Truthout Stories Thu, 30 Oct 2014 09:02:33 -0400 en-gb Dark Money in Coal Country

2014 1029 dark st"The group, which was officially launched in 2008 but has only just become a major political player, is a prime example of the influences that dark money has in American politics." (Image: American flag and dollars via Shutterstock)Do you want media that’s accountable to YOU, not to advertisers or billionaire sponsors? Invest in independent media - donate to Truthout today!

Dark money is a strong and mysterious force.

With under a week to go until Election Day, the Senate Majority PAC has released a new ad slamming Mitch McConnell, hoping that it will help Alison Lundergan Grimes pull off the upset and unseat the current senate minority leader.

The ad attacks McConnell for protecting his retirement savings, while wanting to privatize social security and put everyone else's life savings at risk.

The ad is so damning that McConnell's camp has tried to get it pulled from the air unsuccessfully.

But, it appears that ad may be too little too late, and that's thanks in large part to the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition.

So what's the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition?

Well, there's a lot we don't know about it.

We don't know who's pulling the strings of the group, who sits on its board, and where it gets all its money from.

As the group's website says, there is a policy, "to not provide the names of its donors to the general public."

But, what we do know is that the group has bankrolled 12,000 of the 79,000 ads that have aired in Kentucky during campaign season.

According to Scott Jennings, the PR point person for the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, the "non-profit" group has spent at least $14 million since the beginning of 2013 to, "help ensure the organization's message is dispersed in an efficient and effective manner."

And, official FEC records show that the group has spent over $7.1 million on "expenditures" that "expressly advocate" for the election of Mitch McConnell or the defeat of Alison Lundergan Grimes.

The group, which was officially launched in 2008 but has only just become a major political player, is a prime example of the influences that dark money has in American politics.

Thanks to the Supreme Court's disastrous Citizens United decision, groups like the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition can pour millions of dollars into campaigns and elections, all under a veil of secrecy and mystery.

They can corrupt our democracy all they want, and effectively silent the voices of the American people.

If we ever want America to have a functioning democracy again, then we need to amend our constitution to say that corporations are not people and that money is not speech.

To join the movement, go to

Opinion Wed, 29 Oct 2014 15:26:47 -0400
Is Filming a Police Officer a "Domestic Threat"? Austin Activist on Trial for Videotaping an Arrest

A jury in Austin, Texas, is set to issue its decision today in a case that centers on a person's right to film police officers. Antonio Buehler says he was at a gas station in the early morning hours of New Year's Day in 2012 when he used his phone to take pictures of a woman being arrested and crying out for help. Ultimately, Buehler's attempt to document what he felt was apparent police abuse ended with his own arrest when the officer said he felt Buehler spit on him. He faced a felony charge of "harassment of a public servant," and two to 10 years in prison. Last year, a grand jury cleared Buehler of the felony, but in an usual twist, it came back with a charge of "failure to obey a lawful order," a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine. The order was for Buehler to put his hands behind his back as he tried to take pictures. Since then Buehler has co-founded the group Peaceful Streets Project, whose members record police and post the videos online, and train others to do the same. He has been arrested several more times while videotaping officers and has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Austin Police Department. Buehler is an an Iraq War veteran and graduate of West Point and Stanford University with no prior arrests. Just moments before a jury is set to issue a verdict, he joins us from Austin.


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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We go now to Austin, Texas, where a jury is set to issue a decision today in a case that centers on an activist's right to film police. Antonio Buehler says he was at a gas station in the early morning hours of New Year's Day in 2012 when he used his phone to take pictures of a woman being arrested and crying out for help. In this video clip from the dashboard camera of a police car at the scene, Officer Patrick Oborski pulls the female passenger out of a car that had been stopped for having its lights off. As she cries for help, you can hear Antonio Buehler call out to the officer.

FEMALE PASSENGER: Don't touch me. You're on video.

POLICE OFFICER: That's good. Come on. You're done.


POLICE OFFICER: That's it. Get out of the car.

ANTONIO BUEHLER: Why are you pulling her out of the car?

POLICE OFFICER: Hey, don't worry about it.

FEMALE PASSENGER: Help me, please!

POLICE OFFICER: Worry about yourself. Worry about yourself!

FEMALE PASSENGER: They're pulling me out of the car!

ANTONIO BUEHLER: What are you doing that to a female for? What is she doing to you? She's not a risk to you.

FEMALE PASSENGER: I haven't done nothing for it.


ANTONIO BUEHLER: She's not doing [bleep] to you guys.

FEMALE PASSENGER: Take video of this, please.

ANTONIO BUEHLER: What's wrong with you guys?

FEMALE PASSENGER: Please, take video of this.


ANTONIO BUEHLER: [inaudible] taking video of this.

FEMALE PASSENGER: Take video of this. Yeah, seriously, take video of this [bleep]. [inaudible]


ANTONIO BUEHLER: There was absolutely no reason to pull her out of the car like that. That's [bleep] up!

POLICE OFFICER: How many times do we got to tell you not to interrupt [bleep]?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: This is the first time that footage has been broadcast. Ultimately, Antonio Buehler's attempt to document apparent police abuse ended with his own arrest, when the officer said he felt Buehler was spitting on him. He faced a felony charge of harassment of a public servant and possible sentence of two to 10 years in prison. Last year, a grand jury cleared Buehler of the felony, but in an usual twist, it came back with a charge of "failure to obey a lawful order," a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine. The order was for Buehler to put his hands behind his back as he tried to take pictures.

AMY GOODMAN: Since then, Antonio Buehler co-founded the group Peaceful Streets Project, whose members record police and post the videos online, train others to do the same thing. He has been arrested several more times while videotaping officers and has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Austin Police Department. And nearly three years after his first arrest, Antonio Buehler returned to court last Thursday to challenge his misdemeanor charge. Such minor cases often take about half a day, but this one is about to enter its fourth day and has featured a large police presence in the courtroom. Antonio Buehler is an an Iraq War vet, graduate of West Point and Stanford. He had no prior arrest record. Just about an hour before a jury is set to issue their decision, he joins us now from Austin.

Antonio, welcome to Democracy Now! The significance of this trial and why you are on trial? This is a misdemeanor that faces a $500 fine, and yet you have been in court now for days.

ANTONIO BUEHLER: Yeah, and I think that it all revolves around the fact that police officers don't like to be held accountable, and prosecutors tend to cover for corrupt police officers.

AMY GOODMAN: Who said that you were a domestic terrorist threat?

ANTONIO BUEHLER: That came from the Austin Police Department, one of the officers who arrested me for filming. His name is Justin Berry. He created a PowerPoint presentation, presented it to the regional fusion center. And in it, they said that I was a domestic terrorist threat, as was the Peaceful Streets Project, because we go out and film cops. They said that we were a threat to all police officers and we've encouraged violence against police officers, which is just not true.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Antonio Buehler, the response to your Peaceful Streets Project in Austin? As a West Point grad and as a war veteran, what has been the marshaling of support for you?

ANTONIO BUEHLER: The people tend to really support us. The problem is, is that the city doesn't support us. And so, the police officers have documented us, they've followed us, they've surveilled us, they've arrested us numerous times. And the prosecutors have been colluding with them to drum up charges against us. They've tried to bring four felony charges against me since that day three years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain exactly what happened on that day? We saw this exclusive video just now. What happened on the morning of New Year's when this woman was taken out of her car?

ANTONIO BUEHLER: Nothing. I was just a designated driver, pulled over to the gas station to fill up with gas, and we watched what we thought was a pretty benign DWI stop. The woman in the passenger seat of a car, she didn't commit any crimes. She wasn't aggressive. She was just on her phone trying to organize a ride in case her driver got arrested. And then, as we were leaving, the police officer just didn't like the way that she wasn't bowing down to him, and he ripped her out of the car. And as you saw in the video, I started calling out, asking why they were doing it. She begged for help. And then when I started filming, that just enraged the one police officer, and he ended up coming over to me, getting in my face, pushing and shoving me. And then, I guess, in the aftermath of it, they needed to find a way to cover up the assault of the police officer, so they charged me with the felony of spitting in the cop's face.

