Every 65 Minutes a US Veteran Dies from Suicide

While many spend Veterans’ Day remembering loved ones lost, from the perspective of a veteran, the holiday feels largely superficial. Cities across the nation are draped in yellow, thousands will march down the streets in parades, and people will talk a lot about a vague notion of “honor.” Putting yellow ribbons on our wounds does not change the fact that every 65 minutes a veteran dies from suicide.

That’s 22 per day, and in the past 2 months, 2 of those have been members of IVAW – my friends. It is impossible to ignore.

I have been a member of IVAW since 2008. At my first national IVAW gathering, I was astounded to meet so many veterans who shared my political perspectives as well as my experiences and struggles as a veteran. I gained a new family and the support system I most needed as I transitioned back into civilian life. As a single parent struggling to make ends meet, IVAW was critical to my survival.

My story is not unique. Over the past 6 years, I have heard so many IVAW members express the way in which this community has literally saved their lives.

Unfortunately, we cannot save everyone, as we learned with sorrow this fall. Until this nation starts prioritizing healing as much or more as we prioritize militarism, this pattern will never be interrupted. In 2015, the government plans to spend about 55% of tax revenue on the military, while spending only about 5% on veterans.

In the meantime, 20-40% of veterans with multiple deployments suffer from symptoms of traumatic brain injury, 30-50% return with PTSD, and about 30% of women in the military experience sexual assault. Instead of increasing spending to help veterans heal from traumatic injury, the DoD is handing out bad conduct discharges (also known as “bad papers”) at an alarming rate for discrepancies that could have been solved with treatment, or that should have been processed as medical discharges.

Bad papers result in a loss of benefits, so that those who often need support the most have none. As a part of our Operation Recovery campaign, which lasted from 2010 – 2014, organizers from Iraq Veterans Against the War, Civilian Soldier Alliance, and Under the Hood interviewed hundreds of soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas. From these, they compiled a report that includes 31 testimonies from soldiers stationed at Fort Hood, findings, analysis, and recommendations.

The Fort Hood Report sheds light on harmful military practices that are disturbing enough to make the case to cease current practices immediately and create some serious transformative changes in US Military culture and the way that this nation cares for its veterans. It is sure to inform our work for years to come. Help us take off the yellow-ribbon bandaid and get the word out about what veterans are really experiencing. Make a generous donation to IVAW today.

It is also important to take time today to remember that US veterans are not the only people who are suffering because of these wars. Iraq is breaking down after sustaining constant warfare and sanctions from from the US beginning in 1990. A new US invasion is taking place while Iraqis continue to suffer from environmental pollutants, civil unrest, repression against organized labor, violence against women, and a variety of things that were either created or exacerbated by the US invasion of 2003.

In the summer of 2003, members of the Organization of Women’s Freedom (OWFI, one of our partner organzations) in Iraq gathered signatures in several towns in Iraq in support of the Right to Heal Initiative. Photo courtesy of OWFI.

I am proud to work for an organization that values the self-determination, healing, and recovery of the people of Iraq just as much as it values those things for veterans. For over a year, IVAW has been working in coalition with 2 Iraqi civil society organizations to raise awareness about the human rights violations we have all experienced as a result of the war in Iraq, and to hold the US government to account.

When we bring together the voices of US veterans and Iraqis who are working toward the same goals, the message is powerful: It’s time for the US government to take responsibility for all of their harm.

Help us amplify our voices by making a contribution to IVAW today.

With all of the conflict in the world, it can be challenging to maintain hope. But the community that we have made for ourselves in IVAW helps us to continue to persevere. Thank you for being a part of building, nurturing, and growing that community, and thank you for thinking of us today.

With Gratitude,

Joyce Wagner
IVAW co-Director

— source http://www.ivaw.org/ Iraq Veterans Against the War

Government’s “plan for safe El Salvador” fuels death squads

While the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) government in El Salvador celebrates a purported reduction in crime resulting from its “Plan for Safe El Salvador” program, recent massacres of workers and alleged gang members suggest that violence has not really been reduced. Rather, the government’s “iron fist” has actually fueled widespread death squad activity, some of it directly related to the armed forces.

