Monthly Archives: October 2015

Marijuana And The Death Penalty: Sanders and Clinton Engage In More Significant Off Stage Debate Than The Republicans In Colorado

Bernie Sanders Marijuana

The third Republican debate was widely considered to be a train wreck. It was probably the worst for Jeb Bush as it largely turned into an excuse for pundits to write off his chances to win the Republican nomination. Failing to inspire enthusiastic support is a greater political sin than to fail to show up to one’s job in the Senate (a failing common to candidates running for the presidential nomination of either party). Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates have spent the last couple of days disagreeing over issues, including marijuana and the death penalty.

While the Democrats could not actually debate, as this would violate Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s rules, they had a far more interesting disagreement on the issues. Marijuana barely came up at the Republican debate in Colorado, where recreational use has been legalized, but Bernie Sanders did make major news on the issue. He took a position quite different from the pro-drug war views of Hillary Clinton, and far more significant than Martin O’Malley’s position:

Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders announced his support Wednesday for removing marijuana from a list of the most dangerous drugs outlawed by the federal government – a move that would free states to legalize it without impediments from Washington…

“Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use,” Sanders told a live audience of more than 1,700 students, which erupted with applause. “That’s wrong. That has got to change.”

No other presidential candidate has called for marijuana to be completely removed from the schedule of controlled substances regulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Long-shot Democratic hopeful Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, has said that he would put marijuana on Schedule 2, a less-strict designation. The party’s front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has repeatedly said she wants to see how legalization experiments in Colorado, Washington and other states play out before committing to any changes at the federal level…

His plan would also allow marijuana businesses currently operating in states that have legalized it to use banking services and apply for tax deductions that are currently unavailable to them under federal law.

Sanders previously indicated his interest in the legalization of marijuana when appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Sanders’ proposal would put an end to raids by the federal government on medical marijuana facilities where medical marijuana is legal and block the current impediments to research on medical uses of marijuana. Wonkblog also points out that this would restore marijuana to the status which was intended before Richard Nixon interfered. (With Hillary Clinton taking the more Nixonian position here, it is yet another in a long list of similarities between Clinton and Nixon which seem to keep coming up).

Marijuana was originally placed on Schedule 1 as a temporary measure in 1970 while a government-convened panel of experts figured out how to handle it from a legal standpoint. Two years later, the panel recommended complete decriminalization of small amounts of the drug: “the Commission recommends … [that the] possession of marijuana for personal use no longer be an offense, [and that the] casual distribution of small amounts of marijuana for no remuneration, or insignificant remuneration, no longer be an offense.”

But President Richard Nixon ignored his own commission’s findings and kept marijuana on Schedule 1, saying “we need, and I use the word ‘all out war,’ on all fronts” when it came to weed.

Sanders and Clinton also disagreed on the death penalty this week:

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) stood by his long-standing opposition to the death penalty on Thursday, calling for an end to the policy during a Senate speech on criminal justice.

“When we talk about criminal justice reform, I believe it is time for the United States of America to join almost every other Western, industrialized country on Earth in saying no to the death penalty,” Sanders said during his speech on the Senate floor. “We are all shocked and disgusted by some of the horrific murders that we see in this country, seemingly every week. And that is precisely why we should abolish the death penalty. At a time of rampant violence and murder, the state should not be part of that process.”

Sanders’ remarks come one day after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is also running for president, came out against ending capital punishment, adding that she believes the use of the death penalty should be “very limited and rare.”

…The Vermont senator has publicly opposed the death penalty for his entire tenure in Congress. In 1991, his first year as a member of the House of Representatives, Sanders spoke out against the policy during debate on the Violent Crime Prevention Act of 1991, which sought to expand the death penalty.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, another primary rival of Clinton and Sanders, is also opposed to the death penalty. In 2013, he signed a bill abolishing the practice in Maryland.

According to a Gallup poll conducted earlier this year, 61 percent of Americans are in favor of the death penalty in murder convictions, while 37 percent are not.

Of course. Hillary Clinton remains guided by the polls as opposed to principle. In calling for the death penalty to be rare, it is interesting that she uses the same word she uses for what should come of abortion, a position which has long frustrated many abortion rights activists for the manner in which it stigmatizes women who choose to have an abortion, and it provides cover for the religious right’s battle to restrict access to abortion.

The Democrats were disagreeing over real issues while the Republicans were engaged in distortions of the facts and bashing of the mainstream media. Among the Republican lies debunked, PolitiFact classified Chris Christie’s claim that Bernie Sanders is “going to raise your taxes to 90 percent” as “pants on fire.”

Update: Add Social Security expansion to the issues which Sanders and Clinton disagreed on in the past week. Plus additional debunking of Hillary Clinton’s revisionist history on her past support of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Originally posted at Liberal Values

#seekingjustice: Mexican Court Could Legalize Recreational Weed On Wednesday

Mexico’s highest court is considering legalizing marijuana for personal use. On Wednesday, the Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, the Supreme Court, will vote on a legal filing that could pave the way for every Mexican citizen to grow marijuana in their backyards. The petition, filed in 2013, argues on behalf of a pro-marijuana group that laws banning pot infringe on a citizen’s right to free development of personality. Like books, movies, and moral teachings, the plaintiffs have argued that they should be allowed to put whatever they choose into their brains, including THC.

Ahead of the ruling, marijuana advocates were excited. In Mexico, The Association for Responsible Self-Consumption and Tolerance (SMART en español ) who brought the suit are making their arguments to the media. SMART lawyer Andres Aguinaco says that the group is focusing on libertarian arguments, not the contributions of prohibition to the country’s drug war.

