Feb 15, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 169

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.


Topics: Protests and health reform debates in Idaho; Black History Month 2017. People: Bill, Sarah, and De Ana. Produced: Feb 14th, 2017.

Episode 169 (50 min):
AFD 169

Reading materials:

– Washington Post: Republicans in Idaho Tried to Design a Better Plan than Obamacare — and Failed
– Arsenal For Democracy 2015: #ReclaimMLK: Why We Need a Bigger Picture of the Civil Rights Movement


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

Music by friend of the show @StuntBirdArmy.

Feb 1, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 167

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.


Topics: Reactions to the first week of the Trump Administration and the emerging protests. People: Bill and Jonathan. Produced: Feb 1st, 2017.

Episode 167 (55 min):
AFD 167

Discussion Points:

– Who’s calling the shots inside the White House?
– What are the opportunities in the emerging street protests against the Trump Administration’s overreaches?


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

Music by friend of the show @StuntBirdArmy.

Guatemala has a lot to celebrate this independence day

Today Guatemala celebrates its Independence Day and it is quite a different country than it was just 365 short days ago, or even six months ago, when I left Guatemala after finishing my two years of Peace Corps service in the rural, western highlands of the beautiful country.

Photo taken by Kelley in Cajolá, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala at a girls' leadership camp hosted by Kelley and local health center staff.

Photo taken by Kelley in Cajolá, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala at a girls’ leadership camp hosted by Kelley and local health center staff.

When people ask me if I am glad to be back, I sincerely respond that I am not sure if I’m glad to be back in the United States, but I am definitely glad that I am not in Guatemala anymore. You see, Guatemala is an extremely difficult place to live. Bus drivers are frequently shot by cartels when bribes are not paid; men present a real and constant danger in the street and at home because of an oppressively “machismo” mindset that persists in the country; and 50% of children are chronically malnourished, an unfathomable and heartbreaking statistic.

Not only is Guatemala a hard place to live, it is a really hard place to get things done, Decades of impunity, staggering inequality, and corrupt governments make Guatemala a perfect storm of inefficiency and the people of Guatemala, particularly the large indigenous population, are the ones who suffer. According to the World Bank, of every country in the world, Guatemala spends the least on health, education, and infrastructure, proportionate to its economy. The Executive Director of the Foundation for the Development of Guatemala (Fundesa), Juan Carlos Zapata, reports “We believe that 30 percent of the budget is lost to corruption.”

However, today as I think about Guatemala, I am able to reflect more softly on my experience and I have brighter hopes for what’s ahead in Guatemala. Maybe that’s just because my months at home have allowed me to physically and emotionally begin to recuperate from an exhausting two years.

But I think it has more to do with the political revolution that is well under way in Guatemala. Guatemalans in the capitol, Guatemala City, and around the country, have begun to say “enough is enough”. Maybe, like many other countries, this is because of the smart phone revolution, allowing people to spread pictures and ideas more easily. Maybe Guatemala is finally shedding the yoke of a 36-year-long civil war, which ended in 1996 but still stains every part of society. Whatever the reason, the actions taken by ordinary Guatemalan citizens in the past few months make me proud of the time I worked in the endlessly fascinating country of Guatemala.

Protests began in April after the Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, CICIG), an international body backed by the United Nations and responsible for prosecuting serious crimes in Guatemala, charged the Vice President and others in the administration with taking bribes for reducing import and customs taxes.

The first big victory for Guatemalans seeking a less corrupt government was the resignation of Vice President Roxana Baldetti on May 8, 2015, who prosecutors claim took $3.7 million in bribes as part of the customs scandal. At the time, President Otto Pérez Molina claimed no wrongdoing, but CICIG and the Guatemalan people were suspect.

So, protests continued with the simple phrase “Renuncia Ya” (Resign Already) at the heart of it all. For nineteen weeks, concerned citizens protested, employing only nonviolent protest tactics, even going to far as to offer flowers to police. Then the unthinkable happened, on August 31st, the 132 members of Congress who were present for voting (out of 158 members total), voted unanimously to rescind the presidential immunity, which had formerly protected Perez from prosecution. In a country where lawlessness abounds because people are not held accountable for their actions, 132 members of Congress and tens of thousands of protesters decided that Guatemala needed to change.

Then, on September 2nd, the embattled president, Otto Pérez Molina, finally resigned.

Now, with the former Vice President and President in jail, the world’s eyes are watching what Guatemala does next. In Guatemala’s first round of voting for a new president, which occurred on September 6, Jimmy Morales, a comedian with no political experience won the first round. (This election had already been scheduled before Molina’s resignation.) A run-off election will occur on October 25, between Morales and former first lady Sandra Torres. Morales is running on a simple platform of “Not corrupt, not a thief” and is touting his position as an outsider, while Torres is reminding the country of the social work she did as First Lady. There are lingering questions about each of their abilities to continue to rid the government of corruption.

