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  • The US Government Is Literally Arming the World, and Nobody's Even Talking About It

    This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

    When American firms dominate a global market worth more than $70 billion a year, you'd expect to hear about it. Not so with the global arms trade. It's good for one or two stories a year in the mainstream media, usually when the annual statistics on the state of the business come out.

    It's not that no one writes about aspects of the arms trade. There are occasional pieces that, for example, take note of the impact of US weapons transfers, including cluster bombs, to Saudi Arabia, or of the disastrous dispensation of weaponry to US allies in Syria, or of foreign sales of the costly, controversial F-35 combat aircraft. And once in a while, if a foreign leader meets with the president, US arms sales to his or her country might generate an article or two. But the sheer size of the American arms trade, the politics that drive it, the companies that profit from it, and its devastating global impacts are rarely discussed, much less analyzed in any depth.

    So here's a question that's puzzled me for years (and I'm something of an arms wonk): Why do other major US exports—from Hollywood movies to Midwestern grain shipments to Boeing airliners—garner regular coverage while trends in weapons exports remain in relative obscurity? Are we ashamed of standing essentially alone as the world's No. 1 arms dealer, or is our Weapons "R" Us role so commonplace that we take it for granted, like death or taxes?

    The numbers should stagger anyone. According to the latest figures available from the Congressional Research Service, the United States was credited with more than half the value of all global arms transfer agreements in 2014, the most recent year for which full statistics are available. At 14 percent, the world's second largest supplier, Russia, lagged far behind. Washington's leadership in this field has never truly been challenged. The US share has fluctuated between one-third and one-half of the global market for the past two decades, peaking at an almost monopolistic 70 percent of all weapons sold in 2011. And the gold rush continues. Vice Admiral Joe Rixey, who heads the Pentagon's arms sales agency, euphemistically known as the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, estimates that arms deals facilitated by the Pentagon topped $46 billion in 2015, and are on track to hit $40 billion in 2016.


    To be completely accurate, there is one group of people who pay remarkably close attention to these trends—executives of the defense contractors that are cashing in on this growth market. With the Pentagon and related agencies taking in "only" about $600 billion a year—high by historical standards but tens of billions of dollars less than hoped for by the defense industry—companies like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and General Dynamics have been looking to global markets as their major source of new revenue.

    In a January 2015 investor call, for example, Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson was asked whether the Iran nuclear deal brokered by the Obama administration and five other powers might reduce tensions in the Middle East, undermining the company's strategy of increasing its arms exports to the region. She responded that continuing "volatility" in both the Middle East and Asia would make them "growth areas" for the foreseeable future. In other words, no worries. As long as the world stays at war or on the verge of it, Lockheed Martin's profits won't suffer—and, of course, its products will help ensure that any such volatility will prove lethal indeed.

    Under Hewson, Lockheed has set a goal of getting at least 25 percent of its revenues from weapons exports, and Boeing has done that company one better. It's seeking to make overseas arms sales 30 percent of its business.

    Arms deals are a way of life in Washington. From the president on down, significant parts of the government are intent on ensuring that American arms will flood the global market and companies like Lockheed and Boeing will live the good life. From the president on his trips abroad to visit allied world leaders to the secretaries of state and defense to the staffs of US embassies, American officials regularly act as salespeople for the arms firms. And the Pentagon is their enabler. From brokering, facilitating, and literally banking the money from arms deals to transferring weapons to favored allies on the taxpayers' dime, it is in essence the world's largest arms dealer.

    In a typical sale, the US government is involved every step of the way. The Pentagon often does assessments of an allied nation's armed forces in order to tell them what they "need"—and of course what they always need is billions of dollars in new US-supplied equipment. Then the Pentagon helps negotiate the terms of the deal, notifies Congress of its details, and collects the funds from the foreign buyer, which it then gives to the US supplier in the form of a defense contract. In most deals, the Pentagon is also the point of contact for maintenance and spare parts for any US-supplied system. The bureaucracy that helps make all of this happen, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, is funded from a 3.5 percent surcharge on the deals it negotiates. This gives it all the more incentive to sell, sell, sell.

    And the pressure for yet more of the same is always intense, in part because the weapons makers are careful to spread their production facilities to as many states and localities as possible. In this way, they ensure that endless support for government promotion of major arms sales becomes part and parcel of domestic politics.

    General Dynamics, for instance, has managed to keep its tank plants in Ohio and Michigan running through a combination of add-ons to the Army budget—funds inserted into that budget by Congress even though the Pentagon didn't request them—and exports to Saudi Arabia. Boeing is banking on a proposed deal to sell 40 F-18s to Kuwait to keep its St. Louis production line open, and is currently jousting with the Obama administration to get it to move more quickly on the deal. Not surprisingly, members of Congress and local business leaders in such states become strong supporters of weapons exports.

