Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Inspiring Life, Art, and Legacy of B.B. King: 1925-2015


A REAL ORIGINAL ARTIST HAS LEFT THE BUILDING. What a GIANT Mr. King was, is, and will always be. He brought a lot of joy, pride, dignity, and honor via his indelible and always captivating art to not only black folks but the entire world. Thank you forever Mr. King. Your tremendous legacy and all that it stands for and embodies will never die...May your enormously generous and profound spirit rest in eternal peace...


B. B. King, Defining Bluesman for Generations, Dies at
89 Mr. King’s world-weary voice and wailing guitar lifted him from the cotton fields of Mississippi to a global stage and the apex of American blues.…/b-b-king-blues-singer-dies-at-89.h…


B. B. King, Defining Bluesman for Generations, Dies at 89
MAY 15, 2015
New York Times

B. B. King, whose world-weary voice and wailing guitar lifted him from the cotton fields of Mississippi to a global stage and the apex of American blues, died Thursday in Las Vegas. He was 89.

It was reported on Mr. King’s website that he died in his sleep.

Mr. King married country blues to big-city rhythms and created a sound instantly recognizable to millions: a stinging guitar with a shimmering vibrato, notes that coiled and leapt like an animal, and a voice that groaned and bent with the weight of lust, longing and lost love.

“I wanted to connect my guitar to human emotions,” Mr. King said in his autobiography, “Blues All Around Me” (1996), written with David Ritz.

Related Coverage

Artists Respond to B. B. King’s Death on Social Media
MAY 15, 2015
Music Review: A Patriarch Holds Court at His Own Party (Aug. 9, 2007)
B. B. King Blues Festival: Along with Al Green, B. B. King performed at a one-night show at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square  Garden on Tuesday night.

In performances, his singing and his solos flowed into each other as he wrung notes from the neck of his guitar, vibrating his hand as if it were wounded, his face a mask of suffering. Many of the songs he sang — like his biggest hit, “The Thrill Is Gone” (“I’ll still live on/But so lonely I’ll be”) — were poems of pain and perseverance.

The music historian Peter Guralnick once noted that Mr. King helped expand the audience for the blues through “the urbanity of his playing,  the absorption of a multiplicity of influences, not simply from the blues, along with a graciousness of manner and willingness to adapt to new audiences and give them something they were able to respond to.”

B. B. stood for Blues Boy, a name he took with his first taste of fame in the 1940s. His peers were bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Howlin’  Wolf, whose nicknames fit their hard-bitten lives. But he was born a King, albeit in a sharecropper’s shack surrounded by dirt-poor laborers and wealthy landowners.

Mr. King went out on the road and never came back after one of his first recordings reached the top of the rhythm-and-blues charts in 1951. He began in juke joints, country dance halls and ghetto nightclubs, playing 342 one-night stands in 1956 and 200 to 300 shows a year for a half-century thereafter, rising to concert halls, casino main stages and international acclaim.

He was embraced by rock ’n’ roll fans of the 1960s and ’70s, who remained loyal as they grew older together. His playing influenced many of the most successful rock guitarists of the era, including Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.

Mr. King considered a 1968 performance at the Fillmore West, the San Francisco rock palace, to have been the moment of his commercial breakthrough, he told a public-television interviewer in 2003. A few years earlier, he recalled, an M.C. in an elegant Chicago club had introduced him thus: “O.K., folks, time to pull out your chitlins and your collard greens, your pigs’ feet and your watermelons, because here is B. B. King.” It had infuriated him.

When he saw “long-haired white people” lining up outside the Fillmore, he said, he told his road manager, “I think they booked us in the wrong place.” Then the promoter Bill Graham introduced him to the sold-out crowd: “Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the chairman of the board, B. B. King.”

“Everybody stood up, and I cried,” Mr. King said. “That was the beginning of it.”

By his 80th birthday he was a millionaire many times over. He owned a mansion in Las Vegas, a closet full of embroidered tuxedoes and smoking jackets, a chain of nightclubs bearing his name (including a popular room on West 42nd Street in Manhattan) and the personal and professional satisfaction of having endured.

Through it all he remained with the great love of his life, his guitar. He told the tale a thousand times: He was playing a dance hall in Twist, Ark., in the early 1950s when two men got into a fight and knocked over a kerosene stove. Mr. King fled the blaze — and then remembered his $30 guitar. He ran into the burning building to rescue it.

He learned thereafter that the fight had been about a woman named Lucille. For the rest of his life, Mr. King addressed his guitars — big Gibsons, curved like a woman’s hips — as Lucille.
He married twice, unsuccessfully, and was legally single from 1966 onward; by his own account he fathered 15 children with 15 women. But a Lucille was always at his side.

Riley B. King (the middle initial apparently did not stand for anything) was born on Sept. 16, 1925, to Albert and Nora Ella King, both sharecroppers, in Berclair, a Mississippi hamlet outside the small town of Itta Bena. His memories of the Depression included the sound of sanctified gospel music, the scratch of 78-r.p.m. blues records, the sweat of dawn-to-dusk work and the sight of a black man lynched by a white mob.

By early 1940 Mr. King’s mother was dead and his father was gone. He was 14 and on his own, “sharecropping an acre of cotton, living on a borrowed allowance of $2.50 a month,” wrote Dick Waterman, a blues scholar. “When the crop was harvested, Riley ended his first year of independence owing his landlord $7.54.”

In November 1941 came a revelation: “King Biscuit Time” went on the air, broadcasting on KFFA, a radio station in Helena, Ark. It was the first radio show to feature the Mississippi Delta blues, and young Riley King heard it on his lunch break at the plantation. A largely self-taught guitarist, he now knew what he wanted to be when he grew up: a musician on the air.

The King Biscuit show featured Rice Miller, a primeval bluesman and one of two performers who worked under the name Sonny Boy Williamson. After serving in the Army and marrying his first wife, Martha Denton, Mr. King, then 22, went to seek him out in Memphis, looking for work. Memphis and its musical hub, Beale Street, lay 130 miles north of his birthplace, and it looked like a world capital to him.

Mr. Miller had two performances booked that night, one in Memphis and one in Mississippi. He handed the lower-paying nightclub job to Mr. King. It paid $12.50.

Mr. King was making about $5 a day on the plantation. He never returned to his tractor.

He was a hit, and quickly became a popular disc jockey playing the blues on a Memphis radio station, WDIA. “Before Memphis,” he wrote in his autobiography, “I never even owned a record player. Now I was sitting in a room with a thousand records and the ability to play them whenever I wanted. I was the kid in the candy store, able to eat it all. I gorged myself.”

Memphis had heard five decades of the blues: country sounds from the Delta, barrelhouse boogie-woogie, jumps and shuffles and gospel shouts. He made it all his own. From records he absorbed the big-band sounds of Count Basie, the rollicking jump blues of Louis Jordan, the electric-guitar styles of the jazzman Charlie Christian and the bluesman T-Bone Walker.
On the air in Memphis, Mr. King was nicknamed the Beale Street Blues Boy. That became Blues Boy, which became B. B. In December 1951, two years after arriving in Memphis, Mr. King released a single, “Three O’Clock Blues,” which reached No. 1 on the rhythm-and-blues charts and stayed there for 15 weeks.

He began a tour of the biggest stages a bluesman could play: the Apollo Theater in Harlem, the Howard Theater in Washington, the Royal Theater in Baltimore. By the time his wife divorced him after eight years, he was playing 275 one-night stands a year on the so-called chitlin’ circuit.

There were hard times when the blues fell out of fashion with young black audiences in the early 1960s. Mr. King never forgot being booed at the Royal by teenagers who cheered the sweeter sounds of Sam Cooke.

“They didn’t know about the blues,” he said 40 years after the fact. “They had been taught that the blues was the bottom of the totem pole, done by slaves, and they didn’t want to think along those lines.”

Mr. King’s second marriage, to Sue Hall, also lasted eight years, ending in divorce in 1966. He responded in 1969 with his best-known recording, “The Thrill Is Gone,” a minor-key blues about having loved and lost. It was co-written and originally recorded in 1951 by another blues singer, Roy Hawkins, but Mr. King made it his own.

The success of “The Thrill Is Gone” coincided with a surge in the popularity of the blues with a young white audience. Mr. King began playing folk festivals and college auditoriums, rock shows and resort clubs, and appearing on “The Tonight Show.”

Though he never had another hit that big, he had more than four decades of the road before him. He eventually played the world — Russia and China as well as Europe and Japan. His schedule around his 81st birthday, in September 2006, included nine cities over two weeks in Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Luxembourg. Despite health problems, he maintained a busy touring schedule until 2014.

In addition to winning more than a dozen Grammy Awards (including a lifetime achievement award), having a star on Hollywood Boulevard and being inducted in both the Rock and Roll and Blues Halls of Fame, Mr. King was among the recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1995 and was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006, awards rarely associated with the blues. In 1999, in a public conversation with William Ferris, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Mr. King recounted how he came to sing the blues.

“Growing up on the plantation there in Mississippi, I would work Monday through Saturday noon,” he said. “I’d go to town on Saturday afternoons, sit on the street corner, and I’d sing and play.

“I’d have me a hat or box or something in front of me. People that would request a gospel song would always be very polite to me, and they’d say: ‘Son, you’re mighty good. Keep it up. You’re going to be great one day.’ But they never put anything in the hat.

“But people that would ask me to sing a blues song would always tip me and maybe give me a beer. They always would do something of that kind. Sometimes I’d make 50 or 60 dollars one Saturday afternoon. Now you know why I’m a blues singer.”…/…

B.B. King, Bluesman of Distinction:


Don't pay too much attention to the silly, reductive, and predictably shallow editorial remarks that Jon Pareles makes in the following video clip about what blues artists in his ill-informed opinion were "scary" and who were not. The great B.B. King--like the rest of us who deeply love and cherish our truly great and enduring artists-- deeply loved and respected his fellow black geniuses and blues icons like Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters, and knew all too well that both their extraordinary art and their rich humanity were far beyond any clueless middlebrow critic's corny notions about them or their adoring and always supportive GLOBAL audiences...Unlike Pareles we who love and respect the music and the musicians who make it NEVER fear our artists or what they have to offer either on or off the bandstand...HOLLA!


B.B. King performs "The Thrill Is Gone" in live televised performance introduced by Kenny Rogers on November 25, 1971…/…

B.B. King, Bluesman of Distinction:

Video - Embed Player" src="…

Jon Pareles reflects on the rawness and finesse of B.B. King, whose musical style made him approachable to audiences and propelled him to fame. By Natalia V. Osipova May 15, 2015. Photo by Doug Mills/The New York Times.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Amiri Baraka's Last Play "Most Dangerous Man in America" About the Government's Persecution of W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963) Is Now In Production in New York


Amiri Baraka’s Play About W. E. B. Du Bois, via Woodie King Jr. 

MAY 13, 2015
New York Times

The director and producer Woodie King Jr. at a rehearsal of “Most Dangerous Man in America.” Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Even a relentlessly adventurous producer and director like Woodie King Jr. was bound to reach a breaking point when it came to Amiri Baraka.

