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Dennis Kucinich, Move To Amend

Dennis Kucinich Speaks to Move To Amend On “The Otherside Of The News” with Dr. Robert Fitrakis


Dennis will be Keynote Speaker At Move To Amend Ohio Statewide meeting.

Join the MTA annual meeting April 1 and hear Dennis Kucinich at 1:00 p.m.

 

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Spook Air

Orig Published Columbus Alive 4-22-1999

4/22/1999
FEATURED ARTICLE
Spook Air
by Bob Fitrakis

Something’s rotten at Rickenbacker Port Authority. Maybe it’s just the stench of the bankrupt corpse of Southern Air Transport, or the moldering smell of the $3 million the state pumped into the notorious airline before it folded.

Ohio taxpayers are among the more than 800 creditors now lined up to file claims against “Spook Air.” SAT filed for bankruptcy in Columbus on October 1, 1998, the same day the Central Intelligence Agency Inspector General issued a report linking the cargo hauler to allegations of drug-running in connection with U.S.-backed Contra rebels in Nicaragua in the 1980s.

Once lauded as a coup for central Ohio development, landing Southern Air Transport’s business at Rickenbacker eventually turned into a nightmare, as the enterprise became mired in massive debt and was closed under a cloud of suspicion about its true activities. Just how and why one of the world’s most notorious airlines ended up in Columbus in the mid-1990s is a story that hasn’t been fully examined until now.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Columbus Alive obtained a massive number of documents from the Rickenbacker Port Authority and additional records from the Ohio Department of Development showing that the Franklin County Commissioners and the Voinovich administration offered hard-to-refuse incentives to get SAT’s business, despite the airline’s shady history.

“We are proud of Rickenbacker’s growth and believe the addition of Southern Air Transport would represent a significant step forward,” Franklin County Commissioner Arlene Shoemaker wrote Southern Air President William G. Langton in January 1995. SAT officials pitched a proposal involving the construction of a 180,000-square-foot corporate headquarters and air-maintenance facility on leased land in the Rickenbacker Air Industrial Park. They projected the total cost of the project at more than $36 million, and predicted the creation of 300 new jobs within a three-year period.

“I will need and look forward to help from the State of Ohio, the Port Authority, Franklin County, the City of Columbus, the Chamber of Commerce and any other groups or individuals you would suggest, to help effectuate a seamless move to Columbus, Ohio, and the Rickenbacker International Airport,” wrote Langton in a February 14, 1995, letter to the port authority’s Executive Director Bruce Miller. A “seamless move,” in Langton’s estimation, would cost $3 million.

The port authority and the Ohio Department of Development, under the aegis of Governor George Voinovich’s then-Chief of Staff Paul Mifsud, developed an attractive incentive package for SAT. The state development department agreed to provide SAT with a low-interest $6 million loan. The department promised an additional half-million dollars from a Business Development Capital Account to defray the cost of “eligible equipment associated with the project.” The Ohio Department of Transportation agreed to enter into a lease to support $10.2 million in Certificates of Participation to enable Rickenbacker to make “necessary taxi-way and parking improvements to allow SAT to locate in the park,” according to an SAT document. Such airport improvements are usually funded by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The document goes on to spell out that “the Rickenbacker Port Authority has committed approximately $600,000 to fund other public infrastructure improvements associated with the project… In addition, the port authority has also agreed to make available to SAT up to $30 million in port authority revenue bonds for eligible project related costs.” The SAT document noted that, “Franklin County has also committed to granting a 100 percent abatement for 15 years on real property improvements under Ohio’s Community Reinvestment Area Law.”

Shadowy ties to Ohio

News accounts show that The Limited owner Leslie Wexner played a role in SAT’s relocation to Rickenbacker. Two other key figures in the SAT story have Columbus connections: Alan D. Fiers Jr., a starting tackle on the 1961 Ohio State University football team and a Buckeye assistant coach in 1962, who later became the chief of the CIA Central American Task Force; and retired Air Force Major General Richard Secord, head of air logistics for the CIA-owned Air America’s covert action in Laos between 1966 and 1968, and air logistics coordinator in the illegal Contra resupply network for Oliver North in the ’80s.

