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The Afghanistan War: Plague of Ignorance

Tue, 08/17/2021 - 17:09
Antiwar protesters at the White House call for end to endless wars. The War in Afghanistan lasted 20 years, longer than any other conflict in U.S. history. Photo: J. Zangas, DCMG

 

Washington, DC—From the beginning to end, incompetence was the primary theme of the US political, military, and intelligence failures to work in a responsible manner by any stretch of imaginable leadership standards. As the fall of Kabul unfolds, it’s time to revisit the events that led so many nations to follow the USA into a war that had no realistic goals to help the Afghan people, nor provide Allied soldiers any sense of accomplishment. So, how did it all begin? For that answer, we need to remember the statement by National Security Advisor Richard Clarke at the 9/11 Commission on the Hill. “Your government failed you, and I failed you,” he said. “We tried hard, but that doesn’t matter because we failed you. And for that failure, I would ask, once all the facts are out, for your understanding and for your forgiveness.” (Nov 27, 2002 Bush critic takes center stage)

The political squabbles of Clarke’s claims were never picked apart because Bush, the media, and the American public were all focused on revenge. On October 7th, 2001, the vast majority in the USA and beyond simply became bloodthirsty for retribution and if you dared hesitate to ask, ‘Hey wait, how did we get into this situation?”, you were labeled a coward and/or an idiot.

I’ve got to take pause for a minute as my eyes are getting blurry from all the propaganda I’m reading while doing research on this article. Some of the worst comes from the Washington Post ‘Afghanistan Papers’ series on Aug 10th a few days ago. The title had me hooked because it’s a recent piece that might lend some insight as to the depth of the Cheney lies and deception that led US troops into the war in Iraq. Nope, it was some incredibly untimely article about how the Taliban lied about an almost successful plot to kill Cheney in Afghanistan. It almost makes Cheney sound like a war hero.

Next, there is the New Yorker ‘“Not Our Tragedy”: the Taliban Are Coming Back, and America Is Still Leaving” By Susan B. Glasser. These recent distractions remind me of a quote from the Neo Liberal writer, Thom Freidman, 3 days before the US troops began flattening Baghdad on March 20, 2003. Freidman did a press conference to discuss the likely possibility of the war in Iraq. I recall that it felt like a stand-up comedy act when he said, “nobody washes a rented car”. His meaning was, that the US would create a mess and leave a mess in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t often agree with Thom but on this he got it right.

One could say that the US press are doing one hell of a job trying to mop up this monstrous 20-year debacle with some fancy spin doctoring. It’s possible that I might be lacking the moral integrity to sufficiently outline these events because I’m not exactly comfortable in rehashing the darkest hours of the war such as the US torture policy and atrocious embezzlement of war funds from Cheney’s Haliburton. Whoops, maybe that was just enough to get folks riled up.

Moving on… Senator Joe Biden had been either minority or the majority ranking Democrat on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. At the start, he was all for both the Afghan and Iraq war. Just before joining Obama on the campaign trail in 2007, he did a U-turn and began opposing the wars because support for these messy wars were less popular with voters. Once Obama/Biden took office in the White House, it’s now said that Biden opposed staying in Afghanistan during discussions in 2009. President Obama proceeded to spend his remaining 6 or 7 years in office telling the public that he would draw down troops to zero, ‘next year’. To be honest, because I followed this very closely, Obama might have taken a year off in saying he’d end the war in Afghanistan somewhere in the middle there.

Now let’s get down to the stone-cold facts. Anthony H Cordesman was the Civilian Advisor to Gen. McChrystal in Afghanistan. He was on CNN Monday as it was announced that Kabul had fallen to the Taliban. This is what he had to say on the historic afternoon, “This isn’t about a Taliban failed state, as it is a Taliban taking over a failed state.” Why is this advisor worth mentioning? Well because he wrote a detailed article/report called ‘Afghanistan: Conflict Metrics 2000-2018’. (CSIS)

One of the many eye-popping realities of how leadership dealt with a war that was going nowhere, is that they cherry picked any positive metrics/data and ignored harsh realities. In Cordesman’s report, he clearly states that intelligence and data gathering varied between the United Nations, the media, and think tanks. One of the only undeniable truths had been that Afghanistan continued to be controlled by warlords and tribal leaders.

One final note. In the reporting on the fall of Kabul I was irritated to note Russia and China spent the day humiliating the US for its failure in Afghanistan. It is a fact that Russia hadn’t made any effort develop medical clinics, help encourage women’s rights, and attempt to create some exposure to voting rights. Yes, most of the US contractor money for medical clinics went missing somehow, but hey, at least the USA tried to introduce something good.

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Reverend William Barber Leads Moral Monday March For Voting Rights To US Capitol

Tue, 08/03/2021 - 00:19

 

Washington DC — This story could easily have been copied word for word from the newspaper stories of the 1960’s civil rights protests. During the civil rights marches of that era, some 60 years ago, clergymen such as Dr. Martin Luther King and Jesse Jackson, among others, led thousands on direct actions for civil rights, voting rights, fair wages, and housing equality.

On Monday August 2, 2021, Reverend William Barber walked alongside Jesse Jackson leading several thousand on a revival of that same moral imperative. Their Moral Monday March was to demand that Congress restore the Voting Rights Act, signed by President Johnson on August 8, 1965, by passing the For The People Act, legislation which will strike down at the Federal level, all new voting restrictions passed in States like Georgia, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Arizona.

Reverend Barber joined clergy from around the country and working people in calling for a federal minimum wage of $15.00, a rejection of the filibuster, a jim crow era act of Congress which Reverend Barber called an order of procedure steeped in racism, and amnesty for 11 million migrants. “”We’re here not to just take a picture, we’re here to take action,” he said.

He chastised both Democratic and Republican legislators who passed a Covid Reief Bill which gave almost 86% of the trillion it earmarked in relief to corporations while leaving workers behind.

After his speech, Reverend Barber led dozens of other clergy who had come from around the country, on a march to the U.S. Capitol, with hundreds of followers behind him. His golden cross stood out on his wide chest against the pitch black cloth suit he wore. He labored in the oppressive heat up the hill to the Capitol, Summer heat took effect on the large man and several times he had to stop and cool down. Reverend Jesse Jackson, now 79 years old, also walked very slowly up the hill with the heat  slowing him and he too had to rest often. At times he also needed assistance from others but he completed the march with all the other marchers.

As they arrived at the top of the hill and past the grounds of the U.S. Capitol — they did not attempt to step on the grounds proper — Capitol Police swarmed around them. A Capitol policewoman read two warnings over a loudspeaker for them to leave the roadway or face arrest. So ushers urged the marchers out of the street and onto the confines of the narrow sidewalk to avoid immediate arrest.

It was clear that the Capitol Police strategy and tactics had changed from demonstrations of the past year. The difference: their enforcement of street obstruction misdemeanor codes on this day was exceptionally strict in comparison to enforcement of U.S. Capitol building access restrictions during the riots of January 6, earlier this year.

The marchers avoided arrest at first but they intended to be arrested  from the beginning of their march. They were carrying a message to Legislators that they would not stand quietly while an ongoing impasse in the Senate fails to restore the Voting Rights Act and strike down voting suppression laws which are now being written with some already on the books in 18 states. In the States that have already enacted them, there are 30 new vote suppression laws, that have been passed by GOP legislators since Trump lost the election last year. These voter restrictions were designed to make it more difficult for voters to get access to the ballot box, according to a published report.

The marchers walked past the Capitol and around to the Supreme Court singing songs handed down by the civil rights activists about voting rights and equal rights in the 1960s.

Finally they arrived at the Senate Hart Building, a scene of many demonstrations and mass arrests in the past. Reverend Barber sent five activists to its doors to request entry but Capitol Police refused them to admit them. He called them back and then organized a mass blockade of the street outside the Hart Senate building.

Reverends Barber and Jackson were both arrested for blocking the street during a demonstration, followed by several hundred other protesters.

The Brennan Center tracks State laws being enacted involving voting rights, outlining the easing and restrictions thereof.

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Assange Supporters Urge Release of WikiLeaks Journalist

Fri, 07/09/2021 - 05:31
John and Gabriel Shipton, family of Julian Assange speak at the Department of Justice and signed a petition for Assange’s release. Photo: John Zangas

Washington DC—The family of imprisoned journalist Julian Assange says his condition is worsening and there is no applicable legal framework to justify his continued detention. Supporters urge action by the State Department to drop charges against him citing his status as a journalist and precedent that journalism is a protected right under the First Amendment.

Supporters organized a sendoff for Julian Assange’s father, John Shipton, and his brother Gabriel, outside the Department of Justice on the last day of their #HomeRun4Julian tour. They also celebrated his 50th birthday with a cake and music.

Artist Paula Iasella displayed her re-creation of Italian sculptor, Davide Dormino’s ‘Anything to Say?’ bronze sculpture. The sculpture depicts images of whistleblowers Snowden and Manning, and Assange, standing on chairs. Paula Iasella said, “when you follow the artists you’re going to end up in a place of truth.”

Supporters signed a petition urging U.S. officials to drop charges against Julian Assange.

The tour was a 3-week visit of major U.S. cities at which noted persons spoke regarding Assange’s protracted detention at Belmarsh maximum security prison in London.

 

 

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Peace Vigil Marks 40th Year At the White House

Thu, 06/03/2021 - 00:02

Washington DC—The Activists at the PeaceVigil cut cake and shared stories of their experiences at the nation’s longest running vigil for peace near the White House on June 3. It was on this date in 1981 when William Thomas began his 24-hour vigil against nuclear weapons and the war machine 4 decades ago. His vision to keep watch on the North Portico with a round-the-clock presence at the White House and to pressure then President Ronald Reagan to decommission nuclear weapons and to work for world peace, has lasted through seven presidencies. Nobody expected it to last this long but it has endured against improbable odds.

Year of Pandemic and Riots Did Not Stop Peace Vigil

The last year has been one of the toughest challenges the Peace Vigil has faced, according to Philipos Melaku-Bello, manager of the Vigil. He recounted the challenges of the civil unrest and the closure of Lafayette Park which forced the activists out of the park—onto H Street at Black Lives Matter Plaza—and face to face with daily clashes between police and protesters, nights of raids and tear gas, disgruntled counter protests, and uncertainty as to whether the Peace Vigil could continue its presence there. The pandemic also took its toll as there were months of few visitors and times when few activists who could staff the Peace Vigil.

Then on May 19 Lafayette Park was reopened and the activists gathered to rebuild the tent spine of pvc pipes and install the tent canvas and it resumed its place on the red bricks across from the North Portico of the White House. Melaku-Bello affectionately named the activists who stood with him over their year of banishment from Lafayette Park and one by one, he recalled their selfless efforts to be there to help him maintain a steady presence just outside the park edge. It occurred to him that the Peace Vigil could not continue without the Peace Activists who replaced him during the shifts he was not there and he was very thankful.

But he says putting in the hours on the red-bricked sidewalk is not about him or about any one person but about the message of peace, disarmament, and continuing efforts to decommission nuclear weapons and close down nuclear power plants. He recites the facts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as they are ingrained in his memory like his birthday and age and he argues their history is a warning of the last seconds ticking on the “doomsday clock.” He knows the details of Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Three Mile Island, as if they are his children and tells visitors why it is past time to scrap such projects forever.