Last Friday, eight “civilians,” who had formed a death squad, were sentenced to life in prison for killing at least three gang members in the municipality of Jujutla; two of the known victims were 25 years old and one of them was 20.

On May 6, six National Police officials were arrested along with 16 other people for comprising a heavily armed death squad. The group was found to have police and military uniforms and is suspected of having carried out at least twelve murders, some of them hired killings. Death squad activity has continued to accelerate.

Four men, presumably gang members, were kidnapped at a funeral service on June 1 in the El Amatón county, and were later killed with machetes by a group of hooded attackers. Then, on June 13, at least eight men killed a 17-year-old, also presumably a gang member, and his two parents in their home near Santa Ana.

Throughout the month, the Salvadoran government has repeatedly boasted that its “Plan for Safe El Salvador” uses 77 percent of its budget on violence prevention, that it has been active in 70 percent of the country and has cut the homicide rate in half during April and May. While officials haven’t really given any details on what “prevention” encompasses, this year has seen 2,271 homicides up to the end of May, a 25 percent increase compared to the same period in 2015, the year that made El Salvador the most violent country in the hemisphere.

On June 15, Costa Rica’s vice president, Ana Helena Chacón, praised the FMLN government plan as “a policy that will bring us good results in the long-term,” and, in April, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales also praised the plan while agreeing to the creation of a regional High Level Security Group (Ganseg) for joint action.

Contradicting this optimism, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned last week: “Pervasive violence has forced thousands of people to migrate, mainly to the US, including unaccompanied children who fear they will be killed if they refuse to enroll in gangs. While the government has launched a comprehensive ‘Plan for a Safe El Salvador’ that included accountability and work to rehabilitate former gang members following prison sentences, more recently much harder-line security measures have been put forward.”

“Recent allegations of extra-judicial killings by death squads are intolerable and are likely to fuel even greater violence,” he added.

He was referring to the denunciations made by the Salvadoran human rights ombudsman, David Morales, blaming the police and military for comprising death squads and carrying out 13 extrajudicial killings in 2015, including the killing of one child, actions that “if tolerated, the only thing that will happen is that the violence will escalate.”

During the 1970s and 80s, death squads, acting as part of the “anti-communist crusade,” killed or “disappeared” an estimated 40,000 people, while the “Black Shadow” death squads during the 90s killed dozens of alleged gang members, workers, human rights advocates and politicians. César Flores Murillo, who was accused in 1995 of being part of the “Black Shadow”, was recently appointed deputy director of the National Police by President Sánchez Cerén, himself a former FMLN guerrilla commander.

It is not merely an historic irony, but rather a confirmation of the class character of bourgeois nationalist movements like the FMLN, that this movement, which previously saw thousands of its supporters butchered by death squads, now presides over their revival.

Death squad activity, also called “social cleansing,” made a striking return in 2010, after then-president Mauricio Funes of the FMLN implemented new “iron fist” measures to fight gangs, increasingly joining military activity with that of the police.

The first reported killing happened in February 2010, when hooded attackers gunned down seven youth who were bathing in a river in the Milingo county. Four days later, five young construction workers and students, confused for gang members, were murdered in a restaurant in Tonacatepeque.

“Because of history, theater of operations, armament, mode of ambush, garments, style, and, above all, their ability and determination to attack a big group, the executioners exhibited characteristics of commandos and combat experience,” concluded political analyst, FMLN civil war commander and former president of the National Council on Public Security, Salvador Samayoa.

In April of this year, Samayoa commented that, “If we let the National Police (PNC) turn into a force that doesn’t respect laws nor human rights, it will become a cancer hard to remove.”

That same month, the FMLN government deployed a new military police to join the war against gangs, composed of 600 army commandos and 400 elite police officers.