Both Fiers and Secord eventually were found guilty of charges in connection with the Iran-Contra affair. On July 9, 1991, Fiers pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges involving illegally supplying weapons to the Contras. According to the recent CIA report on Southern Air Transport, Fiers informed U.S. Senate investigators that the CIA told the DEA early on about Contra leaders being involved in drug smuggling. Secord, who is a 1954 graduate of Columbus’ South High School, pleaded guilty in 1989 to a felony charge in connection with the cover-up of the Iran-Contra affair.

While SAT was busy setting up offices in central Ohio, the CIA was linking the airline to illicit activities. The October 1998 CIA report on Southern Air Transport says that as early as January 21, 1987, the customs office in New Orleans was investigating an allegation of drug trafficking by SAT crew members. The 1987 memorandum noted that the source of the allegation was a senior FDN (Contra) official, and indicated that the official was concerned that “scandal emanating from Southern Air Transport could rebound badly on FDN interest including humanitarian aid from the United States.”

The memo continues, “A February 23, 1991, DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency] cable to CIA linked SAT to drug trafficking. The cable reported that SAT was `of record’ in DEA’s database from January 1985-September 1990 for alleged involvement in cocaine trafficking. An August 1990 entry in DEA’s database reportedly alleged that $2 million was delivered to the firm’s business sites and several of the firm’s pilots and executives were suspected of smuggling `narcotics currency.'”

How did such a notorious company come to set up shop in central Ohio? Perhaps it was the efforts of Langton to keep the airline’s history in intelligence operations at arm’s length that assured Ohio officials of SAT’s success. In March 1995, Langton told the Columbus Dispatch that his company was “no longer connected to the CIA.”

“Too good to turn down”

It remains unclear exactly why Franklin County Commissioners were so willing to bring the scandal-ridden airline to central Ohio. Commissioner Dorothy Teater, currently running for mayor of Columbus, told Columbus Alive this month that she was not aware of Southern Air’s ties to the CIA. “If it’s true, that’s awful,” she said, adding the push to land SAT in Ohio came from the state Department of Development. “We commissioners were an afterthought. They asked us at the last second to sit in the audience at the press conference.”

When asked last week if she was aware of SAT’s past CIA links or allegations of drug running, Commissioner Shoemaker answered, “Certainly not.”

Documents obtained by Columbus Alive show that local officials did not balk at the notion of an enterprise at one time linked to drug smuggling and covert operations worldwide setting up shop here. They were apparently willing to overlook any danger signals in an effort to please local commercial enterprises that might benefit from SAT business. In 1996, SAT spokesperson David Sweet told Columbus Alive the airline moved to Ohio because “the deal [put together by the development department] was too good to turn down.”

The Franklin County Commissioners created the Rickenbacker Port Authority (RPA) in 1979 in order to utilize excess military land at Rickenbacker Air Force Base for industrial, distribution and air cargo purposes. In February 1992, the county commissioners created a Community Reinvestment Area for five years, making the Rickenbacker Port Authority a lucrative investment zone.

In a 1994 corporate report, which Columbus Alive retrieved from the Rickenbacker Port Authority’s files, Langton downplayed the airline’s controversial past and its crucial role in the Iran-Contra scandal, describing it as “an all-cargo airline operating schedule, charter and wetlease service for shippers, freight forwarders, the Department of Defense, relief organizations and individual customers around the world.”

On April 13, 1994, William B. Holley, executive vice president for economic development for the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, wrote the Ohio Job Creation Tax Credit Authority under the Ohio Department of Development, urging that the airline receive tax credits for relocating from Miami, Florida, to Rickenbacker International Airport in Columbus.

Edmund James, president of James and Donohew Development Services, told the Columbus Dispatch that negotiations with Southern Air had begun “exactly one year ago today,” speaking at the March 16, 1995, press conference announcing that SAT was locating to Columbus. He let it be known that “much of the Hong Kong-to-Rickenbacker cargo will be for The Limited.” James said, “This is a big story for central Ohio. It’s huge, actually.”

The day following the press conference, Brian Clancy, a cargo analyst with MergeGloban Inc., was quoted in the Journal of Commerce: “Limited Inc., the nation’s largest retailer, is based in Columbus, a fact that undoubtedly contributed in large part to Southern Air’s decision.”

