and you’re just like him. We all love the same things, and we’re all in this together. Tom loves little baby ducks, slow-moving trains and rain. He loves old pickup trucks and little country streams. Sleeping without dreams. Bourbon in a glass. Coffee in a cup. Tomatoes on the vine, and onions.
Now listen, I’m not ever going to disparage another songwriter. I’m not going to do that. I’m not saying it’s a bad song. I’m just saying it might be a little overcooked. But, you know, it was in the top 10 anyway. Tom and a few other writers had the whole Nashville scene sewed up in a box. If you wanted to record a song and get it in the top 10 you had to go to them, and Tom was one of the top guys. They were all very comfortable, doing their thing.
This was about the time that Willie Nelson picked up and moved to Texas. About the same time. He’s still in Texas. Everything was very copacetic. Everything was all right until — until — Kristofferson came to town. Oh, they ain’t seen anybody like him. He came into town like a wildcat, flew his helicopter into Johnny Cash’s backyard like a typical songwriter. And he went for the throat. “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”
Well, I woke up Sunday morning
With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt.
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad
So I had one more for dessert
Then I fumbled through my closet
Found my cleanest dirty shirt
Then I washed my face and combed my hair
And stumbled down the stairs to meet the day.
You can look at Nashville pre-Kris and post-Kris, because he changed everything. That one song ruined Tom T. Hall’s poker parties. It might have sent him to the crazy house. God forbid he ever heard any of my songs.
You walk into the room
With your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked
You say, “Who is that man?”
You try so hard
But you don’t understand
Just what you’re gonna say
When you get home
You know something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?
If “Sunday Morning Coming Down” rattled Tom’s cage, sent him into the looney bin, my song surely would have made him blow his brains out, right there in the minivan. Hopefully he didn’t hear it.
I just released an album of standards, all the songs usually done by Michael Buble, Harry Connick Jr., maybe Brian Wilson’s done a couple, Linda Ronstadt done ‘em. But the reviews of their records are different than the reviews of my record.
In their reviews no one says anything. In my reviews, [inaudible] they’ve got to look under every stone when it comes to me. They’ve got to mention all the songwriters’ names. Well that’s OK with me. After all, they’re great songwriters and these are standards. I’ve seen the reviews come in, and they’ll mention all the songwriters in half the review, as if everybody knows them. Nobody’s heard of them, not in this time, anyway. Buddy Kaye, Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh, to name a few.
But, you know, I’m glad they mention their names, and you know what? I’m glad they got their names in the press. It might have taken some time to do it, but they’re finally there. I can only wonder why it took so long. My only regret is that they’re not here to see it.
Traditional rock ‘n’ roll, we’re talking about that. It’s all about rhythm. Johnny Cash said it best: “Get rhythm. Get rhythm when you get the blues.” Very few rock ‘n’ roll bands today play with rhythm. They don’t know what it is. Rock ‘n’ roll is a combination of blues, and it’s a strange thing made up of two parts. A lot of people don’t know this, but the blues, which is an American music, is not what you think it is. It’s a combination of Arabic violins and Strauss waltzes working it out. But it’s true.
The other half of rock ‘n’ roll has got to be hillbilly. And that’s a derogatory term, but it ought not to be. That’s a term that includes the Delmore Bros., Stanley Bros., Roscoe Holcomb, Clarence Ashley … groups like that. Moonshiners gone berserk. Fast cars on dirt roads. That’s the kind of combination that makes up rock ‘n’ roll, and it can’t be cooked up in a science laboratory or a studio.
You have to have the right kind of rhythm to play this kind of music. If you can’t hardly play the blues, how do you [inaudible] those other two kinds of music in there? You can fake it, but you can’t really do it.
Critics have made a career out of accusing me of having a career of confounding expectations. Really? Because that’s all I do. That’s how I think about it. Confounding expectations.
“What do you do for a living, man?”
“Oh, I confound expectations.”
