Category Archives: News Gate

Top 10 craft beer pubs in Cambridge

Cambridge has history, green spaces and impressive architecture to spare, but how far has the craft beer revolution penetrated its quads and cloisters?

More from our best craft beer pubs around the UK series

A rather over-styled barn of a boozer (the detail includes everything from sunny Iberian floor tiles to architects’ drawing boards), but one where the beer is solid. There is a tight selection of US bottles, such as Flying Dog, Anchor, and Sierra Nevada but the Architect also operates as a brewery tap for Cambridge micro Calverley’s. Its hoppy pale Supper Club was in good form, and with Titanic stout, Pilsner Urquell and Maisels Weisse wheat beer also available on keg, this is a decent, one-pint stop-off for the passing craft drinker. Despite it being a Greene King pub, the Architect’s sister outlet, The Alex, also carries cask beers from local and regional breweries such as BlackBar and Wolf, as well as Brewdog beers on keg.
Pint from £3.40, 43 Castle Street, 01223 563779, thearchitectcambridge.co.uk

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Abandoned Uranium Mines Plague Navajo Nation

Also see: “Toxic Legacy: Uranium Mining in New Mexico”

The mesas of Monument Valley rise deep red on the horizon. We are in Diné Bikéyah, land of the Navajo.

“This is John Wayne country,” trained Navajo guide Gregory Holiday repeats his lines for an enchanted group of tourists. The view opens boundless to the sacred land of the Diné people, but for visitors it is presented as the iconic west of cowboys and Americana.

The sun sets and the last traveler boards the bus to leave Navajo Nation and head back to Flagstaff and into US-governed territory. With the bus’ departure, Gregory’s role as the light-hearted Indian guide ends. We take a gravel road to his home in the village of Oljato. During the jolty ride the rehearsed stories of Wild West heroes shift to memories of deceased loved ones.

“My daughter loved to ride her motorbike in the desert,” he says.

Two years ago Gregory’s daughter died of lung cancer. Her child, Gregory’s granddaughter, was a victim of Navajo neuropathy, a rare condition named after the only population in which it occurs. For those suffering from the disease, limbs begin to tingle, then lose all sense of touch, and eventually appear curled as claws. Ultimately, the victim dies of liver failure. One study put the average age of death at 10. First described in medical literature in 1976, there is no cure.

In the 1940s, surveyors discovered significant uranium deposits throughout the once worthless desert landscape of the reservation. Between 1944 and 1986, as the US government aimed to cut off all dependence on imported uranium, nearly 4 million tons of ore were extracted to fuel the Cold War nuclear arm’s race. With the end of the war, the mining companies moved out. They were not required to clean up their mess and left behind the legacy of their extraction efforts, including mining waste and abandoned mines.

The incidence of Navajo neuropathy is five times higher on the western side of the Navajo reservation than on the eastern side. Some researchers believe this discrepancy is linked to the land: On the western side, the mines were mostly tunnels, whereas in the west they were primarily open pits. After the uranium companies left, the unfilled pits started to fill with water. Some, as deep as 130 feet, eventually formed into small lakes. Unsuspecting Navajos and their livestock use the contaminated water for drinking.

A 1990 study of Navajo neuropathy ruled out water contamination as a possible cause of the disease. However, that study has since been cast into doubt. In 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported that the study “did not fully consider the role of uranium mining.” Interviewed for the LA Times story, Steve Helgerson, lead scientist for the study, said his team had ruled out water contamination because families impacted by Navajo neuropathy were supplied by multiple water sources. He said the team did not explore whether these multiple sources shared common contaminants.

As the Los Angeles Times also reported, in 1986, Thomas Payne an environmental health officer for Indian Health Services, along with a National Park Service ranger, took water samples at 48 sites surrounding Cameron, AZ, a town in Navajo Nation. These samples revealed uranium levels in wells as high as 139 picocuries per liter. In abandoned pits, the levels were as high as 4,024 pinocuries. The EPA limit for safe drinking water is 20 picocuries per liter. At the time of his study, Helgerson was not aware of these results.  

No further studies have been conducted on the possible links between the environment and Navajo neuropathy. The source of the illness remains formally unknown, although similar symptoms were seen in the children of Chernobyl and in the victims of Minamata disease in Japan, both caused by environmental factors.

Conditions in Holiday’s hometown, Oljato, resemble those of a third world country. Residents have limited access to clean water and live in houses constructed of uranium-contaminated gravel.

Six abandoned uranium mines that still emit dangerous gamma rays surround the village. In 2014, the EPA scanned almost 500 mines across Navajo Nation for radiation; the majority measured levels at least 10-times greater than background radiation levels, some as high as 25-times background radiation. Many of the highest radiating mines were found to be located within a quarter-mile of inhabited structure.

Gregory draws a deep breath through an oxygen mask attached to a tank standing beside his couch. A few years ago he also was diagnosed with a now common occurrence in Navajo Nation, lung cancer.

