Friday, March 29, 2013

Cruel and Unusual Punishment: The Shame of Three Strikes Laws

Cruel and Unusual Punishment: The Shame of Three Strikes Laws

While Wall Street crooks walk, thousands sit in California prisons for life over crimes as trivial as stealing socks

Illustration by Victor Juhasz

March 27, 2013 7:00 AM ET

On July 15th, 1995, in the quiet Southern California city of Whittier, a 33-year-old black man named Curtis Wilkerson got up from a booth at McDonald's, walked into a nearby mall and, within the space of two hours, turned himself into the unluckiest man on Earth. "I was supposed to be waiting there while my girlfriend was at the beauty salon," he says.
So he waited. And waited. After a while, he paged her. "She was like, 'I need another hour,'" he says. "So I was like, 'Baby, I'm going to the mall.'"

Having grown up with no father and a mother hooked on barbiturates, Wilkerson, who says he still boasts a Reggie Miller jumper, began to spend more time on the streets. After his mother died when he was 16, he fell in with a bad crowd, and in 1981 he served as a lookout in a series of robberies. He was quickly caught and sentenced to six years in prison. After he got out, he found work as a forklift operator, and distanced himself from his old life.

But that day in the mall, something came over him. He wandered from store to store, bought a few things, still shaking his head about his girlfriend's hair appointment. After a while, he drifted into a department store called Mervyn's. Your typical chain store, full of mannequins and dress racks; they're out of business today. Suddenly, a pair of socks caught his eye. He grabbed them and slipped them into a shopping bag.

What kind of socks were they, that they were worth taking the risk?

"They were million-dollar socks with gold on 'em," he says now, laughing almost uncontrollably, as he tells the story 18 years later, from a telephone in a correctional facility in Soledad, California.

Really, they were that special?

"No, they were ordinary white socks," he says, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. "Didn't even have any stripes."

Wilkerson never made it out of the store. At the exit, he was, shall we say, over­enthusiastically apprehended by two security officers. They took him to the store security office, where the guards started to argue with each other over whether or not to call the police. One guard wanted to let him pay for the socks and go, but the other guard was more of a hardass and called the cops, having no idea he was about to write himself a part in one of the most absurd scripts to ever hit Southern California.

Thanks to a brand-new, get-tough-on-crime state law, Wilkerson would soon be sentenced to life in prison for stealing a pair of plain white tube socks worth $2.50.

"No, sir, I was not expecting that one," he says now, laughing darkly. Because Wilkerson had two prior convictions, both dating back to 1981, the shoplifting charge counted as a third strike against him. He was sentenced to 25 years to life, meaning that his first chance for a parole hearing would be in 25 years.

And given that around 80 percent of parole applications are rejected by parole boards, and governors override parole boards in about 50 percent of the instances where parole is granted, it was a near certainty that Wilkerson would never see the outside of a prison again.

The state also fined him $2,500 – restitution for the stolen socks. He works that off by putting in four to five hours a day in the prison cafeteria, for which he gets paid $20 a month, of which the state takes $11. At this rate, he will be in his nineties before he's paid the state off for that one pair of socks.

As for the big question – does he ever wish he could go back in time and wait it out in that McDonald's for another hour, instead of 18 years in the California prison system? – Wilkerson, who has learned to laugh, laughs again.

"Man," he says, "I think about that every single day."

Wilkerson is unlucky, but he's hardly alone. Despite the passage in late 2012 of a new state ballot initiative that prevents California from ever again giving out life sentences to anyone whose "third strike" is not a serious crime, thousands of people – the overwhelming majority of them poor and nonwhite – remain imprisoned for a variety of offenses so absurd that any list of the unluckiest offenders reads like a macabre joke, a surrealistic comedy routine.

Have you heard the one about the guy who got life for stealing a slice of pizza? Or the guy who went away forever for lifting a pair of baby shoes? Or the one who got 50 to life for helping himself to five children's videotapes from Kmart? How about the guy who got life for possessing 0.14 grams of meth? That last offender was a criminal mastermind by Three Strikes standards, as many others have been sentenced to life for holding even smaller amounts of drugs, including one poor sap who got the max for 0.09 grams of black-tar heroin.

