News Sat, 22 Oct 2016 15:39:39 -0400 en-gb Dutch Development Bank Denies Legitimacy of Indigenous Honduran Spirituality

Agua Zarca's attempts to discredit Indigenous cultural and spiritual claims to a river in Honduras have made the Lenca people more determined to seek reparations for the destruction caused.

A silk screen printing of slain activist Berta Cáceres is held up on the main stage at the International Peoples Gathering Berta Cáceres Lives, which took place April 13-15, 2016. (Photo: Gloria Jiménez)A silk screen printing of slain activist Berta Cáceres is held up on the main stage at the International Peoples Gathering "Berta Cáceres Lives," which took place April 13-15, 2016. (Photo: Gloria Jiménez)

Honduran Lenca leader Berta Cáceres was brutally assassinated last March, yet the international financiers of the project Agua Zarca -- the target of her organization's campaign -- have hesitated to fully and permanently divest from the company behind the project, despite the fact that the company was implicated in her assassination. Instead, they bet on a broken Honduran judicial system, in spite of telling signs that justice would not be done in Cáceres' case. The latest sign was the stealing of Cáceres' case file from a Honduran Supreme Court judge's car, but shockingly this was not even the worst demonstration of a faulty and flawed investigation.

The tipping point for two European funders -- the Netherlands Development Finance Company (also known as FMO) and Finnfund (Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation Ltd.) -- to divest from the project was the execution-style killing of another member of Cáceres' organization, Nelson Garcia, less than two weeks after Cáceres' assassination. For the international community, these back-to-back brutal assassinations served as unequivocal evidence of the brutality and repression faced by Cáceres' organization -- the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) -- and other Honduran human rights defenders.

Two years ago, the Netherlands Development Finance Company committed to a $15 million loan to Desarrollos Energeticos S.A., owner and developer of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project in the community of Rio Blanco in Western Honduras. This was one of the Netherlands Development Finance Company's few dodgy deals in Central America that bear striking similarities to one another. The Barro Blanco Dam in Panama is also on Indigenous land and being financed by the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, headquartered in Honduras' capital.

The Netherlands Development Finance Company's relationship with COPINH was conflictive from the beginning, precisely because the Indigenous organization is the antithesis of the finance company's investments in the business of privatizing natural resources. In 2014 and again this year, it took less than 24 hours for the finance company to react to something less menacing than a brutal assassination -- an article in a Dutch newspaper that shamed the company for its complicity in human rights violations related to the Agua Zarca project and an ad in the same newspaper that called for their withdrawal from the project following Cáceres' assassination. In its 2014 statement reacting to the article, the Netherlands Development Finance Company discredited the concerns of the story, calling it "one-sided" and "not substantiated by facts." The article includes a haunting quote from Cáceres regarding the death threats she received because of her work to defend Indigenous rights. Furthermore, COPINH states that the letter Cáceres sent to the Netherlands Development Finance Company in 2014 voicing grievances related to the project went unanswered.

In early May, the Netherlands Development Finance Company announced they were "seeking a legal exit from the project" and formed a fact-finding mission to travel to Honduras to assess the situation following the arrests of four individuals accused of assassinating Cáceres, one of whom included a Desarrollos Energeticos employee and an individual with military ties. ­­­­­­Yet, an unbiased report could not be expected from the Netherlands Development Finance Company, given its history of delegitimizing COPINH as a representative of the Indigenous Lenca community and its use of corporate greenwashing to justify its shady business investments.

Criticisms of the Dutch Development Bank's Report

The report, "Independent Fact Finding Mission: Report and Recommendations" published on September 27, 2016, was denounced as "racist and manipulating" by COPINH's General Coordinator, Tomas Membreño, who added that the mission of consultants sent by the Netherlands Development Finance Company spent only two hours with the main community in opposition to the project during their six-day visit to Honduras and avoided engaging with Berta Cáceres' family. Although the report claims that "the Project was largely implemented in accordance with [International Finance Corporation] Performance Standards," it admits that the first and key step in implementing any project on indigenous territory -- Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) -- "was not conducted for the first phase of the Project." This is one of the reasons COPINH believes the concession granted for Agua Zarca is illegal and illegitimate, and they have grounds for their claim, since the Honduran vice minister who granted this concession at the time is facing charges for granting permits illegally.

