Nel's New Day

July 31, 2013

Jail, Threats, Fraud, Cookies, and More

Some news you might not see in mainstream media:

The Wall Street Journal’s announcement that the game Monopoly was doing away with its jail sentence, making the game look way too much like reality, created a great deal of hoop-la. Even John Oliver, Jon Stewart’s summer sub on The Daily Show, got into the excitement. It seems, however, that WSJ was wrong. Jail, at least in Monopoly, is here to stay. Wonder what else Rupert Murdoch’s WSJ is wrong about.

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Putting a picture of Jane Austen on the Bank of England bank note also caused great interest, especially for the people who sent rape and death threats to the major campaigner for using Austen’s picture. British people caught two of them, one a 21-year-old man who sent a about 50 abusive tweets every hour for 12 hours to Caroline Criado-Perez after she successfully lobbied for replacing Charles Darwin on the ten-pound note starting in 2017.

It wasn’t enough for these men that the picture of World War II prime minister Winston Churchill will replace the face of 19th-century social reformer Elizabeth Fry on the five-pound note beginning in 2016. Without the addition of Jane Austen, the only woman on Britain’s money would be Queen Elizabeth II, whose face is on every British coin and banknote.

A Twitter representative, Mark Luckie, waited four days to talk with her about the abuse, temporarily blocking her attempted communication with him. Publicity connected the past seven days of threats and abuse has required police and politicians to take notice of the abuse toward Criado-Perez and Labor MP Stella Creasy, who came out in Criado-Perez’s support.

If you’re still smoking, you might be interested in knowing that cigarette companies have switched to clay in their filters, the same substance used in kitty litter. A dozen tobacco companies have avoided as much as $1.1 billion in taxes by making their cigarettes heavier with this filler filler, exempting their product from a 2,653 percent increase in federal excise tax  on non-”large cigar” tobacco products. Taxes for a rolled tobacco product weighing at least three pounds per 1,000 increased only 155 percent. Treasury Department spokesman Thomas Hogue said, “If you meet the definition of a large cigar, then you’re a large cigar.” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) recently introduced legislation to equalize the tax structure that could make $3.6 billion in new taxes over 10 years.

Changing from kitty litter cigarettes to electronic ones won’t make people safer. Sales are rising for these alternatives, but no one knows the health problem because they aren’t regulated. The primary byproduct of electronic cigarettes is definitely not a “harmless water vapor,” as manufacturers claim.  In Scientific American, Stanton Glantz noted that the smoker inhales a collection of dangerous substances including acetaldehyde, nickel and cadmium. With every puff, both smokers and the people near them inhale formaldehyde, toluene, and nicotine.

The FDA tried to ban imports of electronic cigarettes from China by declaring them “unapproved drug/device combination products” but lost in court. Manufacturers maintain that these are healthy alternatives to cigarettes in the same way that tobacco companies used to swear that cigarettes were also “healthy.”

China also wants to buy Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, the world’s biggest pork processor and hog producer. Shuanghui International is willing to pay $4.7 billion. In 2011, it was discovered that some Shuanghui products contained a hazardous and banned chemical used to make meat leaner. Smithfield president Larry Pope said that there wouldn’t be any problems, and it would bring more jobs to the United States. Other food safety issues in China have included rat meat passed off as pork and thousands of pig carcasses floating on a river. Smithfield already uses an additive, banned in China and Russia, to bulk up animals with muscle instead of far, without increasing the amount of feed.

People have known for decades about the dangers of lead in paint, but Sherman-Williams is being sued because it knew over a century ago that the company knowingly poisoned people. Ten California cities and counties are seeking $1 billion from the company to strip the leaded paint that remains on millions of residences throughout the state. The United States banned lead paint for residential use in 1978, several decades after other countries forbade its use. Once thought to be more dangerous for children, new research finds that lead effects for adults may be worse, causing dangers from increased blood pressure and stroke.

Pepsi may also be in trouble after it was discovered that the caramel coloring in drinks contains high levels of a probable carcinogen. Both Pepsi and Coca-Cola were told to adjust their formulas to avoid a cancer warning label in California. Coke products no longer tested positive in May for the chemical, but Pepsi products outside California still contain it. Pepsi said that the chemical won’t be removed from its drinks until February 2014 but gave no timeline for world-wide distribution. FDA said that a person would have to drink 1,000 cans of soda a day to reach the doses used in rodents to cause cancer, but California has still added 4-Mel to its list of carcinogens.

Detroit is so broke that it’s threatening to sell all its art in the museums and not pay contract pensions. No schools, no roads, no utilities, no services. But it is spending almost one-half billion dollars on a new hockey arena. That’s what you get with an “emergency financial manager” appointed by the Republican governor.

North Carolina

North Carolina has finished its hate-filled legislation, and Gov. Pat McCrory has duly signed all the hateful bills, but publicity about them hasn’t ended. The latest story started with a small group of women going to McCrory’s mansion to protest the most recent anti-abortion bill  that he had promised not to sign—and then did. at McCrory’s mansion.  Various French princesses have been credited with the statement, “Let them eat cake,” when referring to peasants suffering from famine. McCrory changed the term “cake” to “cookies” when he delivered a plate of chocolate-chip cookies to the protesters. Four security guards stopped traffic in the street, and McCrory walked to the middle and pointed at one of the women. She walked up to him, and he handed the plate of cookies, saying, “These are for you. God bless you, God bless you, God bless you.”

McCrory wouldn’t talk to the protesters; he just handed over the plate after he lied to them and took away their constitutional right to choose reproductive health care. The crowd responded by chanting, ”Hey Pat, that was rude. You wouldn’t give cookies to a dude.” McCrory said that the critics exaggerated the impact of the law that closes 15 out of 16 clinics that provide abortion and bars state residents from paying for the coverage through state health exchanges. [Photo by Corey Lowenstein @ News Observer]

Cookies…-no-thanks

Cumulus Media, the second-largest owner and operator of AM and FM radio stations in America, will not be renewing its contracts with both Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on its 40 channels that have hundreds of radio stations. Although they may have already signed with rival syndicate WOR, the future of right-wing radio may be in jeopardy. The majority of its listeners, primarily white, are disappearing because most of its older demographic. Limbaugh blamed the ad buyers, saying that they are Limbaugh recently acknowledged difficulty selling ads, complaining ad buyers are “are young women fresh out of college, liberal feminists who hate conservatism.” For months, Cumulus has been telling investors that Limbaugh is costing the company millions of dollars in lost advertizing.

If your electricity bills going up, it might be because of banks rigging the market. This week, the Federal Regulatory Commission fined JP Morgan Chase $410 million fine, following a penalty of almost $500 million against the British bank Barclay two weeks ago. JP Morgan agreed to pay a civil penalty of $285 million and return $125 million in wrongful profits without either admitting or denying its guilt in using energy traders to fix prices. The situation isn’t unique: financial markets are controlling market forces in oil, currency exchanges, and hard commodities from precious metals to aluminum. Industry deregulation in the 1990s permitted banks to directly deal in physical commodity markets instead of being limited to financial products based on commodity prices.

July 30, 2013

Manning’s Sentence: What People in the U.S. Value

A military judge at Fort Meade (MD) found Army PFC Bradley Manning, 25, not guilty of aiding the enemy but guilty of 20 other counts, including five espionage charges under the 1917 Espionage Act. The judgment against him for providing documents to WikiLeaks could give him a jail term of up to 136 years.  Free speech organization Index on Censorship condemned the guilty verdicts.

“Manning is a whistleblower who leaked files in order to inform the world about what really happened during the Iraq War to no personal gain. The US government should abide by its duty to protect whistleblowers who speak out in the public interest.”

Today is the same day that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) wants declared as National Whistleblower Day in honor of the first whistleblower law passed on July 30, 1778—235 years ago. Grassley believes in prosecuting people from the United States who may violate the law in order to tell the truth, but the senator helped create a law to protect a Swiss security guard who revealed private documents from a Swiss mega-bank,

The first whistleblower protection act stated that it was the “duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other the inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by an officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.”

