Feed aggregator

U.S., Taliban Agree to Terms for Peace Deal, Troop Withdrawal

TruthDig.com News -

ISLAMABAD — The United States and the Taliban said Friday they have agreed to sign a peace deal next week aimed at ending 18 years of war in Afghanistan and bringing U.S. troops home, wrapping up America’s longest-running conflict and fulfilling one of President Donald Trump’s main campaign promises.

The planned Feb. 29 signing depends on the success of a week-long nationwide ‘reduction in violence’ agreement in which all sides have committed to end attacks. It is due to start at midnight Friday local time (1930 GMT, 2:30 p.m. EST), according to an Afghan official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Related Articles The War in Afghanistan Is a Fraud (and Now We Have Proof) by Lee Camp Taliban OKs Cease-Fire to Advance Afghanistan Peace Talks by KATHY GANNON and RAHIM FAIEZ / The Associated Press The Afghanistan Papers Are a Case Study in Colonial Propaganda by Joshua Cho / FAIR

The announcement follows months of negotiations between the two sides that have broken down before. Yet both parties have signaled a desire to halt the fighting that began with the U.S. invasion after the September 11, 2001, attacks by Osama bin Laden’s Afghanistan-based al-Qaida network.

Should the truce stand, the U.S.-Taliban deal would be followed within 10 days by the start of all-Afghan peace talks that could result in the formation of a new government in Kabul, a pledge from the Taliban not to allow terrorist groups to operate in the country, and the phased withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops over 18 months.

The plan is a gamble for Trump, who retweeted several news accounts of the agreement. If it’s successful, he will be able to claim to have taken a first step toward meeting his 2016 campaign pledge to bring American troops home. But if it fails, Trump could be painted by his Democratic adversaries in an election year as being naïve and willing to sacrifice the security of U.S. soldiers and American interests for the sake of political expediency.

For the Taliban, the successful completion of the truce and Afghanistan peace talks would give the group a shot at international legitimacy, which it lacked at the time it ran the country and gave bin Laden and his associates safe haven.

The truce, to be monitored by American forces, will likely be fragile and U.S. officials have noted the possibility that “spoilers” uninterested in peace talks could disrupt it. Determining who is responsible for potential attacks during the seven days will therefore be critical.

Both sides were cautiously optimistic in announcing the agreement that had been previewed a week ago by a senior U.S. official at an international security conference in Munich, Germany. The announcement had been expected shortly thereafter but was delayed in part because of Monday’s release of the results of Afghanistan’s disputed September 2019 elections that showed President Ashraf Ghani winning by an extremely narrow margin.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the peace agreement, to be signed in Doha, Qatar, by U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives, will eventually lead to a permanent cease-fire. The deal also envisions guarantees from the Taliban that Afghanistan will not be used to attack the U.S. or its allies.

“We are preparing for the signing to take place on February 29,” Pompeo said. “Intra-Afghan negotiations will start soon thereafter, and will build on this fundamental step to deliver a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire and the future political road map for Afghanistan.”

The Taliban, meanwhile, said in a statement that the agreement is intended to achieve nationwide peace and and end to the foreign troop presence in the country.

The statement said both sides “will now create a suitable security situation” ahead of the agreement signing date, invite international representatives to a signing ceremony, arrange for the release of prisoners, structure a path for peace talks, “and finally lay the groundwork for peace across the country with the withdrawal of all foreign forces.”

The Taliban added that they will not allow “the land of Afghanistan to be used against security of others so that our people can live a peaceful and prosperous life under the shade of an Islamic system.”

But the road ahead is fraught with difficulties, particularly as some Taliban elements and other groups have shown little interest in negotiations. An attack that killed two Americans last September disrupted what at the time was an expected announcement of a peace deal.

And, it remained unclear who would represent Kabul at the intra-Afghan talks. Ghani’s rivals have disputed the Afghan election commission’s declaration that he won the presidential election.

The Taliban have refused to talk to Ghani’s government and also denounced the election results, saying they will talk to government representatives but only as ordinary Afghans, not as officials. Germany and Norway have both offered to host the all-Afghan talks, but no venue has yet been set.

Pompeo did not say who would represent Kabul, only that talks “will build on this fundamental step to deliver a comprehensive and permanent cease-fire and the future political road map for Afghanistan.”

Under the terms of the ‘’reduction in violence” — which covers all of Afghanistan and also applies to Afghan forces as well as the United States and Taliban — all sides have committed to end attacks for seven days. For the Taliban, that includes roadside bombings, suicide attacks and rocket strikes.

The Taliban military commission issued instructions to its commanders “to stop attacks from Feb. 22 against foreign and Afghan forces until Feb 29.”

The peace deal also calls for the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners, most of whom are being held by the Afghan government. Although the U.S. has already discussed the prisoner release with government representatives, there has been no public announcement about it from Ghani’s government.

Neighboring Pakistan, which has long been accused of backing the Taliban, welcomed the reduction-in-violence plan.

“’We hope the Afghan parties would now seize this historic opportunity and work out a comprehensive and inclusive political settlement for durable peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region,” said a Pakistan Foreign Ministry statement. Pakistan hosts more than 1.4 million Afghan refugees.