    Though seldom thought of this way, the US political system is also a global arms distribution system of the first order. In this context, the Obama administration has proven itself a good friend to arms exporting firms. During President Obama's first six years in office, Washington entered into agreements to sell more than $190 billion in weaponry worldwide—more, that is, than any US administration since World War II. In addition, Team Obama has loosened restrictions on arms exports, making it possible to send abroad a whole new range of weapons and weapons components—including Black Hawk and Huey helicopters and engines for C-17 transport planes—with far less scrutiny than was previously required.

    This has been good news for the industry, which had been pressing for such changes for decades with little success. But the weaker regulations also make it potentially easier for arms smugglers and human rights abusers to get their hands on US arms. For example, 36 US allies—from Argentina and Bulgaria to Romania and Turkey—will no longer need licenses from the State Department to import weapons and weapons parts from the United States. This will make it far easier for smuggling networks to set up front companies in such countries and get US arms and arms components that they can then pass on to third parties like Iran or China. Already a common practice, it will only increase under the new regulations.

    The degree to which the Obama administration has been willing to bend over backward to help weapons exporters was underscored at a 2013 hearing on those administration export "reforms." Tom Kelly, then the deputy assistant secretary of the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, caught the spirit of the era when asked whether the administration was doing enough to promote American arms exports. He responded:

    "[We are] advocating on behalf of our companies and doing everything we can to make sure that these sales go through...and that is something we are doing every day, basically [on] every continent in the world...and we're constantly thinking of how we can do better."

    One place where, with a helping hand from the Obama administration and the Pentagon, the arms industry has been doing a lot better of late is the Middle East. Washington has brokered deals for more than $50 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia alone for everything from F-15 fighter aircraft and Apache attack helicopters to combat ships and missile defense systems.

    The most damaging deals, if not the most lucrative, have been the sales of bombs and missiles to the Saudis for their brutal war in Yemen, where thousands of civilians have been killed and millions of people are going hungry. Members of Congress like Michigan Representative John Conyers and Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy have pressed for legislation that would at least stem the flow of the most deadly of the weaponry being sent for use there, but they have yet to overcome the considerable clout of the Saudis in Washington (and, of course, that of the arms industry as well).

    When it comes to the arms business, however, there's no end to the good news from the Middle East. Take the administration's proposed new 10-year aid deal with Israel. If enacted as currently planned, it would boost US military assistance to that country by up to 25 percent—to roughly $4 billion per year. At the same time, it would phase out a provision that had allowed Israel to spend one-quarter of Washington's aid developing its own defense industry. In other words, all that money, the full $4 billion in taxpayer dollars, will now flow directly into the coffers of companies like Lockheed Martin, which is in the midst of completing a multibillion-dollar deal to sell the Israelis F-35s.

    As Lockheed Martin's Marillyn Hewson noted, however, the Middle East is hardly the only growth area for that firm or others like it. The dispute between China and its neighbors over the control of the South China Sea (in many ways an incipient conflict over whether that country or the United States will control that part of the Pacific Ocean) has opened up new vistas when it comes to the sale of American warships and other military equipment to Washington's East Asian allies. The recent Hague court decision rejecting Chinese claims to those waters (and the Chinese rejection of it) is only likely to increase the pace of arms buying in the region.

    At the same time, in the good-news-never-ends department, growing fears of North Korea's nuclear program have stoked a demand for US-supplied missile defense systems. The South Koreans have, in fact, just agreed to deploy Lockheed Martin's THAAD anti-missile system. In addition, the Obama administration's decision to end the longstanding embargo on US arms sales to Vietnam is likely to open yet another significant market for US firms. In the past two years alone, the US has offered more than $15 billion worth of weaponry to allies in East Asia, with Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea accounting for the bulk of the sales.

    In addition, the Obama administration has gone to great lengths to build a defense relationship with India, a development guaranteed to benefit US arms exporters. Last year, Washington and New Delhi signed a 10-year defense agreement that included pledges of future joint work on aircraft engines and aircraft carrier designs. In these years, the US has made significant inroads into the Indian arms market, which had traditionally been dominated by the Soviet Union and then Russia. Recent deals include a $5.8 billion sale of Boeing C-17 transport aircraft and a $1.4 billion agreement to provide support services related to a planned purchase of Apache attack helicopters.

    And don't forget "volatile" Europe. Great Britain's recent Brexit vote introduced an uncertainty factor into American arms exports to that country. The United Kingdom has been by far the biggest purchaser of US weapons in Europe of late, with more than $6 billion in deals struck over the past two years alone—more, that is, than the US has sold to all other European countries combined.

