Truthout Stories Sun, 23 Oct 2016 11:53:25 -0400 en-gb We Are Living in the Golden Age of Defense Waste and Corruption; Trump Will Make It Much Worse

(Photo: Paul Hohmann; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: Paul Hohmann; Edited: LW / TO)

In October 2015, when he was a very, very long shot for the Republican nomination, Donald Trump the businessman promised to make the military "much stronger than it is right now" without increasing military spending. "But you know what?" he declared, "We can do it for less."

In September 2016, as the Republican nominee, Donald Trump the politician dramatically reversed his position. He now proposes a massive increase in military spending. And instead of making the military more efficient by cutting Pentagon waste, Trump will "fully offset" the increase in military spending by reducing spending on non-defense programs through reducing their "government waste and budget gimmicks."

For an idea of what that might entail for non-defense spending, consider the Republican budget blueprint passed by the House in early 2015 (no Democrat voted in favor). To offset a significant increase in military spending, the New York Times reports, Medicaid would be cut by $900 billion. Spending on the food stamp program would be shrunk by hundreds of billions of dollars. Spending for Pell Grants for college, job training and housing assistance would be slashed.

The 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) stopped the Republicans from achieving their guns-not-butter budgetary. The BCA emerged from a confluence of events: A soaring deficit, the result of extensive federal spending that stopped a major economic recession from becoming a major economic depression and the Republican takeover of the House after the 2010 election. The result was a dramatic near government shut down showdown on how to cut the deficit.

The White House and Congress couldn't agree. The BCA was a bludgeon, a crude across-the-board spending mandate intended to spur Congress and the White House to negotiate a more thoughtful approach. They couldn't. As a consequence, in 2013 there was an immediate $110 billion cut in spending, divided more or less equally from defense and non-defense programs. Defense spending comprises about 54 percent of the discretionary budget, that part of the federal budget over which Congress has direct control through annual appropriations. Congress also imposed caps on defense and non-defense spending through 2021.

Although the cuts were supposedly proportional, the pain inflicted was not. Real per-capita funding for non-defense programs have fallen more than 10 percent below 2010 levels while the population served and the demand for services grew. The Veterans Administration, considered non-defense spending, has been swamped by increased demand from older Vietnam War veterans and a new influx from Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. Rising rents and stagnant incomes have led to an increased demand for rental assistance even while the total number of families receiving assistance has fallen.

The injury to the Pentagon was far more modest. Troop levels declined, but that was to be expected given that two major wars were winding down. The Navy and Air Force got fewer new ships and aircraft than they wanted. Base construction slowed.

The Pentagon also suffered less because it was able to tap into another source of funding: The Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) reserve established to give the Pentagon immediate flexibility in war spending. Originally the OCO was subject to budget caps but in 2011, the same year caps were enacted, Congress exempted OCO spending, expanded the fund and began tapping it for non war-related Pentagon spending.

Since 2013, Republicans and Democrats have battled over the caps. Each time, at the 11th hour they've agreed to increase them equally for both military and non-military spending, most recently in late 2015 after President Obama vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act that would have raised military but not non-military spending.

Donald Trump proposes to eliminate the caps on military spending and reimburse DOD tens of billions of dollars it lost from past cuts. Increased military spending will be offset by decreasing non-defense spending through improving program efficiency and reducing waste. But the evidence is overwhelming that the inefficiencies and waste fall most heavily on the military side.

Consider that in 1994, the Government Management Reform Act required the Inspector General of each federal agency to audit and publish the financial statements of their agency. All Non-Defense agencies complied. The Department of Defense did not.

In 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld confessed, "we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions." In June 2016, Pentagon's Inspector General criticized the US Army for misreporting $6.5 trillion (yes, trillion with a T) for the 2015 fiscal year. "(I)nserting phony numbers" is how Reuters describes the Pentagon's strategy for balancing the books.

In 2009 the GAO reported on audit quality and independence issues at the Pentagon's Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA), the federal watchdog responsible for auditing oversight of military contractors. One Pentagon auditor admitted he did not perform detailed tests because, "The contractor would not appreciate it." That statement makes no sense unless you understand the intimate relationship between the Pentagon and its contractors. From 2004 to 2008, 80 percent of retiring three and four star officers went to work as consultants or defense executives.

"In almost any other realm it would seem a clear conflict of interest. But this is the Pentagon where … such apparent conflicts are a routine fact of life", an in-depth investigation by the Boston Globe concluded.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 imposes criminal penalties on corporate managers who certify false financial reports. But, according to Mike Young, a former Air Force logistics officer, "The concept of Sarbanes-Oxley is completely foreign" to the Pentagon.

According to the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) the Pentagon so far has spent roughly $6 billion on "fixing" the audit problem without success. (POGO is by far the best resource for information related to military spending.)

I doubt there's a real sense of urgency. The military knows that if it misses the next congressionally mandated deadline there will be no consequences. In 2012 Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced a bill Audit the Pentagon that would reduce by 5 percent the budget of any federal agency without an unqualified audit opinion by an external, independent auditor. The bill did not receive a hearing. In 2014 and 2015 she reintroduced the bill but reduced the penalty to a 0.5 percent budget reduction. Still there were no hearings.

For William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy we are living in "a golden age for Pentagon waste". A recent Reuters investigation by Scot J. Paltrow sums up the shocking mess. The Pentagon is "largely incapable of keeping track of its vast stores of weapons, ammunition and other supplies; thus it continues to spend money on new supplies it doesn't need and on storing others long out of date. It has amassed a backlog of more than half a trillion dollars in unaudited contracts with outside vendors; how much of that money paid for actual goods and services delivered isn't known. And it repeatedly falls prey to fraud and theft that can go undiscovered for years, often eventually detected by external law enforcement agencies."

When outside agencies have been able to gather data they've discovered rampant fraud. Records show that the Raytheon Company defrauded the Pentagon 5 times up until 2003. Lockheed Martin 7 times as of 2013, Northrup Grumman 7 times as of 2010. They continued to receive huge Pentagon contracts.

What could be more vulgar than corruption disguised as patriotism?

Jon Basil Utley, publisher of The American Conservative describes the sorry process by which the Pentagon develops weapons.