In the 1950’s, cancer rates in the Navajo population were so low that the people were thought to be immune to it. An article titled “Cancer immunity in the Navajo” was published in a medical journal in 1959. A decade into the mining era, cancer rates had more than doubled. According to a report by the Navajo Epidemiology Center, by 2004, cancer had become the leading cause of illness and death for the Navajo, a generally nonsmoking population.

“Everything here makes us and the animals sick,” Gregory said.

In his youth, Gregory was one of thousands of Navajo men lured to work in the uranium mines and mills. For him, as well as many others, employment as a miner or millworker was his first contact with the US wage economy. At the time, the miners were grateful.

But the Navajo saw little of the huge profits from uranium. Copies of miners’ pay stubs show payments of minimum wage or less: wages varied from an hourly $0.81 to $1.00.

Moreover, in 2011, journalist Judy Pasternak reported in her book Yellow Dirt: A Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed that the miners suffered radiation exposure four times that of the Japanese targeted by nuclear bombs during World War II. Navajo language had no word for radiation and few Navajo people spoke English before the mining began. Officials knew uranium exposure posed serious health risks but made no effort to educate their workers. Protective clothing, masks or ventilation were never provided. Miners returned to their families daily with clothes covered in the yellow dust of uranium.

“Others working with me died a long time ago” Gregory says.

The table is set with traditional Navajo soup made from Gregory’s family’s sheep. His is a story not heard by the 400,000 annual tourists crossing Monument Valley off their bucket list just 10 minutes out of town.

Today, more than 1,200 uranium mines lay abandoned within the borders of Navajo Nation. Some are barred with rubble, but most are left exposed.

The task of cleanup is daunting. EPA coordinator Lillie Lane told me the cost to clean just two mines is estimated to be $131 million. Navajo Nation EPA is currently researching and identifying the mining companies responsible for the waste. The paper trail is long, but under the Superfund Act, these companies can be held accountable for the cost.

“It is going to take 100 years,” said Lillie Lane, referring to the task of tracking down the responsible parties. 

Last week, those working to clean up the mining waste received a boost from the federal government: The Justice Department announced that the US will place $13.2 million in a trust to pay for the evaluation of 16 abandoned uranium mines on Navajo land. The contribution is part of a settlement agreement with the Navajo Nation. 

In the meantime, fragile communities continue to live amid the poisoned wells and contaminated earth, and the uranium riddled sagebrush flats are home for the next generation of Navajo children. That is, at least until those responsible are held to account and the landscape is restored to what it once was, before profits were prioritized above the land and its people.

The Clintons and Their Banker Friends: The Wall Street Connection (1992 to 2016)

The past, especially the political past, doesn’t just provide clues to the present. In the realm of the presidency and Wall Street, it provides an ongoing pathway for political-financial relationships and policies that remain a threat to the American economy going forward.

When Hillary Clinton video-announced her bid for the Oval Office, she claimed she wanted to be a “champion” for the American people. Since then, she has attempted to recast herself as a populist and distance herself from some of the policies of her husband. But Bill Clinton did not become president without sharing the friendships, associations, and ideologies of the elite banking sect, nor will Hillary Clinton. Such relationships run too deep and are too longstanding.

To grasp the dangers that the Big Six banks (JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley) presently pose to the financial stability of our nation and the world, you need to understand their history in Washington, starting with the Clinton years of the 1990s. Alliances established then (not exclusively with Democrats, since bankers are bipartisan by nature) enabled these firms to become as politically powerful as they are today and to exert that power over an unprecedented amount of capital. Rest assured of one thing: their past and present CEOs will prove as critical in backing a Hillary Clinton presidency as they were in enabling her husband’s years in office. 

In return, today’s titans of finance and their hordes of lobbyists, more than half of whom held prior positions in the government, exact certain requirements from Washington. They need to know that a safety net or bailout will always be available in times of emergency and that the regulatory road will be open to whatever practices they deem most profitable. 

Whatever her populist pitch may be in the 2016 campaign – and she will have one – note that, in all these years, Hillary Clinton has not publicly condemned Wall Street or any individual Wall Street leader. Though she may, in the heat of that campaign, raise the bad-apples or bad-situation explanation for Wall Street’s role in the financial crisis of 2007-2008, rest assured that she will not point fingers at her friends. She will not chastise the people that pay her hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop to speak or the ones that have long shared the social circles in which she and her husband move. She is an undeniable component of the Clinton political-financial legacy that came to national fruition more than 23 years ago, which is why looking back at the history of the first Clinton presidency is likely to tell you so much about the shape and character of the possible second one.

The 1992 Election and the Rise of Bill Clinton

Challenging President George H.W. Bush, who was seeking a second term, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton announced he would seek the 1992 Democratic nomination for the presidency on October 2, 1991. The upcoming presidential election would not, however, turn out to alter the path of mergers or White House support for deregulation that was already in play one iota.