The battle against corruption is far from won, but today, Guatemala’s Independence Day, is a day to celebrate the hard work done by men and women over the past 365 days to ensure a better future for the citizens of Guatemala. Guatemala has been referred to as one of the worst places in the world to be a child, but the progress made in the past few months makes me hopeful that the impoverished, indigenous children I worked with in Guatemala might grow up to live in a country whose government strives to serve them and their families.

Sept 2, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 141

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.


Topics: A vital ruling by the National Labor Relations Board; the European refugee crisis; Lebanon’s capital protests lack of trash collection. People: Bill, Kelley, Nate. Produced: August 30th, 2015.

Episode 141 (56 min):
AFD 141

Discussion Points:

– Workers’ rights: Major U.S. corporations will no longer be able to shield themselves on labor issues by subcontracting and franchisees will have to face unions.
– Refugees: Is the European Union doing enough to deal with the refugee crisis? Is the world prepared for mass climate refugee situations?
– Lebanon: The people rise up in Beirut as trash goes uncollected for weeks on end.

Related Links

– Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “NLRB ruling could be boost for contract and franchise employees”
The Guardian: “Syrians fleeing war find new route to Europe – via the Arctic Circle”
“Why Al Jazeera will not say Mediterranean ‘migrants'”
AFD: “Real world costs when the Left sells out immigrants”
AFD: Beirut’s Garbage Uprising
AFD: “Lebanon gov’t hastily builds concrete wall, then tears it down”


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video game blog of our announcer, Justin.

Lebanon gov’t hastily builds concrete wall, then tears it down

As previously explained, Beirut, Lebanon is in the midst of a series of protests against the dysfunctional national government for failing to arrange for trash collection in the capital. The government began panicking and backtracking after riot police violently assaulted protesters. But that didn’t mean they were actually planning to fix anything. They just didn’t want to have another crackdown.

This might be the weirdest possible solution:

The protests turned violent over the weekend, prompting the government to erect a concrete wall outside its main building to prevent protesters from reaching it.

Within hours, the wall was filled with anti-government graffiti.

“State of Shabiha,” one young man scrawled, an Arabic term for thugs. Another drawing showed a man’s body wrapped in a black cloth below a caption that read: “The shroud of the state.”

On Tuesday, authorities began removing the wall, just 24 hours after it was installed.

“They won’t fool us by removing the wall,” said Sarhan, the You Stink supporter. “Remove it or not, we don’t care. We want… an end to sectarianism. We want to build a state,” he said.

Popping a concrete wall into place — I assume they used pre-fab barriers rather than pouring it on-site — definitely sends a pretty specific message: “We are ‘fraidy-cats.” That’s in line with the rather pathetic, frantic pinwheeling of the Prime Minister after the crackdown.

“I was never in this for a position in government, I am one of you. I am with the people. Do not pit this conflict [as] one camp against the other. Target all the politicians.”

Delusional, tone-deaf speechifying to try to placate protesters is usually a pretty good sign of the impending fall of a government.

Also a nice touch, in building the wall, to give everyone at the protests a media-friendly canvas on which to paint their frustrations. Have Lebanon’s leaders never heard of all the political graffiti on the West Bank security barrier or the West Berlin wall?

Beirut’s Garbage Uprising


Lebanon is a country close to my heart, but (probably for the better) it hasn’t been dominating global news for a few years. Headlines began popping up this weekend, however, along the lines of
“Many injured in Beirut ‘you stink’ protest over rubbish” or
“Thousands protest against Lebanese govt over uncollected rubbish” and simply
“Thousands protest against government in Beirut” — that one from the local paper for their photo gallery.

For comparison, Beirut, Lebanon is about half as populous as Boston, Massachusetts in the United States. This story for those not following it, much like the heaps of garbage in Beirut, has been building up for some time now in the capital city.

Basically, what happened is that the not-very-elected national “unity” government of Lebanon is so dysfunctional at anything other than literally not re-entering a civil war that they failed to act in time to secure a location for a major new landfill capable of taking the capital’s trash, even though they had plenty of advanced warning that the existing site was past capacity and was going to have to close.

So, the trash has just been piling up in the streets, valleys, rivers, and the ocean for the past month, even during the huge heat wave that affected much of the Middle East (and has sparked similar reform protests in Iraq). Some Beirut residents have just burned their trash in the street, but that creates toxic air pollution that lingers in the city. In a small and delicately balanced country like Lebanon, finding a place to put all this trash really is a national-level issue requiring dedicated internal negotiations. Very little of which has happened.

Demonstrations have been escalating. The latest protest — documented at the headlines above — reached at least 4,000 participants, who clashed with riot police outside government buildings. The slogan in Beirut, as in the Arab Spring Revolutions of late 2010 and early 2011, is simply “The people want to topple the regime!” — even for a garbage crisis.

