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On Colbert, Anderson Cooper has no good answers as to why CNN employs Corey Lewandowski

Good on Stephen Colbert. The “Late Show” host last night welcomed CNN host Anderson Cooper for a little chat, and the name of former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski arose.

The late-night host moved into media-accountability mode: “Oh, Corey Lewandowski who now works at CNN. So he works for you guys. Does he still get any money from the Trump people at the same time?” asked Colbert.

Cooper: “I believe, I read he gets a severance, a continuing severance from the Trump campaign.”

Colbert: “So you all are paying him, and Trump is paying him, but he’s on your show doing analysis for a man he still gets cash from.”

Cooper: “Pretty much, yeah. [Laughter] I guess that’s one way to look at it, yes.”

Colbert: “And you still respect his opinion too?”

Cooper: “Well, you know, we have people from all the campaigns.”

With that last response, Cooper sort of danced around the most essential question here. Let us fill in the blank — there’s no reason to respect the opinions that Lewandowski unfurls on CNN. The financial arrangement is corrupting enough on its own terms. Yes, indeed, CNN is paying a political operative who’s getting paid at the same time by the Trump campaign. It’s an absurd conflict of interest whose rationale still hasn’t been adequately explained. Omitted from the back-and-forth between Colbert and Cooper, however, is the matter of a possible non-disparagement agreement that Lewandowski may well have signed regarding his time with the Trump campaign. That would take off the table a whole range of experiences that Lewandowski might be expected to share with CNN viewers.

The Washington Post recently reported that Lewandowski “received his regular $20,000 monthly fee on July 6 — two weeks after he was jettisoned and had been hired by CNN as a political commentator.” There is one mitigating consideration in all of this, and it’s that CNN has disclosed to viewers Lewandowski’s severance arrangements and hasquestioned him on air about any non-disparagement clause. He didn’t really answer that one. “I’m a guy who calls balls and strikes,” he said in a June interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett.


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Why Republicans won’t shut down Trump’s election fraud claims

Richard Cohen pleaded in his Aug. 23 op-ed, “GOP: Shut down this myth,” for Republican bigwigs to disclaim Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s pre-election claims about fraudulent voting. The fundamental fault in Mr. Cohen’s supporting reasoning is that he supposed the bigwigs do not support Mr. Trump’s assertion. But, while some Republicans (the usual suspects) are on record opposing this and other crackpot ideas, the majority of those in leadership positions already have nixed Mr. Cohen’s request because they have long agreed wholeheartedly with Mr. Trump on this and other fictions.


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The Reason Black Lives Matter Isn’t Just for Black People

Police reform is often framed as a black issue, and for good reason; black people, along with other minorities, are disproportionately searched and shot by police more than white people. However, as the recent killing of a white deaf-and-mute man in North Carolina demonstrates, the push for police accountability and reform should not be strictly limited to minority communities.

"Police Shoot, Kill Deaf Man Daniel Kevin Harris at Traffic Stop - Charlotte, North Carolina"YOUTUBE/CBS NEWS/LIVESTREAMTVNEWS – YOUTUBE.COM

Daniel Harris, from Charlotte, North Carolina, was killed on Thursday after he failed to stop for a state trooper on the highway, according to local NBC affiliate WCNC. Some sort of chase occurred, which culminated with Harris being shot on the street he lived on.

“They should’ve deescalated and been trained to realize that this is an entirely different situation, you’re pulling someone over who is deaf, they are handicapped,” Harris’ neighbor Martin Barringer told WCNC. He told reporters that he heard one gunshot. “To me, what happened is totally unacceptable.”

The full details of his death are still unfolding, but we do know that Harris was was white.

Although at a lesser rate than minorities, there have been several other controversial killings of young white people by police officers.

Dylan Noble, 19, was unarmed when he was shot and killed by police in Fresno, California during a traffic stop in June, according to the Los Angeles Times. Some supporters shouted “white lives matter” and also carried confederate flags at a mixed-race vigil for the teenager.

Two police officers shot and killed a six-year-old boy during a car chase last year in Marksville, Louisiana, according to CBS News.

Zachary Hammond, 19, was unarmed when he was shot and killed. He tried to drive away from the officer.

"Full Speed Dashcam Video Zachary Hammond - With Sound"YOUTUBE/THE FREE THOUGHT PROJECT – YOUTUBE.COM

Michael Bell Jr., 21, was shot in the head in front of his mother and sister near their driveway in 2004, according to NPR.

"Fox 6 Milwaukee News report on Billboards placed on major Wisconsin highways regarding family's efforts to change 125 year Wisconsin law."YOUTUBE/PLEA4CHANGE/FOX 6 MILWAUKEE – YOUTUBE.COM

In the wake of the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown and the Ferguson protests, Bell’s father wrote an emotional essay in POLITICO in support of police reform.

“Because if a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy — that was my son, Michael — can be shot in the head under a street light with his hands cuffed behind his back, in front of five eyewitnesses (including his mother and sister), and his father was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who flew in three wars for his country — that’s me — and I still couldn’t get anything done about it, then Joe the plumber and Javier the roofer aren’t going to be able to do anything about it either.”

However, white people as a group are more reluctant than blacks to support Black Lives Matter, according to Pew Research Center.

ATTN: talked to experts about police accountability and how police reform would benefit all Americans.