You’re going to get a job, the man says, “What do you do?” “Oh, confound expectations.: And the man says, “Well, we already have that spot filled. Call us back. Or don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Confounding expectations. What does that mean? ‘Why me, Lord? I’d confound them, but I don’t know how to do it.’
The Blackwood Bros. have been talking to me about making a record together. That might confound expectations, but it shouldn’t. Of course it would be a gospel album. I don’t think it would be anything out of the ordinary for me. Not a bit. One of the songs I’m thinking about singing is “Stand By Me” by the Blackwood Brothers. Not “Stand By Me” the pop song. No. The real “Stand By Me.”
The real one goes like this:
When the storm of life is raging / Stand by me / When the storm of life is raging / Stand by me / When the world is tossing me / Like a ship upon the sea / Thou who rulest wind and water / Stand by me
In the midst of tribulation / Stand by me / In the midst of tribulation / Stand by me / When the hosts of hell assail / And my strength begins to fail / Thou who never lost a battle / Stand by me
In the midst of faults and failures / Stand by me / In the midst of faults and failures / Stand by me / When I do the best I can / And my friends don’t understand / Thou who knowest all about me / Stand by me
That’s the song. I like it better than the pop song. If I record one by that name, that’s going to be the one. I’m also thinking of recording a song, not on that album, though: “Oh Lord, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”
Anyway, why me, Lord. What did I do?
Anyway, I’m proud to be here tonight for MusiCares. I’m honored to have all these artists singing my songs. There’s nothing like that. Great artists. [applause, inaudible]. They’re all singing the truth, and you can hear it in their voices.
I’m proud to be here tonight for MusiCares. I think a lot of this organization. They’ve helped many people. Many musicians who have contributed a lot to our culture. I’d like to personally thank them for what they did for a friend of mine, Billy Lee Riley. A friend of mine who they helped for six years when he was down and couldn’t work. Billy was a son of rock ‘n’ roll, obviously.
He was a true original. He did it all: He played, he sang, he wrote. He would have been a bigger star but Jerry Lee came along. And you know what happens when someone like that comes along. You just don’t stand a chance.
lRelated Rare, unusual Beatles and Rolling Stones photos surface via eBay sale
So Billy became what is known in the industry — a condescending term, by the way — as a one-hit wonder. But sometimes, just sometimes, once in a while, a one-hit wonder can make a more powerful impact than a recording star who’s got 20 or 30 hits behind him. And Billy’s hit song was called “Red Hot,” and it was red hot. It could blast you out of your skull and make you feel happy about it. Change your life.
He did it with style and grace. You won’t find him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He’s not there. Metallica is. Abba is. Mamas and the Papas — I know they’re in there. Jefferson Airplane, Alice Cooper, Steely Dan — I’ve got nothing against them. Soft rock, hard rock, psychedelic pop. I got nothing against any of that stuff, but after all, it is called the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Billy Lee Riley is not there. Yet.
I’d see him a couple times a year and we’d always spent time together and he was on a rockabilly festival nostalgia circuit, and we’d cross paths now and again. We’d always spend time together. He was a hero of mine. I’d heard “Red Hot.” I must have been only 15 or 16 when I did and it’s impressed me to this day.
I never grow tired of listening to it. Never got tired of watching Billy Lee perform, either. We spent time together just talking and playing into the night. He was a deep, truthful man. He wasn’t bitter or nostalgic. He just accepted it. He knew where he had come from and he was content with who he was.
And then one day he got sick. And like my friend John Mellencamp would sing — because John sang some truth today — one day you get sick and you don’t get better. That’s from a song of his called “Life is Short Even on Its Longest Days.” It’s one of the better songs of the last few years, actually. I ain’t lying.
And I ain’t lying when I tell you that MusiCares paid for my friend’s doctor bills, and helped him to get spending money. They were able to at least make his life comfortable, tolerable to the end. That is something that can’t be repaid. Any organization that would do that would have to have my blessing.
I’m going to get out of here now. I’m going to put an egg in my shoe and beat it. I probably left out a lot of people and said too much about some. But that’s OK. Like the spiritual song, ‘I’m still just crossing over Jordan too.’ Let’s hope we meet again. Sometime. And we will, if, like Hank Williams said, “the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.”
