Monthly Archives: February 2016

Election 2016: Texans Embrace Open Dialogue With Candidates

HARLINGEN, Texas – Grassroots organizations in South Texas, known as the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, say they have found a much better format for community members to interact with candidates at election time.

Rather than repeat the traditional candidate forum, whereby those seeking office sit on the podium and answer pre-selected questions from nonprofit groups, the network organization is now hosting mesa comunitarias, or world cafés, as they are sometimes called.

The new format requires candidates to sit in small groups with community members. The chairs of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network’s various working groups then move around the tables, going through the various issues their committees have focused on.

Open dialogue then follows, with unscripted interaction between the candidates and community members. The protocol follows the ‘stacking’ method whereby a participant is allowed to speak once, but then everyone at the table must have a chance to respond before continuing.

“I was super impressed with this format. It was much more interactive,” said Joseph Cantu, a candidate for Cameron County Commissioner, Precinct 1.

“I am going to recommend it to other communities and other towns. I suggest we see more of these, not only in the Rio Grande Valley but across the United States.”

Cantu participated on Feb. 19 in the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network’s Mesa Comunitaria at Spirit of Praise Church in Harlingen. Amber Arriaga-Salinas, the press officer for the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, said it was a first-of-its kind in the nation. Michael Seifert, a community organizer for the group, said the new format is a big improvement on what went before.

“We have done candidate forums in the past and with each passing iteration of the forums there has been less and less contact with the candidates,” Seifert said.

“At the end of the day, it was a frustrating experience for community members who have children, who have jobs, who have things to do. To go to a forum and not have any interaction is dispiriting. The candidates’ responses were canned; there was no depth. It was just, ‘Trust me, I am honest, trust me, I am honest.’”

The Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network tried a similar format with school superintendents last year. That, too, was a great success, Seifert said.

“This format creates a space where you are literally face-to-face with the candidate. We can say, ‘This is what our people are experiencing. For example, 9-1-1 is not working as it should, or there is no transportation between our neighborhood and the new UTRGV [The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley], or we are really worried about the mosquito infestation that is coming in, and we do not have a lab to test it,’” Seifert said.

“We are concerned people are not voting, and we have got to figure out how to make it easier. Whether you are running for sheriff or county commissioner, you live here. It may not be your jurisdiction, but we think you need to know about these issues.”

Seifert added: “If you look at the faces at the candidate forums it is, ‘When am I getting out of here?’ On both sides, the candidates and the people. Today it was engaged. It was great to see.”

Among the candidates who participated in the Feb. 19 Mesa Comunitaria were Al Perez, who is running for Hidalgo County Sheriff, Maricela De León Leon, who is running for state Representative in District 40, along with Cantu.

Ramona Casas, a community organizer for ARISE Support Center, participated in the event. “With the Mesa Comunitaria, we have found we can better educate the candidates on the issues we have in the community. We can tell them, ‘We want you to be accountable if you are elected,’” Casas said.

Lupita Sanchez, a community organizer for Proyecto Juan Diego, also participated in the event. “Civic engagement is not just about going out to vote once every few years. It is about building communication between the community and those elected,” Sanchez said.

“We achieved our goal today, which was to open lines of communication between the community and future leaders. We are empowering our community to go to their offices.”

Steve Taylor is editor and publisher of the Rio Grande Guardian, where this article first appeared. The news outlet is based in McAllen, Texas. The article is reprinted with permission. Taylor can be reached at Michael Seifert also writes opinion essays for Equal Voice News. About the top image: Members of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network hold a world cafe on Feb. 19 with candidates at the Spirit of Praise Church in Harlingen, Texas. Photo by Jazmin Francis.


Students Interrogated for Organizing Free Speech Event File First Amendment Lawsuit Against University of South Carolina

February 23, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C., February 23, 2016—The University of South Carolina’s (USC’s) marketing materials claim “No Limits” on the student experience—except, it seems, when it comes to constitutional rights. That’s why today, student Ross Abbott and the campus chapters of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) and College Libertarians filed a First Amendment lawsuitagainst USC with the help of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

Last fall, the student groups held an outdoor event displaying posters with examples of expression that had been censored on campuses across the country. Three other students filed formal complaints, claiming that some of the posters were “offensive” and “triggering.” In response, USC served Abbott with a “Notice of Charge” letter and launched an investigation for “discrimination,” threatening him with punishment up to and including expulsion for his protected speech.

Abbott and the campus chapters of YAL and the College Libertarians are now suing USC for violating their free speech rights. FIRE is sponsoring the lawsuit, the twelfth in FIRE’s undefeated national Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project.