    The British defense behemoth BAE is Lockheed Martin's principal foreign partner on the F-35 combat aircraft, which at a projected cost of $1.4 trillion over its lifetime already qualifies as the most expensive weapons program in history. If Brexit-driven austerity were to lead to a delay in, or the cancellation of, the F-35 deal (or any other major weapons shipments), it would be a blow to American arms makers. But count on one thing: Were there to be even a hint that this might happen to the F-35, lobbyists for BAE will mobilize to get the deal privileged status, whatever other budget cuts may be in the works.

    On the bright side (if you happen to be a weapons maker), any British reductions will certainly be more than offset by opportunities in Eastern and Central Europe, where a new Cold War seems to be gaining traction. Between 2014 and 2015, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, military spending increased by 13 percent in the region in response to the Russian intervention in Ukraine. The rise in Poland's outlays, at 22 percent, was particularly steep.

    Under the circumstances, it should be obvious that trends in the global arms trade are a major news story and should be dealt with as such in the country most responsible for putting more weapons of a more powerful nature into the hands of those living in "volatile" regions. It's a monster business (in every sense of the word) and certainly has far more dangerous consequences than licensing a Hollywood blockbuster or selling another Boeing airliner.

    Historically, there have been rare occasions of public protest against unbridled arms trafficking, as with the backlash against "the merchants of death" after World War I, or the controversy over who armed Saddam Hussein that followed the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Even now, small numbers of congressional representatives, including John Conyers, Chris Murphy, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, continue to try to halt the sale of cluster munitions, bombs, and missiles to Saudi Arabia.

    There is, however, unlikely to be a genuine public debate about the value of the arms business and Washington's place in it if it isn't even considered a subject worthy of more than an occasional media story. In the meantime, the United States continues to hold onto its No. 1 role in the global arms trade, the White House does its part, the Pentagon greases the wheels, and the dollars roll in to profit-hungry weapons contractors.

    William D. Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and a senior advisor to the Security Assistance Monitor. He is the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. To receive the latest from, sign up here.


  • The Border Patrol Is in Chaos. Can Its New Chief Make a Difference?

    A new chief took over the US Border Patrol this month, and for the first time in 92 years, it isn't someone who rose through the ranks. Mark Morgan—a former FBI official who once specialized in intelligence and counterterrorism—has stepped in to lead the scandal-plagued group once described as "America's most out-of-control law enforcement agency."

    Predictably, Morgan's hiring has caused a stir among Border Patrol agents, who expected one of their own to take the helm. The Border Patrol union—which recently endorsed Donald Trump and has vocally opposed Obama's immigration actions—urged Morgan to remember that those who protect the border every day are "the real experts in border security." Joshua Wilson, a spokesman for the union's San Diego chapter, asked the Los Angeles Times, "How can someone who has never made an immigration arrest in his career expect to lead an agency whose primary duty is to make immigration arrests?"

    But Border Patrol critics have been pushing for a shakeup at the top for years. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the umbrella agency that encompasses the Border Patrol, is the largest law enforcement agency in the country with 44,000 armed officers, double the size of the FBI and larger than the New York Police Department. Since its rapid expansion in the wake of 9/11, critics have said that CBP's training and capacity to investigate employee misconduct hasn't kept up, leaving new recruits green and often unaccountable.

    Here are some of the biggest complaints about the Border Patrol in recent years:


    Reports of corrupt Border Patrol agents have led journalists and politicians to question whether officers are doing enough to secure the borderlands against illegal drugs and gang activity. In fact, CBP as a whole has long been plagued by allegations of corruption within its ranks. A recent investigation by the Texas Tribune and Reveal found that at least 134 officials have pleaded guilty or been convicted in the last 12 years on corruption charges, often for allowing drugs and undocumented immigrants to cross into the United States. Fifty-two of those were Border Patrol agents.

    For example, two brothers, both Border Patrol agents in San Diego, made more than $1 million smuggling 1,000-plus undocumented immigrants across the border, according to the Justice Department. Another agent in El Paso allegedly smuggled weapons, including high-powered pistols and flare guns, into the country with the help of his girlfriend. In Texas, yet another agent has been linked to a gruesome cartel-linked beheading. He now faces murder and organized crime charges. A CBP spokeswoman told Mother Jones that the agency plans to cooperate fully with that investigation. CBP also says that it does not tolerate corruption within its ranks and that the overwhelming majority of its officers and agents perform their duties with honor.