"Weapons are designed to be built in key congressional districts, not to be the most efficient or cost effective…. The F-22 had 1,000 suppliers in 44 states. The F-35 has 1,300 suppliers in 45 states in key congressional districts and is now estimated to cost up to $300 million per plane. Weapons manufacturing is started before finalized testing so as to build a constituency for programs' continuation. Military contractors then get cost-plus contracts to modify the weapons, which won't work properly because insufficient initial testing was done before manufacturing them. "

Given this dysfunctional and self-serving process, it should come as no surprise that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found "staggering" cost overruns of almost $300 billion in nearly 70 percent of the Pentagon's 96 major weapons.

In the 1960s, Pentagon whistleblower Ernest Fitzgerald exposed $2 billion in cost overruns on Lockheed's C-5A transport aircraft. It was considered a scandal. Today's F-35 fighter plane already has posted cost overruns of $500 billion and more is to come. The F-35 has yet to prove itself battle-ready, and may never be. Nevertheless, earlier this year Congress added and the President signed off on 11 additional F-35's to DOD appropriations.

Wastefulness is not the hallmark only of weapons procurement. Personnel costs are also wildly excessive. The Pentagon is top heavy with officers and generals paid vastly more than civilians with the same skills and education. Most of these officers work in public affairs or procurement or financial management or other jobs that do not require an officer.

The Pentagon currently has over 640,000 private contractors. No one knows the exact number but this is almost certainly an underestimate. They work alongside 800,000 civilian employees. A Rand Corporation report concluded contracting out is 25 percent more expensive than if performed by government employees. One Congressional study found that such contracts are on average, twice as expansive as in-house work. Some 70 percent of federal spending on intelligence is on private contracts. (Think Edward Snowden).

POGO estimates the Pentagon could save more than $20 billion a year if it reduced just its contractor work force by 15 percent.

Walter Pincus writes in the Washington Post about the inherent inefficiencies of contracting out. "The government pays to get the worker qualified, then ends up leasing back . . . former employees."

There is another danger in contracting out. As a 2014 GAO report warns, "Without a thorough review of contractor activities, DOD risks becoming overly reliant on contractors to support core missions."

Major Kevin P. Stiens and Lt. Colonel (Ret.) Susan L. Turley have observed, "The government lost personnel experience and continuity, along with operational control, by moving to contractors." Air Force Colonel Steven Zamperelli adds, "Private employees have distinctly different motivations, responsibilities and loyalties than those in the public military."

In 2008, in an infamous incident starkly revealed the flaws in private contracting. At least 12 U.S. soldiers were accidentally electrocuted inside their bases in Iraq. Later it was discovered the private contractor knew there were potentially serious electrical problems in the facility's construction, but its contract didn't cover "fixing potential hazards." It only required repairing items already broken!

While politicians refuse to penalize the DOD for not cleaning up its act, many are more than willing to demand accountability for every penny spent on non-defense programs, especially those helping the poor. In March 2014 Virginia House GOP leaders demanded the state's Medicaid program undergo a two-year external audit before expanding it. More than 60 audits had already been performed. In 2013 the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform did a detailed analysis of New York State's Medicaid program because, "Each dollar misspent on Medicaid is one less dollar for the country to use for better health care for the poor, education, infrastructure, national defense, deficit reduction, or any other priority." To date the Committee has yet to do any such analysis of Pentagon spending.

Facing up to and correcting the wastefulness and corruption in the military budget could go a long way toward meeting the rising demands on the non-military, aka, the "butter" side of our national ledger. In this election season, will the citizenry force this issue, this travesty on the national agenda?

News Sun, 23 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Why Are Police the Priority in Rahm Emanuel's Chicago?

"Of course we are going to find the money."

That was the response of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel last month, when asked how he was going to find the money to pay for the 970 additional police officers that his administration had pledged to hire over the next two years in response to an increase in violent crime in the city.

For months, Emanuel and other city officials had insisted that there was no money to cover contributions to the pensions of Chicago teachers or to fully fund public schools. The city was broke, they claimed. That lie was exposed when the city came up with a last-minute contract offer for teachers that included tens of millions of dollars taken from Emanuel's "tax increment financing" surplus.

But the money for the still-to-be-ratified teachers' contract had to be pried out of Emanuel. When it comes to funding more cops, the mayor doesn't hesitate.

And it's a lot of money, too. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, "At a first-year cost of $138,000-per-officer including salary, benefits and supervision, the 970 additional officers carry a two-year price tag of $133.8 million."

There couldn't be a starker illustration of priorities for city leaders. As they strangle public services and ignore the real roots of the violence plaguing Chicago, their only solution is to expand a police force that is notoriously brutal, racist and corrupt.


Influenced by the city's propaganda, many people accept the need to hire more cops as common sense.

As of October 18, there have been 596 murders in the city this year. That's a marked increase over 492 homicides in all of 2015 -- which was itself an increase over 2014. According to the Chicago Tribune, as of October 17, 3,475 people had been shot in the city, compared with 2,441 people shot this time last year. August was the deadliest month in the city since 1993 -- with 90 homicides and more than 400 shootings.

To date, Chicago has had more homicides this year than New York, which is three times larger, and Los Angeles combined.

But the violence doesn't impact every Chicagoan equally. The vast majority of the victims live in Black and Latino neighborhoods on the city's South and West Sides.

While it's easy to get lost in the numbers, each statistic represents the suffering of families and communities being ripped apart -- like the unnamed woman who a Chicago Tribune reporter saw sobbing at the entrance to the emergency room of Mount Sinai Hospital on October 14 following a shooting with multiple victims in the West Side neighborhood of East Garfield Park. The woman held a young boy and sobbed, "Please don't do this to us," before collapsing to the ground in grief.

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump has been quick to point to Chicago's murder rate as evidence of "inner cities" that are "horrible, horrible death traps."

But on the other side of the mainstream partisan divide, there is a different racist reaction: the failure of the Democratic political establishment that runs the city -- from Emanuel to the overwhelmingly Democratic City Council -- to talk about the causes of violence or offer solutions that do anything more than paint a target on communities already suffering under the yoke of poverty and police brutality.


When Emanuel announced last month that his solution to the rising murder rate would be to fund nearly 1,000 more cops over the rate of attrition over the next two years, it raised eyebrows coming amid deadlocked negotiations with the teachers -- and, in fact, the layoff of 1,000 teachers and staff shortly before the school year started.

But even more importantly, the money for more police does nothing to address the social factors contributing to the violence.