“The University of South Carolina is so intolerant of free speech that students can’t even talk about free speech,” said Catherine Sevcenko, FIRE’s director of litigation. “Ironically, the university’s current marketing campaign features the slogan ‘No Limits.’ But as Ross and his fellow students learned, that does not extend to their free speech rights.”

The free speech event, held in a USC “free speech zone” on November 23, 2015, featured information about 11 instances of campus censorship, most of which required FIRE’s intervention. These examples included Modesto Junior College in California preventing a student from handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution; Chicago State University censoring a faculty blog; and George Washington University suspending a Jewish student for placing a souvenir Hindu swastika, obtained on a trip to India, on his residence hall’s bulletin board.

Thinking the event might prove controversial, Abbott showed the posters to the director of campus life beforehand, who approved them and acknowledged the importance of raising awareness about censorship. That did not stop USC from serving Abbott the day after the event with a Notice of Charge letter demanding that he meet with an administrator from the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs to respond to the complaints.

On December 8, 2015, Abbott and YAL President Michael Kriete met with Assistant Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs Carl Wells, a defendant in the lawsuit, for 45 minutes. Wells required Abbott to answer for each poster by explaining the situation it described and justifying the message that he and the others were trying to send. In response, Abbott gave Wells a letter asking that his disciplinary record be expunged, that the university clarify that controversial speech that is protected by the First Amendment will not be penalized under USC policies, and that USC adopt the Chicago Principles, a reaffirmation of the importance of free speech and academic freedom on campus.

Two weeks later, Wells notified Abbott by email that the matter was being dropped. He made no mention of Abbott’s three requests—inaction that prompted today’s lawsuit, as Abbott and the student groups do not want to see other students punished for protected speech in the future.

“Even if University of South Carolina students play by the unconstitutional rules and seek permission to exercise their rights, they still risk punishment,” said Sevcenko. “No one should have to explain their speech to a government bureaucrat under threat of punishment, especially on a college campus, but that is exactly what USC made Ross do.”

The lawsuit challenges a number of USC’s policies, including its free speech zone policy, which restricts student speech to a few areas of campus and requires that students register in advance before they can exercise their First Amendment rights. The lawsuit also challenges USC’s Student Non-Discrimination and Non-Harassment Policy, a vague and overbroad restriction that prohibits “unwelcome” speech and “suggestive or insulting gestures or sounds.”

“I held an educational event for students to learn about their free speech rights. Apparently it was my school’s administrators that needed the lesson,” said Abbott. “Now, with FIRE’s help, we’re going to give it to them.”

FIRE has retained preeminent First Amendment attorney Robert Corn-Revere of the law firmDavis Wright Tremaine and his colleagues Ronald London and Lisa Zycherman to represent the students in this Stand Up For Speech lawsuit.

FIRE is a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and freedom of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at


Katie Barrows, Communications Coordinator, FIRE: 215-717-3473;

Schools: University of South Carolina ColumbiaCases: University of South Carolina — Stand Up For Speech Lawsuit

(Video) 106 Year-Old Woman Celebrates Black History Month Dancing with the President

Consider how much civil rights history 106-year-old Virginia McLaurin has witnessed.

The depths of violent segregation. The Harlem Renaissance. Integration of the U.S. military. The infamous Tuskegee Syphilis experiment. Jackie Robinson and the smashing of the color barrier in Major League Baseball. The rise of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

Brown v. Board of Education. The death of Emmett Till and the defiance of Rosa Parks on a bus. James Meredith, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and hundreds of other civil rights icons.

The Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. James E. Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, killed while working to register black voters in Mississippi.

Thurgood Marshall, the first black man on the U.S. Supreme Court. Carl Stokes of Cleveland, the first black mayor of a major U.S. city. Douglas Wilder and Deval Patrick, the nation’s only black governors. Colin Powell, the first African-American U.S. secretary of state.

Robert Lawrence, Jr. the first black astronaut; Guion Bluford, the first black astronaut in space; Mae Jemison, the first black female astronaut; and Frederick Gregory, the first African-American shuttle commander. Sidney Poitier and Halle Berry, the first African-American man and woman to win Oscars for best actor and actress. Condoleezza Rice, the first black female U.S. secretary of state.

Now she meets the nation’s first black president, something she never imagined, and in Barack and Michelle Obama, she sees the product of individual sacrifices.

That’s why she’s dancing.

