TBR News March 21, 2016

Mar 21 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., March 21, 2016: “While there has been considerable friction between the United States and Russia, mostly originating in Washington, there are some areas where there is cooperation, albeit very quiet cooperation. There have been very strong rumors, with some facts evident, that a splinter Muslim group has possession of stolen verola (smallpox) virus stolen from a German laboratory,that they have been planning to release in Israel. As an outbreak of smallpox would certainly not be confined to that country, frantic searches have been, and are being, conducted to locate the thieves and prevent a world-wide epidemic that could kill off half the world’s population. We are including herewith a report from Dr. von Johnston that gives more specific details on this horrifying scenario.”


The Coming Smallpox Attacks

by Harry von Johnston, PhD


Smallpox is one of the deadliest diseases in history, killing about 30 to 40 percent of its victims and has killed more than 300 million people worldwide in the 20th century alone. The virus, as a life form, comes in two subspecies: Variola minor and Variola major. Minor is a weak mutant, and was first described in 1863 by doctors in Jamaica. People usually survive it. The classic major kills one out of three people if they haven’t been vaccinated or if they’ve lost their immunity. The death rate with major can go higher — how much higher no one knows. Variola major killed half of its victims in an outbreak in Canada in 1924, and presumably many of them developed black pox. Smallpox is less contagious than measles but more contagious than mumps. It tends to go around until it has infected nearly everyone.

A person with smallpox is sometimes contagious with onset of fever (prodrome phase), but the person becomes most contagious with the onset of rash. At this stage the infected person is usually very sick and not able to move around in the community.

The infected person is contagious until the last smallpox scab falls off. At the end of the 12- to 14-day incubation period (range, 7-17 days), the patient typically experiences high fever, malaise, and prostration with headache and backache. Severe abdominal pain and delirium are sometimes present.

Death usually occurs during the second week of illness. .\

After an individual has been infected, there is a typical incubation period of ten days. During that time, he feels normal. Then the illness hits with a spike of fever, a backache, and vomiting, and a bit later tiny red spots appear all over the body.

Most people today have no immunity to smallpox. The vaccine begins to wear off in many people after ten years.

Mass vaccination for smallpox came to a worldwide halt around twenty-five years ago. There is now very little smallpox vaccine on hand in the United States or anywhere else in the world.

Experts feel that the appearance of a single case of smallpox anywhere on earth would be a global medical emergency.

And the way air travel is now, about six weeks would be enough time to seed cases around the world. A master seed strain of smallpox virus could be carried in a person’s pocket.

Both the United States and Russia have stocks of verola virus and a number of other countries also have samples of the virus.

One of these repositories was the German Bayerischeimfanstalt located in Munich am Neudeck 1. This German agency was developing a vaccine for animals but a World Health Organization report of 1978 indicated that security at the facility was quite lax.

In 1993, a quantity of verola virus was taken from the facility by persons unknown. A very quiet investigation indicated that it was probably an inside job but to this day, the thieves are not known. What is known, both to Russian and American investigative agencies, is that the probable thieves were Muslim extremists and persistent, and persuasive, reports indicate that a very small sub-group (no more than five persons) plan to release this verola virus in Israel.

If this happened, the disease would spread with dreadful rapidity throughout the world and would certainly kill off 35-40% of the population.

There is almost no vaccine available at the present time and the havoc a handful of fanatics would cause is unbelievable. Because of this, there has been no open discussion of the virus theft but a number of intelligence agencies have been quietly, and frantically, searching for the thieves to seize the stolen virus and remove the thieves from among the living.


Conversations with the Crow

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal , Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment. Three months before, July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md.           After Corson’s death, Trento and his Washington lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever

After Crowley’s death and Trento’s raid on the Crowley files, huge gaps were subsequently discovered by horrified CIA officials and when Crowley’s friends mentioned Gregory Douglas, it was discovered that Crowley’s son had shipped two large boxes to Douglas. No one knew their contents but because Douglas was viewed as an uncontrollable loose cannon who had done considerable damage to the CIA’s reputation by his on-going publication of the history of Gestapo-Mueller, they bent every effort both to identify the missing files and make some effort to retrieve them before Douglas made any use of them.

Douglas had been in close contact with Crowley and had long phone conversations with him. He found this so interesting and informative that he taped and later transcribed them.

These conversations have been published in a book: ‘Conversations with the Crow” and this is an excerpt.




Conversation No. 11 b

Date: Monday, April 29, 1996

Commenced: 2:09 PM CST

Concluded: 2:28 PM CST


GD: Back again, Robert. Are you OK for time?

RTC: I have enough time, Gregory. What is it?

GD: I had a chat with Kimmel today and I made a mistake. I had read something once about forged evidence and innocently mentioned faked fingerprint evidence used in a Federal case. He got very testy about this and tried to lecture me about minding my own business.

RTC: That would be a very sore spot with Kimmel. He has to defend his turf. Faked evidence? The Bureau has been known to stoop to that on a number of occasions. If they know, or believe you did something but can’t quite get you, why lo and behold they find your fingerprints all over something. Possibly a gun used in icing Martin Luther King or a blood stained print at the scene of a mob killing. Faking evidence and suborning perjury is nothing new for the Bureau. No one likes to talk about it because of the uproar it would cause. All kinds of lawsuits by innocent and framed convicts would follow. Kimmel is very protective of the Bureau but I think he spends more time trying to rehabilitate the Admiral. Still, I don’t know if he dirties his hands with such goings on but he surely knows about them. I certainly do

GD: Tell me something, Robert. Do you think Kimmel hooked up with you to spy on you?

RTC: Probably but I never tell him, or Bill, anything.

GD: Kimmel was mad I am talking to you. He said you were an old man and to leave you alone.

RTC: Tom can fuck himself. I’ll talk to anyone I wish, whenever I wish. All Tom thinks about is getting his grandfather the Admiral pardoned.

GD: I know. I tried to help the family out on that because of some of the documents Mueller had. I told him the Roosevelt/Churchill conversation papers came from Mueller, not you.

RTC: Thank you for that. Tom has been running around, all over Washington, trying frantically to prove you faked them. They tested the paper and checked on the typing and everything was fine but Tom won’t accept that you might be right, even though it would help his futile quest. They’re all a bunch of treacherous assholes there, believe me.

GD: Why would he get so upset about the question of fingerprints? I don’t see how you can fake these seriously.

RTC: Fingerprints? A piece of cake for the FBI. They know just how to put someone’s prints just where they want them. I could tell you about this if you kept quiet about it. If it ever got out how they fake evidence, as I just said, the appellate courts would be jammed up for years.

GD: I won’t say a word.

RTC: For your own sake, don’t. All right, here goes. If the FBI has a copy of your fingerprints, they can make molds of them and put them onto a rubber glove. It goes this way: They make a photographic negative of the prints , make a reverse negative and…do you know what a zinc is?