“The state cannot prohibit you from eating a bunch of tacos because it’s bad for your health,” Aguinaco told Fusion ’s Rafa Fernandez De Castro.

Drug policy reformers in the U.S. were excited as well. Just take Lisa Sanchez, Latin American Programme Manager for Transform Drug Policy Foundation, who had this to say in a recent blog post for the anti-prohibition Drug Policy Alliance.

“If the Court recognizes that the prohibition of marijuana,” Sanchez says, “consumption and cultivation for non-commercial purposes limits the right to the free development of one’s personality, it may determine that various articles in the General Health Act are unnecessarily punitive.

“This could give citizens the possibility to cultivate marijuana for personal use without having to turn to the underground market.”

Initially, the Supreme Court’s decision could be limited to Mexico’s Federal District (Mexico City). But advocates believe that the ruling would quickly propel legal pot to the wider public.

The decision will come on the heels of an August ruling by a lower court to allow medical marijuana. In that case, a judge ordered that an 8-year-old epilepsy sufferer be allowed access to medicines derived from cannabis.

Officials in Mexico City say that they are ready to put a larger medical marijuana system into practice, according to the Latin Times’ Lilian Cisneros.

Not all Mexicans were enthusiastic about making reefer safer or easier to access. Unlike medical marijuana, they argued, social weed consumption will create illness, not cure it.

“Recreational marijuana is merely a placebo to appease the ongoing ailments and social destruction in which we helplessly wallow,” the Archdiocese of Mexico City wrote in an Oct. 25th editorial.

The Archdiocese argued that if the Supreme Court were to embrace SMART’s libertarian arguments, it would be superseding a moral responsibility with “the salacious preponderance of individualism,” and a capitulation to “marijuana addicts.”

Will the “addicts” prevail over the preachers? We’ll update on this story when the Supreme Court issues its ruling, which is expected late on Wednesday.

#seekingjustice: Black Lives Matter Protesters Interrupt Clinton’s Speech on Criminal Justice

ATLANTA — Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton rolled out new criminal justice proposals Friday in her first public campaign stop in Atlanta, entering a debate on crime and punishment that has galvanized her party’s base and gained support among some Republicans.

The former secretary of state seized on a national discussion about racial tensions and police practices sparked by a series of shooting deaths of unarmed black men by white law enforcement officers, calling for an end to racial profiling and seeking new sentencing guidelines for cocaine convictions.

The event on the campus of Clark Atlanta University, a historically black college, was interrupted by protesters chanting “black lives matter.” Demonstrators have protested several 2016 presidential candidates, urging them to more forcefully address the racial tensions underlying the police shootings.

Clinton, who at times shouted over the protesters, urged them to listen to her speech because it addressed some of their demands. She continued with her speech as they were led out of the building to roars from the crowd of more than 1,000 students.

The appearance in Atlanta was part of Clinton’s effort to maximize her advantage with minority voters in the South as she looks to turn Georgia and other states voting in the “SEC primary” on March 1 into a firewall against her closest competitor, Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Clinton’s proposals, which also include a measure to make it easier for convicted felons to get federal jobs, come amid a growing consensus calling for broader changes to the criminal justice system.

Republican candidates are showing signs of abandoning the “tough-on-crime” proposals of the 1990s that led to soaring incarceration rates but that critics say disproportionately punished minority offenders.

Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul have called for changes to mandatory minimum sentencing laws, saying that some long sentences haven’t helped deter or rehabilitate drug abusers, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wants to give judges more leeway to release nonviolent offenders who are awaiting trial without bail.

The debate comes amid efforts in Georgia led by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal to divert more nonviolent offenders from long prison sentences toward treatment programs. After five years of changes that have reduced incarceration rates and cut corrections costs, Georgia is seen as a national example of a conservative approach to criminal justice reform.

The shift marks a distinct change in national law enforcement policy. George H.W. Bush’s tough-on-crime stance helped him win the 1988 election, and Bill Clinton pushed anti-crime legislation that committed to putting 10,000 more officers on the streets and increased prison sentences.

More than 2.2 million Americans are now behind bars — a rate that’s nearly doubled since Bill Clinton took office — and he has since disavowed the tougher sentencing standards.

Hillary Clinton’s proposal would prohibit any law enforcement officer from relying on race when making routine stops or a “spontaneous investigative activity” unless there’s information linking the person to a crime.

She also said she wants to end disparities in sentencing between people caught with powder cocaine and those found with crack. President Barack Obama signed a law in 2010 that helped bring down a 100-to-1 sentencing disparity to 18-to-1, but those convicted of using crack still face far steeper penalties.

Clinton said she plans to make them even by increasing the threshold for crack offenses so it meets the powder cocaine guidelines because, she said, treating both forms of the drug differently hurts black Americans.

“We’re talking about two forms of the same drug,” she said. “It makes no sense to treat them differently.”

And she said she will sign an order to “ban the box,” a move preventing government agencies as well as contractors from asking about a job seeker’s criminal history at the initial application stage. Clinton said the measure, which Deal enacted in Georgia earlier this year, would give convicted criminals a better chance to compete for a job.

Clinton and most Republicans seem unwilling to go as far as a proposal outlined this week by Sanders, Clinton’s most serious Democratic challenger. He wants to allow states to decriminalize marijuana, giving states more leeway to regulate the drug.

“We must recognize that blacks are four times more likely than whites to get arrested for marijuana possession, even though the same proportion of blacks and whites use marijuana,” Sanders said Friday in a statement.

Republicans called Clinton, who backed tough-on-crime proposals while in the U.S. Senate, a hypocrite. Republican National Committee spokesman Orlando Watson said she lobbied for the “same policies she is now blaming for mass incarceration.”