AMY GOODMAN: In a statement, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said, quote, "The Austin Police Department wants to once again reiterate the fact that simply filming police actions are generally lawful. However, interfering or obstructing a lawful police action, failure to obey a lawful order, and/or resisting arrest is a violation of the law." And this is Austin Police Association President Wayne Vincent speaking to Fox 7.

WAYNE VINCENT: We fully are afraid that this thing is going to turn violent before it's over, because Buehler keeps escalating the harassment. So, our officers are out there with absolutely no relief from this kind of harassment, and it's not going to end well.

AMY GOODMAN: Antonio Buehler, the police have packed the courtroom of your misdemeanor trial, but one police officer has crossed the line to testify for you. Can you talk about both situations and what the police are saying here that we've just quoted?

ANTONIO BUEHLER: Right. There's been at least six police officers in the courtroom, uniform and in plainclothes. We think that they're there to intimidate the jury. There is one that crossed the thin blue line. He said that he stepped forward out of concern for my civil rights. And when he notified his supervisor that he was subpoenaed and that he was going to testify, they then notified him the very next day that he was being terminated as of October 31st. So, this case has been a lot about threats and bullying and intimidation and retaliation from the Austin Police Department and the city prosecutors.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Antonio Buehler, this kind of videotaping and community patrols, taping police activities, have been spreading across the country. We're seeing videos almost on a daily basis of police interactions with citizens that call real—into question the kinds of brutality that is occurring. Your sense of the importance of these kinds of projects spreading even more throughout the country?

ANTONIO BUEHLER: Well, I think it's vitally important. One is, police officers, even when they do record, we don't get the videos. So, that dashcam that you showed, it took two years and nine months for us to get that video. And we're defending ourselves in a criminal trial. When we have a dashcam of a cop killing someone, it typically malfunctions or disappears. So, we can't trust the police officers to monitor those videos for us, so we need to do it ourselves. But secondly, as we've seen in Ferguson and in other places, when people come together to record the police, they build community, and they start to understand their responsibility to look after and take care of one another. And I think that that's the most important part, building communities and realizing that we don't have to defer to people who tend to violate our civil rights to keep the peace. We can do it ourselves.

AMY GOODMAN: Antonio, what do you hope comes out of your case right now? You've got this trial today, a verdict expected, and then you've got your own civil rights suit.

ANTONIO BUEHLER: Yeah, I actually hope that—I'm a very lucky person. I'm a West Point, Stanford and Harvard grad. I have a lot of privilege. I have a lot of friends with money, and I've had a lot of people rally behind me. But what I hope that people see is if the Austin Police Department and the prosecutors are willing to expend such tremendous resources—they had eight prosecutors in the courtroom over the past couple days—if they're willing to expend this much to try to ruin my life and to try to get me for a petty misdemeanor, I just imagine what they're doing to people of color, to the homeless, to the mentally ill, and what they're doing to cover up when cops really do bad things, such as killing or raping. I think that this can be a way hopefully to get a lot of people sort of from my world—you know, Harvard, West Point, Stanford—to sort of recognize what millions of Americans face every day.

AMY GOODMAN: Antonio Buehler, we want to thank you for being with us, founder of Peaceful Streets Project. Trial over whether he disobeyed a lawful order when he refused to stop filming police, it's set to wrap up shortly after our show. Go to our website, and we'll let you know the latest in his case. And thank you so much for being with us.

News Wed, 29 Oct 2014 12:13:45 -0400
As Indonesia’s New President Takes Office, Cabinet Includes Officials Tied to Atrocities of Old

Indonesia's new president, Joko Widodo, has held his first Cabinet meeting amidst criticism from human rights activists for picking a new defense minister who once defended military killings of civilians. In July, the former Jakarta governor known as "Jokowi" defeated the U.S.-trained former army general Prabowo Subianto, who had been accused of mass killings when he headed the Indonesian special forces in the 1990s. While human rights groups hailed the defeat of Prabowo in July's election, the new president is facing opposition for picking former Army Chief of Staff Ryamizard Ryacudu to be Indonesia's new defense minister. Over the past decade, Ryamizard has defended the military's actions in West Papua and Aceh and publicly claimed that civilians become legitimate army targets if they "dislike" army policy or have "the same voice" as anti-government rebels. We are joined from Indonesia by veteran investigative journalist Allan Nairn, whose dispatches shook up the presidential race when he reported on human rights abuses committed by Prabowo and the U.S.-trained general's statement that Indonesia needs "a benign authoritarian regime" because the country was "not ready for democracy." Nairn also discusses his latest major report, revealing that a top adviser to Indonesia's new president has admitted "command responsibility" in the 2004 assassination of the country's leading human rights activist, Munir Thalib.


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

AARON MATÉ: We turn now to Indonesia. On Monday, the country's new president, Joko Widodo, held his first Cabinet meeting a week after being sworn in. In July, the former Jakarta governor, known as "Jokowi," defeated the U.S.-trained former army general Prabowo Subianto, who had been accused of mass killings when he headed the Indonesian special forces in the 1990s. Over the weekend, President Jokowi said he wanted to form a, quote, "clean Cabinet."

PRESIDENT JOKO WIDODO: [translated] The process of choosing ministers was done carefully and cautiously. Carefully and cautiously. This is a priority, because this Cabinet will be working for five years, and we want to choose clean people. We choose not only those capable in their fields, but candidates who are also strong in operational leadership and have great managerial ability.

AMY GOODMAN: While human rights groups hailed the defeat of General Prabowo in July's election, President Jokowi is facing criticism for picking former Army Chief of Staff Ryamizard Ryacudu to be Indonesia's new defense minister. Over the past decade, Ryamizard has defended the military's actions in West Papua and Aceh, and publicly claimed civilians become legitimate army targets if they "dislike" army policy or have "the same voice" as anti-government rebels.

Joining us from Jakarta, Indonesia, is investigative reporter Allan Nairn, who has reported on Indonesia for more than 20 years. His reporting shook up the presidential race when he reported on human rights abuses committed by Prabowo, the U.S.-trained general. Nairn also revealed that in 2001 Prabowo told him, in an off-the-record interview, that Indonesia needs "a benign authoritarian regime," because the country was, quote, "not ready for democracy." Just this week, Allan Nairn broke another major story. He revealed that General A.M. Hendropriyono, a top adviser to Indonesia's new president, Jokowi, had admitted "command responsibility" in the 2004 assassination of the country's leading human rights activist, Munir.

Allan, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you start off by talking about the significance of Jokowi's election, the new president of Indonesia, and then the significance of who he's chosen to be in his Cabinet?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, Jokowi—the biggest significance was who Jokowi defeated. General Prabowo, who had worked with U.S. intelligence, was openly calling for the abolition of direct presidential elections. When Prabowo spoke to me, he was musing about a fascist dictatorship. He is the general most implicated in the mass killing of civilians. He is the general closest to Washington. And if he had taken power, it could have brought Indonesia back to the Suharto era.

Jokowi is a civilian, and he comes from a poor neighborhood. He speaks a language like poor people do. And there was hope that he could represent the beginning of a departure from the tradition of military dictatorship. But in the campaign, he was surrounded by killers. Prabowo, his opponent, was a killer, but Jokowi was surrounded by killers. And some of those killers are now contending to be in his Cabinet. One of them, General Ryamizard, as you just mentioned, is already in. There are a few others in contention now.

One very significant thing happened in the past few days. General Wiranto, who was perhaps the worst mass murderer aside from Prabowo, he was penciled in to be the coordinating minister for security in Jokowi's Cabinet. In that job, he could have taken de facto control of the army, police and intelligence. Word of that came out on Friday at noon. I was able to confirm that and put that out. And people, activists mobilized. And by Saturday night, Jokowi had yanked Wiranto from the Cabinet. And Jokowi told his staff that it was because of that pressure he received from activists on the outside. So that was a victory. That kind of thing could not have happened in any previous administration.