Lawyer Convicted of Grand Theft Turns to Lobbying

A former congressional aide with a criminal background is now lobbying for his former boss.
Morris Thomas was convicted of felony grand theft in 1992. A lawyer at the time, he stole money he had recovered for his clients. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison and resigned his California bar license.
Despite Thomas’ criminal history, former Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) hired him four years ago as his director for California’s 25th District. During the 2012 election, McKeon’s opponent challenged him about Thomas’ background, but McKeon stood by his staffer and won the seat. “As a man of faith, I am a believer in forgiveness and giving people a second chance,” McKeon said at the time.
McKeon did not seek re-election in 2014 and instead opened his own lobbying firm, McKeon Group LLC. Thomas then joined him as regional director but only recently became a registered federal lobbyist for McKeon, representing Antelope Valley Transit Authority on transportation issues.

Georgia House Passes ‘Campus Carry’ Bill Legalizing Guns at Colleges

ATLANTA — The Georgia state House voted Monday to legalize carrying concealed guns on Georgia’s college campuses.

State Rep. Rick Jasperse, a Republican, said: “It’s a real-world solution to a real-world problem. In today’s world, it’s a must.”

But in a 90-minute debate before the 113-59 vote, Democratic state Rep. Virgil Fludd said the bill would allow the weapons with “no instruction, no training, no supervision.”

“We’re putting (students) in volatile situations with alcohol and hormones,” Fludd said.

The bill would allow anyone 21 or older with a weapons license to carry a gun anywhere on a public college or university campus, except for inside dormitories, fraternities, and sorority houses, and at athletic events. It also would mandate that those weapons be concealed — something proponents say make it safer — since Georgia requires gun owners to apply for “concealed carry” permits that require fingerprinting and background checks.

Recent events close to the Georgia Capitol, however, have added to the latest push. A few blocks from the Capitol building, robberies at Georgia State University’s downtown campus library — committed within weeks of each other, with two occurring on the same day — have increased support among some students and lawmakers for the right to carry concealed weapons on campus.

The state’s Board of Regents, which regulates the state’s 29 public colleges and universities, has long opposed “campus carry,” and it has blocked previous attempts to allow guns on campuses. The most recent attempt came in 2014 when the state House voted to legalize campus carry as part of a broader effort called the “Guns Everywhere Bill.” The state Senate, however, stripped the campus-carry language out of the bill before it was passed.

With Monday’s House passage, the campus-carry bill goes to the Senate for consideration.

This Is the Real Reason Apple Is Fighting the FBI

The first thing to understand about Apple’s latest fight with the FBI—over a court order to help unlock the deceased San Bernardino shooter’s phone—is that it has very little to do with the San Bernardino shooter’s phone.

It’s not even, really, the latest round of the Crypto Wars—the long-running debate about how law enforcement and intelligence agencies can adapt to the growing ubiquity of uncrackable encryption tools.

Rather, it’s a fight over the future of high-tech surveillance, the trust infrastructure undergirding the global software ecosystem, and how far technology companies and software developers can be conscripted as unwilling suppliers of hacking tools for governments. It’s also the public face of a conflict that will undoubtedly be continued in secret—and is likely already well underway.

First, the specifics of the case. The FBI wants Apple’s help unlocking the work iPhone used by Syed Farook, who authorities believe perpetrated last year’s mass killing at an office Christmas party before perishing in a shootout with police. They’ve already obtained plenty of information about Farook’s activities from Apple’s iCloud servers, where much of his data was backed up, and from other communications providers such as Facebook. It’s unclear whether they’ve been able to recover any data from two other mobile devices Farook physically destroyed before the attack, which seems most likely to have contained relevant information.

But the most recent data from Farook’s work-assigned iPhone 5c wasn’t backed up, and the device is locked with a simple numeric passcode that’s needed to decrypt the phone’s drive. Since they don’t have to contend with a longer, stronger alphanumeric passphrase, the FBI could easily “brute force” the passcode—churning through all the possible combinations—in a matter of hours, if only the phone weren’t configured to wipe its onboard encryption keys after too many wrong guesses, rendering its contents permanently inaccessible.

So the bureau wants Apple to develop a customized version of their iOS operating system that permits an unlimited number of rapid guesses at the passcode—and sign it with the company’s secret developer key so that it will be recognized by the device as a legitimate software update.

Considered in isolation, the request seems fairly benign: If it were merely a question of whether to unlock a single device—even one unlikely to contain much essential evidence—there would probably be little enough harm in complying. The reason Apple CEO Tim Cook has pledged to fight a court’s order to assist the bureau is that he understands the danger of the underlying legal precedent the FBI is seeking to establish.


Four important pieces of context are necessary to see the trouble with the Apple order.

1. This offers the government a way to make tech companies help with investigations.Law enforcement and intelligence agencies have for years wanted Congress to update the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1992, which spells out the obligations of telephone companies and Internet providers to assist government investigations, to deal with growing prevalence of encryption—perhaps by requiring companies to build the government backdoors into secure devices and messaging apps. In the face of strong opposition from tech companies, security experts and civil liberties groups, Congress has thus far refused to do so.