Beyond the obvious destruction and calamities of war he tells of the defense of human rights and the rights of oppressed people that the Peace Vigil represents in his conversations with multitudes of multinational visitors who happen by the Peace Vigil tent. The signs around the front of the tent condemn tyranny and rebuke tyrants by raising up individuals such as Brianna Taylor and George Floyd. The advocates working there reject despots and authoritarianism by standing up for the human rights of the oppressed. The signs, “War is Not the Answer,” “Wanted: Wisdom and Honesty,” and “Free Speech Zone” and the photos of the aftermath of Hiroshima attract a wide range of people to ask why the Peace Vigil is there.Melaku-Bello is in his zone when they inquire why he is there and he tells the stories about the vigil and its founder, William Thomas, and his messages for common good that peace would bring.

Philipos Malaku-Bello staffs the Peace Vigil on most days. Photo: John Zangas

Melaku-Bello has a knack for engaging an impressive range of people, young and old and speaks six languages fluently. He has years of practice speaking with anyone who wants to talk. A pair of men from Nigeria visiting the U.S. for the first time are taken aback by his knowledge of their country and they speak at length about past Nigerian political leaders. A group of five young women for Colorado University engage him for a while, impressed with his message of denuclearization. Someday they may return to Washington DC to visit, perhaps with their children.Melaku-Bello wonders aloud if the Peace Vigil will still be there for them to visit when they return. He leaves a deep impression on them as he does with many and they take a photograph with him—he holds up his hand in a customary peace sign.

Is Time Is Running Out For Peace?

Time is not on the side of waging peace. It is not on Philipos’ side either. His years of dedication to the Peace Vigil has cost him dearly in terms of his health and longevity. Snowy cold days with occasional blizzards, days of blazing hot sun, rain and wind, and a few hurricanes have worsened his health and he is in need of funds both to run the Peace Vigil and for medical attention. He wishes to be there indefinitely but knows time is catching up with him and his body is challenged by the elements. Time is a strange thing he laments. We have more than we think but don’t have as much as we’d like.

The Spirit of William “Doubting” Thomas

One might say there is a little bit of William Thomas in Philipos and all of the activists who staff the Peace Vigil. All of them have an indomitable resilience like Thomas did. The long hours of staffing the tent are one thing. But another is the cacophony of opinions from visitors about the political structure of the world that comes with the flow of visitors on an average day and it can wear one down over time. Arguments are frequent in a time of waxing and waning civility. The last four years of the previous administration brought much acrimony to Lafayette Park.

William Thomas overcame challenges like these by educating himself on a range of topics to support and spread the message he carried. He traveled to Africa during the famine of the 1980s and to Asia and other parts of the world to gain a first-hand understanding of challenges facing humanity.

When he began his Peace Vigil on June 3, 1981, it was against world hunger as well as nuclear disarmament. Police kept arresting him and the other the vigilers who stood with him because they stood up where no one dared before—right outside the White House gates—24-7. So he fought back by studing the law. He sued the government pro se to stop the arrests and after many court appearances he won a permanent permit to remain on the red bricks. He also challenged the government in the courts over signage and won on that accord as well, guaranteeing his right to maintain two large permanent signs, as long as they did not exceed a 6 foot height. He was arrested over 40 times standing for peace and human rights before his permanent permit was granted.

William Thomas’ peace activism also helped inspre Conresswoman Eleanore Holmes-Norton’s legislation to abolish nuclear weapons which she has been reintroducing every year since 1994. Her bill, HR-2850, the “Nuclear Weapons Abolition and Economic and Energy Conversion Act,” seeks to abolish nuclear weapons and provides that no taxes paid by the residents of Washington DC shall be used for war.

William Thomas died in January 2009 but his spirit lives in the tenacity of the activists who have succeeded him.

Vigilers Comment On The Peace Vigil Message

Lou Wolf, a longtime Vigiler and peace activist, who has worked on Covert Action Magazine publication since the 1980s, said “As lifelong peace advocates we, the worldwide peace movement, are as big as the world movement. But we stand for peace and justice, not only peace by itself.”

Lou Wolf spoke about the symbolism of having the Peace Vigil across from the front door of the White House. Photo: John Zangas

“This vigil has grown to include the causes of peace because you can’t get rid of nuclear weapons easily unless we get rid of war, said Michael Beer, a former Vigiler and longtime Prace Vigil supporter. “We can’t get rid of war unless we talk about human rights and so this vigil has taken on human rights around the world,” he said.

Michael Beer said that one cannot abolish nuclear weapons unless they work to end war and cannot talk about ending war without talking about human rights. Photo: John Zangas

 

The Peace Vigil will continue celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and the activists are thrilled to be a part of this historic moment. They are inviting the public to share their story and message of world peace and nuclear disarmament. Their cutting the peace cake and sharing lunch and telling stories of the most challenging year the Peace Vigil has yet faced is just the beginning of plans to reach out to others to join them in the message of peace and human rights. A recording of their event with photos and videos can be seen hosted on zoom and on social media here.

You may also donate to the Peace Vigil to help repair the signs here with the cash app $WHPV for cash donations. Any amount no matter how small will help.

Video newsreel of the 40th anniversary celebration at the Peace Vigil on June 3:

The post Peace Vigil Marks 40th Year At the White House appeared first on DCMediaGroup.

Upheaval In The Government As U.S. Capitol Riot Fallout Spreads

Sat, 01/09/2021 - 13:21

The riot at the U.S. Capitol at the South Lawn will be remembered a dark day in Legislative history. Photo: John Zangas

Washington, DC — Dozens of Legislators led by House Majority Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D), called for the Vice President to remove Executive powers from the President as the country reeled from the Wednesday riots at the U.S. Capitol. Lead Democratic Lawmakers said they would start impeachment proceedings against President Trump on Monday if Vice President Pence did not act quickly to remove the President under provisions of Section 4 of the 25th Amendment. Some Legislators are calling the riots an attempted coup while others are demanding those involved be charged with sedition.

Legislators placed the blame for the riots squarely on the White House and President Trump for comments during his “Save America” speech at the White House ellipse before some of his followers dissolved into a mob and entered the Capitol. The President attacked the election procedures in swing states and the “fake news media”.

“We will never concede. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved,” the President said to thousands who traveled from across the country. His comments meandered on a theme of baseless election fraud conspiracies as he has repeated for 2 months. He has refused to concede the election result. Trump urged his followers to “Fight like hell,” before telling them to “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue and give our Republicans, the weak ones…the kind of pride and boldness they need to take back our country.” Trump said that he would go to the Capitol with his followers. He did not go with them. Instead, he remained at the White House to watch the mob action on a screen.

Mob Breached U.S. Capitol During Electoral College Vote Count

His speech was timed to precede by an hour an ongoing joint Congressional session to count Electoral College votes which began at 1:00 PM. The mob arrived at the U.S. Capitol during this vote count and breached the House Chamber where a session was in progress to debate the Electoral College votes of the State of Arizona.

House members sheltered in place as security alarms went off. Some members evacuated through tunnels to a secure bunker while a mob of several hundred pushed through multiple security checkpoints at one of the most protected buildings in Washington DC.

Video published by Insider shows U.S. Capitol Police Officers standing by impassively as dozens of the unorganized mob entered the building. One officer is seen recording video from a cellphone while the mob entered matter-of-factly from the South-side entrance. Another officer tells a journalist, “You’re not allowed to be in here,” while standing and doing nothing to respond to the mob breach.

Video shows U.S. Capitol police shooting a woman attempting to gain entrance to a locked office was released Friday. The woman, who was identified as Ashli Babbitt, and an avid Trump supporter, attempted to climb through an office window with a U.S. Capitol Police officer moving towards her as he fires his weapon.

Video of the West-side of the U.S. Capitol shows police finally taking decisive action to clear the mob off the steps leading to the police headquarters of the Capitol.

Government Cooperation Deeply Fractured

The mob confronted police on the West-side near the police entrance. Photo: John Zangas

Two branches of government have been thrown into upheaval as recriminations between Congressional members flew on Twitter and White House resignations continued on Thursday night and Friday afternoon.

U.S. Representative Member Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) (D) sparred with Texas Congressman Ted Cruz (R) over an email Sen. Cruz sent to solicit donations in the riot aftermath. Sen. Cruz responded calling her “a liar.”

A spate of high-profile resignations included seven White House political appointees who left their positions citing the President’s “Save America” speech, the ensuing Capitol riot, and its bloody aftermath on Wednesday. They were followed by resignations from two key Cabinet positions — Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Also on Thursday, the Sergeant at Arms of the Senate Capitol Police, Michael Stenger tendered his resignation as a result of a failure by Capitol Police to maintain security. Early on Friday Chief of Capitol Police, Steven Sund, also submitted his resignation, effective January 16, as Senator Chuck Schumer threatened to fire him the moment he is sworn in as Senate Majority Leader on January 20.

Late Thursday night U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick died from injuries sustained during the mob attack  inside the Capitol. It brought to 5 the number of deaths as a result of what is now being called an attempted coup. Two others died of medical circumstances outside on the Capitol grounds during the riots and another unlawful trespasser died inside under circumstances not yet certain. A video of dramatic confrontations at one entrance on the South-side (Parapet where Inaugurations are held) shows a 30 minute siege between police and rioters. It is believed this video depicts the incident involving officer Sicknick. The Capitol is the scene of a large-scale federal investigation as police agencies piece together Wednesday incidents.

Questions remain about how and why U.S. Capitol Police failed to secure the building as they have previously done for many other First Amendment assemblies. Many demonstrations of a much smaller threat magnitude have been met with adequate U.S. Capitol police preparation. These events include Democracy Spring, Democracy Rising, Occupy Congress, Environmental actions, Pipeline Protests, Black Lives Matter Demonstrations, Actions by CODEPINK, Extinction Rebellion, the Million Man March 20th Anniversary, and many others.

Right-Wing Antagonists Involved In Riot

 

The ransacked office of the Senate Parliamentarian. The office of House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi was also breached. Photo (screen-grab): Ali Zaslav

Far-right wing operators were among those photographed inside the Capitol during the riot, looting, and destruction. Over 80 have been arrested so far. Video posted on social media by members of the mob is aiding in their own arrests.

Richard Barnett, a right-wing Trump-supporter, was among those who breached the Capitol and went into Nancy Pelosi’s office, sat on her chair with his feet on her desk, and later bragged about removing mail from her office. He was arrested Thursday.

Another in the mob was identified as Jake Angeli, a Qanon conspiracy supporter from Arizona dressed in buffalo horns and a pelt on his head. He was arrested and faces multiple charges for unlawful entry and entry into a secure building.

West Virginia Delegate Derick Evans (R) filmed himself entertaining the Capitol, saying, “We’re in, we’re it! Derick Evans is in the Capitol” as he entered the legislative. The West Viginia Legislative Body is considering what actions to take against him, according to a published report.

The far-right antagonists and self-proclaimed patriots rioting in the Capitol wrought destruction in the Capitol not seen since the War of 1812 when the British assaulted Washington and burned down the Capitol in 1814.

A published report implicated police officers from Seattle in the riots. Komo News reported two officers were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.


Radical Right-Wing Impunity Led To Riots

The Charlottesville riots of 2017 and subsequent Proud Boy mayhem in Washington, DC, during the November and December “Make America Great Again“ rallies warned of what was to come. Social media application Parlor, a preferred right-wing platform, was replete with the statements of far-right wing operators discussing their intentions for the march to the Capitol on Wednesday. Monitoring such sites should have provided law enforcement with advance notice to prepare for contingencies before the riots.

