India Walton and byron brown with his money and news media

How Buffalo News Helped Keep Socialist India Walton Out Of City Hall

Conservative news media in Buffalo worked hard to defeat India Walton.

By Ari Paul, FAIR.org

Incumbent Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown’s seemingly quixotic write-in campaign for re-election, launched after losing the Democratic primary to democratic socialist activist India Walton, turned out to be successful. He had a lot of help in his corner, such as unions with whom he had long-standing relationships (WIVB, 9/6/21), Republicans who worried about a left-wing mayor (WGRZ, 8/19/21) and high-ranking New York state Democrats who withheld their endorsement of the nominee (City and State, 10/25/21).

Brown, crucially, also had the key support of the hometown paper, the Buffalo News.

India Walton and byron brown with his money and news media

‘Driven By Grievances’

Buffalo News: Re-elect Brown, who knows how to govern, unlike the dangerously inexperienced Walton

In its endorsement, the Buffalo News (10/23/21) said of Byron Brown, “There have been missteps, as there are with any mayor”—but it didn’t say what any of them were.

In its editorial endorsement (10/23/21) of Brown in the general election, the paper propped up Brown’s power of incumbency against Walton, whom the paper called “dangerously unqualified” and the “municipal version of electing Donald Trump: expecting great things from an inexperienced and unqualified leader who is sometimes driven by grievances.” It added that “many of her proposals would set the city back,” chastising her for going too far in demanding a reduction in the police budget. The paper argued that “although she has toned down her rhetoric since the June primary,” her “approach is divisive” and she is “a political rookie.”

The endorsement cited the News’s coverage (10/19/21) of an affordable plan Walton had championed as a community leader that failed to come to fruition, quoting one person who cited Walton and her partner’s “inexperience with complex housing projects of this scale.” This was a follow-up to another story (10/5/21) in which the News gave Brown the chance to criticize her record on affordable housing.

After having also endorsed Brown (6/12/21) in the primary, the paper (6/29/21) supported his write-in campaign. Enough city voters are “concerned about having an inexperienced and self-proclaimed democratic socialist take over the city’s top job that Brown’s write-in campaign has a chance to succeed,” the paper editorialized; Buffalo should not “undergo such a drastic change based on such a small number of primary voters.”

The Trump comparison is a standard charge corporate media throw against left candidates (FAIR.org, 1/24/20), illustrative of the content-free dismissal of progressive challengers: Anyone who deviates from establishment politics is like Trump, and thus all those connotations of intransigence, dishonesty, bullying and divisiveness stick with the candidate, even if they disagree with Trump on everything from policing to taxation to immigration.

‘Intimately Impolite language’

Buffalo News: Dems react to allegation of drug dealing by friend at Walton's home in '18

A police investigation into someone else that led to no charges was the focus of repeated Buffalo News articles about India Walton (7/19/217/20/21).

The paper’s attacks on Walton weren’t limited to the editorial pages. The News (7/20/21) reported that “an allegation of drug activity at a house rented by Democratic mayoral nominee India B. Walton three years ago cast new perspectives on her campaign,” although the paper admitted that “nobody was charged in connection with the complaints activity,” adding that the “man suspected of dealing drugs from Walton’s home was Anson Whitted, who served more than 12 years in state prison for selling cocaine, assault and possession of a weapon.” It said, “Walton denied Whitted ever lived at her home, but acknowledged he occasionally stayed there.”

In short, she had nothing to do with any criminal activity whatsoever, but the Buffalo News sullied her name with racialized language about drugs and crime with a flimsy connection. About a dozen activists protested outside the paper’s headquarters for what  they called biased coverage against Walton, with one activist (WGRZ, 7/21/21) saying the News “article was full of ‘half-truths, misstatements and misallegations.’”

The News also played up Walton’s 2014 arrest when she was working as a nurse (8/19/21)—the details of which are murky, even by the News’ own accounting—insinuating that she was too questionable to be in the city’s highest office. The piece said that Walton was arrested “on a charge of second-degree harassment on June 27, 2014, at work at Children’s Hospital,” and that “the arresting officer said a fellow nurse had complained that Walton ‘has continuously threatened to do bodily harm’ to her.” Later on in the piece, the News says “Walton denied that she ever harmed the co-worker,” noting that she was “the victim of bullying on social media by the woman who had her arrested.”

What’s interesting about such lengthy coverage of the incident is that it ended with Walton receiving a slap on the wrist, as WIVB (7/8/21) reported that Walton “took an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal,” which is “a legal mechanism that allows charges to be dropped as long as a defendant stays out of trouble.”

Buffalo News: Real? Absolutely. Resilient? You bet. But some wonder: Is India Walton ready?

