Sam Oser interviews Elizabeth Santos, Houston teacher, who is running for Board of Trustees for District 1 for Houston’s school district. First amendment rights are being violated and the district is on the brink of being taken over by the state — Republican-driven legislation — to convert public schools into charters and replace elected officials with managers. To learn more about Santos, visit: http://www.santos4hisd.com/
Todd Litton, a Democrat running for Texas’ 2nd congressional district, is claiming to be running a grassroots oriented campaign. We definitely need more grassroots progressive candidates in the Democratic Party. The issue is that Litton appears to be misusing this term. In today’s political sphere, the term grassroots implies a Bernie Sanders, or Ron Paul style campaign. The focus is not just on building enthusiasm at the grassroots level, but also a focus on small dollar donations and the issues average working people face. Litton’s campaign focuses on neither of these things.
Litton has far outraised any of his opponents in the Democratic Party Primary. As of Sept. 30, 2017, the Litton campaign has raised $256,222.79 in campaign contributions. In a private email to me, Litton’s campaign informed me that they have received well over $270,000.00. Litton’s campaign also informed me that all of these donations came from individuals, and that their campaign was “fueled by the people.”
Refusing to accept PAC money is a step in the right direction, but simply taking PAC money out of the equation doesn’t exactly demonstrate that a political campaign is fueled “by the people.” The cap on individual federal campaign contributions is still very high, at $2,700.00. Individuals can contribute $2.7k in the party primary election and $2.7k for the general election, maxing out their total maximum contribution at $5.4k. Thus, simply refusing to take PAC money doesn’t necessarily mean a candidate will be beholden to the interests of average working people. The high maximum contribution limit still leaves plenty of sway for wealthy individuals to have their interests represented over that of the average working person.
Litton’s statement that his campaign is grassroots and fueled by the people is extremely misleading when comparing him to other candidates that are known for their grassroots oriented campaign. Litton can’t fairly claim that his campaign is fueled by the people when most, if not all, of his campaign contributions come from a relatively small number of affluent individuals donating over $400 each on average.
Further, it’s extremely difficult to tell what exactly Litton stands for. Litton’s campaign website contains absolutely no policy substance. When looking through Litton’s Facebook page, I discovered that he is for ‘common sense gun regulation’, protecting DACA and the “Dreamers,” stands against white supremacy, supports a woman’s right to choose, LGBTQ rights, protecting the ACA, and that’s about it.
I’m currently awaiting a reply from Litton’s campaign team on other progressive issues. I have asked Litton if he supports single payer healthcare; a $15/hr minimum wage; decreasing the bloated military budget; opposes cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP and other social safety net programs; abolishing key aspects of the surveillance state like PRISM; raising taxes on the wealthy; free (taxpayer funded) college; abolishing anti-union “right to work” laws; rejoining the Paris Climate Accords; Universal Basic Income; expanding the social safety net; an employment non-discrimination act for LGBT people; ending standardized testing; opposes regime change wars; and overturning Citizens United.
If Litton is a progressive, then he should make his positions on these issues and others abundantly clear. At the current time, Litton comes off as a Republican-lite or diet Republican candidate. If Democrats continue to run center-right candidates, they’re going to lose. When people have a choice between a Republican and someone that is almost a Republican, they’re always going to choose the Republican. Progressive ideas are overwhelmingly popular, so it doesn’t make any sense for a progressive party to run candidates that are not progressive.
Activists in Philadelphia are still looking for answers for the death of 30-year-old David Jones. Jones was killed by Philadelphia Police Officer Ryan Pownall on June 8, 2017 after he was approached for riding a dirt bike. Jones, who is black, was shot in the back by the white officer Pownall. The same officer Pawnall that shoot Carnell Williams-Carney, paralyzing him in 2010. That shooting was ruled justified. Both Jones and Carney were shot while running away.
Asa Khalif of Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania and Isaac Gardner, a Justice for David Jones coalition leader, have participated in powerful protests and do not mince words. They want justice for David Jones. Period. No excuses. They use a focused, brutally honest style of activism, speaking truth, unfiltered and unapologetic.