This Frankenstein's monster of a mandatory-sentencing system isn't just some localized bureaucratic accident, but the legacy of a series of complex political choices we all made as voters decades ago. California's Three Strikes law has its origins in a terrible event from October 1993, when, in a case that outraged the entire country, a violent felon named Richard Allen Davis kidnapped and murdered an adolescent girl named Polly Klaas. Californians were determined to never again let a repeat offender get the chance to commit such a brutal crime, and so a year later, with the Klaas case still fresh in public memory, the state's citizens passed Proposition 184 – the Three Strikes law – with an overwhelming 72 percent of the vote. Under the ballot initiative, anyone who had committed two serious felonies would effectively be sentenced to jail for life upon being convicted of a third crime.

The overwhelming support for the measure touched off a nationwide get-tough-on-crime movement, embraced especially by third-way-style Democrats, who seized upon the policy idea as a powerful weapon in their efforts to throw off their party's bleeding-heart image and recapture the political center. Having seen their wonk-geekish 1988 presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis, expertly exploded by the infamous Willie Horton ad cooked up by Republican strategist Lee Atwater – an ad that convinced voters that the Democrats were the party of scary-looking black rapists on furlough – Democrats had spent years searching for a way to send Middle America a different message.

Three Strikes was a perfect way to convey that new message. The master triangulator himself, Bill Clinton, stumped for a national Three Strikes law in his 1994 State of the Union address. When a federal version passed a year later, Clinton took special care to give squeamish wuss-bunny liberals a celebratory kick in the ear, using the same "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists" rhetorical technique George W. Bush would make famous a few years later. "Narrow-interest groups on the left and the right didn't want the bill to pass," Clinton beamed, "and you can be sure the criminals didn't either."

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

BRICS Nations Plan New Bank to Bypass World Bank, IMF

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg
The leaders of the so-called BRICS nations -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- are set to approve the establishment of a new development bank during an annual summit that starts today in the eastern South African city of Durban.
The biggest emerging markets are uniting to tackle under-development and currency volatility with plans to set up institutions that encroach on the roles of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
March 22 (Bloomberg) -- South African Trade Minister Rob Davies discusses the likelihood of starting a foreign-currency pool with Brazil, Russia, China and India, and the establishment of a BRICS Business Council. He spoke with Bloomberg's Mike Cohen in Cape Town. (Source: Bloomberg)
March 26 (Bloomberg) -- Stephen Roach, a senior fellow at Yale University and former non-executive chairman for Morgan Stanley in Asia, talks about Cyprus's bailout and the outlook for the European debt crisis. Roach also discusses Japan's central bank monetary policy, and China's new leadership and economic growth. He speaks from Beijing with Susan Li on Bloomberg Television's "First Up." (Source: Bloomberg)
While BRICS leaders may approve the creation of a development bank in principle at the summit, there’s still disagreement on how it should be funded and operated. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg
A security guard stands in front of a floral arrangement ahead of the BRICS Summit in Sanya, Hainan Province on April 12, 2011. The BRICS nations have combined foreign-currency reserves of $4.4 trillion and account for 43 percent of the world’s population. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg
Sponsored Links
The Nano-tech Juggernaut; An Awakening $2.6 Trillion ...
The Nano-tech Juggernaut; An Awakening $2.6 Trillion ...
Buy a link
The leaders of the so-called BRICS nations -- Brazil, Russia,IndiaChina and South Africa -- are set to approve the establishment of a new development bank during an annual summit that began today in the eastern South African city of Durban, officials from all five nations say. They will also discuss pooling foreign-currency reserves to ward off balance of payments or currency crises.
“The deepest rationale for the BRICS is almost certainly the creation of new Bretton Woods-type institutions that are inclined toward the developing world,” Martyn Davies, chief executive officer of Johannesburg-based Frontier Advisory, which provides research on emerging markets, said in a phone interview. “There’s a shift in power from the traditional to the emerging world. There is a lot of geo-political concern about this shift in the western world.”
The BRICS nations, which have combined foreign-currency reserves of $4.4 trillion and account for 43 percent of the world’s population, are seeking greater sway in global finance to match their rising economic power. They have called for an overhaul of management of the World Bank and IMF, which were created in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in 1944, and oppose the practice of their respective presidents being drawn from the U.S. and Europe.