These include inflated rates of poverty and unemployment, especially among the city's African American population; the disruption caused by the closure of more than 50 public schools by the mayor, which inflamed tensions between different gangs; the ongoing attack on social services, like Emanuel's closure of half of the city's mental health clinics, which mainly served high-crime, low-income Black and Hispanic communities; and increasing gentrification that causes families to be uprooted from their neighborhoods.

It's worth questioning Emanuel's logic that says spending well over $100 million on more cops would do more to quell violence than, say, putting that money toward providing jobs, housing and better schools in the neighborhoods most prone to violence.

In general, say experts, increasing the size of a police force doesn't necessarily lead to a decrease in violent crime. If that were true, then Chicago -- which at around 12,500 officers already has the second-largest police force in the country -- would already have lower crime rates.

On the other hand, hiring more police automatically means there are more officers who can abuse their powers on a force already notorious for its brutality.

There is a bitter irony to the fact that Emanuel wants to spend tens of millions more on extra cops -- since the city has, between 2004 and early 2016, paid out more than $642 million in settlements to the victims of police brutality and their families.

Meanwhile, as social services will inevitably be cut further to pay for additional police, an investigation by the Chicago Reader recently found that since 2009, Chicago police have seized nearly $72 million in cash and assets through a process known as "civil forfeiture" -- seizing the assets, like cars, of people either accused of a crime or, often, tangentially related to the commission of an alleged crime.

Not surprisingly, the civil forfeitures have hit poor and working-class residents -- especially Black and Latino residents -- the hardest, because they lack the resources to challenge the police in court to reclaim property and cash.

Chicago cops have always had a reputation for corruption and brutality, but lately, every day seems to bring new revelations of wrongdoing. In a recent four-part investigative report for the Intercept, for example, reporter Jamie Kalven documents the claims of two officers who were told by department higher-ups to ignore evidence of a fellow officer's extortion of drug dealers.

Or there is the story that New York Daily News journalist Shaun King reported earlier this month: A Chicago cop who sodomized a suspect with a screwdriver during a strip search in 2004, along with his partner who stood by as it happened, are both still on the force, each making approximately $90,000 a year.


After Emanuel's announcement, Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson -- who was appointed to the job after the public outcry over the police execution of Laquan McDonald forced Emanuel to fire former Superintendent Garry McCarthy last year -- told reporters recently, "This will make us a bigger department, a better department and a more effective department."

But "better" and "more effective" at what?

A thousand more cops on Chicago's streets is a slap in the face to the families of Laquan McDonald, Rekia Boyd, Paul O'Neal or any of the many other victims of Chicago police.

McDonald's family had to fight for more than a year for the release of police video that showed the teen being ruthlessly murdered by police.

Boyd's killer, officer Dante Servin, will never serve a day in jail after a judge earlier this year cleared him of the involuntary manslaughter charge against him -- on the twisted reasoning that he should have been charged with murder, so it was better to dismiss the case against him.

And partial video finally released after the killing of O'Neal -- "partial" because the officer who fired the fatal shot hadn't turned his body camera on -- show cops pushing the wounded teen's head into the ground and calling him a "bitch ass motherfucker." Later, they can be seen high-fiving each other and celebrating that "We got one over here."

For these families, the promise of a thousand more cops feels more like a threat than a comfort. That's especially true given Johnson's own outlandish statement earlier this year that, in 27 years on the job as a Chicago cop, he's "never encountered police misconduct."

To pretend that more police on the streets will translate into more peaceful communities ignores these victims -- and the reality that the role of police is primarily to protect private property and serve the interests of the state, not to safeguard our rights.

As Pastor Marshall Hatch, whose congregation is in the West Garfield Park neighborhood, recently told NPR, the hiring of more police won't stop the systemic problems that fuel the violence. "[E]verybody knows you can't police yourself out of a problem like this when the real problem is poverty, despair and disinvestment," he said.

News Sun, 23 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
From Higher Education to Water Treatment, Financialization Is Harming Our Economy

An empty classroom at Junior High School 50 in Brooklyn in June 23, 2016. (Photo: Christopher Lee / The New York Times)An empty classroom at Junior High School 50 in Brooklyn in June 23, 2016. Public schools around the nation have all seen huge decreases in state funding in recent decades. (Photo: Christopher Lee / The New York Times)

One of the standout features of our increasingly financialized economy is a systemic disinvestment in public goods such as infrastructure and education. As the finance sector hoards the wealth our economy produces, wages stagnate, corporations and the wealthy avoid contributing their rightful share in taxes, and money and power coalesces at the top, revenues at all levels of government have declined.

Correspondingly, we have witnessed a turn to austerity measures including big cuts to the budgets of the entities that provide vital public goods, from water to public education. This is no accident -- it's a feature of a rigged economic system in which austerity is the price most of us pay for the wealthiest to get even wealthier.

Austerity creates vulnerability. As the stewards of public goods strive to meet the needs of the constituents they serve -- from water customers to students attending public colleges -- without breaking their shrinking budgets, they can become susceptible to financing schemes peddled by the financial industry.

Banks have pushed a variety of financial products, such as interest rate swaps, auction rate securities, and capital appreciation bonds, that are risky to borrowers and invariably deliver massive returns to the financial institutions selling them. Many of these deals have gone horribly wrong for public borrowers, draining even more money out their diminishing budgets.

The combination of austerity politics and a financial industry with an increasingly predatory business model has created a vicious cycle of decreased revenues, budget cuts, increased reliance on borrowing, the use of risky financial products in an attempt to save money, big losses on those risky deals, and more austerity.

Roosevelt and ReFund America Project recently released a report about the impact of toxic financial deals like interest rate swaps on colleges and universities across the country. We looked at 19 schools, from community colleges and public four-year universities to elite private schools, and found swap cost them a combined total of $2.7 billion.

Swaps, which were intended to create a synthetic fixed rate on variable rate bonds, were pitched to borrowers as a way to borrow more cheaply. But these deals turned out to be disastrous for many colleges -- just as they have been for the cities, school districts, state governments, transit agencies, and water departments that also got mixed up with them.

The public colleges we looked at in our report -- like public colleges around the nation -- have all seen huge decreases in state funding in recent decades, and they have all tried to bridge the funding gap by raising fees and tuition on students. This disinvestment in a vital public good parallels decreases in funding for other vital infrastructure -- most notably, public water and wastewater systems.