One of the Netherlands Development Finance Company's most damaging and racists assertions -- regurgitated from 2012 reports prepared for the lenders and alluded to in this new report -- is that there is no evidence of "cultural and spiritual attachment to the river" on which the project was being built. To soften this remark, they add that in regards to the sacredness of the river, "there was insufficient information to confirm the assertion." The mission's consultants were looking for cherry-picked folklore and "detailed information regarding the sacredness of the river" to fit their Western construction of culture and spirituality. In a matter of hours, the consultants expected to walk away with a boiled-down understanding of what culture and spirituality means to the Lenca people, oblivious to their "outsiderness" and the fact that they were representing a company that had been openly hostile to the leading Lenca organization in Honduras.

"How can people who are foreign to our culture understand our cosmovision?" Membreño rhetorically asked. In an email communiqué dated April 3, 2013, a year before the Netherlands Development Finance Company began financing the Agua Zarca project, Cáceres, on behalf of COPINH, shared similar thoughts:

We once again manifest that this struggle is part of the process COPINH maintains in defense of the rights of the Lenca community, it's autonomy, the rivers, culture and of our very survival as an Indigenous community, since these racist and capitalist men do not care about, nor comprehend the complexity of, the relationship between, and the significance of all forms of life, of Mother Earth, of equilibrium and our cosmovision. [Translated from Spanish].

In a move reminiscent of the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in Honduras in the early 1500s, the Netherlands Development Finance Company and its hired henchmen in suits were unable to comprehend cultural and spiritual values and beliefs foreign to their own; they are modern colonizers of culture and spirituality, labeled "experts" sent to extract information as a meaningless exercise on their due diligence checklist.

Greenwashing a Dirty Deal

When your business model includes doing dodgy deals, greenwashing is one tool you might employ in your public relations toolkit. As if profit were not the primary motive, the Netherlands Development Finance Company states that it financed the Agua Zarca project because it is providing "clean and sustainable energy to Honduras, a country that is largely depending on fossil fuels." Not only did the project alter natural surroundings and infringe on Indigenous rights, but they propagated a lie; hydroelectric's dirty secret is that it "produce[s] significant amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, and in some cases produce[s] more of these greenhouse gases than power plants running on fossil fuels," according to new research.

The immense international pressure to end the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project scared the Netherlands Development Finance Company and Finnfund enough for them to first temporarily halt funding, and then do so permanently. However, they were not willing to concede a total loss, otherwise they would be ceding power to organizations like COPINH that resist and reject their projects. That is why the Netherlands Development Finance Company's report took the opportunity to discredit the valuable work of COPINH and the cultural identity of the Lenca, considered by the bank to be standing in the way of development.

Moreover, the Netherlands Development Finance Company made one last dangerous power play with its report: making the argument for Desarrollos Energeticos seeking alternative funding and continuing Agua Zarca. In reality, Desarrollos Energeticos and the Netherlands Development Finance Company are two sides of the same coin; one cannot exist without the other. The Netherlands Development Finance Company has and always will be faithful to its rhetoric of the benefits of Western-style development, because at the end of the day, it is motivated by profit, and it treats human rights and Indigenous people as nuisances.In their communication reacting to FMO's report, COPINH states, "The banks must take responsibility for the death and destruction the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric Project has caused and make reparations to those affected, including communal reparations to the communities in the region." The Netherlands Development Finance Company may have exited from the project, but that does not mean it is off the hook.

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News Sat, 22 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Fifteen Indigenous Struggles You Need to Know About

Despite making up a tiny fraction of the world's population, Indigenous Peoples hold ancestral rights to some 65 percent of the planet. This poignant fact speaks well to the enormous role that Indigenous Peoples play not only as environmental stewards, but as political actors on the global stage.

We're seeing that role play out right now on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota; but there are hundreds of other indigenous struggles just like that almost never make headlines.

All over the world today, Indigenous Peoples are confronting the destructive practices of industry -- leading the charge against climate change while defending the lakes, forests and food systems that all of us depend on. At the same time, they are blocking governments from weakening basic rights and freedoms and turning to the courts of the world to correct over 500 years of historical wrongs. And all the while, Indigenous Peoples are breathing new life into the biocultural legacies that have the potential to sustain the entire human race until the sun goes nova.