Reform Needed

“We need to change the way business is conducted in the international financial institutions,” South African International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said in a March 15 speech in Johannesburg. “They need to be reformed.”
The U.S. has failed to ratify a 2010 agreement to give more sway to emerging markets at the IMF, while it secured Jim Yong Kim, an American, as head of the World Bank last year over candidates from Nigeria and Colombia.
Finance ministers and central bank governors from the BRICS nations, who met in Durban today, agreed to set up currency crisis fund of about $100 billion, Brazilian Finance MinisterGuido Mantega told reporters today. He didn’t give details of proposed funding for the new bank, which Brazil wants established by 2014. The nation’s leaders are due to sign a final accord tomorrow.

FDI Inflows

Goldman Sachs Asset Management Chairman Jim O’Neillcoined the BRIC term in 2001 to describe the four emerging powers he estimated would equal the U.S. in joint economic output by 2020. Brazil, Russia, India and China held their first summit four years ago and invited South Africa to join their ranks in December 2010.
Trade within the group surged to $282 billion last year from $27 billion in 2002 and may reach $500 billion by 2015, according to data from Brazil’s government. Foreign direct invesment into BRICS nations reached $263 billion last year, accounting for 20 percent of global FDI flows, up from 6 percent in 2000, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development said on its website yesterday.
“If they announce a BRICS bank it will be quite something,” O’Neill said in an e-mailed reply to questions on March 15. “At a minimum it symbolizes they can achieve something as political group and means lots of other things could follow in the future. It also means that they will have their own kind of special World Bank, which may aid infrastructure and trade projects.”

Currency Pool

While BRICS leaders may approve the creation of a development bank in principle at the summit, details on funding and operations may take longer to finalize.
Russia favors capping each side’s initial contribution at $10 billion, Mikhail Margelov, PresidentVladimir Putin’s envoy to Africa he said in a March 15 interview in Moscow.
“It will be some time before it will be feasible for this bank to start financing say, a railway project,” Simon Freemantle, an analyst at Standard Bank Group Ltd., Africa’s biggest lender, told reporters in Durban yesterday. “That is some way out.”
Interest rates near zero in the U.S., Japan and Europe have fueled foreign investors’ appetite for higher-yielding assets, driving up currencies from Brazil to Turkey. Brazil has warned of a global currency war as nations take reciprocal action to weaken their currencies and protect export industries.

African Leaders

Brazil’s real has gained 1.9 percent against the dollar since the beginning of the year, whileSouth Africa’s rand has dropped 8.7 percent in the period.
For South Africa, which makes up just 2.5 percent of total gross domestic product in BRICS, the summit is a way to showcase its role as an investment gateway to Africa. President Jacob Zuma has invited 15 African heads of state, including Egypt’s Mohamed Mursi and Ethiopia’s Hailemariam Desalegn, for talks with the BRICS leaders at the summit. For most of the BRICS leaders, it’s also the first opportunity to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping after his appointment on March 17.
“We will discuss ways to revive global growth and ensure macroeconomic stability, as well as mechanisms and measures to promote investment in infrastructure and sustainable development,” Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement yesterday.
To contact the reporters on this story: Mike Cohen in Cape Town at; Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow at
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nasreen Seria at

" Suspended"

" Suspended"
'We enter a little coffeehouse with a friend of mine and give our order. While we're approaching our table two people come in and they go to the counter : 'Five coffees, please. Two of them for us and three suspended'
They pay for their order, take the two and leave. I ask my friend: 'What are those 'suspended' coffees ?'
'Wait for it and you will see''
Some more people enter. Two girls ask for one coffee each, pay and go. The next order was for seven coffees and it was made by three lawyers - three for them and four 'suspended'. While I still wonder what's the deal with those 'suspended' coffees I enjoy the sunny weather and the beautiful view towards the square in front of the café. Suddenly a man dressed in shabby clothes who looks like a beggar comes in through the door and kindly asks 'Do you have a suspended coffee ?'

