Internationally Banned Tear Gas: For Domestic Use Only

Protester wearing a tear gas mask against background of the massAs unrest erupts from Oakland to Egypt, there’s one weapon of war that has come to define the militarized police state: tear gas.

And while a St. Louis judge ruled recently that limits must be placed on the use of tear gas in Ferguson, he didn’t rule that tear gas should only be implemented as a last resort.

Around the country, contingents of peaceful protesters are being confronted by assemblies of heavily militarized police officers that regularly use chemical agents to disperse crowds. But usually the act of getting doused with chemicals is so infuriating that it only incites chaos.

People have a good reason to be afraid of tear gas, considering it’s a banned agent of war under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. Here’s the catch – there’s a clause in the treaty that includes an exception for domestic use. Yes, it’s illegal for the US military to use tear gas against ISIS, but cool to use against American citizens.

The US ensured the exception, claiming it was afraid the convention may prohibit lethal injection. Because of this caveat for riot control, countries around the world regularly and irresponsibly use chemical agents against their own populations. In American cities like Ferguson, police deploy tear gas at the drop of a hat, often at cameramen and journalists.

Despite all of the apocalyptic imagery associated with the weapon, government officials maintain tear gas is perfectly safe, including Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson, who said “There are complaints about the response from some people… but to me, nobody got hurt seriously, and I’m happy about that.”

He forgot to say yet, considering how Ferguson police are using tear gas canisters from the Cold War era and are so old, there’s a severe risk of shrapnel flying into crowds. Make no mistake, this “less than lethal” weapon can actually be quite deadly. Look no further than Palestine, where a man was killed from a tear gas canister hitting him at close range in 2011. Or in Egypt, when a policeman shot tear gas into a caravan holding  37 protesters, choking and killing them all.

Horrifyingly, tear gas also causes amputations and miscarriages. In Bahrain, Physicians for Human Rights reported that many pregnant women had miscarriages after exposure with the chemical agent. Officials assure there are no long term health effects, but that hasn’t been proven given the lack of long term studies. Sven-Eric Jordt, a leading expert in tear gas, says

“I frankly think that we don’t know much about the long-term effects, especially in civilian exposure…There’s very few follow-up studies. These are very active chemicals that can cause quite significant injury. I’m very concerned that, as use has increased, tear gas has been normalized. The attitude now is like, this is safe and we can use it as much as we want.”

And boy, do we. As the world’s leading military and arms supplier, the US is also the biggest producer of less than lethal weaponry. During Egypt’s revolution, while police gunned down protesters and made mass arrests, they liberally used tear gas that read “Made in the USA” (at a little place called Combined Systems International of Jamestown, Pennsylvania). According to VisionGain, the non-lethal weapons market has exploded over the last decade, and is worth a whopping 1.6 billion dollars this year.

Somehow the government has convinced the American people that using tear gas is perfectly harmless, despite stark evidence to the contrary. So, next time it tries to sell us another war because *this leader gasses his own people*, remember that claim isn’t so far from home.


Abby Martin Breaks the Set on the Lethality of Tear Gas


Abby Martin / @AbbyMartin

Photo by Wikimedia Commons


Aaron Swartz and the Fight for Free Information

aaron swartz flickr quinn norton BWComputer prodigy Aaron Swartz should have been celebrating his 28 years over the holidays. Yet nearly two years ago, he tragically took his own life.

He was the target of a merciless witch-hunt by the Department of Justice, ultimately choosing death over 35 years behind bars for the crime of releasing information. As someone who transformed the way we all use and love the internet, Aaron should have gotten a medal of honor, not a death sentence.

Aaron’s genius mark on the web can be traced back to the development of RSS feeds, a formula that produces a feed of whatever information one chooses to access, changing the way we filter and aggregate data. His passion for making information open source was exemplified in his partnership with Lawrence Lessig at only 15 years old, when he coded creative commons, a database devoted to growing the amount of creative works available to share and build off of. This revolutionized what was capable online, allowing people to use imagery without worrying about copyright or legal ramifications.

Perhaps Aaron’s mark will most be felt by co-founding Reddit, one of the most visited sites in the world that embodies what raw and free access looks like. After Reddit exploded, Aaron sold it for over a million dollars. But he rejected the business world, and instead put his entire being into political activism. He began, a site that allows users to buy, borrow or browse every published book in the world. The project cemented his obsession with freeing the mind of humanity from its elite clutches. Sadly, it was this beautiful idea that came to define Aaron as a criminal that deserved more time in prison than murderers in the eyes of the federal government

The majority of the wealth of human knowledge is owned by a few publishing companies that hoard information and make billions off licensing fees, although most scholarly articles and journals are paid for by taxpayers through government grants. Aaron sought to change this.

He wrote about his plans to release academic journals and expressed outrage about prosecutorial overreach on the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto in 2008:

“It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy…

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture….With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past.”