First, though, Clinton needed money. A consummate fundraiser in his home state, he cleverly amassed backing and established early alliances with Wall Street. One of his key supporters would later change American banking forever. As Clinton put it, he received “invaluable early support” from Ken Brody, a Goldman Sachs executive seeking to delve into Democratic politics. Brody took Clinton “to a dinner with high-powered New York businesspeople, including Bob Rubin, whose tightly reasoned arguments for a new economic policy,” Clinton later wrote, “made a lasting impression on me.”

The battle for the White House kicked into high gear the following fall. William Schreyer, chairman and CEO of Merrill Lynch, showed his support for Bush by giving the maximum personal contribution to his campaign committee permitted by law: $1,000. But he wanted to do more. So when one of Bush’s fundraisers solicited him to contribute to the Republican National Committee’s nonfederal, or “soft money,” account, Schreyer made a $100,000 donation.

The bankers’ alliances remained divided among the candidates at first, as they considered which man would be best for their own power trajectories, but their donations were plentiful: mortgage and broker company contributions were $1.2 million; 46% to the GOP and 54% to the Democrats. Commercial banks poured in $14.8 million to the 1992 campaigns at a near 50-50 split.

Clinton, like every good Democrat, campaigned publicly against the bankers: “It’s time to end the greed that consumed Wall Street and ruined our S&Ls [Savings and Loans] in the last decade,” he said. But equally, he had no qualms about taking money from the financial sector. In the early months of his campaign, BusinessWeek estimated that he received $2 million of his initial $8.5 million in contributions from New York, under the care of Ken Brody.

“If I had a Ken Brody working for me in every state, I’d be like the Maytag man with nothing to do,” said Rahm Emanuel, who ran Clinton’s nationwide fundraising committee and later became Barack Obama’s chief of staff. Wealthy donors and prospective fundraisers were invited to a select series of intimate meetings with Clinton at the plush Manhattan office of the prestigious private equity firm Blackstone.

Robert Rubin Comes to Washington

Clinton knew that embracing the bankers would help him get things done in Washington, and what he wanted to get done dovetailed nicely with their desires anyway. To facilitate his policies and maintain ties to Wall Street, he selected a man who had been instrumental to his campaign, Robert Rubin, as his economic adviser.

In 1980, Rubin had landed on Goldman Sachs’ management committee alongside fellow Democrat Jon Corzine. A decade later, Rubin and Stephen Friedman were appointed cochairmen of Goldman Sachs. Rubin’s political aspirations met an appropriate opportunity when Clinton captured the White House.

On January 25, 1993, Clinton appointed him as assistant to the president for economic policy. Shortly thereafter, the president created a unique role for his comrade, head of the newly created National Economic Council. “I asked Bob Rubin to take on a new job,” Clinton later wrote, “coordinating economic policy in the White House as Chairman of the National Economic Council, which would operate in much the same way the National Security Council did, bringing all the relevant agencies together to formulate and implement policy… [I]f he could balance all of [Goldman Sachs'] egos and interests, he had a good chance to succeed with the job.” (Ten years later, President George W. Bush gave the same position to Rubin’s old partner, Friedman.)

Back at Goldman, Jon Corzine, co-head of fixed income, and Henry Paulson, co-head of investment banking, were ascending through the ranks. They became co-CEOs when Friedman retired at the end of 1994.

Those two men were the perfect bipartisan duo. Corzine was a staunch Democrat serving on the International Capital Markets Advisory Committee of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (from 1989 to 1999). He would co-chair a presidential commission for Clinton on capital budgeting between 1997 and 1999, while serving in a key role on the Borrowing Advisory Committee of the Treasury Department. Paulson was a well connected Republican and Harvard graduate who had served on the White House Domestic Council as staff assistant to the president in the Nixon administration.

Bankers Forge Ahead

By May 1995, Rubin was impatiently warning Congress that the Glass-Steagall Act could “conceivably impede safety and soundness by limiting revenue diversification.” Banking deregulation was then inching through Congress. As they had during the previous Bush administration, both the House and Senate Banking Committees had approved separate versions of legislation to repeal Glass-Steagall, the 1933 Act passed by the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt that had separated deposit-taking and lending or “commercial” bank activities from speculative or “investment bank” activities, such as securities creation and trading. Conference negotiations had fallen apart, though, and the effort was stalled.

By 1996, however, other industries, representing core clients of the banking sector, were already being deregulated. On February 8, 1996, Clinton signed the Telecom Act, which killed many independent and smaller broadcasting companies by opening a national market for “cross-ownership.” The result was mass mergers in that sector advised by banks.

Deregulation of companies that could transport energy across state lines came next. Before such deregulation, state commissions had regulated companies that owned power plants and transmission lines, which worked together to distribute power. Afterward, these could be divided and effectively traded without uniform regulation or responsibility to regional customers. This would lead to blackouts in California and a slew of energy derivatives, as well as trades at firms such as Enron that used the energy business as a front for fraudulent deals.