By falling back on an unprecedentedly broad reading of the 1789 All Writs Act to compel Apple to produce hacking tools, the government is seeking an entry point from the courts it hasn’t been able to obtain legislatively. Moreover, saddling companies with an obligation to help break their own security after the fact will raise the cost of resisting efforts to mandate vulnerabilities baked in by design.

2. This public fight could affect private orders from the government. Several provisions of the federal laws governing digital intelligence surveillance require companies to provide “technical assistance” to spy agencies. Everything we know suggests that government lawyers are likely to argue for an expansive reading of that obligation—and may already have done so. That fight, however, will unfold in secret, through classified arguments before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The precedent set in the public fight may help determine how ambitious the government can be in seeking secret orders that would require companies to produce hacking or surveillance tools meant to compromise their devices and applications.

3. The consequences of a precedent permitting this sort of coding conscription are likely to be enormous in scope. This summer, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance wrote that his office alone had encountered 74 iPhones it had been unable to open over a six-month period. Once it has been established that Apple can be forced to build one skeleton key, the inevitable flood of similar requests—from governments at all levels, foreign and domestic—could effectively force Apple and its peers to develop internal departments dedicated to building spyware for governments, just as many already have full-time compliance teams dedicated to dealing with ordinary search warrants.

This would create an internal conflict of interest: The same company must work to both secure its products and to undermine that security—and the better it does at the first job, the larger the headaches it creates for itself in doing the second. It would also, as Apple’s Cook has argued, make it far more difficult to prevent those cracking tools from escaping into the wild or being replicated.

4. Most ominously, the effects of a win for the FBI in this case almost certainly won’t be limited to smartphones. Over the past year, I worked with a group of experts at Harvard Law School on a report that predicted governments will to respond to the challenges encryption poses by turning to the burgeoning “Internet of Things” to create a global network of surveillance devices. Armed with code blessed by the developer’s secret key, governments will be able to deliver spyware in the form of trusted updates to a host of sensor-enabled appliances. Don’t just think of the webcam and microphone on your laptop, but voice-control devices like Amazon’s Echo, smart televisions, network routers, wearable computing devices and even Hello Barbie.

The global market for both traditional computing devices and the new breed of networked appliances depends critically on an underlying ecosystem of trust—trust that critical security updates pushed out by developers and signed by their cryptographic keys will do what it says on the tin, functioning and interacting with other code in a predictable and uniform way. The developer keys that mark code as trusted are critical to that ecosystem, which will become ever more difficult to sustain if developers can be systematically forced to deploy those keys at the behest of governments. Users and consumers will reasonably be even more distrustful if the scope of governments’ ability to demand spyware disguised as authentic updates is determined, not by a clear framework, but a hodgepodge of public and secret court decisions.

These, then, are the high stakes of Apple’s resistance to the FBI’s order: not whether the federal government can read one dead terrorist suspect’s phone, but whether technology companies can be conscripted to undermine global trust in our computing devices. That’s a staggeringly high price to pay for any investigation.


Friday, February 19, 2016 11:37PM

The U.S. Supreme Court won’t stop a lower-court order that demanded North Carolina legislators draw a new congressional map. Friday’s decision means House primary elections won’t happen next month as scheduled and are now in June.

The denial of the state’s request for the Supreme Court to intervene came after Republican lawmakers redrew the boundaries as a safeguard to comply with a federal court ruling that called two majority black districts racial gerrymanders. A three-judge panel ordered a replacement map by Friday.

The North Carolina legislature approved new Congressional maps and a change in the primary election date just in time to meet the federal deadline.

Because of the Supreme Court decision, primary elections for all 13 of North Carolina’s members of Congress will be held June 7, not March 15.

Are new maps fair?

Voters will still go to the polls March 15 and vote in the Presidential primaries and various state races. Then June 7, we’ll all go back and vote in the Congressional primaries.
Republicans were hoping U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts would delay a federal court ruling. But that hope has been dashed.

Many critics say the new maps are as gerrymandered as the old maps, just in a different way.

“The court sent them back to fix a racial gerrymander,” said Rep. Grier Martin, a Wake County Democrat. “The Republicans’ remedy to a racial gerrymander is a partisan gerrymander, which Rep. Lewis freely admitted was drawn for partisan advantage.”

Dunn Republican David Lewis did, in fact, “freely admit” that on the House floor before today’s vote. “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats,” Lewis said, “so I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country.”

The maps, as drawn, are intended to ensure ten Republicans and three Democrats are elected to Congress, the current make-up. But along with giving Republicans a political advantage, some say the maps still don’t represent black and Latino voters fairly.

