Showing posts tagged news

Will new US-led talks between #Israel & #Palestine make a difference? Vote at http://t.co/ldza6ZvaHK. I’ll reveal results on @AJStream today

Reporting live from Boston today…

Here’s the latest episode of The Stream that I hosted…

The US has one of the highest rates of income inequality compared to other developed countries. In the last 30 years, the bottom 60% of American society has seen their wealth shrink while the top five percent has gotten richer. Who is shouldering the heaviest burden and how can the trend be reversed?

In this episode of The Stream, we speak to:

Signe-Mary McKernan @urbaninstitute
Senior Fellow, The Urban Institute

Anne Price @racialwealthgap
Program Director, Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Initiative
racialwealthgap.org

We also speak to Chase Sackett (@chasesackett), Latasha Kinnard (@StartYoung1)and Erik Peterson in our Google+ hangout.

I hosted The Stream today on Al Jazeera English. We asked will the ongoing genocide trial of Guatemala’s former leader Efrain Rios Montt be enough to heal the wounds of the country’s 36-year civil war? The trial has made Guatemala the world’s first nation to try a former head of state for genocide within its own court system. Is the country on the right track towards achieving justice? 

As always, I love to hear your thoughts…

Students in Sudan are pushing back against the government over tuition fees and things are getting ugly. Check it out and let me know what you think…

Hosted The Stream a few more times this week…Can a social media movement effect the rising murder rate in Puerto Rico? Let me know what you think…

A new profile of me from UT alumni magazine, The Alcalde

Being the Bridge

A blue-eyed Marine from Texas, Josh Rushing faced fire when he left his post as military spokesman to help found Al Jazeera English in hopes of connecting two vastly different cultures. Seven years later, was his choice worth it?

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Marine lieutenant Josh Rushing, BA ’99, sat in an empty bar, his eyes glued to the horrifying images flashing across the TV screens in a Desert Hot Springs, Calif., hotel. He’d just walked out of a Marine Corps public-affairs conference where the speaker refused to let the officers tune into the breaking news.

“The room was full of people whose lives were about to change forever,” Rushing, 40, recalls. “It was their Pearl Harbor moment, and an egotistical general wanted to disconnect them from what was happening.”

So Rushing rebelliously left in search of a TV elsewhere. And what he discovered was chilling.

“I remember sitting there, watching the towers fall, smoke rising from the Pentagon,” Rushing says. “Then we were recalled to our base.”

On the other side of the world in Doha, Qatar, Arab television network Al Jazeera made the first of many controversial editorial decisions that would land it the title of “Terrorist TV” in the eyes of some Americans. While Rushing sat watching the events that would claim almost 3,000 American lives, Al Jazeera broadcasted live footage of Arabs celebrating the attacks in the streets, as well as disturbing images of Americans jumping to their deaths out of the Twin Towers.

That day, no one—not even Rushing himself—could’ve guessed that one day his ideals would lead this small-town Texan to Al Jazeera… and get him called a traitor to his country in the process.

Growing Up Southern

There’s a scene in 1997’s Grosse Point Blank where actor John Cusack’s character returns to his hometown and finds a convenience store where his childhood home used to be. “He says, ‘You can never go home again,’” Rushing recites, “‘but you can shop there.’ That’s how it is with Lewisville.” Lewisville, Texas, known for its Western downtown, rodeos, and cow patches when Rushing was growing up, is now home to a popular shopping mall.

As a kid, Rushing already had a rebellious streak. “He was just so independent—a freethinker,” says his mother, Dinah. She recalls a time she took young Josh to retake a computer test he had failed because he was goofing off. “He just laid his head down on the desk and went to sleep,” Dinah laughs. “He pushed every button I had, as many times as he could.”

To curb Rushing’s wild side, his parents sent him to the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, Texas, the summer he was 13. There, he got the entire military experience, shaved head and all. Instead of feeling scared, Rushing flourished, so much so he asked to stay and finish high school there. But his parents wanted him to close out his adolescence at home, so he graduated from Lewisville High School in 1990. The pull of civil service was still there, though, and at 17, Rushing was ready to enlist. He even brought a Marine recruiter home—prompting his mother to throw the man out of the house.

“She didn’t think the Marine Corps would follow through on their promises,” Rushing remembers.

His parents, who had never attended college, always told Rushing and his sister, D’Lee, that higher education wasn’t optional. “College would have opened a lot of doors for him,” Dinah laments. But, knowing their headstrong son would just enlist on his own a year later at 18, his parents let him go.

Rushing shipped out to boot camp in San Diego, then to Camp Pendleton for infantry training, where he gained a reputation as equal parts hothead and academic. “One day while walking from one building to another, I was engrossed in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and eating an apple,” Rushing writes in his book, Mission Al Jazeera. “When I crossed paths with an officer, rather than rendering the proper salute … I distractedly put the apple in my mouth pig-at-a-luau style, saluted with my left hand, and kept reading and walking… It wasn’t long thereafter that I found out I wouldn’t be making a career out of the infantry skills I was learning.”

Instead, Rushing was assigned to the Marines’ Defense Information School in Indianapolis for journalism 101. He had little interest in the field, and showed it by falling asleep in class—even while standing—to the point of being sent for a narcolepsy test. He graduated, but just barely.