GD: Yes, I do. It is a metal copy of a negative. I learned this when I was getting some of my earlier books printed. They use this for rubber stamps.

RTC: Oh yes, just so. And then they get a pair of thin rubber surgeon’s gloves and paint liquid latex onto the zinc. When you peel the very thin, dried latex off of the zinc, you glue the prints down on each finger by using spirit gum. You can buy both the liquid latex and the spirit gum in any theatrical supply house right over the counter.

GD: Jesus, how simple, Robert. And you can go into a murder scene in private, say as an FBI technician, put on the gloves and touch things.

RTC:I know for a certainty that there are a significant number of people now incarcerated who are entirely innocent of a crime but whose fingerprints were found at the scene of a crime or on otherwise damning evidence. Many. Now do you see why I don’t want you talking about this?

GD: This explains Kimmel’s agitation.

RTC: Interesting because…when did he tell you this?

GD: Two days ago.

RTC: And he called me the next day to tell me you had been in a lunatic asylum and I should really stop talking to you. Makes sense. You were asking question about the prints and he knows you dig so he decided to head you off at the pass as far as I was concerned. Doing that with faked prints is easier than getting the usual perjured testimony from people facing Federal criminal charges.

GD: I suppose I ought to be careful.

RTC: Yes, what with Critchfield wanting your head because you are outing him on the subject of his hiring the head of the Gestapo and many other SS men and now Kimmel in an uproar, I would be a little careful, my boy.

GD: I thought you were going to say Kimmel had his balls in an uproar.

RTC: Strictly speaking, that would not be accurate. He lost them some time ago to cancer.

GD: Well, he can always sing soprano in his choir at church. I never discuss religion with him because he spouts Proverbs at me all the time. What is he?

RTC: Tom? I think the family is Episcopalian. His wife is Mormon but Tom hates Mormons. He probably doesn’t want to wear the hairshirt underwear.

GD: Well, old Brigham Young had about fifty wives and most of them were very, very young. Do you know what he once said? No? ‘I don’t care how you bring’em but bring’em young.’

RTC: (Laughter) Not nice at all.

GD: Did I tell you about the big bronze statue of Young and its official unveiling in Salt Lake City? God, the whole Young family was there, senators, congressmen and half the town. There were speeches made, the choir sung and then an elderly daughter pulled the rope to drop the bunting. During the night, some evil soul had hung a huge salami and two cocoanuts on the crotch of the figure.

RTC: (Laughter) Do tell that to Kimmel. I mean, really do tell him. He loathes you anyway so why not tromp on his corns?

GD: Not a bad idea at all. Anyway you filled me in on the Kimmel anger. And these people are supposed to be protecting all of us poor sheep.

RTC: One can dream. And one can look out the dining room window and see the Easter Bunny doing hopscotch in the back yard.

GD: And the Baby Jesus riding his tricycle over your cat.

RTC: Now, now, let’s keep religion out of this. Who knows, some Mormon FBI agent might be listening to this.

GD: One hopes. Ah the trials and tribulations of being a successful author. The chorus of outraged petty academics, and I guess, furious Jews and angry civil servants.

RTC: How do you cope with the assholes?

GD: Well, I do. I attack them, Robert, gut them and leave their stinking carcasses to rot in the sunlight. Methodology? I do not get into pissing matches with skunks. I look deeply into the personas of my detractors and when I am ready, I strike. Not always in print, either. You see, Robert, they are all very vulnerable. The can be fired from jobs, have their wives and children vanish into the night, disgusted with Daddy’s pranks, have the neighbors dump garbage on their lawns or into their swimming pools and generally have a terrible life.

RTC: And how do you accomplish those worthy goals?

GD: Oh, by various means. An old newspaper clipping, well circulated in their circles, attributing an earlier arrest for pedophilia or torture of neighbor’s pets is a good start. A company owned by a friend turns them into a collection agency for a very large unpaid bill is also a good move. There are literally dozens of ways to teach lessons to the small of mind and the large of mouth. People, Robert, are stuck in their very small and shabby castles. They have employers, friends, neighbors and so on. That is where you can get at any of them. How can they respond to the mass distribution of that newspaper clipping exposing their activities in that Florida motel room? Or the earlier arrest of their mother for exposing herself at a Fourth of July parade? Oh, the permutations are endless and the victim, or the evil-does, cannot respond. Colonel X a militant transvestite, arrested in drag on a turnpike in New Jersey and slugging a policemen with his purse. Funny indeed and humorous enough for a neighbor to show to his friends. Stalin once said that no matter where you toss the stone into the pond, the ripples spread. No one, and I mean no one, except perhaps for a bag lady or a nut living in a cabin deep in the woods, is safe from me when I take down my creative rifle and go out for a morning hunt. I once got a stack of terrible, pornographic magazines and I mean terrible, printed up some fake address labels and stuck them on the covers. The next step was to take a few of them down to the office of a local dentist who was making trouble for me. I stuck the magazines into the piles of old magazines in his office….

RTC: Sweet Jesus.

GD: Oh yes indeed. And I sat there reading an old Geographic and was intensely gratified when a mommy and child came in for a dental checkup. A little while later, while I was enthralled looking at the huge sagging tits of native women, I heard the small child say, ’Mommy, what is the doggy doing to the lady?’

RTC: (Laughter)

GD: Oh, and the mommy looked at the magazine and shrieked. And when she saw the one about the fat woman and the dwarf, she really let loose. And she saw the dentist’s name and address on these and I can assure you, he was soon out of practice, to make a pun.

RTC: Creative nastiness, Gregory. I observe that Wolfe is making noises about you. What would you do to him?

GD: Wolfe? What? A retired librarian, friend of the CIA? Subscribe to Playgirl magazine and send it either to his former office or, better, to his home. If his wife ever saw the naked men with large joints waving around, there would be stressful moments in the living room, believe me.

(Concluded at 2:28 PM CST


Pay-to-pray scam finds families caught between faith and desperation

A Washington judge has ordered the Christian Prayer Center to pay $7m in restitution as attorney general calls for more victims to come forward

March 20. 2016

by Maria L. LaGanga

The Guardian

San Francisco-The first complaints about the Christian Prayer Center were short and cryptic – but not enough for the Washington state attorney general’s office to investigate. These people bilked me.

But then, a lengthy letter landed, from a family whose members were both heartbroken and furious.

“They had a child with a rare terminal illness,” said assistant attorney general Daniel Davies. “They were looking for hope anywhere they could get it. One of the places they turned to was the Christian Prayer Center.

“When they are going through incredibly difficult situations, often times people turn to prayer,” Davies continued. “They see a website touting that thousands of people will pray for you. They have a pastor, testimonials on the website of people whose prayers were answered.