Some were comparing police enforcement at the U.S. Capitol police to police enforcement at Black Lives Matter demonstrators. It is self-evident that activists in Washington, DC and other cities experiences with law enforcement were more harsh than the police enforcement of the mob at the Capitol. The recent Proud Boy mayhem in Washington, DC also saw lax police enforcement and demonstrates again inequity in law enforcement application between Black Lives Matter Activists and the mob at the Capitol. The protests and unrest following the police killing of George Floyd resulted in thousands of arrests. The two events compare as U.S. Capitol police at times stood by impassively watching the mob penetrate the U.S. Capitol, destroy furniture, looted, and defecated in its halls.

News personality Joy Reed commented on the variance in law enforcement, saying, “If that was a Black Lives Matter protest in DC, there would be people shackled, arrested, or dead.” Reed also lambasted the two tiered police posture in America for failure to prosecute with equality.

The 25th Amendment May Not Soon Settle An Anxious Nation

The President has already lost the confidence of the Speaker of the House and at least two members of his cabinet and innermost circle as they resigned. Majority Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Shulman have already called on Vice President Pence to convene a meeting with remaining Cabinet members to discuss invoking the 25th Amendment but the Vice President has either decided not to act on their request or he is still considering it. With under 14 days until the Inauguration it remained a question as to Vice President Pence’s willingness to split with Trump and force the issue on Trump’s Cabinet.

Section 4 of the 25th Amendment provides guidance for transfer of power in the case of a President who may be unable to fulfill his constitutional role but cannot or will not step aside. In this circumstance the Vice President and the Cabinet would presumably reach a decision on the matter. It also provides for the option of the Congress to designate a body to consider transfer of power. But Congress is deeply split after years of partisanship and acrimony along party lines.

The 25th Amendment was signed in 1965 and ratified by the States in 1967 to iron out ambiguity in the succession clause of the Constitution. The amendment was invoked during Watergate and several times during the George W. Bush Administration while the President was undergoing medical procedures and power was temporarily handed to Vice President Cheney. But the 25th Amendment has been shown its impotence during the present discord between government branches and within the Legislature.

The Fall Of The House of The Republican Party

This latest episode of government upheaval is by far the worst situation Congress has dealt with in decades, including the recent incidents during the tumult of Trump’s term. It goes far past the chaos of the final days of the Nixon Administration as the Watergate scandal of 1973-4 led to his resignation. Those of the GOP and closest Trump supporters who stuck with Trump and challenged the result of the November 6 election, both in the press and in the courts, and those who remained silent altogether, risked democratic norms in their ambition for power. The results have contributed to growing frustration and anger among their supporters and base and the blowback will be difficult to quell. Plans are already afoot among Trump’s supporters to return to D.C. on January 17 in preparation for the inauguration on the 20th.

Key members of Congress and over 100 members of the House have supported and encouraged belief in conspiracies about the 2020 election. These conspiracies about what they consider the rigged elections include fake mail-in ballots, hacked vote machines, stuffed ballot boxes, and dead people voting. Over 60 court cases challenging the election have been lost, causing their supporters and donors great disappointment. Frustration within that base has further abraded trust in the GOP.

Wednesday’s events ended GOP efforts to derail the election. But deep resentment among Trump’s base remains. The party is now splintered between Trump supporters and traditional conservatives and has effectively lost control of two branches of the government which it enjoyed when Trump was elected. Blindly aligning behind a charismatic but divisive leader for the sake of power has cost the GOP much of its political influence. It could take a generation before it regains the trust of Trump’s base and the branches of government it has lost. In that time the demographics of the country will have shifted towards minority influence as more states turn blue. Minorities have traditionally found their voices in the Democratic party.

Update: on Friday night Twitter permanently shut down Trump’s account and preferred method of communication with his supporters and followers who number over 80 million. Twitter safety cited Trump’s continued efforts to incite violence following a temporary suspension on Wednesday.

“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence. In the context of horrific events this week, we made it clear on Wednesday that additional violations of the Twitter Rules would potentially result in this very course of action,“ the Twitter account stated.

This will silence Trump’s voice and diminish his sway over his base on an what has been his influential media node.

Trump was also banned by Facebook and Instagram on Thursday.

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Trump Supporters Riot, Breach U.S. Capitol – Violent Clashes Cause Death and Injuries

Wed, 01/06/2021 - 22:47

The U.S. Capitol was the scene of an unprecedented civil unrest as two were shot inside during a breach as the Legislative Body counted Electoral College votes. Photo: John Zangas

Washington, DC — In one of the darkest days in U.S. legislative history, Trump supporters rioted and breached the North side of the U.S. Capitol today as thousands rallied outside urging the Congress to overturn the result of the Presidential election. The Trump mob penetrated the building by force while a joint session of Congress was already in session to count the certificates of U.S. States, finalizing the votes of the Electoral College, as provided by the Constitution.

Capitol police allegedly responded with teargas and a volley of live fire inside the legislative body. Details on injuries and deaths continue to be murky. One woman died on the scene from a gunshot wound in her neck or her chest. Three others died by “medical emergency” according to Capitol Police, one of whom had reportedly been crushed by the crowd. One individual was reportedly stabbed but it is unclear who was responsible for this incident. Several police officers were injured and one US Capitol police officer died.

Rioters breached the House side of the Legislative Body while it was in session. They also rampaged through House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office.

The incidents were shortly thereafter followed by more Trump supporters breaching the police entrance at the West side of the U.S. Capitol. U.S. Capitol Police successfully blocked the breach about 10-feet into the entrance. About 30 minutes later police responded with flash-bangs, teargas and batons, beating back the mob of hundreds who were by then breaking windows and entering the building. Dozens fought with police as they were pushed back and off the steps of the West side. Over 100 U.S. Capitol Police outfitted with riot gear formed cordons as they deployed flash bangs and teargas. There were no arrests observed at the West side of the Capitol during this subsequent breach.

DC Mayor Declared Curfew

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a 6 PM curfew as a result of the Trump supporters’ mob actions. Trump supporters identified themselves as travelers from States across the country, including North Dakota, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, and other States. The mob consisted of visitors to DC who were egged on by unsubstantiated Presidential proclamations that the election was stolen.

Earlier in the day, a group of conservative legislators objected to the certificate of Electoral College votes from the State of Arizona. This resulted in suspension of the vote counting procedures and forced a House debate on the objection. It was about this time that the mob breached the Capitol building, causing the Legislature to adjourn for the test of the day. At the time of this publication the vote tally is still incomplete.

Trump Twitter Account Locked For “Severe Violations”

At 7 PM, Twitter responded to a series of three Presidential messages posted on its platform earlier in the day, by locking Trump’s account for the first time. Twitter announced the account would be locked for 12 hours following the removal of the messages. “If the messages are not removed the account will remain locked,” the announcement read.

Twitter locked Trump’s account for violating terms of service, effectively muzzling him. Screen grab: Twitter.

“As a result of the unprecedented and ongoing violent situation in Washington, DC, we have required the removal of three [presidential] tweets that were posted earlier today for repeated and severe violations of our integrity policy,” a subsequent message from the Twitter Safety account read.

The President’s Twitter account has been the preferred gateway for policy changes and cabinet personnel hirings and firings. The president’s account remains locked as of this posting.

Violence Spills Into Black Lives Matter Plaza

Later in the evening, Trump supporters descended into the downtown K Street area of Washington, DC where they continued violent confrontations at Black Lives Matter Plaza. A group of Trump supporters challenged and fought with a group of activists who were already in the Plaza. The fighting resulted in several injuries. A brick was thrown injuring one man in the leg and a Trump supporter was knocked out (video).

Today’s events mark a pivot point and a dark testimonial to a fractious democracy. The keystone of the democratic process in this country appears to be falling under its own weight. It should be noted that for years the Legislative Body has been unable to work past its own partisanship and to guide itself past its own internal squabbles. It may very well take the country down with it..

We will update this story as new developments are learned.

This article has been updated to verify reports of injuries and deaths that occurred at the U.S. Capitol.

Thousands of Trump supporters mobbed the U.S. Capitol as scores breached the legislative body. Two were shot, allegedly by U.S. Capitol Police. One youth died. Photo: John Zangas

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Proud Boys Vandalize Churches and Clash with Antifascists in DC

Sun, 12/13/2020 - 17:54

Antifascists clash with Proud Boy hate group in DC. Many were injured in hand-to hand conflict. Photo: John Zangas

Washington DC-A night of confrontations and violent clashes followed a day-long rally of MAGA, the followers of the defeated Trump Administration. Proud Boy hate groups led roving groups of pro-Trump MAGA followers through downtown DC, looking to vent their frustration over a lost Presidential election.

Proud Boys tore down Black Lives Matter signs on several churches and businesses and attempted to penetrate police lines to attack anti-fascist opposition. Confrontations began early in the day at Black Lives Matter Plaza where an anti-fascist group, Black Lives Matter Civil Rights organizations, and allied groups gathered to protect the plaza from a repeat of Proud Boy vandalism which occurred on November 7.

Trump flew in his Air Force helicopter over the MAGA Freedom Plaza rally multiple times before departing for the Army-Navy game. His fly-over egged on the MAGA crowd and fueled their suspicion that he was victim of a rigged election wrought with mailed ballot fraud, ballot theft, and fake signature balloting, resulting in his defeat.

Earlier it was reported that the leader of Proud Boys had been to the White House for a tour. Typically such visits require vetted credentialing before admission is permitted.

After the rally at Freedom Plaza, Proud Boy groups marched downtown towards Black Lives Matter Plaza. And as night fell more Proud Boys poured from area hotels they had booked and brought with them a wave of violence to the streets. They were easily identified by their yellow and black clothing and slogans written on them.

Venerable Historically Prominent Churches Vandalized

Proud Boys tore down a Black Lives Matter sign attached to the grounds of Asbury United Methodist Church at 11th K Streets, and burned it in the street. Senior Reverend Ianther Mills responded to the vandalism in a letter published early Sunday morning. “For me it was reminiscent of cross burnings. Sadly we must point out that if this had been a group of men of color marauding through the streets and destroying property, they would have been followed and arrested,” she wrote.

Senior Reverend Ianther Mills responded to the vandalism in a letter published early Sunday morning.

The Asbury United Methodist Church has been in existence since before the Civil War and has served as a node of resistance to racism since it was founded 184 years ago.

Another church, African Methodist Episcopal Church, located at 15th and M Streets NW, was also vandalized when its Black Lives Matter sign was torn down by Proud Boys. It was the church that held the funeral of Frederick Douglas, whose home was in Anacostia, MD.

Dr. Cornell William Brooks, a member of Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, wrote on Twitter, “On my Sabbath I wake up to the disgusting image of Proud Boys tearing down a Black Lives Matter banner from my church. Will Trump who held a bible up in front of a church bless not condemn this racist vandalism against Metropolitan AME church?”

Dr. Cornel William Brooks condemned the church vandalism. Screen shot from Twitter.

Luther Place, a third church vandalized, which supported the Civil Rights movement and Peace movement of the 1960s and 1970s, was also attacked on Friday night when its Black Lives Matter sign was torn down. Saturday night several supporters affiliated with Luther Place stood guard near a Black Lives Matter sign replacement under its head steeple. It is not known who was responsible for the vandalism at Luther Place on Friday night.

