Truthout Stories Thu, 30 Oct 2014 09:41:38 -0400 en-gb The GOP’s Sharp Teeth

All the better to cut you with.

Art Thu, 30 Oct 2014 09:00:58 -0400
Voters Turned Away Because of Texas Photo ID Law

2014 1029 vote fw"No one knows how many other voters are being turned away because of the draconian new law. For example, one election official reported that in one day of early voting at a single site, seven voters were turned away because they had expired or insufficient ID." (Photo: athrasher)

Voting is now underway in Texas, a state with one of the strictest voter ID laws in the nation. This is the first federal election since the US Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, which would have required Texas to get government approval for these changes. Below are stories from actual voters and the difficulties they've encountered. Initials are used for those voters who wish to remain anonymous. In many cases, Texas failed these voters twice — first by requiring identification they did not have, and second by not training election officials to help them navigate the rules.

A Costly, Time-Consuming Barrier

Jesus Garcia was born in Texas and lives in Mercedes. He was unable to vote with his driver's license, which expired about a year ago. He went to the Weslaco Department of Public Safety (DPS) office twice and both times was unable to get an ID. His birth certificate was stolen and he does not have a copy. He wants to get identification, but to get both a replacement birth certificate and a new ID would be more than $30 combined. He is working a lot of hours, but money is tight. With rent, water, electricity, and everything else, Mr. Garcia is not sure he will be able to afford those documents, much less before the election.

Even if he does have the money, he will need to go through the whole process of getting the documents and going to the office again, when he has already tried to vote once and gone to a DPS office twice. Mr. Garcia thinks it is unfair that he cannot vote with the documents he has. He was born here and he has an ID with his picture on it; it's just expired. He has a voter registration card, and voted in past elections.

Deputized to Register But Denied the Ballot

Krystal Watson is a student at Wiley College in Texas, a historically black college. She is originally from Louisiana and has voted in past elections in Texas. This year, she signed up as a deputy registrar and registered about 100 people to vote. The person who deputized her told her the registration rules but not about the new voter ID requirement. When she herself went to vote, she was not allowed to cast a ballot because she had a Louisiana driver's license and a Wiley College ID, but not the ID required by the law.

Ms. Watson stated that she has observed many other students having trouble voting. She didn't know whether she would be have the time or resources to get an identification card, which would require her to bring in her birth certificate.

"You can't vote with this card"

Mr. R is an American in his 30s who lives in the small southern Texas town of Edcouch. He and his wife were both turned away from the polls last week because they do not have satisfactory identification under the new ID law. Mr. R had a driver's license that was valid until 2015, but it was taken away from him in connection with a DUI. Mr. R tried to use a driver's license that expired in 2009 — which he had used successfully to vote at the same polling location the last time he voted — as identification. This time, when he went to the polls during early voting, he was told, "You can't vote with this card."

The poll workers Mr. R encountered were unfamiliar with the basics under the new strict photo ID law. Mr. R. was not told anything about how to get an Election Identification Certificate (EIC), the allegedly free ID available to people who want to vote, but don't have a qualifying ID. Nor was he offered a provisional ballot, which would have given him additional time to obtain ID. Mr. R said he was unlikely to go and get an EIC once he learned that he'd have to procure it from the DPS, a law enforcement agency, because he owes traffic fines he can't afford.

Disabled Voters Can Participate — But Only If Family Members Foot the Bill...

Esmeralda Torres is a disabled American who lives in Elsa. She first learned about the new ID law when she tried to vote. She was blocked because she didn't have acceptable ID. Her disabilities preclude her from driving and make it hard for her to get around. Ms. Torres had previously tried to get an ID but had been rejected because she lived with her sister and had few documents containing both her name and her physical address.