“The pastor was a sham,” he said. “The testimonials were fictitious as well.”

The child is still dying.

And the family paid and paid. The first $35 they gave to the Christian Prayer Center to help their ailing daughter was one kind of fraud. No one was praying. There was no one there to help.

The second and third times the family were charged constituted yet another kind of fraud, because the center continued to charge the family’s credit card without consent. When the girl’s father spotted the unapproved charges, he investigated and then contacted Davies’s office.

As a result, the owner of christianprayercenter.com and its Spanish-language counterpart, oracioncristiana.org, have been ordered to pay up to $7m in restitution to an estimated 125,000 desperate consumers who reached out for prayers in their times of need.

Seattle businessman Benjamin Rogovy and the Christian Prayer Center “created fake religious leaders and posted false testimonials in order to attract consumers”, the attorney general’s office said in a statement announcing the settlement last week.

Rogovy’s attorney, Thomas Adams, did not respond to requests for comment. As part of the consent decree, the 30-something Rogovy does not admit to having violated the law.

But the Christian Prayer Center operation is just one of three scams addressed in the settlement – albeit the largest one. The other two were a fake ordination service and a fraudulent consumer complaint agency. In all, Rogovy has agreed to repay up to $7.75m to a total of 165,000 victims nationwide and to pay $600,000 in attorneys’ fees and court costs.

If he does not stop engaging in what the state officials described as “unfair and deceptive business practices” and repay his victims, he will be subject to an additional $1m in civil penalties.

The prayer websites have been shut down, but court documents include screen shots of the fabricated testimonials that drew in tens of thousands of desperate people who wanted to be prayed for by “thousands of Christians” promised by Rogovy, an entreating army that did not exist.

“Our mission is to provide the strongest network of group prayer to Christians around the world,” Rogovy promised. “The Bible tells us that through agreement in prayer, the Lord shall grant us all that we desire.

“The internet has enabled us to build a massive congregation,” Christian Prayer Center boasted, “to lift your prayer requests to a whole new level”.

Giving what the attorney general’s office has described as fabricated testimonials were men and women whose dreams, the website said, were fulfilled by a God who “answers our prayers and grants miracles in our lives”.

People like “Santos M” from Bonfay, Florida, who gushed: “The Lord made my HIV test NEGATIVE!! Praise our God for giving me a second chance at life.” And “Mary C” from Lexington, Kentucky, who spent nearly all of her money on groceries, bought a $7 lottery ticket and won $100. “I left with more money than I came with,” she said, “and had groceries”.

One of the difficulties in the investigation was that it involved both faith and desperation. The attorney general’s office wants as many of Rogovy’s victims to come forward as possible and file claims for reimbursement online.

But “when you’re dealing with people who pay for prayer”, Davies said, “you don’t want to be in a position where someone might think you rescinded their prayer through a lawsuit. That’s why we’re doing a claims process … If people did feel they had consolation, we don’t want to take that away from them.”

The young girl’s parents who made the investigation possible have requested anonymity and do not want their 2014 letter released. “It explains that they felt terribly misled,” said Davies, who handled the case, “and that this is a horrible practice.”

They weren’t the only parents praying for a sick daughter. Davies called it a “consistent thing we see”. And then there was the cancer patient who was desperate for healing.

“It was a time of need,” he said. “They paid the money. And then they found out it was a scam. They were upset. And they feel duped.”


El Niño Upsets Seasons and Upends Lives Worldwide

March 19, 2016

by Henry Fountain

New York Times

In rural villages in Africa and Asia, and in urban neighborhoods in South America, millions of lives have been disrupted by weather linked to the strongest El Niño in a generation.

In some parts of the world, the problem has been not enough rain; in others, too much. Downpours were so bad in Paraguay’s capital, Asunción,that shantytowns sprouted along city streets, filled with families displaced by floods. But farmers in India had the opposite problem: Reduced monsoon rains forced them off the land and into day-labor jobs.

In South Africa, a drought hit farmers so hard that the country, which a few years ago was exporting corn to Asian markets, now will have to buy millions of tons of it from Brazil and other South American countries.

“They will actually have to import it, which is rare,” said Rogerio Bonifacio, a climate analyst with the World Food Program, a United Nations agency. “This is a major drought.”

The World Health Organization has estimated that worldwide, El Niño-related weather is putting 60 million people at increased risk of malnutrition, water- and mosquito-borne diseases, and other illnesses.

Scientists began reporting early signs of El Niño conditions early last year, based on changes in surface-water temperatures and atmospheric pressure in the equatorial Pacific. By midyear, the World Meteorological Organization declared that El Niño was in full swing and that it was on track to be the strongest such event since 1997-98.

An El Niño occurs on average every two to seven years, when warm Pacific water shifts eastward, creating an immense warm zone in the central and eastern Pacific. This adds heat and moisture to the air, which condenses high in the atmosphere, releasing energy that affects the high-altitude winds known as jet streams that circle the planet. The warmer the ocean, the more energy that can potentially be released.

One effect of the energy is that it alters the course of a jet stream. In the Northern Hemisphere, this can bring more winter storms to the southern United States, including Southern California.

But adding all that energy to the upper atmosphere can also introduce a ripple in a jet stream that may affect weather halfway around the world. “It’s like waving a paddle back and forth in the stream and generating planetary-scale atmospheric waves,” said Michael McPhaden, a senior scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That leads to patterns of precipitation, or lack of it, that can pop up in far-flung regions at different times — heavy rains in south-central South America from September to January, increased dryness in Central America for much of the year and a reduced summer monsoon in India, among other effects.

Because these patterns often recur in different El Niño years, the effects can be predictable. Nonetheless, they can still test the ability of governments and aid agencies to respond

El Niño often affects parts of Ethiopia, for example, and this time was no exception. It is among the countries worst hit by drought, Dr. Bonifacio said, with as many as 10 million people in need of food assistance. Yet Ethiopia is handling the problems largely on its own. “They made a decided effort to deal with the situation,” he said.

But as the lack, so far, of prolonged rains in Southern California this winter shows, the effects of El Niño can still be difficult to forecast.

Dr. Bonifacio noted, for instance, that the Sahel in Africa often suffers drought in El Niño summers, but last year, after a dry June, rains picked up. “From July onward, things just flipped over completely,” he said.

El Niño does not just affect people. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said this month that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — an important climate-change measurement — had the greatest year-to-year increase in 56 years, and that the rise was partly because of the effect of El Niño-related weather on vegetation. More drought, for example, means less growth of plants that absorb carbon dioxide from the air.

Here is a closer look at how El Niño has disrupted life in different parts of the world.

A Blow to India’s Monsoons

MAHOBA DISTRICT, India — For the first time in his life, Jeevan Lal Yadav has been getting his wheat and vegetables from the market five miles away, rather from than his own farm.