During any withdrawal, the U.S. would retain the right to continue counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan, which have been focused mainly on an Islamic State group’s affiliate and al-Qaida, according to Pentagon officials.

Ghani said in a statement that “for the week of Taliban’s reduction in violence, our defense and security forces will remain in defensive mode” and continue operations against the Islamic State, al-Qaida “and other terrorist groups except Taliban.”

The Pentagon has declined to say whether the U.S. had agreed to cut its troop levels in Afghanistan to zero. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said if the truce is successful and the Afghan peace talks begin, the U.S. would reduce its troop contingent “over time” to about 8,600. There are more than 12,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Yet Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha, tweeted that the Taliban expect a complete withdrawal. In a Pashto language tweet, he said, “based on the agreement with the U.S., all international forces will leave Afghanistan and the invasion will end and no one will be allowed to use Afghan soil against others.”

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the developments. The U.S.-led military alliance has some 16,000 troops in Afghanistan helping to train the country’s security forces, but it could draw down on its operation to accommodate any firm peace agreement. More than 8,000 of these alliance troops are American.

“This is a critical test of the Taliban’s willingness and ability to reduce violence, and contribute to peace in good faith,” Stoltenberg said in a statement. “This could pave the way for negotiations among Afghans, sustainable peace, and ensuring the country is never again a safe haven for terrorists.”

___

Lee reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Tameem Akhgar in Kabul, Afghanistan, Lorne Cook in Brussels and Lolita Baldor and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

The post U.S., Taliban Agree to Terms for Peace Deal, Troop Withdrawal appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Intelligence Officials: Russia Is Boosting Trump Candidacy

TruthDig.com News -

WASHINGTON — Intelligence officials have warned lawmakers that Russia is interfering in the 2020 election campaign to help President Donald Trump get reelected, according to three officials familiar with the closed-door briefing.

Trump pushed back Friday accusing Democrats of launching a disinformation campaign.

“Another misinformation campaign is being launched by Democrats in Congress saying that Russia prefers me to any of the Do Nothing Democrat candidates who still have been unable to, after two weeks, count their votes in Iowa. Hoax number 7!” Trump tweeted.

Related Articles Trump Ally Roger Stone Sentenced to 40 Months in Prison by ASHRAF KHALIL, MARK SHERMAN and MICHAEL BALSAMO / The Associated Press Robert Reich: Trump Could Try to Rig the 2020 Elections by Robert Reich When It Comes to Election-Meddling, Russians Learned From the Best by Tom Engelhardt / TomDispatch

The officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence. said Thursday that the briefing last week focused on Russia’s efforts to influence the 2020 election and sow discord in the American electorate. The intelligence warning was first reported by The New York Times and The Washington Post.

A senior administration official told The Associated Press that the news infuriated Trump, who complained that Democrats would use the information against him. Over the course of his presidency, Trump has dismissed the intelligence community’s assessment of Russia’s 2016 election interference as a conspiracy to undermine his victory. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private meeting.

A day after the Feb. 13 briefing to the House committee, Trump berated the then-director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, and he announced this week that Maguire would be replaced by Richard Grenell, a Trump loyalist.

Moscow denied any meddling. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that the allegations are “paranoid reports that, unfortunately, there will be more and more of as we get closer to the elections (in the U.S.). Of course, they have nothing to do with the truth.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted that, “American voters should decide American elections — not Vladimir Putin.” She added that all members of Congress “should condemn the President’s reported efforts to dismiss threats to the integrity of our democracy & to politicize our intel community.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House intelligence committee, tweeted: “We count on the intelligence community to inform Congress of any threat of foreign interference in our elections. If reports are true and the President is interfering with that, he is again jeopardizing our efforts to stop foreign meddling. Exactly as we warned he would do.”

U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia interfered in the 2016 election through social media campaigns and stealing and distributing emails from Democratic accounts. They say Russia was trying to boost Trump’s campaign and add chaos to the American political process. Special counsel Robert Mueller concluded that Russian interference was “sweeping and systematic,” but he did not find a criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Republican lawmakers who were in last week’s briefing by the DNI’s chief election official, Shelby Pierson, pushed back by noting that Trump has been tough on Russia, one of the officials said.

While Trump has imposed severe economic sanctions on Russia, he also has spoken warmly of Russian leader Vladimir Putin and withdrawn troops from areas, like Syria, where Moscow could fill the vacuum. He delayed military aid last year to Ukraine, a Russian adversary — a decision that was at the core of his impeachment proceedings.

The Times said Trump was angry that the House briefing was made before Schiff, the panel’s chairman, who led the impeachment proceedings.

Trump on Thursday formally appointed Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, to replace Maguire as the new acting director of national intelligence. Maguire was required to step down soon under federal law governing acting appointments. The Times cited two administration officials as saying the timing, after the intelligence briefing, was coincidental.

Grenell’s background is primarily in politics and media affairs. He lacks the extensive national security and military experience of Maguire, as well as previous holders of the position overseeing the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies.

His appointment does little to heal the president’s fraught relations with the intelligence community, which Trump has derided as part of a “deep state” of entrenched bureaucrats that seek to undermine his agenda. The administration has most notably feuded with the intelligence community over the Russian interference and the events surrounding Trump’s impeachment.