It's simple - people pay in advance for a coffee meant for someone who can not afford a warm bevarage. The tradition with the suspended coffees started in Naples, but it has spread all over the world and in some places you can order not only a suspended coffee, but also a sandwich or a whole meal.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to have such cafés or even grocery stores in every town where the less fortunate will find hope and support ?
If you own a business why don't you offer it to your clients...I am sure many of them will like it :)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Hot Money Blues

Hot Money Blues

Whatever the final outcome in the Cyprus crisis — we know it’s going to be ugly; we just don’t know exactly what form the ugliness will take — one thing seems certain: for the time being, and probably for years to come, the island nation will have to maintain fairly draconian controls on the movement of capital in and out of the country. In fact, controls may well be in place by the time you read this. And that’s not all: Depending on exactly how this plays out, Cypriot capital controls may well have the blessing of the International Monetary Fund, which has already supported suchcontrols in Iceland.
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Paul Krugman
Opinion Twitter Logo.

Connect With Us on Twitter

For Op-Ed, follow@nytopinion and to hear from the editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, follow@andyrNYT.

Readers’ Comments

Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
That’s quite a remarkable development. It will mark the end of an era for Cyprus, which has in effect spent the past decade advertising itself as a place where wealthy individuals who want to avoid taxes and scrutiny can safely park their money, no questions asked. But it may also mark at least the beginning of the end for something much bigger: the era when unrestricted movement of capital was taken as a desirable norm around the world.
It wasn’t always thus. In the first couple of decades after World War II, limits on cross-border money flows were widely considered good policy; they were more or less universal in poorer nations, and present in a majority of richer countries too. Britain, for example, limited overseas investments by its residents until 1979; other advanced countries maintained restrictions into the 1980s. Even the United States briefly limited capital outflows during the 1960s.
Over time, however, these restrictions fell out of fashion. To some extent this reflected the fact that capital controls have potential costs: they impose extra burdens of paperwork, they make business operations more difficult, and conventional economic analysis says that they should have a negative impact on growth (although this effect is hard to find in the numbers). But it also reflected the rise of free-market ideology, the assumption that if financial markets want to move money across borders, there must be a good reason, and bureaucrats shouldn’t stand in their way.
As a result, countries that did step in to limit capital flows — like Malaysia, which imposed what amounted to a curfew on capital flight in 1998 — were treated almost as pariahs. Surely they would be punished for defying the gods of the market!
But the truth, hard as it may be for ideologues to accept, is that unrestricted movement of capital is looking more and more like a failed experiment.
It’s hard to imagine now, but for more than three decades after World War II financial crises of the kind we’ve lately become so familiar with hardly ever happened. Since 1980, however, the roster has been impressive: Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Chile in 1982. Sweden and Finland in 1991. Mexico again in 1995. Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Korea in 1998. Argentina again in 2002. And, of course, the more recent run of disasters: Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Cyprus.
What’s the common theme in these episodes? Conventional wisdom blames fiscal profligacy — but in this whole list, that story fits only one country, Greece. Runaway bankers are a better story; they played a role in a number of these crises, from Chile to Sweden to Cyprus. But the best predictor of crisis is large inflows of foreign money: in all but a couple of the cases I just mentioned, the foundation for crisis was laid by a rush of foreign investors into a country, followed by a sudden rush out.
I am, of course, not the first person to notice the correlation between the freeing up of global capital and the proliferation of financial crises; Harvard’s Dani Rodrik began banging this drum back in the 1990s. Until recently, however, it was possible to argue that the crisis problem was restricted to poorer nations, that wealthy economies were somehow immune to being whipsawed by love-’em-and-leave-’em global investors. That was a comforting thought — but Europe’s travails demonstrate that it was wishful thinking.
And it’s not just Europe. In the last decade America, too, experienced a huge housing bubble fed by foreign money, followed by a nasty hangover after the bubble burst. The damage was mitigated by the fact that we borrowed in our own currency, but it’s still our worst crisis since the 1930s.
Now what? I don’t expect to see a wholesale, sudden rejection of the idea that money should be free to go wherever it wants, whenever it wants. There may well, however, be a process of erosion, as governments intervene to limit both the pace at which money comes in and the rate at which it goes out. Global capitalism is, arguably, on track to become substantially less global.
And that’s O.K. Right now, the bad old days when it wasn’t that easy to move lots of money across borders are looking pretty good.
Source: New York Times