For a half century, ever since Mr. King had his theater shut down and was nearly arrested in 1964 for presenting Mr. Baraka’s “The Toilet” in Detroit, the two men had brought to the stage a barrage of incendiary characters and themes. A middle-aged Tarzan, a Faustian Sidney Poitier, a slave ship, what Mr. Baraka called a “coon show”: These and many other theatrical Molotov cocktails found their way into works at Mr. King’s New Federal Theater and elsewhere.

But the last script that Mr. Baraka, who died in January 2014, handed Mr. King, “Most Dangerous Man in America (W. E. B. Du Bois),” was another matter altogether. The subject matter was no surprise: the revered African-American scholar and civil rights activist Du Bois, whose evolution from black nationalism to Marxism closely paralleled Mr. Baraka’s own.

Its size, however, was.

Amiri Baraka, who wrote the play. He died in 2014. Credit Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

“This thing was 250 pages long,” said Mr. King, whose theater has provided an early theatrical home for notables like Ed Bullins, Ntozake Shange and David Henry Hwang. “Ossie Davis was doing the initial reading, and he and Baraka just got into it: ‘Look, you can’t give an actor no 250-page play!’ “ (Going by the page-a-minute rule, it would have run over four hours.)

That first reading was roughly a decade ago. Mr. Baraka came back a year later with a 90-page draft, having jettisoned reams of courtroom  material and several characters, including Paul Robeson. Finally, at a 2013 arts festival in Atlanta, he gave Mr. King a lean but no less wide-ranging 50-page version.

This final iteration — or one very close to it — begins previews on May 28 at the Castillo Theater, the New Federal’s most recent home. It comes on the heels of a New Federal revival of “Dutchman,” the 1964 play that vaulted Mr. Baraka (then known as LeRoi Jones) to stardom.

Despite Mr. Baraka’s success as a playwright, Mr. King said the two men had bonded over music rather than theater. “We mostly talked about what clothes the jazz musicians wore,” he said. Having mutual friends like Langston Hughes also paved the way for a long-lasting friendship that would include collaborating on literary anthologies and documentaries.

“Most Dangerous Man” focuses on a period in Du Bois’s life with particular resonance for Mr. Baraka. Just as his September 11-themed poem “Somebody Blew Up America” turned a fairly comfortable late-career job into a political firestorm, Du Bois, at 82, found his status as America’s leading black intellectual threatened in 1950 when he became chairman of a nuclear disarmament group and was accused of being an agent of a foreign state.

The ensuing indictment led to the confiscation of Du Bois’s passport and the rejection of many of his colleagues at the N.A.A.C.P. (a group he helped found). Mr. Baraka’s play, which still has a cast of 18 despite the trims, bounces between Du Bois’s trial and groups of working-class African-Americans reacting to the news of the trial on television and in newspapers.

Du Bois also steps forward on occasion to speak words from his speeches and writings. It was these rather sizable chunks of material that gave Mr. King pause. “In all of my conversations with Baraka, the hardest thing in the world was to find a Du Bois,” he said. “No 80-year-old can do that part.”
Art McFarland stars in “Most Dangerous Man in America,” as W. E. B. Du Bois. Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

By the time he had raised the funding (in part through a Kickstarter campaign) to present “Most Dangerous Man,” a new Du Bois had surfaced in Art McFarland, who had retired from his decades-long newscaster position at WABC in 2014 and soon joined the New Federal’s board.

“My plan was to gradually ease my way back into acting,” said Mr. McFarland, who had trained as an actor before entering journalism and who had caught Mr. King’s eye during at least one of those early productions. “When Woodie called me about playing Du Bois for my first show, I spent the rest of the weekend with my jaw hanging open.”

Mr. Baraka converted to Marxism in the early 1970s, decades after he had inaccurately but presciently received a dishonorable discharge from the Air Force on suspicions of being a Communist. This conversion, Mr. King said, had everything to do with exposure to Du Bois’s writing.

And when Mr. Baraka was sold on something, he set out to convert friends as well as audiences. “Every once in a while,” Mr. King said, “Baraka would call you at 3 a.m. and say, ‘Hey, man, pick up “The Souls of Black Folk” and call me back.’ ”

This history reverberates through “Most Dangerous Man,” particularly as an elderly Du Bois looks back on his life. “I have been despised for so long for being black,” he says in the play, “that to tell me you will despise me because now I declare myself officially Red, does not faze me in the least.” (“I like to think Baraka had some fun sticking that line in there,” Mr. McFarland said.)

A continued commitment to Mr. Baraka’s work signals that the New Federal Theater, in its 46th year, hasn’t abandoned the hunger for experimentation and political inquiry that paved the way for works like “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” and “The Taking of Miss Janie.”

In fact, “Dutchman” has been the subject of periodic radical suggestions from Mr. King, including the proposed casting of the drag performer Neil Flanagan as the female lead in the 1970s, something its author never let him forget. “Amiri would stand up places and introduce me, ‘Here’s the man wants to mess up my play,’ “ Mr. King said.

Forty years after looking to take some liberties with Mr. Baraka’s first play, Mr. King is toeing the line with his last one. “These are the words that Du Bois gave, and these are the words that Baraka wrote,” he said. “This is real stuff.”

Amiri Baraka, reading from his play, "Most Dangerous Man In America"
February 23, 2013:

In February 2013, Clark Atlanta University hosted an international conference, "W. E. B. Du Bois and the Wings of Atlanta," which celebrated the birthday of Dr. Du Bois and commemorated the 50th Anniversary of his passing. The gathering was held on the campus where Du Bois spent 23 years as faculty. After four days of dialogue featuring 150 speakers on 30 panels, Amiri Baraka gave the keynote address. Baraka read from his play in production at the time, “Most Dangerous Man in America,” about the trial of Du Bois, prosecuted (persecuted) for his peace activism. Mr. Baraka joined the Ancestors on January 9, 2014. This 15-minute clip is an excerpt from a documentary in production by CAU professors, Drs. Shawn Bulloch and Stephanie Evans.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Disturbing Persistence and Expansion Of Major Domestic and Foreign Policy Crises in the National Government of the United States in 2015 and Our Ongoing Collective Complicity in Them


NATAMBU'S LAW states: "No matter how bad things are or appear to be, one can rest assured upon further investigation that in reality things are FAR WORSE than anything one could possibly imagine."

Please take some time to read and think very hard about the previous nine (9) articles that I have posted on this site over the past 90 minutes dealing with police brutality, major labor battles, the ongoing environmental crises, the incredibly brazen and lethal CRIMINAL INJUSTICE SYSTEM, extremely exploitive corporate and governmental "trade deals" engineered by both the White House and Congress (and the fierce political opposition to them), and the ongoing arrest, conviction, and incarceration of whistleblowers and other courageous citizens, functionaries, and journalists who put their lives and professional reputations on the line to tell the very ugly truth about what "our" government is doing to initiate and carry out bad and destructive policies that exploit us all as citizens, workers, and human beings and then blatantly and/or covertly COVERUP AND LIE about what exactly they are doing to us and why (led once again folks by the President, both national political parties in Congress, the corporations, the venal reactionary "Gang of Five" in the Supreme Court, Wall Street, and the largest, wealthiest corporations and banks (and their servile and greedy political flunkies in (again!) the White House, Congress, Wall Street, Mass Media/Madison Avenue).

Then after thoroughly investigating the horrific evidence presented here and elsewhere and reflecting on "what it all means" THINK hard as well about WHO is in the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court, the criminal injustice systems, the corporations etc. et al AND HOW THEY GOT THERE...It's called COMPLICITY folks and until we seriously address that monumental problem in all of its deceptive/delusional guises we will continue to be used, victimized, and discarded...


Why So Many Democrats Rejected Obama's Lobbying on the Trans-Pacific Trade Deal
by John Nichols
May 11, 2015
The Nation

A protestor at the hearing on "President Obama's 2015 Trade Policy Agenda" (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

President Obama takes it personally when Americans disagree with his free-trade fundamentalism. He keeps griping about the Democrats who usually support his agenda but are ardently opposed to his request for "fast track" authority to bypass congressional input and oversight on a sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

The president has from the start of the debate over fast track and the TPP had a practical problem: If most congressional Democrats align with labor, environmental, and human-rights activists rather than the White House—as they appear intent upon doing— they can block Obama's trade agenda. In the Senate, just 40 votes are required to erect a procedural barrier to fast-track legislation. In the House, a reasonably united Democratic caucus could align with the significant number of Republicans who have traditionally opposed unrestricted free trade to thwart fast track and/or the TPP itself.

On Tuesday, the first major test came in the Senate, and the president lost. Sixty votes were required to open a debate on fast track, but only 52 senators voted to go forward. Forty-two Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats, Vermont's Bernie Sanders and Maine's Angus King, voted "no."

The trade fight is not finished; negotiations with Senate Republicans who favor Obama's agenda could make the fast-track proposal more attractive to at least a few wavering Democrats. And if that happens, expect Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to exercise the option he has retained to bring the issue up again.

Unless and until that happens, however, the president has taken a hard hit. It happened because a number of traditionally pro–free trade Democrats, who had been expected to vote with Obama and the Republicans, joined with the Senate's growing caucus of fair-trade Democrats to block action.

This was what the president feared would happen.

In the run-up to Tuesday's vote, the president made no secret of his frustration with his fellow Democrats.

"There have been a bunch of critics about trade deals generally and the Trans-Pacific Partnership," he griped to the crowd that was assembled last week for his appearance at the corporate headquarters of Nike, a US-based firm that (with its contractors) now employs roughly 40 overseas workers for every one American. And, the president explained, a lot of the critics are Democrats who he has traditionally thought of as his partisan and ideological allies.

Instead of listening to their objections, however, Obama simply announced that he was right and the Democrats who have backed him on so many other issues were wrong.

The problem is that the "evidence" the president has mustered on behalf of fast track and the TPP is unconvincing. In part that's because, as Bernie Sanders warned with regard to proponents of free-trade deals during Tuesday's Senate debate, "These folks have been proven wrong time after time after time." But there is also the fact that the current promises are so hollow. Consider the case of Nike and that 40-1 ratio. Even if every promise about the benefits of free trade and the TPP were to come true—an exceptionally unlikely prospect if the history of trade pacts is any guide—the ratio of overseas workers to Americans employed by Nike and its contractors would shift to somewhere in the range of 30-1. That best-case scenario, everyone admits, would take more than a decade to be achieved. And, though fewer admit it, much of the new employment would likely involve technical workers developing automated production schemes that reduce rather than increase living-wage employment in the US and abroad.

These are points that foes of Trade Promotion Authority and the TPP have made in precise and thoughtful detail, and with substantial support from economists and policy analysts.

Yet Obama has dismissed those who disagree with him as somehow wrongheaded and ignorant. "[What's] interesting is typically they're my friends coming from my party," he said of the fast-track and TPP critics. "And they're my fellow travelers on minimum wage and on job training and on clean energy and on every progressive issue, they're right there with me. And then on this, they're like whupping on me."

Why does the president think this is so? "[On] this issue, on trade," he says, "I actually think some of my dearest friends are wrong. They're just wrong."