That same day, the Dispatch noted a meeting between Langton, Governor Voinovich and “other officials yesterday to discuss the air cargo carrier’s plans.” Governor Voinovich is quoted saying, “This will be a new window to the world for Ohio business… It will be a boon for exports.” Within a week, SAT announced it would be flying twice-weekly freighters from Hong Kong to Columbus on behalf of The Limited.

In an article titled “Touchdown in Columbus,” SAT’s company newsletter featured an artist’s rendering of the proposed state-of-the-art headquarters on its cover and lauded “the very pro-business attitude of the State of Ohio and City of Columbus.”

That pro-business attitude is evident in a 1995 letter from SAT’s Langton to the Rickenbacker Port Authority. Although in response to Alive’s records request, former Governor Voinovich’s staffers claimed no records exist linking the governor or then-Chief of Staff Mifsud to the SAT deal, a February 22, 1995, letter from SAT chief Langton to Miller of the port authority stated: “I was very pleased with my visit with Mr. Paul Mifsud and Governor Voinovich, and after meeting with the State of Ohio it is my understanding that they will make the appropriate changes in funding amounts that we require in our Response to Proposal… I would expect to have a decision on the matter on or before March 10, 1995.” Numerous other SAT correspondence were carbon-copied to Mifsud at the governor’s office.

Repeated calls and a fax sent to Senator Voinovich’s office seeking comment for this article were not answered.

The next day, a letter from Ohio Department of Development Director Donald Jakeway to Langton begins, “Pursuant to your recent meeting with this department and Paul Mifsud, we are responding with this revised commitment letter…” Jakeway outlined a “revised preliminary commitment” worth an estimated $7.2 million in services, benefits, tax credits and low-interest infrastructure loans.

Jakeway is no longer with the Department of Development and was out of the country this week and could not be reached for comment. Calls to the Department of Development for comment were not returned by presstime.

On March 16, 1995, Langton joined then-Governor Voinovich and officials from the Rickenbacker Port Authority to announce officially the relocation of SAT from Miami to Columbus. In the Columbus Dispatch’s coverage of the announcement, an exuberant Voinovich gushed, “I am extremely pleased to welcome Southern Air Transport to Ohio, as it will be the first airline to have its world headquarters located at Rickenbacker Airport. This will help Columbus tremendously in becoming a world-class inland port.”

Shoemaker, representing the Franklin County Commissioners, said, “We’re deeply grateful to the governor and all those who helped make it possible to welcome Southern Air to Franklin County.”

Langton called Rickenbacker “an opportunity waiting to happen.”

By the end of the year, Langton was not sounding quite so positive. In the SAT newsletter, he stated: “As we close out 1995, I am sorry to report that we have the first loss year in recent history for Southern Air Transport.”

Spying the friendly skies

Apparently, the airline was in better shape financially when it was engaged in covert and possibly illegal activities. Officials of SAT, which was founded in 1947, acknowledge that their airline was owned by the CIA from 1960 to 1973. In 1960, the CIA purchased SAT for $300,000 and rapidly expanded the airline’s business into the Far East and Latin America. At one point, SAT was the CIA’s largest “proprietary”–a private business owned by the CIA–with estimated assets of more than $50 million and more than 8,000 employees worldwide.

In 1973, the CIA sold SAT to “the official who had run it on behalf of the CIA, with a $5.1 million loan from First National Bank of Chicago, known to be a CIA-used bank,” according to the National Journal. The airline retained informal ties with both the CIA and the National Security Council. The current principal owner is Miami attorney James Bastian, former CIA lawyer, who chaired the investment partnership of the management group that acquired SAT from the CIA. In 1979, Bastian acquired the company’s outstanding stock.

The airline’s activities after that suggest that it was still heavily tied to the U.S. national security apparatus. During the 1980s, Southern Air Transport carried a variety of military supplies, arms and equipment to the Contras. Southern Air President Langton admitted in an affidavit in the civil trial of SAT employee Eugene Hasenfus that SAT flew TOW anti-tank missiles from Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, to Israel. Southern Air crews then loaded the missiles onto Israeli-owned planes that flew them into Iran.