“The Republicans have gone too far in creating districts that do not consider race at all,” said Rep. Edward Haynes Jr., from Forsyth Co. “The new maps have marginalized voters and undermined the intent of the Voting Rights Act.”

“They’ve essentially drawn a very capable minority congress member out of a district,” said Rep. Martin. “Alma Adams. It’s going to be near impossible for her to get re-elected.”

Adams later issued a statement.

“I am absolutely running to continue to be your Congresswoman in the 12th District,” Adams said. “While there’s still a lot that could change – the proposed maps that the Republicans passed may be illegal – I want you to know that I am committed to serving. I won’t let Republicans obstruct the important work we’ve been doing to protect women’s rights, improve our public education system, and fight for the people of North Carolina.”
But Lewis maintains, Republicans did their best to comply with the court order. “We adopted new criteria, we explained to them how we were going to draw the maps, the maps look good, they only split 13 counties, and they only split 12 precincts,” Lewis said.
The U.S. Supreme Court declines to issue a stay.

Firefox Voices Support For Apple, Launches Advocacy Campaign For Encryption

Mozilla and Firefox Executive Director Mark Surman have come out in support of Tim Cook’s and Apple’s resistance to complying with the recent legal order to unlock an iPhone recovered during the FBI investigation surrounding the San Bernardino shooting in December 2015.



“We respect the concerns of law enforcement officials, but we believe that proposals to weaken encryption — especially requirements for backdoors — would seriously harm the security of all users of the Internet,” said Surman. The Firefox exec not only shared a post on The Mozilla Blog, but also wrote an op-ed for CNN and a piece on Medium as well.


In fact, Mozilla launched a Privacy & Encryption Advocacy campaign earlier this February, even before Apple published its open letter about the dangers of building a backdoor into iOS. Users can sign up on Firefox’s educational campaign website to receive “resources and videos about encryption and other topics essential to protecting the Web,” Mozilla writes.

“We will also need to get Mozilla’s community — and the broader public — involved. We will need them to tell their elected officials that individual privacy and security online cannot be treated as optional. We can play a critical role if we get this message across,” Surman writes. “We know this is a tough road. Most people don’t even know what encryption is. Or, they feel there isn’t much they can do about online privacy. Or, both.”

Mozilla has championed Internet issues before, and collaborated with the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) to develop the Let’s Encrypt project. Still in beta, Let’s Encrypt is a free, automated Web certificate authority that allows secure connections between web browsers and website servers.



Apple has three more days to change their mind about not decrypting the iPhone for the FBI, but it’s unsure if they’ll comply or just stick to their guns. Multiple other Internet-focused companies have come out in support of Apple’s stance, including Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Twitter and Facebook. Apple’s own track record on the issue speaks for itself

However, the justice department did recently come after Apple, calling their protest a “marketing strategy,” according to the New York Times, and didn’t show any indication of changing their mind about their request in court documents.

Separately, Bloomberg recently published details about a secret memo regarding senior national security officials ordering “agencies across the U.S. government to find ways to counter encryption software and gain access to the most heavily protected user data on the most secure consumer devices, including Apple Inc.’s iPhone.”

According to Bloomberg, the confidential National Security Council memo is titled “decision memo,” and reveals that “the government [has been privately] honing a sharper edge to its relationship with Silicon Valley alongside more public signs of rapprochement.”

The memo also instructed government agencies to identify laws that need changing regarding encryption, focus on creating workarounds to access a locked device and also estimate the additional funds needed to budget for the extra expense.


US Allies Are Now Fighting CIA-Backed Rebels in Syria

Claire Bernish
February 12, 2016

(ANTIMEDIA) On the same day Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed his fighters would retake the entire country “without hesitation,” unnamed American defense officials revealed to the Daily Beast that the same Iraqi militias who were previously fighting ISIL alongside the U.S. are now actively collaborating with Russian and Iranian forces to “crush” American-backed rebels in Aleppo. According to the report:

“At least three Shia militias involved in successful battles against ISIS in Iraq — the Badr Brigade, Kata’ib Hezbollah, and the League of the Righteous — have acknowledged taking casualties in fighting in the south and southeast Aleppo province. U.S. defense officials confirmed to The Daily Beast that they believe ‘at least one’ unit of the Badr Brigade is fighting in southern Aleppo alongside other Iraqi militia groups. Those groups are backed by Russian airpower and Iranian troops — and all of whom are bolstering President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Arab Army.”