Gardner and Khalif took over a City Council press conference on Aug 8, 2017 and directed members of the council to speak directly to Jones’s family, Gardner and Khalif approached City Council President Darrell Clarke at the podium. Clarke seemed shocked when Khalif stated they would shut the press conference down.
“You’re not serious” Clarke said. Khalif responded “I’m serious, I’m very serious, I’m so serious, I’m here.”
Clark said he wanted a proper investigation but Khalif and Gardener asked for his personal opinion, on the record.
“As a black man, and as a man who grew up in northern Philadelphia, there are a lot of problems with this shooting,” said Council President Clarke, who then got off topic and lost the confidence of Khalif and Gardner.
“David Jones’ life mattered. This is what we’re doing with Black Lives Matter, we’re shutting things down because black people are being abused by law-enforcement and coon negroes won’t speak up about it,” Khalif said, to council president Clarke and a room full of reporters.
“You all should be outraged too. This was a black woman, who has worked in this city. Who pays her taxes. She deserves answers. His children deserve answers. His brothers and sisters, who marched with us deserve answers. His neighbors deserve answers. We want justice for David Jones”
Before declaring the press conference occupied and shut down by Black Lives Matter PA, Khalif explained to the council president: “The fact is, Darrell Clarke, you have a responsibility to your neighborhood, you have a responsibility to community, you have a responsibility to your people.”
After answering a couple questions from a reporter, the meeting was shut down with Gardner calling out the reporter for asking stupid questions and Khalif declaring “Interview is over.”
They then chanted as the room cleared out.
Gardner and Khalif did not know Jones or each other prior to the shooting. Khalif’s cousin, Brandon Tate Brown, was killed by an officer from the same police department in 2015. At one point, Khalif offered a $5,000 reward for the name of the cop who shot Brown. Gardner wasn’t previously involved in activism but became concerned by the surveillance video of Jones being killed when it played on NBC 10. Gardner posted a recording of the video online with commentary describing how the shooting looked unjustified. NBC 10 received complaints and stopped showing the video on air, but Gardner’s video is still available online.
Surveillance video of the shooting contradicts officer Pownall’s description of events. In the video, Jones is seen running down the street as he’s shot in the back from a distance of about 30 feet.
Jones was being frisked by Pownall when he threw a gun down and ran. Pownall then fired his taser at Jones, but it didn’t take him down, he then switched to his gun and began firing. By this point, Jones was 30 feet away and unarmed, Pownall ran up to Jones, and then back to his vehicle saying “He had a f-ing gun” – but the gun was laying on the ground, near the vehicle, according to a witness who chooses to remain anonymous.
Khalif and Gardner, along with other activists held a protest in officer Pownall’s suburban, white neighborhood. They gathered directly in front of his house and used a bullhorn to call for his arrest. Neighbors came out and dozens of police lined the sidewalk. Exchanges between the neighbors and activists showed different perceptions of the shooting.
Pownell’s neighbor from across the street came out to confront Khalif and the others, telling them to go back to their own neighborhood and called Jones a criminal with a gun. Jones was unarmed at the time he was shot, a point multiple neighbors refused to acknowledge. Khalif and Gardner spoke on injustice and racism, keeping the focus on David Jones and his family.
November 13, 2017 Khalif was arrested while livestreaming from outside the Philadelphia Attorney General’s office. A window fell out of a security door as security was letting another man enter. Khalif was knocking on the door at the time, but the window appeared to be loose or easily removed. He was slammed against the wall in a choke hold, handcuffed and arrested. Khalif was released the following morning and Gardner filmed the entire incident.
The investigation was sent to the Pa. Attorney General because an unknown conflict of interest. Around the time Jones was shot, the District Attorney in Philadelphia had been forced to resign, leaving a temporary District Attorney in place until November’s election.