Michael Avery, professor emeritus at Suffolk Law School and former president of the National Police Accountability Project, said that police accountability is important for everyone.

“I just want to be clear that in many communities police do target black people,” he said “Black people are targeted and Black Lives Matter makes a lot of sense. Having said that it’s also true that police beat up white people too.”

police cops cop cop car

Avery said that fear and a lack of training play a big role in escalating police interactions.

“Police have a certain quotient of fear that affects them,” he said. “Police leave their house in the morning but they may not know if they’re going to come back.” When an officer is an a situation that makes him or her uneasy, a lack of training can result in an aggressive or violent interaction, Avery said.

“Most police officers are very poorly trained,” Avery argued. “They go to the academy before they start the job and then they get almost no training after that in most departments.”

Avery said that in a department with poor training, the situation gets worse the longer the officer serves there. “As officers develop bad habits, they become ingrained and they get influenced by other officers,” he said. “The longer the officers are on the job, there’s kind of a declining level of awareness and sensitivity.”

police cops movie car bad boys

Although Avery said he had “plenty of white clients who were shot” since he started practicing law in 1970, some white people try to “minimize the problem” of police brutality.
“Somehow with this police brutality problem, there are people in the white community who would like to write it off as an exaggeration, and I think that’s part of the problem,” he said. “Until their kid gets stopped or shot or whatever they write it off, and then they have to rethink that.”

Vince Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, told ATTN: that unconstitutional police stops affect black people disproportionately, but all Americans should be concerned.

“For example, at CCR we did the stop and frisk case here in New York, which we won,” he said, referring to the landmark 2013 decision that ruled the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” crime prevention policy was a unconstitutional. “The problem wasn’t just that African-Americans and Latinos were stopped, too many people were stopped altogether, including white people. This idea of proactive policing needs to be a thing of the past.”

Like Avery, Warren said that training is an important aspect of police reform.

“One of the key things that needs to happen is compliance with a constitutional norm.” he said. “Police officers need a legitimate and articulable reason for stopping someone and very often you will find police officers having the ability to stop people for a broken tail light. Police officers need to be trained in what the constitution actually requires.”

Warren said that the “blue wall of silence” keeps bad police practices from being well-known to the public.

“There are many examples of police whistle blowers who seek to [publicize] illegal or unconstitutional behavior [who were then] formally or informally rebuked and ostracized,” he said.

Although bad policing affects all racial groups, there is a well-established racial component to criminal justice issues.

Police in riot gear. FLICKR/G20 VOICE – FLIC.KR

To truly reform bad policing, it’s important for Americans to understand that institutional racism in policing stands separately from racial attitudes held by broader society, according to Warren.

“It’s possible for race relationships to improve in the broader community while police relationships deteriorate,” he said. “Without understanding that, it might lead some white people to say that things are getting better when they’re really getting worse.”

However, Avery said that for the first time in his long law career he’s hopeful that there could be meaningful police reform because of Black Lives Matter. For decades, he would see bursts of backlash against police misconduct but then the climate would settle back into the status quo. The climate in 2016 seems different.

“We’re at the point where the president of the United States gets up and says, ‘we’ve got to realize something is happening, something has to be done.'” said. Avery. “A president of the United States has never done that before.”

Avery said young people need to take advantage of the momentum.

“There are a lot of young white kids out there with Black Lives Matter and people have been concerned for several years now.” he said. “This is an opportunity. People have been focusing on this for long enough and seriously enough where we could really insist on better and fairer policing.”


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NC private prison among 14 impacted by Department of Justice announcement

When Elizabeth Forbes, director of the prisoner advocacy group NC-CURE, received a call from a family whose incarcerated son was planning to commit suicide, she immediately contacted the prison he was housed in: Rivers Correctional Institution, a private prison in Winton, North Carolina.

After several phone calls, prison officials promised to follow up with her. “They absolutely never did call, nor did they speak to the family,” Forbes said. She said the inmate was placed in solitary confinement after attempting self-harm.

Rivers is one of 14 private prisons nationwide whose contract will not be renewed by the Department of Justice after an Aug. 18 announcement. The Department’s Office of the Inspector General reported private institutions had a higher number of incidents per capita for most categories than federal facilities. Forbes said the difference can be attributed to a lack of accountability and oversight. “It really makes it a dangerous situation for people that are going inside a private prison system, particularly people with chronic illnesses and serious mental health issues,” she said.

Rivers, owned by The Geo Group, Inc., has a capacity for 1,450 low-security inmates, about half non-citizens and half from Washington D.C., because it has no state prisons. The other federal private prisons in the report house non-citizens in Criminal Alien Requirement facilities. Carl Takei, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, helped write a report on several of these prisons in Texas, some of which are owned by Geo Group. “Prisoners described how they were denied medical care, how they were subjected to abuse, how the constant theme of their treatment was putting profits before people,” he said.

For example, Takei said one of the prisons in the report went without a full-time doctor for 8 months because it was cheaper for the company to pay the understaffing fee than to pay the doctor’s salary. In the DOJ memo, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said as the private prison companies’ contracts come up for renewal, the Bureau of Prisons would decline to renew them or reduce their scope. During a conference call on Aug. 19 in which no media questions were allowed, Geo Group CEO George Zoley said the company was disappointed in the DOJ’s decision. “We believe all of our BOP facilities meet or exceed quality standards comparable to government facilities,” Zoley said.