Ms. Torres was eventually able to get a Texas state ID, but only because she has a supportive and strong advocate in her sister, who took time off of work to drive Ms. Torres to a DPS office, and loaned her the $16 necessary to pay for a Texas state ID (she chose to get a Texas state ID rather than an EIC because an EIC cannot be used for any purposes other than voting). Ms. Torres might have qualified for an exemption to the Texas photo ID law for people with disabilities, but no one — not even the poll workers who blocked her from voting the first time — ever told her of this option.

...Or Heroic Volunteers Step In

Olester McGriff, an African-American man, lives in Dallas. He has voted in several Texas elections. This year when he went to the polls he was unable to vote due to the new photo ID law. Mr. McGriff had a kidney transplant and can no longer drive; his driver's license expired in 2008. He tried to get an ID twice prior to voting. In May, he visited an office in Grand Prairie and was told he could not get an ID because he was outside of Dallas County. In July, he visited an office in Irving and was told they were out of IDs and would have to come back another day.

He is unable to get around easily. Mr. McGriff got to the polls during early voting because Susan McMinn, an experienced election volunteer, gave him a ride. He brought with him his expired driver's license, his birth certificate, his voter registration card, and other documentation, but none were sufficient under Texas's new photo ID requirement. Getting the EIC would have been difficult for him — it would have required multiple additional trips and he cannot drive.

Despite his health and mobility problems, the poll workers did not suggest that he vote by absentee ballot — an option available to him because he had a disability. Eventually, he was given an absentee ballot application, but it was only because, Ms. McMinn, the volunteer, suggested the idea, and then pushed a poll worker to review the rules after having already told Mr. McGriff it was too late. After the poll worker confirmed her mistake, Mr. McGriff was able to get an absentee ballot application. But when he tried to get stamps at the election office, election workers did not inform him that his absentee ballot would include return postage, so Ms. McMinn and Mr. McGriff had to spend additional time driving around in search of postage. Ms. McMinn paid the $2 in postage, as Mr. McGriff is living on a tight budget. She drove him back to drop off his application, and a few days later he successfully voted by mail.

Even With Help, Would-Be Voters Turned Away

Gary Gross has been serving as a get-out-the-vote volunteer, giving voters rides to the polls during early voting. He encountered a voter who could not meet the new photo ID requirement. Even after Mr. Gross spent more than an hour trying to help the voter find out the rules from election officials, the voter was unable to cast a ballot or get the identification he needed. The voter's driver's license expired in March — there was no question as to the voter's identity, but the ID did not count. Through Mr. Gross' help, the voter found out he is theoretically eligible for a "free" election identification certificate, but the voter does not have a birth certificate, so he lacks the documentation he needs to get the EIC.

Countless Others Disenfranchised

No one knows how many other voters are being turned away because of the draconian new law. For example, one election official reported that in one day of early voting at a single site, seven voters were turned away because they had expired or insufficient ID. One can only hope that as poll workers become more familiar with the new system, legitimate voters will be allowed to cast ballots — or at least furnished with the correct information on how to do so.

Help Is Available!

Voters in need of assistance with the new voter identification requirements, or with other questions about the voting process, should call 1-866-OUR-VOTE, where trained volunteers are standing by to assist voters and answer any questions they may have. The hotline is run by Election Protection, a nonpartisan coalition of voter protection organizations.

News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
Here's What Women Want: The Economy Unrigged So It Works for Them

2014 1029 woma sw(Image: Putting a vote via Shutterstock)An Associated Press-GfK poll published this week indicates that women are shifting to favor the Republican party. "Women have moved in the GOP's direction since September," the AP reported.

Just a month ago, 47 percent of female likely voters favored a Democratic-controlled Congress, the AP reported. "In the new poll, the two parties are about even among women; 44 percent prefer the Republicans, 42 percent the Democrats."

Is this a sign that Democratic candidates are failing to address what women need and care about?

In "Women Voters: The Base of the New Populism," the latest memorandum published through the Campaign for America's Future's Populist Majority project, we aggregate the polling that shows what women want to hear from congressional candidates this election cycle. Contrary to what pundits might infer from polls such as the latest from the AP, the memo says that a majority of women have "strong populist views" and "look to government to create opportunity in the economy through progressive reforms and regulations."

