Truthout Stories Sat, 22 Oct 2016 09:38:12 -0400 en-gb Chicago Cops Who Broke "Code of Silence" to Report Police Drug Gang Face Deadly Retaliation

Two Chicago police officers say they have faced retaliation and suffered from PTSD since they blew the whistle on a gang of their fellow cops who were demanding bribes from drug dealers in the housing projects of Chicago. We speak with one of the whistleblowers, Shannon Spalding, and with reporter Jamie Kalven, who documented their ordeal in a major investigation for The Intercept called "Code of Silence."


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today's show with an explosive story of two Chicago police officers who blew the whistle on a gang of their colleagues after they discovered they were demanding bribes from drug dealers in the housing projects of Chicago, arresting their rivals and blocking any internal investigations into their actions. The two whistleblowers, Shannon Spalding and her partner Danny Echeverria, spent five years working with the Chicago Police Department and the FBI in their case, only to be sidelined, outed as informants, threatened and eventually forced out of the police department. In contrast, the named senior officials and cops who helped cover for their fellow officers were able to retire from the force with their pensions intact and faced no punishment for their role in the cover-up. Spalding says she has even received death threats. She and her partner both took stress-related medical leave, and she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

AMY GOODMAN: Their ordeal is chronicled in a four-part investigation published by The Intercept called "The Code of Silence." Part 1 is headlined "In the Chicago Police Department, If the Bosses Say It Didn't Happen, It Didn't Happen." It's written by the award-winning Chicago journalist Jamie Kalven, who's made a career of exposing police misconduct in Chicago. He spent three years interviewing Spalding for the report. He's also known for uncovering the autopsy report that showed Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by Chicago police in [ 2014 ], and was the first to report on the existence of the video of the shooting, which was released 400 days after McDonald was killed. Thursday marked the second anniversary of the killing. Kalven is now working with Spalding on a project called the Invisible Institute, which has set up an encrypted drop box for Chicago police officers to anonymously upload evidence of corruption. They also offer to link whistleblowing cops to mental health and legal resources.

For more, we go to Chicago, where Jamie Kalven joins us to discuss the investigation. And we're joined by the whistleblower at the center of his story, Shannon Spalding.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Jamie, let's begin with you. Lay out this story.

JAMIE KALVEN: So, this is really a Serpico saga for our time, of two undercover -- two narcotics officers who undercover a massive criminal enterprise, as your setup said, in high-rise public housing in Chicago during its last decade of existence. It's all been demolished now, so the scene of the crime has essentially disappeared. They make conscientious efforts to bring this criminal activity to the attention of their superiors. They're blown off, ultimately go to the FBI and provide information. It's not conclusive information, but grounds for investigation. They then are detailed to work undercover with the FBI and pursue this investigation for a number of years, are at the point of breaking the case wide open when they are outed within the department, and have since suffered constant retaliation.

I think part of what is really important about this story is what it illustrates about the nature of the code of silence. You know, I think the common understanding of the code of silence is it's a kind of peer-to-peer phenomena of the rank and file: "We're in the foxhole together. You've got my back. I've got mine. Nobody likes a tattletale." There certainly is that dimension within police culture, but what's so striking about this story is that the retaliation against these officers is ordered by high-ranking supervisory officials within the department. So it's really a story, in great detail, of how the code of silence operates at the center of the Chicago Police Department.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Jamie, about this issue of retaliation being ordered at high levels. How was that documented in the lawsuit? And also, the city settled for $2 million before there was a trial. Could you talk about the tactic of the city of settling the suit?

JAMIE KALVEN: Right. So, there was a -- in the midst of this ordeal, the two officers, Shannon and Danny, brought a whistleblower lawsuit -- really, an employment suit -- hoping, above all, to be protected from further retaliation. It only compounded and intensified the retaliation at that point. There are a number of allegations in the lawsuit, and The Intercept piece links to all the underlying legal documents. But, you know, supervisors -- the commander of narcotics, the chief of organized crime -- made it clear that they did not want these officers working in units that they controlled. They went so far, in one instance, of really delivering a threat -- and, paradoxically, the threat was conveyed by the chief of Internal Affairs, who's charged with investigating this sort of thing -- a threat against their personal safety. You know, I believe the quote was "If they call for backup, it's not coming."

So, you know, this was not just a matter of being ostracized or shunned within the department, although it certainly was that. These -- as Shannon says at one point in the article, I quote her saying, you know, "We were officers without a department." So they're left out on the streets in this really dangerous investigation, investigating a team of officers who are thought to have been implicated in two murders. It hasn't been proven yet, but it's scarcely been investigated, apart from Shannon and Danny's work. And they're kind of left wholly exposed. So -- and this was coming from the top. This wasn't some kind of, you know, aberrant behavior. This is really the machinery of how the Chicago Police Department controls the narrative. Amy quoted the line about, you know, if the bosses say it didn't happen, it didn't happen. That's really what's at the center of this story.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's go to Shannon Spalding, former Chicago police officer. On May 31st, Chicago agrees to settle a whistleblower lawsuit brought by Shannon Spalding and her colleague, Daniel Echeverria, who alleged they suffered retaliation for reporting and investigating criminal activity by fellow officers. Shannon Spalding, tell us: What was it that you were investigating? When did it happen? And when did the cover-up, do you feel, and the retaliation against you start?

SHANNON SPALDING: My partner Danny and I started investigating allegations that kept surfacing. There was a sergeant, Ronald Watts, and members of his TAC team, who worked directly underneath him, that were imposing what they called on the street a "Watts tax." Basically, he was extorting the drug dealers. He was receiving money from drug dealers that ran different drug lines within the Ida B. Wells housing projects and the surrounding area. And in exchange for that money, they were guaranteed protection from prosecution and arrest. In addition to that, the allegations were that this crew of rogue officers, under the command of Ronald Watts, were also planting narcotics on innocent individuals and falsifying police reports, falsely arresting them, putting them in prison for false allegations. There's also the allegations of, you know, physical violence, of being beaten, if they didn't want to comply and pay this tax, as well as warrantless seizures, kicking in doors and going through people's apartments, stealing everything that wasn't nailed down. And the allegations kept being repeated over and over again from every individual that we would do intelligence debriefings with, along with our confidential informants.

And I think you said, "When did the retaliation begin on this investigation?" We began to investigate it and brought it to the FBI in 2006. We were not officially assigned with our department to work with the FBI at that time. We were doing this on our own time. In 2007, we were assigned by the Chicago Police Department to work with the FBI solely on what was dubbed Operation Brass Tax, "brass" meaning the top officials in the police department -- "brass" refers to a boss -- "tax," because that's what they were implementing on the drug dealers and the gangbangers. It was about -- I believe it was 2010, August of 2010, when I realized that our identity had been compromised and that we were now out in the open. This was supposed to remain a strictly confidential investigation. And it was imperative that our identities not be revealed, because the targets of this investigation were officers and bosses, and we didn't know how far up the chain it would go, which meant that they had access to all of our personal information -- where we lived, our children, anything that they wanted, which made us very vulnerable. So, to expose our identity is basically throwing us to the wolves. These targets could now know who we are, what we're investigating. And you have to remember, these are police officers. They know what they did. And now they know we know. And that -- with that comes the implication of federal prison time, losing your job, losing your livelihood. That makes us targets and makes it very dangerous for us to work.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I want to turn to Janet Hanna, a 20-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department. She says she witnessed the harassment of you, Shannon, and your partner, Danny Echeverria. On one occasion, Hanna said she overheard a sergeant warning you about her own safety. This is Hanna telling NBC Chicago's Phil Rogers what she overheard.

JANET HANNA: That she better where her bulletproof vest. She may go home in a casket, and he doesn't want have to call her daughter and tell her that she's -- you know, she's gone.

PHIL ROGERS: And that was because she would be in danger from bad guys and they wouldn't protect her from the bad guys, or she'd be in danger from her fellow officers?


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What about that? What kind of retaliation did you feel when you were still working there?

SHANNON SPALDING: Oh, the retaliation was horrific. I actually felt so anxious walking into work every day, because once I filed the whistleblower lawsuit, I am now working for the defendants of my lawsuit. So can you just imagine what that was like? I felt like I was walking into the lion's den with a steak around my neck every single day.