Pierson told NPR in an interview that aired last month that the Russians “are already engaging in influence operations relative to candidates going into 2020. But we do not have evidence at this time that our adversaries are directly looking at interfering with vote counts or the vote tallies.”

Pierson, appointed in July 2019 by then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, works with intelligence agencies like the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to identify anyone seeking to interfere with U.S. elections.

Pierson told NPR that the U.S. doesn’t know exactly what the Russians are planning, but she said it’s not just a Russia problem.

“We’re still also concerned about China, Iran, non-state actors, hacktivists and frankly — certainly for DHS and FBI – even Americans that might be looking to undermine confidence in the elections.”

At an open hearing this month, FBI Director Christopher Wray told the House Judiciary Committee that Russia was engaged in “information warfare” heading into the November election, but that law enforcement had not seen efforts to target America’s infrastructure. He said Russia is relying on a covert social media campaign to divide the American public.

___

Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani, Deb Riechmann and Eric Tucker in Washington, Zeke Miller in Las Vegas and Daria Litvinova contributed from Moscow contributed to this report.

The post Intelligence Officials: Russia Is Boosting Trump Candidacy appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Endorses Slate of Progressive Female Candidates

TruthDig.com News -

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Friday released her first slate of endorsements through her political action committee, Courage to Change, announcing her backing of seven progressive women running for congressional seats.

Several of the candidates primary challengers to more centrist Democrats who have the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and other establishment Democrats.

Today @CouragetoChange is announcing its first endorsements of newcomers to Congress:

SENATE
Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez (TX)

HOUSE
Teresa Fernandez (NM)
Kara Eastman (NE)
Georgette Gomez (CA)
Marie Newman (IL)
Jessica Cisneros (TX)
Samelys Lopez (NY)https://t.co/sbSKTipijm

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 21, 2020

Ocasio-Cortez’s list includes House candidates Teresa Fernandez of New Mexico, Samelys López of New York, and Georgette Gómez of California, who are all running for open seats. López, who has experienced homelessness in the past, called Ocasio-Cortez’s support “a great honor.”

As a directly impacted person who has experienced homelessness and many other issues our neighbors in #NY15 are facing, receiving the endorsement of @AOC‘s @CouragetoChange is a great honor.

We can’t do this without you. Chip in $27 now to help fuel us!https://t.co/pzXB1PaduH pic.twitter.com/yVU9BfZwX5

— Samelys López for NY-15 (Bronx) (@SamelysLopez) February 21, 2020

The congresswoman also endorsed Kara Eastman, who is challenging Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.); and Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, a labor activist who is challenging Democrat M.J. Hegar and several other candidates for the Senate seat held by Texas Republican John Cornyn. Hegar is supported by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Tzintzún Ramirez was also recently endorsed by Lone Star Forward PAC, a committee with ties to Way to Win, another progressive organization.

Courage to Change also officially announced its endorsement of two more progressives who are challenging longtime conservative Democratic lawmakers: Marie Newman of Illinois and Jessica Cisneros of Texas. Ocasio-Cortez said last year that she was endorsing the two candidates.

All of the endorsed candidates back progressive priorities like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal and environmental justice.

“One of our primary goals is to reward political courage in Congress and also to help elect a progressive majority in the House of Representatives,” Ocasio-Cortez told the New York Times. “There’s kind of a dual nature to this: One is opening the door to newcomers, and the other is to reward members of Congress that are exhibiting very large amounts of political courage.”

Courage to Change was set up in January with the aim of helping “working-class champions” and working people get elected to public office. Ocasio-Cortez worked in the service industry just months before her surprise primary victory against former Rep. Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district.

“All of our endorsed candidates refuse corporate PAC donations and center their movements on an inclusive message that puts working-families first—not wealthy donors,” wrote Ocasio-Cortez in an email to supporters Friday. The congresswoman began her PAC after the DCCC announced it would blacklist any political consultants who advised primary challengers to incumbent Democrats.

Ocasio-Cortez has refused to pay dues to the DCCC due to the blacklist, declining to contribute to a fund which could harm Newman’s and Cisneros’s campaigns, and has instead raised money on her own for progressives.

“If we’re going to build an economy that works for all, a democracy that includes everyone, and a society that centers working-class families, things must change,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote Friday, “And that starts by electing new progressive leaders who exemplify political courage, who refuse to bow to corporate interests, and who will fight for social, racial, economic, and environmental justice for all.”

The post Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Endorses Slate of Progressive Female Candidates appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Virus Cases Balloon in S. Korea as Outbreak Shifts, Spreads

TruthDig.com News -

SEOUL, South Korea — Schools were shuttered, churches told worshipers to stay away and some mass gatherings were banned as cases of a new virus swelled Friday in South Korea, the newest front in a widening global outbreak.

The country said two people have died and 204 have been infected with the virus, quadruple the number of cases it had two days earlier, as a crisis centered in China has begun strongly reverberating elsewhere.

Related Articles The Coronavirus Panic Exposes the Pathology of Nationalism by Sonali Kolhatkar Is Coronavirus the First Climate Plague? by Kim Brown / The Real News Network The Most Effective Thing to Do If You're Afraid of Coronavirus by Jill Richardson / OtherWords

The multiplying caseload in South Korea showed the ease with which the illness can spread. Though initial infections were linked to China, new ones have not involved international travel.