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Noam Chomsky: 'No Individual Changes Anything Alone'

Noam Chomsky: 'I grew up during the Depression. People would come to the door trying to sell rags - that was when I was four' (photo: Graeme Robertson/Guardian UK)

Noam Chomsky: 'No Individual Changes Anything Alone'

By Aida Edemariam, Guardian UK
23 March 13

Source: rsn

Noam Chomsky is one of the world's most controversial thinkers. Now 84, he reflects on his life's work, on current events in Syria and Israel, and on the love of his life – his wife. may have been pouring with rain, water overrunning the gutters and spreading fast and deep across London's Euston Road, but this did not stop a queue forming, and growing until it snaked almost all the way back to Euston station. Inside Friends House, a Quaker-run meeting hall, the excitement was palpable. People searched for friends and seats with thinly disguised anxiety; all watched the stage until, about 15 minutes late, a short, slightly top-heavy old man climbed carefully on to the stage and sat down. The hall filled with cheers and clapping, with whoops and with whistles.

Noam Chomsky, said two speakers (one of them Mariam Said, whose late husband, Edward, this lecture honours) "needs no introduction". A tired turn of phrase, but they had a point: in a bookshop down the road the politics section is divided into biography, reference, the Clintons, Obama, Thatcher, Marx, and Noam Chomsky. He topped the first Foreign Policy/Prospect Magazine list of global thinkers in 2005 (the most recent, however, perhaps reflecting a new editorship and a new rubric, lists him not at all). One study of the most frequently cited academic sources of all time found that he ranked eighth, just below Plato and Freud. The list included the Bible.

When he starts speaking, it is in a monotone that makes no particular rhetorical claim on the audience's attention; in fact, it's almost soporific. Last October, he tells his audience, he visited Gaza for the first time. Within five minutes many of the hallmarks of Chomsky's political writing, and speaking, are displayed: his anger, his extraordinary range of reference and experience - journalism from inside Gaza, personal testimony, detailed knowledge of the old Egyptian government, its secret service, the new Egyptian government, the historical context of the Israeli occupation, recent news reports (of sewage used by the Egyptians to flood tunnels out of Gaza, and by Israelis to spray non-violent protesters). Fact upon fact upon fact, but also a withering, sweeping sarcasm - the atrocities are "tolerated politely by Europe as usual". Harsh, vivid phrases - the "hideously charred corpses of murdered infants"; bodies "writhing in agony" - unspool until they become almost a form of punctuation.

You could argue that the latter is necessary, simply a description of atrocities that must be reported, but it is also a method that has diminishing returns. The facts speak for themselves; the adjectives and the sarcasm have the counterintuitive effect of cheapening them, of imposing on the world a disappointingly crude and simplistic argument. "The sentences," wrote Larissa MacFarquhar in a brilliant New Yorker profile of Chomsky 10 years ago, "are accusations of guilt, but not from a position of innocence or hope for something better: Chomsky's sarcasm is the scowl of a fallen world, the sneer of hell's veteran to its appalled naifs" - and thus, in an odd way, static and ungenerative.