Obama's criticisms of fellow Democrats, which became more and more intense as Tuesday's Senate vote approached, disregarded not just the honest concerns of Democratic members of the House and Senate but the sincere objections of union members, environmentalists, civil-rights, and human-rights activists.

Ultimately, the president's approach harmed his own credibility, as his comments created the impression that he was unaware of the long experience, and the deep insight, possessed by progressive critics of free-trade absolutism. The largest and steadiest public-education project on a major economic issue in modern history has played out over the past quarter-century in union halls and church basements and community centers across the country, as Americans have wrestled with the promises and realities of trade policy.

The people the president keeps saying are "wrong"—a group that includes Senate minority leader Harry Reid, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Sanders and most House Democrats—are not unthinking protectionists or crude isolationists. They are supporters of workers, the environment, and human rights in the United States and abroad. They have come to recognize that, while fair trade holds immense promise, free trade along the lines the United States has practiced it in recent decades has done immense damage.

The most ardent opponents of fast track and the TPP have firsthand experience with failed trade policies. They have seen what the North American Free Trade Agreement, the permanent normalization of trade with China and other trade arrangements have done to their communities.Their current position is rooted in an understanding that, as Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison (a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and an early supporter of Obama's 2008 presidential run) says, "We cannot afford to rush through another NAFTA that values corporate profits above families."

As a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama visited many of those communities and stood side by side with many of the leading opponents of ill-conceived and poorly administered trade agreements. He decried "a Washington where decades of trade deals like NAFTA and China have been signed with plenty of protections for corporations and their profits, but none for our environment or our workers who've seen factories shut their doors and millions of jobs disappear…"

Now Obama suggests that those he sided with in 2008 are clueless in 2015.

That is not the case.

"American workers have seen the effects of unfair foreign trade on their jobs and manufacturing facilities—they don't need their elected leaders making personal attacks on each other during an important policy debate," says Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat who remembers when Obama stood with the critics of failed free-trade policies.

"During the 2008 presidential primary, I watched President Obama argue in Cleveland that we should renegotiate NAFTA. Instead, we've seen more empty promises of jobs through exports while American workers are hit with a flood of imports and jobs shipped overseas," says Brown. "It's clear that the American public doesn't support these trade deals and I am disappointed the president has resorted to name calling in an attempt to shift the debate."

Brown's opposition to fast track and the TPP is inspired by what he has seen happen to Ohio communities like his hometown of Mansfield, and in statistics that confirm the failure of trade deals to live up to promises made by Republican and Democratic presidents:

The Obama Administration predicted that the South Korea Free Trade Agreement would create 70,000 jobs and deliver up to $11 billion in exports. Instead, it only increased U.S. exports to Korea by $1 billion, while Korean imports have skyrocketed to more than $12 billion. The growing good trade deficit with Korea has eliminated over 75,000 jobs in the last three years.

The U.S. already has a trade deficit with Japan and 10 other countries included in the TPP. Since 1997, the deficit with these countries has increased by $151.4 billion.

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, a Democrat who has worked on trade policy since the 1980s, explains that the president's suggestion that his critics do not understand the issue is "absolutely inaccurate."

"We know exactly what we're talking about," says Slaughter, the daughter of a coal miner who has charted trade-related factory closings and job losses in her upstate New York district for decades. "My concern is that he does not understand what's in it."

Congressman Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, explains that "Over the last three decades, in large part because of bad trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA, Americans have worked harder than ever for less. In fact, hundreds of thousands of jobs—factory jobs, middle-class jobs—in states across the country were lost."

Pocan's a native of Kenosha, Wisconsin, an auto-making town for more than a century that saw the closing of its Chrysler plant in 2010—despite the fact that the plant had been recently modernized and rated as one of the most efficient in the United States. "Anyone who does not see the connection between our economy and the failed trade agreements of the past," says the congressman, "will remain on the wrong side of the future."

It is not ignorance but experience that has caused so many progressive members of Congress to join activist groups that have developed deep expertise on trade policy to oppose the president's embrace of the trade agenda of Senate majority leader McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner.

Major unions have developed research teams to study trade and worked closely with experts on trade policy for decades now. They have also aligned with international trade unions to oppose the free-trade absolutism of the president and his Wall Street backers. Labor's opposition to fast track and a TPP deal that the Communications Workers of America union refers to as "NAFTA on Steroids" is driven by fact—not fantasy.

The same goes for the criticism of current trade policies expressed by environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth, and for the outspoken opposition to fast track by progressive farm groups such as the National Farmers Union.

Opposition to fast track and the TPP is rooted in the fact of trade deficits and in the facts on the ground witnessed by those who voice the criticism. Yet critics of free trade do not see the current wrangling over fast track and the TPP merely from the perspective of the past. As Pocan says, "People recognize that this is a fight for the future."

The president has every right to side with Wall Street in trade debates. But he does his cause no favors by suggesting that those who sincerely disagree with him are unaware of what is at stake. In fact, the reason they are opposing Obama's fast-track request is because they know precisely what is at stake.

Take Action: Demand that Congress Reject ‘fast track' for the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Could Fast Track Ultimately Destroy Dodd-Frank? (Yes.)
by George Zornick
May 12, 2015
The Nation

Senator Elizabeth Warren (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

Senator Elizabeth Warren opened up a new battle in the war against the Obama administration's trade policy last week, when she charged that the fast-track trade authority now being considered by Congress could ultimately allow a Republican president to gut many of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms.

This provoked a heated response from the White House and its allies, who not only disputed Warren's claim but bizarrely (and under the cover of anonymity) suggested she was just trying to juice up the Draft Warren presidential movement.

So who's right? This is an important question to litigate, as the Senate prepares to vote on fast-track authority Tuesday.

The short answer: Warren. All it would take is a Republican president and Congress (or any president and Congress inclined to weaken financial regulations), and indeed fast-track authority could be used as a glide path to dismantle not only Dodd-Frank but potentially other important regulations as well.

First, what is fast track?

Presidents generally want to negotiate trade pacts with a promise to other countries that the US Congress won't later change what they agreed upon, and so they ask Congress to pre-approve Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), colloquially known as a fast track. The fast-track legislation now up for a vote in Congress says that for the next six years, any trade deal proposed by an administration cannot be amended. The deals also cannot be filibustered in the Senate, and would pass with a simple-majority vote.

In exchange for ceding this authority, Congress writes into the fast-track bill all kinds of requirements about what it wants to see in future trade deals: This version of the legislation, worked out between Senators Orrin Hatch and Ron Wyden and Representative Paul Ryan, has a number of guidelines on environmental, labor, and regulatory standards.

Democrats complain that in the case of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the fast-track guidelines come too late—much of the deal has already been agreed upon. In fact, when I spoke with Representative Sander Levin last week, he said that when he raised concerns recently with the US Trade Representative about TPP's highly controversial investor-state dispute process, he was told that the TPP chapter on it is already "closed." (A representative for USTR declined to comment on the record.)

There is also a near-universal belief among congressional Democrats that guidelines in the fast-track bill are far too soft—that they are much more suggestion than requirement. This is of great concern since fast-track authority will almost certainly be in effect for six years, spanning not only the rest of Obama's term but the first term of the next president, and some of the following president's term as well, if Obama's successor is voted out after four years.

It's that unease Warren is speaking to when she raises concerns about fast track and a Republican president. "[H]e wants us to vote on a six-year, grease-the-skids deal," she told NPR this week. Congress is making a blind promise of faith here, particularly if you believe—as most Democrats do—that this fast-track bill doesn't really force the White House to adhere to very much. And beyond TPP, Senator Orrin Hatch said there are 43 different trade bills that could pass in this six-year window.

The final thing to understand about fast-track authority is how unique it is during this era of gridlocked American legislating. Over the past several years, spending on lobbying has actually decreased as Congress routinely fails to agree on much beyond basic funding of the government and naming some post offices. Trade deals contain vast amounts of regulation and economic rulemaking, and fast-track authority is like a magic-carpet ride through the deadlocked Congress.

How specifically could Dodd-Frank be changed?

Warren pointed to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a proposed trade deal between the United States and the European Union that's been under negotiation for several years.

Major financial institutions have been lobbying heavily on this deal—which is not surprising, since the major financial centers in the United States and Europe would be affected. JPMorgan Chase, MasterCard, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and VISA have all lobbied Congress on fast track and TTIP, along with TPP, in the past six months, according to company disclosure forms.

What might they want? Like with TPP, we don't know all the details of TTIP yet, but advocates have many fears. One is that the Federal Reserve's plan to impose separate liquidity requirements on foreign banks might be scotched; Inside US Trade reported in 2013 that the EU wanted to address that rule, which it thinks is "discriminatory." Liquidity requirements were a crucial part of Dodd-Frank and force banks to have a certain level of assets they can sell off in the event of a crisis. European regulators have traditionally taken a lighter touch on such requirements. That same report suggested that compliance rules on derivatives—another key part of Dodd-Frank—were under negotiation.

Relatedly, there is a fear common to many trade deals: If TTIP is enacted with lower financial regulations than what exist under Dodd-Frank, and with exemptions for foreign banks, American banks could reincorporate in signatory countries to sidestep US regulations.

And it's not just Dodd-Frank: the leaked EU proposal for TTIP has a provision that new regulations first be "analyzed" to determine if they have an unacceptable impact on trade. Americans for Financial Reform (AFR) worries that this could "impose a presumption that regulations must be judged on the basis of their trade impact rather than their effectiveness as public interest policies promoting financial stability."

Reported talks on "regulatory cooperation" would mean regulators in different countries have to consult each other on new rules before respective legislative bodies are presented with a reform. AFR has said, "At best, this mechanism would delay implementation of needed financial reforms. At worst, it would result in a watering down or outright blockage of said reforms."

So why does Obama think Warren is wrong?

I reached out to the US Trade Representative's office, and was directed to a statement from the Treasury Department that "The Dodd-Frank Act is a signature achievement of the Obama Administration that the President fought long and hard to pass into law. Nothing we're doing in any of our trade agreements would weaken our ability to implement Wall Street Reform now or in the future."

I was also guided to a quote from Obama, when he told members of Organizing for American that "every single thing we've done—from Obamacare, to Wall Street reform, to student loan reform, to credit card reform, to fighting for a fairer tax code, to higher minimum wages, to a smarter workplace—all it's focused on making sure it's a good deal for middle-class families and folks who are working hard to get into the middle class."

Let's file that response under "not detailed nor convincing."

It is true, however, that the Obama administration has drawn a hard line on gutting Dodd-Frank through TTIP; Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in late 2013 that he opposes including financial services in TTIP because "Normally in a trade agreement, the pressure is to lower standards on things like that and that's something that we just think is not acceptable."

That's comforting, but also a frank admission that TTIP could indeed weaken financial regulations. Warren's point isn't that Obama might do it, but that President Scott Walker would decline to take the same hard line against deregulation.

There's one other rebuttal made by administration allies. Here's Politico's Ben White: "The problem, White House and pro-trade officials on the Hill say, is that the fast-track bill currently before Congress includes language that expressly forbids changing U.S. law without congressional action."