“Is she ready to trade the trash talk of the community activist for the more polite ways of a mayor?” the Buffalo News (10/23/21) asked of Walton. “What would India Walton say to voters who think she’s already proved herself too irresponsible to be mayor?”

And while one lengthy piece (10/23/21) praised her tenacity and commitment to her ideals, it questioned whether she was ready for political life, quoting one activist, “She has an angry temper.” The paper added, “Walton indeed has a history of using raw language in protests and elsewhere,” using “intimately impolite language referring” to a political opponent who had “criticized her call for cutting police funding.”

Another piece (10/17/21), noting that she had softened her “defund the police” rhetoric in her run for mayor, reported that she had been captured on video during a demonstration, chanting: “No justice, no peace. Fuck these racist ass police.”

The newspaper’s coverage of Walton’s colorful language and personal issues falls into tropes about assertive Black women: They are rough, unsophisticated and bullying. Passion about injustice isn’t seen as a natural or even admirable response, but rather unchecked rage that should be kept from official levers of power.

Austerity Mayor

Jacobin: Byron Brown Might Beat India Walton Despite a Career of Corruption and Failure

Jacobin (11/1/21) noted that “Brown has successfully turned the conversation away from his own many scandals and misdeeds in elected office to the flaws of his opponent’s private life.”

A newspaper has the responsibility to treat all candidates with scrutiny. Yet, the editorial board’s endorsement of Byron Brown doesn’t acknowledge that he supported former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pension cuts (Business Council, 2/3/12) and signed a law limiting social services (Buffalo News, 10/4/06), two examples of his role as an austerity mayor. It’s likely that the News just doesn’t see these issues as problems; the editorial board hailed Brown’s tax cuts, for example. As Jacobin (11/1/21) noted, Brown’s tax vision

always favoring bigger cuts for businesses, with commercial property taxes in the city having dropped 28% by 2017. The declining revenue left the city more dependent on federal and state aid to plug constant budget shortfalls, and led to painful spending cuts. By 2020, Brown was denying city workers a 2% raise.
The cuts to Buffalo’s property tax rate could be justified by shifting the tax burden to those who could pay more. But instead, Brown stealthily raised taxes on the working class through hikes on user fees, increasingly aggressive parking and traffic fines, and other aggressive claw-back measures, like late fees on overdue bills—for some, anyway. After six years, Brown’s administration had simply left $22 million of housing fines uncollected for nearly 1,500 property owners who had violated building and health codes, further starving the city of funds while undermining the work of city inspectors.

This didn’t have much impact on the paper’s coverage this fall.

‘A Fundamentally Conservative Paper’

Intercept: A Chain of Corporate Newspapers Could Make the Difference in Montana’s Special Election

The Intercept (5/24/17) noted that in the race for Montana’s House seat between Republican Greg Gianforte (famous for physically attacking a reporter) and Democrat Rob Quist, Montana’s Lee papers “focused their reporting heavily on Quist’s debt and financial woes.” Gianforte ended up winning the election.

The paper is owned by Iowa-based Lee Enterprises, the fourth-largest newspaper chain in the country; Lee bought the paper from Berkshire Hathaway in 2020 for a reported $140 million (Buffalo News, 1/29/20). The company’s “board is stacked with Republican donors,” the Intercept (5/24/17) reported. The company has clashed with the News union, which went on a byline strike in protest of Lee Enterprises, saying “the company wants the power to lay off any guild workers for any reason,” and “wants to move jobs out of Buffalo” (WIVB, 6/15/21). Historically, according to Open Secrets, the company has backed Republicans, though in 2020 it gave overwhelmingly to Democrats.

Buffalo native Raina Lipsitz, a Nation and New Republic contributor who has covered Buffalo politics and is writing a book about the ascendent left for Verso Books, was interviewed by FAIR about the Buffalo News:

It’s a fundamentally conservative paper that sees itself as embodying an old-school, “voice from nowhere” tone, but actually engages in a lot of fear-mongering about socialism and redistributive policies in general. It is squarely on the side of local developers and corporate interests—it’s both beholden and naturally sympathetic to the business community, and sees business leaders and owners as the backbone of the community. From the News‘ perspective, the last, best hope of moving Buffalo forward is attracting as many big, splashy development deals as possible, which will in turn, the paper thinks, bring more jobs to Buffalo.

It’s the paper of record in the city of Buffalo, and many of its star political reporters are white men in their 60s and 70s. Buffalo is a Democratic town and a union town, and everyday people are often sympathetic to labor. But, as a general rule, the News doesn’t approve of people who go “too far,” and that includes most left-wing candidates and movements. Sure, Black lives matter—all lives matter!—but it’s always wrong, in the News‘ eyes, to make that point too loudly or “divisively.” The News employs a number of traditional Catholics, and has historically been hostile to abortion rights.

