What Are the Only 3 States That Score Higher Than a D+ in the Corruption Index?

AlterNet.org - November 28, 2015 - 3:00am
This is just embarrassing.

In November 2014, Arkansas voters approved a ballot measure that, among other reforms, barred the state’s elected officials from accepting lobbyists’ gifts. But that hasn’t stopped influence peddlers from continuing toprovide meals to lawmakers at the luxurious Capital Hotel or in top Little Rock eateries like the Brave New Restaurant; the prohibition does not apply to “food or drink available at a planned activity to which a specific governmental body is invited,” so lobbyists can buy meals so long as they invite an entire legislative committee.

Such loopholes are a common part of statehouse culture nationwide, according to the 2015 State Integrity Investigation, a data-driven assessment of state government by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity. The comprehensive probe found that in state after state, open records laws are laced with exemptions and part-time legislators and agency officials engage in glaring conflicts of interests and cozy relationships with lobbyists. Meanwhile, feckless, understaffed watchdogs struggle to enforce laws as porous as honeycombs.

Take the Missouri lawmaker who introduced a bill this year — which passed despite a veto by the governor — to prohibit cities from banning plastic bags at grocery stores. The state representative cited concern for shoppers, but he also happens to be state director of the Missouri Grocers Association, and is just one of several lawmakers in the state who pushed bills that synced with their private interests.

Or the lobbyist who, despite a $50 cap on gifts to Idaho state lawmakers, spent $2,250 in 2013 to host a state senator and his wife at the annual Governors Cup charity golf tournament in Sun Valley; the prohibition does not apply to such lobbying largess as long as the money is not spent “in return for action” on a particular bill.

In Delaware, the Public Integrity Commission, which oversees lobbying and ethics laws for the executive branch there, has just two full-time employees. A2013 report by a special state prosecutor found that the agency was unable “to undertake any serious inquiry or investigation into potential wrongdoing.”

And in New Mexico, lawmakers passed a resolution in 2013 declaring that their emails are exempt from public records laws — a rule change that did not require the governor’s signature. “I think it’s up to me to decide if you can have my record,” one representative said.

These are among the practices illuminated by the State Integrity Investigation, which measured hundreds of variables to compile transparency and accountability grades for all 50 states. The results are nothing short of stunning. The best grade in the nation, which went toAlaska, is just a C. Only two others earned better than a D+; 11 states received failing grades. The findings may be deflating to the two-thirds of Americans who, according to a recent poll, now look to the states for policy solutions as gridlock and partisanship have overtaken Washington D.C.

The top of the pack includes bastions of progressive government, including California (ranked 2nd with a C-), and states notorious for corrupt pasts (Connecticut, 3rd with a C-, and Rhode Island, 5th with a D+). In those New England states, scandals led to significant reforms and relatively robust ethics laws, even if dubious dealings linger in the halls of government. The bottom includes many western states that champion limited government, like NevadaSouth Dakota and Wyoming, but also others, such as MaineDelaware and dead-last Michigan, that have not adopted the types of ethics and open records laws common in many other states.

The results are “disappointing but not surprising,” said Paula A. Franzese, an expert in state and local government ethics at Seton Hall University School of Law and former chairwoman of the New Jersey State Ethics Commission. Franzese said that, with many states still struggling financially, ethics oversight in particular is among the last issues to receive funding. “It’s not the sort of issue that commands voters,” she said.

With a few notable exceptions, there has been little progress on these issues since the State Integrity Investigation was first carried out, in 2012. In fact, most scores have dropped since then, though some of that is due to changes made to improve and update the project and its methodology.

Since State Integrity’s first go-round, at least 12 states have seen their legislative leaders or top cabinet-level officials charged, convicted or resign as a result of ethics or corruption-related scandal. Five house or assembly leaders have fallen. No state has outdone New York, where 14 lawmakers have left office since the beginning of 2012 due to ethical or criminal issues, according to a count by Citizens Union, an advocacy group. That does not include the former leaders of both the Assembly and the Senate, who were charged in unrelated corruption schemes earlier this year but remain in office.

New York is not remarkable, however, in at least one regard: Only one of those 14 lawmakers has been sanctioned by the state’s ethics commission.

Grading the states

When first conducted in 2011-2012, the State Integrity Investigation was an unprecedented look at the systems that state governments use to prevent corruption and expose it when it does occur. Unlike many other examinations of the issue, the project does not attempt to measure corruption itself.

The 2015 grades are based on 245 questions that ask about key indicators of transparency and accountability, looking not only at what the laws say, but also how well they’re enforced or implemented. The “indicators” are divided into 13 categories: public access to information, political financing, electoral oversight, executive accountability, legislative accountability, judicial accountability, state budget processes, state civil service management, procurement, internal auditing, lobbying disclosure, state pension fund management and ethics enforcement agencies.

Experienced journalists in each state undertook exhaustive research and reporting to score each of the questions, which ask, for example, whether lawmakers are required to file financial interest disclosures, and also whether they are complete and detailed. The results are both intuitive — an F for New York’s “three men in a room” budget process — and surprising — Illinois earned the best grade in the nation for its procurement practices. All together, the project presents a comprehensive look at transparency, accountability and ethics in state government. It’s not a pretty picture.

Downward trend, blips of daylight

Overall, states scored notably worse in this second round. Some of that decline is because of changes to the project, such as the addition of questions asking about “open data” policies, which call on governments to publish information online in formats that are easy to download and analyze. But the drop also reflects moves toward greater secrecy in some states.

“Across the board, accessing government has always been, but is increasingly, a barrier to people from every reform angle,” said Jenny Rose Flanagan, vice president for state operations at Common Cause, a national advocacy group with chapters in most states.

No state saw its score fall farther than New Jersey, where scandal after scandal seems to have sunk Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential aspirations deep into the muck of the state’s brawling, back-scratching political history. New Jersey earned a B+, the best score in the nation, in 2012 — shocking just about anyone familiar with the state’s politics — thanks to tough ethics and anti-corruption laws that had been passed over the previous decade in response to a series of scandals.

None of that has changed. But journalists, advocates and academics have accused the Christie administration of fighting and delaying potentially damaging public records requests and meddling in the affairs of the State Ethics Commission. That’s on top of Bridgegate, the sprawling scandal that began as a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge but has led to the indictments so far of one of the governor’s aides and two of his appointees — one of whom pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges — and even to the resignations of top executives at United Airlines. As a result of these scandals and others, New Jersey dropped to 19th place overall with a D grade.

Admittedly, it’s not all doom and gloom. Iowa created an independent board with authority to mediate disputes when agencies reject public records requests. Gov. Terry Branstad cited the state’s previous grade from the Center when he signed the bill, and the move helped catapult Iowa to first in the nation in the category for access to information, with a C- grade (Iowa’s overall score actually dropped modestly).

In Georgia, good government groups latched on to the state’s worst-in-the-nation rank in 2012 to amplify their ongoing push for reforms. The result was a modest law the following year that created a $75 cap on the value of lobbyists’ gifts to public officials. The change helped boost the state’s score in the category of legislative accountability to a C-, sixth-best in the nation.

Perhaps the most dramatic reforms came in Virginia, where scandal engulfed the administration of outgoing Gov. Robert McDonnell in 2013 after it emerged that he and his family had accepted more than $170,000 in loans and gifts, much of it undisclosed, from a Virginia businessman. McDonnell and his wife were later convicted on federal corruption charges, but the case underscored the state’s woefully lax ethics laws and oversight regime; Virginia received an overall F grade in 2012. At the time, there was no limit on the value of gifts that public officials could accept, and they were not required to disclose gifts to their immediate family, a clause that McDonnell grasped at to argue that he had complied with state laws. (Appeals of the McDonnells’ convictions are pending.)

Over the next two years, newly-elected Gov. Terry McAuliffe and lawmakers passed a series of executive actions and laws that eventually led, in 2015, to a $100 cap on gifts to public officials from lobbyists and people seeking state business. They also created an ethics council that will advise lawmakers but will not have the power to issue sanctions. Advocates for ethics reform have said the changes, while significant, fall far short of what’s needed, particularly the creation of an ethics commission with enforcement powers. Still, they helped push the state's grade up to a D.

States also continued to score relatively well in the categories for auditing practices — 29 earned B- or better — and for budget transparency — 16 got a B- or above (the category measures whether the budget process is transparent, with sufficient checks and balances, not whether it’s well managed).

In Idaho, for example, which earned an A and the second best score for its budget process, the public is free to watch the Legislature’s joint budget committee meetings. Those not able to make it to Boise can watch by streaming video. Citizens can provide input during hearings and can view the full budget bill online.

New York earned the top score for its auditing practices — a B+ — because of its robustly-funded state comptroller’s office, which is headed by an elected official who is largely protected from interference by the governor or Legislature. The office issues an annual report, which is publicly available, and has shown little hesitation to go after state agencies, such as in a recent audit that identified $500 million in waste in the state’s Medicaid program.

Unfortunately, however, such bright spots are the exceptions.

Access denied

In 2013, George LeVines submitted a request for records to the Massachusetts State Police, asking for controlled substance seizure reports at state prisons dating back seven years. LeVines, who at the time was assistant editor at Muckrock, a news website and records-request repository, soon received a response from the agency saying he could have copies of the reports, but they would cost him $130,000. While LeVines is quick to admit that his request was extremely broad, the figure shocked him nonetheless.

“I wouldn’t have ever expected getting that just scot-free, that does cost money,” he said. But $130,000? “It’s insane.”

The cost was prohibitive, and LeVines withdrew his request. The Massachusetts State Police has become a notorious steel trap of information — it's charged tens of thousands of dollars or even, in one case, $2.7 million to produce documents — and was awarded this year with the tongue-in-cheek Golden Padlock award by a national journalism organization, which each year “honors” an agency or public official for its “abiding commitment to secrecy and impressive skill in information suppression.”

Dave Procopio, a spokesman for the State Police, said in an email that the department is committed to transparency, but that its records are laced with sensitive information that's exempt from disclosure and that reviewing the material is time consuming and expensive. "While we most certainly agree that the public has a right to information not legally exempt from disclosure,” he wrote, “we will not cut corners for the purpose of expediency or economy if doing so means that private personal, medi[c]al, or criminal history information is inappropriately released.”

It’s not just the police. Both the Legislature and the judicial branch are at least partly exempt from Massachusetts’ public records law. Governors have cited a state Supreme Court ruling to argue that they, too, are exempt, though chief executives often comply with requests anyway. A review by The Boston Globe found that the secretary of state’s office, the first line of appeal for rejected requests, had ruled in favor of those seeking records in only 1-in-5 cases. Needless to say, Massachusetts earned an F in the category for public access to information. But so did 43 other states, making this the worst performing category in the State Integrity Investigation.

While every state in the nation has open records and meetings laws, they’re typically shot through with holes and exemptions and usually have essentially no enforcement mechanisms, beyond the court system, when agencies refuse to comply. In most states, at least one entire branch of government or agency claims exemptions from the laws. Many agencies routinely fail to explain why they they’ve denied requests. Public officials charge excessive fees to discourage requestors. In the vast majority of states, citizens are unable to quickly and affordably resolve appeals when their records are denied. Only one state — Missouri — received a perfect score on a question asking whether citizens actually receive responses to their requests swiftly and at reasonable cost.

“We’re seeing increased secrecy throughout the country at the state and federal level,” said David Cuillier, director of the University of Arizona’s School of Journalism and an expert on open records laws. He said substantial research shows that the nation’s open records laws have been poked and prodded to include a sprawling list of exemptions and impediments, and that public officials increasingly use those statutes to deny access to records. “It’s getting worse every year,” he said.

After a series of shootings by police officers in New Mexico, the Santa Fe New Mexican published a report about controversial changes made to the state-run training academy. But when a reporter requested copies of the new curriculum, the program’s director refused, saying “I’ll burn them before you get them.”

In January, The Wichita Eagle reported that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget director had used his private email address to send details of a proposed budget to the private email accounts of fellow staff members, and also to a pair of lobbyists. He later said he did so only because he and the rest of the staff were home for the holidays. But in May, Brownback acknowledged that he, too, used a private email account to communicate with staff, meaning his correspondence was not subject to the state’s public records laws. A state council is now studying how to close the loophole. A series of court cases in California are examining a similar question there.

Cuillier said in most states, courts or others have determined that discussions of public business are subject to disclosure, no matter whether the email or phone used was public or private. But the debate is indicative of a larger problem, and it reveals public records laws as the crazy old uncle of government statutes: toothless, antiquated appendages of a bygone era.

Weak ethics oversight

Governments write ethics laws for a reason, presumably. Public officials can’t always be trusted to do the right thing; we need laws to make sure they do. The trouble is, a law is only as good as its enforcement, and the entities responsible for overseeing ethics are often impotent and ineffective.

In many states, a complex mix of legislative committees, stand-alone commissions and law enforcement agencies police the ethics laws. And more often than not, the State Integrity Investigation shows, those entities are underfunded, subject to political interference or are simply unable or unwilling to initiate investigations and issue sanctions when rules are broken. Or at least that’s as far as the public can tell: many of these bodies operate largely in secret.

The Tennessee Ethics Commission, for example, rose in 2006 out of the ashes of an FBI bribery probe that had burned four state lawmakers. In its decade of operation, the commission has never issued a penalty as a result of an ethics complaint against a public official (it did issue one to a lobbyist). That may seem surprising, but the dearth of actions is impossible to assess because the complaints become public only if four of six commissioners decide they warrant investigation. Of 17 complaints received in 2013 and 2014, only two are public.