But there are still contenders now to be intelligence chief, which hasn't been decided yet. One of them is a man named As'ad, who worked with the CIA along with Hendro and was implicated in the assassination of Munir, the leading human rights activist. Another is a general named Sutiyoso, who was implicated in the assassination of journalists in Balibo during the Timor invasion. Another is a general named Sjafrie, who's been implicated in massacres in Aceh, in the repression in Jakarta in '98 and in Timor in '99. Sjafrie got five U.S. Special Forces courses in the U.S., and he said, after one of them, that he had been trained by U.S. Special Forces just back from Peru, and they had trained him in "how to create terror." And these are candidates in the running to be intelligence chief. Again, activists are weighing in now, trying to oppose this. And it's possible they can be stopped, because—but there's a huge struggle for power going on.

AARON MATÉ: And, Allan, you mentioned Munir. Last month was the 10th anniversary of his death. He was flying from Jakarta to Holland and poisoned on board. What new revelations have you learned?

ALLAN NAIRN: Munir was poisoned with a massive dose of arsenic. This was given to him by an agent from BIN, the intelligence agency, which at that time was being run by General Hendropriyono, the man I just interviewed a week ago. And General Hendro admitted to me that he bore command responsibility for the Munir assassination. This is a breakthrough development. He also agreed, after—I had about two hours with him and just was able to repeatedly question him and press him on three major atrocities—Munir, a massacre at Talangsari, the '99 massacres in Timor—and was able to get him to say in the end that, one, he accepted command responsibility in the Munir assassination, that, two, he was willing to stand trial for those three atrocities, and that, three, he would call for the release of all Indonesian—secret Indonesian government documents and U.S. documents, from the CIA and the NSA and the Pentagon, and the White House, as well, relating to those cases.

So this sets a very important precedent, because, of course, Indonesian generals and U.S. generals and U.S. presidents have made an art form of evading accountability for murders that they commit. The reason the U.S. did not continue its large troop presence in Iraq was that they were unable to negotiate an agreement under which U.S. forces would be exempt from prosecution for atrocities. There was the same issue in Afghanistan. A few years ago, the Obama administration sent Harold Koh to an ICC, International Criminal Court, conference in Africa to try to rewrite the definition of "aggression" so the U.S. couldn't be touched. Israel has been threatening the Palestinian authorities not to go to the International Criminal Court. Nobody wants accountability. None of these powers want to be held to the same standards that an ordinary person does if they commit murder.

But now, General Hendropriyono, who is one of the biggest figures in Indonesia—he's the dominant figure in intelligence in the army, he was the CIA's man in Indonesia—he has made these admissions and concessions: command responsibility, willing to be put on trial. So now the question becomes: If Hendro, General Hendro, is willing to be put on trial, why not the other generals? And since at the time of the Munir assassination he was also working with the CIA, and since his admission of command responsibility means that this was a BIN operation, BIN intelligence operation, therefore the CIA could also be legally liable for this. And if Jokowi allows Hendro to be put on trial, as Hendro says he's ready to accept, CIA and Pentagon personnel could then be subpoenaed by the Indonesian courts as witnesses, to see what information they have and what role they had in these and other atrocities. And it sets a precedent. If an Indonesian general is willing to accept accountability, is willing to stand trial, why not the American generals, why not the American presidents, once and for all, be willing to sit down in court, like everyone else has to, when you cause the death of a civilian?

AMY GOODMAN: Allan Nairn, can you talk about the significance, for those aren't familiar with Indonesian politics, of who Munir was, the leading human rights activist in Indonesia, and then why it was that the general, Hendropriyono, was willing to have you at his mansion and answer your questions? I mean, you were instrumental in bringing another general, Prabowo, down. I mean, he—it was possible—was going to win the presidency of Indonesia before you exposed what he had said.

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, that was the reason, apparently, that Hendro received me, because—according to Hendro, because he saw me as having helped to bring Prabowo down, and Hendro was on the other side in that campaign. Hendro was on the side of Jokowi. So, when we started, before I could say anything, Hendro said, "I'm very"—it shocked me. He said, "I'm honored to receive you, because of the way you hurt Prabowo." In the campaign, Prabowo ended up filing criminal charges against me. His people said it was in part for inciting hatred of the army and for causing Prabowo to lose. So I think that was the reason Hendro let me into the room. During the campaign, though, I had also called for Hendro to be put on trial for crimes against humanity, as well as other Jokowi generals. But it was the damage I did to Prabowo that caused him to receive me.

Munir was a giant in Indonesian politics and society. He was the pioneering human rights activist. He exposed atrocities by Hendropriyono, by Wiranto, by all of the generals. He did it impartially and evenhandedly. He was also extremely brilliant. He was one of the clearest, most brilliant thinkers I've ever met. He was a friend of mine. And he died vomiting to death on a plane, because BIN, which was in liaison with the CIA, slipped him a massive dose of arsenic. And today Munir is a legend, especially among the young people of Indonesia. And it's appropriate. It's one of those rare cases where historical credit goes to the person who actually deserves it—there are Munir T-shirts, there are songs about Munir—because people know that he was one who stood up for the people and they killed him for it.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Allan Nairn, his responsibility, Hendropriyono's responsibility, in the 1999 terror campaign in East Timor? When the Timorese were voting for their independence, Indonesia burned almost all of it to the ground. You survived that. You covered it to the end, the last Western journalist in Timor at that time. Hendropriyono's responsibility, but then going back, as you were saying, to the United States?

ALLAN NAIRN: Hendropriyono at the time was the minister of transmigration. According to the U.N. truth commission in Timor, Hendro was one of the architects of the militia terror campaign that burned down 80 percent of the structures in Timor, included massacres, rape, machete attacks on churches, etc. And he was also the one who, they said, masterminded the mass deportation, forced deportation of almost 400,000 Timorese—an astonishing operation. And as that was going on, the U.S. was still backing the Indonesian army. The Clinton White House was still backing the Indonesian army. And it was only the rising crescendo of world press coverage of the arson and the rape and the terror that was happening, and pressure from Congress, that finally, at the last minute, caused Clinton to relent, say, "OK," he gave the concession, "we will cut off aid to the Indonesian army," finally, all of it. And within about a day after that, the Indonesian army announced that they were giving up and pulling out of Timor and would allow the U.N.-sponsored referendum in which the Timorese had voted for independence, allow that to go into effect.

And during that campaign, at the end, as I was there, left in Dili, I was arrested on the streets by Wiranto's army and held as prisoner in the military headquarters. And I could see, from inside that military headquarters, the militia, the men in red headbands, in civilian dress, who would go out and commit the atrocities. And they were running right out of the army bases. But now Hendro, General Hendropriyono, says he's willing to be put on trial for that, as well as the Talangsari massacre, as well as the Munir assassination. So now it's up to President Jokowi to see whether he will allow such trials to go forward.

And it sets a precedent. Imagine, trials for generals like Hendropriyono; trials for the American CIA directors, like George Tenet, who met with Hendropriyono, who were sponsoring people like that; trials for the American generals, who were committing similar atrocities, directly in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, indirectly in places like Guatemala and Salvador and Gaza, countless other places; trials for the American presidents who sponsored this. The kinds of concessions that Hendropriyono made set very important precedents. Just beginning with the release of all those secret documents from the CIA, from the NSA, from the White House, from the Indonesian police, intelligence and military, it would be opening a Pandora's box. And it's long overdue, because we have to know the truth about state mass murder, and we have to put those who commit it on trial, be they Indonesians, be they Americans, anyone.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan Nairn, I want to thank you for being with us, journalist and activist, has reported from Indonesia for decades, previously exposing government killings of civilians, as well as in Latin America, an award-winning journalist. We have been speaking to him in Jakarta, Indonesia. We'll link to his reports at

When we come back, voters in Colorado and Oregon are going to the polls. They want labeling for genetically modified foods. Monsanto is pouring in a fortune to prevent that from happening. We'll talk to the editor of a new book, The GMO Deception. Stay with us.