In 1995, Rushing finally fulfilled his mother’s dream when he became one of just 64 Marines to be part of the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program, enabling him to enroll at UT. Banking on a career with the Marines, Rushing indulged his personal interests by majoring in ancient history and classical civilizations. He spent his days studying the origins of Western philosophy and translating ancient Greek texts by Homer, Aristotle, and Plato.

“The first time I met Josh, he was enrolling in my summer intensive Greek course,” UT professor Thomas Palaima remembers. “The course was five hours a day, five days a week. That was his level of commitment to the subject.”

An active-duty Marine, Rushing was also involved with UT’s Naval ROTC program, mentoring younger military hopefuls. Through the program, Rushing met his wife, Paige, when she attended a NROTC physical training session with a friend.

After he graduated, Rushing and his new, very understanding wife shuttled around to duty stations throughout the country, including the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and the Los Angeles Motion Pictures and TV Liaison Office as public-affairs officer. There he handled requests to use bases and Marine equipment in TV shows like JAG.

It was while he was at Miramar that he made the trip down to Desert Hot Springs for that public-affairs conference on 9/11. Sitting on a barstool in that empty hotel bar, Rushing knew the world would never be the same.

“I had been a Marine for 11 years—my entire adult life,” Rushing wrote in a Reader’s Digestarticle. “And on that day, especially, I felt fortunate to be one. I knew a military response would soon follow.”

Rushing desperately wanted to be on the front lines, repeatedly requesting a transfer. His wish came partially true when, in 2003, he was reassigned. Armed with The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Iraq and an Arabic language tape, Rushing took off for U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar—where he would first encounter his future employer.

Political Provocateur

Al Jazeera (literally, “The Peninsula”) was founded in 1996 by Qatar’s new ruler, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, out of the ashes of an Arabic BBC channel shut down due to lack of financing and support in the area. The emir envisioned a new cable satellite channel that was journalistically sound and free from government meddling. So he abolished Qatar’s Ministry of Information—known for its censorship—and gave Al Jazeera’s reporters freedom to do their jobs on his dime.

With a tagline that translates roughly to “the opinion and the other opinion,” Al Jazeera has gained a reputation for challenging official accounts of news in the region. It has also become infamous in the United States for depicting death and violence, seen seldom on American news.

“You can’t please everyone,” says Philip Seib, author of The Al Jazeera Effect and professor at the University of Southern California. “Al Jazeera has been very sincere about trying to make it as an international news organization. But they aren’t perfect—then again, neither is the New York Times.”

Until 9/11, the United States generally regarded Al Jazeera with disinterest, but opinion changed fast when war broke out in the Middle East. The network was criticized for airing tapes sent in by Osama bin Laden, as well as gruesome images from Iraq and Afghanistan, prompting some to associate Al Jazeera with terrorism.

“Al Jazeera has repeatedly served as a voice for Al Qaeda,” says Cliff Kincaid, director of Washington, D.C.’s Accuracy in Media Center for Investigative Journalism, a right-leaning nonprofit. “They worked hand-in-glove with terrorist groups. There is blood on their hands.”

That sentiment struck fear into those associated with Al Jazeera, especially after the network’s bureaus were hit twice by U.S. missiles. In November 2001, Al Jazeera’s office in Kabul, Afghanistan, was struck during an invasion. Two years later, in April 2003, a U.S. missile killed an Al Jazeera reporter after it hit the network’s Baghdad office. U.S. officials called both strikes accidents, but Al Jazeera execs insisted they gave the military their office coordinates just before the bombings.

It was into this environment that the idea for an English-language Al Jazeera channel emerged. In Seib’s latest book on Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera English: Global News in a Changing World, senior Al Jazeera journalist Marwan Bishara says, “the Al Jazeera in English initiative was grounded in the idea of building greater understanding between different peoples and different cultures through cross-cultural news media storytelling.” In other words, being a bridge between East and West.

“Think about it. Only 350 million people speak Arabic,” Seib says. “But billions speak English. AJE would reconcile a serious market failure.”

After an English web initiative called Al Jazeera Net failed, thanks in part to Yahoo and AOL terminating their ad contracts, work began to establish what was then called Al Jazeera International. Prominent journalists like veteran British reporter Sir David Frost and CNN International’s Riz Khan quickly signed on.

News broadcasts would be rotated throughout the day between Doha; London; Washington, D.C.; and Kuala Lumpur in order to gain a more global perspective.

“I compare Al Jazeera English to the Economist,” Seib says. “There’s a wide breadth of coverage— from Sub-Saharan Africa to Latin America and beyond. While vis-à-vis Time or Newsweek focus a lot on celebrities, AJE is really on a mission to be the voice of the global south.”

Two Worlds Collide

Back in Doha, Rushing forged a relationship with Al Jazeera reporters, who were often neglected or deliberately shafted by military personnel.

“I was a military authority who was humble enough to want to learn something from them,” he writes in his book.

The same curiosity that led Rushing to study ancient Greek philosophy at UT pulled at him while in Doha. He was fascinated by the lack of cultural understanding Americans had of the Arab world. Rushing worked to learn Arabic, often calling the AJ newsroom just to test how far he could go conversationally.

Years later, in 2004, Rushing would learn his interactions with the Al Jazeera staff at U.S. Central Command had become part of a documentary, Control Room. The only American prominently featured in the film, he and his candor about the horrors of war gained acclaim worldwide. What he expected to be just a student film on media coverage of the war turned into a worldwide sensation— and the Pentagon wasn’t pleased.