“There just haven’t been that many valid complaints alleging wrongdoing,” said Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, which includes the commission.

In 2013, in a case that did become public, the commission decided against issuing a fine to a powerful lobbyist and former adviser to Gov. Bill Haslam who had failed to disclose that he’d lobbied on behalf of a mining company that was seeking a state contract. The lobbyist had maintained that his failure was simply an oversight, and only one commissioner voted to issue a penalty.

In Kansas, staff shortages mean the state’s Governmental Ethics Commission is unable to fully audit lawmakers’ financial disclosures, according to Executive Director Carol Williams. “We would love to be able to do more comprehensive audits,” Williams told the investigation’s Kansas reporter. Instead, she said, all her staff can do is make sure officials are filling out the forms. “Whether they are correct or not, we don't know.” Only two states initiate comprehensive, independent audits of lawmakers’ asset disclosures on an annual basis.

The State Integrity Investigation found that in two-thirds of all states, ethics agencies or committees routinely fail to initiate investigations or impose sanctions when necessary, often because they’re unable to do so without first receiving a complaint.

“Many of these laws are out of date. They need to be revised,” said Robert Stern, who spent  decades as president of the Center for Governmental Studies, which worked with local and state governments to improve ethics, campaign finance and lobbying laws until it shut in 2011. Stern, who is currently helping to write a ballot initiative that would update California’s ethics statutes, said that while he thinks the State Integrity Investigation grades are unrealistically harsh, they do reflect the fact that state lawmakers have neglected their responsibilities when it comes to ethics and transparency. “It’s very, very difficult for legislatures to focus on these things and improve them because they don’t want these laws, they don’t want to enforce them, and they don’t want to fund the people enforcing them.”

In 3-in-5 states, the project found, ethics entities are inadequately funded, causing staff to be overloaded with work and, occasionally, forcing them to delay investigations.

The Oklahoma Ethics Commission is charged with overseeing ethics laws for the executive and legislative branches, lobbying activity and campaign finance. This year, the commission operated on a budget of $1 million. In 2014, the nonprofit news site Oklahoma Watch reported that the commission had collected only 40 percent of all the late-filing penalties it had assessed to candidates, committees and other groups since it was created in 1990. Part of that failure was the result of a challenge to the commission’s rules, but Executive Director Lee Slater said that much of it was simply due to a lack of resources.

“Until about a month ago, we had five employees in this office,” Slater said. “We’ve now got six. Try to do it with six employees.” Slater said the commission this year began collecting all fees it is owed, thanks to the sixth employee — whose salary is financed with fees — and new rules that clarify its authority. But he said the agency simply does not have enough money to do what it ought to. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that we do everything we should,” he said. “But I will tell you that we do the best that we can, whatever that is.”


Slater said he’s been told to expect a cut of between 5 and 20 percent to the commission’s appropriations next year ($775,000 of the commission’s current budget comes from appropriations).

Oklahoma is hardly an outlier. “They don’t have the resources,” Stern said, speaking of similar agencies across the country. “That’s the problem.”

New frontier points to old problem

Not long ago, journalists and citizen watchdogs were thrilled to get access to any type of information online. But standards have changed quickly, and many have come to expect government to not just publish data online, but to do so in “open data” formats that allow users to download and analyze the information.

"By making data available digitally, it can be more easily reused and repurposed,” said John Wonderlich, policy director at the Sunlight Foundation, an advocacy group. (Global Integrity consulted with the Sunlight Foundation when writing the open data questions for this project).

Only nine states have adopted open data measures, according to the Sunlight Foundation, some of which do little more than create an advisory panel to study the issue.

The 2015 State Integrity Investigation included questions in each category asking whether governments are meeting open data principles. Almost universally, the answer was no. More than anything, these scores were responsible for dragging down the grades since the first round of the project.

While open data principles are relatively new, the poor performance on these questions is indicative of the project’s findings as a whole. “If we really wanted to do it right we’d just scrap it all and start from scratch,” said Cuillier, of the University of Arizona, speaking of the broken state of open records and accessibility laws. That clearly is not going to happen, he said, so instead, “we’re going to continue to have laws that are archaic and tinkered with, and usually in the wrong direction.”

This articles draws on reporting from State Integrity Investigation reporters in all 50 states.


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People Tied Up ‘Like Animals’ on UK Deportation Flights

AlterNet.org - November 28, 2015 - 3:00am
Commercial contractors routinely belt immigration detainees into restraints so extreme that they are rarely used in prisons.

A woman being deported from the UK to Pakistan was compliant and cooperative throughout the process. Still, the commercial contractor Tascor, working for the UK Home Office, strapped the woman into a waist restraint belt until after the plane had taken off.

One man on suicide watch was strapped into a waist restraint belt even though there was no evidence that he posed a risk to others. Another man, who refused to board a deportation flight, was belted continuously for eight long hours. His wrists swelled. He was examined by a paramedic.

These cases have come to light in two new reports by HM Inspectorate of Prisons. The inspectors also found that waist restraint belts were used six times on three flights to Pakistan, and that approaches to security were “unduly indiscriminate in some respects”.

Government advisers have described the waist belt as “a custom-designed piece of restraint equipment, manufactured from manmade fibres and using plastic snap-locks and Velcro fasteners, designed to be worn around the subject’s waist. Soft cuffs, with plastic snap-lock and Velcro fasteners, are attached to the belt by retractable cords.”

They said: “In the ‘free’ position, although still connected to the belt, the cords are long enough to allow the subject relatively free movement of his arms and hands (for example, for eating). In the ‘retracted’ position, the subject’s hands are pulled in to the front of the belt, where they can be further secured by a snap-lock fastened mesh.”

Inspectors described the waist belt as “almost equivalent … to the most extreme and very rarely used” restraint equipment in prisons.

The belts were introduced by the Home Office as part of a new training program for deportation staff, that was prompted by the unlawful killing of Angolan deportee Jimmy Mubenga by G4S guards in 2010.

The independent panel that advised on the use of the new equipment warned last year that “indiscriminate use of the restraint belt was not justifiable ethically or legally”. It said ministers would have to approve its introduction and it should only be used as “an exceptional measure”. 

The coroner who presided over the inquest into Mubenga’s death wrote in a Prevention of Future Deaths Report in July 2013: “It goes without saying that the use of a body-cuff would constitute a significant interference in the bodily integrity of any person to whom it is applied. Dignity and bodily integrity are matters in which close regard must be had in determining what new techniques are to be introduced.”

Yet HM Inspectorate of Prisons has found that the waist restraint belts “were now embedded in practice” and that they risked “being overused”. On three flights to Nigeria and Ghana, the belts were used ten times. Inspectors said that “the justification for several of these uses was not explicit in the records” which they examined. On another flight, the belt was used on eight passengers, even though five of them did not resist being put on the flight. Inspectors said: “while risk factors were used to justify each case, the evidence was sometimes minimal.”

Some authorisation forms for using restraints “did not indicate what specific risk factors might have existed”, and lacked sufficient detail, the inspectors noted. This appears to falls short of the Home Office’s own guidance on the use of these belts, which requires a senior manager to record “whether the restraint was reasonable, proportionate and necessary”.

Two detainees arrived at the airport “in a small van that had been contaminated with their urine”. The men were then kept in the van for several hours, which, according to the inspectors, was “unacceptable treatment”.

The inspectors noted that one man, who was on suicide watch, had lived in Britain for 15 years and was being taken away from his mother who was very ill in hospital here. Another man who was placed in one of the waist restraint belts had been on suicide watch for the previous six months in a series of detention centres.

The investigative organisation Corporate Watch tracked down one detainee who was on the same deportation flight as the man on suicide watch mentioned in the inspectors’ report. 

Speaking under the condition of anonymity, the witness described the scene on board: “A lot of people were tied up, in like a vest on your tummy and arms,” he said. “They tightened up the back so you cannot move and you have pain in your back. You cannot move your hands. They put people on that plane like animals.”

Corporate Watch spoke to one former detainee who claims he was recently restrained by guards in a device which sounds similar to the new belts. He says it blocked his airflow and caused him to pass out. He spoke anonymously, fearing reprisals from the Home Office:

“The guards tried to pin me down with their legs and their knees. After some time they put a belt from under my my armpit down to my abdomen. They started tightening it and I was screaming and screaming ‘This is too tight for me!’”

He went on: “After some time I passed out – there was no air. Someone shouted that they should put me in the recovery position. I was in panic and hyperventilating. They held my head and tried to force a tablet into my mouth. I was choking and gagging for 30 minutes.”

Despite his passing out, the guards continued trying to deport him, the man claimed. “They put me in a wheelchair and moved me into the deportation van. On the way to the airport my condition deteriorated and they called an ambulance on the motorway and I went to hospital for some hours.”

He says he was taken to hospital in handcuffs, despite the new Home Office policy. “I was still handcuffed on the way to hospital. The handcuffs cut the bone of my wrist and I’m having pain in the scrotum and lower back from the assault,” he said.

In the days before one of the deportation flights featured in the inspection reports, volunteers at the Unity Centre in Glasgow spoke to many of the men facing deportation. Among them were fathers leaving behind their partners and young children. The sense of fear and desperation was strong. 

One young man, Fred (not his real name), scaled the fence at Harmondsworth detention centre. The inspectors said this caused “considerable delay” in taking people to the airport. Whenever Home Office officials tried to come near him, Fred threatened to jump. A mattress was placed underneath him. The flight left without him, and at  the end of the night he came down from the fence.

One week later Corporate Watch visited Fred in detention. He said he was born in Sierra Leone, where his father, an aid worker with the British Red Cross, was killed during the civil war. He had lived in the UK since he was 11 years old with his surviving family. He said all the detainees were talking about not wanting to go on the flight, “but no one was doing anything. So I got up the fence and they couldn't touch me”. 

At 24, he had spent the past two years of his life in detention, apart from one brief spell when he was released on tag, and required to walk miles each day to report to the Home Office. 

His face was vacant and expressionless. Detention was sucking the life out of him. He was being deported on the basis of police ‘intelligence’, not evidence or convictions, of association with a London gang. Operation Nexus allows the Met Police to bar people from the UK if officers believe someone is not conducive to the public good. Despite Fred’s desperate resistance, he was later deported to Sierra Leone.

Another deportation flight for dozens of Nigerians from London to Lagos, is scheduled for Tuesday 24th November. Campaigners from Movement for Justice rallied outside the Nigerian High Commissioner on Wednesday 18th, and women in Yarl’s Wood detention centre published a statement opposing the flight, saying “we refused to be slaves to the British government”.

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World’s Most ‘Adorable Drug Kingpin’ Is Actually the Daughter of Texas DEA Head Honcho

AlterNet.org - November 28, 2015 - 3:00am
Owing to her privileged status, Sarah Furay will likely escape the ruinous punishment that would be inflicted on most defendants.

“You don’t see many drug traffickers retire,” gloated Bill Furay, head of the DEA’s office in Beaumont, Texas, following the arrest of a wealthy couple from a tiny neighborhood in Pearland. “Either they end up in prison, or they end up dead.”

Furay apparently never had time to give that lecture to his teenage daughter, Sarah, who was arrested earlier this month on drug-trafficking charges that could result in decades behind bars.

For years, Furay has styled himself the implacable scourge of drug dealers, becoming a familiar presence at triumphant DEA press conferences announcing mass arrests and seizures of contraband and proceeds.

“Basically, we’re targeting criminal organizations, gangs, trying to hit them where they live and breathe,” Furay boasted following a large-scale bust in 2009. “Operation Agent Orange” in June 2010 propelled Furay into the spotlight yet again: A multi-jurisdictional narcotics task force staged a massive operation spanning several counties to arrest 60 people allegedly involved in a drug-trafficking ring tied to Mexico’s Sinaloa narcotics cartel. US Attorney Malcolm Bates described the narcotics operation as the “United Nations of drug trafficking.” Like most initiatives of its kind, Agent Orange began with information sweated out of low-level dealers seeking a “downward departure” in sentencing in exchange for leniency. 

The crackdown netted dozens of suspects, including “Mexicans, Hondurans, Mexican Americans, African Americans, Anglos and at least one Pakistani and one Israeli citizen,” according to the Houston Chronicle. 

“It was like they were delivering pizzas,” Furay remarked during a press conference. “It was delivery after delivery.” Furay’s comrade Zoran Yankovich, who headed the DEA’s Houston Division, boasted that Operation Agent Orange “has decimated the Pineda organization that was operating in our region and responsible for the distribution of numerous pounds of methamphetamine and cocaine nationwide.”

Taking out a drug syndicate is an exercise in futility akin to bailing out the Pacific Ocean with a thimble. When the DEA “decimated” one narcotics syndicate, all it did was create an opportunity for another one to fill it. While Furay was busy with sting operations, controlled buys and press conferences, he apparently neglected to supervise his daughter Sarah, who was arrested at her College Station home on November 8 and faces a variety of narcotics-related charges.

A probable cause statement quoted by NBC affiliate KCEN claims that police found “31.5 grams of packaged cocaine, 126 grams of high grade marijuana, 29 'ecstasy' tablets, methamphetamine and 60 doses of a drug similar to LSD” in Sarah Furay’s bedroom. They also reported finding two digital scales, packaging materials and a handwritten drug price list. Police found text messages in her phone discussing drug transactions.

Sarah Furay faces at least three felony charges that would ordinarily result in long prison time: The aggregate maximum sentence would be 215 years behind bars and a $30,000 fine. That terrifying prospect notwithstanding, Miss Furay can be seen smiling broadly in her booking photo, which has been called the “happiest mugshot in America.” After spending a day in jail, the 19-year-old, referred to in press accounts as an “adorable drug kingpin,” posted $39,000 bond and was released. On November 23, the online magazine Death and Taxes reported that Sarah is the daughter of DEA official Bill Furay and Shawn Creswell, principal of the Coulson Tough Elementary School in Woodlands.