That claim is highly misleading, and has unfortunately been repeated in several other outlets. Trade deals, by their very nature, change US law—that's the whole point.

Specifically, this happens when Congress passes the implementing legislation of the trade deal. The fast-track legislation makes clear that "if changes in existing laws or new statutory authority are required to implement" a trade deal, then the implementing legislation will include provisions "either repealing or amending existing laws or providing new statutory authority." When Congress passes a trade deal, it changes US law at the same time, and it should be noted that those changes to the law are inherently also on a fast track.

Therefore the provision cited by the administration—that says trade deals can't change US law without congressional action—is a total misdirection and one White House officials should be embarrassed to advance. It's a relevant point, right up until it becomes completely irrelevant.

That provision exists just in case the implementing language doesn't sufficiently change US law, though it almost surely would. But it still only applies to domestic law, meaning that people couldn't challenge an American bank in a US federal court for violating a trade deal.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Ben Beachy of Public Citizen pointed out to me, however, that international law still very much applies—and that trade agreement partners could use international tribunals to sanction the United States until it changed its laws to conform to the trade deal it signed onto.

But would President Walker actually do it?

The fairest critiques of Warren's allegation acknowledge that fast track and future trade deals could indeed weaken Dodd-Frank, but that a Republican president might not choose that route. That came up in some of my conversations with pro-trade officials, and can be found in other media accounts as well.

"[T]he new president would likely just choose to roll back Dodd-Frank directly through changes to U.S. law, with ordinary legislation through the Republican-controlled Congress, assuming the GOP maintains control of both the House and Senate after 2016. No trade deal or fast track would be needed to take that route," wrote William Mauldin in The Wall Street Journal. Matthew Yglesias made a similar point at Vox, and added that the hypothetical Republican president could also weaken or undermine Dodd-Frank through regulatory discretion.

That's true enough, but remember that fast track is a much easier glide path for changes than a simple congressional bill to repeal all or part of Dodd-Frank, which would presumably go through the normal committee and amendment process in Congress, and face a 60-vote threshold in the Senate. The only advantage to the congressional route is that it (might) be quicker, if President Walker feels he has the votes, as opposed to concluding TTIP negotiations and waiting for Congress's 90-day review under fast-track.

President Walker might also choose to weaken financial reform through lax regulation, but that isn't mutually exclusive to seeking changes through TTIP—particularly because lax enforcement only lasts as long as Walker is in office, whereas the trade deal would be binding in perpetuity.

Moreover, many of the ways TTIP would weaken financial reforms are oblique. Regulatory cooperation and rules that encourage US banks to reincorporate in lesser-regulated countries aren't labeled with bright-red "REPEAL DODD-FRANK" language. They are also attached to a trade bill, which generally would generate more overall, bipartisan support than a simple measure to repeal Dodd-Frank.

One final point: It's not just Dodd-Frank. Remember those 43 trade deals Hatch spoke about. Important environmental and labor regulations could be at risk through this same fast-track process as well. Warren is focused on financial reform because it's her wheelhouse—and if I had one major critique of her comments, it would be not that they are overstated but that they are not broad enough.

Take Action: Demand that Congress Reject ‘Fast Track' for the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Read Next: George Zornick on Bernie Sanders's bill to break up the big banks

CIA Officer Jeffrey Sterling Sentenced to Prison: The Latest Blow in the Government's War on Journalism
by Norman Solomon
May 12, 2015
The Nation

Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling with his wife after being convicted of leaking classified details to a New York Times reporter (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

The sentencing of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling on May 11 for espionage ends one phase of a long ordeal and begins another. At age 47, he has received a prison term of 42 months—three and a half years—after a series of ever more improbable milestones.

The youngest of six children raised by a single mother, Sterling was the only member of his family to go to college. He graduated from law school in 1993, worked briefly at a public defender's office, and then entered the CIA, where he became one of the agency's only African-American case officers. In August 2001, Sterling became the first one ever to file a lawsuit against the CIA for racial discrimination. (His suit, claiming that he was denied certain assignments because of his race, was ultimately tossed out of court on grounds that a trial would jeopardize government secrets.) Soon afterward, the agency fired him.

Sterling returned to his home state of Missouri and restarted his life. After struggling, he found a professional job and fell in love. But the good times were short-lived. One day in 2006, the FBI swooped in for a raid, seizing computers and papers at the small home that Sterling and his fiancée shared in a suburb of St. Louis. Slowly, during the next four years, without further action from the government, the menacing legal cloud seemed to disperse. But suddenly, a few days into 2011, Sterling was arrested for the first time in his life—charged with betraying his country.

The indictment included seven counts under the Espionage Act, the 1917 law that President Obama's Justice Department has used to prosecute more whistleblowers than all other administrations combined. The key charges accused Sterling of "unauthorized disclosure of national defense information," alleging that he gave details of a secret CIA operation to a journalist while falsely characterizing it in negative terms. The government contended that Sterling should remain in custody until trial because—with "underlying selfish and vindictive motivations"—he would try to "retaliate in the same deliberate, methodical, vindictive manner." A judge rejected that argument and released him on bond. But Sterling's arrest had triggered his immediate firing by Anthem Healthcare (where his work as a medical fraud investigator won a national award for uncovering $32 million in bogus charges), and suddenly even low-wage employment was out of reach. As a breadwinner, Sterling was toast. His wife, Holly, a social worker, continued to bring in a modest income as they waited for the trial.

The wait lasted four years. Most of the pre-trial legal maneuvers had to do with James Risen, the New York Times reporter whose 2006 book, State of War, had spurred the FBI leak investigation that ended with Sterling's arrest. The book included a chapter with classified information about Operation Merlin, a CIA program that in 2000 provided Iran with flawed design information for a nuclear weapon component. Despite subpoenas and jail threats, Risen kept refusing to identify any confidential source. The government prevailed on appeal with its claim that journalists have no right to such a refusal, but—after growing pushback from press-freedom advocates and worsening optics in the court of public opinion—the Justice Department finally gave up on forcing Risen to cooperate. (For background, see Norman Solomon and Marcy Wheeler, "The Government War Against Reporter James Risen," October 8, 2014.)

The federal courtroom in northern Virginia where Holly and Jeffrey Sterling returned for the sentencing on May 11 was the scene of a disturbing, though scantly reported, simulation of justice in late January. At the outset, covering the trial, I noted that "prospective jurors made routine references to ‘three-letter agencies' and alphabet-soup categories of security clearances." Steeped in a local atmosphere of deference to mega-employers like the CIA and Pentagon along with numerous big contracting firms nearby, "the jury pool was bound to please the prosecution."

* * *

In the government's opening statement, head prosecutor James Trump told jurors that Sterling had committed crimes of betrayal due to his "anger, bitterness, selfishness"—a theme and theory of the case that the Obama Justice Department was to reprise often with its mosaic of CIA testimony and its boffo PowerPoint closing argument: claiming that Sterling became vengeful against the agency when he failed to win his legal complaint against it for racial discrimination. The prosecution was gratified two weeks later when the nearly all-white jury, which included no African-Americans, voted guilty on all counts.

Few news reports about the verdict provided any context, but that was true of the entire trial's overall sparse coverage. During the seven days of proceedings, I rarely saw more than five other journalists in the courtroom. But the trial for United States of America v. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling was extraordinary, for reasons far beyond the fact that it was the first time a jury considered Espionage Act charges that a CIA employee had leaked classified information to news media.

During the first half of the trial, the prosecution was often fixated on insisting that Operation Merlin was a nearly perfect program implemented by a nearly perfect agency. The government condemned Sterling for having a very bad attitude in addition to doing a very bad thing. Hour after hour, he stood accused of wrongly disparaging the CIA's über-wise competence—legally to Senate Intelligence Committee staffers, and then illegally to the world, via Risen.

A cast of twenty-three CIA witnesses played their "national security" roles as agents of patriotic virtue. And Condoleezza Rice did a dramatic star turn (the press showed up for that one). Rice testified to the great importance of Operation Merlin, explaining that she carefully stuck to the talking points provided to her by the CIA when, as President George W. Bush's national security adviser, she hosted a meeting with Times reporter Risen and Washington bureau chief Jill Abramson—an intervention by the White House that succeeded in keeping the scoop out of the newspaper (and away from the public, until Risen's book came out more than two and a half years later). The meeting took place at the end of April 2003, just a few weeks after the invasion of Iraq.

During a trial that revolved around Washington spin about specters of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, the government was able to shield the CIA and the former secretary of state from scrutiny, even though—and precisely because—testimony in the courtroom could have illuminated their actual records of crying nuclear wolf while laying the groundwork for war. During cross examination, the government was able to nip in the bud an effort by defense lawyer Barry Pollack to provide the jury with some key background on the Bush administration that Rice served:

Q: [P]reventing working nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of rogue states is one of the most important missions of your, the administration you worked for certainly—

Rice: Yes.

Q:—and any other administration, correct?

Rice: That's correct.

Q: And certainly counter proliferation was of great interest at this particular time, correct?

Rice: That's correct.

Q: The United States had invaded Iraq the earlier month?

Prosecutor Eric Olshan: Objection.

Judge Leonie Brinkema: Well, we've heard that before. Let's just move this along, Mr. Pollack. Sustained.

And so it went, during a trial that alternately expanded and contracted its purview to accommodate prosecution needs. The scope went global, to vaguely yet emphatically assert vast harm from Sterling's alleged disclosures. Yet it narrowed to tunnel vision whenever convenient to exclude information that could explain why anyone might not defer to the judgments of an agency that had skewed its intelligence for war, or might doubt the credibility of a former Bush national security adviser who had called for the invasion of Iraq while warning, "We don't want the smoking gun to become a mushroom cloud."

On the trial's last day—in the same closing argument that insisted "this case is not about politics" and "it's not about salvaging the reputation of the CIA"—the prosecution began with a quote from Rice about the US government's grave responsibility to prevent nuclear proliferation. Three months later, in late April, the Justice Department filed a 24-page sentencing memo that began with a bold-italics quote from Rice's testimony: "I was deeply concerned because this was not just a sensitive program, but it was one of the only levers that we believed we had, that the President had, to try to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program."

Rice's superstar appearance was in sync with what one attorney called the "hocus pocus" of the trial, complete with a tall office divider that kept many of the CIA witnesses screened off from public view. For no evident reason other than to impress jurors with the sanctity and gravity of classification, the prosecution distributed to the jury a file stamped "SECRET" in big letters across the front, before the judge ordered a bailiff to take the file back only minutes later. The heavy-handed message was that top officials who knew best were operating with the kind of essential secrecy that the defendant had dangerously breached.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

In a trial with twists and shadowy subplots that seemed countless, two aspects—nearly hidden in plain sight—are among those in greatest need of scrutiny. What passed for incriminating proof amounted to nothing more than circumstantial evidence in the form of metadata about e-mails and phone calls. And the government won guilty verdicts for some of the Espionage Act charges on the mere basis that Sterling "did willfully cause" Risen to disclose classified information. In effect, the cumulative ambiance in the courtroom was white noise in the service of a prosecution that not only arranged a crescendo of circumstantial evidence but also of circumstantial allegations. The government impugned Sterling's motives and character while encouraging the jurors to assume that he would have tried to steer Risen toward classified information—despite the complete absence of evidence that the defendant had actually given him any. The circumstantial evidence, implying that Sterling had "caused" the release of such information, was enough. (Disclosure: After the guilty verdict, I used my frequent-flier miles to get plane tickets for Holly and Jeffrey Sterling so they would be able to go home to St. Louis.)