Rushing received orders to not talk to the media about the film after telling the Village Voice, “In America, war isn’t hell, we don’t see blood, we don’t see suffering. Al Jazeera shows it all. It turns your stomach, and you remember there’s something wrong with war.” He was told to keep Paige quiet as well.

At the time, Rushing was already becoming increasingly weary of his role as a military spokesman.

“There I was, a young lieutenant from Texas saying, ‘Saddam Hussein is a Hitler,’” Rushing writes. “I didn’t realize at the time that the messages I believed to be true were often more tried than true. They were a paradigm the government had used over and over to sell war.”

Angered by the military’s censorship and smarting from his own sense of ethics, Rushing left the Marine Corps. “When I resigned from the Marines, I had no job, no health care for my family, no practical degree,” Rushing says. “But I had to leave because I was the only person who could share what I’d seen.”

Moving Forward

It wasn’t long before Al Jazeera came knocking. Still in the formation stages, the new English network was in search of an American face. And Rushing, after his star turn in Control Room, was the perfect fit.

“He was the quintessential American, a former Marine,” Seib says. “And Al Jazeera needed that.”

Desperately so. When AJE officially launched in 2006, cable viewership extended to only three areas in the United States: Washington, D.C.; Toledo, Ohio; and Burlington, Vt.—just 1.7 percent of American households.

The transition was terrifying for Rushing. He was called a traitor. His story hit the front pages of newspapers nationwide. He received so many death threats that Al Jazeera hired bodyguards for his family. His home address was published online.

“When our address was put on that blog, I felt like my personal privacy was violated,” Paige recalls. “Because I had a husband who was gone 60 to 70 percent of the time, it really affected me and the kids. I felt our safety was threatened.”

When Rushing would film segments for Al Jazeera on U.S. soil, Customs officers would follow him and question every person he talked to.

When he appeared on talk shows, he was accused of being unpatriotic. Sean Hannity went so far as to shout, “Do you love America?” over and over when Rushing was a guest.

Even his parents down in Lone Star, Texas, felt the heat. “People would call and threaten us. A lot of our friends really felt like he was a traitor,” Dinah says. “And some still feel like that.”

One of the chief complaints Americans retain about AJE is that it is operated under the Al Jazeera umbrella, which remains under the authority of the Qatar government. Detractors say the channel’s ownership could potentially lend itself to propaganda and anti-American bias.

“The cure for the Al Jazeera blues is to watch it,” Rushing points out. “I’ll bet anything that they’ll change their minds.”

The first real breakthrough with American audiences came during last year’s Arab awakening. During the tumult, AJE offered full coverage from the ground in Tunisia, Egypt, and beyond.

Both sides of the American political spectrum took notice. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the Senate: “Viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it’s real news.” Senator John McCain said he was “very proud of the role Al Jazeera had played.” And President Barack Obama even commented, “Reform, reform, reform. You’re seeing it on Al Jazeera.”

Rushing couldn’t be more thrilled. From the get-go, his personal mission at AJE could be summed up by the subtitle of his book: “Build a Bridge, Seek the Truth, Change the World.” Now, after gaining wider acceptance worldwide, Al Jazeera English is allowing him to do just that.

“I want to see myself as a cultural bridge,” Rushing writes. “Many Americans don’t understand the rest of the world, and the rest of the world often doesn’t understand America… Openness will help us see something more than danger out there in the world.”

As host of AJE’s documentary show Fault Lines, Rushing travels from the Arctic Circle to Colombia to the South China Sea, investigating the role the United States plays worldwide. “Josh’s strength is sitting down and doing engaging interviews,” says Fault Lines senior producer Jeremy Young. “He’s not afraid to give people on both sides of an issue a hard time.”

It’s hard to believe he once came in second to last in his graduating journalism class. In addition to his book, Rushing has also contributed to the likes of Huffington Post and Reader’s Digest. His photography has been featured in National Geographic and on the cover of the Center for Fine Art Photography’s new book.

“My first year at Al Jazeera, I didn’t call myself a journalist,” Rushing says. “I just wanted to exemplify the best of American principles. In a weird way, I went from not wanting to call myself a journalist to now being a sort of evangelist for the field.”

Newly 40, Rushing says that this birthday caught his attention more than any other. With a job that takes him away from Paige and their four children—Luke, 20, Ethan, 6, Spencer, 4, and Harper, 2—for months at a time, it’s hard not to wonder if his choices were worth the sacrifices.

“Paige sent me a note recently that said I’d only spent 80 hours at home in one month,” Rushing says. “I recognize my life experience has given me a unique perspective. It’s my contribution to this world, and my family recognizes that.”

Traitor, terrorist—he’s been called it all. But the stigma associated with Al Jazeera is slowly fading.

“My goal when joining Al Jazeera was to help establish a world-class news channel— to have what Americans think of it be something close to what it truly is,” Rushing says. “Maybe we didn’t succeed 100 percent across the country, but the opinion of Al Jazeera today is closer to the truth. We got the truth out there.”

From top: Rushing in Al Jazeera English’s Washington, D.C. studio (2); Rushing became the center of a media firestorm when he joined Al Jazeera English; From a 2009 episode of Fault Lines, “Obama’s War.”

Photos by Melissa Golden (2), Josh Rushing, courtesy Fox News, Melissa Golden.