News Wed, 29 Oct 2014 12:07:09 -0400
Will Mike Brown's Killer Avoid Charges in Ferguson? Cops Stockpile Riot Gear Amid "Troubling" Leaks

There are conflicting reports out of Ferguson, Missouri, over the fate of embattled police chief Thomas Jackson. Unnamed government officials told CNN that Jackson is expected to step down as part of efforts to reform the police department following an officer's killing of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in August. But Chief Jackson and the city's mayor say the reports are false. This comes as a grand jury weighs whether the officer, Darren Wilson, should face charges in the killing of Brown. The investigation has sprung a number of leaks, with unidentified sources divulging information that seems to corroborate Wilson's account of what happened that day. The Justice Department has condemned the leaks as "irresponsible and highly troubling," adding, "there seems to be an inappropriate effort to influence public opinion about this case." The recent disclosures have heightened tensions between the protesters and police, with protesters saying the leaks are part of a broader strategy to prematurely diffuse public discontent ahead of any decision not to indict Wilson. Meanwhile, the St. Louis County Police Department has reportedly stocked up on tear gas, grenades, pepper balls and plastic handcuffs in anticipation of massive protests when the grand jury reaches its decision in November. We are joined by Antonio French, St. Louis alderman of the 21st Ward, longtime community advocate and founder of the new organization Heal STL.


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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today's show in Ferguson, Missouri, where there are reports that the city's police chief, Thomas Jackson, will soon resign. Unnamed government officials told CNN that Jackson is expected to step down as part of an effort to reform the Police Department following the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager shot dead in August by a white police officer. Chief Jackson and the city's mayor have denied CNN's report.

This comes as a grand jury is weighing whether the officer, Darren Wilson, should face charges in the killing of Brown. The investigation has sprung a number of leaks, with unidentified sources divulging information that seems to corroborate Officer Wilson's account of what happened that day. According to the leaks, Brown apparently struggled with Wilson in his patrol car, and Wilson's gun was discharged before a brief foot chase. The New York Times reported that investigators discovered Brown's blood on Wilson's gun and on Wilson's uniform. Ballistics tests confirm two shots were fired inside the car, one of them hitting Brown's arm. It's unclear why Wilson then fired the fatal shots at Brown after he emerged from his vehicle. Witness accounts say Brown had his hands up and was trying to surrender when he was shot dead. According to federal officials, there is not enough evidence to indict Wilson on civil rights charges in the Justice Department's probe of the shooting.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice condemned the leaks as, quote, "irresponsible and highly troubling," adding, quote, "there seems to be an inappropriate effort to influence public opinion about this case." Attorney General Eric Holder reportedly told Justice Department lawyers last week he was, quote, "exasperated" at the "selective flow of information coming out of Missouri." The recent disclosures have heightened tensions between the protesters and police, with protesters saying the leaks are part of a broader strategy to prematurely diffuse public discontent ahead of any decision not to indict Officer Wilson.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis County Police Department has reportedly stocked up on tear gas, grenades, pepper balls, plastic handcuffs in anticipation of massive protests when the grand jury reaches its decision in November. The Police Department has apparently spent over $172,600 since August on gear for dealing with protesters. This comes on the heels of a new report by Amnesty International calling for an investigation of potential human rights abuses in earlier police crackdowns on protesters in Ferguson after Brown was killed. The human rights group said the Ferguson Police Department should review its standards, practices and training to ensure that they, quote, "conform fully to international standards."

Well, for more, we go directly to St. Louis, Missouri, where we're joined by Antonio French. He's the St. Louis alderman of the 21st Ward and longtime community advocate. He recently helped found the new organization #HealSTL.

Antonio French, welcome back to Democracy Now! Well, let's start with this latest news. CNN reported, based on anonymous federal sources, that Tom Jackson, the police chief of Ferguson, is stepping down. Jackson and the mayor have both denied that he is. What do you make of all this?

ANTONIO FRENCH: Yeah, the talk of the resignation of the Ferguson police chief has been building for a while. In fact, many of us have called for his resignation several weeks ago. In fact, him keeping that position actually becomes an impediment to the community moving forward. And so, I welcome news that there is also talk in Washington of having—to help facilitate that. But as you said, as of last night, the chief said that that was not the case, and he hadn't been consulted on it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Antonio French, what do you make of the continued leaks as the grand jury investigation proceeds at a snail's pace in trying to reach some kind of a decision on whether to indict the officer involved in this case?

ANTONIO FRENCH: Yeah, the leaks worry me. The leaks, I think, really undercut and undermine the entire investigation. It makes people who have already he believed that it was very difficult for Michael Brown or any young black man to get justice or a fair shake here in St. Louis County, it reinforces that belief that the fix is in and that a lot of people in high authority are in on it somehow. I think it was really necessary for us to conduct this investigation in a way that actually restored people's faith in the process, to make people believe that there is a way for both sides to get a fair shake and that we will see real justice. I think the exact opposite—the worst possible scenario is if such a vital and important case is decided, ultimately, behind closed doors in a secret grand jury process. I think that does not bode well for the future and, really, for the healing that we have to do in our city.

AMY GOODMAN: Former St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch has said in interviews the grand jury leaks can be beneficial because, quote, "it's not a surprise to people" when a decision is announced. I want to turn to Fitch speaking on KMOX NewsRadio.

TIM FITCH: I think what you're seeing them do is coordinate leaks to the media and to start getting some of the facts out there to kind of let people down slowly. I think they recognize that it's probably very unlikely there's going to be charges.

AMY GOODMAN: The Brown family's attorney, Benjamin Crump, dismissed the leaks and renewed calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor to the case.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: I think everybody's taken an "anonymous" leaked information to say, "Oh, this supports the officer's version." Michael Brown's family has always said they don't trust any of the local St. Louis authorities. They have been asking for a special prosecutor from day one and asking for federal intervention, because they don't believe the local officials in St. Louis are going to give equal justice to their child.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Brown family attorney Benjamin Crump speaking on CBS. Antonio French, your response to both?

ANTONIO FRENCH: Well, I agree, that those of us who had called for special prosecutor many, many weeks ago did so for two reasons. One is that this specific county prosecutor's relationship with the African-American community really makes it impossible for the African-American community to ever believe they're actually going to get justice. And if the grand jury ultimately decided not to indict, coming from this county prosecutor, it actually makes it much worse.

The second thing is that, again, this has to be done in recognizing that there are two crises going on right now—one short-term, one long-term. And in the short term, we have this specific case to deal with. But in the long term, we have a greater community that has a lot of people, especially young African Americans, who feel like the justice system is actually against them. And so, we have to do this in a way that actually heals those wounds and actually convinces people that this system does work. And I think we've dropped that ball. We've missed that opportunity. And in fact, in some ways, things have become worse.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Antonio French, those of us who have followed these kinds of police killings over the years know that the selective leak tactic is a pretty common one. During the Amadou Diallo case here in New York, for instance, there were constant leaks before there was a grand jury decision on that case. The effort, obviously, from the police point of view was to try to prevent any outbreaks or violence if an indictment is not reached. My best bet is that you're going to get a decision on a Sunday night into Monday, in the coldest day of November, on this decision. Your sense of how the community leaders are preparing for any protest that may arise as a result, as the Police Department itself is preparing?

ANTONIO FRENCH: Yeah, I mean, there are preparations being made on both sides. So, obviously, as you reported earlier, the police are preparing. They are buying equipment. They are undergoing training. But on the civilian side, you have organizations that are organizing and trying to get people together. We're bringing in some folks who are actually counselors and healers to help deal with some of the anger that will undoubtedly result if that does come back, as you suggest.

But there will be some who will take to the streets. We saw that some weeks ago. There are some that there's no talking to. And there is so much anger and frustration built up over so many years that we do expect for there to be some violence. Now, the message is that that does not get us to our long-term goal. That violence is not going to get justice for Michael Brown and his family. And violence isn't going to help make St. Louis a better community. And so, we are in a bit of a crisis here in St. Louis, and a lot of us are very worried about the future.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Antonio, what do you think needs to be done, when you talk about the healing of the community? When the Justice Department is investigating the Police Department, what is the groundwork that needs to be laid now? What are you prevented from doing? What is moving forward on the ground? The elections are coming up. When we were speaking to a group of young people, one of the issues they were raising is, you know, this is an overwhelmingly African-American community that doesn't vote, and so the school board, the city council, these are overwhelmingly white, from a throwback from the old days.