    Numerous reports have indicated that Border Patrol agents and other CBP employees often operate with impunity. The advocacy group American Immigration Council reported that more than 800 abuse complaints against CBP agents were filed between 2009 and 2012—and only 13 resulted in disciplinary action. In one case, a Border Patrol agent was accused of kicking a pregnant woman and causing her to miscarry. Another group of agents was accused of stripping an undocumented immigrant, leaving him naked in a cell, and calling him a "faggot" and a "homo." Yet another allegedly forced female immigrants into sex. A CBS News investigation also found that sexual misconduct within CBP is significantly higher than at other federal law enforcement agencies. And in 2012, Border Patrol agent Luis Hermosillo was sentenced to eight years in prison for kidnapping and sexually assaulting a Mexican tourist. (CBP has said that it has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual assault.)

    To make matters worse, the agency has also been notoriously slow in processing complaints. Among those cases that were closed, CBP took an average of 122 days to come to a decision. The rest were often in limbo for more than a year. After R. Gil Kerlikowske became CBP commissioner in 2014, he created a CBP Integrity Advisory panel to assess the agency's progress toward greater accountability. However, as recently as this March, the panel described the agency's internal affairs team as "woefully understaffed" and its disciplinary system as "broken." The panel recommended that CBP add 350 criminal investigators to look into employee misconduct. (The agency has made room in next year's budget request for 30 new investigators and is seeking $5 million for cameras, including body cameras.)

    Interestingly enough, Morgan has experience overseeing such internal probes: In 2014, he served as acting assistant commissioner for internal affairs at CBP, during which he launched an investigative unit dedicated to criminal and serious misconduct.

    High-Profile Deaths

    More than 50 people have died during altercations with CBP agents since 2010, including at least 19 US citizens. Several of those incidents involving the Border Patrol have gained nationwide attention. In 2011, Jesús Alfredo Yañez Reyes was shot in the head after allegedly throwing rocks and a nail-studded board at Border Patrol agents attempting to take his companion into custody. The next year, a Mexican teenager named José Antonio Elena Rodríguez was walking along a street near his hometown when an agent on the other side of the border opened fire, killing Rodríguez. Another cross-border shooting case, in which unarmed teenager Sergio Adrian Hernandez Güereca was shot near El Paso, is currently being considered by the Supreme Court.

    In 2013, the Police Executive Research Forum, a policy and research group focused on law enforcement agencies, issued a report criticizing CBP agents' practice of shooting rock-throwers and vehicles that don't pose an immediate threat to agents' lives. The report noted that in some fatal incidents, the shots appeared to have been taken "out of frustration." The agency eventually changed its use of force policy, but its initial response was to challenge the recommendations and suppress the report for weeks.

    Since then, CBP has announced that its agents have been using force less frequently. The agency says on its website that last year, use-of-force incidents fell by roughly 26 percent. The American Civil Liberties Union, however, reports that the number of people hurt or killed during encounters with CBP agents actually increased during that same time period.

  • Trump Backs his Supporters' "Lock Her Up" Chant

    After a bipartisan assault on Donald Trump at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday, from people ranging from leading Democrats such as Hillary Clinton to lifelong Republicans to ordinary citizens, Trump fired back during his first general election rally in Colorado on Friday afternoon.

    The liveliest moment occurred when Trump supporters in Colorado Springs launched into a round of the "Lock Her Up!" chant aimed at Hillary Clinton.  The chant was a nightly fixture at last week's Republican convention, but Trump rejected it at the time. "I said, 'Don't do that,'" he told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday. "I really—I didn't like it." Today he told his supporters, "I'm starting to agree with you."

    His remarks in Colorado weren't Trump's first rebuttal to Thursday night's roast at the DNC. Though Clinton taunted Trump for his short fuse on social media—"A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons," she said during her acceptance speech—the GOP nominee didn't hesitate to unleash a series of Twitter attacks on Friday against Clinton and other speakers. Trump claimed that Gen. John Allen, the former Marine Corps commandant who savaged him during a fiery endorsement speech for Clinton on Thursday, "failed badly in his fight against ISIS." He also took aim at former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who endorsed Clinton on Wednesday and mocked Trump as a con artist.

    This afternoon, Trump stuck to his familiar attacks and went on several long tangents. He started the rally by complaining the fire marshall permitted too few people into the venue. "Probably a Democrat," he said.  

  • Clinton Emphasizes Racial Justice, But Some Black Activists Are Unconvinced

    As she accepted the Democratic nomination on Thursday night, Hillary Clinton asked her audience to "put ourselves in the shoes of young black and Latino men and women who face the effects of systemic racism and are made to feel like their lives are disposable." Coming one week after the harsh "law and order" tone struck by her opponent, Clinton's statement was a powerful acknowledgement by a presidential candidate of the unfairness of the justice system for some minorities.