The World Health Organization warned that such clusters not directly linked to travel from China suggest that time may be running out to contain the outbreak.

“The window of opportunity is still there. But our window of opportunity is narrowing,” saidWHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We need to act quickly before it closes completely.”

Tedros singled out Iran’s discovery of 18 cases and four deaths in two days — and that a traveler from Iran carried the virus to Lebanon, and another traveler from Iran to Canada.

“These dots are very concerning — take them as dots or trends,” he said.

South Korea Prime Minister Chung Se-kyun started a government meeting on the health emergency by saying, “We have entered an emergency phase.”

“Our efforts until now had been focused on blocking the illness from entering the country,” he said. “But we will now shift the focus on preventing the illness from spreading further in local communities.”

Daegu, a southeastern city of 2.5 million that is the country’s fourth largest, emerged as the focus of government efforts to contain the disease known as COVID-19, and Chung promised support to ease a shortage in hospital beds, medical personnel and equipment. Mayor Kwon Young-jin of Daegu has urged residents to stay inside, even wearing masks at home, to stem further infection.

The first case in Daegu was reported on Tuesday. By Friday, the city and its surrounding areas had 152, including South Korea’s first two fatalities from COVID-19.

Nationwide, the numbers told of a ballooning problem. There were 20 new cases reported Wednesday, 53 on Thursday and 100 on Friday.

The central government declared a “special management zone” around Daegu on Friday, which didn’t restrict movement of residents or supersede local officials’ power but served as official recognition of the problem.

Most of those cases have been linked to a single house of worship, a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, where a woman in her 60s attended two services before testing positive for the virus.

About 1,000 others who attended services with the woman have been isolated in their homes for screening, and health authorities say they’re trying to monitor thousands of other church members.

All 74 sites operated by the Shincheonji Church have been closed and worshipers have been told to instead watch services online for a sect whose leader claims to be an angel of Christ, but who is dismissed by many outsiders as a cult leader. Its teachings revolve largely around the Book of Revelation, a chapter of the New Testament known mostly for its apocalyptic foreshadowing.

Health and city officials say the woman eyed as a potential transmitter at the church had contact with some 1,160 people, both at the church and at a restaurant and a hospital where she was treated for injuries from a car accident. That raised fears that South Korea — which before Wednesday had recorded just 31 cases of the virus — should brace for a further surge.

“I hope South Korea will do everything to contain this outbreak at this early stage,” Tedros said.

Usually bustling downtown streets of Daegu were nearly deserted Friday as people wearing face masks lined up at clinics seeking testing. Crowds formed in supermarkets where shelves of ramen and curry were nearly bare. Eight hundred area schools, due to start a new academic year on March 2, delayed their openings by a week.

“Panic is taking hold,” said Daegu resident Huh Mi-yeon. “People are scared of any situation where they would run into another person.”

Elsewhere in the country, angst grew too. In the capital of Seoul, major downtown rallies were banned, and fears of the virus led many to avoid shops and restaurants and instead eat at home and order necessities online. Buses and subways were full of mask-clad commuters.

The first three cases in the country’s 600,000-member military also sprung up on separate bases Friday, bringing added concern. A sailor on Jeju Island and an army officer in North Chungcheong province both tested positive. Both had made recent visits to Daegu, officials said. A third infection was reported in an air force officer who is based in Daegu but who had recently traveled to military headquarters in central South Korea, the defense ministry said, prompting the quarantine of 80 soldiers there.

WHO’s Dr. Sylvie Briand said there’s no information yet that the virus itself is changing. But she’s concerned that there are different patterns of transmission in different parts of the world, what she called “a very different phase of this outbreak depending where you look.”

Globally, more than 76,000 people have been infected in 27 countries, and more than 2,200 have died. Even as new alarms were sounded elsewhere in Asia, in China, where the vast majority of cases have occurred, officials have expressed optimism over the number of new infections, which has been trending downward. China said Friday 889 new cases were recorded in the preceding 24 hours and 118 additional deaths.

___

Sedensky reported from Bangkok. Associated Press writer Tong-hyung Kim contributed to this report.

The post Virus Cases Balloon in S. Korea as Outbreak Shifts, Spreads appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Racist Drug Laws Lead to Racist Enforcement in Cities Across the Country

ACLU News -

The way which America enforces its drug laws has been racist since its inception. Across racial and ethnic groups, Americans use and sell drugs at comparable rates, but law enforcement has selectively targeted Black and brown people for stops, arrests, prosecution, and imprisonment at wildly disproportionate rates.

This race-based enforcement is not only limited to a handful of police departments, regions of the country, or political ideologies. Rather, it has defined American policing across the board, from severely segregated cities in the Midwest to the beacons of progressive politics in the Northeast and West Coast.