ANTONIO FRENCH: Yeah, what you're looking at is, systemic reform is needed. And so, in Ferguson, specific, you have a 67 percent African-American population and an almost all-white government, all-white police force. That has led to a situation that we see today that is just unbearable, and it is just bound to spill over. But in the larger community, North St. Louis County, you have a lot of these municipalities that mirror that, where you have large African-American populations with almost no political power. And so, in March, a lot of those local elections are coming up. What Heal STL is doing is actually registering voters and trying to get that 67 percent majority to actually become a voting majority. So, these things, though, take time, and they won't come within the next few weeks. But hopefully something has changed in both communities, the African-American community and the white community, so that we both recognize that there is a problem and we have to fix it. We have to roll up our sleeves and begin that hard work. Unfortunately, we can't really do that until we get through this crisis.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Antonio French, I want to ask about the new Amnesty International report. That organization is calling for an investigation of potential human rights abuses in the police crackdown on protesters in Ferguson. Amnesty says police committed violations in the weeks that followed the killing of Michael Brown, and its researcher, Justin Mazzola, said the militarized crackdown raises major concerns.

JUSTIN MAZZOLA: They came out in a presence that only served to intimidate. They used tactics such as the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, oftentimes when it probably was not justified, considering what was happening on the ground at that point in time. Then you had local officials imposing policies restricting people's rights to actually go out and protest, whether it was the imposition of a curfew, the imposition of a five-second rule, people had to continue to keep walking, designated assembly areas where there's like a free speech zone within Ferguson, but anywhere else you have to keep walking. And these all go to show that basically there needs to be a national review both of use-of-force policies as well as policies in policing protests.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Amnesty researcher Justin Mazzola. And in a separate report out earlier this week, the advocacy group PEN American Center is calling on the Justice Department to investigate a police crackdown on journalists covering the Ferguson protests. PEN says it compiled more than 50 cases of press freedom violations that have culminated in the arrest of 21 journalists. Antonio French, your response to both of these reports?

ANTONIO FRENCH: I welcome both the reports, having been out there from day one, having experienced the tear gas and the heavy-handed, military-style response from police. There were times I couldn't recognize this as America. And in fact, you know, we should not have such a breakdown in government where there is no empathy towards the population, there is no responsible response, and instead you have a military-style crackdown to suppress people exercising their constitutional rights. That shouldn't happen in America or anywhere else. And so, I welcome especially the Amnesty report, because it really puts it in perspective. Very often we think about these kind of violations occurring in other places, but as we saw last month and the month prior, it can happen at home, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Antonio French, thanks so much for being with us, St. Louis aldermen of the 21st Ward, longtime community advocate, recently helped found the new organization #HealSTL, out on the streets from day one after the killing of Mike Brown.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the arming of a warrior cop, warrior cops around the country, including Ferguson. Where is the money coming from? Where is it going to? We'll speak with Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer. Stay with us.

]]> (Bethania Palma) News Wed, 29 Oct 2014 11:54:21 -0400
It's 2014. Why Do We Still Need Laws Banning Coerced Sterilization?

Last month, reproductive justice advocates and prisoner rights organizers won an important victory when California governor Jerry Brown signed SB 1135 into law. The new law, which takes effect on January 1, 2015, will ban sterilization as a form of birth control in the state’s women’s prisons. In the case of a life-threatening situation, the law requires a second medical opinion (a procedure that is pretty much unheard-of in prison health care) and counseling on the effects of the procedure, including the fact that sterilization is permanent.

It seems preposterous that California (or any state) needs a law making it illegal to coerce people in women’s prisons into sterilization. But recent history shows that California does need such a law: between 2006 and 2012, nearly 500 people in two of California’s women’s prisons were sterilized. Approximately 100 women had been pressured into agreeing to tubal ligations between 2006 and 2010. Although the law states that every in-prison tubal ligation must be approved by the State Medical Board, none of these surgeries were put before the board. In addition, another 378 women had been given hysterectomies, had their ovaries removed or underwent endometrial ablation (which destroys the uterus’ lining). Some had been given false information about their medical conditions — being told that they had fibroids, for instance — and that the only cure was to undergo a hysterectomy. In several cases, the woman did not have fibroids and the procedure proved to be medically unnecessary.

But SB 1135 didn’t come about by itself. It began in 2004 when advocacy group Justice Now began receiving letters from women in prison about their medical care. Through these letters, the group learned that hysterectomies and tubal ligations were happening frequently; some had even happened without the person’s consent or knowledge. The group began to try to find out more about what was happening inside — no easy task since not only are prisons not obliged to disclose information but, under privacy laws, are not allowed to talk about individual people’s medical issues. So Justice Now reached out to people incarcerated in these prisons directly.

In 2006, after a federal judge appointed a federal receiver to oversee California’s prison health care system, Justice Now asked the receiver’s office about prenatal care practices. Among their questions was whether tubal ligations were performed in prison. Two years later, they received their answer: more than 100 had occurred within a four-year time span.

Even then, it took years for a law that seems like common sense to be passed. This happened in large part because people inside women’s prisons spoke up repeatedly. They reached out to Justice Now, then helped break through the information barriers by letting others know that they should share their experiences and interviewing each other to present a clearer picture. People now out of prison came forward to share their stories publicly, putting a human face on the problem. Advocates continued to press the issue. In the meantime, at least one investigative journalist pursued the story, not only unearthing more information about these surgeries and the health care failures that enabled them, but also keeping the issue in the news for over a year.

California’s SB 1135 is not the only time women of color have fought sterilization abuses. Women both in and outside of state institutions have been threatened with and pressured into sterilization since the early 1900s. This has been particularly true for low-income women of color, who continue to face coercive sterilization practices today.

In her groundbreaking book Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty, reproductive justice advocate and scholar Dorothy Roberts clearly maps out how the reproductive rights of women of color have been under assault since the abolition of slavery. Published in 1997, her work describes in great detail how women of color have been targeted by abusive sterilization practices. She also delves into ways that advocates, including women of color, have fought to end these abuses, a legacy often overlooked by today’s reproductive rights activists.

Some of these organizing histories have been nearly forgotten. For example, while the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee is best known for its sit-ins and desegregation campaigns, who remembers that, in the 1960s, they also organized to oppose a bill pushing for the sterilization of unwed mothers? When Mississippi representative David H. Glass introduced “An Act to Discourage Immorality of Unmarried Females by Providing for Sterilization of the Unwed Mother Under Conditions of the Act,” SNCC, realizing the disproportionate impact of the bill on black women, published and distributed a pamphlet entitled Genocide in Mississippi. The pamphlet spurred national outcry. Although the bill had passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 72 to 37, the national outcry pushed the Senate to drop the bill.

But the act’s demise did not stop the targeting of women of color for sterilization. In Puerto Rico, public health officials pushed women into agreeing to sterilization that, with the support of federal funds, was offered at little to no cost. By 1968, more than one-third of women of childbearing age had been sterilized. On Native reservations on the continental United States, doctors performed more than 3,000 sterilizations between 1973 and 1976, many without adequate consent procedures. In 1973, the parents of 14-year-old Minnie Lee Relf and 12-year-old Mary Alice Relf, black sisters in Montgomery, Ala., approached the Southern Poverty Law Center after the girls had been sterilized. Health care workers had told their parents that the sisters would be given injections of the then-experimental contraceptive Depo-Provera. Instead, they were sterilized. The center filed suit, leading to the discovery that between 100,000 and 150,000 poor women had been sterilized each year under federally funded programs. Nearly half of these women (and children, like the Relf sisters) were black. In the meantime, white women during that period, particularly those who had private doctors, had the opposite experience: Those who sought sterilization were refused because they were either unmarried or their doctors felt that they had too few children.

In the late 1970s, women of color formed the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse. In New York City, the committee introduced guidelines into the City Council to prevent coerced sterilization. These guidelines included requiring informed consent in the patient’s preferred language, a 30-day waiting period between consent and the procedure, and a prohibition on obtaining consent during labor, after childbirth or an abortion, or under the threat of losing welfare benefits. They also included a ban on the sterilization of anyone under the age of 21, or people deemed mentally incompetent or institutionalized.