Roger’s note: Saudi Arabian government, not exactly a democracy but great friend and ally of the United States and long standing closeness to the Bush family. Evidence coming out that they financed the 9/11 attack, which we know was carried out largely by Saudis. With friends like that …
While the fate of jailed Saudi blogger and human rights activist Raif Badawi remains unclear – officials have twice postponed the next round of a 1,000-lash punishment advocates deem a death sentence dragged out over 20 weeks – the movement to free him escalates. Along with global protests and campaigns, a group of U.S. intellectuals have offered to take his lashes and two Norwegian politicians have nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize as “a beacon of light.”
Badawi was publicly flogged with 50 lashes on January 9 in Jiddah, the start of a 10-year, 1,000-lash sentence for “insulting” Islam with his website Free Saudi Liberals. Badawi’s lawyer was also sentenced to 15 years in prison. Last week, his scheduled flogging was postponed for the third time, reportedly for health reasons. His wife, who with their three children has been granted political asylum in Quebec, says his health continues to deteriorate. The ongoing movement to free him has included protests in Europe and Canada, social media campaigns by Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, and an open letter from 18 international Nobel laureates to Saudi academics urging them to condemn Badawi’s punishment and the repression it represents. Last week, the new Saudi regime released a royal decree offering pardons to some prisoners convicted of “public rights” charges – pardons that usually require giving up the right to free expression – but it’s unclear if Badawi was among them. And this week his case, which had been referred to the Supreme Court in December, got sent back again to the Court of Appeals.
Amidst the legal maneuvering, two members of the Norwegian Parliament, Snorre Valen and Karin Andersen, have nominated both Badawi and his attorney Waleed Abu al-Khair for the Nobel Peace Prize, arguing their longtime “commitment (to) challenging the suppression of free thought, speech and expression in a peaceful manner… should be recognized and embraced…as a beacon of light for those who crave more liberties in one of the last functioning theocracies in the modern world. Their announcement in a Change.org petition quickly garnering several thousand signatures.
Badawi also received a dramatic expression of support from seven American intellectuals, academics and activists, including Jews and Muslims, who are members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. In an open letter to the Saudi ambassador in Washington, DC, they sorrowfully urged Saudi officials to “put a halt to this grave injustice.” But “if your government will not remit the punishment of Raif Badawi,” they said, “we respectfully ask that you permit each of us to take 100 of the lashes that would be given to him.” They were offering “to present ourselves,” they add, because “compassion, a virtue honored in Islam as well as in Christianity, Judaism, and other faiths, is defined as ‘suffering with another.’ We are persons of different faiths, yet we are united in a sense of obligation to condemn and resist injustice and to suffer with its victims.” One member of the group stressed he only signed the letter once he felt “genuinely committed” to going through with taking the lashes, meaning he had to ponder “what it means to sacrifice for others in the fight for justice…What does it mean to say, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me’”?
Roger’s note: For those with eyes to see, the U.S. government’s foreign policy these days consists of transparently blatant regime change toward those countries that do not fall into line with (or, via setting bad socialist examples, are in direct opposition to) American geopolitical interests. Nevertheless, an opaque smoke screen is effectively thrown over the machinations of the State Department, the CIA, the NSA, USAID and god knows what other agencies that infiltrate to support the most reactionary and sometimes neo-fascist elements, by the mainstream media. We see this happening most clearly today in the Ukraine and in Venezuela.
The Monroe Doctrine is alive and well, only these days we don’t send the marines, we send the spooks and agents provocateur. Post WWII has seen illegal interventions in Guatemala, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Panama, Grenada, Honduras, Argentina … well, virtually the entire southern hemisphere.
There is a coup underway in Venezuela. The pieces are all falling into place like a bad CIA movie. At every turn a new traitor is revealed, a betrayal is born, full of promises to reveal the smoking gun that will justify the unjustifiable. Infiltrations are rampant, rumors spread like wildfire, and the panic mentality threatens to overcome logic. Headlines scream danger, crisis and imminent demise, while the usual suspects declare covert war on a people whose only crime is being gatekeeper to the largest pot of black gold in the world.