So it should come as no surprise that in 2013, when the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) teamed up with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to go after people selling small amounts of drugs in the city’s Tenderloin District, the SFPD focused on Black people. Even though people of all races engage in the Tenderloin’s drug trade, and 40 percent of those are white and Latinx, all 37 individuals federally prosecuted in the two SFPD/DEA operations were Black. One SFPD officer involved in the operation was captured on video ignoring an Asian-American person engaged in drug activity in favor of arresting a Black person instead. Another officer was heard saying “fucking BMs” (i.e., Black males) as the camera was focused on a group of Black men and women.

Why would the SFPD target Black people specifically for federal prosecution? Because federal drug laws carry harsher punishment — including mandatory minimum sentences — than charges brought in state court. Further, studies have repeatedly shown that Black people are charged and sentenced more harshly than similarly situated white people in federal court.

After the prosecutions were consolidated into a single case (over the government’s objection), a federal district court judge found that there was “substantial evidence suggestive of racially selective enforcement by the [police department].” He ordered the police department to produce further discovery in response to several defendants’ motion seeking evidence proving that the SFPD had impermissibly targeted them because of their race. The U.S. Attorney eventually dismissed the cases rather than expose evidence of police wrongdoing. The government’s actions in the case were a part of a long standing tradition that uses the so-called War on Drugs to selectively target marginalized groups, including Blacks, Mexicans, and Chinese.

That is when the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Northern California, and the law firm Durie Tangri LLP sued the SFPD on behalf of the Black people whose constitutional rights had been violated.

In a groundbreaking victory, the plaintiffs have reached a settlement with the City of San Francisco under which each client will be compensated for the harm they suffered at the hands of the SFPD. Moving forward, San Francisco’s Department of Police Accountability will now include a “racial bias” category on its complaint form and in its intake process for anyone who feels that they have been mistreated by the police because of their race.

This victory is significant because what happened to our clients has been business as usual for the SFPD and police departments across the country for quite some time. The SFPD’s long history of racially discriminatory law enforcement has been documented through reports published by a range of organizations and agencies, including the Hayward Burns Justice Institute, the U.S. Department of Justice, and a Blue-Ribbon panel convened by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office which all identified a plethora of racially biased practices in SFPD’s stops, searches, arrests, use of deadly force, and data collection.

The Blue Ribbon panel documented how several SFPD officers exchanged racist text messages, which referred to Black people using the N-word and “savages,” and referencing cross burnings. Thus, the SFPD has carried on the American tradition of dehumanizing Black people for an activity often ignored when engaged in by white people.

For 40 years, prohibition has been a major driver of America’s gargantuan jail and prison population, done little to curb drug abuse and distribution, wasted billions of dollars, militarized the police, and caused grievous harm to communities and families it was pretending to help.

Ultimately, the only solution to the issue in San Francisco, as in most American cities, is to shrink the size, reach, and responsibilities of the police department, and decriminalize the use and possession of drugs. Until then, hopefully, this settlement, which builds upon a long-documented history of racism in the SFPD, will create a process through which the police can be held more accountable and contribute to ending the SFPD’s harmful and humiliating enforcement practices targeting the Black community.

Paul Paz y Miño, Saqib Bhatti & Beverly Bell on Environmental Justice & Cross-National Solidarity

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

PlayStop pop out
X MP3jPLAYLISTS.MI_0 = [ { name: "CounterSpin Paul Paz y Miño Saqib Bhatti Beverly Bell Full Show ", formats: ["mp3"], mp3: "aHR0cDovL3d3dy5mYWlyLm9yZy9hdWRpby9jb3VudGVyc3Bpbi9Db3VudGVyU3BpbjIwMDIyMS5tcDM=", counterpart:"", artist: "", image: "true", imgurl: "" } ]; MP3jPLAYERS[0] = { list:MP3jPLAYLISTS.MI_0, tr:0, type:'MI', lstate:true, loop:false, play_txt:'Play', pause_txt:'Pause', pp_title:'FAIR', autoplay:false, download:true, vol:80, height:71, cssclass:' ', popout_css:{ enabled:true, colours: ["#fff", "rgba(201,207,232,0.35)", "rgb(241,241,241)", "rgba(245,5,5,0.7)", "rgba(92,201,255,0.8)", "transparent", "transparent", "#525252", "#525252", "#768D99", "#47ACDE", "/", 600, 200 ], cssInterface: { "color": "#525252" }, cssTitle: { "left": "16px", "right":"16px", "top":"8px" }, cssImage: { "overflow": "hidden", "width":"auto", "height":"71px" }, cssFontSize: { "title": "16px", "caption": "11.2px", "list": "12px" }, classes: { interface:' verdana-mjp', title:' left-mjp norm-mjp plain-mjp childNorm-mjp childPlain-mjp', image:' Himg right-mjp', poscol:'', ul:' darken1-mjp verdana-mjp med-mjp childNorm-mjp childPlain-mjp left-mjp' }} };

MP3 Link

New York Times (2/10/20)

This week on CounterSpin: The protests of the Wet’suwet’en in British Columbia, resisting the construction of a natural gas pipeline on their land, have been met with violent raids by Canadian police, which in turn have sparked solidarity actions around the country. A New York Times account detailed how many rail and road passengers were inconvenienced by blockades, noted the “strong support” for the gas line from the Canadian government, and the pipeline company’s “promise” of millions of dollars of contracts with indigenous businesses, before granting one line of explanation that “a number of chiefs…fear the project will irrevocably alter their land.” The fact that the Wet’suwet’en never signed a treaty, and the country’s Supreme Court confirmed (just three years ago) that they hold “aboriginal title” to the land involved, can be found in paragraph 16 of this 17-paragraph piece.