But if the AP poll is any indication, not enough women are hearing that message from Democratic candidates.

The poll revealed that the economy remains the top priority in this election cycle, with 91 percent calling the economy "extremely" or "very" important. The GOP, according to this poll, has increased its advantage as the party more trusted to handle the issue, with 39 percent siding with Republicans and 31 percent Democrats.

Meanwhile, The Washington Examiner, a conservative weekly, published a cover story by Mona Charen on "what women voters want" and how Republican candidates can win them. She argues that the Democratic party has erred by basing its appeal to women on demonizing Republican candidates' view on reproductive rights–particularly abortion and birth control. A "single-minded focus on the gynecological," she calls it – with a heavy dose of caricature. "Democrats lie about their opponents' view on abortion because only by presenting Republicans as extremists can the issue work for them," she writes.

Charen, however, misses the mark. Democrats in the past have harnessed the support of women – particularly unmarried women – not only because of the Democrat's social agenda but because of its progressive economic agenda. Reproductive issues are only a small fraction of the Democratic campaign. The "women's economic agenda" released last year by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, which includes such items as the Equal Pay Act and child-care support for working mothers, are key reforms in this overall agenda.

Yet, the AP poll should serve as a warning to Democrats that women – especially unmarried women – are about so much more than reproductive issues.

That warning was echoed this week by R. Donahue Peebles, a real estate developer and vice-chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation who has also been a major fundraiser for President Obama. "I can't count the number of times my wife has gotten direct mail pieces from candidates this election cycle about a woman's right to choose," he said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. "... Why don't we ask the question about why aren't there more women as CEOs? How do we promote more entrepreneurship among women? How do we respect women as heads of households? ... The Democrats should be speaking to that issue and owning that issue and they're not."

The Populist Majority memorandum on women and the economy shows how candidates can take ownership of a progressive agenda that addresses women's real-life needs. Contrary to Charen's outrageous statement in the Examiner that single women are to a point looking "to the government to be a husband," women simply want government to end the rigging of the economy that causes them to face greater economic hardship and societal burdens than men.

Opinion Thu, 30 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
The 0.01 Percent's "I Reap All" Accounts

2014 1029 ira st"The government sets limits on IRA contributions to curb this abuse, but there's still more loophole than restriction." (Photo: Lendingmemo)Do you remember when Mitt Romney's IRA made headlines during his failed 2012 presidential campaign?

That outsized retirement stash estimated at between $20 and $102 million probably led President Barack Obama to propose limiting the buildup of IRA values. It turns out that Romney's gigantic IRA was no fluke.

At least 9,000 wealthy Americans have amassed $5 million-plus sized IRAs. Indeed, the former Massachusetts governor's use of a monster IRA to defer taxation is modest compared to others.

Meet Max Levchin. When he helped launch Yelp, Levchin had the foresight to place at least 7 million of his original shares of Yelp stock in a tax-sheltered Roth IRA when he acquired it.

The Ukrainian-born entrepreneur has sold off some of those shares since then, so estimating the size of that Roth mega-IRA requires some guesswork. Based on Yelp's recent trading range, it easily could exceed $275 million.

Roths weren't around when Romney began stuffing his IRA with spectacularly good investments, so his fortune is stuck inside a traditional one.

There's a tradeoff between Roth and traditional IRAs. Contributions to traditional IRAs are tax-deductible while contributions to Roth IRAs aren't. Conversely, distributions from Roth IRAs aren't taxable, whereas distributions from traditional IRAs are. In other words, while the earnings from traditional IRAs are tax-deferred, the earnings on Roth IRAs are tax-exempt.

That gives Levchin a huge advantage. While Romney saved a few thousand bucks in taxes when he established his IRA, the Yelp founding father will save millions, possibly billions, when the money comes out.