Workers in unions have faced increasing harassment by gangs and other groups of union breakers. A 2015 document by the Center for Global Workers’ Rights at Penn State University and the Workers’ Rights Consortium—called “Unholy Alliances: How Employers in El Salvador’s Garment Industry Collude with a Corrupt Labor Federation, Company Unions and Violent Gangs to Suppress Workers’ Rights”—reports an increase in death threats against workers in the maquila (garment) sector, which accounts for half of total sales abroad in El Salvador.

In one instance, two women who had been protesting to get their severance pay after the factory where they worked closed in 2011 were confronted by four men, who warned, “I told you to stop your protests and now it’s your time; we are going to kill you.” The attackers fled after seeing police, and the workers fled soon after to the US to seek asylum.

It’s precisely this long history of state and gang violence against workers and its strong relationship with stagnant poverty, both imposed by US imperialism, that have led one-fifth of Salvadorans to emigrate, over two million of them to the United States.

The number of Salvadoran migrants reaching the US southern border this year has already surpassed that of 2015 by a third. The Obama administration, for its part, continues to carry out brutal raids against immigrants, while deporting around 3,100 Central Americans per month.

The Obama administration and the local ruling elite are carrying out a campaign to prevent class tensions from exploding in El Salvador, while also setting up a strong police state to prepare for coming social upheavals.

The Plan for a Safe El Salvador is a response to unceasing waves of Central American migration, gang violence and, above all, the fear that working class struggles will endanger private investments and the extraction of profit from ultra-cheap labor and natural resources.

According to the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC), foreign direct investment (FDI) into El Salvador has doubled since 2013, mainly flowing into manufacturing. However, the Salvadoran ruling class fears that the situation could be quickly reversed by economic stagnation in Europe and the US, the slowdown in China, the shift of investments towards Asian economies and the growing class tensions produced by violence and overwhelming poverty and inequality.

During its first term in power in 2009, the FMLN used increased revenues from rising commodity prices to implement limited social programs to reduce poverty, which fell from 49.8 percent in 2009 to 40.9 percent in 2013. However, according the ECLAC, the reduction has not only stopped, but poverty is increasing again, now affecting 41.6 percent of the population. On the other hand, the number of millionaires increased from 150 to 160, with collective wealth equal to as much as 87 percent of the GDP, according to Oxfam.

The dire economic conditions for workers, the refusal by the government to institute significant increases in real wages and the strong spike in drug-related violence, which is itself a symptom of economic vulnerability, has led to a rise of mass demonstrations against the FMLN and the business elite.

To defend the interests of the bourgeoisie, the FMLN has raised this year’s security budget to $680 million, surpassing the total spent on health care.

— source wsws.org By Andrea Lobo

Facebook changes story, now says phone location not used to recommend friends

On Friday, and again on Monday, Facebook told me that it uses smartphone location data to recommend new friends to its users. After I reported this, lots of people said that this explained why certain people had popped up in their “People You May Know” box on Facebook.

But on Monday night, after lots of negative feedback, Facebook reversed course. A spokesperson told me that the company had dug into the matter further and determined that “we’re not using location data, such as device location and location information you add to your profile, to suggest people you may know.”

I have reportorial whiplash. I’ve never had a spokesperson confirm and then retract a story so quickly. So here’s how we got here.

Last week, I met a man who was concerned that Facebook has used his smartphone location to figure out people he might know. After he attended a gathering for suicidal teens, Facebook recommended one of the other parents there as a friend, even though they seemingly had nothing else in common but being in the same place at the same time. He asked me whether Facebook was using location to figure out if people knew each other.

I was skeptical, because that seemed like such an egregious violation of privacy. On Friday, I emailed Facebook:

A Facebook user told me that he attended an event last week with people he’d never met before. The next morning, one of the people at the event came up as a suggested friend. They had no other ties beyond being in the same room the night before. Could their shared location have resulted in the suggestion?

A spokesperson responded, saying that location is one of the signals for “People You May Know.” I was surprised, since this could lead to all kinds of negative outcomes—unmasking strangers, for instance, who wanted to stay anonymous at a gathering for alcoholics. Security technologist Ashkan Soltani pointed out that using shared phone location to figure out people’s real world associations was a technique used by the NSA, as revealed in 2013.