November 2021 was not a good month for Democrats (FAIR.org, 11/5/21), as the Republican victory in the Virginia governor’s race indicated they were likely headed for trouble in the 2022 midterms. But it was also a disappointment for progressives and socialists, who had thought that Walton’s election was all but assured. And given the fact that Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post (11/3/21) welcomed Brown’s victory as a “law and order” candidate, Walton’s loss does feel like a win for the right. There were many actors in the political establishment that worked hard to keep Brown in office, and the Buffalo News was definitely one of them.

 


joe biden and marijuana leaf

To Help Democrats Survive 2022, Biden Should Legalize Marijuana Right Now

Legalizing marijuana allows President Joe Biden to address important issues without Congressional approval and could help Democrats stave off major losses in 2022.

By Ryan Black

Medical marijuana is already available in 36 states. Recreational marijuana is legal in 18, while 27 states have decriminalized its use.

In states where recreational marijuana is legal, things are going well. Tax revenue has surpassed expectations in many places, opioid deaths are down, and teenagers are actually using marijuana less

With strong evidence in hand that full legalization works, Biden has everything he needs to make the political case for legalizing marijuana federally. 

In doing so, he would be taking steps towards restorative justice and ending the racist policies of the war on drugs, he’d be backing an extremely popular policy that people of all political affiliations agree with, and — simply put — the Democrats would have a policy win they desperately need ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

joe biden and marijuana leaf

Many Democrats already understand the strategic importance of being the party that fully embraces marijuana legalization. Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. (and current U.S. Senate candidate) John Fetterman has called legalization a “bazooka” that both Biden and Donald Trump left unused in 2020.

President Biden should use that bazooka. 

Marijuana Legalization Is Extremely Popular

Legalization is popular across the country. Deep red South Dakota legalized recreational marijuana in 2020, the same election year they voted heavily for Trump a second time. Blue California legalized weed four years earlier in 2016. And purple Colorado legalized it four years before that, in 2012.

“When South Dakota and California agree on something, that should be a new national law,” said Fetterman.

The numbers are clear too. An April poll from Pew Research found that 60% of adults said marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use and only 8% wanted full prohibition.

Biden Must Take Racial Justice More Seriously

Currently, two bills that most directly address issues of racial justice, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, are stalled in Congress. They likely will be through the end of the session and into 2022. 

However, Congressional Researchers say that legalizing marijuana is something Biden could do without Congress. Biden should consider legalizing marijuana as part of a racial justice agenda, because marijuana legalization — and the current criminality of marijuana — is inextricably tied to racial justice

Additionally, Biden should expunge the records of those previously convicted of nonviolent drug offenses as an acknowledgement of the realities of the war on drugs — that its racist practices were wrong, unjust, and should not be whitewashed in history.

Black Americans are arrested for violating marijuana possession laws at nearly four times the rates of whites despite both racial groups using marijuana at similar rates. That adds up to a lot of arrests. In 2019, more people were arrested for marijuana than were arrested for all violent crimes combined.

87% of Black Americans voted for Biden in 2020. Legalizing marijuana is one way his administration can acknowledge those voters and begin to whittle away at a justice system that is disproportionately punitive to people of color. Especially since Biden has shown that he won’t engage seriously with progressives on police reform issues. and he’s laid out no plans to tackle the continued militarization of police, despite his earlier promises.

Instead,  Biden nominated Tom Vilsack to head the Department of Agriculture, despite farmers of color saying his record on civil rights should have disqualified him. He then nominated Rahm Emanuel — the former Mayor of Chicago who helped cover up the murder of seventeen-year-old Laquan McDonald — to be Ambassador to Japan. Worse yet, Biden threatened to ban menthol cigarettes, a move that would have further empowered law enforcement to harass minority communities. 

These decisions have been racially-biased and hurtful. Legalizing marijuana, and expunging the records of those currently and previously incarcerated, would be a justified step towards ameliorating the racialized devastation wrought by the failed war on drugs and a benefit for the Black voters who delivered the White House and Senate to Democrats in 2020. It might also convince voters to come out again in 2022.

Speaking of 2022…

Marijuana Legalization Could Save 2022

Four years ago this week, Trump boasted a 39% approval rating. Right now, President Biden has an abysmal 38% approval rating. That’s a bad sign considering the midterm elections are quickly approaching. 

With low approval ratings and few solid policy wins to point to, midterms can be devastating for the party in charge.

A look back at the last four midterm elections — from George W. Bush in 2006 to Obama in 2010 and 2014 to Trump in 2018 (when his approval rating was 39%) — shows major congressional losses for the president’s party.