Levchin's advantage doesn't end there. You see, he's only 39. If his Roth IRA fortune grows at a 6 percent rate of return until he reaches the former GOP presidential hopeful's age of 67, he'll have amassed over $1 billion, entirely tax-free. If Levchin attains a 10 percent rate of return, his Roth IRA will be worth $4 billion by then.

Of course, if he continues to invest in successful start-ups (Levchin also helped launch PayPal and Slide), his gargantuan Roth IRA could grow to $10 billion or more, all tax-free.

Levchin's advantage will continue after retirement. After reaching age 70-1/2, Romney must start drawing down his traditional IRA and paying tax on the distributions. Not Levchin. Even though it completely contradicts the supposed purpose of the IRA — to fund retirement — he can let his Roth IRA accumulate until he dies.

That tax windfall will continue to amass after death. His children, now toddlers, will be required to draw down the Roth IRA, but only gradually, over their lifetimes. Max Levchin's gigantic tax-exempt investment fund, masquerading as a retirement account, could potentially last until the end of this young century.

There's one thing both IRA schemes have in common: They've got nothing to do with retirement.

For Romney and Levchin, it's all about avoiding taxation. The notion that these men will ever rely on their IRAs for living expenses during their golden years — the official purpose of these accounts — is beyond laughable.

The government sets limits on IRA contributions to curb this abuse, but there's still more loophole than restriction. Although the average IRA balance continues to climb, clocking in around $92,600 as of June, it's only a fraction of the balance held these super-sized IRAs.

Could Congress end this giveaway enjoyed by the nation's least-needy people? Easily. And it should focus on Roth IRAs, where the abuse potential is far greater.

First, the rules should require that Roth IRAs be distributed during their owners' retirement years. That's the point of a retirement account.

Second, the tax-exemption should end at death. The IRA is there to fund the owner's retirement, not confer a lavish tax benefit on his heirs.

Third, tax exemption should be limited, perhaps to the first $2 million dollars of distributions. Regulators can't stop Roth IRA owners from realizing outsized gains, but there's no sound reason for the tax exemption to be unlimited.

After all, the goal is to help Americans save for retirement, not shield multi-million dollar fortunes from tax.

Opinion Thu, 30 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
The Shadow Surveillance State Is Really a Secret Religion

Tom Engelhardt: In the wake of 9/11, the militarization of the country has happened at a relatively rapid pace (and domestically of the police as well). The result, it seems - even in the Ebola crisis, the military is invariably the first option.... Impoverished Cuba sends hundreds of doctors and health care workers to Africa to fight Ebola; we take "fight" literally (evidently) and send in the troops!

2014 1029 engel stTom Engelhardt (Photo: Don J. Usner)Tom Engelhardt of discusses his new book, Shadow Government, whether the surveillance state actually makes the United States more secure, and how Washington exists in a post-legal world.

Of Tom Engelhardt's new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World, Glenn Greenwald writes: "The point of Tom Engelhardt's important work at and in Shadow Government is to help us find the way to break [the] chains" of the surveillance state. Read this compelling book now. Click here to contribute and receive Shadow Government.

In his first chapter, Tom Engelhardt calls the leaders and acolytes of the shadow state "holy warriors."

Imagine what we call "national security" as, at its core, a proselytizing warrior religion. It has its holy orders. It has its sacred texts (classified). It has its dogma and its warrior priests. It has its sanctified promised land known as "the homeland."

Appropriately, Truthout began its Progressive Pick interview with Engelhardt by asking him about the ever-expanding covert branch of government as a religious cult.

Mark Karlin: In the first chapter of your book, you describe the national security state as a secret religion. Religions require faith and belief. What are the faith and belief that are at the core of the covert shadow government?