His first target was JSTOR, a digital library of academic journals and books. But as he attempted to download millions of articles from JSTOR at MIT, authorities were filming him through a surveillance camera. Aaron’s altruism came at a heavy price. The footage was used to charge him with computer and wire fraud, which would have locked him up for decades.

Aaron praised the internet’s ability to give everyone a license to speak, but noted how many of those voices won’t get heard, which is why he dedicated the last year of his life leading the charge against corporate monopolization of the web with legislation like SOPA and PIPA.

Aaron Swartz sacrificed himself to better the world. His blood is on the US government’s hands for institutionalizing a two tiered justice system that immunizes criminals and bone chillingly destroys revolutionaries.


Breaking the Set on Aaron Swartz’s legacy


Please watch the documentary about Aaron that inspired me to write this tribute, called “The Internet’s Own Boy”.

The Internet’s Own Boy


Abby Martin / @AbbyMartin

Photo by flickr user Quinn Norton

Drone Wars Can’t Exist Without Decades-Long Genocide in Congo

DronebyFLICKRAKROCKEFELLERIn January of 2014, a UN surveillance drone crashed in Eastern Congo.

According to the UN, the drone was part of a surveillance operation to keep tabs on warring militias that have been fighting in the country since 1996.

Ironic, considering the manufacture of drones is entirely dependent on the bloody conflict taking place on the ground below. That’s because the source of cobalt, a vital mineral in defense technologies like drones, is one of the many resources rebel groups in the Congo are fighting to control. In fact, every death by way of drone can be traced back to the embattled history of this region.

For several decades beginning in 1908, the Congo was a Belgian colony. In 1960,  a nationalist movement led by young postal clerk Patrice Lumumba was successful in gaining the country’s independence. Lumumba was then chosen as the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Congo that year.

However his popularity, driven by a commitment to the economic and political liberation of the country, dissatisfied former colonists in Belgium and their American allies. Only months after his election, Lumumba was deposed by Western-backed forces. Within a year, he was captured by those forces and subsequently executed by firing squad on January 17, 1961.

After several years of jockeying for power, in 1965 military strongman Mobutu Sese Seko came to power in a US/Belgium backed coup. A staunch anti communist, Mobutu used much of the Congo’s resources to his personal gain, amassing a multi-billion dollar personal fortune throughout his years of cooperation with western governments and corporations.

It was during Mobutu’s rule in 1982 that the Congressional Budget Office released a report entitled “Cobalt: Policy Options for a Strategic Mineral”. In it, the CBO outlines how cobalt is an essential mineral used in American aerospace and defense technologies. Because of its necessity, the CBO declares that if cobalt supplies were to shortfall, it would be of great concern for the US government and national security.

The CBO also points out that the greatest producer of cobalt is the Congo, at the time known as Zaire. The report determines that the greatest threat to cobalt production in the Congo would be political unrest and quote “guerrilla insurrection” against Mobutu’s hardline rule.

Fifteen years later, the threat of Mobutu’s overthrow became a reality.

When Mobutu was ousted in 1997, Congo fell into chaos from which it never recovered, culminating with the takeover of yet another pro-western dictator Joseph Kabila in 2001 – but the violence never stopped. Despite enjoying a cozy relationship with US leaders, it is estimated that somewhere between 5.4 to 6 million people have died under Kabila’s watch in the deadliest conflict since World War II. According to Friends of the Congo spokesperson Kambale Musavuli, the conflict can all be traced back to the “War on Terror”.

“The battle in the Congo has really been about who’s going to control Congo’s resources and for whose benefit,” he says. “Cobalt [is] a mineral very essential to modern technologies…found in aerospace, in drones, in airplanes, in nuclear reactors, and it is a strategic mineral to the so called war on terror.”

In 2011, Kabila gave approval for American Mining Company Freeport-McMoRan to expand its ownership of the Tenke Fungureme mine – the largest cobalt reserve in the world – to 56 percent, making him quite popular in Washington.

However, not everyone in the US government has turned a blind eye to the fact that minerals like cobalt come with a heavy human cost. That’s why a few members of Congress made an effort to classify some resources as “conflict minerals,” which would require companies to disclose the sources of their products.

In fact, hidden within the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Bill, “Section 1502” promises to “monitor and stop commercial activities involving the natural resources of the Democratic Republic of Congo that contribute to the armed activities of armed groups and human rights violations”.

Yet cobalt was not named among the four “conflict minerals” classified in the report, despite the fact that it’s the most strategic and abundant resource in the Congo.

Perhaps that’s no surprise, considering that the VP of International Affairs at Freeport (formally VP of Africa), Melissa Sanderson, was a Political Counselor to the State Department for over two decades before joining the company. Specifically, she was the Charge d’Affairs at the US Embassy in the Congo.