* * *

The successful prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling has given more leverage to the information clampdown that the Obama administration continues to implement. With a multi-count Espionage Act conviction, it serves as yet another warning shot—not only against whistleblowing and disclosure of classified information, but also against basic communication with journalists by government employees and contractors.

Over decades, while interviewing sources with security clearances, hundreds of journalists have had the experience of asking questions and receiving a reply along the lines of: I can't tell you the answer because it's classified, but I can tell you (fill in the blank). Such responses mean that sources can be helpful to a reporter's investigative process without disclosing any classified information. But one of the evident aims of the Sterling prosecution was to strengthen government efforts to choke off such communications. The not-so-subtle gist: Telling a journalist anything that might lead to coverage of classified information could be a basis for prosecution and conviction. The Sterling case stands as a calculated warning to government employees that Espionage Act charges could result from assisting any journalist for a story that might wind up reporting classified information.

Such legal constructions fit tongue-in-groove with the agenda of the intelligence hierarchy under Obama. For years now, the administration's "Insider Threat" program has formally encouraged millions of government employees to monitor each other for—and report on—signs of ideological or attitudinal deviance. An order from National Intelligence Director James Clapper warned employees of all intelligence agencies not to give any journalist non-classified information without first getting authorization. Such measures are part of a calculated progression that aims—via bureaucratic edicts as well as legal harassment and criminal prosecutions—to normalize an atmosphere of fear and reflexive self-constraint, blocking the unauthorized delivery of information to the public.

For prospective whistleblowers, the Sterling case is yet more proof that they can "go through channels" to express concerns only at their peril. Particularly in security-state realms—as the experiences of NSA whistleblowers William Binney, Thomas Drake, Edward Loomis and Kirk Wiebe have shown—using the much-ballyhooed official channels to report concerns is a flag that draws official retribution. During Sterling's trial, the prosecution repeatedly used against him—as supposed indications of hostility toward the agency and motive for wrongdoing—the fact that he had gone through legal channels to file suit alleging racial bias and to report his concerns about Operation Merlin to Senate Intelligence Committee staffers.

* * *

While defending the rights of journalists, some press-freedom advocates haven't seemed to mind much when a whistleblower goes to prison. Others, even more disturbingly, seemed to express satisfaction at the Sterling verdict, as proof that the government had been wrong in its claims in prior years that it needed Risen's testimony to gain a conviction. This theme was sounded by Attorney General Eric Holder right after Sterling's conviction, when he issued a statement that crowed: "As this verdict proves, it is possible to fully prosecute unauthorized disclosures that inflict harm upon our national security without interfering with journalists' ability to do their jobs." This attitude is a wedge being driven between journalists and whistleblowers—shorn of euphemisms, it often amounts to journalists good, whistleblowers not. But to support journalists and not the whistleblowers who provide them with information is akin to cheering only the last baton-holder in a relay race.

In an essay that went to press while the Sterling trial was under way, veteran journalist Steve Coll explained that "the Obama administration's resort to the draconian provisions of the Espionage Act against Sterling was just one case in a series of overreaching prosecutions of journalistic sources carried out by Eric Holder's Justice Department." Coll added: "In more than one instance, the Justice Department took positions that came close to criminalizing the act of professional reporting on classified subjects. In a pretrial filing in the Sterling matter, for example, prosecutors in the US Attorney's office for the Eastern District of Virginia argued vehemently that Risen was an important eyewitness to a felony because the reporter had allegedly interviewed Sterling, who had given him classified information."

Supporters of press freedom who denounce the government's threats against journalists should fight just as hard against efforts to imprison the whistleblowers whom journalists depend on—that, after all, is how the flow of vital information reaches the public. But so far, overall, the media establishment has failed to defend the whistleblowers who make possible the "professional reporting on classified subjects."

The Justice Department's legal siege of Sterling, which has spanned two administrations and 10 years, can be understood as part of a regimen that winks and nods, or wrist-slaps, when classified information is leaked from on high—often to manipulate public opinion—while fiercely prosecuting alleged leakers who expose government officials or policies as inept, destructive or mendacious. The Senate Intelligence Committee's recent report on torture documented that the CIA press office itself gave classified material to favorite journalists to make the agency look good. Even when major leaks from powerful officials are unauthorized, the penalties are nonexistent or tiny—as exemplified by the April 23 sentencing of former CIA Director David Petraeus, who gave briefing books with highly classified information to his journalist paramour and then lied to the FBI about it. Petraeus received no jail time after a cozy plea deal with the Justice Department. The same Justice Department declared that an appropriate prison sentence for Sterling would be in a range of 19-24 years.

There was grim symbolism in the eleventh-hour postponement of Sterling's sentencing until May 11, rather than the long-scheduled date of April 24. The original date—just one day after Petraeus's sentencing—would have provided an especially stark contrast.

The Petraeus plea deal has provoked criticism and even outrage from some newspaper editorial boards. In an understated editorial titled "Gen. Petraeus's Light Punishment," The New York Times observed that "top officials, who often seek to advance self-serving political agendas in their dealings with the press, appear to enjoy significant leeway in disclosing classified information"—while, "in sharp contrast, the government has been unsparing in its prosecution of lower­ ranking officials who have shared sensitive information for more defensible reasons." The Los Angeles Times editorialized that "the whiff of a double standard is overwhelming" and concluded, "That may be the way of the world, but it's not justice."

A more caustic response came from New Jersey's largest newspaper, the Star-Ledger, under a headline that summarized the status quo this way: "Whistleblowers wacked, all-star generals walk." Noting the sweet deal that Obama's Justice Department had gifted to Petraeus, the Star-Ledger editorial said: "What makes it galling is how Petraeus compares to men like Jeffrey Sterling, who was convicted by a jury for being the main source of James Risen's book about a CIA op designed to sabotage Iran's nuclear program. There were nearly 100 people who could have been the source, but Sterling was convicted on circumstantial evidence because the DOJ likes to go after whistleblowers."

Such clarity from big media remains unusual. But similar assessments are becoming more frequent and vehement—as more people recognize the grim injustices for whistleblowers and the dire consequences for democracy.

Amid all the convoluted doublespeak from the Obama administration, Jeffrey Sterling is paying a tragic price.

Read Next: John Kiriakou on how he took a stand against torture and the CIA

How Can You Get an Ethical Manicure? Support Worker Organizing
by Michelle Chen
May 11, 2015
The Nation

Leticia James and labor advocates address the media
Leticia James and members of the New York Healthy Salons Coalition discuss their efforts to reform the working conditions at nail salons on May 1, 2015. (Photo courtesy of the New York Healthy Salons Coalition.)

For an industry that's all about covering up flaws, perhaps it's not surprising that major harm lurks just below the polished surface of New York City's nail-salon industry. Sarah Maslin Nir's recent New York Times investigation reveals epidemic wage theft and abuse of workers across the roughly 2,000 under-regulated manicure shops dotting the city, where cheap mani-pedis are provided by Asian and Latina women workers who scrub and pamper fingers and toes amid noxious fumes.

But the real eye-opener of this piece should be the fact that change in the industry is possible, and some community-led solutions are within reach. Following the Times's extensive report, both state and city authorities are now weighing policies to tighten oversight. Governor Andrew Cuomo just announced plans to expand regulations for safety protections and labor standards. Public Advocate Leticia James has recommended granting the city licensing authority in order to directly oversee local salons, rather than relying on deeply understaffed state regulators. A bill before the City Council would initiate a certification program based on voluntary "best practices" standards.

A new campaign led by community and labor groups in collaboration with Public Advocate James, the New York Healthy Salons Coalition, aims to create a "Healthy Salons Incentive" certification program for businesses that adhere to best practices for workplace health and safety. The idea is to encourage shops to take measures like minimizing exposure to toxins and improving ventilation. The program would mirror the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, which started around 2010 in the Vietnamese immigrant community, and has since certified salons across the state and collaborated on nationwide worker training and community education efforts.

On the workers' side, the Nepali community organization Adhikaar just published a colorful pamphlet—designed in collaboration with the Center for Urban Pedagogy—to educate communities about both public-health and labor-rights issues in the sector. The cartoon graphics, designed for accessibility, present general advice on workplace hygiene, health and safety, guidance on labor laws for workers, and advice for customers ("Be generous—tip at least 20%").

Pamphlet by Adhikaar, Center for Urban Pedagogy and Welcome Workshop

The distribution of the material itself—in English, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and Nepali—is an organizing project; Adhikaar has incorporated the pamphlet into Know-Your-Rights training for members, many of whom are domestic workers and nail salon workers.

But on a day-to-day level, Adhikaar observes that while chemical threats loom over workers, they often identify sheer physical exhaustion as an immediate health issue. "Many people have health concerns, but they've sort of normalized it and they're [seen as] just sort of the cost of doing business," says Executive Director Luna Ranjit. "But more and more people are getting aware of it and saying this is not okay."

Labor and health crises overlap: Workers coerced into exhausting and abusive jobs are clearly not in a position to call out their boss on poor ventilation. And when suffering illness along with poverty—living on tips (reportedly often starting at zero base pay) and crammed into communal housing—workers face crushing pressure to stay in those unhealthy jobs. Many of the Nepali workers are semiliterate or undocumented, and are isolated from the mainstream workforce and mired in the salon industry's caste-like ethnic labor hierarchy.

A September 2014 Public Advocate's Office report started to uncover the daily horrors workers face: "A survey consisting of one hundred nail salon employees in New York City concluded that 57 percent developed an allergic reaction, 37 percent experienced pains from eye irritation, and 37 percent developed skin problems." The environmental hazards range from glaring UV lamps to fetid footbaths to the "toxic trio" of nail polish: dibutyl phthalates, toluene, and formaldehyde. Manicurists work long hours without proper protective gear, with studies showing over seven in ten "never or rarely wear face masks" and nearly half "never or rarely wear gloves." Chemical studies draw links between common products for treating hair and nails with cancer, reproductive problems, and respiratory illness.

But health-incentive programs for these semi-underground shops may not be enough. Beyond relying on employers' voluntary efforts, health and labor advocates urge stronger mandates for health and labor protections.

Despite the Times's depiction of workers as victims of the industry, advocacy groups involved with the initiative, including Adhikaar, National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum and New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health are putting workers' at the forefront of the safety debate by calling on lawmakers to incorporate labor standards into the certification program—including "excluding nail salon businesses that have had a history of wage and hour violations, or that have unpaid [Occupational Safety and Health] violations." Another proposal is to amend licensing procedures to help prevent discrimination against undocumented workers.