At the time, President Ronald Reagan was officially urging the world to embargo Iran, a country he called “Murder, Inc.” In 1986, SAT secretly shipped 90 tons of TOW missiles to Iran as part of the Reagan administration’s secret arms-for-hostages exchange. Proceeds from the sale of the missiles–some $16 million–were diverted to the Contra resupply effort in Central America. The scandal broke when on October 5, 1986, a Southern Air Transport C-123 cargo plane carrying 10,000 pounds of arms was shot down over Nicaragua.

The flight logs of the downed Southern Air Transport C-123 linked it to a history of involvement with the CIA, cocaine and the Medellin drug cartel in Colombia. The logs documented several Southern Air Transport flights to Barranquilla, Colombia, during October 1985, the same time Wanda Palacios, a Miami FBI informant, told the FBI that the airline was running drugs.

(It was also the same airplane that Louisiana drug dealer Barry Seal used in a joint CIA-DEA sting operation in 1984 against the Sandinistas. Seal acquired the plane through a complicated airline swap with the Medellin cartel, according to declassified government documents, and the plane was fitted with hidden cameras by the CIA at Rickenbacker Air Force Base. Seal reportedly flew weapons for the Contras and returned to the United States with cocaine. He was murdered in New Orleans in 1986 by Colombian hitmen.)

Reports of SAT involvement with drug runners surfaced early on in the Congressional Iran-Contra inquiry. In August 1987, the New York Times reported Palacios informed Congressional investigators that “she witnessed drugs being exchanged for guns intended for the Contras.” Palacios identified Southern Air Transport planes involved in the gun and drug running in two separate incidents in 1983 and 1985. Initially SAT denied any connection to the CIA and dismissed accusations of drug running as absurd.

Although SAT issued an internal memo denying any post-Iran-Contra connections to the CIA, during the Gulf War in 1990-91, Southern Air Transport played a key role in logistic support for the U.S. military. And in September 1990, the Air Force awarded SAT a $54 million contract for “air transport services.” Early 1996 opened for SAT with the same story line when it garnered a 90-day contract to transport construction supplies, equipment and civilian personnel from Zagreb, Croatia, to Tuzla, Bosnia, one of the world’s military hot spots.

The end of the runway

By the end of January 1996, company officials assured the Dispatch that SAT “isn’t backing away from the central Ohio hub,” but SAT officials were dragging their feet on plans to begin construction on a hangar at Rickenbacker.

SAT’s lack of action did not stop the state’s Controlling Board from approving, in May 1996, a half-million-dollar grant “related to the overall project of constructing a 180,000-square-foot facility.” Documents show that Doug Talbott of the Ohio Department of Development hand-carried a $500,000 check to an SAT official on August 5, 1996.

On December 19, 1996, the Dispatch reported that SAT was “delinquent in paying a $277,000 personal property tax bill.” SAT spokesperson David Sweet insisted that “the company is financially sound and intends to proceed with its Rickenbacker plans. `It’s not that we don’t have the money to pay the tax; we just dispute the amount,'” according to the Dispatch.

Langton, SAT’s president of 15 years, left abruptly in March 1997, handing the reins back to the airline’s owner James Bastian. Eight months later, SAT issued layoff notices to 100 of its 750 employees. Two months after that, Southern Air Transport publicly announced it would lay off 54 of the 65 maintenance workers at Rickenbacker and 43 of the 175 employees at the company’s temporary headquarters on Kimberly Parkway. Rickenbacker Port Authority now lacked any airport maintenance facility.

SAT, which had promised 300 new jobs within three years–and had already taken at least $3.5 million in state money–admitted that it hadn’t begun work on the maintenance facility project it had promised.

Marlo B. Tannous, deputy chief legal counsel for the Department of Development, issued a memo trying to figure out what “the exact job numbers” were submitted by SAT to the state. In June 1998, SAT announced it planned “to park and sell off most of its fleet of Lockheed Hercules L-100” planes.

That same month, Joseph C. Robertson, director of the state Department of Development, wrote J. Robert Peart, the executive vice president and CEO of SAT, inquiring about the $500,000 grant and an earlier $200,000 grant for new employee training. “It is critical that DOD receive an accurate assessment of your company’s situation related to these agreements,” Robertson wrote.