There aren’t any signs suggesting Biden will be an exception to the pattern especially considering how Democratic establishment darlings like Terry McAuliffe fared in last week’s elections. Not to mention, Biden’s signature promise, Build Back Better, is struggling to stay alive.

The worst outcome for Biden is to see his political agenda go up in a puff of smoke. Marijuana legalization could be his best hope to stave off disaster in 2022.


Hypersonic missile arms race

Sober Assessment of Hypersonic Missile Dangers Needed, Not Hyperbole

The United States must avoid another arms race based on untested or distinctly false premises.

By William Hartung, Defense One

After last month’s Chinese test of a hypersonic missile, Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Gen. Mark Milley described it as “very close” to a “Sputnik moment,” alluding to the Soviet Union’s 1957 satellite launch that sent shock waves through U.S. media, government, and society. The concern was that if Moscow could put a radio beacon into orbit, a nuclear-armed, long-range ballistic missile could not be far behind. The event, which displayed an unexpected level of technological sophistication, sparked a surge in U.S. investment in military, space, and scientific research and development.

Hypersonic missile arms race

But Gen. Milley’s Sputnik sound bite doesn’t hold up. China’s ability to put a hypersonic missile into space should have been no great surprise, given Beijing’s long efforts to develop related technology. And the Chinese test missile missed its target by 24 miles, suggesting that Beijing still has a ways to go in mastering hypersonic flight. As veteran defense analyst and nuclear weapons expert Fred Kaplan has noted, “a new type of Chinese missile is triggering panic among some U.S. defense officials, but the alarms are overblown.”

A closer analogue to the Chinese test may be the missile gap controversy of the 1950s, in which military officials, the arms industry, and prominent Democratic Senators alleged that the Eisenhower administration had allowed the United States to “fall behind” in the development and production of intercontinental ballistic missiles, to the detriment of national security. After some resistance, the Eisenhower administration boosted ICBM production and deployment, a pivotal move that set the stage for the intense U.S.-Soviet arms race of the 1960s. The Kennedy administration proceeded with the race even after U.S. intelligence revealed in 1961 that, in fact, the U.S. ballistic missile force far outstripped that of the Soviet Union. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara decided to build 1,200 ICBMs, despite analyses from his own department that a substantially lower figure would be sufficient for deterrence. Thankfully, he resisted the Strategic Air Command’s proposal to build up to 10,000 of such missiles. But a missile race based on false premises proceeded nonetheless.

Read More

Pentagon and a bag of cash representing their yearly blank check

It's Time To Rein In The Pentagon's Yearly Blank Check

Pentagon funding seems to be the only things Congress is always in agreement on. Changing course would mean real reform and genuine accountability, starting with serious cuts to a budget for which “bloated” is far too kind an adjective.

By Mandy Smithberger and William Hartung, Tom Dispatch

Even as Congress moves to increase the Pentagon budget well beyond the astronomical levels proposed by the Biden administration, a new report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has outlined three different ways to cut $1 trillion in Department of Defense spending over the next decade.  A rational defense policy could yield far more in the way of reductions, but resistance from the Pentagon, weapons contractors, and their many allies in Congress would be fierce.

After all, in its consideration of the bill that authorizes such budget levels for next year, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives recently voted to add $25 billion to the already staggering $750 billion the Biden administration requested for the Pentagon and related work on nuclear weapons at the Department of Energy. By any measure, that’s an astonishing figure, given that the request itself was already far higher than spending at the peaks of the Korean and Vietnam Wars or President Ronald Reagan’s military buildup of the 1980s.

Pentagon and a bag of cash representing their yearly blank check

In any reasonable world, such a military budget should be considered both unaffordable and deeply unsuitable when it comes to addressing the true threats to this country’s “defense,” including cyberattacks, pandemics, and the devastation already being wrought by climate change. Worst of all, providing a blank check to the military-industrial-congressional complex ensures the continued production of troubled weapon systems like Lockheed Martin’s exorbitantly expensive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is typically behind schedule, far above projected costs, and still not considered effective in combat.

Changing course would mean real reform and genuine accountability, starting with serious cuts to a budget for which “bloated” is far too kind an adjective.

Three Options for Reductions

At the request of Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the CBO devised three different approaches to cutting approximately $1 trillion (a decrease of a mere 14%) from the Pentagon budget over the next decade.  Historically, it could hardly be a more modest proposal. After all, without any such plan, the Pentagon budget actually did decrease by 30% between 1988 and 1997…

Read More

New York Times paper surrounded by stacks of money and other newspapers

Found in Translation: New York Times Says Democrats Shouldn’t Challenge Oligarchy

The New York Times continues to attack Progressives, calling for Democrats to maintain a moderate approach that doesn’t hurt the paper or their advertiser’s bottom lines, while spinning the truth about public support for progressive policies.

