Nel's New Day

August 31, 2016

Florida: Rubio In for Now, Corey Out

Florida’s primary yesterday had bad news and good news. GOP Sen. Marco Rubio is still on the path to re-election after defeating his Trump-supported opponent. He won’t promise to stay the entire six years if elected, obviously using the Senate as a stepping stone for another presidential run in 2020. Whatever Rubio promises, however, is always subject to change, for example, his assertion—10,000 times by his own count—that he wouldn’t run for re-election. Within months, he made these claims: people who don’t want to vote, shouldn’t run for the Senate; all government workers who don’t do their jobs should be fired; he needs to vote only on important issues; and “there is really no other job in the country where if you don’t do your job, you don’t get fired.” The last one was said on the Senate floor, and he’s right—while he takes home $174,000 every year. He said that he didn’t need to vote because he was running for president.

Although Rubio never used the word “hate” for his feelings about the Senate, he did say that “we’re not going to fix America with senators and congressmen.” After Rubio had possibly the worst voting record ever in the Senate, missing almost one-third of his votes last year, newspapers such as Florida’s Sun-Sentinel, which had originally endorsed Rubio, called on him to “resign, not rip us off.”

The good news from yesterday’s Florida primary is that 4th Judicial State Attorney Angela Corey lost to a little-known corporate lawyer and former prosecutor, Melissa Nelson, 64 to 26 percent. Nelson still has to defeat write-in candidate Kenny Leigh in the general election, but no write-in candidate has ever been elected to such a position. Leigh has made no campaign appearances and not raised any money. Corey departs the office as the first incumbent state attorney in “modern history” to lose a contested election.

corey-AP_imgPeople may remember Angela Corey as the woman who botched the prosecution of George Zimmerman and saved him from prison after he stalked and killed teenager Trayvon Martin. But the Florida state attorney has a much broader reputation in destroying lives.

Corey was the person who put Marissa Alexander into prison for 20 years after she fired shots into a wall to protect herself from her abusive husband. In Florida, the “stand your ground” law seems to apply only to non-black males. A public outcry got Alexander another trial, but Corey was determined to put her back for 60 years. Alexander finally managed a plea that kept her under house arrest for three years. Two years before Alexander’s conviction, Corey’s territory, Duval County, had the highest incarceration rate in the state despite an historic low of crime in Florida.

With under five percent of Florida’s population, Duval County has 25 percent of the state’s death sentences and one of fewer than 20 counties that handed out more than five death sentences from 2010 to 2015. Two-thirds of the death sentences between 2009 and 2014 were for blacks, including 19-year-old Michael Shellito who suffers from extreme mental illness and has a low IQ.

cristianCristian Fernandez, 12, was another of Corey’s victims. Five years ago, he was questioned with no adult present and then convicted of killing his two-year-old brother, David. The children were left alone, and their mother waited over eight hours to take David to a hospital after Cristian said the toddler had hurt himself. She was sentenced to probation with no jail time. After Cristian said that he had pushed David against a bookshelf, he was charged with first-degree murder as an adult.

Florida law requires intent to kill for first-degree murder and carries a mandatory life sentence; in Corey’s terrain, all juveniles charged with murder are charged as adults, 1,475 in the Jacksonville area as compared to 34 in Miami-Dade (the most populated judicial district with higher rates of youth) between 2009 and 2013. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juveniles cannot be sentenced with mandatory life imprisonment but can still be charged as adults. According to this ruling, neuroscience shows that young people, because of their “immaturity, recklessness and impetuosity,” are less culpable than adults.

To protect juveniles in adult prisons from being physically assaulted or raped, these inmates were typically put into complete isolation until President Obama banned this practice earlier this year. Adult prisons have no educational or counseling facilities—no opportunity for rehabilitation. Put into solitary, Cristian had two visits from a mental-health counselor in 30 days along with a few phone calls.

Corey’s office also blackmails juveniles to plead guilty to the maximum juvenile sentence by threatening them with charging them as adults. She had strong support from elected public defender Matt Shirk, who is supposed to be on the defendant’s side. He fired most of the longtime public defenders in the office and appointed his friend Refik Eler as his second-in-command. Shirk was investigated by the Florida Commission on Ethics for violations including sexually harassing women he hired and then firing them because his wife threatened him with divorce if he didn’t. The Florida Commission on Ethics suggested that Shirk resign immediately; he didn’t.

Second-in-command Eler was cited four times by Florida courts for ineffective counsel, including telling clients not to argue that they have a mental disease or defect in death-penalty cases. Eight of Eler’s clients have gone to death row, more than any other Florida public defender. Some indigent defendants now opt to represent themselves, for example a man who lost a 12-month plea deal after the public defender failed to follow up. The man was released after seven years because he filed a federal habeas petition.