Since most media outlets have a tendency to ignore this storied legacy -- to make more room for Donald Trump's narcissistic personality disorder, among other things -- we present you today with a few choice reads to help bring you up to speed.

"We Will Not Buy What Is Ours"

The Maya Q’eqchi’ recently stepped forward to legally challenge the state of Guatemala's use of terra nullius when it appropriated 20,000 hectares of their ancestral territory in the late 1800's. The Q’eqchi’ assembled an all-star indigenous defense team that went on to offer an impeccable argument against the colonial doctrine of terra nullius, writing a new chapter in what Manuela Picq described as "an already legendary tour-de-force of de-colonial litigation".

Another Government Is Possible

On October 13, 2016, the 500 delegates of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) reached complete consensus on a new proposal that was presented by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). Their idea? For the CNI to collectively enter the 2018 Mexican presidential race with an indigenous woman candidate at its forefront. But the newly announced Indigenous Council of Government would be no mere political party that would try to gain power for a few short years. Rather, it would seek to takeover and, if successful, dismantle the system. The delegates are now in the process of returning to their communities to decide whether or not to approve the proposal. Emmy Keppler, who was permitted to attend the Congress as an observer, reports.

Mapuche Beyond Borders

Ever since the incursion of rampant neoliberalism in Chile and Argentina three decades ago, Mapuche territory has been subjected to immeasurable domination and constant exploitation at the hands of a diverse range of foreign and national economic interests. In this article, Alejandra Gaitan Barrera and Fionuala Cregan introduce us to the Mapuche's cross-border struggle for justice, freedom and autonomy.

Wixarika Take a Stand

A little over two weeks ago, a contingent of at least indigenous Wixárika (Huichol) in the Western Sierra Madre of Mexico mobilized to reclaim some 10,000 hectares of land that the state started appropriating in the early 1900s. Leading up to the action, the Wixarika spent decades in court trying to get back legal control of the land using a grant from the Spanish crown that dates to 1717. The land in question is now mostly owned by ranchers and small business owners who are very outspoken in their opposition to the Wixárika's efforts.

Thus far, cooler minds have prevailed. Instead of letting the situation decay into a racism fueled ground war, both the ranchers and the Wixarika have asked for government intervention. Whether or not the government will intervene, remains to be seen. Tracy Barnett reports.

The Guardians of Mother Earth

Earlier this year, Intercontinental Cry had the rare opportunity to enter the U'wa Resguardo, an indigenous territory in Colombia that is restricted to all outsiders. It was there that we met Berito Cobaria, an influential elder statesmen and traditional authority of the U’wa Nation who has dedicated his life to protecting and guiding his people. The U’wa, who call themselves the people who know how to think and speak, consider themselves the Guardians of Mother Nature.

In this four-part exclusive, Jake Ling takes us through the indigenous U'wa struggle to defend their territory against oil companies, to protect their water and land, to rejuvenate their language and to fend off foreign diseases that are tearing their physical health and well-being.

An Act of Genocide

There are hundreds of indigenous stores in Canada that never make headlines. Some of them are taking place right now while others stem back centuries. In the case of Canada coercively sterilizing Indigenous women, we have an ongoing and almost completely unreported story that begins before the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, before the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, even before the holocaust. Courtney Parker digs deep to uncover the truth that no Canadian ever learned about in school.

Protecting the Seas to Save the Land

An article from our ongoing collaboration with the Indigenous Environmental Network, Alison Watson and Bennett Collins introduce us to one of many struggles for climate justice in the United States. At the center of their story we find a massive auction of land in the Gulf of Mexico and Indigenous communities in southern Louisiana -- such as the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw and the United Houma Nation -- who are still reeling from the devastation caused by oil and gas.

An Autonomous Indigenous Government

Late last year, the Wampis Nation did something unexpected: they declared the formation of the first Autonomous Indigenous Government in Peru. Spanning a 1.3 million hectare territory – a region the size of the State of Connecticut - the newly elected government brought together 100 Wampis communities representing some 10,613 people who continue to live a traditional subsistence way of life through hunting, fishing and small scale agriculture.

The newly-formed government does not, however, seek independence from Peru. Rather, its main role is to protect Wampis ancestral territory and promote a sustainable way of life that prioritizes well-being, food security and a healthy harmonious existence with the natural world. Fionuala Cregan reports.