At the City Council meeting in August, it was stated that the investigation was sent to the AG (just in case) there was a conflict of interest. The 2010 shooting of Carnell Williams-Carney was not sent to the Attorney General. That shooting involved the same officer, had similar circumstances and the city found the use of deadly force justified. Why wasn’t a possible conflict preemptively avoided in the Williams-Carney investigation? It appears that the city council doubts the local investigation process, but won’t state why or who is the problem.
If you’re an elected official in Philadelphia, expect to see Khalif and Gardner. Justice For David Jones.
This is Rhys Baker reporting from the DC Courthouse at a rally for the J20 defendants. The defendants were arrested at the #DisrupJ20 events on Inauguration Day.
“The charges against J20 defendants are an experiment. If the courts are able to successfully prosecute those arrested at J20, this will send a green light to the forces of repression seeking to contain, control, and eliminate social movements around the country. ”
In a previous article I explained how Justice Democrats overlooked progressive candidates David Hildebrand and Irasema “Sema” Hernandez. Please allow me to be as clear as possible. I am fond of the Justice Democrats organization. I am very fond of most of their candidates: Paula Jean Swearingen, J. Darnell Jones, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Sarah Smith, Kaniela Ing, Amy Veila, and most recently Derrick Crowe. I was simply upset Justice Democrats had passed up Sema Hernandez and David Hildebrand for endorsements. There is another person well known in progressive circles, Samuel Ronan, who has also been passed up for a nomination from Justice Democrats.
Ronan first gained notoriety by running for the DNC chair. Ronan boldly proclaimed that the 2016 Democrat Party presidential primaries were in fact rigged against Bernie Sanders during his bid for DNC chair. Ronan is also the founder of Our Voice. Our Voice, as I understand it, is similar to Our Revolution. Ronan is also running for Congress. Ronan is definitely a Bernie-style candidate and seems exactly like the type of person Justice Democrats would want to endorse.
Ronan’s website contains more details about proposed solutions to our country’s problems than I have ever seen. Ronan unabashedly supports Medicare For All, a $15/hr minimum wage, combating climate change, a “new New Deal”, ending the war on drugs, and just about every other standard progressive policy position there is.
Were you nominated to be a Justice Democrat?
“I was nominated for both Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress. I spoke with the heads of both organizations. Even after that, I was never contacted for interviews or an endorsement.” — Samuel Ronan
Did you go through the vetting process?
“It never began. I was never reached out to begin with.” — Samuel Ronan
How many people nominated you to be a Justice Democrat?
“I have no way of knowing the exact number. But I know that I was nominated by dozens of people not just for the DNC chair race, but in my run for congress as well.” — Samuel Ronan
Dozens of different people nominated Ronan to be a Justice Democrat. Ronan spoke to the heads of both of the organizations. Ronan appeared as a guest on TYT politics and The Jimmy Dore Show, and the Humanist Report. Similar to Hildebrand and Hernandez, it truly is baffling that Ronan was not endorsed by Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress.
Because Ronan is in a deep-Republican area, he has since decided to run as a Republican.
In the last six weeks, the USA has been rocked by two of the worst mass-shootings in its history, claiming dozens of lives and injuring many more. While these shootings are truly horrific national tragedies, they do not represent the true crisis of gun crime in the USA. While the media focuses on these acts of mass-violence because of the sheer number of dead in a single attack, thousands of individual gun murders remain uncovered and unconnected by the media to the greater crisis we face.
Before talking about this crisis, here is a short primer on the two mass shootings I have already referred to:
At around 10PM on the night of October 1st, Stephen Paddock opened fire on a country music festival from his 32nd floor room at the Mandalay Bay Casino in Las Vegas. He was armed with 23 firearms, many of which had been legally modified with “bump stocks” which converted them from semi-automatic assault rifles to fully automatic rifles. Over his hour-long rampage, he killed 58 concertgoers and injured almost 550 more before taking his own life. There is no known motive for his actions.