With the conflict of interest so entrenched and drone strikes replacing conventional warfare, it’s hard to imagine how any top-down policy could foster real change. Ultimately, Musavuli says that rather than count on governments and corporations to put peace before profits, the solution lies in the people.

“They need the people in Pakistan [and] Afghanistan who are being bombed day and night by drones to know that those drones would be able to be sending those missiles [into their] community if the western powers did not have access to minerals in the Congo,” he says. “[Minerals] such as uranium, such as cobalt…creating those alliances with people who believe in peace and freedom and human dignity will be a change maker as we continue to support those who are fighting on the ground [in the Congo].”

Indeed, while the struggle begins with democratizing the source of cobalt in the Congo, it won’t prevail without global solidarity. Yet until people realize the interconnectedness of these conflicts, such unity may prove to be its greatest obstacle.

Written by Anya Parampil, Follow me @anyaparampil

Photo by flickr user AK ROCKEFELLER

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Journalist Amber Lyon: The War on Drugs is a Human Rights Crisis

JournalistAmberLyonWikimedia CommonsHave you ever found it odd that a side effect of Cymbalta, a leading anti-depressant, is suicide? It seems counterintuitive, but in a country where medicine is dictated by Big Pharma, such a paradox is hardly surprising.

That’s because, as former CNN correspondent Amber Lyon points out, Western medicine treatments are not intended to get to the root of the sickness.

The result of prolonged medical treatment is a country with 70% of its citizens on prescription drugs. And perhaps more shocking, where at least one fifth of its population is taking five or more prescription pills.

The US remains one of only two countries in the world with direct-to-consumer advertising, and the sheer amount of pills flooding the market is having deadly results. According to the book Our Daily Meds, nearly 100,000 Americans die each year from prescription drugs, roughly 270 people every day.

The non-profit organization Trust For America’s Health also found last year that deaths involving prescription drugs quadrupled between 1999 and 2010. Nearly 6.1 million people abuse prescription pills and overdose deaths have doubled in 29 states, exceeding vehicle related deaths.

With the innate perils of these drugs becoming more evident, Lyon dedicated her journalism to finding another way to treat psychological illnesses. Her personal experience curing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with psilocybin mushrooms led her into a world of research establishing that what we’ve been told by the establishment about psychedelics is wrong.

Lyon travelled around the world to legally take psychedelics with foreign cultures that have used them medicinally for thousands of years. She explains that when done in a safe setting, these psychedelic therapies allow people to confront, process and purge their darkest memories, instead of numbing them with pharmaceuticals.

How Psychedelics Are Saving Lives


Amber Lyon joined Abby Martin on Breaking the Set to debunk the myths surrounding psychedelics and explain their proven benefits.

Amber Lyon Trips All Over the World to Discover the Power of Hallucinogens


Lyon launched the website Reset.Me in order to change the narrative and spread awareness about the benefits of psychedelics.

Written by Abby Martin and Anya Parampil, photo by Wikimedia Commons

The Case for Vegetarianism You’ve Never Heard Before

CowbyFlickrb3dWhen I was in 5th grade, I was obsessed with animals. It was an age where most of my friends were going through the phase of wanting to be either a veterinarian or whale trainer at Sea World (yes, this was before Blackfish).

My love for animals may have been innocent and ill-informed early on, but it led me to become passionate about animal rights.

Over the years, vegetarianism has stuck with me despite the fact that most of my friends, family, and men I’ve dated eat meat. It certainly hasn’t been easy – but it’s been worth it. People might never stop asking me why I don’t eat meat, but my answer will remain simple and the same: I like animals too much to bring myself to eat them.

Yet Gary Francione, a self proclaimed animal abolitionist, has a much more sophisticated argument in favor of vegetarianism. Rather than focusing merely on the treatment of animals, Francione defines “animal abolitionism” as the inability to “justify using animals at all, no matter how humanely we treat them”. He’s structured a moral argument against the alleged necessary use of animal products, particularly with the advent of technology and alternative materials like hemp.

And whilst Francione acknowledges that animals are cognitively different than humans, he explains why it still doesn’t justify the consumption and use of animals for our benefit. Francione argues that the cognitive differences don’t matter morally, because animals are sentient.

He underscores this by posing a scenario comparing two different human beings: one who is brilliant and one who is mentally disabled. Whilst the two humans are “different” from one another, Francione points out that a cognitive difference would not justify, for example, subjecting the disabled individual to a harmful biomedical experiment.

So why would we do the same to animals?

Well, as Francione points out, animals are little more than helpless resources at the hands of exploitative human beings. But “how can you justify using a sentient being exclusively as a resource?” Francione asks.

The answer: you can’t.

Even back in 1884, Henry David Thoreau proposed “… that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals…” just as “savage” humans “have left off eating each other”.


Professor Gary Francione on Breaking the Set

Gary Francione on Animal Abolition & Ethical Consumption


Written by Anya Parampil for Media Roots, Photo by flickr user b3d

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