I called the spokesperson on Monday morning to talk about those potential negative outcomes, whether Facebook disclosed in any way that it was using location for friend suggestions, and what users could do to prevent this from happening. The spokesperson said that location alone would never result in a friend suggestion, and sent me the following statement:

“We often suggest people you may know based on things you have in common, like mutual friends, places you’ve visited, or the city you live in. But location information by itself doesn’t indicate that two people might be friends. That’s why location is only one of the factors we use to suggest people you may know.”

Thus I reported that “Facebook is using your phone’s location to suggest new friends—which could be a privacy disaster.” The story garnered lots of negative feedback, with people upset about Facebook using their location information this way without telling them.

Then, on Monday night, the Facebook spokesperson reached out again, saying the company had dug into the matter and found that location isn’t currently used. She sent an updated statement:

“We’re not using location data, such as device location and location information you add to your profile, to suggest people you may know. We may show you people based on mutual friends, work and education information, networks you are part of, contacts you’ve imported and other factors.”

Apparently, Facebook ran a test late last year that “temporarily” used location data for friend suggestions, but it was never rolled out to the general public. Update: Facebook confirmed this.

We do know that Facebook is using smartphone location for other things, such as tracking which stores you go to and geotargeting you with ads, but the social network now says it’s not using smartphone location to identify people you’ve been physically proximate to.

If Facebook were using smartphone location that way, it may well have violated its agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, which requires that the company get affirmative consent from its users to use their information in new ways and requires the company “to protect the privacy and confidentiality of consumers’ information.” Outing users’ identities to strangers because they were near each other for an extended period of time might be frowned upon.

As for how Facebook is able to figure out people we know with whom we’ve only shared physical space, that remains a bit mysterious. There are other ways that they could divine this information beyond using your phone’s GPS coordinates, such as looking at shared use of a wireless network or looking at the IP address you are signing in from. IP addresses can be geographically mapped, sometimes precisely and sometimes imprecisely. The FTC recently fined a mobile advertising company $4 million because it was figuring out the location of people who had not given it location privileges by looking at the wireless networks they were near.

To know for sure, Facebook would need to spell out the “other factors” that go into their suggestions for people we may know. But for now, the company considers that proprietary information.

— source fusion.net By Kashmir Hill

The Media Has a Huge Blind Spot on Terrorism

Shortly before the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” vote, the shocking murder of Jo Cox — a member of parliament and a vocal Remain supporter — exposed the racist roots of elements in the victorious Leave campaign.

That much you may have heard.

What you might not have heard about were the suspect’s ties to a neo-Nazi organization based here in the United States. Accused shooter Thomas Mair, The Washington Post reported, “was a longtime supporter of the National Alliance, a once-prominent white supremacist group.”

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Post explained, “Mair bought a manual from the organization that included instructions on how to build a pistol.” Cox, it adds, “was shot by a weapon that witnesses described as either homemade or antique.”

The National Alliance was founded in 1974 by William Pierce. The group was a reorganization of the National Youth Alliance, which was itself an outgrowth of an organization that supported the 1968 presidential campaign of segregationist George Wallace.

A memorial for Jo Cox (Photo: Wikipeida)

Pierce turned the group, in the words of the SPLC, into “the most dangerous and best organized neo-Nazi formation in America.”

While head of the National Alliance, Pierce published The Turner Diaries, a novel that gleefully imagines a guerrilla race war and the mass murder of Jews, gays, and interracial couples. A chapter that depicts the bombing of an FBI building helped inspire Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing of a government building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people.

When he was arrested, McVeigh had photocopied pages of the novel with him in his car. And phone records revealed that McVeigh had called a National Alliance number seven times the day before the bombing.

In the days after, feverish speculation abounded that the attack might’ve been the work of international Islamic terrorists. Yet once it became clear that domestic right-wing extremists were responsible, journalists seemed to lose interest. Few spent any time examining the National Alliance connection.

Yet the group turned up in another more recent terrorism story, when Kevin Harpham planted a bomb filled with shrapnel and rat poison at the 2011 Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane. Harpham, a one-time National Alliance member, is currently serving a 32-year prison sentence for the attempted bombing.