At around 11:30 on the afternoon of November 5th, Devin Patrick Kelley walked into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, TX, with an AR-15 assault rifle and opened fire. He killed 25 people (one of whom was pregnant at the time and whose fetus died) and injured 20 more before leaving, at which point he was shot at by a local marksmanship instructor named Stephen Willeford. He fled in his car, pursued by Willeford, and killed himself with a gunshot to head, causing his car to crash. Kelley was a disgraced Air Force logistics officer who was court-martialed and dishonorably discharged after abusing both his wife and stepson. While he shouldn’t have been legally allowed to buy a gun due to his record, the Air Force failed to enter his conviction into national databases, letting him slide past the background checks.
The Scope of the Gun Crisis
While these two shootings are horrific and have high death tolls as single events, they are only a drop in the bucket for gun violence in the USA. The media covers these high death toll attacks as an aberration, but the sad reality is that far more people are killed in random small-scale gun violence than these large attacks that receive all the coverage.
For example, according to a count by the Chicago Tribune, 593 people have been murdered this year, making it the 2nd most deadly year in the city since 2003 (last year had 681 homicides). Most of these murders were committed with guns, and the Tribune also notes that 3,200 Chicago residents have been non-fatally shot this year on top of these deaths. This is just one year in one city, which should give you a little perspective on how high the overall death toll is.
Despite the fact that this distributed violence dramatically overshadows any mass shooting, the fact that it is spread out and seen as disconnected from a greater trend means that few media outlets decide to cover it. In most cases, these deaths are only covered by local media outlets and towards the end of the year as an aggregate number, devoid of context. It is the proverbial boiling frog situation, where people notice the crisis when it hits fast and in an acute event, rather than over time.
This isn’t to say that it is wrong to focus on the mass shooting epidemic in the USA (which is unique in the developed world); merely that we cannot let the media focus EXCLUSIVELY on these mass shootings while ignoring the thousands of dead who go unnamed and unreported. In just the three cities that I mentioned—Chicago, Baltimore, and Detroit—1,174 Americans were killed (most of whom with guns) and 4,704 were non-fatally shot in a criminal act…in just a single year. These were not shootings like Sandy Hook, Mandalay Bay, or Sutherland Spring, but rather a steady flow of smaller killings that add up over time.
If you have been following the news or spending any time on political social media, you have likely seen manifestations of neo-McCarthyism, or the use of any asserted connection to Russia to marginalize a political opponent. This trend is increasing in frequency and metastasizing throughout our political discourse, to the point where it is being used by both partisan sides of the political establishment to attack any social movement or media outlet that they disagree with.
The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald’s brutal rebuke of Howard Dean’s use of this tactic…
While there is certainly a debate to be had over whether Russia has made attempts to meddle in our elections, this trend is toxic and promises to have terrifying consequences if not addressed.
RT America Under Fire
This coming Monday, the American branch of the Russian media channel RT (RT America), will have to register as a foreign agent, on pain of being shut down, having its assets frozen/seized, and having leadership personnel arrested. This decision is being driven by the accusations that RT America is being used to spread anti-American propaganda and the accusation that it was part of the Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
The findings of the intelligence community on RT were published in a summary report earlier this year, revealing a disturbing underlying logic for this targeting of RT. In this report by the Director of National Intelligence, they argue that RT is undermining our political system through its coverage of certain stories, all of which reflect badly on the US government, but none of which are factually wrong. In effect, they are arguing that RT is anti-American because they dare point out real problems in our society—here are some examples quoted in the report:
“From August to November 2012, RT ran numerous reports on alleged US election fraud and voting machine vulnerabilities, contending that US election results cannot be trusted and do not reflect the popular will.” – pg 6
“In an effort to highlight the alleged ‘lack of democracy’ in the United States, RT broadcast, hosted, and advertised third party candidate debates and ran reporting supportive of the political agenda of these candidates. The RT hosts asserted that the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a ‘sham.’” – pg 6
“RT aired a documentary about the Occupy Wall Street movement on 1, 2, and 4 November. RT framed the movement as a fight against ‘the ruling class’ and described the current US political system as corrupt and dominated by corporations.” – pg 7
“RT’s reports often characterize the United States as a ‘surveillance state’ and allege widespread infringements of civil liberties, police brutality, and drone use.” – pg 7
“RT has also focused on criticism of the US economic system, US currency policy, alleged Wall Street greed, and the US national debt.” – pg 7
“RT runs anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health.”