By Norman Solomon and Jeff Cohen

A few days after the Nov. 2 election, the New York Times published a vehement editorial calling for the Democratic Party to adopt “moderate” positions and avoid seeking “progressive policies at the expense of bipartisan ideas.” It was a statement by the Times editorial board, which the newspaper describes as “a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values.”

The editorial certainly reflected “longstanding values” — since the Times has recycled them for decades in its relentless attacks on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

New York Times paper surrounded by stacks of money and other newspapers

**  The Times editorial board began its polemic by calling for the party to “return” to “moderate policies.”

Translation: Stick to corporate-friendly policies of the sort that we applauded during 16 years of the Clinton and Obama presidencies.

**  While scolding “a national Democratic Party that talks up progressive policies at the expense of bipartisan ideas,” the editorial warned against “becoming a marginal Democratic Party appealing only to the left.”

Translation: The Biden administration should reach across the aisle even more solicitously to the leadership of an obstructionist, largely racist, largely climate-change-denying, Trump-cultish Republican Party.

**  The election results “are a sign that significant parts of the electorate are feeling leery of a sharp leftward push in the party, including on priorities like Build Back Better, which have some strong provisions and some discretionary ones driving up the price tag.”

Translation: Although poll after poll shows that the Build Back Better agenda is popular with the broad public, especially increased taxation on wealthy and corporate elites to pay for it, we need to characterize the plan as part of “a sharp leftward push.”

**  “The concerns of more centrist Americans about a rush to spend taxpayer money, a rush to grow the government, should not be dismissed.”

Translation: While we don’t object to the ongoing “rush to spend taxpayer money” on the military, and we did not editorialize against the bloated Pentagon budget, we oppose efforts to “grow the government” too much for such purposes as healthcare, childcare, education, housing and mitigating the climate crisis.

**  “Mr. Biden did not win the Democratic primary because he promised a progressive revolution. There were plenty of other candidates doing that. He captured the nomination — and the presidency — because he promised an exhausted nation a return to sanity, decency and competence.”

Translation: No need to fret about the anti-democratic power of great wealth and corporate monopolies. We liked the status quo before the Trump presidency, and that’s more or less what we want now.

**  “‘Nobody elected him to be F.D.R.,’ Representative Abigail Spanberger, a moderate Democrat from Virginia, told the Times after Tuesday’s drubbing.”

Translation: Spanberger, a former CIA case officer and current member of the corporate Blue Dog Coalition in Congress, is our kind of Democrat.

**  “Democrats should work to implement policies to help the American people.”

Translation: Democrats should work to implement policies to help the American people but not go overboard by helping them too much. We sometimes write editorials bemoaning the vast income inequality in this country, but we don’t want the government to do much to reduce it.

**  “Congress should focus on what is possible, not what would be possible if Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema and — frankly — a host of lesser-known Democratic moderates who haven’t had to vote on policies they might oppose were not in office.”

Translation: We editorialize about social justice, but we don’t want structural changes and substantial new government policies that could bring it much closer. We editorialize about the climate crisis, but not in favor of government actions anywhere near commensurate with the crisis. Our type of tepid liberalism is an approach that won’t be a bottom-line threat to the Times owners and big advertisers — and won’t diminish the leverage and holdings of wealthy elites, including the New York Times Company’s chairman A.G. Sulzberger and the company’s board of directors. We want change, but not too much!

**  “Democrats agree about far more than they disagree about. But it doesn’t look that way to voters after months and months of intraparty squabbling. Time to focus on — and pass — policies with broad support.”

Translation: Although progressives are fighting for programs that actually do have broad public support, we’ll keep declaring those programs don’t have broad public support. Progressives should give up and surrender to the corporate forces we like to call “moderate.”


Norman Solomon is the national director of RootsAction.org and the author of many books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 and 2020 Democratic National Conventions. Solomon is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Jeff Cohen is an activist, author and co-founder of RootsAction.org. He was an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, and founder of the media watch group FAIR. In 2002-2003, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC. He is the author of Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.


hands reaching up trying no to drown in debt, and bills

Big Cities Drowning Residents In Water Debt

For years, Chicago leaders like Rahm Emanuel used the city’s water supply as a revenue stream. Now, There are more than 220,000 delinquent accounts, collectively owing more than $421 million.

By María Inés Zamudio, WBEZ Chicago

A billing error turned Sylvia Taylor’s life upside down.

The bureaucratic nightmare started when Taylor inherited her family’s Englewood house. Taylor needed time to figure out whether her daughter would move in or if she’d rent it out. Taylor turned off the water in 2007 to avoid the pipes from bursting during the winter.

She went back to her life in Bronzeville and didn’t think about the water again until the city sent her a notice more than a year later, alerting her that the water would be shut off. Attached was a bill for $1,100.