It was passed unanimously in response to a whistleblower, Marine Captain John Grannis, who presented a petition to the Continental Congress on March 26, 1777, to have a commander of the Continental Navy, Commodore Esek Hopkins, suspended after he tortured captured British sailors. After Hopkins retaliated against Grannis and two others, Midshipman Samuel Shaw and Third Lieutenant Richard Marven, Marven and Shaw petitioned the Continental Congress. They claimed that they had been arrested because they had done “what they then believed and still believe was nothing but their duty.” The Continental Congress not only agreed with the two men but also decreed that the United States pay for the defense of the two men.

If Manning had gone to Congress with his information, he would have lost his security clearance for trying to give testimony that included evidence of torture and other war crimes. Congress would have buried his information the way that they have done to other illegal actions the government has committed.

Manning’s “leaks” included:

  • The “Afghan War Logs” showed an assassination squad, Task Force 373, and its mission on June 17, 2007, staking out a Koran where a “prominent al Qaeda functionary” might be located. The squad killed seven children with five U.S. rockets but not the al Qaeda member.
  • The “Iraq War Logs” revealed an order, Frago 242, in which the U.S. military arranged to have Iraqi military or security forces to torture prisoners but not take responsibility because U.S. service members did not actively participate.
  • U.S. interrogators threatened Iraqi detainees with being turned over to the “Wolf Brigade” or “Wolf Battalion” which would “subject” them “to all the pain and agony that the Wolf Battalion is known to exact upon its detainees.”
  • Over 250,000 US diplomatic cables revealed U.S. diplomats spying on United Nations leadership, the Yemen president agreed to secretly allow U.S. cruise missile attacks that he would say were launched by his government, U.S. and China cooperating to obstruct a major agreement on climate change by European countries, the FBI training torturers in Egypt’s state security service, both the administrations of President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama pressuring Spain and Germany not to investigate torture authorized by Bush administration officials, and foreign contractors managed by DynCorp hiring Afghan boys to dress up as girls and dance for them.
  • Over 700 detainee assessment reports on prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay showed imprisonment of children and elderly men were imprisoned.

Manning pled guilty to some offenses before trial. If prosecutors had accepted the plea instead of trying to convict him of “aiding the enemy,” he would have been in prison for 20 years. Prosecutors also tried to convince the judge that Manning could be judged guilty even if he had no intent to provide any aid. Manning’s civilian defense attorney, David Coombs, argued, “No case has ever been prosecuted under this type of theory, that an individual by the nature of giving information to a journalistic organization would then” be charged with “aiding the enemy.”

Basically, the prosecution wanted a death sentence for giving information to the press as a method of stopping any whistleblowers.

Thus far, seven others have been charged under the Espionage Act during President Obama’s administration. Before 2010, only 3 previous leakers had ever been saddled with charges under the 1917 Espionage Act. The law was created during World War I to stop any dissent against the war. Stephen Kim, a former State Department employee, was charged with violating the Espionage Act after he allegedly told Fox News reporter James Rosen that North Korea might test a nuclear bomb.. The judge declared that prosecutors didn’t have to prove that the information could be damaging to the U.S. or “advantage a foreign nation,” turning the law into an anti-leaks law without any Congressional action.

Manning’s sentence will tell the people of the world of the U.S. military’s response to different crimes. These are some other military sentences:

  • Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the senior military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib and the senior officer present the night of the murder of Iraqi prisoner Manadel al-Jamadi, received no jail time. He was reprimanded and fined $8,000.
  • Sgt. Sabrina Harman, seen giving a thumbs-up next to al-Jamadi’s body and photographed smiling next to naked, hooded Iraqis stacked on each other in Abu Ghraib, was sentenced to six months for maltreating detainees.
  • Spec. Armin Cruz was sentenced to eight months for abusing Iraqis at Abu Ghraib and covering up the abuse.
  • Spc. Steven Ribordy was sentenced to eight months for being accessory to the murder of four Iraqi prisoners who were “bound, blindfolded, shot and dumped in a canal” in Baghdad in 2007.
  • Spc. Belmor Ramos was sentenced to seven months for conspiracy to commit murder in the same case.
  • Sgt. Michael Leahy Jr. was sentenced to life in prison for committing the four Baghdad murders. The military then granted him clemency and reduced his sentence to 20 years, with parole possible after seven.
  • Marine Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich received no jail time for negligent dereliction in the massacre of 24 unarmed men, women and children in 2005 in the Iraqi town of Haditha. Seven other members of his battalion were charged, but none was punished.
  • Marine Lance Cpl. Jerry Shumate and Lance Cpl. Tyler Jackson were both sentenced to 21 months for the aggravated assault of Hashim Ibrahim Awad, 52, a father of 11 and grandfather of four, in Al Hamdania in 2006. Awad died after being shot during the assault. Their sentences were later reduced.
  • Marine Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington was sentenced to eight years for the same incident, but served only a few months before being granted clemency and released from prison.
  • Marine Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III was sentenced to 15 years for murder in the Awad case but his conviction was soon overturned and he was released.
  • No soldiers received any punishment for the killing of five Iraqi children, four women and two men in one Ishaqi home in 2006. Among the U.S. diplomatic cables leaked by Bradley Manning was email from a UN official stating that U.S. soldiers had “executed all of them.”

Manning’s case goes beyond a soldier making decisions without authority. It has evolved into the possibility that the government will continue to successfully conceal corruption for decades.  Officials and legislators define whether people who expose crimes, abuse, or corruption are whistleblowers or criminals, depending on whether these government higher-ups have a vested interested in hiding their illegal actions. People are not generally celebrated if they confront U.S. involvement in wars, government methods of conducting foreign policy, spying on other countries, and violating freedom and human rights throughout the world.

July 29, 2013

Banks Deliberate Destroy People’s Lives

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:55 PM
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Supposed you inherited the family home and planned to move there. That’s what David and Valerie Underwood wanted to do in Fort Worth. When they went to look at the three-bedroom, one-bathroom ranch-style home, however, only a cement slab remained. The city had accidentally demolished it.

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“A mistake was made,” Fort Worth’s code compliance director, Brandon Bennett, said. “We have to identify where the weak link was and fix that so it doesn’t happen again. We need to look at all of our upcoming demolitions, and double- and triple-check these things to make sure everybody has dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s.” Nothing about compensating the owners for the “mistake.”

Because a government entity made this mistake, it’s possible that the couple will receive restitution. But what happens when banks “accidentally” tear apart people’s lives. An example is 36-year-old Katie Barnett, a nurse with five children under the age of 18, who went on vacation for a couple of weeks. When she got home, she discovered that the locks on her home had been changed, and many of her possessions, including her children’s clothing, had been stolen.

The police in McArthur (OH), about 70 miles south of Columbus, said that it was probably a squatter and they couldn’t do anything. Two weeks later, however, the police told her that a representative from First National Bank of Wellston, had told them someone was living in a foreclosed home, which they identified as Barnett’s home.

The bank told Barnett that a GPS led them to her house. They assumed it was the right house because the lawn had not been mowed. Barnett’s address number, 514, is clearly marked on her mailbox. The foreclosed house’s number, 509, is also clearly marked on its mailbox. The correct house is across the street and two houses away.

HT_kate_barnett_ohio_foreclosed_mistake_16x9_992 Barnett asked for $18,000 to cover the items taken including two car engines and parts worth about $9,000. The bank said that they needed receipts for everything that was taken, and they weren’t paying retail. Barnett answered:

“I told him I wasn’t running a yard sale and asking them to make me an offer. I told him I don’t keep receipts around for everything I have just in case a bank comes by and steals my stuff. And if I did, where do you think it would be? With the stuff that you threw away.”