Although Sarah’s parents are divorced and her mother has since remarried, “having a mom and dad with well-established positions within departments of law enforcement and education certainly doesn’t hurt when it comes to getting your drug-dealing ass out of jail,” commented Death and Taxes. “Having a mother with strong ties to the community and as a school administrator gives Furay’s attorney the opportunity to argue [the] client as a low flight-risk.”

Owing to her privileged status, Sarah Furay has a very good chance to escape the ruinous punishment that would be inflicted on most defendants in her situation. 

During a DARE graduation in Payette, Idaho several years ago, Larry McGhee, the state DARE coordinator (and a high-ranking official in the state Peace Officer Standards and Training academy), shared a story in which he contrasted the fates of two young women named Tracey and Brianna. According to McGhee, Tracey was raised in a very good family, but “she didn’t have the DARE program.” Despite her advantages Tracey found herself in the company of disreputable, drug-using peers and became addicted to methamphetamine. She was able to graduate from high school, but dropped out of college. She went on to have three children by three different men.

Brianna came from a poor and troubled home presided over by a drug-addicted single mother. However, the DARE program helped her overcome her disadvantages (at least as McGhee told the story), and at the time she was an academically successful 17-year-old surrounded by supportive friends and facing a promising future.

At this point in his address, McGhee went full-M. Night Shamalyan, revealing what he apparently regarded as a breathtaking twist in the narrative: Brianna’s drug-addicted mother was none other than Tracey, and Tracey was McGhee's own 37-year-old daughter. The lesson, according to McGree, was that if such things can happen to a 30-year veteran police officer — the state coordinator for DARE — no family could possibly be immune to the scourge of drug addiction. 

The larger public policy lesson taught by both McGhee’s experience and the arrest of William Furay’s teenage “kingpin” daughter is that drug warriors should spend their time teaching sound moral lessons to their own children, rather than filling prisons with non-violent offenders and the coffers of law enforcement agencies with plundered loot.

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Sweet Music: Fighting Pests With Sound Waves, Not Pesticides

AlterNet.org - November 28, 2015 - 3:00am
Scientists have invented a device that uses acoustics to mimic the mating call of an insect that has been devastating Florida's orange groves.

A tiny bug is threatening your morning orange juice.

In Florida, the Asian citrus psyllid, an aphid-size creature that feeds on the stems and leaves of citrus trees, cost the juice business $3.6 billion between 2006 and 2012. The real damage from “citrus greening” comes from bacteria spread by the bug, which causes leaves to turn yellow and kills the tree in a few years.

Researchers are looking into new ways to combat the pests, and one project focuses on sound rather than pesticides to disrupt the insects’ mating habits.

“We’re trying hard to cut down on use of pesticides in orange groves, partly because we are worried they’ll build up resistance to pesticides, and that will make things even worse,” said Richard Mankin, a research entomologist with the United States Department of Agriculture. He presented findings on the acoustic disruption at the meeting of the American Acoustical Society this week in Jacksonville.

When a male psyllid wants to mate, he alerts a female by sitting on a leaf and buzzing his wings to send vibrations along leaves and branches. To disrupt that activity, the researchers created a device containing a piezoelectric buzzer and a microphone wired to a microcontroller.

RELATED: 6 Things to Know About the EPA’s New Pesticide Rules

The device detects the incoming male call and emits a fake female response call through the buzzer before any neighboring psyllids can answer. When the male bug comes near the device, he gets snagged and immobilized on an adhesive surface. In lab tests, the insects subjected to the noise were four times less likely to find a mate than other psyllids.

Mankin said the gadget will be tested soon in orange groves. He has worked on similar sound disruptors for grapevines. It is unknown if the vibrational sound would have other ecological impacts.

The team is working to lower the price of the device, which costs between $50 and $200 and only covers two feet of a tree. Mankin said that in the short-term sound will not trump pesticides in fighting the Asian citrus psyllid. “Looking ahead, we’re expecting however that the psyllids will become resistant to the pesticides and that the costs of the new technology will continue to decrease,” he said.

Mankin said he hopes the device could work in tandem with pesticides, targeting infestations to reduce the amount of chemicals used and to help postpone the psyllids’ development of resistance to insecticides.

“We’re looking at the devices more as partners than as a replacement,” he said.

The idea of using sound to catch or deter insects has wider applications, Mankin noted. Acoustic devices have been successfully used to trap pests such as mosquitoes, midges, mole crickets, field crickets, moths, cockroaches, and fruit flies. Ultrasonic signals that simulate bat cries could deter night-flying insects.

“Trying to develop electronic-based pest control is a good idea because it will help the production of food—and we need all the help we can get to feed the world’s growing population in the future,” Mankin said.

This article originally appeared on TaKePart.com

Watch an Al Jazeera video about how the Asian citrus psyllid threatens Florida's orange industry:


Is the Federal Govt. Harassing and Censoring Its Own Scientists for Studying Ties Between Pesticides and Bee Deaths?

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Four of the Worst Pests Could Be a Lot More Prevalent If Global Temperatures Keep Going up

Keep up to date with important environment news and opinion; sign up to receive AlterNet's weekly environment newsletter.

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What's New: First Nations struggles in Canada

Socialist Project - November 28, 2015 - 2:00am
The new Liberal government comes to office with enormous expectations and demands that it take decisive action to respond to the needs and interests of First Nations peoples. Top of list is that the government address the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada, and that it act to reduce Canada's oversized culpability in the global warming crisis. Meaningful action on global warming necessarily means meaningful, equal status for First Nations peoples, and not just in Canada but on a global scale.
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7 Ways People Are Fighting Back Against Islamophobia - And How You Can Too

AlterNet.org - November 27, 2015 - 4:45pm
Standing up to xenophobia and racism in a time of fear.

A resurgence in Islamophobia in North America and Europe in the wake of the Paris Attacks on November 13th is more fierce, naked, and mainstream than even the most cynical among us could have predicted. The leading GOP candidate said he wanted to require Muslims to carry ID’s and pushed for more spying on mosques, hate crimes targeting Muslims have spiked, and a series of “anti-Islam” protests and episodes of harassment and stalking have taken place across the United States. While documenting the surge of bigotry is important, so too is noting the efforts made by activists, media, politicians from all faiths - and no faith - to combat this latest spasm of vitriol.

Here are those using their time and forum to stand up for tolerance in the face of the post-Paris panic and fear:

Rallies from Texas to San Diego

In response to recent “anti-Islam” rallies and assaults, grassroots efforts from around the country have responded with counter protests to combat what one organizer called “hateful demonstrations by armed bigots.”

One Muslim group in San Diego responded to alleged Islamophobic attacks on a Muslim woman at San Diego State by putting on a rally that attracted students and faculty from across the religious and ideological spectrum. Organizers have put together a counter demonstration in Irving, Texas after armed “protesters” stalked Muslims outside a Mosque to combat what they called “Islamification”. A group in Dearborn, Michigan - a city that’s 30% Muslim - staged a rally against ISIS and Islamophobia Friday saying that Muslims were,  “victims twice -- by Islamophobia and ISIS.”

Liberal media does its job - pushes back against worst rightwing tropes

Yes, the media doesn't alway suck. In fact, on the issue Islamophobia two, outlets in particular have been very good: Vox and MSNBC. Both typically align with the Democratic Party and on the issue of Islamophobia, the Democratic party is lightyears better than the Republicans. Vox and MSNBC have been working overtime to debunk Islamophobic rumors, canards, and disinformation in an easy-to-understand, digestible manner. The Washington Post's Ishaan Tharoor has also done a fantastic job drawing urgent parallels between the anti-Semitism and the red scare of America in the 1930's with today's moral panic over Muslims and ISIS.

Canadians speak out after wave of anti-Muslim attacks

Canada has seen a uniquely bad run of attacks. A mosque in Peterborough was set on fire, a Montreal man was arrested for posting a video wearing a Joker mask and threatening to kill an Arab per week, and A Muslim woman was beaten near an elementary school in Toronto. In response to these episodes, activist group Generation Y Not released a video of solidarity against Islamophobia that's since gone viral, garnering 190,000 views:

City councils make clear: "refugees welcome here"

One of the more vulgar aspects of the post-Paris panic is the effect on Syrian refugees who have come under fire from the American right - and sometimes left- for allegedly being potential ISIS members. Governors from over 30 states have “halted” any refugees from Syria with major politicians such as Jeb Bush suggesting only Christian Syrians should be welcomed. While state leaders shriveled in fear, some local governments reiterated their stance that “refugees were welcome”. Indeed, Chicago's city council used their considerable sway to pressure Illinois Republican governor Bruce Rauner to accept more refugees, telling the Chicago Tribune, "Refugees are people who are fleeing persecution...they're trying to get away from people who are threatening to kill them, persecuting them, torturing them, putting them in jail and kidnapping them."

Leading Democrats draw the line in the sand

While the GOP has fallen over itself to exploit the Paris attacks and ratchet up fear both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have taken time out to criticize the wave of Islamophobia. While it should be noted, both are in favor of bombing a Muslim country (Syria), when it comes to rhetoric stateside, they and other leading Democrats, including President Obama, have come out forcefully in favor of refugee immigration and against Anti-Muslim backlash. Since there’s not much upside to defending religious minorities, this, in and of itself, deserves praise.

Social Media

It may be hip to mock "slacktivists" speaking out on social media but even small gestures, when combined with other small gestures, can help stymied the rising tide of bigotry; certainly if one can learn hate on social media, one can learn a bit of tolerance as well. In the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks the hashtag #IamMuslim and #MuslimsAreNotTerrorists were popular among Western Muslims to convey their sympathy with the victims and denounce ISIS. While Muslims certainly aren't obligated to condemn that for which they have no part, many do largely as a defense mechanism and to guard against potential blowback from bigots who won't be sophisticated enough to draw such distinctions. Twitter, once again, has provided a nice counter-narrative to corporate media's normally panicked post-terror playbook.

British Muslim teen offers "free hugs"

16-year-old Yusf Pirot, upset at the negative reactions to Muslims after the Paris attacks, set out to subvert people's expectations and made a viral video (that has since gotten over 2 million views) of him soliciting random hugs from strangers in Nottingham, UK. It's a courageous bit of street art you should see for yourself. It shows that it's easy to hate media-fed Muslim "evildoer" stereotypes, but when confronted by a real person on the street exposing himself in a moment of shared grief, suddenly things become much more complicated. 

What can you do to help?

Anti-Islamophobia advocates Roqayah Chamseddine and Imraan Siddiqi prepared this simple infographic explaining how you can do your part. It boils down to reaching out to local Muslim leaders and asking them how you can support their efforts, calling out hate speech when you hear it, and confronting everyday interpersonal bigotry:



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Paris Climate Summit: Why More Women Need Seats at the Table

AlterNet.org - November 27, 2015 - 4:31pm
Women have been severely underrepresented at high levels of policymaking around global environmental concerns.

Women, particularly those in developing countries, are on the frontlines of a changing climate. Extreme weather events, deforestation and loss of biodiversity threaten their survival and that of their families. Yet, when confronted with social and economic exclusion, women’s vulnerabilities remain hidden and their voices quiet.

Women have been severely underrepresented at high levels of policymaking around global environmental concerns as well. In the climate arena, the need to improve women’s participation in negotiations was explicitly recognized by COP 7 in Marrakech in 2001 as the impact of gender balance on decision-making became more evident.

Why is this a problem? Studies show that collective intelligence rises with the number of women in a group. Engaging a critical mass of women is linked to more progressive and positive outcomes and to more sustainability-focused decision-making across sectors.

Yet, women have remained a notable minority in climate negotiations at both the national and international level, in the global scientific body on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and in media debates about climate.

Women’s representation in bodies and boards in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ranges from 36% to 41%. The numbers drop to 26%-33% for female heads of national delegations. Only one in five authors of the 2014 IPCC fifth assessment report, and eight of 34 IPCC chairs, cochairs, and vice-chairs are women. Importantly, even though media coverage of climate change has increased significantly, only 15% of those interviewed on climate have been women.

The top 15 female climate champions

When it comes to the necessity of including women at all levels of climate policy, there is no better argument than the stories and successes of the dynamic women who are already making a difference. As an academic and member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the UN Secretary-General, I have drafted a list of 15 women climate champions – from activists to artists.

The world’s top climate policymaker today is a fearless Costa Rican woman, the daughter of José Figueres Ferrer, the president elected to three nonconsecutive terms who abolished the standing army and founded modern Costa Rican democracy. Referred to as “climate revolutionary,” “bridge-builder,” “advocate and referee” and “UN’s climate chief,” Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN climate change convention, is “climate change summitry’s force of nature.” A relentless optimist, she reminds people that “Impossible is not a fact; it’s an attitude."

Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s vice president and climate change envoy, emphasizes that we are at a point of inflection because of the growing pressure and motivation to create a more sustainable economy. Kyte has championed groundbreaking global initiatives on carbon pricing and performance standards for sustainable finance, catalyzing a race to the top among global investors and shifting priorities in financing institutions.

Ceres president Mindy Lubber leads a group of 100 institutional investors managing nearly US$10 trillion in assets focused on the business risks and opportunities of climate change. Through Ceres, she has changed the thinking around climate change by alerting corporate leaders about the risks to finance and business from climate change.