“Hillary will say anything to get elected, which is why the majority of Americans continue to find her to be dishonest and untrustworthy,” he said.

Clinton urged the crowd to push both parties to unite behind the changes.

“We have to take on the continuing abuses where oppression is more prevalent than opportunity,” Clinton said. “We have to create those channels of opportunity so that we go from childhood to adulthood pursuing your dreams, instead of cradle to prison and seeing them die.”

Clinton also used her Atlanta stop to announce the start of an African Americans for Hillary group. It was an appeal to a group of voters who have been reluctant to side with Sanders, who despite rising to become Clinton’s main Democratic challenger, has been unable to expand beyond his largely white, liberal base centered in the Northeast.

But while Clinton reached out to African-Americans, not all showed they were willing to take her hand.

Before she could outline her proposal on racial profiling, about a dozen protesters clustered around the front of the stage and drew attention away from the candidate for about 10 minutes as they chanted “black lives matter.”

Influential black Atlanta leaders, including Mayor Kasim Reed and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, both strong Clinton supporters, attempted to talk to some of the protesters.

At a certain point, Clinton asked them to allow her to go on.

“I have some issues and proposals to discuss if my friends will let me speak,” she said.

Shortly after that, authorities led a leader of the protest out. The crowd then began its own chant of “let her speak, let her speak,” and it cheered as the rest of the protesters were pushed out of the room.

Is Your Halloween Candy Made With Child Slave Labor?

(ANTIMEDIA) Los Angeles, CA — As the corporate media and millions of concerned parents shudder at mythical poisoned or drug-laced Halloween candy, another equally toxic ingredient has actually made it into the tons of chocolate Americans will consume this weekend: child slave labor.

If you’ve purchased any of the following brands for sugar-lusting trick-or-treaters this weekend, there is a good chance they were produced by other, less fortunate children halfway around the world: Kit Kat, Reese’s, Reese’s Pieces, Hershey’s, M&M’s, Snickers, Milky Way, Twix, Dove, Three Musketeers, Butterfinger, Baby Ruth, and Crunch — as well as any other chocolate brands owned by the Hershey’s, Nestle, and Mars companies — are implicated in the employment of child labor, which is often forced and highly abusive.

West Africa is home to two-thirds of the world’s cacao beans (cocoa), the main ingredient in chocolate. Cocoa is a commodity that fuels the $90 billion industry and enriches candy giants who produce dozens of different chocolate brands. The demand for cheap cocoa, however, has encouraged child labor and slavery in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, among other nations. Unfortunately, though this is old news, the public remains either woefully uninformed or knowledgeable and apathetic.

As a 2000 documentary called Slavery: A Global Investigation revealed, the conditions of chocolate child laborers are perilous. Nineteen children freed from slavery near the Ivory Coast  — and their new guardian — detailed the staggering conditions of the cutthroat trade: the young children worked “from dawn until dusk every day” and were forced to sleep in small sheds. They were given a tin cup in which to urinate. The children endured a six-month “breaking in” process which included regular beatings. Sadly, they had difficulty understanding why they were not paid for their hard labor, which included carrying 100-pound bags of cocoa beans and, often, exposure to hazardous conditions.

Aly Diabata, a former child laborer, recalled his experience: “The beatings were a part of my life. I had seen others who tried to escape. When they tried, they were severely beaten.”

The Daily Beast summarized parts of the now-14-year-old documentary:

Before beatings, the boys say they were stripped naked and tied up. They were then pummeled with a variety of weapons, from fists and feet to belts and whips. In the film, some of the boys get up and imitate the beatings.Others stand to reveal hundreds of scars lining their backs and torsossome still bloody and scabbed. They get quiet when the filmmakers ask whether any are beaten today and say some are simply ‘taken away.’

One “slave master” explained to filmmakers his motivation for abusing the child laborers under his control: “He is paid a low price for the cocoa and thus needs to harvest as much of it as he possibly can.”

Though the slave master’s callous was callous, the documentary evoked moderate outrage in the United States — largely from the companies thriving from the forced labor. The Hershey Company reacted to these revelations with disgust, with then-Senior Vice President Robert M. Reese claiming the chocolate conglomerate had no prior knowledge of the reprehensible conditions:

[N]o one, repeat, no one, had ever heard of this,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2001.  “Your instinct is that Hershey should have known. But the fact is we didn’t know,” he said, echoing similar sentiments from other chocolate giants. After conducting “internal investigations,” the companies found their cocoa beans were, indeed, harvested by children.

When Congress moved to amend an agricultural bill that would require candy companies to label products made by child labor, the Chocolate Manufacturers Association (CMA), which included Mars, Nestle, and Hershey’s, waged a massive lobbying effort to kill the bill. Though the House of Representatives passed the law with a 291-115 vote, the CMA hired lobbyists Bob Dole and George Mitchell — both former senators — to work against it in the Senate. Ultimately, the two lobbyists advised the industry to draft a voluntary agreement rather than fight the bill.

In September 2001, the CMA drafted that voluntary plan of action to facilitate “the elimination of the worst forms of child labor.” Finally, they agreed to the Harkin-Engel Protocol (named for two of the lawmakers who negotiated it, Representative Eliot Engel, and Senator Tom Harkin) and pledged between $1 million and $2 million to investigate child labor practices in the cocoa industry. They vowed to help reduce the practice.

By 2005, the chocolate companies had donated millions of dollars without accomplishing any major changes, so they were granted an extension until 2008 to fulfill their commitment. Stagnant progress after that first extension prompted another until 2010. At that time, a joint agreement called for chocolate producers to reduce child labor in Ghana and the Ivory Coast by 70%, but five years later, the industry has failed again.