Mr. Yadav, 43, has not been able to grow anything this past year on the five acres he cultivates here in the heart of northern India, parts of which are experiencing a severe drought.

He is one of millions struggling after a strong El Niño led to reduced rain from the southwest monsoons.

Rainfall in 2015 from monsoons, which sweep over most of India from June to September, was 14 percent below the average. The reduction was more than 40 percent in some areas, including India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, where Mr. Yadav lives.

Because most Indians are farmers, and a majority rely entirely on the monsoon rains, a blow to the rainy season is devastating, rendering lives barely recognizable.

Instead of guarding his annual harvest against wild buffalo, as he has done for as long as he can remember, these days Mr. Yadav sits among a crowd outside the door of the village headman, hoping to get picked for a public works program that pays 161 rupees (about $2.40) a day. His name is called every other day at best, he said.

These programs have existed to varying degrees for years in rural India but have been inadequate, said Vineet Kumar, a climate change officer at the Center for Science and Environment, a New Delhi nonprofit organization that studies farmers’ problems. He said Mr. Modi’s plans had the potential to help farmers but would be too late for millions like Mr. Yadav.

  1. S. Pai, the deputy director general of the long-term monsoon forecasting division at the Indian Meteorological Department, said India predicted the blow to the summer monsoon, which had happened in previous El Niño years. (This El Niño was also linked to heavier-than-normal rainfall last fall in the southern tip of India and Sri Lanka.)

Dr. Pai said his department worked with district officials to inform farmers by text message of long-term predictions and warned them about more immediate outbreaks of bad weather.

Mr. Kumar, of the nonprofit group, said that though the warnings may be issued from the top, there was not enough coordination in many states and districts for the news to reach farmers on time.

And so Pratap Singh, 65, in the Kidhari village, also in the Mahoba district, had not been alerted when, after months of dry weather, rain suddenly arrived in October, soaking the small harvest of wheat he had laid out to dry. The heavy rainfall rotted the 220 pounds of grain, which was only 20 percent of his usual harvest, he said.

Now, with no harvest at all, Mr. Singh said, he and his two adult sons are working when they can as day laborers at a brick kiln. The days they are not hired, he said, they just sit around “whiling away our time — there’s nothing to do.”

Mr. Yadav, the farmer working in the government jobs program, said he prayed for water every morning and evening. He does not pray for anything else, he said, because “if you have water, you have everything.”

Flooding in Paraguay

ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay — The brutal human cost of El Niño is plain to see here in Paraguay’s capital. Downtown plazas and the median strips of thoroughfares are crammed with temporary houses made of plywood, plastic sheets and corrugated steel, thrown together after heavy rains caused the worst flooding in more than three decades.

Seated one recent evening beneath black lapacho trees outside the shack that she is calling home for now — opposite this city’s 19th-century cathedral — Esther Falcón, 32, who runs a kiosk in a slum along the Paraguay River, said she had never experienced rains like those in December.

“The water came so quickly,” Mrs. Falcón said, adding that her home flooded up to about shoulder height. “We didn’t have time to save everything.”

The water has now receded, but Mrs. Falcón’s young family cannot return because the usual rains, which forecasters say should come in April, are expected to cause the still-swollen river to surge again.

About 145,000 people were forced out of their homes across Paraguay, a nation of 6.5 million, Joaquín Roa, the minister for national emergencies, said. About 60,000 people are still displaced in Asunción, he added.

“I’ve never seen something like this,” he said, outside his two-room mud hut in Thurat, a village of several hundred homes surrounded by dried ponds and mostly barren fields that in years past were green with a harvest of wheat and lentils at this time of year. “It’s all dry. I didn’t even sow the seeds.”

Compounding the effects of the El Niño-induced drought this past year is that much of India also suffered from mild El Niño in 2014 that reduced monsoon rainfall by 12 percent. Two successive years of drought hit farmers so hard that Prime Minister Narendra Modi focused his annual budget message last month on programs to improve crop insurance and credit, build irrigation systems and continue the rural employment program on which Mr. Yadav now relies

Despite the risk of further flooding, some people have returned home here, tired of living in the squalor of encampments, where families share portable toilets provided by the government and a United States aid agency, use buckets to shower, cook on portable charcoal stoves, and survive on infrequent handouts of rice, pasta and beans.

Paraguay is historically susceptible to floods, and since mid-2014 Asunción has had unusually regular bouts of heavy rainfall, displacing thousands of families. Still, the most recent storms fueled by El Niño were the worst, swelling the Paraguay River to its highest level since 1983.

In the neighborhood of Santa Ana, Teresa Castro, 51, had just returned home after two months in one of the estimated 140 encampments that the authorities say have cropped up in Asunción, in addition to five government shelters on military grounds. Outside Mrs. Castro’s house, wood canoes still floated on stagnant water; inside, the floods had flaked away walls and destroyed head-high plug sockets.

“I have to start from zero,” Mrs. Castro said as she cleaned her electric oven and attended to her young grandchildren. “We wanted to come home,” she added, “even if it is only to rest for a month,” referring to the probability that she will have to leave again when the rains come in a few weeks.

Mr. Roa said the government had planned for the flooding. For instance, he said, stocks of hospital equipment were secured, and schools readied mobile buildings for future victims so children would continue to go to class. The government also prepared an aid response with the military and the police that included work to ensure that trucks with emergency supplies could reach riverside slums.

But some people stood defiant. Bernardo Olmedo, 40, who reads water meters for a living, moved his furniture upstairs as his house flooded. Refusing to abandon his home, he instead built a temporary staircase that climbed 13 feet from the street to an upstairs window. During the floods, his daily commute to work involved descending the steps, hopping onto a raft made of wood planks and polystyrene wrapped in plastic, and paddling for five minutes, out of the flood zone.

Nearby, in the neighborhood of Republicano, María Vera Villalba, 31, a recycler at Cateura — a vast landfill close to the river, where there were fears a giant pool of tainted water might overflow — said she and her family had little choice but to flee when the rains came and a stream by her home broke its banks.

Ms. Villalba said the rain had fallen hard for two consecutive mornings. After the water did not recede, as it usually did, it soon gushed into her home. Like tens of thousands of others, the family fled and built a shack in the median strip of a road beneath a willow tree, using an orange truck tarpaulin for extra protection from the elements.

Displaced residents like Ms. Villalba said the government had repeatedly offered them houses in safer zones outside the city. But they resist because a move would drive them away from their work and social lives.

Still, Ms. Villalba admitted that she may soon be left with no option. “It’s not a safe place anymore,” she said. “Nature is changing things.” JONATHAN GILBERT

Obstacles in South Africa

SOWETO, South Africa — On a recent evening at Esther Thobagale’s modest four-room house in this township outside Johannesburg, she was preparing pap, the traditional cornmeal porridge that is a staple food of low-income families across South Africa.