He said the facility received positive ratings during its last inspection, and that the company has no reason to believe the contract won’t be extended. The contract for Rivers is up for renewal in March of 2017. North Carolina ended its use of private prisons in 2000 after little cost-savings, said Daniel Bowes, an attorney at the Second Chance Initiative at the N.C. Justice Center. “A lot of the benefits that were touted regarding privatizing prisons just based on the DOJ report haven’t proven to be true,” Bowes said. Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a Texas prison reform group, said Criminal Alien Requirement facility inmates are often convicted of drug or immigration crimes. “(This decision) will essentially reintegrate the federal prison system,” Libal said.

The decision does not apply to immigration detention facilities contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to a report by Grassroots Leadership, 62 percent of all beds in ICE immigration detention centers are operated by private corporations. Forbes said that the government will have to address the question of what to do with the prisoners formerly housed in these institutions. “Does that mean building more prisons or does that mean we’re going to let more people out?” she said.


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Donald Trump’s baseless claims about the election being ‘rigged’

Donald Trump preemptively challenged the results of the November presidential election, claiming in media appearances and rallies that the entire system is “rigged.”

Trump’s charges of election fraud are not new to his campaign. He’s tweeted aboutdead voters delivering President Barack Obama’s victory in 2012, floated charges about multiple voting in the primaries, and suggested that undocumented immigrantsjust walk in and vote” in some polling places.

Trump revived these theories as he fell behind Hillary Clinton in the polls (which,according to his surrogates, are “skewed”).

“Nov. 8, we’d better be careful, because that election is going to be rigged,” he said at an Aug. 1 rally in Columbus, Ohio. “People are going to walk in and they’re going to vote 10 times, maybe, who knows?”

“I know last time, you had precincts where there were practically nobody voting for the Republican (Mitt Romney),” he said to Fox News’ Sean Hannity that same night. “I’m telling you, Nov. 8, we better be careful because that election is going to be rigged and I hope the Republicans are watching closely, or it’s going to be taken away from us.”

This is a serious allegation that challenges the integrity of the election, so we asked the Trump campaign to elaborate. We didn’t hear back.

When Trump has offered specifics — people voting though they’re ineligible, people voting multiple times, people impersonating dead voters — he’s actually talking about voter fraud, committed by individuals and committed very rarely.

Stolen 2012 election?

To sow doubts about the 2016 election, Trump pointed to alleged rigging in 2012.

While some precincts in Philadelphia exclusively voted for Obama in 2012, it’s grasping for straws to claim this is evidence for election rigging.

Defending Trump, Fox’s Sean Hannity pointed to a Philadelphia Inquirer articlethat showed 59 precincts in inner-city Philadelphia in which “Mitt Romney did not get a single vote, not one.”

But Hannity leaves out that the same article also stated that “such results may not be so startling after all.” The Inquirer wrote that 75 to 80 percent of voters in big cities like Philadelphia identify as Democrats, and 93 percent of African-Americans voted for Obama.

When the paper sought out the few registered Republicans living in the 59 districts, it found that several had moved, others didn’t realize they were registered with the party, and others confirmed that they had voted for Obama despite their political identification.

Election inspector Ryan Godfrey, an independent who was a Republican in 2012,called Hannity’s claims “absurd and personally insulting.” After all, Godfrey argued, there’s a paper trail for the ballots in Philly and no evidence that he and the other election officials had risked prosecution to collude against Romney.

Plus, CNN’s Brian Stelter countered, “a Google search would show that there are also precincts in other states, like in Utah, where Obama did not get a single vote.”

Trumped up charges of voter fraud

Trump’s claims of voter fraud, which echo arguments for voter ID laws, are also not reflective of reality.

While the U.S. Government Accountability Office has acknowledged that it’s difficult to estimate how often voter fraud happens based on reported incidents, the evidence for rampant fraud is lacking.

News 21 found just 150 alleged cases of double voting, 56 cases of noncitizens voting, and 10 cases of voter impersonation across all elections from 2000 to 2011. Many of these never led to charges, while others were acquitted or dismissed. Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School and an expert on voter fraud, found an even smaller number: 31 credible incidents out of more than 1 billion votes cast from 2000 to 2014.

Put it in another way: You’re more likely to get struck by lightning than to find voter fraud.

When voter fraud does occur, it’s not always intentional. Multiple studies have traced known cases not to willful deception but to clerical errors or confusion.

For example, one case of a dead person voting (Alan J. Mandell) happened because a poll worker accidentally marked his name instead of the man who actually cast the ballot, Alan J. Mandel. Similarly, in one of just five cases of a noncitizen voting between 2000 and 2004, a permanent resident was told he was eligible and given a voter registration form by a DMV clerk when renewing his license.

So, given the rarity of occurrence, the lack of intent, and a federal penalty of a$10,000 fine or up to five years in prison, experts say it would be extremely difficult to rig an election through the ways Trump has suggested.

“I’d like to see him try to vote 10 times on Election Day. It would be virtually impossible and a knuckle-headed way to try to corrupt an election,” said Lorraine Minnite, a political science professor at Rutgers University who wrote The Myth of Voter Fraud.  

To sway an election, an army of voters would have to visit multiple polling locations each, know the names and addresses of the people they were impersonating and produce fake ID’s or forge their signatures — plus be willing to commit perjury the entire time.