The number of mergers and stock and debt issuances ballooned on the back of all the deregulation that eliminated barriers that had kept companies separated. As industries consolidated, they also ramped up their complex transactions and special purpose vehicles (off-balance-sheet, offshore constructions tailored by the banking community to hide the true nature of their debts and shield their profits from taxes). Bankers kicked into overdrive to generate fees and create related deals. Many of these blew up in the early 2000s in a spate of scandals and bankruptcies, causing an earlier millennium recession.

Meanwhile, though, bankers plowed ahead with their advisory services, speculative enterprises, and deregulation pursuits. President Clinton and his team would soon provide them an epic gift, all in the name of US global power and competitiveness. Robert Rubin would steer the White House ship to that goal.

On February 12, 1999, Rubin found a fresh angle to argue on behalf of banking deregulation. He addressed the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services, claiming that, “the problem US financial services firms face abroad is more one of access than lack of competitiveness.”

He was referring to the European banks’ increasing control of distribution channels into the European institutional and retail client base. Unlike US commercial banks, European banks had no restrictions keeping them from buying and teaming up with US or other securities firms and investment banks to create or distribute their products. He did not appear concerned about the destruction caused by sizeable financial bets throughout Europe. The international competitiveness argument allowed him to focus the committee on what needed to be done domestically in the banking sector to remain competitive.

Rubin stressed the necessity of HR 665, the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, or the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, that was officially introduced on February 10, 1999. He said it took “fundamental actions to modernize our financial system by repealing the Glass-Steagall Act prohibitions on banks affiliating with securities firms and repealing the Bank Holding Company Act prohibitions on insurance underwriting.”

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act Marches Forward

On February 24, 1999, in more testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, Rubin pushed for fewer prohibitions on bank affiliates that wanted to perform the same functions as their larger bank holding company, once the different types of financial firms could legally merge. That minor distinction would enable subsidiaries to place all sorts of bets and house all sorts of junk under the false premise that they had the same capital beneath them as their parent. The idea that a subsidiary’s problems can’t taint or destroy the host, or bank holding company, or create “catastrophic” risk, is a myth perpetuated by bankers and political enablers that continues to this day.

Rubin had no qualms with mega-consolidations across multiple service lines. His real problems were those of his banker friends, which lay with the financial modernization bill’s “prohibition on the use of subsidiaries by larger banks.” The bankers wanted the right to establish off-book subsidiaries where they could hide risks, and profits, as needed.

Again, Rubin decided to use the notion of remaining competitive with foreign banks to make his point. This technicality was “unacceptable to the administration,” he said, not least because “foreign banks underwrite and deal in securities through subsidiaries in the United States, and US banks [already] conduct securities and merchant banking activities abroad through so-called Edge subsidiaries.” Rubin got his way. These off-book, risky, and barely regulated subsidiaries would be at the forefront of the 2008 financial crisis.

On March 1, 1999, Senator Phil Gramm released a final draft of the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 and scheduled committee consideration for March 4th. A bevy of excited financial titans who were close to Clinton, including Travelers CEO Sandy Weill, Bank of America CEO, Hugh McColl, and American Express CEO Harvey Golub, called for “swift congressional action.”

The Quintessential Revolving-Door Man

The stock market continued its meteoric rise in anticipation of a banker-friendly conclusion to the legislation that would deregulate their industry. Rising consumer confidence reflected the nation’s fondness for the markets and lack of empathy with the rest of the world’s economic plight. On March 29, 1999, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 10,000 for the first time. Six weeks later, on May 6th, the Financial Services Modernization Act passed the Senate. It legalized, after the fact, the merger that created the nation’s biggest bank. Citigroup, the marriage of Citibank and Travelers, had been finalized the previous October.

It was not until that point that one of Glass-Steagall’s main assassins decided to leave Washington. Six days after the bill passed the Senate, on May 12, 1999, Robert Rubin abruptly announced his resignation. As Clinton wrote, “I believed he had been the best and most important treasury secretary since Alexander Hamilton… He had played a decisive role in our efforts to restore economic growth and spread its benefits to more Americans.”

Clinton named Larry Summers to succeed Rubin. Two weeks later, BusinessWeek reported signs of trouble in merger paradise – in the form of a growing rift between John Reed, the former Chairman of Citibank, and Sandy Weill at the new Citigroup. As Reed said, “Co-CEOs are hard.” Perhaps to patch their rift, or simply to take advantage of a political opportunity, the two men enlisted a third person to join their relationship – none other than Robert Rubin.

Rubin’s resignation from Treasury became effective on July 2nd. At that time, he announced, “This almost six and a half years has been all-consuming, and I think it is time for me to go home to New York and to do whatever I’m going to do next.” Rubin became chairman of Citigroup’s executive committee and a member of the newly created “office of the chairman.” His initial annual compensation package was worth around $40 million. It was more than worth the “hit” he took when he left Goldman for the Treasury post.