A venture capital investor, Nancy Pfund, one of Fortune’s Top 25 Eco-Innovators, is leading the impact investment movement, having invested in sustainable energy companies such as SolarCity, BrightSource Energy, Primus Power, Powergenix and Tesla Motors. With others, she has demonstrated that earning money by investing in socially beneficial enterprises can be profitable.

Social justice

At the national policy level, women are also leading the way to the Paris COP. Laurence Tubiana brings academic and policy experience into her position as French special representative for COP 21 and ambassador for climate change. Working closely with governments and stakeholders, she has created an agenda that connects immediate day-to-day economic concerns such as growth, employment and quality of life with climate change and environmental protection. An effective agreement on climate change, she argues, must frame the issue in ways politicians will understand and relate to.

In lower-income countries, female negotiators have stood up for justice in remarkable ways. Fatima Nana Mede, permanent secretary of the Nigerian environment ministry, discovered and exposed a corruption scheme that had siphoned over one billion Nigerian dollars (about US$5 million). Her bold and fearless leadership make her someone to watch in Paris and beyond.

Most of the least developed, or poorest, countries have been empowered to negotiate by Achala Abeysinghe, the legal and technical adviser to the chair of the least developed countries in the UN. A Sri Lanka national employed by the policy group International Institute for Environment and Development, she has made it her mission to augment the capacity of national delegations to understand the issues, stand up, and defend their rights.

She leads the European Capacity Building Initiative, which trains UNFCCC negotiators from vulnerable developing countries in legal matters, helps coordinate their negotiating positions, bolsters communication among them, and brings implementation evidence to the negotiations. Since 2005, the program has convened 76 events and engaged 1,626 negotiators, policymakers and policy implementers.


At the intersection of climate and women’s rights, a former Ugandan aeronautical engineer and current director of Oxfam International, Winnie Byanyima, cofounded the Global Gender and Climate Alliance. The Alliance integrates gender concerns into the climate change negotiation process, monitors progress and promotes financial mechanisms and training opportunities equal for men and women.

As cochair of the World Economic Forum in 2015, Winnie Byanyima pushed for action on climate, for closing the wealth gap and eliminating tax loopholes, and even for creating a global tax organization. “We have international organizations for health, trade and football, even for coffee, but not tax. Why not?” she exclaimed in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

Climate justice lies also at the core of the work of the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice. The former president of Ireland created a center for thought leadership, education and advocacy for those vulnerable to climate change impacts.  Mary Robinson works to strengthen women’s leadership at the local level to facilitate more gender-responsive action at all levels and to secure gender balance in multilateral and intergovernmental climate processes. She has made the threat of climate change more tangible and easier to communicate by relating it to human stories and human rights. She has connected high-level women leaders with grassroots women leaders to “ensure that women are enabled to participate in the design and implementation of climate actions.”

Arts and academia

Academics working on climate change now include an increasing number of women who actively seek new ways to communicate and engage.

Julia Slingo, chief scientist at the United Kingdom’s weather service and the first woman president of the Royal Meteorological Society, has called for a radical overhaul of the way climate scientists relay their message. In order to compel the necessary action, scientists need to communicate in a “more humanist way,” she argues, “through art, through music, through poetry, and storytelling.” Katharine Hayhoe, evangelical Christian climate scientist, embraces the idea of engaging religion and sciencein understanding and resolving climate change.

As scientists reach out to poetry and art for communicating their message to the public, poets and artists are reaching out to the United Nations.

Poet and activist Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner of the Marshall Islands brought governments in the UN General Assembly hall to their feet with a powerful poem and plea for action. “We deserve to more than just survive; we deserve to thrive,” she exclaimed at the 2014 Climate Summit at the United Nations. She cofounded Jo-Jikum, meaning “your home,” a nonprofit organization to educate youth on environmental issues and to foster a sense of responsibility and love for the islands.

Activist women in small island states and in the Arctic have brought to life the human face of the impacts of climate change on their communities. In Papua New Guinea, Ursula Rakova, executive director of Tulele Peisa, an NGO whose name means “sailing the waves on our own,” is drawing up an ecologically and culturally sustainable voluntary relocation and resettlement program for the Tulun/Carteret Atoll community threatened by climate change.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a Canadian Inuit activist and author of The Right to Be Cold, filed a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2005 on behalf of Inuit communities in Canada and Alaskaclaiming that US failure to curb greenhouse gas emissions results in an incursion on their cultural and environmental human rights. The commission held a public hearing in 2007, and while the petition was ultimately dismissed, it’s been called an “example of creative lawyering in both substance and form” and paved the way for subsequent legal action in The Netherlands, New Zealand and elsewhere.

Young women in the fashion industry in New York are also embracing the climate message and working to use their widespread popularity to bring public attention to climate change.

Model and activist Cameron Russell spearheaded People’s Pilgrimage, a march across the Brooklyn Bridge in October 2015 to raise awareness about climate change. The 17 models walking across the bridge have six million social media followers, and Cameron believes they can launch a new conversation urging the fashion industry to reduce its massive environmental impact – textile manufacturing pollutes 200 tons of water for every ton of fabric produced – and to use its compelling media presence to raise awareness about climate change.

The work of these women, and the work of countless other women who struggle with and adapt to the effects of climate in their day-to-day lives, should be celebrated. Importantly, governments, businesses and civil society organizations should work to include greater representation from women in climate negotiations and climate actions.

“There is no greater power than the power of choice,” Christiana Figueres advised the graduating class at the University of Massachusetts Boston in her commencement speech in 2013. In December 2015, in Paris, may we all make the right choice.

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Maryland Sheriff's Heroin Checkpoints Skirt the Edge of Legality

AlterNet.org - November 27, 2015 - 3:49pm
Drug enforcement traffic checkpoints are illegal. So what was the Harford County sheriff up to when he started rolling checkpoints?

Drivers in Maryland's Harford County were subjected to a pre-Thanksgiving series of rolling traffic checkpoints aimed at cracking down on heroin. The checkpoints were of dubious legality, but that didn't stop Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler from interfering with motorists' freedom to travel down the road Tuesday in a law enforcement operation that netted primarily small amounts of cash and drugs…and a switchblade knife.

The sheriff's office mounted what it called a "heroin enforcement saturation detail" that used rolling checkpoints to roust motorists on highways and high-crime areas of the county. A video posted on YouTube (below) showed electronic signs flashing, "Heroin check...point ahead...drug K-9 in use."

"This special detail is part of law enforcement's ongoing heroin reduction efforts and focused on conducting vehicle and pedestrian interdiction on major roadways throughout Harford County, as well as in designated Safe Street neighborhoods," a sheriff's office press release explained.

According to the press release, this was an operation of the Harford County Drug Task Force that included 73 law enforcement officers from the sheriff's office, Maryland State Police, Maryland Transportation Authority Police, local police departments, and the DEA.

Checkpoints were conducted along Route 152, Route 1, Route 24 and Route 40, areas "known for drug trafficking and drugged driving," the sheriff's office said.

"We want especially dealers to fear coming to Harford County," Sheriff Gahler told the Baltimore Sun.

The sheriff's goals are understandable, but his methods bump up against the U.S. Constitution. In a 2000 case in Indiana, the U.S. Supreme Court held that traffic checkpoints set up for the sole purpose of enforcing drug laws are illegal because they violate Fourth Amendment proscriptions against unwarranted and unreasonable searches and seizures. (The Supreme Court has upheld alcohol traffic checkpoints because their rationale is public safety, not law enforcement.)

Gahler's intent seems obvious enough. The department's press release makes it clear that the effort was about reducing heroin supplies. Gahler himself said it was aimed at scaring drug dealers, and electronic message boards flashing "Heroin Checkpoint" messages drive home the message. And the DEA was certainly not there to check drivers' licenses and insurance cards.

Another news release Wednesday touted the operation's "successes," which were measured not in terms of traffic citations issued, but in arrests made and drugs and other items seized. It wasn't that impressive — four arrests for illegal drug possession, one for drug distribution; marijuana, opiates, and prescription pills (but no heroin) seized, along with $7,000 cash and the switchblade — but again, it was couched in terms of law enforcement, not public safety.

When it comes to the legality of his rolling checkpoints, Sheriff Gahler talks out of both sides of his mouth. Yes, it is a law enforcement operation aimed at heroin, he claims, but, no, it isn't really, he says when challenged on it.

Sheriff Gahler told the Sun that he thought the operation was legal and that the local state's attorney had approved it. He also said the signs warning of drug law enforcement ahead were only to alert motorists that law enforcement was in the area, and that the checkpoints didn't actually detain or slow drivers because police only pulled over vehicles that were speeding or committing other traffic violations.

"No one was stopped at the checkpoint. The signs were more increasing awareness," Gahler said. "It was nothing like a DUI checkpoint."

Gahler may have been following the example of police in some other states, who have put up signs warning of drug checkpoints, and then detaining drivers they saw attempting illegal turns or throwing items from their cars. In those cases, though, there were no actual checkpoints. Even though the law says cops can't do drug checkpoints, there is nothing to stop them from pretending to set up drug checkpoints and seeing who they can flush out.

Gahler is getting some flak from constituents. Leonard Walker of Bowie wrote in an email tip to the local newspaper that the Constitution indeed proscribes such checkpoints. "I don't know why the Sheriff's Office thought that was justifiable action," he told the Sun Wednesday night. "I understand that there is a heroin problem in Maryland and especially in Harford County," he said, but added: "Sometimes our police officers and public officials get a little overzealous and they end up violating other people's rights."

Gahler said Walker wasn't the only one complaining, and conceded that "you cannot set up a purely drug checkpoint."

"I am very much for protecting people's individual rights while combating the heroin epidemic," he said.

But he's willing to either bump right up to the edge of violating the Fourth Amendment or to engage in mass deception of motorists to do so.

Drug enforcement checkpoints are illegal. If you encounter a drug checkpoint in operation, you may have a Fourth Amendment defense. 

Citizen video of the checkpoints:

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What's New: The Fruits of Unpaid Labour

Socialist Project - November 27, 2015 - 2:30pm
When I decided that I wanted to be a farmer, organic farms were the obvious place to look for work. Conventional farming aspires to produce the cheapest possible food for a globalized system, which I believe severely undermines the health of the soil, the health of farmers and eaters, and the resilience of communities. I felt that small-scale organic farms were working towards a more just and sustainable food system, undoing (or challenging) the conventional farm system. Overall, I still believe this to be true, and I’m proud to be a part of the steady rise in young organic farmers in Canada.
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Gunman Storms Colorado Planned Parenthood—Kills 3, Injures 9

AlterNet.org - November 27, 2015 - 2:08pm
After six-hour stand-off with police, gunman finally surrenders.

The gunman who opened fire near a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility Friday has surrended to police after a gun battle that left three dead, including one police officer.

The slain officer, Garrett Swasey, 44, worked for the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. When the shooting broke out, Swasey, a six-year veteran of the university's police force who was on campus about 10 miles away, went to the scene "in support of an officer under fire," the school's chancellor said in a statement.

Officer killed at Colorado Planned Parenthood: Garrett Swasey of UC Colorado Springs. https://t.co/AlhMcJBNyt pic.twitter.com/mqmEJUWLxr

— NPR (@NPR) November 28, 2015

Nine others were taken to local hospitals with injuries, including five law enforcement officers. All are reported to be in good condition.

The shooter has been identified as Robert Lewis Dear, 59, a law enforcement official told CNN. The official provided no further details.

Dear, who was described as wearing a hunter's cap and a trench coat and armed with an AK-47-style weapon, barricaded himself inside the Planned Parenthood center and began shooting at civilians and officers who responded to reports of gunshots at around 11:38 am local time.

“The perpetrator is in custody,” Mayor John Suthers declared a little after 5pm local time. "The situation has been resolved. There's no continuing peril to the citizens of Colorado Springs," he told reporters. "But there's a huge crime scene that has to be processed."

Officials: 3 dead at the Colorado Planned Parenthood shootings, including police officer. https://t.co/AlhMcJBNyt pic.twitter.com/9bx11Br4Fj

— NPR (@NPR) November 28, 2015

According to reports that are still emerging, Dear may have had even bigger plans for destruction: He had brought some other objects to the Planned Parenthood center that may have included propane tanks. Dear's motives and connection to Planned Parenthood remain unclear.

Because of incidents like these, women's healthcare clinics have been forced to become more security conscious. The Colorado Springs facility reportedly moved to its current location, which is surrounded by private buildings, to protect clients from harassment by anti-choice activists. It also has a security room with bulletproof vests for staff. Some staff escaped harm by following security protocol and hiding in specially designed “safe areas” at the building, reports said.

Vicki Cowart, CEO and president of the local branch of the organization, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, issued the following statement

Our top priority is the safety of our patients and staff. Our hearts go out to everyone involved in this tragic situation. Planned Parenthood has strong security measures in place, works closely with law enforcement agencies, and has a very strong safety record. We don't yet know the full circumstances and motives behind this criminal action, and we don't yet know if Planned Parenthood was in fact the target of this attack. We share the concerns of many Americans that extremists are creating a poisonous environment that feeds domestic terrorism in this country. We will never back away from providing care in a safe, supportive environment that millions of people rely on and trust.

“The Planned Parenthood family grieves for Officer Garrett Swasey's family, friends and colleagues dealing with heartbreaking loss tonight,” Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards tweeted. In a statement released late Friday, Richards said, "Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of the brave law enforcement officers who put themselves in harm's way in Colorado Springs.” 