A few days before, Ms. Thobagale, who lives with her daughter and two grandsons, had learned that she was going to have to pay a much higher price for cornmeal — 80 rand (about $5.20) for a two-week supply, up from 50 rand (about $3.25). That’s a barely affordable increase for Ms. Thobagale, an unemployed grandmother who supports the household on a government pension and other income totaling 1,730 rand (about $112) a month.


Trump says ‘professional agitators’ are to blame for violence at rallies

In his first comments since protests interrupted two rallies in Arizona on Saturday, Donald Trump rejected any responsibility: ‘We don’t condone violence’

March 20, 2016

by Edward Helmore

The Guardian

In his first comments since protests and violence interrupted two rallies in Arizona on Saturday, Donald Trump rejected any responsibility, saying the protesters involved were “very disruptive people”.

The Republican presidential frontrunner singled out one demonstrator who was punched and kicked by a Trump supporter as he was being led out of a rally in Tucson.

Film showed a female protester following behind, wearing what appeared to be Klu Klux Klan-style white hood.

“Well, you know he or his partner was wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit,” Trump said in an interview with ABC’s This Week on Sunday, when asked if he would disavow the attack on the male protester. “These are not really protesters, they’re agitators.”

Of the supporter who punched the protester, he said: “This happened to be an African American man who was very, very incensed that a protester would be wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit.”

The exchange came three weeks after Trump stoked controversy by refusing to immediately disavow an expression of support from David Duke, a former KKK grand wizard.

Trump denied condoning Saturday’s violence. “That was a tough thing to watch,” he said. “We don’t condone violence. And we have very little violence.”

He repeated: “These are professional agitators. I think that somebody should say that when a road is blocked going into the event.”

Protesters blocked a road in Phoenix earlier on Saturday, before a rally attended by Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County who became famous thanks to his hardline stance on immigration.

Trump also defended campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who at the Tucson rally on Saturday appeared to physically pull a protester by his collar. Police in Florida are investigating a recent incident in which Lewandowski is alleged to have assaulted a reporterTrump said Lewandowski had merely been trying to take down signs held by some protesters.

“They had signs up in that area were horrendous,” he said. “I will give him credit for having spirit.”

Violent confrontation at Trump events threatens become a feature of this election season. The candidate has been pressed repeatedly on what could happen at the Republican convention in Cleveland in July, if he is denied the nomination despite having the greatest number of delegates.

On ABC, George Stephanopoulos asked Trump if he would tell his supporters not to riot.

“I would certainly tell them that,” he said. “But look, these people are fervent, they want to see positive things. I don’t want to see riots, I don’t want to see problems, but you have millions of people you’re talking about.”

Senior Republicans continue their efforts to find ways to block Trump. On Sunday Senator Lindsey Graham, a former presidential candidate, told CBS: “Trump is a demagogue of greatest proportions.”

Trump, he said, “would be an absolute, utter disaster for the Republican party, and destroy conservatism as we know it”.

The question of what may happen in Cleveland in the event that Trump does not amass a clear majority of delegates in the primary elections continues to vex party leaders. On Sunday, national committee chairman Reince Priebus said a contested convention would simply be part of the selection process.

“This is the first time in a long time people actually care about delegate count,” he said, on CNN. “When someone’s a little bit short you let the process play out.”

Priebus seemed to rule out a scenario in which a candidate with a low number of delegates, such as the Ohio governor John Kasich, could win out over a candidate with a greater number, even if that candidate was Trump.

“The minority of delegates doesn’t rule for the majority,” Priebus said.

Still, he refused to rule out convention rule changes, pointing to his own election as party chairman. “I had to fight and fight and fight,” Priebus said “but that’s how it works.”

Having won only his home state so far, Kasich’s only hope of securing the nomination rests with a contested convention. The governor has been accused of running the risk of splitting remaining delegates with the Texas senator Ted Cruz, thus ensuring that Trump remains the decisive frontrunner. Kasich said he believed he was still in with a shot.

“This isn’t a parlor game,” he said on NBC. “The convention is an extension of the process of nominating someone. Nobody is going to the convention with enough delegates. I can win in the fall and I have the experience and record to lead this country.”

But even Kasich supporters, including Graham, have doubts.

“John Kasich is the most electable Republican,” Graham said, “but I don’t think he has a chance to win. Kasich is an insider and most of the delegates are looking for an outsider.”

Graham, who previously said a choice between Trump and Cruz was “like being shot or poisoned”, is now backing Cruz.


Why doesn’t anyone care about voter turnout? It’s complicated

During the 2012 presidential election cycle, 41.4% of eligible American voters didn’t vote – a Census survey explored the reasons

March 20, 2016

by Mona Chalabi

The Guardian

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a voter. The fact that you’re here on a news site means you’re more likely to believe that your vote matters, according to 3,760 US respondents in a survey conducted earlier this year by Pew Research. And it seems fair to assume that if you think your vote matters, you’re more likely to vote.

That might be a fair assumption but it’s a hard one to verify. During the last presidential election cycle in 2012, well over a third of eligible American voters – 41.4% – didn’t vote. As part of its nationwide current population survey, the Census Bureau asked them why.

“Voting doesn’t matter” isn’t among the list of options on the questionnaire. Since you probably are a voter yourself, you might be surprised to find out that most of the 41.4% of eligible Americans who didn’t vote in 2012 provide reasons that don’t neatly fit under the category “apathy”.

The most common reasons given are “too busy, conflicting schedule” (which is given by 19% of people who didn’t vote) and simply “not interested” (16%). For the uncynical, that latter comes the closest to supporting the widely held theory that Americans simply don’t care enough to vote. But it still only explains part of the story.

Usefully, the Census Bureau also give us some clues as to what the real people behind those numbers look like. The demographic data suggests there’s a lot more to low voter turnout than apathy. It also suggests that the most obvious explanation for these responses – that social shame means people are tweaking the truth here – just doesn’t cut it.

Take “illness or disability” for example. Only 3% of 18-24 year olds who didn’t vote said it was for those health reasons compared to 42% of those age 65 and over. Age also makes a big difference in how likely someone is to say they were “out of town” – the youngest respondents were three times more likely than the oldest to give this reason. That also seems plausible since Americans age 18 to 24 are the most mobile age group in the country. The “out of town” response also varied with income – 24% of those earning $150,000 and over said it was why they hadn’t voted compared to 3.5% of respondents earning less than $10,000.

Simply getting to the polls is a problem for some – particularly black Americans. In the Census Bureau data, 6% of black Americans said they didn’t vote because of “transportation problems” compared with 3% of white Americans.

Once you have eliminated the responses “not interested”, “forgot to vote”, “didn’t like candidates or campaign issues” and (possibly ungenerously) “too busy” from the list of reasons, the remaining responses show that 49% of Americans didn’t vote because they believed they couldn’t vote or would face serious obstacles.