Taylor was shocked.

hands reaching up trying no to drown in debt, and bills

Taylor said that she spoke with the city’s water department and finance departments in hopes that they would clear the error. She was advised to register the two-flat house with the city as a vacant property — which comes with an initial fee up to $600 plus an additional $300 to renew every six months. Upset about the ordeal, Taylor refused to pay the fee. Years of fighting with the city went by.

Meanwhile, the city continued to charge Taylor for water she wasn’t using — and fined her for a debt she didn’t really owe. And the city couldn’t provide an accounting of the water usage at the vacant, unmetered property — those properties are charged not for the actual amount of water used but for an estimated amount of water usage based on a property’s size and its number of plumbing fixtures.

In 2015, Taylor requested the water department send an inspector to verify that the building was vacant. A water department employee wrote in the report “entire building vacant, water shutoff since 2007.” However, the report went unnoticed for years.

Nearly 13 years after she turned off the water to her family home, the debt had ballooned to $25,253.

Read More

Texas prison system deaths

In Texas, Dying In Jail Is Common

An autopsy ruled Danny Carrillo’s death a homicide. He is one of more than 1,100 people who have died in jail custody across Texas since 2010.

By Michael Barajas and Sophie Novack, Texas Observer

Armando Carrillo had been waiting outside the Nueces County Jail for hours when he heard sirens approaching in the middle of the night on March 5, 2018. He had visited the jail earlier that day to see his youngest son, Danny, 27, who had been incarcerated for three weeks on a probation violation. Danny had sounded increasingly paranoid on the phone leading up to the visit and started crying and cowering when officers escorted him out of his cell. “You could tell he was losing his mind. I’ve never seen him like that,” Armando says. Pacing outside the jail later that night, Armando desperately called attorneys and bail bondsmen to help him get his son out. His stomach dropped when he saw an ambulance pull up to the box-like building lined with razor wire around 2 a.m. He thought of his son’s rambling last words hours before: “He was telling me, ‘I know I’m going to get killed.’”

Texas prison system deaths

Jail staff and people incarcerated with Danny said he seemed fine when he entered the lockup but eventually started spiraling—sobbing day and night, hallucinating, and babbling incoherently about threats against his family. Danny, who had been diagnosed with mental health and substance use disorders, had struggled in recent years—losing a sister and bouncing between lockup and halfway houses. His mother, who recently had brain surgery, had joined Armando to visit Danny that day but was detained by officers who uncovered an old theft charge when they screened her to enter. Guards said Danny became “belligerent” when she was taken away, then later swung at them when they stormed his cell to move him, striking one officer in the temple and another in the nose. Three guards then tackled Danny and pinned him to the floor, while a fourth stuck his knee into Danny’s back and a fifth shocked him with a stun gun. Nurses who arrived to check on him about 10 minutes later found him bloodied, without a pulse.

Hours later, officials released his mom. Danny, they said, was dead.

Read More

biden and pelosi and cori bush and ilhan omar

House Passes Infrastructure Bill Without Build Back Better

“Passing the infrastructure bill without passing the Build Back Better Act first,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar, “risks leaving behind child care, paid leave, healthcare, climate action, housing, education, and a roadmap to citizenship.”

By Kenny Stancil, Common Dreams

The U.S. House on Friday night passed a bipartisan physical infrastructure bill but didn’t bring the Build Back Better Act to the floor—sending just one half of President Joe Biden’s two-pronged economic agenda to the White House, with only a pledge that conservative House Democrats will vote for the party’s broader social infrastructure and climate package at a later date.

biden and pelosi and cori bush and ilhan omar

That wasn’t the plan on Friday morning. When the day started, Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said they wanted House Democrats to pass both parts of the president’s legislative agenda: the Build Back Better Act (BBB), which would invest $1.75 trillion over 10 years to strengthen climate action and the welfare state; and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF), a fossil fuel-friendly proposal to upgrade the nation’s roads, bridges, and ports that was approved by the U.S. Senate in August.

Due to the intransigence of a few right-wing House Democrats who made last-minute demands for additional fiscal information that could take weeks to obtain, and the acquiescence of Pelosi and Biden, a planned floor vote on BBB was shelved and reduced to a “rule for consideration,” which was approved in a party-line vote of 221-213. Prior to that, BIF passed by a tally of 228-206, with 13 House Republicans joining most Democrats in supporting the measure.

Because it wasn’t accompanied by a real vote on BBB, six progressives—Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.)—voted against BIF.

“Passing the infrastructure bill without passing the Build Back Better Act first,” Omar said in a statement, “risks leaving behind child care, paid leave, healthcare, climate action, housing, education, and a roadmap to citizenship.”