Behind the Miskitu Curtain

In the second installment of IC’s investigative series on the Miskitu (Miskito) of Nicaragua, Courtney Parker takes readers on a photo-journey ‘Behind the Miskitu Curtain’, introducing the hidden faces and everyday struggles of a simmering, lesser-known conflict zone in present day Muskitia.

Fourth World Under the Nuclear Cloud

Millions of Indigenous Peoples around the world have been and continue to be exposed to nuclear radiation and toxic chemicals. The United States of America, France, Britain, Russia, China, Israel, Britain, Pakistan, India, and North Korea produce these toxic materials. Other countries with electricity-producing nuclear reactors also contribute to radioactive waste. Nuclear bomb detonations, radioactive waste storage sites and toxic chemical dumps have contaminated the soils, water, air, plants, animals and people for more than 70 years.

In this ongoing four-part series, Rudolph C. Rÿser, Yvonne Sherwood and Janna Lafferty introduce us to this rarely noticed reality by drawing on preliminary results from the crowdfunded Radiation Exposure Risk Assessment Action Project by the Center for World Indigenous Studies.

Drowned Out

After years of protest marches, blockades and appeals to the international community, the Ngäbe's worst fear came true: flood water from the Barro Blanco hydroelectric reservoir rushed into their houses, schools, farms and cultural centers along the banks of the Tabasará River in western Panama. Adding insult before injury, just days before the flooding began, Panama President Juan Carlos Varela celebrated the signing of a formal “peace agreement” that he claimed brought an end to the conflict over the Barro Blanco dam. Richard Arghiris reports.

A Legacy of Shame

While much of the controversy surrounding Canada’s extractive industry centers on oil and gas projects like SWN Resources' drilling plans in New Brunswick, Enbridge's Line 9 pipeline and the widely felt impact of Tar Sands extraction in Alberta, there is a significant lack of debate concerning Canada's larger and much more influential mining sector. In this featured article, Scott Price opens the door for some of that needed debate by zooming in one particularly shameful mining legacy centered on Hudbay Minerals, INCO and Skye Resources.

Beyond Flint, Michigan

Earlier this year, media coverage and spiraling public outrage over the water crisis in Flint, Michigan completely eclipsed the ongoing environmental justice struggles of Indigenous Peoples like the Navajo. Even worse, that media framed the situation in Flint as some sort of isolated incident. It is not. Rather, it is symptomatic of a much wider and deeper problem of environmental racism in the United States. In this article, Courtney Parker opens the lens, putting the Navajo's decades-long struggle exactly where it should be.

The Death of a Dam

In a landmark victory for indigenous land rights in Brazil, the National Foundation for the Indian (FUNAI) delivered a deathly blow to a proposed hydro dam within the traditional territory of the Munduruku Peoples. The government agency decided to proceed with the official demarcation and protection of the Munduruku's lands sparring it from the same dam-driven destruction witnessed in the Xingú region since construction work began on the controversial Belo Monte dam project. Manuela Picq brings us the full story.

Moose Cree in Context

With just 150 estimated fluent Cree speakers in a population of 3899, Moose Cree First Nation, located at the southern end of James Bay, is facing an urgent need to preserve their unique dialect -- and the First Nations knows it. The Moose Cree First Nation is now engaged in an encouraging series of community-based language preservation initiatives thanks in no small part to Geraldine Govender, Director of Language and Cultural Programs for the First Nation, linguists Kevin Brousseau and Jimena Terraza and a group of elders from the community.

In this enlightening article, Lauren Wildgoose introduces to this one of many such struggles around to bring an ancient language back from the edge of extinction.

News Sat, 22 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Woman Whose Sentence Was Commuted Is Still in Prison, Thanks to Florida Prosecutor

Donella Harriel could technically be living closer to her family in Port St. Lucie, Florida right now. Instead, she's still incarcerated, for reasons that illustrate the tangled relationship between federal and state jurisdictions on mandatory minimum sentencing.

Donella Harriel. (Photo: The Influence)Donella Harriel. (Photo: Facebook)

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This article was originally published by The Influence, a news site that covers the full spectrum of human relationships with drugs. Follow The Influence on Facebook or Twitter.