Three days after the conference committee endorsed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley bill, Rubin assumed his Citigroup position, joining the institution destined to dominate the financial industry. That very same day, Reed and Weill issued a joint statement praising Washington for “liberating our financial companies from an antiquated regulatory structure,” stating that “this legislation will unleash the creativity of our industry and ensure our global competitiveness.”

On November 4th, the Senate approved the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act by a vote of 90 to 8. (The House voted 362–57 in favor.) Critics famously referred to it as the Citigroup Authorization Act.

Mirth abounded in Clinton’s White House. “Today Congress voted to update the rules that have governed financial services since the Great Depression and replace them with a system for the twenty-first century,” Summers said. “This historic legislation will better enable American companies to compete in the new economy.”

But the happiness was misguided. Deregulating the banking industry might have helped the titans of Wall Street but not people on Main Street. The Clinton era epitomized the vast difference between appearance and reality, spin and actuality. As the decade drew to a close, Clinton basked in the glow of a lofty stock market, a budget surplus, and the passage of this key banking “modernization.” It would be revealed in the 2000s that many corporate profits of the 1990s were based on inflated evaluations, manipulation, and fraud. When Clinton left office, the gap between rich and poor was greater than it had been in 1992, and yet the Democrats heralded him as some sort of prosperity hero.

When he resigned in 1997, Robert Reich, Clinton’s labor secretary, said, “America is prospering, but the prosperity is not being widely shared, certainly not as widely shared as it once was… We have made progress in growing the economy. But growing together again must be our central goal in the future.” Instead, the growth of wealth inequality in the United States accelerated, as the men yielding the most financial power wielded it with increasingly less culpability or restriction. By 2015, that wealth or prosperity gap would stand near historic highs.

The power of the bankers increased dramatically in the wake of the repeal of Glass-Steagall. The Clinton administration had rendered twenty-first-century banking practices similar to those of the pre-1929 crash. But worse. “Modernizing” meant utilizing government-backed depositors’ funds as collateral for the creation and distribution of all types of complex securities and derivatives whose proliferation would be increasingly quick and dangerous.

Eviscerating Glass-Steagall allowed big banks to compete against Europe and also enabled them to go on a rampage: more acquisitions, greater speculation, and more risky products. The big banks used their bloated balance sheets to engage in more complex activity, while counting on customer deposits and loans as capital chips on the global betting table. Bankers used hefty trading profits and wealth to increase lobbying funds and campaign donations, creating an endless circle of influence and mutual reinforcement of boundary-less speculation, endorsed by the White House.

Deposits could be used to garner larger windfalls, just as cheap labor and commodities in developing countries were used to formulate more expensive goods for profit in the upper echelons of the global financial hierarchy. Energy and telecoms proved especially fertile ground for the investment banking fee business (and later for fraud, extensive lawsuits, and bankruptcies). Deregulation greased the wheels of complex financial instruments such as collateralized debt obligations, junk bonds, toxic assets, and unregulated derivatives.

The Glass-Steagall repeal led to unfettered derivatives growth and unstable balance sheets at commercial banks that merged with investment banks and at investment banks that preferred to remain solo but engaged in dodgier practices to remain “competitive.” In conjunction with the tight political-financial alignment and associated collaboration that began with Bush and increased under Clinton, bankers channeled the 1920s, only with more power over an immense and growing pile of global financial assets and increasingly “open” markets. In the process, accountability would evaporate.

Every bank accelerated its hunt for acquisitions and deposits to amass global influence while creating, trading, and distributing increasingly convoluted securities and derivatives. These practices would foster the kind of shaky, interconnected, and opaque financial environment that provided the backdrop and conditions leading up to the financial meltdown of 2008.

The Realities of 2016

Hillary Clinton is, of course, not her husband. But her access to his past banker alliances, amplified by the ones that she has formed herself, makes her more of a friend than an adversary to the banking industry. In her brief 2008 candidacy, all four of the New York-based Big Six banks ranked among her top 10 corporate donors. They have also contributed to the Clinton Foundation. She needs them to win, just as both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton did. 

No matter what spin is used for campaigning purposes, the idea that a critical distance can be maintained between the White House and Wall Street is naïve given the multiple channels of money and favors that flow between the two. It is even more improbable, given the history of connections that Hillary Clinton has established through her associations with key bank leaders in the early 1990s, during her time as a senator from New York, and given their contributions to the Clinton foundation while she was secretary of state. At some level, the situation couldn’t be less complicated: her path aligns with that of the country’s most powerful bankers. If she becomes president, that will remain the case.

This piece has been adapted and updated by Nomi Prins from chapters 18 and 19 of her book All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Powerjust out in paperback (Nation Books).