There’s something to be said for the human spirit and temperament that even with everything else falling apart and the security situation in chaos, as is the case in Baghdad and Beirut, the daily dysfunctions and quotidian aggravations still motivate people to mobilize and demand better of their governments instead of just putting up with it. Even in the United States, during the American Civil War, you can read examples of people in both the North and South rioting against their governments and their own forces over unfair policies, food shortages, and so on.

We’ve also, in recent weeks, begun seeing protests in government-held areas of Syria by loyalists demanding better treatment and services from the government they’ve poured their blood, sweat, and tears into propping up since 2011.

All politics — and war — is ultimately local. We often think of the purpose of government in big-picture terms like “national defense” and “providing security” but people still have expectations of their governments even when those points have gone out the window. The longer the big disorder drags on without resolution, the more irritating the little disorders become.

At the end of the day, when the trash stinks, somebody’s got to take it out. The crisis in Beirut might just be the most potent metaphor ever for bad governance and corrupt state failure the world over.

Ferguson + 365 Days: A Culture of Police Impunity

On the anniversary of Mike Brown’s death, another abusive police crackdown played out.

Map: Ferguson, MO within St. Louis County. (© OpenStreetMap contributors)

Map: Ferguson, MO within St. Louis County. (© OpenStreetMap contributors)

Last year, on August 9th, the death of Mike Brown at the hands of a police officer pushed the chronic abuse of an entire community at the hands of police to the forefront of global news media and kicked off a national movement.

Ten days ago, on August 9th 2015, the first anniversary of his death, people began tweeting links to articles and feeds about violence breaking out in Ferguson. I naively thought that people were posting old articles, as a reminder of the trauma that Ferguson residents endured last year in the wake of Mike Brown’s death. It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized that the links being posted were brand new. It’s been a year to the day, yet St. Louis County Police Department still doesn’t seem to want to fix the problem.

Over the past year, Whiteness and its privileges have been under the microscope. More and more people of color, especially Black people, are able to document their interactions with Whiteness — from the smallest micro-aggressions to major instances of Police Brutality and abuse. Ferguson in the past week alone has shown examples almost all of these issues.

On the night of August 10th, a 19-year-old White girl decided she was going to show solidarity with St. Louis PD as the tension increased at the ongoing Ferguson anniversary protests. The girl is quoted saying that she was there to protect the police, because she would rather have something thrown at her, than to have something thrown at and possibly injure cops.

It seems strange that someone would feel that police with guns riot gear would need protection from peaceful protesters. Meanwhile, the same instinct isn’t felt for a 12 year old Black girl detained by St. Louis County PD in Ferguson during protests. When the news spread on Twitter of the girl’s arrest, the STL PD account was quick to respond that the girl had an ID that stated that she was 18 years old, despite the fact that there were eyewitness accounts of the girl stating that she was 12 when asking why exactly she was being detained. Apparently she posed the same threat that Dajerria Becton posed in McKinney, Texas: being young, Black, and female in front of the police.

Earlier that same day, prominent activists Netta Elzie and DeRay Mckesson were both arrested, along with many others, during a peaceful protest at the Ferguson courthouse. It wasn’t until the following day, upon release, that other detainees came forward on Twitter with stories of being abused by the police — who ignored their requests not only to know why they were being detained, but also requests for things such as rolling down the windows in hot police vans.

This level of neglect harkens back to the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, or the death of Sandra Bland in Texas. In both of those instances, the police claimed that the victims hurt themselves, but the negligence shown toward the detainees makes one think that any pre-existing issue anyone might have had could only have become worse in police custody.

While Black protesters were detained abusively, an armed group of vigilantes called the Oath Keepers showed up at Tuesday night’s protests weren’t even approached initially by police and the legality of their presence had to be reviewed before the police ever asked them to leave. As usual, the threat of White violence (against Black protesters) was apparently less dangerous than the protesters’ unarmed presence.

Virtually all of this — incredibly — played out in front of global news media again, just like the first time around.

It’s been a year since the death of Mike Brown at the hands of a Ferguson police officer, and it seems as if the police there has not learned a single lesson. It is still treating unarmed Black citizens as a threat. Its attempts to “control” already peaceful situations only raise tensions higher. With the growing list of Black and Brown people being murdered by police, and with the entirety of the world watching, Ferguson is a reflection of the entire country’s inability to take any substantial move towards valuing and preserving our lives.

While the movement that expanded in the aftermath of Mike Brown’s death seems to have started very slightly changing the discussion in the country — by refusing to “let it go” — it is telling that the police in St. Louis County feel they can act with such impunity with the world watching.

That means they believe enough people in power or the general public don’t object to their behavior enough to correct it. Or that if they do object, the system will continue to protect them anyway. Sadly, that assumption is probably correct. And with Ferguson being the example of systemic racism on a smaller scale, imagine how that is playing out nationwide, off-camera.