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On the 100th birthday of the late Billie Holiday, we speak to journalist Johann Hari about how U.S. drug agents ruined the life of the country's most celebrated jazz singer. Hari writes about Holiday in his new book, "Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War of Drugs." Watch our full interview with Hari here: Part 1 II Part 2
JOHANN HARI: Yeah, not far from where we are now, in 1939, Billie Holiday stands on stage in a hotel, and she sings the song "Strange Fruit," which obviously your viewers will know is an anti-lynching song. Her goddaughter Lorraine Feather said to me, "You’ve got to understand how shocking this was, right?" Billie Holiday wasn’t allowed to walk through the front door of that hotel; she had to go through the service elevator. To have an African-American woman standing up, at a time when most pop songs were like twee, you know, "P.S. I Love You," that kind of thing, singing against lynching in front of a white audience was regarded as really shocking. And that night, according to her biographer, Julia Blackburn, she’s told by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, "Stop singing this song."
Federal Bureau of Narcotics was run by a man called Harry Anslinger, who I think is the most influential person who no one’s ever heard of. Harry Anslinger takes over the Department of Prohibition just as alcohol prohibition is ending, and he wants to find a new purpose for it. You know, he’s got this huge bureaucracy he wants to run. And he’s really driven by two passions: an intense hatred of African Americans—I mean, this is a guy who was regarded as a crazy racist by the crazy racists in the 1930s; he used the N-word in official police reports so often that his senator said he should have to resign—and a really strong hatred of addicts. And Billie Holiday, to him, was like the symbol of everything that was going wrong in America. And so, he gives her this order.
She refuses. She basically says, "Screw you. I’m an American citizen. I’ll say what I want." She had grown up in segregated Baltimore, and she had promised herself she would never bow her head to any white man. And that’s when Harry Anslinger begins the process of stalking her, and eventually, I think, playing a role in her death, as was explained to me by her friends and by all the archival research.
The first person he sends to stalk her is an agent called Jimmy Fletcher. Harry Anslinger hated employing African Americans, but you couldn’t really send a white guy into Harlem to stalk Billie Holiday—it would be kind of obvious. So Jimmy Fletcher follows her around for two years, and she was so amazing, he fell in love with her. And he felt ashamed his whole life for what he did. He busts her. She’s sent to prison. The trial—she said, "The trial was called The United States v. Billie Holiday, and that’s how it felt." And when she gets out, exactly what happens to addicts all over the United States today happens—what’s happened to those women I met in Arizona: She can’t get a job. You needed a license to be able to perform anywhere where alcohol was sold, and they wouldn’t give her the license. So, you know, her friend Yolande Bavan said to me, "What’s the cruelest thing you can do to a person is to take away the thing they love." She sinks back into addiction.
When she’s in her early forties, she collapses here in New York City, she’s taken to hospital, and she’s convinced the narcotics agents aren’t finished with her. And she was right. She says to one of her friends, "They’re going to kill me in there. Don’t let them. They’re going to kill me." She was right. In her hospital bed, she’s diagnosed with liver cancer. I spoke to the only surviving person who was still in that room—who had been in that room. She’s handcuffed to the bed. They take away her record player and her candies. They don’t let her friends in to see her. One of her friends manages to insist to the doctors they give her methadone, because she had gone into withdrawal. She starts to recover a little bit. Ten days later, they cut off the methadone. She dies.
Her friend Annie Ross—you know, there are lots of things that—I think there’s lots of things in that dynamic that tell us a lot about the drug war, that it’s founded in a race panic. At the same time that Harry Anslinger finds out that Billie Holiday is using—is a heroin user, he finds out that Judy Garland was a heroin user. He advises her to take slightly longer vacations and tells her she’s going to be fine. Spot the difference.