Chicago Passes Ordinance Granting Reparations to Police Torture Survivors

Darrell Cannon, who said police coerced him into a 1983 murder confession through torture, speaks to reporters outside a City Council meeting at City Hall in Chicago, May 6, 2015. While he was incarcerated, Cannon said, he settled a lawsuit claiming torture for $3,000, far less than some. The City Council approved a $5.5 million reparations package Wednesday for victims of police torture during the 1970s and ‘80s under the watch of a notorious police commander, Jon Burge. (Andrew Nelles/The New York Times)Darrell Cannon, who said police coerced him into a 1983 murder confession through torture, speaks to reporters outside City Hall in Chicago just after the the City Council approved a reparations ordinance to compensate Jon Burge’s torture victims, May 6, 2015. While he was incarcerated, Cannon said, he settled a lawsuit claiming torture for $3,000, far less than some. (Andrew Nelles/The New York Times)

Over a period of nearly 20 years, Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his “midnight crew” allegedly tortured at least 119 people, forcing them to make confessions.

The police officers beat the victims, burned them with lit cigarettes and handcuffed them to hot radiators. They tied plastic bags over their heads and nearly suffocated them. They put cattle prods on their genitals and in their mouths and electrocuted them.

The officers’ behavior, human rights experts say, is what one would expect in a dictatorship, not a democracy.

On Wednesday, the City Council approved an ordinance to compensate Burge’s victims, most of them African-American men, and their families. The reparations ordinance is the first of its kind in the country to address police abuse. The measure draws from the United Nations Convention against Torture and human rights practices around the world, especially in nations that overcame the legacy of violent, repressive regimes.

“There have been so many examples of torture regimes coming to an end – in Chile, El Salvador, South Africa – where some kind of compensation and support for community and individuals and healing has been developed,” said Susan R. Gzesh, a lecturer at the University of Chicago who designed a class that examines the Burge case in an international human rights framework. “The ordinance puts Chicago up there.”

The city will pay eligible survivors from a special fund, offer psychological counseling, create a public monument and teach Chicago Public Schools students about what has been called “an ugly chapter” in the city’s history.

Before the vote, Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), who co-sponsored the ordinance, thanked Mayor Rahm Emanuel for moving forward with the measure “when others preceding you did not even want to acknowledge it.”

“This is truly a historic day for Chicago, for [the] City Council and, most importantly, for the victims of some horrific behavior that happened right here in Chicago – not in Iraq, not in Syria, but right here in Chicago,” Moreno said.

The council chambers were packed, and torture survivors had a strong presence in the room. One of Burge’s victims, Gregory Banks, burst into tears as Moreno spoke.

Emanuel said of the reparations ordinance, “This is another step, but an essential step toward righting a wrong.”

In the United States, the idea of reparations is old, from calls in the 19th century to compensate African-Americans for slavery to government payments to Japanese-Americans for stripping them of their property and sending them to internment camps during World War II.

But the global human rights movement, from which the local ordinance draws, was born in the aftermath of World War II and efforts to force Germany to redress the atrocities against Jewish people during the Holocaust.  Since then, reparations, and the related concept of reconciliation, have been implemented around the globe in many forms.

In Chile, the government gave pensions and health care to people who were tortured by the former military regime from 1973 to 1990. In South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission documented violence from the apartheid era, in part, to help create a shared narrative of the nation’s racist past and build a multiracial democracy.

Supporters of Chicago’s ordinance say the systemic police violence against African-Americans is similar to that experienced by survivors of military and police abuse around the world.

Joey Mogul, an attorney at the People’s Law Office and author of the ordinance, said critics of systematically racist violence in this country limit themselves when they only consider the civil rights aspect.

“We should, in fact, call them international human rights violations,” she said. “So we can put it on the world stage and compare it to other atrocities elsewhere, because they are equivalent.”

The Reparations Ordinance

The reparations ordinance is the result of months of negotiations between representatives of the city, the People’s Law Office, Amnesty International, USA, and Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, a coalition of lawyers, activists, artists and educators that has been pushing for reparations for torture survivors for years.

Under the ordinance, survivors of torture will be paid from a $5.5 million city fund. Individual payments will be capped at $100,000. People whose right to sue has expired under the statute of limitations and who had accepted settlements from the city smaller than $100,000 are eligible to receive money from the fund. Survivors who accept payment must agree to waive their claims against the city.

Stephen Patton, chief lawyer for the city, said an arbitrator will determine who is eligible. People’s Law Office will present the arbitrator with a list of torture survivors and supporting documentation.

In addition to money, the city will provide a free education for survivors and their families at City Colleges of Chicago.

The Department of Justice determined that Burge and detectives under his command systematically tortured more than 100 black men and women on the predominantly black South and West sides from 1972 to 1991.  Burge, who joined the Police Department in 1970, was fired in 1993 after a department investigation tied him to torture.

However, neither Burge nor the officers under his command has faced criminal charges for torturing a civilian. In 2011, Burge was sentenced to 4 ½ years in federal prison for lying about his knowledge of the torture, but he was able to keep his monthly city pension. He completed his sentence earlier this year and lives in Florida.