Telling of the complex quagmire, the report indicates the same Shia militias fighting with the U.S. to maintain its installed government in Iraq are battling against the U.S.-backed forces — including those armed by the CIA — by bolstering Russian and Iranian efforts to bring control of the Syrian city back to Assad.

Of course, Saudi Arabia recently entered the Syrian theater under the premise of fighting ISIL, though as Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir reiterated on Friday, according to Al-Jazeera, “Unless and until there is a change in Syria, Daesh [IS, ISIS, ISIL] will not be defeated in Syria.” Reinforcing, to a degree, the U.S. stated purpose in Syria of deposing Assad, he added,“When Assad goes, the fertile environment which Daesh operates in Syria will be removed.”

As part of a tentative agreement among the major players in the Syrian imbroglio, including the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Iran, there will be a cessation of hostilities which was set to begin yesterday — though that arrangement excludes ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusra, and shortly after negotiations, Russian airstrikes reportedly continued in Homs in earnest.

As Phillip Smyth of the University of Maryland, who studies Shia militias, said, “It is clear Iran is routing as many fighters as possible to Syria, particularly on the Aleppo front,” reported the Daily Beast.

Though murky politics and shifting or seeming contradictory alliances persist in Syria, it’s clear the conflict is intensifying. On Thursday, Assad said such a mix of regional fighters indicates “the solution will take a long time and will incur a heavy price.”

This article (US Allies Are Now Fighting CIA-Backed Rebels in Syria) is a free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Claire Bernish and Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11 pm Eastern/8 pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, email

Fossil Fuel Industry Spending Millions On 2016 Presidential Candidates

When candidates run for president, they receive a slew of donations from across the business world, from sectors such as finance, insurance and real estate, health, communications and electronics, labor, and energy and natural resources. Some of these donations have come under scrutiny recently, particularly those from Wall Street and those from the fossil fuel industry.

Disturbed by current elected officials’ inaction on climate change at least in part due to the powerful influence the fossil fuel industry has on policy, environmentalists and concerned citizens are pushing the 2016 presidential candidates to reject campaign contributions from industry political action committees ( PACs) and people who work in the industry.

Last July, The Nation and 350 Action called on the candidates to sign their pledge to refuse donations from oil, gas or coal companies; however, direct federal contributions from companies are illegal. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I- VT), former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who recently dropped out of the presidential contest, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein have signed the pledge.

In December, Greenpeace and 19 other organizations asked the candidates to sign on to their Pledge to Fix Democracy, a pledge to defend voting rights, overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission decision, and to refuse “money from fossil fuel interests.” These interests, as defined by Greenpeace, mean fossil fuel company PACs, registered lobbyists that work on behalf of such a company, or top executives. Only Sen. Sanders has signed this pledge.

A look into the financial support that the fossil fuel industry has given presidential contenders may shed light on their resistance to these anti-fossil fuel pledges.


A climate-change denier from oil-rich Texas, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz leads the pack in campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry. Between his 2012 Senate bid and his current presidential campaign, Cruz has raked in nearly$1.7 million from oil, gas, and coal mining company PACs and employees including over $718,000 in the presidential contest according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Although Cruz has said he’ll release information regarding campaign bundlers-lobbyists who collect donations for his campaign he has yet to do so.

Wealthy mega-donors who made their fortunes in the fossil fuel industry have forked over millions to many of the eight super PACs supporting Cruz. Oil and gas investor Toby Neugebauer funded Keep The Promise II with $10 million last April; hydraulic fracturing technology billionaire brothers Farris and Dan Wilks along with their wives Joann and Staci Wilks gave a combined $15 million to Keep The Promise III last year, the most by any family. Robert McNair, whose Cogen Technologies business created electricity with natural gas and other means, gave $500,000 to Keep the Promise PAC.

Cruz’s financial disclosure reveals his personal investments in fossil fuels. The senator has between $365,000 and $850,000 invested in oil and natural gas companies, including oil corporations Chevron and ExxonMobil, natural gas processing and transportation business Oneok (owned by Koch Industries), natural gas distributor One Gas, oil and gas pipeline company Enterprise Products Partners, and oil and gas transportation investor Plains GPHoldings.

In light of Cruz’s deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, his anti-environmental policies are no surprise. He’s a fierce supporter of offshore drilling, crude oil exports, ending the mandate that requires corn-based ethanol to be blended with gasoline, and the controversial Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. A senator from the state with by far the most carbon emissions, he wants to gut the Clean Air Act.


Clinton’s two Senate campaigns and two presidential bids have netted her nearly $810,000 from fossil fuel interests, including close to $228,000 in this year’s race.