 

Here’s my latest Fault Lines episode. Enjoy. And let me know what you think…

The US’ housing bubble burst nearly six years ago, but the worst may be yet to come.

After a landmark settlement, the major banks have lifted a freeze on foreclosures and government relief has been too small to make a difference.

"We are often portrayed as the bad people, like we basically just come in and make all the money from people who are in bad situations. But the fact is, if we don’t buy the property then the bank [will] take the property back." 

- Amy Chen, a real estate investor

Public housing budgets have been slashed, leaving larger numbers of people with no place to call home.

The line between home ownership and homelessness is growing ever more blurry, but neither President Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney have made housing a major campaign issue.

Meanwhile, popular anger is rising over the perceived impunity of the banks and some have found innovative ways of fighting back in an age of austerity.

Fault Lines travels to Chicago and California to see how people at the frontlines of the crisis are confronting the collapse of the American dream.

"If you ask people who have been foreclosed upon, whose fault is it? They often they say it’s mine. It’s my fault, I did the wrong thing, instead of kind of saying this is a systemic problem," explains David Harvey, a social theorist and a professor of anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

"Capital is always producing surpluses, at the end of the day if you have got a profit, you’ve got a surplus and the big question is what do you do with it.

"[So] what you do is that you take part of that surplus and you reinvest it in something. And in United States, housing and urbanisation in general has been a vast field for expansion of profitable opportunities."

ANATOMY OF AN AMERICAN EXECUTION

Texas is set to execute Marvin Wilson tonight. Wilson was convicted nearly twenty years ago of killing a police informant. The case has raised questions because even though Wilson has an IQ that reportedly places him in the bottom percentile of the nation, Texas has declared him mentally competent enough to kill him.

Wilson will die by lethal injection. I witnessed an similar execution in Oklahoma earlier this year. Above is the news piece I filed about the execution. I wasn’t allowed to take a camera into the death chamber, so here’s what I witnessed:

Michael Selsor executed May 1, 2012, in Oklahoma.

May 1, 2012 — I came to Oklahoma to witness a killing, a homicide in fact.

At a microphone Debbie Huggins fights tears and with a strong southern drawl says slowly, emphatically: “What we did to him today was much kinder than what he did to my dad.”

"Him" refers to Michael Selsor and "what" to the murder of Clayton Chandler, a clerk shot six times during a gas station robbery in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Selsor pulled the trigger even after Chandler had complied and volunteered the loot.

"In 1975 I never would have thought that it would take 37 years for justice," Huggins says.

Today’s justice was delivered about half an hour before Huggins approached the microphone; it is why I am here.

Michael Selsor walking. [Josh Rushing]

There are few acts graver than when a government takes the life of one of its own citizens. Executions often get a lot of coverage in the US, when there is something controversial about the case or enough people believe the condemned might be innocent. These scenarios attract media attention and fuel vigils. This was not the case with Michael Selsor. Everyone agreed that he did it, including him. The reporters who cover Selsor’s execution will focus on Huggins and her family. Perhaps you cannot blame them. The only interview Selsor ever granted was to me. 

Even though executions are conducted on behalf of the citizens of the state, very few are allowed to witness it: families of the condemned and their victims, lawyers, law enforcement, and journalists. This is why I felt a responsibility to witness Selsor’s end and then to report it as dispassionately and honestly as I could. The following attempts such an account.

About an hour before Huggins gives her statement, I am led from a makeshift media center to the notorious H Unit, home of Oklahoma’s death row. A pat down ensures our escorts that I carry no possessions other than the clothes on my back. They give me paper and a pen so I can take notes. I am joined by five other reporters. We maneuver through a set of gates that open to a large passageway. The walls and floor are made of smooth concrete. The passage feels stark, modern, like a secret missile silo - and incongruous with this century-old prison famous for inmate rodeos and executions.

Eventually we turn through a large yellow door into the death chamber’s viewing room. I have been here before, but then the space was empty and part of the tour - now it is ready for business.

A handful of prison officials and guards are waiting for us in the viewing room, a narrow rectangle about four times as long as it is wide. A long series of windows to my right are covered by drawn blinds. Two rows of 12 brown metal folding chairs - the kind dragged out of a storage closet at a school picnic - are lined up. I am the first reporter in the room and told to go to the end of the second row and take a seat.

 

As I sidestep down the row I notice for the first time another set of windows on the left side of the room. The tinted panes conceal the identity of those on the other side. I suppose the setup is not unlike a wedding with two families to attend to and keep separated. The original victim, Clayton Chandler, is represented by an unknown number of family members behind the dark glass. It is hot in this room - at least 90 degrees and rising as people file in. Movement behind the opaque windows catches the light and my eye; at least two people are fanning themselves with white paper. Chandler’s family members must already be in place, watching us nervously find our seats.

Three lawyers in dark suits representing Selsor enter next and sit directly in front of me. Selsor’s family follows. His son wears a grey t-shirt, shorts and a military-short haircut. Tattoos cover his neck and arms. Selsor’s sister, with a shock of blonde hair, looks tired. Her bright blue, short-sleeved shirt contrasts a suntanned face, wizened beyond her years. A box of cheap tissues rests in the son’s chair, courtesy of the state. Once Selsor’s family is settled, a small contingent of law enforcement file in, including Jeff Jordan, who investigated Chandler’s murder as a rookie homicide detective. He is now Tulsa’s police chief.