"The [injured] officers, they're obviously in some pain, but thankfully they're alive and talking to us, and they're heroes ... The courage they displayed today saved many, many lives, no doubt," said Fire Chief Christopher Riley.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates on Police Brutality: "The Violence is Not New, It's the Cameras That are New"

AlterNet.org - November 27, 2015 - 12:40pm
There’s a national conversation going on right now about police brutality. But, Coates says, “For me, this conversation is old.”

Today we spend the hour with Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the explosive book about white supremacy and being black in America. Titled "Between the World and Me," it is written as a letter to his teenage son, Samori. In July, Ta-Nehisi Coates launched the book in his hometown of Baltimore. He spoke at the historic Union Baptist Church. "It seems like there’s a kind of national conversation going on right now about those who are paid to protect us, who sometimes end up inflicting lethal harm upon us," Coates said. "But for me, this conversation is old, and I’m sure for many of you the conversation is quite old. It’s the cameras that are new. It’s not the violence that’s new."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, we spend the hour with Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of an explosive new book about white supremacy and being black in America. It’s called Between the World and Me, written as a letter to his teenage son, Samori. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics and social issues. He received the George Polk Award for his Atlantic cover story, "The Case for Reparations." His book, Between the World and Me, is called "required reading" by Toni Morrison. She writes, quote, "I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates."

Well, in July, Ta-Nehisi Coates launched his book in his hometown of Baltimore. He spoke at the historic Union Baptist Church.

TA-NEHISI COATES: This book proceeded from a notion, and there are a couple of main notions that are really at work here. And one of the dominant ideas in the book, Between the World and Me, which is, you know, effectively an extended essay told in a letter form to my son, is the notion of fear, because I think like when people think about African-American communities, there are a lot of things that come to mind, but one of the things that does not come to mind, I think, enough in the mainstream conversation is simply how afraid we are of our bodies, how afraid we are for our children, how afraid we are for our loved ones, on a daily basis. And, you know, I understood this as a very, very young person, as I talk about it in the book. You know, from my earliest memories, I was talking to Dad about this a little while ago, and I think about my first memories, my first memories of going—my first coherent memories of going with my mother and father to see Marshall "Eddie" Conway in prison, and understanding that there are black men—you know, are in prison. That was like my first memory. He had done something, or somebody accused him of something. Something had happened where he did not have the full freedom and control of his body, and that was something that happened to people who look like me, even though I didn’t quite understand how and why that happened.

And then, as you grow up in the community, and you have to go out into the world and navigate—you know, I’ve said this several times in many places—you know, I have my memories of going to middle school here in Baltimore, and I think about how much of my mental space was possessed with keeping my body safe, how much of it dealt with how I was dressed, who I was walking with, what neighborhood I was walking through, once I got to school how I conducted myself in the school, and not so much in such a way that would be obedient to my teachers, but in a way that would keep me safe from the amount of violence. I mean, I was talking in this interview the other day; I was saying that any sort of policy that you think about in this country that has to do with race ultimately comes back, for black folks, to securing our bodies, the physical safety of our body. And so we have these kind of high and abstract debates about, you know, affirmative action. And in the minds of certain people, we think those conversations are literally just about "Is my kid going to get into Harvard or not?" But behind that, for us, as black people, is a conversation of "Is my kid going to be able to have the means to live in a neighborhood where he or she walks outside the house and they’re not looking over their shoulder, and they’re not watching their back, and they’re not—they don’t have to do the sort of things that I have to do, the threat of violence is always there?"

Now, one of the horrifying things—and this is what, you know, I’m going to read about tonight—even for those of us who escape those neighborhoods, even for those of us who make it somewhere and are able to do something and live in better places, the threat never quite leaves us, because once we’re no longer afraid of the neighborhood, it turns out we actually have to have some fear for the very people we pay taxes to protect us. And that’s what we’ve been hearing about for the past year over this country. We’ve been seeing a lot of that. And it seems like there’s a kind of national conversation going on right now about those who are paid to protect us, who sometimes end up inflicting lethal harm upon us. But for me, this conversation is old, and I’m sure for many of you the conversation is quite old. It’s the cameras that are new. It’s not the violence that’s new. We are not in the midst of a new wave of anything. We’re, you know, in a new technological wave, you know? And this is not unprecedented. You know, the sort of violence that folks saw in the 1960s, in Selma, for instance, or on Bloody Sunday, that sort of violence was not, in fact, actually new. That’s what white supremacy, what racism is. It is an act of violence. What was new was the cameras. There was certain technology that was able to take that into the living rooms of America. And we’re going through a similar thing right now, but the violence is not new.

When I think about the first time I really, really became aware of this, beyond theory, it was in the instance of the killing of a good friend of mine—a friend of mine, I should say to clarify our relationship, a friend of mine by the name of Prince Jones, who I went to Howard University with.

As a brief aside, when you write things, they’re forced to become abstract, or when you interview people, they become abstract. And then, whenever you’re forced to talk about them, they immediately become real, and all the emotions that you feel about those people come back. I’m going to try to control myself here.

Prince Jones was a fellow student of mine at Howard University. He was a tall, beautiful young man. He hailed from a prosperous family, a family that had not always been prosperous. His mother, you know, was the child of sharecroppers, had worked her way up through life out of poverty in Louisiana and had risen to become a prominent radiologist.

Prince was in Prince George’s County, Maryland, driving. It was late at night. He had just dropped off his young daughter. He was going to see his fiancée. And he was in a jeep, an SUV. The SUV he was in was being followed, as it turned out, by the police, the Prince George’s County police. And I’m in Baltimore, so you guys know about the reputation of the Prince George’s County police; I don’t need to give any sort of lectures on that. The gentleman who was following him had come to work that night as an undercover police officer and had dressed up as a drug dealer, so he was, you know, literally dressed as a criminal, to appear as a criminal. He was in an unmarked car. He thought Prince Jones was someone else who he was supposed to be doing surveillance on. He tracked Prince Jones from Prince George’s County, Maryland, through Washington, D.C., and into Fairfax, Virginia, where, as far as I’m concerned, he effectively executed him. In the story he tells, because he’s the only witness—and, you know, he’s the only person whose version of events we actually have—the story he tells is that once they got to Fairfax, they got into a dark cul-de-sac, and Prince rammed his car. And he said before Prince rammed his car, he got out of the car, and he pulled a gun on Prince, and he identified himself as a police officer, but he didn’t produce his badge. By his own admission, he didn’t produce his badge. By his testimony, Prince got back in the car, into his truck, and rammed the guy, the police officer’s car, and the police officer shot and killed him.

This happened in 2000. I believe my son was about a month old at that point. You know, you talk about fears for, like, bringing a black child into the world, like it was immediately real. You know, it was just suddenly like so visceral, like right there. And the most terrifying thing for me was when I thought about, like, myself. Like, I couldn’t distance myself from what Prince had done, even in the version of events as given by the officer, whether they’re true or not. Even in, you know, the most sympathetic version of events given by the officer, I could not distance myself from whatever actions Prince Jones had taken in that case. I had to imagine myself followed through three jurisdictions by somebody who did not identify themself as a police officer, who was literally dressed to appear as a criminal. And I had to think about all the fears that I had to have, you know, as I was going through the neighborhood here in Baltimore and all the fears that Prince must have had, going to visit my fiancée and worrying about her, and seeing this dude pull a gun out on me and claim to be a police. Well, I don’t know if you’re a police officer. And once I got into his shoes, it was very, very easy for me to see myself how I could have been killed in much the same way. And this was horrifying. And so, for normal Americans, you know, once they rise up and get out of certain neighborhoods or go certain places, you know, they feel a kind of safety that black people never feel. Fear is one of the dominant emotions of the black experience. Fear. And it does—no amount of money you can earn can ever take you away from that. You can be president of the United States, and you can be afraid for your body. You can be the first lady of the United States, and you can be afraid for your body. You can be afraid for the bodies of your two little girls. It does not go away. There’s no escape from that.

Well, Prince’s story stayed with me for a number of years, and I wrote about it in little places, but I couldn’t get like his mom out of my head. I kept wondering, because I knew this woman had done all this, and I couldn’t get her out of my head, and I wondered, like, how she lived. I wondered how she carried that. And I reached out, and I made contact with her, and I was able to go see her. And so the portion of the book I’m going to read tonight tells the story about our conversation. As I said, Between the World and Me is written as a letter to my son, so all of the yous and all of the sort of, you know, things, it’s me addressing him, who is not here right now. He’s somewhere in the middle of Vermont right now. This story, you know, goes a lot of places. It goes to Howard University, goes to Paris, France. It moves quite a bit. But at this point, we’re at the end, and we’re trying to get some sort of resolution or some sort of conclusion on everything we’ve seen. So I’ll go ahead and read.

“In the years after Prince Jones died, I thought often of those who were left to make their lives in the shadow of his death. I thought of his fiancée and wondered what it meant to see the future upended with no explanation. I wondered what she would tell his daughter, and I wondered how his daughter would imagine her father, when she would miss him, how she would detail the loss. But mostly I wondered about Prince’s mother, and the question I mostly asked myself was always the same: How did she live? I searched for her phone number online. I emailed her. She responded. Then I called and made an appointment to visit. And living she was, just outside of Philadelphia in a small gated community of affluent homes. It was a rainy Tuesday when I arrived. I had taken the train in from New York and then picked up a rental car. I was thinking of Prince a lot in those months before. You, your mother, and I had gone to Homecoming at The Mecca, and so many of my friends were there, and Prince was not.

"Dr. Jones greeted me at the door. She was lovely, polite, brown. She appeared to be somewhere in that range between forty and seventy years, when it is difficult to precisely ascertain a black person’s precise age. She was"—whenever I read that in front of white people, nobody laughs. "She was well composed, given the subject of our conversation, and for most of the visit I struggled to separate how she actually felt from what I felt she must be feeling. What I felt, right then, was that she was smiling through pained eyes, that the reason for my visit spread sadness like a dark quilt over the whole house. I seem to recall music—jazz or gospel—playing in the back, but conflicting with that I also remember a deep quiet overcoming everything. I thought that perhaps she had been crying. I could not tell for sure. She led me into her large living room. There was no one else in the house. It was early January. Her Christmas tree was still standing at the end of the room, and there were stockings bearing the name of her daughter and her lost son, and there was a framed picture of him—Prince Jones—on a display table. She brought me water in a heavy glass. She drank tea. She told me that she was born and raised outside Opelousas, Louisiana, that her ancestors had been enslaved in that very same region, and that as a consequence of that enslavement, a great fear echoed down through the ages. 'It first became clear when I was four,' she told me.


My mother and I were going into the city. We got on the Greyhound bus. I was behind my mother. She wasn’t holding my hand at the time and I plopped down in the first seat I found. A few minutes later my mother was looking for me and she took me to the back of the bus and explained why I couldn’t sit there. We were very poor, and most of the black people around us, who I knew were poor also, and the images I had of white America were from going into the city and seeing who was behind the counter in the stores and seeing who my mother worked for. It became clear that there was a distance.


“This chasm makes itself known to us in all kinds of ways. A little girl wanders home, at age seven, after being teased in school and asks her parents, 'Are we niggers and what does this mean?' Sometimes it is subtle—the simple observation of who lives where and works what jobs and who does not. Sometimes it is all at once. I have never asked you how you became personally aware of the distance. Was it Michael Brown? I don’t think I want to know. But I know that it has happened to you already, that you have deduced that you are privileged and yet still different from other privileged children, because you are the bearer of a body more fragile than any other in this country. What I want you to know is that it is not your fault, even if it is ultimately your responsibility. It is your responsibility because you are surrounded by the Dreamers. It has nothing to do with how you wear your pants or how you style your hair. The breach is as intentional as policy, as intentional as the forgetting that follows. The breach allows for the efficient sorting of the plundered from the plunderers, the enslaved from the enslavers, sharecroppers from landholders, cannibals from food.

“Dr. Jones was reserved. She was what people once referred to as 'a lady,' and in that sense reminded me of my grandmother, who was a single mother in the projects but always spoke as though she had nice things. And when Dr. Jones described her motive for escaping the dearth that marked the sharecropper life of her father and all the others around her, when she remembered herself saying, ’I’m not going to live like this,’ I saw the iron in her eyes, and I remembered the iron in my grandmother’s eyes. You must barely remember her by now—you were six when she died. I remember her, of course, but by the time I knew her, her exploits—how, for instance, she scrubbed white people’s floors during the day and went to school at night—were legend. But I still could feel the power and the rectitude that propelled her out of the projects and into homeownership.

“It was the same power I felt in the presence of Dr. Jones. When she was in second grade, she and another child made a pact that they would both become doctors, and she held up her end of the bargain. But first she integrated the high school in her town. At the beginning she fought the white children who insulted her. At the end they voted her class president. She ran track. It was 'a great entrée,' she told me, but it only brought her so far into their world. At football games the other students would cheer the star black running back, and then when a black player on the other team got the ball, they’d yell, 'Kill that nigger! Kill that nigger!' They would yell this sitting right next to her, as though she really were not there. She gave Bible recitations as a child and she told me the story of her recruitment into this business. Her mother took her to audition for the junior choir. Afterward the choir director said, 'Honey, I think you should talk.' She was laughing lightly now, not uproariously, still in control of her body. I felt that she was warming up. As she talked of the church, I thought of your grandfather, the one you know, and how his first intellectual adventures were found in the recitation of Bible passages. I thought of your mother, who did the same. And I thought of my own distance from an institution that has, so often, been the only support for our people. I often wonder if in that distance I’ve missed something, some notions of cosmic hope, some wisdom beyond my mean physical perception of the world, something beyond the body, that I might have transmitted to you. I wondered this, at that particular moment, because something beyond anything I have ever understood drove Mable Jones to an exceptional life.