That number could explain why come candidates seem to overlook these Americans. It’s not simply a matter of changing their desire to vote – it’s also about their ability to do so.


The Oilman Who Loved Dictators: Or How Texaco Supported Fascism

March 20, 2016

by Adam Hochschild


[This piece has been adapted from Adam Hochschild’s new book, Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939.]

“Merchants have no country,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1814. “The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains.” The former president was ruing the way New England traders and shipowners, fearing the loss of lucrative transatlantic commerce, failed to rally to their country in the War of 1812.

Today, with the places from which “merchants” draw their gains spread across the planet, corporations are even less likely to feel loyalty to any country in particular. Some of them have found it profitable to reincorporate in tax havens overseas. Giant multinationals, sometimes with annual earnings greater than the combined total gross national products of several dozen of the world’s poorer countries, are often more powerful than national governments, while their CEOs wield the kind of political clout many prime ministers and presidents only dream of.

No corporations have been more aggressive in forging their own foreign policies than the big oil companies. With operations spanning the world, they — and not the governments who weakly try to tax or regulate them — largely decide whom they do business with and how. In its quest for oil in the anarchic Niger Delta, according to journalist Steve Coll, ExxonMobil, for example, gave boats to the Nigerian navy, and recruited and supplied part of the country’s army, while local police sported the company’s red flying horse logo on their uniforms. Jane Mayer’s new book, Dark Money, on how the brothers and oil magnates Charles and David Koch spent hundreds of billions of dollars to buy the Republican Party and America’s democratic politics, offers a vivid account of the way their father Fred launched the energy business they would inherit. It was a classic case of not letting “attachments” stand in the way of gain. Fred happily set up oil installations for Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin before the United States recognized the Soviet Union in 1933, and then helped Adolf Hitler build one of Nazi Germany’s largest oil refineries that would later supply fuel to its air force, the Luftwaffe.

His unsavory tale is now part of the historical record, thanks to Mayer. That of another American oil tycoon of the 1930s, who quietly lent a helping hand to a different grim dictator, has, however, gone almost unnoticed. In our world where the big oil outfits have become powerful forces and his company, Texaco, became part of the oil giant Chevron, it’s an instructive tale. He helped determine the course of a war that would shape our world for decades to come.

Flying the Skull and Crossbones Atop an Empire of Oil

From its beginning in 1936 until it ended early in 1939, some 400,000 deaths later, the Spanish Civil War would rivet the world’s attention. For those who no longer remember, here’s a thumbnail sketch of what happened. A group of right-wing army officers calling themselves Nationalists, with a ruthless young general named Francisco Franco emerging as their leader, went into revolt against the elected government of the Spanish Republic. They fought with a brutality that would soon become far more common and global. Newspapers around the world reported on the deadly aid that Franco received from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Squadrons of aircraft on loan from Adolf Hitler infamously bombed the town of Guernica into ruins and leveled whole blocks of Madrid and Barcelona, killing thousands of civilians, something that was shockingly new at the time.

By war’s end, Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini had dispatched 80,000 Italian troops to fight for the Nationalists. Hitler and Mussolini would supply them with weaponry ranging from the latest tanks and artillery to submarines. Totally ignored by the world’s press, however, would be one of Franco’s crucial allies, a man who lived neither in Berlin nor Rome. With a globe on his desk and roll-down maps on the wall of his elegantly wainscotted office, he could be found high in the iconic Chrysler Building in the heart of New York City.

Not one of the hundreds of foreign correspondents who chronicled the bombing of Madrid looked up at the ominous V-shaped formations of Hitler’s bombers and wondered: Whose fuel is powering those aircraft? The oilman who supplied that fuel would, in fact, prove to be the best American friend a Fascist dictator could have. He would provide the Nationalists not only with oil, but with an astonishing hidden subsidy of money, a generous and elastic line of credit, and a stream of strategic intelligence.

Torkild Rieber was a barrel-chested, square-jawed figure whose presence dominated any occasion. At elegant gathering spots, like New York’s 21 Club, where a hamburger-and-egg dish on the menu was named after him, he captivated listeners with tales of his rugged past. Born in Norway, he had gone to sea at 15 as a deckhand on a full-rigged clipper ship that took six months to make its way from Europe around Cape Horn to San Francisco. For the next two years, he signed on with ships carrying indentured laborers from Calcutta, India, to the sugar plantations of the British West Indies. In his deep, gravelly voice, Rieber would tell stories for the rest of his life about climbing to a yardarm to furl sails far above a rolling, pitching deck, and riding out Atlantic hurricanes with a shipload of desperately seasick Indian laborers. On shore years later, however, his dress of choice wasn’t a sailor’s. He liked to wear a tuxedo when he went out to dinner at “21” and elsewhere because, as he said, “that’s the way the Brits ran the colony in Calcutta.”

At the age of 22, having survived a knifing by a drunken crewman, he would be naturalized as an American citizen and become the captain of an oil tanker. Forever after, his friends would call him “Cap.” The tanker he commanded was later bought by the Texas Company, better known by its service station brand name, Texaco. That was when he realized that, in the oil business, the biggest money was to be made on dry land. As the company expanded and the red Texaco star with its green “T” spread to gas stations across the world, he would marry his boss’s secretary and climb the corporate ladder to become, in 1935, CEO.

“He cannot sit at a desk,” wrote an awestruck reporter from Life magazine, who visited him at Texaco’s New York headquarters. “He bounces up and down, fidgets and jumps up to pace the floor as if it were a deck. He is perpetually restless, on a terrestrial scale. He cannot stay long in one office or in one city or on one continent.” Life’s sister magazine, Time, was no less susceptible to his rough-diamond charm, calling him a “hard-headed, steel-willed” corporate chieftain with “horse sense, a command of men, and the driving force of a triple-expansion engine.”

At the time, Texaco had a reputation as the brashest, most aggressive of the big oil companies; its founder, who first hired Rieber, flew a skull-and-crossbones flag atop his office building. “If I were dying at a Texaco filling-station,” a Shell executive once said, “I’d ask to be dragged across the road.”

For the company, Rieber muscled his way into oilfields around the world, making deals with local strongmen. In Colombia, a new city called Petrólea arose in the midst of the Rhode Island-sized expanse of land where Texaco had won the right to drill. To pump the oil to a port where tankers could collect it meant building a 263-mile pipeline across the Andes at Captain Rieber Pass.

Beneath his broad shoulders, iron handshake, sailors’ oaths, and up-from-the-lower-decks persona, however, lay something far darker. Although not particularly anti-Semitic by the standards of the time — “Why,” he would say, “some of my best friends are goddam Jews, like Bernie Gimbel and Solomon Guggenheim” — he was an admirer of Adolf Hitler.