    For the racial justice activists outside the Wells Fargo Arena, the feeling was different. On Tuesday, as the Black DNC Resistance March worked its way through Philadelphia, protesters chanted, "Stop killing black people," and carried signs that said, "Hillary, Delete Yourself" and "Hillary, you're not welcome here." Hawk Newsome, an activist participating in the march, told USA Today, "Hillary Clinton has had a perfect opportunity in the last two or three weeks to say, 'Hey, black lives matter to me, and here is my platform.' She's done nothing more than make some vague statements and tweets."

    Clinton's racial justice platform has been a source of frustration for Black Lives Matter activists. During the Democratic primary, protesters called for the candidate to explain how she would help black communities. Clinton responded that activists needed to clearly define what they were asking for. "I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate," she told a group of Black Lives Matter activists during a meeting last August. In October, Clinton met with activists from Campaign Zero, which had created a list of proposals for police reform, and she said her platform would take their concerns into account. The resulting platform did include some items on the activists' wish list, such as the creation of a national standard for officers' use of force and support for alternatives to incarceration, but it did not endorse Campaign Zero's request to empower communities to hold officers accountable.

    "One of the things Hillary said to us is she talked about the importance of communities being involved," DeRay McKesson, a prominent activist and one of the Campaign Zero members at the meeting with Clinton, told BuzzFeed. "And we said, 'Well, we don’t see that in your platform.' Where are you giving communities any oversight or any authority?"

    McKesson joined other leading figures in the Black Lives Matter movement in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention, but the activists have resisted openly supporting the party's nominee. In June, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza told Elle magazine that although she would probably cast her vote for Clinton in November, she would "absolutely not" endorse her publicly, citing the former first lady's public support of the 1994 crime bill and the tough-on-crime policies it instituted.

    Garza's lack of enthusiasm for Clinton is not uncommon among younger black voters. When Clinton campaigned during the South Carolina primary,  she relied heavily on the Mothers of the Movement, a group of black mothers who have lost their children to gun and police violence, in an effort to shore up her support in black communities. But Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner, who died at the hands of New York police in July 2014, became a prominent surrogate for the Bernie Sanders campaign. Other activists, including Garza, said they had voted for Sanders during the Democratic primary. During the convention week, Sanders supporters and racial justice activists collaborated on protests. "She's not performing where Obama was in 2012 with African American voters primarily because of younger blacks," one pollster told BuzzFeed. "There is no progressive majority without this key component of the Obama coalition."

    Clinton has struggled to win over black activists, but she has also faced criticism when she embraces their message. When the list of speakers for the Democratic National Convention was first announced, police unions complained that widows of officers killed in recent police shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had been left off the program, arguing that they should have been included alongside mothers of black victims of police and gun violence. On Thursday, family members of slain police officers addressed the convention, in a segment that had not been listed on the convention schedule until the day of their appearance.

    As the campaign has progressed, Clinton has increasingly invoked the message of Black Lives Matter, most notably in her acceptance speech on Thursday. So far, however, her words of support haven't been enough to win over many of the movement's activists.

  • Clinton's VP Pick Just Made Pro-Choice Groups Mad

    Earlier this week, the 2016 Democratic platform committed to securing public funding for abortion by calling for the repeal of the Hyde and Helms amendments. The Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal Medicaid money to pay for the procedure for low-income women, and the Helms Amendment bans the use of US foreign aid to help women abroad obtain abortions.

    But on Friday, Hillary Clinton's vice presidential nominee, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), broke from both Clinton and the party when he said in an interview on CNN that he still supports the Hyde Amendment. "I have been for the Hyde Amendment," said Kaine, a lifelong Catholic, repeating several times, "I haven't changed my position on that." Kaine is only repeating what he told the Weekly Standard earlier this month, when the Democratic Party first released its draft platform. "I haven't been informed of that change, but I'm going to check it out," Kaine said. "I've traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde Amendment, but I'll check it out."

    Kaine has a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood and has long said he doesn't personally believe in abortion but supports it as a legal right. Still, he has had a mixed record on the issue during his political career. As governor of Virginia from 2006 to 2010, Kaine supported a partial-birth abortion ban, as well as a parental notification measure. NARAL refused to support his gubernatorial bid, and in 2009 Kaine signed a bill that created "Choose Life" license plates whose proceeds are funneled to anti-abortion groups.