At a recent City Council hearing, nail-salon worker and Adhikaar activist Siru Malla testified about how her nose gets clogged with dust and chemicals as she and co-workers works without masks or gloves:

It makes it hard to breathe. Many of my friends who work in nail salons have become used to this.… Nail salons need to change these conditions. My friends complain about developing allergies. Nail salons need to change these conditions.… This is a place where people come to feel beautiful. This shouldn't happen at the expense of workers like us.

Adhikaar's pamphlet tries to fuse its messages of safety and of worker empowerment by presenting the advice to workers and consumers together. For example, the brochure advises workers to take regular breaks and eat meals, while encouraging consumers to wait for an appointment when appropriate and respect workers' schedule.

Through the design, Ranjit says, "we wanted them to see that it affects both workers and consumers. The health concerns are the same but for workers it's so much more amplified." Consider the consequences for workers and clients, for example, of having biweekly appointments versus never-ending workdays. The pamphlet aims to highlight "how to look at it from two different perspectives."

In an industry that forces one woman's chronic pain to subsidize the momentary glamor of another, maybe that brief touch during a modest cosmetic ritual could reveal a shared labor and health consciousness: In the city's struggle for beauty, everybody's troubles go hand in hand.



Monday, May 11, 2015

National Police Terror, the Doctrine of White Supremacy, and Its Lethal Impact On African American Citizens in the United States in 2015

BREAKING: Madison Cop Who Shot Tony Robinson Will Not Face Charges
by Alice Ollstein
May 12, 2015

"BREAKING: Madison Cop Who Shot Tony Robinson Will Not Face Charges"

Officer Matt Kenny, left, and shooting victim Tony Robinson. CREDIT: (Madison Police Department/Wisconsin Department of Corrections via AP)
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne announced Tuesday that he will not bring criminal charges against Madison, Wisconsin police officer Matt Kenny for shooting and killing 19-year-old Tony Robinson Jr. on March 6.

“I conclude that this was lawful use of deadly police force,” he said, pausing frequently to mop sweat from his face. He added: “My decision is not based on emotion. Rather, it is the facts as they have been investigated. My decision will not bring Tony Robinson back. My decision will not end racial disparities that exist in our justice system.”

Ozanne, Wisconsin’s first ever black district attorney, said Officer Kenny was responding to three 911 calls about Robinson, who had punched holes in the wall of his apartment and was running in traffic after taking psychedelic mushrooms, Xanax and marijuana — substances confirmed in a later toxicology report.

Ozanne said Officer Kenny claimed Robinson attacked with his fists in the stairwell of his home, and he feared he would fall down the stairs, allowing Robinson to grab his gun. Kenny then fired seven shots in approximately three seconds, which all hit the front of Robinson’s body at close range. Robinson, who later died from his gunshot wounds at a nearby hospital, was unarmed.

Leading up to the announcement, some community members demanded that Officer Kenny be fired and charged with homicide, and even called for the United Nations to investigate the incident, arguing that a domestic justice system that almost never indicts police officers for deadly force cannot be trusted.

The Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, who have led protests in Madison since Robinson was killed, is holding a “mass action” on Wednesday that will include a march, school walk-outs, and the disruption of business and traffic. A statement on the group’s Facebook page said they would not be demonstrating on Tuesday “out of respect for Tony’s family.”

Madison native Matthew Braunginn, a member of the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, told ThinkProgress that the protests hope to connect the dots between the physical and economic violence he sees in his community.

“We are paying our respect to this awful tragedy and Tony’s family, but the ultimate goal is to make sure there are no more Tony Robinsons,” he said. “No matter what happens, this is an individual case that’s a symptom of structural issues.”

Braunginn described some of those structural issues, which he says have made his home state “one of the worst places in the country to live if you’re black.”

Wisconsin has some of the largest racial disparities in the country, including the highest incarceration rate for black men.

Statewide, African Americans are six times more likely to be arrested than people of other races, and black residents of Madison’s Dane County were found to be more than 97 times more likely to go to jail for a drug crime than a white resident.

Economically, the picture is equally grim.

The state has the highest rate in the country of black unemployment, while African American children in Wisconsin are far more likely to be living in poverty and struggling in school.

“The unemployment rate for people of color is absolutely unacceptable. We can’t invest in our own country, but we can invest in killing black and brown people on the other side of the world,” said Braunginn. “We need investments right now in black entrepreneurship and affordable housing. Basically, we need a Black New Deal.”

Noting that African Americans have historically been excluded from federal economic programs, including the first New Deal and the GI Bill, Braunginn said, “Now we need something as massive, as substantial.”

It is not yet known whether Department of Justice will investigate the case or whether Robinson’s family will file civil charges.

Speaking to a crowd of demonstrators at the recent Mother’s Day “Million Moms March” against police violence, Robinson’s grandmother Sharon Irwin railed against how police are “trained to shoot to kill, trained how to murder a person and get away with it.”

“If you wear a badge, you’re supposed to protect us. But we don’t have that happening here,” she said. “Everybody’s lives matter, but they target young black men. They targeted my grandson and thought it would be okay. Well, it’s not.”

Robinson was one of more than 100 people killed by police across the US in March alone, the vast majority of them people of color. Irwin told demonstrators in DC that ending such an ongoing tragedy will require solidarity and sustained protest.

“If one of us is attacked, all of us are attacked. You have to find it in your heart to know that,” she said. “Otherwise, all of us are going to go down. And I don’t want anyone to feel what I feel. Every day I cry.”


Black Lives Matter
Police Brutality
Madison Police Officer Who Shot Tony Robinson Will Not Face Charges
May 12, 2015

ABC News

The Madison, Wisconsin, police officer who fatally shot a 19-year-old will not be criminally charged for the shooting since the district attorney announced today that it was a "lawful use of deadly police force."

Officer Matt Kenny fatally shot Robinson on March 6 after police received a disturbance call. Robinson had allegedly been running in traffic and Kenny forced himself into an apartment that Robinson had run into. Robinson and Kenny got into an altercation inside the home and Kenny shot Robinson in his head, torso and right arm, authorities said.

"My decision is not based on emotion. Rather this decision is based on the facts as they have been investigated and reported to me," Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said at a news conference this afternoon.

Ozanne detailed the evidence that he reviewed before making his decision and then described the three 911 calls that were made prior to police being called to the scene. He described how the callers said that Robinson was "tweaking, chasing everybody" and, in another, the caller said that he had been punched in the face by Robinson.

Ozanne said that it was understood that Robinson was believed to be unarmed when he broke into the apartment building, though they believed at the time that Robinson had taken hallucinogenic mushrooms or some other drug. Toxicology tests determined that he had mushrooms, THC or marijuana and Xanax in his bloodstream, Ozanne said.\
PHOTO: Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne announces his decision regarding possible criminal charges for the police officer who fatally shot Tony Robinson, May 12, 2015.

During Kenny's interview with investigators, he said that he began to lose his balance when he came face to face with Robinson in the building's stairwell, and he feared that "his firearm would be taken and used to shoot him and possibly the other person in the apartment," Ozanne said.

He also noted that Kenny called in the shooting on his radio and began administering aid because Robinson was still breathing.

Some of Robinson's relatives spoke out about an hour after the decision was announced, expressing their dissatisfaction.

"This is politics, not justice," Robinson's grandmother Sharon Irwin said.

A family spokesman said that while they "fully support the community to express frustration if there is frustration," they "feel strongly that protests should not be violent."

Robinson's death sparked statewide protests in March and some crowds have already gathered in Madison this evening.

The decision not to charge Kenny comes after officers in two other states are facing charges for other fatal altercations.

The South Carolina police officer who killed Walter Scott was charged with first-degree murder and the six police officers connected to the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore are all facing multiple criminal charges, the most serious of which was one count of second-degree depraved heart murder.

Officers in other high-profile cases such as the deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City were not charged, and the decision whether or not to charge the officers who fatally shot Tamir Rice in Cleveland has not yet been determined.

QUINLAN: Our job is tough enough.
VARGAS: It's supposed to be. It has to be tough. A policeman's job is only easy in a police state. That's the whole point, captain. Who is the boss, the cop or the law?
--Dialogue from 'Touch of Evil' written and directed by Orson Welles (1958)

That's What You Get for Filming the Police
Thursday, 07 May 2015
by Sam Adler-Bell
Truthout | News Analysis

A man walks past the site of Walter Scott’s death in North Charleston, S.C., April 8, 2015. Feidin Santana - who filmed the video that led to the arrest of Officer Michael Slager for killing Walter Scott - says he initially considered deleting the footage and leaving town for fear of retaliation from the police. (Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times)

One evening in September 2014, John Prince heard a scream through his window.

He went outside. On the sidewalk in front of his home, a first-floor apartment on Elmwood Avenue in Providence, Rhode Island, two male plainclothes police officers were aggressively questioning a pair of young women.

"The cops were being really rude," Prince said, "asking intimidating questions like, 'What's in your handbag?' and 'Where are you coming from?'"

They ordered the women to sit on the curb. Prince says he saw one of the officers put his hands inside the waistband of one of the women's sweatpants.

"You're not supposed to do that," Prince called to the officer. The officer turned, told him to mind his own business and shove off.

"There is a widespread, continuing pattern of police ordering people to stop taking photos or video in public places."

But John Prince, who's lived in Providence for 45 years, did not shove off. He's a Black community organizer with Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE). (Note: The author has volunteered at DARE, where he met Prince a few years ago.) He and his neighbors have fought for decades to confront a criminal legal system that, in his words, "treats people of color as if they've always already done something wrong."

Instead of "shoving off," Prince did what more and more people in heavily policed communities are doing when they witness what looks like police misconduct. He went inside, got his cell phone and came back out filming.

"Why are you doing that?" one officer asked, angry now.

"I don't like the way you're treating those women," Prince said. The cop told Prince that he and his fellow officers were undercover and instructed Prince to stop recording. Prince insisted that he had a right to film them. The officer demanded Prince's identification.

"Why do you want it?" Prince asked.

"I want to know who's filming me," said the cop. Prince knew he didn't have to show the cop his ID. He refused.

As they argued, another officer arrived on the scene. Seeing that Prince was wearing a Barack Obama hat, the third cop called out, "Hey, Obama!" The joke did not lighten the mood.

The first officer asked for Prince's ID again, more forcefully. At that moment, Prince felt a prick of fear. He took a few steps back.

As he did so, the commanding officer yelled, "Get that phone!" and the two others cops leaped over the fence between the sidewalk and the yard, charging at Prince. He turned and ran toward his house.

According to Prince, the cops caught up to him in the entranceway. One of them slammed him against the wall, badly injuring his neck. As he reached for the doorway to his apartment, one or two of the cops tackled him. His pants fell below his knees as they pushed his face against the ground. Someone grabbed the phone from his hand.

The real problem is not the law, but cops' willingness - and apparent license - to ignore it.

In their statements to internal affairs, the officers admit to jumping the fence and chasing Prince. They don't say what they intended to do if they caught him. The police claim that Prince tripped up the stairs to his house and fell into the entranceway. Detectives Francisco Guerra and Louis Gianfrancesco, the officers giving chase, say they stopped at the threshold of the building and turned around. Gianfrancesco says he found Prince's phone on the steps and placed it on the trunk of Guerra's car. They deny tampering with it.