“He always thought it was much better to deal with autocrats than democracies,” a friend recalled. “He said with an autocrat you really only have to bribe him once. With democracies you have to keep doing it over and over.”

Becoming Franco’s Banker

In 1935, the Spanish Republic signed a contract with Rieber’s Texaco, turning the company into its major oil supplier. The next year, after Franco and his allies made their grab for power, however, Rieber suddenly changed course and bet on them. Knowing that military trucks, tanks, and aircraft need not just fuel, but a range of engine oils and other lubricants, the Texaco CEO quickly ordered a supply at the French port of Bordeaux to be loaded into a company tanker and shipped to the hard-pressed Nationalists. It was a gesture that Franco would never forget.

From Nationalist officials came messages explaining that, much as they urgently needed Texaco’s oil for their military, they were painfully short on cash. Rieber instantly replied with a telegram — “Don’t worry about payments” — that became legendary in the dictator’s inner circles. Not surprisingly, soon after that, he was invited to Burgos, headquarters of the Nationalist insurgency, where he promptly agreed to cut off fuel sales to the Republic, while guaranteeing Franco all the oil he needed.

Few were paying the slightest attention to where Franco’s bounteous supply of oil was coming from. Not a single investigation on the subject appeared in any major American newspaper at a time when the civil war in Spain was front-page news almost daily. Yet the question should have been obvious, as more than 60% of the oil going to both sides in the bitter conflict was being consumed by the rival armed forces and Germany and Italy were incapable of offering Franco any oil, since both were petroleum importers.

The U.S. neutrality legislation of the time made it difficult for American corporations to sell even non-military goods to a country at war, and posed two major obstacles for Franco’s Nationalists. The law banned such cargo from being transported in American ships — and the Nationalists had no tankers. In addition, it was illegal to supply a warring country with credit — and the Nationalists had little money. Spain’s gold reserves were in the hands of the Republic.

It didn’t take long for American customs agents to discover that Texaco tankers were breaking the law. They would leave the company’s pipeline terminal at Port Arthur, Texas, with cargo manifests showing their destinations as Antwerp, Rotterdam, or Amsterdam. At sea, their captains would open sealed orders redirecting them to ports in Nationalist Spain. Rieber was also violating the law in yet another way — by extending credit to a government at war. Nominally, the credit was for 90 days (startlingly lenient terms for the oil business of that era). The real terms were far more generous. As one Nationalist oil official later explained, “We paid what we could when we could.” In effect, an American oil company CEO had become Franco’s banker. Unknown to American authorities, Texaco was also acting as a purchasing agent when the Nationalists needed oil products not in the company’s inventory.

FBI agents did indeed question Rieber about those tankers, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt was leery of getting drawn into the Spanish Civil War in any way, even by prosecuting such a conspicuous violation of American law. Instead, Texaco received no more than a slap on the wrist, eventually paying a fine of $22,000 for extending credit to a belligerent government. Years later, when oil companies began issuing credit cards to consumers, a joke began making the rounds among industry insiders: Who did Texaco give its first credit card to? Francisco Franco.

How to Sink a Republic

President Roosevelt continued to maintain a studied neutrality toward the Spanish Civil War that he would later regret. Texaco, on the other hand, went to war.

In recent years, in the archives of the Nationalist oil monopoly, a Spanish scholar, Guillem Martínez Molinos, made a discovery. Not only did Texaco ship its oil illegally to Franco, but that oil was priced as if the Nationalists had transported it, not the company’s fleet of tankers.

Nor was that the end of the gifts Rieber offered. Mussolini had put Italian submarines in the Mediterranean to work attacking ships carrying supplies to Republican Spain. Franco had his own vessels and planes doing this as well. Commanders directing these submarines, bombers, and surface ships were always remarkably well informed on the travels of tankers bound for the Spanish Republic. These were, of course, a prime target for the Nationalists and during the war at least 29 of them were either damaged, sunk, or captured. The risk became so great that, in the summer of 1937, insurance rates for tankers in the Mediterranean abruptly quadrupled. One reason those waters became so dangerous: the Nationalists had access to Texaco’s international maritime intelligence network.

The company had offices and sales agents across the world. Thanks to Rieber, its Paris office began collecting information from port cities about oil tankers headed for the Spanish Republic. His Paris associate William M. Brewster coordinated this flow of intelligence, passing on to the Nationalists data he received from London, Istanbul, Marseille, and elsewhere. Brewster’s messages often listed the quantity and type of fuel a tanker was carrying and how much had been paid for it, intelligence that would help the Nationalists in assessing Republican supplies and finances. Whenever he could, however, he also delighted in relaying information useful to bomber pilots or submarine captains looking for targets.

On July 2, 1937, for example, he sent a telegram to the chief of the Nationalist oil monopoly about the S.S. Campoamor, a Republican tanker a Texaco agent had spotted at Le Verdon, a French port near Bordeaux. It had covered its name, hull, and funnel with new coats of black paint, and was preparing to sail soon under a British flag. It had already twice left its anchorage and returned because of reports of Nationalist ships and submarines lying in wait outside Santander, the Republican-held port where it was supposed to deliver its cargo of 10,000 tons of aviation fuel. The news of that repainting and re-flagging would have been useful to the commanders of Nationalist naval vessels. As it happened, though, an even more valuable piece of information was included in Brewster’s message: much of the crew left the ship “almost every evening.” Four days later, with many of the crew attending a dance on shore, the Campoamor was boarded near midnight by an armed Nationalist raiding party, which quickly sailed it to a port held by Franco.

Rieber traveled to Nationalist Spain twice during the war, at one point getting a VIP tour of the front lines near Madrid. By April 1939, Franco had won the war and Rieber was assured that the gamble he had made would pay off big time. Texaco’s coffers would at last receive the money for the nearly three years’ worth of fuel he had supplied on credit. In total, he sold the Nationalists at least $20 million worth of oil during the war, the equivalent of more than $325 million today. Texaco’s tankers took 225 trips to Spain, and ships the company chartered another 156. Franco later made Rieber a Knight of the Grand Cross of Isabella the Catholic, one of Spain’s highest honors.After the Spanish war ended, Texaco continued to make its own foreign policy. Even after Germany went to war with Britain and France in September 1939, Rieber made no secret of his enthusiasm for Hitler. He sometimes joked with friends that the Führer’s anti-Semitism might be a touch excessive, but he was just the sort of strong, anti-communist leader with whom one could do business. This Rieber did, with gusto, selling Texaco oil to the Nazis, ordering tankers built in Hamburg shipyards, and traveling to Germany after the Polish Blitzkrieg so that Hermann Göring could take him on a tour by air of key industrial sites. On that trip he spent a weekend at the Luftwaffe commander’s country estate, Carinhall, soon to be extravagantly decorated with art treasures looted from across Europe.