This week, as the New York Times showcased an editorial degrading and ridiculing Venezuelan President Maduro, labeling him “erratic and despotic” (“Mr. Maduro in his Labyrinth”, NYT January 26, 2015), another newspaper across the Atlantic headlined a hack piece accusing the President of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, and the most powerful political figure in the country after Maduro, of being a narcotics kingpin (“The head of security of the number two Chavista defects to the U.S. and accuses him of drug trafficking”, ABC, January 27, 2015). The accusations stem from a former Venezuelan presidential guard officer, Leasmy Salazar, who served under President Chavez and was recruited by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), now becoming the new “golden child” in Washington’s war on Venezuela.
Two days later, the New York Times ran a front-page piece shaming the Venezuelan economy and oil industry, and predicting its downfall (“Oil Cash Waning, Venezuelan Shelves Lie Bare”, Jan. 29, 2015, NYT). Blaring omissions from the article include mention of the hundreds of tons of food and other consumer products that have been hoarded or sold as contraband by private distributors and businesses in order to create shortages, panic, discontent with the government and justify outrageous price hikes. Further, multiple ongoing measures taken by the government to overcome the economic difficulties were barely mentioned and completed disregarded.
Simultaneously, an absurdly sensationalist and misleading headline ran in several U.S. papers, in print and online, linking Venezuela to nuclear weapons and a plan to bomb New York City (“U.S. Scientist Jailed for Trying to Help Venezuela Build Bombs”, Jan. 30, 2015, NPR). While the headline leads readers to believe Venezuela was directly involved in a terrorist plan against the U.S., the actual text of the article makes clear that no Venezuelans were involved at all. The whole charade was an entrapment set up by the FBI, whose officers posed as Venezuelan officials to capture a disgruntled nuclear physicist who once worked at Los Alamos and had no Venezuela connection.
That same day, State Department spokeswoman Jan Psaki condemned the alleged “criminalization of political dissent” in Venezuela, when asked by a reporter about fugitive Venezuelan general Antonio Rivero’s arrival in New York to plea for support from the United Nations Working Committee on Arbitrary Detention. Rivero fled an arrest warrant in Venezuela after his involvement in violent anti-government protests that lead to the deaths of over 40 people, mainly government supporters and state security forces, last February. His arrival in the U.S. coincided with Salazar’s, evidencing a coordinated effort to debilitate Venezuela’s Armed Forces by publicly showcasing two high profile military officers – both former Chavez loyalists – that have been turned against their government and are actively seeking foreign intervention against their own country.
These examples are just a snapshot of increasing, systematic negative and distorted coverage of Venezuelan affairs in U.S. media, painting an exaggeratedly dismal picture of the country’s current situation and portraying the government as incompetent, dictatorial and criminal. While this type of coordinated media campaign against Venezuela is not new – media consistently portrayed former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, elected president four times by overwhelming majorities, as a tyrannical dictator destroying the country – it is clearly intensifying at a rapid, and concerning, pace.
The New York Times has a shameful history when it comes to Venezuela. The Editorial Board blissfully applauded the violent coup d’etat in April 2002 that ousted President Chavez and resulted in the death of over 100 civilians. When Chavez was returned to power by his millions of supporters and loyal Armed Forces two days later, the Times didn’t recant it’s previous blunder, rather it arrogantly implored Chavez to “govern responsibly”, claiming he had brought the coup on himself. But the fact that the Times has now begun a persistent, direct campaign against the Venezuelan government with one-sided, distorted and clearly aggressive articles – editorials, blogs, opinion, and news – indicates that Washington has placed Venezuela on the regime change fast track.