Federal funding for local water infrastructure projects has decreased almost fourfold in the last 3 decades. At the same, water systems have been aging and deteriorating to the point where most of the nation's water infrastructure is desperately in need of repair or replacement. The problems include sewage leaking into waterways, an estimated 25% of drinking water lost to leaks, and crumbling pipes leaching lead into drinking water.

Many local water systems, facing decreased federal funding and crumbling systems, have issued bonds to invest in infrastructure projects -- sometimes as part of complying with EPA consent decrees issued after an investigation of, for example, wastewater pollution of a local body of water.

Like the colleges in our recent report, many of these local water systems got stuck in risky deals that proved to be financially disastrous, leading to huge spikes in water bills for customers, water shut offs for people who couldn't pay their skyrocketing bills, and even less money for necessary projects.

In Detroit and Baltimore, people have even lost their homes to foreclosure because of late water bills. In some cases, the end result has been a move towards private control of the water systems as a "solution" to the financing crisis. This is classic disaster capitalism.

We are seeing this across our economy. The affordability and accessibility crisis in higher education is paralleled by similar crises in water infrastructure and other forms of public goods we rely on to make our country work. These crises have direct roots in the financialization of our economy and the power the financial industry has over our political system. The consequences affect all of us.

The good news is that we have an opportunity to build an intersectional movement of ordinary people to demand a more just and fair system and to hold Wall Street and the politicians they control accountable to we the people.

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Opinion Sun, 23 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The United States Has Still Not Acknowledged It Committed Genocide Against Indigenous Peoples

Historians Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker discuss how genocide is integral to the structure of settler colonialism, which seeks to replace Indigenous peoples with settlers. Those who settled the US intentionally killed and displaced Native communities en masse.

Indigenous Americans protest the Columbus Day celebration in Denver, Colorado, on October 9, 2007. (Photo: AJ Schroetlin)Indigenous Americans protest the Columbus Day celebration in Denver, Colorado, on October 9, 2007. (Photo: AJ Schroetlin)

What myths have most of us been taught about Native Americans? In a new book, "All the Real Indians Died Off" And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker show how generations of people in the United States have been misinformed about Indigenous Americans as part of a colonial agenda of erasure. Click here to order this important book from Truthout.

The following is the Truthout interview with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker.

Mark Karlin: I was profoundly enlightened when I interviewed you about your last book The Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States.Your new book, written with Dina Gilio-Whitaker debunks 21 myths about Native Americans. Before we get to the book, I want to start and ask you a truly global question, how is the Indigenous rights movement becoming increasingly transnational?

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: The international Indigenous movement is becoming increasingly visible, but it has been developing since the early 1920s, when the Haudenosaunee (six Nations of the Iroquois federation) sent a representative, Cayuga leader Deskaheh, to Geneva, Switzerland, in 1923 to address the League of Nations. From the 1930s onwards, Muskogee Creek, Cherokee and Hopi representatives built ties with Indigenous Peoples in Central Mexico, where their peoples had originated.

In 1940, The Interamerican Indian Convention was signed by the governments of the hemisphere, and the Interamerican Indian Institute was founded, which still exists today. In the 1950s, the newly established National Congress of American Indians in the United States and other Native activists actively sought ties with Indigenous Peoples in other parts of the world. But it was in 1974, with the founding of the International Indian Treaty Council by the militant American Indian Movement, and of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples, that formal relations with the United Nations began.

The United Nations Sub-Commission on Racism and Racial Discrimination had taken up a study of Indigenous Peoples globally in 1972 and in 1977, the first international Indigenous Peoples conference was held at the United Nations -- the delegates of Indigenous representatives organized by the International Indian Treaty Council. After four years of arduous Indigenous lobbying, a UN Working Group on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was established and met for the first time in 1982, and thereafter annually for 25 years, resulting in massive documentation and testimonies, as well as official reports, and in the 2007 UN General Assembly resolution, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Early in the new millennium, a UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues were established, the latter meeting for two weeks annually at UN headquarters in New York, bringing together thousands of Indigenous Peoples' representatives. In addition to the institutional transnational relationships are the daily exchange of communications among Indigenous Peoples on local, regional and continental issues and emergencies, particularly effective during the past 20y years of increasing Internet capacity.

Truthout Progressive Pick

All the Real Indians Died Off And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans

What myths have most of us been taught about Native Americans?

Click here now to get the book!

What are the roles of erasure and disappearance in creating settler colonialist myth about Native Americans that then justify suppression and theft of land?

Dina Gilio-Whitaker: Disappearance of the Indigenous population was necessary for the settler project to inherit the land that they believed was rightfully theirs, by divine providence. Very early on, for example, when the Mayflower immigrants of the Plymouth colony were starving and trying to figure out how to feed themselves, we know from primary documents that some of them found villages that had been emptied out due to a disease epidemic a year or two earlier, or in some cases, were still inhabited. They raided food stores and even graves, and saw it as an expression of God's favor on them, having gotten rid of the Indians so that they could now inhabit the land.

By the 1840s this belief crystalized into the concept of manifest destiny. Then we begin to see the emergence of anthropology and what we now call scientific racism -- a science-based ideology that all non-white people are inferior to white Europeans. This Social Darwinism finds its way into Supreme Court decisions about Native lands and nations, which then become the basis for laws and policies that systematically justify extermination, forced assimilation and endless other depredations -- that all have at their root the goal of transferring Native lands into white ownership. This is why we say that settler colonialism is a structure that eliminates Natives so that settlers can replace them. And it is this structure that still frames the body of federal Indian law that governs what happens to Native nations and individuals today, all guided by the impulse to eliminate.

You have a chapter on the myth that the US did not engage in a policy of genocide toward Native Americans. Given that's a loaded term that denialists love to split hairs about, wouldn't it just be easier to say the European conquerors maintained a policy of trying to make Native Americans vanish?

Dunbar-Ortiz: The importance of the term "genocide" for many Indigenous Peoples is that it is more than a term or an accusation; it is a word created in the wake of the Shoah in Europe to describe what happens when a people are targeted by a government for extermination, as were the Jews of Europe, and which is the term used in the most important international law related to concerned Indigenous Peoples, as the only international human rights law that pertains specifically to collectivities of people rather than individuals.