There will only be an increasing number of frontline struggles between extractive, climate-disrupting industry and those willing to stand up to it.  Corporate media’s inadequate attention, and unwillingness to truly call out the moneyed interests causing present and future harms, make them more often part of the problem than the solution.

CounterSpin has had these issues brought to life by a number of guests in recent years. We hear a few of those conversations again on this special archived show. We’ll hear from Paul Paz y Miño about Chevron in Ecuador, from Saqib Bhatti about Wells Fargo activism, and from Beverly Bell about Honduran activist Berta Caceres. Environmental justice and cross-national organizing and solidarity, this week on CounterSpin.

Crime in New York City

Mother Jones Magazine -

I had lunch with a friend yesterday and I promised him that I’d dig up the violent crime figures for New York City. Here they are:

This chart alone should provide you with pretty good clues to the answers to these questions:

  1. Did David Dinkins have a pretty good record on crime?
  2. Was Rudy Giuliani’s adoption of broken windows policing responsible for NYC’s crime decline in the 90s?
  3. Did Mike Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk policing reduce crime in the 2000s?
  4. Did Bill de Blasio preside over an upsurge in crime in the aughts?

Here are the answers:

  1. Yes: violent crime declined 20 percent on his watch. But nobody knew it at the time because no figures later than 1991 were available during the 1993 mayoral race.
  2. No. Nothing special happened to the crime rate when Giuliani took over. Violent crime was already declining strongly when he became mayor and continued declining after he left. There’s no reason to think that Giuliani had any special impact.
  3. No. Violent crime declined only modestly during his three terms in office.
  4. No. Stop-and-frisk ended and nothing happened. Violent crime stayed low.

Conversely, the lead-crime hypothesis predicts very precisely that violent crime should peak right around 1991 and then decline through 2010 as more and more birth cohorts are raised in a lead-free environment.¹ By 2010 an entire generation has reached its most crime-prone years after being raised in a lead-free environment and there are few improvements to be expected going forward. And that’s exactly what happened.

¹Mostly lead free, anyway.

Corruption Goes All the Way to the Top of the Republican National Committee

TruthDig.com News -

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

Richard Walters began his career at the lowest rungs of the Republican National Committee when he was 23. Now, at 30, he’s the RNC chief of staff, earning far more than any other official there, including his boss, the chairwoman, and the top officials at the Democratic National Committee.

The rich compensation might have raised eyebrows — but for the fact that the RNC obscured it. Last year, Walters earned a salary of $207,558, but the party paid him an additional $135,000 through a shell company he established in December 2018 called Red Wave Strategies.

Federal Election Commission reports described the RNC’s payments to Red Wave as “political strategy services,” as if the money had flowed to an independent contractor and not Walters himself. Red Wave does not have other employees and has no clients other than the RNC.

President Donald Trump and the Republican Party are raising unprecedented sums of cash for the 2020 election. The party brought in more than $241 million alone in 2019, far exceeding the $107 million the RNC raised in 2003, the last time there was a Republican president seeking reelection, and eclipsing the $92 million raised last year by the Democratic National Committee. The RNC spent record-breaking sums, too: In 2019, the party doled out $192 million.

Amid the flows of cash, a select group of political operatives has leveraged Trump campaign ties for lucrative consulting work. In October, The Washington Post highlighted the political consulting prowess of Katie Walsh, for whom Walters once worked at the RNC, and her husband, Mike Shields. Both Walsh and Shields previously served as RNC chiefs of staff. Three businesses controlled by Walsh and Shields have been paid more than $12 million from the RNC, multiple Republican groups and political committees since 2017, according to the Post’s analysis of campaign filings and other records.

Michael Steele, a former RNC chairman, said Walters’ payment structure “just smells” and was in keeping with a culture of “sweetheart deals” among party insiders that he described as corrosive.

A half-dozen former RNC employees and Republican operatives, who spoke to ProPublica on the condition of anonymity to avoid retribution, said that the various deals, typically veiled behind opaque limited liability corporations, create an unseemly overall impression that is bad for morale and could eventually harm the party’s credibility with donors.

“These guys, they just don’t know what impact this has on rank-and-file folks out there,” Steele said. “It’s disrespecting people who donate to the party.”

Mike Reed, an RNC spokesperson, told ProPublica over email that Walsh and Shields “bring incredible value to the RNC and the party as a whole.”

Reed also provided comments concerning Walters from chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and the RNC’s budget committee chair, Glenn McCall. McDaniel said that Walters’ “record as chief of staff speaks for itself,” and McCall said Walters’ “compensation package was approved by myself, the chairwoman, treasurer, and budget committee” because of his “outstanding work.” Given Walters’ success on the job, and the size of the RNC’s operation, which consists of thousands of employees and volunteers, McCall said Walters is “probably underpaid for his position.”

Reed did not address why the RNC pays Walters through Red Wave.