Bank president and CEO Anthony Thorne hasn’t answered the complaint, but he posted an excuse and a following apology:

“This situation was a mistake on the part of our bank and–as we have done previously–we sincerely apologize to the homeowner for the inconvenience and concern it may have caused. In addition, we communicated to the homeowner our desire to compensate her fairly and equitably for her inconvenience and loss.”

Thorne also wrote that the list of items that Barnett gave the bank didn’t match “the list and descriptions of items removed that was prepared by the employees who did the work.”

Barnett’s situation is not unique.

A year ago, a house belonging to a retired couple, Alvin and Pat Tjosaas, was cleared out by contractors hired by Wells Fargo–not once but twice. The 77-year-old bricklayer was caretaker of his late parents’ two-bedroom home in Twentynine Palms about 200 miles away from his and his wife’s home in Woodland Hills (CA). He had left his tools in the garage of the Twentynine Palms house because he was starting to replumb the building. Neighbors called Tjosaas to ask if he had authorized anyone to clear out their home.

When Tjosaas was able to go the property until three days later, he discovered contractors hired by Wells Fargo Bank were gutting the place. The sheriff had to escort them to the correct house, a foreclosure ten acres away. The vandalized place had never had a mortgage or lien because it was paid for in cash while it was being built 50 years earlier. “Alvin was left to sit among the ruins of the house,” Pat Tjosaas said.

Tom Goyda, the bank’s vice president of corporate communications for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, said that the contractor made a mistake. Although the Tjosaases contacted an attorney and Wells Fargo, the bank seemed reluctant to return the attorney’s calls. Three months later another contractor hired by Wells Fargo made the same mistake and again broke into the house.

Gone were antiques including a World War I uniform belonging to Tjosaas’ late father, the American flag that had hung in the yard, and appliances. The couple called their son-in-law, a captain with the Los Angeles Fire Department, who contacted the local media. Wells Fargo apologized and said they would initiate discussions on settlement issues. Whether they did is questionable.

In Florida, Jo-An Seipp lost her house to a Wells Fargo foreclosure despite her paying the entire sum that she owed–$141,441.81—after a judge determined that this would reinstate the mortgage. Wells Fargo sold the house to Crimson Ibis, and another judge said that her only recourse is to sue the bank for damages.

In Orlando, Etienne Syldor, who also banked with Wells Fargo, not only made his payments on time but also overpaid. The bank stopped taking his payments and sent him a letter saying that it was starting foreclosure proceedings.

Chase Bank illegally sold off a soldier’s home on the same day he came back from Iraq and also foreclosed on a woman’s home after she put together the $50,000 that the bank said she owed. Wells Fargo told a borrower to miss a few payments and then foreclosed on him. Bank of America foreclosed on a New Jersey resident who not only was current on his mortgage payments but also had been approved for a modification by the bank just two days before. The bank also foreclosed on an elderly couple who paid off their mortgage too early. The litany goes on and on.

Some of the foreclosures come from Bank of America’s practice of giving financial incentives for deliberately foreclosing on people’s homes. Salon reported that six former BOE employers in the mortgage servicing unit said that the bank “systematically lied to homeowners, fraudulently denied loan modifications, and paid staff bonuses” for foreclosing on peoples’ homes. Under a 2012 Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) to help struggling homeowners, borrowers were supposed to make “three trial payments before the loan modification became permanent.” Instead, the borrowers were left making trial payments for up to one year and then rejected for “permanent modification.”  Homeowners owed the difference between the trial modification and the original payment.

BOA told employees to lie to customers, telling them their files were incomplete or missing when they weren’t. Customers were told their file was “under review” but would then be thrown out for being more than 30 days old. Former case management supervisor William Wilson said, “I personally reviewed hundreds of files in which the computer system showed the homeowner had fulfilled a Trial Period Plan and was entitled to a permanent loan modification, but was nevertheless declined for permanent modification.”

Some employees even falsified electronic records and blatantly removed documents from the homeowners’ files to make it look like the borrower had failed to submit the required information.

Simone Gordon, a former BOA employee, said managers created quotas for lower-level employees, and a bonus system for reaching those quotas. Employees “who placed ten or more accounts into foreclosure in a given month received a $500 bonus,” Gordon said.

Employees who refused to lie to customers, didn’t meet the quotas, or questioned the bank’s ethics were fired. “The delay and rejection programs were methodically carried out under the overall direction of Patrick Kerry, a vice resident who oversaw the entire eastern region’s loan modification process,” Wilson wrote. Other executives included John Berens, Patricia Feltch and Rebecca Mairone, who is now working for JP Morgan Chase, and happens to be under investigation for a separate financial fraud case.

The Supreme Court determined, in Citizens United, that corporations are “persons.” Real persons would be thoroughly prosecuted for such fraud, burglary, vandalizing, etc.  Some banks have had to pay a percentage to some of the people who they hurt.

Bank of America has been ordered to pay at least $116,785 to each of 316 service members after illegally foreclosing on their homes. It is estimated that banks illegally foreclosed on over 5,000 service members. Earlier this year, the nation’s banking industry agreed to pay $8.5 billion because of bad housing loans and foreclosures, and Bank of America paid another $10.3 because of bad loans from its Countrywide subsidiary, following an earlier $25 billion settlement. About 400,000 homeowners will get up to $125,000 in losses after losing their homes.

Yet many of these people are without homes, and the economy has been damaged because they couldn’t pay taxes. Last year Bank of America made over $100 billion. That’s a big profit for destroying people’s lives, communities, and economy. The banks too big to fail are also too big to pay adequate restitution.

July 28, 2013

North Carolina Deciminates States’ Rights

Politics and religion are taking sides—sometimes opposite ones. Moral Mondays are an excellent example of religion fighting legislature as North Carolina finalizes its legislation for the year.

Moral Monday old manLast Monday’s arrests of 73 people brought the total to 925 since the group started on the last Monday of April. Each Monday, thousands collect at the state capital to demonstrate against cuts in social programs, education, and employment, against the state’s anti-abortion and anti-Medicaid laws, against labor rights and the resuming of the death penalty–against all the draconian action that this year’s legislature has taken. Last week’s group, many of them organizing in churches, came to fight the restrictive voter laws that will go into effect in the state.

In an effort at intimidation, a right-wing group has set up a website with the high-sounding name of Civitas Institute that includes the names, mug shots, addresses, phone numbers, occupations, and salaries of all those arrested. All it seems to prove is that almost all the people are North Carolina residents, instead of out-of-state carpet baggers, as GOP lawmakers claim.

The lawmakers must be getting worried about the demonstrators: this past week they moved their meeting time three hours earlier from the usual 7:00 pm schedule. Yet the protesters who sang and chanted in an almost empty building were still arrested.

The Assembly’s action has led to its approval rating below 20 percent, just a bit higher than for the U.S. Congress. Gov. Pat McCrory saw his approval rating fall 15 percent in just one month, and it may go farther down after he signed the anti-abortion bill that only 34 percent of the voters want. He had promised during his campaign not to sign any anti-abortion bill.

Arrests of residents who disagree with the legislative action are also becoming more aggressive with many being handcuffed for “petty citations” and sent to jail, according to House Democratic Leader Larry Hall. The lawyer from Durham said, “I believe we have a great police force here. Now, who do they work for? They work for whoever is in the majority in the House and the Senate, who are responsible for the messages sent to them from the top.”

He may have a point about the conservatives telling the police what to do. In July 2001, when the Assembly was controlled by the Democrats, conservative activists held a mass gathering to protest a proposed tax increase. No one was arrested.

Moral Monday participants refuse to be discouraged. Their numbers are growing, and they seem to be gaining confidence and courage because of the attention that they have drawn.