And I recall that incident. That incident is just burned into my memory. It was my direct supervisor at the time within Fugitive Apprehension that was telling me that because we had investigated other officers, because we had basically broken the code of silence and we had gone against other sworn members, that the officers within that unit -- the supervisors were relaying to me that the officers on the team and in this unit "will not back you up. You're on your own. You're in -- you're in a lot of danger." And he went so far as to saying -- as to say, "You're going to end up in a box, and I'm going to be the one knocking on the door and telling your daughter you're coming home in a box." And those were the type of threats that would happen just on a regular basis. It was almost -- the retaliation was relentless, and it was daily.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to also ask Jamie Kalven -- you've been investigating both police abuse and now this entire police corruption scandal. For those of us who have been following crime stories and police departments now for decades, this is almost likedéjà vu all over again, if it wasn't Serpico in the 1960s here in New York City, and then in the '90s there was a similar type of scandal with a corrupt group of officers named -- headed by a guy named Michael Dowd, and, again, a whistle -- a police officer within the department, Joe Trimboli, trying to ferret them out. But the Dowd criminal group was only revealed when Long Island police arrested him on charges. And it seems to me that there's always been sort of a link between corruption in police departments and abuse within police departments, that there seem to be upsurges in abuse at the same time that there are upsurges in corruption. I'm wondering your understanding of what's been going on in Chicago.

JAMIE KALVEN: Yeah, well, I think that's -- that's well put. And a huge part of that is the war on drugs and the way in which we've conducted it. I mean, I think we've found consistently, in, you know, multiple, multiple scandals, that it happens in sort of specialized units working in supposedly combating the war on drugs. And -- but again and again, that proves to be a sort of setting and medium for corruption and all the attendant abuse.

So, what Shannon was describing was this sort of protection racket that -- you know, hugely corrupt. The officers are really an integral part of the drug trade. At the same time, as part of that, they are daily, multiple times, violating the constitutional rights of citizens -- false arrest, excessive force, the fabrication of evidence, on and on. So this all goes together.

And I think we will continue to have recurring scandals of this nature until we can address the -- you know, we use this term, "the code of silence," to describe a kind of culture within the department, a, really, mode of governance within the department. And until officers like Shannon and Danny are held up as models of good police officers and good police work, until the incentive-disincentive sort of scheme shifts, right now, for officers to break ranks and come forward and report really grievous abuse by fellow officers requires them to be heroic almost to the point of self-sacrifice.

AMY GOODMAN: So, in --

JAMIE KALVEN: That can't work.

AMY GOODMAN: In February of 2015, the former Chicago Police Department superintendent, Garry McCarthy, releases a statement to NBC Chicago saying, quote, "Superintendent McCarthy and the CPD [Chicago Police Department] have zero tolerance for retaliation against whistleblowers. ... However, the City believes the claims of these particular plaintiffs are without merit. The City will continue to vigorously litigate this case." That was in February 2015. Shannon, the day you were going to trial, right, in May of 2016, they settled with you and Danny, your fellow police officer, for $2 million?

SHANNON SPALDING: That is correct. They waited until the last minute, and then they decided to settle. And I personally believe that's because they did not want me getting on the stand and telling everything that I know about how the operation within the police department really works. And they didn't want that on public record. So, they would rather settle than have me expose all of their dirty laundry in a courtroom.

AMY GOODMAN: How much money were you talking about, by the way, when it came to what these officers were doing?

SHANNON SPALDING: Oh, you know, we'll never have a final count. But, you know, the range varied. We got information that some of the drug lines would pay a couple thousand dollars a week. We had several sources say that one of the biggest dope lines that was run in the city of Chicago was named "Obama," and they would pay as much as $50,000. So, it depended on the drug dealer. The amount of money they were bringing in, the amount of protection that they would need, how many locations they were running would vary. It was -- it was really a criminal enterprise. It was a complete business, a criminal business.

AMY GOODMAN: Has anyone been prosecuted?

SHANNON SPALDING: Ronald Watts, Sergeant Ronald Watts, and Kallatt Mohammed pled guilty, and they served their sentences in federal prison. I believe it was 18 and 22 months, Ronald -- Sergeant Ronald Watts doing 22 months, and I believe Kallatt Mohammed did 18 months.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jamie Kalven, you were interviewing these officers off and on for several years before you actually were able to -- The Intercept story came out. Could you talk about the difficulties in getting this story out?

JAMIE KALVEN: Yeah, so, this is a -- I mean, this is a complicated story for a journalist to figure out how to bring to the public. You know, when an Edward Snowden comes to us with a treasure trove of documents, we know what to do with that sort of whistleblower. When somebody like Shannon and her partner Danny come with a compelling story that they have -- that's cost them, and they've taken great risks to tell, but it -- by the nature of the story, it can't be fully corroborated. You can't, you know, double source. Other people who were in the room for various conversations won't talk to you. And it's fundamentally a story about the code of silence, which we should really call by its true name, which is "official lying," concerted, sustained lying by high officials. You know, the question of how to tell that story in a way that is consistent with journalistic ethics and standards of rigor and care, you know, I struggled with that and found, ultimately, with The Intercept, a great partner in bringing this story out.

And where the story sort of ends -- and I urge people to go to The Intercept site and read it. It really -- you know, partly because of Shannon's great storytelling ability, it reads like a novel. But it ends at a point where I want to leave the reader with a question, which is: If Shannon and Danny are telling the truth -- and you've read this long story, you can make your own judgments about credibility -- if they are telling the truth, then a whole array of high officials are lying, and lying in concert. So, the story really ultimately hinges on arriving at that question. And that question remains open for the city of Chicago. You know, the settlement of the case did not resolve the -- of Shannon's case did not resolve the issues raised by the case. And what we hope to do through the reporting and ongoing reporting about this is to keep those issues very centrally in the public eye.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, late last year, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel apologized for Laquan McDonald's death. In his speech to the Chicago City Council, Emanuel broke with the city's long history of denying the existence of the code of silence.

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: As we move forward, I am looking for a new leader of the Chicago Police Department to address the problems at the very heart of the policing profession. The problem is sometimes referred to as "the thin blue line." The problem is other times referred to as "the code of silence." It is this tendency to ignore. It is the tendency to deny. It is the tendency, in some cases, to cover up the bad actions of a colleague or colleagues. No officer should be allowed to behave as if they are above the law, just because they are responsible for upholding the law. Permitting and protecting even the smallest acts of abuse by a tiny fraction of our officers leads to a culture where extreme acts of abuse are more likely -- just like what happened to Laquan McDonald.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as Thursday marked the second anniversary of the death of Laquan McDonald, fatally shot by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014. Jamie Kalven, you were the first to report the existence of the video of the shooting, which was released 400 days after McDonald was killed, released after Mayor Rahm Emanuel was re-elected. As we wrap up, can you talk about the significance of here he's acknowledging the code of silence, and what this case has meant for the city? Basically, Laquan McDonald, shot 16 times, that's almost one bullet for every year of his life. He died at the age of 17.

JAMIE KALVEN: No, it's an extraordinary -- it's an extraordinary moment for the city. And I've now compared the public narrative of Laquan McDonald to the story of Emmett Till, another -- another child of Chicago, that so illuminated the underlying violence of the Jim Crow era. The revelations about Laquan McDonald, not simply the atrocity of his death, but the institutional response after, which is really a classic illustration of the code of silence as control of the narrative -- you know, the suppression of evidence, the intimidation of witnesses, fabrication of reports -- that now has become a sort of framing narrative in Chicago and caused a political earthquake, changed the landscape of the city.

So we have, amid all of the sort of bad news and all the disclosures of wrongdoing and corruption within the department -- I think it's important to emphasize that as a consequence of the McDonald tragedy, there is an historic opening in Chicago for really meaningful police reform. The language quoted from the -- that was one of the mayor's better moments, acknowledging the existence of the code of silence. And so, there really is, going forward, I believe, a kind of irresistible momentum towards reform. But it's a big challenge. It's going to be a long slog. And only by addressing the culture within the department that we refer to as the code of silence will change really be meaningful and endure. We can make all sorts of changes in institutions, tweak procedures, but culture will always trump procedure.

AMY GOODMAN: Jamie Kalven, we want to thank you for being with us. We will link to your series, "Code of Silence," at And, Shannon Spalding, thank you for your bravery and for speaking out here today on Democracy Now!, former Chicago police officer, whistleblower featured in the series. She says she suffered retaliation for reporting and investigating criminal activity by fellow Chicago officers.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Shaun King joins us to talk about many issues. Stay with us.

News Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Trump and Clinton Camps Are Engaging in Super PAC Coordination, Says Watchdog Group

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump laugh after speaking at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, on October 20, 2016. (Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times)Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump laugh after speaking at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, on October 20, 2016. (Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times)

Truthout refuses corporate funding and all the strings that come attached. Instead, reader support powers us. Make a tax-deductible donation today!

Super PACs supporting Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and the campaigns of both candidates have been charged with illegally coordinating their activities in violation of federal rules.

"The two major candidates for the most powerful office in the world apparently feel that the rule of law does not apply to them, perhaps because they assume that the FEC is too dysfunctional to enforce the campaign finance laws that exist. The question for both Clinton and Trump is what, specifically, are they going to do to fix the broken system they are exploiting," said Brendan Fischer, of the Campaign Legal Center, the nonpartisan campaign watchdog group which filed formal complaints with the Federal Elections Commission on October 6, 2016.