On August 3, Donella Harriel was watching a sports game in the TV room of the Federal Correctional Institution in Aliceville, Alabama, when her unit manager came in and told her to come to her office.

"She said I better be knocking her door down at 11:45."

"I was like, 'OMG, is my family okay?'"

"Your family is fine."

With no idea of what was going on, Harriel went to the office at 11:45 as instructed. She found the whole unit team waiting there. Then the phone rang. They put it on speaker. It was her attorneys, with unbelievable news: Soon she'd be walking out of prison -- she'd officially been granted clemency after serving 13 years of a 22-year sentence.

"I was so stunned, overwhelmed with gratitude and full of belief that God really is huge," she says. "All I could think about is going to call my kids and mother…  Nothing could have prepared me for that moment."

In her 13 years of detention, she only saw her kids twice: once during her 11th year in prison, and again this July. "They couldn't afford to come to Texas where I was located," Harriel says. She went away when they were small. Now they're 15 and 21.

"She's my mommy!" Jerrica tells me by text. "She left when I was nine. I remember some but I didn't get to grow with her and vice versa, so there's things we still have to discover about each other, things we didn't experience together and things that she should have taught me. But I know it's not her fault and I'm not blaming her, because things happen. I do love her and wish I knew her better though."

Jerrica says her younger brother, who was two when Donella went away, barely knows her. "So he knows of and about but he doesn't know a mother as he should, ya know?" She says the family is excited that her mom will be closer, and glad she has gotten her act together. "I appreciate her for it because it's gotten her to where she is today, which is a step closer to her family!"

Donella Harriel could technically be living closer to her family in Port St. Lucie, Florida right now: Her official release date is June of 2017, but prisoners tend to be released into halfway houses six months or so before their official release date.

Instead, she's still incarcerated, for reasons that illustrate the tangled relationship between federal and state jurisdictions in mandatory minimum sentencing.

Her federal sentence -- for possession with intent to sell cocaine base (i.e., crack) -- was enhanced to 22 years in part because of a prior state charge in Florida. Since her federal conviction was a violation of her probation from that charge, there's a hold on her release in Martin County, Florida -- a so-called detainer, which prevents a prisoner's release.

As well as keeping Harriel from being in a halfway house right now, it also means that when she walks out of federal prison in June 2017, Martin County, Florida authorities will take her into custody, move her back to Florida and hold a hearing to decide if she owes the state more time behind bars.

"It's stopping me from going to the halfway house, as well as the organization that Obama has that picks us up from prison and take us shopping for clothes etc, then to meet our families and out to eat before going to the halfway house," Harriel writes.

Guy Blackwell, a retired assistant attorney general (Tennessee), has asked Assistant US Attorney General Nita Denton, a Republican appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to the 19th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission, to lift the detainer in Harriel's case.

"I am a retired US Assistant Attorney General and simply am trying to help someone who seems to have been sufficiently punished and appears to have a positive future," Blackwell wrote Denton's office. He also pointed out that dropping the detainer would save Martin County the cost of transporting her from federal to state custody.

"It's a shame this has happened," Blackwell tells me over the phone. He decided to help prisoners get their sentences reduced after seeing the damage wreaked by mandatory minimums in his 30 years as a prosecutor. He had a few phone calls with Denton's office, but couldn't convince them to drop the detainer.

"She has a detainer because she violated her probation," Nita Denton says over the phone. Asked if she plans to advise that Harriel be released, she replies, "I have not made any decision on what's going to happen until she's returned on detainer to the state of Florida."

And even though Obama has commuted the sentences of a record 774 people, mostly nonviolent drug offenders -- surely big news in the criminal justice world -- Denton claims to know little about it. "I'm sorry, I'm not familiar with that program because we don't deal with it on the state level, other than what I read in the paper, but other than that … "

"People need to see how these challenges we face aren't helping us with re-entry," Harriel writes, referring to Denton. "If Obama could forgive me and see my growth, why couldn't she???"


"Dear Donella, I wanted to personally inform you that I am granting your application for commutation," President Barack Obama wrote Harriel in a letter dated August 3. "I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong, and change your life for the better. So good luck, and Godspeed."

His faith in Donella is warranted. In 13 years behind bars, she didn't have a single official disciplinary action taken against her. That's not to suggest that only "model" prisoners deserve a second chance, but still, it's pretty remarkable.