She has disclosed her lobbyist bundlers, and Huffington Post’s Paul Blumenthal and Kate Sheppard were the first to report that most of them either currently or formerly worked for the fossil fuel industry. According to unpublished research by Greenpeace, 11 bundlers tied to oil, gas or coal companies have brought in over $1.1 million for her campaign. Of these lobbyists, Theresa Fariello works exclusively for Exxon and Ankit Desai works for liquefied natural gas company Cheniere Energy. Other bundlers currently lobby or previously lobbied for Chevron, Sempra Energy, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Marathon, and Noble Energy, among others.

Additionally, according to Greenpeace, 48 fossil fuel lobbyists have donated a total of over $117,000 directly to Clinton’s campaign.

Clinton doesn’t appear to have any direct investments in fossil fuels, nor has she given paid speeches in front of fossil fuel companies in the past two years, but her husband, former President Bill Clinton, earned $250,000 for speaking to Entergy Corporation, a southern energy company that works with natural gas, oil, and coal.

ExxonMobil has given at least $1 million to the Clinton Foundation and $2 million to the Clinton Global Initiative.

The Democratic candidate has downplayed the role of the fossil fuel industry in her campaign, telling a member of 350 Action that $150,000 in campaign contributions from oil and gas industry PACs and employees (a number that has since increased) is ” not very much.” In December, she said she didn’t know if she’d ever accepted money from the fossil fuel industry.

But some of her policy positions indicate at least some willingness to indulge Big Oil, documented by International Business Times’ David Sirota and Andrew Perez. While Secretary of State, she approved a tar sands oil pipeline similar to Keystone XL and said she was “inclined” to approve KeystoneXL‘s permit. She also supported expanded offshore drilling while a senator. Clinton came out against offshore drilling in the Arctic, but only after Shell decided to halt its Arctic drilling campaign, notes Greenpeace media officer Cassady Sharp.


With the legacy of his father George H.W. Bush, who made his fortune from the oil industry in Texas before entering politics, it wasn’t hard for Jeb Bush to cozy up with oil and gas companies. His two gubernatorial campaigns in Florida netted him close to $93,000 in contributions from the fossil fuel industry, most of it from oil and gas company PACs and employees, according to the National Institute for Money in State Politics. With hundreds of thousands more during the presidential race, Bush’s campaigns have taken in over $519,000 from oil, gas, and coal mining company PACs and employees.

Additionally, one of Bush’s lobbyist bundlers, the self-employed Richard Hohlt, has lobbied for Chevron since 2006 and formerly lobbied for Peabody Energy. Hohlt has brought in over $65,000 for Bush’s presidential campaign.

Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise, is where the bulk of the fossil fuel cash comes in. In the first half of 2015, the PACreceived eight $1-million donations from wealthy oil men and their wives, $1 million from a shell company set up by a coal baron, and another million from Florida’s leading electric utility, NextEra Energy, as well as more cash in sub-$1 million donations from fossil fuel executives. During the second half of the year, as his campaign struggled, he pulled in far less by comparison, close to $1 million from executives of oil or oil-related businesses.

And Bush has held positions in the fossil fuel industry and is personally invested in it. From 2012-2014, he was on the board of managers of Geo Fossil Fuels, and from 2011-2014 he was a member of the senior strategy committee of The Mitchell Group, an energy investment firm. He helped form Britton Hill Holdings, based in Coral Gables, Florida, a private equity firm that invests in oil and shale gas; he is listed on his financial disclosure as a “manager-member” of “Britton Hill Partners” from 2011-2015.

Bush is invested in numerous fossil fuel companies, with between $136,000 and $351,000 in stock from Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Chevron, Duke Energy, Dril-Quip, Pioneer Natural Resources, QEP Resources, Questar Corporation, Superior Energy Services, Canadian Natural Resources, Seadrill Limited, Seadrill Partners, and Repsol.

Despite a record that includes opposing oil drilling off the coast of Florida, Bush’s presidential energy platform “reads like a Big Oil wish list” according to Clinton’s campaign chair, and includes expanded drilling, reduced regulations, and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.


In this election, Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio has received more than $218,000 linked to the fossil fuel industry, the third-highest total among presidential contenders. Along with over $18,000 in state house races and hundreds of thousands more to his U.S. Senate campaign committee, Rubio has received over $601,000 from oil, gas, and coal mining company PACs and employees.

The senator has benefited from one in-house lobbyist of the American Petroleum Institute, Brian Johnson, who brought in $19,600 in bundled contributions towards the end of last year.

The major donors to super PACs supporting Rubio tend to be financial and real estate executives, not fossil fuel industry leaders, but Houston businessman and power plant owner Robert McNair gave Conservative SolutionsPAC $500,000.