ProPublica described the payments to Walters’ LLC to Larry Noble, a former FEC general counsel, a nonpartisan position. Noble said that if the Red Wave income was really part of Walters’ compensation, it should’ve been attributed to his name and disclosed as “payroll,” a designation that covers the salaries of RNC staffers. The arrangement, he said, amounts to “a serious reporting violation. It seems pretty blatant. Hiding the recipient undermines the purpose of disclosure. The question is, why are they enriching him in this particular way?”

Reed disputed that the organization’s payments to Red Wave amount to a reporting violation, and he said that the organization discloses “everything to the FEC in accordance with the law.”

The RNC has also covered costs or made payments that are personally beneficial to the president, including nearly $2 million for the use of Trump properties, as well as more than $100,000 dollars in purchases of Donald Trump Jr.’s 2019 book, “Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us.”

Reed said the party’s payments were appropriate. He told ProPublica that Trump properties can be “cheaper to rent than other venues,” and that the FEC “demands the RNC receive market rates.” He added that Trump Jr.’s books were used for fundraising, and that the amount raised off copies exceeded the costs.

The RNC has also spent some $25,000 on customized Sharpies for the president — markers retrofitted in glossy black and embossed with Trump’s golden signature. These “political expenses,” Reed said, are not unusual for presidents. “The taxpayers,” he said, “shouldn’t have to cover these costs.” Sharpies are the president’s preferred writing tool, and he uses them to sign documents and, in one notable recent instance, annotate maps.

As chief of staff, Walters is responsible for the party’s overall budget, approving the budgets of its various departments, handling personnel issues and dealing with donors who want access to McDaniel. Additionally, McDaniel said, Walters oversees “massive new investments” in the organization’s data, political and digital teams. Last year, McDaniel was paid $100,000 less than the total amount Walters took in from the RNC.

Crucially, the chief of staff also executes all RNC vendor contracts, making Walters a key figure in the small network of operatives and friends who have struck lucrative contracts with the party.

Reed said there is a backstop beyond Walters when it comes to contracts. The RNC’s budget is approved by two committees and voted on by the organization’s 168 members, he said.

In 2018, Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky, an election and campaign law firm in Virginia, formed four LLCs tied either to Walsh, Shields, a Shields business partner or, in the case of Red Wave, Walters. Collectively, the RNC has paid them $865,000.

Walsh, along with other Republican consultants, maintains an office on the RNC’s fourth floor, just feet from Walters and McDaniel. Since early 2017, when she left the White House, the organization has paid her more than $745,000 through a consulting company. That contract predates Walters’ tenure as chief of staff, though the RNC declined to say whether Walters has reapproved it.

For her part, Walsh said in a statement to ProPublica, “Since my contract with the RNC is well within or below market rate, the only conclusion I can reach from the insinuations being made in this ‘article’, is that there are some people in the fake news/left wing media who don’t believe a young, accomplished woman should have a seat at the table.”

Shields didn’t return a phone message seeking comment.

Another RNC arrangement involves a close Walters friend. Not long after he became chief of staff, a photographer named Blake Belcher, a college classmate of Walters, set up an LLC of his own, according to corporate records in Mississippi, where the company, Concept Marketing & Branding LLC, is registered.

“He’s paying our money to himself,” the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold told “Trump, Inc.” “There must be so much more we haven’t seen.”

Belcher has been receiving modest payments for his “photography services” from the RNC on and off since 2015, two years before Walters became chief of staff. Typically, the transactions amount to several thousand dollars and are attributed to his name in FEC reports.

Starting in December 2017, the month Belcher established his company, and several months after Walters became chief of staff, the RNC also began to pay Concept for “printing & design services” and “printing/graphic services.” Some of the expenditures to the LLC were significantly higher than those connected to Belcher’s name, including one for roughly $78,000, and another for more than $89,000.

Asked about the arrangement, Belcher deferred to the RNC. The payments, the RNC spokesman Reed said, covered production costs for a host of items, including invitations, business cards and Christmas cards.

“This company has been chosen multiple times after a bid process,” he said. “And they have always come in the cheapest.”

Last summer, Belcher was hired to take photographs at an RNC event that featured Walters. After it was over, Belcher posted 88 photos of Walters on his website. In one series, the chief of staff, dressed in a pink plaid sport coat, his dark beard neatly trimmed, stands behind a lectern that bears the names of Trump and his vice president, Mike Pence. In a different sequence, he’s seated on a panel, holding a microphone. All of the photos are for sale, starting in wallet size, for $2.50.

Reed told ProPublica that Belcher has been “hired to take pictures at countless RNC events,” including “many” where Walters was not an attendee.

The post Corruption Goes All the Way to the Top of the Republican National Committee appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Malcolm X's Daughter Ilyasah Shabazz on Her Father's Legacy & the New Series "Who Killed Malcolm X?"