A 2015 study sponsored by the Department of Labor and executed by researchers at the Payson Center for International Development of Tulane University found the percentage of children working in the cocoa industry in the Ivory Coast had increased 51% from 2008-09 to 2013-14.

Ghana fared better than the Ivory Coast and received praise for reducing the number of child laborers and those exposed to hazardous conditions. The report acknowledged that internal strife in these regions caused by civil war and political discord had contributed to the labor problem, but still concluded the chocolate companies had utterly failed to fulfill the pledge made with the Harkin-Engel agreement. As the report summarized, “In 2013/14, 2.26 million children were working in cocoa production, 2.12 million children were working in child labor in cocoa production and 2.03 million children were working in hazardous work in cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana combined.

Legal battles have erupted over these child labor practices.

In September 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled that a group of “John Does” forced to work as child slaves on West African cocoa plantations could sue Nestle under the Alien Tort Statute. But in June of this year, eight Ninth Circuit judges dissented against that ruling, arguing the original decision was a result of “substitut[ing] sympathy for legal analysis.” Nevertheless, the ruling stood.

When the chocolate companies had still failed to reduce their dependency on child labor this year, anotherlawsuit was filed on September 30. Three individual complainants filed separate federal class action suits against Mars, Nestle, and Hershey’s. The suits seeki compensation for California consumers who unknowingly ate chocolate produced by child slaves. Though the complaints have the appearance of self-interest because the claim is personal ‘damage,’ they highlight the cocoa industry’s abusive practices.

America’s largest and most profitable food conglomerates should not tolerate child labor, much less child slave labor, anywhere in their supply chains,” all three suits argue. Each plaintiff is seeking compensatory damages for false advertising and failure to notify customers of the child labor practices.

In spite of these legal efforts, Miki Mistrati, who made the documentary Shady Chocolate in 2014, does not believe lawsuits will effectively end the practice. “There is no doubt that a campaign about the reality in chocolate production will harm the chocolate companies,” Mistrati said. “Modern slavery with children is a part of the chocolate industry today. But I do not think that it can be the real game changer,” he added.

The filmmaker placed partial responsibility on consumers, who are often unaware and unconcerned with where and how their indulgences are produced. “Consumers have not been critical enough,” he said. “They have not asked why a chocolate bar only costs $1 when the cocoa comes from Africa. Customers have been too easy to trick with smart ads. It is over now.” However, he did not fully discount the most recent suits, saying, “This trial is a unique opportunity for the world to see how their chocolate is produced and why it is so cheap.

Not surprisingly, the companies continues to deny fault. In response to the California lawsuits, Nestle touted a $100 million effort to improve the cocoa trade — but that initiative isn’t specific to ending child labor. In acomment to the Daily Beast, Hershey lamented the practice and said it would invest $400 million in the trade — but this investment wasn’t specific to ending child labor, either. Mars nebulously told the Daily Beast it was “committed to being part of the solution.

Americans will spend $2.1 billion on Halloween candy this year, and a lot of the candy companies’ profits will be from chocolate.  In spite of the chocolate industry’s proactive rhetoric, it remains that their financial success is dependent on child labor — much of it forced — and they have thus far broken their promises to significantly improve their practices.

Because of these skewed priorities, children continue to suffer. A former child slave featured in Slavery: A Global Investigation imagined what he would say to the billions of people worldwide who enjoy the chocolate he produced: “They enjoy something I suffered to make; I worked hard for them but saw no benefit. They are eating my flesh.

Find information on chocolate brands free of child labor here.

This article (Is Your Halloween Candy Made With Child Slave Labor?) is a free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Carey Wedler and Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11 pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. Image credit: Captain USA. If you spot a typo,

#seekingjustice: Federal Judge Grants Immunity To Texas Cop In Shooting Death Of Larry Jackson

Larry Jackson Jr (left) was caught and shot by Charles Kleinert (right) after seeing him flee a bank. Photograph: Family photo; booking photo

Update October 30, 2015: Yesterday, a federal judge granted a form of prosecutorial immunity to Charles Kleinert, the police detective that shot and killed Larry Jackson, Jr, an unarmed black man, in Austin, Texas in 2013.

U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that because Kleinert was acting within his duties as a member of a FBI joint task force on bank robberies, he was entitled to “Supremacy Clause Immunity” based on a relatively obscure precedent set in a 1889 case.

This may end the case against Kleinert, and Tony Plohetski, a reporter at the Austin American-Statesman, noted, “It is unclear whether prosecutors will appeal, which could keep the case alive for the next several months as the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reviews the ruling.”

Adam Loewy, the attorney representing Jackson’s parents, told Matt Largey, a reporter for Austin public radio station KUT, that the decision was an “outrage,” adding:

“He was indicted by a Travis County jury, and he just got off on a legal technicality. That is the way the system is set up in this country and it must change.”

Loewy said he intends to ask the Justice Department to review the case.

On Facebook, organizers with the community group People’s Task Force called for a rally in response to the decision on Sunday evening.

Original story published :

AUSTIN, Texas — Two years ago, Austin Police Det. Charles Kleinert shot and killed Larry Jackson, Jr., an unarmed black man, under a bridge near one of the city’s many greenbelt trails. His death was the savage culmination of a wild chase through the city that ultimately led to Kleinert’s early retirement and indictment for manslaughter.

When Austin’s black community gathered on Aug. 24 for a forum on race and policing, it was Larry Jackson’s name on everyone’s lips. Although far from being the only source of tension between residents and police, Jackson’s death has united a diverse community of activists seeking police reform.