“Campaigns don’t pay people to pretend to be people they’re not. That’s too stupid,” said Mary Frances Berry, former chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and author of Five Dollars and a Pork Chop Sandwich, a book about electoral fraud.

How to rig an election

From New York’s Tammany Hall to the motto of “vote early and often” popularized in Chicago, election fraud is certainly part of U.S. political history. But election rigging today is constrained to local elections, as implementing a national election heist would be extremely difficult.

“Given the decentralized nature of our elections, there would be no single way to throw the results,” said Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine. “Instead you’d have to target enough states to make a difference in the Electoral College.”

The first way is through buying votes, especially absentee ballots.

Berry’s Five Dollars and a Pork Chop Sandwich, which refers to the prize a Louisiana woman received for her vote, documents several cases of local campaigns and political machines purchasing votes, often from nursing homes and poor communities, in exchange for cash, whiskey or a paved driveway.

This is possible on a small scale because of a “corrupt deal” between local election officials and “family fiefdoms” with deep roots in municipal politics, Berry said.

Presidential elections, on the other hand, are under much more scrutiny than sheriff races and subject to federal prosecution. For that reason, and given how complicated organizing the conspiracy across different communities would be, Berry says it’s not probable that a national campaign or outside group would take the risk to buy a few votes.

The second way of rigging elections is through tampering with voting machines (looking at you, Olivia Pope of Scandal). Trump suggested this in 2012 when hewarned that machines were switching Romney votes to Obama.

“That’s not an indication of the system being rigged. That’s an indication that it’s lost its calibration,” said Pamela Smith of Verified Voting, which monitors technological issues in elections.

She added that Trump likely was referring to voter reports of this common issue of overuse, while election rigging “would require you not noticing.” (Smith couldn’t think of any examples of machines being tampered with and said, from her research, issues usually result from programming errors.)

Ballots cast on some electronic voting systems, however, don’t have a paper trail, meaning the votes are not verifiable. Hackers could theoretically alter the results. But this would also require a potential wrongdoer to physically access the machines on Election Day and serious coordination to circumvent all the security and auditing measures in place before, during and after voting, said Smith, adding, “There are very few paths in the present scenario to flip something off the radar.”

There’s the added security of Pennsylvania law, which mandates post-election vote audits of randomly selected precincts. The majority of precincts in Virginia rely on paper ballots. And Florida, where use of electronic machines is fairly limited to providing accessibility for voters with disabilities, has a Republican governor (Gov. Rick Scott, a Trump supporter) and secretary of state (who oversees elections).

“Technological rigging or the more classic stuffing of the ballot box are not the kind of things that could be easily done or on the kind of scale that could affect an election,” Hasen said. “Trump’s unsupported allegations are dangerous and fantasy.”

Our ruling

Trump has repeatedly claimed that the U.S. election system is rigged.

He has cited examples of voter fraud, which is extremely rare, often unintentional and not on a scale large enough to affect a national election.

While there are isolated examples of bought local elections, experts say it cannot be replicated on a national scale. While it is possible to tamper with electronic voting machines, there is no evidence deliberate malfeasance has altered any election.

We rate Trump’s claim Pants on Fire.


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Writing Off Student Loans Is Only a Matter of Time

In her speech at the Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton exclaimed, “ Bernie Sanders and I will work together to make college tuition-free for the middle class and debt-free for all!” How she intends to do that remains something of a mystery, beyond higher taxes on “Wall Street, corporations, and the super-rich.” But it’s hard to imagine the student-loan industry and the burden of student debt getting any worse for taxpayers and borrowers than it is now.

A largely overlooked report released in February by the Government Accountability Office suggests that the Obama administration’s policies have exacerbated student debt, which equals nearly a quarter of annual federal borrowing. With only 37% of borrowers actually paying down their loans, the federal student-loan program more closely resembles the payday-lending industry than a benevolent source of funds for college.

As this newspaperreported in April, “43% of the roughly 22 million Americans with federal student loans weren’t making payments as of Jan. 1,” and a staggering “1 in 6 borrowers, or 3.6 million, were in default on $56 billion in student debt.” If student debt continues to skyrocket, the federal government may have to deal with as much as a $500 billion write-down when future defaults and loan-forgiveness programs are factored in.

In 2010, the Obama administration dispensed with the private intermediaries that had administered federal loans since the 1960s. It put in their place Direct Lending, a program administered by the Education Department. At the time, the Congressional Budget Officeestimated that Direct Lending would save $62 billion from 2010 to 2020. That didn’t happen. The program’s advocates failed to anticipate how two other Obama-backed college affordability initiatives—Income-Driven Repayment and loan forgiveness—would create a cataclysmic hit to the federal student-loan program’s finances.

There are more than 20 Income-Driven Repayment programs, but they all work essentially the same way. Students struggling financially can defer their payments. When no or limited payments are made, their balances grow. Today, over 20 million borrowers are watching their loan balances increase thanks to these programs. The average balance ballooned to approximately $25,000 in 2014 from $15,000 in 2004, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York,and has grown still larger since then.

But the most significant explosion in student debt might still come. In 2007 Congress passed the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which allows borrowers who work for nonprofit organizations or government agencies to have their loans forgiven after 10 years. Students will be able to take advantage of this program for the first time in 2017. Yet no mechanism to evaluate who qualifies exists. Virtually every teacher, firefighter, social worker, police officer, doctor, or nurse who meets “their employer’s definition of full time” could have their loans forgiven.