Arguing that RT America is engaging in anti-American propaganda because it is pointing out real flaws in our democratic system, identifying corruption and Wall Street excess, and warning Americans about the dangers of fracking, police abuses, and unchecked surveillance, is absurd—this is what any decent journalistic outlet should be doing.
If the government is allowed to label outlets that cover real issues in our society and government as “foreign agents” and decry them as anti-American propagandists, it sets a terrifying precedent where any coverage that doesn’t conform with those in power can be delegitimized. This delegitimization doesn’t end with RT however, as we have seen in recent months.
The “Buying into Russian Propaganda” Smear
In recent months, I have seen a disturbing trend of politicians and politically-engaged citizens dismissing any inconvenient facts you may point out as simply you parroting Russian propaganda. Instead of actually addressing your arguments, they point to poorly sourced articles in one of their preferred establishment media outlets which argue that Russian “trolls” spread misinformation on the subject that you are talking about and you are just parroting them.
There are many examples of this tactic being used by Hillary loyalists. For example, many Hillary supporters will use this argument if you point out how much money flowed to the Clinton Foundation and family from interests that have an interest in buying influence with the person they thought would be the next president of the USA. Similarly, even Donna Brazile is being accused of buying into “false Russia-fueled propaganda” when she admitted to worrying about Hillary’s health after Hillary passed out during a 9/11 memorial ceremony.
This tactic is not only being utilized in defense of Clinton, but against major social movements in the USA.
Many outlets have reported that BLM was supposedly infiltrated by Russian trolls, who incited protests and stoked racial division in an attempt to destabilize the American society. Apparently, those buying into this narrative believe that African Americans need shadowy Russian influences to trick them into being angry when their neighbors and family members are murdered by police, who are then let off with paid leave. Additionally, implicit to this argument is the idea that putting more focus on police violence against people of color somehow destabilizes our society, which is simply wrong.
This same argument is being used ex post facto against Standing Rock protesters, with outlets declaring that some of the voices supporting the protests were secretly Russian trolls seeking to make the USA look bad and spotlight the poor treatment of Native Americans by our nation.
Even the GOP is starting to utilize this tactic, with pro-fracking Republicans on the House Science and Technology Committee investigating accusations that anti-fracking advertising on social media is traced back to Russia. This ignores the fact that, even if Russians are involved in pushing anti-fracking advertisements, the result of these ads succeeding would be fewer Americans dying or getting cancer due to the terrible impacts of fracking on animals living near fracking wells (the true “anti-American” position is to let corporations poison our nation).
You can see a pattern emerging in these cases. When a social movement challenges the status quo, the in vogue way to delegitimize it is to find a tenuous way to link it back to Russia so that people not interested in dealing with the social movement’s arguments can simply declare the social movement a Russian op.
Prop or Not?
The neo-McCarthyism I describe in this article is not only impacting RT America and insurgent social movements, but has been used to attack alternative media. With no evidence, some more mainstream media have declared that certain alternate media organizations are secretly Russian puppets looking to undermine the USA.
The most obvious such attack occurred earlier this year with the Prop or Not organization declaring dozens of alternative media sites (e.g. Truthdig, Truth-Out, Wikileaks, TheRebel.Media, InfoWars, etc.) to be Russian propaganda tools—accusations that many in the mainstream media (e.g. the Washington Post) ran as fact despite the fact that the list of outlets was provided without evidence from an organization with an anonymous members list. This isn’t to say that the media outlets named are all credible (in fact, some are insane blogs), merely that labeling them as Russian propaganda is completely unsupported and a false way of declaring them illegitimate.