Rubio’s energy plan is much like that of other Republican candidates. It would increase oil exports, approve the Keystone XL pipeline, oppose President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, increase offshore drilling, deregulate the industry, and oppose a carbon tax.

Rubio told ABC News in 2014 that he does “not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it … and I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy.”


While his campaign has taken in the fifth-highest amount tied to fossil fuel companies in this year’s race, Republican John Kasich, a long-time member of the House and now governor of Ohio, has racked up a total of nearly $1.2 million in contributions from oil, gas, and coal mining PACs and employees, the majority-$940,000-during his two gubernatorial bids, according to The National Institute on Money in State Politics. Ohio is a state that relies heavily on coal and natural gas for its electricity generation, and accordingly, it’s one of the nation’s top carbon-emitting states.

None of the major donors to two super PACs supporting Kasich, New Day for America and New Day Independent Media Committee, are fossil fuel industry executives.

Kasich has not revealed his lobbyist bundlers, and his financial disclosure report has not yet become available from the Office of Government Ethics. His wife, Karen, is invested in American Electric Power, which operates coal and other power plants and has attacked rooftop solar energy generation.

By acknowledging the existence of climate change, the governor stands out among a GOP field filled with deniers, but he doesn’t want the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions. He’s opposed President Obama’s Clean Power Plan and signed a bill that delayed his own state’s renewable energy standards.


Some other candidates still in the running have received less, but still substantial, dirty energy support.

Republican Donald Trump has received only $8,664 tied to the industry. Trump, a multi-billionaire, has major investments in such companies as Chevron (between $600,001 and $1,250,000), Energy Transfer Partners ($500,001-$1 million), ConocoPhillips ($500,001-$1 million), Shell ($500,001-$1 million), and TransCanada Pipelines ($250,001-$500,000).

Republican surgeon Ben Carson’s campaign has taken in over $86,000 from fossil fuel industry PACs and employees, mostly from oil and gas.

Bernie Sanders has received $24,645 over his career as a U.S. Representative, Senator, and presidential candidate from oil, gas and coal mining interests.


A few candidates who have recently dropped out of this year’s race have been major beneficiaries of fossil fuel-linked money, primarily former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum. Hailing from Pennsylvania, the nation’s second-biggest natural gas producer (2014) and fourth-largest coal producer (2013), Santorum has received over $1,060,000 tied to the industry.

Republican former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Carly Fiorina has taken in close to $54,000 during this election cycle from fossil fuel industry PACs and employees, but in her 2010 bid for U.S. Senate in California, her campaign received over $429,000 from the industry. Fiorina has considerable investments in energy companies and funds such as Energy Investment Opportunities Onshore Fund (between $250,001 and $500,000), Chevron ($50,001-$100,000), BP ($50,001-$100,000), Energy Transfer Equity ($50,0001-$100,000), Royal Dutch Shell ($30,001-$100,000), Sunoco Logistics and Sunoco LP (both between $30,001 and $100,000), and Devon Energy ($15,001-$50,000).

In his gubernatorial campaigns in 2009 and 2013, Republican Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie took in over $109,000 from fossil fuel industry PACs and employees. His financial disclosure statement is unavailable from the Office of Government Ethics.

Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican representing major coal producer Kentucky, has taken in almost $328,000 from fossil fuel industry PACs and employees between his presidential and Senate campaigns.

And former Republican governor of Virginia Jim Gilmore has received close to $68,000 over the course of a Senate campaign and two presidential bids. Data on his attorney general and governor’s races is not readily accessible.

Former Democratic candidate for president Martin O’Malley, also the former governor of Maryland, received nearly $60,000 from oil and gas industry PACs and employees during his two gubernatorial campaigns.


To put the fossil fuel donations in context, oil and gas’s $9.1 million to current members of Congress (including presidential candidates) during the 2015-2016 election cycle is eighth in the list of top interest groups, with interests such as securities and investments ($20.7 million), lawyers and law firms ($20 million) and real estate ($17 million) way ahead. As a business sector, energy and natural resources also lands at eighth on that list, with $55 million given to parties, candidates and outside spending groups during the present election cycle, with the finance, insurance, and real estate sector vanquishing the rest at $316 million.

Nonetheless, fossil fuel-linked donations are considerable, and they may pay off if a fossil fuel-friendly candidate moves into the White House next year.


Cassady Sharp of Greenpeace isn’t optimistic about the prospects of those in the Republican field signing on to her group’s pledge, as few have acknowledged the reality of climate change, she says.

The group’s main focus now is Hillary Clinton, who hasn’t signed either pledge.

“In general, we will push the candidates and criticize GOP policies.”

Email requests to the Sanders campaign asking whether it will return the money it has received linked to the fossil fuel industry were not returned.