Past legislative actions have included killing the Earned Income Tax Credit, raising taxes on 900,000 poor people, cutting corporate and personal income taxes for the top 5 percent, eliminating unemployment for 70,000 people, denying Medicaid expansion that will cost taxpayers more, inviting corporations to frack in the state, defunding schools before distributing them to private companies—many of these through the 20 bills written by the ultra-conservative, corporate-owned ALEC.

The state’s most recent anti-abortion law mandates that all seventh-graders be taught the falsehood that abortions cause preterm births. It also requires a doctor to be present when the first drug in a chemical abortion is administered. Abortion clinics are required to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers whenever the state Department of Health and Human Services wishes. In order to slip through the new anti-abortion law, the state Senate put it under an anti-Sharia law, and the Assembly attached it to a motorcycle safety bill. A drawing shows the similarity between the uterus and the motorcycle.

motorcycle As someone tweeted, “If my uterus could fire bullets, you wouldn’t regulate it.”

The voter suppression law passed this week is the worst in the nation, disenfranchising 318,000 registered voters who don’t have the narrow forms of state-issued ID, almost two-thirds of them women. One woman said that getting the appropriate identification would cost her $120, which amounts to the poll tax that has been ruled unconstitutional.

The new voting law contains all the ways other states have legislated to keep minorities and the poor from voting: cutting a week of early voting, ending same-day registration during that period, preventing counties from offering voting on the last Saturday beyond 1:00 pm or extending poll hours by an hour on Election Day because of long lines, purging voter rolls, and allowing vastly more vigilante poll-watchers to challenge eligible voters and give erroneous information as they have in the past.

Other methods of suppression, however, are unique to North Carolina. Citizens may not file provisional ballots if they go to the wrong precinct, confusing because many precincts in urban areas can be housed in the same building. It eliminates state-supported registration drives and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds as well as Citizens Awareness Month to encourage voter registration. Parents of students who register where they attend college will lose the $2,500 child dependency tax deduction for their children, again creating a poll tax. 

Ex-felons cannot vote for five years after their release and only after they obtain two affidavits from local voters about their “upstanding moral character,” apply to the board of elections, and receive unanimous approval. Over 80 percent of those with a criminal record in the state are black. The state will also ban “incompetent” people from voting even if the person’s mental health issues have nothing to do with their ability to understand voting.

Yet outsider groups—those “carpet baggers”—can more easily donate money for electioneering while the law reduces disclosure of money sources. Contribution limits are raised from $4,000 to $5,000 per person and links future increases to inflation.

During 2012, 56 percent of North Carolinians—more blacks than whites—voted early; 78 percent of voters support the current early voting system. Over 155,000 voters used same-day registration in 2012. Many black citizens voted the Sunday before Election Day, no longer possible.

The Assembly will most likely continue to be GOP-controlled because of conservative gerrymandering of legislative maps helped by the voter oppression law. The Supreme Court has invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act because the conservative majority did not see on-going racist problems in voting laws. Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca even bragged that they wouldn’t have to bother with Section 5 of the VRA.

North Carolina Republicans claim that the law will combat voter fraud and insure integrity in polling places. Between 2000 and 2010, for a total of 6 election cycles, North Carolina had a grand total of two allegations of voter impersonations and zero convictions. Once again the political party that decries an expansion of government has done exactly that. The state claims to need money, but just the voting mandates will cost between $3 million and $20 million dollars.

I can visualize GOP legislators in all the other GOP-controlled states salivating as they wait to go back into session and copy all North Carolina’s laws. The country is going to need many more Moral Monday members.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has filed a federal court challenge to force Texas to obtain “pre-clearance” before implementing future voting changes. Perhaps he will do the same in North Carolina. would go after North Carolina’s voter ID law, which would be the strictest in the country.

July 27, 2013

House Paid to Vote Security over Privacy

Many people, including myself, may not know that the conservative Supreme Court chief justice picks the super secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that has become less secret since Edward Snowden made his announcements about the National Security Agency spying on all the people in the United States. Ten of the court’s 11 judge, appointed to the bench by GOP presidents, have been assigned to this all-important court by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.

The court’s conservative bent—maybe more of a far-right curve—will most likely give it a tendency to follow NSA’s desire to expand its spying program. Roberts’s assignments have been far less ideologically diverse than those of the two previous chief justices, Warren E. Burger and William H. Rehnquist, despite their own conservative leanings. Robert’s assignments have been 86 percent GOP appointees, compared to the 66 percent GOP appointees by the other two justices.

“Viewing this data, people with responsibility for national security ought to be very concerned about the impression and appearance, if not the reality, of bias—for favoring the executive branch in its applications for warrants and other action,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).  He proposed that each of the chief judges of the 12 major appeals courts select one district judge for FISC. The chief justice could still select the review panel that hears appeals of the court’s decision, but the selection would have to be approved by six other Supreme Court justices. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-CA) has introduced a bill moving the selection of FISC judges to the president.

When FISC was established as part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act 35 years ago, its purpose was to review applications for wiretaps regarding whether there was sufficient evidence that the FBI’s targeted person was a foreign terrorist or spy. As recently as 2005, according to former FISC Judge James Robertson, “In my experience, there weren’t any opinions. You approved a warrant application or you didn’t—period.”

Midway through the George W. Bush administration, the executive branch sought and obtained the court’s legal blessing to continue secret surveillance programs that had originally circumvented the FISA process. In 2008, Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act to allow NSA to continue the Bush warrantless program supposedly only on foreigners abroad. The court was allowed to create rules for the program, giving it the power of an administrative agency that makes rules for others to follow. Robertson said, “That’s not the bailiwick of judges. Judges don’t make policy.”

Rulings have greatly expanded to lengthy ones that interpret the meaning of surveillance laws and constitutional rights instead of the former up-or-down approvals of secret wiretap applications. Court decisions are classified with no opportunity for contrary arguments or appeals if the government wins the case. The public doesn’t know what FISC determines—sort of like a person on the “do not fly” list not knowing they are there until they try to fly or not knowing whether they’ve successfully gotten off until they try to board a plane.

At least no one knew what the court was doing until Snowden released information about an order to a Verizon subsidiary requiring it to submit three months of calling records for all customers, signed by Judge Roger Vinson, Reagan’s appointee who tried to strike down Obamacare.

Blumenthal, a past U.S. attorney and state prosecutor, said that executive branch lawyers were more likely to have a “get the bad guys” mentality and cooperate in giving the Justice Department unlimited surveillance powers. Vinson has been replaced with Michael W. Mosman, a federal prosecutor; Raymond J. Dearie, a United States attorney; Reggie B. Walton, a prosecutor who also worked on drug and crime issues for the White House; and F. Dennis Saylor IV, chief of staff in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. The only Democratic appointee, Judge Mary A. McLaughlin, was also a prosecutor.

The only requirement for selection of judges is geographic diversity. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) has filed a bill allowing Congressional leaders to pick eight of the court’s members because the court should have a more diverse membership.

Last week, the House voted 217-205 not to check NSA’s phone-spying dragnet, with 111 Democrats and 94 Republicans voting to not fund the phone-call collection program. In a Guardian article, Glenn Greenwald gives a vivid detailed picture of the peculiar coalition that voted to continue the NSA program. Conservative Republicans against the president’s administrative abuse of power joined liberal Democrats opposed to intrusive intelligence programs.

President Obama’s strongest support in war, assassinations, drones, surveillance, and secrecy comes from the radical far-right GOP party. Pro-war and anti-Muslim Rep. Peter King (R-NY) has given extensive praise to the president as did Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) who repeatedly warned that NSA bulk spying on U.S. citizens was necessary to stop “Islamic jihadists.” The conservative wing of the Supreme Court supported the president in his argument that plaintiffs objecting to surveillance lack standing to sue because the NSA successfully conceals the identity of which Americans are subjected to the surveillance. Thus government wiretapping laws cannot be challenged in court.