Religous leaders responded with support to the congregations of those churches vandalized, condemning actions of Proud Boys and demanding the Trump Administration also condemn it. DC Police Tactics Largely Ineffective
For their part police stood in lines to separate the clashing groups but their tactical positions were primarily bureaucratic. In many instances groups of Proud Boys easily broke through lines by flanking police lines through alleyways. Then Proud Boys sought out anti-fascist opposition by attacking through those alleys. And even where police lines faltered, groups clashed and fought hand-to-hand while police were observed making no arrests at those particular points of conflict.

The violence continued unabated for hours in multiple locations throughout downtown. Four were reportedly stabbed and in serious condition at hospital. There were 23 arrests throughout the night. Many others were beaten and injured. Proud Boys confronted and attacked small groups caught out in the open.

At one point on 14th and K Street, just a few hundred feet from the Washington Post building, Proud Boys pushed past police bicycle lines and poured onto K Street to fight with an anti-fascist counter group. For unexplained reasons police made no arrests at that site of confrontation.

Proud Boy Hate Group Growing Under Trump

The Proud Boy hate group is new but their violence is not new in this country. It is a twist of roots to white supremacy with hoods off in the form of a gang. The Proud Boys were founded in 2016 and involved in the riots of Charlottesville in 2017. They have shown up for hate rallies in New York, Portland, Olympia, and Boston. They are classified as a hate group by Southern Poverty Law Center. They are tracked by groups such as One People’s Project, a group that specializes in tracking hate groups.

Some of the anti-fascist shields used to protect opposition during the conflict. Photo: John Zangas

Daryl Lamont Jenkins, founder of One People’s Project said that the Proud Boys played themself out Saturday night when they attacked historic churches and harmed random people on the streets. “There’s going to be a reckoning over this. When you take down and burn the Black Lives Matter banner from the church where Frederick Douglas had his funeral thats going to be a big problem,” he said.

Jenkins, who was in Washington DC to observe the MAGA groups and Proud Boys as part of his work said also that police were forced to react to the mayhem Proud Boys brought to DC after the November MAGA rally. He still gave police a “D-minus” rating for allowing the sustained violence and damage to chruches in downtown DC.

“Even the CATO institute is coming after them,” he said. The CATO institute is a libertarian think tank that advocates and influences conservative political policy.

Mainstream media was not visible during the clashes and did not video record these incidents. Independent media coverage was continuous and immediately posted to social media.

There is certain to be backlash over the Proud Boy vandalism at Washington DC area churches. We will update this story as developments are learned.

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America Starts New Chapter As Election Called For Biden-Harris

Sun, 11/08/2020 - 18:28
There was a spontaneous celebration and jubilant dancing as thousands celebrated the election outcome. Photo: John Zangas

Washington DC-The streets around the White House erupted into joyous celebration Saturday as thousands converged following an AP report calling the race for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Motorists blew horns and thousands quickly swarmed to the few open areas around the White House not gated and fenced in. They carried with them Biden-Harris signs and banners. Several held life sized caricatures of Biden and Harris.

The country waited anxiously for five days while a handful of states counted mailed ballots mostly from Democratic urban areas, tilting the final counts toward the Democratic ticket, By early Saturday afternoon the outcome shifted resolutely towards the Biden-Harris ticket and was called by the Associated Press. Two critical swing-states, Nevada and Pennsylvania netted 26 electoral college to Biden Harris giving them 290 total; 20 more than needed to win.

Dancing In The Streets

Groups dominated mostly by youth joined in euphoric dance, cheer, and embraces, while others shed tears of joy. A group called Refuse Fascism set up speakers in Black Lves Matter Plaza and a DJ spun favored songs of celebration while thousands danced as if they were one family.

Several climbed atop street lights and showered crowds with champagne and threw cans of beer to waiting arms. Wave after wave of celebrants pushed closely together to join the commotion on H Street. It was not possible to get close to the White House grounds because 15-foot fencing has closed Lafayette Park long Black Lives Matter Plaza, scene of intense skirmishes between police and protesters in June. The joyous celebration continued late into the night.

Youth climbed traffic poles and popped champagne corks, spraying the crowd below. Photo: John Zangas

A woman who has been protesting at Black Lives Matter Plaza, since June, said she never expected to see a day of so much joy. She waved a banner while wearing a mask labeled ‘Madam Vice President.’ “I’m happy I no longer have to come down here to protest,” she said. Others held signs of discontent for the last 4 years of leadership. Among them were “You’re Fired,” a play on the Apprentice TV show, “Trump is Over,” and “Fuerda Ya,” a Spanish expression for (get) out already.

As late afternoon set in the crowd grew, making it impossible to adhere to the 6 foot social distancing limit. Nearly every person was wearing a mask but the COVID pandemic is at its highest spread rate with over 120,000 new cases nationally yesterday alone.

A Defeated Trump Refuses To Abdicate

Trump did not break character and therefore he did not concede. His all caps message on Twitter that he had won by getting more votes largely fell mute in the press and was ignored in the celebration outside the White House. He had previously said he would not concede even if he did lose.

Some dressed in characters. Women of CODEPINK dressed in theater to clean up the mess left behind by the administration.

The election soundly rejected trumpism. The outgoing Administration’s grip on power will soon fade. Trump was moving towards authoritarianism with multiple indications institutional democracy itself was unraveling. His response to the COVID crisis, or lack thereof, and politicization of the Department of Justice were clear signs of autocratic rule. Violations of the emoluments clause in the constitution and the appointment to key cabinet positions and ambassadorships of those who made sizable contributions to Trump’s 2016 campaign were just a few of the issues raised in the press.

Biden Harris Election Will Attempt To Revitalize Democratic Institutions

Biden held his victory speech at 8:30 pm in Delaware with a promise to reunite the country and govern for everyone. His commitments largely rejected the tribalism of the outgoing administration. He promised to make science based policy and to appoint a team of doctors and scientists to tackle the pandemic and climate emergencies. He will rejoin the Paris climate accords the day he is inaugurated. He thanked Black Americans for their support in the election and said he would “have their back” for it.

This is an historic election. For the first time a woman of color will occupy the Vice Presidency and executive branch of government.

A celebratory mood has put to rest fear of riots and destruction. Block after block of boarded up government buildings and businesses may soon take down their facades of plywood and the National Park Service will remove nearly two miles of fencing encircling the White House sometime after the inauguration.

This divisive period may be recorded as the moment democracy almost ended here. And it is also likely to be remembered as an affirmation of the constitution’s durability and a testimonial to its authors.

Issue Number One: Climate

An overarching issue is the climate emergency. No other issue, not whether the Supreme Court remains conservative or liberal, whether democratic institutions are restored to former dignity, whether the economy expands or contracts, or whether democracy lives or dies, is as important longterm than the climate emegency. Future generations will look back at this inflection point and wonder why it took so long for our civilization to begin in earnest the work needed to recalibrate energy policy. Obama acknowledged climate but followed with near inaction as fracking methane gas took over from coal as a “bridge fuel.”

The earth recorded its warmest year since record-keeping began. More hurricanes hit the U.S. coast than ever before in a single hurricane season and this was the year of la nina, a weather pattern that typically signals a weak hurricane season. Arctic ice mass diminished to its second lowest record for this period of the year according to a report by NASA. Scientists attributed the delay to warming ocean currents. The strongest typhoon ever recorded slammed into the Philippines, with 195 mph winds.

The celebration will not last long as the incoming administration has many urgent isses to deal with. Photo: John Zangas

Biden has inherited multiple urgent issues: a spreading pandemic, a cratered economy, a climate emergency, inflamed racial tensions, fractured democratic institutions, and more. His administration will need to work fast to fix these issues. There will be little or no grace period for Biden and Harris.

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Washington DC Locks Down and Boards Up As Nation Braces For Election Result

Tue, 11/03/2020 - 18:33
The scene near the White House was nervous anticipation several hiurs before the first poles closed. Photo: John Zangas

Washington, DC-Businesses, Unions, and News Services were busy boarding up windows and lobbies across the nation’s capital on Monday in anticipation of a contested presidential election result. As election night fell, construction crews were still attaching and reenforcing sheets of plywood to windows at the news headquarters buildings and union offices near the Capitol. Many other businesses followed suit. Never before has Washington DC been boarded up for an election as if a hurricane were approaching.

At the White House and Executive mansion, the office of the Vice-President, construction crews erected a 15-foot fence late Monday night. The fence is an addition to an iron wrought fence installed at the North side of the White House earlier this year. With existing fencing already in place on H Street and along 15th street since the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, the White House has a dubious appearance of being under siege. And maybe it is.

Steve Cochran, a foreman who was supervising a team of workers boarding up a building across from the National Archives on Pennsylvania Avenue, said he had never seen it like this before an election. He has lived in Washingtonian all his life and has seen Administrations come and go since John F. Kennedy. “I have not seen so much fear at the possibility of how this election could come out,” he said.

Steve Cockran said at the end of the day we all have to come together. Photo: John Zangas

The presidial election is usually welcomed as a time honored democratic process ushering leadership change . It is a ritual and the foundation of constitutional power sharing. That is the intended nature of democracy here-that the trustees of power know they are temporary brokers and accept their power with a precondition to cede it at the will of the voting public.

But this election day is different. And as the public scrutiny over the election process intensifies, many are asking questions about the conduct of the Administration, the process of electing a leader, and the surety of that process, especially as it relates to the electoral college and whether it should be abolished altogether.

The President has previously been unwilling to say he’d cede power if he were not reelected. This has created nervousapprehension of the election result and never before has a president seemingly clung to power so ardently.

The temperamental state of the union is not well either. Parties have attacked each other in the media with a toxic sludge of accusations. The Administration has repeatedly asserted, without basis, voter fraud is inherent with mailed ballots. At the same time it began to decommission mail processing machines at the post offices in swing states. This has resulted in first class mail delivery delays of 40 percent in Philadelphia.

The debates were largely a reality TV spectacle and social media is a raging political inferno. Gone are the days when favorites on Twitter and Facebook included videos for fun of cats playing pianos or of babies laughing at nothing.

A published report said researchers determined the U.S. is as close to civil war as it has been since the 1860s “based on a number they call the ‘political stress indicator’ [which] can warn when societies are at risk of erupting into violence.” Their assessment is based on five indicators: wage stagnation, national debt, competition between elites, distrust in government, urbanization, and the age structure of the population . Imbalances in these categories leads to inequality they argue, which has been building for decades, long before the current Administration moved into the White House.

Both major election campaigns have “lawyered up” as they vie for advantage in swing states to litigate dozens of cases over the legality of vote processes. Some last minute changes based on concerns over COVID, such as curbside voting in Harris County, Texas, have dealt the GOP a stinging defeat. But the age of vote challenges in the courts is leaving many to ask themselves if their vote will count. One to also left to wonder if court challenges will resolve future elections.

So it should be no surprise that election day would see the nation’s capital locked down and boarded up.

Media companies and businesses boarded up in anticipation of the election result. Photo: John Zangas

The government of Washington DC, for all its critics and criticisms (what government is without them?) has gotten one thing right this election. Due to the COVID crisis it mailed every registered voter in the District an absentee ballot with clear instructions on how and where to vote. It has also gave mailed ballots a grace period of 10 days past election day to be counted, provided voters have mailed and post-marked ballots by the end of election day. It is a model other states could follow. Maybe such a model is what all states should follow

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Fashion Designer Fosters Community Spirit With An Eye For Empowerment

Mon, 11/02/2020 - 01:06
Jason C. Peters has been involved in community activism for 2 decades. Photo: John Zangas

Washington DC-Most fashion designers are in business to plug their clothing line and to promote their image. But designer Jason C. Peters, put his skills to work for a different purpose on Saturday. He held a public fashion show in Black Lives Matter Plaza centering DC communities with positive messages designed to empower and uplift them.