"It is very difficult to have that kind of clean record for someone that's been in custody that long," Blackwell says. "If you're in there 13 years, there's [usually] gonna be something negative. You say something to someone, get in the middle of something someone else started, and it's really easy to get a demerit, a black mark, that's gonna be on the record."

Her two priors stem from what she says was a troubled time in her life. She ran away from home when she was 18, "and some guys took me in." She and other young women took cruise ships to and from the Bahamas, smuggling in drugs, in exchange for money and shelter. She got busted, incurring her first charge.

A whole five years later, police found a family member's drugs at her house -- she wasn't even at home at the time, but still got arrested. The federal charge that landed her an enhanced 22-year sentence, thanks to those two priors, came when a state trooper found drugs in her boyfriend's underwear.

"I was driving my boyfriend from Florida to North Carolina and when I stopped in South Carolina for some gas, a state trooper was there," Donella writes. "He followed me throughout the store and waited until I made my purchase and pumped my gas. Then he followed me to the interstate to pull me over not even a mile away from the gas station (for speeding, he says). Then, we were searched and because they found drugs in my boyfriend's boxers I was charged with Conspiracy."

It was the kind of case of guilt-by-association that is all-too-familiar among America's incarcerated people -- and particularly among women prisoners.

Donella's clean record and 13 years behind federal bars should make for a compelling case for her freedom in Florida -- but it depends on the judge, and the recommendation of the State's Attorney.

Despite her ongoing troubles she is still grateful to Obama, whose intervention will mean -- if she can get that detainer taken care of -- that she gets to be with her family nine years sooner than she expected.

"I will never forget it and I will live everyday of my life with thankfulness," says Donella Harriel, "knowing that I was one of the chosen ones."

This article was originally published by The Influence, a news site that covers the full spectrum of human relationships with drugs. Follow The Influence on Facebook or Twitter.

News Sat, 22 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Trump's Fake Critique of Trade Deals Leaves Out Workers

It matters little that Trump's rhetoric runs directly counter to his decades-long record -- multiple business failures that lined his own pockets but stiffed residents and workers in places like Atlantic City. His words give comfort to people in profound pain. And yet, they are the hollow words of a false prophet.

Donald Trump makes his entrance at a campaign event at the Delaware County fairgrounds in Delaware, Ohio, Oct. 20, 2016. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)Donald Trump makes his entrance at a campaign event at the Delaware County fairgrounds in Delaware, Ohio, October 20, 2016. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)

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It must have been sweet music to the ears of workers in Monessen, Pennsylvania, in the heart of America's rust belt.

"Globalization has made the financial elite who donate to politicians very wealthy," the political candidate declared during a speech at a struggling aluminum plant. "But it has left millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache."

It's comforting to hear a national leader affirm what so many of us know from painful experience. We've been screwed by political elites who have foisted on us deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, and China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Workers have seen their jobs shipped overseas, their neighborhoods devastated, and their living standards slashed -- all while  corporate profits have soared.

Less heartening is the reality that these words came from Donald J. Trump.

How is it that a populist charlatan -- a man who vows to make companies build with American steel but imports steel for his own construction, who invokes worker pride on the campaign trail yet tries to break unions at his hotels -- is able to garner a passionate following among working-class people?

It's not simply that Trump has effectively channeled their pain and anger through his rhetoric. The harsh truth is that Trump gets traction on trade -- and his glaring defects get a pass from many -- because he's filling a huge vacuum in the country's political discourse. For years, neither of the two main political parties has articulated a vision of international trade that puts workers, communities, and our environment ahead of corporate interests.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton pushed NAFTA through Congress with strong Republican support, and seven years later the same bipartisan coalition paved the way for China's entry into the WTO. Then, as a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama called the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement "badly flawed" because it was tilted in Korea's favor. But once in office, he pushed the deal through Congress with support from both sides of the aisle. And Obama has gone on to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a deal negotiated in secret and designed to undermine local and national laws that protect workers and the environment.

These neoliberal agreements aren't just destroying good jobs and incomes.

Only last month, the Obama administration, backed by corporate interests, successfully blocked the Indian government's massive solar energy program by persuading the WTO that India's promotion of domestic solar panel manufacturing violated WTO rules.