However, Lisa Reels, who was inside Prince's apartment when all this happened, says she heard the officers tackling Prince. When she came out to see what was happening, Prince was on the floor with his pants around his ankles. The cops were out the door.

Determined to find his phone - and the video - Prince went back outside. There, he says he saw one of the cops delete the video and throw his phone into the bushes.

"That's what you get for interfering with police business," another cop said.

Reporters speak of an "epidemic" of police violence in Black communities. But there isn't one, at least not in the dictionary sense of a disease that breaks out at a particular time. What we have is an old, deadly sickness suddenly subject to an unprecedented degree of exposure. The idea of a sudden "outbreak" of police violence - beginning with the killing of Michael Brown in 2014 or Ramarley Graham in 2012 or Oscar Grant in 2009 - mistakes the moment many White Americans were forced to start paying attention to this crisis for the moment it emerged.

Police violence isn't new - nor is the impunity with which it's treated by the legal system - but the current level of public concern over its prevalence is. And individual acts of filming the police have played a big role in that change.

"There's some newfound awareness because of social media and video cameras," said President Obama on April 28, in his characteristically cautious tone, "that there are problems and challenges when it comes to how policing and our laws are applied in certain communities, and we have to pay attention to it and respond."

The protests in Baltimore were fueled, in part, by video captured by a bystander of cops dragging a handcuffed Freddie Gray into their police van. The 25-year-old can be heard screaming in pain. He was unresponsive when they arrived at the station and died a week later.

"There's no incentive for the cops not to fuck with us in the first place."

Walter Scott Sr., whose son was shot in the back by Officer Michael Slager in North Charleston, South Carolina, weeks earlier, said, "I fell to my feet and my heart was broken," when he first saw footage of his son's death. But he "thanked God" that someone took the video. Without it, the real circumstances of his son's death, he said, "would never have come to light. They would have swept it under the rug, like they did so many others."

William Murphy, Freddie Gray's family's lawyer, echoed that sentiment on April 27. "Thank God for cellphone video cameras," he said, "because now the truth is finally coming out. And it's ugly."

For decades, said American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) senior policy analyst Jay Stanley, "It's been the word of uniformed police officers against the word of accused criminals - who are usually poor, Black or other minorities. Judges, prosecutors and the public have historically  taken the side of the police." But videos - usually captured by camera-equipped cell phones - are beginning to change that. "There's a shift," Stanley added, "in what people are willing to believe."


Largely unaddressed in the mainstream celebration of video as a bulwark against police brutality, however, is how the act of pointing a camera at a cop is sometimes itself met with brutality - especially when, as in John Prince's case, the person behind the camera is Black.

Prince's story is a familiar one to Aidge Patterson, who coordinates a Cop Watch program for People's Justice in New York City, training individuals and organizing groups of residents to patrol their neighborhoods and record police encounters.

"When we roll out as a team, it's rare we observe any police violence. It usually puts them on their best behavior to see us in our matching shirts, disciplined and organized," Patterson told Truthout.

And that's the point. "The priority is to deter anything from happening in the first place," he added.

But that's not always how it works when residents film the police by themselves. Individual cop watchers often get arrested and charged with minor offenses - disorderly conduct, obstruction of justice or trespassing. "It's intimidation," Patterson said. "They know folks don't want to go to jail, even if they'll beat the charge later."

"The public servant should be subject to the public eye. Private individuals should be able to maintain our privacy."

The website "Photography Is Not a Crime" collects and maintains an archive of police brutality videos, many of which show cops harassing the person wielding the camera. In a recent video from Vineland, New Jersey, cops can be seen siccing a police dog on 32-year-old Phillip White, who had already been beaten and appears to be subdued. One officer then approaches the person with the camera and says, "Did you see what happened here? All of it? Okay, I'm going to need your information, and I'm going to take your phone." Phillip White died from injuries he sustained during the encounter.

Ramsey Orta - who filmed New York City Police Department (NYPD) Officer Daniel Pantaleo choking Eric Garner to death - has been arrested twice since Garner's murder in July 2014. His mother, brother and wife have all been arrested as well. Orta's aunt, Lisa Mercado, told Democracy Now! that after Garner's death, police cruisers regularly drove by their house in the middle of the night, shining floodlights through their windows. Orta was released from Rikers in April, after prosecutors withdrew a challenge that would have blocked him from posting bail with money raised by supporters online. He believes he and his family have been targeted by the NYPD as retaliation for filming Garner's murder.

And Feidin Santana - who filmed the video that led to the arrest of Officer Michael Slager for killing Walter Scott - says he initially considered deleting the footage and leaving town for fear of retaliation from the police. "The first thing he said to me ... was, how can I get protection," Santana's lawyer told NBC News. "What does he do when the people that are supposed to protect us are the ones that are turned against us?"


Their fears are well founded. Jay Stanley of the ACLU said, "There is a widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering  people to stop taking photographs or video in public places and harassing, detaining and arresting those who fail to comply." The ACLU has helped people sue departments in Boston, Portland, Philadelphia and other cities for violating their right to film police.

Stanley says the law itself is "crystal clear": You have a constitutionally protected right to film the police in public as long as you don't interfere with their activities. The US Justice Department agrees. As they wrote in a 2012 statement of interest:

The right to record police officers while performing duties in a public place, as well as the right to be protected from the warrantless seizure and destruction of those recordings, are not only required by the Constitution. They are consistent with our fundamental notions of liberty, promote the accountability of our governmental officers, and instill public confidence in the police officers who serve us daily.

Although only four federal courts have explicitly recognized a constitutional right to film police, legal scholars tend to agree with the Justice Department that recording a police encounter is protected under the First Amendment. "Speech about how public officials are conducting their duties lies at the core of the First Amendment's protections," said Evan Bernick and Paul Larkin of the conservative Heritage Foundation, "and filming should therefore be given a wide berth."

The real problem, Stanley suggests, is not the law, but cops' willingness - and apparent license - to ignore it.

Aidge Patterson agrees. "The law and the rights people are supposed to have are different from the realities of how things play out. When the cops arrest our people for filming, they get off. But they still get arrested, still get thrown in jail. There's no incentive for the cops not to fuck with us in the first place."

This problem - that cops rarely face any serious consequences for interfering with a civilian's right to film - is one legislators in Colorado are trying to address with a new bill, part of what has been dubbed the "Rebuilding Trust" package of police reform laws moving through their state legislature.

"If it weren't for people like Ramsey Orta, nobody would know Eric Garner's name."

The bill would create a "private right of action" for Coloradans to sue police for $15,000 in civil damages when an officer interferes with them lawfully filming a police encounter, or when an officer destroys or seizes a recording without consent or a court order. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Joe Salazar of Thornton, said the bill is a response to reports of Colorado police forcing citizens to give up their cameras, which Salazar, a civil rights lawyer, says is "unacceptable conduct."

Denis Maes, a public policy director of the Colorado ACLU who testified in support of the bill, said its penalties are designed to "get the police departments to pay attention and train police about what they are and aren't allowed to do."

The bill has received some pushback from local police and prosecutors, who say it's unnecessarily punitive. Anne Marie Jensen, a lobbyist for the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, said the union "does not believe that the people who put their lives at risk every day should have different standards of liability than anyone else in government."

Tom Raynes of the Colorado District Attorneys' Council agreed that officers need to be better trained, but insisted that "accountability through lawsuits is a pretty cynical approach to getting this done."

Maes, who served in the Obama administration before joining the ACLU, sees some irony here. "It's always in the name of law enforcement that we, the public, are subject to rampant surveillance, but somehow when the surveillance shifts to us watching law enforcement, there's an immediate, 'Hey wait a minute, not cool.'"

She says today's surveillance paradigm needs to be flipped. "The public servant should be subject to the public eye. Whereas, we private individuals should be able to maintain our privacy."


A few days after his assault, John Prince filed a complaint with the Providence Police Department's Internal Affairs Bureau, at the insistence of an acquaintance in the department. Neither of the women the police detained that night were arrested. They elected not to file  their own complaints.

A series of hearings followed in November, and in early April, Prince and his lawyer were informed that two of the three officers named in his complaint were found guilty of violating departmental policies. Sgt. Roger Aspinall - who ordered the others to seize Prince's phone - received a one-day, unpaid suspension, a disciplinary letter and mandatory retraining. Francisco Guerra - one of the officers who chased Prince - also got a letter and retraining, but no suspension. Louis Gianfrancesco, the officer who called Prince "Obama," was not found guilty, but will also undergo retraining.

The department was evasive, however, about the reasoning behind these penalties.

Providence Police Department spokeswoman Lindsay Lague told Truthout that because of the "Police Officer's Bill of Rights," she could not confirm the names of the disciplined officers. She admitted that Prince "was chased by an officer in the hallway," and that the "supervisory officer on scene who gave the orders to do so was appropriately disciplined."

However, she said, "It has not been confirmed if an officer did delete the video off of Prince's phone that evening," and neither Prince's injuries nor the tackling allegations were acknowledged by the Internal Affairs Bureau.

It seems worth noting that "he tripped and fell" is something of a go-to explanation for cops accused of brutality. Indeed, former NYPD Detective Bo Dietl recently offered it as a possible explanation for Freddie Gray's severed spinal cord on Fox News.

The internal affairs process doesn't address whether the police department bears any fault for the violations. However, on October 3, 2014, just two weeks after Prince filed his complaint, the department posted a new "community relations" general order stating:

It is the policy of the Providence Police Department to recognize that members of the public have the right to record police officers in  public places as long as the actions of those recording do not interfere with the officer's official duties or with the safety of officers or others.

Lague says this policy was already in development when the incident happened.

Prince says the punishments meted out by internal affairs are not enough.

"One day without pay. Retraining. Some kind of ceremony where they sit around in a circle and talk about what they did - it's not enough," he said. "These men ran up in my house, tackled me, took my phone, deleted shit from it and told me 'that's what you get.'"

If Prince's account is true, the officers may be guilty of First and Fourth Amendment rights violations. An Albuquerque officer was charged with felony evidence tampering for deleting a cellphone video of alleged police misconduct. The City of Baltimore settled a civil suit over a deleted video for $250,000.

"They treated me like I didn't matter," Prince said, "and all they got was a slap on the wrist."


Video will not solve the problem of police violence. Nor can it ensure that victims get "justice" - whatever form that may take. Video may have helped inspire massive demonstrations in Baltimore, but it remains to be seen whether charges filed on May 1 against the six Baltimore police officers who arrested Freddie Gray will stick in court.

And yet, as Aidge Patterson says, "If it weren't for people like Ramsey Orta, nobody would know Eric Garner's name." The same can be said for Walter Scott, for Oscar Grant, for Rodney King.

When you film cops, you take away some of their control over the narrative. As Jay Stanley recently said, "Photography is a form of power, and people are loath to give up power, including police officers."

Cameras - particularly those wielded by regular people and not cops - have helped to address what has always been among the greatest impediments to combating police brutality in the United States: the unwillingness of the criminal legal system to acknowledge Black suffering or believe a story of Black victimhood.