Peters brought his skills with him from New York to Washington DC to show that the Black Lives Matter Movement derives its primary power from the grassroots of its communities. His models converted the plaza into a runway wearing colorful signs along with their apparel as the drum group ‘Drumline Elite’ performed an array of inspirational drum tracks..

Following the show Peters gave out clothing packages to the needy in a philanthropic gesture to the community while Drumline Elite continued playing an extended ensemble of tracks it created.

Tyree, a spokesman for Drumline Elite said his group formed after graduation from Eastern SeniorvHighschool in Washington DC and had been together for several years. “We started out doing it for fun but we got plenty of smiles and we’ve been playing seriously for two years now,” he said.

Drumline Elite performed tracks they created over the past several years that they have been in existence. Photo: John Zangas

Peters wanted to highlight the importance of community involvement in ongoing political discourse and encourage residents to get involved directly in the political forces shaping their communities. He has been involved in activism for several decades and decided to merge his design talents with activism in response to the forces undermining Black communities. His idea to merge fashion with activism came to him after Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida by a security guard. What better way to do that than by dressing up models with the messages of resistance, he thought.

“It was important to do it right in front of the White House in Black Lives Matter Plaza to keep people inspired right before the election,” he said. Peters said inspiring others and giving back to the community were his passions.

Models wore messages of empowerment and resistance. Some models wore ‘Vote’ over their mouths. Photo: John Zangas

Models dressed in the signs they created. One wore ‘Stop Caging Kids,’ while another wore ‘Black Hair Is Cool.’ Several wore ‘Vote’ over their mouths in a statement of engagement by action not just words. Peters himself wore ‘Vote Him Out.’ Some of the models had no experience doing runway but were activists who wanted to get involved. They ranged in age from 6 to their early 20s. All models wore masks, in itself a fashion statement as every community continues to confront the COVID pandemic.

Peters has put on shows in communities such as Ferguson, New York, and Chicago and wherever communities have faced struggle with oppression.

“I belive it is important to fight for justice and equality for anyone who feels shunned by society because of the color of their skin,” he said. He said he is looking forward to putting on more shows in communities facing challenges with police brutality and struggling with economic conditions.

He can be teached on Instagram @JasonCPeters and accepts donations in support of his philanthropic efforts to distribute clothing to those in need.

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Architects Build Society’s Cage On National Mall In Bold Statement Of Racial Strife In America

Sun, 08/30/2020 - 21:50
Society’s Cage is an Architect’s rendering of racial inequality in America. Photo: John Zangas Washington DC – A group of five designers at the internationally known SmithGroup Architecture firm set up a metallic cubic structure on the National Mall to frame the struggle of Black Lives in America. The public display titled “Society’s Cage” is a 14 foot cube pavilion timed for the 57th anniversary of the March On Washington and is made from the hidden components of sky scrapers. It depicts an architect’s visualization of ongoing racial inequality in the United States and asks the question, “What is the value of a Black life in America?”

The cube is constructed from 483 vertical rusted conduit pipes attached to a large metal plate, supported by four large metal supports on a pavilion, resembling a cage. One in four bars are connected to the floor, representing the rate Blacks will be incarcerated. A four-part, 8 minute, 46 second music composition, the same time length of time of George Floyd’s tragic murder, sets the mood. The floor is captioned with quotations of prominent civil rights activists while the pavilion’s parapet contains statistics of Black lives within the justice system. As night falls lights shimmer through the conduits, illuminating the display.

The observer is invited to walk through the cube and between the uneven hanging conduit pipes to experience the visual and acoustical expression of systemic injustice through the eyes of Black lives. “How long can you hold your breath,” greets the observer at its entrance. One enters and hears a concert of instruments accented with the cries of a child, police sirens, moans of the Black mother whose child was killed by police, the rising and falling tones of voices marking societal iniquities. Through the conduit bars one sees the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol, lending more context to the design’s statement: Is a Black life really free? Does a Black life really have equal access under the law in this democracy?

Julian Arrington, one of five designers, commented on the meaning of Society’s Cage and its impact of project development on him. “The cube depicts equity and perfection and is a symbol of equality,” he said. But he described its inner structure rendered as a critique of the broken justice system. “The bars are interrupted and converge with four datasets representing different forms of racism and state violence,” he said.

Julian Arrington was one of the lead designers of Society’s Cage. He described the design as a critique of racial bias in the justice system. Photo: John Zangas

Arrington described the four data sets as mass incarceration, police brutality in the form of police killings, capitol punishment, and lynching. He suggested the display is a visual display of the continuing pattern of this systemic racism imbued within society because it was as evident today as it was 400 years ago and studies and statistics bore that out.

On one side of the parapet reads “One in ten Black people are killed by police while unarmed. Black people are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than Whites.” Another side reads, “Out of over 2600 people absolved of crimes since 1956 nearly half have been Black. In America Black people are far more likely to be wrongly convicted of murder, sexual assault, and drug crimes.”

Doug Dahlkemper, one of the principals at SmithGroup, said that the design was the Architectural firm’s contribution to a national discussion of racial issues. He said the firm supported and gave all of the designers, who are minorities, lead roles in the project. “I think we all have to be a part of this issue, Black, White, no matter what race and creed you are,” he said.

Dahlkemper credited the design team as “very skilled designers” who not only envisioned and designed Society’s Cube, but also planned the logistics and organized the fundraising needed to complete the project.

Arrington took pride in describing the project and the symbolic meaning of its constituent parts. He derived hope from the fact that his firm supported it. “The opportunity to have something on this site speaks volumes in terms not only the breath within my organization of people who want to see change but also those who sponsored and contributed financially to it,” he said.

As the sun set and the conduit lights came on to mark the end the first day of the display, someone left a bouquet of roses and lillys on the welcome table. After several of the support team swept dust from the floor of Society’s Cage, Arrington carefully laid the flowers on the four corners of the parapet.

As the sun set lights In the conduits illuminate the captions and bars touching the floor. Photo: John Zangas

 

Society’s Cage will be displayed on the National Mall across from the Smithsonian Castle and near the L’Enfant Mall metro entrance until Labor Day.

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Antifascist Comedian Mike Gamms Gets New York Green Party Nod for NY27 Congressional Race

Sun, 02/23/2020 - 21:09

An anti-fascist comedian has earned a Green Party nomination to run for the New York 27th District Congressional seat. The New York State Board of Elections announced Mike Gamms’ candidacy on Friday, February 20, after the Green Party of Erie and Monroe counties nominated him. He is running in a special election to be held on April 28, 2020, for a seat vacated by disgraced Trump supporter Chris Collins, who resigned after pleading guilty to insider trading.

Gamms is well known in anti-fascist social media circles as a funny-bone. He focuses attention to social issues with his videos by creating comical drama around them. He has upended neo-nationalist and conservative rallies by poking fun at them. He’s often used comedy as a tactic to push back against narrow ideologies with parody and ad hoc theatrical performances. He has dressed up as a flamboyant superhero and as an “anti-Christ” devil and appeared at KKK and nationalist rallies to challenge racist and homophobic rhetoric.

He’s not very imposing but that makes him more effective in his craft. A slender frame and all of “129 lbs., 5 foot 7 3/4 inches tall in ‘girls’ clothing,” many just giggle at him. And they have. But then he starts his routine and the targets are easily distracted by his comedy. He trolls fascists, nationalists and the KKK. He lambasted the police at the Standing Rock Pipeline fight while activists stood-off against the paid police proxy of TransCanada’s Dakota Access Pipeline. ”I use comedy as my weapon because it’s the only one I have,“ he said.

He uses comedy to make light of serious situations. “I use comedy as my weapon because it’s the only one I have.” Photo: Mike Gamms

He realizes the issues he’s confronting are no laughing matter. “I am running on a platform eco-socialism, anti-fascism, anti-imperialism, and anti-capitalism,” said Gamms. He expressed pride in having been chosen to represent Distruct 27 but knows there’s a lot of work to be done to restore confidence in the fractured political system of his district.

Republican Congressman Chris Collins won New York District 27 in 2013. He also served on Trump’s 2016 election transition team. He was forced to resign on September 30, 2019 before pleading guilty to insider trading. Collins is among a growing number of discredited public figures connected to the 2016 Trump Presidential campaign and subsequent transition team.

Gamms, a self-described radical insurgent and anti-fascist, plans to center issues important to the marginalized at the front of his campaign as he works to empower them in his community. He is running to challenge the political standard of entrenched entitlement.

“I don’t see myself fitting into this political system and that’s exactly why I’m running,” said Gamms. “I don’t like the label ‘progressive’ as it has been co-oped by pseudo-progressive incrementalists who stand in the way of justice.”

As a self-described bisexual extremist, he comes out in support of federal decriminalization of sex work, the repeal of SESTA/FOSTA, and proposes extending standard workers rights to sex workers. He is the first openly bisexual male comedian ever nominated for United States Congress.

He supports classifying crimes against sex workers as a hate crime. “This is important because so many violent crimes are against sex workers. They are seen as less than human,” he said.

“I am also calling for a federal ban on all conversion therapy on children. This includes both gay conversion therapy, and applied behavioral analysis conversion therapy on autistic children. Furthermore, Autism Speaks and any other group who push these practices must be classified as a hate group,“ he said

He is also standing against the growing military budget and its cycle of military industry financial donations to buy political favor. He argues it has siphoned public funding for programs where people are suffering most: health care, education, and housing. “We spend trillions of dollars committing mass murder and ecocide around the world for the profits of a few at the expense of the planet and everyone on it. We need to redistribute billionaires’ wealth and redistribute the military budget,” he said.

Gamms was active in the enviromental movement at Standing Rock where he participated in the Dakota Access Pipeline battle in 2016-7. He has traveled around the country advocating for environmental protections in communities needing support.

Healthcare reform and Medicare for all is another issue Gamms strongly supports. As a comedian searching for a break through moment he has no health plan because he can’t afford one and has experienced first hand the costs of not having healthcare. After a hard-arrest during an environmental action he was videotaping, he was forced to pay out of pocket expenses for bruises and cracked ribs.

He lost a comedian friend, Raghav who just like him had no health insurance or means to pay for care. Raghav couldn’t afford the prescriptions or visits for his severe depression. Gamms was moved by his struggle and decided he would do something about it if he ever got the chance. About ‘45,000 people in the US die every year from not having health insurance,’ reads a published Elle story written by Raghav’s former girlfriend, Kate Willett.

Gamms believes healthcare is a human right, “Not a privilege for those who can afford it.” He endorsees healthcare for those who are in need regardless of their status. Photo: Mike Gamms

He believes healthcare is a human right, “Not a privilege for those who can afford it.” He endorsees healthcare for those who are in need regardless of their status. “My republican opponent, Chris Jacobs opposes Medicare for All, while my democrat opponent, Nate McMurry claims to support Medicare for all but adds ‘until everyone in my town, state, or county has full healthcare, we can’t give it to the world.’” Both are unacceptable options to him as they allow the healthcare industry to deny care to those who can’t afford it.