Correct the Record Operates Like an "Arm of Clinton Campaign"

While federal candidates face limits on campaign contributions ($2,700 for an individual) and strict rules for reporting those contributions, super PACs can raise unlimited money and spend it in support of candidates as long as they are not coordinating with candidates.

Super PAC "Correct the Record" was founded by David Brock, a longtime Clinton supporter and founder of Media Matters, to push back against those "spreading lies and misleading narratives" about Clinton from the left and the right.

Correct the Record does not run ads in support of the Clinton campaign, but exploits an FEC rule that allows limited online activity on behalf of candidates. Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for Correct the Record, has argued that "FEC rules specifically permit some activity -- in particular, activity on an organization's website, in email, and on social media -- to be legally coordinated with candidates and political parties[.]" The super PAC also states that since "it is not involved with independent expenditures" and "will not be engaged in paid media," coordination is permitted.

But the attorneys at the Campaign Legal Center say that the activities undertaken by the super PAC are a far cry from the "unpaid blogging" that the FEC allowed. They Center describes the super PAC as a sophisticated "$6 million professional opposition research, surrogate training and messaging operation staffed with paid professional employees and operating out of a high-rise Washington, D.C. office building."

This week, the complaint was bolstered by emails published by Wikileaks. The emails, hacked from the account of Clinton's Campaign Chairman John Podesta, show the Clinton campaign working not just with Correct the Record, but with other super PACs.

"The emails show consistent, repeated efforts by the Clinton campaign to collaborate with super PACs on strategy, research, attacks on political adversaries and fundraising. The cache also reveal meetings between the campaign and Priorities USA Action, and that campaign officials have helped with the group's fundraising," investigative reporter Lee Fang writes for the Intercept. The Clinton campaign and U.S. government officials say that the Wikileaks emails were illegally hacked by the Russians in an attempt to influence the U.S. election.

Top Trump Aides Caught in Super PAC Revolving Door

As for Team Trump, the Campaign Legal Center alleges that two different super PACs "Make America Number 1" and "Rebuilding America Now" have illegally coordinated with the Trump campaign.

The Center's complaint against Make America Number 1 (MAN1) operating at the website "" alleges that the Trump campaign hired campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and deputy campaign manager David Bossie (President of the Citizens United group) straight from the super PAC in violation of the 120 day "cooling off" period required by the FEC. Rebuilding America Now violated the same rule going the other way when the super PAC was formed by former staffers of the Trump campaign. Rebuild America Now is running multi-million dollar ad buys in support of Trump.

Further, the complaint alleges that MAN1 was effectively paying the salaries of Kellyanne Conway and Campaign CEO Stephen Bannon by making payments to companies associated with the duo.

The complaint also alleges that Rebekah Mercer, who runs the super PAC MAN1, and her father, hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, are so entwined with the Trump campaign that they have "de facto control over the campaign." Politico dubbed Mercer "the most powerful woman in GOP politics" when she went from being the PACs chief funder to running its day to day operations in September. In addition, both the campaign and the super PAC use Mercer's Cambridge Analytica, a voter profiling and data analytics firm, when FEC rules say that a campaign and super PAC are not allowed to use the services of a "common vendor."

The Campaign Legal Center and other campaign finance experts are asking the FEC to enforce the rules against coordination, because it allows candidates to accept unlimited assistance from special interests or deep pocketed donors.

See the Clinton complaint here. See the Trump complaint here.

News Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Trump's Horror Show Hides Clinton's Rotten Agenda

Donald Trump proved once again in the final presidential debate that he's the secret weapon...of the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.

The nominee of what was once the leading party of American capitalism again went out of his way to piss off even Republicans who haven't retracted their endorsement of him.

His own running mate repudiated his unhinged nonsense about the election being rigged against him -- so Trump insisted Wednesday night that he couldn't promise to abide by the results of the election. The audiotape of him bragging about sexually assaulting women has repulsed women voters especially, so Trump sneered about every allegation -- and nonchalantly acknowledged that as president, he would pack the US Supreme Court with right-wing justices who would overturn legal abortion.

We're in uncharted territory -- it's entirely possible that Donald Trump will do worse on November 8 than any major-party candidate in modern political history.

But maybe even more incredible is the fact that the other major-party candidate on the ballot in three weeks' time could be setting records herself if her opponent wasn't Donald Trump.

As repellant as he is, lots of people seem ready to choose interstellar catastrophe over voting for Hillary Clinton. A recent poll of 18- to 35-year-olds inspired by the Twitter hashtag #GiantMeteor2016 found that one in four young respondents would rather a giant meteor destroy the Earth than see either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the White House.

The public demonstrations of hatred toward Trump are heartening -- anti-sexist protesters in New York City and Chicago chanting "Pussy grabs back!" outside Trump skyscrapers, and culinary workers building their own "wall" of taco trucks at a Trump hotel near the debate site in Las Vegas.

But at the same time, every new outrage involving Trump means people pay less attention to the outrages of a Democratic presidential nominee whose top staff responded to the critique of a Black Lives Matter activist with the single word "Yuck," as we know thanks to WikiLeaks.

The Democrats have happily stood silent while Trump's gross behavior sets the terms of the debate. Clinton could easily take over the spotlight from Trump and challenge his reactionary bluster. But she's infinitely more confortable with a campaign centered on how much she's not like her opponent, rather than what she stands for.

You've probably heard from any number of Clinton supporters -- your friends, your family, fellow unionists, members of the feminist organization you support -- that this election isn't about voting for what you believe in, but against what you definitely don't believe in.

But each time the Trump campaign lurches and careens to the right, it takes the heat off the Clinton campaign to defend its candidate's agenda.

So let's take a break from the regularly scheduled Trump train wreck and talk about what Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party ought to be held accountable for. You heard about some of it in the debate Wednesday night, but if the Clinton campaign has its way, you won't hear much more before November 8 -- as long as Trump cooperates with his ongoing horror show.

A Friend of Immigrants in the White House?

Immigration came up in the debate Wednesday night, but for anyone who cares about the issue, it wasn't much of a discussion -- especially after Hillary Clinton avoided a question about free trade and borders by blaming the Russkies for hacking her e-mails again.

Clinton could have called out Trump's deplorable racism. He began his campaign by calling Mexicans immigrants "rapists" and vowing to build a border wall. His latest xenophobia includes a promise to institute "extreme vetting" on Muslims who want to enter the US. 

But let's stick to our theme today: What about Clinton?

On enforcement, Clinton joins Republican and Democratic politicians alike in calling for tougher border controls. In 2013, she supported legislation that included a path to citizenship, as she said in the debate -- but on the condition that billions of dollars be devoted to new surveillance equipment and fencing (otherwise known as a wall) along the Mexican border, along with 20,000 more border agents.

The consequences of these policies are deadly. Since January, officials say that fewer people attempted to illegally cross the border between the US and Mexico, but more have died trying to make the journey. According to the Pima County medical examiner in Arizona, 117 bodies have been recovered along migration routes in southern Arizona so far this year, an increase over last year.

This is the true face of Clinton's promise to "protect our borders" -- death and misery for people fleeing persecution and poverty.

Clinton supporters focus on the nightmare of a Trump presidency for immigrants. But the nightmare is already happening. Trump may have blustered about the actual number, but it's true that Barack Obama has presided over the deportation of well over 2 million people, more than all the presidents of the 20th century combined.

And forfeiting immigrant lives in the name of border security is hardly unique to the latest Democrat in the White House. It was Bill Clinton who imposed "Operation Gatekeeper" in 1994, pandering to the right wing by pouring more millions into border enforcement and, yes, wall-building.

With friends like these...well, you know the rest.

What Clinton Told Goldman Sachs

Okay, okay, the real news story is how WikiLeaks got hold of e-mails from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta and transcripts of Clinton's paid speeches, not what was in them. Clinton herself said the most important question of the final debate was whether Trump would condemn Russian espionage to hack her e-mails.

But hey, bear with us.

It's not news that Clinton has deep ties to Corporate America going back decades. But with Clinton touring the country and telling her supporters that America is "already great," it's worth remembering who America is really great for.

In a speech at Goldman Sachs three years ago, Clinton did everything but apologize for the weak banking regulations imposed in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. "More thought has to be given to the process and transactions and regulations so that we don't kill or maim what works, but we concentrate on the most effective way of moving forward with the brainpower and the financial power that exists here," Clinton pandered to an audience of banksters.

Explaining that Dodd-Frank bill was passed for "political" reasons, Clinton assured the investment bank aptly referred to in 2010 as "a giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity" that she believes the best overseers of Wall Street are...wait for it...Wall Street itself.

"There's nothing magic about regulations -- too much is bad, too little is bad," Clinton said, and one assumes that she emphasized the "too much is bad" part.

For all the working-class families who bore the burden of underwater mortgages during the housing crisis, Clinton has signaled, if anyone was still wondering, whose side she's on -- the parasites on Wall Street.