    But as Clinton's VP vetting process this year ramped up, Kaine appeared to be more outspoken in his support of abortion rights, presumably to further align himself with the direction of the party. He issued an approving statement on the Supreme Court's June decision to invalidate two Texas abortion restrictions. "I applaud the Supreme Court for seeing the Texas law for what it is—an attempt to effectively ban abortion and undermine a woman’s right to make her own health care choices," he wrote. And later in June, the Huffington Post pointed out that Kaine had suddenly signed on as a co-sponsor to the Women's Health Protection Act—a bill that would ban states from passing medically unneccesary restrictions on abortion that has been slowly moving through Congress for three years with dozens of sponsors.

    Earlier this week, Kaine was reported to have changed his position on the Hyde Amendment: Bloomberg News reported that spokespeople for both Clinton's campaign and Kaine had told the outlet that Kaine had said privately that he would support the Hyde repeal. His interview on CNN Friday rolled back those statements, creating a rift between Kaine and the party that pro-choice advocates thought had been resolved. "In this campaign, Hillary Clinton has broken new ground with her frank talk about the damaging effect of denying poor women basic reproductive healthcare," wrote NARAL President Ilyse Hogue in a statement released Friday afternoon. "This is why Senator Kaine's statement earlier today that he opposes repealing the discriminatory Hyde amendment was deeply disappointing."

    The Hyde Amendment is popular among more conservative voters in both parties, so Kaine's support of it could be a selling point to those who are wary of Trump but feel Clinton has gone too far left on abortion. At a Democrats for Life event in Philadelphia this week, the group's leader, Kristen Day, expressed frustration over the platform's anti-Hyde-amendment provision, saying that Clinton appears to no longer believe that abortions should be "safe, legal, and rare"—a phrase from the nominee's unsuccessful 2008 campaign. Anti-abortion groups like the Susan B. Anthony List viewed the support of public financing for abortion as the Democratic Party's abandonment of compromise across the political divide. "There is no hiding the fact now that Hillary Clinton's Democratic Party is the party of abortion-on-demand, paid for by us—the taxpayers," wrote Susan B. Anthony President Marjorie Dannenfelser in an email to subscribers on Wednesday.

    In a statement issued on Friday responding to Kaine's support for the Hyde Amendment, Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards said her group "will redouble efforts to educate Senator Kaine on the dangerous impact Hyde has on women with public insurance coverage."

    She added, "While we strongly disagree with Senator Kaine on this point, there are many places where we do agree. He has been an outspoken advocate for access to reproductive health care and stands in stark contrast to Mike Pence and Donald Trump, whose nightmarish commitments include ending access to care at Planned Parenthood health centers, punishing women for having abortions, and appointing Supreme Court judges to overturn the right to safe, legal abortion."

  • Chelsea Manning Could Face Solitary Confinement for Her Suicide Attempt

    It has been a terrible month for Chelsea Manning, the transgender former US soldier serving a 35-year prison sentence for sharing classified information with WikiLeaks. Several weeks ago, the Army whistleblower tried to kill herself at Fort Leavenworth military prison, and on Thursday military officials announced that they were considering filing charges in connection with the suicide attempt.

    "Now, while Chelsea is suffering the darkest depression she has experienced since her arrest, the government is taking actions to punish her for that pain," Chase Strangio, one of Manning's lawyers from the ACLU, said in a statement. "It is unconscionable and we hope that the investigation is immediately ended and that she is given the health care that she needs to recover."

    News of Manning's suicide attempt was leaked to the media by a US official, while an unnamed source told celebrity news site TMZ that Manning had tried to hang herself. She was hospitalized in the early hours of July 5. After the incident, Stangio reported that Manning had experienced "past episodes of suicidal ideation in connection to her arrest and the denial of treatment related to gender dysphoria." In 2015, the Army approved her request for hormone therapy after she sued the federal government for access to the medical treatment, but Strangio told Mother Jones that she continues "a challenge in court over the enforcement of male hair length and grooming standards."

    If convicted of the suicide-related charges, "Chelsea could face punishment including indefinite solitary confinement, reclassification into maximum security, and an additional nine years in medium custody," the ACLU said in its statement, noting that Manning could lose her change of parole. 

    It wouldn't be the first time Manning has been held in isolation. After she was first taken into custody in 2010, she spent nearly a year in solitary confinement. Following a 14-month investigation into Manning's treatment—which included being held in solitary for 23 hours a day and being forced to strip naked every night—the UN special rapporteur on torture accused the US government of holding her in "cruel, inhuman, and degrading" conditions. There is a growing push in the United States to end or limit the use of solitary, since long stints in isolation have been shown to lead to disorientation, hallucinations, and panic attacks. Inmates in solitary are also more likely to engage in self-mutilation or to commit suicide.