An analysis of campaign donations for the bill shows that House members who voted to continue NSA’s metadata spy program collected 122 percent more money from defense and intelligence contractors than those who voted against it. Firms such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, United Technologies, and Honeywell International donated almost $13 million for the years 2011-12. Legislators who voted for NSA’s program averaged $41,635; the naysayers averaged $18,765. Only one of the top ten money makers, Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) voted against the program.

Tea Party member Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who proposed the bill with Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), got $1,400, which put him in the bottom 50 in donations. Rep. Howard McKeon (R-CA), who voted to continue the surveillance, led the House in defense contributions with $526,000. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) voted against the measure and ranked 15th in defense earnings with a $131,000 take. Another vote to keep the surveillance came from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who got $47,000 from defense firms during the two-year period.

Two 2016 GOP presidential wannabes showed the differences among the GOP membership regarding the surveillance program. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s “strain of libertarianism” on national security “very dangerous.” Paul retorted in a tweet:

“Christie worries about the dangers of freedom. I worry about the danger of losing that freedom. Spying without warrants is unconstitutional.”

The two men are topping the list of a very diverse—let’s say wingnut—set of potential candidates for the GOP primary.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Tuesday urged the United States to revamp its surveillance laws and practices, warning that the country will ‘live to regret it’ if it fails to do so. That time is getting closer. The Pentagon is sending two blimps to hover over Washington that can surveil the area for 320 miles in every direction. The ostensible reason is to look for threats.

The question is what else they will see while they’re 10,000 feet up in the air looking at an area from Niagara Falls (NY) to North Carolina. I agree with Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information center, when he said, “When the government is conducting real-time aerial surveillance within the United States, there are privacy issues that need to be addressed.”

If you wonder how legislators feel about privacy, follow the money.

July 25, 2013

U.S. Needs To Bring Back the Middle Class

“This growing inequality isn’t just morally wrong; it’s bad economics. When middle-class families have less to spend, businesses have fewer customers. When wealth concentrates at the very top, it can inflate unstable bubbles that threaten the economy. When the rungs on the ladder of opportunity grow farther apart, it undermines the very essence of this country.” –

President Obama made the above statement yesterday in an address about fixing the U.S. economy.  Capitalism is like playing Monopoly: when all the money is the hands of one person, the game is finished. That’s what’s happening in the United States.

Investments in growing the middle class include investment in education, infrastructure, energy, and innovation; closing loopholes for the wealthy and huge corporations; retirement and health care security; affordable housing; and a higher minimum wage.

  • Income inequality in the United States is higher than at any other time since the Great Depression.
  • Between 1979 and 2007, the income of the richest top 1% of American households almost tripled while middle class incomes remained largely stagnant.
  • The income of the average CEO rose nearly 40% since 2009, but the average person in the country earns less than he or she did in 1999. Last year the average CEO pay went up 16 percent; in the first quarter of 2013, hourly wages dropped 3.8 percent.
  • Both Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy; they saw slower economic growth and job growth during their presidencies than President Clinton, who raised taxes in 1993.
  • The years following the Bush tax cuts were the worst for job creation since the government began keeping records and the worst for business investment since World War II.
  • About 62% of the wealth recovered during this recovery has come in the form of higher stock prices, which overwhelmingly benefits the wealthiest Americans but does little for the middle class and almost nothing for those living in poverty.

Growing research indicates that the strength and size of the middle class has a strong effect on the all the key factors that propel an economy forward. Deregulation promoting home ownership loses its sustainability when the bubble burst, saddling millions of families with mortgages they could no longer afford. The trend for the last 40 years has been to build the wealth of the top while tearing down that of everyone else, a reversal of the previous 30 years.

The premise of Daron Acemoglu’s How Nations Fail is that politics and government determine economic institutions of a country and these economic institutions determine whether a country is poor or prosperous. Economic power is hampered if political power is concentrated in an economic elite with a policy that works to their advantage.

In the 1970s, the United States moved toward an exclusive institution when unions lost power, states limited voter rights, and the Supreme Court gave record-breaking campaign spending rights to corporations. Lost were the political support for public education and infrastructure, vital to economic growth. More and more, children’s opportunities are being limited by their parents’ incomes.

A common complaint is that businesses have a shortage of skilled workers. Decades of rapidly increasing higher education costs have reduced the pool of these workers. China is now making a $250 billion annual investment to create the next generation of skilled workers; the United States wants students to pay for Bush’s deficit. A narrow interest group that monopolizes political power is rapidly eliminating innovation and investment in this country.

Eighty-two percent of people in the U.S. support a raise to $10.10 an hour, including more than 90 percent of Democrats and even two-thirds of Republicans, as well as nearly 80 percent of those who make more than $100,000.  Voters also decided to raise the wage in three cities in November, and in fact when ballot initiatives include a raise, voters nearly always approve it by substantial majorities.

Fifty-six percent think that raising the minimum wage will help the economy. They know that a federal minimum wage worker who works a standard 40-hour week cannot afford fair market housing in any one of the 50 states. [See map below for the number of salaried hours necessary for a minimum-wage earner to rent a two-bedroom apartment.] Thirty million workers would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage. Raising the minimum wage to only $9 would give an additional $48 billion into the economy by next year and ease the income gap for 15 million low-wage workers.

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The elite tells falsehoods in order to keep increasing their already obscene wealth. Charles Koch, worth $43 billion, said that the minimum wage is an obstacle to economic growth. Although he opposes government-run health care, he lists countries with this security as examples of leaders in economic freedom. Ironically, he refers to assistance for low-wage workers as a “culture of dependency” on the government while his own industries receive oil subsidies, government contracts, and bailouts.

False arguments against raising the minimum wage:

  • It will decrease jobs. No, studies show that this is not true. In fact, it will increase jobs because people have more money to spend, and they will spend it. The states with higher minimum wages than the federal minimum don’t have higher unemployment rates.
  • It will hurt small businesses and force increases in prices. No, two-thirds of businesses employing minimum-wage workers have more than 100 employees. Companies like Walmart and McDonald’s force wages down so their CEO’s can take the money. Modest increases in the minimum has little effect on total corporate costs.
  • Most minimum wage workers are kids, working in the summer or part-time while going to school. Definitely not. Ninety percent of minimum wage workers are adults; most of those are long-term employees who rely on their job to support themselves and families. Approximately two-thirds of those working minimum wage jobs are women.  “Kids” can also use a raise to pay for college and/or specialized training—or to help their families survive .

Today corporate profits are a record high, and workers wages are at a record low. If the minimum wage were equal to 1968 dollars, it would be $10.71 instead of the current $7.25. In the past 45 years, minimum wage has shrunk by one-third.

In the last 22 years since the tipped wage was set at $2.13 and gas cost $1.10 a gallon, Congress has raised its own salary 13 times. In the last two years of recession recovery, the top 1 percent of people in the United States gained 110 percent of income growth while the bottom 99 percent lost ground. Thirty million people in this nation would benefit from increasing the minimum wage to $10.10. If workers don’t get fair pay, they can’t buy. When they can’t buy, the economy can’t grow. And if they get more money, they pay more taxes.

Conservatives are wasting dozens of votes in the House to take health care security from millions of people in the nation. Conservatives constantly threaten to shut down the government if progressives refuse to vote for the failed, trickle-down, austerity policies. Conservatives want to cut even more from education, medical research and infrastructure in order to give even greater tax cuts to the rich and huge corporations.

The wealthy are not the job creators. The real job creators are the middle class consumers who buy what businesses sell.

The looting class believes that there is no threat of democracy breaking out when people are poor and focused on meeting their basic needs. In March, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) introduced The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour over the next three years. Once it reaches $10.10, the minimum wage would be raised automatically each year to account for inflation and ensure that it never loses its purchasing power. The bill also raises the wages of those who rely on tips, phasing in an increase until the “tipped minimum”–currently stuck at $2.13 an hour—reaches 70 percent of the regular minimum wage.

Miller’s bill went to the House committee yesterday. We need to support it and bring back the middle class.