Adam Loewy, an Austin lawyer retained by the victim’s family, who sat on the panel at the forum, claims Jackson was “hunted down and beaten” before being murdered.

Kleinert maintains that his gun went off by accident, but Loewy dismisses this, based on his evaluation of the evidence. “You just don’t accidentally shoot someone in the back of the head,” he told MintPress News.

After multiple delays, Kleinert’s trial was recently moved to federal court. The former detective’s lawyers now argue that an obscure legal loophole may make him completely immune to prosecution, and the community that’s waited so long for Kleinert to have his day in court are worried justice is slipping out of reach.

Injustice in a growing city

Although Austin is known for being one of Texas’ most liberal cities, its race problem is almost undeniable. Recent studies have found that Austin’s population remains deeply segregated, a legacy of an openly racist, pre-civil rights era that’s only worsened amid gentrification and a rapidly rising cost of living.

A 2014 study by the University of Texas found that Austin is the only city in the United States experiencing double-digit population growth while simultaneously losing its black population:

“Austin, Texas has consistently ranked among the fastest growing major cities in the United States (a major city is defined here as one with a population of more than 500,000 in 2000). U.S. Census data from 2000 and 2010 reveal a total population growth rate of 20.4%, making Austin the third fastest growing major city in the nation during that decade.

… Austin experienced a decline in African Americans at -5.4%, with general population growth of 20.4%. It is the only city among the ten fastest growing cities where general population growth and African-American growth point in opposite directions.”  

#seekingjustice: Europe Votes to Shield Snowden From Extradition to United States

An EU flag at the European Parliament. European Parliament
By a vote of 285 to 281, the European Parliament passed a nonbinding resolution today calling on member states to “drop any criminal charges against Edward Snowden, grant him protection, and consequently prevent extradition or rendition by third parties.” The move is a “recognition of his status as a whistle-blower and international human rights defender.”

Speaking through his Twitter account, Snowden hailed the vote as being a “game changer.”

“This is not a blow against the US Government, but an open hand extended by friends,” he added. “It is a chance to move forward.”

In a separate vote, members of the European Parliament voted that “too little has been done to safeguard citizens’ fundamental rights following revelations of electronic mass surveillance.” That resolution, passed by a vote of 342 to 274 with 29 abstentions, urges the EU Commission to ensure that all data transfers to the US have an “effective level of protection.”

“It’s the first time a parliament votes to ask for this to be done—and it’s the European Parliament,” Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German Party lawmaker, told The New York Times in an interview after the vote. “So this has an impact surely on the debate in the member states.”

“Our position has not changed,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for the National Security Council. “Mr. Snowden is accused of leaking classified information and faces felony charges here in the United States. As such, he should be returned to the US as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process.”

Snowden has been living in Russia, where he was granted asylum after leaking top-secret documents about surveillance. He’s been charged under the 1917 Espionage Act which, as The Guardian notes, provides for criminal penalties for any disclosure of state secrets and would not allow Snowden to argue that his revelations had a public benefit.

The EU vote comes the same day that a US federal appeals court allowed the NSA bulk phone data program to continue for another six months so that it can come to “an orderly end.”

Federal Judge Stops Alabama from Defunding Planned Parenthood

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered Alabama to restore Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, money the state tried to cut off in the wake of undercover videos shot by abortion opponents.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued an order that temporarily bars Alabama from cutting off Medicaid contracts with the group’s clinics in Alabama. Planned Parenthood Southeast and a Medicaid recipient filed suit in August, days after Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley announced he was ending the Medicaid agreements with the two clinics.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the women who rely on Planned Parenthood for quality, compassionate affordable health care,” said Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast. “It’s outrageous that Governor Bentley is trying to take care away from women and families in our communities who need it the most.”

In his 66-page opinion, Thompson said Alabama did not identify a legal reason to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood and that the state’s action likely violated a free-choice-of-provider provision of the federal Medicaid Act that limits a state’s ability to bar family planning providers for reasons unrelated to the quality of care.

A Medicaid recipient, identified only as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, who received her birth control injection at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Alabama, joined the organization in suing the state.

The ruling is the latest victory for Planned Parenthood in battles over funding.

Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas and Utah have all moved to block Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood. Republican governors cited secretly recorded videos, shot by abortion opponents, which showed Planned Parenthood workers coolly discussing fetal tissue and fees for donating the tissue to researchers.

Thompson noted Alabama’s termination letter to Planned Parenthood did not give a reason for the ending the provider agreement that the organization could appeal through administrative channels.

Bentley later cited the videos in statements he gave about his decision saying the organization’s “deplorable practices” had been exposed. Thompson, in his opinion, said the videos did not depict, or involve the Alabama clinics.

Planned Parenthood said the videos were heavily edited to falsely imply some clinics were selling the tissue for profit. The organization, in an effort to squelch the controversy, announced this month it would no longer accept reimbursement for the cost of providing the tissue to researchers.

The governor said he was disappointed in Thompson’s decision and was mulling the next steps.

“I am disappointed, and vehemently disagree with the Court’s ruling today. We are reviewing the opinion and will determine the next legal steps within the appeal period,” Bentley said in a statement.

The governor credited pushback from the states for Planned Parenthood’s decision to end the reimbursement program.

Lawyers for Alabama argued in court filings that the videos raised concerns by the governor that abortion methods might be altered to obtain the best quality tissue, instead of what it is best for the patient.

Thompson, in rejecting the latter argument, said that was “beside the point” because the two Alabama clinics do not participate in the fetal tissue donation program.