Tom Engelhardt: We're familiar enough with the obvious tenets of this religion: that there is no greater danger to this country, to Americans or to our world than terrorism; that in pursuing it, traditional constraints of every sort should no longer apply, including the very idea of privacy; that a blanket of secrecy about the acts of government in this pursuit is for the greater good; and that, to be fully protected and safe, the citizenry must be plunged into ignorance of what the national security state actually does in its name, and so on. It's a distinctly Manichaean religion in its view of the world. Its god is, more or less literally, an eye in the sky. And of course, as with many institutionalized religions, much of its energy goes into self-preservation and the maintenance or bolstering of a comfortable lifestyle for its warrior "priests."

You note that more that 70 percent of the national security budget is privatized to sub-contractors. How does that large percentage of consultants and corporations ensure that the surveillance and military state grows in order to obtain accelerating profits?

Historically, with the ending of the citizen army in 1973, in the wake of a disastrous war in Vietnam that featured much opposition, resistance and breakdown in that army, the citizenry was to be demobilized. We - those of us not in or connected to members of what came to be known as the "all-volunteer" military - were to have ever less to do with American-style war (except for offering eternal thank you's to those troops for doing it for us). But if we were demobilized - and never more so than in the post-9/11 years - others were mobilized. I've called them "warrior corporations." If we were to stay home, they were to pick up the gun, sometimes literally in the case of rent-a-mercenary places like Blackwater, and go to war with a new "privatized" military. This kind of crony capitalist mobilization spread from the military into the intelligence services and the spy agencies until, today, the national security state is filled with private contractors of every sort.

In 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower gave his famous "military-industrial complex" speech, his warning about the future as he was leaving office that put that phrase in our language. Today, if he could see the national security state, I'm sure he would roll over in his grave in horror. His phrase no longer even applies. We'd have to call what we now have the military-industrial-homeland-security-intelligence-industrial complex, or something of the sort. It's a monstrous mix, engorged by simply staggering sums of money, post-9/11, fed eternally by fear and hysteria, and bolstered by a sense of permanent war, by a creeping militarization of our world, and by a conviction that, for all problems we face, there is, in a sense, only one solution: the US military and the national security state. That this solution hasn't worked, that its use continually fosters disasters of one sort or another, including lost wars, the rise and spread of jihadism, and the destabilization of significant swaths of the planet seems to make no impression at all. There is, it turns out, no learning curve in post-9/11 Washington.

It's somewhat ironic, isn't it, that the US government wants draconian punishment to bear upon Edward Snowden - as it has already exacted upon Chelsea Manning - given that you note 1.4 million people have top security clearance, a third of those individuals being in the private sector? Isn't it likely, given the number of persons with top-level security clearance, that the so-called massive classified US intelligence data is being compromised by the so-called "enemies" of the "homeland"? In addition, there is no certainty that the US will always have a technological edge in any area indefinitely. After all, the Chinese government is alleged to have hacked into Pentagon computers. So, isn't one of the big myths of the national security state that all the data collected is safe and secure from abuse by either the US itself or other governments - individuals or groups that are or will obtain it through espionage or technological prowess? The great irony is then that the expansive shadow government is making this nation less secure, not more protected.

What I would say is that, as with drones, what the US is doing is establishing the global rules of the road for the future when it comes to subjects like surveillance and cyberwarfare, and we're not going to be so happy when other countries follow them. In all of these areas, it is in the lead, but as you point out, that's no guarantee that it will remain so forever. In this context, it is not only making the country, but the world, less secure. On drones, for instance, it has paved the way for any country (say, China pursuing its Uighur enemies) to send missile-armed drones across any borders, no matter whose sovereignty is violated, to take out those it considers terrorists or bad guys. Similarly, by launching history's first cyberwar against the Iranian nuclear program, the US has begun to establish rules of the road there, too, and we are a country that might seem highly vulnerable to such attacks; and of course from monitoring national leaders (Germany's chancellor, Brazil's president etc.) and by so many other acts of mass communications gathering, it is doing the same in the world of surveillance.