The Return of Roe

Remember reproductive rights? It was pretty shocking to hear the words "abortion" or "Roe" and "Wade" uttered in Wednesday night's debate. So far this election, we've heard precious little about this essential health care question for women.

It's not for a lack of things to talk about -- Texas shuttering its clinics becaue of punitive legislative restrictions, an Indiana woman facing murder charges for having a miscarriage, congressional Republicans smearing Planned Parenthood with fabricated video.

But you wouldn't know about any of that from the two presidential candidates, including the Democrat who says she supports a woman's right to choose.

Wednesday night, Trump admitted that he would nominate Supreme Court justices who would, without doubt, overturn legal abortion. By comparison, Clinton seemed, well, actually human. But as a result, the limitations of her defense of the right to legal abortion, now and in the past, were overshadowed.

Clinton helped perfect the modern-day Democratic strategy of searching for "common ground" with conservatives on the issue of abortion -- an issue on which any sincere defender of women's rights shouldn't find common anything with the right. She helped coin the slogan of "safe, legal and rare" as the goal of pro-choice Democrats.

The "common ground" arguments haven't saved reproductive rights -- instead, they've given up ideological ground to the right and made the pro-choice side weaker.

If you want to know how important reproductive rights are to Hillary Clinton, look at her vice presidential choice Tim Kaine. In 2005, he ran for Virginia governor promising to lower the number of abortions in the state by promoting abstinence-only education. The state's chapter of NARAL withheld their endorsement because he "embraces many of the restrictions on a woman's right to choose."

But of course, nothing is getting in the way of the mainstream women's organizations backing the Clinton-Kaine ticket to the hilt this year. They don't care if reproductive rights are part of the debate. But a lot of women out there do -- and many of them are fed up with the way the Democrats take them for granted at election time, and don't lift a finger to stem the attacks when they come.

Remember the $15 Minimum Wage and All That Socialist Stuff?

It's almost obliterated from our memory, thanks to the monstrosity that is Donald Trump, but during the Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton had to talk about some of the issues that supporters of the Democratic Party care about

The socialist message of the Bernie Sanders campaign put these questions in the spotlight and forced the most corporate of Democrats to address them -- and also answer for her own terrible record on a number of things that didn't come up at the debate. For a time, the brewing anger at corporate greed and the corrupt political status quo -- given expression in grassroots movements like the Fight for 15 and Black Lives Matter -- found a voice in the political mainstream.

With a few weeks to go before the election, that seems like a long time ago.

Part of the reason is Hillary Clinton, but another part is Bernie Sanders. He's stopped his sharp criticisms of Clinton and tells his supporters that now is the time to stop Trump, not make demands on Clinton. In the debate, when Trump repeated one of his routine sound bites about Sanders saying Clinton had "bad judgment," Clinton smiled smugly and pointed out that Sanders was campaigning and urging a vote for her.

There were many issues that Clinton had to address this year only because people mobilized to make sure they couldn't be ignored -- like anti-racist activists who made sure she was reminded of her support for Bill Clinton's crime bills, or Palestinian rights supporters who confronted her support for Israeli apartheid.

Those issues were invisible at the October 19 debate, but so were many others that people care about. They don't come up within the narrow confines of mainstream politics in the US -- where the politics of fear of what's worse forces voters to settle for what's hopefully less bad.

The two-party duopoly is organized to squash political debate and dissent outside the mainstream -- which is why it's up to us to raise both, before the election between Clinton and Trump is decided, and especially after.

Opinion Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
One Year Since Settlement, Long-Term Solitary Drops 99 Percent at Pelican Bay Prison

Last Friday, October 14, marked one year since reforms began under the historic settlement agreement in CCR's case Ashker v. Brown, which effectively ended long-term solitary confinement throughout California state prisons. We are thrilled to report that new data shows that the settlement succeeded in moving virtually all prisoners out of indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement.

The speed with which the settlement brought an end to California's use of long-term solitary is even more meaningful when we think about what, exactly, it ended. For decades, California isolated more people, for longer periods, than any other state. In the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison and in other California SHUs, prisoners were isolated in near-total solitude for 23 to 24 hours a day, denied telephone calls, contact visits, and vocational, recreational, or educational programs. When CCR filed Ashker, more than 500 prisoners had been isolated in the Pelican Bay SHU for over 10 years. Seventy-eight had been there for more than 20 years. And six had been there for more than 30.

In the words of Ashker plaintiff Gabriel Reyes, "Unless you have lived it, you cannot imagine what it feels like to be by yourself, between four cold walls, with little concept of time, no one to confide in, and only a pillow for comfort -- for years on end. It is a living tomb."

What's more, these men were held indefinitely, without any certain date when they would be returned to general population, and predominantly on the basis of alleged "gang affiliation" -- like reading about Black history, creating or possessing cultural artwork, or writing in Swahili -- not any infractions of prison rules. The system was barbaric.

Now, after just one year, decades of this treatment are over. The number of prisoners in solitary confinement has dropped dramatically, bringing an end to the kind of torture Reyes described. Among other important provisions that limit California's future use of solitary -- such as isolating prisoners only as punishment for rule infractions and, then, only for a definite period of time -- the settlement mandated that the state review all "gang-validated" SHU prisoners within one year to determine whether they should be released from solitary under the settlement terms.

The number of prisoners held in the Pelican Bay SHU for more than 10 years has dropped by 99 percent. Today, only five SHU prisoners have been there for over 10 years, and they are expected to be released from solitary shortly, or at least given a release date. Throughout the rest of the state, 1,557 prisoners have been reviewed, 1,532 of them have been designated for transfer out of solitary, and at least 1,512 of them have already left, bringing down California's indefinite solitary population a whopping 97 percent.

But the numbers tell only part of the story. The most meaningful reports of the impact of this settlement come from prisoners themselves and their families, who have shared their experiences seeing the skylinerunning (through a snow storm)encountering birds, or having a contact visit with a family member for the first time in decades. In the words of Ashker plaintiff Richard Wembe Johnson, sometimes the biggest things are "[s]mall things such as getting up to walk to a dining hall for breakfast and dinner, things like going to a classroom…or having physical contact with visitors, an being able to purchase edible items from the vending machines, not to mention taking photos with love[d] ones."

The dramatic changes that followed the settlement agreement are the result of an effort that was started years ago -- by prisoners themselves -- and that began succeeding even before the court-ordered reforms. Ashker was originally filed in 2009 by plaintiffs Todd Ashker and Danny Troxell, representing themselves. Eight months later, prisoners at Pelican Bay began a historic hunger strike, which resumed again the following September. Together, pressure from the lawsuit, the hunger strikes, and the mass mobilization of prisoners, their family members, and supporters prompted California to begin reducing its solitary population shortly after CCR joined the lawsuit in May of 2012.

Ashker v. Brown is a prime example of how the law can be used to aid, rather than depoliticize, social struggles. And the good news about the dramatic reductions in California's prison population show just how transformative those partnerships between lawyers and activists can be. 

Read more about the numbers on this resource page, California solitary confinement statistics: Year One after landmark settlement.

News Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Economic Update: The Economics of Tax Avoidance

This week's episode discusses cutting funds for public higher education, Princeton avoiding taxes, multinational corporations getting tax breaks and a billionaire's yacht. The show also covers lessons from the strike at Jim Beam.

To see more stories like this, visit Economic Update: Your Weekly Dose of Revolutionary Economics

To listen in live on Saturdays at noon, visit WBAI's Live Stream

Economic Update is in partnership with

Your radio station needs Economic Update! If you are a radio station, check this out. If you want to hear Economic Update on your favorite local station, send them this.

Visit Professor Wolff's social movement project,

Permission to reprint Professor Wolff's writing and videos is granted on an individual basis. Please contact to request permission. We reserve the right to refuse or rescind permission at any time.

News Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Pillaging of Nicaragua's Bosawás Biosphere Reserve

Pillaging of Nicaragua's Bosawás Biosphere Reserve -- the largest tropical rainforest in the western hemisphere after the Amazon -- persists at rates around 200-280 acres per day, according to an estimate published in Time Magazine. With encroaching destruction driven by a sinister triad of corporate, colonial, and government interests, most progress that has been made -- largely through indigenous stewardship of community forests -- has been the result of indigenous resistance.

Under reestablished Sandinista rule, which has brought only small-scale efforts at reforestation, Nicaragua's biodiverse forest cover continues to disappear at a quickening pace, further threatening species such as rare jaguars, spider monkeys and the few remaining Baird's tapirs. Miskitu and Mayanga Indigenous Peoples in the region called on President Barack Obama in 2013 to support their fight for preservation.