“The parties do not dispute that no employee or representative of Planned Parenthood Southeast is depicted in these videos and that PPSE does not participate in fetal-tissue donation and never has,” Thompson said.

Federal judges have ordered Louisiana and Utah too, at least for now, continue providing funding to Planned Parenthood amid ongoing legal fights over states’ effort to cut off Medicaid dollars. A judge directed Arkansas to continue providing Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood to cover services for three patients who sued the state, but Planned Parenthood is seeking to expand the order to cover all Medicaid recipients.

Unlike some states that have fought Planned Parenthood over funding, Alabama’s Medicaid program has paid little to the healthcare provider.

Alabama Medicaid Agency records show that the state has paid Planned Parenthood Southeast $5,600 over the past two years. The payments were for reimbursement for providing contraceptives for low-income women. Medicaid does not pay for abortion unless the mother’s life is in danger or it is a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.

Mainstream Media Publishes Attack on Alternative Media Outlets to Promote War and the GOP

Minneapolis, Minnesota (TFC) – The Minnesota-based StarTribune ran a commentary that implied a list of alternative sites were on the payroll of the regime of President Assad of Syria. The implication is buried in a rant that bemoans the named outlets’ habit of criticizing US efforts for regime change. It uses language stating that the outlets “provide no information on how they are funded or the names of a board.” It goes on to state that one outlet is “accountable only to its anonymous funders.”  The Fifth Column was not listed for reasons that will become clear later.

Through extremely difficult analysis and hours of gut wrenching investigation, The Fifth Column was able to determine that the outlets in question are funded the same way just about everything on the internet is: by those annoying little ads all over the sites. It wasn’t really difficult to figure out considering this outlet and the StarTribune are funded the same way. Some of the sites listed do have donation buttons that allow a reader to send in a couple of dollars to a site they particularly enjoy. It should be noted that the StarTribune does not have a link to a financial report on its site.

“Who are these sites? Mint Press, Info Wars, the Anti-Media, Shadowproof, Media Roots, Counter Current News, SouthFront and Zero Hedge are among the alternative ‘news’ organizations that provide no information on how they are funded or the names of a board. They variously describe themselves with words and phrases such as ‘independent,’ ‘watchdog,’ ‘citizen journalism,’ ‘news from outside party lines,’ and so on.”

My work can be found on about half of these sites. Most of my work deals with the international arena, and without going back to check I can say with a high degree of confidence that I’ve written about Syria for at least 3 or 4 of the above-named outlets. Because of that, maybe I see this as a bit of a personal attack. In the interests of full disclosure, I will say that I have never received any funds from any special interest group, Syrian related or otherwise.

The author singles out Mint Press for a special attack.

“Minneapolis-based Mint Press is best known for its story based on one unknown reporter’s claim that the Syrian rebels were behind the August 2013 chemical attack that killed 1,300. The story went viral. Russian President Vladimir Putin cited it to defend Assad. The Christian Science Monitor found the story ‘mind-boggling’ and asked if it was a ‘disinformation operation.’ Mint Press stands behind it, despite the findings of a U.N. Commission that the chemicals ‘appear to come from the stockpiles of the Syrian military.’”

Attempting to call into question the legitimacy of an outlet while simultaneously citing The Christian Science Monitor is interesting to say the least. What is more interesting is that the Editor in Chief of Mint Press, Mnar Muhawesh, recently spoke about the process of manufacturing consent for war to a crowd in the vicinity of the StarTribune. Mnar is easily one of the loudest voices for the Arab world in the US media. From what I’ve seen of her character, I wouldn’t expect her to be going anywhere anytime soon. It would be best if the author just became accustomed to her being around.

Islamic State fighter with US-made M4.
Islamic State fighter with US-made M4.

The quote the author pulled from the UN Commission is, much like the rest of her article, misleading. Yes, the UN did say that the weapons “appear to come from the stockpiles of the Syrian military.” I would be willing to go further than the UN and say that the weapons almost certainly originated from the Syrian military’s stockpiles, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Syrian military used them. The war in Syria has been a constant string of defections. When forces defect, they tend to take their equipment with them. Weapons are also captured by opposition forces and then used later. Earlier this year, the Kurds were struck by chemical weapon attacks initiated by the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. Remarkably, the UN group that is monitoring the decommissioning of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons was not sent to investigate. There are scores of photos available that show forces from every side driving US-made Humvees while carrying US-made M4 rifles. While US foreign policy is certainly duplicitous, are we to believe that the US is arming every faction in the war? If the author doesn’t understand the basic fact that weapons frequently change hands during war perhaps she shouldn’t be writing about a war. Maybe there’s a state spelling bee or something that would be more suited to her level of expertise.

I doubt there are any journalists at the sites listed above that support Assad’s government (most of them wouldn’t support any government), they simply oppose US intervention. The US government has sought to overthrow Assad’s government since before the war began. The narrative being pushed by this article is that the only options are to allow the US to overthrow yet another government, or to support Assad. Those aren’t even remotely close to the only options. The author is identified as “Terry Burke, of St. Louis Park is a volunteer for the Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria.” If the author was truly in solidarity with the Syrian people, wouldn’t she want to see the war end? Wouldn’t it be better for the US to stop arming rebel groups that almost invariably end up defecting to the Islamic State?

The best part about the whole piece is that while the author is accusing the above sites of some agenda, she doesn’t even realize that she’s playing a part in someone else’s agenda. While I may just be a cut-rate journalist that writes for sites the author doesn’t want to call real news sites, I humbly ask your indulgence while I lay out how a real conflict of interest and agenda setting works.