How do President Obama's drone assassination authorizations (the church of St. Drone, as you call it) represent the thuggish immorality of empire maintenance through hi-tech "hits"?

Obviously, White Houses have, in the past, been involved in assassination activities. What immediately comes to mind are all those attempts to kill Fidel Castro, the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo and of Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam. However, in the past, presidents preferred a kind of "plausible deniability" on such acts. They didn't brag about them. They didn't broadcast them. What, in some ways, is most interesting about the present White House and its massive, ongoing drone assassination campaigns in the tribal backlands of the greater Middle East and Africa is that the news about it - the "terror Tuesday" meetings, the presidential "kill list," the fact that President Obama picks the individuals to be killed - was leaked to The New York Times by the administration itself. They're proud of what they're doing. They want it known. That represents something new and, as you put it, thuggish about this imperial moment.

You have a section, "Knowledge Is Crime," in your chapter called "Definitions for a New Age." You assert that "The members of the national security state, unlike the rest of us, exist in post-legal America. They know that no matter how heinous the crime, they will not be brought to justice for it." What happened to the system of governmental checks and balances that you refer to being taught in your elementary and high school?

Oh, Mark, checks and balances? You're so retro, so last century! It's clear enough that, faced with the imperial presidency, in what used to be called "foreign policy" and is now essentially military policy, there are few checks or balances left. Congress has been largely neutered and the presidency can send in the drones, special ops forces etc. more or less wherever and whenever and however he wants. And yes, Washington exists in a post-legal atmosphere. Take torture. Of the 101 CIA torture cases the Obama Justice Department had (including cases involving the deaths of two terror suspects in CIA custody, one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq), all were dismissed. Only one torture case has ever been brought to trial, that of CIA agent John Kiriakou who was sent to jail for ... giving the name of a CIA agent involved in the agency's torture program to a reporter. How post-legal can you get?

In addition, congressional oversight of the national security state is visibly on the wane, hence the recent imbroglio over the Senate Intelligence Committee's torture report in which the CIA took out after the committee and Sen. Diane Feinstein (who had previously been considered "the senator from national security") with threats, actually hacked into the committee staffers' computer system, and has now redacted (i.e. censored) the report - all of the above with the backing of the White House. Point made.

You include a letter to an unknown whistleblower at the end of your book. Why do you think that the Obama administration is even more tyrannical than the Bush administration when it comes to prosecuting and harassing whistleblowers?

I'm always hesitant to discuss motivation, since we human beings are a mystery to ourselves and regularly, even when we think we know our motivations, are the unreliable narrators of our own stories. I can certainly confirm that the Obama administration has been fiercer than the Bush administration, or Nixon's, or any other past administration when it comes to prosecuting whistleblowers under the draconian World War I era Espionage Act and trying to keep the government's acts secret from the citizenry. We know that the president entered the Oval Office on day one proclaiming a "sunshine" administration and it's been a case of "into the shadows" ever since. The why is a harder question to answer, except to say that the national security state has in these years become ever stronger and ever more deeply embedded in our American world, and - my opinion only - Obama has proved a weak reed on many such issues. He has regularly given in to the "old hands" he's put in place around him.

You have a chapter, "Why Washington Can't Stop." Why is "war the option of choice" for the US government regardless of which major political party is in the White House or in control of Congress?

In this period, there simply has been no learning curve in Washington. In the wake of 9/11, the militarization of the country has happened at a relatively rapid pace (and domestically of the police as well). The result, it seems - even in the Ebola crisis, the military is invariably the first option. The fact that it's a force created for destruction, hopeless (as we've seen repeatedly) at "building" nations and, assumedly, at dealing with pandemic diseases matters not at all. Impoverished Cuba sends hundreds of doctors and health care workers to Africa to fight Ebola; we take "fight" literally (evidently) and send in the troops!