Some survivors at City Hall on Wednesday thought the reparations fund should be bigger considering how much money the city spent on behalf of alleged torturers.

The city has spent more than $20 million in private legal fees defending Burge and others implicated in the torture scandal. And it has paid out about $64 million in settlements related to civil cases, according to the People’s Law Office.

Cook County has spent about $11 million to pay prosecutors, private lawyers and settlements.

To date, 16 torture survivors have been exonerated, according to Mogul, and about 25 are behind bars for wrongful convictions. Twenty of them have yet to present new evidence in court that might corroborate accusations that they were forced into false confessions.

Tears streamed down Will Porch’s face after the ordinance passed. Porch, 60, said that in September 1979 Burge and another officer beat him with a .44 Magnum pistol, emptied the revolver of all but one bullet, and then forced him to play a one-sided game of Russian Roulette.

The 14 years he spent in prison just added to his torment, as did the fact that many people doubted his tale of torture at the hands of police, Porch said.

“It hurt not to be believed. It really did,” he said. “God turned some hearts around because I never believed that people would actually come together, believe us, move on it and take action. This is incredible.”

Setting the Historical Record Straight

The money for survivors is far less than the original $20 million sought by supporters. But there is perhaps something more valuable than money.

A key aspect of reparations is public recognition of past wrongs. In South Africa, the individual testimonies at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whose hearings were broadcast across the country, laid bare many of the human rights abuses of the apartheid era. In Chicago, it is not just what Burge and company did, said Mogul, but that the city let their actions continue for so long.

The state’s attorney prosecuted scores of torture survivors based on false confessions, and judges sent them to jail on the strength of tainted cases. The scandal “implicated the entire system,” Mogul said. “For years people didn’t want to address the Burge torture cases; they wanted to sweep it under the rug, and even today, Burge in his latest statements seems to say the means justified the end.”

And for years, survivors of torture demanded an apology from former Mayor Richard M. Daley, who served two terms as state’s attorney and then mayor while the alleged torture happened. In September 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued the apology on behalf of the city they had waited for.

Gzesh said Daley had to step down before there could be justice in the torture case.

“I don’t think, despite community pressure, organizing and activism, that we were going to get a solution to these cases until Daley was out of the picture,” said Gzesh, who is the executive director of the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights.

In 2006, when Daley was still mayor, Mogul and a coalition of advocates presented the Burge case to a UN committee in Geneva.  At the time, the United States was already on the UN’s radar because of torture allegations by detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

The UN committee called on the US government to bring the perpetrators in the Burge case to justice.

“It was a really validating moment for us,” Mogul said. “I think it helped spur us along to get Burge prosecuted and convicted, but also it helped us in terms of the reparations struggle.”

Mogul said some people in the movement began to compare the torture to lynchings in the South, because Burge and his men intimidated and terrorized whole communities. She said that’s when the coalition started to look at reparations as a framework.

The idea was not unprecedented. In 1951, African-American activists presented the United Nations with “We Charge Genocide,” a historic petition that called on the world body to examine lynchings and other violence against blacks. The United Nations declined to hear the petition.

Mogul and the group started with the aim of incorporating aspects of the UN Convention against Torture, such as financial compensation for torture victims. They also looked at reparations measures in Chile, where there is a “museum of memory,” so the nation won’t forget the violence under the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

“We can start using this [ordinance] as a model across the country,” Mogul said in an interview before the vote. “And also start saying to the federal government – it’s not just cities and municipalities that should recognize human rights violations and pay for these reparations services or make these apologies – but the feds should start pitching in as well.”

The Chicago Reporter is a nonprofit investigative news organization that focuses on race, poverty and income inequality.

Seen At 11: New Yorkers Spend Lavishly To Pamper Their Pooches

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Custom-designed clothing, meals prepared by a personal chef, and a trove of priceless jewels; sounds like the good life, huh?

Not bad, considering we’re talking about pets and the new extremes their owners go to for a pampered lifestyle, CBS2’s Kristine Johnson reported.

Couri Hay gives her King Charles Cavaliers a lifestyle second to none.

“You don’t have to have a private garden or a private chef or all the extravagant things Cornelia and Webster have, but they need love,” Hay said.

and there’s plenty of that, but there’s also much, much more.

“How can you be a top dog without a closet?” she said.

Inside that closet? A wardrobe of leashes, matching raincoats, bath robes, travel bags, designer sweaters, couture costumes and of course, there are jewels.

“They’re just small, little diamonds and rubies and emeralds,” Hay said.

And there’s also a custom dog house.

“It’s a dog house built for all of us,” she said.

But if your dog prefers a house for one, $32,000 will get you a house by Samsung that includes a specially designed interior, treadmill, pool, automatic feeder and the latest technology for downtime.

“We’re starting to see us go a little overboard with pets and that’s not necessarily a bad thing because the truth is dogs, especially, do a lot for us,” said psychotherapist Diane Lang.