We have researched and studied only US policies and actions related to Indigenous peoples in North America, but think that the analysis of the US applies to several of the republics of the Americas, as well as Australia and New Zealand, that imposed settler-colonialism on the Indigenous Peoples, seeking to displace and disappear Indigenous communities and nations to replace them with European settlers.

As the late Australian anthropologist Patrick Wolfe wrote, "The question of genocide is never far from discussions of settler colonialism." The history of the United States is a history of settler colonialism. The objective of US authorities was to terminate their existence as peoples -- not as random individuals. This is the very definition of modern genocide. The term "genocide" is often incorrectly assumed to mean extreme examples of mass murder associated with war, with the death of millions of individuals, as, for instance in Cambodia. Although clearly the Holocaust was the most extreme of all genocides, the bar set by the Nazis is not the bar required to be considered genocide. Most importantly, genocide does not have to be complete to be considered genocide. Cases of genocide carried out as policy may be found in historical documents as well as in the oral histories of Indigenous communities. An example from 1873 is typical, with General William T. Sherman writing, "We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women and children ... during an assault, the soldiers cannot pause to distinguish between male and female, or even discriminate as to age."

We talked about this in our last interview. Many historical accounts tried to make it appear that presidents and Congress viewed themselves as white saviors to Native Americans. Was that any different than the attitude of European colonialism that decimated vast populations in Africa, the Middle East and the Far East, for example? 

Dunbar-Ortiz: I think there's a great deal of similarity in this respect among various European and Euroamerican colonialisms, with attempts to justify the capitalist plunder that drove and drives the past 500 years of European and United States imperialism. One of the myths we include in the present book is on the presumed benevolence of US presidents towards Native Americans (Myth 9).

What is different is the goal of elimination of the Native in the four sites of Anglo settler-colonialism in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Whether it was an expression of the "laws of nature," that is, the survival of the fittest as explicitly expressed by Andrew Jackson and the embrace of eugenics by Theodore Roosevelt during their presidencies, or in popular culture by Walt Whitman and other writers, or the disappearance through forced assimilation, such as the Indian boarding schools' goal to "kill the Indian and save the man," the stamping out and total disappearance of the Native was predominant. In the present, the way benevolence is expressed is in conceptualizing the Native as a historical relic; US people have to be constantly reminded that there are still existent Indigenous peoples and communities in North America, but whether left or right, recent immigrant or descendants of settlers, even descendants of enslaved Africans, the Native presence is not a consideration in the day to day life of individuals and municipal, state and national governments.

Since we are coming close to this holiday, can you expand on dispelling the myth that Thanksgiving proves the Indians welcomed the pilgrims?

Gilio-Whitaker:  The story, as it is commonly conveyed, is a feel-good tale of a deep friendship between Pilgrims and Indians, signified by a formal, ostensibly prearranged engagement where they all sit down together to give thanks for a bountiful harvest.

There is not enough evidence to surmise anything of the sort; what there is suggests that it was a random, rather accidental occurrence in which the Wampanoag were investigating the sound of gunfire coming from the English settlement, and then were invited to stay for dinner. The actual relationship between the Wampanoag and the pilgrims can best be described as a political alliance based on desperation and the mutual need for survival. Both were extremely vulnerable.

The pilgrims needed the Indians to teach them how to live on the land, and extreme population decline due to disease had weakened the Wampanoag militarily. A treaty had been negotiated in an atmosphere of mistrust and tension. Within two years, it had completely broken down but then, after about 40 years of relative peace, by 1675 full-scale war had broken out between them, becoming what we know now as King Philip's War, what's been called the bloodiest war ever fought on American soil.

This is too recent for your book, but I think your opinion on the activism surrounding the Dakota Access pipeline and the expanding support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe should be explored. Do you think it is a threshold point for a new stage of defiant, stalwart activism on behalf of reclaiming sovereignty over Indigenous lands and water?

Gilio-Whitaker:  It remains to be seen, but at the moment it does seem that way. What we have to compare it to in this country is the Alcatraz occupation from 1969-1971, the Trail of Broken Treaties in 1972 and Wounded Knee in 1973.

Those movements, like this one, were youth-led (although women are much more out front these days). Those were also the days that gave birth to the ethnic studies disciplines, and growing numbers of Indians becoming lawyers. So what we have now is new generations of Natives with sophisticated educations, and savvy political and organizing skills. They understand their history, they understand they're living with intergenerational trauma, but they still have enough of their cultures and traditions that have the power to heal them. And that makes them strong and relentless, like their ancestors before them. What's different now is that there are greater levels of support coming from non-Natives, because it's recognized now that Native struggles to protect land and water are everyone's struggles. And let's remember that this standoff at Standing Rock comes on the heels of years of climate justice activism, which is widely acknowledged to be led by Indigenous peoples. Standing Rock is only the most recent manifestation of that.

Opinion Sun, 23 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Venezuela's Economic Crisis: Does It Mean That the Left Has Failed?

Venezuela can turn its economy around without the prolonged recession a neoliberal adjustment normally creates. It can do this by unifying its multiple exchange rate system and sharply reducing imports because the hardest part of the adjustment -- the fall in living standards -- has already been done.

A woman shakes a bag of corn flour, shouting "Why is it so difficult for me to buy this," as hundreds of people wait in line to buy food at a grocery store in Catia, a slum in western Caracas, Venezuela, on June 11, 2016. The nation is anxiously searching for ways to feed itself, as the economic collapse of recent years has left it unable to produce or import sufficient food. (Photo: Meridith Kohut / The New York Times)A woman shakes a bag of corn flour, shouting "Why is it so difficult for me to buy this?" as hundreds of people wait in line to buy food at a grocery store in Catia, a slum in western Caracas, Venezuela, on June 11, 2016. The nation is anxiously searching for ways to feed itself, as the economic collapse of recent years has left it unable to produce or import sufficient food. (Photo: Meridith Kohut / The New York Times)

The international media have provided a constant fusillade of stories and editorials (not always easily distinguished from each other) about the collapse of the Venezuelan economy for some time now. Shortages of food and medicine, hours-long lines for basic goods, incomes eroded by triple-digit inflation and even food riots have dominated press reports.

The conventional wisdom has a set of predictable narratives to explain the current economic mess. "Socialism" has failed -- never mind that the vast majority of jobs created during the Hugo Chávez years were in the private sector, and that the size of the state has been much smaller than in France. The whole experiment, it is said, was a failure from the beginning.

