While there are many journalists who go about their duties without any provocation, on October 18, 2007 Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin faced a completely different experience. That was the day that not only caused a great amount of fear for their professional lives as journalists, but also as Americans for their freedom of speech. After being violently removed from their Phoenix homes, the two were handcuffed and arrested on the orders of then Sheriff Joe Arpaio which was carried out by the Selective Enforcement Unit.
Michael and Jim were transported to separate county jails- both jails were under the authority of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. It was at that time the two Village Voice Media executives began to understand the underlying intent of the order, and the reason for their undeniable illegal arrest. During the justified reporting by the Phoenix News Times of Sheriff Arpaio’s mishandling and mistreatment of immigrants within Arizona, the Sheriff became increasingly outraged by the newspaper. The newspaper uncovered rampant abuse, deaths of inmates, racial profiling, and the alleged unconstitutional detaining of Latino’s within Arizona; all under the direction of Arpaio. Additionally, the newspaper reported documented proof of financial irregularities and extensive mismanagement by the Sheriff’s office.
The arrest of Michael and Jim came at a time when the Phoenix News Times had just released a cover story outlining the details of how the Sheriff’s department, and its allies within the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, used intimidation tactics by issuing a grand jury subpoena requesting details about the newspaper’s reporters, editors and readers, even including the browsing history and IP addresses of readers. Rather than succumb to the illegal tactics, Michael and Jim stood by their freedom of speech rights and continued to write about the failings within the Sheriff’s department.
The Phoenix communities became outraged by the arrests of the two highly-respected journalists and within 24 hours they were both released from county jail and all charges were immediately dropped. Michael and Jim decided to fight the Maricopa County for their First Amendment rights. The case ultimately reached the Nineth Court of Appeals in 2012. Subsequently, the court determined that the actions taken by Maricopa County and Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office amounted to a “direct assault” on their First Amendment rights.
In 2013, Michael and Jim reached a settlement of $3.75 million with Maricopa County and used the funds to found the Lacey and Larkin Foundation.
Perhaps no one is more attuned to the exigencies of social justice than George Soros. Having lived through the holocaust and experienced firsthand the death of loved ones, he understands intimately the perils that systemic injustice imposes on the powerless. His lifelong interest in philosophy has given him a perspective seemingly unique among his elite peers. He’s come to view uplifting the underprivileged and forgotten not just as something he should do but as something he must do. This sense of civic obligation on opensocietyfoundations.org has driven his prolific philanthropy as much as his philosophy has informed it.
Recently Soros has grabbed attention by taking his fight for justice to its source – the district attorneys and judges who administer it. Through his foundations, he has spent over $3 million backing the campaigns of reform-minded prosecutors in local elections across the country. From a social advocacy standpoint this is a brilliant play because district attorney posts are often stepping stones to larger things, like judgeships and positions in the federal courts. District attorneys also wield the power to dismiss charges. This strategy of going after local DA’s has aroused the ire of his political opponents who view his “outside meddling” as unfair.
As mandatory minimum sentencing has revoked the latitude judges once exercised across the country in dolling out fair sentences, the discretion to bring or dismiss cases enjoyed by district attorneys has become perhaps the system’s most important safety valve. George Soros sees electing the right prosecutors as a way to remedy the notorious inequities of the drug war as well as a path towards easing the staggering over representation of certain minority groups in the US criminal justice system.
One of Soros’ donation vehicles, Florida Safety and Justice, infused the campaign of a female former prosecutor named Aramis Ayala with nearly all of its $1.4 million dollar budget. Most of that was spent on television ads. The ads focused on Ms. Ayala’s contention that her opponent, Jeff Ashton, had favored discriminatory policies which lead to higher incarceration rates for minorities. In the end the voters agreed with Ms. Ayala and elected her to be their prosecutor, ending incumbent’s reign after just one term.
Similarly in the town of Caddo Parish, Louisiana a Soros backed candidate named James Stewart defeated incumbent district attorney Dhu Thompson. Thompson was known for hard-line stances on law and order and some had contended his lop-sided prosecutorial record was itself evidence of discrimination. Once again the public sided with the Soros backed progressive candidate.