In the 22 years since NAFTA was enacted, the U.S. trade deficit has quintupled to more than $500 billion a year, at least 6 million manufacturing jobs have been lost, real wages have plummeted not just in the U.S. but also in Mexico, and corporate profits have hit record highs.

This history is the reason we have Donald Trump today. His message to workers resonates because of its truth: The political establishment is screwing you.

He's not the first right-wing candidate to play that card.

In 1992, billionaire H. Ross Perot, running for president as an independent, predicted that NAFTA would create a "giant sucking sound" as jobs drained out of the country. A few years later, Pat Buchanan picked up the populist banner in his own run for president. "Why do you think there's such rage and anger out there?" he asked. Under NAFTA, Buchanan explained, "You're risking social stability just so some of these corporations' profits can be dramatically increased; they can move factories anywhere."

In the 22 years since NAFTA was enacted, the deficit has quintupled to more than $500 billion a year.

Neither of these men had done much to help working people, but they garnered working-class support because the Democratic and Republican political establishment had abandoned workers on trade, ceding space that these opportunists were happy to fill.

Trump is simply carrying on that tradition. He's finding great success because, as MarketWatch columnist Rex Nutting recently noted, Democrats have "sided with the elites on the crucial economic question of our times: Who would win from globalization, and who would lose?"

It matters little that Trump's rhetoric runs directly counter to his decades-long record -- multiple business failures that lined his own pockets but stiffed residents and workers in places like Atlantic City. His words give comfort to people in profound pain.

And yet, they are the hollow words of a false prophet. But we also would be wrong to see Hillary Clinton's recent disavowal of TPP as anything more than a campaign exigency. After all, as secretary of state she hailed the TPP as the "gold standard" in world trade agreements and since securing her party's nomination has gone to great lengths to assure her wealthy patrons that she will reliably support them on trade.

Clinton's positions remind us that we have to resist the temptation to distill the trade struggle into a contest between candidates. Instead, we must build a movement for trade justice that rejects both Trump's opportunism and the long-standing neoliberalism of the Democratic and Republican parties.

Trade is about power. Ostensibly trade agreements are between and among governments, but in this age of global corporations it would be a mistake to focus solely on the nation-state interplay. Rather, the primary power dynamic is between working people, broadly defined -- here in the U.S. and around the world -- and global corporations.

Clinton's positions remind us that we have to resist the temptation to distill the trade struggle into a contest between candidates.

At issue is whether we will build a global trading system that serves human needs, including environmental protection, or one that puts private profit above all else. Which vision prevails has less to do with the election of one candidate over another in the short term, and more about what kind of grassroots movement for trade justice we build to force political change in the years ahead.

In 1999, in the face of a seemingly invincible World Trade Organization, tens of thousands of activists allied with the movements for labor, the environment, human rights, and racial justice united in the streets of my hometown, Seattle, and shut down the WTO meeting. Under the slogan "Teamsters and Turtles United at Last," the protesters struck a blow against elites and lifted up a vision of a world trading system that put communities ahead of corporations and created jobs while protecting human rights and the environment. Though only a temporary setback for political and corporate elites, the WTO showdown gave confidence to people around the world that it was possible to fight back.

We should look back to the "Battle in Seattle" and trade fights ever since, not for nostalgia but to glean vital lessons of what it will take to win. Having a common adversary can bring diverse constituencies together. But powerful coalitions will only endure if they are united in a forward-looking vision of trade justice.

Today, you can't point to any single U.S. group that represents a full-fledged trade-justice movement. But important efforts are underway, and coalitions are forming that connect the dots between trade, jobs, the environment, racial justice, and human rights. Alliances like and the Labor Network for Sustainability are two examples of groups that knit together interrelated struggles in a critique of the status quo and a call for action. Meanwhile, economist Jared Bernstein and Public Citizen's Lori Wallach just issued a thought-provoking manifesto on progressive principles for global trade.

In the coming weeks, many progressives will be working to ensure Donald Trump isn't elected on Nov. 8. But the election of Hillary Clinton provides us no relief on global trade issues. Indeed, her anticipated victory will only extend a long line of presidents deeply committed to pro-corporate trade practices.

It'll be our job beginning Nov. 9 to redouble the fight against neoliberal trade policy, building a broad grassroots movement to oppose what's wrong with the TPP and similar pacts while lifting up a bold vision of true international trade justice.