For months, progressives have stressed—and Democratic leaders had agreed—that keeping both pieces of legislation linked and passing them in tandem was key to securing Biden’s entire agenda. Holding a floor vote on BIF and a mere procedural action on BBB, progressives argued Friday, was a betrayal of the two-track strategy that opens the door for right-wing party members who are content with the passage of BIF to further weaken, or completely abandon, the already heavily gutted BBB.

“We’re proud of the Squad for being courageous and standing up for what’s right tonight,” Varshini Prakash, executive director of Sunrise Movement, said in a statement. “It’s bullshit that President Biden and Speaker Pelosi rammed through a bill written by a bunch of corporations but feel fine to hold off on passing Biden’s own agenda, a popular bill that would actually combat climate change and help working people.”

“To be clear, the BIF is not a climate bill and the stakes of the climate crisis are too high to delay reconciliation any longer, or worse, let it die along with our futures,” added Prakash.

Mary Small, national advocacy director at the Indivisible Project, said in a statement that Bowman, Bush, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tlaib “demonstrated enormous political courage in their continued fight to hold the line for passage of the Build Back Better Act.”

“They understand better than anyone what’s at stake with this game-changing package of investments in children and families and our climate,” Small added. “Their votes showed that, unlike the corporate Democrats dead-set on derailing the heart of President Biden’s agenda on behalf of their corporate donors, they know what it means to serve the people they represent.”

Even though analyses of spending and revenue conducted by the U.S. Treasury Department, the White House, and the Joint Committee on Taxation have found that BBB is paid for and may actually reduce deficits, a small group of conservative House Democrats on Friday insisted on seeing an official score from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) before they would vote for BBB.

Given the razor-thin margins in Congress, Democrats can afford only three defections in the House and none in the Senate to pass BBB through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process. Meanwhile, it could take the CBO weeks to produce a score, and there is no guarantee that the holdouts will be satisfied with the results, which are notoriously arbitrary and unreliable, according to experts.

Ironically, the CBO determined earlier this year that the $550 billion BIF adds $256 billion to the deficit. BIF supporters’ lack of concern about such a finding prompted critics to suggest that Friday’s request for a CBO score by several right-wing House Democrats, including Reps. Ed Case (Hawaii), Jared Golden (Maine), Stephanie Murphy (Fla.), Kathleen Rice (N.Y.), Kurt Schrader (Ore.), and Abigail Spanberger (Va.) was nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to tank the more ambitious portion of Biden’s agenda.

Although those lawmakers’ constituents support BBB by large margins, powerful corporate interests opposed to the legislation have carried out a massive lobbying blitz against the bill’s key provisions and showered obstructionist politicians with cash.

Following the CBO curveball, Pelosi proposed bringing BIF to the floor for a vote and passing a rule to set up a future vote on BBB. The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) originally rejected this plan, which deviated from the Democratic Party’s well-established strategy of enacting the two bills simultaneously.

CPC Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said in a Friday afternoon statement that “if our six colleagues still want to wait for a CBO score, we would agree to give them that time—after which point we can vote on both bills together.” Roughly 20 CPC members reportedly told Jayapal during a closed-door meeting on Friday afternoon that they would vote against BIF if it was decoupled from BBB.

According to Manu Raju, chief congressional correspondent at CNN, progressives were left wondering: “Why is Pelosi putting the infrastructure bill on [the] floor and daring them to vote against it when there are 20 or so who won’t support it tonight? Why not put Build Back Better on [the] floor and dare 6 moderates to vote against it?”

Over the course of several hours, conservative House Democrats, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), and the CPC, led by Jayapal, worked out a deal, at the behest of Biden.

CPC member Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) told The Hill that Biden was urging progressives to vote for BIF as well as the rule for consideration of BBB, “subject to some assurances and commitments that he was working to get.”

Those “assurances and commitments” came in the form of a statement from Case, Gottheimer, Murphy, Rice, and Schrader, which said: “We commit to voting for the Build Back Better Act, in its current form other than technical changes, as expeditiously as we receive fiscal information from the Congressional Budget Office—but in no event later than the week of November 15—consistent with the toplines for revenues and investments” projected by the White House.

The Intercept‘s Ryan Grim argued that while “the focus is on progressives,” the few conservative lawmakers preventing both bills from passing on Friday were “doing it right in the open.”

Calling the corporate Democrats’ statement “foolishness,” former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner said that if they are committed to voting for BBB “no later than November 15, they can do it now.”

Other critics also raised questions about conservative Democrats’ endgame.

“A statement of support for BBB that is contingent on the CBO score could be more of an escape hatch… than a commitment to vote for BBB,” warned Adam Jentleson, a former congressional staffer and current executive director of the Battle Born Collective, a progressive communications firm.