Indigenous Miskitu and Mayangna have been battling the nationalization of their traditional territories against the Sandinistas in one form or another since at least the 1970s. While attempts at compromises and concessions were made by both sides along the way, the human rights and environmental crises central to this struggle have once again come to a head. Recent escalations have generated unthinkable violence and humanitarian disasters as illegal armed settlers known as 'Colonos' progressively encroach upon indigenous territories, terrorizing the legal inhabitants under a violent siege.

The Miskitu Council of Elders -- via a statement submitted by Ottis Lam Hoppington, Chief of the Elders, and Carlos Rivas Thomas, who represented the Elders at the UN -- explained that the territory under grave threat by Colonos consists of sacred sites; they described how the real material value the land holds for its Indigenous Peoples is in maintaining a link between the physical and the spiritual, "and life itself."

In this official statement issued on August 22, 2016 the Elders proclaimed:

"Since ancient times we've [cared for] our forests, because apart from being our only means of sustenance, we understand that any alteration to [them] attracts risks; alters our form of life; puts existence itself at risk; causes drastic changes [to] the climate; alters the ecosystem; and breaks our link with our ancestors.

[For] little more than five years, [we] have experienced the largest internal colonization [of] our history. The presence of 'Colonos' has drastically altered our form of life. In such a short time [the invasion] has destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of our forests, which has led to [the drying of] our rivers, [causing] the animals [to] migrate and the climate to alter, and us to emigrate. Our large forests are now deserts, occupied for the livestock, and [we] can do nothing to curb the advance of the settlers as they have the support of the Government of Nicaragua and [we] are alone.

Since June of 2015, our communities have [been] experiencing [increased] violence, persecution and [other crime] from [the settlers] and part of the Government. With the support of no one, we have survived on our own."

Former Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Dr Jaime Incer Barquero, told the IPS news agency that by March 2016 the country had lost 60% of its surface water sources, and almost half of its underground sources, due to climate change-driven drought and industrial pollution. To date, at least 100 rivers and their tributaries have dried up.

Local scientist, Jadder Lewis noted area lobster populations -- a crucial subsistence food and chief export -- presenting at unprecedentedly low volumes; he also cited increasing endangerment of area coral reefs rooted in regional deforestation and other unsustainable resource exploitation. Lewis projects the current deforestation rate to actually be as high as 40,000 hectares per year.

If the notoriously controversial Chinese-backed Nicaragua Trans-Oceanic Canal indeed comes to fruition, related infrastructure and construction will destroy another 1 million acres of Nicaragua's climate change mitigating rainforests and wetlands. According to the Environmental Resources Management consultancy, the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve, as well as the Cerro Silva and Punta Gorda reserves, experienced a higher rate of environmental deterioration between 2009 and 2011 -- under Sandinista rule -- than in the previous 26 years.

Academics, nonprofits, and activists expressing moral and scientific objections to canal plans have found their rights systematically violated as Ortega, who is set to run virtually unopposed in the upcoming November election (with his wife as vice-president) has become increasingly reactive to the slightest of criticisms. On September 13th, addressing an audience at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia, Jimmy Carter expressed, "The Sandinistas have established...not a democracy...but a way to maintain power." On September 21st, the US House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill known as the 'Nica Act' which mandates US opposition on any loans to Nicaragua from allied organizations.

One Costa Rican analyst posited Nicaragua's recent acquisition of 80 million dollars' worth of Russian war tanks as defensive posturing in anticipation of widespread civil unrest from canal protest movements and resistance to colonial occupation in the north.

Interestingly, Sandinista activity concerning the autonomous nation of Muskitia increasingly mirrors Chinese policy on Tibet -- evident in the way the FSLN attacks and discredits Miskitu leadership; their refusal to respect Muskitia sovereignty; and the covert yet violent invasion of their territory as colonizers aligned with the FSLN and its populist base invade Miskitu lands while Sandinista soldiers intimidate and threaten anyone who gets in their way. Indigenous leadership or outside observers who dare criticize the FSLN in this regard are branded puppets of 'US imperialism.'

It's a set of moves straight out of the China vs. Tibetan independence movement playbook. Yet Ortega's new brand of 'Christian Socialist Solidarity' also suggests a concurrent shift towards a more theocratic model of governance, in some ways analogous to the government of Iran -- another country who, along with Russia and China, is hoping to get a stake in the proposed canal.

Propaganda rolled out by state-sponsored and crony media outlets of the Bolivarian left portray Nicaragua as a leader in 'consensus-based' decision-making with respect to indigenous rights. This would likely come as news to Nicaragua's indigenous communities, such as the Miskitu, who feel increasingly alienated from the centralized government as health and education services on the frontier collapse amid escalating violence. Surrounding cities forced to absorb the internally displaced receive no government subsidies; and, newly displaced Indigenous Miskitu are often forced to live as virtual beggars among their own, more urban, extended communities.

Statements collected from indigenous leader, Brooklyn Rivera, contextualize recent escalations in violence and the role of the Sandinista regime.

"The Sandinistas are the mestizos on the Pacific side, they had [no rights to] Muskitia land; they encroached on the territory until the war occurred in 1979 and tried to control everything, but they did not understand or respect the customs of the Indigenous Peoples. They felt they were gods and wanted to fulfill all their desires. Then, the people rebelled because [we] had a different way of living -- from the ancient times -- with very different customs than the mestizos. So, the conflict started, the war started,
the Sandinistas led us to the war that lasted 10 years. [We fought] for our lives, to protect our land, to protect our communities; we had many difficulties but we managed to overcome that."

After the Sandinistas lost the elections and were out of power for fifteen years, they came and talked to the people and asked to be forgiven for their faults of the past, because they caused a lot of damage to people -- murdered, burned them -- they then made many promises to the people to rebuild the communities again, especially in the Coco River, and also, to respect the rights of the communities. That is why we signed an agreement that lasted 11 years where it is said that we would support the opportunity for them to return to power, and that was the agreement that was signed. We supported the Sandinistas twice, led by Daniel Ortega, for the elections of 2006 and 2011 by giving them our votes. But we are now in a different situation, because now Daniel and the Sandinistas feel that [the] indigenous are like a stone in their shoe, so they are looking to eradicate the Indigenous Peoples and introduce mestizos settlers in the Rio Coco and also in coastal areas, eradicating the indigenous Miskitos and Mayangnas, to no longer have more conflicts with us.

The Sandinistas are advised by the people of Cuba to not give any opportunity for minority populations, because they think that Indigenous Peoples are their enemies and we, along with the (Gringos) American people, will rebel against them. That's why it is better for them to destroy the Miskitus, so that in Nicaragua there will not be any minority populations and everyone will be equal and there will only be mestizos. So they want to impose the Colonos; and not only that, but they are also imposing leaders in the communities from their political party.

The inhabitants of the communities have the right to choose their sindicos, their judges, but [the Sandinistas] do not respect that and only choose people from their own political party -- people who will obey them, people who follow them. And these leaders are against the population, so they will continue destroying the communities and in that way eradicate them; and, that is one method of how they try to do it. The other method is the destruction of our natural resources, our forests and our marine resources. It is a great pressure on the resources, [and as they] become extinct, they are destroying our way of life. So we try to go against that, we are fighting so our lifestyles do not disappear, so that everything remains the same as our ancestors left us. So, that is the current struggle we have.

Behind the settlers, there are companies with millions of dollars, and the government. The Sandinista government supports the Colonos who come to take our natural resources, our forests, our lands, introduce livestock, and destroy our resources. These people invade our coastal areas to the Coco River. That's why the population is getting organized. Indigenous Peoples are organizing together to defend their rights, to defend their territory, to prevent the Colonos from continuing to invade our lands.

Now, they are also attacking the leaders of the [YATAMA] organization; that is another strategy that helps them to eradicate us: killing the leaders; creating persecution of leaders so the population does not have their support; because if the population needs to rise up and their leaders are not leading them, that's impossible. So they are attacking the leaders, that's how they are trying to break us: destroy the leaders, destroy the organization, and destroy YATAMA. Those are their methods: destroying our land; destroying our natural resources; destroying the people in the organization, killing them, [terrorizing] them. These methods are what they call 'strategy' to eradicate Miskitus and the [YATAMA] organization."

Nicaragua is a country full of paradoxes. Prostitution is legal, yet abortion is completely banned. The ruling party takes political cues from communist Cuba, yet Ortega embraces neoliberal economics and development models with unabashed enthusiasm. Sandinista government enthusiasts wax about indigenous rights and environmental responsibility...all the while, fleeing Indigenous refugees, and their ancestral land considered the 'lungs of Mesoamerica', struggle to catch their breath.

(Special thanks to Dr. Laura Hobson Herlihy for administrating the interview with Brooklyn Rivera, and Mark Rivas for coordinating the statement from the Elders.)

News Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Threat of a Right-Wing Supreme Court: Analyzing Trump's Prospective Justices

Donald Trump arrives for a campaign event at the regional airport in Grand Junction, Colorado, on October 18, 2016. Trump vows to select Supreme Court justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia, an extreme conservative with a history of voting against the interests of women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)Donald Trump arrives for a campaign event at the regional airport in Grand Junction, Colorado, on October 18, 2016. Trump vows to select Supreme Court justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia, an extreme conservative with a history of voting against the interests of women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)

The judges Trump has suggested as possible Supreme Court nominees reveal a right-wing extremist approach. His choices would change the Supreme Court's ideological makeup for four decades and affect reproductive rights, workers' rights,  voting rights, environmental rights and more.

Donald Trump arrives for a campaign event at the regional airport in Grand Junction, Colorado, on October 18, 2016. Trump vows to select Supreme Court justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia, an extreme conservative with a history of voting against the interests of women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)Donald Trump arrives for a campaign event at the regional airport in Grand Junction, Colorado, on October 18, 2016. Trump vows to select Supreme Court justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia, an extreme conservative with a history of voting against the interests of women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)

Stories like this one depend on support from readers like you. If you like what you read at Truthout, please make a donation!

As the media focuses on Donald Trump's sexually predatory behavior and Hillary Clinton's Wall Street speeches, the future of the Supreme Court has received only an occasional mention. During the final presidential debate, the topic was finally given some attention.

When asked about late-term abortion, Clinton said Roe v. Wade "very clearly sets out that there can be regulations on abortion so long as the life and the health of the mother is taken into account." Trump responded with the incendiary retort, "If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the 9th month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby."

What Trump was actually describing was a C-section, which would result in the birth of a live baby.

An examination of how the two candidates' judicial nominees would likely vote on critical issues the high court will face reveals the enormous stakes in the upcoming presidential election.

Trump and Clinton's choices for Supreme Court justices could not be more philosophically dissimilar.

While Clinton has not provided names, she has stated that she will nominate justices who will uphold abortion rights, women's rights, workers' rights, voting rights, marriage equality and affordable health care; provide relief for DREAMers and the parents of US citizens and lawful permanent residents; and overturn Citizens United.

Trump has vowed to nominate justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia. The late justice favored unlimited corporate election spending. He opposed reproductive rights, universal health care, same-sex marriage, affirmative action, voting rights, immigrants' rights, labor rights, LGBT rights and environmental protection. Scalia wrote the decision that concluded, for the first time, that the Second Amendment grants each individual (rather than "a well-regulated militia") the right to bear arms.

Trump indicated his intent to change the law through his judicial appointments, to overturn Roe v. Wade and "allow the states to protect the unborn."

After consulting with the right-wing Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation, Trump released lists of names from which he intends to select his judicial nominees. Their writings and judicial decisions demonstrate open hostility toward reproductive rights, affordable health care, consumer protections, criminal defendants, voting rights, workplace safety and LGBTQ rights.

The Future of the Supreme Court Hangs in the Balance

The Court is evenly divided, 4-4, between liberals and conservatives. Scalia's vacant seat will be filled by the next president. Three of the current justices are 78 or older. That means, if the new president serves two terms, he or she will likely nominate three or four justices to the Court.

If Clinton is elected, she would restore a liberal majority to the Court for the first time since 1969. "For the first time in decades, there is now a realistic chance that the Supreme Court will become an engine of progressive change rather than an obstacle to it," Jeffrey Toobin wrote in the New Yorker.

Many white evangelicals, whose primary goals are outlawing abortion and same-sex marriage, understand this well. That is why, in an effort to keep a conservative Supreme Court, most of them will still vote for Trump, notwithstanding the almost daily groping allegations emerging against him. If progressives refuse to vote for Clinton and Trump wins, the negative fallout will affect the lives of people in this country for decades.

Trump's Judges

"Collectively, these individuals reflect a radical-right ideology that threatens fundamental rights and legal protections, and that favors the powerful and privileged over everyday Americans, especially those from historically marginalized communities," according to the Alliance for Justice. "The list has very little diversity, with only three women, no people of color, and no one who has worked as a public defender or civil rights attorney."

Here is a sampling of Trump's prospective judges' records on reproductive rights, workers' rights, discrimination and voting rights, guns, criminal procedure, environmental rights and the death penalty:

Reproductive Rights

William H. Pryor, Jr., a judge on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, called Roe v. Wade one of "the worst examples of judicial activism," saying that "seven members of [the Supreme Court] swept aside the laws of the fifty states and created -- out of thin air -- a constitutional right to murder an unborn child."

Steven Colloton, a judge on the Eighth Circuit, joined the only circuit court opinion to rule that the Affordable Care Act's birth control accommodation for religious non-profit organizations (religious colleges and hospitals) creates a substantial burden on religious practices.

Raymond Gruender, also of the Eighth Circuit, wrote that employers who deny contraception coverage (except for purposes like hormone regulation) don't violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Gruender also authored two opinions holding that a state can pass a law requiring a woman to sign a statement that says "the abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being" and "the pregnant woman has an existing relationship with that unborn human being."

Thomas Lee, of the Utah Supreme Court, wrote that a fetus is a "child" under Utah's wrongful death statute.

Diane Sykes, of the Seventh Circuit, wrote that the Affordable Care Act's mandate to provide contraceptive coverage "substantially burdens" the religious practice of for-profit corporations (later endorsed by a divided Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby).

Neil M. Gorsuch and Timothy M. Tymkovich, of the Tenth Circuit, agreed in the circuit court decision in Hobby Lobby that corporations are persons exercising religion for purposes of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Tymkovich also argued that Colorado could deny Medicaid funding to poor women who seek abortions resulting from rape or incest.

Charles Canady, of the Florida Supreme Court, popularized the term "partial-birth abortion." When he was a congressman, Canady wrote a bill, later vetoed by President Bill Clinton, severely limiting a woman's right to abortion.

Workers' Rights

Steven Colloton wrote two decisions that, together, reversed $24 million in awards to workers for unrecorded time putting on and taking off work equipment, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Raymond Kethledge, of the Sixth Circuit, upheld an anti-union Michigan law that targeted public school employees for retaliation if they opposed anti-union legislation.

Discrimination and Voting Rights

William H. Pryor, Jr. signed an opinion stating that a supervisor's use of the word "boy" directed at an African American employee was just "conversational" and one of some "ambiguous stray remarks" unrelated to employment decisions. Pryor often dissents from decisions upholding relief for plaintiffs who allege discrimination, including a case in which a woman alleged retaliatory firing for claiming sexual harassment after being fired by the manager she accused of misconduct. He has also upheld discriminatory voter ID laws that disenfranchise minority voters, and protected large corporations from paying punitive damages.

Diane Sykes reinstated Wisconsin's voter ID law even after a trial court found it "results in the denial or abridgment of the right to vote on account of race or color." She also defended the right of anti-gay groups to receive government subsidies, and forced Southern Illinois University to recognize the Christian Legal Society as a student organization even though it prohibited gay students from being voting members or serving in leadership positions.

Timothy M. Tymkovich said that local ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation gave "special rights" to LGBTQ people.

Robert Young, of the Michigan Supreme Court, upheld Michigan's voter ID law, saying it was "nondiscriminatory."

Charles Canady, as a congressman, voted for the Defense of Marriage Act (banning same-sex marriage for federal law purposes).


Diane Sykes wrote an opinion overturning a ban on firing ranges within city limits.

Timothy M. Tymkovich opposed Denver's efforts to restrict assault weapons.

Thomas Hardiman, of the Third Circuit, wrote that New Jersey could not require people to demonstrate a "justifiable need" for a gun before being issued a license to carry a handgun in public.

Criminal Procedure

William H. Pryor, Jr. said that Miranda v. Arizona, which held that police must advise suspects in custodial interrogation of their rights to remain silent and to an attorney, was one of the "worst examples of judicial activism."

Thomas Hardiman wrote two opinions allowing correctional officers to conduct strip searches of inmates accused of minor offenses.

Environmental Rights

Timothy M. Tymkovich limited the ability of environmental groups to stop corporations from inflicting environmental harm.

William H. Pryor, Jr. took anti-environmental positions during his tenure as Alabama Attorney General.

The Death Penalty 

Steven Colloton wrote an opinion prohibiting prisoners from learning the identities of the physician, laboratory and pharmacy involved in carrying out Missouri's execution protocol.

Charles Canady voted to uphold a death sentence, later overturned by the Supreme Court, with even Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia and Thomas concluding that Florida's sentencing law was unconstitutional.

The Stakes Could Not Be Higher

This election will not simply determine the Supreme Court's resolution of important issues for the next four years. The new president will change the Court's ideological makeup for the next four decades. Its decisions will affect workers, consumers, immigrants, voters, people of color, LGBTQ rights, taxpayers, reproductive rights, affirmative action, health care, criminal defendants, guns and the environment. That includes all of us. Progressives should ponder this reality as they decide if and how to cast their votes.