Eventually, Rieber’s love of dictators got him in trouble. In 1940, it was revealed, among other things, that several Germans he had hired were Nazi spies using Texaco’s internal communications to transmit intelligence information to Berlin. Rieber lost his job, but thanks to a grateful Franco the deposed tycoon landed on his feet: the dictator made him chief American buyer for the Spanish government’s oil company. He went on to a succession of other high-paying positions and directorships in the oil industry and shipbuilding and died a wealthy man in 1968, at the age of 86.

Rieber is long forgotten, but we still live in a world he had such a hand in shaping. Texaco oil helped Franco win the Spanish Civil War and so be in a position to aid the Nazis in the far larger war that followed. Untold numbers of American sailors lost their lives thanks to the 21 German U-Boats based on Spain’s Atlantic coast. Forty-five thousand Spaniards volunteered for Hitler’s army and air force, and Spain supplied an essential stream of strategic minerals to Germany’s war industry. In the United States three quarters of a century later, well-funded climate change deniers and the political network supported by the Koch brothers are testimony to the enduring power of the oil industry.


Alabama riots reveal maximum security prison was a bomb waiting to explode

Alabama residents were shocked – but years of overcrowding, staff shortages and the addition of new technology were the warning signs officials ignored

March 20, 2016

by Matthew Teague

The Guardian

Atmore, Alabama-The drone touched down in the prison yard at night, like a four-rotor, remote-controlled omen. When they found it, the guards knew it foretold chaos.

Prisoners in Alabama had outpaced their jailers, using new technology to smuggle in phones, weapons, drugs and money. Meanwhile the state’s antiquated, overcrowded prisons grew increasingly unmanageable.

All the worst factors converged, according to Bob Horton, spokesman for the state department of corrections: “Overcrowding. Staff shortages. A lack of modern technology. A propensity for violence,” he said. Something was bound to erupt.

It came in the early hours of 12 March in the form of a Facebook post, like a flag run up a digital flagpole, announcing that Holman prison, outside the town of Atmore, no longer belonged entirely to the state of Alabama.

“It’s going down in this bitch,” said the narrator of a video published there. He shot the footage on a contraband phone, and wore a white towel to cover his face.

Inmates had stabbed a guard. They had stabbed the warden. They were setting fire to the dorm, and they appeared to be carrying swords.

The warden and guard survived the attack, and special security squads swept in to quash the riot. But a few days later, on Monday, another riot flared up, and one inmate stabbed another. The warden called in the security squads again, and by the end of the week the prison remained on lockdown. Reached by the Guardian at his office, warden Carter Davenport declined to describe the incidents with any greater detail.

All of it shocked Alabama residents scrolling through their Facebook feeds. How did a prisoner get a phone? How did he gain access to the internet? Had the state lost control of a maximum-security prison?

But the riots at Holman were as predictable as boiling water. So predictable, in fact, that the prison may have been understaffed because guards sensed violence was coming, and stayed home to avoid it – in the process making riots even more likely. On the day of the riots there were only 17 guards overseeing 991 prisoners.

“Pressure builds in prisons,” said attorney Lisa Graybill, who heads the Southern Poverty Law Center’s incarceration analysis. Until it boils over, she said, and it forces society to face it.

The last real reckoning came in the 1960s, when lawsuits in numerous states forced prison reform across the country. That’s when the William C Holman correction facility was built, meant to be a model of advancement compared with the nearly medieval conditions of prisons past.

The first warden at Holman was Novy Lee Hale, who toured the prison with his granddaughter, Teresa, as it was being built.

“I remember going through while it was under construction,” she said recently. The prison sits on a vast tract of cotton and peanut farmland, surrounded by two wire fences and six guard towers. “It seemed just massive,” she said.

In the 1980s, though, as the war on drugs escalated, the prison seemed to shrink. “There was a sentencing binge,” said Graybill, the SPLC prisons expert. The trouble was, like elsewhere in the country, authorities didn’t expand the prison to accommodate longer sentences and a rush of inmates on minor charges.

Gradually, Alabama developed into the nation’s most overcrowded prison system. Horton, the state’s prisons spokesman, said on the day of the Facebook leak, Holman’s 991 prisoners were stuffed into a facility designed for 637. Those 991 inmates include some of the state’s most desperate convicts; Holman hosts the state’s executions, and most of its death row inmates. Statewide, Horton said, Alabama’s network of prisons is designed to hold 13,318 inmates. The population now stands somewhere past the 24,000 mark. It swelled for numerous reasons, including budget cuts to parole programs, which stifled the flow of prisoners back into civilian life, which caused overcrowding, which has created an even larger budget crisis.

The state sees the problem, and is now trying to reduce its prison population. Last year a law was enacted to make sentencing and parole reforms that should – in theory – reduce the number of inmates by 4,500 over the next five years. It only took effect in January, though, and has not yet diminished the population.

On Wednesday the state senate passed a proposal from Governor Robert Bentley to shut down almost all of the state’s current medium- and maximum-security prisons, and build four new enormous, state-of-the-art prisons in their place. It would all be funded by an $800m state bond.

The state is already impoverished, but Horton said taxpayers should never feel a pinch from the new prisons. “The $800m will be covered in cost savings,” he said. “We will have better surveillance, and less staffing. We’ll have fewer transportation costs.”

Graybill chuckled at the idea. “That’s some voodoo math,” she said. “That’s assuming that everything goes precisely according to plan. I have never known a government construction project to go perfectly.”

Already, she said, the state’s reluctance to say which prisons will be closed is a signal of trouble on the horizon. “I think it’s because they know that legislators are going to flip out,” she said. “They are going to lobby to keep prisons in their own districts open.”

Likewise, other state employees are aghast at the numbers being proposed. Hale Land, the first warden’s granddaughter, is now a teacher, and took to Facebook when she heard about the proposal.

“Just think about what $800m could do for our educational system. We could have mega-schools with the newest technology for our students, our future community and business members in society,” she wrote on Thursday. “So, inmates believe that their conditions are horrible because they live in overcrowded prisons, do not have the newest 21st-century technology, and have to abide by rules and regulations. Our students/schools are overcrowded in small classrooms, do not have 21st Century technology due to under- funding of education, but are expected to follow rules and regulations, and LEARN!!!!”

She had not warmed to the idea by Saturday. “If teachers rioted, we wouldn’t be rewarded with new facilities,” she said. “We would be tossed out of our jobs.”Graybill said she disagrees with the idea that it’s a zero-sum funding issue, or that putting money into prisons precludes more funding for schools. But otherwise, she said, the teacher makes a good point.

“She’s right. Ultimately education is the solution to reducing prison populations,” Graybill said. “Unfortunately it’s always harder to persuade legislators to fund prevention than punishment.”



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