If you don’t remember this story, that’s probably because it got very little coverage. It was mentioned only three times on the nightly news in the 10 weeks that followed.

By comparison, the much less sophisticated “Times Square bomb,” which failed to go off a year earlier, got 49 mentions in the same time frame. It’s a classic example of how the U.S. corporate media treats acts of political violence by Muslims as inherently more newsworthy than others.

In fact, some corporate media outlets have allowed their personalities to promote the National Alliance directly. Bob Grant, a popular and influential radio talk show host who broadcasts on WABC in New York — the flagship of the ABC radio network — frequently let callers promote the group on his show, saying he didn’t “have any problem” with it.

Grant was eventually fired by Disney, which was then WABC‘s owner, for gloating over the death of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, who was African-American. But even then, his connection to the neo-Nazi National Alliance didn’t become an issue.

This lack of curiosity about the influence of the violent far right is a long tradition in U.S. corporate media. Even the murder of Jo Cox, a member of parliament campaigning in a closely watched vote, seems unlikely to change that.

— source otherwords.org By Jim Naureckas

Fleet Farming builds bike-powered urban farms

Fred Lake and Justin Vandenbroeck at Fleet Farming’s farmlette at 10th and Campbell streets in West Oakland. Photo: Kate Williams

It’s a sunny day in West Oakland. I pull up to the corner of 10th and Campbell streets and look for produce. The lettuce and vegetable sprouts are at first a little hard to find, but eventually I spot three long rows of dark, healthy soil tucked in the back of a church’s yard.

This is a “farmlette” — a mini urban farm — run by Fleet Farming.

Fleet Farming was founded in Orlando, Florida, in 2014. It came about during a brainstorming “think and do tank” session put on by Orlando-based nonprofit IDEAS for Us. Its basic concept is a reimagining of sharecropping — without the negative connotation. Fleet Farming asks for volunteers to donate portions of their yards to transform into farmlettes, and then the organization will plant, water, weed and harvest the land. Depending on the resident’s financial circumstances, Fleet Farming can partially or fully subsidize the installation and watering costs. In return, the yard owners can harvest five to 10% of the produce for free.

Over the last two years, the program has grown from five pilot farms to 24 converted lawns and around 4,000 pounds of harvested produce across three international programs in Florida, Oakland and Uganda. There are currently around 300 people on a waiting list in Orlando to have their yards farmed, said Oakland branch manager Justin Vandenbroeck.

Vandenbroeck moved to West Oakland a year and a half ago, and first helped to establish the Bottoms Up Community Garden. He launched the Oakland branch of Fleet Farming this spring. In the span of only a few months, he’s farmed three lawns, negotiated contracts with six Oakland restaurants and hired his first employee, a 17-year-old graduate of the WOW Farms youth internship, Fred Lake, who is working as the assistant farm manager this summer.

“What’s unique about the Oakland branch is that we’re very lucky to have this incredible youth internship program across the street, and we can get great people like Fred [to work with us],” said Vandenbroeck. “He knows a lot for someone who’s just 17 years old.”

The new position carries much greater responsibility for Lake. “[At WOW Farms] we had just one job each week,” he said. “Here, I’m basically doing it all, planting, delivery, working with volunteers.”

Fleet Farming bases its farming model around fast-growing produce such as lettuces, greens and small vegetables like radishes, carrots and beets. “We need to be able to grow and harvest lots of produce,” said Vandenbroeck. Much of this produce is highly perishable, but this fact works to Fleet Farming’s advantage.

“The quality of the greens is really noticeable,” said Vandenbroeck. “Ours haven’t been cut, put in a box, refrigerated and shipped. It’s just picked and delivered on the same day, maybe even a few hours later. It’s so fresh.”

And that’s the draw for the local restaurants already using Fleet Farming produce. The farms’ greens are making appearances in salads at Miss Ollie’s, Hen House, The Cook and Her Farmer, Desco, Flora and Parlour.