On July 30, 1998, Daniel F. Dooley, the chief financial officer of SAT, informed Lewie A. Main of the Department of Development that “Southern Air’s project will not proceed as planned at Rickenbacker due to severe financial difficulty.”

Fine Air Services of Miami announced a plan to purchase the financially troubled SAT on July 23, 1998. Robert Dahl, a consultant with Air Cargo Management Group, summed up SAT’s financial woes by pointing out “there are fewer belligerent circumstances in the world today than there were during the Cold War.” Apparently Spook Air needed the Soviets and the Red Menace to survive. Fine Air backed out of the agreement to purchase SAT “after getting a closer look at its books,” according to the Journal of Commerce.

Kitty Hawk Inc., the world’s largest operator of air cargo planes, signed a letter of intent shortly thereafter to buy SAT. Three weeks later, Kitty Hawk terminated the agreement. Neither Fine Air or Kitty Hawk gave reasons for their decisions not to purchase Southern Air.

Blanca Hernandez, a Southern Air spokesperson, denied rumors that the company was going to seek bankruptcy protection after the Kitty Hawk deal fell through. Three days later, Southern Air Transport grounded all its flights and fired 450 employees. Hernandez admitted that the company was “considering ways to liquidate assets.” The Dispatch reported that the Ohio Department of Transportation would not try to “recoup” $3 million it had loaned SAT.

Telephone calls to Southern Air Transport seeking comment for this story were referred to Columbus attorney Randy Latour. Citing pending litigation, Latour declined to comment.

The Dispatch managed to put a positive spin on the death of Spook Air: “But there were plenty of good times for Southern Air. Its Hercules fleet became the pack mules of the skies, transporting odd-size cargo, including Keiko, the whale, and taking part in humanitarian airlifts to Bosnia and Somalia.” Like local officials, the Dispatch ignored the mounting evidence of SAT’s ties to cocaine smuggling.

More recently, on April 4, the Dispatch reported that the airline’s already messy bankruptcy may be further complicated by allegations that $32 million in the private account of SAT owner Bastian’s wife Mary Bastian are company funds.

On October 1, 1998, the CIA Inspector General issued his report outlining allegations of Southern Air Transport’s involvement in drug-running. That same day, Spook Air filed for bankruptcy in Columbus.

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Fight Back – Episode: 03/27/15 Columbus City Council Candidate Will Petrik

Fight Back – Episode: 03/27/15 Columbus City Council
Will Petrik Guest
https://www.facebook.com/will.petrik

See more at:

http://www.talktainmentradio.com/shows/fightback.html

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The Other Side of The News Interview With Bernardine Kent, Columbus School Board Candidate – March 23, 2015

Submitted by fightback on Sun, 03/22/2015 – 5:23pm
Bernardine Kent Columbus School Board No Child Left Behind

Bob talks with Bernardine Kent about her campaign for Columbus School Board and her whistleblowing on the No Child Left Behind tutoring scandal
Artist: Bob Fitrakis and Kennedy Kent
Title: The Other Side of the News March 23, 2015 – Bernardine Kent, Columbus School Board member

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Conference on the PUCO carbon-nuke bailout in Ohio

Join us at the conference on the PUCO carbon-nuke bailout in Ohio
Sunday
April 12, 2015
1-5:30PM
STOP THE CARBON-NUKE BAILOUTS!!!
CrbnFreeNucFree
Win a Carbon/Nuke Free Ohio
Move to Renewables and Efficiency
Mini Conference – SUNDAY APRIL 12, 2015, 1-5:30pm
Free and open to the public
Columbus State Community College Center for Teaching and Learning Innovation
339 Cleveland Avenue at the southwest corner of Grove Street
Parking is in the lot by the building.