The law will cost about $5 billion each year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But very few close to the student-loan industry believe that the CBO’s assumption will pan out. The total student-loan portfolio is now $1.3 trillion, and the program grows by approximately $100 billion annually. If only 20% more borrowers default than the CBO expects, the Education Department could face at least a $100 billion loss on its existing pool of loans.

What can Congress do? First, it should demand that the CBO appropriately score the Income-Driven Repayment options. The federal government should at least use the same nonperforming loan standards they require of banks. Specifically, the Education Department should be required to “reserve” funds in anticipation of foreseeable and significant write-offs. Assuming 20% of current loans end up being written off, the department will end up writing off more than $20 billion annually.

The Direct Lending program should also start leveraging its immense power to price loans differently based on the success of students. It may also be necessary to change the model by which colleges and universities receive loan proceeds. Today, schools receive Title IV funds at the start of the semester and only have to return them if students drop out before completing 60% of a course. Instead, schools should receive a portion of loan proceeds to start and only receive additional funds if students graduate and pay down their loans.

Student debt is a public good, because higher education is a pathway to a stable, economically productive life. But the tsunami of nonpayment has already begun. If the promise of college is to hold up for generations to come, then Washington has to start pricing the risk it assumes when it underwrites $100 billion in loans annually.

Mr. Pianko is managing director of University Ventures, an investment firm focused on global higher education.


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Killer Instincts: When Police Become Judge, Jury And Executioner

Any police officer who shoots to kill is playing with fire.

In that split second of deciding whether to shoot and where to aim, that officer has appointed himself judge, jury and executioner over a fellow citizen. And when an officer fires a killing shot at a fellow citizen not once or twice but three and four and five times, he is no longer a guardian of the people but is acting as a paid assassin. In so doing, he has short-circuited a legal system that was long ago established to protect against such abuses by government agents.

These are hard words, I know, but hard times call for straight talking.

We’ve been dancing around the issue of police shootings for too long now, but we’re about to crash headlong into some harsh realities if we don’t do something to ward off disaster.

You’d better get ready.

It’s easy to get outraged when police wrongfully shoot children, old people and unarmed citizens watering their lawns or tending toautistic patients. It’s harder to rouse the public’s ire when the people getting shot and killed by police are suspected of criminal activities or armed with guns and knives. Yet both scenarios should be equally reprehensible to anyone who values human life, due process and the rule of law.

For instance, Paul O’Neal was shot in the back and killed by police as he fled after allegedly sideswiping a police car during a chase. The 18-year-old was suspected of stealing a car.

Korryn Gaines was shot and killed—and her 5-year-old son was shot—by police after Gaines resisted arrest for a traffic warrant and allegedly threatened to shoot police. Police first shot at Gaines and then opened fire when she reportedly shot back at them.

Loreal Tsingine was shot and killed by a police officer after she approached him holding a small pair of medical scissors. The 27-year-old Native American woman was suspected of shoplifting.

None of these individuals will ever have the chance to stand trial, be found guilty or serve a sentence for their alleged crimes because a police officer—in a split second—had already tried them, found them guilty and sentenced them to death.

In every one of these scenarios, police could have resorted to less lethal tactics.

They could have attempted to de-escalate and defuse the situation.

They could have acted with reason and calculation instead of reacting with a killer instinct.

That police instead chose to fatally resolve these encounters by using their guns on fellow citizens speaks volumes about what is wrong with policing in America today, where police officers are being dressed in the trappings of war, drilled in the deadly art of combat, and trained to look upon “every individual they interact with as an armed threat and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making.”

We’re approaching a breaking point.

This policing crisis is far more immediate and concerning than the government’s so-called war on terror or drugs.

So why isn’t more being done to address it?

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, there’s too much money at stake, for one, and too much power.

Those responsible for this policing crisis are none other than the police unions that are helping police officers evade accountability for wrongdoing; the police academies that are teaching police officers that their lives are more valuable than the lives of those they serve; a corporate military sector that is making a killing by selling military-grade weapons, equipment, technology and tactical training to domestic police agencies; a political establishment that is dependent on campaign support and funding from the powerful police unions; and a police state that is transforming police officers into extensions of the military in order to extend its reach and power.

This is no longer a debate over good cops and bad cops.

It’s a tug-of-war between the constitutional republic America’s founders intended and the police state we are fast becoming.

So where do we go from here?

For starters, stop with the scare tactics. In much the same way that American citizens are being cocooned in a climate of fear by a government that knows exactly which buttons to push in order to gain the public’s cooperation and compliance, police officers are also being indoctrinated with the psychology of fear. Despite the propaganda being peddled by the government and police unions, police today experience less on-the-job fatalities than they ever have historically.

Second, level the playing field. Police are no more or less special than you or me. Their lives are no more valuable than any other citizen’s. While police are entitled to every protection afforded under the law, the same as any other citizen, they should not be afforded any special privileges. Most Americans, oblivious about their own rights, aren’t even aware that police officers have their own Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, which grants them special due process rights and privileges not afforded to the average citizen.