According to this narrative, nationalizations, anti-business policies, populist overspending during the years of high oil prices and the collapse of oil prices since 2014 sealed Venezuela's fate. Adherents to this explanation say the downward spiral will continue until the chavistas are removed from power, either through elections or through a coup (most pundits don't seem to care which).

The reality is somewhat more complicated. First, the Bolivarian experiment did pretty well until 2014. From 2004 -- after the Chávez government got control over the national oil industry -- until 2014, real income per person grew by more than 2 percent annually. This is an enormous change from the horrendous long-term decline in the 20 years prior to Chávez, when GDP per capita actually shrank at an average annual rate of 1.2 percent. During the same years (2004–2014), poverty fell by 49 percent and extreme poverty by 63 percent -- and this counts only cash income. The number of people over 60 years old receiving public pensions tripled, and millions of Venezuelans gained access to health care and education. It is the gains over this decade of chavismo that explain how the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) was able to win 41 percent of the vote in National Assembly elections in December 2015, despite serious shortages of consumer goods, 180 percent inflation and a deep recession.

Now for the downward spiral of the economy over the past three years: Was this inevitable? And is it irreversible until the PSUV leaves power? To answer these questions, we must look at how Venezuela got into this situation, and how it might get out of it.

The Story of Venezuela's Economic Recession

In the fall of 2012, and again in February 2013, the government sharply reduced the availability of foreign exchange. It was during this time that shortages of basic goods accelerated, along with inflation and the black market price of the dollar. The official exchange rate, at which the government sold the vast majority of dollars earned from oil sales, was at 6.3 Bolivares Fuertes (Bs.F) per dollar. But a parallel market already existed, and the shortage of dollars at the official rate drove the parallel market sharply upward. At the same time, the higher parallel market price of the dollar increased inflation, because it increases the price of imported goods.

And when inflation goes up, more people want to buy dollars, because they see the dollar as something secure that won't lose value to inflation. But this drives the price of the dollar up on the parallel market, which increases inflation even more. This cycle continues, causing an "inflation-depreciation" spiral. In October 2012, inflation was at 18 percent, and the parallel market rate was at 13 percent. By the end of 2015, annual inflation was at 180 percent and the parallel market rate was at 833 percent. The shortages of consumer and other goods also contribute to this spiral, and they have increased with it.

By the first quarter of 2014, the Venezuelan economy was already in recession, even though international oil prices were more than $100 a barrel. By January 2015, prices had fallen to $48 a barrel, and are about the same today. This depleted the government's revenue by a similar percentage, and the government resorted to printing money to cover expenses. The money creation would not necessarily accelerate inflation, but in the context of the inflation-depreciation spiral it certainly did. So inflation rose even faster.

Since late March, the parallel market rate has fallen from a peak of more than 1,211 to about 1,025 Bs. per dollar today -- about a 15 percent drop in the price of the dollar as measured in domestic currency -- after shooting up rapidly for more than three years. At the same time, the government allowed the price of the dollar on a third market, called the SIMADI or DICOM rate, to go up. It is now at about 640 Bs. per dollar, or more than 60 percent of the parallel market rate.

However, this does not mean that the economy is on the road to stabilization.

First, the parallel rate is still 100 times the lower official rate of 10. Second, one of the main things that has slowed the inflation-depreciation spiral has been the deepening recession. There are far fewer people with money to buy dollars, and many are depleting their dollar savings in order to buy necessities. This has pushed down the price of the dollar on the parallel market.

What this means is that the Venezuelan economy cannot recover under the current exchange rate system. It is stuck in recession. Furthermore, the multiple exchange rate system, with its vast differences between the different rates, creates an enormous incentive for corruption. Anyone with access to official dollars can multiply their income by 100 simply by selling them on the black market, which is completely accessible to almost anyone.

But the official exchange rate system is only one way that the government's dollar revenue is lost. Gasoline, even after the recent price increases, is about 6 Bs. per liter -- or about one US cent per liter at the SIMADI exchange rate. Electricity and gas are also heavily subsidized. These subsidies cost the government more than 13 percent of GDP. For comparison, the total income tax revenue (individual plus corporate) of the US federal government in 2015 was about 10.6 percent of GDP. At the same time, there are price controls that are difficult or impossible to maintain in the current economic situation. In 2015, overall consumer prices increased by 180 percent; yet food prices, which are subject to price controls, increased by 300 percent. This is a pretty clear demonstration that price controls are not working.

A Possible Path to Recovery

Millions of Venezuelans now make their living from arbitrage of some sort -- from waiting in line for hours for a small allocation of subsidized food and reselling it, to trading currency on the parallel market, to selling stolen goods. Even a dictatorship with considerable repressive power to crack down on all illegal transactions would have trouble maintaining a functioning economy with the magnitude of these price distortions. But Venezuela is not a dictatorship; in fact, the state is very weak in terms of law enforcement.

Given this situation, it is clear that serious reforms are necessary in order to restart the economy. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has assembled a team of economists, headed by former president of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández, which has presented a set of proposals. (Full disclosure: I am one of the members of this team.)

The most obvious change that is needed is to unify the multiple exchange rate system. This should be done quickly, and in one step. The government can auction a fixed amount of dollars each day, with the price determined by supply and demand. Although allowing the currency to float seems scary to many people, the price of the dollar would undoubtedly stabilize at something considerably less than the current parallel market rate of about 1,000. A floating rate is also the only way to avoid wasting scarce foreign exchange reserves in a futile attempt to maintain an overvalued fixed rate.

Since devaluations generally lead to price increases, it would be necessary to protect people from any rising costs of essential goods, including food. This could be done with a vast expansion of the government's current system of the Tarjeta Misiones Socialistas (a card system providing direct subsidies to lower-income families), which would give people a large discount that could compensate for any price increases. This system would be in place before the unification of the exchange rate.

The energy subsidies could then be phased out more gradually over the next 18 months. To make this economically and politically acceptable, the additional government revenue as energy prices are allowed to rise would be added to the tarjetas (cards). This would be a net gain for the vast majority of Venezuelans. Some price controls -- including those that do not allow producers to meet their costs -- would be phased out.

Other measures to protect people's living standards would include indexing wages to inflation, and creating a temporary public works program to create employment. These could be financed by a wealth tax similar to one in Colombia, and by a tax on financial transactions.