In 1978, the Department of Health Education and Welfare adopted these guidelines, creating new federal rules that tightened restrictions on sterilization under programs such as Medicaid and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Many of these restrictions, including the right to informed consent, the 30-day waiting period, and a ban on threatening the loss of federal aid programs, remain in place today. While these laws prohibit forcible sterilization, Roberts pointed out that they did not prevent medical workers from pressuring women, especially low-income women whom they think have too many children, to agree to sterilization.

However, the ban on sterilizing institutionalized people has not always been heeded, as the nearly 500 recent sterilizations in California’s women’s prisons demonstrate. And, nearly 25 years later, these guidelines, especially Medicaid’s mandatory 30-day waiting period to deter pressure and coercion, are being challenged by some researchers and health care providers who argue that the waiting period provides an undue burden, raising the rate of unwanted pregnancies and abortions among low-income women. In response, women of color organizations and advocates, including Roberts, have pointed to the United States’ not-so-distant history of sterilization abuse and argued against the overturning of these fundamental safeguards.

SB 1135 passed because currently and formerly incarcerated people spoke up. It passed because advocates took their claims seriously, spending years investigating and pushing for change. It passed because journalists, such as Corey Johnson, not only released one damning report, but kept the story in the public consciousness for over a year. These combined efforts helped pass the bill and hopefully these efforts will ensure that no one in California ever has to go through something like this again.

But we have to ask ourselves, how do we know that reproductive injustices like these aren’t taking place behind prison walls elsewhere? No other state has banned prison sterilizations. In addition, many other states lack organizations such as Justice Now, which incarcerated people know they can turn to and which also have the resources, capacity and determination to pursue investigations and campaigns that can take up to 10 years. We need to learn from the historical examples of SNCC and the Southern Poverty Law Center, recognize that the fight for reproductive justice is also a fight for racial justice and social justice, and incorporate this into our own organizing.

News Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:44:19 -0400
After Horror, Change? Taking Stock of Conditions in Bangladesh's Garment Factories

2014 1029 garm st(Image: v i p e z)

“I believe Bangladesh is making history as it creates new standards for the apparel industry globally.” —Dan Mozena, US Ambassador to Bangladesh

“After the collapse of Rana Plaza, there has been an unprecedented level of cooperation, good will, and practical action toward better and safer places to work in Bangladesh.” —Srinivas B. Reddy, Country Director, International Labor Organization (ILO) Bangladesh

“It is fair to say that neither the government, nor the brands, is dealing adequately with the rising crescendo of employer-sponsored violence.” —US Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.)

Statements made at the International Conference on Globalization and Sustainability of the Bangladesh Garment Sector, Harvard University, June 14, 2014

On April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza factory building, just outside of Bangladesh’s capital city of Dhaka, collapsed—killing 1,138 workers and inflicting serious long-term injuries on at least 1,000 others.

While the collapse of Rana Plaza was in one sense an accident, the policies that led to it surely were not. Bangladesh’s garment industry grew to be the world’s second largest exporter, behind only China’s, by endangering and exploiting workers. Bangladesh’s 5,000 garment factories paid rock-bottom wages, much lower than those in China, and just half of those in Vietnam. One foreign buyer told The Economist magazine, “There are no rules whatsoever that can not be bent.” Cost-saving measures included the widespread use of retail buildings as factories—including at Rana Plaza—adding weight that sometimes exceeded the load-bearing capacity of the structures.

As Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, testified before Congress, “the danger to workers in Bangladesh has been apparent for many years.” The first documented mass-fatality incident in the country’s export garment sector occurred in December 1990. In addition to those killed at Rana Plaza, more than 600 garment workers have died in factory fires in Bangladesh since 2005. After Rana Plaza, however, Bangladesh finally reached a crossroads. The policies that had led to the stunning growth of its garment industry had so tarnished the “Made in Bangladesh” label that they were no longer sustainable.

But just how much change has taken place since Rana Plaza? That was the focus of an International Conference at Harvard this June, bringing together government officials from Bangladesh and the United States, representatives of the Bangladesh garment industry, the international brands, women’s groups, trade unions, the International Labor Organization (ILO), and monitoring groups working in Bangladesh.

How Much Change On the Ground?

Srinivas B. Reddy of the ILO spoke favorably of an “unprecedented level of ... practical action” toward workplace safety in Bangladesh.

The “practical action” on the ground, however, has been much more of a mixed bag than Reddy suggests. In the wake of massive protests and mounting international pressure, Bangladesh amended its labor laws to remove some obstacles to workers forming unions. Most importantly, the new law bars the country’s labor ministry from giving factory owners lists of workers who want to organize.

But formidable obstacles to unionization still remain. At least 30% of the workers at an entire company are required to join a union before the government will grant recognition. This is a higher hurdle than workers face even in the not-so-union-friendly United States, where recognition is based at the level of the workplace, not the company. Workers in special export-processing zones (the source of about 16% of Bangladesh’s exports), moreover, remain ineligible to form unions.

The Bangladesh government did register 160 new garment unions in 2013 and the first half of this year, compared to just two between 2010 and 2012. Nonetheless, collective bargaining happens in only 3% of garment plants. And employers have responded with firings and violence to workers registering for union recognition or making bargaining demands. Union organizers have been kidnapped, brutally beaten, and killed.

After protests that shut down over 400 factories last fall, the Bangladesh government raised the minimum wage for garment workers from the equivalent of $38 a month to $68. The higher minimum wage, however, fell short of the $103 demanded by workers.

The government and the garment brands have also set up the Rana Plaza Donor Trust Fund to compensate victims and their families for their losses and injuries. But according to the fund’s website, it stood at just $17.9 million at the beginning of August, well below its $40 million target. Only about half of the 29 international brands that had their clothes sewn at Rana Plaza have made contributions. Ineke Zeldenrust of the Amsterdam-based labor-rights group Clean Clothes Campaign estimates that those 29 brands are being asked to contribute less than 0.2% of their $22 billion in total profits for 2013.

The Accord and the Alliance

Following Rana Plaza, a group of mostly European retail chains turned away from the business-as-usual approach of company codes that had failed to ensure safe working conditions in the factories that made their clothes. Some 151 apparel brands and retailers doing business in Bangladesh, including 16 US-based retailers, signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. Together the signatories of this five-year agreement contracted with 1,639 of the 3,498 Bangladesh factories making garments for export.

The Accord broke important new ground. Unlike earlier efforts:

  • It was negotiated with two global unions, UndustriALL and UNI (Global).
  • It sets up a governing board with equal numbers of labor and retail representatives, and a chair chosen by the ILO.
  • Independent inspectors will conduct audits of factory hazards and make their results public on the Accord website, including the name of the factory, detailed information about the hazard, and recommended repairs.
  • The retailers will provide direct funding for repairs (up to a maximum of $2.5 million per company) and assume responsibility for ensuring that all needed renovations and repairs are paid for.
  • Most importantly, the Accord is legally binding. Disputes between retailers and union representatives are subject to arbitration, with decisions enforceable by a court of law in the retailer’s home country.

But most US retailers doing business in Bangladesh—including giants like Wal-Mart, JCPenney, The Gap, and Sears—refused to sign. They objected to the Accord’s open-ended financial commitment and to its legally binding provisions.

Those companies, along with 21 other North American retailers and brands, developed an alternative five-year agreement, called the Alliance For Bangladesh Worker Safety. Some 770 factories in Bangladesh produce garments for these 26 companies.

Unlike the Accord, the Alliance is not legally binding and lacks labor- organization representatives. Moreover, retailers contribute a maximum of $1 million per retailer (less than half the $2.5 million under the Accord) to implement their safety plan and needed repairs, and face no binding commitment to pay for needed improvements beyond that. The responsibility to comply with safety standards falls to factory owners, although the Alliance does offer up to $100 million in loans for these expenses.

Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “There is no meaningful difference between the Alliance and the corporate-controlled ‘corporate social responsibility’ programs that have failed Bangladeshi garment workers in the past, and have left behind thousands of dead and injured workers.”

Historic and Unprecedented?

Dan Mozena, US Ambassador to Bangladesh, believes that, despite facing significant obstacles, “Bangladesh is making history as it creates new standards for the apparel industry globally.”

While the Accord may be without contemporary precedent, joint liability agreements that make retailers responsible for the safety conditions of their subcontractor’s factories do have historical antecedents. As political scientist Mark Anner has documented, beginning in the 1920s the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) began negotiating “jobber agreements” in the United States that held the buyer (or “jobber”) for an apparel brand “jointly liable” for wages and working conditions in the contractor’s factories. Jobber agreements played a central role in the near-eradication of sweatshops in the United States by the late 1950s. In today’s global economy, however, international buyers are once again able to escape responsibility for conditions in the far-flung factories of their subcontractors.

Like jobber agreements, the Accord holds apparel manufacturers and retailers legally accountable for the safety conditions in the factories that make their clothes through agreements negotiated between workers or unions and buyers or brands. The next steps for the Accord model, as Anner has argued, are to address working conditions other than building safety (as jobber agreements had), to get more brands to sign on to the Accord, and to negotiate similar agreements in other countries.

That will be no easy task. But, according to Arnold Zack, who helped to negotiate the Better Factories program that brought ILO monitoring of Cambodian garment factories, “Bangladesh is the lynch pin that can bring an end to the bottom feeding shopping the brands practice.”

News Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:19:33 -0400
Dear White People (and Black and Brown People, Too), Please Go See This Film

Justin Simien's just-released movie, Dear White People, updates Spike Lee's School Daze and Bamboozled and explores a great multiplicity of identities as well as the afro-surreal experience of being black and submerged in whiteness.

2014 1029 dear st(Image: Dully Noted | Homegrown Pictures | Code Red Flms)

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At the climax of Dear White People, a minstrel-style house party, complete with white students wearing blackface, causes what the media call a "race war" at elite Winchester University. At the film's heart, however, all the main characters who are black are masking, too. These black students slowly - though perhaps not consciously - recognize that they've joined the ranks of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar's "We," which includes generations of African-Americans who "wear the mask that grins and lies."

Though the black students do not wear the mask of racial mimicry and appropriation associated with minstrels, they do wear the mask of acceptability, of moderation, of, even, whiteness (and, even, blackness). Both masks, the ones worn by white students parodying black people and the ones worn by black students to appear less threatening, are worn at Winchester. And, in the film, Winchester is a microcosmic symbol of the United States, of white privilege in America, of the persistence of racism also at the heart - in the hearts of Americans.

Directed by Justin Simien and starring the superb Tessa Thompson, Dear White People has benefitted from a smart online campaign that equals, if not exceeds, the talent of edgy sketch comedies like "Saturday Night Live" and "Chappelle's Show." Presented as "The More You Know PSAs" and State Farm-style "Racism Insurance" ads, Dear White People online examines everyday encounters between white and black Americans with fact-based lessons on how white folk can check their own racism. Crossing the vast minefield that still separates black and white in this country is a task Simien does well, even when black and white are joined in one brown body.

Thompson plays mixed-race Sam, host of an on-campus radio show, aspiring filmmaker and reluctant leader of black students seeking power over their residence hall at Winchester. That she is often afraid, unsure and nervous when speaking in front of groups makes her fearless confidence when positioned behind a microphone more powerful. Like all her peers at Winchester, Sam is fast-thinking, fast-talking and poised. Also like her peers, she is a young person coming of age within the gates of an institution ill-equipped to nurture diverse students of promise into the leadership roles their Ivy League educations should ensure.

Perhaps those closest to the institution, the two sons of Winchester administrators, one black, one white, best prove this point. That the most privileged of each race remains most handicapped by his father's legacy at Winchester speaks volumes about the failure of all US institutions to bring out the best in all Americans. Black students, including the dean's son, Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell), survive, even manage to thrive despite - and not because of - the inept adults at Winchester. The most privileged young white male of all, Kurt Fletcher (Kyle Gallner), is brash and popular, but also indecisive, unimaginative and more than a little bit dangerous - all a consequence of his inherited status as the son of Winchester's president.

Please Note: Spoiler Alert (Below)

Just as the film examines the black-white binary with stunningly fresh intelligence, Dear White People also examines sexual orientation and the extra burden members of the LGBTQ community who are also black must shoulder. Lionel Higgins, played by Tyler James Williams of "Everybody Hates Chris" fame, experiences violence in nearly every scene he occupies. Unable to cope with racism in the gay community and afraid of homophobia in the black community, Lionel is ostracized and fetishized, sometimes simultaneously. Marginalized, objectified, voiceless, friendless, his physical assault in the party scene is just a new form of the emotional and psychological punishment he receives for simply existing. Lionel gathers allies, though, so his eventual victory is both a welcome relief and completely believable.

Dear White People is a skillful film. References to other films and filmmakers only enhance the audience's appreciation for the level of craft it achieves. The casting choice of Dennis Haysbert (the real-life voice and face of Allstate Insurance) as Troy's father is just one of many winks Simien gives that link his online campaign with the feature film.

Much of what works in the film is subtle, even sublime. Filled with arresting images and powerful scenes of microaggressions and racial bias, the feature narrative goes well beyond merely shocking the audience, as Sam's white lover Gabe (Justin Dobies) urges her to do after she screens her reinterpretation of D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation in class. Gabe tells Sam to hold up a mirror to the school community, and she does, earning her film within the film much deserved and resounding applause.

Sam's student film unmasks the hip-hop house party and reveals a horror show, with drunken participants simultaneously mocking authentic black culture and painful black subjugation while exploiting racist stereotypes to titillate and "eat the other." That these horror shows go on, especially during Halloween, on college campuses all around the country, only magnetizes the full extent of the macabre aspects of eating and regurgitating blackness. Dear White People unmasks this horror and the ghouls that produce it.
The film also unmasks the black characters who seek inclusion. Sam desires inclusion among her fellow black students, but is slowly able to literally and figuratively let down her hair and fully express not only the white half of her biracial identity, but also her deep and mutual love affair with a white student. Their public expression of a private love, a simple gesture of hand-holding, is one of the most poignant moments in the film.

The other important female character, Colandrea "Coco" Conners, played by the irresistible Teyonah Parris, literally and figuratively removes the blond wig that symbolizes her desire for white privilege and also hinders her expression of personal (black) power. Her cool strength through most of Dear White People is a mask, and, when the film concludes, she emerges even more powerful, fully capable of verbally challenging Troy and, despite the status he inherits from his daddy, preventing him from reducing her to the category of side chick or fling.
It was time for a young black filmmaker to update Spike Lee's School Daze and Bamboozled. With great attention paid to black female intersectionality and open examinations of black LGBTQ life, Justin Simien explores a great multiplicity of identities and the afro-surreal experience of being black and submerged in whiteness.

Opinion Wed, 29 Oct 2014 11:18:10 -0400
Are FBI and NCTC Trying to Pressure Prosecutors to Charge the Second Intercept Source?

Citing “law enforcement and intelligence sources who have been briefed on the case,” Michael Isikoff reports that the government has identified “the second leaker” — a source of information on drone targeting and terrorist watchlisting for The Intercept.

The FBI has identified an employee of a federal contracting firm suspected of being the so-called second leaker who turned over sensitive documents about the US government’s terrorist watch list to a journalist closely associated with ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, according to law enforcement and intelligence sources who have been briefed on the case.

The FBI recently executed a search of the suspect’s home, and federal prosecutors in Northern Virginia have opened up a criminal investigation into the matter, the sources said.

Because it raises questions about whether the Administration has the “appetite” to prosecute another source for journalists, the article seems designed to generate pressure to do just that — to get Congress (among others) to demand that the Justice Department prosecute this source.

But the case has also generated concerns among some within the US intelligence communitythat top Justice Department officials — stung by criticism that they have been overzealous in pursuing leak cases — may now be more reluctant to bring criminal charges involving unauthorized disclosures to the news media, the sources said. One source, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, said there was concern “there is no longer an appetite at Justice for these cases.”