AGENDA
1:10 pm: Kevin Kamps, Radioactive Waste Watchdog with Beyond Nuclear in Takoma Park, MD. Topic: Davis-Besse nuclear reactor, a threat to Ohio and the Great Lakes.
1:50 pm: Carolyn Harding, Organizer with Radioactive Waste Alert and the Columbus Community Bill of Rights. Topic: Challenging fracking in Columbus and Ohio – from injection wells to community rights.
2: 30 pm: Break
2:45 pm: Ned Ford, Veteran Ohio energy activist and consultant. Topic: EPA’s Clean Power Plan; Ohio’s Senate Bill 310; the big picture on Clean Energy in Ohio and what the PUCO, EPA and the Governor are wrong about.
3: 25 pm Neil Waggoner, Organizing Representative with the Sierra Club Coal Campaign. Topic: Stopping coal and Davis-Besse bailouts at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the PUCO decision on AEP.
BREAKOUT
4: 05 pm Breakout with small group brainstorming on ideas for carrying our energy work forward and uniting the work of the various organizations.
4:50 pm Report back from small groups
5:15 pm Closing remarks
——————–
MONDAY APRIL 13, 2015 – Day of Action to Stop FirstEnergy Bailouts
11:00 am: Morning rally at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio offices, 180 East Broad Street
Lunchtime presentation [Time/Place TBD]. Bailout overview and planning future actions
Phoning the PUCO and Governor Kasich’s office, handwriting letters to the governor.

Participating organizations: Sierra Club, Ohio Environmental Council, Ohio Citizen Action, Ohio Organizing Collaborative, Public Citizen, Columbus Free Press, Columbus State Social Science Department

RSVP: solartopia@gmail.com

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Free Press Free Fourth Tuesday Film Night “Black Lives Matter”

Free Press free film night:
“Black Lives Matter”
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
7:30pm

Free Press free fourth Tuesday film night:
Black Lives Matter Newsreel: Why Columbus Needs a Citizens Review Board
Tues, March 24, 7:30pm, Drexel Theater, 2254 E. Main St.
Police shootings of citizens in Columbus are almost always ruled as justified, the Columbus Dispatch reported. “Of seven cities surveyed by The Dispatch — all similar in size to Columbus — Columbus had the second-highest rate of police shootings, both fatal and nonfatal, in 2013. Last year, the city ranked fourth, at 1.1 shootings per 100,000.”
To highlight the need for a civilian review board to investigate officer-involved shootings, videographer Will Delphia has compiled a newsreel of footage from the local and regional #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Discussion will follow.
colsfreepress@gmail.com or 614-253-2517

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Free Press Second Saturday Salon, Saturday March 14, 2015

Join us at the March
Free Press Second Saturday Salon
Saturday
March 14, 2015
6:30 – 11 PM

March Free Press Second Saturday Salon
Saturday, March 14, 6:30-11pm @ 1021 E. Broad St.
Free. No RSVP necessary.
Socialize and network with progressive friends for hors-d’oeuvres, drink, art and music. Showing “Maestra” [Teacher] about Cuban literacy program and music by Solartopia.
colsfreepress@gmail.com, (614) 253-2571.

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To Cuba With Love

by Bob Fitrakis
FEBRUARY 21, 2015

Americans In Cuba With Love

“…Cuba’s voice is a voice that must be heard in the United States of America. Yet it has not been heard. It must now be heard because the United States is too powerful, its responsibilities to the world and to itself are too great, for its people not to be able to listen to every voice of the hungry world.” ~ C. Wright Mills, Listen, Yankee: The Revolution in Cuba, 1960.

Mills’ words are unfortunately still true today. Cuban people remain hungry and we have not heard their voices because the U.S. has silenced them for more than 50 years by imposing a brutal “blockade” that we call an “embargo.” If any ship in the world goes to a Cuban port, they may not enter a U.S. port for six months. Any company that trades with Cuba is banned from the U.S. market. If any product uses any materials, pieces or parts from Cuba, it is not allowed to be sold in the United States.

Cuba’s crime? Being the only nation in the western hemisphere with the cojones to resist the world’s only “megapower.”

It appears that President Barack Obama however, in the aftermath of a thrashing by the Republican Party in the midterm Congressional elections, suddenly heard the whispers of his own conscience and the Cuban people. On December 17, he announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the largest island in the Caribbean.

The action is largely symbolic, but did make it a bit easier for U.S. citizens to go to Cuba. You can now take an 80 minute-flight directly from the United States, receive an official visa and have a Cuban stamp on your passport. No more sneaking through Mexico or Canada, though you still cannot visit as a tourist.