These accusations are having a real impact. Google has been throttling the searches of numerous sites accused of being Russian-affiliates. For example, in October, Google throttled the World Socialist Website from its news search engine, reducing the number of referrals to the site by approximately 92% almost immediately. Similarly, Twitter administrators just admitted in Congressional testimony to censoring nearly half of the tweets with the hashtag #DNCLeaks or #PodestaEmails because they believed reports that those hashtags were based on Russian propaganda. This is particularly ridiculous because we now know that those emails were legitimate and showed clear bad acts by those in the DNC, including the rigging of the Democratic primary that even Donna Brazile (the ex-head of the DNC) now admits occurred.
I have gone to four Beto O’Rourke events at this point. The only times I have been able to talk to him is either by asking him a question at a town hall in front of hundreds of people, or by taking a photo with him. I used the chance to take a photo with him as a chance to get him on camera promising to review the bills on the People’s Platform. I’m not so sure he’s actually going to do that, but at least he’s on film promising to do so. Beto has only cosponsored two out of eight bills on the People’s Platform at the current time.
I understand that this man is busy campaigning, but it’s very troubling that as a journalist, I have yet to be able to talk to him one on one for more than 20 seconds. The only time I was able to talk to him one on one, it was to take a picture. The only way I can really communicate with him is through his campaign staff. Kim Olson is running for Texas Commissioner of Agriculture. She is also traveling to every county in the state. However, unlike Beto, she had absolutely no problem taking about ten minutes talking to me and putting it on film. Because of my youthful appearance and lack of professional equipment, Kim Olson thought I was merely a student doing a project. Still, Olson had absolutely no problem allowing me to interview her.
Similarly Jeffrey Payne, candidate for governor, took a substantial amount of time to talk to me. We talked for a good forty five minutes. Just like Kim Olson and Beto O’Rourke, Jeffrey Payne is traveling to every single county in Texas many times over.
At the most recent Harris County Democratic Party event, I asked six or seven different candidates running for local offices if they would like to be interviewed. They all said yes, except for one. The only person that said no was simply because she was unfamiliar with Truth Against The Machine.
All of these candidates were collecting signatures so that they could be on the ballot in the upcoming primary on March 8, 2018 and they were fairly busy. But still, they were all very happy to answer my questions and be on camera.
Two other candidates for congress running in Texas 2nd congressional district, J. Darnell Jones and Ali Khorasani both took time out of their day to talk to me extensively. J. Darnell Jones in particular manages his time very well and has been very busy campaigning.
Side note: All of these other interviews will be uploaded soon!
At the Harris County Democratic Party Friendsgiving event, I found the room Beto was in. Beto was in the room talking to people and taking pictures with them. I thought to myself “finally, I may be able to actually ask him a few questions on camera one on one.”
When I asked the kind lady in front of the room with a sign sheet if I would be able to get in she said “this is the VIP room.” When I asked her how I get into the VIP room she said “I believe you have to be a donor, an elected official, or something like that.” When I asked her how much I had to donate to get into the VIP room she said “I believe at least $500.”
The fact that Beto does not take any PAC money, and that most of his money comes from small dollar donations, means absolutely nothing if he gives preferential treatment to the people who have donated a large amount of money to his campaign.
It also makes Beto look like a complete and total liar for telling me that he “doesn’t know who his donors are.” Beto spends more time with his large donors than he does with his small donors. Beto gives them “VIP Access.” Beto is not a celebrity. Beto is a public servant and a politician!
To be fair, Beto is not the only politician that does things like this. In fact, most high-profile politicians do this. However, Beto is making a point out of, and constantly emphasizing, that he does not take PAC money and that he is among only a handful of politicians to do so.
The entire point of a politician not taking PAC money is so that they are not beholden to the interests of wealthy donors. If a politician takes more time to talk to the people that have donated large amounts of money to their campaign it REALLY makes it look like they are going to be beholden to the interests of their more wealthy donors. No politician should be the main focus of an event where a voter has to spend a large amount of money to speak with them one on one.
Spending more time talking to wealthy donors is probably going to corrupt politicians without them even realizing it. If someone has donated a large amount of money to a politician’s campaign and the politician is aware of this fact, the large donor’s opinion is almost automatically going to matter to the politician more than the opinion of the average voter.