While Isikoff outlines the content of The Intercept’s watchlist story, he leaves out several details that may make DOJ less interested in prosecuting this leak.

First, two courts have ruled that people on the No Fly List receive due process regarding their status. Significantly, in June, an Oregon judge presiding over an ACLU lawsuit on behalf of 13 people on the No Fly List ruled the process unconstitutional and ordered the government to come up with a more meaningful redress system for people on the list.

In [the] ruling, the court agreed with us that the redress procedure “falls far short of satisfying the requirements of due process,” and is “wholly ineffective.” The court warned that “without proper notice and an opportunity to be heard, an individual could be doomed to indefinite placement on the No-Fly List” – precisely what has happened to our clients and many others on the List.


The court ultimately concluded that the lack of any meaningful opportunity to contest their placement on the No Fly List violates our clients’ constitutional due process rights. The government now has to come up with a new process that satisfies the Constitution, including officially telling our clients whether they are on the No Fly List, providing reasons for their inclusion, and giving them the ability to contest the basis for that inclusion before a judge.

Earlier this month, 7 of ACLU’s clients in that lawsuit got cleared to fly. The government will have to start providing ACLU’s other clients some kind of redress process by January.

Whatever process the government develops going forward, it will bring more transparency to precisely the system disclosed in The Intercept’s watchlisting story.

At the same time, a number of other disclosures have raised questions about the watchlist. Most notably, Dick Cheney’s biographer, Stephen Hayes, briefly got put on the Selectee watchlist requiring additional screening; he believes that’s because he booked a one-way flight to Turkey for a Mediterranean cruise. Hayes is probably correct: as the document disclosed by The Intercept make clear, the government may, in fact, watchlist a person for “Travel for no known lawful or legitimate purpose to a locus of TERRORIST ACTIVITY.” Just this week, Hayes announced he appears to have gotten off the list.

Additionally, senior officials have had to explain that the numbers — in the hundreds or even thousands — routinely offered for the number of Americans who have traveled to fight with ISIL are inflated for precisely that reason: anyone who travels to Turkey without a known reason gets watchlisted — and counted as an ISIL fighter. In reality, there are maybe 20 to 30 Americans fighting in Syria.

Perhaps most amusing is the story behind the “Jetsetting Terrorist,” a blog started in June. As Forbes recently revealed, the “terrorist” is Peter Young, an animal rights activist convicted of a misdemeanor for freeing minks in 3 states in 1997. Young’s blog documents the he gets as a frequent flier on the Selectee treatment, including how he invoked his Selectee status to jump to the front of a very long TSA security line. Young has also provided more significant details (details that mirror those in the leaked document), such as that TSA Agents have to call the FBI every time a selectee flies.

The point is, many more details about the No Fly and Selectee processes will be coming out in upcoming months — both through the ACLU lawsuit and related new redress policy and through Young’s blog (unless blogging about being a Selectee gets one removed from the list!). Those details will be coming out against the absurd background of Cheney’s biographer being branded a terrorist because he took a Mediterranean cruise.

Not only will aspects of these lists become less justifiable, but they will become public, one way or another.

That likely provides another reason why DOJ may hesitate to charge The Intercept’s alleged source: by the time any case went to trial, the alleged source’s disclosures would look banal by comparison. Any such prosecution would look like overkill.

That may well be true. But it appears that those requesting and carrying out the investigation want to push for precisely that kind of overkill.

News Wed, 29 Oct 2014 09:35:55 -0400
Gerrymandering: A Plague on Both Our Parties!

Little known fact: Although voters cast 1.7 million more votes for Democratic candidates than for Republicans in US House of Representatives races in 2012, according to the Federal Election Commission, Republicans gained a 234-201 majority in the House.

In order to leave election votes "taken by states" as provided in the Constitution, federal courts have allowed state legislatures to engage in "gerrymandering" since 1812, when Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry oversaw the creation of a sprawling congressional district that snaked borders around pockets of supporters. The new boundary vaguely resembled a salamander, so reporters seized on the governor's bizarre progeny and coined the term "Gerry-mander."

Gerrymandering is a plague on both our parties. Virginia's 3rd Congressional District, recently declared unconstitutional, is a case in point. Initially, Democrats championed the process, gerrymandering districts to maintain minority populations that vote blue. Due to this strategy, Democrats controlled Congress for 40 years, from 1955 to 1995.

Republicans learned the lesson - and got better at gerrymandering than Democrats. The GOP realized it could overcrowd districts created by Democrats with disproportionate amounts of minority populations. By increasing numbers in a safe Democratic district, Republicans reduced the influence of the liberal voting bloc in both state politics and congressional elections. Republicans controlled the US House from 1995 until losing election cycles in 2006 and 2008; however, the party retained its power in state legislatures, and doubled down on redrawing favorable maps after the 2010 Census.

A 2013 study by the Republican State Leadership Committee, which claims to be the "largest caucus of Republican state leaders in the country," boasts that the disparity between the 1.7 million votes cast for Democratic candidates and the resulting Republican majority in 2012 was an "aberration" purposely created. The committee admits it focused on new district boundaries in states with "the most redistricting activity," thereby instilling a "Republican stronghold in the US House of Representatives for the next decade."

This month, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that the 2011 redistricting effort in Virginia was unconstitutional, specifically the 3rd District, comprising five geographically separate locations between Portsmouth and Richmond that have only the James River and a high concentration of African American populations in common.

Judge Allyson Duncan noted in the ruling that the legislature's redistricting process is "not a license for the State to do whatever it deems necessary to ensure continued electoral success." Legislators now must redraw district boundaries by April 2015.

"I hope and expect the General Assembly will more equitably and appropriately balance the influence of all Virginia's voters, as mandated by this decision, when they redraw the 3rd Congressional District and adjacent congressional districts next session," said US Rep. Bobby Scott, the Democrat who represents the 3rd District.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, also a Democrat, concluded that the ruling "demonstrates the need to get partisan politics out of how Virginia draws its legislative boundaries."

The General Assembly had multiple nonpartisan solutions to choose from. There was a map drawn by the Bipartisan Advisory Commission on Redistricting, appointed by former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, as well as multiple submissions in a statewide collegiate competition featuring such schools as the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia. Rather than allowing the divided legislature to toy with where people vote for partisan gain, we must devise an independent redistricting system before risking further voter disenfranchisement.

After reviewing Virginia's redistricting efforts, nonpartisan commissions "improve upon the current districts in dramatic ways without sacrificing equal population standards or voting rights considerations," a 2011 study by Christopher Newport University concluded. However, the General Assembly instead passed a map drawn by the conservative legislature, even though, according to the report, it would "make legislative districts less compact, split more counties and cities, and separate commonsense communities."

McAuliffe started to tackle the problem before the courts did in late September. He appointed a 10-member bipartisan board to review Virginia's ethics rules and redistricting policies, reminding the commission that fair voting practices "are the essential covenant of democracy."

Gerrymandering is the byproduct of a failed democracy. Every voter should be guaranteed a voice that matters and is heard. Citizens need to strip partisan state legislatures of their control over redistricting before the legislature strips the citizens of their power to vote.

Opinion Wed, 29 Oct 2014 09:26:21 -0400
Stop Telling Women to Smile

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Brooklyn-based painter and illustrator Tatyana Fazlalizadeh is taking it upon herself to stop street harassment by creating a series of posters pasted in public places. Entitled Stop Telling Women To Smile, the series features portraits of women responding to daily dialogues they might face walking down the street. The series aims to empower women, allowing them to take control of their surroundings.

“Yelling or whistling at a woman on the street like she’s a dog who will come when you call, or telling a woman to ‘Smile. It can’t be that bad. You’d be so much prettier if you smiled,’ dehumanizes her. It reduces her purpose to pleasing the male gaze. The posters, answering that reduction with confrontation, are meant to show street harassers that they are not entitled to women’s smiles or any other part of them.” – Madison Carlson of Feminspire.

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Opinion Wed, 29 Oct 2014 09:10:30 -0400