Third, require that police officers be trained in non-lethal tactics.According to the New York Times, a survey of 281 police agencies found that the average young officer received 58 hours of firearms training and 49 hours of defensive tactical training, but only eight hours of de-escalation training. If police officers are taking classes in how to shoot, maim and kill, shouldn’t they also be required to take part in annual seminars teaching de-escalation techniques and educating them about how to respect their fellow citizens’ constitutional rights, especially under the First and Fourth Amendments?

Fourth, ditch the quasi-military obsession. Police forces were never intended to be standing armies. Yet with police agencies dressing like the military in camouflage and armor, training with the military, using military weapons, riding around in armored vehicles, recruiting military veterans, and even boasting military titles, one would be hard pressed to distinguish between the two. Still, it’s our job to make sure that we can distinguish between the two, and that means keeping the police in their place as civilians—non-military citizens—who are entrusted with protecting our rights.

Fifth, demilitarize. There are many examples of countries where police are not armed and dangerous, and they are no worse off for it. Indeed, their crime rates are low and their police officers are trained to view every citizen as precious. For all of the talk among politicians about gun violence and the need to enact legislation to make it more difficult for Americans to acquire weapons, little is being done to demilitarize and de-weaponize police.

Sixth, stop making taxpayers pay for police abuses. Some communities are trying to require police to carry their own professional liability insurance. The logic is that if police had to pay out of pocket for their own wrongdoing, they might be more cautious and less inclined to shoot first and ask questions later.

Seventh, stop relying on technology to fix what’s wrong with the country. The body cameras haven’t stopped the police shootings, and they won’t as long the cameras can be turned on and off at will while the footage remains inaccessible to the public.

Eighth, stop being busybodies and snitches. Overcriminalization has partially fueled the drive to “police” everything from kids walking to the playground alone and backyard chicken coops to front yard vegetable gardens. But let’s start taking some responsibility for our own communities and stop turning every minor incident into a reason to call the police.

Finally, support due process for everyone, not just the people in your circle. Remember that you no longer have to be poor, black or guilty to be treated like a criminal in America. All that is required is that you belong to the suspect class—a.k.a. the citizenry—of the American police state. As a de facto member of this so-called criminal class, every U.S. citizen is now guilty until proven innocent.

Unfortunately, Americans have been so propagandized, politicized and polarized that many feel compelled to choose sides between defending the police at all costs or painting them as dangerously out-of-control.

Nothing is ever that black and white, but there are a few things that we can be sure of: America is not a battlefield. American citizens are not enemy combatants. And police officers—no matter how courageous—are not soldiers.

Therein lies the problem: we’ve allowed the government to create an alternate reality in which freedom is secondary to security, and the rights of the citizenry are less important than the authority of the government. This way lies madness.

The longer we wait to burst the bubble on this false chimera, the harder it will be to return to a time when police were public servants and freedom actually meant something, and the greater the risks to both police officers and the rest of the citizenry.

Something must be done and soon.

The police state wants the us vs. them dichotomy. It wants us to turn each other in, distrust each other and be at each other’s throats, while it continues amassing power. It wants police officers who act like the military, and citizens who cower in fear. It wants a suspect society. It wants us to play by its rules instead of holding it accountable to the rule of law.

The best way to beat the police state: don’t play by their rules.

Make them play by ours instead.


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Working ‘The Chain,’ Slaughterhouse Workers Face Lifelong Injuries

Teresa, an immigrant from Mexico has worked at a pork processing plant in Lincoln, Neb., since 2011. She didn’t want to use her last name because she feared that a family member, who still works at a plant, might get in trouble.

Teresa worked on the line, or “the chain,” as workers call it. It is the heartbeat of any meat processing plant. It’s the mechanized driver of eviscerated hogs, cattle and chickens, hung up on hooks and quickly moving down a line at these massive meat factories.

Workers disassemble the animals into the standard cuts for consumers — tenderloins and chicken tenders, beef chuck and pork chops. And some, like Teresa, stuff the meat into bags.

The workers, most often immigrants and resettled refugees, slaughter and process hundreds of animals an hour, forced to work at high speeds in cold conditions, doing thousands of the same repetitions over and over, with few breaks.

This production feeds the average American, who eats about 200 pounds of meat a year. And the furious pace of the work causes a set of chronic physical ailments called musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, an array of injuries to workers’ muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves, that cause sprains, strains, or inflammation.

Teresa stuffed 7- to 10-pound hams in bags, at times up to 50 hams a minute. Starting with a wage of $11.50 an hour, she worked 12-hour shifts, sometimes seven days a week. She was awarded employee of the month four times.

Then, she started experiencing problems in her right shoulder. After reporting the pain to her supervisors, they told her that if she was injured, she should go home.

“The supervisors were very nasty,” she says. “They wanted everything fast, they wanted to produce a lot of quantity. They didn’t care about the people.”

She says she went to the company doctor, who told her the shoulder problem was a bone spur. Finally, her shoulder got so bad, she was diagnosed with injuries from repetitive motions and had to have surgery.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 2014 data that showed repetitive motion injuries among beef and pork processing workers were nearly seven times that of other private industries. And 76 percent of workers in a Maryland plant had abnormal nerve conditions in at least one hand, according to a 2015 report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

In 2015, federal regulators began requiring injuries to be reported within 24 hours. Nebraska Appleseed, a worker advocacy group, handed out these pamphlets to inform workers of the new rule.