“She went to college on full scholarship. She went to med school at Louisiana State University. She served in the Navy. She took up radiology. She did not then know any other black radiologists. I assumed that this would have been hard on her, but she was insulted by the assumption. She could not acknowledge any discomfort, and she did not speak of herself as remarkable, because it conceded too much, because it sanctified tribal expectation when the only expectation that mattered should be rooted in an assessment of Mable Jones. And by those lights, there was nothing surprising in her success, because Mable Jones was always pedal to the floor, not over or around, but through, and if she was going to do it, it must be done to death. Her disposition toward life was that of an elite athlete who knows the opponent is dirty and the refs are on the take, but also knows that the championship is one game away.

“She called her son—Prince Jones—’Rocky’ in honor of her grandfather, who went by 'Rock.' I asked about his childhood, because the fact is that I had not known Prince all that well. He was among the people I would be happy to see at a party, whom I would describe [to] a friend as 'a good brother,' though I could not really account for his comings and goings. So she sketched him for me so that I might better understand. She said that he once hammered a nail into an electrical socket and shorted out the entire house. She said that he once dressed himself in a suit and tie, got down on one knee, and sang 'Three Times a Lady' to her. She said that he’d gone to private school his entire life—schools filled with Dreamers—but he made friends wherever he went, in Louisiana and later in Texas. I asked her how his friends’ parents treated her. 'By then I was the chief of radiology at the local hospital,' she said. 'And so they treated me with respect.' She said this with no love in her eye, coldly, as though she were explaining a mathematical function.

“Like his mother, Prince was smart. In high school he was admitted to a Texas magnet school for math and science, where students acquire college credit. Despite the school drawing from a state with roughly the population of Angola, Australia, or Afghanistan, Prince was the only black child. I asked Dr. Jones if she had wanted him to go to Howard. She smiled and said, 'No.' And then she added, ’It’s so nice to be able to talk about this.’ This relaxed me a little, because I could think of myself as something more than an intrusion. I asked where she had wanted him to go for college. She said, 'Harvard. And if not Harvard, Princeton. And if not Princeton, Yale. And if not Yale, Columbia. And if not Columbia, Stanford. He was that caliber of student.' But like at least one third of all the students who I knew who came to Howard, Prince was tired of having to represent to other people. These Howard students were not like me. They were the children of the Jackie Robinson elite, whose parents rose up out of the ghettos, and the sharecropping fields, went out into the suburbs, only to find that they carried the mark with them and they could not escape. Even when they succeeded, as so many of them did, they were singled out, made examples of, transfigured into parables of diversity. They were symbols and markers, never children or young adults. And so they come to Howard to be normal—and even more, to see how broad the black normal really is.

“Prince did not apply to Harvard, nor Princeton, nor Yale, nor Columbia, nor Stanford. He only wanted The Mecca. I asked Dr. Jones if she regretted Prince choosing Howard. She gasped. It was as though I had pushed too hard on a bruise. 'No,' she said. 'I regret that he is dead.'

“She said this with great composure and greater pain. She said this with all of the odd poise and direction that the great American injury demands of you. Have you ever taken a hard look at those pictures from the sit-ins in the ’60s, a hard, serious look? Have you ever looked at the faces? The faces are neither angry, nor sad, nor joyous. They betray almost no emotion. They look out past their tormentors, past us, and focus on something way beyond anything ever known to me. I think they are fastened to their god, a god whom I cannot know. But, god or not, the armor is all over them, and it is real. Or perhaps it is not armor at all. Perhaps it is life extension, a kind of loan allowing you to take the assaults heaped upon you now and pay down the debt later. Whatever it is, that same look I see in those pictures, noble and vacuous, that was the look I saw in Mable Jones. It was in her sharp brown eyes, which welled but did not break. She held so much under her control, and I was sure the days since her Rocky was plundered, since her lineage was robbed, had demanded nothing less.

"And she could not lean on her country for help. When it came to her son, Dr. Jones’s country did what it does best—it forgot him. The forgetting is habit, it is yet another necessary component of the Dream. They have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world. I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free. In the Dream they are Buck Rogers, Prince Aragorn, an entire race of Skywalkers. To awaken them is to reveal that they are an empire of humans and, like all empires of humans, are built on the destruction of the body. It is to stain their nobility, to make them vulnerable, fallible, breakable humans."

AMY GOODMAN: Ta-Nehisi Coates, speaking at the Union Baptist Church in Baltimore on the launch of his new best-seller, Between the World and Me, a book that’s based on a letter to his teenage son. We come back to the speech in a moment.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we go back to the speech of Ta-Nehisi Coates, the best-selling author whose new book is called Between the World and Me, based on a letter to his teenage son. He was speaking at the Union Baptist Church in Baltimore.

TA-NEHISI COATES: "Dr. Jones was asleep when the phone rang. It was 5 A.M. and on the phone was a detective telling her she should drive to Washington. Rocky was in the hospital. Rocky had been shot. She drove with her daughter. She was sure he was still alive. She paused several times as she explained this to me. She went directly to the ICU. Rocky was not there. A group of men with authority—doctors, lawyers, detectives, perhaps—took her into a room and told her he was gone. She paused again. She did not cry. Composure was too important now.

“’It was unlike anything I had felt before,’ she told me. 'It was extremely physically painful. So much so that whenever a thought of him would come to mind, all I could do was pray and ask for mercy. I thought I was going to lose my mind and go crazy. I felt sick. I felt like I was dying.'

“I asked if she expected that the police officer who had shot Prince would be charged. She said, 'Yes.' Her voice was a cocktail of emotions. She spoke like an American, with the same expectations of fairness, even fairness belated and begrudged, that she took into medical school all those years ago. And she spoke like a black woman, with all the pain that undercuts those exact feelings.

“I now wondered about her daughter, who’d been recently married. There was a picture on display of this daughter and her new husband. Dr. Jones was not optimistic. She was intensely worried about her daughter bringing a son into America, because she could not save him, she could not secure his body from the ritual violence that claimed her son. She compared America to Rome. She said she thought the glory days of this country had long ago passed, and even those glory days were sullied, because they had been built on the bodies of others. 'And we can't get the message,’ she said. 'We don't understand that we are embracing our deaths.’

“I asked Dr. Jones if her mother was still alive. She told me her mother passed away in 2002, at the age of eighty-nine. I asked Dr. Jones how her mother had taken Prince’s death, and her voice retreated into an almost-whisper, and Dr. Jones said, 'I don't know that she did.’

“She alluded to 12 Years a Slave. 'There he was,' she said, speaking of Solomon Northup. 'He had means. He had a family. He was living like a human being. And one racist act took him back. And the same is true of me. I spent years developing a career, acquiring assets, engaging responsibilities. And one racist act. It's all it takes.’ And then she talked again of all that she had, through great industry, through unceasing labor, acquired in the long journey from grinding poverty. She spoke of how her children had been raised in the lap of luxury—annual ski trips, jaunts off to Europe. She said that when her daughter was studying Shakespeare in high school, she took her daughter to England. And when her daughter got her license at sixteen, a Mazda 626 was waiting out front. I sensed some connection to this, some desire to give and the raw poverty of her youth. I sensed that it was all as much for her as it was for her children. She said that Prince had never taken to material things. He loved to read. He loved to travel. But when he turned twenty-three, she bought him a jeep. She had a huge purple bow put on it. She told me that she still could see him there, looking at the jeep and simply saying, Thank you. Without interruption she added, 'And that was the jeep he was killed in.'

“After I left, I sat in the car for a few minutes. I thought of all that Prince’s mother had invested in him, and all that was lost. I thought of the loneliness that sent him to The Mecca, and how The Mecca, how we, could not save him, how we ultimately cannot save ourselves. I thought back on the sit-ins, the protestors with their stoic faces, the ones I’d once scorned for hurling their bodies at the worst things in life. Perhaps they had known something terrible about the world. Perhaps they so willingly parted with the security and sanctity of the black body because neither security nor sanctity existed in the first place. And all those old photographs from the 1960s, all those films I beheld of black people prostrate before clubs and dogs, were not shameful, indeed were not shameful at all—they were just true. We are captured, brother, surrounded by the majoritarian bandits of America. And this has happened here, in our only home, and the terrible truth is that we cannot will ourselves to an escape on our own. Perhaps that was, is, the hope of the movement: to awaken the Dreamers, to rouse them to the facts of what their need to be white, to talk like they are white, to think that they are white, which is to think that they are beyond the design flaws of humanity, has done to the world.

“You, Samori, you cannot arrange your life around them and the small chance of them coming into consciousness. Our moment is too brief. Our bodies are too precious. And you are here now, and you must live—and there is so much out there to live for, not just in someone else’s country, but in your own home. The warmth of dark energies that drew me to The Mecca, that drew out Prince Jones, the warmth of our particular world, is beautiful, no matter how brief and breakable.

“I think back to our trip to Homecoming. I think back to the warm blasts rolling over us. We were at the football game. We were sitting in the bleachers with old friends and their children, caring for neither fumbles nor first downs. I remember looking toward the goalposts and watching a pack of alumni cheerleaders so enamored with Howard University that they donned their old colors and took out their old uniforms just a little bit so they’d fit. I remember them dancing. They’d shake, freeze, shake again, and when the crowd yelled 'Do it! Do it! Dooo it!' a black woman two rows in front of me, in her tightest jeans, stood and shook as though she was not somebody’s momma and the past twenty years had barely been a week. I remember walking down to the tailgate party without you. I could not bring you, but I have no problem telling you what I saw—the entire diaspora around me—hustlers, lawyers, Kappas, busters, doctors, barbers, Deltas, drunkards, geeks, and nerds. The DJ hollered into the mic. The young folks pushed toward him. A young man pulled out a bottle of cognac and twisted the cap. A girl with him smiled, tilted her head back, imbibed, laughed. And I felt myself disappearing into all of their bodies. The birthmark of damnation faded, and I could feel the weight of my arms and I could feel the heave in my breath and I was not talking then, because there was no point.

“That was a moment, a joyous moment, beyond their Dream—a moment imbued by a power more gorgeous than any voting rights bill. This power, this black power, originates in a view of the American galaxy taken from a dark and essential planet. Black power is the dungeon-side view of Monticello—which is to say, the view taken in struggle. And black power births a kind of understanding that illuminates all the galaxies in their truest colors. Even the Dreamers—lost in their great reverie—feel it, for it is Billie that they reach for in sadness, and Mobb Deep is what they holler in boldness, and Isley is what they hum in love, and Dre is what they yell in revelry, and Aretha is the last sound they hear before dying. We have made something down here. We have taken the one-drop rule of Dreamers and flipped them. They made us into a race. But we made ourselves into a people. Here at The Mecca, under the pain of selection, we have made a home. As do black people on summer blocks marked with needles, vials, and hopscotch squares. As do black people dancing it out at rent parties, as do black people at their family reunions where we are regarded like the survivors of catastrophe. As do black people toasting their cognac and German beers, passing their blunts and debating MCs. As do all of us who have voyaged through death, to life upon these shores.

“That was the love power that drew Prince Jones. The power is not just divinity but a deep knowledge of how fragile everything—even the Dream, especially the Dream—really is. Sitting in that car I thought of Dr. Jones’s predictions of national doom. I had heard such predictions all my life from Malcolm and all his posthumous followers who hollered that the Dreamers must reap what they sow. I saw the same prediction in the words of Marcus Garvey who promised to return in a whirlwind of vengeful ancestors, an army of Middle Passage undead. No. When I left The Mecca, I knew that that was all too pat, and knowing that the Dreamers should reap what they had sown, we would reap it right along with them. Plunder has matured into habit, and habit into addiction; and the people who could author the mechanized death of our ghettos, the mass rape of private prisons, and then engineer their own forgetting, must inevitably plunder much more. This is not a belief in prophecy, it is a belief in the seductiveness of cheap gasoline.

“Once, the Dream’s parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion, a plunder with no known precedent. And this revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the body of black humans but the body of the Earth itself. The Earth is not our creation. It has no respect for us. It has no use for us. And its vengeance is not the fire in the cities but the fire in the sky. Something more fierce than Marcus Garvey is riding on the whirlwind. Something more awful than all of our African ancestors is rising with the seas. The two phenomena are known to each other. It was the cotton that passed through our chained hands that inaugurated this age. It is the flight from us that sent them sprawling into their subdivided woods. And the methods of transport through these new subdivisions, across the sprawl, is the automobile, the noose around the neck of the earth, and ultimately, the Dreamers themselves.

"I drove away from the house of Mable Jones thinking of all of this. I drove away, as always, thinking of you. I do not believe we can stop them, Samori, because they must ultimately stop themselves. And still I urge you to struggle. Struggle for the memory of your ancestors. Struggle for wisdom. Struggle for the warmth of The Mecca. Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, struggle for your name. But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all. The Dream is the same habit that endangers the planet, the same habit that sees our bodies stowed away in prisons and ghettos. I saw these ghettos driving from Dr. Jones’s home. They were the same ghettos I had seen in Chicago all those years ago, the same ghettos where my mother was raised, where my father was raised. Through the windshield I saw the mark of these ghettos—the abundance of beauty shops, churches, liquor stores, and crumbling housing—and I felt the old fear. Through the windshield I saw the rain coming down in sheets."

Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of Between the World and Me, based on a letter to his teenage son. He was speaking on the launch of the book at the Union Baptist Church in Baltimore. If you’d like to get a copy of today’s show, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. When we come back, a conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates.