It's yet another cruelty of White supremacy that a movement as beautiful and humane as Black Lives Matter must trade in images of brutalized Black bodies in order to legitimize its grievances in the face of White incredulity. It should not be so. But for now, it is.

Thus, we need to make sure people are safe to film the police in their neighborhoods without being harassed, arrested or assaulted. We need more bills like the one in Colorado - which has been sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper's desk - and more severe penalties for cops like Aspinall, Guerra and Gianfrancesco.

Filming cops, Patterson says, is not only about accountability. "It's also about empowering communities to protect themselves.

"We see it as an act of love," he added, "a way of showing up and letting people know, 'Look, I care about you, and I'm here to try and make sure you go home safe tonight.'"

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Sam Adler-Bell

Sam Adler-Bell is a New York-based writer. He researches privacy and surveillance issues at the The Century Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @SamAdlerBell.

Related Stories:

Police Departments Retaliate Against Organized "Cop Watch" Groups Across the US
By Candice Bernd, Truthout | Report
Film the Police!
By Lucy McKeon, Dissent | Op-Ed
Texas Wants to Outlaw Filming the Police
By Kevin Mathews, Care2 | Report…/justice-department-will-investigat…

Justice Department Will Investigate Baltimore Police Practices
MAY 7, 2015
New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department will investigate whether the Baltimore Police Department engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional policing, law enforcement officials said on Thursday, a day after the mayor asked for an inquiry.

The request by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake came days after the state’s attorney for Baltimore filed criminal charges against six officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray, who died April 19 after being injured while in police custody. His death set off large demonstrations, arson and looting.

At a policing conference earlier on Thursday, the Baltimore police commissioner, Anthony W. Batts, said he did not object to an outside investigation, adding that he was committed to reforming the Police Department. He said he recognized that Baltimore residents did not trust the city to make changes voluntarily.

“I am willing to do anything it takes to win that trust back,” he said. “If it’s D.O.J., whatever it takes.”

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday that “I’m willing to do what it takes to reform my department.”
Baltimore Mayor, After Freddie Gray Death, Seeks Justice Dept. Police Inquiry
MAY 6, 2015
A frame grab from video showing Freddie Gray being put into a police van during his arrest on April 12.
6 Baltimore Police Officers Charged in Freddie Gray Death
MAY 1, 2015

Protesters said the unrest set off by Mr. Gray’s death was the culmination of years of police mistreatment. The turmoil has dominated Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch’s first days in office.

“The situation in Baltimore involves a core responsibility of the Department of Justice — not only to combat illegal conduct when it occurs, but to help prevent the circumstances that give rise to it in the first place,” Ms. Lynch said on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

There was no immediate reaction from Ms. Rawlings-Blake. Earlier Thursday, the mayor convened business, religious and philanthropic leaders at the intersection of West North and Pennsylvania Avenues, near a CVS store that was looted and burned in last week’s riots, to announce a public-private partnership to improve areas devastated by the unrest. She called it a “once-in-a-generation effort to tackle inequality.”

Ms. Lynch, who took office a week after Mr. Gray died, was in Baltimore this week to meet with community, religious and political leaders about whether to conduct a “pattern or practice” review, which would look into whether police officers used excessive force, carried out street stops based on race or arrested people without probable cause.

Representative Elijah E. Cummings, a Democrat who represents Baltimore — and who lives four blocks from the CVS that was burned — said there was uniform agreement.

“She asked them, ‘How many of you all think we should have a patterns and practices review investigation?’ ” Mr. Cummings recalled in an interview Thursday. “If I remember correctly, all of them raised their hands; there were about 40 of them. And I raised mine too.”

Mr. Cummings said that even before that meeting, he and other members of Congress from Maryland had a conference call with Ms. Lynch shortly after she took office in which he asked for such a review.

The decision by the Justice Department was welcome news to civil rights advocates who had been pressing for a review for a long time. “A range of people and organizations have been asking for this for years,” said Sonia Kumar, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, “but really, I think those calls became louder and more forceful in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray.”

Civil rights investigations often end with court settlements and independent oversight of police departments. They can be powerful agents of change, but they are not immediate, and the Baltimore investigation could take a year or more. A similar investigation into the Police Department in Ferguson, Mo., took seven months, an extraordinarily fast timeline for such cases.

Mr. Batts and the mayor had already asked the Justice Department’s community-policing experts to conduct a voluntary review of the department. The preliminary results of that review will most likely be released in the coming weeks and are expected to recommend changes to training and use-of-force policies. Those recommendations would not be binding, but Mr. Batts said he planned to work with the  community-policing experts to make changes to the department regardless of what civil rights investigators did.

A version of this article appears in print on May 8, 2015, on page A14 of the New York edition with the headline: Justice Dept. Will Examine Baltimore’s Police Patterns.


Inquiry to Examine Racial Bias in the San Francisco Police
MAY 7, 2015
New York Times

Greg Suhr, the city’s police chief, moved in April to fire seven officers who sent racist messages. Credit Carlos Avila Gonzalez/San Francisco Chronicle

The case began when racist and homophobic text messages between 14 officers were found and will be broadened to determine if systemic bias exists within the San Francisco Police
First came disclosures of racist and homophobic text messages exchanged by officers of the San Francisco Police Department. That was followed by the discovery that sheriff’s deputies had been gambling on forced fighting matches between inmates at a city jail.

Then on Thursday, the San Francisco district attorney announced that he was expanding the investigation of the city’s police and sheriff’s departments to examine whether those agencies have a deep-seated culture of systemic bias that has led to unlawful arrests or prosecutions.

In a year in which many of the nation’s major cities have been rocked by protests after the fatal police shootings of unarmed African-Americans, the broadened inquiry made clear that even a city known for its liberal politics can be buffeted by accusations that its officers behaved in a racially biased manner.

Related Coverage:
Justice Department Will Investigate Baltimore Police Practices
MAY 7, 2015
A Baltimore police officer outside the Western District police station in April.
News Analysis: Police Struggle With Loss of Privileged Position
MAY 5, 2015
Lt. Sekou Millington of the Oakland Police Department trained with a video simulation. He used his Taser to respond to a scenario where a woman stepped away from a man who was holding a large knife.
Police Rethink Long Tradition on Using Force
MAY 4, 2015
Officers Facing Charges Find Themselves on an Unfamiliar Side of the Law
MAY 1, 2015
Demonstrators marched in Baltimore on Thursday in protest of the death of Freddie Gray.
Police Killings Rise Slightly, Though Increased Focus May Suggest Otherwise
APRIL 30, 2015

African-Americans in San Francisco have complained for years about harassment and the use of excessive force by the police. And while African-Americans make up about 5 percent of the city’s population, they account for half of its arrests and jail inmates, and more than 60 percent of the children in juvenile detention, according to city statistics.

In Baltimore on Wednesday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake acknowledged a “fractured relationship between the police and the community” in her predominantly black city and asked the Justice Department to conduct a civil rights investigation of the Police Department to determine whether officers had engaged in unconstitutional patterns of abuse or discrimination.

At a news conference in San Francisco announcing the expanded inquiry, the district attorney, George Gascón, acknowledged that the racist text messages had particularly undermined public confidence in both his office and the local criminal justice system.

He also said he believed that the city’s tradition of inclusiveness would allow it to avoid the tumult in Ferguson, Mo., and other cities where racial bias has been found to have played a role in the actions of police officers.

“In the last few months, we have seen city after city where police use of force or other police activity is coming to the light and indicating that racial animosity and other types of biases play a significant role,” he said. “I think at one point we felt we would be immune from that type of activity.”

Concerns that the San Francisco Police Department may be rife with racial bias were reignited in March when racially inflammatory text messages sent between 14 police officers became public as part of the federal corruption trial of two San Francisco officers.

Mr. Gascón, a former San Francisco police chief, said Thursday that a task force of prosecutors had already been scrutinizing some 3,000 cases — including about 1,600 convictions — related to contacts or arrests made by the 14 police officers during the last decade to determine if biases had led to any unlawful arrests or wrongful prosecutions.

The investigation by the panel, which will add three former judges as investigators, will now be broadened to include an examination of whether entrenched biases exist in the 2,000-member department.

“If just one individual was wrongly imprisoned because of bias on the part of these officers, that’s one too many,” Mr. Gascón said. “What is the potential impact in our justice system when a juror in a criminal trial questions the credibility of the arresting officer on the evidence that is being presented because they believe that this process may have been influenced by racial or homophobic bias? Can justice prevail under such conditions? Probably not.”

The text messages the officers exchanged discussed lynching African-Americans and proposing that African-Americans “should be spayed.” One text read “White Power.” Some referred to African-Americans using a racial slur.

Other texts contained denigrating comments about gays, Mexicans and Filipinos, who make up a significant number of residents in one of the nation’s most culturally diverse cities.

Interactive Graphic: The Race Gap in America’s Police Departments

In recent months, there have also been a number of cellphone videos posted online of San Francisco police officers apparently mistreating citizens — many of them African-American — including one in which an officer nearly tipped a disabled man out of his wheelchair onto the street.

“Shame, shame, shame on San Francisco,” Rev. Amos C. Brown, president of the San Francisco office of the N.A.A.C.P., said at the news conference. “We cannot claim with integrity and honesty that we are first-class, inclusive, loving.”

Greg Suhr, the police chief, had no immediate comment Thursday, but he has moved to fire seven officers who sent and received the racist text messages. An eighth officer has resigned.

“We have cooperated with the district attorney and handed them the requested documents so they could conduct their audit,” the police department said in a statement. “The D.A. has to review the cases and it’s their responsibility to determine if there is any bias in those cases.”

In addition to the text messages, the task force is also investigating gladiator-style fights among San Francisco jail inmates that the city’s public defender, Jeff Adachi, has said were arranged by sheriff’s deputies. The jail guards, according to a report by Mr. Adachi, bet on the fights and threatened inmates with violence or withheld food if they did not take part.

A third area being examined is the possibility that hundreds of convictions in criminal cases may have been compromised by analysts at the police laboratory who appear to have improperly handled DNA samples.

The broadening of the panel’s focus was met with relief by residents who have long questioned police behavior and arrests made in Bayview-Hunters Point and other African-American neighborhoods.

“Fighting for civil rights is really part of the San Francisco culture and legacy and so it only makes sense that we move forward on this,” said Malia Cohen, a member of the city’s Board of Supervisors who has urged a similar inquiry in the past.

The text messages were disclosed in March as part of a federal corruption case against Ian Furminger, the former sergeant who sent many of the messages.

Mr. Furminger, a 20-year veteran convicted in December 2014 of stealing money and property from suspects, has been sentenced to 41 months in prison. As part of the case, prosecutors revealed that he had sent and received a number of the text messages.

The expanded district attorney’s task force will now include Cruz Reynoso, a former California Supreme Court justice; Dickran Tevrizian, a retired federal court judge; and LaDoris Cordell, a former Superior Court judge, who was once a vice provost at Stanford University. The panel is expected to conclude the investigation by the end of the year, officials said.

A version of this article appears in print on May 8, 2015, on page A13 of the New York edition with the headline: Inquiry to Examine the Extent of Racial Bias in the San Francisco Police.