The timing of Leamsy Salazar’s arrival in Washington as an alleged DEA collaborator, and his public exposure, is not coincidental. This February marks one year since anti-government protests violently tried to force President Maduro’s resignation, and opposition groups are currently trying to gain momentum to reignite demonstrations. The leaders of the protests, Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado, have both been lauded by The New York Times and other ‘respected’ outlets as “freedom fighters”, “true democrats”, and as the Times recently referred to Machado, “an inspiring challenger”. Even President Obama called for Lopez’s release from prison (he was detained and is on trial for his role in the violent uprisings) during a speech last September at an event in the United Nations. These influential voices willfully omit Lopez’s and Machado’s involvement and leadership of violent, undemocratic and even criminal acts. Both were involved in the 2002 coup against Chavez. Both have illegally received foreign funding for political activities slated to overthrow their government, and both led the lethal protests against Maduro last year, publicly calling for his ouster through illegal means.
The utilization of a figure such as Salazar who was known to anyone close to Chavez as one of his loyal guards, as a force to discredit and attack the government and its leaders is an old-school intelligence tactic, and a very effective one. Infiltrate, recruit, and neutralize the adversary from within or by one of its own – a painful, shocking betrayal that creates distrust and fear amongst the ranks. While no evidence has surfaced to back Salazar’s outrageous claims against Diosdado Cabello, the headline makes for a sensational story and another mark against Venezuela in public opinion. It also caused a stir within the Venezuelan military and may result in further betrayals from officers who could support a coup against the government. Salazar’s unsubstantiated allegations also aim at neutralizing one of Venezuela’s most powerful political figures, and attempt to create internal divisions, intrigue and distrust.
The most effective tactics the FBI used against the Black Panther Party and other radical movements for change in the United States were infiltration, coercion and psychological warfare. By inserting agents into these organizations, or recruiting from within, that were able to gain access and trust at the highest levels, the FBI was able to destroy these movements from the inside, breaking them down psychologically and neutralizing them politically. These clandestine tactics and strategies are thoroughly documented and evidenced in FBI and other US government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and published in in Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall’s excellent book, “Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement” (South End Press, 1990).
Venezuela is suffering from the sudden and dramatic plummet in oil prices. The country’s oil-dependent economy has severely contracted and the government is taking measures to reorganize the budget and guarantee access to basic services and goods, but people are still experiencing difficulties. Unlike the dismal portrayal in The New York Times, Venezuelans are not starving, homeless or suffering from mass unemployment, as countries such as Greece and Spain have experienced under austerity policies. Despite certain shortages – some caused by currency controls and others by intentional hoarding, sabotage or contraband – 95% of Venezuelans consume three meals per day, an amount that has doubled since the 1990s. The unemployment rate is under 6% and housing is subsidized by the state.
Nevertheless, making Venezuela’s economy scream is without a doubt a rapidly intensifying strategy executed by foreign interests and their Venezuelan counterparts, and it’s very effective. As shortages continue and access to dollars becomes increasingly difficult, chaos and panic ensue. This social discontent is capitalized on by U.S. agencies and anti-government forces in Venezuela pushing for regime change. A very similar strategy was used in Chile to overthrow socialist President Salvador Allende. First the economy was destroyed, then mass discontent grew and the military moved to oust Allende, backed by Washington at every stage. Lest we forget the result: a brutal dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet that tortured, assassinated, disappeared and forced into exile tens of thousands of people. Not exactly a model to replicate.
This year President Obama approved a special State Department fund of $5 million to support anti-government groups in Venezuela. Additionally, the congressionally-funded National Endowment for Democracy is financing Venezuelan opposition groups with over $1.2 million and aiding efforts to undermine Maduro’s government. There is little doubt that millions more for regime change in Venezuela are being funneled through other channels that are not subject to public scrutiny.
President Maduro has denounced these ongoing attacks against his government and has directly called on President Obama to cease efforts to harm Venezuela. Recently, all 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations, members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), publicly expressed support for Maduro and condemned ongoing U.S. interference in Venezuela. Latin America firmly rejects any attempts to erode democracy in the region and will not stand for another US-backed coup. It’s time Washington listen to the hemisphere and stop employing the same dirty tactics against its neighbors.