The government can help finance the transition by selling some of its foreign assets. At the same time, it will have to restructure its debt in order to reduce the $17 billion of debt payments (interest and principal) that would otherwise be due over the next year and a half.

All of this is feasible even with current oil prices because Venezuela has already adjusted its level of imports to match the fall in oil prices, which provide more than 90 percent of the country's dollar earnings. It has been an enormous adjustment; imports have fallen by more than half since 2012. For comparison, Greece, after more than six years of depression, has reduced its imports by 28 percent.

This means that the hard part of the adjustment -- the one that often requires people to reduce their living standards in order to sharply reduce imports -- has already been done. It is relative prices now that have to be adjusted in order to recover. The result is that Venezuela can return to growth rather quickly, without the prolonged recession that neoliberal adjustment normally creates.

Left Critiques of Proposed Economic Reforms

Much of the left -- including people inside the government and among the base of its party, the PSUV -- rejects these economic reforms. They think it is a "paquetazo" (package) similar to International Monetary Fund (IMF) or neoliberal reforms that increased poverty in the past. They see the fixed exchange rate as socialistic and a floating exchange rate as a "free market" reform. But in reality, the informal economy for dollars constitutes one of the most destructive "free markets" that exists; it is the "capitalismo salvaje" ("savage capitalism") that Hugo Chávez used to denounce. (Chávez himself successfully floated Venezuela's currency in February 2002, and dollar reserves actually increased despite serious political instability.) And we can recall that the IMF supported fixed, overvalued exchange rates with disastrous results in Argentina, Brazil, Russia and a number of Asian countries in the last years of the 20th century.

There is nothing neoliberal about a program in which the government creates employment, protects wages from inflation (which has not happened since inflation began to skyrocket nearly four years ago), subsidizes food and essential items on a large scale, and protects people generally from the burden of the adjustment of relative prices.

Yet there are those on the left who seem to think that Venezuela can recover without fixing its most fundamental and destructive imbalances. Alfredo Serrano, an adviser to the government, posted eight "economic theses" on Venezuela on September 1. In 2,700 words, there is no mention of Venezuela's dysfunctional exchange rate system.

At the same time, the US government -- which has sought "regime change" in Venezuela for the past 15 years -- is trying to further destabilize the economy. In March 2016 President Obama once again declared that Venezuela posed an "unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security" of the United States, and imposed economic sanctions. The sanctions themselves are not economically important, but they send a message to investors who know what happens to countries that are labeled an "extraordinary threat" to the United States. The Obama administration has also pressured US financial institutions not to do business with Venezuela.

The international media and their usual sources are also playing their traditional role, and some of the widely reported stories have been wrong. By 2015, there were widespread reports that the poverty rate had increased to 76 percent when this was practically impossible. The IMF, which has a long history of politically influenced forecasts, projected that GDP would shrink by 10 percent last year, when the actual figure was 5.7 percent. The media report IMF projections of 720 percent inflation for this year, although this is likely to be way off. It is further evidence of the media's extreme hostility to the Venezuelan government that so many journalists feel the need to exaggerate, even when Venezuela is facing its worst economic crisis in decades. But even during most of the economic boom between 2003 and 2008, when employment was rising rapidly and poverty was plummeting, it was hard to find anything positive about Venezuela in the major media.

Nonetheless, it should be clear that the Venezuelan economy will not recover, even if oil prices were to rise rapidly, without some major reforms that can resolve its worst economic imbalances.

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News Sun, 23 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
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
"I Work Like an Independent Worker, and I Feel Happy"

(Photo: Leeroy / Lifeofpix)(Photo: Leeroy / Lifeofpix)

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Nelson Gamio gets up at 6:30 a.m. each morning. After putting on his usual t-shirt and jeans, he sits in the chair and laces up his paint-splattered boots. He has just enough time to run across the street to grab a $1 cup of coffee with a piece of bread and to feel a bit of San Diego's gentle sun before he starts work at 7 a.m.

In 2010, the labor market was still recovering from the recession, so Gamio was happy to have a two-month-long assignment remodeling an upholstery store. "I enjoy doing construction jobs," he confirms. "I like building things." Whether it was laying carpet, painting, or re-stuccoing, Gamio took pride in transforming spaces and nodded at his own craftsmanship when he saw the once-drab store take on new form. What he relished most was that he was in the seventh year of being his own boss. "I work like an independent worker, and I feel happy."

The backdrop of lively music, working alongside his comrades, and his passion for the project helped the 12-hour shifts pass by. Working long hours had become common for Gamio, who agreed to a flat rate of $50 dollars a day, plus lunch. It was less than the minimum wage, "but it was near Christmas and I had to send money home," Gamio recalls. "It was a big recession at the time."

Though Gamio had accepted the rate, he was shocked when his employer refused to pay him -- an issue he had never experienced before. He refused to take the loss without a fight. For the first time, he decided to reach out to a local association of day laborers to learn his rights. He later filed his case with the California Labor Commissioner's Officeand won.

Many of the current benefits and protections for workers like Gamio can be traced to the tireless grassroots organizing that came before him. Day laborers and domestic workers have long struggled in an on-demand and shift-work economy. These are some of the original gig economy workers, and they have decades of experience organizing in the absence of the job security, health benefits, and retirement plans afforded by traditional workplaces.

Today, the scope of on-demand labor is expanding. Most of the new jobs created since the 2008 financial crisis aren't traditional jobs at all, but some form of contract or temporary employment. The growth has been especially fast among those who find work through smartphone applications like Uber, Lyft, and TaskRabbit.

As these millions of newcomers struggle to organize, they can look to those who've come before for guidance. One of the most effective tools has been worker centers, where participants can learn their rights, get work assignments, earn certifications, and develop new skills. Large coalitions like Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), and the National Guest worker Alliance (NGA) are examples of effective mass organizing of informal workers.

The key has been moving from the individual to the collective, which is challenging because these workers are used to seeing themselves as lone entrepreneurs. But when independent contractors begin to face labor-related challenges, they realize they need support and seek alliances. "You start organizing by selflessly helping workers," says Mark Day, executive director at San Diego Workers Center (SDWC), "whether it's wage theft, social security, immigration, domestic violence, or health and safety questions." Gamio is one of the workers Day helped, and today the two co-run SDWC.