All of the produce is delivered via bicycle — a fairly short ride between the West Oakland farmlettes and the restaurants. Using bicycles for delivery cuts carbon emissions down to almost nothing, and it helps to keep production hyper-local. Plus, said Lake, “It’s really good exercise.”

I met Vandenbroeck and Lake at Fleet Farming’s farmlette in the yard of Bay Community Fellowship at 10th and Campbell. Fleet Farming is managing a modest three-bed operation in the back of the church’s yard. I spied rows of tatsoi and teensy radish sprouts, but much of the rest of the produce was harvested the previous Sunday during a “swarm ride.”

It is these swarm rides that are the heart and soul of Fleet Farming. Community members near and far gather twice a month to do work on the farmlettes — harvesting, seeding, building rows — and they travel between the locations on bicycle.

“What’s important is activating the community during the rides,” said Vandenbroeck. “You’re not just sitting in a bed gardening, you’re moving around … and experiencing a neighborhood [you’ve] never seen before.” Indeed, Vandenbroeck said that volunteers from as far as San Francisco and Concord came out to help at a recent ride.

Swarm ride volunteers work at a Fleet Farming farmlette on June 5. Photo: Fleet Farming Oakland/Facebook

Swam rides, however, aren’t just easy, low-cost labor. They involve a lot of education.

“I have to teach everyone to do things like seed,” said Lake. Sometimes volunteers get it, but others, Lake said, need more instruction. He walked around and pointed out rows of radishes that had been planted with too many seeds, and those that were full of gaps. “But everyone has a good time,” he said.

“Most [volunteers] have never done anything ag-related at all,” said Vandenbroeck. But neither he nor Lake have extensive agricultural training either. “Neither of us have masters degrees in agriculture. We’re just regular folks from the city planting seeds.”

Vandenbroeck got his start urban farming while in college in Tallahassee, Florida. He merged his interests in healthy eating and social advocacy by helping to run a half acre urban farm and at-risk youth gardening program in low-income communities in the city.

Lake grew up helping his grandmother in her vegetable garden, and when he heard that some of his friends had gotten internships at WOW Farms, he decided to apply. The interest has stuck. “I want to keep farming [when I get older],” he said. “It’s something I want to continue to do when I have my own house. I want to have my own garden and sell produce to restaurants.”

“We want to show that anyone can farm,” said Vandenbroeck. “All you need is accessibility to land. And this [idea] is especially important in West Oakland because it is a food desert. [With Fleet Farming] we’re increasing food access and increasing food security here.”

So far, Fleet Farming has proved to be a popular endeavor in the neighborhood. The pastor at Bay Community Fellowship “is very supportive especially because there is a youth involvement aspect,” said Vandenbroeck. And “lots of kids from the church are interested in helping.”

“Somebody just asked me the other day, ‘Can I come work with you?’” added Lake.

Fred Lake and Justin Vandenbroeck pick weeds. Photo: Kate Williams

“I’d love to serve all of them but we do need to be careful and look for people that have the same great training and enthusiasm as Fred,” said Vandenbroeck. That, and they need to make money before they can continue to hire. Vandenbroeck said he’s hopeful that they’ll have built six farmlettes by the end of the summer, greatly increasing their potential revenue.

Fleet Farming also gets financial support through grant money. The Oakland branch currently receives money from the Clif Bar Family Foundation, as well as Stop Waste Alameda.

But the one of the most important paths to growth, said Vandenbroeck, is to continue to foster relationships between Fleet Farming and its neighbors. “We need to be building relationships between old and new residents,” he said. “We think it is really important to build community in this changing neighborhood.”

— source berkeleyside.com By Kate Williams

4 Activists Arrested Protesting Plan to Sell Offshore Oil Leases

while Obama was speaking in Baton Rouge, four environmental activists were arrested in New Orleans on Tuesday while occupying the headquarters of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in New Orleans. They were protesting the Interior Department’s decision to go ahead with a lease sale of up to 24 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas exploration and development. The sale is being held in the Superdome—the very building where thousands of displaced residents of New Orleans sought refuge during Hurricane Katrina 11 years ago.

— source democracynow.org