But the most amazing thing to me about the Billie Holiday story that really helped me to think about the addicts in my life is she never stopped singing that song. She always found somewhere to sing it. You know, she went wherever they would have her, and she sang her song about lynching, no matter how much they tried to intimidate her. And to me, that’s really inspiring, not just for resisting the racism of the drug war, but actually for realizing that addicts can be heroes. All over the world while we’re talking, people are listening to Billie Holiday, and they are feeling stronger. And that is an incredible achievement. And the people resisting the drug war who I met all over the world, from a transsexual crack dealer in Brownsville, Brooklyn, to, you know, a scientist who was feeding hallucinogens to mongooses to see what would happen, to the only country that has ever decriminalized all drugs, there is heroism in resistance to this war all over the world.
In a Democracy Now! exclusive, we speak with the father and cousin of two of the 43 students missing from the Mexican state of Guerrero since late September. The Mexican authorities have declared the students dead, saying members of a local drug gang killed them and incinerated their bodies. But only one student’s remains have been identified, and journalists have pointed to the possible involvement of federal authorities.
As parents who have traveled from Mexico cross the United States in three protest caravans, we speak with two relatives of the missing students who live here in New York City: Antonio Tizapa is the father of Jorge Antonio Tizapa Legideño; and Amado Tlatempa is the cousin of Jesús Jovany Rodríguez Tlatempa. Tizapa, who believes his son is still alive, calls on the Obama administration to stop the Mérida Initiative, the multibillion-dollar U.S. aid program used to fund the war on drugs in Mexico.
AMY GOODMAN: Here in New York, relatives of two of the 43 students missing from the Mexican state of Guerrero for over six months participated in a 10 kilometer run Saturday to protest the ongoing disappearance of their loved ones. The Mexican government says the students were killed by gang members, but the family's questioned that account and believe they're alive. Antonio Tizapa, the father of the missing student, wore a T-shirt which read, "My son is your son and your son in my son."
ANTONIO TIZAPA: [translated] That way we can show our government, the Mexican government, that wherever there's a Mexican their is a lot of support. As you can see, there are several fellow Mexicans here expressing their support for the cause of the Ayotzinapa 43, and making it clear to the government that it is not a closed case as they would like it to be.
AMY GOODMAN: Late last week, unknown protesters wrote the names of the missing 43 students on the facade of the Mexican consulate in New York City with the phrase, "Consulate accomplice." Well, two relatives of the missing students who live right here in New York are joining us now in our Democracy Now! studio in this radio-television broadcast exclusive. Antonio Tizapa is the father of Jorge Antonio Tizapa Legideño, one of the 43 missing students. We're also joined by Amado Tlatempa, cousin of another missing student, Jesus Jovany Rodriguez Tlatempa. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Antonio, what do you think has happened to your son?
ANTONIO TIZAPA: [translated] What has happened — well, he has disappeared together with his other companions, and what we don't understand is why they did it. They are young. They are students from a rural, normal school for teachers. They are young people from poor means, and the majority — 90 percent of the students — that are disappeared are first year students. They only had two months of being integrated into the school. The reason for why they don't appear, we don't know. And that is why we are here, so that they can give us an explanation through this medium, and other mediums that can pressure the government. And I thank this medium, I thank Democracy Now! because it's the first that has given me the opportunity to speak to the American audience. And thank you.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, the government says that the youths are dead, but you still believe that your son may be alive?
ANTONIO TIZAPA: [translated] Absolutely. One hundred percent. Like the rest of the parents, we are sure that they are alive. Independently, that what others say, that is completely false. We know that they are alive. We know that they are holding them alive because they are being detained. We don't know the reason. We do not know the reason.
AMY GOODMAN: What has the Mexican government told the families? Why don't you believe it?
ANTONIO TIZAPA: [translated] Because the government says that this is a case that is a closed case. However, there is no evidence. There is no evidence that show us — that prove what the government says happened to them. And while there is no proof, we maintain that they are alive 100 percent.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Tell us something about your son. What were — what were his hopes and dreams, and a little bit about his life.