July 24, 2013

The U.S. Could Be Detroit Because of GOP Capitalism

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:31 PM
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Capitalism is the system that conservatives worship, so much so that any deviation from it—in their perception—is called socialism. According to the GOP, President Obama is a socialist leading the country to failure. One example of capitalism in the United States is the city of Detroit.

During its automobile-driven economic growth in the middle of the last century, Detroit was recognized as an achievement of capitalist renewal after the Great Depression and World War II. High-wage auto industry jobs with security and benefits proved capitalism’s ability to generate and system the highly-vaunted middle class that cut across ethnic groups. as a system ought to be judged by its failures as well as its successes. The city was an example of the American Dream.

Success came from unions that struggled to take these quality jobs from automobile capitalists, who then bragged that they “gave” good wages and working conditions to their workers. Whatever the cause, Detroit was a prosperous city in the 1950s and 1960s, shaping the world’s music as its capitalism shaped the world’s industries.

Detroit is now in the midst of the biggest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the nation.

Decision-makers for General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, etc. made bad decisions that caused them to fail in competition with European and Japanese automobile capitalists. U.S. auto makers failed to develop new fuel-saving technologies and then responded to their failures by moving production out of Detroit in order to pay lower wages.

These decisions led to two economic disasters: manufacturers undermined Detroit’s economic foundation, and they led to the downfall of the nation’s middle class. The history of the past 40 years have shown the capitalist system’s inability—or unwillingness—to reverse, let alone stop, them.

Wages stopped growing in the 1970s although workers’ rising productivity created increasing profits for employers. For a few years, rising debt and overwork postponed the impacts of the lack of greater wages on consumption, but the crisis came in 2007. The resulting unemployment allowed employers to lower wages and benefits even more, and the falling dominos cut down the middle class.

The stimulus bailed out General Motors and Chrysler, but Detroit didn’t get any of that. The wage reductions in the auto industry guaranteed that Detroit’s wage-based economy would not be able to recover when production and profits rose. Auto industry capitalists took the lead and Detroit exemplified the economic decline that resulted.

After weakening the successes of unions, auto industry leaders undid the hard-won victories of the 20th century. Gone were the middle class and the “capitalist success” city built on their wages. The top-down structure of capitalist enterprises gave auto industry the ability to remove the good conditions that unions can sometimes win for their workers.

Worker co-operatives could have helped Detroit evolve in a far more positive fashion. Production would have stayed in the region, keeping jobs, families, and communities. Instead, lack of jobs dropped Detroit’s population from 1.8 million in 1950 to 700,000 in 2013. With worker co-operatives, owner dividends and manager salaries would have been less. The resulting savings could have lowered automobile prices, enabling better competition with European and Japanese cars.

Workers would most likely have greater incentives to improve technology in co-operatives they owned than if they do as employees in capitalist enterprises. Another achievement from worker co-operatives might have been the production of mass-transit vehicles as an alternative to the automobile production that fails to give long-term security for the automobile industry.

A democratic society does not give power to a minuscule number of people as it excludes millions of people from participating in decision-making.

Meanwhile this tiny number of people, centered in ALEC and controlled by the Koch brothers, has caused at least 117 bills in 2013 to further shrink wages, benefits, and worker rights. Their goal is also to eradicate any worker family’s participation in political and legislative processes to ensure that the top 1 percent will acquire even more wealth. ALEC’s anti-worker agenda started in the late 1970s and gained speed beginning with President Reagan, rapidly accelerating in 2010.

A few weeks after he took office, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker turned his state into the poster child for the northern states by eliminating collective bargaining for 380,000 school teachers, snow plow drivers, prison guards, nurses, bus drivers, and more. His law also prohibits government employers from using payroll deduction of union dues, removing more of their power. As Walker said, his goal was “divide and conquer”: first attack public sector workers and then go after the private sector.

Walker showed massive failure in his job programs: Wisconsin is now dead last in the 50 states in job creation. Things are so bad that someone called North Carolina the Wisconsin of the South.

ALEC’s “right to work” legislation was designed to make all the states like the poverty-stricken ones in the South that suppresses wages and keeps out unions. In 2012, Gov. Mitch Daniels (IN) succeeded in his state before Michigan pushed the law through in a lame-duck session at the end of the year. As Fox News bluntly put it, “bust the unions, and it’s over” for the Democrats.

Gordon Lafer, a political economist at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center and a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), explained the strategy: “ALEC’s efforts against the minimum wage, prevailing and living wage, paid sick leave, etc. are an across the board attempt both to worsen any kind of labor standard and also to undermine any institutional or legal basis through which workers exercise some control over the workplace in the labor market.” The fate of union workers and non-union workers are inextricably linked because unions raise standards for non-union workers. An EPI study shows that ALEC’s “Right to Work” law alone depresses wages for both union and non-union workers by an average of $1,500 a year.

New York City has Wall Street, Washington D.C. has the federal government, and Silicon Valley has Google and Facebook.  The rest of the country is facing a decline that began 60 years ago. Gone are the good jobs for people willing to work.

Conservatives recognize that the United States is headed in the same direction as Detroit with its unemployment, smaller wages, and educated people on food stamps. Yet they refuse to acknowledge that the conservative fiscal approach is causing these problems by increasing the income inequity and paying manufacturers to take their businesses overseas. Republicans refuse to acknowledge that huge corporations and the tiny portion of people at the top of the pyramid get their wealth from the loopholes not available to 99 percent of the country’s population.

Conservatives set up systems so that Wall Street can steal from most of the people in the country and then refuse to change them. Conservatives create a failing circular economic system: people cannot be produce services and material things because other people cannot afford to purchase these services and items, and so forth. This is the conservative view of capitalism.

If the Republicans were totally in charge, the United States would be declaring bankruptcy and selling all its assets to Europe and China.

The solution to the approaching disaster is to raise wages and close the loopholes. But the sole goal of the GOP is to defeat the Democrats and gain the presidency in the next round. To make the country a success would defeat the GOP grand plan, so almost everyone in the nation is forced to suffer.

July 23, 2013

Zimmerman Trial Leaves Terrible Legacy

The dialog surrounding the Trayvon Martin killing and the George Zimmerman trial has swirled throughout the media for the past ten days, with terrifying responses. Conservative pundits used President Obama’s speech about Martin to continue their racist statements. Sean Hannity wondered if Obama compared himself to Martin because “he did a little blow.” Fox News’ Todd Starnes called President Obama “unpresidential” and “race-baiter in chief” who is “trying to tear our country apart.” Conservative commentator Pamela Geller called the president a “buffoon,” “racist,” and “eager to publicly lynch Geroge [sic] Zimmerman” and argued that the president is guilty of “sedition.”

According to Geraldo Rivera, Martin was responsible for his own killing because he wore a hooded sweatshirt on that rainy night. The smear campaign on conservative media last week continued the one that they have waged for the past 15 months since the Zimmerman killing became a national story. George Zimmerman’s father, Robert Zimmerman, furthered the racists remarks in his book, published a month before the trial finished, in which he listed many black organizations and leaders in the chapter “Who Are the True Racists?”

In the beginning of the discussion, even conservative columnist Rich Lowery agreed with Al Sharpton that Zimmerman should be charged because of the killer’s “stupendous errors in judgment.” Glenn Beck, however, fanned the fire of hatred by publishing a list of criminal offenses that Martin might have committed while he was alive. On Fox, guest Doug Burns, a former federal prosecutor, hypothesized that it was possible to kill someone with Skittles or break a bottle of iced tea and kill someone with the jagged edge.

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote a column explaining why Zimmerman was not at fault when he assumed that Martin’s hoodie made it clear that the boy was a thug. As an older white man, Cohen described Martin’s sweatshirt as  a “uniform we all recognize,” probably just as “we all” know that women who wear provocative clothing deserve to be raped.