    Asked about the new investigation into the suicide-related charges, US Army spokesman Wayne V. Hall said he was looking into the matter but could not immediately comment.

  • Here?s a Cure for America's Latest Zika Panic

    Health officials have reported that four cases of Zika in Florida were likely spread from person to person by domestic mosquitoes. This is the moment Democratic politicians—and a few southern Republicans—have been warning about. The finding is bound to create a lot more scary rhetoric and dire headlines.

    But here's the thing: There's no need to freak out—not yet, at least.

    We knew this was going to happen. Back in May, I spoke with Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who is leading US efforts to create a Zika vaccine. Here's what he said:

    It is likely that we will have restricted local transmission—small local outbreaks? My call would be that we will. Because we've had dengue and chikungunya, which are in the same regions of South and Central America and the Caribbean, and are transmitted by exactly the same mosquito. Historically we've had small local outbreaks of dengue in Florida and Texas, and a small local outbreak of chikungunya in Florida, which makes me conclude that sooner or later, we have going to have small local outbreaks of Zika—whether that's five cases or 30—likely along the Gulf Coast.

    This is exactly what we're seeing. And why is this not a huge problem? Because we're almost certainly not going to let it become one. Just as Fauci predicted, this likely outbreak—scientists haven't actually found any infected mosquitoes yet—is highly isolated. According to the New York Times, the suspected "area of active transmission is limited to a one-square-mile area" near downtown Miami.

    Aedes aegypti, the most likely culprit, is what University of California-Davis geneticist Greg Lanzaro calls a "lazy mosquito." It doesn't fly far. In its entire lifespan of two to three weeks, it might travel a few hundred meters, another expert told me. So it's not coming for you. The mosquitoes that picked up the virus may be limited in to one small neighborhood.

    Here's what happens when we have such an outbreak: Mosquito-control workers and public health officials swarm all over it. Aegypti is an elusive little bugger, but you can bet that within that one square mile, eradication specialists and epidemiologists will be going house to house until they get to the bottom of this, figure out where the aegypti are breeding, and wipe them out.

    Compared with, say, Puerto Ricans, Americans are also protected by our lifestyle. People in the Deep South tend to have air conditioning and screens on their windows. We also don't usually store drinking water in open containers, as families often do in the tropics. We spend more time indoors, out of the heat. And all of this helps minimize contact with the mosquitoes. Consider that before Zika became a problem, as Fauci mentioned, we also had periodic outbreaks of dengue and Chikungunya, spread by the same mosquito. As I pointed out previously:

    When was the last time you worried about Chikungunya or dengue—or malaria, for that matter? Those diseases are far scarier than Zika. WHO estimates (conservatively) that malaria infected at least 214 million people last year and killed 438,000, mostly children under five. Then there's dengue, named from the Swahili phrase ki denga pepo ("a sudden overtaking by a spirit")—which tells you something about how painful it is. Each year, dengue, also called "breakbone fever," infects 50-100 million people, sickens about 70 percent of them—half a million very severely—and kills tens of thousands. Brazil, in addition to its Zika problem, is experiencing a record dengue epidemic. Health authorities there tallied 1.6 million cases and 863 deaths last year—and the 2016 toll is on track to be worse. Zika is seldom fatal.

    This doesn't mean we should ignore the latest news, of course. If you're pregnant, especially in southern Florida, you're probably already taking precautions to avoid mosquito bites, like using repellents and eliminating any standing water on your property. FDA officials are asking people in Miami-Dade and Broward counties to refrain from giving blood until we know what's going on. But most Americans, even most southerners, have little reason to freak out.

    Only one of the six scientists I interviewed was concerned that Zika might take off in the continental United States. "You would never see Zika virus, Chikungunya virus, or dengue virus sweep across the country the way West Nile did, even in the regions where these mosquitoes are," UC-Davis epidemiologist Chris Barker told me. "Because that's just not how it works in our country."

  • Voting Rights Advocates Score a Huge Win in North Carolina

    A federal appeals court struck down a restrictive voting law in North Carolina on Friday, ruling that the state legislature acted with the intent to limit African American voting in enacting the measure. The law, which took effect in March, contained provisions that created new ID requirements, eliminated same-day voter registration, reduced early voting by a week, blocked a law that allowed 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote, and prevented ballots cast in the wrong precincts from being counted.

    The law, originally passed in 2013 after the US Supreme Court gutted a key section of the Voting Rights Act, was immediately challenged by a lawsuit but was upheld at the district court level in April. Friday's decision reverses the lower court's ruling.

    "In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees," wrote Judge Diana Gribbon Motz for the unanimous three-judge panel. "This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina."