In 2015, federal regulators began requiring injuries to be reported within 24 hours. Nebraska Appleseed, a worker advocacy group, handed out these pamphlets to inform workers of the new rule.

And yet, the government does not track MSDs diagnosed in slaughterhouse workers.

“Part of the business model in this industry is to sacrifice worker safety on the altar of profits,” says Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA official and now a senior fellow at the National Employment Law Project.

The North American Meat Institute (NAMI), an industry trade group, calls reports about fast line speeds and high rates of worker injuries a “myth.” The meat industry also often points to voluntary ergonomics standards they embraced dating back to 1990 as well as an increase in the prevalence of safety gear on the line.

NAMI and meat companies cite a decline in worker injuries over the years. A recent government report also noted that trend, while criticizing the persistently high injury rates and poor reporting.

Dan McCausland, NAMI director of worker safety and human resources, says there’s no cost savings for companies to run the chains fast because people will get hurt, thus cutting into company profits.

But workers in meat processing plants tell a different story. They describe punishing rates of production, leaving them with a lifetime of pain and physical problems. Workers making on average $12.50 an hour, or about $26,000 a year, say they can get fired if their injuries prevent them from working harder; companies report constant employee turnover.

“It’s the same story,” says Gloria Sarmiento of Nebraska Appleseed, a worker advocacy group that surveyed 455 workers across that state in 2009. “The speed of the line is really fast. The supervisors are yelling all the time. … They are treating us like animals”

Who’s in charge of line speeds?

Many of the workers at beef, pork and poultry plants don’t speak English but they know that when the boss talks about OSHA, it means the government is coming around and the plant better be running right. Meatpacking workers who talked to Harvest Public Media said guards at the front gates of the plants signal when OSHA inspectors are coming in, the chain often slows down and more workers are added to the line.

And yet, OSHA doesn’t oversee the pace of the production chain, a fact called a “regulatory perversion” by University of Iowa law professor Marc Linder in one of the first reports to call attention to line speeds and worker injuries in 1995.

The agency is tasked with monitoring worker safety, but it continues to reject suggestions that it has any authority over production speeds. It denied a 2013 request by a dozen labor rights groups to set a lower line speed standard.

In a written response to the labor groups, David Michaels, OSHA’s assistant secretary of labor, noted that MSDs can’t solely be attributed to line speeds. Ergonomic risk factors and the cold temperatures in plants must also be considered, Michaels wrote.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees the factory line in meat processing plants, but the agency concentrates solely on food safety, leaving workers worried about injuries caused by line speeds without a safety net.

The government has argued that USDA regulations “act as a kind of de facto throttle on line speed that protects the workers,” says Ted Genoways, author of The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food, an investigative book about Midwestern meatpacking.

“The USDA’s longtime argument is that they don’t monitor worker safety but that worker safety is assured by the inspection process, creating what they call a ‘friction point’ with the speed of the processing line,” Genoways says.

Even that throttle is being removed, however, as the USDA champions a controversial program, already in place in many chicken plants, which reduces the number of government inspectors and hands over many food safety duties to the companies. The USDA has recommended developing similar programs in pork factories.

‘Pain for the rest of your life’

Teresa had surgery, but it didn’t help. So she complained to her superiors.

“I said, ‘OK, why are you sending me back to the line when I have pain? I need to see another doctor,’ ” Teresa says. “They said, ‘I’m sorry, the doctor said you’re going to have to live with pain for the rest of your life.”

She kept working. Pregnant with her second child, she says she wasn’t even allowed bathroom breaks.

Finally, after five years, Teresa felt she had had enough and quit her job, asking for a payout for her injuries. She was told that workers’ compensation insurance doesn’t pay for pain, but was awarded $1,700 for her time away from work.

Now 31, Teresa can work only part-time. Her shoulder continues to bother her. She’s often at home with her three children, a 7-year-old boy, a 3-year-old daughter and a 9-month old boy. She tells her friends who still work at the plant to get out.

“I told them you better find another job because you’re going to lose everything,” she says. “Sooner or later, they’re going to get hurt. [The company is] not going to care. They’re just going to throw them away and hire more people.”

How much is an arm worth?

Complicating any chance at recourse for workers with MSDs is the ambiguous nature of injuries, both medically and legally.

Many workers are told to go back to work and are barred from reporting injuries, as managers want to keep OSHA injury reports low, according to a recent Government Accountability Office. Injured workers say they stayed on the line because of a lack of sick leave or for fear of losing their jobs.

Britton Morrell, an attorney in Greeley, Color., represents workers who file and are denied a workers’ compensation claim for “cumulative trauma.”

The claims are hard to prove, he says, because a worker must apply a checklist of risk factors. How many repetitive motions are required on the job? Does the worker hold his extremities at an awkward posture? Is there a vibratory mechanism attached to the job?

“It’s a Byzantine checklist,” Morrell says.

Experts have to be hired, which is expensive, he says. Calculations for claims are complicated and involve a worker’s age, body part and pay rates. And these calculations vary between states because of workers’ compensation laws.

“At some point for serious injuries there’s an acknowledgement: We’re never going to get these things back to the way they were before,” Morrell says.

‘Why don’t they care about their people?’

Gabriel, a Mexican immigrant living in Nebraska, works at a pork slaughterhouse. He didn’t want to name the company he works for or use his last name for fear of retaliation towards family members who still work there. He has had friends and family member who have also been fired, mostly for being injured, he says.