To be fair, he has - as he points out the next day, sitting under the gorgeous, vaulting ceilings of the VIP section of the St Pancras Renaissance hotel - not always been preaching to the converted, or even to the sceptically open-minded. "This [rapturous reception] is radically different from what it was like even five years ago, when in fact [at talks about Israel-Palestine] I had to have police protection because the audience was so hostile." His voice is vanishingly quiet as well as monotonal, and he is slightly deaf, which makes conversation something of a challenge. But he answers questions warmly, and seriously, if not always directly - a surprise, in a way, from someone who has earned a reputation for brutality of argument, and a need to win at all costs. "There really is an alpha-male dominance psychology at work there," a colleague once said of him. "He has some of the primate dominance moves. The staring down. The withering tone of voice." Students have been known to visit him in pairs, so that one can defend the other. But it is perhaps less surprising when you discover that he can spend up to seven hours a day answering emails from fans and the questing public. And in the vast hotel lobby he cuts a slightly fragile figure.

Chomsky, the son of Hebrew teachers who emigrated from Ukraine and Russia at the turn of the last century, began as a Zionist - but the sort of Zionist who wanted a socialist state in which Jews and Arabs worked together as equals. Since then he has been accused of antisemitism (due to defending some 35 years ago the right to free speech of a French professor who was later convicted of Holocaust denial), and been called, by the Nation, "America's most prominent self-hating Jew". These days he argues tirelessly for the rights of Palestinians. In this week's lecture he quoted various reactions to the Oslo accords, which turn 20 in September, including a description of them as "an infernal trap". He replied to a question about whether Israel would still exist in 50 years' time by saying, among other things, that "Israel is following policies which maximise its security threats ... policies which choose expansion over security ... policies which lead to their moral degradation, their isolation, their deligitimation, as they call it now, and very likely ultimate destruction. That's not impossible." Obama arrived in Israel this week accompanied by some of the lowest expectations ever ascribed to a US president visiting the country. There was so much more hope, I suggest to Chomsky, when Obama was first elected, and he spoke about the Middle East. "There were illusions. He came into office with dramatic rhetoric about hope and change, but there was never any substance behind them," he responds.

He seems cautiously optimistic about the Arab spring, which he sees as a "classic example ... [of] powerful grassroots movements, primarily in Tunisia and Egypt" - but is dryly ironic about the west's relationship with what is happening on the ground. "In Egypt, on the eve of Tahrir Square, there was a major poll which found that overwhelmingly - 80-90%, numbers like that - Egyptians regarded the main threats they face as the US and Israel. They don't like Iran - Arabs generally don't like Iran - but they didn't consider it a threat. In fact, back then a considerable number of Egyptians thought the region might be better off if Iran had nuclear weapons. Not because they wanted Iran to have nuclear weapons, but to offset the real threats they faced. So that's obviously not the kind of policy that the west wants to listen to. Other polls are somewhat different, but the basic story is about the same - what Egyptians want is not what the west would like to see. So therefore they are opposed to democracy."

What does Chomsky, who has infuriated some with his dismissal of the "new military humanism", think should be done in Syria, if anything? Should the west arm the opposition? Should it intervene? "I tend to think that providing arms is going to escalate the conflict. I think there has to be some kind of negotiated settlement. The question is which kind. But it's going to have to be primarily among Syrians. Outsiders can try to help set up the conditions, and there's no doubt that the government is carrying out plenty of atrocities, and the opposition some, but not as many. There's a threat that the country is on a suicidal course. Nobody wants that."

Chomsky first came to prominence in 1959, with the argument, detailed in a book review (but already present in his first book, published two years earlier), that contrary to the prevailing idea that children learned language by copying and by reinforcement (ie behaviourism), basic grammatical arrangements were already present at birth. The argument revolutionised the study of linguistics; it had fundamental ramifications for anyone studying the mind. It also has interesting, even troubling ramifications for his politics. If we are born with innate structures of linguistic and by extension moral thought, isn't this a kind of determinism that denies political agency? What is the point of arguing for any change at all?