Democracy Now! -

Fifty-five years ago today, Malcolm X was assassinated. The civil rights leader was shot to death on February 21, 1965, at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. He was only 39 years old. Details of his assassination remain disputed to this day. Earlier this month, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said he was considering reopening the investigation, just days after a new documentary series about the assassination was released on Netflix called “Who Killed Malcolm X?” It makes the case that two of the three men who were convicted for Malcolm X’s murder are actually innocent and that his uncaught killers were four members of a Nation of Islam mosque in Newark, New Jersey. We are joined by Ilyasah Shabazz, one of six daughters of Malcolm X, who was just 2 years old when her father was assassinated in front of her, her siblings and her mother. We also speak with award-winning author Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, independent scholar, historian, journalist, writer and activist, who is widely regarded as one of the most respected authorities on the life and legacy of Malcolm X and is featured in the new documentary series, and Shayla Harris, a producer for the series and an award-winning filmmaker and journalist.

Headlines for February 21, 2020

Democracy Now! -

California Cops Are Collecting Info on Millions of Drivers Who Have Done Nothing Wrong

Mother Jones Magazine -

Law enforcement in four of California’s most populous counties is storing, searching, and sharing detailed records on millions of random drivers, according to a new report from the California State Auditor, a nonpartisan government agency. The audit, released last week, found major deficiencies—and possible lawbreaking—in police use of automated license plate readers (ALPRs) in the California counties of Los Angeles, Fresno, Marin, and Sacramento.

The technology is frighteningly simple: cameras on police cars or roadsides can scan up to 2,000 license plates per minute, storing the plate number, the location, and the time the car was spotted. From there, an officer can easily pull other identifying information, like the driver’s name, address, and criminal history, all without a warrant—or even a supervisor’s sign-off. The result is that drivers are being tracked and recorded by the police, whether or not they’ve done anything wrong. In San Diego, the state audit found that 0.04 percent of scanned plates were actually under suspicion when scanned. A 2016 CityLab report pegged that at 0.02 percent in Marin County. In Los Angeles, the figure was 0.01 percent of 320 million images, all including timestamps and the driver’s exact location. In 2013, Mother Jones reported that, per the American Civil Liberties Union, just 47 of the million license plates scanned in Maryland “were even tentatively associated with actual serious crimes.”

Once a marginal technology, license plate scanners are now widespread, minimally regulated, and employed by everyone from mall cops to landlords, with reams of plate data floating around the web—thanks in part to cop-tech hawkers convincing police that license-plate monitoring has gone “from a nice-to-have luxury to a can’t-operate-without system.” And big corporations have gotten into the game: Vigilant Solutions, a private, for-profit law enforcement contractor that sells both license plate readers and the data they collect, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Motorola Solutions.

Less than a third of states have laws regulating ALPRs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 2019, California lawmakers set a few restrictions on license plate scanners—but they only apply to the state highway patrol. Well over half of California’s law enforcement agencies use the technology, and auditors found that in Fresno, Marin, and Sacramento, police shared their records with thousands of other public agencies in 44 of 50 states. (All three were sending driver data to cops in Honolulu, one of the toughest cities for a California fugitive to drive to.)

California does require that ALPR users set “a usage and privacy policy” that’s “consistent with respect for individuals’ privacy and civil liberties,” meaning that police who freely share driver data may be violating the law.

Privacy advocates have long raised issues with license plate readers, especially given the long, sketchy history of law enforcement data abuse. A 2016 investigation by the Associated Press found that officers “stalked, harassed, and tampered with criminal cases using details obtained” through motor vehicle databases. It can look innocuous at first: the spread of home DNA tests like 23andMe led to “a law enforcement free-for-all, with police and allies digging into consumer DNA databases with little law or policy to guide them,” according to a 2019 investigation by Mother Jones‘s Madison Pauly. That year, a Slate article on ALPRs found more malfeasance:

A few years ago, the Associated Press reported that NYPD used ALPRs to scan the plates of worshippers at a mosque. Police in Edmonton, Alberta, admitted to using a confidential police database in 2004 to get the plate number of a local columnist who was sharply critical of police conduct and ordering officers to look out for his car, hoping to catch him at a bar and then arrest him for drunk driving.

California law enforcement agencies have said they don’t share data with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a longstanding concern of organizations like ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). But ICE appears to have access to Vigilant’s database of over 2 billion photos, part of what the Verge calls “a massive vehicle-tracking network generating as many as 100 million sightings per month.” Vigilant is the industry-standard ALPR provider, and the most popular in California. A 2019 EFF investigation, written up in Techdirt, found discrepancies between Vigilant’s public statements and internal communications on sharing plate data.

None of the audited law enforcement agencies required police to get any kind of approval before searching license plate records. The Los Angeles Police Department had no policy regulating ALPRs at all. (It now says it’s working on one.) 

State Senator Scott Weiner, who commissioned the audit, called the lack of regulation “totally unacceptable,” saying in a public statement that his office was drafting legislation “to put an end to these privacy violations.”

Per the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has long opposed ALPRs, legislation like Weiner’s could ban license plate data collection by private companies, which would keep firms like Vigilant from gathering and selling massive driver data files. Lawmakers could limit data retention, like they’ve already done for the California Highway Patrol, demand more training, oversight, or audits for departments that use plate scanners, or even place a state-wide moratorium on their use. 

California has long been a bellwether for rules on everything from auto emissions to police face recognition. With the nationwide spread of cheap, unregulated license plate scanners, any California restrictions on what cops do with your information could become a model for the rest of the country.

Pages

Subscribe to The Peace Coalition of Southern Illinois aggregator