Cristian’s fate changed when pro bono lawyers took up his cause, but Corey retaliated by filing another adult charge of Cristian sexually abusing his five-year-old brother. Investigators interrogated Cristian with neither his lawyer nor his guardian ad litem notified, and Shirk continued to sabotage Cristian’s case although he no longer had any involvement. Cristian’s new lawyers reviewed unexamined evidence and built a case for the boy’s defense. They managed a plea deal that put him into a juvenile therapeutic facility rather than risk a jury trial that could lead to an adult prison. Cristian may be released in two years when he is 19 and then remain on parole for five years.

Currently, Corey is running a smear campaign against Darlene Farah, the mother of a murdered daughter. Farah opposes the death penalty for her child’s killer, and Corey accuses her of being “more interested in publicity than actually grieving for her daughter.” James Rhodes, the 24-year-old black man convicted of the killing, has not been sentenced because a temporary halt on death penalty sentences. The Supreme Court ruled the state’s death penalty law to be unconstitutional because judges could overrule juries and sentence defendants to death. Corey has tried to get support from Farah’s teenage son, Caleb, by showing him video of his sister’s murder. After briefly caving in, Caleb supports a life sentence for Rhodes.

As the district’s state attorney, Corey is the primary advocate for those sentences, making her one of the deadliest prosecutors in the country. Corey also used $108,439 of taxpayer money to upgrade her pension plan, and $425,000 in bonuses for her office staff. Corey was able to maneuver around a Florida statute that bans such bonuses for public employees by claiming the disbursements were “one time” pay raises.

Nelson’s win is not unadulterated good news: she was endorsed by the NRA who thought that Zimmerman should not have been charged at all. After a prosecutor for 12 years in the 4th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s office, however, she switched to private practice and was one of the defense attorneys for Cristian Fernandez. Maybe there’s hope for kids in the northeastern Florida judicial district. 

Trump Watch: Before Trump’s immigration speech in Arizona, he flew to Mexico to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto. After the meeting, Trump said that they didn’t discuss who would pay for Trump’s wall between the U.S. and Mexico, but Peña Nieto said that he “made it clear” to Trump that Mexico would not pay for the wall. The president of Mexico also told Trump that illegal immigration from Mexico to the U.S. peaked years ago and complained to him about the vast number of guns that crossed the border and made Mexico’s drug wars much worse. Trump did get his photo-op with Peña Nieto, who has a 23 percent approval rating in Mexico.

Tonight, Trump gave his ten points of controlling undocumented immigrants with no solid methods of doing so, much of the content expanded from his GOP convention speech. Some Republicans who want more voter support for Trump called it a “softening”; Ann Coulter heard it the same way that many other listeners did. She called it a magnificent speech because there was “no pivot. Illegals will have one path to legal status: To go home and apply through legal channels like everyone else.” The only difference between Trump’s lies and white nationalism tonight was that he read it from a teleprompter.

March 3, 2014

Media Skips Events: House Bills, Nuclear Energy, Venezuela, Marissa Alexander

This morning I woke up thinking that I hadn’t heard anything about U.S. House activities lately. That’s what the mainstream media has reported—nothing. But the GOP members are still busy. These are bills that they passed just last Thursday in what they call “Stop Government Abuse Week.” There was nothing about a “Help People Get Jobs Week.”

These five bills all attack the EPA by rendering the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act meaningless because downright repealing this act wouldn’t look good for them. With all the red tape of these proposed laws, the party of less government seems to be moving in the area of massive bureaucracy:

 

  • All Economic Regulations are Transparent (ALERT) Act.  The purpose of this is to make creating regulations more difficult, for example that one that “prohibits a rule from taking effect until the information required by this Act is posted on the Internet for not less than six months.”
  • Regulatory Accountability Act. Agencies would be required to choose the least costly rule possible after conducting estimates of all “indirect” costs (undefined) and benefits. Industry groups could then sue if they disagree. Anything is possible with this act: for example, incentivizing companies to transfer compliance online could be interpreted as an indirect cost from paper companies’ losing business. Of course, the least costly method of regulating asbestos would be posting warnings.
  • Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act.  Rules that affect small businesses are already reviewing proposed regulations, but this act would require all regulations from almost all regulatory agencies to go before a Small Business Review panel, even if the regulations would not affect these businesses.
  • Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act. The result of this act would be to put barriers to reaching agreements to settle lawsuits if an agency such as the EPA does not meet a deadline for issuing a regulation mandated by law.
  • Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act. These unfunded mandates would be on federal agencies to provide more reports on the financial impact on businesses and states of regulations.