It's strange indeed. Similarly, on a large scale across the greater Middle East and more recently Africa, despite 13 years in which no military move of more or less any sort (other maybe than the bin Laden raid) achieved any of Washington's stated objectives, despite disaster after disaster, the Obama administration and the rest of Washington seem incapable of thinking of anything to do that doesn't involve sending in the drones, special ops forces and troops. Results seem beside the point.

Is there any evidence - if one accepts the government contention that there are unending dire terrorist threats to "the homeland" - that the massive surveillance state is effective in protecting the US from attacks?

Of course, by definition, a secret or shadow government means that our information on its effectiveness is limited indeed beyond what it cares to tell us (or brag about). However, as it happens, there is reasonable evidence of its general ineffectiveness beyond the obvious - that it didn't intercept the Shoe Bomber, the Times Square Bomber, the Boston Marathon bombers etc., that it was visibly caught off guard by the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East, and so on. In addition, the president and others in the intelligence world have claimed that the US thwarted 54 terror-style plots against this country or Americans. But journalists looking into this have found no evidence of any of these "plots" thwarted. Similarly, claims about the usefulness of all the bulk phone metadata the NSA collects, according to a member of a panel appointed by the president with insider access to the sort of information needed to reach conclusions about such things, found no evidence that the metadata had helped on the breaking of even a single case. In other words, based on what we do know about the workings of our secret state, it looks like the bang-for-the-buck quotient is low indeed.

On the whole (see question one), the usefulness of this system, which leaves national security state personnel awash in reams, yottabytes, of useless information, seems a matter of bedrock faith rather than reality.

Meanwhile, there are many clear and present dangers to the US that are not receiving even a small percentage of the funding of the shadow government. Isn't global warming, for example, a national security threat of disastrous proportion?

Again, it's a sign of a faith-based system that the overriding, essential thing the national security state is set up to protect us from - terrorism - is a genuine danger to Americans, but not on the great scale of things. It has proven more dangerous and deadly than, say, shark attacks, but less dangerous than just about anything else in American life. Nobody's set up 17 interlocked agencies and outfits (i.e. the US intelligence "community") to deal with highway deaths (approximately 450,000 or so since 9/11), or firearm deaths (400,000 in the same period). Food-borne illnesses? Much more dangerous than terrorism, and so on.

Similarly, as you say, the most obvious future threat to this country and our planet, to the very planetary environment that has natured humanity these thousands of years, climate change, gets nothing like the attention that it should. I'm sure that far more money goes into gathering global communications of every sort and keeping the people who run that system living in a style to which they've become accustomed than into climate change. Far more governmental blue-sky thinking has undoubtedly similarly gone into the weapons systems of 2035 and 2050 than into future ways to cut fossil fuels, and so on and so forth. Honestly, I think that future historians will consider us mad people (criminally insane, perhaps) for our priorities in this period.

In his introduction to your book, Glenn Greenwald writes, "The government is deliberately working to create a climate of fear in exactly those communities that are most important in checking those in power." I assume he is referring to all those who dissent from giving the US shadow government a green light, which includes everybody from the Occupy movement to Edward Snowden to Truthout to the ACLU to you and - and so many more. Is the fear factor working to crush dissent?

In case you hadn't noticed (and that's just a figure of speech since Truthout has been all over it), we've entered a period of outright hysteria, first over the threat of the Islamic State, the new extremist movement (and oil mini-state) in the Middle East, based on two beheading videos they produced because they understood our mentality better than we do and wanted to drive us into another war. Nothing establishes the [credibility] of such a movement (as Osama bin Laden knew) than having the Great Satan actively dropping bombs on you. And then, of course, there was the Ebola hysteria.

I think such waves of both fear and hysteria have the effect of demobilizing Americans generally, of convincing them that without our shadow government we are doomed. Such emotions drive people not into activity but into passivity. It's not that Truthout and TomDispatch etc. are quelled by this, but that the larger movement that might make a difference has trouble developing in such an atmosphere (though I'm hoping that, with the recent massive march in New York City, a larger climate change movement might indeed be emerging).

News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
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