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Donald Trump Race Shocker: Polls Prove His Success Really Is Based on Racists

AlterNet.org - November 27, 2015 - 11:54am
New numbers prove that Trump is pulling support from the highly xenophobic Republican contingent.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll proves what gut instinct was already telling you: The Donald Trump campaign’s success is built on the backs of racists. Or, if you prefer a gentler word that captures the immigrant-specific questions the poll asked,xenophobes. Either way, fear of foreigners coming to America to white people isn’t just driving the rhetoric of the Trump campaign, but it’s, quite predictably, shaping who his supporters are.

“Nearly half of GOP-leaning respondents in the poll — 47 percent — both support the deportation of undocumented immigrants and oppose accepting refugees from Syria and other Mideast conflicts,” the Washington Post reports. “If a GOP-leaning voter supports deportation, there is a 79 percent chance she or he also opposes Syrian refugees, compared with 54 percent if they oppose deportation.”

Call them the twofers: Republicans who both want to kick out all undocumented immigrants and stop Syrian refugees from entering. A whopping 51 percent of Trump’s supporters are twofers, compared to only 16 percent of all other Republican voters. “Put another way, pro-deportation/anti-refugee voters account for almost three-quarters of Trump’s support,” the Washington Post reports.

To be clear, nearly every Republican in the race has pandered to the twofers on some level, stoking hysteria about Syrian refugees and talking tough on immigration, even if they fall short of embracing Trump’s build-a-wall-kick-’em-out program. But Trump’s laser-like focus on these issues, along with a simple-minded belligerence that appeals to the bigoted (who are not known for their nuanced approach to issues) means he is killing with these voters. Enough to hold a comfortable lead as the primaries draw closer.

While these results aren’t surprising, there’s a couple of important lessons to be drawn from them. One, traditional coalition-building is collapsing in the Republican Party, which has become victim of its own propaganda machine. Two, this should (but won’t) put to bed any lingering hope that Trump is somehow going to say something too racist and lose his base of support.

To start with the second one, because it is the sexier issue: For months now, there’s been a sense in the pundit class that Trump is going to cross a line one day, saying something that will wake his supporters up to the fact that he’s not ready to win a general election, causing them to give up their love affair with the Orange One and move, however reluctantly, to a Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush. This assumption underestimates how enraged these voters are. These are people that often feel that they are losing their identity. This group is animated by the idea that white Christian conservatives are the dominant class by rights, and that any attempt to share power is capitulation. The Bushes and Rubios of the world are seen as squishes, people who think “conservatism” can somehow be separated from this white Christian identity.

As the poll shows, xenophobia is broadly popular in Republican circles, but clearly, it’s a priority issue for Trump supporters. People who are in such a panic state, believing their very identity is under threat by growing racial and ethnic diversity, aren’t going to be interested in people who they see as accepting change as inevitable (even if they promise to slow it down). They want to hear that it can be stopped, even reversed. And Trump is making that promise.

This entire situation is also a nice reminder that the politics of coalition-building, as frustrating and contentious as they can be at times, have benefits over the multi-decade conservative effort to use propaganda to create a singular, lockstep coalition. Democrats work by bringing people with different issues together, settling differences through compromise and often tedious amounts of discussion. For decades now, the right has gone a different route: Using talk radio, conservative publications and Fox News to create a singular conservative identity and persuading people in the coalition to adjust themselves to it.

There’s been a lot of political benefits to this, of course. For instance, it might seem like the churchy anti-abortion community would balk at slashing the social safety net on the grounds that it encourages abortion. But that doesn’t happen. Anti-choicers are conservatives first, and conservatives want to cut welfare and that’s that. To budge on this issue is to court accusations of liberalism, which cannot be countenanced.

Years of propaganda efforts have flattened out any differences of opinion on the right, creating a coalition that moves in lockstep. But the Trump candidacy shows the limits of that strategy. The xenophobic views are widely popular in the party, even if they aren’t priority number one for everyone. Once conservatives generally agree with each other, it becomes a competition to see who is the most ardent amongst them. That’s why, in recent years, we’ve seen a proliferation of the phrase “true conservative” in Republican circles. Having rejected the politics of coalition-building, conservatives just now want it to be a competition of who can be the most conservative conservative of all.

As long as immigration is a salient issue to conservatives, Trump is going to do well. He can convincingly portray himself as the most conservative on this issue, bringing a huge chunk of voters with him. The only way to combat that is to find some other enticing issue that a candidates is most conservative on, and distract voters with that. Carson was able to pull that off for awhile, but the immigration issue has surged to the front again because of the Paris attacks.

The Republican noise machine has been incredibly successful in building a powerful movement that moves in lockstep. But [insert your Frankenstein metaphor here]. There’s no real incentive for the Fox News and Rush Limbaughs of the world to dial it down. Lockstep conservatism is straight up good for ratings. But it increasingly looks bad for the Republican Party.


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Three Men Who Shot Black Lives Matter Protesters Emerged From Internet’s Racist Swamps

AlterNet.org - November 27, 2015 - 11:04am
White supremacists involved in Minneapolis mayhem left behind a trail of emails, chat rooms, websites, reveling in the extremist right.


The white supremacists who showed up to a Black Lives Matter protest Monday night in Minneapolis and shot five African-American participants were not there just by coincidence.

As more facts emerge in the case, it’s now beginning to appear that not only was the attack a carefully planned attempt to disrupt the demonstration, but the men who participated in the shootings had been radicalized in the course of conversing on websites and in chatrooms where racist and other far-right extremist ideology flourishes. Indeed, the men began networking in real life as a result of their Internet hatemongering.

Minneapolis police have now arrested three men in connection with the shooting, which occurred at about 10:45 p.m. in front of the police precinct station where the Black Lives Matter had set up an encampment Nov. 15 to protest the shooting that day of an unarmed 24-year-old black man named Jamar Clark.

According to several witness accounts, the men confronted protesters at the rally, but were in turn chased by a group of protesters into an alley, where one of them pulled a gun and shot into the crowd. None of the five victims suffered life-threatening injuries, but all were hospitalized. Authorities are trying to determine whether the men fired in self-defense, or whether the matter should be investigated as a hate crime.

“A group of white supremacists showed up at the protest, as they have done most nights,” Miski Noor, a spokesperson for Black Lives Matter, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Noor said the protesters tried to force the group to leave the area, and the men then “opened fire.”

As Travis Gettys at Raw Story reports, the men -- Allen Lawrence “Lance” Scarsella III, 23, of Bloomington; Nathan Gustavsson, 21, of Hermantown; and Daniel Macey, 26, of Pine City – originally connected through online conversations on Facebook and at such websites as 4chan. A fourth man who goes by the online name “Saiga Marine” was part of the same group, but police released the man after questioning Tuesday, saying he was not at the scene of the shooting Monday.

A Facebook video posted by BLM activists, reportedly taken from one of the men’s pages, shows two masked men driving in a car at night, brandishing a gun and saying they were planning to go harass the “dindus” (a pejorative term to describe the black protesters). It was reportedly recorded on Friday night, and the driver identifies himself as “Saiga Marine.”

“We are on our way, we’re going to knock this shit out,” said the driver. “Fuck — and we’re going to see what these dindus are dinduing about.”

Emails posted online by the men seemed to show that they had planned these confrontations carefully. “Do you know if the BLM niggers are planning to protest again tomorrow, and if so, at what time?” one white supremacist asked in an email chain.

Scarsella’s Facebook page includes a photo of the “Bonnie Blue” version of the Confederate flag, which he captioned: “This isn’t the Somalian flag.” Among his “likes”are several gun groups associated with the extremist “III Percent” militia movement, as well as the “OAF Nation” (the acronym stands for “Operator As Fuck”) pro-militia group.

The fourth man’s Facebook page, according to the Star Tribune, shows him wearing military gear and toting various guns. He describes his occupation as “Saving the Constitution.” According to Gettys, “Saiga Marine” is a well-known presence on 4chan’s weapons-discussion forum.

Several black community leaders have lashed out at Minneapolis police for their handling of the incident. Minnesota NAACP leader Raeisha Williams accused the police of complicity in the shooting on CNN on Tuesday, claiming: “We believe the police department is facilitating the injustice, bullying the protesters. … And we also believe that they’re involved in this shooting. We know from blackboards and chat rooms and also videos that we have posted on our website that police that are from different counties, police from different districts have come down to entice the protesters, have come down to bully the protesters.” 

Police officials have defended their response. An official statement reads: “Dozens of officers responded almost immediately attending to victims and secured the scene.  Additional resources were called in and are actively investigating the shootings, interviewing a multitude of witnesses.”

Scott Seroka, a police department spokesman, told reporters: “At this point in the investigation, we know that the people that have been arrested have no connection to the MPD.”



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Trump Supporters Thrive on His Lies and Disinformation Aimed at Demonizing Their Target Groups

AlterNet.org - November 27, 2015 - 10:47am
The Trump campaign isn't being discreet.

From Minneapolis to Chicago this week, thousands of Americans are marching to demand justice in the police shootings of two young black men, 24-year-old Jamar Clark and 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Despite the fact that fatal shootings at the hands of U.S. police far outnumber American deaths at the hands of terrorists, right-wing politicians in the U.S. are focused solely on the specter of Muslim fundamentalism in the wake of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks.

No one embodies this blatant hypocrisy better than Donald Trump. At a recent rally in Birmingham, Ala., Trump’s supporters viciously beat an African-American man named Mercutio Southall while screaming racist epithets at him. Southall later described police refusal to intervene, except to stop him from defending himself against his attackers. Trump justified Southall’s beating, saying, “Maybe he should have been roughed up.”

Trump also recently tweeted a set of crime statistics falsely claiming that 81 percent of white Americans are killed by blacks. In reality, 82 percent of whites are killed by whites, but Trump stood firm, saying it was merely a “retweet” and that he couldn’t be expected to fact-check everything.

Meanwhile, jumping on the anti-Muslim bandwagon in the wake of the Paris attacks, Trump made a wild claim that he saw reports of thousands of Arab-Americans in New Jersey cheering the fall of the twin towers in New York City on 9/11. Even when confronted with solid evidence to the contrary, Trump continued to insist he was right.

Trump’s growing support among right-wing Americans is an indication of how popular it is to believe an easily disproved lie: that blacks and Muslims are the perpetrators of terror, rather than victims of it. His dissemination of racist propaganda and his policy positions echo the ugly rhetoric of Nazi Germany. Demonstrating his clearly low opinion of Muslim Americans, he endorsed the idea of registering them in some kind of database, saying, “We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it.”

The right-wing businessman’s candidacy has decidedly pulled many of his Republican rivals more sharply to the right, even as the very real victimization of African-Americans and Muslim Americans is receiving scant attention.

In the case of police killings of African-Americans, there is so much disproportionate targeting of that community that hardly a week goes by without a new story emerging. And there is tremendous resistance to bringing perpetrators to justice. In Chicago, it took a city whistleblower and the determination of reporter Jamie Kalven to achieve the public release of video evidence of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times last year. Hours before the horrific video was released Tuesday, Van Dyke was finally charged with first-degree murder.

In Minneapolis, Black Lives Matter and the NAACP have been organizing marches for weeks over the killing of Jamar Clark, a young African-American man who, according to some witnesses, may have been handcuffed when he was shot in the head by police. Activism over the conduct of Minneapolis police has been so widespread that on Nov. 16, law enforcement arrested more than 50 protesters. Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter organizers apparently warned police of threats made against them by white supremacists, but those threats were not taken seriously. It was only after five people were shot at a Black Lives Matter rally Monday that police arrested three young white suspects in their 20s.

Imagine if it had been three young Muslim men arrested in connection with shooting into a crowd. The howling accusations of “terrorism” would have sounded before the ink dried on their arrest warrants.

In fact, Muslims have faced a steady stream of prejudice and hate crimes since the Paris attacks. A running list on The Huffington Post includes three instances of Arab and Muslim passengers being removed from flights before takeoff for no apparent reason other than fear and suspicion of their language and heritage. Syrian refugees are being heavily demonized, despite the fact that none of the Paris attackers was either Syrian or a refugee. Even the U.S. policy to accept a paltry 10,000 refugees out of millions of displaced Syrians is facing a heavy backlash from Republican presidential hopefuls and state governors. Those among the 1,800 refugees who have already received asylum are feeling the chilling impact of demonization. As this author put it, “Arab Americans ... fear [Islamic State], and the white supremacists who think they are [Islamic State].”

The U.S. has a sordid history that includes not just slavery and genocide but also the routine lynching of African-Americans, the unjust internment of Japanese-Americans and the rejection of Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust. If politicians like Trump and his cohorts are allowed to dominate our modern discourse, the outcome will only fuel more racism and injustice and doom us to repeat the past.

Truth is the best antidote to the disease of white supremacy. Asked about the growing sentiment against Syrian refugees in an interview on MSNBC, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings admitted, “I am more fearful of large gatherings of white men that come into schools, theaters and shoot people up, but we don’t isolate young white men on this issue.”

As U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also astutely reflected, “We’ve had individual crazy people; normally, they look more like me than they look like Middle Easterners. They are generally white males, who have shot up people in movie theaters and schools. Those are terrorist attacks; they’re just different kinds of terrorists.”

Perhaps Southall, survivor of the beating at Trump’s rally, said it best when he shared his opinion of the candidate with ThinkProgress: “The things that he’s been saying about black people, Latino people, immigrants, refugees—we felt it was very disrespectful ... this man came to our city [Birmingham, Ala.], a couple of weeks before Christmas, saying we should not let in Middle Eastern refugees. If I’m not mistaken, I think Jesus was a Middle Eastern refugee. So we were not going to stand idly by and see the rise of the next Hitler.”