Opinion Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
In Warmest Year Ever, Climate Change Ignored Again at Debate

The presidential and vice-presidential debates have concluded without a single question about climate change, even though 2016 is on pace to be the warmest year on record. We speak to May Boeve, executive director of 350 Action.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: During Wednesday's debate, the phrase "climate change" only came up one time.

HILLARY CLINTON: I want us to have the biggest jobs program since World War II, jobs in infrastructure and advanced manufacturing. I think we can compete with high-wage countries, and I believe we should. New jobs in clean energy, not only to fight climate change, which is a serious problem, but to create new opportunities and new businesses.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday night, I got response from May Boeve, executive director of 350 Action, about the failure of the candidates and debate moderators to address the issue of climate change in the debates.

MAY BOEVE: Right, and we all deserve so much better than the political conversation that has been had in this debate and in all of the debates. And the debates are obscuring serious issues, like climate change and like so many other problems that we're facing in this country and around the world. And it's true, the question was not asked. It was brought up in the context of a question about jobs.

But there's something important in the answer, which is that Clinton is speaking to progressives. She's speaking to the progressive movement. The way that we've been trying to build a much bigger movement that's focused on the economy, the climate crisis, injustices of all kinds, and weaving those movements together, that was what that answer was trying to speak to. She tied it to debt-free college. She tied it to Bernie Sanders. She tied it to having the wealthy pay for these things. So, those are clues. And she's going to need progressives to win, and she's going to need us to govern. And so, that's important, and we're going to keep pushing. And as many of the guests have said tonight, it is all about the movements.

But one thing that was, I think, shocking and scary here is that we know that to get the climate policy that we need, we need a functional democracy. And questioning the very idea that that can work is as big of a threat to climate change as any number of other issues. So, that was shocking, and we're paying extra close attention to that. And I think Donald Trump's disastrousness just reached another level tonight.

AMY GOODMAN: That's May Boeve. She's head of 350 Action, a climate justice group.

News Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Real Reason to Worry About Immigrant Voting

 (Photo: Celso Flores) (Photo: Celso Flores; Edited: LW / TO)

While Donald Trump blathers on about a rigged election -- a theory downplayed by a wide range of experts and his own running mate -- and urges vigilance against hordes of undocumented people casting imaginary ballots, one real problem with this year's electoral process is the opposite of the dire scenarios the GOP nominee is conjuring up.

If there's any kind of rigging of the vote going on, it's in Trump's favor: the government effectively excluded large numbers of immigrant voters this year by failing to process more than half of the nearly 930,000 citizenship applications from legal permanent residents who filed in the 12 months ending in mid-September. These potential voters technically filed for naturalization early enough to be assured a chance to register and vote, the National Partnership for New Americans observed. The group blamed the backlog on US Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security known as USCIS. 

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

"It is unconscionable that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spends billions of dollars to deport immigrants and destroy their families, but that the same department cannot identify adequate resources to serve aspiring American citizens," the Partnership said in a report that called 15 states "disenfranchisement danger zones." The list -- which includes the swing states of Florida, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and North Carolina -- covers territory where "naturalization backlogs are large, growing rapidly, or both."

That many permanent residents who meet the requirements for becoming citizens would naturalize during this election is no surprise. Trump's disparagement of people with Mexican heritage and other newcomers "energized the activists and certainly energized the immigrants," observes Southwest Voter Education Project president Antonio Gonzalez. "But USCIS failed us."

To hear Trump and his backers tell it, the danger is the polls being overrun by people ineligible to vote.

"I'll look for . . . well, it's called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can't speak American," Steve Webb, a 61-year-old carpenter and Trump supporter from Fairfield, Ohio, told The Boston Globe.

"I'm going to go right up behind them. I'll do everything legally. I want to see if they are accountable. I'm not going to do anything illegal," Webb said, describing his Election Day plans. "I'm going to make them a little bit nervous."

Speak American? Someone better tell Webb that millions of citizens who are not proficient in English have both a right to vote and the right to bilingual ballots. And that voter intimidation is illegal. Electoral vigilantes who engage in the activities he described will keep local authorities busy. Not even official poll watchers may directly interact with a voter or get within a specific distance of a voter -- usually 6 feet -- without breaking the law.

None of Trump's fears about election rigging are "reflective of reality," as Politifact pointed out. Trump's officially "pants-on-fire" lies about immigrants without papers barging into voting booths are baffling since they have no incentive to flout election laws. With hundreds of thousands of newcomers being disenfranchised, it's an ironic time to rail about immigrant voting.

The historical record undermines Trump's latest assertions of rampant voter fraud driven by illegal immigrants. In fact, legal immigrants have traditionally participated less in our electoral process than everyone else. When the Census looked into immigrant voting patterns between 1996 and 2010, it found naturalized citizens far less likely to register or vote than people born in this country. In 2008, more than 64 percent of US-born Americans of voting age showed up at the polls, versus 54 percent of naturalized immigrants.

As for immigrants who lack papers, they have no incentive to get anywhere near the polls. "Undocumented individuals are scared of the government," says Lizet Ocampo, director of the People For the American Way's Latinos Vote! project. "Why would they risk breaking the law (by voting) when they're already worried about being deported and the hatred they have to deal with because of Donald Trump?"

The threat to democracy could be significant on Election Day if Trump's squadrons of unofficial volunteers were to hassle everyone they perceive as looking like an immigrant. By 2012, more than 18 million registered voters were either naturalized American citizens or the children of immigrants who arrived after 1965, according to the American Immigration Council's analysis of Census data. That was about one out of every eight registered voters.

And sorry, would-be ballot police: Language profiling won't help either. Millions of immigrants and US-born Americans qualify for assistance under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, which mandates the provision of bilingual voting information for most Latinos, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and Alaskan Natives whose English isn't proficient.

The timing for this vigilantism couldn't be worse. Following the Supreme Court ruling that gutted key Voting Rights Act provisions the Justice Department may fail to dispatch enough federal election observers. Concerned over enforcement shortcomings, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and other organizations are being proactive about calling out local governments that fail to comply with voting rights laws.

For now, Trump seems most interested in recruiting poll watchers in a state far from the Rio Grande: Pennsylvania.

"I hope you people can sort of not just vote on the 8th [but] go around and look and watch other polling places and make sure that it's 100 percent fine," Trump told supporters in Altoona in August. "We're going to watch Pennsylvania. Go down to certain areas and watch and study, make sure other people don't come in and vote five times."

Trump revisited the theme in early October. "You've got to go out, and you've got to get your friends, and you've got to get everybody you know, and you gotta watch the polling booths, because I hear too many stories about Pennsylvania, certain areas," Trump said while stumping in Manheim, Pennsylvania. "I hear too many bad stories, and we can't lose an election because of you know what I'm talking about."

The Republican nominee never did spell out what he was talking about, leaving the rest of the world to guess at the motivation for zeroing in on Pennsylvania.

One good explanation is that its voting laws are especially vulnerable to exploitation. Pennsylvania also happens to be a deep-purple battleground state with 20 Electoral College votes (of the 270 required for a White House win) with a small but significant Latino population that now makes up 4.5 percent of all eligible voters. Given the crescendo of vote-rigging noise, some local officials there are taking pains to spell out things that ought to be obvious.

"Plain and simple, voter intimidation is illegal," state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, a Democrat, wrote in a recent Sunbury, Pennsylvania Daily Item op-ed. "It includes, but is not limited to, the following: intimidating or coercing voters, threatening force, violence, injury, restraint, damage or loss to get a person to vote or not vote for a particular candidate or issue; or using abduction, duress, coercion or other forcible or fraudulent methods to interfere with a person's right to vote."

It would also help if someone could tell the Trumpistas that immigrants who become citizens are free to register and vote, regardless of their national origin, faith or ability to "speak American."

We tackle the important stories. If you want to see more independent coverage of complex issues, please support Truthout with a tax-deductible donation!

News Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
From Palestine to Black Lives Matter: Alicia Garza and Phyllis Bennis on Issues Ignored at the Debates

In our special broadcast of the final 2016 U.S. presidential debate, we asked Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza what the major-party candidates should have addressed in their exchange: "I want to see more conversation about what it is going to take to preserve the quality of life of black people in this country, who are being systematically murdered, incarcerated, and otherwise marginalized and disenfranchised."


NERMEEN SHAIKH: Let's go back to last night's showdown in Las Vegas. This is debate moderator Chris Wallace.

CHRIS WALLACE: What I'm asking you, sir, is: Do you want to see the court overturned? You've just said you want to see the court protect the Second Amendment. Do you want to see the court overturn Roe v. Wade?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, if we put another two or perhaps three justices on, that's really what's going to be -- that will happen. And that'll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court. I will say this: It will go back to the states, and the states will then make a determination.

HILLARY CLINTON: I do not think the United States government should be stepping in and making those most personal of decisions. So, you can regulate, if you are doing so with the life and the health of the mother taken into account.