ANTONIO TIZAPA: [translated] Well, yes. His dream was to continue studying. He had various options. One option was to go to Mexico City also to study in a normal school, or to stay in Ayotzinapa, which is where we are from. He went to do the exam at the school for entrance, but he said, if I have a choice, I want to stay in Ayotzinapa because I want to stay close to my mother and my family. I, as a father, and his mother, said it's your decision, son. We are here to support you. And he decided to go to Ayotzinapa. He loved the relationship to the children. That's why he wanted to make the decision to become a teacher.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Amado into this conversation. You are the cousin of one, perhaps two, of the young men who went to the school who were abducted, and you grew up together with them in Tixtla? Amado, why would the government target the students?
AMADO TLATEMPA: [translated] This is an old problem that has decades of — the school and the government. Because the students fight for their rights to — to gain a better life, to gain better housing, better food, better education. What they do is they take to the streets to be heard, and the government treats them like delinquents. So this is a problem that's been going on for decades.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about your cousin Jesus? And tell us about growing up in Tixtla, since that's where you grew up; you're both roughly the same age.
AMADO TLATEMPA: [translated] We were born and we were raised. There are not many opportunities for progress and that is why the majority of the youth look for that type of school where school is almost free. But lately the mexican government has privatized education, so only the people with more resources have access to education. This is the repression, not against the middle class, but against the poor.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Antonio, I wanted to turn to a clip of your wife, Hilda Legideño, speaking about your son in a video that was produced by Telesur.
HILDA LEGIDEÑO VARGAS: [translated] I'm the mother of a missing student. His name is Jorge Antonio Tizapa. He's 20 years old. We were originally from here, Tixtla, a small town, apparently tranquil, but now corrupted like many cities by the delinquency of the government. My son worked driving a van. At three in the morning he had to go to work. Sometimes I'd go with him so he wasn't alone, and if not I'd tell him be careful. We had a time when a lot of youths were kidnapped here in Tixtla. I told him to study so you can offer something to your family, your daughter because he has a young daughter. She's one and half years old. We didn't expect this was going to happen. What we're waiting for is the return of our children. We're going to keep looking. We're not going to stop.
AMY GOODMAN: Your wife, Hilda Legideño is one of the leading organizers for the students. What message do you have, living in the United States to President Obama, in our relationship with Mexico.
ANTONIO TIZAPA: [translated] Well what I would tell to the — to President Obama, is to stop supporting Plan Mérida, because the weapons, the arms with those weapons that are supposedly supporting the war against drugs, those — those arms are being used to annihilate our students, I ask him to stop that aid, that is what we ask of him. The parents and all the citizens of Mexico, because we are going through a very difficult situation. It is not possible that just because one is a student, they assassinate you. So please no more aid to Mexico in the weapons system.
AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk about he history of Aytozinapa the school, and it's significance in Mexico.
ANTONIO TIZAPA: [translated] Yes, of course. With pleasure. While I had — like I had commented, I am from here, as well as Amado, what I can say about the normal rural school is that it’s a school that was created for — specifically to help the children of campesinos, fieldworkers, and that way integrate the most marginalized people. The students that attend these schools are sent from regions where there is no water, there is no electricity, and no way to get to school; they have to walk four to five hours to be able to get to school. And also to educate people, because there are some places where there is no — people can’t read, practically, and in that way, to instruct the people, and also to understand the laws that we have.
The story of Ayotzinapa was that it was founded many years ago with that goal in mind. It's a — it's an all male school that has many resources, such as dormitories and — but it is not — but it is not what you would think of a private school here in the U.S. There is no hot water in bathrooms, there is no — it’s very rustic. Where the youngsters do sports, but also they have workshops on carpentry, metallurgy — metal working — and they also conduct husbandry and several areas of cultivation. In that way, they are helping each other, they sell what they produce, and at the same time, the husbandry of pigs, for instance, also helps them, and also to provide food for them at the school.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What are you hoping the U.S. government could do to be able to assist you in finding a solution to what has happened to your son and to the other youths?