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Republicans Move to Dump 'Fascist' Trump

AlterNet.org - November 27, 2015 - 10:37am
Rivals and party leaders are starting to wonder how committed Trump is to democratic values.

Many say the populist crazy talk is typical of the White House primaries, but Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s increasingly incendiary remarks are leading some conservatives to brand him a “fascist” and party rivals to ramp up attacks against him.

Most spectacularly, the real estate tycoon recently said he would support registering Muslims in a database, and insisted — despite lacking any evidence — he saw Arabs in New Jersey cheer when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11.

His stance has become so belligerent that voices are asking, even inside his party, whether he is committed to democratic values.

Republican experts are warning that Trump could do lasting damage to the GOP, and that his nomination in the party primaries would essentially hand the presidency to Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

Several campaign teams in the primary race now appear to be coalescing around the need to oppose the celebrity billionaire’s candidacy.

Establishment conservatives even took the unfathomable step of using the F-word against a member of their own party.

“Trump is a fascist. And that’s not a term I use loosely or often. But he’s earned it,” Max Boot, a military historian and foreign policy advisor to Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, posted on Twitter.

“Forced federal registration of US citizens, based on religious identity, is fascism. Period,” added John Noonan, a national security advisor to former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

In its Tuesday editorial the New York Times said the past week of the campaign had been “dominated by Donald Trump’s racist lies.”

The Seattle Times used similarly strong language in a Wednesday editorial that denounced Trump’s “button-pushing lie after button-pushing lie.”

“Trump’s campaign message reflects a kind of creeping fascism,” the paper said. “It needs to be rejected.”

Some campaigns have seemed reluctant to directly take on the Trump machine.

But Bush, struggling to gain traction in the race, piled on, telling Fox News Wednesday that Trump has been creating “an alternative universe” with his harsh rhetoric, particularly about Muslims.

“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Bush said of Trump’s assertion that thousands of people were cheering on 9/11.

– ‘Defeat and destroy’ –

Many Republicans like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have argued that the climate sparked by the Paris attacks would lead voters towards experienced politicians — not an untested commander in chief such as Trump.

But Trump’s campaign has shown extraordinary resilience, and “the Donald” remains atop all major new polls despite fact-checkers debunking many of his statements.

“They say that Trump can do almost anything, and nobody leaves me. And it is true,” Trump said at a rally Tuesday in South Carolina.

Republican groups are reportedly preparing attack ads against him including a political committee associated with conservative economic group Club for Growth.

Republican political operative Liz Mair has formed a new group, Trump Card LLC, that will fuel an anti-Trump ad blitz.

It aims to solicit funds from anonymous donors to help “defeat and destroy” Trump, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report.

A few anti-Trump videos have recently emerged. Ohio Governor John Kasich launched a one-minute web ad that links Trump to Nazi Germany.

The ad shows US Air Force colonel Tom Moe, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, paraphrasing the words of German pastor Martin Niemoller who spoke out against the Nazi regime.

“You might not care if Donald Trump says Muslims must register with their government because you’re not one,” Moe says in the clip.

“And you might not care if Donald Trump says he’s going to round up all the Hispanic immigrants, because you’re not one,” he adds.

“But think about this: if he keeps going, and he actually becomes president, he might just get around to you. And you better hope that there’s someone left to help you.”


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The Huge Racial Injustice Hidden in Our Credit Scores

AlterNet.org - November 27, 2015 - 10:33am
Credit reports and scores reflect existing racial inequities in our credit system and economy.

Worried about the use of big data for corporate gain? Look not further than the credit scoring system in the US, which has profound impact on our daily lives and is a source and perpetuator of systemic racial injustice.

In response to aggressive marketing by the “big three” multinational credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – employers, landlords and insurance companies now use credit reports and scores to make decisions that have major bearing on our social and economic opportunities. These days, your credit history can make or break whether you get a job or apartment, or access to decent, affordable insurance and loans.

Credit reports and scores are not race neutral. Rather, they embed existing racial inequities in our credit system and economy – to the point that a person’s credit information serves as a proxy for race.

For decades, banks have systematically redlined black and Latino neighborhoods, refusing to make conventional loans or locate branches in non-white and lower-income areas, notwithstanding laws that obligate banks to meet the credit needs of all communities they serve, consistent with safe and sound banking operations. Thanks to financial services deregulation and the advent of asset-backed securitization, a multi-billion dollar “fringe” financial system has filled the void, characterized by high-cost, destabilizing products and services, from payday loans to check-cashers – which banks typically also own or finance

People and communities of color have been disproportionately targeted for high-cost, predatory loans, intrinsically risky financial products that predictably lead to higher delinquency and default rates than non-predatory loans. As a consequence, black people and Latinos are more likely than their white counterparts to have damaged credit.

This firmly-entrenched two-tiered financial system has had devastating consequences for entire neighborhoods of color. Starting in the 1990s, financial institutions began flooding historically-redlined neighborhoods with predatory mortgages that ultimately led to the meltdown of the global economy. Waves of foreclosures hammered neighborhoods of color for more than a decade before the crash and black and Latino Americans bore the brunt of the ensuing foreclosure crisis, recession and spiking unemployment. Droves of people turned to high-rate credit cards to cover even basic expenses, contributing to the consumer debt crisis and spawning a bottom-feeding debt-buying industry that purchases old debts on the cheap and then uses the courts to extract judgments disproportionately from people and communities of color. These judgments are then listed in their credit reports, which also brings down their credit scores, in turn limiting a whole range of opportunities.

Although Wall Street is no longer pumping toxic mortgages into black and Latino neighborhoods, people and neighborhoods of color continue to reel from the foreclosure crisis, which many predict is far from over. Meanwhile, racially discriminatory and subprime auto lending are on the rise, payday lenders continue to extract billions of dollars from low-wage workers, and student loan debt has surpassed the trillion dollar mark. One in five Americans has unpaid medical debt, with more than half of all African-Americans and Latinos carrying medical debt on their credit cards. By definition, people who take payday loans and have uninsured medical debt are struggling, and are likely to miss payments. Missed payments translate into decreased credit scores.

This information – unpaid medical and credit card debt, student loans, and mortgages, as well as foreclosures, bankruptcies, debt collection judgments, wage garnishments – appears on people’s credit reports and lowers their credit scores. And the credit bureaus make humongous profits by selling this information about all of us. 

In New York City, a coalition of labor, community and civil rights groupsrecently won the strongest ban on employment credit checks in the country. It’s a major economic justice victory, but we know it’s just a first step. We knocked down this discriminatory barrier because there is no demonstrated connection between a person’s credit history and his or her likely job performance or character. Credit checks can also block applicants with no or “thin” credit histories, including many students and immigrants. Rather, using credit information to make hiring decisions – or to rent apartments, set insurance terms, or extend credit – is a clear way to perpetuate inequality, poverty and segregation. 

Credit reports and scores are mirrors of our manifestly two-tiered financial system, and more broadly our system of racial wealth inequality and unequal opportunity. In our culture, indebtedness – and certainly failure to pay one’s debts – is deeply entwined with concepts of morality. The insidious notion that our credit history speaks to our reliability as human beings is largely taken for granted.

The credit bureaus and the information they sell have out-sized influence over our lives. It’s time to stop these pernicious practices and the systemic injustices that underlie them.

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The Real Reason Why the Kochs Developed a Sudden Passion for Prison Reform

AlterNet.org - November 27, 2015 - 10:16am
Criminal legal reform has become one of the very few legitimately bipartisan issues in US politics.

It looks like the Koch brothers have scammed us once again.

When news first came out that Charles and David Koch - the Koch brothers - were supporting criminal legal system reform efforts in Congress, many of us thought, "Wow, they're actually doing something good for once." And for good reason, too.

Criminal legal reform has, over the past few years, become one of the very few legitimately bipartisan issues in US politics, and given their public statements, it really looked like Kochs were joining that bipartisan consensus for all the right reasons.

Here, for example, is Charles Koch on a recent episode of "Morning Joe" talking about why we need to reform drug laws. Sounds pretty persuasive, right? Boy, were we naïve.

Charles and David Koch may very well want to change drug laws, but the idea that they're making this push for criminal legal reform out of the goodness of their own hearts appears to be totally and completely false. After all the publicity they've gotten from the media and the DC establishment, it now turns out that the Kochs appear to want to change sentencing laws to help protect potential white collar criminals like, well, themselves or their buddies.

As The New York Times reported, Koch Industries, backing as part of a package of criminal legal system reform legislation, a bill that would change the way the feds can use a legal doctrine known as "mens rea" in white collar cases. If the bill passes, white collar criminals could get away with breaking the law if they can simply say that they "didn't know" they or their business and colleagues were breaking the law when committing the crime in question.

They can't do this now - it's that whole "ignorance of the law is no excuse" thing. And while this whole issue of "did they or didn't they know" might sound like a minor bit of legal esoterica, it's not.

The power to convict someone of committing a crime, regardless of whether or not they knew they were breaking the law when they committed that crime, is an important tool for prosecutors, especially in white collar cases.

Justice Department officials, for example, told The New York Times that not having this tool might have prevented them from getting guilty pleas in a 2013 case involving a Colorado factory farm whose listeria-infected cantaloupes killed 33 people, as well as a 2012 case involving a pharmacy that killed three people by selling them mislabeled drugs.

In other words, letting white collar criminals claim ignorance of the law as a defense would make it really easy for them to get away with, well, murder. And, yes, according to The New York Times, that's what the Kochs are proposing.

So yeah, this is a big deal.

It also turns out that the Koch brothers have a very personal reason for supporting these kinds of changes to federal criminal law.

As The New York Times reports, Koch Industries' general counsel and senior vice president Mark Holden "acknowledge[s]... that the company's efforts to pursue revisions in federal criminal law were inspired in part by a criminal case filed 15 years ago against Koch Industries claiming that it covered up releases of hazardous air pollution at a Texas oil refinery. Those charges resulted in a guilty plea by the company and a $20 million penalty."

As usual, the Kochs are just looking out for themselves. And the sad thing is that even if they do really care about changing drug sentencing laws, their push to let white collar criminals off the hook could sabotage the efforts going on in Congress right now to make real change to our criminal legal system.

A bill that's effectively a gimme for polluters might be too much for many Democrats to swallow, especially now that the Justice Department has called it out as just that - a gimme for polluters.

Ever since John D. Rockefeller started handing out shiny new dimes to children to enhance his robber baron image, rich people have been trying to portray themselves as concerned about average people as part of a ploy to protect their own privilege. Sometimes we see through it and sometimes we get bamboozled, but this time we really got bamboozled.

The Koch brothers don't want to reform the federal criminal code to help average Americans stay out of jail for smoking pot; they want to reform the federal criminal code to protect fat-cat polluters. It really is as simple and dirty as that.

Welcome to life in the best democracy money can buy.

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Paul Krugman on the Unforeseen Harm Trump Could Do If He Wins

AlterNet.org - November 27, 2015 - 9:54am
The columnist looks at Europe for a lesson in how to be an imperfect union.

Until Donald Trump is elected president, Paul Krugman writes in Friday's column, the imperfect union of the U.S. is more equipped to handle challenges than the much more imperfect union in Europe. He opens by correcting the misconception about why we celebrate Thanksgiving. Lincoln made it a federal holiday. It's a celebration of national unity. "And our national unity is indeed something to be thankful for," he writes.

Europe has attempted to achieve closer social and economic integration as well. But the project is incomplete and has hit some snags recently. Krugman:

At first sight, the financial crisis, the refugee crisis, and the terrorist attacks might not seem to have anything in common. But in each case Europe’s ability to protect itself turns out to have been undermined by its imperfect union.

On the financial crisis: There’s widespread consensus among economists(though not, alas, among politicians) that Europe’s woes were mainly caused by mood swings among private investors, who recklessly poured money into southern Europe after the creation of the euro, then abruptly reversed course a decade later. Yet something similar happened in America, too, where money first poured into mortgage lending in the “sand states” — Florida, Arizona, Nevada, California — then took flight. In the U.S., however, the pain of that reversal was limited by federal institutions, ranging from Social Security to deposit insurance. In Europe, unfortunately, the cost of bank bailouts and much more fell on national governments, so that private-sector overreach soon spilled over into fiscal crisis.

On refugees: the politics of immigration in general, and refugees in particular, are nasty everywhere — just listen to Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. But Europe is also trying to maintain open internal borders while leaving the management of external borders to national governments like that of impoverished, austerity-ravaged Greece. No wonder, then, that border controls are making a comeback.

And on terrorism: No free society can ever be perfectly secure from attack. But think about how much harder it gets when antiterrorism is pretty much left up to national governments, whose capacity for policing varies greatly. Imagine how New Yorkers would feel if political paralysis in New Jersey were getting in the way of any effective antiterrorist policy there, and you have a good idea of the problems Belgium has created for France.

The solution is to strengthen its union, but countries like Germany is resisting taking steps that would stabilize banks with Europe-wide deposit insurance.

The union is further being threatened by the recent moves on border control. Krugman confesses he does not know the answer; he's just grateful to be an American at this point, "at least for now. I guess we’ll see what’s left after President Trump gets done with it."


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Breaking the ban: why frontline communities will not be silenced in Paris

New Internationalist - November 27, 2015 - 6:17am
Filipino climate campaigner Leon Dulce calls for global resistance to the French government’s attempt to crack down on protests at the Paris climate summit.
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To the (inflatable) barricades!

New Internationalist - November 27, 2015 - 4:34am
Hundreds of people from the climate justice movement have remained in Paris determined to defy the protest ban, Jamie Kelsey-Fry reports.
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