By the end of the trial, many people still didn’t know that Zimmerman had stalked Martin, even after the police had told him to stop. And they have the support from the NRA that claimed “Stand Your Ground” laws are “a fundamental human right.”

Since the trial, revelations indicate that the flawed process may have contributed to Zimmerman’s exoneration. Initially the sequestration of the jury members was depicted as onerous, but the $1,500 expenditure per day per juror makes the experience appear rather luxurious, especially with steak dinners, manicures and pedicures, and excursions. They were permitted to watch television and movies, visit shopping malls, and receive unsupervised visits from families, and check their cellphones at the Marriott where they stayed.

Juror B-37 shows this freedom when she wrote about discussing her proposed book—now scuttled—with her husband, just the morning after the jury decision was announced: “The potential book was always intended to be a respectful observation of the trial from my and my husband’s perspectives solely and it was to be an observation that our ‘system’ of justice can get so complicated that it creates a conflict with our ‘spirit’ of justice.”

The same juror clearly revealed her bias in her interview with Anderson Cooper when she said Zimmerman’s “heart was in the right place” when he tracked and killed Trayvon Martin but refers to Martin as “a boy of color.” Although the juror didn’t consider the man she called “George” guilty, she said about him: “I think he just didn’t know when to stop. He was frustrated, and things just got out of hand.”

Although Zimmerman did not proclaim the “stand your ground” defense, it was used in both the jury’s discussion and in the jury instructions. Judge Debra Nelson clarified that the jury should consider the law:

“If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

After the trial, Juror B-37 said that they used the “stand your ground” defense to declare Zimmerman innocent of murder. Using that law, the jury came up with the only verdict that they could, using Florida’s law allowing people the right to hunt down another person and then claim self-defense. The dead person has no rights to self-defense, but the killer has many rights with no need for remorse. Especially helpful in Zimmerman’s case is that his father is a retired Virginia Supreme Court magistrate who published the e-book, Florida v. Zimmerman–Uncovering the Malicious Prosecution of My Son George, immediately before the trial.

Although hindsight is 20/20, William Boardman’s analysis of the lead prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda rings true. He describes de la Rionda’s voice in his closing as “flat, his tone subdued and resigned” when he characterizes Martin an “almost dismissive way.” Throughout the trial, the prosecution humanized Zimmerman far more than it did Martin. De la Rionda also spent ten minutes apologizing for his witness, Rachel Jeantel, and, after the trial, said, “We don’t get to pick our witnesses.”

Jarvis DeBerry wrote about the comments from a former prosecutor who tried hundreds of cases in the defendant in his column, “Did George Zimmerman’s prosecutors try to get him off?” The lawyer argued prosecutors should have sought a change of venue because of the potential conflicts, including a probably tainted jury pool. The jury was composed of six white women, including the infamous B-37 who claimed that there were “riots in Sanford” that never happened.

Running the prosecution team was elected state attorney Angela Corey, who was appointed by the governor as special prosecutor for this case after the local prosecutor’s recusal. Corey is a controversial figure in Florida legal circles and was accused of filing a “perjurious affidavit” in the Zimmerman case by attorney Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School in 2012. Corey was criticized by others for charging Zimmerman with 2nd degree murder since, they argued, there wasn’t enough evidence to prove it.

When the Department of Justice took the gun used to kill Martin as part of an ongoing civil rights investigation, right-wingers became incensed about the lack of his rights and the thought that he wouldn’t have a gun available to stalk and kill someone else. A variety of sources, including a gun store, conservative author, and an Ohio PAC, have offered to supply him with weapons.

First, Zimmerman still has at least one gun because he and his wife had multiple guns. And second, Zimmerman’s own attorney, Mark O’Mara said, “That particular weapon, he should never carry again. There’s no reason to carry a weapon that’s already killed somebody.”

With the end of Zimmerman’s criminal trial, Florida continues with another “stand your ground” defense. Michael David Dunn, 45, has pleaded not guilty to the murder of an unarmed black teenager who listened to loud rap music while sitting in the back seat of a car. Witnesses saw the white guy get out of his car and shoot the teen at least eight times.

Dunn said he felt threatened and acted in self-defense because the law gives him the right to “stand your ground.” It’s a case of SBSWB: Sitting in the Back Seat While Black. Steven Colbert may be right when he said that the United States needs border security to protect us from Florida.

Martin’s death is tragedy enough, but it is followed by parents across the United States being forced to tell their black children that they are second-class citizens. Parents can tell their white children, “Stranger Danger.” Black children must be trained to see every white man as “Stranger Killer” who has the right to murder blacks with no justification other than they felt threatened by the black’s existence. That is the legacy of ALEC’s “stand your ground” law and George Zimmerman’s trial.

July 21, 2013

Religion Roundup Contains One Ray of Hope

Arrogant is the word that seems to best describe Christian extremists in the United States. No one demonstrates it better than David Young, long-time chief of staff for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and wannabe replacement for Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA). At the recent Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, Young worked hard to one-up his two competitors, promising that “as a Senator, he would invite New York Senator Chuck Schumer to lunch so that he could share the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Young’s campaign website describes him as a man with the “knowledge, experience, and quick wit” to stand as a “formidable check and balance” on President Barack Obama and Democratic senators. “There’s not a grandstanding bone in his body; he’s even-keeled, thoughtful and even kind,” the bio adds.

New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait suggested that he might want to try another Jewish senator. He wrote:

“As a senator from New York, [Schumer] has the least to gain politically from a high-profile repudiation of the Jewish faith and conversion to evangelical Christianity. Schumer is also a really good negotiator, and Young could walk out of the room having agreed to become a Jew.”

Arrogant George Zimmerman, exonerated in the murder of teenager Trayvon Martin, also knows that God—not the Devil—made him kill Trayvon Martin. In an interview with Sean Hannity week, Zimmerman showed no regret although he did say about the Martin family, “I am sorry that they buried their child.” About the shooting, he said, “I felt it was all God’s plan.”

Beer, or at least their commercials, has turned Jesse Watters (Fox Nation) to religion. While co-hosting Fox & Friends, he criticized a Samuel Adams ad that used the Declaration of Independence without the words “endowed by their Creator.” Watters claimed that was a sign that “the terrorists have won” and that the Tea Party has been “targeted.” When co-host Clayton Morris explained that the Beer Institute guidelines require its advertising to not mention religion, substitute host Anna Kooiman disagreed: “Yeah, that’s what they say. They’re puttin’ it off on some old red tape there.” Some people may not have paid attention to whatever she said because her dress was hiked up to the top of her thighs.

Almost two years ago, Watters’ Fox Nation published death wishes for President Obama, and the year before he stalked a female blogger who criticized Bill O’Reilly for his claim that an 18-year-old woman would not have been raped and killed if she hadn’t gotten drunk. Watters is also known for his Fox segments featuring homophobia, transphobia, and anti-immigrant content. Yet he wants to protect the term “endowed by their Creator” which includes “…all men are created equal, … with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Conservatives bloggers, led by Breitbart.com, are trying to prevent freedom of religion in the military by claiming that the “Pentagon may court martial soldiers who share Christian faith.” This is what Defense Department spokesman Nate Christensen told Fox News Radio commentator Todd Starnes:

“The Department of Defense places a high value on the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions and respects (and supports by its policy) the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs. The Department does not endorse any one religion or religious organization, and provides free access of religion for all members of the military services.”

Christensen said, “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense.” Todd Starnes translated this into “the Pentagon confirmed to Fox News that Christian evangelism is against regulations.” The Family Research Council dived into the discussion and reported that Christians are being persecuted in the military. Most of their references came from the highly unreliable Breitbart.com and Todd Starnes.

It’s the nonreligious service members who suffer discrimination. Noting that almost one-fourth of those in the military are nonreligious, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) proposed that these people have nonreligious chaplains from “nontheistic” organizations. His rationale is that the only counseling option other than chaplains is a mental health expert that gives a stigma and lacks confidentiality. Polis’ amendment failed in a 150-274 vote with all Republicans joined by 44 Democrats.