While progressives are being told to trust the obstructionists, who “have promised to vote for BBB when the CBO score comes in and says what everybody says it will say,” Grim noted, he questioned why those conservative Democrats are refusing to accept reputable budget estimates already provided by the White House and others.

“Progressives’ lack of trust in these few holdouts,” he added, “flows from the complete illogic of their public position, which raises questions about their actual position.”

Biden, for his part, said in a statement that he is “confident that during the week of November 15, the House will pass the Build Back Better Act.” But that still leaves the Senate, where the Democratic Party’s two biggest obstacles to social investments—right-wing Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.)—are waiting, with less incentive to support BBB now that BIF has been approved.

In a statement, Tlaib warned that “passing BIF gives up our leverage to get Build Back Better through the House and Senate, and I fear that we are missing our once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in the American people.”

Paul Williams, a fellow at the Jain Family Institute, noted that “the issue of course is that there’s no guarantee the CBO will even have scores out for BBB by Nov. 15—the day BIF becomes law even with no signature, and thus very slim chance it even gets to the Senate by that date, and zero chance Senate makes its changes and passes by then.”

“With BIF passed, one could easily imagine a scenario where Manchin just walks—he would have what he came to get, a bipartisan bill,” Williams added. “Of course Biden could use [the] threat of [a] veto to send BIF back to Congress, but he only has 10 days—Nov. 15—to do so before it becomes law with no action.”

Indivisible pointed out that “if the White House and Democratic leadership had spent more time today moving the corporate conservative Democrats hell-bent on standing in the way of these critical and massively popular proposals instead of forcing progressives to support a position that puts it all at risk, we might be in a different place.”

Ahead of the vote, Ezra Levin, co-founder and co-executive director of Indivisible, suggested that Democrats “include a deeming resolution in which they vote for the BIF but hold it at Pelosi’s desk until the House passes BBB,” but such language was not introduced.

“Progressives again negotiated in good faith and again reiterated their commitment to passing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework alongside the Build Back Better Act,” said Indivisible. “The reason we’re not celebrating a major victory tonight sits squarely with the conservative Democrats who sabotaged progress at every turn. They reminded us again that they work for their corporate donors and not the people they represent. We won’t soon forget.”

“We are counting on President Biden to follow through on his commitment to deliver the votes needed for final passage in the House and Senate, and on [Senate Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer (D-N.Y.) to put the Build Back Better Act on the Senate floor as soon as it is received from the House.”

Sunrise Movement, meanwhile, put this fight into the context of the United States’ fraying democracy.

“Progressives have made enough compromises. Our movement has fought hard to defend the president’s popular agenda and do what’s best for working people and our democracy,” said Prakash. “If Democrats fail to deliver on their elected promises, they risk everything in 2022 and 2024.”


recording police

Supreme Court Refuses To Protect Your Right To Record Cops

The Supreme Court chose not to take on a pivotal case to protect your right to record police, leaving six states with fewer constitutional rights.

By USA TODAY

The Supreme Court had an opportunity this week to protect your right to record the misbehavior of rogue police officers. Instead, the court looked the other way while cops who sought to seize such a recording are shielded from accountability. So much for First Amendment protections.

By declining to hear a case from a federal appellate court, the Supreme Court let stand a dangerous ruling granting qualified immunity to Denver police officers accused of snatching a computer tablet from a man who had used it to record them punching a suspect in the face and grabbing his pregnant girlfriend, causing her to fall to the ground.

recording police

In recent years, such recordings have been vital to a national movement against racial injustice and excessive police force. In a few cases, the recordings have been a key to holding police accountable for a person’s brutal death.

Take, for example, the brave bystanders who recorded Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes while Floyd begged for his life. Without their videos, Chauvin might never have been tried and convicted of Floyd’s murder. Nor would there have been nationwide protests that helped launch police reform efforts across the country.

Read More

Palestinian boy murdered by Israeli forces

Israel Kills Palestinian Boy In Occupied West Bank

Mohammed Daadas, 13, dies in hospital after being shot by Israeli troops during protests against illegal settlements.

By Al Jazeera

Israeli troops have shot and killed a 13-year-old Palestinian boy during weekly protests against the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, according to Palestinian officials.

The Palestinian health ministry said Mohammed Daadas died in hospital on Friday after being shot in the stomach. Six other Palestinians were treated at the scene of confrontations in the village of Beit Dajan, east of Nablus, after inhaling tear gas launched by Israeli troops, the Palestine Red Crescent ambulance service said.

Palestinian boy murdered by Israeli forces

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military on the incident.

Separately, two other Palestinians were wounded on Friday in clashes in Beita, another West Bank village where locals have struggled for months to dislodge Israeli settlers and the military from a hilltop.

Read More