His platform includes eco-socialism, anti-capitalism, and anti-imperialism. He plans to do “whatever is necessary” to shake up the political system that looks away as the environment is ruined and benefits from corruption with businesses.

“The system is right to be afraid of us,” he said. “I believe in disrupting the political system, the status quo and business as usual. As long as warmongers continue to control our lives, millions of people will continue to suffer.

You can donate to his campaign here.

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#ShutdownDC: District Brought to Standstill over Inaction on Climate Emergency

Mon, 09/23/2019 - 22:02

Washington, DC — Over two dozen environmental and justice groups coordinated a massive shutdown of twenty major locations in the District, snarling traffic and business operations and creating chaos for commuters as they brought the nation’s capital to near gridlock. The unprecedented action involved a series of coordinated nonviolent civil disobedience actions which included blockades of key freeway ramps, a yacht launch on K Street, a van blockade and multiple demonstrations with sit-ins on city streets.

The actions come in response to worsening global climate and government inaction or business initiatives to tackle or even acknowledge the existence of global heating and its fallout. A key issue prompting the shutdown was corporate policies of business-as-usual and failure to implement even bare-minimum renewable energy solutions.

Youth-led groups included the Sunrise Movement, Extinction Rebellion, 198 Methods, and 350 DC. Other groups included Beyond Extreme Energy, Black Lives Matter DMV, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Code Pink, and Friends of the Earth Action, Friends Meeting in Washington Social Concerns Committee. Friends Meeting House of Washington, DC provided critical space support for the activists.

The shutdown had been planned for several months and involved as many as 2,000 activists from a variety of groups which have traditionally not coordinated actions on such a large scale. The success of the shutdown demonstrated that groups have found new confidence that they can cooperate in a large scale actions and demonstrate to authorities they are no longer going to accept business-as-usual as the climate crisis worsens.

This action was different from protest actions of the past when thousands marched along permitted prearranged routes, holding signs and delivering keynote speeches. The actions of the past generally led to inaction from government and business comfortable with maintaining the status quo of a fossil fuel-based economy.

These actions represent a new direction of ramped-up pressure against the administration and its cabinet of climate denier industrialists and the fossil industry businesses enthrall to them.

In this action, many groups consolidated their efforts to respond as if they were one group with one voice and a wide power base. The groups realized over the last few years that they must include social justice issues at the center in the climate movement, because they are the core issues often overlooked by environmentalists in their fight against the fossil fuel industry.

Among social justice groups spearheading the actions was Black Lives Matter DMV–a collective of activists fighting for minority social justice in Washington, DC–which organized a shutdown of a key intersection near the U.S. Capitol by setting up a mock medical aid station.

“Black people in frontline communities are always most impacted by climate change, by climate disaster, but are often the last that people think about,” said April Goggans, a lead organizer of Black Lives Matter DMV. “We are highlighting environmental racism in DC to remind folks we cannot be erased. You cannot talk about saving the Earth for future generations if you cannot talk about those who have been suffering the longest,” she said.

Goggans pointed out that those frontline communities of color in the Bahamas, New Orleans, Puerto Rico and the Philippines which were recently hit by massive hurricanes still have not and may never recover. “It is a social justice issue, because housing is a climate issue,” she said.

A group of about 60 students aged 19 to 22 from five universities, shut down a key access to the I-295 tunnel and interchange at New York Ave., where 27 people were arrested. They were released within hours on post and forfeit bonds after being charged with obstructing an access road.

Jeremy Liskar, a student from George Washington University, who was arrested but later released, said that his generation is in a fight for their future and willing to do what they need to do to change the fossil fuel-based economy. “It’s not like this is something we want to do, skipping school to get arrested, but we feel it’s a moral imperative,” said Liskar

Liskar said that if he were speaking to the Congress he would tell them: “We are on a timeline. We can’t be debating whether this is happening because it is happening. We need to start talking about how we’re going to fix it,” he said.

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$10 Million Defamation Lawsuit Filed Against Rockwool, Allies

Wed, 08/28/2019 - 12:48

A civil complaint was filed yesterday in Circuit Court in Jefferson County, W.Va., alleging that Rockwool Group, one of its employees and former members of the local development authority slandered a local resident. The lawsuit seeks $10 million in compensatory and $2.5 million in punitive damages.

The attorney of plaintiff David Levine, a tech entrepreneur living in Shepherdstown, argues that Levine suffered harm to his reputation and business as a result of personal attacks on him, which began a year ago when he expressed opposition to the Rockwool mineral wool factory. His two articles critical of Rockwool on the website of Forbes magazine made him the target of retaliation, he says, by a senior executive of the Rockwool organization and local officials who had paved the way to bring heavy, polluting industry to the bucolic area.

The complaint names as defendants the Rockwool Group and its senior VP Björn Andersen. It also names Dan Casto, Stephen Stolipher, Ray Bruning and Jefferson County Prosperity, Inc., the group which these three men helped form after they resigned from the Jefferson County Development Authority. The JCDA worked with the West Virginia Development Office to offer Rockwool tens of millions of dollars in incentives if it located its factory in Jefferson County.

The complaints lists numerous examples of alleged defamatory statements, which originate from social media posts, email and text messages. They assail Levine’s character and business practices. Defendants allegedly called Levine a liar, “fraud,” and “con artist”–one who “ripped off an entire town.” They claimed that Levine committed securities fraud and is a swindler on par with Bernie Madoff.

One Jefferson County Prosperity, Inc., post describes Levine as “celebrating the death of police officers, getting high on mushrooms, and throwing bombs at police,” according to the complaint.

The complaint further alleges that the defendants conspired in a “joint scheme” to defame Levine “in furtherance of a preconceived plan.” Their goal was to “destroy Levine’s personal and professional reputations and advance the goals of Rockwool,” the complaint says.

Local newspaper Spirit of Jefferson was accused of participating in this conspiracy, although it was not named as a defendant.

None of the defendants contacted for comment have responded by time of publication. Any statements will be published as we receive them. The Spirit of Jefferson also has not yet responded to request for comment.

David Levine, pictured with his daughter Zoe, is suing Rockwool and Jefferson County for Prosperity for defamation.

Levine’s attorney Steven Biss said that he has collected 762 Facebook posts, texts and other documents containing defamatory statements.

“We screenshotted everything,” he said. “There’s a lot of malice in the posts, a lot of venom.”

He described one of the effects of defamation as inflicting “a permanent scar on Levine’s reputation,” which has taken and will continue to take a toll on his business as an entrepreneur.

“These are highly incendiary, highly defamatory statements. The only thing they didn’t accuse him of is kicking the cat,” Biss said.

Rockwool’s motive in targeting a critic of their mineral wool manufacturing plant is simple greed, he said. In criticizing Rockwool’s proposed factory, Levine was “chopping down the money tree.”

Jefferson County Prosperity lists the Rockwool facility among the “Prosperity Projects” it supports. Its Facebook page has been the platform for many alleged defamatory statements. JCP wants to “stomp out the opposition [to Rockwool], that’s their goal,” Biss said.

 

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Columbia Gas Denied Right to Take Public Land for Potomac Pipeline

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 17:06

A federal court judge today denied Columbia Gas the right to move forward with construction of a gas pipeline through public land in Washington County, Md. The ruling is a blow both to Columbia Gas and to the pipeline’s main intended customer, the Rockwool insulation factory in West Virginia, now under construction.

The TransCanada subsidiary had filed a lawsuit against the state of Maryland in June in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to force access to the Maryland Rail Trail, a necessary piece to construct a 3.7-mile pipeline from Fulton County, Pa., through a thin slice of Maryland. In January, the Maryland Board of Public Works, which included Governor Larry Hogan, denied Columbia Gas an easement.

Columbia Gas’s lawsuit was unusual in that a private company tried to use the power of eminent domain to take public land. It claimed that power by virtue of the permit granted to the project by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The judge denied Columbia Gas injunctive relief because it found no substantive case, Upper Potomac Riverkeeper Brent Walls said in a statement delivered by live stream after the ruling. Private industry doesn’t have the right to file an eminent domain case against the state of Maryland, the judge found, because the state has sovereign immunity, he said.

Opponents of the pipeline project were jubilant outside the courthouse following the judge’s ruling.

The judge determined that the economic loss to Columbia Gas with a denial of access is insignificant in comparison the loss of sovereignty immunity by the state of Maryland, according to Walls.

A light display outside the Capitol building in Annapolis in Feb. 2017 hoping to pressure Gov. Larry Hogan to stop the Potomac Pipeline. He voted against granting the Md. Rail Trail easement.

The case may have gone forward if the Secretary of the Interior had filed the lawsuit on Columbia Gas’s behalf, the judge said, according to Walls.

The judge has expedited the case the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia, if Columbia Gas chooses to take up an appeal.

The Potomac Pipeline has drawn vociferous protest over the last three years. Environmental groups have objected to the potential risks of drilling under the Potomac River in unstable karst geology using a process requiring millions of gallons of drilling fluid. Community groups in West Virginia have supported landowners who have been adversely affected by the construction of the gas distribution line which would have hooked up to the Potomac Pipeline’s supply. And, over the last year, a new constituency of protest has grown around the intended use for most of the pipeline’s capacity—gas to heat the furnace at the controversial Rockwool factory.

The sands have shifted from the time they started fighting Columbia Gas’s pipeline, from the perspective of Tracy Cannon of Eastern Panhandle Protectors. “Opinion about pipelines is changing—and we will win,” she said.

The judge may agree with them. “This is a new era,” he said, according to the pipeline opponents.

Walls offered his interpretation, saying he believed the judge was referring to the increased build-out of pipelines and the number of battles being fought over them in court.

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Factory Opponents Call AIA and Rockwool ‘Partners in Pollution’

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 21:45

Opponents of the under-construction Rockwool factory in Jefferson County, W.Va., today took aim at the insulation manufacturer’s “green” image with a protest at a key professional association in the construction and building industry. Appealing to the core values articulated by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in Washington, DC, members of community organization Resist Rockwool expressed their outrage and heartache through song and speech about Rockwool’s construction of a polluting factory in the vicinity of 30% of the county’s schoolchildren.

Last month, Resist Rockwool sent a letter to the AIA, asking it to live up to its commitment to prioritize policies and design practices which promote energy conservation, community health and resiliency. If the AIA takes the manufacturing process into consideration and no longer recognizes Rockwool’s product as “sustainable,” their hope is that the AIA will “deny Rockwool access to an important segment of the construction and building industry,” the letter says.

The group points to the 156,000 tons of greenhouse gases and toxic emissions permitted for the factory, which is sited directly across from an elementary school and within only two miles of three other county schools. The facility also sits atop porous karst geology, which has led to fears that retaining ponds for coal ash and other waste materials will leak into the ground water.

Milo Levine plays Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” at the American Institute of Architects in Washington, DC/Photo by Monica Larson

But, the AIA responded unfavorably to their appeal, calling Rockwool its “corporate partner” and telling the Jefferson County residents to take their concerns to their local officials. Resist Rockwool in turn is calling the AIA and Rockwool “partners in pollution.”

About a dozen people approached the AIA building on Wednesday and attempted to enter, but were rebuffed by security personnel. The “Sing Out” then assembled on the steps of the plaza outside the entrance. For about twenty minutes, they serenaded AIA employees and staff with songs about West Virginia, its history of coal mining and how—like the Tom Petty lyric—they would not “back down.” In the makeshift ampitheater, the amplified music resonated all the way to the upper floors of the AIA building. (Video here.)