Bryan Fischer (American Family Association) is now furious with Liz Cheney for trying to take Wyoming’s senate seat from a GOP incumbent because she and the rest of her family, including former Vice-President Dick Cheney, don’t reject sister Mary for being a lesbian. Fischer explains it this way:

“If you have a bank robber in the family, that doesn’t mean you automatically have to support that as a lifestyle choice. If you have a drug dealer in the family, you don’t have to automatically support that as a profession….It’s an absurd argument, though it has a strong emotional appeal. That may have affected Dick Cheney’s view of same-sex marriage, and it may well have affected Liz Cheney’s view of same-sex marriage.”

In the Catholic Church, Purgatory is a kind of holding area for those who die if they’re not quite good enough to move directly to Catholic’s Heaven and aren’t so bad that they head directly to Hell. The time in Purgatory can be shortened by purchasing indulgences, a great money-maker for priests in the Middle Ages. Now the Catholic Church grants indulgences for such activities as climbing the Sacred Steps in Rome or attending the week-long Catholic World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. In an attempt to attract the younger crowd, Pope Francis has added another classification of indulgence, following him on Twitter. His social media guru, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, said that those who read the tweets must be truly contrite and have a moment of deepening faith.

Catholic membership has rapidly fallen recently: ten percent of adults in the U.S. are former Catholics, about evenly divided between the unaffiliated and Protestant. Sixty percent of those who abandoned Catholicism said that they were dissatisfied with its position on abortion and homosexuality, half cite birth control, and 40 percent are unhappy with the treatment of women. The Catholic Church has the same problem as the GOP: they’re trying to attract new members by continuing the beliefs that caused them to lose all the former ones.

A bit of hope for the finale. Two-hundred self-identified evangelical scientists have written the Congress, asking for legislation to reduce carbon emissions and protect the environment. Holding master’s or doctorate degrees in scientific fields, these 200 people cited scientific evidence of increased extreme weather events and cite Biblical teachings of charity and compassion for the poor.

“The Bible tells us that ‘love does no harm to its neighbor’ (Romans 13:10), yet the way we live now harms our neighbors, both locally and globally. For the world’s poorest people, climate change means dried-up wells in Africa, floods in Asia that wash away crops and homes, wildfires in the U.S. and Russia, loss of villages and food species in the Arctic, environmental refugees, and disease. Our changing climate threatens the health, security, and well-being of millions of people who are made in God’s image. The threat to future generations and global prosperity means we can no longer afford complacency and endless debate. We as a society risk being counted among ‘those who destroy the earth’ (Revelation 11:18).”

Let’s hope that the conservative Christians join these scientists.

July 20, 2013

Arrival of ‘1984’ & More

As a news junkie, I love the odd pieces from around the country. The most amazing story of the week is that new technology permits cable companies to install cameras and microphones in their cable boxes that allow companies to watch people while they watch television. For a long time, comedians have joked about looking at their television audience; now it’s possible. Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA) has introduced a bill, the We Are Watching You Act, to prohibit this technology on boxes without consumer permission. George Orwell’s 1984 has arrived. People afraid of airport scanners might want to take notice.

Although many people think that the media surrounding the killing of Trayvon Martin and the trial of George Zimmerman exaggerated the importance of this tragedy, the conservative Internet source The Daily Caller carried its aftermath to a new dimension. The oddity began when the website sent 16-year-old Gabe Finger as its correspondent at the White House press conference.  When Jay Carney, WH press secretary, called on Finger, he asked this question:

“Because of the death threats being received by George Zimmerman and his parents, is the president going to take any action for their security or are they on their own?”

Carney respectfully answered Finger:

“Well, I think I would refer you to Florida authorities.  I’m not aware of that story.  But the President has called for echoing the statements of Trayvon Martin’s family for a calm reflection in the wake of the verdict.  And that continues to be his position.  He certainly would oppose any violence of any kind.”

Finger didn’t quit. “So they’re on their own?” he asked. Finger is sure to be preening about the attention that he received, not knowing that he has reduced any respect that this conservative site might have.

Last week Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade matched Finger’s stupidity with what he said after he hit a two-year-old boy in the face with a basketball. After a YouTube video showed Titus’s prowess with the hoop, he was invited on the program to demonstrate his ability. Kilmeade made a bad pass and caused Titus to cry and responded to the toddler’s distress by asking a co-host, “Do you really feel that I was at fault there or should have Titus had his hands up?”

Fox needs to stick with two-year-olds, though, because they fail with politics. Carl Cameron told Bill O’Reilly on Wednesday that Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) Oversight Committee hearing was going to result in important news tying the IRS scandals to the White House. The primary news from the hearing was J. Russell George’s admission that the IRS had also targeted “progressive” and “Occupy” groups for audits–no political motivation in also using “Tea Party,” “9/11,” and “Patriot.” Back-to-back hearings with five IRS officials proved no IRS auditing connection with President Obama. Issa’s investigation shows that George omitted critical information in his initial report about the so-called targeting. We’ll wait for Issa’s next manufactured scandal; the last three have failed miserably.

Columnist George Will is another person who should hang up his hat and quit. In a column earlier this month about the Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg during the first three days of July 150 years ago, he talked about how “choices matter.” His reasoning led nowhere, but his descriptions were terrible. For example, he refers to Pickett’s Charge as “mostly a brisk 19-minute walk”—without explaining that this “walk” killed almost two-thirds of the Confederate soldiers at a rate of 2.33 per second.

From McDonalds and Visa come a ridiculous website to show low-wage workers making an average of $8.25 an hour or less how they can comfortably live in poverty. It even shows that they can save $100 a month. The process, however, has a few holes. First, their survival requires a second job of about 38 hours a week, making a 78-hour work week. Then the budget had no money for heating, food, or clothing. The monthly amount budgeted for health care was $20. McDonalds provides some full-time employees a $14 per week health plan, but the cap is for $10,000 a year. The budget for rent is $600 which doesn’t provide any place in New York which now has an average rent of $3,000 per month.

The website concludes, “You can have almost anything you want as long as you plan ahead and save for it.” Bloomberg News reported that the average McDonalds worker would have to work 1 million hours to match what the company’s CEO makes in one year. In the United States, the wealthiest 400 people have the same assets and income as the bottom 50 percent of those in the country. Worldwide, the assets and income of the wealthiest 300 is equal to the lowest 3 billion people. That’s the state of the country and the world.

Even if you can afford Internet access in Florida, it may be illegal. In an attempt to declare a ban on gaming in Internet cafes, the law defined these illegal slot machines as any “system or network of devices” that may be used in a game of chance. A lawsuit from a business owner shut down by the ban claims that it covers every smartphone and computer. The legislature may need to drag its focus away from “stand your ground” and voting restriction laws to allow the use of Internet in the state.

butter cowPeople who attend the Iowa State Fair on August 8-18 are in for quite a treat—even better than deep-fat fried butter on a stick. This year the butter cow sculpture has company: a depiction of Abraham Lincoln and the cross-country Lincoln Highway in Tama.

250px-Lincoln_Highway_Bridge,_Tama,_IAIt’s a 150-year celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address with the 100th anniversary of the opening the road from New York to San Francisco, one of the first transcontinental roads in the United States. The sculptures will require over 1,000 pounds of butter. I wonder how many people that would feed.

Even with their fixation on butter, white people in Iowa live healthier into old age than those in the South. Most maps show a dramatic difference between southern states and those in the rest of the country. This map shows how many years people can expect to be healthy after age 65. The extremes go from over 16 in Hawaii to fewer than 11 in Mississippi. Black Iowans have only seven years, one fewer year than blacks in Mississippi.

healthmap-e1374240125936

I’m glad I live in Oregon!

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