 

This is a sample of what a GOP Congress could do to the country.

As I mentioned above, there was nothing in my newspaper about the bills that the House passed last week. The media has, from time to time, addressed the issue of newspapers disappearing across the country. I have fought the trend by subscribing to three newspapers, two dailies and my small town’s twice-weekly publication. As I see how these papers—even large ones from Portland and Eugene—concentrate on local issues or just the big headlines of the day such as the recent situation in the Ukraine, I question the money that I send them.

Here are a few stories that weren’t touched in any of my print newspapers:

On the same day that the House passed the above five bills, the Obama administration recommended that private companies should start looking for oil and gas reserves off the Atlantic coast, an area closed to drilling for decades. The industry has lobbied for three decades to lease ocean tracts from Delaware to Cape Canaveral (FL) and failed—until now. The current five-year plan preventing drilling ends in 2017, but an environmental impact study by the Interior Department decided that undersea seismic testing could begin at that time. That means that two federal agencies are considering the destruction of the environment through the Keystone XL Pipeline and Atlantic drilling.    

A few short articles have been released about the 100 tons of highly radioactive water that leaked from one of the more than 1,000 storage tanks because of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster and is now moving toward North America’s west coast. Thus far, the waters off Canada are at an “acceptable” level, but the ocean currents keep moving radioactivity toward us. At the same time, Japan announced a major push to expand its nuclear energy program, and the Obama administration has approved $6.5 billion in loan guarantees for the country’s first new nuclear power plant in more than 30 years.  

While the government plans new nuclear plants, it ignores the dilemma of the old ones, faulty cleanup and failure to successfully store the spent nuclear fuel. Two whistleblowers about the troubled safety practices at the Hanford (WA) massively contaminated nuclear-waste site have been fired within the past few months. The 70-year-old plant has 53 million gallons of nuclear waste in 177 underground tanks, many of them leaking radioactive materials into the ground. Both reported a design flaw that could lead to a hydrogen explosion or a nuclear chain reaction. Cleanup at Hanford costs taxpayers about $2 billion a year.

This past month an accident caused 13 employees at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant outside Carlsbad (NM) to inhale radioactive americium that concentrates in the bone, liver and muscle, and radioactive isotopes have been discovered a half mile away from the plant. The plant, containing more than 80,000 cubic meters of waste, has been closed for over two weeks after the discovery. The disaster may have been caused by a large piece of salt falling from the ceiling in the storage area and rupturing drums of waste. Potentially, more than the 13 workers could be at risk.

A few articles are finally beginning to trickle into the mainstream media almost a month after the beginning of the “unrest” in Venezuela protesting its new government with thousands of people marching through the streets of Caracas and clashing with police. Although my newspaper did mention this “unrest,” it skipped the part in which at least 17 people have been killed during the protests and countless others have been arrested.

Venezuela 

Perhaps mainstream media is staying quiet because of the reasons behind the protest—income inequality and oil. Plentiful oil destroyed the country’s agriculture, and rural people retreated to the cities where the wealthy gated their neighborhoods to keep them out. Protesters are fed up with rising prices, scarce goods, a crackdown on independent media, and colectivos, left over from the Chavez regime, who act as paramilitary groups attacking demonstrators. The debate—and the protests—stem from two visions of Venezuela and the way in which oil wealth should be distributed and spent. Should it go to social programs or policing?

On the other side of the world in Afghanistan, U.S. forces beat up a radio station owner who airs ads paid for by U.S. forces and threatened to kill him. Qazi Nasir Mudassir said that the U.S. special forces didn’t seem to know that his station is largely supported by pro-government ads paid for by the U.S. military and that he received death threats from the Taliban for running these ads. U.S. forces blamed the operation on Afghans.

White men shooting and killing other people in Florida is common, according to the news, and most of them escape guilty verdicts. When a black woman fired one shot in the wall of her Florida house because her abusive estranged husband was going to beat her up—and admitted it to the police—she went to prison. After the internet spread knowledge about Marissa Alexander’s 20-year-old sentence for defending herself, she received a new trial. An appeals court overturned the conviction.

Prosecuting attorney Angela Corey could have dropped the case, but she refused. Corey was also the prosecuting attorney in George Zimmerman’s case when the jury exonerated him. Now Florida prosecutors are asking for an additional 40 years—a total of 60 years in all.

Thus a black woman in fear for her life fires one shot, injures no one, and was sentenced to 20 years with the possibility of an additional 40 years. In the same state, a racist white man follows a black teenager, shoots and kills him, and gets off. And the media ignores the plight of the black woman.

I guess I’ll be cancelling at least one of my newspapers.

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