The group sang “County Roads,” a John Denver song written specifically about the northern part of the Shenandoah Valley where Rockwool is constructing its planned factory. Zoe Levine performed an original composition celebrating the deep ties she feels to her birthplace: “West Virginia, the song of my heart, my home/Land of plenty, land of birdsong,” she sang.

Her brother, Milo Levine, also performed. He lamented that his infant might not be able to experience the natural environment in Jefferson County in the pristine state that he enjoyed as a child.

“The AIA talks about the importance of communities, the importance of health, and yet, they are supporting the greenwashing of Rockwool,“ said their father David Levine. ”Our way of life is at risk. We asked the AIA to stand up for the principles they espouse, and instead, they sent us a letter most likely written by Rockwool, their corporate partner. They took their blood money.“

Jefferson County resident Mary Reed said that Rockwool “picks out the weak to attack,” referring to the Title 1 school across the road from the Rockool construction site. The “Significant Impact Area,” she said, expands in a 35-mile radius and includes 710,000 people. “I call it the sacrifice zone,” she said.

Rockwool has exploited poor and vulnerable people in the 45 countries where it has built factories, asserted Stewart Acuff. “This institute of architects is the biggest hypocrite in Washington, DC today, because they say they stand for a green future, they say they stand for a healthy cllimate, and then they turn around and support Rockwool, a dangerous corporate polluter and marauder,” he said.

Resist Rockwool President Tracy Danzey asked the AIA to reconsider what she described as a “dismissal” of their concerns.

“The AIA needs to make a decision about who they are and what they support. We’re fighting for our lives here, we’re fighting for our community, and we’re not going anywhere,” she said.

Photos by Monica Larson

Click to view slideshow.

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‘Drop Rockwool’: Retailers Urged to Boycott Insulation Maker

Sat, 07/20/2019 - 19:55

Several Jefferson County, W.Va., residents demonstrated at home improvement retailers in Gaithersburg, Md., in an effort to pressure them to ban Rockwool insulation products from their shelves. They object to Rockwool North America, a division of the Danish Rockwool Group, siting a mineral wool factory in their county–one which will burn coal and gas in close proximity to public schools.

This was the first in a series of demonstrations at Lowe’s and Home Depot stores regionally, organizers of Resist Rockwool say. The opposition group has launched a boycott campaign and sent letters to CEO’s of both Lowe’s and Home Depot.



Pulling bright red bales of Rockwool insulation from the shelves at the back of the Lowe’s store, the eight protesters built a replica factory, complete with two towering smokestacks and a chimney billowing clouds of pollutants. A state agency has granted a permit allowing the factory to emit 153,000 tons per year of greenhouse gasses and nearly 3,000 tons per year of pollutants, including formaldehyde, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and sulfur dioxide.

Tireace Johnson explains the potential hazards of the Rockwool factory in Jefferson County in front of the replica factoy made of bales of insulation products./Photo by John Zangas

Store security asked them to leave, but they persisted.

“This is what Rockwool is doing in our community. They’re just throwing a factory in the middle of our county where things are beautiful and where we have children across the street,” Resist Rockwool President Tracy Danzey said.

“Welcome to our life. Welcome to our world. This is what they’re doing to us,” she said.

Tireace Johnson read from an informational flyer which they were handing out to employees and customers. Burning more than 90 tons of coal and 1.6 million cubic ft. of fracked gas daily, she said, will “cause chronic and fatal diseases of the lungs, liver, kidneys, brain and heart. Not only is it going to effect the children who are within less than one mile radius—going to a public school—but it’s going to destroy all of our beauty, recreation, clean air and clean water.”

Tracy Danzey, who suffered severe consequences from DuPont’s Teflon factory, wants people to protect children now so illness doesn’t happen later./Photo by Anne Meador

Rockwool maintains that the facility will not cause adverse health effects. The company also says it was invited to Jefferson County by local and state government and will provide about 150 jobs.

The demonstrators also visited the Home Depot store in Gaithersburg, where they stood outside the door in nearly 100-degree heat, spoke on a bullhorn and again handed out information to customers.

As part of its boycott campaign, Resist Rockwool urges Home Depot to cancel a contract agreement made with Rockwool. Michael Zarin, VP of Rockwool Group Communications, couldn’t confirm the existence of such a contract, saying the company does not disclose details of commercial agreements with retail customers. Home Depot did not respond to an inquiry.

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Organic Farm in W.Va. Imperiled by Gas Pipeline Construction

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 22:24

In the four years since finding stakes mysteriously implanted in the ground of their newly acquired farm, Neal LaFerriere and his family have worked as best they could with Mountain Valley Pipeline representatives to preserve the integrity of their organic farm. Having no choice but to sign an easement to allow the gas pipeline to go through their land, LaFerriere and his wife Beth have tried to hold MVP to the management plan it filed with a federal agency.

“We have always been willing to sit down at the table and meet with them to try to work out the issues,” LaFerriere said.

But even before clearing for construction started on the right-of-way on Monday, the effects of MVP’s actions on the family’s business have been catastrophic, he said, threatening the farm’s organic certification and bringing such financial hardship that their ownership of the farm is in jeopardy. And, already this week, a clumsy accident involving heavy machinery has resulted in a spill of contaminating fluids on the organic farm.

A passion for organic farming and medicinal plants led the LaFerrieres to purchase land in Summers County, W.Va., in 2015 and move there with their three of their children to create Blackberry Springs Farm. A week after closing, they found a portion of the land staked out and had to do some research to find out what was going on. To their surprise, they discovered that a gas pipeline was routed through a portion of the property. The pipeline–the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline–originates in West Virginia and continues through southwestern Virginia to the border of North Carolina.

They resisted signing an easement, but MVP threatened to use the power of eminent domain. “They were starting to say, we’ll just take your property and do it anyway,” LaFerriere said.

He describes persistent problems with MVP and with their attitude toward landowners in general. When the company got permission to clear trees from the right-of-way last year, he asked them for 72 hours notice so they could move some materials. They failed to give notice and felled trees on the materials, which were ruined, he said. MVP had to pay to replace them.

“it looks like they just don’t care, that they’re in such a rush to get this done, they’ll just run over anybody and ignore any rule and not have any common courtesy to try to work with the landowner,” he said.

Far worse was to come for the LaFerriere farm. One day last September, he, his wife, four of their children and an intern were harvesting ginseng about a quarter mile away from the right-of-way, when suddenly, a helicopter flew overhead. Little blue pellets started raining down on them, and they were struck on the face and head, resulting in contusions and lacerations on his two daughters’ faces. He called MVP, but the helicopter continued to make several more passes over the farm.

The blue pellets dropped on Blackberry Springs Farm are an erosion control product./Photo courtesy of Neal LaFerriere

The blue pellets were an erosion control product called Earth Guard Edge. He also called state agencies in addition to MVP, but they were unwilling to hold the pipeline company accountable, he said. Someone at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) called him back 8 days later, and a few days after that, FERC and MVP representatives finally came to the farm bringing MVP’s environmental specialist. The specialist said there was nothing they could do to mitigate the damage. Once the pellet gets wet, it gets into the soil.

“We’re going to make sure this never happens again,” LaFerriere said MVP land agents told him. But the very next morning, a helicopter again flew over, showering more pellets on the remainder of the property. LaFerriere hired an attorney to file a cease-and-desist letter, and only then did the bombardment on his farm stop. It continued on neighboring property.

Earth Guard Edge contains acrylamide, a carcinogen. Because the soil is now contaminated with it, the LaFerrieres stopped selling organic products, fearing someone would get sick. They have “shifted focus a little bit,” but the loss of business has put the farm in jeopardy. The LaFerrieres entered into litigation with MVP over the erosion control pellets in March of this year.

“It’s devastated us. It has hurt us in ways that it’s hard to put into words,” he said.

After she was battered with pellets, the LaFerrieres’ 8-year-old daughter began to have recurring nightmares that the pipeline would explode and kill her family.

“It goes beyond the financial. This property was our hope, our dream, our future, our children’s future. With the way that MVP has just run over the top of us, we don’t even know if we can call this place home any more,” LaFerriere said.

On Monday, MVP workers brought heavy construction equipment to begin clearing, trenching and laying the pipeline through the property. After receiving notification from MVP that they were going to begin construction on July 12, LaFerriere sent an email to MVP to cease and desist work on his property–which it ignored. Workers came onto the farm without “my permission, my inclusion or consultation,” he said.

MVP is required to adhere to an Organic Management Plan it filed with FERC, but LaFerriere said they still hadn’t provided him with any information with regard to its implementation. He hasn’t been allowed to speak with the expert from the International Organic Inspectors Association hired by MVP–who has been out to the property twice–and he still hasn’t received a complete list of materials that MVP would be using on the farm, he says.

MVP also wouldn’t tell him much about the pale green coating on the 42“ diameter pipeline. His concern about the coating degrading and contaminating the soil and water is shared by FERC, which last week sent a letter to MVP asking about its safety after two years of sitting in the sun.

Natalie Cox, Communications Director for EQT Midstream Partners–the lead partner of the Mountain Valley Pipeline joint venture–claims that MVP did provide LaFerriere’s attorney with a site-specific implementation plan for his property as well as an initial list of materials reviewed by the project’s organic consultant. MVP set up a cleaning station outside of an “organic buffer,” she said, and MVP has retained an organic consultant to train workers and environmental inspectors and monitor construction activities and remediation.

LaFerriere said that no monitors or inspectors have been introduced to them, and he has not seen anyone on site that he can identify as a organically trained monitor.

Construction workers started out “grubbing”—removing trees and brush from the right-of-way. He was worried because the workers were using air compressors to decontaminate equipment instead of a wash station, and contaminates were being blown into the air and drifting onto the farm’s organic soil.

Laferriere believed MVP wasn’t honoring its Organic Management plan Requirements, so he sent a second cease-and-desist email on Tuesday. Later that morning, MVP representatives agreed to meet with him at 1 pm. At the last minute, they cancelled.

Only an hour later, an excavator operating on the right-of-way tipped over onto its side. The excavator was on relatively flat terrain, not on a steep hill or slope, LaFerriere said. Fluids spilled out, and he counted nearly 20 workers bagging soil that was contaminated. He didn’t observe any barrier or protective silt socks put in place to contain the spill.

An excavator used for pipeline construction tipped over onto its side at spilled contaminating fluids./Photo courtesy of Preserve Floyd

The driver was able to exit the excavator and walk away with the assistance of co-workers. (The driver is employed by a contractor of Mountain Valley Pipeline, and EQT Midstream Partners was unable to release any information about his medical condition.)

Problems with MVP construction have not been limited to Blackberry Springs Farm. MVP was cited with more than 300 violations by the end of 2018 alone. As a consequence, many of the pipeline’s permits have been revoked. FERC has approved 125 requests by MVP to deviate from its original work plan, and most appear to be related to efforts correct erosion events.

“We have witnessed sediment-laden water flowing off the right-of-way and into adjacent streams, roads buried in up to a foot of mud, and even one erosion event so extreme that two segments of steel pipe – each weighing just over 13,000 pounds – skidded hundreds of feet from a worksite and onto private property,” reads an op-ed in the Virginia Mercury this week.

After heavy rains in June, at least a dozen timber mats from MVP construction sites washed down the Blackwater River into Smith Mountain Lake. A member of the local Board of Supervisors told the Roanoke Times that there could have been “a catastrophe” if a wooden plank had hit a boat.