A cacophony of banging echoes throughout the prison. We have been warned not to be alarmed by the noise - it is how inmates say their goodbyes.

Selsor is respected on death row. He is seemingly regarded as a serious and contemplative individual who became an asset of sorts to prison inmates and staff alike - though officials always caveat the sentiment with a reminder that his crime was inexcusably wrong and such actions must bear consequences. As the run guy, a job given to the toughest of the condemned, Selsor made deliveries to other cells and kept fellow inmates in line. When school children visited the prison, Selsor played a regular part in the tour. From behind bars he shared with the children his life lesson about the consequences of one’s actions.

The appointed time nears and the banging becomes rhythmic - quick at first, but slowing now to a steady, dirge-like pace.

The director of Oklahoma prisons, Justin Jones, who has twice appeared on Fault Lines, enters. The yellow door shuts behind him. Rather than taking a chair, he is handed a phone, a hotline to the governor’s office. Though not far from me, I cannot hear what he is saying. Jones hangs the receiver up, picks up a different phone connected with the execution chamber and tells them to proceed.

It is exactly 6 pm local time. The curtain goes up as guards raise the mini-blinds inside the execution chamber. Selsor’s family in front of me gasps at the sight of him. He is strapped to the bed with his arms padlocked down and covered in a sheet up to his chest. Selsor’s pinched eyebrows convey a look between fear and guilt.

The son waves to his father for what turns out to be the last time and reaches for the tissues. The son and sister begin to cry. Selsor lifts his head as much as he can and turns toward his small audience: “My son, my sister, I love you ‘til I see you again next time. Be good. Eric, [Selsor’s lawyer] keep up the struggle.” His eyes scan the viewing room: “I’ll be waiting at the gates of heaven for you. I hope the rest of you make it there as well.”

There have been at least 1,121 executions by lethal injection in the US since 1979 [Josh Rushing]

He turns his head toward the prison official standing over him and says: “I’m ready.” Relaxing back to the bed, he turns his head to the side and focuses on his son.

Though we cannot see it, we all know what is happening now. Two intravenous lines run from Selsor’s arms to two holes in a wall about three feet behind his head. From a hidden room, three executioners each press a plunger sending lethal doses into his veins: one with pentobarbital, another with vecuronium bromide and a third with potassium chloride. The executioners are each paid $300 in cash, so no paper trail leads to their identity.

With a tilted head still looking at his son, Selsor’s gaze begins to fade, his eyelids half closing. A final breath exits his body with a visible puff from his lips. His body stills, eyes half open and locked on his son. It is roughly 6:03 pm.

The next three minutes pass painfully slowly. No one moves in the death chamber or viewing room. I hear barely perceptible sounds of crying from the row in front of me. A medical examiner in the chamber approaches the bed, checks for signs of life and pronounces Michael Selsor dead at 6:06 pm.

We solemnly return to the media center. Huggins holds a press conference and tells us that the execution did not bring closure or the kind of justice it seems she was seeking, but it is easy to see her relief from the death of Selsor. The ultimate boogeyman in her mind was finally gone.

In time a death certificate will be issued from the state of Oklahoma. For cause of death, it will say Selsor died from a homicide. Though it took nearly four decades to find its target, it is clear now that the trigger Selsor pulled that fateful day in 1975 ended not only Chandler’s life, but his own as well.

Oklahoma Death Chamber [Josh Rushing]

—————————————————————————————————

Michael Selsor’s only interview:

MIKE SELSOR, DEATH ROW INMATE
May 7, 2010

My name is Mike Selsor, my number is 91854 and I’m serving a first degree murder sentence.

How long have you been on death row?

This time here since ‘98.

What do you mean this time?

This is my second time on death row. I first came in here in February 1976 and went to death row then. And back then the Supreme Court ruled Oklahoma’s death penalty unconstitutional and that’s how I got off of it. And through the years I’ve kinda kept up my appeals and eventually won a retrial. Went back for a retrial and got a good ol’ rural Oklahoma screwin’ from the courts, and I’m back on death row again.

For the same crime?

For the same crime.

What’d you do?

Murder. Person got killed and I’m to blame for it.

What are your thoughts on the death penalty?

I’m actually against it. I don’t think a government - whether it’s capitalist, socialist or communist - should have this kind of power over its subjects. This is making the government a demagogue or a God status, to have the power of life and death over an individual. Whereas I think a government’s function is to upraise mankind, not downtrodding, you know?

So would you philosophically agree with the government being able to sentence you to life without parole?

Me personally, no. The only difference between death and life without parole is one you kill me now, the other one you kill me later. There’s not even a shred of hope. There’s no need to even try to muster up a seed of hope because you’re just gonna die of old age in here.

Which would you rather have?

With the death penalty sentence I’m entitled to more appeals - the government’s gonna pay for it. I don’t have to do it myself if I don’t have the money for a lawyer which I don’t have. Instead I’m relying on public defenders to do my appeals.

Appeals and stuff aside, would you rather serve a death penalty sentence or a life without parole sentence?

I think I’d rather have the death sentence. And I say this because I’ve already did 35 years in here, and I can’t see doing another 35 and just die of old age. And the way the prison is, I’m kinda blessed and fortunate and lucky to have made it this far, but let’s face it, eventually, I’m gonna get older and weaker, and it’s gonna be hard to fight these battles - whether they be physical, mental, whichever.

What’s the hardest part about being in prison?