ANTONIO TIZAPA: [translated] I am hoping that the government will open its heart — the government will open its heart and put some pressure on the Mexican government, and at the same time, there are parents here in the United States, that are doing some conferences in schools, to bring to light this case so that there is more pressure on the Mexican government, so there is a solution. At the same time we have also, the mother of my child was one of the people who went to Geneva, the United Nations, to build international pressure. That is really the only way that we can attain a resolution. So this is the invitation we make to our American friends so they know the problem that’s happening in our country, Mexico, and we appreciate, we are so thankful. Where other mass media, other communications have not reported on this, and this is exactly why we are going to universities. At the same time in Mexico, there are places where the information is completely different from what is actually being experienced, and they tell them we didn’t know any of this was happening, but it’s good this is being disseminated.
And thank you so much, to you, for telling people exactly what is happening in our country.
AMY GOODMAN: And your final message here Antonio?
ANTONIO TIZAPA: [translated] My message? Well, as a father I thank everyone here, and please don’t forget to support us, believe me. It is very difficult, the situation. I would not wish it upon anyone. Thank you for your support.
AMY GOODMAN: Antonio Tizapa is the father of Jorge Antonio Tizapa Legideño, one of the 43 missing Mexico students. And thank you so much to Amado Tlatempa, cousin of Jesus Jovany Rodriguez Tlatempa, another of those missing students. This is Democracy Now! democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report I'm Amy Goodman with Juan González.
Former Nike CIO and member of the exclusive Fortune 40 Under 40 list Anthony Watson has joined the Bitcoin bank Bitreserve as President and Chief Operating Officer.
“I am thrilled to join Bitreserve at such a pivotal moment in the evolution of cloud money and financial technology,” says Watson. “Money is a common language around the world, and Bitreserve democratizes how people access, hold and move value. We have the unique opportunity to craft a lasting legacy of delivering transparency, massive innovation and positive social impact to financial services and in peoples’ everyday lives.”
“Anthony will drive Bitreserve’s efforts to inform industry leaders and work with members of the global financial services community to deliver transparency, portability and independence to current and future customers around the world,” says Bitreserve founder and CEO Halsey Minor. “His knowledge and deep insight into financial systems is invaluable as we continue to grow and make strides towards a future that enables anyone to access and participate in the digital economy.”
“I was itching to make an impact,” Watson told Fortune. “I wanted to do something that is valuable for people broadly, not just in one industry. And what Bitreserve is looking to achieve really democratizes finance. It’s going to help people all over the world. The financial system is inherently unfair – it’s always the richest who have access, and the poorest don’t have access, or when they do, they have to pay astronomical rates.”
Bitreserve solves bitcoin’s volatility problem by enabling users to hold bitcoin as stable, real-world currencies. Bitreserve currently offers eight options: U.S. dollar, euro, U.K. pound, yen, yuan and the latest two additions – Indian rupee and Mexican peso.
Bitreserve, which also offers commodities – for now, the metals gold, silver, platinum and palladium – recently expanded to Mexico in partnership with its largest investor, Grupo Salinas CEO Ricardo Salinas-Pliego.
With this expansion, Bitreserve wants to grab a slice of the large market for remittances sent from migrant Mexican workers in the United States back to their families in Mexico. It is working in partnership with a major financial services company and community bank.
The plan combines the faster and cheaper remittances permitted by Bitcoin with the convenience of using the national currency.
Minor told Fortune that “the great magical beauty of bitcoin” is that it allows for the creation of financial institutions without having to go through the traditional financial system.
“We’ve taken the idea of Bitcoin and applied it to the world consumers already live in, rather than trying to force consumers into a new world that has high risk,” he said.
Minor’s thoughts about the future of Bitcoin are especially interesting: “I’ll be surprised if Bitcoin is here in five years,” he said. “It’s a means to an end. The value of Bitcoin isn’t the currency, but the technology. I think once the world becomes more accustomed and attuned to the platform of Bitcoin, the noise will go away, and the currency will go away, too.”
Watson is a high-profile spokesman for a growing number of workers who value work-life balance and refuse to sacrifice personal life for their career. As such, the Fortune article notes, he values the modern, distributed workplace at Bitreserve.
“Millennials don’t want to or need to work in one big concrete building in one location,” he said. “That’s not how the world works anymore,” he said. “Some people want to work remotely from home, some want to work from a coffee shop, some want to work at an office.”