    The court's decision notes that North Carolina's law was initiated by state Republicans the day after the Supreme Court gutted a key portion of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. That decision, Shelby v. Holder, ruled that the mechanism used to determine which states needed pre-clearance for voting law changes due to a history of racial discrimination was outdated. This ruling cleared the way for states like North Carolina—which previously had to have all voting law and procedural changes reviewed by the US Department of Justice or a federal judge—to enact any voting changes they wished.

    Marc Elias, one of the lawyers who fought the law on behalf of a group of younger voters in North Carolina, told Mother Jones Friday that the decision represented a strong rebuke of race-based voting legislation.

    "The Fourth Circuit decision is a milestone in the protection of voting rights," Elias said. "It is a great day for the citizens of North Carolina and those who care about voting rights. Significantly, the court put down an important marker against discrimination in voting when it wrote, 'We recognize that elections have consequences, but winning an election does not empower anyone in any party to engage in purposeful racial discrimination.'"

    Rick Hasen, a national expert on election law, wrote Friday that the decision reversed "the largest collection of voting rollbacks contained in a single law that I could find since the 1965 passage of the Voting Rights Act." Hasen noted that this was the third major voting rights victory of the past two weeks. On July 19, a federal court weakened Wisconsin's strict voter ID law; the next day, a panel of federal judges ruled that Texas' strict voter ID law violated federal law.

    The state of North Carolina could now seek to have the case reheard before the entire Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, or it could appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

  • Donald Trump Faults GOP for Poor Convention Ratings

    Donald Trump is suddenly distancing himself from last week's Republican National Convention, after television ratings show that the Democratic National Convention consistently pulled in more viewers across the country for three consecutive nights.

    "I didn't produce our show," Trump told the New York Times. "I just showed up for the final speech."

    While the ratings for the fourth night have yet to be announced, Trump did appear anxious that Hillary Clinton's final convention night on Thursday would top his own. Earlier that morning, the Republican nominee sent a campaign letter to his supporters urging them not to tune in.

    According to CNN, the DNC's biggest night was Monday, when it racked up 26 million viewers. Trump's Monday night attracted 23 million.

    The ratings loss is likely to be a particularly sensitive topic for Trump. The reality star has long boasted of being a ratings bonanza, with viewers flocking to witness his unpredictable, inflammatory performances throughout the primary debate season. Trump's presence in the debates created record-breaking numbers for television networks.

    In Cleveland, however, Trump failed to secure the kind of star-studded event he promised would take place at the convention. While his convention's roster included Scott Baio, Antonio Sabato Jr., and Kid Rock, the Democratic convention blew away the competition with Meryl Streep, Paul Simon, and Alicia Keys.

  • The Democrats? Hacking Problems Just Got Worse

    The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been hacked.

    "The DCCC can confirm that we have been the target of a cybersecurity incident," DCCC National Press Secretary Meredith Kelly said in a statement posted by Reuters' Dustin Volz. Kelly said the DCCC has engaged CrowdStrike, the same firm brought in to investigate the Democratic National Committee hack first revealed in June, to deal with the incident. "Based on the information we have to date, we've been advised by investigators that this is similar to other recent incidents, including the DNC breach," said Kelly.

    The DCCC is party's fundraising and campaign arm for Democratic House incumbents and candidates. Reuters first reported Thursday night that the DCCC had been hacked in order to get information about donors, or perhaps to redirect donations intended for the DCCC to a phony website. Reuters' sources said there's evidence to suggest that the attacks were associated with Russian-based computers. A Kremlin spokesperson told the news service that Russia wasn't involved: "We don't see the point any more in repeating yet again that this is silliness."

    The revelations about the DCCC come a week after Wikileaks posted nearly 20,000 hacked DNC documents, emails, and other files and revealed, among other things, that some DNC officials had discussed ways to harm Bernie Sanders' campaign for president. Released the day after the Republican convention in Cleveland, the revelations disrupted the beginning of the Democratic convention and forced the resignation of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. The DNC announced June 14 that it had been hacked over the course of a year and that its  security research firm believed Russian hackers were responsible. In the ensuing weeks, other cybersecurity researchers and anonymous US government officials have blamed Russian hackers working with or for the Russian government for the intrusion. Some of these officials have suggested that Russia is attempting to influence the 2016 presidential election.

    James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, said Thursday that the US government doesn't "know enough [yet] to…ascribe a motivation [for the hack] regardless of who it may have been." He told an audience at the Aspen Security forum in Colorado that it was probably the work of one of "the usual suspects." But he also said that he's "taken aback a bit by…the hyperventilation" over the DNC hack.

    "I'm shocked somebody did some hacking," he told the crowd sarcastically. "That's never happened before."