There ain’t nothin’ easy about it. Everything is kinda hard. You’re separated from society - which is what prison is for, you were took away from society for a crime, that’s a fact - but growin’ up in this prison I’ve been through two prison riots. Believe me, you don’t come out good on that.

Were you a dangerous guy before prison?

I wasn’t a real nice guy, I’ll say that. All through school I was not quite the bully in the sense that I tormented people but I fought all through school, I’ve gotten kicked out of school for fighting several times, numerous times actually. My dad taught me how to fight pretty good. He used to whoop my ass quite a bit. Ten years old we put boxing gloves on and every Friday night we got it on out in the front yard, and I took me an ass-whoopin ‘til I got big enough and strong enough to whoop his ass.

Do you think you’re a dangerous guy now?

I hope I’m not. I hope that I’ve evolved spiritually and mentally enough that I’m not, but let’s face it, I’m in a rat-hole prison in the worst conditions, and if somebody was to try to put some hands on me I’m gonna hurt em - pure plain and simple - and I’m gonna hurt em bad.

When are you scheduled for execution?

I don’t have a date yet, I still got a couple more appeals to go. But to look at realistically and truthfully, let’s say nothin’ happens on my appeals. I got a little bit of hope that it will. I’ve done used up all my state appeals, and so I got two more federal appeals, which means I’ll be here for this Christmas, but next Christmas might be kinda shaky.

One of the victims daughters went to the DA when they found out I was getting a retrial and brought a lawyer up here with em and protested and all this before I even got up there for a retrial. And that’s where they just steamed up and said aw hell, we’ll just give him the death penalty again.

Have you ever tried to reach out to the victim’s family?

No. Not like tryin’ to contact ‘em directly or indirectly, no. I figure there ain’t nothing I could say to ‘em that would apologise for what I’ve done.

Are you remorseful about it?

Shit, I’ve been remorseful for a long time, not just about that but about a lotta things. Plenty of time to contemplate and reflect on all the things you’ve done in your life, and every one of them deserves remorse. Eventually it’s gonna creep in, depression’s gonna creep in, all that’s gonna take effect.

And really if I could say look I’m sorry for what I’ve done, I’m sorry I killed your dad, what the hell would that mean to her? It’s not gonna make her feel any better, especially if she wants me dead.

Do you think your death might offer her some healing?

No. My death is not gonna change nothin’. Not just in her case but in every case. If you stop and think about it, the trauma that I put their family through, now they kill me, so now my family’s gonna go through the same trauma that they went through, so how does that equal out? In the long run I don’t think it’s going to.

What about a sense of justice - a life for a life?

It’d be like saying ‘a black eye for a black eye’ - everytime you do somethin’ wrong you oughta get a black eye. Hell the whole world would have black eyes.

What if the situation were reversed? Would you seek the death penalty against someone who killed your father or your son?

No. Don’t deprive me. I’d wanna kill ‘em myself. You kill my father, hell I’d wanna kill you myself, I wouldn’t want the state to do it. You go on death row, they got some people up here I see ‘em everyday, that I guarantee some of them crimes that they done if that had been my child, I’d wanna kill him before the police ever saw him. Don’t deprive me.

What do you think of the government?

At some point the government intrudes a little bit too much. The government is supposed to help bring society to a higher level, but at some point the government got so big that it’s took on a life of it’s own, and tryin’ to sustain its own self by whatever means.

Is the government serving society by keeping you away from society?

If I got right out here and somebody killed my child it wouldn’t be I guess, but eventually I’m gonna get so old and feeble that ain’t gonna be able to hurt a rag doll. So how’s that servin’ society?

What about the politicians? Tough on crime, etc?

They’re not accomplishing as much as they could be with the same amount of funds. Ninety per cent of the people in here, drugs or alcohol is behind it somehow. So what if you took somebody that’s come in with a drug deal instead of givin’ him a felony and lockin’ him up for 10 years, why don’t you take him to that Narcanon and get the guy some help instead of being a total burden on society?

If you oppose the death sentence and you oppose life without parole, what would be a just sentence for someone who commits murder?

You gotta do some time, let’s face it, you done a serious and the worst crime possible here, in anybody’s point of view. So you gotta pay. But somewhere along the road there should be some kinda redemption.

Either train the guy after he done so much time, teach him somethin’ where he can get out there and maybe start payin’ his taxes …. You’re not gonna get rich, you’re not gonna be totally poor, but at least you could function and pay back somehow.

I came in here 21 years old, and if I live to be another 30 years, look at all these years I been nothin’ but a total burden on society. No redemption in that.

There’s no sense of hope or growth or evolution is there?

You try to hope there is. You have to have a shred of a little bit of hope that someday you may get out, you know, a little light at the end of the tunnel. Even if it’s a candle 50 miles down the road lit up, you know? Even in my case where really there probably isn’t, I always keep a little shred of hope there sayin’ someday maybe I will get out - on the high side of social security maybe - but I could see the outside world again.

What do you imagine about the outside world? What do you miss?

It’s not in the city, I guarantee you that. I been crammed in here around these men for so long that I don’t want no part of this. I want a river out there within a quarter mile of my house - and I don’t want a big house, I just want a little old shack out there - and if there’s nobody livin’ within 25 miles of me that’d be just fine. I could spend my time fishin’ on that river, maybe trap a few squirrels and rabbits and deer during the winter time, and basically just want to get away from it, you know? I couldn’t imagine goin’ from here to some five-storey apartment building in the middle of the city and have to hear all that noise, that’s what I wanna get away from.