CHRIS WALLACE: Mr. Trump, your reaction, and particularly on this issue of late-term, partial birth abortion?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, I think it's terrible. If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: After this last presidential debate before the election, we asked Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, about Donald Trump's comments.

ALICIA GARZA: You know, it's hard for me to take him seriously, to be honest with you. He essentially says that he single-handedly is going to change the course of this country's future. He continues to use really egregious, less than factual stories that stoke fear, that stoke anxiety, and that defy logic and reason. And so, whether it was, you know, the conversation around abortion, or whether it's the conversation around immigration reform, or even if it's this conversation that he continues to bring up around law and order but then says that he's going to be the best friend to African Americans that we've ever had, I mean, honestly, it's hard to take him seriously.

The thing that just strikes me is that he is speaking to a set of audiences that are scared. They're terrified about the future of this country. They feel disenfranchised. They feel left out. They feel like they're being left out of decision making. And that's not going to go away after Trump. Thank goodness Trump will go away, but, unfortunately, that level of anxiety, that level of fear, that level of distrust will not go away.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, you said that Donald Trump --

ALICIA GARZA: And so, we've got to really pay attention to that.

AMY GOODMAN: You said Donald Trump will go away? Are you sure? We just heard this discussion about he will leave the country in suspense as to what he will do, if he lost the election.

ALICIA GARZA: You know, he keeps saying he's got these surprises, that somehow never materialize. Donald Trump, in my estimation, is not going to win the presidency. And if he does, then we've got a lot of reckoning to do. But the thing that I'm more concerned about, quite frankly, again, is the millions of people that he has galvanized, who feel like they're on the outside. And that is something that both parties are going to have to address. And quite frankly, it's something that all of us are going to have to pay attention to.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what would you have liked, Alicia, for the candidates to be asked, I mean, including Donald Trump with, as you described, some of his more outrageous positions and postures? What should he have been asked? What should they both have been asked to address?

ALICIA GARZA: I mean, I think they addressed many of the major issues that are facing our country, but, quite frankly, over these last three debates, I have still been wanting to see more conversation around criminal justice reform. I want to see more conversation about what it's going to take to preserve the quality of life of black people in this country, who are being systematically murdered, incarcerated, and otherwise marginalized and disenfranchised. I wanted to hear more from each of the candidates about how these movements that have emerged over the last few years have influenced their thinking around how they want to bring America into its future.

And quite frankly, just talking about gun control doesn't cut it. We have an epidemic in this country of police murders and police violence, and neither candidate is addressing it, because, clearly, it's not politically expedient to address it. But what's at stake here is the lives of our families. What's at stake are mothers who are losing their children at astronomical rates. And also what's at stake are the attacks that are coming in more form recently against folks who have disabilities or other illnesses. These are things that we need to pay attention to. It's not just a crisis of whether a toddler gets a hold of a loaded gun. Quite frankly, every 28 hours in this country, a black person is murdered by police, vigilantes or security guards. And if it's not by police, then it's by policies that strip black people of our right to dignity, to respect and to living a full and good life.

We have black people throughout the South that are being denied medical care and being denied insurance. Donald Trump talked about how ineffective Obamacare was. And, in fact, we should stop calling it that, right? It's he Affordable Care Act. He talked about how ineffective it is, but, quite frankly, he didn't address the fact that thousands of black people lack access to that very healthcare because Republican governors and Republican senators refuse -- refuse -- to take funding to expand Medicaid programs.

Things like that are things that black folks across the country are looking to hear, and we're not hearing it. And I'm hoping that in this last 20 days both candidates get a little less tone deaf, stop using us as bait, and instead address the issues that we care about.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: During our debate night special, we took questions via social media from our audience.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the questions came into us from Twitter just now: "Do you support the ongoing MSM [mainstream media] self-imposed blackout on reporting on apartheid and Israel's inhumane treatment of Palestinians?" I want to ask this to Phyllis Bennis, but first to Alicia Garza, because in the Black Lives Matter movement's many-point plan, you address the issue of Palestinians.

ALICIA GARZA: Yeah. I mean, I think what's important for folks to understand here is that there is lots of common cause between African Americans and Palestinians, and that is not a new relationship. That's a relationship that has been forged over decades as a result of very similar feeling conditions that folks are existing in. And so, I think that it's important that we open up these conversations to really address the concerns and the issues that are important to all of us. I think that what's happening in Palestine and I think what we've seen through the Movement for Black Lives policy platform, certainly, is that there is a desire for social movements to connect to movements around the world and to support movements who are struggling and fighting for self-determination, as many of the movements here are, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Phyllis Bennis, you're a longtime observer and activist around the issue of Israel-Palestine. I don't think there's been a time recently where it's been talked about less than in these last few months. Talk about the situation on the ground and what you think has to happen right now. We actually just recently had Ann Wright onDemocracy Now!, the colonel, the former American diplomat, who attempted to get to Gaza to challenge the naval blockade there with a group of women from around the world. They were taken into custody at Ashdod, the Israeli Navy, and she was sent back to this country.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: You know, I think it's very important to keep in mind both the situation on the ground and the situation of the discourse here in the United States. What Alicia was just talking about is crucially important, the rising focus of the Movement for Black Lives on this connection, as Alicia said, a long-standing connection, but one that is getting new attention with the black community in the United States looking at the question of Palestine and the links of solidarity with Palestinians, something that emerged so sharply and so powerfully at the time of the uprising in Ferguson, when Palestinian activists were tweeting instructions for the -- for their comrades and colleagues in Ferguson about how to deal with tear gas, because the tear gas used by the Israeli military against Palestinians is made in the United States. It's the same tear gas. So they had a lot of experience with it. And that kind of immediacy made it rise to a new level.

But what we're seeing is a scenario where we have an extraordinary shift in the public discourse on this question in the last five years, 10 years, really 15 years, where things that had never made it before to public discourse is now talked about quite normally. The question of Israeli apartheid was anathema a decade ago. Now it's even talked about by top Israeli officials, who say -- they differ on the timing: We say it's already there; they say that if we don't do something different, we're going to face apartheid. So we have this massive shift in the discourse; a significant shift, not quite there, but a significant shift in the media coverage; only a tiny shift in some political discourse. The decision of 60 members of Congress to skip the speech of the Israeli prime minister this past year would never have happened before. But on the ground, the situation gets worse. So, it's this dichotomy, the new challenge that we face to transform that discourse shift into a real policy shift, where we don't see -- instead of ending U.S. military aid to the 23rd wealthiest country to use for its consistent violations of international law and human rights, we see the Obama administration escalating the annual amount of aid, so that Israel will now start each year with almost $4 billion, with $3.8 billion a year of military aid coming from our tax money to support its military, without any restrictions on how it makes -- how it uses that money, what weapons in the U.S. it's able to buy.

So, we're having a moment when, as we saw in all of these debates, the question of Israel, the relationship of Israel and the United States, did not come up. It didn't come up again tonight. But we do see that there has been this extraordinary shift in the public discourse. The fact that it was addressed as, for Bernie Sanders' campaign, the main foreign policy issue that he took up, that was then reflected in the debate over the Democratic Party platform. It didn't end up well; the platform was as bad or perhaps worse than in 2012. But the fact that it was made an item that had to be fought for was very, very different. So I think there's something to recognize the power of social movements here, but also recognize how far we still have to go, similar to the situation that we're facing with -- with refugees.

We heard tonight this claim from Donald Trump that Hillary Clinton had let in, as he said, tens of thousands of refugees from Syria who were all tied to ISIS. Wrong on all fronts. The fact that the U.S. government was proud of allowing in only 10,000 Syrian refugees in an entire year, in a period where for months Germany was taking in 20,000 a day during the height of the refugee crisis, was one more example. We don't have a refugee crisis here; we have a racism crisis here. And the kind of Islamophobia, the ISIS bashing that we were hearing from Trump about these refugees, what that says about how far we have to go, the kinds of movements that we need to build, linking the antiwar work with the refugee support work in this country to transform how refugees are treated, so that they are welcomed, not grudgingly accepted -- "Well, OK, if we have to take just 10,000 in a whole year, I guess we can" -- but to say we welcome people. Young people should be demanding the right to go to school with Syrians. You know, we weren't hearing any challenge to this sort of mainstream assumption that the refugees are inevitably dangerous, possibly violent, need to be vetted more than any other country in the world even imagines vetting. We heard no challenge to that tonight, and I don't think we can assume that we will hear leadership from the candidates. It's going to have to come from our movements.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She's written several books, including, most recently, Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror. Thanks also to Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter. To watch our full three-and-a-half-hour debate night special, that includes the full Trump-Clinton showdown uninterrupted, go to Also, today we did a special two-hour extended broadcast. Just go to our website, as well. Mark your calendars for November 8th, for our five-hour election night special broadcast. You can follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Snapchat.

News Thu, 20 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400