The workers listening to Trump's speech in Monessen, Pennsylvania -- and indeed workers everywhere -- deserve nothing less.

News Sat, 22 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Will Immigrant Voters in the South Make Their Voices Heard This Election?

America's openness towards immigrants has been a contentious issue this election cycle. Candidates from the presidential level to those in state and local races have taken vastly different stances on the issue, with many Democratic candidates including presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton striking a more welcoming tone to appeal to the growing number of Latino and Asian American voters in the country and in the South. 

But new immigrant voters must be mobilized to be a considerable force this election. While polling has found strong opposition among Latino and Asian American voters nationally against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, it remains to be seen if these voters will translate that sentiment into action this fall. 

Historically, Latino and Asian American voters have had lower voter registration and turnout rates than their white and black counterparts. In Georgia, for example, only 55 percent of Latino citizens and 59 percent of Asian American citizens were registered to vote in 2012, compared to 71 percent of white citizens and 72 percent of black citizens, according to Census Bureau data. 

In terms of turnout, 49 percent of Latino citizens and 41 percent of Asian American citizens cast a ballot in Georgia in 2012, compared to 61 percent of white citizens and 65 percent of black citizens.

Part of what affects these trends, particularly among Latino voters, is the age of the electorate. According to the Pew Research Center, almost half of the Latino electorate in Southern states are millennials between the ages of 18 and 33 -- an age group that typically turns out at lower rates than older voters. A recent Pew poll found that Latino millennials nationally are less certain that they will vote this year compared to 2012, with 62 percent saying they are "absolutely certain" they will vote in 2016 down from 74 percent who said so before the last presidential election. 

Reversing these trends and engaging these young voters will be critical to mobilize the Latino electorate in the South, as an Institute for Southern Studies report earlier this year found that a new generation of young Latino voters turning 18 each year will double the current Latino electorate over the next two decades in many Southern states. 

But Southern states haven't made it easier for these groups to become more active. In a forthcoming book, "Immigrants and Electoral Politics," author Heath Brown finds that many immigrant-serving nonprofit organizations don't register voters or get involved in electoral politics in part, Brown says, because of new state voter registration laws that create stringent regulations and penalties.

Brown described these laws in a recent Washington Post article: 

For instance, in 2011, Florida passed a law that imposed steep fines on any organization that submitted incorrect voter registration information. It was unclear at the time whether this meant hundreds of falsified identities or simply a misspelled name. The new law also gave groups only 48 hours to submit new voter registrations once they'd been filled out and signed -- far less than the two weeks previously allowed.

In North Carolina in 2012, fears of non-citizen voter fraud were fanned by conservative activist groups like the Raleigh-based Voter Integrity Project, despite the fact that a 2011 study by the state's elections board found non-citizen voter fraud to be extremely rare with only 12 cases out of 6.3 million registered voters in the state.

Even so, the hysteria the group generated led the board to conduct another citizen audit in 2014 that flagged 1,454 voters in 81 counties as potential voters with citizenship issues. A Facing South investigation that year followed the story of one immigrant family in Charlotte, North Carolina, who were in fact citizens yet got snared in the crackdown.

Meanwhile, Georgia and Alabama followed the lead of Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and a crusader against alleged voter fraud, to pursue a proof-of-citizenship requirement for people to register to vote. Those measures were not enforced in those states, however, and were recently struck down in court. 

The question this November will be how galvanized immigrant voters will be and what their engagement -- or lack thereof -- portends for the future political clout of their communities, which represent the fastest-growing racial and ethnic demographics in Southern states. 

Groups working on voter engagement have reported an increase this year in the number of people becoming naturalized citizens and registering to vote. Meanwhile, recent polls have shown a consolidation of Latino and Asian American voters behind Democratic candidates in the face of anti-immigrant rhetoric from the GOP.

But the true test will be who is motivated enough -- and able -- to actually show up at the polls and cast their ballots in the coming weeks. 

News Sat, 22 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Chicago Cops Who Broke "Code of Silence" to Report Police Drug Gang Face Deadly Retaliation

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMY GOODMAN: So, in --

JAMIE KALVEN: That can't work.

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

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

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

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

AMY GOODMAN: Has anyone been prosecuted?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Trump Aides Caught in Super PAC Revolving Door

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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News Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400