Terry Burke is the author of the article. She is a volunteer with a very small organization. It’s unlikely that the StarTribune ran the piece to appeal to the built-in audience of a group with a whopping 350 social media followers. It’s unlikely that the content, as dissected above, appealed to the editorial staff as ground-breaking. However, it does support regime change. The StarTribune seems to support this idea. Why? Who owns the StarTribune? Glen Taylor. Who is Glen Taylor? He’s the billionaire that owns Taylor Corp. What is Taylor Corp? The part that is relevant is that it’s the company that gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Republican Party. Glen Taylor was at one time a Republican State Senator. Destabilizing Assad is a Republican dream. It began under President Bush in 2006.  Why are the Republicans so supportive of this idea? Money. The defense industry that will make billions off of the war has bought the Republican party with campaign contributions. The industry has spent more than$1,323,900,000 lobbying federal officials since 2006. All of the top ten recipients of the money in 2016, with the notable exception of Hillary Clinton, are Republicans.

When trying to establish a conflict of interest, you have to actually show where it might exist. You can’t just jump and down like petulant child screaming “they take donations” or “I can’t find where their funding comes from!”

While I believe that Burke truly believes she is acting in the best interests of the Syrian people, I would point out that regime change in Iraq cost about half a million lives. She doesn’t have all of the facts, and because of this she is condemning hundreds of thousands of people to death.

Then again, what do I know? I simply work for “news” sites.

So why wasn’t The Fifth Column listed when the content is basically the same? Simple. We don’t have a donation button, which means the author would have to acknowledge that ads primarily fund all sites. There’s also the fact that we tend to cover Assad’s crimes more often than other sites. Why? Every site has a limited amount of resources, decisions are made by journalists as to which stories to cover. Because of our coverage of Kurdistan, the Syrian government’s misdeeds are more relevant to our readers. It’s that simple. That doesn’t mean the listed outlets are pro-Assad. It means their journalists aren’t covering the Kurdish side of the war as in-depth as TFC. Saying that because an outlet isn’t covering something it must support the other side is ridiculous. We didn’t cover the Republican debate. Does that mean we support the Democratic party? Of course not. We didn’t cover them either. That’s the funny thing about newspapers: you can fill libraries with the stuff they don’t publish.

#seekingjustice: Feds Response to South Carolina Incident Unprecdented

Just one day after a video surfaced of a white South Carolina high school resource officer flipping a black student in her chair and dragging her across a classroom, the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice said they would investigate the incident, which quickly garnered national attention. Yet in previous cases involving police using what was seen as excessive force on a racial minority, federal agencies have sometimes taken months to decide to investigate—or chosen not to investigate at all.

Several criminal justice experts say the speed with which the FBI and the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department announced they would investigate the South Carolina incident is unprecedented. And some say this may indicate that the federal government is finally reacting appropriately to what activists believe are widespread issues of police misconduct.

“I think it’s extremely quick, based on past cases,” says William Terrill, a criminal justice professor at Michigan State University. “Obviously, the tone and the tenor of police-community relations going on in the past year… Plus, certainly the civil rights division has been getting involved in more and more cases. But it’s usually not this quick.”

The controversial video surfaced on Twitter on Monday and quickly ricocheted across the Web. It appears to show Ben Fields, a sheriff’s deputy with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and a school resource officer at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina, during a violent interaction with a student. During a press conference on Monday, a police spokesman said the interaction happened after the teacher and a school administrator had asked the girl to leave her seat and she refused. The student was eventually arrested, as was another student. A second video of the interaction has also surfaced.

Fields was fired from the police force on Wednesday.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott quickly requested that the FBI and Justice Department investigate the incident, and the two agencies announced Tuesday they would do so. A Justice Department spokesman said in a statement: “The Columbia FBI Field Office, the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina have opened a civil rights investigation into the circumstances surrounding the arrest of a student at Spring Valley High School. The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence in order to determine whether a federal law was violated.”

For some officer-involved incidents, the federal government has swiftly opened investigations. In the case of Michael Brown, the teen gunned down by a cop in August 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, it was only two days after his death. And for Freddie Gray, who died in police custody in Baltimore, an investigation was opened nine days after his death in April 2015.

Others have taken longer. The Justice Department did not open its investigation into the officer-involved chokehold death of Eric Garner in July 2014 for nearly five months. And activists are still calling for investigations into the officer-involved deaths of Tamir Rice in Cleveland in November 2014 and church musician Corey Jones in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, earlier this month.

Because reports have said the student in the South Carolina case was uninjured, the incident tracks closely to one in Texas during a pool party in June, when a white officer was filmed drawing his weapon and aggressively arresting a black teenage girl. The federal government has not investigated that incident, even though video posted online of the altercation caused national outrage.

“They’re acting in cases where, in the past, I would not have expected it,” says Samuel Walker, civil liberties and policing expert and the author of more than a dozen books, including The New World of Police Accountability. Like Terrill, of Michigan State, Walker says he can’t think of any instances in which the federal government decided to investigate this type of incident so speedily.

Criminal justice and civil rights experts say the classroom setting of the South Carolina incident may have prompted the rapid federal response.

“This administration and the Justice Department have been particularly interested in issues of school discipline and in the possibility of discrimination and discipline,” says Dennis Parker, director of the racial justice program for the American Civil Liberties Union. “I think that certainly, given their interest in the impact of improper discipline, that it would make sense for them to take more seriously an incident or at least to move more quickly on an incident in schools,” he says. “It also makes sense because obviously this involves children; it involves an educational institution.”