So it’s not the connection with humanity that you miss?

You’re well connected with humanity bein’ in here. You’re just not seein’ the best of it.

What do you think goes into the governor’s decision to grant clemency or not? What’s affecting his decision in your mind?

I really don’t know, I could only take a guess at what he’s thinkin’. I would say he’s analysin’ or calculatin’ it somehow. If I let this guy off, what kind of threat would he be down the line?

How much do you think the decision is politics and what people will think about him letting someone off?

Probably more than what they would admit to. If he’s runnin’ for re-election, I wouldn’t see him grantin’ no clemencies. You see all these politicians rattlin’ off right now - Arizona passed this real strict immigration bill, and now hell, we want one too - to show that we’re tough on crime. Like the politician runnin’ for re-election in Sand Springs up there, he’s wantin’ to make it capital punishment now for child molestin’, even though the Supreme Court ruled that unconstitutional last year, he said that don’t matter, I’m doin’ it anyway, just to show that he’s tough on crime, knowin’ this law ain’t gonna go nowhere. And the people are dumb enough to believe it I guess.

What do you think about death? Do believe in an afterlife?

Well there’s got to be a heaven because I’m livin’ in hell right now.

You’re always reminded of death in here …. you’re constantly reminded just cause you’re on death row. You may think about it a little more often when there’s an execution coming up, so that brings it to the forefront of your mind a little more.

Have you thought about how you’ll handle yours?

Yes I have. For one, I wouldn’t even ask for clemency. I’ve pretty much decided I’m gonna skip that, I ain’t even gonna ask for it. I’m not gonna beg ‘em to spare my life. I’ll try to keep my head up with a little bit of dignity, and I’m gonna be buried out on Periwood Hill. Even if somebody wanted my body, I’d say hell no, I’ve been in this prison my whole life, and that’s where I’m gonna go.

Last meal?

A fried rabbit, that’s what I actually want.

Good luck with that.

I’m talkin’ about a wild one. you know, go out and shoot one, a cotton tail - fry it up with mash potatoes, gravy and corn on the cob.

If there’s a heaven do you think you’ll go there?

I hope I’ve passed the test.

As it says in Christianity - ask for forgiveness. I’ve done that. And I’ve had to do that in a sense from years ago when I realised that all this hate that I had in me from my childhood and on, that this is gonna kill me more than anything else. It’s what I do or what somebody else does, this is what’s gonna kill me. If I didn’t release it and learn how to release it than sure I was gonna go to hell.

Do you think that with different parents and different circumstances, you would’ve ended up in a different place?

No. It would have to be a different me. I don’t wanna blame my parents for my shortcomings. It would have to be a change in me. I would have to look at things different from the way I looked at ‘em.

The New York Times today has a fascinating story of a town in Mexico where women have taken over in an armed occupation. They report that the people of Cheran, in the state of Michoacan, had been harassed by armed, illegal loggers for years:

On the morning of April 15, 2011, using rocks and fireworks, a group of women attacked a busload of AK-47-armed illegal loggers as they drove through Cherán, residents said. The loggers, who local residents say are protected by one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal organizations and given a virtual free pass by the country’s authorities, had terrorized the community at will for years.

Cherán’s residents said they had been subjected to multiple episodes of rape, kidnapping, extortion and murder by the paramilitary loggers, who have devastated an estimated 70 percent of the surrounding oak forests that sustained the town’s economy and indigenous culture for centuries.

What happened next was extraordinary, especially in a country where the rule of law is often absent and isolated communities are frequently forced to accept the status quo. Organized criminal syndicates, like the drug cartel La Familia, created in Michoacán, act like a state within a state, making their own rules and meting out grisly punishments to those who do not obey.

But here in Cherán, a group of townspeople took loggers hostage, expelled the town’s entire police force and representatives of established political parties, and forcibly closed the roads.

The piece goes on to mention the idea of community rule isn’t new to the area. In fact, in the Fault Lines episode above we explored the issue in the neighboring state of Guerrero. (Warning: The show contains some footage that is pretty hard to watch.)

This reminds me of a recent story out of southern Colombia where indigenous people took over a mountain, kicking out both the Colombian military and the FARC.

I’ve covered war for many years. One of the first realities you learn when covering conflicts is that no matter what the fight is for, or where in the world it is, those that suffer war’s horrible effects the most are the people caught in the middle. I now find it heartening that at least in a few quiet corners of the globe that some of those people are starting to take back what should have been theirs all along.

This story is developing now: One miner has been rescued, five more remain trapped after an explosion caused a partial collapse at a mine in the state of Coahuila in Mexico. This is the second incident at this same mine in the last two weeks. On July 25 an explosion killed seven miners.

For a look at what going inside a mine in Latin America looks like, check out my Fault Lines episode above about illegal gold mining in Colombia. Parts of this episode were filmed in the department (or region) of Cauca, which is where the indigenous people have recently risen up against the military and the FARC (see last post).

Primer: Profits and Punishment

Here’s a primer for my latest episode of Fault Lines. It’s about for-profit immigration detention facilities in the US. This was put together by the show’s producer, Anjali Kamat.