We visited as educators and journalists with the folks from Code Pink.

Senator John McCain recently called Code Pink “low-life scum” for recently attempting a citizens’ arrest of Henry Kissinger for war crimes. The Code Pink organizers spurned in the U.S., sought affection elsewhere when they sent a delegation of 150 people “To Cuba with Love” from February 8-15, 2015. I was part of that “largest group to visit Cuba from the United States.” Code Pink director Medea Benjamin saw the trip as the “move toward world peace” and a “powerful solidarity message” to the Cuban people.

Because Cuba exists in part in a strange 1950s time warp thanks to the embargo that began in 1961 and continues to this day. The city of Havana seems frozen in time, like a 1950s postcard faded and frayed at the edges. The city of Havana’s architecture varies from crumbling but still stunning Spanish Colonial mansions to brightly colored stucco haciendas to huge art deco and art nouveau apartment buildings with each unit sporting its own balcony. In the rural areas, Cuba appears more Amish and pre-industrial with farmers using oxen and horse-drawn plows.

Cuban native Jesus Noguera Ravelo invited a small Code Pink group to his home in Havana, where he answered questions about life in Cuba and its future. He insisted that there has been more change in the last ten years than in the previous thirty.

Revalo had originally aspired to be a diplomat and majored in international studies. He was working on his Masters when he realized that, rather than stamping visas all day, he should be using his fluency in English to share the Cuban experience with English speaking visitors as a tour guide.

Tourism has been either the first or second leading industry in Cuba since the early 1990s. A key point is that Canada never broke diplomatic ties with Cuba and the rest of the English speaking world now has normal relations with the country.

The entire Code Pink group was greeted at the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People (ICAP) by its President Ricardo Alarcon, who served for 30 years as Cuba’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) and was President of the National Assembly of People’s Power from 1993 to 2013. He expressed hope that the Code Pink visit would be an “exchange of knowledge.”

While the head of ICAP was encouraged by the restoration of diplomatic ties after President Kennedy broke them off 55 years ago, he called the remaining embargo of Cuba continuing “economic warfare.” He called Obama’s decision “very positive.”

Alarcon questioned the logic of Cuba remaining one of four countries on the U.S. list of governments that sponsor terrorism, along with Iran, Sudan and Syria. That’s right – North Korea isn’t on the list nor was Libya when the U.S. and NATO attacked it in 2011. He pointed out the irony of the United States torturing people at Guantanamo while labeling Cuba a terrorist state.

He also mentioned the hypocrisy of any demand by the U.S. for Cuba to restore fundamental human rights. The point was well made, since the U.S. is the world’s largest surveillance state and tortured both the guilty and innocent on Cuban soil at Guantanamo. Most Cubans we talked with conceded that there were problems in Cuba, but wondered why a country they associated with torture and the open shooting of blacks on the streets of major U.S. cities would be so concerned about Cuban human rights instead of putting their own house in order.

Alarcon also noted that the U.S. retains great relations with many countries that do not recognize fundamental human rights, especially rights of women. He proudly pointed out that Cuba’s Parliament is 48.8 percent female and the governments of the local provinces elected 46 percent women. Currently the U.S. Congress had 19.4 percent women.

Alarcon also reminded the delegates that since 2003, Cuban mothers and fathers receive one year paid maternity/paternity leave. The U.S. government has no law requiring paid leave for new parents.

Cuba, after being abandoned by the Soviet Union in 1991 is transitioning away from its old Soviet-style model of state planning of economy used in the 60s, 70s and 80s. In the new economy, the country – having survived the “Special Period” of the 1990s when the Soviet Union withdrew support – some 440,000 workers are now self-employed. Revalo is now one of the so-called self-employed Cubans. Virtually all Cubans worked for the state government until the Special Period.

Alarcon noted “we should not be afraid of capitalists. This time it won’t be like when Columbus came.” He emphatically stated, “Cuba is not for sale. You must get the approval of the government, which will say yes or no” to capital investment in the country.

Our tour guide Betty, who works for the same co-op travel agency as Jesus, told us we need to remember that “most Cubans owned nothing in 1959 when the nationalization of property occurred. Fidel recognizes we have made mistakes. Here we are now without any model, without anybody to look to, working out our problems.”