Despite being a widely recognized financial genius Soros himself may not be able to take sole credit for this newfound strategy of justice reform. Recently a group called the Women Donors Network released a study confirming that fully 95 percent of all prosecutors in the United States are white and 75 percent are male. It’s long been known that prosecutors, with their unique discretionary powers to instate or dismiss charges, operate at the very hub of the criminal justice wheel. They can act as a force multiplier with any implicit bias no matter how small being repeated every day and on every case across a career that may last decades. That can really add up.
Weather Soros has concocted this scheme on his own or is merely picking it up and running with it, it’s been a successful gambit thus far. Those in his cross hairs have been put on notice.
During the socialist reign of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela enjoyed the benefits of having the richest oil reserves in the world. The Chavez government was making more money than they could spend, but Chavez did his best to spend every dime and then some. Chavez died in 2013, and he passed his socialist ways to former truck driver and political newbie, Nicolás Maduro. Maduro didn’t know how to run a country, but he did know how to spend money and pocket some for his retirement.
When the price of crude oil began to drop in 2015, Maduro was faced with an enormous amount of overseas debt and shrinking oil exports. The cash cow that had given Maduro a get-out-of-economic-jail free card was expiring, and Maduro did what any inexperienced leader would do. He cut government programs and began enforcing policies that put companies out of business. Men like agricultural entrepreneur José Manuel González were faced with important decisions, and they had no help from the government.
But José Manuel González wasn’t like the other businessmen that stood by and let the Maduro policies ruin their lives. González decided to become politically involved and start the process of getting Maduro removed from office. Mr. González is the deputy of the National Assembly in his hometown of Guárico, and he has been an important player in the agricultural segment of Venezuelan’s economy. José predicted that Venezuela was going to face severe repercussions for the decisions that Maduro was making, and he was vocal about them. Maduro considered González part of the opposition, but José didn’t care. The people of Venezuela were suffering more than ever, and González believed the suffering was unnecessary.
The shortage of simple things like toilet paper and the closing of factories that had been in business for years infuriated González. He decided to take an active part in a referendum to remove Maduro from office. More than 400,000 people have signed a petition to start the referendum that could eventually remove Maduro as president. González thinks that referendum could succeed by the end of 2016.
Thor Halvorssen, the Venezuelan-born founder of the Human Rights Foundation, is not a big fan of socialism. If there was ever a country not to emulate when it comes to political and governmental policies, it is the socialist authoritarianism in Venezuela. Venezuela is a mess. The drop in oil prices has sent the country into a deep recession. The President of Venezuela has no clue how to manage a country, and social unrest is at its boiling point. Thor Halvorssen recently talked about socialism on a Fox News report, and he said Bernie Sanders Democratic socialism is not the same as the socialism that is in place in Venezuela.
Americans are scared of the word socialism. Socialism and communism have been the arch enemies of democracy for centuries. The issue is not the words or their meanings it is the translations of the words that cause the fear and panic. Countries like Sweden and Norway are socialist countries and they function better than the United States functions in terms of healthcare, social benefits, and yes, even freedom. The fact is, all capitalistic countries evolve into socialistic states in one way or another. Bernie Sanders is telling Americans that they need an element of socialism in the government in order for it to function effectively.
Even though Halvorssen is against socialism, he and his group are supporting Bernie Sanders. Halvorssen believes Clinton’s track record disqualifies her as a leader and many people think the same thing. Sanders, on the other hand, has an excellent political reputation, and he’s been able to deal with both political parties equally. In a sense, Sanders is an independent dressed like a Democrat. Bernie has given Americans a lot to think about. He may lose the race, but he has won the respect of millions of Americans for taking a stand against the establishment and promoting the rights of all Americans.
If Sanders wins the election, the United States will enter a new political and social phase, and it will change the face and the attitude of the nation. The nation needs a reboot and Sanders is offering a good one.
More information for Halvorssen: https://humanrightsfoundation.org