Virginia attorney general Mark Herring filed a civil lawsuit against MVP last October, alleging that it violated numerous environmental laws by failing to control storm water and sediment run-off. Herring, however, has refused to issue a stop-work order, and construction of the pipeline continues.

More delays have been caused by protesters, who have repeatedly delayed tree-clearing on the route and pipeline construction with blockades, obstruction of easements, equipment lock-downs and tree-sits lasting for months. Multiple arrests have not deterred them.

A pipeline fighter locked himself to an excavator on an MVP site on June 26, stopping work there for more than 6 hours/Photo courtesy of Appalachians Against Pipelines

MVP asserts that permit issues will soon be resolved, and the pipeline will go into operation later this year.

Virginians and West Virginians affected by pipeline construction deeply grieve the defilement of their land by MVP. “The heartbreak of the people that have lived here for generations, to see their land taken against their will, to see it chopped up, split up, divided, tore up,“ LaFerriere said.

“It makes you question the sanity of the entire American Dream, because ultimately, isn’t that all our dream, is to own this one place that we can call our own, that is our sanctuary, that is our base of strength, where we have a foundation not only for ourselves but for our family? And then they come in here and rip that out.”

Feature photo courtesy of Preserve Floyd

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School Board Drops Bid to Obtain Rockwool Property by Eminent Domain

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 20:06

Ranson, W.Va.–The Jefferson County Board of Education will no longer pursue condemnation of Rockwool’s property to build a educational center to provide services for student with special needs. The school board abandoned its bid to obtain the Rockwool site via eminent domain in a settlement agreement announced today by the two parties. Rockwool in turn dropped its lawsuit against the Board of Education which sought to block the condemnation.

The Board of Education proposed to build a Regional Student Support Center on the Rockwool site across from North Jefferson Elementary to provide services for special needs students. Rockwool will contribute $250,000 toward the purchase of property for the RSSC as part of the settlement.

Rockwool is constructing a mineral wool manufacturing facility across the street from North Jefferson Elementary and within two miles of public schools which serve 30% of the county’s schoolchildren. The energy intensive process to heat rock and slag to 2,700 degrees in a furnace, then spin the lava into fibers for insulation products will require burning 90 tons of coal and 1.6 million cubic feet of gas a day. An air permit issued by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection allows for the factory to emit 156,000 tons of pollutants per year, including formadehyde (a neurotoxin), three known carcinogens, and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).

Rockwool said it “reaffirms its commitment” to fund an air monitoring program for three years with the installation of air monitors at two elementary schools, according to a press release.

Board of Education President Kathy Skinner declined to comment on the settlement.

The Board of Education—along with the County Commission, the City of Ranson, the economic development council and others—signed a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement with Rockwool in 2017.

Rockwool filed its lawsuit against the Board of Education in federal court. In a preliminary hearing, Judge Gina Groh sided with Rockwool against the school board, ruling that it could not proceed with condemnation in state court and that a reasonable jury would conclude that the Board of Education was “motivated by bad faith.” She was persuaded that the school board voluntarily entered into an agreement with Rockwool with the signing of the PILOT.

“Private property rights should be protected from bad faith and arbitrary government action,” she said.

Dr. Bondy Shay Gibson testified at the hearing that there has been a 25% increase in students diagnosed with autism in Jefferson County since 2017, and a 300% increase in high needs students. These figures include those in general population who are affected by addiction and domestic violence, and many of them have been hospitalized for self-harm. The RSSC would provide social and emotional support, she said.

The Board of Education was unsuccessful in using eminent domain, but Rockwool will not go into operation without the power of eminent domain used for its benefit. Mountaineer Gas was granted the power of eminent domain to condemn properties in the Eastern Panhandle to build a gas pipeline which will service Rockwool if it goes into operation.

Patricia Kesecker stands in front of the right-of-way of the Mountaineer Gas PIpeline, which cuts through her 100-acre farm in the Eastern Panhandle./Photo by Anne Meador

Prime land on Patricia Kesecker’s farm in Morgan County was condemned by Mountaineer Gas. She and her husband challenged the condemnation in court, but a judge ruled against them.

After the Maryland Board of Public Works denied Columbia Gas, a subsidiary of TC Energy, an easement across the Maryland Rail Trail to build a pipeline that would cross the Potomac River, the company is attempting to use eminent domain to force the state to yield the land. The certificate granted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is the basis for their claim. The pipeline would feed gas to the Mountaineer Gas pipeline, which would then transport it to the Rockwool factory.

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‘Demand Free Speech’ Rally Downplays Participants’ White Supremacy

Sun, 07/07/2019 - 22:17

Far-right celebrity personalities—individuals known for hate speech, Islamophobia, homo- and transphobia, racism and celebrating “white identity”—were featured speakers at a rally on July 6 at Freedom Plaza demanding “free speech” and equal access to social media platforms. A few hundred people attended in sweltering heat, many wearing red “Make America Great Again” caps and patriotic garb.

More than a thousand people gathered nearby at Pershing Park, where Black Lives Matter DC and antifascist groups held a counterprotest and rally on the theme “Mute White Supremacy,” along with a concert of GoGo music.

The “All Out DC” and “Mute White Supremacy” rally at Pershing Park countered the “free speech” rally/Photo by Anne Meador

Memories of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va.—where Alt-Right and neo-Nazi groups clashed with antifascists and a young woman was killed by a man who drove his car into a crowd—were still vivid. Police closed off the streets surrounding the rallies with large trucks to prevent similar incidents from occurring.

While the Demand Free Speech rally was in progress, black-clad and masked antifascists formed a black bloc and marched toward Freedom Plaza, breaking into a run on F St. Some antifa nearly breached the police cordon behind the rally stage. The bloc and the crowd following it were repelled by a swarm of bicycle cops yelling, “Get out of the street!”

Masked antifa take the streets./Photo by Anne Meador

Verbal conflicts between sides broke out from time to time but little violence. In the evening after the rally, the mood changed, as antifa followed rally-goers to the Trump International Hotel where they were holding an after party. One Trump supporter attacked a man and knocked him down. Police arrested the man who was attacked.

A white supremacist group also carried out a flash-mob in Old Town, Alexandria, Va. late in the day. Members of the American Identity Movement—formerly Identity Evropa—demonstrated in front of the courthouse in Alexandria, Va., with banners and balls of flame. The group has targeted parts of Alexandria and south Arlington with flyers several time in the past.

With Proud Boys shut down by antifascists in Portland recently, Washington antifa was ready to “welcome” Proud Boys, who were playing a prominent role in the Demand Free Speech organizing. Metropolitan Police officers were once again caught displaying their sympathies for white supremacists, when they were shown on video fist-bumping Proud Boys on DC streets on an evening prior to the rally.

In response to claims that the Proud Boys are a violent gang, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes told the rally attendees that he wished he controlled “a secret gang of violent right-wing activists.”

“If I did, you’d be dead,” he said referring to his anti-fascist critics. “You wouldn’t be around. I wish I was El Chapo.”

McInnes compared the fighting prowess of the Proud Boys to German soldiers under Hitler who killed large numbers of Russian soldiers early in World War II. He also complained about Trump supporters who aren’t willing to fight or get arrested.

“Let’s get in trouble. Let’s fight,” he said.

In his speech, Milo Yiannopoulos–former editor of Breitbart, who has incited violence against transgender people and been an apologist for pedophilia–attacked Will Sommer, a journalist for The Daily Beast, who has written about how the Proud Boys is a violent organization. “Will, do you think if the Proud Boys were a gang that you’d still be alive?” Yiannopoulos said, suggesting the group wants to kill the reporter.

Displays of patriotism are a shield against being called out for fascism./Photo by Anne Meador

Another far-right celebrity, Laura Loomer, complained about the relatively small turnout for the rally. “There ought to be a lot more people here,” said Loomer, who described executives at Google as “communists.”

Several speakers at the far-right rally, including Loomer and Yiannopoulos, have been banned from social media platforms. “The times we are living in are the times of Nazi Germany,” Loomer said, comparing her treatment to how the Nazis treated Jews, communists, anarchists and other groups of people.

Yiannopoulos urged the crowd to report more moderate conservatives, whom he described as elite or “Vichy” conservatives, so they would care about their extremist comrades’ predicament. “The movement requires it. Get them banned. It may sound counter-intuitive, but it is what we need,” Yiannopoulos said.



Massaging public image to gain re-entry to media platforms where some had been banned for hate speech seemed to be a goal of the rally. Rally speakers portrayed themselves as victims of a society out to get them, influenced by elite liberal education and its suffocating “safe spaces” and political correctness. They played up their support of President Trump, patriotism and Christian heritage, while protesting that they were not actually racists, fascists or white supremacists. To do so, they presented speakers who were gay or Hispanic, and pointed out the black people in the crowd wearing “Make America Great” caps.

Efforts were made to mask the ugly image and conceal offensive beliefs. “The white supremacists in DC have definitely been coached to keep from broadcasting their overtly fascist beliefs,” tweeted @wyattreed13. “Higher-ranking proud boys usher them away when one starts showing off his white pride tattoo and I try to get him to explain how white pride is different from nazism.”

“It was obvious who they were. We saw people wearing white power t-shirts. I saw someone wearing a Generation Identity shirt. It was all phony,” said antifascist Daryle Lamont Jenkins. When he went to Harry’s Pub, a hangout for the far-right crowd, he also saw someone with an American First Committee for White Supremacy flag.

“If you are at a point where your crew has to be escorted by police for a bar crawl, then something’s wrong with your group,” Jenkins said. “And the police should have better things to do but they’re not. They need to check themselves on that, they’re supposed to be impartial, and they just showed everybody that they weren’t,” he added.

Jenkins disputed that groups participating in the rally were being denied free speech. “The fact of the matter is, they’re not being censored. They are being marginalized. They can start their own social media platforms and they have,” he said.

“They have a right to say what they want and we have a right to say what we want and that’s what we want and that’s all that happened here. We said our piece and they said theirs and we were gone,” he said.

Jenkins called out the fascists for using people of color as shields. “They tried to play the whole thing that we can’t go after them because they’re not racist.” If you do, “you’re going to be the one that’s racist,” he said.

“It’s insulting when they try to use someone with skin color to excuse the reprehensible ideas, but it’s expected. They use them regularly to protect them from these kind of charges,” he said.

He had harsh words for the people of color who attended the “free speech” rally. “It doesn’t matter if they were black, it doesn’t matter if they were Hispanic, it doesn’t matter if they were Asian, they are a part of something that has been detrimental to this world, society, and country, and it doesn’t magically change when you’re black. We won’t forget that. They are just as much of a problem as any white person that says that stuff,” Jenkins said.

Many people are critical of how antifascists respond to white supremacists and neo-Nazis, but Jenkins disagrees. “I believe in confrontation. I support confrontation one hundred percent. You do have to be aggressive with the Proud Boys. They were formed to engage in physical confrontation and physical violence,” he said, defending antifa tactics.

“You are going to have to be defending yourselves, and that’s the point where folks are frustrated—that we have to do something about this element growing. You have to have that freedom of speech, but you can’t keep telling us what not to do. We have to have solutions and no one is providing them and we have to say, okay, we’ve got to come up with our own,” Jenkins said.

“If you do not like the way that they approach things, and if you think what antifa is doing is wrong, you go out there and do what’s right. It’s that simple.”

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