Ravelo said that one of the country’s major changes was moving from sugar-only agriculture to diversified organic farming “because they had to.” Without financial credits from the Soviet Union and a guaranteed market for the sugar exports, Cuba could no longer employ the industrial strength model of heavy herbicides and pesticides.

When asked why there was not better internet service in Cuba and whether it had to do with an authoritarian government, Alarcon answered that it was “because the U.S. does not permit us” to get internet service and it has to go through Canada which never broke relations with Cuba.

Alarcon offered a question to the delegates: “Why did your government make it so hard to come to Cuba? We invite you to come and make up your own mind. Why does your government stop people from coming and making up their own mind? One state cannot dictate to another state.”

He also suggested that one day the people of the U.S. may not be under the control of a “plutocracy” but it may “take some time” and that “we don’t want to impose a social revolution on the United States.”

The Code Pink delegates listened to the Cuban people, shared knowledge and ideas, and agreed to take their words back to the people of the United States. Their key request is that the U.S. government end the blockade. The second request is to remove Cuba from the state-sponsored terrorist list. The third request is to stop torturing detainees at Guantanamo and return that land to the Cuban people.

As C. Wright Mills stated, “If we do not listen to them, if we do not hear them well, we face all the perils of ignorance—and with these, the perils of dangerous mistakes.”

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The Other Side of the News December 29, 2014 – 2014 Year in Review

The Other Side of the News December 29, 2014 -2014
Year in Review
Submitted by fightback on Mon, 12/29/2014 – 1:27pm
Bob Fitrakis discusses the important issues that happened during 2014 in central Ohio and the world

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Don’t miss these two Free Press films

Free Press free fourth Tuesday Movie: Racing to Zero, In Pursuit of Zero Waste
Tuesday, Nov 25, 7:30pm
Drexel Theater, 2254 E. Main St.
Racing To Zero (59 min) is a quick-moving, up-beat documentary that presents new solutions to the global problem of waste. Although waste may create garbage, garbage is in itself a resource, and that is the key. Our film follows the trail of trash and recycling with our guide, Robert Haley, Zero Waste Manager for the City of San Francisco as we travel the city from high to low and look behind-the-scenes at how zero waste can be achieved.
Co-sponsored by Simply Living, the Columbus Free Press, and the Columbus Film Council.
614-354-6172 or Chuck.Lynd@gmail.com or simplyliving.org
614-253-2517 or colsfreepress@ gmail.comThe Columbus International Film + Video Festival and LGBTFEST Stonewall Columbus present:

City of the Damned
15 minutes
Mor Albalak, Shaneika Lai, Stephanie Lee. Matthew Rogers, Nate Skeen, Stephanie Lincoln

Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda
Free Press film festival winner
78 minutes
Michael Lucas

Friday, November 21
Reception at 6:00pm, films at 7:30pm

Canzani Center at the Columbus College Of Art & Design
60 Cleveland Ave.
Columbus, Ohio
(Just south of the giant ART with free parking in CCAD lots)

City of the Damned

City of the Damned focuses on LGBT rights in the face of the brutal anti-homosexuality bill before the Ugandan Parliament. Although the death penalty has been withdrawn from the bill due heavily to international pressure, punishments are harsh and public opinion remains the biggest threat to the Ugandan LGBT community. The daring non-governmental organization Youth on Rock Foundation is fighting against this stigma by promoting economic empowerment among its members. Najib, YRF’s treasurer, sells clothes in Uganda’s largest market. He wants to prove that his sexuality does not define him; it’s his respect for life, his determination for equality, and his aspirations to become a lawyer and self-respecting Ugandan citizen.

Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda

As most of the world moves forward toward gay equality, Russia is seemingly heading backward. Antigay sentiment and legislation are spreading rapidly throughout the country. In 2013, the Russian parliament passed a ban on so-called ‘gay propaganda’ that effectively makes nearly any public discussion of gay equality a crime.

Q&A with filmmakers Michael Lucas and Stephanie Lincoln following the films.

Admission is $8 or FREE for 2014 CFC/CIF+VF Members, CCAD students and staff.