“Once you get hurt, they are just waiting for these people to do a mistake to fire them because they don’t want them over there,” Gabriel says. “Even if you’re on light duty and [that means] you are hurt, you sit down, you get tired, they fire you because they say you’re sleeping.”

In a time when concern for animal welfare has changed the way companies do business — making sure eggs are produced cage-free, that chickens roam free-range, that pregnant hogs are not confined in small gestation crates — there is still little outcry about conditions for workers who produce our meat.

Last year, Oxfam America released a report about the “grim” conditions workers face at poultry plants. In “Lives on the line: the human cost of cheap chicken,” the anti-poverty group placed the responsibility for changing the industry on consumers.

“One of the workers we were working with,” recalled Oliver Gottfried of Oxfam America, “said, ‘If they can care this much about their animals, why can’t they care about their people?'”


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Scott Walker Supporter Files Class Action Over Milwaukee DA’s Secret Investigation

Legal wrangling over a probe launched by Milwaukee County District Attorney Mike Chisholm into Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign continues as a Wisconsin-based free-market think tank has filed a class action lawsuit against Chisholm, employees of his office and senior staff of a now-defunct state board.

Last week, the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy filed its proposed class action in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. The named defendants include Chisholm; Francis Schmitz, special prosecutor for the state Government Accountability Board; Bruce Landgraf and David Robles, both Milwaukee County assistant district attorneys; Kevin J. Kennedy, director and general counsel for the GAB; Jonathan Becker, administrator of the Ethics and Accountability Division of the GAB; and Shane Falk, staff attorney for the GAB.

The GAB, charged with oversight of Wisconsin’s campaign finance, elections, ethics and lobbying laws, has since been dissolved.

In December, Walker signed 2015 Wisconsin Act 118, which did away with the board effective June 30 and replaced it with two separate commissions, with partisan appointees, to oversee the administration of elections and ethics. The change was prompted by the board’s involvement in Chisholm’s secret, or “John Doe,” investigation.
MacIver, a nonprofit institute formed in 2008 and dedicated to free markets and limited government, has been a backer of the conservative Republican Walker and much of his policies.

In 2011, the institute and Americans for Prosperity bought more than $500,000 worth of television ads in Wisconsin supporting the governor’s budget proposals, though they did not mention Walker by name in the ads, according to a Journal Sentinel report.

Now, MacIver claims Chisholm, his employees and some GAB staffers illegally seized the institute’s digital records during the criminal probe that alleged “illegal coordination” of campaign funding by Walker and 29 independent nonprofits, the institute included.


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Texas court ruling lets government keep contracts secret, inviting corruption to fester

A linchpin to government accountability lies in the old admonition to “follow the money.” But that’s an impossible task when the law says the government — and companies doing business with government — can legally hide the trail.

The fallout from a June 2015 ruling by the Texas Supreme Court is becoming painfully clear as key details of government contracts, once routine items of public disclosure, are instead being withheld as guarded state secrets.

A random sampling: Costs of a Kaufman County school district’s food service contract. The number of Uber drivers ferrying passengers around Houston. And, amusingly, in an anxiety-inducing sort of way, the amount the city of McAllen paid singer Enrique Iglesias for an hour-long outdoor concert to lead off its annual holiday parade last December.

All result from from a 7-1 opinion by the state’s highest court, made over the objections of Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office. The decision expanded the acceptable reasons for withholding information about contracts between government and private businesses.

The decision in Boeing vs. Paxton stems from the giant aircraft manufacturer’s claim that disclosing financial information about its contract with the inland Port of San Antonio could give an edge to its business competitors.

That opinion, a reversal of two lower court rulings, is a dramatic reinterpretation of financial disclosure exemptions originally meant to protect the contract bidding process.

“It’s one of the worst rulings ever to come out of the Texas Supreme Court,” said open government attorney Joe Larsen, a board member for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, in an interview with the Texas Tribune. “If there’s a place where corruption can fester, it’s here.”

To be clear: This is not a matter of protecting business trade secrets from unfair exposure. Provisions for protecting proprietary information existed in the Texas Public Information Act prior to the Boeing decision.

“Open government people realize there are some things business should protect,”former Deputy Texas Attorney General Bill Cobb told the Houston Chronicle in May. “But there is clear direction and standard on what you have to do to prove that.” The new decision, he said, “blew a hole” in state public disclosure laws.

This should be a matter of bipartisan concern, and there are encouraging signs of bipartisan action in the next state legislative session.

State Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, who took notice of the issue with the furor over McAllen’s refusal to disclose Iglesias’ performance fee, is reportedly contemplating whether to introduce corrective legislation specifically targeting entertainment contracts or taking a broader approach to the exemptions. And a spokesman for Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, is also said to be working with open records advocates on a remedy to restore at least some of the transparency the ruling has cost.

More legislators on both sides of the aisle need to pay attention. Public accountability matters, and transparency is where accountability starts.

In their own words

“It’s one of the worst rulings ever to come out of the Texas Supreme Court. If there’s any place where corruption can fester, it’s here.” — Joe Larsen, open government advocate and board member, Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas

“The court opened the floodgates on this one. It blew a hole in the Texas Public Information Act.” — Bill Cobb, former Texas deputy attorney general under then-Attorney General Greg Abbott