Lang said dogs reduce stress levels and can help us through trying times, but she cautions it’s too easy to be extravagant with our furry friends.

“Can we really afford what we’re doing? Is this becoming too much? Lang asked.

When Maise travels, owner Nikki Gallas has a wardrobe of custom coats for her, plus goggles and a helmet. That’s because it’s safety first when they take their Moped out for a spin.

“Life is very good for Maise, she never stays home,” Gallas said.

For the last two years, 3-year-old Mama and owner Matt Dillion have induldged themselves with a monthly one-night staycation at a pet-friendly New York hotel.

“To come outside and have like a miniature escape park just for her,” said Dillion.

Between food, toys and vet bills, even your moderately pampered pooch can still cost you up to $3,000 a year, Johnson reported.

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De Blasio: ‘A Lot Of People Outside NYC’ Understand My First Year As Mayor ‘Better Than People In NYC’

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The late Mayor Ed Koch was well known for asking New Yorkers his signature phrase “How’m I doing?”

But Mayor Bill de Blasio suggested In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, that folks outside of New York City have a better appreciation for his accomplishments than his own constituents.

As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, de Blasio reflected on his first year in office in the article by Rolling Stone’s Mark Binelli.

“A lot of people outside New York City understand what happened in the first year of New York City better than the people in New York City,” de Blasio told the magazine. “But I’m convinced something very special happened here.”

The interview appears in the issue of Rolling Stone magazine hitting newsstands this Friday. (credit: Rolling Stone)

The interview appears in the issue of Rolling Stone magazine hitting newsstands this Friday. (credit: Rolling Stone)

Many New Yorkers were not pleased with the insinuation that they did not understand “what happened in the first year of New York City.”

“Who cares about everybody outside New York? They don’t live here,” said Betty Kilzer of Chelsea.

“No one understands New York City until you live here,” said Robert Kaydanian of the Upper West Side.

The mayor was reflecting on his record of creating the municipal ID program, the launch of universal pre-K, and other accomplishments.

But one political expert did not think much of his wording either.

“I don’t know if it’s elitism or arrogance, but it’s not going to rub people the right way,” added political consultant Gerry O’Brien.

O’Brien said the mayor should take heed of the latest Marist poll numbers. Only 45 percent of New York voters think the city is moving in the right direction, while 49 percent believe it is going the wrong way.

“The mayor’s got to get those numbers up, and when the average New Yorker hears that he thinks people here don’t like him, but they love him better in the rest of the country, they may just say, ‘Mayor, move!’” Sheinkopf said.

But Sheinkopf noted that the Rolling Stone comment comes as de Blasio has been looking beyond New York – recently visiting Iowa, and soon traveling to Washington, D.C. and California on a national campaign against inequality.

He has been working to position himself as a national leader of progressive causes.

“And he also wants to be the protector on the left for Hillary Clinton if she is the nominee, and he wants to be on the road doing that. So we won’t see a lot of him next year, but people around the country who are progressives will probably like him more than some New Yorkers do,” Sheinkopf said.

But O’Brien said local issues should be the focus.

“People are going to reject that,” he said. “Focus on the home fires.”

But a spokesman Wednesday night said the mayor is, in fact, doing just that.

“What New Yorkers care deeply about are issues like universal pre-K, declining crime, bringing the police and community closer together, and combating income inequality,” the spokesman said in the statement. “While big-picture successes can sometimes be overshadowed by short-term headlines, it is these important priorities for New Yorkers that should be the focus.”

In the Rolling Stone article, Binelli chronicled de Blasio’s push for change as a left-of-center Democrat, calling his background that included a trip to Nicaragua as a young man to support the Sandinistas and honeymooning in Cuba as “a CV that could have been written by Sean Hannity’s id.”

The article also quoted Van Jones, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, as saying de Blasio and his progressive agenda represent the future of the Democratic Party. Jones noted that centrist Democrat Rahm Emanuel – current mayor of Chicago and Obama’s former White House chief of staff – was forced into a runoff by progressive mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia earlier this year.

“That lets you know where that wing of the party is when it comes to the people who cast their ballot,” Jones was quoted in the article. “Whatever mistakes or missteps, de Blasio is a beloved figure in this party, and Rahm is on thin ice, and that gives you a little bit of the taste of the future for this party.”

But also in the article, former New York Times metro columnist Clyde Haberman called de Blasio “the furthest-left mayor that I can think of, by far. I don’t think a lot of people realized what an ideologue he was.”

And for his own part, de Blasio told Binelli that his national push is necessary because even a strong local government like that of New York City cannot address economic inequality like the federal government. He said the federal government could employ people with infrastructure improvements, help provide affordable housing, and institute progressive taxation.

“A serious national debate would start with that. It goes beyond Hillary, it goes beyond the presidential campaign,” the mayor told Rolling Stone. “We’re having to restart the discussion and bring it back to the reality of people’s lives.”

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