"The most libertarian positions accept the same view," he answers. "That there are instincts, basic conditions of human nature that lead to a preferred social order. In fact, if you're in favour of any policy - reform, revolution, stability, regression, whatever - if you're at least minimally moral, it's because you think it's somehow good for people. And good for people means conforming to their fundamental nature. So whoever you are, whatever your position is, you're making some tacit assumptions about fundamental human nature ... The question is: what do we strive for in developing a social order that is conducive to fundamental human needs? Are human beings born to be servants to masters, or are they born to be free, creative individuals who work with others to inquire, create, develop their own lives? I mean, if humans were totally unstructured creatures, they would be ... a tool which can properly be shaped by outside forces. That's why if you look at the history of what's called radical behaviourism, [where] you can be completely shaped by outside forces - when [the advocates of this] spell out what they think society ought to be, it's totalitarian."

Chomsky, now 84, has been politically engaged all his life; his first published article, in fact, was against fascism, and written when he was 10. Where does the anger come from? "I grew up in the Depression. My parents had jobs, but a lot of the family were unemployed working class, so they had no jobs at all. So I saw poverty and repression right away. People would come to the door trying to sell rags - that was when I was four years old. I remember riding with my mother in a trolley car and passing a textile worker's strike where the women were striking outside and the police were beating them bloody."

He met Carol, who would become his wife, at about the same time, when he was five years old. They married when she was 19 and he 21, and were together until she died nearly 60 years later, in 2008. He talks about her constantly, given the chance: how she was so strict about his schedule when they travelled (she often accompanied him on lecture tours) that in Latin America they called her El Comandante; the various bureaucratic scrapes they got into, all over the world. By all accounts, she also enforced balance in his life: made sure he watched an hour of TV a night, went to movies and concerts, encouraged his love of sailing (at one point, he owned a small fleet of sailboats, plus a motorboat); she water-skied until she was 75.

But she was also politically involved: she took her daughters (they had three children: two girls and a boy) to demonstrations; he tells me a story about how, when they were protesting against the Vietnam war, they were once both arrested on the same day. "And you get one phone call. So my wife called our older daughter, who was at that time 12, I guess, and told her, 'We're not going to come home tonight, can you take care of the two kids?' That's life." At another point, when it looked like he would be jailed for a long time, she went back to school to study for a PhD, so that she could support the children alone. It makes no sense, he told an interviewer a couple of years ago, for a woman to die before her husband, "because women manage so much better, they talk and support each other. My oldest and closest friend is in the office next door to me; we haven't once talked about Carol." His eldest daughter often helps him now. "There's a transition point, in some way."

Does he think that in all these years of talking and arguing and writing, he has ever changed one specific thing? "I don't think any individual changes anything alone. Martin Luther King was an important figure but he couldn't have said: 'This is what I changed.' He came to prominence on a groundswell that was created by mostly young people acting on the ground. In the early years of the antiwar movement we were all doing organising and writing and speaking and gradually certain people could do certain things more easily and effectively, so I pretty much dropped out of organising - I thought the teaching and writing was more effective. Others, friends of mine, did the opposite. But they're not less influential. Just not known."

In the cavernous Friends' House, the last words of his speech are: "Unless the powerful are capable of learning to respect the dignity of their victims ... impassable barriers will remain, and the world will be doomed to violence, cruelty and bitter suffering." It's a gloomy coda, but he leaves to a standing ovation.


At midday on Friday 5 February, 2016 Julian Assange, John Jones QC, Melinda Taylor, Jennifer Robinson and Baltasar Garzon will be speaking at a press conference at the Frontline Club on the decision made by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on the Assange case.


the way we live






AT 08:00h UTC

By choosing to educate ourselves and to spread the word, we can and will build a brighter future.


Report 26:01:2015














AT 08:00 H GMT



AT 08:00 H GMT

PressTV News Videos