For more on why undocumented migration from Mexico is at an all-time low see: http://is.gd/QXq5Pk & http://is.gd/xH0qNO

@DetentionWatch has a useful map of all the #immigration #detention ctrs in the US. http://is.gd/wD53hH

On average the federal govt pays prison operators – both private as well as county jails - $122 a day per detainee.

For more about the #dreamact and Jose Salcedo @slumdogsalcedo: http://is.gd/e4PMfD

#nosomosrubios is a campaign critical of Sen. Marco Rubio’s bid for VP launched by @presenteorg http://is.gd/wYe3bP

Sen. Rubio is now pushing a Republican version of the DREAM act: http://is.gd/tz3a82 & http://is.gd/pJmi1B

See “Marco Rubio’s Prison Problem” by Beau Hodai: http://is.gd/c4oRCd

Excellent backgrounder on profits & #immigration #detention from @DetentionWatch http://is.gd/g7PZIl #dwn

Also great on immigrant gold rush & #privateprisons - Judy Greene & Sunita Patel: http://is.gd/RknEwW

From Oct 2003 – Mar 2012: 129 deaths in #ICE detention: http://is.gd/DtL7P1

@ACLU is a great resource on sexual abuse of detainees in #ICE custody http://is.gd/m2h6Z7

Even if all the new civil detention ctrs R built, 86 % of #ICE detainees wd still be held in jail-like facilities http://is.gd/W5poGg

Meanwhile Republican Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas calls detention reform a “holiday”: http://is.gd/G0JI3I

Since 2009 #ICE has added or promised over 6000 new detention beds, most run by #privateprisons. via @humanrights1st

Critical look at reforms to detention system by @kalhan in Columbia Law Review http://is.gd/Pttdet

 Is the focus on conditions taking attention away from ending detention altogether? http://is.gd/h91P6U

Alternatives to detention: cheaper & more humane: http://is.gd/Lr3QqS via @LIRSorg

Telephones in #ICE detention facilities are operated by private companies that charge exorbitant rates for making & receiving calls

We asked #ICE how much #privateprisons might be saving by using detainee labor instead of hiring workers to cook & clean

Gary Mead of #ICE said he didn’t know because the operating costs for #privateprisons are “proprietary information.”

#Privateprisons are not subject to FOIA requests. On lack of accountability & abuse concerns: @ACLU report: http://is.gd/FRx4Ve

Prison Legal News is another great resource on #privateprisons http://is.gd/UhMrNu

A brief history of immigration detention: http://is.gd/pRkelt #DWN

@silkys13 has a stark history of #immigration #detention after 9/11 in @SamarMagazine: http://is.gd/DbbuyH

Infographic on Secure Communities by @reneefeltz & @stokelybaksh on their site: Deportation Nation http://is.gd/wZ4Gm9

@sethfw on the “criminal aliens” captured in recent #ICE raids across the country

http://is.gd/wUC8x8

Is the Dept of Homeland Security redefining criminality? http://is.gd/JyxYDK

Many were against a proposed #ICE facility in SouthWest Ranches run by the largest #privateprison company: CCA http://is.gd/qhdd0Y

Calls for Wall Street to divest from #privateprisons: http://is.gd/yio9xo & http://is.gd/OODZt0

ALEC is behind many of the tough laws on crime & immigration benefitting #privateprisons: http://is.gd/xvXqZp via @ALECexposed

On lobbying by GEO & CCA see http://is.gd/tXRrRl & @Justice_Policy report Gaming the System: http://is.gd/g20GCD

Also an older site by @reneefeltz & @stokelybaksh: Business of Detention http://is.gd/v1ao52

@txprisonbidness is a great resource on detention in Texas: http://is.gd/h8W8qe

A brief and accessible introduction to the mandatory detention of non-citizens from @DetentionWatch: http://is.gd/DHAu1i #DWN

Most people are surprised to hear that a large number of greencard holders like Naz can end up in immigration detention

Pearsall, where Naz was held, was the site of alleged sexual abuse in 2008. Last year guards protested their low wages http://is.gd/iizp5D

Naz also talked about the poor medical care in Pearsall and how it took days before he could see a nurse when he was ill or injured

@Nomoredeaths has a strong report on abuses by the border patrol: http://is.gd/FySBnn

At a courthouse in McAllen, TX, we witnessed but weren’t allowed to film the mass trial of some 35 men and women.

Some had grown up in the US, others in Mexico or Guatemala. They all had family in the US.

The trial – a daily occurrence - was heartbreaking. One lawyer watching said: “This is where the American dream comes to die.”

Prosecuting people for illegal entry makes up more than half of all federal criminal filings: http://is.gd/qhQxYE

Illegal re-entry cases have surged under President Obama: http://is.gd/lKvFiR

 

Fault Lines: Profits and Punishment

Here’s our latest episode. We look into the growing trend of privatized, immigration detainee centers in the US. I’d love to hear what you think about it.

Later today I’ll post a primer on the subject with tons of links.

Congratulations to Anjali Kamat on producing her first Fault Lines episode. She did a terrific job. Great filming by Thierry Humeau and editing by Goran Maric and Warwick Meade. A nod as well to our EP Mat Skene.

Fault Lines: Profits and Punishment. Here’s the promo for tonight’s episode. These promos are put together at our headquarters in Doha, Qatar. It’s kind of weird that they use someone else’s voice for it. Whoever it is has a great voice, but it’s totally different than mine, which you’ll hear throughout the actual show. Oh well.