Day isn't sure the most recent crop of gig economy workers realize they need that kind of organizing yet. Uber drivers, for example, may be too "individualistic," he says. But they could start by having local house meetings to establish their common concerns and goals and then branch out.

Hard-Won Wisdom

Omar Leon, workforce development coordinator for NDLON and a former Los Angeles day laborer, says workers' commitment to assembly meetings has been crucial to their success. Skilled in landscaping, carpentry, construction, demolition, and more, these workers contribute to many construction projects.

Day laborers who stand on the corner waiting for work are often a part of an "organized corner" supported by a day laborer center. "This is our workplace," says Leon. "We have rules. We're going to keep it clean. No one will be disrespectful, no drinking, no one goes out for less than the minimum agreed wage, and everyone participates on cleaning day." If a worker violates the rules, the center will give him a warning, a one- to three-day suspension, or a permanent ban, depending on the offense.

The centers help regulate their industry by setting and enforcing standards. During assembly meetings -- held in coffee shops, at workers' homes, or at work centers -- laborers participate in the decision-making, speak up about their needs, and decide which actions and campaigns to support. The meetings serve as a platform to discuss issues and ways to grow. "Even though this is an informal economy," Leon says, "the workers learn about marketing, brand strategy, work ethics, and customer satisfaction."

Just like the makers of Etsy and the drivers of Uber, many day laborers say independence is a draw. Day laborers set their own schedules, work with a variety of employers, and decide what jobs work best for them. In many cases, they earn more than their counterparts in factories, says Leon. "Workers are part of these day laborer centers, but they're still independent and autonomous."

Building connections among the autonomous is part of the foundation for organizing old-school on-demand workers. Barbara Young, a domestic worker for 17 years, is a national organizer for the NDWA. She says she felt called to work on behalf of fellow domestic workers after receiving an informational leaflet while sitting in a Brooklyn, New York, park with the child she was tending. She later attended a Domestic Workers United (DWU) meeting.

"They offered CPR training from the American Heart Association, which was great, but [they also discussed] the history of the domestic workers in the country," said Young. "It was about the exclusion that we faced. I was so interested, and I just wanted every domestic worker in New York to know what was going on." Soon, Young began handing out newsletters to domestic workers she encountered at bus stops and park benches.

Abuse in the industry inspired Young and other domestic workers -- alongside unions, employers, clergy, and community groups -- to organize for labor protections they had been specifically excluded from. Although many domestic workers were sent out by an agency, that didn't mean they were safe. Young realized this after a housekeeper told her an employer in the Hamptons had said she could leave the worker to die in the basement and no one would know.

The NDWA's original goal was to make agencies accountable for workers' safety by keeping a three-year record of all workers dispatched. But the campaign ultimately led to greater achievements. In 2010, after six years of organizing, the New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights passed, giving these workers the right to overtime pay, a day of rest every seven days, protection under the state's human rights law, and more. The NDWA later successfully spearheaded the fight that led to the implementation of similar bills of rights in California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Oregon.

Some new on-demand workers are following the same path of grassroots organizing that Young credits for much of the NDWA's success. In 2015, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to give workers for Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hailing apps the ability to unionize. The road to victory was fraught with obstacles, says Daniel Ajema, an attorney and former Uber driver.

Drawn in by the flexibility and independence, many drivers in Seattle started out happy at Uber. They felt in control and like an integral part of the company. But soon, Ajema says, drivers started to feel that the company was more concerned about its own bottom line than with workers' lives. "Whether it was disciplining, firing and hiring, or the percentage they took from the driver, they had all the power, and the changes they implemented on a daily basis maximized their income as a company."

Seattle Uber drivers shared a common goal of job security and decent wages. Drivers wanted to act, but they didn't know where to begin, says Ajema. Many feared retaliation from Uber and didn't want to lose their jobs. "I needed to do some convincing and make them believe that we would make more impact as a group than individual," says the Ethiopian native. First, he needed a list of all Seattle-based Uber drivers -- a list Uber refused to distribute. So he stood outside of the company's Seattle headquarters and spoke to drivers as they came and went. Soon, he assembled a cadre of drivers who began distributing flyers, using social media, and holding political forums to get the word out. After two years, Seattle's contract drivers became the first in the United States to win the right to unionize.

Some on-demand workers have also achieved success by forming alliances outside their industries. In 1999, when janitors in Los Angeles went on strike, some of the cleaning companies went to the corners and workers' centers where day laborers gathered and tried to hire them. But the day laborers didn't take the jobs and marched alongside the janitors instead. Each corner held an assembly meeting, took a vote, and decided to refuse all work from employers facing strikes, Leon recalls. Later, when car wash workers picketed because businesses failed to pay the minimum wage or abide by basic labor and safety laws, day laborers refused to accept their enticing offers of $10 an hour.

"We always respected the picket lines and respected the struggle," Leon says. "No matter how much need we are in, even if we haven't paid our rent or worked for two weeks, we decided we wouldn't take the jobs."

Most recently, NDLON supported a Raise the Wage campaign in Pasadena, California, which fought to gradually increase the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour. Leon believes allegiance across occupational lines aids all informal and low-earning workers, because they're more likely to gain leverage if they are unified.

New Workers, New Power

Gig economy workers aren't necessarily that different from traditional employees, says Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of ROC United and director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. "There is a bit of an idea that 'Oh well, we're moving to a world in which nobody really has an employer and people transition from one place to another, and we're all sort of in an independent contractor world with portable benefits.'" She says that thinking fails to hold companies accountable.

"They're not just independent contractors. There is an employer. There are corporate actors involved -- even if they are in Silicon Valley." She suggests a "low road, high road" strategy, in which organizers simultaneously name and shame and campaign against the low-road actors that dominate these industries, while lifting up those doing it ethically.

As the entire economy starts to get a taste of on-demand workers' lives, Jayaraman says it's an opportunity to recognize the concerns shared by all on-demand workers -- whether they get their work on the street corner or on their smart phones. "The whole on-demand economy has become a lot more prominent, a lot more central, a lot more mainstream, as higher-income on-demand workers have now started to deal with the instability and insecurity of being on-demand," says Jayaraman.

Ajema agrees. The more the gig economy's labor force diversifies, he adds, and particularly as it includes people with voting power, the stronger chance there is for legislative change. And that's the ultimate goal.

News Sun, 23 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)

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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