Parker is referring to a study released by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in 2014 on the disproportionately higher rate of suspensions for students of color. The Department of Education and the Justice Department also last year released what the agencies called a “school discipline guidance package” to advise schools on using “responses to misbehavior that are fair, non-discriminatory and effective.”

Parker adds that the federal government should take cases involving nonschool settings just as seriously. “I certainly hope they treat all instances of possible constitutional violations seriously,” he says.

Another reason for the speedy announcement in the South Carolina incident, says Steve Silverman, executive director of Flex Your Rights, a nonprofit that educates people about interacting with the police, is because the incident was caught on camera.

“The police chiefs can’t sit on their hands while the officer works on his story,” he says. “This kind of video evidence allows police chiefs to quickly act…. The speed must have happened on account of the video.”

Walker, the civil rights, and policing expert, also points out that the announcement to investigate comes just days after FBI Director James Comey came under fire for comments he made linking an increase in crime to police who are afraid to do their jobs because of public scrutiny, especially since Ferguson.

While civil rights activists applaud the involvement of the FBI and Justice Department, Terrill says it is important that federal agencies step in only when there is clear indication that a police officer has broken a federal law. Finding that the officer used excessive force because of the student’s race could bring about a federal charge, for example, but excessive force without racial motivation would need to be handled at a more local level, Terrill says.

“If they think that there was a federal crime…certainly they can investigate this, and it’s within their jurisdiction,” Terrill says. “I’m hoping they have some degree of evidence or some reasonable suspicion or probable cause in some manner, even if circumstantial in nature, [that there] has been [a] federal crime, because short of that they are overstepping their bounds…. Short of that, it could be a clear overstepping of bounds and could set a dangerous precedent.”

It’s Not Just Roads And Bridges: US Courthouses Are Crumbling, Too

AUSTIN, Texas — Just as many American roads are crumbling and bridges are badly in need of repair, the legal infrastructure of the country — specifically, its courthouses — is also endangered by age and overcrowding.

Starting this week, early voters in Travis County, Texas, are deciding on a bond that would fund the construction of a new family courthouse to replace an existing 84-year-old structure in downtown Austin, the Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse, with a larger and more modern facility. And, like Austin, cities from Seattle to Miami have struggled with how to accommodate aging buildings alongside other budget issues like the growing cost of policing.

MintPress News spoke with Tyler Buckingham, assistant campaign manager from New Courts For Families, the campaign in support of the $287,275,000 bond that would fund the construction of a new courthouse complex on a downtown lot already owned by the state’s capital city. Buckingham explained that while accessible, safe courthouses are crucial to a democratic society, the issue can sometimes go overlooked by the media or politicians.

“Courthouses are expensive and no one wants to build these things,” he said. Buckingham compared the courthouse to expensive car maintenance that can only be put off for so long before a vehicle breaks down. “You have to pay that money. It’s expensive and no one likes doing it, but you have to do it, and courthouses are kind of like that.”

Michael King, news editor for The Austin Chronicle, wrote that the problems facing the existing courthouse are remarkably similar to those faced when it was built:

“The existing courthouse was overcrowded, increasingly dilapidated, infested by vermin, and simply inadequate for its current purposes. … The daily newspaper summarized the opinion of the county judge: ‘All the departments of the building are badly overcrowded and a new courthouse has become a crying need of the county.’

Eighty-four years later, the arguments for a new Travis County Civil & Family Courts Complex … sound historically familiar. Arguments for a new civil courthouse have proceeded for at least a decade, and the reasons echo across the century. The courthouse is overcrowded, dilapidated, infested with vermin, and simply inadequate for its current purposes and workload.”

Buckingham stressed that the county has done a “phenomenal job” expanding the capabilities of the current Heman Marion Sweatt Courthouse. When it was originally built in 1931, for example, it lacked women’s restrooms and featured segregated facilities for black people. Despite decades of progress, modernization efforts have reached their limits, and due to historical preservation laws, the building cannot be expanded any more.

As an example of its current problems, he said only certain floors have handicap-accessible restrooms, and visiting those floors often requires a ride on cramped, antique elevators that frequently break down. When the elevators break, parts have to be special ordered at great expense.

Security is also a major concern due to overcrowding and the increasing load placed on family courts in a rapidly growing city. Indeed, as New Courts for Families notes on its website, “Built when Travis County had only about 78,000 residents, the 84-year-old County Courthouse is overwhelmed by serving today’s 1,158,281 residents.” One major issue is that people seeking restraining orders are often forced to share close quarters with those they’re seeking restraining orders against.

Telephone wires pour down from a hole cut into the the masonry ceiling in the Herman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse. Alberto Martínez AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The bond would fund a multi-story facility with better security during these tense situations, and feature modern standards of safety and accessibility. The plans even include a public library for legal research.

Other cities around the country have struggled with similar issues as their courthouses age. In 2010, Judge Bruce Hilyer, at the time the presiding judge of the Seattle-area King County Superior Court, failed in his campaign to pass a bond to replace a “decaying” juvenile court.

“There really was no Plan B for fixing or replacing the courthouse,” Hilyer told The Stranger in 2011, a Seattle independent weekly paper.

Last November, Miami voters also voted against a $393 million bond to replace their civil courthouse, which was constructed in 1928. noted the courthouse is unsafe in severe weather and “[n]ine of the floors are closed because of mold and asbestos.”

Buckingham is hopeful that Travis County voters will approve the bond, allowing a new courthouse to be built before another decade passes and the situation worsens. “This plan is well reasoned and takes into consideration the concerns of people throughout the county,” he told MintPress.

“Courthouses need to be places that are safe, welcoming, secure and universally accessible for everyone,” Buckingham said.